Author Topic: Happy Hope Town  (Read 903 times)


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Happy Hope Town
« on: 21 January 2018, 05:19:05 »
New Dmitri Dyubichev story here. One of the first ones I every wrote, actually, way back in 2015. Originally hoping to get this published in BattleCorps, but since that's gone away and CGL has indicated they have no plans to publish this, I thought I'd share it here with you. It's sort of an origin story for Dmitri, about paranoia and trust.

Other Dmitri stories are available here:
In chronological order they are:
1. Like Family: Redfield, 3025
2. Happy Hope Town (this one)
3. <Good Choices--finished but not published yet. Will post after this one>
4. The Mask Does Not Make the Man: Terra, 3027
5. Diamonds in the Rust: Van Diemen IV, 3029
6. Time Enough: Canopus, 3032

* * *

Shepard’s Valley
Stein’s Folly
Federated Suns (Occupied by the Capellan Confederation)
10 March, 3025

Orange fires winked and writhed among the homes scattered along the valley. Thick, black smoke hung heavily in the still, humid air, trapped by the high wooded hills on either side. BattleMechs, ten-meter high humanoid war machines, worked their way slowly up the valley, flattening fences and fields under their heavy tread, pausing only to blast the next building with laser and cannon fire.

Captain Dmitri Dyubichev sat listlessly in the cockpit of his Griffin, looking at the destruction but not seeing it, his eyes locked to an invisible point somewhere in the middle distance. A small, broken heap lay smoldering by the Griffin’s foot.

Commander Xie Huang’s Whitworth came up alongside. “Captain,” he signaled over a private channel. “Dmitri. We had to do this. Orders, from Colonel Ridzik himself.”

Dyubichev allowed the silence to speak for him.

“This is war,” Huang began again.

“A war we’re losing. Scorched earth on a planet we never had any hope of holding,” interrupted Dyubichev. “Orders? Stupid, pointless, bloody-minded orders.”

“Careful, Dmitri. Don’t say things like that, even to me,” urged Huang. “You never know-”

Further conversation was cut off.

“Captain! I have contacts to the north. Four birds inbound, coming in low,” Luzia DaSilva signaled from her Panther on a nearby hilltop.

“Everyone move! Brian, covering fire!” Dyubichev shouted, kicking open the throttle and sending his Griffin into a run for the wooded hills. Behind, Brian Banks’s Blackjack raised its arms and loosed a hail of cannon fire into the air.

Four needle-shaped Davion Corsairs roared overhead, black shadows against the grey clouds, slipping past the yellow lines of tracers and stabbing blue PPC beams that leaped skyward. Each released a trail of glimmering silver than plunged to the earth and exploded in a chain of fire.

Explosions hopscotched towards Dyubichev and Huang, barely missing the Griffin, the ground by the ‘Mech’s legs erupting into gouts of earth and stone that rattled off his cockpit’s ferroglass. Huang’s Whitworth staggered, then was picked up and spun like a toy as a great fireball blossomed from its chest.

And the Corsairs were gone, leaving nothing but vapor trails, the booming echo of their engines, and a thick pillar of smoke pouring from the crippled ‘Mech on the ground.

Dyubichev extended his hands and slid down the chain ladder from the Griffin’s fishbowl cockpit, feeling the muggy heat even in his shorts and cooling vest.

The Whitworth’s head had been separated from its shoulders by the blast that had torn its chest open. It lay a dozen meters from the still-burning body of the ‘Mech, the left side of the head armor cracked like an eggshell, leaving a jagged hole.

In the dim light of the cockpit, Dyubichev saw Huang still strapped to the pilot’s chair by his five-point harness. Huang’s helmet was broken, connectors ripped free of their housings. His cooling vest was torn and shredded down one side, splattered with blood but it was hard to see how much. Dyubichev put his survival knife in his teeth and squeezed his head and shoulders through the hole, cut through the harness with his knife, then took Huang under the armpits, and began slowly, laboriously dragging him out of the ‘Mech. Huang’s boot caught on a jagged edge of the hole twice before Dyubichev could finally maneuver him free.

Dyubichev sank to the grass beside Huang, drenched in sweat.

Huang’s eyes opened. Pupils unfocused, dilated. He’d probably dosed himself with Pallophine, thought Dyubichev, the Capellan emergency painkiller.

