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Author Topic: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion  (Read 1492 times)

Daemion

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My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« on: 09 October 2018, 12:08:11 »
Note from the Author -

This was a long time in coming. Some of you have seen bits and pieces of the adventures of one of my brainchildren.  This is where I had originally decided to give him his start when it came to becoming a MechWarrior in a BattleTech universe.

I grew up on GI Joe and Transformer toys among many, many others. 

I also grew up on Doctor Who and the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, among many, many others.

Then came the mail-in customizable Steel Brigade GI Joe figure.  I named mine Jamin, since it's part of my name.

With my breadth of toys, though not very deep collection, combined with the idea of one of them representing me, and my fond wishes to explore strange new worlds by jumping through a portal, Sliders-style, or some other odd means, he took on the role of 'interdimensional' traveler. There were some other things that morphed his means of transportation, and his make-up.

Finally, enter BattleTech.  The ultimate combination of Transformers and GI Joe, I immediately was drawn into the game, itself from the battered 2nd ed box set I picked up out of a garage sale.  Then I got immersed in the world. One of many, many others I fancy playing around in. 

Eventualy, my wandering avatar would end up here.  And, then in many other permutations.

I'm a strong believer in events happening for a reason.  While Jamin, himself, is around 26 or 27 years old from initial concept, (I being born near the end of 1980), and his adventure in an initial BattleTech universe is as old, certain things had to happen for that particular story could get to where I have it now.  With what I have, I'm satisfied with where the arcs are going.  Spawned by years of games, My friends threw missions at the merc unit he was in. Some of them got creative.  When I finally had a story path in mind, many of them were willing OpFor players, to see what I had going next.

His is a long and storied career, and not just in this BTu.  And, with his unique nature, the adventures don't have to end.

And, if you read on, I'll show you how a man with no credible past can become a MechWarrior when everyone else requires a familial background or loads of money, and years of academy training.

I plan on working on this weekly until I have it all up or I'm taken from this world.

Enjoy.





It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #1 on: 09 October 2018, 12:12:47 »
Proof of Diffusion

Prologue

DropShip Grocery Run
Boat of the Stars Trade Route
Ormstown Nadir
Lyran Periphery
15 October 3067


   Seated in the bolted swivel-chair inside the tiny cubby acting as the ship's quartermaster's office, Casey Putnam looked at the missive in his chocolate brown hands.  With a nod, he dismissed the crewman who delivered the letter.  Knowing from the header what it would say, he read it anyway.

   Come home.

   In so many words.

   The galaxy was starting to rip itself apart again. The fighting on Outreach was just the pebble starting the avalanche.  So Casey's parents believed.

   He didn't disagree.

   Unwilling to lose their son a second time, they called him home.  His entire family wanted to lock him up so they could be reassured of his safety.  They wanted to put him in a cage, their own family miracle on display.

   The promotion to corporate headquarters was just gilt gold on the bars.

   He was right where he wanted to be.  Out on the space lanes, he could travel the stars and visit new worlds.  Usually more than one per jump.

   The visions still came.

   Darran was dead.  Al was dead.  Carl was missing.  With their leader captured by the Word of Blake, the mercenaries had been forced to disband.  Under duress, they were required to hand over their BattleMechs and disappear, scattering to the four winds.

   The 'jump dreams' still kept them all together.

   It was difficult to imagine Al was truly dead.  Every week, Casey spoke with him.  They went on strange adventures.  But, the memory of his loss was clear and fresh.  The cockpit on Al's Warhammer had been a smoking, burned out ruin.

   Yet, there had been no body.  No blasted, charred command couch.  No sign of Al at all.

   It was as if the chair were never installed.  Like it never existed.  Like he never existed.

   That comparison worried Casey.  Yet, that was the only clue which explained why Al still wandered with them among twisted alternate realities.

   Leaning back in his chair as much as null gravity would allow, he took in the paper decked walls and covered desk.  It had been only two weeks since his father gave him this position.  Two weeks, and already it felt like a lifetime.

   There-in lay the problem.  Conflicting memories.

   It started the day Al died.  Disappeared.  Casey could never really think of him as dead.  In Casey's mind were two sets of memories.  One was the life of a mercenary, with his colleagues Al, Logan, Jenn, Miko and the others.

   The other was a life of a mercenary cut short.  In a disaster that saw the band disbanded early, sometime in 3059, Casey was forced to come home and spend the rest of his days inside a bulk freighter.  Actually, this exact one.  In that life, he had never met Al, never tutored him in the pirated sim pods, and never seen their wild missions and adventures.

   One was just as real as the other.  Neither was foggy or faded.  Casey was certain he had two actual lifetimes in his head, branching at that moment when he did or did not meet Al on Astrokaszy for the first time.

   With the comfortable routine of the day-to-day on board the Grocery Run, he would have fancied it all as a very vivid, creative fantasy.  Nearly twelve years of friendship and history, and almost nine years of service, simply dismissed and forgotten.  Only the dreams kept it all real.

   It was a problem.

   Hope remained that his friend was alive.  He had seen similar disappearances only one other place.  Casey was certain the same individual responsible for them was the culprit behind this dual reality.  He was the only one Casey knew who could fix it.

   There was only one way to find that person.  He needed a ship that had been there before.  He knew of two.  Both were well outside of his reach, the crews likely unwilling to go back.

   He needed to try something else.

   Out in the cargo bay, warning lights flashed red, casting everything in a pinkish hue.  A klaxon growled once, signaling a jump.  The moment Casey had been waiting for was near.

   He reasoned that Blacky, who started the 'jump dreams', was in contact with each of the people who participated in them.  That cast was select, composed of anyone who had ever seen the odd ship, past, present, or future.  With Al gone, every time one of them jumped, the same people were part of a new adventure.

   Casey hoped that Blacky would hear anyone who called for him when they left reality.

   He had tried calling out twice, to no avail.  Maybe he didn't have the timing right.  Maybe he needed to take it to the edge of perception.  Maybe he wasn't doing anything right.  Or, maybe Blacky didn't want to be disturbed.

   Casey might also be completely wrong.  Maybe it wasn't possible.  Maybe it all was in his imagination.

   No matter.  It was all Casey had, and he would keep trying.

   The moment came.  He felt reality warping. Everything slowed to a halt. For as long as he had a conscious thought, he shouted in his head, calling, not knowing if he was broadcasting loud enough, or at all.


     I know you're out there! Answer me, please! Help me understand what's happening! Help me find my friend...



Excavated Pit
Abandoned Mine Site - Smith Interstellar 21
Quarantined System
Formerly LACS SIMPH 32
Periphery
DD?,MM?,YYYY?

   Casey blinked.

   He wasn't on the dropper.  He wasn't on any dropper.  Not the Queen of Aces, like he expected. Not the Grocery Run, where he had been only a millisecond earlier.

   Casey's feet bore the weight of his body on arid, broken ground.  In front of him was a pit of smooth glass. The bottom was broken up, looking like someone had punched it hard enough to cause a second, cracked pit. Above all that, suspended in the periwinkle sky and reflecting the red sun, was a giant, smooth, silver orb.

   Blacky’s ship.

   It had worked.

   Casey whooped with elation.

   Next to him stood a man.  Even though appearing out of nowhere, he stood looking at Casey as if he were always there, and Casey had just now noticed.  This man wore a black robe with long, billowing sleeves.  His coppery skinned head was completely devoid of hair.  His eyes reflected no light in their extremely large, overly dilated pupils.  The only thing to indicate the man wasn't blind was a single dot of light, like a star, at the center of each lidded well.

   Casey had seen this man only three other times in his life.  He was hard to forget, even though nearly eight years had passed since their last encounter.  This was to be the fourth time.

   Al had called him Blacky.

   "You want to know where Al is?" Blacky asked, his baritone carrying easily in the still air.

   "Y... yeah," Casey stammered, still on a blissful high and caught off-guard by the direct query.  "Where is he?"

   "Right now?  At this moment outside of time, he is currently engaged as a pawn in a series of melees, combats initiated by five individuals similar to myself.  They've been drawn to him, like I was, but don't realize they have him.  They sport among themselves to while the time with your people and other beings they can summon to their contests."

   Blacky turned to look off in the distance.  “A set of duels involving Al is starting right now.”

   Casey followed Blacky’s gaze, but all he saw was distant sky and rocky landscape.  “What’s happening?”

   Blacky turned to observe Casey momentarily.  “That’s right.  Let me show you.”

* * *

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #2 on: 09 October 2018, 12:19:02 »
Prologue, continued


   Alius Cad’ver ran his hands over the controls in the Warhammer cockpit.  It was almost a perfect recreation of his older machine, though there had been some upgrades.  While he donned the neurohelmet and fired up the seventy-ton war titan, the words of his benefactor played through his mind. 

   The thing that had found him when Al awoke from his transition between realities was a strange machine creature.  All chrome, it had six bug-like appendages sprouting from a solid metal shell of overlapping plates.  Two segmented tentacles ending in three-fingered claws would extend or recede from under its face in the front.  At least, that was what Al figured was its face.  When the thing spoke to him, a liquid metal pool that defied gravity morphed into the facsimile of a human face.  The strange orbs that haloed that pool glowed like jewels lit from behind.  The hue of each gem would change over time, sometimes quickly and sometimes very slowly.  Al couldn’t discern any particular pattern in the way they glowed.


   “I had a chance to observe your original machine from your first sortie,” the thing said in a strangely metallic, hollow rasp, indicating the Warhammer from near the ’Mech’s right foot.  “I then found other technologies and extrapolated an ideal upgrade that is appropriate for the fight into which you are about to be entered.”

   As the HUD started painting a picture of the pseudo-alien landscape around him, he saw an indicator of some of those changes.  The weapons indicator in the upper right-hand corner showed some new tertiary weapons.

   “Mi. P. Lasers?” he voiced aloud.

   There were five of them. Two in either side torso near a corresponding ‘M. P.’ Laser, or medium pulse.  One was in the head.  Before donning his helmet, Al had noted the tandem housing rig overhead with barrels jutting out above the viewport.  They were in place of the old small lasers, though there had only been four of those, down in the side torsos.  From what he’d learned of advanced Inner Sphere tech from his mechanic, Al suspected these were something other than small pulse lasers.

   The world outside his ’Mech was compressed into a picture directly in front of his face.  A long thin line with a rectangle highlighting his direct forward view stretched out to the edges of his peripheral vision.  And, it was painted in vivid colors.  The swells were shallow, no more than a meter or two tops. Trees with the ever-common mix of green foliage grouped in small copses as far as the eye could see.  Signs of prior habitation stood tall in the forms of two large grain silos of corrugated steel.  They showed signs of age with large rust spots.

   Out among all that, the computer painted the outlines of two enemies.  Normally, the coloration of the outlines and cartoon depictions of the unseen elements were red for enemies, and green for friendlies.  In this instance, the one on Al’s left was a light blue, while the one on his right was white and light gray.  At least, this time, they were designs he was familiar with.  Not that he had faced a Dire Wolf in Battle, he was familiar with them from his childhood and the board game he played in high-school.  Before that fateful day in 2001.  Both were Daishis, but the weapon configuration on each was unrecognized by his warbook.


   “Your speech about ending the fighting in your last sortie was inspiring,” the creature had said to him after his enquiry about the situation, at the foot of the Warhammer.  “I saw the potential in you and the machine you rode.  It is why I brought you back.  These other beings wage a set of games with the lives of people and machines as if their mere pets, or pawns.  With your help, I can stop them.  But, first, we need to gain standing in their silly duels before I can enact my plan.  Will you help me?”

   Al still had his doubts.  It was obvious that refusing to fight would not free him to travel between universes as he was supposed to.  Already he had the jump dreams to deal with.  Dropping from one adventure back into the life he’d left from his first BattleTech universe was already disorienting.  Dredging up the memories of that life after anywhere from days to months, or years, have passed in a completely different setting was tricky enough.  Now, even those transitions were interrupted by this ongoing series of duels between magical creatures?

   The small voice at the back of his mind reassured him that Al was meant to be here.  If nothing else, his curiosity was piqued.  Right now, he was in this duel - more of a three-way free-for-all.  This time, he might as well win it.

   Hovering his reticle over the white Daishi on the right, Al selected one of the Mi Pulse Lasers.  It had the same range characteristics of a small laser.  What kind of heat output would it require?  He would have to learn on the fly. 

   Shoving the throttle forward to its stop kicked the Warhammer into a run. If this was like his old Mech, it would have Triple Strength Myomer bundles which required heating up.  Al was quickly caught by surprise.  The Warhammer moved with a speed that he was used to only when the TSM was heated.  Except when he had upgraded it with the salvaged Thor engine.   He grinned.  A logical upgrade, indeed.  Clan engine and heat sinks, as well as weaponry.  Had to be.  The range profile of the Medium Pulse Lasers confirmed it.

   But, how was the heat output?

   While weaving his ’Mech between copses of trees, Al lined up a firing solution on the white Daishi.  Both enemies were moving now.  He heard sensor pings as they got a readout on him.  There were too many trees in the way, so his shots weren’t going to do a damn bit of good, only burning away at leaves and branches to hit impotently against the target’s advanced composite hide. They would also heat up his machine.  He triggered a full barrage.

   Not surprisingly, the two Daishis turned on one another.  When they opened up, Al got to see what they were packing.  One was loaded out with Particle Cannons, and the other a mixed array of Pulse Lasers and Gauss Rifles.

   Surprisingly, the fight was over as soon as it began.  A PPC beam burned into the cockpit on the white Daishi.  The head section on the holoprojection went dark, meaning location destruction.  A half-second later, a Gauss slug smashed through the viewport on the blue Daishi, and its head section also went dark.

   Al had won by simply being the last one standing before he’d even fired a shot.  But, he didn’t have time to reflect.  In fact, he could feel time slowing down.  It was an odd sensation.  In that moment, he heard a psychic scream.  He didn’t hear it through his ears.  Instead, a woman’s scream of denial and outrage rang through his mind.  Before his eyes, events rewound up to the moment just before the two Daishis fired on one another. 

   One of the benefactors had just rewound time, and Al was fully aware of it.  Apparently, so, too was everyone else.  This time, the Daishis both took better defensive actions, turning lethal head hits into heavy damage elsewhere with a simple duck or weave. 

   Al’s skin crawled.  Instinct wanted him to activate the magic barrier built in at the base of his neck.  The Neurohelmet kept him from doing that in many ways.  The dampening effect would keep it from reading his mental impulses.  The way the helmet fully encapsulated his head and rested on his shoulders, attached firmly to the coolant vest kept him from physically popping his neck.

   Then his weapons fired.  He could feel faint pulses of heat from the overhead pulse laser.  He eyed the heat gauge as the coolant system kicked in, dissipating and redistributing the internal heat build-up from high-powered energy discharges.

   The cockpit remained comfortably temperate.  But the effect on the rest of the Warhammer was almost immediate. The Warhammer’s gait gained a sudden boost in strength, while the targeting reticule showed a slight drop in accuracy on all his weapons. The heat gauge showed the internal levels right at the TSMs ‘sweet spot’.

    Smiling, Al turned his attention back to the fight at hand

   To his left, the blue Daishi angled in his direction. 

   “Boy, are you in for a surprise,” Al muttered through clenched teeth.

* * *

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #3 on: 09 October 2018, 12:25:05 »
Prologue, continued


   Casey watched the vision from an outside perspective, a spectator on the side, high above the battlefield.  It was like watching a Solaris 7 match.  While Al’s Warhammer, Casey took in the surroundings, and noticed the visages of the other two patrons hovering like large holograms over their respective combatants. 

   One was the classic epitome of an angel, a woman decked in flashy ornamental armor with giant, white feathery wings sticking out back.  Instead of a blond, she was a brunette.  The other patron was a mermaid of sorts.  Her slender frame had the bumps of breasts suggesting she was female under her flowing silken robes.  Where her skin was exposed, Casey caught the glint of scales and oddly placed fins.  She had no hair, her head sporting strange bony bumps in places.  She even had webbing between her fingers.  One long, single fish tail dangled out below her robes, instead of two legs.

   When the two Daishi BattleMechs KO’d each other, it was the mermaid that screamed out in rage, making some strange hand gesture to rewind time.  Then, Al proceeded to flank the mermaid’s champion.  The increased speed and agility was used to full advantage, allowing the Warhammer to deflect a lot of incoming fire from the Clan behemoth, while dishing out telling hits of its own from the wave of laser pulses as well as two powerful azure PPC beams.  The armor on the Daishi was able to take a lot of punishment. 

   However, Al had worked around to the Daishi’s right side, and angled in to plant a heat-enhanced kick on the bird-legged right knee.  The damage caved in armor, leaving a noticeable dent while spider-webbed cracks grew up and down the thigh and shin.  The impact knocked the Daishi over. 

   The Blue pilot ejected once his machine came to an unsteady rest. 

   “What?!” The mermaid looked annoyed and surprised.  She huffed after a short pause, then turned and vanished.

   The Angel’s champion didn’t suffer quite the same fate as the other Daishi, but Casey watched Al’s luck play out.  The same luck that had enticed Casey to take Al under his wing when they first met.  The two Mechs were at range, and Al was only able to put his particle cannons and the two Clan Medium Pulse Lasers on target, though a bevy of micros were added to the barrage.  Harmless at those ranges, Casey knew Al’s combat tricks.

   The Warhammer swung wide, angling around woods and low slopes to close in on the wounded Daishi.  Its shots were moderately effective, Al’s armor absorbing the hits.  But, it was the return fire that did the job.  Both PPCs found a spot weakened by the Blue Daishi’s earlier barrage.  Smoke belched from a hole that sparked with electrical discharge on the left arm before it exploded.  Seeing a Gauss Rifle explode was interesting, as giant metal pieces simple ripped the fore-arm to shreds.  The forces carried up the shoulder.  Safeties cut-in and what was left of the limb went dead.

   The wound was survivable, since the Clan ’Mech had a CASE system, from what Casey recalled.  The discharge would have hurt the pilot, making him woozy, but he could still fight once he got past the symptoms.  However, the auto-eject feature was active on the white Daishi, and the pilot was force-ejected from his BattleMech by other safety features at about the same moment that the fore-arm casing started to warp and split.

   The scene dissolved about the same time that the Angel turned away to vanish. 

   “He won,” Casey stated when the vision ended.

   “Twice,” Blacky added, gaze momentarily distant for a few seconds longer.

   “Were you really surprised?” Casey asked, deadpan.  “He’s clocked more time in that cockpit than the oldest pilot known to man.”

   “Except Logan,” Blacky corrected.

   Casey paused in his reply before ceding the point with a nod.  He quickly brought the subject back on track.  “Those ‘beings’ aren’t necessarily human, are they?  I imagine your showing them above the fight was for my benefit?  One looked like a mermaid, another an angel, and then that mechanical thing that Al fought for.”

   “That is correct,” Blacky said.   

   "Yeah.  I think you'd tried to warn us last time.  About them," Casey said.  "They’re drawn to him?  You mean by that light you see in Al?"

   Blacky looked away from Casey, distracted.  "That's not how I discovered you the first time.  How I discovered all of you."  He smiled.  "Let me show you what I saw, what I see."

   Up in the sky, lights, stars, winked in and out of existence.  Each one shined briefly, brightly, then vanished.  There were hundreds.

   "What are those?" Casey asked.

   "The vessels your people use to pierce the void and travel vast distances instantaneously."

   "JumpShips,” Casey said.

   "Your arrival in my universe was what drew me.  I didn't see the light of your friend until I had caught up with you.  But, because of that light, I decided to follow you here when you exited my world."

   "Yeah.  I remember that," Casey said.  "Al tried to stop the ship from jumping when you appeared in front of us, but, was too late.  Didn't work.  And, because of Al, you followed us and you're stuck here."

   Blacky let his head slowly wobble in a non-committal gesture while contemplating.  "Things would be very messy if he had succeeded.  But, I can't blame him.  My current predicament is my own doing.  In my own cleverness, I hoped to use you to find my world and leave a warning to my earlier self.  In my realm, I give our ships special patterns that I recognize.  That way I can identify friend from foe.  I had done the same to your ship when I first launched you across the void into another universe.  What you call a Jump Dream, I believe.  It was unique enough to be recognizable, but still a pattern.  Because of that, my earlier self was more inclined to try to contact you.”

   Blacky turned to look on Casey directly.

   "But, it wouldn't have mattered.  I'm certain, now, that I would have followed you, pattern or no.  As a threat to my people, I had to make sure I could find you."

   He paused, looking down at his own hands while he raised them.  The winking stars vanished. Blacky clenched his fists, then dropped them to his sides.

   "I've also learned that my long exile is also my doing.  I didn't have to wait so long to return home.  I could have gone the first time you met me, here."  He waved his hands around to indicate the world on which they stood.  A sad, amused smile curled his lips.  "You see, I'm worshiped as a demigod where I'm from.  I’m used to people acting at my command.  I am also not used to having to explain myself.

   "I know now that if I had been open, honest, I would be home now, and it would be safe from them."  He turned to look off in the distance.  "But, only if I overcame my own self-importance and impatience.  I'd been trapped here a long, long time.  If I hadn't been hasty-."

   "You'd be home," Casey finished in the slight pause.  “How long were you trapped before the miners found you?”

   “Somewhere around a thousand jump intervals, which comes out to around nineteen Earth years.”

   Casey harrumphed.  “You look good for 50.”

   “I’m actually ten times that age,” Blacky said.

   “Still, nineteen years is a long wait in the dark.  I can’t fault you for your impatience.  And, now, add another eight or nine years to the wait.”

   Blacky looked at Casey, his face still contorted slightly with sadness.  "If I had gone home then, you adventure would have been cut short."

   "Would Al have survived?  I remember him saying something about dying."

   "We would have been fine.  Both of us would have departed together."

   "Then, I don’t think missing out would have mattered.  So, he's alive now?"

   "Alive?" Blacky looked momentarily surprised. "No. He is very much dead."

   "What?" Casey was confused.  "But, you just showed me he’s out there right now, fighting in some strange tournament.  You rescued him, didn't you?  Teleported him out at the last minute like you did the other pilots years ago."

   Blacky looked thoughtful.  "Teleported?  Them?  Yes.  Him?  I had no hand in that.  Al’s talent, his fate, is at work."

   "If he's fighting and winning, that means he's alive somewhere."

   Blacky's eyeless gaze fell on Casey again.  The look of sadness returned.

   "I see.  He never explained what he is to you, did he?”




