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Author Topic: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker  (Read 25172 times)

Tokage

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DARIUS AND THE HEARTBREAKER
THE MISADVENTURES OF DARIUS DAVION
- 3 -

PROLOGUE

KILLARNEY

3048
CHRISTMAS EVE

     The Kuritans have a saying; that two comets which have crossed courses may never again meet, but two men always shall. I was reminded of this little truism this very afternoon in the worst possible way.
     I've been back on Killarney, since my visit to New Avalon and Katty's birthday ball, for a couple of weeks now and have been busy getting back into the swing of things. Particularly my duties as a noble when it comes to the selection of likely candidates for military training. Naturally my selection process tends to be a little different to those used on other Fed Suns worlds; specifically I put a lot of time and effort into finding the fittest, most beautiful, and athletic gals I can and then put them through a deuced rigorous regime before signing off on them. Indeed I understand some of the wiseacres at the Department of the Army and Navy have started referring to my recruits as 'the Killarney Chorusline'.
     Well then, I'd ridden out this morning, that is Christmas Eve of the year 3048, on Petal, my favourite Turin mare, about 'recruiting business'. Like Avalon City back on New Avalon, our family pile is located in the northern hemisphere of the planet and at a location where the seasons relate correctly to the old Terran calendar. So we are presently in mid winter and the snow here is appropriately deep, crisp and even.
     Young Judith O'Flaherty, today's candidate for military service, is just the kind of minx that meets my exacting measure. Eighteen, with long blonde hair, big blue eyes, pouting lips, and legs that go on forever. I shall not go into salacious details, for it don't really relate to what happened after, but suffice to say she took to my direction quickly and we enjoyed a damn fine morning ensconced in a snug little cottage I keep on our estate for just such meetings. Mind you I must be getting old, for she'd quite exhausted me and I had to order her to stand down a couple of times just to catch my breath.
     Anyhoo, picture me if you will, retired Hauptmann General Darius Davion KFS, OD, ME etc etc, clattering back into the courtyard of Killarney Manor after my morning's exercise, dressed in tweed riding jacket, silk shirt, riding breeches and boots. A fine figure of a nobleman still, if I do say so myself, despite my fifty five busy years of age, my full head of black hair is showing only a little gray at the temples and if I'm a tad scarred and wrinkled, well folk tell me it just makes me look rugged and interesting.
     I slid skillfully down Petal's flank and patted her affectionately, before letting one of the stablehands lead her away, then crunched through the snow towards the main house, which is a massive, hundred and three room, neo-Victorian style mansion. Standing at the open west entrance was our head butler, Farnsworth, an Avalonian of course, the best that money can buy and the very image of an efficient lackey. He had a maid standing ready with a glass of sherry for me, which I took with a nod, but then he gave a little cough to indicate he had something to say.
     "There is a gentleman waiting to see you sir." I glanced at him. His hawklike nose was raised just a little and I guessed Farnsworth didn't think much of this visitor. I shrugged.
     "Well out with it man, who is he?"
     "He gave his name as Smith sir, a Mr John Smith, he said he is collecting for a 'War Orphan Fund', that he served under you during the '39 and was sure you'd wish to make a donation. I have allowed him to wait for you in the west library.
     He seemed rather down at heel sir ..." I nodded briskly, well you probably find you have to deal with beggars like this rogue sounded to be yourself. I actually quite enjoy a chance to send 'em flying with a boot up the arse and a bellowed curse, and after my bout with Judith I was in fine fettle for a spot of bullying. So with a spring in my step I made my way through the west wing, where I heard the sound of distant singing and remembered my monstrous mother had a choir of local children in performing carols for her elsewhere in the building. As I opened the door to the west library the choir began to sing Silent Night.
     The west library is a long room, with ceiling high book shelves along the back wall, a fireplace, three polished tables and several stuffed red leather armchairs. A Christmas Tree stood in the far corner, coloured lights and tinsel sparkling. I strode in, noting firstly that two of the armchairs had been moved to sit opposite each other in front of the merrily crackling fire, then I realised that I couldn't see this John Smith anywhere ... and that there was a faint damp, musty, smell in the air. I stopped in the middle of the room, puzzled as to where this cheeky beggar was hiding, when the door closed behind me with a bang and a harsh voice rasped at my shoulder.
     "'Allo Dick ... 'appy fracking Christmas." I jumped about three feet in raw terror as suddenly I was naked and in chains again, kneeling before the most depraved mound of suet I ever met and that same voice was shouting from behind me;
     "That ain't no Darius fracking Davion ... that there's Dirty Dick Dergeezi ... Redjack's ol' First Gun."
     It couldn't be the same man, it was impossible. My blood froze and I swung around to find it certainly was possible, as there he stood.
     He'd never been a big man, unlike his brother, but now, a quarter of a century since I'd last seen him, he was much thinner and gaunter, like he was literally wasting away. His skin was jaundiced looking and his dark hair was wispy thin over his pate. Stubble covered his jaw, his eyes glittered at me and his thin lipped slash of a mouth was twisted into the mean grimace that passed with him for a grin. The same smile-grimace I'd seen when he was taking the neurolash to Redjack and Valasek's victims, or when he was setting his moronic beast of a brother onto his enemies. He was wearing a filthy and damp looking blue serge civilian suit and held a grubby handkerchief in his left hand and a heavy long barreled Mydron needle pistol in his right. The twin of the pistol I still kept in my study. It's muzzle pointed directly at my groin.
     "Oh God no ... how did you? Look please don't ... we can talk this through." I babbled in terror and he sneer grinned all the more.
     "Aw that's nice, that's real nice Dick. You 'member your ol' buddy Elmo. I fought you might 'ave fergot me." Elmo Porrath was not someone I was ever likely to forget. He was high up there in my list of people I'd be happy never to see again, right alongside Redjack Ryan, Valasek, Zakahashi, Vesar Kristofur, and yes, Happy Hanse himself.
     Porrath was a pirate. He'd served under the flags of both Ryan and Valasek, he was a murderer, a thief, a torturer, a rapist, a brutal, ruthless man, who absolutely lacked any shred of a conscience and now here he was stood in my home on Killarney, deep in the safe fat heart of the Federated Suns. It was crazy. Insane.
     "Now then Dick, why don't we sit us down and 'ave us a chat." He motioned with the needler towards the chairs before the fireplace and I staggered over, collapsing into the chair shaking with fear. He sat opposite me, then let rip a serious sounding throaty, rattling cough into his handkerchief. He kept the gun steadily levelled on me though and I recalled very well just how deadly a shot he was.
     "Well Dick, this is a right purty berth you've got yerself 'ere ... right purty. Still you always was smart. Always 'ad yer eye on the prize eh?
     Takes me back seeing yer again. Well we've lived the days ain't we though, two ol' Brethren of the Black like us?
     Why, don't I 'member those times at the 'Old, wiv Redjack and you drunk as Ellsie judges, while Jake, Stromsky, Fingers and me flayed the backs off them Rassy-hagger pilgrims. D'yer 'member Dick?
     Or when you beat Redjack at poker, playing fer that Snake tart, an' Redjack 'ee got so sore 'bout it 'ee cut orf yer fracking paw! Gawd didn' we laugh? 'Call that a winning 'and?' He said, d'yer 'member?
     Or when you shot up that fusion plant on Lysidas and poisoned 'arf the fracking planet ... that were stoney, even Redjack said so. 'This fellows the next best thing to me.' He said. D'yer 'member?
     Or when we 'it Deia and ripped the guts out o' them Skye Rangers? I can still see yer burning down that town, what were it's name again, brother? Ah who 'members eh?
     Or when you and me took the neuro whips to them Ellsie tarts 'till they near burst! An' wiv Redjack sitting there watching the 'ole time, getting sloppy on beer. Heh heh, an' you got so tired out you kept dropping yer whip, so Redjack warned yer you'd join 'em on the rack if yer did it again.
     Then there was when you an' me was wiv Valasek. 'Ee thought you was just golden, well once 'ee 'eard you was that same Dirty Dick who'd been Redjack's First Gun an' the only man who Redjack ever called 'is friend. Running slaves 'tween Port Krin and the Combine, that were a sweet trick weren't it Dick, an' you came up wiv it."
     I'd sat there staring appalled at this monster from my secret past, throughout his sneering little tour down memory lane, as the faint sound of the carol singers rendition of Silent Night continued beyond the library. Then I couldn't control my mortal terror any more, my gorge rose, burning my throat, and I literally threw up. I gasped and gazed through tears at him, as he looked at me with those cold eyes that had gazed serenely over scenes of unspeakable horror and barbarity.
     "'Ave a drink Dick. Pour me one too, for ol' times sake, why don't yer." I staggered to the drinks cabinet and poured two large measures of Bismarck whiskey into crystal tumblers, then walked back, aware all the time of that needler tracking me. He took the glass and raised it to me in the old spacers toast.
     "Bright Stars Dick ..." To which I responded;
     "... And easy planets." We both drank, he smacked his lips in appreciation of the excellent malt and I plucked up the courage to try to talk to him, perhaps to bribe him to leave me unharmed.
     "Elmo how in the Sphere did you get here?" I asked and he shrugged nonchalantly.
     "I stayed wiv Wilson's mob after you took Lyran leave from us. Doing crappy merc jobs mostly. Then earlier this year young Danny, Wilson's lad, 'ee wanted ter try 'is 'and on the Games World, so 'ee talked me into getting 'im there. Wilson, 'ee gave Danny Ella y'see. Well, getting over the border ain't no 'ard fing for an ol'corsair like me, so we slipped froo sweet an' easy.
     Now, I've sent Danny on his way ... 'eel do well on Solaris I fink ... good pilot 'ee is, proper buckethead fru and fru. But I couldn't pass the 'ome of the famous Darius Davion ... me ol' mate Dick ... wivout paying a visit now could I?" I gulped some more whiskey, seeing the killing light flicker in Porrath's eyes.
     "Err, you don't look well Elmo." I said and he shook his head at me and coughed again, then rasped out;
     "I'm dying Dick. Cancer. It's eating me up inside. I ain't got long, maybe a year or two at most."
     "Well, perhaps ... perhaps I can pay for you to be cured, I have contacts with the best Canopian physicians. I'd wager they can cure-"
     "Nah Dick, nice of you ter offer ... but it's terminal. I'm okay wiv it. Though I do 'ave one fing left I need to do before I go." I gulped the last of my whiskey, then asked what that might be. He grinned again.
     "Yer ain't asked about Jake yet Dick?" Jake was Elmo's brutal simpleton of a brother, they'd been inseparable and if Jake wasn't with Elmo here I firmly expected he was dead. I was right too.
     "He died five years after you shot 'im on Dormandaine. The wound never 'ealed right yer see. The needles they got into 'is lungs, he was coughing up blood for months 'fore he finally carked it. Bad death 'ee had ... bad." I quivered at this awful news. I'd killed this pyscopath's beloved baby brother with the very needler he was now holding on me. I had no doubt that his one remaining wish was to see me dead. This was certainly not how I'd hoped to be spending the holiday season.
     "So then Dick, let's get to it. I was gonna just kill yer, but seeing yer sitting there like Lord Muckety Muck, filthy wiv the scratch you stole from us. I'm finking now you might suffer more if I just took yer bollocks off and leave yer dickless." He carried on in graphic detail and I fell forward from my chair onto my knees pleading, whining, and begging him to leave me be. Whimpering in a complete state of funk. It was at that precise moment that the library door opened and in swept ma'ma. Lydia Davion neé Campbell, the Countess of Killarney herself. She was wearing a long red gown, had a League made purse slung over her arm and seemed to be in one of her moods.
     "Darius! What's all this about a charity collection? You know we only give through official channels. I won't have you frittering money away on beggars and probable conmen. What ... on ... Terra?" Porrath didn't turn, his needler remained trained on me, but he snapped an order at mother in his dry rattle of a voice.
     "Close the door your fracking majesty, sit the frack down and shut the frack up. Or I'll kill your precious bleeding son 'ere." I've never heard anyone speak to mother in that manner before and she looked stunned with surprise. She flicked her gimlet gaze over the grim tableau before her, then did as Porrath ordered, sitting with her purse in her lap. Porrath shot her one glance, then returned his attention to me.
     "She know about you and me Dick? 'Bout what you did in the Out, during yer younger days?" I shook my head, sobbing in terror still.
     "Darius ... who is this dreadful man?" Mother asked in a quiet voice, and Porrath grinned at me again.
     "Oh I'm dreadful all right. Ain't I just though Dick? But then you're dreadful too ain't yer. Both as bad as each other I'd say. Now then, I fink I'll get down to it, brace yerself Dick ... this is gonna 'urt ... it's gonna 'urt bad." I wailed and squeezed my eyes shut, threw myself to one side and scrambled on all fours away, it was futile, he had a direct bead on me after all, but I had to at least try. I soiled my trousers when I heard the gun go off and fell forwards, thinking my end had finally caught up with me.
     "Oh do get up Darius, you horrid creature." Mother said harshly from behind me and I suddenly realised I had felt no pain. Turning, still shaking badly, I saw that mother was holding a small four barreled magnum, smoke was curling slowly from it's muzzle and Porrath's head was twisted unnaturally onto his left shoulder. With a clunk, the needler fell from his lifeless hand and blood began to flow liberally from his bullet shot noggin.
     "It's a good thing I at least have the good sense to carry a weapon at all times." Ma'ma said, "One never knows when one will need it. Now, why was that horrid fellow calling you Dick? Urgg, you smell atrocious you ghastly thing. What? Why are you hugging me? Get off of me this instant!"

* * *

     Well I've rarely felt so grateful to my mother. I didn't even care about the epic telling off I received for 'bringing common criminals into the house', as if I'd invited Porrath around for a Christmas drink or something? The idiots from the local constabulary were quickly summoned and mother has been hailed as a local heroine, who valiantly bested an 'unknown' criminal who was going to rob and kill us. I didn't think it a good idea to admit to any knowledge of Porrath's identity, or to my past association with him, and told mother he'd clearly mistaken me for someone else. So the matter will be safely and quickly forgotten ... who'd have thought Elmo Porrath, the notorious Periphery outlaw, would die nameless on Killarney, at my mother's hand?
     I'm sitting now in my private study, where I keep my personal treasures. Before me on my desk lie my pair of Mydron needlers, gleaming wickedly under the reading lamp. They sit as mute reminder of the awful events that led me out into the Outer Sphere region of the Periphery twenty five years ago and the nightmare events that happened during that period of my life.
     I was going to write about my time in the Marik Civil War next, but Porrath's visit has drawn my mind back to that fearful business with Valasek and I can now think of nothing else. The problem I have is where to begin. Do I start with how I first met Elmo and Jake Porrath? No, that is a story for another day, for it would mean detailing a year and more in the service of Redjack Ryan. Do I start in 3024 then, when I was forced into joining that lunatic mission into the Periphery? No ... first I must tell you about a romance I had with one of the best MechWarriors I ever met ... for my affair with her was to be the direct cause of my having to head into the Out ... it began on New Ivaarsen, during the Kuritan invasion of 3021.
« Last Edit: 01 March 2011, 19:13:33 by Tokage »
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #1 on: 14 February 2011, 17:29:22 »
PART ONE

NEW IVAARSEN

3021

MID SEPTEMBER

1

     "Good evening Sir, welcome to the Land of the Green Sun. It's a real honour to meet you."
     I stepped down from the Fury Class troop ship's ramp, taking in the open expanse of Fort Bormen Starport's Military Adjunct. It was the usual bland bunker-like blockhouses, hangars, scorched landing bays and skittering Techs. Standing at attention before me, dressed in crisply ironed green fatigues, with the patch of the Seventh Crucis Lancers on his sleeve and carrying the white epaulette of a Subaltern upon his shoulder, was a fresh faced and scrubbed seeming young chap with baby blue eyes and buzz cut blonde hair, who looked to be about sixteen. The days dying light washed the scene in a faintly opalescent haze and I noted with a start the setting sun to my left was indeed a shimmering greenish hue. As I knew New Ivaarsen's star was yellow white I blinked in surprise.
      "It's an atmospheric condition Sir, has to do with the sunlight refracting at an angle off of the planet's atmosphere ... or something like that. I'm told the same effect is known to occur rarely even back on Earth, but we get that show every sunrise and sunset here. Pretty ain't it?" It was certainly an unusual sight and I nodded, then pasted my best self-deprecating Darius-Do-Good grin across my mug, held out my hand and beamed.
     "Indeed it is old chap, and you can call me Darius." He pumped my hand excitedly, in the admiring way I was well used to by then.
     "Gosh, but well I mean ... I can't believe it's really you ... Darius Davion. The Hero of Mallory's World, the chap who pulled old Ian's body out of the flames, the man who tried to take an entire city single handed, who fought his way out of Sandsedge, the only man to survive the redoubt at Kent's Hill last year, the chap who-" Normally I don't mind basking in the adoration of my peers, but there was a sharp evening wind picking up and after several days caged up on a DropShip I fancied finding my quarters, having a quick shower, then seeing what the local night life was like. So I clapped a manly hand on his shoulder and acted embarrassed.
     "Whoa there old son. I know who I am thanks, just a youngish officer like your good self who don't want no special treatment. How about you give me your name and show me across to my quarters?" He blushed and fell over himself apologising.
     "Oh I'm most awfully sorry. Damned silly of me. I'm Subaltern John D. John, Recon Lance, Christoph's Company, Clifton's Battalion, Seventh Crucis Lancers."
     "John John eh? That's quite a unique name." Gads I thought to myself, but his parents must have been crueler even than mine, to land the lad with such a ridiculous sounding handle, but I didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with the local officers so let him ramble on, as I picked up my luggage and we strode across the ferrocrete. He gushed about his 'long family line', how his umpteen brothers were all also serving AFFS MechWarriors, that generations of Johns before them had also fought for our House and so on. He was one of your clean limbed, eager schoolboy types that I usually detest, but he had such an infectious easy charm about him, I found myself uncharacteristically warming to him.
     "So John John, how are we set here? I understand I'm to report to Leftenant General Stuart?" I'd been assigned to the staff of Leftenant General Arlin Stuart, the officer in command of all AFFS and PUG forces on New Ivaarsen, and was fairly sure that for a change this would be a nice quiet, cushy, little posting. Well despite the fact that New Ivaarsen was within a Jump or two of the Kuritan border, I had learned upon receiving my orders that Stuart was a newly made Leftenant General and only in charge now because the planet was regarded as being at a very low risk of attack for the next few months.
     Y'see New Ivaarsen is one of our agricultural worlds, a breadbasket planet, and raids on such worlds tend to be made just before the end of the harvest, in order to destroy the collected crop yield and prevent it being shipped to other Fed Suns worlds, many of which rely on outside food supply for survival. New Ivaarsen had completed it's annual harvest the previous month, at the end of August.
     When the great 'grain fleet' of twenty odd Mule DropShips had blasted off carrying tens of thousands of tons of processed crops and grain, most of the Seventh Crucis Lancers, who had been standing watch over the vast storehouses and processing plants, were redeployed elsewhere along the border. There were still the local grain stores to protect though, so aside from the usual conventional forces of the New Ivie Ugly-PUGs, we still had a company of the Seventh Crucis, the entire Second New Ivaarsen Chasseurs 'Mech Regiment and a battalion of the mercenary unit Narhal's Raiders stationed on world. Which I regarded as a force more than strong enough to dissuade a Kuritan raid aimed at the remaining grain supplies. After some of the scrapes I'd gotten into since I'd returned to active service in the AFFS two years before, I thought finally I'd landed on my feet and might be able to enjoy a few months of loafing in safety. However young John very nearly burst my bubble of complacency right there and then.
     "Yes Sir ... err ... that is, Darius. The General is out on Panopea, the submersible C³ Centre off the south coast, coordinating the hunt for the Snake 'Mechs. You should spend your night here in Bormen, then you're to be shipped across to Panopea tomorrow." My skin went cold and I fought to keep my query casual sounding and free from any stammer of fear.
     "Snake 'Mechs?" He glanced over at me with a grin, clearly thinking Dashing Darius had smelt action and was quivering to be let loose like an attack dog.
     "Yes Sir, were you not appraised of the Kuritan incursion during your journey in from the JumpPoint?" I shook my head. Christ and Conrad! The Kuritans were here! I'd landed out of the frying pan and into the fire yet again.
     "Two weeks ago, you must have missed the HPG message that was sent to March Command; just after the Grain Fleet Jumped, a DCA military JumpShip slipped in at a Pirate Point a day out and dropped four Leopards. They came in fast, split up, atmo-dropped one 'Mech each at four separate points across the Lowland Flats, then lifted out and returned to the JumpShip, which then Jumped away immediately. The General is of the opinion they are suicide raiders, sent to do as much damage to the farmlands as they can. We've been able to prevent much actual harm so far, but have yet to have caught them ... and they seem to be avoiding 'Mech to 'Mech combat." I relaxed a little, well four 'Mechs didn't stand a chance against our garrison here. Still it was not what I'd wanted to be hearing and my instinct for survival was nagging at me that there was more to this than young John's little story. I decided to dig for more information, whilst acting out my role as the fire-eating madman everyone thought I was.
     "Four Snake 'Mechs have been running around burning and killing for two weeks and we've yet to take 'em to task? I'm just glad I had my 'Mech sent ahead of me." I growled, acting all angry indignation. Of course Falstaff, my Victor, might have reached the planet aboard a supply ship last week, but I had no intention of getting in the blasted thing if I could possibly help it.
     "From sightings we've ascertained they're OTT-7J Ostscouts Sir ... damn nippy when they want to be. As I say, they seem to be deliberately avoiding our patrols and run off at the first sight of us." He looked embarrassed at admitting to his idol that they'd failed to run down these Kuritan raiders, but I was gnawing at my lip.
     "Why haven't your aero-wing been able to knock them out? Surely these farmlands they're charging about are wide open spaces ... shouldn't be hard to find twelve meter high 'Mechs on them?" He shook his head and nodded at the sky.
     "It's the wind Sir." I grunted my understanding. New Ivaarsen was widely known for it's fierce windstorms, that regularly howled shrieking down out of the Upland Mountains and scoured across the Flats. John nodded and continued.
     "Windstorms are pretty much a daily event over the Flats, the locals live with them all their lives and call what you and I would refer to as a tornado a light breeze. It makes for fierce turbulence and any air activity is very dangerous. Indeed the locals never fly, they all seem to have a mortal fear of it, understandable I guess. We've sent up unmanned spotter drones, but they keep getting knocked down by sudden squalls." We reached a jeep as, pointedly, the wind began to hammer at our backs with quite a strong force. I was relieved to chuck my bags in the back, get in and pull the top up, cutting off that sudden battering blow. John climbed into the driving seat and started the engine, then steered us out through several checkpoints, where each time local PUG PBIs snapped to attention as we passed.
     "Ostscouts eh? Seems like a pretty weak 'Mech to send raiders in, especially if they're acting separated from each other. Isn't it more likely they're scouting out the lay of the land? Ostscouts carry specialised mapping tech ... they could be creating maps of potential DropZones for a stronger force." I felt my skin prickle in terror as I said the words and the idea solidified in my mind. They had to be scouts ... for what could very well be a later full scale invasion.   
     "It's possible Sir, but the General has said he is certain that's not the case. He's of the opinion I'm told that after the Kuritans got kicked off of Harrow's Sun last year, which was before my time with the regiment to my sorrow, they've been scared off of making any moves against us larger than raids ... and that with the successful departure of the Grain Fleet it wouldn't be economically worth the risk of a raid against us here. Also with the present fighting between the Lyrans and the Snakes the General doesn't feel that the DCMS would have the available troops to deploy against us." I decided in a second, that if this was an accurate summary of Arlin Stuart's opinions the man was clearly a dangerously misinformed fool.
     I'd been on Harrow's Sun when the Kuritans landed an army spear headed by no less than four crack 'Mech regiments on us and very nearly wiped us off the face of that world ... they'd only left in the end due to the imminent arrival of massive AFFS reinforcements, not because they'd been beat. Since the retreat from Harrow's Sun the Combine had seen stiff fighting against Wolf's Dragoons on the Steiner Front, indeed only a month before I arrived on New Ivaarsen I'd been reading about an attack on the Combine held world of Dromini IV by two regiments of the Dragoons. The Combine had responded to the Dragoon attacks of the past year by sending Sword of Light regiments against several Lyran worlds, including Morningside, Fatima and Fort Loudon. However I knew from bitter personal experience the bloodlust of the Combine was never to be underestimated, that pathological hatred of us drove that entire nation, and that they had many more regiments they could still throw against us.
     I decided I would try to convince Stuart to call up reinforcements as soon as I met him and struggled to control my nagging sense of impending disaster. Turning my attention away from John, who chattered away about the usual stuff and nothing young soldiers are interested in, I watched as we drove through the green tinted twilight under search lights mounted along the vast anti-'Mech defence walls that ringed the city of Fort Bormen.
     The city itself certainly lived up to it's militaristic name, like many border world cities it was built within a massive, multi-kilometer wide, circle of walls and defences, which bristled with gun emplacements, hardpoints and bunkers. Driving through towering ninety meter high gates, we trundled into a maze of narrow little streets, the buildings were almost all built in a strange style, of ferrocrete, though with multiple triangular roofs made of dark wood. They looked vaguely churchlike and somehow sinister to me.
     "The New Ivies hark back to a mix of Icelandic and British colonists I'm told." John said catching me staring at the buildings. "They call this style of building neo-stave architecture, I'm told after a kind of Scandinavian church. They're a pretty religious bunch by the way. Never seen NACC churches more packed than here."
     I returned my gaze to the streets gloomily at the prospect of a world full of boring Bible-wallopers; watching tall, sturdy, men and women hunched into the wind, stomping along presumably after knocking off for the day. They were dressed in plain, dark coloured clothes, their faces were uniformly leathery and unsmiling. Dour was the word that sprang into my mind and I never lost that view of them. Let me tell you you've never heard a more depressing thing than a New Ivie choir murdering a hymn. They are frankly amongst the most miserable people I ever struck across. They all seem to have pale gray eyes, wind hardened skin, thick fair hair and smile so rarely it must actually hurt their faces. They speak with a yokel like drawl, are supremely impervious to the hideous extremes of their planet's weather, gaze at you like you aren't there half the time and whenever you ask them a direct question they have the maddening habit of pondering slowly then replying;
     "Waal now ... Ahm not rightly shoor."
     They do hate the Kuritans though and unusually for a border world had only been under Kuritan occupation the once. Which was during the early years of the First Succession War. Thinking about it, after they left the Snakes probably had the good sense never to want to go back, that is until perhaps they forgot what the place was like.
     
* * *

     John drove me to his Company's billets, which were located in a towering triple floored neo-stave building, with shuttered windows, dark wooden roofs, and beams decorating the simple gray ferrocrete walls.
     "Used to be a local merchant's house I'm told." John advised me. "Until he was arrested and deported for pedaling booze ... the Ivies are pretty hot against that kind of thing and even have prohibition laws." He led me into the warmth of the house, whose front door had the company details stenciled upon it, then started showing me around. It was when we wandered into a pleasant billiard room that I spotted her and for the first time since arriving on New Ivaarsen I felt glad to be there.
     "Ah here's a couple of my Company mates Darius, allow me to introduce you to them. That rogue about to pot the black is MechWarrior Mark Paniopolo and the lovely lady he seems to have beaten for once is MechWarrior Paula Stilson."
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #2 on: 14 February 2011, 17:57:07 »
2

     It's a fact of my life that I retain extremely vivid memories of my initial meetings with those gals who've had the most effect upon me in one way or another. Perhaps my senses rocket when I catch sight of a stunner beyond the normal high standards I set for myself when it comes to women. Whatever the reason, for example, I can still close my eyes and be back in that Cienfuegos bar on New Delos, quivering under a table while glasses and bottles are smashing all around me and two bands of hardened thugs are pummelling the life out of each other, when Natasha Kerensky storms in. I can still recall the Lyran pop song playing in the background of all that chaos, and see her standing there, hands upon hips, dressed in a red jacket, black scarf, skin tight suede trousers and shant leather thigh boots, shouting in rage at her jailbirds. Gads she was beautiful.
     Or there's the time I first met Emma Centrella; she barged into her mother Kyalla's private quarters and stood there arguing with her mum about the progress of their war, ignoring the fact Crazy Kyalla was astride yours truly at the time and bouncing away like a jockey in the Killarney Cup. It was a novelty for me made all the more off putting by the fact that Kyalla, whilst barking away back at her daughter, didn't pause in her vigorous exertions, whilst all I was interested in was craning my neck to get a better view of Emma. La Centrella Junior, you should know, was magnificent standing there in her tight fitting dark blue MAF uniform, with her coffee and cream skin, beautiful big gray eyes, and long curly brown hair. Quite made me forget her mother ... which was a dangerous thing to do at any time.
     Then there was the day I first laid eyes upon the Elgin Handmaiden, over the canapés at Hanse's wedding. Sleek, seductive and dark eyed peril, poured into a blue and gold silk gown, like all her mad mistress's personal retainers were that day. I can still taste that little shrimp and cream canapé, as it melted upon my tongue, which was doubtless hanging out at the time. 
     Or there was Susie Morgraine-Ryan, when she came screaming at me in zero-g with that pirate boarding party, squeezed half into a battle harness that would have been considered indecent in four Successor States, her pig-sticker sword swung up to hack me in two ... and all I could think was; 'Blake's Blood, look at those bouncers!'. 
     Ahh, I miss 'em all somewhat, each in their own way, I'm just an incurable romantic I suppose. Anyhoo, this was one of those occasions and I stood dumbstruck and gazing at the beauty John John had introduced as MechWarrior Paula Stilson; she was nearly as tall as me, but was gracefully slender and damned buxom, with long dark red hair, a heart shaped face, somewhat almond shaped deep brown eyes, a small straight nose, soft looking pillow lips, firm little chin and a proud, almost defiant, expression. Which tells you a little about how she seemed to me, but really misses the essential beauty of her ... somehow she just seemed to exude sexiness, for lack of a better word. It was in the way she held her cue as she was bent forward to take her next shot, the little lift of her chin as she glanced at me, then the faint trace of a pretty little gasp as she locked those arresting eyes upon one.
     The breath catches in my throat even now as I recall the physical jolt I felt at the time. I knew in a flash she was my preferred type too ... a true wanton ... it was obvious to a chap like myself. Though I confess even I had no premonition then, that in later life her then out of control libido would make her one of the most infamous female MechWarriors in known space. Still, that was largely my fault ... ah but I'm rushing ahead of myself, I shall get to all that nasty business later.  Before I go on, you should just be aware that at the time I'm speaking of here, Stilson was just a regular, if startlingly beautiful, Crucis Lancers MechWarrior, and the brazenly licentious habits that she eventually became widely infamous for had not then begun.
     It's perhaps worth reminding you at this point that I cut quite the fine figure myself at the time; I was then twenty seven and I suppose in my prime, six feet two tall, naturally fit and muscular, tanned of skin, dark of hair, with handsome angular features and blue eyes. I had a few scars by then too, to add to my dashing image and my left hand was a top of the range Canopian prosthetic, which was practically indistinguishable from a natural flipper. I was then wearing my hair rakishly long and had affected a moustache, as was all the rage in the army at the time. My face was known throughout the Fed Suns and beyond, to one degree or another, thanks to my fraudulent heroics on Mallory's World eight year before, and since then the rumours circulating about my 'secret service' on behalf of our nation during the Marik Civil War, whispers that I'd also 'allowed myself to be captured' by Redjack Ryan in an attempt to kill him, and of course the campaigning I had been forced into since rejoining the AFFS two years previous, notably on Harrow's Sun, where I alone had survived the Siege of Kent Hill, as well as having been with McKinnon's Raiders during their famous string of revenge attacks upon vastly superior Kuritan numbers after the death of my old friend Ross McKinnon. I was widely regarded across our great nation as one of the bravest, most insanely bloodthirsty, beau sabreurs of the army and even that early in my life it was said of me; 'Where Darius goes you know there'll be death and destruction!'
     The chaps meant it as a slightly awed compliment at my perceived ability to sniff out the trouble spots and rush to 'em, in order to get viciously stuck into our enemies with a gusto. Which is damned ironic considering I spent my whole career actively trying to avoid warfare, danger, and personal risk. Indeed the bad luck I've had when it comes to postings is enough to make me burst into tears if I dwell upon it.   

* * *

     Well I quickly decided that, wanton or not, it wouldn't do to chuck down my luggage, cry out 'Woohoo, ready or not, here I come!', and dive on her there and then like a randy chimp. We were in the company of her comrades in arms after all. So I made great show of waving aside her and Paniopolo's stumbling compliments and asked whether I might join in their game.
     I've been a dab hand at Eight Ball Pool, which was what they were actually playing, since my early teens, when I used to play hooky from school back home and sneak into the Ballykenny Arms. I've many fond memories of wasted childhood afternoons in that dingy old pub, in the dim, smoky common room, where I'd swill stout, flirt with the bar floozies and play endless games of Eight Ball with the local toughs. D'you know, thinking about it now, I might recommend it to be added to the planetary middle school curriculum, regular classes of boozing, gambling and clumsy flirtation's just the ticket to set a young man out into life on the right foot.
     Anyway, I set out to rook Paniopolo, John, and Stilson with all the skill the Finn brothers, my chief boyhood cronies, had taught me years before. I was pleased to note some bright spark had smuggled a crate of contraband Timbiqui lager into the billet and for a couple of hours, drinking cheerfully with my new friends, I made sure to lose repeatedly, whilst ensuring all my not inconsiderable charm was switched on the whole time. John John was so hopeless however I had to really work not to beat him, Paniopolo was a fair to middling player and as a point of fact only Stilson herself was any good at all.
     Still after a couple of hours of losing I stood back looking at the table, smiling ruefully, shaking my head and leaning upon my cue.
     "Hmmf, well I'd say it looks like another victorious campaign for the Seventh. Listen I'm pretty beat, from my flight in and all, what say we finish up with one more round. I'll play John John, Mark you play Paula ... and the two winners get to fight it out for the prize?" John nodded happy agreement, probably thinking that I was the only one he had a chance of beating, Mark and Paula nodded, but Paula stopped as she was setting up the balls.
     "Prize?"
     "Oh ... err ... I don't know ... how about the winner stands the second place man to a slap up meal tomorrow night? The best that New Ivaarsen can manage at least." I think Stilson, having doubtless spotted the fact that I was clearly lusting after her like a spacer who's just got in from a dozen dim stars, shot me a somewhat suspicious look, but she just nodded and made a pretty little 'hm-hm' sound in acceptance.
     Well, suffice to say I slaughtered John like he was a green academy cadet thrown into the Open Class circuit, I didn't even bother to toy with him, or try to conceal my suddenly all too apparent skill. At the end of the brief game he stood there, shell shocked and scratching his head, then turned to me and shook my hand.
     "Well I'm blowed ... y'know if I didn't know better I'd say you sharked me there good and proper." Amiable young paladin that he was, he said it with resigned good humour, I just winked at him and grinned.
     "Sorry old son, no hard feelings what, just a few tricks I picked up on Butte Hold." Which was stuff, for we'd only had the one table at the Hold and it had been ruined before I'd even had a chance to play on it, when that bastard Satanson had pinned a rival to it with a vibro-blade. Still it was just the kind of staggering off hand comment that makes chaps gawk at you like you're a cross between the Immortal Warrior and that superspy fellow from the Fighting Falcons.
     Despite my appraisal of Paniopolo and Stilson's relative skill at the table, I became a little nervy that Stilson might play the tease and throw the game, as she made a few poor shots early on, however I relaxed as she soon picked up her game and eventually won. Stepping forward I smiled easily, striving to keep any hint of a leer from my face, I'd won y'see ... if I beat her I had to fork out for dinner the following night, if I lost she would ... either way we had a date and if I couldn't have her undressed and thumping the mattress by the end of that then I figured my name wasn't Darius Davion.
     I let her win by the way ... well it seemed the gentlemanly thing to do. Also I didn't see why I should put my hand into my pocket when I could make her pay. Common sense ain't it?

* * *

     The next morning, 07:00 hours saw me stood upon Fort Bormen's military dock, dressed up in my green and brown battledress uniform, the patches of the Bane and the Seventh Crucis stitched onto my sleeve, and the ribbons of my Silver Sunburst, Crucis Cross, and the Order of the Lyran Harp, upon my tunic breast. I'd been told to report to the dock at that time, where an Ensign Larson would meet me and transport me down river and out to Panopea, New Ivaarsen's C³ complex and Leftenant General Stuart's headquarters.
     C³ Centres gain their name from their official SLDF designation as 'Command, Control, and Communication' complexes, they are intended to be the central organizational headquarters for planetary scale military operations. Often sprawling, high-tech remnants of the Star League era, they are typically bristling with comm arrays, sat-nav control banks, sensor suites, tactical maps and the like. From a C³ Centre a commander can easily coordinate the movements of his army across an entire world, monitor the movements of his enemy and plan out future tactics and strategy in comfort and safety.
     Well in theory at least. Y'see the problem was that any commanding officer, of an invading enemy army, worth his salt would promptly attack the C³ Centre as a priority target and due to this fact most of the generally irreplaceable, and thus progressively rarer, C³ complexes were knocked out during the Second and early Third Succession Wars. Indeed it became a sad fact of those wars that C³'s were usually destroyed within the first few hours of any invasion, to the extent they became known colloquially as 'Corpse, Carcass, and Coffin Complexes'. Attempts at making surviving C³s mobile to minimize this attrition were unsuccessful, there was simply too much tech aboard a C³ to squeeze into anything smaller than a land-train and the few C³-Land-Trains always ended up spending the whole of a given campaign trundling around being chased by aero-fighters, 'Mech and tanks, to the extent that they weren't able to actually do their intended job.
     Many of the Successor States had given up on C³s altogether, considering them a bad risk and a waste of resources ... our beloved House however came up with an ingenious solution to the C³ Attrition Problem during Hanse's reign ... I believe I'm correct in saying that for once one of those insufferable boffins from the NAIS originally suggested a surprisingly elegant and simple idea; that is to make our remaining C³s submersible and to sink them underwater.
     Using Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) Comms, our few surviving Star League era C³ complexes could thus effectively control the land battle across their given world, while remaining more or less invulnerable to aerospace fighter and DropShip attack. Indeed only enemy submarines, divers, or BattleMechs, which as you will know can walk along river and sea beds, are able to attack an underwater C³, however 'Mechs are not much cop underwater and besides Hanse made sure to attach attack submarines to each C³, and indeed Ensign Larson arrived that morning at Bormen, in one of Panopea's defensive complement of subs.
     The submarine surfaced with a sudden spraying whoosh, a hundred yards or so down the dock, just as I was lighting up a cheroot and musing about my tactics for my planned maneuvers that evening. It wasn't particularly large, perhaps measuring roughly a hundred and twenty foot long, but it was certainly sleek and dangerous looking, black, with the smooth lines of a marine predator, studded with torpedo and missile tubes, and with a mid set conning tower, upon the side of which I noted a cartoony image of an angry looking fish above the sub's name; Bowfin.
     I strolled along the dock studying the craft with a degree of trepidation. I'd never liked traveling underwater y'see, I'd done it a few times prior to that morning, but never aboard a military submersible. I just didn't like the awful claustrophobic paranoia of being trapped aboard such a craft it were for some reason to sink, or stall, or crash into some underwater obstacle, or be attacked by some fearsome alien sea monster, or ... oh hell who knew what. Anyway, I was standing there, worrying myself with this kind of windy train of thought, when the conning tower hatch swung open and a young chap pulled himself up.
     He was wearing sweat stained tan shirt and fatigue trousers, a rumpled looking forage cap bearing the Bowfin badge of his submarine was clamped down upon a mass of brick red hair, and he had the kind of plump ruddy red face one would normally associate with a well fed yokel farmhand.
     "Ahoy there, are you Leftenant Davion?" He called across cheerfully in a surprisingly crisp upper class accent and I nodded mutely, feeling all the more queasy now it came to it, especially knowing an apparent hayseed was to be in control of this deuced contraption.
     "Well step lively please Sir. The General is all eagerness to meet you. Just climb down that ladder there, at the side of the dock, and we'll be off." I sucked in a long gasp of fresh air and clambered clumsily down the side of the dock, then slipped on the lower rung and made a dreadful hash of jumping the short distance across to the Bowfin's deck. One of my legs went knee deep in the river and I cracked my left shin against the hull painfully, I then heard that blasted swine in the conning tower roar with laughter and call down something into his tub. Cursing and swearing I dragged myself slipping and sliding up to the tower, as the cheeky sod leaned over and hauled me up with a powerful grip.
      "Oh I say, I do apologize old chap. It ain't often we Ugly PUGs get a chance to see a MechWarrior get a dipping. You'll forgive us." I growled a very grudging affirmative at the fool and struggled down the tower ladder behind him as he descended back into his blasted vessel, chattering away the whole time.
     "Well now then, I'm Ensign Larson, but please call me Henry, everyone does, and this here's my boat; the Bowfin. She's a Neptune Class six-man attack sub, she displaces one hundred tons, is powered by a Doorman Naval 140 Diesel/Hydrogen-Peroxide Plant and can make fifty five kph in a good wind. She has a double-hull construction, the outer is not pressurized and serves only as a framework for the 14.5 inch SeaSlab armour plating. The inner hull is the pressure hull, it can allow us to go safely down as deep as a hundred and twenty meters, though we've made a hundred and forty five in the deep ocean."
     I followed this garrulous swine through his sickeningly cramped and sweaty tincan, which positively reeked of body odour, stale farts, hot metal and Conrad knew what else. We had to crouch down the whole time, the ceiling was so low, and the walls only allowed one man abreast. Our footsteps echoed on the metal grilled floor, it seemed there were everywhere pipes, stacked and bound missiles and torpedoes, pinging sensor stations, warbling banks of comm equipment and here and there damp and broiled looking crewmen.
     "Our primary weapon is our Sea Devastator 20 Torpedo Rack, but we also pack two Sea Harvester 6 Torp Racks and a Sutel XII deck laser canon, for surface work." I gagged as I tried to speak, swallowed the bile as best I could, coughed and tried again.
     "Ahh ... have you actually seen action then?" Submarine warfare seemed so archaic a concept I struggled to credit this was a fighting machine potentially every bit as deadly as a Heavy BattleMech. Larson turned and grinned at me.
     "Aye, twice in the last three years. Both times against liquor smugglers. They land the booze out on the New Surtseys from offworld by Shuttle, or small DropShips, then due to the hazards of air or surface ocean travel on this windy old planet, they try to get it onto the mainland by submarine, usually in small shoals of several subs ... the Gin-Gangs, as they call themselves, usually arm their boats as heavily as they can, typically with weaponry bought from Combine gunrunners. We've sunk four of 'em." I gaped at this happy madman and thought it wouldn't do any harm to remind him of his mission and that I was wanted urgently at Panopea, just in case any of these dangerous sounding smuggler fleets happened past.
     "So you're Planetary Guard you say." He nodded as he pulled himself into a command seat, under the periscope and overlooking two of his crewmen's stations. "So tell me, is Leftenant General Stuart PeeGee too?" He chortled at that.
     "What Darlin' Arlin? Not a chance, he's straight in from PeeDeeZed Command. What, you ain't heard of him?" I confessed though I was aware Stuart was a rising young star of the Draconis March AFFS, I was not particularly well informed about the man. Larson turned for a moment, as if debating whether to speak freely, then gave a short laugh and shook his head.
     "Well you'll get to meet him for yourself directly, grab a hold of something. Jobkins take us out, full ahead steady."           
     I wasn't then to know of course, as I stood there gripping the back of Larson's chair, with my stomach dissolving into a queasy churn, that when I reached Panopea I was going to meet two of the most singular AFFS officers I ever came across. The one a fearless, bloody-handed, battle scarred, maniac-zealot ... the other, in my opinion at least, a bigger liar, cheat, poltroon and coward then even myself. And I don't say that lightly.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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  • Posts: 312
Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #3 on: 14 February 2011, 18:18:49 »
3

     The Bowfin chugged down river on the surface for the sixty odd miles through the great winding waters of the Tarnby river delta at a steady thirty klicks per hour, I would have been happier up in the conning tower breathing fresh air for that part of the journey however Larson wouldn't have it and continued boring me with the minutiae of how his damn tub worked. Once we reached the ocean proper there was a momentary excitement as Larson ordered his scant crew to dive.
     It was an odd sensation, there were no portholes and peering over the consoles of the crewmen I could only see glowing computerized topographical maps of the seabed. However I swear I could feel the thousands of tons of sea water surrounding us, and was nearly overcome by a suffocating sense of being trapped. The echoing 'pings' of the boat's sonar started to wear on my nerves and I broke out in a sweat that soaked my uniform.
     Thankfully Panopea was only located some ninety meters below the surface, approximately five miles off the coast, so we probably weren't traveling underwater longer than a quarter hour or so, however I was a mess by the time Larson was on the comm asking for permission to dock.
     Panopea - New Ivaarsen C³ complex -, was located on a flat stretch of sediment covered rocky shelf, it was built around a central domed 'hub-habitat', with six 'spoke-habitats' radiating off. The hub was roughly thirty meters in diameter and bristled with comm antennae and sensor dishes, the smaller spoke habitats were used for docking of submarines, staff quarters and a few torpedo hardpoints. The entire complex housed perhaps forty personnel at any given time, but could accommodate possibly twice that number if necessary. As well as it's primary function as the local AFFS headquarters, Panopea also served as a submarine base, particularly during peacetime, and there were three other Neptune Class subs docked there when we arrived.
     I should stress at this point I couldn't actually see what the base looked like, I was just going by the glowing graphical representation that the Bowfin's pilot was using to maneuver the sub under a docking arm, that projected up and out from one of the spoke-habitats.
     "Well we're here old chap, nice to meet you and all that. We'll refuel and wait for you, if you'll be needing a lift back to Bormen tonight." Larson happily babbled as we docked with a resounding 'kerr-clang', that reverberated along the length of the submarine. "We're locked and docked to Spoke-Three, now then let's get that tower hatch open for you."
     I followed Larson back along the narrow sub, up the conning tower ladder, then waited as he unscrewed the hatch and swung it up. Bright electric light flooded in and near dazzled me, making me realise just how gloomy the Bowfin was, I could hear loud klaxons sounding beyond and running booted feet. Larson pulled himself up onto the conning tower platform, then lent down and gave me a hand up.
     Looking around I found we were locked into a long chamber, only the conning tower of the submarine was visible, while along a gantry two green uniformed Planetary Guard infantrymen jogged, Sonic Stunners held across their breasts. They stopped in front of a Federated Sunburst emblem painted upon the grey habitat hull, then snapped to attention as smartly as any AFFS regulars. I saluted and after quickly nodding thanks to Larson I clambered down the other side of the tower and onto the gantry.
     "Good morning Sir, if you'll follow us please." One of the muscular Ugly-PUGs grunted at me and I fell in behind them as they double timed down the gantry, then down a flight of metal steps, the corridor we descended down was starkly lit battleship-grey durasteel, with long armourglass portholes running along it's length on either side, affording a view out into the misty blue-gray waters. I could just make out the lights of perhaps another spoke-habitat, or maybe one of the submarines, but the water was simply too cloudy for one to see much of anything.
     "'S not exactly an aquarium is it Sir?" One of my escorts called back over his shoulder and I had to agree with him. "Local submariners call this region of the seabed the Sludge Shelves. They built Panopea here in the hope enemy 'Mechs would get lost if they ever tried to wade along the bottom to get at us."           
     After perhaps a few minutes progress along the wide tunnel connecting the spoke-habitat to the hub, I marched behind the two PUG infantrymen through several open connecting hatches into a large circular chamber, with an domed ceiling made apparently of armourglass and thus affording a good view of the grey-blue cloudy undersea waters above and around Panopea. This was clearly the command chamber and was ringed with vid-screens depicting the layout of the local star system, topographical maps of New Ivaarsen itself and several specific mainland regions which flashed with amber emblems, presumably military units deployed across the planet, there were also several banks of what appeared to be ELF-comm centres, each manned by red fatigue clad comm-techs, all of whom were apparently doing their best to ignore the raised voices of the two officers on the central command dais, who were clearly engaged in one hell of a heated discussion.

* * *

     One of the officers was a short, stocky, middle aged man dressed in pretty shabby green and brown battledress, with the epaulettes of a BattleMech Regimental Colonel and a sleeve patch depicting a downward pointing golden winged sword against a blue triangle above the number '2'; which I recognized as the badge of the Second New Ivaarsen Chasseurs. He was fierce looking to say the least, with an untidy bristling black goatee beard, a black silk patch covering his right eye, and long raven hair tied back into a ponytail that hung down between his broad shoulders. His remaining eye was flashing hatred at his opponent and he was bellowing indignantly like a wild boar with a hangover. I dredged my memory and realized this must then be the Commanding Officer of the Second NI Chasseurs; His Grace, Colonel Stephen Davion, the Duke of Bristol.
     His opponent I reasoned had then to be the Planetary Commander in Chief, Leftenant General Arlin Stuart. He was as distinctive in appearance as Duke Stephen, though in entirely different ways. For a start where Duke Stephen was short, heavily muscled and dark avisaged, Stuart was tall, slim and fair. He was strikingly young looking for his rank, perhaps still in his late twenties, and was certainly a handsome man, with slightly curly golden blonde hair, bronze tanned skin, light blue eyes, an aquiline nose and a dimpled chin. But what really struck me about him, as I stood there trying not to stare at this prize pair, was what he was wearing; I suppose it might once have been a standard green and gold half-breastplate AFFS officers dress uniform ... however it now looked like a flamboyant Orienteen couturier had been first made drunk, then let loose on it with orders to do his worst.
     He wore a green and black jacket laden with gold braid, massive golden epaulettes and heavy roped aiguilettes at each side of his breast, made of bundles of white silk and silver wire, his burnished golden half-breastplate was studded with a shimmering mass of rubies, diamonds and dragonblood stones, at his waist hung a pair of pearl handled, nickel plated autopistols. Covering his long legs he wore skin tight dark green pants with a red stripe running down the outer hems, and upon his feet were lustrous red leather jackboots complete with gold plated and diamond studded MechWarrior spurs. Frankly I've known notoriously foppish Lyran Social Generals who would have quietly taken the man to one side and advised him to shoot his tailor.
     As to their argument I shall lay down here only what I heard, whilst I was stood there under their noses waiting for them to deign to notice me. If it seems hard to believe that a Colonel would speak with a superior officer in the manner Duke Stephen was to Arlin Stuart that day, then I'd agree with you, but I would also point out you probably never met Stephen Davion ... the man in later years I was to hear call Ran Felsner a 'stuck up, supercilious prick' to the Lexington Lumberjack's very face, and who was probably the roughest, toughest, most miserable and sour tempered of all my many far flung relatives I ever had the misfortune to serve alongside.
     Well here it is then, take it as you will;

S.D. - "For the last time, Sir, I didn't spend the best part of three T-days running across the Flats to get here, just to sit and switch off my brain while you tell me these motherless Snake fracks are suicide raiders! That's the biggest pile of raxx crap I ever had to smell, if they're suicide raiders how is they aren't actually raiding any damn thing? They're mapping potential DropZones I tell you!"
A.S. - "Colonel please ... I will not tolerate this insubordination and tone, please be so good as to moderate-"
S.D. - "TONE? You won't tolerate my tone. Well I do beg your sodding pardon, your majesty Sir." Dropping his voice to a whining and intensely mocking falsetto. "But General Sir, please forgive me for saying so, but a horse's rear end could tell you these must be Snake scouts for what might well be an imminent fracking invasion."
A.S. - "Colonel! There's absolutely no evidence for that assertion. Please remember I am in command here, and I say there will be no invasion this season. All good military sense-"
S.D. - "Are you trying to teach me good military sense? You cheeky young ... I was killing Kuritans with these bare hands when you were still plucking up the courage to ask pretty little Rosey Rottencrotch to dance at your primary school prom, you posturing-!"
A.S. - "Colonel for the last time-"
S.D. - "Call back the Seventh Crucis General. Call 'em back right now and we might just be in time."
A.S. - "I can see no cause to call Marshal Steadman and his RCT back from their projected-"
S.D. - "Oh so that's it isn't it?"
A.S. - "I beg your pardon Colonel?"
S.D. - "Marshal Steadman ... you'd be outranked again if the Seventh come back, you just don't want to lose your command here."
A.S. - "That's a serious and completely baseless accusation to throw at your commanding officer Colonel, I won't stand for-"
S.D. - "Listen you young idiot. If you don't call the Seventh Crucis back and the Dragon arrives in the kind of strength he hit Harrow's Sun with last year then your first planetary command will very likely be your last. How will that look on your damned precious service record, or in your beloved news-rags come to that?"

