We've prepared a story update for you to enjoy. Learn more about the events of the Storyline Campaign. To read the whole story from the start, please visit our dedicated article.
- June 2028, Arizona
The trip was fairly uneventful.
As instructed by Miss Ferguson, I boarded an unmarked helicopter and took a short flight to a small private airport nearby where a fleet of black and grey business jets with Perihelion insignia was waiting to take VIPs wherever they desired to go. A flight attendant was waiting for me at the helicopter landing site, her smile professional and empty. With a duffel bag in one hand and a leather jacket in the other, I followed her to the nearest Learjet, slowly but surely realizing what I have gotten myself into.
This was no small op. Perihelion had funding – a lot of funding, judging from the ever-present logo of a circle orbiting a hemisphere. It was literally all over the place – on the hangar to my left, on the jets, hell, it was even etched on the champagne glass and bottle served as soon as my nervous butt hit the seat. I literally barely had the time to fasten the belts and I was already being offered a drink. I did not quite understand why, it all still felt like a dream. But if it really was one, it was the best one I’ve ever had. Even the wine’s taste was just exquisite – and just to be clear, I’m a lager guy, if anything.
“Enjoying the wine? It’s made exclusively for Mr. Murdoch in France!”
Ah. So the attendant wasn’t mute. Good to know. Her gleaming, pearly white smile was almost unsettling. Might be me just though. I have a confession to make – I hate flight attendants. And clowns. Too much makeup on both.
“Now, Miss Ferguson told me to take extra special care of you, sir. So ANYTHING you desire, just let me know, okay?”
And with that, she thankfully left, leaving me pondering what EXACTLY she had in mind. Surely not... no. Just... no. With an image of a creepy clown suddenly making circles in my mind, I settled myself for a long flight and closed my eyes.
As it turns out, business jets are not only comfortable, but also fast. A little over two hours into the flight, I was woken by a gentle nudge. The assistant was bringing me refreshments and was reminding me it wasn’t much further. The pilot was really hauling ass, I thought. I had no idea of the speed the sleek machine was capable of. The sight of fresh sandwiches diverted my thoughts elsewhere though. I had barely eaten in the morning and the stomach was already reminding me of a debt due. I pretty much devoured the food while looking outside. The plane was descending but instead of what I expected – a Phoenix skyline, all I was seeing was an endless reddish desert pocked with silver and grey marks – settlements.
By the time I was finished eating, the plane was clearly on its final approach with what looked like an army base below and in front of us. The installation was huge with several rows of military planes nested right next to the main runway and swarms of people surrounding them. That’s when I noticed we weren’t alone. Two dark grey, predator-like shapes were trailing us, mirroring our every move.
Now, I had seen a lot of interesting things for my age but being escorted by two F-16 fighter jets wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t sure who they belonged to, either the Arizona National Guard or the U.S. Air Force, but neither bode well. The attendant was perfectly calm though, and it would be a cold day in hell before I lost my nerve before a lady (how wrong I was on that account...), so I just sat there and tried to look somewhat bored, as if something like that happened to me every day.
The landing was as swift as it was unexpected. The attendant sat down, strapped herself in and looked at me to make sure I was doing the same. The jet dropped the last few meters as if the pilot was trying to put all this behind him as quick as he could. I heard some muted chatter from the cabin and then we were standing still in the middle of a military base under the hot Arizona sun. Slightly dizzy, I picked myself up, grabbed my bag from the seat next to me and got out through the plane’s open door onto the base’s blazing tarmac.
The heat was almost unbearable but the Private before me seemed completely comfortable and was barely breaking a sweat. I, on the other hand, was cursing my leather jacket immediately and was desperately patting my pockets for sunglasses. Not having found them, I was left squinting at the man as the Learjet behind be closed the door and started spooling up its engines.
The soldier simply waved at me without saying a word and began to walk towards a nearby Humvee. Despite him pointing towards the rear door, I decided to ride shotgun in vain hope of learning something more, but my taciturn host did nothing but drive, only stopping at the base’s gate and exchanging a few quick words with the guard. I had the distinct feeling he wasn’t happy being stuck with the taxi driver duty, but much like me, he was left with no choice.
It wasn’t a long drive though. Some thirty minutes of back road driving later, we arrived at what looked like a massive tent camp housing dozens of men and women. Hearing our engine gave a few of them a pause; some turned around to check out the new arrival but most paid us no heed. We stopped near a dusty clearing surrounded by armored vehicles of various types, including some tanks.
