The Long Road Home
Bumps in the Night

With Keeper forces in the area moving to engage an array of new threats, Gerrard was left to pilot Iota 4 out of the treacherous confines of The Hills on his own. An Ion Storm was already crackling to deadly life on the horizon.

As the first electromagnetic bolt struck his dropship, Gerrard began searching desperately for a place to land and weather out the storm. His engines failing rapidly, the group came to a stop in a tightly-knit cluster of metallic asteroids at the very heart of the storm. Much to their surprise, a sprawling mining facility backed by a heavily reinforced fortress lay in the valley opposite them. Leaving Michelangelo and Lenne to tend to the ailing ship, the group set out to explore the area and find the means to further stabilize Clint’s injuries.

Though abandoned, the mines showed strange signs of fungus and other organic life-unusual features for an asteroid in the middle of nowhere and exposed to the ravages of space. With all but Lira exiting their Synths in powered armor, the group found the inside of the facility was equally puzzling. Still laden with flamethrowers and other violent weapons, and with an anti capital ship missile silo nestled in a mountain nearby, the nature of the building was clearly militaristic. The bowels of the facility held a colossal incinerator, aimed inexplicably at a cavern wall. The confused remains of the structure’s Construct spoke cryptically of ‘containment’. The only way to force the abandoned fortress’s genrators back on seemed to be firing the main incinerator. Lacking a better option, Iota 4 did just that.

Veronica locks in the firing codes for the facility’s incinerator. Art by Craig Musselman.

The entire asteroid quaked under the roar of the titanic flamethrower as it burned its way through the inside of the mining system, sending a large portion of the surface crashing down to the tunnels below and launching waves of searing flame throughout the entire region. It continued to fire until the weapon itself overheated and was consumed by a sphere of crimson heat. Fully a minute later, all was quiet, and smoke poured from hundreds of tiny craters burned throughout the asteroid.

Veronica quickly began to pressurize the structure, trying to make it habitable so that they could treat Clint’s injuries. Outside, a trio of the same Thinker transynths they had seen a day earlier stalked through the area to investigate the explosion. A constant series of flashes and thunder alerted the group to a battle taking place among other nearby asteroids, a conflict the Transynths soon adandoned the facility to join in. Lira kept watch from outside, hiding her Synth in one of the mine entrances. The rest of the group desperately looted the facility while forming a perimeter around Veronica, hard at work on the electronics.

Before Veronica could make significant progress, a lone Mercenary gunship plummeted out of the battle overhead and into the facility. Lira watched as a dozen heavily armed men exited the burning vessel and made their way towards the nearby elevator shaft, and thus, the rest of Iota 4. Despite a brief attempt at peaceful negotiation by Gerrard, gunfire soon followed. Bullets ricocheted down the halls as the group moved to protect Veronica, vulnerable at the console. Adrian took full advantage of his new riot suit, quickly affixing a Torch found in a crate outside and unleashing its still rather potent fuel mix on the attackers. From the outside, Lira annihilated the Gunship with her Glaive before launching a salvo of expanding adhesive missiles into the elevator, temporarily halting the mercenary advance and giving Iota 4 a chance to take cover in a more defensible section of the facility.

Heavy wounds on both sides made the attackers’ commanding officer reconsider Gerrard’s offer. His power-armored form erupted from the sealed elevator shaft in a hail of fire and shrapnel at the same time he roared a cease-fire order to his soldiers. With a few tense shouts between the two parties, an uneasy truce was formed, and the mercenaries headed towards the medical bay to stabilize one of their critically wounded men. Things did not go as planned. Rather than honor their agreement, Adrian evacuated Clint from the medical bay before turning and opening fire on the unsuspecting mercenaries, incinerating the wounded man whose armor had been removed to better facilitate surgery. All stared at Clint in horror save for Veronica, who took the time to seal and secure the medical bay before expressing her distaste for her comrade. Having no better options, she set the doors for a 1-hour timed unlock before fleeing the facility with the rest of the group.

With the dropship coaxed into a working state, Iota 4 began their ascent from the strange asteroid. Beneath them, a metallic insectoid form surfaced briefly before plunging back underground, to the horror and confusion of all. After glimpsing the odd entity, Gerrard routed all power to engines and hurtled away from the mangled fortress. The facility’s secrets, prisoners, treasures, and anti-Starship missile were left behind.