     It was at that moment, with Arlin Stuart stood there sputteringly red faced and Duke Stephen breathing angrily through his nose like a bull about to charge, that seemingly as one they both turned and looked at me. There was a long pause, perhaps as they both realized just what a hideous scene I'd marched into. I gulped, jumped to attention, snapped off a parade ground salute and called out Old Sak fashion.
     "Leftenant Darius Davion reporting for duty Sah!"
     "Oh just what we need." I heard that sour bastard Stephen grunt under his breath. "Another hero." Shooting Stephen a sharp look Stuart however seemed over a moon to see me, and not just as a handy excuse to get out of the dreadful row he'd been embroiled in. Brushing past the sturdy Colonel, he hurried over to me, his vid-star handsome features beaming.
     "Welcome Leftenant, welcome." He said and returned my salute smartly, then held out his hand. I accepted it and knowing I was going to be serving on this over dressed fellow's staff gave my best honest-Darius grin back, as he burbled on at me.
     "It's an absolute pleasure to meet you, why I've been wanting to make your acquaintance for years. Since first hearing about Mallory's World I suppose. Damn but you had good press on that one. I must say you've been something of an inspiration to me, oh I always knew I would excel in the army don't get me wrong, but the way you realised that winning the press over is half a soldier's battle ... well that was a revelation, it really was." He rattled on in a similar vein, while Duke Stephen behind him was tutting and fuming, and I was unsure whether to be flattered, or massively offended. So, eventually I managed to just interject.
     "Well I wouldn't say I won the press exactly Sir, I tend to just let them do their job, while I get on with mine." I pitched it for both of them y'see, hoping to come across as a blunt, honest Tom soldier to Stephen, whilst convincing Stuart, who was clearly the biggest glory hound in the entire Draconis March, that I was one of his type. It worked a treat too.
     "Well of course," Stuart gushed, "Of course, you let them do their job ... you'd be surprised how many AFFS commanders absolutely resent having the press imbedded into their units, or anywhere near the action come to that. They positively stop the press carrying out their vital role." I'm sure he was taking a swipe at Stephen there, as the one-eyed fanatic looked like he was about to explode all the more.
      "So Leftenant, I look forward to you serving on my staff. You shall be my aide-de-camp, can you imagine what we will achieve together you and I ... the Hero of Mallory's World and the Saint of St. Ives?" I looked him in the eye and I swear I knew there and then that Arlin Stuart, Darlin' Arlin as the yellow press called him adoringly, the youngest Leftenant General then serving in the AFFS and holder of the Syrtis Medal of Honour, awarded for his valour during the St.Ives campaign of 3014, was every bit as big a fraud as I was.
      Don't ask me how I knew, perhaps it really does take one to know one. But I just knew this chap was no hero, he cared way too much about his own skin to enjoy battle. He was I decided, like me, basically a coward. Not details you understand, only that at bottom he absolutely did not deserve his public acclaim, his medal, his rank and almost certainly not his command. I suppose, thinking about it, that it's a fact that by then I'd met plenty of true blue hero types, men who really earned their fame, men who'd charge a 'Mech straight at anything laughing and shouting a brave cry all the while; men like Ross and Ian McKinnon, Justin Allard, Ardan Sortek, rot him, and not forgetting the Hound. I knew how they acted those Fed Suns schoolboy madmen and I instantly realised Stuart wasn't of their metal, not by a Robinsonian mile.
     Oh I'm not saying I thought Arlin Stuart was much like me in manner above half, mind you. Well, as you know I'm a dashed modest fella whereas Stuart clearly had an ego that could span the Galaxy and didn't bother to hide it, also I certainly make sure to be well liked by my comrades, usually by affecting a self-deprecatingly bluff manner that people mistakenly take as the mark of a true paladin, but Darlin' Arlin was clearly disliked not just by his underlings, but by his peers and probably most of his superiors too. Then there was the fact Stuart simply panted for military rank and honours. I on the other hand take 'em when they're offered to me, but I certainly don't chase around after 'em much and could live without ever receiving another promotion if it means I never have to see action again.
     But most of all he had a crass, self-interested, pomposity that was truly staggering. Indeed the only people who really liked him, I soon came to realise, were our nation's gutter end press organs and the unwashed masses whose ignorant needs they fed, which is to say people who never really met or knew him.   
     Well though this was something of a pleasant new experience for me, I was used to serving under men who'd be charging off into action at the drop of a hat after all, and it occurred to me that having a C.O. who was possibly as eager as myself to stay out of the line of fire would be no bad thing. Especially when we had a nice safe underwater C³ complex to hole up in, in the probable event that the Dragon paid us a visit soon. Oh the vain hopes of youth.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #4 on: 14 February 2011, 18:20:01 »
New Ivaarsen Map
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #5 on: 14 February 2011, 18:43:36 »
4

     "Now then Leftenant, bearing in mind your unique experience in dealing with Johnny the Snake, I'd be most interested in your opinion of how we should handle the matter of these damned suicide raiders?" Stuart asked me, leading me over to the holomap table depicting the Lowland Flats. I was somewhat taken aback to put it mildly, well as any of you chaps who've spent any time at all loafing about on the staff of an AFFS senior officer can confirm, it ain't the done thing for a planetary commander to be seeking strategic advice from his aide-de-camp.
     "Ahh, I really don't feel qualified to offer an opinion Sir, I've only just arrived in world, and ... well, I am just a lowly Leftenant after all." I blurted out in my surprise. I noticed Duke Stephen nodded firmly in approval at that, but Stuart simply scoffed and clapped a hand on my shoulder.
     "Nonsense. You've survived as a prisoner of the Snakes, what? Twice? You were with the Hound on Mallory's World, and the McKinnons on Harrow's Sun last year. Why, I understand you've even met and talked with that ogre Yorinaga. Who here can claim to have such intimate knowledge of the wiles of the Dragon?" I felt Stephen, who had clearly been killing Kuritans since Stuart and I had been in diapers, stiffen in rage at that, so I jumped in quickly trying to smooth Darlin' Arlin's crass comments over;
     "Oh I'd hardly say having crossed swords with the Snakes a few times makes me an expert on their tactics Sir, and my acquaintance with Yorinaga is pretty much limited to him having threatened to test his pig-sticker sword on my neck." I grinned with deliberately rueful, self-deprecating modesty and Duke Stephen grunted agreement, but Stuart again waved my comments aside airily.
     "Now, now, Darius. I know convention demands that you play down your achievements, but you don't fool me. I've seen the news reports about Colterville, Sandsedge, the Bone Desert, Desolate Pass, Kent's Hill, the Fox's Teeth reprisals ... I think I'm a downy enough bird that I can read between the lines there old chap." He grinned at me with an arched eyebrow and a half squint that he probably meant to be a shrewdly knowing look, but which actually just made him appear a complete buffoon.
     "Though only of low rank, it was clearly no coincidence you were at the heart of each of those famous actions, and I think it's more than safe to say there was a very good reason the Hound, and the McKinnons, kept you so close to them ... eh old chap?" He positively winked at me, while I stood there gaping in the purest surprise. Blake's Balls! I'd known my unsought and utterly undeserved heroic reputation to be exaggerated and inflated before then, but this prize pilchard took the biscuit. He clearly seemed to believe Prince Ian and the McKinnons had dragged me about on their dreadful battles because I'd somehow been the brains behind them! I could only suppose Stuart actually believed his own press so much, he held my fame in similar absurdly high regard.       
     Anyway, still not quite sure how to play this unusual situation, I looked down at the holomap, with it's green-lit plain, flashing red lights, amber town markers, and blue friendly unit icons, and chewed my lip thoughtfully. I made great show of interrogating Stuart about the movements of the four Kuritan 'Mechs, their actions, and the disposition and movements of our own forces. Throughout Duke Stephen paced behind us, balefully scowling, but making no move to interrupt.
     "So you say these Snakes run at the first sign of our chaps Sir?" I asked Stuart again and he nodded, while watching me eagerly as if I was about to suggest a battle plan that would have had the ghosts of General Kerensky and Bonaparte themselves throwing up their hands and slapping their foreheads in admiration.
     "Indeed yes." The idiot answered. "Why, d'you know when I was serving on the Capellan Front we kept hearing how we had it easy there, and that you chaps over in the Drac March were fighting the real war. Well I must say I'm starting to doubt that, why these soppy Samurai don't seem to have much stomach for the fight if you ask me." Duke Stephen looked to be on the brink of either punching Stuart by this point, or having a heart attack, so I shook my head seriously, trying my damnedest to keep them both on my side.
     "Now Sir, I can't agree with you there. If my limited experience is any yard stick, I can assure you it ain't standard operating practise for your Snake MechWarrior to slither away at the first sign of the good old Sword and Sun. If they're avoiding combat, then I'd guess the Duke here is on the money and they're scouts, mapping out potential DropZones in the Flatlands, possibly for a full scale invasion." I paused, aware of a change in Stuart's demeanour, and Duke Stephen clapping behind me slowly while muttering exasperated agreement. Stuart tutted, stared hard down at the holomap, it's lights reflecting across his vid-star handsome face, then he shook his head firmly.
     "I respect your opinion of course Leftenant." Which was another blatant slap across Stephen's cheeks of course. "But ... I have to disagree with you on this one. The Dragon would never hit this planet after the safe departure of the Grain Fleet, and certainly not while he's still stinging from the drubbing you chaps gave him on Harrow's Sun, and while he has his claws full with Wolf's Dragoons on the Steiner Front. Also remember Leftenant, that even with the transfer off world of most of the Seventh Crucis RCT, we still have a strong enough garrison here to easily resist anything the Dragon could possibly muster to throw against us at this time, and don't doubt for a second Takashi knows it.
     No ... I am convinced that these four 'Mechs are suicide raiders, perhaps forcibly drafted from one of the Vegan penal legions, and most likely sent here to try to panic us into drawing the Seventh Crucis back, where they'd then sit idle awaiting an invasion that never comes, thereby weakening our defences elsewhere in the March.
     So then, now that's agreed." At that of course, Duke Stephen shouted nothing was agreed, but Stuart merely made a chopping gesture with his manicured hand and spoke over him. "Now that's agreed, let's hear no more about invasions and stick to the task actually at hand; that is, how do we run to ground these slippery serpents?"
     Which threw the hot potato back into my hands of course. Well, I hummed and hawed for a long moment, feeling every inch like I was back in Games and Theory at the Sak again, with that merciless old bully Bentine glowering down at me, that long bloody wooden ruler of his held in his hand menacingly, and his badgering voice grating through my imagination.
     "Come ON Davion you young wastrel, we don't have all day! This is an easy one. Do try to come up with an answer before one of us dies of old age! Use your own experience lad."
     It was then it came to me and I said aloud under my breath.
     "Walladogs!"
     Stuart leaned in closer, his eyebrows raised in question, and even Duke Stephen looked curious despite himself, I grinned and shrugged. "Walladogs Sir. They're a type of mammalian vermin back on my birthworld, Killarney, kind of like a Terran coyote, but with two powerful hind legs upon which it jumps along on at quite a lick, especially when they're scared."
     Stuart frowned and nodded. "Okay, so how does that relate to our situation here?"
     "Well they're vermin as I say, a nuisance, they jump into chicken coops and the like, savage small farm animals and so on. So we hunt them you see, to keep their numbers down, pretty much in the fashion I'm told the British used to hunt foxes back on the old planet. Riding out on horseback, red coats, black riding hats, the blare of the horns and all that." I caught Stephen eyeing me with what looked like cool disdain, but Stuart was all ears, so I carried on hurriedly.
     "Anyway, the thing is these scouts ... ah raiders that is, they're acting just like walladogs. They're running off at the first sign of trouble, they're fast and they're absolutely not going to stand still for you to walk up to 'em and wallop 'em over the head.
     So then I say we hunt them down like we would walladogs back home." Warming to my theme, which was a deuced good idea if you ask me, I began sketching out the movements on the holomap table. "So you need to sweep two companies of these ... err ... Narhal's Raiders in an north-westerly arc, while the third company acts as the beaters and moves in wide order due west, all the while making a lot of comm traffic in order to alert the two enemy 'Mechs you have tagged as being in the Flats west of the Tarnby River, and thereby driving those Snakes towards the sweeping units, the Hunt itself. Meanwhile you do the same thing east of the Opal River with the Second NI."
     Stuart clapped his hands happily and slapped me on my shoulder. "Good show Darius, good show! Riding out to hunt eh? I like it, I like it a lot! So which unit will you be part of?" My heart gave a little habitual start, but I remained pretty calm despite the fact this fool was expecting me to go chasing after these Kuritan BattleMechs, reminding myself that even were my pretty basic little plan to bear fruit and we caught up to the Snake 'Mechs, then there would be at best two Kuritan BattleMechs against at worst an entire company of ours. Also these enemy 'Mechs had shown every sign of not actually wanting to do battle with us, so there was at least the possibility that they would continue to dodge our 'hunt'.
     "Hmm, you want me out there Sir? Wouldn't it be more normal for your aide to remain by your side ... in case of danger to yourself?" I ventured, just on the off chance I could get out of this fairly riskless sounding little jaunt. Stuart grinned and winked at me once again.
     "Oh ho! None of that Darius old son, I can tell you'd hate me for keeping you away from 'riding out' as you put it. Why I can see the very gleam in your eyes, you've got the scent of these walladogs already I'll wager." It was at that point the popinjay said something that did give me pause though and which was to haunt me for days and nights to come. "And after all old chap I didn't request your transfer here to serve as my aide, just to waste the bravest man in the army on fetching me cups of recaff and running errands."
     It was at that moment it occurred to me that this windy sod had probably brought me here precisely because he thought me the brave hellbrand my reputation suggested. He didn't want to risk his own precious hide in the fires of battle, so he'd requested my presence in order that I'd be at hand, if the worst happened, to not only act as his tactical advisor, but to actually get stuck into any fighting itself. My dreams of an easy posting began to shrivel up inside me, but I reminded myself that this hunt at least should simply be a safe little run across the lowlands.
     "Very well Sir ... if you're sure you can do without me for a few days." I said, being sure to sound all eager and keen. "Actually I'd like to lead in the beaters, and now I think about it, I'm billeted in town with a Lance from my old buddies the Seventh Crucis, who I'm sure would take to this kind of work like Canopians to a knocking shop. They'd jump at the chance of a spot of action too ... if you're happy for me to borrow 'em?" Stuart initially frowned a little, probably wary of reducing the garrison of his nearest fortress, but he eventually shrugged, then promptly agreed to my request and drafted me orders on a p-comp putting me in command of the Recon Lance, Christoph's Company, Clifton's Battalion, Seventh Crucis Lancers, for the duration of the hunt for the Kuritan insurgent 'Mechs. Well, if I was going to be traipsing about New Ivaarsen's agricultural flatlands I might as well be sure to take along the tastiest bit of crumpet I'd seen in months.
      After saluting me and handing me my very formally worded orders, Stuart sent me on my way with a firm handshake, wishing me the best of luck. With that he probably went back to writing up his next press release, or reading porn, or whatever else planetary commanders do when their subordinates aren't around. He dismissed Duke Stephen at the same time, with instructions to return to his regimental HQ at Twin Peaks in the north country, where Stephen was to organise the eastern half of our hunt. Stephen would accompany me back to Bormen in the Bowfin, so we walked together along that gloomy durasteel spoke corridor back towards the sub bay.

* * *

     Stephen Davion stomped along beside me, practically grinding his teeth in fury and ignoring me it seemed, so being a friendly soul and always preferring to keep on the good side of potentially important officers, I made the mistake of trying to draw the moody bastard into conversation.
     "So Your Grace, I don't think I'm familiar with your branch of the family ... are you closely related to the royal line?" I instantly realised I'd made some kind of awful faux pas, for Stephen immediately stopped in his tracks, and swung on me, his fists balled as if ready to batter me into within an inch of my life, his one eye blazing blue murder.
     "Just what the frack's that's supposed to mean you young pup?" I quailed before his violent seeming anger, babbling a confused string of apologies and assurances I'd meant nothing by it and had only been curious about any relation there might be between us. He scowled at me some more before, perhaps being content to have nearly made me soil my pants in fear, he turned and stamped onwards.
     "Call me Sir! I ain't no fracking courtier that you need to bow and scrape to. A salute and proper military courtesy is all I ever asked of any junior officer ... no matter what their second name was!" He growled at me out of the side of his mouth.
     "Yes Sir. I see Sir. I meant no offence Sir." I babbled and he sneered at me before continuing on with his ranting.
     "In answer to your damned impudent question Leftenant, I'm the last of the Ducrimmon-Davions, we split from the royal family back in the Second Succession War, but by the time of my birth our branch had fallen upon hard times, and those snooty sods on New Avalon didn't even send us a Christmas Card, let alone help us at all. They left me and my parents to starve in the rookeries of Donner, on Benet III. Have you ever had to steal food just to survive?" He snapped, glaring at me, and though it seemed to be a rhetorical question I shook my head rapidly.
     "Hah, thought not!" He continued. "Well anyway ... no ... I ain't closely related to the royal line and I count that a blessing, as I never met one of those soft New Avalon dandies who I either liked or respected." Seeing my shock at his practically treasonous comments, he softened his expression a little and muttered. "Well, that's excepting the First Prince of course ... and his noble sister, Duchess Marie."
     His mention of my old enemy Hasek-Davion's wife, and Hanse's half sister, Marie Davion seemed to cause a change in him; his face lightened perceptibly, his scowl easing for a brief moment and his pugnacious mood seeming to dissipate considerably. I realised this startling bruiser, this Duke who talked like a common gutter thug, was clearly carrying a hefty torch for Marie. Well, you know me, I rarely miss a chance to toady to a senior officer if I think it'll do me any good, and realising Stephen certainly wasn't the type who'd appreciate me clapping him about the shoulder and comparing notes about the merits of Aunty Marie's poonts, I cautiously ventured a polite observation.
     "Yes Aunt Marie is indeed a true noblewoman and a Davion lady of the old school." To which he nodded in agreement, after first shooting a suspicious glance at me.
     I only learned later that Stephen had actually been saved from his squalid childhood by Marie when she had come across him during a charity visit to a detention centre on Benet III, where the young Stephen had been locked up for petty thievery. Despite Stephen's vocal disdain for the royal line, I'm told the New Avalon Davions and the other branches of the family had completely no idea any of the Ducrimmon Davions still lived, and Marie had been so shocked to find a Davion family member in such dire straits she had made it a personal mission to rescue not just Stephen, but the few other surviving members of his family as well. Marie later arranged for Stephen to attend Albion, where he spent three years warring with his instructors and fellow cadets, before just barely graduating and finding a place as a MechWarrior in the New Ivaarsen Chasseurs. By the time I'm describing here he'd risen to command the Second NI and had been awarded his Dukedom, but he'd certainly not lost any of his chippy street tough manner or attitude and seemed a man at war with everyone and everything.
     Wanting to change the subject to safer matters, now he seemed in a less dangerous frame of mind, I picked a topic of conversation that I was sure he would appreciate.
     "So ... the Leftenant General seems a little ... young?" I said easily and with a grunt Stephen took the bait with a gusto.
     "Young I can deal with. Stupid, I can't. Dangerously inept, I can't. Insufferably up his own arse, I can't!" He ranted away in a similar vein for a minute or two as we walked, then when I mentioned I didn't know much about Stuart's record he replied in a similarly caustic tone of voice.
     "He graduated from Goshen in 3012 apparently, scoring pretty low so I hear, and was posted to the Department of Mercenary Relations. Despite what his official biography claims, I've been told there were rumours at the time that he'd been trying to wrangle a cushy rear lines kind of position, but for whatever reason he was actually attached as a front line Liason Officer to a now defunct unit called Morcock's Crushers.
     The Crushers were part of the invasion army we sent against St. Ives in 3014 and were in the thick of the fighting throughout that campaign. Well, as you probably know the invasion was a disaster; the Crappies had numerous line CCAF and attendant merc units waiting for our boys, not the least of which were elements of the Big Mac itself, and despite the Avalon Hussars destroying about half of the fighting strength of the First St. Ives Lancers upon landing, the sheer numbers of enemy mercs soon began to wear down our forces.
     At the height of the campaign the Crushers were drawn into battle against two Crappoe merc units; Devon's Armoured Infantry and Wilson's Hussars. Outnumbered about two to one, the Crushers were soon beaten and sent into chaotic retreat, however a full company of the unit were cut off by the enemy, surrounded, captured and then murdered. Their heads hacked off by that ex-AFFS traitor Colonel Devon and sent back to our lines pickled in vinegar.
     Stuart is credited as being the only reason any of Morcock's Crushers made it to safety. The survivors of the unit attested that Stuart had assumed command when the Crushers' own officers either fell in the battle, or were cut off by the Crappoes, and that he led them through the enemy lines to safety. The press, needing any good news about St. Ives at that point, grabbed the story and ran with it, dubbing Stuart 'the Saint of St. Ives' and now we're lumbered with a commanding officer of dubious merit ... to put it mildly."
     "So you doubt the truth of Stuart's story then Sir?" I asked frowning, while thanking my lucky stars that at least I'd missed out of being part of the St. Ives campaign Stephen had been referring to.
     "Hmph ... well if I'm honest I do yes. I just can't reconcile that prettyboy fop back there with the press's depiction of a fighting officer tough enough to win over grizzled mercs and smart enough to get them back to our lines through a bloody horde of Capellans.
     Y'know, I hope you ain't another of his type ... a glory hound I mean ... I heard you ain't from Gene Drivers and Ian McKinnon, and those are good names to have on your side to be sure, but know this youngster ... I make me own mind up about people and if I think for a second you're shirking, or hot-dogging for medals, then I'll knock your teeth so far down your throat you'll be able to chew your crap out, understand?" I gulped and nodded, just as we reached the sub bay and began to board the Bowfin for our journey back to the mainland.
     Sat there sweating again in that cramped tin-tub, as we chugged along under the surface of the ocean, it struck me that if the Kuritans did choose to invade New Ivaarsen while Arlin Stuart and Duke Stephen were locked at each other's throats, then I wouldn't give two pennies for our chances.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #6 on: 15 February 2011, 13:40:17 »
5
         
     Unfortunately I didn't get a chance that night to continue my planned operations against the delectable MechWarrior Stilson, as I was holed up with Leftenant Loren Green until late, going over our orders and the plan to run to ground the two Kuritan BattleMechs known to be active west of the Tarnby. Green, the commander of the Recon Lance which included John John and Stilson in it's numbers, was a canny looking young officer. One of those hard nosed, all business type of chap, with tanned skin, cool grey eyes, thin lips, buzz cut black hair and a cleft chin. I recall he seemed happy enough to defer command of his Lance to me though, or at least he said he was, mentioning in a flat voice his admiration for my exploits on Harrow's Sun with 'the regiment' the previous year.
     So it was, after a brief nights sleep, the next morning saw myself once more seated inside the oven-hot cockpit of Falstaff, my 9A Class Victor, leading the four 'Mechs of the Recon Lance out of the north gates of Fort Bormen. Behind me thumped Green in a Firestarter, John John in his Cicada, Mark Paniopolo in a Wasp, and of course the lovely Paula Stilson in her Ostroc.             
     Gilbert's Battalion, of the First Narhal's Raiders, who we were to link up with, were based at the town of Three Fields, which was about six hundred klicks north of Bormen. As standard cruising speed for my heavy machine was a mere forty klicks per hour, I'd decided we'd stop for the night at the town of Greenhofn halfway between Bormen and Three Fields.
     It was a typically bleak and windy New Ivaarsen morning, I recall, with an easterly blow whipping across the wide waters of the Tarnby River, which rocked and buffetted even Falstaff a little as we jogged along beside the main road. As I have mentioned New Ivaarsen had last been invaded by the Snakes way back in the First Succession War, however it was still a border world and it had been hit in raids countless times over the decades since the Kuritans had been booted off, and the scars certainly showed.
     Not wishing to damage the ferrocrete of the main road, or to have to deal with the busy flow of local traffic using it, we ran our 'Mechs off road between the river on our right and the rusting ruins of a maglev line to our left. The maglev had clearly been wrecked beyond repair some time earlier in the wars and stood crooked and bent, like the wind scoured exposed spine of some great lost prehistoric beast. In places all that remained were the regularly spaced struts that had once held the raised line itself, red-brown and blistered seeming, jutting up out of stands of grey-green grass. Elsewhere the line remained, home now to flocks of little black winged glider-gulls that swooped and dived in fast moving clouds on the fierce eddies of the Flatland winds, the buckled metal holding their nest cities caked with great tumourous clumps of puss-white guano. The wind howled through that old skeletal relic of better times I remember, making one's skin crawl with it's unpleasant eerie screeching.
     The river bank to our left wasn't a much better view, clumped as it was with two meter tall beds of 'stink rushes', swampy grass heavy with apple sized pods that burst just from the vibration of our passing 'Mechs, releasing clouds of repulsive smelling spores that clung to our machines with such tenacity they still reeked days later. The rush beds were also home to great eagle sized river geese, filthy grey winged brutes that took to the air in attack squadrons at our approach, sometimes even flying belligerently right at us, with some even clunking off our 'Mechs with heavy thuds and sticky puffs of feathers. Conrad alone knew how dangerous they'd have been to infantry or civilians.
     The river wasn't empty mind you, just the contrary in fact; it was chock full of shipping; old looking freighters wallowing with full holds, rusting steam ships puffing along, even sailing ships cutting elegantly past at quite a lick, oh and numerous very fast little fishing skiffs that zipped about like water bugs trawling the surface of the river for the rednose fish that apparently filled the Tarnby.
     What with the mournful wind, and the regular attacks of maddened geese, it wasn't a particularly enjoyable journey by any means. The traffic on the road beyond the maglev ruins were mainly caravans of heavy ox-drawn wagons, the occasional convoy of three or four heavy multi-wheeler troks laden with grain no doubt, and the even rarer military vehicles headed between the military base at Bormen and those further upriver. As the day passed we began to come across empty and clearly war damaged villages, towns, and farmsteads.
     We moved through those ghostly husks of townships and deserted farms quietly, almost as if we were scared to disturb the long silence that must have fallen upon them when the people had all been killed or driven away to shelter in the larger towns and cities. At one point, John John got so jumpy he actually opened up with one of his 'Mech's Magna Laser Cannons, when an old barn door crashed open suddenly to our rear with a grinding sound. We all span, watching the laser beam explosively ignite the barn wall, inside though we could see there were only the rusting hulks of farm equipment and what might once have been an agri-'Mech. John had been crushed with embarrassment of course, but none of us even thought of berating him about it, we were all nervy and on edge, and we all knew any one of us could have made a similar mistake at any time. It may sound like nonsense now to you rogues, safe in your armchairs sipping brandy and doubtless fondling a piece of hot crumpet, oh I can hear you thinking 'cowardly old Darius jumping at wind and shadows'. Well let me tell you there was something deeply unsettling about that windswept wasteland that made it every bit as unpleasant to move through as any hot warzone I ever saw, and I've seen plenty for my sins.
     We were all bone tired and heartily grateful when we finally struck upon Greenhofn in late afternoon. It was a fortified river port, surrounded by a sturdy ring of anti-'Mech glacis, 'Mech traps and gun emplacements. At it's north edge there was a NI-PG base, flying the Sword and Sun alongside New Ivaarsen's own planetary flag, so we trooped our 'Mechs around the edge of town and commed ahead warning the local Ugly-PUGs of our approach.
     We then spent a pleasant enough night as guests of a fat PG-Colonel whose name escapes me, all I can recall about him is his constant questioning about my campaigns, which quickly grew tiresome as I was itching for a chance to get to grips with La Stilson. Unfortunately we were all bunked in an annex of one of the PG barracks and there was simply no chance of privacy, besides the rotund base commander got me middling pissed on the local rotgut, so I was snoring seconds after collapsing onto my cot.
     We left early, keen to reach Three Fields and the Lyran mercs we were headed for. I recall that the traffic on the road thinned enough for us to run along it for long stretches that second day, though at one point mid morning we had to pause to allow some singular vehicles to pass; a column of land yachts! These unusual civie vehicles were like wheeled sailing ships, long, sleek and fast, their sails snapping and billowing in the strong winds as they streaked past us, their drivers waving to us as they went.
     Other than that I remember little more of that days journey, save the long boring jog through more barren ruins, oh and the occasional redundant wind farm. They were worse even than the empty towns they once powered; forests of great decaying turbine blades often still spinning, thereby causing a veritable devil's symphony of grinding, wheezing, and creaking.
     Anyway we reached Three Fields that afternoon, a town I'd been told was famous for it's harvest festival, when the usually abstemious New Ivie farmers came in from the scattered farmsteads of the Flatlands round about with their harvested crops and for once let their hair down. The prohibition laws were relaxed for a week or so and by all accounts the festival became the closest thing to a drunken orgy you were going to find on this grim little planet. Typically we arrived after the festival had ended and the town had an even more morose air about it than Bormen had, as it's populace presumably settled down for another year without alcohol or parties.
     The mercenary battalion we were headed for was based in a ruined monastery outside of town, so we headed for them post haste.   
     
* * *

     I should perhaps assume my history professor's trusty mortar board hat at this point and fill you in a little about these particular wild geese we were about to meet up with, as they were later to play an important part in the coming campaign and you should probably understand the nature of their presence on New Ivaarsen. So then if you're sitting quietly I shall begin;
     Narhal's Raiders were originally formed early in the First Succession War, when a Marik 'Mech regiment fled the fighting into the Periphery. These presumably battle shy Leaguers promptly threw their lot in with the remnants of a Rim Worlds Republic regiment, under the command of a 'General' Tyilik Narhal. Taking their name from their new commander, and their stylised skull badge from the Narhal Rover, a vicious, horned predator native to the General's Periphery homeworld, the new two regiment strong unit immediately went pirate.
     For ten years Narhal's Raiders pillaged, robbed, murdered and raped their way right down the Periphery frontiers of the Lyran Commonwealth, then the Free Worlds, and even finally the Capellan Confederation.
     However, despite many singular successes during their epic, blood stained, odyssey there arose in the ranks of the Raiders a clique of dissatisfied officers, mainly from the ex-Marik side of the unit, who were exhausted and deeply sick of both the pirate life generally and Narhal personally. This clique was led by one Ustinov Matthews, and in 2899 on some Periphery rock they seized control of the brigade, overthrowing and killing Narhal and his brutal sons in the process.
     Shortly thereafter General Matthews and his gang of one-time buccaneers sought out and won mercenary contracts with first the Crappies then later my homeland, the Fed Suns. They continued in the employ of our side until just before the start of the Second Succession War, when they were lured by the promise of higher pay into the service of House Steiner.
     With the exception of a disastrous second ten year stint with the Crappies in the mid twenty eight hundreds, the Raiders stayed with the Lyrans ever since. Not entirely through choice though, y'see it's all too easy for struggling merc units to accept loans of money, equipment, medical supplies, shipping costs, ammunition and a dozen other things ... and before they know it they're hopelessly in hoc to their previously oh so generous employer. By the Third Succession War the Raiders' debts were particularly bad by all accounts, the two regiments of the brigade were in a very sorry state and it looked likely at any moment they might be broken up and absorbed into the LCAF. However in a show of uncharacteristic generosity for the Steiner family, in 2866 the Archon of that time purposely renegotiated the unit's contract in their favour, upgraded the Raiders' equipment, and lifted the unit's morale immensely.
     Since then Narhal's Raiders had fought loyally for the Steiners, locked into a golden handcuff contract though they were. They'd gone a little native over the decades and centuries of course, adopting Lyran ranks, they used a lot of Lyran 'Mechs, vehicles and equipment, fought in that typically blunt 'vorwarts' Lyran manner, and many of them even spoke German as a first or second language. But there were still traces here and there of their distant dual origins, for example they saluted Free Worlds fashion, right hand across the breast with the palm downward, their dress uniforms were Lyran pattern but with Rim Worlds grey and dark green jackets and Marik purple pants, and during drinking sessions they'd sink toast after toast to; 'Our Lost Homes' ... despite the fact the only homes any of them had ever known going back generations were of course the Lyran Commonwealth worlds they garrisoned.
     Bearing all this in mind you might be forgiven for being confused as to why a battalion of this Lyran merc brigade, that had served no one save House Steiner in getting on for two hundred years, was in our pay on New Ivaarsen back then in '21. Well, though we on the ground didn't actually know it at the time, it was all to do with Archon Katrina's Peace Proposal of the previous year. Y'see although our politicos were still locked in deep and murky secret negotiations with their Ellsie opposite numbers throughout 3021, unknown even to most of us things were speeding along apace and my dear cousin Hanse was so confident the talks would ultimately reach a successful conclusion, he became most eager to see how the Lyran military might interact with our own beloved AFFS, and vice verca.
     Now, naturally if the Snakes and the Crappies were to suddenly find themselves facing Ellsie regular units along their borders with us, even in small numbers, the game would be blown and the negotiations compromised. So it was that a few merc units, all either traditionally Lyran or Davion in tactics, equipment and culture, were exchanged discreetly between ourselves and the Steiners. As far as anyone was to know these were simply routine changes in contract for each unit in question, but in truth it was the first quiet military exchange of what would much later become the Federated Commonwealth.
     So it was Gilbert's Battalion of the First Narhal's Raiders were under contract to the House of Davion on New Ivaarsen, ostensibly simply as a newly recruited mercenary garrison unit, but covertly as part of an experiment aimed at learning how well 'Lyran' troops could co-ordinate with our own military, as an early stage of the possible alliance between the Fed Suns and the Lyran Commonwealth ... and considering what was to happen in the coming weeks between the Narhal's Raiders' battalion and AFFS planetary command on New Ivaarsen, if you ask me it's a bloody miracle that Katrina didn't change her mind about the deal with Hanse and offer her daughter Melissa to Takashi Kurita, as a potential wife for Teddy K, instead!   
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Dave Talley

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #7 on: 15 February 2011, 13:59:55 »
oooohh more!
Resident Smartass since 1998
“Toe jam in training”.
I agree. Conditionally. I have no qualms kicking the favorite faction in the crotch--repeatedly. But the fact of the matter is, I prefer to kick EVERYBODY in the crotch as often as possible, like a game of whack a mole, only here's it's whack a crotch. Because we're playing in a wargame universe, and if you're NOT getting kicked in the crotch (repeatedly), then you're not in the ****** game.
- Herb

clansittingducks: is it wrong to want to take a baseball bat to their groin so hard their testicles fly out of their eyes upon impact?

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #8 on: 15 February 2011, 14:01:32 »
6

     It's a fact that I've known plenty of the Inner Sphere's mercenary commanders in my time, they are a dangerous and chancy lot by and large, but I flatter myself that I can usually tell the good ones from the bad.
     Well, for starters let's remember I'm on first name terms with the king of 'em all of course; old Blackbeard himself, Jaime Wolf, who I must admit thoroughly deserves his fearsome reputation as both an inspired leader of men and a brilliant battlefield tactician. Though I have to say he's far from the pure hearted saint some of our yellower press organs have liked to make out, ever since Wolf and his surviving Dragoons practically became one of our regular army units after Misery. Think I'm being unfair? Well check your history books and you'll see that this 'principled moral soldier', as Hanse once called him, aside from his many successful years fighting for tyrants such as Max Liao and Takashi Kurita, was the man who ordered what by any standards was far and away the worst atrocity of the Marik Civil War ... that is the planet wide reprisal against New Delos in response to the murder of twenty eight Dragoon dependants by Anton Marik and, more secretly of course, yours truly.
     Oh these days our propaganda boys will tell you that the Dragoons 'carefully demolished' only all the military and governmental buildings on Anton's headquarters world, and like to imply that only Anton's soldiers lost their lives during those terrible three days and nights when the Dragoons showed their Periphery heritage in the worst way. Well I was there and let me tell you that, on good ol' Jaime's orders, the Dragoons went bloody berserk. Their 'Mechs, tanks, infantry and airforce levelled every large building they could find, and they certainly didn't check to see who was inside! Christ and Conrad alone know how many ordinary Delosians died in the savagery of the reprisal itself, thousands certainly, why Cienfuegos City alone was practically levelled entire ... and that's not including the fact the Dragoons left behind a planet so shattered that even today it remains a world of wreckage and ruins, where wild dogs run now through the deserted shells of the once bustling cities where I partied during my time in Anton's service. After the Dragoons took the place to pieces, the lucky Delosians were the ones who managed to emigrate offworld, the others faced long years of hardship, starvation and often homelessness. Oh yeah, Jaime Wolf's a real hero!
     Still I'm being a little hard of the short-arsed git to be fair, he's usually a good deal better than many others I've known; such as the chief of the Primus's beer-barrels, that belligerent nasty drunk Octavius Brion for example, the only man I ever saw get into his 'Mech more pissed than Redjack Ryan, who was also a mercenary when I met him let's remember. Or there's that treacherous bastard Scavenger Snord, whose greed and duplicitousness landed me in a Combine political prison in '22. Oh yes I know them for what they typically are the bulk of 'em, I've even personally been on the receiving end of beatings from the likes of Mad Mac Iverson, who'd been togged out in his Rim Worlds tartan at the time, and that notorious traitor Trent.
     Then again, I've seen the good too though I suppose; for example I walked alongside General Armstrong of the ELH that first night of the Battle of Brand Valley on Hoff, when he'd seemed like something out of a holo about Kerensky, solemn in his blood stained and tattered Star League pattern Light Horse uniform, stepping carefully through the lines of wounded while the thunder of the still raging 'Mech battle came from a scant few miles down that cursed valley, stopping beside every conscious man or woman and talking to each of them. He knew them all by name. The Light Horse would never have done what the Dragoons did to New Delos, and thinking about it now I suppose that's the essential difference between them; the ELH are still fighting for their rose tinted view of the values and heritage of the Star League, whereas Wolf's lot just seem to be fighting for fighting's sake.
     Oh and I've particularly suffered the company of that most peculiar brand of modern merc, who I've heard described as 'the libertarian idealists'; men and women who fight usually in foreign lands for pay let's remember, yet act like they're some kind of cross between Robin Hood and Sir Galahad; none of whom are worse in my opinion than that insufferable prig Grayson Carlyle, with his dreadful maudlin scribblings of cod philosophy and that ridiculous feathered blond pop-star mop of his, a man who I assure you makes even Sortek look interesting and who actually knows less about real soldiering than even I do!
     Hey ho, I digress, the point I was trying to make in my roundabout sort of way was that I'm a pretty shrewd judge of your money fighter officers, and I spotted Hauptmann-Kommandant Lewis Gilbert as a good 'un the first time I laid eyes upon him.
     We'd been met while skirting the glacis perimeter surrounding the large town of Three Fields by a picket Lance of medium 'Mechs bearing the animal skull badge of Narhal's Raiders. They'd politely commed us and efficiently escorted us the couple of klicks to their operations base to the west of the town. The base was located in and around a crumbling, half-collapsed neo-stave monastery, inside triple lines of razor-wire, anti-'Mech pits, mine fields and bunkers. At the centre of the well patrolled defensive perimeter were rows of canvas tents, ranks of parked vehicles, crouched 'Mechs, and armour.
     It was obvious to me, as we walked through the outer lines and into the busy heart of the base camp, that these Ellsie mercs were on the ball. You could just tell from the snatched glimpses of camp life; a line of infantrymen square bashing around a makeshift parade ground to one side of the monastery building itself ... the busy grey suited Techs working on several of the spotless BattleMechs, or touching up the deciduous pattern camoflage paint ... the neatness of the tent lines ... or the towering 'Mech high flagpoles stood in a white painted gravel bed outside the main entrance to the monastery, one flying a large snapping battle flag depicting the horned animal skull set against a white-rimmed blue circle, the other a smaller battalion guidon.
     It was before those proud flags that, following the lead of our escort, we stopped, crouched our 'Mechs and popped our cockpit canopies. I hopped down the ladder out of Falstaff's cockpit, happy to be in the bracing cold fresh air and glanced up at the blue sky, marvelling at the clouds scudding across it at what seemed to me an amazing rate, then noticed an energetic looking little fellow hurrying over from the Raiders 'Mechs. He was perhaps only five feet tall, wiry muscled and dressed in Lyran pattern cooling vest, blue shorts, MechWarrior boots, and fingerless gloves. An ancient looking battered old neurohelmet was cupped in the crook of his left arm. I raised my hand in greeting and he hopped forward, his right hand held out for me to shake.
     "Guten Tag! Guten Tag! How are you doing? I am being most pleased to make your acquaintance." He said, seeming every inch the Tharkadian toy-soldier, so I nodded to him politely and introduced myself, to which he became quite agitated.
     "Darius Davion! The Darius Davion? Verdammt! I'm sorry we'd been told to expect a Lance of the Seventh Crucis, but they didn't mention your name ... ahh sorry ... I am Leutnant Mario Marois." He declared, absolutely clicking his heals and saluting, clearly startled to be in the presence of a living legend, well I was well used to this kind of thing and I clapped him heartily on the shoulder and said in passable Lyran German;
     "Now then Mario old son, let's dispense with the formalities, we've just had a two day journey and could all do with a spot of grub, a hot bath or shower, and if there's any going a drop of schnapps."  I winked at him in my bluff soldierly Darius manner, and he grinned, nodded smartly again and offered, before sorting us out with somewhere to rest up, to first to show us in to meet his C.O., Hauptmann-Kommandant Gilbert. As we followed him over to the monastery building, I noted the faint emblem of a shark upon his beaten up old neurohelmet and guessed he must have descended from the Rim Worlds side of the Raiders.
     "So Sir, we heard about your capture on Lysidas back in '17 by that drecksack Ryan," He said as we walked. "We were stationed on Poulsbo only a few jumps Outward at the time and for a while there we thought Ryan might hit us. When news reached us a visiting nobleman of your standing had been taken by Ryan, well we were all for going over the border after you." Which was just hot air if you ask me, but I thanked him for the sentiment anyway as we strolled into a cool, airy hall. Half smashed stained glass windows lined the high walls and the central aisle had been cleared into a command centre, complete with field comm equipment, map tables, and what seemed to be a rough and ready officers mess.
     Several portable metal tables had been set up, most littered with slicksheets, printouts, maps and sundry papers, but three or four were being used by perhaps a dozen off duty officers who were eating, drinking, playing cards, or just idling. All were dressed to one degree or another in either green and brown camo fatigues, some with the Rim Worlds grey tunics of the Raiders, a few were still in cooling vest and shorts. There was a low buzz of conversation, the warble of the comm stations, and somewhere an audio-disk was playing the overture from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The place reeked of tobacco smoke, strong coffee, sweat, stone dust and burnt ashqua.
     Lewis Gilbert saw us coming and strode across to meet us; he was only a mid-sized man but seemed bigger, perhaps due to his calm air of imperturbability, dressed in camo fatigue trousers and an olive shirt with the Honour of Skye medal pinned upon it's left breast pocket. He was pretty heavy muscled, with a square jaw, a burn scar on his right cheek, and ash blonde hair worn in that bizarre, barbaric looking, Lyran MechWarrior fashion; his pate shaved bald to better facilitate receptor connections to his neurohelment, and with long braided cadenettes hanging down either side of his face. He looked dangerously hard I thought as he came towards us, his wintry grey eyes clearly weighing me up, and as I say he impressed me instantly as a fighting officer, an experienced and probably successful mercenary soldier.
     He stopped just in front of us and saluted AFFS fashion, presumably as a courtesy.
     "Good afternoon Leftenant, I'm glad to meet you, I understand you have new orders for us from General Stuart?" I returned his salute and shook his hand, wondering if I detected a hint of distaste in his very lightly German accented voice when he mentioned Darlin' Arlin. Deciding briskness and professionalism was the face to show to this chap, I became all business.
     "Indeed Sir, if you have maps of the Flats west of here I'll lay it out for you."

* * *

     I found Paula Stilson an hour or two later in the remains of a walled orchard attached to the west side of the monastery building, watching the local sun setting beyond the far horizon. She was sat with a mess tin filled with steaming food by her feet, while she shaded her eyes with her hand against the lush opalescent light that washed the scene. She was still dressed skimpily in her cooling vest, tight shorts, and MechWarrior boots, and Blake but she looked stunning.
     I think I probably stood there, leaning on a section of half collapsed stone wall, just gawking at her as mesmerised by her, as she herself seemed with the green sunset.
     "Isn't it beautiful?" She said suddenly, in a soft whisper and I didn't know whether to respond, or if she was even speaking to me. D'you know, I'll be honest, I think for once I was lost for words now it came to it. I thought about saying something obvious and crass about not half as beautiful as her, but thankfully I thought better of that and simply walked over and sat down beside her on the edge of the large block of moss covered stone she was perched upon. She glanced at me with those huge brown eyes, that seemed almost golden in the dusk light, causing my heart to miss a beat or two, but then simply returned her gaze out through the gnarled and overgrown fruit trees. Damn but I couldn't take my eyes off her, and consciously had to wrench my gaze up from her boobs, which looked to me to be straining to burst free from her cooling vest.
     "This monastery was dedicated to New Ivaarsen's only native born saint you know, Oscar Kendrick. He was a botanist who brought hardy fruits here from other worlds and was martyred during the Kuritan invasion at the start of the Succession Wars. Died trying to smuggle children out into the farmlands away from the Combine slave-takers. This orchard was believed to have sprung up from the seeds that fell from his pockets when the Snakes strung him up along with a couple of other resistance fighters here." I shivered at this unpleasant reminder of what we could expect if the Kuritans came here in force soon, then I frowned.
     "Hold up Paula old girl, how do you know all this?"
     "Oh I'm a smart girl Darius," She replied with a sly grin."... and I read the plaque over there behind us on the wall."
     I laughed, pleased at her playful air, and fisted her lightly on the arm. "Cheater! So Ms Stilson, when are you going to buy me that meal you owe me?"
     "You can share this with me if you like." Paula replied, lifting up the billy can that had been sat by her feet. "I'm afraid it's not exactly the Avalonian haute cuisine you're probably used to, but it's the best I can come up with at the moment."
     Well, never one to miss an opening, I reached into my jacket pocket, pulling out a silver hip flask with a flourish.
     "Okay then mademoiselle, and I shall provide the drinks ... Lyran schnapps, the best Tharkadian I'm assured by Herr Gilbert." So it was, with the green light fading first into a dark forest-like gloom, then a hazy purple-black, we picnicked there in that old overgrown orchard, munching upon AFFS MRE-beef stew, taking nips of Gilbert's strong Lyran spirits, and chatting easily together.
     I have fond memories of that evening y'know, why even thinking about it now is making me slightly misty eyed. Well it was that early stage of our relationship, that moment when you can practically taste the promise of consummation, that brief time when the anticipation is almost as sweet as the act to come. Oh and I'm not saying I wasn't strongly taken with her either, as you will know by now I'm as prone to get a little spoony over my gals as much as the next man, more so even, and I was deeply smitten with the beauty beside me that night.
     She was funny, smart, stunningly attractive and ... well I've already used the term about her, but it fits ... simply mesmeric. So it shouldn't surprise you to hear that I can still lean back in my study chair, close my eyes, and instantly smell the faint sweet aroma of ripe fruit, mixed with a sturdy waft of beef stew and Paula's own intoxicating scent, and my heart quickens a little and I can almost forget the hell that crazy bitch was later to put me through.
     Anyway, unusually for me, but not wanting to risk plunging in too soon, I didn't push things that evening. Rather I played my role as the charming, honourable soldier ... the paladin beyond reproach. Talking about my background, wistful stories about Killarney, making the occasional offhand comment carefully calculated to reinforce her impression of me as a ludicrously brave and resourceful MechWarrior. I also made it a point to, apparently at least, listen to her intently, women love that y'know, the thought that you're interested in their usually deeply banal waffle about their feelings, thoughts, ideas and past.
     Naturally I actually tuned out much off what she said about herself, while in fact concentrating on discreetly slavering over those long out-thrust bare legs, those splendid poonts, that almost impossibly beautiful face. I recall she mentioned being from somewhere out in the Broken Wheel region, from a low ranking noble family of little note, that she'd attended Ghastly Goshen, and was on the quiet very full of ambition to prove herself as an ace 'Mech pilot. Reading between the lines I decided she'd concentrated upon her studies before recently being posted to the Seventh Crucis and hadn't allowed herself any time for romance. Well, I intended to change that post haste.
      We strolled out of that orchard together, without my having made any moves on her, but I could tell she was already pretty taken with me, and the next phase of Operation Pulling Paula would be all too easy I was sure. Conrad and Jerome, but I could weep when I consider the trouble I'd have saved myself if I'd left it at that and avoided her company thereafter.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #9 on: 15 February 2011, 14:15:55 »
7
     
     The next two T-weeks or so passed quickly for me, as all happy times in life are want to, as we criss-crossed the western Flats trying futilely to hunt down the two enemy 'Mechs known to be at large in that vast region. Most of the time we numbered only our Lance, as part of a widely spaced line consisting of ourselves and three of the Narhal's Recon Lances, pushing ever westward, while the rest of Gilbert's Battalion swept around hundreds of miles away to the north-west.
     Our days were spent jogging in 'Mechs through the farmlands, or scouting out the occasional farmstead, hamlet, or defile in the land. It was admittedly dreary work, but it seemed safe to me, and my fears about the possibility of more Kuritans arriving began to decrease with every day that passed. Fool that I was I let my guard drop, ignoring my natural caution in favour of the rewards the evenings held for me.
     Looking back I find it hard to remember much about the daytime hunting, all that comes to mind now are the flashes of memory, the images that stuck in my mind while I was day dreaming about you know who; such as running our 'Mechs between two huge segmented big-rig mega-harvesters, each crewed by half a dozen men, the harvesters were as tall as a 'Mech and measured perhaps twenty meters end to end, each stood idle while the crews waved to us as we passed ... or striding across endless seeming crop fields while the blasting wind whipped the grain up into great sweeping waves ... or racing towards a solitary burning barn just minutes after one of the enemy Ostscouts had struck and then sprinted off at top speed ... or arguing with Darlin' Arlin on the comm, as he began to fret about our lack of success ... or passing the rusting skeletal forest of a defunct wind farm as the green sun rose behind us.
     If I make it all sound faintly romantic, well that should give you a clue as to my state of mind at the time, for, though it was in fact boring, sweaty, tiring work, running across that endless seeming, bleak agricultural plain in BattleMechs, searching for an enemy that was successfully doing their best to avoid ever being within sight of us, I was in love ... well, in lust at least.
     Oh yes, my amour with Paula dominated those long cool nights out in New Ivaarsen's expansive tablelands. We'd typically stop the night at farmsteads, or small villages, enjoying the hospitality of the locals who, though as leathery and dour as the rest of their morose people, were at least happy to see us, knowing that our presence would ensure the mysterious Kuritan 'Mechs would avoid the area. So it was easy as pie for me, that first night of the search, to draw Paula away to another picnic out in a large barn where, sat upon bales of hay, we watched the green sun setting once more and this time I risked drawing her to me and kissed her. She froze initially I recall, then as I'd suspected she would she took to my guidance with a passion, until an hour or so later we'd been laying there together, clothes strewn everywhere and I'd sighed contentedly.
     I should have worried then of course when she'd pulled herself up onto her elbow and gazed down at me seriously, then breathed;
     "Darius, I think you should know I'm falling in love with you."
     Well it ain't typically what you want to hear after banging a tart for the first time is it? I mean there should have been more alarm bells sounding in my brain at hearing that comment at that moment, than there were on Sian when Morgan Hasek-Davion arrived in system with his Uhlans in '29. As I'm sure you know yourselves, any gal who makes an announcement of that kind so early in a relationship, can only be trouble. But it just goes to show you how smitten with this chit I was at the time, that I was actually happy she'd said it and even pulled her to me and gave her a second going over for her trouble.
     I remember as we'd strolled back towards the farm house where we were billeted that night, that as I picked bits of straw out of my hair, and glanced over to find her gazing at me in what looked like adoration, that I actually smiled softly back and kissed her gently, deliberately enjoying playing the tender romantic.
     Well I suppose it just goes to show any youngsters amongst you that it don't pay to treat 'em too well, for if there's one thing more dangerous to chaps like us than a gal who detests you, it's one that falls completely in love with you.
     We slept apart that night, as we were bunked up in a long room with the rest of the Lance, but the next morning I was surprised to note Paula had woken early and was dressed and up before the rest of us. Walking outside after taking a quick breakfast I noticed her over by her Ostroc, stood on a ladder propped against it's central torso, apparently touching up it's camouflage paintwork. Calling out a greeting to her I ambled over and squinted up to see what she was about, and I was a little surprised to find she'd painted a red heart at the centre of her 'Mech's torso armour. She turned and grinned down at me from her perch upon the ladder.
     "It's to represent our love Darius." She called happily down to me without the faintest trace of irony, and I gaped for a moment speechless, then with my attention diverted by an excellent view of her luscious ass in those tight MechWarrior shorts, I forgot all about it and growled at her to get down from there and give me a kiss. Which she was only too happy to oblige me with.
     It was only later in that next day that I mulled over the love-heart business in my mind and felt the first small stirrings of concern. Well you'll own she was acting more like a teen-aged schoolgirl in the grips of her first love, than the battle tried MechWarrior she actually was, which of course could get very embarrassing if she started making ridiculous love-talk in front of the rest of the Lance or something. Aside from anything else, it was also more than a little odd I decided, and I resolved to cool her down a little that next night.
     However when I got her alone again, this time in a pleasant little farm garden nestled out of the wind behind the low hill upon which the farmhouse in question was built, she practically pounced on me, tearing off my clothes and having her wicked way with me ... well almost before I had a chance to protest. As you can imagine all thoughts of cooling this gorgeous strumpet's ardour for me positively flew from my mind and by the time she was finished with me it was all I could do to roll over, get dressed, and crawl back to my bunk.
     From that night on things only continued in a similar fashion, with me worrying faintly at Paula's clearly ever increasing infatuation with me by day, and then spurred on by her teasing into rogering her bandy every night. I should also stress that when I say 'worrying', I didn't really give it that much thought, as I reasoned to myself that the worst case scenario would be a mildly unpleasant scene when it finally came time for us to part. As I've said I was in fact more than content by and large ... well if you knew you'd be shagging Paula Stilson at the end of each day, while you were traipsing across those Flats, let me assure you you'd have been happy too. It didn't even weigh upon my mind above half when she started to give plenty of telltale warning signs that she was growing dangerously infatuated, needy, and decidedly clingy to put in mildly.
     What did it matter that she told her Lancemates that we were in love over breakfast on the third day? Indeed I'd played it as if she were joking and had laughed at John John's amazed expression, as he'd had to mop up the recaff he'd sprayed down his cooling vest at her comment.
     Why would I care that she pestered me with questions about my thoughts on marriage and children, while we lay exhausted, naked and entwined together in Falstaff's cockpit?
     What difference did it make to me that she wanted to know everything about me, questioning me incessantly about whether I thought my parents would like her, or if she would like Killarney, or who had I been involved with before her, or how much I loved her?
     Why would it worry me that her eyes followed me everywhere, or that she hung obsessively upon my every word?
     Then there was that one night when she'd absolutely seemed to grow jealous of my time, when finally somewhat weary from our nightly rigours, I'd tried to have a quiet night in with the chaps from the Lance playing cards. She'd stood there watching us, shifting impatiently from foot to foot for perhaps half an hour, then had stormed out in an obvious temper. Green had looked embarrassed to say the least, but I'd made John blush and chuckle by winking at him and commenting that 'I'd smooth her down later.'.
     So then, it was by and large a happy little holiday for Lt. D. Davion so far that year on New Ivaarsen; with a routine of  tiring but happily safe and fruitless searching by day, followed by wearying but deuced enjoyable slap and tickle with a stunning partner by night. Things could have been a good deal worse that's for sure.

