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Pod 9, Part 2: Roughriders [PLOT]

Posted on Tue Oct 16th, 2018 @ 9:31am by 1st Lieutenant Jack Cunningham Jr & Master Sergeant Robert Schiano & Private Mark Collins

Mission: Mission 4: Riding A Pale Horse
Location: Planet ZP0442
Timeline: 11 July, 2394 -0700 Hours


It had taken Jack a while to get used to the horse. It had taken even longer for the horse to get used to him. He had some experience with them back on Earth but riding a tame horse around his uncle's ranch was nothing like riding one of these semi-wild horses. They'd used some emergency rope in the escape pod to craft a harness, eventually getting it right with the First Sergeant's efforts, and then packed up their gear. Jack had thought it prudent to get away from their landing site in case an enemy had observed their decent.

The horse had almost pulled them in one direction and, lacking any reason not to, they'd followed. An hour from the landing site they'd come across a low slung, wooden structure with two paddocks behind it. Inside the house, Collins had located two corpses, a few days old. Maybe it had been illness. Behind the house they'd found three more horses, thirsty from the lack of water but otherwise in good shape. In a small shed nearby, they'd located saddles and tack. Jack thought Schiano was in heaven. Or close enough.

They'd moved on from the dead ranch, risking taking a handful of shirts hanging on a line outside. The corpses had been human, that much was evident and Jack still hand't figured out how that was possible.

They were riding at casual pace, Jack and Schiano side by side, Collins behind them leading the pack horse. Jack could tell the young sniper was struggling with riding a horse but he was a Marine and would get through it. The land around them was becoming more arid and less green.

"You know, we have no idea where we are going," Jack said. "We could be riding away from everyone."

Robert enjoyed the ride since they obtained the horses. He wore an ear to ear smile that not even a phaser could wipe from his face. The two beings, Robert and the horse, bonded almost immediately. Schiano might be gruff but he has always had an affinity for horses and got along with them. He even understood them, their mannerisms and the like.

Since the dead ranch Robert was contended just riding in silence as he enjoyed being out in nature. It was the Lieutenant's statement that snapped him from his revelry. "Youze too right about dat sir. Wit no maps or overlays of the terrain we are up da creek." After a moments pause Robert snapped his fingers as he remembered something. "Hey, Collins you feel like taking a look around da ground. See if you can pick up any tracks dat we may be able to follow." Schiano recalled that part of sniper training was tracking, a sniper had to be able to find his target.

Collins was so happy to get off his horse. He slid down the side, getting caught up in the stirrup and upsetting the horse, which sidestepped away from him. Collins cursed. He wouldn't admit it to the other two Marines but so far he felt about as useful as the horse. Less useful if he was honest with himself. He straightened himself up and adjusted his rifle, which was still slung over his back.

"Glad to check things out, First Sergeant," Collins said, his face red under the gazes of his superiors. It felt good to be doing something he was actually proficient at. The sniper slid forward of the horses and knelt down to the ground. He wasn't the best tracker but the ground here was perfect for tracking. He walked forward, noting the grasses and brush they were travelling through. It was pretty harmless to them and the horses. Collins went on for fifteen minutes before pausing. The other Marines had kept a distance with the horses and they too stopped.

"What is it, Private?" Jack asked as Collins knelt down.

"Sir, it looks like more horses. Maybe ten? And they were here not too long ago. I'd guess an hour or maybe two," Collins said. He pulled his weapon off his back and flipped open his sight. It was a high powered scope and he'd acted on reflex but to his amazement, the weapon powered up.

"Sir! My weapon is working!" Collins yelled.

Schiano cocked an eyebrow and reached into the side pocket of his pack. He drew the tricorder that was there and sure enough it was powered up. "Sir, the tricorder is working as well. I am getting an entire layout of the area now. I am also getting what can only be signs of other pods. Reading tritanium, and duranium alloys."

"Things are looking up," Jack said. "First Sergeant, lets pick the closest escape pod and head in that direction. The sooner we can group up the better. But these other horses are concerning. Any sign of them?" Jack stood up in his stirrups, looking for any landmarks that might be revealing. "It looks like those hills over there would be a good place to hide."

"Agreed!" Schiano said as he looked over the map that was now on the tricorder. "If these readings are correct the nearest pod is about a days ride into those trees. A ride like that presents a few problems, both the horses and ourselves are going to need food and water to make that trip."

A day was likely to turn into more than a day with the way Collins rode his horse. Jack noted that the sniper was still standing beside his mount, rubbing his legs. "Well if there are trees, there has to be water as well. We will just have to take it easy and see what we can find," Jack said. "Mount up, Collins. We're moving out."

Collins sighed. This was not the kind of escape pod adventure he'd envisioned.

