Theater 1- Chapter 1
We conquered Earth. Pushed starward and dominated the moon. The inner planets followed; the outer planets weren't far behind. Every world within our hungry reach was domesticated, a hundred hostile frontiers brought to heel and plundered. No campaign against man or nature secured serenity, we could break planets, but remained unable to tame ourselves.
Human population boomed; the needs of so many devoured the provisions and resources of an entire solar system. As resources grew scarce, violence and chaos rose supreme and humanity engulfed itself in its most sacred occupation: war.
Alliances were born and destroyed, governments consumed themselves, and anarchy tore us apart. As mankind lost the grace of humanity, machines, elevated to near sentience with electronic souls, found a truce where their creators could not. This brief peace fell to folly, and after generations sheltered in a synthetic world, a diminished and shaken people reentered a desolate world; the wheel of strife continued to turn.
The numbers of humanity thinned in an environment starved of the bounty that had birthed them. Ruins were all that remained as the legacy of mankind's bloodthirsty obsession. The ashes of achievement lay like the snow of an eternal winter. Only one option remained to us if we wanted to survive, the perpetuation of warfare.
Lethal conflict and its horrifying consequence did not usher in a Golden Age for the survivors-Utopia found only in the idle musings of ancient dreamers. Violence begets violence, and so it was for us, we banded under powerful leaders of ruthless martial prowess.
To save ourselves, we formed The Factions.
No man can survive this shattered world alone. To preserve ourselves, the small, tribal bands, the fragments of a once great human society, eventually pledged fealty to the soldiers whose violence and cunning set them apart. Four Warriors rose to dominance, their factions survived the post-war chaos. Existence lived between the nine planets, fell to a struggle between The Four.
My name is Kerouac Simm, my feet stand on humanity's birthplace, earth- alongside the fighting men and women of 377th Armored Battalion, or ArBat. Our trial is to survive, our dream is to restore order and a semblance of peace to the planets. Honor, nobility, compassion, all the proud traits of mankind seemed to perish in the fire of war; the core of ArBat strives for a day when the heart of Man's dignity is reborn.
Long, bloody, perhaps endless, the road to honor will be restored.
The debris of space-born battle reenters the afternoon sky over head in a shower of screaming meteors, burning through the poisonous tendrils of cloud. As they explode against the hard earth, I hear a click and crackle in the earpiece of my comm over the my rebreather's steady hiss.
“Simm? The hell are you?” The voice is as parched and beaten as the landscape, masked, in part, by the hiss of white noise brought by the shower. Solau Jeng, commander of ArBat's armored cavalry. Something unusual must be afoot, he seldom spoke to anyone let alone calling on the comm for a simple mech pilot like myself.
“Out past the west wall, Commander, what's up? Trouble again?”
“Always, need you back here, fast.” The words were bitten off, tense; the note of worry in his voice was alarming.
“On my way” Hooking a thumb through the strap of my pulse rifle, I turned my back to the wall and started back towards HQ at a brisk trot. Behind me the sky finished raining fire, and the only sound the thump of my boots, kicking up small clouds of dust, like the falling of small meteors.
Cut Scene: Simm takes off for Command HQ, Camera pan up to stars, fade to black
Cut Scene: starts as Jacks opens his eyes, vision blurs in and out, then switch to panning view of interrogation room, steel floor and walls, clean but a bit bloody from the recent “session
Corrimer Jacks closed his eyes against the flow of blood and sweat that coursed down his face and across his vision. The rest of his body relaxed against the blows he knew were coming. Pain was only temporary, to fight it would gain him nothing.
He knelt naked on the cold ferro-synth floor of the floor. Makeshift bindings of wire secured his hands behind his back in a posture of humiliation and agony. Physically, Jacks was compromised, mentally he was and would remain unbroken.
Across from him, he heard the slow sigh of his interrogator, ”My hands hurt, Jacks, and I have a backache from all this. You sure your Intel is worth more of our time? Our pain?," There came a pause ripe with the hope of a confession and the knowledge of knowing it wouldn't come. "You're a hard man, I get that. I'm not exactly soft myself. One of us going give sooner or later, this time around, I think I have the upper hand.”
The rough scrape of chain across the floor of the ship's holding cell; the ring and hiss as it whipped, unseen above him. In that small moment between the chain's rise and brutal fall, Jacks thought about the value of life, the coming of death and the loyalty that placed him tenuously between both.
Cut Scene: Fade with a blow from the chain
Cut Scene: Downward motion pan in on office
Jeng's quarters were dark, as the man's costum of intense privacy dictated. He stood, leaning against the front of his desk, posture coiled, feral- also customary. To his right, at rigid attention Arabella Xander, ArBat's Air Commander, curt efficiency reflected in her every aspect. Head Mechanic Caster Mathieu slouched against the wall to Jeng's left. All looked grim.
