by Aaron Walker Sr.
This weather sucks, Marcus La’Dek thought as he and his partner Daren West negotiated the muddy road leading to the target Mining Facility. The ground had been reduced to something of a black sludge, thanks in no small part to the torrential downpour that had been battering the moon’s northern hemisphere for the past twelve hours. But the deluge brought with it more than mere soggy conditions. A grayish, almost eerie mist comprised of unidentified particulates, always seemed to accompany the rains, making it difficult to see more than five feet in any direction. Due to the thick haze, the use of advanced image processing goggles, commonly referred to as IPGs, were an absolute necessity.
Marcus was quite impressed with the overall performance of the goggles. With the exception of a slight yellow hue, the IPGs provided remarkable clarity under virtually any condition. But given the option, he’d rather have donned his own tactical eyewear, as they were far superior to the IPGs in every way. But alas, blending in was the name of the game for this mission, so he was okay with settling for less.
Particle Storms are what the inhabitants of the moon called this atmospheric phenomena. Most experts attributed the mist to the failing methane scrubbers of Titan’s problematic Terraforming Modules. Of course, further research would be required to know for sure, but it was unlikely the Interstellar League of Planets (ISL) would spend the time or money on such a study. After all, Titan – Saturn’s largest ISL terraformed moon – was dedicated for one purpose: The mining of what is galactically known as the lifeblood of terraformed planets and moons: Krillium Ore. As long as environmental conditions on the surface didn’t cause the moon’s populace to drop dead in droves, business as usual would continue, regardless of the numerous complaints lodged with the ISL.Taxpayer dollars hard at work, Marcus thought as he adjusted the hood of his jet-black poncho, which covered the tactical gear that clothed his muscular frame.
Given the circumstances, Marcus and his team couldn’t ask for better conditions for a nighttime raid on a lightly guarded mining facility, to procure a drove of that precious Krillium. Sure it was dangerous business, but the substantial sum of money for which their employer was willing to pay, made the risk absolutely worth the reward. After all, Krillium deposits were becoming increasingly rare due to what was galactically known as: “The Terraformer Energy Crisis”.
Planetary Terraforming Modules (PTMs) were massive technological wonders used to modify the atmospheres and oceans upon otherwise uninhabitable worlds. Placed at numerous points throughout a celestial body’s surface, PTMs created suitable atmospheric conditions for its inhabitants. But those Terraformers were on the verge of failing, jeopardizing the lives of trillions across The Milky Way. The reason for that impending failure was simple: the Terraformers primary power source: Krillium Ore – found on asteroids, planets and moons throughout the galaxy – had been mined to almost non-existence.
Marcus and his small crew of mercenaries, never considered themselves anything more than “mules”, occasionally picking up and dropping off ore from hard to infiltrate facilities on behalf of their employer: Teric Winters – the brilliant, yet reclusive leader of the Outer Core’s largest and deadliest terrorist organization: Orion’s Shield. The Outer Core – an area of the galaxy far beyond the limits of laws and structure which the Inner Core provided its inhabitants. – It was known for its ruffians, kingpins, and black market dealers. With fewer resources than Core Systems, The Outer Core was also known for its impoverished planets and moons.
Marcus and his five bandits, officially referred to as Raven Squad, were arguably the most lethal, covert mercenary group operating in the Outer Core. Though sought after by every shady organization in the business, Raven Squad operated under an exclusive agreement with Orion’s Shield, with Marcus reporting directly to Teric Winters himself. Quite an honor among mercs, as few ever came face to face with Teric, much less received direct orders from the ruthless totalitarian. What could he say? The pay was good and the job allowed him to travel to exotic locations… but not today, Marcus thought as he and Daren, his number two, slowly made their way toward Titan’s largest ore processing facility: ISL Mining Outpost Alpha.
“Here we go. Just follow my lead,” Marcus said to Daren as they approached the military checkpoint which guarded the entry to the complex.
The checkpoint consisted of a small control booth attached to a larger guard tower. But that’s all the facility needed in the way of protection. The entire complex was surrounded by a translucent green energy shield that would take nothing less than a starship bombardment to breach.
“Why don’t you let me handle this one?” Daren asked. “Situations like these require a little more… finesse. Ya know?”
“Be my guest,” Marcus answered. “But don’t screw this up. We only get one shot at this.”
As they neared the checkpoint, the storm seemed to kick into high gear, causing their ponchos to flap like flags in the wind. But despite the harsh conditions, they pressed forward, confident their plan would go off without a hitch.
