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Author Topic: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories  (Read 4132 times)

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #30 on: 28 November 2019, 05:34:51 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Six)

0700 Hours

  Acolyte Greenstein was furious, he stood in the dropship berth assigned to Security Chief Henke and shouted, “Lazy moron! How could you leave the meeting early?” his fist slammed the bulkhead, “You missed the most crucial report!”
  “You told me it was going to be routine,” replied Henke, calmly, “somebody could have called me.”
  “When I’m done with my evaluation, you’ll be back working in a shopping mall,” warned the acolyte, “you are ordered to take a slot with the group of volunteers for the megalith party.”
  “What if they aren’t taking any more volunteers?”
  “Damned idiot,” growled Greenstein, “pull your damn rank and insist at least one more armed guard go along,” his face scowled, “the site may be a hoax, but if it isn’t, contact me immediately!”
  “It shall be done, Acolyte,” replied Henke. He pulled his jacket over his broad shoulders and waited for Greenstein to leave the berth before extinguishing the lights. “I’ll have to deal with that damned mercenary in order to be added to the list of volunteers.”
  “This is Black Knight, current location is at the mining site,” transmitted Dumare, “position locator concurs.”
  Acolyte Odagawa nodded, “Your secondary radar confirms your location,” he adjusts his settings, “we should have the global navigation system running in a couple of weeks, if the sats just require a swap of circuit boards and updated software.”
  “That will make patrolling easier,” the mercenary agreed, “we won’t have to rely on the dropship beacon or inertial for navigation.” He expanded his navigation display and noted a new marker several kilometers away, one he had never seen before. In fact, after the satellites were repaired and reactivated, the navigation system in his battlemech indicated several navigation points with labels, none of which he recognized.
  The closest marker was labelled “Arkham Manor” and he turned his Black Knight toward the road and exited the mining site. “Kona Crab, this is Black Knight.”
  “Go ahead, Black Knight,” Nu’ukai responded.
 “I’ll be doing some exploring, about fifty kilometers from my current position,” Dumare reported, “updates to follow -Black Knight, out.”

  0800 Hours

  Acolyte Thalassa’s face bore the bland smile of a bureaucrat, “Is that your only request?” He glanced at the list of names on his display.
  “Yes,” Henke replied, “I consider the security of the personnel on this project my personal responsibility,” his voice was insistent.
  “I see,” the acolyte said, he made a change to the list, “that is good to hear, I have made the change, you’ll have to report to Acolyte Bond for further assignments.”
  Henke’s jaw dropped, “Wait, I’m not in charge?”
  Thalassa made a face, “You’re just a volunteer, one of two armed guards,” he informed Henke, “so, do your assigned duties and try to stay out of the way -you are just an employee here.”
  Henke stomped off, muttering. At least that bastard Greenstein will have no reason to whine at him, this time.

  The Black Knight trudged along the barely discernible trace of roadway under the layer of snow. The colony was founded near the planet’s equator and was in the grip of an Ice Age before the Terran Hegemony explored the planet for resource deposits. After the drilling and mining began, it was determined that the world only required minimal terraforming to render the world available for sustainable human habitation. The Star League’s collapse doomed the world to isolation and its terraforming technologies slowly failed over the decades, extending the winter months and lowering the planet’s temperatures. The crews working on the carbon dioxide factories toiled to get those generators operating, after so many years of neglect, and they were very optimistic.
  Dumare could make out the snow-coated remnants of fences and walls, orchards of trees long dead, the ruins of dwellings, and carcasses of vehicles. He wondered if such a collapse of civilization was inevitable. Despite months of research, none of the ComStar scientists could reach a conclusion on how and why a community of over one hundred thousand disappeared with hardly any trace or evidence. Dumare really didn’t like playing detective on this kind of scale, and none of the other colonists were up to the challenge, either. The only mystery he had before him was the handful of navigation points programmed into his battlemech’s system. If his father was on this planet as a soldier, it would mean that his mother had lied -He wasn’t born out in the Periphery, he was born on this planet and his mother had a reason to steal his father’s Black Knight and leave.
  “Arkham Manor,” Dumare said to himself, several vague images flashed through his mind, of a huge house where he played as a child, his parents, it was all very cloudy, like a forgotten dream that dissipates after waking, no matter how much you try to remember. He examined the navigation display, the megalith site was marked, the town center was marked, the three petroleum drilling sites were marked and there was a location labelled near the mountain range to the north as “Dagon’s Gate”. It was doubtless the massive metal doorway that led to the strange, underground facility, possibly a remnant of the Star League. It had been over three decades; Would anybody still be there? He had read that Star League era Castles Brian could contain and support two battlemech brigades with ease. Such a facility could easily shelter a smaller unit for years on end, given adequate power and supplies. He would have to investigate that himself.

  1100 Hours

  “I’ve printed out briefing packets for each of us, with duty assignments,” announced Acolyte Bond, “The only significant change is that our head of security, David Henke, will be joining us in Gomez’s place.”
  Henke raised a hand.
  Henke stood up and cleared his throat, “I see here you have me assigned to helping with washing dishes and camp cleanup.”
  “There are only two armed guards assigned to the site,” Henke said, “I’m not comfortable with that.”
  The acolyte sighed, “We only have two vehicles available,” he replied, “six passengers each plus equipment and supplies, and trailers for the generators and fuel,” he continued, “everybody on the project will be serving duties critical to the success of the mission and frankly, your resume is lacking in skills, save your ability to lug a rifle around,” reasoned Bond, “we have two armed guards, one has a background with internal combustion engines, so he will be maintaining the vehicles and generators, what secondary duties are you available for?”
  Henke scowled, and his expression darkened, “I could run a command center to coordinate all of the operations efficiently.”
  Bond shook his head, “Seriously? That happens to be my job,” he tapped at the display of his portable data device, “your resume lacks any reference to positions of leadership or management,” he leaned forward to emphasize his answer, “sitting all day, answering phones at the security desk in a New Jersey shopping mall doesn’t earn you any points as the leader of this, or  any other project.”
  The security chief sat down, muttering, and glared at some of the people around him when he heard stifled snickering.
  Acolyte Bond checked his notes one last time, “If there is nothing else, we shall be loading equipment this afternoon, please be ready to depart Innsmouth by thirteen hundred,” he stood up and raised a hand, “you have a list of personal items to bring, make certain that your gear is ready and loaded ASAP, because we don’t want any delay in departure -we have no idea how the traveling conditions may impede our travel,” he raised both arms, “may the blessings of Blake be upon you!”

  “I want to know how that information was obtained by that…mercenary,” hissed Acolyte Greenstein, he squirmed in the folding chair in front of the adept’s desk, “why was he even allowed to make such a presentation?”
  Adept Thalassa spread his hands in mock innocence, “Frankly, I have no idea what you mean,” he shrugged, “perhaps one of his people, the ones who discovered the cave of ferals, found the data,” he added, “and nobody screens the briefing materials, except for the time alloted.”
  “This is your responsibility!” shouted the acolyte, “don’t you realize what you’ve done?”
  The adept sighed, “Why don’t you fill me in?”
    “Don’t you recall the protocol required in every newly explored planet that anomalies must be reported immediately,” began the acolyte, “and the site restricted until an official team arrives to investigate?”
    Thalassa nodded, “I’m aware of the protocol, Acolyte Greenstein,” he leaned forward, “and since this world has already been explored and colonized, the protocol does not apply.”
   Greenstein leapt to his feet, “You know very well that this world was settled by the Terran Hegemony,” he was livid, “our recovery of this system is no different than discovery, and the proper protocols must be applied!” he fumed and tapped the Adept’s desk with his index finger, “we must never allow any knowledge of alien intelligence or technology to be made known to the public!”
  “You might want to keep your voice down,” the adept warned the acolyte, “the walls of this tent happen to be very thin, and I’m certain you have already managed to compromise security.”
  That seemed to infuriate Greenstein even more, his face turned red and he spluttered, his voice lowered, “Your superiors shall hear of this -your cavalier attitude is borderline heresy.”
  “Seriously?” Thalassa crossed his arms, “Jerome Blake adhered to the policy of the Hegemony government to find and destroy possible traces of alien technology on Terra as well as throughout the Inner Sphere, a policy carried out by the SLDF, often hidden by military operations,” he chuckled and shook his head, “why does ComStar insist on believing that the idea was theirs?” he then added, “some of us believe that Blake had misgivings over the policy, and that our current standards were enacted after his passing.”
  “Blasphemy!” hissed the acolyte, “our sainted Blake was the originator of cleansing the Inner Sphere of the taint of alien presence,” he ranted, his voice still subdued, “we can never allow the Children of Holy Terra to suffer the indignity of being held inferior to extinct races of nonhumans,” he pointed an accusing finger at Thalassa, “I shall have a word with the other acolytes, do not be surprised if the consensus deems it necessary to remove you from command,” Greenstein turned and stormed out of the adept’s tent.
  The adept shook his head, “Ignorant fool, blinded by fanaticism,” he smiled to himself, “what makes you think they are extinct?”

