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Author Topic: Dawn of the Hound  (Read 2756 times)

Batman

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Dawn of the Hound
« on: 26 January 2011, 15:14:58 »
Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Suns
01 January 2999


“No!”

“What’s the matter with you?”

“I just said no.”

“Something’s wrong with you, Ian.”

Ian shrugged, reaching across the table for his glass of BB&B beer. It was his first time at a bar on New Year’s Eve - legally. Ian and his friends frequented the bars of New Avalon many times before when they were still under the drinking age. That was because Rob could get them in anywhere. Rob Leland was making fake ID cards since they had grown facial hair. Ian, Rob, and Paul had snuck in to a strip club when they just sixteen. The three of them had decided to relax at a bar for New Year’s. Since it was the last week before the school semester started, they wanted to make it a memorable New Year’s. Paul wanted to pick up some girls, but because the three of them had a reputation at some of the other well-known bars, Rob decided it was time to find a new bar that they had never been to. Port Avalon was located on the south side of town. Not only had they never been there before, but it was conveniently located between four different universities – which meant more girls at more bars.

“Dude, she’s totally single.” Rob said, as he chugged the last of his own beer. Rob sat with his feet against the table, knocking over the saltshaker and the ketchup. In the chair on his right, Paul drifted in and out of sleep.

“I’m not asking her out.” Ian shook his head. He reached across the table again, this time grabbing the rest of Paul’s burger from his plate. Ian wolfed down Paul’s snack, watching the various patrons of the bar. The girl Rob was referring to was a pretty young blond over at the counter. She sat with her legs crossed on a barstool, stirring her margarita with a straw. She wore a stunning, sleeveless purple dress that came just below her knees. Her eyes were green like the Avalon Hills. Of course Ian had found her attractive. Rob and Paul had already tried talking with her. Ian had never seen anything so horrible as watching two teens crash and burn in their attempts to court a young female. Ian had no such desires of crashing and burning. So he sat comfortably in his chair, eating chicken tenders and burgers. Rob and Paul had made their rounds, hitting on every female in the bar that night. After failing with a redheaded fashion student, Paul had decided to quit while he was still behind.

Rob on the other hand, was no so easily defeated. He followed one young lady outside. She travelled with a “flock”, as Rob called it. Flocks were bad because you could only choose one girl from a group. Failing with one usually meant failing with them all. Rob had promised to be a moment. He returned ten minutes later with a black eye. Apparently the girl he had chosen from the flock was engaged. Rob ran afoul of the lucky man as he came to pick up the bachelorette party. The rest of the night had been quiet. It was almost midnight and the fireworks would start soon.

“Dude, she’s totally on the rebound. You could so get her.” Rob egged.

“Do you ever take a hint?”

Rob rolled his eyes. Ian noticed another party of sailors coming in. From what Ian could tell, this bar was frequented by sailors. Mostly deckhands, but there also a lot of fishermen, members of the New Avalon Navy – and the obligatory college students and servicemen. By their uniforms, Ian could tell that the newcomers were with the New Avalon Navy. Boaters. As a MechWarrior, Ian could not help but feel uncomfortable in the presence of members of another service. Among the general population, MechWarriors were the most highly respected soldiers that ever lived. Only aerojocks were just as widely adored. The other services tended to be ignored. That helped to contribute to inter-service rivalry. Every other branch could agree only they despised MechWarriors. Of course, public opinion of MechWarriors contributed to the inflated egos of MechWarriors everywhere. MechWarriors were prideful to the point of arrogance. Even Ian admitted he was sometimes guilty of that.

“Come on, Ian. You can’t roll with me if you can’t get one girl.”

“Sure I can. Together we’ll both be major turnoffs to the opposite sex.”

“Ooh, dis.” Paul remarked as he came back to alertness.

“Hey, you didn’t do any better.” Rob quipped, turning his glass upside-down over Paul’s head. Ice and beer reside fell on top of Paul’s disheveled hair and down the back of his uniform. His two friends burst out laughing as Paul jumped to his feet.

“Hey man! What the hell?” Paul’s face turned bright red, but Ian thought it was more because of the beer than Paul getting mad. For a MechWarrior, Paul was something of a pacifist. He almost never got mad. Almost, but not quite. Paul stood, shaking the ice out of his leggings and brushing his red mane with his fingers. When he was satisfied he sat back down in his seat, glancing over at his plate.

“Where’d my burger go?” He asked dismayed. His eyes darted toward Ian. Ian was hiding the rest of the burger in his mouth, but the bulges in his cheeks gave him away. He tried making an excuse, but found it difficult to say anything coherent with half a sandwich in his mouth.

“I said no!”

The shriek interrupted any thoughts of reprisal Paul may have had. Ian turned his head over to the direction of the cry. It came from the pretty blond at the counter. She was standing up now. Her bare arm was held captive by a sailor’s chunky claw. Ian recognized the sailor’s uniform as that of the Federated Suns Royal Marines. The marine was a heavyset man with brown hair. He was not particularly muscular, but he was still big enough to cause the petite blond discomfort.

“Come on lady,” he said with a nasal New Avalonian accent, “we both know you’re not going for any of these other losers.”

“Let go!” She yelled.

“Actually, she’s with me.” Ian said, standing up. From the looks on their faces, Rob and Paul were more surprised than the marine, who turned his head around to look Ian in the eye. Nearly two meters-tall, Ian could see he was just a hair taller than the other man. The other man was bulky, but Ian was a rather slim teenager. Ian was also in good exercise. From the looks of the other man, Ian could tell he was no stranger to bar fights. He let the woman’s arm go and stepped closer to Ian. The confused looks on Rob and Paul’s face told Ian to back off. At this point that was not an option.

