Thoughts on my Nomads Project.

As I mentioned, last week’s Nomads will likely be the last, at least until I have had a while to think about the series.

Nomads began as an experiment. I did not start it to get page views. I’m not actually sure how many people read this blog since page views can be misleading, or if any of you are even interested in serial fiction. Mostly, I wanted to hone my writing skills, especially with first draft and writing in first person. The challenge I set for myself was to write a thousand words every week, with little preparation, as quickly as possible and to see if I could wrangle a coherent story from that. Here is my assessment of that project.

1) Draft Hard! I did find writing a serial in the raw to be great practice for writing better first drafts. One of my weaknesses as a writer (and game designer, actually) is that I love tinkering with a near finished product. I rewrote Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale seven times and would probably still be re-writing it to this day if not for the realization that it would never be perfect. Bloodlust: Will to Power only had two rewrites and most of the people I have chatted with feel it is a better work. I feel that the Nomads project helped me shape in this regard: I write faster now, and I am able to control my desire to re-write. 

2) Confidence: leaving a swiftly written story with minimal corrections up requires some bravery. 

3) A taste of first person: First person is an interesting writing style. I have pealed back a few of its layers, but much of it is still beyond me. It helps to a very strong sense of character, which is always worth working on. The  character’s perspective must be both understandable, and yet their voice must stand out. Exposition is a particular hazard, since most people do not think about the facets of their culture and surrounding that are familiar to them but might be very alien and exciting to the reader. Forcing this in first person is, if anything, more obvious than in third person. Yet another reason why I like The Name of the Wind.

4) The Serial Format: I have great respect for people who can write a serial and keep it going. I learned that it is best to end each episode on a question or some other hook. (not necessarily a cliffhanger) Not only does this help keep the story fresh in the reader’s minds, it also gives the writer something to work with for the next episode. For the same reason I prefer to leave an unfinished sentence on your novel when you are done writing for the day; it gives me an easy place to start when I get back to work.

The problems I encountered in writing the Nomads serial were not insurmountable by any means, but they did make it less fun. Here are my thoughts on the problems I encountered.

1)  Introduction woes: Nomads begins in medias res. The first line of Nomads was a recording from a Nomad who has just been gunned down, sent to Raven. We follow Raven as he investigates how Jessup died. The problem with this is that in a first person narrative it is imperative that you establish voice and character first. Putting the action first without establishing Raven’s personality and voice was a wasted opportunity. This becomes especially confusing since I have to convince the readers that they should care that this Jessup dude died, all at the same time. Bit of a disaster, really, but kind of fun nonetheless.

2) Raven: As a voice character, Raven was not particularly interesting. Firstly, he was lacking in any meaty defects or even super-spy suave. Secondly he was too neutral in his opinions, which is inappropriate when you have access to a character’s thoughts and perspectives. A subtle character is best left to masters of the form, I should have tried something simpler or bolder.

3) Military Setting: The Nomads were essentially an elite military squad, equivalent in many ways to modern special forces but with futuristic toys. The problem this created is that I really wanted to stay away from that kind of atmosphere. Oops. 

4) Documentation: I keep a lot of notes when I work on m novels. One of these a spreadsheet with details on characters, geography, terminology, slang, and any other world-building miscellany. Whenever I need to recall details, I refer to this spreadsheet first. It helps maintain consistency: you never know when a character’s eye colour might come up again. With Nomads I was constantly reading previous posts to look up names, callsigns, jargon, weapons, and suit types.

  • 5) Source of Enthusiasm: When I started writing the Nomads serial I was playing a game called Firefall. I enjoyed the armoured-suit style action. I went with the Nomads idea because Firefall was boosting my enthusiasm for that type of story. Low and behold, when I stopped playing Firefall, my enthusiasm for Nomads suffered. It would have been better to choose a longer standing interest as a base for a serial.
  • In the end I feel that the Nomads serial was a success. I learned quite a bit and I enjoyed it while it lasted. I will likely try the form again, or perhaps pick up and try to rescue Nomads, at some point. 

