This army has been one of the most fun wargaming projects I have worked on; I have taken the time to personalise and create custom scenic bases for every miniature, bought third-party conversion parts to add to the kits to ensure none are completely stock constructions and come up with a backstory for every unit. I have tied the backstory into my other armies for the game where possible, thus the Three-Ones and the Salamandine Incident turn up…
It is also only eight models, a truly elite force!
Black Talon Recon Team Special Unit K71
K71-001 Devilfish: Eagle: Xan “Holland” Zevaan
Prior to transfer to Team K71, Holland had rapidly reached the situation of being a fish significantly too large for his pond; following a rapid promotion to Sergent in the light of the unfortunate incident surrounding Valentina Salamandine’s hospitalisation mere days before a regimental-level inspection and audit, he had found himself in something of a career dead end. The Three-Eights, Salamandine’s Compagnie, saw little action outside of hunting raiders and optimistic northern patrols, thus Holland was frequently lacking for targets during his period in command.
The higher echelons were in something of a quandary; Holland was by all accounts far too good a pilot to be shooting bandits in the middle of the desert, but most of the Three-Eights were, brutally put, not very good and without a competent leader morale and performance would plummet. As mischief has a tendency to surround bored and skilled pilots (and Issue of the Three-Ones’ duel was still fresh in the memory of the Inspectorate), an executive decision was made as soon as Salamandine was cleared to pilot again. Holland was transferred to the Black Talons, and given the opportunity to make himself useful. He took his callsign in honour, he says, of the only bandit to ever give him and his team of 3-8s a run for their money on the battlefield.
Gear K71-001, assigned name “Devilfish,” is – like all of K71’s Gears – a heavily modified one. K71’s commanding officer, Hope, insisted her whole unit should bring with them sufficient gear for long-range operation – thus Holland was assigned the role of carrying several canisters of potable water for the team in case they ended up camped deep in the desert. The extensive stowage carried on Devilfish and its fellow Gears arguably impedes its stealth systems’ operation, but does allow the team to work in significantly more comfort – and thus higher morale – for longer periods.
K71-002 Nord: Eagle (Suppression Pack): Dominic “Doc” Harp
Doc was formerly a Gear mechanic and field engineer who had failed his frontline piloting examinations and been assigned a backline role. When assembling her team, Hope had not initially considered the need for an engineer; Black Talon forces generally had little need of earthworks or longstanding fortifications, and every pilot was expected to be able to repair their Gear in the field should it be needed.
It was good timing that, when K71’s latest operation required the traversal of an extensive network of minefields and fortifications, Doc was nearby, and talking rather loudly about the time he had destroyed two CEF Frames in nothing but a Bricklayer. There was momentary discussion between Hope and Doc’s commander, mostly about how and why he had failed to be assigned to combat duties. It turned out he had simply proved unable to properly adjust to a single-seater training suit – being a slightly larger man than most he had found the cockpit of a Jager too small, and never really taken to actual combat units. There was no lack of talent, only personal failings which could be remedied more easily outside of an academy environment.
Doc’s Eagle, Nord, has had its seat and safety rig stripped out and a custom-built replacement built by Doc himself. This has had the benefit of lightening the unit significantly (as Doc had got used to piloting the all but open-topped Bricklayer, he saw little need to put in as many restraints and fastenings save those needed to survive an airdrop). It carries part of the team’s supply of spare parts and coolant for energy weapons, as well as Doc’s own engineering kit including mine-clearing tools and razorwire for establishing a camp perimeter.
K71-101 Courageous: Raptor (Interdiction Pack): Joshua “Loewe” Albright
Loewe is the only member of K71 to be Talons through and through; a pilot for the PRDF transferred to the “Elite Program” long before K71 was even a consideration he has piloted Courageous for almost his entire career, and it shows from the almost total lack of adornment he will suffer on it. A reserved and ascetic man who observers say barely seems to eat or sleep he travels light and carries only enough supplies for himself on board his Raptor. This caused friction with Hope at first, but he pointed out that Courageous’ energy weapon loadout meant it carried less ammunition and could rearm (slowly) by means of solar power, and thus if anyone was better suited for long-range stakeouts and patrols it was him. Thus he is often found ranging far ahead of other Gears, a cold and efficient hunter operating with the rest of K71 as fire support.
Something Loewe keeps very quiet from his former employers, and indeed members of the Talon Program that are not affiliated with K71, is his sympathy for the Badlands Revolutionary Front. K71 is rather more proletariat-friendly than most PRDF or Talon forces given its core of no-questions-asked anti-authority mercenaries, but nevertheless rumours about that Loewe may have at one point been an anti-Paxton operative as a sideline from his respectable job as a “test pilot” and special forces operative. Whether or not this is true, his appearance as a convincing terrorist earned him the respect of Liberati operatives in missions on Caprice and has proved a major asset; working alongside Swordfish he can get K71 access to resistance cells and weapons dealers that more formal military units would never be allowed near.
