Boris surveyed the insertion team that high command had assigned to his supervision. They were a small team, under the nominal leadership of a Kriza Boracs commando named Sergei Kletka.
“Sir,” he said by way of acknowledgement. “Have we met before?”
They had. Multiple times. Usually right before Sergei was restored from a cube back up. The Kriza liked to lead from the front. A skill prized by High Command and worthy of a dedicated reserve of cloned Lhosts. But the constant resurrection had also left the man somewhat addled due to the frequent large gaps in his service record and his memory.
“Lieutenant Kletka, a pleasure.” Boris was clipped as he moved on to the rest of the team, eager to avoid attachment with a version of the man he was not likely to see again. He came next upon a Vostok Sputnik that had the words “Il-Khan of Montalbán” scribbled across the casing of its frontal sensor unit. Boris looked up, confused.
“We transported in on a corsair vessel,” Mary Problems, the former Baker Irregular said, “The QK crew took a liking to it.”
Boris nodded and put his hand on the chassis of the Vostok as one might pet a lion. He could understand the attachment. The dank tunnels between the underwater labs were not so different from the corridors lining the hull of a space craft. Just a few thin panels separated everyone from oblivion. A reliable piece of tech that could survive empty void and high pressure ocean floor was more than just a reassurance. It could become a totem.
“Very good. We’ve got clear orders from High Command. This is a top priority, limited insertion mission. You’ll be deploying to an EXXO Genetic Algorithms facility consisting of several underwater laboratory modules. Within these pods are several uplifts being kept on behalf of PanOceanian corporations test subjects. These are star swimmers. The future naval heroes of the NMF. We’re here to liberate. Keep collateral damage at a minimum and ensure that we don’t damage their life support systems,” he waved at the glass domes on the schematic and looked meaningfully at Kletka and the Kriza’s modified PraxiTec heavy machine gun. “One wrong move could sink us. All of us.”
In the back, the former Aristeia! star Fiddler rocked back and forth on a mono-wheel, holding her poise like a tight rope walker. Next to her was a cage-fighter recently turned out from the pits of Tunguska’s Stadion. Boris was dubious, but Fiddler had vouched for her Ariadnan countryman. The man called Connolly smirked at Boris, a defiant glint in his eyes.
“We also have some new tools. Don’t waste them. They expect us, but we still have some surprises they can’t handle.”
It's been about a month since I last played but nothing is more exciting and focusing than an online campaign. Can't wait to grapple with this interface!
Jon's become my regular opponent of late and we arranged for a weeknight game. We've played Panic Room before, on the same map, and the list I'm bringing isn't much changed from last time. I subbed out a Zondnaut Hacker for Denma and an upgrade on the Hollowman Tinbot to Hacker. Given that Jon plays Steel I need to lean into guided as a play style and without two hackers it doesn't feel viable.
The gist of my list is to lean into big tools that move efficiently without getting bogged down on having to manage too much movement. Panic Room is a fairly intense mission and one of the ways I can simplify it for myself is to have everything live in one group. The good news is that I get to pick the big guns. The bad news is that when one piece goes, things tend to fall apart and Nomads (Tunguska especially) don't really have the benefit of order enhancers like tacaware, NCO, and Stratego. Still, it has some legs if not very optimized ones.
The list centered around a Hollowman Core spearheaded by the Kriza for mid/long range shooting at B6, supported by the Vostok for midrange shooting which can be buffed by the EVO and its special order (as if I'd spend an order on supportware). The Stempler is filler, and saddened by the loss of tacaware but linked combis do more work than they're credited for. Lastly, the Hollowman is the glue and WIP 13 hacking, a tinbot, and a template bring tools that protect the link. Puppets and Fiddler are there for cheap non-orders to contest the room while Mary is there to drop pitchers just outside and to pop heads if anyone wants to contest the hacking game. Denma's role is to rush forward and kill stuff. First time playing a war band and it will show, but he's also a room holder and the type of piece meant to punish a link team that's moved too far forward.