  Late Afternoon

  Acolyte Bond squinted his eyes as he scanned the snow-covered plains and rolling hills in the distance. Following the river, while making it easier to navigate, had several unforeseen problems, such as swamplands that proved to be impassible, and stretches of slushy mud that threatened to swallow their vehicles and more than once, required the application of tow cables for extraction. He has also forgotten, due to the difference in temperature, the dense fog caused by the combination of the cold, humid air and the warmer river, which slowed their travel to a cautious crawl. The satellite navigation system could guide them to their destination but did not alert them of the many uncharted impediments to their progress, which turned their estimated journey from the expected hour of travel to half a day’s arduous struggle.
   Unlike the stressed drivers, the passengers started out with discussing their mission and speculating on what they may find and what they hoped to uncover. Their discussion lasted through the first couple of hours and devolved into idle banter before the they sat in bored silence and eventually took turns napping, the only excitement being the times one of the vehicles bogged down and required pushing or towing. Their meal in transit was a selection of premade sandwiches and bars composed of compressed nuts and fruit.
  Henke sat among the passengers, sullen and withdrawn, plotting his moves to keep the crew under observation while trying to find a way to gain a position of importance among them.  He reviewed his training in his mind, he weighed covert infiltration with his desire to hold power and control over the others. He wondered why ComStar allowed nonbelievers to participate I the settlement, especially that mercenary, whose records revealed he was a potential problem, an immoral, aggressive and violent man at the controls of one of the most powerful machines known to humanity. Not only is that savage allowed free run of the settlement, he was also placed in charge of security…What was Adept Thalassa thinking?
    Dumare adjusted the settings on his sensors, and looked for anomalies usually present in urban settings, such as underground water and electricity conduits. The structure he was searching for may have relied on above-ground power lines, which would not have survived the decades exposed to the elements, but he preferred caution, especially if the building he scarcely remembered from childhood was still in good enough shape to restore.
  He spotted the building from over two kilometers. It stood over 40 meters tall, with a gabled roof, of an architectural design from ancient Terra, he was told that the house was similar that those where his father’s family had lived, on the East Coast of North America. Dumare wondered what shape that old structure could be in, after the long decades of abandonment. It was probably ransacked by pirates or looters from the town, after order had broken down, but from the distance, the frame, at least, appeared intact.
  From a kilometer away, the sensor readings made him suspicious. If the building was abandoned, the structure’s temperature would be no different than the ambient air. There were traces of heat emanations that were sure indications of some manner of life, animals at the least. He feared that feral humans may have chosen to hole up in the ruins of his home. The idea angered Dumare, and he cursed under his breath and reached down to the side of his command seat to give his submachinegun a reassuring pat. If there were trespassers, he was ready to clear them.
  At half a kilometer distance, Dumare guided his battlemech between the clusters of trees and along the snow-layered driveway. His approach was slow and cautious, he monitored his scanning data which searched for magnetic anomalies or thermal differences on his path, as it would be embarrassing to collapse a cesspool on the way to the property he claimed as his. A hundred meters from the front door, the Black Knight halted, and the mercenary waited for thirty minutes, just observing. Some of the windows showed thermal variances that could only be cause by some form of heating within the building. Much to his surprise, the three-story mansion was in remarkably good condition. None of the windows were broken and the front door was closed. The paint was a very light off-white hue, so he couldn’t determine if the color was normal or had faded due to exposure to harsh weather and sun. He thought for a minute, opened a standard request form on his display and began to fill in the blanks.                                                                                                                         
  “Innsmouth Control, this is Black Knight.”
  “Go ahead, Black Knight.”
  “I’m transmitting data for Adept Thalassa’s approval, please make certain he received that data in a timely manner,” responded Dumare, “Black Knight, out.”
  He slapped the quick release on his safety harness and slung his firearm before he opened the hatch.

  “Thalassa is a heretic!” declared Greenstein, “his poor decisions shall strip us all from Blake’s favor, and doom our settlement.”
  The handful of acolytes in the mess tent glanced at each other nervously, most of them had been recruited by ComStar while attending college, as the holy order offered to cover their expenses and guaranteed jobs upon graduation. 
  “What are you telling us?” asked Acolyte Przpezewsky, “If you have a problem with the Adept’s decisions, why not discuss it with him?”
  Greenstein sneered, “Do you think I haven’t voiced my opposition?” his fist rapped the table, “the heretic is adamant with his decisions, drunk with power and inflexible.”
  “I don’t know…” reasoned the younger acolyte, “he approved the project to examine the megalith, I really wanted to volunteer but my skills at power systems are needed here.”
  “You don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation,” replied Greenstein, “valuable assets have been denied out of whim,” he counted each point with a finger, “he removed two security personnel, which endangers our safety, he allowed valuable specialists to waste time digging instead of contributing to the settlement, and last, he violated ComStar protocols by investigating an archaeological site without waiting for Terra to send a team of qualified professionals.”
  “While I kind of see your point,” Przpezewsky nodded, “I don’t see any harm with investigating the megalith to determine whether it’s real, or just another SLDF hoax,” he shook his head, “I mean, I’ve read about how SLDF engineers would plant these things around just to get people worked up over nothing.”
  Greenstein shook his head, “All of our assets and energy have to be dedicated to the survival and success of our mission, not some frivolous pursuit,” he ranted, “they could be with the people who are harvesting grain or the assembling the prefabricated structures we’ll need for winter.”
  “I’m not arguing with you,” said the acolyte, “I just want to hear you out, although, what is your proposed solution?” he shrugged, “I mean, I’m not fully knowledgeable in the process of replacing the guy ComStar placed in charge, and it’ll be months before the jumpship returns with supplies,” he drew out an imaginary map on the table, “then we send a message  to Terra, and then their reply comes back…that could take almost a year, right?”
  “That’s the casual, administrative route,” Greenstein replied, “we can remove Thalassa from position if we have enough of the acolytes agree upon his removal.”
  “So, we can just vote him out of office?”
  Greenstein smiled, “Yes, we just have to convince enough of the acolytes to see that replacing him would be for the best.”

   “Do you see him?”
  Thomas Heinrich peered through the scope of his rifle, “Not yet.”
  Ricardo Gomez scanned the distant tree line through his binoculars, “He was there a minute ago.”
  The two security members crouched in the guard tower that faced the forest to the north of town, where the feral men were often spotted, lurking among the pines.
  Although a scoped sniper rifle rested in the rack beside the men, Heinrich cradled another weapon in his arms, very similar to the sniper rifle but loaded with drugged darts, each dart with a sedative capable of dropping a horse.
  “I see movement,” whispered Gomez, “yeah, he’s crawling near the edge of large tree with the green reflector.” The security team marked the trunk of several trees with colored reflective plaques, so they could quickly locate the feral men who lurked around the perimeter of the town beyond the wire fence. The fence was topped with razor wire and carried a mild electric current, which proved effective, as the first night it was powered up there was an unmistakable howl from the section nearest the tree line.
  “We’ll be switching to IR in the next hour,” murmured Heinrich, “I’m guessing they will test the fence again,” he eyed the sniper rifle, “if the adept didn’t want them taken alive, we could have just hunted them down, so they wouldn’t be a threat to anyone venturing outside the town.”