* * *

     I recall it was the morning of the 2nd of October that my enjoyment of my New Ivaarsen tour came to an abrupt end. We were on the trail of one of the enemy Ostscouts, which had been sighted fleeing south, presumably having got wind of the heavy elements of Gilbert's Battalion that were driving down from the north, and had moved into an area of scrubby wilderness. It was still very flat tableland, though the Western Uplands were just visible as a purplish haze on the far horizon, but it was entirely unfarmed and empty country.
     I was just behind Leftenant Green when my comm crackled and Arlin Stuart's voice sounded in my ear.
     "Beater One, this is Master-of-the-Hunt." Which were Stuart's bright idea of call signs for this little jaunt. I keyed back an acknowledgement and his voice came again.
     "Beater One be aware, we have multiple hostile craft inbound ... I say again multiple hostile craft inbound." I think I pulled my 'Mech literally up short at that, and with my heart hammering in my breast opened my channel to Stuart.
     "What? How many? Where are they coming down? General, what do we do?" I babbled, my rising terror straining my voice into a panicked whine, which seemed to agitate Darlin' Arlin himself as he snapped back at me;
     "Use proper comm protocols please Beater One, if you-"
     "Frack that!" I swore without thinking, cutting him off. "We're as exposed as fracking turds on a pool table out here! How many are they and where are they headed?"
     "Ahh ... you're breaking up Beater One ... multiple Dropships ... *crackle* ... least two 'Mech regiments ... conventional support ... return to Fort Bormen with all due dispatch ... the best of luck." I think I may have actually screamed into the comm in horror at that, for coupled with the dreadful news coming in over the comm I'd noticed Mark's Wasp was pointing up at the grey-blue sky and I'd followed the line of his 'Mech's arm to see the unmistakable vapour trails of incoming DropShips ... dozens of them. 
     My belly dissolved in raw terror, my mouth dried, my palms itched with sweat and I began to mutter petrified prayers ... for the Dragon had come to New Ivaarsen after all, and rather than snug and safe under the sea in the fortified C³ Complex I was maybe five hundred klicks west of Bormen, in open country, with only a Lance of light 'Mechs for protection. Not for the first time in my life I woefully lamented the cruel fate that kept placing a peace loving chap like me in this kind of horrific situation.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #10 on: 15 February 2011, 17:27:01 »
8

     "Beater-One, this is Huntsman, I read you, over." I had been desperately trying to reach Gilbert for some minutes before my comm unit finally crackled to life, and his voice came through, obviously strained with tension but still reassuringly calm.
     "Oh thank Blake," I breathed. "Huntsman, what's your status? Last I heard from Stu- ahh- Master-of-the-Hunt, was that we have perhaps two Snake 'Mech Regiments inbound, probably with plenty of conventional support. Suicide raiders my arse, those Ostscouts were sniffing out suitable DropZones after all! This is a full scale fracking invasion!"
     "Agreed Beater-One, did Master' advise you what our orders were now?"
     "Barely, his comm signal broke up, but he said something about getting back to Bormen as fast as possible." I replied. "Listen Huntsman we need to link up quickly, otherwise we'll all get taken out piecemeal."
     "Negative to that I'm afraid Beater-One." He replied to my dismay. "I have orders to harass the enemy landings we have occurring to the south of our present position. I've been advised by Master' to relay to you orders not to head straight for Bormen, as there have been landings between your position and there. You are however to head for Three Fields with all dispatch, you and your Lance will then return to Bormen by river.
     Good luck Beater-One, I hope you all make it."
     After curtly wishing Gilbert the same, I cut the comm with a muttered oath, well I'd rather have rushed north, linked up with Gilbert's heavy companies and then headed back east under their protection. Still, at least we were being given orders to avoid contact with the enemy and head as fast as we could away from the Kuritan DropZones. Keen to be underway as quickly as possible, I relayed our orders to the Lance and we set off in a north-easterly direction as fast as we could.
     While we ran I monitored the garbled information flying across the comm channels, trying to get a grasp of what was happening; certainly there had been several successful Kuritan drops across the western Lowland Flats, consisting of perhaps half the invasion army, while other drops had apparently occurred beyond the Tarnby. So far there hadn't been much if any fighting, indeed the Snakes seemed to have made it down without any significant opposition at all. They'd really caught us on the hop.
     After perhaps four hours of running we received broken comms that indicated elements of Gilbert's Battalion had engaged Kuritan tanks and 'Mechs someway north-west of our position at that time.
     It was as I was trying to make sense of those battlefield comms, and while we approaching a large farm marked upon our maps as Jasper's Barns, we were intercepted by fast moving Kuritan 'Mechs. They must have landed to the south, as they came up on us fast from that direction, Green spotted them first, his voice loud on the comm.
     "Snakes, four of 'em. Panthers I think." My first instinct was to order an about face and try to outrun them, however as I was about to do so I spotted dust clouds away to the north of us. I instantly recognised the tell-tale sign of 'Mechs on the move, and they were headed towards us. There was nothing else for it, we had to break through east and keep going.

* * *
     
     The enemy Panthers came at us at the run, moving at perhaps sixty klicks per hour, yet seeming every bit as agile and light footed as their feline namesakes. Each of the thirty five ton 'Mechs was painted in a splintered blue-grey, white, and tan camouflage pattern, with the black on red Kuritan dragon's head crest upon their right breasts, and a square badge with a white katana handle with the numeral '5' overlaid, against a blue and black field.
     "They're Fifth Galedon Regulars!" Leftenant Green called over the comm, in what sounded like excitement as we drew quickly into range. "Warlord Samsonov's personal 'Mech Regiment, 'The Pride of Galedon' themselves! I've fought these lads before, back in '19, and they're no great shakes, they broke and ran from us on that occasion after just a few shots ... we can take 'em, good luck everyone, see you on the other side."
     With that the crazy, brave, fool sped forwards and positively hit his 'Mech's jumpjets, soaring up into a supremely graceful thirty meter high arc, turning in mid-air and opening fire with his machine's twin Magna II laser cannons down at the frontmost Panther. Green was piloting a FS9-H Firestarter, a 'Mech that, though the same weight as the Panthers, was generally not as highly regarded as those ubiquitous Kuritan recon fire-support 'Mechs; Firestarters y'see are designed primarily for anti-infantry work, or for incendiary attacks on urban or forested positions, and few MechWarriors like taking them into duels with other 'Mechs ... Green however was Seventh Crucis through and through, and seemed to relish the challenge. His laser fire scorched flaming wounds of bubbling molten ceramite armour across the Galedon 'Mech's left torso and arm, while ahead of me the rest of Green's Lance opened up, seconds before the Snakes began to return fire themselves.
     It shouldn't be any surprise to you that, during the initial stages of the skirmish at Jasper's Barns, I made sure to slow Falstaff down, as imperceptibly as I could of course, while implementing my usual trick of being sure to loudly cheer on our side, and roar curses and insults at the enemy. On this occasion I had the mixed blessing that Falstaff was considerably heavier and slower than any of the other 'Mechs involved in the action, so I could believably take some time longer than the rest of the Lance to reach the combat ... however on the other hand once actually involved I would be markedly less fast and agile than my opponents, and as you may be aware Panthers pack a hefty punch, being armed with a Lord's Light Particle Cannon and a Telos Four-Shot short range missile system. Then there was the added worry that  more enemy 'Mechs were bearing down upon us from the north and west, and if we were delayed too long we would all be for the chop ... literally.
     I saw Green's Firestarter land in a whoompf of dirt, right at the side of the enemy Panther he'd wounded, and instinctively flinched as the Kuritan 'Mech span very fast, it's right arm smashing into Green's 'Mech with a jarring clang. Meanwhile two of the other Snake 'Mechs had opened up with their PPCs, spitting wavering, eye searing, arcs of artificial lightning at us, one streaked past me some meters to my left, the other impacted into John John's Cicada's torso with a blinding flash-explosion that sent chunks of smoking ceramite spraying off in all directions.
     "Motherfracker!" John's strained voice gasped over the comm, and I played up my usual cheerleader role, while opening up futilely at long range for good measure with Falstaff's laser cannons, shouting back at him into my comm.
     "Cheer up Johny boy, that was just a quick Kuritan-Kiss to say hello! If you're lucky you might be able to bag that Snake as a kill before I do." Well young John John didn't need much encouragement in that direction, speeding his forty ton 'Mech into that increasingly bitter and close range struggle amidst the buildings and farmyard. While at the run he opened up with his machine's laser cannons, missing the enemy 'Mechs, but in seconds accidentally turning half the main farmhouse into an inferno. I saw civilians stagger coughing from the building, swatting at their smoking clothing desperately.
     I must say that Green's dismissive appraisal of the Fifth Galedon's fighting ability was way off, that day at least, for the pilots of those four Kuritan 'Mechs fought like madmen. Green and his Lance went in so fast it quickly became a nasty, dirty little point blank melee, I saw missiles hissing out at such close range they smashed into 'Mechs without even having a chance to detonate, enemy 'Mechs swung punches, Paniopolo in his Wasp grappled one Panther down into the dirt, Paula's Ostroc scorched armour from another with it's laser cannons.
     Arriving deliberately late for this scrummage I stamped into the mess, and with great care raised Falstaff's hulking left foot and unceremoniously kicked in the cockpit of the Panther which Mark was wrestling with. I felt an explosive shudder, then Falstaff's foot jammed in the buckled wreckage of the enemy 'Mech's head and I nearly toppled my machine over struggling to drag it's leg clear.
     There followed a brutal, sharp few minutes of action, which I hovered at the edge of, occasionally snapping off a shot or two whenever one of the Kuritan 'Mechs was clear enough from Green's Lance. Careful to have an excuse for not getting too drawn into the action, I made a point of 'covering the civilians' from the farmhouse as they ran from the very dangerous 'Mech action that was flattening their home. It was while I was inching back, 'making sure the farmer and his family got clear', that I saw Green cover the wounded Panther in jets of white hot plasma. The unfortunate Snake 'Mech staggered back flailing it's arms, the flamer chemicals stuck to it's armoured body, while Green hit it again and again with laser fire until with a metalic echo the enemy 'Mech exploded.   

* * *

     I breathed easier at that, for there were now only two Snakes left to put down, however my sigh of relief died abruptly in my throat, as Falstaff rocked under me with the impact of three cyclomite packed armour piercing missiles while another two streaked past me to spin off into the fields beyond the farm. Engulfed in oily black smoke, with the heat in my cockpit rocketting up, I struggled to keep Falstaff upright, while ignoring the flashing warning lights indicating internal structural damage to my 'Mech's torso. Turning with difficulty I pissed my pants with fear as I spotted the dreadful figure of a TBT-5N Trebuchet wading through the crop-fields perhaps a hundred meters away from me, smoky fumes wreathing it's missile pods, and at least three more 'Mechs just barely visible following behind it.
     "More Snakes to my rear, another Lance minimum!" I half screamed, whilst almost without thinking I raised Falstaff's heavy Pontiac 100 autocannon and loosed a long thunderous volley of 160mm shells at the approaching enemy 'Mech. Amazingly, considering the fact that I was by then sweating so much I was at risk of blinding or even drowning myself inside my neurohelmet, I hit the bastard. My shots stitched their way up the Trebuchet's right arm, ultimately blowing it off in a sparkling blast of armour shards, fractured splinters of adamantium bone, and pulsing jets of blood-like pink coolant fluid, the arm itself spiralling away into the crops trailing smoke and flame.
     However that first lucky shot was not going to save me, the Trebuchet resumed it's savage attack upon me, sending missile after missile streaking towards me, several of which hit true despite my best efforts to dance clear of the deuced accurate fire, slamming me backwards and causing me to cry out in panic. Meanwhile the rest of that second Galedon Lance were fanning out to either side of the Treb', my battle computer tagging them as two sixty ton DRG-1N Dragons and another Panther.
    Falstaff was in a bad way, losing heat sinks from those rear missile hits and plenty of armour, and I was facing two heavies, a medium and a Panther ... it was hopeless, there was no way I could take on those kind of odds and win. Worst of all, if I listened to my every instinct and turned Falstaff about and tried to run for it, I'd only be opening my already flayed back armour to their fire, even assuming I could outrun them, which was unlikely.
     I was considering all this as I exchanged fire as best I could with the Snake bastards, while jinking, ducking and dodging the incoming storm of enemy laser beams, cannon shells, and missiles. The smoke from the downed 'Mechs and the burning farm buildings surrounded me in a black-grey fog through which I could see the flashes of the enemy weapons, the heat haze that surrounded their 'Mechs, and the ominous approaching shapes of the 'Mechs themselves.
     It was then I experienced one of those strange, fractured, moments of stillness, that one sometimes has in the midst of battle, and I realised with sudden lucidity that I was dead, doomed ... finished. This was it finally, despite all my best efforts, despite surviving Mallory's World, the Marik Civil War, those insane travels across the Marik Periphery, my time as a pirate with Redjack Ryan, Harrow's Sun, and all the many smaller more personal hells in between, this was where it would end.
     I breathed out, and tried to reason with myself that there was just a chance they might not kill me if I surrendered, so my hand was actually descending upon the eject button when one of the most incredible things I'd ever witnessed occurred.
     "Get away from him, you scum!" Paula's voice blasted from behind me on open broadcast speakers, and she stamped her Ostroc rapidly up to my side, the 'Mech's torso mounted quad Fuersturm Laser Cannons lashing out scintillating beams of lethal light. The nearest of the enemy Dragons caught the brunt of that shockingly accurate barrage, it's armour melting and dripping like candle wax, then exploding violently outwards as one of the laser beams must have seared through into an ammo rack. Grinding to a shuddering halt, the Dragon went up like a firework, rocking with multiple explosions as missile and autocannon ammo touched off, then flew into pieces in a great fireball, the blast of which knocked the wounded Trebuchet next to it clean off it's feet.
     Amazed I glanced right, catching sight of that ridiculous love-heart upon Paula's Ostroc's torso as she passed me still firing, though now upon the other Dragon. Never one to miss a chance to hit a downed opponent, I quickly span back and opened fire on the Trebuchet as it was struggling to get up. I gave it all I had, twin laser cannons, my 160mm pontiac autocannon, even a couple of missiles from Falstaff's Holly rack, and cheered in vicious glee to see the Kuritan 'Mech smashed back into the dirt as my attacks left it smouldering, buckled, and broken.
     I croaked out the best battlecry I could muster at the time, then made sure to 'accidentally' get safely behind Paula's 'Mech as she advanced upon the clearly shaken remaining pair of Kuritans. Blake's bollocks, it was staggering, I've rarely seen accuracy in a 'Mech to 'Mech battle as Paula achieved that day, before or since. Well she thought her beloved was about to be killed you see, and I think she went a little bit mad, she certainly gave no thought to her own safety, and just concentrated on knocking down those unfortunate Snake bastards, while completely ignoring their pretty hot returned fire. Though perhaps the strangest thing was that her 'Mech didn't even take a scratch itself; perhaps her suicidal advance unnerved those Galedonians, or maybe their aim was put off by her relentless, deadly attacks, whatever the reason they broke before her.
     I saw the second Dragon savagely scythed at the knees with laser beams and first stumble, then collapse into a crippled kneelling positon, it's snout-like torso dipped as if in respect, before the MechWarrior popped his cockpit in acceptance of defeat. At which the Panther sensibly turned and ran, and of course I then joined in, making a great scene of chasing after it, firing as I went while calling out;
     "Get back here you stinking coward."
     "There are more coming from the west, get out of here, everyone get out of here! Head for that hill to the east. Quickly!" Green's urgent bellow cut through my vicious pursuit of the Panther and I pulled up short as I found the entire western horizon seemed to be alive with approaching dust clouds.
     "Jerrrome!" I breathed in horror, there had to be at least a regiment of enemy 'Mechs headed straight for our position. Without needing further encouragement, I turned and pushed Falstaff into a lurching run, passing Paula's Ostroc without stopping, though calling over the comm to her;
     "Good show old girl, but the jigs up, half the bleeding DCMS are on their way, last one home's gonna be dead meat." With that I was straight past her and tearing away into the fields east of Jasper's Barns. I risked one quick look back to be rewarded with a glimpse of a scene like some old Terran painting of hell; the farm buildings were collapsing in flames, burning 'Mechs were sending up plumes of black smoke, even the fields were also afire in many places, and Paula's Ostroc ran to catch me up. Away to our right I registered that John John's Cicada was pulling ahead of me, closely followed by Green's Firestarter ... Mark Paniopolo's Whitworth was however nowhere to be seen.
     "Green, where's Mark?" I gasped over the comm.
     "He didn't make it I'm afraid, one of those fracking Panthers took him down." Green's voice rasped back, a sour crackle in my ear.
     "I think I saw him punch out." John John's voice cut across Green's. "In fact I'm sure he did ... the Seventh Crucis doesn't leave men behind ... we have to go back for him. Come along chaps 'Anything, Anywhere, Anytime' what?" With that I noticed John's Cicada slow to a halt and then half turn as if he were actually about to head back into that nightmare we'd all been damn lucky to get out of.
     Well this is just the kind of suicidally brave nonsense the AFFS is prone to encourage in it's young soldiers, and believe me it can get you killed just as quickly as the idiot who suggests it, so one has to be very quick to stamp upon it. Giving a little start of horror, I sucked in a breath, calmed my voice then said firmly.
     "Sorry John old son, that's a no go." John gasped, doubtless in surprise at his hero shooting down his infantile dreams of honour and glory, so I assumed a weary tone of voice as I quickly went on. "John, don't you think that I, above all people, wish we could just roar back down there, search for Mark and kill some more of those bastards? Back when I was your age ... well I did just as much at a place called Colterville and ended up cooling my heals in Kuritan captivity while the rest of the Bane got to hog all the fun." Jesus the lies I've had to tell in my time! "But it won't do, d'y'see. The whole Fifth Galedon Regulars 'Mech Regiment is headed for that farm down there, and I'll not have your blood on my hands when they inevitably overran us, or Paula's come to that. No, we're soldiers ... we obey orders, and my orders are that we keep heading east for Three Fields as fast as we can.
     We'll fight these swine again before we're done here I'm sure, and we'll settle the score for Mark then. If he is alive back there, and does get taken by the Kuritans, then it's what he'd want is to do John, believe me I know ... as it's what I wanted when I was in his shoes at Colterville."
     Green grunted agreement, then snapped an angry order at John to hurry up, and we were all off again at full pelt. As we ran over the crest of that low hill, I turned briefly to check if we were being followed ... Kuritan 'Mechs were just visible moving through the smoke churning the clouds, several of them lumbering great assaults I realised, then my eyes were drawn to a distant red and green painted Atlas. It's white skull head seemed to glare up at us as it stomped distantly through the smoke beside the remains of the main farmhouse. Green stood his Firestarter next to me for a brief moment and his voice crackled across the comm.
     "Recognise those paint markings?" He asked, to which I muttered a negative.
     "That's the BattleMech of General Grieg Samsonov, the Warlord of Galedon. Looks like he's come here to supervise the conquest of New Ivaarsen himself."
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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  • Posts: 312
Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #11 on: 15 February 2011, 17:45:10 »
9

     "What's it like up there?" Stuart asked me nervously, as he paced about his personal quarters on Panopea dressed in another hideous confection of a uniform. This one consisted of a sky blue jacket heavy with largely meaningless medals and enough silver trim to dazzle the eyes of anyone looking at it for too long, tight red breeches with a blue stripe, polished black shoes, and a peaked silver rimmed red hat that made him look like nothing so much as an overdressed bus conductor. I was stood to attention before him in sweat stained olive-green fatigues and felt uncomfortably aware of how drab I must have seemed beside him.
     I pondered how to answer his query for a long moment. Well the truth of the matter was that things 'up there', that is on the mainland surface of New Ivaarsen to the north of Panopea's undersea location, were pretty chaotic by and large. By then I'd seen the effects of a full scale planetary invasion several times before of course, but I have to say thanks to a marked lack of leadership from it's Planetary Officer in Command, New Ivaarsen was suffering worst than most.       
     The survivors of Green's Lance and I had made it safely back to Three Fields in the dead of the night after the skirmish at Jasper's Barns, though the river port was still brightly lit despite the late hour, and great slow moving lines of civilian refugees were snaking into the place from the surrounding countryside. The New Ivies were used to raids, but this time they were looking down the barrel of possibly being conquered by the dreaded Kuritans and they had clearly been jolted from their usual collective dourly stoic mood at the prospect.
     We'd marched our 'Mechs past big rig troks stuffed with farm workers, lines of exhausted families carrying their lives between them as best they could, raxx-drawn flatbed trailers packed with furniture and people; old folks, children, and screaming babes in the arms of weary, scared looking parents. Some let up ragged, brittle cheers as we passed, but most seemed to watch us now with moody suspicion, perhaps thinking we might retreat off world at any moment and leave them to the notoriously slight mercy of the Snakes.
     We sheltered the rest of that night in the Monastery of Saint Oscar, from where we could hear a strange faint far off sounding murmur; which I realised after a while was the progress of the distant masses packing into the town in search of some safety from the Kuritan army at large in the farming heartlands across the Flats. The main body of Gilbert's Battalion were still actively clashing with the Snakes far to the west so we'd been able to use the quarters of some of the Narhal's Raiders' MechWarriors. 
      I'd personally been bone tired that night and had fell into a cot intending to pass out and seek solace from the travails of that dreadful day in blessed sleep. However mere seconds after closing my eyes I felt a familiarly lithe and warm body climb in beside me, then deliciously soft lips brush my cheek.
     "Darius, I thought I was going to lose you today." Paula breathed into my ear, her voice heavy with emotion, as I opened my eyes and like a good gentleman tiredly copped a feel of her shapely rear end as she cuddled up to me, while shrugging out of her clothes.
     "Nonsense you silly goose." I murmured half-heartedly playing Dashing Darius once more, my hands kneading away like they had a mind of their own. "It'd take more than a few Snake 'Mechs to kill me."
     Suddenly then she kissed me fiercely, before pulling back to gaze at me seriously, her bare bosom heaving with emotion a few inches before my nose in a most startlingly distracting manner.
     "If they'd killed you Darius ... I'd have stayed there and died with you. You do know that right? I couldn't live without you." Which was all damned flattering of course, but once again disturbingly over the top you'll agree? Anyway I realised she was watching me expectantly and I twigged with a little start that she wanted something of a similar nature from myself in response to her insane twoddle, so I rolled her up on top of me and nuzzled at her while muttering some guff about Romeo and Juliet or something. She pulled back though and fixed me again with that desperately earnest stare.
     "I mean it Darius, I didn't know it for sure until I saw you flagging before those Kuritan bastards today, I love you and can't imagine life now without you. But I need to know ... do you feel the same about me?" Well if I'd been a half decent, honourable sort of chap with an ounce of courage, or concern for the emotions of others, I suppose I would have seized upon this moment to take the wind gently out of this poor romantic fool's sails. I could have acted all stern sorrow and admitted carefully that sadly I didn't feel the same, that it'd been a grand time and all that, thanked her for the many enjoyable gallops, told her she'd meet someone better than me in no time, assured her it wasn't her fault it was mine, and ended it comfortably at that. She'd have been devastated for a short time I suppose, but that would have been that, she'd have gotten over it toot sweet ... probably. However I'm not the kind of man to come clean and tell hard truths to a beautiful bint while she's absolutely stretched on top of me and I have her bare poonts in my hands. Well, she'd have shot up and off of me for sure.
      "Of course I love you Paula old stick. Live without you? Why, the very idea's preposterous! Come here vein of my heart and I'll prove it to you, you gorgeous thing." So that was that, and for the sake of another night of rumpy pumpy I unknowingly doomed myself to all that was later to follow, which the more pious types amongst you will no doubt regard as just deserts for my cruel treatment of a sweet gal who truly loved me. Well damn you, you hypocritical sods! If you'd had Paula Stilson sprawled nude and squirming atop you, I'll wager you pennies to C-Bills that you'd have lied too.
     The next day we were up with the green sun, hurrying our 'Mechs through Three Fields streets headed for the town docks. I remember refugees were sleeping in doorways, or in wind blown bivouacs in public parks, some shops had apparently been looted in the night, and government buildings were all busy despite the early hour, with dozens of flunkies dashing hither and yon in a frenzy of panic, burning files, breaking computers and generally trashing anything that would be of use to the Snakes if the town were to fall to them. Smoke and fluttering pieces of burning paper blew on the wind, and distant sirens spoke of fire troks rushing to burning shops. 
     The docks were in an even more confused state, with thousands of civilians packing the wharves and quays trying to buy passage down river to Fort Bormen. Leftenant Green had been in touch with Stuart that morning, who'd advised that places had been reserved for ourselves and our 'Mechs upon a river freighter. But it still took us nearly four hours to slowly inch our 'Mechs through the surging, wailing, shouting, and terrified throng to the correct quay, then a further hour to have our 'Mechs winched aboard the massive rusty boat.
     There were so many ships headed south on the Tarnby at that time Stuart had judged, probably correctly, that we'd be safer anonymously hidden in the hold of one of them than simply running along the riverbank. If the Snakes reached either bank of the Tarnby while we were travelling, unless they were sinking everything that moved, we'd be quietly out of sight, which I found decidedly reassuring I must say.
     It then took three grindingly slow days of travel for us to reach Bormen, all I can remember about that river voyage was long hours cooped up in stuffy cabins, or taking shifts wandering about the cavernous hold, making sure the crowds of stinking refugees stayed clear of our precious BattleMechs. Our ship was part of a huge, slow moving, rag tag flotilla of freighters, tramp fishing boats, grain barges, sail boats, and even garbage scows; all of which were full to the brim with refugees. Occasionally we saw distant fires glowing on each horizon, and sometimes aerospace fighters streaked overhead with faint sonic booms, though usually flying very high so as to avoid the wind systems and thus too far up for us to tell if they were 'ours' or 'theirs'.
     During those three days, weak willed and susceptible fellow that I am, I continued to enjoy and allow the exhausting nightly trysts with La Stilson to continue. Though I began to find her increasingly clinging displays of affection to me while we were around the others more and more annoying. Especially when Green took me to one side and had the nerve to 'suggest' that perhaps my 'liaison' with MechWarrior Stilson could be seen as a breach of military discipline and that I might wish to knock it on the head. Oh he was polite enough about it and couched the conversation as a friendly chat between brother officers, and I suppose at bottom I agreed with him in a sense. Well, I mean I enjoy a discrete spot of nookie between ranks as much as the next man, more I expect, however I do mean discrete, Paula was becoming a positive embarrassment and though I was still mighty smitten with her when it came to sack-time I was beginning to wonder about how best to draw our little affair to a happy close.
     Fort Bormen seemed considerably calmer than the upriver towns when we finally reached it, with plenty of efficient looking local Ugly-PUG infantry herding the refugees off the boats and into specially allocated shelters inside the city proper, patrolling the streets, and manning the massive wall defences. The other BattleMechs of Christoph's Company of the Seventh Crucis were also very visible about the city, stood here and there like towering guardians.
     After spending the next night in billets again at Bormen, I was ferried once more aboard the Bowfin to Panopea, where I was advised Stuart was eagerly awaiting my arrival. After another claustrophobic trip underwater to the C³ Base, I was hurried to Darlin' Arlin's quarters, where I'd walked into a small cabin. It felt cramped like most of the rooms aboard the submarine base, with metal walls lined with what appeared to be framed press cuttings about Stuart's exploits on St. Ives and sundry holos of Stuart stood beside various Fed Suns notables and AFFS senior officers. Stuart himself had been stood before a full length mirror brushing imperceptible specks of dust off his uniform jacket as I entered. He'd greeted me warmly enough, then promptly asked his question.

* * *

     Now, during the quiet moments of my journey down from Three Fields I'd had plenty of time to plan how to deal with the risks to myself this, not entirely unexpected, Kuritan invasion presented. I'd a shrewd idea of Stuart's character remember and so it was at that moment, as the pompous ass demanded my impression of the state of things, I launched my plan.
     "As you are aware Sir the Snakes have secured large swathes of the agricultural lands surrounding their Drop Zones. They are now moving on Great Barns in the east and Three Fields in the west. Refugees are flooding the towns on the southern Tarnby, and I assume Bluthe and Great Barns in the east." Stuart listened with a distracted air, his eyes flicking back to his reflection in the mirror several times, he flicked a hand as I paused.
     "Yes, yes. I know all that Darius. What's your personal view of things. That is to say ... well ... how would Prince Ian have dealt with this ludicrous damned invasion ... would you say?" 
     Which was just the kind of thing I'd wanted to hear from Stuart, he was clearly still working under the misunderstanding that I was some kind of tactical expert. Assuming a brisk, professional, tone I dived back in.
     "Well for that I can't say Sir, but I would respectfully point out that any experienced commander worth his salt would see this the same. As I'm sure you have." He nodded graciously at that, then motioned for me to go on. "Which is that the cities are our saving grace, while we hold them firm, the Dragon isn't going to win this world. You've called for reinforcements of course?"       
     "Yes indeed, the entire Seventh Crucis Lancers RCT will be on their way here any day soon." He replied to my intense relief.
     "Good then," I continued. "So all we need to do is hold the cities, particularly Bormen, Bluthe, and Twin Peaks, until the Seventh get here. The best way to do this in my opinion would be to pull our main forces back to defend them." Which, with me safely tucked away either on Panopea, or perhaps behind the well defended anti-'Mech walls of Bormen, meant I could sit back well out of harms way for the entire campaign. Stuart, doubtless thinking the same about himself, leapt upon my advice clapping his hands together happily.
     "Outstanding Darius, really outstanding! Once more you've come to the same conclusion as to the best course of action as I myself had already privately decided upon! Quite amazing, great minds thinking alike what?
     I'll have Duke Stephen immediately send a battalion of his regiment south to defend Bluthe, his other two battalions can maintain their present position and hold Twin Peaks. We shall keep the company of the Seventh Crucis where they are in charge of the defence of Bormen, with all the local Planetary Guard units to man the wall emplacements.
     Now then I do feel we should utilise those Lyrans though, can't have mercenaries sitting about on their arses while the First Prince is paying so much for them eh?" I inwardly shrugged at that, personally I'd rather have had Gilbert's Battalion drawn south to reinforce Fort Bormen's garrison and thus add to my own protection, however I wasn't about to ruin the good work I felt I'd already done so I agreed with him like a good little toady and he pulled a slicksheet map from his desk.
     "Good, good. So let's see ... hmm ... okay, I suggest Gilbert and his battalion split into three company sized battle groups and intensify their harassing raids upon the western wing of the Kuritan army. You say you're certain that swine Samsonov is in charge of them?
     Capital! Should give Gilbert the chance to win himself a nice little bonus by capturing or killing a Warlord eh?" Which was absurd of course, Stuart was proposing to throw Gilbert and his battalion away haphazardly against a far stronger enemy force, but what did I care, it wasn't my problem so I just carried on agreeing with the ass. I thought we were done at that and I was about to enquire whether I'd be needed for the next few days on Panopea, hoping to get quickly back to Bormen and snuggle down to a few days R&R, rogering and rattling that is, with the lovely Miss Stilson, when Stuart pulled me up short and for just a moment I thought I was in trouble.
     "Now Darius, I understand you involved yourself in a 'Mech battle out there? Gained a couple more kills for your tally I understand?
     Hmm, I think you were letting your understandable and famous eagerness to get to grips with the enemy cause you to forget your duties as my aide. What would I have done if you'd got killed, or worse yet captured?" Lost for words for once I stammered that I didn't know, to which he wagged his finger at me.
     "It would have left me in a terrible position, aide-less at a time like this! Now, I won't have you throwing yourself in the path of danger like that again while your under my orders, unless I give you leave to of course. Do you understand me Leftenant?" I tried to control the physical shiver of pure pleasure that coursed through my body as I stood there listening to the best instructions I'd ever received from an AFFS commanding officer. This fool was absolutely ordering me to avoid combat, or indeed any dangerous contact with the enemy. For a moment I didn't know what to say, then I hung my head a little as if I were eight years old again and had been caught by Pa'pa's gamekeeper Kildare scrumping apples.
     "I'm sorry Sir." I said carefully keeping the joy from my voice. "It was just, well I saw those filthy Dragon's head badges on those enemy 'Mechs and ... well dash it all I saw red. It shan't happen again."
     I left that cabin in a daze of pure elation, without a clue that within a matter of weeks I'd soon be trapped in one of the most bizarre and deadly dangerous situations of my life.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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  • Posts: 312
Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #12 on: 15 February 2011, 18:08:19 »
10

     Well, under Stuart's protective wing, the next week and a half or so of the campaign passed safely and almost pleasantly for your correspondent. Before I get to that however I should perhaps apprise you of the larger situation on the planet at that time.
     New Ivaarsen, I soon learnt, had been invaded by a Kuritan army headed by Warlord Samsonov and consisting of the Fifth and Eighth Galedon Regular BattleMech Regiments, each of which formed the core of a separate Battle Group including several attendant conventional regiments. A strong force I assure you, oh don't make the mistake of underestimating a DCMS line 'Mech regiment; the Galedon District lies across the longest stretch of our border with the Snakes and thus the Dragon regards it's regiments that face us there as of vital importance, the Galedon Regulars thus typically receive a good percentage of the MechWarrior graduates from their top schools, such as Sun Zhang, and are typically regarded as being almost as fanatically loyal and dedicated as the dreaded Sword of Light.
     The Fifth Galedon were a medium unit specialising in mountain warfare, known as 'the Pride of Galedon' they were actually Warlord Samsonov's own Pride and Joy, his beloved regiment that he'd commanded even before he'd been made Warlord. Up until just a couple of years before the time I'm writing about here, the Fifth had been serving for generations out on the Combine's Periphery marches, indeed it was Samsonov's reputedly brilliant command of them against the Belt Pirates in '19 that had won old Grievous Grieg his baton. Samsonov had taken the Fifth with him back to Galedon, but within a couple of months the regiment were disgraced when they suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands the good old Seventh Crucis. As Leftenant Green had mentioned to me back out on the Flats, the Fifth had in fact broken and ran before the 'Mechs of the Seventh after a brief fight. Somehow, and not for the last time, Samsonov had slithered out of being personally punished, and had then set about retraining his regiment away from small-unit anti-pirate warfare and towards the large formation, full scale, battles they were more liable to face on our border. For my part, I'd been more than impressed by their abilities during the brief but fierce clash at Jasper's Barns and said as much to Stuart several times.
      The Eighth Galedon, 'the Fate of Enemies', on the other hand were something of an oddity, they'd been formed in 3011 at the orders of Takashi himself to serve as a Quick Response Force along the border. A fire brigade as it were, to rush to reinforce beleaguered Kuritan units at short notice. Originally pieced together from several different smaller units, including a battalion of the Proserpina Hussars and a nobleman's independent assault unit, over the previous decade the Eighth had gone from success to success, winning a name for themselves on both sides of the border as a heavy, hard hitting, veteran unit. They had also been the regiment that pulled the Fifth Galedon's collective asses out of the fire back in '19, when the Seventh Crucis had been about to slaughter them. Commanded by a tough and very experienced Brigadier General by the name of Victor Nicholas, the Eighth were regarded by Stuart's staff as the more dangerous of the two enemy units.
     Shortly after my arrival back at Panopea we'd received the bad news that we couldn't expect to see the Seventh Crucis RCT arrive to reinforce us for at least three more T-weeks, perhaps longer.
     The Kuritans clashed initially in the west with Gilbert's harried Battalion, and in the east with elements of the Second NI Chasseurs, reinforced with Ugly-PUG armour and infantry. These early skirmishes were pretty inconclusive on the whole, as Gilbert was a downy enough bird that he knew better than to engage the enemy too closely and had immediately begun a campaign of hit and run attacks upon the Fifth Galedon's Battle Group.
     In the east the New Ivie Planetary Guard was soon being sliced and diced by the Eighth Galedon, but the Second NI's battalion there managed to reach Bluthe, get behind it's walls and dig in for a protracted siege.
     By the end of the second week of the campaign elements of both enemy Battle Groups were converging on Fort Bormen, and some advance armoured units were already investing the eastern walls.
     For myself I was having an easy enough time of things, dividing myself as I was between the safety of Bormen's fortified environs and Panopea. I had little in the way of real work to do, and any time it looked as if there was the vaguest chance Bormen might come under serious attack I made sure to find duties out under the sea I needed to rush to attend.
     So all in all, by the atrocious standards of my campaigns to that date, I was well pleased. Indeed there were only really two notable events that occurred over that particular period that I feel I should mention to you.

* * *

     The first of which thankfully didn't involve me personally. The Battle for New Ivaarsen had just entered it's third week and I was safely ensconced inside the walls of Fort Bormen at the time. However in the middle of the night of the twenty third of October Panopea itself became the target of a daring Kuritan attack.
     I later learnt that a Lance of DRG-1N Dragon BattleMechs from the Fifth Galedon had waded out from the Tarnby estuary into the ocean, with the aim of walking along the seabed to Panopea and destroying the C³ Complex. Loaded as it was with defensive tech, Panopea was easily alerted to the approach of the four enemy 'Mechs almost immediately and Stuart ordered the only of it's attack subs available at the time to meet and defeat the enemy in undersea battle ... that sub happened to be none other than the Bowfin, commanded by the rosy cheeked young Ensign of my earlier acquaintence; Henry Larson.
     Larson got lucky initially, as the Snake MechWarriors soon lost sight of each other in the sedimentary clouds kicked up by their progress across the region of the seabed which I'd previously been advised New Ivie submariners knew as the Sludge Shelves. Several times they had to stop to regroup, and apparently one or other of the Dragons slipped and end up face down in the bottom muck, throwing up even more clouds of obscuring dirt and silt into the already very murky water.
     All this of course gave courageous Hal Larson the time he needed to steam in to attack, reaching the Kuritan Lance about a klick and a half out from Panopea, and fifty meters below the stormy surface. What followed has since passed into Draconis March popular history, indeed I've dined out a couple of times on the fact that I'd known Larson, thanks to the fame he won due to his command of the Bowfin during the fight that followed.
     I won't go into too great a description of the Bowfin's battle with the four Dragons as, other than the general fame and glory it won Larson, it don't signify too much to my own story on New Ivaarsen. Suffice to say Larson managed to get off six salvos of Sea Devastator torpedoes at the 'Mechs before even closing too close to them; crippling the arm of one of them, rupturing and flooding the central torso of another, and knocking out the rear laser of a third. The Bowfin then slid in really close and began to thoroughly pepper the floundering Snake 'Mechs with it's lighter Sea Harvester torps.
     I've been through a couple of underwater 'Mech fights myself in my time and I can sympathise with those Kuritan MechWarriors when they found they could not effectively return fire; their autocannons and missile launchers being useless underwater, and the range of their laser cannons being drastically reduced especially in those clouds of muddy sediment.
     Sensibly the Snake Lance Commander opted to run for it, and harassed by Larson's tub, three of the Dragons limped back ashore, leaving the fourth flooded and dead on the seabed.
     Well, as you can imagine Stuart was over the moon about the outcome, Panopea was saved from possible destruction, a light attack submarine had scored a kill against a Kuritan Heavy 'Mech and alone fought off three others, and most of all Darlin' Arlin himself was still hale and healthy. The story went around Fort Bormen's barracks and billets the next day like wildfire and Larson became one of the few heroes so far of the battle for the planet. There was even talk of Stuart having recommended Larson to be decorated with a medal, which seemed a tad extreme to me, but on the whole I didn't pay much attention to the general furore myself, beyond shuddering at the fear other Galedon 'Mechs might try the same thing with more success in the future ... a thought that caused me to devise ever more elaborate excuses to avoid spending too much time out on Panopea.
 
* * *

     The second of the notable occurrences I mentioned happened a few days after Larson's Duel, as the undersea skirmish in defence of Panopea was being called, when Stuart actually dared stick his precious golden maned head out of his C³ Complex and made his first inspection of the defences of Fort Bormen.
     Bormen was already under attack, as I have said previously, though so far Samsonov seemed to be holding off ordering a major 'Mech assault, perhaps because he was still too busy trying to run to ground the desperate mercenary Lances of Gilbert's Battalion out across the northern Flats. At the time I'm talking about here, Bormen had been invested on the eastern side by what appeared to be a couple of regiments of the Fifth Galedon's armour and infantry. Enough to discourage us from sallying out to attack them, even if Stuart had been brave enough to risk that, which he certainly wasn't thank Conrad, but not enough for them to break our walls and get into the city proper. In other words we were safe inside, so Stuart clearly decided he was able to risk showing his face and making a visit.
     Captain Fred Christoph, the C.O. of John John and Paula's Company of the Seventh Crucis and Commander in Chief of Fort Bormen, was another tough and experienced officer, who treated me with the wary respect I was well used to by then. He was pretty put out at having to organise an 'honour guard' at the dock to welcome Stuart into the city, but Stuart had sent me specific instructions that as his ADC I was expected to see carried out, so I'd shrugged in apology and passed them on to Fred.
     I was also expected to be there on the dock when Stuart arrived, so there we were stood in a strong wind on that morning as one of Panopea's Neptunes surfaced.
     Stuart climbed up onto Bormen's military dock with some difficulty, typically laden down as he was by his uniquely tailored version of dress green and golds, and holding a gold encrusted peaked cap upon his head against the whistling morning wind with one hand, he managed to throw a salute to Captain Christoph and myself with his other.
     "Morning gentleman." He gasped into the chilly blow that was buffeting us all at the time. "So ... no band then?" He sniffed glancing about with a distinct air of disappointment and pique, presumably at the lack of a full marching band to welcome him. At which very moment there came a distant 'thump-thump-thump' of cannon fire from a far off wall battery, followed by the muffled 'shriek-crump-shriek-crump' of enemy missile fire in response.
     Now, even with my ever taut nerves, I could tell we were well away from where-ever that morning's probing assault was located and so I remained calm, but Stuart near jumped out of his skin. He span, dropping to his knees, his head darting this way and that, as if expecting to see Kuritan 'Mechs descending upon our position, even though we were deep in the heart of the safely defended city. I must say, speaking as a past master of hiding one's own panic in far worse circumstances, I found it a disgraceful performance, and I was actually genuinely disgusted with him. As was Christoph, though undoubtedly for different reasons, if his appalled and startled grimace was anything to judge by.
     "Sir?" Christoph gasped, which caused Stuart to glance up, gulp a few times and then straighten up, pat at his uniform and chuckle in a distinctly strained manner.
     "Oh ... ahh ... forgive me gentlemen just a touch of ... ahh ... agoraphobia." He said, causing Fred and I to exchange a bemused and doubtful glance between each other while Stuart continued. "Only to be expected I suppose. Quite normal, what? After having been stuck down on Panopea for so long now, nearly three weeks, well my doctor warned me ... but anything for the service eh?" He didn't wait for either of us to answer and to be fair I had recovered a small amount of admiration for him, in having come up with a semi-plausible excuse on the spot like that. Christoph simply gestured towards the honour guard drawn up smartly for Stuart's inspection further up the dock, and Stuart took the invite, walking across to the Company of soldiers with all the swaggering manner of visiting royalty.
     "Of course, now let's have a look at your little parade here Captain." Stuart called over his shoulder causing Fred to bristle at my side, and mutter to me under his breath.
     "Call me stupid, but I'd thought it unwise to muster the whole garrison here for his bloody inspection, while the Snakes are assaulting our walls!" I raised my eyebrows back at Christoph in sympathy while we both followed in Darlin' Arlin's wake, and there followed a boring few minutes while he walked down the line of Ugly-PUG grunts like he was Napoleon reborn, tweaking an ear here, patting a shoulder there. At one point the posturing idiot even made great show of inspecting one of the infantrymen's assault rifles, during which I hung well back as from the way Stuart was holding the bloody thing it looked like he might cause it to go off by mistake.
     Anyway we moved slowly down the line as I say, until we reached Green, John John and Paula, who were stood shivering in their cooling vests, shorts, boots, gloves, and even held their neurohelmets in the crook of their arms. Stuart had given me direct orders that some or all of Christoph's Company of the Seventh Crucis should be on hand during his inspection, so I'd had the Lance stood at the end of the infantry Company. All three jumped to attention like good little soldiers as Stuart reached them, and I winked from behind him at Paula after catching her eye, she was looking ravishing as ever in her skimpy 'Mech gear and risked shooting me a quick smile back before suddenly Darlin' Arlin was between us.
     "Well now, who have we here?" I heard Stuart ooze in a revoltingly unctuous tone of voice that instantly caused my spine to stiffen in affront.
     "MechWarrior Paula Stilson Sir, Christoph's Company, Seventh Crucis Lancers." Paula answered proudly, the silly mare apparently ignoring the disgusting leer I could see spreading across the yellow bastard's annoyingly handsome features.
     "Really? Ah yes, Stilson, yes ... I've heard great things about you MechWarrior. I hear you're quite the pilot." It may be that I'd told so many lies myself by then, but there was just something in that weasel's voice that told me he was lying through his pearly white teeth, and had never heard of  Paula before that moment. Now, you may think it ironic, or hypocritical perhaps, for me to be jealous of a girl I had been preparing to dump shortly thereafter anyway, but regardless I was very put out at the thought of her with another man, especially another rogue of my type which it was only becoming clearer Stuart was. So, being intimately aware of La Stilson's weakness for handsome AFFS heroes, I decided I should get Darlin' Arlin away from my gal as quickly as possible.
     "Ah General, allow me to introduce Leftenant Green and Subaltern John John. I'd like to commend them both to you for the sterling service they provided during our time out on the Flats." I babbled catching Stuart by his elbow and trying to steer him along away from my girlfriend, however the wretched lecher wasn't having any of it.
     "Eh? Oh right, well done men." He muttered while struggling to wrench his peepers up from Paula's frontage, then idly threw Green and John a supremely disinterested salute and fixed Paula with a beaming smile. "So, MechWarrior Stilson, tell me ... have you ever served upon a General's staff?"
     My heart sank and seeing Paula's faltering look of happiness, surprise, imbecile pride, presumably at an idiot assumption her 'talents' as a MechWarrior were finally being noticed, and perhaps a little wary confusion at my baleful scowl, I realised the bloody woman's ambition for advancement might well make her fall for Stuart's act. Well, I decided instantly, I wasn't having this! Not a chance. No way was she 'servicing the General's staff', or my name wasn't Darius Davion.
     "Err Sir, I'm sure the Captain and Leftenant Green couldn't spare a valuable MechWarrior like Stilson there, at this time. Why we'd be leaving Green's Lance at half strength." Then seeing Stuart glance my way in annoyance at my interruption to his, doubtless amorous, schemes, I hit him with the big one. "Even one less active 'Mech might make the difference between Bormen falling to the Snakes or not."
     Stuart blanched a little at that, his timorous heart clearly missing a beat at the thought of Fort Bormen being overrun, as of course I'd intended.
     "Perhaps you're right Darius, you're ever the soldier eh? Well so be it, let's get on." With that the honour guard, including Green and the others, were dismissed back to their regular duties while Christoph and I accompanied Stuart to Bormen HQ.
     That evening, after Stuart had been ferried back to the perceived safety of Panopea, I rolled exhausted off of Paula in our bunk after giving her a thorough seeing too, in order to remind her why she'd fancied me in the first place. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, while she rabitted on as women tend to after slap and tickle, I became suddenly alert as she mentioned Stuart.
     "- nice of him, don't you think?"
     "Huh? Whassat?" I replied, instantly on my guard.
     "I was just saying, wasn't it awfully nice of the General to single me out like that today?" She answered and I bristled angrily.
     "Nice? The man's a damned scoundrel. He was more interested in your tits than your Mechsmanship." I snapped at her, at which she stiffened beside me and I felt her squirm back away from me.
     "Oh, so you don't think it's possible for a senior officer to recognise my abilities then? If they pay me a compliment it has to be down to the way I look?" This was clearly going badly I realised at the back of my mind, but never-the-less the silly bint needed telling in my opinion, so I ploughed on regardless.
     "I didn't say that, but in his case, in answer to your question, yes!" Well from there it all went downhill, and there followed one of those intensely aggravating circular arguments one sometimes has to face when dealing with the female of the species. For perhaps an hour, our billet rang with our raised voices, Paula's intermittent sobbing at my 'cruelty', 'insensitivity', and whining about how 'I didn't respect her as a MechWarrior' and 'was only interested in one thing'. Conversely I was shouting back at her about how she should be more circumspect about how she dresses in front of Generals, that Stuart was clearly not just a cowardly toad, but a loathsome roué and so on, which was of course mighty rich coming from yours truly, but there you go.
      Now there's only one way to win this kind of ghastly row, so while she was ranting on about my 'unwarranted jealousy' I surreptitiously started to gently caress her, and within minutes we were bouncing each other off the walls again. Lying entwined together afterwards, the fight forgotten and both of us chuckling and teasing the other, she paused and kissed me deeply.
     "Darius, you never need to be jealous of me you know? I'm sorry if I gave you cause to think that." She murmured, and so all was well again, but still I resolved to keep a close eye on both Stuart and Paula in the coming days to make sure they were kept as far away from each other as possible.
     I wasn't to know then of course that my stupid jealousy over Paula, a trollop who, as I say, I hoped to be ditching soon anyway, would within a couple of days cause me to be literally blown into one of the most terrifying periods of my life, and back into the very thick of the Battle for New Ivaarsen. Though this time under circumstances I couldn't have imagined even in my worst nightmares.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #13 on: 15 February 2011, 18:31:00 »
11

     "She's been ordered where?" I bellowed at Green as he was about to take a shot on the pool table in our billet. Surprised at my tone he frowned and stood up, before answering me.
     "Panopea. Leftenant General Stuart requested her presence there today, to answer some questions he had about the practical use of 'Mechs inside the city in the event of a Kuritan incursion through the walls. Captain Christoph suggested that one of the Leftenants might be better suited to answer his questions apparently, but the General seems to want an average MechWarrior's opinion. So, as I say, Stilson left by sub a couple of hours ago."
     I gaped at Green in horror, the sick bile rising in my throat at the thought of Paula in that swine Stuart's clutches. He'd clearly set this up, I'd been given orders that morning to inspect the overall supply situation in Bormen on Stuart's behalf and had just popped back to the billet for a bite of lunch, and I hoped a quick grope with the tart, only to find this. She was long gone to Panopea, into what had to be a trap for the sweet innocent strumpet ... assuming that she was innocent. Oh that thought came into my mind all too quickly, as I stood there I remembered how easily Paula had first fallen into my lustful embrace, how from the start I'd pegged her as an amorously inclined wanton, could it be she was every bit as much a willing partner in this little tryst I'd discovered was occurring out under the sea that day, as Darlin' Arlin was himself?
     "That mother-fracker!" I cursed out loud venomously, while positively imagining Stuart pawing and groping my gal, causing Green to give a little start and goggle at me in shock. With a further colourful outburst of swearing I swung around and positively ran from the billet, my mouth tasted bitter, my stomach churned with the disgust I felt at Paula possibly rutting with that fake fop. But I ran, oh yes, I knew where I was going. I would not be made a fool of in this way. I was the one who cuckolded others, I placed the horns on their heads, I would not be the victim in this.       
     But hold, I thought to myself as I hammered through the streets, surely I was wrong here. Paula couldn't have acted more in love with me over the previous couple of weeks if she'd tried, indeed up until that moment of suspicion I'd thought her entirely too smitten. She would surely fend off Stuart's advances when he made them ... or would she? He was a General after all, and Paula was certainly ambitious. Maybe she'd encouraged Stuart's attention, maybe she saw it as moving up?
     Well, as you can see I was in quite a state when I finally reached Bormen's military docks, I'd flashed my ID card at top speed through the multiple checkpoints, and I must have looked an absolute fright as I tore through and out onto the main dock itself.
     As fate would have it, Hal Larson was there sat perched upon a fuel drum, red hair whipping in the wind, a chipped tin mug of steaming recaff in his right hand, gesturing expressively with his left while doubtless retelling the story of his recent heroics to the little cluster of dock officers stood avidly around him. Spotting me running up, Larson hopped down and called out a greeting to me.
     "I need to get to Panopea urgently." I snapped at him, ignoring his cheery welcome, at which he became all business.
     "Uhh, yes Sir. The Bowfin is at your service of course. She's prepped and ready to go." Which I considered a stroke of luck at the time, though now I come to think of it, it was in fact just the opposite. Anyway within quarter of an hour we were aboard Larson's now celebrated tub pulling out of Fort Bormen dock.

* * *

     Larson finally made contact over the comm with Stuart, after several failed earlier attempts, just as we were leaving the Tarnby Estuary and entering the ocean proper. After Larson advised Stuart I was aboard, there was a long pause, before Stuart's voice crackled once more over the comm.
     "Before you proceed here to Panopea Ensign, I have a quick chore for you to carry out. The Barracuda knocked out several Snake APCs moving west along the coast road towards Bormen three hours ago, it was then forced to return to Bormen to refuel, however before doing so it spotted a makeshift supply depot at Sable Cove. Larson you need to knock out that depot. It should be a piece of cake as Smith, of the Barracuda, stated he couldn't see any defences upon it's seaward side." My spine prickled as I listened over Larson's shoulder, this smelt to me like Stuart was diverting my ride away from Panopea in order to keep me elsewhere while he had his way with my gal.
     "Right ho General, leave it to us, we'll light that Snake depot up like it a firecracker, eh Darius?" The oaf Larson replied happily. Well for once I was not primarily concerned about the risks involved in going into combat, for I was too concerned about Stuart and Paula being together. Deciding I had to do something to put a stop to this I grabbed the headset from Larson and barked into it.
     "Ah Sir, I've urgent news from Bormen." Which was rot of course, but I ran with it. "News that you need to hear immediately."
     "Oh really Darius? Regarding what precisely? I can wait to hear about the supply situation you know ... no matter how low the garrison is running on cheese and biscuits." Stuart's reply chuckled across the comm, and I could swear I heard a distinctly feminine giggle in the background, my rage nearly exploded at that but I struggled desperately to think of a plausible reason for my rushing back to Panopea.
     "Very well Sir, if you insist I tell you this over an open comm ... I think I've learned there might be a Kuritan spy in the garrison." Christ and Conrad only know where I got the idea, but it just came out. Well it seemed the kind of terrible possibility that should have made even a useless bastard of a commander like Stuart pause I suppose. However he simply clucked his tongue, then replied.
     "Oh really, hmm, that is bad news. Well I shall expect a full report immediately upon your arrival here ... after you get back from destroying that depot. Panopea out." Aware of Larson and the crewmen watching me closely I restrained myself from screaming out loud in fury and hurling the comm headset across the cramped bridge. But I took it off, breathed deeply a few times, and handed it back to Larson, while assuming a serious frown.
     "Naturally, for reasons of operational security, I'll have to ask you to forget you and your crew just heard that Ensign." I said in my sternest hero voice, which caused Larson to babble that the secret was safe with them and that I shouldn't worry as we'd be back to Panopea within a hour or two.
     It took us perhaps twenty minutes of underwater travel eastwards before we approached the position of this supply depot we'd been sent to knock out. After ordering the sub to surface, Larson turned to me and grinned like a small boy on Christmas morning.
     "Right ho Darius, up you come, let's grab a ring side seat, this should be quite a show." I blinked at him in surprise.
     "Ah, ring side seat?" Larson nodded enthusiastically, while hurrying me back towards the ladder to the conning tower.
     "Quite so old chap. Come along, this place is defenceless seaward remember, I'll need to spot for my gunner, Jobkins there, and I know you'll love to see us in action eh?" Hoisted by my bloody reputation yet again I struggled to think of a plausible explanation as to why I should stay below, but ultimately decided that all being well there should be no real danger anyway, so I followed the cheery fool up the ladder and out into the chilly afternoon air.   
     The Naval heavy laser cannon swivelled smoothly at the nose of the Bowfin and after the sub cut through a large wave, sending up a cloud of spray, Larson called out to me pointing over to our right, shouting to make himself heard over the roar of the ocean.
     "There it is, Darius old chap." He pointed to the grey coastline which lay some seventy meters or so away from us, then bellowed into his comm headset; "Okay Jobkins, target starboard, stand ready to light her up ... oh I say that don't look right."
     Through the misty haze of the crashing surf I suddenly spotted a distant cloud, and then six or seven ominously unmistakable missile trails arcing up from the supposedly defenceless depot. My heart froze in my breast and I grabbed Larson's shoulder in pure horror.
     "Those are LRMs, you bloody fool. I thought that place had no seaward defences!" Larson shot a wondering glance at me then struggled to pull back, while his eyes locked on the rapidly inbound missiles.
     "Darius, quick get back down -" He began, and I turned meaning to slide down the conning tower ladder, not needing to hear Larson's advice to realise I would be much safer inside the heavily armoured attack submarine. However those missiles came in too fast, most impacting savagely at several points along the hull, but one directly hit against the side of the tower. There was a ear-splitting roar, a blast of roasting heat and flame, the sub rocked violently under my feet, and I was lifted bodily into the air by the almighty blast. I can still recall what seemed like a strangely serene moment of flight, seeing the grey waters coming up to meet me, and then the brutal impact into the water.
     I must have been at least partially conscious, as I do recall a feeling of terrible weakness, while being rolled and tossed in that cruel churning sea. But I was unable to will my limbs into movement, I was deafened, and I remember clearly that sickening helpless moment when the sea water began to fill my lungs and I knew I was about to drown. It must have been then that I actually passed out, or maybe even died ... I don't know which, for it must have been touch and go either way. If I did actually die I can assure you I recall no heaven or hell, or anything else for that matter.

