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A Tale of Second Chances 02

Cooper was curled fetal, gauntleted hands wrapped around his knees.  With his bulky build it wasn’t the easiest pose to hold, but over a year of practise had at least made it bearable.  Outside of him, the Goliath held the same pose.  Currently in sleep mode, the giant robot wouldn’t be that disturbed if Cooper shifted, but it was better to be in the same pose when the Goliath woke up.

A few years ago, the two story tall robots known as Gears would have been impractical.  The problem with bipedal robots had always been balance.  Though they could walk or even run if someone planned long in advance, giant robots had a knack for toppling over during any swift or sudden movements.  Combat was chock full of swift or sudden movements.  At best, giant robots were a novelty.  In battle, they were a disaster.

Humans had been working for years on a way to use the pilot’s natural sense of balance to keep the robots steady.  The problem that the engineers had was making any interface instantaneous; making the man and machine work as one.  without exact synch to the pilots commands, the balance of a moving Gear was actually worse than with basic stick control.

The answer came with the Jakara.  They’d already mastered the use of Sub-dermal Bio-Mechanical Interface; a layer of organic circuitry beneath the skin that allowed them to communicate with their computers.  In layman’s terms; the Jakara had tattoos that let them talk with machines.  The Jakara were all too happy to share their SBMI, in exchange for the Human information on the Gears.

The tattoo on Cooper’s neck looked like a cluster of tribal circuitry, and felt like a giant cigarette burn.  It had a constant low buzz of electricity just beneath his skin around the mark.  The dim phosphorus glow it normally gave off seemed neon in the darkness of the sleeping Goliath’s cockpit.  Thinking about the tattoo on his neck made it itch more than normal, and Cooper had to struggle to keep from scratching it.

Cooper grumbled his frustration, and ‘thought’ the communications grid on.  A pair of screens flickered to life, showing the faces Jim and Billie: the rest of his Second Chancers Squad.

“Trying not to pick at your tattoo?” Jim asked immediately.

“No,” Cooper  replied indignantly.  “Well, yes, but that’s not the only reason.”  He smiled broadly at his teammates.  “You see that it’s the Dra’keh?  We’ll be up against Red and her boys again.”

“We know,” Billie stated simply.  “We get the same report you do.”  Billie’s features carried a trademark boredom, despite being a few minutes away from combat.  She was likely going over Gear schematics in her head; planning the next tweak.  Billie was a firm believer in Zen and the Art of Gear Maintenance.

Billie piloted a Titan class Gear.  Built out of armour and missiles, it often meandered calmly into combat behind Cooper’s Goliath, laying down blanket fire.  It was the largest of the three Gears, and evidently the most open to modification, making it perfect for Billie.  When she wasn’t neck deep in ship and Gear repairs, she was often found tweaking performance output on the Titan.

“Red’s beaten us down badly the last two times we saw her,” Jim commented.

Cooper stared offence at Jim.  “Hey, we beat Red down pretty good last time.”

Billie chuckled.  “Her boys wiped the floor with us,” she corrected.

“Yeah,” Cooper agreed, “but we beat her.”  He nodded.  “You take the victories you can get.”

“I don’t think the captain should Fold into the atmosphere,” Jim stated, changing the subject.  His eyes darted back and forth.  Even inside his Gear, he acted like he’d be jumped at any minute.  “The Clark’s too old.  She’s not built for dramatic entrances.”  Metal groaned a whale-song of agreement from somewhere in the hull, and Jim looked around frantically.  He rose his eyebrows in a ‘see what I mean?’ sort of way.

“She’ll be fine,” Cooper replied with a slight shrug.  Training kept him from being any more expressive.  “Besides, it’s the captain’s job to care about the ship.  We care about the Gears.”  He smiled.  “Speaking of which…”

“The captain doesn’t have to fix the ship,” Billie interrupted.  “I do.”

“Speaking of which,” Cooper tried.

“There’s a list,” Billie continued.  “It goes on forever.”  she smirked.  “It’s a forever list.”

“Speaking of which,” Cooper stated again, louder this time.  “Did you finish ‘it’?”

