Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3

punkey 2019-02-05 18:18:03
Angel had spent the better part of the day or so either attempting to nap, or attempting to read. The annoying addition of "attempting to" to his normal pre-mission routine is mostly due to continued worries about the logistics of trans-shipping between Faxom-Io on a half-dozen friendly Gateports and Kesh Holdings on Narsai, costing issues for Imperial goods to Narsai'i currency, and the effort of standing up an eight-figure private military corporation - and the fact that all of this is from Business Angel's side of the mental house only compounds the annoyance. Despite expectations, Angel can't quite just switch off his attachment to his other, non-shooting-people responsibilities, and it was with an equal measure of annoyance and bemusement that he recognized this. Not now, killing to do.

FTE, on the other hand, simply kept its shell powered down and mounted to the gear rack on the roof of the Manta. Between Tidying Up, Grand Designs, and Nailed It, it had plenty to watch. It could have tried consuming it all in fast-forward, but it would just sound and look weird and then all FTE would have to do is stare at the walls, and that would suck way more than just enjoying its Netflix fork in real-time.
punkey 2019-02-05 19:30:04
Netflix and napping take a backseat, though, as Luis and Zaef guide the Manta through the narrow pathway outlined on the HUD and in Luis' ocular implants. The center of the ring bristles with containers docked to cargo ports, Mantas, and the antennae and sensors for the ring itself, and it's not just for security's sake that the pathway Luis is navigating is barely wide enough to admit the Manta.
Standing between Luis and Zaef is Arketta, her vox the one looped into the traffic control feed. "Eye Control, this is Manta Aleh-Zero-Two-Ptah-Nine. We're on a tight schedule for the Gateway in Section Seven-Seven-Daleh, munitions inspection team on short time scale for the other side. If you could put us as close to that as you can?"
"Copy, Manta Aleh-Zero-Two-Ptah-Nine, I can put you right there - all the docking locks are empty," Eye Control replies, and in a blink the path changes course to point to a conspicuously empty set of cargo docks.

The area looks like a standard row of cargo docks for a storage section in the inner ring - five docks in a row, double-height space above them for racking inside. Usually, these bays are for secure sorting of cargo to be transferred onto Needleships or elsewhere in the Eye and are some of the busiest parts of the worldship with all the cargo coming and going - but this one has all five docks completely empty. Luis could spin the Manta around its long axis and never come close to another object as it clunks into place against the dock.
"Docked securely, Eye Control," Arketta says.
"Enjoy your destination," Eye Control replies. "Bring back something interesting."
"Will do, Control," Arketta replies. "Aleh-Zero-Two-Ptah-Nine out."

"So, how much of an open secret is this?" Hale asks. "Control seems to know where we're going."
"Word travels fast on a worldship," Ngawai replies. "Don't know why some random Turai would care about some arms smuggling..."
Hale just shakes his head. "Recruits these days."
The docking mechanism's bang-bang-bang of seals locking into place interrupts them as the green light for hard-seal turns on. "All right everyone," Garrett says, sealing his helm on. "Game time."
e of pi 2019-02-07 04:15:15
Luis runs through the checklist on locking down and securing the Manta. "Anyone not like that they have all this docking space open? If this is open season and they're moving a bunch of gear, why so much available space? I know they're making a lot of it here on the Eye, but this still seems quieter than I'd expect."
punkey 2019-02-09 09:05:36
"We'll find out in a moment," Garrett says, and slaps the button to open the rear hatch.

The halves of the hatch slide open to reveal a bored looking Rav-Turai, his helm off as he looks at the holo on his wrist. "Samal Phest? The munitions review team to Narsai?"
"Munitions review team, reporting as ordered," Arketta replies. "Don't really know what we're going to look at, but we're here to take samples and document whatever beamers do to Narsai'i."
"You didn't hear?" the Rav-Turai says. "Rah'pah went loud on Narsai - something about hitting some Narsai'i Turai push and shooting down rockets carrying fusion-based munitions." He smirks. "Whatever you heard, you've got one hell of a job now. We've gone from two weeks of cataloging supplies and sitting on our asses to spinning up a dozen quads just to get this shit out the door fast enough. Gateways are down to your right. Good luck."

