Author Topic: Ancient Memories  (Read 3902 times)

monbvol

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #30 on: 17 January 2024, 13:45:19 »
Chapter 8:Cheating Cheaters

2891, Solaris…


Gerald Rothstein brought his 'mech up to a trot as it left the hangars.  Media drones circled like eager carrion birds.  "Don't scratch the ride, Rothstein.  The boss is giving you a chance, so don't ****** it up."

Gerald knew better.  The 'mechwarrior who owns this 'mech, is too hung over and too old.  He's filling in for the boss, using the boss's name, and the Boss's ride.

The arena wasn’t one of the big name ones for this fight.  In reality it was a bombed out former ground car parking area that was close enough to an industrial area that stray shots devastated it.  The Leaguer’s “The Factory” was practically next door, but they weren't allowed in there in no uncertain terms.  There was practically no cover, and the ground was more gravel and rubble than ferrocrete.

It's late in the season, and they need at least a draw to keep the boss in the Semi-finals.  To keep the sponsors, and the pay.

A few bribes still needed to be paid out to keep the Gaming Commission officials from crying foul for the substitution, and ruining the betting odds.

His first opponent showed up on the tracker.  Jerry ambled left, feeling the response in Gungnir's bodgy hip.  The old Black Knight was a pieced-together salvage job.  It’d been in the old man's family since the Star League's fall, and had seen better days.

The other guys weren't in much better shape.  Though their Warhammer was, at least, in better condition.

The counter on his display showed them reaching the arena floor right about the same time he would.  Remember, you're being Juan Carlos today, he always salutes the crowd… Jerry did a pivot of his 'mech's upper body and raised the arms in the traditional salute before assuming his starting position.

Three…
Two…
One…

And the fight was on.

Particle beams lashed out from the Whammy, and Jerry did a pirouette and dodge maneuver he'd been practicing as a structures test when he worked on the 'mech's actuators.

Synthetic lightning carved into the packed gravel and sand, as he dashed laterally to bring his main weapon to bear on the Whammy.

The other guy rewarded him by stepping up to a jog, and revealing his leg.  Gerald lashed it with his PPC, conserving his other heavy weapons until the Warhammer got closer.

Their shots went wide.  His carved a furrow in the Warhammer's left leg, exploiting that design's weaker leg armor.

Heat levels bounced, as their return fire caught him across his right torso.

No critical system alarms sounded.

The Warhammer seemed to hesitate for a moment.  As if the pilot was trying to decide to keep the range open where they had a slight advantage, or get in closer where the secondary weapons of the Warhammer could make themselves felt.

Gerald didn't hesitate, he stepped inward, bringing his large lasers into the fight, his shots slashed downward, crossing the knee actuator and foot actuator of the Warhammer, while his PPC added synthetic lightning, all to that left leg.

The Whammy went down, and Gerald felt relief-he'd managed one of Juan Carlos's special moves, crippling the other machine without risking the pilot.

And that's when something hit his rear armor, alarms blared, then silenced, as something else hit the same place.

He saw the chest of Gungnir bulge outward, as the fusion engine tore loose and released sublimating plasma as it tumbled free.

His ejection handle worked, and he was hurtling away from the 'mech, with machine-gun tracers passing by him as his ejection seat tumbled.

The bout was supposed to be one-on-one, but the heavy form of a tracked combat vehicle said it wasn't.  Oh ******, I'm dead.

But then a small form of salvation.  The media drones, broadcasting the fight were swirling around.  Cheating was one thing but outright murder during a broadcast?

His seat's retros fired, and he found himself descending…

A tracer round hit the seat, and he tumbled out of control, as the drones…flew away?

The sensation of pavement striking the back of his ejection seat brought darkness.


**2**


"...waking up."  Gerald opened his eyes.  He was in a MASH Van.

"You… are not Juan Carlos," an asian man said.  "Very disappointing, that."

"Nein…" Gerald reverted to the Deutsch accent.  "Who're you?"

"Well, we're not the gaming commission, or their employees.  Where is your boss?  Who warned him?"

"Wha?"

"Who warned your boss?  Simple enough question, answer it," the Asian man said.

Gerald didn't know the answer.

Four hours later, he still didn't know, but he knew what it felt like to be tortured for information he didn't have, and that wasn't current.

And he still didn't know who these men were, only that they really wanted Juan Carlos, and whoever warned the man about today.

"Chu-Sa, this boy knows nothing," the interrogator's torturer said.

"Well, dispose of him discreetly.  He is neither the deserter, nor does he know where the deserter has gone."

By this point, Gerald was little more than a dishrag wrung out in a wood-chipper, as big men with grim faces wrapped his legs and arms with rigging tape and put him in the boot of a large sedan.

They drove for several hours, it felt like, until the car stopped and he was lifted out of it, dragged-carried across arid scrub desert dirt, to be dropped into…a septic tank.

The last thing he saw was the cover being closed.  Entombed, with no understanding of how, or why he’d been left to die like this.

It wasn't fair.  It wasn't right.  He struggled against his bindings with all his remaining might.

The cover lifted.  "Hey, You alive in there?"  More strangers.

"Ja!! Yes!!" he shouted.  Don't let me die in here!!

"I'll get you out of there in a jiffy pal."  Pal? Who speaks like that?

The man who came down into the septic tank was almost so nondescript as to be forgettable even up close.

"They did a number on you man…hang on."  The buzz of a vibroblade and the bindings were cut. 

"Thank you…I…I don't know-"

"Wait till we're upstairs.  Hey, Nixon!  Rope ladder and a tackle, I think they cut this guy's hamstrings!"

He was lifted out in a rope sling.

"You're soft, Mike.  Why this guy?"

"Our targets thought he was worth burying in the desert," 'Mike' said.  "Seems like a good idea not to let them have what they want."

"Fair."

"Targets?"  Gerald asked.

"Yeah, a Drac Noble's family.  They killed a few folks, the survivors hired us to even the pans… Oh, hi.  I'm Mike, your name?"

“Gerald.”

"Tess, you got the medkit?" Mike asked.

"Right here, Mike."  Their medic was beautiful, the most beautiful woman Gerald had ever seen.

"You're an angel…" he breathed.

"Sometimes," she said agreeably, as she went to work on his savaged limbs.  "Yeah, we can fix this…  Mike, could you be a dear and fetch me some extra light please?"

"He looks pretty bad…" Mike commented as he went to their ground car and brought back a construction light.

"Not that bad," she said.  Gerald felt tingling in his savaged legs and arms.  "Really, not that bad…"

"What can I do to thank you?" Gerald asked.  "I don't have a lot, I was just an assistant to the senior tech on Gungnir..."

"Gungnir?"

"A classic Black Knight, owned by my… employer, Juan Carlos," he told them.  "I don't have a lot-"

"What do you have?" Mike asked.  "In your pocket, I mean?  I'm gonna guess your account's probably frozen…"

Gerald reached into the pocket of his shorts, and found his wallet, there were a few loose M-Bills… and a ten C-bill voucher.

"That's enough," Mike said.  "How would you like to get some payback on the bastards that did this?"

"I would!"

"This is enough for that, too," Mike said.  "Isn't it, Tess?"

"Service is rendered, payment made," Tess said in a strange tone.

"They're out to kill your employer…"

"Wrong, they already did it," Nixon, the other man in the trio, said, holding up a portable comm device with Solaris News on the main window.

"I'm out of a job…" Gerald lamented.

"You're a Tech, you also a pilot?" Mike asked.

"Yes."

"I think we can hire you, if you're interested?"

“But I don't have a 'mech."

"THAT, can be dealt with," Mike said.  "Here, stand up…"

"Have a drink," Tess said, offering a copper flask. 

Gerald accepted it, and the taste was powerful, sweet, and alcoholic.  "Mead?"

"Yes," she smiled an adorable smile.  He felt… different.  She was still absolutely beautiful in his eyes, but she was no longer sexy, more like awe inspiring.

"You're fit, come on, we've got a long night ahead of us," she offered.  "After all, Justice must be served."

Gerald followed the trio to their rental vehicle.

How did they find me?  All this open expanse?  It shouldn’t be possible.

But looking at her, like his eyes were open for the first time, at least for real.  He knew.
**3**

"Hey, new guy, Gerald?"  She was petite, sandy haired and looked for all the world like someone's bookish sister.  But Gerald couldn't remember whose.

"Yes?"

"Steph," she said, extending her hand.  "I'm told you're a warrior in need of a ride.  Did Mike explain the deal?"

"Not really."

"Oh, this is going to be fun." She said, beckoning him into the dropship.  "You're still wearing a cooling vest.  You a competitor?"

"I… I was substituting for one…" he felt an urge to tell her the truth.  "My warrior was unfit, it was a bout for rankings…"

"Oh!  Huh… well, we're going to need to kit you up. The boss found a bunch of jobs here on Solaris, so we're going to be here a bit.  And it just happens that having a competitor will help us with the jobs…so, let's get you kitted first.  You were driving that Black Knight that tore up Hokada's Warhammer, right?"

"Yes."

"So, you're okay in a heavy?  Decent, anyway?"

"Um, I suppose… so?  I've only had Juan Carlos's teachings…  no formal training."

"Mike and Johnny will fix that one, let's see…" she led him between 'mech cubicles.  "Here we go… now a Knight doesn't have jump-jets, and a Grasshopper does.  But it's a tough ride.  You okay with that?  Not as much firepower but…"

"I couldn't afford this for a lifetime!"

"Yeah, well, the boss wants you kitted proper.  Can you handle it?"

"I can try!"

"Good enough.  Let's get you logged into it with your own personal codes, then we'll see about…upgrades."

“I hate to ask but… I doubt I can go back to my apartment.”

"Huh… talk to the Boss on that one.  He might've sent Lara and Cham to pick up your stuff…if it's still there.  But it's probably worth reminding him."

“For now, I’ll help you out.”  A slightly taller, more athletic looking golden blonde woman walked up to them.  “Hmmm.  Yeah.  You’re my new scratching post.”

"Deedee, I saw him fir-"

"Now, now, Steph.  You know how it works.  But I can share."

Steph rolled her eyes.  "Gerald, this is Styles, and she's senior.  Deirdre, this is Gerald, he's the new guy."

"Replacing YOU as the new guy," Styles reminded her.  "We'll begin the evening with drills, to get you familiar with your ride.  If you do well enough, there will be a reward."

Gerald looked at the two women, and just nodded.

There was, in fact, something… shinier about Styles, some unearthly quality that the other woman also had, but to a far lesser degree.

"Stephanie, fetch Gerald a proper coolant suit.  The booty-shorts and vest are fetching, but we really are going to be doing proper training, and I don’t want him to pass out from the heat too soon."

"Right…"

When she brought back the cooling suit, Gerald felt a stab of recognition.  Star League… lostech?

"Yes," Steph said.  "It is, and yes, it's expensive.  And yes, it's yours… along with this delightful neurohelmet that isn't manufactured anywhere any more… and Styles isn't going to let me watch you put it on, because I'm still too new.  I'll be in the office."

“Don’t worry.  I’m feeling generous, so I might let you watch him take it off.  I, however, am not too new," Styles said.  "So strip.  Let me see what I'm working with."

