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Maxx did you just Kobayashi Maru your character

Mech Simulation Deck, Fortuna | In Transit
February 14th, 3061

It was late in the night yet the sky radiated with light. The city of Antaura, the so-called Jewel of Mars, burned. Flames flickered atop golden spires of phototropic glass. So soaring were these towers that whole networks of shuttle tunnels ran between them, snaking and twisting through the air like a floating highway. Tens of thousands of refugees surged through those tunnels. Packed shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see in either direction, the crowd was a flood- anyone who slowed or stumbled was sucked underneath the waves.

Outside, the nightmare continued. The tracers of solid projectiles and the beams of stray lasers lit up the atmosphere. The dark shapes of ships hung above the planet, thousands of smaller objects pouring from their bellies on a direct course for Mars. A meager fleet of fighters left the ground to engage them, though they stood no chance; there were a dozen hostile vessels for each one of theirs. Desperate battles waged across the planet from surface to stratosphere. Every Martian strong enough to lift a gun was expected to stand their ground for faith and nation. The Sol Union called this their Blackest Day scenario: when Theden forces pierced the Solar System and invaded the core worlds.

John Marshall had put thousands of flight hours into this exact scenario, to the point where he'd memorized every possible variable. He could rattle off the exact model, armament and I.D number of every exoframe he'd encounter. He knew which direction every hostile pilot favored when reacting to incoming projectiles. Knew the exact number of unpreventable casualties coded into the program. It was forty-eight thousand, three hundred and twelve: a massacre of unimaginable proportions. And that was just when he did everything right.

It was a textbook unwinnable scenario. Its purpose was to force exo-pilots to confront impossible situations and adapt to them as best as possible. They had to learn that not every fight was winnable; sometimes the best you could do was cut your losses and make as safe a retreat as possible.

The steady thrumming of the H-11 Carbine in the Ulysses's hands rocked the cockpit. John shuffled in his seat, finger twitching on the flight stick. He held it in a death grip with his left hand. Beads of sweat slid down his forehead. His heart palpitated in his chest. It always irritated him just how anxious he got in the pilot's seat. He'd put over a hundred days into this sim; how'd it still make him so goddamn nervous?

An H-11 had a variable fire rate of anywhere between six hundred and fifty rounds a minute to as high as eighteen hundred, depending on the specifications of the exact model and its settings. The Ulysses's H-11 was tuned to the highest possible rate for maximum killpower in close quarters. It could spit out more than thirty individual pulses of superheated energy every second- firing fast enough that it could be mistaken for a continuous beam, if not for the horrific skipping screech that accompanied the light show.

At that speed, Marshall could slag an exoframe before its pilot even noticed the blip approaching on their radar.

The Ulysses danced between broken towers with the odd, bouncy movement of a bumblebee. It was frighteningly fast; faster than any twenty tons of steel ought to be. Four, wing-like thrusters propelled it forward through the Martian city, carrying the exoframe along even as it turned to unleash a round of missiles from hidden racks in its limbs. Hornet seekers curved around the side of a building and out of sight, exploding against an exoframe Marshall only knew was lurking there from repetition. Its ambush always slowed him down by three seconds too many.

About half a click ahead lay was an intersection where the fighting was thicker than molasses. Heavy frame Sol Union mechs stood their ground against a veritable swarm of smaller yet far more numerous Theden light frames. The Union mechs had erected a makeshift barrier by piling up chunks of road and discarded vehicles, but it wouldn't buy them much time at all.

John kicked the exoframe into high gear, ignoring the warnings flashing across his deck about the inertial dampeners. If he slowed down at all, even for a quarter of a second, those men would die.

He pressed down on the trigger once he reached his effective range, and the carbine began to kick once more. It sang a horrible tune as it cut through hostile frame after hostile frame, shredding their shields until their exposed, metallic bodies could be delivered their fiery purification via a round of seeker missiles. It was rare to watch a pilot die in their cockpit. Most of the time they were lost in a flurry of lasers or the bright light of explosions. Sometimes, though, John would catch a glimpse: an arm here, a face there, something that may have been coolant fluid or human blood. Or maybe his mind was trying to trick him into feeling guilty.

