Those Left Behind (Anna's Tale)
In mid-2036, three years into the Invid occupation of Earth, the core members of the Blackjacks left their home at New Dundee Base, Western Australia to undertake a high-risk mission that, if successful, would re-establish contact with the United Earth Forces in deep space. This is the story of the people they left behind.
With their numbers reduced due to the absence of the Blackjacks, the resistance forces from New Dundee had to make due. Focusing on strengthening the struggling Shield operation, Anna Tessier had embarked on a reconnaissance mission, taking along Southern Cross veterans Murphy, Cavanaugh and Brenner.
The four cycles cut through the Outback terrain with moderate difficulty. The salvaged Soviet battle bikes performed well enough in most off-road conditions, but the Simpson Desert was a bit more than their designers had in mind. Nevertheless the bikes were doing their job, getting the four riders to their destination relatively quickly. This was not a trade mission but a reconnaissance one, so speed and mobility was preferred over things like comfort and cargo capacity. The trek required roughing it and in the Southern Hemisphere winter the nights could get quite cold, though the temperature usually stayed above freezing.
The purpose of the trip was for intelligence gathering; that put it nominally under the purview of Shield. The "organization", if it could be called even that, had really existed mainly in the imagination of Blackjack member Fox Maje. Even the name was something of a joke, a play on the acronym of an old comic book spy agency. Despite this, Anna had promised should look after it while the Blackjacks were on their mission; and this effort was a part of that. With the bulk of the Blackjacks gone their resistance effort had lost its biggest offensive asset, as there were not enough people remaining who could operate the powerful Veritech Hovertanks to make any real use of them. That left intelligence gathering as the most productive use of their resources, such as they were.
This operation had come about as a result of a rare bit of real intel from the so-called "operatives" in Alice Springs. In reality they were members of the nomad group based out of the town’s ruins that Fox had recruited, more to keep any eye on the trade routes he worked under the guise of "Alexei the Russian" than any real intelligence work. Nevertheless they had learned of another nomadic group, this one based around a cattle station named Kangaroo Crossing just on the other side of the Simpson Desert, in the western edge of Channel Country. It was Anna’s intention to make contact with this group, with the aim of not just establishing relations but of hopefully filling the group’s largest gap in intelligence – namely the situation in the central Queensland territory.
Even with Murphy’s navigation the desert trek took the four of them nearly six days to complete. Luckily for Anna the team she had selected were used to roughing it, though not necessarily in this type of terrain. Murphy had spent years in the Amazon rainforest as part of the Recon Escort Patrol, while Cavanaugh and Brenner had been part of a refugee group the Blackjacks had rescued, a group that had been forced to keep moving through the wilderness of New Zealand’s South Island for years avoiding the Invid patrols. On the sixth day the foursome began to make out signs of human occupation, including small clusters of grazing cattle.
Soon enough they were spotted by some of the cattlemen, six of them on horseback herding some livestock. Keeping their weapons visible but holstered, the four made sure not to approach and instead let the cattlemen make the first move. The cattlemen were armed, but surely realized their rifles would be useless against the Southern Cross body armor the four cycle riders were wearing. When the men still hesitated, Anna decided to take a chance; removing her helmet she then dismounted the battle bike and began approaching them, hands empty and in full view so they could see she had no weapon readied.
Though risky, the move was a calculated one. These men were hardy, nomadic folk used to driving their livestock in the harsh territory. Anna, by contrast, was an attractive woman who looked younger than her 26 years. Even after the six day ride from Alice Springs, and clad in futuristic armor with a laser rifle slung across her shoulder, she could convey an air of innocence and frailty. It was enough to take the edge off the encounter and the men relaxed a little. It was the opening Anna needed and she was the first to speak.
Soon introductions had been made and the four of them joined the cattlemen for dinner at their camp. Anna broke out her secret weapon – some of the Irish whiskey that Blackjack engineer Jack "Brains" Burns had obtained when the team had passed through the Emerald Isle years earlier. He had hidden the remainder of his stock when the Blackjacks left on their mission, but Anna knew it to be too valuable a resource to ignore so made a point of locating it and moving it to her own secure location. She used it sparingly, but this was one of those occasions where it was worth more as an icebreaker than a trading commodity. She would deal with his reaction to the theft of his prize when and if "Brains" and the Blackjacks returned. The whiskey did the trick, and the cattlemen were accommodating enough to agree to bring Anna and the others to meet the heads of the families that herded the livestock in the area.
The next day the four were escorted into the "town" of Kangaroo Crossing. It resembled a Wild West ghost town, but a couple of the buildings were still semi-maintained, and the town well still served as a welcome water supply for travelers. The remnants of a hotel served as passable accommodations, downright luxurious compared to the desert camping the four of them had been used to over the last week. It took another day for the heads of the three tribes to arrive, though tribe was an exaggeration – each was really an extended family of a few dozen members each.
Anna started the meeting off with the usual spiel – they were scouts for a group of traders that were looking for new partners and routes. They could offer markets for the tribes’ cattle, and could also offer their protection. Her companions helped with the negotiations as well, she hadn’t just brought them as muscle after all. Murphy came from a wealth and had seen his share of boardroom tactics before the Robotech Wars took away his family’s fortunes and drive turned them to refugees; and Cavanaugh and Brenner had been part of the Civil Defense Unit, their training including how to deal with the public and defuse tense situations. It took some deft diplomacy and deception, but amidst the negotiations Anna and the others dropped in questions and directed conversations to find out what the tribesmen knew about the area to the east. What they learned was not unexpected, and not good.
According to the tribesmen there were strange plants growing in the regions of central Queensland. This was part of the reason the three tribes had relocated, because the plants were killing the livestock that ate it. And it was not just the plants; something else was taking cattle. At first the tribesmen assumed it was bandits or rustlers, but some of the men soon began saying the cattle was literally disappearing into thin air. The Invid were also appearing more frequently in the area. They usually ignored the tribesmen, but the aliens frightened the cattle. Slowly the tribesmen were forced to move closer to the desert, though they fear that the strange plants will spread this way and they will have to move again, though they do not know where they would find territory for their livestock.
