With the presence of suborned Nomad officers confirmed to ALEPH’s satisfaction, further investigation was called for. How deep did the rot go? And could it be brought into the into the light of day?
Intriguing questions, but ones that it would be strategically ill-advised to devote exorbitant resources to answering. The same fresh-faced Aspect-Commander would have to suffice.
Aspect-Commander Imrix carefully schooled his quantronic patina into neutrality in the course of accepting the assignment, but it didn’t take a hyper-analytical distributed intelligence to tell that his feelings would sum up well to, ‘gee, thanks for the resounding vote of confidence.’
– – –
Same disclaimer as last time: I don’t take photos, for the simple reason that I don’t have a smartphone with which to take them. This time, my opponent does not have a surprising talent for powerpoint diagrams, so I’ll have to spin you all a tale.
So, determined not to have my one contribution to this campaign being to get beaten like a drum, I tweaked my list on a few points and sought out another Nomad player looking for a rematch on the same map as last time.
I ended up choosing to take the first turn (that’s one lesson I learned – if you bring an aggressive list, be aggressive with it), and setting up on the side SkyKnight took last time. My deployment scheme followed roughly the same format, with Atalanta hidden up on her perch, a Myrmidon keeping her company, my engineer (a Dactyl this time, hoping to get lucky with that Flammenspeer) hidden at the back, the ProxyDoc hanging back ready to patch people up or take shots as needed, with their other bodies set up forward to pounce, and the Yadu’s dug in to watch sightlines.
If this sounds like I’m repeating the same mistakes as last time, to an extent I am, but the thing is I wasn’t playing defense this time – I was poised to go on the attack. As well, I had a few tweaks to shore things up. For one, the Myrmidon Officer was hiding at the back to supply backup smoke, while Atalanta’s partner was safely up there with her rather than vulnerable on a corner. For another, instead of trying to use Rebots as ARO pieces, I’d shuffled some points around and taken a Netrod, to deploy hidden behind a building. I’d also swapped the Naga out for Scylla and her flamerbots, which gave me more of a defensive web while still having that potential to knock out enemy hackers – although as it happens, neither of the Nomads I faced relied on hacking.
By contrast, my opponent brought a radically different list than SkyKnight. For one thing, it was a Corregidoran Sectorial rather than vanilla Nomad, and for another it was a TAG list. Huginkiz’ Gecko duo set up roughly where I’d had my Myrmidon officer, backed it up with a couple of Jagaurs, dug an Algaucil team in where I’d used Yadu’s, and in place of my loose skirmisher line of Naga, Dart and the Proxy Mk.5, chose to blanket the forward line with Moran’s packing explosive hugbots. There was also a camo marker perched right up on top of a pillar on top of a building, barely large enough for their base.
Both of us looked at this, before winkingly agreeing that surely that could be anything, and it was not at all obviously an Intruder packing a sniper rifle. Why, to even surmise as such would truly be leaping to vast conclusions – Corregidor, after all, has SO MANY camouflaged troops who want to balance precariously on tall pillars.
Just look at all those choices to put up on a sniper perch! Why, it could be anything!
I set out on turn 1 with one goal in mind: I couldn't see the Gecko to kill it, so I was going to do my damndest to knock out that Intruder, and at least one of the Morans. Fortunately, I withheld Dart as my last model, and was able to set her up practically on top of the rightmost Moran, so punching a hole in THAT much of the defensive web would be easy.
As for the Intruder… Well, I had smoke to block anybody else from getting involved, and after that it was a gun duel between some random Nomad schmuck and Atalanta, finest sniper in the Human Sphere. I felt comfortable in those odds.
What's that? Hubris is the downfall of all Greek heroes? Dunno what you're talking about, it'll be fi-
The Intruder beat Dart in the gun duel. The only saving grace was that they did it with Stun ammo rather than Double Action, so Atalanta was merely very embarrassed rather than, y'know, dead, but that left me in a bit of a tight spot.
Fortunately, I still had a Yadu with a rocket launcher. Both of us had good range, both of us had cover, the Intruder had camouflage but I had two rolls. Two shots on 10's vs one on 13 is still decent odds, right?
