Author Topic: The Sword Will Never Depart  (Read 2522 times)

Dubble_g

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The Sword Will Never Depart
« on: 07 January 2018, 06:51:37 »
Happy New Year to all the BattleTech Fan Fiction forumers. I'd like to share my latest story, set in the Star League era and the First Hidden War (a series of duels between League and Combine MechWarriors). Tip of the hat to user snakespinner for sparking the idea.

Ground rules for my writing are: Stick within the established canon, no writing about major characters covered in the official novels, write and finish at home first before posting here.

If you like this one, there's an index of my past stories on my blog: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/p/blog-page.html
The current story will be added to the archive once I've finished posting it here.

* * *

Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house
2 Samuel 12:10



DropShip Drifter
Inbound, Awano System
Star League/Draconis Combine
28 October 2689


“Pause. Rewind to beginning. Play.”

Dark in the passenger cabin, the only light coming from the video unit mounted above the acceleration couch. Other than the voice, the only sounds are the metallic rattle as the cabin shakes and the muted rumble of the engines.

On the screen, two BattleMechs, facing each other across a wide, cracked and dusty plain. The camera angling down towards them, circling slowly around, the view steady save for the occasional wobble. On the right, a Black Knight, painted in brilliant, eye-searing white, long tube of a particle cannon jutting from a mount slung beneath the right arm, lasers bristling from either side of its torso.

Across from it, a muddy beige and brown Goliath, a squat four-legged tank, with turreted particle cannon and bulging missile pods on either side. The legs flex slightly, one foot shifting for firmer purchase on the ground. Dust devils swirl in angry eddies beneath it.

“Pause.” A long moment. “Go back 10 seconds.” On the screen, the circling spotter plane slides backwards until the view is centered on the Goliath again. “Resume.”

The two ’Mechs grow still. Ready. Waiting.

An unheard signal, and they are in motion. The Black Knight takes a step forward, bringing up its right-arm cannon—

—then rocks back as a spear of blinding blue-white light crashes into its head. The ’Mech staggers, just as a score of missiles slam into it, scattering a rain of fiery detonations up and down its side, unbalancing it, sending it crashing onto its back in a billowing storm of dust.

The Goliath watches, poised and unmoving, mantled in a haze of missile exhaust that is quickly blown to tatters by the desert wind. The cannon barrel glows white-hot, throwing off heat in shimmering waves.

The Black Knight surges back to its feet, cutting loose with a volley of blue and red fire from all its main guns, burning lines of light that leap across the plain—but find only empty space. A twitch, a slight shift, the Goliath has anticipated the shot, slid to its right, allowing the shots to pass harmlessly overhead.

Its next particle cannon shot blows the Black Knight’s head clean off.

“Pause.”

The Black Knight paralyzed in mid-fall, a ragged, smoking hole where the cockpit had been.

Fingers drumming on a console. One two-three, one two-three.

“Rewind to beginning. Play.”
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

snakespinner

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #1 on: 07 January 2018, 17:56:55 »
Nice start.
Just wondering why you blame your loving, caring, drunken bots for these ideas. :D ;) O0
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mikecj

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #2 on: 07 January 2018, 18:53:54 »
That's a dangerous Goliath 'jock.
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
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Kidd

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #3 on: 07 January 2018, 20:43:27 »
Tagged.

Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #4 on: 08 January 2018, 07:37:52 »
snakespin: couldn't do it without you. Mike, Kidd, good to see you again. Happy New Year, guys!

* * *

ONE

Over Kuwabatake City
Oniwaka (Fourth moon of the gas giant Hachiman (Awano V), Awano system)
29 October 2689


“Six.”

Lieutenant Karen Graham glanced back from the VTOL window. After the moon’s long night, dawn was just breaking outside, the pale light filtering dimly into the dusty cabin air. The major who’d met her at the spaceport was leaning forward, eyes intent on her face. Major Wallach, wide shoulders, impressive handlebar mustache. The PR liaison, Captain Vaughn, next to him, hands clamped on the armrests of his seat as the VTOL bumped its way through the air currents. Handsome, gel-haired, probably never heard a shot fired in anger, she bet.

“Six,” Wallach repeated, half-shouting over the roar of the engines despite the headset each of the three wore. “He’s murdered six of our guys.”

The headphones made it sound like he was shouting right into her ear canal. Karen winced. “Murdered?”

The Major nodded, sinking back into his seat. “Only word for it.” His eyes still locked on hers: Testing her, watching her reaction. A verbal recon, a scouting party sent to test her defenses. The price of fame, Karen thought sourly: Everyone wanted to challenge you, even those on your own side.

Well, wouldn’t do to let them see her sweat. She reached up casually and scratched the back of her neck before answering. “In duels though.” As though this was the most common thing in the world.

“Yeah, sure, in duels,” Wallach snorted. “Duels with a 100 percent fatality rate. Murdered, I tell you. He’s a killer, a psycho, a rabid dog. He’s killed every single MechWarrior that’s gone up against him.”

Karen nodded, slowly. It was no more than she’d been told before her reassignment. The reason for it, in fact. “Well then,” she said flatly. “Guess we’ll have to put a stop to that, sir.”

“He’s a killer.” Wallach was shaking his head, unimpressed. “A killer.”

“Yes, thank you sir. I believe I got that part.” She was tired of this conversation already. She wasn’t built for these verbal sneak attacks and battles of wordy attrition. Give her an enemy she could fight, and cold iron in her hands. Well, with any luck the time for that would come soon.

With studied nonchalance, she went back to watching the moon’s surface slide by the viewport. So raw and unfinished, with its unhealed craters and scree-aproned cliffs. Cold and unforgiving, but there was something comfortable in that. Reminded her of Aphros, the military academy on Venus, just a little. The effect was rather spoiled by the great shadow of the gas giant Hachiman though, the hulking behemoth filling the sky with its pastel clouds swirling delicate whorls and curlicues, ever-shifting Rorschach shapes wide enough to swallow the moon whole. The size of it made what they did, down here in the dusty ground, seem so fleeting and frail, inconsequential.

“The ‘Kensei,’ they call him.” It was Captain Vaughn speaking, this time. Opening a second front in this campaign of words, maybe, or else trying to fill the silence to hide his nervousness. “It means ‘sword-master’ or ‘sword-saint.’”

“Who calls him that?”

“The abos,” Major Wallach broke in, lip curling. “The indigs, Lieutenant. You know, the Snakes.”

Karen glanced sharply at the Major, but held her tongue. Wallach, Vaughn—the names suggested they were Lyran recruits, which perhaps explained some of the animosity. In any event, she wasn’t the one who’d been living almost under siege for over a month. She hadn’t lost six of her comrades. She turned back to Vaughn. “And what does our side call him?”

“’That arsehole,’ mainly,” he said, lips twitching into a slight smile. “’The Rooster’ is one of the better nicknames they’ve come up with, on account he shows up every morning and, well, he’s a bit of a ******.”

Wallach was shaking his head in disgust; Karen tried to force down a grin, but failed. “I’ll bet.”

Vaughn grinned back. “We’ve got names for you, too, you know. But I guess you’ve heard most of them.”

She had: Wonder Woman. Killer Karen. The Angel of Awano. A couple that weren’t so nice, but then you couldn’t introduce an elite program like the Gunslingers without rubbing a few people who hadn’t been invited or accepted the wrong way. Karen unconsciously traced the crossed-pistol patch at her shoulder. A bit of bravado there, but then the whole rivalry between the Star League and Combine was an exercise in machismo. Six lives lost for what amounted to little more than bragging rights.