The most valuable piece of information the four received came after the second day of talks with the nomads. Once again the whiskey served its purpose and some of the younger tribesmen present told a story of sneaking away and heading deeper into the region the Invid occupied. In their story they described what could only be a major Invid dome hive, one located in central Queensland. This meant there were at least three Invid hives in Eastern Australia – the major hive in the large Flower of Life fields in New South Wales, the smaller hive near Lake Torrens in the south, source of the Invid that occasionally threaten the Alice Springs nomads’ train convoys, and now this hive in central Queensland. The only good news seemed to be a lack of Invid Slave Farms around the hive, at least from what the tribesmen had observed.
After three days of talks the foursome came away with what they had been after, namely some valuable information, and the added benefit of a potential source of extra food. The tribesmen had agreed in theory to a trade relationship, but it would require a decent route. The four promised to go back and see what they could do, and that they or others would return when they could, provided a viable trade route could be established. The tribesmen helped replenish the foursome’s food and water. The next day, having refueled the battle bikes from the jerry cans they had brought with them Anna and the others began the week-long trek back across the desert to Alice Springs.
After a few days at Alice Springs resting after their trip, and briefing the nomads there about the potential trade opportunities with the cattlemen at Kangaroo Crossing, the foursome hit the road again, this time for the penultimate leg of the return trip to New Dundee Base. It would take them another week on the road before they reached the secret underground settlement of Hope Springs. Especially eager to make the trip were Cavanaugh and Brenner, who both had wives and children at the settlement.
The first hint of trouble came as the four were still roughly a day out from Hope Springs. The radio message came through to Anna and Murphy, on the special frequency set up in the helmet radios of their battle armor. The message was brief, but worrying – that the four returning travelers not head directly to Hope Springs but divert north to the old Tanami Road. On edge from the message, the four did as it said but remained wary. At the road they were joined by Erica and Drew Richards, sisters of Blackjacks mecha ace Geoff "Punchout" Richards.
The girls were succinct; there was trouble at New Dundee Base. They weren’t sure exactly what was going on, but they knew for sure that it was dangerous for Anna and Murphy to return there. Together all six now headed for Hope Springs, with Erica filling in more details as they went. The trouble appears to have started not long after the four had left on their mission. Erica only became aware of the problem a little over two weeks earlier, when a group from New Dundee Base arrived at Hope Springs demanding additional food stores. They gave no reason, and the tone of their demand carried a veiled threat.
Erica immediately tried to contact her sister, Drew, who normally works out of the base, only to learn she had been sent on a scouting mission. Drew thought nothing of the assignment at the time, but in retrospect suspects it might have been done to get her away from New Dundee. Erica then set out to locate Drew and brought her back to Hope Springs. They began to try and figure out what was going on, but realized they did not know who at the base they could trust. Drew, who had spent more time there, took a chance and decided to try and get a message through. By this time the two had expressed their concerns to former Blackjack Ralph Pulaski, aka Lost Boy, who was now the town doctor at Hope Springs, as well as to the town’s spiritual and community leader Father Marcus Xavier.
They decided to proceed carefully, and knew they needed more information. In the end it was decided they would use Nick Pacci, the mechanic who had signed up alongside Drew to work at the base. Patch, as Nick was more commonly referred to, was nervous, but willing to help. As part of a supply run to the base he managed to make contact with one of the base armorers, who like most of the personnel at New Dundee was a survivor from Oceanus Base. The armorer, Andrea Dansker (or just Andy to those close to her) had befriended Anna and Drew and they felt she could be trusted. The gamble paid off and Andy was able to get a message out through Nick, though it was a close call.
The word from inside New Dundee was not good. Apparently something had happened to the on-base food stores. Lieutenant Walker, placed in charge of the base when the Blackjacks left, had ordered strict rationing; and was also the one who had sent the men to Hope Springs for more food. Worse than that, it was becoming apparent that Walker was planning on abandoning the base entirely, with the intent on resettling the personnel in Hope Springs and Alice Springs. There had been a few who did not want to leave, but Walker and a few of the others were making a persuasive argument.
Anna, Murphy and Lost Boy decided they had to act immediately, before things deteriorated any further. Cavanaugh and Brenner would stay in Hope Springs to provide security there if things went badly. Celesta, the Tyrolian Muse, insisted on helping as well; believing they all had a duty to keep things going while the Blackjacks were on their long mission. It was a risk bringing her with them as many of the base personnel might still harbor some resentment, however obliquely, because of Celesta’s connection to the Robotech Masters. In the end Anna felt that Celesta’s powers of persuasion would outweigh the potential risks. Drew would not be left out, nor would Patch (given his lack of common sense whenever Drew was involved). With both Drew and Celesta determined to go to New Dundee, Erica reluctantly joined as well to do what she could to keep the pair of them safe.
As the group approached the base’s hidden entrance all seemed normal. Protocols were exchanged and they were allowed in. Lieutenant Walker made a point to separate Anna and Murphy from the others, but it was not clear if this was part of some plot or just standard protocol. The two had, after all, just returned from a mission and the Lieutenant would naturally want a briefing. It soon became apparent that it was the former. After giving over some pretense to listening to their report, Walker began trying to convince Anna and Murphy to get on side with his plan to shut down the base and relocate the personnel.
As persuasive as Walker could be, Anna and Murphy would have none of it. In the end, Walker resorted to asserting his authority, reminding them that as the only remaining officer he was in command. Murphy, not one known to adhere to military protocol, nor Anna, who was only nominally military, were particularly swayed. They openly defied Walker and the argument spread from the Combat Information Center out into the base proper. Soon a crowd had gathered and both sides worked to plead their case. Walker had the advantage, he had been slowly spreading the idea of leaving for weeks. The battle lines were being drawn, but it was not clear if the base could survive even if Walker’s plan could be stopped.
In the end it was the base medical corpsman, Nate Atkins, who tipped the scales. Amidst the escalating back and forth accusations and arguments he stepped forward with a crucial piece of information – the loss of the base food stores had been an act of sabotage. Calmly stepping forward, he presented his findings. Though he had not been instructed to do so, Atkins had been suspicious of the loss of so much of the base food supply and so began running tests. What he found showed that the stocks had been deliberately contaminated to render them inedible. With the help of the maintenance crew chief, Sgt. Jim Allen, Atkins had traced the source of the contamination to sabotage in the environmental system of the food storage areas.