“You lookin’ for trouble, mate?” He said getting into Ian’s face. He didn’t have to open his mouth for Ian to smell the alcohol. The man was drunk as a skunk.

Ian’s fist was already flying towards the man’s face. For just a brief moment he regretted throwing the first punch, but decided to go with it, hitting the marine with all his might. Ian’s fist cracked against the other man’s face, deforming his cheek and busting his eyelid. Blood spewed from his lips as the marine reeled with the punch. The marine fell back and stumbled across the bar. The young lady moved out of the way just in time as his head connected with the counter. He tripped over her barstool and slumped to the floor unconscious. That gathered looks of surprise from everyone in the bar. Even the bartender stopped to take a look, setting a dry glass on the counter.

“Lousy groundpounders!” Someone cursed, getting up from a nearby table. His two other friends got up with him. Ian found himself surrounded by the marine’s friends. One of them was a large black man with a very athletic build and tattoos on his arms. On either side of him was a lanky young soldier with lighter skin. Ian stepped back, finding himself against his chair. His hands came up defensively like a cornered boxer.

“One groundpounder too much for you sea monkeys?” Ian remarked. He looked the bigger man in the eyes, waiting for some kind of response from him. He seemed to get the message.

“I got this one.” The black man said with satisfaction. “I’ll go easy on you, since you’re not wearing 100 tons of protection.”

There was a loud crack as one of the marines fell forward. The remains of a chair fell over the marine, leaving Rob holding its front legs. From behind, Paul grabbed the other marine by the shoulder, turning him around. The marine was caught unprepared for Paul’s speeding fist. Paul hit the marine square between the eyes. The marine yelped and grabbed his face with his hands. Paul quickly followed up with a windup from his other arm, hitting the man on his exposed right cheek, sending him to the floor. The two men lay on the bar room floor, nursing their wounds. Neither one of them looked seriously injured. They rose to their feet, swinging right and left at Ian’s friends.

Grinning widely, the big marine swung at Ian with his right. Ian was just lucky enough to move his head out of the way as a massive fist flew over his head. The marine took a step forward and lunged with his other fist. Ian had seen that one coming. He stepped to his right, narrowly avoiding the second fist. Ian leaned in to strike out with his own right hand. The marine was too slow to react as he watched Ian’s fist on a collision course with his eye. It was a good punch, but the other man just pounded Ian’s skull with his other fist, knocking him back toward the table. Ian fell flat on the round surface, jostling its legs.

The table crashed and Ian hit the floor hard. He winced in pain, catching sight of the charging marine just seconds before he was almost on him. Instinctively, Ian’s legs came up, hitting the man below the chin with enough force to lift him off his heels. The kick threw him onto his back, giving Ian a chance to get to his feet. The marine rolled over, attempting to get back up, but Ian came running at him, delivering a boot to the man’s left elbow, knocking him down again. He kicked the man again, delivering the force of his padded toes to the other man’s gut as he rolled over. Ian pressed his luck with another kick, but this time the marine was fast enough to grab Ian’s foot. He threw it aside, dropping Ian back onto his rump.

For a moment, neither man moved. The marine wiped blood from his face with the back of his fist. He grabbed the counter for support and pulled himself to his knees. The sound of things breaking and knuckles cracking told Ian that his friends were still fighting. When Ian rolled back onto his feet, the other man was standing, waiting for him again. They both raised their fists, anticipating the next punch. Neither man moved.

“I have never seen no tin can put up a fight like that.” He said shaking his head.

“I thought I’d be dead by now.” Ian shrugged.

“I said I’d go easy on you, tin man.”

“Don’t do me any favors.”

“Only favor I’m doin’ is for my kin. They can’t be paying for your hospital bills.”

“My family’s well-connected. We can pay our own hospital bills.” Ian goaded.

“You’re a screwed up tin can, you know that?”

“Ian.” He said.

“What?” The other man asked.

“I’m Ian.” Ian said louder.

“Hank. Hank Corbin.” The black man replied.

“Are we gonna do this, Hank Corbin? Or do you want to wait for your friends to finish up?” Ian teased. Rob and Paul had taken the fight outside when a patron shoved them to the door. Rob had jumped onto his opponent’s back and dropped Charlie horse punches onto his face from above.

“You a funny man.” Hank said. “If really mopped the floor with you you’d be in a wheelchair for a month. ‘Cept then my CO would have me mopping the decks for life.”

“You work on a big ship?” Ian was curious.

“Rapier destroyer.” Hank nodded.

“That’s a pretty big ship. I’ll tell you what, Hank. You don’t like mopping and I don’t like getting my ass kicked around in a bar. You wanna call a truce?”

Ian extended his hand to the other man. He was leaving himself open to attack if Hank was not done throwing him around. Hank kept his fists up. Ian moved closer until his hand was right in front of Hank’s right fist. The fist was nearly twice the size of Ian’s. Hank looked confused, but reluctantly, he opened his fist. He took Ian’s hand with his own, waiting for Ian to make the next move. Ian let his guard down, shaking the man’s hand. Hank’s hand was cold and moist from the glass he had been drinking from. By contrast, Ian’s hand was warm and moist with nervous sweat. Hank let go, giving Ian back his hand. Without another word, Hank sat back down at his table to finish the rest of his drink by himself.

He walked back to the counter. The bartender was waiting for him. His expression was clearly of frustration. Ian reached into the pocket of his uniform and pulled out his wallet. He carefully removed three neatly-folded ten-pound notes and dropped them on the table. That would cover the drinks and snacks for him and his friends. The bartender put his hand on the stack of money. Without removing his palm from the table, he sifted through the notes. Then he looked back at Ian.

“And what about the damage?” He inquired.

