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Author Topic: Show of Force  (Read 4097 times)

XaosGorilla

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #120 on: 14 April 2019, 03:37:00 »
np

Daryk

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #121 on: 14 April 2019, 08:18:19 »
Ah, I thought you were wrapping it up there in post 118... glad to hear there will be more here.  :thumbsup:

cklammer

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #122 on: 14 April 2019, 09:15:28 »
Hello dubble_g,

 I am actually still here  8).

 But I am reading this offline on an e-book reader and so am only posting when I scrape an e-book with the latest updates for reading on the train which happens once or twice a week.

 Still entranced with this one, though.

Best Regards,
Christian

shadowdancer

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #123 on: 14 April 2019, 10:35:42 »
Still here and will be waiting.
Wishing the Worse on your Enemies
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cpip

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #124 on: 14 April 2019, 13:37:47 »
Just caught up with this. Hope you come back to it; I love your writing style and the way you get inside a given character's head.

mikecj

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #125 on: 14 April 2019, 15:37:08 »
Hum, distracted by other things at the moment. New writing on my blog. Will finish this when I get back on my desktop. If anyone's still reading...

Now you're just trolling for compliments :)
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #126 on: 16 April 2019, 20:42:54 »
Now you're just trolling for compliments :)
Oh no, no, no, no, no, no ... Well, yeah. A bit. I mean, is there any reason for publishing fan fiction other than community feedback? Semi-serious question. I know I've mentioned this before in another thread, and people have said they like reading without feeling the need to comment, but as a writer complete silence can be unnerving.  And thanks to everyone who chimed in to say they're still here.

Anyway, my schedule's kind of all over the place at least until mid-May, so for those that prefer to read offline I've put the whole thing up on ye olde blogge: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

***

TWENTY-THREE
Park Place, January 3015


There were no brave words when the loyalists arrived, tirelessly hounding them, remorseless as the ancient Greek furies. They could all count the number of drive flares filling the sky, and knew how many of their enemies were coming for them.

More than enough.

They were down to about a single battalion now, from the three they’d started with. The Fourth Guards were in a similar state. Against what looked like almost three full regiments: The enemy roster read like a roll call of grudges—the Fifteenth again, their old nemesis, the Head Hunters, no doubt hungering for revenge for Sophie’s World, and the Home Guard, the regiment that had killed his father. A force at least four times their size.

In Tivoli, the capital of Park Place, the Third was digging trenches, knocking down buildings to create better fields of fire, and piling up the rubble into barricades and strongpoints. At Fort Irwin on Bernardo, the League had turned a fortress into a park. Now, they were turning Park Place into a fortress.

Destiny or fate or providence or whatever god ruled the galaxy was not without a sense of humor, it seemed.
What they were doing was a crime, Sebastian felt, albeit a small one that probably wouldn’t even make his own personal top 10 list. But still, a crime nonetheless.

Park Place was a garden world, one of those handful of planets seemingly tailor-made for humanity, an Eden of pleasant grasslands and sparkling rivers, shady forests and perfumed gardens. A garden world that humanity had, in a rare display of restraint, managed not to immediately screw up or irreparably damage in the centuries since. Well, the Third was here to correct that oversight.

It was summer on Park Place, whatever the Terran calendar claimed, and they’d turned the pleasant, tawny summer days into a bleak and gritty winter of the soul. They’d trodden flat the multicolored flower beds that bloomed along the sides of green and lazy canals, bulldozed the trees in the city’s hundred leafy parks to make space for artillery emplacements, supply dumps or rallying points. Even the air, once so clean and fresh, now stank of oil and lubricant, or of smoke from burning buildings.

Sebastian worked alone and ate alone and slept alone. His lance was gone. Delavigne and Demir gone, lost on Bernardo, dead or captured he didn’t know which. The other MechWarriors avoided him. He was a marked man, a sure target for the avenging Fifteenth, and nobody wanted to be around when they caught up to him.

Sebastian stood before a rustic two-story stone house in the suburbs of Tivoli, situated at the base of a T-junction and facing a wide, divided boulevard that had once been lined with trees. The house was probably something that had stood for a hundred years or more. Abandoned, of course—the population had either fled or were hiding in the many hastily-built shelters further towards the city center.

The feet of the Mjolnir sank into the soft earth of the wide, green lawn. He fitted his right hand into the haptic manipulator glove, raised the ’Mech’s right hand and brought it crashing down through one wall. Rock crumbled like sand beneath the titanic fingers. He grabbed one stone, and pulverized it to powder in the ’Mech’s grip, just to see if he could. Sebastian watched the white powder cascade though the fingers in little waterfalls of pointless destruction.

He grew restless. This was taking too long. He let the arm fall, nudged the throttle and stomped the Mjolnir forward, straight into the front of the house. The walls and roof exploded outwards under the impact, pulling the entire house down in an escalating cascade. Sebastian stood in the middle, twisted left and right to complete the destruction, and kicked aside the few fragments of wall still standing. Then he got the glove again, and began to scoop the rubble into a two-meter embankment across the front lawn, working like an automaton, barely seeing what he was doing. Thinking nothing.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #127 on: 16 April 2019, 20:43:43 »
The Jabos began to probe the next day. First, a lance of Galleon light tanks that turned and fled the moment they detected him. Sebastian decided not to waste ammunition.

He waited. Six aerospace fighters streaked overhead and he suppressed a shudder, remembering Sophie’s World. They kept going, and he heard distant thunder from somewhere far to his left. A volcano stack of smoke and flame billowed over the city.

A few hours later, a recon lance came down the broad boulevard, a bat-eared Hermes II followed by a Cicada-3C sporting a PPC in one shoulder, and a pair of tiny 20-ton Stingers. Sebastian didn’t recognize the markings, but what difference did it make? Here were more enemies, and there would be plenty more when they were gone.