The shocking revelation of sabotage quickly eroded support for Walker. Celesta helped keep things from escalating to violence, but there was much anger. Anna acted quickly, and based on what Atkins and Allen had uncovered she pinpointed the technician responsible for the sabotage, Corporal Holly Ayers, and the source of the chemical used to cause the damage to one of the garage mechanics, Bill Culhain. It did not take much longer to tie Ayers to one of the CIC technicians, William Nance, who had helped try to cover up the sabotage. Confronted, the three abandoned any pretense of loyalty and confirmed Lieutenant Walker as the head of the conspiracy.
Though he had left the military, Lost Boy reluctantly stepped in as ranking NCO alongside Sgt. Allen, who with Lieutenant Walker in custody was now the highest ranking member of the base personnel. Together, and with some unofficial help from Erica and Celesta, they were able to restore order and discipline to the base, though the looming threat of a food shortage remained at the forefront. As for the conspirators, though there was some discussion of summary execution it was decided that for the sake of morale the four would be stripped of rank and assigned to a strictly supervised work detail at the underground farms of Hope Springs.
Turning back to her efforts with Shield, Anna was presented with a new opportunity as a result of a communication from New Dundee’s allies in northern Queensland, the Madmen. The Madmen began as a group of survivors from the Queensland Base in Cape York, Australia. In the months after the end of the Second Robotech War this group was joined by another two Southern Cross survivors, members of one of the desert patrols that operated in the Outback. The last member to join them was a former enemy, a survivor of the anti-unification group that called itself the New World Order. Under the leadership of Veritech fighter pilot Richard "Reefer" Edwards, the Madmen eked out a living in the wilderness of Cape York. Eventually they met up with the Blackjacks and became part of the larger resistance network operating in Australia. From their base of operations in Cape York, the "Asylum", the Madmen are keep an eye on Invid activity in the northeast and provide a vital communications link with the resistance’s allies on remote Norfolk Island.
As part of the Madmen’s efforts to monitor Invid activity around Cape York and northern Queensland they kept an eye on the town of Cairns. Situated near the ruins of the original city of Cairns, this settlement is a thriving agricultural center, with tropical fruit groves, sugar cane plantations and dairy farming being key exports. As a by-product of the sugar cane industry Cairns is also becoming a major source of ethanol fuel for the continent. Trade convoys originating in Darwin make the long and dangerous trek across the Barkley Tableland to gain access to the riches of Cairns. Normally a place this rich would be ripe for raiders, but Cairns has valuable allies – the Invid. The municipal government collaborates with the Invid forces in Queensland in exchange for security and supplies. A fact-finding mission by the Blackjacks a year earlier had ended in a confrontation with one of the Invid supply drops to the town, and as a result the Invid increased their presence in Cairns.
Since the Blackjacks incident the Madmen have quietly kept an eye on the town, noting the Invid behavior and watching for signs of resistance to the alien presence in the town. Their perseverance has at last paid off, because the Madmen have now made preliminary contact with the beginnings of resistance forming in Cairns. When the Madmen’s report reached Anna, she and Drew set out on the cross-country trek to the east coast to help this fledgling group organize. Using the "Southern Cross Wealth Management" company cover set up by Fox, Anna and Drew joined one of the trade convoys heading east out of Tennant Creek. Using battle bikes (which were becoming familiar vehicles to the merchants and convoy drivers used to "Alexei the Russian" and his people) the pair offered their services as scouts and lookouts and so they were welcomed into the convoy.
The 1600 km-plus merchant runs from Tennant Creek to the trade center at Townsville on the Great Barrier Reef coast could take as little as four days, or sometimes a week or more depending on the size of the convoy, road conditions, weather and bandit activity. This time around it took the convoy six days to make the journey, mainly due to road damage that took time to circumnavigate. At the end of the run the convoy pulled into Townsville, setting up shop in one of the Market Zones.
Before the Second Robotech War and the Fall of the Southern Cross, Townsville had been a tourist center as well as being a manufacturing and processing center, though nowhere near the level it had been before at the end of the Twentieth Century. These days the tourists were long gone, but some of the factories and processing plans still operated, in the hands of men smart enough the run them and with enough muscle to keep out anyone who tried to take it from them. But the settlement’s real claim to fame nowadays was its location at the eastern terminus of the only remaining viable cross-country trade route in Australia. While the inner sanctum of the town was now a hodgepodge of fortified residences, the outer tracts were home to the Market Zones.
The Market Zones were giant open-air trade centers. Merchant convoys would converge on these areas to set up shop and the free market reigned supreme. Each Market Zone was controlled by one of (or occasionally and alliance of) the gangs that controlled Townsville. Merchants could barter with each other to their hearts’ content, while the gangs provided security. The setup worked well because the gangs never tried to take a cut from the trade caravans that were passing through; instead they made their money by having total control over the amenities in their Market Zone – accommodations, food stalls, drugs, prostitution, and whatever else they could provide to the members of a merchant convoy.
It was at Townsville that Anna and Drew parted company with the convoy they’d accompanied from Tennant Creek. For the caravan, Townsville was the last stop; convoys never continued on to Cairns, instead they would trade with local merchants who had access to the goods from Cairns. It did not do a trader well to try and bypass these middlemen and attempt to deal with Cairns directly; this type of action could earn the merchant a permanent ban from the region (and this was important enough to be honored by all the gangs), or worse the merchant might attract the wrong kind of attention from Cairns’ "protectors".
Splitting from their traveling companions the pair headed north, having spread the story that they were hoping to find work in the sugar cane field or plantations. Despite some friendly, and occasionally not-so-friendly, warnings that their efforts were pointless, the two headed off. Once they were well and clear of Townsville, however, the duo signaled the Asylum on a secure radio channel and a day later had rendezvoused with the Madmen several dozen kilometers west of Cairns. Stan Cook, one of the ex-Desert Squad troopers, had established an identity for himself as a scavenger who would periodically wander into Cairns to trade salvage he had recovered (in reality the salvage had been gathered and hoarded by the Madmen from the ruins of Queensland Base). It was decided that Stan would bring Erica and Drew into town in his truck and introduce them as hitchhikers he had picked up on a run back from Townsville. The girls would talk of their journey across the continent, seeding enough details that it would jibe with anyone who tried to cross-check the story with the traders in Townsville.