DropShip Grocery Run
Boat of the Stars Trade Route
Langhorne Zenith
Lyran Periphery
15 October 3067


   On the desk in his cubby, Casey plopped down his little personal affects chest.  Only half a meter wide by a quarter meter deep and tall, it barely fit on top of all the paper.  He opened it and fished out what he needed.  He fished around for a couple other items that he wanted on hand.  It would be about a week before the Grocery Run jumped again.  A little longer, actually.  Langhorne was almost Terra-like in its star and planetary lay-out.  So, it would take a little over a weak for the ship to recharge its jump drive.

   However, in that time, there were a couple things Casey wanted to have on his person.

   His talk with Blacky - Diaprepes - had given him the answers he needed, and the last Jump Dream adventure had given him three weeks to process what he had learned.  Casey now had hope, and a direction.  “You need to keep the dreams alive,” Diaprepes had said.  Al was still alive, in a weird way, and he would be back at some point in the future. The Jump Dreams were somehow important.

   He needed to keep the Jump Dreams alive.  He couldn’t do that by going home and being cooped up in a manshion for the duration of the coming conflict.  He had to keep aboard a JumpShip, any JumpShip, and keep bouncing through the void.

   Casey had a purpose, now, and with Diaprepes’s help, he could make it happen.  Diaprepes was a man, a being, with powers, who could not only travel the void between universes, but he could put people wherever he wanted.  His exact words still burned in Casey’s memory. 

   “I am a master of the void.  My specialty is putting people and things in new places through the medium outside reality.  You don't have to arrive on the same ship you left in."

   It was a big chance Casey was taking.  He was about to live a life that only Al would be familiar with, waking up after an adventure in an unfamiliar environment.  The thought having to come up with an explanation on how he got there if he were discovered gave him pause.  To think that Al did that on a very frequent basis.  And, then there was having to find a way to survive if he managed to remain hidden.

   But, Casey had bigger hope.  There were larger forces working here beyond Diaprepes and his powers.  If the dreams were that important, then those higher powers would come to Casey’s aid, or grant him divine providence along the way.
« Last Edit: 14 March 2019, 10:58:51 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #4 on: 09 October 2018, 12:26:48 »
Attached RTF file of the Prologue for those who wish to read it uninterrupted or outside the forums. 
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

snakespinner

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #5 on: 10 October 2018, 01:36:16 »
A dream world brought out by jumps.
Very interesting. :thumbsup:
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.

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #6 on: 16 October 2018, 11:23:29 »
Chapter 1

   He woke up in complete darkness.  Reaching out, he found he could move, but he was in a confined space, which became more evident with the sound of his breathing and how it sounded close.  Claustraphobia threatened to set in, but he quickly suppressed it by concentrating on his breathing for a couple seconds.  Then he started examining his surroundings.

   The surfaces around him were flat, and when he hit or kicked, they rang hollow, like plastic.  He felt some contours, like ridging.  And, then there were some depressions into which he could push his fingertips.  If he worked hard enough some of those depressions widened into gaps. 

   Crates.  He was inside a pocket, surrounded by storage crates or totes.  He had no idea how deep the pile was, but he imagined with enough effort and time, he could free himself.  Giving a tentative push, he found ready resistance in most directions except to his right. 

   Pushing and wiggling, he heard muted thumping overhead, which then bounced down the right and ended somewhere below him.  As he continued to push and work, a few more repeats of the noise.  Each time, the work and push became a hair easier.

   After many minutes, light suddenly appeared.  But, it wasn’t like a crack had opened up to let outside light in.  It was if a switch had been turned on and suddenly flooded in through an existing crack.  He paused, letting his vision adjust.

   “What the ******?” a voice mumbled outside.

   Heart elated at hearing a voice, he called out to the stranger outside his prison.  Come what may, he was about to be free.  He could deal with the consequences later.

   “Help!” he finally managed after a few wordless shouts.

   “Hello?” the voice outside said, louder concerned.

   “Hey!  I’m stuck.  Can you get me out?” he shouted.  The noise of his own voice in the confined space irritated his ears.

   “Holy -,” the outside voice muttered, muffled. “I hear you,” it said, clearly, though still muffled by the plastic crate barrier.  It was decidedly male, a baritone.  “Hang on!  We’ll get you out.  It’ll take a while.”


It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #7 on: 16 October 2018, 11:27:44 »
Entrance Exam


Stum’s Bar
Cross Road’s Oasis
Astrokaszy
31 October 3058


   “Wait, wait, wait,” Darrin said, his voice gravelly with age. 

   Darrin Grinn was one of three other men that sat with Casey at a table near the Pod Pit in Stum’s Bar.  Alius Cad’ver sat to Casey’s right at the metal round table, and Ben Nimaj II, sat on Casey’s left.  Casey leaned against the heavy metal railing that ran the edge of what used to be the town hall auditorium.

   Stum’s Bar wasn’t just inside Crossroad’s Oasis’s town hall.  It had taken over the building, according to local lore, when a small, mysterious band of mercenaries had hauled in a dozen academy-grade BattleMech simulator pods a couple years back.  Town hall was only one place in the entire town that could hold them.  The town’s sole bar owner decided to use the Pods as an attraction, and moved his establishment to the town hall, taking it over.  Accept for the shape of the place, with the pod pit in the old amphitheater, Casey wouldn’t have guessed the building’s origin.

   The light in the rest of the bar up and around the pit was dim.  The place was packed.  Being Halloween, this was one of the many days throughout the year that people could come, get on a list, and have fun with the free-for-all without having to pay out.  It was reaching the point of Standing Room Only.  A steady murmur of conversation filled the background, overpowering the noises of the current match.  One of many rare excited outbursts erupted when something happened in the virtual arena. 

   Casey glanced up at one of the giant hanging monitors.  A cinematic view of the current fight was playing out in full color before flicking back to the view of a Pod Pilot and the stats of his ’Mech.  Below, one of the Pods quit moving, settling to rest. 

   Another one bought the dust.

   The other three men at the table had looked up, as well.  Once they were satisfied, they each turned back.  Three sets of eyes turned to Al, who had been recounting his arrival on Astrokaszy.  He’d just got started before Darrin interrupted the tale.  Nimaj Jr and Darrin only just arrived minutes before.

   Darrin’s one good eye twinkled in the dim light, glowing bright in contrast to his sun-darkened skin.  The desert nomad wasn’t a local, his thick Davion outback accent a give-away from his off-world origin.  The scar that crossed over his left eye, hidden under an eyepatch suggested he was a veteran of at least one conflict.  Whether that was from his time on Astrokaszy, or prior, Casey had yet to learn.  He hadn’t felt comfortable broaching the subject in the three years he knew the man.  One day, it might come up.  Or, it might not.

   “So, you’re telling me that you don’t know how you got aboard the dropship?” Darrin asked.  He looked both curious and skeptical. 

   Al’s blue eyes glinted.  He observed Darrin for a few seconds, a strange look of excitement and mirth only hinted at in his features.  With a very faint tilt of his head, he said, “I have some ideas.  But, no, I don’t exactly know how I ended up on the Dragon’s Rose.” 

   Nimaj Junior stirred.  While he was the son of a nomad tribe’s chieftain of the same name, the young man wasn’t much older than Al, somewhere in his mid- to late- twenties.  Nimaj’s only sign of sun exposure was on his face.  The young nomad kept himself nearly completely covered while outside, so his European heritage showed in his very pale skin, and freckles.  His dark hair and eyes were the only thing about him that could be remotely considered Arabic, in spite of his name.

   “Dragon’s Rose,” Nimaj said, a hint of the local accent marring his words.  “That’s the name of the DropShip which crashed out in the desert.”

   “The one he was inducted as a member of the crew,” Darrin added.  He shook his head.  “So, tell me about your trip from Terra, again.  There’s something you did to impress the captain enough to bring you into the fold.”

   “And, make you part-owner of the vessel,” Nimaj concluded.

   Al’s subtle amusement turned to muted exasperation.  With a flustered shrug and sigh, he said, “There’s really not much to tell.”

   And, there really wasn’t.  This wasn’t the first time the subject came up, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  When people had learned that Al was the owner of the wreck he had arrived in, and had sold it to a salvage team for a tidy fifteen million Cs, the people closest to him wanted to know more.  That so happened to be the three people at this table. 

   The event in question was only months ago.  But the crash had happened about three years prior.   Al, himself, hadn’t even known until the only other crash survivor showed up and told him.  The fact that Al hadn’t started as part of the crew came as a shock when he related his tale.  But, the only thing Al could recount was simply being a good person, and doing what he was assigned aboard ship to the best of his abilities.  Maybe Al’s moral and ethic conduct might have been enough for the Captain of the Rose.  Casey suspected there was more to it.  But, without the captain saying something, his decision was a mystery.  Being dead, the Captain wasn’t likely to say anything on the matter.

   “Either you’re spinning a good yarn,” Darrin said, “or you’re the luckiest sonofabitch I’ve ever met.”

   Nimaj hissed.  “Language.”

   “Sorry,” Darrin replied with a slight deferred nod at his superior.

   Al’s muted mirth returned.  He stared somewhere at the table while quipping, “I take it you’re not a believing man, Darrin?”

   Darrin was taken aback.  “Well, uh,” he stammered, collecting his thoughts.

   Before he could say anymore, Nimaj perked up.  Eyes on the door to the bar, he softly backhanded Darrin on the arm to catch the other man’s attention.  Darrin looked over, prompting both Casey and Al follow his gaze. 

   “That’s them,” Nimaj practically hissed. 

   “The owners of the Pods?” Al asked in a suddenly quieter bar.

   “Talk about your Halloween surprise,” Darrin muttered.

   The place hushed as three people spread out from the door.  Hearing Nimaj’s affirmative answer to Al’s questions, Casey’s heart skipped a beat.  His chest tightened with anticipation as two men and an Asian woman worked their way to the pit entrance.  A line had formed for the next twelve combatants, with the current match just now finished, but all twelve gave way to the trio.  Once at the pit, the entire bar had gone completely silent except for the odd sound of shifting feet or drink.

   The tall handsome one spoke, while the other two flanked him, silently eyeing the crowd.  His voice was deep and smooth, very much complementing the curly dark hair and swarthy skin.  The man was a poster perfect specimen, and Casey could easily see himself following his every order, within reason.

   “You know who we are.  You know why we’re here.  Are there any challengers?”

   This was it.  This was the group Casey had come to Astrokaszy looking for years ago.  This was where he was told to find them.  According to Nimaj and Darrin and many, many others, this was how they made contact.  The very people who had brought the pods also used them as a recruiting tool.  Where they had been all this time was anybody’s guess.  But, now they were here, and Casey had his chance.

   The place was silent for a few good seconds.  Giddy with anticipation, Casey’s breath was shaky.  He could feel slight trembling in his hands as he moved to stand up. 

   But, to his sudden shock, Al was already on his feet and answering.  The young man’s sandy brown hair glinted with sun-bleaching as he rose into the full beam of a lamp.  He looked and sounded almost casual as he said, “Sure. I’ll accept your challenge.”

   Plopping back down in his chair, Casey felt numb.  Then he felt a hand on his arm.  Turning, he found Nimaj staring at him with an earnest look. 

   “Stand up.  You’ll get your turn.”

   Understanding hit Casey like a thunderbolt.  Elated, he shot to his feet.

   “I also accept your challenge,” he called, a brief quiver in his voice.

   The three waited a few more seconds, not acknowledging anyone.  Finally, the leader turned to Al and Casey.  “All right.  One at a time.”

    The leader turned and started down the stairs into the pit.

   Casey and Al exchanged glances, unsure what to do.  After a nod from Al, they both made their way toward the pit.  At the stairway entrance, Stum stopped them.  A thickly built man with a large, shaven head, Stum didn’t look like someone lazy with riches.  He dressed well, but modest, when he was working the bar proper.  He scratched at his goatee a moment before speaking.

   “Gentlemen.  The rules are first come, first serve.  Al, you spoke up first, you get first shot.  Then, you, Casey.  You’ll be facing them one at a time in a gauntlet of duels.  I don’t know what the order is.  That will be the surprise.”

   With that, Stum opened the gate to the stairs, gesturing Al to enter.

   “Let’s see if that insane luck of yours holds out,” Darrin called.
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #8 on: 16 October 2018, 11:28:30 »
More, later today.  Need a break for breakfast, though.

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #9 on: 18 October 2018, 18:02:02 »
Chapter 1 - continued

   Casey sat at a table nearest the pods occupied by Al and the three mercenaries.  While a ring of displays hung overhead for all to see, it was rigged to a cinematic AI which changed vantages from cockpit views of the pilots, to views from the cockpit, to sweeping shots of the battlefield.  As a mere program, it was very good at what it did, and made a lot of matches quite entertaining. 

   However, for those interested in what a particular somebody was doing, each pod had a dedicated monitor right behind it up on the balcony. Thankfully, all four contestants had set up side by side, and Casey was free to watch fixed footage of each showing both the cockpit and over the ’Mech’s shoulder as he pleased.

   The simulator library was extensive.  It had a dozen different terrain archetypes, which were always randomized.  It also happened to have the more popular Solaris Arenas.  However, the arena maps in the simulator had a glitch.  Most Solaris arenas were only one hundred and twenty meters wide or long, with most having a long side around two hundred meters.

   Not these simulators.  Somehow, the rendering program extended the length and width of the fields to quadruple the size.  The map for the last match had shown what was supposed to be the Boreal Reach arena.  Instead of getting a sharp, rock strewn, snow covered shoulder overlooking a deep narrow gash in glacial ice, spectators and competitors were presented with a windswept flowing tundra, broken by sharp bedrock outcrops with a draw leading to a huge glacial crevasse. All twelve contestants fought in a kilometer by half kilometer rectangle.

   In spite of the origin for the graphics, the rendering program did a great job of making it look natural.  Nothing looked oblong.  Even places with natural vegetation didn't get distorted. Instead, more plants were rendered to fill the gaps.  Places with large boulders saw more boulders.

   The current, randomly selected map was the famous Steiner Stadium.  No fancy obstacles were in place for this fight.  It was flat and open for nearly half a kilometer in each direction.  The digital audience was packed into the now extensive bleachers that ringed the field.  The famous blue shield glimmered near the emitters.

   Out in the middle, nearly a quarter kilometer apart, was Al and his first opponent.  Al piloted a Warhammer.  The coloring was tan with brown torso boxes and a few other highlights on the right shoulder launcher and left shoulder flood light. 

   The opponent was the Asian lady, in a Jenner.  Casey couldn’t help wonder if she didn’t have Combine origins.  All four contestants had turned over a data card to the SimTech, Phil, so each of the ’Mechs being run were real.  But, the she had also gone with one of the stock color schemes, a tan with white highlighting along the round shoulder/hip sections and along the visor on the domed head out front.  If she were combine, she wasn’t showing any pride in the colors of her past.

   On the digital field, the Jenner started running forward. 

   In no hurry to close, 'Hammer opened up with its particle cannons.  Both struck the Jenner, which danced side-to-side under the beams.  Only one beam actually registered damage.

   Casey winced.  He glanced over at a small crowd seated around a steel table, distracted by the noise of their surprise. They weren't the only ones surprised by the range of the particle cannons.  Most of the local yokels may have heard of some of the latest advancements filtering through the Inner Sphere since the rediscovery of LosTech.  Very few of them had ever seen it in action.  Except Casey.

   "Look at how cool the 'Hammer's running," someone commented. "But it's firing both particle cannons non-stop.  How's that possible?"

   "I've heard of these new freezers that they've been puttin' into 'Mechs, Terra-ward. I bet that's what it's mountin'," a woman said.

   "But, these pods are old!  They don't have data for that kind of gear," another man protested.

   Turning back to the display, Casey leaned his elbows on the table in front of him, and clasped both dark hands in front of his chin.  He smiled, amused by the ignorance of the crowd around him.  This kind of tech had been proliferating in the Inner Sphere for more than a decade now.  It showed the kind of backwater world Astrokaszy was. 

   Moment past, he focused on the duel portrayed in front of him.

   Indeed, the Warhammer was able to keep very cool while firing both particle cannons.  But, in spite of the crowd's amazement, the fire wasn't very effective.  Thirty seconds of continual fire, three shots from each cannon, and the Jenner still had a decent amount of armor across most of its body.  To Casey, it was an equal indication of Al's gunnery, as well as the piloting skill of the light pilot.

   Still, the Jenner was now in range to fire its own weapons and wasn't wasting time.  Watching the battle as a spectator, the next twenty seconds happened too quickly.  As a 'Mech pilot, Casey knew that if he were fighting, that time seemed like an eternity.  The Jenner had ‘alpha’ed, firing everything it had, once in optimal range.  So had the Warhammer, stepping forward to meet its opponent.  It was a spectacular light show of burning red lasers, and blue particle beams.

   "Why didn't the big one fire its shoulder rockets?" a woman asked from somewhere behind Casey.

   "Look at the weapons layout.  It doesn't have rockets," her partner replied.

   "But...! Then why does the 'Mech have that shoulder box?"

   Casey smiled a close-lipped smile, again, at hearing a spectator's confusion.  It widened into a grin when he saw the results from the fire exchange. The Jenner was running hot, and so was the Warhammer.  The big difference was that the Warhammer didn't have any big holes in its chest, or anywhere else.  The Jenner's front armor was compromised and the engine was pouring out waste heat, according to the internal heat indicators on display.  During a cinematic shot in Infrared, both 'Mechs glowed.  The only indicators.  In the digital environment, the armored hides of both ’Mechs simply darkened where the beams hit. 

    It was all the Jenner's radiators could do to bleed off what poured out of the engine shielding.  With no way to compensate for any other kind of action, the only way the light 'Mech could cool off was to idle down.  To her credit, the Jenner pilot went for one more exchange of fire before shutdown alarms blared.  Then she had no choice.

   One of the pods near Casey’s table stopped.  Overhead, in the virtual environment, the Jenner shut down and disappeared.  She gave up.

   Around him, many of the spectators cursed or booed.  They hadn't expected this.  Nor wanted it, judging by the ferocity of some of the curses.  Some people had lost a good deal of money on this particular exchange. 

   It was understandable.  Al may have worked his way up to a simulator champion, here at the Crossroads.  But, that didn’t mean much considering the general skill level of his opponents, who didn’t get the same amount of simulator time, he did while working as a bouncer after his arrival and display of physical prowess three years back. 

   But, these mercenaries were legendary in these parts.  There were extensive stories about their dealings with the local nomads and a few sultans.  These three people were largely responsible for keeping the pods where they are, in spite of some interesting odds.  Most people believed those legends.

   From the inside pod display, Casey watched the slender, graceful form remove the bulky neural helmet.  Her black hair was matted with sweat, and her Asian features were slightly contorted in anger.  With hasty motions she popped the hatch.

   Casey couldn't help a small chuckle. 

   Then, on screen, a new opponent appeared.  Casey's smile disappeared, and anxiety tightened in his gut at what he saw.  It wasn't the Phoenix Hawk that had him worried.  It was impressive enough, the custom scheme looking like the humanoid ’Mech was hollow, a doorway to a raging inferno.  They psychadellic holographic look forced Casey to do a double take after confirming what he saw on Al’s monitor.

   Casey was worried by the fact that the Warhammer hadn't been reset. It was still hot from its last exchange, and the damage still scarred its form.  This was a gauntlet.  They were sending Al straight from one duel to the next.

   According to Darran, any challenger wanting to get hired by this mercenary unit only had to beat one 'Mech.  Al had already done that.  Still, that didn't ease Casey's mind.  In a lot of ways, he had a lot riding on this fight. 

   He wanted Al to give a good impression.  It was Casey's training that had gotten the kid this far.  If he didn't fare well after a fight with a light 'Mech, what did that say of Casey's skills? It didn’t help that he was out in the periphery, looking for work to begin with, and this group was the only one he was told he could trust with his unique background.  If Al didn’t impress, then how much harder would Casey have it when his turn came? In spite of Darran’s assurances, were the rules for this entrance exam rock solid?

   Casey tried to calm himself.  Ignoring the chatter around him, he took a deep breath and focused on the duel to come.  Al had handled himself admirably, this far, in spite of the glaring difference in skills.  Surely he would be able to beat a second 'Mech. 

   Gasps and cries of surprise erupted when Al's hot 'Hammer took off at a speed uncharacteristic for that chassis.  Considering his heat monitor was almost a third full, Casey understood the shock.  A nervous smile twitched the corners of his mouth.

   Then, the Phoenix Hawk brought its own surprise to the game, beyond the custom holographic Gateway to Hell look.

   Normally, the Pixie had a matching set of laser and machine gun in each wrist.  Instead, this one fired missiles.  A pair of SRMs flashed out from each wrist, in addition to the large laser beam from the hand-gun in the right fist.  The beam struck harmlessly off the left torso while the Warhammer jinked in its forward rush. 

   The missiles, on the other hand, flashed into giant balls of fire which splashed and covered the Warhammer. The burning fluid quickly spread to cover as much of Al’s machine as gravity would allow.  The flames burned all over, many little dancing tongues of orange and yellow and white. 

   Casey heard Al laugh sadistically before saying, "Thanks for the light!"

   Then, Al fired his own weapons, a strange mix of a single particle cannon and some of the lasers.

   "What the...! Why the lasers?" someone asked, incredulously. "They're hopelessly out of range!"

   Casey smiled. 

   In spite of the fire cooking all over Al's ’Mech, it's heat barely fluctuated, staying where it was.  The Warhammer was ingeniously designed.  It was a testament to the technician team that built the design that it worked as well as it did with Triple Strength Myomer, or that they managed to find the specs to manufacture their own.  But, Al had been the one to come up with the general design, which surprised Casey.  How did such a young man know that such performance was possible when the technology was still relatively unknown and new?

   Could it be from his time on Terra?

   The young sim jockey was using the Inferno fire to his advantage, selectively firing certain mixes of lasers and Extended Range PPCs to keep the TSM in its sweet spot.  From the reaction on the Pixie pilot’s monitor, the opponent knew it, too.

   Then the fight was over.  In the seconds it took the crowd to comment, both 'Mechs had closed, the Pheonix Hawk switching to standard SRMs.  His mistake. 

   The Warhammer closed in a jog, firing all six chest lasers, two ER mediums and four standard smalls.  Coming up on the Pixie's right, Al swung the cannon barrels which made up either lower arm.  Like a club wielded by a ball-player, the right arm swung up and wide, flattening the Pixie's head along the way.  The follow-up punch from the left arm speared the light 'Mech through the back.

   Showy and unnecessary, but since each was a split second apart, it was effective. 

   The crowd around Casey was stunned silent.  It even took him a moment to register that this round was over.  Not even a third of a minute had passed. 

