Alpha-1 Ops Branch
2347 hrs Valkline Local
There was nothing save a whitish haze, a kind of dazed blurriness that is
usually associated with the daily struggle to rise and awaken from the
landscape of dreams. Whispers at first, echoing dully in the mind, with
words heard but not quite understood, dissolved into voices, resolving
themselves into distinct but as yet unseen personalities.
"It's a toughie. Pass me the big one."
"Pulse steady... pressure nominal. Probable shock but he'll be fine."
"Hang in there, kid. We'll get you out yet."
Roger blinked. Still blurry. He found that he couldn't move - something - or
someone - seemed to be steadily restraining his chest in a vice-like grip.
At least he could breathe, but it sounded a little shallow even to himself.
Sizzles and cracks filled the air, which was becoming unbearably hot, but
interestingly enough, felt only on the right side. An intense burning smell
permeated the air, eliciting a cough from Roger, who snapped awake at the
It was probably a mistake to decide to wake up. The pain rushed in all of
a sudden, threatening to fade everything back to black. It receded slightly,
lingering insistently in the background.
Blinking away the smoky haze, Roger Simmons found himself strapped immobile,
held fast by his own five-point seat harness, trapped in his own cockpit by
the twisted, wrecked remains of Speeder III. On his right, a largish-looking
cutting laser, mounted on what looked like a box-like cargo loader, was
steadily eating into the quad-bonded metaplas composite fuselage. The
military-grade metallic alloy had crumpled but had remained basically intact,
which together with the reinforced carbon-fiber safety cage, had saved his
life in a high-speed crash that should have, by all rights, destroyed a
less well-built vehicle.
A chunk of smoking metal hit the ground with a thud. Switching off the
reddish cutting beam, the pilot of the cargo vehicle opened a hatch, jumped
to the ground and began waving to an unseen operator. It was then that a
massive pair of hydraulic hands began to move silently, inexorably forcing
the screaming alloy to give up its clutches on its occupant.
It was a full quarter of an hour later that the techs rushed in, releasing
Roger's Formula-X style racing harness, point by point where possible,
cutting it apart where the mounting points had jammed. Many pairs of strong
hands lifted him onto a waiting stretcher.
Roger looked up at the anxious faces looming over him. One of them grabbed
his hand and clasped it. It was the cargo-loader pilot who had expertly
wielded the bulky cutting laser.
"Congratulations, duster. You're alive. That's one hell of an achievement for
today," Looking back at the wreck, he shook his head. "You built that thing?"
Roger could only nod his head weakly.
"Great job, kid. No idea where you got all that mil-grade QBM stuff, but we
can tell it must've been a great racer." He chuckled. "Think you can help us
build something better?"
Not quite comprehending, Roger nonetheless managed a smile, before he was
whisked away from the dark underground cavern into a brighter-lit room
where he was attended to by a doctor and a few nurses for the next four
days or so.
When he was recovered enough to move around freely on his own again,
Roger was visited by two from among the group that had pulled him out
of his wrecked flyer. He recognised the one who had congratulated him -
" 'morning duster, all rested and good as new?" He gave Roger a shake on
the shoulder - perhaps to see if anything was loose and rattled.
"Hi, I'm Bek Storm. And this is Max Kayne. And he's the one who said, hey,
take a look at that pile of junk, and then..."
"C'mon Bek, I was the one who got to drive the flat-bed all the way back
and forth while you went to the party, and blasted all those.. uhh..
"It's okay, Max. He's already in here. Well, you'd want to introduce
yourself, don't you, Mr..."
"Roger. Uhh.. Roger Simmons," Roger almost missed the cue, so intent was he
on trying to sort through all the friendly banter going on.
"Ahh.. Roger, then. Welcome to Mole Command. Home of the Rebellion."
"Against the Empire," Max Kayne chipped in helpfully.
The Rebellion. Against the Empire.
... so this was it. He'd been rescued by the famed Martian Rebels.
Who had, in the past months, been growing increasingly strident in its
call against the 'harsh, unjust taxation and take-all give-nothing policy'
of the Emperor. The same Rebels who had been labelled as terrorists by
all the official news sources.
Roger had never bothered much about politics, but he was old enough and
wise enough to know that, sometimes, the OmniNews simply didn't tell
everything. And from what he could tell, the Valkine Misfire, as it
was called in the underground chat rooms that he could access, albeit
in read-only mode, from his bedside terminal, was not even given a
mention in the official news feeds. Something was clearly up, something
not quite right...
Bek was going on, "... so it's Alpha-1 Ops, Mole Command, The Mars
Rebellion." He snickered, "in case someone decides to send you
a true-blue letter... ohh.. uhh.."
His voice dropping a note or two, Bek brought up the bad news.
"I'm sorry, Roger, but we couldn't find word on your parents. As far
as we can tell, besides you, there were no other survivors from the
Valkine Misfire. We've done all we could, through certain, erm,
channels even, but..."
Bek shrugged. "I'm sorry."
Roger pondered on it for a moment. He had already considered the
probabilities - which were slim. Even his own state of being was
nothing short of miraculous - the ion storm should have
torn his flyer apart, not to mention the fact that he was well within
the six-kilometer blast zone when the Estate's fusion reactor blew.
He looked at Bek, and then Max. There was nothing else they could
have done. Nothing more than he could, himself.