“Looks like they got me,” slurred Huang.

“Looks that way,” grunted Dyubichev, struggling to his feet. Huang’s bleeding didn’t seem too bad. Looked like he’d taken a nasty blow to the head, but nothing seemed broken. Dyubichev once again took Huang under the armpits and began dragging him further from the flaming ‘Mech.

“Aren’t you going to tell me the medics are on their way?”

“The medics are on their way.”

“Aren’t you going to tell me I’ll be fine?”

“You’ll be fine.”

“You know what, Dmitri? You’re the worst at this.”

“Have I ever lied to you, Huang?”

“Yes, frequently.”

Dyubichev reckoned that was far enough. With a sigh, he lowered Huang gently to the ground.

“Ah hell, this is painful,” said Huang, clutching weakly at Dyubichev. “You can’t let them take me Dmitri. Can’t let them get me. If the Fedrats come, you have to do it.”

“Do what?”

“End it. Kill me.”

“What? You’re babbling. Even more than usual. How much Pallophine did you take? No one is killing anyone,” Dyubichev looked around. “At the moment.”

“No? I’m one of them, you know, one of the guys who have to do, have to do it, do the thing, you know. Have to do it. For the Chancellor,” Huang’s words came in a mumbled rush.

“Blake’s bloody beard Huang, you are going to be fine. Now be a good lad and shut the hell up.”

Huang’s eyes obligingly rolled back and his body went slack. Concerned, Dyubichev reached over and felt his pulse. Sighed with relief. Huang wasn’t dead.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #1 on: 25 January 2018, 20:16:58 »
Is this thing on?

Umma City
Capellan Confederation
1 April, 3026 (one year later)

At this time in the evening Neptune’s Nadir, a bar popular with the artist caste, was dead. A small group sat nursing drinks at a back table. The only other patron was a Capellan soldier, sitting on a stool, watching the tropical fish swimming in the enormous, blue-lit tank that formed the wall behind the bar. A row of empty shot glasses stood at silent attention in front of him.

Dyubichev was drinking his way towards insensibility. This had seemed a sensible idea at the time, but made less sense with each empty glass. He could sense the other patrons glaring at his back, which was insensitive of them. Did fish feel resentment? He bet they spent a lot of time glaring at each other, too. No eyelids, you see.

Further fishy thoughts were interrupted by someone sitting on the barstool next to him.

He turned. Waves of black hair, tumbling to frame a sharp, elfin face, almond eyes. He recognized her as one of the artists from the back table.

He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“It’s never a good idea to drink alone,” she said.

He waved a hand to indicate his captive audience in the fish tank.

“All right, if you’re sure,” she stood up again.

He waved to the bartender, pointed at his empty glass, raised two fingers.

“A man of few words,” she eased back into the stool next to his. “Or just very drunk?”

“I’m Russian,” he answered at last. “Drunk is our default state.”

The bartender returned with two glasses of Larshan Sang Thip, the local whiskey equivalent. Dyubichev clinked their glasses. “Na zdorovie.”

“Isn’t it funny how we cling to these identities?” she tossed back her shot. “Ugh, that’s awful. Where was I? Right. Calling ourselves Russian, Chinese, Indian, as if time stopped a millennia ago, the moment we left Terra.”

He gave it some thought. “It’s a coping mechanism, I guess. Gives us something to hold on to, when the scale of the universe should scare the shit out of us.”

“I figured you for a soldier. You don’t sound like one.”

“We’re something of experts on being scared shitless.”

“And on coping mechanisms?” she asked wryly, looking at the glasses on the bar.

“That is entirely too perceptive.”

“Let me do one better: If you’re here on Larsha, at the arse-end of the Confederation, someone must be very mad at you. Lose a fight?”

“Yeah,” he looked down at his newest addition to his empty glass collection. Thought of burning houses, burning bodies. Trying hard not to think about something never worked. Signaled for another round of drinks. That usually worked better. “But you should have seen the other guy. No, really. He was in an Atlas.”

She had the grace to laugh. “What’s a soldier doing in an artists’ hangout like this?”

He jerked his thumb in the direction of the fish tank.

She glanced. “Interested in tropical fish?”

“They could teach us a thing or two about coping mechanisms,” he glanced at the other artists, still seated in the back corner. “And you?”

“I’m a holographer. I take holovids.”

