Alright. It's been a while, like five months yeah? I had to do a lot of soul-searching, the result of that being the FGO story being taken down. Most of you reading this are going to be coming from HWGA probably. I plan on wrapping that up in one chapter because, well, I'm finished. I can't do it anymore; I need a fresh idea and a universe that I can actually work with without it feeling like I'm trying to fix things or work against canon/lore. That's a story for that section though not here.
This is it. After months of searching this is going to be the new project. I learned from past mistakes I've worked on my style and with help have already laid out a framework for this. So, as the chapter says. Let's get back on that horse
Get Back on that Horse
"Once you go into this line of work you never really get away, it leaves its mark on you forever. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Some people choose to move on, guys like me? We embrace it."
1200 HOURS EASTERN EUROPEAN AIRSPACE
Benjamin Hatch maintained a white-knuckled grip of his seat straps and grit teeth as the helicopter darted through unknown territory. Every time the aircraft banked hard, his luggage slid from one side to the other with loud, violent bangs. In any other situation, he would not have cared, but this time, his personal guitar was hidden among the mass of gear and balled up clothing. More than once, he had to stick his leg out and catch the sliding mass with his boot.
Glancing outside, he swallowed his discomfort as pine trees came uncomfortably close. The only respites to this wild ride, brief as they were, were the occasional clearing or lake. Even then, the pilots seemed to make it their goal to see just how close to the ground they could get without crashing.
It wasn't Hatch's first time flying like this, but he never got comfortable with it either. He brought a gloved finger to his earpiece and spoke with a near growl.
"Is there a particular reason why we're flying NOE!?*"
One of the pilots didn't bother looking back as he chuckled and replied in heavily-accented English. "What, you scared, American? We fly this way because it is right way to fly here!"
Hatch rolled his eyes as he stopped his gear from sliding once more. "No, I just don't want to end up in a million fucking pieces on the ground! Scared? Nah, in fact, I heard Russian pilots are world renown for their piloting!"
The other pilot took his right hand off the flight stick and struck a middle finger up back at Hatch. "Very funny, always joke. Hah Hah. We fly this way because jackasses around here always think they get lucky with missile!"
"Missiles? The hell!? What, is there nobody watching this area?" Hatch's eyes darted around, waiting to see the telltale sign of tracer fire or an RPG corkscrewing into the air. Nap-of-Earth didn't stop assholes from using other weapons to bring your flying coffin down.
"You must have never been out this way—ahh blyat! Hang on!" One of the pilots yanked his stick up as the helicopter gained altitude over a hill that had come butt-clenchingly close; Hatch was nearly thrown into the roof for his troubles.
Once the aircraft leveled out, the pilot sighed. "As I was saying. This is not Rocksert territory, Yankee. Military is not always keen to keep eyes on everything. Out here is lawless land. Bandits, people trying to make ends meet! Griffon and Kryuger have been meaning to set up an outpost here but eh. Busy as of late! Stretched thin!"
"Bandits with surface to air missiles?!" Hatch gave him an incredulous look.
"Bandits, militants! Sometimes malfunctioning abandoned SAM sites or worse, Sangvis Ferri."
Hatch cocked his head to the side. "Sangvis Ferri? The big arms manufacturer? What the hell happened with them? Why are they out here?!"
"Yeesh, you really been living under rock, eh Yankee Doodle? They went rogue a few years back. I'm not sure why but word on the grapevine is that the dolls took over."
"The dolls took over? Like a fucking robot uprising?"
The other pilots nodded. "That's correct. Right now, they're making big moves out here. You really are out of the loop, eh?!"
"Yeah, it's called trying to live a quiet life!" Experience took over as Hatch scanned the treeline. A pointless reflex. He had no weapons and the insane helicopter pilots obviously thought door gunners weren't necessary.
Both of the pilots laughed before one gave a thumbs up. "Oh, but I think you will like it here Yankee! Yes, just like uh...Wild West?! Like your old movies!?"
Hatch shook his head. There was no such thing as the Wild West anymore. The Belian Island Incident and World War 3 had seen to that. Now, it was called hell, just like anywhere else that had been devastated by the changing climate.
"You still alive Yankee?! Piss yourself?" The pilot's thick voice brought Hatch back to the present. He shook off the melancholy before letting out a fake laugh.
"Nah, I just haven't heard that name in a while! I wasn't aware we were still called that!"
"Ah, do not let new world fool you. Your home may get a new name but you'll always be what you're meant to be!" One of the other pilots gave his comrade a pat on the shoulder. "It's important to remember your heritage! Sometimes it is all we have in this world."
Hatch gave a weak smile as he eyed the dog tags around his neck. "Yeah, rah to that."
Suddenly the helicopter lurched as it gained altitude.
"Whew! Okay, good. Once again, thank you for flying friendly skies! This is GnK zone, no assholes pick a fight here!"
