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Author Topic: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)  (Read 489 times)

Starfox5

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Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« on: 26 August 2021, 16:10:39 »
Dreamland Madness

Disclaimer: I do not own Battletech or any of the characters in the franchise. I do not own The Dreamland Chronicles or any of the characters in the franchise.

Summary: Dreamland. The realm where little children go to dream - the dreams of adventure and games they don’t remember. Once they grow older, they stop visiting the realm. Except for a few, who never wake up. Kali Liao and Katherine Steiner-Davion have spent most of their lives in a coma, dreaming. Little do their families know that they were part of a group of heroes fighting to save Dreamland from invading nightmares in a war that went on for years.
Now they have won, and can finally wake up - and return to a universe that’s as alien to them as Dreamland is to grown-ups. A universe filled with tension and a war brewing - and invaders from the Periphery about to strike the Inner Sphere. All the two want is to reunite with each other and live their lives - which would be a little hard for a Steiner-Davion and a Liao even if everyone wouldn’t think they are crazy.

Cover:


Prologue: Dreamland

Unity Fields, Dreamland, December 30th, 3037


The faeries were dancing in the air, Kat saw as she walked towards the hangar. For a moment, she wanted to go join them. If they allowed her to fly…

She shook her head. No! Flying was for little kids, and she was already five years old! Old enough to finally pilot a ‘Mech! At least in her dreams - Daddy was still being stubborn about not letting her get a ‘Mech until she was older. Old. Whatever.

But Dreamland was different! Here, you could be anything you wanted to be! And Kat wanted to be a ‘Mechwarrior, so she would be a ‘Mechwarrior! And she could pilot her dream ‘Mech, a Victor! Her older brother had told her it was the best ‘Mech, and he knew best. And Uncle Ardan piloted one as well!

She skipped a little as she passed a groundcar with two dwarven techs in it, waving at them. They didn’t wave back - they never did. But Kat waved anyway. You had to be polite. And friendly. Mum said so. And the dwarves would have to wave back one day, she thought as she looked over her shoulder and watched the groundcar head towards the big spaceport in the distance.

Then she bumped into something and fell to the ground.

“Ow!”

“Didn’t you watch where you’re going? You dummy!”

Not something, someone, Kat realised, narrowing her eyes at the… girl under her. She was smaller than Kat. That meant she was younger, too! Frowning, she said: “You didn’t watch either!” It was clear - if the other girl had watched where she was going, she wouldn’t have run into Kat!

“I did! I didn’t know you wouldn’t!”

“Then you should’ve avoided me!” Kat pointed out.

“Why? You weren’t looking!” The girl glared at her and started to scoot out from underneath Kat. “And you’re heavy!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

Kat huffed and stood. Oh, no - her pyjamas had a rip in it! And a stain! “Look what you did!”

“Me? That was your fault!”

“Whatever!” Kat sniffed and continued walking towards the hangar. Daddy and Mum were rich; they could buy her a new set of pyjamas. With ‘Mechs on it this time!

But the other girl followed her. Kat stopped and frowned at her. “What are you doing?”

“Going there.” She pointed at the hangar. “I’m going to pilot a ‘Mech!”

“That’s for older girls!” Kat pointed out.

“I’m old enough!”

“You don’t look it!”

“Looks can be deceiving!”

Kat frowned. “Deceiving?”

“It’s like lying.”

“I know what it means!” She did!

“Then why ask me?”

“I wasn’t asking you!” Kat huffed.

“Of course you were.”

Kat narrowed her eyes again. “Who’re you, anyway?”

“Who’re you?”

“I asked first!”

“It’s rude to ask without giving your name!”

What? Kat frowned again. She hadn’t known that. “Kat.”

“Cat?”

“Yes, Kat! Now, who’re you?”

“Kelly.”

“Kelly?”

“No, Kelly.”

“Kelly, yes.” Kat nodded.

“Oh, you…” Kelly shook her head and turned away.

Kat sniffed again and started walking. So did Kelly. “What kind of ‘Mech are you gonna pilot?”

“A Raven. The best ‘Mech there is!”

“A Raven? That’s a light ‘Mech! That can’t be the best ‘Mech!”

“It’s the most adven… advanced!”

“So? It’s a light ‘Mech!” Light ‘Mechs were stupid - everyone knew that!

“Are you a Steiner?”

“Half, yes!” Kat said proudly. Mum said she should be proud of her herin… heritage.

“Typical.”

“Hey!” She pouted. The other girl was mean! “That’s an insult!”

“You insulted my ‘Mech!”

“I didn’t!”

“You did!”

They were still arguing when they reached the hangar. The elven instructor there quickly shut them up, though - she was scary. And she was an adult ‘MechWarrior!

And she had Kat and Kelly go through drills together just because they argued a little with each other!

But she let them pilot their ‘Mechs afterwards, so that was OK. And Kelly stopped insulting Kat, too.

She still piloted a dumb light ‘Mech, though. And didn’t listen to Kat.

*****

Unity Fields, Dreamland, October 20th, 3038

“That’s Alex!”

“Alex?” Kelly - Kali! - stopped checking her Raven’s foot and looked at where Cat was pointing. The foot looked OK anyway. There was an older boy standing a bit away there, next to an elven girl. Both wore cooling vests.

“Alex Cameron! The heir to the Star League!”

“All the Camerons are dead,” Kali said. Mother had taught her that. And Father had told her so as well, which meant it was true.

“No! One of them survived! And Alex is the heir - of Dreamland, at least,” Cat told her.

“Really?” Kali frowned. “Only in Dreamland?”

“There is no Star League outside Dreamland; I asked,” Cat said.

“I know.” Everyone knew that!

“Yes. Anyway, he’s too old to be dreaming, so he has to be from Dreamland,” Cat said.

“Not true,” Kali protested. “Some people stay in Dreamland!”

“No, they don’t!”

“Yes, they do! They don’t wake up - they keep dreaming.” Kali had heard that from at least two people. And one faerie, but you couldn’t always trust faeries.

“That’s bad!”

