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Author Topic: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories  (Read 3540 times)

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« on: 24 May 2019, 21:20:21 »
                                                                        The Bounty

Quentin
Federated Commonwealth
July 3040
1145 Hours


  Chu-i As`Zaman’s light lance made up of his Mongoose, two Spiders and a Valkyrie maneuvered through the rubble-strewn industrial zone of Steel Valley, in search of the entrenched defenders.
  “Targets at two o’clock,” reported Kaminski, in one of the Spiders, “Jager mech, Stinger, Victor and a Locust.”
  “In sight.”

  “So, Mohammed As`Zaman Bey, I have tracked you down!” The voice crackled over the open frequency, and a Vindicator stepped out from behind a cluster of ruins.

  “Vindicator,” replied As`Zaman on the open freq, “Your IFF appears to be malfunctioning, please have it checked.”
  “Oh, no, no, no…” returned the Vindicator, “I’m a bounty hunter and you are my target, so prepare to surrender!”
  “Jager mech,” said Mohammed Bey, “is this joker one of yours?”
  “Ummm, no,” replied the Jager mech’s pilot, “He’s not on any of my unit’s rosters.”
  “I figured, so…” pondered the mercenary, “Alright, let’s see your warrant.”
  “My what?”

  “Seriously? Any legitimate bounty hunter requires a warrant issued by the government with jurisdiction,” announced the Azami mechwarrior, “Since Quentin is currently under martial law, you would need a warrant signed by Tai-shu Noketsuna.”
  “I have to get that first?” asked the bounty hunter.

  “Of course,” said the mercenary, “all you have to do is present the adequate extradition papers, and a copy of your contract as posted by a recognized hiring hall.”
  “Extradition papers?” The bounty hunter seemed confused.
  “A bounty for my capture entails a legitimate government warrant, usually for a crime, that sanctions my detention and transport,” As`Zaman informed the bounty hunter, “You are aware of that, right?”

  “Errrr…”
  “What did you intend to do?”
  “I mean…I was just going to capture you and release you after I was paid the big ransom that everybody knows your people offer…”
  “How much do they offer?” the Jager mech kind of fidgeted.
The bounty hunter muttered, “Three million Cs.”
The Victor raised a hand, “Boss, that’s a lot!”
  “It certainly is!” the Jager mech motioned with its autocannon arms.

  “Of course, it is, until you read all the fine print,” advised Mohammed Bey, “There are medical deductions, in case I get wounded, accommodations penalties for any conditions less than a four-star hotel, meals, the cost of my being out of action, at overtime rates…” He paused for a few seconds, “Can I have a minute? I have to make a call.”
  “Ah, sure…” The bounty hunter began to look for a safe way to leave.
  “Guys, we could all retire on half that amount,” said the Locust pilot.
  “Back,” announced As`Zaman, “Thanks for waiting.”
  There was a subdued chorus of “welcome back” and “no problem”.

  “My commander wants a confirmation of your contract,” Mohammed Bey informed the bounty hunter, “ComStar, right?”
  “Not exactly…” the bounty hunter replied, “It was a Periphery outfit…Acme Merc, LLC.”
  “Dude, you didn’t…” the Jager mech sagged a bit in profound disappointment.
  “Unfortunately, Periphery halls are rarely recognized in the Inner Sphere,” replied the Azami mechwarrior, “and no Periphery Halls are sanctioned to operate within Combine jurisdiction.”

  “W…wait, where does that leave me?” The Vindicator slowly backed away.
  “Legally, you are at best, undocumented,” answered the mercenary officer, “Your dropship has been seized, its crew arrested, and now, I may place you under arrest.”
  “What?”

  “Jager mech, an intact Vindicator is worth about three million Cs,” declared As`Zaman, “I’ll direct deposit half that to your bank if you and your buds take this bounty hunter down.”
    “Deal, mate!” The Jager mech’s autocannon barked furiously. The Victor and Locust circled to cut off any escape.

