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Author Topic: Who Goes There?  (Read 45901 times)

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #150 on: 19 January 2020, 13:42:22 »
And now we find out if I can write comedy worth a damn

Forbidden History


Why am I recording this again?

Posterity?

You really think that those pompous, egotistical pricks are going to leave two bricks piled one atop the other when they're done?

Okay! Okay! I'll record the damn message. But leave this bit in at the beginning: I want those smug jack-off's to know what I
really think about them.

Hello. For those of you who've been living under a rock for the past couple of decades, my name is Aleksandr Sergeyevich Kerensky, and I was, until just a few days ago, Commanding General of the Star League Defense Force, Regent and Protector of the Star League. These are positions I held for some twenty years, first under the reign of Richard Cameron, then during the so-called Star League Civil War.

And why the hell do they call them Civil Wars? War isn't civil. Least, not if you're doing it right. War is pretty much a knife fight in a dirt-floored bar. And if they get you down, you best get back up again. You don't win wars by being nice, certainly not by being 'civil'. No, you win them by being the one left standing at the end. Here's everything I know about war: Somebody wins, somebody loses, and nothing is ever the same again.

And war is coming, try as hard as they might to hide the fact.

The Camerons are all dead... because we, because I failed them. Anyone who could lay claim to the throne is either so deep in hiding or so distant that they don't even realise it. And I fear that, without them, so is the Hegemony. And without the Hegemony, there is no Star League. All because those preening, egotistical moyka svolochey can't seen beyond their own petty concerns!

Robert Steiner is old before his time. I don't know how or why, but I don't think he's long for this world. When he dies, the Commonwealth could easily slip into civil war again. He's too weak to run his own realm, let alone the Star League.

Minoru Kurita is a bloody minded psychopath who thinks of himself as some kind of warriors-poet, like the Samaria his house model themselves on. Well, I've read my history, and let me tell you that the Samaria were just as heavy-handed as any Coordinator, but they didn't have BattleMechs to impose their will with. He'd drown the Inner Sphere with blood, and, if anything, his son is even worse.

John Davion... okay, he's actually not as bad as the rest, even if that is damming with faint praise. Still, he had the chance to do the right thing, to stand up to Amaris, and did nothing. As much as I may like and admire the man, I can't forgive him that.

Barbara Liao, two-faced bitch that she is, took our money and support to rebuild her military into something that would be more than a speed-bump for the Suns, then told us to go suck a lemon when we asked for help. I trust her about as far as I could throw my BattleMech.

Last, and definitely least, Kenyon Marik is a complete and utter [FILE CORRUPTED], and I'd be doing the Inner Sphere in general and the Free Worlds League in particular a favour if I [FILE CORRUPTED] his yobannye [FILE CORRUPTED] with a rusty [FILE CORRUPTED] until it broke! He is, without a doubt, the worst of the lot, and the very last person who should be sitting on the First Lords throne.

Was I wrong? Should I have taken the throne?

The military would have backed me: after everything we've been through, they'd follow me through the gates of hell itself, and I love each and every one of them for it, but they would have been wrong. I'm a soldier, and an old one at that. Growing up, I never intend to join the SLDF, but rather sort the life of a scholar. But when I say just what kind of people, And I use the word "people" very loosely here, we're joining the army... We'll, let's just say that many of them would have happily bent the knee to Amaris when called to, if it meant that they received power and prestige.

Not knocking people who grow up wanting to be MechWarriors, but maybe better psychological screening is in order?

My sons? Oh, they're good boys... Men, really. Nicholas is a fine MechWarrior, and has the making of a good field commander, but he'd be out of his depth with anything more than a regiment. Not that you can tell him that. Andery is almost the exact opposite: he's a decent enough pilot, but afar better people person. He's just too much of an introvert, too keen to keep in his brothers shadow, for his own good. He'd make a fine statesman.

But the Council Lords would never accept it: our blood isn't Blue enough for their liking. They often forget that the history books show their tales of their own family nobity and devine right to rule to be utter bullshit. Deep down inside, they're as mortal as the rest of us. But that arrogance is what doomed Richard...

I loved him, you know? Simon had been a good man, and an even better friend, and when I learned that he had named me as his sons Regent in his Will, well, I cried. Not ashamed to admit that. He left me the task of protecting his son, his legacy, until he was ready to assume the mantle of First Lord. And I, the great General, the fearless warrior who had known only victory... I failed. I failed to raise a boy to become the man his father would have wanted him to be. Now, I know that there are those who claim that Richard was never going to be a great First Lord, or even a good one, but it was still my duty to try. To show him that the first duty of any leader is to those they lead. I failed to teach him that, just as I fear I failed to teach my own sons.

I, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Kerensky, am a failure.

Now, I know that a lot of people watching this will be saying "but he defeated Amaris and reclaimed Terra! How could he possibly consider himself a failure?" Well, ask yourself this: what kind of short-sighted, easily duped fool would allow a power-mad psychopath like Amaris get within a lightyear of the First Lord to begin with? I was Regent! Sword Protector of House Cameron and everything they stood for. As Commanding General of the Star League Defense Force, I saw the reports of what the Rim Worlds Republic was doing: they way they were working their own people to death to build up their military. But I was a good soldier, and I followed orders and let them.

How many time in human history have the guilty claimed "I was only following orders" as an excuse for their actions or inactions?

I'm Russian, and we have a long memory; far longer than most, and I've been to St Petersburg and Volgograd, seen the monuments to what men who were "only following orders" are capable of. It's the final refuge of the coward and the sadistic. Only idiots, or those just looking for an excuse follow orders blindly. A true soldier, a good soldier, thinks for themselves and tries to imagine the consequences of following a bad order. I should have done that: I should have refused to allow the units garrisoning the Hegemony to be stripped away, leaving only Republican troops in their place. I should have refused to persecute a war I knew to be unjust.

But I believe in the Star League, in House Cameron, and everything they supposedly stood for. I knew that we were right because we were the Star League, the very best and brightest humanity has ever known. And if we had to carry the torch of knowledge and reason in one hand, and the sword in the other... we'll, it was all for the Greater Good. Well, a fat lot of good we did in the end.

How many are dead because of the war? How many worlds blackened with ash and fallout? How much knowledge has been lost?

I once read that wisdom and knowledge are the greatest gift we can offer our children: a chance to learn from our mistakes and maybe avoid making them again. But I was so fixated on stopping Amaris, on my personal sense of honor, that I never once stopped to ask if I was doing the right thing.

No, no I don't regret fighting to end the reign of a madman, a tyrant, but there are times when I look back at all the things we did, and ask if the ends truly justified the means? If I truly had no other choice but to push as hard and relentlessly as I did? Some of the units under my command were just deviated, one taking 300% casualties. Do you understand what that means? Every single member of that division, volunteers all, as killed, replaced, killed again, replaced and killed for a third time. And they followed me because they thought that I knew what I was doing, that I had a plan.

And now... and now, I'm going to betray them all: I'm taking what is left on the army I once commanded, those still loyal to the ideals of the Star League, their families, and I am turning my back on the rest of humanity. I am an old man, and I am tired of war. Tired of all the killing and the pain. And, most of all, I'm tired of sending young men and women to their deaths for a course I no longer believe in.

The Star League, the dream so many tried so hard to make a reality, is dead. It died because, in the end, we are only human, and perhaps Utopia is forever beyond our reach. So I will take my army, my fleets, take the best and the brightest humanity has left to offer, and I will simply walk away. And maybe, just maybe, in doing so, I will rob the fire of at least some fuel.

If you are hearing this recording, then, well, I have no way of knowing if I succeed or not. I have no way of knowing if the flame of civilisation still burns like a candle in the night, or if it has been extinguished for good. I am no prophet, no fortune-teller. Right now, I am a tired old man who's had a little too much to drink, and has convinced his friend to hold a microphone.

And so to you, whoever you are, I say this: we did our best... I did my best, but it was not a task we were up to. I only hope that, in our failure, we didn't damn you all.

This is General Aleksandr Kerensky, saying goodnight... and good luck

The End
« Last Edit: 19 January 2020, 16:01:07 by JA Baker »
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


mikecj

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #151 on: 19 January 2020, 15:44:57 »
Nice, thank you.
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.

Siden Pryde

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #152 on: 24 January 2020, 11:10:39 »
Wow.  A look behind the legend to the man inside.  :thumbsup: Very well done.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #153 on: 06 April 2020, 19:04:08 »
Another kind of mystery

The House Always Wins

Being dispossessed sucks arse.

Not so bad if you're a regular soldier: none of the big Houses like having trained, experienced MechWarriors sitting around, doing nothing, so there's usually a replacement 'Mech that can be shaken loose from the Quatermaster. Same goes for some of the bigger Mercenary units, even a handful of the more successful pirate gangs: a MechWarrior without a Mech is a gold-brick, and is better off back making money, by fair means or foul.