The place was bustling with activity with everyone busying themselves with all sorts of preparations. They were all wearing rather loose dark grey shirt and pants combo with a Perihelion patch on the right shoulder, but each of them was personalized to a high degree. Scarfs, baseball caps, gloves, sneakers... it was clear that whatever the commanding officer’s approach to discipline in this place was, it did not include proper regulation uniforms.
The driver, clearly desiring to get the hell out of there, didn’t even bother to say his goodbyes. As soon as I stepped out of the car and closed the door, he revved the engine, quickly turned around quickly and sped off. Murdoch clearly had some ties to the U.S. military, but they either weren’t very strong, or the message didn’t get to the rank and file.
And there I was in the middle, one day a loser with no prospect in a decrepit flat, the next day in the middle of nowhere, waiting for his assignment, surrounded by unfamiliar faces with no idea what to do or expect. And that was the problem. Everyone looked pretty professional. These weren’t some cheap ass kids playing soldiers, who barely knew how to hold a gun. From the way they moved, more than half of the camp troops were definitely ex-military (not necessarily the U.S. military though). Their vehicles, as far as I could see, were freshly painted, but also personalized to a degree. Hell, I even caught a glimpse of a black Terminator in the back. These guys knew their stuff. What the hell am I gonna do here?
My attention was drawn to a commotion ahead. A rather tiny and lean woman was loudly arguing with a giant of a man, even though the argument seemed quite one-sided – she screamed at him while he listened calmly. His sharp features, long black hair and chestnut-colored skin spoke of Native American origin while his calm behavior and crossed arms contrasted starkly with the woman’s fury. He seemed almost amused by the situation and I had no choice but to admire his calmness. I sure was glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of that lady’s scorn.
The man saw me and vaguely beckoned in my direction. The woman turned around, shielded her eyes and stared at me for a few short seconds, before she started walking briskly in my direction.
She was short, like, really short. Five feet at most, but what she lacked in height, she clearly more than made up in energy and anger; a pint-sized nuke in human form with a chip on her shoulder. God help me.
I absolutely despised this type of women – tomboys in merc business always felt like they had to compensate for something, so most of them were insufferable in their attempts to measure up to the men, either by behaving like screeching harpies or by being forcibly masculine. Either way, I was sure the earlier argument had nothing to do with me so I just smiled at her and extended my hand, hoping for a warm welcome.
Or not. The outburst caught me completely off-guard and left me very confused. She was kinda cute – short black hair, sharp Latina features, thin lips... not my type, but still I felt compelled to keep looking into her dark eyes and took me a short while to actually notice what she was screaming at me.
“....pushed around by some fucking gringo Murdoch sent me. This is MY fucking job! And who the fuck orders the vehicles painted black in the middle of a fucking desert?! Do you have any idea how hot it gets inside, you fucking retard?! Or you think they all come with air conditioning, you shit-for-brains?!!”
I actually did think exactly that. Turns out, they didn’t. Huh. Then again, I ordered nothing and had no idea I’d be in Arizona the next day, so there was that. In the meanwhile, it took only a few seconds for a wide, loose ring of people to form around us. Wherever you are, whatever you do, one thing remains the same – people will always be drawn to drama. And the lady had a lot of drama in her.
I needed to de-escalate the situation using my natural charm. And what better way of calming down a diminutive demon there is than with a witty remark?
“Calm down, shortie.”
Another one of my famously smart ideas.
Several things happened at once.
Her eyes went wide.
The crowd collectively gasped.
The Native American man covered his eyes and forehead with his massive hand as if he didn’t want to see what would inevitably come next.
A sharp tang of pain on my chin and my world fell into darkness.
A short while later, I woke up in a medical tent feeling more embarrassed than I have ever felt in my entire life. On my first day on the job – in the first minutes – I got my ass handed to me by a girl who knocked me out cold. Granted, I wasn’t ready but whenever I tried to find an excuse for myself, the word “girl” and “short” always came up in my mind, banishing any thoughts that would make me feel better to oblivion.
Well, okay, there was one thing that DID make me feel better.
She was sitting backwards on a chair right next to my stretcher, her face flush with embarrassment at least equal to mine. She noticed I was awake, bit her lip and looked really unsure, almost vulnerable. I wasn’t sure what to say either, so we just sat there for a few minutes in silence. As the situation gradually became more and more uncomfortable, I felt compelled to be the first to break the barrier of silence.
