• Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

Chapter One Epilogue: A Sky Full of Stars

Bullroarer

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June 15th, 2320
Delta Zagreus System
Zagreus iii

Post battle, the Icarus released the recovery and salvage teams. The injured pilots, local and Blood Cross alike, were evacuated to the medical recovery deck of the Icarus. Jack rode beside Dav in a large ambulance, tubes running into each. Jack's head hurt abominably, along with the rest of his body.

Muk rested on the edge of his cockpit, feeling pleased with himself and his performance with the guiding hand of Bro'seif.

Tantus stayed buttoned up in Artio, keeping a guard over the ambulance as it travelled back to the waiting dropship.

Jack decided that this was probably a good thing. Not that fact that it felt like his brain was slowly leaking out of his skull or that he was pretty sure he would be looking as purple as a plum all over but being in an ambulance meant he wasn't dead and would hopefully stay that way.

This thought quickly became null as his body decided another nap was needed and he went back to sleep.

The Doomcrakka trudged along under AI control, bringing up the rear. Muk was feeling mellow after the effect of the stims. His throat was sore from screaming, and his stomach was protesting the lack of food in it. He picked up a jug of ice water — which to a regular person would be more like a keg — and gulped down a couple mouthfuls. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of an arm and set the jug down.

He pulled a massive joint out of his pocket and lit it, taking a big puff. Relaxing Lo-fi hip hop played loud enough in his cockpit to be heard from his position. He kept guard on the salvage teams while they worked. He had some ideas for improving his performance in battle. The Third Eye needed some specialized ammunition, something to make his shots punch through armor better and maybe something to spread the damage and shred armor for his plasma to do damage to internals. He would have Scott and Braindaggah work on that later.

Tantus emptied his pipe and cleaning it as he trudged along. The adrenaline finally bottoming out. No deaths empty ammo it was a good battle he thought as a grin spread showing his rows of teeth.

Chuan downloaded to everyone's machine an aggressive timetable for salvage to allow for a gentle half Gee burn back to the Helios and the six week travel back to Reservoir. She knew Dav was injured again, but not critically. She swore he would be the death of her. With the victory and the salvage rights, there would be little sleep for the salvage teams and dropship crew, but the frame warriors would need rest. They had earned it, with blood and valor. This victory was deserving of a reward, for both Dav and the rest of the Blood Cross. Hopefully Dav would enjoy his surprise when they returned to Vice. She had been planning this with Sophia Sorano as a joint gift to Justin and Dav. She was good at keeping secrets. The whole of the Blood Cross had no idea what they had arranged.
 

Bullroarer

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June 16th, 2320
Reservoir
Vice
Greater Syndenham
MECHA

As Sofia travelled into the great metropolis, she noticed the disparity between the the lower and upper strata of the buildings. Dirt and grime covered the lower levels of the building and transitioned to a much cleaner, shiny metals when the public transport rolled up a ramp to a mid floor entrance to MECHA. As the transport rolled to a stop, Sofia exited the transport.

Sofia stepped off the transport, still wearing her pilot's combat suit, helmet and all, and quickly moved away from the flow of generally taller people. She then looked up... way up... and took a moment to process just how huge this building was. That done, her gaze tracked back down to the MECHA sign, and she wondered, yet again, if this was... really such a good idea? Sofia had been directed to come here to seek employment of some kind, but she was an engineer, not a mechwarrior. It was necessary to earn money- a thing she would need going forward if she wanted to stay alive-, and Aina had assured her this was the method least likely to get her caught, packed up, and sent back to Rabbia for execution, or worse. That last point was... pretty persuasive, and Sofia literally had nothing to lose, so she'd agreed.

Sofia grimaced. May as well get on with it. With that thought, the diminutive engineer walked briskly into the building, easily weaving between the other people going about their business as she did so. Once inside, Sofia began her search for an employee of MECHA.

She found a receptionist, one of those cosmetic gene sculpted people in the current fashion. The longer nosed fox girl was pleasant but dim witted, barely sentient by Sofia's estimation. She directed her to a hyperlift connecting directly to MECHA offices. A larger circular lift, presumably to accommodate the larger clientele, felt like an old mechanical lift with a rhythmic tick from each floor passed. As the lift slowed to a crawl on the last floor, a plush and opulent reception area greeted Sofia. To her trained eyes, the reception area was a well armored fortification. The heavy duty reception desk was crafted from titanium was covered by too perfect faux wood, the joins close but not perfect. The same for the chairs, oversized and bolted to the puffcrete floor. The pair of flanking doors, a soft grey, nearly hide the 6 inch barn frame and magnetic lock notches. The receptionist was also a beautiful specimen of genetic engineering, blue hair and elongated ears resembling some sort of elf, but had the look of competence and quiet danger. Her summer dress barely concealed the thick ropes of muscle beneath a thin layer of soft fat. Perfection incarnate.

