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Chapter Six: All Hands on Deck

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Definition: "Hand" (Poker lingo, per "Poker Terms") = Five cards, made of a player's pocket cards and the community cards

Definition of Phrase: "All Hands on Deck" (military term, From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, informal used to say that everyone is needed to help in a particular situation)

* * *​

(Part 2 of 2)
"Mrrrreewr!" MechaKitten replied to Mario. In the young Italian-American's mind, he heard the voice of a boy. A rather odd-sounding boy. "Lookit me! I helpded! You wanted chat-chat wif Purr'fess'r, right? I tol' you I knows his number, so I callded hims for you!" He pushed his head against Mario's hand. His eyes squinted above his smile.

About that time, Mario could hear the words accompanying the frustration and confusion of the male speaker. "--asted feline! Put someone with opposable digits on the line, this instant!" Mario heard the familiar American-English voice of Professor Stein. Stein heard Mario too.

"What?! The A.T.A.C. Corporal from the Assembly? You are alive?!"

There was a stunned pause on the other end of the phone, but it did not last long. "What happened to Toph?! Is that little muppet still in one piece? Where are you?"

"Rwaaaawr!" MechaKitten interjected before Mario could get another word in. "We iz on da Broadsword! You haz Reggie?" Somehow, Professor Stein understood every word.

The stammering confusion that came as reply was hard to follow. "The Broadsword! How in God's good name-- Yes, yes, I haz Re-- Wait, I AM ASKING THE QUESTIONS AROUND HERE! Damned cat!"

Very pleased with himself, MechaKitten turned his face to Mario and meowed a few more times. "I iz SUCH a good kitty! You kin tells me. I doesn't mind!"

"Corporal Zuko!" the professor yelled. "Listen closely, young man! The Malcontent Zentraedi are attacking your Eglin base, your people are fighting back, but you must not go to aid them! Hitomi has gone missing, Hiram has been sentenced to the brig awaiting Dishonorable Discharge, all because that damnable General Steele has gone stark raving mad!!"
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario's mind is a whirlwind of questions, all struggling to come out at the same time. "Wait, what? Hold on, Professor! Yes, the others are all ok, but what do you mean, that the General has gone mad? Why is Colonel Sharp in the brig? What the holy hell is going on down there?!?" He turns to look at Sam, and in a firm voice, he says, "Get a message to the others. We have a shitstorm going on back at Eglin, and I'm trying to get some information on just what is happening. Advise them that I have made initial contact with the Professor, and he has informed me that Eglin is under attack by Zentraedi forces, Col. Sharp is under arrest pending a Dishonorable Discharge, and Hitomi is missing, all because and I quote, 'General Steele has gone stark raving mad!' unquote. I have a feeling that despite the warning that Professor Stein has given to stay away, we may have to go in and perform a jail break!"

Back to the phone, he says, "Quickly, Professor! I have to get Lt. Mackenzie as much info as possible, so please, what the devil is going on?"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Still inside the medical bay, Toph watches interest as the machines work on Cera's mind, implanting skills into the woman. As the procedure continues, she muses, "I think that one of our first items of business for our mechanically-oriented crew is to develop some way for the Broadsword crew to be able to communicate with us vocally. That will greatly speed things up for us, saving time of us having to stop and read a data pad to see what one of our new allies are trying to communicate with us."

"On a completely different subject, Samantha, when we have the time, I would, if possible, to see the new medical tech that you have available here so I can get up to speed on it. Just in case I am ever needed to operate in here, I will need to know my way around the medical bay in order to save lives."

I hope that Mario is not getting into trouble while we are gone.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
That unmarked door seemed inconspicuous at first, and yet at second glance, one could tell it was armored. Where it led, none of you knew, but Cera watched that door with a mixture of suspicion and wonder.
Elinor shifted her stance and posture slightly to keep the door within her line of sight. No telling what it was, but if it bothered Cera, Elinor wanted to keep an eye on it.

