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Author Topic: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #2 - Darius at the Coronation  (Read 15076 times)


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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #2 - Darius at the Coronation
« Reply #30 on: 13 February 2011, 16:42:49 »
Chapter 26

     Within an hour and a half I was seated back at the polished table, in that same long rectangular Fox's Den war-room where I had first been briefed by Hanse and his cronies about Bright's plot. Hanse once more sat at the head of the table, wearing civilian evening dress so I guessed he had come straight from some dinner or function at receiving word that I had vital news. Alongside him, on his right as usual, was Dan Sortek whom I was sat next to, Olivia and Truston were opposite us, while further down the table dressed in the green and tan uniforms of the Seventh Crucis Lancers were Ross McKinnon, his walrus faced 'bodyguard' MechWarrior Kurt Lytton and his three Leftenants; Karl Ryder, a quietly diligent seeming young chap who had an expression like a constipated Galahad, Alex Vorster, a long nosed middle aged man with thinning black hair and an easygoing manner, and of course Mack's own son Ian.
     Ian McKinnon, who you will be aware has if anything won a greater name and reputation than even his celebrated father over the decades since, was a lance commander in his twenties back then. He'd been introduced to me by Mack a couple of times earlier that year, during my stint with the Bane while part of the garrison on New Avalon, and I'd not liked the look of him above half. Short, wiry, tough as gristle, with cropped black hair and active pale eyes, even back then he was known for near suicidal acts of bravery. He'd been fighting with his pa'pa's unit getting on for a decade by then and every time I'd bumped into him about town or the Mount he'd been chafing at the 'ghastly garrison duty' as he put it. Like his father he believed I was just his type and from the first time I ever met him he had been practically begging me to put in a request for a transfer to their ragtag remnant of a unit. Just like Sortek, or that pompous poseur Carlyle, Ian's the kind of bright eyed, fearless, interfering, daring, busybody, bloodthirsty schoolboy that will get you or I killed, whilst winning their laurels. Oh, I didn't doubt he was very good at his job, the best small-unit light 'Mech commander of our generation, if you believe Hanse ... in my view, and for my sins I came to know him well in later years, in the attack he deserves to be up there with the great names of our time, such as Snord, Kell, Kerensky, and Azzarri, but that said, when defending a position I'd say he was a damned liability.
     Mind you I'm biased, as I've never forgiven him for the hell he dragged me through on Harrow's Sun eight years later; twenty-to-one odds he led us into that day after Ross and Lytton were killed, the bloody madman!
     Well, anyhoo that's of no consequence to this tale. So, I quickly spilled out what I'd learnt from Bright and was gratified to see plenty of smiles around the table. As Hanse pondered my words I allowed myself to relax somewhat, mentally slapping myself on the back. I was done with this whole horrible business at last and if I played things right, I reasoned, I should come out smiling with plenty of good credit with our new First Prince. Just goes to show you should never count on your ammo before it's fired.
     "Well done Darius. So gentlemen ... thoughts?" Hanse said, his blue eyes boring into us one by one, starting with the Court Jester.
     "You know my view Hanse. Hit 'em, hit 'em hard." Sortek snarled.
     "A rapid response would seem wise ... now ... Your Highness." Truston rumbled.
     "I agree Hanse. Let's clean this mess up once and for all." Olivia said in her crystal clear voice. I then realised all eyes were on me, so decided to play the grim soldier and inadvertently, off the top of my head, coined an honorific that's now legendary.
     "Absolutely Sire ... folk call you the Fox ... well then I say it's high time you showed our enemies your teeth." Mack absolutely cheered at that, he and his crowd hammering the table with their right fists in approval, whilst Hanse's thin lips spread into an appropriately vulpine grin.
     "The Fox's Teeth eh Darius? I think I like that ..." I don't know who leaked it out, after the events of the following morning, that I'd been the chap who came up with that pretty corny play on Hanse's childhood nickname, but the McKinnons have loved me like kin ever since for it and I've dined out on the fact more times than I can remember.
    "So then it's agreed, Mack and his Raiders will be my 'teeth', as Darius puts it, and will hit this nest of traitors at Summer House. Mack you've seen the comm-sat holos and Darius's report on the layout of the place. How should it best be done do you think?" Mack punched up a tri-vid layout on the player at the centre of the table and stood, his eyes reflecting the green light of the map.
     "If we approach from land Sire we risk Bright spotting our approach through spies, or security systems. If that happens and he's ready for us ... well we'd still win, but it'd be a damn sight more costly ... these aren't Snakes or Crapellans we're dealing with, nor even pirates, they are ... were ... Davion Guards MechWarriors and they'll be fighting for their very lives." He paused for effect and began pacing, his hands clasped behind his back.
     "No, we can't attack overland, so-" At that moment Mack's son Ian piped up in a cheery, excited voice.
     "We'll be dropping in for breakfast ... just like Sacre Mesa on Anjin Muerto in aught nine! Why we took seven kills and almost caught Bar-Dyness himself within barely a quarter hour." The other Lancer officers grinned at their fond memories of what I correctly assumed was one of their Periphery border scraps and Mack nodded briskly to junior.
     "Aye that's right, we shall attack from orbit ... an atmo-drop." I suppressed an instinctive shudder; atmospheric drops are dreaded by any MechWarrior with half a brain. You plummet out of a DropShip, your 'Mech typically encased in ablative shielding, upwards of fifteen thousand meters above the ground, that's practically in space, and then free fall down. At about a thousand meters you have to use a jet pack, typically strapped to the 'Mech's rear, to orientate and slow your descent. Even without taking into account the hail of enemy fire that's usually being pumped up at you, if you burn too much thrust, too quickly, you can very easily shred the connectors to the backpack, or cause an unrecoverable spin, or burn off all your fuel and have nothing left to stop you landing with all the force of an incoming missile. Then there's the hellacious job of navigating your descent to where you want to land. I'd carried out plenty of simulated atmo-drops at the Sak, but had never had to suffer one for real at that time and was damned keen to keep things that way. Mack's madmen were by all accounts experts of this difficult tactic though and it seemed to hold no fear for them.   
     "Very well then Mack ... my only concern is that Bright will certainly learn of any launch of your unit, mightn't it ring alarm bells and cause him to act precipitously?" Hanse asked and eager to help with the safe planning side I piped up like the good little soldier I was meant to be.
     "Could you not issue orders that the Raiders are to join the exercises on Imbrial Sire? Perhaps with an order rotating one of the Guards companies presently there, to return back here." Mack nodded at me happily.
     "That's the ticket Darius. Why, once we're up there we can lie doggo, comm-silent, just like Anjin Muerto Ian, while I brief the lads. Then in the dead time just after dawn, we'll drop in on Bright and we'll take them completely by surprise or I'm a Crapellan." Well it all sounded deuced risky to me, but I was still feeling pleased as punch that I was clearly the hero of the day yet again and almost missed Hanse's response.
     "Excellent, so what's your available strength Mack?"
     "Well we've four lances, as you may recall Sire, young Alvarez has volunteered to give up his seat for Darius, so we'll be sixteen 'Mechs, to the enemies possible twelve to eighteen." Hanse rattled on then about having Marshal Doger ready a company of DMI special forces, to deploy in Karnovs, in order to surround the estate as soon as the battle was joined. However I was sat there in a sudden state of sick funk. They were talking as if I was going along on this shockingly perilous mission. What did I do? Sit still? Pretend not to have heard and try to slip out?
     "I want this ISF bastard Al'Ain and any other of his countrymen that might be at Summer House taken alive if possible." Hanse continued. "For interrogation, you understand?" Mack was nodding and against my better judgement I cleared my throat.
    "Ah, Your Highness?" All eyes turned to me. Hanse gestured for me to speak up, gads but I'd have to handle this delicately ... I certainly couldn't be seen to be trying to duck the action, or all my scheming, blind luck and desperate fearful acts of self-preservation would be wasted; my reputation would be blown and I'd face a grim future of disgrace, bum postings and misery. On the other hand, I'd rather stab pins in my eyes than jump a 'Mech out of a DropShip in low-planetary-orbit, hurtle down like a meteor, then in the unlikely event I survived that prospect engage in a pitched 'Mech battle with probably very proficient Cabalist fanatics.
     "Perhaps I have misheard ... am I to understand I'm to be part of this jaunt?" Hanse's face remained impassive, his eyes seemingly burning into my own. Mack barked a chuckle and interrupted.
     "Oh never fret Darius old man, I knew you'd be champing at the bit to have a crack at Bright and would never forgive us if we left you behind on the sidelines. So I took the liberty of arranging things with Hanse." Hanse allowed what looked to me suspiciously like a small knowing smile to cross his features as he watched me closely and my heart sped up all the more ... the bastard knew, he'd seen through my act, pegged me for the cowardly, self-serving rat I am and was punishing me like he'd warned me he would.
     "I felt you deserved to be in at the kill, so to speak Darius, and besides Mack's arguments made good sense to me. You are the only man who has been around Summer House and it's grounds after all, also you'll be able to lead Mack and his lads straight to that hidden hangar entrance." Which was all stuff if you ask me, I'd shown them on the comm-sat holos exactly where that entrance was! But what could I do? Hanse was watching me damned closely and I couldn't even be seen to hesitate, so with my bowels dissolving once more and my heart pounding I assumed a rueful grin and shook my head.
     "Thanks Mack, I owe you one!" To which the others about the table all shared glances and grins at trusty Darius's famous eagerness to put himself in harms way. Hanse spoke up again.
     "I've arranged for a gift to be waiting aboard Mack's Command DropShip for you Darius. A replacement for the 'Mech you lost on Mallory's World. Consider it a reward for all your work on my behalf so far." I thanked the canny swine as cheerfully as I could manage at the time and tried not to glare too hard at Sortek when he came out with some complete bollocks about wishing he could 'come along and join in the fun'. Though knowing him he was probably being entirely honest.
      It was at that moment I realised Hanse had stood and leaned forward onto his fists. His features had taken on a cold, hard, look and his deadlights swept us in a bone chilling gaze.
     "So then ... in two days I will become First Prince of these Federated Suns and I will not allow our enemies ... any of them ... to divide us at this time. This Cabalist treason will die before I assume my title. We are all here working for the best interests of our nation and people.
     Rest assured I will reward those who serve me well ... but conversely I will discard any traitors who work against us and for themselves.
     In short ... I want Bright and every member of the Third Covenant Society dead by dawn."           
    Well that was blunt wasn't it. There was clearly not going to be any chance of a trial for these beauties was there? I stared at Hanse in some shock. Sure, I'd known he was a tough commander and doubtless ruthless on the battlefield, but I'd never seen this frankly terrifying side of him before that night. Indeed Bright's warnings that Hanse would become a tyrant ran through my mind and I felt a prickle of fear at the thought of that unpleasant possibility. Well if anyone 'worked for themselves' it was me and it occurred that if Hanse ever learnt the truth, for sure, about my nature it was clear he wasn't going to be particularly forgiving.
     By the way, I realise our boy Hanse has always had plenty of apologists and some of you reading this may think I'm just allowing my dislike of the Fox to colour my memory of this event and that I'm perhaps stretching things a trifle ... well damn your impudence! I suggest you check the historical records for the warning against treason that Happy Hanse had filtered throughout the entire AFFS, right after he engineered the destruction and slaughter of the Fifth Syrtis Fusiliers in '29. It ain't equivocal, either you're with Hanse or against him, and woe betide you if you ain't with him. 
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot


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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #2 - Darius at the Coronation
« Reply #31 on: 13 February 2011, 17:05:01 »
Chapter 27

     It's a funny thing but I have no actual recollection of the events that immediately followed that final meeting in the Fox's Den right up until Mack's briefing aboard the Revenge, his Leopard Class Command DropShip. I've been told I was smuggled aboard dressed as a lowly Tech, so I wouldn't be recognised by any Cabalist spies watching the troop movements. Christ and Conrad only know how I didn't collapse into a catatonic pile of quivering jelly, my state of funk must have been so all consuming I just didn't take notice of anything that was going on around me.
     The doubly odd thing is that Ian McKinnon once told me admiringly, some years later, that he'd never seen anyone as cool and serene looking whilst at the heart of the organised chaos of a rapid pre-combat loading drill, as I had seemed that night. Bizarre ain't it? I can only guess that my mind was so absorbed with trying to concoct desperate plans, that might get me out of the fix I was in, that I must have just gazed about like a KrayZee addict who's come into money. I don't even recall the bone-shaking, ear rupturing, pain of experiencing the DropShip blasting up through New Avalon's atmosphere!
     So then, before I get to Mack's memorable zero-g briefing of that night I should give you an idea of the type of soldiers I was soon to be going into combat alongside.
     McKinnon's Raiders were, at that time, save for one other semi-independent Company, the last remnants of the Seventh Crucis Lancers. Back in the dying days of the Star League one Kieran McKinnon, a Captain in the SLDF, refused to join the Exodus Fleet, switched allegiances to serve the Fed Suns and brought his entire company along with him. In December 2786 McKinnon's Independent Company gave Kurita a bloody nose during the First Battle of Kasai, one of the earliest campaigns of the First Succession War. 
     In reward for their heroic service on Kasai, McKinnon and his men were given estates on Kestrel, a dirtball breadbasket world close to New Avalon. Hardly seems fair to me, but by all accounts those Star Leaguer renegades were chuffed to bits and positively put down roots, which having seen Kestrel myself leads me to question the accepted belief that the Hegemony was still a high-tech paradise back then. Anyway, for the next decade or so, these farmer-MechWarriors sat on their arses on Kestrel, or an assortment of dusty Outback postings, while the seemingly unstoppable DCMS steamrollered ever deeper towards New Avalon ... well I suppose perhaps that's why McKinnon and his men never complained.
     This was until 2796 when McKinnon's Company were ordered to the planet Kentares, where they were incorporated into a newly raised BattleMech Regiment; the Seventh Crucis Lancers ... which like all the early Crucis Lancer formations was made up almost entirely of ex-Star League Regular Army volunteers. Then, quicker than it takes me to pop a bra-strap, the DCMS attacked in massive force and the Seventh were broken and scattered. McKinnon's unit was one of the few intact elements of the regiment and fought on as guerillas ... which ain't easy when you're walking about in twelve meter high battle machines believe me ... I've had to do it myself more than once and I don't recommend it.
     Still they must have been better at it than I was, for it had been one of the Seventh's infantry snipers, attached to McKinnon's guerilla band, that had potted Minoru the Monster himself. Ever since, the Company have celebrated the occasion annually with a dinner in the mess and a piss-up that in my experience has all the maudlin sentimentality of a Killarney wake, they call it 'the Sniper's Supper'. I'd avoid it if you're ever at risk of being invited, indeed it was down to the filthy Kentaran Rum, with which they insist on toasting every member of the regiment who fell on Kentares, that I ended up, as the Hound would have put it, as drunk as a spacer at a dim star, after foolishly agreeing to attend in '20 and directly due to that inebriation was thrust wailing into the Fourth Battle for Harrow's Sun.
     I digress, McKinnon and his band somehow survived the infamous Massacre that followed their handiwork, perhaps by finding a deep hole and staying put in it, until they were rescued along with another Company who'd fought the Snakes seperately, several years later when the planet was liberated.
     Despite being the only survivors of the Seventh Crucis, the two semi-autonomous Companies of survivors retained the regimental name as a badge of honour. Kieran McKinnon was killed in action a few years after that on Barlow's Folly, if memory serves, and the First Prince of the time started the tradition in the unit that has held ever since of the Captain's eldest son assuming command.
     Throughout the rest of the First Succession War McKinnon's Company fought extensively along the Kuritan Front, then during the Second War along the Capellan border, including mounting a famous deep penetration raid against Sian itself. It was this daring and costly exploit that won them their honour title, McKinnon's Raiders, and by all accounts they so terrified Chancellor Dainmar Liao, a chap after my own heart by the sound of it, he immediately sued for peace and spinelessly recognised all our territorial gains made at Capellan expense. The Raiders still serve punch out of one of poor old Dainmar's personal, jade studded, silver hand basins by the way and on special occasions shovel their grub off of beautiful pale green eggshell porcelain, which was once part of a Chancellery dinner set.
     For most of the Third Succession War the Raiders were assigned to the Periphery border, where they were involved in countless raids, punitive expeditions, and skirmishes against pirates, slavers, nomad spacers, lunatic religious sects, Outback bandits and sundry other riff-raff. Not to mention stiff and regular action against the Taurians.
     The Hound had ordered Mack and his famous unit back to New Avalon a couple of years previously and had given them Guard status as a reward for their unstinting service.
     They were and are a strange bunch I can tell you. They cling to seemingly random bits and bobs of their Star League heritage; not the whole kit and kaboodle like the Eridani lads do, but a little tradition here, a turn of phrase there. For example; they wear ceremonial daggers, Regular Army style, when in full AFFS dress fig, sing Hegemony ballads badly and out of key, award a Gunslinger patch annually to the Company member who has racked up the highest kills that year, oh and they constantly ironically misquote General Kerensky from his famous speech after the fall of Amaris, almost as a kind of catch phrase ... for example;
     "How y'doing buddy?"
     "Oh, I've faced the worst; what comes next can't be half as bad." Then roll about laughing as if they've just made the funniest joke in the Sphere.
     As I say they're a weird bunch and best avoided ... yet there I was struggling to stay still in zero-gravity, desperate not to empty my stomach's contents, crammed into the small mess-deck of Mack's DropShip, alongside Mack and his Leftenants. While we and the other four Leopards then attached to the Raiders drifted silently above New Avalon, which was visible curving away beyond the small view-slit Mack had opened for the occasion.
     I don't know if any of you've ever had the misfortune to travel by Leopard Class DropShip?
     If you have you'll sympathise with me here, if not ... well how can I describe it ... just try to picture a slab sided, brick shaped craft, some sixty meters long, plated with aligned-crystal armour and weighing nearly two thousand tons even before it takes aboard 'Mechs. You'd think perhaps, such a massive craft would be fairly spacious inside ... fat chance, the back half of the thing is all engine, it's vast Star League V84 drive, then there's it's 'Mech bays, which hold up to four BattleMechs and finally cramped up for'ard is the crew quarters, a pair of aerospace fighter bays, lifepods, mess-deck, bridge and storage bays. All this and then there's the nine crewmen, two pilots and four MechWarriors. Believe me tinned sardines have more wriggle room than passengers aboard a Leopard. Then like most military spacecraft, they're always either too hot, or too cold, and stink of sweat, urine, vomit, 'Mech coolant, and grease. Often they're very old and falling apart at the seams. I've been aboard one that was so clapped out it's 'Mech bay doors kept rolling open of their own accord whenever it entered a planetary atmosphere!
     The Revenge, named for Kentares I was advised, was it should be said better kept than most, mind you I've still smelt fresher air in a four day old Crapellan latrine though.
     "Your attention please lads ..." As Mack called us to order, I felt a surge of bile and gulped it down gagging. With us were Mack's Leftenants, who would soon be shuttled over to their DropShips to relay Mack's briefing to their lancemates; Ian McKinnon, Karl Ryder, and Alex Vorster. Also present were the other two MechWarriors that would form Mack's Command Lance, along with myself of course, these were grouchy old Kurt Lytton and a complete loon by the name of Henrik Dekker. Dekker was some kind of rabid God-botherer, a gaunt middle aged man with bowl cut fair hair and a face like someone had slapped him, he carried a large old leather bound Bible into the briefing I recollect. We were all dressed to move at a moments notice; vest, shorts, soft soled 'Mech shoes and MechWarrior gloves, however despite the cool, I was sweating like an Ellsie on Luthien.
     "So ... we've been given the most important mission of our times lads. We're going to ensure Hanse Davion gets to sit on the throne of the Federated Suns." He grinned at them and they all smiled and grinned back. I tried to follow suit but had to put my hand over my mouth to hold back the puke.
     "Our forefathers dropped onto Sian to end one Succession War ... now maybe by dropping on New Avalon we'll start the end of another.
     There hasn't been Company scale 'Mech combat on New Avalon for over two hundred years, that was way back in the early days of the First Succession War. We're going to take part in the first combat drop down there since. Not to attack Avalon itself of course, but to cleanse it." He then skilfully detailed his plan of attack, pointing out positions on a holomap of Bright's estate; basically we would drop from the Leopards at eighteen thousand meters, Ian's Attack Lance would land at the estate gates and kill any 'Mechs on guard there, then work their way in towards the house itself. Meanwhile Ryder's Medium Lance were to land directly beside Summer House and secure it. Ross's Command Lance, including your quaking correspondent, and Vorster's Recon Lance were going to land as close to the entrance to Bright's secret hangar as possible and assault the hangar itself.
     "Darius you young rascal, I understand this is going to be your first atmo-drop?" Mack turned to me, his eyes twinkling. I nodded in sick confirmation and a roar went up from the others in good humour.
     "WEY-HEY a virgin!"
     "C'mon let's debag him." And much other such schoolboyish nonsense was cried out, while Dekker, the only serious one, muttered something about the Valley of Death ... the cursed croaker. Mack however waved them all quiet and drifted close enough to clap me on the shoulder.
     "We'll have to forego the usual debagging ceremony I think lads ... still can't see you off Darius without a toast, Kurt old son pass me the shampoo." Eyebrows bristling and possibly smiling slightly under his great bush of a grey moustache, as if by magic Lytton absolutely produced a little half-bottle of Albionic Champagne.
     I'd seen some memorable things that year, but I don't think I'd been as mutely confused as hanging to that wall, watching Ross McKinnon struggling with the champagne cork, while weightless, chattering to me about the need not to let the cork 'get away' and to watch for the 'shampoo' drifting onto everything ... while his son cheered him on, Dekker droned about the evils of drink, ignored by his fellows, and Ryder and Vorster pored over the holomap. I just gazed at them all thinking; 'Good grief you crazy idiots, don't you know we might all be dead in an hour or two?'. Of course, they knew that fact, it just didn't bother them above half ... this kind of thing was their bread and butter after all.
     After a fumbled gulp of the champagne, which did nothing to settle my roiling guts, I passed the bottle on to Lytton, my hand over the top. While Mack chuntered on to me about just sticking close to him 'on the way down' and following his lead. Lytton looked pretty hard at me and grunted something to his boss.
     "Kurt says you're looking peeky Darius? You sky-sick?" Mack asked ... well I try to play my role as Daring Darius even to the last so, affecting a weak grin, I shook my head.
     "I'm just a little queasy about heights Sir, don't worry I won't let you down." Ross and the others gaped at me in impressed surprise, as I'd of course intended ... well I couldn't have got out of going on the drop by that point, not without ruining my good name, so I reasoned I might as well play the game to the end. It wouldn't hurt in the unlikely event I survived, to return with Mack and his chaps telling this tale would it.
     "I've never seen the like," They'd say. "Darius was actually afraid of heights, but didn't let it interfere with his eagerness to be along all the way and to get in at the kill. He was first out the door eighteen kilometers up! Bravest thing I ever saw."
     Anyway, after a round of hand shakes, the briefing broke up, but only after Mack looked around the group one last time;
     "Okay, comm-silence until I tell you otherwise. Err one small thing, try to limit the damage done to Summer House itself, if you can. Well ... good luck chaps. I'll see you all on the hard side. Just remember we've all faced the worst; what comes next can't be half as bad!" To which they gave a merry cheer and left me to Mack's care.
     "Let's go take a look at Hanse's gift eh?" Mack fisted me on the arm and we set off for the 'Mech bay.

* * *

     The 'Mech bay of the Revenge was like a mini-'Mech hangar, the 'Mech's were stood upright however, unlike the typically crouched position normal to most hangars, ready to be walked or run out of the DropShip as quickly as possible. Also it's a good deal easier to reach the head mounted cockpits of the great machines in zero-g, one just has to pull lightly up the ladder, which is a fun and unusual experience until you get used to it.
     "There it is." Mack gave a whistle of appreciation as we pulled ourselves level with a towering Assault 'Mech, Hanse's gift to me; encased in white ablative shielding stood a VTR-9A Victor. Assault 'Mechs are the kings of the battlefield, often considered equal to an entire Lance of lighter 'Mechs and are fearsomely rare and valuable. This was a Princely gift indeed. I'd only ever pilotted light and medium 'Mechs prior to this and had never dreamed Hanse would be so generous, I said as much to Mack.
     "Didn't Hanse tell us he'd reward his loyal servants. Well you bloodthirsty rogue, there's your first reward." He was right, Hanse was clearly not Ian, whereas the Hound had been tighter than the Primus's privates, the Fox was positively generous ... to his friends.
     I spent the next couple of hours tuning my neurohelmet to the Victor's computers and prepared myself for the drop. I was suited up and waiting when the DropShip began it's descent over Albion at the prearranged time of fifteen minutes before local dawn. The DropShip doors opened to reveal a terrifying vista of purplish haze, riven suddenly by shafting rays of the sun just below the curve of New Avalon. A sight that is burned into my memory and will never leave me.
     My HUD showed a count down, flickering in green light before me, and my fear soared once more, my brain screaming in protest ... this was insane ... crazy ... why me? ... why me? ... ohhhhh mummmeeeee!
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot


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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #2 - Darius at the Coronation
« Reply #32 on: 13 February 2011, 20:20:26 »
Chapter 28

