Author Topic: Diamonds in the Rust  (Read 809 times)

Dubble_g

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Diamonds in the Rust
« on: 21 July 2017, 09:07:24 »
Whether we fall by our ambition, blood or lust,
Like diamonds we are cut with our own dust.
—John Webster


Julian’s Hill
Van Diemen IV
Free Worlds League
1 July 3029


“You’ve never heard of Van Diemen’s Diamonds?” Bernhard Klein asked around the cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth, as he dealt the first Drax cards to the three other mercenaries seated at the break room table. The table, like everything else Earthwerks Incorporated provided its employees, was plain, cream-colored, and embodied the perfect marriage of functionality and cheapness.

The break room was tucked into one corner of the tenth floor of the employee dormitory, itself nestled at the foot of Julian’s Hill, a broad, low head of rock crowned with the vine-draped ruins of a Terran Hegemony-era communications compound. The wide windows offered a panoramic view of the hill and beyond it the wide, rolling Marmalade Plain.

Dmitri Dyubichev dragged his attention back from the view, shrugged and scratched at his two-day stubble. “No, should I have?” He glanced at his card. Bernhard had assured him the pictures on the plascards had been done in the ancient Terran art style known as “cheesecake.” His current card showed a pneumatic woman dressed—although that was stretching the word almost as much as her shirt—in purple and holding a long lance rather suggestively. The Lancer of Marik—it would bump the value any other Marik suit card he received up by one.

Across the table, Lucy Ibarra collected her card, turning up the corner as she slid it towards herself. “Some kind of jewelry?” She’d kicked off her boots and, without ever looking at Dmitri, was running her bare foot distractingly along the back of his calf under the table.

“SDS,” corrected Bernhard, pushing two eagle-stamped bills into the center of the table. “Are we playing cards or what? Ante up.” The others tossed, pushed or laid down their own stakes.

“Oh, look Dmitri, it’s your old buddy,” Stephen Tan interrupted, adding his own bills to the pile. He pointed at the display screen on the wall—2D of course, nothing but the second-best for Earthwerks security employees—where Pavel Ridzik was speaking. The caption proclaimed him “Supreme Lord, Tikonov Free Republic.”

Dmitri made a noise in his throat. “Free Republic? That’s two lies right there. And such a modest title.”

“As I was saying,” Bernhard broke in irritably, taking a puff of his cigar. “SDS: Space Defense System.” He dealt the next round of cards, face up this time. The lady on Dmitri’s new card wore nothing except for three strategically-placed dragons—the three of Kurita.

“Like drones and stuff?” Stephen asked, still watching the news on the display. “You know, we’re only a hop away from the border. I’ve been eavesdropping on military traffic at the spaceport, sounds like Ridzik’s on the fence and they’re worried which side he’s gonna jump. Dmitri, you’re from Tikonov, think you could shoot those guys if they ever invade Van Diemen?”

“Shoot you if you don’t fold or raise,” Dmitri muttered irritably. Everyone had been on edge since the Marik Guard had redeployed off-world, leaving the six ‘Mechs of the Earthwerks Incorporated security detachment the only BattleMechs on the entire planet.

More cards followed, and the pile of money on the table grew in lurching steps. A woman in a tight-fitting T-Shirt emblazoned with three eagles joined Dmitri’s collection, then a row of six ladies holding clenched fists aloft over their heads.

Adam Grigoriou stuck his Maori-tattooed face around the door. “Hey, anyone seen Ayako?”

“In the training room, probably,” Dmitri waved a hand. “I think the ratio is 30 minutes of kickboxing for every 10 seconds Hanse Davion is in the news, so she should be done in about—” he made a show of looking at his timepiece “—20 years or so.”

Adam stomped off, grumbling.

“It was usually done with drones, yeah, but legend is on Van Diemen, the Terran Hegemony experimented with something different,” Bernhard steamrollered on, ignoring distractions. “The Raegan Grid, they called it. Instead of putting guns on drone ships, they put all the hardware in a network of satellites. Like a diamond necklace around the planet. Disguised as ordinary GPS, weather or communication satellites, just hanging out in orbit until they get the signal and then boom!”

“Ray-gun grid?” Stephen shook his head in disbelief. “If that’s true, how come it’s a legend? Nobody’s found it?”

“There’s tens of thousands of satellites, bits of debris and other junk floating around out there,” Bernard pointed heavenward. “Would take a lifetime and a mountain of cash to search through all that. Plus, we’re worried that there might be nukes up there, probably booby trapped to go off if anyone tries to fool around with them. And even if you did find a satellite, there’s no way to use it without the control system or software, so you’re risking your life for nothing.” He took another long haul on his cigar and blew a smoke ring up towards the ceiling.

“’We’re worried’? Oh, that’s right, keep forgetting you’re a VD native,” said Dmitri. “Speaking of which, I didn’t know you smoked.”

“It’s Drax, someone has to keep up appearances,” sniffed Bernhard.

“It’ll set the fire alarms off.”

“Na. Our resident technical wizard disconnected it,” Bernhard tipped an imaginary hat to Stephen, who grinned and flashed two fingers in a V sign.

“That how many brain cells you have left Steve? Reconnect it before we all burn to death,” Dmitri looked down at his cards. Three of Kurita, three of Marik, five of Kurita, six of Steiner, plus the face-down Marik Lancer. Not bad. “After we finish this hand.”

Dmitri flipped over the Lancer, turning his pair into a straight. “My lucky lady,” he said, throwing Lucy a quick wink.

She smirked and toyed with her necklace, a silver chain with a single, perfect diamond.

snakespinner

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #1 on: 21 July 2017, 21:09:16 »
Must get a copy of those playing cards. [drool]
Spending 30 minutes in the gym for every 10 seconds Hanse is on the news and he is doing a daily 2 hour news conference for her benefit. :)) }:) O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #2 on: 22 July 2017, 09:42:08 »
(Did anyone ever produce an official set of Drax cards? With or without burlesque pictures)

***

Later, lying on the top floor of the ruined communications tower on Julian’s Hill, Lucy ran a single finger down the center of Dmitri’s bare chest. The walls of the Earthwerks dormitory were thin, the beds not build for anything more athletic than unconsciousness, so they’d hiked up the hill in search of privacy. Yet through a ragged hole in the ceiling, they could see the stars winking like a thousand watchful eyes.

“Do you think they’re really out there? The Diamonds.”

“It’s all a bit convenient, isn’t it?” he mused. “Every planet has a story: ‘We’re not like the other planets, we’re special and unique, here’s why.’”

“I guess.”

They’d met on Galatea, in a bar near the Hiring Hall, where she’d been arguing with an unsavory-looking recruiter. Dmitri had just been offered a contract by Earthwerks and needed to find three more MechWarriors. Figuring her for a likely recruit, he’d intervened. The recruiter had been insulting, which had led to a fight, which had led to Lucy applying ice to his face, which had led them lying in bed together the next morning.

“I hope they’re real,” she said suddenly, fiercely.

“I thought Ayako was the one spoiling for a fight.”

“No, that’s not why.”

“No? What would you do with it then?” he craned his neck to get a look at her in the dim gloom, but her expression was as far away and as cold as the stars. She toyed absently with her necklace with her other hand.

“Sell the keys to it. Earn enough money to never have to work again, never have to fear. To feel safe.”

“Then what are you doing in bed with the most dangerous man on the planet?” he smiled.

The finger on his chest stopped, became a pointed nail. “That’s what drives me crazy about you. Always trying to cocoon yourself in this shell of jokey cynicism. Have you ever let yourself feel anything? You ever hated? You ever fallen in love?”

Dmitri was silent a while. “There was a girl once, who nearly took my heart,” he said at last.

“Here we go,” Lucy sighed.

“A couple of centimeters to the right and she would’ve had it.”

“And there it is,” she slapped her thigh in frustration. Abruptly stood and began to collect her clothes, pulling on a pair of shorts and slipping a tank top over her head. “You know, one day, something big is going to hit you, something so big you can’t laugh it away.”

He watched her dress in strained silence. She finished, shot him a look that said 'Well?' He shrugged; she turned away.

His communicator squawked once, a shrill tone. He fumbled through his discarded clothes on the floor, found the communicator in one of the pockets and took it out. He looked at the name on the screen: Stephen Tan. He set it to audio only, and held it to his ear, “Not a good time, Steve.”

“Dmitri, listen. You know I’ve been tapping in on the spaceport channels, right? You should hear this.” The sound abruptly changed, becoming a cacophony of voices all speaking over one another.

“—massive EMP and gravity waves at the L1 Lagrange point, best estimate is—”

“—no response on any—”

“—declaring Code Mercury—”

“—unidentified DropShips inbound, heading—”

Dmitri slowly lowered the communicator from his ear.

“What is it?” Lucy asked from behind him.

“Something big.”