Iota 4’s troubled did not end there. A confrontation with Adrian resulted in mass distrust, but a general agreement that the group’s findings would be kept a secret from the Keeper government. Even so, tensions exploded upon landing in the Spire finally resulting in a brief exchange of fists and then fire between Veronica and Adrian. Though the altercation would have otherwise resulted in Iota 4’s discharge and even arrest, a particularly bold security guard shifted the blame onto himself, before Rayne in turn took the heat. Michalangelo, however, took the incident to heart. He thanked Iota 4 for his rescue, but stated that as much as he wanted to help them in return, he could not work with a group of overgrown children. The members of the squadron went their seperate ways with even less faith in their comrades, and the loss of a potential companion. Rayne, however, immediately set out to ‘repay’ the brazen security guard for his efforts…

Thought Police
The Face of the Enemy

Tensions between Keeper and Thinker forces continued to build with the expansion of Operation Windfall. Unfortunately, the Thinkers have a considerable technological edge, and even the vastly superior Keeper numbers and revolutionary stealth systems do not allow for a decisive victory. To reinforce the necessity of their mission, the government reveals the true nature of Anarc’s scientific progress to the men and women of Iota 4. Every significant advancement, including the development of the very Synths they pilot, has been reverse engineered from Thinker scraps. Half-century old scraps, at that. The only exception is the prototype stealth technology affixed to Gerrard’s dropship.

To neutralize this advantage, the Keeper military used data recovered from Iota 3’s brief attachment to the Belltower Station servers before the installation was destroyed. With a little detective work, they eventually located a facility being used to decomission and cripple Thinker synths for resale to the civilian market (as highly advanced equipment). Iota 4’s mission? To intercept a fully-loaded Thinker convoy before it reached the facility, and to recover as much of the technology onboard as possible.

On their trip out, the group came across a strange distress beacon. Rushing to lend a hand, they found Michelangelo, a tank commander who once served with rival-turned-rogue squadron Delta 1. Nearby were the smoldering remains of Delta’s dropship, within the bodies of the pilot and scout craft commander, the only other two members of the unit who opposed its betrayal. Michelangelo and his tank took up residence in the group’s spare cargo harness, willing to lend a hand on the mission ahead after the remains of his comrades were recovered by Keeper forces.

Using the new cloaking system (a suitable replacement for Gerrard’s destroyed main weapon) to infiltrate Thinker territory in The Hills, Iota 4 deployed around a large, scorched plateau at the center of a Molybdenum asteroid hulking directly in the convoy’s path. As the fearsome unknown silhouette of a Rook escorted by familiar Thinker aerospacecraft passed overhead, the group launched the attack. As their first victims fell burning from the skies, Iota 4 saw that the escort contingent was not all that it seemed.

Black against the black of night, three horrifying transynths descended on the Squadron, arcs of luminous blue energy erupting from their scything wings. Nearing the ground, the vicious new foes assumed an elongated spider-like form before bombarding the group with an array of devastating plasma weaponry. Within seconds nearly every member of Iota 4 watched a significant portion of their armor boil off into the night. The surviving Thinker aerospacecraft banked around and plunged into the battle, all the while covering the retreat of the damaged but still very much dangerous Rook.

A pair of Thinker Raven class Bombers swing around to fire on Iota 4. Art by Addinarr.

For better or for worse, Iota 4 largely negated the threat of the Transynth plasma weapons by closing the distance and engaging them in extreme close-range combat. With plumes of exhaust signalling wild jumpjet-assisted dodges and brilliant spheres of energy tearing through the thin atmosphere, the conflict raged on. Though the remaining aerospacecraft quickly fell or retreated, their walking counterparts showed no sign of stopping. Rayne moved to help Gerrard disable the dropship before it could escape, leaving her sister Veronica to vie for control of her own Synth against Thinker hacking systems similar to the ones they had encounrtered mere days ago at Belltower station.

His own Synth falling into a burning wreck, Clint desperately grappled with the mangled forms of one of the strange new vehicles. Watching the pilot prepare to eject in an odd superheated spine-shaped Essence Module, the ex-soldier decided to abandon personal safety for the sake of proving their enemy was just as mortal as them. Clint smashed his own Essence pod into the rubble with the full force of its ejection thrusters, hurtling out and clawing away at the battered outside of his enemy’s cockpit with his powered armor. Even as the outer plating soared into the thousands of degrees, the beginning of what seemed to be an emergency burrowing eject system, Clint hammered on. The flesh burned away inside his armor, eventually melting into a single mass with chunks of plating, clothing, and the armor of the Thinker compartment itself. With a triumphant roar, Clint tore his way to the pilot within, skewering him on the still-smoldering metallic spine of his arm and ripping him from the strange gel-filled cockpit. With a mixture of inspiration and fear for their comrade’s life, Iota 4 turned the tide on the remaining two transynths and split off towards their objective and their fast-dying friend.

