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Author Topic: Fortunes of War (Complete)  (Read 8004 times)

Middcore

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Fortunes of War (Complete)
« on: 29 March 2021, 16:56:15 »
Prologue

“The best techniques are taught by the survivors.”

-Tai-sa Shinji Gaida, head of the Galdeon Military Academy, 2964-2985


Outpost
Rasalhague Military District, The Draconis Combine
January 26, 3009


The repetitive, warbling alarm tone that drew Samuel Blixt out of his reverie was meant to warn him that an enemy was potentially trying to acquire a weapon targeting lock on his Panther. Samuel, once of the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery’s famed Sword of Light regiments, was unconcerned. There were, he well knew, no enemies taking aim at his BattleMech across the taiga, no forces of Houses Davion or Steiner anywhere within hundreds of light years, in fact. Outpost was too deep inside Combine space and too far out towards the Periphery rim to raid, and there was nothing of military value for the Combine’s ancient enemies to target in any case.

The only weapons that could be pointed in Samuel’s direction at the moment were those of his charges in the Outpost Planetary Guard BattleMech Training Cadre, and if he ended up getting killed by them, then he supposed that meant he had failed in his duties as an instructor fairly catastrophically.

“Kurihara!” Samuel barked over the radio. “You understand that today’s live-fire exercise  is complete, yes?”

“Yes, sensei?” Even through the radio, the cadet’s voice betrayed confusion and fear of anticipated embarrassment.

“And yet, your targeting gear isn’t switched off, and I’m going to guess that means your weapon safeties aren’t engaged either. Correct this error before you scratch my paint or incinerate an unfortunate technician.”

A hundred meters away, the Whitworth piloted by Cadet Tommy Kurihara jerked, its torso swinging to one side to take the weapons mounted in its chest and arms out of line with Samuel’s 'Mech. “Yes, sensei!” came Kurihara’s abashed reply. “Apologies, sensei.”

“If your own 'Mech bay is in sight and the enemy isn’t,” Samuel said, hoping he sounded less exasperated than he felt, “weapon safeties should be engaged. Besides that, sweeping friendlies with your targeting reticles is a bad habit, in general.” He paused to allow himself time for a sigh, then keyed his transmit button again. “All callsigns acknowledge.”

“Acknowledged, sensei!” came the chorused reply from the cadets.

Samuel watched the four trainees - Kurihara in the Whitworth, Rikard Hemming in a Firestarter, then Viveka Huld and Roshan Lindberg in matching Stingers - parade single-file into the cavernous 'Mech bay before he turned the Panther from its position by the doors and entered himself. Together, the five 'Mechs - one reinforced lance in the standard organizational scheme of the Great House militaries - made up the entire BattleMech strength of the Outpost Planetary Guard.

The four cadets were already lined up at parade rest by the time Samuel finished the Panther’s shutdown procedure and clambered down from the cockpit to the ferrocrete floor of the 'Mech bay. The massive doors of the bay were still open, framing the setting sun and letting in the icy wind sweeping across the taiga outside. Some of the cadets were already starting to shiver in the “uniform” of boots, shorts, and T-shirts that most MechWarriors favored to cope with the sauna-like heat inside a 'Mech cockpit.

“Tomorrow at oh eight hundred we will review your performance from today’s live fire target practice,” Samuel told his charges. “Until then you are dismissed.”

“Yes, sensei,” the cadets chorused once again, bowing, and then filed away.

Samuel sighed again and then turned his attention to a short, stocky man wearing the grimy coveralls common to BattleMech technicians. “Any problems today, sho-sa?” the tech asked, holding out a weather-beaten DCMS field coat.

Samuel grimaced as he draped the coat over his shoulders. The tech addressed him with the rank he technically held in the Outpost Planetary Guard, an officer’s rank, high enough to ordinarily command a battalion in the DCMS. But the world’s militia was not even technically a part of the Combine military, and in his entire career with the forces of House Kurita, Samuel had never risen above the rank of sho-ko - what the other Great House militaries would call a sergeant major. In any case, Samuel held no day-to-day authority over anything except the BattleMech training cadre, today’s batch of four cadets plus a dozen others, splitting seat time in the lance of ancient BattleMechs and dreaming of proving themselves worthy to join the ranks of the DCMS. None of them would ever make it to the elite Sword of Light, Samuel knew. But a few, if he did his work well, might someday serve the Combine with honor in a less distinguished unit, like one of the district Regulars regiments.

“No problems, Persson,” Samuel replied. He cast his gaze down the line of BattleMechs. “Is Senior Technician Söderlund here today?”

“Senior Technician Söderlund took leave today, sir,” the tech said. “A personal matter to attend to, he said, in the capital.”

Samuel nodded. “Yes, of course. I must have forgotten.” Am I getting so old? Samuel thought to himself. Or did I simply block it out of my mind?

The tech had not yet walked away to conduct his post-sortie inspection of the Panther. “What is it, Persson?”

The stocky tech looked like he was trying to hide a smile. “You have a visitor, sir.”

Samuel chuckled. He looked around the 'Mech bay, satisfied himself that the 'Mechs were all powered down and there was no heavy equipment being moved, and then smiled back at Persson. “Fine,” he said, “let her in before she shakes the whole base to pieces.”

A few moments later Samuel was almost knocked to the ferrocrete floor by a slightly-built girl of eight or nine who came streaking across the hangar at roughly the speed of a short-range missile, red-brown hair flying behind her in the freezing wind still coming in through the 'Mech bay doors. “Morfar!” she shouted as she buried her face inside his field coat.

Samuel returned the child’s embrace until she let go, then shrugged off the coat to drape it over her narrow shoulders instead. “Katryna,” he said, with mock sternness as he looked down into her elfin face, “Did you lose your parka again? Your mother will be cross with me if I bring you home without it, then she will be more cross when I remind her of how she used to lose hers when she was your age.”

“I left it in tai-i Holmgren’s office,” she said. “He let me sit with him while I waited for you, but it was boring.” Samuel suspected he owed the tai-i a thanks and an apology.

“Did you know you’re the only one who calls me Katryna?” his granddaughter asked. “The teacher asked if I hadn’t ever wanted a nickname, something shorter,” she burbled. “I wanted to be Kat but there’s a girl named Katja in my class too and she said I couldn’t be Kat because sometimes people call her Kat, even though I’ve never heard anyone call her Kat, so anyway everyone ended up calling me Kit.” She wrinkled her nose. “I guess it’s okay.” The girl paused, searching for a lost train of thought, found it. “Oh! So I asked mamma once what was wrong with the name Katryna, and she seemed like she didn’t want to talk about it, but then she told me it’s the name of the lady from House Steiner, the new Archon.” The child frowned indignantly. “But I looked it up and it’s not even spelled the same!”

Samuel looked deeply into her blue-gray eyes. “It’s a fine name, just the same. It was your mormor’s name.”

“Besides!” the girl continued, “the Steiner lady is in charge there anyway, right? Where we’re going?” Her face grew troubled. “Me and mamma and pappa?”

