Eclipse Phase - The Babylon Initiative (GameThread)

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>INVIDIA<

Before any more questions could be asked by the other Specialists, Proxie seemed distracted for a moment, her expression changing. Then her smile returned as she started towards the doorway behind her.

"The expedition reports all vehicles, personnel, and systems are ready. Shall we?".

For the first time behind her helmet, Invidia herself smiled as well, though only slightly. She was anticipating this. "Lets.", she said, nodding and following her into the hanger before them.

Inside was the rest of the expedition team, the forces that were unaware of their true goals, or of the Specialists affiliation. She reminded herself that they needed to remain that way as she moved along with the others at a steady stride.

But the Fissure Gate was what drew attention. It was either Xeno-Morph or TITAN in origin, and it looked wholly alien, its machinery shifting, almost warping as the wormhole was formed at its center. Then it fully came to life with an unnatural roar and a flash, before being completely open and stable. As she stared at it for a moment, then turned back to Proxie as she spoke one last time.

"They're under your command now; good luck and Godspeed.".

She nodded, and then looked back at the forces behind them, even as some of the other Specialists strode through, one whooping in excitement.

"Acknowledged. All Expeditionary Units, proceed into the Fissure Gate!", she called out to them, taking hold of the Shredder hanging at her front.

She turned once more to face the great black maw of the Gate, and then calmly stepped through.

Shanoa watched the group a bit more before before returning her attention forward, which put 'Proxie' back in her field of vision and after a few moments her expression changed then reverted 'must have gotten word on something' Shanoa thought and a few moments after that, her suspicions where confirmed "The expedition reports all vehicles, personnel, and systems are ready. Shall we?".

Shanoa simply nodded and followed Proxie to the gate chamber. The gate it self was an impressive piece of tech, outwardly her 'expression' didn't change, not that the body she was in conveyed much of that anyway, internally, she was standing in child like awe, while this wasn't the first time she'd seen a gate, they always impressed her and she's always wanted to study them. Soon after they entered the chamber the assembled force began through they gate and she followed.

Hugo followed his fellow operatives to the gate. He looked around, basking in the hurried atmosphere. The soldiers around them were mixed with apprehension and curiosity about leaping into the unknown. As his other operatives went through, Hugo took his time mostly because he could. Hugo remained calm and steady, taking in the last moments before jumping through the gate. He often did this, before and after jobs if he could. He would take in his surroundings, reveling in its intricacies but also its simpleness. He was about to jump into the beyond, a place where he wasn't quite sure if he would come back out but he preferred it like that. Ignorance is bliss and often too much knowledge would do Hugo no good.

Hugo walked forward into the portal. He let himself get enveloped, drowned in its infinite spectacle hoping to see what would be revealed. The jump before madness was always his favorite moment as it made him cherish the petty little life he had or changed. Somewhere his parents might still be looking for him, or not. Somewhere some could be hunting for him, or not. Infinite possibilities passed by him and he secretly wanted to live them all. Not for the sake of reconciliation but for the sake of simply living. He wanted to envelop, take in those infinite possibilities so he could live.

If Hugo could smirk right now he would as he walked through the gate.

As the group stepped through the gate, they found themselves standing in a little crater - about 8 meters deed at the bottom where the gate was located - on the surface of the low gravity moon, sheltered from most of the surrounding landscape. The stars shined over head and the light of the unrisen sun blanketed the horizon in a harsh red glow most would find strange. the first few trucks in their caravan pulled through the gate a moment later, pulling toward the left almost immediately.

Signs of recent habitation were many - including a meager little pre-fab'd shack that acted as a sort of communication relay through the Pandora Gate - based on the number of antennae on the roof. A few dozen barricades had been set up around the gate to defend the moon from intruders; though these seemed to have been abandoned in favor of a more permanent defensive circle at the top of the crater. A roadway had been carved built into the crater to allow vehicles easy access.

The most notable signs of habitation however were the dozen heavily armed syntha-morphs standing by the make-shift comm-center, staring at the open gate in shock. Recovering quickly, half bolted for the nearest barricade for cover while the others took positions behind the comm-station to provide cover fire.

>INVIDIA<

The moment she stepped through the gate, she found herself in the middle of a crater with the others, with the moons gate behind her, and what appeared to be some sort of Comm Relay just next to it. She took a moment to look around, but once she spotted the armed Synth-morphs, she frowned just slightly behind her helmet. They weren't supposed to be there.

Then they moved to more defensible positions, and she knew something was wrong. She grabbed the nearest Specialist to her, the unusual looking Synth-morph, and tugged them with her behind a barricade even as she spoke through the secure tactical network between them.

Contacts! We've been engaged, I repeat, we've been engaged! All Expeditionary forces passing through the Pandora Gate, exercise caution and be prepared to terminate hostiles!

She had her Muse, Conquest, put that message on a loop for the people who were just about to pass through, even while she readied her Heavy Pistol. At the same time, she utilized her Multi-Tasking augmentation for some subversion of the enemy ranks, using both of the forks it made to reach through the local Mesh to touch two of the Synth-morph's cyberbrains, and immediately begun bombarding them with brute-force hacks.