     I was thrown bodily forward, my seat harness snapping rigid, as my 'Mech was launched explosively from the DropShip's bay. I gasped in pain and instinctively squeezed my eyes shut as I was suddenly falling through space amidst a cloud of glittering metal chaff and fragments of ablative shielding. I'd had the forethought to switch off the comm, so screamed freely in terror.
     If you think a atmospheric drop in a BattleMech is simply a kind of metal clad sky dive, where you hang as if suspended in a tranquil sky ... well I'm here to tell you it ain't. My ears were deafened by a constant rushing roar, as my eighty some ton mount smashed down towards the distant ground and terminal velocity. My jaw was clamped shut so hard it hurt, I forced my eyes open to find myself in a whirling, sickening, spin. I caught a flash of Mack's MAD-3D Marauder, it's arm mounted weapon pods spread and it's back mounted thruster pack firing off directed little bursts that seemed to be stabilising it very quickly. Then I was spinning again, so that suddenly I was blinking up at the five DropShips banking away in a 'V' formation.
     "Oh Christ, oh Blake, oh Christ, oh Blake." I babbled, thumbing the thruster controls on my right joystick and feeling a sudden thud-kick sensation from the rear of my 'Mech. It took me what seemed like minutes, though can only have been ten to twenty seconds, to right the blasted tin can, until it was in a spread eagle position, facing bellydown so I would have a sphincter loosening view of the ground once I passed through the cloud layer. Then suspended forward by my harness I hammered on the computer console before me, switching on the proximity radar and nav-systems.
     Still breathlessly repeating my sacrilegious mantra to myself, I began to make the very cautious and careful adjustments to my position that would align my 'Mech to the flickering amber triangles now showing on my HUD, directing me to our planned Drop Zone inside Bright's estate. An altimeter flashed in the lower corner of the HUD, it's rapidly diminishing numbers only serving to intensify my shivering fear.
     For a short moment I saw one of the other lances streaking down, Ian McKinnon's I think, their 'Mechs actually diving in downward pointing positions, in order to increase the speed of their descent. I don't doubt they were all whooping and laughing in their cockpits, the crazy idiots, but comm silence was strictly adhered to.
     I then saw a spread of distant lights far away to the north; Avalon City I realised. That was quite something, a sight I'd never in a million years have dreamed I'd see whilst on a combat drop ... I could even just about make out the spur of the mountains which included Mount Davion, sparkling with the little cluster of lights that had to be the Palace. For just a moment I forgot the danger and gawked at the purple hued vista below, wondering whether we'd be visible like shooting stars to the Avalonians.
     Then we hit the clouds and turbulence simultaneously, and I instantly began panicking again. We were churning through rain clouds and I struggled with the violently juddering sticks, whilst moisture slicked the tinted armourglass of my cockpit canopy. I was suddenly completely alone, I couldn't see two meters though the clouds and had no idea where the others were ... it was at that moment I realised I might actually be able to worm my way out of being part of the hellish battle that was about to take place when Mack's mob hit the dirt running.
     This was my first combat drop, despite my Mallory's World reputation and the intelligence work I'd been dragged into over the previous few weeks, I was still just a raw nineteen year old greenhorn ... if I lost control of my 'Mech a little in these clouds and got spun off course, well no one would think anything of it, it was just the sort of unplanned for accident that happened all the time during military operations. My peers would be positively sorry for me, getting lost and arriving late, after all the 'fun' was over. Hanse might suspect I suppose, but really what could he do? Mack would back me I was sure ... my heart soared and I immediately began to nudge my 'Mech to it's left, away from the nav triangles on my HUD.
     The altimeter read seven hundred and ninety meters when I erupted through the bottom of the rain clouds and the neat looking fields, orchards, farms and estates of Albion's River Basin District were spread beneath me. I craned my neck about to try to find where Mack and his boys were, for a moment I couldn't see them, then I realised they were some way to my right and a good deal closer to the ground than myself, which I took to be all too the better.
     With a nervy start I suddenly remembered that I should have been firing my jets by now, in order to safely slow and control my final descent and landing. I was in the process of ratchetting up my thrust gently, when my comm started flashing and cursing I hit it.
     "Tooth Two, this is Tooth One, you're off course, get back on my six pronto." Mack, the sharp eyed swine, had spotted what he doubtless took to be my error and his voice was all business. I couldn't think of a way to argue with him so started correcting my descent path, while my jets burned fully, guzzling fuel at an alarming rate, and I brought my machine up into an upright crouch.
     I could make out Summer House itself, lit up clearly now some distance to my right, and after burning back in the general direction of Mack and the rest of the Command Lance I realised with a start I was going to land some distance from them, thanks to my abortive attempt to get myself lost. Typical ... again my instinctive cowardly scheming was going to probably land me in a worse spot than if I'd just gone with the flow.
     The land seemed now to hurtle up to meet me, and jets burning I descended the final thirty meters or so. I came down actually in a pretty flower garden that I recalled Bright had pointed out to me as the Horace Bright Memorial Bower. Blake only knows who Horace Bright was precisely, but I made one hell of a mess of his flower beds.
     My eighty tons of BattleMech landed at roughly ten meters a second, there was a bone jarring thud and turf went flying everywhere. At the same instant I heard the thudder-stutter of autocannon fire and a double explosion from the direction of the main house. Suddenly firing erupted from several directions and I tried to spin my Victor thinking I was under attack, however I quickly realised the gunfire was coming from what sounded to be several firefights elsewhere about the estate. Well this could have been worse ... I dragged my 'Mech up and decided I'd stay right where I was for the time being. Paying my respects to Horace Bright as it were. Then when the battle began to wind down I'd charge in guns blazing, cursing volubly over the comm about becoming lost, or bogged down, or something.
     I'd should have been so lucky.

