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Author Topic: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)  (Read 3669 times)

Jimmyray73

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Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« on: 28 January 2011, 17:50:00 »
   Looking back now, I can hear my father's voice like it was just a moment ago...

     "Trust is the most important thing in life Tommy-boy, never give it blindly, and never give it to a politician.  People that trust them have a disturbing habit of ending up dead or far from home, or both if they're truly unfortunate.  The men that sing songs about glory and war work for the politicians and regular army officers are usually politicians in training or in disguise, depending on rank."

     He said that the day the notice came.  Mother always called it "the notice" as though that would make it somehow less painful, even though it crushed all the laughter out of her soul.  The men in the dapper uniforms came to the homestead to tell us that my brother and my cousin had died, killed by the despicable serpents across the border while bravely defending their homeland.  My father knew better even though my rage boiled up 'til I couldn't see straight.

     "Weren't no snakes that done it, was soldiers following orders was all.  And weren't no homeland involved.  The Dracs never got near this farm, the light from the sun they died under won't shine here at night 'til after I'm dead." he said to me that night.  "Learn to farm, stay away from the wars if you can son.  Learn from your brother's example and stay as far as you can from armies and wars."

     His next words were spoken low, like he knew I wouldn't learn: "But if you do go off to fight, don't trust any officer on first impressions unless he's a mercenary.  At least with mercs you know what they're fighting for.  All the rest can hang."

     After that I took down the poster of Hanse Davion that my brother somehow managed to get autographed, and I paid no attention to any 'mech besides the beat up AgroMech that Uncle Jasper and I broke our backs over to keep the farm running.  All those years later father's words echoed in my head.  I still can't decide if it was fatherly advice or a curse.

     Maybe it was both...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #1 on: 28 January 2011, 17:54:59 »
[Out of story] I salvaged this one, and I'll piece it back together and get it posted here over the next few days.  Enjoy! [End out of story]
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #2 on: 28 January 2011, 23:05:50 »
   Eleven years got past me, and I was looking out at the fields and wondering when my father would speak and give voice to the foul thoughts that left him staring at the horizon.  We'd had three years of bumper crops, the first shipments of actual NEW parts for the AgroMech in my memory, and Great-Aunt Grace had gotten meds to cure the blotchy fever.  When I was a kid they just quarantined you and hoped your will was made out.  They said it was "recovered knowledge."  It may as well have been the second coming for all that we knew...

     "When it looks like everything is going exactly right, that's when you look for the sandbag Tommy-boy.  The one that's gonna drop on your head.  Never mind the jolly-pirate nicknames, it's just 'Dracs-across-the-border' again, but this time the border is a lot further away.  This time the sun that shines on the killing ground won't shine here 'til your grandkid's grandkids have been forgotten by their get.  That's what glory amounts to son, less than the dirt you shovel every day."

     Father hadn't strung that many words together in years, and I wondered at the import of events that could make him speak so.  I wondered at the cynicism in his words.  I wondered at the thought that a war so far away that I couldn't comprehend the distance might reach out and steal the lives of people I knew from down the road.

     Father and I watched the dropship lift away from our lonely corner of the sphere without another word.  Looking back it seems a shame that we didn't even offer a farewell to those poor deluded souls who listened to the politicians and flew off to die for worlds most of them hadn't heard of.

     Once upon a time people had fought over borders a few kilometers distant, then a few hundred, then half a world away.
My how we've advanced, now we fight over such a distance that the stars can't be bothered to keep up with the slaughter... 

**************
   Two more years gone, and who knows how many souls...  My older sister was a nurse, and she'd left for the war zone over 18 months ago.  It had been at least 7 since we'd had any word and Mother was a wreck.  I don't think Father had spoken an even dozen words in that time and I figured he'd been saving them for the moment that was about to arrive.

     The planetary militia had been called to active duty and were preparing to leave.  Local governments would soon be surveying the able-bodied citizens for the purpose of drafting them -us-into service.  The levy said it was under condition that they -we- would not be sent off-planet.  Father was chewing his Shepherds' Pie with a blank stare, and I knew him well enough to know that a storm was brewing behind his eyes.

     "I don't suppose they'll believe that you're a conscientious objector.  Hell, Mayor Loomis bet 150 C-Bills on that rugby final last year, and you nearly took his son's head off.  You do what you have to do son.  I may not like it, but we have to live with it."

     Less than one week later I was standing next to Mayor Loomis' son Bobby and two older guys who wore old school uniforms of the AFFS.  They piloted BattleMechs back in the day, Bobby and I knew how to drive AgroMechs.  The old-timers were supposed to teach the two of us how to not get killed if the Periff bandits tried to take advantage of our lack of Militia protectors.  They both knew Father.  Neither one of 'em would talk about the how or the why, but they went back a long time.

     Two weeks later and about 400 autocannon shells downrange, and I was officially qualified to pilot a beat up UrbanMech that was about 10 times older than me.  Uncle Jasper said he was proud, and Mother cried a great deal.  What stands out now in my memories are Father's grim silence, and the story that a family had been quarantined in the next county for the blotchy fever.  So much for second comings...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #3 on: 28 January 2011, 23:07:29 »
     The first one is supposed to make you puke, or cry, or something according to the holovids.  Surprise, surprise, they don't always get it right.  I kinda wish I had puked or cried, or pled with God for forgiveness, but I just moved on to the next target like I was reaping another planted row of the harvest.  My own voice rings in my ears now, replacing father's because I know he wouldn't approve: "Target down, head shot. New target, Panther on the hillside. Firing."

     They came out of the Periphery now and then, taking what they could and busting up the rest.  Bobby Loomis had gotten the legs chopped off his Locust, but I wasn't backing down. It never occurred to me.  A part of me wishes it had, but that part is a sad little voice in the back of my head, a pitiful little devil on my shoulder with a ragged cape and tattered wings.  I can see him now, seriously.  The little bastard is right there and I don't know how I missed him.  He looks just like the county alderman who was supposed to lead the rescue brigade but ran off to the bomb shelters and locked children out in the streets as the first bandit 'mechs touched down...

     It's eight hours later and Bobby Loomis and Pappy Griffith are swearing to the Provincial Magistrate that it was a bandit that executed the alderman, and I discharged my weapon at the fleeing brigand.  The Angel on my other shoulder only cries a little as Pappy (Sergeant-Major Griffith for all slackers civvies and non-hackers of any sort) pats me on the back and says the most damning words I've ever heard:  "Don't you worry Tommy-boy, they all had it comin'. It gets easier after a while."

     God I hope he's wrong, it can't possibly get any easier.  It was the easiest thing I've ever done in my life...  To think that all I have to show for 20 years of life are two acknowledged kills, a piddly-ass medal, a dead politician and a gnawing empty hole in my gut.  The farm I grew up on is only a few kilometers away but it may as well be a galaxy away the way I feel now.
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #4 on: 28 January 2011, 23:09:46 »
     Two more years have gone by, and Father seems to be shrinking before my eyes.  We hadn't spoken much over those two years, not that he ever really spoke much, and I blamed myself.  I had learned some of the things Father had seen fit to hide from us over the years and I had begun to understand.  I was still naive enough to think I understood it all then, but it was really just a beginning.  Governor (formerly Mayor) Loomis had gotten the paperwork expedited due to Father's condition, and I was officially a civilian again even though I couldn't really imagine ever being a civilian and a farmer after what I'd seen.

     The look in Father's eyes tells me his time is short, in a way that the doctor couldn't express.  I've seen that look in mens' eyes before, and for the first time the meaning there sinks in.  There's an open door behind me that only he can see, and he's trying like hell to concentrate on me instead of what's waiting through that door.

     "When I was your age I fought like hell Tommy-boy.  I did horrible, evil things in war so that you wouldn't have to.  I killed with abandon, with no second thought because I hoped that if I killed enough maybe my sons and daughters wouldn't have to kill at all.  My failure cost me a son and a daughter, and trapped another son in the same cycle.  I'm sorry.  You do what you need to to keep the family going, and remember that I'm proud of you even if you have to follow my footsteps."

     I told Mother that he'd gone ahead to Heaven because I knew that would make her feel better.  In my heart I knew that if there really was something after death he was more likely on his way to Hell to save me a seat by the fire.  Two days later I shoveled the last bit of dirt onto Father's grave, packed the few possessions I had left and set out for the stars.  The old autographed picture of Prince Hanse gave me enough to book passage to Outreach and still leave something for Mother and Uncle Jasper.  As the only sun I'd ever known faded away behind the tramp freighter I couldn't help but think that it was my failure just as much as Father's...

*****

    I remember that it felt great to smell clean (relatively) unprocessed fresh air.  I had never seen anything quite so busy as Harlech Interplanetary DropPort, but the thing that stuck in my mind most of all was the pleasant breeze blowing in off of Lake Kearney.  Kinda strange what stays with you over the years...

     I was waiting for the shuttle that would take me to my temporary home, a boarding house that catered to prospective mercenaries.  Most of the others were very similar to me, travelling light with little or no baggage.  A few were better dressed, and the majority of the people waiting at the shuttle stop seemed to want to avoid them.  Later on I realized that nobody wanted to be near them because they were mostly rich kids playing at being soldiers.

     As I was skimming over the list of units who were seeking recruits it occurred to me that I was further from home than I ever intended to go, on a planet that was almost entirely dedicated to warfare as an industry.  I felt like I was in well past my depth.  Like any minute someone from the MRBC, or maybe immigration, or even the kids I saw playing in the park would start pointing and telling me I didn't belong here.  Three things happened that night to set my mind at ease.  First, the matronly old woman who ran the boarding house (I feel guilty for forgetting her name) served Shepherds' Pie for supper, a recipe that may as well come from Mother's kitchen back home.  Secondly, and perhaps a result of nostalgia caused by supper, I recalled something Father said years earlier: "At least with mercs you know what they're fighting for."

     The third piece of the puzzle was a message that came after supper: a representative from one of the units I had sent my records too upon arrival wanted to meet me in the morning.  I had been on planet for less than eight hours and I already had a legitimate interview scheduled.  With any luck I would soon have no doubts as to what I was fighting for...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #5 on: 28 January 2011, 23:13:21 »
     He laughed at me when I stood at attention after entering the office.  I had rehearsed it in my mind at least a hundred times while I was on the MagLev train into downtown Harlech.  "Be cool, act casual" I had told myself, and of course I chucked it all out the drop-hatch as soon as I walked into the office.  The guy behind the desk seemed too young to be a major regardless of the rank insignia on his (not exactly starched) lapels, and his laughter probably would have been contagious if I hadn't prompted it by sounding like a raw recruit when I announced my name, rank (technically former rank) and proudly proclaimed "Reporting as ordered, Sir!"

     When the laughter stopped he regarded me with pale blue eyes behind aviator-style glasses, eyes that looked as though they were sizing me up as prey.  I don't remember much of what Major Honeywell asked me, but I remember thinking that his accent was similar to mine, and he wanted to see the gun camera footage that my initial resume had promised.  I felt somehow reassured by the fact that his uniform was cut similar to AFFC field BDU's and his mannerisms were a dead ringer for Pappy Griffith.  It wasn't until two hours later, after scheduling the simulator time and filling the cup for the drug test that I realized I had actually used my cigar clippers and lighter to start both of our cigars after roughly forty-five minutes of gun-cam footage off my BattleROMs from home.

*******

   I was sweating like a fat kid in a candy store, and the sports drink that the Major handed over was perhaps the sweetest thing I'd ever tasted.  My three companions and I had just completed a field exercise meant to simulate a mixed-arms engagement, and apparently we had performed well.  We had spent the day piloting BattleMechs around the plains southeast of Harlech, with weapons set for simulated fire and extra sensors strung on the outside of our machines.  My lancemates and I had just led a simulated Star of Clan mechs into an ambush of Armor and Infantry units.  All four of us made it through in one piece, and major Honeywell was all smiles for the first time I could remember since our initial meeting a week ago.

