Saving Guildmaster Namura

The following takes place immediately after Tal’s return to the Sirius sector.

The wormhole’s mesmerizing white swirl, reminscent of that of Sirian jumpgates, eventually gave way after what seemed like an eternity of staring blankly out of the tinted cockpit glass. Surrounding him in it’s place, however, was a murky, dark purple nebula cloud, the neuron-esque rock formations revealing themselves with every flash of what looked like lightning. Tal, in his handy Liberator light fighter, would know what this place was: the Badlands. The very mention of it’s name sent fear into the hearts of LPI officers across Liberty, a harsh, unforgiving cloud where the hazards and pirates were bountiful. It was only in a place like this that the refuse of Sirius would find refuge, having been otherwise driven from civilization by the power of the law. Being a Freelancer, it wouldn’t necessarily frighten him to be in Rogue territory, but his ship and the registration papers belonged to the Police.

“Ah, shit,” he muttered, kicking the engines back into gear and pulling up the starchart. He was about as deep inside the Badlands as one could get, showing up at around D7, far from the lanes. He had this area mapped on his personal fighter, but LPI ships purposefully had the Badlands unmapped and unmarked in order to discourage officers from entering it. From here, he could head map west, hitting either the Pennsylvania jump gate or the West Point trade lane, whichever showed up first.

Carefully, he changed headings to due west, activating his cruise engines and leaning back in the seat as the fighter picked up speed. It was a long way to Sigma 19 from New York, but he’d manage. First, however, he needed to get out this Police fighter, as both the lawfuls and the unlawfuls would be asking questions.

“Speak of the motherfucking devil,” he thought, as two red contacts came up on scope, 3.5k out. Too close, way too close. His arrival in the system must’ve set off some kind of energy cascade, one that nearby Buffalo station must’ve picked up and dispatched a patrol. Wait, there were two more. Now four more. What the hell? Where were all these Rogues coming from?

WARNING, INCOMING MISSILE! his computer barked, as a distinctive streak of orange danced through the asteroids and hit him dead on, cutting his engines to a halt. Immediately, he kicked in his afterburners, going evasive as the multiple red arrows on his HUD began to grow deeper in color. They were closing in. His best bet now would be to reason with them, maybe they’d understa–

He rocked forwards in his seat as the first rounds hit him, immediately going full evasive in the face of several other fighters opening up on him. The small shape of the Liberator, coupled with it’s agility, allowed him to dance between the asteroids and the fighters, narrowly escaping an ambush as his shields came back online. Panicked, he reached down to try and open a comms channel, hoping to get them to call off their attack, but no one seemed to be picking up. It looked like radiation damage had knocked out his comms, and they hadn’t been repaired on Blazing Umbra.

A Rogue fighter, a Hyena, by the looks of it, crossed into his line of fire, trying to go head on with the much more maneuverable Liberator and failing. Tal switched to weapons and rolled the ship right 70 degrees, pitching up while firing the directional thrusters to make him a harder target to hit, as there were still a good several ships on his tail trying to take him. With his eyes on the prize, the helmet cueing system targeted the Hyena, and he locked his guns on target before letting loose a quick salvo from his Debilitator pulse cannons. The enemy’s shields fell quickly, as the Hyena was a pretty poorly-made and, in this case, piloted ship, and a rapid chainfire barrage from his twin Vengeance laser cannons sawed the thin hull of the light fighter in two, before it could even repair with shield batteries or nanobots. Splash one.

He danced like this with the Rogues for some time, unable to make a break for it as reinforcements gradually trickled in until it felt like he was fighting the entire Liberty Rogue flotilla. Just as quickly as they arrived, they fell, but the never-ending stream of Rogue fighters meant that Tal had no opportunity to try and make a break for it, until eventually, he was able to blast a clearing through his sixth fighter kill and the asteroid behind it, speeding off through the hole at full afterburner with about four more fighters in hot pursuit. From here, they were all out of weapons range, and judging by the star chart, he was heading in the right direction. That is, until he was hit by a missile.

WARNING, INCOMING MISSILE! his computer had tried to warn him, before it hit him dead-on on the port side. Rocking violently in his chair, he checked his systems, noticing that his shields were gone just as the second one hit him. The Liberator crumbled underneath him, while the automatic ejection system took control and managed to get him out of there before it all exploded.