Strangely, it wasn't humiliating.  Instead, it felt almost erotic.

"Yep, Tess does know how to pick 'em."

**4**


Mike had them assembled in the lounge area of the Dropship Summer’s Wrath.

It was an old Lion Class dropship that they saved from the scrapyards before Exodus, but it served their needs.

“Our target.  Ryukan Kirishima.  She’s the widow of the previous ruler of the planet Midway in the Draconis Combine, and uses the traditional naming structure of ancient Japan, where the family name comes before the given name.  We have information she’s tied to the Yakuza, and has developed an interest in Solaris as a staging point where she can move illicit goods through Solaris to the Combine, and illicit goods from the Combine to Lyran and Marik space,” Mike briefed as a holoimage of a middle aged but still attractive asian woman projected on the wall.

“From what we can gather, her husband was a weak and ineffectual ruler and she was the real power behind the throne before his convenient death.  In fact, her two brothers-in-law and every member of the Ryukan family that had a reasonable claim to become the new ruler with the death of her husband seemed to suffer quite convenient deaths as well,” Mike continued.

“So how does Juan Carlos fit into all of this?” Gerald asked.

“We believe he was supposed to take a dive, and refused.  So one was arranged for him.  The end goal seems to be to have their warrior also keep their standing.  The idea being they could then use the cover of shipping in legitimate supplies for a competitor for their shipping of illicit goods.  But without standing, such large shipments from the Combine or Free Worlds League would draw a lot more attention.”

"So…who hired you?" Gerald asked.

"Anne Weatherwax."

"Who?"

"You don't know her.  Her family isn't prominent.  She paid us for this," Steph explained.

"This is an expensive operation, how rich is she?"

"She had about twenty thousand Comstar Notes, everything she had, really," Styles observed.  "So we took the job.  Kind of like how you had what was in your wallet, and not much else."

"That's insane.  You can't even buy repair parts for-"

"No, not to Anne Weatherwax.  They took her family away from her.  The life she built, children, a husband, everything but twenty thousand C-bills… it was what she could pay, so we took the job.  It's how our particular unit works, Gerald.  Our clients pay us what they can pay, we do the job.  It doesn't matter how big the job is, only that the client paid everything they could pay… kind of like you did."

"But… if that was everything…"

"She's getting Justice," Nixon said from his seat.  "Or revenge.  Depends how you look at things.  She won't get it from Kuritan courts, or the government here on Solaris… but she can get it from us… but there's a price.  Because there is always a price.  We never charge more than a client can pay, but we also never ask for less."

"Besides, you may have noticed we're not exactly scrambling for materiel," Lara (he'd learned her name before the meeting) noted.  "You might say we've got another sponsor, who handles our expenses in exchange for our activities."

Gerald nodded.  His conscious mind was still rejecting it but even so, he knew.  This ‘Tess’ or ‘Theresa’.  She wasn’t human.  She looked human.  But that was clearly a facade. 

“Mein Gott,” Gerald said after a moment.

“It’s true I ask a lot, but I also give a lot in return.  That is the core of what I am.  I am certain of that.”  Theresa walked gracefully into the lounge.  “Indeed, once this mission is done, I’m thinking my Champions have earned a ritual of hedonism, revelry, and celebration of life, the likes of which will take some time to recover from.  One could even call it a party.”

“The sample was fun, the main course should be delicious.”  Styles licked her lips in anticipation, looking at Gerald.

“Mission first, Styles.  Our target is the Golden Dragons Stables.  Duchess Ryukan is meeting with her contacts there at zero seven hundred tomorrow morning, local time.  They only have five operational mechs at the moment.  One of which will be in transit to the Colosseum since they technically ‘won’ their last bout.  We don’t have a solid number for how many of the local Yakuza will be at the meeting, but Duchess Ryukan we know will have six bodyguards.”  Mike resumed the briefing.

“Should be simple enough to frame this as Juan Carlos having more friends than they anticipated and are looking for a little payback,” Nixon nodded.



**5**


The difference between a military operation and a police operation can be explained very simply:  Police are trying to gather evidence and suspects, account for witnesses, or rescue hostages.

This was not that kind of operation.  Intent, method, plan, the strike was to kill an enemy.  There would be no effort to minimize casualties or damage beyond containing it to the grounds held by the Golden Dragon Stables-a thing made necessary more to assure the destruction of the enemy inside it.

"This… is going to be murder?"  Gerald asked.

"Murder's a funny thing, Gerry… Jerry," Steph said.  "See, they already set the terms when they rigged your death, thinking it was your boss-they're already murderers.  They set what Mike would call 'The Rules of Engagement' at 'no rules'."

"So… not murder."

"No, not murder.  Justice.  And maybe a lesson to others about cheating, murder, and assassination and what it brings you… to encourage more thinking in others."

She finished making adjustments on his new ride, a Grasshopper.  "You're not carrying that useless little light missile rack now.  I changed the layout to a four-pack SRM system with some tweaks, they're more accurate and more will hit a target at the medium and long ranges, but you'll want to be conservative with it.  Same with the lasers, but we've also tweaked with the heat curve-you can take more risks, but I'd really prefer it if you played like you couldn't."

"Why?"

"Because this kind of performance hasn't been 'normal' since the Star League's Royal Regiments, and that draws attention.  The kind we don't want."

"From who?"

"Comstar, The Houses…" she shrugged.  "Take your pick.  Leverage your advantages, but don't let everyone see you doing it."

"If I don't?"

"If you don't, you can fix your own ****** gear," she said.  "I give you leverage, but I'm damned if I'll let you abuse it.  I lost everyone who mattered because we let it out that we discovered something.  I won't do that again."

He was confused.  "What do you mean, you mean you found-"

"No, I used to be a scientist… and an engineer," she told him.  "That's why I know so much about the fundamental theory that makes 'mechs run.  And finding out new things cost me everything because I didn't know to keep my ****** mouth shut.  Leverage it where you won't be seen, Jerry, or only if you absolutely have to."  Her hard eyes made more sense to him now, and he felt sympathy for her pain.

"I'll be careful, I promise," he said.

She accepted it, and finished her adjustments.  "Alright, we're going at zero three tonight, means you have a couple hours, get some food and a potty break."


At zero three hundred hours, a group of 'mechs moved through sections of the city that 'mechs aren't supposed to go, and they moved without being seen.

Some of that was ECM, some of it was… well… not ECM.

It might have made an impressive parade, if witnesses didn't have other, more important things to pay attention to, if even the people awakened by the multi-ton footsteps didn't roll over with a thought of someone else's problem.

This even affected the guards at the targeted location.  The arriving 'mechs were simply… not their problem.

By the time their minds overcame the fuzz of fatigue and boredom to realize that maybe there WAS a problem, it was too late.

Portable radio comms were flatlined, the land-lines from the Stable's office and 'mech hangar were cut, followed by the power.

Then the killing really began.

**6**

"...reports this morning, investigators are still close-lipped about last night's incident.  Fire and safety officials are refusing to discuss the death toll, but given what airborne survey and surveillance suggests, the entire complex was gutted by fires and explosions.  Game officials are not releasing information on how this apparent disaster will impact standings in the run to the championship, but…"

Jerry turned off the broadcast.  Nixon handed him a cup of something strong.  "You'll get used to it New Guy.  Trust me, the feeling goes away."

"When?" Jerry asked.

"It takes… it's different for everyone," Nixon told him.  "I think I lost that feeling after Elbar.  I'm pretty sure Mike still feels a twinge when we're being really effective, but then… he's a good man."

"And you?"

"I haven't been a good man in a long time.  The best I can manage is to be… careful.  Not let it out unless there's a damned good reason."

"We didn't leave anyone alive, did we?"

"That was the job," Nixon told him.  "We took the pay, we did the job, we did it completely, got the job done."

'Did we?"

"The Lady running the show was on site with her lover.  It's why we had to go last night-the targets were concentrated, the job could be finished faster."

Jerry drank from the cup and tasted honey-wine, that sickening fermented beverage made from honey and yeast… and his uncertainties and his guilt bled away.

To Be Continued

Euphonium

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #31 on: 17 January 2024, 18:08:06 »
I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes - time is advancing faster than I was expecting.
>>>>[You're only jealous because the voices don't talk to you]<<<<

Daryk

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #32 on: 17 January 2024, 18:16:07 »
Buckle up, then! :D

monbvol

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #33 on: 19 January 2024, 08:59:51 »
Chapter 9: Pickles.

2937, Somewhere near the Lothian League…

"This guy's ****** up," Steph said dully as Theresa and Mike laid out the man they pulled from a ruined industrialmech. 

"Grab the medkit and shut up," Mike told her.  "This guy was coming to get the bastards we were hired to take out, and he was doing it all by himself."

Steph grabbed the medikit and brought it over, as Theresa set to work stabilizing the farmer.  "So… another client?"

"Another client, another recruit?  Something. I had a feeling, so we're going with it," Mike told her.  "Theresa agrees."

"Right then.  I've got to get back to the 'mech bay and finish fixing Nixon's ride.  Those guys actually knew how to shoot."  Steph left the leaders to save-or fail to save-the damaged man on the mess table.

Down in the 'mechbay: "It's still going to be a few hours before the locals get here," Eckhardt observed.  "By then we'll be fit?"

"Don't worry.  We'll be done by then," Styles assured her.  "We've decapitated the headquarters element-such as it is-of these so-called 'mercs', and once Nixon and Jerry finish running down their runners we'll be on our way.  Any thoughts on what your next project is?"

"I'm thinking a Catapult.  We've found a couple that weren't completely dead among the mercs, and we can use an extra LRM boat to supplement Lara," Steph grinned.  "You see the guy they pulled out of that IH Kultivator?"

"Yeah.  I got a feeling too," Eckhardt said.  "Didn't you?  Seeing him taking that thing with Rifles and straight balls?"

"Yeah… I guess I did.  Will he fit in though?"

"You do."

"Thanks, bitch."

Eckhardt laughed.  "There's something… you get the feeling after a while, Stephie.  If you spent more time in the field you'd feel it too.  When we were on the Taurian front, doing the peacekeeping, guys who had nothing left but anger would show up, like the guy with the bosses.  And those guys were a thousand times harder to take down than the semi-pros in proper 'mechs, because they just didn't give up."

**2**

They were clearing orbitals before the Lothian League's defense militia were in sight of the last scene.

"Whoa, I'm not the new guy anymore?" Jerry asked, as a new presence entered the company mess.

"Not hardly," Styles said.

The newest guy's head was…deformed.  "What's your name new guy?"

"b-Bob." 

"Don't tease the new guy, Jerry.  He was in that agromech with the recoilless rifles and the kludged rockets," Nixon said.  "Ballsy and angry."

Bob grunted and sat down in an empty seat.

Sheri herself came in through the connecting airlock, bringing a covered tray, and brought it into the company mess.

"This is for Robert," she deflected Styles with a stare.

"Robert?"

"Yes."  Sheri placed the magnetized platter down without disrupting it, and opened the cover.

"Mmmm…"  the man whose whole vocabulary seemed to be one word, dug into the kibble like a starving hound.

