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The Synthetic War: Prelude
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Samara Tamblin
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 01, 2017 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Turmoil is an odd thing. For one person it’s the end of the world, but the universe keeps on going, oblivious. Whatever angst and stress that plagued Samara that night was absolutely nothing compared to the incalculable numbers of lifeforms throughout the cosmos. It gave her a small sense of comfort as she sat in the observation deck, looking out upon the dotted abyss that was space.

Perspective could only help so much when you were in the thick of it, she thought as she tugged the hood of her sweatshirt over her head. How she’d managed to avoid a court martial was beyond her, but here she was. Living on borrowed time.

The door behind her slid open. Samara glanced back, catching sight once again of Eaton. The dark haired soldier smirked as he beheld her. “Well, well. If it isn’t the washout.”

“Har har.” She rolled her eyes.

“Did you REALLY try get into a fight with Titan?” He asked, dripping with amusement.

“She goaded me into it.”

He grinned and shook his head. “So. You still with us?”

Samara sighed, letting her hood drop and sweeping a strand of hair behind her ear. “I guess. Until Wei finds another way to boot my ass out of here.”

Eaton turned to her with a quirked brow. “It ever occur to you that the reason she’s so hard on you is because she sees something in you?”

Samara snorted. “I’ve been through that. It’s not what this is. She’s got a stick up her ass that could prop up a Lukeshian skyscraper. If she thinks being a bitch is going to make me want to work harder for her…”

“Easy. I get it.” Eaton said with a raised palm. “She’s a hard woman. Been more than a few times I wanted to strap her in an escape pod with rigging tape and shoot her off into the black.”

Samara chuckled and turned to him.

“...but,” he said, “there are few people I’d want more by my side in combat. She knows her ****.”

“So, I’m guessing you think I should just grin and bear it?” Samara asked, hugging her knees to her chest.

“Never said anything about grinning.” He responded with a smirk. “Just don’t let her get to you. Breaking you is her job. You cannot give her ammunition.”

Samara contemplated this a long moment. “Any tips on how to do that?”

Eaton blew a raspberry and shrugged. “If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

She laughed and shook her head “You are absolutely useless.”

“Yeah, I’ve been told that.” He said with a grin.
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2017 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rather than go back to sleep after Eaton turned in, Samara found herself walking down to the flight deck. Music filled the cavernous room, echoing along with the sound of metallic pounding. A pair of legs stuck out from beneath a dropship, just a hint of blue skin peeking out between the socks and bottom of the pant leg.

A little yelp escaped the alien beneath the ship as she swore in a language Samara didn’t quite understand, a tossed wrench clattering across the floor until it smacked the heel of her boot.

“Whoa, there, slugger!” Samara chided.

Tey’lani slid out from under the shuttle, sucking on her injured thumb. Her head tilted to one side, a little grin forming. “Well, if it isn’t my favorite Washout…”

Samara’s cocky little smirk fell. “That’s gonna be thing now, isn’t it?”

Tey’lani smiled sweetly and nodded. “That’s the current plan, yes.”

The young recruit sighed theatrically before glancing at the ship. “What’s all this?”

“Blown capacitor. I tried to reroute the neg through the flux inhibitor, but it made the cathode array go haywire.” Tey’lani said, spinning what Samara was sure was utter nonsense like it was business as usual.

“Yeah...those damn capacitors.” Samara deadpanned as the blue woman sat up, wiping her grease-stained hands on the legs of her olive coveralls.

She scrutinized her young friend a moment, propped up on her arms. Those violet eyes seemed to dig deep inside of her, picking up every subtle tick and movement, leaving Samara feeling incredibly self-conscious.

“Something on your mind?” Tey’lani asked.

“Just couldn’t sleep. I had to get out of that room. You?” She asked.

Tey’lani smiled pleasantly. “I’m Iridian. We don’t need more than 2 hours of sleep. Figure I might as well get some work in.”

“Workaholic.” Samara teased, tossing Tey’lani a rag.

“Hey, just because you human slackers need 8-9 hours…” The Iridian grinned and got to her feet, finishing cleaning up.. “Where are you headed?”

“I...I don’t know.” Samara said.

“Yeah, you do.” her friend said with that knowing look. “You want to hit up the simulator, don’t you?”

Gods help her, the girl was right. Samara nodded slowly.

“And you need someone to run the program..” Tey’lani continued.

Samara went to speak,, but instead just stared perplexed. “What are you? A telepath?”

“Nah. Just a keen observer of human nature.” Her squadmate shrugged and smiled. “Though, to be fair...you’re about as easy to read as a picture book.”

Samara blushed a little smile playing across her lips. Tey’lani placed a hand at her back and started leading her away. “Come on. Let’s get you suited up.”
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2017 2:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Synchronization was still a jarring experience. It still felt like every nerve was on fire, making the second long process feel like hours in her mind. Samara’s eyes popped open as she gasped for air. Soon, everything calmed and she was back in control.