* * *

     Now battle was joined comm silence was thrown to the wind and I was surprised to find that the Third Covenant Society MechWarriors were using our comm channel, which was after all the AFFS standard. So, crouched in my bower, I heard chatter from both sides and several bizarre mid-battle exchanges, for example;
     "Tooth One to Tooth Three, pot that bloody Stinger Kurt old fellow. He nearly took my arm off then."
     "I'll do more than that, you bastard."
     "Tooth Three, I'm on him."
     "Like hell you are, eat this."
     "Watch the house lads! Watch the house!"
     "We're under attack, we're under attack!"
     "McKinnon you peasant-loving braggart, I'm going to kill you then move on your beloved boy-loving Prince."  I suddenly heard Bright roar and thought, well better Mack have to deal with him than myself. It was at that moment a pair of Cabalist 'Mechs, a Wasp and a Shadow Hawk,  ran across the entrance to the Bower. I think they were as surprised as I was, for they took a moment to stop, turn and look at me. We raised our 'Mech's weapons at the same time, but thankfully my fear made me quicker.
     It was the first time I fired my Victor's primary weapon, a massive Pontiac 100 vulcan autocannon. It's a fearsome beast of a weapon, a real 'Mech masher, firing 120mm depleted uranium shells. I'd aimed at the little Wasp and couldn't miss at that range, we were barely ten meters from each other, the cannon shells tore straight through the light 'Mech's central torso and knocked out it's power plant. Shards of molten ceramite exploded in a firey cloud, then with an echoing volcanic flash the 'Mech disintegrated from the waist up, lighting the dim predawn fiercely.
     "Kyle!" I heard a familiar woman's voice over the comm gasp in horror. In an instant I realised the Wasp must have been piloted by Leftenant Kyle De Winters, a swarthy faced young rake from the Alex who'd been part of Bright's little dinner party. Well he was nothing to me, but it did make me pause for a second ... it ain't often you kill someone who a few days previous you were asking to pass the salt, is it? Also I froze at the recognition of Emma Jonath's voice from the Hawk and I couldn't stop myself from gasping her name aloud. The fifty five ton Shadow Hawk ducked away from the flaming remains of De Winters' Wasp and I heard a curse over the comm.
     "Darius? You fracking traitor!" Well our amour was clearly at an end as, while spouting the kind of language that would have shocked a Periphery pirate, she opened up on me with her 'Mech's Martel Model 5 laser cannon and a shoulder mounted Armstrong J11 60mm autocannon. My Victor rocked under her damned accurate fire, which chewed into my machine's left arm and torso, damage alarms bleeped and I thought; Right ho lass, that's enough for me! Then promptly turned and jumped away from her and out of the flower garden over a neatly trimmed six meter high hedge.
     She wasn't going to let me go that easily however, a woman spurned and all that I suppose, and she was instantly on my tail firing away at me with a deuced sharp eye. There followed what I remember as an epic chase, across the gardens of Bright's estate, I was in a fine panic and smashed, jumped and ran my way through hedges, lawns, bushes, flower beds and all manner of shrubbery. My ex-lover hot on my tail and launching flight after flight of missiles at me.
     There were hot little 'Mech duels raging at various points about the estate, some of which we passed pretty close to, I recall half glimpsed and confused flashes of those fights; Ian McKinnon's Marauder, twin to his father's, loosing off bolts of man-made lightning from it's arm pods into a quartet of armoured personnel carriers, two of which ruptured and spewed out members of Bright's private army, burning and thrashing in agony ... Dekker, firing into the windows of Summer House at infantry snipers, causing explosions to whoosh out, whilst bellowing fire and brimstone scripture ... two Cabalist Rifleman 'Mechs making a stand by the Lantern Gazebo, their torsos swivelling and spent cannon shell casings falling from their thundering weapns, while Ryder's Lance circled them like wolves ... one of Vorster's Recon Lance, a Wasp I recognised as having belonged to a skinny beanpole of a chap named Jaminski, stood burning and leaking a pyre of black smoke, on a gravel path I tore across, it's cockpit and head completely blown away ... a Karnov VTOL hovering, it's turbofans whooshing, as black clad DMI commandos sped down lines ... peach trees burning in a ring ... a squad of rifle armed Cabalist infantry firing bravely at me, then evaporating into bloody pulp when I opened up on them with my 'Mech's heavy machine gun while running past ... missiles streaking through a little classical style folley ... Bright raging over the comm ... Jonath screaming venom.
     In short we'd arrived before the sun and turned Bright's estate into a little corner of hell. I saw confused flashes of the whole, but only later learned that though we'd caught the Third Covenant Society completely by surprise, at least half their 'Mechs and armoured vehicles were at large in the estate grounds, perhaps Bright had been wary of just such an attack. It was a bitter fight, with no quarter given or asked, a fight between peers, men who days before were on the same side, perhaps even friends in some cases. Everywhere the air was rent with the chatter of small arms, the thudder-thudder of cannon fire, the shriek of missiles, bursting explosions and the sharp crack of particle cannons. Fires were raging across the parkland and gardens, while despite Mack's best intentions half the house itself was an inferno and dawn's light was washing the whole scene in a faint orange haze. I could not believe this was New Avalon, a short drive from the capital city itself!
     I was about to try to desperately find some kind of ambush point from which to turn on the mad bitch pounding on my tail, when I smashed through another low hedge and hurtled my eighty tons of Victor at perhaps sixty klicks per hour straight into another BattleMech. There was one almighty clang and we both went flying, I just had time to realise I'd smashed into a GRF-1N Griffin ... Bright's 'Mech ... before crashing headlong into the gravel of the main dive.
     I cracked my neurohelmet stunningly against the side of my cockpit's eject mechanism and nearly passed out from the pain, tasting the coppery tang of blood, and was only just aware of missiles streaking over head, presumably having been aimed at Bright. Gasping in agony and cursing, I struggled to roll my downed 'Mech to it's side just in time to catch sight of Emma's oncoming Shadow Hawk, it's laser cannon flickering and lashing my 'Mech's left leg with an explosive flash.
     With a grunt and feeling the oven heat in my cockpit rocket up all the more, from my helpless prone position I let go with everything I had in desperation; a volley of cyclomite CX-12 tipped medium ranged missiles, my Pontiac 100 cannon, my linked Sorenstein V 3mj laser cannons, even my .5 cal heavy machine gun. I nearly passed out once more, this time from the heat wash that smothered me, drying my mouth and causing sweat to flow into my eyes. However the volley flayed Emma's 'Mech's legs and torso. There was a dreadful shrieking sound and I caught a glimpse through blurred vision of a fiery burst of glowing ceramite and shattered adamantium fragments streaking out in a wide arc. Then, hit in mid pace, the Hawk span uncontrollably forward into the cloud of flame riven black smoke.
     "BASTARD!" A hate filled voice then suddenly crackled into my dazed ear and Bright's badly torn up Griffin suddenly hammered down bodily onto my machine's breast, seemingly from nowhere. Bright screamed incoherently over the comm at me, while swinging up his 'Mech's massive left fist and hammered it into my cockpit's armourglass visor.
     There was a frightful splintering thud and a crack spiderwebbed across the armourglass, but Blake-be-praised it held and as Bright swung to strike again there was an almighty blinding double flash of x-ray white light, followed by a molten belch as Bright's Griffin's head-cockpit disappeared in a flashing electrical explosion. With a slow movement, followed by a 'ker-clang' sound, the decapitated 'Mech fell across me and I slumped my machine back in quaking relief.