Ian opened his wallet wide. He searched through all the money in his wallet. All of that amounted to only twenty pounds – hardly enough to cover the cost of a single chair. He pulled out a small blue card from one of his wallet’s many card pockets. The card had the sunburst seal of the Federated Suns stamped to the left corner. A twelve-digit number ran across the card. He tapped the card against the counter, showing it to the bartender.

“This is an AFFS military card. I can only withdraw three thousand pounds on it.”

The bartender nodded and took the card from Ian. He took the card over to a device behind the counter, sliding it through the device. When he was satisfied he returned the card to Ian again.

“Thank you so much.” A soft voice said from behind Ian.

He quickly stuffed the wallet back into his pocket and turned around to find the pretty blond in purple with her hands clasped behind her back. She had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. She gave him an encouraging smile. Ian returned the gesture with a lopsided smile of his own, favoring the left side where Hank had punched him earlier. He had a splitting headache and he felt like the left side of his mouth was about to fall off but he gave no indication of the pain he was in to this girl.

“M…my pleasure.” He stuttered. “I…hope you’re okay?” He asked.

“I’m fine, thank you.” She nodded.

Ian was at a loss for words. Although this was not his first conversation with an attractive girl, he never had any luck speaking to them. He was about as subtle as an Atlas. And he had all the sparkling charm of an AgroMech. She locked eyes with him. He never blinked. He said nothing as he gazed at her. Soon that gazing became awkward. Still smiling, she turned for the door and started to walk away. Just then something told Ian he had to say something.

“Hey, look.” He called out, still searching for something to say. She turned around. From her eyes he could tell she was expecting him to say something. Ian only scratched his head as he approached her slowly.

“If you need a ride…” He started.

She shook her head. “Thank you. My car is parked outside.”

Ian nodded, disappointed. “Oh.” He looked down, still scratching his head. Nothing else came to him. “In that case-”

She decided to help him out. “Do you want to maybe go for coffee?” She asked him encouragingly. His head came up, eyes wide with surprise. She was asking him out. He let his arm drop to his side and nodded.

“Sure. I’d love to get some coffee.” He told her. Turning to the door he added, “I think my friends are going to be busy for the rest of the night anyways. Maybe we can see the fireworks later?”

Her smile grew as she nodded. She motioned to the door. That was the only invitation Ian needed. Grabbing his jacket from one of the chairs surrounding the remains of his table, Ian came up alongside the girl in purple. He slid the jacket over his shoulders and walked out the bar with her that night.

Batman

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Re: Dawn of the Hound
« Reply #1 on: 26 January 2011, 15:16:08 »
Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Suns
02 January 2999


It had been the best night of Ian’s life. After going for coffee at a relatively unknown joint in the heart of Port Avalon, they drove down to the pier and watched the New Year’s fireworks display. There was only one more year before the turn of the century and the new millennium. It was an awesome show. They took a ferry ride to Cadbury island and then hopped the ferry back. It was really late then. They drove back to Ian’s apartment for some ice cream. At least, that was what they told themselves. It was not long before they started kissing. Instinctively he went for her dress and she went for the belt holding his uniform together. The next thing they knew, they were lying in Ian’s bed and their clothes were on the sofa in the living room.

It was the sound of morning traffic outside his window that woke him. She was on top of him, her hair in his face. Ian brushed her golden hair out of the way as he looked around the room. He almost could not believe what had happened the night before. Keeping one arm against her soft back, he reached out to his nightstand for his watch. It was not morning. It was almost noon. He was between semesters and he did not have to show up to work on New Year’s Day, but he had to go to work today. It was Wednesday. He had no idea what he was going to tell the Captain. Hopefully Rob and Paul would think of something when he got to the base.

The sound of moaning distracted him. The blond girl was starting to wake up also. She propped herself up with her hands and crawled up Ian’s chest. She let her hair fall over his face. He returned her smile with a sheepish grin of his own. Then she laid back down, resting her head against his shoulder. He turned his head and their eyes met.

“That was amazing.” She whispered.

He nodded his agreement. He was not quite ready to get out of bed.

“I can’t believe I slept with you without knowing your name.” She confessed. He shrugged. In all the excitement of last night, they had forgotten to exchange names. He did not know her name either.

“It’s Ian.” He said.

“Ian.” She nodded her understanding. “Sarah.” She added. Then she rolled off him and threw off the covers. He could see that Sarah had a perfect shape now that she was no longer covered with her dress. She blew him a kiss and left the room, probably to get her clothes from the kitchen. Ian also hopped out of bed and grabbed a fresh set of boxers from his dresser before he slipped into them. He also put on a new pair of socks. He did not have time for a shower, so he hid his body odor with of D’Avion cologne for men. When he went outside to the living room and kitchen, Sarah was already fully dressed and waiting for him.

She had a plate of scrambled eggs waiting at the small dining table near the window overlooking the city. He grabbed his uniform from the floor and started with the trousers one leg at a time. Sarah giggled as she watched him pull his uniform on. He blushed a little but managed to get his uniform on without looking too uncivilized. He sat down at the table with the eggs waiting for him. To the side of the eggs was a slice of toast smothered in sunberry jam. Ian loved sunberries.

“What are you doing today?” He asked her. She was in the kitchen making coffee. She stirred a mug with a golden spoon.

Without looking at him she answered, “I have to go to work today.”

“You too? Where do you work?” Ian asked.

She came back from the kitchen with a steaming hot mug of coffee that she put in front of his plate. “I’m an intern at Vinson Pharmaceuticals. I have to work a certain number of hours with them to graduate. It’s really weird.”

He nodded his understanding. “That’s kind of how it is for us. We have to keep our grades up to work. If we don’t work, they take us off full-time student status. If we’re not full-time students we can’t graduate.”