“Alright,” Tey’lani’s voice soothed into her ears. “What are you looking to do? Solo combat or team combat?”

“Team combat? You gonna go drag someone out of their rack?” Samara asked.

“No, smartass. The program records the brain waves, progress and abilities of its users. You’ll have a simulation of them at your side to train with.”

Samara’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, that’s not creepy.”

“It’s useful for situations like this.” Tey’lani said, a bit defensively. “I designed it to be as much like the real thing as possible.”

Samara’s brow raised, impressed. “You created the training program?”

“I did. And I could have tried to create a convincing AI, I’m a gifted programmer...but there’s simply no substitute for real field experience.” She explained. “The bravery, the fears, the personality, the will to not only survive, but to win? An AI can’t replicate that. At least not one I’m capable of putting together.”

The thought didn’t exactly sit well, even when Tey’lani explained it. The idea that they could copy your brain waves, thought processes...your likeness and turn it into a character in some game long after you were gone seemed almost a violation.

“You don’t like it.” Tey’lani said.

“What?” Samara asked, trying to play it cool.

“You think it’s wrong. What the program does.”

“It’s a bit...difficult.” She admitted.

“You want to train with the best. With a few keystrokes, I can put you in the field with legends.” Tey’lani said, pride filling her voice.

The concept was certainly intriguing, even if the moral ramifications were somewhat fuzzy. She could stand beside the men and women she’d only read about in combat. Though, of all the faces throughout history, only one stood out.

“Marcus. Put me with Marcus.”

From the control room, a smile formed upon Tey’lani’s lips. “You got it, Samara.”

The young recruit took in a deep breath as the world around her whirled an ever-changing array of color and light until it instantly became the interior of a drop ship. The acrid smell of smoke and the hum of engines filled her senses, bringing the illusion to startlingly realistic life. The loud clang of metal on metal rose over the sound of the engines as Marcus approached.

“On your feet, Soldier!” He called out.

The image of him nearly stopped her heart. Though it was only a few months, she felt like she’d been carrying him everywhere she went for years. So close, but just out of reach. But here he was. Her brother.

“I said,” he reached out and yanked her up off the bench. “On your feet!”

Yep. That was Marcus, she thought. Those eyes, mirror images of her own, that forceful, take-charge way of his. Definitely her brother. Almost perfect...if not for the fact that when he looked at her...there was no spark of recognition. This...man before her, though he looked and acted like him...it was only as real as a dream. A shadow of the real Marcus Tamblin.

“You get your ass in gear, Private. We drop on that bunker, eliminate all hostiles and give ‘em a hurtin’ they won’t forget, you get me?”

“I get you, sir.” She said, her voice cracking a bit.

He gripped her shoulder plating and moved close. “Cowboy up, soldier. We got this. Alright?” He assured her, that cocky little grin on his face, reflected in the one that crossed her’s. Marcus nodded with a smirk and gave her a slap on the shoulder.

Samara pulled up her weapons systems, bringing them online, her vision suddenly developing a heads-up-display via her neural implants. The heavy repeater gave test whir, ready to light up the first enemy she saw.

“Making our final approach on the DZ!” Marcus called back to her. “Fall in!”

The heavy feet of her ExoSuit hit the metallic floor as she approached. The door slid open and outside was chaos. Explosions riddled the sky, several fighters and bombers making their attacks alongside another drop ship.

Far below, their target waited. A bunker full of tier one targets and their elite guard. In moments, she and Marcus would leap from their craft and unleash hell upon them.

Suddenly the other drop ship was hit with a surface-to-air missile, the engine and crew compartment bursting in flames and debris before spiraling out of formation toward the ground, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake.

“Now or never, Rook! Let’s do this!” Marcus yelled. “Waaaaaaah-hooooooo!” He bellowed, throwing himself out into open air.

Not to be outdone by her brother, holographic though he might be, Samara leapt after him. The simulator worked in tandem with the neural interface to create sensations that felt almost 100% real. She swore she could actually feel the pull of gravity yanking her down from the sky as wind whipped at her hair and face.

The suits sensors tracked her descent, indicating she was nearing the ground and activating the repulsors. They fired off intermittently, slowing her down from terminal velocity. When she finally hit the ground, her knees buckled a bit as if she’d only leapt a few feet. Instantly, she and Marcus moved shoulder to shoulder, each covering a different direction.

“Clear.” He said to her.

“Clear.” She responded.

“This is Rampart, we’re on target, ready to proceed, over.”

“Roger, Rampart, good hunting.”

Marcus turned to his sister. “Stay on me, watch our six.”

She nodded as they moved onward. Part of her wondered if the precision with which he moved was due to the computer...but she knew better. Her brother was a perfectionist. He honed his abilities the best he could. This was all him.