"Why does he get-?"

"Because I like him better than I like you, Jerry," Sheri stated.  "Everyone else's meals are in the hot-boxes, but Robert doesn't have one yet."

"Yet?"  Lara asked.

"Robert is staying," the spacer said.  "Mike said so."

Bob looked up at her.  "Thanks."  And then dug back into his meal.

"What's our next target?" Eckhardt asked when Mike joined them.

"Well, we have another location," Mike said.  "The data stacks in that headquarters Orion indicated a former SLDF firebase.  It's probably their 'headquarters'."

"Firebase, sounds like we're going to be all hands on deck," Eckhardt noted.

"Job's not done, these guys butchered their previous clients and ran, survivors hired us, some of them are still alive."

"Not just them," Bob muttered.

"Oh, yeah, and Bob here.  They burned his town out and killed… everybody," Mike filled in.  "So he's a client and joining up."

"Not in that agromech-"

"No.  Steph?"

"I'll have that Catapult you salvaged ready in two weeks, unless you want me to give 'specials'."

"No time for specials this trip, but after this job," Mike judged.

"Right.  Lara, hook up yours and the Catapult for a field simulator setup, you're going to be drilling Bob in our methods," Mike ordered.

"Alright Boss.  Cadre like we did with the one-seven-one?"

"Well, hopefully with better results.  He's at least knowledgeable enough to run a 'mech at all, unlike Colonel Ngo's people, who weren't."

"Right…so we'll go over the full class while we're on the way."

**3**

‘Lord’ Uther Colsek was enjoying one of his latest prizes.  The raids had been quite successful as of late and had netted him a bottle of fine wine and the woman serving it to him.

She was still being trained but he felt no fear.

“Don’t worry my dear.  I like to look, as you can see I collect beautiful things.  They don’t stay beautiful if I mistreat them too poorly.  Especially early on,” he said with ice.

She meekly bowed as she poured him another glass of wine.

The comm panel next to him chirped.

“Lord Colsek, I apologize for the inter-” the meak voice of a clearly younger man came over the comm panel.

“It better well be serious,” he growled.

“We’re under attack.  Unknown enemy.  Most likely mercenaries sent on a pirate hunting mission.”

“How many?”

“Eight enemy contacts.  Estimate they’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

“All right.  I’m heading down to the command center.  Get the lads to their mechs, we’ll show them we’re not to be messed with.”

**4**

Like any good firebase there was no good way to approach it without being seen from well away.

That was fine with the Murderhobos.

“Defense towers?”  Mike asked.

“Only the two on the north wall are actually functional, but not for much longer,” Lara answered.

“Two Stingers, pair of Wasps, Centurion, Wolverine, Shadow Hawk, Quickdraw, Thunderbolt, Enforcer, Warhammer, and a Zeus,” Nixon counted off the pirate mech company marching out to meet them.

Lara and Bob loosed their LRMs against the two defense turrets leaving them in ruins.

Eckhardt and Cham put their PPCs into the leading Stinger which fell to the ground.

Johnny put his PPC into the face of the Wasp that was trying to close in.

Styles let her Autocannon roar against the last Stinger still standing.

Mike focused his PPCs into the Warhammer.

Steph and Jerry chipped away at the Thunderbolt.

The LRMs from the Zeus and Thunderbolt scattered around the feet of Steph’s Thunderbolt.

PPC fire from the Warhammer was one hit against Mike’s Thug.

Mike grunted as he pulled his PPC triggers again into the Warhammer again, the right leg collapsing at the knee.

The Wasp was trying to close in under the covering fire of the Zeus and Wolverine.

Styles snapped her Autocannon up in an almost illustration of SLDF Gunnery, and ripped a row of craters into the Wolverine's upper torso.

Eckhardt, Cham, and Johnny put their PPCs into the Zeus, the torso erupting in an ammunition explosion as the mech ripped itself apart.

The moment of hilarity, however, was when Jerry dropped out of a jump, grabbed the Wasp by the cockpit assembly, and blew through its torso with his large laser.  Fusion plasma vented and cooled in a shower of vital components.

The Quickdraw tried to jump behind Lara but she was able to shuffle her mech and clapped her mech’s fists right where the cockpit met the torso, cleanly severing it from the rest of the mech.

Long range missiles fell on the wounded Warhammer in steady volley, as Bob, the new guy, walked almost carelessly forward, laying down the steady firehose of small missiles, firecracker detonations covering the maimed heavy 'mech.

The Centurion and Enforcer seemed to look at each other before running.

Which added a moment of further hilarity-as Steph stepped out of the shadow of the building they were running past with an arm extended at head-height, a thirty meter tall bully clotheslining the equally massive Enforcer at head level.

PPCs from Mike’s Thug tore into the back of the Centurion causing it to topple as the gyro exploded and melted down the back of the mech.

Bob plodded forward and medium lasers flickered into the disturbed dusty ground, fleeing men incinerated mid-step.

“I surrender!”  The transmission came from the Shadow Hawk.

Steph shook the wreckage of the Enforcer's cockpit off her arm, and centered a large weapon at optimal range on the SHD.

“No quarter for bandits.”  Johnny, Steph, and Mike practically delivered the shot in synchronicity, removing the durable upper torso of the Shad in a volley of heavy weapons fire. 

Bob's LRM salvo just… hammered the confetti.

The few infantry left were trying to run back into their fortified buildings.

“We’ve got hostages.  If you care about them we’ll talk terms.”

"Have you heard the term 'dead heroes', bandit?" Steph drawled on the PA.  "TO be kind we'll give you three minutes forty seconds to release your hostages, then they become dead heroes.  Three minutes thirty seven, thirty six…"

At one minute, thirty seconds, civilians came stumbling out of the bunker, fleeing their captors.

Steph kept counting down, while the frightened hostages fled between the feet of the Murderhobos.

"Terms!!"

She kept counting.

A few men with uniforms and small arms came out, hands in the air.

She kept counting.

"They haven't figured it out yet?" Mike asked over the unit's channel.

"Obviously not," Styles answered.

Steph's count reached zero.  The charges went off, the building collapsed inward in an implosion that also collapsed the bunker below.

If anyone survived, they were now in for an ugly, long, slow death.

"You know those weren't SLDF trained.  They'd have known to disarm the scuttle charges,"  Nixon observed.

“Training standards really are lax.  But they’re bandits, not professionals,” Lara added.

"True that."  Styles began picking off the surrendering infantrymen, some tried to run, others to beg.

"Like popcorn."  Bob said TWO whole words!

“What should we do with the civilian survivors?”

"Lothian forces should be getting here later today or maybe tomorrow, we'll leave rations and supplies for the civilians and let them deal with it," Mike decided.  "If you're done playing whack-a-mole Styles, we need to get going."

“Yeah.  We got ‘em all.”  Even though Styles said it they all could sense it.

Their job here was done.

**5**


Huntington, Free Worlds League, two months later…

Governor Shasta Ibn Fauzel had been dreaming about her parents when the cold hand clamped her awake.

"Hi," the shadow said.  Then the other hands clamped her arms, and she shouted for her guards.

Who did not make an appearance, but the lights did come on in her bedroom.

"Kinmon's Kolumn is no longer in existence.  Your initiative has been noticed."  The man speaking looked like an accountant, his comrades like a motley crew of mercenaries.  "You sent them.  Officially they’re renegades fleeing as deserters, but you sent them."

"What are you going to do to me?"

He looked at a man with a deformed head.  "Bob?"

"Pickles," the deformed man slurred, holding up a jar, he took a dark green oblong shape from it, took a bite, chewed, swallowed.  Closed the jar.  "They make good pickles here."

'Bob' stepped around the end of the bed, to level with the Governor's pillow.  He raised the jar, and brought it down.

Over and over and over again.  The governor struggled and screamed and burbled as the man smashed her face with a jar of pickles, until the glass broke.

"Sharing is caring."  He used the broken glass to cut her throat before she could suffocate from having her face caved in.

"Now, we're done," Mike said.  "Let's go before the guards wake up."


To Be Continued

Wrangler

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #34 on: 19 January 2024, 20:24:56 »
tag
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monbvol

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #35 on: 24 January 2024, 09:15:29 »
[Co-Author] Yeah writing on this one is going slowly.  My job ebbs and flows for how soul crushing it can be and Cannonshop's got his own things going on.  So I'm slowing down posting to once a week.  [/Co-Author]

Chapter 10: Fire Woman

Freezing to death.  It competes with starving to death, but it's less horrible, faster, and you feel warm before you go.

Sarah Lennerts had been hungry for too long, but she still had that piece of humanity inside her, the one that would not eat her children.

She clutched them to her.  They were quiet but she prayed.  Somehow that they were still alive.

The raiders had blown the generator, they'd taken the food-what wasn't burned in the destruction, anyway.

It's cold in midwinter darkness on Winter, especially when you're in one of the outlying mining camps.  The pirates that hit them, didn't care about that.  They'd killed nearly everyone, but Sarah, and her kids.  They left the cold to finish that.

She wished she had the strength to get to one of the ruins of a former generator, there might still be an ember of warmth in there.

Some part of her knew Sandra and James weren't going to wake up…but she couldn't let go of them.

She couldn't let go of her babies.  She couldn't admit to herself they were gone.

I swear we’ll never be cold again.  If it takes everything I have we’ll never be cold again.

Numb fingers tried to ignite the flare… and failed.

But then, there was light, and with it, in the light, came heat as a dropship grounded, only a few kilometers away.

“Just a little longer…  We just need to hold on a little while longer…”  Sarah said weakly.

Time was no longer perceptible to her.

It could have been minute, hours, or even days before she felt warm hands on her.

She felt the warm liquid force itself down her throat.  The sweet alcohol returning sensation to her extremities.

The gorgeous blond helped her sit up.

“My children…”  Sarah would cry if she could, her tear ducts were still frozen.

“I’m sorry.  I couldn’t save them.”  The woman said.

Sarah nodded as she finally let herself realize the truth.  She still couldn’t let go but she knew finally that her children were dead.

“Come.  We’ll bury them.”

“No, cremation.  They shouldn’t be in the cold ground.”

The woman nodded.

“Who are you?”

“They call me Theresa.”

“Thank you.  I owe you my life.  If it takes me everything I have I’ll make them pay.  Even if it takes me a thousand lifetimes.  I’ll make them pay and anyone who thinks preying on the weak is acceptable.”

“I have a better idea for your children.”  Theresa smiled sadly.  “We’ll commit them to the star.  They’ll be warm for millenia.”

A couple men came over from the snowcat.

“Put the children in the back.  Then let’s get our new friend back to the Dropship.”  Theresa told them.

**2**


Sarah held the warm mug in her hands.

The contents were actually a warm beef broth.  The savory flavor and the heat of the liquid helped remind her she was alive.

But her heart was a block of ice.

I’m going to burn down this corrupt universe one world at a time.  Then I’ll take my punishment so that a new one can grow in its place.

“Feeling better?”  A tall dark haired woman sat down next to Sarah.

“Starting to wonder if I’ll ever get this feeling of cold out of the core of my body.”  Sarah answered.

“Take your time.  You have plenty of it now.  My name is Morgan Eckhardt.”

