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Author Topic: Good as Gold  (Read 3978 times)


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Good as Gold
« on: 14 January 2019, 20:38:57 »
Had some free time over the winter holidays, started scribbling some ideas and forgot to stop. This is the result. I've tried to do a couple of things with this one:

- Write about the scummier side of the mercenary business. Not the flashy multi-regiment outfits, but the more Wilson's Hussars end of the scale
- Thematically, it's a comment on the morality of fighting for money, at least within the context of the BT universe
- Multiple viewpoint characters--fair warning, I don't go all Game of Thrones in here, but not all live to the end of the story (Note I'm rebooting couple of characters from another story--this isn't a prequel or sequel, just its own thing)
- Play around with the standard BattleTech time/date/location stamp things, so that they tell you a little about the story and characters

What to expect: I don't go in for AUs much, nor galaxy-spanning scheming and plotting, nor wall-to-wall battle scenes. I've been told my writing is noirish, so there you go: A small-scale noir story set in the BT universe. Hope you enjoy, 'cos I sure as hell did writing it.


1. Sebastian Gore

Think it was called Amber or Anchor City or something
Happy-Cappie Land
What we at now, 3026 or thereabouts? Hard to keep track of standard years, y’know?

He grinned, and his twisted, distorted reflection in the bar of gold grinned back.

Humanity had used pretty much everything practicable, and quite a few utterly impractical, as forms of money at one time or other over the millennia: Paper money, plastic, nickel or copper coins, purely digital currencies based on computing power or communication time, salt, seashells, beer, tobacco, bottle caps, even four-ton stone disks. But gold, good old-fashioned gold, that never went out of style.

Sebastian Gore hefted the brick, enjoying the weight of it, or rather, enjoying the thought of what that weight would buy. He dropped it into his jacket pocket, where it landed in a lump hard as a mercenary’s heart, heavy and merciless as necessity.

“Here that?” he asked the dour-faced man standing next to him, patting the bar in his pocket with a dull metallic jingle. “That, mah friend, is the sound of crime paying.”

Shinobu said nothing, but then Shinobu never said anything. It was what made him such good company.

They stood on the steps of what had, until about two hours previous, been the planet’s central bank and precious metals depository. It might have been impressive once, a squat and brutal statement of power expressed in reinforced concrete, steel and glass. One wall was now missing, along with most of the roof, while a frayed and threadbare line of sandbags blocked the entrance. Here and there were sprawled bodies, or what was left of them, with the red armbands, bandannas or kerchiefs of the rebels.

The Liao arm-and-sword insignia had fallen from over the main doors and lay shattered among the sandbags and the dead, like a green agate geode that had been cracked and its insides allowed to leak out.

“The optimism of people never ceases to amaze,” said Sebastian, shaking his head. He wore a thigh-length leather coat over his black MechWarrior tank top, rounded sepia sunglasses, and a blackened Sternsnacht Python on his hip. A black glove covered a burned left hand, a circular tattoo on his neck of a snake eating its own tail peaked above the collar of his coat. He was, in short, living example of all the worst things people imagined when they heard the word ‘mercenary’. He pushed down the sunglasses to regard the wreckage over the rims. “Has this kinda rebellion ever worked out?”

Shinobu pursed his lips and seemed to consider the question, staring at the meteor-impact crater of a particle blast, and the two carbonized corpses within in.

“Yeah, yeah, okay, Verthandi, but that’s the rule-proving exception,” allowed Sebastian, then gave a little shrug, letting fall from his shoulders a hundred little things, like the lives of the men and women who’d died defending this place. “Can’t complain, though. When the good Lord closes a door, you just got to blast yourselves open a window.”

Shinobu just nodded slowly. Once, twice. Neither agreement nor rejection, just mute acceptance of the ways of the world. Shinobu was a grey cloud next to Sebastian’s ebullient sun, dressed in cast-off Kurita MechWarrior fatigues with all insignia scraped clean—or, if you looked closer, torn brutally away. His straight black hair was styled in the conservative Combine 7:3 style, parted one-third along from the side, and held in place with a solid layer of what was either gel or Elmer’s glue. A short wakizashi sword was stuck upside-down through his belt, looking slightly forlorn with no sign of a larger katana twin.

“Hey, Seb. Here comes Honest Abe,” Danica’s voice crackled in his earpiece. “Looks like he’s brought an adult this time.”

The four BattleMechs of the Anything Associates stood in a ragged semicircle in front of the building, twisted and haphazard things, like post-nuclear mutants, the Four Distortions of the Apocalypse. There was Danica’s twin-cannoned Madapult, Zeke’s hunchbacked Banshee, Shinobu’s multicolored Dragon, plus Sebastian’s own “Mjolnir”, a one-armed crossbreed between a Thunderbolt, Marauder and a Zeus.

Despite his sunglasses, Sebastian had to shield his eyes with his hand and squint up at Danica, perched on the shoulder of her BattleMech. He waved up at her, and pressed the communicator to his throat to talk. “An adult?”

“Uh-huh. Got two armored cars inbound, one in Cappie colors, and one either ComStar or someone willing to risk dropping themselves in a blessed, sainted, super high-tech saucer of hyper-shit and pretend to be ComStar. Think he’s mad?”

Commander Abel Mutai, Honest Abe, was the Confederation liaison, a small man who’d lived a small life, failed his way into a small job in the professional soldiery liaison service on a small world (but not on the Small World), and resented every inch of that smallness with all the petty spite he could muster. Which luckily was not much, on account of said diminutive stature in pretty much every aspect that counted: physical, mental and professional.

“Dani, I’ve had hangovers that scared me worse than Abe,” Sebastian smiled as she chuckled. “I’ll make the nice mouth-noises, smooth his fluffy little feathers. You and Zeke just sit tight now.”

Danica clicked off as the two angular, wedge-nosed armored cars appeared from around a corner on massive toy-truck tires, the first olive green, the second in dazzlingly brilliant white. As soon as the first had rumbled to a halt at the foot of the steps the side door sprang open, and Abel Mutai stepped down. He spent two minutes fussing his uniform into place, tugging his cuffs and pulling down his shirt, adjusting his sash, getting his clamshell helmet straight, before he scowled up at the two MechWarriors and marched up the steps, boots slapping with each furious stride.

Behind him, a white-clad man got out the front of the ComStar car, then opened the rear door and stood stiffly at attention. A black woman in long white robe stepped down, and followed in Mutai’s wake at a more sedate pace.

“Commander Gore,” Mutai barked when he was still ten paces away. “I think I am owed an explanation.”

Sebastian waited for Mutai to come to a halt on a lower step. He spat from the side of his mouth before answering. “You got something specific in mind, or is that more a philosophical position, Mutai? All this fighting got you wondering about the nature of creation? ‘War, what’s it good for’, and that?”

Mutai thrust a finger past Sebastian, at the shattered shell of the central bank behind him. “What is your unit doing here?”

“Ah now, that’s an easy one. Our orders were to quote engage targets of opportunity end quote,” Sebastian shrugged, waving over his shoulder. “This here was an opportunity, and we engaged it all right. Engaged it all to hell.”

“Completely abandoning the units on your flanks, creating a gap in our encirclement of the city, and allowing the rebels to escape!” Mutai’s voice rose steadily as he spoke, ending in what was probably supposed to be a threatening roar, but came out an undignified squeak.

Sebastian shook his head slowly, as though saddened by the failings of his fellow man. “Aw now that is a real shame. They let ‘em get away? Good help is so hard to find, ain’t it?”

Unnoticed by Mutai, the ComStar representative finally joined them. Her skin was a deep, almost indigo black, starkly contrasting against the pure white of her ComStar robe. Almost reminded Sebastian of a Chinese yin-yang symbol. She regarded the wreckage about them with something like amusement. “Commander Gore,” she nodded fractionally. “Adept Levato. Love what you’ve done with the place.”

Sebastian dipped his head in acknowledgement and threw her a mock salute. “Levato?”

“It’s Italian for ‘like a wolf’.” She skinned him a lupine smile, a slash of white under flinty eyes.

“And ‘engaged’ the enemy? You barely fired a shot,” Mutai broke in, trying to wrestle the conversation back to himself. “Take that useless Banshee, for example—”

“Hey, hey, says right on our TO and E: BNC-3E brackets modified brackets.”

“Modified? It doesn’t have any fracking weapons!”

“Still got the laser in the head,” Sebastian pointed out. “Look, you contracted for a heavy lance, we got you a heavy lance. Ain’t nothing in the contract saying how many shots we got to fire or what loadout we got to run.”

Mutai’s mouth worked in soundless outrage for a moment, before he turned to the ComStar woman beside him, gesticulating in fury at the mercenary. “Say something, Adept!” he screeched.

Levato’s lips pressed together in a smile as insincere as it was brief. “Commander Mutai, it’s ComStar job to see that the terms of the contract are abided by, not to do your due diligence for you. You hired a bottom of the barrel mercenary unit, at bottom of the barrel rates, you got a bottom of the barrel unit.”

“Aw thanks sugah,” Sebastian winked at her. She did not smile back.

Mutai threw up his hands and turned his back on Levato. “Please tell me you at least secured the gold, palladium and iridium reserves.”

“Aw, now, about that. ‘Fraid the rebels cleaned the place out before they scrammed. Not a speck o’gold to be found,” Sebastian shrugged helplessly, his shoulders two towering peaks of regret, his sad face between a valley of sadness. On cue, the gold bar fell out of his jacket pocket, landed on the steps, bounced, catching the light beautifully as it spun, hit the next step, then two more, teetered and sparkled on the edge before falling yet one more step to land at Mutai’s feet with a loud, clear and final clang.

“Oh look, there’s one,” beamed Sebastian. “Not a total loss after all.”

Mutai stopped to retrieve the bar, and held it accusingly in front of the Adept’s face. “This is theft, Adept!”

Levato pushed Mutai’s arm firmly away in irritation. “Then arrest them, Commander. Crime is a matter for the Confederation military police, not the MRB. Unless you want to terminate their contract for non-performance. Is that what you want?”

Sebastian’s smile disappeared. He threw back his leather coat and put his hands on his hips, one hand brushing the grip of his Python autopistol. “Is it? That ain’t very neighborly. After all we been through Mutai, you calling us thieves? That hurts.”

Behind them Danica’s Madapult shifted slightly, one clawed foot coming down close enough to the Capellan armored car to make it bounce on its suspension. The foot twisted slightly, grinding the asphalt beneath it with a tooth-rattling pop and crackle.

Sebastian leaned forward. “Maybe we just take our toys and go home, if we ain’t appreciated around here no more.”

Mutai swallowed. “Break your contract?”

“Ah’ve broken better contracts for worse reasons. Now what was that about us stealing something?”

“But without the BattleMechs, we’ll be—” Mutai stuttered to a stop, pulled off his plasteel helmet and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “Maybe I spoke to hastily,” he muttered. Slapped the helmet back on his head, where it sat slightly askew. Puffed his chest, tried to restore some pride. “There will be an investigation, I can promise you that.”

Sebastian waved a hand in a circular hurry-up motion. “Take your time,” he said. “We’ll just sit here and wait for you to figure it out. Unless there’s something more pressing we should be attending to? Like the breakout of the rebel army?”

Mutai seized on that, a face-saving gesture. “Right, yes, absolutely. Inquiries can wait. All units are ordered to pursue. We must bring the rebels to battle, and eliminate or capture the leadership element, especially the so-called Commandante Zlato.” A warning finger came up, trembling ever so slightly. “Your unit will be the reserve, Commander Gore. You will not engage unless explicitly ordered, is that clear?”

“Good as gold, Mutai.”

“Good. Right.” Mutai looked around, nodded to himself. “Right. Yes. Well, and, good. Glad we got that straight. And don’t you forget it!” With that, he scrambled back down the steps and all but flung himself into the rear of the armored car. Slammed the door shut with an indignant clang.

The car backed up from the Madapult foot, tried to swing around, found it didn’t have enough room, reversed again, nearly crashed into the front of the ComStar car parked behind it, rocked backwards and forwards a little trying to find an angle, finally worked its way around the foot and jolted off down the broken and blistered road.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #1 on: 15 January 2019, 20:07:37 »
2. Adept Levato

CBD, Anchor City
Ingress (Ingress IV, 49.622/-18.661 LY Terran Relative)
Tikonov Commonality, Capellan Confederation
9 April, 3026 (Terran Standard)/5724 (Capellan Calendar)

Sebastian gave Mutai a wave as he sped off.

Shinobu ignored the car and kept his eyes on the ComStar Adept. Adept Levato, for her part, watched the Capellan liaison officer’s retreat with wry amusement.

Sebastian lowered his arm, noticed the Adept wasn’t going anywhere. He cleared his throat. “There, uh, something Ah can help you with, Adept?”

She turned unhurriedly, scrutinized Sebastian slowly from head to foot, like a wolf sizing up its dinner. “So, between you and me, where did you put the gold?” Her eyes tracked up to the four BattleMechs, then narrowed. “A virtually unarmed Banshee with a big hump on its back. With the weight savings from the PPC and autocannon you could fit, what, 15 to 20 tons of cargo? That Banshee going to jingle when it walks out of here?”

Sebastian just grinned. “Like you said, Ah figure that’s between Mutai and us.”

“Twenty tons of gold, platinum, palladium,” Levato mused. “Must be worth, what, 900 million C-Bills?”

“964 million and change, Adept.”

“Mercenaries,” Levato shook her head fractionally from side to side. “You’re a credit to your profession, Commander Gore.”

Sebastian didn’t answer at first, just looked at his feet, reached down and patted away some of the dust from his boots. “Y’know, people say to me, ‘Gore, mercs like you are nothin’ but dirt under our feet. You got no love for nothin’ but your own self’.” He straightened and grimaced a little. “There’s a cadre commander in a back office in there, Adept. Bet she loved a whole head full o’ things: the cause, her comrades, honor, duty, loyalty. ‘Course you can’t ask her no more, on account of she’s got a ConfedArms pistol in her right hand and a nine-millimeter hole in her right temple, where all those things in her head just leaked right on out, onto some nice shag carpet. Way Ah see it, you can do a whole lot worse in this world than look out for yourself.”

“So, you’re a nihilist?”

“Naw, nihilism’s just another kinda certainty, one step away from the woman back there. Too easy to go from believing it all means something, to believing nothing does. Ah don’t claim to know why people were put in this galaxy, or what the point of it all is. But from what Ah’ve seen, Ah sorely doubt the purpose of humanity is to ‘liberate the agrarian masses’ or put Max Liao’s fat ass on the throne of Terra. That bein’ the case, looking out for maself has been pretty good policy so far.”

“And you?” Levato turned to Shinobu. “Hazukashikunai? Jibun no kodo wa do omou?” 

Shinobu did not so much blink. One eyebrow ticked up for a split second, which was the equivalent of a muted scream for the man.

“Easy now Shinny, she don’t mean nothing by it,” Sebastian patted the man on the shoulder. Then, to Levato: “He don’t take kindly to being reminded of the Combine no more. Now Adept, we can stand here jawing all day about the peculiars of the mercenary trade, but is there some point to this? Like, why you covering for us with Honest Abe?”

“Walk with me, Commander,” Levato clasped her hands behind her back, and began to walk towards her armored car. She glanced back and saw Gore hesitate. “You can threaten to squash me flat too, if I scare you that much.”

“Ain’t really a place for a stroll, Adept,” Sebastian said, but walked after her, not hurrying. “Mines, IEDs, no telling what the FIA left lying around.”

“Just to my car,” she smiled, then frowned when she saw Shinobu keeping pace with them, a step behind.

“Aw, don’t worry about Shinny. This may surprise you, but he knows when to keep his mouth shut.”

“A valuable skill.” Levato paused by the sprawled body of a rebel soldier, one first still clenched defiantly, the other clasped over a ragged hole in his chest. The red armband bore the letters FIA in gold—Freedom for Ingress Alliance. “These rebels have proven remarkably resilient, haven’t they? Getting better and better equipped as the war goes on. They’ve even hired mercenaries.”

Shinobu crouched by the body and gingerly tipped the dead man’s rifle up by the barrel and inspected it, tracing the manufacturer’s marks down the side for the other two to see. “Fed-Barrett,” Sebastian explained to Levato. “Fed Suns make. No guesses where their gear and money are coming from.”

“Hanse Davion,” Levato nodded. “Ever heard of Halstead Station?”

