The last scion of the House of Mars and the Hinterlands War hero known as Baldur have a few things in common: they have an appointment in the Appalachian Mountains pretty soon. Soon however is not now and soon does not pay the bills. What does pay the bills is patrol work down on the James River, keeping an eye on Richmond on the one hand and Vesper on the other. It used to be a milk run, these patrols. Now they’re tense.
They’re all the more tense because of a rare sighting on the Vesper side in the last hour. A Gunwolf. A state of the art Northern Gun war machine, bristling with weapons and designed for taking down monsters and assault bots. Vesper isn’t known for fielding large numbers of high tech gear, but Vesper does hire mercenaries like everyone else. Sometimes they bring their own… robots.
Hunter is cruising at a steady twenty five KPH. A leisurely stroll for his Gunwolf. He’s not really watching the view, paying more attention to his instruments and radar scope to tell him what’s going on across the river. Up ahead is the Carroway Span, a section of old, intact roadway that used to be a major trade route. It’s closed at the moment due to tensions and warnings of danger from the ruined city several miles away.
“Coming up to the next checkpoint…” Hunter radios command. “All’s quiet here.”
It’s all part of a days, or a nights, work really. Patrolling. Ardul would say it got boring but this is Rifts Earth and a boring day is something to be appreciated really.
The blonde, armour gleaming in the sun, flies alongside the Wolf-Bot, giant grey-black wings moving almost lazily as she keeps pace with the mech. “Quiet’s good. Given what’s happening around,” she murmurs to the Wolfen inside the mech once he’s reported in.
“I never went on a date with… Whatshername? Yala Dutchman, Baldur,” explains the voice of Kaius Mars over the comms of his glimmering battlemech. “You went off for ‘just one more drink’ and the bar took a hit. So if someone in the unit ticked off her father… it wasn’t me.”
The mech — known colloquially as a ‘Glitterboy’ for its distinctive, highly reflective armour plating — comes to a halt, and turns to look pointedly over at the cyborg. “You were awful friendly with her… Hey, I’ve got something. Another mech — check your three o’clock.”
Baldur would be the first to claim no part of being a hero. So far as he was concerned, war had none, only victims. Still, there’s no denying what he was and what he is now, and when all you were good at was shooting things and mayhaps a bit of leatherwork, well, there were only so many things you were called to do.
While babysitting Natsuki Taniguchi is something he actually finds to be fun now and then, shadowing the half-elf was only good so long as the captain deemed it necessary. And then there were other things to do, like going to investigate stuff cuz the important people were all busy. Fine, just fine. That’s what they’re here for. Kinda. Merc-work. It’s something he can certainly swing with.
“Was awful friendly with a lotta girls,” the cyborg snorts. “Don’t mean all of ’em were making eyes at me right back. …was that her name? Dutchman? Huh. That the blond, or….”
He stops as the big mech does, optics blinking before he turns his head left- and then right, in the direction he’s supposed to. Squint. “Is that…a giant metal dog?”
Elpida has to make her money, you know, the same way everyone else with her particular set of skills does: really boring patrols. She’s here, helping out, because Ardul and Greyman invited her. And why not? They’ve worked well together before and so she’s here, looking deeply uncomfortable. Mostly because she keeps getting things in her damn boots.
“See them down there?” A man says, pointing down from above where he hovers unseen. “That one, in the polished armor.”
“Yes, I see him…” A woman replies as she brushes her hair. She’s lovely beyond compare but there is no one who can see her either, other than her companion.
“He’s bearing a very particular kind of name.” The man’s eyes narrow. “Let’s see if he lives up to it…” Almost nonchalantly, the unseen figure passes his hand over the scene below.
“Got a couple of blips on the other side of the river.” Hunter says almost bored. “Probably just a Dogwood… hrm… interesting… I’m being targeted…”
Hunter checks his instruments and mutters. “Well that’s just downright un-neighborly.”
The Gunwolf stops, twists its torso and Hunter locks in on Mars. “Someone thinks they’re cute over there. Look alive.” He tells his team.
“Missile lock…” Mars’ armor tells him.
Ardul looks over the river, seeing the sun glint off the Glitterboy and nods slowly to Hunter. She’s been watching Elpida throughout the patrol, making sure the Gorgon doesn’t get into too much trouble.
At Hunter’ words, she unclips the cylinder that hangs from her hip and her energy blade flashes to life. “Are they trying to start a war?” Is all she says, grey eyes scanning the situation, determining the best attack vector for herself.
Well, Elpida hasn’t fainted.
That’s the good news.