“Well, it was on the list, wasn’t it?”  Billie rolled her eyes.  “Yes,” she replied.  “I finished it.”

“It’s in my hand,” Jim verified.  He meant of course his Gear’s hand, but Jim connected with his Courier class Gear more than most pilots would.  Every pilot considered their Gear to be a second skin at some level.  Jim, when strapped in, considered the Courier to be his first.

In theory, being ‘one’ with a giant robot should have given Jim some confidence.  Instead, the Courier seemed to gain Jim’s skittishness, and jumped at the sound of gunfire.  The Courier was barely giant; coming in at half the height of the Goliath.  It was probably for the best that it was ready to run when the fan was hit.

Jim glanced about nervously, as he often did.  “I don’t know, Cooper,” he mumbled.  “This feels kinda like cheating.”

“It feels kinda like cheating because you look at Gear combat kinda like a sport,” Cooper retorted.

“This is a military exercise,” Billie chimed in.  “It’s not cheating to use whatever resources we have at our disposal.”

“Sure, military exercise.  All’s fair,” Cooper agreed.  There was a near minute of silence.  “Actually,” Cooper admitted with a chuckle, “I was going to go with it’s entirely a sport, and this is entirely cheating.”

Coopers crew stared at him from the screens: Billie with mild annoyance, and Jim with sheer panic.  “Hey,” he commented defensively.  “It’s not like we can’t use the military exercise excuse later.”

Before either Jim or Billie could respond, the comm. static spat the captain’s voice across the cargo hold.  “We’re Folding in two minutes,” Captain Rose informed the Second Chancers.  “Gear deployment will be immediate on arrival.”

screens and control lights flared to life as the Goliath woke up.  Cooper’s tattoo burnt white hot and his perception shifted  dizzyingly as he connected with the Gear.  Outside, the Goliath shifted its already fetal bulk to match Coopers pose exactly.  Beside the Goliath, the Courier had begun to sway and rock.  Its head swivelled back and forth anxiously.  The Titan didn’t even flinch, and if it wasn’t Billie piloting it, Cooper would be concerned that it wasn’t awake.

“Game faces,” Cooper commanded, as The Clark groaned and rattled beneath them.  “It’s show-time.”


A Tale of Second Chances 01

In her prime, The Clark was a front gunship in The Military.  She’d toured during the battles of The Absolution, and seen some duty in the early skirmishes with the Jakara during the Fold War.  Built seemingly out of guns and armour, The Clark was a force to be reckoned with.

The Clark’s days of glory ended with the arrival of the Jakara and their Fold engines.  Fold technology had rendered much of The Military’s fleet obsolete, and The Clark was no exception.  Fold engines literally folded space; allowing ships to travel nearly instantly throughout the galaxy.  Though the ability that gave the engines their name, instant travel was only one of the benefits Fold engines gave equipped ships.

Fold engines created an artificial environment that existed even in cases of extreme hull breach.  Holes in a Fold equipped vessel would not tactically effect a Jakara ship.  This made ballistic weapons, such as those that quilled the deck of The Clark, near useless.  Unless she could directly hit an enemy’s bridge, or somehow disable their engines, The Clark’s vast array of guns had little effect against Jakara ships.

Instead of ballistic weapons, the Jakara used lasers.  Their lasers could slice easily through several meters of metal, making ship armour worthless.  It wasn’t that Humans didn’t have lasers, but they weren’t built for ship combat.  The power needed to effectively use them on such a scale was simply unreasonable without a Fold engine to power them.

The flagship Vigilance had been the only Military ship equipped with lasers at the beginning of the Fold War.  Then again, for reasons heavily classified, The Vigilance was also equipped with a Fold engine before the war.  Every other ship had to be fitted later, when possible.

Before The Clark could be refitted with the lasers and ceramic plating the Fold War demanded, the war was over.  The old gunship had sat mothballed for over a year; forgotten in a dry-dock station near the edge of No Man’s.   She would likely have been decommissioned if Captain Rose hadn’t stepped in.

