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.