A sudden, intolerable pressure slammed into his body. It crawled up along his spine, digging its fingers into his nerves and sinking its teeth into his blood. His vision swam. The world drained of its color. A heavy, invisible hand pressed down against his face, but he ignored it. Marshall fought to keep his finger on the trigger and his reticle pointed at the enemy. Ignore the Gs. Complete the mission.

The whole of his cockpit rocked with a sudden, hefty impact, and he felt his exoframe begin to tumble head over heel. A great, metal face dominated his primary viewscreen- there was another frame grappling with his. John blinked a hundred times as he tried to check his systems for damage. It looked like a foreign object had pierced Ulysses's lower right thigh. A knife, maybe, or an improvised weapon.

More warnings flashed, this time across every screen in the cockpit: emergency failures across multiple vital systems. Total loss of flight control. The Gs were pouring on and the Ulysses's inertia dampeners were refusing to compensate. John gasped for air in bursts, wheezing, begging for the pressure to lift from his chest for even a moment- just a moment to catch his breath.

Two tangled exoframes slammed into the side of one of Mars's golden spires, shattering glass and snapping steel beams in twain. They tumbled for a few hundred feet before the floor gave out and they were falling again, surrounded by the broken remains of office furniture. John wasn't quite sure how many floors they fell. It could've been as few as two or as many as a hundred. Try as he might, he couldn't focus. Pain wracked his body, addled his mind, but he refused to lose consciousness.

But Blackest Day was a textbook unwinnable scenario, designed and programed to adapt to the user's every attempt to conquer it. The greatest pilots in the galaxy couldn't stop Antaura from burning.

John blacked out, and the simulation ended.
Going to let @Hero and @McMolly post before I move us along.

@Ortfinne mentioned they're dealing with real life at the moment, Godspeed and good luck

Location: Laughing Worg Tavern -- City-State of Thorinn, Aetheria

Graves gave a smug grin when the conversation changed gears, sure that meant he'd convinced them of his side of things. Even Rael- with a sigh of defeat on her lips- had to admit his plan was smart. It was nice to know he was more than just muscles and a pretty face. And it laid many of his worries to rest knowing that they'd try to help their fellow stranded players. For all his blustering about not giving a shit, there was some part of him that cared about what happened to them. They shouldn't have to suffer needlessly when changes could be made, so long as they weren't at the party's expense.

Alja made her way back to the table at Seele's beckoning, clearly in better spirits after taking a moment to cool off. She must've felt good if she was willing to make eyes so flagrantly at their new arrival. He was glad there weren't any hard feelings. He had shared some things with Kelly when they were stranded in the sewers that he hadn't told another soul; and she'd bared her soul to him in return. It embarrassed him how much he cared about how she thought of him.

Once everyone was back together the debrief began. Graves had heard rumors of recent disappearances but he had no idea the extent of the problem. It was almost an epidemic; there wasn't anyway they were unconnected. Back in Indiana kidnappings were relatively rare, except in areas known for having organized trafficking rings. He remembered a whole string of news stories about a major bust in South Bend. Could that he happening in Thorinn?

"I think I can help with this," he nodded, looking between Seele and Alex, who seemed to be taking the initiative this time around. "Back before the Glitch my main profession was bounty hunting. I'd track down all sorts of people and monsters. Got real good at it, too, if I say so myself. Even got magic that'll let me exactly where a person is- only issue bein' they gotta be within a thousand feet of me n' I gotta have access to their blood. Doubt any of the victims left a vial of that behind before they got snatched or else we could solve this thing right now."

It seemed like the best way he could use his time, seeing as how they were between major excursions. It wasn't like he could go smack metal around and make money off it like Siegfried or Alja.

He was considering what else he could add to the discussion when he noticed Kazuki's head getting lower and lower to the table, words slurring worse than a drunken racist in china town. "You okay there, little guy?"