Samuel nodded. “Yes, Galatea is in House Steiner’s space, the Lyran Commonwealth. Although there are people from all over the Inner Sphere there.” He forced a smile. “How did things go for your pappa today?” His son-in-law was nearing the end of a months-long process to secure visas for his family to leave Combine space. Leaving me behind.

The girl’s shrug was barely detectable inside the oversized field coat. “I don’t know,” she said, “I came here to wait for you before he got back.” Her face went from somber to a full frown. “I don’t understand why we’re leaving. Why can’t we all stay here with you?”

Samuel forced cheerfulness he did not feel into his voice. “Because your father is a very good BattleMech technician,” he told his granddaughter, patting her on the back. “Too good to spend the rest of his life here working for a militia that only has five 'Mechs. On Galatea he can use his talents and make a better life for you and…” Samuel swallowed a lump in his throat. “...And your mamma.” He gestured at the frozen twilight outside. “You have too much life for an empty, cold place like this, granddaughter. This is a place for crusty old relics like me.”

Katryna’s face made it clear she was not mollified. “I wish pappa was a MechWarrior like you, instead of a technician.” Her nose wrinkled again and she said the word like it tasted bad in her mouth.

“A foolish thing to say!” Samuel chided her. “You know that in the Draconis Combine people like to think of MechWarriors as samurai?” He pantomimed drawing a sword, and instantly the girl brightened, imitating the gesture and dropping into an exaggerated guard stance she had undoubtedly seen in a holovid drama. “But what good is a samurai without someone to forge and sharpen his sword? And haven’t you had fun when pappa shows you how he fixes the 'Mechs?” She nodded. Samuel glanced out at the darkness falling over the taiga. “Besides,” he said, “I’m not a MechWarrior anymore.”

“But you are!” the girl shouted. She was once again indignant, more outraged even than when she had related her discovery that the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth had the audacity to share her name but spell it differently. “You pilot a 'Mech!” One of her small hands was balled into a fist, the other pointed up at the Panther.

Samuel shook his head. “It takes more than sitting in the cockpit of a 'Mech to be a MechWarrior. After all,” he continued, poking her arm playfully under the tent-like coat, “You’ve sat in the cockpit of this Panther. Are you a MechWarrior?”

The girl flushed and looked down. “No,” she admitted. “Not yet! But what I mean is, anyway, you were a MechWarrior! A good one!”

Samuel stared into the girl’s earnest, shining eyes and sighed. He walked over to the Panther’s broad foot and sat on it, motioning for Katryna to join him.

“Let me tell you a lesson, granddaughter,” he said as she sat. “From one who was a MechWarrior, once, and has seen many battles. Are you ready for the lesson?”

Katryna nodded solemnly.

“This is the lesson: it’s far better to be lucky than good. Once, thousands of years ago, battles were fought with sticks and stones. Now battles are fought with 'Mechs. But one thing is the same today as it was all the way back then: there are always warriors who fight well, fight honorably, and still lose… still die… because they were unlucky.” He reached out and stroked her wind-blown, disheveled hair, shining coppery under the lights of the 'Mech bay. “If you ever become a MechWarrior, Katryna, remember that lesson.”

The girl stared back at him for a long time, her face shadowed by the towering BattleMech, her eyes unreadable, as though she were somewhere far away. Then suddenly as if a spell had broken she smiled at him. “Morfar?”

“Yes, granddaughter?”

“Can I sit in the cockpit of the Panther again?”

« Last Edit: 29 April 2021, 13:39:00 by Middcore »
Find a 'Mech. Find a contract. Keep fighting.

FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #1 on: 29 March 2021, 17:01:15 »
This is the beginning of what turned out to be a novella-length (~30,000 word) project. I started working on it back in 2019 after I had been playing mods of HBS BattleTech PC game a lot and found myself with a lot of time to fill at my then-job. It sat for quite a while, but in the past few weeks boredom and frustration at myself for not finishing things I start finally motivated me to complete it, and it's led me to rediscover my love of the BT universe and register for these forums again after over a decade.

It is complete, although I am still making minor revisions to the last parts I wrote. I hope to be posting a new chapter every 2-3 days. I hope others can get some enjoyment from it. If you do, please leave a reply and let me know, you don't know how much it would mean to me.
« Last Edit: 29 March 2021, 17:30:32 by Middcore »
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Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Daryk

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #2 on: 29 March 2021, 17:25:09 »
If the other pieces are up to this one's quality, I'm totally IN!  :thumbsup:

paulobrito

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #3 on: 29 March 2021, 17:32:13 »
Tagged.

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #4 on: 29 March 2021, 17:38:26 »
If the other pieces are up to this one's quality, I'm totally IN!  :thumbsup:

Thanks Daryk, and for the kind welcome since I joined.
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Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #5 on: 29 March 2021, 17:38:51 »
Tagged.

Good to see you, thanks for the advice on Discord!  :thumbsup:
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Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Daryk

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #6 on: 29 March 2021, 18:29:30 »
You're very welcome!  Those who work in 3025 are especially welcome to a grognard like me!  :thumbsup:

Dave Talley

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #7 on: 29 March 2021, 21:19:38 »
tag
Resident Smartass since 1998
“Toe jam in training”

Because while the other Great Houses of the Star League thought they were playing chess, House Cameron was playing Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker the entire time.
JA Baker

snakespinner

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #8 on: 29 March 2021, 21:30:08 »
Great start. :thumbsup:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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Growing up is optional.
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Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #9 on: 30 March 2021, 11:21:13 »
You're very welcome!  Those who work in 3025 are especially welcome to a grognard like me!  :thumbsup:

Chances are anything I write is going to be 3025. I sort of like the actual Clan invasion era, like 3049-3052, but after that everything just gets too messy for my taste these days.
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FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Artifex

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #10 on: 30 March 2021, 14:37:22 »
Helmsman ... get this ship ready for stationkeeping! I need to investigate this planet more!

That's what the creative outlet is for. It's totally up to you to design and playout the parts after the Invasion and before the Jihad as you like. ;-) :thumbsup:

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #11 on: 30 March 2021, 14:52:54 »
That's what the creative outlet is for. It's totally up to you to design and playout the parts after the Invasion and before the Jihad as you like. ;-) :thumbsup:

I know some people here have created full alternate timelines/universes and I respect the hell out of the work that goes into that. Me, I'm a maniac for lore (if it wasn't obvious from my profile) so I prefer to tell smaller stories that fit within the existing canon in the places/periods I find the most interesting.

Thanks for the supportive response from all who have replied. Next part (chapter 1) coming later today or tomorrow.
Find a 'Mech. Find a contract. Keep fighting.

FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Sir Chaos

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #12 on: 30 March 2021, 14:59:38 »
That definitely looks like a good start. I´m curious where this is going.
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ckosacranoid

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #13 on: 30 March 2021, 15:41:45 »
Thanks for sharing. Nice little setup. Are you following the granddaughter or the old man in this?