Sebastian frowned, darted a look at Shinobu. Shinobu gently set the Fed-Barrett rifle back down, and mimed opening a book. The memory clicked and Sebastian nodded. “Yeah, ole Hansey raided a library or something, didn’t he?”

“Or something,” Levato agreed. “Hanse Davion is a determined man, used to getting what he wants. Power, wealth, knowledge, information. And now, he wants Ingress.”

“Gonna be a hard fight, Ah guess,” Sebastian said, in a disinterested tone that implied that would be someone else’s problem.

“And with your new-found riches, you might be tempted not to stick around that long?”

Levato was about to take a step towards the body when Sebastian raised a gloved hand in caution. “Careful now. Rebs like to booby-trap the dead ‘uns, put grenades, mines or whatnot underneath ‘em.”

Levato took a hesitant step back, looked like her ruffled pride was struggling with her caution. The latter won out. She turned and resumed walking, until she reached the side of the armored car. Turned around to face Sebastian again. “We’ll keep the Capellans off your backs—but there is a price, Commander Gore. We scratch your back, you scratch ours. Self-interest: Just your kind of deal. We want you to stay on contract to the Confederation.”

“An interesting proposition. But now I am just afire with curiosity. Gonna have to give me a little more detail than that before I say ‘Yes’.”

“Commandante Zlato. Commander Mutai and the Confederation will want her taken alive, for interrogation and a public show trial. We are willing to make it worth your while to see that the Commandante never makes it to her trial.”

“You mean, kill her?”

Levato nodded, slowly and deliberately. “Oh yes, I do mean kill her.”

“What’s it to ComStar?”

“Zlato was once one of us. About six months ago, she defected to the insurgency. We take apostacy seriously, Commander Gore. Some of us, you see, believe in things a little bigger than our next payday. But more importantly to you, we’re willing to pay to see that she pays for her betrayal.” Levato reached down, and swung open the side door of the armored car. Out of the corner of his eye, Sebastian could see there was someone else inside.

Distracted, he rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “Awright, fair enough. We’ll see what we can do, but Ah cain’t promise nothin’. If the Cappies get her first, not much we can do.”

“Why leave things to chance, Commander?” Levato said. The shadow unfolded from the interior of the ComStar armored car, stepped out into the sunlight and towered over Sebastian. A giant of a man, scraping maybe two meters tall, with the battered and scarred face of a boxer and the muscles of a BattleMaster. His white ComStar jumpsuit strained against his seams—you could use him for an anatomical drawing for a comic book superhero.

“Commander Gore,” Levato indicated the giant. “This is Atom.”

Sebastian grunted, trying not to let his surprise show. “Bigger’n Ah expected.”

Levato smiled thinly. “He is our insurance in this deal. His BattleMech will join your unit, and see that the Commandante is dealt with appropriately.”

The giant offered a hand, which engulfed Sebastian’s like a child’s when the shook. “A pleasure,” the man said, though he did not look especially pleased.

“You got a last name, Atom?”


Sebastian waited a moment in silence, then carefully extracted his hand from the other man’s grasp, working the fingers to make sure they still moved. “Okay. Great. Ah can tell you’re gonna get on great with Shinny here. Welcome aboard.” His eyes behind the shades flicked to Levato. “Not like we got much choice in the matter. So. What’s your ride?”

“A Shootist.”

Sebastian frowned. “A what-ist? That’s a new one on me.”

Levato chuckled, a low and conspiratorial sound. “Now, now Commander. We’ll keep your secrets. You’ll allow us ours.”
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #2 on: 15 January 2019, 20:28:53 »
Will there be more
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #3 on: 15 January 2019, 20:50:01 »
Will there be more

Yes, absolutely. This story is more or less in the can, I'm just spinning it out in installments. Total length is around 30,000 words (i.e. novella length).
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #4 on: 15 January 2019, 20:55:07 »
Well, that plot just thickened a whole lot...


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #5 on: 16 January 2019, 20:06:40 »
For this story, I've taken a page out of David Drake's Hammer's Slammers series and tried writing a couple of factoid-type sidebars that expand the setting... and hint at the story. I'll post an actual chapter today too, to keep the story moving forward.

This one owes a big debt to the folks at for the formatting and info.


Fact File: Ingress (Accessed from ComStar database 3026/04/09)

System Information
Coordinates: 49.622 : -18.661
Spectral Class: G6V
Planets: 9

Geophysical Information
System position: 4
Aphelion: 1.6 AU
Perihelion: 1.3 AU
Mean radius: 6,133km (0.962 Terra)
Orbital period (Length of year): 219 days (local)
Rotation period (Length of day): 40.2 hours
Satellites: 1 (Edanu, mass 0.816 Luna)
Surface gravity: 1.0G
Atmosphere: Standard (breathable)
Equatorial temperature: 29 degrees C
Geography: The geography of Ingress is sharply and evenly divided, with water covering 50% of the surface. The northern hemisphere is almost entirely covered by a single ocean, with the exception of a large island near the pole, and a small chain of four volcanic islands near the equator. The southern hemisphere is characterized by coastal plains around the equator and rugged uplands. Two inland seas exist, in the Gong and Oval basins.

Sociopolitical Information
Political Affiliation: Capellan Confederation
Ruler: Planetary Diem Diagur Monaco (in fief to Duke Ryan Teng)
Population: 847,000,000
Capital: Anchor City (Pop. 6,500,000)
Major Languages: Standard, Armenian, Russian
Major Products: Agricultural foodstuffs (rice, soybeans), agricultural machinery
Military Deployment:

(Pre-insurgency) 54th Tikonov Home Guard Regiment, 12 regiments planetary militia, paramilitary/internal security forces (Special Tactics Police, Spaceport Customs Authority, etc.)

(Post-insurgency) Militia regiments expanded to 12 divisions through calling up of reservists, limited draft & incorporation of paramilitary forces, small numbers of mercenaries hired (>500)

Number of insurgents unknown (est. 300,000-600,000) believed to fluctuate seasonally, but includes many defectors/deserters from militia/security units and may include off-world mercenaries

Settled early in the Exodus period and thanks to temperate climate and fertile soil quickly became a self-sufficient colony. Major center for agricultural sciences, established at the University of Way. University grounds later converted to [Error, file corrupted. Download again? Y/N]
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #6 on: 16 January 2019, 20:14:43 »
3. MechWarrior Shinobu

Short-mura, Chuo-kogen
Kapera Renbo
3026 nen (Aihei 30 nen), 4 gatsu, 11 nichi

Time has no respect for memories. Time heals all wounds, whatever you might wish otherwise. Shinobu did not wish to heal. He did not want to get over it, put it behind him, move on, or any of the other trite things people tell you that you should be doing. He wished to feel the pain, to go on feeling the pain, to tear the wound open fresh each day so that he might never forget.

He had read about flagellants, a medieval sect of Christians who whipped and scourged themselves as a penance for their sins. To Shinobu, mercenary service was a kind of self-flagellation, a reminder to himself that he was worth no better, that he deserved to live among the honorless, the vain and the greedy, the lowest breed of MechWarrior. Living this life was his way of making sure the scars never healed.

The wakizashi was part of that, a reminder of his weakness. The blade used to commit seppuku. He hadn’t. Too weak, too cowardly. Another failure. So he wore it, every day, made himself look at it every day, remind himself, bring himself face to face with it, so it would never fade. Time would not heal this wound.

He’d make sure.

The village was called Short. In addition to being the name of the town, ‘Short’ was also a fair description of the naming convention on Ingress: the capital was Anchor, the provincial capital of the central highlands was called Way, they’d passed through the towns of Here and There the previous day. True to its name, Short had just one main road, along which most of the shambolic, unlovely concrete and corrugated steel buildings clustered. It was hot. Dusty. Miserable.

As the strategic reserve during the current advance, the Anything Associates arrived in Short after the Capellan infantry. Before the uprising, Ingress had been home to a Home Guard regiment and 12 regiments of militia. Those 12 regiments had been used to triple the size of the militia almost overnight, each one becoming the seed around which had grown a set of virtually untrained, poorly-led and -equipped militia divisions. In Shinobu’s estimation, the Home Guard and old militia hands were decent fighters, but three-quarters of the new divisions were worse than useless in combat, being more of a threat to the civilian population than the enemy. The remaining quarter varied in quality from poor to dreadful to Wilson’s Hussars On a Bad Day.

Short had fallen to one of the worst divisions.

As the five BattleMechs strode down the dusty road through the town, Shinobu saw clumps of men sitting or sprawled listlessly in the shade of the buildings, some puffing cigarettes, others napping with their helmets pulled down over their eyes.

A boxy two-story structure near the center of town was burning sulkily, desultorily, red flames flickering higher then lower with gusts of wind. Thin grey smoke spread across the road. There were three bodies sprawled across the road in front of it, two in brown fatigues with red armbands, one in a white shirt and blue slacks. A pair of black boots peaked from the doorway of the burning building, toes pointed mutely heavenwards.

“Been a long day. Edge of town, we’ll laager there,” Sebastian announced. It pained Shinobu to follow the orders of this, this death-merchant, this gold-addicted war-whore. Which is why he did it. It was supposed to hurt. Shinobu clicked once in acknowledgement, never taking his eyes off the militiamen staring sullenly after the BattleMechs in undisguised envy and resentment.

They parked the ’Mechs in a ragged circle, each machine facing outwards. “Dani, Atom, you’re on first watch,” ordered Sebastian. “Zeke, Shinny, with me. Time to make nice with the locals.”

“First watch again?” complained Danica. Such slovenly lack of discipline, Shinobu thought for perhaps the thousandth time that day.

“Good point, let’s ask the Commander,” Sebastian replied sarcastically. “Oh right, that’s me. Yes, again, Smallwood. So Ah’d be ever so much obliged if you could stand watch, please, pretty please. Not like you’ll be missing much anyhow.”

Atom, Shinobu noted, said nothing. That one might be a true warrior, at least, in the tradition of Benkei, the warrior-priest. His BattleMech was an odd one, V-shaped chest studded with laser ports, massive autocannon barrel slung under one arm. The Dragon’s T&T system refused to identify it, kept asking him to install something called the “Royal Regiment Appendix”.

The three gathered at the foot of the Mjolnir, Sebastian in his customary tank top, revealing the angry pink and bruised purple of the burn than anaconda’d its way up his left arm. Some wounds, time does not heal.

Zeke fidgeted nervously from one foot to the other. “I got the cadre commander’s pistol from the bank,” he whispered to Shinobu, patting a pocket of his grey shorts. “One she used to off herself. ConfedArms, with the Liao mark on the grip. Think that’s worth something?” Mercenaries, Shinobu sneered to himself. Interested in one thing. He shrugged by way of answer, and Zeke looked like a puppy that had been kicked.

There was a group of just over a dozen villagers sitting by the side of the road, warily watched by a squad of militiamen. Three of the villagers were wearing khaki, combat webbing and rebel armbands, the rest long, loose shirts and pants, open-toed sandals, typical farmer’s dress in the region. One rebel was a woman, the other two men. The woman bled from a gunshot wound in her calf, one of the men from a splinter in his arm. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to do anything about either injury.

Shinobu wasn’t sure how he should feel about that. Commoners and unproductives, raising their hands to strike against their masters. This rebellion was an insult to the natural order of society, he told himself. And yet. These militiamen. Barely better than unproductives themselves. Slovenly, undisciplined soldiers, prone to looting and desertion. Like mercenaries, almost.

Shinobu wished someone would bind the woman’s leg, at least. But that was a weak thought. Weak. He quashed it, directed his attention back to the militiamen. Zeke, he noted, had already wandered off, and was showing his purloined pistol to a group of militiamen sprawled in the drainage ditch beside the road. Trying to sell it, of course.

The militia Subcommander lounged nearby, cigarette dangling from his lips, watching the prisoners boredly. His eyes barely registered when the three MechWarriors approached and Sebastian threw him a casual salute. “Commander Gore, Anything Associates.”

The Subcommander took a drag off his cigarette. “Uh-huh.”

“Looks like you had a bit of a scrap here.”


“All cleared out, though?”


There was shouting now, over by the prisoners. Shinobu glanced over, saw a Liao political commissar had arrived. He was yelling at the three rebel prisoners, ordering men to grab the woman’s arms and haul her to her feet. The woman’s injured leg gave way under her, and the two men holding her stumbled, then wrestled her upright again. The commissar continued to shout—what was her unit, where were the rest of her men, where was the command cadre, which villagers were traitors and sympathizers.

“We’ll be parking at the edge of town for the night, push on in the morning.”

“Five hundred yuan,” the Subcommander said, still watching the prisoners. A faint smile played about his lips as he watched the men struggle to keep the female rebel prisoner upright.

Sebastian put his hands on his hips. “Say what, now?”

The Subcommander reluctantly dragged his attention from the entertaining spectacle of the interrogation. “Billeting fee. Five men, one hundred yuan each. Five hundred yuan.”

Shinobu’s hand drifted down to rest on the hilt of his wakizashi. Sebastian laid a cautioning hand on Shinobu’s wrist, but kept his eyes on the Subcommander, shaking his head. “Ah don’t think so.”

The Subcommander plucked the cigarette from his lips and threw it to the ground. His smile faded, replaced with a look of bulldog determination. “Now it’s one thousand yuan. Or I report you to the commissar.” He nodded towards where the man was still yelling at the female prisoner.

“Now listen here—”

Just then, Zeke trotted up, holding an arm patch. A snarling panther’s head against a white star. “Hey guys look what I found on one of the—”

Shinobu turned at the sound of Zeke’s voice and saw movement from the corner of his eye. The commissar had drawn his pistol, and was using the barrel to lift up the woman’s shirt and try to expose her breasts. Suddenly the woman straightened her supposedly wounded leg, hooked it around the ankle of one of her captors and swept it from under him, knocking him sprawling. At the same time, she grabbed the barrel of the commissar’s pistol, jerking it out of his hands. The man staggered backwards, tripped, and landed heavily on his ass, screaming, arms raised to shield his face.

The rebel prisoner got the pistol turned around, clicking off the safety.

There was an ear-shattering burst of gunfire. The second man who’d been holding the prisoner stepped back, unslung his submachinegun, and fired a burst into the prisoner at point-blank range. The woman jackknifed, back erupting in red craters, and flopped to the group. The guard stood over her, straddling the body, and fired another burst straight downwards.

The commissar was back on his feet, face beet red. He snatched his pistol off the ground where the woman had dropped it, stamped over to the next rebel prisoner, pressed the gun to the back of the man’s head and fired. The body went slack and pitched forward, blood pouring out across the ground and into the ditch. The commissar took a step, stood behind the next man, fired. Crack, echoing between the buildings on the street.

Took another step, stood behind the first civilian. Frail, grey haired man. Checkered shirt. Resigned look on his face. The pistol cracked. Another step. A woman, middle-aged, silent tears.

Without thought, Shinobu found he was striding forward, sword half-drawn. Found Sebastian blocking his way. Gloved hand clamped down over Shinobu’s own. “Not now, kamikaze, not now.”


Shinobu tried to wrestle free. Sebastian’s hand on his wrist was iron. Stronger than he looked. Held him with the burned hand, the one that would never heal. “Not our fight, kamikaze,” Sebastian hissed. “No margin in dyin’ a hero.”


“Kill these mothers, kamikaze, there’s a million more just like ‘em.”


“They were dead the minute the rebs decided to set an ambush here.”


Weak. He was weak. Weak for feeling anything for these rebels, these outlaws. In the Combine, their fate would have been the same.


Weak because he allowed himself to be stopped. Maybe he was afraid, afraid to die for these people, as he had been afraid to die for himself. A coward.


There was a pause in the shots, and over Sebastian’s shoulder Shinobu could see it was because the commissar was reloading, swapping out an empty magazine for a full one. There was a line of bodies, fallen in a neat row, and the blood on the ground had swollen from a trickle to a flood. Militiamen were picking over them, removing watches, jewelry, fishing wallets out of pockets. The Subcommander was jogging towards them—not to stop the looting, but to demand his tithe.

Shinobu angrily slammed the blade back into its sheath, and turned his back. Defeated. Defeated by the dirty, filthy banality of it all. Defeated by his own inability to do anything about it, anything at all. He began to angrily stride back towards the BattleMechs, head bowed in shame.

Behind him, he did not see a militiamen turn over one of the dead rebels, and notice too late the grenade the man had concealed under his shirt, and now rolled free. There was a surprised shout, then a deafening blast. The three MechWarriors instinctively crouched at the sound of the detonation behind them, but when they turned there was nothing to see but sprawling octopus arms of orange-tinged smoke and a pattering rain of dirt, concrete fragments and body parts.

