"Live free. Charge for everything else."There are several quasi-military organisations that operate outside Federation space and outside Federation laws, usually extremely small bands of people of no particular consequence. The Black Cross is but one of these groups, though it is certainly the largest. In the coldness and darkness beyond the edge of Federation space the Black Cross makes its home. The largest, oldest and certainly the most successful mercenary company in known space, the Black Cross has survived and thrived, eluding all of SICON’s attempts to find it and destroy it.
What is Known About the Black Cross?
One thing that is certainly true about the Black Cross is that the Federal Council and SICON vociferously deny the group’s existence and, indeed, it is all but unknown throughout much of Federation space. The Black Cross is, for lack of a better term, a mercenary company that operates outside of Federation space. It sells its services to unofficial colonies of separatists and dissidents beyond the Federation border, those who do not wish to turn to SICON for assistance. The group usually barters its services for food, weaponry (if there is any) and various spare parts, as well as extraordinarily large sums of money it effectively extorts from a frightened populace. The exact number of men and women in the Black Cross is unknown, though classified SICON estimates put it at several thousand. It is also unclear how many ships the Black Cross has at its disposal, though there have been confirmed sightings of at least nine different ships, all originally civilian ships of varying vintages, heavily modified into fast attack corvettes. In addition, there is the Black Cross’ flagship, the Black Cross itself, a military dreadnought stolen from the Federation, and the Dauntless, similarly stolen.
The Black Cross clearly confines itself to its various ships and stays on the move nearly constantly, never having tried to establish a permanent base anywhere. Though the group has ranged back and forth around the borders of the Federation, it is most often reported as operating spinward of Federation territory, in the same area where it was originally formed. Though it has been almost 30 years since the Black Cross came into existence, the group’s technology is not so antiquated. There have been confirmed reports of Black Cross soldiers using recently- constructed SICON gear, up to and including FedCom SW-402 ‘Triple GLs’, Morita TW-203-a assault rifles and even one possible report of a group of four Black Cross soldiers piloting an equal number of Marauder M9 Chickenhawks.
Where the Black Cross is getting all this equipment is a complete and particular vexing mystery to SICON. Complete quartermaster records on every base and ship in SICON’s arsenal have been checked and doublechecked but there is no indication of so much as a single missing bullet that was in a position to find its way to the Black Cross. Even the psychics recruited to help have been unable to provide any substantial leads as to where the Black Cross’ equipment is coming from. There is some suspicion in SICON that the equipment is coming from the Skinnies and that the Black Cross has managed to enter into a devil’s bargain with the aliens, providing an unknown service in return for the latest SICON technology the Skinnies are able to capture during their raids.
However, this suspicion does nothing to explain how the Black Cross has been able to keep itself supplied with weapons, armour, ammunition and other equipment during the three decades of its existence, or why it would have allied with the Skinnies when it was Skinny raids that led to the group’s formation. Despite the apparent lack of any infrastructure whatsoever, limiting them to what crude manufacturing facilities they may have been able to cobble together aboard their ships, the Black Cross has never been at a lack for ordnance. The thought that the Black Cross may have a network of suppliers embedded within SICON itself, people with the clearance and capacity to access such important hardware as the Strykers and Chickenhawks, turn them over to the Black Cross, then cook the books so that it seems nothing is missing, is a possibility almost too terrible for SICON to contemplate. Despite that fact, SICON has indeed investigated the possibility but again has found no evidence to implicate anyone within its organisation of complicity with a group like the Black Cross.
The Black Cross, true to its roots in the Mobile Infantry, retains a clear command structure with a military heirarchy. However, no distinction is made between citizen and civilian, as it is assumed every person born into the Black Cross (which has become a sort of mobile colony over the years) will serve it as a soldier upon reaching adulthood. This service lasts for a minimum of five years, after which time the individual may continue to serve as a soldier, or he may ‘retire’ and take up some other function within the Black Cross.
The military arm of the Black Cross is certainly the largest element of the group, comprising more than 90% of the individuals involved with the Black Cross. SICON believes the Black Cross is currently being led by a man who calls himself General Red Halloran, thought to be the son of one of the original founders of the Black Cross.