I put three volleys of rockets into that Intruder, and the one time I scored a hit, it passed the ARM roll.I even broke off that engagement, slipped around the sight lines to see if I could put a crack in the Algaucil fireteam by dobbing a rocket into one guy crouched on a box with a flashlight – THAT didn't work either.
By this point I'd sunk five orders into trying to dislodge one of the Nomad's key defensive pieces, and all I'd gotten out of it was Atalanta getting a migraine and a Yadu put into NWI. Okay, I can take a hint.
I spent one order Cybermasking Scylla on the right flank, then got to work. I figured the various discovery rolls would shred Dart's camo quickly, but it could last long enough to sprint into a better firing position where the Intruder couldn't see her, and indeed it did. Thereafter she put two shots into the Moran's back, and one into the CrazyKoala poised to give her an enthusiastically volatile hug. All three shots hit, but while the Moran expired much more easily than the Intruder had, the hugbot shrugged off the shot and exploded all over the Optimate Huntress.
Fortunately, the way Dart's kit works, 'improvised minesweeping' like this is part of her job description, but still, ouch.
With my last two orders I had the rifle-armed Yadu exchange fire with the Intruder – not great odds, but it managed to stymie their ARO enough for the Yadu to drop prone out of sight, then go into suppressive fire in preparation for the oncoming TAGstorm.
As it happens, this turned out to be exactly the right thing to do, because as obstinate as that Intruder had proved on my turn, a Yadu in cover and in suppressive fire turned out to be even harder for Huginkiz to dislodge. Without sightlines from anybody to outrange it, he chose to brute-force the problem, figuring, hey, a Gecko's not a great TAG but it's still a TAG, and it has a full order pool backing it up. How long can one Yadu last?
Seven. It can last for seven exchanges of fire. Perfectly even target numbers, even dicepools, and that Yadu held out for seven rounds, stopping Huginkiz' advance in its tracks before it really even started.
With so few orders left, my opponent made a push for the objectives, but even here poor fortune forced him to spend two orders flipping one console, and one of the Jagaur's line of advance gave Atalanta a brief shot on them from her hiding place, which earned them a neat hole through the skull. With nothing else left, Huginkiz hunkered down and waited to get hammered.
ALEPH TURN 2 started on a wonderful note – the Myrmidon critfailed the simple task of tossing a smoke grenade two meters, and needed a second try.
Fortunately, this did not turn out to be an omen of bad tidings, and Atalanta finally scored a clean kill against her opposite number, then followed up by hammering the Gecko to nonfunctional scrap.
And here is where I didn't make the same mistake as last time, but made an entirely new mistake: I didn't execute the Gecko. Maybe I wanted to return the mercy Huginkiz had done me by Stunning Atalanta instead of DA-ing her all over the walls, maybe I wanted to save the order for dealing with that irritating Algaucil fireteam, maybe I underestimated the Gecko, maybe I just didn't notice that Huginkiz had an engineer's servantbot RIGHT THERE. Maybe I'm just an idiot.
Whatever the reason, despite Huginkiz literally telling me to finish off the Gecko, I instead had the Yadu with a rocket launcher spend three tries knocking out that bloody Algaucil with a flashlight, finally removing that oh-so-important +3 BS for five members, then moved it back to get patched up by the ProxyDoc. Then I rounded out the turn by putting Dart into suppressive fire because I figured, hey, all I've got to worry about now is that fireteam, if I put a blocker in place against them I'm home free, right?
Yeah, sure, except for the Gecko I didn't finish off.
Huginkiz began NOMAD TURN 2 by reminding me that he did, in fact, have an engineer's servantbot right next to the Gecko I had only knocked unconscious, and patched it up quick as a flash. And I had nothing left to block it with except a Dactyl's flammenspeer, which turned out to be woefully inadaquate to the task.
With the flank basically secure, Huginkiz sent his second Moran forward to flip the console in my left quarter (escaping a sneaky rocket from the Yadu in the process), and brought their hugbots with them to threaten Atalanta, while the Gecko pulled back out of sight and locked down that half of the table with suppressive fire.
So that's how I started ALEPH TURN 3: I'd gone from a position of comfortable dominance, to being down two consoles to three, with one flank flayed open and a Gecko squatting there.