   When he did understand, a heartbeat later, elation filled through Casey's chest, making his head light.  He slumped back in his chair and openly laughed.  Al had passed Casey's test.

   People around him were reacting differently.  Some muttered appreciation at the final attack.  Some booed or complained loudly, not understanding how such an attack was possible. Casey understood.  Even a Phoenix Hawk had enough head protection to survive a punch from a Warhammer.  No single punch from any seventy ton 'Mech could cause such complete damage the first time.  But, Casey also knew that with the right equipment, such an attack was possible from a seventy ton 'Mech.

   Casey prepared to stand, expecting to be called over for his shot at the trio.  However, the simulation kept running.  Instead, the third opponent took the field while the Phoenix Hawk vanished before hitting the ground. 

   The fight wasn’t over.  Nor was the damage on Al’s ’Mech reset.

   The new opponent was something long lost during the Succession Wars, only to be revived recently.  It also outweighed the seventy ton Warhammer by twenty tons.  A Highlander BattleMech could easily be one of the forces behind the legends.  This one sported a stock olive drab scheme, honoring its Star League origin.  Judging from the readout, it was a vintage 732, which carried the rare and powerful Gauss Rifle.  A lucky shot to the cockpit on any ’Mech was a game-ender.

   The next 'Mech was a real worry, but Casey no longer cared.  A damaged heavy 'Mech versus a pristine assault 'Mech, like a Highlander, didn't stand a chance.  Even more so, if that Highlander was manned by a veteran with decent gunnery.  Casey assumed this one was.

   Leaning back, his mind was numb while he took in the match.  The questions that raced through his mind didn’t retain his focus.  It didn't matter.  Al performed to Casey’s expectations. Casey wasn’t willing to speculate at the intentions behind the continued gauntlet.  He had to trust in Darran’s words.  Al would be hired as soon as this match was over, win or lose. 

   Watching idly, Casey could see that the mercenary commander Al now faced was very much a good marksman, putting landing shots with both the legendary gauss rifle and the large, twenty-rocket, missile pack.  Al's armor was taking heavy damage all over the place.  Al’s skills were good enough that the Warhammer kept its footing while marching forward under the barrage, landing intermittent shots with its own PPCs.

   Then the unexpected happened.

   The Highlander took an unexpected fall.  Casey looked up, taking in the stats from the different displays, trying to understand what just happened.  Then he saw the gyro was completely knocked out on the assault ’Mech.  The Highlander's armor was hardly damaged, but it was already crippled.  Al had, with more uncanny luck than any real skill, found a weak spot in the Highlander's chest plate.

   Excited, Casey jumped from his chair, whooping, striking a fist at empty air.

   Noticing the mixed looks from sour and condescending faces, he quickly took his seat.  A minute passed while, missing an arm, Al worked his Warhammer into a position where the Highlander could never return fire while it was on the ground.  It was quickly shot and kicked to pieces.

   From across the bar, Casey heard Darran drawl out, “Unbelievable.”
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #10 on: 18 October 2018, 18:04:37 »
Chapter 1 - continued

   Down in the Pod Pit, Casey held the disk containing ROM Data and specs for his personal GRF-3M Griffin.  A relatively new design, it also featured some advanced technologies that the Pod’s general database didn’t have.  While handing it off to Phil, he observed the interplay between the mercs and Al after he got out.

   The Asian woman and second man were unreadable.  But, the leader looked openly happy and amused.  He stepped close and slapped Al’s bare arm. 

   Each of the Mercs, as well as Al, had changed into shorts and tank tops.  Even Casey was less dressed than he had been up in the balcony.  The academy-grade pods simulated almost everything about a BattleMech to a T.  That included the general heat output of so many computers in close confinement, which required something stronger than strict air-conditioning to keep the pilot cool and comfortable.  Everyone in the pit, except Phil, wore coolant vests, which hooked into the appropriate simulator.  The AC piped into the pit to help cool the mainframe running the pods was almost a little too cool for comfort.

   “That was amazing,” the merc leader said with a laugh.  “I haven’t seen anything like that in a long time.  Sorry to put you through all that, but I was itching to get in a little sim-time, too.  The rule stands, though.  You only needed to beat one of us.  Wait up for us while we run a match with the other guy.”  He pointed to Casey.

   Al nodded and turned to leave. 

   “It wouldn’t change anything to tell you I taught him everything he knows, would it?” Casey quipped while stepping toward his pod.

   When all three mercs looked at him, he smiled.  He meant it more as a joke, to help keep things light, and was surprised when the merc leader took himseriously.

   “Is that so?”

   Al paused, and replied, “More or less.”

   “I can vouch for that,” Nimaj’s voice called down from overhead.

   The merc leader eyed Nimaj, then studied Casey a moment. 

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #11 on: 18 October 2018, 18:07:20 »
Sorry that took so long to get put together.  Some of this I'm writing from scratch, while some of it is editing old material.

Anyway, quick note, Darrin should be Darran, though it's pronounced the same.

Alius is pronounced like Elias (uh-lye-us).

Attached is the complete chapter one with that correction made to the first part.

Enjoy. More to come next week.
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #12 on: 30 October 2018, 10:03:50 »
Chapter 2

Stum's Bar
Crossroad’s Oasis
Astrokazsy
7 February 3056

   Nimaj tapped at the sign-up board.  A spot which was normally his didn’t have his name on it.  Sign-up for the free-for-alls didn’t start until the morning of the event.  Nimaj was good at sending his people early, because they were usually taken in the first ten minutes of the bar’s opening.  So, someone had to have beaten his fellow tribesman to the sign-up.

   He looked at the name in place of his.

   Alius Cad’ver. 

   Odd spelling.  Nimaj mulled over how it was pronounced while he surveyed the assemblage.  Stum’s Bar was packed, as usual.  There were plenty of new faces. 

   He nodded to his bodyguard and friend, Darran Grinn, tilting his head toward the bar proper.  The two found an open spot and leaned in.  Stum stepped over to inquire of his customers. 

   “Someone’s taken my spot,” Nimaj said.

   Stum understood what Nimaj meant.  As a free-for-all regular, Nimaj’s spot was a given.  Nobody touched it.

   Stum pointed, and Nimaj’s gaze followed.  Seated at a table near a far wall was the ignorant new arrival.  Young, probably in his twenties, the newcomer wore something loosely resembling a combat uniform representing no recognizable force.

   Nimaj was well versed in uniforms.  Astrokaszy brought in adventurers from almost every military branch known to man due to the rumors of LosTech and the prospect of a rich find.  He was sure he had never seen a blue tunic under a drab ballistic vest complimented by desert tan cargo trousers.  Yet, true to military form, it had enough pockets and belts to hold any gear a field soldier might need.  The way everything was unbuttoned, unzipped and untucked suggested the young man wasn't expecting to be in a fight any time soon.

   Nimaj signaled Darran, and started across the room. 

   The young stranger shared the table with a couple of regulars.  The way he slumped in his chair, not saying much as the regulars chatted suggested that this Mister Cad’ver didn’t normally associate with them.  Regardless, all three heads looked up when Nimaj’s imposing figure cast a shadow over their table. 

   Nimaj was a big guy.  From hardy Nordic stock, he was the tallest, largest man in the room.  Few others matched him.  And, he liked to use that to effect.  The turban and cloak he wore over his normal clothes also lent to the image, suggesting he was as savage as the stories surrounding his nomadic lifestyle indicated.

   Nimaj scowled down at the newcomer with barely contained irritation.  “You took my spot.”

   This time all heads in the bar turned in Nimaj’s direction.  The place went quiet.  Part of Nimaj was a little miffed that he had just become this moment’s pre-game entertainment.

   The newcomer's blue eyes looked up unflinching and uncaring.  He glanced down at his steel chair while commenting.  "Funny.  I don't see a name written here, anywhere.  But, if this is your favorite spot, I guess I can move."

   His flat, clean accent definitely painted him as an off-worlder.

   This prompted a couple chuckles from the crowd, including one at this very table.

   Nimaj's prominent Nordic brow furled, darkening his eyes further. "I mean in tonight's games.  You took my spot.  I want it back."

   The newbie shrugged.  "Well.  I suppose we can talk to the owner and have him swap our spots."

   "You don't understand, stranger," Stum's voice echoed across the open room. "Tonight's roster is full up.  I don't have a spot."

   “It’s first come, first served, Nimaj,” a man said from behind him, somewhere among the crowded tables.  “Let it go.”

   “But,” Nimaj said, lightening his tone.  He didn’t take his eyes off Mr. Cad’ver.  “He said he would swap spots with me.”  He adopted a grateful tone, playing the dumb local, seeing if the ruse might actually work.  "You would do this?  The son of Nimaj never forgets those who aid him."

   The stranger turned his gaze to the table.  He looked deep in thought.  Then his sandy brown eyebrows knitted as he came to a decision.

   "No.  I honestly was looking forward to this.  I've never been in one of those things, but always wanted to try."  He lightened up.  "Look. You're here a lot, right?  I might not be here next week.  It's just one night."

   This was the moment Nimaj expected.  He let his expression harden into a grim mask.

   "Then I challenge you for it.”

   The stranger didn't rise to the challenge right away.  For a moment, he looked sad, reflective.  Finally, he asked, "Are you sure?"

   "Yes," Nimaj said.

   "Sounds fair," the stranger said with a shrug.

   "Not in here!"  When everyone looked to the bar owner, Stum eyed his two security men.  They were already on their feet.  There was plenty of room in the bar for a brawl, but Stum didn't take any chances with his money-making set-up.

   Nimaj and the stranger moved toward the door, and more than half of the nearly dozen patrons followed.

   As a nomad, Nimaj knew how to fight in a lot of ways.  The son of the leader of a nomadic band, however, he was never alone.  Darran and another spectator were there to keep Nimaj safe.  Darran was a grizzled veteran with an eye patch.  In spite of being on Astrokaszy for a couple years now, his distinctive outback drawl still held strong while he huddled close to Nimaj, giving needless advice that Nimaj had learned a long time ago. The other made his appearance, keeping close.  Khamal’s hawk-like face turned, dark eyes roving over the crowd and the stranger.  He paused momentarily to nod a conciliatory bow, letting Nimaj know he understood his failure from this morning. 

   It was mid-afternoon, the sun well on its way to the horizon.  Crossroads was at the edge of the desert, where the rolling grass hills slowly dried out to turn into wind-swept dunes.  The streets were of sand and dirt packed hard from travel and baked dry from the heat.  A refreshing breeze sweep in from the north.

   The stranger, though he showed no emotional signs of discomfort, was already sweating profusely.

   Darran finished his advice, slapping Nimaj on the shoulder.

   Everyone else save the stranger backed away when Nimaj stepped forward.

   Nodding to the gun harnessed on the stranger's thigh, Nimaj said, "Since I challenged, I give you the honor of choosing your weapon."

   Looking down at the gun, the stranger reached down and unfastened the holster. Eyeing the rest of the crowd, he settled on Darran.  "Here," he said, and tossed it.  The vet caught it, surprise written on his face.  "I want it back," Mr. Cad’ver said.  To Nimaj, "I'm fine as I am.  Take whatever weapon you want."

   Someone whistled, and many people murmured.

   Nimaj nodded, studying the stranger further.  Finally, he said, "Fisticuffs, it is."

   With a nod from the stranger, the fight was officially on.  But, from the way the young man stood there, nobody would have guessed.  He took up no stance.  He didn't even tense up. With no weapon in hand, he was completely open, and didn't seem to care.

   Though he felt elation and mirth at the man’s apparent lack of skill, Nimaj was a study in caution and form.  His arms came up in a guard, and he slowly inched forward until he was just in reach.

   With Nimaj’s greater size, he anticipated this would end quickly.

   To his surprise, Nimaj's first swing missed.  A jab square at the stranger's head didn't lay him out on the ground like it should have.  But Mr. Cad’ver had barely moved.  He didn't flinch.  He didn't even step away.

   Unphased, Nimaj took advantage of his greater reach, and loosed a flurry of blows.  Like a tall strand of grass in the soft desert wind, Mr. Cad’ver weaved fluidly around each blow.  Shots at his face met empty air.  Body blows only caressed cloth.

   Switching tactics, Nimaj lunged in, arms wide, to tackle.  This time the stranger moved.  Like a fabled matador in trivid documentaries, he spun aside.  With a deft motion he pushed Nimaj sprawling into the loose sand along the street edge, then stepped away.

   Though normally honorable, Nimaj wasn't averse to taking advantage of any and every advantage he could get.  Some of Darran’s advice was that anything was potentially a weapon.  Mr. Cad’ver had given him permission to use whatever he wanted.  His fingers closed around a pile of sand while he rose.  Twisting, he whipped it into the stranger's face.

   An arm went up to block the attack, but it wasn't enough to keep granules out of Mr. Cad’ver’s eyes.  The stranger blinked rapidly, tears running down his cheeks.  Nimaj wasted no time, using his distraction to get close and grapple with his opponent.

   Too late, Nimaj realized suddenly that the stranger's hands never went to his face.  Without looking, just as Nimaj was on top of him, the newcomer let out a quick series of five blows that deflected Nimaj's tackle, arrested his motion, and sent him to the ground amidst a sea of stars.
   



   It happened so fast that none of the bystanders was sure exactly what happened.  No amount of careful recollection could recreate the sequence of blows Mr. Cad’ver had used. 

   In his stupor, Nimaj did here his two men trying to wake him.  He was just cognizant enough to here Mr. Cad’ver utter concern over his fallen foe. 

   "Awe crap! He isn't dead, is he?"

   Nimaj stirred enough to sit up, but it took a few more seconds to clear his senses.

   Darran looked up and shook his head. "No."

   "Good," Mr. Cad’ver said.



   As the newcomer strapped his gun back around his hip, a tall dark man approached him.  This was another new arrival, but Nimaj had seen him at the bar for the past few months.  This man called himself Casey. 

   "So, stranger, know anything about piloting a BattleMech?" Casey asked.

   Nimaj was momentarily confused by the question.  With all the dispossessed roaming Astrokazsy, it was a good assumption that someone who could fight with such ease was equally proficient in a BattleMech cockpit.  Word was going to spread before the games began of Mr. Cad’ver’s display of prowess.

   Everyone would be betting on the new guy.

   The thought made Nimaj pay closer attention to the exchange.

   Taking a moment to rub his eyes once again, Cad’ver muttered, "Gah. This is going to be annoying."  Blinking, he looked Casey over with teary, red eyes.  Shrugging, he smiled and answered.  "Only what I've read about and seen in video games."

   Casey blinked, staring blaknkly for the few seconds it took for the information to sink in.  Then, he laughed.  He turned away, his laughter building.

   "Is this true?" Nimaj asked, serious.  The sudden ache from the action forced him to bring a hand up to his head.  However, this was a major concern.  This man had his spot, and he won it fairly.  Nimaj continued voicing his thoughts.  “You don't stand a chance.” He paused to look over Mr. Cad’ver.  “We have time.  I can teach you.  Give you some pointers."

   "This from the guy whose spot I beat him to?" the stranger asked.

   "You won it fair.  The son of Nimaj honors his losses as well as his wins.  You have my spot, now you can fight and win in my name.”

   Casey quieted himself, suppressing fits of laughter into giggles.  "This I want to see. In fact, I'll buy you a round in the pods.  Let's see if you can master a crash course in piloting.”

   The stranger looked at Casey, then at Nimaj and his two followers. "Sure. Why not?"

   "Then come with me, friend," Nimaj said.  "What is your name?"

   "Elias Cadver," he said. "Call me Al."
   


   Nimaj and Casey stood next to Stum's master technician observing the simulator control terminal.  Al sat in a borrowed chair, a neurohelmet covering his head, obscuring everything but his eyes and nose peaking through the open faceplate.  It was hooked into the master terminal by a thick cable bundle.

   The tech, Phil 'Zip Finger' Denton fiddled with controls while watching wavy lines fluctuating on a projected holowindow.  At first eager to set up someone new, the almond skinned Free Worlder looked increasingly frustrated.  Casey and Nimaj exchanged glances.

   "Alright," Zip said, his nasal voice resigned.  "We're done."

   Al pulled the helmet off his shoulders and stood up to look at the screen.

   "I'm sorry," Zip added.  "You're incompatible.  I don't understand.  Most people register enough signal.  Your nerve impulses seem muted somehow.  Barely distinguishable."

   "Wait," Al said.  "Muted?"

   He handed the helmet to Nimaj, reached up and popped his head to the left.  Working his shoulders a bit, Al reached for the helmet again.  Puzzled, Nimaj let him put it back on.  Al sat down and said to Zip, "Try one more time."

   Zip looked dubious.  He shot longing glances at Casey and Nimaj, asking for somebody to step in.  When neither offered to speak reason, Zip sighed.  "All right," he said, resigned.

   He started the process all over again. "Whoa!"

   His exclamation was immediate.  Nimaj and Casey both leaned in to see.  The original nearly flat lines were wildly active, fluctuating all up and down the scale.

   "What did you do?" Nimaj asked, impressed.

   "A technique I learned to increase awareness of my surroundings," came Al's muffled answer.

   "Well, it worked," Zip said, excited.  "You don't wear prosthetics, do you?"

   Al looked up at Zip.  He raised his hands.  "Does it look like I have prosthetics?"

   "Huh.  Funny.  Only time I've seen impulses this strong is on people who've worn bionics for years.  Something about the interface forces the body to create stronger signal output."  He looked Al over one more time.  "You look too young for that kind of familiarity.  Some of the older vets have signals like this.  Anyway, that's it."

   Al took off the helmet and stood, taking off the helmet one more time.

   "Your file is in the system," Zip continued.  "It will always be available whenever you want."

   "Good," Nimaj said. "Time for you to learn the controls.  Zip?"

   "Which pod do you want?  And what ’Mech do you prefer?" 

   "You wouldn't happen to have a Warhammer in the system, would you?" Al asked.


« Last Edit: 30 October 2018, 10:28:05 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #13 on: 30 October 2018, 10:26:57 »
A New Home

Stum’s Bar
Cross Road’s Oasis
Astrokaszy
31 October 3058


   Stum’s Bar had an interesting layout.  Once the town hall for Crossroads Oasis, the public amphitheater used for public speaking and other events or presentations was dug into the ground.  The balcony housing the bar proper was actually the ground floor, and it also had some office rooms in the wings leading from the bar.  These rooms were often used for private gatherings, though Stum had a couple offices reserved, one for back-stock, the other for his own business.

   To Casey’s surprise, the mercenary commander had taken him seriously.  Instead of putting Casey through the gauntlet, the took one more call for challenges.  When none came, the merc commander asked for a room, beckoning Nimaj and Darran to follow. 

   The group was giving use of a large conference room. A central table carved from local wood and lacquered to smooth perfection sat in dark complement to the dark green paint on the walls and the colored-glass diffusers tinting the overhead lights a rainbow of shades on all surfaces.  The windows to the outside were curtained, but any gap showed that nighttime had fallen outside. 

   Once everyone had taken a seat, the mercenary commander had turned to Nimaj and asked about being able to vouch for Casey and Al.  Nimaj promptly started recounting how he first met Al, and incidentally, Casey.  During the brief tale, Casey watched the three mercs react.

   The Asian seemed to perk up at the story of Al’s close combat prowess.  The other guy was unreadable.  The commander, however, was an open book, impressed where he needed to be, enraptured the rest.

   “So, that’s how you met,” he said.  “Over a duel.”

   Nimaj and Darran both nodded.

   “And, did he perform as you expected?”

   Nimaj shot Darran an apologetic look. 

   “No. He was taken out early,” Darran said.

   “But not before TACing your engine out completely,” Nimaj said barely containing his mirth.

   “The kid is insane lucky,” Darran’s outback drawl thickened.

   “Hang on,” Al said, interrupting.  “Before we go any further, can I get your names?  Right now, I’m thinking of you as Carmen,” he pointed to the leader, “Antonio,” he pointed to the other guy, “and Lucy,” he indicated the Asian woman. 

   “My apologies,” the commander said.  “I was under the impression you knew who we were.”

   Al was already shaking his head. “Nope. Not a clue. But, I’m new around here.”

   The commander was speechless for a second.  The other two shifted ever slightly.

   “Well. Let’s correct that.  I’m Damien Strangeman,” the commander indicated himself.  “My associates are Javier San Paul and Rumiko Nakagami.”

   Al smirked.  “Strangeman?  That’s not your real name, is it?”

   “No, it’s not,” Damien said with a smile.

   “No more real than Alius Cad’ver,” Javier said, his Spanish accent noticeable.  “I give you points for creative spelling.  But, ‘Another Name for a Dead Man’ isn’t something parents give to their children.  And, I strongly suspect Cad’ver isn’t a real surname.  Much like I highly doubt Putnam is your real surname.”

   Casey froze, taken aback by the forthright confrontation.  What was really sad was that the accusation leveled at him wasn’t true.  He was actually using his proper name.  But, he decided to roll with it, since most of the people present were apparently under assumed names. 

   Damien held out his hands in a placating gesture.  “As you can see, we’re used to people having things they’d rather not let out in public.  It only becomes a matter of whether those things will come to hurt our operation.”  He turned back to Nimaj.  “You said you could vouch for them.”

   “I can,” Nimaj replied with a nod. 

   “Do they have their own ’Mechs?”  Damien’s stare was intense. 

   Nimaj didn’t flinch.  In fact, he looked equally excited, though his response was bland.  “Yes.”

   “So, the Warhammer’s real?”  Javier said, eyebrows raised.  “I will want to see the specs on that.”

   “In due time,” Damien said with a quick glance at Al, before returning his gaze to the tribal leader’s son.  “But, is it true?”

   Nimaj nodded.

   The intense gaze blinked before turning on Casey. He felt the scrutiny, and forced himself not to squirm.  He still took the cue.

   “I pilot a newer GRF-3M Griffin,” he said.

   Javier and Damien both nodded appreciation.

   “Good,” Damien said.  “Gentlemen, you don’t know how long I’ve waited for people like you to show up.  If you’re willing, I’d like to hire you on as part of my mercenary team.”

   Casey nodded, lightly at first, but increasing the depth so that his intent was clear.

   Al studied Casey a moment, then the mercs.  Finally, he nodded and said, “Sure.”  He turned a touch more serious than normal.  “But, if I don’t like a mission or a particular order, will we have problems if I refuse to take it?”

   Damien turned diplomatic.  “Don’t worry.  You’ll be on a probation for a couple months anyway, so you’ll be free to leave at any time.  I’m sure we can work a clause into your contract.  But, I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed in the work we do.”