Hatch scooted closer to a window and peered out at the landscape below. Scenic views were replaced with scattered outposts and heavily-armed fortifications. He could barely make out the small dots of personnel running to and fro as they monitored weapon emplacements and other defenses. From the buildings to the weapon emplacements, the Griffon and Kryuger logo was prominent. The logo reminded Hatch of the old SNCO* ranks, only turned upside down.
All of these outposts paled in comparison to the massive installation that began to grow on the horizon. Hatch's slack-jawed, wide-eyed expression was visible even behind the thick beard and Oakley sunglasses.
The facility had all the makings of a modern military base. Multiple helipads by massive maintenance hangars next to an airfield. SAM sites and weapon systems were placed at strategic areas to ensure complete coverage. Tall concrete walls with guard posts surrounded the base ensuring no unwelcome guests came in. At the center of it all was a massive concrete complex set up in such a way to ensure that every angle could be defended from within. Everywhere Hatch looked he saw military activity and the backings of a large budget.
Like he was back in the service.
He gave a low whistle as the helicopter began its descent next to the center structure. "You guys sure are well funded. Look like I picked the right place!"
Both pilots laughed as the helicopter gently touched down. "Ah well, you better mind your manners! You still have to meet with Helian and she's got quite the no-nonsense attitude!"
Hatch shrugged. "Aint never met a woman I couldn't handle."
"Oh, you say that now, Yankee doodle! You will see."
"Yeah, I guess I will." Hatch undid the straps for his seat and adjusted his bomber jacket's fur collar before fetching his gear off the cabin floor. He yanked the door open amidst the slowing rotor wake, slung his gear, and made his way towards the main building.
"Hatch?! Um, Sergeant Hatch?!" Hatch hadn't even made it halfway across the tarmac when a woman's voice called out to him. His head snapped around, looking for the source of the voice before he focused on a small red-headed girl with a sideways ponytail jogging over towards him. A contractor? How did she know his name?
The tan GnK Jacket was the only thing connecting her to the organization. Her loose red tie, open blouse, hard knuckle gloves, short skirt, and mismatched stockings looked like they belonged on a stage girl about to do an act at a gentlemen's club. She couldn't be any older than twenty years old at best.
Hatch lowered his glasses slightly as she finally caught up with him, taking a few moments to catch her breath before straightening herself out. "Sergeant Hatch? Here to see Helian, right?"
"Yeah? That'd be me." Hatch adjusted his bag. "And you are?"
The cheerful girl outstretched a gloved hand with a bright smile. "I'm Kalina. I've been assigned as your adjutant starting today!"
Hatch raised an eyebrow as he gave her outfit another look. There's no way she wasn't slightly cold even with the thick jacket. "Adjutant? What, like a secretary or something?"
Hatch put his glasses back up and shook his head. "I'm Charles Hatch. I was told my adjutant was going to be Vladimir Kalashnikov. If you're looking for my brother Benjy, he's still on his way."
Kalina gave a sigh and looked back at her tablet. "Oh, sorry for the confusion then." She then put on a smile. "Vladimir is really great at his job!"
"I'm sure he is. Trust me, you'll like Benj too. Anyways, I gotta dip. Great meeting you." Hatch spun on his heels and began to walk fast towards the complex as he muttered under his breath.
"Yeah, right. What do they think I am, a big brother?"
"Hey! Wait, a minute! There's no Charles!" Hatch winced as he heard Kalina find out his ruse. "Fuck."
In seconds, the upbeat adjutant was hot on his heels, giggling all the while. "Ah, they told me you'd probably pull something like that! You're such a trickster commander!"
Hatch rolled his eyes. "Yeah, congrats, you passed the test. And don't call me commander."
Kalina began scrolling through her tablet her eyes remaining glued on the disgruntled veteran. "Why not commander?"
"I was a Sergeant, not an officer. It sounds weird. Just call me, I dunno. Benj, Benjy, Hatchet, Sergeant Hatchet. Any of those work."
Kalina put a finger under her chin as they entered the warmth of the complex. "Commander Hatchet!"
"I—" Hatch grit his teeth. "We'll work on it for now."
GnK MAIN FACILITY, WAITING ROOM
After an eternity of going through security checkpoints and Kalina's non-stop chattering, Hatch breathed a sigh of relief as he sat down, taking care to gently lower his gear to the floor.
He stretched his legs out with a satisfying crack before taking in his new surroundings, tucking his sunglasses into a jacket pocket. Everything had turned into a complete departure from what he had seen so far. Metal floors and high-tech hallways filled with the hustle and bustle of personnel were replaced by a room that looked like it had come straight out of the Victorian era.
Several large crystal chandeliers cast a warm glow over a red carpeted floor. Fancy wooden chairs, identical to the one Hatch sat on, lined each of the oak walls, occasionally parted by a table or a curtained window.