They had it all worked out. Prior to reaching the main road, three members of Raven Squad fell out of formation and took up positions behind several large boulders a few meters back. There, the three lethal team members anxiously awaited the signal to assist in the heist.
Among them was heavy weapon’s specialist Tony Lyles, who despite his human name, was actually a Gorean Cyborg raised by humans on the war-torn Outer Core Planet: Bion IV. Goreans were a genetically bred and engineered humanoid race. They were born part-man-part-machine from cybernetics that could only be described as a living metal, that was as much a part of them as a human’s skin and bones. Though larger than the average human, and somewhat similar in appearance, it was their strength, speed and ferocity on the battlefield that truly set them apart from humanity.
Next to Tony sat Skyela Evans, the medic and resident computer specialist; though she preferred to be called Skye. She was as beautiful as she was smart. Tough as nails, and a prodigy when it came to computers and electronics, Skye was also trained as a combat medic during her brief stint with the Interstellar Guard (ISG), the military ground force of the ISL.
Then there was Maxlyn Wesner who, despite her fervent objections, everyone called Max. Hailing from Earth, Max was a simple country girl with a southern drawl… and a love for explosives. Max started off as a brilliant young chemist designing explosive ordnances for The Maxis Corporation, a multi-trillion dollar human run defense contractor. But her budding career was cut short when forced to flee to the Outer Core on suspicion of attempted murder.
While Tony, Skye and Max awaited their orders from Marcus, the sixth and final member of Raven Squad: Jason Crowley was posted several miles back at their ship, which he had landed on a small rocky plateau. Jason, the half-brother of Skye, was more of a condescending military brat, who like his sister, was thrown out of the ISL military where he served as a pilot with the Interstellar Fleet (ISF), the ISL’s space and terrestrial naval forces. But after getting himself kicked out of the ISF, Jason dedicated his skills to what he considered to be the greatest mercenary squad in the galaxy, flying the greatest ship in the galaxy: The Indicator.
Named after the long extinct earth fowl, the Indicator was an experimental medium sized gunship modified from a cargo vessel. It housed an impressive collection of advanced sensors and astrometric locator equipment… and was armed to the teeth. Though primarily designed for stealth reconnaissance and electronic warfare, The Indicator could hold its own in a fight.
Sitting at The Indicator’s helm with his feet up on the navigation console, Jason had been using the ship’s electromagnetic pulse emitter to send a discrete signal toward Mining Outpost Alpha for the past several hours. The goal was to surreptitiously scramble local communication and security sensors. The art of jamming without jamming, is what Jason called the complex process. He knew his low-level pulse would go virtually undetected, and the interference it caused would likely be attributed to both the storm and aging security equipment.
At the checkpoint, Marcus and Daren were approached by three soldiers. But only moments before, Marcus and Daren appeared to be shadowy ghosts emerging from the mist, as the soldiers could only make out the dark silhouettes of their ponchos and the yellowish glow of their IPG’s. Nevertheless, the guards were not alarmed by their presence, believing Marcus and Daren to be fellow soldiers coming from the nearby work camp. And why would they think otherwise? In their experience, nothing ever happened on that uneventful rock.
“Sorry, guys. We’re gonna have to do a manual security check,” one of the guards said. “The automated system is down… must be this freak particle storm.”
“Of course it’s down,” Daren replied. “Why do you think we’re here?” The guards looked to each other confused, but Daren continued. “Don’t worry about it. The watch commander sent us to fix the comm and security systems. So if you’ll kindly let us through…”
“What are you talkin’ about? They already have guys inside workin’ on the system,” Another guard continued.
“Well, if those ‘guys’ knew what they were doin’, we wouldn’t be here now would we?”
Daren went back and forth with the guard for several minutes trying to manipulate a way past. In reality, talking was actually what Daren did best. He often used his verbal prowess to get in and out of situations, not to mention, to score with the ladies.
But Marcus noticed that Daren seemed off his game. Either that, or this guard was a lot brighter than Daren thought.
“C’mon guys, cut us some slack,” Daren continued. “Today was our day off, how do you think we feel?”
From the guard tower, a fourth soldier peered through the thick ballistic glass window, eying the situation on the ground. He couldn’t hear the conversation due to the ridiculous level of static blaring through his speakers. I hate this place, nothin’ ever works around here, the guard thought. He switched off the useless speakers and decided to address his growling stomach instead, figuring everything to be under control on the ground. So he sat down and proceeded to stuff his face with the various treats he smuggled into the tower before the start of his shift….