Elmoth

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #14 on: 30 March 2021, 16:39:26 »
Following

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #15 on: 30 March 2021, 16:58:11 »
1

Galatea
The Lyran Commonwealth
July 1, 3024


From the perspective of a passenger on one of the DropShips approaching it, Galaport resembled nothing so much as a giant, sprawling game of tic-tac-toe. The vast sea of ferrocrete that defined the boundaries of Galatea’s primary spaceport was criss-crossed at right angles by runways for aerodyne DropShips to take off and land. Scattered around and in between the runways were designated spaces for spheroid  DropShip types that made their descents and departures vertically - some of them raised circular pads surrounded by support vehicles and auxiliary power units, others simple “scorch spots,” little more than large X’s constantly being repainted over the charred paving.

At one edge of the ferrocrete sea, closest to Galatea City proper, stood the spaceport’s control tower and its passenger terminal. Encircling the spaceport on all other sides was a maze of featureless, flat-sided buildings, some almost as great in size as the DropShips coming and going from the spaceport itself. A few of these were used for maintenance of visiting ships and the vehicles used to support them. Others were used for the temporary storage of cargo being imported to Galatea from elsewhere in the Lyran Commonwealth. The great majority of them, however, were used in support of Galatea’s primary export: mercenary units.

Some of these structures, rented out by more wheel-heeled merc outfits, contained fully equipped BattleMech repair facilities rivalling those used by Great House mercenaries. Others were little more than converted warehouses used to get 'Mechs and the technicians piecing them back together out of the heat and weather, with spartan office spaces in their top stories once used by industrial foremen and now used by mercenary officers to conduct business.

In one such office in one such warehouse hangar, Katryna “Kit” Söderlund, junior 'Mech tech for Pressler’s Privateers, sat slumped in a chair, arms crossed over her chest and fixing Captain Charlie Pressler with a sullen stare. Pressler sat with his elbows resting on the battered desk, running his fingers through his slicked-back hair in obvious frustration. Finally he stopped, folded his hands, and fixed his gaze on his tech.

“So here’s the situation,” Pressler began. “We’re two weeks from shipping out on a contract, and now the Leftenant of my fire support lance can’t pilot a 'Mech, because he’s got a broken wrist.” Pressler paused dramatically, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. “Now I’ve already heard Leftenant Laurent’s version of how that happened. Let’s hear yours.”

Pressler’s words hung in the stuffy air of the cramped office. Kit considered her response carefully. “Leftenant Laurent and I were on the repair gantry. I was showing him what I had done to try to smooth out the autocannon ammunition feed problem on his Enforcer, even though I keep telling him that problem’s never been solved in two hundred fifty years of production.” Pressler made a get to the point gesture which made it clear he had not called her into the office to discuss the idiosyncrasies of different BattleMech types. “Laurent lost his balance and took a fall off the gantry,” Kit continued. “There’s not much else to say.” No point in telling Pressler I shoved Laurent when he grabbed my ass, Kit thought to herself.

“Uh huh,” replied Pressler flatly. He stared at Kit long enough that she wondered if he could see the sweat starting to form on her forehead. “Laurent says he fell because he was pushed. By you. Anything to say about that?” Getting no reply from the 'Mech tech, Pressler went on. “Laurent was lucky to only have a busted arm. People have died falling from that height, you know. Now I’m not saying that’s what you had in mind… but be honest with me. Did you and Laurent have words about something besides his ammo feed?”

Seconds passed as Kit tried to think of a response that would make a difference. Suddenly the silence in the office was broken by the door being flung open almost hard enough to break it off its rusty hinges.

“This is bullshit, Charlie!” Sergeant Cedric Smythe’s twanging voice, typical to natives of the Federated Suns’ “outback” worlds, filled the room. “Bull SHIT.” The big, bearded MechWarrior burst into the room and stood with his hands on the back of the chair next to the one Kit sat in, fixing a gimlet eye on Pressler, who heaved a sigh and met his stare.

“What’s bullshit, Smitty?” Pressler said, with an air of imposed-upon patience.

“Bullshit is you calling the kid here out on the carpet over what happened with Laurent,” Sergeant Smythe said, waving his index finger at the Privateers’ CO.

“I keep telling you, my name’s Kit, not ‘kid’,” Söderlund interjected, but both men ignored her.

“You know and I know that Laurent’s been harassing her for months,” Smythe continued. “Been… been makin’ remarks and tryin’ to feel her up.”

Pressler’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know any such thing,” he said, “But what I’m hearing from you sounds a lot like slander of a superior officer.”

“BULLSHIT!” Kit wondered if Smythe’s outburst was loud enough to draw glances from the other techs and MechWarriors working in the hangar below. “Don’t try that hardass military discipline stuff with me, Charlie,” said Smythe. “I’ve known you too long to buy it and I know that ain’t the kind of outfit you run. Hell, if it were you wouldn’t have guys like Terry Laurent around.”

Pressler brought his hands down on the desk with a reverberating slap. “Terry Laurent is in this unit because he’s a damn good MechWarrior who brought his own ride with him!” he yelled. “You’re in this unit because I have known you for too long, Smitty.” Then, as his temper subsided, Pressler added as if in apology: “And because you’re a good MechWarrior too.”

Kit watched Smythe for any sign of offense at his commanding officer bringing up the fact he had joined the unit Dispossessed - without a BattleMech of his own. Smythe’s face showed only the barest flicker of pain before he launched back into his tirade. “And Söderlund is a damn good tech!” he shot back at Pressler. “She’s been doing half the stuff our quote-unquote chief tech hasn’t been doing because he spends half his time drunk.”

Pressler rubbed his temples with his thumbs. “Rickover likes a drink. That doesn’t make him a drunk.”

“No, he’s a drunk,” Kit said. “I should know.” I’ve spent enough time around an alcoholic up close to tell what one looks like. Smythe’s voice shook her out of her memories and she found that he and Pressler seemed determined to have their argument about her without acknowledging her presence.

“What I’m sayin’ is, we need her,” Smythe said, his tone dropping from the outraged twang to something lower and more imploring.

“Please stop talking about me like I’m not here,” Kit said. Neither man gave any sign of hearing her.

“I need the leader of my fire lance in a cockpit, Sarge!” Pressler shot back. “Who am I going to put in Laurent’s Enforcer when we ship out?”

“There’s always me,” Kit quipped.

Finally Pressler seemed to notice she was still in the room, and he didn’t seem pleased to make the discovery. “And you’re going to command the fire support lance too, I suppose?” he asked.

“I’m not saying that,” Kit protested, holding up her hands defensively. “Wilkins is the lance number two, of course he should lead while Laurent is… out.” Kit leaned forward in her chair, giving Pressler a pleading look. “It’s not a tough contract, Captain. All we’re going to do is run through some training exercises to whip the planetary militia into shape, right? Give me a chance. You’ve seen my performance readouts from the sims.”

Pressler rolled his eyes. “Arcade pods don’t count.”

“Real sim time is hard to come by,” Kit snapped. “And expensive. I only go to the arcades when I don’t have any other choice.”

Pressler turned back to look at Smythe, jabbing a finger at Kit. “You’re right, Smitty, this outfit does need good techs,” he said, his voice rising in anger. “What it doesn’t need is techs with delusions of grandeur who think they can cause problems for me and get me to reward them for it by letting them play at being a real 'Mech jock!” Pressler punctuated his scream by grabbing a handful of supply manifest printouts from the top of the desk and throwing them into the air. The papers floated to the floor like leaves scattered in the wake of a storm.