He got up from the table, fastening his belt around his waist. She was already headed for the door. He shut off the lights and drained the last of his coffee. He followed her to the door and locked it behind them when they were outside. At the end of the hallway there was an elevator shaft. He pressed a button requesting an elevator to take him downstairs. The two of them stood around waiting for the elevator to arrive. Ian took one last look at her seductive figure and smiled.

“So,” he began. She turned her head. The hint of a smile played across her face. “I’ll call you tonight, Sarah?”

The elevator doors opened and they stepped inside.

“Only if you really want to see me again.” She answered.

Batman

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Re: Dawn of the Hound
« Reply #2 on: 26 January 2011, 15:28:41 »
NAMA Training Facility, New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Suns
02 January 2999


The live fire training grounds of the New Avalon Military Academy was a barren flatland. The only noteworthy features of the environment were craters and metal debris that littered the red dirt stretching for kilometers in any direction. The training grounds were the size of a small city that occupied a seven by seven kilometer area. The training area was devoid of any trees, buildings, or even hills. Twenty kilometers to the east was the city of New Avalon, far enough away to be spared destruction from any stray shots fired from the exercise field. Conventional infantry and armor stood little chance in such an open terrain. They would become easy prey for the high-flying aircraft and the lumbering BattleMechs that dominated 31st century battlefields. Ian had the rare privilege of operating a BattleMech.   

For nearly six centuries, the ultimate weapon of war had been the BattleMech. The humanoid tank had been developed by the defunct Terran Hegemony to achieve and maintain total battlefield dominance. A single 'Mech stood between ten and twenty meters high, and weighed up to 100 tons. 'Mechs were plated with the thickest of military-grade armor and armed with a variety of weapons unmatched by some tank platoons. The secret to the success of the BattleMech was twofold. The first marvel was its fusion reactor. Such a large mass required an insatiable power source to achieve mobility. But 'Mechs required more than a power source to move. They also had to be equipped with a gyroscope to maintain stability. Even standing in place required input from the gyroscope. A single user's own sense of balance could be mimicked by a special helmet and fed directly to the BattleMech's computers and gyroscope to keep it operational. The reactor and the gyroscope were essentially the heart and mind of a 'Mech. Without one a 'Mech simply could not function.

A gyroscope's host was colloquially referred to as a MechWarrior. Unlike other branches of the armed forces, size and speed did not necessarily correlate to a MechWarrior's performance on the battlefield. Dexterity, agility, and an altogether good sense of balance were the most desirable qualities in a MechWarrior. As such, the number of women serving as MechWarriors was disproportionately higher than in other branches of the military. Nearly half of all MechWarriors were women – including Ian's mother. Those who knew them both would testify Ian inherited his mother's reckless streak but he also had his mother's keen MechWarrior skills.

Ian sat comfortably inside 50 tons of BattleMech. His Centurion was more humanoid than most other BattleMechs. Except for the right arm that ended in the muzzle of a heavy autocannon, the Centurion was built in the image of man. Standing fourteen meters from head to toe, it was no wonder why BattleMechs had captured the minds of people around the Inner Sphere. The Centurion was one of the smaller 'Mechs by comparison. Ian's mother had fought in many battles from the cockpit of a 100-ton Atlas, towering over Inner Sphere battlefields from almost twenty meters up. Still, even the smallest 'Mechs could displace twenty tons and carry more weapons than most conventional tanks.

Off to the Centurion's right was one of the larger BattleMechs, a 65-ton JagerMech. Like the Centurion, the JagerMech had a distinguished service record with the Davion military. The JagerMech was one of House Davion's heaviest 'Mechs. With a cylindrical torso and a wide anti-aircraft radar mount along its spine, the JagerMech was built as a replacement for the Rifleman. The JagerMech's   arms each carried a pair of Mydron autocannons – one Model D mounted over a Model C. While both were relatively long-range weapons, the Model C had a slightly bigger bite at the cost of some range. The JagerMech's combination of weapons made it an elegant fire support unit and anti-aircraft platform.

Ian's neurohelmet relayed radio chatter to his ears. “Nice of you to be here this morning, Ian. I'll make this quick so you can go back to getting drunk or getting crunk – or whatever you hipsters are doing these days. First, I want you to run a diagnostic on your autocannon.”

Ian hit the corresponding switch on his control panel and watched for the indicators on his HUD. He learned early in his education to run a diagnostic analysis on his 'Mech before taking it out for an exercise. One of his instructors during freshman year liked to sabotage the students' 'Mechs and not running a diagnostic scan could result in a ten percent grade reduction if the error did not somehow result in a student's failure to perform the exercise. The diagnostic came back positive, informing Ian there were no problems with his 'Mech or the autocannon. Ian opened the radio channel to respond to the instructor.

“Captain Conway, computer reports no problems with the autocannon or any other systems.” Ian responded.

“Except for the fact you're using inert rounds. Your autocannon is going to be important as it's the focus of today's exercise. The army does have a slight autocannon bias because of stockpile issues, economics, and politics. In fact, the Davion Military Code outlines that students must have passed all required autocannon exercises with a grade of C- or better to graduate and a grade of C+ or better for officers.”

The JagerMech pointed one arm toward a dune overlooking a large trench. “You are to get into that trench and make your way to the designated nav point programmed into your computer. Your HUD will identify certain targets for you to engage down there. Because the targets won't appear on your radar until you have direct line of sight contact with them, your long-range missiles will be of no use to you. You have to do the course in under six minutes, so getting into a protracted engagement is not an option. Fire off a round from your autocannon and continue the rest of the course. Your grade in this exercise will be determined on time and the accuracy of your shots. Don't waste your missiles. It's one point for each one you waste. Just think, two shots from your launcher will drop your grade down to a B-. Any questions?”