Kali nodded. To keep dreaming… to never wake up… She shuddered.

“Anyway, we’ve got a mission today!” Cat went on.

“A real mission or a training mission?” Kali asked.

“Training, duh!” Cat snorted. “You think we get real missions? Those are for adults!”

“Of course.” Kali pressed her lips together, then relaxed. Mother had told her that she couldn’t show her feelings - others would expel.. exploit it.

“So, we’re going to scout!” Cat showed her a datareader. “Here - this route!”

Kali took the reader and stared at the map. That was… She turned, then turned the reader until the map fit the world. “Ah.”

“The navcomp will show you the way,” Cat said.

“You still need to know the way,” Kali told her. “Comps can break!”

“Not good comps!”

“Even good comps!”

“Whatever. Let’s get in our ‘Mechs!”

Kali nodded. That was the first smart thing Cat had said today. “Race you!” she snapped and sped towards the ladder leading up to her Raven’s cockpit.

“Unfair! Your ‘Mech is smaller!” Cat complained - as usual.

Kali was breathing hard when she reached the cockpit of Song Jiang, but she had beaten Cat! Smiling, she pushed the button that would start up her ‘Mech.

Reactor Online.

Sensors Online.

Weapons Online.

All Systems nominal.

Yes! She took a deep breath and started to move out of the hangar. Ravens led the way - they were the best ‘Mechs!

Outside, she glanced at the display and saw all the ‘Mechs around. Behind her, just starting up, was Cat’s stupid Victor. A bit away was an Atlas II marked ‘The Sword of Kings’. That had to be Alex’s ‘Mech. And next to it stood an Archer. She squinted at the words below. Nastajia. That would be the pilot, Probably the elf - they were good archers, so she had heard. And there was another ‘Mech next to them. A Phoenix Hawk. Felicity.

Kali squinted through her cockpit. She could just make out the ‘Mechs, but no details. Unless… She fiddled with the zoom button. Ah! Now she could make out the ‘Mechs. Oh! SLDF Royal colours! Neat!

“What are you standing around for?” Cat’s voice came out of the speakers. “We’ve got a mission!”

Kali rolled her eyes. “I was checking my systems, duh.”

“Well, do they work?” Cat was rolling her eyes. Kali could tell from her voice.

“Yes, they work.” And Song Jian’s sensors were the best! Nothing could escape them. Kali toggled the dial a little to expand the map.

And blinked. Those were red dots. She had never seen red dots outside the simulators. Red meant… “Enemy!”

“What?”

“There are…” She quickly counted the dots. Twice. “Fifteen enemy ‘Mechs headed our way!”

“What? Don’t be stupid! There are no enemies here. This is Dreamland!” Cat told her.

“My computer doesn’t lie!” Kali snapped.

“Well, I don’t see anything on my screen!”

“Your screen is dumb.”

“Is not.”

“Is t…” Kali broke off. Her computer was blaring something.

Incoming Missiles!

Her anti-missile system started firing without her doing anything. She just stared at the screen. The enemies were shooting at them. That was… that was…

The area around her vanished in smoke as the missiles hit the tarmac - and Song Jian staggered as missiles hit him!

“I’m hit! I’m hit!” Cat screamed.

Her radio crackled. “Alert! Alert! Enemy attack! All children evacuate the Unity Fields at once!”

That meant them. But… where could they run? Kali panted. What could they do?

Incoming missiles!

Her anti-missile system fired again.

Behind her, the hangar exploded. Something hit Cat’s Victor, and the ‘Mech staggered. And Cat screamed.

“Alert! Alert! Enemy attack! All children evacuate the Unity Fields at once!”

“We need to run!” Kali yelled.

“Run where?” Cat yelled back, taking a shaky step towards her.

“Away!”

“They’ll shoot us in the back!”

That was a good point. The enemy shooting at your back was bad. Very bad. They had lost every training mission where that had happened.

The radio crackled again. “Evacuate!” That was a different voice.

“Alex! What are you doing?”

“Doing my duty!”

The dot of the Atlas II was moving towards them - no, towards the enemy. The other dots followed it, but they were so few…

“Here they are!” Cat snapped.

Kali looked up. A dozen enemy ‘Mechs were going over the hill next to the field! And her computer couldn’t identify any of them!

“Kali and Kat, run! Run towards the other side of the field!” Alex - Alex Cameron! - yelled.

Missiles flew at them, and her anti-missile system was dry. And lasers and PPCs flashed. The enemy was shooting at them! Really shooting!

“Oh, no! You meanies!” Cat yelled, stepping in front of Kali. Her ‘Mech shuddered as it was hit.

“Cat!”

“Run, Kelly! I’ll cover you!”

What? They hadn’t had that mission yet! “You can’t!” Kali protested.

“I’ve got more armour!”

“And I’ve got a better computer!” Kali knew Song Jian was harder to hit than other ‘Mechs. She didn’t know exactly why, but she knew it was.

And it could protect others. If they were close.

She sniffled. She wanted to run. But…

She was moving forward, at the back of Cat’s ‘Mech, before she realised what she was doing, cringing whenever missiles flew towards her or lasers tried to melt her.

“This is Cameron-One. I need fire support on this position.” Alex rattled down some numbers. They didn’t mean anything to Kali.

But half a minute and many, many lasers and missiles later, the hill started to explode.

Alex didn’t stop running, though - he ploughed into an enemy ‘Mech staggering out of the smoke and slammed it to the ground. And the Archer was throwing clouds of missiles at something!

And Cat wasn’t stopping, either. She fired her autocannon but missed. And missed again.

Kali sniffled again, sweat and snot running down her face as she fumbled with her controls. She had… lasers. And missiles. She fired both, but missed. And her ‘Mech shook when the enemy hit it.

This wasn’t a dream! This was a nightmare!

One giant enemy ‘Mech was coming right at her! She ducked behind Cat’s ‘Mech, but that meant a second enemy could shoot her. Screaming, Kali fired all her weapons. Her lasers missed, but her missiles hit. But the enemy didn’t fall.