The six MechWarriors gathered in the security department’s conference room, huddled around a glowing 2D map table. Each wore their cream-colored Earthwerks fatigues, with the black and purple EW logo of the company on the breast pocket. Laszlo Farkas, the burly, bull-necked head of Earthwerks security on Van Diemen, stood at one end of the table.

“I’ve spoken with the League military liaison, and she’s confirmed we’re looking at a full-scale planetary assault,” said Laszlo. “Spearhead elements started hitting dirt around 2300. A full regiment of BattleMechs, maybe two or three more of armor and as many of infantry.”

“Davion?” Ayako leaned forward, fists on the map.

Lazslo gave a small shrug. “No, the League says it looks like Pavel Ridzik’s work. The invaders claim to be from the Republic, though that could easily be window dressing for a Fed attack.”

All eyes around the table slid to Dmitri. He glanced up from the map, “What? Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t vote for him.”

“What’s the plan?” asked Bernhard. “We’re gonna fight beside the League, right?”

“No,” Laszlo said flatly. “We’re pulling all personnel off-world. We’ve got a DropShip at the spaceport getting prepped now. We’re going to have to hurry. There’s a detachment of Republicans heading this way, maybe company or battalion strength. Hoverbuses start leaving at 0600.”

“And us?” Lucy asked, one eyebrow arched.

Laszlo folded his arms. “Need you to stay here until everyone’s safely away,” he said. “Cover the compound until all the buses have left, then fall back and rendezvous at the spaceport. No room on the DropShip for the ‘Mechs, but I promise we’ll stay until you get there.”

Lucy snorted sarcastically. “Sure you will.”

“With a battalion of ‘Mechs breathing down our necks?” Adam asked incredulously.

"As if the corp is going to buy us new ‘Mechs​ if we ditch ours," Stephen sneered.
 
Bernhard was shaking his head. “Not leaving. This is my home, Laszlo.”

Laszlo made a chopping gesture with his hand. “Enough,” he barked. “I hate this as much as you—”

Bernhard’s face was going red. Dmitri put a hand on his shoulder. “But not quite enough the stay here with us, eh Laszlo?” he asked.

Laszlo’s mouth set in a thin line. He stabbed a meaty finger at Dmitri. “This is your command. You follow orders or I’ll see no realm in the Inner Sphere will ever hire you again.”

“Hard to threaten a dead man,” Dmitri shrugged. Jerked his head in the direction of the door. “Go on. Go. You’ll get your rearguard.”

Laszlo stood a moment, mouth open as though to say more. Then he closed it, turned, and left without another word.

The six mercenaries looked at one another in uncomfortable silence.

Adam coughed. “Well, what do we do?”

“Surrender? Offer to switch sides—for a price,” suggested Lucy. She looked sidelong at Bernhard, shrugged unapologetically. “Not our home, Bernie. Not our fight.”

Bernhard was silent, head down, staring fiercely at the map.

“Any good ideas Dmitri?” Stephen asked.

Dmitri let out a long sigh. “My last good idea was to take a cushy corporate security job, and we're all seeing how well that’s turned out.” He looked at the map thoughtfully. Tapped down on the map. “First things first. Can’t negotiate with our hands tied, so let’s get the ‘Mechs warmed up, take them up the hill. It’s the only high ground for 20 klicks in any direction. Republicans are bound to head for it.”

“We fight them then, yes?” Ayako's smile was all teeth, no warmth.

“Lucy’s right, Ayako. We’re corporate. In theory, neutral. Anyway, we’re six against over a hundred,” Dmitri patted Bernhard on the shoulder. “Best we can do is try to negotiate either neutrality or safe passage, maybe limit the damage, Bernie. The less fighting, the less danger to civilians. Let’s hope they’re willing to talk.” Ayako’s face fell.

“But yeah, if I know Ridzik, it’s probably going to be a fight.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #3 on: 23 July 2017, 06:30:34 »
From the top of Julian’s Hill, the ochre soil of the Marmalade Plain unfolded in all directions, long rectangles of farmers’ fields seemingly outlined with columns of toothpick trees. In the distance, the broad Tamboura River flowed like quicksilver. The hill itself was dominated by the shattered Hegemony communications tower, surrounded by a ramshackle collection of derelict warehouses, living quarters and other buildings. The whole compound was ringed by a vine-draped, four-meter high wall that had collapsed in several places, and had large gaps in both the East and West sides where the compound gates had once stood.

The six Earthwerks security ’Mechs gathered at the foot of the communications tower. In addition to Dmitri’s Grasshopper, there was Lucy’s Quickdraw, Stephen’s Shadow Hawk, Ayako’s Hunchback, Bernhard’s Jenner and Adam’s Spider.

The advancing Republican ’Mechs came on at a steady pace in a ragged line abreast, kicking up clouds of pale dust, seemingly unconcerned about reconnaissance. Dmitri counted 12, including a burly 80-ton Victor in the center, flanked by an Enforcer and a Hatchetman. The machines were painted in an eye-watering mismatch of color schemes, each with a “5” hastily stenciled on the right chest.

Dmitri sucked his teeth thoughtfully. If it came to a fight, the Victor would be bad news. If they could knock out some of the lighter units early on and even the numbers a bit, maybe get behind the big machine, maybe get lucky. Maybe.

“Where the hell did Ridzik dig up this bunch?” Lucy asked on the company communications channel. “No formation, no scouting, not even a decent paint job. They can barely keep their ‘Mechs pointed in the right direction.”

As if on cue, a Javelin seemed to snag its foot on something, falling to one knee and putting its arms out to steady itself.

“What’s the plan?” asked Stephen.

“Nobody fire unless I give the order. I’ll try to use my charm on them,” Dmitri replied.

“We’re doomed,” muttered Lucy.

“But in the incredibly unlikely event that they don’t listen to reason, let’s be ready,” Dmitri continued. “Ayako?”

Hai.”

“Need you up by the West gate. Just in case we need to introduce our new friends to the music of Mister Tomodzuru.”

Ryokai,” she signaled, her ‘Mech’s right hand patting the enormous autocannon housed on the shoulder.

“Lucy, Steve, you’re up with Ayako, on either side. If they charge us, engage at range, try to funnel them to the center for Ayako to finish off. Bernie, you’re on the left, Adam the right. Slow down anyone trying to flank us. I’m the reserve, I’ll tackle anything that tries to get behind the front rank or that’s too big for Bernie or Adam. Everyone find some cover, don’t take any chances. Questions? Let’s do this.”

The Republican ’Mechs slowed to a halt just over a kilometer short of the hill. Dmitri keyed an open channel.

“Unidentified BattleMechs, this is Earthwerks Incorporated property,” he called. “Request you to halt and identify yourselves.”

The video screen resolved into a young face, with black wavy hair and a neat goatee.

“Captain Xavier Martel, 5th Republican Guards,” came the response, brusque and cold. “Surrender your ’Mechs and I promise you will be treated fairly.”

“Dmitri Dyubichev, Earthwerks Incorporated, Van Diemen security detachment,” he replied in the same tone. “You have no authority to make such a demand.”

“These 12 ’Mechs give me the authority. This planet has been liberated in the name of Pavel Ridzik, Supreme Lord of the Tikonov Free Republic. All League military personnel must lay down their arms and report for internment.”

Dmitri did his best to ignore Bernhard swearing inventively and at length to that.

“We aren’t League military. Earthwerks Incorporated takes no part in disputes between interplanetary governments. We insist you respect the neutrality of the company, and take steps to ensure the safety and security of it personnel and property.” As bluffs went, it wasn’t bad.

“Earthwerks is a supplier to the Free World League military and you will be treated as hostile combatants. For the last time, get down off that hill and power down your ’Mechs or face the consequences.”

“Let’s be reasonable Mister Martel, there’s no need for—”

The channel cut. The Enforcer raised its right arm and loosed a volley of autocannon fire at Dmitri’s Grasshopper. The muzzle blasts kicked up clouds of dust, obscuring the ’Mech in a red haze. Shells detonated against the ferrocrete walls around his ’Mech and rattled off the armor.

“Very smooth,” shouted Lucy over the company channel, loosing off an answering salvo of missiles. “I think they like you.”

“Less sarcasm, more shooting,” he retorted.

The enemy ’Mechs were in motion. A Cicada charged straight towards the gap of the West gate, shots from Stephen’s autocannon tearing and blistering the armor on its chest. It snap-fired lasers back, then suddenly Ayako’s Hunchback stepped out from behind the wall in front of it, autocannon roaring like a staccato jet engine. The shells blasted gaping holes in the Cicada, sending it tumbling, burning back down the hillside.