He caught a glimpse of the perpetrator from his pod, a Rogue destroyer that emerged from the nebula clouds, along with two more full-yield cruise missiles, both of which had lost their targets as there was not enough left of his fighter to lock onto. Figures, he thought, that they’d throw a cruiser on him when it was clear that they weren’t gonna get him otherwise. He didn’t have much time to think of anything else, though, because his escape pod smashed against an asteroid, causing him to lurch forwards and smack his head on the center flight console.

Everything went black.

He came-to some time later, groaning slightly as he picked himself up off of the center instrumental panel. His chest and head hurt as he did so, and he reached up to wipe the shit out of his eyes with his sleeve when he noticed that the escape pod window was cracked. It was a deep one, considering that he could see it from inside the tinted windows of his pod, and it spanned almost the whole window. Quickly, he looked over his shoulder, finding that the rear of the pod was severely dented.

“Jesus Christ” he thought, unbuckling himself from his seat and feeling around for a safe place to put his hands to use to lift himself up in the pod a bit. Any more damage, and he would’ve been spaced. At least God was on his side for this one.

Now it was time to think. Where was he? A Navy installation, maybe? Or was he in the cargo hold of a Rogue destroyer? He had no way of telling from in here, unless…

Suddenly, a light. Bright, shining through the tinted cockpit glass. Not that it’d let them see him, of course, whoever it was. Voices, a few of them. Distant. Mumbling. Garbled. Footsteps were next, and he could visibly see the silhouettes of at least five armed men in front of his escape pod.

Here he is, boss, the cop we caught.

Rogue destroyer, err, Rogue something. Maybe Junker. Definitely not friendly.

Perfect. He will sell well on Malta. Open the pod.

There was no reasoning with these people. Slavers. They had to be.

"Fuck it, I didn’t want to go to heaven anyways," he thought, reaching down and drawing his PDW. No suppressor, but it didn’t matter at this point. On the window, he could see a laser cutter start to make a long incision on the outer edges of the pod’s cockpit glass, fit with a high-pitched whirring as expected of such a device. Taking deep breaths, the anxiety welling up inside of him, he racked the charging handle on his Enforcer IV, flicking the fire selector to full motherfucking auto as he reached around with his left hand to find the emergency bolt release lever. Liberator pods had these, and after all these years, he still knew where the distinctive T-shaped bar was. Once he found it, he flipped it up, and yanked it as hard as he could.

With a loud BANG, the front of the pod came blasting out, propelled by 6 different explosive bolt charges along the escape pod’s frame. The residual smoke from the bolts and the different atmospheric settings of the cargo bay rushed into the cockpit, causing Tal to take a second to regain his composure, but by the looks of it, the door had taken them completely by surprise. Not only had he hit all of the 5 men, including whoever the “boss” was, but it looked like a good couple of them were totally out of commission, with blood splatters on the deck and several twisted limbs poking out from underneath the heavy pod door some distance away.

One of the men, groaning, picked himself up off the ground, reaching for his weapon. Tal, in the meantime, stepped carefully out of the pod, stepping out into the cargo bay proper just as the man had his pistol at waist level. The two looked at each other, made eye contact, and stared blankly for about 20 seconds before raising their weapons at each other.

He was fast, but Tal was faster.

The distinctive sound of the caseless submachine gun rattling off a burst at 900 RPM filled the cargo bay, echoing off the ceiling, floor, walls, boxes – everything. The man was immediately hit in the chest with about 12 rounds, each 4.3mm round creating just a small cavity but going right through any armor that he might’ve been wearing underneath his coat, tearing bits of organ and flesh out the other side as he seized up in pain and fell over dead. His weapon, a highly-modified Ageira laser pistol, fell to the floor with a clatter, and Tal took a second to make sure the area was clear before moving over and picking up the pistol. Great. With this done, all he had to do now was figure out where the fuck to go to get off this ship, and he set off for what looked like the cargo bay exit, dual-wielding his weaponry.

The cargo bay led to a narrow corridor, which Tal followed all the way down to an intersection. This seemed like the ship’s main hallway, at least, for this deck, if his premonitions that he’d been picked up by a Rogue destroyer were correct. He had to be correct, the bodies were dressed like Rogues, they talked like Rogues, and they shot like Rogues.