* * *

     I came to coughing and retching up salt water as something pressed heavily and regularly down upon my chest. Spluttering and spitting I blinked up to find hearty Hal Larson, his face ruddier than ever and his hair plastered wet to his head, above me while applying basic resuscitation technique, leaning over me pumping his hands down upon my breast.
     "Darius, oh thank Christ." He cried seeing my eyes open, and I weakly pushed him back, gasping for air, my lungs feeling like they were bursting. "I thought you were a gonner there for a minute" He prattled on, while I tried to get my bearings. I was sat, drenched to my skin, on a pebbly stretch of shore, the sea was fiercely bursting only a few meters down from us, and bizarrely there was a strong mouthwatering smell of barbecued meat filling my nostrils. Staggering to my feet I turned to find there were the remains of three Kuritan armoured personnel carriers blazing away on a coastal road about twenty meters inland.
     "Larson, what? Where? How?" I croaked, my throat burning and tasting of bile and brine. He waved his hands soothingly at me.
     "Settle down old man, you've had a nasty shock, you should rest easy for a while. You were blown out of the conning tower when that missile struck. Lifted right up and out into the sea as if by a great invisible hand. That depot must have been a dummy, a damned tricky Snake trap, and bloody hell but it worked eh?
     Well anyway I wasn't about to lose a passenger on my ship, so I slammed down the tower hatch, ordered the crew to dive and get back to Panopea, then jumped in and came after you."
     I looked at this amazing fool in stunned surprise. "You jumped in after me?"
     "Indeed, well I copped a bit of a packet too myself y'see." He waved at his left arm with a wince, and I noticed for the first time he was bleeding from a long gash on his left bicep. "So, I'd have probably just been a hindrance to the chaps, and besides as I say I've not lost a passenger yet and I wasn't about to start now what?
     So I jumped in and swum down a bit trying to find you. You'd sunk quite some way, but I managed to get a hold on you with my good arm and well here we are." He shrugged, apparently embarrassed all of a sudden, and all I could do was gape at him. Oh, he was trying to play the whole thing down, but make no mistake Larson had abandoned his ship and the relative safety it had offered himself, in order to swim down and rescue me from the very choppy sea with one crook arm. It must have been a titanic feat of truly selfless courage, endurance, strength and will, and I was somewhat in awe for once to be in the presence of a real hero.
     "Thanks Henry." I managed to mutter, feeling strangely ill at ease myself. Well you'll own it ain't often you're sat opposite a fella who has literally just saved your life. It's actually deuced awkward I can assure you. Well, what can you say or do to pay them back after all?
     Anyway, Larson was clearly as keen as I was to get past the long moment of loaded silence and stood, brushing at his soaked and bloody shirt and trousers. Then squinted up at the burning Snake APCs.
     "Ah, the current must have carried us westward, these must be the kills Barracuda made this afternoon." He declared in a brisk voice and shivering a bit in the chilly wind, I staggered after him toward the warmth of the fires, my nose prickling again at the smell of burnt meat.
     Larson pulled back gagging suddenly, and motioned me back. "Looks like they were carrying infantry ... the poor sods."
     It was at that moment, while my stomach churned at the realisation I'd been feeling hungry at the smell of medium rare cooked Kuritan, it occurred to me we were stranded behind enemy lines. I quickly mentioned as much to Larson and he looked pensive for a moment, before looking back at the burning vehicles. "Well then, I guess we'll have to head north and try to reach the Opal River, Great Barns is still in our hands, maybe we can find a boat to get us there. We'd never make Bormen, what with the Snakes having already begun their siege."
     I pondered my saviour's words for a long moment, remembering with a shudder of fear that this whole area was positively swarming with Kuritans, then I trudged up to his side, and gazed down at the singed corpses of Kuritan infantrymen that lay strewn about the place. The idea came to me then and with a forced grin I slapped my hand down on Larson's shoulder.
     "There's an old Killarnee poem Hal old chap, taught to me by my father's gamekeeper, which freely translated from the Mick goes as follows;
     I realised with fear one morning,
     At the blare of the walladog hunter's sound,
     When they're all chasing after the poor bloody walla',
     It's safer to be dressed like the hound."

     Larson looked at me baffled, then slowly he smiled back at me and both of us looked down at the bodies, Larson began to babble that he knew no Japanese, but I waved the objection aside.
     "Don't worry Hal, I made it a point to learn that bloody lingo after my first campaign, I'll do any talking, now snap too it old son and see if you can find one of these scorched Snakes who matches your build and ain't too badly frazzled. That tall chap laying over there I think will do for me nicely."
     And so it was I quickly stripped the partially burnt, but thankfully rugged, tan combat fatigue uniform bodysuit from a nearby Kuritan infantryman's corpse. It wasn't a pleasant job to be sure, but I'd decided that if we were to get out of this by travelling through half the bloody Kuritan army, then our best chance for survival would be to pass ourselves off as being Snakes ourselves. I quickly pulled the uniform on, tugged on and laced up the pair of heavy boots, and then tossed the soggy remnants of my AFFS uniform into the nearest burning APC. Crouching beside my man's stripped down cadaver, he was blonde I noted, I pulled his dog-tags from about his neck and surveyed them, then called out to Larson.
     "Hey Hal, from now on I'm Private Lucas Nixon, of the DCMS' 487th Motorised Infantry. Come along old chap, chop chop. Find your pigeon." Hal was still picking gingerly through the couple of dozen dead bodies trying to find one that would match his build, and it was at just that moment I heard the voices approaching.
     Springing to my feet I stared eastwards and strained my ears, to be rewarded again with catching the unmistakable sound of Japanese being spoken. I cast about quickly for a weapon, which thankfully wasn't a problem as there were several assault rifles laying about, one of which I snatched up quickly. I then turned back towards Larson, who apparently hadn't yet heard what had to be approaching Kuritans, Larson was still wearing his Fed Suns uniform and looked about as quintessentially Davionist as roast beef and potatoes. My heart began to hammer, a cold sweat broke out on my skin and I suddenly realised there was no way I could pass Larson off as a Kuritan soldier. With his ruddy cheeks, red hair, optimistic schoolboy manner and local New Ivie PG patches, Larson suddenly seemed a damned liability.
     "'S just up ahead Sarge." I heard a man's voice call out in Japanese, and suddenly time seemed to slow, Larson finally hearing the Snakes, jumped down and ran towards me, his blue eyes goggling in excited fear. I half turned and glanced back down the shore, where I could now just make out through the spray of surf crashing onto the stoney beach what looked to be at least a platoon jogging towards our position.
     "Darius, we must hide." Larson hissed at me, as my mind raced through the possibilities. I suppose if I were Darius the Daring, the man everyone thinks I am, I'd have tossed trusty Hal one of the rifles, dived for cover and then set out to sell our lives bravely by ambushing the twenty or thirty odd Snake soldiers advancing towards us.
     But I'm certainly not that man, and so I did the only sane thing I could in that position. Shaking my head sadly I pushed Ensign Henry Larson, the man who'd saved my life that very afternoon, away from me, and with a quick motion levelled the Kuritan KK assault rifle at him.
     "Sorry old chap." I said softly, then shouted at him far more harshly in Japanese; "Take this, you Fedrat pig."
     Larson began to say something in amazed reply, his blue eyes locking on mine in utter incomprehension, as I shot him. The first high velocity bullet tore through his throat, causing a gout of blood to spurt as he span over backwards. He hit the pebbles hard with a crunch, then squirmed and writhed, while making a dreadful gurgling sound and clawing at the wound. Cringing, with bile bitter in my mouth, I pumped three more rounds into him and he jerked one last time then died. His blood already beginning to pool between the wet black stones he lay upon.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #14 on: 16 February 2011, 17:22:55 »
12

     Now, I realise that some of you lucky chaps may never have been put into the position where you've had to weigh up the value you place upon your own life, compared to that of another person, and thus you might be tutting sanctimoniously at this point of my story. Probably even righteously damning me for a cowardly brute and murderer.
    Well damn you to hell, with your pious easy judgements made safe in an armchair, far from risk of harm. Blake knows, I'm not proud of having murdered poor old Hal, but being brutally honest I'd rather be alive today, and somewhat guilty about something I once did ... than long dead with a clear moral record. If that makes me a monster then so be it, but I will just say I never want to go into battle, I never seek out the blood and death like all those pious hypocrites that are lauded as heroes do. I'm not the sort to clamour for war, and to charge in with a song in my heart like Sortek, or Hanse, or any of that precious bunch of bloodthirsty paladins. 
     The cold hard fact was that Larson and I were caught on that shore, we could either both be taken prisoner, and then in all likelihood executed by the Snakes, or I could do away with that brave, rosy cheeked, young Hector and live. I'll be honest and admit, it wasn't even a hard decision for me to reach at the time, with the fear galvanising me into action and my heart thundering in my breast ... it was only in the days, weeks, months and even years later, that the guilt has gnawed at me some. I don't want to overstate this though, for I'd do it again in a second if I had to, but I'll own that some nights I do wake in a cold sweat from nightmares, where I'm stood on a cold, wet shoreline and Henry Larson's shade stands before me, pallid and blood spattered, his wounds still bleeding profusely and his watery blue eyes fixed accusatorily upon mine, his clammy hands reaching out for my neck.
     So then there it is, I shot Larson dead. Then heard the crunch, crunch, crunch, behind me of the approaching Snake platoon, and as the retorts of the shots were swallowed by the nearby sound of the waves washing onto the shore, a harsh voice cried out in Japanese.
     "Halt! Lower your weapon!" Being sure to make no sudden movements I very slowly bent down and placed the KK assault rifle on the ground, then ever so carefully turned with my hands up. I found I was faced with a crowd of DCMS infantrymen, each dressed in tan fatigues, thick padded brown armoured jackets, grey clamshell shaped plassteel battle helmets, and each aiming identical rifles to the one I'd just put down straight at me. At the centre of the line of Snake soldiers was an aged looking man, bearing the lavender Japanese '5' metal bar insignia of a Sergeant at his collar, his leathery Asiatic featured face was creased with wrinkles and old scars, and I noted with a start, as he barked at me to keep my hands where he could see them, that his teeth seemed to be entirely plated in gold.
     "Hey, take it easy guys. I'm on your side." I said, thanking my lucky stars that my Japanese was easily as fluent as that of your typical Snake grunt, many of whom you may be surprised to hear only learn Japanese upon entering the military. However, the Sergeant fixed me with a terrifyingly intense glare, his eyes like black jewels under his bristling snow white brows. He stamped up to me, so his face was peering evilly right up at mine, the difference in our heights suddenly very apparent. He jabbed hard with his finger at the patch on the tattered sleeve of my new uniform.
     "Since when have the Four-Eighty Seventh been our friends?" He barked at me, thrusting his sleeve patch emblazoned with the number '357' at me. "And since when did a Cherry Blossom like you get the nerve to talk to a Sergeant common like that?" With that the swine kneed me hard in the groin, then proceeded to kick me several times while I was down, his plasteel toed boots hammering into my stomach and chest as I instinctively rolled into a ball, 'till he eventually stopped. Well, not then knowing too much about DCMS infantry etiquette I thought he'd twigged me for a fraud and the game was up before it'd even begun, however it's actually quite the done thing for Snake non-coms and officers to routinely beat up their own troops if they speak out of line. Little did I know that this particular Sergeant was thought to be a rather soft, grand-fatherly type compared to some, who would probably have ordered me flogged, or perhaps exposed to the elements, or caned across the soles of my feet! 
    "On your feet Blossom! UP I said!" He bellowed at me and I did my best to get up and stand straight, despite the throbbing agony in my crotch, my bruised belly, and my ribs. Somehow I managed it though, as I guessed this crotchety bastard would have waded into me again if I hadn't. Grunting at me, he stamped over to Larson's body, kicked it, then circled around me until he was back in my face again.
     "So then Blossom. Let's hear it? Who are you? What happened here?" Taking it slowly I first gave my new name and rank, then replied with a story that I had just came up with on the spot, that went along the lines that I'd been part of a convoy headed along the coast road for Bormen, that we'd been hit by laser cannon fire from out to sea, which had destroyed our three APCs and left me unconscious. Then, a couple of minutes or so before, I'd been awoken by the sound of someone poking about the wreckage near to me, coming too with a jolt I'd spotted 'a Fedrat officer' not five meters away from me. However the Dragon was clearly looking down over me, for the Fedrat had apparently not spotted that I was miraculously alive, so I managed to inch my way over to a nearby rifle, grabbed it and then got the drop on the swine. After first trying to question him, I found he spoke only some bizarre 'decadent Davionist gibberish', and so in accordance with regulations I killed him, as 'the honourable Sergeant' may have just witnessed.
     I must say I flatter myself that I pitched it pretty well, all matter of fact and soldierly like, but the aged Snake Sergeant just watched me silently the whole time, his eyes flicking occasionally between myself and Larson's body, which was beginning to make me more than a little nervous by the time I got to the end.
     "Hmmph." The leathery faced old bastard grunted sourly, then he gave a quick nod. "So ka. Well Nixon it looks like you're drafted with us for the time being, as we've orders to head north this afternoon and we don't have time to escort a Blossom like you all the way to Bormen.
     Just understand this, for the time being you're part of the Three-Fifty Seventh Assault Regiment, and we don't stand for the kind of laxness you Blossoms over in the Four-Eight Seven do. So I'll be watching you, and if you put one toe out of line I'll have the skin off your back quicker than you can count to twenty, wakarimasu-ka?"

* * *

     Thus it was that I, Leftenant Darius Davion, the poster boy for the AFFS, decorated hero of the celebrated Mallory's World and Harrow's Sun campaigns, and some time secret agent for the First Prince himself, most reluctantly became a private infantryman in the DCMS.
     Well, it was to be a truly mind-boggling experience as you can imagine ... then again you probably can't, for the life of a grunt foot soldier in Lord Kurita's vast army is not something the likes of you or I can really know without experiencing it first hand. Before I begin to describe the experience however, assuming my trusty mortar board hat and picking up my cane, I shall become Professor Darius once more, in order to give you some background to the army I'd just become a very small, and quivering, part of.
     When you chaps think of the DCMS I expect you're actually thinking of the Dragon 'Mech Force, that is the ninety to a hundred odd BattleMech regiments fielded by House Kurita at any given time. Consisting as it does perhaps eleven to twelve thousand actual MechWarriors. Which does form the very high profile spearhead of the DCMS' land forces it's true. However we all tend to forget, or dismiss, the vast masses of other military personnel that make up far and away the bulk of the Kuritan armed forces as a whole. However at the time I'm writing of here, it's worth remembering that one in four of all citicens of the Draconis Combine, a nation let's remember with a population of many billions, were in service with either the DCMS, or it's sister service the DCA (the Kuritan Navy).
     So it shouldn't surprise you to discover that there are literally millions of infantry soldiers serving under the Dragon's banner at all times. Upon completion of basic training these soldier fanatics become officially low ranking members of the buke, the Military Class of the highly stratified Combine society, they are in fact typically conscripted from the limitless masses of the heinin, or Worker Class, who have been brainwashed from birth into believing the Combine is surrounded by hateful enemy nations, but is destined to triumph over all eventually through blood, sweat, and battle. If this sounds positively dreadful, I can assure you it is indeed, in later years I spent plenty of time behind the borders of the Combine, though as ever most unwillingly, and I can assure you most of the place is like one great, grim, military camp.
     Perhaps the reason these nearly numberless infantry regiments aren't usually recognised as much of a threat by our side, is that generally speaking a large percentage of them are tied up deep inside the Combine itself, keeping the Kuritan boot firmly upon the neck of the oppressed masses, actively fighting locally grown rebel groups, crushing revolts, and garrisoning planets not judged worthy of 'Mechs out on the largely empty Kuritan Periphery frontier.
     When the Dragon Infantry Force regiments do go into battle against ourselves or the Ellsies for real it rarely ends well for them, as Kuritan commanders tend to regard them as an expendable asset, to be hurled at the enemy in as large numbers as can be mustered. Not that the infantrymen themselves seem to object mind you, indeed they almost seem to regard it as a badge of honour that their chances of surviving a campaign on the border are about the same as that of a snowball lasting long in hell. They refer to themselves proudly as 'human bullets', and their non-coms and officers typically lash them verbally into frenzies of bezerk-Banzai battle fury before action, extorting their men to 'hurl themselves at the enemy, to become death, and to seek the purity of mu-shin, the state of 'no-mind', where one acts in battle without fear, compassion, or thought'.
     By then I'd seen the results of this insane indoctrination for myself, thankfully usually from the relative safety of my 'Mech's cockpit, such as when I'd personally incinerated dozens of Snake infantrymen who, armed only with rifles and other side arms, had futilely rushed my 'Mech on Mallory's World, or when I'd watched an entire Snake regiment of infantry launch a truly suicidal charge against McKinnon's Raiders on Harrow's Sun the previous year.
     Perhaps because of this ruthlessly remorseless outlook, and their woeful chances of living to a ripe old age, the infantrymen of the Kuritan army were notorious for committing the worst kind of war crimes and atrocities. For example, though the haughty MechWarriors of the Second Sword of Light like to brag about their part in the infamous Kentares Massacre, it was inevitably mainly soldiers of the DIF who did most of the actual shooting, stabbing, and beheading. Of course that's just the most famous and easiest example, but every time the Snakes invaded, or even raided, a border world Snake infantry would be in there raping and pillaging like it was going out of fashion.
     This then was the branch of the DCMS I'd unhappily signed up for. The thankless, arse-end of the Kuritan army, where the officers and non-coms thrashed you with canes if you looked at 'em sideways, where I'd be expected to charge on foot at AFFS 'Mechs and tanks if it came to it, and where as it turned out, at least for most of the short time I was in it, I actually found to some degree I fitted in quite well.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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  • Posts: 312
Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #15 on: 16 February 2011, 17:51:06 »
13

     Y'know, when you're thrown into a situation that is utterly alien to your experience, your culture and background, and you're trying desperately to blend in seamlessly with those around you, it's the little things you do without thinking that will normally give you away. I realised this as I joined the rear file of the Snake platoon at that wave blasted shore, when within a couple of minutes of us jogging eastwards the chap next to me leaned over in mid stride and said;
     "Huh ... that how they run in the Four-Eighty Seven?" With a terrified start I nearly fell over, while I wondered what the infernal grunt meant. Seeing my concerned expression however the fellow, who was a heavy built, dark skinned, shaven headed lad with happy looking pale grey eyes, nodded down at my feet. "You're not running 'Minoru Lightfoot'."
     I quickly realised that whereas I'd simply been jogging along, like any person you might see exercising by running gently around the park on one of our planets, the others were all loping easily forwards in a steady, synchronised, half jog that was clearly some kind of standardized quick-march. The regular crunching of their heavy booted feet upon the pebbles creating a rhythmic, almost soothing, chorus. Quickly falling into step with them, I nodded at my file-mate and shrugged, doing my best to grin ruefully while my guts griped in panic.
     "I never was much good at the old Lightfoot. Give me an APC to cruise in any day." I managed to croak, and thankfully he seemed an easy going kind of Snake and grinned back at me.
     "Heh, I know what you mean. Just don't let Sergeant Tadamoto hear you say so, or he'll have you on latrine duty all the way to Ta-winu Peaka, he's already pissed at you that you slotted that Fedrat before he got the chance too. I'm Genji by the way, Private Genjichiro Sado." Now this was where I realised I just didn't know anything about Combine culture and society, did they shake hands when making new acquaintances? Would that give me away straight off the bat? Erring on the side of caution I kept up the pace, though already my legs were beginning to ache and my breath was shortening, and nodded back at him, giving him my cover name.
     "Good to know you ... how did you say that? A'roo-kus?" He replied and I told him again several times, until he finally mastered the pronunciation, he was speaking Japanese of course, and it looked to me that was his first and only language. "So where you from?" He then asked.
     "Galedon." I blurted, which bearing in mind I was meant to be from a Galedon based regiment seemed to make sense to me.
     "Oh really, which city?" The nosey bastard replied and I mentally cursed him, what did I do? If I said I didn't come from a city, he'd want to know about the country region I'd grown up in, and I didn't even know if they had farms on Galedon.
     "The capital." I grunted, praying he'd shut up. No such luck.
     "Wow, big city eh? I envy you, I'm Tabayamese myself. Grew up in a small town at the edge of the Curtain Forest, nothing to do but whittle wood and chase whitetails." He grinned, as if making some kind of joke, so I desperately raised a sick little smile for him again, at which point the three lads ahead of us joined in.
     "Hey Nixon-san, watch out for Genji, you know the Tabayamese, if they can't get whitetail to frack, they'll settle for a pretty boy any day of the week." There was a burst of guffaws at that, Genji cursed them back and Sergeant Tadamoto screamed down the side of the little jogging column his eyes flashing dangerously, so we all hushed up until the sod gave up glaring at us and jogged back up to the head of the platoon.
     Genji punched the joker, a short stocky chap in the middle of the file in front of us. "Ignore this bastard Lucas, he likes to think he's a comedian, but I've met funnier Fedrats."
     Genji then went on to quietly introduce us all, while we were on the hoof; the joker was apparently Private Ray Hammond, a quick witted and genuinely likeable young chap, who if you didn't know otherwise you might mistakenly assume was from one of our own agricultural planets. Then there was Ivan Karpachenko, a blonde giant from the planet Sverdlovsk, which was 'just half a hop' from Galedon he told me, clearly a little surprised I'd apparently never heard of it. Karpachenko was only a few years older than the rest of the platoon members, who seemed to average between nineteen and twenty two years old, yet he was regarded as a fatherly figure by most of the lads. He seemed your typical gentle giant type, but I didn't doubt he'd be a devil in a hand to hand fight.
     The platoon medico was an quietly intelligent and diffident seeming young native Galedonian named Kazuo O'Rielly, who seemed to be of a mixed heritage which was reflected in his Asiatic features, red hair, and blue eyes.
     There were also; Kentaro Yoshikawa, a surly bruiser from New Samarkand, who always seemed to be carrying around an almighty chip on his shoulder about having failed entry into an armoured regiment. Ryan Mashindo, a dissolute washed out looking prole, who drank secretly most nights, and who had a well deserved rep as a scrounger. Oh and Asano Roberts, a bullet headed, dark skinned, fanatic from a border world, the name of which I forget, who was absolutely religious in his devotion to House Kurita and his hatred of my family and our followers.
     They were all very tough looking, shaven headed, hard muscled and possessed of a strange stoic acceptance of the grim lot they collectively had in life. As we hoofed it for their camp along that pebbly shoreline I watched them all with a sinking sense of despair, these were alien creatures to me and there seemed no way I could successfully blend in with them for any length of time.

* * *   
                     
     I soon learnt that my new unit, the Second Platoon, Third Company, First Battalion, of the Three Fifty Seventh DIF Assault Regiment, was part of the Fifth Galedon's Battle Group, and was on the move north with other elements of the Snake army onworld, as part of a strike force aiming to close in on the northern city of Twin Peaks. APCs and troks were at a premium to the Kuritan invaders it seemed and we 'human bullets' of the Three Fifty Seventh clearly weren't judged important enough to merit any of them. So it was that our happy little company fell into a grinding routine of daily forced marches, followed by either bivouacking in sundry ruined farmsteads, villages and towns, or more occasionally storming into recently deserted habitations and therein seizing billets.
     To my very good fortune the Flats between the Tarnby and Opal Rivers seemed to be denuded of any AFFS or New Ivie PG by this time in the campaign, so we didn't get drawn into any real fighting on our way north. However it was certainly no easy thing for a relatively pampered MechWarrior nobleman like myself to endure the rigours expected of a DIF foot soldier, oh don't get me wrong I was as fit and hale as any Brigade bucket-head at the time, you have to be to pilot a 'Mech well y'know, but that was nothing to how tough your average Snake grunt is expected to be.
     I soon found myself, along with my new platoon buddies, daily ordered into seemingly endless hours of marching, tramping along the roads northward. The winds would all too often shriek down at us across the Flats, forcing us to hunch forward and struggle on as best we could, while that withered bastard Sergeant Tadamoto would alternate between exhorting us on with cheerful marching songs, and lashing us both verbally and physically whenever any of us showed the faintest sign of flagging, which I unfortunately found myself doing all too often in the early days of that dreadful ordeal.
     I can still close my eyes here in my warm study, and be back on those bleak roads once more, with the tall crops hissing and rippling like a green ocean on either side. I can still feel that numbing wind on my face, the crushing weight of a full pack and rifle on my back, the throbbing agony of my complaining leg muscles, the nagging pain of blistered feet in heavy infantry boots, and oh yes I can actually hear that golden-grinning Snake swine as he jogged at my side;
     "What's this? You tired, you pathetic Cherry! You want to cuddle up in a nice warm APC? Real soldiering too hard for you eh? ON, you stinking piece of weak-kneed slime. ON.
     What d'you think the Fedrats will do if they catch you lagging behind us out here? I'll tell you what ... they'll treat you like a lady that's what! But maybe you Four Eight Seven Cherry Blossoms would like that ... is that what you'd like Blossom?"
     Lord knows how the Kuritan propaganda bods come up with this kind of nonsense, but d'you know it's a strange fact that in my time with the Dragon Infantry on New Ivaarsen I heard several times officers and non-coms warning their troops that if they were captured by the AFFS they would face being ... well ... let's just say used in a 'Canopian manner' by our lads. Bizarre idea ain't it? I suppose it's all part of the Snake claims that we Davions are a despicably debauched and decadent bunch, and regardless of it's patent untruth the DIF boys believed it I can assure you. I guess it goes to partly explain why they look so harshly on any of their chaps who have the good sense to voluntarily surrender to us.
     Anyway, as I was saying, those route marches were pure hell for me. Doubly so for the first few days, before I began to slowly grow fitter and more used to them. Indeed I only survived, in my opinion, due to the covert intervention of my new platoon mates, and in particular Genji.
     I'm not sure why, perhaps they simply took pity on me as a 'spoiled' motorised infantrymen suddenly thrown into gruelling days of near constant forced marching. Or maybe they had immediately accepted me as a new member of their platoon, and felt instinctively protective toward me. Whatever, as we trudged into the scourging winds, I would find sometimes Karpachenko and Genji at my sides quietly lifting me between them, and allowing me to rest a little while we were still on the move. Or, before setting off some days, they would share out my heavier gear between themselves, lightening my load considerably. O'Rielly even made a point of tending to my bleeding feet each evening, and provided me with pretty strong painkillers to ease my obvious discomfort.
     Genji and Hammond would josh me about my poor condition and the small kindnesses they all seemed happy to do for me, knuckling me in the arm and declaring that they didn't want to lose 'a proven Fedrat killer' like me, or they even sometimes showed real concern that the troops of my old regiment were so clearly unprepared for hard campaigning and cursed the officers of the Four Eighty Seventh under their breath.
     When camped or billeted up in the evenings, I'd be so ravenous I'd barely register how dire the grub we were slopped out was. Indeed I'd positively wolf down the watery soup, munching hungrily on the unidentifiable hunks of meat floating in it, eagerly shovel the sticky mush of rice into my mouth, and gulp down the tin mugs of water we were handed and which tasted like they were heavily laced with chemicals.
     Once we'd dined it'd be back to our bunks, where for an hour or two the lads and I would sing god-awful propaganda approved folk songs, Kuritan anthems, and anti-Davionist ballads. There would be a deal of jawing about home too, and within a week or two I knew the names of all of Genji's brothers, that Karpachenko's wife had written him a 'Dear John' c-mail a month back which he'd taken with such calm acceptance the other boys in the platoon believed he was saving up his rage for the Fedrats. I knew Mashindo's going rates for looted booze and smuggled dust, I'd heard Roberts' story of how he'd killed an entire squad of AFFS soldiers the previous year with a lucky throw of a grenade, oh and I'd heard the rumours that Sergeant Tadamoto had lost his teeth to a near miss from a short range missile, and had gone on to wrench his gold teeth, one by one, from the gums of dead Fedrats. 

* * *

     It's a strange thing though, that I think I reverted a little to my methods of survival from when I'd been a cadet at the Old Sak. Oh sure I'd had it pretty easy there it's true, but there were some similarities; the ridiculous never-ending discipline, the harshness of the non-coms and officers, the way one was thrown into the company of others and was forced to make the best of it.
     Now, as you may be aware if you've read my earlier secret memoirs, I never missed a chance while at the Sak to throw my weight around and bully those beneath me ... and the same was quickly true during my tour with the DIF. Naturally there ain't too many military personnel lower than a grunt infantryman, however the DIF enjoy a pretty free hand with the civilian populations of the worlds they invade and I wasn't about to let such a fine chance for good old fashioned vicious fun to slip me by ... especially while my own life was such a crock of shit at the time.
     Oh yes, it should come as no surprise to any of you that whenever we struck upon New Ivie civies in the farms, villages, and towns we moved north through, yours truly was first at the front of the queue to take out his frustrations upon those miserable dour indigs. I would kick, slap, thrash and beat the blasted leathery skinned bible-bashers every chance I got, and had 'em waiting upon me and the lads from the platoon like slaves within minutes of us arriving in their pitiful windswept burgs.
     I could of course lie and claim I was just trying to reinforce my cover identity as a Davionist hating Kuritan fanatic, which such harsh behaviour certainly did, but at bottom I did it for the sheer cruel joy of it, like I have all my life. Though I assure you I did draw the line at forcing the local women, unlike most of my platoon mates, well besides the fact the New Ivie gals were about as appealing as Sergeant Tadamoto in a dress, I've never cottoned to rape ... as I keep telling you I'm a romantic at heart after all.   
     I was always careful at the Sak to maintain good relations with my peers though, and likewise during my stint with the Snake ground-pounders I made sure to be friendly, witty, generous, and rousingly anti-Fedrat, in order to ensure I was well liked and thereby protected by the other chaps in the platoon. I must say as well, I think I was most successful in this aim, and if I sometimes confused the lads with the occasional lapses in my knowledge of the Combine and it's army, my platoon mates were so taken with me, they seemed to just brush such slips aside and put them down to me being from a different regiment, and besides a bit of an oddball joker.

* * *

     Mind you, if all of this sounds like I was actually enjoying myself even in small ways, then I should stress I most certainly was not. Aside from the sheer gruelling, muscle bursting, back breaking slog of it all, I was of course wracked day and night with the constant ball shrivelling terror of being rumbled. Indeed I nearly went mad struggling to cover my strained nerves, especially when I inevitably put a foot wrong here and there.
     As I have said earlier it's the small things you must watch, if you're ever unfortunate enough to find yourself in a similar position, for example several times while my mind was fretting on other subjects I forgot my cover name when someone or other called out to me. I'd be tramping along, or sitting eating, or squatting in a stinking camp latrine, and obliviously ignoring one of my platoon mates, or on one awful occasion the dreaded Sergeant Tadamoto himself, who were shouting for my attention for one reason or other. Each time I'd eventually of course realise I was the person the other was calling out to, and would do my best to shrug off each slip as either due to me being bone tired, which was often true, or that my mind had simply been wandering. When I was late responding to Tadamoto, the bastard rewarded me with a pounding fist in my gut and a boot in the groin while I was down, 'to wake me up', but aside from that I got away with those small lapses with nothing worse than even more jangled nerves.   
     I did however make other, more potentially damning, mistakes though, such as the one night I was polishing my heavy boots when without realising it I allowed my mind to wander and began to hum Broken Hearts and Dirty Boots to myself. As ill luck would have it Genji happened to duck into the habi-tent we shared at that moment, and plumping himself down upon his own inflatable cot casually asked what tune it was. Well, my blood ran cold, I dropped my boots in sheer panic, then jumped up and nearly ran out into the stormy night. It was only the fact that I realised Genji was already on his back, his hands behind his head and his eyes closed, that pulled me up short, and drawing in a deep breath I came out with some rot about it being a lullaby my poor old mum had used to rock me to sleep with. Genji had simply snorted, while clearly drifting into exhausted sleep, and muttered something about me shutting up and catching some zeds before the next days march.
     On another occasion while we were encamped in a recently occupied farming village somewhere north of the Opal River, one evening myself and some of the lads from the platoon were strolling towards a large makeshift mess centre where we were due to be fed the usual nightly feast of anonymous soup, rough-bread, ubiquitous rice, and chemically saturated water. The western edge of the village, to our right, was dominated by the silhouettes against the sinking green sun of the crouched BattleMechs of a company of the Fifth Galedon Regulars, who had been advancing at our flank over the previous couple of days.
     My platoon mates were caught up in a discussion at the time about the best yukios, or red light districts to you and I, that were to be found on Galedon, while I strolled ahead of them, idly gazing enviously across at the Snake 'Mechs. Suddenly my heart skipped several beats and my flesh crawled, when young Hammond cried out laughing from behind me;
     "Hey look, Lucas thinks he's a MechWarrior!" I instantly realised I'd unconsciously slipped into that unmistakable graceful swagger that we MechWarriors affect, which comes naturally to most of us, thanks in part to the regular neuro-links we use to control our giant war machines. Anyway, my mind raced and rather than stopping, I quickly exaggerated my gait all the more, until I was clowning along in a blatant parody of the worst kind of foppish MechWarrior swagger. The lads laughed all the harder, but Genji ran to catch me up and clasped his arm across my shoulders, forcing his weight upon me and thus causing me to stop.
     "Careful Lucas," He hissed while smiling at me. "You know you could get into real trouble if one of the honourable MechWarriors over yonder were to see that." His eyes showed real concern and I realised that while I'd joked the incident away with the lads, whilst perhaps enforcing an already growing reputation as being a little 'odd' and a 'joker', I'd risked possible execution, or at the least a severe beating if one of the Snake 'Mech jocks had chanced to spot me aping them. Believe you me, your average Snake MechWarrior regards their own infantry as being of slightly lower worth than ammunition, and despite many theoretically being of the same military social class, they would think nothing of demanding the head of any grunt they caught openly mocking them.       

* * *
         
     Now, as well as my very real and persistent sense of dread at giving myself away and being caught out, I also suffered badly from a crushing sense of loneliness. Which may sound odd to you chaps, being literally surrounded as I was by a small army of people at all times. However what I mean to say is that I was distinctly aware of being a lone civilised and sane nobleman amongst despicably brutal foreign commoners.
     Oh yes, for all their camaraderie and friendly help, for all the jokes and campfire sing songs, despite the many small similarities with our own peasants, I never forgot exactly what type of bloodthirsty, wicked, savages good ol' Genji and all the others really were. They were the same low bred scum, the same hopelessly ignorant and indoctrinated foreign trash, whose type had been murdering, burning, and raping along our border for hundreds of years. They, and the countless hordes like them that blindly allowed themselves to be used as cannon fodder by their betters, were literally beneath my contempt ... and there I was having to make nice with them as if I was as lowly as they! Me! Darius Davion, cousin to the First Prince of the Federated Suns no less.
     As you might imagine I found this, above all the other indignities and hardships my survival had forced me to endure upon this occasion, the most intolerable thing of all. I was forever biting my tongue when some filthy pawed, grubby little Snake oik patted my shoulder familiarly, forcing myself not to slap his hand away and damn his cheek. I had to keep blandly calm many a time, when sweaty mess-tent cooks slopped foul rice and soup into my billy-tins, splashing me in the process, when every fibre of my being cried out to throw the steaming mess right back into the stinking menial's face.
      I had to stand impassive when dirty little Snake bastards like Tadamoto, or our officer Chu-i Kanehara, barked orders at me. I had to dig latrines, heft repulsive plasteel barrels of shit around, stand guard duty in freezing night winds that cut through my padded armour jack and uniform like they weren't even there, hack foxholes out of the hard frozen earth, and worst all ... I had to fit in.
     Christ and Conrad it was hell. While I was far from happy about it, by then I was used to suffering brushes with death while campaigning, I was used to having to endure the sweltering heat and pant-wetting terror of 'Mech combat, I was used to taking orders from AFFS officers, who were usually also noblemen and gentlemen too. When not campaigning I'd lived the high life, as was only fitting and proper for a chap of my status and breeding, yet now I was amongst the lowest of the low, and I had to not only be amongst them ... I had to be one of them.
     As you can probably imagine, I spent the nights tossing and turning in my squalid little cot, dreaming of my lost life; the soft chill breeze and the distant blare of the horns during autumn walladog hunts back on Killarney ... sinking warm pints of bitter cosied up in the Ballykenny Arms while groping the bar floozies ... gambling, drinking, and whoring in the luxurious casinos of Avalon City ... gleefully bating my mother during court functions by getting pissy drunk with my cronies ... basking in the adoration of the good old Fed Suns public during nice safe parades at the Mount Barracks ... climbing aboard Paula Stilson in Falstaff's cockpit - ahh but that one always tended to break my reverie and I would wake in a sweat, fretting that while I was being subjected to this terrible ordeal, that absolute bastard Arlin was most likely bulling Paula six ways from Solaris.
     So it was that while my thoughts were dominated by the timorous quaking fears of discovery, they were also often fixated upon the desperately urgent need to escape.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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  • Posts: 312
Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #16 on: 16 February 2011, 18:11:39 »
14

     My little enforced DIF tour of duty began to go rapidly and badly sour on the afternoon of October 25th. I remember the date very well indeed, I had been with the Three Fifty Seventh Assault Regiment for somewhat over two weeks by that time and it was the day after we reached the town of Jommson near the headwaters of the Opal River.
     The town, a typical brooding New Ivie place full of blockish dark stone and wood stave buildings, had been pretty heavily shelled by 'Mechs of the Fifth Galedon before it had surrendered and the conventional troops, including your correspondent of course, had moved in to take over. I well remember that night, for the chaps from the platoon and I had made great sport of going through the place, practically house by house, plundering.
     Oh, officially, we'd been conducting a legitimate search for 'known Davionist officials and sympathisers', but in reality, by the light of the numerous burning buildings, we kicked down the doors, slapped the gloomy faced Ivies about a bit, pillaged their larders, emptied their cupboards and draws of any valuables, and generally had a whale of a time. I recall we even found some contraband booze, several bottles of Northwind scotch, and once we were all comfortably billeted in the spacious mansion of a local grain-magnate we'd all proceeded to get beastly drunk. Which was a weird experience in itself, well it ain't often one gets sloshed with a bunch of hairy arsed Snake soldiers is it?
     I'd thrashed the grain-merchant pretty well when we first piled into his house, which is a good way to deal with any new servant, as you probably know yourself, and he and his heavy set brood of saddle-skinned adult offspring were soon serving up their bootleg whiskey to us as quick as we could down it. I suppose I was risking blowing my cover getting mashed like I did, but to be fair the other lads were soon far drunker than I anyway, and could barely speak or move while I was still getting my drinking legs limbered and enjoying a game of hurling the emptied bottles at mein host. Also I had been badly in need of a spot of rest and relaxation after all the indignities and hardships of the previous days and weeks, and I must say I looked a little more kindly on my Kuritan comrades through the haze of a bottle or two of Northwind nectar.
     Well anyway, the next morning, which as I say was that of the 25th of October, we were all awoken by the far from dulcet tones of Sergeant Tadamoto's furious bellowing. It felt like someone was beating me about the forehead, my hangover was so bad, and it took massive concentration for me to force open my gummy eyes to see who'd let a bull raxx into the house.
     Dim grey-white daylight leaked in through a broken window, illuminating Tadamoto stood there in the doorway in his full battle-dress, legs apart, a bamboo cane clutched in his hands, his face contorted in a terrifying rage as he surveyed the carnage. Genji, Hammond, and all the others were groaning and stirring in protesting agony at Tadamoto's intrusion, and it was all I could do to drag myself into a wobbling attempt at attention before that gold-toothed bugger came in at us with his cane.
     It ain't the best way to be awoken after a rough night I can assure you; being beaten with a cane about the belly, shoulders, arms and legs by a raging psychotic Snake Sergeant. Mind you, in retrospect, I've had plenty of equally bad morning's after in my life; such as the time I woke from the Seventh Crucis Lancers' Sniper's Supper Ball on New Avalon in '20, to find I'd been obliviously pressganged aboard Ross McKinnon's personal DropShip, which was headed out for the JumpPoint en route to Harrow's Sun. Or that dreadful day after my famous drunken 'Mech race with Justin Allard at the Old Sak, when that merciless brute Commandant Asa Goldstein had both expelled me and had me deported from the planet in one fell swoop. Though I think for sheer utter terrifying unpredictability, Butte Hold remains top of my least favourite places to come too at after a night of partying. Well after waking up minus one of my hands after a particularly heavy session, I never knew what to expect. Jerome, but when I dwell upon it, it almost makes me consider giving up strong liquor.
     Anyhoo, suffice to say that within half an hour we were mustered up outside our billet, pale skinned, queasy, hollow eyed, nursing stinging welts and fresh bruises from Tadamoto's alarm call and shivering with the deetees, yet togged up in uniform and carrying all our gear.
     "You're all a disgrace to the DCMS." Tadamoto snapped at us as he stamped along our line. "Shamed in the all-seeing gaze of the Dragon." He continued, lashing out occasionally with that blasted cane of his. "However, I do not have time to punish you here and now. We are to muster in the central square of this town, along with the rest of the regiment, for review by His Excellency Warlord Samsonov himself."
     A murmur of surprised gasps rippled down our file at this news, some of the lads raising patriotic smiles and weak grins of excitement. Tadamoto nodded, his mood easing just a tad, before continuing.
     "Indeed ... a signal honour for us, and one I do not wish to see marred by any lax behaviour or turn out from you dregs. You have twenty minutes to clean your kit up, and to prepare yourselves. I suggest you get cracking." Then as the lads fell out and began frantically polishing boots, straightening tunics, and buffing up their helmets, Tadamoto leaned in closer to me, a nasty grin on his ugly mush. "Oh and Cherry, the Warlord, in his wisdom, has expressed a wish to speak with you personally ... so I suggest you be doubly ready for this inspection."

* * *

     My skin was crawling, my palms slick with sweat, my bowels grumbling, and I was trembling in a truly terrible state of windy fear, by the time of that morning's inspection of the regiment by none other than Grieg Samsonov, Warlord and Supreme Commander of the Galedon District of the Draconis Combine.
     I knew very little about Grievous Grieg, as I would come to think of him, at that time of course, unlike in later years when I got to know him pretty well, for my sins, and even entered into an illegal cross border drug smuggling racket with him shortly before the Fourth Succession War. What I did know, stood quaking on that windy town square at Jommson in '21, was that Samsonov was one of the five Combine Warlords; Lord Kurita's highest ranking henchmen, excepting the Director of the ISF and arguably the Keeper of the House Honour (the head of the O5P).
     Each Warlord was granted almost total control by the Coordinator over the dozens of worlds in their given Military District, and each enjoyed positions as honoured councillors to Takashi. They were rightly regarded by our brass as the Dragon's most dangerous, ambitious, skilled, and ruthless commanders, and unlike Takashi himself they often took to the field in command of their armies, as Samsonov had done on this occasion. AFFS Generals and soldiers dreamed of capturing or killing a Warlord, and they were routinely demonised by our press and propaganda chaps.
     I'd read a few news-sheet articles and intelligence primers on Samsonov, but all I could recall on that morning, with my head throbbing and my guts roiling, was that he was a skilled military administrator who had won several victories before rising to his present rank, both on our border and on the Periphery frontier against sundry pirate groups. He'd been made Warlord of Galedon, a particularly prized District due to it's long border with us, three years previously and had not since covered himself in glory, notably being trounced by the Seventh Crucis in '19. Some gossips claimed he was up to his eyes in financial corruption, others that he was actively feuding with certain of his fellow Warlords, a situation apparently actually encouraged by the Coordinator, and there were plenty of reports that he was notorious for his fiery temper and ruthless vindictive nature.
     One thing I was certain of was that he did not seem the type to make a point of speaking to his lowly grunt footsoldiers, and I couldn't imagine why he would have made a point of mentioning he'd want to be meeting me during this little inspection, before the big push on Twin Peaks. Unless of course he somehow knew who I really was ... or suspected perhaps and wanted to look me over to be sure?
     But then how could he know? I'd never even met the vicious bastard after all, he couldn't possibly even be aware of my existence, other than as a faceless foot slogger in his army, could he? Then I had the positively awful thought that perhaps he planned to expose me and kill me in front of the entire regiment?
     Well, as I say, we were drawn up in platoons alongside two companies of Fifth Galedon 'Mechs and a couple of companies of tanks, on that typically windy morning, in Jommson's expansive town square. Surrounding us the tall stave buildings were blackened, cratered and ravaged here and there by the previous days shelling, ash and smoke tainted the air and wafted around us, making my throat raw and dry, while my mind struggled to come up with an explanation as to how Samsonov might have tumbled me.
     Suddenly a recording of a military band was turned on and Dragon Over The Stars began to be belted out across the square. Our platoon had been placed in the front rank, directly opposite a raised dais and upon it what appeared to be a dark wooden church lectern, and we could see Samsonov's party as they made their way into the square from one of the larger intact buildings.
     Samsonov struck me as a formidable looking fellow right off the bat; he was in his early fifties, tall, elegantly dressed in a black DCMS senior officers uniform, decorated only by the heavy glittering ruby and gold medal of the Order of the Dragon at his throat, a long pig-sticker sword and a holstered pistol rode at his waist. Capless as he was I could see he had a thick head of slate grey hair, with bushy sideburns and eyebrows, and if his paunch, deep wrinkles and sagging jowls, suggested he was somewhat unfit, his chin was out thrust pugnaciously, his narrow shadowed eyes flashed with a cunning shrewdness and his down turned rat-trap of mouth gave him an angry and dangerous countenance. I gulped. This was clearly not the kind of chap you wanted to have to try bluffing, especially when you were as jumpy as a schoolboy on his first trip to a brothel.
     Ascending the dais before us, Samsonov stood at the lectern, while his handful of staff wallopers and officers from the Fifth Galedon stood behind him at ease. As the military anthem finished, Samsonov cleared his throat and then began to speak loudly in deep, articulate, Japanese, his voice carrying easily over the parade.
     "Soldiers of Galedon, we stand ready here for the next decisive phase of our battle to liberate this world from the degenerate rule of House Davion." He paused and we all dutifully cheered 'Banzai!' at the top of our voices and waved our fists, while he nodded and looked along the line. "The mercenary dogs run to the west before us, and the Fedrat cowards hide in their cities in the south, waiting and trembling for us to come for them."
     Which to be fair to Grieg was pretty true, thinking about it, well certainly when talking about Darlin' Arlin at any rate.
     "In order to force the Davionist swine to dessert this world, we must take Twin Peaks and eliminate the Fedrat 'Mech regiment that squats behind it's walls, too scared to face us honourably in open battle." Again there was a round of cheers, and some jeers at the expense of the Second NI Chasseurs. "But before we do so, it is fitting that we should recognise and take heart from the courage, the honour and bravery, of several of our soldiers here today. The following soldiers are to step forward when I call their names."
     And with those amazing words I breathed easy again, Samsonov must be wanting to reward me in some way for my false story of overpowering and taking out Hal Larson, I reasoned. I was pretty dumbfounded too mind you, but watched as Samsonov called out the name of a MechWarrior from the Fifth Galedon, who marched smartly up to the dais in his cooling vest, his helmet in the crook of his arm.
     "MechWarrior Chris Kruger, I salute you for your valiant besting of three mercenary 'Mechs since we landed here." Samsonov declared, and shook Kruger's hand, while promising him a mention in dispatches, then the whole parade cheered the grinning Snake bastard. So it continued, with Samsonov congratulating several MechWarriors for kills made, promoting a couple of tankers for notable actions, and would you believe it, last and not least he called out my cover name.
     Well I stiffened my spine, put my nose in the air, affected my best imitation Snake parade ground march, and went for it, feeling all the while the eyes of hundreds of enemy soldiers fixed upon me. Stopping before Samsonov on the dais I stamped to attention, and slammed my right fist so hard into my left breast, in the Kuritan fascist salute, I nearly winded myself.
     "Private Lucas Nixon, presently attached to the Three Fifty Seventh Assault Regiment, I salute you for your brave capture and summary execution of a Fedrat naval officer east of Fort Bormen earlier this month. Your name will be mentioned in dispatches for this notable feat, and you stand here as an example of the best Kuritan fighting spirit for your comrades in the DIF." Samsonov declared it to the parade at large more than me, but as he finished and I was cheered by the lads, he squinted at me, then took my right hand, raising it up in the air in a gesture of victory ... while shaking my left hand briskly.
     I did my best to look grateful, but suddenly my fears returned a thousand fold when his grip on my left flipper tightened, glancing down I realised in my confusion and shock I'd stupidly allowed myself to shake hands with him with my prosthetic left hand. The top of the range Canopian made prosthetic hand which was hard to spot as artificial just by sight, but which was unmistakable to touch, and which no common Kuritan PBI grunt would ever be able to afford!
     The cheering continued, as Samsonov let my hands go, and gazed at me, confusion clear on his stern features. Worse yet as I quavered under his gaze, a flicker of what looked to me all too like recognition passed across his face.
     "Uhh, Nixon? Have we met before Private?" He grunted quietly at me and I did my best to shrug vacantly and shake my head, before deferentially piping up;
     "No Excellency, I have not had that honour." He scrutinised me all the more, those slit eyes narrowing by the second. I wasn't to know at the time that I'd fallen under the inspection of one of the best interrogators alive, later in my life I watched Grieg extract information from prisoners with the consummate skill of a master, and there he was disturbed by me, in front of hundreds of his soldiers.
     "Your face is familiar to me Private." He muttered, and I desperately tried to seem blithely calm while being aware the cheering had stopped behind me, to be replaced by a questioning silence broken only by the occasional cough, or scuff of a boot heel. "Hmph, perhaps we shall speak again." He said dismissively, and I count it a high achievement that I managed to get back to my place in the ranks without my legs turning to jelly and giving out under me.
     Samsonov gave us all a quick salute and wound up his little pep-rally, and we began to file out the square and back to our billets, where we were to await orders to advance on Twin Peaks. As we were marching out I risked a quick glance back towards the dais, to be rewarded with a glimpse of Samsonov rubbing his chin thoughtfully, which now I think about it was a habit of his that was to signal danger for me each time I saw him do it down the years, he then turned and began whispering to another black clad officer ... whom I recognised; Taishi John Akuda, our regimental 'Ambassador', or liaison officer, with the Draconis Combine's Internal Security Forces.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

mikecj

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #17 on: 16 February 2011, 23:06:18 »
Oops... no diplomatic immunity  #P
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #18 on: 18 February 2011, 09:58:50 »
15

     Well, as I'm sure you can imagine, I was planning my escape before we even reached our billet. I was sure Samsonov was on to me, and it seemed very likely indeed our resident ISF thug, Akuda, would be paying me a visit all too soon. An event I didn't plan to hang around to experience.
     However, immediately we marched back into the house we'd spent the previous night getting drunk in, rather than having time to slip away into the half ruined town in order to try to hide myself, Sergeant bloody Tadamoto stomped in after us and called us all into the large dining room, where our soft spoken Chu-i Itto Kanehara stood waiting for us. He was one of your downy young officers, as green as the local sunsets, who was nervous around his men and tended to rely on grizzled old Tadamoto to actually run the platoon. On that day he was dressed in the usual tan fatigues, but with a black officers cap set smartly upon his well groomed noggin, with his combat booted feet spread apart and his hands clasped behind his back.
     "At ease men." He said, then repeated louder, until we relaxed a little, wondering what this was all about. I noted the grain-magnate and his family seemed to have made themselves scarce as they were nowhere in the house as far as I could see. "Good, now then, we are due to advance on Twin Peaks as part of the Warlord's strike force at sixteen hundred hours this afternoon, an hour after the 'Mech vanguard will have set off." He paused, clearing his throat a little, clearly somewhat nervous in front of us uncouth grunts, and I was so jumpy after the disaster of that mornings parade I actually yelled 'Banzai!' At the top of my strained voice if you can believe it. The rest of the lads glanced at me, some shooting daggers, perhaps thinking I was trying to brown-nose to the Chu-i after winning my mention in dispatches. Kanehara just stared at me with a baffled look, then coughed and continued.
     "As I say ... the 'Mech vanguard. Which will consist of two assault and three medium lances of the Fifth, and will have the honour of breaching the walls of Twin Peaks." Perhaps it was due to my windy mood and jittery nerves at the time, but I absolutely blurted aloud without thinking to myself;
     "Huh, odd, why not use the fire lances to batter the walls down from range?" The room went so quiet I'm sure they would've all been able to hear the horrified thunder of my heart going ten to the dozen, as I realised I'd just made a hideous faux pas ... a DIF grunt did not interrupt his officer during a briefing.
     I looked up slowly and stammered an apology, quaking before the truly ghastly mix of stunned surprise and belligerent fury upon Tadamoto's ugly face, however the Chu-i seemed so taken aback he actually answered me.
     "A reasonable question Private. No Sergeant, it's quite all right, that's actually a most astute query. In answer, reliable intelligence has been gained confirming that the Fedrat 'Mech Regiment are holed up inside the walls of their city. Which walls are notably aged and lacking in long range weaponry, and as the Fifth is presently short of fire Lances here, due to the necessity of holding down Narhal's Raiders in the west, the Warlord has wisely realised a heavy force of hard hitting medium and short range 'Mechs can take advantage of the cowardice of these New Ivaarsen Chasseurs and close inside the shadow of their walls, thereby having the best chance of breaching the city."
     As he was speaking I was thinking it through. Clearly Darlin' Arlin had ordered Duke Stephen behind Twin Peaks' dangerously weak walls, which in real terms would make the defence of the city actually harder, as the bulk of the long range weaponry on the 'Mechs of the Chasseurs themselves would not be able to be brought to bear upon an attacking force. If this 'Mech assault force went in hard and fast, and pummelled these apparently ageing walls with their heavy weaponry, Samsonov's plan might well work. I mentally shrugged to myself, well it was no skin off my nose either way, as I didn't intend to get within a hundred klicks of the place if I could help it.
     Anyway, Kanehara went on to detail our place in the attack plan, which was to hitch a ride with a tank Regiment that was with us, then when the walls were down move into the city behind the 'Mechs and tanks in a mopping up capacity. Kanehara wished us all good luck and assured us he trusted us to all throw ourselves into battle with the selfless honour of true soldiers of the Dragon. With that we were dismissed and Tadamoto began to bear down on me, his ham like, scarred fists balled and ready to beat me into next week for speaking out of turn, or at all, during the briefing.
     It was at that moment, as I steeled myself to gracefully receive Tadamoto's latest little chastisement, that my worst nightmare became reality. Two tan uniformed, black helmeted and armoured, DCMS Military Police Corporals jogged up, KK assault rifles bouncing at their backs, and stun-sticks at their belts. One of them, a huge brute with unshaven cheeks, panted out something to Kanehara, while the other, a shorter more rat-like looking runt scanned the lads with a piercing gaze and pointed at me.
     "That's him." I heard the bastard exclaim. "You there, Private Nixon, front and centre." He shouted without waiting for the Chu-i or Tadamoto to react.
     My legs nearly melted there and then, and I thought I was going to faint my heart was racing so fast. Should I run? I quickly dismissed the idea, it would be an instant admission of guilt, and besides those bastards had rifles while my weapon was back with my gear in the next room. Trying to calm myself I turned and did my best to look innocent and curious. Tadamoto was looking from the MPs to me and back again, clearly struggling to work out what was going on, and perhaps why he was having the object of his wrath almost literally snatched out from under his fists. I doubled across to the Chu-i and knocked off a smart fascist salute, aware of the cool, almost bored, stares of the two Corporals.
     "Ah yes, Private Nixon, you obviously caught the Warlord's eye today." Kanehara said in a brisk tone. "He's asked Taishi Akuda to debrief you fully about your execution of the Fedrat sea-soldier and how you came to be serving with us ... to better allow your heroics to be described in dispatches I expect." The blithering idiot said almost proudly. "So, if you would accompany Corporals Ortega and Hoshikawa here to the old church, they will escort you to your interview with the Taishi."
     Ortega, the larger of this prize pair cleared his throat at that, drawing a glance from that absolute plonker Kanehara.
     "Sir, the Taishi may need some time to ... ahem ... debrief the Private properly. So the Private will advance to Twin Peaks with us, and we have been ordered to collect all his gear." Looking a little taken aback, and somewhat worried all of a sudden, as perhaps the idiot realised there was more to this than a quick debrief to better allow the Taishi to write up a mention in dispatches, Kanehara quickly remembered another more urgent chore and before hurrying away without another word to me, he sent Tadamoto to collect my gear.
     "Don't even think about running chum." I heard Ortega's deep voice mutter in Japanese at my shoulder. "My colleague, Corporal Hoshikawa here, can blow a man's kneecaps off at a hundred and fifty paces ... I've seen him do it."