They'd made their way into the woods and eventually, due to a thick swath of trees and brush, had been forced to dismount. Jack pretended not to notice Collins' grin or Schiano's frown. You really couldn't please all the people all the time. They'd stumbled across a small creek a couple hours later, and the horses were busy drinking. Jack stretched and turned in a circle, surveying their surroundings. He paused in mid-turn.

"First Sergeant, do you see something in that tree?" Jack said in a soft voice.

Robert turned toward the tree in question and sure enough there was a stand there. "Unless my eyes deceive me there seems to be sometin like a huntin stand. Huh, wonda why that's there?" Schiano hopped off his horse while it drank. He wanted to fill the canteens, the three Marines needed water as well.

Jack tossed his canteen down, his eyes still scanning the area. Something didn't feel right.

Collins jumped down as well and started filling his canteen. "It could be that they are hunting game that uses the watering hole, sir. I'm pretty sure I saw some large tracks not far away. Some kinda cat thing maybe," Collins said. The wind was blowing, rustling the trees above them. Collins liked the way it sounded.

Jack began to reply when he heard a metal on metal sound somewhere not far away. His instincts kicked in. "Everyone get down!" He yelled and jumped off the horse. There was a high pitched sound as an old style rifle fired. Jack hit the ground hard, the wind knocked out of him. He rolled towards a fallen log near the water and crawled behind it. The pack horse was stumbling around, blood spurting from a wound in its chest. He watched its head tossing up and down. Another shot.

Collins reacted on instinct and training. His weapon was off his shoulder in two heartbeats. He finally felt like he knew what he was supposed to be doing. He dashed to his left, pressing himself up against the trunk of an old tree. He was fairly certain he knew the general direction of the shooter. He glanced over and saw the captain taking cover and the pack horse dying slowly. He frowned. He hated riding horses but shooting them didn't seem right.

Robert was kneeling as he filled his canteen and the EL T's when he heard Jack's order. Schiano jumped to his feet and wheeled around with a phaser in his hand. He slapped the rear of his horse and took off down the trail a ways. Schiano for his part tumbled behind the nearest tree. He peeked out and saw a small branch above the tree stand. Schiano opened fire as he hoped his phaser would work. Luckily it did, the phaser hit it's mark severing the branch and sending it crashing into the tree stand. He ducked behind the tree again as he thought Today is not the day for this crud.

Jack remembered Collins' weapon working and pulled his own phaser. "Heavy stun!" He yelled and opened fire. The orange beam hummed, striking the tree where their attacker was hiding. He figured that they should be able to take out the target and then find out more about their situation. He peaked over the top of the log and let off another shot. A replying crack sounded and a chunk of the log exploded near his face. He ducked back down.

"Collins!" Jack yelled.

Collins took a steadying breath and looked through the sight. He preferred a prone position but this situation called for a standing shot. He saw a flicker of brown mixed into the trees. His shot struck the mark and he heard a grunt. A figure fell from the tree, very near where the First Sergeant had shot, and slammed into the ground at the base of the tree, a fall of at least ten feet.

Schiano saw the humanoid fall from Collins' shot and ran to the being's side. With his rifle outstretched he covered the person. "I wouldn't move much if I was you. Well at least not until the EL T has a chat wit youze." He turned toward Jack. "All clear EL T. Good shot Private."

Collins nodded and moved over to stand next to the First Sergeant. He'd flipped his rifle from a more lethal setting to stun on the COs orders, which was why the scruffy looking human male was still breathing, albeit semi-conscious, instead of being permanently down.

Jack walked up and joined the other two Marines. "Secure that rifle Private," Jack said and turned his attention to their attacker. He nudged the man with a boot. "Come on, you'll be ok. Shake it off." He waited, feeling parched and wishing the shooting had started after the canteens were filled.

"Who... who are you?" The man finally managed. "You're not Scorpions or Talons. And I've never seen any tech like those weapons. Did you salvage them somewhere?"

Schiano was about to speak, and answer the man's questions when he caught himself. This was perhaps a situation where the trained hand of an officer was needed. So Robert simply cocked an eyebrow as he lowered his weapon and offered a hand for the man to rise to his feet. The Marine thought that if this man was going to do something stupid that would result in his own death, then best he die on his feet.

Jack holstered his phaser and crossed his arms. "We're not from around here. We just wanted some water and you started shooting at us so I think you should be answering the questions. Who are you and why did you shoot at us?" Jack said in his command voice.

The man frowned, looking from Jack to Schiano and back again. He winced and held up his hands. "This is Viper territory. This is our water and water ain't easy to come by in the wastes. I thought you were Scorpions and we are clashing with them."