For Anna, the town of Cairns resembled a little too closely the cities of her youth, where the veneer of peace and prosperity stood in contrast to the authoritarian presence of an occupying force, though in this case in place of Soviet troops the streets were patrolled by Invid soldiers aided by willing townsfolk who had a bit too strong an air of fanaticism and power lust for Anna’s liking. This mirroring of the Soviet occupation of Germany only hardened Anna’s resolve to help the burgeoning freedom fighter movement here to organize itself into a viable resistance force.
Anna and Drew were able to get work in one of the fruit orchards outside Cairns and after a few days made contact with the putative leaders of the nascent rebellion in the town. Sneaking out after curfew the two suck into town and, in the basement of one of the shops, met Mark Corey and his girlfriend Evelyn (Evie) Paige. The pair told Anna and Drew about how they and many of their friends had been listening to the "Radio Blackjack" broadcasts (started by 21st member Gerald "DJ" McManus before the squad had left Earth and maintained now by Shield as a means to spread Freedom Fighter propaganda and pass coded messages around Australia). The town authorities had forbidden anyone from following the broadcasts, which naturally led the town’s youth to only want to listen even more.
For the next two weeks Anna and Drew taught basic guerrilla tactics to Mark, Evie and their friends – how to set up cells and simple cryptography and techniques to pass hidden messages. Anna emphasized that they needed to be patient; that revolutions didn’t happen overnight. Her initial aims were to get the kids to collect intelligence on the Invid occupying the town. In the meantime Shield would work with the Madmen to get some weapons smuggled in and train the new freedom fighters how to use them. Though she ideally wanted to spend more time setting up the cells in Cairns, Anna knew she and Drew had to get back to New Dundee Base – there was still much that needed doing and Shield had few personnel with which to do it. The limited training with further education to come from the Madmen would have to do for now.
The food situation took another bad turn at the end of 2036. The spring planting had not gone well at Hope Springs and the town, and consequently New Dundee Base as well, was facing a famine-level crisis. Maintaining the crops in Hope Springs had never been the easiest thing in the first place. Yes the rain and runoff catch-basins and underground reservoirs meant they had water, and the "suncatchers" (fiber-optic cables that fed sunlight from the surface down into the tunnels of the community) provided light, but the rock of the abandoned mineshaft they lived in was not the best place to plant. Efforts to bring in enough topsoil were only partially successful, and getting the nutrients right for the planting to work was still hit-and-miss.
What was worse, Lt. Walker and the other conspirators from the failed coup at New Dundee, sentenced to hard labor in Hope Springs, took advantage of the increased tensions to convince some of the townspeople into rebelling against the current leadership. In early December, with nearly two dozen accomplices backing them, Walker and the other three overpowered their guards and with weapons in hand proceeded to seize control of Hope Springs.
The community had been deliberately designed to be easily defended, and even if not a full assault from the limited forces of New Dundee and Shield was not a viable option. In the end it was once again Father Xavier and Erica Richards, with help again from Celesta, who defused the situation. Many of the people who had fallen under the sway of Walker’s rhetoric now had to face the reality of what they had done and what the consequences of further action would be. With his support wavering Walker and his original three co-conspirators changed tactics and tried to steal some vehicles and escape. Nance was killed in the attempt by Cavanaugh, but Walker, Ayers and Culhain made it to the surface in one of the townspeople’s trucks.
Anna, Murphy and Drew set off in pursuit of the escapees, who had no real hope of outrunning them. Murphy, astride a Hovercycle, caught up with ease and forced the truck off-road; Anna and Drew arriving on a pair of battle bikes moments later. Outgunned and in the middle of the Outback the three fugitives tried to surrender, but Anna would have none of it. There was not enough food for the town and base as it was, let alone any to feed prisoners; and these were prisoners who had already tried twice to stage a coup. They could not be kept, and because they knew too much about New Dundee and Shield the three could be let free. Against Drew’s protests, but with tacit support from Murphy, Anna shot all three.
When they returned to base with the bodies, Anna defended her actions to a furious Lost Boy. In the end he had no choice but to agree with what she had done, but it only increased his reluctance to continue in his role as base commander. By year’s end Lost Boy had all but abandoned his command duties and instead focused on helping shore up the dwindling medical supplies with whatever he could scrounge and make from natural ingredients. Day-to-day operations at the base were now being managed by the next senior NCOs, Allen and Murphy, with Anna keeping a close eye on things.
Early into the New Year, an emergency situation arose that demanded immediate action. In early February New Dundee received a message from the Madmen via the fixed communications link – the freedom fighter cell in Cairns had revealed itself and attacked the Invid security forces in the town. The Madmen were preparing to assist, but an Invid response team was sure to be dispatched at some point.
Furious that the young members of the resistance cell she had trained mere months earlier had not followed her instructions to be patient, Anna was sorely tempted to leave them to their fate. In the end, though, she acknowledged that they could do nothing so with reluctance she, Murphy and Lost Boy set out with three of the remaining Veritech hovertanks, the only combat vehicles that could make the cross-country trek fast enough to arrive in time to do anything, and those three were the only ones trained to operate them (though Murphy did not know how to use the battloid mode, so he took one of the VHT-0EX mecha as they had the most offensive capability while in tank mode).
Even with the all-terrain high speed capability of the hovertanks it would be a nearly three-day trip. The one advantage was that they could out-run, and if need be out-gun, pretty much anything they stumbled across on their journey. As they approached northern Queensland and were within radio range of the Madmen the three were apprised of the situation. With the help of the Madmen, the resistance cell members were able to take down the Invid soldiers stationed in Cairns. The town council had been taken into custody but there had as yet been no reaction from the Invid. As best as the Madmen could figure the town was far enough from any of the hives that the soldiers did not have a direct communication link and so waited for the weekly scout patrols to check in, but it was still only a matter of time before an attack would come.