“So... uh.... that happened. I... uh.”
And that was about as far as I got before she propped one hand against her face and extended her other hand in a greeting.
I got up wincing and slowly, gently shook it.
“Sam Thorpe. Nice to meet ya.”
She sighed and looked around. Having spotted two glasses and a pitcher of water, she got up and brought one for me. The other she emptied with one long gulp.
“That’s one hell of a right hook you got,” I added while taking a sip.
“Left hook. I used my left arm. I always carry things in my right arm; nobody ever expects a hit from the other side that way. It’s a trick I learned...” she paused for a short while, “a long time ago.”
I nodded appreciatively.
“Nice, neat trick.”
She eased up a bit – a tiny bit, clearly still unsure how the day was going to go. That alone told me she messed up big time and if I pressed the issue, there would be consequences. Time to play my cards right then and be magnanimous. No use in having bad blood in the camp on day one.
“So, uh... look. Let’s forget this ever happened and tell me what’s been going on that it got you riled up so much, alright? I don’t wanna cause no trouble, I just...” I shrugged, “wanna do my job that I’m paid for and all that. So what d’ya say?”
She nodded slowly, carefully.
“Alright. I can fill you in. How much time you got?”
I spread my arms.
“As much as I need. Wouldn’t mind a bite or two, and a drink.”
She had a nice smile. I would have smiled back, were it not for my broken lip. Leaving my things near the bed (the tent was otherwise empty), I picked myself up and walked out with her. The day was finally starting to look up.
Over the course of the week that followed, I learned a lot. Espinoza was basically the person who founded the whole outfit, hiring mercs for Perihelion left and right as well as arranging the structure and equipment requirements. Most of the men and women present were Americans, ex-military, idealistic and, most importantly, disgruntled about the direction their homeland was headed in.
Now, I wasn’t usually the type to fall to optimism, but the feeling of hope somehow permeated the whole camp – “finally, someone is doing something” mixed with “this guy’s as rich as they come, he’s gotta have his shit together.”
I met the squad commanders as well, most of them being veterans of one stripe or another. The tall Native American guy turned out to be a Sioux from Louisiana by the name of James Twocrows, but everyone just called him Jim and he didn’t seem to mind – his authority seemed absolute. I didn’t know about his story at the time, but he definitely had that air of confidence; the kind of leader soldiers follow to hell and back. I wasn’t entirely sure why Espinoza was “in charge” instead of him, but everyone seemed comfortable with the arrangement, including the two of them.
They had a lot in common too, like their shared dislike of Murdoch’s armor choices, which they assumed weren’t HIS choices since he knew very little about military matters. Instead, they believed that “some moron” (aka me) talked him into it and their favorite evening past-time was sitting near a camp-fire with the troops and ranting how stupid it was to operate Russian tanks in America.
Sure, the “fire sale” years made them affordable and it wasn’t the “really cheap stuff” the borderlands got flooded with (hell, even the police near the southern border operated a bunch of old tanks these days), but everyone would have preferred American machines. It stood to reason, they both claimed, that when you recruit in the good old U.S. of A., you get troops familiar with American equipment. The training period would have been significantly shorter.
And then there were the two BMPT series support tanks nobody really wanted to touch. Being a fan of the Terminators, I immediately claimed one for myself (the better one, of course) with the other one listed as an outfit reserve. The reason everyone felt so hesitant was the fact that there weren’t any tactics developed for it. The U.S. Army was not using this vehicle class at all and as such, these behemoths felt “unnatural” – in the end, we decided to just use them as tanks and that was that.
The machines came painted in black (not my fault!) and dark grey (also not my fault!), but each of them was already customized to a degree by the time I arrived. Espinoza’s “Nightsinger” bore her personal livery, truly a work of art (a T-90M? I wasn’t familiar with various Russian sub-types all that much – did you know there were actually more than a hundred different T-72 variants in existence?)
The other tanks reflected their crews as well. There was a Southern Irish crew with a guy called O’Neil or something with a neo-Confederate flag and a green Irish stripe. Another tank bore some Pacific Islander motives – and so on. Nobody seemed to mind.