As a member of K71, Loewe is incredibly close to Hope both professionally and – as the talk of the unit would have it – personally. Hope’s “operational latitude” does not officially extend to close relationships of this kind – it is felt that sort of thing is a distraction for units that need to be able to be cold and impersonal where needed and brotherhood-in-arms is a more useful resource than “softer” emotions (the words, one hastens to add, of the Talon Program’s more senior officers!) Obviously such guidelines are unenforceable – and Swordfish is not particularly good at keeping secrets, thus the whole of K71 are aware that Diamond Team’s bonds are rather closer than most.
K71-102 Lionheart: Raptor: Esther “Hope” Astrada
When the time came to create a new Talon team, Hope was selected from the many command candidates after an extensive and heated period of discussion. Formerly Senior Ranger Astrada of the UMF Lake Tristan Army, she had made a name for herself in early conflicts with the CEF and thus was a natural target for the Talons. The only problem was the demands she made. Complete freedom to choose the other members of her force. A full refit of her current UMF unit’s Gears with next-generation models to address the issue of CEF remnants attacking Lyonesse. And a level of operational latitude a little greater than the Talons usually granted; a scalpel-focused special forces unit would not usually spend significant time on the ground building up intelligence in the way Hope envisaged K71 operating.
Indeed, the idea behind K71 was unusual to say the least; rather than heading out to other colony worlds, it would operate as a more traditional special forces cell on Terra Nova, dealing with CEF elements and other problems around Port Arthur and Peace River. Thus it was important it be selected from people with the most experience operating in Terra Nova’s harshest environments and most remote areas, but at the same time the Talon Program had been initially envisaged to work offworld, particularly on Caprice; the best personnel would be reserved for those missions. Thus the fear was not that Hope would necessarily pick poorly, but that the whole farrago of another planetside Talon force would dilute the program’s reputation.
Nevertheless, circumstances allowed her to prove herself and a force was assembled, with a mercenary company from the mountains near her home base the core. Hope has proved a savvy, if unconventional commander and her training regime has been highly effective in, for the most part, forcing unwilling wingmen to work together. She pilots Lionheart, a heavily-modified Raptor with an older-model rotary cannon taken from a Cobra hooked up to a sizeable external backpack of ammunition and its flight pack moved from the back to the lower legs to function more as an enhanced jump system and landing brake than a traditional jetpack.
K71-201 Atlanta: Vulture (Interdiction Pack): Bianca “Purity” Martinique
Purity, in defiance of constant assumptions by all who meet her for the first time and think from her sunburned, scarred features and sugar skull tattoo that her callsign is some ironic joke, is a serious and professional soldier who was deeply respected by her team. It is not a wholly unfair assumption; in her time in the WFP supply shortages proved commonplace and where hungry and under-supplied soldiers are put together in harsh conditions accusations of looting and theft will quickly follow among the local towns. Sometimes they are true, and one of Purity’s fellow squadrons was indeed found to have burned a small farmstead in pursuit of supplies.
What Purity will go on to tell anyone who casts aspersions on her as a result is that she called out the squad’s commander, challenged him to a duel and tore him in half in a tragic duelling accident to send a message to the rest of the squads stationed at her base that looting would no longer be permitted. As, sadly, happens after so many well-meaning outbursts of rage, Purity was subsequently put in front of a court-martial who felt there were more appropriate ways of deterring soldiers from looting, and once it became widely known she had a record for causing trouble opportunities for advancement fell away.
Hope did not recruit her because of her record, or because of some belief in the innate hardiness of the legendary WFP. There was no dramatic meeting as a hangar fell silent at the entry of the Black Talons. Purity was brought onto the team because K71 needed a sniper to head up its strider support Gears and she volunteered for a transfer for “special forces training, no questions asked.” Subsequently she has come to lead Lightning Team with an efficiency and attention to detail that could only have come from genuinely regretting acting in anger.
Purity pilots K71-201, Atlanta, a Vulture laden with bales of supplies for the team. Its cockpit is lined with photographs of her former teammates from the WFP, and she has demanded several times of Hope that once this cycle of missions is over she be allowed to return to her former squadron, charges cleared and properly compensated.
K71-202 Sweet Betty: Vulture (Interdiction Pack): Martin “Hawk” Kurtz
Whereas Purity appears rough-cut and the sort of person who brings trouble and yet is not, Hawk hides a carefully-honed disrespect for organisation, discipline and order behind a calm, collected appearance. An experienced marksman from a lawless part of the Northern hemisphere, he had joined a small force of Gears set up in the local area as a kind of frontier justice, offering a solution to bandits, thieves and such for variously unreasonable costs. When Hope was bringing K71 together, this surprisingly well-equipped mercenary outfiet seemed a natural fit – it brought a veteran Strider pilot, an able sniper and an ace whose days of service might have passed, but whose skill had not diminished.
