2948-10-20 – Tales from the Service: The Best Wreck Left in Judicael

While last week’s entry marked the end of Outpost Judicael and the defensive line it anchored on Margaux, stories of valor and adventure in the four-day retreat to the Ishkawa Line have multiplied on the datasphere since.  

Though I could easily provide a well-documented account of Marines or FDA exhibiting meritorious conduct in the operation, this week (and for a few weeks afterward) we will instead be featuring the account of Adana Beckett, commander of a group of mercenaries from Vardanian Security operating both assault troopers and old Jie Yu-built strike bombers from Judicael. 

While Ms. Beckett does not say specifically, it seems the evacuation of the outpost caught her outfit by surprise and left them holding a rather volatile bag. In the last hours of the evacuation, Ms. Beckett rounded up her company’s last nervous stragglers to figure out a way to extricate Vardanian from an unpleasant predicament. 

While this story has been corroborated to some extent, it is likely some embellishment took place. I have done some independent research and see ample evidence that Vardanian Security is far less professional than outfits like the one Jacob Borisov commanded at Adimari Valis. I do however hope that these mercenaries do not share Mr. Borisov's fate.

Adana Beckett ducked underneath the stubby wing of the boxy Yeren gunship on the landing pad and jammed a fiber link into the craft’s access panel. After a moment’s security handshake, the unlovely craft unloaded a flood of status and configuration data to her helmet heads-up display. Just like the other craft left behind at Outpost Judicael by the mixed Confederated force, the Hyadean gunship was considered not flightworthy, and as one of the oldest models of craft fighting on Margaux, and a mercenary rig at that, it hadbeenplacedlow on the priority list for the few available heavy-lift airfreighters which had ferried equipment rearwards until the last possible second. 

That last second had come and gone. A pall of oily smoke marked where Judicael’s main compound had been. The Marines, fighting a mobile retreat behind the grimly-marching FDA, were slowing down Nate’s advance just long enough for the techs to finish destroying the compound’s more useful outbuildings and slagging the strike-craft left on the pads and all the equipment still sitting in the maintenance hangars. 

Adana knew any minute, a tech with a thermite charge might trot up to the pad and interrupt her work. Her team – one of them in particular at least - could scare a lone tech off, but they were just mercenaries, and they lacked the authority to impede military personnel. Regulations were clear: the Yeren couldn’t be left behind for enemy intelligence, even if it was older than any person fit to fly it. If nothing else, the military would observe, its mercenary-registered transponder could be re-used to cover the activities of Incarnation scouts or espionage teams. 

“Hells, Beckett.” Geoff Shepherd’s gruff voice on the comms circuit interrupted Adana’s scan of the Yeren’s status readouts. “This isn’t going to work. Let’s just give it up and get moving.” 

“Can it, Shepherd.” Joining the semi-orderly flood of Confederated personnel back toward the Ishkawa Line didn’t appeal to her, or anyone else in the company, but it was the action most likely to result in survival. If Adana didn’t have to worry about a sensitive asset too bulky for their single remaining quadcrawler to move, she wouldn't be one of the last five security contractors hanging around at doomed Judicael. 

“He’s right.” Owen Hierro’s voice, thin and reedy even in calm situations, had become almost shrill. “The Brass will reimburse us for our lost assets, won’t they?” 

Adana sighed. “Not for the assets they don’t know we brought.” She didn’t know how much the few corporate grunts she had rounded up knew about Vardanian Security’s double-booked contract on Margaux, and she didn’t want to have to explain. Jumping into a high-paying planetary defense contract armed with new tech from fleet R&D had seemed like a safe bet, but months into the action the company hadn’t found a use for most of the secret prototypes it was supposed to test. Per the contract, they were not going to be paid for the items they never tested – and Vardanian was responsible for replacement costs on anything lost before testing. 

“Whatever you’re trying to save had better be worth a damned fortune, boss.” Shepherd’s irritation, though understandable, told Adana she didn’t have much time before her personnel mutinied. They were mercenaries, and it didn’t pay to be heroes in the war profiteering business. They couldn’t know, and she couldn’t tel them, that the prototype she was so interested in saving had a replacement cost nearly double the value of the company’s ersatz carrier – losing it would be the end of Vardanian, Navy contracts or no. 

In the technical readout, Adana spied a ray of hope. “Basic airframe is intact. Stabilizer is out.” The craft had been grounded due to damage to the sensors in its aerodynamic stabilizer system. There was other damage, too, but this was the factor holding the vehicle on the ground – if kicked out of a starship in hard vacuum, the Yeren would have no in-flight trouble beyond a brace of angry orange warning-lights in the cockpit. It wasn’t quite as simple as flying off the pad and ignoring the bumpy ride, however - unlike the sleek Pumas of the Marine close-support squadrons and their big, bulky gunships, Vardanian’s Hyadean-built hardware featured atmo-operations capability as a mere design afterthought. Flying the unstabilized strike rig in such a way as to avoid the ground would benear-suicide. “No wonder your crew decided to hitch a ride with someone else.” 

“There’s nobody here who can fly that pig without the stabilizers, Beckett.” Shepherd, a ground-pounder by trade like most of the other Vardanian staff Adana had rounded up, still had a bit of expertise in flight operations. Everyone in the company had to know the basics, since the mercenary outfit prided itself in infantry-strike cooperation, both on the ground and in microgravity. Flying even a wounded strike rig from point A to point B in hard vacuum was something even a child or an assault grunt could reliably do, and as long as the computer and attitude thrusters kept the vehicle basically stable, the same was true in-atmosphere. Without the stabilizers, only the best pilots could keep the craft in the air for more than a few minutes, and perhaps the top thirty percentile could bring it downforaminimally-destructive hard landing after a stabilizer failure. It was, she knew, no surprise that strike-jockeys in every mercenary outfit in the Reach grumbled at the prospect of fighting anywhere with air. 

“Hierro, go and get that jumper track over here.” Adana pointed to the boxy machine squatting on a nearby pad next to a cannibalized frame that had once been a Marine dropship. “Zdrakov, go find an arc-cutter and start taking off those weapon mounts.” The stability problem couldn’t be fixed, but she didn’t mean to try. With its twin gravitic thrusters working perfectly, the gunship had plenty of thrust to get aloft, even with the meager lift of its tiny wings – all it needed to do to save the company from bankruptcy was get them across the Ishkawa line, and all it needed to do to keep its occupants alive was crash-land without exploding. For that, she needed to remove the weapons and anything else even vaguely explosive. 

“It’s already broken and you’re going to cut it more?” 

“Shut up, Shepherd.” Adana ducked back out from under the wing. “This is going to work. I’m going to get the payload. If anyone tries to melt the damned thing before I get back, shoot them.”