Sebastian fired off the last of his long- and short-range missiles, emptied his last autocannon rounds at them from the shelter of the low rubble wall. He might have damaged the Hermes, enough to make it limp—he wasn’t sure—but the lance was clearly not here to fight, and fell back with a few wild blasts of particle and autocannon fire that did nothing but rearrange the rubble slightly.

Sebastian thought of calling for support and giving pursuit, but why bother? They’d be back, soon enough.

Sure enough, towards evening a heavier force came, a fire support lance of an Archer, with a pair of Riflemen and a Griffin. Sebastian had nothing to match their long-range firepower now. He backed the Mjolnir up, turned it around, and ran, deeper into the city, where the roads were narrower, the buildings more clustered, and the engagement ranges would be shorter. The heavy lance did not pursue. They were in no rush.

The pattern repeated for the next 10 days, as the loyalist forces lapped higher and higher, like waves of an incoming tide, and the circle of the Third Militia’s defenses contracted, meter by inexorable meter.

Sebastian slept in the cockpit, in 15 or 30 minute bursts, wolfed down protein bars when he could, and began to forget what life was like outside the confines of a metal and ferroglass cube. He’d fallen asleep once, just out like the proverbial light, slumped forward in the harness with his hands still on the controls. Then suddenly jerked awake as a proximity alarm screamed in his ear and found a Quickdraw bearing down on him at full speed.

He’d shifted at the last minute, edging aside as the other ’Mech plowed past, right into the stone façade of a neo-Gothic bank. Sebastian had been too woozy to even fire. He just sort of stared at the Quickdraw dully, until its pilot picked it up out of the rubble and leaped away on its jump jets. Out of sheer embarrassment, perhaps. Belatedly, Sebastian fired a couple of laser blasts in its direction, but missed every shot.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #128 on: 16 April 2019, 20:46:53 »
The regimental headquarters was now in the basement of the planetary parliament buildings. The holotable had been lost on Bernardo, along with all the battalion mobile headquarters units. They were back to using a two-dimensional, printed paper map. Like something out of a historical.

It had been a conference room, once. There was still a central table, now covered with a sprawling map of Tivoli City, and the executive chairs had been haphazardly jammed down the far end of the room. The lights were feeble and dim, and shook occasionally as artillery shells landed somewhere above. There had been paintings on the wall, pastoral scenes in keeping with the planet’s names, picnics and fields and sunlit green hills. Someone had torn most of them down and defaced the rest.

Sebastian looked around at the dozen other faces in the room, all of them dirty, disheveled, hollow-eyed with exhaustion. He must not look much better.

Frank Streicher had survived, of course. Sebastian should have recognized the rest of them, but names were so vague now. Captain so-and-so, Lieutenant blah-blah-blah, Sergeant one-foot-in-the-grave. Gerald’s usual retinue of guards were on hand, anonymous as ever behind their masked helmets, but even they seemed to slump a little, he thought.
Esposito was pointing at the map, sketching lines with one finger.

‘Sir, the Fifteenth Militia has secured the spaceport and is moving towards the city from the north,’ he said to Gerald Marik. The Colonel did not react. ‘The Home Guard heavy BattleMech regiment landed to the east and south, and the Head Hunters to the west. Spearheads of the Fifteenth and the Home Guard already threaten to break our final defense line. By tomorrow, they will be able to link up here, at Friendship Bridge, and cut our pocket in half.’ Esposito tapped the map again, at a long black line cast across a wide river in the city center.

Gerald waved him into silence, and then rubbed a finger along his scraggle-bearded chin in thought.

‘They’re attempting a double envelopment. Hah.’ Gerald snapped his fingers. He picked up a thick grease pencil, and began to scribble arcs of blue across the map. ‘We’ll feint towards the mercenaries, then hit the Fifteenth when they shift their reserves to meet our thrust. Once we’ve punched through the Fifteenth, we can sweep around and catch the Hunters in the rear.’

Sebastian stifled a laugh. Feint? With what forces? Punch through how? Fainting seemed a real possibility—but feinting? Not so much.

Esposito’s mouth set in a thin line. The normally unflappable aide was sweating. He reached up two fingers to loosen his collar, and swallowed hard before he spoke.

‘Colonel, perhaps it’s time to consider seeking terms. An offer to surrender—’ Esposito started to say.

Without changing expression, Gerald unbuttoned the holster at his hip, drew a small and elegantly decorated laser pistol, and shot Esposito just above the right eye. The man’s head jerked back, and he collapsed soundlessly. Gerald blinked, dropped the pistol to the ground, and looked back at the map. As though nothing had happened.

‘Where was I? Right, Force Commander Adeyemi’s battalion will hit them here, on Bountiful Boulevard. The buildings will conceal the movement of our two battalions, and we can break the Fifteenth in a surprise attack.’ Gerald nodded to himself in satisfaction.

Sebastian looked at the other officers. They did not make any comment, nor meet his eye, but instead looked stolidly down at the map. Streicher nodded to the guards, who silently took Esposito’s body by the armpits and dragged him away, leaving a thick trail of red across the carpet.

Fantasies don’t die easy, Sebastian thought. Funny how things that walked nowhere but in the mind could leave just deep footprints on the ground. Well, his dreams were dead. He didn’t see why Gerald Marik should be allowed to keep his.

‘Sir, we don’t have enough men,’ Sebastian began. ‘Even if we did, we’re cut off from our DropShips and supplies. There’s food, fuel and ammunition for maybe a day more of fighting, that’s all.’