Behind the Rav-Turai, you see the beamer transport crates, pods of beamer rods, and other small munitions as expected - as well as what must be a couple hundred thousand square feet of further warehouse space, all filled with giant shelves reaching to the ceiling and all crammed full of everything an interstellar empire would need for a planetary invasion. Hab preforms of all shapes, gun pieces the size of skimmers, even broken-down Mantas are waiting for transport to Narsai. Protein vats and crates labeled for maintenance and construction sit in a line leading off to the right, presumably towards the Gateways - plural - that were mentioned by the Rav-Turai, now wandered off to direct the quad operating lifters to rack hab preforms, or maybe that other quad documenting a shipment of spearbomb containers, or another trin leading a lifter loaded with half a Manta towards the Gateway.

"Vidas fucking Lam," Hale hisses. "This isn't some five-lat arms smuggling, it's a a full-scale invasion. No wonder the docks were empty - they're not trans-shipping anything, it's all going through the Gateways."
e of pi 2019-02-19 04:31:50
"Christ." Luis's mind flashes for a moment to an airport full of Gates, carrying away prisoners from a pillage of Earth, but he pushes that to the back of his mind. "If they're doing this, I think quietly locating the other side is a little redundant. We have to stop this before it goes much further, or there won't be anything left on Narsai'i. We need to see what Gate network they're using, and see if we can block or destroy them somehow."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-02-19 19:12:42
"Blocking them from this end is useless," Front Toward Enemy replies. "Not until we learn where on your planet they come out, and where the hell the Chinese keg - or kegs - is. Or are."
skullandscythe 2019-02-21 02:14:09
"Then we should go through," Zaef states. "We have as good a cover as we can for this, and we can learn much. And there won't be a lack of solutions to certain problems on the other side," he muses, eyes wandering past the Manta half.
e of pi 2019-02-21 04:37:14
Luis nods, his eyes following the gun pieces, and think about what they must need for portable power supplies. "I think we just proved what you can do when your friends are kind enough to have everything you might need for a party already on site. All right, so we go through, localize the Gates and kegs, figure out if we can neutralize it, and if we can't we mark it and get out...fast."
punkey 2019-02-23 22:10:33
Garrett nods as the group walks at a brisk-but-not-suspiciously so pace towards the Gateports. A monotask flies across the ceiling above, off to pick up something large and heavy from one of the massive shelves. "Agreed. But if this is just the tip of the iceberg, there could be hundreds of Turai on the other end. Could make blowing things up tricky."
"I don't know, we tend to find a way to make things explode," Ngawai replies.
"This is the equipment for more than just a few hundred Turai," Hale says. "This is the logistics trail for a full number. That's thousands of Turai. Could be the Emperor's Sixth or Ninth, but...who knows?"
"Could be the First," Arketta says.
"Let's hope not," Hale says.

At the end of the racks lies the Gateport. Three Gateways, their mounting hardware sat against the bulkhead, sit facing out into the complex. Monotask rails ride up to them, and a small pool of cargo flatbed skimmers stand by to carry any large cargo the last ten feet, or several thousand light-years, depending on your perspective. Bored-looking Turai sit in steel defense kiosks erected around the Gateport, their helms flipped up and feet kicked on top of the barricades, and a small one-story hab sits off to the side - obviously the command office for this whole affair. An older man flanked by a younger woman stands in the door and waves them over - must be the boss.