Cat shot as well, but not even her big cannon took the ‘Mech down!

Kali closed her eyes and held her breath.

After a few seconds, she opened them again. The enemy ‘Mech was on the ground. As was the second ‘Mech. And her computer said something about Aerospace Fighters above them.

Kali looked around. Everything was on fire. Lots of smoke. She looked at her display. The red dots were fewer. About five were left. Four - one flashed out. The others were running over the hill.

And then the hill exploded again, and there were no more red dots.

Kali started breathing again.

“Yes!” Cat yelled. “Take that, you meanies!”

Kali nodded, smiling. The enemies were gone!

“Didn’t you hear the order to evacuate?”

Uh-oh. That was Alex. And he sounded like Mother when she was angry.

“We couldn’t run!” Cat told him. “They’d shoot us in the back!”

“Yes,” Kali said.

“At that distance, you would have survived. You’re children - this is war.”

“They attacked us!” Kali pointed out. It wasn’t their fault!

“And we beat them!” Cat added.

“No, you didn’t,” someone said. The computer said it was Felicity.

“I hit them!” Cat said.

“You were very, very lucky,” Nastajia told them. “Now get back to the hangar and then get back home. This is no place for children.”

“No! We’re not going to leave now!” Cat said.

Kali nodded as well. She doubted that she could fall asleep now; she was too excited.

And too afraid.

But she wouldn’t leave.

*****



Starfox5

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #1 on: 26 August 2021, 16:11:08 »
Chapter 1: Waking Up

‘The Dreamlands used to be a realm of fantasy and magic, or so we were told. Where dragons and giants, and unicorns and faeries roamed. A thousand years ago. Things the dreams of children are made of. There are giants still, in the Dreamlands - and unicorns, and faeries. And elves. I know, I’ve visited their villages. But humans changed, and so their dreams changed as well. Children still ride unicorns - but their dragons don’t spit fire but shoot missiles at you. And when they need help to fight off a nightmare, they don’t dream of gallant knights on warhorses, but of BattleMechs protecting them. And so I didn’t ride into the Nightmare Horde territory on a unicorn steed but in the cockpit of my dream ‘Mech.’
Diary of Katherine ‘MadCat’ Steiner-Davion


*****

‘The prognosis remains unchanged: Patient S-D shows significant brain activity but no reaction to external stimuli. Multiple scans and biopsies haven’t borne results as to the cause of this condition. Now, as ten years ago, when she went to bed as normal but never woke up again, medical science cannot offer any answer to her family’s questions.’
Private notes of M.D. Phil Baker, NAIS Medical Center, New Avalon, 3048


*****

Nightmare Horde Territory, Dreamlands, December 23rd, 3048

“Cat! To your left!”

“I see it!” Cat had seen it - she was already swinging the right arm of Dragonslayer around to target the ugly bird-like evil ‘Mech trying to ambush her. She pulled the trigger as soon as the crosshairs aligned over the centre of the enemy ‘Mech, and her Pontiac 100 autocannon spat fire while she feathered her jump jets and glided to the side.

The enemy’s lasers and missiles missed, but she didn’t - her volley punched through the ‘Mech’s cockpit. “Enemy ’Mech down!” the computer told her - as if she hadn’t seen it herself.

“Good shot, Cat!”

“Thanks, Kelly. And how did that thing get close without you spotting it?”

“I did spot it, didn’t I?” her friend shot back.

“Almost too late.”

“Must have been protected.”

“Cat, Kelly - we’ve cleared the pass leading to the heartlands.”

“Thanks, Alex!”

Katherine turned Dragonslayer around and started to run towards the mountain pass in the east. This was it - they had pushed the Nightmare Horde back into their heartlands. Now they could defeat them once and for all and end the threat to Dreamland. She bared her teeth in a feral - or so she hoped - smile as Kelly’s Raven sprinted past her. “Watch out!” she told her.

“That’s my job!” Kelly replied. “I spot, you shoot.”

“Stay close then.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from evil missiles!”

Cat snorted. She could already see the rest of the vanguard of the Dreamland’s First Royal Regiment bunching up in front of the pass. By their best estimate, the Nightmare forces had less than a battalion of mixed ‘Mechs left protecting their headquarters. The Dreamlanders had three times their number advancing. And all the other Horde forces were cut off and wouldn’t be able to reinforce them.

She bared her teeth. Not even the enemy’s cheating technology would save the Horde now!

*****

Cat ducked, Dragonslayer mirroring her movement, when another LRM volley descended on her. Even with Kelly’s ECM working overtime and Cat dodging to the side, a third or so struck, and her armour took another battering. If only “the best ‘Mech in the Inner Sphere”, as her brother had claimed, had some long-range weapons!

She kept the ‘Mech upright and lumbered forward, Kelly’s Raven hot behind her heels. Alex was already shooting at the massive gate of the enemy’s fortress, as were half the remaining ‘Mechs with the assault company.

And the fire was starting to tell! Molten armour was pooling on the ground - she made a mental note to watch out for that when charging in - and autocannon fire pulverised even more. An enemy ‘Mech popped up on the wall, but concentrated fire from the support company blew it up before it could shoot any of its weapons.

“Right! Top of the wall!”

Kelly’s warning made Cat whirl - and her friend’s lasers marked two arms just reaching above the wall. One of those ridiculous ‘Mechs that could raise their arms far above their head and shoot forward. She hated them! Cat snarled as she fired her own lasers, removing one of the arms. The other managed to fire twice before Kelly and Cat crippled it as well.

A moment later, the gate fell, and dozens of ‘Mechs on both sides opened up on each other. As ‘Mechs started to fall, Cat looked up. The enemy wouldn’t just stand there… Yes! One of those ugly asymmetrical ‘Mechs jumped over the wall. But Cat was ready, and so was Kelly. A burst from her Pontiac stitched a line of dents and holes over the enemy’s flank before Kelly nailed it with a NARC-beacon. A moment later, dozens of missiles ripped the thing apart before it could land.