Archibald, before you hand these laptops to the troops, make sure they are THOROUGHLY purged, not like the last time when an instance node almost leaked from this building. This is not something Thorpe should know about. Yet. Do remove all info about Instance 572 immediately and don't forget to delete this e-mail as well. With kind regards, David
I had no crew of my own. Or an official position – everyone simply accepted me as “one of the bosses” (because Espinoza and Twocrows said so), but we had no formal ranks, only assignments. Whenever my Terminator was called into action (I dubbed it Black Mamba because venomous snakes are cool, not for my preference in women as Espinoza suggested along with a few other lewd comments), crew members would be assigned to me. In fact, all crews rotated on regular basis, so every vehicle crew knew how to operate all the other vehicles. This made training difficult and inefficient, but having multiple vehicle types required this approach.
After a week of drills came proper live fire exercises. Commanding an armored vehicle isn’t that hard if someone tapes over all the buttons with English translations and the rest of the crew know what they are doing. A lot of the work was done by the on-board computer and the rest, well, you mash the buttons and hope for the best. I was slowly getting used to it and even passed my infantry firing trials flying colors. In fact, I was doing better than I had expected – I suppose it was the need to impress my new teammates that drove me.
On the other hand, we received no word from the HQ the whole week and I was starting to get a bit nervous. Nobody else seemed disturbed though – everyone just went on about their business.
A couple of days later, Espinoza met with a local sheriff. Unsurprisingly, a whole bunch of locals wasn’t exactly thrilled to have Russian tanks running in their backyard and petitioned the law to have us removed. After spending a few fruitless evenings trying to explain to them that removing an equivalent of an armored company from the premises it was occupying legally might be a bit more than he could chew, the sheriff decided to pay us a friendly visit, to gauge our intentions and all that. We had some coffee and then a shot or two of whiskey. The guy was feeling much better when he left than when he had arrived, that’s for sure.
That’s when we started hatching a few plans to keep ourselves occupied.
That evening, we found ourselves sitting around a campfire once again. Someone from the Irish crew was singing old folk songs behind us but we paid him no mind – we focused on our plans for the next week. It was my time to shine.
“So, listen. I talked to the sheriff – you really shouldn’t have given him the whiskey, you know – and, guess what. They have some drug trafficker problems, some slavers too. Fucking slavers, here... can you imagine?”
I shook my head, staring at the flames.
“He asked the U.S. troops for helps and they agreed to send some patrols into the desert. Not enough though, they have their own problems to worry about, right? Things to do, money to spend on expensive shit...”
“Anyway, I was thinking, we might help out a bit too, a few days here and there... if we catch some human waste and, say, dump them in the middle of a local town, I am sure the good folks will know what to do with them. If you know what I mean.”
“Short drop, sudden stop. The American way.”
Jim smiled too and added:
“Back home, we’d tie them up in a swamp and feed them to the alligators. But,” he grew suddenly serious, “we should keep on training. Who knows what we’ll be asked to do in the coming months. Mister Murdoch didn’t hire us for our stunning looks and...” he winked at Espinoza, who pretended to not have noticed, “...charming personalities.”
I nodded. There were a lot of moving parts. We were still not familiar with each other and there were rough edges to be smoothed. There have been a couple of people who just... didn’t fit. Too aggressive, too slow – each unit always has its share of bad eggs and we desperately needed to prune ours. There was also the matter of supplies and equipment.
“Gail, have you talked to anyone from Chicago lately? We’ve placed requisition orders weeks ago and have received nothing so far,” said Jim.
She too grew serious, even worried and perhaps a little sad? I couldn’t tell, but there definitely was... something.
“They are busy with... some other things. But we’ll receive some laptops and other equipment shortly. And Ferguson promised us some extra tech if we train hard enough. Not sure if she was serious or not though.”
She pursed her lips.
“You know what? Fuck them. How about we display some initiative?”
Jim Twocrows looked suddenly worried. Really worried.
“What do you have in mind?”
Her sudden, crooked smile spelled an impending disaster.
“That Army base. How about we hit it?”
We both looked up at her in horror.
“Are you fucking crazy? There are at least two companies in there and god knows how much tech. For crying out loud, Espinoza, they have fighter jets,” replied Jim.
“So what? We go in at night. One quick push and everyone’s dead or running. They’ll never know what hit them...”
In my head, I was going over the list of all the ways how this really dumb idea could go incredibly wrong, but she suddenly spat out in laughter.
“You should see your faces right now.”
Okay, bullet dodged. Although to be frank, I still wasn’t sure she was completely joking. Even Jim started laughing somewhat nervously.
“Come on then. Let’s hit the sack. Tomorrow, we train and then we train some more. Yay,” she rolled her eyes.
They both left and I found myself lingering, staring up at the night sky, wondering what was all this good for. I was about to find out a few days later.