"How's the trip, Samal?" the older man - Rav-Samal Botha, his chest plate reads - asks, the authorizations Garrett sent the Rav-Turai they met at the dock already up on his holo.
"Nothing too crazy," Garrett replies, nodding to the Rav-Samal's Rav-Turai at his side.
"Radiation sources secured and safed?" Botha asks.
"And power sources at standby," Garrett replies.
"Appreciate you not blowing up my Gateways," Botha replies with a smirk. "Good luck, Samal."
Garrett crosses his arms over his chest and bows a salute. "Don't work too hard, Rav-Samal."
"We try our best," Botha laughs, and his hand flips the haptic for the Gateport crew. "Open Gateway 1, destination main complex."
"Copy, Gateway 1, main complex," the Turai on the other end echoes back, and the siren for Gateflash warning sounds.

The team files onto the waiting pad in front of the Gateway, and waits for the second siren announcing an imminent opening. The dialer rotates through its sequence, and everyone looks away for a moment as the Gateflash bursts behind the iris. The shield opens up to reveal...well, it could honestly be any Turai base anywhere in the galaxy. A few rows of two-story hab blocks filing away into a spraycrete wall, with mountains of some description going off into the distance. It looks snowy there, judging by the white stuff on top of the buildings and on the ground, and there's been some effort made to make the base look somewhat like a Narsai'i facility, with no visible skimmers, and the shade around the Gateway indicating it's being kept underneath some kind of large awning. But there's still the shiny chrome of Turai armor walking around, so there's no doubt whose house this is.
"Into the breach," Hale mutters, and the team walks through.

The customary disorienting gut hit later, you're through the Gateway - and immediately, everyone's armor pings for a sudden temperature change. It's not just cold, it's freezing, and the breath of air you pull through your helm (for those of you that breathe) feels a lot thinner than the recycler air of the Akwhela's Eye. Helm alerts for heater and supplemental oxygen activation appear, and you start to feel better.
Once you've guided your equipment off the transit pad, it's time to look around. This is not some small forward base - there’s at least a few dozen apartment-block-sized two-story habs, with hangars and storage sheds further out. Turai mill around in a mix of Imperial civilian, half-disguised Narsai’i garb, and full carapace. The habs are better disguised than the wavy glance through the Gateway first supposed, with netting and some clever design means that the standard-issue habs look Narsai’i from the top, probably on the suggestion of their Chinese hosts. Speaking of which, the GPS receivers in everyone’s kit get a lock - you’re in the middle of nowhere in Qinghai Province (so for those familiar with China, the middle of nowhere in the middle of nowhere). There’s a more traditional looking Narsai’i set of buildings off to one corner which probably marks out the Chinese presence here, but this is definitely the Turai’s show.

The carapace pulls down the map of the base automatically, and your authorization automatically highlights the munitions and logistics depot a few streets down.
“Okay, I know we said this already, but this is a lot more than just some smuggling,” Garrett says, sounding a little gobsmacked.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-02-25 02:19:57
"Yeah, this is what good little slaves get when they play along," Front Toward Enemy says, obvious disgust coming through its vocal circuits. "At least until the honeymoon's over."
e of pi 2019-02-28 22:49:36
"Collaboration pays well, we've seen that before. Especially when you're hosting an invading army," Luis says. In spite of the GPS signal alert in the edge of his peripheral vision, it's hard for Luis in the first moments of disorientation to believe this is Earth. Narsai, sure, but not Earth--not surrounded by Turai barracks and netting that looks vaguely like any other Imperium installation. And not walking into what he knows is an enemy installation. Part of him is surprised they haven't bothered to jam to GPS, but maybe their hosts complained.