From the dust cloud, the commissar came tottering out, dazed, half his uniform torn to shreds, but miraculously alive.

“The frack was that?” Danica’s panicked voice boomed from the communicator in Shinobu’s already assaulted ears. The ground quivered as the Madapult advanced towards them down the road, Atom’s Shootist just behind.

“Nothing important,” Sebastian spat on the road. Then, sarcastically: “Just your average Cappie intelligence op.”

Shinobu strode towards the blinking, shell-shocked commissar. Unsheathed his blade, and in the same, single, fluid motion, cut off the commissar’s head. There was a shocked fountain of blood from the neck, a violent red exclamation, and the body collapsed. Shinobu held the pose for a moment. Wiped the blade on the man’s uniform. Reversed his movement, and sheathed the sword.

Found Sebastian watching him. Saying nothing for a long moment, the two men just regarding one another. Finally, Sebastian shook his head. “The hell you lookin’ so smug about.” Shinobu was sure his face was quite expressionless.

“Lucky I sold the pistol when I did,” Zeke laughed nervously, rebel shoulder patch clutched in his hand. “And look, a rebel spec forces insignia. Suicide squad. Bet that’s worth a couple hundred Cs to a collector.”

The reason Shinobu never spoke was that he was afraid that if he tried, all that would come out was a scream.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #7 on: 17 January 2019, 20:11:23 »
Hmm, seemed to have missed my mark with this one. Not quite found the audience I was hoping but ah well, live and learn.

The idea of posting in installments is to allow for community feedback, comment and discussion, but lacking that I'm just going to throw up a bunch of chapters and let the lurkers read along at their own pace.


4. Danica Smallwood

Central Highlands
15 April, 3026

Fakes. They were all fakes. She was the only one who could see clearly, who was practical, who had their feet on the ground. Time would come, they’d see that. She’d show ‘em.

Four of them sat around a heating unit: Her, Sebastian, Zeke, and the new guy, the brute, Atom. Shinobu on watch in his ’Mech. On the flattened top of a hill, overlooking the terraced rice fields in the valleys below. Fading orange and pink evening light scattered and reflected in the thousand crescent saucers of the flooded paddies.

Couple of MREs cooking themselves on their built-in heating plates. Sebastian already spooning his from the can, going hah-hah-hah between mouthfuls to stop from burning his tongue.

Seb? Forget the accent. Seb wasn’t from the Davion outback, probably never been there. Danica had looked him up—‘Sebastian Gordon’ was from Atreus. Fracking Atreus. Third Marik Militia. Forget the accent. Civil War refugee.

She’d met him in a bar, on Galatea. Should have been a red flag, now that she thought about it. She remembered how the waitress had been star-struck. Hah. If she’d known. “You guys mercenaries?” the waitress had whispered breathlessly. Sebastian had allowed that they were. “Like Natasha Kerensky?”

Sebastian had looked at Danica, back at the waitress. “Yep,” he’d deadpanned. “Exactly like her.”

Danica snorted at the memory.

Sebastian had leaned a communicator against his rucksack, tuned to the Capellan battlenet. A lot of excited chatter going on, synchronized to bright thunder flashes that danced along the horizon. Upside-down lightning.

“Hovertanks inbound—set the AT guns—fire, fire, fire—they’re too fast—where the frack are the BattleMechs—here they come—”

They’d been pursuing the FIA forces south, headed for the regional capital, Way. Seemed the prey had turned, shown they still had claws. Wasn’t a mistake Danica would have made. Whole Capellan high command were a bunch of amateurs, far as she could see.

“You are the chosen hand of vengeance,” Atom was saying to Sebastian, ignoring the communicator. “You must be very proud.”

Atom? Man was two protons short of a nucleus. Not stupid, exactly, but had the unbelievable naivety of the true believer. Trying to act so pure, but in the end he was just a hired killer, just another thug.

“Murderin’ some woman, you mean?” Sebastian regarded a spoonful of stew, as though it held the answer. “Very proud. Dee-lighted.”

“A bad woman, an evil one,” Atom nodded. Danica didn’t think he’d gotten the sarcasm. “Adept Levato would not have chosen you without reason. You must feel very fortunate, to have created such a fine unit.”

“What, this?” Sebastian waved his greasy spoon towards the shabby, battered BattleMechs. There was a long pause. Sebastian dropped the spoon back in the can. “Yep. A real dream come true.”

“Sure,” Atom blinked. The giant looked to Danica for support but she ignored him, pretended to be examining the contents of her own meal. “Any unit can rise to greatness,” Atom went on. “All you need is a little—”

“Ah tell you what we need,” Sebastian interrupted, face set in fierce determination. He let the moment hang, before continuing: “Salt. Damn things’re practically tasteless.”

Zeke said nothing, just lay on the grass with a fuzzy smile on his bearded face, eyes half-closed.

Zeke? Druggie. Keep an eye on him, make sure he never touched her stuff. Tried to act like he had it together, but he was slipping more and more each day. Wait a little more, he’d slip for good. She’d be long gone by then. She had a plan, and the only role Zeke would play in that plan was the fall guy.

Would be nice if there was one of them she could trust, but no, not even Shinobu. Play-acting samurai. Where was his other sword then, ay? Probably stole his little pig-sticker, and the cast-off uniform, from the real deal. No way was this guy one of the Kurita elite. Probably some low-life or yakuza. No, she couldn’t cut him in.

Set Zeke up, plant something of Shinobu’s on him. Get Zeke kicked out, or killed maybe. She would take the con of the Banshee, and the treasure inside. Time her run, when she was on watch and the rest sleeping. Use the money to hire a ship—or maybe work a deal with Liu?—anyway, somehow, anyhow, get down to the Magistracy. It was a matriarchy, women like her would be in demand. Better yet, she heard they let you buy an officer’s commission. Unity. With 900 million C-Bills, she could purchase herself a generalship. Finally get some damned respect.

“Every ohm has a home in Blake’s vision, every amp can camp in Blake’s mission, each volt is a bolt of His thought, each watt has a spot in His heart,” Atom recited. “You see, we all have a role to play. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Danica clapped a hand over her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud, tried to cover it as a fit of coughing. “Like angels pouring honey into mah ears,” Sebastian agreed. Zeke just smiled vaguely and nodded.

Shinobu’s Dragon raised its left arm, pointing north. A few minutes later they heard the chug of an approaching ground car. Sebastian stood, wiping his hands on his shorts and waited, hands on his hips. Atom frowned and then stood, looming over the other two like the Tower of Babel.

An open-topped car crested the rise and before it could skid to a halt, a man with the silver lapel triangles of a Capellan Captain leaped from the back seat and came storming towards them.

“Now why is nobody ever happy to see me?” Sebastian asked softly.

“Because you’re a prick, Seb,” Danica offered. Sebastian grunted and nodded. Meant, fair enough.

“What the freaky frack do you think you’re do—” The Captain registered the presence of Atom, his height, his bulk, his look of mild puzzlement that was slowly avalanching down into anger. The Captain reconsidered. “I have been calling for you for the last 30 minutes. My boys are getting pasted out there!” He waved a hand towards the horizon, where false sunrises blossomed and winked out.

Sebastian shrugged. “Maybe you should get back there an’ give ‘em a hand, then.”

“Get your machines in gear and get out there! Engage the enemy! I want your unit to march right up the center and smash through those enemy lines. That’s an order!”

“Danica, remind me again, what were our orders?” Sebastian turned to her.

“No action without the explicit authorization of Commander Mutai,” she replied. He remembered as well as she did, the faker.

Sebastian turned back to the Captain. “See? Wish Ah could help you.”

The Captain tore his plasteel helmet from his head, and threw it to the ground. It bounced and rolled to an anticlimactic stop against the heating unit. “Frack the freaky fracking chain of command! My regiment is getting slaughtered. Don’t you understand what this means? Do you know what this does to any chance for my promotion? I haven’t slaved away in some malking piss-poor militia all my life just to have this one chance ruined by fracking mercenaries. Now power up, switch on, whatever you freaking fracking need to do, and make me look good out there!”

Sebastian turned to her. “Wha’d’you say, Dani?”

Stalling for time, the liar, hoping the fighting would be over before they arrived, but that was fine with her. She needed Zeke’s Banshee intact. For now. “That’s Commander Abel Mutai, Mercenary Liaison,” she told the Captain helpfully. “Em-you-tee-ay-eye.”

It took another 30 minutes of screaming and cursing for the Captain and his communications officer to get through to Mutai and issue their orders.

They moved down the winding valley in a loose diamond formation, following the course of a broad but shallow, fast-flowing stream. Sebastian’s Mjolnir sloshing through the water in the lead, making a minor tsunami with each footfall. Atom on the left, her Madapult on the right, Zeke trailing behind. Shielded by the other three. Shinobu scouted a little ahead with his faster Dragon.

“Nine HTs, speed one-two-zero, range two thousand.” Shinobu’s battle chatter wouldn’t win any oratory prizes, but at least he spoke.

The four ’Mechs halted. “Gotcha Shinny,” Sebastian replied. “Fall back, grab some altitude, HTs’ll be sticking to the valley.” Danica’s T&T began peppering her display with angry red lozenges, 25-ton hovertanks, with range numbers that were racing down like the second hand on a stopwatch. They’d be on the Associates in less than a minute. No visual yet. Still hidden by the shoulder of a hill and a bend in the river. She backed up a step, another, keeping her Madapult between the onrushing tanks and Zeke’s Banshee.

A flash of grey hurtled around the bend and Sebastian immediately cut loose with a salvo from his shoulder missile rack. Danica’s T&T ID’d it, a Harasser. Almost at the same instant, Atom fired a chest-mounted laser. Idiot, the range was too far. Sebastian’s missiles landed ahead of the tank, blasting geysers in the water. The tank swerved, and was impaled by the searing beam of Atom’s laser.

Danica blinked. Atom had hit. Impossible at that range, but he’d hit.

Grey smoke billowed from the hovertank’s side, then something caught fire and a jet of yellow-white flame flared from the hole. The hovertank plowed into the ground nose-first, flipped, and landed on its crew compartment, crushing the turret beneath it.

Danica was still so stunned by Atom’s shot, she nearly missed another handful of hovertanks tearing around the bend in the river, kicking up great sheets of water as they came. “Danica!” Sebastian shouted in her ears, and she fired the two shoulder-mounted particle cannon reflexively. Fast, they were moving too fast. Her shots detonated on either side of a tank in twin novae, fountaining dirt and rocks harmlessly into the air.

Two tanks scythed in front of Sebastian, loosing clouds of missiles at him as they swept by. Splinters of armor plating were blown free from the Mjolnir’s shoulders and arms. The tankers must’ve figured his left side was weak, with no arm there. They cut left. Not seeing the laser and short-range rack built into a ball turret on the stump there. The river water fountained as the missiles fell short, but one tank slowed, just enough, for Sebastian’s laser to burn a line down the side of the hull, from nose to rear stabilizer. Armor plates curled and peeled away, glowing white hot, and the tank lost power, slamming into the ground and gouging a furrow before sliding to a stop.

“Guys!” shouted Zeke, panicked.

Danica twisted her machine around, saw a pair of tanks were circling the Banshee, just out of his reach. Zeke had crouched, arms raised to cover the torso and the cargo. The armor there was already cratered from a dozen missile hits.

Danica clenched her teeth, sighted. Squeezed. Metal-on-metal scream of the particle cannon. Missed. Lead the target, lead the target. PPCs weren’t point-and-shoot like lasers. Lead the target. A tank darted behind the Banshee, firing at the unprotected back. At her ticket out of here, her ticket to a better life.

“Do something!” Zeke wailed.

Banshee blocking her shot. Wait for the tank to come around the other side. Anticipate. She fired. Twin bolts of cobalt slammed into the nose of the Harasser, erupting in a corona of dazzling white fire that consumed the front third of the tank and tore the rest apart.

The second tank veered away. Then Atom’s Shootist was pounding past her, autocannon booming. Shells smashed into the rear of the Harasser, ignited the ammunition, and blew the tank to pieces in a tumbling fireball.

And they were retreating, on unheard signal the remaining tanks heeled over, and fled back up the valley. Turrets angled backwards, scattering random missile fire Parthian-style as they zig-zagged away.

Then Shinobu’s Dragon was there, blocking their path. Autocannon thudding. Shells detonating among the tankers. Punching a series of holes in the lead tank’s turret.

The five remaining hovertanks cut power and slowed to a stop. Danica saw a red light flash on her communications panel. The enemy, asking for parley. She clicked the channel, set to listen only, see what Sebastian would say.

“Sebastian Gore, Commander, Anything Associates,” he introduced himself. “Make this good.”

“Captain Khitai, Barsegh’s Bandits. We ask for quarter.” Danica’s eyebrows shot up. Not FIA, then. Mercenaries. So much for the idealism of the Freedom for Ingress Alliance, she thought. Guess revolutionary fervor didn’t count for much when the other side had BattleMechs. So they’d hired off-world mercs, just like the Cappies they were fighting against.

Fakes, just like everyone else.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #8 on: 17 January 2019, 20:15:56 »
5. Zeke Fallon

Ingris, CC
About an hour since my last smoke. Only got two more pipes left. Gotta find a plug, man, get some more smoke. Think Atom has any? He looks like he knows people. Yeah, hit him up, score some smoke. That’s how you do it. Man, I could go for a smoke right about now.

Zeke Fallon was sure he was the unluckiest man in the galaxy.

Well, someone had to be. That was just logic. If luck was quantifiable and distributed throughout the human race in a bell curve, then mathematically there had to be someone who had less of it than any other person in existence. That person just happened to be Zeke Fallon, MechWarrior, Anything Associates.

Never mind the fact that as a man currently with all his faculties and limbs intact, free of major diseases and illnesses, in possession of liberty, a roof over his head, three meals a day, a place to sleep, and a war machine to keep him safe, he was more fortunate than about 80% of the human race. No, there was no doubt in his mind, when it came to luck, Zeke always came dead last.

It hadn’t always been that way. Fresh from Nagelring, he’d been assigned to the 12th Donegal Guards, a prestige unit, the Deadly Dozen. And that’s when everything had started to go to shit.

First R&R furlough and he’d been introduced to the smoke. Smoke a pipe, unwind, meet some girls, have some drinks, smoke a pipe, hit the casino, watch the croupier rake away his money, smoke a pipe, discover he was flat broke, smoke a pipe, start stealing from the others to pay for his habit, smoke a pipe, caught and court-martialed, smoke a pipe, smoke a pipe, smoke a pipe.

Unlucky. Just a bad break.

The pipe was like the mercenary trade, he figured, which meant he and the merc life were made for each other. Mercenaries fight to earn money. What do with the money? Buy more guns, ammo, tanks, armor plating, lasers and whatnot, so they could fight some more, so they could get more money, so they could go on fighting. Classic addiction.

Need money to smoke, but coming down off the smoke makes you dull and lethargic. So you got to smoke so you got enough energy to get some money to buy some more smoke so you could smoke to get enough energy to get some money … and then three years later you were in the worst mercenary unit in the Sphere, in the middle of the worst contract on the worst planet in the worst successor house. Just. The worst. The unluckiest man alive.

That could change though.

The back of his Banshee was hollowed out, and in that hollow now nestled hundreds of crates, filled to the brim with the contents of this planet’s central bank reserves. Worth, as Sebastian had mentioned repeatedly, over 900 million C-Bills. You could buy a lot of smoke with 900 mega-Cs. He just needed to figure a way of keeping it for himself. Just needed to think. Needed a smoke. That would help him think.

Zeke, Atom and Sebastian were standing in front of the tankers, the surrendered company of Barsegh’s Bandits. About a dozen of them. Atom had them covered with a blazer rifle—rifle, hell, thing was a double-barreled laser cannon, looked like it should be mounted on a tank—but that seemed excessive. The Bandits didn’t look too eager to escape or fight or do much of anything. Some sat, knees drawn up to their chests, others lounged on the grass, picking idly at the blades or talking to each other in low voices. Real relaxed. Maybe they had some smoke?

In the growing dark they looked like little, weather-worn statues, Zeke thought. Like the stone Buddhist jizo you saw on Combine worlds, the ones they put up in memory of their dead children.

