A spectre of justice is haunting Hurston: part one

A spectre of justice is haunting Hurston: part one
Ghosts in HD facility with a message from workers / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

There are a dozen less corporate security butchers terrorising workers on the planet this week after Ghosts left a message – in lead – for their employer

/17 February 2954/

Belt buckle – click. Upper armour strap buckles – click. Pouches – zipped up. Backpack shoulder straps – tightened. Camera drone – powered up. In complete darkness, I search for items inside the backpack, counting water bottles and magazines with blind touch.

"It's dark as hell," someone says out loud what everyone is thinking. 'Everyone' meaning the seven of us – six Ghosts and myself, standing at the foot of a hill. And we appreciate this darkness, even if we complain about it – we are a few kilometres from a place we will not be welcomed in. Hence the freshly greased and polished barrels slinging from our backs, magazine pouch slots filled up and grenades ominously hanging from torso straps.

These six people, and five more from another team following a bit behind in our footsteps, are the ones who have responded to the calls of A, E and their coworkers made in my meeting with them. This squad of 11 people gathered after I spent days communicating and meeting various individuals and groups in spaces where I knew sentiments for anti-corporate justice were present. What unites this group – now making their final equipment checks, bringing each other's spirits up with humour, or taking their helmets off to breathe in the cold air of nighttime Hurston – is that they have a history with the company holding the planet hostage. And that history is immediately recognised when you look at the name they bear on their armour patches: Ghosts of Aberdeen. These are either descendants or supporters of the communities the oligarch family-run vulture corporation destroyed and forced underground after its takeover of the moon in the 2860s.

"Everyone make sure your flashlights are turned off for now."

That voice in the comms is of Scum, who co-founded GoA with Ghost two years ago. Leaving Davian II – where his parents had made a living through trade – after its economic decline and enlisting in the military, he became disillusioned with the force after a special operation inadvertently revealed the Navy was sending its forces to slaughter civilians onboard a Caterpillar and cripple supplies they were to deliver to the People's Alliance in Levski. The incident also led him to meeting Ghost, and, in 2952, to them founding GoA.

"HD has plenty of money, they can move wherever they want if this place becomes too uncomfortable for them," he says as he begins his trek on a footpath leading up to the hilltop we need to cross. I had asked for his opinion after telling him about my article advocating for forcing the company off this place.

Together with Ghost and Skeeter, he uses the Commander role to direct the group in its daily activities. He describes the former as "more the operational-minded Commander" while telling me his own focus is more on the "communication [and] organisation of operations", leaving Skeeter to be oriented on personnel.

In his comments, Ghost tells me the beginnings of the group did not come from long and meticulous planning. "We didn't know what we were doing, but we knew we would stick together, and we wanted to fight the UEE and corporate overseers," he says about joining forces with Scum for the initiative. He also credits Skeeter's "experience and charismatic personality" for benefiting the newly-launched organisation. "A man of the people," he says with a laugh.

I ask Ghost to go back to the Caterpillar incident and share his memory about it, given how it bonded the two of them and ultimately led to the formation of GoA.

He tells me that during the development, one of Scum's fellow servicemembers had opened a crate onboard the vessel after boarding it, shot into it, and then dragged out the body of the individual they had just killed outside engagement rules. "When the rest of the [state forces] didn't deescalate, a firefight broke out and Scum ended up killing a [service]member," he adds. The two of them then escaped on a command module, with the understandable reevaluation of what he had just seen leading Scum to linking forces with Ghost. The incident had taken place in Pyro, and the duo needed to collaborate to find their way out of the system.

I then ask him about when he himself started doubting the structures of power he had grown up in, as someone who spent his childhood in Lorville.

"As I grew up and gained experience, I began to see the full machinations of what the working class was. How everyone was a cog and tool in this intricate torture machine," he explains, and adds he thinks chasing HD off the planet is very much achievable.

As we climb the hill separating us from our destination, our helmet flashlights are piercing through the night. Soon they are also piercing through the storm that has kicked up, limiting visibility and throwing a mix of dust and foliage across our faces. The wind is particularly strong at the top of the hill, where we have no protection from its gusts. It roars and whistles around us, as the figures follow paths sneaking through boulders and sparse vegetation.

The Ghosts captured by a camera drone on their hilltop trek / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Also with us in this group are OHM, Prancer, Saracen and ShadowGazer. The former does not like saying much about her background – not surprising from a guerilla who has come to the belly of the beast with a purpose – but does note she was in the corporate sector after her time in the Navy. After seeing "how some corporations treat people... Well, let's just say I didn't leave on the best of terms with my former employer," she adds.

OHM also tells me she is not native to Stanton, and has "no dog in the Aberdeen-Hurston fight", but adds she does sympathise with the cause of GoA.

"How did you meet the group?"

"I would skip those details," she says, but does tell me about her work within the org. She has currently found herself doing a bit of quartermaster role, while also being involved "in a bit of everything."

Moving long branches of foliage out of the way as I push myself through the only accessible path in a narrow part between a large rock and a steep descent, I am helped by helmet flashlight of Prancer, who recognised the passage would be tricky for whoever was following him through it.