* * *             
     
     It's probable you lucky swines haven't personally had much experience with the Kuritan ISF yourselves, so I should imagine it's necessary I give you a quick overview of that bestial organisation, before I detail my 'interview' with Taishi Akuda later that day.
     Well, it's a fact y'know that even most of the more scholarly studies I've read on the ISF tend to make the most basic mistake of assuming it's run in a fairly similar way to our own MIIO, or the Lyran LIC. That is as a monolithic governmental organisation divided into neat internal departments, each with their own clear remit and area of operation. However I assure you, speaking from my own very extensive, if highly timorous, experience of the Snake secret police, this is very far from the truth of the matter.
     Allow me to explain, y'see whereas our own secret service is, albeit by it's very nature, highly secretive, it does remain an openly accepted and publicly known Ministry of the Federated Suns government, with it's head a permanent member of the Privy Council; however the only firm things most Combine citicens know about the Internal Security Force of their nation is that, despite official Kuritan claims to the contrary, it exists, it's dreaded agents might be anyone anywhere, and that it's been run by that deceptively charming savage Subhash Indrahar for most of Takashi's long reign.
     While it's true your Average John Smith from the suburbs of Avalon City probably knows very little about most of what the MIIO gets up to, there are however inevitably, in a freer state such as our own, plenty of books on the civilian market that lay out it's organisation pretty accurately, and most educated Fed Suns citicens can name the various internal departments, such as the Military Intelligence Liason, or the Bureau of Internal Investigations. Nobles and government officials probably even know the names of the heads of each department at any given time.
     That certainly ain't so with the Kuritan ISF. There may well be important ISF bigwigs answering to Subhash personally, and charged with to some degree overseeing certain different operational areas, but the ISF itself functions more like a vastly widespread ancient Japanese ninja clan than a good old fashioned ministry. Most of it's agents and operatives belong to, and operate inside of, other Combine groups or governmental departments, and typically only their direct ISF superiors, who will also have their own rock solid cover identities and jobs, are ever aware of the agents affiliation with the secret police. Indeed about the only visible and publicly known ISF members are the Director himself, the military ISF 'Ambassadors' who are attached to every regimental sized or greater DCMS unit, and DCA ship or port, certain staff of the ISF propaganda service, and a few elite ISF military units, such as the jump-commandos of ISF 'Unit Ten', who nearly killed me during the Silver Eagle Affair.
     This then has the effect that the ISF is perhaps the most feared instrument of terror in known space, responsible as they are for countless abductions, murders, and interrogations, due to the paranoia instilled by the fact that even your own family members might be agents, or might inform on you to the 'Friendly Persuaders' of the Civilian Guidance Corps (the civilian police), or to the Neighbourly Patrol (state sponsored civilian neighbourhood watch vigilantes), both of which organisations are positively riddled with ISF operatives.
     This widespread, invisible, almost cell like structure, tends to mean inevitably that ISF agents are more diverse in their skills and areas of responsibility than operatives of other Inner Sphere secret services. The average agent would routinely watch those around him for the faintest traces of disloyalty of course, but also might be amongst the faceless black clad men who kick down the door of unfortunate 'traitors' in the middle of the night. He might also be the man who murders those 'traitors' and sticks their severed heads on jitte daggers outside their homes, to serve as a grizzly warning to the victim's family and neighbours the next day.
     Oh and by the way, while I'm holding forth on the subject, I can put you straight here on another couple of popular myths about the ISF; firstly, while the commandos of the DCMS' Draconis Elite Strike Teams often do train with the ninja-commandos of the ISF Special Units, and doubtless include some ISF members secretly within their midst, the DEST are Kuritan army special forces, not ISF as some seem to believe. Secondly, it's been leaked in recent years into the intelligence community that Subhash the Smiling Savage has built up a secret society within the ISF itself which owes fealty only to him, and that this society, known reputedly as the 'Sons of the Dragon', acts as a kind of super-commando unit ... well there is some truth in this rumour, the Sons of the Dragon certainly exist, I should know I've sort of been a member since '39, and without their help I'd never have got off of Terra alive in '44. However, I assure you, there is a very good reason for Subhash's secrecy regarding their existence, and for the fact that he kept that knowledge from Takashi for so long ... and it has nothing to do with Subhash wishing to have guards loyal only to him. Blake's blood, he's surrounded by fanatically loyal agents at all times anyway, he hardly needs more ... no the reason for their secrecy is entirely to do with the enemy Subhash had the impressive foresight to recognise decades ago and then to build the unit specifically up to fight, and the vital necessity for plausible deniability on Takashi's part in the all matter. But I shall say no more about the Sons here, for it don't bear upon this story. 
     So then, I was unsurprisingly in a woeful state of nerves, sweating and nearly pissing myself with fear, as I was marched into the former New Avalon Catholic Church where Taishi Akuda was apparently awaiting my arrival.
     The Regimental Taishi was typically something of a hate figure of in DCMS units, as they usually spent their days not in combat, or involved in any of the hard slog of campaigning, but rather sat safely out of the way, opening mail home from the soldiers, or spying upon the men of their given regiment, and all too often organising the arrest and punishment of any soldier not showing the requisite fanaticism and bravery.
     I'd made certain not to draw Akuda's attention during my time with the Three Fifty Seventh Assault Regiment, but I'd heard some horror stories whispered by my platoon mates about the harshness with which he came down on anyone who stepped out of line, or was caught voicing 'defeatist' opinions, so it was with a very heavy heart and roiling belly I trudged that morning toward my fate.

* * *

     Jommson's old NACC church was spacious and airy, making quite a pleasant change from the reeking smoky fog that still partially covered the town square and most of the streets. The pews were stacked against each wall, clearing a wide space where several inflatable camp tables and chairs had been spread, and where comm-techs, staff officers and sundry other tan uniformed Snakes worked, hunched over p-comps, portable comm-stations and maps.
     As they had all the way from the billet, Hoshikawa and Ortega loomed either side of me, hustling me through the lines of tables as I caught a brief impression of stained glass windows along each dark brick wall, one large one in particular depicting a man hanging by his neck from a fruit tree, which I realised with a flash of memory must have been New Ivaarsen's own Saint, Oscar Kendrick. It didn't make for a pleasant image at the time and I wrenched my gaze away to find I was being led towards a black wood door in the left hand wall.
     The two grim faced MPs nudged me through the door, and down a dimly lit stone staircase into the bowels of what seemed to be some kind of basement. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I pulled up short as I heard the most dreadful, high pitched scream echo up from somewhere further on into the gloom.
     "Step it up chum, it's just a Fedrat being interrogated." Ortega growled in my ear, while pushing me on with his massive paw, down a long cobweb bedecked cellar, lit only by a scant few, bare light bulbs, it's walls lined with plundered and emptied wine racks. The screaming continued up ahead unabated, hoarse and raw, and so petrified was I that I actually considered trying to overpower my two burly guards and run for it there and then. However, the fear had well and truly unmanned me, as they say, and I'm sure at that time I couldn't have overpowered an asthmatic ant who was carry heavy shopping.
     While musing absently that it was typical of the wastrels who tend to run the New Avalon Catholic Church, that before the arrival of the Snake invaders they had clearly maintained a very extensive wine cellar on the quiet, despite New Ivaarsen's strict prohibition laws, I was thrust down a side passage with several arches opening into side rooms. Glancing into the unlit rooms as we passed I noted they held stacks of dusty cardboard boxes, apparently full of books and papers ... presumably parish records and the like perhaps dating back centuries.
     At the end of the corridor were two stout wooden doors facing each other, wan light seeped out from under each door and I gulped as I noted the terrible, harsh screaming was coming from the door on the left. I was most relieved when I was ushered through the right hand door. However I was not so keen to then receive a jab from Ortega's stun-stick in the small of my back, and gasped at the sudden shock before blacking out.

* * *

     I came round slowly, aware initially only of a dusty smell, then a hazy piss-yellow lamp light filtered into my consciousness, and nagging pain gnawed at my wrists and ankles.
     "Oh he's back with us." A cheerful warm voice said in faintly accented Japanese, and I forced my eyes open to find myself looking up at Taishi John Akuda. He was a blandly handsome young man, with immaculately short cut brown-black hair, bright grey eyes, sun bronzed skin, and a wide expressive mouth that was presently twisted just slightly into a sardonic grin. Dressed in his insignia-less all black officers uniform, it struck me at the time he would have cut a swathe through the gals at any military function.
     "I'm so sorry Corporal Ortega there had to stun you. It just saves time. You understand, I'm sure?" He said, leaning nonchalantly back against a wall covered in glass fronted bookcases. I tried to speak, aware I was in some kind of archival storeroom, lined with the cases full of old ledger books and the like, but my throat was so dry I simply croaked instead.
     "Get the man some water Ortega." Akuda said, the picture of concern, as I looked down to find myself stripped to my white standard issue vest and boxer shorts, and bound tightly with plastic restraints to a metal chair. I moaned in horror, and instinctively tried to pull the chair up, however it was clearly screwed into the floor for it didn't give an inch.
     Ortega appeared at my side and held a tin mug of cool water for me to gulp from, much of it splashing down the front of my vest, during which time Akuda sat back looking placid. I think the bastard must have modelled his attitude on that of his boss Subhash, for you could never have met a more charming, smiling, fellow. If you didn't know what he did for a living of course.
     "So Private Nixon ... is it? Well, let me be clear, we know you're not who you say you are. Private Lucas Nixon has ... or should that be had? ... brown hair, and green eyes, he also has not got ... did not have? ... a prosthetic hand. Yours by the way is a fine piece of work ... Canopian?" He arched an eyebrow questioningly and I just gaped at him in horror.
     "Hmm, so I need to know exactly who you are, who you are working for, and what your mission in the Three Fifty Seventh Assault Regiment is. Oh and please, as time is a factor for me today, refrain from prevarication, or I shall have to become ... unpleasant." He looked at me as if he was full of sympathy for my plight, a stance rather spoiled by the screams which happened to restart in the opposite room at that moment.
     Well, I was caught red-handed, that was for sure. My mind raced for possible stories, but I quickly dismissed the few desperate ideas that sprang to mind; I had amnesia, I was a deserter from the AFFS who hated House Davion and wanted to join up with House Kurita, I was secretly a journalist for Dragon Soldier Magazine researching a piece on the reality of life at the front. All would never stand ... so I did the only thing I could think of. I told Akuda the truth, or at least a version pretty close to it.
     I told him who I was, that I'd been aboard the submarine that had knocked out the convoy on the coast road, that I had been cast overboard during fighting, and that I'd hidden amidst the ranks of the Kuritan infantry awaiting a time to skip back to my lines. Though naturally I claimed the man I'd shot on the shore, rather than being a Davionist naval officer, had in fact been a member of the convoy I'd found wounded and had dressed up in order for my killing of him to appear to solidify my story. I ended by accepting that by the rules of war, he could execute me as a spy ... but to do so would rob him of the glory of 'bringing me in'. Conveniently forgetting Samsonov's part in my unveiling, I stressed that, being who I really was, Leftenant Darius Davion, the Hero of Mallory's World, I'd draw an enormous ransom and he would get all the credit.   
      Well it was a desperate move I'll own, but I could think of no better sat there on the edge of what could quickly descend into the most awful torture session. At least the Snakes would regard a MechWarrior of my reputation and fame as a prize catch, and that might be enough to keep me alive a little longer, and certainly, I reasoned to myself, would remove any need for torture there and then.
      For a long moment after I finished my story Akuda just stood there looking at me blankly, then suddenly he began to laugh. Somewhat unnerved I shifted in my chair and winced as my bindings cut painfully into my wrists and ankles. As abruptly as he'd started, Akuda suddenly stopped laughing and fixed me with a stern look, then wagged his finger at me.
     "Just how stupid do you take me for?" He said softly and I blinked in surprise as he leaned in towards me ominously. Squirming I tried to pull away without any success, and just as I thought the Snake sadist was about to physically lay into me, he poked me in the chest with his index finger.
     "Surely you didn't think I'd buy that tissue of lies? Shall I tell you what I think?
     I think you're an operative of the Order of the Five Pillars, and that you're spying upon the actions of our army here. Come along now, admit it, you're O5P aren't you? You're trying to hoodwink me into getting you back to your superiors, while leaving myself and 'the organisation' none the wiser as to what exactly you've been up to here, yes?" I shook my head forcefully in frustration.
     "Order of Five Pillars? No, I tell you I'm Darius Davion. I swear it." I didn't know it then, but the ISF tend to imagine O5P agents hiding under every bed in the Combine, perhaps with some reason, so it should be no surprise he jumped to that incorrect conclusion about me. Anyway he just tutted and patted the top of my head like I was a pet dog.
     "Oh stop that please, come on now every one knows that Darius Davion's about the only truly brave and noble MechWarrior the Fedrats have. He'd never hide like a coward amongst foot soldiers, and he'd certainly never treat the citicens of a Fed Suns world like I have it on good authority you routinely have." Oh splendid, I cursed to myself, my bloody reputation had clearly spread across the border to the Snakes, despite their own frequent and often in fact truthful black propaganda against me, and like most everyone else this steaming great twerp clearly believed the stories about how Darius Davion was the bravest, loyalist, most valiant, soldier in the whole bloody AFFS.  So naturally, clearly knowing a fair bit about my actions since joining the DIF, he quite reasonably assumed there was no chance a callous rogue like myself was in reality the man I claimed to be. Which was ironic, and a fit comeuppance, I suppose some of you Holy Joes might smugly pronounce, whilst swelling with pious anticipation of seeing me suffer again no doubt, you damn hypocrites.
     "Listen Akuda," I babbled never the less, desperate to convince this stupid Snake bastard before he got down to business on me. "I can make you rich man. Don't be a fool. Look you must have holos, or vids of me, that is Darius Davion. Find 'em, check 'em, you'll see I'm telling the truth. Damn it all, I've even got the false bloody flipper to prove it!"
     Akuda tutted, and shushed me, while turning to a table behind himself, enshadowed against the back wall of the little storeroom.     
     "Do you know what this is?" Akuda asked, turning back towards me with what appeared to be a fencing foil in his hand. Looking at the blasted thing closer I could see it consisted of an intricate handle, with several metal dials upon it, attached to a thin black blade ending in a small metallic ball. Oh I knew what it was all right;
     "A neural whip!" I gasped in absolute horror, to Akuda's beaming amusement.
     "Ah, well done, well done. Indeed yes, this is a neural whip." He murmured happily, cutting it like a sabre through the air a couple of times.
     "But ... but ... they're banned!" I bleated hopefully, involuntarily straining against my bindings and squirming in a futile attempt to drag my chair up out of the stone floor.
     "Well in Star League times yes that was so, and even today they are still prohibited across most of the Inner Sphere ... not however in the Draconis Combine, as you may well know. The servants of the Dragon will use any tool necessary to further His aims." Akuda beamed again, then flicked the whip in the direction of Hoshikawa and Ortega, motioning for them to move safely back.
     "Do you know why such devices are banned in other realms ... even such normally sensible states as the Capellan Confederation?" He asked in a conversational manner.
     "Because they're beastly instruments of inhuman torture." I mewled back at him, unable to keep the wailing, high pitched, edge of raw terror from my voice.
     "Oh, how well you put it." He purred, while almost gracefully extending his whip and gently touching it's metallic ball-tip onto my bare right forearm. I felt for just a split second the cold of the metal, then there was instantaneously a faint sharp crack of electricity and then blindingly fierce agony ripped through me. I shrieked, my body straining and rigid, yet bound tight, Christ it was pure hell, the waves of savage electric shocks jolting and searing across my body, my head was thrown back, I thrashed and writhed, my teeth clamped shut and ground together. Then, after what seemed like forever, yet was probably only a matter of seconds, it stopped as Akuda removed the tip of his vile device from my skin and I slumped forward in my chair, sobbing, gasping and shivering, nausea sweeping through me with such sudden force I violently threw up on the stone floor.
     Akuda tutted, stepping back away from the spatter of my vomit, which had caught the toes of his immaculately polished black jackboots.
     "You're not quite right actually." He said mildly, while turning to a nearby chair, and putting his soiled boots up on it one at a time, so he could fussily smudge away the mess I'd made with a cloth. "Neural whips weren't banned simply because they were, how did you put it? Oh yes, 'beastly instruments of torture'. Well not solely for that reason anyway, after all the Star League would have had to ban an awful lot of tools and implements if that were the case. No y'see, the thing about neural whips is that though they were initially designed to shock people into unconsciousness, much like a standard stun-stick, they carried the capability to be modulated to inflict the most intense pain imaginable, just short of the level most men would normally black out under. Pain so severe it can literally destroy a person, both mentally and physically, given time and careful use by the interrogator.
     That was what those weak hypocrites back in Star League times didn't like, they balked at the idea of a torture device so skilfully constructed it could, in the right hands, maim solely through pain. They were happy for interrogators to use all manner of other tools in the pursuit of their calling, but they felt neural whips just weren't fair. Not cricket, as the Fedrats would say. Neural whips in other words were banned because they were too effective." While the sadistic swine scrubbed away at his boots and rambled on with his hideous tosh, I tried to recover my thoughts.
     I was well aware of the horror I was faced with down in that gloomy little book-lined storeroom, I'd actually been Redjack Ryan's Chief Torturer for a time y'see and had regularly used neural whips on people myself, under the orders of Redjack, when I'd been on Butte Hold a couple of years previous, so I knew precisely how truly devastating they could be. Coupled to that even back then in '21 I'd already been on the wrong end of some pretty dreadful tortures in the past myself; such as the time a different ISF agent, that black brute Al'Ain, had injected me with a neural-toxin truth drug during the Bright Coup Plot on New Avalon, which occasion had ended up painfully forcing me to break up with the lovely bit of crackling I'd been cheating on at the time. Or there was when I'd been forced to be a contestant on that insane Niops Association tri-vid quiz show, in order to win my freedom during my time in the Periphery following the Marik Civil War, and I had nearly been fried to death with powerful electric shocks each time I got an answer wrong.
     So then I was under no illusions. If I'd been trying to conceal anything, I wouldn't have been able to. Oh, don't you listen to these wiseacres who try to tell you one can compartmentalise one's thoughts when under torture, in order to shut off the pain, and still less to the freaks who claim that if one but endures the unbearable agony long enough one can actually reach a point of transcendence where the pain becomes a sort of hazy pleasure. No, my lads, my advice to you, if you should ever have the sheer bloody awful luck to be stuck in a dark room, with a sick sadistic frack who is about to set about you with the neural whip, or the pliers, or the meat tenderiser, or whatever ... is to spill everything you know, which he wants to know. And preferably before he gets started.
      My problem on this occasion was that Akuda, the silly ass, didn't believe me when I told him the truth, and I didn't think I'd be able to convincingly lie, so I grasped at the hope he'd eventually twig I was actually being honest for once.
     "Akuda, listen to me, I'm Darius Davion, Leftenant attached to the staff of Leftenant-General Arlin Stuart. All you know about me is wrong, I am a coward. I am a rogue." I sobbed and continued in a similar vein as he turned back to me, snorted and patted his whip upon my right calf muscle.
     My babbling became a strangled scream as I violently convulsed and twisted again, the pain complete, blotting everything else from my mind. When it stopped I found I'd shit and pissed myself. Akuda tutted sympathetically.
     "Oh don't worry, there's no shame here I assure you." He said and we fell into the most dreadful routine, he would badger away at me for a few minutes, laughing off my protestations that I was in fact myself, and trying to get me to confess I was either an O5P agent, or perhaps working for the MIIO, or our Department of Military Intelligence. He would then sigh and roll that ball tip of his whip along my arm or leg again for a while, watching me spasm and jerk as the excruciating shocks ripped through me time and time again.
     All in all, I must say it was one of the worst days of my life ... and let me tell you, I've had some bad 'uns.           
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #19 on: 18 February 2011, 10:22:41 »
16

     Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, though in fact cannot have been more than a few hours, Akuda broke off the torture session without another word to me. He stood, tossed his deactivated neural whip onto the table, then stalked out with Ortega and Hoskikawa at his heels. As they were leaving, and just before the storeroom door was slammed and locked behind them, through the cloud of pain that filled my consciousness I heard Ortega grunt something about me being a disgusting, cringing, worm. However Akuda cut him off sharply, his voice fading as they walked away up the corridor;
     "You're wrong Corporal, oh don't let his tears and begging fool you, he's a truly brave man or I don't know my business. His mistake was to bait his story hook with too big a name, to try to tempt me into believing him I guess, and he must have realised from the start I had seen through his ingenious plan to pass himself off as a Davionist coward, yet he stuck to that cover story despite almost unendurable pain. Definitely O5P material, but never fear I'll break him tonight, and then we'll find out what the red-robes are up to here. When will they learn not to stick their beaks into our pond?"
     All of which just goes to show you that professional vanity, coupled to inter-organisational rivalry, makes for a bad mix in the mediocre. Akuda, the ass, in common with many intelligence operatives, clearly liked to think he was cleverer than everyone else, and was so used to dealing in layered deceptions, lies and plots, he overlooked the simple truth that he had in his hands one of the most famous Davion heroes alive, and that that hero, which is to say myself, was a complete fraud and a coward of the highest order. All of which should have amounted to him laying the biggest propaganda coup of the year in his superior's laps, yet he fumbled it.
     At the time I was not however dwelling on these matters, hung up as I was upon his last words; that he was planning to resume torturing me with a vengeance that evening. Conrad but I must have looked a mess, sat there in my own stinking waste, soaked in sweat, twitching jerking uncontrollably now and then, while gasping and sobbing. Indeed, I must have been at a very low ebb, for I recall actually being so desperate and forlorn I conveniently put aside my lifelong atheism and blubbed a prayer to the big chap upstairs.
     "Listen old man," I began with gasp. "... err that is Sir ... look I'm most dreadfully sorry about all the bad things I've done, and well, if you could see your way to getting me out of this beastly situation ... well ... err I'll make it worth your while. I'll pay handsomely into the poor box the first chance I get, and ... err well I'll go to church once a week with ma'ma, and I'll adopt an Outback orphan." I think I went on in this vein for quite some time, and it must have been just as I was about half way through listing the things I was sorry for having done wrong, for I was begging His pardon at the time, for accidentally poisoning the atmosphere of half the planet of Lysidas whilst drunk in charge of a 'Mech, when the door was unlocked and opened behind me.
     I was about to start pleading for mercy again, when there came a gasp and rather than Akuda and his thugs, Genji's voice came from the doorway;
     "Frack!" He swore and dashed round to crouch before me, his pale grey eyes wide with surprise and concern. I could have wept to see his friendly dark skinned Snake face at that moment, but my natural instincts kicked in and I realised that fate, luck, or my prayers, had done the trick. There stood my one chance to get free and to escape.
     "Lucas, are you all right? What the frack is going on? Why is Akuda doing this to you? Quickly buddy, out with it, Mashindo managed to get us in here quietly by bribing one of the Techs up top who owed him a favour. This Tech tipped us off on the quiet that there was a way into these cellars through a bomb damaged street around the corner from the church, the guard who was watching that street owed Mashindo for some contraband and Mashindo is distracting him at the moment by hassling him about his debt. We waited in a side chamber for Akuda and his men to clear out, but we've probably not got much time before they come back. What in the Dragon's name is going on?"
     Even in my bruised state of mind it truly shocked me that my platoon mates were literally risking their lives, by having snuck in to find me. I'd known they'd liked me, and that they'd previously watched my back during my time as one of them, but I'd never have expected in my wildest dreams of rescue, that they'd risk the wrath of the ISF by such a rash and daring course of action. But then again that shouldn't be surprising I suppose, for I'm a rank coward, and the workings of the minds of brave and 'honourable' men are a complete mystery to me.   
     So then, I must say, in all modesty, it's not everyone who, in as bad a state physically and mentally as I then was, could have immediately, almost instantaneously in fact, started desperately planning and scheming with the practised ease and skill that I did. In a flash I recognised that dear old Genji was patriotic to his homeland and was, at least what his barbaric nation regarded as, a good soldier. So if I'd told him the truth about who I was, and why I was down there, he would probably have spat in my eye, then volunteered to hold Akuda's jacket for him and stood there watching happily when the second round of torture began. No, the truth was clearly out of the question with Genji and the lads, which was when, with as I say split second speed, I struck upon the obvious line to run with.
     I promptly shook my sweat damp hair out of my eyes, then assumed my patented Darius-Do-Right attitude of constipated, heroic, seriousness.
     "Genji, what the frack are you doing here, get out of here before you get caught. I'll not have you and the lads risk yourself for me d'you hear." Well it was a chancy line, but I'd been playing this role on and off for the best part of eight years by then and I fancy I knew pretty well how to pitch it. Genji could of course have taken me at my word and dashed off, but he shook his head without hesitation, the wonderful brave and loyal idiot.
     "No way Lucas, not until you tell me the truth. Are you a traitor? Is that why this is happening?" He asked and I fixed him with a look loaded deliberately with scalded affront and anger.
     "I swear on my mother's heart, that by thought, word, or deed I have never betrayed the Dragon." I snapped and to my joy he nodded quickly in response.
     "I thought that Lucas, but ... well when the Chu-i told us you'd been arrested by MPs at the orders of Taishi Akuda, the boys and me couldn't believe it. We know you, we've seen the way you hate the Fedrats, how you slotted that dog on the sea shore, how you taught us how to live off the natives, to punish the decadent swine. But ... well we had to find out for sure.
     I know this is risky, but what the frack, we're moving on Twin Peaks in under an hour and compared to the dangers we'll likely face in battle there, this will probably seem like a bit of a jape." He nervously smiled, and I assumed a thoughtful expression before doing my best to shrug, bound tightly as I still was, in apparent resignation.
     "Ok then Genji my friend, but I wish you'd kept out of this for your own sake." I took a deep breath creating a nice dramatic pause, then dived in with both feet. "My name is not Lucas Nixon, and I'm not a Private in the DIF, in short I'm not the man you think you know." His face darkened as if a shadow had fallen over it, as his suspicions probably flooded back tenfold, but I carried on in a calm, firm voice. "I am in fact ... Paul Nomura, an Inquiring Brother of the Order of the Five Pillars."
     Akuda had unwittingly during his questioning provided me with the perfect story, and a few choice bits and pieces of O5P terminology, to spin to Genji, whose jaw dropped in amazement, and whose eyes lit up with eager curiosity, which was just nuts to me, for there's no better audience when you're weaving a tapestry of lies than one that really wants to hear what you have to say, especially if it's a nice juicy tale.
     "I cannot go into too much detail of course as to the specifics of my mission here," I said heavily, though in fact wishing to wrap this act up as quickly as possible, in order to avoid Akuda strolling back in on us. "Suffice to say I was sent here partly to exhort the troops to proper patriotic fervour, but more importantly also to investigate possible enemy penetration of the office of certain ISF Taishi serving with the Galedon District forces. Akuda, was one of those I was in particular to keep an eye on."
     "By the Dragon!" Genji swore. "Then he's the traitor? I should have known, I never liked him. He must have found out you were on to him. That's why he's been torturing you? To find out what you've learnt about him?" Good lad Genji, I thought to myself, 'attaboy.
     "Well, as I say I can't say too much," I replied. "But let's just put it this way, there's no chance Akuda will be letting me out of his grip any time soon. I expect I'll be rolled quietly into a ditch within a day." Then under my breath, so Genji had to lean in and strain to hear me. "If only I'd gone to the Warlord, with the information I'd gleaned, yesterday."
     "Right then," Genji declared forcefully, standing up in an obvious hurry. "It seems clear I've got to get to Warlord Samsonov for you, to tell him where you are and what that traitor bastard Akuda is doing to you." I gave a little yelp and a start of panic, as I realised the dolt was about to shoot off with my bullshit story to Grievous Grieg, while leaving me to suffer the torments of another 'interview' with Akuda.
     "Sorry Genji, that's a no go." I said quickly, pulling him up short. "Warlord Samsonov will not trust the word of, forgive me my friend, an ordinary Private soldier over that of an ISF Military Ambassador. Besides if Akuda starts on me again I may die, and if so the evidence I have learned about him and certain others will never reach the Dragon's ears. I have certain irrefutable identification protocols, which will positively prove to the Warlord who I am, but I have to reach him in person to present them." I looked up at Genji as he chewed his lower lip nervously, clearly chary of helping a prisoner of the ISF escape, while I inwardly pleaded with him to do the right thing by me. Thankfully Genji was one of those reliably brave, and thankfully simple, souls and he nodded once more and tugged out his bayonet, then set about the plastic binders at my wrists.
     "Frack Lucas ... ahh that is Paul, I hope you make it safely to the Warlord, for if you don't they'll have our hides for this."
     "Never fear Genji my friend," I smiled. "You can trust me."

* * *

     So it was, that I was rescued from Akuda's far from tender clutches, by the Snake grunts whom I'd hidden amongst for so many days previously. The same Snake soldiers who would have all killed me on the spot, most probably, if they'd known who and what I really was. There's probably a moral in there somewhere, but for the life of me I can't decide what it would be; perhaps 'if you're ever hiding under a false identity as a foreign foot soldier, don't spare the rod with your own helpless civies'? Or maybe; 'when in mortal danger, there's always time for another lie'?
     Anyway, after I'd dressed myself back into my DCMS fatigues, boots, helmet and armour, actually getting out of the storeroom was not difficult, as it was but a short dash behind Genji to the side chamber and then through to the half collapsed basement beyond. Ray Hammond and Ivan Karpachenko were crouched in the shadows there waiting for us and keeping watch, and both looked surprised to see me following Genji.
     We didn't stop however and were soon quietly out across the bomb damaged street and into a little maze of side alleys, while oblivious over the road Mashindo was talking and smoking with the MP who was meant to have been watching that route into the church cellars. Mashindo had clearly manoeuvred the guard away from the route in, and we were out and gone without being spotted.
     "I need a vehicle Genji, so I can reach the Warlord, you mentioned the 'Mech spearhead has already left, the Warlord will be with them, I need to catch him up." I briskly advised my saviour, while my body was still feeling ravaged from the ordeal I'd just been through, and my heart was in my mouth the whole time, desperate as I was to get as far away from that blasted church as quickly as possible, before Akuda discovered I'd been sprung.
     "Okay, Karpachenko we need to get a vehicle for ... Lucas, here. I'll fill you in why afterwards, we don't have time for explanations now." Genji said in a low voice to his platoon mate, while we hovered in an alley mouth, and a Company of Snake infantry tramped past in the street beyond. Karpachenko looked at both Genji and I closely for a long moment, probably weighing up the awful risks they were all neck deep in at that moment, then nodded once and patted Hammond on his shoulder, and they both slid out of the alley and into the street.
     There followed perhaps ten long minutes of nerve wracking wait, while I fretted and expected to hear alarms raised at any moment, and Genji kept checking his watch, clearly worried that he and the others wouldn't be able to get back to their Regiment before they were meant to muster and leave Jommson.
     Christ and Conrad alone know how they managed it, but just as I was about to just break and run on foot, there was suddenly the hum of engine noise in the street, and pulling up at the mouth of the alley were Karpachenko and Hammond, aboard a natty little two man skimmer. It was one of those nippy, very fast, little scout hovercraft one finds in armies across the Sphere and beyond, painted in green and brown camouflage, and just the thing to get me where I needed to go in a hurry.
     "Well done lads, well done." I whispered, while ushering them off, and plumping myself down in the driving seat. I wasn't about to waste any time, but it didn't hurt to say thank you under the circumstances so I turned and shook Genji's hand.
     "Thanks Genji, thanks to all of you. The Dragon shall reward you for your actions this day." Oh sure, it'd reward them each with a firing squad, if they were lucky, but that wasn't my lookout was it. "Okay, I'd better get going, I'll catch up with the Warlord in no time on this, but for now I don't need to tell you not to say anything about this to anyone."
     Genji and the others agreed, patted me on the shoulder and as I started the little craft up and pulled away from them, I glanced back to see them for one last time, stood waving me off. A scene that I can play back in my mind as clear today as when I saw it all those years ago. Those, supremely brave and tough looking Snake infantrymen, who'd practically written their own death warrants solely on the strength of friendship for one of their own, their hands raised, looking happy despite the fact they must have known the gravity of what they'd just done. I never saw any of them again, but I know for a fact at least one of them survived the campaign ... however I shall get to that later.
     Luckily there was a lot of Kuritan military traffic leaving Jommson at the same time I was that afternoon, as Samsonov's army was moving out for Twin Peaks at the time, and dressed as I was in DCMS uniform, mounted on my DCMS skimmer, I had no trouble zipping alongside the rumbling, grinding columns of tanks, the ranks of infantry proudly singing their marching songs as they went, and further up the road the ground shaking Lances of Galedon Regular 'Mechs. Only once did I get flagged down, by a scout platoon of an armoured regiment, who were right out at the head of the main column, just a few miles behind the 'Mech spearhead force. I had to stop, as they had a Vedette tank, and I didn't fancy risking them taking a pot shot at me with their main cannon.
     "Where you headed Private, the Three Fifty Seventh's place is at the rear of the column?" A tanker Chu-i wearing heavy padded body armour and a helmet set with mirrored goggles, called over to me as I slowed alongside them.
     "Urgent dispatch for the Warlord, from Taishi Akuda of the Three Fifty Seventh." I called back, trying with all my shattered nerves to keep my voice calm and level. I hoped the mention of my new ISF friend would scare this damn tin-canner, and there was a dreadful pause as he chewed it over for a moment, then shrugged;
     "Fair enough, the 'Mech spearhead is about ten klicks ahead of us, the Warlord is with 'em." With that he waved me on, and I breathed an enormous sigh of relief as I floored the accelerator and whined off past them. As soon as I was out of their sight I made a point of veering east, putting distance between myself and the road which the Snakes were advancing along, before turning back north and pushing the speed up even more.
     The 'Mechs of the Fifth Galedon were travelling at a steady speed of roughly forty to fifty klicks per hour, and thankfully my little skimmer could reach upwards of two hundred kph, though it became deuced stressful controlling the light craft at that speed in the fierce mountain winds that cut down at me from the north, so I settled on going about a hundred and fifty.     
     The land north of Jommson was considerably more rugged and broken than the Lowland Flats to the south, lying as it did between the Uplands to the north, the Storm Hills to the west and the Wizened Hills to the east. It was empty, unfarmed, land consisting mainly of bare graggy slopes, little gullies, and occasional clusters of upthrusting spires of bone white, wind sculpted, rock. The further I travelled the more sparse the land became, until I could actually see the purplish line of the Uplands covering the horizon ahead of me.
     It was not hard to find my way to Twin Peaks itself, for it lay slap bang at the apex where the three Upland ranges met, at the end of a valley between two towering, snow capped mountains which were visible from many miles off, and within three hours of leaving Jommson, as the green sun was setting in the west behind the Storm Hills, I sighted the distant twinkle of lights between the Peaks of the city itself. New Ivaarsen's northern capital.
     Relieved to finally be in sight of a friendly haven, even though it was threatened with imminent attack by the Fifth Galedon's 'Mechs, I glided the skimmer into a grassy valley, perhaps half a mile across, between two spurs of the mountains. As I hummed along, I noted that the valley was about six miles long, and that roughly a quarter mile before the tall, dark ferrocrete city walls I passed an old looking series of defensive lines, consisting of a string of 'Mech and tank traps, and ferrocrete 'Mech barricades, that had obviously been built as an outer defence before the city walls proper, oddly however these lines were unoccupied and empty of any 'Mechs. 
     I had no comm gear on my skimmer, and I didn't want to get shot by a trigger happy Ugly PUG on one of the city wall emplacements, so after I passed the outer line, I pulled up, stripped off my padded armour jacket, tossed away my helmet, and stripped off my fatigue top, then my vest. Pulling my fatigue shirt back on, as it was damned chilly in that wind, I then held my white vest as high as I could in my upraised left hand, while steering with my right and slowly gunned the skimmer towards the towering, closed, gates to Twin Peaks.
     I could see the gun emplacements nearest to the gates tracking me, and I prayed they were manned by half competent troops. I stood in the seat of my vehicle, waving that makeshift white flag for all I was worth, and I pulled up twenty meters or so from the gates, when a broadcast comm sputtered into life and a voice crackled out.
     "Stop where you are. Move away from your vehicle, with your hands raised." As I complied carefully with the instructions, I began to breath a little easier, especially when a door opened inside the main gates themselves and half a dozen armoured AFFS infantrymen ran out.
     "Oh thank Christ." I muttered to myself, however they came at me hard, and before I knew it I was face down on the deck, with some great oaf kneeling on my back and bellowing at me not to move.
     "I say," I managed to gasp in annoyance. "Steady chaps, don't you know who I am? I'm Darius Davion you dolts."
     To which the brute on my back snorted a harsh chuckle; "Sure pal, and I'm the bleedin' Primus of ComStar, now shut the frack up and stop wriggling!"

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

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #20 on: 18 February 2011, 11:00:54 »
17

     It took perhaps half an hour of repetitive questioning from the dull witted PBI Captain in charge of the gate watch, before he finally agreed to fetch Duke Stephen Davion. Neither the Captain, or any of his men, believed I was the celebrated Hero of Mallory's World of course, but I wasn't worried, as you know I'd met Duke Stephen, the Colonel of the Second NI Chasseurs, earlier in the campaign, so I knew he'd ID me in short order.
     I didn't have to wait long, once my dour relative had actually been summoned, and within perhaps five minutes of my being marched into a wall bunker briefing room to await him, the door swung open with a dull clang and in he strode in all his short, burly, glory, followed by two young Leftenants, and an older more worlds-worn looking Major. It didn't look like Duke Stephen had changed his grubby camo fatigues since last I'd seen him before the invasion, a month or so back on Panopea. His long raven black hair was loose and messy, his goatee beard as untidy as ever. With a truly furious expression, his one good eye took me in, a sour grimace playing across his features as his gimlet gaze lingered upon my DCMS uniform fatigues.
     "You better have a fracking good explanation for this Leftenant, or I'll have you thrown in the glasshouse quicker than you can say firing squad. We had word you were dead, and maybe it would be better that you had been ... sooner than learn you went Kuritan." He growled, but I wasn't worried, I'd been planning my story all the way from Jommson, on and off, and felt confident I had it down pat.
     "There's no time for the ins and outs of that now Sir." I said quickly, my voice heavy with urgency. "You need to get every 'Mech and tank you have here out of the city and down to those old defensive lines I passed on the way in, and you need to do it now!"  Stephen looked like he was about to have an apoplectic fit at my brusque tone and manner, his face quickly going scarlet with rage, his fists balling, so I hurried on as if exasperated with him.
     "Sir most of the Fifth Galedon Regulars, headed by an assault force of their close range heavies, are on their way here right now, and you need to be ready to take 'em at range in the valley. If not those walls out there won't hold and we'll lose Twin Peaks." Business like Darius-the-Valiant eh? All brisk military necessity, and cold, calm good sense. Duke Stephen's bad mood was however not yet assuaged and he seemed to ignore everything I'd just said.
     "What the frack is that uniform you're wearing Leftenant? What is the meaning of this?" He barked, and I shrugged, looking down as if just remembering that I was togged up in enemy clobber.
     "We don't have time for chapter and verse now Sir ... but ... if you insist," I took a deep breath and gave it my all, basing my story around the bogus reason I'd given for dashing out to see Stuart in that damned submarine in the first place, when I'd left the safety of Fort Bormen a fortnight before.
     "A little over two weeks ago I was down in Bormen during the early days of the siege, as you may know, and through a hunch and some digging, I caught wind we might have a rat in our midst, a Kuritan agent Sir. So, I hopped aboard the submarine Bowfin and shipped out to sea, meaning to meet with General Stuart at Panopea to discuss the problem face to face.
     However, we were diverted en route to attack a Kuritan supply depot along the coast to the east. The depot turned out to be a Snake trap, and we took some hits, which caused the Bowfin to be forced to dive, while I was blown into the sea by a missile hitting the conning tower. I was dazed and lightly injured, but I just about managed to swim to shore." You'll note that I didn't think it a good idea to mention poor old Hal at this point, presumably he was MIA after all, and I reasoned it wouldn't do indicate I had any idea what happened to him.
     "I came ashore at the site where another of our subs had recently knocked out a Snake infantry convoy, and it was while I was stood there surrounded by dead Kuritan soldiers I had the idea. Well, of course, I could have worked my way through the enemy siege lines back into the safety of Bormen, 'wouldn't have been tough for a chap who knew what he was doing. But it struck me I could take advantage of things in order to do a little digging to find out the identity of our Mr Rat.
     I know of course it was rather irregular, but it seemed a God given opportunity to do some good, so I slipped into the uniform of one of the dead Snakes, took his tags, and then went looking for a Kuritan unit to attach myself too." Naturally I said all this in the most light and throw away manner possible, as you always must in these circumstances, for it only adds to the awe your audience will feel that your amazing bravery is cloaked in noble modesty, and indeed I was gratified to see looks of stunned amazement begin to spread across their gawping faces, even that miserable bastard Duke Stephen's.
     "As luck would have it a platoon from the Snake Three Fifty Seventh Assault Regiment were on their way to check the burning convoy for survivors and after a bit of waffle, you mayn't know I'm fluent in Jappo, I managed to convince them I was this dead Snake Private, one Lucas Nixon. As I'd planned I was swept into their unit and for the next couple of weeks, during the Snake advance north towards here, I stayed inside the platoon, keeping my ear to the ground for any clues as to whether my hunch was correct, about there being a Snake spy at Bormen, and if so who he or she was."
     "You spent two weeks undercover as a DCMS infantry soldier?" Duke Stephen gasped aloud, while his two aides, and the Major, goggled at me, in that by then familiar expression of dumb struck admiration I was pretty used to by then.
     "'Twernt too difficult, thankfully we didn't see any action, so I didn't have to fudge combat with any of our chaps, which would have certainly given me away." I shrugged, assaying to look embarrassed by all the attention. "If I'm honest, the worst of it was the food, if I never see another bowl of rice again it'll be too soon." Great line eh? That one leaked out to the press y'know, and it turned up in print all over the Suns and beyond in the months after.
     "Anyway, I was finally rumbled by none other than Warlord Samsonov himself if you can believe it, when he was shaking my hand at parade." Oddly enough, considering it was actually a rare truth amidst all the lies, this was the one part where Duke Stephen narrowed his eyes in what looked like disbelief, however I carried on regardless. "My own stupid fault, I let him shake my left hand, which has been a prosthetic for a few years now, since that swine Redjack Ryan took my old flipper, when I beat him in a card game.
     Of course, shrewd bird that he is, Samsonov realised no Snake grunt would have a prosthetic hand of this quality, and he tossed me to his ISF goons. Well they worked me over a bit with a neural whip and suchlike, trying to find out who I was." I said briskly, while they gasped in horror. "However eventually I managed to overpower one of their thugs while they were moving me, I grabbed his gun and shot my way out of the old church in Jommson where the ISF 'Ambassador' had been holding me. Oh, it wasn't too bad Sir, my guards were military police, rather than line soldiers, and after I plugged a handful of them, the rest kept their heads down, giving me all the time I needed to hightail it out of town, on that skimmer." I could see the feverish imaginations of Stephen and his officers already embroidering my little tale, and inwardly grinned, knowing from experience how inflated this story would become, without any help from me, in the weeks and months to come.
     In fact it was only at that moment that I realised that, if I could just survive the rest of this campaign, for all the hardships of the previous weeks I'd fallen very much on my feet once more, and could expect another round of gongs and public acclaim.
     "So did you find out about this spy at Bormen?" Duke Stephen growled, a hint of gruff admiration clear in his voice now.
     "Ah, I can't say at present Sir, I need to think through some things I managed to overhear before making a call on that point." Indeed I had a cunning plan on that subject, which I shall tell you about shortly. "However Sir, I did manage to wheedle the Snakes attack plans for this city out of our platoon's Chu-i. Sir, they know your walls here are vulnerable, and that your whole regiment is inside those walls. The Fifth Galedon is light on 'Mechs capable of sustained long range fire, so Samsonov has put together a city buster force, built up from his assault, heavy, and medium Lances, that will spearhead the attack.
     These city busters are weak at range, but if they get into medium and close range of your walls they'll be through them in no time, allowing the rest of Samsonov's forces to pour in after 'em. Sir, I strongly advise that you get any and all your 'Mechs capable of ranged fire down to those lines outside the walls, it'll enable you to shred Samsonov's spearhead at distance, before they get anywhere near the city itself.
     I passed Grievous Grieg's 'Mechs on the way here, they can't be more than an hour or two away, probably a good deal less."
     "Good Christ!" Duke Stephen swore, scratching his head and blinking his one eye furiously in thought. He then nodded at me. "Right ... I advised that idiot fop Stuart we should have at least a battalion down at the Old Rampart line at all times, but he sent orders we were all to remain inside the 'safety' of the walls until further notice from him. Well, looks like I'm going to have to break his order." With that the surly sod became all business, turning and rapping out instructions to his lackeys. "Major Covington, I want all our 'Mechs outside the city walls, down at the Old Rampart line, within the next ten minutes. Jones, have my 'Mech brought up to the gates. Fleischer, send my regards to City Defence Command, advise them we expect a Kuritan 'Mech attack within the hour, and pass on my orders to get everyone possible down into the civil defence bunkers. Chop chop lads, this is it. We've got a Snake Warlord to beat!"
     "Leftenant ... ah Darius," The grumpy cur turned back to me, looking for the first time to be in a half friendly frame of mind towards me. "Good job lad. Very well done. Looks like Gene Drivers and the McKinnons were right about you after all. I'd very much like to offer you a ride ..."

* * *

     "Tell me old son, have you ever pilotted a two seater 'Mech?" Duke Stephen growled happily at me as we hurried out of that wall defence bunker, and my guts promptly flipped at the implications of what he was saying. Bad enough he clearly expected me to get into a 'Mech and join in the battle about to erupt outside Twin Peaks at any moment ... but he seemed to be suggesting I pilot a double seat 'Mech, presumably while he came along for the ride, sat in a cockpit seat directly behind mine.
     As you will probably be aware, double seat cockpits are fairly rare in 'Mechs, they are usually reserved for commanders who want to be right up at the front line with their units, but who still need to be directing the overall battle so cannot be distracted with actually fighting and manoeuvring the 'Mech itself. Thus in a twin seater, the front cockpit seat is equipped with the usual neural hook-ups, HUDs and consoles, used by the MechWarrior to control the 'Mech and it's weapons, while the rear seat provides the passenger with a full command suite, enabling him theoretically to monitor and direct units and battles across a whole continent. The rear seat typically has no neural hook ups, but the passenger of course still needs to wear a cooling suit to be able to function in the furnace heat of the cockpit.   
     "No Sir." I blurted, then added thoughtfully, playing to the hilt my role as a noble MechWarrior torn between a natural lust to get to grips with the dastardly Kuritans, but for the good of the team grudgingly having to admit he wasn't qualified for the position he'd been offered; "Ahh, Sir if you're suggesting I chauffeur you about while you direct the Regiment from the command chair ... well I'm not sure that would be sensible, d'you see? I don't want my total inexperience of riding twin saddle to cause you problems out there, for I might ultimately cost us the battle ... perhaps I should just bite the bullet and accept I'll have to sit the match out this time on the sideline, with the sick wheezy chaps, the Ugly-PUGs and the civies, and watch you lads have all the fun."
     It was the best I could come up with at the time, being sure to sound rueful and painfully modest, and for just a moment I thought I'd managed to pull it off, for Stephen looked both thoughtful and a little crestfallen. However the bloody swine then assumed his usual surly confident scowl again, and probably thinking he was absolutely doing me a favour, he chuckled.
     "Don't worry Darius, I respect you for saying so, and I know the very thought of missing this show would bite deep to a bloodthirsty rogue like you, but fear not, there ain't nothing to twin saddle work ..." Then as he was chuntering on, a look of amused respect passed across his face as something clearly occured to him. "Oh hang about, I think I know what you're really worried about ..." I gulped in surprise. "You're fretting that having a Colonel aboard during a 'Mech fight will inhibit you some ... that I'm going to rein you in and hold you back from charging into the thick of it, ain't you?" Well that was obviously the last thing in my mind, but it doesn't hurt to let idiots like Stephen believe what they want to believe, so I assumed a look of guilty admission and muttered some tosh about 'not wanting to put a senior officer in harms way just for the sake of my own fun'. Stephen clapped me on the back at that, and then assumed a mock serious tone.
     "Bugger that old son! Listen I'm looking forward to seeing you in action, and if for one second I think you were shirking getting properly stuck in on my behalf, I'll bloody well have you up on charges after the battle. Are we clear?"   
     Jerome H Blake! He was joking of course, but nevertheless this was a new horror for me. In my informed opinion, despite being a very skilled 'Mech pilot, I'd only managed to survive most of the all too many hellish 'Mech battles I'd endured by that time, thanks to my patented cowards tactics of carefully hanging back from the main scrummage points loosing off ranged weapons, while making a good deal of hearty patriotic din over the comm and dodging any fire that came my way. Then dashing in when it looked like the enemy were beaten and making a great show of finishing off  the wounded foe. I'd become so expert at it by then, and coupled with my famous name as a suicidally courageous fire-eater, I swear braver MechWarriors who'd in fact been in the thick of things would often think I'd somehow saved them in the nick of time, or would assume they hadn't seen me where the metal met the metal because I'd be sneaking about the enemy's flank or some such nonsense.
     So then, as I'm sure you can well imagine, I broke out in terrified cold sweats at the prospect of having this particular monkey literally on my back throughout what would almost certainly be a very nasty set too. My only prayer was that we could knock out all the Snake 'Mechs before they got into range of us, for if not, then short of turning round and shooting Stephen Davion in the head, I'd have no chance of playing things sensible ... indeed the Kuritan hating sod would be firmly expecting me to charge straight for the absolute worst and most dangerous parts of the battlefield. So it was, while doing my best to look as keen and hot for fiery action as the dotty Duke clearly was, as we headed for the gates where his 'Mech was due to be waiting for us, I was in fact nearly wetting myself in raw panic.
     Once again I cursed the cruelty of my fate; to have finally managed to come through the nightmare of the past two weeks alive and to have reached the relative safety of Twin Peaks, only to now find myself in this awful position. If Stephen hadn't been bowling along beside me, filling me in with a few pointers on working 'twin saddle', I'd have broken down there and then in tears.
     It was then, with some small degree of relief, I saw a huge 'Mech transporter waiting for us in a wide square near the gates, carrying an enormous eighty five ton BLR-1G Battlemaster. A king of the battlefield for centuries, Battlemasters carry enough fire power and armour to take out a Lance of lighter 'Mechs, and I suddenly felt a little better about the fight to come.
     "She's a beauty ain't she Darius?" Stephen crowed and patted the foot of his great machine, as it was slowly lowered from the transport. I noted the name Duchess painted under the Chasseur's unit insignia and it struck me the silly sentimental sod had probably named that towering great heap of metal after my tiny little Aunt, 'Meek Marie' Davion, the Duchess of New Syrtis and the only member of our extended family, before myself now of course, that Stephen had ever taken a shine too.
     "Indeed Sir." I smiled, while following his lead in beginning to strip in preparation for suiting up and being prepped for neural recognition. "I just hope you don't mind another man getting inside her." I winked broadly and for a moment he went puce with anger, before seeing my grin and laughing himself, though he looked at me a bit slantendicular after the moment had passed, perhaps trying to decide if I'd been deliberately winding him up.