     "This is a solemn moment, full of import and tradition." He said it with a strange grin that made me wonder...  "Gentleman, and Lady (apparently out of deference to the rather striking red haired woman who had piloted the beat up Clint), welcome to the Vandenburg Lancers."  With that proclamation he tossed each of us a cold blue and gold can that proclaimed "Traditional Brewing Heritage Since 1775."

     Looking back now I see the angel on my shoulder weeping silently.  I think I know why I missed his input then, because the devil on the other shoulder was whispering in my ear, and his words were a corruption of Father's...

     "The major just trusted you with an 8 million C-Bill machine.  You're an investment now.  So long as you're worth more to him alive than dead he's your best friend."

*******

   I expected my first combat drop to be more stressful, to see my life flash before my eyes, or hear the age-old crack about the express elevator to hell, going down.  The two history buffs in my company had promised to explain why it was funny that the Master Chief in charge of the drop bays was called "Otis", but I had other concerns at the moment.

     The training battalion was dropping hot onto what should have been a peaceful planet in the Sarna March.  We were supposed to stand garrison duty and run exercises in the backwoods before we joined the rest of the Lancers on the Jade Falcon border.  Roughly two minutes after emerging from our jump I realized that plan had been chucked out the window.  I was on the bridge of the Hemisphere Dancer when the message arrived, and I saw Major Honeywell's reaction.  Less than a minute later I was calling the unit together in anticipation of action while the Major was still sorting through messages from the departing garrison troops.

     The overconfident Lyran in charge of the garrison had shipped his entire mech battalion to the jump point before we arrived, and jumped out within minutes of our arrival.  At the major's order all three of our droppers disengaged and rendevoused early, then commenced a 1.5G burn towards the planet.  Within minutes we began to receive word of a planetside insurgency and attempted coup.  We would have to plan the drop short-handed, without individual company commanders because their 'mechs had been sent ahead and apparently captured.  Some of the new recruits believed it was another test, that it couldn't be true.  Debates flared when the officers weren't around on the 3 day trip, I ignored most of them, concentrating instead on last minute adjustments to the neuro-helmet and LB-Series Autocannon on my newly assigned Enforcer.

     Any doubts I might have had about the veracity of the reported coup evaporated in the heat flashes of the mega-joule rated lasers of a handful of unmarked fighters flying BARCAP over the capitol city.  I gnawed on an unlit cigar as I psyched myself up for the coming fight.  I knew it would be all too real.  Hopefully all that sim-time would prove useful...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #6 on: 28 January 2011, 23:16:57 »
     The local police chief was a pro-Davion all the way.  He grew up as a non-citizen under Capellan rule, then made a name for himself out of skill and determination after old Hanse gave the planet to his blushing young bride as a wedding present.  A hell of a thing to think that some old bastard's mid-life crisis can change your destiny, huh?

     Police Superintendant Chan believed that the insurgents were recieving aid from his former nation, and I was inclined to believe him.  I had gun-cam footage to back my claim of four kills, and one of them was a Vindicator in suspiciously good condition.  the Stinger and one of the UrbanMechs bore hastily painted over insignia of the planetary militia, but the other Urbie and the Vindie looked better cared for, and it appeared that insignia had been sanded off, then painted over.  We were all suspicious, bordering on paranoid, and the battalion was setting up a perimeter around the capitol city.  Golf Company (my unit, led by Major Honeywell) was in the city proper, Hotel was covering the southern flank and Indigo was covering the north.  Even our AFFC liason was edgy.  He was a combat vet who had his personal mech (a Wolverine) sent ahead, and it had been stolen along with the command units.  All told they had gotten a -7D Wolverine, a Nightsky, and upgraded models of a Quickdraw and JagerMech from us.  I wasn't looking forward to trying to recapture them.

     I took time to kick back a beer with Bobby Loomis while the techs were welding some replacement armor onto my Enforcer.  I hadn't realized my old neighbor was in the unit until the pre-drop briefings.  He was still driving a fast recon unit, but apparently Skip (General Vandenburg) had ponied up for a better armed Koto rather than the Locust that "Bobby Blues" had driven back home.  I think Bobby summed things up well when he likened this assignment to playing for a spot on the pitching rotation of our high school baseball team.  He wasn't amused when I reminded him how many of his wild pitches i had blocked off my catchers' mask...

*******

     We knew they were Liaoists, but we couldn't prove it with enough certainty to make a difference at high command levels.  I had studied enough military history (as though any other sort counted with humans...) that the "widening the war" concerns caused me to muse over the fundamental lack of change in politicians over the last millenia.  The damed VTOLS I saw flying for both sides reminded me of the awful 20th Century movies that the red-haired woman from Hotel Company insisted on watching on her off nights.  Two nights ago I had held her while she cried after watching "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon."  Last night I had made excuses and politely begged off when she offered an interesting proposition to myself and Bobby Loomis...

     I hoped rather fervently that Bobby was concentrating on the situation at hand, rather than what might have been last night...  Apparently he had cored an old Locust and a Stinger, but he and the Lieutenant in charge of the Recon Lance were fleeing from a Vindicator and two unidentified VTOLS.

     I thought that "fleeing" might be too harsh a term as the first VTOL filled my gunsight pipper.  I waited 'til Lt. Hasegawa's Spider and Bobby's Koto were clear, then selected cluster rounds for my LB-X autocannon and opened fire.  The first VTOL seemed to stagger in mid-air, then plummet suddenly and catastrophically.  The other VTOL became a greasy orange fireball thanks to Sgt. Roland's SRM rack and stuttering autocannon fire.  The poor sap driving the Vindicator probably didn't worry until our new addition from Hotel Company stepped into the clear and announced his presence with paired PPC blasts, SRMs and twin flamers.  Lieutenant Schwarzkopf had temporary command of the Combat lance until the Major's Nightsky was ready for action.  For now his "HotHammer" suited us just fine.

     Rumor had it that we'd be shipping out for the clan OZ border soon, to join the rest of the Lancers on raiding and garrison duty.  I felt that it would be a welcome relief from this counter-insurgency crap, even if we did have to fight the Falcons.  Last week I killed a man with my service automatic, and two with an antique shotgun my father left to me.  I wouldn't trade places with them , but I had expected all the killing to happen over electronic gunsights.  This past week had been closer and more personal than I had bargained for.  I wanted to feel horrified, but it seemed I was too busy...

******

     A few weeks later I was on a planet I didn't even know the name of providing perimeter security on a secondary LZ.  Roland and I were tasked with Anti-Air duty along with a couple of guys from Fire Lance.  We had snuck into a system in the Jade Falcon OZ via a pirate point, and burned in on a high speed "Wildcat" vector to play a special role.  While the main force of the Lancers occupied the Falcon forces on planet the training battalion was supposed to drop behind the lines, rescue the staff and students of an engineering school, and extract them off-planet.

     At first I had felt insulted that I was standing guard while people from Hotel company went on the extraction mission, but now I was too busy calling out vectors to approaching aero-fighters.  I had splashed 2 fighters with LB-X flak, and J.T. Roland had an uncanny knack for putting every round of an Ultra Auto-Cannon burst into a target.  With Sgt. Levesque's Rifleman and Kurtz's Crusader added in we made it pretty damned hazardous to fly near our LZ.

     The devil on my shoulder had started to look like the old picture of Hanse Davion, and he urged me to blast every damn clanner I could from the sky.  They had killed my friends and relatives, and would kill me and everyone else they could if I didn't get them first.  The Angel on the other shoulder seemed to be embarrassed to wear my Father's face as it said it's peace:  "They're doing their job same as you Tommy-boy.  Shoot them down if you have to, but show them mercy if you can."  I must not have believed the Angel because it looked like an old picture of Father, not the stern-faced man I had known all of my life.

     I had emptied my ammo bin but I was daring them to send more fighters my way even as I back-walked my Enforcer up the ramp onto the dropship.  Looking back I think that I would have said the same thing if I had the antiquated shotgun as a weapon, rather than a 50 ton BattleMech.  How did I ever get so angry?

     The sounds of an early 21st century rock band were echoing over my external speakers then, courtesy of the red-haired vixen from Hotel Company.  The singer from Nonpoint echoed my thoughts even though he was a thousand years in the past: "My God, what have I done? Please forgive me...  %*^# THAT!"  Part of me wants to say damn her and her obsession for terran history, but I know that's just the devil trying to deflect the blame...

*******

     The Falcons must have sent the raiding force less than 48 hours after we left, they were so close on our heels.  Our dropship captain was in the hospital recovering from the stress of standing nearly four days of constant bridge watch under high-G acceleration to make sure we beat the clanners "home."  Now that my "battle-rage" had faded I almost felt sick when I thought of my performance on the raid.  I didn't hate the clanners so much when I had time to think about it.  Hell, I didn't hate them as much as the Lyran jackass that had given us our deployment orders over the past 24 hours.

     Time meant so much now, for the first time in my life it seemed.  The Falcons had arrived in-system approximately 40 hours after we did.  By the time we knew about their arrival we barely had a 36 hour lead on them.  We had made planetfall 28 hours ago, and been ordered into the field roughly 24 hours ago.  Our position had barely shifted since, and Major Honeywell cursed continuously about the fact that the Falcons had to know exactly where we were.  He was on a field phone with a hard-line connection to HQ, and from my vantage point atop my Enforcer I could hear parts of his conversation with General "Skip" Vandenburg.  I heard him say "thank you sir." before he tossed the phone aside and gave the order to mount up.

     "What are we doing sir?" I asked.

     "Our damn job, whether that blue-suited prick Manfred likes it or not Corporal." was the reply.  Was it just me, or did his voice sound kinda like Father's just then?
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #7 on: 28 January 2011, 23:19:49 »
     Throughout human history there has been a phenomenon where people relate to each other based on where they were or what they were doing when they found out about some great tragic event.  "Where were you when JFK (or a few years later RFK) was shot?"  "Where were you when O.J. was acquitted?" The list goes on: When L.A. rioted over a court verdict, when Princess Di was killed, when the towers fell, when James McKenna died, when Tintavel was obliterated, when Richard Cameron was executed, when Kentares was soaked in blood, and now most recently when Melissa Steiner-Davion was killed.  The tendency probably goes back to Brutus and Caesar and the Ides of March; but it isn't March, and I'm not stuck between Romans with gladii, I'm stuck between soldiers loyal to one or another of her last names who control fusion powered weapons that would have made those Romans shit their togas.  Not a happy place to be...

     The Steiner-loyal mechwarriors commanded by Hauptmann-General Manfred Kurtzmann scowl at us and say we're protecting "disloyal elements" because we disobeyed "Shorty's" orders and saved a Davion-loyal tank battalion that would have been chewed up by a Clan raiding force a week ago.  The Tankers, commanded by Kommandant Terry Mackall, thought we were protecting the "Damned Lyrans" because we wouldn't swear that Manfred left them to hang on purpose.  Things had deteriorated badly enough in the past week that General Vandenburg (he insisted that I call him "Skip") had issued a message to all active duty personnel on planet.

     "During these difficult times it is imperative that we remember our duties to each other and to the citizens we protect. Whether we enlisted as soldiers for our homeland or signed a contract to fight for a price, we agreed to defend the interests and the people of the Federated Commonwealth to the best of our abilities.  Have no doubt that the men under my command will not falter in that duty, even should all those around us forget their oaths.  We do not stand for Steiner nor Davion, we swore an oath to the Federated Commonwealth and we shall stand by that oath.  We will combat ANY and ALL threats to that Commonwealth regardless of origin until our contract expires or we are released from it by due process of law. We wish to thank all of the soldiers who stand by their oaths alongside us in these trying times.
                                                                                                  From the desk of General Albert Vandenburg Jr."