But then... but then you get fools like me.

Some call us D.P.I.'s. Supposedly means 'Damn Proud Independents', but without a 'Mech, it may as well stand for 'Depressed, Pointless and Impotent'. There's always a few of us hanging around the Hiring Halls, ready to fill open spots left by the dead or otherwise departed so a unit can mean quota for a contract. Some are headhunters, ringers brought in to give someone a nasty surprise come weapons-free, but most of us are just owner-operators who just aren't natural joiners. We'll sign on for a mission, do what's expected of us, then be gone soon the dust settles. It's not a life that encourages lasting relationships, but you still need a reputation as someone who won't cut-and-run when the dice come up snake-eyes.

I was fortunate enough to have such a reputation: I may jot play well with others, but if I said I had your back in a firefight, then I did. I was a Medium 'Mech pilot by choice; preferably a Wolverine, but I can turn my hand to a Griffin, Shadow Hawk or Centurion if needed. Lot of people overlook mediums in favour of heavies and assaults, but a good pilot can be just as deadly mo matter what they ride. In our business, reputation is everything, and my rep was real good. Unfortunately, reputations aren't LRM proof, and I'd had my last ride, an old 6R that had been cobbled together from half a dozen less fortunate machines, shot out from underneath me, and that's how I found myself down-and-out on Circinus.

Now, don't get me wrong: I may be willing to bend a few rules if the money's right, and, well, war crimes are often a matter of prospective, but I ain't no pirate, so I wasn't looking to join the Black Warriors any time soon. Unfortunately, the unit I'd been working with didn't feel the need to carry my sorry arse all the way back to Galatea, so they kick me off ship when they landed to stock up on consumables. The CO had made it abundantly clear that I could have stayed, had I opened my legs for him, but it's only my skills as a pilot that are for sale, so I grabbed my duffle and walked away.

There are plenty of ways to make an honest buck, even somewhere like Circinus, and I was almost solvent enough to buy passage back into the Inner Sphere, where I'd have a better chance of finding a unit with a spare 'Mech to sign-on with, when I got word about the Big Game. Hell, every dispossessed 'Mech Jock within a hundred light-years heard the news. Some Lostech prospectors hit pay-dirt out the Aurigan Reach way, found a downed SLDF DropShip that hadn't been picked-clean in the last few centuries. Some local broker was handling the liquidation of their haul, and had decided to have a little fun with the last item.

See, the broker owned a casino, and Circinus is the kind of world where you can bet with anything, on anything. No matter what, if there's someone willing to give you odds, you can get a piece of the action. So they'd set up a winner-takes-all poker tournament: entry fees went to the house, but the winner walked away with a fully operational WVR-7H Wolverine II. Just reading the specifications alone was enough to make me hot under the collar, let alone the idea of just what I could do with something like that. I quickly counted up my funds, and worked out that I just about had enough to cover the entry fee, so long as I didn't feel like eating that week. But it had taken me six months to build up that much, and I didn't much feel like spending another half a year sitting on my arse, gathering dust and rust.

"Interesting proposition, yes?" a soft, almost musical voice behind me caught my attention, and I spun round, one hand instinctively reaching for my side-arm.

Even now, looking back after so many years, the memory of seeing her for the first time still takes my breath away. I've always had an equal opportunities view on who I invited into my bunk, but that's not to say that I don't have standards. And yet, I knew that she could have just beckoned with a finger and I would have been naked in a heartbeat. She was tall and slender, but it was clear that she wasn't without strength, given the toned look of her arms through the long, flowing sage green dress she wore. It was tied at her waist with a golden belt, showing off her perfect hourglass figure, topped with a sea-green shawl. Her flowing hair was the colour of spun copper, and cascaded down from behind a golden headband. But it was her eyes, her beautiful, emerald green eyes that really drew me in.

It took me a moment to even register that she was even there, she looked so out of place.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that people in the Periphery can't look good, but she was the kind of easy, classical beauty that should have been on the arm of some high-born noble in the Confederation or the Combine. Somewhere like Circinus? I don't think that even the hight-paid escorts looked half as good as her.

I stood there, jaw slightly agape, mind completely blank, untill she laughed and nodded towards the billboard announcing the tournament.

"Quite the prize, yes?" she asked, eyes almost glowing.

"...yes." I managed, trying to get myself back to normal, "Hell of a risk, though."