Based on Jon's list, he's also leaning into the GML game with a group two Samekh and Scylla. He's built around two enomatarchos. First is an aggro Eudoros link backed up by Pandora for putting pitchers into the room and hacking defense, Acmon for a pocket panzerfaust and picking up Eudoros when he goes down, and a vanilla Myrmidon for smoke and sword support. His second link is his lt Machaon and two Myrmidons supporting Phoenix on -9 ARO duty from across the board. In large strokes, his game plan is to get a team into the box and just be hard to dislodge. With dodges on 13, ODD, and smoke that's fairly difficult for me to shift, but not too unfamiliar. So long as I can keep him out of the box or punish him with missiles and templates, I can at least try to deny points until I'm ready to shove into the box.
I won the lieutenant role and took deployment, hoping that the disadvantage of deploy first, go second would push Jon to take first turn, but he didn't bite. So I pay my command token toll to hold back two on deployment and hope that I can really capitalize on counter deploying him.
Jon deploys with Phoenix on a roof covering about half the field and Mac and the Myrmidons stashed for cover. His Eudoros link goes down roughly in the middle to my left flank hoping to use cover to advance. Scylla and Charbydis are backing Phoenix's flank so I can't just run down the board and murder him but also trying not to expose his second hacker to needless gunfire. The rest of his drops are just order support. One Netrod wins the drop out of deployment. The other fails and deploys next to a safety pole.
Having played this map once before, I opted for the other side, which I felt was more advantaged and found that assessment confirmed. Not sure I really counter deployed but I put the Vertigo and Salyut next to the safety poles with my link in the center and Mary Problems on my left flank side where she can run up and put a repeater in the hardest spot to destroy it. Denma is acting as corner guard for the Salyut but I want to run him down that corridor and try to murder some of ALEPH's finest. Jon drops his Samekh overlooking that corridor so now the ground I need to cover comes at a rough price. I drop Fiddler and her Jackbots in the middle as my reserve one and the Puppets and Puppet Master as my second reserve behind Mary and the Vertigo. Denma picks up a +3 PH on metachem and I decide to leave it. Rolling 20s on smokes has gotta be good, right?
"Damn you, Kletka! We needed controlled fire, not a hail of bullets," Mary scowled.
The Kriza jerked a thumb at one of the mercenaries, "I thought the engineer would be able to patch any cracks. They are best in Human Sphere."
"I can't patch a hole once the module is flooded," Fiddler reminded them. "It's called a catastrophic failure for a reason. We're lucky the whole place didn't implode."
The water was following them. It was up to their ankles now. At least the lab sabotage had allowed the sapient orcas to escape into Aegir Ocean where a retrieval team might pick them up later. The problem now was trying to ensure the team wasn't washed out along with the uplifts they had rescued.
"There's an emergency containment module two sectors over," Boris reported. His geist called up a wire frame overlay of the EXXO Genetic Algorithms facility. "If you hurry, you should make it before water levels force the seal of the doors."
"Copied," Sergei registered over comms. The servos and actuators of his power armor began to whir as they adjusted to growing level of sea water while his environmental controls filtered out the smell of brine and dead organic matter from the ocean floor. Despite the rising tide, his Kriza suit would actually allow him to move faster than if he were merely navigating the tunnels and gantries of the underwater facility.
"I have signatures of another team," Boris called up his hacking dial. With a leisurely swipe of his fingers he was able to call up a sequence of viral code that melted the EXXO firewalls. Cracking a PanOceanian corpsec datasphere was laughably easy, but then again that's why they all banked with Tunguska's datacrypts. The surveillance system was fractured, the result of half the facility's servers being submerged with sea water. But from the nodes that were still transmitting he saw the disciplined march of ALEPH Lhosts, kitted out in bronzed armor and Mayastar hair cuts, their hands resting on nano-honed xiphe and IPF-Dardo combis. The Assault Sub Section were also en route to the containment module, with tactical remotes in tow. Whether they were there hunting his team or by happenstance didn't matter. There was a violent game of king of the hill about to kick off for control of that room.
"Lieutenant Kletka, it looks like half of the cast of Myrmidon Wars is en route to your position. You're cleared for engagement. With prejudice." Boris synced his feed with Mary and the Hollowman hacking unit supporting them, and began to draw up the parameters of tactical engagement to secure the field.
"Is Achilles with them?" Sergei wanted to know.