How many nights since his demise had Samara dreamed of this. Standing at his side in combat, just as they did when they played as children. The Unstoppable Tamblins. A military force no foe could dare challenge. It’s how it was supposed to be.

Though, now...the team up existed only in a simulation. A mere fabrication. Here, her brother didn’t even recognize her. Here, it wasn’t real.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2017 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The doors exploded open, the two warriors, coated in blood, sweat and dirt stormed in weapons blazing, one covering the other in perfect unison. The pair had cut a bloody path through the base, tearing the security forces apart like a hot knife through butter. This time, there were no flashy heroics, no crazy dangerous stunts. The Tamblins were methodical, precise, and deadly together. As she watched, Tey’lani wished she could have seen them in combat together in real life. It would have been a sight to see.

A door opened to her right, an enemy soldier wielding a heavy disruptor rushing forth. She dropped to one knee and brought her rifle up just as Marcus did to her left. As one they fired once, dropping their opponents with headshots.

Samara panted, rising slowly to her feet. A grin forming on her lips as she turned to her big brother. That same victorious smile came to his features. “Nice shootin’, rook.” He said.

“Nice?” she said, looking mildly offended. “Screw you, Marc, I was ****ing awesome and you know it!”

He snorted and shook his head. “Gods, you sound like my little sister…”

Samara’s heart lurched within her chest. That smile faded to devastation as she stared up at his seemingly blind eyes. Marcus and the entire world around them froze in place. The face, the eyes she’d grown up with now looked at her but didn’t see her. Suddenly, it was like losing him all over again.

Everything but the frozen form of Marcus faded away to reveal the cold, sterile precision of the training room. Tey’lani watched aghast. “I’m sorry…” she said sympathetically.

“He can’t even see what’s in front of him. Can he?” Samara asked in a quiet voice.

“He’s a program.” Tey’lani shrugged, “Meant to capture the way he was in battle. A collection of data given physical form.”

“You can’t access more?” She asked. “I mean...you’ve captured his personality...can’t you just…”

“Get the rest of his memories?” Tey’lani asked. “That’s where the things get tricky, don’t they? It’s one thing to create a training sim of him using the broad swaths of his personality and abilities as a template...it’s quite another to try and replicate him entirely.”

Samara considered it a moment. Part of her didn’t care. She just wanted her brother back.

“What right does the dead have to stay dead?” Tey’lani asked her.

“But...could you? If...if you wanted? If...if someone needed it?” Samara inquired.

Tey’lani watched her friend through the portal. “Take some advice from me, Samara…” the Iridian told her. “Let the dead stay dead.”
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 6:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What it was that drew Wei out of bed, she couldn’t say. But it was the bass thumping from the T75’s blasting weapons that drew her into the training area. Tey’lani was hunched over the control console, her attention rapt in what was going on in the simulator.

Tamblin was atop a hill, drenched in sweat and guns blazing. She and her partner were surrounded by enemies, awaiting extraction as they provided cover fire for each other. Samara was a mask of concentration and precision, keeping her nerves in check like a pro. Wei had to admit. She was impressed.

“What the hell is this, Tweak?” She asked quietly.

The Iridian grinned, not taking her eyes off Samara’s simulation. “Hour 5.” she said. “This girl is a machine.”

“It’s 4 AM.” Wei said icily.

Tey’lani rolled her eyes. “You’ll have to be sure to reprimand her for wanting to improve.”

Wei shot her a withering look and turned her eyes back to the simulation. The girl was fighting her heart out, the strain and focus in combat evident on her face. The pair of combatants shifted positions and Jin saw, for the first time, who her computerized battle buddy was.

The avatar was almost as perfect as reality. Those eyes so electric, blazing with the muzzle flash of his weapon, that square jaw, clenched tightly. A mixture of fear, excitement and intense focus, just as it had been in their last moments together. The offer had been made for her to train with his avatar, but Wei always refused. The wounds were still far too fresh. But here he was, with his sister...and the two of them were like a blossom of death. A perfect team. She couldn’t imagine how difficult it was for Tamblin, but the girl was clearly working through it.

“They would have been amazing together.” Wei said finally.

Tey’lani looked to her, lips parting slightly in surprise.

Wei could feel the look, but didn't take her eyes off the display before them. “You tell her I said that, I’ll deny it.”

Tey’lani’s lips curved up into a smile. “Yes, Ma’am.” Violet eyes returned to the battle as the dropship roared in overhead. The crew compartment slid open and a heavy repeater opened up, absolutely laying waste to the attackers.

“GO!” Marcus yelled to his sister.

Samara didn’t need to be told twice. She leapt,the repulsor lifts in her suit kicking on and propelling her right into the crew compartment with a stumble forward. The young recruit whipped around to see Marcus turn and prepare to jump.

Just then, a missile came screaming at them, the pilot of the craft jerking away from its path. The rocket came so close, Samara had to lean aside as it passed through the cabin and out the other open door. She turned around just in time to see Marcus leaping, his trajectory would not bring him anywhere near the dropship.