Sofia had a moment to ponder how the universe worked while she rode the hyperlift up. Like how it could produce a person like the sunny fox lady she had just left behind. Sofia had never encountered someone so… blissfully ignorant, yet also just happy to be here. And so kind! She’d been POLITE! That was something nobody ever did towards slaves. Ever. Also... she very much reminded Sofia of a puppy, vulpine features notwithstanding. It was all so… weird. Luckily, Sofia had managed to overcome these rapid-fire shocks to her system, and had made it to the lift before her brain soft-reset on her. She hadn’t managed to embarrass herself; thank whatever God the House Lords prattled on about for that, at least.
 

Bullroarer

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Sofia was back to the present again just before the lift slowed, and the doors finally opened. She stepped out of the lift, and took in the room that was built with the clear expectation of combat. The room alone shouted ‘this is a bad idea’ and ‘look at what you’re getting yourself into’, but it was the receptionist that almost made Sofia want to crawl back into the lift and hide. Everything about the woman screamed Armsman, and no amount of cutesy dresses, pointy ears, or anime hair could hide this from Sofia, who was quite familiar with them. Did this mean the owner of MECHA was yet another Lordling? For crying out loud, just how many of the bastards were there? And bastard was the correct term, for soooooooo many reasons. Surely there had to be an upper limit to how many worthless individuals of undeserved power and standing the universe was willing to put up with. Sofia had yet to meet one that wasn’t some mixture of cretin, scumbag, narcissist, and sadist, and she’d hated every single one of them. Them, and the damnable thugs called Armsmen that went with them.

Sofia’s expression soured. She looked around the room, again, hoping to see someone else she could interact with instead, failed to find evidence of anyone, quietly fought down a wave of panic, looked around the room again, resigned herself, took a deep breath, and walked towards the desk. It was a miracle that she’d remembered, and did in fact manage, not to grab the hilt of her knife at any point during the short walk up to the desk to actually speak to the ‘receptionist.’ All she’d had to do was remind herself, twice, that MECHA was supposedly a business, and that Armsmen receptionists couldn’t just punt prospective employees across the room, or word would get around, and they’d have no prospects of any kind soon after. Hopefully.

Sofia made it to the desk, looked up (she always looked up) at the receptionist, and managed “I’m here to apply for a job. Who do I need to speak to?” in a confident sounding tone.

The long eared beauty looked down at the new arrival and smiled. Her melodic voice purred a simple query, "What skills and assets do you wish to declare to prospective employers?"

Sofia froze for a moment. The one thing she had not expected was a question. "Skills?" She began in a somewhat unsure tone, "Well, I'm a mechatronic engineer?” She paused and cleared her throat. “I’m also good at repairs and know my way around computer systems.” And she just stopped right there, with a shaky smile upon her face, unsure of what else to say. To be fair to her, she had not a clue what assets were, and she wasn't going to ask. You never ask an Armsman a question. It never ends well.

After a long pause, a completely different voice, female sounding, chimed in: “Miss Ferrara neglected to mention that she is also a pilot, and presently possesses both a combat experienced AI, and a Coniglio Battle Frame.” The declaration was very matter-of-fact, and the voice sounded a little put out at having to speak at all.

Sofia muttered something to the effect of “Aina, shut up,” under her breath.

The receptionist smiled, pleased as well as a hunger in her eyes, the eyes of a pure bred predator hungry for ... something. "Please have a seat, Miss Ferrara. Miss Sorano will be with you shortly." She touched a small stud in her ear, presumably a link to someone more important or dangerous. Probably both. She closed her eyes and a rapid eye motion commenced for barely a moment, a heartbeat or two. Her eyes opened again and she stood abruptly. She stepped around the desk and gestured towards a room as the grey door on the left opened silently. "Please follow me." she said. Beyond was a well furnished but simple conference room with over padded leather chairs of various sizes surrounding a long, ovoid wooden table.