“Speaking of whom, he’ll probably be knocking on the Fort door in an hour or so,” said Vaughn, glancing at a timepiece clipped to the cuff of his olive-green uniform. “This is where it started, isn’t it? Your first victory, two years ago.”

Karen dipped her head in a ‘Yes,’ but qualified it by holding up four fingers. “On the main colony, Awano four, not here.”

“The first-ever win for the Gunslingers,” Vaughn was openly admiring. “Took down that Kintaro with mathematical precision. I must’ve watched that duel a dozen times. You brought Blondie?”

Karen nodded, exaggerated, up and down. Meant: Of course.

“He’s gonna outweigh you almost two-to-one.”

She grinned again in response. “Size doesn’t matter.”

Vaughn stuck out his lower lip a little as though in thought, shrugged once. “’S what I tell all my girlfriends.”

Wallach coughed loudly to interrupt, then jerked a thumb towards the viewport. “Coming up on the Fort,” he said. “You ready? The Colonel is going to want to talk with you.”

Karen nodded. She was ready for anything.
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

mikecj

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #5 on: 09 January 2018, 01:40:02 »
Happy New year to you!

Lets see what Karen brings to the fight...
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.

snakespinner

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #6 on: 09 January 2018, 02:23:11 »
Happy New Year.
Looking forward to seeing what moves Karen brings to the table. >:D
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #7 on: 10 January 2018, 08:34:09 »
Eek, hope you guys aren't expecting me to play this one perfectly straight.
BTW Karen Graham is canon, as is her membership in the Gunslinger program and her first win on Awano.
This is a western in space, so most of the other names are Western movie or TV references. 1 imaginary Internet point for each reference you can spot.

* * *

TWO
Fort Hebron, Outside of Kuwabatake City

Colonel Hayley Steinfeld snapped a brusque salute, then extended a hand. “Welcome to the one forty-nine, Lieutenant Graham.” Her grip was firm, businesslike. A squarish face, short hair brushed straight back. “The Angel of Awano herself, huh? Damn glad to have you with us.”

Karen smiled politely. “Thank you, sir. Wish the circumstances were better.” Her first impression of the Colonel was unimpressive: the woman seemed like the worst kind of gambler, throwing good lives after bad—six dead suggested Steinfeld didn’t know when to stop betting, each loss only making her more determined to try to win it all back.

“Hope you can nail this sonovabitch.”

“Yes sir. Certainly aim to, sir.”

A dark, oval table filled the conference room, besieged by thickly-padded black chairs. One wall displayed the unit insignia: The Cameron star, the stag of the Fourteenth Army, the Roman numerals of the Fourteenth Corps and the three crossed arrows of the 149th Hussar Regiment. A series of floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over the sloping glacis of Fort Hebron’s outer walls, and beyond them, desolate plains and scrub grasses. The City of Kuwabatake lurked just at the horizon.

“Take a seat, Lieutenant,” Steinfeld gestured, then moved around the table and sank into the opposite chair, back to the windows. Karen noted with mild annoyance Vaughn and Wallach were staying. They took seats on either side, Wallach to her left, Vaughn the right. The Colonel’s glance flicked to an aide, who rushed forward to place a cup of steaming green tea in front of each of them.

“Locally-grown, an acquired taste but supposed to be good for the blood pressure,” the Colonel reached for her tea and took a long, slow drink from the white porcelain cup. “Unity knows I need it. Six MechWarriors. Damn fine soldiers, every one of them. Must seem like madness to you, right Lieutenant?”

“Couldn’t comment sir,” Karen took her own tea. The thin, fragile cup burned her fingers, but she sipped politely all the same.

“You sound like Harry here,” Steinfeld snorted waving her hand in Vaughn’s direction. “Well, we look after our own, Lieutenant. You from a military family?”

“No sir. First to serve.”

“Why’d you join?”

“Fourth of five children, always made me competitive I guess sir,” Graham wondered where this line of questioning was leading. “And I believe in the Star League, sir, believe in what we’re doing here.”

Steinfeld smiled thinly. “Tell me, what are we doing here?” She jerked a thumb towards the window, the barren plain and the wide sweep of Hachiman hanging over it.

“In general sir? Keeping the peace. Protecting the freedom and prosperity of the Sphere, sir. Here, on Oniwaka, watching out for pirates and protecting the mining operation.”

“Prosperity? Have you seen this miserable little dustbowl?” Steinfeld laughed harshly, then turned to point a finger at Vaughn. “This is off the record, Captain Flack.” She swiveled back to Karen. “We’re here to keep an eye on the Snakes, and make sure they don’t use this moon as a place to stash weaponry or threaten the fourteenth corps HQ on Awano IV. Pure and simple. This Rooster is trying to drive us out of town so we can’t do that. Those six men knew the value of this fort, and had no illusions about that, Lieutenant. Neither should you.”

“Understood sir.” Karen shifted uncomfortably. The League had its issues, she knew, not least the uncomfortable power-sharing with the Great Houses. The Gunslingers offered a way out of that—one that the Combine would come to embrace, in time. She was sure. “Any more you can tell me about the Rooster?”

The Colonel grimaced and shook her head. “Forty days ago, this loon in an assault ’Mech shows up at our front door and calls us cowards. First time we’ve had it happen here, but it fits the pattern of what’s happened on dozens of words across the Combine, hell you don’t need me to tell you that. Another so-called ronin, itching for a fight. Ronin, my ass. The Council Edict limiting House militaries was passed nearly 40 years ago; no way this little bugger was even born back then, much less lost his position because of it. Anyway, he gives us all the usual excuses: We’ve insulted his honor or pissed off his ancestors or unbalanced his yang or something. Whatever. Captain Briner volunteered to shut him up. That fight lasted maybe 30 seconds.”

Karen remembered the Black Knight, falling, headless, twisted metal glittering and glowing around the stump of its neck. “Any idea who he is?”

The corners of the Colonel’s mouth turned down and she nodded to Vaughn, who answered: “We’ve searched every database we have on the DCMS, but so far no matches on either the voice audio or the ’Mech. He calls himself ‘Nobuyuki Terasaka’ but that’s an obvious pseudonym: It’s from the legend of the 47 ronin.”

Karen had heard the story: A band of medieval samurai whose master was forced by a rival lord to commit suicide, who then plotted for over a year before finally exacting their revenge and assassinating the lord, even though it meant they would be caught and executed by the ruling shogun. Such tales were back in fashion in the Combine, part of the ruling Kurita family’s push for a ‘return’ to an idealized version of ancient Japanese values: Remaining loyal beyond death, valuing honor above life. It all seemed pretty cynical to Karen—a militarized dictatorship unable or unwilling to satisfy the material demands of its population, trying to rationalize its hold on power in a time of peace by isolating its citizens, manufacturing an outside enemy and positioning itself as the champion of a fictional golden age. “Any significance to the name?”

Vaughn shrugged. “Ostentatious humility, probably: Bragging about how humble he is. Terasaka was the least important of the 47, and the only one who missed the final battle and wasn’t forced to commit seppuku.”

There was a rattle. Karen looked down and saw the tea trembling in her cup. Ripples expanding outward in concentric circles, bouncing off the edges to reconverge in the center. Another rattle as the cup shifted slightly in its saucer. The next time, she felt it through her chair: the ground, shaking rhythmically.