Cera continued. "Think of those creatures with whom we have mentally interacted. Human Traversers. Ura-Meltrandi Traverser. Scrath. MechaKitten. All these creatures have one thing in common, but it is a thing the Broadsword lacks. This raises a question. Broadsword?"
Elinor thought it raised a completely different question -- just what was MechaKitten, anyway? -- but now didn't seem the time to ask, particularly with the little feline not present.

"HELLO CHICKS!" it read.
Elinor couldn't help but laugh along with Shirley. It seemed there was a lot of cross-cultural learning going on today!

Iris folded her pincers. Her antennae moved back and forth as if being blown by a breeze. "This One possesses similar motivations!" Iris peered down at Elinor. "How curious - the Dentella our most-deadly War Queen Taniya has chosen to protect and complete the first and possibly last of the 2nd Generation Ura-Meltrandi was not hatched from a warrior race, but like us, is a gardener!" Iris's pretty green eyes simply beamed in delight at the notion.
Elinor smiled up at the big, pretty bug. "I got a whole family of 'em back home. Sometime I'd like to introduce you. Once the surprise was got over, I think we'd all get on well."

Still inside the medical bay, Toph watches interest as the machines work on Cera's mind, implanting skills into the woman. As the procedure continues, she muses, "I think that one of our first items of business for our mechanically-oriented crew is to develop some way for the Broadsword crew to be able to communicate with us vocally. That will greatly speed things up for us, saving time of us having to stop and read a data pad to see what one of our new allies are trying to communicate with us."
"What about some kind of voice synthesizer tied to a radio earpiece?" Elinor thought out loud. "If our computers can do text-to-speech, I'm sure Broadsword's can with the right equipment. Dedicate a radio channel or something and give us all a receiver tied to it?"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Toph nods, then says, "I'm sure that something like that could be whipped up. I recall seeing a paper published in a medical journal of something similar, so if it can work for organic people, we shouldn't have any difficulties giving the Broadsword crew the gift of speech. Between their technical skill, Mario and Cera, it should be quite easy."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"What about some kind of voice synthesizer tied to a radio earpiece?" Elinor thought out loud. "If our computers can do text-to-speech, I'm sure Broadsword's can with the right equipment. Dedicate a radio channel or something and give us all a receiver tied to it?"
"Between their technical skill, Mario and Cera, it should be quite easy."
In the Broadsword's medbay, Iris and Spaceman Sam looked around at the computer speakers as Cera's voice emanated from them. "While you rested, the Broadsword and I got to know each other better. I have a general understanding of what she is doing here and her basic inventory. The Broadsword is willing to help us accomplish great things, but it requires resources to do it." Spaceman Sam walked over and stood beside Cera as she spoke. "We have the technical skills to provide voice capability to every one of the Broadsword's mobile mega-suits. We lack the parts!"

Spaceman Samantha then demonstrated some of that technical know-how by disconnecting the strange helmet and electrodes attached to Cera's brain and body. This Samantha performed with laudable efficiency. Samantha helped Cera slowly rise to a sitting position. Cera rubbed her head. When she opened her eyes, they were brimming with ideas and confidence. They were also brimming with questions.

"Earth politicians," she remarked to you. "In my new understanding of military history, it appears that most of your major wars have been won by the military, and most of Earth's greatest losses have come by way of interference from... politicians!" Cera clenched her fist in war-like readiness. "We Ura-Meltrandi neither require nor tolerate such idiocy! You are in a war! Why? Why not simply exterminate all your politicians and let your military win your wars without their incompetency-laden interference?! It would solve a great number of your problems, wouldn't you agree?"

"Congratulations, Wild Cards!" Shirley grinned at the Auxiliary Specialist and rubbed her knee. "In our education of Cera, we have created a revolutionary!"

Cera crossed her arms and glared at Shirley. "Hmph!" She gazed at Elinor and Toph, her red-brown eyes imploring you. "You are my debran dentella! And you are part Lisara-Meltrandi! Certainly, you understand my argument!"