Sure enough while less than an hour away the three hovertank pilots received a frantic distress call from the Madmen. The Invid had arrived as expected, and were taking no prisoners. The town had already fallen and the Madmen were helping a handful of people retreat back to their base in the forests of Cape York. The hovertanks shifted course and made for the Asylum, the cave base used by the Madmen to help cover the retreat there if need be.
Taking advantage of the limited range of Invid sensing capability the tanks were able to use their radar to keep watch on the position of enemy aerial forces and avoid contact until they were under cover of the forest. From there the tanks were able to rendezvous with the Madmen and the dozen survivors who they had evacuated from the outskirts of Cairns as the Invid assault began. The plan was to hide out at the Asylum and await the arrival of the Hammerhead submersible that could transport the survivors to the safety of Norfolk Island.
While the location of the Asylum made it relatively safe, it also made it difficult to know when an enemy was near so the tanks began patrolling the perimeter. To everyone’s shock the hovertank sensors soon began registering active radar pulses. At first they assumed it was a human group, maybe raiders or collaborators with military equipment, but Anna remembered that when the Blackjacks had been near the main Invid center near the Great Lakes (now code named Reflex Point) their tanks had detected similar radar pulses.
Soon their own radar systems were detecting inbound Invid mecha, from two directions. Apparently forces from both the Queensland Hive to the south and the New Guinea Hive to the north were converging on their position. Needing to know just what they were facing, Anna told the leader of the Madmen, former Lt. Richard "Reefer" Edwards, to take one of their Avenger fighter aircraft up for a reconnaissance. What Reefer detected was not good – two dozen Invid were approaching their position from both directions, nearly fifty enemy mecha in total, and they were bearing down not just towards the tanks but apparently on a bee line for the Madmen base. It was Vicki Perreaux, one of the Madmen, who realized that whatever the Invid were using for their seemingly newfound e-warfare capability had probably detected the radio transmissions between the tanks and the base and had triangulated the location of the Asylum.
The Madmen wouldn’t stand a chance so Anna made the call – abandon the Asylum. Reefer and the other pilot, call sign Zorro, would take the two Avenger fighters, with Vicki and fellow Madman Sharon Knight in the backseats of the planes and make a run for Norfolk Island. The other Madmen and the refugees from Cairns would head to the coast to meet the submarine while the three hovertanks did their best to cover the retreat.
In a stroke of luck the Invid hit the Asylum first; reaching it some twenty minutes after the base had been evacuated. The Invid then split up into search parties hunting for the enemy they knew to be present nearby. With the sheer number of Invid nearby it was only a matter of when the tanks would be detected, not if. With the increased sensor capability Invid, the luck of the three tank pilots eventually ran out. In the ensuing battle both Lost Boy and Anna lost their tanks. They ejected in time and took to the emergency battle bikes to retreat to the submarine rendezvous point, the one consolation being that Anna got a good look at one of the new Invid e-warfare mecha before her tank was destroyed. Switching tactics, Murphy went fully defensive and led the Invid pursuers on a high-speed pursuit through the forests. With the trees providing top cover the Invid were forced to operate far closer to the ground than they normally would while still flying, but at the speeds Murphy was running his hovertank at they had no choice and many met their end in a crash before Murphy shook them off. Taking advantage of a momentary break in pursuit, Murphy used the tank’s submersible capability to escape the tightening noose of Invid closing in.
The hovertank pilots’ actions had the desired effect and the retreating Madmen and refugees, along with Anna and Lost Boy, were able to rendezvous with the Hammerhead sub. Scrambling aboard they left mainland Australia behind, and with Murphy following suit fell back to the safety of Norfolk Island out in the Pacific. They had survived, but the Invid now controlled the whole of the eastern coast of the Australian mainland. Not only that, but with the destruction of the Asylum, Norfolk Island had lost its connection to the fixed communications link to New Dundee Base. They had to rely on short coded radio messages to even let the base know they had escaped.
After staying on Norfolk Island for another week to get the newcomers settled in Anna, Lost Boy and Murphy decided it was time to head back to Australia. With the Protoculture reactor of the surviving VHT-0EX tank running low they decided against bringing it back. Instead the tank was wired into the island’s power supply and it would become a static anti-aircraft defense platform for the island airport.
Taking the battle bike from the mech, along with the two bikes Anna and Lost Boy had escaped from their destroyed tanks with, the three boarded the Hammerhead sub and made the trip back to the mainland. It was a longer trip home, they only had the motorcycles and had to travel a more circuitous route, but by March the trio was safely back at New Dundee Base.
The already bad food situation took a turn for the worse as the southern hemisphere fall arrived. Just as the harvest time came around, the entire continent was struck by a drought that wiped out large amounts of crops, threatening the food supply of much of Australia. Settlements that were reliant on trade with agricultural centers for their food were at risk of famine, and many took to raiding neighboring settlements for food.
Hope Springs and New Dundee were impacted like many other areas, but had the advantage of having already begun measures to mitigate the problem. Through intense negotiations, Anna had convinced the railway nomads of Alice Springs to increase their trade runs to southwestern Australia, where the Blackjacks had previously set up a remote Shield station and where there were isolated farm communities. Anna was hoping to leverage some of the goodwill from the Blackjacks’ visit to secure a steady enough supply of food to sustain Hope Springs and the base through their current crisis.
The near Australia-wide famine was making this effort even more difficult, as raiders took more and more risks as they became desperate for food. The increased train runs were now targets for Outback gangs, local militias and violent native tribes. Anna was forced to dedicate extra military personnel and arms to guard the train convoys, which came under frequent attack.
As winter came settling in the danger of famine had not abated, and a new threat began to emerge. Hope Springs, New Dundee Base and Alice Springs were now almost completely dependent on the food coming in from southwest Australia via the nomad train convoys. Throughout May the amount of food coming through dwindled, a result of fewer farmers making the trek to the trade post at Crossroads (the western terminus of the rail line used by the convoys).