* * *   
     
     The two Regiments of BattleMechs that make up the New Ivaarsen Chasseurs are an oddity in the AFFS, in that they are in fact more or less privately owned by a Fed Suns nobleman, specifically the head of the Ducal family of New Ivaarsen; the Stephensons. They're a rich clan, who have done very well financially, both from the massive annual planetary harvest exports and from the extensive industrial plants centred around the city of Bluthe, so it should be no surprise that, knowing where their bread is buttered, they are historically staunch supporters of my family. Because of the perceived fanaticism of the Stephenson's loyalty to us, they have been permitted to build their own private military forces, which even receive standard pay from the AFFS. At the time of the Kuritan invasion in '21, only the Second Regiment, or 'the Swords' as they are known, were stationed on planet. While the First Regiment, under the command of Duke Reginald Stephenson had been rotated for a tour elsewhere along the Draconis Front.
     I think I'm correct in saying that every MechWarrior, Tech and Pilot in the two Regiments had to have been born on New Ivaarsen, and they held a good name along the border worlds at the time I'm writing of here. However, having had no contact with the Regiment I must say I was unconvinced such a surly, Bible bound, folk would make good stock for MechWarriors, and I may have said something along those lines to Duke Stephen as I walked Duchess down through the gates of Twin Peaks into the darkening evening towards the Rampart line.
     "Hah! They mayn't be your regular troops that's true." I recall him barking behind me in good humour, at the anticipation of the slaughter to come no doubt. "Why I was thrown when I first joined 'em and had to put up with religious services, prayers before lights out, and damn all trace of any booze. But I'll tell yer, they're rare hard fighters, real ballsy neck or nothing devils when they catch up to the enemy.
     We've bloodied the Dragon's snout more times in the last ten years than I can count. They think Kurita's Satan incarnate I suppose, which I'd agree with damn his cold heart! I tell you this son, Samsonov won't know what hit him when he meets us out there."
     I kept quiet of course, while measuring the efficient, organised, way the Chasseurs were filing out, and positioning themselves up the valley behind the defensive line. Well, I mused, at least they seemed to know their business, but I'd still rather have had a regular Regiment like the Seventh Crucis, or Guards such as the 'Bane, out there with me. Despite Stephen's avowals to the contrary, I saw the Chasseurs as little better than Ugly-PUGs in 'Mechs, or worse yet may-flower March Militia greenhorns. Thankfully I was to be proved wrong.
     As Stephen directed me towards a position right at the centre of the defensive line, I could hear what sounded like a bleeding Church sermon maundering on over the comm, with the Chasseur's Regimental Chaplain quoting fire and brimstone and damning the Snakes for Godless heathens, though thankfully I was able to ignore him and concentrate on getting the feel of Stephen's monster of a 'Mech. It was slow of course, ponderously so in fact, yet packed an impressive arsenal, and I must say if you absolutely have to go into 'Mech combat it's certainly better to do so shielded by the kind of heavy armour such a beast carried.
     I pulled up at our designated spot and Duke Stephen waited a minute or two for the Chaplain to finish, then patched into the comm, speaking to each and everyone of his MechWarriors as the sky darkened with the swift approaching evening.
     "Men and women of the Swords, a Kuritan Warlord and his pet 'Mech Regiment are about to come steaming up this valley with the express intention of beating their way into Twin Peaks, before or after sending us all straight to our maker. If we fail to stop them here, if they reach the city, then God help your friends, your families, your countrymen, back there behind us. I'm not one for speeches ... as you know." There was an answering collective chuckle at that, as he carried on and before us dust clouds began to form and the slight tremor of distant 'Mechs reach us. "I leave that kind of thing to the bloody politicians. So I'll just say this, remember who you are and where you're from. Look at those beside you. We're the fracking Second New Ivaarsen Chasseurs. We're the lads who are going to stop this bloody Snake invasion here and now. Am I right?" To which there came an answering cheer, while I gritted my teeth to stop them chattering.
     "Heh heh, I didn't doubt it. Ok boys, wait for my order, we've got to make every shot count."
     Over the next few minutes the Galedon city-buster force drew up in the distance, and for one beautiful moment I thought they might turn around at the sight of our defensive line before the city, realising the suicidal nature of trying to rush a dug in enemy that out-ranged them. Fat chance with a miserable and unimaginative thug like Samsonov in command.
     "Here they come." Stephen's voice breathed behind me eagerly, as those terrible Snake bastards began to move.
     Well, I've faced some nerve shredding 'Mech charges in my time; for example that moment when the main body of the Twenty Fourth Dieron Regulars sealed the trap at Beetle Butte and advanced in line abreast against myself and the tattered remnants of the Seventeenth Hussars, or the repeated charges I faced alongside the Eridani Light Horse at Brand Valley on Hoff, where we were locked in battle with the Snakes and Wolf's Dragoons for nearly two T-days straight. Oh yes, and I was there quaking behind the barricades at that nameless hill on Harrow's Sun, when poor old Roddy Kent became famous, and there on Markab too in '26, bleating quietly with terror, while that mad mick Colonel O'Malley of the Third Crucis reminded us over the comm that 'the Rearguard dies, but never surrenders', as Sword of Light 'Mechs in overwhelming numbers descended upon us at full pelt, guns blazing. Jesus and Jerome, it's a wonder to me I ever manage to get any sleep these days y'know.
     Still and all, the charge of the Fifth Galedon's heavies at Twin Peaks was as memorably hideous as any that I've had the misfortune to tremble before. The fact that good military sense should have stopped 'em from advancing upon us while we had the drop on 'em good and proper, didn't prevent my heart from missing several beats, my palms from sweating, and my throat from drying, as I felt rather than saw their charge begin.
     I say felt, for the rumble reached us just before the din of it, that unmistakable bone jarring, nerve jangling, teeth chipping, vibration that begins fairly slowly, then builds to such a pitch I've know it topple five story buildings with it's ground shaking force. I squinted into my range finder, blinking away the sweat, and trying to zone out Duke Stephen's voice eagerly barking in my ear over the comm to his unit.
     "Steady lads, steady ... wait for it."
     The Galedon 'Mechs were hurtling towards us now, distant still of course, but my God they were an awe inspiring sight, and if I close my eyes now I see 'em yet; spread in a serried rippling line across that valley, they came out of the green-black evening gloom, kicking up great clods of earth in such force that it seemed a churning fog cloud hung over them. Lance upon Lance of pale blue and grey camouflaged 'Mechs, their mighty legs pounding the valley floor, the oven hot wash from all those straining power plants creating a shimmering heat haze in the previously chill twilight mountain air. This was how the Snakes liked to think they loved war to be, a straight forward charge against their enemies, no messing about with complicated tactics, or combined arms operations, just a murderous crashing dash towards their opponents and then plenty of close quarter duelling for everyone. It was madness to be sure, but even a cynical and cowardly rat like myself couldn't fail to be impressed with the sheer suicidal valour, spectacle, and stupidity of it ... though preferably from a safer distance than I was at that time of course. Say what you will for Snake MechWarriors in those days, they may have been hidebound, stiff necked, ridiculously proud, and with their heads firmly stuck up their own proverbial arses ... but Blake's Blood, they were brave. 
     Concentrating, and willing myself not to blub at the very sight of them hammering towards us, I tried to sensibly pick which ones to shoot at first, there were numerous Hunchbacks, Wolverines, and several Chargers I recall, and thankfully only a handful of 'Mechs capable of sustaining long range fire. I prayed we could stop them before they reached us, and lowered the sights on my HUD over a Dragon I could make out in the centre of their line.
     "Here they come boys, mark your targets as they come, wait for my command." Stephen was growling over the comm behind me, and I glanced left and right, down the Rampart line where the Chasseurs were waiting, their machines' weapons levelled and ready. It was a strange, stretched out seeming moment, with the ground shaking more and more violently beneath me, as all those many hundreds of tons of ceramite and adamantine crashed towards us. I could hear my own heart pounding, I could see helmeted Chasseur MechWarriors in their cockpits on either side of me, their 'Mechs juddering and shifting before the approaching Kuritan storm.
     "Okay lads ... for New Ivaarsen ... for the Suns ... let's roast those Snake bastards!" A great cheer sounded over the comm from dozens of throats, which I was obliged to join in with, then more or less at the same moment we all opened fire.
     With a tremendous crescendo we launched a fearful barrage at the charging Galedon 'Mechs; long range missiles, particle cannon lightning bolts, thudding autocannon shells, and heavy laser canon fire. I didn't envy the Snakes running their 'Mechs into that lot, and I actually held my breath for that long moment before our first volley smashed home. We couldn't miss. It was savage, our first hits were the arcs of man-made lightning from the particle cannons, like the Donal model mounted upon my Battlemaster's right arm, the blue white flashes lit up the valley, eye searing electrical explosions crackling and burning along the Snake line. Then the clouds of missiles hissed amidst the enemy in massive numbers, many missing, but more streaking home and exploding. Laser beams sliced in next, erupting more fire and death across the Kuritan 'Mechs.
     There was then a strange moment as I think we all paused to gawp in awe at the carnage and damage we'd just wrought. Galedon 'Mechs all along their line had been taken down, sheets of ceramite armour had been melted, limbs were blown into the air, several 'Mechs actually fell and were then trampled by the Snake 'Mechs charging behind them in the second and third ranks. A handful of ammo explosions and the flashes of ruptured fusion reactors tore more gaps, sending belching clouds of oily black smoke up into the dark sky. One Snake Mechwarrior had punched out, but his cockpit chair sailed crookedly down in an arc that put him right among the churning pumping legs of those 'Mechs coming up behind. I think I gasped in horror, and I heard someone else whisper a prayer, then Stephen's harsh voice jerked us back to reality.
     "FIRE! Fire, damn you!" And we did. I'd never seen such a mercilessly punishing sustained few minutes of volley firing, it was like a scene from some Star League era painting of Hell. Without thought for my 'Mech's heat sinks, I triggered my Donal particle cannon, and my four front facing Martell laser cannons, again and again, as fast as I could. No longer even aiming, for the Snake line coming towards us now was more like the advance of some horde of demons, firey and flame riven giant figures, running and leaping to reach us, amidst boiling clouds of onrushing smoke. The heat soared in the cockpit around me, sweat poured in my eyes, Stephen barked hoarse shouting commands to various Lances, our endless volleys lashed into the Galedon ranks, explosions roared, sporadic wild fire began to land amongst us, and I gritted my teeth as I realised with horror the ground was still shaking and we weren't stopping them.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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  • Posts: 312
Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #21 on: 18 February 2011, 13:15:19 »
18

     A scream ripped over the comm, making my sweating hands slip on the firing sticks, as I saw to my right front a Fifth Galedon Hunchback come out of the dark roiling smoke, limping slightly, it's right arm blown off at the shoulder, and great craters torn into it's torso, it was leaking pinkish coolant fluid like blood, and practically glowed with the furious unrelieved heat of it's power plant. However it was still firing it's massive bored shoulder mounted Tomodzuru autocannon repeatedly and I registered instantly that the Chasseur 'Mech directly to my right had been ripped apart by the bastard's fire.
     Behind the Hunchback, other Galedon 'Mechs began to emerge at several points along the Rampart, barely any of them undamaged, many almost on their last legs, but it was an amazing and terrifying surprise to me that they'd managed to survive our barrage and reach us at all. I wanted to sob, crouch my 'Mech down behind the barricades and hide ... Duke Stephen had other ideas of course.
     "Prepare for close combat lads." He roared, then on closed link to me said; "Okay Darius, you're off the leash, let's have some fun." Well, I thought, this ain't my idea of fun at all so, while snap firing a volley of Holly short range missiles at the limping Hunchback and missing, I deliberately ignored the miserable sod behind me, deciding if I survived I'd risk claiming that in the heat of the battle I hadn't heard him.
     It was at precisely that moment I recall, as the Hunchback lurched round like an angry drunk and loosed off a deuced accurate burst at me, stitching high calibre shells up my 'Mech's right leg and causing damage alarms to start pinging and flashing on my consoles, that an eighty ton Charger came flailing out of the mist of smoke, flame and flying earth right in front of us.
     "Oh shiiiiit." I swore under my breath, and as my eyes locked upon that massive brute coming at me, suddenly I was distracted as a hard clang struck my neurohelmet from the left, and a shout came from behind me.
     "Hey Darius, I said you can go to it now. Go get some old son!" I half turned, about to curse the bloody fool, who had rapped his fist against my helmet I realised, then remembering that Charger was about to reach us I thought better of it and pushed the Battlemaster as fast as I could to the right, and threw it bodily towards the damaged Hunchback.
     "Sorry Sir, didn't hear you then." I called out, trying my best to sound happy and hearty with my throat as raw and dry as it was. To my left the Charger was quickly engaged by two other 'Mechs from Stephen's Command Lance, as I'd intended, while I hove down on the far weaker and more badly damaged Hunchback.
     "Take this, you Snake swine!" I positively screamed, making sure my comm was on of course, and opened up with another missile volley at close range. Three of the missiles struck the 'Mech ripping fiery explosions of molten ceramite armour and shattered adamantine innards across it's chest, but startlingly for me the blasted thing didn't go down, and the momentum of my movement to get away from the Charger carried me straight into it.
     "Bloody hell!" I heard Stephen shout out in shock as the impact smashed both the Snake Hunchback and our Battlemaster to the ground with a thud that near snapped my neck, and viciously struck my helmeted head against the side of the cockpit. Seeing stars, I struggled to stay conscious, and began to try to right us, we were left side down, the bubble cockpit canopy cracked and wedged into the earth.
     "You all right Sir?" I gasped and was answered with a grunt, I cursed, if Stephen had been out of it, I could have stayed there till the end of the battle playing possum. Forced to at least seem to be trying to get back into action, as slowly as I could I began to right us, until suddenly a 'Mech fist struck the cockpit canopy over my head with enormous force, from behind us to the right. There was an almighty bang, duraglass splintered in and I wrenched my body round to see the horrific shape of that fracking Snake Hunchback. It's angular cockpit actually on fire, it's torso a mass of open wounds, it's huge cannon now just so much buckled metal, yet the damn thing was still grindingly mobile, it's remaining arm swinging up and back, preparing for another strike at us. Stephen cried something out which I didn't catch, and I bit my tongue in fear; if that fist hit home again we were done for.
     Thankfully, while I do feel the paralysing grip of fear more than most, I must say I do usually manage to act regardless of being terrified, oh generally I run for cover, but nevertheless I do act. In this case flight or punching out was impossible, wedged into the ground as my bloody 'Mech was, and with the Galedon 'Mech sprawled half across my machine's back, but there was one last hope and the thought came into my mind like a ray of sunlight. With an incoherent shriek, which Steven later described as a banshee battle cry that chilled even his heart, but which I must honestly state was probably more like a scalded cat squealing, I stabbed at my console and fired the Battlemaster's rear mounted pair of Martell laser canons.
     It was point-blank range, and I craned my head back again just in time to see the twin beams of almost invisible light sear into and straight through the cockpit and central torso of the enemy 'Mech. There was a double flash of explosions, then a clang, as the bastard thing slumped forward onto us. I did my best not to blub with the blessed relief, for I was painfully aware of Stephen behind me, whooping in joy at the top of his voice and slapping me on the back.
     "Sorry about that Sir," I managed to gasp. "I let myself get carried away there ... when I saw that Snake savage kill the chap next to us ... well I just saw red. Shouldn't have ran at him like that. Apologies."
     With that I used all the power of that mighty 'Mech to drag us up out of the dirt, sliding the Snake off of our back, and gazed around at the rest of the battle. I was pleased to see that it was nearly all over. Here and there down the Rampart line 'Mechs continued to be locked in a few very bitter, very close quarter duels. But barely one in eight 'Mechs of the Galedon city-busters had even reached us, and none had got past us. As we watched, most of the surviving handful of Snake 'Mechs seemed to realise they were finished and were pulling back into the 'Mech graveyard the valley had become.
     I turned to gaze after them, as they disappeared into the smoke clouds which swirled closed behind them, and tried to calm my racing heart. It had been a savage but short battle, and I'd survived again, and though in fact when the Snake survivors reached us I'd actually ran from a tougher opponent to fight one I thought far weaker, Stephen believed I'd been swept up with righteous anger at seeing one of his Chasseurs killed and had gone hell for leather straight at the killer, to the extent I'd ended up rolling about locked in mortal combat with the foe. All in all, I suppose it could have gone a lot worse. Conrad knows, it certainly had for the Fifth Galedon, who I guessed in perhaps quarter of an hour of combat must have lost perhaps two thirds or more of their 'Mechs, and most of their Heavies and Assaults.
           
* * *

     Now it's possible any historians, or scandal mongers, amongst you may have heard about there being an unpleasant and fairly notorious 'incident', involving three Snake prisoners, that happened in the wake of the Battle of Twin Peaks ... and in the interests of fairness I feel I should be doubly clear to you here, that what transpired that night happened exactly as I tell it here. I only state this because over the months and years since, there's been a good deal of controversy and disagreement about what really occurred. The army, historians, journalists and, rather hypocritically in my opinion, considering their own record with prisoners of war, the Kurtian government, have all put their views forward and generally speaking I expect they're all wrong to one degree or another. So then, I will start by saying I was in point of fact the only actual witness to some of what happened, and Blake knows I've certainly got no particular axe to grind on the subject, though it should be noted that despite my having been asked many times what really happened to the Kuritan prisoners, this will be the first time I've actually related to anyone the truth of the matter. Oh not out of any respect or protective feeling towards that mad sod Duke Stephen ... rather that I was always terrified he would have come after me, if I'd spitefully spread the awful truth about for fun, like I normally would have.
     Anyway the whole nasty business I'm referring to started just as I'd crouched that blasted Battlemaster down to the scorched ground, and Stephen and I were both hopping down the cockpit ladders. Stephen was crowing and cheering, shouting congratulations to me and to the other Chasseurs Mech-Jocks, many of whom had also popped their canopies and were gratefully sucking in the cool mountain air.
     "Ha ha! We tore 'em apart! Well done lads, well done!"
     For myself I was simply glad to still be alive and in one piece. The sweat was pouring off of me, I still felt sick with passing terror, and my legs were trembling so badly I could barely stand straight. Christ and Conrad, I thought at the time, that bloody maniac had nearly been the death of me, dragging me into that neck-or-nothing battle, so I was keen to get clear of him before he took it into his mind to do something stupid, like going chasing off after the remnants of the Fifth Galedon and their reinforcements.
     "Sir! Colonel Davion Sir!" My bitter musings were interrupted at that moment by one of the NI Chasseurs infantrymen running up and calling for Stephen's attention. Straightening his eye-patch Stephen threw the soldier a brisk salute and motioned for him to report.
     "Colonel, we've taken three prisoners Sir, they're holding them over at the Rampart Bunker." The breathless young grunt panted, and Stephen's one eye blazed with obvious glee.
     "Excellent!" He replied in savage good humour, clapping his hands together. "Walk with me Darius, let's see what these Snake scum have to say for themselves eh?" Annoyed not to be able to put some space between myself and the demented Duke, I grudgingly suffered him throwing his burly arm companionably around my shoulders as we strode off together along the Rampart line.
     The air was still heavy with that all-too familiar, stomach turning, stench of 'Mech coolant, sweat, fear, gunsmoke, and burning flesh and metal. It was a sickening aroma I never smelt without wishing never to have to again. Somewhere I could hear a man screaming in obvious agony, then there was a great earth shaking explosion from further down the valley as one of the damaged and burning Snake 'Mech's ammo touched off. We passed NI Chasseurs MechWarriors in small groups laughing, and slapping each other on the back, while others stood beside wounded, or the few casualties we'd suffered, who were being laid out on stretchers. Whenever we passed them however, all who were able snapped to attention beaming like members of a school football team that had just won the cup, and we returned their salutes, Stephen grinning and congratulating as he went, or occasionally stopping sadly beside the dead and wounded, his head bowed respectfully for a moment or two before moving on.
     Ducking into the small Rampart Bunker, that stood inside the defensive lines at the eastern flank, we came face to face with the enemy captives. They were under guard by half a dozen of our infantrymen, and a couple of MechWarriors still in their cooling suits, who held pistols upon the prisoners.
     There were three of them, though I must say one of them was unconscious and so badly burned it looked highly unlikely he would survive the night. The other two were defiant and proud, one was Asiatic featured, slim muscled and sleekly handsome despite a purplish bruise across the entire left side of his face; the other was older, shaven headed, with stark blue eyes and a bad gash down his right arm. All were tied with plastic binders, even that charred and blackened husk of a man who was sparko on the floor and looked liked he was dying by inches.
     "Colonel, Leftenant." One of the two Chasseurs MechWarriors grunted in greeting to us, then motioned at the prisoners with his laser pistol, starting with the bruised Jap. "That one there's Sergeant Major Otto Kogamura, he tried to kill himself with his sword, luckily the lads here stopped him. The chap with the cut is Chu-i Armin Teague, he surrendered and is asking to be considered for prisoner exchange or ransom, the other poor blighter we pulled out of a burning cockpit, but his tags were too damaged for us to get an ID." 
     "Very good Jimmy boy," Stephen said, his face suddenly darkening visibly with an obvious and bitter hatred as he glared down at the three sorry looking Snake prisoners. "You and your lads can take five, Darius and I will interrogate these bastards."
     The infantrymen and MechWarriors looked a bit miffed to be missing out on watching any questioning of the captives, but obeyed without word, while I blithely assumed this would be the usual polite exchange of formalities and perhaps a few insults, that such occasions previously in my career with the AFFS had always been. I was in for a surprise.
     "Right you Snake scum." Stephen suddenly barked, and absolutely tugged a heavy looking 10mm automatic pistol out of the holster at his belt. "Listen up! I ain't gonna pussy foot around you pieces of shit. I want to know all you know about your army on this world; I want unit designations, I was dispositions, casualty numbers, hell I even want to know what fracking colour boxers that slug Samsonov is wearing. Do you hear me?" He was bellowing by the end of his little rant, his face scarlet, his one eye bulging, a vein on his forehead pulsing. Well, as you can imagine I was a little taken aback. By then of course, I'd known Stephen was a pugnaciously bad tempered bugger, that he hated the Snakes with a passion, and it came back to me at the time that I had heard one or two whispers about him being somewhat unorthodox in his methods as regards good conduct towards enemies ... but Blake's Blood, his mad unexpected fury in that bunker made me jump about four feet in surprise.
     To their credit, if they were shocked half as much as I was by Stephen's frighteningly sudden rage at them, the two conscious Snake MechWarriors certainly didn't show it. Indeed Kogamura sneered and then snorted in derision.
     "Exchange us, ransom us, or imprison us, but please ... don't bore us." He drawled in very good Anglic, which in retrospect was not a good idea on his behalf. For as cool as be damned, while holding Kogamura's stare the whole time, Stephen almost casually levelled his pistol and shot the burned chap on the floor twice through the chest. The gunshots were deafening in the enclosed bunker, and I threw myself backwards against the wall in shock, gaping in amazement at the charred and now bullet shot body as it arched and then slumped down still and clearly dead. 
     Kogamura and Teague stared open mouthed at their former comrade's corpse, then both glared back up at Stephen and began shouting in Japanese at him, and pulling at their bindings, trying uselessly to get free and at the Duke. For myself, I stood there wondering what I should do, I supposed my persona as Darius-Do-Good demanded I make some kind of admonishment for the cold blooded murder of a helpless enemy prisoner by a serving AFFS Colonel. Yet on the other hand I was at that moment probably more scared of that enraged one eyed psycho than the pair of Kuritans were. Also at bottom, as far as I was concerned, Stephen could shoot as many Snakes as he wanted, they were less than nothing to me after all. So I kept my trap shut and leaned back against the wall heavily in a renewed state of funk, my heart in my mouth, the sweat running off me again, and my belly grumbling once more with the windy wobbles ... at which point I noted that the guards outside didn't come back in to investigate the shots.
     I wasn't to know then y'see, that on the quiet Stephen Davion had a reputation along the border for this kind of thing, he was actually quite infamous in more liberal circles for being 'over violent' on the battlefield, and worse he was rumoured to go far beyond 'the dictates of decency' when it came to the treatment of Kuritan prisoners of war. Indeed, amazingly, several times he'd actually been formally reprimanded for 'acts unbecoming an officer of the AFFS', and every promotion he'd ever achieved, beyond junior rank, had been fought against by some quarters of  Draconis March Command.
     There were always supporters ready to defend such a successful battlefield commander though, and it's interesting to think that today he's risen to the exalted heights of being second in command of the Sarna March. Personally I think, for all his hatred of House Kurita, he would have fitted in just dandy in the DCMS, and would have probably have reached the rank of a District Warlord by now.
     "Talk." He hissed at Kogamura, spital flying, and then levelled his pistol on Teague, who squirmed and cried out that he was a prisoner of war, and was requesting ransom. Kogamura, clearly a much colder fish, glared daggers up at Stephen, the mutual hatred thicker in the air between them that the cordite fumes that prickled my nostrils in that confined space.
     "Do it. I'd rather die than give Fedrat scum like you information." Kogamura said quietly and deliberately, while Teague, the sensible chap, looked most alarmed, being as he was the one who was gazing down the barrel of Stephen's automatic. Stephen seemed to think for a moment, then turned to me.
     "Darius, you have a score to settle with these Snake slime as much as anyone has ... you do it." He said glancing at me and holding the pistol out to me butt first.
     "Sir?" I gulped. Stephen's face blackened even more for a moment, and I quickly snatched the pistol just to get it away from him.
     "For what they did to you in Jommson man. Take some payback." He snapped, and I held the pistol in my hands like it was a poisonous scorpion. Well, as I've said, I didn't give two pennies for the lives of those Galedonian MechWarriors, but I'm not inclined to commit murder unless my life depends upon it, as it ain't pleasant and it tends to be a risky business, and besides even to a scoundrel such as I this all struck me as beyond the pale. We were civilised men, well I was anyway, AFFS soldiers, not blasted Kuritans, or Crappies, or Pirates, we were meant to be better than this. Plucking up my tattered courage, I shook my head.
     "Sir, I ... I say, this is ... well this is ... ah, not my bag." I stammered and thrust the pistol back at him. He blinked at me, and my heart stopped as I thought he was going to verbally lash me, or perhaps even shoot me, but then he simply looked back at the prisoners, then snatched the pistol and turned his back on me.
     "Very well Darius. I understand. You'd better leave. I'll be a while." You may be sure I left that bunker as fast as my buckling legs could carry me, and breathed a massive sigh of relief to be out and away. I didn't hear any gunshots as I walked back towards Twin Peaks, my body an exhausted kitten-weak wreck from the stress of what I'd just been through, but I did hear the next day the prisoners had died 'after the interrogation', 'from their wounds' ...
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #22 on: 18 February 2011, 13:37:55 »
19

     Despite their losses at the Battle of Twin Peaks Samsonov's northern force soon cut off the city by blockading the end of the valley, though they held back from risking another outright assault. Duke Stephen, flush with his success, wanted to take his Regiment down and attack the Snakes there and then of course, but thankfully cautious old Darlin' Arlin sent orders that the Second NI Chasseurs were to remain where they were, as the main body of the entire Seventh Crucis Lancers RCT was inbound for the planet at the time and would shortly be reinforcing us. His message also sent brief wishes of relief at hearing that I was alive and well, and congratulations for 'doing precisely what he would have done in the circumstances', by hiding myself inside the Kuritan army as a way to gather information. The lying hound!
     It seemed that Twin Peaks broke the Kuritan's run of success on New Ivaarsen that year, as the campaign soon began to boil down into a stalemate. Bluthe and Fort Bormen remained under siege, but were resisting the sporadic Snake attacks as they came at them, and with Samsonov kicking his heals, and probably pummelling his brain to come up with an excuse that might assuage the anger of old Takashi, when he found out about Grievous Grieg losing the best part of the Fifth Galedon. The mercs of Gilbert's Battalion of Narhal's Raiders remained at large, still conducting their guerilla campaign of hit and run out in the western Flats. Though there were whispers that thanks to Arlin's inept decisions, partly inspired on the QT by the advice of yours truly of course, which some were already describing as cowardly, the Raiders had not been resupplied for the best part of a month, and rumours were circulating that the Lyran mercs might be on their last dregs of food, ammo, and morale by now. Aside from the fact that they certainly hadn't been paid in a long while, which is never wise when employing soldiers of their kind.
     Anyway, so it was that I was happily ensconced safe behind the 'Mechs of the Second NI Chasseurs and the walls of Twin Peaks, for a little over a T-week, enjoying some much needed R&R. It was a pleasant little holiday for the most part, as I remember it now, especially after I met and struck up a friendship with a certain young woman.
      It began on the night after the battle, when I'd been invited to a ball hosted by the Lord Mayor and the people of Twin Peaks in my honour, in thanks for my having 'saved their city'. Oh yes, the story had spread like wildfire apparently, growing with each telling no doubt; of how I'd appeared out of nowhere, dressed in DCMS uniform, about how it transpired I'd been spying upon the Snakes from within their own ranks no less, and best of all how I'd warned Duke Stephen about the risk to the city if he didn't get his 'Mechs down to the old abandoned Rampart line post haste, and finally how I had piloted the one-eyed savage throughout the battle itself. I even suspect word had somehow leaked, probably from one of the Chasseur grunts outside the Rampart Bunker, that I'd refused to join in Stephen's mistreatment of the prisoners, which only added a lovely sheen of decency to my already gleaming reputation. Believe me, you couldn't buy the kind of adoration with which I was regarded in the city after all that got around.
     So it was, done up in smart civilian evening dress, which had been sent over by the Lord Mayor gratis, bearing in mind the only uniform I possessed at that time was highly inappropriate attire for a Fed Suns function, I set off rather half-heartedly for the venue.
     I was in a glum mood that night y'see for a couple of reasons; firstly I wasn't convinced a New Ivie bash could be any fun, assuming as I did that there would be no booze, the women would be the usual hideously weather beaten specimens, and that I would probably just be glad handed all night by a pack of duplicitous, lying politicians and ignorant border-trash nobility. Also I had sent a p-mail to the lovely Paula Stilson that morning, yet the whole day had gone past without any sign of a reply, leaving me wondering why not and fretting that it might be confirmation that my darkest fears about her and Stuart had been correct.
     Twin Peaks City was an unusual place, quite different in architecture from the neo-stave blockishness of the towns and cities of the Flats. Located as it's name suggested between two tall mountains, it covered the east and western slopes, with many high suspension bridges linking the two districts, while a river and reservoirs flowed beneath in the gully where the slopes met. The mountain air was almost cool and pure enough that you could drink the stuff, and it was quite beautiful that night, I grudgingly admitted to myself as I was driven by staff car to the Mayoral Palace high in the Eastern District.
     As the moonlit painted the large granite, ferrocrete, plasteel, and duraglass towers with a misty blue-green sheen, we sped up very steep streets, lined with sodium lamps, then over one of the high bridges across the central gorge, or 'the Dip' as the locals called it, while snow began to drift out of the cold night sky, not an uncommon event in that region according to my driver. I could see the twinkling lights, and shining towers on the opposite slopes and the city glittered like some kind of mountain faerie kingdom.  Not at all what I'd come to expect from dour old New Ivaarsen.
     Unfortunately, if the city was diverting, the ball itself certainly was not. As I'd dreaded, it was a pretty dire affair, full of greasy politicians, tiresome besuited local businessmen who only wanted to talk about the damage the invasion was wrecking upon their profit forecasts, and a handful of NI Chasseurs officers, wearing their distinctive dress uniforms; gold trimmed deep blue jackets, blue pants with red piping running down the seams, polished and bespurred black dress shoes, and low peaked blue caps, with a red band and a polished golden sunburst at the front. Sadly though, the Chasseurs MechWarriors, despite their flashily tailored uniforms, were not much better company than the local civies, for all they wanted to talk about was their victory of the previous evening, and their own parts in it.
     The Lord Mayor, a suet bellied slug whose name escapes me, pinned some worthless bauble of a local planetary medal to my breast at one point early in the evening, and I did my best to struggle out of his clammy grip, while he practically wrestled me into a handshake for the cameras. And worst of all, there was not so much as a sniff of an alcoholic drink in the entire place!

* * *     

     So it was, bored beyond all reason, I drifted out to a balcony that afforded a wonderful view over the city, which spread beneath me in a wide sweeping arc, with the lamps on the bridges across the Dip seeming like chains of sparkling stars hanging in the black of the night. I ain't much of a poet, as you know, but I must say I so lost myself in that splendid vista, while wondering about Paula and cursing her for obviously cuckolding me with that lecherous fop Stuart, that I didn't actually hear company come up beside me.
     "Pretty isn't it?" A soft feminine voice purred to my left, and I turned to find myself struck by the gently smiling face of a deuced cracking looking gal. Dressed in a sheer red gown, trimmed at the neck with winter fox fur, she was fit, slim and petite, though possessed of a proud bosom, as a romantic hack novelist might put it, with bronze tanned skin, an unruly muss of shoulder length tawny blonde hair, and a heart shaped face, with an attractive long nose, full lips, and large soft doe like eyes that held one's gaze with a calm, frankly appraising, stare.
     "Uhh, yes beautiful." I stammered, my eyes drawn involuntarily to her cleavage.
     "Shall we be very naughty?" She said, in that slightly husky voice of hers, which was already beginning to play such havoc with my composure it took me a moment to register what she'd actually said.
     "What? Err, that is ... well I say ... spot on." I burbled in excited, slightly dumbfounded, amazement. But then realised she had drawn a large silver plated hip flask from her purse and was offering it to me with a cheeky grin playing at the side of her mouth. I chuckled and gratefully took it from her, being pleasantly surprised to smell the much missed aroma of Bismarck Whiskey as I raised it to my lips. Savouring the moment I took a long pull at the flask, relishing the fruity burn of the single malt going down.
     "Whenever I'm back here, I have to smuggle in a few crates of Bismarck just in order to stay sane, quite scandalous I suppose." She said, leaning onto the balcony and taking in the view, while my eyes roamed up her trim little body admiringly. The more astute amongst you may note here that all thoughts of my lost love Paula had flown instantly from my mind. Well, that's in my nature I'm afraid, and besides this was clearly a heaven sent gift from the gods, and I was never the sort to let such a rare bird get away from my net.
     "Really, I don't think I've ever met a bootlegger before ... still if it means I get to share your contraband, I shall keep your secret." I grinned, handing her back the flask, from which she took a swig herself, before half turning to me and holding out her hand.
     "I'm Zephyr Stephenson, by the way, youngest and most wayward daughter of his Grace Duke Reginald ... or daddykins as I call him when I want something." So this saucy little bit of stuff was the Duke of New Ivaarsen's youngest, and 'daddykins' was away offworld wasn't he ... well in a matter of seconds all manner of licentious possibilities were flying through my mind and I set to chatting her up with all the skill of my trade.
     We stood there for quite some time, talking, drinking, and flirting; her telling me of her hatred of 'the family rock', as she sneeringly called New Ivaarsen, how she detested the constant howling of the wind in the Flats, and the cold of the mountains, then she went on detail how she loathed the dreary God-bothering yokels her family lorded it over here. She told me of how she was presently meant to be studying at the NAIS College of Political Administration on New Avalon, and planned to go into the Federal Government on the capital in some way when she graduated. She had been visiting family last month, and had the filthy bad luck to get trapped onworld when the Kuritans invaded. Of course she knew who I was, and was suitably impressed and curious about the many tales she'd heard about me, so I obligingly span her a few horror stories about my various exploits since arriving on her familial world, then went on to tell her about some other of my legendary deeds. Picking up quickly on the fact that she obviously possessed a streak of rebellious mischief a mile wide, I made sure to paint myself as a roguishly daring maverick, who broke the stuffy rules of military conduct 'in order to get the job done', and twisting facts as much as I could without actually breaking them.
     I must say things went very well, and we took to each other quickly, she choked with laughter several times as I littered my anecdotes with disparaging, though in fact often truthful, observations about sundry famous folk that I'd known. Meanwhile I was subtly drawing closer to her, so our arms touched now and then, while she talked on wistfully of her beloved NAIS, or the Needless Assembly of Idiot Savants as I tend to think of the dump.
     When the hip flask was emptied, I took a chance, drew her in to me gently and planted a kiss upon those inviting lips. She stiffened for just a second, then we were munching away like billy-oh until I began to grope for her backside and she eventually pulled away from me giggling, the little minx.
     "Why Leftenant Davion, whatever would my father say if he were to see this?" She teased playfully, dancing out of my reach. Christ and Conrad, it strikes me now she must have caused her father plenty of nightmares, for she was quite the coquette and no error.
     "Who cares?" I growled, ready to pounce on her there and then I was that randy. Well, I'd not had any in nearly three weeks for Blake's sake, and was suddenly feeling mighty deprived.
     I began to reach for her again, when that puffing mound of blubber, the bloody Lord Mayor of Twin Peaks, strolled out onto the balcony and plumped himself between us, then set about boring me rigid with a rambling discourse about the various different buildings of his fracking city that we could see from there. Naturally I was frantic to get rid of the fat fool, but Zephyr was too quick for me and made an excuse then slid away, leaving me to the company of the Mayor.
     Going back into the ball I couldn't find her, so I left in a black temper, but happily my spirits rose quickly when I got back to my quarters, for I had a p-mail waiting for me from La Stephenson, inviting me to brunch tomorrow. She was clearly a playful little tease, but as I collapsed on my bed I smiled to myself, reflecting that she'd kissed me back as hard as I'd been kissing her on that balcony, and next time I'd see to it she didn't get away from me.

* * *
         
     So began an enjoyable, if somewhat annoying, little dalliance for me. Zephyr Stephenson was vivacious, teasing, intelligent, and exciting company, and I could tell she would be a hot little firecracker in the bedroom, if I could only manage to get her there. Y'see my problem was that, though we met daily and most evenings of that week too, I kept being foiled from achieving final consummation of my amorous campaign.
     It was infuriating to be sure, one thing or the other just kept coming up to prevent us doing the deed. We'd dine in pretty good restaurants, stroll hand in hand along the city bridges, watching children fly the colourful kites which are so popular amongst New Ivaarsen's young, or I would squire her around the city 'Mech hangars, pointing out various models and bragging to her about my various exploits yet more. All of which was pleasant enough, and certainly beat the Hell out of what I'd been up to over previous weeks, but whenever it came time to get down to business all I'd manage to win was a few minutes of snogging, a bit of light grappling, and then we'd invariably be interrupted by a menial, or the city sirens would go off warning of a probing movement by the Snakes encamped up the valley, or on one particularly off putting occasion I even received a priority c-mail vid letter from my bloody mother.
     On that night, I'd even managed to get Zephyr back to my quarters, and had just been about to strip her down ... when my p-comp had been set off by our gyrations on the sofa, and ma'ma's voice had shrieked out from beneath us;
     "Darius Davion! What's this I hear about you joining the Kuritan Army! Just you wait till you get home ... I'll see you thrashed for this!"
     Well, I'd sprang off of Zephyr in pure fright, while she convulsed in paroxysms of laughter the bloody cow, and I had been so surprised and put off, by thinking mother, the old hag, had walked in on us, I let Zephyr beat a retreat chortling to herself, while mater's whipcrack voice had rattled on in a tirade that seemed to last hours.
     All of which I tell you by way of an explanation of the unusual laxness I allowed myself to slip into by the end of that week, so hot was I to jump the delectable Zephyr's bones.
     The Seventh Crucis Lancers RCT finally made landfall on New Ivaarsen on the 3rd of November, and promptly broke the Siege of Fort Bormen in efficient bloody manner, pushing the Eighth Galedon and their attendant units away to the east and west. Then for the next few days thereafter they began to hit Kuritan held towns and positions along the Tarnby and Opal Rivers, liberating the local populations as they went. Samsonov moved his northern force away from Twin Peaks in an attempt to intercept the Seventh, or link up with the rest of the Snake invasion army, and so the Second NI Chasseurs and I awaited the arrival of the Seventh, or orders to come from Stuart, to move to meet them.
     All of which seemed just fine to me, and I began to hope I'd escape any further unpleasantness on that windy hell-hole before Grievous Grieg finally admitted defeat and retreated off world. So it was I stepped up my own campaign of conquest, and launched an all out attack on the defences of Fortress Zephyr.
     On the night of the 8th November, I finally managed to seize her breach, so to speak, after having laid out on a fine catered dinner for us in my quarters, and having made sure my p-comp and all other communications devices were switched off. I must say, looking back, a couple of years study at the NAIS had obviously taught young Zephyr a lot, for she put me into a couple of positions that night that were new even to an experienced hand like I then was, and indeed I'd been laying exhausted, gasping for breath and begging for merciful rest at just the moment it all went wrong.
     Y'see, in my fever to get to grips with Zephyr, I'd forgotten to lock the door to my quarters and it was typical of my luck that it was that particular night that Paula Stilson had to literally walk back into my life.
     "Darius?" The familiar voice cracked with horrified shock, and in surprise I rolled over on the rug where we'd ended up, with Zephyr still sprawled nude across me, to find myself staring up at Paula, who stood dressed in her cooling suit, with a hand raised to her open mouth. I swear, as I gaped and struggled to decide on the best course of action, I literally saw the tears spurt from her eyes.
     "Oh God, look Paula old girl, hold up ... it's not what it seems. Ahh ... allow me to introduce the Duke of New Ivaarsen's daughter." Christ knows why I said that, but I wasn't thinking straight that was clear, and it was like I'd struck Paula physically, she visibly cringed, then backed away and out of the door, tears streaming down her cheeks, and was gone.
     I must say, I felt rather guilty at the time, Paula's reaction certainly suggested she hadn't in fact been unfaithful to me, and while I'd planned on ditching her gently in my own good time, I'd not wanted things between us to end in such a hideous manner.
     Zephyr was smart enough to read the situation, and she made an excuse, dressed and was gone in a moment, leaving me sat there on the floor, feeling that slightly queasy sensation that guilt can sometimes hit you with.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #23 on: 18 February 2011, 13:53:24 »
20

     I come now to describing the final part I played in the actual defence of New Ivaarsen, it's a strange story to be sure, and one that might have some of you younger chaps, who are used to war being an organised, almost industrial, and entirely dishonourable business, tutting and thinking perhaps I'm stretching the myomers a tad. But I assure you it's true, and happened as I describe it to you here. But it is doubly strange, for it's possible that what occurred, archaic and ridiculous as it seemed even at the time, probably saved the nascent alliance between our House and the Steiners, and thus paved the way for the sea-change in military conduct and tactics away from such 'affairs of honour' that has occurred since the rise of our Federated Commonwealth. 
     Well then that said, I shall continue; within minutes of Zephyr leaving there was an urgent banging upon my door, and after first pulling on some pants I opened it to find a young NI Chasseurs Sergeant, looking out of breath as if he'd been running. He snapped off a hasty salute and then spoke up.
     "Leftenant Davion Sir, they're here. Err that is the reinforcements Sir, the Seventh Crucis."
     "So I gather Sergeant. Now sod off, I'm busy." I drawled, making to slam the door on him, not being in the mood for this lunkheaded non-com at that moment, but he went red and stammered on.
     "But Sir, the Colonel, he's asking for you. And Captain McKinnon Sir. They say it's urgent."
     "Captain McKinnon? Ian McKinnon?" It felt like someone had thrown ice cubes down my back, if Ian McKinnon was here then so were his Raiders, the dreaded Fox's Teeth Company of the Seventh Crucis, and proximity to that bunch had always meant trouble for me in the past.
     "Yes Sir, they're waiting for you at TPDHQ. The Colonel has asked that you make all haste there at once." Oh bloody hell, I cursed to myself as I went and pulled on the plain set of olive drab fatigues and combat boots I'd been given the other day, what now? The campaign was drawing to an end, we had the Snakes on the run across the whole blasted windswept rock, what could possibly be so urgent they needed my presence? For a moment my guilt over Paula nagged at me, and I went into a sweat that perhaps I was about to be given a thorough dressing down for the way I treated my women. 
     Well, though I quickly discounted that particular possibility, I worried quietly all the way over to the large fortified blockhouse near the main gates, which housed Twin Peaks Defence Head Quarters, and I was probably in quite a state of nerves when I quick marched past several sets of Ugly-PUG guards and into the main briefing room.
     It was a starkly lit, cavernous chamber dominated by a massive holo-map table at it's centre, depicting the main continent in intricate detail, and showing the various dispositions of the enemy units and our own. Stood beside the table were Duke Stephen, his aide Major Covington, and still wearing their cooling vests, shorts, and soft 'Mech boots; Captains Ian McKinnon and Fred Christoph of the Seventh Crucis Lancers.
     "There he is! Dee get over here you mad bugger." Ian cried out happily, in that boomingly confident voice of his, while hurrying around the table towards me, his burly arms outstretched in welcome. I'd known him for years by then of course, since my time with the Guards Brigade on New Avalon before Mallory's World, and I secretly bore him a healthy degree of fearful hatred. Which was ironic, for idiot that he was, he believed me the heroic super-soldier that my reputation suggested, and besides truly loved me like a brother, once even being quoted in the press as describing me as 'the bravest man he ever met and the best MechWarrior alive to have covering your back in a pitched battle', all of which just goes to show you what a truly terrible judge of character he was and is. Mind you, thinking about it, most of the times we'd been in pitched battles together, which was sadly all too often, I had been hiding firmly behind him.
     It struck me again, as I let him embrace me in a painfully crushing bear hug, how very like his late, and by me at least unlamented, father he looked; he had that same stocky muscular build, the same close cropped dark hair, though Ross's had been grey flecked when I knew him, and most of all the same bull necked cheerful face, with clear blue eyes that flashed with easy good humour. Indeed the only differences were that Ian's hair was somewhat thicker than his father's had been, his arched eyebrows were denser and blacker, and his nose had long ago been broken and was as flat and squashed as that of a veteran Skye prize fighter.
     I noted Ian still wore a holstered laser pistol at his waist, and an automatic in a shoulder holster strapped across his cooling vest, and as was his way he eschewed any hint of military formality by having a dirty sweat rag wound around his forehead and a cigarette clamped unlit in the corner of his mouth. In all he was though the very image of the warry muscle bound hector he had always been.
     I gasped a greeting as best I could caught in his vice like embrace, and nodded over his shoulder to Freddy Christoph, before Ian released me a little.
     "******! Let me look at you, you old savage." He grinned, holding me back at arms length, while the three others in the room watched with faint smiles playing across their faces, probably swelling with admiration at the sight of we two old comrades, who were also widely regarded as perhaps the greatest living heroes of the AFFS, meeting up once again. "So looks like the Snakes have helped you shed a couple of stone, well you were getting fat on Harrow's Sun ... so that's no bad thing."
     "Hah!" I responded, doing my best to slip into my 'imbecile paladin' mode. "Like hell was I, what with having to run around after you the whole time, keeping you safe from half the fracking DCMS!"
     He roared that bellow-laugh of his that always got on my nerves so much, and then looked a little more serious.
     "I see you've been winning more laurels. We passed the evidence of your handy work out there in the valley, must be the best part of two Battalions of 'Mechs scattered across that ground ... good work that Dee.
     Y'know Old George Lytton mentioned to me today, as we were coming in, that it's always easy to tell where you are, one only has to follow the trail of dead Kuritans!" He laughed again and shook my hand, his eyes misting up with pride for me no doubt, the bloody fool.
    "Well, the fried Snakes outside here were entirely the work of the Second NI Chasseurs Ian." I replied, doing my best to look stern and noble, and naturally using my usual false-modesty tactic.
     "Oh of course," He winked broadly at me, clearly thinking the lion's share of credit for the defeat of the Fifth Galedon belonged to me ... which I suppose in a way, for once and quite without planning on my part, it did. At which Duke Stephen cleared his throat testily.
     "Err Ian, can we get on?"
     "Oh indeed, sorry Colonel. Darius if you please ..." Ian gestured me over to the holo-map table. "Now where were we? Ah yes, so Colonel as I was saying, if we drop here, here and here on the western shores of Lake Stephenson, I can then spread Freddy and my Companies out by Lances in an arc west until we find them.
     However when we do strike upon 'em, what are our orders? Are we to consider them hostile? Tell me General Stuart has agreed we should at least try to negotiate first as I requested?" While Ian was speaking I struggled to understand what was being discussed here, as I could see no Kuritan units indicated in the Flats west of the great lake, and as Duke Stephen was chewing his lip considering his reply to Ian's question, I plucked up the courage to try to find out.
     "Ah, not to sound dim chaps, but what in the Sphere are we talking about here?" Ian blinked in surprise, then slapped his forehead.
     "Blake's Blood didn't they tell you? It's the Lyrans Dee, Gilbert's Battalion of Narhal's Raiders, we've received word they're about to break contract and sign on with the Kuritans!"
     Ian's words hit me like a punch from an Atlas, if this was true and Gilbert and whatever remained of his Battalion switched sides and went over to the Snakes, then not only would they boost the enemies flagging numbers, but they would carry detailed knowledge of our strength, positions, plans, and any possible areas of weakness. It might not win the planet for Samsonov, but it would certainly add more weeks of fighting to this bloody campaign, and just when it was beginning to look like we'd won and the Snakes were about to retreat back across the border.
     Of course, though it was a secret kept even from those of us in that briefing room at the time, looking back at it historically there was the added potentially disastrous factor, that Gilbert's Battalion had only been in Davion service at that time as part of a test of how well Lyran style units would interact with the AFFS. It would have really thrown a spanner in the works of the covert negotiations, underway at the time aimed at thrashing out an alliance between ourselves and the Ellsies, if a 'Lyran' unit found working with the AFFS impossible to the point where they'd rather break contract and join up with their hated foes the Kuritans of all people.
     "It's all that bloody fool Stuart's fault!" Duke Stephen snapped, his fist crashing down on the edge of the map table with such force the holo-light flickered for a moment. "For the entire campaign he's been persisting with this arse-headed strategy of his, where he keeps all us regular forces bottled up behind the walls of the Three Cities, while Gilbert's lads have had to shoulder the entire mobile campaign out there in the west.
     Worst of all our beloved General, the stupid fracking clothes horse, has been incredibly slow and stingy in responding to Gilbert's perfectly reasonable requests for replacement parts and ammo. Why only a day or two ago a couple of Gilbert's Lances were chewed up badly in a scrap with two Companies of the Eighth Galedon, on the banks of the Kelihar, and Stuart pointedly denied Gilbert's desperate appeal for reinforcement by elements of the Seventh Crucis. Stuart told Gilbert over the comm, if you can believe it, that his priority was 'the safety of AFFS soldiers first and foremost', and that as mercenaries Gilbert and his men 'should be used to being second best'!
     Well it should come as no surprise then that Gilbert has now stopped obeying orders altogether, he ignored several demands today from Stuart to advance against the western flank of the Snake forces harassing the main body of the Seventh's advance north, and according to intel reports has mustered his Battalion somewhere in the foothills of the Western Uplands. Intercepts made by Panopea have revealed comm contacts between Gilbert's force and the Kuritans, and part of a decoded message suggests Gilbert means to send agents to negotiate terms with the Snakes any time now."
     You'll appreciate I was appalled by all of this news, if Stuart's grand strategy of letting the mercs shoulder all the hard work, was ever traced back to me, I thought, it might mean the end of my career. But hold, Stuart couldn't very well admit publicly to taking instructions from his aide-de-camp, a lowly junior officer, could he? He'd look almost a bigger fool that he might otherwise. Still I was a little shaky, and Ian spotted my probably sickly looking pallor.
     "Yes, you see it too eh Dee? If we lose the Lyrans it's a damn big propaganda and morale card to hand to Samsonov. Stuart's initial orders when he found out about this situation were for Freddy and I to take our Companies out west and destroy the 'traitors' as he called them, but I've requested through the Colonel here that Stuart at least allow us the chance to negotiate with Gilbert and try to ensure he stays on the right side. Did Stuart agree Sir?" Ian turned and asked Duke Stephen, who shook his head.
     "No ... and if I didn't know better I'd say that foppish moron was terrified about the whole situation and wants the mercs dead to protect his own name ... but Ian I'm giving you permission to do all you can to prevent Gilbert and his Battalion linking up with the Kuritans. How you do that ... I'll leave up to you." Stephen looked blankly at Ian, who grinned happily realising the Duke had just given him carte blanche to act as he chose. Ian span around back to me, his eyes flashing with that old excitement that always presaged me being dragged into one of his maniac schemes.
     "Good show. Right then Dee, you're going to be vital on this trip, what with your having met Gilbert I understand, so get closer here and I'll show you where we'll be landing. You're going to be attached to Ryder's Lance, and will be moving -" I coughed, interrupting the dangerous blasted idiot.
     "Ah, I'll happy fill you in with what I know about Gilbert, but I'm afraid I don't have my 'Mech here Ian old man." I said as sadly as I could manage, but Ian just grinned and clapped his hand hard down on my shoulder.
     "Heh heh, look at his face, he thinks he won't be able to come and is as miserable as a Snake who's lost his sword, don't worry Dee I'd heard you were here and I had Falstaff brought up here for you from Bormen. One of Freddy's chaps lost his 'Mech, so he piloted yours, I said you wouldn't mind." Jerome, but I could have murdered that stupid grinning bastard where he stood, but of course, what else could I actually do but paint a beaming grin onto my chops, and cry out.
     "Oh well done! Thanks Ian, that's a real weight off my mind!" While of course my palms began to sweat and my guts dissolved with fear, at the prospect of accompanying Ian's mob of suicidally brave hell raisers out onto the Flats, where if the Snakes didn't get us, our own former allies probably would.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #24 on: 18 February 2011, 14:16:23 »
21

      I knew Leftenant Karl Ryder pretty well, from right back to the terrible days of the Bright Coup attempt in '13, when I'd accompanied the Raiders in their attack on a fortified country estate being used as the base for a pack of Cabalists. Ryder was a big, hawk faced man, with a huge handlebar moustache and a bushy chin beard, and I knew him to be something of a crank. He was devoted to a knightly chivalric code that had been dead centuries before humans left Terra, if it had ever existed at all, and he was in my experience completely without a sense of humour. Despite these points however, since that Shakespeare quoting show off Ross McKinnon's death the year before, Ryder was now the number two man in the Raiders, and he positively idolised Ian.
     He was also very polite and formal towards me too, probably because of my reputation I suppose, but perhaps also partly due to Ian's obvious respect and good will towards me. I met him again down in the 'Mech hangar, where he was fixing a huge white flag to his 'Mech's shoulder armour, 'so they can see we wish to talk' he explained.
     Ryder's Lance had lost a man earlier in the fighting that week, but the remaining two members were also known to me; a bastard known as Ernst Lang, who was a belligerent brawler, infamous about the Mount as 'Lothario Lang' for his success with other men's women, and Henrik Dekker, a New Calvinist Bible-basher, who I believe was genuinely certifiable, and who had the distracting habit of screaming out fire and brimstone sermons, at the top of his braying voice, over an open comm-link during battle.
     So it was, after a brief and pretty muted reunion, I boarded a Leopard Class DropShip with this dubious trio, while inside my Victor, Falstaff. There followed a bumpy flight, a safe landing out in the middle of nowhere, west of Lake Stephenson, and after leaving the DropShip, we began to move quickly west hunting for Gilbert and his rogue Battalion. We were part of a wide sweep of Lances of course, and the odds were against it, but wouldn't you know we were the unlucky ones who eventually found the prey. We'd been on the go for the best part of that day, and all the following night, and it was as the green dawn sun was rising behind us, that Dekker running ahead of us in a light Wasp, sighted several merc 'Mechs on a ridge line half a mile to our front.
     "They're not responding Sir." Dekker's growl crackled over the comm to Ryder, and my belly flipped, we were only four 'Mechs against, even taking into account reported merc casualties, potentially upwards of two Companies of rogue Lyrans, and we were a damn long way from any friends this far west.
     "Keep broadcasting that all-points distress signal, but this time tag it with our Fox's Teeth ID codes. They can see my flag, let's let 'em know who and what we are." Ryder's calm, yet forceful voice replied, and I made sure to fall into step behind the latter day knightly oaf's Crusader, hoping it would give me at least some degree of cover should things go bad and the shooting start.
     "They're taking up a firing position." Lang barked suddenly, and I farted in horror as I saw the Raiders 'Mechs assuming a defensive position along the base of the ridge, their weapons very obviously being raised and trained upon us. Lang's voice was heavy with the excited thrill madmen like him seem to derive from combat, and I could see him actually starting a 'Mech battle against the Lyrans which we couldn't hope to win. So it was, after drawing in a quick steadying breath, I angrily shouted into the comm.
     "No one fire! That's an order." Then more calmly added. "I know these chaps, they won't open up on a white flag."
     "Agreed," Ryder backed me with a murmur. "Everyone slow to a walk now, I think, and I'll try to talk to these men." There then followed a damned unnerving minute or two, as we slowly plodded our 'Mechs towards the ready guns of the Lyran mercs in silence, the white flag snapping in the wind above Ryder's 'Mech's shoulder. It's an interesting fact, that I later learned that the Raiders MechWarriors before us had actually been issued orders to take us down 'if we got too close', so that first secret military exchange of the Lyran Davion alliance could have ended in outright fighting between our Houses with each step nearer we took, on that windswept New Ivaarsen dawn in 3021.
     Thankfully that wasn't to be the case, for suddenly the comm buzzed again and Ryder's voice came back to the rest of us.
     "Okay lads, stop here, this unit up ahead are a picket for the main body of the survivors of Gilbert's Battalion, they're headed up by a Leutnant Mario Marois, who's informed me that his C.O. Hauptmann-Kommandant Gilbert is a little way west of here with what remains of his Battalion. I've put forward a proposal, which would end this situation, however Marois feels is beyond his authority to accept, so he's about to patch me through to Gilbert himself. I'll make it an open comm so you can all listen in."
     "Karl," I hastily jumped in before the pompous ass began speaking again with Gilbert. "I know Marois and Gilbert, I met them both before the invasion began. I can help maybe, I think they'll trust me."
     "Fair enough Darius," Ryder replied. "Let me do the speaking first of all, but if they won't buy into my proposal, I'll tip you the nod and you can weigh in and try to convince them of the proper course of duty and honour."
     I wondered again what Ryder's big proposal he kept alluding to actually was, whatever it was I didn't trust the opinions of anyone who tried to appeal to a mercenary's sense of 'duty and honour', and personally I felt we'd do better appealing to the Lyran's wallets. But there you go, I'm ever the cynic I suppose. Anyway, Ryder's voice came over the comm as he addressed Gilbert;
     "Hauptmann-Kommandant Gilbert, this is Karl Ryder. I realise you have some legitimate grievances about your treatment here, grievances I can't solve immediately." Well I thought, this was all good stuff, pitched very moderately. "But you're doing your men a great dishonour by leading them to desert." Cool it down Ryder you ass, I thought at that, as he continued.
     "Regardless of the outcome of this campaign, the valour of your Battalion and the value of your own word will be tainted forever. Return to the front now, and I swear the entire incident will be forgotten."
     Oh for fracksake! I swore to myself, this was Ryder's big proposal? Reminding Gilbert, a hardened veteran merc who we'd left to swing in the gale for nearly two T-months unsupported, unsupplied, and unpaid, of his honour and ordering him back into combat. Well Gilbert treated Ryder's words with the contempt I knew he would, his lightly accented voice taught with anger as he spat them back at Ryder over the comm.
     "Pretty words, Ryder, but pure nonsense. Nobody will think less of us for escaping a situation that was pure hell ... least of all House Kurita." There was a slight pause, during which time my brain was going at ten to the dozen trying to come up with some kind of offer that would stop this whole situation ending in a shooting match, with myself at the middle of it, when Ryder responded almost sadly;
     "If that's what you believe, Hauptmann-Kommandant Gilbert, there is only one way to settle our dispute without a wretched waste of lives and 'Mechs. Hauptmann-Kommandant, I challenge you to defend your position in a man-to-man trial by combat, just as travelling knights errant fought in medieval days. I will fight you until one of us is either incapacitated or surrenders. If you win House Davion will concede your defection and vouchsafe your safe passage off-world. But, if you lose, your unit must reswear it's fealty and return with us."
     Blake's Bollocks! I swore under my breath, I'd known Ryder was a bit of a loon when it came to the knight in shining armour routine, but this was a new one on me, and clearly it was with a grizzled money-fighter like Gilbert too.
     "Are you daft, Ryder?" The Lyran's voice replied after a moment, echoing my own sentiments and with dripping with disbelief. "What will our fighting prove?"
     "I am a man of my word, Hauptmann-Kommandant Gilbert, as is Hanse Davion." Ryder replied. "Is it not preferable that we meet rather than have our forces face off in a full scale battle that neither can win? What do you say?" I thought Ryder was stretching things a bit there personally, as the mercs outnumbered us here and now, but it seemed to be working, for Gilbert replied slowly yet thoughtfully.
     "I say, crazy man, that you've got yourself a deal ... if you can prove that you speak for House Davion." Well, that was as big a queue for Ryder to bring me up to bat as he could have wished I suppose, and he said as much to me over a closed comm frequency. However I wasn't sure I wanted to be involved in this harebrained nonsense now it came to it, especially as it looked like I was the chap who was going to put his signature at the bottom of the page so to speak. Y'see if I vouched for House Davion in this matter, and Ryder lost ... then I'd be responsible for agreeing for a Battalion of 'Mechs safely transferring their allegiance to the enemy. Still, on the other hand, I rapidly thought to myself, if this duel didn't go ahead then we'd all be locked into a very nasty 'Mech battle within minutes. My choice seemed clear.
     "Hauptmann-Kommandant Gilbert, this is Leftenant Darius Davion. I'm here to vouch for the wishes of my cousin First Prince Hanse in this matter." Which was of course a bit of a whopper, but it worked a treat, as I'd hoped it would.
     "Leftenant, it's good to speak with you again at least." Lewis Gilbert's voice became friendlier, and I recalled our first meeting in that old monastery outside of the town of Three Fields. I remembered he'd seemed a very businesslike soldier, so I got straight down to nuts and bolts.
     "Sir, on behalf of my cousin I apologise unreservedly for the shabby treatment you and yours have received during the course of this campaign, and if we can't settle this without this honour match suggested by Leftenant Ryder going ahead, then I swear upon my own honour that I will see to it the terms as described to you by Leftenant Ryder will be stuck by, to the letter."
     "Well, from what I hear," Gilbert said slowly and thoughtfully, "If there's one man whose honour is a trustworthy standard in the Fed Suns, it's Darius Davion.
     Very well Leftenant, I'm afraid my better sense tells me I should still cut my losses, and take my boys over to the Kuritans ... but on the strength of your name and word, I'll accept Ryder's challenge. I'll be at your position within ten minutes." I breathed a sigh of relief, as Gilbert cut his comm signal and Ryder came back over the comm to me.
     "Thanks for backing me Darius. I know you probably wanted to take my place and be the one to face Gilbert, but it wouldn't be proper for a member of the royal family to be getting into 'Mech duels with common mercenaries." I struggled not to snort in derision at Ryder, he was an ass, but I thanked Blake for the moustachioed fool's cretinous code of conduct, for it meant that I could sit safe with the rest, praying he won.
     