“No sir,” Ian replied “I understand the mission.”

“Good,” Captain Conway answered, “your timer begins when you reach the trench. Good luck.”

Ian's control of the Centurion was so fluid that even Captain Jerry Conway could not find any reason to dock Ian points on piloting. The Centurion crested the dune down a steep slope to the muddy trench that had to be created by massive earth movers. Most students would at least lose their footing taking their 'Mech down the trench. Some 'Mechs even slipped and fell. Of course, falling was considered an immediate failure and the trench test had been the bane of many former MechWarrior cadets for just that reason alone. If a student could make it into the trench without falling they usually passed the assignment. So far, Ian seemed to be doing well.

The monstrosity of a trench was big enough to hide a BattleMech. The walls of the trench were anywhere between ten to twenty meters high at any given point. In reality it was impractical to dig trenches so deep unless the formations were naturally occurring or the location was important enough to justify the cost of such a construction project. Even some regional capitals in the Inner Sphere did not have trenches so large. They were also a bit of a catch-22 since large trenches negated the advantages of a BattleMech. If a location was so important as to need protection it would therefore be defended by BattleMechs.

“Your time begins now.”

Ian pressed the throttle for the Centurion gently forward. In response the 'Mech stepped forward with long strides. He watched for anything unusual ahead of him, occasionally glancing at his HUD for any signs of intermittent contact. The ground was littered with the footprints of various BattleMechs. Some Centurions had been in here recently, as well as a Chameleon and a Warhammer. There were other footprints that Ian could not easily identify. Some were indistinguishable with so many other footprints on the floor. He steadied the Centurion's autocannon in anticipation of the first target, loading a round into the chamber as his Centurion arrived at a sharp turn in the trench.

A flashing red indicator on his HUD directed his attention to the lower left side of the screen. The Centurion's targeting system had identified a potential threat. Identifying the threat as a Manticore tank, the targeting system even went so far as to suggest aiming for the tank's treads as the best solution for handling the threat. The targeting system had identified the target so fast, Ian had to wait for the 2-D metal target to spring up from the trench floor before he could see what the target looked like. It was a two-dimensional image of a Manticore tank with its turret aimed at him. A wireless IFF indicator was attached to the back of the metal target that declared itself a hostile contact on Ian's radar and would register any impact from the Centurion's inert weapons and low-intensity lasers as well as approximate the location targeted.

Ian kept the Centurion moving as he turned the corner. The Centurion pivoted slightly to bring its front arc into line with the target. Taking the targeting system's advice, Ian lowered the Centurion's arm until it was pointed at the tank's tread in the depiction. He did not waste any time pulling the trigger that would bring the wrath of the Centurion's Luxor autocannon on the target. A bulky projectile slammed into the tank's picture at high speed, pushing the metal target back to the ground. A spent shell casing dropped to the floor as an afterthought. Ian kept his 'Mech moving, but kept his finger on the trigger for the rearward medium laser if he needed to fire in the rear arc on the run. Thankfully, his computer registered a directed hit and indicated the tank was out of commission.

The clock in his HUD reminded him of the time. He had spent forty three seconds of his six minutes. On average, students usually destroyed their first target one minute into the exercise. He was doing quite well by that measure. Without a care in the world he went about finishing the course at his best speed. This would be the easiest grade he made in a long time.

Batman

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Re: Dawn of the Hound
« Reply #3 on: 26 January 2011, 15:33:38 »
Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Suns
02 January 2999


“I thought you said you were going to call me tonight.”

Ian looked at his salad, rolling a tomato around some lettuce with his fork. He nodded his head, not really indicating an affirmative or negative answer. His mind was on the afternoon’s training exercise he had completed. It was enough for an A- grade, but not good enough for Captain Conway’s approval. The Captain had given one perfect score to one student, but Ian had no idea who it was. Ian had given one of the best performances in Albion Military history and he still made less than a perfect score. Who could have impressed Captain Conway so much?

“I did, it’s past nine.” He said finally looking up at her seated across the small round table from him. She wore a stunning blue dress with a low neck. She kept her beautiful blond hair in a ponytail. He could not understand how someone this beautiful could possibly see anything in him.

“You called me at 4:30 in the afternoon, or evening if you want to call it that. That’s not tonight.” She reached underneath her chair for what seemed to be a tiny purse. “The rule is twelve hours, you know?”

She opened the small blue bag and dug around in the bottomless pit for something. It amazed Ian that something not much bigger than his own wallet could contain so many items that she could not locate what she wanted by just looking. Even more interesting, she could get her whole hand inside and some of her lower arm as well. When she pulled her hand out, her fingers clutched a round object that obviously contained some kind of makeup and mirror set inside.

“I don’t actually know the rules.” Ian admitted sheepishly. “I was thinking maybe we could make them up as we go along.” He shrugged.

“As we go along?” Sarah almost laughed. She did not look at Ian as she opened up her makeup kit. As he suspected, there was a mirror inside. She moved the mirror around to get a glimpse at both sides of her face and then quickly smiled to the mirror, obviously checking if she had any salad in her teeth. Ian did not see any, but he would not tell her if she did for fear of embarrassing her. “You think we’re going to go along much longer?” She asked, putting the object back in her purse quickly, still not looking at Ian.

“Well…” He began, “I thought you were having fun...” This was it, he thought. He had driven her to boredom in just two days – a record for the shortest relationship ever.

She laughed, reaching across the table for his hand. “Relax, Ian, I’m really enjoying myself.” She looked into his eyes. He breathed a sigh of relief, but not so that she could see.

