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Author Topic: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic  (Read 57922 times)

snakespinner

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #60 on: 11 August 2018, 04:39:33 »
Great update. I laughed as I read about Melissa kicking him every time he said the wrong thing. ;D :beer:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

marauder648

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #61 on: 11 August 2018, 04:46:04 »
Absolutely wonderful :) A brilliant, well written, endearing and very amusing pair of updates :D
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!

Starfox1701

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #62 on: 12 August 2018, 00:54:42 »
Holy crap! Love want more must have more!

Tyrchon

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #63 on: 13 August 2018, 16:27:37 »
This has been quite the enjoyable read.  The SI is not an overpowered gary-stu showing both consternation and caution over whether to interfere, how far to go, and what changes could mean.  You have a nice touch when it comes to adding details and characterization and also keep a nice flow to your plot so that even jumps in time feel fluid.  I will definitely keep an eye on this particular story.

Siden Pryde

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #64 on: 14 August 2018, 14:30:48 »
Awesomesauce.  Loved your portrayal of Melissa.  She's always been one of my favourite BT personalities and you gave her a lot of character.  Well written, enjoyable to read, and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.
« Last Edit: 14 August 2018, 14:32:39 by Siden Pryde »

ckosacranoid

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #65 on: 15 August 2018, 13:55:07 »
I love the updates and Missy is quiet fun to read after kicking the crap out of our hero and and then dragging him out and about. That was funny with her getting him to open up and the thoughts from her about her and Hanse talking and really getting to know each other well before cannon is nice.

Chris OFarrell

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #66 on: 27 August 2018, 08:04:20 »
So one final update to finally close out this book.
It's going to be politically heavy, so if you want hot mech on mech action, uh ... sorry!



***
******
***


Chapter 10: Tweedledee and Tweedledum - or just dumb and dumber?


I had never put on a Tux in my life … and now I had been given a deadline to get into one and wear it walking into a ****** Neo-Feudal Royal Court-
No, no no! Bad word.


Mental note, NEVER use ‘deadline’ in a sentence in anything related to a command from Katrina Steiner.

Still, I was able to put on the unfamiliar suit quicker than I anticipated, taking a moment to admire myself in the full length mirror built into the walk-in closets door. The white shirt was excellent quality if relatively plain, but a Steiner-Blue cummerbund added a neat little splash of color, as did the polished brass buttons on the jacket.
Of course, if the specific shade of blue identified me in some fashion with House Steiner…
Well in either case … I decided I looked
awesome if I did say so myself, as I slipped on the jacket after fussing the bow-tie into place.

“Bond … James Bond” I tried in my best faux Connery, before my reflection gave me a ‘seriously?’ look at how bad that was.

Very glad no-one had seen that, I turned away and headed for the door. A second after closing the door behind me, I realized I didn’t have the first clue how I would get to the Throne Room, let alone get admission to it without an invitation - or Morgan Kell’s note.
Shrugging after a moment, I made for the nearby elevators that would take me down to the lower floor entrances, reasoning that if the powers that be were
expecting me…
My assumption proved accurate when I found a man waiting by said elevator who clicked his heels together, greeted me as ‘Herr Smith’ and informed me he would be delighted to escort me to the Yule Festival.
Seriously, my skepticism and misgivings around these neo-feudal systems aside, I have to admit that having hot and cold running servants desperate to throw themselves over the smallest puddles in the road rather than let your feet get wet … well, it was kinda addictive.
We entered the elevator and said servant took out a key on a chain attached to his belt, inserted and twisted it … and
that caused a small recess to pop out above the level buttons. He promptly leaned in to it and - oh, it was a retinal scanner? Pretty high-tech for 3026 Battletech, but then this was The Triad. A quick scan latter several additional buttons on the control panel lit up and he hit the one labeled ‘B7’. The elevator car dropped swiftly past ground, heading towards what I presumed was a vehicle bay for a quick drive over through the winter air. But instead of opening on a garage, the doors opened on - holy shit, I just walked into Versailles.

I mean, I had never actually been to Versailles, back on Earth. It had been one of those ‘bucket list’ things I always wanted to do in life when I finally got over to Europe. The grandeur and glory of the French nobility at its height maintained carefully through the French Revolution and two World Wars to the present day.

Come to think of it, I suppose that the vast majority of my ‘bucket list’ would forever be denied to me now, I rather doubted Disneyland still stood after all. But after this?


Yeah, I could probably defacto tick ‘Versailles Hall of Mirrors’ off that list now. And then some.

This, according to my guide who ushered me out and started walking me along the gently curving passage at a quite brisk pace, was the Private Corridor for the Steiner family to make their way to and from the Throne Room or Royal Court, a giant ring under the Triad.
And if this was a simple private service tunnel, I didn’t know what it said about the Steiner family … well, except perhaps ‘We have the money. ALL the money!!!’
The floor was a white marble threaded with veins of crimson, the centerline of which was covered in a Steiner Blue carpet. White too was the color of the walls, but it was offset with generous broad amounts of gold leaf paint. The vaulted ceiling above was painted with a
continuous work of art that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the roof of the Sistine Chapel by my reckoning and perhaps most strikingly, the outer wall was one giant and continuous strip of a flawless mirror, interrupted only by the occasional door.

Just … wow.

My escort was also perfectly happy to play tour guide as we moved briskly along, pointing out some of the incredible treasures of the Steiner family, set in small alcoves or mounted on the inner side of the passage. Items of such value and historical significance that I had to stop my jaw dropping open as they were pointed out one after the other.
I mean, I just walked past the framed handwritten letters sent back and forth between Tracial Steiner and Ian Cameron, negotiating the joining of the Lyran Commonwealth with the Star League! Hanging in a glorified private tunnel and simply waved away as if it was
nothing by my guide!

Was it that after so many centuries, the Steiners had picked up so much stuff that even something like that wasn’t worthy of ‘front row’ seats upstairs? Or was this a message from the Steiners of the past to the Steiners of the present? Reminding them of their families position and pride and accomplishments or some bullshit like that as they walked to the ‘business’ part of The Triad?

Whatever the case, I can say without a doubt that the purpose of the passage was to overawe me, it gave it a very good shot.
But it wasn’t the last time tonight I would be left stunned.



***
******
***

I of course had a general sort of idea about what the Lyran Throne room looked like. My memories of Battletech didn’t include any canon illustrations, but I had seen it on the Vid today, even if the focus had been pretty tightly on the Throne and area around it.
A little chatting with my guide explained to me that the Throne Room where this ‘invitational’ was taking place as opposed to the Ball Rooms in the Royal Court, was a large floor space flanked by two extended wings. The top of said wings were tiered seating, like a stadium, providing public seating for major court events to view the going ons on the floor of the Royal Court where the nobles and VIPs fussed. And under the raised seating were two lowered levels of comparable floor space, with gentle flights of stairs linking them to the main floor. Generally closed off day to day, but fully opened up tonight to provide maximum floor space and it was into the Eastern one of those I entered.

My entrance was unheralded through a service door into the wing, slipped in with a bunch of servants carrying drinks whose casual screening of me and dispersion into the crowd suggested quietly slipping people into the Royal Court without notice was a major part of their job. And thus finally alone and left to my own devices, I casually sort of started to look around, taking the measure of tonight’ dignitaries as I did.



Seriously, did I just walk onto the set of The Hunger Games?

Not kidding; the guests around me looked like they could have just walked out of one of President Snow’s Capital parties, with a riot of outlandish and exotic outfits and colors and hairstyles and makeup which I think were supposed to represent regional fashions? It was like the MTV music awards meets Tribeca Film Festival in its own way and it in a moment made me extremely aware how out of place I was.
Not because of my clothes per se - there were plenty of men wearing very similar styles mind you so I fit right in in that sense. Rather, it was the fact that I was brutally reminded I was a 21st century middle class professional walking into the Throne Room of a 31st century feudal power filled with nobles, one encompassing hundreds of star systems and hundreds of billions of people.
For all my knowledge about this universe, knowledge that included things that had driven Ardan Sortek (for about five minutes) to drink, stunned Quintus Allard and actually left Hanse Davion speechless … I was a complete and utter noob in this space. The million and one social cues and royal protocols the people around me were taught from day one, no-one had ever seemed to see the need to tell me. Even on New Avalon I had actually been pretty isolated in the palace, working with professional intelligence and military personnel with next to no exposure to the Royal Court itself.
But this?
Dealing with Hanse and Katrina (despite the fact that they were kind of the ultimate expression of this entire system) was actually straight forward enough. They were professionals, I was professional. They knew exactly who and what I was, we all wanted the same thing and we were working towards the same goal.
But dealing with the nobility at court? Was this really something I could do?



As a matter of fact, yes. Yes it was.

I surprised myself by quashing my first instinct to freeze or find a very dark corner to hide in and try not to be noticed, chiding myself for the self-pity as I thought back to Melissa’s brief conversation with me. About how my actions had impacted her.
It was one thing to dump my load of knowledge and reality on Katrina and Hanse. Hanse, Katrina, Ardan, Quintus; they were all titans of Battletech in 3025. Experienced elites in their fields of expertise, confident in themselves, skilled and hardened by war and politics for a long time. My revelations and presence had cleared shocked them all, but they had adapted, taking my disruptions in stride and shaping them to their advantage. But while I was bouncing my way through Hyperspace from Helm, Melissa - a sixteen year old – had lost any privacy over and confronted directly about the doubts and second guessing going on in her head that had hounded her through the ‘Warrior Trilogy’.
Directly and bluntly.
Not to mention all the future actions. The people killed in the Silver Eagle incident alone due to her choices must have been one hell of a thing to confront for a teenager over. So while it seemed that she, her mother and Hanse had been forced to sit down and talk through all their issues in the open ... I felt that behind that enthusiastic kicking and fake glowering there was still an uncertain person coming to grips with the weight of the future I had placed onto her shoulders.
Sure, there was clearly a genuine desire and will to blaze a trail through history hand in hand with Hanse. Any idiot could see that. But there was also a growing understanding of the sheer mass of the expectations and consequences being thrust upon her.

And yet, despite all of that. Despite everything I had -unapologetically- dumped onto her through sheer necessity … Melissa Steiner had nonetheless taken time out to engage with me. The ‘Princess’, her Mother and the others ‘in the know’ of me had clearly decided it was unacceptable that I was lurking in my room and despite everything else they had to worry about; they had taken the time to send in the shock troops and beat me up until I came downstairs to join them.

Simply put; they had refused to let me spend Christmas Eve alone in my room.

So yes, I would put my best foot forward and not find a corner to hide in. If a sixteen year old kid could deal with everything I had thrusted onto her shoulders, then I could surely fumble my way through this.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I might even enjoy myself!

This wing of the Throne Room seemed tonight to have been given over to where the food was served, a near continuous sort of table running along the length of it covered in food and attended by an army of servants constantly in motion. Countless stand up tables were scattered across the rest of this wings floor space with groups were clustered around the tables by the dozen, standing together and enjoying themselves with good food, good drink and good company. Large holovids mounted on the walls and from the ceiling were switching between various shots of the main floor and the mood was definitely festive. An almost unwilling smile came across my face as I picked out a brassy, upbeat instrumental of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ coming clearly through over the buzz of the conversation as I threaded my way through the crowds mulling around, exchanging nods with a surprisingly large number of people as I walked past -and even a couple of ‘Merry Christmas!’ greetings that made me increasingly suspicious that the Tux Melissa had picked out for me did somehow mark me as someone Katrina Steiner designated a personal guest.
Well either that or some of the people here had had a little too much to drink.
Or both.

Well, no point worrying about that now I thought as I approached the other side of the wing, which bordered the Throne Rooms main court. The main floor was about two meters above this one and dozens of sets of steps down the rooms length allowed easy access to and from it. Gaily (in the classical Christmas sense) decorated columns lined the boundary where the gap between floor and ceiling of this wing narrowed and, gloriously, it seemed each of said columns a servant posted there with a drinks tray. So I wound my way across and up the steps, returning polite nods and smiles from people before I swiped a flute of sparkling wine as I stepped out onto the floor of the Throne Room ‘proper’, glancing up idly as I came out from under the wings roof-
Holy. Shit.
I had never suffered from vertigo. But as my gaze locked with the massive ceiling above me, well, I couldn’t help but feel I was in immediate danger of ‘falling up’...

The roof of the Throne room was dominated by a massive dome in the center of it, one so large it took up perhaps half of the total roof area. Huge and impossible single panes of a transparent material letting in the night sky were held in an almost delicate looking web of …
No.
Seriously, no.
That couldn’t possibly be … solid gold?!

...

Could it?!


 
No, impossible I dismissed the thought as I forced my jaw to un-drop with a distinct click. It had to be a real structural material just … covered with a solid Gold layer on top.

On reflection, that still sounded ludicrous.