Steinfeld noticed her gaze. “Bang on time,” she muttered. “That’ll be him now.” She stood up abruptly. “Come on, we’ll give you a look at what you’ll be facing.”
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

Kidd

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #8 on: 10 January 2018, 10:40:28 »
All too easy :D That movie is my favourite Western hands down.

mikecj

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #9 on: 10 January 2018, 23:37:25 »
Nice, got the tune from good bad & ugly in my head now
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.

Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #10 on: 11 January 2018, 07:59:17 »
Ding! Mike gets one point for the Good, the Bad & the Ugly. (Clint Eastwood's character is named Blondie, as is Karen's BattleMech).
Not sure which movie Kidd is thinking of, but with a name like that I should clearly have included him in the story.

* * *

THREE
Fort Hebron, Kuwabatake

“Ten-SHUN.” The guards, commtechs and astechs in the command center snapped to attention as Colonel Steinfeld swept in, Karen, Major Wallach and Captain Vaughn trailing in her wake. Steinfeld waved the salutes away with a quick “As you were,” then seated herself in front of the wall of glowing monitors.

Karen was surprised to see there was also a holovid crew with a tripod-mounted camera and two dazzlingly brilliant spotlights, who immediately leaped into action as she entered, panning to follow her as she walked behind the Colonel.

She glanced over her shoulder to Vaughn. “What’s all this?”

“Documentary,” he stage-whispered. “For the folks back home.”

She frowned a little, but before she could argue further her attention was dragged to the front of the room.

A dozen screens showed camera feeds covering every approach to the Fort. A quarter of them were now zeroing in on a lumbering assault BattleMech trudging up the road from the direction of Kuwabatake. Mics picked up the distant metallic crunch of each deliberate footfall as it stalked forward. Karen studied it intently: The same Goliath, the same hasty desert camouflage, stripped of any unit or personal insignia. A few scorch marks and scratches that hadn’t been there in the recording of the first duel, but otherwise unchanged.

About a kilometer short of the main gates it halted, and a voice rolled out from its external speakers. Muffled and distorted by the electronics, it sounded low and robotic, like an audio recording played slightly too slowly.

“My name is Nobuyuki Terasaka. I claim no family, no title, no honors. I am nothing, I am the least of men. Nonetheless, I challenge the cowards and criminals of the Star League to battle. I denounce you: You come not as allies, but as enemies. Behind your smiles you poison our world with your filth and lies; you seek to destroy all that has made our people noble and pure. This is the truth, and I will prove it here, with my body, my spirit and my machine. Six of your champions I have slain. Are there none left to contest me? Or will you continue to cower behind your walls?”

Silence. Out on the plain, the restless wind. Inside the control room, a scattering of murmurs, blowing like tumbleweeds around the room. Karen saw the turret operators, hands clenched around the control yokes. There must be dozens of guns trained on that ’Mech, she realized, everything from microhowitzers to wire-guided surface-to-surface missile batteries. All it would take was a word. Nobody gave it.

Karen turned to Colonel Steinfeld. “What happens now sir?”

The Colonel nodded at the screen. “He repeats that spiel about once an hour for the next twelve hours. Then packs it in and goes back to a warehouse just outside of Kuwabatake. Never leaves it. He gets visitors, from time to time, bringing food or parts and supplies after a duel. Locals, or more likely government officials dressed as locals.”

“One missile, sir,” muttered Major Wallach, holding up thumb and forefinger a millimeter apart. “One teeny little cruise missile, launched from a stealth fighter, and I could end this whole charade.”

“Don’t even think it,” Colonel Steinfeld said sharply. “That is exactly what they want us to do: Provoke us into over-reacting, create an excuse to kick us off this moon and maybe giving the Dracs sympathy from the other Houses, could even be enough to rescind the Edict on House militaries.” She looked up at Karen. “Seen all you need to see Lieutenant?”

“Maybe sir.” Karen leaned forward, tapped a commtech on the shoulder. “Can I talk with him?”

“BMG.” The tech pointed to a spare headset on the control panel beside him.

She fitted the phones over her head, tapped the mic. Noticed the holovid camera whirring, lens extending. Zooming in on her, no doubt. She ignored it. “Attention MechWarrior Terasaka. This is Lieutenant Karen Graham.”

A brief pause. “Ah, Karen-chan.” A deliberate insult, using the little girls’ diminutive –chan instead of the adult –san or –sama. “Awano no Akuma, the devil of Awano herself. I wondered which assassin they’d send to silence me.”

Not the first time she’d heard the Combine epithet for Gunslingers. “We are not assassins.”

“No? Your government has not sent you to cover up their crimes? Have you come to surrender the Fort in reparation then?”

“You know I haven’t, and the only crime I’ve heard of recently is the murder of six Star League MechWarriors.” From the corner of her eye she noticed Wallach and Steinfeld exchange sidelong glances, filed it away for future reference. She took a breath. “My name is Karen Graham. I am the daughter of—”

“Your bloodline is of no interest to me. This is not a duel between equals, Karen-chan. This is the execution of criminals. The only thing I want is your death. Now, will you fight, or are you as craven as the rest?”

“I will fight.” A promise. “One request though.”

“Save your breath. I’m not some newly-minted samurai you can trap with the rules of bushido. Two ’Mechs. No games, no tricks, no conditions. We fight, here, now, until one of us dies. That is all.”

Now this was the kind of conversation she liked. Quick, to the point, like a bullet to the head. “No tricks, Terasaka-kun.” Two could play the insult game: -kun was for little boys. “But I make it a point to look a man in the eyes before I kill him. I want to meet, face-to-face.”

There was a long silence. Steinfeld and Wallach looked alarmed, but Karen held up a placating hand. Covering the mic, she said to them: “Duels are won or lost in the mind, sir, not on the battlefield. Let me talk to him, figure out what makes this Rooster cluck.”

Steinfeld glanced at Wallach, then Vaughn, who gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. Doubtless this would make great footage, Karen guessed. Steinfeld nodded, grudgingly.

A burst of static and the ronin’s voice came back on. “Very well, Karen-chan. Come then. You know where to find me.”
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

Kidd

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #11 on: 11 January 2018, 14:33:40 »
The modern remake of True Grit.

Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #12 on: 12 January 2018, 07:40:02 »
Ding! Kidd back in the game with the True Grit reference: Colonel Hayley Steinfeld = actress Hailee Steinfeld, who played Mattie Ross in the 2010 remake of True Grit.

Other references: Wallach, Vaughn and Briner should be easy. Kuwabatake might be trickier, and requires you to know the history of cross-pollination between samurai movies and westerns.

* * *

FOUR
Outside Fort Hebron, Kuwabatake


The skimmer slowed as it approached the Goliath, spider-still, waiting for them. Squinting against the mid-morning sun, Karen could just make out a shadowy figure at the base of one of the forward feet.

The dragonfly silhouettes of four Cyrano gunships flitted across the striated ripples and bands of Hachiman—named for the Japanese god of war—keeping a wary eye on the Goliath. Colonel Steinfeld had insisted on the aerial escort, though Karen suspected their presence made violence more, not less likely. Have to play it cool then. She could do that.