Like Scum, Prancer grew up with parents who made their living hauling cargo, and was very young when an incident ended their work through injury. He has had to pick up the business to keep supporting them while having to deal with HD, which he has called a "thorn in my side".

He came in contact with GoA in late 2952, while using his ship to break several of their members out of prison – a moment that led to him joining their ranks himself. I ask him what brought him to this place tonight.

"Be good to those who are good. Be bad to those who are bad," he says simply.

I think A and E would be happy to know these are the people who have responded to their need. And I see the same calling in responses from Saracen, who first met GoA members when they responded to his medical beacon after he was severely injured in an engagement with Nine Tails on a Crusader Security mission. The arriving Ghosts neutralised the outlaw gang and ensured medical aid to him.

"[My reaction was] 'I’m not sure how to do good in this ‘verse yet, but if this is what you people do, I’d like to do it too',” he remembers.

The youngest of four siblings in a Lorville immigrant family, Saracen was born to a father who came to the city after leaving his fading nomadic community and married a scientist in the capital. Failed Navy exams meant he could not follow his sisters into the branch, and instead joined Hurston Security.

"I saw too many brutal injustices and cases of corruption," he admits, adding he got discharged after a physical altercation with a security member known for cases of heavy-handed abuse of power.

"You were not going to last long there with that attitude, were you?", I joke and then ask about his name. "Is it the one you were given?"

"My father's moniker. I adopted it after his passing from illness," he explains.

"And your role at GoA?"

"I had climbed to the rank of Captain before the end of 2952, but have since stepped down to Chief to focus on training new recruits and discreetly seeing family once more."

"What does your family think of you joining the Ghosts?"

"It's a mixed response. Mom is proud but you can tell this isn't exactly what she meant by 'making a difference'. The eldest brother loves hearing my stories, comparing the firsthand recounts to the newsfeeds they get back home. I have a healthy rivalry with my pilot sister for most dangerous opps run, how many awards we've received, how many XenoThreat we've shot down. All the while the sister in intel has already grown a few grey hairs just watching us."

We exchange a few more comments about our gear – he is wearing an armour set from Quirinus, in what I see as a mocking reference to HD security practices of wearing these pieces – and what we like to bring with us when out in adverse weather or remote locations. I show him why I like the Roussimoff armour I wear – the fabric layer that makes it look less like a strictly combat gear, like the sets that come with plate-heavy look, and more like a multipurpose outdoors outfit.

"Trash planet," someone says as we finally summit the hill and look around to orient ourselves from the top. Looking to give time to those at the back to catch up, we stop in a patch of trees near the edge of a tall hill. Below in a flat field, a perfect view of what we came here for – HDSF Colfax. This is what is written on the piece of paper E gave me during our meeting. That paper is now in my chest armour pocket, and it feels so important that I almost feel it through the plate.

Observing the destination from hilltop / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

As the other group joins us in this spot, I also exchange a few words with the third Commander of the organisation. At 22, Skeeter is a few years younger than Ghost and Scum, and carries lifelong familiarity with the economic realities of this system. Growing up on Daymar, he and his parents stayed around Crusader after the local mining industry lost interest in the depleted resources there. Struggling with poverty, his father ran cargo in opportunities that came, while also introducing his son to ship piloting. Skeeter told me his father was killed in an incident with "unsavoury business partners" when he was 16. That left the young son and his mother – the one who gave him the nickname – facing the same material hardships on their own. Then his mother passed away a few years ago and Skeeter was left on his own, with his father's Cutlass Black his only company, before an incident on the orbit of Crusader.

"I was hanging out around [Seraphim Station], really just minding my own business. Guarding it, if you will, from hostiles. Then they came after me for reasons unknown," he tells me about Ghost and Scum. Turns out their first encounter was of communication through weapons, but only a few weeks later he experienced a mining accident, and Ghost was the one to answer his rescue beacon. "We then decided the 'verse would be a better place if we joined forces," he adds.

Also joining with the second team are members known through their adopted names CapyBearUh, MrMilkMan, Paco and Quadronometry. Their trek up to our position coincides with the storm subsiding for a bit, and as they reach our group on the edge of the hill and we take a momentary break, two of them introduce themselves to me.

CapyBearUh has been involved in "many medical rescues" with GoA while also helping break out inmates from the profiteering private prison on Aberdeen.

"Their cause is my cause," he says about GoA. "Hurston need to be stopped. I'm not fully anti-corporate – Crusader does a lot of good, they try. But the problem with humanitarian aid and charities [is that] you [are] trying to fix something that should never have [been] broken. With the Ghosts... we can take the fight to Hurston, do a little preventative maintaince and get some justice while were at it."

The different attitude toward the four major corporations in this sytem is also present in Paco's comments, who mentions having done work for three of them, but not Hurston.

"Something about that whole planetary system didn't sit right with me. An entire habitable planet wrecked for the profit of one megacorporation, a megacity filled with slums next to golden statues of the city's founder, and the massive private prison: Klescher. The whole thing is kind of rotten," he comments.