Sofia did not know what to make of the sudden, really creepy look the other woman had. She just knew she didn’t like it. When Sofia was told she could take a seat, she all but teleported across the room into a chair the moment the receptionist was not looking directly at her. She hadn’t really gone FTL in that distance, mind. She was just quiet, and oh so quick to put distance between herself and whatever the hell kind of look that was that she found so unsettling. If asked, Sofia couldn’t even explain why she felt that way. She just did.

Sofia had had the presence of mind to note the name Sorano, though. She was just about to ask Aina to run a query on it, when the receptionist abruptly switched gears and asked Sofia to follow her into a room that had just opened. That was odd, normally people were kept waiting an inordinately long amount of time, usually equal to whatever a given minor lordling estimated their visitors needed to wait to fully appreciate their greatness, or whatever. The complete lack of wait was a new concept. The young woman fell back on old habits, and did as she was asked, paying more attention to the destination than to the other lady. It appeared to be a conference room. A type of room Sofia had seen before, but never been allowed to enter. Until now, that is. She had no idea, beyond going into the room, what to do in this situation, and just settled for walking about and looking at everything until someone important showed up.
 

Bullroarer

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Five minutes later a woman walked in. She was tall. Taller than most men, even. She wore a long blue gown and a business arm datapad. This one clearly had an Assistant A.I. imbedded, because Sofia caught a glimse of a variety of documents being reviewed. The woman's eyes flashed as more data was streamed to her contacts. Then it stopped, her hazel eyes focusing upon Sofia through the clear contacts. She walked around the large mahogany table and sat down beside Sofia, crossing her legs. She took a moment to arrange her skirts and then she flicked a wrist at her assistant. The receptionist bowed and backed out of the room, the door sliding shut.

The woman then spoke, a soothing purr imitating the receptionist... or was it the other way around? "Greetings, Sofia. My name is also Sophia, if spelled a little differently. Sophia Sorano. Welcome to MECHA. I understand you are looking for work?"

Sofia turned towards the newcomer, long ago done with her exploration of the conference room. She nodded, and replied in a more confident sounding tone than she'd spoken with the 'receptionist': "Yes, Miss Sophia, I am." She quietly wondered why everyone at MECHA had that purring tone.

"Well, i do believe my Justin is looking for more Frame warriors with their own machines. He has this little outfit he hangs around with. The pay is more volatile than some of the other Vendetta Mercenaries but they are like family to me. I always make sure they are taken care of." This was delivered in a much harsher tone, part promise part threat.

Sofia listened attentively.

Sophia continued, "I want you to understand this. If you wish to pursue employment at another agency or for another unit, i have an extensive list of both. They pay much more poorly and frequently have little honor. Such is the dog eat dog world of Vice."

Sofia raised one hand, then asked: "Umm... What am I signing up for? What does the job entail? Who am I working for? I'm new to all of this."

Sophia scowled with a glance to the closed door. "I'm sorry. You are Sofia Ferrara? Owner of a Coniglio class Battle frame? Seeking work as a pilot and..." Sofia blinked once, her left eye changing color to a deep red. Sophia continued, "Mechatronic engineer?"

"Yes ma'am." Sofia replied simply.

"Maybe I should explain what M.E.C.H.A. does, specifically. MECHA stands for
Mercenary, Employment, Clearing, House, Association. What we do here is help mercenary warriors, body guards, mechanics, really anyone looking to hire with a Vendetta Mercenary unit. Most units have long suffered under the yolk of the Great Houses, being frequently absorbed and used up in their intercene bush wars, like my Justin was. I want to stop that practice. By unionizing the free folk warriors and businesses, we help those who don't wish to be press ganged back into house ownership. You are free folk now, able to make your own choices. You go where you want now. I ensure that outcome and continued outcome by making the employer pay upfront, in an escrow account with the Banco Independante. But I also hold the mercenary to the same higher standard. We hire the best, or at least the most trustworthy. It is a dangerous business, but most everything in the universe is, I suppose. The money is not steady because the contracts we handle, especially for the Blood Cross, are the best with the most reliable clients and by reliable, I mean willing to pay upfront. When I say I always take care of my Justin, that means taking care of the Blood Cross as well."

Blood Cross. Now that was a name Sofia recognized, if only because fighter and frame pilots mentioned it in the hangar occasionally. Some even spoke of fleeing to join the unit, amongst others, and Sofia could only imagine they had attempted to do so since many of them vanished soon after. The unit had a good reputation... especially since it had made it to the ears of one Sofia Ferrara, overqualified gopher for House Idiocy just before its well deserved annihilation.