As inelegant as they were, even if they were to fail her, they were sure to be decent distractions at the very least. But she judged the chances of their failure as unlikely.

Contacts! We've been engaged, I repeat, we've been engaged! All Expeditionary forces passing through the Pandora Gate, exercise caution and be prepared to terminate hostiles!

Not a second after they had passed through the gate, did Hugo get pulled to the side by one of his comrades. Although in that half-second he had already seen the dozen Synth-morphs dash for cover behind the barricades around them. They were most likely guarding the comms relay and the actual gate from intruders. The one next to him then drew out her pistol and he assumed, engaged the morphs through the Mesh. This would prove rather well or at least a decent distraction. Quickly he sent out a message to his fellow operatives.

Cloaking. Flanking left. Some distractions would be nice.

Hugo engaged the Cloak and he vanished from sight for the time being. He made his way to the left flank of the barricades in an attempt to get behind one of the morphs up ahead.

Ryle stepped out the other side, the chill followed him. He looked around for a moment before he continued.

He spotted the synthmorphs and the comm relay about a half a second after he started, judging by their reaction to the arrival they were corp security. Ryle sprinted into the closest cover and deactivated the faraday systems, realizing that communication would be needed.

Contacts! We've been engaged, I repeat, we've been engaged! All Expeditionary forces passing through the Pandora Gate, exercise caution and be prepared to terminate hostiles!

Cloaking. Flanking left. Some distractions would be nice.

Two different ID tags, most likely the two beside him, he'd have to extrapolate data from them later.

It would be best to go for straight kills at this point, less likely to escape, get help. He looked over his cover enough to aim and began unloading on them with his rail pistol, his sensors and processors extrapolating their locations and giving him targets with minimal effort.

Shanoa came through the gate in time to see a few being take cover 'Lovely' she thought as she took a look at they're current situation, the bottom of a carter was highly unfavorable "Provide cover and I can get us and aerial advantage" she said taking a shot and a guard who poked up his head.

As soon as Adelin came through the gate, his excitement turned into surprise. He spotted the synthmorphs and quickly dashed to cover.

Cloaking. Flanking left. Some distractions would be nice.

Provide cover and I can get us and aerial advantage

He heard two of the other agents saying.

"Roger, providing cover fire" he said as soon as he pulled out his sniper rifle. He started to fire, either to make sure that the synthmorphs stayed behind cover or to put a bullet through their head in case they didn't.

Just as she got out of the gate, Sheryl found herself being fired at... or rather, the expedition in general being fired at. She ran for cover and inched along the wall to a better sniping position as she readied her rifle. Once out, she took aim at a trooper about thirty feet away and fired at his leg. A hit! Got his knee, knocking the mook to the ground as his left leg obviously couldn't support his weight anymore and he didn't have the forethought to lean on anything.

Let me take over. You almost missed that guy!

Sheryl ducked back into cover for a moment.

What? But I hit him!

Just let me take over for a while, okay?

All right.

Sheryl popped out of cover, aimed, and fired at a floating synth-morph. It didn't do much damage, but it sent the little piker backwards, falling further into the crater, and landing with a loud, hard CLUNK. Sheryl immediately took aim at another synth-morph, this one looking more like a walking turret as its gun was loaded directly in the center of mass. She aimed for its neck, hoping to sever the connection between brain and the rest of the body without killing it. Just as Sheryl was about to fire on it, the turret-morph fired on her, grazing her shoulder a little... just as she squeezed the trigger. She missed entirely.

Sure you don't want me to handle this?

Har-Har. Not now Sansa.

Sheryl aimed at the turret-morph's neck again, and hit this time because she had timed popping out just as he stopped to avoid overheating. She hit, and he was down. Didn't look like he was dead though. Then the psionic AI took aim at another humanoid synth-morph, going for its arm to make sure it couldn't use that nasty looking rocket-launcher on anyone, and fired. She hit, causing a momentary pause as it adapted to start loading the rocket with one arm, and preparing to fire with it. Sheryl took another shot, fired. And it nearly severed the arm clean off of its frame.

Not bad. How many more are there?

Not sure. Don't really have time to count.

>INVIDIA<

While her forks did the intensive work of hacking into two of the as-yet intact Synth-morphs, Invidia kept behind cover and simply poked the barrel of her pistol over the barricade. She was thankful for the Smart-link that was attached to it, and the fact that it could be used as an external camera if need be. She took advantage of that and swept its line of sight across the battlefield, and highlighting every hostile save the two she was hacking on her HUD with red waypoints, as well as sending their positions to the others via-Mesh.

As soon as she did, both forks acknowledged their success, and she allowed herself the barest smile behind her helmet. She highlighted those two with a green silhouette, to make it clear they were now friendlies as they turned and immediately opened fire on their confused former allies.

Transmitting positions of all known hostiles in my line of sight. Two are hacked, now friendly, do not engage.