While Clint was stabilized aboard their own dropship, Rayne used her own armor to breach the enemy transport, wading through a thick sustaining gel before annihilating the driver’s compartment, and its belligerent inhabitants, with her rifle and hands alike. Minutes later, the battered remains of the Rook, its six Synths held in tow by a strange electromagnetic field, were secured in the gravitic lift beneath Gerrard’s ship. Not knowing how fast their enemies would be to respond, the group left the rest of the salvage smoking quietly on the battlefield.

With the promise of new hardware and a better understanding of their foe on the horizon, Iota 4 rushed to rendezvous with the Keeper recovery fleet. After a Remora recovered their precious cargo, the group was left to find their own way home, with Keeper forces in the area being diverted by pirate raids and Thinker surgical strikes alike.

They had no idea the trip home would be almost as dangerous as the mission itself.

The Tolling of the Bells
A Tower Falls

After arming up with some new power armor and out of suit equipment (including a colossal anti-material rifle for Rayne), Iota 4 was ready for its next assignment (although their dropship’s main weapon remained quite broken). In response to the rapid advance of Thinker forces, Belltower Station, the largest orbital colony in The Hills, declared independence in hopes of evading the wrath of the crusading Thinkers. All did not go according to plan, however, and they instead fell victim to the latest provision of Operation Windfall.

Iota 4 was asked to assist in the seige of Belltower station. All of Iota wing would play vital roles in the attack, each tackling a seperate section of the station’s defenses. Iota 4 would insert into the largely-unprotected interior, disabling the secondary generator so that the shields would fall and a waiting Shark could fire on and destroy the primary reactor. Iota 1 would land on the stations large top platform and destroy external defenses with the assistance of Iota 2, allowing Iota 3’s support ship to dock with the station and take any and all useful intelligence from its computers before its destruction. The catch-at least for Gerrard-was that the station was home to over ten-thousand civilians, only half of which were estimated to be in support of its new independent leadership.

Desai pleaded with Gerrard to go, explaining that many of the civilians would have time to evacuate, and that he could delay the strike to allow for more lives to be saved. After all it was not the population they were after, but the station itself and a large pirate vessel docked nearby; both of which could act as vital staging areas for a Thinker advance. Reluctantly, G.R.A.V. accepted the mission, and Iota 4 headed into the Hills to rendezvous with the rest of their wing and the Keeper strike force.

The pirate carrier docked at Belltower Station. Art by Henry Pashkov.

Within an hour of their arrival, Belltower station was surrounded by Keeper Forces. Within a minute of that, the attack began. Searing beams of light from the main particle projectors of a Shark-class destroyer bore down on the docked Pirate Carrier, wreathing the vessel in flames and debris as it attempted to break away from the station. As it disgorged a cloud of aerospacecraft to cover its escape, Iota 2 launched from Desai’s Seadevil cloaked nearby, intercepting the hostile squadron. Heavy flak projectors and other crudely installed weapons opened up on the surface of the station, shaking Iota 1’s dropship as it plunged towards its target. With the heavy armor of Iota 1 ripping into the station’s defense turrets, Iota 4 began its approach on Belltower’s central access shaft.

Gerrard managed to bring his dropship into the station unscathed, only to be confronted by an array of hastily installed weapons platforms, repair facilities converted into defensive weapons, maintenance Synths wielding their tools as instruments of death, and power-armored soldiers scrambling for cover. Iota 4 leapt from the ship, and into a hail of fire.

The squadron began their ascent through the huge cylindrical body of the station, with Adrian and Clint remainging on the bottom level to provide support. Three shield projection towers were casting a protective field across the secondary generator, but the group chose to focus on more threatening targets. A hail of missiles tore one large particle turret away from its housing, while repeated and liberal application of Lira’s mining drill ground another to a bloody pulp. Clint and Adrian began firing on the construction Synths, their armor-piercing. A large defense platform seemed to be using the reactor’s extra energy to manifest deadly arcs of power, which crackled across the surface of Gerrard’s dropship. Rayne poured shot after high-caliber shot into the installation, blasting it apart piece by piece but taking heavy fire from weapons manned by power-armored infantry on either side of the emplacement. Lenne came to her aid, boiling the unfortunate unsurgents inside their armor with her Glaive.