Not every member of the Ivanova Connection came; it is currently in the hands of its third-in-command, Gain Sullivan, and by all accounts is retaining its position of dominance in the private security market. However, enough came – Hawk, Swordfish and Lexi – to make a difference. They are strong personalities, and Hawk probably the strongest – which has created a little tension within Lightning Team. Two people, both formerly squad leaders, are now in the hierachy-free world of the Talons, where although Hope might be group leader and Purity fireteam leader for the simple purpose of logistics, nobody is really treated better than anyone else. Hope assumed brotherhood-in-arms would come naturally to the Connection’s members, but failed to account for the fact a close-knit unit does not take well to the addition of an extra member.
Thus Hawk has a tendency to adjust the plan mid-operation, to appear wildly off-station but emerge somewhere where he is inevitably useful, and to ignore Purity’s orders if he feels it necessary. Off the front line, he is the architect of misadventure, his mercenary instincts manifesting as a desire to seek out duelling arenas or side-jobs that are well beneath the purview of a Talon unit. Hope has come to realise these excursions may have a point, especially when operating in unfamiliar territory, as they can help identify potential allies and local enemy sympathisers.
Sweet Betty, Hawk’s Vulture, is in a state of constant war with Purity, who takes exception to the nose art and kill markers Hawk will insist on painting on it; an uneasy compromise was eventually reached permitting him a kill tally inside the cockpit – but his idea for an “artistic” mural of Hope, Purity and Swordfish in “elegant” poses was shot down incredibly quickly.
K71-203 Jane Doe: Dark Naga: Catherine “Swordfish” Green
Swordfish is an unassuming woman, short, bespectacled and with entirely ordinary brown hair. She spends much of her off-duty time shut up in her room, burns easily in the desert sun and does not seem anything like Talon material – or even a notorious mercenary. Lexi picked her up in Lance Point as a fugitive from justice, wanted for misappropriation of NuCoal funds and “adjustment” of her grades at Torrence Station. It became clear Swordfish was a highly skilled electronic warfare expert, with the unfortunate problem of not being a very good Gear pilot.
As part of the Ivanova Connection, Swordfish was able to pilot at her own pace, safe in the back line where her Strider would be well hidden. Her affinity for slow, powerful weapons platforms was obvious, and the first “Jane Doe” (a Naga originally liberated from the wreckage of a battlefield near Lance Point) was born after a series of trips to secure the needed parts from scrapyards and black market sources. Swordfish took an active role in the design of her personal unit, and many of these customisations were carried across to its upgraded form, a Dark Naga provided by the Talons to K71.
Lexi is K71’s aggressive electronic warfare unit; Swordfish’s skills are better served with prep time and a bank of computers, as she is able to provide forged ID cards, convincing enough fake banknotes for unsavoury deals with local contacts and access to locked-down computer systems and databases. When the team are in combat, she remains hidden in the back line and rains missiles down on targets identified by the Ravens.
K71-210 Scheznyk: Raven (Suppression Pack): Alexandra “Lexi” Ivanova
Founder of the Ivanova Connection, Alexandra Ivanova has been at various points in her life a Southern debutante, gun-runner, drug dealer and for a brief period a wholly capable Gear pilot in the Southern Guard. Eventually ending up in a small Northern mining town with a handful of worn-out Gears and a bunch of roughneck hangers-on she teamed up with Hawk to bring some order to the region. Mercenary work – the ability to properly be in command, vet her subordinates and take only the missions that seemed interesting and profitable – suited her far more than the endless spiral downward of organised crime or the strict discipline of the Southern military.
She firmly resisted folk hero status, worried that if she got a reputation as defender of the weak and force for justice the UMF might come calling asking why she wasn’t signed up in the proper military. Instead, the Connection tried to remain enigmatic, working often beyond the law and carrying out missions without asking too many questions. To speak to Lexi, it is very clear the Connection’s past is troubled – and yet there is neither too much pride nor too much regret at what it has done. Before Hope arrived and recommended they all enlist in K71, Lexi piloted a Gila, not out of any great desire to be stuck as a recon pilot but because it had been the highest-spec Gear they had salvaged while fleeing Northwards from Lance Point. Hope saw the facts, did not listen to the context, and gave her a Raven, callsign Scheznyk.
Hope’s decision to wholesale pick up a bunch of mercenaries – including a con-artist still wanted by NuCoal military police – raised eyebrows among the Talons. There were no shortage of able pilots with honourable careers across the Northern and Southern forces and many of them felt snubbed by their exclusion. Hope met them head-on and asked if any of these pilots had the ability to maintain Gears without neat hangar facilities, engineering teams or support networks. If front-line prowess was really going to be useful when working so deeply behind enemy lines self-sufficiency was needed. Her reasoning – and it was not popular – was that it was easier to refine rough-and-ready piloting skills than to teach the intuition and resilience needed to work alone in hostile territory.