The moment she finished the transmission, she popped out of cover and fired four rounds at the nearest Synth-morph, and was instantly rewarded with the Reactive Armor-Piercing rounds penetrating it's torso. Though, whether or not that stopped it was another matter.

Hugo ducked near one of the barricades when some of the Synth-morphs up ahead spotted him. He underestimated their tech level but luckily he was able to find some cover unscathed but his position was hit with some projectile fire. Hugo counted just how many hostiles were firing at him from the amount of lead coming at him but that ceased when his comrades started to fire back, knocking attention away from him and towards them. He peeked his head out, seeing a few of the enemy Synth-morphs get shot up. Two even were managed to get hacked. He saw them switch positions and fire at the other morphs nearby. Hugo noticed this change and moved up. Once he got to cover he went out again cloaked to creep up closer. Once again he was spotted but he made it to safety once more in the form of one of the barricades on the enemy's side. He was getting closer to them. No longer was he on the extreme left but now he was on their left but thanks to a few well-placed shots there was a lot less morphs on this side.

Man, I'm getting sloppy... Hugo thought to himself. He peeked his head and drew out his pistol as well to engage them since he was having some trouble sneaking up on them. At least then he'd have a back-up in case anything unfortunate came up.

With the guard other wise engaged Shanoa transformed and immediately drew fire 'Worst, stealth team, ever' she thought as she weaved rather threw the hail of enemy fire, taking a few minor dings in the process, and returning her own fire from both mounted Machine Guns and the Plasma Rifle mounted on the nose. the result was better then expected, cutting down several with her Machine Guns and blowing a hole in the cover they where using as well as killing the guard behind it as she flew past at top speed the took a hard right and readied to make a sweeping pass over they're defensive line.

The Synth-morph guards, caught off guard, barely stood a chance. Less than a minute into the fight and already two were dead, two were hacked, another laying on the ground clutching his knee. The remaining Synth - outnumbered by his former allies at this point - reached for his injured ally in an attempt to escape. His former allies of course had no intention of allowing this and fired their rifles at the last standing enemy Synth. The first of them missed, but the second slammed into his shoulder; preventing the attempt to save his last ally. Drawing on instinct, he pulled his gun and tried to hit the hacked-synth, only to miss his head by a few centimeters.

Realizing the futility of the fight, the synth on the ground, clutching his knee, did the one thing he could; he sent out a comm signal for reinforcements. Grabbing his fully-automatic railgun, he pointed it in the direction of the gate and fired. His aim was true and the bullet slammed into the side of one of the transport vehicles, causing a great deal of damage to it and its cargo of weapons and gear.

Shanoa, once at height, saw the situation was well in hand so she took it upon her self to look around a bit "Tell the truck crews to get it in gear, there's a base not far away to the south east, and I'd rather not be here if/when they send reinforcements" she said over the com, though stayed in the air to keep an eye out for movement.

>INVIDIA<

Invidia didn't so much as flinch as she saw one of the cargo transports be crippled by a last-ditch effort by one of the few remaining Synths. She had to give them credit: They didn't go down without a fight. It was admirable, if inconvenient. She stood the moment the last hostile was terminated, and debated on whether or not to merge her two forks now, or wait for them to truly be in the clear.

It was at that moment that one of the other specialists, the Flexmorph currently in the air above, spoke over the tac-comm.

"Tell the truck crews to get it in gear, there's a base not far away to the south east, and I'd rather not be here if/when they send reinforcements.".

Acknowledged. One transport is disabled, all current hostiles terminated. All units, be prepared for further engagement, enemy reinforcements likely en-route. Violent action may be necessary., She replied over the comm, before ordering the two hacked Synths to come to them.

"Report. State mission and affiliation.", she commanded, staring at them both impassively behind her helmet.

Hugo was about to take two more shots at the enemy before his fellow operatives neutralized them. The fight had only lasted a few moments with the enemy combatants wiped out. Hugo was very much glad to see how combat effective this team was but the rest of their abilities he would have to see later on. Hugo holstered his pistol and turned to the gate to see one of the vehicles knocked out as a last ditch effort. Commendable but lackluster. It would take them awhile to get the vehicle up and running again which agitated Hugo. He could only imagine what the other personnel felt.

As the other operatives mopped up, Hugo ventured to the pitiful excuse that could be called a shack. He kept his hand on his holster in case there were any survivors. Just in case, he sent a message to his fellow operatives.

Checking out the shack. I recommend double-tapping the Synth-morphs. You never know.

>INVIDIA<

Her head whipped around in the direction of the small comm-relay building when one of their number sent a message.

Checking out the shack. I recommend double-tapping the Synth-morphs. You never know.

She frowned just slightly behind her helmet, and her orange cybernetic eyes narrowed. Then she replied over the tac-net.

Acknowledged. Nearest units to the comm-relay, be ready to provide back-up if necessary, keep track of his vitals. Signal us if all clear. she sent, before turning back to the two remaining Synths, and gestured to one of them.

"You, go to each terminated hostile, fire no less than two rounds into each targets head. Return here when your task is complete, confirm?", Invidia ordered firmly.