His professional engagement in security work was what led to his first contact with the Ghosts last year, during an Extreme-Risk Target bounty hunting opportunity near Crusader. "Structure and leadership has been incredibly positive and active in their roles," he says when I ask about his experience since joining the organisation.

Paco also told me he detests the "corrupt corporate justice system in Stanton and I wish to see it dismantled," sharing a specific idea for assisting Klescher inmates with more efficiency but asking to keep it discreet. He was not secretive about his longer-term objectives though. "Looking forward to melting down all those pretty statues on Hurston some day."

The combined group pushes for a quick descent on the hillside facing the HD facility. We know that while it's still dark, the sun is chasing us, so we will need to cover the remaining 500 metres or so with a good pace. Now we also have the help of the terrain in our approach – instead of having to be exposed like we were on descent, we use the frequent boulders in our path to move from cover to cover, as we watch the outpost grow larger through our visors. Early shots of sunrise are painting the skies behind it in reddish tint, with the storm still driving particles into our backs. We take a second pause behind a group of rocks, our mostly grey and light brown armours blending perfectly into the terrain.

"200 metres," Scum calls out.

On final approach / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

I flip my rifle mode selector from auto to single-shot, then back to auto, and then again to single-shot. Usually you would do the opposite when transitioning from long-distance, open terrain to close quarters, I think to myself, but for some reason this feels more appropriate. Maybe because there will be lots of flying lead in the facility given our numbers, and I don't want to send extra uncontrolled rounds around the interior and risk ricochets.

As we reach the location, Scum and Prancer momentarily set themselves up on a slightly elevated platform outside the bunker, while Ghost and Skeeter clear right-hand section of the yard, and MrMilkMan, Saracen and myself check the left. We finally line up in two columns at the entrance, MrMilkMan's laser pointer streaking into the open door.

After entering the elevator we are split into two teams, send ourselves down, and head into the occupied part of the facility without hesitation. It has an ominous mix of red warning lights and yellow tints of interior, but is quiet for a location staffed by heavily armed and armoured guards. We are trying to maintain individual distances as well as separation between the columns by moving while leaning against opposite walls, and then separating into available cover. Those wearing heavier armour pieces make distinct clacking noises against the floor.

As we reach the first set of cover in front of the entrance, shots start ringing out.

In the rat nest

Voice confirmations of guards going down start trickling in, and my mind takes me back to A and E – I hope they would be glad looking at us now. Meaty, muffled shots ring out in front of me in the compound, but I am behind everyone in the squad and cannot really see how many we have downed already, or where. Soon we have infiltrated deep enough that I can start approaching bodies of the security rats and checking their names. Fredric Woodard. Stacey Dunkelberger. Abram "Bags" Sepulveda. I do not even need to check them against the piece of paper E gave me at the settlement – I remember how they rang in my head as I read them with anger the first time, and then again as I was leaving the meeting. Two of these are the ones who personally kept the workers of the assembly plants under their boots, and the third is the part of the same security section. Was. Was part of the same security section. Placing checkmarks on the note, I push past their bodies wrapped in yellow corporate armour suits.

A few civilians of the facility, in engineer outfits and helmets, come out with their hands above their heads, and we direct them into the station control room we have already cleared. While the rest of our group are mostly distributed between the two levels, I move between them to take pictures, collect names and check them against the workers' intel. I find two more bodies on the lower deck after we clear the second floor and descend back down. Kantaro Hodges, Issa Sigman – scratch two more names from the roster.

Then comes my time to take a small part in the action. Crouching behind cover on the lower deck while we are sweeping for the remaining guards, one of them emerges from behind a pillar on my left. Rounds have already started impacting him before I take aim and place three of my own into his lower torso. Feels satisfying, I think to myself, while also realising I have brought way too much ammo for what I will expend here. The seven magazines stting in my pouches and backpack now seem ridiculous – we are not storming a damn division base here.

The Ghosts rummage through datapads and crates in the facility and run cryptokeys in the system. Even through my helmet I can smell the gunpowder mist that is accumulating in the limited space. About 10 minutes later we exfiltrate, everyone intact and in positive moods. It is full afternoon sunlight outside, with short shadows and full colours. I realise I still haven't properly seen anyone's face yet, even though we have spent hours together by now, and faced the prospect of this being the last time some of us would do so.

In the soft ground I can see the foosteps that took us from the hills to this place during the night. These will be the only ghost foosteps one can find in Stanton. Feeling thirsty, I cannot wait to take my dusty helmet off and taste fresh water for the first time in hours. And take off this armour that is limiting my movement, riding on my shoulders and making my hair heavier. I inspect my magazine – 25 rounds left? Did I not only fire three shots in that facility? The excitement of the circumstances must have taken me over while I was expending a few more to make those guard armour pieces a bit heavier.

Then another wave of excitement washes over me as I open mobiGlas on our trek back across open terrain to tap in the pre-agreed message for E:

"The rodents have tasted the poison."