I broke my attention away from the roof to take in the wider room and found it just as stunning. The entire room was done up in an arctic theme. The great columns that lined the long room were draped with silvery cloth and everywhere I turned it looked like ice was artfully clinging to the walls and columns. I reached out to brush my hand against what by all means looked like ice and found it felt like glass or crystal, just shaped exquisitely to look like real pure ice. The floodlights in the vast hall had also seemingly been tuned to give a slightly blue tint to everything and directly under the dome in the middle of the floor was a frigen gigantic Christmas tree. I was sure that had not been there at the press conference, reaching easily five or six stories up and decorated in an artic theme of silver, blue and gold on top of its green leafs with what I hoped was fake snow lightly dusted over it.
I’d bet it was a real tree though, not a plastic fake or anything common like that!
Although I had to roll my eyes at the ****** Cameron Star on the top of it. Now there was an idea for chaos, have someone ask Hanse and Katrina together which of them was First Lord again?

No John. That’s a bad John!

“Bloody hell” I muttered out loud as I deliberately redirected my gaze up from the tree to the dome, once again reeling and shaking my head slowly, probably talking a bit too loudly given my exasperation, “are the Steiners genetically incapable of doing anything small?!”

A bark of laughter behind me at that comment told me I had been overheard and I winced for a moment as I planted my foot in my mouth.
I schooled my expression back though and turned to meet whoever it was … and was pleasantly surprised - and relieved - by the revelation of who it was.
The man behind me was wearing a Kell Hounds dress uniform. Red and black it was rather clever in its design; cut so that when the jacket was closed as it was now, it formed the distinctive head of the rather vicious looking canine that was the symbol of their unit, its ears reaching up onto his shoulders. The silver rank insignia of a captain - or Hauptmann in Lyran parlance - sat at his throat and far below his I could see he wore the Davion style spurs of a MechWarrior.
It was a very different idea of a formal uniform compared with my expectations of formal military dress from back home - or the classic style of the Great House militaries for that matter, but in the riot of colors and styles tonight in the Court tonight, seemed to fit right in - as did the man wearing it.

“Hauptmann Allard” I greeted the man with some surprise and pleasure - even as the inner cynic in me rejected the idea that Quintus Allards son had just so happened to meet me by accident as I walked out. Not that I objected mind you; having a wingman (or perhaps a Lancemate was the correct terminology) with me tonight would be very welcome. “A Merry Christmas to you” I extended my hand which he took firmly.

“And to you Mister Smith” he smiled back as he shook my hand. “And yes” he added, glancing around, “I think it’s something of a point of pride that the Throne Room of the Archon is by far the biggest in the Inner Sphere. Personally though, I think it might be a tad over the top”.

“It’s impressive none the less” I admitted, taking a sip of my Champaign. “Plenty of places for Katrina to pile up her paperwork” I noted with a glance around, recalling idly that The Bitch back in the lead up to splitting the Lyran side of the Commonwealth had sat in a chair next to Victors throne as his regent … and used it to store paperwork on, in a calculated insult of how little she thought of him.

“I suppose that’s true” Allard smiled amiably. “Although she’s rarely here. According to Colonel Kell, the Archon doesn’t use the Throne Room even a fraction as much as Alessandro Steiner used to”.

“That doesn’t surprise me” I agreed with a snort and I gestured at the distant chair off the questioning look. “Alessandro - especially towards the end - was probably so uncertain of his shrinking powerbase that he would feel the need to reinforce it quite blatantly by sitting on his Throne. Katrina on the other hand probably has far better things to do than waste time sitting on a chair for the cameras” I said and Allard grunted in agreement at that. “Of course” I allowed looking past the throne to the two titans protecting it, “this room does have some advantages. There are probably days in politics when it's good to have a pair of Donal PPCs at your back”.

“True” Dan laughed. “Although why they’ve persisted in keeping long range fire support machines in the position of close bodyguards inside a building ...” Allard shook his head, an air of professional exasperation coming over him that I thought was a rather valid point.

“Tradition I suppose?” I shrugged, trying to remember when the two massive war machines had been introduced. I think it was after one of the Archons got spooked by an assassination attempt – but even so it was a bit silly. I mean, in one sense it didn’t really matter; squishy humans vaporized just as easily inside the minimal focusing range of the PPC, but the LRM rack was hardly useful indoors. And God help them if a bored pilot accidently stretched out and kicked the jump jet pedals …
Although I’d admit that the image of a Griffin hanging stuck in ceiling with its head and shoulders sticking out of the roof and its legs wildly kicking in the air above Katrina, with her face palming far below as her courtiers ran around screaming in a panic…

Presently the not half bad rendition of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ came to an end and a polite rolling wave of applause washed through the crowd as I joined in automatically. Glancing around I finally noticed that up in the otherwise empty ‘stadium’ seating above us towards the front of the room, there was something of a compact orchestra worth of musicians with a choir in support (no pre-recorded music for the Archons party, no Sir!) who, after a moment, started a new song. The vocalists singing about something involving Jumpships and Christmas tidings?
Yeah, no idea about that one … but it had a catchy, jazzy sort of beat you could click your fingers to, so … not half bad?

“There are some very impressive Christmas displays setup at the front of the other wing that I think you might enjoy if you wanted to have a look?” Allard suggested and I gestured for him to lead the way as I fell into step with him, making small talk as we went that had absolutely nothing to do with Helm, noting the artwork on display along the midline of this half of the room the room as we approached and then rounded the massive Christmas tree, triggering an odd sense of dejavu…
"I, the Baron of Strang, care not for your new names. Clans? Jade Falcons? I call you by your true name: Scum of the Star League, traitors of free will, persecutors of the Periphery come back to lord it over freedom-loving people. Come ahead, you steel-eyed robots! Come ahead and taste what a million like-minded people think of you and your damn Clans!"

-Baron Stepan Von Strang

Chris OFarrell

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #67 on: 27 August 2018, 08:05:42 »
One of my favorite missions back in the MechWarrior 2 games had to be ‘Warning Shot’. An exceptional example of level design and setting the atmosphere, it was one of the few missions in which the soundtrack was completely silent (if that was a bug it was truly the ‘art by accident’ principle in action) and set in a late dusk sort of light. Pirate hunting coreward of the FRR as reports of a mysterious silence spreading over the region started to come out...
I remembered my play through. Perfectly simple sweep and destroy it seemed, even with the scant intel. Insert, scout the region for the enemy airbase, blow it to bits and meet up with our dropship that would be landing to set up a temporary field base for the rest of the campaign.
The entire mission took place in the shadow of a massive mountain called the ‘devils peak’ as we slowly wound our way around it to find the enemy airbase on the far side. An enemy Catapult and Orion would power up along with a patrolling Panther if we hadn’t killed him yet.  Without slowing down, my Lance had swept through them like a hot knife through butter, turning torsos to blast the buildings in passing. Objective; completed! And with that, it was time to walk to our dropships LZ … three klicks away. And so, naturally, my unease had built on my first playthrough as I continued to stomp forward in the harsh orange of thermal optics, the flank speed of Assault Mechs genuinely annoying because a sixth sense was telling me I needed to go faster! Correctly as it turned out because before I’d covered even a third of the distance to the LZ, two ‘UNKNOWN DROPSHIP’ contacts sweept across my path far ahead and a voice come over the radio.

‘Inner Sphere barbarians! Call your name, family and unit designation!’

That line prefaced the Clan Invasion crashing into the game and Inner Sphere; the entire game universe changing in that moment as a star of Omnimechs dropped and started blasting me from obscene weapons ranges, leaving me in the fight of my life.

That I won, naturally. AI aint no match for MW2 jump jet abuse even with Clantech!

Of course, in much later playthroughs it became much less a case of ‘skin crawling sensation as I feel that I’m in way over my head’ and more ‘glee as my Min-Maxing in the best traditions of Battletech resulted in a quartet of Arrow-IV missiles streaking past my Atlas to blow the lead Nova and Summoner into salvage, with gleeful taunts of ‘YOU GET AN ARROW! AND YOU GET AN ARROW! EVERYONE GETS ARROWS!’ delivered to their pixelated Trashborn faces.

And right here, right now, as I rounded the massive Christmas Tree looming like a green ‘Devils Peak’ above me, that exact same original skin-crawling sensation came back to me as two hostile contacts emerged from its shadow and cut with casual ease across and into our path. And for the first time since I had emerged into this universe I felt a stab of anxiety cut into me as I came face to face with people I would undeniably count as enemies of what I stood for - and who I stood by.

Well, one enemy and one … to be decided.

“Ah Captain Allard - a pleasure to see you this evening” Aldo Lestrade smiled broadly as he came to a precise halt in our path, forcing us to halt in turn - all very natural looking of course. “I must extend to you my complements at your unit’s remarkable success”.

“Thank you your Grace” Dan said politely - if he was on edge I didn’t know him enough to see it. “It was a team effort”.

“Of course” the leader of the official -and unofficial- parts of Free Skye continued as if the Captain hadn’t spoken, “I have to admit I was quite put out when I heard the Kell Hounds were being pulled off Chara from my people there, with no-one bothering to send me so much as a HPG message about it through channels. One of the best units in Skye simply vanishing without a trace was, I must admit, quite a worrying report to receive. Especially after” he added, with the briefest of glances at me, “we were lead to believe that the vaunted Davion Heavy Guard would be ‘lurking’ in the region to either attack into the Combine or stand ready to crush any raids made, which could have provoked Kuritan probes in turn” he frowned petulantly.

“The 6th Donegal had a reinforced Battalion on the ground of Chara within a fortnight of our departure” Allard pointed out tactfully, clearly used to these verbal games with nobles. “And as the Kell Hounds are actually under contract directly to the Archon” the MechWarrior added, “we were operating well within our chain of command. And I’m sure you do not doubt the value of what we accomplished My Lord?”

“As given that the Archon and First Prince are playing a very cagey game on exactly what we brought back it’s hard to say” the older man smiled thinly. “But certainly it does seem that for minimal losses we have enriched our realm … both our realms” he conceded after a moment's pause and glance at me -was he was expecting me to interject? - “a great deal. Of course, how the Dragon and Eagle will react to this...?” he shrugged enigmatically. “Well, we will see I suppose. Still I truly hope that in future, Captain, the Archon will at least consult with the people on the front line that are impacted by her decisions and the Hounds will pass on such information. It’s disappointing in light of her constant promises to work with the people of Skye, then showing she doesn’t trust us by going behind our backs like this...”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes (self-control roll successful!) at his carefully prepared bitching but luckily Dan was unsurprisingly his Father's son in more than one respect as he remained calm in turn and simply smiled back at the Duke, clearly able to fight a verbal battle on these grounds.

“I’ve found, Your Grace, that secrecy and security are rarely about trust per se Dan countered, “but about having a need to know. Given the time critical nature of this race for the Lostech on Helm and the danger that any leak in the message chain could have triggered a two or even three way race for the cache? Well, I’m sure you can appreciate that using a unit that would bypass most of the LCAF command to minimize the risk of interception of orders makes a great deal of sense”.

“You’re suggesting that the Archon doesn’t trust her own chain of command?” Lestrade tutted with a shake of his head and an ‘alarmed’ smirk. “What a terrible thing to contemplate, Captain”

“In my experience, the Archon actually extends great trust towards those who wear the uniform and have proven themselves in the service of the Commonwealth Duke Lestrade” Dan noted, the unsaid -and socially deniable- implication that as Lestrade had completely avoided military service he was thus excluded from that list … but it clearly hit home in the way Aldo’s smile became much thinner. “But I have found in my experience that ‘trust’ has little to nothing to do with ‘need to know’. My Father” Dan nodded off towards the front of the Throne Room “always says that the percentage chance of a secret being exposed, in the long run, is equal to the square of the number of people who know about it. No matter how much we may trust people, none of us underestimate the skill of the ISF” he noted, turning slightly to the stone faced man flanking the Duke of Summer. “I’m sure, Colonel, that you are in full agreement that information security is absolutely vital to maintaining operational security?”

“Of course” Frederick Steiner nodded stiffly in full agreement before suddenly he blinked and didn’t quite turn to look at the Duke of Summer as he realized he had just thrown shade at his patron. “The Duke Lestrade's loyalty is beyond question, of course” he added, not quite hastily.

“Of course” Dan agreed with a nod. “His loyalty to Skye and its people is legendary, so I’ve seen on the ground on Pacifica” Dan said, not twisting the knife so much as flicking him on the nose with the hyper-specific reference to Skye rather than the Commonwealth at a whole.

“And we look forward to welcoming you back there of course” Lestrade smiled, having seemingly instantly recovered from the back and forth … but there was a gleam in his eye I didn’t like. “And in this time of such grim news for them, I hope - no, I know - the people of Skye extend their best wishes for you and your family”.

Dan frowned at that and my mind wondered at - oh shit I thought as it hit me what the man was talking about, feeling a surge of contempt as I turned back to face the Duke.

You petty ****** [/I]I fumed silently.

“I’m sorry your Grace, I’m not sure what you mean?” Dan asked carefully and the look on Lestrade's face immediately switched from sincere to shocked to sympathetic (all three utterly fake I knew but full credit for how real they looked) in a matter of seconds.