She supposed there was no need to ask for the command to be confirmed. After all, they were essentially in her thrall after having been hacked, but it never hurt to be sure. Still, it was a human quirk, once she never really noticed unless she paid attention. After a moment, however, she brushed off her concerns. Curious as the quirk was, it was inconsequential, and hardly effected her efficiency or effectiveness as far as she was concerned.

>WITH INVIDIA<

"Report. State mission and affiliation." she said to the two remaining synths under her command, befor eammending the statement to send one of the two on "cleanup".

One of the two quickly walked toward the closest of the downed synths; firing into one of the clearly dead morphs (lacking all limbs and most of a torso). Meanwhile, the remaining synth began to speak, his voice synthetic in the extreme. "This unit's designation - E2467HC52 - is listed as property of Gatekeeper LLC and is currently assigned for use by Project Ozma. Mission Objective is unknown, but current orders - as listed by the on-board Muse - read: guard the Pandora Gate from intruders until CLASSIFIED is complete. Order was given by Major Kastor at fourteen-hundred, thirty-six hours local time; approximately four hours ago.

The sound of another wave of bullets then rolled over them as the first controlled synth ensured another downed synth would stay that way. Meanwhile, a handful of engineers were working on getting the damaged truck up and running with no immediate success.

>WITH HUGO<

As Hugo entered the small plasti-steel box, he heard the sounds of whirling computers before he could see anything. A moment later, the lights of the small room flickered to life, revealing little more than a communications relay - equipped with the equipment to send a message through an open gate. A pair of uncomfortable looking chairs sat in front a pair of hardwire displays which showed no information. A pair of large serves sat against the back wall; the source of the sound. There were no signs of life or obvious danger.

>WITH SHANOA<

As Shanoa flew, she could see a bustle of activity at the camp but - without more information - couldn't tell if this was a normal level of activity for the camp or a sign of something more. A few minutes passed before one fact became clear; the camp was becoming smaller. One by one, the portable shelters were disappearing into the holds of vehicles. Only the largest of equipment seemed to remain unchanged; though it was hard to see the larger structures in the camp for all the vehicles.

All at once, another fact became clear; they had a lot of vehicles. Whoever they were, they were exceedingly well equipped and well supported. Their group had to be at least six fold the size of the Firewall team, with twelve fold the gear.

Shanoa watched the base carefully, there was a lot of activity, though couldn't tell if it was normal or they where mobilizing. Then she noticed the structures coming down "Quick Status update on the base" Shanoa started "Good news is, looks like they like they're getting ready to pull out. Bad news, there's a LOT of them, and chances are, gonna be heading this way." She said to the team.

"Whats the status on that truck?"

>INVIDIA<

When she saw the one she assigned clean-up duty comply, Invidia nodded once in approval before turning to the remaining Synth as it gave her it's report.

"This unit's designation - E2467HC52 - is listed as property of Gatekeeper LLC and is currently assigned for use by Project Ozma. Mission Objective is unknown, but current orders - as listed by the on-board Muse - read: guard the Pandora Gate from intruders until CLASSIFIED is complete. Order was given by Major Kastor at fourteen-hundred, thirty-six hours local time; approximately four hours ago.".

Behind her helmet one of her brows winged up ever-so-slightly. Four hours ago. So they were only recently stationed there. That meant that any resistance on the moon was likely fresh, fully supplied, and possibly even fully prepared for a fight at any moment. This, as transhumans would say, was a piss-poor start to the operation. In her eyes, it was both inconvenient and... Troublesome to say the least. Still, any information on the enemy was better than none.

"Very well. Synth-unit, you are now designate: Judas. Your counterpart is now designate: Cain. You are to compile all information you have on all military units currently on this moon and send the information to Conquest, my Muse. Once finished, help Cain finish it's clean-up duties. After all tasks are complete, report back to me.", she said, even as she used her forks to worm their way into their respective registries to alter their designations.

It was then that the aerial specialist above them spoke up on the tac-net again.

"Quick Status update on the base. Good news is, looks like they like they're getting ready to pull out. Bad news, there's a LOT of them, and chances are, gonna be heading this way. Whats the status on that truck?".

She gave a quick glance to the disabled transport before she replied. Transport is still disabled. Repair may take some time. All Expeditionary Units, be advised, we have a large hostile contingent likely en-route to our position. Recommend full evacuation as soon as possible.

The fight ended as quickly as it began. When the dust settled, Adelin heard one of his fellow operatives.

Transport is still disabled. Repair may take some time. All Expeditionary Units, be advised, we have a large hostile contingent likely en-route to our position. Recommend full evacuation as soon as possible.

"Good job on hacking those two synths" he approached her. "This isn't the most appropriate of times but allow me to introduce myself. I am Demetrius Adelin. I'll move on ahead and scout the area for the hostile group. If they do come towards us, my sniper is strong enough to penetrate their vehicles's front armor. I can damage their engines and temporarily halt their advance, it should buy us a bit of time"

Adelin then started to casually jog ahead. He turned his view towards his fellow operative and smiled "I don't mean to be rude by cutting this short but we'll have to continue the discussion some other time" He then turned his head in front of him and started to run faster.