* * *

     Gilbert and the rest of his unit appeared on the crest of the ridge before us in a few minutes, and I registered they were in a hell of a bad way. Nary a one of their 'Mechs was undamaged, most looked like they were literally on their last legs; armour was blackened and melted, internal structure was visible in many places, weapon pods were clearly empty, or buckled and defunct from battle damage, some were missing arms, or were limping as they took up position looking down upon us.   
     Gilbert walked his 'Mech slowly down the grassy slope towards us, he was piloting a Warhammer, and thus had five tons of weight and theoretically better weapons over Ryder's sixty five ton Crusader. However the Lyran's 'Mech, like most of his unit's, was showing signs of nearly two months battle damage; it's left leg was scarred with the craters of autocannon hits, it's right arm mounted Donal particle cannon was completely gone, blown off in some earlier combat, and it looked like the short range missile pod upon it's right shoulder was nearly empty of ammo.
     My hopes began to rise that Ryder might actually pull this off, his 'Mech was undamaged, and not too much weaker than a Warhammer that was in tip top condition, let alone one as mauled as Gilbert's.
     Gilbert stopped barely sixty meters from us, and stood there waiting as Ryder stepped his machine forwards, and the rest of us pulled back giving the two duellists plenty of room. I zoomed in a scanner on them and blinked to see two 'Mechs stood opposite each other at very close range then, just like two knights in the bygone age idealised by Ryder, they slowly bowed to each other. As soon as they had straightened it began.
     I must say, though I was expecting the whole crazy fight to be over very quickly as, despite what you might see on Solaris, most matches between competent MechWarriors generally are. It was actually to be one of the longest and most drawn out one-on-one 'Mech duels I ever sat and watched from start to end. Indeed I'm miffed none of us thought to switch on our gun cameras in order to record it, as the vids would have undoubtedly sold for good money.
     Without really going into a longwinded blow by blow account of the duel, for it lasted roughly forty five minutes if you can believe that, I shall just give you the basics here; from the start a difference in tactics between the two MechWarriors became obvious, with Gilbert opening fire with all he had, and scoring several early hits upon Ryder, who on the other hand seemed strangely reluctant to actually fire upon anything other than the Warhammer's remaining arm and legs. I quickly became baffled and angry to see a deadly 'Mechsman like Ryder seemingly twice ignore obvious openings that should have given him ample chance to shower Gilbert's machine's torso with missiles, from the twinned Harpoon-6 launchers on the Crusader's breast.
     At one point fairly early into the duel Ryder even pulled off a risky close range grapple, smashing his 'Mech's fists into the merc Warhammer's side and back, yet still, at point blank range Ryder didn't fire his missiles, and Gilbert managed to get away, while searing laser canon fire across the Crusader's right torso.
     And so it went on like something out of myth, the tension mounting as each 'Mech became more and more badly damaged, those two titans of ceramite, plassteel, myomer, and adamantine manoeuvring, blasting, crashing, thumping, even kicking at each other. By the end they both looked equally done in; swaying with the effort of each step, teetering with every swing of their arms, wobbling when yet another laser cannon hit scorched through armour that had already been melted away, the morning air above them shimmering as above a great bonfire from the heat, and the wind carried the grinding, protesting shrieks and groans of damaged limb actuators that were being pushed to breaking point.
     For a while I thought we might have a draw on our hands, and wondered what that would mean for the agreement. However Ryder, despite having lost one of his leg actuators to Gilbert's laser fire, finally landed an amazing kick, which smashed into the Warhammer's already badly damaged right leg. There was a shriek of metal on metal, so loud it even carried across the grassland all the way to us, then both 'Mechs wavered, Gilbert's went down in a whoompf of dust, yet Ryder somehow kept upright, half obscured by the rising dustcloud and the grey smoke that was seeping from both of them.
     I cheered with relief, the crazy fool had done it! Dekker, who breathed a prayer of thanks to God over the comm, Lang, and I dashed our 'Mechs over to the battered machines. Ryder was already out of his half crippled mount, and tugging open the cockpit hatch of the Warhammer, before helping the mercifully still living and whole seeming Gilbert out into the fresh air.
     I recall we all got out and helped Ryder with Gilbert, who I must say took the loss of his valuable BattleMech most magnanimously, while the rest of the Lyrans drifted down to join us. The fight had been so monumentally epic, no one seemed to bear any ill will whatsoever, and Ryder was soon deep in conversation with Gilbert swapping comments about where they'd each done well or slipped up.
     Later, when we were alone, I asked Ryder why he'd not just peppered the Lyran with missiles, to which Ryder had frowned, and put down the Tech repair manual he was puzzling over at the time.
     "Oh, I didn't want to risk killing the Hauptmann-Kommandant by knocking out his cockpit, or rupturing his power plant ... and besides that wouldn't have been fair would it." He murmured in a solemn voice, then went back to his reading. Odd fellow in many ways, but my word, what a MechWarrior, and if there'd been more with his abilities and credo in the AFFS back in my day then the rest of us would never have had to get into a blasted 'Mech.     
   
* * *

     Well, we sent Gilbert and his lads over to a supply centre the Seventh Crucis were setting up for them by DropShip, and after a day or two travel, we arrived back at Twin Peaks. The Raiders' DropShip putting us down just outside the entrance to the valley, after which we walked our 'Mechs back up towards the city past the blackened, twisted, skeletons of burnt out Galedon Regulars 'Mechs. Once inside the city we returned our 'Mechs to the main 'Mech hangar.
     Twin Peaks was a hive of activity as we entered, as I was informed by comm that Leftenant General Stuart and his staff had arrived, along with more elements of the Seventh Crucis.
     It was as I was walking tiredly along one of the 'Mech bays in the hangar something caught my eye; a crouched Ostroc that seemed familiar. Spotting a red heart painted at the centre of it's torso armour I paused, it was La Stilson's 'Mech and I had a brief bitter flash of memory, of watching Paula paint it on all those weeks back before the invasion; 'to represent our love'. However it was then that my gaze drifted along the torso to rest upon a second, identical, red heart painted beneath the first.
     The implication of this second love heart hit me hard for some reason, and suddenly all my suspicions, my sick jealousies, and my hatred of Stuart came back in a rush. If Paula had painted another heart upon her 'Mech, I reasoned, it could only mean she had another love, and by painting it there where all could see, she meant to absolutely rub my nose in that fact. I swore venomously, making a Tech who was passing jump out of his skin, and stamped quickly into the city, all the while stewing angrily in my own juices. Sure Paula and I had been finished from the moment she caught me with Zephyr, but that didn't mean my vanity and pride could accept that she could replace me so quickly ... if of course she hadn't in fact been carrying on with Darlin' Arlin all along anyway!
     I decided quickly I would first find out the truth, once and for all, about Paula and Stuart, and if it was true ... well then I vowed, I'd make them both suffer for this foul insult to me.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #25 on: 18 February 2011, 14:49:02 »
22

     "Dee, what a lovely surprise." Paula's sarcastic smile certainly didn't reach her eyes, as she stood there in the doorway to her billet, in the smart condo building in Twin Peaks' Eastern District that had been given over as quarters to the Seventh Crucis. She was wearing only tight boxer shorts, and a grey cloth vest through which her nipples were distractingly visible, her long dark auburn hair was pulled loosely back into a pony tail, and there was just the barest trace of a curl of petulant anger in the set of those pillow lips I'd enjoyed savouring so recently before.
     I think I probably stood there gawping for a long moment at her tits, pressing against that vest like they were, before my envious hurt temper returned with a rush, and I pushed past her into her quarters.
     "Is he here?" I hissed, stamping through into a somewhat messy lounge, where a tri-vid player was running a New Ivie news report about the expected imminent Kuritan retreat off world.
     "Get out of here!" Paula came screeching after me, and grabbed me by my shoulder, spinning me around forcefully. Damn but she was strong though and that realisation forced me to pull myself up a little.
     "Well? What've you got to say for yourself you slut?" I spat at her, causing a flicker of emotion to pass across her face, though whether it was anger, pleasure, hurt, or a mixture of all three I could not decide. She then smiled ironically, and deliberately assumed an artlessly seductive pose, crossing her arms under her bosom.
     "As regards what exactly?" She said, all innocence, and I sputtered in rage, and must admit, if I'd not that moment just been reminded that she was a very tough young woman, and coupled with that a trained soldier besides, I'd have belted her one for her cheek.
     "As regards that bloody heart you've painted upon your 'Mech since I last saw it. What d'you mean by that eh? Did you think I'd just let you get away with it? Well? Let's hear it?" I shouted, in an oddly triumphant tone of voice thinking back. She laughed a little at the fool I was helplessly making of myself.
     "What business is it of yours what I paint upon my 'Mech?" The bitch then asked, her eyebrow raised mockingly, though she couldn't then help but add; "You broke us up remember, not me."
     "Oh! Oh!" I cried, waving my finger at her. "So you admit it then? You don't deny you've been paying me back by acting the tramp."
     Her only response to this was to snort at me disdainfully, and turn away so I couldn't see her face.
     "Push off Dee." She said quietly over her shoulder, but I was in such a spate I was having none of it.
     "Not until I hear you say it." I shouted. "Not until you tell me it was that cowardly fop Stuart. That you admit that you were letting him bull you about Panopea for weeks, while ... while I was risking my life, undercover in the bloody DCMS!" Well, I was perhaps laying the butter a little thick on the bread there I'll own, but I was trying to clamber up onto that moral high ground y'see. Anyway, she span at that, her eyes blazing like coals with fury.
     "Get out Dee! Get out now!" She was screaming at me now with such a frenzy my natural sense of self-preservation kicked in and I backed away towards the door, while she ranted on. "Yes the new heart was for Arlin. So what? What do you care if I act like you do? Why would you mind if I painted a thousand hearts up? You cheated on me remember ... you broke -" She trailed off, while my jealousy was consuming my attention again, though it was cold now, and hard in my belly like a knife. I imagined Stuart and her together again, and I fought to keep from retching. I suppose deep down I must have thought more of Paula than I had imagined to myself at the time, or it wouldn't have hurt so bad.
     I stood there rock still in the doorway, and assumed a quite unjustified air of wounded nobility, then squared my shoulders, and looked at her like she was the unfaithful piece of dirt I then regarded her as.
     "Very well. But I warn you, you'll regret this you slag. I'll see to it-" It was at that point she punched me with such strength that I was sent crashing right back into the hallway wall, where I slid down onto my arse with a thump. The sudden explosion of pain blinded me, making my eyes weep, and while I struggled to focus my vision again, the door to her quarters slammed shut and through it I heard the faint sound of what I took, in my injured condition, to be mocking chuckles ... but which in retrospect I suppose could in fact have been sobbing.           
     Wary of being whacked again, I dragged myself up, spat a string of blood onto the floor, and staggered away, nursing my wounded ego with ever stronger thoughts of vengeance. I knew precisely what I would do, and as long as I played it right it would surely mean the end of both Paula and Darlin' Arlin's careers.

* * *

     Often, when setting out to ruin someone's reputation, it's worth remembering that it's what one doesn't actually say that can be  most damning. For folk are always hungry for gossip, and a quiet word, or even an outright denial of a rumour in the right place, can cause a story to pass by word of mouth all the quicker. I knew this of course, and I set about lighting my fuse the very next day.
     The Snakes had been pushed well south of Twin Peaks by that late point of the campaign so the danger of my being forced back into 'Mech combat again any time soon seemed minimal, and I planned my attack carefully.
     My first move was to be seen out and about town wooing Zephyr Stephenson for a day or two, partly because I didn't wish any unpleasant rumours of a sour break-up between myself and Paula to cloud peoples opinion of the story I was planning to unleash. Zephyr had been a little concerned about the deuced awkward scene she'd been exposed to the last time I'd seen her, but I reassured her any relationship between Paula and I had been over long before I'd even left Bormen, indeed I alluded that there was a reason I'd separated myself from Paula which I was keeping to myself. Perhaps it was her curiosity about this 'secret', maybe she just couldn't resist my charms, or more likely it was simply in her nature to be the randy little strumpet I knew her to be, but Zephyr agreed to forgive me for not having told her about Paula, and we renewed our amour as publicly as possible. I was also aware everything I'd told her about Paula and my break up would probably be gossiped about with her friends and peers ... women after all always talk to each other about their men, as you probably know yourself.
     I then moved to step two, by submitting a full written report of my time inside the Kuritan DIF to Duke Stephen. It was largely a tissue of lies of course and by rights should have gone to Stuart, but I'd put in a passage or two which I hoped Stephen would seize upon. I didn't have long to wait, after handing it in, before I was urgently summoned to the surly sod's office.
     "Darius, I've read your report." He barked, scowling the whole time like a hung over bulldog. "In it you mention a conversation you overheard between this ISF bastard ... ahh ... Akuda was it? And his subordinate." I tried not to grin, for he'd taken the bait, now all I had to do was get him to swallow it.
     "Yes Sir. I was in a pretty bad way at the time, just having been given a thorough going over with a neural whip, and I think they thought I was unconscious." I replied calmly. To which Stephen nodded, then picked up the slicksheet before him containing the report, and waved it at me, pointing at the paragraph he was referring to.
     "And you say here, that in this conversation, Akuda let slip that their spy in Bormen, the one you'd got wind of before the Bowfin was hit and you were washed up behind enemy lines, was a female?" I nodded smartly again, cleared my throat with a cough and answered him.
     "When you say 'let slip' Sir, well it wasn't quite like that, y'see I rather think they assumed at the time I was an MIIO or DMI spy, and Akuda discussed with his subordinate whether they should question me to see if 'their girl', as he put it, had been caught. The subordinate responded that in his opinion 'her cover' was safe, and reminded Akuda that last they'd heard 'Mata Hari', which I assume was her code name, had 'successfully advanced from her first 'dupe' and was getting closer to 'her prime target''." I finished affecting now to appear somewhat guarded. He frowned and chewed his lip, before looking me hard in the eye.
     "Well, yes ... er Darius ... I take it you've considered what this may very well mean?" He asked cautiously. I paused then said slowly;
     "That this Kuritan rat was a gal, that she had achieved one objective and was moving on to another Sir." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat before responding, then shrugged and asked me straight.
     "Darius, have you any idea who this spy might be?" I looked down at my feet, then cleared my throat, and generally looked like a man nursing an uncomfortable truth, before finally shaking my head quietly.
     "I wouldn't like to voice suspicions without evidence Sir." I then said, being sure to let my voice crack just a little bit, as if with emotion. He grunted, then nodded to a seat, indicating for me to sit, before he continued in a almost paternal tone.
     "Listen old son, a garrison's a terrible place for gossip, well you know that, and I've heard whispers that you were close with this MechWarrior Stilson, from the Seventh Crucis?" I nodded mutely, and he ploughed on. "I also heard you broke it off with her for ... ahh ... unclear reasons as soon as you got back here?" Good old flighty little Zephyr had been gossiping as planned it seemed, as it was now clearly common knowledge I'd broken up with Paula for 'a secret reason'.
     "I don't see how that's important Sir?" I replied quickly, and he shook his head, clearly finding this a very difficult conversation.
     "Darius, you're a canny lad. You must see how this looks? This code name, Mata Hari, it implies the spy uses ... ahh ... her allure ... to ingratiate herself with men, to learn information from them, or even perhaps to turn them. Now, you broke up with this Stilson girl, and she's now sharing a bed with Stuart I believe ... and I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but rumour is she may have been from about the time you went over the side of that sub. Then there's Stuart's bizarre tactics, which some have been calling cowardly, but which may actually have been part of a deliberate attempt to hobble us here.
     When you consider all this, next to what you heard in Jommson ... well, damn-it-all Darius you'll own it bears some scrutiny?" I'd been ready for this moment, and sprang to my feet, making myself go red in the face, and absolutely shouted at this violent thug.
     "I won't have it Sir! Paula's no spy, I'd stake my life on that fact. She's red white and blue through and through, Sir!" Stephen became angry and slammed his hand down on the table.
     "Sit down Leftenant." He bellowed and I promptly obeyed, as he calmed a bit then affected a more conciliatory tone. "Darius, listen this won't reflect badly on you. Hell, if it is true, then it'll only be down to you having the courage and strength of character to successfully penetrate the Kuritan fracking army, that we rumbled her. But either way, true or not, this needs to be investigated. I'll try to keep your name out of it, as much as possible, but I'm going to take your report and my suspicions to our DMI bods here." I mumbled that I accepted his decision, and the silly sod got up and put his hand upon my shoulder.
     "I think I know why you've kept this to yourself 'till now." I gulped, praying he didn't, but needn't have worried. "You suspected Stilson yourself didn't you? But you knew if you were wrong you'd probably be ruining the girl's career, and for what it's worth that oaf Stuart's too, and you didn't want that on your conscience did you?" I just looked up at him sadly, like a hound to his master, and he patted my shoulder again.
     "Thought as much ... still you've done the right thing bringing this info to me. If you hadn't and you'd choked down your suspicions for fear you were wrong, and Stilson is this rat, then any blood she caused spilt by our boys in the future would have been on your hands, for you could have stopped her, here and now, but you hadn't ... d'you see?"
     I nodded my head, while inside roaring with laughter, Duke Stephen's blinkered hatred of all things Kuritan, coupled with the confused gossip about Paula and I, and Paula and Stephen's enemy Darlin' Arlin, had meant that it had been inevitable that he'd instantly leap to the conclusions I'd intended when I'd written my report. Yet, I could honestly claim in the days to come, it was Duke Stephen's beliefs and accusations, rather than mine.
     Of course word was probably already flying around Twin Peaks of the rumour before I'd even left Stephen's office that day, for if I know that one eyed murderer he'd already spoken of it with some of his cronies in the Chasseurs. Certainly that evening, while I was down in the 'Mech hangar, seeing that Falstaff was being properly cared for and trying to score up some hooch I suspected the Tech boys had been knocking up in a still down there, who should come steaming towards me but Leftenant General Arlin Stuart himself.
     I'd thankfully not seen Stuart since arriving back in the city, and before that back in Panopea, and had forgotten what an overdressed ass he was. That evening he was wearing one of his patented personally tailored uniforms; this particular one seemed to have been based upon the deep blue and gold NI Chasseurs fig, but Stuart's was laden with heavy ropes of gold wire, rather than simple piping, there were three ranks of polished buttons, his skin tight pants were plum red with blue piping down the seam, and he wore polished jackboots set with his gold plated, diamond studded MechWarrior spurs. Upon his head was the highest peaked blue and cold officers cap I ever saw, which gave him the appearance of a comic-opera tin pot dictator, and he was even carrying what looked like a Marshal's baton of all things, wrapped in blue silk and studded with pearls.
     "Darius! Darius!" The filthy swine called out to me, and knowing we were being watched by every Tech in the place, and thus that everything we said to each other would soon be common knowledge, I held my tongue and turned politely towards him. He was red faced and panting for breath, and was clearly in a state of some agitation. "Oh thank Blake I've found you old man." He gasped.
     "Sir?" I replied pretty coolly.
     "Darius, what in the Sphere's all this I hear about you having accused Paula of treason?" He cried, even looking over his shoulder as if he were being followed or spied upon. I took a moment and making sure to project my voice replied;
     "That's absolutely untrue Sir. I have made no such accusation. Although I understand Duke Stephen, and Marshal Steadman of the Seventh Crucis, have raised some questions about MechWarrior Stilson and she's been taken in by our intel chaps to answer them."
     "Then it's true?" Stuart's eye's boggled in terror, clearly seeing the harm this would do to him publicly. "My god she's a Snake bitch?"
     "Sir, I've just told you all I know. Also, for the sake of Stilson's name, as none of us yet know the actual truth of the matter, I don't think it proper you should be making comments like that. Do you?" With that I made to stalk away, while inside gloating at the way the story would play around town, and beyond in the days and weeks to come. However Stuart was becoming more and more unhinged.
     "Wait Darius, wait. You have to help me. Don't you see? People will think I was in on it with her. They'll think I knew what she was, my God man I just wanted a bit of fun." He positively wailed and I did my best to look disgusted, rather than triumphant, while noting that a group of helmeted Whitebellies were jogging in our direction, stunsticks at their sides. It occured to me this would probably be my last chance to drive the knife in with Stuart, so I leaned down and whispered in his ear.
     "I hope she was worth it ... you traitor." At which he actually yelped and staggered back away from me, half turned and was then grabbed from behind by a couple of the hulking MPs. Stuart began to struggle and kick, while the Sergeant in charge saluted me smartly.
     "Sorry to disturb you Sir. We've orders to take Leftenant General Stuart into custody, under suspicion of dereliction of duty."
     "Carry on Sergeant." I solemnly pronounced, and I watched with glee as they dragged Darlin' Arlin away roughly, his arms and legs flailing, and his voice weeping and whining.
     Naturally the story rocketed around the city, and then the planet, and I remained comfortably peripheral to the whole thing.
     I was quite surprised with the speed the DMI boys interrogated Stilson, but she was released after only four days, ostensibly cleared of any suspicion 'at that time'. However, as you will know if you've served on the border worlds, anyone with even the faintest whiff of doubt over their loyalties never prospers out there, and I was soon hearing whispers around the garrison that the DMI had only let her go to try to get her to blow her conduit, or contacts, back to the Snakes. Or that she had been too clever for the DMI spooks, and was still an active enemy agent in our very midst.
     The last time I myself saw her on New Ivaarsen, was at a Seventh Crucis Regimental dinner. We were all sat at two long tables, and we'd just taken our seats, when I was aware the buzz of conversation had died and a cold silence had fallen over the room. Looking up I realised everyone had turned in their seats to watch a slender figure walk down the back of the second table towards her seat.
     Paula looked stunning I must say, elegantly kitted out in a tight fitting gold piped olive green Crucis Lancer dress uniform. Her long red hair was worn up in a bun at the back of her head, her chin was raised, perhaps in defiance, and suddenly the only sound in that large mess hall were the hard echoes of her footsteps upon the marble floor.
     No one spoke. It must have been unbearable for her. Suddenly she stopped and looked around at her former friends and comrades. I looked at them too, some seemed embarrassed and awkward, and stared at their plates, but most gazed blankly back at her, the dark doubts about her written across their faces. Her desperate gaze met mine for just a moment, and being sure all other eyes were on her I risked giving her a very quick mockingly victorious grin and wink. She turned at that, and began to march, quicker and quicker out of the hall, until she was practically running.
     Someone gave a pretty strained laugh, then someone else asked where the starters had got too and there was an immediate lightening of the mood, and we all fell to easy bantering about other subjects. I must say, while it should have been my ultimate crushing success over the cheating trollop, I did feel strangely low at the time, at least for the next few minutes until the nosh turned up and we all dug in.       
     
* * *

     Well, a few days later on the 24th November, after two months of punishing conflict, and having to fight a running battle with elements of the Seventh Crucis and the Second NI Chasseurs all the way back to their DropShips, the Kuritans finally fled New Ivaarsen, rendezvousing with a small fleet of JumpShips, that materialised at a Pirate Point a couple of days out and then departed the system entirely.
     They left badly battered and depleted, with the Fifth Galedon particularly mauled, and I understand that Samsonov was promptly summoned back to Luthien in disgrace and, not for the first or last time, only narrowly escaped being sacked or executed for his failure in the field.
     For our part New Ivaarsen was a real mess. Bluthe's massive industrial infrastructure had been savaged by weeks of Kuritan shelling, large swathes of the Flats agricultural land and countryside had been laid waste, countless villages and towns, such as Jommson for example, were badly damaged, and thousands of civilians had been killed or displaced by the fighting and the Kuritan movements across the planet. Militarily however we'd survived far better than could have been hoped, thanks in part, though no one wanted to admit it, to Stuart's timid policy of holing up in the Three Cities and letting the mercs of Gilbert's Battalion do most of the hard work, at least until the Seventh Crucis arrived seven weeks into the campaign.
     There were some notable rewards dished out by Draconis March Command and my dear old cousin Hanse to reflect our success, in the weeks to come.
     Gilbert and his lads received a complete refit, double pay, and even a suitably generous special bonus, apparently paid out of Hanse's own pocket, and by all accounts they departed our space happy enough. They left New Ivaarsen itself a few days before I did, and I was pleased to hog the limelight in front of the press, shaking Gilbert's hand and accepting his sincere thanks, for my part in Ryder's proposal, before he'd boarded his DropShip.
     I believe I'm right in saying there were a few new medals dished out to various units of the Seventh Crucis, perhaps in an attempt to discreetly brush over the bad feeling in the RCT about the rumours that one of their own had possibly been a Kuritan agent. Ian McKinnon and his bunch of thugs and madmen insisted upon my presence at a party the night before they left for yet more front line work elsewhere along the border, and we all got blistering drunk on the foulest hooch imaginable, made not by the Techs, but Ian's younger brother Mark McKinnon, which he'd somehow brewed up in a still on one of the Company's DropShips, allegedly using potatoes, grain, and 'just a dash of coolant fluid'.
     Ian and many of his Raiders tried to badger me into joining them on their new mission, as they often did whenever I drank with 'em, but I wasn't about to make the same mistake that had previously landed me on Harrow's Sun in their company, and I complained of a stomach ache, which was not actually a lie bearing in mind the fierceness of that moonshine, and I left early so they couldn't kidnap me again. By the time I woke with a sore head the next day, the Fox's Teeth were gone, on their way to battle again.
     For his leading role in the Battle of Twin Peaks, and his judicious ignoring of Darlin' Arlin's more dubious orders, Duke Stephen was given a gong and at Hanse's direct command promptly bumped up to the exalted rank of Marshal, and awarded the prestigious post of Commander of the First Davion Guards RCT back on New Avalon. Which just goes to show, you can murder as many enemy prisoners as you like in Hanse's eyes, so long as you're also successful in battle. Which to be fair, doesn't really make Hanse much different from any other Successor State warlord.
     For actions 'above and beyond that expected of a soldier of the AFFS', I received a mention in dispatches, detailing my 'daring penetration of the enemy army', and my 'heroic' dash to bring the news of the imminent Kuritan assault to Twin Peaks, 'therebye allowing the timely and vital deployment of the Second Regiment New Ivaarsen Chasseurs, and facilitating the subsequent defeat of the Kuritan city-buster force'. I was also recommended, by good old Duke Stephen, for a Golden Sunburst Medal, which was nice of the maniacal bastard. Also, in the same package of orders from Hanse that included the news of Stephen's promotion and transfer, came official notification that I myself was being raised to the rank of Captain, in my original unit, the Fourth Guards, and that I was to accompany Stephen back to New Avalon, where my new Company was at that time garrisoned, along with the rest of the Bane.       
     It was some time before I learnt what became of Paula and her boyfriend. Arlin Stuart, was judged to have been derelict in his duties as Commanding Officer on New Ivaarsen, and 'overly cautious before the enemy', and was thus completely disgraced in the eyes of his beloved public and press, quickly demoted and ultimately relegated to a rear echelon role. Perhaps worst of all for the glory hound however, was that, though found completely innocent of any collusion with the enemy by a board of inquiry, the stigma of having possibly been the ignorant manipulated patsy of a Snake agent clung to him like a bad smell, and he quickly became a laughing stock, and the butt of cruel jibes by the fickle press.
     Actually, you may be interested to know, that I learned a year or two back that Stuart ultimately ended up transferring into the section of the AFFS Department of Military Administration that designs and makes our uniforms ... and I believe I'm correct when I say that he was the ass who came up with the dress uniform for the Fed Com Corps, which explains that full length cloak I suppose.
     Paula on the other hand endured the quiet suspicion and distrust of her comrades in the Seventh Crucis for only a short while, before she bowed to the inevitable and transferred into a far less respectable Crucis March Militia unit, which was generally only involved in grotty rear lines work, such as interior garrison duty, policing the occasional outbreak of civilian unrest, guarding POW camps, escorting planetary nobility around, and baby-sitting corporate facilities and the like.
    I heard no more of her after that for something over two years, however I shall come to all of that shortly.
    So it was, on a windy Sunday, after a miserably dry and boring farewell bash thrown by the Chasseurs for their departing C.O., that Duke Stephen and I blasted away from that hellish planet. I sat back in my chair with a contented sigh I recall, and ignoring Duke Stephen's bad mood at being posted to 'that miserable soft hive of courtiers, crimps, cowards, and Cabalists', as he bitingly referred to the capital, I closed my eyes peacefully.
     I was in a fine mood y'see; the New Avalon nightlife, a new medal, promotion, yet more public fame and adoration, and a cushy posting at the Mount with my old friends in the Bane, was all the future seemed to beckon for me, for the time being at least, and that made me very happy indeed.
     I drifted smiling into sleep, but for some reason the dreams that came to me were far from restful. Perhaps because somewhere inside of me I still retained some small vestigal remnant of a troubled conscience, or maybe my mind was just replaying the horrors of the last two or three months, as images came to me in a jumbled haze of half sleep; John John's bright and cheery voice calling out 'Welcome to the Land of the Green Sun' ... the echoing, claustrophobic metal coffin of the Bowfin ... the vapour trails of dozens of inbound enemy DropShips in a blue sky ... the suffocating cockpit heat of battle, buildings burning around me, and three Kuritan 'Mechs looming towards me, their guns firing ... sea water filling my lungs, as the churning waves dragged me down and I began to drown ... a gout of blood splashing wet black pebbles, as I murdered a brother officer ... a gold toothed bastard kicking the shit out of me, and barking at me hatefully in Japanese ... hundreds of men around me cheering, as a Warlord of House Kurita thrust my hand into the air in a salute of victory ... the agony ripping through my body as the neural whip ran up my arm, and that soft, polite voice murmured "There's no shame here" ... a little group of DCMS infantrymen, my friends, waving me off with smiles on their faces ... a harsh voice from over my shoulder "Steady lads, steady ... wait for it." ... the thunderous shaking and that dreadful boiling line of burning, flayed, molten 'Mechs crashing closer, ever closer.
     I think I woke with a start, bathed in sweat, at that moment. Ignored by Stephen next to me, who was reading an out of date copy of the New Avalon Herald, I looked out into the blackness of space and tried to get back to sleep.
     More pleasant dreams came to me then; the smell of beef stew and Lyran schapps, of a beautiful woman's natural perfume and the soft sweet aromas of the fruit of an orchard ... Paula on a ladder propped againt her 'Mech, painting a heart upon it's torso, "It's to represent our love Darius." ... a lingering kiss before it all went wrong ... "Darius, you never need to be jealous of me you know?" ... "You broke -" ... Paula!
     I woke with another jerk, and was relieved I'd not actually cried her name out aloud, and shaking my head I tried to relax. I was done with the bloody woman and that bloody world too, I reminded myself, and then breathing deeply I slept again, and this time dreamt only of New Avalon and an easy future.

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

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #26 on: 18 February 2011, 16:13:51 »
PART TWO

ARGYLE

3024

MARCH

23

     The passage of time and approaching old age has these days given me a keener awareness than I had in my youth of the inevitability of cause and effect. I can see now that, one way or the other, though it may sometimes take many years, fate has a way of paying you back for past indiscretions. Life rarely has the politeness to run along in a smooth unbroken line, and the things one once did and had thought over and done, can and often do come back to bite you in the arse when you're least expecting it.
     This story is a perfect case in point. For example If I'd not done my trembling best to befriend Elmo and Jake Porrath, when we were all serving as part of Redjack Ryan's pirate army between 3017 and 3018, I'd not have survived my first meeting with Valasek years later on the other side of known space, and then Elmo wouldn't have turned up after another quarter of a century here on Killarney, like Marley's ghost this Christmas. Likewise, if I'd not treated Paula Stilson so badly before leaving New Ivaarsen, I could hardly have known that I would have almost certainly spared myself one of the most terrifying periods of my life.

* * *

     Perhaps unsurprisingly given my luck, and despite my hopeful dreams, the two and a half years or so after I left New Ivaarsen in '21, had by and large been anything but peaceful times for Captain D. Davion Esquire. It's important you understand though that from my point of view, my time on New Ivaarsen was over and done with, and had actually been quickly forgotten as new hazards, pleasures and horrors filled my attention.
     Without going into too much detail I shall quickly give you an idea of the events of those years here, before getting to the next part of the story, and my next meeting with Paula Stilson, and what thereafter followed; so then, after an initial almost idyllic few weeks things had begun to grow progressively worse for me on New Avalon, until several unpleasant months later, during which time I'd unwisely renewed a feud with a ghastly jumped up commoner who hated my guts, and just barely survived the most hideous scandal when a Brigade of Guards Marshal had tried to kill me with an axe, I ended up on Rigil Kentarus in July of '22 serving in the first official joint Davion/Steiner military operation, under a Commander who wanted me dead for stealing his mistress, and up to my neck yet again in more hordes of murderous Kuritans.
     Only the fact that I'd made some new friends amongst the Social Soldiers of the Lyran First Royal Guards, who were our allies on Rigil saved me and, after the terrible fighting finally ended, encouraged me to head for what I thought would be a nice little holiday in Lyran space, on the pleasure planet of Galaina.
    However not long after arriving on Galaina I was stupidly drawn into a card game with Patrick Kell, Gerhardt Hansen, and that bastard Scavenger Snord. Well, I still say Snord cheated me, and I ended up being hoodwinked into one of his ludicrous schemes and serving as a mercenary liaison officer attached to his Irregulars. In which status I was dragged through the Meat and 'Mech Grinder of the ongoing war on Tamar, and into Snord's treacherous and murky double-dealings with a slippery Snake General, then over the Combine border on a completely unauthorised raid with Snord's travelling bedlam of lunatics.
     Unsurprisingly given Snord's quixotic plan, I was captured on Alshain by the Kuritans, but for reasons too complex to go into here, they didn't actually know who I was and thought me either a pirate or a Rasalhagian freedom fighter, and thus merely threw me into a truly hellish political prison where I rotted for several months in the company of, amongst others, two of the latterly famous founding fathers of today's Free Rasalhague Republic.
     How we managed to escape is a long and harrowing story, and suffice to say the memory still haunts my nightmares even today.
     After that and once back across the Tamar border, I hurried for home, eager to leave Ellsie space behind me. Only to then promptly make the most block headed blunder, once actually back on safe old New Avalon again, by indiscreetly slagging off Hanse's boffin shop; the NAIS. The press had a field day and within a few weeks, after an almighty telling off, Hanse had forced me to make amends by having me attached to the NAIS' paramount lostech operation, Project Phoenix. Well, thanks to Hanse and the addle-headed NAIS bigwigs blithely placing their top secret research project on Hoff, a world within a jump or so of the Kuritan border, I was soon once again facing the DCMS, though this time they were bolstered with elements of the fearsome Wolf's Dragoons too.
     For my sins I was at the heart of all the major actions of the Hoff Campaign, though on the bright side it came to be believed I'd actually been the man who ultimately saved the Phoenix Techs and their precious next-generation equipment, so Hanse had to make an enormous about face in his public attitude towards me, and actually had me entitled as a member of the Knights FS. Though I have to say if there was a highlight for me about Hoff, it was that during the campaign I stole the chance to meet up with the lovely Natasha Kerensky again, and we renewed the affair which we'd first begun in the weeks following the end of the Marik Civil War.
     After Hoff I'd been called back to New Avalon to attend my ceremonial induction into the KFS, and while there I'd become embroiled in a dreadful mess of espionage, murder, and treason. Which all ended with me aboard a sabotaged DropShip, struggling hand to hand with enemy assassins, while the craft plummeted like a meteor directly down towards the heart of Avalon City. The story of how I got out of that one makes me shudder just to consider thinking about it.
     Later in that year of 3023, I was dispatched by Hanse on what I'd thought a fools errand to the Draconis March mercenary recruitment centre of Le Blanc, where using my rumoured 'connection' to the Black Widow I was to persuade her and her entire Company to desert Wolf's Dragoons and defect to our service ... and all for the measly bribe of a few experienced Techs. I told Hanse before I left that there was zero chance she'd go for it, or betray Jaime, but cousin Foxy can be a stubborn sod when he's set upon one of his schemes. So without any other choice, for the past month or so I'd hopped along by command circuit to Le Blanc, where the whole plan rapidly imploded thanks in no small part to the interference of my old enemy Michael Hasek-Davion, and there had been the deuce of a sharp 'Mech battle between Hasek-Davion's secretly hired forces; the infamous Bounty Hunter and his Cadre, and the Black Widows ... with me scrabbling for my very life between both sides.
     After I'd initially sent word of the catastrophic balls-up on Le Blanc, I'd been ordered by official c-mail to present myself immediately to Hanse in person, for further questioning about the matter, so I took the command circuit back to New Avalon, only to find Hanse away at his Summer Palace on Argyle, apparently attending some conference or other. Dutifully boarding a transport that was stopping at Argyle I made my way there, more than a little nervous that the arch-swine was going to blame me for what had happened on Le Blanc. 
     So then, my story begins again at this point, in March of the year 3024, and I had just arrived on Argyle, the playground of Princes, one jump from New Avalon.

* * *

     "Good morning Captain Davion, what a wonderful and unexpected pleasure to see you here." Hanse's Maître de Household for Argyle, Creepy Cleery, as I couldn't help but think of the dreadful fellow, oozed a suavely insincere welcome as he came to meet me at the Private Drop Port entrance to the Davion Summer Palace, managing with the subtlest of inflections to imply that I was very much personally putting him out, by turning up unannounced. Well damn the horrid little man, I thought at the time, and breezed past him with my nose in the air.
     "I'm sure it is." I said loftily, then strode past with a speed that forced him to practically run to keep up with me. "I'm here to report directly to the First Prince, upon a most important military matter. Please advise him I've arrived. Now, are any of the royal suites available?"
     "I shall of course inform the Prince you are here." He replied unctuously, then licked his wet fat lips, in that unpleasant way of his, perhaps in pleasure at then being able to take me down a peg or two. "But, I'm afraid, what with the Conference, all the main suites are presently occupied by other guests ... I'm sure I can find you something though Sir."
     I cursed under my breath, and stopped and gazed for a moment up at the looming multi-winged castle-like structure of the Palace, sat before us upon the gently rising eminence which afforded it a fine view over it's elaborate surrounding paradise gardens, and the river country and rolling meadow land beyond that. It was a massive, aged confection of a building, dating back into dim antiquity, and possessed a unique blend of early settlement era and Gothic architectural styles, it's yellow-grey stonework absolutely covered in decoration and carvings; gargoyles, Davion family fox motifs, and elaborately patterned arched lintels. I recalled at the time that I'd once heard the old place described as resembling an enormous birthday cake, and reflected it was an astute simile, as I watched an air-car hum up and away from a concealed landing pad upon the roof, where a cluster of fluted chimneys rose like candles.
     I'd been to the Summer Palace a couple of times before this occasion of course, but each of those visits had been during the summer months, when annually this estate became the centre of the Davion Court scene for a few weeks. Avalon City, and the main Davion Palace, become unbearably stuffy during the middle of the year, and thus for more generations than most of us could recall the First Prince, his Court, several units of the Brigade of Guards, crowds of journalists, and sundry other hangers on, descend upon Argyle, where they enjoy balmy, breezy, comfortably warm weather, and the distractions of the gardens, parks, amusement-towns, and plush resorts that cover much of the planet.
     I'd not been there before in Avalonian springtime though, and asked Cleery why Hanse was holding whatever this conference was about on Argyle?
     "I gather the New Avalon winter was rather harsh this year Sir, and His Highness the Prince mentioned to myself that aside from wishing to spend a few days in warmer climes, as he put it, he wished the New Frontier Decennial Conference to be held 'where it had all begun' back in '14." I blinked in incomprehension at the oily tick.
     "New Frontier ... ?" I asked aloud curiously, as I dredged my memory trying to recall where I'd heard that term before, 3014 had been the year straight after Hanse had assumed the throne of course. What had happened that year?
     "The First Prince's Periphery exploration project. He first made his 'New Frontier Speech' here in 3014." Cleery said, in a rather bored tone of voice, and it came back to me what he was referring to.
     You may not realise it these days, when the common misconception in our mighty, dangerously deluded, realm is that we know all there is to know about the bare handful of inhabited worlds most folks believe lie beyond our Outback, between the borders of the Outworlds Alliance to coreward, and the Taurian Concordat to rimward, but back when Hanse first took over almost no one in the Fed Suns knew the first thing about what might lie beyond our Outback systems, and fewer still cared about that fact.
     For generations we'd all considered the Outer Sphere region right through to the Hyades Rim to be simply an enormous nearly empty stellar desert, and at best dotted with a few hideouts for brigands, pirates and loopy religious sects, so any idea of Davionist expansion in that direction would have been derided as pointless. Dear cousin Hanse however, as is his way, had radically different ideas from the common consensus, and very quickly after becoming First Prince he began calling for mass exploration and exploitation of the Hyades Rim and Outer Sphere regions, notably making a famous speech calling those stretches of the Periphery 'our brave new frontier' and clearly stating his intent 'to push back the curtain of ignorant night and wake worlds long thought dead with sleep', as he put it.
    Few in the Federated Suns shared his opinion or interest in the 'waste-worlds' though, I for one would have been quite happy to let any dormant and forgotten inhabited worlds that were out there keep snoozing, they weren't doing us any harm after all. Well, except for the ones used by pirates of course.
     It was actually widely regarded at the time as so unlikely that Hanse could truly believe that there was any merit in the people and worlds in question themselves, that it became something of a mystery as to what his 'true intentions' might be. All manner of crackpot theories circulated in the late 3010s, ranging from the possibility that Hanse was trying to inch around the Outworlds Alliance so he could attack House Kurita's lightly inhabited Periphery borderworlds, to the rumour that the whole thing was a huge lostech treasure hunt. Some shrewd chaps even claimed Hanse was in reality launching expeditions which were trying to find the world, or worlds, from which Wolf's Dragoons had sprung a decade or so before the strange quest began. For the Dragoons did indeed arrive in the Inner Sphere from that direction of course, and I personally have a hunch there may have been some truth in that particular speculative gossip.
     Whatever Hanse's personal reasons, he immediately began actively encouraging adventurous and entrepreneurial businessmen and corporations to fund 'Explorer Teams', that would search out new or lost worlds to trade with, or that were suitable for later Federated Suns conquest or colonisation. There were also whispers that a very large number of MIIO and DMI agents were covertly dispatched by Hanse out into those vast seemingly empty regions, disguised perhaps as pirates, tramp spacers, missionaries, hard luck mercs, nomad traders, and who knows what else. Though I was in the dark as to the truth of that at the time, and had certainly never then even heard of 'the Great Game' ... as that secret, bloody and bitter, little cold war was known to our spies, who duelled across our spatial back yard, unknown to most, against the agents of Taurus, Luthien, and even later on Terra itself.
     So anyway, that morning on Argyle, I realised I'd arrived during a ten year celebration of what scant rewards Hanse's Periphery hobby had by then achieved. I knew next to nothing about the subject, but I must confess I was suddenly rather keen to take a sideways squint at the sort of idiots who would sink good money and investment into such a hopeless and potentially dangerous pipe-dream.
     Cleery, the spiteful git, had me placed in a third story bedroom, that had perhaps the worst view in the Palace, it's one small window facing out onto the stone wall of the servants wing. He'd summoned the infamous chief housekeeper, Fani Littek, a hatchet faced harridan who was notorious for her abrasive manner and complete lack of respect for even the highest ranking nobility, and she had sniffed in disgust at me.
     "Well, it's rather inconsiderate to turn up out of the black like this, especially while we have a conference on." She snarled at me and I shrugged and blamed Hanse's orders that had brought me here out of season, so she then began fussing around having the room made up for me.
     Once Fani and Cleery had finished and departed, I took a quick shower, then deciding that if I was going to face the Fox in his den I'd better look as well as I could, so I donned my full blue and golds, being sure all my medals were polished and on display; my Silver and Gold Sunbursts, the Crucis Cross upon it's orange ribbon, the Crest of the Eagle Anton Marik had awarded me and which still bore the bullet scar Kristofur had left upon it, the golden badge and green ribbon of the Lyran Harp, and finally across my golden half breastplate I draped the red and black silk sash of the Order of the Knights of the Federated Suns, with it's heavy sunburst badge set with a kneeling male silhouette bearing an upraised sword.
     I admired my reflection for a minute in the small mirror of that tatty room, reflecting that I certainly looked every inch the hero. I was just past my thirtieth birthday then, had grown the moustache I'd had back in '21 into a well trimmed goatee beard, and was wearing my black hair short at the temples and long at the back, as was the fashion in the twenties. I scowled into the mirror, enjoying the fearsome aspect it gave me, the several scars I had by then accumulated becoming more livid and visible.
     "Darius you really are a handsome devil old chap." I half whispered to myself idly. "Now go tell that ass Hanse it was his fault the Le Blanc Proposal went tits up, not yours." Grinning I turned and stalked out, planning to take a quick run past the conference hall before seeking out Cousin Foxy, to get a quick look in at these New Frontier bods.