"Do you play?" she asked, stepping forward so she was standing beside me, close enough that I could feel the warmth radiating from her body, "Poker, I mean."

"I've been known to." I turned slowly and deliberately, not wanting to trip over my own feet, "Certainly never for such high stakes."

"And yet, here you are: a dispossessed MechWarrior, presented with the opportunity to win a new BattleMech." she didn't even turn to look at me, "And a 'Royal' one at that: Ultra AC5, Medium Pulse Laser, SRM-6 with Artemis IV Fire Control System, Endo Steel structure, Ferro-Fibrous armor, double heat sinks and Cellular Ammunition Storage."

"You know your 'Mech' s." I felt my hand moving back towards my side-arm, "And apparently you know me..."

"I make it my business to know everyone of interest." she smiled, as much with her eyes as her lips, "And you are quite interesting."

"You work for the casino?" I asked, wondering if she was some kind of ringer, employed to draw in the big fish.

"Not exactly." She gave me a look at made me feel seven different kinds of unusual, "Let's just say that we're in the same line of business."

"If you don't mind me asking..." I started, but she cut me off.

"I think you should enter the tournament." she sounded amazingly confident, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all."

"I only gamble with my life." I countered.

"Excellent!" she smiled, and I felt like a rabbit that suddenly found itself face-to-face with a hungry fox, "Then it's a bet."

"Excuse me?" I blinked, confused.

"You will enter competition: If you win, I will arrange transport for you and your new BattleMech back to the Inner Sphere." She turned to face me, still smiling sweetly, "I can even put you in contact with some people who'd be willing to pay good money just to spend some time looking it over."

"And if I lose?" I asked, my mouth suddenly very dry, but oddly excited at the same time.

"Then you work for me." her eyes seemed to flash brightly, and I told myself it was just the reflected headlights of a passing car, "I have use for someone with your particular set of skills."

She offered her hand to seal the deal.

I'd certainly been offered worst contracts in the past, but something told me that this was something different. Something about her had every instinct I had as a MechWarrior telling me to run for the hills, that she was dangerous in a way I simply couldn't comprehend. You don't get far in my line of work without learning to trust your instincts, but I somehow found myself reaching out and shaking her hand.

A shock ran up my arm, almost as if I'd been electrocuted, but she showed no signs of discomfort at all.

"Excellent." with that she turned and walked away, "I'll see you at the tournament."

I never even asked her name.

Now, Circinus isn't the kind of place w here you back out on a deal, and the locals considered a handshake as good as a signed contract. Sure, if she'd held a gun to my head, I may have been able to claim I'd been coerced into the bet, but that was a no-go. I had no choice but to make my way to the casino, pay in pretty much every last dime I had, and see my name flash up onto the board of registered players.

Not everyone in the tournament was a MechWarrior, or even military: any Lostech 'Mech, especially a working SLDF 'Royal' one, is worth more than its weight in gold. Certainly more than the cost of entry, so a lot of people were throwing their proverbial hats into the ring. I didn't recognise any of the names, but from the way people around me were talking, it sounded like a 'Who's Who' of the local card-sharks and professional gamblers. Certainly the kind of people I'd never want to face across a table under normal circumstances.

One name in particular did catch my eye: Lady J.

Circinus ain't the kind of world where people go in for titles, and if you're from the Inner Sphere, it probably wouldn't be best to advertise the possibility that someone back home may be willing to pay to see you safely returned, or even stabbed in the kidney and left to bleed-out in some alley. And it wasn't the kind of name a professional gambler would pick: they go for stupid names like 'One-eyed Jack', 'Billy the Duce' or 'Steamboat Sam', trying too hard to invoke a romantic image of a time that probably never really existed.

The casino itself certainly helped re-enforce that stereotype, with piped piano music, waitresses in skimpy, sequined outfits and dealers in shirts, bow ties and straps around their arms to show they had nothing up their sleeves. Under normal circumstances, it wasn't the kind of place I'd be seen dead in... which is probably a bad choice of words, given the number of very obvious and very heavily armed security guards keeping an eye on not just the players, but the crowd of spectators as well.

The manager, the man behind the whole circus, announced the rules before the start: Lyran Hold-'Em, Aces High, no buying extra chips and the dealers word was final. Anyone cought cheating would be forcibly ejected from the establishment, forfeiting anything left from their stake. I felt the need to say 'We Who Are About To Die Salute You', or something equal stupid, but I held my tongue.