"Shame," the big man said as he hefted his Geistesblitz on his shoulder. "The combat rems are on me along with the hacking unit. The rest of you fall in and take the flanks. We'll run it up the middle and give them a dose of our own Violent Intermission."
The team fell out according to Sergei's orders. He looked forward to shooting and something besides a window.
I decide to use my impetuous to rocket Denma forward and hope to make the dice work in my favor. He rushes forward six inches. I put smoke a little ahead so that he can get through it in an order and maybe leave a sliver for me to get line of sight further down the corridor for the next throw. I pass smoke on like a three. The Samekh is shooting for a 16 and gets in and four armor saves later Denma is paste. Womp womp.
Well, Plan A is still in effect so Mary runs up and fails her first pitcher out of range but gets into range and drops the second. I realize for the second time that switching up the Vertigo and Salyut would probably have been better as I would have liked the option for her to have baggage. But c'est la vie. She's out of the zone for at least a turn and goes prone in marker state.
With the way clear, I push up the two puppets for the BSG FO to hold the room with a line of sight that means I can challenge Eudoros on the way in and probably before he can drop eclipse on me and cut me to ribbons. I try to shift Fiddler too but Phoenix has a line on the Jackbots so they go up just enough to be out of the zone but not yet to contest anything. Otherwise, the link team shuffles so they won't take any armor saves and I pass the turn with 12 points in the room.
The tactical comlog channel exploded in a hail of static as Mary loaded another repeater into her pitcher. "What the hell was that?"
"The new guy tried to kick a missile out of the air," the Geppetto snickered as his monstrous creations scuttled through the water, their weapons ready and the expression on their robotic faces twisted with gleeful menace.
"Keep the channel clear of chatter," Kletka snapped. "Secure the containment module with an expendable piece of equipment. They'll attack in waves. Their personality demands it. Our counterstroke will be masterful."
As expected, Eudoros yeets forward and we have our first exchange of flash pulse vs. Mk12. I fail the FTF but tank the save. Eudoros keeps pushing and this time is able to pull a wound off the puppet. In our third exchange, he gets into the box and I hem and haw about what to do and settle for the template shot. He decides to nanopulse me three times and as luck would have it I tank the saves and he takes a wound. He decides to pull back on the next exchange and we trade templates again, with both of us going unconscious.
Fortunately for Eudoros, Acmon is there to rub his shoulders and reattach his limbs while a command token makes everyone friends again, so he comes into the box with one wound left while the rest of the link stacks up just outside the door. I catch Eudoros with a spotlight and score Telemetry while he decides to deal with it. Meanwhile, Pandora drops two pitchers of her own, one in the room and one outside while Acmon peaks out to drop a Jackbot. The group two orders shuffle Phoenix around and push Scylla out of the zone. With a classified for Nomads and a key personnel in the box, the turn passes with 1-2 scored to Steel Phalanx.
"Damned Nomads, just as Scylla predicted. Vermin," Eudoros seethed as a mix of nutritional fluid and mineral oils leaked from several small gashes in his cybernetic implants. "Faithless enemies who cower behind traps and weaponized toys. No doubt responsible for this terroristic sabotage."
Acmon was unmoved by the Myrmidon's fury. He worked skillfully with his gizmokit, applying patches to the modified Lhost, using his nimble fingers to ensure that each wound was closed with a neat and precise bond. It was a service better suited to the talents of Machaon, the mad doctor who had urged them through this underwater Tartarus. But unlike his Myrmidon brothers, Eudoros had given up the perfection of the flesh in service to machine precision. Acmon could fix a machine, many of the rebots in their cadre had already benefited from his steady hand. But he could not mend the heart of his brother who would give up his soul to best Achilles.
"I destroyed it, though. Sent it to a swarming, nanite hell. I can only hope the monster controlling that thing was ghosted into it when it fell."
"You are too taken with the bile, proud Eudoros," the Iatromantis was laconic in her rebuke. "Your cholera will be the end of you. Let us proceed with caution. Let them break upon our Phalanx like waves upon a beach and recede into oblivion."
