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Author Topic: A Battler's Stand  (Read 1484 times)


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A Battler's Stand
« on: 04 May 2012, 18:03:59 »
“Watch the western approach, Sam,” the Colonel had said. “Don’t want those Dracs getting the drop on us now, do we?”
“’Course not, boss,”
Sam replied with a smile. “Don’t worry, nothing will get past me. Count on it.”

Maes Howe River Valley
Lyran Commonwealth
12th December, 3028

For Sam, this was easy.
The ribbon of blue that wound its way through the rocky bluffs was too shallow for any approaching force to use to mask their presence, and the tall brown embankments flanking the slow flowing stream would make it difficult to hide from view. If anyone came knocking, they had to come through the centre of the valley itself.
And that suited Sam just fine. He had drawn his ON1-K Orion onto one of the bluffs overlooking the valley, where he could see all the way down the narrow canyon. Nothing could get past him without him knowing.
Leaning back deeply into his command couch, he closed his eyes for a few seconds, relishing the cold shiver the ashqua coolant running through the ribbed vest he wore invoked. Goosebumps rose on his arm as his cockpit began to cool down, the heat sinks working to rid the ‘Mech of the stifling air the overworked generator had produced.
Teach me to run this thing flat out, Sam mused as he drew a deep refreshing breath. He opened his eyes, and glanced at the little clock surrounded by a mass of flickering monitors and multi-coloured switches. Least I got here in time.
Brenneke’s Battlers had been on planet for the past two months, having entered into a contract with Archon Katrina’s Lyran Commonwealth. Colonel Brenneke was a Lyran himself, having been born and raised on the Blair Atholl. It had been an unwritten policy of his to work exclusively in the Lyran Commonwealth. Despite a number of lucrative contracts having been offered, particularly from Houses of the Federated Suns on the Draconis Combine’s border, Brenneke had turned them down to remain in service to the Archon.
Brenneke was a patriot as much as he was a mercenary. He loved his nation, he loved his Archon, and he would have died to protect them both. But, he also loved the thought of money in the bank. Torn between service to both his masters, he had struck an even deal.
It was common knowledge to those belonging to the battalion that the Colonel had served with the LCAF in his youth. Unhappy with the way things were run, he had left at the first opportunity, and travelled to Outreach. There, he founded the Battlers, at first only a company sized outfit, populated by the dregs of the MechWarrior pool.
Brenneke maintained that he had wanted to create a force that he alone had say over. And, he had added, a tidy sum in the bank for when he eventually retired. After all, it was bound to be substantially more than the pension he would receive from the LCAF.
Sam had joined the Battlers only a year previously, after a contract turned sour. The Battlers had lost some of their number during a raid on a Marik-held border world. The outfit that had been offered the contract originally took sour grapes when they were passed over in favour of the Battlers, and ran crying to Marik. When the Battlers landed on planet, Marik’s forces were waiting.
Only a third of the battalion had survived. They had headed straight to Outreach to begin recruiting, with a new, secondary goal. The destruction of the outfit that had betrayed them. That was when Sam had enlisted.
Every time Sam spoke to the Colonel, he couldn’t help noticing the fire burning away in his soul. His grey eyes seemed distant, devoid of the life the older MechWarriors had spoken of, a life that had sparkled with confidence and good nature. Now, it seemed the Colonel was haunted by the ghosts of the past. It had taken a lot to get answers from some of the older members, those who had survived the ambush. But, after an eternity of persuasion, he had finally got the name of the mercenary unit who had informed Marik.
The Dragon’s Fire.
Ronin. The Dragon’s Fire was a bunch of self-exiled MechWarriors hailing from the Combine. They did not fight for money, as most mercenaries did. They fought for honour, for pride. Although they accepted money for ammo replenishment, sustenance, spare parts, passage through the stars and the like, they never fought for greed.
It had always puzzled Sam as to why a proud unit such as the Dragon’s Fire had sold the Battlers out. It was just not in their nature, in their mandate. It was something he had never expected them to do. And probably neither did the Colonel. Inwardly, Sam swore that, before he crushed the life from the last of the Fire, he would find out why they had done what they did.  The Colonel had been like a father to him since he enlisted.  He owed the old man that much.