Several ’Mechs ignited their jump jets and came bounding up the hillside. Dmitri fired everything at the lead ’Mech, a Stinger, and its armor curled and blackened under the assault. A pale icicle of laser fire pierced the left chest, blowing out one side of the Stinger’s jump jets. Rather than cutting power and bringing the ‘Mech down, the pilot seemed to panic and kept the right-side jet at maximum burn. With thrust on only one side, the machine’s jump became a parabola, as it arced sideways through the sky, then flipped upside down and plowed head-first into the ground, disappearing in a thunderous ball of flame.

A Phoenix Hawk landed on the Hunchback’s right side, trying to take advantage of the blind spot created by the massive autocannon, but Ayako was already swinging back from the Cicada, walking a line of fire up the Phoenix Hawk’s right arm, tearing apart the right hand, shattering the elbow actuator, then blowing off the entire limb at the shoulder. The enemy ’Mech staggered, sent a few wild bursts of laser fire back from its remaining arm and then hit its jump jets again, fleeing down the hill.

“Die, die, shineh, shineh, shineeeeeeh!” Ayako was screaming.

Lucy’s Quickdraw and Steven’s Shadow Hawk kept up a steady fusillade of missile and autocannon fire against the ’Mechs still down on the plain. The Enforcer, Hatchetman and a Dervish held their ground as the shots impacted around them and returned fire, blasting away at the buildings and walls sheltering the two security ’Mechs. The Victor remained aloof, seemingly content to watch the battle unfold.

A Javelin jumped over the compound wall and landed behind Lucy.

“Lucy! Behind you!” Dmitri twisted the Grasshopper’s torso and poured fire into the Javelin’s side. Armor glowed white-hot in molten lines and the ’Mech pitched to the side, so that its double salvo of missiles missed Lucy and blew apart great clods of earth instead. The Javelin turned almost groggily to face Dmitri, just in time for his second barrage to tear into it. Armor gave way, lasers blasting into the Javelin’s core, throwing the machine back and sending it crashing to the ground.

“Some help here,” shouted Bernhard.

Dmitri turned and saw Bernhard’s Jenner crouching behind an ancient warehouse as a pair of Clints worked their way up the hill, spreading out on either side to catch Bernhard in a crossfire. Dmitri hit his ’Mech’s jump jets and brought his machine down on the left flank. His laser fire scattered explosions of light across one Clint’s armor. He blinked to keep the sweat from his eyes as the cockpit grew uncomfortably hot.

The Clint swung around to face him, right-arm cannon barking, and the Grasshopper shuddered as the line of shots found the right shoulder, cratering the armor.

Bernhard cut behind the Clint and venom-green needles of energy stabbed into the back of its right torso. There was an ear-splitting crump, and thick grey smoke began pouring like water from every opening in the Clint—the autocannon muzzle, the arm and leg joints, gaps in the armor. A second later, the entire head assembly was blasted from the shoulders by a five-meter blowtorch of flame. The other Clint turned and ran for the safety of the plain.

Stephen was whooping on the company channel. “Look at them go! Didn’t like the taste of that!”

The plain was almost completely obscured in a thick haze of dust, but switching to thermal imaging Dmitri could see the remaining Republicans pulling back. “Hold position, let them go,” he said. “Could be a trap. I think we got four of them, but they still have the weight advantage and we haven’t even touched that Victor.”

“So why are they running then?” asked Bernhard.

“Lost their nerve, maybe,” Dmitri answered. “Those had to be new pilots. That Stinger? Kid barely knew how to make that thing stand up. Think we just scared them, maybe. Anybody seen Adam?”

“Here boss,” Adam signaled, his Spider limping up the hill. Laser burn marks scored and pitted its armor in a half a dozen places. “Locust tried to get around us.”

Dmitri raised the Grasshopper’s hand to wave just as he heard a high, whistling sound.

The ground blew apart like a volcano, belching flame, smoke and earth high into the air. The Spider vanished, save for a spindly leg that went pinwheeling through the air close to Dmitri’s ’Mech.
 
“Artillery!” Dmitri shouted, throwing the Grasshopper into a run. “Get off the hill!”

A second shell smashed into the communications tower a third of the way down its length. Ancient walls buckled and burst, sending the top of the tower sliding drunkenly down several meters before it toppled sideways and crashed to the ground.

A second later another shell hit, and another, gouging great craters out of the ground and showering the Grasshopper in fragments of steel and concrete. Three landed almost simultaneously, making the ground shake like an earthquake. A five-meter stretch of the compound wall hurtled into the air in jagged splinters.

“Shi—” Stephen yelled and his ’Mech disappeared from sensors.

Dmitri turned his Grasshopper to go back for him, but quickly saw it was hopeless. The entire top of the hill was now churning like a geyser as shells rained down on it. He could only sit and watch, helpless, as the barrage thundered on.

Finally, after 10 long minutes, the fire petered out, leaving the crown of Julian’s Hill haloed in slowly-drifting black smoke.

“Status everyone,” Dmitri asked.

Lucy replied first. “Definitely not okay,” she spat. “Left arm laser is junked, took a piece of shrapnel or something. Adam is gone. Stephen too.”

In the privacy of his cockpit, Dmitri smashed his fist repeatedly on the console. Took a deep breath. Opened the channel again. “Here’s the plan,” he said. “They’ll be coming back to finish us off. We’ve got to fall back, try for the spaceport. Might have bought enough time, and it doesn’t look like our buddy Martel is in a talkative mood.”

“Hey, don’t leave me here,” complained a voice.

Stephen’s.

“Steve!” Dmitri yelled. “Where the hell are you?”

“Damn good question.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #4 on: 26 July 2017, 07:03:20 »
Stephen’s Shadow Hawk lay canted at an angle at the bottom of a hole around 30 meters deep. The hole itself was not solid earth, but rather formed from a number of sub-basement levels beneath the communications compound. The Shadow Hawk had crashed through three such floors, with its right foot poking through the ceiling of a fourth.

Stephen was sitting on his ’Mech’s foot, shining a light down into shadows of the fourth basement level. He looked up as the Grasshopper appeared at the lip of the hole, and waved Dmitri down.

Dmitri unbuckled his harness and opened the cockpit storage locker. “Keep an eye out for the Republicans, sing out the second you see them coming.” He retrieved his military-surplus M4T laser pulse rifle and stuffed the pockets of his shorts with power packs. The M4T was a squat, smooth rectangle of polymer with a nasty tendency to overheat but the ability to punch a very large number of holes in a target in a very short space of time.

Dmitri shouldered the rifle and clambered quickly down his ’Mech, then more gingerly down the hole Stephen’s Shadow Hawk had fallen into, using handholds on the ’Mech itself as well as skeleton fingers of steel and concrete jutting from the jagged holes torn into each floor. He nodded once to Stephen and they dropped into the darkness.

The floor below was drenched in dust. A number of chairs lay scattered around a long, narrow room, lined along one wall with an impressive array of monitors and screens, fronted by a forest of buttons, levers and switches, the labels on which had long faded into illegibility. The screens themselves were black, empty and lifeless. Save one.

A single monitor still flickered with light. Red lettering spelled out a short message, which scrolled across the screen, disappeared, and then was displayed again, over and over:

Priority 1 Message Follows
RAGCENT Directive
Stand by for Masada White
Priority 1 Message Follows
RAGCENT Directive…


“What am I looking at?” Dmitri whispered to Stephen. The darkness and age of the place seemed to demand silence.

“RAGCENT, Dmitri. Raegan Grid Central. Van Diemen’s Diamonds. They’re real, Dmitri. They’re real. And the key to them is right there.”

“Right where?”

“Give me five minutes with this thing, see if I can make it talk,” said Stephen, sliding into a dusty chair in front of the console.

“You’ve got two, tops,” said Dmitri as Stephen began punching away at a keyboard. The clicking of keys filled the room.


Major Harrison was livid. Captain Xavier Martel could feel the heat of her anger wash over him even in the stuffy cockpit of the Victor. Four ’Mechs down, two more badly damaged, all without inflicting any serious damage on the enemy. A valuable artillery barrage wasted on an unimportant hill, while other units were hard-pressed by League armor.

“You will regroup your company and you will take that hill,” Major Harrison’s image said. “You will achieve total victory over these corporate amateurs within two hours, or I will find a commander who can. Captain Martel.”

The line cut, leaving Captain Martel staring at his reflection in the screen for a while. He understood the threat well enough. Defeat would mean dismissal. It wasn’t his fault, he thought sourly, that this band of hastily-assembled deserters, former prisoners-of-war and military school students had performed badly in combat.

If anyone was to blame, it was that smug bastard, Dyubichev. Martel replayed their short conversation again in his head, only this time with Dyubichev apologizing, surrendering, groveling. But not yet, not with this rabble. Do things slowly, this time, do things right. He couldn’t afford—his career couldn’t afford—another embarrassment.


“Huh,” said Stephen.