>INVIDIA<

Invidia turned and relaxed only slightly when one of the others came up to her and spoke. She recognized him instantly as she looked over his face: It was the once she had held suspicions of earlier, concerning the Planetary Consortium.

"Good job on hacking those two synths. This isn't the most appropriate of times but allow me to introduce myself. I am Demetrius Adelin."

She nodded once and turned to face him more properly. "And I am Invidia.", she replied, before he continued.

"I'll move on ahead and scout the area for the hostile group. If they do come towards us, my sniper is strong enough to penetrate their vehicles's front armor. I can damage their engines and temporarily halt their advance, it should buy us a bit of time. I don't mean to be rude by cutting this short but we'll have to continue the discussion some other time."

Frowning slightly behind her helmet, she watched as he started to sprint into a good sniper position.

"Acknowledged. Exercise caution, and remain in close contact. We cannot afford specialist losses this early on in the operation.", she said, hesitating for just a moment before adding, "...And good hunting.".

Hugo entered the small shack to see a communications relay for the most part. There was some hard-wired computers along with large servers most likely storing some interesting data. Although the relay looked like it could only send out messages for the most part. Either way it these computers could hold host to something they could use.

Comms relay in the shed. A few computers alongside some large servers. Any hacking specialists should start scouring what's in the servers before the larger force gets here. Hugo sent out. He wasn't foreign to hacking but it wasn't exactly in his forte. He knew someone else on the team would be better in hacking these servers than he would so after the message he left the shed. He saw Adelin going forward towards the enemy to try and halt them. If Hugo could grin he would be doing it right now.

Adelin, I'm coming with you. Someone's gonna have to drag you back.

>INVIDIA<

It wasn't long after Adelin started to get into position when another transmission came over the tac-net, telling her that there were secured servers and terminals in the comm-relay's building, something that piqued her curiosity. The man that stepped out of the shed itself, a custom-made Synth, not entirely unlike her own Biomorph, the followed after Adelin.

Confident that they knew exactly what they were doing, she nodded once before striding to, and stepping inside, the comm-relay. It was small and poorly lit, with most of the light coming from the terminal screens and the pulsing lights of the servers, showing that they were at least partially operational. She instantly felt more at home, likening it to her own apartment back on Oberon.

She lowered her Shredder and walked over to one of the few chairs that fit inside the cramped space, sat, plucked up one of the fiber optic strands meant for direct neural interface.

Conquest, monitor all communications on the Firewall tactical network while I'm interfaced. If there is an emergency, let me know, otherwise: Do not disturb me.

Yes ma'am. Standing by.

As soon as her command was acknowledged, she brought the end of the strand up and around before plugging it into one of the Access Jacks at the base of her skull. The transfer of consciousness was immediate. While she could still sense her surroundings in the real world, they were dulled in comparison to the sensation of being in the Mesh.

Her Infomorph, a massive sea-snake with dark green scales, flexed in the deep waters from Old Earth that the Mesh resembled for her. And directly in front of her was the security firewall of the comm-relays mainframe. She uncoiled, raising her head in challenge, before she pulled her forks into the Mesh with her. A pair of identical Infomorphs materialized to either side of the original, and then they started to push through the firewall itself. Testing its defenses, seeing where it was weak.

Even as they broke through one layer of security after another, she supposed having the three of them hack in at once was overkill. But, it also meant that they would break in that much faster, and that much easier. After all, one expert hacker might be able to break in. Three would break in.

As soon as the last layer went down without so much as a fuss, Invidia looked over the comm-relays programming and had to pause out of surprise.

The Consortium certainly hadn't skimped on at least some of the equipment here, she thought when she realized that what they had there was a real-time communications line from this side of the Gate, to the other, which could potentially lead to any of the Pandora Gates in existence.

Unwilling to let such a valuable tool go to waste, she already began rebuilding the firewall with one of her own, while her two forks went to work on reprogramming some of the communications protocols. It seemed that the relay itself was able to differentiate between Gates that the local one could lead to. In addition, it supported quantum encryption, which she set to Firewall standards, and a more conventional comm-relay that their tac-net could tap into.

Once the programming and offensive firewall were in place, she began a transmission, in hopes that Proxie, back at the Fissure Gate, would receive it.

This is Firewall Sentinel, designate: Invidia. I have a priority status report for Proxie, from Babylon. We have encountered enemy resistance, and will likely encounter more shortly. Our specialists have found a communication relay that is able to reach through the Gate, which I am using now to contact you. It appears that hostiles are a contingent from Gatekeeper LLC, detached and assigned to a 'Project Ozma'. I am going to be setting up a communications network in the hopes of near-constant, real-time contact with Firewall. We have no losses as yet, and will proceed with operation as planned. We will keep in contact and keep you apprised with current status.