Acmon could not tell if she was being ironic due to the rising water or if this poetry was of her nature. With the passing of Thamrys, it seemed, they had all become a little more poetical in a Sphere that was altogether less lyrical. More cacophonic. More poisoned. He looked sideways at the pistols in her holster, and their payload gene tailored to destroy Morat and Acontecimento Soldier alike.
"You are repaired, brother." Acmon's words were like his action. Precise. Particular. Meticulous.
"Then the battle is rejoined. Let there be no cowards among us, for the enemy has cowards enough!" With his xiphos raised high, the machine Myrmidon charged into the darkness, leaving behind long echoes of his glory.
So, first order of business is to return the missile favor and of course I roll a 19 to fail the shot. Eudoros also rolls a 19 to fail the dodge so he can't use a puppet corpse as cover. I decide to sink another order and Eudoros only passes one save as he's sundered limb from limb with what is surely a missile with a smiley face drawn on it.
My next plan is to destroy the outside repeater and try to catch Pandora and the link out of position. This requires some careful movement as my remaining puppet is covered by the pitcher and the entirely hackable link team has only a narrow strip of movement to stay out of ZoC of Pandora and Scylla. I'm especially worried about Scylla's trinity as it would be lights out for the Hollowman and Fiddler is too locked down to put him back together. And with command tokens at a premium for coordinated movement or order conversion, there's not much room to reform links. So I worm my way out of the DZ and put my Vostok on a wall to shoot the pitcher from height. It fails the save and now my puppet marksman is unlocked.
With the height advantage and mim -6 in my favor, I decide to push on Pandora, who's a juicy target. I spend the order and premeasure for six inches, at which point Jon points out that Phoenix has a line of sight on me. I half want to redo the order but decide that I've already committed. The good news is that I have Phoenix out of cover with burst advantage. The bad news is that he has me out of cover with burst advantage. With both of us on -9, I expect to either whiff or eat a rocked and maybe tank a save with the Vostok's decent armor. Instead, I roll a 3 and Phoenix fails two saves to just die. Straight to dead, no NWI, no ducking, no Mac to put him back together. Bad luck on a shot that I really hadn't planned to take.
With Phoenix cleared, it's time to press my luck. The Vostok goes after Pandora who's unlinked now but extra slippery, allowing her to get into the room. This time, I pass the link lead to my Kriza who can't quite get the angle I need on her. So I decide to spend my Lt Order on him and hope for the best, pushing him through to get a shot on her. This time, she dodges again but the weight of dice scores me a crit on a 4 with no saves in her favor, also killing her dead. Despite revealing my lt, breaking my link, and getting the rest of the team unlinked and out of position in the midfield, I've cleared three big threats.
My only other move is to get Mary out of dodge and shift the remaining puppet into relevancy looking into the box. I leave Fiddler as is, which is a mistake I think, as this was her last chance to be relevant. This is one of the many weaknesses of this list. Basically no one who can coordinate wants to coordinate. Eligible profiles are in the link. The folks you want to move are controllers and excluded from the skill. But all in all, the suboptimal play will work out as best it can.
The tactical comms were alight with the frenzy of remotes securing targets and assigning deaths.
>> Target acquired.
>> Firing solution prepared.
>> Payload armed.
>> Payload deployed.
There was a hiss before the roar of an arching projectile that swarmed out like an angry wasp, it's stinger pointed towards the emergency containment module. A crack shook the remainder of the EXXO facility, sloshing water and cracking thin fissures in the remaining supports and pressure glass. Smoke poured out of the containment module and the cries of war were silent.
>> Target eliminated.
The Vostok designated Il-Khan crawled over one of the new fissures, which had grown from a hairline fracture to something of a chasm along the facade of an interior control room. The laser sensors at the front of its visual stack scanned the darkness, waiting precious microseconds for return bounces that would give it a geography of the module this upside down world at the bottom of the sea.
The Il-Khan noticed that there were LIDAR beams bouncing off it too. There was a glint in the distance. The report of several rocket propelled grenades launched in quick succession. With a processing speed tweaked to subatomic quantums, the Vostok calculated a trajectory of return fire that would knock the grenades out of the air, exploding them harmlessly before they had a chance to fire. And with a thirty seven percent certainty that it would potentially incapacitate the adversary who had engaged it.