At the top of the chamber, another pair of enemy infantry, clad in a strange new variety of armor, awaited the squadron’s arrival. They latched on to the outside of an unfortunate Veronica, jacking in to her systems and triggering a fight for control inside and outside her Synth. Meanwhile, Adrian was siezed and sent careening across the battlefield by an unusually hostile docking claw, which used its immense gravitic manipulation system to grip and hurl his Synth. After regaining his footing, a shot from Adrian’s immense primary weapon reduced the claw to so much slag. The psychological damage from the encounter remained.

Just as Iota began to clean up the remaining ground forces, their comrades in the air informed them of an incoming enemy dropship. Friendly forces failed to disable the craft before it hurtled inside the generator chamber. From its bay came six terrifying new opponents. Sharing patterns with the sole Thinker vehicle the group had encountered before, their new foes tore into them with an array of devastating weapons. Globs of searing plasma vaporized armor on contact, and heavy thermal loads fired from a strange new Panther class threatened to tear them limb from limb. At the top of the station, Gerrard vied for control with a Jaguar which had begun to sieze control of his ship with a weapon similar to that utilized by the power armor that attacked Veronica.

A pair of explosions sent Lenne’s Synth tumbling to the ground as det charges planted by infantry that had boarded her in the mayhem finally went off. Gerrard sent missiles flying wildly into his friends, ripping out power cords in a desperate attempt to stop his enemies from gaining complete control of his ship. Plasma reduced Rayne’s Synth to slag as it locked a Lynx in close combat. Beam after brilliant emerald beam of Adrian’s main weapon ignited the air around the Panther taking refuge at the top of the chamber, with a barrage of fire from its twin mass drivers cutting into his allies. While the rebel dropship met its death at the hands of Lira, its cargo had caused considerable damage to Iota 4. And to make matters worse, the secondary reactor finally gave way, filling the chamber with an incredible electromagnetic pulse as it fell from its housing.

Before the potentially devastating pulse washed over his ship, Gerrard manually disconnected the feed from his generators to prevent its total destruction. The rest of the squadron attempted to do the same, powering down so that their vehicles would not be permanently disabled. As they began to power back on, it seemed their new adversaries were immune to the effects. A single Lynx still stood, towering over Rayne’s mangled Synth and preparing to finish the job. Thankfully, Rayne’s earlier investment payed off, and the insurgent pilot was surprised to see her leap, clad in powered armor and wielding a terrifying rifle, from her Essence Pod. A wild burst of five armor piercing rounds sent the gun-barrel molten-clattering across the catwalk behind Rayne. The Lynx, however, had suffered far worse. It’s pilot compartment a sparking mess, the Synth fell to the ground. The rest of the group ensured the demise of their opponents before carrying their (and some of their enemies) remains into Gerrards barely-functioning vessel and surging through the hole left by the generator’s passing. The pilot wove haphazardly through the collapsing superstructure of the station, soaring out through a smoking breach in the hull and past the bisected remains of the pirate carrier. The Shark outside locked its particle beam onto the remaining reactor, as the last Keeper forces were pulled out. A second later, Belltower station, and the thousands of souls still inside, ceased to exist.

The group returned to Hope weary and weathered, relaxing only breifly before restocking their weapons and repairing their vehicles. Though the damage was extensive, both physical and emotional, within a few days Iota 4 was ready for whatever assignment the Administration would throw at them next.

Falkland's Gambit
Rogue Dragon

Rather than continue to put their lives at risk for meager military pay, Iota 4 offered to do a personal favor for the significantly wealthier Rear Admiral James Falkland instead. They were given the location of a single shipping pod accidentally released from a Keeper military transport, whose recovery would cost the government unnecessary time and money. Leaving an emotional Veronica and Lenne behind, Iota 4 headed out of the Spire and towards its destination. The group brought with them the services of Ace-Hole, and was immediately thankful they did.

Nearing their objective, a desperate Ace-Hole broke onto the comns, advising they get the hell out of the area. Despite Gerrard’s best efforts, Iota 4’s dropship was sent careening uncontrollably in the blast wave of a multi-stage fusion warhead detonation. Flames and radiation swept the area clean and smashed Gerrard’s ship onto a rocky outcropping, a shaken Iota 4 immediately beginning their deployment. A wide variety of insurgent forces, wtih motivations and origins unknown, were already surging toward their position from outside the blast radius.