Smythe made calming gestures with his hands. “Look, Charlie…”

“Don’t ‘Charlie’ me, Sarge!” Pressler bellowed, rising from his chair. The two men stared each other down, the accumulated frustrations of years of friendship crackling in the air between them.

The tense silence was broken when Kit suddenly rose from her seat, sending it sliding back against the office wall. “Don’t even bother, Smitty,” she said. “You heard the Captain. This unit doesn’t need me. I’m out.”

Kit brushed past Smitty, pushed open the door to the office stomped down the metal stairs to the hangar floor. Head down, face hot with anger and shame, she almost crashed into Terry Laurent waiting at the bottom of the staircase.

Terry Laurent had recruiting poster good looks, two meters of perfect, patriotic Davion boy. He wore a tank top that showed off his well-muscled physique, although the effect was somewhat spoiled by the cast which covered most of his lower right arm. “Slow down there, kitten,” Laurent said, blocking her attempt to squeeze past. “You didn’t want to get this close to me before.”

“****** off, Terry,” she snarled.

“Where to, wannabe?” he sneered. “Going to keep crippling people until the Captain’s got no choice but to give you a shot? How does it feel to know a real MechWarrior is better with one hand than you’ll ever be with two?”

“One hand is enough for what you’re really best at, Terry.” Kit seized Laurent’s cast-covered lower arm and slammed it viciously against the steel railing. The MechWarrior howled in pain and she pushed past him towards the open 'Mech bay doors. “Don’t think about me when you do it.”

Laurent’s expletive-laden reply was partially drowned out by the sound of the repair equipment inside the 'Mech bar as Kit stalked out onto the sun-baked pavement.

“Kid, hold on,” he called. “Think about what you’re doin’.”

She spun on her heel to face Smythe, fists on her hips, bringing him up short. “I have thought about it,” she said. “I’ve thought about it a lot longer than a minute.” She turned away from him again and was silent. Smythe slowly walked up beside her and stood with his hands in his pockets, staring down at the tarmac.

“Sarge, I’ve been with the Privateers for four years now,” Kit said finally, watching the blurry heat rising from the DropShip runways in the distance. “And there’s two people in this unit who ever gave a damn about me. One of them is you. You’ve always been decent to me. The other one is Laurent, and it’s only because he wants to get in my pants.” Kit waved an arm at the 'Mech bay behind them. “To the rest of them I’ll always just be a ‘Drac.’” Kit was shocked at the sound of her own voice, realizing how obvious the pain in it was, and she was ashamed. She joined Smythe in looking down at the ground.

The two stood for several moments in silence broken only by the clanging and grinding of 'Mech maintenance going on in the hangar behind them before Smythe spoke. “Hell, kid, you know I’m just a big friendly Outback hick,” he offered with a wry smile. “The rest of them… you gotta understand…” he trailed off.

“I understand, Smitty,” Kit said quietly. Most of the Privateers’ personnel had come from the Federated Suns. For centuries the Federated Suns, under the rule of House Davion, had fought the Draconis Combine under the rule of House Kurita on the battlefields of the Succession Wars. Any member of the Privateers who hadn’t personally lost a friend or a family member to the Combine almost certainly knew someone who had. Doesn’t matter I’m not ethnically Japanese, or that I haven’t been to the Combine since I was a child, Kit thought. She had called Galatea home since she was nine years old, when her parents had come to the mercenary hiring hall world so her father, a former Combine military 'Mech technician, could find opportunities that the Kurita military could not or would not afford a native of the Scandanavian-influenced Rasalhague province. But for many FedSuns natives… A blue-eyed Drac is still a Drac. Or so she had heard one Privateers MechWarrior put it, not realizing she was within earshot.

Kit pushed the memory down and turned to face Smythe, putting on a cheerful face. “But all that’s personal. My reasons for leaving are professional. I’ve got a better offer.”

“You’re signing on somewhere else?” Smythe asked, his voice betraying his surprise.

Kit nodded. “Task Force Talon.”

Smythe’s brow furrowed. “Think I’ve heard of ‘em. Supposed to be a solid outfit. Heard they came back pretty shot up after their last contract along the League’s border with Liao, though.”

“They did,” Kit said. “That’s why they need good techs. Their commander says she’s got a lead on a contract that’ll put them on solid footing again. And after that’s done she says she’ll give me a shot in one of their Wasps that needs a new pilot... if I can help them put it back together.” Kit looked away. “Plus, most of their people are from Marik space, so… to them having a ‘Drac’ in the unit isn’t such a big deal.”

Smythe nodded along with her, but couldn’t hide the concern on his face. Still, he reached out and clapped her on the shoulder. “Well hell, kid, that sounds great. Big loss for us, but I can’t blame you for makin’ the decision you are.”

Kit forced a smile. “Thanks, Smitty. I’m going to miss you.” She took his hand and shook it, then turned to walk away. After a few steps she turned back and saw Smythe still staring after her.

“Hey Sarge,” she said. “You know my reasons for leaving. Why do you stay?”

Smythe mopped the sweat from his shaved head, then ran his hand through his beard. “Well, kid,” he said, “You know me and Charlie go back a ways. And they keep me in a cockpit.” Smythe piloted a Valkyrie as the second-in-command of the Privateers’ scout lance. On Galatea, a MechWarrior with his own machine could almost always find a place in a unit, but competition for the empty seats in units with more 'Mechs than pilots to operate them was fierce. Few MechWarriors would give up a decent situation like Smythe had to voluntarily join the ranks of the Dispossessed.

Kit nodded, then turned to leave again. “Hey kid… good luck,” she heard Smythe call. She glanced back at him with a smile and a wave, then walked away. She did not hear Smythe walk away in the other direction. Perhaps he was watching her leave, or perhaps his footsteps were merely drowned out by the echoing din from the 'Mech bay.

Find a 'Mech. Find a contract. Keep fighting.

FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #16 on: 30 March 2021, 17:01:22 »
Thanks for sharing. Nice little setup. Are you following the granddaughter or the old man in this?

Thanks for your kind words. As you'll probably be able to see from the part I just posted, we're following Katryna/Kit for the rest of this. However, I do have a pretty full backstory for Samuel noted down, and there are some specific episodes from his life and career which may show up as prologues/flashbacks or as their own short stories in the future.
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Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Daryk

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #17 on: 30 March 2021, 17:58:38 »
Well done on that Chapter one!  :thumbsup:

I'm DEFINITELY in for more of this ride... If you ever want a copy edit, just let me know via PM!  :thumbsup:

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #18 on: 01 April 2021, 09:52:26 »
2

Konstance
The Draconis Combine
August 16, 3024

The fifty ton 'Mech Recovery Vehicle inched through a ninety-degree turn at an intersection designed for vehicles half its size at best, then slowly accelerated down the empty street of what had once been Konstantinople, Konstance’s capital city. There had been a downpour of acid-tinged rain the night before, and steam rose from the pockmarked pavement beneath the MRV’s tires.

The MRV somewhat resembled a civilian tow truck or flatbed hauler, scaled up to massive size. A relatively tiny cab sat atop an ancient, enormous internal combustion engine. Coupled behind it was a trailer with a gigantic winch and an angled deck on which a disabled BattleMech could be laid for hauling away.