“Charge!” Alex yelled, and his huge Atlas II started running, heedless of the volume of fire pouring through the gate. The rest of the assault company followed, ‘MechWarriors screaming as they closed with the enemy. Alex kicked out, reducing the leg of an assault ‘Mech to scrap before smashing the cockpit of another with his fist, but lost an arm in the process. But Nastajia was there in her Archer, covering him while he reoriented his ’Mech.

Cat triggered her jump jets and rose on superheated plasma, soaring over the wall - and landing on top of a bird-mech trying to flank Alex. Dragonslayer’s eighty tons - well, less now with the damage taken and ammo spent - crushed the enemy’s cockpit under its weight.

She turned, pouring laser fire and missiles into the rear of another enemy assault ‘Mech, causing secondary explosions to wreck its torso. “Hah!”

“Cat! Don’t do that!” Kelly complained. “We need to stick together.”

“I’m in the assault ’Mech,” Cat told her, kicking and pulverising the leg of a light, speedy ‘Mech trying to get into her rear. “You’re in the light ‘Mech”.

But there was the little Raven, squeezing past two grappling ‘Mechs - and shooting both lasers into the enemy’s rear - to join her. Cat finished the wounded enemy off, then turned to face the hangar in front of them. There the enemy’s leader waited, in a ‘Mech as black as his heart. If he had one.

Alexander was facing him, and even with one arm missing and his armour damaged, Cat knew he would win this fight. There was no better ‘MechWarrior in all of Dreamland than Alexander.

The enemy ‘Mech opened fire, fifty tons of weapons fired - but Alexander sidestepped most of them. He could make that ‘Atlas move! And then he charged, shielding himself with his other arm as the enemy kept firing. He lost his left arm as well, but then he was in the enemy’s face, and his kick sent the other ‘Mech sprawling. Before the ugly ‘Mech could regain its footing, Alexander had sent a volley of his autocannon through its cockpit.

For a moment, no one moved. Then the surviving enemies powered down, and the Dreamlanders cheered. After ten long years, the war was finally over. Dreamland was safe again. The nightmares would end. Cat would be able to wake up again.

She took a deep breath and opened her cockpit. Below her, Kelly moved the Raven between Dragonslayer’s legs and did the same. This wasn’t something to be done over comms.

Cat climbed out of the cockpit and triggered the ladder, then slid down to the stumpy arm of Kelly’s Raven, where her friend was waiting. “We did it!”

“Yes.”

They looked at each other for a moment, then embraced. Cat closed her eyes. “We did it,” she repeated herself.

“Yes.”

“We can wake up again.”

“Yes.”

She cleared her throat and released her friend. “We… if we can’t enter Dreamland again…” She licked her lips.

Kelly nodded. “Comstar. Standard codes.”

“Yes.”

They had talked about this - ten years was a long time, after all.

Cat wet her lips again, hesitated a moment, then reached out and kissed Kelly, closing her eyes.

And then the cheers she had been hearing turned into loud yelling and beeping and calls for a doctor.

She had woken up.

*****

Celestial Retreat, Jade Lake, Wuhan, Sian, Capellan Confederation, December 23rd, 3048

Kelly opened her eyes and stared. This wasn’t the ceiling of her room in the palace. This wasn’t her room, period. Or her bed. It might have been ten years, but she still remembered her own bedroom. Mostly.

Where was she? She looked down at herself and patches on her arms. Wireless sensor pads, she realised. And there was an infusion port in her arm as well. What the…? She snorted. Of course, she would be treated as a coma patient.

Shaking her head at her own folly, she sat up.

Or tried to. Her body wasn’t cooperating - she fell back, her head hitting her cushion. Had she been poisoned?

Before she could try again, the door was opened, and a young woman in a nurse uniform walked in. And stopped, gasping, when she saw Kelly.

“Hello?” Kelly smiled at her.

“You’re... awake…”

“Yes?”

The woman whirled and yelled: “Doctor! Doctor! She has woken up! Lady Liao has woken up!”

Before Kelly could say anything, an older man wearing a doctor’s coat appeared in the door. “Calm down, Lei, you shouldn’t…” He trailed off, gasping as well as soon as he saw her.

Kelly waved at him.

And the man - the physician on duty, presumably - started yelling as well. A moment later, the room was filling with more physicians, nurses and what looked like servants.

Bodyguards, Kelly realised. Or guards, she added - she didn’t know where she was and who was in charge.

But before she could ponder this, she was swamped with questions, poked with various instruments, and generally treated as if she either were about to die or had just risen from the grave.

Solely based on how her body felt, she didn’t feel as if she would object to either conclusion. She was so weak!

*****

A few hours later, things finally started to calm down. But just as Kelly was getting ready to ask questions of her own, now that she wasn’t forced to answer one stupid question after another, most of the people in the room suddenly fled, being replaced by half a dozen hard-eyed guards. Only one very nervous nurse remained - and busied herself with some monitoring devices to the side without even looking at Kelly.

She sighed and rolled her neck. Moving still hurt. Sort of. It was primarily exhausting. And frustrating. After years of being in excellent shape in the Dreamlands, being reduced to the body of a comatose teenager was a very significant change - and one Kelly detested. More than the countless examinations she had suffered in the last few hours. One would think the doctors never had someone wake up, she thought with a snort. Then again, they had very good reasons to be as diligent and cautious as possible - they knew as well as Kelly did what happened to people who, through incompetence or just unfortunate luck, harmed the daughter of the Chancellor of the Confederation.

If her mother was still the Chancellor, of course - it had been ten years, after all. Who knew what could’ve happened in that timespan? But, she added in her head, looking around the luxurious room - which looked far more like a stateroom or suite than a room in a hospital for long-term care - would anyone have spent so much on her comatose body except for her own family? She didn’t think so. Although as a Liao, she would have a certain worth to anyone seeking legitimacy for a new regime…

“Celestial Wisdom!”

“Celestial Wisdom!”

She cocked her head. It seemed her question would be answered more quickly than she had thought.

A moment later, the doors to her room were opened by a bowing servant, and her mother rushed inside.

“Kali!” Her mother was smiling, Kelly noticed. And there were glittering tears in the corner of her eyes.