“A holographer,” he repeated, deadpan. “On Larsha.”

“I know, I know. It’s mostly weddings, babies and vanity portraits, but there’s some beautiful scenery here too.”


“You should see Kiya Bay Si, the ‘Happy Hope Town,’” she said. “It’s a ghost town, hundreds of skyscrapers in the middle of the desert, built and abandoned just when the First Succession War broke out,” she glanced at him sideways. “I take holos of, well, damaged things. People need to remember what we’ve lost. What we could be again.”

“That would be nice,” he smiled sadly. “But we’re all too damaged by now. Trying to imagine a better life would just drive you crazy.”

“That’s bleak, even for a Russian.”

“After a year in combat, every soldier winds up in one of three places,” he held up three fingers and ticked them off one by one. “The hospital, the morgue or the asylum. That’s after just one year. This war’s been going over two centuries. None of us have any hope of living to see the end of it. You’d have to be insane not to go crazy.”

“What did happen to you?” She studied his face intently. “It’s like you’re alive, but not living.” She thought for a moment, seemed to come to a conclusion. “You should come see my work.”

He threw back the last shot, slapped several L-Bills on the bar. “Well, what are we waiting for then?” He offered her his arm. “Dmitri.”

“That’s better.” She smiled and placed her hand on his forearm. “Lilith. But call me Lilly.”

As they left, he noticed one of Lilith’s former companions in the corner, a big bearded man, glaring at them. Dyubichev threw him a wink. See a fish try that.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #2 on: 25 January 2018, 21:21:56 »
Glad to see this.  I was hoping you'd show us how Dmitri and Lilith first met.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #3 on: 25 January 2018, 21:50:11 »
Great to see Dmitri back.
Now he's trying to teach tropical fish how to wink. :D O0
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #4 on: 26 January 2018, 07:46:03 »
@Tegyrius and snakespinner: Wow, I'm mildly stunned but very delighted to know that people are following along with these.

* * *

Umma City was built into the side of Mount Umma, a long-extinct volcano worn down from warring with the elements to half its former size. Housing furthest up the mountainside was the most expensive, those on the lower, the cheapest. There, you found the lowest of the low, servitors, laborers, artists and drunks.

They walked through its winding, empty streets and a fine, steady drizzle, the buildings dark with disuse and neglect.

Then they turned a corner, and the buildings fell away to reveal a broad, open plaza. Overhead, an ovoid DropShip pierced the sky, navigation lights flickering and reflecting on the underside of the night clouds, riding a spike of fiery light as it descended with a deafening roar like approaching thunder.

“Hadn’t realized we were so close to the spaceport,” Dyubichev commented.

Lilith shrugged. “Noisy, but the rent is cheaper. Anyway, I like to see the ships come and go, make up stories where they’ve come from, where they’re going.”

Dyubichev checked his timepiece, then jerked his chin in the direction of the DropShip. “Well, that should be the Odysseus, a Danais class freighter from the Magistracy of Canopus.”

“Oh, now you’ve taken all the romance out of it,” complained Lilith.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, they’re probably smugglers.”

Lilith tensed at this. “Will the militia try to arrest them?”

Dyubichev shook his head slowly. “No, they’ve probably paid off the port commissar. You know how it is, one rule for the ruler, one for the ruled.” He stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, angry at himself for breaking the mood. They stood in silence a moment, watching the falling star of the ship gradually dim and wink out as it descended, leaving only the sequined stars glittering overhead.

“’If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you,’” Lilith’s soft voice broke the silence.

“Nietzsche?” Dyubichev turned his neck to look at Lilith. “’Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’ A bit late for me, though.”

“Was Nietzsche Russian?” joked Lilith. “He sounds cheerful enough for one of yours.”

“German, I think. Now, ‘If there is no god, then all things are permitted,’ that’s one of ours.”

Lilith was silent a moment. “All things,” she repeated absently. “Kerensky?”


The sound of approaching footsteps interrupted further conversation.

Five men in black boots, ill-fitting jackets and even worse haircuts came striding proprietarily across the plaza. Lilith shrank against Dyubichev. “Greenbacks,” she whispered.

Dyubichev groaned inwardly. Greenbacks were the visible arm of the Capellan Confederation’s “Special Services” branch, the internal security arm of the Maskirovka intelligence agency. Named for their fondness for surplus green military jackets, they kept the lower castes in line: Deniable enforcers of rules the Confederation claimed not to have, hunters of the disloyal, the knock on your door in the night, the ones who made your neighbors disappear.