A tall young man in a dress vest came by their table, collecting Ian’s unfinished plate and leaving a black leather booklet in its place. Ian picked it up as the man left for another table nearby. They had both ordered salads and martini. Ian did not know what to order since it was his first time going to this particular restaurant. He thought of the most expensive place with the best outdoor scenery he could find. The Mia Bella was a nice European-style diner with outdoor tables overlooking a small stream and a brightly lit network of fountains. The tables were really small and could only seat up to three people. In his mind it was a romantic setting for two, and the waiters even brought an endless supply of French bread and butter to the tables. He was looking for something fancy and expensive, but two salads and bread should never cost fifty six pounds before tip and dessert.

Ian reached into the back pocket of his dress pants for his wallet. He grabbed a fifty and one twenty pound note from inside and carefully slipped them into the black leather booklet, pushing it to the side of the table. A quick glance of his wallet confirmed his worst fear. He only had ten pounds left for the week. He never had much in his bank since he mostly lived paycheck to paycheck. Ian never asked his family for money – he hated asking his father for anything, even refusing to live at home, although he did not live far. His younger brother lived the good life by contrast. Ian enjoyed his independence and all the mixed baggage it carried.

Sarah seemed to notice. “I can pitch in too, you know.” She said, looking at him and then at the bill.

He shook his head. “Men always pay. That’s the rule.”

She threw her head back and laughed. Ian watched her ponytail bounce around her shoulders as she enjoyed a good laugh. “I thought we were making up the rules as we go along.” She reached back into her purse.

Ian reached across the table, grabbing her arm as she jammed it into her purse. Their eyes met and he narrowed his eyebrows to let her know he was serious.

“I’m too old fashioned to allow it. That’s the way my mother raised me.”

He let go of her arm and she smiled. She closed her purse and put it back in her lap. The military did not pay him well, but that was no excuse to let a lady pay at dinner – especially on a first date. Maybe a fifteenth date, he thought, but only if the couple was really getting along. She got up from her seat and extended her arm to him, inviting him to get up as well. She wrapped her arms around his waist and greeted his lips with hers. He pulled her closer to him and enjoyed their passionate kiss.   

She put her hand in his and led them out of the diner. Around them people watched or even had a few passing remarks to give Ian. There were some whistles of approval and one man even raised his glass as they passed him by.

Downtown Avalon City was always lively, especially at night. Businessmen were gone by sunset in the city, but that was when the college students and the military personnel were about. They were all looking for the same thing, beer and sex. Crowds of soldiers were about. They carried drunken comrades from one bar to the next while clutching a bottle from the previous place. Ian followed Sarah through the city streets past groups of college kids and amused tourists watching Avalon’s performing mimes, the underground stars of New Avalon. They ran for several city blocks, never stopping to catch their breath.

They arrived at a busy intersection. A yellow hovertaxi stopped in front of them and for a moment Ian thought they were going to get inside. When all the cars at the intersection stopped, she ran across the street, tugging him behind her. The building across the street was massive and every walkway around it was lit up like day. They entered through a revolving glass door and wound up in the lobby of the building. She waved to the security guard seated behind a large oak table. He responded with a smile and went back to reading Atlas Shrugged. At the end of the lobby were the elevators. Sarah pressed the button calling for an elevator. A set of doors behind them opened up, inviting them inside.

They stepped inside the elevator and Sarah pressed the button on the console corresponding to the ninth floor. The building accommodated eighteen floors plus two basement floors, from what Ian could see. As the doors closed she threw herself at him. She tucked her hands into his pockets and stood on the toes of her sandals, bringing her just high enough to reach his lips. Their lips met in an arousing kiss for the briefest of moments before she abruptly pulled away. For a moment Ian wondered what he had done wrong Then, the elevator doors opened again, bringing them to the lobby of the ninth floor. Sarah stepped out, and Ian followed her. She led him down the hallway past the other apartments. They stopped at room 915 while she unlocked the door to her home.

Sarah opened the door and motioned for him to step inside. Ian did as she asked. It was too dark for him to see. His hand surveyed the walls for a light switch but he could not find any. Before he became too annoyed he turned back to Sarah as she was closing the door behind her.

“Where are the lights?” He asked.

Before he could say anything else, he was silenced by her soft lips tugging at his own. He felt her hands sliding under his uniform.

“What do we need them for?” She asked, pulling him closer to her. What did they need them for?       

Batman

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Re: Dawn of the Hound
« Reply #4 on: 26 January 2011, 15:45:35 »
Lake Iris, New Syrtis
Capellan March
Federated Suns
04 January 2999

“Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce to you all, a very good friend of mine – Michael Hasek.”

Rodney Van Kleven pulled an empty chair from the table where two men were already seated. Michael Hasek nodded his appreciation to Rodney as he took his seat. As he lowered himself into the chair, he held out his right hand to formally introduce himself to the two others seated with him.

A brown-haired man in his late thirties took Michael’s hand with his own. “James Simmons.” Simmons did little more than wrap his soft, moist fingers around Michael’s hand. Michael took notice of the other man’s manicured fingers and an otherwise polished demeanor.

“Delighted,” Michael replied, reaching for the hand of a younger man. “Ethan Mourtos.” Ethan’s handshake was a bit more firm, suggesting an obvious military background. As neither man wore a uniform, Michael could tell Ethan’s days of service were over.

“A pleasure, Ethan.” Michael sat neutrally. He had no idea what to make of either of these two.

Rodney pulled up a chair beside Michael. Michael and Rodney were both officers in the Syrtis Fusiliers, the personal army of the Hasek family. Michael was the heir to that legacy as the oldest son of Duke George Hasek. They both wore green uniforms of the AFFS army, while red trim indicated they were MechWarriors. Other AFFS personnel were present in the room, proudly displaying their uniforms and their decorations. Unlike the other soldiers in the room, Michael and Rodney wore the Syrtis Medal of Honor on the left side of their uniforms. The award was a highly polished silver, diamond-shaped ornament crafted to look like the Hasek family crest.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Michael?” Mourtos asked, sipping from a glass of champagne. Who asked that sort of question? It would be like asking “how’s the weather” in a thunderstorm. Of course Michael was not enjoying himself. He hated parties and aristocratic gatherings. Michael gave Mourtos a fake smile and nodded.

