Chapter 1.1: Another day, another briefing

“As some of you may be aware, a small atmospheric craft was shot down 16 minutes ago by StateEmpire Air Defence batteries in Longxiu.”

The disembodied voice of Major Qiao Long echoed from the holoprojector in the centre of the darkly red-lit suborbital troop transport as it rattled and rumbled through its flight. The light from the holoprojector flickered across the pitted and scratched surfaces of my Strike Team’s servo-armour and cast deep shadows on every feature of their faces. All eyes intently focused on the projected weapon telemetry from the AD batteries taking down the small transport.

“The official line is that it was a Japanese strike craft on an attack run towards the residential area of Longxiu. This, however, is not the case. What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential.”

Sergeant First Class Tai Sheng grunted and I looked up to see her weathered face twitching an eyebrow up in muted curiosity; the motion pulled on the scar on her lip and chin, giving her a humourless smirk.

“The reality is that Imperial Secret Service agents have been tracking an Imperial official who has secretly been working for the Pan Oceanians” Major Qiao continued, the holoprojector displaying several covert stills and videos of a rodent-like official with a pathetic wisp of a moustache. “The traitor somehow caught wind of the surveillance and tried to flee across the border to Odinheim with the assistance of a Hexahedron agent. It was at this point the ISS… requested our assistance in stopping his escape and require the immediate recovery of the traitor’s Cube and that of the Hexahedron agent.”

Feng Bo spat on the rattling deck of the transport. At my raised eyebrow he shrugged the plated shoulders of his Zuyong armour sheepishly and mouthed “Sorry Boss”. His reflection of the disgust we all felt could equally have been for a traitor to the Jade Throne or the interference of the heavy-handed ISS.

Unaware of the interactions in the cramped transport Major Qiao pressed on with his brief, the display changing to tactical maps of the target site and a cloud-wreathed satellite stream. “They’ve crashed in a small weather facility near the Demilitarised Zone called Webei-3. You’ll land-”

“I’m sorry Sir,” I interrupted. “But why are we getting sent on a simple evidence recovery mission?” Around me my highly-trained Strike Team nodded their heads; this was way below our normal missions, even if some Imperial Agent was worried about their reputation after a botched operation.

“You’re being sent, Captain Tao Ji, because you’ve been told to.” A second, sharper and more cultured voice broke in over the holoprojector. Prick. Major Qiao resumed, semi-apologetically, “Of course you are right Honoured Liu Fe. Crane Liu Fe is the Imperial Agent attached to our Task Group and I expect all of you to afford him every respect he deserves.”

This time there was no doubting what the looks of disgust going around the interior of the transport were about. Feng Bo didn’t even bother to look contrite as he spat on the floor again.

“To answer your question more fully, an unregistered troop transport has been detected launching from Koritawa. It’s running the border with Solokov in PanO airspace so we can’t shoot it down. Yanjing intelligence links it with an Ikari Company Black Team that’s suspected to be operating in the AO. It’s believed they are attempting to recover and/or destroy the Cubes so expect fierce resistance.”

The Strike Team perked up at that. The dangerous reputation of Ikari’s unscrupulous Black Teams combined with personal experiences against the Company during the Uprising led to a ripple of clenched fists and gripped weapons.

“You can not let them get away with those cubes. May the Emperor watch your steps. Lightning 0A out.”

The holoprojector flicked off, leaving the Strike Team illuminated only by the deep red tactical lights as each member began last minute checks of their weapon systems and suit diagnostics. I started cycling the Command Suite of my Daoying armour and booted up my infowar programs. I checked my tactical link with Tai Sheng but when she failed to acknowledge the program I looked across to see her lost in thought, her eyes a million miles away.

“Sergeant, are you alright?” I asked over a private channel. She looked up at me, startled out of her musings. “Don’t worry, if he’s there we’ll get him. And if he isn’t… well then we’ll find him at the next place and get him there.” She gave a slight grimace but nodded to me before proceeding with her own preparations.

Despite my own reassurances I found myself wondering what I’d do if we came across him. Shao Fang. Our old commander. The one who’d betrayed us.

My musings were interrupted by the pilot coming over the intercom, “Approaching landing site. Prepare to land in 2 Mike.”

I raised my armoured fist, a gesture replicated by the rest of the team.

“Lightning never strikes twice…” I started.

“Because nothing survives the First Strike!” the team shouted back at me. I pulled my visor down content. Shǎndiàn (Lightning) 1st Strike Team were ready for combat.


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