Not that he had any experience with being onboard Scyllas, of course, but he figured if he could get his hands on a map or something, he’d be home free in a heartbeat. Quietly, he crept along the corridor, peering around the corner to find two Rogues in the hallway, smoking cigarettes. The other end of the corridor seemed to be a dead end, and so he focused his attention on these two. There was going to be no going around them; His observational skills failed to find any alternate routes, and so he resorted to violence, as if that wasn’t the plan already. With one slick movement, he stepped out into the hallway, raising his PDW and training the sights on the two before squeezing the trigger gently. Again the weapon rattled off rounds rapidly, echoing far down the hallway, as a hail of bullets took the pair utterly by surprise. The first man was struck by the majority of them up front, while overpenetration of the unarmored target sent at least half of the rounds sailing through him and into the other man behind him. They collapsed in a lifeless heap, dust settling from the impact of his strayer rounds with the wall, and he began stepping forwards, using the right side of the hallway as a guide as he crept along.

At least, until a loud blast behind him caught his attention. A flechette hit the wall he was riding against, deflecting off of the hull paneling and going right through his flight suit, into his calf. He could feel the tendons in his lower leg rip and tear apart as the dart splintered inside of him, turning the inside of his calf into something more reminiscent of a backyard burger grill than a functioning limb. Grunting, Tal collapsed forwards, rolling onto his back immediately and firing off the last few rounds in his PDW at the man. Only one of them connected, and he tossed the empty weapon aside, using his nondominant left hand to bring the laser pistol around. Two rounds from this illegally-modified beast of a handgun took the assailant down, the first round going right through his chest while the second hit his head, the high temperature beams generated by the weapon flash boiling the blood in his head and causing it to explode all over the hallway. Tal grimaced, some bits of brain and skull flying the few meters over to him and landing on his flight suit with morbidly squishy impacts, but there was no time to waste. The adrenaline rush was wearing down now, and the wound in his leg was starting to hurt like a bitch.

With no ammo for the PDW anymore, he left it here, as he didn’t need more shit to bog him down on his way out. Gritting his teeth, he tried to stand up, only to cry out in pain and collapse once he put pressure on his left leg. The flechette had him all kinds of fucked up, and he was losing blood, fast. Quickly, he began to crawl towards the other man’s dead body, slithering along the floor like some kind of gray, blood-stained caterpillar, until he reached the headless corpse of what used to be a Rogue. He drew his combat knife, moving it onto the man’s less-stained pants and cutting an incision on one of the pant legs, using his knife as a trauma shear of sorts to cut a strip of cloth off of the man. Only this time, it was to heal his own wound.

Sheathing the knife, he took the long, torn strip of cloth and immediately began tying it onto his left calf, wrapping it up tightly and neatly to try and stem the blood loss. It soaked partially through the cloth, but it was a heavy duty fabric, and Tal’s desperation allowed him to create an effective impromptu compression bandage that worked quite well. Unfortunately, he was still incapable of walking, and the noises from down the hall definitely sounded like some kind of response team. The security team’s pointman then suddenly rounded the corner at least 50 meters away, allowing Tal to down him with a quick laser shot to the chest, and crumpled like a sack of bricks, face-first into the ground. Knowing the others would be here soon, he grabbed the flechette rifle off the ground and low-crawled into the now open room that he’d missed during his initial assessment. It was an environmental control system room of some kind, one that smelled musky like all Rogue things did, but it was still a dead end. Fuck. What was he supposed to do, crawl in a vent?

Then, he saw it. A large environmental control duct blowing air out, one that he could easily stand in, let alone crawl in. Once again, he drew his knife, sticking it into the release latch and prying the grille off, letting it fall with a clatter before squeezing his way on in. He flipped around briefly to grab the grille and stick it back onto the duct as best he could to cover his tracks, returning to crawling through the vents of the ship while hoping that he lost his tail.

He was getting too old for this shit.

After some time of crawling through the vents, avoiding detection at the numerous grilles throughout the station, he found what had to be some kind of dimly-lit storage room. One of the crates that he saw through the vent cover was distinctly marked with a red cross, probably stolen from a Universal transport, and so he had to check it out. He needed medical supplies now more than ever.

With his good leg, he flipped around and kicked the grille off with several metallic bangs, crab-walking it as best he could into the dimly-lit room. It was full of different kinds of crates, all of which were probably plundered from something, and the one guard on duty that came over to investigate the noise was dropped easily by the flechette rifle. Nasty weapon, it was.

Once he reached the crate, which was at floor-level he climbed up onto it, using it to help lean him against the adjacent wall. It was electronically locked, of course, and so he leaned back and shot the lock open with his pistol. It gave some sparks before deactivating, and he heard an audible click from the crate, signifying that the bolts had dropped. In case it was a crate of bees in disguise or something, he raised the flechette rifle with his left hand, pointing vaguely in the general direction of it as he lifted the cover.