“Nice night for a walk, lovebirds,” said the leader nastily, as the others spread out to surround the couple. “Out after curfew, I see. You have a permit, I hope?”

Dyubichev frowned at the man’s off-world accent. There were only 36 MechWarriors on the entire planet—he was used to being recognized. Of course, there was no curfew, nor permits for walking the streets late at night. It was a shakedown. He fished his ID card out of his jacket pocket, held it up for them to see. “Captain Dmitri Dyubichev, Fifth Confederation Reserve Cavalry. Is there a problem here?”

The leader hesitated a moment, looked to his compatriots a moment. His features set, resolved. He drew a short wooden truncheon from beneath his jacket. “Looks fake to me,” he said, taking a step forward.

There were several trillion humans in the Inner Sphere. Of them, perhaps a few million had the balance, speed, reflexes and instincts to be a MechWarrior—literally one in a million. Dyubichev reacted with lightning speed, grabbing and twisting the man’s arm until he released the truncheon with a gasp, then grabbing it and sweeping the man’s legs out from under him with a blow to the back of the knees.

“Look again,” said Dyubichev slowly. “Still look fake to you?”

The man staggered wordlessly to his feet, rubbing his wrist gingerly. Dyubichev tossed him the truncheon. He caught it awkwardly with his off-hand, glared a minute before stalking wordlessly away, his four fellows trailing after like a family of ducklings.

Dyubichev looked to Lilith. “You okay?” he asked.

She nodded once, surprisingly calm, he thought. Hands bunched like fists in the pockets of her raincoat. She didn’t look frightened. Relieved, maybe. “It’s been happening a lot recently,” she said. “New city governor. Wants to show his loyalty by taking a tough line, I guess. He’s let the greenbacks off the leash.”

Dyubichev sighed inwardly. There would be trouble, he knew.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #5 on: 26 January 2018, 20:59:32 »
@Tegyrius and snakespinner: Wow, I'm mildly stunned but very delighted to know that people are following along with these.

You do good stuff - better than a lot of published gaming fiction I've seen, BattleTech or otherwise.  And the Dyubichev stories, in particular, have a noir feel that's entirely appropriate for the universe (especially the pre-4SW era when entropy is at its maximum) but rarely seen in print.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #6 on: 27 January 2018, 08:24:16 »
You do good stuff - better than a lot of published gaming fiction I've seen, BattleTech or otherwise.  And the Dyubichev stories, in particular, have a noir feel that's entirely appropriate for the universe (especially the pre-4SW era when entropy is at its maximum) but rarely seen in print.

Well, thanks for saying so. I'm just trying to write the kind of stories I enjoy reading, and hope others do too. I must admit I've never thought of them as "noir" stories--that's an interesting take. Definitely agree that one of the things that makes the early period so fun is that it's less Tom Clancy, more Mad Max.

* * *

Lilith’s apartment was in a grey, weather-beaten complex near the city spaceport, with bare concrete walls and a faint patina of neglect.

Lilith gave Dyubichev a what-can-you-do shrug, led him inside the building and up a battered staircase, past faded and torn posters of happier, greener places, to the door of her second-floor unit. Once inside, she walked through the small living room-slash-kitchen, stopping at a side door.

“Here it is,” said Lilith, swinging it open.

It was a small room, perhaps four meters square. The floor appeared to be covered in lightbulbs, row upon row reaching from wall to wall, covered by a thin sheet of transparent plastic. They glowed faintly, like fireflies. “Is this where I say ‘Wow’?”

“Stand in the center,” she pushed him in. “You might want to close your eyes.” Lilith returned to the doorway, stood beside the switch there. “Ready?”

Dyubichev shrugged amiably. “I guess.” She hit the switch.

The room vanished. Instead, he stood ankle deep in shifting sand. Before him rose a great tower, 50 stories high, of cracked, crumbling ferrocrete, broken or empty windows and sand-blasted paint. To his right arose another, similar tower. To his left, another. He spun around. Another. And beyond it, another. They marched silently in all directions, like tombstones in a graveyard for titans.

Dyubichev felt at once flattened, crushed beneath the dead, cold weight of these silent, sightless giants, but also exhilarated, marveling at the sheer scale, of the daring ambition behind the construction.