“Oh...” he muttered as if genuinely shocked before taking a deep breath I’m sure he didn’t need to steady himself. “I’m … I just assumed your Father would have told you when he saw you…” he continued drawing it out as I worked my jaw to keep silent - a reaction I cursed myself for giving away as I saw Lestrade note it and turned to face me. “That MIIO would have let you know?”
I kept my mouth shut but tried my best to glare with my eyes through my otherwise bland expression to the point of missing the pointed MIIO label for a few seconds before I dismissed it as something to worry about later.

Dan shot me a look for a second before turning back to Lestrade. “Pray tell, what would he have told me?” he said directly in a calm voice but with the slightest edge to it.

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you” he lied, “but your half-brother, Justin, was badly injured in a battle late November on Kittery and Medivaced to NAIS” the Duke twisted the knife in behind his expression of solemn regret. “The news arrived to Pacifica after the Kell Hounds had been pulled out and without forwarding information, it was diverted back to theater command on Summer for us to try and track you down. If we had had known where the Hounds were going...” he apologetically shrugged and sighed in an excellent imitation of regret.

I’d give Dan Allard credit - the man was clearly shocked but rallied quickly, his eyes flashing in a way that told the Duke to not press his luck. It was quite remarkable composure really, probably as much as anything about not wanting to give the ****** the satisfaction.

“I thank you for your concern - and my thanks for bringing this to my attention Duke Lestrade” Dan offered him a cool nod that the Duke returned, Allard seeming to straighten slightly as he recovered. “Given this news, I should probably go and speak with my Father”.

“But of course” the Duke agreed, clearly happy he had won his little petty parting shot. “My best wishes to your Brother of course”.

“My best wishes as well Hauptmann” Frederick added suddenly from the side with a slight uncertainty in his stance, drawing attention back to him from everyone. “Your brother is by all accounts a superior MechWarrior, it would be a great loss to the AFFS if he were not able to get back into the cockpit”.

Say what you will about Future Focht, at least you can tell he is being absolutely sincere I thought silently.

“Thank you, Duke Steiner” Justin extended a hand that the man took and shook firmly. “From a MechWarrior of your reputation that means a great deal”.
If that last was a final backhand at Lestrade or just a polite response I didn’t know but it seemed to greatly please the man who one day might smile and kick the Clans in the crotch repeatedly. Before ‘capping a bitch’ back on Terra.
“By your leave, I believe I should go find my Father” Dan said to Aldo before, without waiting for approval, he offered a nod and gave me a ‘let’s go’ look.

“Gentlemen” I nodded at each of the two men, expecting nothing more than to be ignored. And was shocked when Lestrade smiled.

“Another time Agent Smith” he nodded at me with a rather chilling smile before turning away placidly, his elegant cape swirling like a supervillains as Frederick fell into place like a loyal retainer, leaving me biting the inside of my cheek painfully for a moment at his casual use of my name before I quick stepped it to catch up to Justin.
Nope, not touching that! I’d drop it into Quintus’s lap at some point tonight or tomorrow to deal with.

“Did you know?” Dan asked me out of the side of his mouth as I fell into place next to him and I decided to thread the truth despite the clear emotion swirling in the man’s eyes. The fact that Dan didn’t know about Justin's injury was clear evidence he was not read into my compartment although that didn’t surprise me. As Dan had just pointed out to Lestrade, he didn’t have a need to know about me no matter how much his Father trusted him.

“Neither your Father or anyone else told me about this” I shook my head slightly with my mouth a thin line and Allard seemed to accept my response at face value, probably again presuming ‘need to know’ around me. And/or that if I did know, he knew I was under classification orders to not tell him from his Father.
Mostly though I was just a bit stunned by the fact that Justin had, seemingly right on time and target, again been injured on Kittery, exactly like happened in Warrior En-Garde.

And I wasn’t sure what the hell to make of that.

Quintus Allard, Justin’s Father, knew everything that would happen thanks to my sources. Knew what his Son would go through, be put through against what it accomplished … and he had seemingly not taken any action to prevent it - perhaps had even actively worked to nullify any butterflies to ensure events played out. Despite the incredible risks, the odds that something would change and he might lose his son or have him crippled for life or who knows what; he had refused to find a safer way to kick his son out of the Federated Suns in disgrace to setup the mother of all backstabs.
That was … uh …
I’d be sure to remember this for the future when dealing with him. Ruthlessness I guess was part of the job description - and even if the original Justin plan was a quick ‘hey lets flip Michaels attempt to force us to exile Justin!’ done to/with a willing patriot - now with a good idea of how incredibly it would solve so many problems … it was still a hell of a thing to put his son through.

Pushing those unpleasant thoughts to the side for now, I followed close behind Dan as he made his way towards business end of the Lyran Commonwealth with purpose, dipping back into the side wing to bypass some crowds around some of the displays -ohh they had Pizza up this end! - before emerging up much closer to the VIPs and giving me a close up look at the Throne itself. It was impressive in a way it hadn’t been on the Vid, sitting on the top of a series of elevated terraces that made it clearly visible to the entire room (or would without the Christmas tree halfway down), the massive war machine machines standing left and right of them still painted in the colors of the Kell Hounds and Davion Guards towering over everyone. The throne itself was empty of course, roped off from the rest of the room to keep people away - although frankly with the Battlemechs looming above I don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to try and sit in Katrina’s chair. On the back wall hung the banner of the Lyran Commonwealth itself directly above and behind the Throne, with the flags of the 1st and 2nd Royal Guards to the left and the banner of the 3rd to the right. There was a distinctly empty space where the banner of the 4th presumably was supposed to sit and I suppressed a smile at that before looking away to seek out our target.

I wasn’t surprised to find Katrina, Melissa, Hanse and a gaggle of other VIPs standing around together on the lower tiers above the throne room floor, sort of holding court inside the court I suppose. But I was surprised to find they were openly accessible and not being swamped by the crowd. I guessed some kind of Royal Protocol was in action - and again I felt a tinge of how hopelessly out of my depth I was.
Was there a ‘you don’t approach them, they approach or send for you’ rule in place or something?

At any rate, I spotted Quintus towards the side of the group with a cluster of suits and nudged Dan, nodding towards him. The younger Allard in turn nodded, an unasked question in his eyes that I think was ‘coming?’ that I shook my head lightly too and with no further hesitation the MechWarrior strode away with purpose to his father, who smiled in pleasure at his approach before Dan leaned in to talk quietly into his ear and Quintus’s gaze turned back to ‘poker face’. He glanced back at me past his sons back and I mouthed ‘Lestrade’ (guessing that the master spy would probably be a decent lip reader) and I saw a flash of something chilly in his eyes for a moment before he took Dan’s shoulder with a hand and led him off to the side and out of sight, probably to find a quiet back room somewhere and talk.
In all honestly, I wouldn’t give terribly good odds for the continued health of Aldo Lestrade given both how many people he was pissing off and how many of his dirty secrets had been exposed by me...

On that happy thought I glanced around, deciding that avoiding being seen with the Kings of the Castle as it were would be more sensible than not, moving off to investigate the other wing of the Throne room, to find it as Dan had promised, filled with all manner of Christmas fun as I moved down the steps into it. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw hundreds of children were enjoying Santa Clauses attention right up this end, the classic figure laughing as he handed out presents to them - after they assured him they had been good boys and girls, as their parents looked on with tolerant smiles. While further along...

Okay, I had to check all this out I decided, dropping my empty champagne flute onto a passing server’s tray and joined the winding path making its way through the next display which was the first in a long line of them stretching down the wing.
It was a miniature Christmas Village on a grand scale, crafted with astonishing detail that soon had me smiling broadly as I made my way through it. To my delight, it was not limited to simply the Lyran Commonwealth, but showed off roughly the entire Inner Sphere with all the Great Houses and their Christmas traditions laid out. Although it was no surprise to me that the Lyran Commonwealth and Federated Suns were by far the most detailed and ‘positive examples’, followed by the Free Worlds League … and the Confederation and Combine with far more somber displays, with notes on how tightly controlled Christmas celebrations are in those states and urges to remember it was Christmas there too and hopefully one day they would all be able to experience it as we did…
There was also plenty of cute of course; the tiny little Katrina and Melissa waving from on top of the Triad across the room to Hanse waving back on the top of his palace, was adorable I must admit … and reminded me of something.

Mental note, check if Lego exists and, if it doesn’t, invent it, trademark it and distribute the ****** out of it...

Outside of the ‘It’s a Small Sphere after all’ as I had dubbed it, I found that the area opened up into dozens of Christmas displays I spent some time wandering through, in a bemused, happy sort of state over the next couple of hours, taking in the air of general revelry and celebration. From a moving animatronic Santa's workshop with elves hard at work (in all honestly I didn’t recall them in my time using Industrial Exoskeletons with Achernar Industries logos all over them...) and eventually wound up moving into a large crowd who were cheering watching a holographic flight simulator … of Santa's Sleigh?!
Raising an eyebrow I stepped closer, finding a place in the crowd who were cheering on the current challenger. It looked like a rail shooter with a holographic projection instead of a screen, but the projection gave it surprisingly nice visual depth as the sleigh zigged and zagged on its way, seemingly packing enough firepower to burn through a McKenna.
Apparently Lyran Santa had the guns.

All the guns.

And the ‘Grinch Fleet’ (who looked suspiciously Kuritian in their design and colors looking units) were very determined to stop him on his mission to bring presents to the children, throwing themselves with increasing frequency and firepower as the level wound on at ‘Santa’, the ‘sleigh’ itself on gimbals that had it pivoting and moving surprisingly harshly … but it didn’t seem to impact the pilots accuracy one bit.

Okay, this looked awesome.

And whoever the current pilot was, he had frigen mad twitch skills, the crowd growing ever more excited as the pilot got closer and closer to the end of the level until I could barely credit this guys (or girls!) reaction times, the guns never stopping in their firing and seeming to hit a target with every shot until with a sudden spin and dive the sleigh blasted past the last line of shattered enemies to streaked over the city to loud cheers and applause as a nicely rendered cutscene showed presents dropping into countless chimneys with a ‘Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!’.
The man at the controls unstrapped himself, stood and turned to take a bow to yet more cheers and applause.
Okay, no surprise a new high score had been set I thought in mild amusement as Patrick Kell, his face beaming with that confident cheerfulness, stepped down to back slaps and congratulations from a handful of his officers waiting for him as the crowd started to disperse, accepting his uniform jacket back … as some of said officers with expressions of either annoyance or glee started swapping varying amounts of Kronor.
I smiled at that again and started to wonder if I should go up and say hello … when a voice spoke up behind me.

“Mister Smith, I trust that you are enjoying yourself tonight?”

Not recognizing the voice I instantly went on guard, taking a second to school myself into a calm state before turning with my best ‘pleased to meet you’ expression on my face - and almost lost it in an instant as I saw who was standing directly behind me.

What, I got ‘Tweedledee’ so I get ‘Tweedledum’ for free? ****** BROB!

I wasn’t stupid enough to SAY any of that of course. Morgan Kell might have been able to cross swords with this man at a similar party (while dueling with Lestrade to boot!) but then he was someone with such a towering reputation, a man they knew was perfectly able and willing to kill them if they decided to press the issue beyond words, so they knew to only go so far.

I … wasn’t such a person.

“The Archon has indeed put on a splendid celebration tonight, My Lord” I nodded to him in a way I hoped would be considered polite. “It is an honor to be here - and I am pleased to have been invited” I said calmly and formally, extending a hand completely unsure of if that was acceptable protocol.

Alessandro Steiner nodded ever so slightly back, one his hands gripping a tumbler of something golden as he extended another to take mine and shake it. No contest of strength or anything silly like that, just a simple straightforward handshake.

“Yes - you seem to be showing up in curious places Mister Smith” he observed with a knowing twitch of a smile at me as he let go of my hand, regarding me in an appraising way. Beyond him I think I spotted a few people I took to be flunkies who had sort of spread out to isolate us even in the middle of the crowd. Not physically exactly, but I supposed they formed another of those Royal Rules things understood by the court as people were clearly giving us a wide berth as if they were directing traffic. “Just yesterday, my Nieces, the First Prince and both realms Intelligence Chiefs called in the unit commanders from your little raid as soon for debriefing” he noted, his gaze focused rather directly at me even as he kept his tone perfectly cordial. “As is proper, of course. And in such ... impressive company, the unknown does tend to stand out”.
He paused at that, as if he was expecting me to say something - but I kept my mouth glued shut tight as he took a sip from his tumbler, his grey eyes burning into me before his expression softened into an almost grandfatherly one. “But I do hope that you are enjoying your stay in The Triad so far?”