Jack frowned. "Scorpions? Who are they?"

"You really aren't from around here, are you? Scorpions are the meanest group of scavengers in the wastes. They don't listen to anyone and they take everything. They'll shoot you and then talk at ya, you know?" The man said.

"You mean like you did to us?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow. Collins grinned.

"Uhh.. yeah. Sorry about that. My name is Wil. I'm one of the Arches," Wil said.

"Arches? Not an animal or something?" Jack asked.

Wil shook his head. "Nah. The Arches are the biggest group. We live... well not close but not far in some rock Arches. Most of the time people respect us but not the Scorpions."

Collins had been listening to the exchange, trying to understand what Wil was saying but his sniper mind was always active and he thought he heard something behind them.

"Lieutenant. I think we've got more company," Collins said and gestured behind them.

Jack eyed Wil. "More of yours?"

Will shook his head. "No, sir. I bet that's the group of Scorpions I heard about from one of the other scouts. We should hide."

Jack pointed at Collins and then a cluster of bushes. He grabbed hold of will by an arm and marched him to a spot where two trees had grown together, pushing the man to the ground. He held up a finger.

Schiano climbed up the nearest tree and took aim with his phaser. He was not sure what the heck they had stumbled into here, but he was sure going to get them through it. He made sure that he had a sight line to Jack for communications purposes. From his vantage point Schiano saw that there were four men, all armed with the same type of weapons as Wil. He relayed this information to Jack via hand signals.

Collins watched the CO and the First Sergeant signalling to each other and knew what was about to happen. There were four likely hostiles approaching in a stacked V formation and they were armed. He started controlling his breathing, seeking the calm that he knew he would need.

Jack sighed and looked down at Wil. Unarmed, he looked more like a boy than a man. There was real fear in his eyes though and that was more persuasive than any words. He motioned to Schiano. Hold Position. Do not initiate hostilities. Eyes on me.

Jack waited. He ignored Wil's urgent gestures to shoot the Scorpions as they emerged into the clear, knees bent as they crept forward. To be honest, there wasn't much difference between the new men and Wil. They were all of a similar age, wore similarly raggedy clothing and had the same long rifles.

"That's far enough!" Jack yelled. The four men threw themselves to the ground. One of them ended up in the exact same spot that Jack had occupied not long ago. "We've got you outgunned and outnumbered! Get out of here before we have to take you down."

The voice that replied was nasally and in a hurry. "We're Scorpions! We don't take no orders from any Arches or Vipers or nobody! You want a fight we're ready to oblige. We need some water!"

Jack sighed. "Why are all of you natives so stubborn?"

Wil shrugged. "Born and bred I guess."

Schiano kept one eye on Jack and one on the group of new arrivals. It would have been easy for him to simply take them out and move on, especially from the his vantage point. However, orders were orders so Robert simply watched the events unfurl. He did keep his phaser trained on the group of new arrivals. If they tried anything Schiano would have them on the ground before they could blink. If water is all they are after, then why come armed and expecting a fight. Robert thought.

Collins had his scope trained on the target. Breathing calm. One with the weapon. He was just waiting for the go order and there would be one less threat. He never heard the Scorpion scout sneaking up behind him. He only felt the sting from the attack. It felt like a huge bite from a bug and he slapped at it with his hand.

"What the hell?!" He yelped, trying to turn around in the bushes but he felt so tired. His legs felt like lead.

Jack's head snapped towards where Collins was supposed to be and saw a black clad figure crouching near his fallen form. He spun around just in time to see another figure bearing down on him, wearing a tight black suit and mask, holding a small dagger overhead.

"Engage!" He yelled and pressed the firing stub on his weapon. It was still set to heavy stun and the bright orange beam leapt across the space between them, striking the figure in the chest and knocking it backwards. Jack paused for a second and then shot the figure on the ground again for good measure.

When he heard the order from Jack, Schiano let loose two quick bursts from his phaser. The first struck one of the newcomers who was trying to out flank Jack. The man dropped like a sack of potatoes from the heavy stun setting. The second was a quick shot to the man who standing over Collins. With his team secured Robert thought that the last man should be taken out unarmed. This man stood at the water's edge and Schiano simply leaped from the tree landing on the man. In one quick motion he tossed the man's weapon away and kept him pinned to the ground. "All clear for now!" he shouted as he fought the enemy combatant from struggling.

"Stay here," Jack said to Wil and the scrawny man nodded. It only took him a few minutes to reach Collins. He knelt down and pressed a hand against the Marine's throat. The pulse was a little sluggish but still strong. Jack glance around and saw the knife the attacker that had taken out his sniper had been using. He picked it up, noticing how thin the blade was. He also saw a sheen of something coating the entire blade.