He fished the panther insignia out of his pocket and held it up for them to see. “Hey guys, FIA spec forces patch.” A few eyes glanced up, eager for some entertainment, if nothing else. “Real rare, only their suicide assault squads wear these. Got anything to trade for it?” The eyes slid away. “Anyone? Anyone?” He stood there a minute, began to feel foolish. Angrily stuffed the patch back in his pocket.

Sebastian and their Captain, little guy with a van Dyke beard called Khitai, were talking in low voices. A red ember of a cigarette held in Khitai’s hand flicked back and forth as he explained some point. Zeke squinted, but no, it was just a regular cigarette.

“Hey Atom, my guy,” Zeke sidled over to the giant. “You seem really chill, am I right?”

Atom didn’t take his eyes from the prisoners, but nodded easily. “Of course. I am at one with the galaxy.”

Zeke snapped his fingers. “Knew it!” he exclaimed, then hurriedly looked over at Sebastian, worried he’d spoken too loud. No, the Commander was still deep in conversation. Quieter, Zeke said: “You got something to help you unwind, yeah? Something to take your mind off things. If you know what I mean?”

Atom looked down at him, and beamed happily. “Of course. You, too?” he asked.

“Oh yeah, I mean, for years now,” Zeke said, eagerly. “You got it with you? Help a guy out, my guy. Set me up. Just a little bit of haze, you know, little light fog, 50 C’s worth. Just to tide me over.”

That puzzled Atom. “Of course I have it. But why this talk of money? It is free to all who seek it, my friend.”

“It is? Fan-fracking-tastic!” Unity bless these lunatic cultists. He knew his luck had to change some time. “Oh man, I knew I loved ComStar for a reason. Free, yes, you’re absolutely right, free. It is. To all who seek it. Like me, man. I do. I seek it.”

Atom laid a titanic hand on Zeke’s shoulder, nearly knocking him off-balance. “Then come to my tent, when we are done here,” he said.

“Oh yes my guy, absolutely yes. You got your rig, or. You need me to, you know? Bring one. You know? Pee-eye-pee-ee?”

Atom chuckled, like a parent listening to the questions of a child. “Brother, nothing but your mind is needed to understand the Collected Wisdom of Blessed Jerome Blake.”

Zeke’s grin dissipated. “The what?”

“I shall read to you my favorite passages,” Atom reassured him. “Then, you and I shall chill, unwind, take our minds off things and be at one with the universe.”

Zeke was saved from answering by Sebastian, who came ambling over, looking thoughtful. “You two getting’ on all right?” he asked.

Atom nodded. “Tonight we will read together from the Collected Wisdom of Blessed Jerome Blake.”

Sebastian titled his head and cocked an eyebrow. “You will?” He shot Zeke a look. Zeke just shrugged, guiltily. “Welp, much as Ah hate to stand in the way of a man’s education, Ah’m gonna ask you to put your plans on hold for a spell.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the prisoners. “Zeke, you are going to escort Khitai and his boys back to Anchorhead and our DropShip.”

“Oh hell, yes!” Zeke exclaimed. His luck was getting better and better. He might be the luckiest man in the galaxy. He could see what Sebastian was thinking—keep the Banshee and its cargo out of danger by sending him to chaperone their prisoners back to Anchor City, out of the war zone. This was fine with Zeke. First up, he knew a couple of guys at the spaceport who could get some smoke. Better yet, he’d be away from Sebastian’s watching eye, with all the money. Maybe work something out with the DropShip Captain, Liu. Blast off a little ahead of schedule. That might work.

Zeke blinked. Sebastian was watching him oddly. “I mean … uh, you guys sure you’ll be okay without me?” Zeke assayed a smile, without much success.

“We’ll manage somehow,” Sebastian smiled, and put a hand on Zeke’s shoulder. And kept it there. “Now Zeke, Ah’m not one to criticize, let he who is without sin an’ all that, but Ah know you’ve got your vices. That’s okay. Feel free to indulge from time to time while you’re waiting. But Zeke, buddy, pal, Zeke, if you are not there when Ah get back, if the gold is not there, well then, Ah might get a little ornery. Ah might forget mah forgivin’ ways.” Suddenly, Sebastian’s Python was in his hand, the barrel jammed against the underside of Zeke’s jaw. “Fact is, Ah might track you down, shove that pipe so far down your throat you’ll be farting like a steam train the rest o’ your life. We clear?”

Zeke tried to nod. Found he couldn’t, with the pistol pressed cruelly against his chin. Settled for an “Mmmhmm” instead.

“Outstanding.” The pistol was gone, lurking back in its hip holster. Waiting. Sebastian gave Zeke’s shoulder a final squeeze, and let go.

Atom had watched the entire exchange without expression. He frowned now though, an obelisk of finger raised in thought. “Shouldn’t prisoners be turned over to the Capellans, though?”

“Prisoners?” Sebastian repeated, in mock shock. “Atom, mah friend, is that any way to talk about your new comrades? Gentlemen,” Sebastian spread an arm to indicate the waiting tankers. “Say hello to the new Armored Recon Lance, Anything Associates, and their commanding officer, Lieutenant Khitai.” Khitai threw them a wave.

Sebastian leaned close to Zeke. “You stick with him,” he whispered. “You keep your mouth shut, or. Choo-choo. You get me?”

Unlucky. Zeke was the unluckiest man in the galaxy.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #9 on: 17 January 2019, 20:21:34 »
6. Way City

Neither Here nor There
Dawn, Day 126/Year 786 (Traditional/Local) 15 April, 3026 (Terran Standard)

The ridge overlooked the city of Way, still deep in shadow in the grey half-light. The clustered buildings were featureless lumps, a haphazard graveyard filled with mismatched tombstones. The embers of a dozen fires flickered here and there, shrouding the city with a funerary veil of drifting smoke.

The dark thread of the Vine River traced a curving, sine-wave route through the city, spanned by the bony ribs of half a dozen bridges. Further south, across the river, was a massive rectangle of nothing, a lightless black abyss without visible lights, buildings or roads.

They could hear the gunfire, as they sat on the ridge, the rattle of automatic weapons, the thud of autocannon, the insect buzz of laser and particle fire. An artillery battery had been sited at the foot of the ridge, great guns booming at irregular intervals.

The arrow shapes of delta-winged aircraft screamed overhead and flitted through waving, arching streams of tracer fire, letting fall a line of tiny black dots that vomited and splashed flame across the buildings. One bright stream brushed an aircraft, and transformed it into a blazing comet, plunging down to add its own small contribution to the fires consuming the city.

Sebastian sat on a crate, chin in his hand, elbows on his knees. “So go downtown, thing’s will be great when you’re downtown,” he hummed to himself. “No finer place for sure.”

Two more crates were on either side of him, but empty of occupants. Shinobu stood, arms folded across his chest, watching the city. Impassive, as always. Danica paced behind the two, stopping every once in a while to stare off in the direction Zeke and the turncoat tankers had gone.

(“This better not be a double-cross,” Levato had called him—most likely she was in contact with Atom, or else had other eyes on him. He'd told her not to worry. She hadn't sound convinced.)

“That’s the last we’ll ever see of him, you realize that?” Danica’s voice was tinged with desperation. “Nine hundred million, gone.” Captain Liu, she was thinking, she’d have to work that angle now. Sisterhood, girls in a man’s world, that kind of thing. Get her to stall, stay. “Poof, literally up in smoke.”

“Oh Ah don’t know,” said Sebastian without turning around. “Have a little faith in the incompetence of your fellow man, Dani. Zeke’s too hazed to work up a plan, Liu too cautious and Khitai don’t know either of ‘em so he’ll have a hard time double-crossin’ us all on his ownsome.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Cain’t,” he shrugged. “But everybody’s hungry for something. Trick is to finding what that is, an’ using it. Zeke wants out, Ah’ll use that. Khitai wants his freedom. Ah’ll use that.”

“And you? What’s your hunger, Seb?”

“Ah got me a fierce hunger for squaddies that won’t question mah every order,” he said dryly. “Seems Ah’m destined to starve to death.”

“What about you Shinobu. Don’t you care?”

Sebastian looked over at the Kuritan. Shinobu just scratched his neck, and sighed. “Well don’t you start in on me,” Sebastian groused. “Everybody’s a critic now.”

Danica threw up her hands in disgust, came around to stand in front of Sebastian and block his view. “How do you do it? One day you’re planning a heist, the next day you don’t care what happens to it?”

“Not at all,” Sebastian said calmly, tilting his face slightly to look up at her. “We gotta trust each other at some point. Maybe Ah’m right, maybe Ah’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But if we let our greed run away with us, we’ll just tear ourselves apart. So please, pretty please Dani, drop this.” He kicked his heel against the trunk he was sitting on. “’Sides, there’s 25 kilos in here, 25 in the other two trunks. That’s a million each for you, me and Shinny. We’re set even if Zeke skips town or we never find this Zlato person.”

Danica looked to where Atom sat alone, leafing through a large book with a brightly-colored dust jacket: The Collected Wisdom of Blesse Jerome Blake: A Primer for Children Age 8—12. “That man gives me the willies. His ’Mech gives me the willies. This whole setup gives me the willies. We could just arrange an, you know, accident,” she suggested quietly.

“An spend the rest of our lives on the run from ComStar? No thank you.” Sebastian nodded down towards the dying city, and the vast acres of nothing lurking at its center. “We get down there, we find this Commandante Zlato like Levato wants, we do the job, we get out.”

Would ComStar let them go so easily, Danica wondered. Once someone found they could blackmail you, what could make them stop? She shelved the thought. Problems for another day. “What is down there, anyway?” Danica gestured to the dark heart of the city.

“Called the Citadel,” Sebastian told her. “Fortress set up by the Terran Alliance, seriously ancient. Alliance, you dig? Not Hegemony. Must be what, seven, eight centuries old. Bunkers hard enough to stop a nuke. Got a spaceport at the south end, where they’ve been getting reinforced from off-planet, Barsegh’s boys an’ others. The Citadel was abandoned way back when the Alliance collapsed, just left to rot. People here forgot about it, ‘til Way got big, expanded, butted into it. They left it untouched, kind of like a park, a memorial, but Atom says the FIA reopened it. Got all their top guys inside. We go down there, we crack it open.”

“Just like that?”

“Maybe. Ah dunno,” he shrugged again. “Maybe there’ll be a surprise.”
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #10 on: 17 January 2019, 20:26:26 »
SAFE Assessment of Forces on Eve of Battle of Way


Militia divisions consist of three regiments of three battalions each, plus integral support elements (typically including mortars/light artillery, transportation and logistics, medical, etc.). Each division is led by a Colonel (usually the Mandrinn of the region where the division was raised), each regiment by a Captain, battalions by a Commander, companies by a Subcommander. Manpower c. 15,000-20,000 per division.

Militia division quality is highly variable and dependent upon the presence of experienced junior officers and NCOs from pre-insurgency regiments. These experienced men may be concentrated in one regiment, or parceled out among the entire division, depending on the policies of the local Mandrinn-Colonel. Emphasis on political orthodoxy and loyalty to Liao regime hampers promotion of truly talented personnel. Senior officer class largely staffed by local aristocracy, without regard for military experience or ability. As a result, while the divisions are sometimes successful in small-unit operations, large-scale maneuvers and operations have frequently ended in disaster (see: Battle of Anchor City). Regional rivalries also hamper strategic coordination.

Equipment is a mix of Confederation-standard and locally-produced models. Local production largely limited to cheap, unreliable, mass-produced slugthrowers, often made of stamped metal. Mobility is similarly lacking, provided by either light APCs or unarmored trucks. Units are unable to effectively coordinate with armor due to lack of training. All units except the Home Guard are severely deficient in heavy weapons, particularly anti-tank and anti-BattleMech weapons, and thus frequently break and rout when confronted by armor (see: Battle of the Highlands).

Order of Battle

54th Tikonov Home Guard Regiment: Shattered in the FIA assault on Anchor City. Withdrawn from combat to rebuild.

1st (Anchor) Division: Filled out by recruits from Anchor city police and internal security units. Well-equipped, but lacking experience in operations above the squad level. Sustained heavy casualties during the Battle of Anchor City, now placed in reserve.

2nd (Path) Division (CO: Aristakes Leyan): Currently engaging mainforce FIA units around Way City. Average unit, though lacking experienced junior officers. Record marred by a number of friendly-fire incidents involving 3rd Division.

3rd (Flat) Division (CO: Ghaukas Karayan): Currently engaging mainforce FIA units around Way City. Began the battle as one of the best divisions, but has sustained heavy losses. Troublingly high number of friendly-fire incidents involving 2nd Division.

4th (Highland) Division: High proportion of draftees from fractious, independent-minded highland communities. High rates of desertion, low morale. Sustained heavy losses attempting to block FIA retreat south from Anchor. No longer combat effective.

5th (Triangle) Division: Equipped with ancient, 28th century firearms, many of which fail in combat situations. As a result, morale is rock-bottom and small-unit leaders show no offensive spirit. Combat ineffective.

6th (Gong) Division: Divided by feud among three brothers from the local Mandrinn family. As a result, units incapable of coordinated action or offensive operations.

7th (Steppe) Division: Fair unit, improving after provincial Mandrinn hired mercenary instructors to train new recruits.

8th (Peak) Division: Fair unit, has achieved limited success in pacifying its province.

9th (Orchestra) Division: One of the better divisions.

10th (Knee) Division: Severe discipline problems. Military police have twice been called to restore order, and over a hundred men have been executed for murder, theft, smuggling, kidnapping and extortion of civilians, arson or other crimes.

11th (Throne) Division: Fair unit, province is now largely pacified.

12th (Marsh) Division: Currently lacks uniforms and most of its heavy weapons due to ‘misplacement’ of cargoes by logistics personnel (i.e. sold on the black market, often to the insurgents). Rebellious, incapable of offensive operations.

Anything Associates: Disreputable heavy BattleMech lance of questionable effectiveness and reliability. Cleared by ComStar of accusations of incompetence and disobedience during the Battle of Anchor City. Helped blunt the counterattack against the 4th Division, though ComStar again rejected a request to censure the unit for failing to act more swiftly.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #11 on: 17 January 2019, 20:35:02 »
7. Mercenary Liaison/Commander Abel Mutai

North Bank of the Vine River
Way City
Day 126/Year 786 (Traditional/Local) 16 April, 3026 (Terran Standard)

He came from a long line of warriors. Military family, going back 10 generations of proud service to the Confederation. Older brother in the Chesterton Voltigeurs. He was the family disappointment, desk job, rear areas, mercenary liaison. This was his chance to prove them wrong. He needed action, he needed a victory.

Which was why he now found himself crouch-running along a cratered road, one hand clapped to the top of his helmet to stop it bouncing. Towards the bridges over the Vine River. And the sound of gunfire.

Damn but it was hot. Militiamen waiting in nervy, restless clumps along the road, most stripped to the waist, even the women, wearing unfastened plasteel armor vests with nothing underneath. They saw Mutai’s rank tabs and watched him warily, in case he was about to order them into battle. A few shook their heads or rolled their eyes at the sight of a man in full uniform running towards the fight.

One of the two recruits escorting him tugged his sleeve, motioned for him to crouch down behind a half-blasted wall. “Wait here for the Force Leader,” the man said. “He’ll take you to the Battalion CP.”

Mutai nodded, chest heaving, struggling to get his breath back. Looked around. Lance Sergeant standing nearby, communicator jammed between her chin and shoulder, shouting at someone on the other end. Couple of recruits clustered around her, flinching or ducking whenever there was an especially loud crack of cannonfire. Sergeant took no notice, just kept on shouting.

Someone was lying face-down on a stretcher. Mutai couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead. There was a ragged hole in their armor vest, and the stretcher under it was drenched dark.

There was a recruit blubbering, great wracking sobs, balled up like an infant on the ground. Another sat next to him, glazed eyes looking at nothing, cradling a combat shotgun in his arms like a baby. A political commissar stood over the two, haranguing them. “For the people of the Confederation! For the glory of the Liao family! Get up and fight, you cowards, you traitors. Get up, I said!”

The crying man only buried his head in his arms and went on wailing. The other didn’t respond at all.

With a snarl of disgust, the commissar unbuttoned the flap over his pistol holster, drew his gun and placed the barrel against the crying man’s temple. There was a shot, a bright spurt of blood. The crying stopped. The second man sprung to his feet, eyes focusing on the face of the commissar.

“Good soldier, that’s more like it—” began the commissar.