The oversized rifle mounted on its shoulder, a bastard weapon of heavy machine gun caliber with a spitfire's range and a combirifles firing speed, opened fire with a loud clap that plucked grenades from the air like the rotten fruit of a dying tree.
>> Target eliminated.
The Il-Khan searched again, its laser feelers picking up another entity. Even before it could finalize a firing solution the target moved with an unsettling grace that stymied even the quantronic processing of an advanced combat remote.
>> Target acquired.
>> Firing solution prepared.
>> Opening fire.
The bastard claps shook the room again, sprays of plaster bursting from the wall where the Vostok's spidered legs pusled from the recoil.
>> Target lost.
Sergei Kletka swung his PraxiTec Geistesblitz in front of him and pulled hard on the trigger. Bullet casings poured from from his heavy machine gun's ejector and dropped into the rising water with a hiss. Something in the room misted after impact and sank limply to the ground. Not Achilles. But the Kriza Boracs had another mark to cut into the barrel of his weapon.
Jon opens up his second turn by bringing Acmon down to face off against the puppet. I'm not quite sure what the goal is, maybe to put the puppet dead to shooting and get an unfavorable panzerfaust angle or score a coup de grace on its corpse for a classified. Regardless, it takes him three orders to die. One order to position. A second to have three combi shots canceled by a B1 aro. And a third to duck for cover shooting where I also win the FTF and put him unconscious on my half of the board. It's poor luck to lost Phoenix and Pandora in reactive when I'm basically just rolling dice and fishing for crits. It's cursed luck to lose Acmon in active when the weight of dice, attributes, and positioning should favor him.
Scylla tries to get relevant and the Stempler blinds her, because of course. The Samekh moves into Phoenix's spot, locking down Fiddler for the rest of the game. Then the flash pulse bots are able to scoot out of the zone and the Hollowman can't quite Oblivion the one he has a shot at.
With the first Enomatarchos basically eliminated, Machaon has to eclipse smoke his remaining red shirts forward to pick up the straggler. They're able to do so without forcing a face to face and boosting the team up to four. This allows one of two of the Myrmidons and Machaon to dodge into the box. With the last group one order, one of the Myrmidons walks into combat with the Kriza, who fails and takes a wound. I score a target on him (which is a mistake too, should have gone for Mac!) but this leaves me with a lieutenant in my third turn. With a key personnel in the box, the score shifts to 1-4 to Steel.
Machaon watched in mute horror as the tactical uplink to his squad members--his brothers and sisters--winked dark for each one taken by the fell hand of the scurrilous Nomads. While he differed with his exuberant brother, Eudoros had been right. They were vermin. A pestilence that had to be wiped out.
And with Phoenix and Eudoros and even the untrustworthy Pandora laid low by their depredations, it fell now to Machaon to carve this tumor from the sphere, lest its malignancy be allowed to poison other theaters of war.
His cry was not so loud nor so arrogant as Eudoros, but it was enough. He flung one of the thunderflash explosives from his belt into the water before him and his remaining Myrmidon brothers. The isotope infused nanotech dawned with the brightness of a sun. He could hear the flinches and sharp drawn breaths of the enemy as they recoiled from the light, even as his auditory dampers deafened the noise of explosion and biosynthetic eyes polarized against the glare. He marched forward with his rifle at the ready, undaunted and undeterred. For the sons and daughters of ALEPH hid in the light while the true enemies of human society lingered in the shadows. And as light and bleach might purge a disease from the surface, so too would he scour this laboratory of the plague of Nomads.
I begin turn three with a full order pool of 10. Best way to spend them is into an order sink like spotlight GML. Mary has no problem pulling off a spotlight on a Myrmidon who fails the reset. I roll the GML and it's a 1, which everyone easily dodges and allows the targeted Myrmidon to get a puppet shield. So I spotlight Mac and this time whiff on a 20. Boo GML. Boooooooo your non-interactive but also only 90% reliability. I have no claim to bad luck in this game, but now I have wasted four orders and have all the same problems.