  Adept Thalassa logged the form into the colony’s database and smiled to himself, “Everything is progressing as expected.”
  “Adept, are you busy?” a man’s voice sounded from outside the tent’s door.
  “Come in, come in,” Thalassa replied. He stood up and motioned with a hand, “please, have a seat, would you like some tea?”
  Acoltye Przpezewsky nodded, “Thank you adept,” he sat down, “yes, I’ll have some tea, please.”
  Thalassa stepped to his right and picked up a mug and took a ready carafe from the warmer and filled the mug with steaming hot water, “Green or Orange Pekoe?”
  “Green please.”
  The adept picked a teabag from a container, placed it in the mug and handed the acolyte the mug and a spoon, “Most people don’t take sugar with green tea but if you like some, I have it.”
  Przpezewsky shook his head, “This is fine, thank you,” he placed the mug on the desk and let it steep.
  “So, acolyte,” said Thalassa, as he lowered himself into his chair, “what may I do for you?”
  The visitor leaned forward and whispered, “I have something serious to report to you,” he paused for a breath, “one of the acolytes is plotting to have you removed from your position by holding a vote.”
  The adept frowned, “That would be Greenstein.”
  “You know about it?”
  Thalassa chuckled, “Greenstein pretty much told me his plan,” he shook his head, “and he believes that he could do a better job.”
  “He calls your faith into question.”
  The older man shrugged, “Most of the real technicians in ComStar are actually employees and members for the money and job security, ” he leaned forward in emphasis, “but nobody dares admit it,” he leaned back in his chair, “as far as anybody is concerned, none of that is my business, as long as they do their job.”
  “Aren’t you afraid of losing your job?” the acolyte seemed concerned.
  “The people should be worried more about Acolyte Greenstein,” warned Thalassa, “he’s a control freak with extreme interpretations of the garbage attributed to Jerome Blake,” he said, “he’d have pre-arranged marriages and scheduled, compulsory prayer.”
  “A lot of people wont like that,” the acolyte said, “I’m happy with you in charge.”
 Thalassa smiled and patted the other man’s shoulder, “Thank you for your vote of confidence,” he paused in thought, “keep me advised on what’s going on behind my back.”

  Dumare stood in front of the mansion and slowly looked over the windows. The glass panes were intact, and through those panes he could even see white drapes hanging. He had fully believed that there would at least be evidence of forced entry after so many decades, instead, from the front, the structure appeared pristine.
  With great caution, he slowly turned the brass doorknob and found the door unlocked. The door easily swung open and leading with the muzzle of his weapon, he slipped through the portal.
There was an entryway, with brass coat hooks and a cast iron standing hat rack. The floors were polished wood with carpeting. He stealthily crept into a large room with a high ceiling, with a gilt chandelier with glittering crystals and electric candles. The chandelier was lit, as were the wall lamps. It was then he noted that the inside of the mansion was warm, which his battlemech’s sensors had detected. A wide set of stairs led to the upper floors and he turned to look at the glossy black grand piano near its base. He suddenly heard movement above him, the creak of a wooden floor, as if being stepped upon. He brought his SMG up and could see a dark figure standing at the top of the stairs.

  “Welcome home, son.”

End of Part Six


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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #31 on: 30 November 2019, 11:02:23 »
This is getting, interesting
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #32 on: 02 January 2020, 01:54:13 »
Royal Pain

Royal, Draconis Combine, Under Federated Commonwealth Occupation
September 21, 3039
1300 Hours

  Hauptmann Freiherr Helmut von Wiener lounged at a table at the sidewalk café he found in the small town of Charleville. The town was about fifty kilometers from the front lines, so the Lyran noble rewarded himself with a sweet, creamy latte before reporting in to headquarters. He also took the time to work on his reports, which were, as usual, late, due to his habit of drinking and carousing whenever possible.
  The manager of the café, a middle-aged man of Gallic descent, eyed the Hauptmann’s pristine Atlas and sneered when he saw the Draconis Combine insignia displayed on the Battlemech’s ponderous left leg.
  Suddenly irritated, the Freiherr put down his delicate porcelain cup of coffee and sternly addressed the man, “You don’t get to judge me,” he stated, “my employer took this contract and my terms prevented me from declining,” he added, “you may grouse about it all you want, but my commander never expected to be sent here to respond to an invasion.”
  “The Snakes conquered this world a decade ago,” said the manager, “we are finally being liberated.”
  “Potato, potahto,” replied von Wiener, with a dismissive flick of his hand, “the Houses are all the same, just with different window dressing, although the FedSuns has the worst food.”
  The man said nothing, spun on his heel and entered his café. The Freiherr shrugged and resumed his latte break. It was a lovely Spring day, in Royal’s Northern hemisphere, a few clouds with a light breeze.

  After powering up his trivid pad, he began working on his summary of the previous actions of the past two weeks, based upon recorded notes:

Day 1, September 8, 3039.  As per my suggestions, the unit’s aerofighters easily fended off the defender’s air assets and our Dropships landed, virtually unopposed, the only complication being Colonel Donnel’s abortive attempt to land at the spaceport, which resulted in heavy damage to the Dropship Manannan which was struck by Long Tom shells when she attempted to land. I knew the spaceport would be heavily defended but who knew the defenders fielded an entire battery of heavy artillery? The Manannan relocated twenty kilometers to the East, where the remaining Dropships established a landing zone, out of reach of the enemy.
  As I expected, the defenders in this sector are mercenaries, who have chosen to avoid battle and hole up in the capitol city. I haven’t determined which units are regulars and mercenaries, yet, but the Intelligence Section is working on that.

  Day 2, after a brief skirmish that sent the enemy’s light Battlemechs scurrying to the capital, my lance and supporting units captured the spaceport. I managed to claim a mercenary Lucifer, in damaged condition that was undergoing repairs and I have already been credited for a quarter of its value. The aero was marked with the insignia of an obscure mercenary unit and the Intel people have promised to determine who they are.

  Day 5, those Long Toms have been a nuisance. We dare not place any units at the spaceport, as the enemy has spotter infantry that could hide anywhere within sight and call in raining death. Those facilities would be a boon to our aero assets, instead of the poor peripheral airports we currently use. The Manannan could be repaired there as well.

  Day 6, our aerofighters have been searching for the enemy artillery battery but without success. It was assumed that parts of the city were burning but the thick smoke is most likely artificially generated, and effectively obscures anything that travels at street level. When the Long Toms fire, the enemy has cleverly used explosives or other devices to mimic the flash caused by the guns firing, which had made pinpointing the battery more problematic. These guys are certainly mercenaries, as regulars are nowhere near as clever.

  Day 10, a lance of fast, light Battlemechs managed to infiltrate behind our lines and attacked the support elements, causing severe damage and several casualties. I was asleep in the Dropship Leinster, at the time but those who were there are claiming to have seen a pair of machines that they could not identify. The rumor that the enemy is fielding Star League-era equipment is rampant and causing morale problems. I cannot believe that such ancient Battlemechs can be preserved and maintained for so long, and the centuries have rendered above average Battlemechs into objects of mythical power. Commoners can be such children in these matters.

  He paused for a moment and flagged the waiter, “Another one, please,” he pointed at the menu, “and an apple pastry.” He saw the waiter acknowledge the order and returned to his report.

  Day 12, despite my opposition, Colonel Donnel led the regiment on a frontal assault against the city. After taking thirteen percent casualties, we were forced back, even before we hit the minefields -Thank goodness the enemy lacked discipline and couldn’t wait until we were committed to the attack and pounded our ranks with artillery as we moved up. Had they waited until we hit the mines, the retreat would have been a long and slow slaughter.
  So far, it looks like it will be a war of attrition, the enemy is too afraid to leave the safety of the city and our side not stupid enough to try another frontal assault, although Colonel Donnel may take some time to recover from his injuries and the loss of two lances’ worth of Battlemechs was costly, we have the freedom of initiative, and we shall eventually find a hole in their defenses to exploit. If we had use of the spaceport, our aero could fly bombing sorties, but that’s out of the question, if their artillery remains a threat.

   The Freiherr stopped making his entry when the waiter arrived with a tray with a fresh latte and a delicately painted porcelain plate with two baked pastries, golden brown, each with a dollop of sugary apple filling in the center. “Thank you,” he said, as the waiter bowed politely and returned to the café. Von Wiener picked up one of the pastries and closed his eyes as he took a bite from it. The light sweetness filled his mouth and it reminded him of the bakeries of his home on Galatea.
  “This is the life…” The mercenary’s reverie was disturbed by the vibration he could feel in his feet and hear in the rattling of the fine china. A Battlemech’s approach would be felt before it was heard, especially through pavement.
  “Odd,” he thought, “I guess one of the other members of his unit was looking for a little unscheduled R and R. He was about to return to writing his report when the light Battlemech strode around the street corner and casually strode up the café. Von Wiener sat in his chair, shocked. He couldn’t make out the design at all. It was humanoid, although its legs were the “chicken walker” type, which was good for speed. It has hands and what looked like lasers mounted on the back of its wrists. The machine was painted in an overall mustard with mottled brown camouflage. His face suddenly grew pale when he recognized the insignia. It was the same emblem he saw on the Lucifer, a silver shield with the profile of a chess knight in green. In addition to the unit marking, there was a small green flag with a gold inscription that he could only guess was Arabic. He slowly reached to his belt and unbuttoned the flap to his holster.