Samara sprung forth, arm outreached as she slammed down on the deck of the ship. Their hands clasped as the ship continued pulling away. The weight of Marcus and his suit began to drag her out, but Samara hooked an ankle around a console, anchoring herself. She’d lost him once. It would not happen again.

Marcus looked up at her in wide eyed panic. Samara grinned down at him. “I gotcha, big brother. “

She pulled him up onto the craft as the craft took off. Then, everything was still. The fantasy was over and the crushing loneliness was back. Marcus was still gone.

Wei watched as the girl looked up at her brother sadly. “I miss you.” She said softly to the avatar.

A pain grew in Wei’s heart. For the first time she felt a kinship with the younger Tamblin. For the first time, she decided she understood her.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 12:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The wake up call the next morning was not exactly a welcome intrusion. However, a change in attitude of Samara’s drill instructor was. Over the following week, she found Wei to be downright helpful and patient. She’d even seen the woman crack a rare smile or two.

Every night, Samara entered the simulator with Marcus and trained for a few hours, every night she improved as a soldier. Every night, she did her level best to ignore the twinge in her heart when her brother didn’t even recognize her. It was better than nothing, she would tell herself to little avail. And that was with successful missions.

Sometimes they would fail. Sometimes she died. Those were the easy ones. But seeing her brother die again and again and again… Samara began to understand why people never chose those they knew as a partner in simulations. As much as she knew in her head that it was little more than a glorified video game, she still held him in her arms when he was bleeding. She still cried when his eyes went still. It would have been easy to cave. To call it quits and find another less painful way, but instead, she pressed on.

Samara hardened herself. She let it in, let the wounds scar over until they were an armor. By the end of two weeks, she’d seen him die 130 times. By the end, she could sleep afterwards.

It wasn’t him. It wasn’t Marcus. Marcus was dead and she was alive. She would use his shadow to bring her talents into the light, but the time to mourn was over.

The siblings stood on the bridge of a taken ship, the surrendered crew around them as they approached the viewport. USM ships dropped out of FTL filling space and decimating enemy ships. Marcus smiled .

“Starry night, Starry night...” He whispered to himself.

She turned her head eyeballing him a moment. They had even gotten that?

“Glittering, glittering oh so bright.” Samara finished, a weary smile forming as they watched.

Marcus turned to her, a perplexed look on his face. “How do you know that?”

She turned to him, a wry grin on her exhausted face. They were the first lines of a nursery rhyme their mother had sung to them as children. What the hell, she thought. She could play along. “Mom sang it to us.”

“*Us*?” He said indignantly. “My mother sang that to my sister and I when we were kids. She-“

“Made it up herself. Yeah. I remember.” She was dismissive of this overblown program posing as her brother.

He was quiet a long moment, gawking at her. When he spoke, his voice was different. It was small, confused. Scared.

“Sam?”
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 17, 2017 8:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tey’lani was in a panic. The simulation was supposed to end with the taking of the Drusella...this was not part of it. He wasn’t supposed to notice her, he wasn’t supposed to know her. There were blocks in place, inhibitors that limited the lengths to which the simulation should be able to go.

But here they were. Marcus Tamblin was recognizing his sister. “This is not possible…” She muttered to herself over and over again. The curious scientist in her wanted to let it play out, see where it went, but this was uncharted territory. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Her nimble fingers flew over the interface...but the simulation resisted.

Samara, in her suit, took hold of her brother by the armored shoulders, looking him in the eye. “Marcus, it’s me! It’s Sam! Do you know me?”

The pain and confusion in his eyes was readily apparent as they flicked to and from his sister, trying desperately to comprehend what was happening.

“How...why are you here?” He asked breathlessly before taking in his surroundings. “Where are we?”

Tey’lani worked feverishly, trying to shut down the program, but it seemed to have ideas of its own, rewriting the code even as she typed. The simulation didn’t WANT to end.

Samara withdrew her arms from her ExoSuit and took his face between her hands. Those blue eyes stared straight into his. “Marc, I need you to tell me the last thing you remember.”

He looked perplexed, frantic. “I...we...were on Telamir…”. Marcus winced as if fighting his brain to recall the information. “We were pinned down waiting for...for evac…”

No. No way he remembered his own death, Tey’lani thought in horror, freezing for a second at the console.

Marcus looked beyond terrified, his eyes wide and mouth hanging agape as images passed through his mind. “Oh Gods...Oh Gods…”

“Marc! Marcus! Look at me big brother!” Samara shouted. “I’m here. I’m right here. I need to know, is this *you*?”

Tey’lani knew exactly what the young recruit meant. The questionable ethics of the program were foggy enough without the simulation of a dead man gaining sentience blasting right past the boundaries like stampede.

Tears streamed down his face as he stared at his sister, but couldn’t see her.