Unfortunately, the Kriza is alive enough for regular orders, but also also not dead enough to be out of the way. He's done his job and now it's time to die. I try to dodge with the Lt order and fail but pass the armor saves. I push with the Puppet who's able to put Mac into NWI but draws a Myrmidon dodge into CC. So I shift the Vostok up and drop shots on Mac through a sliver of LoF but Mac is able to get eclipse down. This time I start shifting into my command tokens hoping to outpoint in the box. with the Hollowman as spearpoint, I coordinate Mary, the Vostok, and the Kriza, drawing some CC from the Myrmidon and letting the Kriza finally die. This allows me to get the Vostok and Mary into the box with the Hollowman just outside. With my final order, I intuitive attack with a chaincolt and cap the Myrmidon and Machaon. The Myrmidon dodges. Machaon does not. Jon predicts an armor save of 1 and is able to manifest it into the universe, putting Mac straight to dead.
Sergei had to drop the Geistesblitz to grab his heavy pistol, and even then he could only swing its barrel to try to disrupt the stinging flurry of the Myrmidon's blade. Even with the pistol bared Sergei couldn't turn back a blow across his chest. Blood mixed with hydraulic fluid as his heads up display warned him of the grievous bodily harm the myrmidon was inflicting on him.
"Lieutenant Kletka, your orders are to get into that emergency containment module and wait for extraction," Boris' voice blared in his comlog.
Kletka didn't answer. Even as he tried to ward off strikes from the Myrmidon in front of him, he fixated on the jacketed Recreation behind him, seeming to orchestrate the counterattack.
"Geppetto," Sergei switched channels. "New priority target highlighted."
"Acknowledged," the Puppet Master whispered into his comms.
One of his remaining horrors trundled up, diminutive and disarming were it not for the oversized rifle firing armor piercing caliber rounds with hydrostatic shock coating. It unloaded a full burst into the enemy commander, striking him in the torso. With a grunt the man recoiled, covering his streaming wound with a hand turned red. But the ALEPH perversion was undeterred by the pain, his commands singing like a litany or epic, urging his soldiers forward as one threw itself, blade drawn, into melee with the puppeted remote.
One thought permeated through Kletka's pain. If it bleeds, it dies.
He heard the Vostok sloshing behind him before the air thundered with the sounds of its oversized Mk12. The lightning came second as the ALEPH freak unleashed an eclipse grenade, bathing them all in white. It was all Kletka could do to keep track of the flashing blade snapping at his throat.
"Lieutenant Kletka, do you copy?" The ping from command was ever more urgent. "Your mission is to hold the room until we can exfiltrate."
"Negatory, commander," Sergei wheezed. A sharp pain in his side seemed to cloud his vision. Even with the assistance of his power armor, each jab of the Myrmidon's xiphos was met more slowly, barely deflected by the reinforced plating. His limbs were heavy. He was starting to get cold. "Negatory, command. Best thing I can do is get out of the way."
The strike was swift and true. Lieutenant Sergei Kletka fell into the water with a clatter of broken power armor and ribboned flesh. The lights on his power armor winked off just after the light left his eyes. In the flash of light, no one could see the cone of molten metal shrapnel sprayed from the end of the Hollowman's chaincolt. Where infowar came up short, the hellfire of burning metal bridged the gap. The lyrical exhortation of the enemy commander was silenced, followed by another clatter and splash into blood blackened water.
Jon is in loss of lieutenant and I have the box with points. With two Netrod orders and a bunch of irregulars, he tries his best to pull me apart. First is revenge on the Hollowman, who fails both saves and goes unconscious. Next is the Vostok who saves once, while the Puppet also goes to unconscious. He looks at a line of play that might bring Scylla into the box but at 4-4 she can't pull it off. So he spends the Netrod orders on a coup de grace of the Hollowman to score Extreme Prejudice and another attack on the Vostok. Unfortunately, the Vostok has given all that it can give and goes unconscious. With two Myrmidons to one Mary, he out points by 32 to 28. However, I have done maximum damage at this point, and score 3 for more remaining army points. That leaves us with a cost 4-6 Steel Phalanx victory.
Echion was grief stricken. Eudorus, finest of runners and fighters. Phoenix, doer of deeds and speaker of words. Pandora, the beautiful evil with grace upon her head and a cruel longing. Acmon the anvil. Machaon, shepherd of his people. Great heroes all of them, laid low by the perfidy of inferior mortals.