In a single convulsive movement, almost a spasm, the second soldier leveled his shotgun, and blew the commissar’s head off. As the body toppled backwards, the soldier let his shotgun fall, eyes going glazed again. Slumped back down. Like a flower, Mutai thought incongruously, wilting once its purpose was accomplished.

The Lance Sergeant had fallen silent. Everyone stared at the comatose shotgunner, then at Mutai. Waiting for orders, he realized suddenly. Right. He was the only officer in sight. Right. So. Orders. Mutai stood up on shaky legs, trying to tug his uniform into place. A dozen pairs of eyes watched him. Okay. So. Command. What to do? Execute the man? Arrest him? He opened his mouth.

“WHAT THE MALKING FRACK ARE YOU IDIOTS STARING AT?” The voice was not Mutai’s. He turned to see a vibrating ball of anger dressed in the uniform of a Force Leader come striding towards the group. “YOU, YOU!” He pointed at two recruits. “GET HIM OUT OF HERE.” Two men rushed forward with obvious relief, took the comatose man by the arms and dragged him, unresisting, down the road. “WHERE THE FRACK IS MY FIRE MISSION, NGUYEN?”

The Lance Sergeant looked sheepish, mumbled “Said we’re Priority C, sir. Tryin’ to get us bumped higher.”

“WELL TRY A LITTLE FRACKING HARDER,” the Force Leader bawled. “WE’RE NOT HANDING OUT ANY FRACKING MEDALS FOR TRYING.” Finally, he turned on Mutai. “You Mutai?” The volume, in contrast to his previous bellowing, was almost bearable.

“Commander Mutai,” he said stiffly.

“If you were any kind of commander, you would have stopped this,” the Force Leader pointed at the two bodies sprawled beside the wall. “Sir.” He shook his head and spat in disgust. “Follow me and stay down. Otherwise you’ll end up like them.”

They made their way through a twisted, mad, funhouse landscape of off-kilter concrete slabs, shattered pillars and the steel bones of buildings poking through the ruins. Their destination, far as Mutai could see, was a broad five-story concrete building, one side of which had collapsed into a ramp of rubble and twisted metal. The Force Leader sprang sure-footed from block to leaning slab to blasted pillar, Mutai stumbling in his wake.

The militia had man-handled a heavy recoilless rifle into the ground level of the CP building, barrel pointed at a hole knocked in the wall. The crew were shirtless, wore bandannas wrapped around their mouths, goggles over their eyes. When the cannon fired, Mutai had to clap his hands over his ears to stop from going deaf. A storm of whirling concrete dust was blown through the room by the back-blast, stinging his eyes.

They crept up the stairs to the second level. Saw someone lying on the floor, head bound like a mummy in thick loops of medical gauze. All around were sandbagged walls and windows. A couple of panels of reflective/ablative anti-laser sheeting had been tacked up, too. Loopholes knocked through the walls, through which infantrymen poked their rifles and loosed rattling bursts of fire. The men by the windows, Mutai noticed, wouldn’t even look, just kept their heads down, raised their rifles over the ledge and squeezed off a dozen rounds blind.

They waited on the last step, just below the level of the floor, before the Force Leader waved him on, dashed to the far side of the floor and up a third set of steps.

Half the third floor was missing, a jagged bite ripped out of one side. A man in full uniform, with the bronze bar and inverted silver triangle of a Captain at his neck, was crouched by a field periscope set below the ragged hole where a window had once been. Half a dozen other men squatted nearby. The Captain looked up as Mutai shuffled low across the floor and threw a fist-to-breast salute. “Commander Mutai, Mercenary Liaison.”

“Captain Volkov, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Division,” the Captain looked up from the periscope, sketching a salute back. “Good to see a man fully dressed for a change.” The Captain through a significant look at the bare-chested Force Leader, who might as well have been carved of stone. “You’re here to guide the ’Mechs on target for us? About time. The Davion puppets have been giving us a hell of a time. Come, look.”

Mutai crawled over next to Volkov, and peered into the periscope. The building was at the edge of the Vine River, at the bottom of a broad U-bend that curved away from it on either side, giving a panoramic view in either direction. The river here was perhaps 300 meters wide, sluggish and brown, its banks railed and concreted. Buildings clustered tightly on both sides of the river. From the opposite side, flashes of laser fire winked from almost every building. A Partisan tank was parked in the shadows of one building. The turret swiveled from side to side, as though its barrels were sniffing the air. Its quad cannons kicked up plumes of dust each time it fired.

“They seem, uh, well-equipped.” Mutai swallowed.

“Where did peasant farmers and factory workers get hardware like that, eh?” Volkov growled next to him. “For years they were an insignificant, hopeless little band of misfits, then suddenly a year ago they start fielding laser rifles, field guns, AA batteries, tanks. Cursed Davion stooges and running dogs. We’ve tried to take the bridge twice so far, but there’s just too much firepower on their side.”

Mutai swiveled the periscope down to look at the bridge, a two-lane bridge span across the river, below and to the right of the building. Sure enough, the blackened husks of a handful of vehicles littered the near side. Bodies lay in heaps along the length, most hugging the railings on either side, though it had not helped them. There was also a strange clump of bodies clustered in the middle of the span. Mutai adjusted the magnification.

“Children,” he whispered. “Civilians.”

Volkov shrugged. “Orders. We don’t let anyone across—force the Davion-lovers to feed the population, run down their supplies faster. Some of them might be insurgents, too, sent to infiltrate. Mind you, half of that is their work, too. They shot down as many refugees as we did.”

“Right. Okay.” Mutai sat back from the periscope, wiping his eyes. Dead children still swimming before his eyes. He blinked, looked down and saw that his hands were shaking. “So. Right. What’s the target?”

“They’ve got a strongpoint in an old tractor factory,” said Volkov. “Key to their position. Take that out, we can crack their lines open, roll up the whole far bank. You can see it just over there.” Volkov stood up, pointing down through the shattered window.

There was a metallic ping. Then the crack of Volkov’s helmet hitting the floor. A neat, round hole in the front, glowing white-hot. Volkov slumped forward, cracking his head against the wall in front of him, then slid down in a boneless heap.

“Shit,” Mutai gasped, throwing himself flat. He noticed nobody else had. “What was that?”

“Laser. Sniper,” grunted the Force Leader. “Silly bugger.”

A series of blasts rocked the building. Mutai, who had been struggling to one knee, was immediately pitched over again. “And that?”

“Felt like autocannon. Volkov just made us a target. Probably their AA tank.”

The walls shook. Something detonated beneath their feet, throwing Mutai a few centimeters bodily into the air, sending a blast of thick smoke up the stairway. Coughing, choking screams followed a moment later.

“What do I do?” Mutai whispered. Nothing, he suspected. Wait for the Partisan AA tank to reload and fire again. Lie there and die.

The Force Leader thrust a communicator in his face. “You’re the mercenary liaison. Liaise.”

The communicator in Mutai’s hand squawked. He recognized the voice immediately, though he wished he didn’t. “Mutai, ole buddy, where you at?” asked Sebastian.

Smug bastard. “Commander Gore, where the hell are you?”

“Ah asked you first.”

The Force Leader waved a map in front of Mutai, stabbed a finger down near the river. “Grid Tango six-nine,” Mutai squinted down at the map, trying to read.

“Sierra,” hissed the Force Leader.

“Grid Sierra six-nine. We’re under fire from a tank. Next to a, um, bunker, thing, ah, on the other side of the river. Oh Unity, that was close. Unity. You’ve got to get me out of here. It’s blasting this place apart. Hurry, hurry, I order you to hurry. You explain it, Force Leader,” Mutai frantically thrust the communicator handset back, and curled up into a ball.

“Hardened position at Hotel seven-four, maybe company-strength, SRM. One entrenched SPAA tank on right flank. Multiple towed AC-5s in a strongpoint. Tractor works, steel-reinforced concrete.” It was odd, listening only to the Force Leader’s half of the conversation. “Forward positions all along the river bank, overlapping fields of fire. Small arms, machineguns. The river? Depth six meters. Right. Wilco.” The Force Leader clicked off.

Another shudder through the building. The ceiling sagged. Pulverized concrete falling thickly, showering down like a waterfall. Again a blast, and the ceiling cracked open, then two slabs tore free and plunged down, shattering to pieces as they hit the floor. A chunk bounced off Mutai’s helmet, making his head ring like a gong.

The building couldn’t take another hit like that. Wouldn’t matter if Gore’s men came or not. He’d be dead.

“They coming?” Mutai yelled over the roaring in his ears, still flat on the floor.

He didn’t have to wait for the Force Leader’s answer. He felt it. A steady tremor in the floor, working its way up from the ground. Growing stronger and stronger. Rubble on the floor began to rattle and dance, synched to the tremors. Mutai wanted to move, but found it impossible. Gripped with primordial fear, a rabbit part of his brain screaming that something big was coming, that he had to hide, disappear.

The floor was jumping now with each step. Mutai wasn’t sure if he could have stood even if he’d wanted to. The sound next. The crush of titanic footfalls, yes, but also a kind of self-contented purr of machinery. Metallic muscles flexing and readying. Like a weapon being cocked. A deadly promise. Gunfire on both banks of the river died away, as hundreds of men held their breath.

Mutai turned his head, and through the hole in the wall he could see the BattleMechs coming. Huge, so toweringly huge. He was on the third floor and he still wasn’t level with their heads. Sebastian’s mongrel machine in the lead, a riot of mismatched armor plates welded at eye-scrambling angles. Then the shark profile of the Madapult, the swollen shoulders of a Dragon, the sleek one he didn’t recognize. The ’Mechs spread out along the river bank, and halted.

“Might wanna close your eyes for this,” Sebastian’s voice boomed over his machine’s external loudspeakers.   

Mutai was still puzzling that one over when the Madapult fired. Brief halos crackled around the muzzles of the two massive cannon sitting on its shoulders, leaving after-images burned into his retinas. Then two blinding columns of blue-white light, sun-bright, lashed out, washing out every other light, throwing leaping, jagged shadows across the broken room. Superheated air howled like a banshee.

Mutai blinked furiously, rubbing his eyes, trying to wipe away the spots that swam before him. He crawled to the window, where the periscope had fallen and shattered, and peaked over the bottom edge. The Partisan tank steamed, armor still glowing from where the double particle cannon had hit. Amazingly, the turret still moved, angling towards the ’Mechs. Its answering volley, which had seemed like the end of the world a minute before, now seemed a petty, paltry thing.

The other three ’Mechs joined in, blasting laser fire and clouds of missiles into the tank. Like it was suddenly the apex of a New Year light show, four or five beams converging on it at once. Hits came so fast the outline was blurred in clouds of smoke. A boom. An arrowhead of dense smoke lifted into the air above where the tank had been, and its guns fell silent.

As if awaiting a signal, the insurgents opened up with every other gun on the four machines: machineguns, lasers, rifles. Everything. And it was useless. Pinprick laser beams splatted into nothing against the armor. Bullets pinged and sang away, without leaving so much as a scratch. Sebastian’s Mjolnir took no notice, strode forward off the edge of the river bank and dropped straight down into the water. A ring of two-meter high waves raced out from its impact, swamping the bridge, spilling over the river banks.

The Mjolnir strode forward, twisting right and left, raking the opposite bank with three chest-mounted lasers. Buildings exploded and disintegrated in storms of shattered timbers and cement blocks. The other four machines were firing too, blue and red light, streams of glowing yellow tracers, that tore into houses, shops, warehouses and factories. Not a building was left standing along the shoreline.

The Mjolnir stepped up onto the far bank, like a Promethean bather rising from a tub, water falling in great sheets from its legs. The right arm reached down and simply slapped a house flat. The other BattleMechs were crossing in Sebastian’s wake, sloshing the river water back and forth in massive waves. They didn’t even bother shooting at some buildings, just walked right through them, squashing them underfoot. The strongpoint, the bunker that had thrown back the assaults of an entire battalion, was blasted to pieces in seconds.

“Makes you why we even sodding bother,” whispered the Force Leader, as though reading Mutai’s thoughts.

Mutai braced his palms on the window sill, and staggered to his feet. Fumbled with the strap of his helmet with shaking hands, and let it clatter to the ground. It looked like the far side of the river had been hit by a nuke. Nothing left standing, just shattered stumps of walls, greasily burning fires.

“Congratulations, Commander,” the Force Leader said. “A great victory.”
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #12 on: 18 January 2019, 00:23:20 »
great as usual
Resident Smartass since 1998
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #13 on: 18 January 2019, 04:37:18 »
Dubble_g, the lack of feedback may - and this is just my guess - come from the very fact that your stories are about the best this forum has to offer. What is there to comment except "Awesome read, keep going on!", "Please write moar!", "Hooray, another Dubble_g story!!!"?

I am actually surprised that no one from CGL has yet reached out to you to ask you to write for them. Or have they? As one other poster has already said, your fan fiction surpassed most of what the professional hired BT writers publish. I would gladly pay for a full-sized in-canon novel written by you. Also, I was happy to read that you don't write AU stories. I never understood the need to deviate from canon, since the official storyline offers so much creative freedom.

Oh, and before I forget: Awesome read, keep going on!  ;)


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #14 on: 18 January 2019, 06:26:40 »
We lurkers are just enjoying the story.
This is just the perfect merc unit, a bunch of losers looking for next c-bill. With 900 million of them now.
Keep up the great work and i'll get back to my beer, popcorn and your story. :beer: :popcorn:
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #15 on: 18 January 2019, 08:07:48 »
Hey Dubble_g,

 you are posting fasting than I can read  :D

 This is very, very good.

Best Regards,


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #16 on: 18 January 2019, 08:52:46 »
great as usual

This is very, very good.
:thumbsup: Ta, Dave & Christian. Strategic pause coming up this weekend, until I get my PC back on Monday.

We lurkers are just enjoying the story.
Aight then. When I'm wrong, boy, am I wrong. Good to know, enjoy the popcorn, unless it's flavored popcorn rather than salted, in which case sit in the corner and think about what you've done.

Dubble_g, the lack of feedback may - and this is just my guess - come from the very fact that your stories are about the best this forum has to offer. What is there to comment except "Awesome read, keep going on!", "Please write moar!", "Hooray, another Dubble_g story!!!"?

I am actually surprised that no one from CGL has yet reached out to you to ask you to write for them. Or have they? As one other poster has already said, your fan fiction surpassed most of what the professional hired BT writers publish. I would gladly pay for a full-sized in-canon novel written by you.
That would be nice if true, for sure  :P. Maybe the fact that people know it's a completed story being posted in installments puts a damper on discussion. Plus I've gone with longer chapters this time, which can be a bit intimidating on the screen (wall of text effect).

Re the writing, there's a sad-but-true story there, involving my unbelievably impeccable timing and the closure of BattleCorps. Some other time maybe.

I think for a long time CGL frankly couldn't afford to pay writers (during the tenure of Loren Coleman & Editors Jason Schmetzer and Philip Lee, they published a string of stories by, er, Loren Coleman, Jason Schmetzer and Philip Lee). Now CGL is back in the fiction game, I think they're largely playing it safe and sticking to the well-known, well-established names of the IP, i.e. William Keith, Michael Stackpole & Blaine Pardoe. Again, it might be a cashflow issue, where they really can't afford to risk anything on an unknown name.   

Plus they say if you're good at something never do it for free, and here I am, enthusiastically shooting myself in the foot on that one.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #17 on: 18 January 2019, 09:23:43 »
I make offline copies of fanfiction threads, blogs and stories for perusal on my ebook reader whilst commuting: this leads to rather spotty commenting in forums such as these.

But when I am home I sit on my couch with a bowl of [trolling] sweetened, Caramel-flavoured [/trolling] popcorn and enjoy reading (your) fanfiction stories.

Using calibre as part of the workflow makes the offline copies easy to manage.

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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #18 on: 18 January 2019, 12:53:18 »
Hi there!
Another one of those lurkers forced into commenting ;)
A really great story you've got going there. Well fleshed out an superbly written. Plz keep up the great work. And thank you for sharing your talent with us.


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #19 on: 19 January 2019, 07:41:01 »
Dubble_g, the lack of feedback may - and this is just my guess - come from the very fact that your stories are about the best this forum has to offer. What is there to comment except "Awesome read, keep going on!", "Please write moar!", "Hooray, another Dubble_g story!!!"?

Very much this, at least in my case.  Also, I've been off-forum for a bit due to extreme overscheduling and other factors, so I didn't see this pop up immediately.