Karen stepped out of the skimmer, slowly walking towards him, her shadow swallowed as she passed into the shade beneath the ’Mech. The shuffle of footfalls as Wallach and Vaughn followed, Vaughn’s holocamera whirring faintly. She stopped a dozen paces short of the MechWarrior. No greeting, no acknowledgement.

He was young, she saw, this man with no name. Desperately young. Desperately angry, too, radiating rage, vibrating with it. A handsome face, clean-shaven, eyes like pools of poison watching them. No identifiable ethnicity, here a little Asian, there slightly Arabic, something Caucasian about the eyes, a product of half a millennia of intermarriage since humanity had left Terra. A man from nowhere.

He held the neurohelmet under the crook of his arm, the other hanging loosely at his side. Cooling suit unzipped slightly at the neck his only concession to the baking heat.

“MechWarrior Terasaka,” she said, breaking the silence.

He dipped his head in acknowledgment.

“A Goliath?” she looked up at the vast bulk rearing above them. “An interesting choice. You know what happened to the Biblical Goliath?”

“Is that supposed to rattle me, Karen?” he spoke at last. It was odd to hear his real voice. No longer mediated by electronics, it was deep but unaccented. “If you came here to test my nerve, you will be disappointed. I know what happened to Goliath. I also know what happened to King David, afterwards. He was cursed, wasn’t he? Fated to be at war forever, forced to fight against his own sons. ‘The sword will never depart from your house.’ Cursed for his crimes.”

“You’re a fine one to talk of crimes, you malking murderer,” hissed Wallach.

The man’s eyes flicked to Wallach, who stood ramrod straight, tense, teeth clenched, one hand on the handle of the ceremonial dagger hanging from his dress uniform sash. “You wish to kill me?” he asked, flatly, as though discussing the weather. “Go on then. Do it. I’m unarmed.”

Wallach held his gaze, knuckles white around the hilt.

“Nobody can stop you. Do it. Show the whole galaxy what the Star League’s honor is worth. Do it. Show them what you really are.”

Wallach’s jaw muscles working, his teeth grinding together.

“Do it. Do it."

With a sudden whistle of breath, Wallach let go the hilt. “You’re not worth it,” he hissed.

A ghost of a smile flickered across the man’s face. “A good choice old man,” he said. “I would have killed you.” He turned back to Karen. “I might yet kill you, too.”

“Or I, you,” she said evenly.

He shrugged carelessly. “Either way, I win. I defeat the Star League’s champion and avenge the stain on our honor, or I am murdered by the League’s hired killer out of fear of the truth I dare to speak. Now come, is there a point to this or are you merely stalling for time?”

Karen was sure she could beat him, then. Kill him even. He was talented, yes, fiercely so, but not invincible. He cared so little if he died that he was almost guaranteeing that he would. She felt a surge of pity. Whatever had driven him to this, surely it was not worth his life.

“If the outcome doesn’t matter then there’s no reason for us to fight, is there? You don’t have to do this,” she urged. “Come away, come back with us. You don’t have to be a ronin. A talented MechWarrior like you? You could be a champion, a Gunslinger.” She held out a gloved hand, open. “Come back with us. Come back with me. You’ve made your point.”

“Flattery, Karen?” He glanced at her hand, made no move to take it. A phantom smile flitting across his features. “And no, I don’t think I have made my point. Not yet. The Fort is still here, the criminals still unpunished.”

She dropped her hand, curling it into a fist in frustration. “What criminals, what are you talking about?”

His lip curled in a snarl, about to retort, when he stopped. Eyes scanning her face intently.

“They haven’t told you, have they?” His laugh lashed her like a whip. His gaze went to Wallach, still glowering from where he stood behind Karen’s shoulder. The ronin tipped his head in the Major’s direction. “Ask him. Ask him why I do this.”

She twisted her neck to look at Wallach, who just shook his head, tightly. Not now. Not here. Karen’s look promised questions, later. Her patience at an end. She turned back to the ronin.

“No, I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I’m not sure I care what crime you think is worth the lives of six men. Fine, you want martyrdom? You’ll get it.” Karen held up two fingers. “In 48 hours.”

“Why wait? My resolve will never falter. My will is the Will of the Dragon.”

“I’ll bet. Well, my back is the Back of the 30-Year-Old Woman who just spent a week in an acceleration couch, and if I’m gonna die then I’m gonna die with all my vertebrae in more or less the right place. Two days, Terasaka. October 31st.” She suddenly grinned. “Perfect timing, really.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s the Day of the Dead.” She winked at him, turned on her heel and walked back to the skimmer.
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mikecj

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #13 on: 12 January 2018, 11:02:21 »
Well played
There are no fish in my pond.
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ckosacranoid

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #14 on: 12 January 2018, 17:33:10 »
cool little story and weird to see a 3025 quad as a dueling mech by the dragons of all things. would have seen something else more fitting then that for some reason. The western movies are cool to reff into though and the extra day of the dead is cool for the fight to take place on though.

snakespinner

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #15 on: 12 January 2018, 21:17:25 »
30 year old woman with back problems. lol just what you need in a gunslinger.
Looking forward to the fight. ;) O0
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Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #16 on: 13 January 2018, 00:03:28 »
Hmmm, tough crowd.

I usually respond whenever I post the next installment, but this might take a little longer, so here's a post just for you guys.

@ckosacranoid: I'm definitely going with the rule of cool here. Included a Goliath mainly cause I think they just look cool, at least in the original artwork (you'll note I base my description off the TRO:3025 look, rather than the reseen design). Plus it gave me an excuse to sneak in some Biblical references, which have a long tradition in westerns (e.g. the movie "Pale Rider" or the town of Redemption in "The Quick and the Dead.")

Canon-wise I'm on safe ground though, as the Master Unit List (MUL) gives 2652 as the intro date. At this point in history, with the League being one big happy family (at least officially), I've assumed faction-specific designs aren't really a thing yet.

On a side note, this is one of the weird things about the tech levels in BTech. The Goliath predates 2750 tech, but remained in use after... like the M4 Sherman remaining in use after the M1 Abrams... Anyway, this is a rabbit hole that has defeated far smarter men than I, so no plans to follow it down.

@snakespinner: She's being sarcastic, obviously, riffing on the other guy's pompous "Will of the Dragon" line. Story-wise, I wanted to have other things happen before the duel, and also it occurred to me the physical effects of high-G acceleration/deceleration tends to get glossed over a bit in the fiction.

As for the fight, to quote my boi Luke, this is not going to go the way that you think. I like including twists, at it helps avoid predictability and cliche, but my feeling is you have to foreshadow it, otherwise it feels cheap and unearned. Hope you guys have already spotted some of them. (Off-topic, but I think that's the problem with a lot of TLJ: Not that there were twists, but that there was no hint they were coming, so they felt like Rian Johnson going 'Ha ha, tricked you.' Anyway, that's a discussion for another time and sub-forum).
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snakespinner

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #17 on: 13 January 2018, 01:08:01 »
Just joking about the bad back, my wife has used the same excuse for our whole 25 years of marriage. :D
I noticed Karen's mech was half the size of the Goliath so should be a very interesting fight. O0
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Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #18 on: 13 January 2018, 07:16:25 »
@Snakester: Your silver anniversary! Congratulations, my dude. Hope you celebrate in style, or in as much style as your spines permit. Coming up on 16 for my wife and I.