“So you drew the short straw.”  Sarah could sense there was something different about the woman sitting next to her.

“Sort of.  We do take turns easing new people into the unit.”

“You’re kind of presumptuous.  Or press ganging me.”

“Not really.  We came because we heard your plea.  Everything you have to make the bandits that raided your settlement pay.  Since we can’t get them all on our own we’re offering you a spot.  You can decline and we’ll let you make your own way from the capital.  But if you stay you’ll find we have a hell of a benefit package that no one else can match and we are like minded people.”

“You are, aren't you?”  Sarah could sense it.  “You’re punishing those who break their oaths and prey on the weak.”

“We are.”

“I need to make them burn.  Incinerate the stain of their sins.  Whatever it takes.  However long I need to work for you.  Even my body.  I can pay that too.”

“We’ll never force you into doing that but you’ll find we don’t quite have normal morals when it comes to that.  So if a mission requires one of us to put on something sexy and bump uglies we’ll call for a volunteer.”

“You mean…”

“Yeah, that’s largely up to you.  If you want to scratch an itch or go for something more serious you’re free to do so.  See those two blonds over there?  The slightly taller one is Diedre Styles and the other is Stephanie Bakeright.  She prefers being called Steph though.  They both have a thing for him.  That’s Gerald Rothstien.  Everyone calls him Jerry though.” Morgan pointed out three figures moving about the mechbay. “But both of them have had kids with other men in the unit and with him.  Our parties can get like that when there’s a lull in punishment that needs to be handed out.”

“Maybe I would have cared about that before, but I can live with that sort of arrangement.”

“Then I’d say it’s time for you to start learning how to pilot a mech.  Since you talk so much about burning things up I think we’ll set you up with a Firestarter we recovered from our last trip to Star’s End.”

**3**


Theresa was in the ship’s galley cooking again.  It was always something of a treat whenever she cooked for her champions.  The meal was always unusual, and always made from scratch, but never failed to be satisfying or tasty.

The smell though sometimes could be quite foul.

“Making an extra effort today?” Mike said from the hatchway.

“Poor Sarah.  She had to watch her children freeze to death,” Theresa said with true lament.

“You’ve always adored children.”

“Yes.  So I’m making something special for our new friend.  She deserves it.”

“Well you might want to turn up the exhaust fans.  We might know what your cooking tastes like but right now the smell could be a bit off putting to someone less familiar.”

Theresa stuck her tongue out at Mike in mockery as she adjusted the exhaust fans.

Mike smiled, bowed, then left.

Sarah poked her head into the galley next.

“I just wanted to thank you.”  Sarah said.

“You’re welcome.”

“You’re an odd group.  You seem to have an odd sense of justice and charity.”

“Yes and when we meet people like you, who desire to bring justice to an unjust universe, we gladly extend the offer of joining our ranks.”

“So not really charity.”

“No.  Equitable exchange.  You wish to see justice done, you must be part of it.”

“Somehow I expect a speech about how there is a difference between revenge and justice.”

“There is.  But not one that most people think.  Revenge is when the punishment exceeds the crime.  The crimes we punish are the sort where justice is often best served by the criminal’s death.  And sometimes that means we must make martyrs out of the innocent as the guilty often use them as their shield.  I only ask that it never be needless when they are sacrificed and as such if there is a way to spare them or at least reduce how many need to be sacrificed to do so.  Especially children.”

“Yeah.  Not kids.  Not if we can help it,” Sarah nodded.

“Come.  It is now meal time.  If you could bring the bread that would be lovely,” Theresa smiled.

**4**

Johnny sat on the bridge with their ship's Captain.  "You're sure?"

Sheri nodded.  "Completely…no, but there were witnesses to the raid, and the jumpship they used wasn't commercial flagged."

"Whose was it?"

"LCAF.  Same for the dropships.  The recordings from the settlement shows the raiders took pains to make sure their 'mechs were a motley, but the raid itself was carried in on Commonwealth Transport Command's ships and equipment.  The wildcatters I talked to from Sithers-Deen said the radio commo traffic was using LCAF coding too.  This was a false flag, or the Lyrans have lost track of a battalion of regulars with organic transport.  Listen for yourself?"

He nodded, and she handed over a headphone stack, playing the recordings the local belters picked up.

"You showed Mike yet?"

"I will, as soon as you can parse the encoded signals on the secondary bands, but it looks for all the world like the clients we service are going to have to be Commonwealth troops running public relations massacres."

He listened to the codes, and began to transcribe.

"It's military." he said.  "They think…They think they're hitting a bandit stronghold.  That's what their orders said."

"We need to see those orders, find out who issued them, and why." Sheri said grimly.

'Might be useful to know where their transport's home-port is."

"Oh, that's easy.  Mainstreet. It's in the ident codes the belters recorded."

"I'll take this to Mike, he'll want it for planning purposes."

"Should I start plotting a route to Mainstreet then?"

"I imagine so, Captain.  You coming to dinner, meet the new girl?"

She shook her head.  "No, not today…not tonight, anyway."

"You don't talk to anyone but me anymore, Sheri. You spend all of your time with the ship-"

She flinched.

He pressed, "you've spent the last twenty years talking to almost nobody else, just me, Tess, and Mike-and those two not terribly often.  That's not healthy, it's not good for you."

"I talked to the belters." she said defensively.

"At a distance, over radio.  I'm talking about in-person, with people.  Come on…please?"

"I'm…I'm not presentable." she said defensively, "I can't be seen like this."

"I'll help you clean up." he offered earnestly.

He helped her disconnect the tangle of wires woven into her hair, and the connectors under it, unstrap and disconnect the various other connections.

"Only tonight." she said, "Don't get ideas."

"I won't get ideas…" he said.

Part of her, watched the rest of her as Johnny helped her body out of the command station and to the refresher for a scrub down and change of clothes.

**5**


The rest looked so young...and then, "Johnny, you're late." Mike said, then he stopped, and stared.

Sarah at first didn't understand the significance.  The woman he helped through the hatch into the wardroom was old.  Wizened face, hair spilled hard silver-gray, compared to the rest of the Murderhobos, this woman was an ancient in a skinsuit.

"Sheri…"

"Heya." the old woman said, "Someone said dinner was on?"

"Is everything alright? You usually don't come down into the dropship…" Jerry asked.

"I was…encouraged to socialize.  Ship's fine, better than fine, really.  We're ready to go whenever you are."

"I take it your conversation with the local belters was productive then?" Mike was back to his equilibrium after Sheri let Johnny help her into a seat.

"Yes.  We've got positive ident on the ship that brought the raiders, and where it may be home-ported." Sheri commented, "You're not going to like the answer."

"What's the answer?"

"It's House military." She said, "At least the jumpship and both dropships it brought are.  Home-port's Mainstreet."

“So either somebody is really playing a sick game or completely off the reservation.”  Lara observed.

“What makes you say that?”  Sarah asked.

“Winter is part of the Commonwealth, it may be on the ass end of the Commonwealth but it’s still part.  It’s not in revolt as far as we know.  So what legit reason do they have to attack a civilian outpost?”  Lara answered.

“So to Mainstreet.  It’s where we’ll find answers.”

Theresa hummed as she served and passed out dishes to the Murderhobos.

"Did you find anything visiting the Arcology, Johnny?" Step asked.

"They didn't even know the raid happened."  Johnny said, "The early warning systems were stripped about twenty years ago, and their civil defense staff is…well, they're trying, but they didn't see it, and I sliced their computers, so they really didn't see it."

“Further evidence it wasn’t a punitive raid, doesn’t really accomplish much if people don’t know it even happened.”

Sheri accepted a glass from Tess, "What was your settlement…what work was done there?" she asked in an interested tone.
"We were setting up a new settlement, the camp was supposed to expand to build a new arcology for Lockheed, a subassembly plant." Sarah said, "The plan was a ten-year plan, our group were there to cut the foundations into the bedrock, start the construction of the utilities points, and grow food for local support in greenhouses.  We only had fifty or so people on the site and we hadn't even finished the final surveys."

"What are you thinking?" Nixon asked.

"Business.  There's no military or civil reason, and the site wasn't rich in rare technologies yet, so I'm thinking business, and maybe some corrupt officers in the military."  Sheri said, "We saw it often enough with burrows on Ganymede, though that was mostly bureaus dipping their fingers in for a bribe."

“So we’re looking at a megacorporation.  Someone with connections and deep pockets.”  Lara nodded.

"Ambitious underlings in a megacorp, more like." Sheri said, "Someone trying to embarrass or sabotage an internal rival, I doubt the news has even reached teh offices of the guys who were supposed to oversee the site."

“Yeah, not the top dog but certainly someone in the upper structure.  Someone with juice to make this happen and falsify evidence.”  Styles agreed.

"We play this one quiet until we have a name." Mike asserted, "Then…we communicate why that kind of thing is not acceptable."

“Yeah this is a problem that will actually be harder to solve with Battlemechs, at least for right now.”  Morgan said thoughtfully.

"How do we make the point then?"

Mike looked at Sarah.

She sighed, "We burn them.  We burn them.  Cleanse them with fire…maybe the sensation of burning will warm their hearts."

Steph smirked, "Sounds good to me, Jerry?"

Gerald looked doubtful, then he looked at Sarah, "We burn them."

Lara nodded.  “In every way possible.  But as good as we are, we can’t take on a whole megacorporation.”

"Burning them includes letting their bosses know why, and what." Nixon said, "See, 'burn' also can mean 'revealing someones dirty secrets before you blow their brains out'.  We burn them."

“So we gain access to the Mainstreet regional HQ, that should tell us who we need to burn.  If not, where the next link in the chain is.”

"Fire's good.  You can barbecue with fire, and put the pickles on the burger." Bob nodded. "Which is also good."

“Eat up my champions.  You’ll need your strength for this.”

"I'll need to speak with some…friends in the Mainstreet system." Sheri noted.  "There's a Community in the outer system-at least, according to the Sithers representative, they may be of use in providing documentation and Context."

"Who with?"

"Golden Bough." Sheri siad, "They'll speak to me."

"You're sure?" Mike asked, "Isn't Golden Bough affiliated with Metis?"

"They'll speak to a Pathfinder from any faction, they'll speak with me.  They're not Hand of God, after all."

“Then it sounds like we should be jumping.  We’re not going to learn anything more sitting here.”  Johnny said.

"After dinner." Tess asserted.

Mike looked at Sheri, "Will we be ready?"

She laughed, a bell-tone sound unlike her visible aging, "Mike, I've been ready to jump for Hours...after dinner."

Theresa smiled as she felt the bonds of their motley grow.  The small rituals, even something as simple as sharing a meal, would always draw them closer together.  And with it her power grew.


**6**


"She's so old..." Sarah wondered.  "I've never…I mean, I have seen old folks but-"

"Sheri's a special case.  She's been with us since the first day, or so I've been told, but she isn't the boss of anything but the boat. On the Ship, she's the voice of god."  Steph explained, "She's also kind of rare to see, tonight was special."

"Huh.  Wow.  I know I’m the new girl but this doesn’t feel like hazing, so it must be the truth.”  Sarah nodded.