Nomads 15 (End Volume 1)

Nomads is my first experimental serial. The setting is futuristic with elements of armoured suits, diaspora fleets, and bug-hunting.  The experimental part is me trying to write cohesively and coherently in first person, with as little editing and preparation as possible.

Link to Nomads 1, Link to Nomads 14

After the mutiny on the Falcon was put down, we headed back to the Fleet. We had no way of knowing if there were any more subversives on the ship, although a room to room search did not turn up any more silver suits and masks or weapons in any of the crew quarters, we did find stashes in several places around the ship.

The silver suits were unremarkable, a nano-mesh weave that function as a level of light armour. They were a flashier version of a typical fleet uniform. Silver seemed like a foolishly ostentatious colour to pick for a covert group, so I felt it must have some sort special significance to them. The masks were minimalist, with tiny slots to represent eyes and mouth, also silver and polished to a mirror sheen. The masks also included a primitive com suite, including a rudimentary but serviceable tactical grid and targeting assistance. The targeting program was of the sort that would allow a novice to fire at a certified level of proficieny; it could turn anyone with a little training into something more dangerous.

Beyond that we could not find out anything more. Not a single prisoner survived; even those we captured found ways of killing themselves. The Falcon did not have any deprogramming facilities; she just wasn’t that kind of ship.

Nervous, Captain Otumo hightailed it back to Fleet, dispatching a request for an escort along with his report about the Cryopod and the insurgency. Fleet contacted others on board, including myself, for details and clarification. Two days later an Elite strike cruiser, the Orion, showed up to lead us back to the seventh Diaspora Fleet. We also received orders not to leave the ship; fleet wanted to inspect everyone as they left. This caused a fair bit of grumbling among the crew, but was hardly unexpected.

We held a brief funeral service for the lost. Three Nomads and twenty-seven loyal crew-members of the Falcon. I said a few words, but I couldn’t really do justice to Jessup and the others. A man or woman who goes down fighting in service to their fellow men is wrapped in a mantle of dignity that defies description, and yet is easily understood by most. Perhaps that is the reason that they are often honoured by the ancient tradition of a moment of silence. After the funeral rites Triumph, Shrike, Sunspear, Scorch, Sphinx, Malificent, and Myself all got together and got good and drunk, trading our favourite stories about each of the lost.

With the assistance of the Orion, it did not take us long to reach fleet.

The origin of Diaspora Fleets dates back to a schism of some sort, thousands of years ago. Thirteen Fleets of ships, each organized around a massive mothership, spread out, fleeing a dying empire. Gradually the fleets moved beyond reliable communications range, or were destroyed, or simply forgot how to communicate. The seventh Fleet has seen signs of others in colonies and ancient archaeology, but the last real contact was over a thousand years ago. I never doubted that the other Fleets existed, but unlike some others, I wasn’t sure that meeting up with our long lost human brethren would be all that fun; we have a history of doing harm to those closest to us.

Picket ships, gatherers, and scouts, usually range far afield, acting as the eyes and arms of the fleet. The proper edge of the Fleet is made up of heavily armoured warships. These tough ships form the outer “skin” of the fleet formation. Some of them are specialized shield ships, nearly invulnerable from the outer arc of fire, while others are well rounded battle-ships that pack a punch as a well as being hard to destroy. Behind the outer ring are artillery ships, refineries, flak ships, and carriers. The artillery ships mount massive long range firepower. The refineries process the materials the gatherers return. Carriers act as re-supply points for scouts and also carry and manufacture fighters — both manned and drone. Flak ships shoot down any craft or ordinance than penetrate the outer layers. The third layer is made up of research ships, agriculture ships, clan ships, residential ships, and many other types of ships. These tend to be less capable in battle, but are rarely defenceless.