* * *

     "Darius? Darius are you okay?" Ross McKinnon's concerned voice penetrated my state of shock and I muttered.
     "Uhh, yeah, damn he could throw a punch." To which Mack chuckled cheerfully.
     "Well he's done now ... damn though where'd you spring from? I nearly hit you with that last missile volley." Ah, it sank in that I'd been chased into the middle of Mack and Bright's duel. Now, I'd have to come up with something to explain what was in fact a headlong terrified dash, so with a spark of inspiration I adopted a vaguely angry tone.
     "I'm terribly sorry Sir, well this is deuced embarrassing ... I saw Bright and wanted to get in to have a crack at him ... but I've been having one hell of a time dealing with the increased weight of this lumbering great thing. I'm only used to lights and mediums y'see, I started running and ... well hang it all ... I couldn't stop in time ... this Victor ... well it feels so heavy ... and well fat ... fat as fracking Falstaff." Christ knew where that simile came from, but it was inspired as unbeknownst to me Ross McKinnon loved his Shakespeare and it tickled him. He began to chuckle, then guffaw and soon he was positively roaring with laughter.
     "Oh ... oh Darius that is a good 'un!" Mack chortled in rare good humour and show off that he was he positively continued; "What, lie thou idle here? Lend me thy sword. Many a nobleman lies stark and stiff under the hoofs of vaunting enemies, whose deaths are yet unrevenged. I prithee lend me thy sword." He then leant in and began pushing at that damned Griffin awkwardly with his Marauder's arm mounted weapon pods, and I pushed it up and off of my machine as best I was able.
     Well the only lines of Falstaff's that sprang to my memory was his sound advice that 'the better part of valour is discretion' ... though I've never needed reminding of that and besides I didn't think Ross would agree. So I cribbed a line from Mack's role, affecting a mock angry tone;
     "What, is it a time to jest and dally now?"
     To which Ross roared again. The windbag would probably have gone on, but as I struggled up a pair of Bright's armoured cars skidded past, rattling off light autocannon fire at us and we gave chase.
     Well, the battle was for the most part over with the destruction of Jonath and Bright's 'Mechs, and though I exchanged fire with some of Bright's dwindling forces, within the next few minutes it was all finished bar the cleaning up. I'm told from start to end the Battle of Summer House only took ten minutes. It was a nasty business though.
      I recall popping my cockpit hatch outside the main house itself, when the shooting had stopped, and clambering down my cockpit ladder. The place was a firestorm, that scorched my skin even at some distance, as I tugged off my suffocating neurohelmet, gasping for air, I nearly choked by breathing in a throat searing gust of ash filled smoke. My eyes were watering and I gagged as I saw a woman, a maid I think, run screaming out of that hell, her clothes were burned away, her skin hideously blistered, her hair actually aflame.
     Jerome! I can still hear her screaming, smell that nauseating barbecue whiff ... she ran towards me, bloody burned fingers reaching for me, pleadingly ... mad with pain. I pushed at her arms and her skin came off in my hands ... ahh, but what's the point describing it to you? It's always the same when great men send their soldiers to kill their enemies in battle ... the innocent pay the price and are forgotten. Their pain is an unfortunate accident, a pity ... but certainly not reason enough in the minds of Princes to stay their hand when dishing out their killing orders.
     I shot that poor maid dead through her forehead with my Sternsacht. I didn't cry. I was too bone tired for that. Too sickened. Too angry. I'd never wanted to be part of this kind of madness and if I had my way I wouldn't be ever again.
     "Oh-ho there you are." Mack's damnably happy voice penetrated my bilious rage and I turned to see him clambering down from his crouched Marauder. He stumped over, drawing out a cheap cigarette as he came, while staring up at the burning house muttering through his clamped jaw as he lit up.
     "Shame ... shame ... well can't be helped." He looked at me again more closely and seeing the smouldering body of the woman, sighed and was about to say something when several infantry soldiers jogged up. They were wearing unmarked black combat fatigues, body armour and visored helmets, and carried Thorvald and Koch submachine guns. Being herded along amidst them were two rather battered looking Third Covenant MechWarriors, Max Levine and Emma Jonath. They both glared daggers at me as, after pausing for an instant, the foremost of the special forces men flicked up his helmet's visor to reveal grey eyes and a broken nose. He snapped off a brisk salute.
     "Leftenant Baum. MI Department Six. 45th Special Forces Team. Pleasure to meet you Sir." He barked at Mack, then nodded politely across at me.           
     "Captain McKinnon, we've picked up the Kuritan agents trying to break out the grounds, but I have an executive order pertaining to all traitor MechWarriors captured. You might wish to be somewhere else." I looked at the young officer mystified, but Mack gripped my shoulder and pulled me away towards our 'Mechs.
     "Right-oh Leftenant." Mack called over his shoulder and I let him pull me along, but I had a glimpse of the pair of ex-Guards traitors being pushed out from the group of commandos. I caught Emma's gaze for a brief moment and her eyes widened and she actually cried out to me by name, her voice suddenly pleading and terrified. Confused I turned back to Mack and at that moment there was a long chatter of gunfire. Mack gripped me around my shoulders hard, but I struggled free and turned in time to see Jonath and Levine hit the gravel, the house behind them a mass of leaping flames.
     Well as you know I'm not one for sentimentality, but this was beyond the pale in my book. They don't call the DMI Department 6 lads the Rabid Foxes for nothing, but this was stone cold murder. Perhaps I knew they wouldn't really do me harm, perhaps for once I didn't care. I can't say now, but I flew back towards them, grabbed Baum by his shoulder and spun him around. He was so surprised he did nothing, however his men had their guns trained on me. 
     "WHY? WHY? You murdering ----!" I screamed at him and he let me hold him there by his collar.
     "Leftenant?" Was all he said, his grey eyes fixed on mine in mute defiance. I let Mack pull me back from him and I pushed him away, staggering across to the two bodies. Mack was at my shoulder urging me to come away, but I shook off his hand and knelt down beside Emma.
     She lived for just a moment as I looked down into her blinking eyes. Her cooling vest was punctured with several bullet holes, which leaked a mixture of coolant fluid and blood. Her mouth was moving, as if she was trying to say something to me, but only blood was bubbling out. A bullet had clipped the side of her temple and her glorious ashen hair was now liberally spattered with red. Her right hand jerked and I saw she was holding a silver and gold crucifix on a chain. I blubbed then, Mack standing at my side tutting softly in sympathy, well I'd bored of her as a lover and thought her a tiresome political fanatic ... but this?
     Hanse had wanted no unpleasant publicity raised by any treason trials at that time, his position was too shakey. We'd been told to kill all the Third Covenant Society and the MI6 teams were there to do it if we didn't. I hated Hanse at that moment, every bit as much as I'd hated Bright, and Hasek-Davion, and all the other power-mad maniacs whose scheming led people to this; bullets, blood, fire and death.
     Emma died at that moment and I took the bloodstained crucifix on it's chain. I still have it, tucked away in a draw in my study and take it out whenever I need to remind myself about precisely what methods Hanse was prepared to use to win power. Poor old Emma ... she was a cracking looking gal, quite the acrobat in the bedroom. A devil with her fingernails though.
     "C'mon old son, we've faced the worst; what comes next can't be half as bad." Mack said with feeling and led me away sobbing.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot


  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #2 - Darius at the Coronation
« Reply #33 on: 13 February 2011, 20:53:13 »

     The news media reported the Battle of Summer House the following day as a 'police action' by McKinnon's Raiders and special forces troops, against a 'Kuritan backed terrorist group'. Of the traitors only Bright and Emma Jonath were named, the other dead were posted as missing, AWOL, or I later learned marked as having taken part in the Imbrial III exercises, then been reported as being killed in 'training accidents'. The Third Covenant Society was never named openly, few guessed it was actually a Cabalist plot that went right through elements of the Brigade of Guards, and to the best of my knowledge the MIIO picked up any members that had had the luck to be elsewhere when we hit the estate.
     I was pretty chuffed later to note that my presence had somehow got out and good ol' Mack had put in a good word or two for me ... whilst singing his own praises most of all of course, the confounded big head.
     Though it should be said I didn't know all this until later that day, as upon our arrival by DropShip back at the Mount, I'd been so exhausted I simply crashed out and slept on a put-me-up camp bed in the Raider's 'Mech hangar, right through to the afternoon. I was awoken by Kurt Lytton, his moustache bristling in what I could now recognise as what passed with him for excited good humour.
     "Rise and shine Leftenant Davion Sir. We've got visitors." Still dressed in my vest and shorts I grumbled up and after him. My throat was swollen and sore, my head ached like it had been kicked by a horse and I was covered in bruises. I'd been snoozing in Mack's utilitarian little office and dutifully tramped out into the main hangar where, in the avenue between two of the great 'Mech silo bays, dressed in green fatigues, the surviving fourteen members of McKinnon's Raiders were drawn up smartly to attention. Walking down the line, wearing a crisply pressed civilian suit and flanked by a small group of hangers on, including Truston, Sortek and the Lexington-Lumberjack, was the Fox himself, stopping here and there to exchange a word or two with individual members of the unit.
     I dashed up and joined the near end of the Raiders, next to Mack, who muttered to me out the side of his mouth.
     "Jesus and Jerome Darius, I called for you ten minutes ago." I shrugged and at that moment I looked up to find I happened to be facing my new, though now somewhat damaged, Victor. I gasped as a Tech was perched on the 'Mech's left shoulder and was just finishing off painting the name Falstaff in large red and white letters across the front central shoulder plate. I nearly rounded on McKinnon in anger, but caught myself and hissed at him.
     "What's that Mack? Some kind of joke?" I thought he was comparing my morals and courage to Falstaff's, which would be a deuced uncomfortably narrow thing you'll agree? However he grinned.
     "Well of course it is. C'mon old son, you named that 'Mech yourself you know." I realised he saw it, as did the rest of the army when they came to know about it, as an ironic tag for my 'Mech. What, the bravest, most selfless, and honourable MechWarrior in the entire AFFS has a 'Mech named after a cowardly rogue? It's like calling a giant 'Little' John I suppose. Looking up I realised whatever I did that name had clearly stuck, thanks to Mack's infernal sense of humour and I forced myself to relax into a mirthless grin ... well all the world's a joke I suppose.
     I pulled my attention back to Hanse and his party of sycophantic lackeys, who were walking back up the line. Spotting me, dressed and looking like a refugee from a battlefield, which was what I then was in a way, Hanse hurried over and clasped my hand.
     "Glad you made it Darius." Hanse beamed, he has a great trick of holding one hand paternally on your shoulder while shaking your hand with his other, his eyes burning into yours. A true politician. I thanked him feebly, my voice rasping, what else could I do ... spit in his face?
     "Mack tells me you scored a couple of kills, that must make you the first serving AFFS MechWarrior ever to bag a Sword of Lighter as his first kill, then two Brigade of Guards MechWarriors as his second and third!" Which is probably true when you think about it, still it was pretty insensitive stuff under the circumstances if you ask me, then again Hanse never seemed to feel much pity for his enemies. I guess I don't either, usually, I can and have killed Crappies and Kuritans and not ever thought about them again, indeed have felt the Sphere was better for their absence, but this time it was different y'see. These were Brigade officers and MechWarriors; I'd sat down to dinner with 'em, joked with 'em, drank with 'em, even rogered one of 'em ... I suppose at bottom truth was I liked some of 'em ... that is to have fun with, not to join them in any damn fool treasonable plot you understand. Well there ... it was different because ... well this time they'd been us.
     Perhaps spotting the shadow fall across my features, and wishing to brush over any possible faux pas, Hanse reached behind himself to one of his suited minions and then turned back to me and pinned something to the front of my vest. I looked down to find a medal there, a bronze cross on a orange ribbon.
     "Leftenant Darius Davion, in recognition of your unstinting loyalty and selfless courage, in the furtherance of secret duties over the past weeks and during the Raid on Summer House, I am most happy to award you with the Crucis Cross." Well, it's always nice to receive a gong ain't it ... I've got plenty these days, not sure which is my favourite; I won my Medal Excalibur within a few months of my Bushido Blade y'know, for my service on both sides during the '39 ... then again I do have a soft spot for my Liao Grand Cordon of Merit, after all how many chaps can honestly claim to have received a medal for bulling the fight out of a Capellan princess ... mind you that was perilous business, worse than many battles I've scampered through!
     The Crucis Cross is one of the better known non-AFFS military decorations, that the First Prince is able to award independently. They tend to get dished out to mercs who've done well, or as in this instance, to troops that have successfully carried out dangerous missions in service to the First Prince, that he wouldn't wish looked into too deeply by an official AFFS board of enquiry. It's a medal that tends to have more status in the army than most non-federal honours, for it's known to indicate loyalty to the First Prince himself. Mack and several of the others were also wearing them I noticed. I croaked my thanks and Hanse shook my hand again and in a low voice added.
     "Well done Darius ... now if you can keep it up you may go far. But never forget what I said that night we first met. By the way, you look a tad beaten up, if there's anything I can do for you over the next few days, to make you more comfortable, just ask." I nodded mutely, what an ungrateful callous sod, he was threatening me, even after I'd done the lion's work in getting him safely to his Coronation tomorrow. He then stood back and raised his voice.
     "Well done all of you. I shall not forget this hard service you have carried out for both our nation and myself. In years to come I shall reward you all the more, but for now I award you, the men of McKinnon's Raiders, two things;
     Firstly, as a recognition of your loyalty to me and of your unparalleled ferocity in battle with our enemies, henceforth you shall have a new badge of honour. You shall be named McKinnon's Raiders ... The Fox's Teeth." There was a great cheer and Mack slapped my back, Hanse waved for quiet and I noted Mack tensed then slightly as if waiting for good news.
     "Secondly, as the Bright family line has died with the late and unlamented Baron Summerland, I hereby award in perpetuity all the lands and estates once held by the Bright family to McKinnon's Raiders. To be used as a barracks and base of operations whenever the company is on New Avalon. I shall of course see to it any necessary repair costs, following this morning's raid, will be paid out of the treasury." This time the cheer was all the louder and pointedly led by that cunning dog Ross McKinnon. He had to have known Hanse was going to give Summer House, and indeed Bright's entire Barony, over to him and his men ... that was why he'd told us to avoid damaging the house itself if possible. It struck me at that moment that the McKinnon's had spent so long out on the Periphery frontier they'd gone just a little piratical themselves. Redjack himself couldn't have hit that estate smarter and with a better eye for loot!