Fearful of what might be causing the drop in trade, Anna assembled a team to investigate. Being short on combat personnel Anna had to recruit people from the New Dundee Base support staff, so in addition to her usual cohorts of Murphy and Drew she selected one of the base armorers, Andrea "Andy" Dansker, and one of the CIC ops personnel, Chuck Frankel, as unit support. Drew’s presence on the mission also led Patch to volunteer to come along, which Anna reluctantly agreed to out of desperation.
Taking a set of battle bikes and equipping themselves as best as they could the group hitched a ride on the next train convoy to Crossroads, where they disembarked and headed west towards the Perth ruins. Adopting their cover as refugees looking for work on farms, Anna and Drew soon uncovered the reason for the reduction in trade – there was another player in the region. People the pair met were reluctant to say much, but the two young women were adept at appearing harmless and naïve and could generally coax out information, and what they found out was not good.
From what Anna and Drew were able to learn, earlier than year, maybe as early as March or even February, a new group had appeared out of the west. This group was well armed, and led by a man referred to simply as the Grey Duke. No one knew where the Duke and his men had come from, but they had set themselves up just outside the Perth contamination zone and had been slowly bringing the region under their control.
A quick and risky scouting mission by Murphy to the Duke’s power center revealed that he had at least three or four dozen men under his command, most of whom were very well equipped. In addition to infantry weaponry, the Duke’s forces also had several vehicles, including several Dark Knight and Tornado class tanks and what appeared to be a TASC AGAC Veritech Helicopter. It all added up to a serious military threat, one Anna was unsure of how to deal with.
The answer to the problem came as a surprise, when Chuck began receiving encrypted messages that were tagged with the recognition codes from Nova Satori’s resistance network. Someone on the inside of the Duke’s forces was part of Nova’s Network and was trying to get word to them! It took several days to establish communications protocols, as the mystery source was being exceptionally careful, bordering on paranoid. Eventually a clandestine meeting was arranged and the contact, his identity remaining concealed in patchwork battle armor, handed Anna the magic bullet – a detailed dossier on the Grey Duke and his forces.
According to the dossier, the Duke had been an officer stationed at the RDF base in Mexico City. After the fall of the United Earth Government at the end of the Second Robotech War, the man who would become the Duke led a group of surviving RDF and Southern Cross soldiers over to Cuba, where they set up shop as feudal rulers over the island. When the Invid arrived, the Duke’s forces were joined by several survivors from the military of the Confederate States who fled to the island when the aliens invaded the Gulf Coast area of North America.
Soon the Invid based in the Florida peninsula became too much of a threat to Cuba, so the Duke and his men sought a means to escape. They lucked out and were able to convert a salvaged luxury liner called the Xanadu into a viable transport vessel. Sailing off on the Xanadu, the group spent nearly two years as mercenaries and pirates operating in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. They recruited more ex-Southern Cross soldiers in Venezuela Quadrant as well as some former EBSIS military who had escaped the Invid destruction of the Merchant Republic. It was during this period that the officer adopted the Grey Duke name.
When the Invid again became a danger the Duke and the crew of the Xanadu crossed the Atlantic to Africa, eventually becoming mercenaries for the neo-corporate factions of Greater Zimbabwe. They spent another year or so operating in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean between Somalia and the Indian sub-continent before again looking for greener pastures. Based on intelligence and rumors the Duke settled on Australia and the Xanadu set sail across the Indian Ocean, making landfall in one of the intact harbor areas south of the Perth ruins where the Duke’s forces disembarked and set up shop in their current location.
In addition to the history lesson, the dossier contained a breakdown of the command structure, including personality profiles of senior people. After carefully reviewing the dossier and consulting with Murphy and the mystery contact, Anna came up with a bold plan with which she hoped to deal with the Duke and his men with minimum bloodshed.
The first stage of the plan was propaganda. Chuck, with the help of the mystery contact (who Anna began referring to as the Professor based on his apparent range of knowledge), set up repeater stations to get Radio Blackjack broadcasts in range of the Duke’s forces. As a second step, Drew was inserted undercover into one of the farm communities near the Duke’s base and she began making friends with some of the soldiers, taking advantage of this to spread the "good word" amongst the troops. Though he was scant on details, the Professor apparently used his position within the Duke’s forces to spread some of the Blackjack freedom fighter propaganda as well.
In short order the propaganda effort paid off as cracks began to show in the Duke’s forces as it became evident which of the men had given themselves over to the mercenary warlord lifestyle and which still held to some degree to the old military code of honor. While this was happening, Anna had Lost Boy bring two of the remaining hovertanks down to Crossroads (by train to conserve the dwindling reactor capacity of the tanks).
Unused to dissension in his ranks, the Grey Duke was initially slow to realize what was happening amongst his men. When he did take notice, the Duke began trying to restore discipline but did so in such a way (possibly prodded by the "Professor") that it only aggravated the situation. It was at this point that Anna enacted the final stage of her plan. From a safe distance away, Anna pulled the trigger on one of the XRG-1 railguns and put a high velocity armor piercing flechette straight through the Grey Duke’s helmet. In the immediate aftermath, Murphy likewise eliminated several other key personnel with sniper shots from his LR-20 laser rifle.
Using the commotion as a distraction, Anna and Lost Boy then brought the two hovertanks down into the Duke’s compound. Transforming the tank to battloid mode, Anna used the mecha’s loudspeaker to deliver a stirring motivational recruitment speech to the Duke’s men. With the foundation already laid by the propaganda effort, and a spirit of revolt nurtured by the Duke’s recent actions the final coup was a success as more than two thirds of the Duke’s men happily signed on as part of Shield.
Anna moved swiftly to solidify the new Shield organization structure. Thanks to the "Professor", she knew which men could be trusted most and put them into command positions. Those who remained a threat were disarmed, and were later given transport back to Alice Springs and then on to Tennant Creek, where they were left to their own devices. It was a risk, but Anna accepted it knowing the stories these men would tell would spread the reputation of Shield across Australia.