The bard kept on going down until he'd slid right out of his chair and ended up on the floor, sprawled out like a rug and muttering in a language Graves didn't recognize. He stood up, unsure if he should be concerned or amused. "Kazy had, what, two drinks? Jesus, talk about a lightweight. We oughtta get him to bed."
<Snipped quote by Lemons>
It's just the Pariah template, Lems.

it is not i stole this one from Polaris >:(
The IC is open for business! I won’t be totally available to answer any questions as I’ll be at work until 6:00 pm CST but you can short me a message here or on Discord and I’ll get back to ya ASAP. Have fun my little miscreants

Aces and Eights Saloon, San Calvo | Arish IV
February 14th, 3061

The Aces and Eights Saloon was quiet as a grave. It was just as empty last year on the same day. Same as the year before, and the year before that, and...

In fact, the whole town of San Calvo was a graveyard. Everyone was holed up in their coffins, waiting with baited breath for the specter of death to pass over them once again. The only living soul about was the cemetery's caretaker. He sat at the bar, nursing a half-finished bottle in his shaky hands. He was young. The spattering of stubble on his chin did little to hide his round face and juvenile features. On any sane world there wouldn't be an iron strapped to his hip. The boy lifted his drink to his lips and sipped at its contents, wincing at the burn it left in his throat. Liquid courage, Miss Seong called it. He tried to pay his hands no mind.

The doors to the saloon slid open with a loud hiss. Three sets of spurs clinked against the floorboards. The boy at the bar turned to face them slowly, holding his hands up where they could see them. "Easy there, fellers." He whispered, his throat hoarse.

Time to meet the specter.

"You must be the esteemed Mr. Haycock," the leading man gave a wide grin, his steel fangs flashing in the sunlight. "Its a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I have always said a personal touch is the most important part of maintaining a healthy business relationship."

He approached the bar, looming tall over Haycock as he took the liberty to pour himself a drink. The man was tall, broad-shouldered and bursting with chrome-enhanced muscle. His dress was as distinguished as his practiced twang: A fine purple vest, golden pocket-deck, charcoal long coat and too-small bowler hat. Clothes like that cost more than the cantina they stood in, Bill Haycock reckoned. That thought made the heat stir in his gullet.

"I propose a toast." The specter smiled, lifting his glass. "To San Calvo's new sheriff. May he protect the fine people of this township for many'a year to come."

They clinked their glasses together and downed a shot in unison. "Or at least longer than the office's previous holder," the specter added, chuckling to himself. His bodyguards joined in, barking like jackals.

The heat previously in the sheriff's gullet moved up to his cheeks. He could feel his face twisting with anger, even as he tried to resist.

"Oh oh oh, Mr. Haycock," The man clicked his tongue. "You ought to learn how to control that temper of yours. Hate can make a moron out of any man." His eyes slid down to the pistol on Billy's hip. "And you aren't stupid, are you, son?"

Billy took a deep, slow breath. He was right. The town had been through enough as it was. Nobody else was willing to pin on the badge after Jack McCaw was sent up river. If something happened to Bill then there'd be blood, and this vulture would take his pickings from San Calvo anyway. There wasn't an alternative. Not anymore. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry, Mr. Ducaine. Won't happen again." He assured, eyes on his boots.

"That's either Baron Ducaine or sir, boy. You had best remember your manners." The baron paused, boring a hole into Haycock's skull with his eyes.

He held his gaze for half a minute before finally breaking it off to pour another shot, demeanor shifting back to the smooth-talker that'd stepped into the saloon just moments ago. "Now, onto the matter of this year's taxation..."

The Bridge, Fortuna | In Transit
February 21st, 3061

The bridge of the Fortuna was quiet. Most of the hands were downstairs watching the mech simulations, leaving a small skeleton crew on watch for the time being. Captain Deckard Jones was among them. He sat reclined in his leather throne, staring up at the ceiling with an empty look in his eye. They'd been in transit for a month now and boredom had set in. There was little to do on extended voyages such as this one that he hadn't already gotten sick of in his three decades of service. An old man could only play cards and drink himself into a stupor so many times before it lost its appeal.