The Battler camp on Symington lay on the eastern end of the Maes Howe valley, at the small town of Firborg. When Hanse Davion had launched his invasion of the Capellan Confederation, he had drawn the entire Inner Sphere into his war. Archon Katrina launched an attack on the Kurita border, drawing pressure away from the Davion/Kurita border.
Given that Symington lay so near the border, it made a juicy target for any counter-attacking Kurita forces. While the normal garrison was bolstering the attack on the border proper, the Battlers had been contracted to protect the small world. An easy job, and one that the Colonel had been keen to take. It provided him with an opportunity to bring the newly rebuilt battalion up to strength.
However, less than a week ago, that plan had faltered. Drac DropShips had landed on planet, bringing the war to Symington. The egg-shaped transport ships had landed 400 miles south of the Battler camp, depositing a task force of Kuritan BattleMechs and infantry. From the sketchy reports provided by the Battlers’ small aerowing, they knew that the Dracs outnumbered them by two to one.
Brenneke had dispatched word to Tharkad through the local ComStar HPG station, informing the Archon and her military advisors of the predicament they now found themselves in. A response had yet to be received.
Knowing it would be a while before reinforcements would arrive insystem, and even longer yet to make planetfall, the Colonel had ordered the Battlers to dig in around the town of Firborg. His officers had advised against this, instead inferring that they should march south to meet the Kurita force, but Brenneke had refused. “Why make the journey south when we can let them come to us?” he had asked them. “They know where we are, and they know that they need to get rid of us if they want this planet. Besides, letting them march up here gives us a little longer to prepare.”
His words had been true enough, and his officers followed them without any recourse. The Dracs did indeed know where they were. For the last few days, DCMS Sholagars had buzzed the Battlers’ camp, just as the mercenaries own aerofighters had been doing. As of yet, neither force had come to blows, neither contesting the free roam of the air.
You’re daydreaming, Sam. He shook his head, clearing the thought away, and pulled himself upright in the command chair. I’ll do a few checks. One by one, he checked each of his systems. Magscan shows nothing…thermal is clear too. He flicked a switch below an auxiliary monitor, and read off the diagnostics that scrolled up the screen. All his weapons reported green.
Wish Tamlyn was here. Sam, content his ‘Mech was at ready status, leaned back in the seat again, and closed his eyes. His mind drifted back to the year he’d spent with the Battlers since joining. Of the months of training, weapons testing, boring guard duty, weeks upon weeks of travelling between the stars cooped up in cramped DropShips, the hours spent in the bed of Tamlyn…
Tamlyn had joined Brenneke’s Battlers at the same time Sam had. Hailing from one of those obscure Periphery states, she’d been born to MechWarrior parents. Pirate MechWarrior parents. At an early age, she’d been orphaned, and placed in the care of her mercenary uncle. Brought up while she tagged along with her uncle’s mercenary unit, it wasn’t unsurprising that she’d acquired a taste for the MechWarrior way of life.
On her 19th birthday, Tamlyn’s uncle had been killed. His will had left her his BattleMech, a VND-1R Vindicator. A week later, Colonel Brenneke signed her up with his Battlers. Probably because she had her own BattleMech.
The image of waking up that morning in Tamlyn’s bed resurfaced in the darkness behind Sam’s eyelids. The calm, sleeping face surrounded by her long, raven hair. Her deep blue eyes and beaming grin when she’d woken. Her shapely body cover loosely by her bunk’s thin sheet. And then his mind wandered back to the night he spent with her previously…
The beeping alarm hit home hard. In a second, he was sitting upright, fingers flying over the console, eyes searching frantically for the source of the warning. A flashing light intermittingly coloured the cockpit red, until Sam slapped a palm on the kill button as his irritation reached peak. A multitude of screens assaulted him with information, as they broke down the information the Orion’s sensors were receiving and interpreted it into something Sam could understand.
Oh dear God… In almost clichéd manner, Sam’s heart faltered as his brain registered what his sensors told him. On one of his screens, which showed a topographic view of the surrounding area, a single red dot moved steadily in from about a kilometre out. On another monitor, a wireframe model of the target rotated slowly, while the computer scrolled all available data on the target straight from its library.