"Sarah, you'll know when the hazing happens.  Sheri's been with the company since it WAS a company, but she's reclusive.   She has a sad story of her own, but so do we all-yours is the worst yet, if you're keeping track."

Sarah nodded.  “I still think about them.  How I couldn’t save them.  I need to make someone burn.”

"Oh, we're going to do that." Steph agreed, "We will definitely do that.  First, we'll burn them with their bosses, so nobody will be coming to save them, then you get to burn them for real.  After that, well, then we get to do it again to some other bastards who think ordinary people's lives make good range targets."

“I’m certainly down for that.  This shouldn’t be allowed to happen to anyone else either.”  Sarah nodded.

"That's what we're here for…now, let's get you secured for the jump, have you ever traveled by jumpship before?"

"No…"

"Oh fun!  It's a sensation like nothing else."

“Really?”

“Sometimes you can even experience it real time.  It’s not as instantaneous as most people think.”

“You know what we should do, don’t you?”

“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

“Come on.  We need to see Styles.”

Steph grabbed Sarah and pulled her to another part of the ship.

“Steph.”  Styles said flatly.

“Since it’s new girl’s first jump I want to make it special.”

“Ah.  Let’s see…”  Styles nodded and then started digging through the equipment racks before eventually coming out with a couple of space suits.

“Listen to Steph and you’ll be fine.”  Styles nodded.

After about an hour Sarah and Steph were latched securely to the side of the ship.

Golden light washed across the ship as it went into jump, and Sarah saw.

Translucent, a form, wrapped around the ship, wrapping through the ship.  Vast, like tentacles and branches, like lightning and fire, colorless and everywhere.

"The ship…it's alive…"

Steph chuckled over the comm.  "Relax and stay low, enjoy it."

Hyperspace wasn't empty, and they were both a part of it, and apart from it here.

As she looked down the hull she could swear she saw a little girl playing on the hull.  It was both youthful and ancient.

“Harry Dresden and John Constatine walk into a bar.”  The voice was unfamiliar but Sarah wasn’t hearing it over the comm or in any traditional sense.

Then reality re-asserted itself.

"They said "ow, who left that there?"

"Who's Harry Dresden?"  Sarah asked.

"Didn't get much literature in school, did you…hmmm."


**7**



Bob sat next to her on the ride down to the surface.  Grounding the dropship was costly and Mike had a different intent this time, so they were taking a service shuttle to the port-a parking space that costs a lot less.

Up close, Sarah could see how the middle-aged man's head was deformed, the result of some brutal traumatic injury. 

His demeanor was simplistic but there was something behind his eyes, something Sarah recognized.

"Two." Bob said cryptically.

“Two what?”  Sarah asked.

"Daughters." Bob said.  There was something liquid in his left eye, the right one seemed…dry.  "Two.  Gone."

Sarah nodded.  They shared the pain of outliving their children.

"Your Boy would have looked good." Bob added.  "Boy gone too."

“Yes.  I think he would have looked just like his father.  Handsome.  Powerful without being oversized.”  Sarah smiled weakly.

Bob took a flask out of his pocket.  "Can't forget." he said.  "Want to. Can't."

“No.  I’ll never forget either.”

He passed his flask to her, as the shuttle vibrated through the atmosphere transfer.  "Hate Flying."

“For what it’s worth I think I’m not a fan either.”  Sarah took a sip.

Sarah handed the flask back with a smile.

Bob took a sip.  Then, "Fire's good." He nodded, "Clean the rot out."

“Yes.  Disease, filth, all of it.  Fire burns it all out if it’s hot enough.”

Across from them, Nixon snored against Eckhard's chest, while the tall woman slept with soft snores.

“Lucky woman.  To still have that in all this madness.”  Sarah smiled slightly.

Bob grunted noncommittally.

The flight deck door opened, and Mike came back, "We'll be grounding in ten minutes, someone want to wake up Eckhardt?"
"Why Eckhardt and not Nixon?" Sarah asked innocently.

"Because Nixon's 'startle' reflex breaks bones." Styles said as she sat up in her web-seat.  "Morgan, at least, has some self control when she comes out of deep sleep.  Her boyfriend there? He's carrying enough Traumatic Stress to fill a sanitarium."

“Oh.”  Sarah said sheepishly.

“Plus there’s a trick you can use to wake Morgan up gently once you master it.”  Lara said as she stood up and moved across the cabin.

Lara carefully grabbed Morgan’s left hand and began working the area between the thumb and index finger.

“Morning.”  Eckhardt said as she opened her eyes.

“We’re landing soon.  Time for you to work your magic on Nixon.”

Morgan laid fingers on the sleeping man and whispered something in his ear.

"Mmwhah?"

"Time to wake up sweetie."  She kissed his ear.

“MmmgMGMgmghmr.”  Nixon sat up and started rubbing his eyes.

“I know.  I’ll make it up to you later.”  Morgan playfully bit at Nixon’s ear.

“Promise?”  Nixon said suddenly much more awake.

“Yes.”  Morgan pecked him on the cheek.

“Those two have no shame do they?”  Sarah asked.

“Not really, no.”  Styles answered.

“Well everyone get ready.  Landing in less than ten minutes.”  Mike announced again now that everyone was awake.

Sarah found she was glad the rest of the trip was reasonably quiet and a sense of relief fell over her as the shuttle touched down finally.

The space port at Mainstreet was little more than a strip of reinforced ferrocrete with rolling stairs for craft that needed them.

The Murderhobos collected their bags and a couple crates.

The air outside, it was cool and wet.  More of a fall day than deep winter on Winter.

Mike seemed to survey the port with an odd expression.  "What is it?"

"Not like I remember." He said, "Come on, let's go."

The group picked up their pace as they marched for the customs building.

Daryk

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #36 on: 24 January 2024, 19:04:17 »
Dang it... Google has locked me out of editing AGAIN, but I can at least read ahead.  I guarantee a good time to anyone reading from here! :)

monbvol

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #37 on: 31 January 2024, 15:14:33 »
[Co-author] Yeah me and Cannonshop talked about it and both of us are just finding we aren't able to keep this going but I'll at least post what we've written up. I should also put up the AI art for the characters as is now typical.  [/Co-Author]

**8**

”It's not like I remember"  Mike caught his statement for what it was, and left it there.

When the 101st hit Mainstreet, the spaceport had been almost up to Hegemony standards, the dropship pits had cooling towers and heat sumps to cool dropship hulls, the terminal had been almost a kilometer long and half a kilometer deep, a four story building with passenger concourses.

Almost all of it was gone.

Stripped after more than a century. he knew it intellectually, but seeing it was still…disturbing.

Even with all the other destruction, the loss, the death of civility and civilization…They tore the damn buildings down to loot them for materials.

"What're you thinking about, Mike?" Nixon asked as they passed through what passed for a customs checkpoint.

"Scavenger Economies." Mike said, "Remember when the one-oh-one hit this place?"

"I do…yeah.  They must've stripped it for the utilities, and busted up the ferrocrete to get the endo reinforcement bars."

Mike nodded.  "Must have."

The lone building was at least of a decent size.  It was clearly meant to be the ticketing and customs facility for inbound and outbound flights.

Even that though had clearly seen better days.

They entered the building and walked up to the checkpoint.

The young man at the counter barely looked up before muttering “Anything to declare?”

“Skipping right past the business or pleasure questions eh?”  Lara smiled.

“No one comes to Mainstreet for pleasure.”  The young man countered.

“That bad out here these days?”  Lara leaned in, letting the young man get a good look at how perfectly she had her top zipped down.

“Bandit activity has been on the rise.  Word is bandits over-ran a settlement on Winter and had to be driven out.  That sort of thing doesn’t attract tourists.  You aren’t refugees, you’re dressed too nice.  You aren’t the rotation force, too few of you.  So you must be mercs passing through.”

“Too true.”

“Still I need your documentation and if you’re bringing in anything we need to know about.”

Lara reached inside her shirt and pulled out an old fashioned hard copy passport.

The young man inspected it, then looked Lara in the eyes, then down Lara’s frame.

“I have an excellent surgeon, nutritionist, and personal trainer.  All in one.  But you’ll have to forgive me if I’m reluctant to give out their contact info.  Hard to find someone who can keep me looking this good despite my age.”  Lara adjusted her posture to let the young man oggle her more easily.  “But as far as your records are concerned we only intend to be on world for a few days.  Just need to stretch our legs on the surface of a world and do some research.”

“All right.”  The young man said as he handed Lara’s paperwork back, ever so slightly thinner.

The Murderhobos went through the customs checkpoint with no further hassling.

“I thought for sure they were going to want to search our stuff.  How’d you do that?”  Sarah asked once back outside.

“Something you’ll learn.  How to weaponize the fact that most men find us women of the unit achingly attractive.  Plus a bribe hidden in my passport.  Only certain crimes concern us.  So we don’t mind a little corruption here and there if we can make use of it.”  Lara answered.

Somehow Mike and Theresa had gotten ahead of the rest of the group and already had transport waiting for them.

“I didn’t even notice them split off…”  Sarah muttered.

“They’re really good at that.”  Styles helped load a crate in the back of the transport.

As soon as everyone and everything was loaded aboard the groundtruck it was a short drive to what would be their temporary base.

It was a rundown old style apartment complex, a true one with a common square/green space, the lowest level being various types of shops, and living areas above those.

Theresa pointed at one of the former shops and Nixon and Styles took the crates to that one.

Sarah followed, curious.

This one had been setup as a small restaurant.

A rag was put in one of her hands and a bucket of water in the other.

“Unless you want to eat and sleep in filth.”  Styles said as she started cleaning up the place.

“Don’t worry about any squatters.  You’ll be safe from them.”  Theresa said as she was scrubbing the food prep area.

Sarah got to work.  After about an hour Theresa was cooking and true to her word Theresa had drawn out all the squatters with the smells of fresh food.

An agreement was reached so the Murderhobos could have their privacy without displacing the squatters.

“Regional LCAF HQ.  Admin offices.”  Mike began briefing as the holoprojector began putting images on the wall.

“We’re not sneaking in as cleaning crew or prostitutes this time are we?”  Lara observed.

“We don’t have the connections in play to make that work this time.  But as traveling mercs, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if we swung by to inquire about possible work.”  Mike continued.

“I think I see where this is going.  We put on a show.  Give the local garrison troops a little something to look at while Nixon and Wangker slice their databases.”  Styles nodded.  “I think I have just the costumes to give us the best chance.”


**9**

"...You came back clean on the MRBC, Mister Garrow-no complaints, no real record either, so I still have some questions."  Kommandant Mira Dayyan folded her hands, "We get mercs coming through here claiming to look for work-more than a few of them aren't here looking for a job, some of the ones who do come looking for work, end up on the other side as bandits."

"I understand, Kommandant."  Mike said, "you have a legitimate concern there.  We're not looking for anything long-term, mostly we're looking to do some short-term work.  My company has a backer, and part of this mission we're on right now, is establishing reputation for securing future contracts.  Going bandit runs directly counter to that."