“Mother.” She inclined her head, the best bow she could manage sitting in a bed and with such a weak body. She felt tears running down her cheeks. Mother! How she had missed her!

Father and a young man - her brother! How he had grown! - entered the room behind her mother.

“Father. Brother.” She was about to nod, but mother reached her and hugged her. Hard enough to cause her weak body some pain.

“My dear Kali!”

Oh. She smiled and hugged her mother back as well as she managed, not caring about propriety any more.

“I knew you would prevail! I knew you wouldn’t succumb to this… attack! I never gave up hope!”

She felt her mother shudder and looked at the door. It had been closed again. No one but family was present. At least not openly. It was as private as it could get for her family.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“It’s not your fault! You just went to bed as you should. Someone else is responsible for your ordeal!”

She buried the guilt that filled her. She was responsible - she had stayed in Dreamland instead of waking up. She’d been a child, but no one had forced her to stay. The lure had been too great for her. And her family had suffered for it.

She closed her eyes and hugged her mother more tightly.

“But don’t worry about it! You’re back - you’ve woken up! You don’t have to worry about anything at all!”

“Other than school,” her brother commented with a slight smirk. “You missed ten years of school.”

She scowled at him. She was an accomplished ‘Mechwarrior! An experienced officer! She had diligently learned everything she needed to carry her weight and earned her rank, serving directly under Alexander Cameron! She most certainly didn’t… She blinked, her mouth hanging open, as she realised that, as far as everyone else was aware, she had spent the last ten years in a coma.

They would make her go through every lesson she already knew!

A small wail escaped her lips, and her mother tensed. “Sun-Tzu!” she snapped. “How dare you upset your sister!”

“I’m sorry, Mother. I merely wanted to make a joke - make my little sister laugh.”

She didn’t quite listen to her brother’s explanation. This was a catastrophe! She would die from boredom before they let her even near a ‘Mech!

Cat would be so worried!

*****

New Avalon Institute of Science, Avalon City, New Avalon, Federated Commonwealth, December 23rd, 3048

“Katherine! Oh, my God, Katherine!”

The medical personnel surrounding her bed scattered as Dad rushed towards her.

“Dad!” Cat spread her arms, her chest suddenly aching. Dad! She hadn’t seen him for ten years!

He hugged her, awkwardly at first, bent over her bed, before he sat down without releasing her. “It’s… You’re back.”

She sniffled, not trusting her voice as she hugged him back. Buried her face in his shoulder - on his shoulder; he wasn’t as large as he had been last time she had seen him. Relatively.

“Sire, we still need to…”

Whatever the doctor had been about to say was cut off when Dad glared at him for a moment before turning his attention back to her. “Katherine… I had almost given up hope.”

“It’s a Christmas Miracle! A miracle, Hanse! After all those years...”

That was Uncle Ardan! He looked older. Almost old. She blinked through her tears and smiled at him. “Hi, Ardan. It’s Christmas?”

“It’s the 23rd,” Ardan told her. “Close enough.”

“Oh.”

Dad released her - well, he pulled back enough so he could look at her face. He looked older than she remembered. Older than she had expected, even. More grey in his hair. More lines in his face. More wrinkles when he smiled. Which he was doing. “I dropped everything as soon as I was told.”

“We’re preparing a live transmission to Tharkad,” Ardan said.

A live transmission? To Tharkad? Oh. She blinked. “That means Mum’s not here?” She pressed her lips together. She should’ve expected that - Mum was the Archon; she was more likely to be on Tharkad than on New Avalon.

It still hurt, though.

“Dear…” Dad winced.

Cat gasped. No. It couldn’t… “She’s dead?”

“What? No, no!” Dad shook his head. “She’s fine, really! She’s just on Tharkad. With your brothers and sister.”

“Oh.” Cat sighed, relieved. And disappointed.

“But they’ll take a command circuit back,” Ardan told them. “We’re organising it now.”

Cat blinked. “That would take…” She made a quick calculation. In-system travel to and from the jump points, transferring from one jumper to another, some delays… “Three to four weeks until she’s here?”

Dad and Ardan stared at her. “About that, yes,” Dad said. “How did you know?”

Oh. She wanted to curse her own stupidity. She wasn’t an officer in the SLDF, Dreamland’s First Royals Regiment - she was a girl who had just woken up after ten years in a coma and who shouldn’t have been able to calculate travel times on a command circuit! “That’s what you said when I asked last time,” she said, smiling.

“Huh?” Adan looked confused.

But Dad smiled. “Ah, yes. Before you fell asleep.”

“Yes.”

One problem averted. For now.

The door to her room was pushed open, and two guards rolled the biggest holoprojector she had ever seen in. “It’ll take a while to set up, but we’re working as fast as we can,” one of them told Dad.

“Tharkad’s not yet ready, anyway,” the other said, “ComStar just sent the request.”

“How long will that take?” Cat asked.

“Ah… about an hour at most? As long as the Triad techs will treat it as a priority,” the first man replied.

“Why wouldn’t they…?” Ardan turned to glare at Dad. “Hanse. You didn’t!”

Dad smiled. “I couldn’t resist.”

He was springing this on Mum as a surprise? Cat sighed. “You’re lucky Mum’s on the other side of the Inner Sphere.”

Both Dad and Ardan laughed, but she caught them glancing at her again.

Damn. She rolled her shoulders, then winced at the slight pain that that caused. Then she frowned at her own weakness. This was nothing. She had been wounded several times. She should be able to ignore a little pain. Easily.

“Are you alright, Katherine?” Dad asked, reaching out to grip her hand. “Doctor! Doctor!”

“All the readings are fine, your Highness,” the doctor - from the NAIS - said. “A little pain is normal given the recent change.”

Cat narrowed her eyes. He was right, and she surely shouldn’t be bothered by a little pain, but the way the man said it… She was the only one who could dismiss her pain. No one else had the right. Not since basic training in Dreamland under Drill Sergeant Tavis, at least.

“So…” She beamed at Dad and Ardan. “What happened while I was sleeping?”