Blood dropped from Echion's xiphos. As the nano reflective smoke cloud cleared, the vision of some cloaked monster, elongated of limbs, a faceless helm that bore no emotion, its hollow glare piercing into Echion's heart, waited for him at the threshold of the door. With boiling blood he charged out and sundered his foe, rending head from neck and limb from socket. Echion likewise heard his brothers' cries in the same angered agony, as Sthenelus struck down small remote and Thersander clashed with the larger.
With their tactical command through Machaon severed, each fell to their own initiative as conflicting commands crackled across the tactical channel. Scylla called for a final rally to repulse the Nomads from the emergency containment chamber while the Samekh offered solutions to return fire with its missiles. Amidst the cacophony, a transmission like a siren song floated into Echion's comlog.
>> Dispath the enemy completely, that it might not be reclaimed and put back to use against us.
It was a rich sonorous datastream from Utgard itself. The Netrods were still transmitting the commands of ALEPH. With the mellifluous command sequence firing through his internal processors, Echion used the heal of his boot to grind the artificial bones of the enemy to dust. They would face no revenant from this corpse.
His task completed, he turned over his shoulders to see Thersander redouble his efforts against the large remote, which slumped into the corner. With the enemy thus defeated, they had secured the emergency containment chamber as commanded. The water levels continued to rise, now at the knees. With the blare of a klaxon, the emergency doors began to close. Echion would not be able to follow his brothers into this temporary Elysium. But the three of them would carry on the tale of the deeds done this day, so that no sacrifice would be lost.
As the doors shut on them, a subroutine in Echion's processors fired a misgiving. He counted three, surely, and the IFF signatures were confirmed. And yet, as he reviewed his memory banks of the task force assigned, he could not place the new comer.
"Myrto," Sthenelus wondered, "I did not know you had been assigned to this facility. What news bring you?"
The doors to the emergency containment chamber sealed shut. As the water continued to rise and the servers on Jotunheim calculated alternate solutions for evacuation, the answer would not be forthcoming.
Boris searched feverishly for alternate escape route. Connection with the tactical team was lost, but Fiddler had rigged the control device on her Jackbot into a rudimentary transmitter and had used old Morse code to confirm that she and the Geppetto still needed an evac.
"There's an old emissions stack in the fabrication module. It will be an easy climb for you. But the Puppetactica controller will need some help..."
Boris' geist quickly translated the commands into dashes and dots and transmitted back to the receiver. The remaining team would have to move quickly. Most of the Zonds would have to be left behind. The Stempler could keep up and offer rearguard support but most of the materiel would have to written off as lost. A loss that the Jade Umbra section of the Black Hand would not take lightly.
An encrypted message interrupted this chain of thought. Based on the sophistication of the coding, it could be only one operative.
>> Made it to the emergency containment chamber. Currently sharing it with two ants and trying to fit in.
A sudden optimism gripped Boris as he tried to figure out whether they might still be able to hold the containment chamber and sweep it of enemy assets.
>> What about the Vostok?
>> Disabled. Most of its pieces are still inside.
Boris began to tremble slightly before a cry escaped his lips.
His mind began to work again after he caught his breath. The emergency containment module would detach from the facility and float to the surface for aerial extraction. With Fiddler still in play, it might be possible to get a qualified engineer there before ALEPH could dispatch a rescue team, blow the doors, and try to restart the Sputnik with a gizmokit. If nothing else, it would give Mary the chance to get out before a more sophisticated identity sweep could be made of the survivors.
>> Hold position. Support en route. Keep the ants off the Il-Khan in the meantime.
I think this is one of those few games where losing still felt like winning. Like any other game, I had some bad luck and I had some good luck, but my bad luck was minor and my good luck nearly dismantled Jon's list. The only thing better than a plan is dice that favor you. Better to be lucky than good.