“Huh?” Dmitri repeated, gripping the back of Stephen’s chair in nervous excitement. “Potentially the biggest discovery in the Inner Sphere since the BattleMex restaurant chain discovered Arboris avocados, and all you can say is ‘huh’?”

“Found it.”

Dmitri took a deep breath. “Steve, as an alternative to me beating you senseless, the details?”

“Aw, let me enjoy the limelight for a little, Dee,” Stephen tapped the screen. The warning message had been replaced with a map of the continent. “It’s not close I’m afraid. About 1500 K’s south of here, up in the Strahan Mountains.”

“Where?” asked Dmitri, leaning over his shoulder for a better look.

“Place called Mount Cradle,” Stephen said. “Historical record says it used to be a zinc and nickel mine, back in the Hegemony days. Closed centuries ago, before the Amaris Crisis.”

“Good work,” Dmitri patted Stephen on the shoulder. “Let’s get the others.”

Stephen’s Shadow Hawk was freed from the hole by the simple expedient of firing the jump jets, shooting the ’Mech out like a cork in a champagne bottle. That the jump jets promptly melted any evidence inside the fourth-basement control room was an added plus. The ’Mech was serviceable, but a sorry sight. The rear armor had almost entirely been abraded away, the autocannon barrel had snapped in the fall and the right foot actuator seemed to have locked in place.

The Shadow Hawk limped down the hill to join the other four ’Mechs regrouping in the Earthwerks compound. The MechWarriors gathered in the shadow of Dmitri’s Grasshopper, Dmitri kneeling, the others standing around in a half-circle.

“It’ll take three, maybe four days to get there, depending on the terrain and how little sleep you guys can get by on,” Dmitri explained, map spread across his knee.

“You sure this is real?” asked Bernhard skeptically.

“You’re the last one I expected to hear that from Bernie,” Dmitri said. “You’re the one who told us about the Diamonds in the first place.”

“It’s a legend, a myth.”

“That control room had some serious hardware,” Stephen chimed in. “Sensor-absorbent materials kept it hidden this long. Maybe some kind of geothermal generator keeping it running forever. Seems like pretty far to go just for a hoax.”

Bernhard looked unconvinced. “Even if the command center was there, once upon a time, that was almost three hundred years ago. Who’s to say it’s still there? Would it even still be working?”

“Well, the outpost here was,” Dmitri shrugged. “Look, Bernie, I’m sensing you’re not 100 percent on board with this. I thought you’d be all for it. I mean, this might be the only chance of kicking the Republicans off this world any time this decade.”

“It might, and then again it might be a wild goose chase,” Bernhard folded his arms. “My family is out there. My friends. Neighbors. People I grew up with. I gotta weigh the very slim chance we’ll actually find a working SDS, against the very real fact that I have a ‘Mech, and I can do something to protect all those people. Sorry. You guys do what you want. I’m out.”

“Alright,” said Dmitri, standing. He offered Bernhard his hand. They shook. “I figure Varkas voided any contract we might have had when he sent us on a suicide mission. It’s up to you. Where will you go?”

“Got family in Port Sean, southeast of here,” the big man replied. “I’ll see if I can get them somewhere safer.”

“Luck to you.”

“And you.” 

They watched Bernhard’s Jenner stride off towards the east, then filed out of the compound, heading south. They’d been gone for almost an hour before the Republican ’Mechs reappeared at the top of Julian’s Hill.

DOC_Agren

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #5 on: 26 July 2017, 17:08:39 »
Just 1 Ping
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #6 on: 29 July 2017, 08:48:47 »
Just 1 Ping

Not sure I follow?

***

Captain Martel halted his Victor at the top of the hill and scowled. The damage looked impressive. The Long Tom shells had left craters like meteor strikes, shattered the tower and blasted a hole halfway through the planet’s crust, it seemed. Yet for all that, they could only find evidence of one ’Mech destroyed, a spindly Spider at that.

His scowl deepened as the thought what that would mean, if he reported to Major Harrison that five ’Mechs had slipped away from him. He shouldn’t have waited for the armor and infantry support to arrive, but it had seemed wise, given his command’s initial display of ineptitude.

“No sign of them,” Lieutenant Khan reported from his Enforcer at the base of the hill. “If they retreated after the barrage, they could be fifty, maybe sixty kilometers away by now.”

“I don’t want excuses, I want results,” Martel bellowed. “Find them.”


Laminar Hills
2 July 3029


They walked single file, along narrow, twisting and dusty roads as they climbed from wooded valleys into the foothills of the Strahan Mountains. A clear mountain stream burbled to itself happily, blissfully unaware of the multi-ton death machines striding alongside.

Up in the hills, the sky was clear, brittle and cold, with a few wisps of cirrus clouds and crisscrossed with contrails to the north. Dmitri had worried they might be spotted by aerospace fighters, but they hadn’t seen anything this far south, save for a flight of Marik conventional jets that had gone screaming high overhead early in the morning. Dmitri silently wished them luck.

Ascending the slopes was like travelling through geological layers, every kilometer in height sending them 100 years further back into the planet’s history. In the plains below the hills were signs of the most recent destruction, broken-down civilian cars, roadsides littered with suitcases, clothing, furniture, cast aside by refugees fleeing the Republicans. Here and there, a doll or child’s toy car.

Higher up, they passed settlements abandoned since the early Succession Wars, hollow-eyed sagging buildings overgrown with vines and moss, slowly disappearing into the wild. Outside of one ghost town was a graveyard for mining vehicles, with ramshackle rows of rusting hulks like beached whales. Here and there stood the bones of great ore-haulers, 20-meter long trucks nearly as tall as a BattleMech.

Further on lay the crumbling slopes of the open-pit mine the vehicles had once served, terraced like a Roman amphitheater and over 500 meters deep, its bottom now home to a muddy lake. The mine itself had evidently once been the site of a clash between BattleMechs; the blasted remains of a number of machines littered the edge of the pit. Here, a pair of legs remained standing, most of the armor and myomer stripped away by successive waves of scavengers, leaving only the titanium skeleton wrapped in a tracery of loose, ragged wiring. There, the torso of a Thunderbolt lay half-submerged in the mud, long since stripped of anything of value.

They skirted the edge of the mine in awed silence.

Towards evening, the road threaded through a mountain pass and broke out onto a cliff overlooking a valley below. Speakers picked up the distant sounds of battle.

At maximum magnification Dmitri could just make out a clash between Marik Galleons and Harassers on one side, and Republican Manticores on the other. As he watched, the Marik armor broke cover from behind wooded hills and accelerated to full speed towards their heavier opponents, swerving and zig-zagging in a desperate bid to close the gap until their own weapons could come into effect.

The Galleons were too slow even so, and in the few minutes that Dmitri watched nearly a dozen were reduced to burning pyres. The Harassers fared better, zooming among their adversaries, unloading salvos of missiles into the Manticores’ weaker side and rear armor.

“Come on, come on, come on,” Dyubichev found himself silently urging them on.

The Harassers were a swarm of gnats baiting a family of giants. Even a glancing shot was enough to turn one of the hovertanks into a flaming wreck. Dmitri saw one pilot, his turret already shot away, deliberately plow into the side of a Manticore at full speed. Ammunition, fuel and 30 tons of armor and equipment impacted at over 150 kph, turning the tangled wreckage of both vehicles into the center of a billowing fiery cloud.

Dmitri wasn’t sure whether to applaud or curse the Marik tankers’ suicidal bravery. Mostly, just the waste of it made him feel sick. He let the others file past him as he watched the battle unfold. The outcome was never really in doubt.

He switched off the view, turned and followed after the others.



“Captain,” Lieutenant Khan’s excited voice startled Martel out of his reverie. “Got something from one of the UAVs attached to 8th Armored.”

“Patch it through,” said Martel, sitting up in his command couch. A video feed appeared onscreen. Low-light imaging, ghostly greys with heat sources picked out in glaring white. In this mode, the BattleMech stood out like a candle in a cave.

A Jenner.

“Location?” he demanded.

“Port Sean, about 300 kilometers south east,” Khan replied.

Martel tugged thoughtfully at his goatee. Only one of the five ’Mechs. What was Dyubichev planning? Was this a diversion, or were the other four there too? There were risks in pursuing, risks in dismissing it and doing nothing.

“Lieutenant Khan,” he called. “New orders.”

DOC_Agren

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #7 on: 29 July 2017, 17:03:35 »
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

snakespinner

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #8 on: 29 July 2017, 19:32:34 »
Very descriptive the story of their journey.
I liked the human touch with the refugees possessions and remains from an old battle at the mine.
Very good. O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #9 on: 30 July 2017, 09:01:22 »
Was just letting you know someone was interested
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr0JaXfKj68

I shee, said Sean Connery. Sorry, didn't get the reference: been ages since I've seen the Red October.