First round saw me up against another dispossessed 'Merc, two members of the Black Warriors and a couple of locals just trying their luck. I played it safe at first, keeping my bets as low as I could get away with while trying to get a read on the other players: poker is a popular game to play while waiting for a JumpShip to recharge, and like most people who make their living on the go, I'd played more than a few hands, so I at least had a good grasp of the basics, and knew what to look for to try and differentiate between a fake tell and a real one. The other 'Merc was easy. He was just a kid looking to make a name for himself in the hopes of getting a spot in a unit that was more than one step-removed from pirates. The two local pilots were probably ringers sent to try and win the 'Mech for their unit, but one of the civilians was a decent gambler, certainly the one to look out fore.

We were four hands in when the other 'Merc goes all-in. It was clearly a desperate move, as he'd been bleeding chips all game, but it was something we had no choice but to anti-up or walk away. The two Black Warriors followed suit, raising the pot even higher, forcing the other two locals to do the same. All eyes fell on me, knowing that I had little choice but to do the same or walk away with nothing. I only had a pair of sevens, and I still wasn't sure on their tells, but it wasn't like I had another choice.

I went all in, and we laid our cards down: 'Merc boy had a flush, one of the Black Warriors had two pairs, sixes over twos, while the others had nothing of any consequences. Then the dealer turned over the hole cards, ending with a pair of sevens.

Four of a kind. Pot was mine.

We had half an hour to piss and grab a coffee, so something stronger, from a dedicated bar, then got our assigned seating for the next round, and that's when I saw her again. She was dressed in what was either the same dress, or one just like it, and her eyes were as cold as ice as she took her seat at a table across the room. I glanced up at the big screen that listed who was playing where, and realised that she was the mysterious Lady J.

Well, that just made things interesting.

Second round, I was up against a bunch of locals... to this day I have no idea how they got through the first round. Pretty clear that they were just in it for the thrill, although Lord knows where they got that kind of money to burn. They were too busy trash-talking each other and playing grab-ass with the waitresses to concentrate on the game, so it was easy enough for even someone of my skills to take them down. I advanced to the next round with enough extra time to take full advantage of the free buffet.

Rounds three and four were pretty much like the first, with me managing close wins. A couple people on other tables decided to take their chances, pulling the old "Do you know who I am?" when the dealer decided against them. It was kind of entertaining to watch two men with military grade stun-guns escort them to the floor, then use their heads to open the doors on the way out.

We had an hours break between rounds four and five, so I grabbed a shower in a room provided by the casino. I was only half surprised to see Lady J waiting for me when I went to get dressed again.

"Enjoying yourself, so far?" she asked as she stood with her back to me, looking out the window at the city beyond.

"I've had worse days." I dropped the towel that had been wrapped around me, watching to see if she took the opportunity to check out my reflection: I may have a few scars, but you don't see many overweight MechWarriors. Spending a significant amount of your time in a metal sauna has some advantages, and I'm not above admitting that I look good naked.

I felt somewhat disappointed when she ignored the free show.

"You're doing good, but the the wheat has been separated from the chaff." She didn't even move her head as I finished drying off and started to get dressed, "Now the real game begins."

"What's your angle?" I asked as I pulled my tank-top over my head, "You're not a MechWarrior, you don't strike me as the kind of 'suit' to be bankrolling a unit, and you're to well dressed for a pirate."

"I'm all about the thrill of the chase." She finally turned and smiled, "The feeling you get when the coin is in the air, the clatter of the wheel as it spins, the rattle of the thrown dice. You're only really alive when you're on the edge."

"Then why me?" I asked, "What does someone like you want with someone like me?"

"That's for me to know, and you to wonder about." she shot me a shark's smile, "I'll see you in the final round."

"Assuming we both make it that far."

"Oh, don't worry: we will." with that she turned and strode purposely out of the room, "I'm already looking forward to it."

I'll admit, if her intention was to put me off my game, it worked: I made mistakes in the next round, almost crashing out, before pulling a narrow Ace over King High-card win. I mentally slapped myself a few times, forcing myself to concentrate on the people I was actually competing against, not 'Lady J'. By round six, almost all of the casual thrill seekers had been cut, the number of tables shrinking noticeably. I was starting to find myself more and more playing against the hard-core gamblers, the kind of people who regularly wager more on a single hand then I'd see in a good year as a 'Merc.