"You have a backer…"

"Yes, investors." Mike smiled, "I couldn't afford to have the equipment we've got, without our chief investor, and that investor would be…unhappy…if my unit were to turn pirate-we're only interested in honorable work that improves our backer's business position and can work to improve their public relations, if and when they choose to go public."

"Intriguing." she said, "Your 'backer' is intending for your company to be publicly traded on the Market?"

"Shares." Mike said, "As part of the overall image. We've talked stock releases, but first, we've got to…how do you say it in german…Prove our value and viability?  It's a lot like the Solaris Stables system-we need to prove ourselves, so when we start marketing certain goods, they'll sell. War is a young man's business, and I already know sooner or later I'll be getting old.  Naturally, the work itself needs to be short-term and somewhat visible, or at least, something that can be marketed via press-release."

"So not out here just to hunt pirates…"

"Hunting pirates is the sales pitch, not the objective." he agreed, "Part of the problem with bandit-hunting, after all, is what do you get paid for when the Bandits are gone?  When they move on somewhere else due to the heat, or when you're very successful?  Killing scumbag bandits is the marketing method, and marketing methods can change, the mission is to sell a product."

"What product?"

"I don't know. My investors haven't said, but they gave me a huge lump of money for equipment, and spares, and told me the overall strategy.  For all I know, it could be sports drinks or potato crisps. All I know for certain, is that we're here to shop for work in anti piracy and bounty hunting roles."  He smiled closed-lipped, "and the investors believe doing so successfully will help their bottom line and build reputation for their corporate interests in a manner similar to, but not exactly like, running a championship Solaris stable."

"So they sent you here to find fights to win." she said.

"Exactly."  Mike resisted the urge to check his watch.  By now, Johnny and Nixon should have penetrated the information nets.

"That is…interesting.  Well, I can't offer anything but long-term garrison contracts, however, I'm willing to okay your short-term licenses and you can look for work locally in this region.  Given the prevalence of Bandit attacks, maybe you'll get a bite ... There was that attack on Winter, after all."

"Yes."


**10**


There are other ways besides slicing into networks, to gather information.  Styles occasionally even reminds people of this fact-or Tess does.

One of the best ways to identify who's got an enemy in the corporate hierarchy, is to go where the corporate Employees spend their free time, and just…hang out.

Make 'friends', listen to who's complaining, buy them a few drinks, and let them violate their non-disclosures all on their own.

Maybe, even seem to agree with whatever their personal, professional grievance is.

There are several different social 'tiers' where private sector people go to soothe their nerves, socialize, or avoid going home.  Generally, if you're trying to find someone with a faulty sense of security in the middle levels,  Public Houses aren't the location, unless they're relatively upscale, the kind of places where the bartender has a degree of talent and training, with quiet music and soft, but not low, lighting.  Styles worked out the right places through a survey of the local advertising, and by looking in the parking lot.  The gathering places for lower executives and middle management have personal automobiles, of good quality and recent vintage.

High powered executives and important managers have drivers, or use taxi cabs, or have personal autos more on the side of extortion…or compact cars no more than ten, but no less than two, years old…and they have personal staff with them.

If you're looking for a Janitor, you visit the lower-tier side of the city, not quite dive bars, just lower income places with pickup trucks, old cars, or the occasional older but still maintained Bike or Trike out front.

Family cars or farm trucks are a dead giveaway.

"Why am I here though?" Sarah asked.

"Because a lone woman at a nightspot on a week night is usually a professional-but not an office professional." Styles explained, "Two women out are 'hunting'.  Three works too, which is why Steph is meeting us here.  Three mid-tier office girls in our twenties to early thirties, out trolling for men at the middle-management singles places where middle managers go to find someone to cheat on their spouses with."

"Why's that important??"

"Because the theory that this was instigated between rival executives at the parent company holds water."  Styles explained, "The Military isn't likely to pull a raid on loyal citizens for shits and giggles, but corrupt officers will usually take backhanders from corporate executives and if they're dirty enough, they'd do what was done to you for a little 'extra', or for the offer of a better job when they leave the service…usually a personal security gig.  Thing is, the rivalries between senior people are known to middle management, and if they're sharp enough to instigate internal sabotage, someone will talk about it…to the right person.  We're aiming to be that right person, while Vien is hitting the local boys-bar because that kind of man doesn't talk to women."


**11**


"Pathfinder, Your arrival is welcomed."  Kass Deen112 said from inside the airlock.

"Captain, I bring meat, wood, and biomass.  I'm looking to trade for news."  Sheri said.

"You're safe on my boat, Pathfinder, so long as you don't offer violence."

"I bring no violence with me."

The hatch to the umbilical opened, and Sheri floated across.

"As soyuz and Apollo." Kass said, grasping Sheri's hand.  "Long trip from where you started, beltah."

"Ayuh." Sheri nodded.  "You're already to one eleven?"

"We reorganized it after Black August." Kass said, "Which you already know.  Last time someone had your name, she was from Lost Ganymede, and word remains that Sol is unsafe for Free Stars."

"It remains so." Sheri agreed.

"You're here about Winter, looking for words to tell you who."  Kass said, "Unless I miss entirely the configuration of Gloria in Excelsis, which ship has been 'sighted' near several incidents where the evil got what they deserved."

"Keep it in your helmet." Sheri cautioned.

"The Guild keeps its secrets, Pathfinder.  Before I ask what the favor is, come and have a meal."

“Ayeh.  Thank you.  Though I must confess I am surprised to be meeting with Free Stars when the information was this system was Golden Bough.”

They began floating through the passageway deeper into the ship.

“It is.  My sister is contracted with one of theirs.  So we have an arrangement for situations like this.”

“Your chef?  What is their rating?”

“Two.”

Sheri nodded.  Much like a good Pathfinder, a good chef was a godsend for a spacer community or ship’s crew.  Higher the number the better they were.  Many failed to get to Three or higher before they had to retire.

Microgravity, air pressure, temperature, and a dozen other variables made it so.

They came to a hatchway and inside was a small office and two chairs on opposite sides of a desk.

They sat and secured themselves.

“Drink?” Kass asked.

“Whiskey.”  Sheri answered.

Kass produced a bottle and carefully filled a pair of microgravity tumblers.

Sheri smelled the amber liquid and took a sip.

A steward came by with two covered dishes.

He placed one in front of each of them then left as quietly.

“You know with a name like yours there would be many that would be willing to contract with you despite the association.  It might be something to consider.”  Kass said as she uncovered her dish.

“I am already as committed as I care to be.”  Sheri shook her head.

She lifted the lid off her own dish.

It was a beef with noodles and vegetables dish.  The sauce was thick and sticky to help keep everything together in the microgravity.

It wasn’t Tess’ cooking but it wasn’t bad.

“You’re going to make having some small talk while we eat difficult aren’t you?”  Kass smirked.

“I’m sorry.  I’ve grown accustomed to being alone.  I don’t really mix with others socially that often.”

“I couldn’t tell.”  Kass chuckled lightly.  “You’re among your own kind here, not those wellahwalla you’re used to.”

“I’m that easy to read?”

“About who you keep company with?  Ayeh.  It’s pretty obvious.  But if you choose to keep with them then I assume you have your reasons.”

“They’re not so bad.”  Sheri admitted.

“Ayeh.  Some of them are good folk and show promise.  Got a couple on my crew that have taken to the life.”

“Good.”  Sheri finished her dish.

“Okay, meal is finished and so is the small talk.”  Kass finished her own dish.

“Winter.  Someone convinced the LCAF that a civilian settlement was actually overtaken by bandits.  Someone had to transport them.  Anything else you can tell me would also be welcome.”

“Ayeh.  The MS MacKinnon's Hound,  she's an Invader class homeports here in the Mainstreet system.  Contract's mostly with Lyran military or Defiance Industries, but they also do work for Coventry Metal Works.  Their ship's master supplements his income with a commission as a 'Reserve Cruiser' to Transport Command."

"So…not regulars then?"

"As close as you're likely to get this century.  The Navy's been mostly past-tense since they lost the LAS Invincible, it exists, but…well, more as an administrative thought exercise outside of the core worlds."

“Certain things are starting to make sense though…  There is also a mech factory on Winter.”

"More than one.  We've done haulage for subcontractors working out of the Arcologies there, but nothing big, not since the Commonwealth took that world from the Rimjobs."

"Rumours then?" Sheri asked.

"Rumour has it, the site that was hit, was planned to be a major agglomerator-that is, it was supposed to concentrate a group of subcontractors for Coventry Metal Works, to move some production away from the ongoing war-fronts, story has it, the intent was to tie in to producing finished product, instead of subcomponents and materials."

“Our information was that it was Lockheed-CBM that was sponsoring the site.”  Sheri furled her brows.

"Joint.  Lockheed-CBM for some of the materials science and advanced tech, Coventry for the heavy equipment.  My co-op lost a dozen transport contracts when the site was hit and the program shut down."

“That leaves room for a lot of suspects still.”

"It does, doesn't it?"  her host said.  "Here's one for your grapevine then.  Word has it, the funding was redirected to expanding CMW's home complex on Coventry, only they're not building anything…and this is just spacer's rumours, but the Archon's out about forty billion Kroner in insurance payouts."

“I understand.  Please if you learn anything more, I wish to know.”

"I'll keep a channel clear."

“I almost forgot…  I must be getting old.  We never agreed on a price.”

Kass smiled, "No, we didn't.  Call it 'a favor to be repaid at a later date'."

“Thank you.”
**12**

It's never entirely simple, but this was getting downright complicated.  "Here's what we know-there's a lot of money that seems to be missing."

“No kidding.  The existing Mechplant on winter is run by Diplass’ last remnants after the fall of the Rimworlds.  We have Coventry, Lockheed, and a few others trying to establish a new site…”  Lara rubbed her temples.

"Diplass, in turn, at least the remnants, are owned by Coventry Metal Works, and subcontracts computer components for avionics to Lockheed CBM through Nashan Enterprises on Donegal." Nixon continued, "The site you were working on, Sarah, was supposed to be a joint development project between Lockheed CBM and Coventry Metalworks, and they financed with a loan from House Steiner, who also underwrote the site's insurance."

“That’s what I don’t get.  Certainly there would be more money in adding another factory rather than trying to keep the status quo.”

"Maybe." Nixon agreed, "Or…maybe someone saw a short term gain."

“Yeah, this feels more like a scheme.  Perhaps something similar to what we saw way back when.  Maybe someone saw a chance to get nice shiny new factory tooling but decided instead of getting that tooling they’d just say that was what was bought.  In reality they bought old worn down tooling instead and blew up the evidence.”

Johnny leaned on his elbow, "Piracy has been down in the region, and the decline started shortly after the project was approved.  It's picking up again according to the canary sheets they've got in the Garrison's database."

“Yeah.  That makes some sense.  Someone bought up some substandard goods, faked a bandit report which was believed since it was on the rise, and in the firefight no one would even question that the tooling sent to the site was substandard because it was full of holes.”  Lara said thoughtfully.

"I feel like we're close." Mike commented.

Bob was nibbling on a pickle from a local grocery chain.  "Payoff."  he said.

"What?"

"I think I get it." Sophie said, "The money was spent, until it ran out?"

Bob nodded.

"On paying off…who?"