Translation; ‘I don’t know who the ****** you are. I do know you walked into a meeting with some of the most powerful people in the Inner Sphere and that you are staying as a guest of Katrina Steiner personally … and I want to know more’.
Alessandro of all people having sources on things like this wasn’t that big of a surprise, he was a former Archon after all. And just as clearly beyond the fact that I was an ‘unknown’ operating in close orbit of the power players on the planet, he didn’t seem to really know anything.
But honestly, even that was too much!
On the plus side, the man in front of me would most probably be dead in five years from long term radiation poisoning … but that seemed a very long time away from here and now.

“Yes, the Archon has been most generous to let me stay as her guest in her home. I take it you are as well, Lord Steiner?” I replied, trying to be polite and inoffensive with bland small talk … before the darkening expression in his eyes suggested to me that he had probably not taken it the way I meant … and in a flash it hit me why.
The man had probably taken THAT as a subtle dig - or not so subtle dig - at the fact that he was now a guest in the house he had once owned.

Whoops!

Fortune smiled upon me however as the deposed Archon held back whatever he had been about to say, his gaze shifting over my shoulder as he seemed to rapidly collect himself … and perk up as if he had found a new plaything.

“Ah Lieutenant Colonel Kell” Alessandro smiled thinly at him with the slight stress on his rank clearly deliberate. “It has been too long. The Kell Hounds are well, I take it?”

“Very well Your Grace” Patrick thanked him as he edged around me to stand at my side and with a thump have his hand land on my shoulder in a friendly sort of way that still almost had my knees buckle before he removed it.
I embraced the impact though, as a sign that reinforcements had arrived as the older Steiners gaze shifted fully away from me. Even if it only seemed to reinforce the point he had been making about the people I was chilling with. “Thank you for asking”.

“But of course” Steiner nodded with a smile. “And your brother, I take it, is well? I’m hoping you’ve at least kept in some contact, since ... ‘The Defection’ I think you call it?”

And now the tension around me became an almost physical thing and I fought the instinctive urge to cringe. It had been almost a decade now since Morgan vanished after the legendary duel on Mallory’s World ... and from the way Patrick seemed to still as I felt the tension spike, I knew this conversation wasn’t going good places … and that Morgan, indeed as in Btech canon, had not been in contact with his brother or his unit of whom he had asked so much.
‘The Defection‘ was a watershed moment in early Battletech history - another one of those things that was fantastic and mysterious in scenario books for the game, but made rather less sense in ‘real life’.
Simply put, Morgan had gone round the bend to abandon his brother, lover and fire two thirds of his unit after ‘winning’ the duel against Yorinaga Kurita, going into seclusion, with no explanation given then or since. It was utterly verboten as far as topics went to the Hounds and from he way the flunkies behind Steiner seemed to suddenly start paying more attention, I’m guessing Patricks officers were making it clear by their looks-

“You have my sympathies, of course” Steiner added after Patrick didn’t respond, a faux-but-real look of apology also on his face in contrast to the stiff coldness of Kells expression. “At this time of year especially, it must be hard for you and the Hounds family to have no word or explanation from him. Even after all this time, loyally carrying the torch for him, waiting for him to come back without any word as time marches on must not be at all easy...”
« Last Edit: 27 August 2018, 08:41:11 by Chris OFarrell »
"I, the Baron of Strang, care not for your new names. Clans? Jade Falcons? I call you by your true name: Scum of the Star League, traitors of free will, persecutors of the Periphery come back to lord it over freedom-loving people. Come ahead, you steel-eyed robots! Come ahead and taste what a million like-minded people think of you and your damn Clans!"

-Baron Stepan Von Strang

Chris OFarrell

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #68 on: 27 August 2018, 08:06:22 »
Great, so first Lestrade hits Dan Allard in the heart now Alessandro goes for the gut punch?
Or were these ****** just so determined to poke at Katrina after her huge political win today started to undercut their little schemes, so they are going for any shot they could find?

Patrick impressed me however by not decking the man on the spot - given that his expression suggested he would quite like to do so.

But damn it, as much as I loathed the elder Steiner for being a complete prick; the fact was that the bastard did have a point. It was one thing after the duel on Mallory's World for Morgan to decide that he needed a time out … but firing two thirds of his unit off then turning command over to his brother before cutting him off for ten years without any explanation but a heavily implied order that he would keep the Hounds exactly as they were until further notice?
Oh I knew Morgan had a plan that he finally put into motion … after Patrick died … but frankly, his plan sucked and had left Patrick, loyal good Patrick, trapped in an impossible position. There was a reason that after Patrick had died in his place fighting Yorinaga Kurita and Dan Allard had been given the horrible task of having to go and tell Morgan Dan had quickly enough let him have both barrels with quite the ‘Reason you Suck Speech’. And why Salome Ward, bless her soul, had just greeted Morgan with a rather vicious right hook on his return as she stomped past him into the briefing room.
But, in the end … blood in the Kell Hounds seemingly ran thicker than water. They were family and had rallied to Morgans calls quickly enough.

Family.

That word again brought to mind a surge of loneliness. I was stuck here, in a universe of spoiled brats fighting over a dead Throne, crazy genofreaks who wanted to wipe out Homo Sapiens in favor of Homo Kerensky and a phone company who wanted you to kneel before the Yellow Pages … while my family and the ‘real’ me carried on their life unknowingly somewhere in the multiverse.
But my self-pity passed through me and dissipated as once again I thought about that day in Davion Peace Park … or even Melissa Steiner playfully kicking me in the shins to hide her own insecurities. The times that it hit me, really hit me, that this was not a tabletop game or an RPG or video game … but a living thriving universe just as real as my original one, filled with hundreds of billions of people. Good people, bad people - but mostly just normal, very real people who had to deal with very terrible, powerful monsters in the dark with far too few good people trying to beat them back.
Because ****** like Alessandro (who combined the worst parts of Cersei Lannister, President Snow and Hugo Drax) would burn down everything so long as they could rule over the ashes no matter how many billions died.
And I found myself suddenly determined to slap him down, not even thinking that this wasn’t my fight and that my profile needed to be kept at least somewhat low.

Mostly, I was just realizing I had a whole ****** [/I]of virgin 20th and 21st century quotes to throw around and mangle horribly that I hadn’t tried out yet...

“Life is never easy my Lord Steiner” I softly interjected, causing a collective sort of ‘blink’ across many sets of eyes turned to face me as I interjected myself into the conversation. “Life in the Inner Sphere these days ain't sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean, very nasty place that doesn’t care how tough you are. Doesn’t care if you’re a Noble or vaunted MechWarrior because nothing will ever hit you as hard as life does. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it” I said with the conviction of someone who had drifted closer than I wanted to admit to rock bottom when I found out the truth of what had happened to me.

Much closer than I wanted to admit honestly, even to myself.

“But life ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward - that’s how winning is done” I said emphatically and noticed vaguely that the MechWarriors standing around who were increasingly paying attention to my bad attempt to channel Stallone were nodding in agreement. “Archon Steiner for example” I continued, glancing at Alessandro who looked just a tiny bit smug at the promotion, then again as Morgan Kell had pointed out in the OTL, what do you call a deposed Archon? “When she lost the love of her life to a person trying to kill her” -annnnnnd now his expression dropped back to an absolutely rock solid poker face, gee I wonder why? - “had a choice of either getting lost in the past or striving to make his sacrifice mean something by building a future for their daughter. Prince Davion?” I continued as my adrenal glands seemed to work overtime to sew this speech together that was drawing more and more attention, making me vaguely wonder why the hell I couldn’t have this eloquence in front of the Archon or First Prince. “He lost his brother and was thrust into a position he never expected. He could have crumpled under the impact, but took the hit and kept moving forward. Lieutenant Colonel Kell?” I glanced at the man who stiffened slightly but was looking at me with an expression of utter seriousness I had only seen before in the Helm briefing as he waited for my judgement. “He honored his brothers trust in him by trusting him in return by rebuilding the Kell Hounds into the best damn reinforced combined arms Battalion in the Inner Sphere that’s added battle honor after battle honor to their standard” I lied convincingly as a loud rumble of agreement from quite a few people behind me as I turned back to face ‘Mister Wants To Be Archon Again’ and felt a kind of secret smugness at the sour look in his eyes at me derailing his attempt to poke at the younger Kell brother that seemed to be winning the crowd over.

Get the hint it yet? The Lyran Commonwealth has moved past you, concentrated moron...

“Respectfully, as I see it” I continued, lifting my gaze slightly to make use of my slight height advantage over the older man, “Morgan Kell having little contact with his family is simply proof he has such trust and confidence in them. That he sees no need to look over their shoulders then or now. Knowing that the Hounds will only go from strength to strength until the day he returns to rejoin them … knowing they will be waiting and ready with him to punch life in the face until it falls to the ground”.

Okay, I wasn’t expecting applause at that and -ouch- there was Patricks hand back on my shoulder giving it a firm squeeze and a look of fierce … what? Pride? Understanding perhaps?
On reflection, feeling the emotions rolling around me, it started to hit me that perhaps a lot of that had been as much as anything, a pep talk to myself to wipe away the last of my moping around Christmas.
Reminding myself that life had dealt me some implausible, impossibly harsh body blows over the last year to change my entire reality. It had stripped my family away from me. My friends. My world. My reality. And possibly for a short time, my sanity.
But it hadn’t stripped me of my agency to stand up, make a decision and start moving forward.



Although on reflection, perhaps figuratively stepping in the face of Alessandro Steiner and farting in his general direction after he started gleefully poking at Patrick, wasn’t the best idea?

Oh well, too late to worry about that I suppose. I’d just dump that onto Simon Johnson's desk, wouldn’t be fair to get both Tweedledee and Tweedledum to only one of the two...
As if he could sort of read my mind (and who the ****** knows how Phantom Mech bullshit might express itself given that Takashi Kurita seemed awfully convinced he could read people's auras or something) Patrick nodded once and smiled as he proudly took in his people around him, their tension gone and replaced with just pride in each other and themselves.
His people … ah crap.
“Colonel Kell” I yanked Patricks attention back, lowering my volume. “As you’re here now, I’m afraid I just received some bad news around one of your officers I should pass on. Specifically, about Captain Daniel Allard”.

“Dan? What is it?” Patrick asked instantly as he let go of me but turned to face me fully, turning his back on Steiner to focus on this news. A leader instantly more concerned for one of his men than himself…

I opened my mouth as if to respond but then paused and slowly turned to face Alessandro … who was clearly observing this twist listening in with great interest to this news and hadn’t moved a millimeter.
“Ah, if you’ll excuse me Your Grace? This is a somewhat private matter” I said with as perfectly an innocent expression as I could muster, as if entirely unaware I had just TSM slapped back the man's attempt to poke at Patrick and goad him into losing his cool in some way to embarrass Katrina.

“But of course Mister Smith. Colonel, once again, my compliments for your units achievements” the man said with the same calm attitude he had held through the entire little verbal skirmish, getting a stiff nod from Kell … but Steiner let his piercing grey eyes seem to pan over all of us as if memorizing us to put on a ‘to do’ list titled ’do something unpleasant to them later’...
It wasn’t a happy feeling but I didn’t give the man the satisfaction of breaking my guileless smile as he turned away and started moving back towards the main floor, his toadies falling into orbit around him and hangers on started to move in on him.



“Actually I’m not entirely sure” I frowned, trying to remember that one. It was an old insult, I think back from the pre Spacebattles days on the internet, the days of Usenet when curses were just so much more original. “But I’m pretty sure he’s one of them”.

“You know what? I think so too” the Major said after a pause before cracking a smile and quickly there were snickers all around at that one.

“The ******’ aside, what was this about Dan?” Patrick asked, stepping closer and lowering his volume as, with a glance at his officers, the other Kell Hounds sort of spread out to give us some privacy.
In a few short sentences I explained the situation of what we had overheard from Aldo Lestrade and Dan going off to see his Father. Patrick, while grimacing at my relaying of what Lestrade had said, thanked me nonetheless. I could sense he wanted to ask me more, but instead he just gave me another backslap I know he intended to be friendly and grateful, but I swear came this close to dislocating my shoulder before he started to lead his officers off at a brisk walk.

Well that was enough excitement for the night I think and I decided to see if I could sneak across to grab some food and then make a discrete exit when the most recent Christmas music finished to another smattering of applause through the vast room, followed then unexpectedly by a voice over the speakers politely noting that the final song of the night, the ‘Archons Choice’ was about to be performed and instantly the crowds were in motion, making it near impossible to get across to the other wing. After a few moments, I gave up to just go with the flow as everyone closed in on the front half of the main floor, walking back up onto the rapidly filling up first half of the main court. My height gave me a bit of an edge to look over the crowd from a position about halfway between the Christmas tree and Throne and I used it, studying where the power trio were chatting to a group of young children.

I had utterly no idea what was going on, so I decided to ask the man next to me.

“Excuse me Sir” I asked politely. “Would you know exactly what is this is about?”