“Ah!” Dad nodded. “A lot. Victor’s at Nagelring now - and top of the class.”

She nodded happily. Of course, her big brother would be at the top of the class. “And he’s got a Victor, right? The best ‘Mech in the Inner Sphere!”

Ardan laughed and nodded.

Dad shook his head. “You listened to him.”

“Of course I did!”

He snickered. “Victor will get one as a graduation gift.”

“Ah. Can I have one as well?”

“‘Mechs aren’t toys,” Ardan told her with a slight frown.

“We’ll see,” Dad said. “You, ah, need to learn a lot to be able to pilot a ‘Mech.”

Oh, right. They thought she had the memories of a little girl.

Damn. She hoped Kelly had an easier time with her family.

*****

More tests followed. After twenty minutes, her head hurt from all the sensors stuck to it, and she was sorely tempted to complain about headaches just to get some peace. But she had been in a coma for ten years, or something close to it, and her body clearly showed the effects. Such a weak muscle tone. Almost nothing, actually. She glared at her arm.

“Ah… That’s normal, Katherine,” Ardan told her.

She blinked and looked at him. “What?”

“Your, ah, your... body… you changed while you slept. You grew up a lot. It’s only weird since you didn’t… since you weren’t awake while you grew.” His smile looked more than a little forced to her, and she didn’t miss how he looked over his shoulder at Dad, who was talking with Dr Baker.

Wait… he thought she was surprised by how she had grown? Of course he would think so. As far as he knew, Cat had been asleep for ten years, going to bed as a little girl one evening and waking up as an adult the next morning. Well, a teenager.

Handling this would be more challenging than she had expected. Should she dumb down her speech patterns? She had no idea how coma patients reacted, or what would be a normal rate of progress.

Perhaps she should tell them about Dreamland? No. They would think she was crazy and send her to the loony bin. Or they would think she was a spy or something. A double who had replaced the real Cat. Oh, no - she wouldn’t be able to send a message to Kelly, either!

“It’s OK, Kat,” Ardan added. “Everyone goes through this. You’re just a little more…”

She beamed at him. “A little more….?”

He winced. “...extreme. Special.”

“Ah.” She forced herself to smile again. She was a normal girl, not a veteran ‘MechWarrior, she reminded herself. “Mum told me I was special!”

“Ah, Melissa did that, yes.” Ardan’s smile would probably not have fooled six-year-old Cat. It surely didn’t fool her. “Hanse!”

Dad walked over. “Yes?”

“Kat got some questions about growing up,” Ardan told him. “Questions her father should answer.”

Dad stared at his friend, then at Cat. “Uh…”

As if he had planned it, the tech standing by at the holoprojector spoke up: “Your Highness! We’ve got a signal from Tharkad!”

Dad smiled with obvious - to Cat - relief. “Good work, Corporal! Now, everyone, could you give us some privacy?”

The medical personnel obeyed the order at once and all but fled the room. Only the commtech stayed - and he looked like he wanted to leave as well.

But Dad was straightening and walked a little to the side. “Alright, zoom in on me, and when I start walking towards Cat, you pan over to her, got it, Corporal? Ardan, stand next to me. No, next to Cat. The other side of the bed. Perfect!”

He was such a showman at heart!

But then the holoprojector lit up, and Cat gasped. Mum! That was Mum! She looked older, too. And there was Victor! In his uniform! With the sash! And Arthur! And Yvonne! And Peter!

“Melissa! Merry Christmas!” Dad said, beaming at her.

“It’s a bit early, dear,” Mum replied. “And I don’t think you’d spend such a fortune on a live feed from New Avalon just to wish me well.” Her eyebrows went up, just like Cat remembered from being scolded. Her siblings looked amused.

“Always the Kroner counter,” Dad joked. “But yes, I didn’t just call to wish you Merry Christmas. There’s someone else who wants to talk to you.”

“Oh?” Mum cocked her head.

But Dad was already moving towards Cat, and so did the camera.

Cat knew exactly when the camera’s focus reached her - Mum froze.

Cat waved. “Mum!”

Then things got blurry and loud.

*****


Starfox5

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #2 on: 26 August 2021, 16:11:20 »
Forbidden City, Sian, Capellan Confederation, December 30th, 3048

“...in death ground, fight.” Kelly smiled as finished reading aloud and put down the book. “Was that correct, mother?” She knew it was correct - she could’ve recited the passages from The Art of War in her sleep. Technically, she had.

“It was. Well done, daughter!” Mother smiled at her. “Your studies are progressing far quicker than anyone except for me expected.”

“Thank you, mother.” Kelly bowed her head. “I strive to do my best.”

“As is your duty. I expect great things from you.”

Kelly bowed her head again. She knew that already - had known it since she could remember. Mother had drilled that into her: Since House Liao had the smallest territory of all Successor states, they had to work harder than everyone else - and had to be better than everyone else.

A servant entered, bowing low - and presenting a message without calling attention to it in a way that Mother couldn’t overlook, should she choose so.

She didn’t - and ordered them to approach with a flick of her fingers. The message delivered into her hand, she read it while the servant withdrew.

“Interesting,” she commented, lowering the message pad and looking at Kelly.

Kelly tilted her head in response.

“It seems that the Fox’s daughter, who had been struck with the same ailment as you were, woke up. At the same as you did.”

Kelly suppressed the smile that threatened to appear on her face. Cat had woken up as well! “Katherine Steiner-Davion. I think I dreamt of her.”

“You did?” But for her eyes, which narrowed slightly, Mother’s expression didn’t change from the slight smile she wore.

“I think so. A blonde girl, taller than I am. Blue, not grey eyes. Arrogant.”

“Is that all you’ve dreamt of?”

“More might come to me, Mother, but…” She trailed off and sighed. “I have yet to make sense of everything I dreamt.”

“Do not fret, Daughter. Your vision will become clear.” Mother rose, graceful as always. “But matters of state call upon me. Continue your studies.”

“Yes, Mother.” She bowed her head a third time until her mother had left the room.