     The message was a thinly veiled threat to the AFFC forces on planet with us.  If you could read between the lines it said: do your job and there is no problem, mess with us or each other and there will be hell to pay.  The whole situation was kinda like baby-sitting my younger cousins, but with the potential to get much bloodier...

*******

Two weeks...   Doesn't seem like long in the great scheme of things, but sometimes two weeks is long enough...

In the last two weeks I've fought the "Clanners" twice, disobeyed a direct order from a Lyran general on orders from a mercenary Major, and taken the time to re-examine my hatreds in light of recent experience.  Going by what I've learned from Sandra (that red-haired Lady-Satan from Hotel Company) the Clanners are just doing what they're told according to a much more ingrained and effective ad campaign than any the Federated Commonwealth ever put together.  Hell, I almost feel sorry for the clanners.  they didn't just buy the con, they were born into it.  The poor bastards...

Those thoughts aside I'm supposed to help plan out next weeks combined-arms live fire exercise.  Mackall's tankers are looking for an excuse to crucify any MechWarrior they can, and Skip wants us to make peace.  Ozzy (Major Honeywell) thinks I'm a good candidate since I share a common background with Kommandant Mackall and most of his men.  I only faound out later that the Major had shown them my gun-cam footage from home, complete with tac-channel sound and a short biography.  Most of these guys outrank me, I don't want to be their hero...

********

     Human nature being what it is I know that you want to hear the good news first.  I would too in your shoes, so here it comes:  I had only lost one Mech, about a platoon worth of infantry and two tanks from my hastily assembled garrison force.  Balanced against that we had decimated two lances of Mechs personally led by "shorty", perhaps better known as Hauptmann General Manfred Kurtzmann.  I had no shame at all about putting a simulated LB-X round through his cockpit, it was the message I got next that made unpleasant orifices pucker...

     "Drop-port control to all available planetary defense units: An un-identified Mech and various support vees have broken our perimeter heading North-East.  Preliminary data indicates one medium Mech with vehicular support travelling at speeds approaching 90 KpH, on a heading 035 from drop-port control facilities.  All units intercept and contain using all due force."

     That transmission had me concerned, but not overly worried until Sandra exclaimed "What the hell are the Scorpions doing here?!?!?!" when she saw the relayed data from the 'port.  She had tried to explain Clan politics and interaction to me a few nights ago, but I begged off with a headache.  Upon Hearing the word "scorpion" I regretted that laziness on my part, and ordered all my forces to move on an intercept vector.  If the Clans called them "grave-robbers" I was pretty sure I didn't want them on any planet I was charged with protecting...

*******

     Loomis, Roland and I moved out in a hurry once our ammo bins were stocked, and I do believe we owe those techs a round of drinks for the quick pit stop.  Major Honeywell formed up with us on the way about the time we got a SitRep from the first units on scene.  The three quarters of Hotel Company's Recon lance that had functional Mechs had arrived at an abandoned farmstead to find a single Phoenix Hawk and a battered old recovery vehicle parked near the house.  The P-Hawk hadn't made any moves since they arrived, but Lt. Ernst Model was holding his forces back until some backup could arrive. Apparently he thought the whole thing might be a trap, and everyone was kind of edgy because Sandra (Hotel Company's resident Clan expert) had recognized the insignia on the Mech's shoulder as a Goliath Scorpion insignia.  Few of us had ever heard of the Goliath Scorpions, and she was probably the only warrior in the whole battalion that had any clue what they were capable of...

     We arrived shortly on the heels of a beat up SHadow Hawk from Hotel's Command Lance, and formed a loose line to the East of the farmhouse.  Corporal Granger (arguably the best scout in the battalion, and definitely the heaviest drinker) pointed out some confusing details: while the Mech was clearly a Phoenix Hawk the configuration was unfamiliar, and although the largest insignia was a stylized scorpion on the right shoulder, there was a piece high on the left torso that bore a small Steiner Fist, what appeared to be a unit patch of some sort, and several kill markers along with a name and some sort of slogan that appeared to be German.

     "Sir, it reads "Uberhaupt Zuverlassig" or something like that , I don't know what that means." she said.

     Lt. Model responded in his almost stereotypically Lyran accent with a translation: "It means Ever Faithful in English, and it vas ze rallying cry of a group of Lyran volunteers who aided Herr General Kerensky against ze usurper."

     "Thank you Leftenant and Corporal." Replied the Major, sounding cool, calm and collected.  "I think it's time we spoke to our visitor.  Keep alert people, just because we have an eight to one advantage doesn't mean one of our mothers won't get a letter if he gets uppity and lucky."

     You know those stories about how the commo suites on the old-school P-Hawks were superior and could listen in on all sorts of frequencies?  Yeah, apparently they're true because he broke in our guard channel and spoke as if he'd been listening in on our conversation.  If anything that ought to serve as a lesson about commo discipline...

     "Welcome to the Reinhold farm MechWarriors, or at least welcome to what is left of it.  Leftenant Model is quite correct regarding both the translation and origin of the decoration upon this BattleMech, although I am afraid that explanations regarding those markings and my presece here must wait until some formalities are addressed.  Major, please allow me to introduce myself.  I am Jason, a humble Seeker of Clan Goliath Scorpion, and the gentlemen in the vehicle next me are my bondsmen.  I am here to challenge you to a trial of possession for the grounds of this farm.  With what forces will you defend this claim?"

     I swear to this day that the Major laughed when he heard that.  He actually laughed.  I certainly didn't expect that...

********

     I was sure the Major would step up and answer the challenge himself, but Roland surprised us.  He stepped his Wolverine forward into the clear and announced that he would face the strange Clansman.  The rest of us stepped back so he would have room to maneuver, and the two approached each other cautiously, sizing each other up from a distance while autocannon rounds and laser beams started the exchange.

     It was like watching a boxing match, each opponent testing the other with well timed jabs and then moving, looking for a weakness to exploit.  For some minutes this continued, and it seemed like an eternity.  Roland seemed to stumble and the Clanner darted inside to press his advantantage, but Roland's counter attack was telling, and both of them staggered and fell to the ground.  When they regained their footing the fighting got vicious, and both warriors fired all out volleys in an effort to end the contest quickly.

     When the smoke cleared the Phoenix Hawk was standing motionless, and I could see the damaged reactor shielding and gyro.  The Clanner's mech had shut down and Roland was demanding his surrender...

********

     I remember being surprised several times that day. I was surprised when Roland beat the clanner, but even moreso when he showed mercy.  Roland had lost his home during the Clan Invasion and had little hope of seeing it or his family ever again, yet he gave the Scorpion a chance to surrender, saying "Killing you accomplishes nothing."

     Once the defeated Scorpion exited his 'mech we met the bondsmen who had accompanied him, a young technician and an aged and scarred (former) elemental.  When Roland refused to take them as bondsmen they seemed confused, but he simply stated "We don't do that here."  It was then that they voiced their request.

     They had brought a small box containing the earthly remains of Gunther Reinhold, a Lyran citizen who had volunteered to fight against Stefan Amaris nearly three centuries ago, then followed Aleksandr Kerensky on his Exodus, then finally died protecting civilians after refusing to follow Nicholas Kerensky on another Exodus when humans followed their nature even in a new home and continued to war against each other.  They wanted to bury the remains on the grounds of the farm, as an honor to the fallen warrior.  They had found the location of his home after reading a journal they had found with his body, and Jason had seen this mission as a sort of spiritual quest.  Soldiers bringing a fallen soldier home to rest, how could we say no?

     As we prepared the grave the rest of the Lancers arrived and set up a perimeter.  General Vandenburg parked his Stalker squarely in front of General Kurtzmann's Zeus and proclaimed that we had the situation under control and did not require his aid.  I almost wish I could have seen that, but I was helping Benjamin, the Elemental, dig the grave.  Mostly I listened to him tell me about the things that he had read in Reinhold's journal while he dug at a pace I couldn't hope to match.  Benjamin had seen war and survived, but had failed to earn recognition among his clan.  He envied the simple existence of the farmer that Reinhold had written about in his journal.  Benjamin had at first been dumbfounded that a warrior such as Reinhold might wish to return to his roots as a laborer after "rising above them" but he had since decided that it sounded like a pleasant way to finish out one's days if one couldn't die in battle.

     Before we finished digging the grave the unit's lawyer had filed the papers to solidify a legal claim to the land for us, and to officially grant a work visa and resident alien status to Benjamin so that he could tend the farm and watch over the gravesite.  The old farm fell within our area of responsibility so it wasn't hard to push that claim through despite Kurtzmann's protests.  Securing safe passage offworld for Jason was somewhat more taxing, but that exchange marked the moment when I decided I would follow General Skip Vandenburg to the gates of Hell if need be.

     "Frankly Manfred, I don't care if some reporter said there were Clanners in the area, I'm telling you it's an honor guard bringing a fallen soldier home.  My legal attache says there is nothing in the legal precedent regarding how long ago that soldier fell, so long as he or she was a Lyran citizen and the honor guard does not conduct hostile operations against Lyran forces.  I'm granting him safe passage out of here if I have to walk him onto my dropship and accompany him back to the front myself."  I believe that Skip would have done that too, had Kurtzmann pushed the issue, but "Shorty" was afraid of two things: 1) that Skip could thrash him badly in a one-on-one fight, and 2) that a dubious legal challenge might derail his career aspirations.

     In the end Kurtzmann caved in, Jason made it out of Lyran space, Benjamin learned how to be a farmer, and we sowed the seeds of our own misery in the years to come.  A "Social General" is still a General after all...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #8 on: 28 January 2011, 23:25:12 »
     Another year and a half on the "Clan Front."  It doesn't sound like such a long time when you look back from the outside, but it was long enough for things to start going horribly wrong.  Any chance we might have had to gain ground got squandered by ridiculous and often conflicting orders from General Kurtzmann.  It seemed that if "Shorty" could find a shit detail on any given mission he assigned it to us.  We were the spearhead on any raiding attack, the isolated stand on any defensive action, and the bait for every trap he could cook up.  We couldn't prove any misconduct on his part, but it was clear that he was exacting revenge for the way we embarrassed him early in our stay.

     We were leaving soon, most of us at least.  Our AFFC liaison officer had gotten us a rotation back to the Sarna march to rest and refit, and we needed it.  Our mech forces had been reduced from regimental size to just over two functional battalions.  Our armor and infantry support had been savaged, reduced to less than half their size.  Those losses were tough enough, but what threatened to break us was the way our dead were treated.  All requests to send remains home had been denied.  Obviously there were issues sending bodies to places in the O.Z., and the Taurian government had declared that all Taurians serving in our unit were persona non grata, but the easy ones were denied out of hand.  There was always an excuse, always a reason, and even though each excuse was different the end result was the same.  Our dead counted for nothing in the eyes of the General that sent them to their end.

     Benjamin, the scarred old Elemental who had taken up farming last year provided plots for our fallen next to the grave we had dug together for Gunther Reinhold.  He said he was honor-bound to provide a place for our warriors to rest, and when other locals came out to pray at the burials we knew that somebody cared.  That kept us going.

     Here I am preparing to leave a world I hadn't known the name of two years ago, that I had bled to protect.  The Lancers and the local farmers had taken to calling this place "Reinhold Field", and we had erected a fence around its meager collection of graves.  I stood over the grave of my childhood friend Bobby Loomis, feeling guilt that I was looking forward to leaving this rock when he never would.

     "Robert will rest easy here with his comrades in arms my friend, I will watch over them."  I hadn't heard Benjamin approach, and I was amazed at the large man's ability to move silently for probably the thousandth time.  I was glad I had never had to face an Elemental outside of my mech every time I saw his feats of strength, endurance and agility, and realized he would be considered a washed up has-been compared to the ones I saw in their suits across the battlefield.

     "Thank you Benjamin.  We leave tomorrow, and General Vandenburg has asked me to extend an invitation for you to join us."  I knew he would say no, and part of me was glad.  We were leaving something important behind and he would guard it.  High Command said we hadn't lost any targets of strategic importance.  How could I tell Bobby Loomis' family that he wasn't important?

     "Good journey Lieutenant, perhaps we shall meet again."

********

     The troop briefing was being held in the mech hangar, and there were armed guards at the doors.  Skip thought that our cakewalk posting was about to turn ugly.  Some of the guys didn't believe him, but I'd seen it happen the last time I was in the Sarna March after they recruited me.  It seemed like a century ago sometimes, but then I remembered having to kill an infiltrator inside our forward base with an old shotgun.  Damn, I didn't want to have to do that ever again.

     "I dinna see how this is gwan ta affect us, sir.  The Marik border isna so close ta us here."  The comment was from McMurphy.  His mouth often seemed to kick into gear before his brain engaged, and he was unable to see how the death of Joshua Marik at the NAIS might cause problems for us near the Liao border.  Thankfully his lance-mate and self-appointed protector Vinnie Saragusa spoke up before I had to.  He may not have been terribly eloquent, but he did whack McMurphy upside the head for emphasis. I'm sure the entire unit approved.

     "Cause it tends ta piss a guy off when his son dies in your care, Drew.  Add in the fact that his daughter is shacked up with the guy across the border who wants this planet back, and we end up with a big frikkin' target on our asses."

     Skip was just full of good news that day.  "On top of that our garrison will be short-handed for a time.  Katherine has officially denounced Victor's efforts to conceal Joshua Marik's death, and recalled all Lyran units in this portion of the FedCom.  She's proclaiming the Lyran half of the realm to be an independent nation again.  On the bright side that means we probably won't have to go back to the Clan Front anytime soon.  On the not-so-bright side it means we're losing our backup on planet because they were Lyran troops.  If any of them owe you from the Poker games you think I didn't know about, I'd suggest you try to collect ASAP."

     I was nearly speechless at the thought that a nation I had watched grow until I took it for granted was splitting in two.  If only it had really been that easy to split up...

********

     We had managed to fill many of the holes in our roster before we got hit, but we still weren't strong enough to fight off Capellan forces that had us outnumbered, and thought they were reclaiming rightful territory.   Victor and Katherine were managing to lose the territory their father had arrogantly claimed as a wedding gift for their mother, and soldiers like us were bleeding for it.

     We had been split up by lance for our mission assignments for the past week.  It would have been a nice change of pace to have that operational freedom if I didn't realize that it was a result of having too many jobs and not enough manpower.  My "Sweeper Lance" of Indigo Company was screening a convoy of refugees on the way to the spaceport, trying to escape before Sun Tzu Liao's "Xin Sheng" movement took another world back from a nation that had believed itself to be the most powerful in the Inner Sphere.   We were taking fire the whole way in, and the fall back order was no surprise when it came.  All Lancers were to ROW (Retreat Off World) as soon as our current missions were finished.  There was a Union-class dropper (The venerable old Hemisphere Dancer as it turned out) waiting for us at the spaceport, guarded by our Recon Lance and the Fire Lance from Hotel Company.  All we had to do was buy the civilians time to get off the ground, then survive the trip to the spaceport ourselves...

     We had split into pairs so that we could set moving ambushes and provide overwatch for each other as we moved to the next position.  So far it seemed to be working, but I was running dangerously low on ammo,  and Corporal Nilsson's Valkyrie was nearly shot.  I made the decision to send her ahead to the spaceport because I didn't want to have to cover a fleeing mechwarrior on foot.  Larry Bender and a couple of his tankers had volunteered to light off a volley or two with their Strikers' LRM racks before they fell back, so I wasn't too worried.  That much fire from ambush ought to make the Cappies think twice before following us, and maybe buy us all enough time to get off the ground.

     I had made my shots count, crippling a Hunchback before he could close to fire back and and shredding the cockpit of the Raven that seemed to be leading the Liao pursuers, but my ammo was nearly spent and my ride was prepping to leave whether I was on it or not so I was on a dead run for the ramp.  I watched John A. Dikhed and Vinnie Saragusa from Hotel's Fire Lance shepherd a few straggling vehicles up their ramps as the bay doors were closing, and silently cursed when I saw who guarded the remaining ramp.  Drew McMurphy's Awesome stood at the top of the ramp, laying out a withering fusillade of PPC bolts at my pursuers, and I should have felt grateful for the MegaWattage of power being thrown their direction, but I wasn't for three reasons.

1) I had little confidence in McMurphy's gunnery skills.  He had been OK when he drove an Archer with a big missile load, but with energy weapons he was about as consistent as a politician who couldn't remember what audience he was shmoozing.
2) If McMurphy saved my ass I'd never hear the end of it, from him at happy hour or from the rest of the unit when he wasn't listening.  I'd almost rather have the rest of the unit hear me singing pop diva songs in the shower...
3) McMurphy often seemed to think the beeping from his heat warnings was a pleasant tune to remind you to keep pouring on fire.  The last thing I needed was for an 80 ton Awesome to shut down and block my 50 ton Enforcer's only escape route.

     I had never been much of a religious man, but I had a religious moment of a sort right after that series of thoughts.  I realized that if there is a God he or she must have a sick sense of humor and love to show people like me the flaws in our logic.  It turns out that the last thing I needed wasn't a shutdown Awesome blocking my path, it was an over-stressed left knee actuator while running for my life from hostile forces, with a shut-down Awesome blocking my path...  Maybe it was McMurphy's Law instead of Murphy's...

     The crash was deafening, and I blacked out momentarily.  When I came to there were desperate crewmen shutting the drop doors and strapping our mechs to the floor for an emergency take off while people tried to pull McMurphy and I from our cockpits.  I vaguely remember thinking Bobby Loomis would have been proud of the tackle I laid on that Awesome, knocking us both into the ship and out of the line of fire.  My last thought before a mild concussion combined with high-G acceleration sent me to dreamland was that I wanted one of those new Enfields if my Enforcer was really as bad off as I thought it was.  That and McMurphy was a dumbass...

********

[Out of story]Just to answer a criticism/question or two ahead of time.  I claim no responsibility for naming Lieutenant John A. Dikhed, nor MechWarriors Drew McMurphy and Vinnie Saragusa.  All three were player characters from the last series of the various Vandenburg Lancers campaigns I've run over the years.  The Lieutenant got his name from the Clint Eastwood movie "Pink Cadillac" ("There must be a million names a man can call himself, why would he call himself John A. Dikhed unless he had to?"), and it makes even less sense (or perhaps more) when you consider that the character was obviously a DCMS and Yakuza veteran.  McMurphy and Saragusa were played by two old close friends who both wanted to be Lyrans, and rolled very similar backgrounds, but wanted to be sure their characters were not exactly the same despite the eerily similar dice rolls.  McMurphy ended up being a native of Hesperus II and a product of the predominant business there (the Mech business), and a graduate of Sanglamore on Skye.  Saragusa was a native of Dustball and a product of the predominant business there (the Syndicate), adn a graduate of Blackjack Military Academy before the Clans "whacked" it.

These characters; along with others like Major Honeywell, Maya Granger, Norm Schwarzkopf (three guesses where that player got the name from...), Martin Van Owen,  J.T. Roland, and others are throwbacks to and a way to honor the players who made those campaigns so fun that it stays fresh in my mind years later.[End out of story...]
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #9 on: 28 January 2011, 23:28:13 »
     Watching the negotiating sessions was a new experience for me, seeing the negotiations that led to our next contract.  Our AFFC liason officer made a great effort to get us to stay, but we all had the feeling something big was in the works and nobody would tell us what it was.  Skip said something that seemed to make all the sense in the universe at the time: "Victor can't let the FedCom split up, but we don't have a dog in that fight.  We don't do civil wars if we can help it, they're bad for business."

     The only offer that got serious consideration past a first interview was from the Free Worlds League.  They fought a short and bloodily effective campaign against the Federated Suns, but we hadn't clashed with them personally.  They offered us a posting on the Lyran border, where they expected little or no trouble.  Katherine (Oops, sorry, Katrina...) had officially distanced herself and her realm from her older brother's actions, but the FWL wanted mercs with experience with Lyran tactics to hedge their bets.  We were soon under way to the Free Worlds League with a few new mechs, a freshly inked contract, and high hopes.  I was looking forward to my new assignment, helping to rebuild the shattered Foxtrot Company (Bart's Big Sticks), a chance to prove my worth as a member of the command staff of the Lancers.  We all probably should have known better...

********

     I was beginning to think that duty in the Free Worlds League might just be the best posting for us ever.  We were technically a garrison force, but we had special duties to relive that boredom.  We got to act as OpFor for FWL units that were training against the possibility of fighting Lyran foces in case that border got twitchy again.  We didn't regard that scenario as likely, but the constant training not only helped us keep our edge, it gave us confidence that our backup would be prepared if things went sour.

     Plus it gave me a chance to get used to my new Enfield, and my new position.  I felt as though I had a found a home even though I was moving across the accepted "civilized" part of known space.  These guys trusted me enough to make me an officer, and outfit me with a brand new, state of the art BattleMech.  Maybe I couldn't point to a specific planet on a star chart and say "this is home", but I was at home with these people.  We were an adoptive family of sorts, with a common purpose:  Survival.
     
     I took special delight in trouncing officers who assumed the Lyran forces would use nothing but lumbering assault mechs and "steel wall" tactics.  While that may have been the approach favored by "Shorty" Kurtzmann, I knew that there were enough competent soldiers who would use other tactics that it was dangerous to assume they would all follow the stereotype.  It was my job to teach the FWL officers to properly prepare.  I didn't feel guilty in the least for showing them what tricks my former countrymen might use.  The soldiers on both sides were supposed to prepare properly, and besides, the Lyrans hadn't seemed all that preoccupied with our welfare when we served alongside them, why should I worry about their welfare when their old enemies were willing to pay us and look after our families?

********

     Lunch was good, the beer was tasty (Timbiqui Dark certainly outshone Major Honeywell's favored Stroh's, despite the fact that it wasn't imported from the "Cradle of Humanity"), and the conversation was stimulating, but I still felt uneasy.  I was in the middle of an informal "after action assessment" with the officer I had faced across a simulated battlefield a mere 3 hours ago, and he wasn't wearing the uniform of the Free Worlds League Military that I was used to, but Precentor's robes with a Word of Blake Militia insignia.  It didn't bother me that our employers were letting a glorified phone company take part in the training engagements.  It didn't even bother me that they'd popped a few technological surprises on us.  What bothered me was that this felt like a recruiting meeting, possibly because I almost fell for it.

     "It's not like I believe I'm reading a prayer out of the operators' manual after all, I mean it is just an operators' manual.  What I'm doing when I read that liturgy on start-up is more of a reminder than anything else Thomas.  Do you mind if I call you Thomas? Of course not..."  The man who had fought my troops to a standstill said with a silver tongue.  "These rituals are a reminder to us of what man has lost through his lack of foresight, his foolish belief that he can afford to forget the mistakes of his past.  We recite the liturgies to the machines so that we remember the triumph of the will that produced such technological marvels so many years ago.  It is our sacred duty to protect the knowledge from those foolish men who would squander the collected works of man for a temporary advantage on a battlefield.  That knowledge is the God I pray to Thomas, and the protection of that knowledge for our descendants is my sacred duty.  Our holy crusade to preserve that knowledge will eventually bring long forgotten cures to worlds such as your former home, a new lease on life to all humanity scattered throughout the stars."

     If it was a recruiting pitch he almost convinced me.  But he couldn't argue with the devil on my shoulder.  The one that looked like my Father, and whispered perhaps the wisest words ever spoken into my ear: "If it sounds too good to be true Tommy-Boy, it probably isn't true.  They're a communications company, not a church, no matter how they dress it up."

     An hour later I was being debriefed by a very unhappy looking Major Honeywell and a red-faced General Vandenburg.  "He actually called it a 'crusade?'  I make it a point to avoid crusades son, they're bad for business.  I hope you don't mind trading Timbiqui Dark or Stroh's for Pharaoh, 'cause we're probably headed back to the FedCom once the lawyers get the contract settled."  At the time I felt like it was a "lose-lose" situation either way.
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #10 on: 28 January 2011, 23:33:10 »
     We were back in "FedCom" space, we had been for the past 2 jumps, but I couldn't tell you where exactly.  According to our itinerary we had 2 more jumps to go before we got to our destination but Sgt Jack Leary, my Lance Second had just woken me from a sound sleep and told me that all officers were to report to the conference room on our Jumpship ASAP.  There are few good news reasons for that sort of meeting, and I'm sure the other officers saw the same apprehension in my eyes that I saw in theirs'.

     I was somewhat surprised to see our old AFFC Liaison Officer on board.  Apparently he'd been waiting on a ship near the jump point for our arrival.  Two things about his behavior struck me: he seemed genuinely happy to see us, and he seemed awfully nervous before the briefing.  Maybe that second point doesn't sound like much, but I once watched him beat a Capellan insurgent half to death with an empty pistol when they attacked a supposed secure zone, without any outward sign of emotion.  The fact that I could see the emotions on his face was enough to start alarm bells ringing.

     "Gentleman and ladies, I am here to bring you up to speed on the political situation since you were her last.  Archon Prince Victor has personally led a special offensive against the Clans, and in his absence his sister Katherine, er, sorry... Katrina has assumed his seat on New Avalon as well as Tharkad, effectively reuniting the greatest nation in the Inner Sphere.  She has a monumental task ahead of her, smoothing over the differences that have sprung up over the past few years, while still providing a solid defense for the nation."  At this point in his speech I could almost see the sandbag dropping towards us..    "We are redirecting you back to your former posting on the Clan Front, where your presence has specifically been requested.  You shall be an important part of our defense should the Jade Falcons attempt to take advantage of this readjustment period."

     I was trying not to be cynical, but this sure felt like trouble...

********

     The Leftenant seemed to relax a bit once we reached Skip's "stateroom" and closed the hatch behind us.  "Things are getting wierd guys, Victor's off trying to save the universe, and meanwhile back home his little sister is pulling something that looks an awful lot like a hostile takeover.  There's a lot of speculation, and not a lot of trust on either side of the old border.  Times like this make me miss that old bastard Hanse, at least he acted like he knew which end was up."

     The General seemed to take a moment to think, before stating flatly "I hate sibling rivalry. It's bad for business."

     The mood lightened a bit as Major Hawkins broke out laughing. "Dammit Skip, is there anything you don't hate or think is bad for business?"  Even the General laughed at that for a moment.

     Now it was my turn to speak up. "Why us? Why was our 'presence specifically requested' as you so eloquently put it?"

     "Because the locals there remembered you, and they liked you.  They still tell stories about you, and some of them managed to send word about you to relatives trapped in the OZ.  Because there are people on that planet who are willing to trust you guys with their lives even when Shorty bitches that you're just in it for the money.  That's why you Leftenant.  Don't tell me you got soft on the other side of the sphere, and you don't have the stones for it anymore."  His words were a challenge to me, and the look in his eye was exactly what I remembered from our previous tour.  His previous behavior worried me that much more now, but I wasn't about to back down in his eyes.

     It felt like all the eyes in the room were on me as I answered him.  "Make no mistake Chandler, I'm up for whatever challenge we're headed towards, I'd just like to know what I'm about to step in."  The fact that I used his name rather than his rank should have been a slap in the face, but he just smiled.  That set the devil on my shoulder to laughing hysterically, and I'm glad nobody else could hear what he whispered in my ear...

     "Whatever it is Tommy-Boy, you just stepped in it hip deep."
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #11 on: 28 January 2011, 23:35:59 »
     The ticker-tape parade and cheering crowd seemed a bit like overkill to me, especially since as far as i knew ticker-tape was completely unnecessary for anything but parades for several hundred years.  Seriously, the stock tickers had been completely electronic for how many centuries?...

     Shorty's expression looked strained, his smile forced, and his handshake rather more perfunctory than I had remembered even from him.  The only sincerity I saw was on the faces of a few of the locals, and the tank crews that sprayed us with shaken cans of Pharaoh beer, accompanied by withering glares from the "Social General Wannabes" that hung around Shorty Kurtzmann like a dark cloud.  The beer-drenched devil on my shoulder proudly proclaimed "Screw 'em if they can't take a joke!"  I felt my spine crack as Terry Mackall picked me up and spun me around like a child, and I wondered at the thought that this was a homecoming of sorts for us.  The Vandenburg Lancers came from all over known space, but we had become a family here.

     After the parade we were led (practically carried) to a formation of armored vehicles and APCs (many sporting freshly painted Davion Sword and Sunburst logos) and driven out to an all too familiar farmstead.  Benjamin, the grizzled former Elemental stood at attention at the gate until all of us had passed through.  Looking back now I think there was a little extra moisture around his eyes at the moment, but I was too busy walking towards the gravesites of the soldiers we'd left behind here to notice.  I was drawn to the resting place of my childhood friend Bobby Loomis by a compulsion I couldn't explain.  It was as though I felt guilty that I couldn't take his place down there in the soil... 

********

     For once we were the reserve, rather than being bait for the trap.  I was just thinking that maybe it wasn't such a bad gig when the intel reports started to filter in telling me that all hell was about to break loose.  Shorty had set Mackall's tankers out in front to draw the Falcons in, but had positioned his own forces too far back over broken terrain to set an effective ambush.  To make matters worse the Falcons had figured out the location of his command lance and sent a fast Star of Omnis his way on a head-hunter mission.  Foxtrot was coming to pull his bacon out of the fire, but it started ugly for us.  Captain Simms took a blistering volley of fire from a MadCat and dropped like a sack of potatoes, and we were scrambling to push them back when Kommandant Mackall's message came through.  He was in danger of being overrun, and if his position fell it would leave the Jade Falcon raiding force a clear path along the river to the spaceport and the outlying precincts of the capital city.  I had to make some quick decisions or we would all end up hip deep in the foul stuff...

     I sent Sandra's Raider Lance to rendevous with Mackall at an area we had practiced in on an old FTX (Field Training Exercise), hoping to trade ground away to regain the initiative.  If Terry and Sandra could time it up right they could use the hills at "Green-Two-Charlie" as a trap.  I had to trust them to pull it off, because I was trying to keep the rest of us in the fight as more Falcons showed up at our position.  I had Lieutenant Saragusa's Banshee at my back, standing over Shorty's broken Atlas.  Sergeant Leary and I were covering Saragusa's flanks, making sure no fast movers got around behind him in the chaos.  I figured we just might pull this one out if McMurphy could manage not to shut down his damned Awesome this time...  A series of PPC bolts and missile exhausts, followed by a loud cry of "Aw, shite!" on the tac channel dashed one of those hopes.

     Predictably, the next voice I heard was Jack Leary's.  "Hey Loo, if we live through this, can I shoot that jagoff?"

     "If you can beat me to it..."

*********

     I figured the previous two minutes had taken at least two years off my life, provided of course that nobody else in a clan 'mech showed up to shorten it even more drastically.  We had pushed the would-be headhunters off, and saved Shorty Kurtzmann, but I was sorely tempted to finish the job the clanners had started.  Out of his original command lance there was a battered Warhammer and a barely functional Zeus, and a shattered Marauder lay nearby, autocannon rounds cooking off one by one from the smoldering wreckage.  Unfortunately the comms seemed to be the only part of his Atlas that still functioned worth a damn, as he was starting to bark orders at us.

     Maybe it wouldn't have bothered me so much if the orders made any sort of sense, but we'll never know I suppose.  He wanted four of the remaining operational 'mechs from Foxtrot Company (Bart's Big Sticks) to set up a defensive perimeter, and he actually expected Saragusa to hand over his Banshee...

     I suppose my response was predictable.  "Sir, I'm going to assume that you've got a head injury causing you to speak like an idiot.  I'm not about to stand guard duty over you or let you commandeer one of our mechs to save your pride when there's still work to be done.  Recovery and Medevac teams are on the way to fetch you and Captain Simms ASAP, and you've still got two functioning bodyguards. Hell, I'll even post Saragusa and McMurphy on guard 'til they arrive, but I'm taking Leary and Vargas with me to back up Sandra and Mackall.  Protecting the city takes precedence over protecting your ego."

     He ordered his people to arrest me, but they weren't too eager to move considering that they were outnumbered and outgunned, and my LB-X type autocannon was aimed right at the downed Atlas' head.  I didn't have much ammo left, but I wouldn't have hesitated to use it to frag Shorty. I'd had enough of his incompetence.  Apparently my point got across, since nobody questioned my orders.  The two Lyran regulars (who both outranked me technically) took up close defensive positions while Saragusa (who had more time in rank than I did) and McMurphy moved about two klicks north toward the Falcon lines.  The remains of my Medium Lance followed me northwest to try to save Mackall's tanks and Sandra's Raider lance.  Our day wasn't even close to over yet...

********

     Our friendlies had fallen back to an area my map designated as Green-three-delta, where the river wound through a series of wooded hills.  The idea was to set moving ambushes for the clanners, and make it hard for their Elementals to get into the fight.  Finding the battlefield wasn't difficult, we just followed the smoke plumes from the burning tanks.  We arrived in time to see Sonny Benson's Assassin get its leg chopped off by a clan PPC.  The Raider Lance was down to two operational (but damaged mechs), and Mackall's tank troop had been cut down nearly to half strength.

     I rushed in and backshot some medium sized Omni that I didn't recognize, as LRMs and a PPC bolt blasted in from Leary's Griffin and Vargas' Dervish.  Things turned into one big furball after that, as I fired off the remaining cluster rounds from my autocannon, tearing up a group of those damned Elementals that were trying to pin down Mackall's command tank.  We had managed to cut the numbers down to three clan mechs and a smattering of Elementals, but I saw Sandra's beat up Clint stumble under a withering assault from a Black Hawk.

     My ammo bins were empty, so I fired every laser I had online while I charged at his rear.  He was just beginning to turn to face me as the barrel of my empty cannon caved in most of his mech's head.  I could see him there as the Black Hawk tumbled over, and my gut twisted sickeningly as I saw his neck flex at an angle that God never intended...

     Just that quickly it was over.  The remaining two clanners were falling back, one of them made an attempt to recover a few surviving Elementals, and one last one fell as Sgt. Toth kicked it against the side of a dead tank so hard that it literally tore apart.  His Tarantula was now the only standing mech from Raider Lance, albeit standing a bit awkwardly on only three legs.  There was an unexpected moment of levity as Leary chastised him: "Maybe people'd stop shooting that front leg off if you didn't paint your stupid little mech to match your gawd-awful Hawaiian shirt, Jackass..."

     I decided it was time to check in with HQ as I watched Sandra crawl out of her crippled Clint.  "Lancer actual, this is Foxtrot 5.  We are holding at Green-3-delta.  There are 2 hostiles bugging out toward their LZ, carrying some toads.  Recommend you detail a couple of fast movers onto them to discourage any ideas about regrouping.  A couple of us are Winchester here, and we could use some relief and some recovery teams to pull out casualties."

     "Good job Foxtrot, relief is on the way.  Run on back to the barn as soon as you're relieved."  Hearing that was a relief.  The next part however...  "And by the way, when you get back you're confined to quarters until further notice Lieutenant."
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #12 on: 28 January 2011, 23:46:35 »
     My mouth was dry, and I was standing ram-rod straight at attention despite my numerous promises to my ego that I would act casual.  I had purposely worn my "mercenary dress uniform" to this particular staff meeting, intending to insult "Shorty" Kurtzmann by ignoring his standards.  Too bad Shorty wasn't allowed in according to my CO.  Now I just felt like a jackass standing there in cut-off BDU shorts and a "Gerhardt Dengler and the Streaks Planetary Conquest Tour" T-shirt.  At least the shirt was clean...

     "We're temporarily re-shuffling some of our assignments to plug holes left by casualties.  Foxtrot Company should be at roughly 75% nominal strength by oh-six hundred hours tomorrow."  General "Skip" Vandenburg declared.  "Captain Simms has a fractured leg and a minor concussion. He'll be sidelined for several weeks.  We expect you two hooligans (as he nodded towards myself and Lieutenant Saragusa) to run the company in his absence.  You've both proven yourselves under fire, I expect you to keep it up."

     The General dismissed Saragusa, but he motioned for me to stay behind, along with a few members of his command staff.  He quite noticeably did not motion for me to sit or stand at ease.  I began to regret my choice of head-gear, a black baseball type cap that red "Beer Delivery Man" on a red patch, rather than an LCAF-approved campaign hat.  I felt roughly six inches tall in the presence of some of the few officers that I respected on this God-forsaken planet.

     Major Dashiell Hawkins spoke first, while Skip studiously concentrated on his paperwork. "You did well out there Tom, really well.  Frankly well enough to avoid a court martial, you idiot.  Every staff officer in this unit has gone to bat for you in the past 24 hours, all because you kept fighting when it mattered.  I would advise that you do not make us regret that decision."

     Major Honeywell had something to add: "And next time you feel the need to disobey a Lyran General, please remember proper radio procedure.  There is a long-standing rule, dating back to the 20th century, that if a general officer gives you a crappy order your radio can malfunction and broadcast useless static.  I have never before heard a radio malfunction accuse a General of speaking like an idiot.  I don't expect to get any more reports of such malfunctions Lieutenant, do I make myself clear?"

     I felt a weight lift off my shoulders as the senior officers tried not to grin.  I mustered up the voice I used to use to dodge the DI's wrath in basic: "Sir!  Yes, sir!"

********

     The next two weeks were a blur of drudgery and physical exhaustion.  I wasn't completely off the hook after the meeting with the staff officers.  It had been decided that I needed first hand lessons in what it takes to be a good officer, as well as enough physical exercise to sweat the insubordinate tendencies right out of me.

     My typical day began with PT drills.  Normally we were a little lax by regular army standards on PT, the drills always ran but attendance was usually based on one's job and whether or not you passed the quarterly fitness checkup.  I felt like I was in the best shape since my lacrosse and baseball days in high school after two weeks of this stuff, and it was kinda fun to see the look on Major Hawkins' face when I led the foot infantry on a 10 klick run (that he dropped out of) and then reported for step 2 of my daily purgatory...

     Major Honeywell had decided that I needed to brush up on my technical skills and get a better appreciation for our support crews, so I was picking up 4 shifts a week as an assistant technician while we patched up the damage we had taken in the last raid.  On some level I had thought I knew that a tech's job was tough, but I learned a lot while I played wrench-jockey for those two weeks.  I swore I'd never smart off when a tech griped about finding parts or jury-rigging something ever again after working on "Rowdy", Sandra's battered Clint.  The horror stories you've heard about fixing a Clint's gyro are 100% true as near as I can tell...

     Somewhere in the middle of all this I still had regular patrol duty to run with my lance, as well as planning the company's duty schedule with the Majors and my partner in crime colleague, Lt. Saragusa.  We had to get the unit back up to strength, or as near as we could to be useful by the time Captain Bart Simms was ready for active duty again, and still provide the patrols the citizens of this planet expected from us under our contract.

     On top of that I now had special duty as the battalion staff's "paperwork monkey."  Forms filled in triplicate? Go see Tommy-Boy.  Request to cover expenses incurred during an "after mission debrief" at the "Polecat Revue Saloon and Buffet"?  Tommy-Boy can fill that out for you.  Need to visually confirm delivery of 68 container modules of various caliber autocannon and missile ammunition?  Tommy-Boy will get right on it.  Hotshot Mech-jocks make headlines.  Logistics-weenies make sure the mech-jock has something to shoot at the poor bastard in the accompanying photo for the headline.  After doing both jobs I'm not sure which is more tiring...

     Somewhere along the way I guess I began to border on being competent.  I hope Father would be proud...

********

     I sat on the stone bench, watching the sunset, admiring the way the sun reflected off the two moons that were slowly rising into the sky.  Light pink on the larger of the two, the "early bird" as the locals called it, sometimes visible in the early afternoon, the smaller moon a bright crimson spot on the horizon.  I was acutely aware of the man approaching me from behind, the rhythmic sounds of his cavalry boots in the dusty soil of the old farmstead.  Even a deaf man couldn't have missed the earlier footfalls of his BattleMech.  Despite what the holovids show, 75 tons of Marauder on the move can't possibly be stealthy...

     I was doing my damndest to appear calm, and to keep my hands from straying too near the service automatic in my shoulder holster, or the sawn-off shotgun strapped to my boot (I know it's ridiculous, but Sandra said it looked "dreamy" when some ancient actor named Mel did it in some old film called "Mad Max").  My task was made marginally easier knowing that my old friend Benjamin was watching the whole affair.  To be fair I wasn't 100% sure that he was watching, but I was reasonably sure that he wouldn't miss this, whatever it turned out to be.

     What it turned out to be was a rather surprising visit from Stellan van Riebeeck, the junior member of Shorty's command lance.  I was mildly surprised when he saluted towards the gravesites that my current perch overlooked.  I was very surprised when he turned sharply, then requested permission to speak with me...

     "Leftenant, I request to permission to speak with you candidly, may I take a seat?" he rattled it off in a rapid fire accent that took me a moment to place because it wasn't the typical Lyran German I was growing used to.  Oh yes, the clipped pronunciation pointed out his New Capetown origins.  I braced for the worst as he said "I know you're terrifically busy, I'll be brief"  with a look on his face that was almost comically serious...

********

     I was in a touchy situation and I wasn't sure who I could trust.  If only I could get the Angel and the Devil on my shoulder to stop arguing about who I should talk to maybe I'd feel a bit better about this situation.  I was standing in the corner of Skip's office while I waited for Lt. Kostopoulis to finish sweeping for bugs.  He was from the Free Worlds League, and so was deemed unlikely to take sides in what looked to be an ugly pissing contest.  Of course Skip was there, along with my C.O., Bart Simms, both of whom hailed from the Taurian Concordat.  Lts. John A. Dikhed (former DCMS) and Martin van Owen (fromerly of the FRR KungsArme) from Hotel Company sat in along with Lt. Sandra (Jade Falcon expatriate) and Zeke Toth (a former vice cop from Canopus) from Foxtrot company.  Notably absent were Majors Hawkins and Honeywell and Sgt. Leary (all Federated Suns natives) and Lt. Saragusa (a native Lyran).  I had wanted to keep the meeting smaller, but Toth had stumbled onto it and convinced us it would be easier to misdirect curiosity with a unified front than deny what was happening.

     What was happening was a breakdown of the trust I had grown to depend on among my fellow mercenaries.  We might come from different homes, and work for one employer, but ultimately we had to be loyal to each other.  Now van Riebeeck's words echoed in my head:  "Steiner and Davion will clash, it is only a matter of time.  Katrina's supporter's are looking for like minds amongst you, or for ways to crush you if they think you support Victor.  Watch yourself, someone may try to force a confrontation soon, and I don't wish to face you over a gunsight."

     Now we had the un-enviable position of figuring out the loyalties of our brothers and sisters in arms, as well as preparing for the worst if a civil war should come to pass.  I should have predicted Skip's thoughts: "I hate civil wars.  They're anything but civil and they're bad for business..."

********

     I found myself sitting uncomfortably in mute puzzlement.  One doesn't normally expect to find notes hidden in their roll of toilet paper, so the message in front of me had come as a bit of a surprise.  I found myself thinking of Sandra's old movies, grateful that the note didn't begin with "BOOM!"

     While the note didn't warn of an impending explosion, it did get straight to the point:

Code:
Do NOT read this out loud, Dumbass!  Memorize these instructions, then flush the note away!
1) Walk through the common area to the mech hangar, stopping to say hello to any techs in there.
2) Get a cup of coffee from the pot near Bay 2, then discuss sports or some similar topic with the lead tech there.
3) Call for a taxi using the number above the coffee maker, then walk to the main gate.
4) Watch to see if you're being followed, but don't be too obvious.  Gawking like an ignorant farm boy will give you away.
5) Tell the cab driver who meets you to take you to "Old Town" then await further instructions

     My first thought was that if Leary and the boys wanted to go to the topless bar there were easier ways to arrange it, but then I remembered van Riebeeck's warning.  I flushed away the evidence and got dressed in silence.  With only a little prodding from the devil on my shoulder I reached for my fiber-weave protective vest and an extra magazine for my pistol.  Then I set out for the mech hangar...

********

     For the first few minutes of my walk I was sure there were hidden eyes peering at me, but the feeling had gradually faded away.  As I walked along, coffee in hand, I was almost ready to chalk it up to paranoia.  I hadn't noticed anyone following me or paying undue attention as I passed, but the Devil on my shoulder gleefully pointed out that "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."  Such a cheerful little bastard he was turning out to be...

     The feeling that I was being watched crept back in as i watched the cab approach.  The driver rolled down a window and asked where I was going as I reached for the mini-van's door handle.  When I responded "Old Town" the door unlocked and slid back, allowing entrance but revealing little of the van's dark interior in the dim twilight cast by the Early Bird's crescent shaped reflection in the sky.

     I was already climbing in when I noticed the figure crouched on the floor of the van, hidden from outside view.  It was too dark to make out the person's features, but not too dark to recognize the hold-out laser derringer in his right hand and the datapad that said "SHHHH!!!" in his left hand.   

     I sat down and began to wonder just how big a mistake I had made as the door slid shut beside me...

********

     The partition between the front seat and the passenger space was open, allowing that damned jazz music to rattle my brain while the man crouched on the floor tapped a button on the side of his datapad.  The image changed, spelling out a new message: "Take off your boots and jacket. Pass them forward to the driver. Say nothing."

     I followed his instructions without any backtalk, due partly to my curiosity but mostly to his laser pistol.  After i had passed my boots and jacket forward the partition slid up and closed.  Only then did the crouching man speak, his familiar voice a shock.  "Good job Tommy Boy, I knew I could count on you to follow directions.  Were you followed?"

     "No Chandler" I replied to our AFFC Liaison's question "I wasn't followed, and why the hell are you pointing a gun at me in a cab and sending me cryptic messages like I'm in some cheap spy flick?"

     "Because I believe that I can trust you Tommy, even though you're a rank amateur who didn't spot the four people watching him walk across the base, or figure out that there are hidden bugs in his jacket and boots.  Weird things are happening with the Intel weenies and the command staff, and now the behavior of several of your officers has changed over the past few days too.  Whatever it is I'm out of the loop and that scares the crap out of me.  The way I figure it if I put the gun away and ask nicely you'll probably fill me in on what you know, and that'll probably give me a clue how bad I should worry."

     "And if I don't feel like telling you?" I asked.

     "I don't have to put the pistol away Tommy, and I don't have to ask nicely.  Did you ever stop to think about how vital the big toes are to simple functions like standing upright?  Hard to balance without them."

     Most of the time it was hard to read Chandler's sense of humor and tell when he was joking with you.  I kinda wish this was one of those times...

Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #13 on: 28 January 2011, 23:48:33 »
     Chandler and I sat at the bar in a particularly noisy club, so that nobody would overhear us, except maybe the girl with the light-refractive bikini dancing on the bar.  There was good news and bad news to be had that night, the first round of drinks was on Chandler's tab, but he paid the dancing girl to go away and not come back after the barmaid delivered our Gaussington's Imperial Mint Stouts.  Good beer can only cushion so much of a blow, especially when lust for rent gets chased off at the same time...

     Chandler stammered, then ran his hands nervously through his hair before he spoke.  That said volumes to me that his words left out.  "There are roughly three times the normal complement of intel officers here Tommy, and most of them are outside the normal command net.  Do you know what that means?"  He didn't wait for an answer before he continued "They're up to something, and they're not telling any of the 'shaken-not-stirred brigade' what it is.  Most of your officers are under surveillance, and Leftenant Van Riebeeck has a constant shadow."

     "Yeah, Kat's people are keeping an eye out for disloyal officers Chas, what else is new?  We went through this back on our first tour here."  I replied.  I was totally unprepared for the venom in Chandler's voice when he replied.

     "It's different this time you moron, because they're not just watching you mercs, they're watching EVERYBODY.  There are spooky types following a member of Shorty's own command lance at all times.  If they don't trust the people that Lyran High Command sent to back him up how do you think they see you mercenaries?"

      A chill ran down my spine at his words, and I started looking in the mirror behind the bar, scanning for prying eyes that might spend too much time focused on us.  As I looked the Devil on my shoulder finally shut up.  I think he was scared as me...

     "It's about time you started looking over your shoulder Tommy-Boy" said Chandler, with a barely suppressed chuckle.  "If I can spot them but I don't know who they are then they're probably Loki, and if Loki is here then we're all in very deep cattle droppings.  My contacts across the FedCom are sending coded messages that say Kat is moving against people that may be loyal to Victor.  They're sending these messages outside regular channels Tommy, do you realize what that means?  It means they're scared as hell, and we should be too."

     "Your bosses have cut me out of their loop too Tommy, and I can't say I blame them.  I want you to know that you guys are my best bet to get off this Gods-forsaken rock alive, and I will share what I know with you.  Not with your chain of command, but with you.  We come from simialr places Tommy, and I'm willing to cut you some slack because of that.  Don't make me regret that decision kid."  With those words he dropped money for the barmaid, then dropped a slip of paper in my pocket as he stood up and walked away.

     I resisted the urge to pull the slip of paper out to read it, figuring that whoever he was hiding it from might see.  I finished my Gaussington's Mint Stout, then ordered another as my brain struggled to catch up with my situation.  If my conscience arrived at a plan of action that night I had my work cut out remembering it after waking up with the barmaid the next morning.  At least I remembered enough of Chandler's paranoia that she learned nothing more important than my Mom's omelet recipe the next morning....

********

     I was lucky that I wasn't on the duty roster the next day, and I decided to test the limits of my newfound paranoia.  I spent hours wandering about town, visiting small shops I had seen but never entered, sampling the wares of small cafes and farmers' marklets, and constantly looking over my shoulder for someone that might seem just a little too interested.  A few times I thought I spotted a tail, but I wasn't sure if they were really watching me, or if my imagination was getting the better of me.  By the time I returned to base and wandered into the motor pool I was no closer to figuring out if I was under surveillance, or if I was just jumping at shadows.  The devil on my shoulder gleefully whispered in my ear though, a quote from some 20th century Terran politico that still held true:  "Even paranoids have enemies..."

     The battered Prime Mover rattled across the dirt lane that led to Benjamin's farm, the cacaphony from the straining suspension a welcome distraction from the thoughts swirling through my head.  Why would we be under surveillance?  Why would Loki operatives be watching us instead of the Falcons that were so close by?   The only possible answer was that something was close by that they didn' want us to see.  That thought made my blood run cold even as i drove onto the familiar grounds of the old farmstead....

********

     It had been a long day, but that just made the beer seem that much better.  For most of a day I had forgotten about wars and politics and mercenary contracts, and I had worked a farm alongside a trusted friend.  Benjamin had seen fit to share the bottled fruits of his latest labor, beer he had learned to brew himself using his crops as ingredients.  Through it all I felt the prescence of my father, not disguised as Angel or Devil on my shoulder but as a part of my conscience, telling me to enjoy this bit of normalcy while I could.  I should have known then that it would all come crashing down...

     After a solemn moment I spoke to Benjamin, my voice quivering on the edge of breaking: "I think we are nearly done here old friend.  I know the General has offered you a place in our ranks, but I am not speaking for him today.  I am asking you one soldier to another, will you come with us when we leave?'

     The scarred old Elemental showed a lopsided toothy grin as he replied.  "I do not think I am a soldier anymore Thomas, I have found a peace that few might understand as a farmer.  I have seen you work to reclaim that peace for yourself today, but I fear that is not your fate.  I thank you for your invitation Thomas, but I will remain here to tend the land and grow something meaningful.  I pray that someday you might join me here, but if that is not your fate then I shall salute you when you meet your end.  Mercenary though you may be, I respect you as a warrior, and I would have been honored to fight beside you when I was worthy."

     I shook Benjamin's hand that night and drove back to base with tears in my eyes.  I felt as though a chapter in my life was ending, and I wasn't ready for the last page yet.  Maybe I was afraid that the last page of the chapter would be my last page ever...  For once there were no Angels or Devils on my shoulders.  I think they were sitting with Benjamin that night, because they always looked like Father, and he and Benjamin might have been brothers except for 1500 light years and a few centuries of selective breeding...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #14 on: 28 January 2011, 23:49:57 »
     The patrol should have been routine.  As much as I insisted to my people that there was no such thing as a routine patrol, I honestly thought that one was routine.  When the strange contact popped up on my HUD my blood ran cold for a moment, as I saw it fade in and out on a heading for Benjamin's farm.  Some part of me knew something was very wrong, but I wasn't ready to admit that to myself, let alone my lance.  "That contact is probably nothing, I'll check it out myself.  Leary, you lead the rest of the lance on the regular patrol.  Let me know if something interesting happens."   How was I to know those orders would lead us all to disaster?

     As I crested the hill I saw the farm burning and I opened fire with my LB-X autocannon, cluster munitions tearing into the infantry troops that were torching the buildings.  I saw their ride, an outdated IFV, as tracer fire from its machine guns darted in my direction.  Several megajoules of power from my lasers turned the IFV into a coffin for the poor bastards who had crossed my path, and I checked fire from my autocannon as I saw Benjamin attacking the rest of the infantry unit with what appeared to be a shovel. The man was carving a path through his attackers with a garden implement.  That was enough to convince me that he had the situation under control.

     Then Leary's message came through, and the world seemed to stop for a moment.  "Ell-Tee, get your ass over here now!  Shorty's guys are tearin' us apart!  They said they have a warrant for you, for killing Van Riebeeck!"  I set off at a run for Leary's position even though I knew it was a trap.  I couldn't leave my people to get chewed up for some Lyran Social General's political agenda.  They deserved better than that. Hell, Stellan Van Riebeeck deserved better than that, so I ran full speed into that valley even though I knew it was a trap.

     I put out a call for backup, and set my comm-unit to repeat the message when I got no reply but static.  Shorty would know I was coming, but hopefully I wasn't coming alone.  Whatever his game was I had every intention of making it an expensive one. 

********

     When I crested the hill my heart leapt into my throat.  My people were in serious trouble, and nothing short of a miracle was likely to save them.  Or me.  Honestly though when the devil whispered that last bit in my ear he looked nothing like my father for once, he looked like a half-forgotten politician from a jerk-water planet across the sphere from here.  Maybe that's why the angel on my other shoulder sounded so hateful when he said to "stow that crap and get on with it"...

     Vargas' Dervish was on the ground face-down, and I could see the LRMs cooking off through the blowout plates on its back like some perverse fireworks show.  The most junior member of my lance, Samantha "Sammy" Rollins was trying her level best to lay down covering fire for Vargas, but she was on the ground too.  That in itself might not have been so bad, but there was a Warhammer repeatedly kicking her downed 'mech in the side torso, like a bouncer kicking an unruly drunk in the ribs.  No matter how I did the math I figured her Shadow Hawk was bound to come up short.

     The only one of my people still upright was Jack Leary, and my thermal readout showed just how much he was taxing his Griffin to stay that way.  He was playing a life and death game of hopscotch, jumping as far as he could as often as he could.  If I had to guess I would say that he was also triggering every weapon system at his disposal as fast as the safety interlocks allowed, if not slightly faster.

     My lancemates, my subordinates, my comrades-in-arms.  More importantly they were My People.  Fellow soldiers who may as well have been my family were trapped in roughly 165 tons worth of whatever 'mech our mercenary contract could get them, against 250 tons of the LAAF's finest technology.  The devil on my shoulder spitefully reminded me that I was unlikely to buck those kinds of odds.  At the same time separate sighting reticules drifted towards a Whammy, a Zeus, and an Atlas all bearing Lyran insignia.  I would tell you what i said to the devil as i pulled the triggers, but I'm reasonably sure the angel on the other shoulder would have blushed an embarrassing shade of red despite looking just like my father...

********

     I took the time to toggle my autocannon over to standard shot rather than cluster munitions, figuring that a few big projectiles would be more effective against battlemechs than the scattering sub-munitions that had proved so deadly against infantry a few minutes ago.  The time spent on that action was a mixed blessing in the end.  The stream of MPAM (Multi-Purpose Anti-Materiel) shells seemed to tear apart the head of the Warhammer, buying Sammy Rollins some precious seconds to escape her downed Shadow Hawk.  That was the good news...

     Now for the bad news:  That extra few seconds allowed the Zeus and what appeared to be Shorty Kurtzmann's Atlas to react to my presence and draw a bead on my Enfield.  Jack Leary frantically tried to keep them interested in his battered Griff, but the pair of Assault Mechs turned their wrath towards my outclassed Medium, with predictable and disastrous results.  Multiple warning alarms began to howl and shriek as a skilled Lyran mechwarrior and his no-talent hack of a CO tore my much smaller Mech to pieces, and along with it any hope of victory...

     Reluctant as I might be to admit defeat, the auto-eject system had no such compunction.  A telling hit from the Zeus' megajoule class lasers and a follow up from its Particle Cannon had detonated my autocannon ammunition.  The chain reaction of explosions as the shells went up triggered a safety system that launched me clear of my crippled machine.  I felt my spine compress painfully as my safety harness pulled me snug against the ejector seat and then catapulted me into the glowering sky.  I barely had time to contemplate just how screwed I was before I hit the ground and was jolted into unconsciousness...

*********

     Consciousness returned to me like an unfaithful lover that had been caught in the act, slowly, with a sort of reluctance best understood after a moments' reflection.  At first the tunnel in front of me made no sense, until my double vision faded back into something coherent and I saw that it wasn't a tunnel, but a large calibre handgun barrel. Did I say large?  I'm sorry, I meant huge, or perhaps gigantic, or maybe even freakin' ridiculous.    Eventually my focus crept up past the barrel to see a fat hand, attached to a flabby arm, attached to a pudgy man in a Lyran General Officer's uniform.  The lascivious grin above the rank insignia brought it all crashing back into my mind...

     Shorty Kurtzmann was pointing a gun at my head.  Not just any gun, but one of those ridiculous "Sternsnacht" Heavy Pistols, the ones that fire a wildcat rifle round out of a relatively short barrel.  As laughable as I might think they were in actual combat, I had no illusions about what one would do to my brain pan at less than a meter.  I raised my hands slowly as I tried to look around, hoping to buy a few moments' time just in case a miracle decided to happen here and now.  I knew that hope was a long shot, just as sure as I knew that the angel and devil from my shoulder were imaginary, sarcastic narrators as my life flashed before my eyes a moment ago. 

     Jack Leary was lying face down a few meters away, not moving aside from shallow breaths, the only evidence that he was still alive as blood trickled from a wound on his scalp.  Sammy Rollins was on her knees, with her hands bound behind her back.  It looked like she was screaming as another man in Lyran uniform used a ridiculously large combat knife to slice away her cooling vest.  Whatever she was screaming went right past me due to the ringing noise in my ears, an apparent leftover from the ammo explosion.  I noticed motion from the corner of my eye and decided to gamble a bit on sarcasm, perhaps the only weapon I had left.

     "Gee, looking at your choice of weapons I just gotta ask, are you guys over-compensating or what?" 

********

     The next few seconds were a blur, as the world seemed to catch up to me at exactly the wrong time. Something hit the guy that was standing over Sammy, but I had no chance to register what it was.  I did hear a horrendous crashing sound as Shorty Kurtzmann turned and fired his ridiculous sidearm.  I tried to kick him in the knee as a last desperate act of defiance, and then he collapsed on top of me as another crashing boom roared through my ears. 

     Shorty's weight pinned me to the dusty hardpan below.  I knew he was fat, but his bulk seemed too great to explain as I tried to claw my way out from beneath him.  As my thoughts faded into blackness I reached for the signal flare in my thigh pocket and smashed it against a brightly colored rock.  Three thoughts fought for my attention at that moment:

1) The rocks in this part of the plains were layered in several interesting colors, and I hadn't really noticed that before.
2) I wasn't sure if the shade of red I saw washing the ground in front of me was natural, or Shorty's gray matter (though it was anything but gray).  A part of me hoped it wasn't natural.
3) If the tanks I thought I saw in the distance were loyal to Shorty then we were done for. I wasn't really worried about that idea, because my head hurt too much to care.

     With that I lowered my head to the ground and once again surrendered to unconsciousness...
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #15 on: 28 January 2011, 23:54:14 »
     The light hurt my eyes, even though they were still squinted shut.  They seemed to be glued together with that crustiness that is the byproduct of a night that was a little too wild, or perhaps the crash after staying on duty for too long with too many uppers and adrenalin rushes.  I started going through a sort of mental checklist to assess my situation.  The air smelled of antiseptic cleaner with undertones of something unpleasant, like a mess-hall grease fire.  The temperature was unpleasantly chilled, as though I was sleeping under an air-conditioning vent.  I heard muffled voices and computerized beeping sounds from all directions, and a sudden wave of nausea overtook me as the world spun with my attempt to localize the sounds.  What was truly distressing however was the fact that I seemed to be strapped down.  I tried to sit up to vomit or catch my bearings, but I could feel resistance across my chest and thighs.

     My eyes finally snapped fully open as panic set in, and I turned my head and retched all over somebody's back.  I couldn't see any meaningfull detail in that moment, as my vision blurred and swam crazily, but the exclamation I heard sounded familiar enough:  "Ah jeez! We've got a puker!  ORDERLY!"

   
*   *   *   *   *   *

     Roughly ten minutes later I was sitting up on the table, looking at a cast on my arm as my head slowly stopped spinning.  I was on board the Hemisphere Dancer, in the wardroom.  It had been hastily converted into a recovery room for those of us whose injuries weren't life-threatening, and the unconscious among us had been strapped to the tables so we wouldn't fall off if the ship had to make evasive maneuvers.  A familiar looking man in stained surgical greens was explaining my injuries to me as I sipped from a baggie of "bug Juice" (a nondescript fruit drink whose color seemed to bear no relation to whatever fruit flavor it was supposed to be) through a straw.  I had sustained a concussion, a broken right wrist and severe sprains of the left knee and ankle during my ejection and rescue.  At the moment I really didn't care where I was bruised and broken, I wanted to know what had happened to my people and how we had gotten out.

     It turned out that the vaguely familiar man was actually one of Mackall's tankers who doubled as the unit medic, and he had spent the last 10 hours since our emergency dustoff caring for wounded soldiers from his unit and ours.  He didn't say much when I asked about my people, he just handed me a crutch and helped me stand up.  He helped me hobble to a table nearby where Jack Leary would have appeared to be sleeping peacefully except for the bandages swathed about his head and a concerned looking woman in greens hovering in constant attendance.

     "We think he'll be OK, but he may lose his left eye and most of the hearing in his left ear" said the medic.  "Sometimes it's hard to tell with head injuries, especially in these conditions, but if he's held on this long it must be a good sign.  There's somebody outside that you should see."  With that he led me into the corridor, and my heart nearly broke as relief and despair came crashing into it at the same time.

     Samantha Rollins sat on the floor, her arms cradling her head between her knees.  Her posture showed hopelessness and fatigue, the bandages on her left forearm seemed too pure and white for the dark cloud that surrounded her.  When I remembered my last sight of her, bound and helpless before our tormentors, I felt a rush of relief that she was sitting here alive.  I ignored the pain in my knee and knelt in front of her.  I didn't dare touch her, but I worked up the courage to speak.  It probably took the greatest effort of will in my life just to say her name at that moment.

     "Sam, look at me..."

********

     When she finally raised her eyes to meet mine, it was like a pair of PPCs hammering into my soul.  I could see the pain in her eyes, the green irises that I used to try not to notice were surrounded by redness and tears.  My failure was reflected in her eyes in a way I wasn't sure I could bear.  I had to bear it though, to find out what had happened to the last member of my lance.  "I'm sorry I was too late getting there Sam, but I need to know what happened."

     She grabbed me in a desperate hug, and began sobbing out her story on my shoulder.  "Vargas was dead when they drug him from his cockpit, and I thought he would be the lucky one.  Leary was barely moving, and you were in and out of consciousness.  Kurtzmann was trying to wake you up, and boasting that he would make you watch while he tortured us, then he would kill you last.  If you hadn't brought Benjamin with you we would have been finished."

     My injured leg collapsed under me when she mentioned Benjamin.  I half-remembered something or somebody attacking Shorty and his bodyguard, but it hadn't occurred to me who it might have been.  I pulled away and gasped a question: "Benjamin followed me?  Where is he?!?"

     I knew I wouldn't like the answer when she put her hand (such a gentle, warm touch) on my cheek.  Her voice cracked as she spoke, not really a question, not really a statement...  "You didn't know..."

********

     I stood as steadily as I could over the mess table, silently cursing my own weaknesses and the vagaries of gravity under thrust.  Somebody (presumably a technician) had seen fit to reinforce the mess tables' legs to handle a larger load,  Benjamin's feet hung over the end of the table, and suddenly his sheer size seemed overwhelming again.  There was an overwhelming tug of war going on in my brain, as I struggled to understand what kind of damage was necessary to kill a man who was over seven feet tall, and reconcile that damage with what looked like a smile on his face. 

     I knew there were two people behind me, I could feel them hovering.  Sam broke the silence first, her voice tentative, asking "Loo, are you OK?  He went for Shorty first, and snapped his neck.  Then he went after his bodyguards with whatever he could find.  He used a shovel on one of them. He choked the Major who was threatening me with his own campaign ribbons.  When the tanks came he told me to get you to safety no matter what it cost me."

     "He stood guard over us with a shovel, and a confiscated pistol until we had found a ride off that forsaken planet."  Sam informed me.  "Before he died he said to tell you 'Thank you for the chance to die as a Warrior, if there is an afterlife we'll meet in Valhalla my friend.  Someday we'll share the same field and rest in peace."

     Terry Mackall stood next to Sam, and nodded his head as if to agree.  "Hey Tommy, it was a big CF when we got there.  Shorty was trying to set you up as anti-Katherine infiltrators.  We got as many of your people off planet as we could, and we're gonna make them all pay.  This is for you, so you don't forget."  He handed me a short chain that held a cluster of Dog Tags and said "These are all the poor bastards we buried back there.  Ben asked to be fired into the sun to help decoy the Elsies, but I think he deserves better.  Will you help me find a good spot to lay them all down? If you say yes then we meet the Archon tooth and nail my friend.  Are you in?" 

     I held Benjamin's oversized hand in my own grip as I turned, and I could feel my heart harden and steel itself against the universe.  Terry Mackall had been joined by the captain of the Hemisphere Dancer, and a smattering of officers wearing both AFFC badges and Vandenburg Lancers' colours.  They all seemed to be waiting for an answer...

     "My daddy always said' You don't necessarily get to pick your side in a fight.  Sometimes the other guy chooses for you.  All you can do then is make him regret his choice."  "Civil war may be bad for business, but I'm gonna break that business model back to the stone age.  Who's with me?!"  I squeezed Sam's hand again as they all looked at me.  My own voice echoed in my head, a false echo of hope as I  realized the war wouldn't be so civil...

Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #16 on: 28 January 2011, 23:57:33 »
Some years later...

     The parade was almost surreal, between the participants and the onlookers.  The roadside was lined by all sorts of people, from common laborers in dirty coveralls to warriors from several different factions standing at attention.  Ordinarily a funeral procession would be led by a hearse, but this was no ordinary procession.  Three tanks led the procession, each carrying a casket strapped to its' deck plating and a child in uniform tearfully standing in the commander's hatch.

     The lead vehicle bore both the largest of the caskets and the smallest of the children.  This was fitting in two ways, as the body in the casket had waited the longest to make it back to this field, and the child was his namesake.  Benjamin deserved to be saluted because he had sacrificed himself honorably, running to the sound of the guns even though he was outnumbered and outgunned.  The boy carried his name because he had saved the boy's parents from execution.

     The second tank carried a casket draped in the Sword and Sunburst flag of the Federated Suns even though that nation was on the opposite side of the Inner Sphere.  Many here remembered the fact that Terry Mackall had faced Clan OmniMechs in a Patton Tank, bucking the odds to serve his adopted home while it was part of the Federated Commonwealth.  His grandson stood at attention in the battered Patton's hatch, proudly wearing an ancient leather helmet and goggles, and saluting the gathering crowd.

     The third tank bore an unadorned casket, for the man inside had sworn bitterly that no nation could claim him.  He hadn't wanted to be a soldier, but he had turned out to be a natural at the mercenary trade.  He had fought for and against many different nations in his day, to both his pride and his chagrin.  He had known love in the embrace of his wife and comrade-in-arms Samantha, pride at the growth of his children Theresa and Benjamin, and crushing sorrow from the loss of close friends over the years.  After all these years he would once again be at the side of Benjamin, Terry Mackall, and even Bobby Loomis.

     At the service young Benjamin spoke, wearing a uniform sporting a cartoon Angel and Devil on opposite shoulders: "My Father said choose your friends carefully Benji, they're the reason why you'll fight.  They'll come from all over, and they won't always agree with you, but they'll stand with you against any threat and their welfare is really the only cause worth fighting for.  There will never be a shortage of fights in the universe, so make a lot of friends..."
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

Jimmyray73

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Re: Fatherly Advice (Reposted)
« Reply #17 on: 29 January 2011, 00:11:46 »
I let this one sit for a while, debating whether it was really over.  Tommy-Boy may appear in another story, but for all intents and purposes this one shows us where his tale ends.  I have some ideas for what the Lancers will do during the FC Civil War and even the Jihad, but Tommy's story will still end the same  way no matter what.  I want to say thanks to all of you who read this thread and offered advice and encouragement.  I thought this story would take a few months at most, but it grew into a few years and I think it worked better that way...

Author's Ahem, no-talent hack's note: this was the only one of my 4 stories from the  old board that I was able to finish.  Going back through to save this one and re-post it kinda makes me want to write the rest of Tommy's story from the civil war and after, as well as put together something new.  I may try to dig up, re-post, and finish "up From the Ashes" as well. I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did.
Endo has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know...

 

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