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Author Topic: My Vanity AU - Book One: Proof of Diffusion  (Read 476 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.
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.

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