And then he was back in Lilith’s apartment, a hundred glowing lights beneath his feet. Of course, not lightbulbs, but holo projectors.

“It’s magnificent. I feel, I feel, baby Blake in a bathtub, I’ve no idea how I feel. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dyubichev shook his head. “This is Kiya Bay Si?”

She smiled, nodded. “Built as a housing estate for miners and engineers. The idea was to concentrate them all here, half a million people, then build maglevs to ferry them out to the mines. They built the apartments first, figured they’d build the roads and trains next. The wars came, the project was abandoned, and the desert has been reclaiming it ever since.”

“Got to hand it to them, they thought big in those days,” Dyubichev whistled in admiration. “But really, this is amazing. You should be on Sian or Capella, exhibiting for Dukes and Duchesses.”

Her smiled faded. “Yes, well. Maybe if I made more holos of brave factory workers uniting in support of glorious House Liao, and fewer that remind people how far we’ve fallen.” She bit her lip. “I shouldn’t be saying this.”

“If I cared, do you think I’d be here, on Larsha?” Dyubichev reassured her, but her expression didn’t change. “Ah hell, after that display I could use a drink. Another drink,” he amended.

“It’s two in the morning.”

“See? We should be on the third bottle by now.”

“You really are Russian.”

“I’ll settle for coffee. My treat?”

She smiled, made her decision.

When he finally made it back to his quarters, there was a message from Huang waiting for him. He made a mental note to read it sometime, and fell into bed.

They did visit Kiya Bay Si, once. They drove out across the desert in Dyubichev’s Dust Ranger jeep, waved through each checkpoint by militia men happy just to get a glimpse of a MechWarrior.

After climbing to the top of one of the apartment towers, they stood at the edge and held each other wordlessly. He’d been sad then, knowing this moment couldn’t last, wishing he could preserve it, preserve them in amber, keeping them in this perfect moment for some distant alien archeologists to discover in a million years.

The sky darkened to an ugly yellow, heavy with clouds. “Storm coming,” he said at last.
« Last Edit: 28 January 2018, 01:33:17 by Dubble_g »
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #7 on: 28 January 2018, 01:28:46 »
Resident Smartass since 1998
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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.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #8 on: 28 January 2018, 07:30:47 »
Thanks, Dave Talley!

* * *

In his off-base apartment, Dyubichev dreamed of thunder and awoke in a tangle of limbs and sheets, smelling of sweat and recycled air. The thunder continued, and he realized someone was banging on the door.

The door monitor showed Lilith, disheveled and distraught. She half-fell into the apartment when he unlocked the door, and he guided her wordlessly to the couch in the main room. Brought some tea from the kitchen. Sat in the other chair and waited.

“It wasn’t the police,” she said at last, and then the words came pouring like water from a burst dam. “The police have badges, uniforms. They just had sticks, knives and guns. Greenbacks. They just burst in, walked right in, didn’t explain anything. They just started hitting us and dragging us outside. There was a van, grey, no markings. They set fire to the building,” she took a shuddering breath. “Smoke everywhere. They burned it. I think Henrik might have still been inside.”

Dyubichev didn’t waste time on empty reassurances. This was how Special Services made people disappear. He could picture the scene vividly enough. He remembered fire, burning in the valley. He puffed his cheeks, expelled a long breath. Made his decision. “All right, what can I do?” he asked her.

She answered unhesitatingly, “The Canopian freighter at the spaceport.”

“The Odysseus?” he blinked in thought a moment. “I don’t know if they’d willing to smuggle you out.”

“I know they would,” she said suddenly, fiercely. “Look, just take me back to my apartment, I’ll get my things, then we’ll go to the spaceport. If I can just talk to the captain, I know I can convince her.”

She stood.

“Wait,” said Dyubichev, and went into his study. He opened a drawer in his desk, pulled out a small under-arm holster with a stubby matte-black pistol. He put on the holster, then pulled on his jacket over top.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Winston Defender, hold-out gyrojet,” he explained. “Memento from Stein’s Folly. Just in case.”

They parked Dyubichev’s Dust Ranger jeep a block from Lilith’s apartment Watched the front door and window for an hour before deciding it was safe to go up.

“Wait here,” said Lilith, and disappeared into the bedroom, leaving Dyubichev standing nervously in the main room.