***

Port Sean
3 July 3029


Martel had left half his command behind, leaving anything damaged or without jump jets, taking only his own Victor, Khan’s Enforcer, the new Hatchetman, the surviving Clint and a Dervish. If all five Earthwerks ’Mechs were here they’d be evenly matched, but Martel counted on Dyubichev being demoralized, short of spare parts and ammunition.

From the heights overlooking the village Martel couldn’t make out any of the ’Mechs, or indeed why Port Sean would be worth defending in the first place. At its peak the city had been home to perhaps 100,000; now reduced to about half that. A row of evil-smelling chemical refineries lined the docks like rust-red sentinels, but the ships at anchor seemed to be taking on people, not cargo. Some kind of barge was already putting out to sea, its decks almost awash as it sat low in the water, under the weight of thousands of refugees crammed onto its deck. The wake of a passing hydrofoil washed over the ship, and Martel thought he saw a number of passengers carried away.

He shook his head. Where did they think they were running to? Didn’t they understand there were no more safe places on this planet? Ah well, they’d learn soon enough.

“Khan,” he called the Enforcer pilot on the company channel, “Your target is the port. I don’t want any boats escaping. Axel, Boris, you’re with him.” He nodded to himself, satisfied. “The rest of you on me. We’re going ’Mech hunting.”

They marched slowly through the outskirts of town, past lines of abandoned cars and the empty husks of buildings. A handful of militia with small arms took potshots at them from a high-rise apartment complex at one intersection, bullets rattling off armor and ferroglass like hailstones. A pickup truck with a quadruple heavy machinegun crudely mounted on the bed tore out of an alley and careened past them, the machineguns thudding wildly away, though they managed to do little more than chip away at the Clint’s forward armor.

Khan’s Enforcer and the Hatchetman raked the apartment buildings with laser fire, causing entire floors to blow out in a hail of glass shards and rubble. One wing of the complex crumbled and collapsed in a thunderous fountain of dust as successive floors pancaked those below. The Clint leaped after the pickup, its own cannon barking, turning the machine gunner into red paste before blowing the front cab into a greasy fireball.

There was no further opposition until they reached the port.

The first flight of missiles flew from rails in the Dervish’s chest, and came screaming down on a cruise liner tied to one of the docks, blasting a dozen holes in its side, including one just above the water line. The ship began to list to one side, tiny figures of people desperately throwing themselves into the water as the deck was engulfed in flames.

The Jenner came rising from the bottom of the harbor, water shedding from its frame in thunderous sheets as it vaulted into the air on jump jets and came down between the port and the Dervish. The MechWarrior fired a salvo of laser shots at the Republican ’Mech, and immediately charged straight towards it the moment its feet touched the pavement.

“Alive,” shouted Martel. “I want him alive.”

Five against one was never going to be in doubt. Axel backpedaled the Dervish, drawing the Jenner further away from the port and allowing Khan to circle behind. The Jenner landed a dozen hits, blasting away great chunks of the Dervish’s armor, but firing too wildly to find any gap and strike the vital components inside.

And then the ruby red beam of the Enforcer’s ChisComp laser sliced through the Jenner’s left knee, sending the machine sprawling to the pavement. A minute later, the head exploded outwards as the pilot ejected. The trajectory was tracked, and the pilot was easily caught in the Hatchetman’s grasp as he drifted back down to the ground.

The Clint moved to investigate the downed ’Mech, just in time for the Jenner’s self-destruct, initiated just before the pilot ejected, to catch it in a massive blast and send it toppling backwards into the harbor. It promptly sank beneath the waves.

Martel and his men sank all the boats, of course, though that was easy enough and not very satisfying. Far better were the names they tortured from the captive pilot before they killed him:

Bernhard Klein, Dmitri Dyubichev.

Mount Cradle.

Laminar Hills
3 July 3029


There was an isolated cabin by the side of the road, weathered with age but bearing it gracefully, with a long wooden veranda and shuttered windows. A civilian jeep stood parked out front. As he studied the building, Dmitri saw there was a man sitting on a chair on the veranda, watching them without expression.

Dmitri called a halt and slid down a chain link-ladder from this cockpit to the ground. Lucy soon joined him, while Ayako and Stephen kept watch. Dmitri walked over to the cabin, palms up and out. “Morning,” he called to the old man. “Don’t suppose you could spare a drink and a bite to eat?” They’d brought nothing to eat but the emergency rations in each BattleMech, and they’d grown heartily sick of those halfway through the first meal.

Indifferent silence was the only response. Perhaps the man was deaf. Dmitri moved closer. “We can pay, of course,” he said, slowly reaching into a pocket and pulling out a wad of M-Bills. He doubted he’d be needing them any time soon.

“You’ll pay, that’s a laugh,” the old man said at last. “We’re the ones who always pay, in the end.”

Dyubichev nodded in sympathy, Lucy just rolled her eyes. “We’re not the invaders, though,” he explained.

“Don’t matter.” The old man fell silent.

Dyubichev let the silence stretch. When it seemed the old man had nothing more to offer he nodded, and turned to go.

“I had three sons, once,” the old man said suddenly. “Lost one in a Capellan raid, one in a Lyran, the last of ‘em in a Davion one.”

There was a pause. Dyubichev turned back. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.

The old man shook his head. “No you, ain’t,” he spat. “But you should be.” He waved his hand at the mountain road they’d come up, back down towards the crumbling mine and rusted vehicle graveyard. “All this fightin’ and you tell me what changed. You tell me what they died for. Nothing.”

Dmitri made sympathetic noises.

“Have you heard of Van Diemen’s Diamonds?” Lucy asked suddenly.

“Who hasn’t?”

“What would happen, do you think, if they were found?” she pressed. “Don’t you think something would change then?”

The old man laughed, hollow, mirthless. “Not likely. Wouldn’t be long before someone used it,” he said. “Probably against us.” He looked at them for a long moment, as though weighing something, then chuckled and shook his head. “But good luck to you anyway,” he said as he dusted his hands off on his coveralls, stood up, and walked slowly, painfully, back to the house. “Jes’ hole a sec,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll get yer drink.”

Dmitri was silent and thoughtful throughout the rest of the day’s march. He kept tabs on the civilian news channels, though it was hard to make sense of what was happening. The official channels were filled with opaque official pronouncements and patriotic holovids; Director Sheri Porter’s “Eagle Squadron” trilogy about a mismatched band of League MechWarriors learning to overcome their differences and throw back Capellan invaders seemed to be a favorite. Stephen tried to access the informal networks; planetary ‘net vlogs and amateur radio operators, but they were no better. Everything was rumor, conjecture, guesswork. Marik armor fighting, falling back. Government figures escaping offworld. He heard Port Sean had fallen, or had been bombed, and thought of Bernhard. Dmitri hoped he was okay.

That evening they halted in a clearing amid a forest of giant, 100-meter tall Umbra trees. The northern horizon pulsed with flashes of white and yellow, too far away for the sound to carry. Once, a bright pinpoint of light blossomed in the sky and went streaking down, like a shooting star. The meal was cold and silent, and they pitched their tents far from one another. Dmitri lay awake in his bedroll, until the flap opened and Lucy slipped in beside him, wordless.

Later, he felt the small, round hardness of the diamond on her necklace. How strange, he thought, that people should fight and die for something so meaningless, as though one rock should be worth more than another just because it sparkled prettily.

Lucy reached up and pulled his hand away.

“We talked about this once before, when it was just a fantasy,” she began. “But now it’s reality, so I’m asking you again: What are you planning on doing if, when we find this thing?”

“Find Captain Martel and blast his smug arse into orbit, for a start.”

“Revenge?”

“He killed Adam,” he objected. “Tried to kill us.”

“Wasn’t personal, so don’t make it. Look, Dmitri, I’m not here to help you work out your guilty conscience over Adam. I’m sure as hell not here to help you work out some weird catharsis for whatever history you and Pavel Ridzik have. I’m here for me, I’m here for the very literal diamonds we can get for selling Van Diemen’s Diamonds. Davion, Marik, ComStar, doesn’t matter. Pretty sure the same goes for Ayako and Steve.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“We find this thing, we make sure it’s real. Then we head for neutral ground, and auction it off to the highest bidder.”

“Just like that? How do you think we can get off this planet?”

“You’ll think of something.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #10 on: 31 July 2017, 09:24:25 »
Laminar Hills
4 July 3029


“Laszlo.”

“Dyubichev,” a staticky pause. “Still alive.”

“Apparently.”

It was a blurry, half-grey dawn beneath heavy clouds. Dyubichev’s Grasshopper was parked at the top of a small rise that jutted near a bend in the road, risking detection for a clear line on one of the orbiting communications satellites, one that could boost his ’Mech’s signal enough to reach a DropShip even now burning for the system’s jump point.

“Where the hell are you? Why the hell didn’t you guys show at the port?”