Please, go on as you were.  :)
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #20 on: 20 January 2019, 13:51:48 »
You have brought to life a scumbag merc unit, well done
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #21 on: 20 January 2019, 20:02:03 »
Another one of those lurkers forced into commenting ;)
And you suffered through the verification rigmarole to post here, right? Thank you for your service!

Got a couple of comments re: the awfulness of the merc unit, and I'm glad you noticed that (and hope the humor alleviates some of the awfulness) but please also pay attention to the people they interact with! Each episode is a kind of comment on their position/morality...

All right, I'll just hope people are tagging along and carry on with it then. I'll keep posting a couple of chapters a day, and read along at your own pace, whenever you get time to be online or to download.


8. Lieutenant Shahan Khitai

Hanging with some tubby in a tin can
Highway A-1, En route to Anchor City
16 April, 3026

The fat one was hiding something.

Shahan Khitai, once a company commander in Barsegh’s Bandits, now a Lieutenant in the Anything Associates, perhaps in future something else again, leaned against the rim of his open cupola and watched the BattleMech striding behind his five surviving Harasser hovertanks. He chewed his lip thoughtfully. No, there was definitely something going on here. He aimed to find out what.

They were loafing along at the BattleMech’s walking speed, a snail’s pace for the Harassers, barely inching along the road. They’d tried going on ahead of the Banshee, but the Capellans had roadblocks everywhere and it took forever to explain who they were, get whatever officer was in charge of the roadblock to contact someone who could actually make a decision (or pay the demanded bribe for a pass), and get the way cleared. The process tended to go faster when they had a 12-meter assault machine backing them up.

Bribes were the worst: “Can’t let you pass without an authorized movement order.” How could they get such order? “Might be able to put a request for one in for you. It’ll take time though.” Could they speed up the process, somehow? “Well, I can stamp it high-priority, but I can’t do that without a reason ...” And then they haggled. Third time it had happened, the MechWarrior had just stepped on the barrier and guard hut, squashed them several geological eras deep into the dirt, and kept right on going.

Word seemed to have gotten ahead. Nobody asked for bribes any more. That was the power of information, you see? On the modern battlefield, knowledge was stronger than any BattleMech.

Question was, why were these mercenaries so keen to send him and the BattleMech back to the spaceport? Information was power. That was why Khitai had wanted a recon command. Be the first to find out the enemy’s secrets, where they were, in what numbers, what strength. Then figure out how to use that information to his advantage.

The Banshee was next to useless in combat, virtually unarmed. That was odd. Very odd.

Khitai keyed a private tightbeam channel to the BattleMech. “Hey, Fallon, I hear you got an FIA insignia.”

“Oh yeah, spec forces shit, panther on a star. Know anyone who’d wanna buy it?”

“Might do, might do,” Khitai allowed. Time to probe, do a little conversational recon. “Might be able to work up a trade, you know? Maybe not for C-Bills, but there might be other things we could get you.”

There was a long pause on the other end. “Yeah?” Tentative, hoping. A fish on a hook. Time to pull on the line, see what he could reel in.

“Might be able to help each other out, is all I’m saying. Not just this, but all kinds of stuff. Would you like that?”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Another long pause. The man working himself up to asking something. Khitai smiled, and waited. “Like, suppose I knew a guy who was into a bit of smoke, you know? Think you could hook up a guy like that?”

Huh, smoke addict. How boring. Had to be more to it than that, though. “Might do,” Khitai said again. “Man in my position hears all kinds of things. Things that aren’t public knowledge, if you get my drift.”

That was certainly true. Khitai had heard a lot when he’d first landed at Way spaceport, seen even more of the rebels’ base inside the Citadel. Of course, he hadn’t told his new commander, Gore, everything. About Anchor City being a diversion, sure, nothing the man hadn’t probably figured out for himself already.

But about the Citadel’s sprawling underground tunnel network, no, let that be a surprise. Ditto the BattleMechs he’d seen down there. Might be Khitai would find himself a free man again, sometime soon. If not, no loss, he could plead ignorance.

Information was power.

“Might be I’ll be in a position to help you out.” Or to eliminate this fool, after Gore and the others got themselves killed attacking the Citadel. One could hope. “That stuff costs though. More than an arm patch. You can pay?”

“Oh hell yeah, money won’t be a problem,” the MechWarrior started giggling. “Oh Unity no. No problem at all.”

Khitai’s eyes narrowed as he watched the communicator. He’d pay, all right, Khitai promised himself. Might not like what it cost, but he’d pay.

“Tell me more,” he said.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #22 on: 20 January 2019, 20:04:02 »
9. Commandante Ivetta Zlato

FIA HQ, Beneath the Citadel … A hole in the ground, in other words
Way City, Ingress
The Capellan Confederation, but does it matter? One House is much the same as any other
Year 1, Month 2, Day 16 of the Revolution

She came here to think. To think, and to feel sorry for herself, if she was honest.

Here in this storage room. This was the source of the Citadel’s power, is greatest secret, the source of the Alliance’s strength. It hadn’t been enough. She ran her fingers along the shelves, wiping away the centuries of neglect, and dreamed of what might have been.

She’d done so much, since joining them. Welded disparate groups of ill-armed farmers, ranchers and factory workers into a single movement, trained them, hammered them, forged them into a fighting force nearly a million strong. Smashed the Home Guard regiment and seized the capital—a feint, diverting attention from their buildup here. Brought in outside help when none was forthcoming. Mauled their pursuers. Built a formidable defense.

And it wasn’t enough.

They’d seized the Citadel and spaceport, true, a score of provincial capitals, but the population had not risen. Outside help had not come. Just the crushing weight of the Confederation, merciless as time and unforgiving as failure.

“BattleMechs, Commandante, mercenaries.” Mikayel, somewhere behind her. One of the firebrands, leader of the Panthers. “Broke Arshad’s Avengers. Wiped them out.”

She already knew. She didn’t listen to him. All she could hear was the distant thud of artillery shells raining uselessly down on the Citadel fortifications, the stifled wail of children in the tunnels. The Citadel was filled with refugees now, fleeing the bombardment. Just as the Confederation had planned, no doubt.

“Unleash my men. Make the streets run red with their blood.”

She inspected the dust on her fingers. Each mote, a life. Such tiny, fragile things. Gone in a puff. “If blood could make things better, don’t you think it would have done it by now?” She’d fought to save lives, but now she saw what a contradiction that was.

“Now is not the time for despair, Commandante!”

“No?” Being surrounded by an overwhelming number of enemies seemed a pretty good one to her. She blew, and the dust was gone. As though it had never been. “Let me know when is the time, will you Mikayel? I’d hate to be caught unprepared.”


She sighed. “No, no, you’re right. Mustn’t give up while there is hope.” However microscopically dust-grained it might be. “You have a suggestion, Mikayel. Other than ‘kill everybody’?”

“Cut the head from the serpent!”

“Which one? There are so many.” The Houses, ComStar, the mercenaries. Numberless as motes of dust.

“The MechWarriors, then,” Mikayel said. “I beg you, let me and my men do this. Use the tunnels, we can catch them out of their machines. Slaughter the Liao lap-dogs.”

She tilted her head and thought a moment. She rather liked lap-dogs, to be honest. But she could see Mikayel’s point. Such noble intentions, and it had come to this. From saving lives to ordering murders in dimly-lit caverns. Well, this was not the only arrow in her quiver. A dozen men more or less would hardly make a difference here.

“Very well, you’ve quite convinced me with your silver tongue,” Ivetta sighed and turned around to face him at last. Probably just ordered him to his death, but. Well. One more mote to add to her conscience. “Take two squads. Intelligence says they’re at the 2nd Division headquarters. See if you can get Leyan while you’re at it.”

It probably wouldn’t be enough. But you did what you could, and hoped against hope that, by some miracle, it would.

Mikayel saluted, grinning fiercely, spun about and sprinted off. Past a star map carved into the rock surface of the wall. Now centuries out of date of course. She’d looked to the stars for answers once, some time ago. And found the heavens silent.

Time to trust in more grounded things. Subterranean, even.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #23 on: 20 January 2019, 20:09:34 »
10. Colonel Aristakes Isahak Leyan III, Mandrinn of Path Province

Leyan Family Winter Palace (20km north of Way City)
Path Province (Mandrinn Aristakes Leyan), Ingress (Planetary Diem Diagur Monaco), Tikonov Commonality (Duke Sean Ryan Teng)
Capellan Confederation (Chancellor Maximillian Liao)
Day 127/Year 786 (Traditional/Local) 17 April, 3026 (Terran Standard)

“Congratulations, Commander,” said the beaming Mandrinn-Colonel. “A great victory.”

Force Leader Zakarig Sohaemus watched Leyan shake Commander Mutai’s hand vigorously, ignoring the mumbling reply. Colonel Aristakes Isahak Leyan III, commander of the 2nd Militia Division and Mandrinn of Path Province, did not cut an imposing figure, he though sourly. Short, fat, his already considerable weight practically doubled by the chest full of medals running from one shoulder to the other. A katana hung like a cavalry saber from a bright yellow baldric across his chest. A grey wisp of hair sprouted almost straight upwards from his otherwise bald pate, as though surprised to find itself there.

Zakarig knew the feeling. He was almost as out of place here as Leyan’s hair, or the four mercenaries.

The Kuritan mercenary had glanced at Leyan’s katana once when they arrived, pressed his lips together slightly, then pointedly ignored it. They were pretty much what Zakarig had expected, the mercenaries. Their leader, Sebastian Gore, looked like a thug. The giant, Atom, like a boxer. The sharp-featured woman with bristling short black hair, like an assassin.

They stood in line in the grand ballroom of Mandrinn Leyan’s winter palace. Leyan had been so delighted with their victory at the crossing of the Vine, that instead of exploiting the advantage and punching through the hole in the FIA lines, he’d invited them all for a celebration—the mercenaries, Mutai, Zakarig, a dozen other officers from the 2nd Division.

“Ah, this must be Commander Gore,” Leyan was saying. “Such wonderful taste in couture young man. So delectably savage.”

“A pleasure,” Sebastian said. Zakarig thought his smile looked a little tight. “Nice place you got here.”

The winter palace was a sprawling complex done in Tri-millennial Chinese style, with layered roofs ending in curling, upswept corners, intricate wooden latticework, long halls facing serene gardens and pools of fat, idling neo-carp. A string quartet played in one corner, though the music was interrupted by the crump of artillery fire from a battery that had been sited at one end of the Mandrinn’s palatial gardens. The four BattleMechs had been parked in the courtyard outside, after making a suitably dramatic entrance, to the delight of the breathless courtiers and observers.

“And tattoos! How tribal! Do you do them yourself?”

“Yep. In the blood of mah enemies, after Ah scalp ‘em.”

“Jolly good. Well done.” Leyan’s smile had slipped a little, Zakarig noted. Perhaps not sure if he was being wound up. The Mandrinn-Colonel moved on with a final “Jolly good.”

“Ah, a fellow master of the blade! We must spar some time!” Leyan said to Shinobu, extending a hand. Everyone was unarmed, but the Kuritan had been allowed to keep his sword. Added the right touch of gallantry, Leyan had declared. The Kuritan bowed slightly, mechanically. Made no move to take the offered hand. Sebastian took a step forward, whispered something to the Mandrinn-Colonel too quiet for Zakarig to catch. “Jolly good,” Leyan nodded, withdrawing his hand. “Jolly, jolly good.”

Leyan exchanged monosyllabic pleasantries with the other two mercenaries, and then it was Zakarig’s turn.

“A Force Leader, eh? Backbone of the militia. How many years of service?”

“Twenty years, sir,” Zakarig replied dutifully. For all that the ‘militia’ were looked down upon, on a frontier world like Ingress they had more battle-hardened veterans than half the BattleMech regiments. Experience now sadly diluted by the mass conscription required to make up 12 full divisions, of course.

“Jolly good!” The same adjective that had just been applied to scalping one’s enemies, Zakarig sighed to himself. “Got my boys across the bank, jolly good show. That’ll show Ghoukas how it’s done!” Colonel Ghoukas Karayan was commander of the 3rd Division, and Mandrinn of Flat Province. An old rival of Leyan’s, the two families had been squabbling for control of Way City for generations. “Possession is nine tenths, eh Force Leader? See if I hand back the city to that up-jumped provincial once it’s got my boys all over it. Jolly good show!”

The introductions done, the party broke up into clusters, militia officers here and there, Leyan’s relatives and hangers-on there. Mercenaries in a tight knot strategically close to the bar. Zakarig, as the only noncom in attendance, found himself alone with a tumbler of illegally imported Federated Suns whiskey. Well, Leyan’s brother-in-law ran the Spaceport Authority. Privileges of rank and all that.

There was a digital map on one wall, showing Way City and its surroundings. The 2nd Division positions to the north picked out in blue, with a few now hugging the south side of the Vine River. Karayan’s 3rd Division to the south in green, suspected FIA dispositions in blurry blobs of red in between, in the city and scattered around the rectangle of the Citadel.

“Figure you got ‘em cornered?” said a voice at Zakarig’s elbow. He didn’t have to turn to know it was the mercenary, Gore.

“Again,” he replied, and sipped his whiskey. “I heard someone let them slip away last time.”

“Anchor was always supposed to be a sideshow.”

“If that makes you feel better.”

“Don’t make me feel jack,” Gore answered evenly. “Facts is facts. They don’t give a shit what we think.”

“And neither do you, as long as you get paid, huh?”

Gore reached over and tapped the rank insignia on Zakarig’s dress uniform. “Twenty years in the militia and you never drew a paycheck? C’mon now. We both gettin’ paid for this.” He nodded towards Leyan. “Some of us more than others.”

Leyan was standing in the center of a circle of admirers, looking slightly flushed, holding forth on economics in a loud voice. “—luckily they’ve ruined most of Ghoukas’ crop in Flat Province, so our soybean prices are skyrocketing. Profits are up 32% this year, even with the labor shortage—”

Of course, as Mandrinn, Leyan wasn’t only the commander of the local militia division. He was also the largest landowner, controlling perhaps a tenth of the planet’s agricultural output.

“Hear that? Up a whole 32%, Zack,” Gore nudged Zakarig. “The Alliance is losing, and just listen to what you’re winning.” He tilted his head a little and looked up at the ceiling, at the intricately carved and polished wood, that shone like gold in the light. Gave a low whistle. “Look what you’ve already won.”

Zakarig opened his mouth for a rebuttal when their host hove into their conversational harbor, a school of attendants close behind. “The heroes of the hour, eh?” Leyan’s face was slightly flushed from alcohol. “Let me introduce my daughter, Rozalia.” In contrast to her father, the daughter was petite, fine-featured, quite beautiful, and utterly, utterly out of Zakarig’s league, even if he had been ten years younger. He bowed politely as she curtsied, her red satin gown shimmering like fire as it belled out.

“Your man Mutai’s been badgering me about some funny business with missing gold, but I told him pish! Tosh!” Leyan was saying to Gore. “I’ve had word from on high to let you get on with it, and I quite agree. Just the thing, eh? I mean what’s 20 tons? I’ve got about 300 tons of the stuff in my own vaults. Twenty is peanuts, not worth worrying about. Politicians, huh, think they know how to run a war better than us soldiers.”

One of Leyan’s attendants, Zakarig noted worriedly, was a political commissar. He darted the man a look, but the commissar affected not to hear anything.

Leyan caught Zakarig’s glance. “Oh, don’t worry about Vitalik. Old family friend. If I can’t speak freely here, then where can I? After all, haven’t I suffered enough in this damnable war?”

A war at least partially caused by the food appropriation and quotas of Leyan and the other Mandrinns, that had created a class of starving, desperate servitors with an axe to grind and nothing to lose.

“And the gentle giant, ComStar’s own hand-picked man!” Leyan exclaimed as Atom joined the throng. “If there’s anyone who can bring Commandante Zlato to justice, I’m sure it’s you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do, anything you need.”

“I need nothing more than the Book of Wisdom,” rumbled Atom.

“It’s a good ‘un,” agreed Gore. “’S got pictures.”

“Any wisdom you can share with us?” Rozalia asked brightly.

“Current flows from negative to positive,” said Atom said after a moment of frowning thought. “So must our thoughts.”

“Jolly good young man, I like your spirit.” Leyan tried to clap Atom on the shoulder, but couldn’t reach high enough. Settled for a comradely punch on the bicep. Then winced and shook his hand. “You must all join me in the gardens, my friends,” he said, still wiggling his fingers experimentally. “Rozalia’s got a surprise for us. Come along! You won’t want to miss this!”