Bob kept munching.

"The drop in raiding was after the project was approved, right?"

"That's what it looks like."

"And it picked up after the hit on Winter?"

"The current senior officer in the Periphery region, he's new."

“Do we know what happened to the previous one?”

"Promoted to Mount Asgard, for reducing piracy in the region.  At least, according to the press." Johnny commented, "There's some interesting flags on him in the Garrison's database-the guy did a few raids including a punitive up to the Oberon Confederacy, early on, the project got green-lit, and since then, there's been relative quiet."

"Until the Winter raid?"

"Until the Winter raid."

"Paid Off." Bob said again, as if it were obvious. 

"They ran out of funds to embezzle paying off the Pirates."

“Well there goes my theory…”  Styles fished a ten Star League Dollar bill out of her top and handed it to Nixon.

"Depending on who was doing that payoff.  The hit on the Winter site was to cover for the embezzlement, how much do you want to bet they were skimming from the skim?"  Eckhardt argued.

“Hmmm, we’re talking Lyrans, so that’s a sucker’s bet.  If we got the contract we would find a fee for the fee to get a hard copy of the document.”  Styles shook her head.

“Then seems likely the good Leutnant General that was supposed to be overseeing the safety of this region was in on this too.”

Sheri came in, she looked supremely uncomfortable here on the surface, her 'civlian clothes' were mismatched, out of date, and she stank of alcohol and narcotics.

"Sheri!!"

"Found out something, can't send by radio, had to…come…down." She said.  There was a blank terror in her eyes that even Sarah could see  "Because it's important."

Tess stepped into the kitchen area and started working on some tea.

"What did you find out?"

"I know what they did, and why they did it, and who needs to face punishment.  It's all in the flow of the money from the Winter project…it's like General Motors Ganymede Fifteen all over again."

Tess returned with a cup of hot tea and handed it to Sheri.  “This will help.”

Sheri drank it like she was starving, not taking a moment to savor anything, but she did sit down at the table after Bob got up and gave a gesture to his former seat.

"The plot begins with an honest effort to improve things." Sheri said, "Bradford and Doons were hoping to place major production of a 'mech design out here, because it's too far for the Free Worlds or Dracs to raid, only there's the piracy problem, so the Province's Lieutenant General came up with the idea to use soft-power tactics to reduce it."

"The payoffs."

Sheri nodded.  "He probably thought he could keep things temporary…" she swallowed and Tess poured another cup, "Thank you…They purchased equipment from a salvage outfit in Ender's Cluster and on Kowloon-two outfits.  Both had contracts through the local branch of Golden Bough's Co-op, so they delivered the goods…which were brought to the transfer by members of Free Stars-my faction still exists out here…"

"Amazing." Mike reacted.

"Yeah, tell me about it…anyway…The goods were charged a certain amount, which is not what Coventry paid-because they were paying a lot more.  I just finished a comm-call with…someone.  The Grimms were getting around two million Kroner plus goods 'off the back of a truck' to lay off this region, only the payments stopped."

"What kind of goods?"

"Farm gear, infrastructure goods, some ammunition, but the big product was water purifiers.  Their dealer raised prices about the same time the money from the project hit 'budget deficit' and the main investors were going to send an auditor."

“And with the payments stopping, well it just sped up the inevitable.  But before the Pirates could come…”  Johnny nodded.

"They pre-empted the bandits by blowing it up so the auditors couldn't have a look." Mike completed the thought.  "So…who?"

"The right 'honorable' Halvard Sisson Claybourne, comptroller for Coventry Metalworks Periphery branch.  The bribes were set at five million Kroner per year, but some of that was in material goods, what was delivered was just a bit under three million per year.  Grimm was okay with the short-change because the cultivators were good, so were the purifiers."

“And the Leutnant General?  No way their hands were clean in all this and I’m not sure I buy the whole transfer promotion thing.”

"He bought a residence within a kilometer of The Triad, and that's expensive real estate, only old money or someone with a LOT of money can afford the lease there."  Sheri noted, "My source says it's bigger than the Ducal visiting residence for Kowloon."

“And good old Giovanni is all too in over his head to really know what’s going on.”  Sarah nodded.

"Who's your source?"

Sheri scowled at Bob for asking the question, but, after a moment's hesitation, "Mai Cartwright, she's got ties to Free Stars and to the feudal nobility in this region, her cousins work for the Dukes of three worlds, usually as transportation operators, and Salvage Administration.  Her cousin's firm at Kowloon supplied some of the equipment for both the project on Winter, and the water purifiers they were giving Grimm's bunch."

“So where is this Clayborne?”  Sarah asked.

Sheri pointed west, "About ten kilometers west of here, just outside town, small estate…if he's home he likes to hit the fleshpots on Arluna."

“Scuttlebut we picked up at the bars was that he’s got a side piece from the secretarial pool.  A cute little brunette with glasses if the picture we were shown was accurate.”  Styles offered.

"We make sure she's not home."  Bob muttered.  "No Collateral."

"What if she's involved?"

"We should find out."  Eckhardt said.  "Also find out how much she knows."

“Besides we still don’t have enough to burn him with his superiors yet.  So while we might know he did it…”  Sarah groused.

"Mmmm… burn." Bob nodded.  "Burn, then Burn."

“Yes.”

"We know the plot, let's focus on getting the evidence now." Mike said, "Preferably before someone else does…and Sheri, you don't have to stay ground-side for this, if you want-"

"I want. I'll be back on the ship, safely out of…" she glanced around, "...danger."

"Bob, could you make sure she makes it home safe?" Mike asked.

"Yes."  the deformed man nodded once, laying a protective hand on the old woman.

“Be well and travel safe my champion.  Thank you for braving the trip to tell us.”  Theressa smiled.

"Milady." Sheri gave a head-bow, before letting Bob help her out of the chair and to the door.

"I wanted to do that, Mike." Johnny commented.

"I need you here.  Bob will make sure she's protected." Mike said firmly.  "So, let's get to work, we know what to look for, now we just need to find it."

“Tell me you got a name before you got too drunk Styles.”  Lara asked.

"Suzanne Crowder.  Age thirty two, no children, used to be a beauty queen locally." Styles said, "She's…omnivorous."

“Well that should make our introduction easier.  Got an address for her?”  Lara prompted.

Styles preened, then said, "We'll need to use Jerry for this.  Suzie's omnivorous, but she mostly likes men, and he's her type for a fling."

“All right.  Then what’s our approach for the big man himself?”

Steph looked at Sarah, then at Bob's empty seat, and then to Eckhardt.  "I think I know how to approach him." She said, "Executives and academics tend to share certain…traits, we're all very vain and arrogant, don't you know."

“So naughty school girl, secretary, or what?” Lara asked.

"Naughty School Girls, Secretaries, adoring fans, and the like."  Steph said blankly, "Get me close, Styles, and I'll have him eating kibble from the dog's bowl."

“Hehe.  Should I also get you the bondage gear?”  Styles giggled.

"I'll stop at the hardware store and get my own, dirtbags like that don't deserve the good leather.  The richer, and less legitimate they are, the more they break down when you break out the strapping tape."

“Kinky.”

“Down Styles.”

“Aww.  You guys do seem to like shutting me down just when it’s getting good.”  Styles fake pouted.

"You're going to find his contact man inside the Military, Styles." Mike said, "There's always a contact man, as long as you get the evidence I don't care what you do to them."

“Well at least Lyran Blues are a good color match for me.”  Styles said thoughtfully.

Vien frowned, "This means I'm working couples with Styles?"

"He might not be straight, luv." Styles said, "So you're handsome, and…morally flexible enough to fill the role."

“All right.  I’ll take the challenge.  If it doesn’t work out, well there’s a few bars I could go to instead where I know I can get some fun.”

"What do you want me to do?" Sarah asked.

"You're with me and Lara for now, Sarah, you're on the backup team with the leadership." Mike explained, "So, let's go visit some gun stores, something local we can drop."

“I do love shopping.”  Lara smiled.

“I know I’m still new here but…  What’s she going to do during all this?”  Sarah gestured at Theresa.

"Keep you all healthy." Tess asserted.  “Which means I should let our fellow residents know we’ll be out for the day.  They’ll make sure we can come back here when we’re done.”


**13**

Suzie Crowder was having a bad evening.  She'd paid good money for this condo-it wasn't a gift from Sisson.  She'd actually kept her own money and investments separate from his gifting.  The life of a side-piece is often dependent on being aware that your status can change-and not in a good way.

Her mother told her that once, in one of their many, many, many fights.  'If you're going to be a whore, keep some of the money'.

Sisson was off on business to Arluna again, and she didn't feel a burning need to confront his wife, so she was at her own home when the burglars broke in.

"The boss said to make it look like a robbery, Three." 

"I know, but this bitch doesn't have anything worth stealing!!"

"Where's the good stuff, speak up bitch!!"

PHUTT
PHUTT

A scream

PHUTT-PHUTT!!

Her interrogator sprayed her with something hot and wet, and then fell at her bound feet.

"You okay miss?"  a tall, bulky man in a balaclava asked, "I mean, besides being tied up and terrified?  They didn't hurt you, did they?"

"Upstairs is clear!" a female voice announced.

The big man untied her.  "They…they were going to kill me! Maybe worse! I heard them talking about maybe worse!!"

"It's all right Liebschen, the bad men won't be hurting you now, see? They're dead!" he said it brightly, like a hero from a holovid.

A groan from the kitchenette…"Okay, not all dead, not yet." he said brightly.  "You can call me 'Jerry', fraulein Crowder, I'm a nice man, you can trust me."

She licked her lips…"They were going to kill me…"

"Ja." he said, "But we killed them first!" he smiled.

"Jerry, show her your face, okay?" the man's partner said.

He pulled off the mask, "See, one of the good guys!"

He was handsome.

Suzie took a deep breath in.  A different primal part of her mind was taking over.

“You saved my life.”  She said as she all but leapt out of her seat, kissing him.

“Fine.  Just be quick about it.”  The female companion said.

Suzie blushed as her senses came back to her and she realized what was around her.

“You’re safe now.”  Jerry said.  “Just keep breathing, deeply.  In then out.”

“Why…”  Suzie started but shook her head.  “No, I know why.  There’s only one reason anyone would bother with something like this with me.”

“Tell us about Claybourne.”  Jerry said.

“My mother taught me to not be an idiot if I was going to be someone’s mistress.  So I’ll do you one better.”  Suzie said as she stood up and went into her closet.

After a few moments and some shuffling around of objects she came back out and handed a datachip to Jerry.

“It’s not much, but there’s some meeting notes on there.  They didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time but now, with people coming to kill me…  They must be important.”

“Come on.  It’s clearly not safe for you here.  We have a place you can stay until this is dealt with.”  Jerry said gently.

“Yeah.  Let me pack some things.”  Suzie blushed again.

monbvol

  • Colonel
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  • Posts: 13286
  • I said don't look!
Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #38 on: 31 January 2024, 15:16:51 »
**19**

Former Hauptman Konrad Hoek had barely gotten his unit away from the LCAF garrison before all hell let loose.  It was only by the slimmest of chances that he and his men were already in the hanger when the battleroms and Grimm’s confession showed on every screen that could display them.