Kit tried to contain her excitement. She was almost bouncing in the passenger seat of the MRV, even without the effects of the street’s many potholes that the rig was too ponderous to swerve around and which all its eighteen wheels struggled to absorb. Next to her in the driver’s seat, Keith Pascoe was a spiritual opposite to Kit’s nervous energy. He sat slumped back, a study in lethargy, driving the massive MRV with one hand, mopping his brow with the other, and muttering occasional complaints about the climate which Kit mostly tuned out. Now she became dimly aware he was looking at her, meaning he had apparently said something for which he actually seemed to be expecting a response. She glanced back across the cab to meet his gaze. “Sorry, what?”

“I asked what you keep looking around so much for,” Pascoe said. “You expecting to pick out a specific address?” He mopped his forehead, then sponged the sweat off his hand on the steering wheel. “****** this heat.”

“You could roll the windows down and get some breeze,” she suggested.

Pascoe snorted. “Nothing doing. Look at the state of this place, I’m not putting my faith in the Combine keeping the CO2 scrubbers maintained when they haven’t maintained anything else.”

The MRV rumbled over a gash in the pavement two meters wide, forcing Kit to use one hand to steady herself against the passenger side door. “They have to keep the scrubbers working to support the parts of the planet people still live on,” she pointed out . “And it’s the same atmosphere you’re breathing either way, it’s not like this cab is airtight.” She smirked at him. “You’d think a 'Mech technician would understand at least a little of this science stuff.”

Pascoe offered no response except a dismissive wave of his hand and Kit turned her attention back out the window again. She had meant the remark good-naturedly but couldn’t tell if Pascoe had taken it that way. After working with the older tech for only a few weeks, since she had joined the support staff for the mercenary unit that called themselves Task Force Talon, she didn’t have a read on him yet.

A minute later Kit’s fears she had offended Pascoe dissipated when he spoke again. “But you didn’t answer me before: what’s got you so excited?”

“Sterns and Keely said they found a 'Mech,” Kit answered.

“And you think it might give us what we’re looking for?” Pascoe asked.

“Well, sure, there’s that,” Kit said. “But they didn’t say what type it was… so I’m… just interested to find out,” she finished, with an embarrassed shrug.

Pascoe snorted again. “Well that’s just adorable,” he said. “After twenty years with my head up a 'Mech’s ass, let me tell you the novelty begins to wear off.” The end of Pascoe’s comment was almost drowned out by the creaking of the MRV’s brakes as they approached another intersection and Pascoe temporarily put both hands on the wheel to haul the rig through another turn. “But,” he went on, “If whatever 'Mech Sterns and Keely found gives us a clue where these Lyran spooks we’re supposed to find are, and gets us off this sweatbox faster, then it’ll be the most beautiful damn BattleMech I’ve ever seen.”

The MRV’s transmission growled alarmingly beneath them as Pascoe accelerated back to the fastest speed he could manage on the too-narrow city street, then subsided. “Anyway,” Pascoe continued once he could be heard without needing to shout, “We’re know soon. About six more blocks straight ahead if I’m reading these old maps right.”

Kit found herself leaning forward in her seat as if the few inches could actually help her see their destination quicker. All she actually saw in the distance was what appeared to be a strange break in the lines of multi-story buildings on either side of the street the MRV was travelling down.

“Shit,” exclaimed Pascoe suddenly. Kit had to throw out her hands to catch herself on the dashboard as the other tech stomped on the brake pedal. The hulking MRV rig groaned to an abrupt stop less than thirty meters from the sloped bank of a man-made canal. Kit shot Pascoe a quizzical look. “Alright, so, not quite six blocks,” he said sheepishly. “I did say ‘if’ I was reading the map right.”

The two techs’ attention was drawn outside the vehicle by a crackle of static from the handheld radio laying between their seats. “About time you got here,” said a female voice, the radio’s tinny quality not entirely able to strip away its cheerful tone. “I was starting to think about getting out and working on my tan.”

Grabbing the radio, Kit opened the passenger door, clambered down the first few rungs of the ladder on the side of the MRV’s cab, then jumped the last six feet to the ground. Pulling on a short brimmed cap to shield her eyes from the oppressive sun, Kit walked around the front of the MRV and found the reason the two techs had been called into the heart of the abandoned city.

A hundred meters away, where the canal began to curve away between buildings out of sight, stood three BattleMechs. Kit recognized two of them, a Hermes II and a Vindicator painted gunmetal gray with faded purple and yellow accents, as belonging to Stef Keely and Brent Sterns, respectively. Together, the two MechWarriors and their mounts constituted Task Force Talon’s abbreviated recon lance. Keely raised the Hermes II’s arm in greeting.

The third BattleMech, which stood behind Keely and Sterns’s mounts facing the canal, was a Commando - a type not in the Talons TO&E. It was painted in a greenish-gray and tan camouflage pattern which seemed designed to fit the environment of the abandoned desert capital. Kit suppressed a sigh. She had cherished a secret hope that 'Mech from a covert House Steiner force operating on an enemy-held planet might be one of the recently introduced Hatchetman types she had heard about. For Kit, who had literally been raised around the walking war machines, a chance to see one of the first entirely new 'Mech types produced in the Inner Sphere in centuries would have been thrilling.

Still, the Commando was a fine machine in its own right, and long a staple of the Lyran armed forces. And if gets us off this planet and gets us paid, Kit thought to herself as she mopped the sweat off her forehead, then like Pascoe said, a Commando is just fine.

Kit raised the walkie and held the transmit button. “So is that thing from the Lyran stay-behind force we’re supposed to find?”

“That’s the only thing we can figure,” Keely’s voice came back. “No markings on it, but there’s no reason for a Combine 'Mech to be out here by itself.”

“Why is it here by itself?” Kit asked.

“Maybe all that’s left?” Keely responded. “Maybe the Combine found the rest of the force but this guy got lucky.”

“For a while, anyway,” Sterns broke in. The Vindicator pilot’s sarcastic tone was jarring after Keely’s irrepressible cheerfulness.

“What do you mean?” Kit asked with a frown. “Where’s the Lyran pilot, anyway?”

“Come see for yourself,” Sterns responded, rotating the Vindicator’s torso and seeming to gesture vaguely towards the canal with the 'Mech’s left arm.

With an annoyed sigh, Kit started walking the hundred meters that separated her from the three 'Mechs. The sweltering sun and obscene humidity made her feel more like she had walked a kilometer by the time she arrived at the feet of the Hermes II and Vindicator.

“So what am I supposed to see?” Kit demanded, peering upwards through the sun at the faceplate of the Vindicator. No response came through the radio of the Vindicator’s external speakers. Sterns merely gestured in the direction of the canal with his 'Mech’s left arm again. Kit walked around the Vindicator to the edge of the artificial riverbank and looked over.

The canal’s depth was a fraction of what it had been during the days the city had been populated, and the water was murky from the acidic rainfall. At the edge of the water, facedown, lay a human form, clad in the boots, shorts, and T-shirt that was the de facto cockpit uniform of MechWarriors. The 'Mech jock lay prone and motionless, the fouled canal water lapping against his face. A chill ran through Kit in spite of the oppressive heat. “Hell,” she breathed.