   Al studied Damien a few seconds longer before nodding.  “All right.  I’ll give it a shot.”

   Damien smiled openly.  “Excellent.”  He pointed at Casey.  “We’ll want to run you through your paces, as well, but that won’t affect your status.  Probably best we do it during the day.”  He looked everyone over.  “Let’s go have some fun in the sim matches.  Tomorrow morning, you get to see our headquarters, and your new home.”
* * *
« Last Edit: 30 October 2018, 10:29:20 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #14 on: 30 October 2018, 10:29:01 »
Chapter 2's not done yet.  But, I put up what I have to tide you over until I do.

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #15 on: 20 November 2018, 19:38:35 »
Chapter 2 - Continued


Legion of the Damned Nomadic Territory
Dragonback Ridge
Astrokaszy
1 November 3058

   Crossroads Oasis was a small town of only a few hundred people.  However, it was situated at the end of one of Astrokaszy’s major mountain chains, at the transition point from the rolling, fertile Nishihara plains to the harsh, hard-scrabble and dune-covered Estersand Dune Sea desert.  It was as its name implied, a cross-road, equal parts stopping point for nomadic bands and trade hub.

   About a mile outside of town, deep in the desert foothills, Casey and Al hopped out of Nimaj’s jeep.  A couple more wheeled vehicles sat nearby, a small number of men and women dressed for the heat and sun manning heavy weapons mounted in the back or sporting firearms of their own.  They had greeted Nimaj’s jeep warily, until he showed himself. 

   Behind them, in kneeling positions, sat two BattleMechs. 

   Casey and Al had hired Nimaj’s people to safeguard their BattleMechs while the two MechWarriors were in town.  After the fateful day that Al showed up, Nimaj and Darran had proven themselves in Casey’s eyes. There had been a risk that the two dispossessed nomads could have tried taking the two machines for their own ends. 

   Astrokaszy wasn’t a very civilized world, unlike many inside the Inner Sphere. Out beyond the Free World’s League rim-ward border, it was a frontier world, and gateway to many smaller, uncharted systems that had fallen backward in time, technologically.  Out here, dated tanks and jeeps or even mounted animal cavalry were no match for a cutting edge BattleMech.  The various warlords and self-styled sultans dotting the Astrokaszy countryside with their city-states maintained their meagre power with just a handful. 

   “The Legion of the Damned keeps its bargains,” Nimaj said when Casey got out.

   “I expected nothing less from someone I consider a friend,” Casey replied. 

   “And, once you are mounted up, we will guide you to the mercenary compound, as also agreed.”

   Casey smiled and started toward his Griffin.  When he had purchased it, he’d had it painted in blue on the heavy armor plates, with white on the transitional points along the limbs.  He had wanted to honor his service lineage and Lyran heritage.  The look made it appear that much more human, like a space man in heavy armor. 

   It stood out against the browns and tans of the surrounding desert hills.  But, so too, did Al’s Warhammer with its dark blue scheme and dark gray highlights on the boxy side torsos and around the arm’s gun ports.

   “We won’t be hiding very well on the way,” Casey mused. 

   “It’s a BattleMech,” Darran drawled.  “They’re not meant for hiding.  Or stealth.”

   Casey conceded the point with a nod and started his climb up the Griffin’s lowered arm.

* * *



Legion of the Damned Territory
Dragon Back Mountain Range
Astrokaszy
1 November 3058

   The Dragon Back range was given its name by a surveyor with a fanciful imagination when he saw it from a distance.  Upon first arrival, Casey agreed that it looked like the spined back of a giant lizard out of fantasy.  Up close, it still kept that feel only loosely.  Small piles of loose rock were scattered everywhere.  There were also well-worn trails from the passage of nomad vehicles and animals. 

   Nimaj’s Legion of the Damned kept their jeeps to these trails, making the three hours of travel relatively easy, even for BattleMechs.  The Griffin kept an easy seventy KPH.  Al’s Warhammer, on Casey’s left also kept pace, though, true to design, it was running a tad warm according to the holographic HUD overlay.  Casey had given it a try one day, under the designer’s supervision.  The cockpit remained comfortable in spite of any weapons output or sustained internal heat build-up. 

   Of course, that was true for any proper military hardware.  The way actors and actresses in the various historical dramas and action adventure flicks burst into sweat was purely HoloWood trick to make the good-looking people look better.  He heard and felt the coolant vest start up a cycle.  Hooked into his newer model helmet, not only did his torso start to feel the refreshing cool touch, but his scalp and neck as well.

   The Griffin’s cockpit was relatively open and airy, having a giant, reinforced glass bubble canopy.  It offered a great view that was only useful when the Neurohelment wasn’t covering Casey’s entire head.  But, the coolant vest and linked neural helmet were required in the cockpit.  It had less to do with the sunlight or ambient desert heat, which Casey didn’t really feel. 

   All the computers were crammed into any available space, like between his thighs, along the walls by his legs, behind the command couch and even in front of him.  The strongest AC in the world would only cool a person’s exposed skin, and with so many close heat sources pumping out body-level heat, something more efficient had been required in the BattleMech’s design.  Though an AC system did keep the air breathable, the coolant vest covered the torso and remained in constant contact with the skin.  Even the command couch would get drastically uncomfortable after a few hours, absorbing and reflecting a pilot’s body heat.  The coolant vest kept that from happening, and was a standard feature in all ’Mechs, including industrial.

   In the distance, Nimaj’s lead jeep took a hard right, turning west.  The trail seemed well worn, looking more like an old road that had aged with only intermittent use.  They were now travelling up hill, heading deep into the Dragon Back Mountains.

     “Only another half-hour’s travel,” Nimaj announced over the radio.

 

   As Casey’s Griffin topped the edge of a rise he spotted the makings of a base.  It was a large flat tarmac at the bottom of a valley between three mountain tops.  It was big enough to support any dropship with VSToL capabilities.  On one far end, at the base of a cliff, he spotted the remains of an upward leaning conveyor.  He recognized it from his experience in the shipping business.  The belt was gone, leaving only the rollers and side rails.  It came out of a building that was built into the cliff face.  Next to that building were a couple of doors.  One was low and flat, tall enough to allow a wide variety of conventional ground vehicles.  The other was tall enough to allow a single BattleMech through at a time.

   “Looks like an old mining complex,” Al commented aloud over the comms.  “Will be interesting if we have to fight our way out of this.”

   “No need to worry,” Nimaj answered, his voice raspy from wind passing over his mic.  “And, you’re correct about the nature of this place.”

   Ahead, the Legion jeeps approached the larger door, which started to split open.  The doors widened, casting light on a built-up and reinforced interior.  The building on the outside extended inward, showing windows and doors both lit and dark.  The tarmac continued inward, split only by the tracks for the heavy-duty blast doors.  On the opposite side were ’Mech gantries, as well as a large area full of crates in piles and stacks.  Deeper in, the tunnel continued at a shallow slope, ending with a giant concrete wall blocking off the mine proper.

   The gantries were double sided, and six long, making for twelve total cubicles.  Four were already occupied.  Casey recognized the Highlander and Jenner, though their colors didn’t match what he’d seen in last night’s simulator match.  One other light ’Mech looked in ready condition.  It was a Firestarter with stylized flames working up its legs and arms over a dark paintscheme.  Two glowing eyes were painted on the head just above the viewports.  The last ’Mech didn’t look operational, the head completely missing.  It was a Crusader, though Casey couldn’t tell what variant. 

   He strongly suspected the missing head had everything to do with the mercenary absence for the last couple years.

   “My grandfather discovered this place, and the Legion of the Damned took it over, fixed it up and made it our home.  Welcome to our capitol and home base.  Pick out a gantry and park your ride.”



   On the ground, Nimaj waited for Casey and Al.

   Casey didn’t wait to speak.  He had been hanging with Nimaj long enough that he felt like they were good friends, and he wanted to make sure he understood what was going on.  “I’d heard that you had bested them in a sim challenge.  I always wondered what they offered you for winning.  So, you let them stay here?”

   Nimaj smiled ruefully.  “It was my father who won and made the arrangements.  We normally keep the details secret from outsiders.”  He looked Casey and Al over with a quick glance.  “But, since you’re now on their payroll, I suppose I can make an exception.”

   He gestured for them to follow while he walked toward the interior building.  Casey guessed it was once the office and barracks for the mining firm that ran the place god-knows how long ago.  As they walked, Nimaj talked, and the place darkened with a clang as the ’Mech bay doors shut off the outside world.  The temperature also dropped a couple degrees.

   “Our tribe started out as a group of dispossessed wanderers, here looking for the rumors of LosTech treasure.  I was born into the tribe, like many of the other younger members, but a lot of the elders, like my father and grandfather, remember what it is like to have been a MechWarrior, and look forward to that day again.  We still take in strays who have a similar history.  In fact, we picked up a couple women wandering in the Westersands a couple days back. 

   “Anyway, my father won one of the mercenary challenges.  When they learned he didn’t have a ’Mech, they were about to leave.  When they learned he was the leader of a nomad tribe with a secret base, they changed their mind.  The deal arranged was that they would have a safe place to stay while here on Astrokaszy.  In exchange, we would get first dibbs on manning any functional salvage they brought back.”

   Nimaj paused, and gave each warrior a stern look.  “You can imagine that if everyone knew about this, they would be scouring the sands trying to find our base to join.  So, I want your promise to remain silent about this matter.”

   Casey and Al both nodded and assented to keeping the secret.

   The tribe was sizable, numbering around one hundred and change, a mix of adults and children.  A few were out in the cavern when Casey and Al had arrived with the Jeeps.  Many more were spilling out of doorways to have a look at the new arrivals as they approached the building.  Many of the kids were racing across the tarmac to have a closer look at the new ’Mechs in spite of vocal protests from different parents. 

   Casey only recognized the ones that traveled to Crossroads with Nimaj.  They greeted him, and he greeted them back.  He got introductions to family a couple times.  Many others kept a respectful distance.  All of them looked like capable fighters, and Casey expected he would get to know the rest in time.

   Nimaj cut the remainder of the meet and greet short with a comment and a wave.  To Casey and Al, he said, “Quarters have been arranged already.  I’ll take you to them first, so you may change before I take you to Damien.”

* * *
 
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #16 on: 02 December 2018, 14:26:41 »
Chapter 2 - Continued


   Down a long hallway populated lightly with members of the tribe and their family members, Al and Casey were led into one of the many doors which regularly lined the corridor.  The room was modest, with only a pair of bunk beds on either side, as well as a dresser and a desk for the occupants to divide.  A couple armoires for hanging uniforms filled the wall between each bunkbed and the door. 

   Upon entering, the two MechWarriors were greeted with a couple of familiar faces.  Blue, Al’s personal technician was first on his feet.  In spite of his odd, actual name, he looked normal, the name maybe matching his eyes.  His wavy dark brown hair didn’t have a blue tint.  He didn’t wear blue clothes or any other form of decoration.  The middle-aged man wasn’t much younger than Casey, who was in his early thirties.  From what Casey remembered Blue said he was named for the color of the sky the day he was born.  Odd sentimentality.

   “So, how did she handle?” Blue asked Al as soon as he was in the door.  “This was the first long distance test.  Any problems crop up?”

   The question came as no surprise to Casey.  Blue had been behind a lot of the design modifications to the Warhammer Al had purchased.  The fitting of the Tripple Strength Myomer was his biggest accomplishment on what amounted to a FrankenMech design, even if the parts were all from the same general chassis.

   “As far as I could tell, everything ran smoothly,” Al said.  “The TSM didn’t glitch anywhere along the way.  Everything seems to’ve held up.  But, the Demon’s out in the bay if you want to run some diagnostics.”

   Blue nodded appreciatively and moved toward the door, giving Al an excited slap on the shoulder.

   “Hey,” Al said, before Blue left.  “I need a change of clothes.”

   Blue pointed toward the armoire to the right.  “Put everything away, nice and neat.  Pretty easy since you don’t have much.”

   With that, the door shut and Blue was gone.

   Casey eyed Al’s armoire, then the other one, before putting eyes on his own personal technician.  The broad Asian man lay on the lower bunk on the left, looking asleep, though he didn’t breathe heavy enough for someone in slumber.  In fact, Chin was known to snore on occasion.  Of course, they all four did at times.  Something Casey had learned from their brief stay together at one of the Crossroads Inns. 

   Casey moved to check on his armoire.  “Chin,” he said, greeting his tech. 

   “Yes, I packed everything away, too.  It’s all there,” Chin said without moving.  While Casey dug out some civvies, the tech sat up suddenly.  “Case, we’ve been hanging out for a couple years, now.  We should be friends enough to be on first name terms.  Maybe even nicknames.”

   “Like Leno?” Al asked.

   Chin shot the nearly redressed Alius Cad’ver a strained look.  “Not that one.”

   Al smiled nodded.  “Don’t worry.  I know the sentiment.  People would try calling me all kinds of weird names that I didn’t like too.”

   “Like Allie,” Chin sniped.

   Amused, Casey asked, “Tell us again, Al, how you came up with ‘Leno’?”

   “Well,” Al said, looking eager to explain.  “ ‘Leonard’ is the ‘leo’ version last I saw him spell it, so there’s an ‘o’ in the name.  And, Jay Leno was a famous comedian from way, way back in the day on Earth -”

   “Terra,” both Casey and Chin corrected him in near unison.

   “Right,” Al acknowledged, barely losing stride.  “Anyway, Leno was largely known for having a large chin.”  He finished adjusting his shirt and open flack vest, looking back and forth between Casey and Chin.  “Leno.  Chin.  Leonard Chin?”

   Leonard Chin gave a disgusted sigh, shaking his head.  “Just call me ‘Lenny’.”

   Casey finished adjusting his own clothes.  “Okay, Len.  I’ll try to be a little more relaxed.  Have a look at the Griffin for me when you’re ready.  Al and I have to go finalize our contracts.”

   Chin suddenly looked concerned.  “Why? Something happened on the way?”

   “No,” Casey reassured him.  “But, you can’t be too careful.  We’re in a new place.  I don’t want to take any chances.”

* * *





   “No questions asked,” Al mused aloud.

   Casey stared at the thin volume of a contract on the brown painted tin desk in front of him.  Al's statement hung in the air like an echo, though the room was too small to carry an echo that long.  But it was fresh on Casey's ears enough to still echo in his head.  The room was just big enough for the desk, butted up against one wall, and the three chairs.  There was just room enough on the open end for anyone to walk around to the proper chair, while two guest chairs sat in front of it, along with a few book shelves on the wall.

   Damien sat in the only chair that looked even remotely comfortable. The two guest chairs, occupied by Casey and Al, were of the molded steel variety which could be found around the old mining building.  Casey smiled when he noted that the same kind of chairs could be found at Stum's Bar in Crossroads Oasis.   

   That was before Damien started laying out the details of their potential employment. Casey stared at the contract in front of him. Having long since read the short, simple clauses, he was focused on one phrase, which Al had read aloud.

   "No background checks?" Al continued.

   Make that two clauses.  They were important to Casey.  He was looking for employment, but there were issues with his past that would undoubtedly raise questions.  Issues he didn't want to have to deal with.  Like the possibility someone else might let slip who he really was and where he was now.  There were some people he didn't want to have to deal with.  The thought pained him, but it was necessary.  Casey wanted anonymity, and he found it out in the periphery, far, far away from home. He wanted to keep it that way, until he was ready to return. 

   It was right there in the contract.  In writing.

   It was as he had been promised.  Part of him found it hard to believe.

   And, neither could Al, who had openly commented.  It was more of a surprised mutter than an actual inquiry, the young man’s sandy-brown eyebrow shooting up while he was thumbing through the pages.

   Damien leaned back in his chair, folding his arms which had propped up his head on the desk a few seconds ago.

   Casey look over to his friend when Al dropped the page he was looking at.  He was still on the second of the three page document.  As slow as he was, Casey couldn't help imagining other people thinking Al couldn't read.  But, not only could Al read, he could write.  Fluently. Quickly.  With only a few grammatical or spelling errors.  There was no question he knew how to read.  It just seemed Al liked to absorb the material.

   "How would you know we were trust-worthy?" Al asked Damien, looking serious and intrigued.  "You have no idea who we really are, where we're from."

   Casey refrained from letting his shock show.  If there was any question that could ruin Casey's chance, that was it.  He could feel the heat rising in his neck and cheeks.  Wanting to reach over and throttle, or at least smack his friend, he instead gripped the cold metal arm of the chair.  Tightly.  Now that it was in the air, all he could do was wait and see how this unfolded.

   Damien smirked.  "Well, we already know you can pilot a Mech from that little sim battle at Stum's Bar. And since he," Damien pointed to Casey, "really taught you all that, he's a shoe-in."

   Al's gaze didn't waver, his eyebrow still raised.  "I mean, even if we sign this contract, what's to stop us from breaking it?"

   Damien turned serious.  "We have our ways of keeping things in the company.  Should you prove to be untrustworthy, you won't be working for us.  Should you take anything, we will find you and take it back."

   Al's face was suddenly blank, the quirked eyebrow back in uniform position.  He leaned over toward Casey, obviously wanting to ask something.  Knowing that no matter how quietly they talked, Damien would hear everything in this small room, Casey still obliged.  With a quiet sigh, he leaned over.

   "Are you sure about this?  You know how much I spent on the Demon.  And you know I can't do that again."

   "I know," Casey replied just as quietly, which wasn't near the whisper he wanted.  "I'm in the same boat you are, man.  Look.  Trust me.  If I had any suspicions, I wouldn't be here, and neither would you.  My sources said they were legit."

   "The way I understand it," Damien said catching both their attention, "you two want to remain anonymous.  Anyone out in this part of space that isn't local most likely has questions they don't want asked.  We know that.  We're trusting you with our lives by hiring you on without a question asked.   It only seems fair that you trust us enough to let us have our secrets."

   Al stared at Damien for a minute, his face unreadably serious.  "All right," he said after a second or two of silence.  "But under one condition.  I want right of refusal."

   The question on Damien's face said he didn't understand what Al meant, but it was enough to prompt a response.

   "I want the right to refuse an assignment if I don't agree with it."

   Casey finally saw what Al was getting at.

   "You don't want to go into a mission blindly," Damien said, echoing Casey's thoughts.  He sounded impressed.

   He looked at Casey, obviously applying the sentiment to him, too.  Considering that there were some things Casey would not do no matter what, he wasn't necessarily wrong.  They had no clue what kind of contracts this unit went for.  They had no clue what kind of battle code Damien, and by extension his other employees, adhered to.

   Casey didn't like the idea of being ordered to inflict senseless slaughter or senselessly throw himself away.  If he knew Al at all, the kid was the same.  He wasn't trying to find an excuse not to fight.

   Damien quietly harrumphed. "Idealists or cowards?  Considering I don't know you, I'm not sure if I can trust your judgment enough to add that clause to your contract.  It's a shame too," he said, almost musing to himself.

   He paused, looking idly down at the desk, appearing to Casey like he was deep in thought.  Then, the mercenary's black eyes brightened and he looked up.

   "I do have a compromise that I think might work.  If you're not up for this contract, why don't we put you in a trial period.  Work with us on our next mission, and if we like your performance, I can add that refusal clause you're asking for.  Or, maybe you'll like what you see and change your mind.

   "We'll give you room and board, supply your 'Mechs with any armor and ammo they require, and pay you half what you would earn if you signed this contract today.  If you sign the contract after it's all said and done, we'll pay you the other half. If you don't and decide to leave, whatever armor and ammo used to repair your machines should be recompense enough. How does that sound?"

   Casey couldn't quite answer when he tried.  He opened his mouth, shaking then nodding his head and puffing out some air before saying, "That's more than fair."

   And it was.  A chance to see what they were about was not something a person could normally expect from a mercenary command unless they were under the fair practice clauses of the MRBC.  Of course, the MRBC had strict application policies to protect such employers.  Such policies barred Casey because of his questionable past.  From the wild tales Al had regaled Casey and the Legion with, he would also be restricted.  So, they got a chance to see what these people were about, and to prove themselves in a baptism by fire.  He could certainly feel more comfortable about his decision then.

   But how long would he have to wait?

   "When's the next mission?" Casey asked

   "You're in luck.  We have one already lined up, and we're leaving in a week.  You'll have to decide today so I can make arrangements for two more machines."

   "What is it?" Al asked.

   Damien leaned back, settling into an explanation.  "We've been hired to hunt a small band of pirates that finally messed with the wrong planet.  We'll be joining a large number of other small mercenary units and will be doing a sweep of this sector of space, each one taking a different system.  Our ride, ammo, armor and other expenditures will all be paid for, although the pay itself is minimal.  The real payout, of course will be the salvage.  Whoever finds them first gets to keep what they kill, and our employer keeps the rest.  Of course, that contract applies to the company.

   "But," Damien clapped his hands together, "I'm getting ahead of myself.  If you want the details, you'll have to join us in the briefing.  And to do that, you have to either agree to the trial period - and I will provide a contract for that today.  Or!  You sign the contract."

   Al looked at Casey and shrugged. "It sounds like we're hunting criminals, so I have no real problem with it."

   Casey nodded.  “Actually, the salvage situation brings up another concern I have.  I heard you have a working agreement with the Legion, here.  Salvage is one of the reasons I’m out here.  I have a debt to repay.”

   Damien started to look concerned, but Casey waved a hand.  “I don’t have to make a return payment anytime soon.  In fact, I have all the time I need.  But, it is a matter of honor for me.  Anyway, I’m sure we can work out the details after the trial-period.

   "I will be taking the trial period," Casey finished firmly.

   "I will too," Al added after confused glance at Casey.

   "Good.”  Damien leaned forward.  “Give me a few hours to write up the new contracts for you to sign. We'll have a briefing after that."  He smiled for a brief instant.  "We'll finally be an air lance again, even if it's in the wrong proportions."  Looking back up, he asked, "Any other questions?"

   "Just one," Casey said.  "What happened?  You were once an air lance, but not anymore?"

   Damien's tanned face went grim.  He nodded idly while he thought, giving both Casey and Al considering looks.  Finally, he inhaled.

   "We had complications during our last mission.  Let's just say our last employer gave us faulty intel.  We barely escaped, losing an aerospace fighter and two pilots.  As you've seen coming in from the ’Mech bay, we were able to get away with the BattleMech.  The Fighter was destroyed in our escape, and the ’Mech pilot bled to death from the injuries sustained when his Crusader was crippled by a devastating head shot.  And, the DropShip that gave us a ride won't work with us anymore."

   He paused, giving Casey and Al one more serious look.  "That's what it means to take on this trade.  This is your chance to back out now."