So now their improvised column were marching toward the Dropport.  It was a rather open approach.

He had turned off the radio when Claybourne had started begging for his help.  Now that they were closing he turned it on again.

“All right people.  Keep your eyes open.  There’s not a lot of cover at a Dropport but we should still expect defenses of some sort.  Count was nine mechs attacked Claybourne’s beach house.  That merc dropper can hold twelve.  So there could be three more out there somewhere.”

Shadows were long, the sun was setting, and as the temperature in Mainstreet's capital city dropped, mists formed off the shore and in the damp earth, and Konrad hoped against hope this would work in their favour this evening.  The base was still in an uproar, nobody had yet sent out pursuers, because most of the battalion were doing maintenance, or off post.

As they closed in the dwindling light something just seemed off…  Mists this time of year aren't unusual.

If he'd been paying closer attention, he might have noticed they were thickening more quickly…

And service vehicles were shying from his course.

But desperation had a way of clouding judgment and he knew the longer they stayed on planet the worse it would be.

What he really didn’t know was how the hell he was going to actually take control of the Dropship once they got there.

But it was there, if he could reach it, he could take it.  "Ranger file through the main flat, two by two, fifteen meter separation, watch each other's flank." he ordered.

“Son of a bitch!”  The Phoenix Hawk pilot on his right yelped.

“You okay two?”

Something moved on his left, but the sensors remained flat.

“Bloody freaking sink hole here.  Sheared my right leg off at the knee.”  Two answered.

Fleik in her Zeus, pulling tail charlie, said, "I've got move-" CRASH!!!static....

He flicked a look back with the cameras, the Zeus was toppled, headless, and thermal showed venting heat from a hole in her back.

“******, they're behind us!!" Wittmann announced. 

“Hessen, help Jurgens.  Wittman hold steady.  Drenning sweep right, we need eyes on.”

Drenning brought his GRF-1S Griffin up to a jog, and made it almost thirty meters before a lance of PPC fire brightened his outline-and the reflection showed a Grasshopper delivering a left handed punch.

Static

The medium toppled, head assembly deformed to the ferrocrete tarmac as the flash dimmed away.

“Sensors are still showing clear.  How the ****** are they doing this?”  Jurgens asked as Hessen’s Whitworth helped his mech out of the sinkhole.

“Lostech…  It has to be some sort of lostech…”  Whitman almost prayed.

The Dropship was there-half a kilometer away, doors wide open, lighting going inside showing empty 'mech bays.  A promise of safety, a promise of escape.

“Doesn’t matter.  The bays are open.  Everybody press forward.  Won’t matter once we’re onboard.”  Hoek commanded.

Isley's scream on the common channel underscored it, and the company-what was left of them, broke into a run, tightening their formation as they did so, concentrating them.

The Dropship suddenly flared They can't lift with the doors open!!!

A Pillar of fire swept forward before they could really realize what was happening.

The fusion exhaust of a a dropship makes the synthetic lightning of a PPC look…well…it's significantly more energetic, even in a hover.  You can burn soil to glass a meter deep hovering and cruising with a dropship's engines, provided the nose thrusters were holding it to a specific altitude very close to the ground.

It's more than the fusion driven furnaces that Makes battlemech armor can produce…not including the hammering of kinetic energies as something capable of pushing thousands of tons of dropship at multiple gravities of acceleration-enough to break orbit from a stand-still if the pilot so chooses.

Clustered as they were, most of Hoek's Company were too close together, with no escape, as the dropship's engines burned them to slag from only fifteen meters up.

Only Hessen and Jurgens were spared for a moment due to Jurgen’s mech missing a leg.

But then they saw there was no escape.  The Dropship coming for them, a Grasshopper and Orion cutting off their only escape vectors.

Hessen screamed deprecations and pleas as the dropship shifted, bringing that pillar of fire, to settle in the dropship pit he'd been helping Juregens get out of.

They had time to scream, but not to escape.

For its part, the ferrocrete of the spaceport did its job, filtering the heat into the underlying dirt and bedrock to disperse relatively harmlessly.  No damage to the facility, beyond needing a crew to scrape the melted remains off the tarmac and out of the pit.

“Shame we didn’t leave much to be salvaged.”  Jerry lamented.

"By my count, Jerry, you left a Griffin and a Zeus headless but otherwise untouched." Nixon commented.  "That's pretty good for two on twelve."

“Ja.  Shouldn’t get too greedy.”  Jerry agreed.

Over the Murderhobo comm channel, Sheri chirped in, ”Wash down before you board, you've got blood on your hands, Jerry."

"Yes mom…"


**20**

Officially, a rogue company of LCAF personnel, fleeing arrest, were killed in an accident while attempting to hijack a dropship at the port.

Unofficially, Jerry didn't get to keep what he killed-the two damaged 'mechs had to be returned to the government with a small bounty-which would have been larger, if the cockpits didn't need to be replaced.

The mercenary Commando was theirs to keep though.

Garrow's Gunmen did have to pay almost ten thousand Kroner for the unauthorized movement of their dropship to a closer pit for fueling.  The fine was for unauthorized movement, and partially to pay for the crews to scrape melted scrap out of the dropship pit and off the tarmac.

They had to use jackhammers and paving dozers to deal with the mess, after all.

Mike paid out the fines, accepted the small bounty for executing the deserters, and collected the bounty for Garrow's Gunmen's 'services' to Coventry Metal Works.

Much of that bounty went to investment in the Winter Arcology Six project.

"Let's go home." Mike said.

"Home?" Sarah asked.

"Yeah, we need to make repairs and you need more training.  He almost escaped that inferno.  Next time, the next guy won't."

"There's a next time?" She asked.

"There is always a next time.  Monsters like him don't happen out of nowhere and they don't stop happening…but for now, we need to get you trained up fully, and I'm thinking we don't want to stick around too much longer."

"Everyone aboard?" Sheri asked from the flight deck.

"Everyone's aboard." Lara confirmed.

The dropship lifted gently into the morning skies over Mainstreet, bound for a jumpship waiting to take them home.


To Be Continued
Chapter 11: Tommy 'ows your Soul?

The universal name is supposed to be 'John Doe'.  And it is, if you're not from the Federated Suns.  Then when they fill out a form for an unidentified, or unidentifiable, casualty it's 'John Doe'... but the example name on the Enlistment form for the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns, is 'Thomas Atkins', just like it was for the British Empire in the age of pre-spaceflight.

Which sucks, if your last name really is Atkins, and your parents really did name you Thomas.

The magical joke gets worse if your homeworld is named Dieron and you're a soldier of the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery instead of a Feddie.

NOBODY who knows the joke will leave you alone once they've found out about it.  Nobody.

You're always suspect.  Being red-haired and tall, thin, and lacking even cosmetic resemblance to the Coordinator, or most of the high command, doesn't help.  What helps less, is having that name because someone always suspects you of disloyal feeling.

Living under suspicion of disloyalty can have one of two outcomes.  Men under that pressure either become completely loyal, or they… don't.

Too much overt suspicion will turn the most loyal man into the traitor you fear him to be, sometimes.

All it takes is one bad day.

Tommy wasn’t that man, at least not yet.  But someone was really trying to make it look like he was.

What Tommy actually was, turned out to be in the way.

He had joined the 22nd Dieron Regulars not long ago, just in time for them to be deployed to Dromini to face the Dragoons.

Just the simple fact that he survived that with his mech intact had given him a level of fame.

Which was when he met Kiriko Yamada.

According to upper levels of Combine culture, they should never be allowed to marry.  He was a lowly commoner, and she was a noble.  But they were in love.

Which put Tommy in the position he was currently in.

Standing in front of the private residence of the Yamada family.

“Thomas.  You need to stop.”  Tai-sa Meiji Yamada stood in his path.  “Please.”

“I owe you for Dromini, but your father is making my life hell,”  Tommy said.  “All because I don’t meet some arbitrary standard of privilege.”

“Thomas.  You know how this works.  She’s nobility, you’re a commoner.”

“Meiji.  Move.”

“Not one more step.  I have my orders.”

Tommy nodded.  He acted as if he was going to turn away then quickly drew his pistol and shot the closest person he had to being a friend.

“She... won’t… forgive… you… for… this…”  Meiji said as he slumped to the ground.

Tommy walked past the gates.  The driveway was flanked by meticulously manicured hedges, and garden spaced.  At the roundabout in the center was a traditional zen rock garden with a modern Combine twist, stones placed for Luthien and each district capital.

There were no guards waiting for him.  This had become a matter of honor.  And if there was one thing the ruler of Ko, Tetsuo Yamada, was a stickler for, it was the neo-bushido code of the Combine.

It was stupid, Tommy decided.  But it would help him complete his task.

Tommy wound through the hallways until he found the room he was looking for.

The floors had been freshly mopped and stained.

“You should not have come here, Atkins-san.  Nor should you have shot my son.”  Tetsuo was still a formidable man, despite being many years Tommy’s senior.

“And you could have let me and Kiriko be happy.  Now…  She’s not.”

“This is the Combine.  There is an order and structure to all we are.  You reach above your station.  I could have made an exception, but you have failed your test.”

“Having your agents root around my life, accusations of treason, and freezing my accounts were a test?”

“Hai.  One you failed.  Quite spectacularly.  If you were truly worthy of elevation you would not have shot my son, marched in here so brazenly, and had found another way.”

Tommy didn’t even hesitate as he raised his pistol up and emptied the magazine into the man where he sat.

“******.  She really won’t forgive that,” Tommy shook his head

Tommy reloaded.  The guards might have stayed away initially, but they would come for him for real now.

As he stepped into the hallway, gun at the ready, he felt the first blow on his forearm.  Then another a fraction of a second later on his gun hand that caused him to lose his grip.

Tommy tried striking back but it was four on one and then soon after, eight on one.

They weren’t coming at him one at a time.  It was a good old fashioned beat down.

He was barely conscious when he felt them stop.

“Thomas.  Do not take what I am about to do as a sign of generosity.  You will not die this day, but know you have cost yourself the love of the woman you professed to cherish.  You are now worse than Ronin.  Death would be a release for you.  So for the crime of grievously wounding my brother and killing my father, I sentence you to a fate worse than death.  You are stripped of everything.  Clothes too.  Toss him in the worst slum you can find.”  Kiriko’s voice was ice cold.

monbvol

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #39 on: 31 January 2024, 15:22:32 »
Yeah, there we are.  That's all the farther we got before we just ran out of juice on this one.

There's some good things in here but became a bit of a self defeating mess.

Daryk

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #40 on: 31 January 2024, 19:22:49 »
Dang it... Google had just let me back in to edit... :/

I hope you guys find a new one soon! :)

greylok

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Re: Ancient Memories
« Reply #41 on: 06 March 2024, 15:15:28 »
Thank you for this story, this has been absolutely fascinating!!  I do hope you gentlemen get revitalized, and re-visit this, it really has been an entertaining read! the mix of Ancient and modern, the slow reveals.. 

Very much hoping this will find a continuance in your endeavors!!


As the wheel turns...
"Wise enough to know how much a fool I am"

 

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