Jeng lifted his gaze to meet the eyes of Pilot Simm, his expression hard and uncompromising, he said nothing. Xander stepped forward,
“Jacks went out to do some recon, trying to establish the rumors of the Scavengers working together” She paused,” He encountered an unknown hostile and shortly afterward, his comms went down...He could have been captured, or...”
“Or killed” Jeng's words were harsh, he didn't flinch from their possible reality or their potential impact.
Corrimer Jacks was the backbone of ArBat's military, he was a fierce, canny fighter and a disciplined commander of rare integrity. That he would risk himself on a recon mission alone was typical, the man wouldn't risk anyone without a solid reason and was himself fearless
Known to all of ArBat as Skinny, Caster Mathieu spoke, his calm absolute,
“Jacks is valuable, if he wasn't killed in outright ignorance, his identity would have been soon discovered and held captive-the information he holds and the resources we would trade for him are enough to keep him alive.”
“He does have a genius for survival,” Jeng admitted, his expression wry.
“Are we mounting a rescue?” Simm was anxious to move out, Jacks was a mentor and commander, not just an asset of ArBat, but a personal guide.
“CFM has had a pretty aggressive border presence lately, something large would be ill advised. We simply can't afford a full scale engagement,” Xander began to pace.
“My pilots have been in a few scrapes just keeping an eye on them, we definitely need to do something, but I suggest we do it quietly”
The Confederacy of Independent Militia, or CFM in ArBat slang, was a Faction of loosely associated ex-military groups. Tough fighters to a man, they represented ArBat's most dedicated Terran competition.
The mech pilot turned from Xander to find Skinny watching him, mouth quirked in habitual half grin
“And by quiet, I suggest that means you, and a mech-I've got one I've been tinkering with, a bit more maneuverable, more efficient weapons and its warmed up.”
Cut Scene: fade out on Jacks smirking, excited to use a new mech
The Western Barrens-
The GPS on Jacks' Armored (Crawler) had gone offline several kilometers to the northwest. The unmerciful afternoon sun beat against the shell of the mech as Simm retraced the commander's steps looking for clues. As he approached the Jacks' last known location, Xander's voice snapped through the comms,
“I had one of my boys do a quick fly over, 15 klicks north of you is a downed CFM recon craft, and it looks lightly manned, see if you can get up on it without too much trouble.”
“It's well inside our territory-I expect there aren't many, but I'll have some reinforcements loaded up for you if things get to hot”
“I'm on it” The small sweat of anticipation beaded Simm's face, in his guts, a small coil of anticipation unwound. He was the best mech pilot ArBat had ever seen, and he was aware of this, but any engagement was always a looming, violent unknown.
On the console, the sensor map pinged with a marker placed there by Xander's techs; the mech swung to face it head on. Closer to the target, Simm would take a more circumspect approach. He flexed his fingers, his grip on the weapon controls tightened.
Blows from the chain fell until CFM's interrogator was breathless. He stepped away from Jacks, sighed a half hearted curse, and sat down.
Pain was a hot companion, the anguish of the beating had settled into a pervasive, throbbing misery. All the mettle gained by the ArBat warrior through his history of violence was a crumbling wall against the onslaught of torture; his injuries were grave and the urge to find relief was as sickening as the damage from the chain. Jacks had faced every imaginable enemy in every possible circumstance, he had thought himself beyond the fear of death. Mortally broken, his insides were cold with injury. For all his courage, he felt a rising dread at the slow fate that one chain stripe at a time.
Jacks raised his eyelids against the blood and sweat and met the eyes of his interrogator, he could smell his own fear mingling with that of his wounds, “Once you've rested, finish your job”
The only sound in the room, his voice, though quiet, resounded.
The Western Barrens-
Open desert lay before Simm exposing his approach to the CFM ship. Until now, his mech had been masked by field monolithic stones; no cover meant a swift and merciless attack.
He thumbed his comm, “Come in, Control,"
"This is Control, go ahead”
“Comms on. The sensor reading is low, so I don't expect a large group. I'm going in hot- keep an eye on my back.”
“Will do. Give em hell and get our man back.”
Simm inhaled, cleared his mind, and let the brutal instincts of warfare overtake his intellect. It was a moment that came without effort for him in the instant before every engagement he'd ever fought in a mech, his frail human anatomy supplanted by that of iron. He was no longer mere human, but the brain of machine built to kill.
He feathered the controls as he pushed the mech for every ounce of power it was capable of. Nothing but the mission and the exhilaration of unity with the mech existed, he cleared the monoliths and sprinted across the barren ground.