Gerald continued to stare down at the map, giving no sign he had heard the comment. He tapped the map thoughtfully. ‘Wait, I have a better idea. Order Force Commander Adeyemi to punch through their lines. We’ll regroup at the port, then counterattack and—’

‘Adeyemi is dead, sir.’

Gerald stopped, his finger frozen over the map, quivering slightly. Slowly he looked up. His face hardened. ‘That was an order, Gordon,’ he said quietly. ‘Are you disobeying a direct order?’

‘He’s dead. Died on Berenson two months ago. Sir.’

Gerald’s head snapped up, eyes bulging in outrage. ‘DON’T LIE TO ME!’ he screamed, spittle flying. The finger that had pointed at the map was now leveled at Sebastian in accusation. ‘You’re all just trying to make excuses not to attack. You cowards. You filthy, idiot, traitorous cowards. I should shoot the lot of you!’

Gerald reached for his belt, scrabbled at it desperately, but his service holster was empty, the gun taken away with the body of his aide. Sebastian watched him, calm and unafraid. Death might come as a relief. ‘Someone get me a gun so I can shoot everybody!’ Gerald shouted.

The guards looked at one another. Then at Streicher. He shook his head slightly. The guards stood still.

‘Traitors! Cowards!’ The Colonel began to weep, great big heaving ugly sobs. ‘I’m betrayed by everyone. Everyone! Everybody hates me. I knew it. I knew it all along. Well, you can all go to hell!’

With that, he grabbed the map table under the rim and heaved it upwards, sending it crashing on its side. The Colonel collapsed to his knees on the floor beside it. Still weeping furiously.

Streicher moved forward, and put a hand on Gerald’s shoulder. Slowly, the sobs began to tail off into ugly, wet snuffles and wheezes. Streicher patted the Colonel a few times. ‘You’re under a lot of pressure sir,’ he said. ‘A lot of stress.’

‘I am.’ Gerald’s red eyes rose to meet Streicher’s. ‘It’s true. I am.’

‘Perhaps, sir, I might lighten your burden?’

Gerald patted the hand on his shoulder. ‘That’s kind of you, but I don’t see—’

‘You have hesitated sir, to make a decision on a solution to our problems. You are torn between your love of the League, and the harsh measures that must be taken to save it. Allow me to make the decision for you. Let the burden, the responsibility and the blame, fall to me, sir.’

Gerald sat for a moment. He drew up his knees, hugged them to his chest, and began to rock back and forth. No one in the room dared to breathe. ‘Must we?’ Gerald asked at last, in a tiny voice.

‘Yes sir,’ Streicher said firmly. ‘It’s the only way, sir.’

Back and forth, back and forth. Gerald stopped. ‘Very well, do it,’ he said, very quickly. ‘Take my BattleMaster. Go. Quickly.’
Streicher swelled with satisfaction. ‘Thank you, sir, I—’

‘Never speak of it to me!’ Gerald suddenly shrieked, tearing away from Streicher’s grasp. ‘Go! You got what you wanted. Now get out of my sight. Everyone, go. Leave me alone!’

Sebastian and the other officers backed away slowly at first, then in a burst turned and rushed from the room.

In the darkened corridor outside, Streicher called to him. ‘Gordon, with me. The rest of you, to your posts. No time for fancy strategy or cunning tactics. We’ve nowhere left to go. So fight. Just fight. Make the bastards pay.’ Streicher grinned savagely, seeming to find joy in that thought. He beckoned to Sebastian. ‘Gordon, this way,’ he said, and headed for a stairwell. ‘We’ve got another job to do.’

The stairwell was narrow and unlit, the walls bare concrete. Streicher headed down into darkness. Sebastian hesitated at the top of the steps. How did Streicher see? That eye of his maybe, his memento of the debacle on Solaris.

‘Come on, Gordon,’ Streicher’s voice floated up to him.

‘Thought you said there wasn’t time for strategy, sir,’ Sebastian said.

‘Not strategy, Gordon. More of a surprise. Now get down here, Gordon. That’s an order.’

‘Bit murky, sir.’

‘What? Oh yes, right.’ A small torchlight appeared, a tiny pinpoint of white. ‘Hurry up.’

The building shook from a nearby impact that shook loose a rain of dust from the ceiling and sent it swirling into the light.
Sebastian shrugged uncaringly, and began to descend by the dim, faint light. ‘Why me?’

‘It’s a job for two, and because you’re like me now, boy.’ Streicher’s voice was closer now, somewhere invisible behind the light. ‘Nothing left to lose. Now, this way.’ Streicher’s footsteps receded and echoed and the light began to move, bobbing and dwindling further into the gloom. Beckoning. ‘First, we pick up the package. Then, to Friendship Bridge.’
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snakespinner

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #129 on: 17 April 2019, 02:08:40 »
Talk about authors finding complete silence unnerving, I went to the comedy store and sat silently in the front row.
You should have seen the comedian's face go very bright red just trying to get a laugh out of me.
I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had a root canal done that morning and was in too much pain to laugh.

Looking forward to see how Sebastian get's out of this. :thumbsup:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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smcwatt

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #130 on: 17 April 2019, 12:27:57 »
I like this take on a Civil War from the loser's side, although no one ever wins.

SMc.

cklammer

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #131 on: 17 April 2019, 12:41:59 »
Thank you so ver much for the pdf on the blog - more later.

Christian

mikecj

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #132 on: 17 April 2019, 21:23:56 »
Poor old Gerald!
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

cklammer

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #133 on: 21 April 2019, 12:46:34 »
(reading from the pdf) => very, very nice and head and shoulders above a lot of the canon fiction.

Sir Chaos

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #134 on: 21 April 2019, 13:05:14 »
‘It’s a job for two, and because you’re like me now, boy.’ Streicher’s voice was closer now, somewhere invisible behind the light. ‘Nothing left to lose. Now, this way.’ Streicher’s footsteps receded and echoed and the light began to move, bobbing and dwindling further into the gloom. Beckoning. ‘First, we pick up the package. Then, to Friendship Bridge.’