“It’s a tradition” the man sniffed at me in surprise, seemingly mildly scandalized I had addressed him at all in his black leather pants and shirt, with a sparkling blue suit jacket and crazy ponytail like hair that suggested he was either crazy, or a blueblood wearing edgy fashion. One taking offense at a non-blueblood daring to speak to him so casually.
Or both.
Then he caught the Steiner-Blue shade of my outfit and I swear he actually seemed to double take, before seeming to grudgingly calculate based on that I at least deserved an answer.
“Every year the Archon, before retiring, closes her presence out with a selected Christmas song of her choice. Traditionally, one somewhat rare and even occasionally commissioned specifically for this” he deigned to explain a little more. “But  it would seem this year she has decided to gift this choice to a song brought by Hanse Davion, which may prove … interesting” he allowed.

If ‘interesting’ meant good or bad, well, I suppose he was an expert in the court technique of saying something that after the fact could easily be claimed to be one or the other.

Finally however Hanse Davion stepped up as the rooms lights dimmed somewhat leaving the massive Christmas tree as the main source of light as the thousands of people fell into an awed hush as a soft spotlight isolated The Fox, the Archon and her Daughter. Hanse then smiled thanked the Archon for offering the honor of the song to him, explaining that that this song had been found in the legendary Hoff Library collection on a media data core and only recently decoded, along with an amount of other music from the distant past on Terra. And that this would thus be the first Christmas in quite possibly a thousand years this song had been heard -with some minor updates to the lyrics of course, generating a buzz of genuine excitement in the massive room.
That of course raised my interest too and I watched as the power trio stepped slowly back into the darkness to leave in turn a trio of adorable children in their place -
Wait, hang on a second; did Melissa just look directly at me and smirk before vanishing? I blinked as she stepped back into the dark - then what sounded like chimes played a suddenly familiar rift-

‘Silence falls softly like snowflakes through the air…’ one of the young girls sung adorably as the camera zoomed in on her face on the screens mounted on the columns along the room.

I felt a brief moment of disorientation as suddenly it became clear what was being played and my jaw dropped open.

He hadn’t … they hadn’t … this had not come from Hoff. This had come from my iPhone!

‘It’s nighttime and morning is near … your world has snow men, its hills a frosty white. My world has lots of sunlight!”

And then drums and an electric guitar kicked in and I could see a few heads in the vast audience start nodding their heads along to the beat and it became clear to me that … they had.

‘Ohhhhhhhhhh but we’re all the same! When we wake, on Christmas day, believe it when I sayyyy...’

And then the music kicked in, the choir joined in for the chorus and hidden Christmas lights (including the ‘ice’ I had taken for non-functional decorations) illuminated through the darkness, earning a gasp of awe just as that incredibly ear-worm infesting chorus kicked in led by the adorable kids.

‘Merry Christmas! And a happy new year! Ohhhhhhhhh! Merry Christmas! And a happy new year! Ohhhhhhhh a happy new year!’

I blinked at that and reached up to wipe away a suspicious amount of moisture that was on my face for some reason as the music rolled on, a lot of people bobbing along as parents waved in time with their kids and enjoyed themselves.
And certainly it wasn’t because the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth, Archon-Designate of the Lyran Commonwealth and First Prince of the Federated Suns had taken one of the most played Christmas songs on my iPhone, extracted it, transcribed it into music, crash trained a band in weeks or even days how to play and sing it and then thrown it into one of the more cherished traditions of this Christmas eve night on Tharkad …
Because that would be ****** ludicrous, a waste of their incredibly precious time all for the sake of just … what?

The song built up and up with the lighting and special effects matching until we reached full scale Hogwarts as with an awed gasp from the masses, holographics kicked in above us, seemingly vanishing the roof and replacing it with a night sky, making it look like it was snowing in the Triad with the roof no longer there. And then on the final chorus, Katrina’s distinctive voice called “Everyone!” in a way that was not a request and the entire room broke into loud song. Even Sir Snooty Face next to me was smiling and singing along with everyone and broke into applause with the crowd, sustained cheers and whistles showing their approval as the house lights came back up.
Katrina ‘high fived’ them off as she re-appeared alone, standing just in front of her Throne (and looking seriously incredible in a slick silver dress with a simple tiara around her golden hair) to thank everyone for coming. Finishing by saying that she just wanted to, on behalf of her and Lord Davion …

And then ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas!’ kicked in and the entire crowd dove in head first with enthusiasm, the band driving with great gusto and giving me the impression that this was the traditional way the night ended.
And ****** it, it was so damn infectious I joined in in an instant and wondered why I had been full of so much self-pity I had preferred to sulk up in my room, even with running into Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Or was that just Dumb and Dumber?
And so the music ended with the choir holding the final high not impressively as the drummers up there smashed their hearts out until finally it ended. And to the cheers and clapping Katrina offered the Royal Court a bow that was returned with varying degrees of inebriation by the room before smiling and twirling around to walk out, her dress making a triumph of her slender legs and that incredible a-

I immediately whacked my head against the very stone column I was against, the (significantly more than anticipated) spike of pain bouncing around my skull and down my spine to bring some level of sanity back, pushing away those thoughts as the crowd started to move around me. It seemed the night was ‘officially’ over but it was a soft close, with the VIPs retiring but everyone free to hang around. Although most families seemed to be moving towards the main doors, herding overexcited and overtired children clutching their presents from Santa while carrying those who had decided to wait it out.
I took a minute to recover my poise, thankful for the handkerchief I had thrown into a pocket on habit when I got dressed earlier to clear my face. And I wasn’t terribly surprised when it was Dan Allard who eased his way through the dispersing crowd to me and I stepped down from my little perch out to meet him.

“You okay?” I asked quietly when he was in range and Dan nodded at me with a faint smile. Although the stress could be seen in his eyes, worry for his distant brother.
Get used to worrying I thought sadly, reflecting about what Justin’s future held if indeed things held close to canon. Or easily went worse on the Mad Max Express...
"I, the Baron of Strang, care not for your new names. Clans? Jade Falcons? I call you by your true name: Scum of the Star League, traitors of free will, persecutors of the Periphery come back to lord it over freedom-loving people. Come ahead, you steel-eyed robots! Come ahead and taste what a million like-minded people think of you and your damn Clans!"

-Baron Stepan Von Strang

Chris OFarrell

  • Warrant Officer
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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #69 on: 27 August 2018, 08:07:38 »
“Yes” he said, leading me away and towards the ‘business end’ of the Throne room and then out a side door guarded by LIC types and through several other doors to loop around behind the end of the Throne Room, if I had my spatial senses working right. “Justin is going to be okay” Dan continued once we were out of public earshot, but clearly not wanting to talk more about it. “I’m sorry you got caught up in that Agent Smith. I hope you were able to enjoy yourself without me?”

“Quite so” I tactfully agreed with a smile, deciding against telling him about the little run-in his boss had with the eldest Steiner in the house. He’d probably find out sooner or later anyway, but he had enough of his plate tonight to worry about the pettiness of a former Archon who knew his time was running out.
It also gave me time to think on the fact that Justin's ‘events’ had, so far, played out so much like the original timeline despite, on the face of it, seeming to be fragile enough that they could easily be butterflied.
I really didn’t want to think that there was some kind of bullshit ‘train track’ destiny that would force reality to proceed down preset lines or some crap like that. I was totally the ‘no fate but what we make’ school of thought.
I mean hell, didn’t ****** Helm prove that outright?
Distracted in my thoughts I only realized we ‘were there’ when Dan paused in front of another guarded door and knocked twice. A muffled ‘come in’ came back and he opened it to let me inside before closing it behind me.

I made a mental note to apologize to the man for being dragged into babysitting duties by his father later as I glanced around. Ah. This … this could only be Katrina’s private office.

Wood paneled with exquisite, aristocratic looking furniture that probably cost as much combined as an Assault Mech was spread throughout it. My attention however instantly gravitated to the large and slightly out of place looking oaken desk sitting towards the back of the room. It didn’t look like a priceless antique (like everything else in the room did) and was stained a subtly different shade of brown to boot. I was sure that any number of aristocrats would have turned their noses up at the clearly far cheaper piece of furniture behind which the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth sat and ruled. And quite possibly offered her a replacement desk from their own vast collections of historical and valuable treasures in an attempt to win favor.

I’m also sure that they never would have made that mistake a second time after finding out that this desk had been hand built, semi IKEA style, by Arthur Luvon and Morgan Kell. And thus probably meant more to Katrina than any of the warehouses full of antiques her family surely owned across the planet.
I wonder if the top right draw actually sticks I thought to myself before killing the urge to walk over and check, instead glancing away to the right where the office included a comfortable looking lounge chair set around a coffee table. Katrina was standing and leaning against a chair comfortably, her tiara gone and her hair hanging looser, with Hanse having ditched his uniform jacket sitting next to Melissa, who seemed to be taking great delight in ignoring her mother's reproving look as she slid her heels off and sighed contently.

“Archon, Archon-Designate, Prince Davion” I greeted the three with a somewhat unpracticed bow towards them, but Katrina waved off the formality with faint amusement.

“Leave the titles at the door John” the Archon snorted as she waved to the seat on her left opposite the Prince and her daughter, stirring into motion to walk across to the featureless wall and with a touch, cause a panel to silently drop down to reveal a sideboard with glasses and bottles. “Scotch?” she asked without turning back as she pulled several glasses.
I didn’t really feel like drinking - but it did not pay to be rude to my host.
And I had a feeling I might need a stiff drink very shortly.

“Yes, please” I replied as Katrina efficiently prepared the drinks. Trying to resist the urge to fiddle with my fingers as I sort of just … stood there, having not been invited to-

“John?” Katrina called out after a few seconds of silence, not turning away from her work.

“Yes Ma’am?” I asked, glancing at her backs - back! Only at her back! God what was with me around Katrina Steiner?! In front of her daughter?!

“For God’s sake, take off your jacket and sit down. And call me Katrina, the room is perfectly secure”.

“Uh yes M...Katrina” I caught myself barely in time, though not fast enough to keep Melissa from snickering at me. But her smile was so damn cheeky it cut the tension and drained it out as I took off my jacket and folded it over the back of my chair, coming around to sit down onto the very plush leather as the Archon returned, handing out the tumblers. I accepted mine with a polite mumble of thanks as did Hanse, the Archon moving in her chair at the head of the table and pointedly ignoring Melissa’s ‘Seriously?’ pout at her tumbler seeming to only contain sparkling water, with the patience of a mother dealing with a teenage daughter.

I decided to take the initiative as Katrina settled into her chair, carefully putting the tumbler onto the coaster in front of me, after taking a subtle breath to calm myself down.
Manners first. I may not be a noble, but I’d like to think my upbringing was polite.

“Before anything else I wanted to thank all three of you” I said, glancing across at the youngest who was sitting just a tad closer to Hanse than might have been considered entirely appropriate in other company, suppressing a smile at that. “Melissa especially for taking the time to drag me out of sulking in my room with only self-pity for company” I said with a nod in her direction, before adding after a pause and a bit of a smirk; “and for leaving me mostly unbruised in the process”. That earned me a look but unlike Tweedledee and Tweedledum there was absolutely no rancor in her eyes, only playfulness and amusement. “But that Christmas song … well” I paused for a second and ruthlessly fought down the emotions trying to push up. “I don’t want to even think about how much time and effort on short noticed had to be put into that and … well, thanks. A lot, for going to that effort for me”.

“We’re House Lords John” Hanse laughed softly at me, his eyes dancing with mirth, waving a hand idly towards the ceiling. “We have entire castles filled with people who leap at our minor whims - but you’re welcome. You earned having a part of that celebration be specifically for you given what you accomplished this year. And Melissa was, quite rightly, insistent that you shouldn’t spend Christmas alone”

“Yes, I’ve noticed trying to refuse her what she wants is, fortunately” I smiled at her, “a futile exercise”.

“See, if everyone else in this family would just listen to me like him, things would move a lot smoother around here” she posted with an exaggerated huff. “And besides, that song was awesome, way better than last years!”

“Yes it’s actually quite catchy” Katrina added as she took a tiny sip from her tumbler, her smile slightly wry. “I’m probably going to have it in my head for days”.

“It does that” Hanse agreed with a tight smile before glancing back at me to explain off my look. “As it so happens, we’ve released a compilation of a great deal of your 20th and 21st century hits on the New Avalon charts that were, as best our archivists could tell, unknown to us. Claiming like I said tonight they were from a Star League era drive. We’ve easily played it as simply being a thousand years on the wrong side of three Succession Wars and no-one questioned that, but it’s made your songs wildly popular. The album has gone straight to number one on the charts across most worlds in the Crucis March, with all proceeds going to charity” he said, raising his own tumbler for a moment to offer me a salute. “A lot of less fortunate people across the Outback are going to get a few things of their own for Christmas this year who would have otherwise gone wanting”.

“That’s … very good to hear” I said in some surprise, feeling genuinely pleased at the news that my little stash of iTunes would have some good come of it.

“Indeed, you seem to have a knack for helping out people John” Katrina observed from over the lip of her glass, her gaze considering and contemplative. “Almost without realizing what you’re doing...”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer that but didn’t have to as Hanse sat up a little straighter, placing his tumbler down on a coaster to consider me a little closer and I felt the ‘mood’ switch over to something more serious.