Nope, no bees, just medical supplies destined for Leeds. Hell, Leeds resistance, by the looks of it. There was everything in here. Tricord, Oxy, Peradoxin, Quick Clot, bandages, plasma, shit that you’d never need anywhere else. He’d know a “Leeds box” when he saw one too, since he’d specifically been trained by LSF’s
secretive Special Activities Division for a rotation in assisting Bretonian rebels against the Gallics. The first thing he grabbed was the Quick Clot injector, a hemostatic agent, and he rolled his left leg around, poking around the bloodied cloth with the covered tip of the autoinjector until he found the entry wound. Too easy. Bringing the injector back up, he uncapped it, gritting his teeth as he plunged the needle into his calf, just next to the entry wound. Immediately, he felt the effects, his leg seizing tightly as whatever bleeding was left was stopped. There were no broken bones, thank god, but it still hurt like a motherfucker to try to stand on, so he took two Tricord injectors and poked his calf with both, on some kind of morbid drug abuse spree. A relatively mild painkiller, it helped numb the pain away, and before he knew it, he could stand again, albeit a bit shakily.

Now was the time for the question that he had to answer: What the hell was supposed to do now? He was healed up, but he still had no idea where to go. Unless…

He looked to the guard’s body, nodding his head slowly.

[hr]

“That way, he went that way! He fucking shot my leg off, the fucker!”

Tal directed a hand down the hallway for a group of Rogues, who were searching the ship for this so-called “escaped cop”. Little did the group before him know, however, that the bloodstained Rogue in slightly baggy clothing standing before them was in fact, said cop, this time dressed up in an elaborate disguise that he stole from the guard he killed.

Alright, let’s go!” the team leader shouted, before rushing down the hallway as Tal continued on his way, limping down the corridor with fresh bandages over his wounds. Honestly, he couldn’t believe it worked.

Inside his stylish grey jacket was his handy stolen pistol, along with some assorted autoinjectors he’d pocketed along the way. In his right hand was his flechette rifle, a bullpup needler weapon, and he held it by the handguard as he clutched his side, where there a bloodstain had soaked through the jacket.

Although he was only pretending to hold his wound, as it was where he’d shot the guard originally before taking his clothes and shoving him into a box, his expression of pain was genuine, as despite shooting up on painkillers, it still hurt to walk. The fragmenting flechette had done it’s job, and he had to get actual medical attention, fast, or else he was fucked.

He pilfered a Neural Net tablet with a map from the guard as well, and managed to find out that this man had a ship in the Destroyer’s docking bay. All he had to do now was get there, and he was home free.

After some time navigating around the station, narrowly passing out from the pain several times, Tal found the Destroyer’s hangar bay, a small, repurposed cargo bay used to store and launch auxiliary craft. From the writing on the wall, old faded block text reading “HANGAR 2”, this was where had to go, as the guard had his ship parked somewhere here according to the tablet. There wasn’t much room in the hangar, naturally, since it was just a glorified cargo bay, and the only two ships parked here were a slender Greyhound heavy fighter and a Mule freighter. He didn’t exactly enjoy the prospect of flying either of the two mangy rustbuckets, but if it was the quickest, easiest, and safest route off of this ship, he had no choice. Straightening himself out as best he could, he began his descent down the ramp, until he was apprehended by one of the hangar personnel.

Hey, the ship is on lockdown, what the hell are you doing here?

“I uh, I got shot the fucking cop, he shot me right in the leg, chest, everything’s fucked, I-I’m going to Kepler for medical treatment.”

We have medical personnel on the ship, why don’t you go there?

“I don’t trust those fucking Rogue doctors with anything, I’m going to a Zoner facility to get patched up. At least there, I know I won’t get a fucking bacterial infection afterwards.”

"Look, I can’t let you go, the entire ship is on lockdown because we’re looking fo–

Tal dropped his flechette rifle, grabbing the man by the shoulder and pulling him in, just like he’d done with Sylvie about 3 hours beforehand. Only this time he wasn’t going in for a cheeky smooch, he was drawing his pistol under his jacket, pressing the muzzle against the man’s stomach, and pulling the trigger. The laser bolt flashed a bright red as it hit the man, burning a sizable hole in his lower chest, and exited out the other side, hitting one of the hangar shutters and creating a visible scorch mark. On the other end of the hangar was another observation post, manned by two crewmen who saw the murder with their own eyes, prompting them to immediately lock down the hangar and take up arms against Tal. All throughout the hangar bay, klaxon sirens began to go off, and the exits were quickly sealed by several shutters as the first few flechette rounds whizzed overhead. Instinctively, Tal took the man’s body and swiveled it around, using it as a human shield of sorts just as a controlled pair of darts hit the man dead in the back. The nature of these flechettes, which were designed to splinter easily inside flesh or ricochet harmlessly off of hard surfaces like starship interiors to prevent damage to the ship or it’s systems, meant that they had little overpenetration value, with the darts ballooning off inside the dead man’s chest cavity and causing no harm to Tal. With his right leg, his good leg, he kicked his own rifle to the bottom of the ramp, before throwing the body aside and hitting the deck with a grunt, sliding down to the base of the ramp where the tall silhouettes of the two ships and various crates of cargo and munitions provided him cover from their assault.