   Al nodded.

   Casey didn't say or do anything.

   "Is that all?"

   They both nodded.

   "All right.  A word of advice,” Damien said, grimly conspiratorial, “I wouldn't ask anymore about what happened from anyone else.  Give it a while.  It's still a little fresh, and some probably wouldn't take too kindly to outsiders nosing around."

* * *



   As he and Al walked away from Damien's office, out into the big cavern that served as the mercenary's ’Mech bay, Al stepped up and caught Casey’s attention with a question. 

   “Why didn’t you say something?  You know how much I got for that dropship.  I could have helped you pay it off.  I’ve got plenty left over, I still could.”

   “It’s not that simple,” Casey said after a second to compose himself.  His heart fluttered at the offer, but the honor ingrained into him from childhood took over.  “It’s an uninteresting story that I’m not ready to discuss, yet.  I’ll tell you sometime in the future.  Suffice it to say, this is something I want to do myself.”

   Al didn’t look convinced right away, but after a second, he shrugged with a frown and spoke nothing more of it.

   “So, are you a big bad mercenary now?” a woman’s voice called out. 

   Casey couldn't help his surprise at finding Jennifer Rainier there to greet him when he turned to investigate.  Jenn was another dispossessed warrior, one of Nimaj’s personal guard.  He’d spent so much time hanging out with them at Stum’s Bar that he considered them all good friends.    

   Casey stopped.  Al continued on a couple paces before turning as well.

   "So, did you get hired on?" Jenn asked, her brown eyes sparkling intently.

   "We're on a trial period," Casey answered truthfully.  "But, if everything goes well, I think I'll be signing on."

   She smiled, the small crows-feet at the corners of her eyes and mouth becoming apparent.  It was the only sign of age on her he noticed.  Otherwise, she carried herself like a woman half her age.

   "I look forward to working with you."

   Casey frowned, puzzled.  "Wait.  You're part of the Legion, aren't you?  Not with-" He pointed toward Damien's office to finish his statement.

   "No, I'm not part of them,” she answered with mirth.  “We have a deal with Damien. When they finally get a spare head, I'll be piloting that."  She finished by waving her hand in the direction of the Crusader.  The headless mechanical humanoid stood in one of the stalls, looking freshly repaired and painted.  But the head was still missing. 

   Looking at it reminded Casey of how he got here.  He didn't have to be here. Far away from this place, from the battlefield, he could be living a life of comfort. He knew that his mistakes would be forgiven.  But, he had to be here.  For himself, if for no one else.  It was the only way he felt he could really atone.

   He looked at Jenn, but she was already walking over to Al, asking him the same thing.

   Suddenly, a woman came up Casey.  She was about as young as Al, in her mid-twenties.  She wore the desert garb of one of the nomads, but her face was red from sunburn.  Her dark brown hair was long and wavy.  She certainly was attractive, and carried herself with confidence.

   “Excuse me,” she said in a pleasant voice.  “Would you happen to know what will become of that BattleMech?”

   She sounded very much like Al.  The realization piqued Casey’s interest.  She had the same flat, clean accent that Al used.  No detectable dialect like with any of the locals, or any of the off-worlders.  Even Casey knew he had a slight accent in his English.  He decided to answer her question before offering one of his own.

   “I think they plan on repairing it.  But, if you’re wondering if there’ll be an opening for a pilot, I think it’s already taken.”  Casey shot a meaningful glance at Jenn.  To the young woman, he asked, “You wouldn’t happen to be from Earth, would you?” 

   She looked momentarily confused.  “You mean Terra?”

   Casey nodded.

   She suddenly turned sheepish.  “No.  I am not from such a precious place.  I do wish to visit.  Someday.”

   A blonde came up and put a hand on the young woman’s shoulder.  They exchanged glances and both left without a word.

   Perplexed, Casey strolled over to his friends.  “Al.  Did you hear that?”

   “I did.”

   “She sounded like you,” Casey said.  “Think she’s from Terra?”

   “Oh, yeah.  The two new girls.  Rumor has it they might be clan warriors,” Jenn said conspiratorially.

   Casey’s heart froze.  “Clan?” he asked, deadpan.  Then logic kicked in.  “What would Clanners be doing in a place like this?”

   Jenn shrugged.  “Why are you here?  Or, why am I here?”

   Casey took the point with a nod. 

   “As newbies, they’re under constant surveillance, so you don’t need to worry yourself,” Jenn said. 

   Casey could detect a hint of mockery in her tone, and smiled.

   “Eventually, they’ll come clean,” Al added.  “Just a matter of time and trust.”

   The thought of a couple of Clanners in the Legion’s ranks didn’t sit well with Casey.  He partly hoped the rumor was false.  But, then, if they were Terrans, why were they here?  Any extended stay at the Legion’s compound would prove to be interesting.
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #17 on: 02 December 2018, 14:28:41 »
That ends chapter 2. 

Attached here is the RTF file.

Feel free to let me know how my driving is working out. 

Otherwise, more to come.

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #18 on: 11 January 2019, 16:21:09 »
Chapter 3


Dragon’s Rose DropShip
Barque of Ages JumpShip
Gatchina Nadir Jump Point
25 December 3055



   The Barque of Ages, a play on the name for Ra’s Boat of a Million Years out of mythology, had just completed its jump.  Everyone on the Dragon’s Rose spent a minute or more reorienting themselves when the kitchen got a call.  John ‘Cookie’ Hankins, a big man with a child’s voice looked up from the hand-held phone at Al.

   “Captain wants to see you,” Cookie said.

   Alius Cad’ver nodded his acknowledgement and shoved off toward the door.

   Out in the hall, Al caught hold of the doorframe to redirect his motion down the long passage which ran the length of the forward crew compartments on this deck.  He was aiming toward the between-deck ladder in the zero-gee shaft near the nose of the craft.  Instead, he ran practically head-first into the lone passenger on this boat.  It would have been a literal impact had Al not reflexively shoved off toward the opposite bulkhead that composed part of the ship’s hull. Instead, he missed by millimeters.

   Al twisted in mid-air and shot the passenger a grin and a minor salute before catching a rail on the hull and propelling himself down the passage. 

   The other man, startled as he was, shot Al a glower.  The passenger already looked like he didn’t like much.  It was a cultivated look.  The man could pass as any shaven-headed muscly mook out of a B-movie.  The gear-earring added to the touch, along with the leather ensemble over a wife-beater T.     

   But, ‘Kip’ Cyprus Jones was the first one to find Al aboard ship.  He had a generally disagreeable nature along with a strong sense of paranoia.  He’d made it obvious from the beginning he didn’t trust or like Al.  So, Al trusted the glower was quite genuine.

   He wasn’t surprised when Kip turned to follow after a few healthy seconds of lead time.



   Captain Parjebron Lee’s office was an extension of his quarters.  The bed was tucked away in the wall, now serving as a couch for guests.  The desk was surprisingly uncluttered, the captain trusting heavily in the electronic micro-computer that looked like a piece of colored glass rimmed with plastic and glowing with letters and images which were fuzzy from Al’s vantage point from the door.  Beyond those decorations, the faux-wood veneer helped hide the few overhead cupboard doors and cozy up the otherwise stark lighting.

   Captain Lee looked up at Al, rubbing the beard that covered his broad jaw.  The captain was a big man, but not in the same way Cookie was big.  He was simply thicker and stockier than the generally accepted human ideal.  Al saw an almost identical resemblance to his long-lost father, complete with the shrinking hairline along the temples, and thin spot in the back.

   He even sounded the same, with a bold baritone.  With a gesture, Lee said, “Come in.  Sit down.”  Pausing, Lee looked out into the hall.  “Was there someone out there with you?”

   “Just my shadow,” Al replied with a smirk as he floated to a seated position.

   Lee rolled his eyes.  “All right, Mister Jones.  Get your butt in here.  This concerns you, too, anyway.”

   Jones darkened the doorway.  He looked at Al, sitting on the couch.  “If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to stand,” he said, the growl equal parts attitude and the natural gravel of his voice.

    Lee shrugged. “Suit yourself.”  He turned to Al, taking on a more casual tone.  “Since we found you onboard a few months ago, you’ve been under a probationary trial period of sorts.  Well, that time is up.  You’ve proven yourself while under supervision, and the crew likes you.  With a few exceptions.” Lee eyeballed Jones.

   Lee reached for the datapad on his desk and pushed it in Al’s direction. He stared at Al intently.  “This is a contract.  Read over carefully.  If you accept the terms and sign it, you’ll no longer be an honorary member of the crew, you’ll be a full-fledged member.”

   Al picked up the data-pad.  While it was fancy, it didn’t reorient its contents with the new facing, forcing Al to turn it around.  He read through the contents, trying to ignore the brief exchange between Kip and the Captain.

   In spite of his best efforts, he took note of the exchange, anyway.

   As soon as Al had picked up the device, Kip had rolled his head in exaggerated frustration, voicing his thoughts at the same time with, “Awe, criminy!  You can’t be serious.”

   “I am,” Lee said, voice low threatening.  “If he signs, he will be a part of the crew.  Once he is, you will have to show him the same respect as anyone else on my staff.”

   “But, you don’t know who he really is -,” Kip started to say.

   Captain Lee interrupted with a bark that quickly resumed a conversational tone, if barely. “I’ve heard your arguments plenty of times, Mr. Jones.  But, Eli has acquitted himself admirably.  If he were a saboteur, he would have made his move long before now.  If he were a spy, I imagine someone would have noticed any messages leaving the ship in one form or another.  You, yourself, have added an extra eye to his supervision in all this time.  But, have you come to me with any sign of espionage or duplicity?”

   Lee let the question hang in the air. 

   Kip looked away, neck muscles working as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. 

   “I thought so,” Lee stated with finality.

   Both men eventually returned to watching Al read.  While listening to the exchange, he had to rescan a couple paragraphs.  Thankfully, the document was only a page or two long, and not so littered with legalese, so he didn’t take long to get through it.  Over the course of the trip through the Inner Sphere, Al had gotten used to working datapad micro-computers like these.  In the last few stops, he’d helped check manifests, so he didn’t have to ask how to sign.  The stylus was cradled in a little slot on the left side.  Once in his dominant right hand, the signature was made, and Al was handing the datapad back to the Captain.

   Al always found signatures made on electronic screens strangely difficult to maintain uniformity. Not the same as writing on a sheet of paper. But, it would have to do.

   Lee looked at the signature and the printed name Al had put down.  He quirked a brow at the sight before studying Al a moment.  “Ay-lye-us,” he said aloud.  “Not Elias.  ‘Al’.  Not ‘Eli’.”

   Al nodded, adding, “That’s right.”

   Remaining studious, Lee eventually put the pad down and resumed a congenial attitude.  Reaching over the desk, he offered Al his hand.  Al took the hand firmly, as he’d learned a long time ago to do, and shook once.

   Lee smiled.  “Welcome aboard the Dragon’s Rose, Crewman Cad’ver.  I will inform everyone else on board.  I believe you have duties to return to.”

   Al smirked and nodded.

   With a gesture, Captain Lee indicated Al should be on his way.  In the mere seconds it took Al to shove off and float out, Cyprus had already disappeared into the hall.  But, in the passage, Cyprus was waiting.  Al slid by, on his way to the ladder.  Kip quickly caught up, and put a blocking arm in front of Al.  Using his reflexes, Al quickly forced a halt in his momentum. 

   “I don’t care what the captain thinks of you,” Kip growled.  “But, I don’t trust you.  If I ever find you near the cargo holds, I will kill you.”
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #19 on: 11 January 2019, 16:23:23 »
Trial Run

Aboard the Rose Quartz
System Search Grid 7
Zenith Jump Point
Uncharted Periphery
28 February 3059



   Casey found himself looking up at one of many ore bins in the Quartz’s long cargo hold.  A Buccaneer Class DropShip, the main fuselage was around 30 meters in height and width.  It was more than enough space to fit large bins designed to carry all kinds of ore.  But, in a handful of them were hidden the BattleMechs belonging to Damien, Javier, Miko, Al and Casey.  The one in front of Casey was the one with his Griffin.

   For a brief moment, his mind wandered to the story Al had told of his time on another Buccaneer.  The vision of the wreck he’d found when secretly following Al out into the desert had him wondering just what it was Kip Jones had stored in its cargo holds that he didn’t want anyone to find.  Casey expected it was a BattleMech or two.  Maybe more.  While the volume of the vessel didn’t allow room for too many mechs, it could accommodate a company, easily, with lift capacity left for all kinds of supplies.

   Taking a moment to readjust the full deck-hand jumpsuit, Casey couldn’t help enjoying the symmetry.  Al had been made a member of the Dragon’s Rose crew.  As part of payment for the Quartz’s service, the mercenaries and their techs were also acting as honorary crew for the duration of the pirate hunt mission.  If anyone decided to come aboard and do an inspection, they wouldn’t be able to tell merc or crewman apart until the interrogations started.

   The whole set-up was aweful cloak-and-dagger, but Casey, being Lyran, could appreciate the cost savings. 

   His comm beeped.  Casey activated it, acknowledging he was receiving. 

   Javier’s voice sounded from the tiny speaker.  “Now that we’re in transit, the Liaison wants to run over the plan one more time.  Briefing in twenty.”

   “Putnam, acknowledged,” Casey said.  “Briefing in twenty.”

   With that, Casey reached for the ladder leading to the top of the ore bin.  It was time to finish checking his ’Mech.



   The briefing was held in the Rose Quartz’s mess, since it didn’t have a dedicated meeting room.  As a civilian transport, it didn’t have a military style briefing room, either.  So, everything was done around a table in the galley.  Like Casey, the rest of Damien’s merc band were in Rose Quartz crew togs.  The only person to stand out was the Magistracy Liaison, Arturo McMurty. 

   The dark blue tunic and trousers tightly clinging to his average frame was nothing like the orange coveralls of the dropship crew.  McMurty seemed aware of the clothes worn by the five MechWarriors, the lone aerospace pilot and their technical staff.  He nodded his head in approval while looking over the crowd assembled in the room.  Running his hand over his dark brown hair, cut to Canopian military standards, he paused to rub on his mustache, the one personal affectation he allowed himself. 

   From his position near a wall, Casey caught McMurty’s comment to Damien.  The man was clearly audible over the general din of side conversations before the briefing proper. 

   “I like the blending in with the crew.  But, I bet somebody would notice if too many of you were just sitting around, doing nothing.”

   “Oh, they’re busy,” the Quartz’s Captain said.  A tall man with a constant barely shaved scruff around his neck, his was the one face in the room Casey didn’t recognize.  “We have an arrangement.  A deal of sorts.  They get a discount, but have to pull their weight in the trip.”

   McMurty quirked a brow, resuming his appreciative nod.

   Al leaned over to Casey from the left.  Softly, he said, “Y’know, even with the lighter piping, if he had some sun-glasses, our Liaison could pass for an 80’s beat cop.  The mustache just completes the ensemble.”

   Casey was baffled by the comment, and shot Al a questioning look.

   Al’s smile thinned into a smirk when he saw Casey’s confusion.  “Out of an old 1980’s film.  United States Police Officers looked a lot like him.  Just picture him with some aviator’s sun-glasses and swinging a billy-club, and maybe chewing some gum, and that’s exactly what you’d get.”

   Casey partly shrugged.  He could envision the image Al was trying to convey, but the historical reference was too far outside his experience.

   There was a snigger out of Chin on Casey’s right.  “Man, where do you come up with this stuff?”  When Casey looked over at him blankly, Chin held up his datapad.  On it was the very image Al had just described, complete with blue uniform.  “Found this in the jumper’s archives.”

   “You’re right,” Casey admitted.  He flashed the two a weak smile.  The joke, while understood, just wasn’t that funny to him.

   Chin waved at Casey dismissively.  “Don’t mind him. -” 

   “All right!” Damien said, interrupting loud enough for everyone to hear and fall silent.  “Meeting time.”

   McMurty raised his voice to be heard once all eyes were on him.  “All right.  I know we discussed this before, but I want to refresh your memories.  Because of the low-tech nature of our meeting, I’m having some pictures passed around so you will know whether you’ve found our quarry or not.  If you happen to run across a different pirate group, you will be rewarded for their destruction and/or capture.  But, we’re after these folks, specifically.

   “Snarl and Swoop’s last raid gave them enough parts to repair their lance to functionality.  The other two ’Mechs are a vintage 8Q Awesome and a stock 3R Crud.  Snarl is known to pilot a custom Hunchback with an upgraded Ultra Cannon.  Swoop’s Phoenix Hawk is also customized, but people observers haven’t been able to identify how.”

   He paused long enough to look at Damien.  “I’ve reviewed your plan, and I’ll give you marks for originality.  But, there’s room for a lot to go wrong.  We have two more stops on the Discovery’s route after you disembark.  It’ll be at least three weeks before we check back in.”

   The Quartz’s Captain was the first to speak.  “We have all the equipment we need to dig ourselves out if we do touch down rough.”

   “Snarl’s got a pair of medium fighters,” McMurty said.  “What if they decide to actually shoot at you?”

   “DeForrest’s Iron Sides will be dropped in high orbit before our first pass,” Damien said.  “That should be enough to handle a pair of Corsairs, along with the Quartz’s armament.” 

   McMurty looked only partly convinced.

   “Look,” Damien added, “Nobody’s here that doesn’t want to be.  We made sure of that before lift-off.  We know what we might be getting into.  Besides, if we aren’t here to meet you, or you don’t get our signal, you’ll have a place to bring the other parties to search.”

   McMurty nodded reluctantly.

« Last Edit: 14 March 2019, 11:00:48 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #20 on: 11 January 2019, 16:26:23 »
Chapter 3, continued -

Grid System 7
Planet 5
High Orbital Descent
5 March 3059


   It had been a little over a weak, and Casey had almost forgotten about the potential risks in Damien’s plan.  But, now, strapped into his cockpit, feeling the effects of the atmosphere vibrating through his surroundings, he had plenty of time to reflect and worry.  The ore covering the broad bubble canopy blocked any view to the outside world, though that would have been the ribbed metal hull of the ore bin holding and hiding his Griffin from the rest of the ship.  With only the glowing lights from his console and HUD, the vibrations felt more pronounced. 

   The plan was creative.  The mercs were part of a larger party doing a search through select systems trying to hunt down a particular group of pirates.  The logic was sound.  Instead of burning in-system with a military dropper, sending the pirates either into hiding or scrambling for their dropper and jumper, come in with something that would catch their interest.  A bulk freighter broadcasting its arrival time at some unidentified facility on an uninhabited world would certainly catch attention.  Pirates being pirates, they’d most likely want to come investigate. 

   But, there was a lot riding on that curiosity.  Snarl or Swoop might exercise the better part of caution and never show up, or scramble out-system anyways.  That would invalidate all the searches under way.  But, the real concern was how aggressive the pirates might be in their curiosity.  Would they be patient enough to wait for the ship to land and then come searching?  Or would they send up fighters to redirect the transport to land at their hide-out or somewhere nearby.  The worst-case would be one of the fighter jocks being a little too paranoid and shooting the Quartz down to sort out the contents later with no questions asked.

   “McMurty is a master of understatement,” Casey muttered aloud.

   “Don’t worry, Casey,” Al chimed in over the comms.  “We’re gonna be fine.”

   Hearing his comrade’s confidence helped sooth Casey a little bit.  Al’s insane luck might be the very thing that carries the group through this.  The young man had survived another DropShip crash.  Casey also reminded himself that there was a ten percent chance that the pirates would be in the system at all.  Nine planets in the grid, and the off-chance they weren’t even in that grid was the math Casey was using. 

   “Thanks, pal,” Casey replied.

   They were wired into the Quartz’s internal comms, by the Captain’s recommendations.  In fact, it was a part of the plan to coordinate a staged explosion to drop one of the ’Mech bins should fighters come calling.  If nothing else, Casey would hear if anything went wrong the moment it happened.  Right now, the only thing being broadcast was the signal to the ‘secret facility’ indicating the Quartz’s current status in flight, which happened to be re-entry.

   He stared out through the visor on his neural helmet.  In front of him, Casey’s reflection hovered on canopy glass made black by the darkness outside.  Chocolate-skinned arms, the gray, bulky helmet and darker gray tubes of the coolant vest were all pigmented by the glow of active consoles and control panels.  The reflection started to wobble at the same time he did.  Outside the ’Mech, beyond its specially made steel coffin, the Rose Quartz was just entering the atmosphere of some unseen planet. He couldn't see his teeth through the helmet on the makeshift mirror, but if he could, his grin would have glowed bright red. It was nearly six years after that damned Clan invasion, and Casey Putnam was back in action.

   Minutes passed before the shaking subsided.  This was it. His heart raced, chest burning with anticipation. If anything was going to go wrong, it would be in the next few moments.  He breathed deep breaths to calm his anxiety.  While he did that, he paid an ear to the comms, listening in on the voices as the bridge crew worked.

   “This is Rose Quartz calling Lead Mine Ridge Space Port, do you copy, over,” the captain said.

   The captain’s metallic voice kept on repeating the same phrase, over and over, roughly every half minute.  The monotonous droning was only broken up now and then by brief reports from other parts of the ship.

   “Rose Quartz!”  A new voice, a woman’s, very angry, sounded over the general frequency.  “I don’t know where you think you are, but there is no Lead Mine Ridge space port here.”

   “Who is this?” the captain demanded, but the woman on the other side just kept going.

   “You are impeding on His Majesty Ross’s airspace.”  A pause.  “You will undoubtedly notice two aerospace fighters approaching you.  I’m transmitting coordinates.  You will change your current heading to these coordinates.  His Majesty’s fighters will escort you.”

   “His majesty Ross, huh?” Casey muttered.  “Is that what Snarl likes to call himself at home?”    

   Whoever this girl on the wire was, she was doing an impressive job sounding official.  The plan was going almost on script.  The pirates were curious and trying to lure in this nice, shiny gem.

   “I see them,” a crewman said in the background.  “Two of them five kilometers off our seven and eight o’clock, respectively.”

   “Look.  I don’t know anything about ‘His Majesty Ross’,” the captain said, sounding irate.  “I’ve been assured by my navigator that we are in the Lead Mine system, a private holding of the…”

   “Listen, Rose Quartz,” the ground controller said, attempting again to assert her will.  “If you don’t change your heading, -Now!- you will be fired upon.  Do you hear me?!”

   “Yeah, I hear you.  And I warn you, whoever you are, that we will fire back!”

   “Rodger Bridge! Signal received," another crewman said, sounding clear in Casey's ear. "Blowing starboard hatch. Releasing smoke.”