Sophia reached over and picked up a pair of tumblers, filled half way with pure water. Sofia didn't see them there before. Like magic, an assortment of fresh fruit also appeared on the table. She took a sip from both before handing the tumbler, real hand blown glass, to Sofia. Another smooth motion slid the tray of fruit close to Sofia. Sophia took a cherry and dropped it in her glass and swirled it around a moment, giving Sofia time to process.

Sofia went very still as the tumbler of water was pressed into her hands. She'd been roaming the planet's surface in her newly acquired Frame for days, trying to lose her pursuers, and she'd totally gone through the rations packed away in the cockpit a day or so ago. The little lady didn't even pause to consider the tumbler logically before opening her helmet's visor, and emptying the glass in one long chug. Water! Unrecycled water!! It tasted soooooooo good.

After possibly breaking a speed record for making water vanish from a glass, Sofia just stared at the tray of fruit with the empty tumbler clutched in both hands. She managed to tear her gaze away and look at Sophia through sheer dint of will. She started to speak when the growling of her own stomach interrupted her. Sofia took this in stride, especially since going hungry was... nothing new, cleared her throat, and tried again: "Thank you for the water, ma'am. Consider me interested. What happens next?"

Sophia laughed, a high trill. She said, "First you drink. Then you eat. Then you and your frame settle in at the MECHA barracks. The Blood Cross is returning from a Vendetta now, so you will meet their leadership when they return. Follow one of my assistants. They will get you settled in."

Sofia nodded. "Thank you, ma'am."
 

Bullroarer

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August 7th
Reservoir
Vice
Sydenham Star Port

The Icarus touched down into it's primary Dropship cradle, it engines beginning to cool. Chuan gave the order to disembark, granting the team one week of shore leave as well as their pay from the contract. Ten thousand Werners per share was the take, after the minimum deductions for fuel, port fees, and maintenance of the still functioning battle frames. The repairs, however, would take considerably more coin than the company had in it's coffers. Simply put, this mission cost the Blood Cross more than it made. More by a fair margin. The common crew didn't know this. There wasn't some grand announcement. But the frame pilots knew. the Captains knew. Chuan knew. She was inconsolable. She raged at the least waste. She hid in her office. Her secret bothered her for she knew the true state of affairs for the Blood Cross finances. In short, they were broke. She had trusted the Blood Cross to come through with minimal damage and less munitions used. Not a failure, per se. But definitely a pyrrhic victory. They needed a new contract, probably two and they needed them fast. After releasing the crew, she checked on Dav. He was behind his desk, reviewing tablets of combat telemetry, fire rates, piloting data. His A.I. Sweetie was projecting herself over his shoulder, a tiny four inch fairy form with slowly flapping butterfly wings. Her miniature cup of tea never ran dry as she glanced at the tablets Dav was struggling with. She said nothing as his anger flared up again. He threw the tablet in his hand against the wall beside the door Chuan just opened. It struck hard enough to crack the edge before coming to rest upon a small but growing pile of other similarly damaged data tablets.

He swore once more as he picked up another tablet. Chuan arched an eyebrow at Sweetie who responded with a shrug and another long sip of tea. Chuan walked around his desk and settled her small frame in his lap. She gently guided the tablet back to the table as she winked at Sweetie. Sweetie smiled and winked back as she disappeared into the Ether. Chuan already knew the results of the battle, having read Sweetie's report. It was a girl thing. Chuan whispered into his ear, "I know you are upset right now, but I want you to see something grand. Something Jessica and I have been working on for a little while now."

Dav's rage, now temporarily spent, was intrigued by this secret. He knew Chuan and Jessica were sneaking around doing something. Sweetie had kept him in the loop as far as the finances were concerned and several accounts had been slowly drained by his wives. At first, he attributed it to the impending birth into the Steinbar family, a new unknown gendered child. But the volume of cash moved right after they launched raised his eyebrows. That Sweetie didn't update him about the money until after the mission "on Chuan's most direct orders" said this secret would need to be talked about now they were home.

"Let's take a flight" was all she said.