While the squadron’s ship looked to be going nowhere in a hurry, shot after perfectly placed shot felled hostile aerospacecraft and condemned hostile dropships to the fate their own had suffered. As Lira used her Synth’s jets to mount one of the unfortunate transports and plunge her mining drill deep into the pilot’s compartment, an array of armored vehicles deployed from its underbelly, tearing into her friends with a variety of vicious weapons. While they tore layers of armor off of her comrades (still fighting for their lives against swarms of aerospacecraft), a sudden overpowering burst from Lira’s jets and gravitic manipulator send the dropship hurtling downward, crushing at least one of the offending Runners. At the edge of the asteroid on which he had crashed, Gerrard attempted to hold off an approaching Corvette with Ace-Hole’s assistance.

In a desperate attempt to draw away the final squadron of hostile air forces, jets of smoke and flame hurtled from Ace-Hole’s engines as his outdated Corvette attempted a full bell maneuver. He failed, smashing the nose of his craft into Gerrard’s own cargo bay. Left with little other option, he made up for his previous failure with a drastic and dangerous success. A barrage from Ace-Hole’s missile banks annihilated the entire aft of the dropship, flinging the bumbling corvette skyward once more. Now in a perfect vertical ascent, the pirate’s rear flak projectors erupted on the inbound enemy fighters, tearing them to pieces in a storm of searing shrapnel.

Just as the first wave had begun to thin, a full squadron of twelve hostile Synths stomped onto the edge of the battlefield, having previously escaped from the confines of their downed dropship. As the rest of Iota 4 bemoaned their arrival, Rayne saw an opportunity to eliminate the new threat in one swift stroke. Using her cloaking device to sneak behind the enemy, Rayne prepared the targetting system for the Sword of Dawn I7 heavy particle beam mounted on Gerrard’s ship, which had worked up the power for a single shot. Unfortunately she missed. Critically.

As Gerrard’s pride and joy locked on to Rayne’s own Synth, she developed a plan to take the enemy with her. Diving behind the line of hostile vehicles with her jumpjets, the Sword of Dawn tore after her, shredding the enemies that stodd between it and its target. While Rayne’s own Stallion was torn apart, she had decimated fully half of the squadron, and the rest were quickly routed by the group, ejecting safely away from the chaos. But once again, any hope of victory was quickly dashed away from Iota 4.

A colossal Dragon-class transynth hurled itself into the fight, slamming into the ground and sending a downed dropship tumbling towards the huddled defenders. As Rayne watched in horror, the enormous vehicle proceeded to use the squadron’s own dropship as a weapon, sending Iota 4 scattering across the battlefield. Shot after shot seared into its armor, great floods of molten metal dripping off with each impact of Reicher’s main weapon. The group tried to disable the Dragon’s secondary defenses, but not before they took their toll. It’s frontal particle beam scorched the thin atmosphere it passed through, with a shoulder-mounted missile cluster steadily pounding away. Finally, weapons and armor billowing with smoke, the Dragon fell. A mangled Iota 4 stood around its wreckage, just as the colossal form of The Leviathan roared to a halt overhead, ten seconds too late to be of any real use.

The group was brought aboard, meeting with a baffled Falkland and receiving their well-earned payment. The means by which the Dragon had been discovered, let alone excised from its container, brought online, and hijacked by terrorists, eluded and terrified the Rear Admiral, and he was quick to send the group on their way so a proper investigation could begin. Though Gerrard proposed they take the time to share a drink, Iota 4’s collective exhaustion took hold, and they scattered to their homes to await the call to service once more.

Personal Business
Desai's Vendetta

Iota 4 was denied any opportunity to rest and recuperate, as their ship was quickly repaired for immediate redeployment. Operation Windfall had begun, and Keeper forces were preparing to launch an all out assault on insurgent fortifications in the region. Iota 4 was given the opportunity to aid in the siege of the very station in which they’d been held hostage, assigned to destroy point defenses and light vehicles so that a breaching team could infiltrate the facilty and capture key personnel. The Thinkers offered assistance with a small portion of the offensive, but were surprisingly denied the opportunity by Fleet Admiral Cain, who refused to accept their aid as a matter of principle, insisting that they at least come forward with the reason for their interest in the area. With the Thinkers offering no knowledge other than a grim warning of what would happen to those who stood in their way, the Fleet Admiral broke contact and initiated the assault.

On the way to their ship, Iota 4 was intercepted by Lieutenant Commander Desai, who offered a revised version of their mission. Desai told them about his family; about how he had barely rescued them from a lifetime of slavery, and how even then they would rather take their own lives than go on to plague his own existence with the horrors of their past. The Liutenant Commander instructed the group to attack the facility’s reactor containment chamber instead, flooding the complex with radiation and condemning those within to a slow and agonizing incineration. Iota 4 happily agreed.