* * *

INTERLUDE

A Wyvern, this time, same weight as her own Phoenix Hawk. The Rooster’s third duel. The second, with a Thug, had been a long-range slugging match, and had shown her nothing she didn’t already know—the ronin was deadly accurate and good at anticipating his opponents’ moves. This duel, however, promised to be more interesting.

The Wyvern feinted right, then jumped left. A particle bolt cracking through the air beneath its feet. So, the Rooster wasn’t infallible. He could miss. The Wyvern was sprinting almost at right angles to the Goliath, trying to maximize the angle of deflection. Torso twisted 90 degrees, firing bolt after bolt at the Goliath, missing more often than hitting.

Almost at right angles, but not quite, Karen saw. The Wyvern was carving a shallow spiral, curling inwards towards the Goliath at the center, slowly eating away at the distance between them. Karen nodded to herself. Sound thinking: turn faster than the lumbering Goliath could follow, get behind it, hit the weak rear armor.

The Rooster must have seen it too, as he started shuffling backwards, turning his own tight circle in mirror image of the Wyvern, still tracking the Wyvern, trying to maximize the distance between the two. A race against time. Could the Wyvern close before the Rooster landed a disabling hit?

The Wyvern staggered from a bolt to the right side. Snakes of blue lightning dancing across the armor. That answered that question, Karen thought.

The pilot must have reached the same conclusion--he abruptly changed tactics, stopped turning, charging straight towards the Goliath. Hit his jump jets. Karen groaned to herself. “Death from above?” she muttered. A show-off move. Flashy, not practical.

The Wyvern came screaming from the air, feet poised to strike the Goliath.

Meeting only air. The Goliath sidestepped, letting the Wyvern fall harmlessly past it.

Crashing to the ground a few meters short. Down on its knees, the Goliath rearing above it. The Rooster drew back one forward leg, then lashed out. Crashing the foot straight through the Wyvern’s chest like a medieval lance, skewering it, the foot erupting from the middle of the Wyvern’s back in a tangle of shattered titanium skeleton and wiring.

The pilot ejected, of course. Karen watched the particle cannon muzzle rise, tracking the ejection seat. She stopped the video before it fired.
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mikecj

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #19 on: 13 January 2018, 12:59:05 »
Nice duel.
There are no fish in my pond.
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Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

snakespinner

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #20 on: 13 January 2018, 19:56:51 »
DG sweet 16 for you. ;)
Interesting duel, the Goliath and Wyvern are both the same speed, the Phoenix hawk is much faster. O0
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Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #21 on: 14 January 2018, 05:42:45 »
FIVE
Fort Hebron, Kuwabatake
30 October 2689


“Lookin’ good, Blondie,” Karen mimed shooting a finger pistol at her Phoenix Hawk, then kissed the tip of her index finger.

Since coming back to the fort, Wallach had stonewalled and Steinfeld had straight up refused to discuss the subject of the Rooster’s feud, putting her in a foul mood. But a good night’s sleep had put a spring back in her step—or perhaps it was the moon’s 0.9G—and seeing her old BattleMech gleaming in the ’Mech bay lights had turned that spring into a bounce. Forget Wallach and whatever secrets he was hiding. Forget Vaughn and his constant filming. This was all that mattered.

The 45-ton Phoenix Hawk stood ready, white trimmed in shining gold, like an angel set to descend from heaven.

Karen climbed the scaffolding that spread like skeletal metal wings to either side of the Mech, cracking open the pilot’s hatch before easing herself into the familiar command couch. “Good to be home,” she murmured, lifting the neurohelmet and settling it over her shoulders. “Let’s see if you survived the ride all in one piece.”

She’d been in the cockpit for half an hour before she was interrupted.

“You’re up early, Lieutenant.”

Karen’s shoulders slumped a little. Just when she thought she’d found a little peace, along came one of the few people that could spoil her mood. “Can I help you with something, Captain Vaughn?” Whose idea had it been to give the PR guy a commission? Typical of a peacetime army, she thought, prioritizing image over substance.

She twisted around in the control couch and saw him standing on the scaffolding outside the cockpit, holovid camera trained on her. “Nope,” he smiled, oblivious to her ire. “Just getting some shots of you preparing. Readying for combat. Girding for war, as it were.”

“’Girding’, sir?” Karen turned back to the controls so he wouldn’t see her rolling her eyes. “Don’t know about any girding, Captain Vaughn.”

“Please, call me Harry.”

Here we go again, she thought to herself. Another pretty boy wanting a taste of her fame, wanting to write himself into her story, wanting that extra-special notch on their bedpost. “I don’t think so, Captain Vaughn.” She started flipping switches, powering up the Phoenix Hawk, flexing the arms as the fusion reactor roared to life and filled the machine with the power of a sun. “Now, if you’ll excuse me sir.” And slammed the external hatch shut without waiting for his answer.

Karen marched Blondie down the corridor between the ’Mech bays, under the blunted megalith teeth of the bay doors, and out into the training grounds. Before her was the Gauntlet, an obstacle course of moraine boulders, jumbled ferrocrete walls and buildings, and ten-meter deep anti-’Mech ditches, dotted randomly with low-powered laser turrets.

She punched in the code for Blondie’s training mode, powering down her down weapons to a fraction of their killing energy and enabling the ’Mech to react to the Gauntlet’s feeble light show as if it had been hit by real lasers.

She rolled her shoulders, shifted the helmet to make sure it was comfortable on her head, then keyed the channel for the Gauntlet control tower.

“Tower Control this is, uh,” she checked her HUD for the code her Mech had been assigned. Sighed a little when she saw it. “This is Angel One, requesting clearance to begin my Gauntlet run.”

“Copy that, Angel One. Thought you’d never ask. Lots of guests up here today. Standing room only, you know.”

She should have known her training run would attract attention, she supposed. Even this was to be a performance, was it? “Hope you charged for admission.” Her sensors picked up two low-flying drones circling the grounds—Vaughn’s work, no doubt.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that.”

“A 50/50 split of the take sounds fair to me.” Trying to maintain her good humor.

“Not a chance,” came the laughing reply. “Gauntlet is set. You’re cleared to begin your run. Show us what you got, Wonder Woman.”

She showed them what she had.

Her first jump took her to the top of a gigantic boulder, giving her a clear field of fire on the two nearest turrets. Spotted maybe a dozen more in the boulder field. Thumbs on the laser triggers. Zap, zap. Two turrets down. She leapt down before the others could return fire.

What they taught at the ACMS: Nothing flashy, just speed, accuracy and movement. Around a boulder, turret dead in front. Snap-fire the main laser cannon. Turret down. And move. Answering laser beams painting the rocks, meters—might as well have been miles—from Blondie. Hit the jets, going straight over the next rock rather than around. Firing at two turrets before her feet even touched the ground. And move.

Urban section of the Gauntlet now. Using a wall for cover. Duck. Move. Up and fire. Pirouette away from answering fire—playing to the gallery, just a little. Give them a show. Heat building up now inside the cockpit as the machine simulated the effect of real weapons fire, cooling suit gurgling as it circulated fluid around her body. Crossfire from two buildings up ahead, laser cannons mounted deep inside. Cover behind more rubble, just the right arm cannon peeking out. Breathe. Squeeze the trigger. One down. Breathe. Again. Second one. And move.

Unseen ditch at her feet. Close one. Tap the jets. Glide over it. Down on one knee on the other side. Arms out like a T, simultaneously firing on turrets on either side. Back on her feet. Move. Last obstacle. Half a dozen turrets, overlapping fields of fire, nothing but empty ground in front of them. No cover. Finish line just behind them. She smiled. Too easy.