Shield now had a core of loyal, trained military personnel, not to mention weapons and vehicles, including the AGAC (which it turns out could no longer transform out of helicopter mode) and the Xanadu naval vessel. One of the new recruits also gave Anna the code name she would use as the head of the organization – Valkyrie (named for the mythological Shield Maidens of Odin in Norse and Germanic legend). As for the mysterious "Professor", he actually declined to become part of Shield, claiming to be a solo operative. He claimed to have only hitched a ride with the Duke, providing advice and information in exchange for transport; a claim backed up by several of the Duke’s men. The "Professor" did indicate that he would not be far away, as he had business to take care of in the area.
The consequences of the fall drought hit home later that year as food shortages in Darwin reached critical levels. The city had been dependent on the farmlands of the "Top End" region to the south, mostly controlled by the Territorial Army faction. Naturally, the Territorial Army made a point of keeping food for itself before trading it with the other factions in the city. When the shortage reached famine levels the shaky alliance between the Five Families collapsed into open warfare.
The battles were not confined to the city of Darwin. As many factions controlled territory surrounding Darwin, the inter-faction conflict was fought across the region. At its peak the conflict threatened to spread as far south as Tennant Creek, threatening the cross-country trade routes, and even worse began encroaching on the western territories near the hidden New Dundee Base and Hope Springs settlement, risking discovery.
Anna quickly put her newfound Shield troops to work protecting the trade routes around Tennant Creek, and more quietly helping contain the edge of the fighting from drifting too close to New Dundee and Hope Springs. Anna also used the chaos of the conflict to build up the "Southern Cross Wealth Management" front, helping move merchandise through the war zone and making useful contacts within the besieged city.
As intense as it was, the fighting did not last long. By the end of October a new status quo had emerged. Of the original Five Families there remained three factions. The Golden Dragon Triad had not only survived the fighting but also managed to expand its territory within the city. The Ramos Family had been the first to fall and its remnants were absorbed by The Pride, which was brought under tighter control of that criminal organization’s leadership back in Manila. Finally the Territorial Army merged with the NWO remnant to become the preeminent military force, though at a net loss to the total territory of its constituent predecessor factions. With this new Triple Coalition in place the conflict was over and Darwin resumed its position as the gateway to the rest of Oceania and Indochina.
The stabilization of the situation in Darwin spelled bad news for the nascent Shield organization. Shield’s activities had not gone unnoticed, and it became a target. The new NWO/TA Alliance made up for its loss of territory in the conflict with an increase in aggressive moves, and a lot more cunning. The Alliance began actively working against Shield operations along the north-south and east-west trade corridors. Supply depots were sabotaged and convoys attacked, forcing Shield to adopt a more defensive posture to protect its hard-won resources.
Over time, the Alliance’s intelligence began to suspect where Shield was operating out of, but rather than risk its own resources the Alliance instead tipped off Invid sympathizers within Darwin. The sympathizers in turn told their Invid allies and throughout December and into January the forces at New Dundee Base had to deal with frequent Invid scouting missions in the Kimberley region surrounding the base and the Hope Springs settlement. Traffic in and out of the base as well as to and from Hope Springs was severely curtailed, and a lot of effort and resources were put into setting up base defenses.
Two of the remaining Veritech hovertanks, all of which were useless as mecha with their Protoculture power reactors now dead, were converted into fixed weapons emplacements, concealed on the surface. One was the remaining VHT-0EX, which was tied into the base power supply to fuel its dual energy cannons, while the other conscripted tank was the sole VHT-1 still sporting the 105mm artillery cannon. With its lack of energy weapons, and no longer capable of mobility, the VHT-1 was able to be powered by a diesel generator, meaning it could be stationed further out with no need for a physical link back to the base.
While those few months were tense, the base and Hope Springs ultimately went undetected and the Invid eventually lost interest and diverted the patrols elsewhere. By February traffic from the base and Hope Springs resumed more regular levels, but now with extra security and vigilance as the Alliance was still out there hoping to find the location of Shield headquarters.
Shield staged its most daring operation to date when a plane crash threatened to expose crucial information on Nova Satori’s global anti-Invid resistance initiative. The word had come through the Resistance network that an important package was inbound via courier. The courier would be using one of the few routes available, catching a ride with the elderly pilot simply known as "Pops" who flew smuggling runs from Japan down through the Philippines and Southeast Asia in a 90-year-old turboprop DC-6 converted for cargo.
With the loss of the Asylum, the usual landing site for "Pops" in Cape York was no longer an option. That meant the plane had to take a longer route, and a more dangerous one, in order to land closer to Shield-controlled territory. Unfortunately despite Pops’ best efforts the plane was detected by someone, maybe one of the Darwin factions, maybe one of the pirates or mercenary units operating in the South Pacific. In any case the plane was brought down by anti-aircraft fire. The courier managed to bail out, and sent a distress call out on Resistance frequencies.
The operators in the CIC at New Dundee quickly traced the courier’s touchdown point to somewhere in Arnhem Land, the territory east of Darwin. It would be foolish to assume that one or more of the factions in Darwin had not detected the plane, or intercepted the distress call. It was now a race to reach the courier before he and the information he carried could be captured by enemy forces.
Anna quickly assembled a small Shield team, made up of three men from the Duke’s former forces as well as Drew, Murphy and, surprisingly, Erica, who was convinced of the importance of the mission and offered her services as a wilderness scout. Time was of the essence so speed had to trump secrecy. The battle bikes were to be used for transportation, and the group did their best in a short time to disguise their identities, but they knew if they encountered any major resistance they would have to fight hard or flee fast, there would be no time to finesse their way out of a situation.
The roads would take them straight into Alliance-held territory near the farming settlement at Katherine, but they had no choice. The group rode hard and fast before cutting into the wilderness of Arnhem Land. The courier had survived, and was making periodic radio contact, but these communiques were kept short. Even so Anna had to assume that the transmissions had been detected and that enemy forces were also hunting for the courier.
To make matters worse, it was still in the monsoon season and the group frequently found themselves in the middle of a torrential rainstorm, or found the roads and trails washed out by flood. In the end it was luck more than skill that led the Shield team to the courier. By fortunate chance he had been rescued from a near-fatal crocodile attack by native tribesmen. The natives, the Yolngu people, had no love of the Darwin factions that frequently plundered the regions resources and so kept the courier hidden. When Yolngu scouts found the Shield party, Erica and Drew were able to convince the natives that they were friends of the courier and enemies of Darwin. The Yolngu took the group to where they were hiding the courier, and then helped escort them safely out of Arnhem Land.