>WITH HUGO & ADELIN<

As Hugo and Adelin reached the top of the crater, they could finally see some distance. The moon was small enough that it's curvature was just barely visible with the naked eye as a trend of the landscape to bend at the horizon. The second thing that struck them was the cratering. As the Babylon description had said, it was oddly regular. Small craters marred the surface of the rocky ball in a simple grid-like pattern, though the lines seemed to alternate in their positioning to provide maximum coverage; like someone or something wanted to ensure that every twenty meter square of the moon had been adequately destroyed. This perfect pattern was somewhat ruined by the many natural - and therefore random - craters which had landed over the centuries.

The last clearly visible sight on the moon however took precedence. A few miles southeast of the gate, hundreds of lights illuminated the moon's surface, casting shadows behind the hills and into the valleys of the small natural satellite. What more, one by one, the lights were going out as their sources were snuffed out by an unseen crew of workers. Several large structures were easily visible in this light, though they were much darker than the rest of the camp.

One of the aforementioned natural craters - larger than the crater the gate now sat in - had pushed a small amount of lunar dirt into a rough hill that over saw much of the area. While not the tallest of the land masses on the moon, it was the nearest and best to provide a proper sniper's nest.

>WITH INVIDIA<

Almost immediately after Invidia sent her message, her Muse relayed a response to her. Not from the other side of the gate or from Proxie or Firewall at all for that matter, but from Judas - the results of his compilation.

By the time Conquest had finished relaying the information, the connection with Firewall had been established. A few moments later, Proxie was on the other end of the line.

"Message received. Project Ozma is the Consortium's special task force for dealing with X-Risks. Firewall doesn't have much information available on them, though their primary goal is to secure extra-terrestrial technology at any cost. It's unlikely they have more than a one or two operatives on the moon; current estimates put their agent count under twenty. If Ozma is on Babylon than whatever the Consortium found is of greater significance than we realized." Proxie said, giving what information she could.

"I'll keep this line open as long as possible; but if the relay is slave to the Pandora Gate, then as soon as someone dials another gate, the relay will need to cut... or so the technicians are telling me." Proxie finished, letting Invidia know where they stood.

A few seconds later, Judas and Cain arrived in the station, awaiting orders.

>WITH SHANOA<

As Shanoa circled, the movements of the base began to make more sense. Seeing their progress, they seemed to have a little over an hour and a half before the packing would be complete, though the more armed of the vehicles seemed ready to move at a moments notice.

Strangely; they seemed to be entirely aware of her presence - keeping weapons trained on her at all times - but weren't firing a single shot or launching fighters. Either she was still out of range or they didn't view her as a significant threat yet.

>WITH ALL<

One of the engineers with the transport came onto the open line. "The transport was hit bad. We're going to have to abandon it. We're moving the contents to other trucks, but the main booster for the rocket buggy is too heavy to move without some of the specialized equipment. It's going to take at least an hour to get everything setup and another to tear it down when we're done; plus time to actually move the booster. We have a spare booster on one of the other trucks, but only one. If we have a problem with it..." he said, letting the situation sink in.

>INVIDIA<

It had taken some time for the connection to the other side of the Gate to go through, something that concerned Invidia just slightly. She had no idea what kind of time they had before the hostile forces the Flexmorph specialist had warned them about got there. But, before she could decide whether or not to wait it out or cut the connection to a short message, Conquest sent her the unit information she had had Judas compile.

She decided to wait on the connection as she reviewed it, and by the time it was finished, Proxie came over the connection herself.

"Message received. Project Ozma is the Consortium's special task force for dealing with X-Risks. Firewall doesn't have much information available on them, though their primary goal is to secure extra-terrestrial technology at any cost. It's unlikely they have more than a one or two operatives on the moon; current estimates put their agent count under twenty. If Ozma is on Babylon than whatever the Consortium found is of greater significance than we realized. I'll keep this line open as long as possible; but if the relay is slave to the Pandora Gate, then as soon as someone dials another gate, the relay will need to cut... or so the technicians are telling me.".

She nodded once even as her Infomorph coiled up and glanced at her two Forks. They nodded in turn and began to program an emergency protocol, should the Gate, or comm-relay for that matter, be tampered with in any way. Then she turned back to the feed from the relay itself.

Received and acknowledged, Proxie. Will keep transmission open and tac-net wide for as long as possible, and will have a contingency should anything come to pass at either the Gate or comm-relay.

It was moments later that one of the technicians working on the downed transport spoke up on the comm, advising them of the situation. Her Infomorph hissed in a rare show of irritation, before her actual Biomorph severed the connection to the servers themselves.

She didn't wait for her senses to rush back in full to her Biomorph to stand up and turn to the two hacked Synths, Cain and Judas. "On me.", she ordered, before stepping outside.

Conquest, send the same data packet Judas sent me to the rest of the Specialists.

Yes, ma'am.

As Conquest complied, she addressed the others over the comm: All Firewall Forces, be advised: We now have an open transmission back to Proxie linked to our tac-net, but said transmission will likely only be for a limited time. We also have information on local hostile forces. Additionally, we need a solution in regards to the crippled transport. Any suggestions?