“When I was much younger John, in the aftermath of Halstead Station, I spent some time on the way home examining and cataloguing much of what we had saved, from the Star League Library. When we opened that vault and saw all those books and data slates, I have to admit, I thought that we - I - had done it. That Lostech would be a thing of the past soon enough” he said, before huffing in a sort of dark amusement and shaking his head once. “Call it the hubris of youth I suppose. On the way home though as we catalogued and started to go through what we had recovered, frankly, all it seemed to do for me was to bring into perfect focus just how far we had fallen from our heights and just how daunting the task was before us. That there would be no easy or quick answer to all our problems and I must admit, I wondered at the time if the lives lost were even worth what we had managed to save?” he said, his expression turning solemn and introspective for a moment. No doubt in my mind he was remembering Dana Stephenson, the woman he had proposed to -and lost- in that mission and I was not sure what to say or do to that.
Melissa however was there and she reached out and took a hold of Hanse’s hand, startling him slightly as she gripped it, her face an expression of silent understanding as she gave his hand a squeeze.
I couldn’t help but smile for a moment at that. I’m sure Melissa knew of Hanse’s first love and that he was thinking of her ... but there was not even a hint of jealousy or unease or anything like that in her expression; just empathy and support over his loss, offered without conditions.

And as Hanse squeezed her hand back with a silent thanks in his eyes, I knew that he knew she knew (say that three times fast) and accepted the offered support for what it was.
And I knew then and there, to my considerable relief, I had not ****** up the cornerstone of the Federated Commonwealth as I had feared from the bruises no doubt forming on my shin...

“In any event” Hanse continued after a moment, his voice once again filled with the normal calm confidence I had come to associate with him as he turned back to face me, “after reflecting, I knew now where we were and where we needed to go. And no matter if I did not live to see us reach it, it was incumbent upon me to be the one to start us on that path. NAIS is, at least to me, in part a living promise to Dana and all those who died. To make their sacrifices worth it, no matter how hard or long the road...”

“You choose to go to the moon” I muttered to myself as he seemed to trail off, as everything about the NAIS sort of clicked into a new perspective from me. That it was as much as anything a final gesture to the woman he had loved and all those under his command who had made the sacrifice to lay the foundation stone for NAIS.
Which in turn was now in position to exploit the Helm Core, in full...
Then I realized I had said that out loud and refocused my gaze on Hanse, feeling a slight flush come up on my face at the probably rather esoteric, ancient reference feeling I’d have to explain it.

But then again, this was Hanse ****** Davion.

And do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too” Hanse quoted John F Kennedy flawlessly, awarding me a nod with a look that made me feel I had just passed some sort of test. “But for all I’ve built and accomplished with NAIS, I was sure that it would be up to our children and our children's children” he said, squeezing Melissa's hand once again and getting a smile once again as they glanced at each other, “to bring about a second renaissance, if you will”. He paused for a moment and again turned to look at me, his expression even more intense somehow and making me shift slightly. “Until this morning that is. When Katrina and I arrived at Asgard, ostensibly to discuss the logistics of some war games we are planning for the Davion Guards on the way home with the 3rd Royals. But in reality, just gave us both an excuse to log onto the copy of the Helm Core due to be put into deep storage in the black-vault there, log onto it and just …”

Hanse shook his head sharply and took a breath. Holy hell, was the man on the verge of tears there for a second?



Well if he was, he snapped it back under control in a heartbeat as Katrina smoothly stepped in.

“If someone had offered me ten mixed regiments of Mechs, vehicles and equipment from the Star League ripe for use and with plenty left over for reverse engineering, I would have considered giving them one of my lesser but still developed worlds to rule as perfectly acceptable trade” the Archon said, staring into her glass of scotch absently for a moment before her eyes shifted to fix me. “Even with the political nightmare of arranging such a thing I would have considered it a bargain” she continued, leaning forward to delicately place her tumbler onto the table, leaning forward in her chair with her elbows on her knees to regard me closely and directly. “And I would have grudgingly paid a much higher price if the alternative was one of my peers getting their hands on it instead - present company excluded of course” she added the last with a sly smile in her expression, which Hanse returned with a chuckle and nod before all eyes dragged back to me.
“If said person had also brought me enormous political insights to my enemies, shown me where the bodies were buried and how what their most secret inner most thoughts were past present and future? I would have happily thrown titles and money at them enough that their family would be raised from nothing to among the Commonwealths most lauded, without hesitation”.
And now, she eased forward on her seat, leaning inward and resting her elbows on her knees as she got just a tad in my space, closer than I had ever been to her with her grey eyes seeming to pierce right through me.
“And John, if they had offered me and my peers the means to completely rebuild the technological base of the Star League from first principles? Asking that in exchange my cost would be to give them my daughter's hand?” she said, turning her gaze for a second to Melissa who returned her mother’s look levelly without objection or rancor before Katrina turned back to me. “Then I would have given that”.

“Then it’s a good thing she already has a fiancé, I don’t think my shins could take much more” I snarked without thinking, the sheer intensity in Katrinas eyes was just frightful as she made me believe she meant absolutely every word she said … and made me understand how much such a choice would have cost her.

There was a moment of terrible ghastly silence that lasted just long enough for me to wonder if I had just made a really bad joke when Katrina was trying to be really serious-
Then there was a snicker from my right that hissed into a snorted giggle as Melissa tried to control herself … and Katrina closed her eyes and let a smile pass across her face as she leaned back and joined her daughter in laughing softly, the tension in the moment dissipating and her mask slipped and she reached down to pick up her drink.

Hmm. Good idea I thought, reaching down and doing the same, bracing myself …
Ah! Smoooooth.
Katrina clearly has much better taste in drinks to keep for guests than Hanse.

“Nonetheless” Katrina put in as she settled into her chair, her gaze now somewhat more relaxed than it had been but just as serious. “If you can understand that, you can understand just how much what you have given freely to us is worth, making it perhaps even more incumbent upon us to reward you” she said, holding up a hand as I opened my mouth to speak up. “Part of the duty of Hanse and I, as it is for all nobility, is to reward those in service to us when they accomplish great things. That is not negotiable” she added as I started to open my mouth, causing me to close it quickly. “Fealty is not a one way street and not rewarding you for doing more for both our realms that frankly anyone has in centuries, is an insult to all those who have sworn themselves to us”.

“Keywords ‘done for’” I dared to reply, glancing around the room. “I have actually done very little, I simply provided some information I had. I didn’t have to steal it single handedly from Luthien shooting my way past the massed Sword of Light regiments on foot shaking their MAGIC BUSHIDO FISTS at me as I flew off into the distance on Takashi’s personal shuttle”.

“...their what?” Katrina raised an eyebrow at that one and I paused, considered and shook my head.

“Long story. Anyway, the point is that all I did was fast forward known events. If I had not even existed, the Grey Death Legion would have gotten it to you - albeit not in the most perfect of formats, but there none the less. If anything, you should reward them because without what they did in the old timeline, none of this would have happened - even ignoring the fact that I’m in no way qualified or trained in things like how to handle a landhold if you wanted to give me one”.

“I already have the Director of Mercenary Liaisons working on that with quite generous terms” Hanse noted from the side, looking amused at my being behind the eight ball. “From what you’ve told me of them and what MIIO brought up, they seem to be an ideal long term prospect for recruitment and I could certainly use some more troops in the Draconis March over the next few years”.

“Oh. Well, good” I blinked. “Anyway” I tried to move the subject back to my objections, “other rewards like trying to elevate me to noble status are, again, problematic. I mean just walking around the Triad tonight I felt like I was so far out of my depth I was rolling for crush-depth breaches-”

“You certainly seemed to handle my uncle rather well” Katrina smiled like a shark and I froze at that.

Question. How in the ****** had she found out about that when she had spent all night in the middle of the party with her hands full?
Answer; she was Katrina Steiner. Just … deal with it.

“Well, I just, uh-”

“Stood up for Patrick and Morgan with a surprisingly eloquent speech that shut him up and killed his attempt to try and embarrass me by proxy?” she suggested. “Out of your depth or not, you seem to be able to swim well enough John” she pointed out, staring me down and shutting me up. “Loyalty and natural talent like that is not something I or Hanse are inclined to casually waste by having you sit down in some room trying to remember things for the next decade”.

“You also impressed Ardan with how you operated on the expedition to Helm” Hanse put in from the side. “He genuinely seems to think that you have a future ahead of you in staff work in DMI once you graduate - which would dovetail nicely into your cover”.

“My cover? You - wait a second, graduate?” my thoughts finally caught up with the rapid changes in direction this conversation seemed to be bobsledding through.

“Oh, we’re sending you to Sakhara Academy” Hanse explained, taking a sip of his scotch and making an approving noise at his glass as I just stared at him. “You’ll be leaving on the 27th, taking the command circuit linking me to New Avalon and getting off at Kentares, jumping a few ships to get you there just in time for the 3027 intake. Quintus has already arranged it all through the ‘old boy’s’ network”.

"I, the Baron of Strang, care not for your new names. Clans? Jade Falcons? I call you by your true name: Scum of the Star League, traitors of free will, persecutors of the Periphery come back to lord it over freedom-loving people. Come ahead, you steel-eyed robots! Come ahead and taste what a million like-minded people think of you and your damn Clans!"

-Baron Stepan Von Strang

Chris OFarrell

  • Warrant Officer
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  • Posts: 482
Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #70 on: 27 August 2018, 08:07:47 »
“Once more?” I finally asked after a long silence, my thoughts coming to the halt with the distinctive sound of a record scratch in the back of my brain.
I couldn’t possibly have heard that right, could I?

“As far as the Sphere is concerned -if they can dig through to the data anyway- you are a MIIO agent who just helped oversee a recovery effort unlike anything seen in recent history, with enough Star League gear to build the core of five Regimental Combat Teams around” Melissa explained to me casually, sitting up and smiling at me. “As a reward for such outstanding service in support of the operation as the represented of Quintus Allard on the ground, being granted a slot as a MechWarrior at prestigious academy is certainly not an uncommon reward. And it would naturally then lend after a tour of duty of you being assigned into DMI, making a highly useful, multi-talented agent”.

“It was actually Melissa's idea” Hanse added with a smile at his fiancé who offered me an unquestionably ‘superior’ little mocking wave. “And while you’ve made your feelings about the ‘Cult of the MechWarrior’, as you called it rather clear, feelings I’ll admit even have some basis in reality, the sad truth is that in the Federated Suns - and the Inner Sphere as a whole- being a MechWarrior is very tightly associated with the nobility. Sakhara will train you both as a MechWarrior and expose you to a lot of the younger nobility in the ‘real world’ in a secure environment which you will network in. It’ll also teach you how the military here thinks which you can compare and contrast in turn. Then, you can get some light field duty after the 4th Succession War ends when you graduate, transfer into an intelligence and command pathway, by which point we would have come up with a neat way to justify giving you an impressive plot of land somewhere and the titles that go with it”.

“Uh…” I managed, blinking several times as my mind tried to follow the logic. “I don’t exactly have a Mech!” I pointed out the first flaw. “And I’ve never used one before, most of the kids going into military training have at least played with their family ‘mechs first” the second point came up. “And” I added finally, “Aren’t I a little bit old to be going to boot?”

Melissa was instantly up to defend her plan like a Gods damned lawyer on cross examination.

“In order; first, given that you just gave us over five hundred of them, I’m sure that we can find one for you. Two; every academy starts with the assumption that you don’t have a clue how to pilot a mech and forces every cadet to go through the same training. Three, yes, but it's also far from unprecedented for older people for varied reasons to go into the military - or at least through training - at ages well past yours for example, assuming they are fit enough. And the fitness reports on you say that you’re more than capable of meeting the entry requirements - the neural scans while you were unconious suggested you won't have any issues using a Neurohelmet. Anything other objections?”
I blinked as that look before wondering if she just wanted me to get to the obvious one. So I did.

“Ultimately. You’re asking me -or more specifically, I’m asking me - if I’m capable of taking up arms, to kill if necessary, in defense of the Federated Commonwealth”.
There, I said it. Would I be able to kill another person?
All the armchair general fun and videogames in the world I knew didn’t a soldier make. Let alone prepare me for taking the life of another human being. There were a lot of combat veterans on Spacebattles whom I’m sure would have jumped at the chance to jump into a giant robot and show these walking tanks who a real combined arms force worked.
But me?
Okay, right here right now, it really became clear that this was not the ****** tabletop. Or a SI fic. Where the SIs generally shrugged and got down to the killing in a 'do or die' situation.

No-one is ever sure if they can until the times comes John, all the training in the world can’t answer that question” Katrina said quietly, almost gently. “So no, that isn’t the question we’re asking. The question is are you willing to risk your life, if necessary, for the sake of the Federated Commonwealth to protect it against its enemies?”

Huh. Put it that way … even if it sort of sounded like semantics … it was nonetheless surprisingly clear to me.