The final layer is the mothership. The Mothership is the largest ship in the fleet, by far. Three billion people make their home on the seventh’s mothership, the Athens. It is a massive cylinder with a cavernous interior that is usually full of ships in the final stages of construction.

The Orion herded the Falcon towards this mothership. The Athens held the headquarters of the seventh Diaspora Fleet, and they urgently wanted to talk to us all about a ancient Cryopod, some crazy subversives in silver suits, and a dead man…

Thus ends Nomads, for a little while at least. I feel I need time to digest what I have learned. Feel free to leave any comments or comments about the series here.

Nomads 14

Nomads is my first experimental serial. The setting is futuristic with elements of armoured suits, diaspora fleets, and bug-hunting.  The experimental part is me trying to write cohesively and coherently in first person, with as little editing and preparation as possible.

Link to Nomads 1, Link to Nomads 13.

“Damn we’re glad to see you Nomad,” said the ranking security officer as we assumed control of the area, nodding his helmet my way.

“What’s the situation officer? ” I asked. I wanted to avoid any questions about how we faked our demise and get straight to details. While the man spoke I watched Triumph’s progress on tactical; they were making good progress on their way to engineering. I hoped Malificent and Scorch could contain their enthusiasm for destruction; the last thing we needed was a fire or a hull breach complicating matters. The Falcon was a combat ready corvette, but some people can find ways to damage anything.

“We received a report that your Dropship sustained damage,” said the security officer. “About fifteen minutes later some of the crew took the shuttle bay, swift and bloody. That tripped the alarm.  The attackers all wear those odd suits and masks. Lockdown doesn’t seem to stop them and we don’t know where they got their weapons.”

I nodded. Nothing surprising thus far. The Falcon’s systems would have to be swept after this; no telling what sort of malware was allowing the Silvers to bypass lockdown.

“We’re headed to the Bridge,” I said. “We have a second team taking engineering. Round up your men and start sweeping floor by floor. Alert us on ship security channel if you run into anything you can’t handle.”

“Understood Nomad,” he said. I was pleased at the lack of pushback on my orders. Sometimes security gets possessive and forgets that Nomads have orders priority in boarding and mutiny situations. Technically I currently outranked captain Otumo; the thought brought a smile to my face as I marked the paths we would be taking. As I finished Sunspear’s avatar went red and registered targets; she’d been spotted in the shuttle bay. After a heart-pounding interval that had to be less than a minute but felt like an hour, her targets all went black.

“Report,” I commed.

“They saw me,” Sunspears voice came through loud and clear, as steady as her biosigns. “Bastards actually tried to sneak up on me. Good thing I can count. All targets accounted for and dead; two refused surrender. Want me to follow you to the bridge?”

“Negative,” I said. “Lock the bay and over-ride then dig-in. I expect some of them might try to make a run for it. They’ll want the cryopod.”

“Too bad I can’t set any mines,” said Sunspear. “I should be able to make due once I gather a few drones. Good luck on your end, Raven.”

Shrike, Sphinx, and myself took three separate routs towards the bridge. We covered ground cautiously, but quickly. I wasn’t sure if the Silvers were aware of us yet, but it appeared as if they were concentrating their remaining forces on the Bridge. Over-riding bridge control would give them access to several defensive countermeasures that might prove to be problematic; the internal drones and forcewalls of a ship like the Falcon were pretty good, but not enough to stop a Nomad.

I figured that If our enemies knew we were coming they had to be panicking. Lightly armed soldiers stood little chance against a fully deployed Nomad. Even if we ran out of ammunition we could rip them apart with our bare hands quicker than they could cut us down with light weaponry. So far I hadn’t seen anything serious, although Triumph was now meeting with stiff resistance down in Engineering. Improvised explosives, probably.

Shrike’s Avatar blinked, two targets going red near her and then fading to black almost immediately. I did not hear the rapport of her shotgun, wondered if she used blades.