At the center of the room, the large statue of a heavily built man stood with his arms folded casting a stern glare over any and all. Hatch had seen enough of the man's face in the news to recognize Berezovich Kryuger, his new boss. He looked every bit as intimidating as he did on television with his massive fur-collared coat and business suit. The man's expression demanded respect and Hatch knew he worked hard to get where he was now.
Hatch whistled. "Well. If you ever had any doubts who owned the place, that'll certainly keep you up to date."
"Ah yes, Mister Kryuger." Kalina took a seat next to Hatch and let her tablet rest on her knees. "He looks pretty intimidating, but he's a good man and a good leader. He runs our organization with firm fairness."
She paused to adjust her skirt before folding her arms. "He fought in the great war, you know. Not many people can say that."
"Yeah, I'm aware." Hatch's hand subconsciously floated over his dog tags, a gesture that caught Kalina's attention as she quickly looked back at her tablet her eyes going wide. "Oh wait. It says here you did too! Wow, America? Isn't it called the Rocksert Coalition now?"
"So was it as ba—"
Hatch pointed at the statue of Kryuger. "Take a good look at his face. That should tell you all you need to know."
Kalina put a hand to her mouth as her face flushed in shame. "I'm sorry. I got a little carried away. It's just not often that we get veterans from the war here."
"It's alright, not the first time I've been asked that question." Hatch leaned forward and rubbed his calloused hands. "Probably won't be the last either."
Things were silent for a few moments before a hidden intercom crackled to life with a woman's British accent coming through. "Mister Hatch. You may enter my office via the double doors to your front. Make sure to close the doors behind you."
Hatch got up off his chair and looked back at Kalina. "Keep an eye on my stuff."
The adjutant nodded and gave him a thumbs up. Hatch returned the gesture before making his way to the large double doors at the far end of the room, passing by the statue on his way. He swore he could feel its eyes watching him every step of the way.
He took a deep breath as his hands reached the doors' golden handles, as if to brace himself for some terrible fight on the other side.
"Here goes nothing."
Hatch gave the handles a turn and pushed, the worn doors groaning as they opened. He shuffled in, the doors closing behind him.
Like the waiting room, Helian's office had much of the same architecture with a splash of modern. Large computer screens displaying maps lined the walls and stood in stark contrast to well-kept bookshelves and pre-war maps.
"Yes, it's all very nice, isn't it? Over here, mister Hatch."
Hatch's eyes followed a long red carpet atop the polished wooden floor leading to a desk at the far end of the narrow room. Behind it sat a well-dressed woman with fingers steepled, her elbows rested on her desk as she stared at Hatch behind a monocle with piercing citrine eyes.
Hatch's bootsteps made heavy echos as he made his way towards the desk, keeping his eyes on Helian the whole time. Once closer, the first thing Hatch noticed was that unlike Kalina, Helian was dressed for the occasion.
Not a hint of civilian attire, only the grooming of proper business standards. Her red coat, primly pressed, suggested she had an important position in the company, while her monocle gave her a charming, mature look. Much like Kryuger, her stern expression told him she would tolerate no bullshit.
She wasn't too bad looking on the eyes either. Had the circumstances been different, Hatch wouldn't mind taking her out for a drink.
"Benjamin Hatch. Service number five five nine two alpha nine. United States Marine Corps." Helian paused before as a blue hologram emanated from atop her desk. "Now the Rocksert Marines. Distinguished service as a Sergeant during World War 3 and subsequent operations with the Raiders as a 7314 Doll Coordinator."
Hatch nodded as he put his arms behind his back. "Wouldn't call it distinguished, ma'am. I just did as I was told and tried to keep my men alive."
Helian maintained her posture as her eyes continued to scan over Hatch's information. "Yes, I can see. Though, it says here you felt like you attempted to turn down a few commendations. Why?"
"I didn't bring everyone back."
"Given the nature of the war, I'd say you did well enough." Helian raised an eyebrow.
Hatch shook his head."Wish I could feel the same."
Helian turned the hologram off with a tap on her desk before putting a finger under her chin. "So why are you here today, mister Hatch? What brings you to our organization?"
Hatch let his arms rest at his side. "Guess I just couldn't keep the lifestyle behind me. Tried to live a quiet life up north. Didn't work—"
Helian interrupted. "And your mother needed your help? Widowed from the war while you were growing up. A noble cause. one should always strive to keep those they hold dear safe."
"I… yes." Hatch maintained his composure. Of course they would do more than a cursory background check. "She's all I got left in this world. I owe it to her after all she's done for me. I can assure you. She's secondary to why I'm here."
"So, mister Hatch." Helian removed her monocle and began to wipe it down with a handkerchief for a few moments. Satisfied it was cleaned to her liking she returned it to its proper place and glared at Hatch.