“Yes” I said after a moment of silent thought, looking up to meet each of their eyes in sequence. Because for all the flaws of this Neo-Feudal system. For all the problems in this idiotic fight over a dead corpse and empty chair that meant nothing, the Federated Commonwealth is the only power with the liberal traditions, defensive depth, industry and unity to have a hope in hell of dealing with what might be coming down the line.

All three seemed to look for something in my eyes. All three seemed to be satisfied they found it.

“Then, in that case” Hanse noted, reaching under the coffee table to pick up a manila folder and pass it across to me. “This, is yours - consider it the first gesture from Katrina and I for what you have done and accomplished for the Suns and the Commonwealth. Merry Christmas”.

I accepted it with a mild thrill of excitement I have to admit - I mean it was essentially a Christmas present from two House Lords. A small sort of smile was on my face as I broke the wax seal and found a single expensive sheet of paper inside, with what appeared to be verigraphed inserts and a single neat few paragraphs of text that I started to read.

Ah crap it looked like a legal document. Oh well, one line at a time.

‘Stated on December the 25th, 3026. Amendment to section 9, paragraph III clause VI is now inserted following clause V’ I read carefully. ‘Stating the following; “That John Smith (Federated Suns identity number 74733-222294-291-555-1119, Lyran Commonwealth identity number 846545S56-356SD-55Z) is hereby given the privilege and right of being’ I paused for a second, my eyes going slightly wide, ‘the first person granted status as a Citizen of the Federated Commonwealth, with identity number 0000-0000-0000-0000-0001. This amendment to be kept secret until January 1, 3050.

This amendment to the Federated Commonwealth Accords agreed to and signed by First Prince Hanse Davion and Archon Katrina Steiner - Verigraph afixed and confirmed below with confirmation keys registered to trustees of these documents-

What the ******?
 
“You wrote me into the Federated Commonwealth Accords?” I spluttered in numb disbelief, my eyes wide as saucers.
I mean seriously? What? It would be like being written into the Constitution of a country back home!
The ******?

“Surprise!” Melissa grinned. “Actually it's right below my secret clause that Hanse and I are getting hitched” she said. I glanced up from the paper to stare at her as I slowly closed it and handed it back to Hanse.

“Please tell me it doesn’t actually use that language?” I managed as I tried to recover my poise. Even in a symbolic sense, the two of them making me the 'first citizen' as it were of the Federated Commonwealth ... that was big.

“Not really, that's about thirty pages long” Melissa rolled her eyes. “I’m surprised they didn’t go into the mechanics of exactly how Hanse is supposed to throw me onto the bed and-”

“Melissa!” Katrina’s voice cracked in that kind of paternal mortification when their teenage daughter decides to go just a tiny bit too far and Hanse, for the first time in his life seemed to be actually blushing slightly.

The younger Steiner however simply rolled her eyes in that passive-aggressive genetically teenager way of ignoring a parent telling them to behave.

“No matter, we’ll just have to improvise on the wedding night” she muttered, turning a look I could best describe as speculating towards her fiancé … who confronted with his future wife on one side and mother in law on the other, did the smart thing.

“Your enrollment has been confirmed by Sakhara” he said, reaching up to pull another folder out from under the table and handing it over, not looking at his future wife who continued to study him speculatively. “The induction is on the fourteenth of January, so you’ll be leaving on the twenty ninth to make it” he said as I broke the seal and started to read the cover letter. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see that I had been invited on a fully paid admission on the ‘recommendation’ of Quintus Allard. Sakhara was incredibly picky about its admissions, generally only allowing the most wealthy and connected in and even then only on recommendations from its alumni network. And unlike some of the Lyran social clubs that pretended to be military academies for the wealth, Sakhara if anything was fanatical about the excellence it expected from its students.
Justin had in fact graduated from Sakhara, no doubt explaining why Quintus had officially sent the request.

“Why Sakhara?” I asked out of curiosity. “And not Albion or the College of Military Sciences?” After all, they were on New Avalon which was much closer to home and excellent in of themselves…”

“Two reasons” Hanse explained. “One, given your higher profile, having you around on New Avalon - especially at NAIS - risks people talking, even inadvertently and giving things away by adding two and two together; the downside of having far too many smart people in the same building I suppose. Two, security at Sakhara is actually tighter than NAIS. Partially because unlike New Avalon, there are few reasons to bother setting up spy rings and partially because rather significant nobles children pass through, force protection and security is as near to airtight as you can get. We’ll have emergency contact methods in place should you remember something time critical or otherwise needing immediate action, but otherwise Katrina and I are hoping you can just sit out the … shall we say, upcoming events of the next three years?”

I bit my tongue to stop myself from bringing up Justin.
Perhaps it was a good idea that I was going to be sitting most if not all of the 4th Succession War out from the sidelines.

“Makes sense” I agreed after taking it in, offering the trio a quick look, then smiling as a thought occurred. “So, I take it I’m not going to be invited to the wedding?”

Of course you’re not, what kind of stupid question is that John?

“I wish you could be” Katrina said and she sounded genuinely regretful - Melissa also looking slightly downcast at the negative.
Which was a tad bizarre given that I had only met the bride a few hours ago.
“But it would be somewhat incompatible with keeping a low profile. And even as public as such an event is ... do you really want to walk onto ROMs home turf?” she asked?

The shudder that went through my body probably answered that directly enough.

“I’d offer to save you a slice of cake, but it might be a little stale by the time it gets to you” the bride to be shrugged impishly.

I laughed at that one, as from the corner of the room I heard a series of chimes in the classic Westminster pattern. I turned to look and spotted a grandfather clock that seriously looked like it could have come off pre-spaceflight Terra, which finished its chime sequence and started to ring out midnight.

“And that's December 25” Melissa smiled. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas” I replied along with the other two adults … and in that moment. I felt something more was called for, closing the folder and tossing it onto the table, before reaching for my tumbler. “And as I’m not going to be present for the wedding - and in honor of your engagement...” I said with a pointed look at Melissa who tilted her head in confusion for a moment … then suddenly realized with a silent ‘oh!’ as she reached into her pocket to pull out her hidden engagement ring … and handed it over to Hanse with a blush. Who in turn quickly put his glass back down to take out the ring … and carefully slide it onto his blushing fiance’s finger before the two retrieved their glasses, standing as I did.

“I’m not terribly good at speeches” I said. “So I’ll make it simple; may your wedding day be glorious, Maximilian Liao's face hilarious and your honeymoon not interrupted by Toaster Worshipers”.

“Hear hear!” the trio laughed and with a tink of very expensive crystal out glasses met as we drank to that offset the final chimes from the clock, Christmas Eve and the last vestiges of my old life sort of faded away … and my new life in formal service to the Federated Commonwealth began.


-----

Okay so;

1. Forgive me my indulgence at the whole Christmas day thing, it WAS actually when I checked, the most played song on my iPhone of all the Christmas songs, go figure :p
2. I'm sorry if not that much outside of politics happened this chapter, but it was always going to be a political end to this book, not an action one.
3. Except a time jump a year and a bit when I start the first chapter of the next book (the book titled 'I think your toaster is on fire' and the chapter titled 'Misery loves company' in a horrible pun I should feel ashamed at making ... but don't.
4. No I'm not going to give an ETA.

Peace, out :)
"I, the Baron of Strang, care not for your new names. Clans? Jade Falcons? I call you by your true name: Scum of the Star League, traitors of free will, persecutors of the Periphery come back to lord it over freedom-loving people. Come ahead, you steel-eyed robots! Come ahead and taste what a million like-minded people think of you and your damn Clans!"

-Baron Stepan Von Strang

marauder648

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #71 on: 27 August 2018, 10:03:18 »
Wonderful to see this back, irritating thing is...what's the Christmas song? :p I'm reading at the moment and will let you know my thoughts when i'm finished but thus far, WONDERFUL! :D
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!


OpacusVenatori

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #73 on: 27 August 2018, 13:40:29 »
Thanks for this story. It was a good read.
See you in your next book.
While some fight with honor, Others win battles

Sir Chaos

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #74 on: 27 August 2018, 13:59:22 »
*standing ovations*
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
- Inscription on cannon barrel, 18th century

ckosacranoid

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #75 on: 27 August 2018, 15:14:32 »
Very great update and amd the speech was very cool when the A###### stood up and tryied to screw things up. getting mr smith out of the way for the next few years is going to different and see how things change a little bit and how they try to keep some butterflys from blowing things up and letting them change other things.

snakespinner

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #76 on: 27 August 2018, 19:06:27 »
Your book just get's better with each new chapter.
Excellent job especially the personalities of the people. :beer:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

ThePW

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #77 on: 27 August 2018, 20:41:42 »
I'm totally speechless... please, take your time on this... :D

DOC_Agren

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #78 on: 27 August 2018, 21:26:06 »
 :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
"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!"

Starfox1701

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #79 on: 28 August 2018, 01:09:17 »
Wow and for the record I would have not been as cool with Lastrad or the former Archon.

marauder648

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #80 on: 28 August 2018, 05:07:26 »
read all of the latest update last night, absolutely superb!  It had me chuckling and even going 'ooooh sheeeeet!' when Mr Smith sassed Katrina.  As always, superb stuff with brilliant characterisation.
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!

Sir Chaos

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #81 on: 28 August 2018, 07:07:06 »
read all of the latest update last night, absolutely superb!  It had me chuckling and even going 'ooooh sheeeeet!' when Mr Smith sassed Katrina.  As always, superb stuff with brilliant characterisation.

Plus the mental image of the Griffin stuck in the ceiling of the throne room after the pilot accidentally hit the jump jets while on guard duty...  ;D
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
- Inscription on cannon barrel, 18th century

marauder648

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #82 on: 28 August 2018, 08:13:58 »
Plus the mental image of the Griffin stuck in the ceiling of the throne room after the pilot accidentally hit the jump jets while on guard duty...  ;D

Seyla :D  Although i'm still trying to figure out what song it was that was being sung off the Ipod.  For a moment I thought it was

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQhuoY5h2kE  But whilst I can see Hanse grinning and bopping to it, Katrina would be "Nein!"
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!

Siden Pryde

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #83 on: 30 August 2018, 23:50:41 »
Bravo.  Excellent chapter and ending to book one.  Looking forward, impatiently, to book two.


Nitpick: You keep referring to Dan Allard as Justin.

" “Thank you, Duke Steiner” Justin extended a hand "

" at his casual use of my name before I quick stepped it to catch up to Justin "

cawest

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #84 on: 31 August 2018, 12:56:18 »
this was a great story.  I can not wait for more.  I so can not wait so see how smith and the wolves,with the blackwidow get to meet.  any bets on his first mech?  i'm betting a Wolfhound with DHS

mikecj

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #85 on: 01 September 2018, 00:14:28 »
Well done!  Thanks for sharing. :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
There are no fish in my pond.
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Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

Greatclub

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #86 on: 07 September 2018, 16:02:36 »
Omake, post-Misery

Captain Kerensky: Damn Davion is trolling us.
Colonel Wolf: Why'd you say that?
Captain Kerensky: The units he gave us. 10 Centurion, 10 Valkyrie, bog standard. Ten Longbows, modified with 36 tubes that can fire any missile you care to name; no stravag idea where those came from. The cap is the damn omni-carrier tanks; they can be swapped between SRM, LRM, and light autocannon loadouts.
Colonel Wolf: Omni?
Captain Kerensky: Remember Quentin IV?

cawest

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #87 on: 07 September 2018, 16:24:26 »
Omake, post-Misery

Captain Kerensky: Damn Davion is trolling us.
Colonel Wolf: Why'd you say that?
Captain Kerensky: The units he gave us. 10 Centurion, 10 Valkyrie, bog standard. Ten Longbows, modified with 36 tubes that can fire any missile you care to name; no stravag idea where those came from. The cap is the damn omni-carrier tanks; they can be swapped between SRM, LRM, and light autocannon loadouts.
Colonel Wolf: Omni?
Captain Kerensky: Remember Quentin IV?


 :D :D :D :D  love it!!!!

truetanker

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #88 on: 08 September 2018, 00:08:43 »
Tis must be Dead Tree'd!

TT
Khan, Clan Iron Dolphin
Azeroth Pocketverse
That is, if true tanker doesn't beat me to it. He makes truly evil units.Col.Hengist on 31 May 2013
TT, we know you are the master of nasty  O0 ~ Fletch on 22 June 2013
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Chris OFarrell

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Re: This Was Easier on the Tabletop - a Battletech SI Fic
« Reply #89 on: 15 September 2018, 08:29:49 »
Hi Guys.

Progress on the first chapter of the next book is good, I'm hoping next weekend will be the publish date.
I am also, after some voting on Spacebattles, writing an interlude of sorts between the books (which will be published before the next chapter). This interlude will NOT be an SI chapter, but a more classic multi-POV chapter as it were, my theory is that each book will have a non SI point of view chapter between them to give a little bit of a different point of view of the going on's in the universe and how some impacts of the SIs changes may be being felt.