“Marcus, come on!” Samara shouted. “Talk to me!”

Enough was enough. Tey’lani ripped open a panel, her hands feeling around for the main power cables.

“Sam…” he whispered in a quivering voice. “Please…make it stop.”

Samara shook her head violently. “Please, Marc..talk to me.”

He gasped wildly for breath. “Sam...I-“

In the blink of an eye, he and the room around them were gone. Samara was alone.

Tey’lani leaned back against the console, her eyes clamped shut as she tried to catch her breath and make sense of what had just happened.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fleet Admiral Lanning watched as the whole messy drama played out on the holoscreen. Samara clutching the simulated Marcus Tamblin’s horrified face.

“Sam...please. Make it stop…”

Tey’lani was a bundle of exposed nerves. This unintended consequence could mean some rather unpleasant things for her career, nevermind her conscience. The big, weathered hand of Merichak clamped gently on her shoulder, offering a small amount of comfort.

“Sam...I-“

Distaste on his aged face, Lanning sat in silence as the image went still. Both Tamblins stood across from one another frozen in time, clinging for dear life. The silence that hung in the room was deafening and seemingly infinite to the Iridian. Lanning reached up and ran his hand down down his mouth. The slightest shake of his weary head.

“Gods. Just what in the *hell* happened here?” He asked, turning toward Tey’lani.

She felt like her skin burned as her face flushed. “Sir...I assure you, the system was never meant to function like that. We’ve been running the simulator for years and it’s never had that sort of malfunction.”

“Malfunction?” Lanning asked incredulously. “Specialist Viscari, a machine slapping a label on upside down is a malfunction. This is something else.”

Lanning looked like a kindly old man, the image of the sweet old grandfather. But when those eyes were set upon you in disappointment, you felt like crawling into a hole and dying. Luckily, she was not alone.

“The question is,” Merichak interceded, “Now that we know about it, what do we do with it?”

“If the public gets wind of this, it’ll be a ****storm. And if our enemies get ahold it, it’ll be worse.” Lanning responded. The old man seemed tired. 55 years of service was bound to take its toll on anyone. He’d seen countless heroes rise and fall over the decades, and had dealt with their sacrifices every single day.

“This little experiment should never have seen the light of day.” Lanning told her cooly.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but my program has allowed the MCU to train with the best. With legends.” She defended herself with a grin. “If we want to create legends, shouldn’t they be trained by them?” The program was her baby. It hadn’t been easy to convince the brains at R&D to let her take a crack at this. She sure as hell wasn’t going to give it up without a fight.

“Legends.” Lanning said with a nod, his voice grave. “You know what I’ve learned about Legends, Specialist?”

Those wizened, blue eyes regarded her as the silence settled. “They’re all dead.”

Tey’lani’s eyes drifted downward.

“I don’t have time for Legends,” Lanning continued. “I need smart, capable soldiers without delusions of grandeur because they were trained by a ghost. You should have let the dead stay dead.”

“That’s exactly what I did, Sir. The avatars aren’t supposed to be able to achieve sentience, they aren’t supposed to be able to become self-aware.”

“It would appear you were wrong.” He countered. “You don’t get to play God and claim innocence when it backfires. You fiddled with something you didn’t fully understand. You resurrected the dead without being sure you could control them. Gods, Specialist, did you even secure permission from their families?”

Tey’lani went to speak, but nothing came out. She knew damn well she had not. She was more preoccupied with whether she could actually do it. She’d figured limiting functionality was good enough. It wasn’t REALLY their loved ones if they couldn’t truly feel, right? Right?

“And in doing so, you’ve managed to create a perfect tool for our enemies to use against us. The combined knowledge of every fallen MCU operator for the past 20 years, gathered in one place. All our weaknesses, all our strategies. You’ve potentially weaponized our fallen friends.”

Something deep down in the pit of her stomach ached.

“Admiral, she didn’t intend this to happen.” Merichak stepped in, placing a comforting hand on the shoulder of her grey and white dress uniform. “Let’s not string her up just yet.”

“Relax, Specialist.” Lanning offered a comforting smile. “Nobody’s being court martialed. But your experiment ends now.”

“Yes, sir.” She said in a small voice.

“What about Tamblin, Admiral?” Merichak asked. “She’s not going to like this. We give her a shot to talk to her brother and we just rip that away from her? She’s not going to be thrilled with that.”

Lanning had an amused expression on his face. “I was under the impression this was a military unit. Not a mental health facility. Shut it down, John.” He said gently.

Merichak nodded. “Yes sir.”

Lanning pushed up out of his chair and gathered his things. He took one last look at Tey’lani, a warm smile crossing his face. “What you’ve done, Specialist Viscari, is nothing short of amazing. A bit horrific...but amazing. Regardless of what’s happened...you are still one of the greatest minds the USM has ever had the privilege of calling their own.”