The day of the Black Cross’ founding marks a dark day in Federation history for those few who know about it. Before the Skinnies began pushing into Federation space proper for their raids, a number of unofficial colonies beyond the borders of Federation space came under punishing raids by the Skinnies. As these raids became more and more frequent, SICON felt obligated to send a task force of Fleet ships and Mobile Infantry troopers to these outlying regions to see what could be done to protect the unofficial colonies – even if they had turned their backs upon the Federation, they were still human and deserving of protection.
At the time, 2191, the Skinnies had been raiding the unofficial colonies for several years. A number of the younger people of these colonies, anxious to strike back against the alien menace that was raiding their home and stealing their people, had returned to Federation space in large numbers, seeking to enlist in Federal Service. Many of these youths proved themselves to be some of the finest soldiers and sailors SICON has ever had and the names of units formed of their numbers, like Arthur’s Knights and O’Reilly’s Ravagers, are still held in the highest honour today. At the time, it was SICON’s practice to keep groups of new enlistees from the same colony or geographical region together, reasoning that their preexisting bonds would only make them more effective soldiers. In that respect, SICON must accept some of the blame for what happened next. The task force broke up as it left Federation space, each individual ship setting course for a separate unofficial colony to offer aid to the colonists in whatever form they would accept it, in the spirit of human solidarity.
One of those ships, the dreadnought Olympus Mons, set course for a planet known to the unofficial colonists as Brightsky, though it was listed in the SICON astrogation records as simply ‘Planet YQ 301’. Aboard the Olympus Mons was a highly decorated company of Mobile Infantry, known as the White Cross and made up almost entirely of young men and women from Brightsky (Planet YQ 301) when the Skinny raids had begun. The captain of the Olympus Mons flashed a message to the planet below as soon as the ship entered orbit, offering SICON’s help and military defence against the Skinny threat. The offer, however, was rebuffed, not an uncommon occurrence among such colonies. Unwilling to force itself upon those who adamantly refused help, SICON’s policy in such events was always to respectfully withdraw. However, the men and women of the White Cross were not so easily dissuaded. The exact progression of events after this point is unknown but there is strong evidence to believe the White Cross troopers insisted on staying to help the Brightsky colony and, when the captain of the Olympus Mons informed them that was not possible, they staged the only mutiny in SICON history and seized control of the ship. When the Olympus Mons failed to make rendezvous with the rest of the task force, the Europa and the Samarkand were dispatched to find her.
Upon their arrival at Planet YQ 301, they were informed by a tight-lipped populace that the Olympus Mons was ‘gone’. SICON launched an immediate investigation, even going so far as to question the populace of Brightsky, and eventually learned the truth – that the Olympus Mons had been seized by a rebellious company of Mobile Infantry, who proceeded to fight off a Skinny raiding force before vanishing into space. Deeply concerned about the impact of such an event on morale in the ranks of the Federal Service, and of course very anxious to get its ship and any surviving crew back as well, SICON began searching throughout the region for the Olympus Mons. Given the nature and severity of the crime, the families and friends of the White Cross Company on Brightsky agreed to help find the White Cross in any way they could once the situation was explained to them. Despite the best efforts of these friends and families and of SICON itself, it seemed the White Cross and the Olympus Mons had simply been gobbled up by the darkness and SICON began to fear that the ship and her crew had been attacked and defeated by the Skinnies. The strain of these events proved too much for the fragile society of the Brightsky colony, which dissolved itself soon after. Some six months later, however, another unofficial colony was targeted by a Skinny raid and was fought off by an unknown group that acted like and was equipped like SICON’s Mobile Infantry. Though they now called themselves and their ship the Black Cross, SICON knew the mutineers had been found at last.
Although SICON launched a mission immediately to locate the Black Cross and bring her and her crew home to Earth, the task force came up empty handed. The Black Cross and her crew continued to surface every month or two at one or other unofficial colony beyond Federation space, but they were always long gone before SICON’s forces caught up with them. For the next three years, the Black Cross would appear four or five times a year, either selling its services as a mercenary unit to an unofficial colony for an outrageous sum, or simply picking through the debris left over after a Skinny raid had struck. At the end of those three years, however, the Black Cross vanished.