The signs of heavy fighting increased as we neared the bridge. Scorch marks and bullet holes on the wall. A dead security officer behind a makeshift barricade. A trio silver suited masked corpses had bled out near the remains of  the armoured blast doors that protected bridge access. Beyond them I could see flashes of weapons fire. I signaled Sphinx and Shrike to move in behind me and powered my suit’s shields to max. I really need to stop leaving the shield drone behind.

I strode forward, into the breech, shouting. “This is Nomad Raven of Seventh Fleet, Lay down your Weapons.”

They answered with blaster fire. I didn’t even get a chance to fire my Tri-Beam. There were a few significant weapons among the Silvers, and my shields began to drop alarmingly. Unfortunately for the Silvers, firing on me gave away their positions to Sphinx and Shrike who leapt in, weapons blazing. The bridge crew holdouts rallied and fired at them from the other side. The last Silver turned his weapon on himself, scorching his own head. I couldn’t blame him, Fleet was rumored to be rather unkind to traitors.

The Bridge was heavily damaged with both sides using every available piece of furniture and equipment for cover. There were quite a few crewmen amid the dead. Otumo stepped out from behind a damaged monitoring station. His pristine uniform was scorched and he carried a rather classy looking antique plasma blaster.

“Nice gun,” I said.

“What is the meaning of this, Raven?” he said, looking angry. “We thought you were dead.”

“Long story,” I said. “It will have to wait Captain. You have a crew to command and we still have insurgents on this ship. I’m in command until the last Silver falls, so if you don’t mind…”

I turned my back on him and went back to work, trying not to grin.

Nomads 13

Nomads is my first experimental serial. The setting is futuristic with elements of armoured suits, diaspora fleets, and bugs.  The experimental part is me trying to write cohesively and coherently in first person, with as little editing and preparation as possible.

Link to Nomads One, Link to Nomads 12

“Hey Raven,” said Scorch through the side of his mouth. “What makes you think that these guys will attack immediately instead of waiting?”

I made a sour face at Scorch, not just because he was supposed to be playing dead in case someone was looking at him using internal cams. Every plan has a flaw. I assumed that whoever was behind the bomb would show themselves quickly to take advantage of the shock. They’d certainly want to attack before salvage investigations showed that the explosion was consistent with sabotage. But the truth is I was taking a gamble, and I would have trouble explaining my actions if Captain Otumo opened the door to find us all lying around covered in fake blood for shits and giggles.

I was saved the trouble of responding by Malificent; I’ve never seen anyone glare effectively  through a single half-open eye, but that woman has serious skills. I head someone snicker. Sunspear probably.

The Dropship shook as the docking field took hold of us. Everyone became still. My mind was filled with unknowns; little scenarios about how the next few minutes of our lives would play out. If our guess was correct we would soon be in combat aboard the Falcon. What if our unknown subversives had smuggled more than a bomb on board?; nomad suits, attack drones, charges big enough to blow the Falcon, the potential situations went round and round in my head as I waited. I can never quiet my mind in that moment of anticipation just before the action starts; one more character flaw on the list I suppose.

There was a metallic click as the docking clamps followed by subtle change in the atmosphere. I always wonder if I imagine that last part, or if I really can feel as the ship engulfs us in her belly.

We waited. Minutes passed. Five. Ten. Fifteen. Even a cautious prick like Otumo would have sent in a drone to check for lifesigns by now. I stoop up, shaking off bug viscera. Tactical sparked to life as the rest of Bright Sword started moving.

“Helmets secured people,” I commed. “This bay isn’t pressurized yet. Either we’re going to catch them by surprise, or they’re set up to gun us down. I’m out first.”

“Why not send a seeker out?” said Sphinx.

“Because it doesn’t change what we’re going to do.” I said. I set my shields to max, full frontal. What I wouldn’t give for a functional shield drone. “On three.”