Tey’lani’s heart seemed to double over. Words of praise like that from the Admiral weren’t common. “Thank you sir.”

“You lost today. But don’t let it stop you. Good day, Specialist.” He nodded to Merichak. “Sergeant.”
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 27, 2017 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Samara sat once again on the observation deck, her knees pressed up against her chest. The word came down from Merichak himself. The training program was to be shut down indefinitely. It was like losing Marcus all over again, only worse. She was a hair’s breadth away from getting him back, she thought, but here she was. Mourning his loss for the second time.

It was childish optimism to think such second chances were possible. Sometimes the things that were taken could never be given back. It was a simple, undeniable fact of life...but it didn’t mean she had to like it. It didn’t do anything to numb the pain.

Blue eyes stared out across the infinite blackness of space, taking in its vast, unfathomable scope and, for the first time she didn’t marvel It didn’t look full of potential and life. Tonight, it just felt...empty. A vast nothingness. An abyss of incalculable emptiness spread out all around her, indifferent to all. It was equal parts crushing and incomprehensibly desolate.

Tey’lani seemed just as heartbroken over the prospect. The simulator was her baby. A brilliant, unprecedented piece of technology, and now at the first sign of trouble, it was being shut down by small men without vision.

She was glad they couldn’t read her thoughts. At least as far as she knew.

Footsteps came from behind her, barely audible. A pair of bare, blue feet padded quietly into the room. Samara glanced over her shoulder to find Tey’lani standing there clad in her Andoran hoodie and a pajama pants. The pair of them just eyed each other a moment. Both looking like they wanted to say something. Instead, Samara patted the seat beside her.

A little smile spread across Tey’lani’s lips. The Iridian slid onto the couch beside her, Samara wrapping an arm around her friend. The pair curled up together, just clinging to one another and staring out at sprawling, cold starfield.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Serles sat in his rack, legs crossed in front of him and a datapad in his lap. On Screen was a woman in her late forties, her dark hair and tan complexion defying her age. She was beaming with pride at her son.

Marcia Serles-Clovis was one of the brightest minds in the USM’s R&D dept. She specialized in long-range communications and helped pioneer the Rapid Connection Interface, allowing real time communication across the vast galaxy. Thomas had the opportunity to join her right out of the academy, but opted for combat training, much to her chagrin.

“You look so grown up! Look at you! I feel like I haven’t seen my baby in years.” She told him.

Serles blushed a bit, glancing around to make sure the guys weren’t around to hear. They’d never let him live it down.

“I know. I miss you guys, too. How’s Dad? Is he there?” Serles asked.

“No. He had to go off-planet. Some big meeting with the Admiralty board.”
Serles gawked a moment. “Is...is he getting promoted?”

His mother had a little knowing smile on her face. “They didn’t say...but…”

Thomas always had a difficult relationship with his father. Winfield Serles was a hard man. A career soldier and combat veteran. Try as Thomas might, nothing ever seemed good enough. When he won awards in school, the most he would receive would be a handshake or a nod. Got an A? Should have been an A-Plus. When he went to the academy and received high marks? Should have been made squad leader. Every single accomplishment was met with further pushing. It wasn’t enough for Thomas Serles to be good. He had to be the best.

“That’s...that’s great.” He said, forcing a smile. Having his dad on the Admiralty Board didn’t sound like it would exactly make his life any easier. “Well, if you hear from him...can you tell him I said hey?” Because he knew the old man would never reach out to him. Though it went unsaid, Marcia heard him loud and clear.

“You know he’s proud of you, Tommy.” She said soothingly.

“Yeah. I know.” He lied, forcing a smile.

Marcia offered a sympathetic look. She knew how her husband could be with him. More than once, she’d had to keep the soldier in line and remind him to be a human being to his flesh and blood for a change. But she knew him in a way Thomas did not. Spoke to him in a way that Thomas never would be able to. She knew that if he was hard with Thomas, if he pushed, it was because he knew the boy was capable of great things.

“Are they treating you well there?” Marcia asked him.

“Oh yeah. The guys are like big brothers I never had.” He responded with a grin. “They call me Tyke.”

“Wow, that’s great!” She beamed. “How’s...what’s her name? Sam?”

“Sam’s...She’s incredible. Mom...that girl is hardcore. When she’s not working with the team she’s been in-” He suddenly caught himself. The simulator wasn’t exactly public knowledge...and had just been shut down by Fleet Admiral Lanning himself. Probably not the best thing to spout off over and unsecured network. “Well, she’s always training.”

“Well, you just keep doing your best and you’ll be right there with her.” Marcia assured him.

He blushed again. Funny how even when you’re a soldier, your mother could make you feel about 5 years old. The sounds of voices approaching told him it was time to end the call. “Ma, I gotta go. But I’ll call you later.”

“Okay. I love you, Tommy.” She said, making a big smoochy sound.