There were still a few more MechWarriors, scattered here and there: as I said, you have a lot of down-time between missions, and cards are a universal way of making it pass quickly. But even they were obviously out of my league, if not for the fact that I couldn't seem to get a bad hand. Never anything that made winning a sure thing, but nothing that would make me fold immediately. I managed another close win, making it through to the seventh and penultimate round, and by then I was the only pilot at a table of dedicated gamblers.

It was then that my unusual good luck went into overdrive: dealer delt me a Royal Flush, followed by two Straight Flushes and a Full House. I took a quick glance over at the other table, where Lady J was sitting, trying to work out if she'd somehow gotten to the dealers. It would have been a hell of a risk, given how permanently the management would deal with something like that, but I wasn't sure I could put anything above her by that point. She obviously wanted to face me in the final round...

I was so fixated on trying to work out what her angle was that I almost missed the commotion on my own table: one of the other players accused the dealer of dealing from the bottom of the deck, and pulled a small, hold-out laser from a hiding place inside their hat. His first shot went wide, hitting one of the ornate pillars, and he was correcting his aim when the first security guard fired, hitting him in the chest. He was obviously wearing some kind of armour under his expensive looking shirt, and he only grunted as the bullet struck him. He fired again, but the dealer was already dropping to the floor behind the table, so the second bolt hit one of the spectators, killing him instantly.

All hell broke lose, with people screaming as they tried to get out of the way, knocking into each other in the chaos. I had the good sense to duck down under the table, finding myself huddled down next to the dealer as the security guard fired again, his aim being shaken by a passing guest, and they ended up blowing a hole in the ceiling. This did, however, get the attention of the enraged gambler, and they shifted their aim. But by then a second guard was in action, and blew the fools head clean off his shoulders.

And throughout it all, Lady J had remained in her seat, cool as a Kuritan's Heart.

It took while for security to regain control of the panicking crowd, so the management announced that the final round would be postponed until the next day, with all remaining players being given free rooms for the night. Two of the others decided that the competition was too heated for their liking and bowed out, but I was hardly in a position to do the same. So I found myself back in the same room as before, still riding high on the adrenaline rush, when there was a knock on the door.

I opened it to find Lady J standing on the other side.

Yes, she spent the night. No, I won't go into details. Some people might like regaling others with tales of their romantic exploits, but I'm not that kind of girl. I will say that it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to burn off that excess energy, and that she was gone by the time I woke the next morning, leaving only the lingering scent of her intoxicating perfume behind.

I don't know if she was looking to confuse me before the final round, or if, like me, she was looking for a chance to confirm she was still alive after a close call, but I felt surprisingly calm and relaxed as we settled down for what was sure to be a game to remember, win or lose. The number of chips in play was staggering, even with most of the smaller ones exchanged for higher denominations. A regular 6R is a little under five-million C-Bills, fresh from the factory, but we were playing for almost four times that amount. I guess it's true what they say, that the House Always Wins, because they were looking at one hell of a payday when all was said and done.

We sat there, like a bunch of long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, as my old grandma used to say, carefully eyeing each other for any sign of weakness. This wasn't a game any more, but rather a battle of skills, nerve and luck. And while I had my own share of all three, it wasn't my battlefield of choice.

The dealer cut the deck, and battle began.

Like before, I got good cards. Not great, but enough to keep me in the game while the others were eliminated one by one. There were no more theatrics, no more silliness. Everyone knew the odds and had accepted them. To have gotten to the final round was no mean feat, and certainly worth a few drinks after. Hand after hand, the piles of chips ebbed and flowed, until I found myself sitting across from Lady J.

"Told you we'd meet again." she smiled in a way part of me hoped was sweetly, "Feel like making it interesting?"

"I have a feeling that life's interesting enough as it is." I smiled back, straining to control every last millimeter of my body.

"Oh, but this is where it gets fun." she winked, "How about we raise the stakes of our little side-bet?"

"Considering that you still haven't told me exactly what I stand to lose..."

"I know: doesn't not knowing just set you on fire?"

I hate to admit it, but she was right: while I wasn't stupid, I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and not knowing exactly what I'd agreed to was like a smoldering flame in the pit of my stomach, a fire that was growing with every heart-beat. Whoever, whatever, she was, she was slowly drawing me like a fish on a line. Part of me wanted to lose, to find out she how far she'd take me... but if I'd wanted to be a kept woman, I'd had plenty of offers in the past. I was too much of a free spirit to ever allow myself to be tied down to anyone or anywhere, regardless of how intoxicating they were.

"I like the bet the way it is." I shook my head.