  “Is it Helmut Freiherr von Wiener?” blared the Battlemech’s external speaker, “it certainly is, fancy meeting you here, of all places!”
  The Hauptmann frowned, the pilot’s voice was remarkably youthful and slightly accented, obviously Standard wasn’t his first language and somehow, that pilot recognized him. He thought about who he might know from Galatea that he could place…
  “It must be Allah’s will that I found you.”
  “Oh, no!” the mercenary sagged in his chair, “No, no, no…” His hands covered his face, “why me?”
  “So, is this your new Atlas I’ve heard so much about?” the strange ‘Mech slowly paced around von Wiener’s machine, “Niiiice…”
  The mercenary straightened, “Uh, so…How’s it going, Mohammed Bey?”
  “I’m doing quite well, thank you,” replied the pilot over the loudspeakers, “and I see you are enjoying the local hospitality, it was my birthday yesterday so, I’ve been celebrating.”
  The Freiherr stood up and motioned to an empty chair, “Oh, well, perhaps you should join me, my treat in honor of your birthday” he said, with a friendly smile.
  “Thank you so much,” Mohammed Bey responded, “as much as I’d love to accept your gracious offer, I happen to be working right now…and I’m not the kind of idiot to get out of my ‘Mech in a war zone.”
  “I had to try,” answered von Wiener, through a forced smile. The perspiration glistened on his forehead, “Are we done here?”

  “I’ve got some business to do, but I’m going to have to run the alternatives past you first, as a professional courtesy,” stated the Azami mechwarrior, “the first is that I could have a VTOL fly in and whisk you off to a cell in the city, pending the prisoner exchange, but that could take months and…” the light Battlemech pointed at the Atlas, “I’d have to destroy this pristine machine.”
  The Lyran shuddered, “…What’s the alternative?”
  “Ah, yes! There is an HPG station here, and lucky for you, our contracts are on file,” said the young pilot, “I’ve already contacted ComStar, so all you need to do is transfer the funds to cover the ransoms for both you and your Atlas. Once your payment is confirmed, I walk away.”
  Von Wiener’s jaw dropped, “What? The combined ransoms would be five million!”
  “Seven million, non-negotiable.”

  The Lyran stomped his feet in anger, “I’m not paying! What are you going to do about that?”
  The light ‘Mech stepped deftly around to the rear of the Atlas and with an open palm, pushed the assault Battlemech forward, which caused it to topple to the ground with a thunderous crash. Von Wiener noticed that several people had gathered in curiosity.
  “What the-“
  The standing ‘Mech leaned forward and from its center torso, a red beam struck the Atlas in the center of its back, which caused the armor to explode in a gout of smoke and molten fragments. The onlookers shielded their faces from the heat and many scurried for cover.
  “Oh god, stop!” the Lyran noble cried, his hands gripping his thick hair, “I’ll pay, dammit! I’ll pay!”
  “Are you sure?” As’Zaman sat back in his command couch and monitored his communications. He saw von Wiener using his tripad, his fingers tapping at various icons as he sat sullenly at his table. An icon appeared on his main display, and a “Betty” voice cheerfully announced, “Payment received.”
  “Vielen Dank, Freiherr Helmut!” announced the Azami teen through his ‘Mech’s speakers, “it is always a pleasure to do business with you.”

  “Wait, wait!” shouted the Lyran mercenary, “you’re just going to run off?” he stood up and held out his hands in supplication, “tell me, what in the hell is that Battlemech?”
  “Oh, this old thing?” replied the youth, “a Mongoose 66, been in my family for over five generations.”
  “How is that even possible?”
  “Sorry,” Mohammed Bey replied, “that information is classified.”
  “How did you get this far behind our lines?”
  “That’s my job.”

  The Freiherr growled, he wanted to throttle the little punk. “I didn’t see you during the last battle.”
  “Ah, I was out doing something else,” explained AsZaman, “Colonel Valborg didn’t stick to my plan and started dropping the artillery too soon,” he said, “your Battlemechs didn’t even reach the minefields.”
  “I knew it! It was a trap all along!”
  “Oh, no, that wasn’t the trap,” corrected the teen, “the trap was the ‘Mech battalion I was leading through the woods to cut you off,” he continued, “had you bogged down at the minefields, our flanking units would have appeared behind you, at least, that was my plan.”
  The Hauptmann was stunned, “So, this whole campaign was a waste of time.”

  “You’re getting paid to be here,” said the teen, his tone consoling, “the capitol now has three regiments of militia infantry, in addition to another regiment’s worth of mercenary forces, we were just biding time for the locals to get their act together to put their own boots in the ground.”
  Von Wiener kicked the nearest chair, sending it flying, “Jesus! What did the Combine expect us to do?”
  “Nothing,” offered the teen, “they sent their best units to reclaim the high priority worlds, and to keep the FedCom off balance with a counteroffensive,” he sighed, “you were sent here as a token gesture to save face.”
  “You’re Combine,” von Wiener pointed out, “why are you even fighting for the FedCom?”
  “I’m an Azami, the Draconis Combine are allies,” Mohammed Bey answered, “ironically, I was bored with being on reserve status so I took leave to be a mercenary,” he said, “I didn’t expect this war to break out, although I did see a lot of movement in the months prior to the offensive, while on Galatea, and I reported my observations to my people, those reports would have eventually made it to the Combine; It was mere coincidence that Colonel Valborg accepted this contract, it was for garrison duty, while the new government consolidated.”
  “So, the Dracs were ready for this?”
  “Yes and no,” replied the Azami pilot, “they knew something was coming in a general sense but wouldn’t know the specific targets until they were actually hit, and there should have been multiple feints.”
  The Lyran mercenary took his seat and tapped at his virtual keyboard, “I hope you don’t mind if I add a few things to my report.”

  “Go ahead, you should be getting a recall order from the Combine in a month or so,” Mohammed Bey informed him, “and Captain Shinsato wants his Lucifer back.”
  The Lyran officer paused, “He could ransom it back.”
  “There is no way you’re going to remove it from the Spaceport.”
  “I could destroy it.”
  “Point taken, I’ll have the captain contact you to hammer out the details, for a small fee of course…”
  “Deal,” he looked into the café, “Garcon! A fresh latte, please!”
  “Time for me to head back to the barn,” announced Mohammed Bey, “the units you called are getting close.”
  “Wait, what?” von Wiener was incredulous, “how did you know?”
  “Remote sensors,” the teen replied, “as I said, that’s my job.”
  “No way!”
  “A pair of Stingers, a Commando and a Firestarter…I could actually beat them…”
  “What?” the Freiherr was on his feet again.
  “But I shouldn’t be so greedy,” mused the teen, “after all, ComStar confirmed my kill claim for an Atlas today.”
  “I’m going to go beat it, now…Byeeee!” The cheerful tone in the teen’s voice irritated the Lyran even more…

  Hauptmann Freiherr von Wiener glumly looked at his fallen Atlas, the Mongoose’s laser didn’t come close to penetrating the rear torso armor, but the repairs will still be written up, unless he slipped the crew a convincing bribe…”War is hell,” he muttered under his breath, then he sat down and waited for Captain Shinsato to contact him to negotiate the ransom for that Lucifer.

« Last Edit: 02 January 2020, 02:01:50 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »


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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #33 on: 02 January 2020, 03:22:49 »
Enjoyable seeing a light take down an Atlas. 8) ;)
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #34 on: 13 March 2020, 03:22:37 »
A Brush with Fate, Chapter 2

Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia
May, 2749

Sunday Afternoon

  The young man grasped the pliers and stretched the canvas over the wooden frame. He eyed the linen material to make certain the threads were straight before he stapled the canvas in place.  He paused when he heard the workshop door opening.
  “How are you coming along, William?” inquired Mister Bruckner.
  The teen placed the staple gun and pliers aside and turned to face his employer, “I’ve done twenty-five, so far, ready for gesso and keys, sir.”
  The old man smiled, “Amazing! You picked it up so quickly, young man!” he picked up one of the finished canvases, “Very good…go ahead and keep working -and don’t forget to make one for yourself before you go home.”
  “Thank you, sir,” replied William, “how many of them do you want me to gesso?”
  Bruckner scratched his chin, “Hardly anybody preps their own canvas nowadays,” he pulled a notepad and pencil from his pocket, “about twenty will be fine.” He scribbled the information on the pad and put it away, “Go ahead and finish what you can for the day and make sure you remind me to pay you before you leave.”