The radio crackled to life again. For once, Keely’s tone approached somber. “We figure he probably got out of the Commando to try to get water from the canal, run it through a portable filter. If he’s been here since the Combine took the world back, he’s probably run out of whatever supply he had a long time ago.”

Kit wrenched her eyes off the dead MechWarrior and started looking for what had killed him. A few meters to her left, there was a chunk missing from the edge of the concrete embankment, ten or twelve inches wide. Looking back down into the canal, Kit saw where the matching chunk had rolled down into the water near the dead 'Mech pilot. In her mind’s eye she could clearly picture what had happened.  He stepped on the cracked spot and that chunk broke off beneath him. He hit his head falling, slid partway down the bank unconscious and… drowned in a few inches of water. Kit shook her head at the sheer randomness of the man’s demise. A trained MechWarrior, probably a very good one even if he was chosen for such a dangerous covert mission. And to die like this…

“Like we said,” came Sterns’ voice from the radio. “This guy was lucky… for a while.”

Find a 'Mech. Find a contract. Keep fighting.

FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

paulobrito

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #19 on: 01 April 2021, 10:06:04 »
One of the un-luckiest ways to die.

Daryk

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #20 on: 01 April 2021, 17:16:26 »
No kidding... but hey... Free Commando!  :)

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #21 on: 03 April 2021, 10:20:47 »
3

Konstantinople, Konstance
The Draconis Combine
August 16, 3024


Kit swore, first under her breath, then out loud, not caring if her profanities escaped through the open hatch of the Commando’s cockpit for anyone to hear. Her coveralls were soaked with sweat, and the seat was particularly and unpleasantly damp from the Commando’s waterlogged command chair. While the 'Mech’s pilot lay dead in the canal below, its cockpit had been left open to the previous night’s downpour. Which, aside from soaking the pilot’s seat, threatened to make it impossible for the mercenaries of Task Force Talon to use the 'Mech to accomplish their objective on Konstance.

Like many other border worlds, Konstance had changed rulers multiple times during the centuries of conflict between the Inner Sphere’s five dynastic Great Houses known as the Succession Wars. Until just a few months prior, Konstance had been part of House Steiner’s Lyran Commonwealth. Though the Third Succession War had mostly devolved into low intensity raiding in the last few years as the armies of all the Great Houses had reached exhaustion, a few planets were still occasionally conquered by one faction or another - mostly relatively insignificant worlds like Konstance, attacked more for the prestige of conquest than for any strategic reason. When Draconis Combine forces had landed on Konstance in March 3024, the small Lyran garrison on the world had put up only token resistance before abandoning the world - except for the small covert force that Task Force Talon had been contracted by the Lyran government to find and, if possible, extract.

Someone in the Steiner high command, the mercenaries were told, was apparently suspicious that the Combine might have set its sights on Konstance for reasons beyond bragging rights. The “stay-behind” force was tasked with operating out of the world’s inhospitable interior - largely abandoned because of the catastrophic damage done to Konstance’s environment by industrialization - and collect intelligence on what the Combine might be doing on the world. If the Kurita forces were reinforcing Konstance’s defenses or building a supply depot to turn the world into a staging area for future offensives into Steiner space, the Lyran command wanted to be forewarned.

Task Force Talon had loaded into the DropShip Rochlitz, an old Union-class DropShip hired by their employers and entered the Konstance system at a “pirate” point on a tramp JumpShip much closer to the planet than the normal zenith and nadir points used by peaceful traffic. They had landed on the world’s interior continent of Tiburia under cover of one of the planet’s frequent tropical storms, the most white-knuckle descent of Kit’s life, but it seemed to have served its purpose of concealing their arrival from the token Combine garrison. Setting down just outside the abandoned former capital of Konstantinople, where they had been briefed that the Steiner covert team would be hiding, the Talons had begun broadcasting an encrypted radio signal on a particular frequency provided by their Lyran military liaison. The broadcast was supposed to signal the LCAF stay-behind team to come out of their bolthole for extraction.

For 24 hours, they had received no response. At the end of their first day on Konstance, the captain of Rochlitz had informed Commander Diana Toszka of the Talons that they had one more day to complete their mission. After that, he and his ship were lifting off with or without them. The Combine would not remain oblivious to their presence forever.

Commander Toszka had deployed her 'Mechs to begin searching the city systematically, block by block. Half the mercs’ second day on Konstance had elapsed before Keely and Sterns had, by pure chance, come upon the Commando and its dead pilot. The same storm that had concealed the Talons’ arrival from the Combine garrison force had probably concealed it from the Lyran MechWarrior, although why he had not heard or chosen not to respond to their rendezvous signal was anyone’s guess. In any case the Lyran warrior had apparently missed his ticket off the enemy-held world by a matter of hours.

Without another lead to follow, the Talons had hoped that the Commando’s onboard computer memory banks might contain intelligence data that would be useful enough to their Lyran employers to satisfy their contract. Unfortunately, as Kit was discovering, the exposure to the elements had made recovering any data from the Commando’s cockpit nearly impossible.

“It’s no good,” Kit called. “The displays in here are as drowned as the poor guy in the canal. None of them will power on.”

Her handheld radio crackled and Sterns’ voice came through. “So what are our options?”

“We could pull the memory banks, take them back to the ship and hook them up to a display there to see what’s on them,” Pascoe suggested from the MRV, which he had driven closer ready to haul the Commando away as salvage.

“And what if it’s not what we’re looking for?” Sterns countered. “If we go back to the ship and then have to go back out and keep looking… we’re running out of time.”

Kit considered for a moment. “There is one other thing I could try,” she said. “I could pull the memory, then put it in one of your 'Mechs and try to read it that way.” She climbed out of the Commando’s cockpit and clambered nimbly down to the ground. “Pascoe, can you get me the splice kit?”

The older tech rummaged in the cab of the MRV, then threw her a small canvas sack. Kit caught it, clipped it to the belt of her coverall, then climbed back up the Commando’s back to its cockpit. After several minutes of fiddling under the console which held the joystick for controlling the 'Mech’s right arm and once nearly electrocuting herself, she managed to extract the drive the 'Mech used for storing navigation maps and recording combat data - what MechWarriors commonly called the “gun camera” data. If the Lyran pilot had scouted out anything the Combine was doing on the world besides maintaining ordinary garrison outposts before his untimely demise, the six inch long, featureless gray box Kit now held in her hands was what would tell the tale. If it was still readable.

“Alright,” Kit said, stuffing the drive in one of her coverall pockets, “Who wants to do the honors?” In response, Sterns dropped the Vindicator down onto one knee. Kit jogged over to it while Pascoe maneuvered the MRV into position to hook the Commando onto the rig’s winch.

Kit clambered nimbly up the Vindicator’s leg and chest. A hatch in the side of the 'Mech’s neckless, helmet-like head popped open as she pulled herself onto its shoulder. She looked through the open hatch and held out the drive. “Swap this in for the memory bank you’ve got.”

Sterns turned to look at her as best he could inside his bulky MechWarrior’s neurohelmet. “What? Where do I…?”