Rose had requested The Clark by name.  Silly nostalgia perhaps, but she’d served her first officer assignment on The Clark.  Picturing the old ship sitting in dry-dock had bothered Rose.  A ship of The Clark’s stature deserved to end her days with dignity.

Captain Rose sat at the helm of The Clark, watching her crew work.  She idly picked at a hole worn into the arm of her chair.  The Clark may have deserved dignity, but as a ship, she often refused to be dignified about it.  The Clark was a crotchety old vessel.  She groaned and complained when expected to do anything, and many of her even most basic functions were touch and go.  The Clark had even been stubborn about having a Fold engine equipped, and still seemed to fight against its use.

Old or not, The Clark was Captain Rose’s command, and she loved the curmudgeon ship.  Rose ran her hand gently along the top of her tactical display, and smiled slightly.  Sure, she had her days, but The Clark had history, and deserved respect.

There was a small snapping sound from somewhere inside the display, and the screen blinked out with a flash.  Touch and go indeed.  Rose sighed, and mentally added the tactical screen to an already long repair list.

Commander Jacob smirked as Rose looked up to him.  He gave the captain a ‘what can you do shrug’.  With his tall lanky build, even this slight action looked exaggerated.  “I’m sure we can get Billie to repair that later on,” he suggested to Rose.

Captain Rose gave a curt nod.  “Thank you Jacob,” she acknowledged as she gave the board a cursory glance.  “It’s already on the list.”

Looking over the tactical was an act of trained habit.  She already knew the mission perimeters, and nothing had changed.  A Jakara cruiser had been spotted Folding in and out of the Corona system.  It was a test of both security, and the patience of the forces already posted there.  Corona was near the edge of No Man’s, and though No Man space itself was considered neutral, this was a purposeful breach of Human territory.

It was also a common practice from the Jakara Military.  There had been peace between the Humans and the Jakara for nearly two years now, but it hadn’t stopped the two military factions from pushing against each other hard as they could.

It was simply how things were.  Both Human and Jakara politicians were on hand shaking terms.  The scientists, especially those joint studying the barely understood Fold Technology, were just short of picking matching luggage.  The military factions of both sides were still glaring across the table at each other.  Skirmishes were a regular event; declared by both sides to be ‘practice exercises’.

Captain Rose handed Commander Jacob his tactic board.  “Do we have anything on the cruiser?” she asked.

“Reports show it to be a carrier class,” Jacob replied.  “Been showing interest in Corona Second.”

“I’ve got report that it’s landed,” Communications officer Katrina added meekly.  “Last sighting puts it about a mile out from Outpost Corona Gamma.”  Katrina nearly looked up from her screens.  “It’s the Dra’keh,” she stated in a small voice, before shrinking back down in her chair.

There was a collective groan from the bridge crew.  They all knew the Dra’keh well enough.  The carrier had been involved in the last three incursions they’d investigated.  It was becoming personal

“Of course it is the Dra’keh,” Captain Rose commented with a roll of her eyes.  She watched Kat sink deeper into her chair before turning on her helmsman.  “Mr. Whelk?”

Helmsman Whelk turned in his chair.  “We’ll be in Fold range in five minutes sir, uh, ma’am.”  Whelk gave a sheepish grin, and ran a hand through his shaggy red hair.  “I’ve already begun prepping the Fold engine, since it takes ten minutes.”  He smiled, and added, “Ten assuming there’s no problems.”

“Good.”  Captain Rose stood, and surveyed her bridge crew.  “Once those engines are prepped, set a course for Corona Second.  Kat, get us coordinates on the landing site for the Dra’Keh.”

Captain Rose gave cursory attention to the aye-ayes from her two younger crewmates before turning to Commander Jacob.  “Jacob, lock the ship down for an in-atmosphere Fold, and patch me to the hold.  I need those gear-heads ready to deploy the moment we come out of Fold.”

“Yes sir, ma’am,” Jacob replied with a salute.  He smirked a bit, and added.  “Shall I patch that to my station?  Your communicator is still…”

“…it’s on the list,” Captain Rose finished.

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