"All right, we have the base layout, but we need more details if we're going to figure out if we can shut this place down. They said they went active and blew their cover, so maybe there's something about that in the base gossip. That'll tell us how urgently we need to act. I figure we need to find power, data, and storage for kegs, both Gates and logistics, and if we can figure out what their skimmer and Manta assembly looks like, that's good too. How do we split this up? Do we split up, or take this one thing at a time"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-03-09 22:38:41
"Dying's for quitters," FTE replies. "This is a big base - it might be big enough that once you're in, you're in, you know what I mean? Let's find some juicy intel."
punkey 2019-03-09 23:13:49
"Agreed. First, we need to see how many Turai are even here," Garrett says. "This is a pretty First-damned big base. This isn't the Repository - we don't have any intel on numbers, disposition, or an exit plan. So, I'm down for looking around, but I'm not looking to die here today. Are you?"
"Not particularly," Hale replies.
Arketta's gaze just flashes over to Luis for a moment before returning to her watch. "Let's just see what's out there. Then we'll decide what to do next."


The orders dummied up for this little excursion don't state how the team is to travel to the sample sites, and given that the next Gateway opening isn't scheduled for several hours, it's probably not the ride that the team is catching. That means Mantas, which means hauling their shit over to the Manta pads. Well, pushing, as the containers hover on small impellers built into the cases. It's the little things that show a designer is paying attention.

Which means that it only takes two people to move shit over to the pads. FTE, Zaef and Hale push their containers down the main "road" running from the Gateway down the length of the base towards the blinking safety lights marking the array of Manta pads on the other end of the complex. As Hale and Zaef count the rows of buildings under his breath, FTE just ticks a counter automatically - twelve rows, each looking like between three and four multi-story habs each, with a large clearing on either side. One side's clearing is filled with more temporary buildings that look like storage and workshops, the other looks like the Turai flattened and carved out a decently sized mustering area and PT field in the high altitude. Indeed, a handful of Turai are running laps out of their armor, sweating and gasping for breath in the thin mountain air. This is no temporary camp - there's housing here for nearly a thousand people, and the facilities to keep them here in indefinitely. The Turai are definitely looking to be here to stay. Turai hustle from building to building, while FTE's sensors pick up numerous lifesigns inside each building they pass.

And finally, the trin come to the Manta pads. Even for a base of this size, there's a lot of them - easily space cleared for a hundred or so Mantas side-by-side. Almost all of the spaces are empty, too - there's maybe fifteen or so parked by Hale's count (eighteen exactly by FTE's). There's a squat hab festooned with vox boosters by the pads - that would be the Manta dispatch office. If you want to catch a ride, that'd be the best place to check - and if you want to find out about what's going on that needs all those Mantas and how many Turai are pushed out and to where, that'd also be a good idea.


Luis and Arketta slide off towards the supply depot - ostensibly to check in on any supplies needed for their field expedition, but if you want to know what supplies are on hand and what they might do with them, there's very little place better than the quartermaster's. They walk in step with FTE and Hale for a bit, but then turn off where their orders tell them to, following the signposts projected in their helm or ocular implants.

The supply depot looks similar to every other one Luis has ever seen on a base. Shipping containers are stacked on blocks around a large warehouse with a giant roll-up door next to a much smaller human-sized door - that would be the office. Arketta falls into step behind Luis - she’s wearing mere Turai rank on this little expedition - and a Turai still in her full carapace looks up to Luis as he enters the door.
“Afternoon, Rav-Turai, what can I…” It takes a moment for Turai Magreol’s helm to update with the orders “pinned” to Luis and Arketta. “Oh, you’re one of the survey quads. Great, I have a package all prepared for you.” She waggles her fingers in the air, and the sound of monotasks whirring into action in the warehouse behind her indicates the supply system assembling whatever has been deemed necessary for the job that they are most certainly here to actually do.

“So, what do you expect you’ll find out there?” Magreol asks, sounding a little excited to actually have someone in her office. “I heard that the Narsai’i had fusion detonators on those drones. They must have been pretty big detonators to need drones that big - I saw the Rah’pah footage, they were huge!” It’s hard to tell through the full carapace, but Magreol sounds like she can’t be older than 20. “Normally logistics means ‘in the rear with the gear’, but even when I made it through the certification for the Emperor’s First I didn’t expect this much action.”