"When we received your resume, you failed to mention that you participated in several ELID cleanup operations. Why is that?"
Hatch furrowed his brow before folding his arms. "Probably because that's classified information. Like what's going on with my mother."
"Or maybe you didn't feel comfortable sharing."
"Maybe. Some things deserve to be buried."
"Nothing stays hidden from us for long." Helian interlocked her fingers and rested her chin on them. "That's how we've gotten so good at the game, you see."
Hatch only blinked. "Right. Of course, you throw enough money at something and eventually it'll give. I'm not a stranger to that. So let me ask: why does it matter?"
"Because the ELID and the contagion they carry represent the greatest threat to our species." Helian waved a hand at the rest of the base outside her office window. "It's why we're where we are today. Well, that and the Great War." She went back to resting her chin on her hands. "There are two kinds of people who have fought the ELID: those who die and join their ranks, and there are those who live and have a wealth of information to share."
Hatch shook his head. "And here I was thinking surviving World War 3 was enough."
Helian gave a coy smile. "It is. Combined with your experience fighting ELID, you're a very lucky man. Depending on how this conversation goes, perhaps even luckier. You certainly have the credentials to be here."
Hatch shook his head solemnly. "I don't consider myself lucky-"
"I have to ask. What was it like?" Helian interrupted and leaned in as if she didn't hear anything Hatch had said. "Is it as bad over there as they say?"
"I don't know. You tell me. Did you get the helmet cam footage? The names and unit designations? You were able to find out my mom needed help."
Helian raised an eyebrow. "Names?"
"The names of all the guys I lost? Their designations?"
"Designations?" Helian looked on incredulously. "I'm sorry mister Hatch, excuse me for a moment. As in doll designations? The manufacturer serial numbers?"
Hatch nodded, his expression only worsening. "Yeah, those. Those were my guys too."
Helian raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Guys? I'm sorry Hatch, but it sounded like you consider the dolls to be your men as well? You'll have to excuse my confusion here."
"Yes, guys! Am I speaking a different language?!" Hatch bit his bottom lip as he forced himself to calm down. "Look, you want to know what it was like? You keep me around and maybe you'll find out."
If Hatch's outburst had bothered Helian, she didn't show it.
Hatch sighed. "Now, with all due respect, is this a job interview or a psych eval? I don't know what else you've heard, but if you think I'll hesitate to pull triggers and kick down doors, you're wrong. You give me a squad of dolls and some pipe hitters, and I'll make them run circles around anyone or anything."
He let his arms rest by his sides as Helian spun her chair around and looked outside at the afternoon sunlight.
"I think that will be all for now, Mister Hatch. Please wait in the lobby and I'll call back for you."
"Right." Hatch spun on his heels. Once he left, Helian spun back around and pressed a button on her desk.
A light blue glow was cast over her face as the small hologram of a heavily built beast of a man appeared. His thick Russian accent came in loud and clear over a hidden speaker.
The agent nodded. "Did you get all that, Mister Kryuger?"
The hologram folded his arms. "Yes, I did. We'll make use of him. Tell Commander Hatch he's been accepted. Ensure he gets his dolls and equipment checked out with Kalina. We're going to need him out in the field as soon as possible. That'll be all."
Helian nodded. "Yes sir, Mister Kryuger." She pressed a button and the hologram shifted to that of a floating microphone. "Browning, this is Helian."
The microphone began to vibrate as the voice transmission came through. "This is Browning. You need something, boss?"
"Yes, I'm going to need a team for your new commander."
There was a brief pause before the voice responded. "...New commander?"
"Yes. His name is Commander Hatch. He'll be replacing your previous superior."
"Alright..I'll put in the order with mainside. You want them shipped here or...?"
"No, I'll have them immediately assigned. Hatch will arrive with them within a day or so. " Helian stretched her back for a moment and was just about to cut the transmission when she stopped. "Browning, what is the status on M950A?"
"Calico? Last I checked, mainside was going to take her core out today. Why?"
Helian rubbed her chin. "How long does that take?"
"Not long depending on when they get around to it. I've got her in the system over here as standing by—"
"Good. That'll be all, Browning." Helian cut the transmission and switched the channel. "Maintenance bay. This is Helian, what is the status on M950A?"
There was a brief pause before a woman's voice came through. "Good afternoon, ma'am. Right now, she's being moved in for core extraction."
"Cancel that and have her sent to my office immediately. She's being reassigned."
"Come again? Reassigned? Are you sure?"
"Yes." Helian brought Hatch's resume back up on her screen and looked over some of the photos that accompanied it. "I think I might have finally found the proper home for her."
Nothing to really say as nothing has really kicked off yet. I'll be adding any acronyms below each chapter. If you have questions about HWGA don't crop it up here. You can PM me or ask elsewhere.
NOE-Nap of the Earth.