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Albedo Platinum Catalyst: Return to the Catapult

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Monday, April 16, 2007

(After play-testing Albedo: Platinum Catalyst in Bryan Sunday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. with Aaron and Adam Frager.)
As the Second ConFed/ILR War heated up, more EDF troops were sent to the planet Tlakatan in order to help defend the planet and train local Homeguard troops. The group that arrived on-world a few months after the terrorist attack on the moon base on Tindo consisted of three officers and a group of cadets. The officers represented the Aerodyne and Freefall Infantry service of the Aerospace Branch and the Mobile Surgical Hospital service of the Ground Operations Branch. Attached to the three squads were two light infantrymen and a heavy infantryman.

Commanding the group was 3rd Lt. Reteth, a male raccoon and aerodyne pilot. Under his command was 3rd Lt. Pepperton, a male otter from one of the resource colonies of the Confederation, and 3rd Lt. Sashier, a male skunk and a doctor.

They had several subordinates.

Directly under Lt. Reteth were three aerodyne pilots: Cadet Diane, a cat, Cadet Erni, an opossum, and Cadet Masi, a weasel. He was also in command of Cadet Gar, a brown and black dog from the heavy infantry.

Lt. Pepperton commanded three others in the Freefall Infantry who were being trained as snipers: Cadet Oswart, a horse, Cadet Capricus, a pigeon, and Cadet Tuddels, a squirrel. He also had Cadet Snark, a tasmanian devil heavy infantryman under his command.

Lt. Sashier had three other MSH unit medics under his command: Cadet Attani, a golden cat, Cadet Norzzen, a weasel, and Cadet Artz’oo, a black dog. Their squad was rounded out with Kor, a bear and member of the light infantry.

They had only been on Tlakatan for a week or so before they got their first mission assignment from 1st Lt. Aldrik, a bush-tailed possum in command of the EDF group on the planet. He told them that some 90 days before, the moon base on Tlakatan’s only moon, Tindo, had been attacked by terrorists who hoped to use the catapult there to lob massive chunks of debris at the planet in hopes of hitting a city or at least disrupting the government. They had been foiled by a very small group of non-coms in an EDF aerodyne that had made an emergency landing on the moon.

The base had been abandoned after that, Lt. Aldrik told them. It was thought that the cost of repairing and re-staffing it would be too much to make it worthwhile so it had been shut down.

“With the ILR invading other systems and the war seemingly heating up, I think it prudent to maintain a small garrison on the moon,” Lt. Aldrik said. “The government of Tlakatan concurs.”

He told them they were to take an aerodyne to the moon base and affect repairs on the installation, readying it for a platoon of Homeguard troops who would take it from there.

They set off that afternoon for the six-hour flight to the moon. The aerodyne had been supplied with rations, two maintenance robots , and a small crate of stun grenades. They also found a crate with six MAKW 3-60 light machine-guns, each with 10 100-round belts, stored in the vessel. None of them knew how the weapons had gotten aboard and they were not on the cargo manifest. Lt. Reteth shrugged his shoulders and headed back to the cockpit. He didn’t think they’d need the weapons but figured it was not a terrible waste of space or weight to keep them.

It was several hours before Reteth flew over the moon base. They could see two low, square buildings connected by some kind of clear tube. A garden dome was also connected to both via the tube-like tunnels. On one side of the base was a low hummock that rose only slightly above the rest of the base. On the other was a slag heap that was higher and beyond that a landing field of some kind of concrete. To the north of the base was the two-kilometer long launch catapult.

Lt. Reteth set the aerodyne down on the landing field and then shut down the systems aboard. They got their gear around and disembarked onto the airless surface of Tindo, leaving Cadet Diane behind to man the aerodyne while the rest crossed the barren surface of the moon to the abandoned base.