"The Imperials. Damn Imps. Not that they deny responsibility - damn
OmniNews didn't even run the glitchin' story. Look, Roj - I'm really
sorry that things are the way they are - but... in the meantime, I
suppose you'll be hanging out with us Rebs. Max will bring you around
the place. I've cleared you up to C3. Yeah, I know it's not much but
I've had to pull in some favors from those Security guys before they
would even think about that. You can roam around, but - always
be around Max somewhere - you copy that?"
Roger nodded absently. Not much of a choice there, unless he wanted to
stay in Sick Bay forever.
"Okay then. I'll clear you through the med people and you'll be out
of here. And then he's all yours, Max."
Max made a mock bow. "Thank you sir, I am so honored."
"Get outta here."
So it was that Roger Simmons began trailing behind his new mentor everywhere
he was cleared to go in Mole Command - the pilot quarters, vehicle bays,
and part of the insanely complex web of tunnels that made up the Rebellion HQ.
He got lost more than a few times and had to be found by roaming techs, but
in all that time did not get to go outside - "it's dangerous out there" -
or so he was told.
Max Kayne was a reasonably pleasant fellow to be with. He taught Roger the
ropes, showed him the common areas, and ensured that he knew the rules, of
which there were mercifully few. Max even made arrangements for Roger to have
some simple work to do in the bays, doing what he did best, fixing up
mechanical parts, generally tooling around. It helped that Roger was a fast
learner when it came to mechanical work, and after some time he was finally
given clearance to work on the boxy Emancipator Hercs which sometimes came
in all banged up, some of them in even worse shape than his Speeder III had
been. Entire leg sections might go missing, or a blown-out reactor would
need to be replaced and then the whole place would have to be quarantined
while the hot shot pilots were called in to drive the specialised remote
manipulation Emancipators built specifically for messy jobs like these.
It was an irony, Roger mused, on the occasions when he thought of his
parents. His father was a programmer, working for the good of the Human
Empire. His mother was an Imperial Scientist, no less, and what did he
end up as? A lowly repair tech - for the Mars Rebellion, working for not
much more than food, lodging, and the company of a whole bunch of strangers.
Not only that, he was also repairing, and restoring back to health, the
very machines that would be used in the subsequent days and months
to harrass the Empire. Piloted by the likes of such veterans as Bek Storm,
Max and their friends, the Rebel Emancipators, two-legged walking cargo
boxes that they were, would inspire terror in the ranks of the Imperial
Police as they went about disrupting convoys, gathering needed food, water
and resources for themselves, in guerilla-style warfare whose function, if
not form, had not changed since time immemorial.
After been taken out for a nasty surprise one too many a time, the Imperials
began to clamp down hard. The stakes got steadily higher as the Imps
marshalled more and greater forces to deal with the insurgents. 45-ton
Basilisks began to be reinforced in ever-greater numbers by giant 60-ton
Apocalypse models, two-legged warhorses of destruction that were more than
a match for the Rebels' lightweight jury-rigged Emancipators with their
hastily-bolted on armor and flimsily swinging weapons mounts.
The discovery of the Tharsis Cache, and the utterly alien technology that
was uncovered, changed the tide of battle forever. In a single stroke, the
numerical and qualitative superiority of the Imperial Forces was matched
against the new-found technology that the Rebels wielded, in the form of
powerful, long range Blaster cannons, and later on, weirder quantum-level
weapons like Q-Guns and MFAC's began to appear from Mole Command's
xeno-research arm, alongside with anti-gravity modules that did not
contribute weight to a vehicle's exo-structure but instead were able to
lighten its load by up to a whopping seven tons. Mole Research was busily
finding ways to speed up the nano-manufacturing processes that would make
mass production of these suddenly-necessary components possible.
Though the production versions of the alien tech most often did not match
what was achieved in the labs, they were, for the most part, more than
good enough to give the Imperial Police ("Imp Lice") a large beating.
It was also around this time that Bek Storm, with his identity revealed as
Harabec Weathers, defected Imperial Knight, ace of aces, came around and
approached Roger Simmons once again.
"Hi Roj. Good to see you again. How're you? What'ya working on nowadays?"
Roger was perplexed. Harabec never really had time again to chat with him
after all this time, fighting the Imperials on multiple, shifting fronts.
"Fine, sir, I mean, uhh.. I'm working on the Olympian's design with the
Dev Team. The reactors it needs are so big, we're having some thermal
dissipation problems - but it shouldn't be too big a problem if we
modify the cooling system a little.."
"Hmm... good... okay. Forget the Olympian. We got people working on that
already. Remember I asked you if you could build something better than
Ohh... that. Roger did not really forget. Harabec brought Roger into
his private office and outlined a plan which made Roger sit up straight
and listen with all intent.
"... so you see, we need people who understand balance and stability.
Forces at work. You did some good work on your quad-thrust speeder design,
so it shouldn't be all that different on our new anti-grav thrusters.
You understand what I'm saying?"
Gulp. Of course Roger did understand, perfectly. An anti-grav tank!!
Of course. With all the alien AG-nano tech that they've got, all they
needed to do was to be able to control the force magnitude and direction,
and they might end up with something that would move with such incredible
agility that it could conceivably beat the living daylights out of any tank,
or Herc alive.
Roger nodded vigorously. Now, at long last, was he going to be able to
use his skills and knowledge to help design something better than Speeder IV.
He finally understood what Harabec Weathers had seen in him, so long ago.
"Yes, I'll be glad to help out. Where do I sign up?"
"Great choice, Roger Simmons," it was a rare occasion that Harabec Weathers
called anyone by his full name. "Consider yourself in."
"Welcome to the Predator Project."