Kicked Blondie into a run. Lasers zeroing on her now. Tap the jets, a hop left. Juke right. Like a dancer. Then, both feet on the jump pedals, stamping all the way down, Blondie arcing up and up, high over the wall, over the flickering laser beams, down onto the other side of the finish line.

They’d never even touched her.

Whooping and hollering in her earphones, cheering voices from the control tower. And then, another voice.

“Nice shooting, Lieutenant,” Major Wallach’s voice broke into her cockpit. “Now, how about a real challenge?”

Karen turned Blondie around and saw another ’Mech, a dark shadow silhouetted against the lights inside the ’Mech bays.

Narrow profile like an axe-blade, long gorilla arms each holding double Averell Highpoint lasers. Callsign Shiva One, highlighted in green by her HUD to indicate a friendly ’Mech, but somehow she doubted that. An Exterminator, a new head-hunter design built for taking out enemy headquarters and command BattleMechs. Heavier and better armored than the Phoenix Hawk., but slower and less maneuverable. (EDIT: Actually, movement speed for both is the same. Thanks to snakespinner for catching that! #P)

Still testing her, was he? Time to put a stop to this. “Sounds good sir. Know anyone who could give me one?”

“Thought I’d volunteer, Lieutenant.” Unruffled by her taunt. The Exterminator was marching steadily across the practice grounds, forearms coming up into the ready position.

“Kind of you to offer sir, but with respect, not much of a challenge.”

“Come on Lieutenant, show us what mystic mumbo-jumbo they teach you on Venus. Unless you’re afraid of being shown up by an old man...”

Karen’s mouth twisted in a wry grin. “Grab those yokes, sir. Time to dance.”
« Last Edit: 16 January 2018, 07:26:50 by Dubble_g »
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DOC_Agren

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #22 on: 14 January 2018, 21:09:38 »
Quote
Wallach, Vaughn and Briner should be easy. Kuwabatake might be trickier, and requires you to know the history of cross-pollination between samurai movies and westerns.

I figured others had this: 
The Magnificent Seven
Eli Wallach = Calvera, the lead Mexican bandit
Robert Vaughn = Lee, the traumatized veteran
and Brynner as Chris Adams, a Cajun gunslinger, leader of the seven

Kuwabatake is from Yojimbo, he is a wandering ronin and master swordsman

the connection is director Akira Kurosawa..  as The Magnificent Seven is a remake of his Seven Samurai


PS I'm waiting for Karen to look into this, and find out what really going on
Quote
“And no, I don’t think I have made my point. Not yet. The Fort is still here, the criminals still unpunished.”

She dropped her hand, curling it into a fist in frustration. “What criminals, what are you talking about?”

His lip curled in a snarl, about to retort, when he stopped. Eyes scanning her face intently.

“They haven’t told you, have they?” His laugh lashed her like a whip. His gaze went to Wallach, still glowering from where he stood behind Karen’s shoulder. The ronin tipped his head in the Major’s direction. “Ask him. Ask him why I do this.”

She twisted her neck to look at Wallach, who just shook his head, tightly. Not now. Not here. Karen’s look promised questions, later. Her patience at an end. She turned back to the ronin.
« Last Edit: 14 January 2018, 21:23:35 by DOC_Agren »
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Kidd

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #23 on: 14 January 2018, 21:53:28 »
PS I'm waiting for Karen to look into this, and find out what really going on
Indeed, this is going far too straightforward-ly for a Dubble_g production...

mikecj

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #24 on: 14 January 2018, 23:59:32 »
That's what he wants us to think!   ;D
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.

Dubble_g

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #25 on: 15 January 2018, 07:57:33 »
Hey, couple of really good responses. Awesome to see, though I now have the creeping dread that I'm becoming the M Night Shyamalan of BattleTech fan fiction (Are you famous, they ask me. Why yes, I reply, I'm the M Night Shyamalan of BattleTech fan fiction. Then they give me a wedgie and steal my girlfriend.) I can only hope I'm the Sixth Sense era M.N.S., not The Happening or Last Airbender era.

@DOC: Right on all counts. Four points to you, which I think means you won the Internet. The only thing I'd add is that Yojimbo itself was remade as Fistful of Dollars, so there's an even more direct connection. The ronin not having a name is also a tip of the hat to the spaghetti westerns.

Re: Karen and what's really going on, I think (hope?) this next chapter explores that more. Through the story I wanted the main character to have an arc or journey, where she starts out as competitive, patriotic, a little distant but a quote-unquote good soldier, and then starts to see hints all is not well but at first ignores them precisely because she has that good soldier/it's-not-my-problem mentality. She gets pushed further, and I wanted her to have a change/turning point in her attitude to the situation, but for it to be driven (at least at first...) by her established personality, i.e. by her competitiveness, not by idealism.

Sorry, but I love talking about crap like this. On with the story.

* * *

SIX
Training Grounds, Fort Hebron


The Gunslinger school on Aphros did not teach mumbo-jumbo. They taught you to read your opponent, know what they’d do before they even knew themselves, anticipate. Use that knowledge to press them, never leave them room to breathe, cut off their air supply. Make them react, on instinct, blindly. And then hit them: speed, accuracy, movement.

Wallach was an open book. Overconfident in his machine’s capabilities, absorbing her fire rather than trying to avoid it. Her first salvo hit high on his left shoulder, then she twisted away as a quartet of simulated lasers carved the air to her right.

Karen jumped left, firing as she went, registering hits across both the Executioner’s shoulders. Wallach held his ground, unmoving, trying to track her as she moved. Lasers chasing her shadow. She rushed forward, as though to close the range, took a salvo of hits to Blondie’s chest, then hit her jets, leaping straight over the Exterminator’s head, twisting in the air, coming down right behind it. The perfect shot. Gold crosshairs right over the reactor.

Too easy.

The Exterminator vanished from her sensors. She stared out the cockpit glass. The ’Mech was gone, like a ghost.

“What the—”

Laser fire boiled out of the blankness, battering the Phoenix Hawk. Karen hit the reverse throttle, twisting left and right, searching for Wallach’s ’Mech. Nothing. Another fusillade slammed into Blondie, the training mode registering armor-penetrating hits.

Wallach’s voice, taunting now: “Enough of a challenge for you, Lieutenant?”

Karen fired back blindly, then hit the jump pedals, trying to get some distance. Wallach’s lasers struck, red lights spreading like a wine stain across the armor wireframe in Karen’s cockpit. Blondie touched down, knees flexing, but had barely straightened when laser shots smacked into its chest again.

The HUD flashed: Critical Gyro Hit Sustained. ’Mech combat-inoperable. Restart Simulation? [Y/N]

She stared at it, disbelieving, her breath whistling through clenched teeth. Beaten. In less than two minutes. Shock sublimated into anger. He’d tricked her. Somehow, she didn’t know how, jammed her sensors, maybe. But then why couldn’t she see his ’Mech?

A flicker and the Executioner seemed to materialize out of thin air. “You were right, Lieutenant. Not much of a challenge.”

Karen fought to keep her voice level. “Some might call that cheating, sir.”