---------
Chuan delegated payment of the warriors to the most senior department head of the Blood Cross. Scott sat with Justin on the lowest deck of the Icarus. beside them was their delivery which was waiting for the dropship armored doors to open. Justin signed for the delivery and sat down with Scott. Scott, his skin even darker if that was possible soaked up the distance rays from Reservoir. Justin, his weathered skin leathery, prefered to sit just inside rather than outside. Justin said, "You must be crazy, letting your skin soak up all that radiation." Scott, a physical clip board with several pages of names and numbers on it, didn't even glance sideways. "I need muh vitmin dee. I do not like the taste of supplements. They ain't natural." Justin shook his head, beard tails wagging. "Suit yourself," he replied.

Beside Justin sat the usual pallet of currency. Sometimes in paper, sometimes in coin. This payment was in coin, subdivided into moderate sized nylon sacks with five and ten thousand Werners each. There was enough money stacked there to make a Heaven and Hell dancing girl's eyes water. As each Blood Cross warrior and crew member disembarked, they collected their pay. Some received a large bag, some a small. A few received two. Equal danger, equal pay. This was the way. Scott shook a few hands as they signed on the clip board. Justin, as usual, just glowered. After the pallet was emptied and all the crew were given their leave, a armored limousine pulled up. Justin's eyes watched the small flags and his face fell. MECHA was here. That meant Sophia. And since she saw him standing in the dropship door, he couldn't evade her this time. He swallowed hard, a loud gulp. Scott blurted out a deep belly laugh in response. He said, "Da only thing dat scares big boy Justin is a thin whisp o' a girly". Justin shot Scott a murderous glance before stoning his face. The car pulled up and Sophia stepped out, this time wearing hiking fatigues and thick soled boots instead of her characteristic summer gowns. At the same time Dav and Chuan stepped off the auxiliary lift holding hands. The men exchanged a deep gaze, realizing they were ambushed and it was better to succumb and surrender than do battle with their respective ladies. Once they all walked down the armored ramp, the empty dropship began to close the armored doors. Only the ship A.I. remained, the key to reopening the ship having been taken by Sweetie, who refused to be left behind for this auspicious day. The day they bought a home. Scott, taking his shore leave, took a lift to his family home long empty.

Tantus inhaled deep thru his nostrils pulling all the smells he could in. One week he thought. Looking at the paycheck he smiled. Pulling his deck of cards out he shuffled and drew. The ace of spades. "Fuck," he muttered. "off to the bounty board to keep fresh".

Muk spent the first day of leave celebrating International Beer Day by hanging out with the remaining Blood Cross crew and inducting the new pilots into the pilot’s traditions. Most of them involved drinking various kinds of alcohol, smoking different herbal concoctions, and gambling.
 

Bullroarer

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Jack woke with a headache the day after being let off the ship. How his head hurt so much even compared to the almost skull shattering experience he had in the last mission was awe inspiring in all the wrong ways. Whatever he was using for a blanket wasn't very good as it felt lumpy and his back felt cold. Speaking of feeling bad his back was sore and whatever bed he was on felt hard and metallic. Opening his eyes he stared at a bright yellow stripe on a gray background, it took a minute for his memory to break through the hangover but luckily he did spark a connection in his beer filled brain when he saw the bright yellow shocking warning..... on top of the capacitor.... for his railgun.

Jack did manage to wrap his arms around the still warm capacitor before his surprised flailing made him fall off the railgun. How he ended up sleeping up against the capacitor was still shrouded in brown murkiness involving too many cups, a big green thing, and one of those inflatable bouncy castles. He tried to not think too hard as he climbed over to his cockpit; his brain still hurt both from it's recent trauma and attempted drowning.

Precarious situation fixed and some liquids of various smells, consistencies and possible natures found inside his cockpit he decided to leave the canopy open until he could find a mop, pressure washer, acid or possibly a flamethrower. He didn't even want to ask where his helmet was though that suspiciously round thing poking out of one vomit filled corner of his cockpit looked vaguely familiar. Deciding to leave cleaning for later he grabbed a flask of water out of one of the freeze boxes and letting the liquid attempt to cool down his brain which felt like it would burst out his ears at any second.

Through many failed attempts at calming down the madman with the hammers banging on his brain he remembered he actually had something he wanted to get done today. He had wanted to talk to that.... Um... S named person... Sonny? Sam? Skullcrusha? That last one sounded close. In any case he'd know the guy when he saw him, or so the miner hoped, and with a newfound goal in life he stood up out of his chair and fell face first onto the control panel of the thankfully inactive mech. Three attempts and another bottle of water later Jack managed to get down from his mech without falling too far.