The computer had tagged the sensor contact with its model designation. VTR-9B. A Victor! Sam felt panic grip him as he watched the contact close on his position from the opposite end of the valley. Despite the fact the Victor only outweighed his Orion by five tons, Sam was worried by the ‘Mech’s right arm. Mounted on the limb was a Pontiac 100 Autocannon, capable of sending a hail of 120mm shells to strip the armour plating from a BattleMech’s body. A few well placed shots…
Sam stabbed a finger on his comm. toggle, causing the Orion’s Opus III Highbeam array to establish a link with the Battlers’ camp. “HQ, this is Tango 2-6!” he yelled into his mike. “I have contact, bearing two-seven-seven, mark eighteen hundred incoming. One Victor-Tango-Romeo-Niner-Bravo, solitary. Requesting support, over.”
In an instant, his comm. system packed the message and squirted it off to the base a few kilometres back in the direction he’d come. While waiting for a response, he tugged at the ends of his Nomex gloves, and tightened his grip on the control sticks mounted on the arms of the command couch. Around him, the holographic display brightened as he brought the console up to combat readiness, and the resolution sharpened.
“Copy, Tango 2-6,” the voice of the comm. operator sitting back at base broke through the crackling static in his ear. “HQ is under attack from Kurita forces, began a few minutes ago. No support available. Sorry, Sam.”
Under attack!? How is this so? The aerojocks reported the Dracs as still being a day away! This is bad… Sam keyed his comm. system again. “HQ, Tango 2-6 acknowledges. I am withdrawing and returning to base, over.” Tugging the control sticks, Sam brought the Orion back around towards the camp.
“Negative, Tango 2-6,” came the reply. “You are required to stand your ground and hold the west approach open should we require it as our back door. Engage the Victor and destroy, over.”
Once again, a wave of panic hit Sam. Engage that thing? He continued his turn to come round 360 degrees to face his original heading. He inhaled deeply. Cool it, Sam. You’re not in your Whitworth anymore. This thing only gives away five tons to the Drac. You can take him. Exhaling, he dropped the targeting reticule over the valley floor, and walked the Orion forward.
The Victor marched into a copse of manguanau trees marked on the satellite map. Staring out the cockpit, from his vantage point on the bluff, Sam could see the tops of the trees shaking and rocking as the Kurita ‘Mech forced its way through them. A flock of birds rose to the air as the metal monster passing below rudely disturbed their domain.
Throwing the Orion into a sprint, Sam moved down the canyon, until he could see the point in the trees where the Victor would appear. He drew his ‘Mech to halt, and swung the reticule over the treeline. Hovering his finger over the trigger for the shoulder-mounted Death Bloom LRM rack, Sam waited.
Like some prehistoric beast thundering through the undergrowth, the Victor parted the copse of centuries-old trees with ease. The external audio pick-ups relayed ear-splitting crashes of falling trees and the squeals of frightened animals. Shattered bark smashed down from the treeline as the Victor used a thick hand to clear its path.
The pip in the centre of the targeting reticule burned gold, signalling a target lock and clean shot, as the Drac appeared in sight. Sam hesitated for a second, allowing the holographic display to impose a wireframe damage model over the target. The ‘Mech was divided up into sections by blue lines, marking out limbs and torso segments.
The Victor had paused at the treeline, the mirror-faced head scanning back and forth. It stopped on the Orion as the Drac pilot finally spotted his prey, just as Sam mashed the trigger. A salvo of rockets spewed from the blocky shoulder mount, jet trails streaking the air as they raced toward their target. The heat in the cockpit rose briefly due to the proximity of the missile rack.
Suddenly, the Victor rocketed skywards on jets of ionised air. It cleared the copse of trees, leaping clear over the stream, and disappeared behind the canyon wall of the opposite bank. The missiles corkscrewed into the woods where the Kuritan ‘Mech had stood a moment before, shattering trees and igniting foliage in a blossom of garish explosions.
Damn! Jumpjets! Sam urged his BattleMech into a run, and sprinted down the bluff to where a small outcropping of manguanau trees grew. He ploughed straight into the trees, disregarding the fauna and flora the same way the Kuritan had done. He halted the Orion at the edge of the trees. I can use these to give me a little cover. No sense in making things easy for the Drac.
The Victor rose on jets of superheated air once more, flying from its hiding place to land on the tip of a rocky spire some thirty metres high. Massive legs curled from the impact as it landed hard and folded into a crouch. Slowly, inexorably, it straightened out, all the time the mirror face staring down at Sam, never wavering. Upright, it stood, transfixed on its prey.