School, Monday Morning

  “My mom saw you working at Bruckner’s art store,” whispered Phillips, “that’s awesome!”
  “Thanks,” replied Todd, “I’ve already started on my contest entry.”
  The other teen grinned, “When can I come over and see it?”
  “It should be done by this weekend, but I have to work on Saturday.”
  “Okay, how about if I pick you up when you’re done,” suggested Thomas, “we can grab something to eat and head to your place.”
  “I haven’t been to Molly’s diner in months,” William answered, “deal!” He would be anticipating fresh peach pie for the remainder of the week.
  Mister Brisson returned the quiz sheets with a glum face and gave William a glare as he handed the teen his paper. As the teacher walked away, William smiled and leaned back in his chair, his sheet marked with a large red “C”.
  “Why do you only answer enough questions to pass the test?” whispered Thomas, “I answered all my questions but got a ‘C’ too.”
  “If I filled in all the answers,” replied William, “I’d easily get an ‘A’ in this worthless class, and teachers in government schools get a bonus when students score well in classes that are listed as required.”
  “Ah,” said Thomas, in realization, “if you score well, the teacher is rewarded, so you are just screwing with him...Nice!”
  “I’d ace this class without a teacher,” William answered, “Brisson knows it and hates the idea that people like me are aware of how worthless he and this class are.”
  “That’s just hilarious!” He leaned forward on his elbows and thought for a moment, “What if I get some people in class to help out?”
  “I’ll have to think about it,” William whispered, “we can discuss it over lunch.”

  Mrs. Johnson casually strode between the easels in her advanced art class, giving a nod of approval for most of the projects her students worked on but shaking her head when one of the sports players exhibited quality well below her moderate standards, “Geoffrey, next time try painting a foot baller in some kind of action, instead of just standing.”
  “Okay, ma’am.”
  “That’s a lovely iris, William,” she commented.
  “I sketched some that are blooming by C building last week,” responded Todd, “I just had to paint some in color.”
  “That’s wonderful,” smiled the instructor, “how are you coming along with your Star League project?”
  The teen set down his brush and flexed his fingers, “I’ll bring it in next week to see if you have any pointers for finishing it.”
  Mrs. Johnson adjusted her wire framed glasses, “I can’t wait, this will be a first for our school!”


  The cafeteria was less crowded than usual, which pleased William, as he and his friend Thomas could share an empty table.
  “Is something going on?” William inquired, “some activity I may have missed?”
  Thomas shook his head, “Not really, my guess is the new Mexican food truck parked across the street.”
  The other teen suddenly lost interest, “Ah, I guess a cholera outbreak would be amusing.”
  Thomas laughed and took a bite from his pizza slice. He chewed and swallowed, “Tell me how you really feel.”
  “Feelings means nothing,” replied Todd, “I just want my imprisonment here to end.”
  “Who doesn’t?” asked Phillips, “I could be wasting my time elsewhere,” he noted that his friend’s attention was drawn elsewhere. “Ah, is Leonore here?”
  Todd was annoyed at his friend being so quick to guess, “Yes.” He popped an apple slice into his mouth and watched as Leonore and two of her friends carried their trays to a vacant table.
  Phillips turned and glanced at the trio, “If you ask me, I’d say the one with the brown hair is more your type,” commented Thomas, “really nice, pretty face, and she can cook; Kathy Muir.”
  “Is she intelligent?”
  “Uhhh…” Thomas groped for a response, “I really don’t place academics on the top of my list, as far the girls are concerned.”
  “Well, I’m not interested in her,” concluded William.
  Phillips shook his head, “Suit yourself, bro,” he understood the cue to drop the subject.
  Todd finished the remainder of his ham sandwich and washed it down with water, “Well, one more agonizing class to go,” he stood up and cleared his table.
  “Ah,” Thomas rose from his seat, “then your last class with Miss Micouleau,” he licked his lips and rubbed his hands together in exaggerated lasciviousness, “she is so hot!”
  William rolled his eyes at his friend’s comical display, “Seriously? Her tastes are pedestrian, but she lets me read the poems I like,” he said, “works that the other students would never know about if I didn’t bring them to class.”
  “William Todd, modern day Prometheus,” announced Phillips, dramatically, “who gets to ogle Leonore Brown in his poetry class.”
  “Shut it,” Todd slung his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the exit.


“Ô muse de mon coeur, amante des palais,
Auras-tu, quand Janvier lâchera ses Borées,
Durant les noirs ennuis des neigeuses soirées,
Un tison pour chauffer tes deux pieds violets?
Ranimeras-tu donc tes épaules marbrées
Aux nocturnes rayons qui percent les volets?
Sentant ta bourse à sec autant que ton palais
Récolteras-tu l'or des voûtes azurées?
II te faut, pour gagner ton pain de chaque soir,
Comme un enfant de choeur, jouer de l'encensoir,
Chanter des Te Deum auxquels tu ne crois guère,
Ou, saltimbanque à jeun, étaler tes appas
Et ton rire trempé de pleurs qu'on ne voit pas,
Pour faire épanouir la rate du vulgaire.”

  There was some applause, but William could see a little confusion and hesitancy among his classmates. It was clear that the others had waited until Miss Micouleau clapped her hands and smiled in approval.
  “As always, William,” said the instructor, “you bring fresh and brilliant poems to share,” she turned to the class as William went back to his desk, “Charles Baudelaire is one of France’s most influential poets, he was very controversial and some of his poems were even banned for almost a century.”
  “Why were they banned?” Karen O’Toole asked.
  Micouleau replied, “His poems were accused of advocating Satanism and immorality,” she continued, walking casually between the seated students, “but he was actually reflecting on contemporary attitudes of cynicism, as well as a rejection of the ideals of nature that had been expounded by poets of the previous century,” she patted William’s shoulder as she passed his desk, “Monsieur Todd here, is kind of like Baudelaire, although I wish he weren’t so cynical about life.”
  William smiled for a moment, “I am cynical because of life,” he patted his book of verses, “like Baudelaire, I refuse to lie to myself or others.”
  “Always bold, Monsieur Todd,” commented the teacher, “as expected,” she brightened, “which brings us to the project for next week, the subject was chosen by Mademoiselle O’Toole -You are to write a poem about an angel.”
  William winced at the announcement. There was no surprise there, no surprise at all; Karen always dumped girly crap like unicorns and flowers on the class. He would make her pay…

  As Todd prepared to leave the classroom, he was approached by Leonore, “William, do you have time to talk?”
  “Miss Brown,” he replied, stalling to organize his thoughts, “of course, what may I do for you?”
  “Your recitations are so insightful and expressive, and your poetry is uniquely soulful,” she told him, “I took this course to study poetry, but I have never been good at writing any of my own,” she looked into his eyes, “I was wondering, perhaps you could help me with the assignment.”
  This was more than he could have hoped for! William’s heart thundered in his chest and he felt lightheaded, “Of course, Miss Brown!”
  “You can call me Leonore, William.”
  “Yes, Leonore,” he felt the palms of his hands break out in a sweat, “would you like to meet somewhere after school or this weekend?”
  “Tomorrow would be fine,” she replied, “I have a car, so I could pick you up and we can go to Molly’s Diner and share ideas…if that’s acceptable to you.”
  “Yes, acceptable, indeed!” he fought to contain his elation, “How does tomorrow evening at six, work for you?”
  Leonore smiled, “It’s a date, then.”