Is now the time to say "Uh oh..."?
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-Frederick the Great

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

Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #135 on: 21 April 2019, 20:55:53 »
(reading from the pdf) => very, very nice and head and shoulders above a lot of the canon fiction.
Getting comments like this is what I imagine heroin feels like.  :P

Also, that PDF was fun to make. Apologies to anyone trying to print it off, but the page size is designed to mimic the "trade paperback" large-format paperback size. Couple of other little details there also, like the page headers, drop caps at the start of each chapter, etc. also done to make it look like a 'real' published book. Props also to the artist, Marco Mazzoni (https://marcomazzoni.dunked.com/battletech) for the fantastic cover image, which I've taken from the Alpha Strike Commander's Edition.

***

TWENTY-FOUR
No Surrender


The pencil beam of the torch outlined a shape, dully reflective, waiting in the cellar beneath the parliament buildings. As Streicher ran the torch along its edges, almost lovingly, Sebastian saw it was a rectangular steel box, just over two meters long and about a meter wide. Black-on-yellow nuclear hazard labels were affixed to the top and sides.

‘What is this?’ Already knowing the answer.

‘A little souvenir from the Capellan arsenal on our old home on Bernardo,’ Streicher said. ‘A Peacekeeper warhead. Keeps the peace by detonating with a force equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT, instantly annihilating everything within a 500-meter radius. Lethal radiation and probable destruction of everything two kilometers away and gives everything up to about five kilometers away a seriously bad day.’ Streicher patted the box affectionately. ‘You heard our late friend, Esposito. All we need to do is take this up to Friendship Bridge and we can instantly wipe out around 200 Jabos.’

The light swung and revealed a low, electric cart near the box. ‘Help me lift it up, damn thing weighs half a ton,’ said Streicher. ‘We’ll take it out to the Mechs. I’ll need to carry it, so you cover me. We get there, set the detonator, and get out. Then sit back and watch the flash.’

Sebastian didn’t move.

‘You’re dead if they win, Gordon.’

He nodded, half-listening.

Streicher sighed, and clicked off the light, plunging them both into darkness. ‘Unity, Gordon, what else are you going to do? No family, no pretty lady, no friends … this is it. This is all there is for you.’

Sebastian thought he could still see an outline of the box, glowing faintly in the pitch black, and felt his skin itch at the thought of what it contained. Death, not just for 200 enemy MechWarriors, but for tens of thousands still hiding in the city. A BattleMech was shielded against radiation, but not the civilian shelters. Death on a scale not seen for hundreds of years—at a stroke, they would undo the one good thing to come out of 300 years of senseless slaughter: the banishment of the specter of nuclear annihilation.

Did that matter? They executed you for one murder. He had at least three, if not four, on his conscience. What more could they do for ten thousand? It was just one more obscenity.

‘You, of all people, would understand revenge, I thought,’ Streicher said, with a hint of exasperation. ‘You remember Julie Maupin? Armand’s commander? I hear she’s with the Eighteenth now. So. Time’s wasting. Move.’

Sebastian moved. He couldn’t say why. One last gesture, a spit in the face of the galaxy before it crushed him completely.
Streicher reignited the torch and set it on the cart. Sebastian bent, helped lever the crate onto the cart, and sat on the crate as they trundled out the storage room, down the hall, up a freight elevator and out into the blasted and burning city.

The Mjolnir stood over them, armor hanging in ragged sheets now, exposing bare bones and musculature, more mechanical zombie now than Frankenstein.

Reactor online, sensors online ... LRM offline, SRM offline, autocannon offline, actuator damage, life support damage …

Sebastian listened patiently as the system listed all its woes and aches. ‘Just a little more,’ he reassured it.

Streicher had climbed aboard Gerald Marik’s BattleMaster, while the Colonel himself stayed hidden in the headquarters.

‘It’s only two kilometers from here to Friendship Bridge,’ Sebastian said to Streicher on the taccom. ‘They’ll be killed in the detonation.’

Streicher bent his machine and picked the warhead crate up in the left hand. ‘I have the detonator rigged here, in the cockpit. I’ll send a signal, when we’re in position,’ he replied. ‘Give them time to evacuate.’

Evacuate to where? Sebastian wondered idly. But, ah, it made no difference. Who cared?

‘Lead on,’ said Streicher, and so Sebastian turned his ’Mech away, turned its back on Gerald and the headquarters, and began to limp towards the distant bridge, actuators whining painfully with each clunking step, and the BattleMaster followed behind.

The sounds of battle were all around now. Explosions mushroomed skywards in every direction, to the sound of screaming missiles, howling particle fire and keening laser beams.

‘I don’t know why you’re so reluctant. In a way, you should be grateful. I made you, Gordon,’ Streicher was saying. His voice was odd now, infected with an almost religious fervor. ‘Without me, you’d have been a nobody, of no importance to anyone. I made your reputation. I made you famous.’

A JagerMech appeared around a cluster of demolished office towers and peppered them with cannon fire, walking a line of divots in the BattleMaster’s armor up the chest and cracking into the cockpit ferroglass. Streicher swore, twisted the torso to the side to shield the warhead and fired his PPC back, Sebastian adding his own fire, sending the JagerMech scuttling back to cover.

‘When you joined our regiment, you were weak. Like Vanra. You remember him? He was weak, too. I knew he wouldn’t have the courage to stand with Duke Anton. That’s why Bhandari and I put the bomb in his ’Mech.’

The Mjolnir staggered a little as Sebastian’s concentration broke. ‘You what?’ The ground felt like it was shifting beneath his feet.