What the…? Sam slammed the zoom function, and the holographic view magnified the centre of the screen. It was centred over the blocky chest, where four apertures denoted the Victor’s missile system to be housed. On the opposite breast, was the unit insignia, the device of a black dragon curling around a red globe, breathing orange and yellow fire beyond. It was not unlike the Draconis Combine’s emblem, but Sam knew what it was.
The red globe represented the Draconis Combine, and the Coordinator himself. The Dragon, wound round that globe, showed that it protected the Combine from out-with. The fiery breath was a warning to all.
Sam’s gut tied in a knot as he identified the opponent. Dragon’s Fire! This ‘Mech before him belonged to the mercenary unit which had betrayed them to Marik, the mercenary unit every Battler had sworn to destroy. But, what are they doing fighting for the Combine? Takashi Kurita has decreed all mercenary to be scum, yet here this one fights for the Coordinator! They are masterless warriors who originally fought for the Kuritas, but…this can’t be right!
And here he was, standing before him, giving him the time to identify and acknowledge his foe before the battle proper would begin. He was taunting him.
“Fool!” Sam squeezed the triggers on the control sticks, firing his lasers, autocannon, and short-range missiles at the Drac. Two beams of coherent ruby light stabbed out from the Orion’s arms, connecting with the Victor over that emblem-marked chest. The first bubbled away armour and paint, reducing the emblem to a streak of runny ceramics and steel.
The second beam struck the ‘Mech’s arm, biting into it. Black scorches appeared where the lasers had struck and done their damage. The quad of SRMs streaked out from the Orion’s left side, but overshot their target and disappeared away over the valley wall. The autocannon burst also hit wide, chewing up mud and rock from around the Victor’s feet with equal ferocity. The dislodged earth cascaded like a miniature avalanche down the face of the spire.
The wireframe model imposed over the Victor changed colour as the computer scanned and registered the damage that had been done. Blue areas shaded green to signify that they had received damage. The wireframe would relay four colours to represent damage. Blue was undamaged, and green was minor damage. Yellow outlining represented major damage, while red signified that the target had little or no armour left, and was taking critical damage to that area.
In reply, the Victor raised its right arm. The limb had no hand attached to the extremity, instead ending in the gaping dark muzzle of the Pontiac 100 autocannon. It levelled the arm straight at Sam’s ‘Mech, letting him stare all the way down the black barrel. Oh no…
The barrel erupted in a gout of flame, flashing repeatedly as it opened up with a volley of 120mm shells. They crossed the hundred and fifty metres between the two BattleMechs in a blink of the eye. Sam braced for the tremendous impact he knew would be coming. But it didn’t.
The shells struck just to the left of the Orion, smashing through the outcropping of trees where Sam hid. Bark shattered and cracked as the high-explosive rounds tore through trees, exploding somewhere behind the Orion. Sam shot a glance at his rear-view monitor and saw fallen manguanau trees catching fire. In a minute or so, his hiding place would be turned into an oven.
The Victor leaped again, sailing up into the air, and came down in the centre of the valley. Water splashed viciously as the sturdy legs touched down in the centre of the stream. Once more, the Victor curled then began to straighten up as the pilot took the force of the landing.
Sam took the initiative. Twisting his torso to face the Drac, he mashed the triggers again. This time, the autocannon hit, ripping armour from the left arm of the Kurita ‘Mech, and discolouring the limb yellow on the damage display. A shower of fragmented steel rained into the soft flowing river, a hundred drops rippling across the already-disturbed surface.
His lasers struck the chest of the Victor again, eating away at the laminated armour. Molten metal streamed down the chest like rain running down the windshield of a ground car. The missiles corkscrewed into the Drac, four explosions blooming across its torso.
The Drac mercenary felt the brunt of Sam’s attack, and fought to keep his mount upright. He failed, and a second later the Victor fell backwards to land on its back in the stony brook. As it collapsed, the autocannon fired. The wild attack struck a canyon wall nowhere near where the Orion stood, letting Sam breath easy once again.
The cockpit temperature rose as Sam fired again at the rising Kuritan. The medium lasers bubbled armour away, but still failed to inflict any significant damage. The trail of autocannon slugs slewed wide of the mark, impacting further up the little stream. Sam opted not to fire his SRMs, and allow his heat sinks to dissipate some of the excess heat from the reactor below his feet.