“It’s a great party, Mr. Mourtos.”

“Please let me know if I can get you anything.” Mourtos spread his arms. “The Duke and his family are not guests so much as they are my family. Please make yourself at home.”

Michael nodded, surveying the room. Most of Ethan’s guests were AFFS personnel, although some others were likely civilians. No one was here without an invitation. Even the soldiers present in the room were invited by someone with ties to Mourtos. Michael was invited through Rodney, his friend since they began basic training. Some of the faces were familiar to Michael. Robert Murchison – CEO of News Network – stood in one corner of the room speaking to a pretty girl in a yellow dress, probably to convince her to sign on as an anchorwoman. In another corner, Johnston Industries CEO, Keith Ryan was in a heated debate with holovid actor Matt Daniels about “the military-industrial complex”. Other guests included singer Nora Corker, Chancellor of the Exchequer Howard Silverstein, and even Duchess Breti Carnoque.

Corker had just released a controversial new music vid that compared Prince Andrew Davion to Stefan Amaris – perhaps the most reviled man in history. Corker was known for her outlandish political statements. She was going at it with Silverstein and Carnoque. Silverstein was explaining to Corker the benefits of inflation and debts and how inflation actually happens. Carnoque did little more than parrot back Silverstein’s explanation to Corker, revealing just how little the Duchess actually knew about economics. For all his experience and intellect, Silverstein often contradicted his own statements, sometimes in the same sentence. The Duchess just nodded in agreement and Corker just looked even more puzzled, too simple-minded to even pick up on his contradictions. In the end she just resorted to name calling and preaching the evils of capitalism. If only Silverstein actually believed in capitalism – the kind of capitalism Michael Hasek believed in.

“You have a lovely estate, Mr. Mourtos” Michael commented, “I think it might be bigger than my family’s.” He chuckled.

Mourtos just gave a humble shrug. “It was my family’s estate before it was mine. Before I left it was much smaller. When I returned I had made some improvements to the house. It’s roughly three times the size of the house my family left to me.”

Michael feigned curiosity. “Where exactly did you leave to, Mr. Mourtos?”

Mourtos smiled, expecting the question to come up eventually. “Tikonov.”

This time Michael did not have to fake his interest. “Tikonov? Hopefully not sometime during 2987.”

Mourtos nodded, crossing his arms across his chest and grinning cheek to cheek. It was obviously something he was proud of. Then he added, “I was there for eight months during the war.”

“Didn’t like it enough to stay the whole year?” Michael joked.

He shook his head, letting his eyes wander the room. “I had at least thirty close calls, if not more. The last time it happened, I got hit in the chest with a Barrett and I fell out of the chopper. I broke six bones when I hit the ground and almost got stepped on and cooked by a Liao Firestarter. A Liao patrol found me but they let me go for a pack of cigs. Then I stole another pack from the quartermaster and they sent me home.”

“Well that’s one way to get out of a war.”

“It’s the only way.” Mourtos responded.

There was silence for a moment as everyone considered the importance of his comment. Sometimes the goals of war were not enough to justify fighting in the first place.

“I agree. There was no reason for us to have ever gone to Tikonov in the first place. I often feel our leadership does not act in our best interests.”

Simmons raised an eyebrow and decided to join the conversation. “And this leadership does not include you, or your family? The Tikonov operation would never have been possible without the help of your father.”

“I was eleven during that conflict.” Michael stated.

“But your father still participated in that action, did he not?” Simmons pointed an accusatory finger at Michael.

Michael turned his head slightly, considering the allegation. He put both elbows on the table, trying to look as neutral as possible. Then he said, “yes, well, my father maintains that Tikonov was a victory in terms of material gained. My father and I are known to disagree on many things. This happens to be one of them. I don’t think it was worth the cost of lives and our nation’s credibility that we paid and are still paying to this day. Frankly, we keep printing pounds like the newspapers no one reads to pay off our debts to Tharkad and Terra. It creates inflation, and sucks the wealth from the middle class. Historically, paper currency has been used to finance wars through a form of pseudo-credit. We don’t pay with taxes, but the younger generation gets left with currency that does not purchase as much as it used to.”

“Are you suggesting that we don’t fight the enemies on our borders?” Mourtos asked in disbelief.

“Well, take in mind, we’ve already been fighting them for over a hundred years. If our government was forced to pay for these wars up front, you can be sure that they wouldn’t last this long.”

Rodney had something to add to the conversation.

“And what about the Capellans? Or the Dragon? Do we raise the taxes every time they attack us?”

“Hell, yes.” Michael said defiantly. “We’re not the only ones unable to pay for this war, they can’t pay for it either. Why is it, that the largest army in the Inner Sphere has been engaged in war for one hundred years against the smallest? Is it because we couldn’t wipe them out if we tried? I bet no less than two other Houses would join in on that action.”

“So why do we keep the Liaos around?” Simmons pressed.

Michael slammed his palm on the table, nodding in approval. “I’ll tell you why. It gives us one other enemy to worry about. We don’t mess with the Concordat anymore, they’ve made it abundantly clear that they’ll fight for their survival. And we’re better off without them. Kurita has two borders to worry about, and they don’t have the firepower to guard both simultaneously. But as long as Liao is around we’re sufficiently scared enough to surrender more of our rights to New Avalon. Without Liao, they can’t justify the centralization of power to New Avalon. They certainly can’t justify throwing good kids to their deaths for a century.”