The other guys busted into the room, carrying on loudly...except of course for K’tan. Duster came up, brows raised and chuckling. “Oh-hoho...Tyke! Who is THIS?!”

“Daaaaamn, kid...like ‘em older huh?” Eaton said with a smirk.

“Guys it’s my mom, alright?” He said in frustration.

“Ooooh...mommy!” Duster said. “Mommy can tuck me in any time!”

“You wouldn’t know what to do with this, Needle dick.” Marcia said with narrowed eyes.

Duster’s face fell, the color draining to a pale white. “So...this...this is a live call.” He knew damn well who Dr. Marcia Serles-Clovis was. He cleared his thoat. “Ma’am-er...Doctor, I apologize...I just-”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Marcia smirked. “You boys take care of my son, and we’ll call it even, you hear me?”

Byron was a little frozen until Eaton nudged him hard with an elbow. “Yes! Y-yes, ma’am! Thank you.”

Tyke was mortified, his head in his hand. “Mom. I’ll...see you later.” He reached down and cut the connection.

Eaton had the biggest grin on his face. “Nice job, noodle dick.”

“Hey! I didn’t know she was live!” Byron threw his hands up and looked to Serles. “Not cool, dude.”

“Well, stop hitting on my mom, jackhole…”
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Weapons fire whipped past overhead, Samara crouching low behind cover. The rest of the team were with her, K’tan blind-firing over their cover at the enemy. Echo company was laying down heavy fire upon the Marauders from their position. It was all non-lethal, of course, but combat against the living was an entirely different beast from a sim.

Merichak was cool, calm. This was practically nothing to him. “Alright, boys and girls. We are up **** creek, looks like.” He checked his weapons heat sink, venting the excess build up. “Echo’s got us pinned, outnumbered and there’s no way around this fireline.”

“Great pep talk, Top.” Duster said.

“Stow it, soldier.” Titan told him firmly.

“But they made a mistake today.” Merichak continued, a smirk forming across his lips. “They showed up.”

Samara felt a swell of adrenaline, she and Tyke exchanging grins.

“We’re the Marauders. We don’t lose.” Merichak said. Confidence ran wild through the Company. Merichak had a plan. They were about to spring it!

“So.” Merichak said. “Ideas?”

Or...not.

Titan looked confounded. “I...we kinda thought you might.”

“What? Hell no. Best I can figure is going out in blaze of glory.” Merichak said. “So. ideas?”

Silence. K’tan dropped one of them but was forced back into cover. “Death under fire IS an honorable end.” Everyone shot him a look, making the Buldari uncomfortable. “Sometimes.”

“Thanks, Tank, very uplifting.” Duster sighed.

Axios checked his scanners. “They’re advancing, on our position, sir.”

On each person’s HUD they saw red dots heading their way. That was when Samara perked. “Sir. I have an idea.”

“Make it fast, Private.” Merichak said, suppressing a smile.

“The enemy are tracking on the radar, right? “

“Go on.” Merichak nodded to her.

“What if they get here...and we aren’t?”

Titan’s brow furrowed. “I’d like to know exactly how you hope to accomplish that, Private.”

Samara’s eyes flicked her way, a confident grin flashed across her features. “The tracking works using our suits. So…”

“We abandon our suits….” Axios said, figuring it out.

“Yeah, but aren’t they gonna notice we suddenly stopped shooting?” Duster pointed out.

“Sometimes death under fire is an honorable end.” Samara said to K’tan. The Buldari grinned his sharp teeth and ejected a power cell and slammed another into place.

Echo company moved forward when suddenly one of the massive Delta Company frames leapt up, laying down rapid fire upon their numbers. All weapons turned on him, but the massive alien grabbed the nearest Echo man and wheeled him around using the suited man as a living shield. He traded fire with them, dropping one and then another….but eventually, he felt a blast catch his shoulder, sending him stumbling back. The arm of his suit was suddenly disabled, dropping his main weapon. He dropped his shield and drew a scatter blaster. The remaining Echo company troops had to dive for cover. But the distraction didn’t last. A blast caught Tank square in the chest and his suit completely shut down.

The alien lay there, unable to move and cursing up a storm as the remnants of Echo stepped over his body. They prepared to lay waste to remnants of the famous Marauders. On their CO’s command they brought their weapons to bear, finding only empty suits….with their weapons removed.

“What the ***?” one of them uttered.

The Marauders came up from behind without a sound and opened up, absolutely laying waste to their opponents. Samara fired until the weapon was dry, her team standing right beside her. When it was over, every Echo trooper lay “dead”.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 16, 2018 3:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bottles popped, music played, and laughter filled the air. The Marauders were gathered all around, dressed down. The day was theirs and the enemy had been defeated. While K’tan seemed a little less thrilled, spirits were high.

Byron climbed up on a table and brought his fingers to his lips, letting out a loud whistle. Gradually, conversations stopped,the music turned down and all eyes landed on him.