They scouted around the entire base, finding several airlocks, one of which appeared to be a manual one. They also saw there were several portholes or windows in the place. The garden dome was had transparent walls and they could see dead plants within. They tried one of the electric airlocks to find that there was no power.

They headed over toward the garden dome again and as they approached it, Lt. Pepperton thought he spotted someone duck behind one of the larger plants within.

“Did you see that?” he asked over the com.

“Yeah,” Lt. Sashier replied. “It looks like a robot.”

“What?” Pepperton said.

“Over there on that side,” Sashier replied. “Isn’t that a robot?”

He was pointing to the far side of the dome between where the two tubes connected it to the rest of the complex. The box-like shape of a robot was set against the wall.

Most of the dome was filled with shadows. They manipulated the airlock and found it would only hold about four of them. Pepperton, Reteth, Snark, and Erni all went in and they cycled the airlock as best they could. When they opened the interior door, there was a hiss but the monitors proved there was only a little pressure in the dome.

They soon had everyone else within, leaving Tuddels on guard outside of the airlock.

The garden dome consisted of a large open space occupied by many tiers of dead plants that had probably been growing in a hydropin solution. There were a few stains on the floor that looked like bloodstains.

The box-like object in the corner was, indeed a robot. It was shut down and its power pack removed. The pack was on the floor next to the robot.

They found there was no power in the greenhouse and they guessed that the oxygen had bled away in the last few months. They decided to try the larger section of the complex and soon found themselves in the living quarters. They were in a shambles. There were great stains everywhere and the place was a mess. After some searching, they found the life support equipment. Lt. Pepperton worked on the machinery and found it all in good order but shut down. He tried to get life support working but there wasn’t any power to the system. When he told the others, they guessed that power control was likely in the command center.

Leaving Cadet Oswart to guard the life support equipment, they left the living quarters and headed for the command center. There, they found a storage room and a power control room in the corridor connected to the living quarters. Monitors in power control showed there was no power but they found an access tube that led down to the base’s sunken fusion power plant.

It took about two hours for Lt. Pepperton to get power back on. Once the power room registered that power was up, they brought up the entire network and restored power to the entire complex. Pepperton then went around and released several tell-tales and found numerous bullet holes in the command center, two in the garden dome, and dozens in the living quarters. He was able to get them sealed with the tell-tales temporarily and then set to work making more permanent repairs.

They finally ended their long day by camping out in the command center, where Pepperton had made the most permanent repairs. They set two people on one hour watch shifts at all times.

They found that the radio was out the next day and Pepperton had some of his men continue repairs in the living quarters while he examined the radio antenna. He found some damage to the antenna, probably from a micro-meteor, and returned to get Sashier and another one of his own men to help him start making repairs. He guessed it would be three or four days work before they could actually use the radio.

Meanwhile, they had gotten the entire complex pressurized and sealed. They activated the robot in the garden and set it and the other two to cleaning up and making general maintenance repairs to the station.

Lt. Reteth made sure he always had a pilot in the aerodyne to guard it.

They moved all of the light machine-guns into the base and set one of them up in each of the different sections.

Things were pretty routine for the next few days.

On the morning of the fifth day after they’d arrived, radar picked up an approaching craft. While Cadet Capricus tried to contact the vessel, Lt. Reteth went up to the observation lounge to get a better look and spotted another aerodyne fly into the area fairly low to the ground. The vehicle hovered 40 meters away from the base and after seemingly observing it for a few moments, opened fire with its big HAKW guns. In the silence of vacuum the guns blasted over the observation area and Capricus called out that the long-range radio had gone completely dead.

Lt. Pepperton cursed. Whomever was on the aerodyne had just destroyed the antenna he’d been working for days.

The aerodyne then headed for the landing field while Lt. Reteth called over the suit radio for Cadet Erni, who was on watch in the vehicle, to get the aerodyne off the ground. He watched as the aerodyne hovered over their own and then opened fire with its gun, tearing into the cockpit. A moment later, he spotted the glass burst out of the cockpit, pushed by the pressure of the atmosphere within.