Spending the rest of the day attempting to stay upright and keeping his robotic feet under him he searched around for Scooby. That still didn't sound right to Dolly but his memory was still lager logged. The empty halls of the Icarus was his only company.
 

Bullroarer

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August 8th
Reservoir
Vice

Muk was a little quicker to recover, since he had a much higher alcohol tolerance, and he was up by noon the next day. He needed to talk to Scott about some modifications to the Doomcrakka. While he ate lunch, he sent Scott a text.

NotoriousGREEN: Hey humie Scott. Need to talk to you about some upgrades to the Doomcrakka. Meet me at the Harridan.

While he waited for a reply, he recalled the previous day's events. He had managed to avoid paying for any of it, leaving the new guy with the bill. Unfortunately he probably wouldn't be able to pull that trick again. The guy was naïve, not stupid. He chuckled and took another bite of steak. Watching drunk humans flail around in bouncy castles was amusing, but he had things to take care of before he had any more fun.

Scott saw the text as he was getting continually faced by repeated shots of moonshine. He missed his kids, having lost them in the divorce. He turned his phone off after he responded to Muk.

"Will see you in a week at the Harridan. Need sleep."

He would emerge from his stupor and return to work in a week... or when his moonshine was exhausted.

-----------------------------------------

Dav woke on the transport when it touched down. It had been a long trip and he was ready for some downtime. Based upon what Scott had said, he wouldn't sleep ever again when his child was born. Dav stretched and found Chuan curled up in his lap, tail wrapped around them both. Chuan stirred and glanced at him, some color in her cheeks. She blinked alluringly and said, "Come and see your secret, love."

The attendant opened the pressure door to the intercontinental shuttle, letting light into the cabin. Dav unbuckled and gently picked up Chuan. Chuan snuggled closer, unwilling to let go of her husband. Dav sighed and carried her out of the transport. As he stepped down the stairs, Chuan covered his eyes with her fluffy tail. A soft purring chuckle emanated from deep within her. Quickly his eyes adjusted to the sunshine. Just before he suggested setting her down, He heard her say, "That is far enough. You can put me down. Here is your surprise."

Before him sat a large castle, with a fair amount of weather and age. He thought this was familiar, but he couldn't quite remember. Chuan wrapped herself around his arm as Justin and Sophia stepped off the transport. Justin's eyes adjusted faster than Dav's and he grunted in admiration of the defensive capabilities of the position and structure. Near the landing pad a battleframe stood guard. Reminiscent of a rabbit Dav hunted when he was a boy, its fresh camo pattern was broken by the Blood Cross emblem on the left breast of the machine. Dav asked Sophia, "I don't know that machine nor that pilot. Did I hire a new pilot when I was asleep?"

Sophia responded, "I vetted her and she has been guarding the new home of the Blood Cross, SteinBar Manor, for the last six weeks while Jessica moved in."

The battleframe, a Coniglio, tilted it's head to look at the party as they disembarked the dropship. It seemed to consider them for a moment before it looked away, and resumed scanning the surroundings.

Dav's jaw dropped. He knew ladies liked to nest when pregnant, but this was a little over the top. Besides, a castle couldn't hold frames... could it?

The party piled into a four wheeled technical limo, climbing a short set of stairs mounted to the side of the vehicle. Dav's A.I. Sweetie updated the roster with the new machine and pilot profile with a wink as Chuan smiled and nodded. Dav glowered slightly as his gaze met Justin's. They both scowled, realizing they had been ambushed and cornered. They had subverted their A.I.s with woman magic, taken over their bank accounts, and bought them a home. Before long they would be deciding their contracts. Justin came to the same realization as Dav did. For the first time ever, Dav saw Justin sweat with worry and start a nervous eye tick.
 

Bullroarer

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As the transport accelerated from the landing pad, the rhythmic thump thump thump of a frame walking kept pace. As they traveled, Dav noticed the final installation of an Air traffic tower near the growing mountain of the castle. Sophia prattled on about the great deal she got on the property and history of a fallen family from last century. Honestly, Dav didn't care about that, though Justin seemed to be paying rapt attention. Dav knew better. Justin was asleep again, eyes glazed at military rest, hands palm down on his knees. His A.I. "Reb" was recording everything for him to relay the important points back to him. He had done it to Dav more than once and had it confirmed by Sweetie who got Reb in the digital "sack" on the regular. Who knew Artificial intelligences got aroused.