Kit rolled her eyes. Another 'Mech jock who knows nothing about how his ride works. “On the Vindy it should actually be under the center console, almost between the foot pedals.”

Sterns flipped switches on either side wall of the cockpit, locking the Vindicator’s legs in place to ensure it wouldn’t topple with the the stabilizing guidance of his own equilibrium, then lifted the neurohelmet off his head and shoulders, revealing disheveled sandy brown hair and his heat-flushed, stubbled face. He twisted in his seat to set the neurohelmet on a set of hooks on the rear bulkhead of the cockpit, unfastened the safety harness that held him in his seat, took the drive from Kit’s outstretched hand, then bent forward at the waist and peered down towards the cockpit floor for several moments. “What exactly am I supposed to be looking for here?”

“Oh, herregud, just let me do it,” Kit said. Sterns turned and regarded her quizzically. “Get out already, I’m not sitting on your lap.” Sterns opened his mouth as if to reply, then thought better of it. Handing the memory bank back to her, he squeezed out of the hatch, then climbed over the domed top of the Vindicator’s head onto its other shoulder while Kit shimmied down into the cockpit.

Kit busied herself underneath the center cockpit console, cursing in three languages at the House Liao engineers who had chosen to position the slot for the memory bank in such a cramped and inconvenient place. They had apparently not envisioned this kind of swap being carried out without removing the command chair.

Outside she could hear the whine of the MRV’s winch as Pascoe hooked up the Commando. Kit raised her head to look through the Vindicator’s visor-like cockpit viewport. The Commando lay supine on the MRV’s flatbed deck like a cadaver on a slab. Pascoe stood by the rig’s cab. His voice came through the handheld laying on the Vindicator’s command couch: “I’m going to go ahead and haul this beauty to the DropShip.”

Kit picked up the radio and mopped her brow with her sleeve. “And how am I going to get back when I’m done here?”

“I’ll head back for you as soon as I’ve got the Commando safely secured,” Pascoe said. Kit sighed, flashed Pascoe a thumbs up through the viewport, then went back to work. She heard the MRV rumble off, then for several more minutes there was silence again except for the sound of her own whispered profanities.

Sterns’ voice came through the hatch once more. “Any idea how much longer this is going to take? I’m baking up here.”

Kit refused to be distracted from her task. “I’m splicing a different connector, yours and the one from the Commando aren’t compatible.”

The handheld crackled to life again. “Hey Sterns,” Keely said. “I’m picking up some weird magres readings.”

Sterns stretched through the hatch and grabbed the handheld off the seat. “What kind of weird?” he asked. “What about seismic?”

Kit heard the two MechWarriors’ exchange as if they were far away as she completed splicing the last wire. Finished! Above her Sterns looked down through the hatch, his face framed by the pollution-hazed desert sky. “Hey Söderlund, I need my seat back, we may have company.”

Kit looked up at him. “It will only take me a minute to see if the memory’s readable. This is the moment of truth.”

Sterns shook his head. “Then take a minute later, we-...”

The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the roar of missile exhaust and a cacophony of alarms inside the Vindicator’s cockpit. Sterns’ face disappeared from the hatch opening. Peering out of the 'Mech’s viewport, Kit saw Keely’s Hermes II staggering backwards, wreathed in smoke and flame.



Find a 'Mech. Find a contract. Keep fighting.

FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

paulobrito

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #22 on: 03 April 2021, 11:00:13 »
Joy.

Daryk

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #23 on: 03 April 2021, 11:36:29 »
Not looking good for Sterns...  :-\

Elmoth

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #24 on: 03 April 2021, 13:24:07 »
Tjeyan rename that ditch Mechwarrior's Demise for sure.

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #25 on: 03 April 2021, 13:49:33 »
Tjeyan rename that ditch Mechwarrior's Demise for sure.

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand?  ??? :-\
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Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Elmoth

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #26 on: 03 April 2021, 15:05:01 »
Typo on autocorrect
"
They can rename that ditch..."

Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #27 on: 03 April 2021, 15:06:30 »
Typo on autocorrect
"
They can rename that ditch..."

If the Lyrans ever take the planet back they can put up some sort of memorial marker, more than most dead 'mech jocks get.  :thumbsup:
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Fortunes of War
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Middcore

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #28 on: 05 April 2021, 08:28:53 »
4

Konstantinople, Konstance
The Draconis Combine
August 16, 3024

Kit watched as the Hermes II rocked back on its heels, then planted its spade-like feet wide apart as Stef Keely steadied her machine. Inside the Vindicator’s cockpit, displays on either side of the main viewport flashed with readings from thermal, magnetic resonance, and seismic scanners showing a panoply of possible threats scattered among the city’s abandoned buildings on either side of the canal. Kit couldn’t see any hostiles, but Keely apparently had a line of sight on something. The Hermes II’s autocannon pounded out a staccato beat and ejected shell casings tumbled down the artificial riverbank.

“Brent, we’ve got a fight on our hands!” Keely’s voice on the radio was no longer sunny tones, it was all controlled adrenaline, a notch below a yell. “I need you in it!”

Kit looked back up towards the Vindicator’s open cockpit hatch. “Sterns?” she shouted, wondering if it was even possible for anybody to hear her. She had almost summoned up the courage to poke her head out of the hatch when Sterns’ face suddenly reappeared, startling her.

“Blake’s Blood, Söderlund, get the hell out of there!” Sterns shouted down at her. “Run for cover in one of the buildings or-...”

There was a deafening rumble and the Vindicator shook like a leaf, bouncing Kit off the side bulkhead of the cockpit. A display above her head flashed a warning of damage to the armor all along the 'Mech’s right flank. Outside Keely pivoted her Hermes II and delivered another burst of autocannon fire and an emerald laser pulse at something on the other side of the canal. As the forty-ton 'Mech turned, Kit could see that it’s front side was heavily cratered from missile impacts. She looked back up towards the hatch. Sterns was gone again.

“God dammit!” she yelled over the persistent cacophony of the cockpit alarms. Ignoring the part of her brain telling her such an action was patently insane, she stood up on the command chair and popped her head through the open hatch. If Sterns had been shaken from his perch on the Vindicator’s shoulder, he was nowhere in sight, unless he had fallen behind the ‘Mech where its hunched shoulders blocked Kit’s view.

Letting herself fall back down into the cockpit, Kit sat gripping the side consoles with white knuckles to contain her trembling. Through the Vindicator’s visor viewport, a hundred meters beyond where Keely’s Hermes II stood on the canal bank with its attention still fixed on its far side, the squat shape of a Dragon came into view, it’s forward-jutting torso looking like the snout of a savage animal. Kit could clearly see a red disc marked with the Dragon’s namesake beast painted on its shoulder, the emblem of House Kurita. The Combine had become aware of the mercenaries’ presence on Konstance at last.