“Another vision?”

Kelly resisted the urge to whirl in response to someone sneaking up on her. Instead, she turned, slowly, and smiled at her brother. “Sun-Tzu!”

He smiled as well, though it was very bland, and stepped out from where he had been standing in the doorway leading to the side room - and the servants’ passages. “You’ve dreamt about a lot of things.”

“I’ve been sleeping for ten years, or so I’ve been told,” she replied, still smiling.

“Yes. And, somehow, you’ve acquired an education in your dream. One could call it a miracle.”

“Or a divine sign.” She nodded. “That’s what Mother says.”

A frown appeared on his face for a moment. “A sign of what?”

“That I couldn’t fathom yet,” she told him.

“Not yet.”

She resisted the urge to shrug. “I do not claim to predict the future.”

“Not yet.” Sun-Tzu nodded at her, then turned to leave.

“Brother.”

Her voice stopped him, and he half-turned to look at her.

“What I can say with certainty is that I didn’t dream of becoming Chancellor.” She smiled at him as honestly as she could.

“Of course not.” His lips twisted, and, for a moment, he seemed to sneer. But then he inclined his head again, smiled even more blandly, and left the room.

She sighed as soon as the door closed behind him. He didn’t believe her.

This wasn’t good. Not at all. It seemed that her plan to avoid posing as a six-year-old in mind and spirit hadn’t been as sound as she had thought.

*****

Royal Palace, Avalon City, New Avalon, Federated Commonwealth, January 15th, 3049

“That’s enough, Katherine. You’re done.”

Cat clenched her teeth and shook her head. “Another set.” She didn’t wait for the physical therapist to say anything and dropped on the mat again. Pushups. Situps. She had to get in shape faster than that. And that meant more training. She groaned as she finished her situps, then pushed herself to her feet. Only the jacks left. She crouched, then jumped - but her legs didn’t cooperate, and she fell on her side as if Kelly had landed a leg sweep in a sparring session.

The woman shook her head. “What did I tell you?”
 
Cat didn’t deign to answer. She rolled on her back and stared at the ceiling, panting.

“You’re far too stubborn, Katherine. You will be able to do more in time; there’s no need to rush things.”

Of course there was! The sooner she was in fighting shape, the sooner she could start working on meeting Kelly!

“Besides, the Archon and your siblings are arriving today. You wouldn’t want to be confined to your bed because you strained too many muscles, would you?”

She glared at the woman. “I should be able to handle this.”

“You aren’t.”

Cat pressed her lips together. She could hear the unsaid ‘you’re a little girl’ clearly. She was a MechWarrior Ace! But the therapist was right - Mom, Victor, Peter, Arthur and Yvonne were arriving today. It wouldn’t do to let them catch her in this sorry state.

Groaning again, she forced herself to stand up. “I’ll go take a shower.”

“Don’t forget to stretch.”

“I won’t!” Getting told the most basic things as if she had no clue was already amongst the most annoying things she suffered through.

She was still scowling when she finished stretching and stepped into the shower to let the warm water soothe her aching muscles. Dreamland had been so much easier.

But Dreamland didn’t have her family. She smiled. Mom was coming. Victor. Oh! Shouldn’t he be bringing his ‘Mech? Wait, no - he would only receive a ‘Mech for graduation. He didn’t have a Victor yet. Perhaps she could ask Ardan about a ride…

Fifteen minutes later, she left the bathroom and headed to her armoire. The lack of a uniform was still weird, but at least she had decent tank tops and shorts now. Though Dad had been hunting very strongly that she shouldn’t greet Mom and her siblings wearing that. Which left… hm… sundress? It was winter. A cocktail dress seemed overdressed for the occasion. And Dad probably wouldn’t like it, either. Jeans and a sweater? Too informal.

She grabbed a pair of trousers with a vague dress uniform-like cut and a turtleneck instead, bound her hair in a ponytail and picked a pair of shoes that fit the rest of the outfit. Time to meet Mum!

*****

“Mum!” Cat didn’t quite tackle Mum, but it came close. As soon as the door opened, she rushed forward and hugged her. Gently at first, before she remembered how weak she was and hugged her for all she was worth.

“Katherine!” Mum’s own arms closed around her, and she could feel the difference - Mum was much stronger.

“I missed you!” Cat managed to say between sniffling.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up.”

“It’s not your fault,” Cat told her. “You couldn’t know.”

She kept hugging her and closed her eyes.

“I don’t think she’s even noticed us,” she heard someone say.

Without looking up, she replied: “Lies! But Mum takes priority.”

“We can see that.” The dry voice was probably Victor.

Reluctantly, she pulled back and looked at her siblings. There was Victor, in his Nagelring Cadet uniform, smiling with some restraint. Peter, trying to look older than his not quite thirteen years. And Arthur and Yvonne, both staring at her with wide eyes.

“Hello,” she told them.

“Hello, little sister,” Victor said.

Cat fought the urge to snap back at him. He probably meant well - she was supposed to have been asleep for ten years, after all, and not a teenager in mind. Still… “Victor! Do you have a Victor yet?”

He blinked, then chuckled. “No, not yet. I’m still learning how to pilot one.”

She refrained from asking after his schedule at the academy. “Peter. Arthur. Yvonne. You’ve grown.”

“So have you,” Peter said. Arthur and Yvonne nodded in agreement.

“Not quite right.” Cat shook her head and frowned. “My body’s all weak.”

“Really?” Yvonne looked surprised. “You weren’t weak in my dream.”

Cat froze for a moment. “Your dream?” She cocked her head to the side.

“I dreamt of you,” Yvonne replied. “You were piloting a ‘Mech!”

Cat bit her lower lip. Kids dreamt about ‘Mechs all the time. It didn’t mean that Yvonne had visited Dreamland. But if she could visit… she could take a message to Alex! “When did you dream of me?”

“Years ago,” Yvonne told her. “I don’t know any more.”

Right. She was almost nine years old. Far too old to enter Dreamland. Cat sighed. “So much time…” If only she could return to Dreamland in her sleep! But she hadn’t been able to ever since she had woken up.