He dragged himself up, his captain's chair screeching in protest. Those hydraulics should've been replaced months ago if they had budget for it. Thirty years. Thirty years of trudging across the galaxy and he couldn't afford a decent chair. It might’ve been funny if he didn’t feel the weight of each of those years in his aching joints.

In front of his old, useless chair was a still old but slighter more useful deck. It was a hefty console that stretched in a semi-circle around his seat with half a dozen accompanying monitors brimming with information. From here the captain could see everything going on in his ship: internal security footage, live engine readings, oxygen levels and fuel reserves. Everything was low. They hadn’t found a decent port since they’d set off into the frontier in search of work. A friend of a friend sent Jones a tip about some corpo mining flotilla on the edge of known space looking for protection from lurking pirates; plenty of credits to be made, if one was willing to make such a long trek.

Better be worth the damn fuel.’ He grumbled, swinging over in his chair to the navigational charts. There wasn’t much of worth out here: a handful of tiny settlements, a few research facilities, a Thedian listening post. Only one place that he could see might have a spaceport large enough to service the Fortuna. It was a backwater by core world standards, but its population was sizable by frontier standards. The real treasure was one of their main exports: refined N1-class fuel. Low grade, inefficient, and being pushed out of the market by better alternatives- it was exactly what the Fortuna needed.

“Hey, Tex,” he called across the bridge to his pilot, the old walrus in oversized shades and a bucket-shaped hat. “How many jumps would it take to get us to Arish IV?”

Texas Danger let a long trail of smoke slip between his lips as he set a fat cigar down on his console. His old fingers danced across the keys. It took a couple of minutes for the computer to make the calculations and a couple more for Danger’s scar-strewn brain to catch up. ”Uh..lookin’ like I could make it in one, if we wanna burn down to critical fuel. You in a hurry to get your boots dirty? Place looks like a shithole.”

”Oh yeah.” Deckard chortled, standing up. ”Get me off this tub ‘fore it drives me to swallow a laser. I’m gonna go check on my pilots. Let ‘em hear the good news: we’re gettin’ some goddamn shore leave.”
Gonna work on the IC post today oboi

Location: Laughing Worg Tavern -- City-State of Thorinn, Aetheria

"Parasites?" Graves snorted, unsure if that should be insulting or hilarious. It'd been years since he last heard that word thrown around. There was almost an absurd nostalgia to it, like he was back around the dinner table. Dad only ever talked politics when he was sloshed, and the bottle had a habit of loosing his tongue. A dozen arguments a lot like this one played through his mind. Anna and dad would scream at each other until she couldn't take anymore and storm out in a huff. William would sit there chuckling to himself, his mind elsewhere. Mom did her best to 'moderate'- which meant taking dad's side on everything and just wording it a little kinder.

Graves just shook his head. He didn't want to fight Rael on this, but she had this special ability to get under his skin like nobody else could. Even Kazuki, for all his calculated cruelty, had only set him off a couples times.

"You think people want to be sittin' around twiddling their thumbs? I know you like it here, Rael, but not everybody's you. A lot of these folks are kids and teenagers, or they got families they gotta get back to. They didn't sign up to be soldiers so why the hell should we expect 'em to step up? Nobody's makin' an effort to integrate them into Thorinn's, I dunno, society. I'm sure most everybody would be willin' to do somethin' if they were given the opportunity. They just don't wanna die."

He leaned forward, placing his weight on his elbows. "Its up to us to find the ones willin' to fight. We gotta get organized. Let's start puttin' out feelers. Reach out to the guilds we got connections with, either ourselves or through Pris and Mystic Prophecy. Maybe we can arrange a moot and get the Wayfarers on the same page. Get those who wanna work in touch with people who need workers, n' those who wanna fight grouped up with people who can help. I mean, we got a ton of experience between us. We can tell 'em everythin' that's different 'bout the dungeons now."
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