Shanoa zoomed in on one of the AA weapons in her line of site, she thought she saw it moving, and sure enough it was tracking her "We don't have time for a plan with a two hour minimum, not gonna say they're going to be moving out for us 'any second', from the look of things they have a lot of gear to pack up still, that said, one of the AA placements is tracking me, and the armored vehicles seem ready to go at a moments notice if need be. My suggestion? Scuttle the truck and its payload and move out, if there's a problem with the back up rocket I can probably sort it out." she replied, making sure to keep an eye on the sniper team that was moving out.

As Adelin was running towards the top of the crater, he passed by the communication shack. Out of it came Hugo.

"Adelin, I'm coming with you. Someone's gonna have to drag you back." he said

Adelin grinned "Heh, I wouldn't want it otherwise. Now I can push that much harder knowing that you'll drag my ass out of the frying pan. Hugo, isn't it? I'm Adelin, delighted to meet you." he ended my giving out a friendly smile.

Hugo and Adelin reached the top of the crater, from where they could see things a lot more clear.

"Quite a sight, isn't it?" exclaimed Adelin. He then looked up and noticed the last of the operatives, the one that could transform into an airplaine.

Adelin frowned a bit ironically and as if letting out a sigh "Well isn't that...subtle" he said with a quirky smile

A quick eye scan of the terrain uncovered a small hill, not perfect but good enough for a sniping point.

"You see that, Hugo?" he said as he pointed at the hill "It might not be perfect but it's the best sniping point around, I suggest we set up there, don't you agree? Also, do you have any experience as a spotter?"

Soon after, Adelin received a data pack. He looked over it quickly, the sight wasn't beautiful. "Damn" he said to himself

He then turned towards Hugo "Have you seen what we're facing? Sigh...." Adelin raised his arms and on an ironic tone "Well on one hand, that's a lot of Demetrios gear that's gonna be destroyed and one big cheque I'm gonna indirectly receive but then on the other hand..." he lowered his arms as if in despair and continued more seriously "...THAT's a lot of Demetrios gear, pretty deadly and advanced"

He then overhead the other two agents over the comm:
"All Firewall Forces, be advised: We now have an open transmission back to Proxie linked to our tac-net, but said transmission will likely only be for a limited time. We also have information on local hostile forces. Additionally, we need a solution in regards to the crippled transport. Any suggestions?"

"We don't have time for a plan with a two hour minimum, not gonna say they're going to be moving out for us 'any second', from the look of things they have a lot of gear to pack up still, that said, one of the AA placements is tracking me, and the armored vehicles seem ready to go at a moments notice if need be. My suggestion? Scuttle the truck and its payload and move out, if there's a problem with the back up rocket I can probably sort it out."

Adelin approached them over the comm:

"This is the sniper team reporting in, we've found a vantage point. It's not ideal but it will do. Flying operative, I believe we haven't met. Not the best of moments for introductions but my name is Adelin. Listen, me and Hugo will set up at this position, if they start coming towards us, we'll disable the vehicles at the front of the convoy. This will temporarily stop it. I suggest you take this opportunity to do a few strafing runs and hit the middle and the rear of the convoy. It should buy us some time. I say enough time to get that cargo moved into another vehicle"

Ryle walked around the outpost pulling the cortical stacks from the downed synthmorphs looking for anything functioning.
A little cut here, a little prod there, and out popped their minds.
Two walking, Ten down.
Nine Dead, One living.
He checked the stack for any surprises, found none and placed it in his satchel, intending to take it's mind later.

Soon

As he was making his way to check on... Invidia and the comm network a flood of messages hit him.
Followed by rapid successions of the words shit and plan in his head.

He ran over to one of the dead synthmorphs and pried an assault rifle out of it's hands. He took a second to acquaint himself with it before sending a message over the comms.

"This is Ryle, I vote for scuttling it and rigging a solution on site. This position is in their favour tactically, it is not in the best interest of the mission to be caught here when they arrive. However if we're going to try a recovery, we need to start ASAP."

The battle apparently over, Sheryl stood up to check her rifle's condition. It looked okay. She then saw that her fellow agents were trying to get the boosters of the downed transport going again.

They're going about it the wrong way, the gravity's pretty low here, should be able to push it if...

Yes... that could work.

"Hey guys," she said, tuning into their comm channel, "I doubt we have time to make repairs to that transport at the moment. For now, I'd recommend focusing on getting it level, and pushing it out of the way. If enough of us work at it, we should be able to manage it. Gravity's a bit low here."

Sheryl scanned the area around her, there didn't seem to be anything in the area that they could hide in, no hidden doors or passageways. So, she hopped down to the middle of the 'arena' sort of area, and ducked inside one of the obvious doors leading into the facility. Following the signs inside, she quickly found the server room.

Huh, that's odd.

You mean aside from the fact that the server is still powered and functional at this point?

Well yeah, there is that. Thought they would've...