The ship sat on a low plateau, its upper hull was visible to Simm as he blazed across the stretch of dry earth between him and his target.
The roar of the mech's engines brought a CFM sentry running, assault rifle at his shoulder. Reflexively, Simm swung the turret of the mech's machine gun and cut loose a quick barrage. Aim unerring, the shot stitched the soldier, lifting him in air sending him tumbling. Simm didn't slow the mech, the work of instinct was meteoric.
As he crested the rim of the plateau, two more CFM soldiers ran from the ship, both held RPG launchers and were bringing them to bear on his mech. Simm knew without seeing the moment his enemies' triggers depressed, understood the terminus of their swift trajectory. Man and machine were a seamless unit, the mech slid sideways as the rifle spat rounds. The explosive shells cleared the mech by millimeters and flew screaming into the desert behind him.
The CFM soldiers were slammed into against the ship's side with impact of Simm's shots, they died in brilliant red instant.
Even though there were no enemies in sight, Simm didn't relax his guard. He approached the ship, cautious, weapons ready.
"Control, I've got three dead Confederates, no visuals on anyone else, can you give me anything? You got any more bodies on your sensors?”
“Give me one second, pilot, I'll have a sensor-sweeper flyover, stay hot, we don't know their strength,”
A few tense moments passed before a small jet wheeled overhead,
“ You have two more live ones down there, pilot, we hope one is Jacks. One is moving around, the other is stationary and his heat signal suggests he's prone. They are in the bow. You're going to have to blow a hole in the hull to get at him. There's a hatch midway down the ship, hopefully any shrapnel from the blast won't hit Jacks.”
If he's still alive, Simm thought, angry, warm enough for a heat signature was no guarantee of vitality
“Copy, Control, rockets away”
Cut Scene: final line executes triggered by player firing rockets, Fade when the player enters the hole blown in the ship
There was blood in his lungs, Jacks could feel the growing tightness pushing against his rib cage,
“You've killed me, you know. Gained nothing but a future of attrition,”
Against a more experienced interrogator, Jacks would have said nothing, but in this one he sensed weakness. The interrogators brutality alone spoke of a clumsy handling of torture techniques. Pain was Jacks' forte, mere savagery wouldn't shatter a man made savage by a life of vicious conflict.
Something flickered in the interrogator's eyes, uncertainty?
Sickness swam in Jacks' insides, racked by a brief cough, he gasped and vomited blood down his chest. His weakness seemed to spur his tormentor into action, the interrogator stood and gave the length of chain a flick,
“If I want-”
The thunder of gunfire cut him short. The CFM inquisitor dropped the chain and spun to the door.
Through the walls of the ship, Jacks could hear muffled shouting and the roar of an engine. A mech. Another salvo, this time shells impacted the ship's hull with an echoing ring.
The boys from back home, Jacks smiled, bitter, just in time to see me die naked in my own blood and sickness.The world around the battered ArBat warrior collapsed into a suffocating fog.
A boot in the ribs brought Jacks out of semi-consciousness,
“Still alive then,” His captor paced the floor in front of him, “At least I still have a bargaining chip, be a sport and live for a few more minutes, your boys got here before my men could get the engines back up...damn these dust storms, though, they screw up everything.”
Silent now, Jacks lay in his own vomited blood. His environment blanched to monochrome, he closed his eyes. Above him, the clack of round being chambered in a sub machine gun.
In a blossom of flame, an explosion thundered through the length of the ship. Jacks couldn't see the section of the door rip from its hinges and catch the interrogator in the stomach like a blunt blade; he heard the scream and the short burst of gunfire before the firearm was torn from his tormentor's hand by the impact. The heat and concussion sent both men tumbling. Jacks landed on his side, his enemy on the door section in his midsection.
The ArBat commander watched as the man tried to lift himself away from metal. Death and the fear of death trembled in the man's arms, Jacks knew the look, the terror and desperation.
The interrogator looked over at his prisoner, mouth open, streaming blood, their eyes locked and Jacks saw no enmity there; they were now equals, two men dying.
“No...fun...is it?” Jacks managed.
The other man said nothing for moment, his gaze was dark and glassy. He glanced at his wound and whimpered, low and pained. He met Jacks' eyes again,
“My name Sabien...Crowley”
Jacks said nothing, letting the man die in silence.
As he closed his eyes to join the CFM inquisitor, he heard the tearing of steel and the rumble of an engine. A mech engine. Simm. Hands were on him. A voice shrill with urgency as he pleaded for a med-ship over the comm, filled the air,
“God...you're slow...you bastard,” Jacks gurgled through the bloody bile in his throat.
Cut Scene: fade to black