Black Horizon – Enter The Dragons

Sir, we are picking up heat signatures from orbit on an approach vector,” reported the tactical coordinator. “Visuals show five ships bearing 8th Dragon Squadron insignia.”

Dillon Reade rose from a chair in the centre of a makeshift operations room of Lambert Observatory. It was, in truth, simply the main control centre of the base. The surrounding walls were lined with displays and various other equipment that controlled, monitored and recorded the data received from the many sensor arrays that belonged to the outpost. Lambert wasn’t exactly the most ideal location for running operations on Strauss Reward, but it was better than a back room of the Star & Garter.

“Run each vessel’s registration details through pilots federation database,” ordered Reade. “Once validated, go ahead and offer perimeter clearance. Raise a comm with the wing leader.”

“Affirmative. Shutting down automated security response protocols. Ships have been confirmed as 8th Dragon Squadron units. Opening hail frequency.”

Reade moved towards a large rectangular table bearing holographic imagery of the mapping of the base and surrounding area. He was a tall, lean man with a graceful gait. His jet black hair hung at shoulder length. Parted in the middle, it framed an angular, noble face. He took the comm. “Greetings Commanders, and welcome to Lambert Observatory. I apologize for the lack of docking facilities at this installation. If required, we can send out ground transports to pick up your team.”

The response was swift, recieved from a well armed Federal Gunship piloted by a Commander Adamantium. “Acknowledged, Lambert. Transport won’t be necessary, however. We have our own means.”

“Good. Please make your approach to the main door on the west side of the base. Security will escort you through to operations on the tenth floor. I’ll see you shortly.”

Reade sat down and awaited their arrival. Ginova had assigned him the temporary role of Commander in Chief for their Bedaho operations. With Ginova’s presence unavoidably being required in Paipai, it had fallen on Reade to direct the Raven authority wings and supply intel and daily orders for the various supporting mercenary units. Due to Erikson and Furieux successfully making a ground based assault on a Raider facility while Bentzen and Syn were removing key targets among enemy personnel, the short but fierce war ended in a victory for the Raven’s Scouts, effectively removing the pirate threat completely. As a result, the Ravens had taken control of Lambert Observatory, the sole planetary installation once held by their opponents. Unfortunately, the victory over the Jet Raiders had given rise to a new enemy in the form of a Federal faction known as the Ice Storm Squadron.

Several moments later, the double doors of the control room slid open and two Raven security personnel darted in, taking up positions at either side of the entrance. Reade stood at the head of the table and took stock of the five pilots that followed them in. They strolled into the room, carefully scrutinizing their surroundings; the sign of a crew who liked to be constantly aware of potential threats. Reade wasn’t sure if this offended or amused him. According to reports, the Dragons had a fearsome reputation and he was a little surprised at such a clear lack of trust, before deciding that it was probably a habit formed by many years of being soldiers of fortune. They were an unlikely party, each unique in posture and dress and they walked with a slight arrogance in their step.

He gestured as they each approached the table. “Please be seated, gentlemen. I am Commander Dillon Reade, acting Commander in Chief and navigation officer of the Corvette, Nevermore. I thank you for your swift arrival. We didn’t expect you in Bedaho quite so soon. I am afraid I have nothing to offer you with regards to refreshments.”

“Why? Did Furieux drink it all?” bellowed one of the Dragons near the door. The rest of them laughed as they moved to their seats.

Reade noted that they seemed much more relaxed already. “Lambert Observatory has only recently been prepared as a base of operations. As yet, we haven’t had time to bring in supplies other than the essentials.”

“Drink is essential for some of us,” smiled the Dragon who had entered first. “But lets not worry about that for now. Lets get the introductions out of the way. I am Commander Adamantium.” He gestured to the others in order. “Also present, are Commmanders Corvinus, Marfé, Mohizz, and Warchant. We have others in system already, many of whom have already begun to make moves towards your Fleet Commander’s goals.”

“Yes, initial reports suggest that your group have had quite an impact on the system over the last few days. Some members of the Raven wings have reported seeing an Anaconda and Fer-De-Lance belonging to your squadron engaging a number rival faction ships. Callsigns Unfazed and Fangz if memory serves. It is understood that they are quite the combatants.”

Adamantium nodded once with a grin. “Yep, that sounds a lot like those two. Some of us are more trigger happy than others. We get the job done. After all, it’s our livelihood. You pay, we slay. So, whats this meeting all about?”

Reade made a sweeping gesture over the table, pulling up a holographic image from the surface, a technology seen in nearly all modern star ships. The display centred on the system of Bedaho in the form of a digital orrery. The pilot named Corvinus leaned forward for a closer look. As he did so, Reade got the impression that the commander was of an Imperial background. He had that somewhat proud, superior bearing commonly associated with the children of the Empire.

“The system of Bedaho,” Reade began, expanding the image with another gesture. “As your original briefing stated, our primary goal is to take control of Peters Terminal orbital station, ensuring majority shares of the system’s considerable agricultural exports.”

Commander Mohizz, a gruff, hard faced man cut in. “Piece of cake. Give us a week or two and simply have our payment ready.”

“Initially, we thought the same,” Reade added. “However, despite our victory over the resident anarchists, we did not expect to meet such resistance on the political side of things. The Conservatives of Tiliala have wealth and power behind them. Their nearby home system is an exclusive sector, with strict border controls. As such, the Tilialans have a unique advantage in that they are present in many surrounding systems and offer work to pilots in exchange for a border pass, thus managing to remain in power despite an Imperial group holding more of Tiliala’s real estate.  Tiliala is something of a curiosity in that it is home to two major earth like worlds absolutely teeming with life. Valhalla in particular is famed for its seafood and its hunting and safari opportunities. Needless to say, this means they are in a fortunate position to attract the attention of pilots seeking entry to this exclusive club from Peters Terminal.”