I put five titles of five possible interludes to a vote, most of which were pretty unhelpful in trying to determine what they would be about. The highest voted title being the only one that was actually pretty clear; 'You may use the garden!'

The second placed one a lot of people correctly suspected was about some hints I had dropped about the Grey Death Legion and what would happen to them in this timeline, with in the last chapter previously posted a throw away line by Hanse giving a vague sort of hint.

However while I intend to only write the winning interlude, Rogue_Vector over on spacebattles asked for permission to write out the GDL one and did a pretty damn fantastic job. So I'm posting it here as well - its very much considered canon for this story.

Enjoy!


Marauder Bill’s Bar

Galatea, Lyran Commonwealth
December 28th, 3027


As time moved to close with the New Years, Captain Grayson Death Carlyle accepted his third drink.

He wasn’t drowning his sorrows, per se.

The mercenary commander took a pull from the ice water - a drink which had jokingly become his ‘regular’ here - as he watched the mercenaries of the Gray Death Legion kill time at Marauder Bill’s bar: Davis McCall’s scouse accent was cutting through the din as he took the lead in a game of darts with Jessica Hastings, while his executive officer Lori Kalmar sat quietly in the corner furthest away from the fireplace that kept the room warm. Grayson had left this bar years before with just a little under two hundred mercenaries at his command; infantrymen, techs, drivers, mechwarriors and all. Now he had come back with nearly triple that number, and dependents besides.

The Verthandi campaign had unfolded into a disorganized series of guerrilla battles and knife-edge clashes which had pushed the fledgling mercenary command to its limits. Even though he’d lost so much over the course of that campaign, they had gained much from Verthandi; not just personnel swelling his ranks with experienced, blooded troops but also with warmachines: his recently acquired Marauder for one, formerly a weapon of terror wielded by the Draconis Combine, now one of the heaviest ‘mechs in his rosters. Meanwhile, Lori had picked up his Shadow Hawk, and while the rest tended to be lights, even the Wasps and Stingers he had liberated from the Draco forces were a welcome sight to the growing mercenary unit… once they had properly painted over the dragon iconography.

More than that, the parts, salvage, and acquisitions earned on Verthandi had seeded the growth of the Legion even further once he had returned to Galatea, the unit’s TOE swelling to finally fill out a full company of 'mechs and nearly a company more: in truth there were enough MechWarriors signing on with him that he’d nearly have a full battalion if every competent pilot could be partnered with a machine to match, though that was easier said than done.

His other forces, meanwhile, would fill out the roster for an entire mixed regiment; between just over two infantry companies captained by Ramage and the recently acquired armor company headed by Baron, the unit would have qualified as a short regiment if they had been able to take the profits of the Marik contract and use it to hire on even more recruits.

If.

That line of thought brought Grayson back to his current predicament; after the success of Verthandi, the Gray Death Legion had cooled their heels ever since their return to the Mercenary Star of Galatea: repairing, training, hiring as Grayson had gone from embassy to office, rumor mill to upscale bar in search of a new job. Clients were consulted, stool pigeons shaken, and bribes were paid. With his larger force and the foundations of a solid reputation, it hadn’t taken more than a few months before he had lined up a nice contract with the Free Worlds League, away from the borders of the Draconis Combine. An extended contract for sure; years of raiding and garrison duty was ahead of him, but there was the promise of a landhold at the end of it.

Helm.

Helm, the same planet that had been on the holovid casts.

Blake’s beard, they had a Star League cache there!

The Christmas Party at the Triad had been broadcast almost all throughout the Lyran Commonwealth and no doubt the Federated Suns too.

To most mercs, it was simply the blue bloods showing off their wealth.

For Grayson, it had been the final piece of the puzzle, explaining so much about why he had suddenly lost contact with the League hiring hall, and why his contact’s secretary had politely pretended that she had no idea who the Lyran-born mercenary was, despite the fact that she had slipped him her contact number a week ago.

A bloody Castle Brian. It had almost driven him to (actual) drink as he watched a military analysis of the cache’s size; speculation had ran rampant as one of the channels described the number and size of the dropships that had been diverted to the Victoria Steiner Military Reserve. Regiments of equipment had landed in addition to the mentioned Kell Hounds and Davion Heavy Guards. Of course, the prospect of finding - and more importantly, keeping - that particular pile of LosTech would have propelled him up to the same lofty heights as the Wolf’s Dragoons, Eridani Light Horse or… wait, why had the bar suddenly gone quiet?

“Grayson?”

The merc only knew one man who would call him that outside of the Gray Death Legion; many negotiators had styled themselves as part of the militaries they represented, while a rare breed - like the man currently in the room - preferred to take a more civilian approach.

Piter Simmons was, by all appearances, an impeccable businessman; the Suns representative had cultivated his reputation as a negotiator of the highest caliber with his flawlessly tailored suits, subdued colors and his ever-present leather briefcase (which many had openly speculated to have some kind of LosTech devices inside). There was little doubt that he was well connected among the AFFS, who often sought him out as their middleman.

But rather than the calm, neutral expression that was as ever-present as his pressed white shirt, there was a tinge of suspicion and worry in the man’s eyes as he sat down and set his briefcase on the bar.

“What did you do, Grayson?” Piter asked the captain, wonder in his eyes.

The younger man - easily half Piter’s age - didn’t know the first thing to answering that question. “I beg your pardon, Piter? I… I’m not sure what you’re asking about.” Grayson tried avoid sounding like a child who had had been caught with his hand inside the proverbial cookie jar.

“I hire people, Grayson.” Piter explained, thumb moving to the archaic - and deceptively simple - combination lock on his briefcase. “Usually, I am given a broad understanding of the size, composition and disposition of the mercenaries that I am tasked to hire. Then I’m to seek out and hire those same mercenaries.”

Click click! The two metal snap-locks popped free.

“Now, imagine my surprise when I am given a contract for a defensive garrison posting… along with quite extraordinary requirements for the mercenary unit to fulfil it. Extraordinarily specific requirements.”

Piter produced a small glasses case and opened them up, settling the thin, black framed reading glasses on his nose as he began to read.

“I was sent a request for a mercenary command, of a battlemech regimental strength and mixed composition. Defensive garrison posting, standard contract otherwise… with payment in the form of a landhold and title to go with it.”

Not an uncommon sight on Galatea, Grayson thought, yet his interest perked at the offer of a landhold. Well, perked was something of an understatement; poker face be damned, it was the one thing short of being offered the lives of his men and women back that really drew his interest; a landhold. A home. It was a dream that his father had chased… that he in turn inherited once he had made himself a mercenary. Grayson was familiar with the nomadic lifestyle of a soldier-for-hire. Hell, it was pretty much the only one he knew. The regiment was your home. But to be able to settle down and have a home for the regiment?

Piter smiled; the man was well aware of Grayson’s goals.

“The unit’s history of service to include both defensive and offensive operations, with an emphasis in combined arms and guerrilla warfare…”

Which was the Gray Death Legion’s history in summary.

“... and, most importantly, commanded by one Grayson Carlyle. That is non-negotiable, I’m afraid.”

“What.” Grayson leaned over to read, manners forgotten, but Piter was more than happy to flip the page and hand it to him.

Someone had singled him out. Grayson scanned the document. It even included the Gray Death Legion’s emblem! A landhold contract, with garrison duty rather than having to go out and claim said landhold…

“This can’t be real.” He murmured. A prank was far beyond Piter’s sensibilities, no matter how fake they may have been.

“I assure you it very much is. I asked for double authentication to make sure of that.” Piter nodded. “Which makes me wonder, Grayson, what your unit did to deserve such… attention.”

“I…” Grayson racked his brains for who might possibly want him for? Who in the Federated Suns would… “Blake’s beard, Piter, am I seeing what I think that is?”

“Yes, that is the seal of House Davion. Not a baron with a moon mining operation. Not a planetary duke. Not a March Lord. Hence my rudeness earlier, for which I do hope you’ll forgive me.” The man nodded. “It’s rather rare that House Davion asks for my services so directly.”

Grayson shook his head slowly. “Piter, I have no idea what this is about.”

“I’d imagine so. Impressive as the Verthandi insurgency was, I doubt that report would have swayed the First Prince’s opinion of your unit. Yet here we are.”

“Yet here we are.” The merc agreed. “While I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I do have to ask...”

“I’m glad to hear that. I don’t doubt the horse’s pedigree, mind you, but she’s still in the stables, so to speak. Let’s bring her out for a trot.” Piter smiled, amused and unoffended, as he pulled out more paperwork.

Grayson accepted the papers and began to read them.

His jaw slowly slid down the front of his shirt. Generous didn’t begin to describe the terms of this contract; the pay for making raids into Draco space weren’t stellar, but that was the only complaint he could put forward, especially compared to the downright predatory terms Marik had been offering him. Mercenaries of all stripes would kill for this sheet of paper, to be the one that claimed the contract, if only it hadn’t specified Grayson and his unit.

He checked the posting and his breath hitched. “Marduk… that’s a world on the Draconis March.”

“Yes, the AFFS liberated the world in 2818. It’s currently held by the Marduk Militia - they’re experienced but understrength, so House Davion has put up an extraordinarily specific contract that you are… uniquely… qualified to handle.”

Both Trellwan and Verthandi had showed him the brutality the Draconis Combine was willing - and more than eager - to inflict upon a planet’s population. His hatred of them had simmered from the heat it once was; he wasn’t eager to begin a crusade against the Dracos, but to be able to deny them the opportunities to raid a world? Several worlds?

Grayson read on.

“The garrison contract is only part of the parcel, but the most extensive: it will be a five year rolling contract with options to renegotiate postings after the first three years. There are also clauses for raiding or defensive actions within a two-jump radius of Marduk and Hoff. Additional clauses allow for independent actions as long as I have enough forces staying to maintain a defensive posture on my primary posting. A defensive force of at least two battlemech battalions.” Grayson read. “I’ll have to recruit.”

Piter nodded. “The contract does provide a signing on bonus of half a million C-Bills to cover transportation to Marduk. I imagine some of that may be used to hire on additional contractors. Payment will be in quarterly installments and standard fifty-fifty salvage agreements with the option to sell or purchase, as well as in the form of a landhold on Hoff - while not the entire planet itself, but your holdings will be adjacent to the Friden Aerospace Park and, I can reassure you, well outside of its usual testing ranges. I am at liberty to say that there used to be a BattleMech storage and repair facility in that area that’s been included in the landhold. With the demi-battalion of techs you have, I’m sure your unit could make use of it as part of their holdings.”

Not to mention make a secondary income from repairing others’ equipment there. He could, with care and some luck, make a Mercenary Star in microcosm there as smaller mercenary units passed through for repairs, sale of salvage or even just to cool their heels after operations.

Another sheet of paper was given to the stunned merc commander.

“There’s also provision for partial preferential customer benefits with Norse BattleMech Works, which are based on Marduk; I hear their Wolverines and Griffins are quite popular chassis.” Piter smiled, and at this point someone dropped a drink in the background, the glass (which was supposedly carved from the cockpit glass of battlemechs) rattling around as it fell to the floor. Mercenaries being used to guard an objective was not unheard of, but to have them guard a BattleMech factory was… prestigious.

“Of course. I’ll have to have my lawyer look at it, first.” Grayson nodded, scanning the more detailed minutiae of the papers, he glanced upstairs to where no doubt his first pick of lawyer was ready to make more money; a lawyer was one of those things that a mercenary unit needed almost as much as battlemechs, and he had made sure to hire well.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Nodded Piter, who smiled fondly at the much younger man. “These are verified copies. I’ll have the originals in my office - you know where I am - so simply tell Alice to send you through and we’ll finalize things there.”

Grayson nodded mutely, still re-reading the outline of the contract.

A landhold. A home.

“I must thank you for this, Grayson. I’m sure my employer will be thrilled that I’ve convinced you to accept the contract so quickly.” Piter smiled, completely sincere. “I will also mention, that my services are open should you be looking to expand your unit outside of… local hires… from Hoff or Marduk. You have my card, of course?”

“Yes.” He murmured distractedly, before shaking himself back into focus. “Thank you for the offer, Piter. I’ll make sure to stay in touch.”

“Glad to hear it, Grayson.” Piter smiled much like the Fox he represented. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

Grayson watched as Piter methodically - to the point of ritual - packed up his briefcase, picked up his hat and walked out into the evening with a brief ‘happy new years’.

He turned to see that all of the room’s eyes were on him. Even more were peeking from the stairs and - Grayson looked upwards - through the floorboards of the silent bar.

“Cap’n.” Davis’ Scots-Terran accent was the first to break the silence. “Wha’ have ye done... an’ can ye do i’ more often?”
"I, the Baron of Strang, care not for your new names. Clans? Jade Falcons? I call you by your true name: Scum of the Star League, traitors of free will, persecutors of the Periphery come back to lord it over freedom-loving people. Come ahead, you steel-eyed robots! Come ahead and taste what a million like-minded people think of you and your damn Clans!"

-Baron Stepan Von Strang

 

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