But being good is the only thing I can control. In our post game chat, Jon mentioned that he felt the list would be better without the Kriza. I reluctantly agree. On the one hand, the Kriza is the lynch pin of a plan to dominate the field with full auto go BRRRT. On the other, once its out of HMG range, it doesn't really have a ton of tools to defend itself. And since it plays aggro, there's non CoC or even vets in the list to back me up. I was always an unlucky crit from losing the game, especially in turn 3. I think there's something to be said about maybe subbing it out for Wolfgang (also lol for non-synergizing pieces) because I like the extra burst value on a midrange fighter who is two wounds and can actually beat a Myrmidon in combat.
Then there's deployment where I hamstrung myself. I probably should have flipped the Salyut and Vertigo. Denma was also misplaced. Jon mentioned that the corridor where he ended up was a trap for warbands, but the Kriza might have seen more success there and forced him to shift his Samekh elsewhere. Certainly, I had the classic confusion between target number high and target number reliable. Even if I got the smoke down, it would have been a challenge to even get into chain rifle range and he would have been better spent in the box daring Eudoros in CC. I also missed the LoF with Phoenix and Fiddler and she really had nothing to do for the game, which meant that Jackbots, the most devastating of corner guards for the box, were shamefully unutilized. There was a better position for her where the Puppetmaster was, though it would have made him a more tantalizing target for Jon to push into my DZ to get.
In terms of what went well besides luck, I think the puppet in the box with a sliver of line of sight did me favors. I never really expected to contest the box, certainly not turn one, but getting Eudoros into a position where he had to fight me head on in template range and risk the hacking attack was pretty solid. Pitcher placement and deployment side also suited GML way more for me than Jon. Though I really only scored a death on Eudoros and sunk six orders over the game in that play, it allowed me to really dictate vectors in a way that gave me a powerful ARO without much risk to the active attack. I would also credit some decisions to take risks that paid off, like getting the Kriza dead on T3 to put Jon in LoL and showing patience with command token use to ensure I had them in turn three in case the Kriza died. When I saw Jon start his second turn with only one command token left, I knew I had a really strong advantage even if the Kriza died (or at least I imagined I did).
The closeness of this game also breeds a lot of thought about the small decisions that might have affected the outcome. Choosing to shoot into combat to kill at least one myrmidon at the risk of my Kriza might have been more efficient than what I ended up doing instead. Remembering the targeted bonus for some shots, opting for one last guided instead of the chaincolt, using a template on the Myrmidon who went into CC with the Hollowman, all of these things might have helped (or hurt, if I left Jon with another regular order to try to get Mary out of the box). Just shifting Denma into full cover and holding the order till Phoenix died would have really left me a vector of attack at an importune moment. But I think this is also the sign of a good game, not necessarily the level of play as much as the closeness of result. When one decision or die roll can shift things to the good or the ill, sometimes it can feel like "but for that, I might have one." I try to take it the other way though, in remembering that I was in it until the last moment and if I can make one different decision next time I might do better.
For Jon's part, I think he did really well relying on his unnammed characters to save the day. The Myrmidons are somewhat famously maligned (at least by a loud few) for their fragility, but honestly they passed all their rolls and stood in when the heroes were dead. Being able to shift away from the named tools to the filler to pull out a win is pretty clutch. I think the decision to sacrifice Eudoros for two points early was also worth it and was the difference between a win and a tie. The positioning of Phoenix and then the Samekh ended up being very limiting to me and just the inclusion of Scylla made me had to respect the hacking game when I usually try to run rough shod over the greased up bare chested jocks of the Assault Sub Section.
Places where he might have improved would definitely be in leaning into the hacking game a little harder. The Samekh warped my play and ate Denma, but there was a chance to try to delete a puppet once Pandora's pitchers were down that might have paid off. Shoving Charbydis down my throat to at least strip the Salyut would have been a worthy investment too. I also think worrying about the link once Mac and Myrmidons were in the box was probably not that important. Certainly, I think Jon would have wanted the command token on turn three to convert an order. The -3 to dodge GML is punishing, and I don't recall the dodge rolls enough to know if it mattered, but it might have been a case of aversion to downside risk foreclosing the possibility to do more with a later resource. I'm also not quite sure what the goal was with rushing Acmon down my side. Even though killing him was something like a 1.5% probability, without seeing the intended payoff it felt like a waste--if it were me on the other side, I'd probably have thrown Acmon at the Kriza to put me in LoL.