Installed a remote failsafe to keep us from hacking into it. Probably don't have time to pour through that just yet though. But what were you referring to exactly?

The server is on wheels, I think there's something underneath it.

Sheryl struggled for a few moments before managing to push the server out of the way, revealing a hidden compartment underneath. She switched to her pistol, and lifted the hatch. Cowering inside, was a man in a space suit.

"Be advised," she said into her comm, "We've got a... stowaway down here."

Turning her attention back to the scared man she was pointing her gun at, "Okay... who are you and what the hell are you doing down there?"

Hugo scanned both the base ahead and the bytes of information that his fellow operatives shared. It was daunting that nothing worth it was ever easy and right now, the Consortium was making the object extremely worth it to find considering all the resources both parties are willing to put on the line. Several plans were running through Hugo's cyber brain but almost all of them involved him at least getting shot without the help of Adelin but at least it would give the team the precious time they need. He even listened to Adelin's plan he proposed to the flying operative which gave him a few ideas.

"If you can give me enough support, I can lure them in the opposite direction. That or make them think that we have more numbers than we actually do." Hugo proposed to Adelin. He pointed out the several craters alongside the path to the gate. "My morph has a chameleon skin. I can easily move around and distract them while you take potshots at them."

>INVIDIA<

Invidia paused and listened as each of the suggestions came in through the comm, but one in particular caught her interest.

"I doubt we have time to make repairs to that transport at the moment. For now, I'd recommend focusing on getting it level, and pushing it out of the way. If enough of us work at it, we should be able to manage it. Gravity's a bit low here.".

She nodded, even as she was surprised to have overlooked an observation about the moon that was so simple. "Agreed. We cannot afford to lose mission-critical equipment, including back-ups until they are deemed unnecessary. The two hacked Synth's and myself will attempt to move the transport. All other Specialists, I would suggest that those not commencing hit-and-run tactics or general harassment, route incoming Expeditionary Forces to a more secure position until further notice.", she relayed, before turning to both Cain and Judas.

"Cain, Judas: You will be assisting me in moving the disabled transport.", the hacker told them, before promptly turning and heading straight to the transport itself.

She gave it a quick once-over, and noticed the fact that only the side of it had been damaged, though there was the chance for internal damage as well. Still, the wheels were intact, meaning that moving it wasn't going to be that big of a problem. The main issue would be getting it out of the crater, and unless the two Synths she had hacked were stronger than they looked, she would likely need help.

With a glance to the technicians that had been working on it earlier, she motioned for them to come over. "We need to move the transport out of the crater to a more secure position. Help me push it.", she told them, before bending down and taking a hold of the front of the truck.

>WITH SHERYL & RYLE<

"Okay... who are you and what the hell are you doing down there?" Sheryl said to the man as she pulled the server away from him.

The man, for his part, mostly whimpered and tried to pretend this wasn't happening and that he wasn't there. It seemed to work for the first few seconds, but the strategy didn't seem to be viable long term. "I'm... my name's... Desmond Horter and I'm just a comm specialist I swear!" he said, trying desperately to not die in a god forsaken plastic box on a god forsaken moon floating around a star no one knew about.

>WITH INVIDIA<

As Judas, Cain, and Invidia pulled the damaged transport up the hill, a half dozen of the engineers and soldiers hurried over to help them push. With their combined, significant effort, the normally multi-ton vehicle breached the top of the crater to join the other transports at the top. When it did, the many men let loose a cheer, only audible through the mesh connection.

Those that helped push the vehicles took a few minutes to catch their breath before the leader of the transport team came over to Invidia. "Well that should be the hard part... where do you think we should set up camp? I don't know about you, but I don't want to be here when those guys-" he said, indicating the base in the distance "-decide to visit the gate." As he said it, several of the engineers who hadn't been pushing started hooking up winches to pull the broken transport across the moon now that they were out of the bottleneck around the gate.

>WITH ADELIN, HUGO, & SHNOA<

The base continued to pack up, hurrying through the actions with new vigor. As the broken transport cleared the top of the crater, a small space fighter took off from the base. The Consortium - who were apparently tired of Shanoa's air superiority - kept their distance from the group, flying around the vicinity of the gate, base, and Firewall team with care so as not to draw the ire of the small group too soon. A second fighter appeared to be preparing to launch, with a third, fourth, and fifth not far behind it. Several of the military vehicles and civilian transport vehicles started to slowly work their way toward the gate.

Sheryl noticed how, well... utterly terrified the man appeared to be, and decided on a gentler approach. She offered her hand to help the man up.

"Okay, relax," she said, "I doubt you're a threat to humanity here, but could you please tell me what you're doing here? I mean, what's your job? How did you end up here? And... do you have any idea what the Consortium is doing here?"

And if he doesn't talk... we'll have to...

No. It wont' come to that. We're not doing that, even if it does seem necessary. No. Just no. I can't believe you were seriously thinking that way. Are you okay?"

I'm fine.

Are you sure? Maybe you should kick back for a while and...

I SAID I'M FINE DAMN IT!

Okay! Okay!

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