Suddenly, there was a sharp pounding on the front door. Before Dyubichev could take more than a step, a white, humming blade burst through the wood and carved out the door handle. Something slammed into the door and it burst open. Two men in faded khakis came through the doorway, the first tall and thin, armed with a snub-nosed, double-barreled revolver, the second bearded and muscular, carrying a humming vibroblade.

They seemed surprised to see him there, hesitated a moment. Dyubichev slowly raised his hands. Lilith came running from the bedroom, fumbling for something in a duffel bag, and stumbled to a halt. The first man glanced over, swung the revolver around, finger on the trigger.

Dyubichev reached under his jacket, brought out the Winston Defender in one smooth motion.

The man glanced back. Eyes widened.

The Defender was incredibly loud. Gyrojet rounds were micro missiles, briefly boosted to nearly hypersonic speeds while minimizing recoil. Dyubichev’s first round blew apart the man’s shoulder with a noise like a thunderclap, flinging him back like a child’s doll and severing his arm. The next round hit him in the throat, turning his upper body into little more than a thick smear on the wall behind him.

The second man lunged at Dyubichev with his blade. Dyubichev tried to ward the blow with the Defender, but the white-hot blade sheared straight through the barrel, passing inches from Dyubichev’s face. And then the man was on him and they fell backwards through the door into the holo room, rolling on the floor as they wrestled for control of the knife. The man pinned Dyubichev to the floor and used his weight to slowly, slowly push the blade down towards Dyubichev’s throat.

Lilith hit the holo projector switch. Light flooded up from the floor, directly into the man’s eyes. With a cry, he raised a hand to block the light, allowing Dyubichev to twist free the vibroblade a plunge it into the man’s chest.

Dyubichev pushed the body off himself and staggered to his feet, splattered in blood. Lilith slumped to the floor, staring at the growing pool of blood under the body.

“That’s Henrik,” she gasped. “He was one of us. One of our group.”

“Looks like he was Special Services, Lilith. A plant,” he retrieved Lilith’s duffel bag and the revolver from the mangled heap of the man by the doorway. “Come on, we have to go.”
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #9 on: 28 January 2018, 17:43:10 »
another Dmitri story..   8)
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #10 on: 28 January 2018, 18:32:08 »
I love the descriptions you put into the background.  That city is such a SL era idea.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #11 on: 29 January 2018, 08:10:28 »
@DOC_Agren: It's weird, 30 years or so ago I read the Sword & the Dagger, and Dmitri's this throwaway character in the prologue, gets maybe two lines, totally irrelevant to the plot and exists just to give Ridzik someone to talk to, but I always wondered what happened to him. So welcome to my head canon.

@mikecj: Thanks, glad people notice things other than the stuff blowing up. The city was the first part of the story I wrote, and the rest kind of grew up around it. I like it in BTech when they get a little inventive with locations, like Sirius in "Price of Glory" or Quentin/Mustafar in "Wolves on the Border."

* * *

They entered the spaceport through the front doors. Walking calmly, unhurriedly, Dyubichev nodded to the militia men on patrol outside, and led Lilith through the main concourse, their footsteps echoing in the empty hall. There were four more militia soldiers at the entrance to the landing pad, but a flash of Dyubichev’s ID soon had them waved through.

“They will track this, after,” whispered Lilith. “They’ll know it was you.”

“Maybe,” Dyubichev conceded. “But then they’d have to admit there was a crackdown in the first place. Anyway, greenbacks coming after regular military will turn it into a turf war. Not sure Maskirovka chief Chandra Ling wants to challenge Pavel Ridzik that openly.”

They walked out onto the ferrocrete apron, the great egg-like bulk of the Odysseus rearing overhead. A row of service vehicles was parked in front—coolant trucks, fuel tankers and cargo haulers—forming a kind of honor guard on their walk up to the DopShip.

A figure stepped out of the shadows between two trucks. “Dyubichev,” it said. “It’s been a long time.”

He wore an ill-fitting green army surplus jacket and held a Mydron machine pistol almost carelessly in his hand. The face was familiar, round and pleasant, little changed with the passage of time, save for a faint scar across the forehead.

Dyubichev stood quiet a moment. “Huang,” he said quietly.

“How have you been, Dmitri?”

“Exiled. Depressed. Drunk, mostly.”