Shirley ran a hand through her curly ebony mane. "Reminds me of a song." She reached toward a pouch on her mega-suit. Then, finding it empty, she flinched and yelled. "Oh, puckernuts! What did I do with my darned phone?!" Shirley looked all over, but the Mckenzie luck had struck again. Her phone was nowhere to be found.

* * *​

Meanwhile, back in the Broadsword's briefing room, MechaKitten continued to vie for Mario's attention while he spoke on Shirley's smartphone.

Back to the phone, he says, "Quickly, Professor! I have to get Lt. Mackenzie as much info as possible, so please, what the devil is going on?"
The professor wasted no time. "Here is what is going on. I will make you and your ASC Lt. Mackenzie a deal. Your part is as follows - you shall follow my plan to the letter to save Hiram, then get Reggie, myself, - and if we find her - Miss Hitomi, on board the Broadsword safe and sound where the Anti Unification League and your damnable General Steele cannot lay a finger on us!

"In return, I shall provide you everything you need to know to give you your best chances at rescuing Hiram. I act as the brains; you act as the brawn. Afterward, I shall generously assist you in helping you understand your powers as Traversers." He paused, allowing Mario a moment to digest his offer. "Remember, corporal! With your being a soldier in the Army of the Southern Cross and as my being a leading authority in Project Eternity, both of our factions answer to the United Earth Government which makes us allies - and allies help each other.

"Time is not on our side! Do we have a deal?"
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario's heart is threatening to beat its way out of his chest. "Sam, Mechakitten, can either one of you record this? I will need every bit of information that we can gather." Turning his attention back to the phone, he says, "Professor, I can't speak for the lieutenants with certainty, but I would guess that the Wild Cards will be behind any chance to rescue the Colonel. What is your plan?"

Before the Professor can start talking, Mario scoops up the robot cat and looks to Sam, "Get the others up here, or get me to the medical bay so that they can hear this straight and be able to ask questions!"
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
"We have the technical skills to provide voice capability to every one of the Broadsword's mobile mega-suits. We lack the parts!"
Elinor nodded. "OK, then, we'll put that on our list of things to get, once we get where we can go shopping for 'em."

Cera crossed her arms and glared at Shirley. "Hmph!" She gazed at Elinor and Toph, her red-brown eyes imploring you. "You are my debran dentella! And you are part Lisara-Meltrandi! Certainly, you understand my argument!"
Elinor grinned. " 'Course I do, Cera! That's an old, old argument between military and civilians. Thing is, it's an Earth ideal to let the civilians run things. In theory, that's supposed to mean not as many people die because the civilians are supposed to not want war. Theory and ideals don't always work out in practice, but on the whole, I think it's a good thing." She winked. "Which, mind you, doesn't prevent me from wanting to be rid of incompetent interference -- civilian or otherwise!"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Toph chuckles at the venom in Cera's voice. "Don't forget that there are both good and bad in both the political world, as well as the military. Men and women that strive for the betterment of the people that they serve, and those with twisted, corrupt values that want only what's best for themselves. Surely you have the like in the future? Ones like Khyron the Backstabber? How do you think he's earned his nickname? If we were to lead a revolution to place the military in charge, that might solve one set of problems, but it would make a whole new set of issues to deal with."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(There's a lot in this one, Gang! I recommend you read the last few paragraphs carefully. =) )

Before the Professor can start talking, Mario scoops up the robot cat and looks to Sam, "Get the others up here, or get me to the medical bay so that they can hear this straight and be able to ask questions!"
Spaceman Sam seemed to do one better than that. "He" raised his finger politely and turned his tablet toward Mario. On the surface of the tablet, Mario read, "CONTACTING SPACEWOMAN SAMANTHA. ONE MOMENT PLEASE."

* * *​

Meanwhile, down in the Broadsword's medbay, Cera smirked at Elinor and Toph. She had taken in their words and considered them, but she was feeling sure and tough and remained unmoved. She narrowed her eyes and grinned wolfishly. "Then let the peaceful politicians do as they will during peacetime. Wars are won by warriors, and then only by the strongest and most battle-talented. Besides, for we Ura-Meltrandi, there is no such thing as peacetime - only downtime between wars." She gave a chuckle that sounded a bit like War-queen Taniya's, but her easy red-brown gaze was all her own. She was uttering a fact that had been proveable long before humans reached the stars.