As battle raged on the surface of the station, Iota 4 broke contact and hurtled toward the underside of the facility. The Slavers were quick to take notice. Intercepted by a pair of Griffin class Transynths, a single Barracuda R6 Corvette, and several Aerospacecraft, Runners, and Synths, the squadron realized that their enemy would not willingly submit to a horrific radioactive fate.

Shredding into the Transynths immediately, the group quickly eliminated these two unique and agile foes before turning toward the bulk of the enemy. Rayne and Adrian poured fire into the Corvette, which in turn shredded layer after layer of armor off of G.R.A.V.’s poorly equipped dropship. Clint and Veronica downed aircraft by the dozen, while Lenne put an end to the ground-based threat. Hauling a load of valuable salvage onboard, brought his mangled ship to bear and severed the containment chamber with a final blast from its main weapon.

The screams of their victims filled Iota 4’s comn channels. Even in this grim chorus, the group celebrated their victory, and held that they had done the right thing.

Desai’s thanks were quickly overshadowed by a sudden distress call from the Stingray that had been sent to the territory the Thinkers had expressed interest in. Seconds later, the group arrived to find only tiny fragments of the massive vessel. Though there was little evidence to work with, some of the debris matched Thinker structural components, and the already cooled remnants of the Escort Carrier implied the existence of a horrifying new weapon never before seen on the field of battle.

Keeper forces were quick to relieve the weary and weathered Iota 4, and the group headed slowly back to Hope.

Their journey was interrupted in The Valley, where they came to the aid of a privateer under attack by a small group of Worker aircraft. They refused to heed the squadron’s request to call of the pursuit. They were met by a pair of Synths hanging off a kinetic lift, firing wildly as the dropship they were tethered to barreled directly at the stubborn workers. While one enemy vessel was able to cut into G.R.A.V.’s dropship with a strange new armament (something Iota 4 had seen quite enough of for one day), the ship they had come to the aid of managed to get its weapons online and consume its pursuers in a cloud of magnetized flak. The pilot demanded to meet his saviors in person. Iota 4 happily agreed. They immediately regretted it.

The man at the helm of the Corvette they had rescued came to be known as Ace-Hole, and offered his services if and when his new ‘friends’ should require them. While the group’s thoughts on his motivations were split, they agreed to take on the tracking and targeting device he offered them, if not only to encourage his swift departure.

At long last, 24 hours and several bullet wounds after embarking on their most ‘routine’ assignment yet, Iota 4 returned to the relative comfort of Hope.

Corporate Disinterest
Oh Son of A...

Accepting a routine security assignment for an Enforcer Defense Corporation convoy, a few members of Iota 4 embarked on the long journey to The Hills. They were not pleased to discover themselves victims of an attempt to kidnap their comrade Adrian Reicher for ransom.

After discovering the entire escort compliment and cargo vessel itself to be in on the plot, the squadron accepted their fate (for the time being) and surrendered without confrontation. It appeared the criminals were interested only in the money their hostage would bring them, and had no murderous intentions. Still, the Slaver nature of their captors alarmed the squadron, and an escape plan was set in motion. With deft electronics work, a staged murder attempt, and some help from an old friend, Iota 4 found themselves lightly armed and armored in a hive of hostile forces.

Fighting outside of their Synths for the first time, the group overtook the first pair of guards and used their weapons to raid a security checkpoint and the armory within. Now equipped with an arsenal of small arms and explosives, the escapees fought their way towards a communication center, jamming doors behind them and gunning down everything that stood in their path without suffering any significant injuries themselves. After barricading every entrance, a distress signal was sent out, and Iota 4 held on for as long as possible, Fleet Admiral Nicholas Cain and his armada following the transmission to their position.

Breaching charges sent shrapnel flying into the defenders. Gerrard fired wildly into their enemies as a power-armored beheomoth closed in from behind. Rayne used her own heavy armor to muscle past their assailants and absorb the munitions destined for her friends’ flesh. Adrian tore away at the installation’s systems, using every pipeline and electric cable to distract and destroy the Slaver forces. Somehow, the vastly outnumbered and outgunned squadron managed to repel the attack and fight their way to the docking bay.

With a swarm of enemy Aerospacecraft and Corvettes closing in on their own damaged dropship, Iota 4 fled the scene just as the first armada arrived, Cain’s own Orca class cruiser erasing the pursuers with a single volley of its main weapons. As the group was brought aboard to rendezvous with the rest of their wing, dozens of pirate and slaver vessels swarmed toward the station as Keeper forces established a perimeter, both preparing for the siege to come.