  “Father, I’m home!” William had probably made his best time ever in his ride home. He had tried to gather up the courage to ask Leonore Brown, a girl he had admired from a distance, on a date and by some quirk of Fate, she came to him and asked for his help. He realized that it wasn’t an “official” date, but more like studying together, but it was a huge step for him, nonetheless.
  “What am I going to wear?” he went to the hall closet and looked at the meagre selection of clothes he owned, he had two white shirts, two black shirts and two gray shirts, all identical patterns: Standup collars, long sleeved. He wondered if he should wear a bowtie, but rejected the idea, better to remain informal. The vest and pocket watch would be standard daily wear. He rarely varied his wardrobe; Cotton shirt, black trousers, vest, worn black oxfords…he dressed for comfort, the same way his father dressed for performing on stage. He also believed that straying from his own standards of personal appearance merely to impress somebody else as both an act of self - betrayal and shallow deception. That was a game he declined to play.
  “I guess I’ll decide by tomorrow,” he mused as he shut the closet door. He drew the watch from his pocket to check the time and headed to the kitchen. He took the cutting board from the rack and placed it on the counter.
  “What are you planning for dinner, son?” His father stuck his head partially out of his room. William could see his haggard face and pale skin; today was his scheduled chemotherapy treatment and he was always very weak after the hospital’s van brought him home.
  William piled several vegetables in a colander and began to wash them, “Chicken with vegetable soup, with noodles and garlic bread.”
  “That sounds great.”
  “It should be ready in about an hour,” said William, “you just rest and I’ll call you when it’s done.” He gave the colander a final shake before placing it on the counter next to the cutting board.
  “Thank you, son.” The door closed and William paused in thought before separating the carrots, onions and celery. He went outside to the freezer chest and drew out a plastic bag filled with cubes of frozen chicken broth. The government’s Disabled Allowance Program, provided a meager income for his father that William had to stretch from one month to the next. Making broth from bones was simple and served as the base for a large variety of dishes. He poured several of the broth cubes into an aged saucepan and set it on the gas burner, then retrieved the last of the roast chicken breast from the small refrigerator and placed it on the counter before starting his work.
  William learned to cook from his father, and took up the kitchen duties as his father’s health gradually deteriorated. He wished he could bake his own bread, but it required far too much effort and time, and made such a mess that just purchasing a discounted loaf from the bakery made a better choice. He would be satisfied with griddle cakes but his primary concern was keeping his father as comfortable as possible while he was alive.
  The pot of broth was simmering by the time he had completed dicing the vegetables and he scraped them into the pot with his blade and seasoned the boiling mixture with salt and pepper. He covered  the pot and turned the fire down to let it simmer while he cut the chicken into small cubes. Asv he worked, he thought about the project for his poetry class. He wanted to turn his poem in with a suitable image, a drawing that would counter Karen’s typical female ideal of a motherly, nurturing angel, not something as predictably trite as Lucifer, something beyond mere rebellion or contrarian, with verses to match.
  He fetched his sketchbook from its place in his backpack, took up a pencil and began to draw.
  “My angel will be leaning on a two-handed sword, chipped and bloody, her posture will be weary, as if taking a brief respite between battles, her face, instead of delicate and compassionate, shall be stern and grim, as if glaring at an approaching enemy.” He quickly traced the outline and began to fill in the details, “Her wings won’t be white or glowing, but the glossy black wings of a raven, witness to countless battlefields.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and decided that he should continue his school project after dinner.

Late Evening

  William dried his hands with a soft terry cloth towel and decided to leave the dishes in the rack to dry. He could put them away in the morning after breakfast. His father had returned to his room after dinner and would already be asleep, and he felt the weariness from the long day. He made one last round of the house, turning down the lights and tidying up before retreating to his room.
  The teen’s room was spartan, but the walls were decorated with several years’ worth of drawings and paintings. The twin bed had a simple, wooden frame, while the desk was an old, worn out example of obsolete office furniture, with a chair similar to the seating around the dining table, probably from the same restaurant. The room had a single light in the ceiling, which provided William with sufficient illumination for daily activity, provided he didn’t have to read, although the lamp on the desk provided sufficient illumination for homework and reading. 
  William reached under the desk and retrieved a small, folding easel, which he placed on the desk to hold his sketchbook, opened to the page of his various designs for his angel. He laid his pen and ink pad on the desk and took a small bottle of india ink out of the middle drawer, along with a slim rosewood pen, and a selection of steel nibs. He made a quick outline on the smooth sheet based on his preliminary sketches and sat back as he formed the image he wanted in his head. He chose a medium nib and carefully affixed it to the rosewood shaft before dipping it into the ink and wiping the excess on the side of the well. His deft fingers guided the pen in bold strokes and the figure slowly gained definition. He cleaned the nib with a rag and replaced it with the next finer point. The next stage was the details, the fingers, the folds of the flowing robe, the pattern of the trim, the straight-cut main of long, black hair. He had to pause for a moment to plan out how the gloss would appear in the hair and on the black-plumed wings. He could simply add highlights of white ink but he considered that technique lazy and an indication of lack of mastery. White ink was used to conceal mistakes and reflected poor planning. He could do better than that.

  William pulled the covers over his chest and closed his eyes. He finished the drawing that would accompany his poetry class project and he found that very satisfying. He drifted off to sleep and dreamt of a great armada of space vessels locked in desperate battle, massive ships directing their fire at targets hundreds of kilometers distant, mere flashes of light in the vast darkness. Vessels exploded in the silent void, torn asunder, huge chunks of debris hurtling in every direction, colliding with other vessels and tearing huge holes in their armor. His view moved away from the opposing battle lines to a formation of smaller vessels, with far smaller turrets and armament. The view changed to the inside of one of these smaller craft, it was packed with soldiers in Star League defense Force uniforms, sitting in long rows of seats and securely harnessed. Their armaments were locked in place, fastened to the frames of their seats. The troop transport shuddered as a projectile detonated on its outer hull, and drew alarmed gasps and exclamations from the passengers. many of them bowed their heads, eyes shut, while others glanced about in fright. Another impact rocked the vessel, causing its internal lights to flicker and more distressed wails.
  “Vac Ops gear!” shouted an officer. The soldiers immediately pulled what looked like full head covering masks from the holders attached to their harnesses and with the speed and economy of motion due to repetitive practice, each soldier had sealed his breathing apparatus and gloves, before the air in the hold began to vent. More of the soldiers appeared agitated, they crossed their arms across their chests and bent slightly forward, as if expecting an imminent impact. A tiny hole appeared in a side bulkhead, a soldier went limp as a piece of shrapnel, weighing less than a dozen grams, tore through his armor, shattered bone and ruptured arteries, as it flew through the cabin at hypersonic velocity. More holes appeared, and more men and women died, killed by an unseen enemy. Clouds of blood particles and larger droplets floated in the cabin. Corpses sat limp in their seats, arms stretched out languidly, swaying with every sudden course change.
  What followed was a kaleidoscope of chaos, a swirling maelstrom of confusion as the SLDF fleet charged forward and blasted its way through the line of outnumbered defenders, weapon arrays unloosing death and destruction in every direction. The enemy line shattered and scattering, the troop transports approached the planet at speed.


  William prepared a light breakfast for himself and his father, while thinking about the significance of his dream. How could something occuring so many light years away be important? What was the context, what did it all mean?
  He could only gather up his backpack and head to school.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #35 on: 16 March 2020, 01:56:45 »
Call of Blood (Part Seven)

Al-Tinin IV
Al-Tinin System
Draconis Combine (Uncharted)

  Dumare stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up at the man who had emerged from the shadows, “Son?” he exclaimed, he studied the other man’s features and could see the faint resemblance in the wrinkled face, the high brow and prominent nose, intense eyes that seemed larger than normal, the presence of a strong, prominent jawline partially obscured by gray whiskers. Yes, there was a familial connection, to be sure, and this was the man who stood next to his mother in a collection of old image files. The man was tall, much like the younger mercenary, perhaps a couple of centimeters taller, and his shoulders somewhat broader. He wore a loose fitting set of field green coveralls, very similar to SLDF issue but without patches, insignia or rank designation.
  The man slowly descended the stairs, his face impassive as Dumare could scarcely recall in his dim memories. “Thank you for returning my battlemech, my dear Lucienne, your mother, was not interested in the legacy of our family.”
  “Mother told me that you were dead,” replied the mercenary, “why would she lie to me about you?”
  The older man shook his head, “You, my son, have an ancient inheritance, which your mother had difficulty in accepting.” He stepped closer and placed a large hand on Dumare’s shoulder, “You were called here in your dreams, were you not?”
  “My dreams?” asked Dumare, “how could you know about them?”
  “Your ability to dream is part of your inheritance, my son,” the elder Dumare calmly answered, “through our dreams, we see the ancient past and distant future, all that is possible and that which shall be,” he continued, “our dreams show us the truth beyond illusions and allow us to call to each other beyond the measureless gulfs between the stars, and the immense vastness of time itself.”
  The younger Dumare frowned, “Uh, I still don’t fully comprehend what you are trying to tell me,” he relaxed his stance and took his hand from the grip of his submachine gun, “are you saying that some kind of psychic ability runs in our family?”
  The older man laughed, “Oh, no, my son! We are not carnival hucksters and tarot readers, not tricksters and cheap entertainers,” he shook his head, “we shall discuss the matter at length another time, this is your home of old and this is your home now, the building behind the house, that looks like an old barn is a fully appointed battlemech hangar with the bays for a lance, these are all yours, now.”