Shirley examined her Scrath-made brace. It glittered faint rainbow colors under the medbay's lights. "I think I'd make a lousy Ura-Meltrandi."

"Oh? Why, Leader Mack? Your fighting skills are well above average."

"Simple!" she held out her arms. "You chicks don't surf!"

Cera was making a confused face at you when Spacewoman Samantha glanced down at "her" tablet. The glance lasted only moment. With one swift movement, Samantha slid the tablet directly in front of Shirley's eyes. Only she could see what was written on it.

"Mario? Sure!" The tablet's face changed colors. Shirley spoke to the flat device. "Mario! If you spot my phone, bring it to me, would you? It's in a sky-blue case with Rainbow Dash all over it."

Shirley's phone art. From My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic =)
Rainbow Dash from Clipart Library.jpg
(Image credit: Clipart Library)

In the briefing room, one turn of the phone was enough for Mario. There he saw a beautiful, little pegasus smiling from the clouds. Then Spacewoman Samantha's text message to Shirley continued.

In the medbay, Shirley waved Toph and Elinor both over. "Transcribed? With... Professor Stein? How did he call me?" Then Mack read, her Californian blue eyes shifting back and forth rapidly without hardly a blink. Suddenly, she gasped and stood up, all of her humor vanished. In an instant, Shirley was gone replaced entirely by 1st Lieutenant "Mack", squadron leader of the Wild Cards. "Holy Toledo! Muppet! Leanne! Stein is saying General Steele has lost his marbles! He's in the process of throwing Colonel Sharp in the brig, that friend of yours, Hitomi, is missing in action, and Stein and Reggie want to join us on the Broadsword!" Mack turned to Samantha. "Are you all right with all this? We need your help with a rescue involving Traversers!"

"Battle Stations" by Ulpio Minucci and Arlon Ober from the Robotech Perfect Soundtrack

Samantha's head rose and nodded. She showed her tablet to all of you. "THE ACTIVE CREW OF THE BROADSWORD STAND READY TO ACT ON YOUR BEHALF."

Mack gave a thumbs-up in gratitude then turned to Cera. "Cera! Is your head all right? Are you able help us with this?"

"Help you?" The auxiliary specialist eagerly slid off of the table. "I do not see how you are going to do it without me!"

Mack had no idea what that meant except that Cera was ready. And that was enough for her. "Mario!" Mack shouted at the tablet. Mario heard her from Sam's tablet in the briefing room. "Double-time it to the hangar bay!" Spacewoman Samantha took that cue and led all of you, Iris included, as fast as your feet could carry you. When Mack's knee gave her trouble, Iris reached down with her huge pincers and picked her up as if she were a doll. Mack let out a surprised yell, but otherwise did not complain. Iris beamed as she scuttled along more quietly than any of you despite her size. A moment later, the Californian was on Iris's back and in the lead. The Scrath knew right where the elevator was. The door to the elevator slid open before you as if it had been waiting all along.

In moments, Spaceman Sam had led Mario and MechaKitten from the briefing room, down several hallways to the spacious elevator. The Wild Cards reunited in the Broadsword's central hangar bay. The spacious hangar was as cavernous as they had remembered it. They found the gigantic door to the outside wide open providing a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Mexico and the dark Floridian sky. The sun had sunk not long ago and the water was lit by an eerie white glow from the moon above. All around you, the incessant sound of the Broadsword's engines thrummed. The smell of the saltwater and fresh air filled your senses.

Beside you were your mecha. Your poor battered, scraped, and scarred mecha. The only veritech to have escaped damage beyond the cosmetic was The Red Baroness. The crimson Valkyrie loomed above you like a shining giant. The Ajax Toph piloted was here looking weary and beaten up, though ready. Elinor's battered Valkyrie stood by in Guardian mode. There was the Veritech Hover Tank you had all fought so very hard to recover, too. It was looking far from new. The ammunition you had spent was still unreplenished and many wing racks showed empty spaces from where you had fired missiles. None of the veritechs were battle-ready. Looking up at the giants, MechaKitten let out an unhappy meow.