A Human Tradition
Stealing the Past

Iota 4’s second official assignment was also fairly sophisticated. In order to tap into terrorist and other insurgent communications around The Valley, the group was ordered to plant a small receiver probe deep in the ruins of Tradition. While the remaining inhabitants aren’t overly hostile, they consider any disturbance of the city’s structure an outrage punishable by death. This is where things get tricky.

In order to mask the placement of the probe, Iota 4 intended to rip a large statue from its housing, masking their true purpose with an attempt to steal an ancient but worthless relic and starting a conflict that would allow the probe to be dropped unnoticed.

Upon entering the city, the squadron was greeted by distorted evacuation orders and the final screams of the dying, repeating infinitely on communications devices that survived The Death of Tradition with their power source intact. As planned, they ignored all of the natives’ attempts at communication, planting their dropship firmly above the statue in Delan Square.

The second G.R.A.V.’s kinetic beam grabbed hold of the statue, rocket fire erupted from the buildings around the square. The group immediately entrenched infantry, preferring to fell buildings and force the inhabitants to flee rather than fire directly on the fragile combatants. A small number of Runners hurtled out of the surrounding area to intercept, but were promptly disabled and destroyed by the group’s superior firepower.

As the fight wore on, a wing of Aerospacecraft deployed from a nearby pirate carrier supported the insurgent forces on the ground, and Iota 4 began taking damage. To make matters worse, a colossal Crawler roared out of its hiding place in an old government building, raining concrete and shards of rusted metal as it barreled towards the group. While the massive vehicle had no real weapons of its own, it quickly launched a small group of strange Synths, apparently bought from Worker and Thinker scrapyards. Under bombardment from the pirate craft above, the squadron struggled to hold off their new adversaries. Streams of molten metal ran off the deck of their dropship as the scavenged Lynx bombarded it with plasma weaponry, while a pair of Boars and a single Warthog class Synth tore away at close range.

After many smashed weapons, severed limbs, tons of melted deck plate, and rounds of ammunition, the mangled remnants of Iota 4 stood victorious. The shattered remains of the statue were tucked into their dropship’s cargo bay alongside what was left of the Lynx, with the lifeless hulk of the Crawler hanging from the kinetic lift to be sold for scrap. The probe was deployed quietly by Lenne during the firefight, lost in a storm of debris and mauled Synth appendages.

No native militants or pirates challenged their exfiltration.

Iota 4 also took the time to attend their award ceremony, each quietly accepting the Medal of Justice (and the 50,000 credit/year stipend that comes with it) with the exception of a depressing testimony from Rayne Will-Step and brief speech by Adrian Reicher. Robbie Burns was strangely absent.

Stormy Seas
Redefining 'Success'

After gathering a bit more intelligence on the exact mission and loadout of a hijacked Dragonfish class Ice Miner, Iota 4 headed out into The Sea to reclaim the stolen ship as it stopped for repairs. After an awkward rendezvous with Admiral Tobias Hessen and the 7th Armada, the group headed into combat, trailed by strange energy signatures.

It would appear the mercenaries hired to guard the Dragonfish had done the exact opposite, and the group was immediately engaged by a squadron of new-model Falcon aerospace interceptors, expensive craft for terrorists. After deploying his own squadron of Synths, Gerrard Venroc proceeded to unleash a sustained missile barrage on the enemy craft, only to be boarded in turn by a squadron of gunships.

While a desperate gunfight perforated the halls of their dropship, the operators of Iota 4 efficiently dissassembled enemy resistance on the surface of the comet below. A number of modified construction synths escort by survey drones turned kamikaze warheads were quickly dispatched, though one managed to single-handedly sunder Clint’s vehicle after he decided to crush an ejected enemy underneath his Stallion’s steel foot. The merc-controlled assault tank at the heart of the enemy ground forces also proved a bit of an issue, though sustained fire from the group eventually reduced it to slag.

In the skies above, The Dragonfish began to flee the scene while Rayne used her inverted position on the asteroid above to help neutralize terrorist air forces, and prevent the other gunships from latching on to Gerrard’s ship. Rayne was also critical in marking the Dragonfish’s drive shaft so that it could be targetted by Venroc’s main weapon, severing the entire engine cluster in a burst of brilliant light. While Gerrard used his dropship as a weapon to send the intruders tumbling around within, the Dragonfish turned its attention to the members of Iota 4 below.

A blast from the massive Ice Miner’s Mass Driver sent the comet on which the majority of the squadron was situated hurtling towards the barrier between Anarc and The Deep, promising a slow and freezing death. Blissfully, a group of Knifefish and Seadevil class stealthships chose this time to uncloak and take charge of the situation.

The fleeing terrorist forces were either destroyed or willingly hurtled themselves into The Deep, showing a grim determination to succeed or perish. Gerrard, on the brink of death, continued to hold the boarders away from the cockpit, while Lenne re-entered the dropship’s cargo bay. A few shots from her Synth’s weapon systems incinerated the remaining intruders, the few that survived quickly turning their weapons on themselves rather than surrender. Gerrard managed to stay conscious long enough to rescue the rest of Iota 4 from the plummeting comet before they were lost to The Deep.

Gerrard was unamused by the Keeper stealthships’ refusal to provide support earlier in the battle, or the explanation that the government had desired to test both the squadron’s mettle and their own cloaking technology in a single operation. After his mangled body (and dropship, for that matter) were returned to the safety of the Spire by Desai’s ship, he was promptly given medical attention (including a regrown lung) at the Administration’s expense.

The rest of the group took the opportunity to repair their equipment and Gerrard’s ship before their next assignment. Despite incredible damage to the Dragonfish, the continued lack of information as to the identity or intention of the terrorists, and severe damage to their own vehicles, Iota 4’s first official assignment was deemed a success.

A Learning Experience
Living the Nightlife

Rather than plunge immediately into their first mission as a squadron, some of the members of Iota 4 elected to journey out towards The Sea. They hoped to not only gain information on the task ahead of them, but also have an opportunity for live combat experience as a squadron without the government depending on their success. The group managed to gather some information on their quarry by speaking to the Captain of a Seahorse class ice miner deployed by the Lebedev Water Company.

On their return trip Iota 4 stopped to investigate an ancient ruin on the outer surface of The Valley, but was driven away by the arrival of a large Worker attack force seemingly hdeaded towards Excess. After heading in the opposite direction, the squadron was ambushed by a group of mercenaries apparently hired to protect Worker territory. Despite getting the jump on the group with a series of EM weapons, Iota 4 successfully destroyed the majority of hostile forces, taking down an entire squadron of Aerospacecraft and a mixed group of Synths and Runners, some of which fled as the tables turned against them. Iota 4 suffered minimal damage.

Iota 4 took on a trio of prisoners, and mercifully agreed to release them without compensation. When attempting to drop them in Freedom as the captives had requested, the squadron found the city blockaded due to rising terrorist activity. They were released in the underbelly of Hope instead.

Tragedy and Triumph
It Begins!

Like thousands of other members of Operation Willful Order, the party convened during one of the largest gatherings of military personnel in Anarc’s history. Every year, the President and several members of the Admiralty present speeches and vital information to a huge assembly of soldiers, including the entirety of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Armadas. This year’s presentation was unique in that it both officially launched the Keeper’s ambitious private contracting operation but also saw the comissioning of the KCS Leviathan, the largest spacecraft ever built by human hands, to its new commander, Rear Admiral James Falkland.

Within seconds of the comission, the entire Spire shook under the force of multiple explosive impacts. It appeared missiles had been launched from concealed bays on an odd group of Construction Synths the party had noticed earlier, but failed to mention to security. But they were the least of the Assembly’s problems. One Shark class Destroyer broke formation and began to launch an attack on the neighboring craft. In a suprise move, Fleet Admiral Nicholas Cain conscripted the party, standing near the front of the crowd, to help evacuate the President.

As an air battle broke out around the Spire between Keeper forces and apparent traitors, Gerrard Venroc piloted the President and his escort, Lieutenant Commander Desai to safety, with the Fleet Admiral piloting a commandeered Mercenary dropship to distract potential foes. The rogue Shark was destroyed by loyalist forces, with the remaining terrorist craft being sept away without difficulty.

The party rendevoused with the Fleet Admiral, Rear Admiral Falkland, and other military personnel at the edge of the city, where the President informed them they would all be awarded the Medal of Justice, the highest civilian award, for their efforts. The group was also told they had put themselves in the spotlight, and that their undersized squad, Contractor Security Squadron Iota 4 may be repurposed to take on more important missions should they prove themselves in combat. Despite the safety of all critical personnel and minimal damage to the spire, it is estimated that over 3,000 citizens, loyalist and otherwise, lost their lives in the incident.


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