Upright, the Victor opened up with the heavy autocannon. The Orion shuddered violently as multiple 120mm rounds crushed armour from the torso of the BattleMech. Sam pushed a foot out to steady himself, managing to retain his balance against the thunderous attack. He called up a damage model of his ‘Mech on one screen, and noted that the torso had received horrendous damage. Over fifty percent of the aligned-crystal steel armour had been shaved away.
The Drac MechWarrior followed up with a pair of crimson laser blasts from the damaged left arm, playing the beams over the leg and torso of Sam’s ‘Mech. It was proving hard to stay upright under the onslaught, as SRMs were added to the mix from the chest launcher he had spotted earlier. As the four rockets cracked against the Orion, Sam lost his balance.
The Battler ‘Mech toppled over onto its front, crashing through trees and undergrowth on the way down. It came to a sudden jolt that threatened to throw Sam from the command couch, were it not for the five-point harness holding him in place. Still, it dazed him, and for a few seconds Sam seemed to lose consciousness. Hanging upside down in his cockpit, arms dangling limply down, things started to blur around Sam.
I think I am dying… His thoughts sifted through the dark shroud falling on him, dragging him down, until he found her face and settled on it. He saw her as he had that morning, smiling back at him as they lay side by side in her bed. Her raven hair fallen over her bright face, blue eyes sparkling. He remembered the embraces they’d shared, and every night spent together. He yearned for it, reaching out in the dark for it, as it slowly faded. No... not yet!  I'm not ready yet!
The shock of another autocannon salvo tearing through the prone BattleMech’s right leg snapped Sam back to reality. He found himself staring at the ground through the faceplate, and realised instantly what was going on. I’m alive! Grabbing the sticks, he used the ‘Mech’s arms to push himself upright. Damage warnings flashed on monitors as the Orion reported the injuries it had sustained.
The Victor purposefully strode forward along the little stream, torrents of water thrown up from the giant’s passing. The Drac pilot sensed that his victory was at hand, and all that remained was the killer blow. The arm rose steadily once again, presenting the deadly weapon to Sam as it readied for the end.
Kneeling his BattleMech, Sam tugged on the sticks. He sent every weapon he had bar his LRMs lancing into the Victor. The medium lasers hit the damaged left arm, turning the wireframe red. Through the transpex windshield, Sam saw the honeycombed aluminium and titanium-wrapped internal skeleton showing through ragged myomer and torn laminated armour.
The Orion shuddered as the 80mm autocannon it carried blasted a volley at the Victor. Every round it fired struck the Victor’s hooded head, smashing the faceplate and tearing away the tapered armour plating. One huge chunk of the head tore off and whirled back along the canyon, taking mud, rock and water with it.
If it hadn’t been for the threat the Victor still presented, the sight of the almost headless ‘Mech and the pilot sitting amongst a mass of destruction would have sent Sam into a fit of laughter. It was something he’d expect to see in a bad holovid showing back on Thorin, or one of those terrible action/romance holomovies Tamlyn seemed to love so much.
The pilot of the Victor obviously shaken, the BattleMech fell once more. It toppled onto its right side, crushing the arm under its own weight. Sam pushed his own ‘Mech up onto its feet. The fire around him was now raging, and mixed with the heat of his reactor, things were getting unbearable. Got to move!
Running the Orion from the burning woods, Sam ran down the valley. Instead of heading towards the Battlers’ camp, he went in the direction the Victor had come from. In his rear view camera, he watched the Drac rise once more, like a mythological beast that refused to die.
Spinning the ‘Mech around, he faced the now standing Kuritan, and aimed the targeting crosshairs. The Drac mercenary was quicker though, his autocannon erupting in a fiery blast once more. High explosive anti-armour shells smashed into the left side of Sam’s ‘Mech, destroying the SRM rack utterly and leaving the left arm hanging by what seemed to be a thread of myomer.
Sensing that his next attack could well be his last, Sam resolved to make it good. He patiently waited to confirm a clean shot, the pip in his crosshairs burning gold. The Victor fired its lasers again, melting armour away from the Orion’s body. Still Sam waited, guaranteeing the shot.
Then he fired.