Leyan led a procession of guests, officers and politicians outside and along a narrow walkway to a gazebo built out over a giant artificial lake. Done in the same retro-Imperial Chinese style, with six delicate pillars holding aloft a swooping, flared double roof, giving an unobstructed view of a double image of Ingress’s white-and-orange moon Edanu in the sky and reflected in the mirror-still, indigo waters of the lake below.

Four rows of chairs were arranged in a semicircle facing out towards the lake and the twin moons. And there, to the background accompaniment of the distant rumble of 150mm guns, Leyan’s daughter Rozalia played the violin for them. The masters, Sibelius, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Adele, Rose, timeless classics, “Canon in D”, “The Four Seasons”, “Welcome to the Jungle”. Leyan beamed and clapped, and the audience dutifully applauded after.

An artillery salvo interrupted the end of Canon in D, and Rozalia threw her father a look. “Papa!” she hissed. Leyan whispered something to an aide, and a moment later the guns fell silent.

Zakarig closed his eyes, and tried to enjoy the sudden, almost shocked quiet.
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #24 on: 20 January 2019, 20:13:38 »
11. Cadre Leader Mikayel

A Nest of Vipers
The Motherland
The Day of My Death … The Day I Live Forever

“Easy, easy,” Mikayel said. “Drive slowly.”

Mikayel and the driver were in front, the other ten men packed into the back of a canvas-covered truck. A second truck followed behind. Both painted in STP markings—the Special Tactics Police. The STP had largely been absorbed into the new militia divisions, leaving tons of equipment parked unattended in warehouses, from which some had gone unaccountably ‘missing’, thanks to the efforts of a few brave patriots. Mikayel’s team had exited the Citadel tunnels well inside enemy lines, moved undetected to the garage and the vehicles, long-prepared for a mission just like this.

“Left here. Nice and easy.” He took a deep, steadying breath. “Weapons check.”

There was a metallic clatter as the team readied their rifles. STP stock, locally made and unreliable. Didn’t matter. The spirit of his men made them invincible.

A checkpoint materialized from the gloom in the glare of the first truck’s headlights. Two guard posts, metal barriers and spikes across the road, an APC and a squad of seven men. Beyond that was a three-meter high wall and the gates to Leyan’s compound itself. The gates stood open, the BattleMechs clearly visible beyond them, neatly lined up. Waiting for him.

A guard at the checkpoint waved them to a stop. The APC turret swiveled cautiously towards them, while other men shifted their guns into readiness. “Sapper,” Mikayel ordered.

One man hopped down from the truck. Over his Panthers fatigues with the star-and-cat insignia, he wore an STP uniform, with its distinctive forest green-and-black camouflage pattern. A canvas bag slung over one shoulder. He ambled slowly from the truck, flashing a big easy grin, one hand raised in welcome. “Everybody down.” Mikayel plugged his fingers in his ears and crouched down below the dash.

“Evening—” He heard the sapper say. Mikayel could picture it. One hand would still be raised in a jaunty wave, the other would reach down to the canvas bag, and pull the detonation cord. And, any moment now—

Ten kilograms of demolition explosive erupted in a brilliant flash Mikayel could see even through his eyelids. The sound slapped him with violent force, the blast wave violently rocking the truck from side to side. When he raised his head, there was a blackened crater where the sapper had stood, surrounded by the blasted remains of the checkpoint guards.

The APC crew hesitated, blinded by the smoke of the detonation. Wondering if there had been an accident or if they were under attack. One of Mikayel’s men leaped down from the truck, raised a shoulder-fired missile launcher and loosed a pair of tank-killing warheads at the APC. The twin missiles flashed across the field and slammed into the vehicle, blasting it into a rising ball of flame and smoke.

The driver floored the accelerator. The truck tires spun, caught and rocketed them forward, bumping crazily over the still-smoking crater, and straight towards the compound gates. They were closing. Two men dragging them shut. Mikayel grabbed his rifle, leaned out the window and tried to aim down the sights. Wind and vibration making the barrel bounce all over. He squeezed, felt the rifle jerk against his shoulder. Puffs of concrete from where his bullets impacted on the wall.

“Faster, faster!” He screamed at the driver. The gates were groaning shut, the gap in the center narrowing, narrowing, and with it any chance they had to succeed. Mikayel’s lips pulled back in a snarl and he hauled back on the trigger, not even bothering to aim, just emptying the magazine in one long, rolling burst. One of the guards sagged, dropped sideways on the ground. The other kept heaving the gate shut.

Mikayel tried to swing his hose of bullets onto the second man when his gun gave a metallic squeal and stopped firing. Jammed. Cursing, he tossed it from the window, clawing for his pistol. Too late. They were almost at the gate, too late to stop or even slow down. The gap in the center now narrower than the truck.

“For the Alliance!” screamed the driver. “For Ingress!”

“Shit!” Mikayel screamed, and threw himself from the window, crashing to the ground, trying to roll with the impact, red haze of pain from his shoulder, his leg, his ankle. And over everything, the rending, tearing scream of metal and metal, as the truck plowed nose-first into the nearly-shut gate.

Mikayel found his feet, pain blazing from his left leg. Gritted his teeth, took a step, then another. Too late to turn back now. The front of the first truck had accordioned into a twisted mess of metal, glass and the bloody corpse of the driver. But they’d done it. The truck firmly wedged in a gap between the two gates. The way was open.

Stunned and dazed men were tumbling from the first truck, some bleeding from mashed noses or scraped foreheads, while the squad from the second came sprinting up. “Go, go, into the compound,” Mikayel ordered his Second. Winced as he tried to take another step. “I will follow. Go. Go!”

The men rushed forward, jostling and squeezing past the truck, the gate and one another in their eagerness. Almost immediately guns began to bark and chatter on the far side. Men screamed. A missile launcher howled, followed by a thunderous clap. Mikayel tried to go faster, each step sending blinding jolts of pain up his leg. Faster.

On the other side of the gate was a square flagstone courtyard, the gate behind him, buildings on the other three sides—the steps and grand doorway of the main residence ahead, guards’ and servants’ quarters to either side. The four ’Mechs planted directly in the center.

The front doors of the palace had been blasted apart by a missile, the roof now sagging, bowing over the ragged hole, rimmed with angry embers of burning wood. The haze blew straight across the courtyard, stinging Mikayel’s eyes, making him choke. Security guards fired from behind columns all around the courtyard. Half his team lay sprawled across the stones in crumpled, bloody heaps. Others took cover behind the legs of the BattleMechs. The second squad leader charged towards the hole torn in the main entrance, three others crowding close behind.

“No, wait!” Mikayel tried to shout, but the burning haze strangled his words. He fell to his knees, gasping, retching. “The BattleMechs!” he gasped. “We need to—”

A grey figure leaped from the palace. Something silver flashed. In midair, the figure touched the Second’s throat, almost gently. The Second’s head sagged at an impossible angle, and he pitched backwards. The figure hit the ground in a roll, landed between the next two men, slashed left and right, fast as a viper. Separated one man’s arm from the shoulder, tore open the second man’s belly. The third man raised his rifle, but was cut down by a burst from the palace doorway.

Even as he watched, Mikayel could see the attack collapsing, his men reduced to cowering in the shelter of the mercenaries’ war machines, waiting to die. He wanted to cry but the smoke and dust left him a dried-out husk. Revenge for his brother, shot down during the early protests. For his father, executed during the reprisals. For his sister, dead in the famine that followed. All of it murdered as easily as his men. His once chance for immortality as a hero of the revolution, butchered like a pig.

With an animal howl he staggered to his feet, lurched forward, tripped. Over the body of one of the sappers, canvas bag still clutched to his chest like a baby. Mikayel tore it from his frozen grasp. Seized this once chance for redemption. To become a hero.

Mikayel scuttled forward, vaguely aware of bullets whipping by, lasers singing in his ears, singeing his hair. His eyes fixed ahead, on the leg of the closest BattleMech, the hunchbacked one with the two great cannon jutting from its shoulders. A long chain-link ladder dangled beside the leg.

Six men were still alive about the ’Mechs’ feet. “Cover me,” Mikayel gasped hoarsely, though he doubted they heard. He squeezed the satchel charge tight, grabbed the ladder and hauled upwards. Bright pain shot through his shoulder, his ankle, his knee, but he clenched his teeth, levered his feet onto the next rungs, and pulled again. One of his men glanced up, noticing Mikayel for the first time. “Fire you bastards, fire!” he yelled down. The man frowned, then turned around at another sound.

A short-haired woman was sprinting across the courtyard toward him, screaming incoherently. Her eyes were locked on Mikayel. She had a guard’s submachinegun at her shoulder, and wildly sprayed a dozen rounds up at him as she ran.

“Shoot her, shoot her!” Mikayel screamed down. The man at the foot of the BattleMech raised his rifle, but then a bright line stabbed through his neck and he fell, clawing round-eyed in panic at his throat.

Damn them. Damn fickle fate or destiny or whatever malevolent, uncaring gods there might be. As though life was a game to them, as they diced uncaringly over the fate of men, mere counters in their heavenly diversions from the boredom of eternity. Well, not him. Not Mikayel. He would yet write his name into history. One foot, the other foot. Pull. Higher and higher. The smoke thinned as he rose above it, made breathing easier. He could do this. He would.

Mikayel risked a glance down. Some fat man was tottering from the palace, screaming like a child, a satiny red shape in his arms. Good. Let him know what it felt like to lose those you love. Hold on fatso, the finale was yet to come. Higher, higher, into the cockpit, set his charge. Bring down a titan. Become a legend. He could do this. He would.

The woman was still firing. Bullets closer now, pinging and whining off the BattleMech leg beside him. He was an easier target now that he’d risen above the smoke. Made no difference. Claw, claw his way up.

His thigh went numb. Then burned, so hot, Unity, his leg felt like it was on fire. He saw there was a hole in the leg of his fatigues, blood just beginning to well in the wound. Major artery there. That was bad. That was death. He looked up. But he was close, so close.

“Shoot her!” He reached for the next rung. Next, his foot. “Shoot her!” His foot wouldn’t move. Tried to haul himself up by one arm alone, putting all his weight on it. Just a few seconds. His other foot blindly scrabbling for purchase on the rung below. He risked a glance down. “Shoot her!”

Saw the woman slump, hit, just as she fired another burst. Another Liao dog dea—her second bullet took him in the shoulder. The impact of it threw him back. Bloody fingers slipped on the metal. Reached. Met air.

And he was falling.
« Last Edit: 22 January 2019, 01:50:48 by Dubble_g »
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #25 on: 21 January 2019, 16:23:44 »
Oh god no, you can't leave us here in the middle of a cliffhanger! Have some decency, man!


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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #26 on: 21 January 2019, 20:14:52 »
Oh god no, you can't leave us here in the middle of a cliffhanger! Have some decency, man!

Let's see what we can do to fix that...


12. Captain Liu Xiao

Anchorhead Spaceport
Anchor City
Ingress, Capellan Confederation
17 April, 3026

The DropShip had originally been named the Preying Mantis. That name had been roughly laser-scored away, and in its place an ancient Chinese coin had been stenciled onto the hull, one of the ones with the square holes in the center. Around the rim of the coin appeared the ship’s new name, Penny Wise.

It sat alone at the far end of the Anchorhead Spaceport, and she sat alone in the bridge, and she thought about money and loneliness and how the two connected, and wished she were more like a mantis, who ate their mates and probably did not feel so alone.

There was Danica, but she wasn’t here. It was just Xiao and this ship.

Instead of people, the Penny Wise was her life and her family. There was a crew of 20, but the demand for skilled crew members meant there was a frothy churn of people coming and going, and endless parade of new faces, and so she never really got to know them. Not like she knew her ship. Modified Seeker-class, tipping the scales at almost 4,000 tons and hitting the calendar at nearly two centuries old—and looking every second of them. Still, it was spacious and comfortable, and even had a state-of-the-29th century-art medical suite.

Liu Xiao—Chinese name order, surname Liu, first name Xiao—puffed her cheeks and blew a long breath. Time to go check on the boys down in the hold. She braced her hands on the arms of the captain’s chair, levered herself vertical, and descended down into the bowels of her ship.

The Banshee was parked with its back to the DropShip by the open cargo hatch, her crew now busy transferring hundreds of grey steel cases from the BattleMech to the cargo hold of her ship. A Seeker normally had several hundred bay personnel, but the Associates didn’t have the kind of money it would take to keep hundreds on payroll, so they usually hired locals for the job when required. Somehow though she didn’t think you could trust the locals on a job like this, so the flight crew and gunners were doing the job, grumbling and swearing at the physical exertion.

Zeke Fallon and the new lieutenant, Khitai, stood watching nearby. She silently cursed Zeke for obviously babbling the whole plan to Khitai. She didn’t trust his men, and had the hovertanks parked outside, the men themselves billeted at the port. Didn’t trust Zeke or Khitai, either. Or when it came down to it, her own transient, patchwork crew. She wondered how many bars of gold or palladium had already gone missing, how many more would by the time they found a buyer. Should she put a guard on it? But who to trust?

It was a headache, another one, cheerfully dropped in her lap by Gore, on what she knew was probably a whim. The man had a grudge against reality, and took every opportunity to poke it in the eye, just to see what would happen.

She wished Danica were here.

“Looks so small, when you see it like this,” commented Khitai wryly. It was true. The crates for 20 tons of precious metals would barely fill one corner of the Penny Wise’s smallest cargo hold. “It feels like there’s barely enough to go around.”

That was less true. Xiao had figured that with her crew, the eight BattleMech technicians, the four MechWarriors and even Khitai’s dozen, if they split the money evenly (as if that would ever happen, but for argument’s sake) there would still be over 20 million C-Bills each. But as always with money, when you realized you were getting only 20 out of over 900 million, suddenly that didn’t seem so much, and that gnawing pit everyone had inside them wondered why you couldn’t get just a little more. People, Liu sighed to herself, had not evolved for happiness, and getting what you wanted only whetted your appetite for more. Probably why people were all so icy and isolated, like comets about a star. Or mercenary DropShip captains.

“Yeah,” said Zeke, fidgeting with something in a pocket. Xiao could guess what. He’d already tried to sell her some damn fool arm patch, for the money, for his habit. “Small. Real small.”

Xiao’s eyes narrowed as she looked from one to the other, Zeke sweatily nervous, Khitai basilisk still. Those two had been together for a few days now, and she doubted it was coincidence that Zeke would echo the sentiment so quickly. “It’s plenty,” she said flatly. Damn Gore for leaving her with these two.

Khitai nodded slowly, as though thinking that over. “How long have you known Gore?” he asked suddenly.

“Longer than you,” Xiao replied. She left the rest of the thought unsaid. Khitai know what she meant.

“Hey, hey,” Khitai raised his hands, palms out, in surrender. “Just trying to get to know what kind of man I’ll be working for.” He grinned lopsidedly. “You don’t trust me, do you?”

Xiao rolled her eyes in response. There was an echoing crash, followed by a startled shriek as Zeke jumped in surprise, overbalanced, and fell over backwards. Xiao spun around, to see two crewmen had dropped one of the crates on its side, cracking the lid open. A tiny landslide of shiny, lustrous gold bricks had fallen across the deck. The crew stared at them, mesmerized. “Pick ‘em up!” Xiao barked. “All of ‘em. And put them in the trunk, not your pants—don’t think I don’t see you, Morton! Put it back!”

When she turned back Khitai was extending a hand to help Zeke, blushing furiously, back to his feet. “You okay?” Khitai asked.

“Yeah, yeah, fine. Boy, that was loud. Think I’m gonna head on back to my cabin and uh, unwind for a bit.”

Khitai and Xiao watched Zeke totter unsteadily back to the ladder, and laboriously climb up towards the DropShip’s crew quarters. “Can’t trust him, either, though. Can you?” Khitai said quietly, as though to himself. He turned back to face Xiao. He nodded past her, to where the two men were still stacking the spilled bricks back into their case with heavy-sounding clicks. “Or your crew.”

Xiao gritted her teeth before replying. “This going somewhere?”

“Might be able to help each other out, is all I’m saying. Would you like that?”

She slowly crossed her arms. “No. Not really.”

“Hey come on, if you can’t rely on people’s trust, then rely on their distrust. My crew doesn’t know your crew, so they don’t trust each other. They’ll keep an eye on each other. Have a couple of your guys and a couple of mine stand watch over the cargo, at least until Gore gets back. Say two by two?”