Sam and Samantha seemed to recoil in shock at this discovery, though they soon realized perfectly well that they had followed instructions. Who could have known your mecha would be needed so soon?

As Iris slid Mack down to the deck, the leader of the Wild Cards saw the condition of your mecha and her eyes went wide. You had chosen not to alter them - a fact she had just remembered. "Oh brother..." Taking her phone from Mario with a nod of thanks, she spoke into the receiver. "I accept your deal, Professor! Colonel Sharp stood up for us when we needed him, even put his own life on the line along with his own company when we were aboard the Zeki-Zentraedi Assault Scout. It's time we returned the favor!" She muttered. "I don't know how we're going about this, but--"

The professor's voice gruff voice sounded as if he had expected this course of action. "I knew I could count on you! Now here is the situation - Hiram has been separated from both his tank company and his tank! He alone is being held in a TacCorp armored personnel carrier with a T.A.S.C. escort of four Ajax helicopters en route to God-knows-where. With Eglin under Zentraedi attack, I believe they are taking him to some place of safety until the battle there is won. The T.A.S.C. escort is--"

"Hold your horses!" Mack gasped. Her voice broke in emotion. "I... I can't! No way I'm going to give the order to engage against our own people! You just can't expect us to--"

Professor Stein's voice echoed across the hangar almost as clearly as if he were there. "Easy, lass! You do not have to engage! The only thing I expect out of you, young lady, is doing everything in your power to get Hiram back! The T.A.S.C. escort is heading through the Badlands and that is anyone's territory. Reggie and I spotted fresh-looking Zentraedi tracks in an intercept trajectory - the T.A.S.C. escort is heading straight into a Zentraedi ambush! Let them duke it out! That's your chance to get to Hiram and get him out of there!"

I don't care how you do it; just get it in your head that once they have him locked up, our chances of getting him out go from slim to almost none! Once the battle is over, Steele will want Hiram back on Eglin without delay. After that, Hiram is as good as gone! I won't have it! I have already lost one old friend; I am not about to lose another! Wild Cards, I will guide you as I am able, but you must be the ones to rescue him! Understand?!"

Mack digested all of this information with a long sigh. "Give us a sec, Prof." Mack grimly turned to each of you. "Wild Cards, you heard what's at stake. We need good ideas and we need them now."
 
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Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario looks over at Sam. "First question: How long will it take to slap a few armor patches on the damaged mecha? It doesn't have to look pretty, just to give us a little extra protection? And do your missiles fit the weapon points on the Veritechs? We may need the firepower. Finally, is there a plan to get my Spartas delivered to the fight? Or am I riding in the back seat again?"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Toph asks, "What kind of personnel carrier is the Colonel in? Is it a ground transport, or a flying one? If it is a flyer, we may have to leave the Spartas behind, but it could be useful in a ground recovery effort. If it is a ground transport, we can disable it by taking out its propulsion system, be it tracks, tires or hover jets. Now, I fully expect that the transport will have some guards in it to keep watch on the prisoners inside. Depending on how motivated they are, if they just happen to be some of Steele's personal guards, we may not have much choice in what we do with them."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Suddenly, she gasped and stood up, all of her humor vanished. In an instant, Shirley was gone replaced entirely by 1st Lieutenant "Mack", squadron leader of the Wild Cards. "Holy Toledo! Muppet! Leanne! Stein is saying General Steele has lost his marbles! He's in the process of throwing Colonel Sharp in the brig, that friend of yours, Hitomi, is missing in action, and Stein and Reggie want to join us on the Broadsword!"
"What?" The first part of Shirley's relayed news stunned Elinor for a moment. What on earth was the general thinking? Well, maybe he isn't. Not the point, right now. She put her jaw back where it belonged and listened to the rest. "We'll have to worry about Hitomi later. I'm assuming the rescue's before the pickup?"