The group did not reappear for more than four years and, when it did, there were two more ships following in the Black Cross’ wake, the Freedom and the Resolute which, according to the best data SICON could acquire, were civilian cargo and transport ships than had been extensively retrofitted to be effective fast attack ships. Still, they proved endlessly elusive, always slipping away before a SICON task force could arrive to apprehend them. SICON continued to try to locate them but also assumed, quite reasonably, that eventually the Black Cross would die off of natural causes. After all, they had been on their own in the outer reaches of space for more than seven years now and SICON presumed that as the original mutineers died off, whether through battle or disease, unsupported in the vast ocean of space, any followers or hangers-on they attracted from other unofficial colonies would drift away again and the problem would work itself out naturally. As it turns out, this was not the case. Time wore on, but the organisation only grew. Nearly three more years would pass before SICON finally caught up to the Black Cross in May 2202, just as their small fleet of ships, now grown to five with the additions of the Brightsky and the Independent, was leaving the Ad Leonis system after a brief stop at the unofficial colony on the fourth planet. The three SICON warships, the Potomac, the Chesapeake and the Genoa, were surprised to discover the Black Cross but moved swiftly to engage. Though they were outnumbered, they knew they faced only converted civilian ships and one older model dreadnought that had withstood an unguessed amount of punishment over the course of more than a decade.
Generally, those who do not believe the day the White Cross mutinied aboard the Olympus Mons was the darkest day of SICON’s history cast their vote for this day instead. Displaying remarkable skill and courage, not to mention better weaponry than SICON had any reason to think the Black Cross could acquire, the mercenary ships made short work of the three SICON vessels. The Black Cross ship Independent was damaged beyond repair in the engagement, as were the Potomac and the Genoa. The Black Cross set the SICON survivors down on the unofficial Ad Leonis colony, then immediately began work to strip every useful item from the Independent, Potomac and Genoa before sending the derelict hulks on a direct path toward the star and leaving the system with the Chesapeake in tow. The next time the Black Cross was encountered four months later, the Chesapeake has been rechristened the Dauntless. Until very recently, the Black Cross was only spotted perhaps once or twice in a year and the forces of SICON have never again had the opportunity to engage them. SICON has confirmed reports that the Black Cross has nine ships at its disposal but privately estimates the number to be closer to
It appears the renewed intensity of the Skinny raids, now driving into the Federation itself, are what has caused the Black Cross to make a reappearance near Federation space as SICON has several reports of ships matching those belonging to the Black Cross standing guard over unofficial colonies near the areas favoured by Skinny raiders. Though SICON commonly sends diplomatic missions to these unofficial colonies to inquire of the colonists if they called on the Black Cross themselves and if so how, these missions have yielded little of use in tracking down the elusive group. Now that the war with the Arachnids has begun the Black Cross, however vexing it may be for SICON, must be placed at least at a distant third on the list of priorities, long after the Arachnids and the Skinnies.
The Black Cross’ greatest goal is to survive. The mercenaries know perfectly well they are considered criminals by SICON and their first priority is always to stay out of SICON’s way. As an adjunct to survival, the Black Cross also is constantly on the lookout for new recruits. These recruits are chosen almost exclusively from people on unofficial colonies, in order to minimise the risk of a SICON agent slipping into the company’s ranks. Though SICON would deny it, there have been a few defections over the years, as single Federal Service personnel jump the fence to join with the mercenaries.
Beyond survival, the Black Cross considers itself the unofficial military of the unofficial colonies. All but a very few of the company’s military engagements over the course of its existence have involved protecting such a colony from alien raiders or human criminals. Though that may sound altruistic, the Black Cross certainly does not provide this service for free and the cost of hiring the Black Cross to fight off two or three raids in close succession is nearly enough to reduce a poor colony to being an indentured servant of the Black Cross, providing them with the bulk of their planet’s production to pay off the cost of survival.
Other mercenary companies also exist in the same vein as the Black Cross, usually consisting of a mixture of civilians and dissidents who have taken up arms, turncoat Mobile Infantry and veteran soldiers seeking profit on the fringes of society. Some people are born into the mercenary lifestyle, while others seek it out. Usually, such recruits come from the unofficial colonies that pepper the space outside of Federation territory, though from time to time someone from the Federation itself will go in search of adventure or the Black Cross. Even the occasional Mobile Infantry trooper cashiers out of SICON’s service and goes looking for the mercenaries. These recruits are generally lured by romantic notions of a life of glory and high adventure in unexplored space, living free of the constraints of society. They tend to find that the reality is slightly different from their notions. Still, for those who find life in the Federation too staid and constrained, life in the rollicking, chaotic world of a mercenary company may seem the perfect antidote for civilisation.