“You really think Liao or Kurita will just let us live in peace?” This question from Mourtos.

“Maybe they won’t, but I doubt they have the stomach or the money to keep this war going on any longer. You see, they’re all printing money out of thin air to finance it too. No one has been watching the commodities markets recently, but if you had been you might notice that Terran companies are buying them all up.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Simmons asked exasperated.

“Everything,” Michael said simply. When all parties gave him stunned expressions he explained further. “All Terran companies are highly regulated by ComStar. They own a monopoly on all interstellar communications.”

“Tell us something we don’t know.” Mourtos replied.

Michael continued. “Most of humanity’s industry is still on Terra. Some of it was destroyed, but enough of it was still intact enough to replicate itself or repair some of the less damaged infrastructure. The one thing Terra always lacked was raw material. Germanium, gold, silver, copper, aluminum, iron, hydrogen…you name it, it can be found somewhere in the Inner Sphere. Wherever it’s abundant, it’s virtually worthless. So some companies buy up the excess through the local markets and take them back to Terra. What does this mean, exactly?”

“Yes, please tell us.” Rodney mocked.

Michael ignored him, continuing on. “Alone, some of those industries outpace an entire Successor State. With them all operational again and a steady flow of materials to keep them pumping, ComStar has the means to become the largest economic powerhouse in the Inner Sphere, if they already aren’t. But that’s not the worst part. Terra was a military capital in the final days of the Star League. Even if only twenty five percent of its industry still functions, ComStar can field a military larger and more advanced than anything we’ve ever seen by 3070.”

“How big are we talking, Michael?” Simmons asked him.

“On par with, or close enough to the size of Kerensky’s Exodus Fleet.”

That drew laughs from everyone. For a moment, Michael was not sure how to react. Even Rodney could not hold himself together as he nearly fell out of his chair. That was most odd, especially because the numbers made sense to Michael. He tried explaining to them that he was not joking but they were no longer listening at this point. As they continued to laugh, some of the room’s guests turned to see what the commotion was about.

“I think there’s a far greater likelihood of Kerensky and his men showing up before that happens.” Simmons mocked.

Michael waited for them to stop laughing – which took a lot longer than he expected. It may have sounded funny to some, but he doubted it was really that funny. Rodney was the first. He glanced apologetically at his friend. It was not Rodney's fault. Rodney just enjoyed a good conversation and even more than that, he liked to yuck it up with the aristocracy. Even if Rodney disagreed with Michael, it was usually for superficial reasons and Rodney often played devil's advocate for the sport of debate. Deep down, Michael knew Rodney agreed with him on most issues.

The laughter died, but Michael could see he had left his impression on these two men. It was Rodney who decided to break the silence.

"In all seriousness, Michael, you can't just return to a gold, or a silver, or even a germanium standard because the economy is far too large and diverse to support non-liquid currency. There is not nearly enough metals in the world to support that style of economy."

"That's the lie we're taught in the Federated schools. Individual worlds across the Inner Sphere already accept only hard currency, including Davion worlds. On those worlds the market sets price controls and currency value. If there is not enough gold on one world, the value of the gold naturally increases until there is. Planetary, and to some extent - regional governments should be able to decide things like denominations of currency. In fact, they do in some cases. New Avalon does not have enough central control over the markets to determine what we should and should not accept as payment."

"But Terra does." Simmons pointed out with some satisfaction.

Michael shook his head in the negative. "There's one big difference there. ComStar's currency is actually backed by something of value. Even if they do issue paper, it can always be returned for HPG credit. That's why C-Bills are accepted on every world."

Once again there was silence. Not even Simmons had a point to counter with. Mourtos rested his chin on his arm while he thought to himself. Rodney poked at a smear of caviar with his spoon and took a lingering lick of the sample. It looked like very rich caviar, probably imported from Carver V. After a while Simmons shook his head. He was not ready to give up, but obviously had no more talking points to counter with.

"I disagree." He said shaking his head firmly, but refusing to make eye contact. "What you're advocating is almost anarchy. The job of the central government is to provide a central bank and a saftey net for all its people. For better or for worse we need some regulations or we're no better than the fools that ran off with Kerensky. I admire your intelligence, which is rare for someone of your age. You obviously care a lot about the issues, but I think you are mistaken on this one."

Mourtos stood from his chair as he gestured towards a huge set of doors at the opposite end of the room from him. Michael turned to take a look.

"Gentlemen," Mourtos began, "this has been a most interesting conversation."

Michael shrugged. "My opinions are my own, and do not reflect those of my father. We may agree on some things, but I have fundamental differences with him on key issues."

"Michael, you are a young man with interesting ideas. But I wonder if you have the strength to stand by your convictions."

Michael cocked his head to the side. "What do you mean by that?"

Mourtos circled the table, walking past Simmons' chair. He stood behind Rodney and Michael, gesturing to the door. The doors were closed and likely locked. Mourtos reached into his coat pocket, producing a shiny golden key that Michael assumed would be able to unlock those doors. Whatever Mourtos wanted to discuss, it was something he wanted to discuss very discreetly behind those doors.

"Rodney tells me that you are a man who shares my imagination. I invited you here today because I wanted to know just how much of that imagnation you share. Actions speak louder than words. I ask you to join us in my library where we can do more than discuss our imagination, we will bring it to life."

Michael raised one eyebrow. "What is this imagination that you have, Mr. Mourtos?"

A broad smile swept across the host's face. "I have a dream, Michael. A dream for the entire Inner Sphere. Will you join me to save the Inner Sphere?"

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Re: Dawn of the Hound
« Reply #5 on: 26 January 2011, 16:43:05 »
That's a good start for our "new" forum.  :)

 

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