* * *

     I strolled curiously into the large conference room that smelt of cigar smoke, and was buzzing with conversation, to find it full of people. They were a damned odd bunch, and very much a mixed bag. My eyes first falling upon a handful of smart suited Robinsonian businessmen, wearing thousand D-Bill suits and chatting to each other in Hebrew, who were stood alongside the most grizzled and aged looking white bearded JumpShip Captain you could imagine, dressed in gold trimmed red silk robes of an unusual style, with a necklace of what looked like microchips hung around his neck, and who was sat in a Canopian hover chair, the bones in his legs clearly too calcified from a life time spent in zero-gravity to allow him to stand, let alone walk. As the Robinsonian suits yammered arrogantly away over the top of his head, the old space-dog winced now and then as if in pain, glancing nervously about the crowd while fingering his strange fetish necklace with a hand that seemed almost skeletal.
     Near a large window a lanky tall, bald chap, dressed in rather ratty looking military fatigue shirt, trousers, and scuffed boots, was holding forth about a brush he claimed to have recently survived with slavers 'out yonder'. His audience, which consisted mainly of more smartly dressed businessmen, was by and large attentive and impressed seeming, however a pair of men, who I instantly pegged as MechWarriors, began to half-jokingly heckle the speaker. They were rough looking, and had that peculiar broken look of the destitute dispossessed, and it occurred to me at the time they were probably drawn to Hanse's Periphery quest out of desperation.
     Turning I gaped, trying to take it all in. Long haired and bearded men, who didn't look or smell liked they'd bathed in months, brushed shoulders with shifty eyed gunsells, whose hands dropped to belts where normally, when not attending conferences at the Summer Palace, there would be pistols or blades. Outback moguls draped in gems, worthless planetary badges of knighthood, and the furs and skins of exotic animals, stood guzzling champagne like it was border-beer. Smartly uniformed independent spacers chatted to each other, stiff legged and slow, unused to the pull of Argyle's gravity beneath them. A group of white and red robed Missionary-Chaplains of the Unfinished Book, stood in a cluster, listening intently to a respectable looking middle aged man, with a trimmed grey moustache, who was wearing a pressed, yet faded, AFFS officers uniform and had the Robinson Medal of Valour at his breast. An effete looking Hindu nobleman, dressed in gorgeous gold and blue silks, was deep in conversation with a scar faced rogue, dressed in clean, yet rather ragged, Tech overalls, and who had a strange little creature perched upon his shoulder, that resembled a blue feathered lizard with goggling great amber eyes, and which barked softly every now and then.
     Well, it was not your every day Court crowd that was for sure, I reflected, and it was just then, the door at the far end of the conference room opened and Hanse strode in. The conversation stopped and they all began to move towards the two rows of seats nearer the end of the room. I was debating whether to take a seat myself, or perhaps to scoot off to the kitchens and get some brunch whistled up, when I spotted the most lovely female posterior I'd laid eyes upon since leaving sweet Natasha back on Le Blanc.
     The owner of that diverting rear end was tall, svelte, and graceful, as she glided through the crowd, following a large dark suited man down the central aisle of the two banks of chairs. She was wearing a black shirt and fatigue trousers, black MechWarrior boots, and  had her dark red hair worn in a pony tail down her back. It was as I took in that hair I was struck by a sense of familiarity, and as I struggled to place her she turned and swept me with a blank stare.
     "Paula ... ?" I gasped aloud in stunned recognition.           
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #27 on: 18 February 2011, 16:46:54 »
24

     It was one of those moments where it takes a minute or two for your brain to catch up with your eyes and as Paula simply sat down in her seat, giving no indication she'd recognised me, I was left the only person standing up, save for Hanse at the other end of the long, wood lined, room. He cleared his throat, and I realised he was staring at me pointedly, causing some of the seated audience to crane around in their seats too.
     "Perhaps you could follow me Sir?" I heard a quiet, respectful, voice say at my side and with a start of realisation, at the show I was making of myself, I turned to find young Bertie Ekkart stood there; Hanse's new ADC, whom I'd met a few months back before being sent to Le Blanc. He quietly ushered me to follow him out the back of the room.
    "Oh, of course Bertie old chap." I stuttered, and hurried after him, to hear Hanse begin his speech behind me, and I half listened to it as I was led off, until we were out of earshot at least.
    "Pioneers of our New Frontier," Hanse began in his powerful voice. "It is with a great sense of personal pleasure that I welcome you all here, to this my home on Argyle. Ten long and eventful years have passed since our great shared endeavour began. Ten years of discovery, wonder, heroism, and yes ... let's not forget ... profit." There was the murmur of appreciative laughter as I was then shown through into Hanse's comfortable personal study, and young Bertie closed the door behind him.
     Hanse's study was a pleasant room, with a large polished redwood desk at one end, in front of a tall bookcase, and a table and four stuffed leather armchairs at the other end, sat before a large picture window that afforded a grand view out over a green countryside of dry stone walled fields, above which flocks of white birds wheeled in a blue sky.
     "Nice to see you again Sir." Bertie smiled faintly while saluting me politely. He was one of your  clean limbed, empty headed, go-getting fast-track junior Leftenants, all floppy blonde hair, stiff neck, well starched dress blues, and inbred good manners. It would have been easy to underestimate him though, for I'd known plenty of other eager yet useless seeming young blades before, aristocratic lads just out of Academy who looked like they wouldn't have the strength or spirit to pull the wings off a fly, and yet in reality I've found all too many of 'em wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet in your belly, if they thought it'd get them a rung further up the career ladder.
     "Hallo Bertie." I replied, slipping into my hearty Dashing Darius mode. "I see cousin Hanse has still got you fetching and carrying for him then?"
     "Just so, Sir." He smiled thinly, then stood at ease by the door, while I cheekily slid down into the chair behind Hanse's desk. "His Highness will be along first break he gets Sir, and he asked me to make you comfortable here until then. Can I get you anything? A drink? Smoke?" Well it was a bit early in the day I suppose, but seeing Paula Stilson had shaken me some, so I asked for a snort of whiskey, which he dutifully poured and brought over to me.
     "Will there be anything else Sir?" He asked, beginning to sound a little like an overly obsequious waiter.
     "I'm fine Bertie, but stay a moment old chap. Now see here, the thing is I've walked into this Conference business unexpected like, and well what's it all about? I mean I know Hanse had that strange brain storm some time back, where he wanted to find treasure out in the Periphery or some such, but surely that ain't still going on?"
     "Indeed yes Sir." Bertie replied. "I'm no expert, but I understand there are numerous Explorer Teams combing the Periphery beyond our border as we speak. The First Prince may not get the time he'd like to devote to the project personally, what with all his other responsibilities, but he makes a point of having all Explorer Team reports forwarded to him directly."
     "Jesus and Jerome! You don't say?" I murmured into my drink, thinking 'what a waste of bloody time'. Then, narrowing my eyes a tad, I shot a quick slantendicular look at Ekkart. "Tell me Bertie, did you happen to notice the gal in black back there?"
     He visibly jumped a little in surprised guilt, hanging his head and flushing red, like an overgrown school prefect who'd been caught contemplating a spot of bumfoolery with the underclassmen. "Well ... ahh ... that is ... yes, rather."
     "Heh heh, thought so, hard to miss her ain't it you young weasel." I grinned at him, and winked broadly, making him blush all the more. "So you'll have found out all about her I'd imagine?" I added, causing him to think a bit, then he couldn't help himself, and nodded in excitement.
     "She's called Paula Stilson Sir."
     Well I'd been sure it was her anyway, but I'd wanted to have it confirmed by someone else just to be one hundred percent certain.
     "Word is she was a MechWarrior in a Crucis March Militia Regiment, but that she came under suspicion of spying for the Snakes, nothing proven of course, or she'd never have been allowed in here, but nevertheless she threw in her papers.
     Apparently she's now working freelance as a mercenary, and is here as bodyguard to one of the businessmen, a Mister Bloom."
     So, I mused, my black propaganda against Paula was still causing her problems it seemed, to the extent she was no longer even in the AFFS. Thank Christ she hadn't appeared to recognise me, or she might have made one hell of a nasty scene. I'd just have to get this report to Hanse done quick as possible, then hightail it back for New Avalon a-sap.
     "I also heard," Bertie continued, lowering his voice and even glancing over his shoulder. "That she's insatiable in the sack, and she paints a heart on her 'Mech for every lover she takes." He leered at the very thought, and I shuddered at the sudden memories of New Ivaarsen that brought flooding back to me; the wind screaming like banshees in the night, that row I had with Paula about bloody Arlin Stuart, and her punching me ... 'It's to represent our love Darius.'.
     "Are you all right Sir? You looked pale all of a sudden there." Bertie asked, his face a picture of concern, and I tried to shrug away the queasy chill that was making my flesh crawl, a strange unpleasant feeling that Paula being here was not just awkward for me, but was truly dangerous in some way I didn't yet understand. I gulped down the entire measure of whiskey, then gasped out. "No, no. I'm fine Bertie, just an old wound playing me up I think."
     Seeing that Bertie was still squinting at me with obvious concern, I passed him my tumbler and asked for another splosh of Hanse's Northwind nectar, then changed the subject and spent the next hour or two discussing stuff and nothing; such as the woeful state of the New Avalon first eleven, whether that lucky blighter Delvalle would this year manage to hold onto the Open Class crown which had dropped into his lap when Noton retired, and the latest hot gossip from the capital, which mainly centred around how one of my old girlfriends, Countess Nelitha Green-Davion, was now being called 'the Whip Minister' behind her back, since being given the dirty job of running the hopelessly inefficient Ministry of Administrative Services by Hanse a month or two before. It seemed, according to Ekkart at least, who was as bad for tittle-tattle it seemed as any Orienteen courtier, that the delicate and fragrant Nelitha I knew, had been wielding her new ministerial baton like it was a cat-o'-nine-tails, and was carving a swathe through the time servers, place fillers, and wastrels that largely peopled her ministry.
     It was as I was maliciously telling young Bertie a judiciously edited version of how I'd dated Lady Nelitha, and had implied that I split up with her because I'd found her too 'vigorous' in private, so perhaps her new nickname was more apt than people knew, that Happy Hanse came bowling in.
     "You wouldn't believe it Bertie me lad," I was saying just as the door suddenly flew open. "A pure terror under the sheets Nelitha is, I've wrestled ki-rians that were tamer -" Well Hanse's face went black, clearly indicating he'd heard enough for me to be in trouble, and poor Bertie jumped up in fright out of the armchair he'd pulled up, coming to attention like a petrified jack in the box.
     "Darius ..." Hanse snarled, striding in like Henry the Eighth, his hands placed upon his hips, his back rigid, his face ruddy cheeked and glazed with a faint sheen of sweat, presumably from the effort of speachifying for so long. Those dead-lights of his chilled me, seeming to strip away my armour of deceit as they often did. I gulped and followed Berties lead, leaping up and snapping off a salute.
     "Your Highness." I croaked in helpless terror.
     "That'll be all thank you Leftenant." Hanse barked at Bertie, who gratefully scarpered out the room. "Now then Darius, if you'd get out from behind my desk, I'd like you to take me through precisely what happened on Le Blanc. And Darius ... don't leave anything out."
     There followed a tense hour or so, as I told Hanse the story of my failed mission to flip Kerensky and her band back to our side, leaving out the bits which reflected badly upon myself of course. I also made sure to dirty Hasek-bloody-Davion as best I could, which wasn't difficult for it had been his uninvited butting into the whole thing, that had ruined the plan and caused the fighting which had completely destroyed a palace belonging to one of the local merc-barons, and even damaged the outskirts of Port Paix. As much as I dared, while under the baleful glare of my hateful cousin, I also emphasised my own efforts in the whole bungled affair, and stressed that if Hasek-Davion hadn't been there I might have had more success.
     By the time I wrapped up I was positively trembling and stammering, for Hanse had been his usual cold fish self throughout; watching, listening, but saying nothing. For a long moment he remained silent, then simply nodded with a grunt.
     "Very well Darius, it seems on this occasion at least you are more or less free from any blame." Even back then, shaking in my boots as I was, I felt aggrieved at that, 'more or less' indeed! The ungrateful swine. But I pasted a rueful half grin upon my mush, and shrugged.
     "I just wish I'd managed to take down that murdering thug, The Bounty Hunter, I had him in my sights at the end of that battle, but the Black Widow cut across my line of vision inadvertently I think, allowing the ugly faced bastard to escape." I said, and Hanse scowled.
     "Don't over do it Darius." He muttered, staring idly down at his fingertips, then suddenly he looked sharply back up at me. "Hang on ... The Bounty Hunter ... ugly faced? You mean you saw him without his helmet on? Good lord man, out with it ... what did he look like, damn it?"
     So, inwardly chuckling at having finally won Hanse's rapt attention and grudgingly respectful interest, I told him that last, frankly incredible, part of the story. Leaving him open mouthed in surprise and perhaps disbelief, before with a shake of his head, he whistled softly.
     "Darius, if I were you, I'd keep that to myself. For no one would believe it, and people would probably think you either mad or a liar." Which was good advice, and I have by and large heeded it.
     "Well then Your Highness, I suppose I should be heading back to New Avalon now?" I asked diffidently, and Hanse nodded.
     "Yes indeed. Though you can stay on here for a few days if you wish, and accompany us when we leave at the end of the week. An old Periphery hand like yourself might find this conference interesting." He even smiled at me, but I wanted to be nowhere near La Stilson if I could help it.
     "Ahh, my time over the edge was all on the other side of the Sphere Sire, and you'll forgive me but the memories are pretty ill. Pirates, wild beasts, tyrannical rulers, maniac religious sects, pestilential plagues, well it ain't the sort of stuff you'd be wanting your 'pioneers' hearing I dare say." Hanse blanched a little, staring at me in that puzzled way he sometimes did, perhaps trying to weigh me up. I wonder sometimes what he truly thought of me, for he knew my faults probably better than anyone, yet also knew I'd survived and witnessed more war, battles, horrors, and travails than even the bravest and most widely travelled AFFS veterans. I must have been a niggling wonder to him I suppose. A coward and a liar, but also a popular hero, a deuced successful soldier, and a seemingly efficient sometime secret agent to use in his schemes. Well whatever, eventually he nodded, and flicked his head in a dismissive gesture. So, eager to be gone I hurried to the door, and was on my way out, when he suddenly spoke up again.
     "Oh and Darius, just one more thing." I cringed, freezing in the moment of leaving, what now? "If I ever hear you slandering one of my ministers again, I'll have you posted somewhere so remote, so barren, so empty of life, the only thing you'll have to gossip about with yourself will be exactly how many years I'm going to leave you there. Am I clear?"
     "As crystal Sire." I gasped in pure horror, closing the study door as quickly as I could. When Hanse Davion threatened you, you'd better believe he meant it, and I was in a proper funk as I hurried back down the long corridor, and made for the main staircase, meaning to pack my bags and be off as quickly as possible. So it was I absolutely screamed and jumped several feet into the air when, as I was approaching the stairs, someone slammed a bleeding great claw-like metal hand heavily down upon my shoulder.

* * *
   
     "Oh I'm most dreadfully sorry old chap. Did I startle you there?" Came a deep Robinsonian accented voice, as I desperately tried to calm my nerves, and brush away any trace of the jumpy terror I'd just displayed.
     Turning, I meant to give whoever this was a piece of my mind for laying his filthy great lump of scrap metal upon me, however I simmered down a tad when I found him to be a giant of a man, who towered over me by a good head, and whose body was perhaps twice as wide as mine. The oversized seeming steel hand was a primitive looking thing, with three great jointed fingers, and a thumb, and was spotted and pitted with red-orange flecks of rust, like freckles. His ravaged face was terribly scarred across it's left side, the skin puckered and pink, and he wore what seemed to be an enormous black pearl in the red socket where his left eye used to be. A ragged black beard streaked with grey covered his jaw and chin like the sad remnants of an ageing lion's mane, and his wide mouth was split into a cheery grin, which revealed false teeth, which he had the disconcerting habit of jiggling loosely with his tongue. He was wearing a moth eaten black business suit, with a red sash bound across his ample belly, and all in all he looked like something out of a nightmare, or a horror vid. With a start I realised stood, almost blocked from view in his shadow, was none other than Paula Stilson. She smiled innocently at me, and I struggled to find something to say.
     "Ah ... well ... yes you did rather. Errm, hello there Paula old stick."       
     "Hello Dee, nice to see you again." She purred and continued smiling at me, her face as inscrutable as that of a Capellan bank manager.
     "Well, allow me to introduce myself," Paula's towering employer said. "I am Mordechai Bloom, CEO of Bloom Brothers Interstellar of Robinson, and I am very pleased to meet you; the famous Captain Darius Davion, KFS." He proclaimed, then with his good paw grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously, beaming his mad grin at me the whole time.
     "I understand you're old ... ah friends ... with my bodyguard Ms Stilson here?" I nodded mutely, wondering what the bitch had told him which could explain why he seemed so keen to buttonhole me. "Yes of course," He continued, ignoring my silence. "Ms Stilson advised me you and she were ... in love once, for which I envy you." He leered leaning in towards me, so close I could smell his faint, musky, stink.
     "Her eyes as stars of twilight fair;
     Like twilight's, too, her dusky hair
... eh?" He hissed at me, lewdly winking his one eye several times.
     "Ah quite ... Shakespeare?" I asked, astounded that this bull of a man could even read.
     "Never!" He suddenly bellowed at me however, with such force it's a wonder his teeth didn't fly out. "What! That men such as we would ever prate the cheap, populist, daubings of the so-called Bard! A man so shoddy of morals ... a pederast! A homosexual!
     No Sir, I am a student of the mighty Wordsworth! Wordsworth I say. The poet of the ages, who truly filled his paper with the breathings of his heart." Appalled at his sudden strident anger, I tried desperately to pull away from the awful scene this great oaf seemed to be set upon creating, however he still held me fast in the vice-like grip of that claw of his. Thankfully though, seeing my expression of shock, he lowered his voice and loosened his hold upon me some.
     "Forgive me Captain. I have two passions in my life these days, the work of the great Poet Laureate, and the exploration of our Periphery regions, and I am prone to lose myself in them, you must forgive me." I stammered out an acceptance of his apology, such as it was, and made again to head for the stairs, but he stopped me with another painful squeeze of his claw.
     "Ah, if I might take up a moment of your time Captain?" He didn't wait for me to reply, before carrying on. "Paula has been telling me of your happy history with her, and suggested that we might be able to make an offer to a heroic man of action such as your good self.
     You see we are due to set off on a voyage of discovery, aboard my JumpShip the Daffodil, very shortly, but the funding necessary to provision our trip, which may very well last some time, is ever a problem. Now, if a man with your famous name were to be with us, I am certain such financial support would quickly materialise by the time we reached the frontier.
     From your point of view, you would have the good fortune to be part of one of the great quests of our time, and would enjoy an unprecedented challenge to your vaunted and famous skills.
     Not to mention of course," He lowered his voice again, and patted me on the shoulder at this point. "The chance to renew your ... aquaintence ... with the lovely Paula here.
     So then, what do you say Captain?" 
     Jerome H Blake! The very idea made me break out into a cold sweat; what? Accompany Paula, who surely hated my guts, and this broken down mad man, out into the Stellar Incognita of the Core to Rimward Periphery? Why I'd sooner dress up as a loose woman and join a Canopian Pleasure Circus that was about to begin a six month tour of a Liaoist prison moon!
     "Oh I don't think that will be possible Mr Bloom, I'm afraid what with Kurita's hired killers running wild along our border at the moment, I rather fancy I'll be badgering my cousin the Prince to let me get back over that way as soon as possible, so I can go 'Wolf hunting' so to speak." I grinned in what I hoped was a charming manner, before adding. "Also, I have to admit, I rather thought the Fed Suns Periphery was a bit ... well ... bare of life or value?" At which the hulking monster of a man snorted with exasperated frustration, sounding like a raxx with a headache.
     "Tosh! Captain Davion, you don't understand the opportunity here.
     Why people keep telling me our stretch of the Periphery is empty. Hah!" Then a wistful look fell across his ruined features and his eyes became almost opaque, as he began to spout more doggerel verse.
     "Look for the stars, you'll say that there are none;
     Look up a second time, and, one by one,
     You mark them twinkling out with silvery light,
     And wonder how they could elude the sight
!
     Old Wordsworth could have been writing of our situation now I tell you, for the Outer Sphere region particularly is a positive treasure trove of undiscovered wealth, just waiting for men of vision to arrive and collect it. Nowhere else in this Galaxy holds so many lost, once thriving, yet now untouched worlds.
     Did you know for example, that though today the Outworlds Alliance consists of some thirty eight inhabited worlds, covering an area of space roughly fifty five parsecs in diameter, back before the end of the Star League, it counted up to one hundred and fifty inhabited planets and covered an area four times the size of it's present borders?"
     "Ah yes." I replied, unimpressed by his rhetoric, for I'd always heard the Outworlds was a dead and alive hole of a place, inhabited by inbred yokels for the most part, who lived bleak lives of agrarian squalor and practised tawdry and incestuous polygamous marriages. "But that's only because most of their colonies failed without the League there to prop 'em up, and besides the Kuritans and ourselves swallowed up a load of their planets too didn't we?" I added, remembering vaguely a history lesson I'd once had upon the subject.
     Bloom was anything but cowed by my scepticism however, for he began pacing, and jabbing his rusty metal fist in the air to punctuate each point he made, his voice becoming hectoring as he held forth on what was clearly a favourite subject of his.
     "NO! A common misconception Captain! I have studied the charts, spoken with the inhabitants of those Draconis March worlds which were once, generations back, Alliance planets, and I have delved through computer archives till my very fingertips bled.
     To take your points in turn; Firstly, though the Outworlds government did organise the evacuation of some outlying systems over the last couple of hundred years, far more planets simply fell out of their control due to political division between the individual worlds in question and the Avellar government, or were lost through the complete breakdown of the HPG communications net in that area of space.
     Secondly, taken as a whole, of the one hundred and ten or so planets the Outworlds has 'lost' since it's height, no more than fifteen to twenty were swallowed, as you put it, by the Combine and our own nation.
     So, accepting even a third of the difference were evacuated, which I'm not sure I do, that still leaves perhaps as many as sixty lost worlds in the Outer Sphere, beyond the borders of today's Alliance, that were still inhabited when last they were visited or communicated with.
     Sixty. Even if half of those have since been abandoned, or depopulated by other causes, even then, you would still be looking at about the number of inhabited worlds presently occupied by the Magistracy of Canopus.
     What d'you say to that eh?" He didn't pause to let me answer before barrelling along at top speed still.
     "Imagine! The wealth of thirty odd worlds, their markets and resources untapped for centuries, just waiting for the right men to come along. We could open up an entirely new area of galactic trade. We could expand the Federated Suns out there, sweeping up the rich resources and valuable peoples the Outworlds did not have the strength, or will, to hold on to. It would be the crowning glory of Hanse's reign, the greatest achievement of any First Prince since the First Succession War. And we would be the men who achieved it ... imagine ... the rewards would be enormous.
     But most of all, remember Captain;
    What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out!"
     I stared at Bloom, doing my best to keep from laughing in his face, if he thought I was going to let vague promises of trade possibilities, or talk of ephemeral rich lost worlds that might exist beyond our borders, sway me into joining his suicidal little adventure then he had another thing coming. I even felt very relaxed about the whole affair at the time, for regardless that all this New Frontier nonsense was Hanse's pet pastime, I was after all was said and done a serving AFFS officer, I was meant to be fighting the enemies of our nation, not chasing dreams of treasure and lost civilisations. Whatever this kook said or did, he couldn't force me into signing on with him, to give him the credibility and publicity he clearly needed, and no one would expect me to leave my duties by doing so. For once it was quite right and proper for me to just turn down the poisoned chalice I was being offered.
     "Hmm, well all very interesting stuff old chap, but still and all I'm going to have to say no. My men need me do y'see, especially if we get shipped to the Kuritan Front again soon, as I hope and expect, and I ain't the kind of chap who'd leave 'em to it ... even though I must confess, deep down I might relish a spot of free wheeling, swash buckling, treasure hunting out in the howling wastes.
     But I'm afraid it's not on. For it would be selfish of me. So, I won't waste any more of your time. Good luck to you both, and bright stars." Ignoring Bloom's comically crushed expression of disappointment, I finished by slapping the poor mad fool's arm, nodded politely to Paula, and then before they could start pestering me in a futile effort to talk me round, I hurried away and went stalking off after a pretty little blonde maid, whom I'd noticed giving me the eye while Bloom had been whittering on.
     While guiding the maid into my room, 'to help me turn down the bed', an hour or so later, it struck me I no longer felt that strange presentment of doom, which had fallen over me since bumping into Paula again. Well, I supposed successfully knocking back Bloom's ridiculous offer to take me along with him into hell, had set my jangled nerves straight again. I was after all safely ensconced within the heart of the Summer Palace and would soon be leaving, Hanse had accepted my truthful claim that Hasek-Davion had caused the failure of his Proposal to win Natasha over to our side, though it was hard to tell Paula didn't appear to harbour me a grudge, and bearing in mind her reputation it even occurred she must have been putting it about herself quite a bit, so had perhaps even forgiven me.
     D'you know I was so relaxed by the time that blonde maid collapsed across me and sighed in a most flattering state of blissful swoon, I was even lying there wondering, while I caught my breath, whether it was worth the risk of hanging about for a day or so, and sounding Paula out about the chances of a quickie before she shot off into the Black for good. She was a deuced fetching piece of stuff after all, and by Jerome back on New Ivaarsen she could really pound the mattress I recalled fondly. Perhaps enough stars had passed under the sail by now, and if she was as randy a trollop as I guessed she might be these days, judging by young Ekkart's lecherous gossip, then it meant I'd been the chap who first opened that well spring ... so it seemed only fitting I should have another duck in it again, for old times sake. Which was all lunacy of course, but there you go. Self delusion, tethered to an inflated ego, and a false sense of security are terrible things, and you'd think I would have been through enough by then to know nowhere is totally safe, and one's worst foes are those who smile at you before they drive the knife in.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #28 on: 18 February 2011, 17:16:01 »
25

     As my plump breasted little maid was pulling on her clothes there came a knock at the door, which caused her to panic and more hastily finish arranging herself.
     "Who is it?" I called idly out from my messy bed, thinking to myself that if it was that bloody Cleery I'd rub his nose in the fact I'd just tupped one of his staff before I'd even had dinner.
     "It's Paula, Dee." Came the reply however, and I think I jumped up in surprise. Wondering quickly how best to deal with the maid.
     "Hang about." I cried, while scrabbling around to find my clothes, then quickly pulling them on, while gesturing at the maid to tidy the bedding.
     "Right then," I declared, wagging my finger sternly at the prettily blushing maid, while opening the door to Paula. "So in future be sure you mind your responsibilities young lady, and clean these rooms with more vim and vigour. The dust in here was shocking.
     Oh hi Paula." I smiled, waving my maid off and away, and Paula in. "I'm sorry about the state of this room, that blasted tick Cleery has it in for me I'm sure."
     Paula had a strangely arch look to her as she glided past me, her eyes watching the maid go with a touch of amusement. She was still wearing her figure hugging black shirt, trousers and boots, but her dark auburn hair was loose, creating a halo about her strikingly beautiful face, which nudged into my mind pleasant memories of the early days of our time together on New Ivaarsen. Gads but I was still powerfully attracted to her, she had that same pretty little, proudly uplifted, chin, those soft pillow lips, and the deep almost golden almond shaped eyes, which I realised were watching me calmly while I ogled her.
     "Ah, so Paula," I was about to ask her how she had been, but realised that would almost certainly open a most smelly can of worms, so I tried a different tack. "How in the Sphere did you get mixed up with that fanatic Bloom? He seems madder than a Capellan who's been dropped on his head from a great height?"
     "Mordechai's a great man, in his own way." She replied and I snorted in scepticism, but she went on. "No really Dee, many men of vision are driven by their obsessions, and would never have succeeded in their aims if they hadn't been." She then absolutely set about trying to talk me into joining them. She seemed strangely subdued the whole time though, and distant somehow, and I suspected Bloom had perhaps ordered her against her will to come up and put the glad hand on me so to speak. Well it would take more than that to get me to change my mind, but still I mused, it wouldn't hurt to try my arm a little, while we were alone, and when she paused after rhapsodising about the riches of some arse end rock out yonder I leapt in.
     "Y'know Paula, I'm glad you came up here, for I've been feeling hard about not pitching in to help you when that rumour got about, from Duke Stephen back on NI." I lied easily, and she blinked those gorgeous big eyes at me, but said nothing. "So, see here, how about we put all the bad blood and crossed words between us aside. Well, you're going to be off and away at the end of the week, and I'll be back with my Regiment on New Avalon, and ... let's be blunt my dear, we might never see each other again." I strained myself to look earnest, and even reached out and held her limp hand in both of mine.
     "What are you saying?" She said in a soft, though again odd sounding, voice.
     "Well, I've heard one or two whispers today, and I gather you're a bit of a ... player these days. Which is fine by me, I prefer gals who know what they want, if I'm honest." I think I even leered at her, trying to reassure the silly goose I meant her only well now.
     "If you're honest ... ?" She said, almost in what sounded like bewildered amazement.
     "Exactly. There you go old girl. We're both on the same page now. No need for all that silly roses and poems business we went through last time eh?" I charged along, full of thoughtless confidence, stroking her paw. "Truth be told, that was probably what made it all go so nasty I suppose. But we've no worries on that front now, do we? I mean, we can both have our fun, and wave a friendly goodbye at the end of the week, no harm no foul, eh? So, how about it then?" I grinned, pretty sure she'd go for it, but really not that worried if she didn't. Well, I quickly realised I'd gone wrong somewhere, for she whipped her hand back from mine like it had been in a flame, and then drew away from me, shaking her head.
     "God ... God ..." She gasped almost to herself, then a look of the purest murderous rage filled her angelic face, and for a moment I thought she was going to attack me. "You really are the dirtiest, lowest, most despicable, piece of -"
     "I say!" I cried in protest, while she continued her litany of insults. "You came in here, playing the tease, what did you expect a chap to think?"
     At that she suddenly stopped in mid flow, and call it coward's radar, or my patented sixth sense, but I swear I somehow knew the day was about to take a radical turn for the worse. She stared daggers at me, but was clearly considering something ... then spoke again, slowly and very clearly;     
     "Genji asked me to send you his regards." She said, a false bitter smile fixed in place like it was painted on. Her words hit me with all the force of a wrecking ball, Genji? Genji ... Genji! Bloody hellfire, I'd only known one Genji in my life, but how in the Sphere did Paula Stilson know his name? A member of that same Kuritan platoon with whom I'd served on New Ivaarsen, and who had personally witnessed me merrily abusing Fed Suns citizens like I was a cross between Stefan Amaris and Jinjiro Kurita ... oh Christ, and of course, there was also the small matter of him knowing I'd been commended specifically for murdering hearty Hal Larson, C.O. of the now famous submarine Bowfin. A murder Genji had been present at, along with the rest of them.
     Well, I did my level best, under the circumstances, to keep my face blank and my voice clear of any quaver, as I glanced at her off hand. "Who?" However her smile was spreading and my skin prickled in sheer horror at the demonic glee blazing in her eyes.
     "Oh come along now Dee, you must remember good ol' Genji. He was your best mate after all." She crowed in a sickeningly mocking voice, and I felt like a great weight was pressing harder and harder down upon my chest, to the extent I was having trouble breathing. "Let me try to remind you, the last time you saw him was in Jommson, you'd just span him a ****** and bull story about how you were in fact an agent of the Kuritan O5P, on a special mission. He bought it, and along with Ray Hammond, Ivan Karpachenko, and Ryan Mashindo, he got you out of that cell under the old church, and then away from Jommson itself.
     Still don't remember?
     No? Ah I know, you surely recall that day you first met 'em, on the coast east of Bormen, when you shot Henry Larson, once through the throat, and then three more times into his body while he was down, in order I'd guess to better convince them you were on their side?"
     Well, there it was, she knew. I sat there staring at her, for once utterly unable to speak, or even really think, as she recited my dark secrets from New Ivaarsen, as if she'd been there herself observing them. I believe I actually began crying silently, the tears perhaps welling up within me at finally, after all the years of successful dissembling, having been caught in one of my lies, and what a lie. The worst of them all probably. Certainly one of the few I ever felt honestly guilty about, for I'd had nothing against Hal personally, and I'd certainly not liked having to do him in. It was a terrible feeling being caught, and I slumped down onto the bed, my breath coming in sobbing gasps, cold sweat breaking out across my body, my legs feeling like rubber, and I stammered stupidly; "H-How?"
     Paula pulled over a chair, and sat down upon it before me, leaning forward a little and placing her hands upon her knees, clearly savouring my obvious bowel-loosening guilt.
     "Very well Dee, now I have your complete attention I shall tell you the story, then we shall come to an arrangement about what we are going to have to do, in order to keep all this nasty business strictly between ourselves.
     If you remember, when you left New Ivaarsen in '21 you had successfully ruined my name and reputation. Oh, never fear Dee, I found out it was all down to you, and precisely how you did it too, over time, and I must say it was a terrible shock to find out how quickly and completely a person's standing, career, and life, can be destroyed by a few choice words." She grinned all the more at that, and I nearly threw up, drawing myself away from this hideous harpy that seemed to know my murkiest depths.
     "Anyway, suffice to say my position at that time in the Seventh Crucis, my dream posting by the way, was untenable, and I was ever so nicely asked to request a transfer. Which I did without protest. After several weeks of trying to find another decent unit that would take me, I finally grudgingly accepted a post in the Kestrel Crucis March Militia, a  rear lines no hope 'Mech Regiment, that were so desperate for reasonable MechWarriors they were even prepared to ignore the fact that I was widely, if completely unjustly, suspected of spying for the Kuritans. Which should give you an idea of just how dire a unit they were.
     While I was waiting on New Ivaarsen for the offer of a posting to turn up, and then transport to get me off the planet and to Kestrel, I was attached to all the dirty jobs that were then going on across that war scarred world, including sometimes working with the New Ivie Ugly-PUG units that were guarding the few hundred Snake prisoners that we'd  taken during the invasion." She leaned back, pausing to savour my look of dawning comprehension, as I remembered when last I'd heard of her, amongst other grotty chores, she'd been guarding POWs. "Yes Dee, I see you're beginning to catch up with me, I spent many a windy night walking my 'Mech, which I named Heartbreaker after you by the way, in order that I never forgot what you did to me, around the perimeter of spartan POW camps, always remembering to myself how it was you who'd reduced me to this.
     The DCMS prisoners were going to be shipped offworld for labour camps and de-Kuritanisation on Crucis March worlds far from the border, but for the time being they were trapped on New Ivaarsen as much as I was. I suppose being the only MechWarrior involved in guarding them, and you'll agree an attractive woman as well, amongst a bunch of boring New Ivie leatherskins, meant that I quickly became something of a celebrity to the prisoners. Many of whom, once past the typically Kuritan initial 'I must commit suicide as soon as possible' phase, were quite eager to serve their time as prisoners, become politically neutralised, and then perhaps begin new lives somewhere in the Fed Suns interior. Thus they would try to talk to me through the wire fences when I was out of my 'Mech, some just to flirt with a pretty girl I guess, others trying to find out what was going to happen to them.
     Usually I'd just ignore them, after all the last thing my reputation needed was more rumours that I was a Snake lover, however there was one prisoner who caught my eye. Oh not in a romantic sense, but because he seemed to be a bit of an outcast, who was at odds with a lot of the harder line Kuritist thugs he was trapped amidst. He often had bruises from beatings, and had been in the camp hospital twice from stabbings, the second of which had nearly killed him. Just a little curious, I made some discreet enquiries and learnt that this soldier, one Private Genjichiro Sado, had been a prisoner of the Kuritan military police at the time the enemy unit he was travelling with was hit by 'Mechs of the Seventh Crucis. Almost all of the rest of the unit, MPs, ISF goons, and infantry guards, were slaughtered, but young Genji was captured. Upon interrogation it was discovered Genji had been arrested and, along with a handful of other members of his Regiment, accused of aiding in the escape of a suspected Davionist spy from ISF captivity in the town of Jommson.
     Now, keeping in mind my thoughts were often lingering upon you love, this struck a cord, and it came to me that the only 'Davionist spy' I'd heard of, who'd escaped from the Snakes at Jommson ... was you. But hold, I thought to myself, that can't be so, for you fought your way out didn't you? You hadn't made any mention of being aided by Kuritan soldiers, and certainly not of then leaving those soldiers to a dire fate at the hands of the ISF. Well, this sounded to me like it needed to be looked into, for the good of this poor young ally of our realm, who was of course suffering at the hands of the nastier of his fellow Kuritan prisoners, as he was thought to be a Davionist traitor to the Dragon.
     So I sought out Genji, as quietly as I could, and largely through sleeping with a filthy local camp commandant, arranged to have him moved into a secure med-centre where he'd be safe from other prisoners, and then questioned him there thoroughly. And what a story he told ..." She grinned malignantly at me, while I struggled to keep from getting up and fleeing out the door of my room, just to get away from her.
     "Well you know it as well as I do, don't you Dee. How you, the so called bravest man in the AFFS, the Hero of Mallory's World, the Hector of Harrow's Sun, Knight of the Federated Suns, and Hanse's own beloved cousin, had in fact murdered a posthumously decorated New Ivaarsen Planetary Guard officer, Ensign Larson, in order to convince the Kuritan army you were one of them. Of how you then spent two weeks with them abusing, robbing, and looting from the honest people of that Federated Suns planet, and then only managed to escape by tricking your platoon mates into springing you from an ISF cell, and then leaving them to their certain deaths.
     It took some believing, even for someone who knew you like I did, but Genji was clearly telling the truth, as you may remember he's a transparently honest sort of man, and besides it was obvious to me he didn't actually know who he was really talking about like I did, also everything he told me matched up to what I could find out about your time 'behind enemy lines'; dates, places, and your description, even down to your mannerisms and voice. He still genuinely thought you were Paul Nomura y'know, 'an Inquiring Brother of the Order of the Five Pillars', a nice touch that by the way, but then I doubt there's a more practised and skilful liar than you in the entire Inner Sphere, is there darling?
     He insisted to me one night, that the reason you never baled him and his friends out of the hot water you'd got them into, had to be because you'd either been killed by our side before you could reach Warlord Samsonov, or the ISF 'traitors' you were working against had managed to get to you." Her gloating smile eased a little, and she looked at me in vague disgust.
     "I recall one chat he and I had, when he actually told me he didn't regret what he and the others had done in freeing you, because you were his friend. Pathetic, huh?" She looked down at me, cringing before her on the bed. "Do you want to know what happened to the others? No? Well I think you should know. Give you something to consider when you wear that medal the brass gave you for your 'heroic actions' on New Ivaarsen.
     This ISF stooge Akuda, he arrested Mashindo first, after the guard whom he'd been distracting reported him to Akuda once your rescue was discovered. Mashindo was then tortured to within an inch of his life, he apparently held out for two whole days, without giving up his friends. But even the bravest of us is only human, and besides his friendship with the others was no secret. They were all hauled in, and paraded in front of Mashindo's body hanging from a meat hook that had been inserted up his rear.
     Akuda then set about torturing the others, one at a time, while Mashindo still lived. Akuda used-" I will not force you, gentle reader, to read the full graphic detail of Akuda's inventive and hideous torture techniques, that Paula insisted upon my hearing, for it was beyond anything I ever want to think about. The ISF are particularly cruel to their own, and thanks to me my old buddies from the platoon were savagely punished to put it mildly.
     "Mashindo died soon after Akuda began on the others, young Hammond was next to go, though Akuda deliberately executed him in an attempt to convince Genji and Karpachenko to confess you had been a Davionist agent, and had recruited them as spies. Akuda hacked Hammond's head off with a samurai sword in front of them." I squeezed my eyes shut, seeing likeable Ray Hammond's tousled fair hair, in my mind, and the jet of blood.
     "Stop it Paula. For Blake's sake, stop it!" I wailed.
     "I expect they asked for it to stop too. Though they held on, as the hours dragged past, in the confident expectation you'd soon be there with the Warlord to rescue them. You wouldn't let them down. Not their friend." Her voice was flat now, savage. She was lashing me for all I'd done to her, and for all I'd done to Genji and the others. I'd forgotten them within minutes of leaving Jommson, and had never even wondered what became of them, and now I wished I'd never found out. They'd been Snake grunts, the enemy, but still and all, if nothing else, they'd also been my friends for a couple of weeks, well sort of.
     "Genji told me that the only reason he hadn't been killed at Jommson too, was that Akuda became fixated upon breaking Karpachenko's spirit. Genji tells me Karpachenko was a big man?" She asked, and I nodded sobbing, remembering the blonde Sverdlovski giant, that gentle seeming strong man who selflessly looked out for the younger lads in the platoon, and who'd carried me bodily in my early days with the unit.
     "Huh, well he survived four days worth of torture before he finally died, buying Genji's survival, for Akuda and his unit were forced to flee the advance of the Seventh Crucis, and Akuda was killed in a 'Mech raid during the Kuritan retreat, after which Genji was captured by the Seventh." Paula became silent, stood and walked to the window facing the stone wall, and gazed out of it for a while.
     "Well, after hearing Genji's story, I dug and dug, finding every piece of information about your time on New Ivaarsen, and put it all together. Henry Larson was posted as missing from the moment he went into the sea after you, the poor fool, and his body has never been found. However there is a grave at the point where the Kuritan convoy was ambushed, and the bodies of the Kuritan dead were bulldozed into a ditch, so I'd wager you pennies to D-Bills if that war grave was opened we'd find the body of Ensign Henry Larson, which could of course be confirmed from AFFS/PG dental and DNA records.
     After that, before I left, and with a lot of hard work, during which I had to kiss a lot of frogs, I managed to get Genji off New Ivaarsen, and he's begun a new life, with a new identity elsewhere. I didn't have the heart to tell him the truth about you. For if anyone's earnt some small delusions that will make his life easier, then it's Genji. However, I could produce him any time I want.
     I'm not sure why I didn't come after you straight away. I had my new career I suppose, and didn't want to rake up the past there and then, without giving it a go in the CMM. After than ended in similar fashion to my time with the Seventh Crucis, thanks to the vicious slanders that just wouldn't go away, I thought to make my fortune with Bloom. I didn't know you were going to be here, but it seems right that you are, for you've had this coming for a long time now, you slime, and I must say it feels good to finally share this moment with you." She sneered, and I fell at her feet, scrabbling at her legs and ankles with fingers that were shaking with panic.
     "Paula, please, please. I'll pay you anything you want, I'm rich remember. Please, say you won't tell anyone." Suddenly, in that instant her mood changed, the virulent loathing vanishing behind her mask of brittle civility again.
      "Dee, Dee, Dee ... calm yourself sweetheart." The filthy bitch cooed, still clearly loving her total victory over me, her voice assuming a revoltingly gentle tone, her hand reaching out to caress my tear streaked face. "There's nothing to worry about honey, just accept you're coming with Bloom and I on our little trip, announce as much to the First Prince and the rest of the conference, tomorrow by six in the evening, and I'm certain no one else need ever know this story." I stared at her in horror, baffled at why she wanted me on this suicide voyage they were about to set out upon.
     "Why? Why do you want me to come?" I blubbered.
     "Isn't it obvious?" She replied, all sweetness and light. "Because I miss you Dee. A romantic journey might be just the thing for us to patch up our differences."
     Well I wasn't so far gone into the wobbly panics that I missed the flicker of dangerous hatred still in her eyes, or the fact that she was lying through her perfect teeth. She no more wanted to renew our relationship than I did, and at that point I'd have sooner slept with Takashi Kurita's wife. No, she had another, far nastier, reason behind wanting me aboard the good ship Daffodil when it jumped into the unknown, but Conrad alone knew what it was.
     "I need time to think Paula." I managed to gasp, and she scowled, and then pinched my cheek hard and shook it.
     "Very well lover, but just you remember what I've said, only I know where Genji is, and if you don't make the announcement that you're joining us, in the role of Chief Military Advisor to Mister Bloom, by six tomorrow, then I shall be making an altogether more unpleasant speech, and shovels will soon be digging poor Henry Larson out of his grave.
      Are we clear? Good. Sweet dreams darling." And with that the evil tart kissed me almost tenderly on my lips. "Mmm, you always were the best Dee." She purred tauntingly, then slid away from me and out of the room, deliberately rolling her hips seductively, the evil, scheming trollop.

* * *

     Blake's Bouncing Bollocks, but this was as bad a fix as any I'd ever been in, and I paced that tiny box room for hours after she left, going over and over the situation in my head, from every angle that I could think of.
     After I'd managed to calm myself to only being white with terror, I first tried to reason with myself that no one would believe her. She was a suspected Kuritan agent after all. Why would anyone give any credence to a wild story she'd come up with, that was 'clearly' just designed to discredit a highly decorated and beloved Fed Suns hero? She'd be laughed into disgrace. Maybe even arrested again, for spreading sedition.
     And yet ... oh I had a rock solid reputation and name to be sure, but make no mistake I had plenty of enemies too. Enemies whose ears would certainly prick to hear a story that would not just ruin me, but if true might see me executed for treason and murder. Then there was Genji himself, and the evidence of Hal's dead body in it's shared grave, which if disinterred would show wounds backing Genji's story. Certainly many people would just dismiss the tale as a clever Kuritan plot to discredit me, but plenty more would wonder, and others would seize upon it as the truth and try to use it to bring me down.
     It would be a disaster. The Fed Suns and it's army, for all our vaunted decency and morals, thrived on gossip and word of mouth, and this story would pass across the distances between stars quicker than you could possibly imagine. Soon I'd be under an immense weight of suspicion, and as I was in fact guilty I did not relish the thought of having to defend myself. It would almost certainly mean the end of me, perhaps literally, and I was not about to risk that.
     On the other hand I certainly was not going to just roll over and do what Paula was trying to force me to. I'd been across that line between civilisation and barbarism, that marks the frontier between the Inner Sphere and the Periphery, twice before by then. The first time following the Marik Civil War, when I'd been forced through the manipulative vengeance of Janos Marik into signing on with that jumped up scrap-metal merchant Pedro Ellingsen, and had spent months bouncing around like Gulliver himself across the crazy, deadly dangerous, and frankly bizarre planets of the Marik Expanses. Then a year or so after that I'd been press ganged into Redjack Ryan's service and had spent a long, terrifying, time cutting a swathe across the Lyran Rift as part of the most savagely bloodthirsty pirate army seen in that region for generations. When I'd finally managed to escape Butte Hold, I'd sworn to myself that I would never again leave the Inner Sphere, and I meant to stick by that, for I was sure that Bloom's venture was doomed to failure; whether from starvation, disease, accident, piracy, slavers, or the hostility of the natives he meant to trade with. Whichever, I knew in my bones, if I went with 'em I was in for a nightmare to match any I'd ever known.
     So then, what other options did I have? By the early hours of the next morning I could only think of one ... I would have to kill Paula Stilson, in order to silence her, before six in the evening of that coming day.
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

Tokage

  • Master Sergeant
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Re: The Misadventures of Darius Davion #3 - Darius and the Heartbreaker
« Reply #29 on: 18 February 2011, 19:10:17 »
26

     After the fateful decision was actually made, it was still no easy thing to in fact see through. We were technically both guests, of a sort, of the First Prince of the Federated Suns, and being put up in a Royal Palace. Naturally I was not carrying any weapons, and besides if I had been, and had popped Paula with a laser pistol for example, the fact she had been deliberately murdered would have been patently obvious, an investigation would have promptly followed, and I would have been placing myself at grave risk of being found out. No, anything that would indicate foul play was out of the question.
     Which left me having to do in the troublesome bitch in some way which would pass as having been an accident.
     I recall sitting in that little room studying data on Argyle on my p-comp and coming up with the most ridiculously elaborate plots throughout the early hours of the morning; perhaps I could take Paula hunting in one of the planet's many game parks I thought, and 'accidentally' plug her with a crossbow bolt like William Rufus,  or maybe I could engineer her into a boat trip through the southern mangrove swamps and toss her into the carnivorous fronds of one of the infamous Randall's Rose trees, that were native to those swampy regions. Oh I came up with more complicated murder plots than even Sherlock Holmes ever had to cope with, but ultimately each was devised and dismissed in a matter of moments, usually due to the difficulty of plausibly getting Paula into the position where the plot could work. Knowing my true nature as she did, it would of course be pretty tough to convince her I was suddenly her friend again, and genuinely wanted to take her sight seeing about Hanse's pleasure planet.
     In the end, as with most things in life, I decided it would be best to keep this nasty business as simple as possible. The actual idea came to me as I was reading up on the Palace itself, and came across the legend that the place was haunted by the ghost of maid, who some centuries before had apparently plummeted from the roof, near the aircar pads, to her death. She'd been involved in a torrid affair with a nobleman, the little saucepot, and speculation ranged that it had either been an accident, suicide, or possibly murder.
     I set down my p-comp and mulled, a fall from the roof was deniable ... even if I was with her at the time. 'She seemed to slip.' I heard myself saying. 'I tried to reach her, but she was gone before I got there ... never forgive myself ... should have seen she was dangerously close to the edge ... she was a bit excited, seemed to think she was impressing me by larking about ... nice gal no matter what folk say ... damn shame ... knew her a bit, way back ... thankee kindly, a brandy would steady my nerves.' Yes ... it could work, so long as I played it right after the event.
     Now, I needed to get her up there. That would be the hardest part, I blithely thought to myself, how to do it?
     I was just considering that next step in my dastardly plan when there came a knock upon my door. Opening it up I found one of the Palace lackeys, a sullen looking young snotty who I took an immediate dislike to.
     "Yes? What is it you cretin?" I snapped at him, and he shoved a sealed brown envelope at me.
     "'Sfor ya." He mumbled, while masticating chewing gum. Conrad only knew where they were recruiting their menials from that year, if that dolt was anything to go by, and I clouted him hard about his ear for his insolence.
     "Who from?" I hissed, hitting him again for good measure. Well, a spot of bullying always does the trick to push one's own fears into place I find.
     "Ms Stilson Sir, Mr Bloom's bodyguard." He whined, about to blub by the look of it, and I became so nervous I felt compelled to turn him round forcibly by his shoulders, then boot him hard up his arse by way of a dismissal, before taking the envelope and slamming the door. Opening the thing I found a slicksheet with a note from Paula attached.
     'Darius - I've written tomorrow evening's speech for you. You might want to practise it.' Her note read and I looked down in horror at the dreadful sheet, almost afraid even to read it, but I forced myself, and it doubled my resolve that Paula had to die.
     The speech had clearly been carefully prepared, and was full of endorsements of the New Frontier Project in general, declarations that Hanse's hope for future wealth to be had from the Periphery was 'visionary' and 'tremendously exciting', that Bloom was destined for great success, which I was 'totally committed' to helping him achieve, and worst of all was a long and flowery summation which basically proclaimed that I vowed 'upon my honour' never to return without having first won significant gains for 'our great nation'. All of which, if the threat of Paula spilling the beans about my actions on New Ivaarsen hadn't been enough to keep me in line, would of course make it impossible for me to go over the side of the Tullip at the first safe space station we stopped at, and then disappear. If I gave that speech my reputation was bound to the success of Bloom's enterprise, and if I came slinking back sheepishly empty handed, with my tail between my legs ... well while it certainly wouldn't have been as bad as Paula blabbing that I was a murderer and a traitor to all and sundry, it would still have been deuced awkward.
     What? The great hero of the nation shown up as a humiliated loser for all to see? Believe me in the social circles I have moved in ever since Mallory's World, there's nothing that makes you persona-non-grata quite like conspicuous failure. The party invites would dry up, women would start ignoring my manly good looks, brother officers and cronies would begin to avoid me, and doubtless dear old Hanse would be coldly furious that I'd adversely affected the publics view of his pet project, and would probably quite unfairly devise some kind of hideous punishment to pay me back.
     So it was with a sense of increased determination that I tossed the slicksheet aside and set about beginning my preparations to ensure I'd never have to make that speech.

* * *

     It's actually not difficult to get up onto the roof of the Summer Palace, for there are stairs and an elevator that lead to the aircar landing pads up there, as well as to a long observation balcony set with sturdy railings from which you can gaze out into the hazy blue green distance, across the rolling hills, rivers and gardens of the enormous Palace grounds.
     I'd gone up there just after breakfast, and had quickly dismissed the thought of using the balcony, for the railings would have made getting Paula over the edge very tricky indeed. So it was I had clambered off the aircar pad, grateful that there was no one about that early in the day, and cautiously picked my way through the clusters of tall fluted and carved chimneys. There was still a knee high ornamental stone wall running along the front face of the main Palace block I noted, but that would do fine for my plan, in fact it might help trip the slut when it came to it. I peered briefly over the edge, enduring the dizzying view down some nine stories to the gravel and flower beds below, and noted the ominous leering gargoyles grinning out at regular intervals along the walls. White and grey doves picked their way along the guttering, and I grimly nodded to myself ... this would do.
     Turning, I went back and leant upon a chimney stack waiting for my prey. I had sent a message to Bloom himself, asking him to meet me up there, where we could speak privately, as 'upon consideration' I wished to discuss further his offer to me, of a role in his planned expedition. I knew y'see that a direct invite up there to Paula might have aroused her suspicions, but that she would positively jump to accompany Bloom out of curiosity and perhaps a little fear as to what I might say to her man mountain of an employer.
     Sure enough within a few minutes Bloom and Paula appeared from the lift to the aircar pad, they looked about without spotting me, half hidden as I was by the chimneys, until I called over to them and raised my hand in greeting.
     "Captain?" Bloom said as they made their way over to me, clearly both of them clearly bemused and baffled by my summons.
     I quickly apologised for the unusualness of our meeting place, stating that I never liked talking in the Palace, for I was certain everything said therein went straight to 'the nosey parkers at the MIIO', then began a prepared little speech to Bloom, rambling around the houses for some five minutes about how I'd been 'inspired' by his offer, that I had thought things over and might have changed my mind, and so on. During which time Paula was watching me closely and suspiciously, her back to the chimney opposite mine.
     Bloom was over the moon of course, he beamed and gurned his grizzled mug at me, clapping his good flipper against the artificial claw to hear me apparently signing on with his ludicrous flight.
     After those five minutes the next stage of my plan clicked into place. The message I'd sent anonymously to housekeeping, with orders for it to be opened and delivered to Mordechai Bloom 'on the air car pad', arrived in the hands of one of the Palace pages. The eager young lad spotted us quickly and dashed over waving the message.
     "Sir, Sir!" He called out excitedly, and Bloom turned to him and took the slicksheet. He read it quickly, his one eye flicking backwards and forwards across the page. "Hmph, it seems I'm summoned by the First Prince himself.
     Hail to the crown by Freedom shaped, what!
     So then, I must cut this meeting short. Darius I shall seek you out when I have spoken with the Prince." He cried and made to leave, with Paula following in his wake.
     "Mr Bloom." I said, doing my best to sound earnest and urgent. "Perhaps I can clarify some details about the expedition with Ms Stilson here, while you are about your business?"
     Bloom didn't hesitate, eager as he was to keep me on side, and nodded to Paula to stay with me, before steaming off with the page boy. It would take at least half an hour for him to get to speak with Hanse and find the message was either a hoax or some kind of mistake ... giving me all the time I needed.
     "What are you up to darling?" Paula said softly, watching me closely. I strived to stay calm, and shrugged.
     "I thought you wanted me to show an interest in Bloom's bloody plans?" I retorted, and then turned and walked away from her as if in disgust. I could feel her following behind me, as I gazed out, as if appreciating the stunning view, while the balmy breeze pulled at my hair.
     "I want you to give that speech." Her voice came at my shoulder, and my heart began to pound. We were mere inches from the knee high wall, the edge of the roof, and the hundred feet or so of the drop beyond. "All this is pointless," She continued. "Just give the speech, and you can butter up Mordechai later."
     I turned and looked her in the eyes, noting she pulled back a step in surprise at what I hoped seemed a passionate intensity in my stare.
     "Paula, I'll give the speech, never fear. But ... look, to tell you the truth I've been thinking that maybe you're right. It would be good for us to spend some time together ... I ... well dash it all, since that kiss last night, you're all I've been thinking about."
     "You have got to be kidding Dee." She snorted, laughing aloud. "What? You think you can charm me into letting you off the hook?"
     I slowly leant towards her, closer and closer. Ignoring her hard, bitter, gaze and the fact she neither moved towards me, or away from me.
     "What are you doin-mph-" I silenced her question, kissing her as gently as I could manage, while wanting to throw up the whole time, and putting my hands up to either side of her face. She froze, her lips not moving under mine, then for just a second I felt her respond. At which moment I clamped my hands through her hair onto her head and wrenched her bodily around and over towards the edge.
     I almost sent her straight out in that first moment, as I'd planned, but tough MechWarrior that she was she managed to keep her feet firmly on the flat rooftop, pushing back at me we both slammed into the nearest chimney stack with such force several loose and aged bricks fell away with a choking cloud of red dust. We then tore apart from each other and the most terrible scrummage ensued.
     It was touch and go which of us was going to go over, as I tried to bodily lift Paula and shove her out, while she squirmed, wrestled, and clawed at me like a Kigamboni leopard. Her face was snarling as she realised what I was about, her eyes widened with hatred and fury, her fingernails flailed. My God but it gives me the shivers just to remember, she had become bestial in her struggle with me, and spat and cursed in the most hideous shrieking voice.
     "Just die you bitch." I squawked in horror, using my heavier frame and strength to drive her towards the edge. At which moment she kneed me hard in the groin, doubling me up, then broke free and kicked me twice very quickly and solidly in my belly. The pain drove me away from her and then she was on me in seconds, sending me crashing onto my back with such force my breath was driven from my lungs and a jarring pain caused me to scream. She punched me, then locked her hands around my throat and began to squeeze, her face red, her eyes mad.
     "Bastard!" She screeched over and over at me. I was dizzy, my back had gone numb, stars flickered in my eyes, and for a moment I thought I was a goner. That she would kill me there, on the roof of the Summer Palace, and that would be the epithet of a life of lying, cheating, double dealing, cowardice, womanising, boozing, bullying those weaker than I, and general good old fashioned vicious fun ... fitting perhaps you might say, for me to be strangled by one of my scorned victims. Thankfully my weakly flapping right hand fell upon one of the chimney bricks that had been dislodged, and I closed my fist about it as my vision began to darken.
     With all my remaining, quickly flagging, strength I smashed the brick into the side of Paula's head. It hadn't been as hard as I'd have normally been able to manage, for as I say I'd almost been out of it there for a moment, but it still sent her flying off of me.
     Dragging myself up, gasping and panting, hunched and swaying from side to side, I staggered after her, as she lay on her back groaning, her hands up to her head.
     "Right you slut. Here's where you get yours!" I cursed, and caught hold of her feet, then began dragging her back towards the edge, ignoring her by then weak attempts to kick me off. "I hope you like flying love, because you're about to go for a quick spin." I chuckled, then pulled her up, her half conscious body lolling against me, her eyes desperate but unfocused, blood oozing from the bruise at her temple where I'd caught her with the brick. Sneering with pure and utter loathing I swung her around and pushed her out over the edge.
     She was gone. It was finally done. I breathed deeply, relishing the flood of pure relief and pleasure at that blessed moment, but then immediately heard a scraping from beyond the lip of the roof. Looking over I gaped to find the tenacious tart had somehow managed to catch hold to the top of that little wall literally by her fingertips, and was hanging there, her eyes wide and clear now with fear, her feet scrabbling for purchase, her breath coming in gasps.
     "Oh for-" I swore savagely.
     I suppose some of the more susceptible chaps amongst you might by now actually be feeling sorry for Paula, your better angels damning me again for a murderous cad, and you might be feeling a manly swelling in your heart for the poor damsel that hung beneath me there, above such a dreadful plummet. Well I assure at the time, I for one certainly felt no sympathy or pity for the scheming strumpet, it's hard to y'see when the person one is expected to be weeping for is a heartless hag who is holding a proverbial vibroblade to your knackers and means to well and truly cut them off slowly. 
     No, I had no thoughts of rescuing her, indeed I rose my right foot and was just about to bring it down hard upon Paula's straining white skinned fingers, when Cleery's astonished voice shouted across the rooftop like the shrill cry of an angry seagull.
     "What in the Sphere is going on here?"
     I span, nearly toppling with surprise, to find the oily squit staring at me from between the chimney stacks appalled. I was suddenly eleven years old again, and caught by ma'ma galloping my first maid in one of the spare bedrooms of Killarney Hall.
     "She made me do it!" I believe I even bleated out in terror, as I had with mother all those years before. At which moment, while Cleery's baffled expression slid nastily into one of seedy triumph, Bertie Ekkart and three or four uniformed soldiers tore across the roof towards us, sonic stunner pistols skinned and ready in their hands, their eyes boggling at the state of me. I stood there for a moment, then made a half hearted effort 'to help', as two of the squaddies quickly pulled Paula back up onto the roof.
     Ekkart stared at me in shock and horror, his eyes flicking down to the battered and bleeding beauty, as Cleery gloated.
     "Captain Davion was trying to murder this woman." He said slowly, and at that moment I didn't have the strength or will to argue.   
Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - HRH D. Dravot

 

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