“Long story, Laszlo. But that’s why I need to ask you a favor.”

“A favor? What have you been smoking, Dyubichev? I’m on a DropShip making high Gs for the zenith point, you’re stranded on an enemy-held planet half an AU away.” He heard the disbelief in Laszlo’s voice. “A favor? You’re in no position to ask, we’re in no position to offer.”

“Maybe, maybe. Look, Laszlo, forget the personal bullshit between us and listen to me: This is big. This could make EarthWerks the biggest corp anywhere in the League, anywhere in the Sphere. All I need is for you to make one call.”

“You’re lying, desperate or drunk, Dyubichev. Maybe all three.”

“You want to take that chance, Laszlo?” Dyubichev found he was gripping the communicator with white-knuckled intensity. Laszlo had to believe. He had to. “Three little words: Van Diemen’s diamonds.”

White noise filled the receiver, and Dyubichev worried for a moment they’d lost the connection. “The diamonds,” Laszlo said at last, slowly, deliberately. Then, after another pause, “You sure?”

“Big, hard, sparkly things, kinda hard to miss.” He had him. Probably. “Find us a boat, Laszlo. Freighter, passenger liner, mercenary, anything. Call in any favor you need to; Just get us off this rock, and we’ll deal you in. I’ll be on this channel again in two hours.”

Dyubichev cut the channel.

Laszlo called back in exactly two hours. A MediQuick Services DropShip was being diverted—it would make a sub-orbital hop from the northern continent, then carry them to the jump point. Dmitri named a time and a place. They couldn’t take the BattleMechs, as there was nothing available to lift them, but that didn’t worry Dmitri much. The diamonds were worth the price.

Mount Cradle
5 July 3029


Mount Cradle was a giant, well over 4,000 meters high, its snow-capped peak lost in the clouds, overlooking a shallow, fast-flowing mountain stream. The entrance to the mine was easy enough to find. The main tunnel was massive, wide enough for two of the great ore haulers they’d seen earlier, high enough that a BattleMech could stand without crouching.

The way was partially blocked with boulders and dirt from an ancient landslide, so they spent much of the day shoveling it aside, the Mech’s great hands scooping up car-sized boulders like pebbles, and using their lasers to melt anything larger.

With the way clear, they descended into the depths, walking for several hours in echoing, near-total blackness, until the tunnel came to an end.

The entire tunnel was blocked by a mass of grey steel, with the barest of cracks down the center to suggest it was not a wall but a doorway. Centered on the doorway, neatly divided in half, was the faintest trace of the Cameron star.

Bozhe moy,” murmured Dmitri.

“U-ni-ty,” Stephen seconded. “That’s it. Right there. There it is.”

“We going to break in or we going to sit outside all day waiting for an invitation?” asked Lucy.

“Ayako, you’ve got two free arms on that thing. Want to see if you can budge those doors.”

Yatte miru,” she grunted. “I’ll try.”

Ayako dug the Hunchback’s fingers into the centerline crack in the middle of the door, and began to heave. Nothing happened. “Steve,” Dmitri called, and the Shadow Hawk stepped up to take one side, while Ayako worked on the other. With a squeal of tortured metal, the two doors began to edge apart.

Dmitri watched the widening crack intently.

There was light on the other side. Faint, brittle white light. The dust on the tunnel floor stirred. An air current, too.
The crack was wider, wide enough for a BattleMech to pass.

“You did it!” Lucy cried.

Shizuka ni. I’ve got movement on the MAD,” interrupted Ayako. “Something’s coming.”

Dmitri glanced at his own screen and saw she was right. An angry red dot pulsed on the monitor. The sensors had picked up something, coming straight at them down the corridor.

“How is that possible?” Lucy asked. “This place had been closed for centuries.”

“Holy hell, what is it?” a note of hysteria crept into Stephen’s voice. “Automated defenses? Drones?

“Alright Steve, I see it,” Dmitri tried to calm him. “Ayako, down on one knee so we can fire over you. I’ll hug the left wall, Steve the right. Lucy, you’ve got guns in the back so watch our six.”

“Dmitri,” Ayako barked again. “Two more incoming—wait, three more.”

“Ah shit,” murmured Stephen. “We are dead. We are so dead.”

Dmitri frowned at the readings. Noted the estimated mass and speed of the signals. “Get a grip Steve,” he ordered. “Check your MAD. Way too small to be ‘Mechs, and moving at a crawl’s pace.”

“Whatever it is, here comes the first one,” warned Ayako.

From the shadow of the tunnel, a low, flat rectangle of metal emerged, rolling down the corridor on hidden wheels, whirring softly. Bristling black brushes spun across the floor at each corner of the machine. As soon as it appeared, Ayako yelped and triggered both arm-mounted lasers, instantly blasting the thing into a rapidly expanding haze of tiny metal shards and plastic.

“What was it?” asked Lucy. “Can’t see a damn thing back here.”

Dmitri slumped back in his couch. Popped the faceplate of his helmet and wiped his brow. Flipped through the various sensor settings, studying the wreckage. Then keyed the channel. “Appears to have been a cleaning robot,” he said. “Don’t worry though. Ayako got it before it could, uh, do any more vicious cleaning.”

They watched silently as one by one, three more robots trundled down the tunnel, fastidiously brushing the floor. They each halted before the invisible dividing line between smooth metallic floor and rocky tunnel, then reversed and disappeared back down the corridor.

“Come on,” said Dmitri. “We’ve got some diamonds to find.”


“What is this?” Khan muttered. “A Star League bunker? Think Dyubichev is planning an ambush?”

The four Republican ’Mechs stood in front of the mouth of the tunnel.

Martel studied the half-open steel doors, noted the faded symbols. And found himself grinning, grinning like his face would split, for the first time in he didn’t know how many days. “So that’s what he was after,” he half-whispered. This changed everything. What were a few ’Mechs, hell even a company, against the most powerful weapon system in existence? Coming back with the keys to Van Diemen’s Diamonds—revenge and redemption and promotion, hell, adulation even, all in one tidy package.

“Captain?” Khan prodded.

“No Khan, it’s not an ambush,” he couldn’t keep the smile from his voice. “It’s the crown jewels.”

“Captain?”

He laughed. They’d understand, soon enough. “Just follow me.”

“Crazy bastard,” Khan muttered to himself in the privacy of his cockpit. He texted a quick message to the battalion command, then waved for the other ’Mechs to follow.

The four ’Mechs headed into the tunnels, the Victor in the lead.


The MAD sensor in Dmitri’s Grasshopper immediately detected the ‘Mechs, painting four new contacts on the display in the cockpit. He glanced down distractedly, shrugged and looked up again. More cleaning robots, he figured.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #11 on: 01 August 2017, 20:07:47 »
“End of the line,” said Stephen.

The tunnel ended in a large, open cavern, wide enough for to fit all four’ ’Mechs with plenty of room to spare. Illumination was provided by thin rows of luminescent lights set high into the ceiling. No other tunnels led out—the only exit was a pair of human-scale doors set high into the far wall, reached by a long flight of steel stairs. Stenciled above the door were the letters “RAGCENT CP.”

Stephen’s Shadow Hawk raised a hand and pointed. “CP,” he said. “Command Post?”

“That’s it then,” Lucy breathed. Her Quickdraw took a step towards the stairs.

The cavern plunged into darkness, then was lit up by the angry red burning of warning lights. An alarm started to wail, high and shrill. At the end of the cavern, a massive steel door slid down from the ceiling, trapping them inside.

“Shit,” swore Lucy. “Must have triggered something.”

Red lights flashed on an off, plunging the room in darkness then drenching it in scarlet a second later.

“Probably pinged you with an IFF,” shouted Stephen over the noise. “Automated system.”

A quartet of turrets dropped from the ceiling, another four rose from hidden panels in the floor. Muzzles swung, tracking the BattleMechs. They zeroed in on the Quickdraw. Five sparked and stuttered, then sagged. Another turret appeared locked in place with its turret still half-deployed. The last two more ended up belligerently pointed at each other, spitting weak flashes of light at one another.

“Well, didn’t need that pair of underpants anyway,” said Lucy.

“Let’s hope that’s the last surprise.” Dyubichev checked his sensors, didn’t see anything other than some MAD readings in the tunnel outside. The air was still breathable—no gas. “Steve, think you can shut it off?” he yelled into the comm. The noise of the alarm was deafening.

“Probably have to get into the CP,” Stephen yelled back.

“Fantastic,” muttered Dyubichev, unbuckling his harness. “Could this get any worse?”

The steel door at the end of the cavern blew open, crashing to the ground in a blizzard of dust.

Through the dust came Republican ’Mechs, a Victor, a Hatchetman, an Enforcer and a Dervish, firing.

Ayako’s Hunchback was closest to the door. Cannon and laser fire slammed into the ’Mech’s back, blasting away armor in great sheets, knocking it face-down to the ground. It didn’t move.