Xiao chewed her lip thoughtfully. Despite her misgivings, it wasn’t a bad idea, really. It would mean letting some of Khitai’s tankers onto the DropShip, and they were soldiers—unlike her crew. But it was only two, against her 20. How much mischief could they cause? “All right, but only two,” she agreed. “Morton! Take Khitai here down to landing and open up the door. Two of his guys are coming aboard. Only two, mind you.”

Morton stood up from the case of gold with a surly look, grunted and slumped towards the exit. Khitai threw her a Cheshire grin and a wink. “You won’t regret this!” he said, a bounce in his stride as he followed after Morton.

Xiao glared suspiciously at his back, already regretting her decision. Well, it wasn’t too late to change her mind. One word and she could call Morton back and tell Khitai to forget the whole thing. She reached for a communicator on her belt and unclipped it. Before she could thumb it on, it began to buzz with an incoming transmission.

“This is Liu,” she snapped.

“Medevac VTOL Copper One, inbound to Anchorhead,” came the reply, half-shouted over the background roar of rotor blades. “We got one casualty—”

Xiao felt the deck drop away from under her feet. “A casualty? Who? Who is it?”

“I dunno her name but—”

Her. Her name. Xiao was pounding back towards the ladder and the bridge, screaming for the medic. Gold, Zeke, Morton, Khitai all forgotten.
« Last Edit: 22 January 2019, 01:49:49 by Dubble_g »
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #27 on: 21 January 2019, 20:17:37 »
13. Martyrdom

Big ole house they got here
Same planet I been on since who-knows-when
Half-past I don’t give a shit o’clock

Mikayel was both surprised and disappointed when his eyes opened. Not dead then. Then his eyes flew open as the wave of pain came crashing down, and all he could do was whimper and moan. Not dead yet, but soon.

“Cheer up, chum,” said a voice.

Mikayel found he was lying on the ground, arms splayed out to either side, in the shadow of the BattleMech he’d tried to climb. He lifted his neck, though the effort tore another moan through his bruised and livid throat. A mercenary squatted against the leg of the BattleMech nearby, regarding him coolly through brown-tinted sunglasses. The very picture of a barbarian marauder, a lackey of the oppressors: Unshaven, tattooed, a twisting burn up one arm. A submachinegun lay carelessly across his lap, as though the weapons of war were just cheap and shabby toys to him.

“You should be happy,” he said. “You got what you wanted. Not many men can say that.”

The satchel charge was lying just beyond Mikayel’s reach. He strained, tried to move his fingers, but the arm lay there pasty and puffy like a manikin, something not even part of him. “Die, you dog,” he snarled, but found himself crying instead, dry choking sobs that hurt everywhere. Thirsty. He was so thirsty.

“Name’s Sebastian,” said the mercenary. “Plenty dead today. But not me.” He shrugged lightly. “So it goes. You got Zack and our violinist though. Shot Dani. Lots to be proud of.”

Mikayel’s chest was hurting. He hadn’t the air to reply. Just lay there, glaring up at the man.

“You got a name, son?”

“I’ll tell you nothing,” Mikayel hissed, breath coming in shallow pants.

Sebastian’s eyebrows twitched and the corners of his mouth turned down a little. A disappointed kind of fair-enough smile. “Honestly, your conversation ain’t been all that sparkly anyway.” He stood, and picked up the battered metal submachinegun. “S’okay, we got one or two of your friends. I think the Cappies will make them talk. Eventually. You however, my friend, do not have that long.”

Mikayel had seen the widening pool of red under his leg, and he knew what it meant. He wanted to hurl defiance at his man with his last breath, cut him open with words if nothing else. He couldn’t think of anything though, only how thirsty he was, how cold and thirsty. A mumbled “I hate you,” was all he could manage.

“I don’t hate you. Hell, I used to be you.” For a moment, the mercenary looked almost vulnerable, sad. Eyes far way. Then he shook himself. “Well, better-looking and smarter, but you know what I mean.” He stood, and walked to stand at Mikayel’s feet. “We all got our reasons. Maybe yours were even good ones. I used to think that made a difference, back when I was you, but now? There’s just me and mine. And a galaxy tryin’ to take it away from me. So. I’d say ‘No hard feelings’, but fact is, Ah’m feelin’ pretty hard right about now.”

Sebastian shot Mikayel once through the right foot, just below the ankle, once through the left. Raised his aim and fired again, once the right palm, once the left. Expression never changing as Mikayel’s panting changing to outraged animal screams. “Hush now. You got to be a martyr, just like you wanted.” And fired into Mikayel’s face.

Sebastian turned from the body and walked back towards the palace. Past the hunched and wailing figure of Mandrinn-Colonel Leyan, his daughter still cradled in his arms, his trousers stained dark with her blood. Shinobu stood nearby, face and arms flecked in blood. Not his own.

“Nice little knife you got there Shinny,” Sebastian said. “Saved all our lives back there.”

Shinobu watched the crying Colonel, stone-faced.

“Hey, not your fault Shinny,” Sebastian stepped between Shinobu and Leyan, forcing the Kuritan to look at him. “Whatever it is that you’re still beating yourself up about, just drop it. You got nothing to be ashamed of—you saved more lives than any of us. What you did today took guts. Charging four armed men with just your bit of steel. Unity, just an insane amount of guts. Don’t know if you are, but I’m damn proud of you, Shinny.”

Shinobu’s eyes met Sebastian’s. Shinobu looked away first.

“Aw, don’t get all sentimental on me now,” Sebastian said gruffly. “Can’t stand to see a man so obviously not crying.”

He kept walking. Past the body of Force Leader Zakarig Sohaemus, whose face looked neither angry nor sad, just mildly irritated. Past Atom, sitting cheerfully beside Zakarig’s body, miraculously unhurt, one arm thrown around a white-faced and shaken Abel Mutai. To where a woman with short black hair lay on the ground, her head pillowed on a leather jacket.

“He dead?” asked Danica.

“Well, I’ve seen livelier folks,” Sebastian said, and knelt beside her, carefully setting his weapon aside. Reached down and smoothed her sweat-slick hair from her forehead.

“I got him. Bastard was going for my ’Mech, but I got him.”

“You did,” Sebastian nodded. “You did good.”

“Sebastian Gore being nice? Think I must be dead and in heaven.”

“No chance,” he smiled. “Evac will be here in five, take you straight back to Anchor and our ‘Ship. Best hospital on the planet. Hell, I’m tempted to get shot too, just so’s I can join you there.”

“In hospital with you? Think I’d rather die.”

Sebastian’s smile faded. “Don’t you dare.” He squeezed her shoulder. “Need you to keep me grounded, Dani. You get better, you hurry back to us. That’s not an order. That’s me asking you. Please, pretty please. Come back.”

Danica smiled and raised a hand to trace along the line of his jaw. “Finally,” she said. “A little respect.”
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #28 on: 21 January 2019, 20:22:46 »
14. Acolyte Atom

On the trail of the Apostate
Precentor Sian’s Domain
238rd year since the founding of the Blessed Order by the sainted Jerome Blake

“BANG! You’re dead!”

Three boys were playing Militia and Rebels in the rubble outside the apartment building. Grubby-faced boys with unwashed clothes and hollow cheeks, but still they played blithely on with their makeshift weapons, a discarded length of metal tubing and an L-shaped piece of tiling standing in for their more deadly real-world counterparts. That was a good game, Atom thought, and he wished he could join them.

He followed Gore, Mutai and Shinobu as they carefully crossed the street, dashing across the open spaces in case there were still snipers about. The boys laughed at their caution.

“BANG! You’re dead, too!” The open with the metal tubing pointed it at Shinobu as the four men crouched by a pyramid of fallen debris. Shinobu smiled, almost sadly, reached out to ruffle the boy’s hair, and said:

“Natsukusa ya
Tsuwamono domo ga
Yume no ato”

The boy jerked his head away, frantically patting his hair back in place and muttering about foreign devils.

“Good shot,” Atom told him. “One day, you’ll make a fine addition to Blake’s footsoldiers!”

The boy had to crane his neck to look up at Atom, squinting one eye against the sun high over Atom’s head. The boy seemed to consider that for a moment, trying to decide if it was a compliment or not, and if he wanted to be complimented or not.

“Bang,” said the boy, pointing the tube at Atom’s head. “Got you, too.”

“It would take more than one bullet to kill me,” said Atom.

“No it wouldn’t," sniffed the boy, then turned and ran off after his two mates.

“C’mon, Atom, we’re going,” Gore patted him on the shoulder, then sprinted to the apartment entrance and ducked inside. Atom spared one last look after the boys, still dashing in mad, happy little circles about one another, insisting they had killed one another, inventing new excuses why they hadn’t. Maybe one day, they would join the Order. He could hope.

He got up, followed Gore into the building, and up the stairs to the roof.


“We attack.” Gore tapped the map. “Here.”

They stood on the roof of a ten-story apartment building, affording an almost uninterrupted view across the city. Gore held a hand-drawn map of the Citadel, with the spaceport circled in red. The wind made it flutter and flap at the corners, like a moth trying to escape. Atom liked Gore’s map. The Citadel outline was done in black, the defenses in red, Confederation units in green. Almost like a circuit diagram. It reminded him of the pictures in the Collected Wisdom.

He hoped he wouldn’t have to kill Gore when this was over. Adept Levato said he’d have to, if any of them spoke with the Apostate Zlato. That made him sad, but he’d promised her he wouldn’t say anything to the others. He’d kill them though, if he had too. Blessed Blake said they were each his little warriors. Atom liked the sound of that. Sounded better than ‘acolyte’ anyway. He liked it when Levato touched him, too, in that special place, the one she said he mustn’t tell anyone else about. She was always watching, with that magic eye in the sky, always listening. So he kept his promise, and said nothing.

“Ain’t that right, Mutai?”

Commander Mutai stood at Gore’s elbow, though his eyes were far away. “Mmm? I, uh. Yes. That is, I mean. Well.”

“Thanks Abe, couldn’t have said it better myself.” Gore’s finger traced a line from the green boxes around the edge of the map towards the red circle. “Intel says the FIA have tunnels from the Citadel all throughout the city. Cappie—no offense Abe—foot is going into the tunnels, trying to flush ‘em out. Tunnels’re too small for a ’Mech, so our job is to cut off any off-world escape at the port. Far as we know, there are still a couple of DropShips they used to bring in mercs like Khitai’s boys, stored in underground hangers. Our job is to take the above-ground facility, stop them from moving anything into launch position.”

“Zlato will be there,” grinned Atom. “When the noose closes, she will come to us, and when she does—” He smacked a fist meatily into his open palm. Of course she would. Zlato was the only one with anything that could match the firepower of a BattleMech. Which was, of course, why Levato had insisted he be there to take her out. What a fight that would be! He giggled a little to himself in anticipation.

Gore looked at him oddly. “You feelin’ all right, Atom?”

“Grounded as a wire, charged as a battery.”

“Ah’m just gonna assume that means ‘yes’,” Gore sighed. He folded the map away and stuffed it into a pocket of his leather jacket. Then pointed away across the city, over rubble-strewn roads and ragged columns of marching militiamen, to a distant sparkle of silver amid the black forest of the Citadel. “Ain’t gonna be a cakewalk. You can see the defenses from here.”

Atom raised a pair of binoculars to his eyes, and adjusted the magnification. Was presented with a sudden close-up of a crumbling wall, beside which a militiaman squatted with his trousers around his ankles. “Your pardon,” Atom muttered, reflexively. He adjusted the binoculars, panning upwards, until the spaceport filled his view.

The spaceport itself was quite plain, consisting of four circular ferrocrete launch pads, plus two cracked landing strips for aerodyne DropShips. A number of squat, unlovely buildings of mossy or mold-streaked concrete clustered around the edges, many missing windows, doors, or walls. Two great ramps led underground, presumably towards the DropShip hangars.

The perimeter of the spaceport was dotted with a dozen dug-in tanks forming mini-bunkers, mostly Partisan SPAA tanks with a scattering of 60-tube missile platforms. A platoon of four Bulldog tanks was parked around one of the buildings. Atom could just make out the twin mirror-image Bs of Barsegh’s Bandits stenciled on their turrets.

The outer ring of defenses was formed by a zig-zagging, 10-meter high ferrocrete wall, trapezoidal in cross-section with sloping sides, perhaps 10 meters wide at the top, 60 meters wide at the base. Stick-figure soldiers prowled the wall, and firing positions with field guns crowned each outward-flaring ‘zig’. The blunted teeth of pyramidal ‘Dragon’s teeth’ tank traps studded the outer slope of the walls. There was no gate, but rather the only road leading out from the spaceport ran straight towards the wall before dipping into a tunnel directly under it, reappearing a hundred meters on the other side.

It reminded Atom a bit of the picture of an atom getting split in a nuclear fission reaction: The nucleus of the spaceport, throwing out little electrons of gun pits, tanks and trenches. It was a nice image, and he savored it a moment—Atom and the atom. Made him feel good, like confirmation he was on the right path. Like destiny.

“How do we get in?” he asked Gore.

“Gate,” said Gore. “It’d be one thing if we could jump over the wall, but none of us can and climbing up that thing’ll make us silhouetted all nice and pretty against the sky, and a perfect target for every gun they got in there. Nope. We’ll punch through the gate, try to use the buildings to block their LOS so we can defeat the tanks in detail, take ‘em out one at a time.”

“Will the Capellans help?” asked Atom.

“Mutai?” Gore turned to the liaison.

“What? Oh yes, um. The ah. The 21st regiment and 2nd independent armor company will attack first and pin down their perimeter defenses.”

Gore raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Spaceport’s right on the boundary between the 2nd and 3rd divisions, Abe. I don’t want my ass hangin’ in the breeze just cos some o’ your boys back at HQ’re havin’ a pissing contest. Specially not with Leyan bein’ a little, you know, upset these days.”

Mutai wet his lips nervously. “I’ll, ah. Yeah. Don’t worry. They, um. The headquarters. I’ll make sure they do it. The thing. Back you up. And. Stuff.”

“Very reassuring.” Gore turned away from the liaison, so Mutai would not see Gore roll his eyes.

“What about civilians?” Shinobu asked. Gore’s head snapped around to look at Shinobu. Even Atom found himself blinking in surprise. “Civilians,” Shinobu repeated. “Refugees. What if they try to escape through the spaceport?”

“They knew the risks—” Mutai began, but was cut off by a sharp metallic hiss. Shinobu had thumbed the hilt of his blade a centimeter out of its scabbard, glaring at Mutai with murderous eyes.

“Can Ah suggest a different answer, Abe?” Gore asked tightly. “We see your guys gettin’ trigger happy, all bets are off. Ares Conventions and whatnot.” Then, in a quiet whisper to Shinobu: “Of all the times you could discover your tongue. We gonna talk about this later, kamikaze.”

There was a long silence, broken only by a stumbling “Well, yes. I’ll see what I can ah. Right,” from Mutai. Atom watched them all with eager anticipation. He was slightly disappointed when finally, Shinobu nodded slowly, and snicked his sword back with a quick, sharp movement.

Gore sighed and tipped his head heavenwards, a give-me-strength look on his face. The skies had little support to offer though, only the mindless blundering of a great rolling band of morning glory clouds, and above them the fading contrails of fighter aircraft. It wasn’t like anything in the Collected Wisdom, and Atom found himself quickly losing interest. He was about to look away, when one of the contrails caught his eye. Not a fighter. A long bright thread, arcing up from just over the horizon to the north. A flickering candle flame now visible at its tip.

“What the frack is that?” Gore had gone very still, his upturned face now turned in the same direction.

Something buzzed at Mutai’s belt, and he fumbled for his communicator. Had a rushed and mumbled conversation in Chinese, “Shi ma? Zhen de ma? Zhen de!”, as the other three watched the comet burning brightly across the sky. Coming almost certainly straight towards them. Mutai clicked off the communicator. Gore looked down to meet Mutai’s look, one eyebrow arched in unasked question.

“It’s uh,” Mutai said. “Haha, weird. But it’s. Ah. Your DropShip.”
« Last Edit: 22 January 2019, 01:45:33 by Dubble_g »
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Re: Good as Gold
« Reply #29 on: 22 January 2019, 08:00:29 »
You really have a thing for cliffhangers. ;-)

That being said, I find myself reading with morbid fascination how the story about the Gray Death Legion's evil twin unfolds. Please keep your promise to make this a full-fledged novella. Can't wait to read the next chapters!