Circling the isles of Opportunity and conjoining the other three nations, the Inner Sea was once a place of quiet trade - gravboats and sailing craft making their slow processions across the great blue expanse.
Now it is a place of piracy, smuggling, and perilous adventure. The People's Combine have seized shipping in their relentless advance, Valtaria has blockaded its ports, and the Walkers send raiders with strange beasts to predate on what remains - seemingly just for fun.
In response, Opportunity have refitted their remaining merchant fleets for battle. Supporting the Restitution Projects is no easy task, and the flow of contraband into the other nations is one of Opportunity's few remaining sources of income. If they are to succeed, they have a battle on their hands.
Stories from the Inner Sea are likely to feature characters from all four cultures, potentially in multidirectional mêlées. Boom!
Engines Really Shouldn't Be Doing That
The door of the engine room swung open. Comrade Valve stood there, expressionless, the flames flickering in the reflection of his glasses, the thick black smoke swirling ominiously around his feet.
“Comrade Crankshaft? I understand there is a problem with the engine?”
Crankshaft pulled themselves up from from where they had been working, beneath the smoking wreck of what had been Engine 5. “You could,” They said, pausing to push a cog back into place with a grunt, “say that, yes.” Crankshaft wiped the sweat off their brow, unintentionally covering it with engine oil.
“I was told that fixing this might be dangerous, and that you might need assistance. I have brought over Volunteer Axle, she has had some rudimentary engineering training, she may be of assistance.” He paused, his eyes flickering over the damage, a grim smile crossing his face. “Good luck, Comrade.”
Valve walked away from the door, revealing, in the wake of his shadow, a small, scruffy looking volunteer. Crankshaft looked her over for barely a moment before pulling their goggles down over their eyes and diving back into the blaze, spanner in one hand as they wrestled with loosening a bolt that wasn’t going anywhere fast. “Well, are you just going to stand there, or join in with trying to get this fixed?” they shouted over their shoulder, “Do you know something about engines or don’t you?”
Axle slipped her own goggles over her eyes and strode through the smoke. “What in the name of Unity happened here?” She bent down to inspect the remains of a turbine blade. At almost the exact same moment, the bolt Crankshaft was trying to loose broke free, causing them to collapse, and the bolt to fly over Axle’s head, as more sections of the engine pipework collapsed into the furnace.
“It doesn’t matter at the moment, we’ll work that out once we’ve got it shipshape again. But that’s never going to happen until we’ve got the fire under control. Can you find the button for the fire suppression system? It should be on the wall over there.” they say, pointing through the flames and smoke at the far wall.
“Not a problem!” Axle raised her voice, to be heard over something crashing to the ground amongst the flames. She covered her face with her well worn jacket, and ran into the flames, without hesitation. The thick smoke made it hard to see through the goggles, so she tore them off as she reached the far wall, wincing as the smoke stung her eyes, but continuing regardless. Eventually, with fire licking at her clothes, and her lungs barely able to cope, she found the button and slammed it down, just as she heard Crankshaft yell “Oh, You’ll want to hold your breath.”
As the button depressed, gas vented from pressurised tanks in the ceiling, flooding the room, forcing the air out and away from the fire, as well as both Axle and Crankshaft. The flames extinguished, Crankshaft hurried over to a secure cupboard by the door and withdrew two sets of breathing apparatus, complete with Oxygen tanks. They set one beside Axle, still lying on the floor, before securing the other to their face and turning to survey the damage. Axle rolled over and reached for the mask, with the arm that had been holding the jacket up above her face. Her hand was red with burns, but she ignored it until the breathing apparatus was on, and the coughing and spluttering had calmed down. Then she poked it with mild interest, grimacing at the pain, before looking around herself.
With the smoke clearing, it was obvious that the damage to the engine was extensive, with charring on most visible surfaces and numerous pipes and cogs part-melted or collapsed from the heat. As the last smouldering embers flickered out, Crankshaft strode over to one of the walls and pulled a lever. After checking a gauge, they pulled their mask off, indicating to Axle it was safe to do the same. “Axle wasn’t it? Good fighting spirit you got there. So, what do you reckon, we going to be able to salvage it?”