   That was the bay quartermaster.  Not a second after he had made his announcement, the radio erupted in chaos.  Casey had a hard time keeping track of it all, but he tried.

   “Oh my God,” the captain shouted. “They actually fired on us!”

   “What?!  What do you mean?” Ground Control demanded, her voice distant.  “Find out who fired on them - !”

   “Launching debris,” the bay master said calmly.

   “ …Our pilots claim none of them fired on you,” Ground Control said.

   The ship shuddered, no longer burdened by the weight from a good number of real bins filled with actual ore.  Casey couldn’t help thinking about how much that ore might cost.  He hoped it wouldn’t affect payroll.

   “Cutting starboard engine,” said the chief engineer.

   “Like hell they didn’t!  That’s it,” the captain said.  “F.C.! Tag ’em!”

   “…Look at the readout,” Ground Control’s voice was muffled.  “Somebody had to.”

   It would’ve been interesting to hear the exchange between the pilots and Ground Control.  Imagining the cacophony of confusion that went on made Casey cough out a quiet chuckle.

   “Got one,” the first background voice, the gunner, said.

   “God damnit!  Pull them back, now!”  Ground Control’s muffled voice said before it cut out entirely.

   “Mayday, mayday, mayday,” the captain said in a dead calm.  “This is the Rose Quartz. We are under attack. We have sustained damage and are losing altitude, heading east…”

   Seconds ticked by, turning into minutes.  The captain kept on repeating his mayday message over and over, creating a sort of cadence.  In keeping to that cadence came the call to brace for impact.  Casey hunched up and grabbed onto the harness, just in time to feel the ship lurch heavily.  The command couch pressed harshly and sharply into his back.  The quick surge of pain brought back a lot of memories.  Some were pleasant, like his early days of ‘Mech training.  Others were not so pleasant, like the day he lost the family ‘Mech.

   The pain was gone as quickly as it had flared, and the memories with it, but the ship still shook.  On his back, in his cockpit, Casey was lightly rocked around for another handful of seconds.  The shaking and shuddering quickly subsided as the Rose Quartz came to a dead rest.  Things remained still and eerily silent.  It was so quiet Casey began to worry that something had gone wrong with the landing.  He looked at the internal clock, watching the time indicator change, second by second, waiting for any sign of life outside.

   And, there he sat, in his cockpit.  The lights glowed off the cockpit canopy, still black from the ore bin outside.  Casey’s smile was gone, though, while he waited for an all clear signal.  Seconds changed on the internal clock, then the minute.  The minute changed a couple more times, and his gut started to ache with worry.  Something must have gone wrong.  It wouldn’t take the enemy fighters that long to be over the horizon and gone.  He wanted to activate the comm set and call out.  Make sure everyone was all right.  Yet, he waited.

   ‘Just a little longer,’ he though to himself.  ‘Just a little longer!  Give them a chance. Maybe they’re just being over-cautious.’

   But, what if they weren’t? What if they were all hurt, or even worse, dead?  Casey wrestled with these flitting, niggling thoughts.  His finger twitched, aching to reach down and hit the comm switch.  Another minute passed, and he was about to give in to the urge.  His finger was millimeters away, inching closer.

   Then, the receivers in his helmet came to life.

   “Display Case to all Geodes,” the voice of the Quartz’s captain came quietly, tickling Casey’s ears.  “The hammer has passed from sight.  It is safe to disembark.”

   “Geode Two confirms,” Javier said.  “All Geodes sound in.”

   Rumiko sounded in.  Casey sounded in.  Al sounded in.  Casey was relieved, mostly, but noticed Damien’s absence.  It was all part of the plan, he knew.  However, with their fearless leader under radio silence, there was no way to know if his own landing had gone smoothly.

   One way or the other, they would have to do without him.

   “All right, geodes,” Javier said, “time to roll out.”

* * *
« Last Edit: 14 March 2019, 11:01:07 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #21 on: 11 January 2019, 16:32:34 »
Chapter 3, Continued -

   “They're coming,” Miko's voice crackled loudly over the mic.

   Casey's head shot up, as much as his neural helmet would allow.  Surprised, he was quickly dragged away from the ugly surrounding offered by a planet with thin ozone.  The brown, thick-skinned grasses that crumpled under his Griffin's wide, square feet were quickly forgotten.  His gaze moved to the north, away from the Quartz, burried in a long trail of downed and broken trees.  On the horizon, he saw more of the local trees, gnarled and twisted, with rigid, stiff leaves and wicked looking thorns.  Above them, a plume of dust blending quickly into an almost white gray sky.

   Having his doubts about the master plan from the start, Casey was still expecting the pirates to have some modicum of common sense.  When he saw the dust to the north, he was certain that it was their DropShip powering up for a hasty blast-off.  Now, with Miko's warning, there seemed to be some hope for the plan, after all.

   But, if they were coming, Snarl and his gang had to at least suspect a trap.

   "Just as expected," she continued in her light soprano, "They're coming in force.  According to seismic data, I'm reading one assault, one certain medium class, and either two heavies or one heavy and a medium."

   "Sounds like the intel was good,” Javier said.  “But, expect some surprises.  Okay.  Let's go.  We don't want them getting too close to the Quartz.  Miko, we’ll meet you."

   "Understood."

   Al and Casey echoed her, but Javier was already moving.  His flame stenciled red, yellow and orange Firestarter turned its painted gaze on the two new-hires, the black cockpit glass between the two fiery eyes giving the impression of a furled elemental brow.  Then it kicked off at a track star's run, heading up a small swell and disappearing between some small copses.

   Al, too had throttled his navy blue and grey Warhammer into a run.  While the heavy ’Mech was really pumping its legs, it wasn't near enough to keep pace with the Firestarter.  As soon as Casey throttled his Griffin forward, the Warhammer was being left behind.  Cutting back a little, Casey didn't let Al slip too far back.

   While they travelled away from the Quartz, over hills and through small woods, Casey kept trying to puzzle out the pirates's approach.  But a quick glance at the countryside was answer enough.  This place had nothing.  These plants were undoubtedly far from edible.  The atmosphere may be breathable, barely, but anyone standing outside long enough would be severely burned.  The only thing going for it was the large ocean of water not too far to the north, and that probably had to be purified.  In fact, one of many thefts off a long list of crimes was of water treatment equipment.

   This place had nothing.  No industry.  No large population centers.  No commerce.  Snarl's encampment was given away from orbit only by the presence of their dropship.  It was the only sign of human habitation.

   So, when someone accidentally dropped out of the sky in a transport undoubtedly full of expensive materials that could be resold, it must have seemed like mana from heaven.  Casey didn't know whether to be pleased at Damien's insight into the mind of their prey, or to be sickened by the state of humanity that it was necessary to hunt people down who were doing what they could just to survive.  The fact that Snarl and his gang were forced into this position was a common theme in this universe.  For an instant, Casey could feel for them. 

   Then he remembered some of the other crimes listed against the band.  Sometimes desperation wasn't enough to justify every evil a person could commit.  These people were criminals, and needed to answer for their crimes.  Thankfully it paid more to bring them in alive.

   They were getting closer.  Each swaying step brought the mercs and the pirates ever closer.  And each step tightened Casey's gut in anxiety.  He couldn't help it.  He knew what he was getting into.  It didn't help knowing that they were outmassed significantly.  It didn't help knowing that Damien's ’Mech would have turned the tide.  The fact that each mercenary machine had some form of advanced tech didn't really add much comfort.

   But, it wasn't just survival Casey was concerned about.  Once the pirates learned of the trap, they would undoubtedly turn and run.  Being as heavy as they were, the pirates could definitely withstand a lot of punishment.  If they ran, it was almost certain more than one would get away.  Those would probably be the two that mattered most, Snarl and Swoop.

   Up ahead, clear on both the three hundred and sixty degree monitor, as well as through the giant bubble canopy that was the Griffin's head, Javier's flame colored Firestarter was at a standstill just behind a hill.  In a few more seconds, Al's Warhammer and Casey's Griffin would also be close.

   Miko’s tan Jenner came around the hill from her forward scouting position, skidding to a halt next to Javi’s ’Mech.

   "They’re just on the other side of the far hill," Miko said

   It was redundant, because Casey's sensors were already picking up four machines almost half a kilometer away and closing.

   "Did they-?" Javier started to ask.

   "No.  They haven't seen me.  But they undoubtedly know we're here."

   "Did you-?"

   "It is the group we’re looking for.  Their machines are a direct match."

   "Alright!” Javier sounded energized.  “Al. Casey. You work on the Assault.  Once the big guns are out of the way, we can handle Snarl and Swoop.  Keep your distance from Snarl.  You don’t want to get hit by that assault cannon.  And, be careful of Swoop.  She lives up to her name.  Miko, you're with me."

   Together the two light ’Mechs headed off to the right.  Javier's Firestarter flew up into the air on twin jets of steam from the cylindrical tubes on its back, dropping out of the air to disappear into a small forest.  The Jenner wheeled around quickly and started off around the woods, its extraordinarily long legs eating up the ground quickly.

   Al and Casey had both just pulled to a halt.  It was simple for Casey to press his throttle forward and steer his Griffin up the small rise in front of him.  Al joined him on the left.

   The battle was about to start, and already Casey was beginning to focus.  Forgotten, the anxiety in his gut disappeared. 

   On the sensor read, two of the enemy were pressing forward while two more stayed behind the next hill over.  His HUD painted the one in front of him while it climbed the opposite slope.  Projections indicated it would be in view by the time he was on top of his own little hill.

    Without hesitation, he quickly toggled a firing solution for both the ER PPC held in the Griffin's right hand, and the LRM tube mounted to the right of his cockpit.

   "All right, Al.  Don't get too far away from me.  If Swoop's as dangerous as they say, we'll need to cover eachother's backs."

   "You're worried about me out-pacing you?" Al quipped.

   Casey couldn't help twisting to look sidelong out of his neurohelmet.  He glimpsed the Warhammer jogging to keep pace while his Griffin strolled up the hill beside it.  Point taken.

   "In the heat of battle? Easily," Casey quipped back.

   Flanked by ugly trees, Casey’s target, an Awesome appeared on the next hill over just as he and Al topped their rise.  As an assault BattleMech, it was the biggest threat on the field.  It had three of the hardest hitting beam weapons in the Inner Sphere or the surrounding periphery.  And, it had the armor to allow for an extended fire fight at range. 

   It was backed up by a Crusader which appeared among the trees at the base of the Awesome's hill, to Casey's right.  But, those were the only pirates in range or line of sight.  Snarl’s and Swoop’s ’Mechs hung back on the other side, well out of view and range.   

   He didn't like it.  Sending out only two while the others hung back?  What were they planning?

   “We’ll take care of the Crud,” Javier said.  “You two tackle that Awesome.”

   “Got it,” Casey said, echoed by Al’s, “Roger.”

   All three of the Awesome’s PPC barrels glowed, ready to fire, the moment its blocky upper body came into view.  In a pattern that would set the cycle for the rest of the battle, six Particle Projection Cannons flashed blue beams, perforating the sky between the Griffin, the Warhammer, and the Awesome.  Then Casey’s ’Mech rocked when the missile launcher fired its payload of twenty missiles, ten and ten in quick succession. 

   Their smoke clouded his view for an instant, but not before seeing a key detail that made everything all so clear.  The monitor in front of him tried to compensate for the sudden visual obstruction, providing a digital rendering of an amalgam of sensory data.  Missile and particle beams got colored vector lines over a cartoonish rendering of the Awesome’s exposed upper body and the surrounding terrain.  The Awesome’s hidden legs and lower half got a simple wire-frame outline. 

   But, Casey didn't need it to see clearly what his own eyes spotted, glaring in the bright white sun. 

   "Al.  Play the range game," he said.

   While kicking in his pedals, activating the Griffin's jets, the cockpit's internal fans activated, and coolant ran through the vest on which the giant, bulky neural helmet rested.  Casey felt the cool against his torso, front and back, as well as along his scalp and neck where the lines laced through the helmet.

   Pausing in his explanation, he glanced at the compressed panaramic monitor to see if Javier and Miko needed assistance with the sixty-five ton Crusader. His eyes quickly picked out a small detail that reassured him he would not be needed.  It also confirmed what they had been told in the briefings.

   While in flight, soaring over his friend as the heavy Warhammer jogged down slope, Casey toggled another PPC shot at the Awesome.  The enemy was holding its place just the other side of the bald crown up above, making it an easy enough target.

   All the while, he said, "Intel is sound.  That Awesome's a dated 8Q.  Look closely at the right arm's housing.  We can outrange it."

   Casey guided his ’Mech toward a copse of trees.  The Griffin came smashing down through branches and leaves.  Just as its feet touched the brush-covered ground, the right arm reached up, pointing the gun in its hand at the Awesome. 

   It fired.  Almost simultaneously, the beam was joined by two more from the heavy cannons which made up the Warhammer's lower arms.  The beams swayed with the ’Mech’s motion while it shouldered its way through the trees to Casey's right.

   Even though it hadn't moved from its position, the Awesome ducked, taking the shots. Contrary to popular opinion, BattleMechs were mobile machines and capable of almost every motion that any out-of-shape person strapped in full plate armor could make. The quick move was unexpected, and the targeting systems in the Merc machines tried to compensate, to keep the beams focused on one spot of the enemy as long as possible. 

   But the dodge worked.  All three beams played errantly over its upper body, thrown off by the sudden move.  Without the smoke in the way, Casey could actually see one of the beams slice a little too close to the hill, evaporating grass and dirt in equal measure.  A sure sign that the paint blackened on the Awesome's front by each shot would probably be nothing more serious. 

   Only one shot, Casey's, remained focused enough that the armor actually glowed and cracked and splintered just as the beam winked out.  It was really difficult to make out with the naked eye at this distance, but the HUD immediately painted the damage on the target for him. If the sensors said so, then it was true.

   The enemy bobbed, came up, and immediately returned fire with its three particle beams.  They perforated the air to Casey's right, just a little before Al's twin beams winked out. Branches and leaves puffed into steaming vapor, splinters and smoldering ash at the merest touch as they tried for the only significant threat the Mercs had.

   "Hold here! Hold here," Casey said.

   Following his own advice, he triggered both his Long-Range Missiles and the particle cannon, and he had a quick few seconds to reflect while watching his enemy from the trees.    While the fans in his cockpit came on and the coolant in the vest started to flow, Casey kept a close eye on his target.

   The Awesome made no motion to come after them, and Casey became even more certain he understood the enemy's plan.  In fact, seeing the other two markers behind the hill on the overhead map confirmed it.

   "We keep here," he said.  "I think they're waiting for us to close, banking on our trying to take advantage of the poor focusing range on those old Kreuses."

   But, Casey and Al didn't have to play that game.  The newer extended range model cannons would start to have a telling effect, able to bring their beams to bear at better ranges in sufficient force that the enemy's armor couldn't expect to shrug it off as easily.

   "That hill's still proving a problem, though," Al said.

   "It won't matter," Casey replied.

   However, he didn't have time to continue the argument. A missile lock warning beeped in his right ear, catching his attention.  Quickly, he pulled his gun arm back, almost like going into a guard stance in karate, with the gun still pointed at the Awesome, but from the hip. His view blocked by the huge tube launcher, the only sight he had of the incoming missiles was on the compressed panoramic monitor in front of him.  They streaked in faster than a bat of an eye, and the Griffin rocked.  The motion was partly defensive on his ’Mech’s part.  The rest of it was from the fifteen explosions which tore new holes in the tree canopy.  They sounded like distant fireworks through the sound-proofed armor.

   A quick glance at the diagnostics monitor said that was about the only effect most of them had.  Some had scored some damage.  But most had come up a little short.

   Distracted for a brief instant, he did a double-take when he went back to concentrate on the Awesome.  His gaze drifted back to the monitor and the Crusader.

   Javier had gotten the jump on the Crusader, flying his Firestarter over and behind it, landing deeper in the miniature forest.  The IR signature for the enemy ’Mech, indicated in a small color band just beneath it on Casey's HUD, showed that the Crud was doing too much all at once.  Trying to fight the darting and running light 'Mechs, the errant LRMs it had just flung at Casey to aid its heavier friend had overtaxed its cooling systems. 

   Then the Firestarter bathed the Crud in hell-fire.   

   From deep inside the shade offered by the trees, two bright, fiery explosions engulfed the Crusader while it was still wading forward.  Those fireballs were quickly followed by two twin streams of superheated fusion plasma from the handless wrists of the Firestarter's arms.

   It's IR signature went from a steady brightening orange to a bright whitish yellow.   

    The Crusader was completely soaked, burning.  The trees it had been pushing through were also alight, and the flames were spreading.  Fire dripped from the ’Mech and the trees to the ground, lighting the coarse grasses underfoot, casting dark shade into hues of bright yellow and orange.  The Crusader, still marching forward, started to slow to a walk, then froze to a stop.  An already bright IR signature dropped significantly.  Either the pilot wasn't fast enough to hit the override, or he had been completely caught off guard.  The end result was the same. His ’Mech’s engine had powered down.

   “Hahahaaaah! Otra victima por el fuego consumida,” Javier shouted triumphantly.

   “Holy crap! Did we do that?” Al blurted, excited.

   Casey didn’t catch the context until his LRMs fired, the smoke blocking his view of the inferno.  Quickly looking back up the hill, he was just in time to catch the Awesome’s head sinking from view behind the hill.  Had it fallen down? Did it take that significant a hit from Al's and Casey's combined fire?  Having missed the exchange, he couldn’t tell.

   The superimposed display showed where the enemy should have been behind the hill, and its most likely position after going down.  It also displayed far more damage, probably from a fall. 

   A small paranoid part of him brought up the notion the pirate was trying to draw them in with a ruse.

   Only the Crusader was in view.  However, another moment’s study showed its IR was slowly becoming brightly visible again.  While the pirate ’Mech absorbed heat from the burning inferno gel and the fire raging around it, its heat sinks were overloading.  It wasn’t cooling off. The old Succession Wars classic just didn’t have the dissipation capacity.  Casey guessed that even if the pilot could get his ’Mech started, he wouldn’t be able to move it out of the fire.

   The Crusader’s pilot must have come to the same conclusion.  In the few seconds it took Casey to figure it out, the Crusader’s head burst open.  Rocketing out of the fire, the pilot drifted from his chute to the ground many meters behind it, outside of the inferno.

   The Crud was out of the fight.

   Casey didn't hesitate.  Kicking on his jets, he rocketed his Griffin out over the tops of the trees and down into the valley between the two hills.

   "Now's our chance, Al.  Let's close on him."

   "What about a trap?"

   "With the Crud out, we can take him.  And your ’Mech does better in close," Casey said, ending with a woof when the Griffin landed hard.

   Al had already started forward as soon as Casey did, and wasn't too far behind.  So, the argument wasn't necessary.  The trap was still a concern.  The Awesome hadn't resumed its feet.  However, the two medium ’Mechs behind the hill hadn't moved, either.  They were still down at the bottom.

   As he activated his jets again, the upward momentum masked the sinking feeling that was building in Casey’s gut.  Were they thinking of running?  Considering they lost one of their own inside half a minute, something which shouldn't have happened so early, it was easy to see they were now outmatched.

   At the height of his jump, Casey could see the two pirate leaders.  Snarls Hunchback and Swoop's Phoenix Hawk turned away, as if they were about to run.  But, then he saw Javier running his ungainly Firestarter around the trees that covered the right side of the hill, right into range of their weapons.

   "Whoah!  Javier, you're too close. Watch out!" Casey called.

   "Aren't you in position?" Javier sounded calm, if confused.

   "The Awesome's not dead yet!"

   True to his word, and just as part of Casey had suspected, the Awesome slowly pushed itself to its feet right under his crosshairs.  Pulling the trigger for his PPC, he knew that as soon as he landed, he would be the target for all three of the other 'Mech's big guns.  Goosing his jets, he changed course.  He would come down just the other side of the slope, putting some of the bald hill between them.  Casey would at least have his legs covered.

   With the firing solution already set, he only had to watch the landing. Firing his jets one last time at the last minute, the Griffin's broad feet crushed grass while it crouched to absorb the rest of the landing.  Unexpectedly, his ’Mech sidestepped once, defensively trying to throw off the enemy's fire.

   Two beams lanced out from the barrels on either side of the Awesome's waist, dancing across the Griffin's armored chest.  While the paint blackened and metal glowed, the armor diagram on the HUD indicated the damage was negligible.

   While the Awesome's beams burned, the Griffin returned the favor, blackening the already blackened centerline under the enemy’s square chin.  It was quickly joined by two more blue particle beams and five red laser beams of varying diameter.

   Al's Warhammer wasn't too far behind Casey, loping steadily up the hill.

   The armor projection across the Awesome's visible front went red in the center when more armor chunks flash-vaporized and melted, leaving giant, jagged, cracked pits.  Its own defensive movement combined with the strong hits wasn’t enough to send the pirate toppling again, but this fight would be over soon at this range.  Another hit from anything would start piercing the Awesome's ruined metal hide on the center torso.

   A flash from the panoramic monitor caught Casey's eye and he glanced down, watching in sudden fascination the ruin Snarl's Hunchback was dishing out to Javier's poorly placed Firestarter. He was just observing the trail end of the attack when the giant blocky shoulder cannon paused in its flaming belch before spitting flame again.

   The Firestarter had already staggered from the first hit, trying to recover from having its shoulder forcefully wrenched to the side after a hailstorm of shells, only visible through HUD tracers, had nibbled away at the arm.  Covered in High Explosive smoke, Casey could only tell from damage diagram overlays how bad it was.  The armor was swiss cheese at this point and the gray metal muscle and support frame was no better.  The HUD painted it dark, destroyed.

   But the second blast went lower, hammering away all up and down the leg.  The assault put a shudder in the Firestarter's normal stride.  Then, in two steps, the fiery light 'Mech was on the ground, at about the same time Casey’s HUD painted the leg black.

   One step, and the Firestarter was clear of the smoke, its arm dropping limp to its side. The second step never came.  Riding on its bad leg, the Firestarter was propelled forward by its own momentum.  As it reached the end of its stride, the leg did not lift.  Instead, the knee gave under the weight, as if the ’Mech were dropping into a crouch on one leg.  Momentum carried it down and forward, the knee hitting the ground, bending the already mangled thigh.  The upper body continued forward, plowing into the grass and dirt on its beat-up shoulder.  Coming to a quick stop, the lifeless arm flopped to the ground beside it.

    Casey winced, the called out. “Javi.  You all right?"

   He heard a muttered curse.  “I'm fine! I'm fine.  Can you keep these guys off me?"