Thing is, the OTHER half of the map was mostly free and clear. The last threat there was that Algaucil with a missile launcher; knock him out, and I could move freely there, and I still had eight orders to work with. Feeling confident, I took a risky play and tried to have the rocket Yadu kill the Algaucil, and got it exploded for my efforts. Shit. Why does EVERY turn have to start out terribly?
Then I did what I should've done in the first place, had the Myrmidon pop smoke, thus pulling the explosive hugbots away from Atalanta, and had HER drill the Algaucil missile launcher from across the map. Losing that first exchange with the Intruder really made me flinch from using Atalanta, but she did work for me this game, even if not as much as that MVP Yadu.
At this point, I revealed my Hidden Deployment proxy with a shotgun, where she'd patiently been waiting to hack herself a Gecko all game while it rampaged around clear on the other side of the map, and had her push for the console closest closest to Huginkiz' side of the board. She got in a brief gun duel with an Algaucil in the process, but without their fireteam bonuses that was an easy kill, after which she flipped the console.
Then I started paging through the coordinated orders rules to see if I could use my remaining three orders to pull someone, anyone to grab the unclaimed console in that half of the map while also making a play for the objective room. Scylla – no, synchronised controller. One of the other proxies – no, don't be silly. The Yadu – no, dead. The Myrmidon officer – no, too far. Shit. No crushing win then.
But, I still had enough orders to rush the proxy up to the edge of the objective room, then dive in and flip the central console before she was Isolated. I wasn't worried, Isolated isn't a Null state for proxies, and even unopposed it was still shots into a saturation zone at -9.
Thus began the final turn, NOMAD TURN 3. Huginkiz killed Atalanta outright with the Gecko, then advanced further while having the Mobile Brigada finally do something by making (and failing) a Classified roll. The Gecko trundled around the corner, and executed my Netrod. Then it trundled around another corner, through a smoke cloud helpfully provided by the remaining Jagaur, and executed my proxy mk.5, which died cursing 'whichever moron left that bloody thing functioning'. Huginkiz, you see, had decided against trying his luck against the TO proxy directly, and was instead looking to kill the rest of the Posthuman's bodies, putting it in Null and no longer able to claim the central room.
Unfortunately, he'd forgotten about the proxy doc, so he was forced to abort and step up to the doors to the objective room in order to make a play for killing the proxy after all… Whereupon Dart and the proxy doc opened fire the Gecko, and the doc killed it with a crit.
Well, no problem, the Gecko's been lugging a Mobile Brigada all this time, right, maybe they can– wait, the Gecko's blocking the door. And it's a TAG, so it doesn't drop prone when unconscious. And you can't move through friendly models if they're bigger than you, LIKE A TAG.
Stymied at the final hurdle, Huginkiz spends his last orders finally grabbing that Classified, and it's only in the wrapup that we realise he could potentially have contested the objective room with his Moran instead.
So, how did things WRAP UP? Well, we both had two consoles, and we both had a classified – Dart, y'see, had been sitting in the HVT's ZoC practically the whole game, nevermind that there was a wall in the way. But Huginkiz still had a Liasion Officer to pass his roll with, while mine was riddled with holes. But I had the objective room, so we closed with a 6-4 win in my favour.
Thin. Damned thin. So damned thin it could so easily have slipped through my fingers. But a win, nonetheless.
MVP of the match was definitely that Yadu who stopped the Gecko cold, and lesson of the day? When you've knocked your opponent's main power piece out, for the sake of Our Theydie In Code, finish the frakking job!
- - -
'Better' was the judgement, but in such a measured tone that it couldn't help but be half a condemnation. He'd won the engagement, but it wasn't much of a victory, and largely due to poor calls on his part. Atalanta never would have held her fire if he hadn't ordered that show of mercy. The after-action dissection of his orders hadn't been as agonising as the last time, but it'd still hardly been pleasant.
But, he'd won. Penetrated the Nomad's datavaults and plundered them for information pointing towards EI corruption of other commanders. And found nothing. Plenty of valuable intelligence, certainly. But no sign of what he was sent to look for.
Which was a good thing, of course. They were all glad that the indications of EI corruption were limited to a single commander. That was all to the good of the Human Sphere. Of course it was.
But it wasn't much of a victory. Not compared to what had been hoped for, to evidence of EI tendrils lurking behind Nomad secrecy, to a casus belli fit to bring before the O-12 courts.
All to the good of the Human Sphere, of course.