The limo passed an outcropping of the base of the cliffside on the south end of the castle grounds proper when a ginormous set of armored doors stood before him. Beside the doors, half a kilometer away down a gently sloping reinforced road, sat the Daedalus in a brand new drop ship cradle. Beside it was another cradle. not too far beyond that was earthmoving equipment setting up land for another pair of pads. The ladies of the Blood Cross were definitely up to something big. This wasn't just about a home for Dav and his wives. This was about the whole of the Blood Cross, maybe even the House of Sorano as well. Dav looked at Sophia, her wide grin beamed back. As they pulled into the spacious hanger, more than one hundred berths for battle frames were laid out, though only half a dozen had scaffolding prepared. The rest were barely more than freshly plasma cut stone, dressed with anchor points for future upgrades. Beyond the frame cubicles was a motor pool area, with space for several dozen vehicles. Like the frame cubicles, only a little equipment had been placed here, though several trucks had been parked. Furniture was scattered near the trucks. The limo pulled up to the motor pool and Sophia bounced out of the cabin. She literally skipped her way towards a waiting hyperlift beside the larger freight elevator being loaded with boxes and furnishings. Dav noted with some joy his well worn Lay-Z-Boy had made the cut from his apartment in Sydenham. The group filed into the lift as the patrolling frame pulled into a frame berth.

Now Dav was paying close attention. The hyperlift was somewhat crowded with Sophia nearly crawling over Justin while Chuan snuggled closely behind him. At the top of the lift, the door opened to a reception room reminiscent of the offices at MECHA. Doors lead away on the other walls as two security guards in MECHA colors sat behind the high armored desk, machine pistols slung in underarm holsters. The doors were open, moving men also in MECHA colors moved furniture and boxes. In front of the armored desk was Jessica perched upon a padded stool, the growing beach ball on her abdomen stretching her tent of a tee shirt and sweat pants. She smiled and stood, clip board in hand. Dav and Chuan moved in for a hug and kiss, the sort old friends share in public. Two pecks to each cheek were passed and returned along with Sophia and Jessica. Justin just glowered.

Sophia said, "I'm going to show my Justin around. Have fun kids."

With that she dragged Justin off through one of the doors, leaving the three SteinBars alone, save the guards who pointedly ignored the goings on. Both wives beamed at Dav, awaiting approval. Like a pair of puppies, which one was wagging her tail, they stood silent. Dav smiled as he glanced around. Unlike the exterior, the interior had been finished in hard woods and polylaminate. He guessed even the paint was laser proof, knowing his ladies. A fortune had been spent already. Rather than scolding them, he embraced them both, head pets and quiet murmurs of approval were passed around. Then the unspoken hook finally made itself known. Chuan said, "We already have a contract, love. The payment is in advance." She glanced around at the structure as she continued, "We will be going to Sol."

All Dav could say was, "What?"

The sounds of a landing dropship began to echo in the distance as Sweetie sent out the recall orders.

Attendance mandatory, pending employment contract termination. Company contract accepted by Blood Cross command. One week until lift off. Register in person. - Chuan Yates SteinBar, XO Blood Cross Warband LLC.

He also received a notification of hiring of personnel through MECHA, along with the new payroll costs.

Jack didn't like the fact that the dropship took off without a crew. Not that the AI was a bad pilot, he actually preferred the more gentle flight to the way the insane pilot usually flew, but the echoing creeks as the miner attempted to clean out his mech set him on edge and reminded him of the old miner tale about the creaking death trap. After failing to get anywhere with removing the horrible smells, liquids and semi solids from his cockpit he left the canopy open as he pressed oddly sticky buttons on the control board and brought the mecha up and running to do a systems check. Using his recovered helmet, which thankfully wasn't full of the congealed vomit and alcohol that had filled the corner, he checked over the systems which had been patched up, which was lucky for the miner as the still loose seat snapped off as the ship landed. Instead of getting brained again, his head merely bumped around inside the padded helmet as Dolly swore viciously to all the gods and reached for his welder.

After he finished welding the chair into place Jack took note of the disembarking door finally being open. The miner took this chance to escape the drop ship and started moving the three legged machine forward and out, into the open air. It was about this time he got the recall message and looked at the destination then up to the place he was supposed to be. His luck seeming to hold for important things at least, the Galvaneer slowly and clunkily trundled out of the dropship and toward what looked like mech berths.
 
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