Lt. Reteth climbed down out of the observation lounge as Lt. Sashier ordered Kor to take his place. Reteth ordered everyone to suit up and he had Lt. Pepperton set up a light machine-gun position in the garden dome while he set up two more in the living quarters. He ordered ordering Sashier to set up positions with the fourth and fifth light machine-guns in the command module. They used the machine-guns to cover all the airlocks.

Lt. Pepperton found himself cover by the once-again deactivated maintenance robot on one side of the garden dome. Oswart and Tuddels had taken positions as well, Oswart on the MAKW light machinegun and Tuddels with his CKW Precision sniper rifle. Lt. Reteth was at another position with an MAKW watching one of the airlocks of the living quarters while Cadets Gar and Masi manned a gun watching the other airlock. Lt. Sashier was in command of the command center, also with two machine-gun emplacements: one manned by Cadet Kor and the other by Cadet Snark. Capricus continued to monitor communications from the command center while the other MSH personnel prepared the medical bay.

Cadet Capricus called over their headsets that the local radio had just picked up a message ordering them to stand down in the name of the ILR.

“No reply,” Lt. Reteth said.

They settled into to wait. Soon Kor reported that two small groups had exited the ILR aerodyne and were making their way around the slag heap to the base. They soon spotted several rabbits in spacesuits peering into the various portholes and the very walls of the dome. The rabbits met on the far side of the living quarters and then moved around towards the garden dome again.

A few moments later, Cadet Capricus radioed that they were cycling the electric airlock in the greenhouse dome and everyone in the dome could hear both of the airlocks pumping air. Then both doors flew open at once and the five lapines within rushed out, guns blazing.

Lt. Pepperton immediately shot one of the rabbits. Though the shot didn’t penetrate his spacesuit, it knocked him back and he stumbled against the wall of the airlock. Oswart and Tuddels both opened fire as well though they didn’t do much damage to the rushing rabbits. None of the shots fired in return hit either.

As the rabbits got into close range, Oswart laid down a devastating suppression fire that either panicked or blasted all five rabbits on that side of the room. Four fell to the ground, knocked out by the bullets that had hit them. The fifth had screamed when he was hit and crashed to the floor to lie cowering. Oswart started to pivot the machine-gun around to point to the other airlock.

Tuddels and Lt. Pepperton were holding their own, with both of them targeting the officer that stood back in the airlock. The rabbit took a bullet but still yelled encouragement to his soldiers. The lapines started to target Oswart and the horse took a hit and was panicking. Pepperton yelled words of encouragement to him and he fired on the rabbits once more.

He was hit again and again Pepperton rallied him before he laid down another field of devastation on that side of the garden dome. The officer was hit and went down, dead almost as soon as he hit the floor. Two other rabbits flung down their weapons and surrendered.

Suddenly the battlefield was quiet except for the moans of the injured. Pepperton had been hit but the bullet hadn’t penetrated his armored spacesuit. Oswart had been injured but not badly and Tuddels had been hit once but had rallied himself.

They called for the medics and took the rabbits that surrendered prisoner. They didn’t see the lone officer who had not entered the airlock but watched the entire battle from outside flee back towards the landing field.

The garden dome was a mess. There were over a dozen bullet holes in the walls from the light machine-gun and other misses and Pepperton got to work sending tell-tales to temporarily seal the structure. Then he called up Lt. Reteth and asked for orders. The raccoon decided they should take the fight to the ILR and, if possible, capture their aerodyne. He also wanted to find out how Cadet Erni was faring. He hoped the opossum was still alive but feared the worst.

Lt. Reteth, Lt. Pepperton, Cadet Tuddels, and Cadet Gar all headed out of the garden dome and made their way towards the landing field, using the slag heap for cover. While Reteth and Gar went around the slag heap and headed for the lowered landing ramp of their own aerodyne, Pepperton and Tuddels made their way to the top of the slag heap and got a good look at the ILR aerodyne.