“One… two… three,”

I popped the drop hatch and leapt out of the Dropship. The bay was unlit and quickly sucked the atmosphere out of the dropship. Other than that things were eerily silent. Emergency lights flashed red through the control room window.

“Open the airlock, over-ride if you have to.” I said. We stepped in to the airlock. Still no resistance. Decontamination protocol activated automatically covering us in biokill sprays.

I commed Otumo on a secure channel while we waited. “Bright Sword alive and active. Status?”

After a moment. “Under attack. Lockdown has been over-ridden. We are holding the bridge. Require assistance.”

On tactical I highlighted the bridge as a conflict zone. This was our first goal. I did not want to split the team up, but Triumph convinced me to sent him, Scorch, and Malificent to secure the engineering deck. Weapons and engines are important, and after the bridge, engineering offers the most control over the ship.

The airlock opened and we started moving. I could see beamer scorch marks on the interior bulkheads. There was no movement in the corridor. We split.

“Plan?” asked Shrike.

“Tactical approach,” I said. In a boarding action on a hostile ship I would blitz, but I had no idea who was friend or foe at the moment. I did not feel like to add friendly fire to my saga.

I sent my remaining seeker drone, Munin, ahead of us. It didn’t take me long to find the first bodies, a couple of crewmen slumped next to each other near the next bay. They had been shot in the back of the head with a beamer, execution style. The bay was the one containing shuttle with the Cryopod. Several men in strange looking uniforms, silver and blue with masks, were examining the Cryopod. The bridge was still our first priority, so I had Sunspear remain behind to deal with them. No matter what tech their suits gave them, they weren’t a match for a Nomad sniper who had the drop on them.

I registered gunfire. Triumph group was still showing as clear. My drone rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of a handful of armed crewmen, security most likely, holding a barricade against a larger group of silver suited subversives. Both sides had wounded.

Tactical gave me a schematic of the entire ship. It was easy to find a round that allowed us to flank the attackers. I sent security a message on local via Munin.

The sad think about an enemy that wears masks is that you cannot see the looks on their faces as they realize they are completely and utterly outgunned. To their credit the Silvers did not run when they saw me, but rather turned an fired. Charge guns arcs and light blaster bolts bounced off my shields. A concussion grenade went off at my feet, staggering me before I could retaliate. The Silvers tried to take advantage of this, but Sphinx was behind me. A blaster shot smoked a hole in a silver. I shook off the grenade and shot a smoking hold in anothe with my tri-beam. They remained eerily silent. The rest turned to run, but ran into Shrike who cut two down with her shotgun. The last of them sought cover and kept shooting, but their position was compromised — we had them in crossfire. They kept shooting until the last one fell.

The security boys were all smiles as they came out from behind their barricades.

Nomads 12

Nomads is my first experimental serial. The setting is futuristic with elements of armoured suits, diaspora fleets, and bugs.  The experimental part is me trying to write cohesively and coherently in first person, with as little editing and preparation as possible.

Link to the first nomads, Link to nomads 11.

The bomb on our ship was a cold hard reality. Fleet hushes up any news of subversives, eliminating evidence quickly and quietly; even their trials are played down — recorded with transcripts instead of trideo. Yet the bomb was evidence of sabotage coming from someone aboard the Falcon. Much as I disliked the overly ambitious Captain Otumo, I could not see him jeopardizing his career with this kind of attack. I could see him leaving us behind or making us look bad, but brazen murder was too much of a risk.

“Can we set it up so that the bomb explodes harmlessly?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Malificent. “I can do it without tripping any of the tampering alarms. Lets get at it Scorch.”

“Thanks Mal,” I said. “Our primary problem is convincing everyone that we are dead, or at least in bad enough shape that the insurgents feel confident that they can take the Falcon. A simple scan will reveal that we are alive pretty quickly. Our second problem is getting on board after the explosion; we don’t want to be left drifting while the action goes down. Suggestions?”

“We could cause a Radiation leak,” said Sphinx. “That would baffle the sensors.”

“No,” said Shrike. “They’d never pull an irradiated ship on board, especially one that just exploded, the Falcon is not geared for that kind of work.”

“What else can baffle sensors?” asked Triumph.

“Can’t you set up a feedback loop of some sort Sphinx?” said Sunspear. “Hack the sensor readings instead of trying to fool them.”

“Oh, yes I can.” said Sphinx. She sounded excited.

“You ladies want to explain that to the rest of us?” I asked.

“Well,” said Sphinx. “It is hard to fool Sensors as powerful and comprehensive as those found on the Falcon, but If I can replace the sensor readings with the data I want them to see we can easily convince them we are dead.”

“Can you do that?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Sphinx. “I can only fool them for a few minutes though. This kind of hack only works if they aren’t looking for it.”

“Not bad,” I said. “Any more suggestions?”

“We should make it look real nasty inside,” said Shrike. “Their bound to check the dropships internal cameras or even our deadbox feeds.”

“Lovely. Let’s get to work,” I said. I sounded more confidant than I felt. I wondered if I was risking the remains of my squad on a longshot to get revenge on hidden enemies. And yet, no one objected to the plan as we laid it out and so I kept my worries to myself.

Half an hour later we were accelerating out of the atmosphere. The Dropship rose smoothly through the clouds.  Naturally our unknown assailants tried to trigger their bomb to explode during a critical part of the ascent. Malificent’s modifications ensured that the explosion did very little actual damage. I will admit though, that my heat jumped into my throat when I heard the boom. So many thing can go wrong during a trans-atmospheric flight, adding another set of variables reminded me of that.

Fake debris and “blood” were strewn around the crew compartment and cockpit by smaller explosions. Mal did a great job on these as well. Lots of practice blowing stuff up I suppose. Scorch looked like he’d almost been blown in half if you looked at his suit  from the proper angle.

Sphinx gave me the thumbs up; her hack was working, then Shrike flicked on the distress signal and we waited, drifting through space, to see if our ruse would work…

Nomads 11

Nomads is my first experimental serial. The setting is futuristic with elements of armoured suits, diaspora fleets, and bugs.  The experimental part is me trying to write cohesively and coherently in first person, with as little editing and preparation as possible.

Link to the first nomads, link to nomads 10.

“What the fuck are we going to do Raven?” said Shrike, her voice soft and despairing. Someone wanted us dead. Smart bets were on Otumo, or one of his flunkies. An intact, occupied Cryopod  from another diaspora fleet or a lost colony would make an ambitious picket captain’s career. I could see him betraying us, but I wasn’t sure about a bomb — stabbing us in the back in his reports or leaving us stranded for a few weeks would be his style, but outright murder seemed extreme.

“We need to think this through,” I said. “Everyone gather up over here.”

I did not want to speak near the ship for fear that the bomb would go off. While bomb had operations grade stealth features, the actual explosive was garden variety, nothing exotic. It would be lethal in space, of course, but the danger zone was limited against a nomad suit on the ground. I called the remains of squad Bright Sword over to me, out of danger. I left my seekers running, checking for additional explosives, as well as listening and monitoring devices. Nomad dropships are swept regularly — all teams must be ready in case they are called in for black ops.

I created a new secure channel, silent and local. for us to speak on. It could be hacked, of course, but it would require some time and more attention from our mystery foes.

“What’s the situation Raven?” asked Scorch, sounding angry and irritable. The mission had gotten to him. Scorch does not like to lose and most Nomads consider losing a squad-mate a serious failure. I tried not to think about Leopard, Quake, and Nova. Faces I would never see again, voices lost for a cycle, at least.

“Someone planted a bomb on our dropship,” I said. “I expect if we’d taken off, we would have had a little accident leaving the atmosphere. We don’t know who planted the device,  but we can be fairly sure it has something to do with this mission, the pod we found.”

“Gotta be Otumo,” said Scorch. “That prick would sell his own mama if he thought it would get him in fleet’s good books. Man wants to be a poli.”

“I thought so too,” I said. “But, it doesn’t add up.”

“He had access,” said Malificent. “He has motive.”

“Think about it, Mal,” said Sphinx. “He has better ways of screwing us — besides, I think whoever set us up here had to know about it beforehand.”

I stood silently for a moment, mind working. Sphinx is smart: she might not be the most experience pilot on the team, but she had priors in both field science, military psychology and fleet intelligence operations. It took me a while to grasp what she was implying; I’m not sure I ever would have arrived without the hint.

“They had to know about the pod beforehand,” I said. “Because someone was planning sabotage.”

“Bombs, even this type, aren’t that easy to requisition or fabricate,” said Shrike.

“Exactly,” said Sphinx. “Believe me, intel tracks everything like this. Every round of ordinance fire by a Nomad, if they can. It is one of the best ways to prevent subversives from blowing a hole in the side of a hab-ship, after all.”

“Not to mention smuggling the damned thing onto the Falcon would be tough,” said Sunspear. “Dock authority is bloody thorough about that sort of thing. Even a captain would have trouble.”

“What if the sabotage is merely opportunistic?” asked Scorch, sounding unconvinced. “It could be that we just have an asshole on the ship who wants to cause trouble.”

“Unlikely,” said Sphinx. “This has to be a carefully thought out act. Picket ships have a relatively high failure rate. It isn’t worth the time and effort to get a bomb and then smuggle in on board, just to destroy a small ship that fleet won’t really miss. But that cryopod? who knows how valuable the occupant is. Picket ships often run into valuable cargo, and we know that scouting this part of the grid is high priority — after all we are are here and so are the Scourge.”

Realization hit me like a hammerblow. “I’m sorry, Raven, I’m so sorry.” Jessup’s voice echoing in my head. He was in charge of putting the drones on the ship. he had known where to find the pod.

“Nomad Leopard knew,” I said.

“He didn’t load the drones so we would be suspicious,” said Triumph. “Something must have tipped him off.”

“Well, I happen to know Nomad Leopard was in on some very classified ops,” said Sphinx. “Ghost stuff. I’m not sure what though.”

“I know he went undercover once,” I said. “Told me he helped break up a cell of subversives who were trying to recruit nomads. Didn’t think much of it — maybe he recognized someone.”

“Why didn’t he say something?” asked Malificent.

“I can think of a few reasons,” said Sphinx. “None of them are verifiable yet. However, I he must have known that we had more than one enemy — after all, if it isn’t Otumo then we are dealing with at least a squad of men.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well I figure they wanted us out of the way so that they could take the ship,” said Sphinx. “We are the best defence against any incursion, especially if they can bypass lockdown. If they can smuggle a bomb on, small arms aren’t that much of a problem, right?”

“Should I warn Otumo?” I asked.

“No,” said Sphinx. “They could easily hide among the crew of the Falcon and strike later. We need to flush them out.”

“Fuck,” said Shrike. “How do we get them to show themselves?”

“We make them think we are dead,” said Sphinx.

Nomads 10

Link to the first nomads, link to nomads 9.

(Sorry for the delay, I was busy putting my short story, Bloodlust: The Great Games up on Amazon)

Something bothered me about the drones.

Drones are the backbone of any Nomad team. On a purely tactical level drones act as an adaptable force modifier and allow nomads to engage targets from one extra step removed if desired. An old war philosopher called drones the second remove.  The best way I can explain it is that a remove is an offensive advantage that gives a tremendous advantage in safety over those who do not share it. In her estimation the first remove was ranged weaponry, giving a soldier the ability to kill from a distance. If you have a good rifle and your opponent has a greatsword, the distance between you is a tremendous, almost uncrossable gulf. It takes quite a bit to overcome that remove. A drone adds another remove. You can attack  at a range, remotely. Your opponent may strike back at the drone if they have a ranged weapon, but not necessarily at you. It is an interesting idea that I cannot really do justice to. Suffice it to say that drones changed everything when they first appeared, that much of the old histories survive.