‘Oh, don’t give me that, Gordon. A little late for regrets now, isn’t it? We wanted him out of the way, and then luckily for us you went berserk and drew all the attention away. So you see, it was all thanks to me. Ah, here we are.’

Friendship Bridge was wide and sturdy, supporting four lanes in either direction on short, stout pillar legs. It ran table-flat across the kilometer-wide river, its only ornamentation being a pair of criss-crossing arches in the center, forming a kind of aerial X over the midpoint of the bridge.

Sebastian couldn’t move. Everything over the last year, everything he’d thought had happened was based on a lie. Anthony Sarloveze hadn’t tried to kill anyone. Sebastian had murdered an innocent man, and begun the whole cascade. But he’d been wrong, they’d all been wrong.

‘Move it, Gordon. Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts now.’

Sebastian obediently shuffled out onto the span, moving on automatic now as his mind raced. If that day on Bernardo had been a lie, then how much more was built on an illusion? 

‘Unity, that woman really got to you, didn’t see? I knew that Regulan bitch was trouble. Should have told Moreno to get rid of her sooner.’

They were nearly two-thirds of the way there now, three hundred meters out from the shore. The opaque, blue-green waters of the river curled lazily in foamy strands about the bridge supports beneath their feet. Bits of burnt timber, household debris and a body or two floated past.

‘You ordered her death?’

‘It’s too late, Gordon. We’ll plant the bomb there, beneath the arches. The Jabos won’t be able to resist the photo op of having their two regiments meet in the center.’

‘What about the assassin on Bernardo. Was that you as well?’

‘Oh, no. Well, not directly. It was clear you still weren’t one of us, not really, so I had Moreno let slip where you’d be going to the familia. But none of this matters, Gordon. What’s done is done. There’s one task left.’

There was. One task. One small wall he could maybe salvage something from the wreck. One way he could stop this hole from getting any deeper.

‘I don’t think so, Streicher.’ Sebastian halted his ’Mech.

A blast of lightning hit the Mjolnir from behind. Arcs of electricity and sparks flew from the controls. Sebastian had to jerk his hands away, every hair on his arms standing up, every nerve tingling. The HUD and 360-degree vision strip flickered and went dark. The Mjolnir slumped forward without falling over, like a sleeper dead on his feet.

Streicher’s voice boomed over external speakers. ‘I won’t let you stop me now, Gordon,’ he said. ‘Janos and his lackeys have to pay, for what they did to me on Solaris.’

Sebastian gingerly reached for the right control yoke. A spark leaped the distance to his fingers and delivered another shock. He shook his hand, swearing fiercely.

‘I thought there might be hope for you, after Anthony and your duel with Armand, but it was clear you weren’t really one of us. I let Moreno try to get rid of you, with the tip to the familia, and on Sophie’s World. Even gave you a chance to get yourself killed on Berenson, but here you still are.’

The displays came stuttering back to life. ‘Reactor sensors … clkx wbmnnnn … damaged, damaged, damaged’ The voice feedback system was glitched. Sebastian looked at the readouts instead, but the news was not good. The gyroscope was damaged, so he’d barely be able to walk. The right knee and left hip were slag, in any case. The three chest lasers were all offline.

The BattleMaster stood directly behind him on the bridge.

All he had was the left-arm Harmon laser, in its bulging turret mated to the shoulder.

‘Janos has to pay. I swore I’d make him pay.’

It was funny, in a way, these Russian nestling doll cycles of revenge: Anton taking revenge on his brother for the death of his childhood friend, and within that Streicher’s revenge for his lost eye, and within that Sarloveze’s vendetta and his own.

Sebastian thought of Thaddeus, whose death had put his own cycle in motion. The Rifleman pilot would have appreciated what Sebastian was about to try to do.

‘Goodbye, Gordon.’

Sebastian spun the left-arm turret around, so that the laser pointed directly behind him. And squeezed the trigger.

A pillar of ruby light slammed into the BattleMaster’s cockpit canopy. Ferroglass bubbled, buckled and melted in a split second. The laser bored a hole through, into the cockpit, through the other side, and painted the inside of the ferroglass a thick, bright red. The BattleMaster stood still a moment, then sagged. The right knee snapped, and the 85-ton ‘Mech keeled to the side, over the edge of the bridge, and slammed into the river below, taking the nuclear warhead and its detonator down into the depths.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #136 on: 21 April 2019, 21:00:02 »
Water. Why always water. He hated the damn stuff. Yes, yes, 80% of your body was water or whatever, but that just proved his point—water caused nothing but trouble.

Sebastian watched the river, where the BattleMaster had sunk, waited for a sign of movement, or maybe just an annihilating blast as Streicher triggered the warhead. But there was nothing. The waters had closed over the BattleMech without leaving a trace. Erased it as though it had never been, like an illusion or a mirage.

He didn’t know what else there was to do. Jump, follow Streicher into a watery grave perhaps, but something inside him refused the easy route. He would go, but spitting defiance to the end.

The BattleMech kept up a constant burbling litany to itself. ‘Gyroscope damaged … testing audio track two testing, testing … actuator damaged, hip damaged … did you see the ass on that new techie, oooh la la, wait is this thing still on …

Sebastian limped the Mjolnir off the bridge, step by painful step. He breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the shore. At least, it wouldn’t be water for him, at the end. He took another step.

Target warning critical … testing, testing, oooh la la.’ A squiggle that was probably meant to be a target appeared on the HUD, then disappeared, just as an 80-ton close assault Victor stepped around a corner barely 200 meters away.
 