   “He won't have to,” Miko said.  “They're running.”
« Last Edit: 27 February 2019, 01:59:04 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #22 on: 11 January 2019, 16:35:40 »
Chapter 3, continued -

   Javier muttered a couple more curses. “Can you chase them?  Can anybody get to them?”

   Casey looked at the Awesome not sixty meters away from him. It took up a defensive stance.  The pirate wasn't going anywhere, and looked like he planned on being a roadblock for anyone who tried to pass.

   “Al, can you handle our friend?”

   “Not a problem,” Al replied.

   As Casey kicked on his jets, he watched his friend's Warhammer crest the hill with an extra bit of strength to its stride.  Its front was blackened from the constant beam exchanges between it and the Awesome.  Unlike the eighty-tonner's centerline, however, the damage overlay on Al’s ’Mech showed only minor damage.  As Casey sailed over the one thing between him and the running pirates, he knew without a doubt that the Warhammer would win out in a slugfest at such short ranges. 

   Casey brought the Griffin down in a relatively gentle landing, Missiles and PPC already triggered on the farthest fleeing back.  He was about to slam the throttle forward, urging his ’Mech into a run, when he was distracted by a sudden announcement by an unfamiliar, high-pitched feminine voice.

   "I surrender," she said.

   "Jav?" Al asked, sounding uncertain.

   Casey held back on the throttle while glancing up the hill.  The Awesome's square head had opened up, revealing a woman. Her dark hair blowing in the slight breeze, she raised her hands.

   "Good," Javier exclaimed.  “Hurry!  Go.  Both of you, keep them from getting away!  Miko and I will stay back and consolidate our gains."

   Al was already moving, his Warhammer working its way gently down the slope as fast as it could.  On the way down, he shot at the departing Snarl with both ER PPCs and four lasers which were hopelessly out of range.

   Casey waited for his friend to catch up.  Well before then, his weapons fired, the beam and missiles intercepting Swoop’s fleeing Phoenix Hawk.  Disappointingly, Swoop contorted around, throwing off the shots.  Casey couldn't help thinking that the LRM explosions actually gave the pirate a slight boost.

   Once Al was close, Casey started the Griffin running, toggling another solution with both missiles and particle cannon on Swoop.  The Phoenix Hawk ran at the same track star pace that Javi’s Firestarter could manage, undamaged.  Being the farthest away, Swoop was soon to be out of range.  Both Al and Casey could outpace Snarl’s much slower hunchback.  Unless anybody did something to slow her down, Swoop would escape.

   As Casey raced forward, Snarl started to drift in front of him.  Confused for a moment, his eyes quickly drifted down to the panoramic monitor.  He wasn't surprised to find Al's Warhammer keeping pace, almost step for step, with his Griffin.  It was eating up ground with extra strong strides.  Then he realized the effect it was having on Snarl.

   The Warhammer's hot IR signature was unmistakable. Under normal circumstances, any heavy 'Mech should have been left in the dust with the effect such heat would have on its control circuitry.  But it was keeping pace with a Griffin, instead.

   Casey's lips twisted in a grim smile.  Something he had taken for granted in many, many sim battles was one last surprise which had the pirate on edge.  Snarl was trying to keep away from a monster.  At the same time, Casey realized, he would be using the Griffin's poor short-range offense against it should he turn and fight.  When it turned to fight.  At the rate Al and Casey were closing with Snarl, that option was unavoidable.

   Running down a long, open valley dotted with small copses of trees and a small pond, Al and Casey got one more shot off at the Phoenix Hawk.  Swoop, in the distance weathered one more barrage while she made for the next set of hills and trees.  In ten more seconds, she would be to them. Then jump jets would make obstacles into instant cover, allowing escape.

   It was hopeless.  There would be no way anyone could catch up with Swoop, now. 

   Giving up that chase, Casey turned his attention toward Snarl, whose armor wasn't faring well under the PPC barrage Al served to him.  It was accompanied by four small laser beams which had no effect at this range other than to ruin a paint job further.  To anyone else, it would appear that Al was making a massive rookie mistake.  Casey had become used to it.  It was necessary for Al's Warhammer to keep up the speed boost he got from its custom installed Triple Strength Myomer.

   A series of flashes on the panoramic monitor briefly caught Casey’s attention.  Swoop was briefly engulfed in them.  LRM fire?  He couldn't tell where it had come from, but the effect was immediate.  Swoop stumbled and fell.

   That was the break they needed.

   But, Casey could no longer exploit it.

   “No!” A man screamed over the general frequency.  “Fine!  If I can't run, I'll take down as many of you bastards as I can with me!”

   Snarl's Hunchback suddenly wheeled around, heading right at the persuing mercenaries.

   Casey became all too aware of just how close he was to the huge gaping maw of the Ultra assault cannon on the Hunchback’s shoulder.  Slamming his throttle into reverse, trying to keep the distance open between the two machines.  His Griffin skidded to a halt before it started back-pedalling.  The cannon was powerful, but because of a monstrous recoil to match its monstrous barrage, it was only effective at really short ranges where it could maintain a shot grouping that could hurt a BattleMech’s armor.  Casey didn't want to be in those ranges.

   Al, on the other hand, had no such compunction.  He sped right by Casey, running his heavy ’Mech towards Snarl, though not directly.  The Warhammer's loping run could take it around and behind the Hunchback, keeping it out from under the assault gun's gaze.    

   Any caution Snarl had about proximity to his enemies had vanished.  Snarl ran his Hunchback headlong toward the hot enemy.  Both ’Mechs fired on each other as they closed.
Both ’Mechs performed defensive dances under the fire, trying to negate the damage. Snarl's cannon belched flame. In addition, both arms extended forward, their fists pointing at their target, each one firing a red laser from the wrists.

   The exchange was brutal.  Both Al's and Casey's PPCs blackened the untouched front plate on the Hunchback's chest, turning the HUD overlay from a nice green shading to a bright yellow.  Casey’s missiles followed immediately after to add more with their combined explosions.  The damage was enough, that Snarl's machine staggered.  But it recovered in side-stepping dance, and kept coming.

   The angle didn't allow a good look at Al's front.  Casey considered it a good sign his friend didn't stagger as well.

   The two closing giants got so close it looked like they might collide.  Both ’Mechs fired again.  Al's lasers burned from either side of the Warhammer's belly, six red coherent beams reaching up to connect on different parts of the Hunchback's frame as it swayed from side-to-side.  Snarl's arms still pointed at his target while the medium lasers replied, catching on different parts of the Warhammer as it ducked and weaved.  Then the Ultra belched fire and thunder at about the same time as Casey's LRMs and particle cannon.

   The smoke from the launchers clouded his view of the carnage playing out before him. However, he got to watch it all on his HUD, rendered against the gray swirl in front of the bubble canopy in colored outlines and infrared relief.

   Both sets of armor went red.  Snarl's slowly.  Al's surprisingly quick.  Both twisted and contorted from the shock of such brutal damage.  Still, they remained on their feet. 

   Then it got physical.

   Snarl stepped in and whipped out an armored leg, still green.  It bounced off the Warhammer's closest shin when Al took a step in.  The Warhammer's leg didn't change color.

   In fact, the recoil of the light blow almost tripped up the Hunchback.  But, it never reached the ground. 

   In a wide swing, Al whipped in one of the long-barreled PPCs from the side.  The adhoc club smashed through the Hunchback's shoulder and embedded itself in the side.  This arrested the Hunchback's fall.  But, Al didn't waste time.  The two were about to go down together, with his arm stuck.  Bringing the other arm up and over the stuck one, he pulled back and smashed it into Snarl's chest. The blow freed the stuck arm. It also left a nasty elongated dent all across the Hunchback's gut.

   Snarl's machine spun to the ground, landing heavily on its damaged shoulder. The final impact pressed the bad side in, making the ’Mech look unnaturally thin.  It slumped and its IR signature faded.  Facing catastrophic damage, the fusion engine's failsafe had cut the power.

   That fight was over.  It had all happened so quickly that the smoke from the LRMs had barely begun to clear.

   Casey stopped his Griffin's backward movement, and took a deep breath.  That had been way too close.

   “I understand your ’Mech’s capabilities," he said.  "But, next time, don’t play hero.  I taught you better than that.”

   “Right,” Al said.

   “How you holding up?”

   “Only a small breach in my right torso.  ECM‘s out.”

   Casey brought his crosshairs over his friend's blackened machine, toggling data readouts.  Its chest armor was dented and scorched from the beating that could only come from almost four hundred kilos of hot metal and explosives thrown at it in beer-can sized chunks.  He zoomed in further on what would have been a Short-Range Missile six-pack suspended over the Warhammer's right shoulder.  Casey spotted the gaping hole from a round which successfully penetrated the ’Mech's tough hide.  Every now and then, something sparked and puffed burnt electrical smoke.

   With a nod to himself, Casey pressed his throttle forward, bringing his Griffin to a run. The mission wasn't over yet.  The grounded Swoop hadn't moved in all that time, but she could get up and be running at any moment.

   Then he noticed the new BattleMech at the edge of the sensor horizon, striding casually down from a tree-covered hill.  Casey instantly Damien’s tan Highlander.

   “Took you long enough,” Casey said, sarcastic.  “It was you that knocked out Swoop, then?”

   “Yup,” Damien said.  “Cover me as I check her over.”
« Last Edit: 27 February 2019, 01:59:21 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #23 on: 11 January 2019, 16:36:36 »
Last of the chapter up tomorrow.

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #24 on: 11 January 2019, 19:25:33 »
Actually, on reflection, this is all of Chapter 3. 

Attached is the RTF for those who want it.

Chapter 4 pending.

Enjoy.
« Last Edit: 12 January 2019, 03:38:49 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #25 on: 27 February 2019, 01:51:00 »
Comment from the author: I apologize for the delay.  I have been working on this, but... life!  I will be putting this chapter up in pieces, as I plan on working on it little by little over the next few days.

It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #26 on: 27 February 2019, 01:54:36 »
Chapter 4

Search Grid System 7
Planet 5
Rose Quartz LZ
4 April 3059


   One of the ore bins in the Quartz’s hold had originally been filled with excavation equipment just for the chance the plan went all the way.  Now, while that equipment was at work, it had been converted into an ad-hoc holding cell.  Overhead, the canvas tarp was rolled back, allowing the flood lamps to shine uninterrupted on nearly a dozen ‘pirates’ of all ages and genders.

   Al was on interior watch while a marine was posted outside the door, just in case something happened.  The prisoners were all bound, but this was not a proper jail by any stretch of the imagination.  None of them had been searched beyond a pat-down, so any one of them could he hiding a potential weapon or tool.

   Regardless of the risks, Al had been working up the nerve to start a conversation.  These were people he didn’t know.  He highly doubted if only one or two individuals in the lot were hard-core criminals.

   Finally, he worked past his complacency and strolled casually over to the one he recognized as ‘Snarl’, the Hunchback pilot.  He halted about fifteen feet away from the group.  Small conversations hushed while heads turned and speared him with wary looks.

   “So, who are you, really?” Al asked.

   Snarl, in spite of the Call-sign, was a clean-shaven man, with strong Caucasian features.  His sandy blonde hair was short-cropped, though thinning in places.  He cast around with his greenish brown eyes, hesitating to answer.

   Finally, Snarl answered with his own question.  “Why do you wanna know, eh?”

   It was still interesting to hear the accent.  Al decided to call it British Canadian, with all the trappings of American Canadian, but with a light Londoner lilt.  Snarl’s baritone made it all the more charming.

   “Look.  The way I see it, once we blast off from this rock, our paths will never cross ways again.  You’re part of this world.  You have a story.  I’d like to hear it.  I find it hard to believe that you just one day woke up and decided, ‘t’is the pirate life for me’.”

   Snarl looked around at the people nearest him.  The two closest were the girls.  They were just kids.  Not quite children, the youngest was just early into puberty, while the oldest was mostly likely sixteen or seventeen.  Both had strong resemblances to Snarl, thought the youngest had really dark hair.

   Though they didn’t say anything out loud, there was some sort of conversation going on, especially when the youngest shrugged.  Snarl turned back.

   “All right.  Sure.  We have some time to kill.  We were a mercenary unit, much like yourself.  It was a family affair.  Me, my wife and kids, and her brother, Barnstormer over there.”  The man in question reacted to hearing his name and looked up at Al, bored.  His dark hair matched the youngest daughter.  “We called ourselves the Brown Family Circus.” 

   Snarl had started to look distant while narrating.  He paused to look at Al directly again, for a brief moment.  “I’m Dustin Brown, by the way.  You’re that Warhammer pilot, eh?”

   “Yeah,” Al replied.  “Call me Al.”

   “Well, Al, nice to meet you.”  Dustin turned distant again.  “Stace and I had come to the end of our tour of duty.  Figured the mercenary life would help supplement income for our family estate.  The kids were in training at the time, so having them along in a heavy or assault ’Mech didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time.  But, things went south on our first mission.  A simple corporate raid gone bad.  Our ship bailed on us.  Effectively fugitives, we stole a ship of our own.  By the time we hijacked a jumper, there was no turning back.”

   “How so?”

   Dustin looked up at Al, looking sincere.  “Because the raid had been conducted inside our own national borders.  But steeling a jump ship, we disrupted national traffic.  Such things were most definitely unforgivable.”

   He went on to explain how they made it out to the sticks and started conducting raids to survive.




   Al knew it was only a matter of time before someone would try to use his fixed attention.  The youngest daughter, Geneva, thought she was being sneeky, fidgeting around on the ground to get beyond his peripheral view.  She hadn’t gotten far enough.  Al kept tabs on her through his peripheral vision with minor shifts of his head. 

   Suddenly, she stiffened.

   “Don’t do it,” Al drawled in warning, interrupting Dustin’s story.

   Unsurprisingly, her arms came up, unbound, and she launched at him, something in her left hand.  Instinct kicked in, and he dodged the make-shift weapon, entrapping the arm and the girl in a couple deft moves.  Then, he wrenched the weapon from her hand with enough force that she gasped in pain.

   “Y’know,” he said, taking a moment to observe the weapon, wrapped in clothe, “it’s going to take something stronger than this to take me down.”

   Still keeping the young girl restrained with one arm, Al went to snap the stick between thumb and both fore- and middle-finger on the same hand.  It was a moment too late when he realized the object was metal.  From the way it bent, it was probably something like a copper tube, which would normally take most people both hands to bend slowly.  When it bent in half with no effort on his part, the reactions were varied and immediate.  Geneva quit moving.  A chorus of gasps and curses went out at different volume levels.

   Cat out of the bag, Al added more conversationally, “Something much more explosive.  Much more.”

   Dustin had a look of open disgust on his face.  “A cyborg, eh?”  Then the man’s look softened.  “Prosthetics to replace injuries?”

   “It’s a little more complicated than that, but apt.”  He looked at Geneva.  “Time to get those restraints replaced.”


« Last Edit: 14 March 2019, 11:01:46 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

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Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #27 on: 27 February 2019, 01:57:44 »
Decisions and Consequences


Search Grid System 7
Planet 5
Rose Quartz LZ
26 April 3059



   At the end of Casey’s watch, when Al came in to relieve him, Geneva “The Escape Artist” Brown attacked Al again.  She hadn’t tried the trick on anyone else, only Al.  It had become a daily affair. Security was baffled by how Geneva had found her way out of every restraint they put on her.

   Over the weeks, people higher up had given up on fancy restraints.  Simply recuffing her and keeping double watch over the cameras was the final solution.  The event took on a recognizable pattern, quickly becoming routine.  Each time, Geneva slipped her restraints just at the moment Al entered the pen.  Each time, he readily and easily rebuffed the young teen’s attack. 

   “What did you find, this time?” Al droned, bemused.  He wrested an object from Geneva’s hands, proffering a bolt.

   “Where did she find that?” Casey exclaimed.  He recognized what it was, but after her first attempt on Al, the place had been scoured for loose debris.  Each time she found something to use as a potential weapon.

   “Probably one of the floor seals along the wall.”  Al waved the bolt in an indicative sweep.  He looked up at the camera.  “Somebody has been snoozing, because it would’ve taken time to work it free.”

   “She’s sneaky,” Casey said, defensively.  “She’ll sit in places, looking like she’s doing absolutely nothing.”

   “Anyway,” Al said, “restraints!  Casey?  Want to do the honors?”

   Casey reapplied the cuffs a little extra tight. 

   “Ow!” Geneva exclaimed, sounding severely pained.  “Don’t go cutting off my circulation!”

   Casey smiled at her venomously.  “Better you trying to free yourself than be running around freeing everyone else.”

   He started to walk her to the center of the pen when he heard activity at the door.  It creaked with the weight of heavy metal on strained hinges as it swung open.  In stepped McMurty, the Liaison.  Behind him were a quartet of guards Casey didn’t recognize.  He pointed at Dustin and his two girls. 

   “She wants to see those three,” he said. 

   The guards moved at his indication.  McMurty strolled over to Casey and Al.

   “What’s going on?” Al asked, looking as confused as Casey felt.

   “Your job is done mercenary.  My mistress has arrived.  She wants a private meeting with the MechWarriors.  If you want, you can help with the transfer of the rest of the prisoners.”

   “Something tells me there should be a mercenary representative at this meeting,” Al said, a touch defiant.

   Casey suddenly clued into what Al might be hinting at.  “Yeah,” he added.  “Our job’s not done until we’re off this rock and we have the final installment.  We brought these three in alive.  Wouldn’t want the employer to suddenly say we didn’t.”

   McMurty studied them with a blank expression made even more unreadable by his black sunglasses.  Considering where he just came from, they weren’t that out of place.  And the bays of the Quartz were well-lit. 

   With a sigh, he shrugged.  “Suit yourself.”

   McMurty turned and left before Al and Casey could consult, following the guards and prisoners through the door.  They were quickly replaced by more Magistracy soldiers who moved toward the rest of the pirate band sitting scattered throughout the pen.   

   Al quickly turned turned to Casey, and said, “I’m going.  You want to stay and help with the transfer?”

   Al was already starting to walk toward the door.  Casey moved to keep up.  “It’s probably a good idea that you have back-up.  I’m coming with.  Looks like these guys have the rest handled.”

   It didn’t take but a few quick steps to catch up with McMurty and the entourage.  As they made their way down the wide central cargo gantry separating the different ore bins, they quickly ran into Damien.  Their leader quickly took up stride with McMurty.

   “What’s going on?” Damien asked.  When he didn’t get a reply, he shot a look at Casey and Al. 

   “The sponsor has requested a private meeting with the Brown Family Circus,” Casey said.  “We weren’t invited, but it stands to reason there should be mercenary representation at this meeting.”

   “Astute,” Damien said, sounding mildly irate and glaring at McMurty.  “Keep with them.  I’ll get Jav and Miko.  I think we should all be there.”

   With that, Damien stopped at a wall-com while Al and Damien followed the Magistracy soldiers and Browns to the port airlock down a side gantry.




   Outside, the bright light of the system’s sun bleached the colors of practically everything, and Casey wished he had glasses which matched McMurty’s.  They had to walk down an extended ramp.  The long slender hull of the Rose Quartz was suspended in an open, brown grassy field on its own landing gear.  Well behind the ship were piles of dirt and scattered heavy excavation machines.  Huge square troughs marked where the machines had burrowed into the ground to open up the landing gear doors allowing the ship to eventually right itself.

   Once on the ground, Casey took a moment to look back, watching some of the Quartz Technical staff working on repairs to the undercarriage hull.  Thankfully, the pilot pulled off a nice skid that didn’t tear up the ship too badly.  Even a Buccaneer Class dropper would have been a very expensive write-off.

   Darran’s voice echoed in Casey’s head about Al’s insane luck.  For a moment, Casey wondered if they would have been so lucky had Al not been here.  That kind of luck felt a little unreal, however, and Casey quickly dismissed the thought when Damien, Javier and Miko came racing up.

   The mercs followed the soldiers and prisoners only a few more yards, where a woman in regal livery stood with two other soldiers.  Both men had their weapons at the ready, though not aimed at anyone in particular.  McMurty confirmed Casey’s suspicions when he addressed the woman.

   “The prisoners, as you requested,” he said with even deference.

   The woman looked like she was probably in her forties or fifties, but Casey knew that the Magistracy had a reputation for good medicine.  It was possible she was far older than she looked.  It was hard to tell, even when she spoke.  She had been fussing with a lock of brown hair, but now she let it go and studied the family Brown with a light squint.

   “Good,” she said.  Her eyes then went to the mercenaries.  “Who are these dropship crewmen?”

   “These are actually the mercenaries who fought the pirates and won,” McMurty replied.

   “We brought these prisoners in alive,” Damien said boldly.  “We don’t want anything happening to them that would suggest otherwise.”

   She frowned.  “I’m sorry, but this is a private meeting.  Guards!”

   The six soldiers snapped up, guns trained on the mercenaries.  Casey’s pulse quickened as he tensed.  The whole group was flat-footed.  If she ordered them shot now, there would be nothing anyone could do.   

   “Make sure they don’t move.  McMurty, bring the prisoners.”  She cast about, and pointed to one of the excavation mounds.  “Over there, out of sight and earshot.”

   “Yes, Madame,” McMurty acknowledged. 

   Pulling his gun out, he signaled to the Browns to start moving.  They hesitantly complied.  Dustin looked back on the mercs, fixing on Al with a worried look for a moment before a shove forced him to watch his step.

   “We have justice already,” McMurty said to his mistress while they walked.  The rest of the conversation was muffled by distance and wind. 

   Casey watched the group until they turned to disappear behind the mound.  Al then turned to leave, but Miko whipped up an arm to stop him.  She gave him a direct look and shook her head, nodding at the soldiers with guns trained on each of them.

   “You’ll get us killed,” she said, quietly.  “We have a chance to walk away from this alive.”

   Al looked on Miko with a surprised, contemplative look.

   Before anyone could say anything further, the hiss-snap of laser fire came unmistakably from behind the mound. 

   “But, they won’t,” Al said.

   McMurty and the sponsor came from behind the hill, strolling calmly.  None of them appeared injured.  Casey wondered what kind of story they might spin to cover three murders.

   “Don’t worry Casey,” Al said.  “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

   Casey studied Al intently for a few seconds.  Al merely looked intent, studious while he took in the surroundings.  Mind going back to Geneva’s attacks, Casey wondered just what Al though he could do if things went south.  Shifting his gaze to the guns, he noticed they were all laser carbines.  Anyone in front of the barrel would be dead the moment a soldier pulled a trigger.

   A minute passed by like an eternity before McMurty and the sponsor stopped not far away. 