* * *

     Well the following day was that of Hanse's Coronation. It was a crisp sunny winter morning, almost so clear you'd think Hanse had somehow tampered with the weather.
     I could tell you of the massed parades, the bunting and ribbons, the seas of fluttering tricolour and Sunburst flags, the marching military bands, the cavalcades of limos, the vast cheering crowds lining the processional route from the Palace to Notre Dame once again. This time the sobriety of Ian's passing was changed into rapture at Hanse's arrival, so to speak. Women passed out as he drove by in a powerful open-topped ground car, children screamed in joy, veterans stood in little clusters saluting with big grins creasing their wrinkled faces, journalists barged and pushed to get the best view for a holo pic, hundreds of whitebellies lined the route to either side, two ranks deep yet still struggling to control the ecstatic mob. Avalon City was a reflection of the entire nation that day, it's been said, and Avalon City was jubilant.
      I was done up in full blue and gold dress fig, complete with my two medals, sat in a limo with my bloody mother, about ten cars back from Hanse, and I recall I was stunned by the sheer din and spectacle. Ma'ma instructed me to wind down the window and 'let the people see us', so I did and if they were cheering me, or just cheering, I cannot say.
     We walked into Notre Dame de Avalon, deafened by the roar as each new honoured guest entered. I recall ma'ma and I were sat about six seats from the front. But close enough to see everything in detail; the great ceremonial processions of the hundred or so Knights of the Federated Suns, splendid in their long cloaks of ermine and fox fur ... their huge broadswords slanted at their shoulders. Then came the twenty odd members of the Order of Davion, in their scarlet and black. Dukes and Duchesses in their long robes of state filled one great swathe of the seats. NACC clerics came swinging sensors, followed by choristers filling the cavernous cathedral with soaringly beautiful chanting. All in all, even being the soulless heathen that my mother has always tagged me, I must admit it was certainly something you didn't see every day.
     I shan't bore you with the complete liturgy and ceremonial, for it dragged on for what seemed to me to be hours. There was a deal of anointing and oath swearing. Some obscure passing backwards and forwards of scepters and such like. Plenty of psalm singing, prayer pushing and general God-bothering nonsense. My mother was so entranced she missed the fact I managed to catch forty winks, however I was woken by a blare of trumpets. I looked up and can still see him there, the light from a great rose window way behind him surrounding his ginger hair like a halo. Beside him stood a chap in a decorative red and white flowing ecclesiastical robe, holding out a massive book. Hanse placed his hand upon it and spoke loudly, in a firm unwavering voice.
     "I, Hanse Davion, rightful heir and successor to my brother, do accept from His Most Honoured Chairman Elder, Cardinal Diego Lavera, the Unfinished Book and the Scepter of State as symbols of my rights and responsibilities toward all the peoples of the Federated Suns. God bless the freedom-loving people of the Federated Suns." My mother tutted testily at this, while three cheers for the Prince were formally called for, I believe she liked to think of herself as one of those traditionalists who resented Hanse swearing on the Unfinished Book in place of the Bible, he was the first First Prince to do so ... he could swear on toilet paper for all I cared.
     The service dragged on past that point with more hymns, then a Te Deum sung by the choir as Hanse was marched out amidst the Knights FS and the Order of Davion. There was an enormous roar of acclamation as he left and greeted his people as their new First Prince, ma'ma had spotted one of her witch's circle and had gone over to gush about her 'beloved nephew' no doubt. I on the other hand was just casting about for a side exit to slip out of when, with a rustle of her formal black and blue silk robe, the Duchess of Chesterton sat down beside me.
     I doubt many people have gone for a plunge at a Duchess while sitting in Notre Dame, amidst a packed congregation of the Fed Suns best and brightest, however one look into her eyes and I did just that. She was a little surprised I think, but she responded and we sat there lost in each other for a long moment. Then she pulled back and glanced guiltily about.
     "Dee you're incorrigible." She grinned back at me, I shrugged.
     "So Olivia, let's get out of her and find somewhere more private." I leered happily at the prospect, but she frowned at me.
     "We can't, we're both to be guests up at the Palace, the Prince deserves our presence." Perhaps stupidly I cursed, loud enough to draw disapproving glares from the guests to either side, then lowered my voice.
     "Oh frack him Olivia! He doesn't care for anyone or anything save his own dreams of power!" Olivia gasped and looked genuinely shocked, I thought about back tracking, but then with rare recklessness decided 'what the hell' and ploughed on.
     "Look Olivia, Hanse talks about his 'responsibilities to all his people'? Well how does that tally with him ordering the murder of serving Guards officers, or common maids and servants? Even if they are traitors, by his vaunted standards they deserve a fair trial surely?" I was hissing the words with more venom than was sensible and her olive tanned skin went positively white, her green eyes all the more striking as they looked hard at me.
     "Darius ... sometimes I don't understand you at all. You surely aren't suggesting Hanse was wrong in defending himself from Cabalist scum like Bright?" She was whispering too now, but on I went in full flow.
    "No ... no. Not at all. I just think that Hanse needs to show he's better than Bright or Hasek-Davion, or whoever's next ... you weren't there at Summer House. You can't understand. It wasn't noble and it certainly wasn't glorious." I was admittedly playing up my role as noble hearted Darius Do-Good a bit, as a way to vent my bile about Hanse, Olivia gazed at me again, then leaned in.
     "If you were anyone else I'd think you an enemy of Hanse, speaking like this ... especially here and now. Darius, I may not be a soldier like you ... but I'm ready to lay down my life every bit as much as you are for justice and freedom for our people ... you need to understand Hanse is our best and only chance to ever achieve those things. Our only chance to win." Suddenly it wasn't Olivia Fenlon I was talking to, but Emma Jonath all over again, only the names and rhetoric had changed. We both sat silent for a minute or two, then Olivia stood, looking damned angry, and left as the congregation filtered away ... I wasn't to speak with her again, after that argument, for several years, but that's another story.
     As for myself I certainly didn't fancy the Palace, or any great receptions, so I tugged off my medals, stuffing them into my pocket, chucked my half-breastplate into the limo, pulled open my tunic collar and sauntered down the street towards Old Town. After a deal of barging through the crowds, I spotted what I was looking for; a quiet side street pub. This one had a sign above the door; the Merry Monk, and as I pushed in I was pleased to find it was a dark wood lined place, warm and smelling of beer and tobacco, with a haze of smoke where the daylight shafted in and it was nearly empty save for three men sat at the bar. Plumping myself down away from them I ordered up a pint of bitter and sipped it idly, listening in to the conversation of those three ordinary fellows. One was a taxicab driver, the other a aging veteran, the third a younger man, possibly a student.
     "Nah, nah, nah, Georgie boy, you're wrong there. Hanse'll be a better Prince than ol'Ian ever woz. They don't call him the Fox for nuffing yer know?" The cab driver drawled, while guzzling his lager. To which the veteran shook his head.
     "Look 'ere you, I served un'er the 'Ound for nigh on ten year, man and boy. From 'Arrow's Sun to Deshler. Fighting Four Hundred an' Eighff motorised h'infantry. I know's a little about war an' I dare say 'Anse is smarter like, good wiv the numbers ... but that don't win battles. It's fighters that win battles. Men with rifles and 'Mechs and tanks. An' we lost our best fighter in the 'Ound."
      "No uncle George, with all due respect, I agree with Sandy there. Hanse will put the economy straight, build universities, push back the benighted ignorance that only continued to spiral during Ian's -" The student was interrupted by the cab driver.
      "Heh! Listen to this un' now! Bee-nighted ignor'ants is it? Can tell he's been hitting the books can't yer Georgie?" To which they all chuckled. Sighing the student tried again.
     "Look how many schools did Ian ever build? How many colleges? We've been sliding into a dark age for generations ... I've read some of Hanse's proposals ... he just might bring us back from the brink." The cab driver chuckled and ordered up another pint, while the veteran chewed his lip thoughtfully.
     "Aye ... well maybe so, maybe so. I 'ope so for your sake Whippet an' yer nippers, when you 'ave 'em. Still h'if you ask me, we wont get no peace an' quiet to do all this building you wants lessen there's a strong frackin h'army out there on the border worlds. Stood to and ready for trouble. An' keepin that h'army going is more h'important than book learning." They nodded thoughtfully, then the cabbie piped up.
     "'Ere d'you 'ere 'bout this trouble out in the Basin yesterday. They say it was Snake bleeding terr'rists. Fracking cheek ey? On Hanse's big day an'all. We'll show them bastards, when the Fox gets out to the border eh?"
     "Aye well, c'mon Whippet I think that roast'll be 'bout ready by now and I'd rather face the Delta Charlies again, than your aunt Hilda when she's got a cob on."  I watched them go, then sank a few more drinks before wandering slowly back up to the Mount. I'm not sure why I included their words here ... perhaps because no historian ever would.