The Victor’s right arm snapped up. Everything below the elbow was replaced by the massive maw of a Pontiac 100 autocannon, a wrecking ball of a weapon in the same class as the ones in the nose of the Lightning or on the shoulder of a Hunchback. To Sebastian’s sleep-deprived mind, it looked like the ’Mech was extending its hand towards him, as though to shake his hand, congratulate him for what he’d one.

‘No, too kind, really,’ he murmured, and took a half-step forward. ‘It was nothing.’

The Pontiac roared. The Mjolnir reeled backwards, crashing into the side of a 20-story glass office tower and releasing a storm of glass shards that fell like silver rain.

Sebastian shook his head, dazed.

Damaged. Critical. Damaged.’ The Mjolnir helpfully informed him.

‘Really? I hadn’t noticed.’ He tried squeezing the trigger for the Harmon laser, but nothing happened. Which left him, what, no weapons, next to no armor, and half a leg to walk on.

The Victor watched, the autocannon still trained on the Mjolnir.

‘Well, get it over with,’ Sebastian sighed, in the silence of his cockpit.

The open channel beeped. The pilot of the Victor, trying to talk to him. Well, sticks and stones. Sebastian put it on “Listen only.”

‘Surrender.’

Sebastian stared at the other ’Mech through the cracked forward ferroglass. Didn’t the pilot know who he was?

‘I don’t want to kill you. Power down.’

An Orion moved around the Victor to stand on the other side Sebastian. At first his heart leaped—rescue, the Third—but the color scheme was all wrong, and a different voice broke across the channel. One he recognized: Armand Sarloveze’s old commander, Julie Maupin. ‘It’s the Berenson Burner, sir. We should—’

‘Quiet,’ the first voice said. ‘I know who he is. But if we kill him, are we any different?’ There was a short pause, but no further protest from Maupin. The first voice addressed Sebastian again. ‘Gordon, don’t make us do this. You’ll get a fair trial, I promise. Just stand down. Surrender.’

No, there would be no fair trial. He was pretty sure of that. Besides, maybe the fair and just result of any trial would be to find him guilty. Armand Sarloveze had boiled to death, his brother had drowned, for a lie, as pawns in Streicher’s own feud. Not to mention all the nameless others caught in the crossfire. Maybe, he deserved death.

With that thought, he reached down to the control console, and pried open an access hatch. There were a row of three circuit boards, status lights blinking. He pulled the first one, tearing it free from its connectors. ‘Heat level warning, warning ooh la la. Audio track two. Engine shielding damaged.

‘You’re surrounded Gordon. Colonel Marik has been captured. It’s over. Do the smart thing. Do the decent thing. Power down and surrender.’

Sebastian tugged the second board free. ‘Heat level … level … level. Engine shielding damaged. Warning. Level. Warning. Heat levels critical.’ He hoped the two MechJocks were focused on their conversation, not their infrared sensors.

‘He’s not listening, Force Commander,’ said Maupin in her Orion. ‘This guy murdered Armand and Anthony. Any judge is going to have him shot. We’re just speeding up the process.’ She raised her BattleMech’s two barrel arms, and pointed them at the Mjolnir. ‘Just give us an excuse, Bastard. Go ahead. Just make a move.’

The words triggered a memory, and Sebastian smiled. He pulled the last of the circuit boards and tossed it at his feet. ‘Engine shielding damaged. Warning. Heat levels critical.’ He slapped another control. ‘Shutdown override. Warning. Heat levels critical. Warning. Fusion reactor overload.

Sebastian clicked on the open channel. ‘Yeah, I’ve thought of a move.’

He shoved the throttle forward. The Mjolnir lurched towards the Orion. ‘Warning. Eject. Fusion reactor overload. Eject.

‘No, wait—’ the first voice was shouting.

The Orion fired, laser fire grazing the Mjolnir’s chest just beside the cockpit, vaporizing armor and blasting open a bundle of myomer pseudomuscle fibers, that flailed the air like snakes.

Fusion reactor overload. Eject.

The Mjolnir did not so much crash into the Orion as stumble drunkenly into it. The sheer mass drove the Orion back a step, but it kept its feet.

‘Don’t shoot, take him alive!’

White-hot myomers batted against the side of the cockpit ferroglass by Sebastian’s face.

Maupin twisted the right arm around, to point the bore of one arm laser directly at the Mjolnir cockpit. No intention of taking Sebastian alive, obviously. He closed his eyes.

Fusion reactor overload. Eject.

The cockpit burst open. Sebastian hadn’t meant to pull the eject lever. But there was some survival instinct buried at the bottom of his brain that still struggled against the inevitable. One that made him reach down and jerk the lever. Rockets under his couch fired. Something flared at the corner of his eye. Instinctively, he raised his arms to protect his face.

In that instant, a strand of half-melted, yellow-orange polymer reached out a stroked him, wrapping itself around his upraised left arm.

He screamed. The scream was lost as the seat rocketed into the air, slamming him down against the back, preventing him from moving, from tearing free the strand searing into his arm.

The Mjolnir’s engine detonated. At first, there was a sudden strobe of intensely bright light that blasted away every color, rendering the world in stark black and white. Then, a microsecond of dark. And the top half of the Mjolnir became the center of a newborn sun, an expanding nova of brilliant fire that annihilated the Mjolnir, dissolved Maupin’s Orion in a furious, racing, expanding blast-front of metal, polymer and glass shards.

The 80-ton Victor was picked up, lifted off its feet and slammed down on its back by the blast.

Sebastian’s ejector seat was blown sideways, careening wildly over the tops of a row of buildings, flashing just above the tops of denuded trees in one of the city’s many parks, deployed its chute uselessly in the howling gale, caught on one of the branches, and jerked Sebastian brutally to a stop.

He hung in the seat, swaying, dangling from the parachute straps caught in the tree, a meter above the edge of a small pond, its once-blue waters now green with neglect.