“It’s no good,” he thought, taking up the flechette rifle and checking to see if it was loaded, "They’ve got the high ground.

Quickly, he crested his cover, a hovering pallet normally used to haul around heavy munitions such as torpedoes or mines but was now empty, and fired off a series of rounds at the observation post, each shot producing a meaty thwack with a little bit of smoke coming out of the barrel. They were subsonic munitions, meaning that they were fairly quiet, and from behind the rudimentary sight picture of his weapon, he could see the glass on the tower shatter, falling to the deck with a loud clattering sound that was characteristic of glass shards. They stopped making an effort to shoot back after this, as they were likely untrained, undisciplined pirate crewmen, and Tal remarked about how easy it was to establish fire superiority. Maybe he was home free after all.

Until behind him, to his left, an explosion went off, and he turned to find a security team had breached the shutter in an attempt to access the hangar after the control crew had abandoned their posts in the face of superior firepower. Acting quickly, Tal drew his laser pistol and took it up with both hands, firing wildly at the cloud of smoke produced by the explosive charge. Through the haze, he saw the first body fall, followed by the next man, who took two steps out of the hall into the upper deck before hitting the rail lifeless, and sooner or later, the entire team manned up and tried to rush out at him. Of course, the undisciplined pirates were no match for someone professionally trained like Tal, who gunned down pretty much the entire team with glee as they made their entry. After firing the eighteenth shot, the weapon overheated, ran out of power, or both, returning two dull beeps and prompting him to throw it aside before taking up his flechette rifle, shouldering it tightly and giving the last two men two good controlled pairs. Silence fell after the chaos, and Tal took this time to use the pallet to help him stand back up, hobbling over to the Mule. The ID card used for getting into the ship was in his pocket, and he drew it with his free hand, fumbling with it in an attempt to discern the finer details.

Once he was sure, at least, as sure as he could get that he was at the right ship, he put the card into the side loading ramp. At first, it didn’t click, and he cursed under his breath, pulling it out, flipping it, and trying all sorts of different combinations of orientations until finally, the ramp opened with a hiss. Sighing in relief, he tilted his head against the hull of the ship, not minding how grimy it was, until the ramp was all the way down. Groaning, knowing that he had to go, he pushed off of the hull, grabbed the card, and stepped onto the ramp, rifle by his side should anyone suddenly oppose him. It didn’t seem like there was much here; what few amenities the ship came with were probably stripped out in favor of more cargo space. He beelined it for the cockpit, shut the side doors, and began lifting off. The plus of Sirian designs was that they all flew the same, as it made training easier, cheaper, and meant that pilots could be more versatile with what roles they were assigned to. Of course, they didn’t act the same, and a Mule was notoriously sluggish in maneuvering.

It took him some time to get used to the wobbly controls, although he got the hang of it by the time the second wave arrived. They fired on him with flechette rifles, all of which were probably stolen from an Ageira shipment at some point, although the low-velocity ship combat rounds bounced off the heavy, reinforced hull plating on his fighter. What a bunch of idiots, he thought, as he activated the weapons and blasted a hole in the hangar shutters, quickly depressurizing the deck as the cargo holds were significantly weaker in structural integrity when compared with the rest of the ship. Air rushed out of the bay, prompting a deck-wide lockdown, but not before the pallets, Greyhound, and any remaining personnel were sucked out into the vacuum of space. With that, he immediately set his countermeasure systems on, and hit full afterburner on his way out, the top spoilers catching on the edges of the hole and tearing clean off. Not a problem, the less weight onboard, the faster he could go.

He wasn’t in the Badlands anymore, instead, he was in a debris field behind Planet Manhattan. Not that he could go there, of course, since his ship was of Rogue make, his IFF was of the Rogues, and his ship registration belonged to an actual fugitive on the run from the law, and so he set a course to the nearest place of refuge.

The Kepler system. Ames Research Station.