“Ladies, Gentlemen…” He announced, “Tank.” Byron nodded to the Buldari with a joking, dubious expression getting a little laugh from the group and a grumble from the large alien.

“I have an announcement I’d like to make. Get up here, you two slugs.” Byron pulled Serles and Samara to him, arms draped over their shoulders. “I’d like to extend an official welcome to the two newest members of our weird...dysfunctional little family. Let’s raise our glasses in salute to the two newest Marauders. Tommy ‘Tyke’ Serles…” He tightened his arm around the young man and then rubbed his close-cropped hair. “...And the brains of the Op today...Samara “Washout” Tamblin.”

There were cheers and laughter. Samara and Serles exchanged bashful grins. For the first time they truly felt like they belonged. Byron gave their shoulders a squeeze. “Raise ‘em up, Marauders!”

The team rose their glasses and let out a loud “Ah-Roo!” and upended their drinks.

Byron patted them on the back and caught sight of Merichak entering the room, Wei at his side. “Now, I believe our fearless leader would like to say a few words. Top?”

Merichak stepped into the room to cheers as Byron stepped down from the table. The old warhorse held up a hand and everyone went silent. “You all did well today. You faced overwhelming numbers, you stood together and you came out on top. You should be proud.”

That got a few whoops and hollers, but the old man silenced it. “But let’s keep in mind, if this had been a real op, we’d be draping a flag over Tank’s coffin right now.”

A moment of quiet fell over everyone, the solemn nature of the moment filled the room. Merichak’s gaze swept over every man and woman in the room, letting the weight of that moment sit. “One death is acceptable by USM standards. It is never acceptable by mine, copy?”

There were murmurs in the affirmative and Eaton patted K’tan on the shoulder.

Merichak eyed Samara. “Tyke, Washout. Celebrate today. You’ve earned it. But tomorrow...you’re Marauders.”

“Hell yes, they are.” Wei said, to Samara’s surprise. The stoic instructor let slip a barely perceptible smile come out.

A satisfying chill ran through Samara’s entire being. She couldn’t stop the ear-to-ear grin that spread across her lips. Merichak held up his drink. “Alright enough of this sappy ****! Duster! Hit the music! Drink up, Marauders!”

Serles threw an arm around Samara as he and the others let up a cheer. Tey’lani was the first to reach her, wrapping her arms around her in tight hug. One by one, the team came up to her to offer their congratulations and support. Stick stepped aside, revealing Wei. For some reason, Samara suddenly felt nervous. Wei regarded her with that same cold, calculating, judgemental stare that the girl had become so used to.

“Sir.” Samara said with a bow of her head.

Wei stayed still, making Samara visibly uncomfortable. Her hands left from behind her back. A glass of beer clutched in one of them. Samara glanced down to her hands then back up to her, a smile sneaking out onto her face.

“Congratulations, Tamblin.” Wei said. “Your brother would have been proud.”

A pleasant chill ran through to her core, a swell of emotion threatening to bring out a few tears. She fought them back and instead, clinked her glass to Wei’s. “Thank you.”

Wei smirked, raised her glass and took a drink from her glass. She moved off and offered her congratulations to Serles as Samara caught sight of Merichak leaving the room. She moved as quickly through the room as she could, moving past a few of her new comrades, setting on his trail.

“Sir!” She called after him. “Sir!”

Merichak stopped in his tracks and turned slowly. That stern, powerful presence and tall, broad, and muscled stature could be intimidating to say the least, though there was something about him that set her at ease. A smile formed on that craggly, scarred face of his. “Tamblin. What can I do for you?”

“Sir,” Tamblin began. “I just wanted to thank you. I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I wanted to let you know, I won’t let you down.”

Merichak let out a little laugh. “I know you won’t.” He said simply and started away again. Samara stared after him but something ate at her.

“Sir.” she called again, bringing her new CO to a halt. “I have to know…”

Merichak turned to her. “What is it, Tamblin.”

“What happened to the training program?” She asked. “Will we ever get it back?”

Marcus. He was never far from her mind, even now in this moment of honor and accomplishment. The one piece of her brother she still had, the one chance to be near him, hear him, talk to him...and they were just ripping it away.

Merichak lumbered toward her. “USM Intel is looking into it, determining what kind of threat, if any, it might possess.”

“You mean they’re going to bury it.” Samara said, a bit of acid in her tone.

Merichak didn’t deny it. Usually when Intelligence Officers came for something, it was never seen again. He looked her in the eye and put a hand on her shoulder. “Tamblin...you want my advice? Forget it. Forget you ever saw it. What’s done is done. Celebrate your victories. Learn from your failures...but let the past die. It’s the only way to survive the battles to come.”

Her eyes lowered a moment and slowly she nodded. Samara hated losing, and this was a big loss. “Yes, sir.”

“Buck up, Marauder.” He grinned to her. “We got a long road ahead of us. This is just the beginning.”
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