Early Evening

  Security Chief Henke shivered as he assisted with putting up one of the four tents under the brilliant lights projected by the land rover. His teeth chattered as the biting cold cut through his insulated clothing. He didn’t expect the temperature to drop so radically after dark, his mittens barely kept his fingers comfortably cold, let alone warm. Even worse, the wind had picked up and snow was falling. He was thankful that Acolyte Bond was a bit of a softy, who made sure everybody was relieved from working outside every few minutes to warm themselves in the first tent, where a heater was installed and hot coffee brewing.
  About fifty meters away, through the blur of falling snow, he could barely make out the shapes of the megalith’s standing stones, gray in the darkness.
  “Ready for a break?”
  Henke nodded, “You bet,” he told his relief, “thanks!” He made a beeline for the break tent and slipped through the entantrance.
  The light was dim but Henke could see three other people seated around the stove, sipping from mugs.
  “Coffee?” one of the acolytes held the pot up, near the mug with his name written on it.
  He pulled his mittens off, “Please, I’ll take it black,” he stripped off his jacket and immediately felt the warm air filling his lungs and caressing his limbs. “I can’t believe it’s gotten so cold.”
  “We are further north and away from the river,” muttered one of them, “the flat terrain has no forestation to abate the winds, this area is outside of our range for accurate meteorological forecasts.”
  Henke sighed and nodded, he pretended to understand, and sipped his coffee.

  “I tell you, you have to watch the full cut scene to catch the hint of the next quest,” said Acolyte Jost, his voice with pedantic insistence. The two acolytes sat in the dining tent, sipping coffee.
  Acolyte Przpezewski shook his head, “The hints are clear enough for me, just playing through the quest,” he responded, “and if I need further clarification, I can refer to the Wiki.”
  “That means you missed the hint,” crowed Jost, “otherwise, you wouldn’t even need the Wiki.”
  “I didn’t need the Wiki to complete the tavern keeper’s side quest.”
  “You didn’t…” Jost covered his face with his hands, “those side quests are distractions,” he said, “the main quest is time-sensitive and the final award for completion is based on how fast you finish.”
  “What?” Przpezewski jumped up from his chair, “I’ve been jumping on all of those side quests!”
  A female acolyte approached the two, “Hey, Stanislaus, what are you guys talking about?”
  Przpezewski stood up, “Hey, Katarina, me and Michael were just talking about our favorite trivid game.”
  “You mean, the one with the ugly, green women?” She had an obvious look of distaste on her face.
  Stanislaus stood up, “Hey!” he seemed wounded, “They aren’t ugly...and they aren’t women, either, they are beautiful, shapely Orcettes.”
  Katarina put a palm to her forehead, “Seriously, I can’t believe that you are really my brother.”
  Michael interceded, “It’s just a harmless game, Kat, it gives us something to do when we aren’t working.”
  “Other than eating and sleeping, that seems to be the only thing you guys do, when you aren’t working,” Katarina shot back, “and a game where the players rack up points for having sex with muscular green females with fangs is hardly my idea of harmless.”
  “That really isn’t fair,” reasoned her brother, “I mean, it’s not like we’re having sex with real women.”
  Katarina could not resist, “No, I have serious doubts about that ever happening.” She smirked and turned to see Acolyte Vathos sitting at a table, her attention on her datapad display. “Hey, Dimitra.”
  The doctor looked up at her friend and waved, “Hi, Kat, what’s going on?” she smiled as the acolyte sat across from her.
  “The megalith away team complained about the lack of weather data,” Kat told her, “we only have what little information from the Hugin’s sensors on the ground.”
  “Why is that your problem, you’re a data systems specialist, right?”
  “According to our avionics technician, Acolyte Simkins, there are still several satellites in orbit but they are offline, due to corrupt programs,” replied Kat, “my guess the problem is more than just that, but Donald wants me to try giving the satnet a remote systems upgrade.”
  Dimitra inclined her head, “So, do you think you can do it?”
  Kat shrugged, “I’m going to try my best,” she sipped her tea, “I’ve done similar upgrades on remote arrays but they were hardwired, not transmitted, although there shouldn’t be much difference,” she saw her brother Stanislaw heading out the door with Michael, and returned his wave, “I’m worried that the problem may be due to hardware, not merely obsolete programming.”
  “I’m sure you can do it,” Dimitra reassured her.
 “Thanks,” said Kat, “at least I’m doing something worthwhile. Did you know Greenstein approached me to design a program to track everybody’s daily activities?”
  “What for? It’s not like we are hourly laborers...or slaves, to be monitored.”
  “He told me that he wanted to ‘optimize how we expend our energy’ by studying time allocation and making recommendations for improvements,” Kat told her.
  “Vincent’s natural cynicism might be rubbing off on me,” commented Dimitra, “but it sounds like the kind of thing a control freak would try to pull by wrapping it in good intentions.”
   “Well, you are so lucky to have a man,” whispered Kat, “I should have found one before coming here.”
  “There are plenty of available men here, aren’t there?” asked Dimitra, “I thought that was the idea behind the selection of equal ratios of men and women.”
  “Katarina covered her mouth when she laughed, “Yes, there are plenty of males, but only a few men worth considering,” she said, in a half-joking tone, “I’m sure your husband is drawing a lot of attention, so I’d keep an eye on him.”
  Dimitra smiled, “Oh, I know!” she responded, “His kind always attracts women -He owns a battlemech, which is material wealth, he has power and responsibility and he has an abundance of good looks, as well.”
  Kat leaned over and whispered, “If you want to see something pitiful, try having a conversation with my brother.”
  Dimitra laughed out loud, “You are so mean!”

  “How can you possibly think that you could get away with approving a land claim, sight unseen?” Greenstein was livid. He stormed into Adept Thalassa’s tent  after hearing about how Dumare’s application was processed.
  “How is any of that your business, Acolyte?” answered the Adept.
  His face turned a shade of red, “Your abuse of power is the business of every faithful member of ComStar,” thundered Greenstein, not caring how thin the tent walls were.
  “You do realize that the claim was an essential part of our mission’s charter,” reasoned Thalassa calmly, “and part of the contractual conditions as outlined for our non-ComStar settlers.”
  “What if the claimed property has controlled technologies?” Greenstein pointed out, “they might find something they aren’t authorized to possess.”
  “Yes, that is also contained in the contract,” the Adept informed him, “although the property’s claimant should inform me of the presence of such technologies, the people who wrote the contract neglected to provide examples of what those controlled technologies might be.”
  The Acolyte was unwilling to budge on the issue, “It is your responsibility to make certain every claim is inspected prior to approval of any claim!”
  “I trust Dumare’s assessment as a competent inspector,” was the Adept’s reply, “if you have nothing else, the matter has been settled, as per regulations and lawful agreements, good day,” Thalassa’s tone underscored the issue being closed.
  “This isn’t the end of this issue!” exclaimed Greenstein, “if I have to take it up to the Primus, himself.”
  “Good day.”

  Nu’ukai hefted a metal toolbox into the back of the all terrain vehicle that belonged to his lance’s maintenance crew.
  “Kal,” called one of the crewmen from the Hugin, the dropship contracted by Comstar, “I heard all of you were packing up.”
  The Polynesian nodded, “The boss called in, said we have a new base,” he took inventory of the remaining space in the back of the vehicle, “when he says ‘Move’, we gotta move.”
  “Man, I’m going to miss your food!” he shook the mechwarrior's hand.
  “No big thing,” Kalani assured him, “we still guard the town, and come back to party.”
  “Well, give me a call when you do,” the crewman turned to leave, “take care!”
  A slim woman with honey-brown skin and dark, wavy hair walked up to the vehicle, she shouldered a Federated Suns military-issue duffle bag and let it fall into the vehicle’s cargo compartment with a dull thud. “That’s the last from our room,” she announced, “Debra and Alex said they will be along, soon.”
  Nu’ukai hugged her, “No rush,” he said, “we not going to leave until morning, anyway.”
  “Ravi and Coleen told me they’ll load their gear right after their shift is done,” Paulette informed him.
  “Good,” Kalani grunted, “we ahead of schedule,” despite all the confusion of the sudden relocation, he took all of it in stride, he fully trusted his commander’s decisions.
  Paulette was Nu’ukai’s woman, as well as the technician who cared for his Crab. Like most Polynesians, they were friendly, outgoing, loyal, hardworking and always ready to celebrate something with friends, mostly in the form of large amounts of food.
  It was at one of these celebrations that Dumare met Nu’ukai, Dumare tried to ask Paulette for a date and Nu’ukai stepped in. Although Dumare rarely ever passed up a good brawl, he saw no reason to ruin a good party and lose a tooth or so in the process. The two men became good friends and as soon as Nu’ukai’s contract with his previous employer was up, Dumare offered him a position in his unit.
  Nu’ukai liked Dumare -he admired his honesty as well as his utter fearlessness in battle; Unlike his previous commanders, Dumare never corrected his heavily accented Standard or occasional use of Hawaiian words, when he thought Standard lacked sufficient impact.