* * *
     Well, my story is almost at an end and I realise, bad wordsmith that I am, I have perhaps left threads dangling, which is what generally happens in real life I find. You may have some questions so I will try to answer them as best I can;
     What became of Al'Ain and the other ISF prisoners? Well officially they were executed as spies, however I'm not sure about the truth of that. Intelligence work is a strange and convoluted business. I expect most of them were thoroughly interrogated, then quietly disposed of. But when it comes to that bastard Sallah Al'Ain ... well I'll tell you something, I was walking down a corridor in the Fox's Den many years later, in '41 just before that damnable Sorno business, chatting to Sortek, when we passed a fellow dressed in expensive looking civies, wearing a DMI ID card clipped to his jacket pocket. His eyes met mine for just a moment, then we were past each other and he was gone around the corner. I was bothered by a feeling I'd seen him somewhere before, but it was only some time later that day that I realised it had been Al'Ain ... nearly thirty years older, thinner, grey haired, but I'd swear it had been him. I told Sortek and he snorted in disbelief and said I must have been mistaken. Mistaken my arse! I don't tend to forget dark eyed killers who hold knives to my jugular and let's face it he wouldn't be the first enemy agent our chaps have turned and recruited. It just gives me the shudders to think he probably had those horrid blades of his tucked away somewhere in his suit when we'd passed in that corridor. I can't say if he recognised me and I'm glad to say I never saw him again ... but it makes you think don't it.
     As to McKinnon and his Raiders, well Hanse was as good as his word when he promised rewards to his loyal servants. Two years later, after two centuries extinct, the Seventh Crucis Lancers were reformed into a full RCT, at Hanse's direct order, and McKinnon's Raiders were reattached to them. They were sent to the Kuritan Front and were blooded in countless actions over the next five years, until the Harrow's Sun fiasco of 3020, where Ross McKinnon and his trusty bulldog Lytton fell in action. I was there with 'em, for my sins, and will tell you all about that another time.
    Hanse was now First Prince. His secret-war with his remaining internal enemy, Hasek-Davion, continued well past the Coronation of course, until 3016 in fact, by which time Hanse had purged almost all of Hasek-Davion's minions from the organs of power, arresting some for treason, others being made to disappear, most were simply sacked. Hasek-Davion himself survived his defeat by Hanse, who never did find any solid evidence linking Michael to the Emerson assassination attempt, but he was stripped of all but his ceremonial governmental positions and wasted the rest of his life brooding and plotting to bring Hanse down. I was later to have the misfortune to cross his path again on a couple of memorable occasions.
     And what of my fat friend the Truffle-Hunter you ask? Well that's a whole other story. He was unfortunately to intrude into my life and cause me no end of hellish trouble for quite some years then to come. Did I ever learn whether Ian had died warning me not to trust him? Let's just say Count Nicholas Truston was a very dangerous man, and not just to me, and we'll leave it at that for the time being.

* * *

     I returned to the Palace and drank quite a bit, dodging Sortek and my mother, looking for Olivia unsuccessfully. Then spotting Hanse I had a brainwave.
     I barged, somewhat drunkenly through the adoring crowd and managed to rather forcefully draw Hanse to one side and out onto a balcony looking down over the great sprawling city which was now his. I remember he wasn't annoyed and looked out across it, as if he could see clear down there, into the buildings, streets and alleyways. I've wondered on occasion what was going through his mind, as his face was as usual completely unreadable.
     "Ah Sire ... you mentioned if there was anything you might do to ease my wounds? Well I was wondering if you might permit me a short period of leave. I fancy perhaps I might pop back to Killarney with mother, make sure she gets home safe and well ... to be honest I've been missing the old place dreadful these last couple of years." I did my best to look sincere and my belly did a little jump of fear as I saw a slight frown crease the Fox's brow.
     "I was expecting you to return to the 'Bane ... or perhaps come along on H-Day." He murmured. Well those options for my future seemed very much to be the proverbial rock and a hard place to me and I had no intention of doing either. The 'Bane were locked in savage battle with the DCMS on Mallory's World still and H-Day was the planned raid into the Combine, aimed at knocking out the secret super-depots on Halstead Station ... an operation that seemed to me to be damn near a suicide mission. No, I certainly had better things to do with my time, but I had to keep up the act so made sure to look pained and torn.
     "Well, I intend to be back in the thick of it just as soon as I can Sire. But I'm feeling mighty tired, I think I'll be more use to you after a short rest in familiar surroundings. Hanse didn't respond for about thirty seconds and I started to get worried he was going to turn me down and drag me along on his latest fearfully risky enterprise. However, his frown vanished and he nodded firmly.
     "No, you're probably right. You've done valuable and very much appreciated work for myself and for your homeland Darius, you deserve a rest. Don't get too comfortable though, we need men of your quality at the Front and I don't intend to do without you for long." So I got him to sign me off onto the half-pay list for a short, though ultimately indefinite, period and neither he nor I were then to know that I wouldn't in fact return to active service in the AFFS for some five years or so.
     The very next day I was hurrying aboard a commercial passenger ship, alone and dressed in snappy civilian duds. I slumped into my seat and accepted a glass of champagne from the pretty stewardess, as the captain's voice came over the comm.
     "Welcome to the Monopole Stellar Princess, bound for Solaris VII. I am your Captain, Ivan Julius, and I hope you will enjoy your time with us." I sipped my champagne, closed my eyes and breathed out in happy relief. I'd successfully tricked Hanse into signing me off on holiday with my bogus tales of filial concern and homesickness, was snug and safe aboard a cushy starliner, and was on my way to what I firmly expected to be an orgy of gambling, whoring, boozing, and generally vicious fun. If I'd known then that my semi-illicit little trip to the Games World would in fact ultimately lead to my being thrown whimpering headfirst into the meat-and-'Mech grinder that would be the Marik Civil War, or later into serving under the banner of the worst Pirate King to rise out of the Lyran Rift in generations, well I'd have grabbed my bags, rushed for the nearest exit and took my chance with the 'Bane back on Mallory's World.

Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot


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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #2 - Darius at the Coronation
« Reply #34 on: 14 February 2011, 02:50:43 »
Falstaff indeed  [notworthy]
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.