Kit snatched up the handheld radio and mashed the transmit button. “Keely, on your left!” The Hermes II wheeled around just in time to save itself from what might have been a catastrophic salvo to its rear quarter. The Dragon’s autocannon shells traced a line of sparking impacts up the left side of the Hermes II’s chest and blasted off one of the ear-like sensor arrays mounted on either side of the 'Mech’s head, but failed to penetrate the armor which protected the cockpit. Far more devastating was the Dragon’s laser shot which arrived just as the smoke from the autocannon shots cleared. The coruscating beam found a weak point in the armor over the Hermes II’s left hip created by the missile hits Keely’s 'Mech had taken a minute before and melted the actuator to slag. Before Keely could aim a retaliatory shot, the Dragon withdrew back down the street parallel to the canal from whence it had come.

With its hip actuator crippled, the normally swift Hermes II would be able to manage no better than a limping walk. Stef doesn’t stand a chance, Kit thought to herself. And as for herself, one of the Combine attackers had already taken a potshot at the Vindicator as it knelt harmlessly by the canal bank. Even if she had been so inclined, riding out the fight huddled inside the Vindicator’s cockpit hoping the Kurita troops would ignore the dormant 'Mech long enough for her to surrender after the fight was over - which meant after Keely was probably dead - was not an appealing option. And yet the Vindicator’s cockpit was a much safer place than anywhere outside. Climbing out and making a run for one of the abandoned buildings in the middle of a 'Mech battle would be a suicidal move.

So that narrowed her choices down to just one.

Kit reached up and sealed the cockpit hatch, then lifted Sterns’ abandoned neurohelmet off of the hooks on the rear bulkhead and lowered it over her head and shoulders. It was too large for her, and the receptor pads on her temples did not make tight contact, but there was nothing to be done about it. With practiced speed, she fastened and tightened the safety harness and connected the web of wires which linked the neurohelmet to the Vindicator’s systems through various jacks scattered around the cockpit. On the helmet’s transparent faceplate, parts of the heads-up display flashed to life. The process was routine for Kit after performing it hundreds of times during maintenance checks and simulator runs, and inhibited only by the persistent trembling of her hands.

The last wire was the most important. Its purpose was to transmit the MechWarrior’s brain waves into a computer system that translated the pilot’s own sense of balance into signals that could be interpreted by the ‘Mech’s gyroscopes, keeping it steady as it maneuvered in combat - without this guidance, the most mighty of BattleMechs was useless. Kit hesitated for only a moment before she connected this last jack, knowing what was coming.

She plugged in the wire and was instantly hit with a convulsive wave of nausea that doubled her forward in the command chair. When a 'Mech was piloted by a single MechWarrior for a prolonged period of time, its computers became attuned to the brain waves of the customary pilot, improving the efficiency of the neuro-transmission and allowing veteran MechWarriors to make their mounts move almost like an extension of their own bodies. The feedback caused by the sudden intrusion of Kit’s unfamiliar neutral patterns, aside from being viscerally unpleasant, would also impede the ease with which she could control the Vindicator.

Swallowing the bile in her throat, Kit worked the Vindicator’s joysticks and foot pedals. The 'Mech’s arms rose obediently, if somewhat clumsily, but it remained stubbornly in a kneeling position. Kit cursed herself as she realized her error and released the switches locking the 'Mech’s legs. At last the forty-five ton 'Mech drew itself to its full ten-meter height, just as the Kurita Dragon reappeared, one block farther away than before.

Without conscious thought Kit raised the Vindicator’s right arm, floated the corresponding targeting reticle on her heads-up display over the shape of the Dragon, mashed the button on top of the right joystick, and was rewarded with… absolutely nothing happening. She cursed herself again as realization dawned and frantically flipped the switches on the cockpit roof to disengage the safeties to the Vindicator’s weapons.

Kit looked back up and saw that by some stroke of good fortune, the Dragon did not even seem to have noticed that the Vindicator had come to life. It was carefully lining up a shot at Keely, perhaps hoping to exploit the damage it had done before and sever the Hermes II’s leg completely. Keely, aware of the impending attack this time but unable to dodge after the crippling hits she had already taken, blazed away at the Dragon with her autocannon and medium laser, causing superficial damage to the heavy 'Mech which its pilot seemed to not even notice.

The Kurita MechWarrior did notice when a bolt from the particle-projection cannon which replaced the Vindicator’s lower right arm sent a linear bolt of lightning into its left torso. Azure arcs whipped at the cracked pavement around the Dragon’s feet and chunks of armor exploded away from the point of impact. The Dragon reeled back half a pace, just as a droning alert in Kit’s ears informed her that the Vindicator’s missile launcher had a partial target lock. She thumbed the button on top of the left joystick and a flight of five missiles launched from the tubes in the Vindicator’s chest, but the Dragon was at the edge of the missiles’ minimum range and they failed to fly true. Soaring past the Dragon, the warheads detonated against the decaying facia of an ancient apartment high-rise. Now confronted head-on by two operational medium 'Mechs, the Dragon pilot backpedaled his mount out of sight once more.

“Sterns, thank God, it’s about time.” Keely’s voice in Kit’s neurohelmet earphones sounded so relieved that it made Kit grimace as she activated her mic to give the Talons MechWarrior the bad news.

“It’s not Sterns,” she said. Her own voice sounded strangely small in her ears, like a child’s. “It’s Söderlund in the Vindicator. Sterns is… I’m not sure.”

There was a pause, then Keely’s voice came back loud enough to make Kit wince in pain. “What the hell?!” Keely screamed, followed by an incoherent string of obscenities. “What the hell are you doing in there, Söderlund?” Keely demanded.

Kit tried to put confidence she didn’t feel behind her response. “I don’t know what happened to Sterns, but you looked like you could use some help. And I didn’t feel like waiting to get killed by a stray shot, or waiting for the Combine to come drag me out of the cockpit. So…”

“Shut up, Söderlund.” The Talons MechWarrior’s voice was not the cheerful sing-song Kit had already grown used to in her brief time with the unit, or the razor-edged near panic of a few moments before. It was calm, but carried an edge of deadly imperative. “Shut up and listen to me. The data from the Commando - have you got it?”

Kit blinked. She had completely forgotten about the task she had come into the heart of the abandoned city to do, the entire mission that the mercenaries had come to Konstance to accomplish. She glanced down into the footwell of the Vindicator’s cockpit where the memory bank from the Lyran Commando had been installed. “I didn’t get a chance to try to read it before we started getting shot at,” she admitted.

“But maybe it’s still got what we’re looking for,” Keely said. “Get out of here. Get that drive to the ship. We’ve got to get off this world but maybe we didn’t come for nothing.”

Kit’s stomach lurched. She says ‘we,’ but her 'Mech can barely move… she’s not going anywhere.

Kit’s dark train of thought went no further before a new round of warning klaxons filled the Vindicator’s cockpit. Two hundred meters farther along the curve of the canal bank, a menacing, alien shape stalked into sight, a shape all MechWarriors - and 'Mech techs - knew. “Holy hell,” Kit breathed. “A Marauder.”


Find a 'Mech. Find a contract. Keep fighting.

FanFic for your feedback:
Fortunes of War
Higher Purpose
Contining Education

Elmoth

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Re: Fortunes of War
« Reply #29 on: 05 April 2021, 15:10:10 »
Run!!!

Nice to see a Dragon in a positive light.
« Last Edit: 05 April 2021, 16:14:38 by Elmoth »