Even when Nomads and the fleet do not have the luxury of sending the drones to do all the work, they often do a lot of the heavy lifting. Some, literally; ammo, cargo, and repair drones are indispensable in many operations, if a little boring. Most Nomads leave non-combat drones to their own devices, letting them run on auto and only interfacing with them through universals. Still, I think they are worth mentioning. Nobody likes running dry when the enemy is bearing down.

Combat drones are sexy. Most nomads have at least two. Some of the more advanced suits drop all but basic weapons in favour of more attack drones. The Black Widow Nomad suit is a good example. Interface with up to twelve drones. A Widow in a secure position is almost as feared as sniper or a kill-sat. Of course interfacing with twelve drones requires a special kind of talent. I find running five difficult enough, and I am considered quite good. I dated a Widow pilot once. In the end I wondered if they named the damned suit class after her.

On the surface Combat drones provide a Nomad team with extra fire-power. Specialist weapons that might be too constraining for regular use, guns that are too unwieldy for your suit class, and so on. A few multi-purpose Combat drones have multiple weapons and even shields, acting as full capability teammates. Their are advantages an disadvantages to both. Most ace Nomads disdain the multi-purpose combat drones, calling them training drones, but Nomad Triumph very rarely leaves his behind. A few combat drones are even more unusual, like Jessup’s ripper drone, Sharky. Ripper drones are essentially a flying bladestorm: monofilament wires, vibrosaws, nightmarish up close. Limited use, but very, very powerful.

Combat drones are also more expendable than Nomads. They know no fear, at least not that I have ever heard. They can be placed in positions and situations that would be too risky for an armoured suit. That’s the second remove thing I guess. Most Nomads hate losing a drone, but it beats kicking the bucket yourself. Almost all combat drones can be set to overload and detonate, it is expensive, but some situations really do call for a remote control suicide bomb.

Sensory drones come in many flavours and are nearly as common as combat drones. A good sensory drone is small, cloaked, and carries quite a bit of analytical equipment. My seekers, Hugi and Munin, are about the size of a human head and carry a full battery of sensory equipment. Raw recruits often look on seekers with disdain, but it only takes one run in with a stalker or a cloaked renegade to change your mind on that account — if you don’t buy it. A few specialist sensory drones see common use among Nomads. Spotter drones act as targeting assists for snipers or artillery. Sniffer drones can analyze scents, which happens to be the best way of detecting and tracking bugs. Sphinx can actually use a sniffer drone to read the scent based communications of the Scourgeforms, the only way we have found of listening in on them.

Defensive drones see frequent use,  especially by heavies. I love my shield drones. Nothing beats having a mobile shield in tight battles — I have saved more than a few squad-mates from death over the years with a well timed shield boost. I sorely missed in this day’s fighting– it is almost as if those bloody stalkers came at me just to get rid of it. Barrier drones are less mobile but can provide a nearly unassailable wall when needed. ECM and counter-missile drones are almost indispensable in some conflicts.

Some of us are even superstitious about the little machines. Drones do not learn an adapt with the speed of a human or full-function AI, but a long serving drone can pick up a few tricks and even some quirks that make them seem like part of the team. I have seen hardened Nomads give funeral services, even shed tears for a pet drone that had been with them for a long time.

Stepping onto a dropship that wasn’t carrying any drones made me feel naked and suddenly vulnerable. Nomads do not neglect their drones, even a lazy, rebellious bastard like Jessup. They are simply too important. We always carry spares, if only to switch out specialist drone types. I held my fist up, pulsing caution over secure coms. I motioned for scorch and maleficent to get off the boat. 

Shrike read my mind, her seekers began to slowly, lazily examine the dropships hull. It did not take them long to find the bomb.