"Your loss." she pushed all her chips forward without even looking at her cards, "All in."

An audible gasp went around the room: she had slightly more chips than I did, meaning that I had to match her move or fold. And I knew, deep down, that she'd just keep doing the same while I slowly lost chips to the Big and Small Blinds until she won. I didn't know much about her, but I knew that much for sure. This was her big power play, that ultimate thrill she'd been chasing: to risk it all on a handful of cards she'd never even glanced at.

Ice ran through my body, making me shiver despite myself. I couldn't help but think that she'd somehow, in some way, been behind my streak of good luck, that I was only sitting there at that table, because she wanted it that way. And her eyes... damn her eyes! So deep I felt like I would drown in them. The rest of the room seemed to fade away into the background, leaving just the two of us and the table. She somehow seemed larger than life, as if I was only seeing the smallest part of something far bigger, far stranger, than she had any right to be...

"Call." I pushed my own stack of chips forward, snapping myself out of the trance-like state she'd put me into.

The room fell deathly silent, all eyes except mine and Lady J's on the massive pile of chips in the middle of the table. Sure, some of the bigger worlds in the Inner Sphere, twenty million in chips might not be much, but on Circinus? I doubt anyone there had ever seen that much money in one place at one time.

The dealer slowly turned over the cards: Queen of Hearts, Two of Clubs, Ten of Hearts, Two of Diamonds, Jack of Hearts and Ten of Spades.

Slowly and deliberately, Lady J turned her cards over one at a time: Eight of Hearts, then the Nine of Hearts.

A Straight Flush, Queen High.

All eyes turned to me, or rather, my cards.

My pulse was pounding in my head so loudly I thought my chest would explode. My mouth was so dry I felt my tongue stick to my lower jaw. Everything, and I mean everything, came down to the two cards that lay before me.

I reached out, slowly, almost hesitantly. Part of me didn't want to turn them over, didn't want the game to end. The rest of my life was just moments away. I would leave that table the proud owner of a new BattleMech, or whatever it was Lady J had in mind for me. And to this day, I couldn't tell you which outcome excited me more.

Time slowed to a crawl as I reached out. The seasons changed, the stars span around over head, empires rose and fell as I felt the edge of the cards against my finger tips. The breath left my body as I looked up to lock eyes with Lady J, and tossed the cards into the air.

They span in the air, somehow in slow motion, but also too fast to see what they where. They fell to the table, bounced, knocked into each other, then landed, face up.

King of Hearts. Ace of Hearts.

A Royal Flush.

Reality snapped back like an elastic band that had been pulled out to the very point of breaking, then let go. I felt like I was outside myself, watching events unfold from somewhere else. The crowd went wild, whooping and cheering like wild men, the owner of the casino coming over to shake my hand. We posed for photographs as he handed me the registration documents for the Wolverine, then there was an endless line of people wanting to shake my hand.

I felt one of them place something in my hand, and I looked up in time to see Lady J backing away into the sea of people. She paused just long enough to blow me a kiss, and then, as quickly and mysteriously as she had come into my life, she was gone.

But she was good to her word: the card she'd palmed me held the details of a DropShip heading into the Free Worlds League, as well as contact details for someone at Gibson Federated BattleMechs. All I had to was tell them that 'Lady J' had sent me, and they booked me an express trip to Gibson and a fat paycheck for letting them go over the Wolverine with a fine-toothed comb. But even they couldn't tell me just who my mysterious benefactor was, just that they'd learned to listen when her name, apparently one of many she used, was invoked.

It's been more than twenty years now, and I still can't stop thinking about her.

The End
« Last Edit: 07 April 2020, 04:34:15 by JA Baker »
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #154 on: 07 April 2020, 01:50:01 »
Is Lady J a relativ of the Man in Black?
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #155 on: 07 April 2020, 04:22:32 »
Is Lady J a relativ of the Man in Black?
That all depends upon how you choose to interpret what happened  8)
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
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Giovanni Blasini

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #156 on: 08 April 2020, 14:34:35 »
Leanansidhe?  Does Harry Dresden know what his fairy godmother is up to these days?
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HFC05

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #157 on: 26 April 2020, 15:18:29 »
Wow, there is a bunch of fantastic short stories in this thread. Very well done.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #158 on: 22 May 2020, 08:21:22 »
Okay, so I have two "chapters" in the works: Urban Legends and Dead Worlds.