With FTE and Hale scouting transport and Luis and Arketta handling spying on supply, that leaves it to Garrett, Ngawai and Angel to talk to operations. It’s not a long walk - while the main road leads off to the right, the path straight ahead is lined with a row of two-story habs off to the left, and judging by the additional guards standing by and the slightly older average age of the Turai milling around out of carapace, must be the leadership housing. The guides towards the command hab point them to the hab halfway down the row, and it’s out front that the final confirmation of what units are posted here arrives. A row of scarlet and gold insignias, built into the spraycrete of the hab, announcing that the Second, Third, and Fifth of the Emperor’s First are on Narsai.

A double-wide set of doors slide open and closed to let the trin of rebels inside, and past the glass case of trophies and awards (some things are all the same), a open doorway leads into the beating heart of Imperial ops on Narsai. A massive holodisplay is divided up into four parts - one showing a globe projection of Narsai, one showing a 3D topographical strategic display of China and the surrounding regions, one showing the base proper, and the fourth temporarily restricted to text only, the glyphs indicating where Turai are tasked out and their current status. The globe is particularly terrifying for a moment - how can the Turai already have such detailed intel on the whole planet - until a closer examination reveals only the area around China has any real detail by Imperial standards. That area has real-time updates of tens of thousands of data points, while the rest of the world updates once a minute if at all. That must mean that the Turai are hooked into China’s intelligence feeds and dependent on them for any information about what’s going on beyond their footprint on Narsai - something that lets Garrett and Angel in particular breathe a little easier once they figure it out.

Samals and Rav-Samals sit at their stations, monitoring activity coming in from all over, and it’s a tired-looking Odun with her greying hair tied up behind her that walks up to the trin - Odun Iawrosa, operations lead, according to her carapace. “Samal,” she says with a nod. “You’re one of the survey teams, right? Your Manta’s being checked out right now, turnaround’s in a few hours. We’re all a little busy right now and picking through radioactive debris isn’t high on our priority list at the moment, so just pick a seat and hang on.”
skullandscythe 2019-03-11 00:51:43
Zaef heads over towards the hab to get the details on the Manta ride they're due - and hopes some small talk with the officer on duty might reveal some interesting details on the operation.

The man's about Zaef's age, wiping down calloused hands - he's not bothering with his carapace because he must know it's so filmy and slimy it couldn't be saved. He looks up wearily and warily at Zaef's approach, but only straightens a little, and Zaef recognizes the stoop of someone who spends all day in cramped spaces fixing broken shit.

"What's the worst thing for the Mantas out here, Rav-Turai?" Zaef asks. "I'm guessing ice accretion - Kelsecia had that problem, similar weather - but I'd rather not guess. Save us all some work that way."
punkey 2019-03-11 02:18:14
"Dust," Rav-Turai Jonhan grunts. "Damn dust is fine enough to get into the plating and ruin the conductivity of the grease. Have to regrease the impeller couplings every week." He crams the rag back into a pouch on his carapace. "What can I do for you, Turai?"
skullandscythe 2019-03-11 02:33:49
"We need to requisition a Manta for several short excursions. Making reports for the Keepers," Zaef replies with a little bit of 'fucking paperwork' attached at the end.
punkey 2019-03-11 04:09:13
"Survey team, right?" Jonhan replies, his ocular implants flicking to the side for a moment. "Yeah, got you right here. Your Manta's gonna be a few hours. Like I said, dust."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-03-11 19:44:02
FTE nods Hale over to the squat vox-covered hab. "Let's take a look at their bus schedule." As they alter their course towards the structure, it continues. "You were one of these targets once; what's the best play to get in like we're supposed to be there?"
punkey 2019-03-11 20:07:37
FTE only gets a grunt out of Hale with that crack. "You can't just make their spanners take their hands off over vox?" he replies. "Figure we just push these inside the covered work area and take a seat. How close do you need to be to get in?"