Axle took off the mask, a little grin flickering on her face at the compliment. She tore off a strip of her shirt to make a make-shift bandage for the burn, and looked around. “Well, you’re the expert, but…. I’d say it doesn’t look good. Blocked pipe by the fuel tank, if i were gonna hazard a guess? Coulda been sabotage.”
“Sabotage you reckon?” Crankshaft pulled their gloves on. “Well, there’s only one way to find out for certain. Take it apart, see what we can find, and then build it up from the ground. With some modifications of course. Tell you what, you get started here, while I go start up Engine 7 across the way. Once I get back, I’ll pitch in with you, maybe we can teach each other a thing or two. You’re not expected back on the Symphony of Purpose any time soon are you?”
Axle was already poking around near the remains of the fuel tank, she turned to Crankshaft and gave a wry grin. “Well, no-one’s likely to miss me.”
The Last Broadcast
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
Combine Liberation vessel designation….‘Oncoming Storm of Progress.’
Last known location: The Inner Sea
A judder rocked the camera and a man steps back into view. He is wearing a red uniform and he pushes his glasses up his nose. He looked bloody and haggard and held onto a low hanging strap as he spoke.
“This is Hegemonic Engineer Rotation of the Oncoming Storm Of Progress, this is going to be the last broadcast from this vessel. We held the line for as long as we could. We engaged the Opportunity forces to liberate this place for the Combine. Just our luck that the Valtarians were reinforcing the blockade. The Crew decided that we would hold the line until the ships carrying the liberated got back to Combine territory. We are dead in the skies. Our powder magazine struck, our engines are burned out, we are on fire, we are barely hanging on and we are losing altitude. This ship is falling apart we are going down. But can you hear that? CAN YOU HEAR THAT?”
The sound of cannon fire can be heard in the background of the recording.
“That is the sounds of liberation, the sounds of us doing what any Child of the Combine would do. We will fight for what we believe in. We will fight until we run out of shells. We will fight until our sabers break and our knuckles are bloody. We will buy the other ships enough time. That I promise you. That we promise you. I say this to you. Those who watch this. Remember us, do not be sad that we are gone. We are willing to die for the Combine. Remember the sounds of our guns, the sounds of our cries, the sounds of the Combine on our lips. We will hold them. Opportunity, Valtarian, Walker - it does not matter.”
The camera shakes and Rotation steadies himself.
“To those who may see this from the other forces. I had to liberate your broadcast frequencies for this to get the best range, our antenna was damaged. I don’t care if you have issue, you may take it up with our guns. To those watching this, you will be Free for the Combine will rescue you. The Combine will Liberate you. Our only regret is that we will not be the ones to do it. Have heart. To those who we have saved. Honour those who have died by being all that you can be, For the Combine, For Liberty, For Freedom.”
The rate of fire slows down, what sounds like an explosion close by catches in the microphone. Hegemonic Engineer Rotation looks off camera. He pulls out a service revolver and checks the rounds. He looks up at the camera.
“I have to go. I have been away too long. This needed to be said, this needed to have an ending to the story. The Storm was a fine ship, with a fine crew and I wanted to let you know Citizens that we made them pay for every inch of the sky today. Do not mourn us. Remember us. This is the Oncoming Storm of Progress….signing out……For the Combine.”
Hegemonic Engineer Rotation smiles sadly for just a second, nods and cuts transition.
Relief ships arrived to report the wreckage of Seven Opportunity Merchant Ships, Three Valtarian Vessels and Four Combine Vessels.
Victorious In Purpose: 73 hands lost, no survivors
Liberty Through Invention: 89 Hands lost, no survivors
Ruination Of Tyrants: 94 hands lost, no survivors
Oncoming Storm Of Progress: 321 hands Lost, no Survivors.
Total Casualties: 577
Endurance Of Unity: Number of Liberated – 37 Hands
Resistance Against Oppression: Number of Liberated – 51 Hands
Total Liberated: 88
Mission deemed successful.
Hegemonic Engineer Rotation’s broadcast under review for suitability for circulation with the rest of the Combine. Pending review.