The Executioner turned and began walking back to the bays, Wallach’s laughter lingering after it. “No such thing as cheating in war, Lieutenant. That’s the mistake of the Gunslinger program. Any challenge should be met with overwhelming technological and military force, not coddled and humored. No offense, but you’re an anachronism, Lieutenant.”

“Honor never goes out of style, Major—” she began to retort, but Wallach had already cut the channel.

Captain Vaughn was waiting when she parked Blondie back in the ’Mech bay.

“What the hell was that?” She snapped at him as soon as she stepped out the cockpit hatch. “Sir?”

“Chameleon Shield,” he said, leaning close, voice dropping to a whisper. “The latest stealth tech. Shouldn’t even be telling you this. A bunch of Executioners have been outfitted with it, plus a null signature ECM system. Invisible to sensors, visual scanning, the works. Been out for a couple of years now, but the SLDF’s been keeping it very hush-hush, need-to-know. PR division knows about it, of course, so we can release a couple of well-timed leaks to keep the Houses on their toes. Surprised Wallach would flaunt it. Wonder if he got clearance? Shame. Now I can’t use any video from your little practice duel.”

“He deliberately tried to humiliate me.” Karen, half-listening, began climbing down the ladder to ground level, noticed her hands were shaking on the metal rungs. She slammed her feet down as hard as she could on each step. Ladder ringing like sheet metal hit with a hammer. “Unity, he did humiliate me. Knew he was pissed about the Rooster, but what’s he got against the Gunslingers?”

Vaughn was climbing down after, his voice coming floating down from above her head. “Ah, office politics, you know? Headhunters like Wallach used to be the golden boys, now it’s the Gunslingers. Guess you kind of stole his sunshine.”

Karen reached the bottom, frowning a little to herself. It sounded plausible, but she had a nagging feeling there was more to it than that. Why was the man so eager to order a hit on the Rooster, for example? Well, the Major would just have to get used to the idea—after the SLDF transferred her here, Steinfeld would have to let her face the Rooster. Vaughn reached the bottom of the ladder, and immediately brought out his holocamera.

“So, Lieutenant Graham, after your loss to Major … Oh damn, no, can’t mention that. Start again. Lieutenant Graham, tomorrow you’ll be facing one of your greatest challenges yet: A MechWarrior who has already fought and killed six men. Can you tell the folks at home how you’re feeling? What are you thinking?”

Karen felt whatever tiny thread of patience she had been hanging by snap.

“Put that away,” she said irritably, swatting the holocamera aside and forcing Vaughn back a step. “You want to know what I’m thinking? I’ll tell you what I’m thinking: Major Wallach is a short-sighted idiot and a bully. The Gunslinger program gives us an honorable way to prove ourselves to the Combine. You know what else I think? I think you publicists are parasites, feeding on the blood of real soldiers. Six men are dead. Dead, meanwhile Wallach’s treating it like a pissing contest, and you, like a holo-drama. Well, what’s happening here is real, Vaughn; it’s not some tri-vid.”

Vaughn lowered the holocam slowly.

“Isn’t it?” he said, a hard edge to his voice she hadn’t heard before. “Then what exactly do you think is happening here, Lieutenant Graham? Image matters, Lieutenant, public opinion matters. That’s why the SLDF is investing billions in you and the other Gunslingers. Every time you win, ten thousand more people volunteer for the SLDF at recruitment centers across the Sphere. Public support for the Cameron regime goes up two percent. That’s what you’re doing here, Lieutenant. Not avenging the honor of some dead nobodies on some insignificant dirt ball nobody gives the tiniest fruit fly fart about. Pretty pictures, blonde, blue-eyed Karen Graham. Sound bites, tough-talking Karen Graham. Fulfilling fantasies, brash, brave Karen Graham. That is what is happening here.”

That was it, wasn’t it? The reason she was so enraged right now: image mattered, and hers had been tarnished. Beyond that, too, was Wallach’s anger. Somehow, the man felt his image was threatened, and he was lashing out to protect it. But why? One way to find out, but not here, not at Fort Hebron.

“Damn,” she said at last. “You’re right, aren’t you?”

“It’s been known to happen.”

Karen blew out a long sigh, ran a gloved hand through her sweaty hair. “Alright then. Well, what tough-talking Karen Graham needs right now is some quick-drinking alcohol.”

Vaughn smiled apologetically. “No bar on the base and no passes issued for the city. Ever since the, uh—” he hesitated, seemed to change his mind. “Ever since the Rooster showed up.”

She gave him a measured look. “And you’re sure you have no idea where we could get one.”

A helpless shrug. “Wish I could help.”

Hands on her hips. “Gotta be something you PR types are good for.”

“Sorry, Lieutenant.”

“Two words: Exclusive interview.”

“Meet me back here, ten o’clock.”
« Last Edit: 15 January 2018, 23:38:10 by Dubble_g »
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Kidd

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #26 on: 15 January 2018, 08:31:52 »
1) little too much info in that there preface
2) can't cut off an f-bomb like that. Against forum rules.

mikecj

  • Lieutenant
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  • Posts: 1369
  • Veteran of Galahad 3028
Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #27 on: 15 January 2018, 14:58:20 »
I enjoy your asides...

Interesting piece on the Exterminator
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.

snakespinner

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Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #28 on: 16 January 2018, 00:58:03 »
I always thought the Exterminator was same movement profile as the Phoenix Hawk but 10% more armour.
That PR man knows more than he is letting on.
Bring out the alcohol to solve all of lives mysteries. ;) O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

Dubble_g

  • Master Sergeant
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    • My personal blog (BattleTech fiction, original fiction, SF book and movie reviews)
Re: The Sword Will Never Depart
« Reply #29 on: 16 January 2018, 07:24:01 »
@Kidd: Thanks for your feedback. If I ever blah blah too much in any post, just skip down to the three stars (* * *), those always divide the appetizer from the main dish. Thanks also for the pointer on forum etiquette.

@mikecj: I'm glad someone other than me does!

@snakespinner: You thought right. That is a straight up error on my part: remembered wrong and didn't bother to check. Teach me to rely on 20-year-old memories. Will make an edit to the original post.

* * *

SEVEN
Sakae District, Kuwabatake City


Kuwabatake embodied the Combine theory of urban planning, which might best be summed up as: “What’s urban planning?” The streets were a narrow, twisting maze, crowded with a jumble of wood, aluminum or prefab plastic buildings, no two anywhere near each other on the architectural scale, save that they were all liberally tinseled with neon signs advertising noodle shops, bars, massage parlors and gambling dens. The dusty streets were largely empty, with the odd delivery man on a two-wheeled bike that sounded like it was powered by a lawnmower engine, or cherry red-and-white civilian guidance corps patrol car.

The main thoroughfare, evidently built to cater to off-duty personnel from Fort Hebron, with import food stores and Terran-themed restaurants, was entirely shuttered. The only inhabitants were a few stray dogs nosing around piles of garbage gently composting outside of grimy metal storefronts.

Oniwaka was tidally locked to Hachiman, meaning that the same hemisphere always faced towards its gas giant mother, regardless of whether it was day or night. Day and night cycles were provided by the moon’s rotation around Hachiman, creating 21-hour days followed by equally long nights. At night, Hachiman glowed in the ghostly starlight, making it look even closer, like a wrecking ball about to descend on the city.

Might be an improvement if it did, Karen thought.

Vaughn found them an izakaya, sort of a cross between a pub and a tapas bar, dimly-lit and filled with laborers and factory workers drinking with grim intensity. The tables were low, seating at floor level, with a pit for your legs under the table. They sat in the corner, drawing sidelong glances from some of the patrons.