The left hand wouldn’t move, no, the whole left arm. He didn’t want to look down. Wasn’t even sure if it was still there.

The pain had been bad enough, he thought it might have been cut off entirely. He could see his twisted, shadowed reflection in the water below. Or it looked up at him. He thought he saw the arm, still there.

With the right arm, he undid the safety harness keeping him strapped to the dangling seat. A meter didn’t seem so far to fall, but the impact tore another scream from him, and he fell into the water on his side.

The water was shallow, a few centimeters, barely up to his chin lying down. That would be enough, if he couldn’t keep his head up. Sebastian tried to crawl, or he thought he did. He might have passed out. Next thing he knew he was coughing, spluttering, the sting of water in his nose. He had to move.

Burned and then drowned, he thought, burned and drowned. He couldn’t say it wasn’t deserved. Drowned and burned. One for Anthony, one for Armand. Well played, guys. It took a while, but you got me in the end.
 
There was less pain than he had expected. Just kind of numb. Things fading away.

Maybe it was like Rikard had said, all just a dream or a simulation. Love and revenge and hate and jealousy and spite, they were all just shadows on the wall. Freedom and slavery, duty and honor. Phantoms in the mind. Not real. He could see why some people might think so, or wish they did. It hadn’t been all that great of a dream, to be honest, and he was kind of looking forward to waking up.

Sebastian’s head dipped, and he sank into the water.

*

Four people in a nearby shelter saw him fall. Ordinary people: A shop clerk, an aspiring musician, a carpenter and a professional windsurfer. They braved the fires, the random bursts of gunfire, and rushed to the water line and hauled the limp man out. Not thinking or wondering whose side he was on, just knowing that here was a fellow human, in pain, in danger of dying, and they could not sit by and do nothing. Heroes, in other words.

They carried him back to the shelter, kept him comfortable until the medics arrived. No doubt saved his life.

The man had awoken only once, briefly, while they waited. He’d looked around, at the crowded and dark shelter, at the anxious and dirty faces huddled around him, and frowned a little. ‘Still dreaming,’ he’d mumbled.

He’d seemed, if anything, disappointed.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #137 on: 21 April 2019, 21:04:47 »
EPILOGUE
Park Place, March 3015


Time to wake up,’ Melanie Chu said to Sebastian Gordon, as they sat on a balcony on the second floor of the hospital for veterans Anton’s now-failed revolt, and watched the sun set.

He’d missed the end, thankfully, the final act in Duke Anton’s squalid little tragedy: The Duke’s slow descent into paranoia and madness, his attempt to blackmail Wolf’s Dragoons into following his increasingly deranged orders by taking their support personnel and civilians hostage. The murder of Joshua Wolf. Anton’s own death at the hands of Joshua’s enraged lover, Natasha Kerensky, who would write her revenge in blood across the Inner Sphere, and thereafter would be known as the “Black Widow.”

Janos’s revenge was less swift, but no less sure, and all the more terrifying for the grinding, mechanical, impersonal totality of it. The Captain General and his eldest son, Martin, had watched impassive as a guilty verdict was handed down to a weeping Gerald Marik. Sentenced to death by firing squad. The surviving colonels of the other rebellious regiments met the same fate. And then the force commanders, and the captains. The League exorcised its anger, its sense of betrayal, and in some cases its guilt over complicity, in blood.

With the easy, obvious targets taken care of the net widened. Civilian governors, sympathetic corporate executives, entertainers or other public figures who had voiced support. Lesser soldiers, too, those accused of crimes. Like the Bastard of Bernardo, the Berenson Burner.

Marked for death, unless another found them first.

‘Why?’ Sebastian asked her.

‘I had to know,’ she said. ‘You were MIA. I had to know, one way or the other.’ She didn’t add, “in spite of all you’ve done.” She didn’t have to. Somehow, that hurt more, and almost broke him the way every death and betrayal had never managed to do. To know that you could fall so low, and yet still be cared about. That hurt, and it hurt that had put someone in that position, of having to love a man like himself.

‘They told me you were dead,’ Sebastian said. ‘Or maybe I really am dreaming.’

‘Maybe we both are.’ Her smile was a little sad. ‘What do you think?’

‘If it’s a dream, it’s a good one. Guess we all make our own reality, so I’m happy this one is mine.’

Melanie patted his cheek and then let go, stood and took his hand, pulling him to his feet. ‘This dream is not all good, Seb. We’d better go,’ she said. ‘They’ll be looking for you. You’re lucky I found you first.’

She led him by the hand, across the room, out the door, down the corridor and the stairs, past bustling nurses and doctors whose eyes slid past the two incuriously, intent on their own work. They walked past the front desk, where the shift had changed and neither of the staff on duty recognized the woman. She looked like a noble though, dressed like one, and so they shrugged away any doubts they had as to whether she was allowed to take one of the patients outside.
Of course she was. Nobles were allowed to, weren’t they? Better not to cause trouble and risk a reprimand. Don’t rock the boat. If anybody asked later, they could always claim ignorance. They hunched over their computers, and pretended not to notice.

Melanie led him to a ground car, a gleaming and sleek saloon in the same rich, saturated blue as her coat. The inside was a soft, warm fawn color, and the fabrics seemed to wrap and envelop him in a gentle caress.

Sebastian sat back in the seat and watched Melanie drive. She would glance over, from time to time, and always found his eyes on her. He was afraid to look away, he didn’t even want to blink, for fear this really was a dream, and she would vanish the moment he closed his eyes or took them from her.

But she remained solid and real, and she reached out to pat his hand. The wheel was on the left side, Sebastian on her right, so she touched his left one. This time, he managed not to flinch.