“Sounds like a pleasant way to pass the time.”

“How did you find me?”

“This is my operation. I knew you’d be heading here.”

“You’re Special Services now?”

Huang shook his head a little. “Always have been. Someone had to keep an eye on the children.”

Dyubichev nodded, understanding. “That’s why you wanted me to kill you, that day. You were worried what the Fedrats might find out, if you were captured. You lied to us. You spied on us.”

“Don’t be naïve, Dmitri. This is the Confederation. Everyone informs on everyone. It’s the ones that don’t that are the threat,” he looked at Lilith.

Dyubichev shifted slightly to put himself between Huang and Lilith. She looked pale, her hands stuck deeply in her raincoat pockets. Huang raised the machine pistol warningly. “She’s a spy, Dmitri. She’s using you.”

Dyubichev shook his head once, no.

“A spy from the Magistracy of Canopus. Spying on our defences, preparing for war, Dmitri.”

Dyubichev snorted. “War? Between us and the Maggies? Be serious.” He thought of the revolver in his pocket, wondered if he would have time to draw it before Huang fired.

“Dmitri, have I ever lied to you?”

“Every single damn day for six years, apparently.” The distance separating them was not so great. Maybe he could grab the gun before Huang reacted?

“Dmitri, this is war. Everything is justifiable if you win. We’ve both done terrible things, Dmitri. Spied on our friends. Killed helpless farmers on foreign worlds,” Huang said grimly. “You tell me which of us is the bigger monster.”

“Maybe,” admitted Dyubichev. “What’s one life against all the ones I’ve taken? Guess I’ll find out.” He tensed, ready to spring.

There was a high-pitched whine and a neat, round hole appeared in Huang’s forehead. His body dropped like a marionette whose strings had been cut, slumping almost peacefully to the ferrocrete. Dyubichev turned. Behind him, Lilith stood calmly, tiny, palm-sized laser pistol kept trained on Huang’s corpse.

A tiny, concealable laser. A spy’s weapon.

It was too much, it was too funny. Laughter, helpless, hopeless laughter came bubbling up and doubled him over, tears rolling down his face, gasping for air. Lilith watched him worriedly, waited for the laughter to subside. She put away the gun and began striding towards the DropShip.

Dyubichev crouched by Huang’s body a moment. Tried to pinpoint how he felt. Nothing, he guessed. It was just one more betrayal, one more insane accident in a mad world. You’d have to be crazy not to go insane. He trailed after Lilith.

The DropShip captain waited at the top of the gangplank, a short, red-haired woman with a fierce scowl backed by two crewmen armed with stunners. When she saw Lilith her expression changed, and she descended the gangplank quickly.

“Yves,” said Lilith, embracing the other woman.

“Lilith,” the captain replied. “What happened?”

“We were betrayed. The mission has to be aborted, scrubbed. Requesting extraction.”

“And him?”

“He is,” she glanced back. “He was one of our group.”

The captain eyed Dyubichev suspiciously. “He doesn’t look like an artist.”

“A, well, a storyteller. Of sorts.”

“Is he coming with us?”

Lilith looked at him, arched an eyebrow. He shook his head.

She turned to him, stepped within arm’s reach. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. You were right, that night in the bar. We’re all damaged, in one way or another,” she said sadly, and touched his cheek. “What will you do?”

“Survive,” he replied. “It’s what I do.”

“Yes. But will you live?” She turned to go.
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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #12 on: 30 January 2018, 01:03:14 »
Killing a Mask agent for a beautiful Canopian agent.
That proves Dmitri is not crazy. :D O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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Growing up is optional.


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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #13 on: 30 January 2018, 07:43:14 »
@ snakespinner: Hey, who among us hasn't shot a secret agent for a beautiful Canopian spy? I know I have.
« Last Edit: 30 January 2018, 09:44:31 by Dubble_g »
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Sir Chaos

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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #14 on: 30 January 2018, 08:44:19 »
@ snakespinner: Hey, who among us hasn't shot a secret agent for a beautiful Canopian agent? I know I have.

And who among those who haven´t don´t *wish* they had?
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

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Re: Happy Hope Town
« Reply #15 on: 02 February 2018, 22:20:08 »
Been a little busy for posting one chapter at a time. I've put the sequel to this one, called "Good Choices," up on my site:
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