“Targeted?” she asks, immediately, her hands going to her gun. There’s not much she can hope to do against something that’s happy to target a GIANT ROBOT, but hey… she’s got a gun, dang it!
It’s in her hand now and she’s looking out in vain to see what she can see. Which is precisely nothing.
“Hold on a second, Gal,” replies Mars with a grunt. “Somebody thinks we’re still at — oh wait, it’s me.” It is… hard for the ex-soldier to remember that the war of ‘yesterday’ for him, was the war of ‘seventy years ago, plus yesterday’ for everyone else.
Alas, it is too late now — he already has a lock on the Gunwolf. And the Gunwolf has a lock on him. Turning it off would be… Well, they could always try talking.
“Gunwolf and Company — please identify,” he says over an open channel. “You’re interfering with a sanctioned patrol of the region. State your business or be on your way.”
Baldur looks back around at Shiny. What is he doing?? “Kai, we got hostiles?” He’s not the one with the fancy sensors and mech, but he knows better than to question one if they’re arming up, and Mars wouldn’t do so without reason.
His pistols practically seem to spring into hands for how quickly the cyborg’s got them unholstered, spun and at the ready. For what, he’s not yet sure, but he’s moving around behind Mars’ glitterboy because having a nice big metal wall’s better than being out in the open. “They fresh around here? Lost, maybe? If they’re from V-town I don’t know what they’re thinkin’.”
“Dogwood patrol this is Gunwolf Patrol Victor X-Ray One Niner Five. Kindly explain why you’re painting me.” Pause. “Also we’re on our side of the river. If that’s your bar for interference then I guess we are.” The James River is wide… but not wide enough to make a difference to missiles, railguns or even a well aimed rifle.
“Well, he certainly responds quickly enough.” The man says. “Now for the secondaries…” He waves his hand again.
There’s movement out of the corner of Elpida’s eyes. Is that… another power armor squad coming up behind the Glitterboy and his cyborg companion? Hard to say. For just a moment it looks like it though.
A shadow – is it a shadow? – passes over Baldur and if he flicks his eyes up for one brief moment it might look like a dragon is circling above. Just for a moment. Then it’s gone, maybe hiding in the sun’s glare.
“Ardul what do you have?” Hunter says on his squad only channel. “They moving anywhere in particular?”
“Did they really just imply we are trespassing?” Ardul almost scoffs, maintaining her position and scanning the area. She’s been listening to the communications. “Maybe they need lessons in map reading and understanding boundaries.” That’s said on the team only comms, of course.
“They seem to be stationary, Hunter,” she answers quietly, wings beating down powerfully, raising her higher. She’s trying to get a better view of the area. “But they little one has pulled his weapons as well.
She doesn’t see what the others do. Maybe that’s a matter of her own belief in magic or maybe it’s something else.
“If I was them though, I’d be heading for the bridge and securing it.”
“The hell?” says Elpida.
One of the advantages of having snakes on your head is that you have eyes. MANY EYES. And they help you notice things you might not otherwise notice. She whirls in the direction of the of the other squad approaching and says, “If we’re on the Vesper side, and they’re on the Dogwood side, then who the fuck are THOSE guys?” She points.
“Something is going on with the ‘BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO‘ (stupid inbred stack of meat) piloting that mech,” Mars mutters on a private channel to Baldur. “Scan the area toward the bridge — if they’re going to try anything, it’ll be there. In fact, widen the scan a bit more… just in case.”
“…Are they really out of our territory? Last time me and Shiny were here… hell.” Mars flicks some switches and peers at a scanner. “He’s got others with him… They don’t seem that dangerous, but if they’re from V-town…”
He knows all too well how dangerous anyone from Vesper can be… no matter how innocuous they might seem. To the Gunwolf and its entourage, Mars replies: “Dogwood patrol to Gunwolf-and-friends: we’re just being cautious. You might need to — wait, I’m picking something up.”
“Um, Kai….I just saw something friggin’ huge with wings flying up overhead but I lost visual.” Baldur’s craned his head, looking skyward for whatever reason. His optics twitch imperceptibly, trying in vain to home in on any sign of whatever bogey he could’ve sworn he’d picked up a moment ago. “What’re these guys playing at?”
At the moment there’s otherwise been no reason to shore up for an attack. One mech and…two on foot? Well, so to speak. One’s flying now. Unless they also brought with them a personal air force of scales and sinew, in which case there’s little they can do about it. He looks back across the river, stepping out from around Shiny to give an exaggerated shrug as though asking them what the heck they think they’re doing. ….ooor it could look like he’s saying ‘bring it on.’ No one ever plays charades anymore.