Lucy was the first to react, charging her Quickdraw straight at the Enforcer, peppering it with laser and missile shots. Then the Victor’s cannon was roaring, shells shearing through the Quickdraw’s leg armor. The left ankle snapped. Titanium bones and polymer myomers tore apart, sending the ’Mech crashing down, rolling along the ground. The Hatchetman advanced, axe raised over its head.

Its downward swing was interrupted. The Grasshopper’s hand clenched around its wrist.

“No you ****** don’t,” growled Dyubichev.

He tried twisting, wrenching the other ’Mech’s arms. Get it to drop the hatchet. Pouring fire from the chest-mounted lasers the whole time, shots sparkling across the front of the Hatchetman like fireworks. The two Mechs whirled and stumbled against each other like drunken dancers as they wrestled. He caught sight of Stephen’s Shadow Hawk and the Dervish blasting away at each other at point-blank range. A lucky shot tore into the Hatchetman’s right shoulder, and Dyubichev yanked the axe away.

He brought it crashing down on the head of the Hatchetman. Ejection thrusters fired, lifting the entire head assembly free, firing it straight up. Crashing into the cavern ceiling. The head exploded in a shower of metal fragments.

The body of the Hatchetman slumped back. Revealing the Victor standing behind it.

The Victor’s autocannon shells hit the Grasshopper like an avalanche, like a meteor. It was thrown back, smashing into the cavern wall. The left arm lay smoking on the cavern floor. Dyubichev hadn’t had time to fasten his safety harness; he was thrown from the couch, neurohelmet connectors tearing free. The Grasshopper went limp.

There was an outraged scream, pure hatred. The Hunchback reared up. Right behind the Enforcer. The shoulder-mounted cannon spat fire, and the Enforcer’s head dissolved in flames.

Dyubichev shook his head, tried to get his bearings, fumbling for the neurohelmet wires. The cockpit swam in the glare of the lights, red, black, red, black.

Ayako was still screaming, turning her fire on a Dervish standing over Steve’s Shadow Hawk.

He didn’t remember that happening. Steve?

The Dervish crumpled, then exploded outwards as its ammunition caught fire and detonated, flinging hot shrapnel about the cavern.

The connectors. There, there was one. Where were the others? Had to get back up.

The Victor rounded on the Hunchback, its muzzle almost touching the Hunchback’s cockpit. Ayako still yelling, defiance and rage. The boom of the Victor’s autocannon. The Hunchback kicked back, folding almost double, headless and smoking.

No time, no time. Connectors. There, another. One more.

“You still in there, Dyubichev?”

Dyubichev looked up, out the ferroglass window. Into the gaping maw of the Victor’s cannon.

“Hope so. Want you to be alive for this, to know who beat you.”

“Martel,” Dyubichev said, flatly.

“You’ve cost me a lot, Dyubichev. Most of my command. Nearly my career. But this will make up for it, eh? The Diamonds. Worth a couple of lives, wouldn’t you say?”

There was a deafening, high-pitched keen, like a jet engine. Something huge flashed over the Grasshopper, moving incredibly fast, plowing straight into the Victor. A Quickdraw. Lucy’s Quickdraw. Firing her jump jets, turning her ’Mech into a 60-ton missile, a juggernaut smashing straight into the Victor’s chest just beneath the cockpit. Head, chest of the Quickdraw crushed like an accordion. Inertia driving the two ‘Mech’s into the far cavern wall, hammering into the rock, shattering it, mashing the two machines and rock together into a broken, twisted mass.

The lights flashed. Red, black, red, black. He noticed the alarm had cut out. Wondered when.

In silence, Dmitri slowly climbed out of his ‘Mech. Spent a long time looking at the wreckage of the Victor and Quickdraw. He didn’t go any closer, didn’t go up and check if she. If she. He couldn’t even complete the thought.
Why had she done that?

“Worth a couple of lives,” he repeated to himself. He spat.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #12 on: 02 August 2017, 09:30:25 »
Dmitri hobbled up the stairs to the doorway. Boots on the metal steps echoing eerily in the cavern.

He hit the controls next to the doors. They slid open a fraction, then halted with a granite, grinding sound. He hit the controls again. Punched them, hammered his fist into them. Rested his forehead against the cool metal. Drew a shuddering breath.

Unslung the M4T, aimed at the doors, and blasted them with a stream of laser fire until the power pack beeped to let him know it was empty. He ejected it, slapped another in. Kept firing. Door metal going from red to orange to white. Starting to run in molten lines. Dmitri went through four energy packs before the M4T became too hot to hold. He threw the rifle down, kicked at the blistered metal until a massive chunk buckled and gave way. He walked in.

Soft, dim lights. A long black polished oval table in the center, and above it, a slowly rotating hologram of Van Diemen. Cold. Sterile. A desk at each of the four corners of the room, angled in, facing the hologram. Two bodies, grey and desiccated, lying on the floor.

“Welcome back, General Gabriel,” said a soft woman’s voice, coming from the ceiling.

Dmitri started, glanced up, saw speakers there. “Who is this?”

“Voice Interface Response Agent. Please call me Vira. General Gabriel, Masada White is currently in stand-by mode. Would you like to proceed?”

The hologram dissolved, replaced by a flat, two-dimensional map of the planet. Large red dots appeared across the continents.

“An AI?” Dmitri approached the map. The dots, he noticed, were each centered on one of the planet’s major cities.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. General Gabriel, Masada White is currently in stand-by mode. Would you like to proceed?”

“That answers that question,” he muttered. “You control the Reagan Grid?”

“I can provide information on all aspects of the Grid. Commands may be issue using either the hub system, or one of the remotes such as the unit currently on the map table. General Gabriel—”

“Who is General Gabriel?”

“General Lazarus Gabriel, Rim Worlds Army, Commander-in-Chief, Army Group Van Diemen, effective December 27, 2766. General—”

Of course. The Amaris Coup. Dyubichev looked down at the two bodies on the floor, grey as mummies. “These two on the floor, who are they?”

“They are General Lazarus Gabriel and General Lazarus Gabriel. They appear to have sustained injuries. Shall I contact emergency medical teams?”

“No. No point.” Something out of whack with the system’s ID function, he reckoned. Optics degraded over the centuries, probably. “What’s the status of the Grid?”

“One moment,” said the voice, and it fell silent for a moment. “Diagnostics show only 28 percent of orbital assets online. Capital laser and PPC satellites are tracking unidentified military forces. Total ninety-two BattleMechs with unknown IFF. Total 356 armor units with unknown IFF. General Gabriel, Masada White is currently in stand-by mode. Would—”

“Masada? I don’t understand. What is Masada?”

“Four levels of operational engagement are available, from tactical to strategic: Jericho, Meggido, Illium and Masada. Each can be set to Case White or Black for nuclear and non-nuclear deployment. General Gabriel, Masada White is currently in stand-by mode. Would you like to proceed?”

“With what?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the—”

“Stop. Define ‘Masada White.’”

“Masada White denotes strategic-scale offensive deployment of nuclear assets. Total 14 tactical airburst, six ground penetrator, and 34 strategic warheads are available. Targeted areas are displayed. General Gabriel, Masada White is currently in stand-by mode. Would you like to proceed?”

Dmitri looked at the map on the display, at the red dots on every city, feeling suddenly cold. “Estimated casualties?”

“Initial casualties in excess of 100 million. A further 200 million casualties predicted from secondary effects of radiation, food shortages and disease.”

He closed his eyes, head bowed.

Rim Worlds Army? They’d come this close, this close, to a holocaust. To burn out loyalist troops during the coup? To deny the world to Kerensky’s avenging armies? For the sheet, bloody-minded hell of it? Waste, Waste upon waste upon waste. Bernhard, Adam, Ayako and Stephen. The Marik tankers. The old man's sons. Lucy. Waste.

“Welcome back, General Gabriel.”

He opened his eyes and looked up. Saw Martel standing in the door way. Dark red stains across his abdomen, down one leg. Swaying, barely staying on his feet. Dmitri’s discarded M4T held in both hands.

“Go, Martel. Go.” Dmitri met his gaze, shook his head slowly. “It isn’t worth it. There is only death here.”

“Yeah. Yours, you bastard,” snarled Martel, bringing the M4T up to his shoulder. Cheek against the stock. He squeezed the M4T’s trigger.

Already overheated capacitors slagged and fused together. Heat built up in a self-feeding loop.

The gun exploded.

Martel’s scream was cut off as soon as it began, his body kicked backwards against the wall, where it slid down into a smoking, untidy heap. Dmitri went and stood over the body. Martel’s face was burned beyond recognition, a long shard of gun casing jutted from the throat.