“That shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” said Marfé, “It’s all a numbers game. Our own intelligence corps have noted that Bedaho has little traffic when compared to other systems we have worked in.”

“I hope that this is the case, Commander,” Reade replied, but he wasn’t completely convinced. Gathering support for the Ravens had proven to be a much more difficult task in Bedaho than ever before. Given that it is a highly populated sector with a citizenship that has firmly supported the Federation for decades, progress had been slow.

Adamantium, who had been paying a lot of attention to the various other locations displayed on the map, pointed out another system, smaller than the currently centred Bedaho. “What is this system?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” answered Reade, expanding the image. “When we began Project: Black Horizon, our first move was into Federally controlled Paipai, a quiet, poor system very close to our home in Cai.” We have made substantial progress, and hold a vast amount of public support for our independent and democratic policies. Admiral Drayton of the current leading power, the Coalition of Paipai, has been stalling for time, and despite the fact that talks with the faction have been ongoing, we have been unable to come to a satisfactory agreement regarding the takeover of Griggs Camp.”

Reade expanded the system centering on an outpost that orbited a tiny planet known simply as Paipai 1. “The majority of our armed forces remain here with the Fleet Commander as a deterrent to open hostilities. We Ravens are generally not an aggressive party. We are opportunists. We observe and make moves only when favourable situations appear or indeed, threats arise to our own faction. We hope to achieve our goals peacefully and your group need not concern themselves with our actions in Paipai. I would like to simply make you all you aware that conflict could arise anytime and this may create a knock on effect on our operations in Bedaho. I will keep you informed of any changes in due course.”

Warchant studied the platform and corresponding data alongside it. “Why bother with such a backwater system? Looks like a waste of time to me.”

“There are systems beyond Paipai that we have a major interest in. Holding Griggs Camp would put us in a much better position to begin making contacts in the region of space towards the fringes of the Col 285 Sector, away from the major powers. There are many more independent systems stretching towards the frontier with as yet untapped resources.”

Reade swept away the map of the Paipai system. “This brings me to the last element and arguably the most important item. As you know, Bedaho continued to see conflict in its skies long after our victory over the Jet Raiders. A newly surfaced faction, the Ice Storm Squadron, or ISS, were challenged by another local and these two groups clashed. We had entered into something of a combined coalition with the native Independent Bedaho Labour party who continue to have some leverage within the system. As the previous ruling faction – until they were usurped by the Tilialans – they held some extremely important facilities on Strauss Reward, namely Sharipov Hub and Salam Enterprise. These stations could not be allowed to fall into ISS hands. We deployed Raven wings to assist Bedaho Labour and were quickly joined by members of your unit.”

“Nothing like a dogfight to brush away the cobwebs after a long trip.” said Marfe. “I am itching to get back out there. How do we stand on the battle?”

“I am extremely pleased to say that the conflict is over, ending with a victory for the locals. Reports suggest that all ISS vessels have now left the system. I must congratulate you all on your swift arrival and your dedication to supporting Raven and Bedaho Labour vessels in the conflict zones. A complete eradication of all ISS personnel with the borders of Bedaho was far more than we had hoped for. Brilliant work. Please do give our thanks to each one of your crew.”

“Well, we do have a particular set of skills …” said Adamantium, quietly.

“Be that as it may, there is always a chance that some of the more … zealous members of the ISS have remained in system. Local Galnet news bounty listings contain details of several known ISS Commanders that suggest they are either attacking civilian units or system authority ships. As to what purpose, we have not yet determined. We do however, have an ace up our sleeve. If I may I bring your attention to Powell Terminal, Athena.”

Reade pointed at a representation of a Coriolis station within a Class A white star system. “This, we believe, is the home station belonging to the ISS. It supports a large industrial economy and houses a substantial citizenship. While Athena is of no concern to us, should the ISS continue to be a problem in Bedaho or decide to make an attack on Raven ships or facilities, the Fleet Commander has made it clear that an assault on their home system is not out of the question. We hope that this will not be necessary but are confident that it will be a suitable deterrent.”

“A simple case of ‘we know where you live’?” Adamantium said. “Interesting. Do they have any allies?”

Reade nodded. “They are sanctioned by the office of Felicia Winters, which grants them some privileges among their Federal associates. They are also known to maintain relations with the Black Birds Consilium of Munfayl, a system far closer to your own Patocuda than to Cai.”

Reade paused to let that nugget of information sink in. A couple of the mercenaries exchanged glances and Reade smiled inwardly. “But, let us not detract from our main goals here in Bedaho,” he continued. “I am not about to dictate orders to you all or any of your crew out in the field. Commander Furieux assures me that you work best when left to your own methods and I will leave that task to your undoubtedly capable leaders. Be advised that you are very welcome to use all and any of the facilities available on Raven’s Landing in Cai. We are a modest outfit, though we do pride ourselves on our hospitality to our friends and acquaintances, and at the very least, we can offer hangar space for your vessels.”

“Speaking of Furieux, where is Commander gin-bin anyway?” asked Adamantium.

“I have no idea, replied Reade. I believe he was taking some leave with Commander Erikson to celebrate the victory over the Jet Raiders. Though I haven’t heard from either of them for more than seventy two hours.”

The Dragons laughed.

“Well it appears that some things never change!”

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