The autocannon tore into the Victor’s left leg, smashing chunks of armour. Smouldering fragments littered the stream and the stony banks between the water and canyon walls. One ruby beam scythed into the damaged left arm, welding the lower arms actuators solid. The other laser struck the ‘Mech’s right side, slagging armour and scorching paintwork.
The Drac marched on through the hail of fire, undeterred as it waited for the autocannon to recycle for another burst of fire, this time to finish Sam off. All Sam had left was his LRMs. At such close proximity, they would never arm in time to explode against the Victor’s carapace. But, he had no choice. Sam squeezed the trigger.
Fifteen rockets screamed from the Death Bloom rack, arcing in toward the target. Every missile hit. Even though their warheads had not armed in time, their impact was to rankle armour plating from the Kurita ‘Mech. The first bunch caught the Victor’s left side, denting armour. The second lot burrowed into the centre torso region, discolouring it red on the damage outline.
The final collection of rockets tore the mangled head clean from the body. In a matter of seconds, the 80-ton BattleMech was decapitated. The Dragon’s Fire pilot gone, the huge machine skewed forward into the stream. It landed with a heavy impact, sending a fountain of water into the air. Then, as the water around it settled, the dead ‘Mech lay silent and still. The beast had been slain.
Sam didn’t dare move for a few minutes afterwards. He kept his weapons trained over the fallen BattleMech, waiting for it to rise once more. Only his rapid shallow breathing permeated the silence of his cockpit.
Around the Victor, water vapour rose as the stream cooled the body of the ‘Mech, and the fusion reactor finally died. The sight of the titanium-steel skeleton and torn myomer showing through the broken carapace seemed not unlike the corpse of a herd beast that had been half-devoured. Coolant leaking out to mingle with the rocks and dye the water only added to the illusion.
I did it! Sam finally released the control sticks and collapsed back into the chair. Screwing his eyes tightly, he rubbed his palms into his face to relieve some of the tension that had knotted his cheeks. I actually beat it! Boy, I cannot wait to phone this one in!
Sam dialled his comm. system back to HQ’s frequency. “HQ, this is Tango 2-6,” he began, excitement tinting his words. “Victor-Tango-Romeo-Niner-Bravo is down, repeat, the Victor is down.” He cast an eye towards the damage readouts. “Unit has taken moderate damage, requiring repair.” He gazed back out at the dead BattleMech lying in the brook. “But, I’ll bet we get some good salvage from this one, over.”
A grin played over his face as he realised how close he’d come to death, and how lucky he was to have survived. He had known from day one that by sitting in the cockpit of a ‘Mech, he was putting his life on the line, but that just made his victory all the better. And, to have taken out an assault class BattleMech, even with an Orion, was a special achievement. It was the first time he’d taken something that large down.
Sam’s brow wrinkled as he realised he’d not received a reply from camp yet. Static hissed and popped in his ears. “HQ? This is Tango 2-6, do you copy, over?” He allowed the computer time to pack and send the message, and to receive and decrypt a response. Only static greeted him.
A bitter taste filled his mouth as he realised the lack of a reply could mean only one thing. Oh no…the Dracs…they’ve…they’ve destroyed the camp!  Could they have killed the Colonel?  The other Battlers?  And that thought sent a cold shiver through him that no amount of coolant could.  They’ve… they’ve killed Tamlyn! Warm tears burnt his eyes, and he squeezed them together, forcing the hot fluid to run down his ashen cheeks. They’ve taken her from me!
The console began beeping again. Through warm, blurry eyes, Sam stared at the source of the warning. On the monitor showing the topographic layout of the region, red triangles began to appear. At first, only two or three, but then more, as if the contacts were duplicating over and over. He counted six, then ten, and then fourteen. Still more appeared until they merged together into red masses he couldn’t count.
They destroyed the camp, and now they are coming for me!   Panic suddenly gave way as the anger welling up in him spilled over.  Well, they shall not take me without a fight! I promised the Colonel that I would hold the door open, that nothing would get past me. I shall not fail him, or his memory. I shall visit the revenge of Brenneke’s Battlers upon them, and I shall ensure that those honourless dogs never forget this day!
Tamlyn… wait for me… I shall not be far behind…
« Last Edit: 04 May 2012, 18:07:04 by ckBrenneke »