An expressionless waiter handed them each a pair of wooden chopsticks, then looked at them expectantly.

Karen looked down at the menu, which appeared to be written in Japanese, Turkish and a language that looked like Italian mixed with Arabic. She gave up, hoped one of them meant beer. “A draft beer for me,” she said.

“Better get a bottle, less chance of tampering,” Vaughn said quickly. Then, to the waiter, “Bin-biru o ni-hon kudasai.” The waiter looked at him blankly. Vaughn coughed uncomfortably.

“Two beers please,” said Karen.

The waiter tutted in irritation, and slumped off back to the bar.
 
Vaughn turned back to Karen, slightly embarrassed. “Most people here are actually descended from Central Asians or Transcaucasians. Guess Coordinator Kurita’s Japanification program still has some gaps.”

“One or two,” she agreed.

When the bottles arrived, they clinked them together. Then Karen set hers down without drinking.

“So, you going to tell me what really happened here?”

Vaughn paused, the beer halfway to his lips. “That’s what this is all about?” She nodded. He sighed looked mournfully at his beer and set it back down on the table. “Sure you want to know? It’s pretty ugly.”

Karen figured it might be time for that drink. She took a long pull on her beer before answering. “I think, if I’m the one risking their life, I might be owed slightly more explanation than ‘diddly squat.’”

“Alright,” he folded his arms and leaned forward on the table. “You want to know, I’ll tell you: Two months ago a local teenage girl turned up dead in a gully outside of Kuwabatake. She’d been raped, throat cut. Last thing anyone saw of her, she was getting into a jeep with two boys from the technical pool. Astechs. They admitted to being drunk and off-base without leave, but said she went willingly, then jumped out on her own and walked away. Locals say the two forced her into the jeep.”

“Aw hell,” Karen put a hand to her forehead. “And then Rooster showed up, looking for blood?”

“Not right away, no. First the locals demanded we hand the two over. Colonel Steinfeld refused, of course. Shipped the two off back to corps HQ on Awano IV, let them deal with it. No way they’d receive a fair trial here: A kangaroo court and they’d be beheaded or disemboweled or whatever medieval savagery these Snakes can think of. We look after our own, right Lieutenant? That’s when our friendly neighborhood Spider Tank-Man started paying us a call.”

She was shaking her head in disbelief “So, to save the lives of two drunken, AWOL astechs, Steinfeld has sacrificed six of her best MechWarriors, is that correct? Is that what I’m hearing?”

A long shrug, shoulders up, held a moment, then down. “Pretty much,” Vaughn admitted. “Tip of the iceberg and slippery slope, that type thing though, isn’t it? Give the Dracs these two, next thing you know they’re trumping up any old accusation they can think of and yelling for Admiral Peterson’s head on a spike.”

“Unity,” she muttered angrily. “I thought we were supposed to be protecting these people.”

“Look, we’ve got what, a couple million guys on a couple hundred worlds across the Inner Sphere, with nothing to do but shine their boots and practice parade drills ever since the Reunification War ended. Boredom was bound to get to some of them, the bad apples, you know?”

The Reunification War: the nascent Star League’s first act had been to invade and conquer the Periphery states. The League’s original sin. An alliance built on war, baked into its foundations, never comfortable with peace. That was coming back to bite them, wasn’t it? People were still looking for enemies to fight. She had thought the League’s victory would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, but now she saw the resentment the League bred when its promises couldn’t be delivered. What the Rooster had said: The sword shall never depart from your house. Cursed for their sins, just like King David.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Vaughn, the six guys of ours he killed, you know their names?”

Vaughn frowned in thought. “Uh, lessee, Captain Yuliy Briner was the first, then, uh, Lieutenant Bill McCarty.” He scratched his head. “The last one was Knight? Bishop? Something like that.”

She wished she was surprised that he didn’t remember. Of course they didn’t matter, they were just like the Rooster, just like the dead girl, just grease for the PR machine, the battle of images between the League and Combine. What Vaughn had said, images mattered—now it seemed they were all that mattered. Like gladiatorial games in the crumbling Roman Empire, providing distraction from the real issues by feeding the appetites of people grown accustomed to war.

"Let me guess, they were all from Wallach's battalion?"

"Yep. The astechs, too."

Of course. It wasn't Steinfeld who was the bad gambler: it was Wallach. Try to erase the stain on his reputation the only way he knew how.

Karen was suddenly aware of how quiet the izakaya was. Looked up and saw every face turned in their direction. Over the bar, a tiny screen was showing the news. It was her face, on the screen. Text in Japanese below it, saying what she didn’t know. Nothing good, probably.

Half a dozen men rose to their feet, faces set. One hefted a beer bottle in his hand experimentally, eyes narrowed. Another pulled a serrated hunting knife from a sheath at his waist.

“Come on Vaughn, we’re going,” Karen said, tucking her legs beneath her and springing to her feet.

“But we just got—” Vaughn protested, then cut short as he followed her gaze. “Right. Good idea.”

The closest man brought his beer bottle smashing down on the edge of the table, then raised the jagged stump threateningly. Karen tensed. Unarmed combat was part of the ACMS. She didn’t doubt she could take one or two civilians in a fight. Six at one time, in an enclosed space, that was something else.

There was a bellowing roar of pure outrage from the bar, like a rabid megasaur. Karen froze, blinking at the sonic assault. The six men also stopped cold.

From behind the bar, incandescent with rage, stormed a middle-aged Arab-Asian woman in a black apron and head scarf, barely over five feet tall. Her eyes blazed as though the gates of hell had opened, and from her mouth poured a maelstrom of withering invective.

Karen caught less than one word in ten. “What’s she saying?” she hissed to Vaughn.

“I dunno, I can barely make it out. Some local Kyrgyz-azami dialect,” he whispered back. “She’s pissed that they’re going to trash her bar and—” he stopped suddenly. Karen glanced at him, watched his face go from white to green to grey, mouth working soundlessly for a moment before he found his voice. “Oh Unity, no. You’ve got to be kidding me. Of all the luck.”

“What?” Karen looked back, where the diminutive woman appeared to be building up to some kind of thermonuclear explosion of anger, while the six men stared at their feet like naughty schoolchildren.

“It’s her.”

“Who?”

The small woman rounded on them, eyes still blazing. Fury coursing through every fiber of her being. The woman advanced on them, bellowing so loud it was almost a sonic assault. Karen had never seen someone so angry. Unless, just once. Recently. “Oh crap,” she muttered.

“The mother,” Vaughn said sadly. “The mother of the girl who was murdered.”

Not just of the girl, Karen thought. She had a son, too.

The woman stopped inches from Karen, the top of her head barely reaching Karen’s chin, one finger stabbing up accusingly just beneath Karen’s nose, her voice dropping from sauroid roar to a machinegun bark that carried more personal menace. “What now?” Karen asked Vaughn from the side of her mouth, not daring to look away.

“Uh, she said, ‘Aren’t you embarrassed as a woman, aren’t you embarrassed as a human being?’ And uh, ‘What do you have to say for yourself?’”

Karen looked the woman steadily in the eyes. Because it wasn’t just a game, it wasn’t just a battle of ideas or visions. It was people, caught in the middle.

She said, “Ask her to tell me the name.

“Her daughter’s name.”
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