Melanie told her story, as the buildings and traffic slipped by on either side in indistinct blurs. The initial interrogation and suspicion. Then a sudden shift, as the loyalist side decided to encourage defection by showing how well deserters would be treated. There has been some thought about using her to get to him, but there had been confusion as to whether he was alive or dead, and the idea had fizzled out. All she’d had to do was go on a brief speaking tour, where she was coerced into giving speeches denouncing the rebellion, and then she was quietly allowed to resign from the military.

Sebastian thought he should be saying more, but he let the words wash over him, nodding in what he thought were the appropriate places. Melanie was describing an alien life though, one that had as much to do with his own as the lives of holostars did. He couldn’t quite picture any of it, any world in which people weren’t clawing and tearing at one another. One in which you didn’t live with the knowledge of the crime you’d committed, or have to wonder if there was any path back from the hole you’d dug for yourself.

So he smiled and murmured, ‘That’s terrible,’ or ‘How awful,’ and saw one Sarloveze fall into the boiling geyser, another into a lake, himself towards a lakeside park. ‘Well, I’m glad you came through it okay.’

He was glad someone had.

Melanie parked by a glass-pyramid hotel, whose entrance was flanked by miniature sphinxes and imitation Egyptian statuary. Their room looked towards the spaceport, its floodlights and navigation beacons flickering and blinking like distant stars.

‘Your DropShip leaves in the morning,’ Melanie said, as they stood shoulder to shoulder, looking out the window.

Come with me, he wanted to say. Come with me. They way she’d begged him to, all those months ago. He should have said yes. He should have … well, he should have done pretty much everything differently. He should have said yes.
He wouldn’t ask. It was too much, and she didn’t deserve exile. The crime was his alone. The guilt. He couldn’t ask.

‘Come with me,’ he said anyway.

Melanie turned, and stood in front of him, and pressed herself to him. He held her, as the shadows lengthened and the lights of the spaceport grew brighter.

‘You,’ she said at last, her voice muffled again his chest. ‘I know what happened. And you are seriously messed up, Seb.’

‘I thought that was part of the charm.’

‘You need to exorcise the, whatever, you’ve got inside you. Anger, regret, guilt. Maybe then, well. We can see.’

‘That sounds nice.’ He laid his cheek on the top of her head, and stroked her hair. ‘I thought you didn’t believe in fantasies.’

‘This one came true,’ she said. ‘I said I would find you. And I did.’

‘Mm. So anything is possible. Let’s believe that.’

‘Let’s do,’ she agreed, turned her face up to kiss him. And led him to the bed.

*

He couldn’t sleep. He extracted his arm from under Melanie’s neck, slowly, carefully not to wake her. Swung his legs off the bed and sat up. Put on his shirt and pants, pulled the cover up around her bare shoulders. She moved a little and he froze, watching her, a gentle hand on her shoulder until she relaxed and drifted into deeper sleep.

Sebastian opened the door and went out onto the balcony. He leaned against the railing. He had a brief flash of irrational fear. What if the balcony failed, what if the seemingly solid structure suddenly gave way and let him fall?

He shrugged away the thought. Even though you knew the world was chaos, random, uncaring, you had to act as though it was solid, orderly and made sense. Otherwise you’d just curl into a ball and hide.

So you constructed a reality around yourself, one where balconies did not suddenly collapse, where love and loyalty mattered, where you could find a way back from the edge.

One where this all had meaning, where the chaos had some order. Hey, if you were dreaming, why not dream big?

Sebastian looked out towards the spaceport. The lights called out to him, softly glowing, beckoning.

It would be morning soon. Time to wake up.

THE END

***

And that's it. That's all I wrote. Hear that? Fat lady is just belting out the tunes. Roll credits.
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

cklammer

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #138 on: 22 April 2019, 00:51:36 »
And some credits they are: outstanding  :thumbsup:

The pdf "trade paperback" large-format paperback size worked very well on my 8"-ebook-reader and was very well readable there - that is a bit of trade craft to keep.

Now waiting for the sequel .. (ducks and covers  ;D)

Sir Chaos

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #139 on: 22 April 2019, 08:25:28 »
*applauds*
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

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

OpacusVenatori

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #140 on: 22 April 2019, 11:38:25 »
Excellent!  :thumbsup:
While some fight with honor, Others win battles

mikecj

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #141 on: 26 April 2019, 21:01:47 »
Well done, thank you!
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

Dubble_g

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #142 on: 07 May 2019, 01:31:56 »
Heyo, back at home for the first time in a bit. Apologies to all the other writers for bumping this old thread, but here's a quick "Thank you!" to all the people who took time to comment: mikecj, OpacusVenatori, Sir Chaos and cklammer.

Now waiting for the sequel .. (ducks and covers  ;D)
Ah, that's the beauty of doing a prequel: the sequel's already done! https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

Now if you mean a sequel to the original, that may take longer. I'm on a fantasy kick right now (writing a much more lighthearted series called 'Gentlemen Assassins' here: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.com/p/original-fiction-index.html) ... so I may turn the next trilogy over to three different directors and allow them to go crazy with the canon, as that seems a completely uncontroversial way to handle these properties. Cough.
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

Esskatze

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #143 on: 07 May 2019, 15:38:56 »
Now if you mean a sequel to the original, that may take longer.

I'd really love to read a sequel to "Good as Gold". You had me really tricked me with Melanie's (not-)death. All in all another very good story, and I enjoyed every chapter to the fullest. I'm currently reading your Gentleman Assassins story on your blog, so when you see a German IP address in your log, that could be me.  ;)

cklammer

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Re: Show of Force
« Reply #144 on: 07 May 2019, 16:05:09 »
 :D ... jumps up and down ...  :D

Yes, please - like your Dubichev tales

 

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