The ship stood on the tarmac on the far side of the field. What appeared to be an AW 193 heavy machine-gun had been set up near the aerodyne’s ramp and Pepperton spotted a lone soldier manning it. He smiled. It was a hard shot but he thought he could make it and didn’t think the rabbit had seen him yet.

He took careful aim.

* * *

Lt. Reteth crept onto the dark aerodyne, ordering Cadet Gar to guard the ramp.

The raccoon made his way to the cockpit and then found that it was depressurized. He couldn’t safely open the cockpit door so he depressurized the entire interior of the aerodyne and worked the door.

The cockpit was a mess. Controls had been smashed and a small fire had broken out before the automatic equipment had put it out. Cadet Erni sat in the crash couch and there was a lot of blood in the room.

Then Reteth noticed that an emergency seal was over part of Erni’s bloodstained suit. He checked the opossum and found that he was badly injured but alive. If he could get medical attention, they might be able to save him

He went back into the interior of the aerodyne and told Cadet Gar to get ready to transport Erni out of the aerodyne.

Just then the entire vessel started to rattle and shake. It felt like they were under attack.

* * *

Pepperton’s first shot struck the tarmac just short of the gunner. He saw the rabbit’s helmet moving back and forth and so took a somewhat panicked second shot that struck the machine-gun housing itself. The rabbit dropped out of sight.

A moment later, the HAKW machine-gun on the front of the ILR aerodyne pivoted in his direction.

“Down!” he yelled, turning and sliding down the slag heap.

Tuddels followed him and he ordered the squirrel to maintain his position. Then he took off along the slag heap towards the north end.

* * *

The aerodyne finally stopped jerking and shaking and Reteth, where he lay prone on the floor, felt lucky to even be alive. He had seen bullet holes appear in the walls and flung himself down, hoping they would not hit the reactor or fuel storage.

He stood up and checked on Erni, finding the opossum in the same condition. When he checked in via radio, he found that Gar was also fine. He flung open the airlock and headed down the ramp.

He and Gar crept under the aerodyne where they saw the gun on the ILR vessel pivoting around. Then the ship took to the air.

* * *

Lt. Pepperton made it to the far end of the slag heap and peeked around the debris in time to see the ILR aerodyne lift off the tarmac where their own smoking aerodyne stood, and head in his general direction.

“Tuddels, get back to base!” he said into his helmet microphone. “Now!”

He ducked down into a narrow fissure in the slag heap and hoped he had enough cover. He spotted the aerodyne fly over him and saw it turn to the south.

Then he spotted Tuddels, leaping and running in the light gravity towards the base. The aerodyne flew in and hovered over the squirrel and the big HAKW maching-gun opened up, shredding him and his space suit to pieces. After firing at the still form again, the ship moved to the complex and opened fire on the garden dome.

Pepperton cursed but watched helplessly as the aerodyne then proceeded to fire on the living quarters and the command center. The vessel hung there a few more moments before it took off over the hummock and out of sight, flying very low.

Pepperton risked a radio signal and learned that Reteth and Gar were under their own aerodyne, which had apparently been further damaged by fire from the ILR ship only moments before. He managed to contact Capricus and the pigeon took a head count and relayed back that though the base was badly damaged, they had no EDF fatalities. Two of the ILR soldiers who were being treated in the medical bay had been out of their suits when the blasts had depressurized the command center. A third had been hit by a stray bullet but none of the EDF personnel had been struck.

Pepperton gathered the AW 193 machine-gun and the three returned to the base to get repairs underway once again.

Two days later, while they all were living in the crowded command center, a Homeguard aerodyne put down and they were evacuated with their wounded and the prisoners.

The base was in such bad shape it was declared a loss and charges were laid to destroy it. More charges destroyed the catapult as well.

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