Thematically, they're very different works. Urban Legends will be my first story from a Clan prospective (something I was challenged with over an FanFiction.net) and takes place during the initial Clan invasion, while Dead Worlds is sent in the late 3020's/early 3030's, somewhere around the FedSun/Combine boarder.

I have both relatively fully planned out in my head, but trying to write both at the same time is beyond me. So, I'm going to give everyone here seven days to decide which one gets my full, undivided attention first. Go to the poll and vote.

That is all.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #159 on: 22 May 2020, 14:09:00 »
I vote for Dead Worlds, Clanners can wait.
Shoot first, laugh later.

ThePW

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #160 on: 22 May 2020, 15:12:07 »
I vote for Dead Worlds, Clanners can wait.
I voted for Urban Legends. Dead worlds, by their nature of how they died, can wait (hopefully).

or do both and win/win/play in traffic!

Sir Chaos

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #161 on: 22 May 2020, 15:17:01 »
I voted for Urban Legends. Dead worlds, by their nature of how they died, can wait (hopefully).

or do both and win/win/play in traffic!

Usually I would say "the dead worlds will stay dead, so no hurries", but this is Who Goes There, so all bets are off.
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Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #162 on: 22 May 2020, 16:48:54 »
Dead Worlds for me, but I suspect you knew that if you've seen just about any of my other posts around here...

shadowdancer

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #163 on: 22 May 2020, 22:27:41 »
Dead Worlds. Dead worlds. Dead Worlds. Does that count as 3 votes?
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JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #164 on: 23 May 2020, 08:48:06 »
Dead Worlds. Dead worlds. Dead Worlds. Does that count as 3 votes?
Given it's loosing 4-2, no.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
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Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #165 on: 23 May 2020, 09:26:23 »
Oh... it's a separate thread.. off to vote...

Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #166 on: 23 May 2020, 09:27:49 »
Uh... doesn't seem to be on this forum?  ???

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #167 on: 23 May 2020, 09:42:06 »
Uh... doesn't seem to be on this forum?  ???
Top of the page
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Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #168 on: 23 May 2020, 10:16:54 »
Ah.. didn't realize you could add a poll to an already existing thread... thanks!  4-3 now...

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #169 on: 23 May 2020, 10:21:03 »
I'm going to continue working on both, bit by bit, for the time being, but once the poll closes, we have a winner.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #170 on: 23 May 2020, 10:39:02 »
Makes sense... I'll definitely be back for Dead Worlds when you do finish it.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #171 on: 23 May 2020, 11:01:30 »
Makes sense... I'll definitely be back for Dead Worlds when you do finish it.
I certainly hope that every one will enjoy them both
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
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Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #172 on: 23 May 2020, 11:32:48 »
It's not your fault I'm no clan fan.  Best of luck with both projects!  :thumbsup:

DOC_Agren

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #173 on: 23 May 2020, 17:04:02 »
Okay, so I have two "chapters" in the works: Urban Legends and Dead Worlds.

Thematically, they're very different works. Urban Legends will be my first story from a Clan prospective (something I was challenged with over an FanFiction.net) and takes place during the initial Clan invasion, while Dead Worlds is sent in the late 3020's/early 3030's, somewhere around the FedSun/Combine boarder.

I have both relatively fully planned out in my head, but trying to write both at the same time is beyond me. So, I'm going to give everyone here seven days to decide which one gets my full, undivided attention first. Go to the poll and vote.

That is all.
I think seeing your take on an clanner should be interesting
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JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #174 on: 23 May 2020, 19:29:43 »
I think seeing your take on an clanner should be interesting
Writing without using contractions is so tiresome  xp
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
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Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #175 on: 23 May 2020, 19:31:43 »
Just one of many reasons I don't like 'em…  ^-^

ThePW

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #176 on: 23 May 2020, 23:37:22 »
Writing without using contractions is so tiresome  xp

but that's the point of them NOT using contractions: Their speech isn't supposed to be complex. Its blunt, simple and generally short. They don't have time to waste on grandiose complex verbiage... at least I think so.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #177 on: 24 May 2020, 05:55:39 »
but that's the point of them NOT using contractions: Their speech isn't supposed to be complex. Its blunt, simple and generally short. They don't have time to waste on grandiose complex verbiage... at least I think so.
And yet they contract words all the damn time!
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Sir Chaos

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #178 on: 24 May 2020, 07:13:43 »
And yet they contract words all the damn time!
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SulliMike23

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #179 on: 24 May 2020, 12:21:43 »
Still, I wonder if you'll have a Clanner tell his story of encountering something...unnatural.