   The sponsor eyed the group.  “And, what should we do with them?”

   “We brought those prisoners in alive,” Damien said, defiant.

   McMurty brightened.  “And, it’s not their fault the Browns were shot trying to escape from our custody.  Their job was finished.”

   “Yes,” the madame said, gaze distant while she contemplated.  “You did bring them in alive, and you will be rewarded accordingly.  Also,” she said, turning whistful and looking at Damien directly.  “I would like to invoke the priority salvage clause.  I want to keep Snarl’s and Swoop’s personal ’Mechs.  The other two are yours.”

   Damien shot a look at Javier, who shrugged.

   “The Hunchie is a write-off,” Javier said, “and the Pixie is a medium design needing a whole new head assembly.  Not that big of a loss.”

   “Except maybe for the advanced equipment,” Damien muttered.  He turned to the matron.  “Sure. It’s part of the contract.  As long as we’re properly compensated.”

   The sponsor nodded, suddenly at ease.  “Very good.  Let them go!  I need a detail to handle the bodies.”

   The soldiers lifted their guns and a sergeant started listing off a trio of the guards to follow him. 

   “You’re free to go,” McMurty said. 

   He didn’t wait, following his mistress and two guards as they departed for a nearby ground vehicle.  Witth the soldiers moving to deal with the bodies and the sponsor’s entourage driving away toward their DropShip, the mercs were left to their own devices.

   Casey finally noticed the Magistracy ship while he watched the ground vehicle drive over the tough brown grass.  The Union Dropship poking out above a distant set of trees behind a low swell.  It was well outside the Quartz’s potential take-off path, thankfully.  Being a spheroid design, it could just blast off whenever it suited the crew.

   “I don’t like how she said we’ll be ‘compensated’ “, Damien said.  “We’ll need to watch our backs until the Quartz is off this rock and docked successfully on the Lucky Tramp.  Pair off, and don’t let your partner leave your sight for the time, being, understood?”

   “Al and Casey, and Me and Miko,” Javier said.  “What about you, boss?  You and Jeun?”

   “No.  We have our technical staff with us.  Each warrior and his or her Tech.  I’ll inform Captain Black of the situation.”
* * *
« Last Edit: 14 March 2019, 11:02:08 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #28 on: 10 March 2019, 14:13:15 »
Chapter 4, Continued -

Search Grid System 7
Transit Toward Zenith
Rose Quartz
26 April 3059


   The Quartz’s mess was practically empty.  Under a full gravity, it felt as if nothing had changed while Casey sat in one of the steel chairs, leaning an arm on a matching metal table.  His shift was over and he was taking a moment to relax before getting a bite to eat. 

   Al walked up to the table and sat down across from Casey with a full tray of food.  The younger warrior, dressed in Quartz crew coveralls, mumbled something over the meal before digging in.  Casey sat up, observing his friend eat, while a topic came to mind.

   “You’re still praying, after what we saw today?”

   “Everything in my life is providence, Case.  So, yeah.”

   Casey was silent a few seconds while he pondered Al’s answer.  Eventually, he voiced his own opinion, his own confusion.  “I get that there’s a creator.  But, I have a hard time fathoming a god who will let good people die like that.”

   “Oh, there are all kinds.  Thank God they’re not here.  Anymore.  But, you’re talking the Creator All-Father God.  Now, that’s a little more complicated.”  Al took a bite of meat and chewed it down, swallowing before he continued.  He looked contemplative, his eyes only in Casey’s general direction as he spoke.  “As for them being good, everyone’s good, in their own way, Case.  And, everyone’s bad, or evil, in their own way.  Let’s look at their rap sheet for a moment.” Another bite.

   “The Brown Family Circus committed acts of piracy.  Not only did they do it outside their home empire, but inside it as well.  Other people were killed in their raids, whether intentionally or by accident.  As pirates, what kind of punishment do most planets have for them?”

   “Generally, they’re executed,” Casey answered with a conceding nod.

   “And, even if they were extradited from the Magistracy, they would be going back to convictions of acts of treason.  What kind of fate would they have in the FWL?”

   “I can’t say for sure, but generally, treason is an executable offense.”

   “So, in general, what would their fate have been?”

   “They would have died.”  Casey looked down at the table, not very happy with this line of reasoning.  But, it was unavoidable.

   Al took another bite, and swallowed.  “Now.  Are the laws by which they are judged artifacts of a god, or man?”

   Casey tried to brighten up and answer lightly.  He barely succeeded.  “Men.”

   Al waggled his head to the side in a half-shrug.  “Actually, the answer would be both.  A lot of the codes of conduct we base our laws off are derived from Judeo-Christian laws and edicts, which, in a world with a God, would have been dictated by him.”

   “But, man is involved,” Casey concluded. 

   He studied his friend a moment.  Al had paused in his eating to study Casey in return, looking for all the world like nothing had happened earlier today.  Casey felt curious, a sense of wonder at how Al could treat that moment so academically. 

   “You seem to be taking this well enough,” he said.

   Al shrugged.  “I guess it’s easy to forget I’m well-traveled.  I’ve been in a couple situations like this before.  It wasn’t easy to accept that I couldn’t do anything, that an atrocity like that was part of my life, my journey, now.  But, it is.  I’ve been through the mourning process a few times.”  He took another bite, which got swallowed quickly, with gusto.  “Besides, I imagine our ‘Sponsor’,” he emphasized her title with a very slight toss of his head, “will come to regret her decision in the future.  Whether it’s karma or answering to a higher power, it’s a matter of time.”

   “You’re right,” Damien said from the doorway.

   Both Al and Casey turned to look at the mercenary commander in near unison.  The swarthy Mediterranean man strolled casually to the table and sat down on the end, pulling up a chair from another table.  He eyed Casey and Al openly, looking like he had a secret he was about to divulge.

   “Countess Maria DuVall will come to regret her decision.  Sooner, rather than later, I suspect.”

   “Any idea why she took matters into her own hands?” Casey asked.

   Damien brightened even further.  “That’s what I came to discuss.  I figured you,” he indicated Al, “should know.  Good ol’ Captain Black had made an inquiry of the Lucky Tramp.  Turns out a courier had shown up while they were on their way here.  It’s hard to say whether this is true or not, but scuttlebutt has it that a rival noble on her homeworld of Bass had discovered the pirate hunting operation.  That rival had discovered the identity of our quarry, the Browns, their story, and was planning to put in a word to exonerate them during their trial.  Maybe even go so far as to let them free, giving them amnesty in the Magistracy.”

   “So, if she wanted justice for her lost daughter-in-law, it had to be done here and now,” Casey said with an understanding nod.  “I take it the bodies are still back on Grid 7 Planet 5.  And, without that evidence, the report of their aborted escape will go through without a hitch.”

   The bad taste in his mouth killed any appetite Casey had built up from the day of work.

   “Any idea whether the Browns are who they say they were?” Al asked.

   Damien shook his head.  “We won’t be able to verify until we have access to an HPG.  But, their tactics match up with what we encountered.”

   Casey took a moment to reflect on the battle, a couple weeks back.  He smiled and harrumphed. “They put the girls in the heavier ’Mechs to protect them with the thicker armor.  But, they would often have the girls use that armor to scout out any trouble, the parents ready to jump in and help them out as necessary.”

   “They weren’t expecting us, or the fight to be as one-sided as it was,” Damien said, smiling ruefully. 

   “ ‘Hudini’, the escape artist escaped the fire, while ‘Swan’ the diver hit the dirt,” Al added, reflective.  “ ’Snarl’ the lion tamer, and ‘Swoop’, the trapeze artist.  I admit, when I first heard ‘Snarl’ and ‘Swoop’, I was thinking something a tad more prehistoric.”

   “What do you mean?” Casey asked, though he knew right away he probably wouldn’t get the reference. 

   Al shrugged and waved it off.  “Eh.  An old cartoon.  Don’t worry about it.”

   As the younger warrior went back to polishing off his meal, Damien looked him over, then did the same with Casey.  Casey looked at the merc commander in open curiosity.

   “Well,” Damien said, drawling the word out.  “I hope you’re not worried that every mission will turn out like this.”

   Al shook his head, his mouth full.

   Casey also shook his head, adding, “no real worry.”

   “I’ve had some jobs where the worst possible things I’d ever have to face was during training or the probationary period,” Al said, mouth empty.  “This is nothing new.”

   “I’m glad,” Damien said.  “You both handled yourselves very well.  When we get back, we can sign you on properly.  Have Miko and Jav run you through some basics to see where you stand with physical combat and your knowledge of mil-tech.”

   Both men nodded.  Damien stood, clapping them both on the shoulder.  He departed, while Al finished his tray.  Al got up and left, also.

   On his own, Casey mused over the good news.  With any luck, he would have his debts repaid in no time, and then he could finally face his ghosts.  With things looking up, his appetite returned, and Casey went to the kitchen window.

* * *
« Last Edit: 14 March 2019, 11:02:25 by Daemion »
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

Daemion

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Re: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion
« Reply #29 on: 15 March 2019, 12:24:47 »
Chapter 4, continued -



Vagabond Legion of the Damned HQ
Dragonback Ridge
Astrokaszy
4 June 3059


   The trip home was a mix of monotony and testing.  Javier took the weeks of zero g to run through Al’s and Casey’s tech evaluations.  Casey, having been brought up in a MechWarrior family, complete with academy training, as well as a short stint of service in both his planetary militia and a Lyran front line regiment had him acing a lot of the quizzes.  Al, however was a mixed bag.  His chassis recognition of BattleMechs, Tanks, Vehicles, and even some of the new production BattleArmor was really good.  He even identified some of the new OmniMechs which Casey had never seen before.  His grasp of tactics and history were mixed, and he even threw in event references from obscure entertainment to match some historical outcomes.  But, his grasp of modern engineering was next to non-existent.  Al proved to be a quick study, however.

   Now that everyone was back at the Legion’s HQ in the old mining complex and packed away, time was approaching for the hand-to-hand and physical fitness evaluations.  Casey had been able to ignore the pending date, until Miko summoned both he and Al and their technicians out into the bay.
Casey was the first one out and headed toward the cargo area.  Al was not far behind.  Casey had no idea where the Techs were.

   One his way over to the cargo area, he looked over at the two Crusaders in adjacent ’Mech bays.  The head of the most recent acquisition had been restored from the damage the ejection had caused.  It now hung from the overhead pully system, suspended over the pristine shoulders of the first Crusader that hadn’t moved from the first day Casey arrived.

   He spotted both Chin and Blue down at the feet of the ’Mech, talking with some Vagabonds and the other technical staff.  One of them spotted Casey and waved.  Casey waved back and indicated the cargo pad.

   “Eval,” he shouted.

   Both Chin and Blue looked at one another, said a few words and broke away from the group. 

   Amid the stacks of ammunition and parts containers, a lot of Vagabonds sat, stood or leaned around some mats that had been laid out.  Casey guessed that nearly all of the Legion turned out for the evaluation.  He spotted people placing bets.  For a moment, he thought about putting some down of his own, but decided against it.

   This was the kind of spectacle that Casey had dreaded.  He knew he was average at best when it came to hand-to-hand.  Partially trained in a couple techniques, he could block some punches, throw some kicks, and maybe pin or take someone down.  Nothing like what he saw Al doing.  It would be a poor performance if he had to follow that.

   “Everyone’s going to have a hoot watching my ass get tossed around,” Blue said casually as he stepped up next to Casey. 

   Chin had also joined him, along with the rest of the Tech crew from the ’Mech Bay.  With the kids also running around, Casey was pretty sure the entire Legion was now present.  A few seconds later, Al joined them.

   “I hope none of you placed bets on me,” he said. 

   A quick study revealed an open, studious expression on Al’s face.  Before Casey could ask what he meant, Miko walked out into the middle of the mat, a notepad in hand.  She looked around at the crowd and then at the two warriors and their technicians.

   “Alius Cad’ver,” she said.  “From what I saw on the security feed for a month, as well as testimonies about your fight with Nimaj outside Stum’s Bar, I’m giving you a pass.”  There were a lot of groans and some currency exchanges on the side.  Miko continued on, pausing long enough for the din to die down.  But, she was quickly interrupted.  “So, that means, Casey -”

   “Wait a minute.  How is that fair?” 

   The woman who interrupted was the blond Clanswoman that he had first met a couple months back.  From what little exposure Casey had to Clan people and culture, he was sure she fit the bill.  She called herself Down. 

   Down pressed on when Miko looked at her.  “I had to undergo an evaluation of my prowess.  We all did.” She waved her arm to include her dark-haired friend, though she included the rest of the legion.  “I’m fully versed in four styles of hand-to-hand combat, and I had to show it.  And, yet, he gets a free pass from mere hearsay?”

   “I’ve seen what he’s capable of,” Miko said.  “And, I’m satisfied.”

   “But I have not!” Down blurted, irritated.  She paused long enough to compose herself.  “We have not.  For all I know, he just got lucky.” She speared Nimaj with a pointed look.  “We never hear the end of the tales of Al’s luck from Darran, after all.”  She turned her jade green eyes to Al.  “There may come a time when we have to fight together.  I, for one, would like to know in which situations I can trust your skills.”

   Casey couldn’t help noting how proper Down’s English was, even though her accent was as flat, as Terran, as Al’s.  Not a single contraction.  Yet, it sounded as perfectly natural as Al’s constant use of contractions.  One more point in favor of her being one of the SLDF in exile returned. 

   Even more worrisome to Casey, he partially agreed with her.

   “Valid points,” Miko said in a conceding tone.  That quickly changed to a matter-of-fact delivery.  “However, the chances of the Legion having to fight alongside us in any capacity is slim.  The only real time that may matter is in four months, when you’re finally eligible to test for manning any company salvage we bring back, correct?”

   “They arrived early November,” Nimaj stated.  “More like five months.”

   Miko nodded.   “Five months before you even get the chance at manning a BattleMech.  That’s the only situation I foresee you in fighting alongside us.  The Legion has its own methods, separate from ours.  My statement stands.  Al gets a pass”

   Down’s brows furrowed as she visibly turned miffed. “I -,” she started to say, but suddenly became conscious of everyone else, looking around like a startled hen.  She finished with a mutter.  “I still don’t like it.”

   Al sighed, then breathed, “Better take care of this now.”

   Casey eyed his friend.  “Or what?”

   “They’ll jump me in the hallway, or something like that,” Al said in a quiet voice.  Louder he addressed Down.  “You don’t like it.  So, you could say you have a grievance with the decision?”

   Down looked at Al, open surprise all over her face.  “I do,” she replied hesitantly.

   “Enough so that it’s worth dueling over?” Al asked.

   A flash of raw insight passed over Down’s face before she stiffened with resolve, a sudden twinkle in her eye.  “A Trial of Grievance over the decision.  I would like to issue one.”

   Al stepped out of the crowd, pausing just short of the mat.  From what Casey could see, he, too had a twinkle in his eye.  “Well, as I see it, by challenging me to a duel, you’ll have achieved what you wanted.  So, what would you want should you win?”

   Down had stepped out of the crowd as well, but hesitated at the question.

   Her comrade, Perry, grinned mischievously, saying, “Take his ’Mech.”

   Down shook her head.  “No.  Something more reasonable.”

   “You jaded turkeys have no sense of humor,” Perry replied with a mock frown.

   Down ignored the verbal barb, deep in thought.  “If I win, I would like to be eligible for the trials to man the Crusader.”

   “I don’t have that kind of clout,” Al said, looking a little disappointed.

   “Done,” Nimaj Junior said from his seated spot on a crate.  “If you win, that is.”

   “And if you win?” Down asked, sounding wary.

   “If I win, you get to tell me which Clan you’re from, and how you, as a Clansman, ended up in this part of the periphery.”

   Down blinked a couple times, stunned.  Then she smiled wickedly.  “Bargained well and done.  I accept.”

   “Likewise,” Al replied.

   With that decree, the crowd started to buzz with excitement.  Casey spotted a new exchange of bets with a small number of bookies.  For a moment, he thought about putting down a bet on his friend.  But, then he recalled the strange statement Al made when he arrived.  Studying his friend, Casey caught Al look in his direction and slightly shake his head.

   “What do you think?” Blue asked.  “Should I put some money down on Al?”

   “No,” Casey said.  “The Clanner.”

   Blue looked at Casey in surprise. “Wait, what?”

   “You’re still sticking with that?” Chin chided.

   Casey gestured at Al and the two women.  “She has effectively proven she is.”

   Chin simply grinned.

   Blue looked out at Al and Down.  With a sigh, he said, “If you say so.”  He disappeared behind the crowd. 

   Casey returned his attention to the mat and the duel being prepared.  Al and Down both walked to meet with Miko at the heart of the mat.

   “So, what are the parameters for winning?” Al asked.  When Down shot him a confused look, he added, “It’s not like we’re fighting to the death.  How do you know when you win?”

   Down pointed to the well-defined three-meter circle on the mat.  “First one to land bodily on the mat or leave the circle loses.”  She looked at Miko.  “You should choose one or two others to help you referee.”

   Miko nodded.  “Take your positions,” she said before gesturing to Father and Son Nimaj. After a quiet consultation with the two tribal elders, the all took up positions.  “When you are ready, you may begin.”

   Al and Down stood a meter apart in the center of the circle.  Down took up a ready stance, something Casey recognized from karate.  Al also took up a guarded stance.  Then, Al gave a slight nod before launching at Down.  The strike was a basic punch, which Down deflected handily.  Al managed to retract just in time to counter a strike from Down. 

   They went back and forth for a couple minutes.  The strikes turned into grapples and grabs.  At one point, Down managed to toss Al over her shoulder.  He managed to land on an extended arm, whipping his feet down to keep from landing bodily on the mat.  It was an impressive move. 

   After approximately twenty exchanges, Down finally got the best of Al, catching him and flipping him to the ground sideways.  To Casey, it looked like there was nothing Al could have done to prevent the fall.  However, as Miko called the match, Down paced away, looking frustrated, maybe angry.

   “The results are void,” Down finally declared.

   “What do you mean?” Nimaj Junior asked.  “You won.”

   “I did not win,” she snapped.  With a hard gesture at Al, she said, “He let me win!”

   The crowd went silent. 

   “How do you know?” Miko asked, openly curious.

   More calmly, Down replied.  “I have seen it with my training instructors.  They want me to succeed in executing a move, and they would have to reign in an impulse, a trained instinct, to let me follow through.”  She turned to Al, who slowly rose to his feet, “I saw the instinctive start to a defense, a counter, and then you would stop.  But, that was not hesitation.”   

   “Are you sure I wasn’t just getting lucky?” Al asked.  “Holding my own as long as I did against such a learned opponent?”

   She flashed a derisive smirk.  “I am not sure whether to be insulted or impressed.  It takes far more control to fail a move you know so well that it does to simply let your body react on instinct.  No.  I did not win.  This is a mistrial.  The results are invalid.”

   “I am impressed that you noticed when the rest of us failed to,” Miko said.  “Even though I knew he had thrown the fight.”

   “You knew?” Nimaj Junior looked surprised.

   “Oh, yeah.  When you see the security footage, you’ll see why I was willing to pass him without this duel.”

   From Casey’s vantage, he could see the confusion on Down’s face when she turned to Al.  “Why?”

   Al lightly shrugged.  “If not now, I would have had to deal with yours and others’s curiosity later.”

   “I mean, why purposely fail?”

   “It was an unfair match-up.  There’s no fun in showing that off.  Besides, when you made your request, helping you along felt like a neat idea.”

   The elder Nimaj chuckled, his base rumbling in the open space of the cave.  “A gift.  He didn’t throw the fight.  He was giving you your prize.”

   Casey had mixed feelings about the sentiment.  He still harbored resentment for what the Clans did to his home, and his family’s BattleMech.  They were the reason he was in the mess he was in.  But, Casey knew from personal experience that Al had the upper hand in hand-to-hand combat.  To see him use that ability to help somebody else brought a welling of pride and respect inside Casey.  He smiled and nodded in Al’s direction.

   Al seemed to notice and nodded back.

   “Kindness,” Nimaj Junior said with open relish, laying a hand on Al’s shoulder.  He then laid a hand on Down’s shoulder. “Honesty.  Such character is definitely worthy of joining our tribe.  Father, with your permission, we will honor the results.”

   The elderly Nimaj nodded his approval.    

   “Then, Down is the victor, and she is now part of the Vagabond Legion of the Damned.  She’ll be eligible for the tests to man the -3L Crusader.”

   There was applause from the spectators.  Casey robotically added a couple claps of his own, but no more.  As part of the Legion, he would have to get used to working with the two Clan women.  How long it would take for him to get over his resentment was something about which Casey had no clue.

   Al joined Casey and the Techs, as Miko marked off some notes on her notepad.  But, Al wasn’t alone.  Both Down and Perry joined Al, both looking hopeful and wary. 

   Perry was the first to speak, excitement and curiosity filling her voice.  Which Clan are you from?  How did you get here?”

   “I’m not Clan,” Al answered.  “It’s complicated, but I’m familiar with the lore behind your people, the children of Kerensky and the form they took after the SLDF-in-exile’s exodus.  In time, I’ll explain it to you, and you,” he finished with a look at Casey.

   “Then, were you not interested in my history, and how I got here?” Down asked, sounding doubtful, looking slightly hurt.

   “Oh, I do.  But, I figured there would come a time when I could just ask, and you’d be willing to tell me.  I don’t need to force it out of you as a prize in a duel.”

   Down calmed down, giving Al a considered look.  “That may very well be the case.  In time.”

   She flashed a slight smirk, and went to lay a hand on Al’s shoulder, but paused.  For the first time, Casey noticed a slight twitch from Al, the beginnings of a move away from her hand.  Then Casey noted the controlled expression on Al’s face.  His return smirk was slightly strained for the duration of the twitch.  Down’s smirk took on a serenity, a sage-like look of understanding.  She finished laying her hand on his shoulder as she moved away. 

   Then an elbow nudged at Casey’s ribs.  He turned to find Blue nodding out toward the mat, and Miko. 

   “Good call,” Blue said, visibly counting the local scrip.

   Casey offered him a lopsided smile while he headed out to his own evaluation.

   “Well, folks,” he said, loud enough for the crowd to hear.  “Expect something similar to what you last saw.  But, it won’t be self-control when I mess up.”

   The crowd chuckled and laughed at his joke.
It's your world. You can do anything you want in it. - Bob Ross

Every thought and device conceived by Satan and man must be explored and found wanting. - Donald Grey Barnhouse on the purpose of history and time.

I helped make a game! ^_^  - Forge Of War: Tactics

 

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