"I'm coming, First Sergeant. Keep him still," Jack said, stomping over to where Schiano was holding down the last intruder. "Wil! Get over here!"

Jack pressed his foot against the struggling man's neck and he instantly stopped moving. Wil came running up, his eyes wide.

"You killed them so fast!" Wil said.

"They aren't dead. Just stunned," Jack said. He looked down at the face of their captive. It was an older man with blonde stubble on his cheeks and bright blue eyes that were watching their every move.

"You understand me, don't you?" Jack said and the man's chin moved ever so slightly up and down. "Good. I'm new to this planet but it seems to me, most of you like to shoot first and not ask questions. You're in luck because I'm not like that. I'm going to ask questions and if I don't like your answers, I won't shoot. I'll just stab you with this." He held up the knife.

Jack motioned for Schiano to ease up. "Ok. Why are you here?"

"Well, uh, we needed water for the trip," the man said. "And this is the closest watering spot."

Wil shook a fist at the captive. "It ain't yours! You're trespassing against the captain's orders."

The man on the ground snarled. "She don't care about this kind of stuff."

"Hold up," Jack said. "Who is this captain?"

"She's the leader of all the Techlon tribes. An original crewmember," Wil said. "She's in charge. Sort of."

"Sort of is right," the captive said.

"Ok so what is this trip you're talking about? Where were you going in such a hurry?" Jack asked. The captive squirmed. Jack held up the knife and wiggled it back and forth.

"We saw a big spaceship crash. Half of us went for water and the other went to find it. It's going to have all kinds of salvage!"

Jack looked at Schiano.

Robert glanced over at Collins and then back toward Jack. "Sir, if that is what I think it is then we need to get Collins back on his feet and bug out. However, the question is do we believe dis guy?" Schiano was already digging through his pack for the med kit.

Jack looked down at the captive. "He doesn't look like the kind of person who'd lie to us, given the situation. However, we are going to tie him and his friends up and give them to Wil. If he is lying to us, we will let Wil do whatever he thinks best. If he isn't, we will be back and help him avoid a grim ending. Sound good?"

"I ain't lying. It was a huge ship, grey with holes in the sides."

Wil nodded. "Ok. I'll keep watch on them until you get back. Any chance I can get one of those weapons?"

Jack laughed. "Hell no. Stay here. If I have to come looking for you, I am not going to be pleased." He turned and started walking towards Collins who was starting to stir. That was a good sign. "On your feet, Marine! We've got a priority mission and I don't have time to haul you around."

Collins' eyes fluttered open. He groaned and rolled over onto all fours. "Yes, sir," he said. "I'm on it."

Jack smiled. "First Sergeant, get the horses. We've got hard riding ahead of us."


Lieutenant Jack Cunningham
Marine Commanding Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298
(NPC by Llwyedd)

Private Mark Collins
Marine Sniper
USS Firebird NCC-88298
(NPC by Llwyedd)

Master Sergeant Robert Schiano
Marine First Sergeant
USS Firebird NCC-88298
(NPC by Rees)


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Comments (3)

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Gianna Djokovic on Tue Oct 16th, 2018 @ 11:45am

One of the best interactions with the natives so far! It seems very authentic with nuanced politics and culture. Again, love the marines here and I still think they're the key to saving us all!

Keep up the great writing. -Liam

By Lieutenant JG Murril Na on Wed Oct 17th, 2018 @ 6:21pm

I like this whole JP, both in terms of what's happening and how it's written.

(The mystery of the sudden corpses throws a layer of uncertainty and dread into the mix. Good call!)

< I am also getting what can only be signs of other pods. Reading tritanium, and duranium alloys. >

THAT line caught my attention in terms of writing. The crew doesn't know anything about the locals' culture or history at this point in the story, and I suspect that their conclusion is actually one of the writers deliberately having a character jump to a probable, but wrong, conclusion. (Are those multiple readings actually from buildings constructed from parts of the recycled, old colony ship or something similar?)

i.e. It's hard for writers to take the risk by deliberately writing wrong facts in a story, because there's always the chance that the audience will just behave like trolls, leave in mid-story, and tell all their friends how much the writing sucked. The writing didn't suck; the audience just left too early. This JP is well crafted!

By Lieutenant JG Soto Gantt on Thu Nov 1st, 2018 @ 2:50pm

Woohoo! This was a lot of fun to read. They're freakin' marines and they did what they're trained to do. I loved the line from Collins, "He finally felt like he knew what he was supposed to be doing." In such a strange situation this would be like a lifeline. Marines are too often used as "let's show how awesome the big bad evil guy is by having he/she/them/it kill off a bunch of marines. This was also a well crafted JP. Nice job!