Mum hugged her again, and Cat let herself enjoy her embrace. For a moment, at least. “Are you going to kill Dad before or after dinner?” she asked.

“What?”

“What?”

Everyone was staring at her. She grinned. “For his stunt with the HPG call.”

“Oh. I’ll have words with him.” Mum laughed. Cat’s siblings laughed as well, after a moment.

And Cat smiled. It felt good to have her family back.

*****

Royal Palace, Avalon City, New Avalon, Federated Commonwealth, January 16th, 3049

“The kids are finally in bed,” Melissa Steiner said as she entered her husband’s office.

“Do you include Victor in that?” her husband asked, looking up from a stack of reports.

“He’ll always be my little boy,” she told him. With a not entirely mocking glare, she added: “And you’ll always sneak off to work?”

“Not always,” he defended himself.

She shook her head - she was well aware of the demands of ruling a realm such as his - or hers. To think that Victor would one day have to rule both of them… But that was a problem for the future. She had a more urgent problem to take on. “She’s… not what I expected,” she said.

Hanse nodded. “The doctors can’t explain it. She should be on the level of a six-year-old. Instead…” He shook his head. “She’s on par with a teenager her age.” With a frown, he added: “And she’s downplaying her capabilities.”

Melissa nodded. She had caught Katherine rewording her sentences to make them simpler. “Did you ask her about it?”

“I mentioned being impressed by her progress. She changed the topic by complaining about her physical fitness. She’s actually not that bad, but apparently, she has higher standards.”

That was a bad sign. Something wasn’t right. “Did you test…”

“I had NAIS run the full range of tests. She is our daughter. DNA checks out. I’ve had Justin run checks anyway, but there doesn’t seem to have been a window of opportunity to kidnap her and swap her for someone else.”

“A clone would have the same DNA.” Melissa hated herself for saying it, but it had to be said.

“But they would’ve had to age her up somehow - or started right when she was born. Her age checks out as well,” Hanse retorted. “And if this was another Doppelganger ploy, then why would they act so… inept? All that effort, and then they send a double who can’t play her role? The Maskirovka is better than that. No, she is our daughter. Our little girl.”

“Yes.” Melissa smiled. Their daughter. Little Katherine. Back amongst them. Back with them. But... “So… Why is our daughter so far ahead?” Melissa asked. “She was arguing about ‘Mechs with Victor. For a moment, I thought she was the one at the academy. Until she caught herself.”

“Dr Banzai speculated that she might be a genius - that she’s simply picking up things much faster than normal people,” Hanse said. “But why would she try to downplay that?”

“And she hasn’t shown such talent before she… fell asleep,” Melissa pointed out. “Remember the garden affair?”

Hanse chuckled. “I do. I had to pay the gardener a compensation for all the flowers she ‘planted’!”

“But if she’s not a genius, then why…?” Melissa looked at Hanse.

“I don’t know. Dr Brown speculated that she learned while dreaming - that her subconsciousness had picked up things before she fell asleep that she then learned in her dreams.” Hanse shrugged. “He’s sort of an oddball, and no other doctor I asked supports his theories.” He dropped his file and looked at Melissa. “And there’s more.”

“More?” What more could there be? This was confusing already.

“Justin received a report from one of our deep over agents on Sian. Kali Liao was seen in public for the first time since she disappeared ten years ago.”

“Oh. Ten years ago…”

Hanse nodded. “Around the same time that Katherine fell into a coma. And our agent noted that Sian’s best specialists for long-term care and rehabilitation were called to the palace. We wondered what had happened to the girl, but this might indicate that she was in a coma as well.”

Melissa pressed her lips together. “Two daughters of a Great House, suffering the same ailment?” That couldn’t be a coincidence.

Hanse nodded. “If that can be verified… then we’ll have to hunt down whoever did this.”

Melissa nodded. Whoever hurt their little daughter would pay for it. Even if she had to start a war over it.

*****

Starfox5

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #3 on: 26 August 2021, 16:12:18 »
So, I decided to start a thread for this story. I won't be able to make weekly updates, but monthly should be possible. I've got a draft for chapter 2, and I'd like to ask if someone would want to give it a read-over in Google Docs. PM me, please, if you're interested.
« Last Edit: 26 August 2021, 16:16:47 by Starfox5 »

snakespinner

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #4 on: 27 August 2021, 00:55:08 »
Daryk does proofreading for some stories on this site, you should try him. :thumbsup:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #5 on: 27 August 2021, 04:20:10 »
Thanks for the mention, but I'm about to check back in to the five-sided PowerPoint collider next week.  To say my time will be rather more limited than it has been is an understatement, and I really don't want to make any commitments I can't keep.  Maybe once things settle down in a month or two, but I can't make any promises.

DOC_Agren

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #6 on: 28 August 2021, 09:25:16 »
Thanks for the mention, but I'm about to check back in to the five-sided PowerPoint collider next week.  To say my time will be rather more limited than it has been is an understatement, and I really don't want to make any commitments I can't keep.  Maybe once things settle down in a month or two, but I can't make any promises.
remember to duck and weave
"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!"

idea weenie

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #7 on: 28 August 2021, 12:57:52 »
Looks like things are getting interesting in both realms.  I wonder if the Maskirovka are getting hints that Kat woke up as well, from a coma lasting the same amount of time.

The other fun will be the two realms trying to figure out who did it, and the other realms denying (and then everyone suspecting Comstar who is actually innocent).

Perhaps this Kali can make it to Outreach when the Wolf Dragoons admit to being from the Clans?  That would let Kat and Kali meet in person.

Daryk

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Re: Dreamland Madness (Battletech/The Dreamland Chronicles)
« Reply #8 on: 28 August 2021, 13:02:37 »
remember to duck and weave
Technically, this will be my third tour in the building.  Despite being assigned elsewhere for the last three years, I spent a LOT of time ducking and weaving in the building (to good effect, even).  PM me if you're curious (and I expect you will...  ^-^).  It has to be PMs because the story is literally entirely Rule 4.