Mack digested all of this information with a long sigh. "Give us a sec, Prof." Mack grimly turned to each of you. "Wild Cards, you heard what's at stake. We need good ideas and we need them now."
Elinor pushed her emotions aside and went into thinking mode. "Recommend letting the ambush go as planned, much as I hate it. That'll be the best chance of a distraction we'll get. Once both sides have weakened each other, we can swoop in. Maybe literally swoop -- buzz the fight and grab the carrier? Once we've reached a safe distance from the fight, we can get the colonel out of it and send the rest on their merry way. Broadsword, I know you've got edible stuff to knock people out." She grinned. "Any chance you've got something airborne that will work just as well? We could toss a couple canisters into the carrier, then bring out the colonel and wake him up afterwards. That should keep friendly casualties to a minimum."

Floating in the back of her mind remained the possibility that they would have to fire on their own people to complete the mission. She accepted that, letting the knowledge sink in. Better to consider and accept now, than to have it come up by surprise and cause possibly fatal hesitation later. Steele was, at least unofficially, now the enemy, as were the people under his command, however ugly that thought was, and it was a sure bet they wouldn't hesitate to fire on the Wild Cards if they appeared to be hostiles. On the other hand, it didn't sound as if Mack, at least, was ready to hear that yet, and anyway, it might never come up, so Elinor stayed quiet about it.

"Or... we can pose as a rescue from the ambush. Once combat's fully engaged, we'll come in hot and tell the escort to hold off the enemy while we get the personnel carrier to safety. Again, once we've got 'em separated, get the colonel into someone's backseat and get back to the Broadsword.." She glanced at Mario. "Having an extra mech would be good, but like Toph says, that'll depend on the transport mode. If it's all aerial, how's about you do all the talking for us instead?"
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario nods. "That will work, ma'am. Its one of my jobs to be the electronic eyes and ears of the squad. We just need to know those details on what to expect, then we can solidify our plans. At a bet, I'd have to say that the transport is some kind of ground based APC, with minimal weapons of its own, and the Ajax are all in helicopter mode to keep an eye in the sky. For what its worth."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
As you spoke, Cera kept silent. She watched all of you with narrowed eyes and wide grin across her face. She looked so much like a cat who had just nabbed a mouse, you could almost imagine the tail between her teeth.

Spacecrew Sam and Samantha were as voiceless as they ever were, but they seemed to be making slight gestures as if they wanted to politely interrupt you but they were too shy to intervene. The mechanized mega-suits possessed such a cordial sense of body language, they would have made a citizen of Japan proud.

Professor Stein's voice calmed a bit as you heard him address you over Mack's smartphone on speaker. "They have Hiram locked up in a tracked vehicle. I believe there is only a driver inside. As for the Ajax escort, those are all General Steele's men, for whatever that is worth."

Mack shifted her posture into more relaxed pose. "It's worth something, professor. Anything else you can--" She turned. "What is it, Sam? Spit it out!" Then she remembered the suits lacked that capability. "Wait. You couldn't if you wanted to. What's up?"

Both of the animated mega-suits turned to you, placing their tablets together to form one large message all you could read quite clearly. "AS IN COMPLIANCE WITH OUR MISSION, WE ARE ATTEMPTING TO KEEP OURSELVES AS HIDDEN AS POSSIBLE. THE BROADSWORD MUST NOT BE DETECTED. IS THE SAME NOT ALSO TRUE FOR THE WILD CARDS?"

"Wha?" Mack straightened.

"IF YOU ENGAGE THE ARMY OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS, ARE YOU NOT PROVIDING THEM AND GENERAL STEELE CONCRETE PROOF OF YOUR CONTINUED EXISTENCE? WHAT THEN FOR YOUR FAMILIES?"

At this, a pall of quiet hung over the room, gloomy and haunting. Mack's face fell in surprise. This was a consideration that had never crossed her mind.

"Ohh, great..." Mack sighed. "Suggestions, people?"

For once, even Professor Stein was at a loss of words.
 

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