Late Evening

  The Megalith Away Team, as they called themselves, sat down to a meal of hot clam chowder and sourdough toast. Erecting their four tents in the blowing snow was challenging as well as exhausting, so the team members looked forward to a good rest and hoped for calmer weather come morning. The heaters were all working properly and the tents had more than adequate insulation for everybody to sleep at night and work comfortably during the day. The tents were designed for eight adults with room for gear, so even with the cots and folding desks, assigning three people per tent gave the members plenty of space to work and sleep. Security Chief Henke ate his meal in silence, Acolyte Bond had selected five of the team to dine in his tent and discuss their operations for the next two weeks. Because he wasn’t actually part of the research effort, Bond wouldn’t allow him to sit in on the meeting, no matter how he tried to convince the stubborn technician. He would have to determine other ways to keep an eye on every facet of the project.

  “You see,” explained Acolyte Michael Jost, “once the expansion equipment I ordered arrives, I’ll have my private server up and running, and everybody who wants can join in our full, virtual world.”
  “That is so awesome!”  Stanislaus Przpezewski exclaimed, impressed, “especially since I can transfer my current character from the game on my trivid console.”
  “The only restriction being that you start with only the basic equipment,” Jost informed him, “and the early missions will be adjusted for level.”
   “Aw, I wish my character could start with his full suit of Blessed Orcknight Plate and Blade of the Immortal Orcmeister,” Stanislaus grumbled, “That would be tres cool!”
  “Stan, be thankful I’m letting you start with an elite level character instead of a fresh, new one, like all the other new players,” Mike told him, “I mean, it’s bad enough you already know how to play, which gives you a big head start as it is.”
  “So, how many players are we looking at?”
  Jost scratched at his unkempt beard, “At least twenty sounded interested,” he then leaned close and whispered, “and at least three women.”
  Stan’s jaw dropped.

  “You’re leaving?” Acolyte Katarina had burst into the tent serving as Dimitra’s office as soon as she heard the news. “You can’t go!”
  “Kat,” she informed her, “I’ll still be working here every day, you know that, right?”
  “Really? One of the Hugin’s crew mentioned that the mercenaries and their techs were packing their ATV when I went for coffee in the dining tent,” Kat told her, “they said your husband claimed property over fifty kilometers away.”
  “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” said Dimitra, “Vince didn’t give me any details other than I’d like it,” she added, “he then said that any of my friends are invited to visit after we get settled.”
  “You are so lucky!” Kat exclaimed, “you get to live in a real house when some of us will be living in tents a year or so from now.”
  “According to Vince, the area he picked was likely where there were farms and ranches,” Dimitra informed her, “I’ll ask him to look for something you’d like.”
  “Would you? That’s so nice!” she gave her friend a hug.

  “So, all of this is powered by hydroelectric generators in underground rivers?”
  “Yes,” replies Charles Dumare, “a fusion plant would have been easy to detect with the proper sensors,” he continued, “we had considered geothermal but that was rejected due to its unstable nature.” He and his son walked along a wide concrete corridor and reached an intersection, “that way leads to the hydroponic gardens, and that way to power monitoring station.” The corridor measure about four meters across, with a ceiling three meters high, and though lit, the corridor seemed to stretch for over a hundred meters ahead.
  “So, who did all this, was it the Star League?” asked Vincent Dumare.
  The older man chuckled, “Oh, no,” he replied, “the Terran Hegemony bypassed this planet as unusable, or at least, that’s what our people reported before settling here.”
   “Wait, so how did ComStar find this place?”
  “Not long before Amaris toppled the Hegemony,” Charles answered, “a jumpship fleeing pirates jumped into the system and sent dropships to top off their water,” he continued, “Al-Tinin IV was listed as a borderline, subsistence world and claimed by Terra, but the government declined to invest in development, but sold the resource rights to a collection of corporations, who showed up and shoved their Terran Hegemony contracts in the faces of the settlers. Fortunately, the locations of most of the resources were a distance from the town of Innsmouth, so there was little interaction, save for occasional visits by the workers.”
  “If this place was so borderline, why would ComStar bother with it?” asked the younger man.
  “Let me tell you,” said his father, “The Terran Hegemony, the Star League, and ComStar are like many organizations throughout human history,” he said, “they are made up of smaller factions, each with their own agendas.”
  “Okay, I can agree with you, for the most part,” Vince admitted, “but what does that have to do with Al-Tinin?”
  “I didn’t find this planet by accident, and unlike what information you might have dug up,” he added, “the people who sent me gave me a clear briefing of what I would find here,” he pointed at Vincent, “you were chosen to be sent here, as well.”
  “I don’t fully understand,” Vince replied, “why wasn’t given a full briefing as you were?”
  “Your mother.”
  “What?” he exploded, “what has my mother have to do with anything?”
  “How did you find this mansion?” asked Charles.
  It dawned upon the younger man, “The data was stored in the Black Knight’s navigation system.”
  “Your mother was unaware of it,” answered Charles, “and couldn’t access the data even if she desired so.”
   The younger mercenary stopped walking, “Why?” he asked, “What could have driven her to take me from this place, the world I was born, and steal your battlemech in order to escape?”
  Charles Dumare sighed and shook his head, “She could not accept our relatives and legacy,” his voice reflected a tinge of sadness, “my dear Lucienne refused to believe that you were destined for greater things, and could not believe what I told her, until she finally met my mother.”
  “My grandmother was here, too?” he asked in surprise, “I was told she died on Terra, in a retirement home in Boston.”
  “That was your mother’s story,” the old man responded, “she likely wanted you to believe that all ties with my side of your family were neatly severed,” he placed a long-fingered hand on his son’s shoulder, “you shall meet her and many others of our family, soon.”
  “Grandmother, alive?” the younger Dumare felt as if he was in a strange dream, his knees suddenly weak, “and other relatives?” he shook his head as if to clear it, “Grandmother would be in her nineties by now.”
  “Oh, she is far older than that,” said his father, “over twice as old, actually.”
  “That isn’t possible,” Vincent told him, “while recent technology has extended human life considerably, with people normally living to be a hundred years or more, it is rare for anybody to live beyond one hundred and thirty, without significant, expensive machinery.”
  “Your mother thought the same,” Charles replied calmly, “but her perspective was the same as yours, based upon limited knowledge and experience.”
  Vincent frowned in thought, “So what am I missing here?” he inquired, “Does this planet have some sort of property that extends life? Did the settlers discover some miraculous drug?”
  “My son,” the older Dumare told him, “it makes me proud that you have such a nimble, inquisitive mind,” he looked his son in the eye, “everybody brought here shall be exposed to the truth, and some may not like it,” he warned, “your mother rejected what she learned and tried to protect you from it, but you deserve the truth.”
  “Yes, I want the truth!”
  The older man smiled, “And you shall have the truth, my son,” he motioned Vince to follow, as he turned on his way down the dimly lit corridor, “if you received the standard, Inner Sphere education, you were probably taught that the universe as we know it began with a huge explosion of energy and materials that hurled all known matter into the surrounding, empty void, and some of that matter collected to form what we know as our galaxies, stars, and planets.”
  “Yes, that is the commonly accepted theory of the creation of all things,” responded Vincent, “you’re not going to tell me that some omniscient, divine being conjured the universe out of nothing, are you?”
  “Goodness, no,” the older Dumare halted for a moment to face Vincent, “truth is a reflection of empirical reality, not the use of mythology to explain mysteries.”
  “Okay,” replied Vincent, “if you have an alternate hypothesis, I certainly want to hear it, especially if you have empirical evidence.”
  “Very well,” said Charles, “let’s head to the auxiliary battlemech hangar.”
  Vincent walk beside the older man, and tried to estimate the size of the facility under the property he claimed, he knew that he was at least thirty meters below the surface, and from the lift to his current position, he had walked at least a hundred meters, which means that the hangar would be another hundred meters away, likely under the barn, he spotted when he first approached the mansion. He noted the number of doors that lined the main hall, and wondered what existed behind them, because the doors lacked marking.
  At the end of the hall, a large set of doors barred their way. Charles opened a metal panel on the wall next to the doors, reached into pocket and drew out a small data crystal and pressed it against a sensor pad. There was a metallic click and whine of servos as the doors slid into the walls, revealing the darkness beyond.
  “I have to activate the lights,” said Charles, as he depressed a switch.
  Vincent walked into the darkened area and squinted as the lights flickered to full illumination to reveal a vast chamber, possibly measuring a hundred meters by a hundred and fifty meters, with four battlemech bays, complete with lifts. hoists and catwalks, capable of factory-level operations. At the far end of the cavernous facility, a massive lift stood, surrounded by a girder-framed cage.
  “I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

(End of Part Seven)
« Last Edit: 17 March 2020, 04:16:26 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »