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…