“I don’t see anything over that end, but I don’t think a bridge matters much if their backup’s got wings.”
Elpida’s warning has Hunter twitching his stick to the left to see what she’s pointing at. And he can see them. Powered armor. Dogwood make. Mix of ‘Gunbusters’ and Northern Gun licensed Sampsons. “Standby to engage. They’re moving on the bridge.” He says as he flips his weapons to live. And then…
“Hang on a sec…” The wolfen squints. He can see the the armor but not any heat signatures, not any radar blips. Just visual.
“Dogwood patrol, identify the people on your right, please.”
There isn’t anyone there.
“Guys, I think someone is messing with us. Magic, perhaps.”
“They weren’t there just now …” Ardul mutters, turning towards the power armour as Elpida points it out. The mention of magic has her flinching a little.
Leaving Hunter to watch the Dogwoodians, the blonde winged warrior turns slowly about, scanning the area. “I can’t see anything, Hunter, but they’re likely concealed.” She’s being careful not to provoke the other side. She hopes.
“…apparently I should be rolling to disbelieve,” utters Elpida under her breath. Probably only Kaji would understand it if he was here. Maybe.
She licks her lips and then letts out a breath, gun still held in a slightly shaky grip. She’s nervous.
“Gunwolf Patrol Victor X-Ray One Niner Five — are you yanking my chain? There isn’t — .” Mars, now a bit distracted, performs a sensor sweep of the area, and glares back at the Gunwolf. “It isn’t us then… isn’t that meant to be your thing? Magic, that is. Shiny — anything?”
“On our right?” Baldur, that’s your left. Give him a moment, he’ll give the whole area a scan, shaking his head. “I think someone done need their systems checked,” he mutters, but he hasn’t put away his guns yet because he’s all jumpy now.
“Magic- ain’t that your thing??” he shouts across at them. Can they even hear anything he says without a speaker system? “Did you bring a dragon with you??!” he continues, waving a gun skyward. That’s totally a thing to ask, isn’t it? But hey, if they’re being all conversational about it.
Ordinarily Hunter would respond to the question ‘did you bring a dragon with you’ with something like ‘yes, of course we did. I always bring a dragon with me.’ In this case though… “No, no we didn’t…”
Hunter powers down his railgun and switches off his target lock. “If there’s going to be a problem here I don’t think it’s going to be with the Dogwood boys…” He says to the squad.
The man above sighs. “Mortals are so disappointing sometimes, dear. And that Mars… Hardly with his name.”
“A Dragon?” That has Ardul turning back towards the river. “I’ve been called many things, but not a dragon.” she mutters to Hunter as he powers his weapons down. She nods in approval “I don’t think it is them. They seemed confused.”
Because it’s not like the Vesperians are confused at all.
“I think we should all continue our patrols and trust that we meet under better circumstances, next time.”
“…the hell is going on?” Elpida is hopelessly frustrated at this point and her expression twists into a scowl. “Someone’s idea of a joke, it isn’t funny.” She keeps her gun in her hand, anxiety fueling that little detail to be sure, but she turns towards the others for guidance. She’s trusting them.
“…probably the bloody harvesters,” she mutters. After all, who benefits from a war? That’s what she’s thinking.
The Glitterboy turns toward Baldur now, and puts its hands on its hips — well, one hand; the other arm has a giant cannon attached to it. “Did a freakin’ Gunwolf just ask me to identify imaginary things to my three o’clock? — and I actually scanned empty space!”
There’s a groan over the comms.
“Made me look…” Mars hangs his head inside the cockpit of his mech, and keys the comms for an open channel. “Copy that, Gunwolf Patrol.” Pause. “Good hunting.” Private channel again. “Goddamnit, I need to blow something up. And then a drink. Freakin’ magic… I hate magic.”
“Ain’t exactly a fan myself,” the cyborg mutters, but with everyone putting up their weapons, he slams his own pistols back into their holsters, albeit a good bit after. He continues to watch the trio on the opposite side of the river, just in case they tried anything. It hasn’t occurred to him that the Gorgon’s the same one he met over in Brookstone, because who knows if there’s hordes of those in Vesper?
“I could go for shooting something myself, but I don’t much like being messed with. But who else outside of V-town’s using magic and willing enough to try sparkin’ something out here?”
That’s a good question. Hunter doesn’t have answers to that. Instead he simply turns and starts his bot moving again, trusting the other two to follow. If someone is messing with them here, best not to give them any more opportunities.
It’s food for thought though. Disturbing thoughts, but thoughts all the same.
Someone decides to try putting a couple of opposing patrols from Vesper and Dogwood to the test.
June 07, 2410