When the group got the courier safely back to New Dundee Base they were able to take stock of the package he had nearly died delivering. Inside was a trove of updated intelligence information on the status of resistance cells across North and South America and even some across the Atlantic. The package also included updated communication protocols, recognition codes, and most importantly word had come down from the Mars Bases via the ALuCE-1 moon base that contact had been re-established with the Expeditionary Forces. To Anna, Drew, Erica, Lost Boy and Murphy that meant only one thing – the Blackjacks were alive and had succeeded in their mission.
For a second year, crop yields from Hope Springs were far lower than needed to sustain the town and New Dundee, this time due in part to disease destroying a substantial portion of the yield. Shield efforts once again focused on protecting the shrinking supply convoys that could provide sustenance. Efforts were hampered by Alliance efforts to intercept the convoys and take the food supplies, efforts that were succeeding with an alarming frequency.
It soon became apparent that the Alliance was getting intelligence from someone with knowledge of Shield operations. Suspicion at first fell on the personnel that had come over from the Duke’s forces, but a counter-intelligence scheme devised by the Professor uncovered the real source of the leak – another of the former Oceanus crew. One of the CIC operators, Rosenstein, it turned out had been co-opted during the cat-and-mouse hunt for the resistance courier earlier that year. Under interrogation, Rosenstein revealed he had established contact with Alliance intelligence resources and had begun feeding them small amounts of intelligence, to prove his value. His plan was to entice the Alliance into bringing him in. When the arrangements were in place he would sneak out of the base with a haul of information and use that to buy his way into luxury in Darwin.
Anna was able to convince Rosenstein to act as a double agent and she set in motion a plan to use him to plant false information with the Alliance. The operation ended in failure when Rosenstein attempted a double-double-cross during an arranged meeting with Alliance operative in Tennant Creek and he was killed by a sniper shot from Murphy.
None of this helped the food situation, so Lost Boy and Anna made the call to put all of Shield’s and the base’s efforts into bolstering the food reserves. Among the initiatives they began was the conversion of one of the unused portions of the base, the mecha-scale connecting corridor to the Fort Gibson ruins that had originally been set aside as space for a base science lab, into hydroponics spaces. Shield undercover operatives divided their efforts between obtaining food stocks and bringing in gardening and farming supplies like topsoil, fertilizer and anything else that would help make the farming and growing efforts at the base and Hope Springs more successful.
In the meantime, the more public face of Shield spread its reputation further. With the blight that had afflicted Hope Springs having also affected the farms used by Darwin the number of raids by forces from Darwin as well as from Outback gangs on food convoys and independent farming settlements increased. By stepping in to help fend off these attacks, Shield earned the gratitude of many of the small Outback communities in central Australia. The largest of these engagements came when a group of raiders from the central desert assaulted Alice Springs in an effort to rob one of the rail convoys from the south. Shield forces fought off the raiders, further cementing the alliance between the rail nomads of Alice Springs and the organization.
With the food situation alleviated, the efforts to increase local production in Hope Springs and at the base having been overwhelmingly successful, Shield could turn its efforts back to the intelligence gathering aspect of the organization. While there had been famine and conflict in the north and west of Australia, in the east the Invid had been solidifying their grip. Word reached Shield that the Invid influence on the local population had reached alarming levels. There were now reports emerging of the formation of cults that worshipped the Invid as superior beings and the ultimate salvation of humanity and the planet, and incidents of pro-Invid sentiment were spreading out from the strongholds in the east.
The spread of Invid influence had now begun to encroach on Shield protected territory. With Shield operations to the east now becoming riskier, Anna decided that they had to seek out new allies and open up alternate trade routes. To that end she began leveraging some of the contacts made in Darwin during the inter-faction conflict to get a clearer idea of who the major players were in the Southeast Asia region. Bolstered by some of the intelligence provided earlier that year by Nova’s courier, and supplemented by additional information the Professor was able to provide, Anna was able to identify a potential ally.
The person in question was a smuggler, or more accurately a smuggler king. Tyson Stiles, more commonly known as the Bone Man, controlled a smuggling network that operated around the islands and seas of Indonesia, a network that he kept operating in a region dominated by the powerful crime families of Manila and the Triads. From a secure stronghold on the Indonesian island of Celebes, on the Gulf of Boni, the Bone Man oversees his empire. By every indication the Bone Man was an independent operator, and held no allegiance to any of the major players, nor to the Invid. That made him an enticing potential ally.
Unwilling to risk resources, Anna elected to make contact and enter negotiations with the Bone Man herself. A persuasive Drew convinced Anna to let her come along, and proposed the plan to use their newly acquired AGAC helicopter to make the journey to the Bone Man’s headquarters (pointing out that she was able to fly the helicopter). Anna reluctantly agreed and in late August she was able through intermediaries to make contact with Stiles and arrange a meeting.
In early September she and Drew took off in the helicopter, flying a low altitude circuitous flight path to avoid detection from enemy forces in Darwin and the Invid. Reaching the island, Drew was guided in to the Bone Man’s stronghold. It took another few days of talks to convince the Bone Man’s people that the two young women were not a threat to him, and that they had much to offer. Finally Anna was able to meet with Stiles face-to-face and the real negotiations began.
It took more than a week of intense off-and-on talks but in the end Anna was able to convince Stiles to ally himself with Shield. He did not offer to help in any open battles, but he was willing to provide his smuggling network for transportation of goods and people in the region. Additionally, Stiles would make some of his own intelligence network open to Shield, providing a valuable additional source of information.
One of the first pieces of intelligence Anna was able to obtain was the word of an attempted liberation assault by Expeditionary Forces from space in mid-September, and of its apparent total failure. Anna and Drew were still at the Bone Man’s stronghold when a communication from the Blackjacks came through the Shield communication network, describing their survival and their current situation. With the Bone Man’s help Anna established more direct communications with the crashed Guadalcanal and she and Drew took off in the helicopter to make the trip across the South China Sea, where they would finally be reunited with the Blackjacks after two and half years.
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