“Explosion detected. Personnel injury detected. I am contacting emergency medical teams,” Vira informed him in her stately, measured tones. “Emergency medical teams unavailable. I am contacting base security. Base security unavailable. Contacting planetary defense command. Defense command unavailable.”

“Don’t worry. It’s fine, Vira,” he reassured the system. “Really.”

He started limping back to his Grasshopper. Picked up something from the table on his way out.

“It’s fine.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #13 on: 03 August 2017, 09:14:12 »
Outside, it was night. The jeweled sky observed him coldly, its flickering embers giving faint shape to the debris piled outside the tunnel entrance.

The Grasshopper’s thermal imaging easily picked out the 12 ’Mechs, arranged in a wide V facing the tunnel mouth, with a Marauder at its apex.

“This is Major Julian Harrison. Surrender, mercenary,” a voice boomed from the Marauder’s loudspeakers. “You have five seconds before we open fire.”

Dmitri highlighted the 12 heat signatures in a handheld unit he’d brought back from the control room. “Initiate Jericho Black Y/N?” the display asked him. He pressed “Y”.

“Something’s pinging us!” shouted a pilot in one of the ‘Mechs. “I’m picking up targeting—”

“Open fi—” the Major started to yell, bringing up the Marauder’s blocky forearms.

Night turned to sudden, terrible day.

Pillars of blinding, actinic light thundered down with the fury of dying stars. A Cataphract disappeared in a ball of flame. Great boulders were flung skyward and seemed to hang delicately for an instant before tumbling back and shattering like glass. The ground convulsed beneath a 45-ton Vindicator, tossing it into the air like a child’s toy. Lasers fell like burning magnesium rain, hammering the ground so fast that each beam became indistinguishable from the next, forming a solid sheet of devouring nova-white light. A particle beam wider than a tree trunk skewered an Awesome from the crown of the ‘Mech’s head to crotch, blasting it in half.

The shockwaves buffeted the Grasshopper like a hurricane, driving the ‘Mech to one knee. Dmitri latched the ‘Mech’s remaining hand onto the tunnel wall just to stop it from being completely blown over. The glare clawed at his retina even through the polarized viewscreen and his own screwed-tight eyelids.

“Stop! Stop! STOP!” Major Harrison was screaming. “STOP! STOP! STOPSTOPSTO-”

A titanic beam of blue-white light reached down and swatted the Marauder like a bug, vaporizing it in an instant. The voice cut off.

The heavens closed. Silence returned.

An hour later, Dmitri watched as the MediQuick DropShip’s ramp unfolded.

He punched a final command into the targeting designator, then tossed it from his ‘Mech’s open cockpit. He climbed down from the Grasshopper, then limped up the ramp, which slammed shut behind him. A few minutes later, the DropShip ascended on a spike of flame, growing fainter with each second until it was swallowed by the clouds.

He told Earthwerks everything he knew about the grid, later. But by then of course it was too late. He’d already seen to that.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #14 on: 03 August 2017, 09:16:16 »
Geostationary orbit
Van Diemen IV


Six M75 “bunker buster” nuclear warheads blinked to life, shaking off centuries of slumber along with their disguises as discarded booster rockets or ancient satellites. Micro-rockets in the nose and tail of each missile swung them around, then the main thrusters roared to life a second later, rapidly accelerating each one to hypersonic speeds. Even then, it took them several hours to plunge planetwards, escaping detection until they fell screaming into the atmosphere, shedding ablative layers in fiery trails across the sky. A split-second before they hit, modified mining lasers built into the tip of each missile blasted craters deep into the sides of Mount Cradle, into which the missiles plunged, impacted and detonated almost simultaneously.

The bunker had been built to withstand precisely such an assault; one, two, perhaps even three warheads would not have sufficed. Six at once, now that was more than enough.

They were small warheads by the standards of their age, equivalent to a few hundred kilotons of TNT each, yet produced obliterating fireballs several kilometers in diameter. Seismic waves hammered into the rock, shaking the mountain as though the skin of the world had been stretched upon a drum.

Billions of tons of rock collapsed on the long dark tunnels, on the burned and twisted hulks of BattleMechs, on the cold and sterile control room with its soft-voiced guardian, on the small broken figure clasping a necklace with its single, perfect diamond.

DOC_Agren

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #15 on: 03 August 2017, 22:57:59 »
Well done

1 question: Was Lucy still alive when the bunker busters hit?
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #16 on: 04 August 2017, 09:39:03 »
Well done

1 question: Was Lucy still alive when the bunker busters hit?

Thanks for sticking with it all the way to the end, DOC.

In answer to your question: No, the idea was that she died when she rammed Martel's 'Mech with her own.

In the final line of the story, referring to her necklace, I'm trying to guide the reader back to Dmitri's motivations and his reasons for destroying the command center. Namely, his realization that the pursuit of the big-D Van Diemen Diamonds is, like that for small-d diamonds, ultimately futile and destructive and certainly not worth anyone's life.

Maybe that link is a theme I didn't develop enough.

DOC_Agren

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #17 on: 04 August 2017, 13:51:48 »
I was pretty sure she had died when she rammed the mech, but I had to ask.. :'(

But the line on the small broken figure clasping a necklace with its single, perfect diamond made me wonder if she had by chance survived, broken hurt
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Sir Chaos

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #18 on: 04 August 2017, 15:07:16 »
Thanks for sticking with it all the way to the end, DOC.

In answer to your question: No, the idea was that she died when she rammed Martel's 'Mech with her own.

In the final line of the story, referring to her necklace, I'm trying to guide the reader back to Dmitri's motivations and his reasons for destroying the command center. Namely, his realization that the pursuit of the big-D Van Diemen Diamonds is, like that for small-d diamonds, ultimately futile and destructive and certainly not worth anyone's life.

Maybe that link is a theme I didn't develop enough.

I had gotten the impression that his change of mind was when Vira told him what Masada White was - that the Diamonds were supposed to have made the planet uninhabitable. A weapon system that protects the planet and its people would have been worth it - one meant to destroy them, not so much.
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
- Inscription on cannon barrel, 18th century

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #19 on: 04 August 2017, 16:48:55 »
I had gotten the impression that his change of mind was when Vira told him what Masada White was - that the Diamonds were supposed to have made the planet uninhabitable. A weapon system that protects the planet and its people would have been worth it - one meant to destroy them, not so much.

You are correct. The final nail in the coffin for Dmitri is when he realizes how close the planet had come to annihilation.

The Diamonds were not specifically designed to wipe the population out (as Vira explains, Masada White is just the most extreme case--more limited/tactical use is possible), but had the potential to be used that way, which in the BTech universe pretty much guarantees that someone will try to use them that way.

Sir Chaos

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #20 on: 04 August 2017, 17:00:34 »
And those two bodies Dmitri found on the floor... I assume they are the real General Lazarus Gabriel, and the person who stopped him from activating Masada White at the cost of their own life?
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
- Inscription on cannon barrel, 18th century

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #21 on: 04 August 2017, 17:10:23 »
And those two bodies Dmitri found on the floor... I assume they are the real General Lazarus Gabriel, and the person who stopped him from activating Masada White at the cost of their own life?

Keen eyes. Precisely!

ckosacranoid

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #22 on: 12 August 2017, 01:02:45 »
Talk about one hell of a way to end the story with a nuke fireball for sure. Sad to see everyone pretty much bites it along with the planet also for the most part.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #23 on: 12 August 2017, 02:38:18 »
Talk about one hell of a way to end the story with a nuke fireball for sure. Sad to see everyone pretty much bites it along with the planet also for the most part.

Yeah, I think a story about the futility of war pretty much had to end in tragedy. At the end though, Dmitri only destroys the control center -- precisely to prevent anyone from trying to use the system against the civilian population.
« Last Edit: 12 August 2017, 03:26:02 by Dubble_g »

marauder648

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #24 on: 12 August 2017, 02:40:37 »
Bloody superb stuff, a really enjoyable, well written read from begining to firey end.
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #25 on: 12 August 2017, 03:53:42 »
Bloody superb stuff, a really enjoyable, well written read from begining to firey end.

Bloody kind of you to say so. I'd use this opportunity to plug my latest story but that would be absolutely shameless. So that's what I'll do! "The Mask Does Not Make the Man": easily my best work since "Diamonds in the Rust."

snakespinner

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #26 on: 12 August 2017, 19:01:33 »
Bloody shameless. Don't sell yourself short both stories are good. :P ;D O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

Easy

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #27 on: 12 August 2017, 20:12:32 »
I liked this old school ending. I think it's very good.

Dubble_g

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #28 on: 13 August 2017, 11:07:43 »
Thanks Easy and snakespinner. There may be more in the future. Not sure if that's a promise or a threat.

snakespinner

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Re: Diamonds in the Rust
« Reply #29 on: 14 August 2017, 02:01:59 »
Just in case that's a threat i'll just open up a beer and hold it ready. O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

 

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