  “No!” The Vindicator turned as AC rounds slammed into its torso and side.
« Last Edit: 18 June 2019, 22:50:11 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #1 on: 25 May 2019, 00:03:50 »
…The Compassionate, the Merciful

Basin Lake
Luthien
Draconis Combine
January 4, 3052
Midday


  Chu-sa Sven Shamash glanced at his sensors and frowned. The battalion of 1st Sword of Light battlemechs had been pushed aside by heavier Clan Smoke Jaguar elements. Those few stars that made it through the gauntlet of furious DCMS units were almost staggering by the time they reached the company of Eighth Arkab Legion battlemechs; the merciless barrages of missiles shredded the remainder of the advancing invaders from the cover of trees.
  Even with this success, the Azami officer was concerned- his MilSat link indicated that Clan Nova Cat units were massing just behind the faltering Clan Smoke Jaguar line and he could see their plan very clearly –they will push forward and hit the weakened DCMS units like a massive wave. “Amateurs...” he sighed. “…but very well-equipped amateurs.”

  The commlink sounded. “Chu-sa Shamash, this is Saif al-Din.” The face of the Eighth Arkab Legion’s commander appeared on the comm. screen.
  “Hello, cousin,” responded the Chu-sa. “What are your orders?”
  Mohammed As`Zaman Bey’s deep voice was tired and he spoke with urgency. “The Coordinator has given the command to pull back. You may retreat and reform at this point.” The Chu-sa noted a navigation indicator appearing on his map display.
  “Acknowledged,” Shamash replied. He glanced at his forward sensors which showed numerous enemy units approaching. “I may have to leave a small holding force to allow our slower units to break away.”
  “Use your best judgment, cousin –out,” Mohammed Bey ended his transmission.

 The Eighth Arkab Legion was a newly-formed training cadre that served to instruct Inner Sphere units how to use their assets in facing the invading Clans. Experienced in fighting the Clans, it was sheer coincidence that the cadre was now on Luthien, putting their accumulated knowledge to the test.
  The Chu-sa activated his trinary net, “All elements of Trinary Shamash are to retreat to the point indicated on your navscreens.” He tapped the command frequency button.
  “Q’arandar, this is Shamash.”
  “Yes sir,” responded Q’arandar.
  “You are to take command of the trinary,” he ordered. “I will personally remain behind to delay the enemy.”
  “Sir, that is suicide,” replied Q’arandar. “Even a star would die for nothing.”
  “That may be, but we cannot afford to lose a star, Ahmed,” said Sven. “Remember the study materials –I shall take the chance that enough of the enemy will slow to face a single challenger. Now go!”
  “Yes sir,” replied the adjutant. Q’arandar turned his Mongoose and motioned for the waiting battlemechs to move toward the distant hills.

  Moments after the last of his unit pulled away from their prepared positions, Chu-sa Shamash detected the first star of advancing Clan Smoke Jaguar omnimechs on his sensors. The Clan machines on his sensors bore dual tags, indicating both their Inner Sphere and Clan designations. Out of courtesy to his “guest” opponents and as part of his role as a trainer, he eliminated the common-use Inner Sphere labels and used the Clan designations.
  A severely damaged Gargoyle led the small unit, flanked by a similarly wrecked Mad Dog on its right and a limping Hellbringer on its left. Behind them were other damaged omnimechs; an Adder missing an arm and a Summoner, also in severely damaged condition.
  “Why don’t these guys just go back to their LZ?” he wondered. Limping to the front lines made very little sense.
  Shamash moved his Crab CRB-Az variant forward, arms raised in challenge, he barked over the open frequency and external loudspeakers. “I am Trinary Commander Chu-sa Sven Shamash of the glorious Eighth Arkab Legion! I command access to Waseda Hills and challenge the Clan Smoke Jaguar Gargoyle should he desire to pass –Let no others interfere!”

  The enemy star halted for a moment, as if conferring.
  Shamash keyed his microphone, “You are severely damaged, I will allow the Gargoyle hegira if you decide to return to your dropships for repair.”
  The eighty-ton omnimech raised its arms and strode forward, “I am Star Captain Kisen of the First Jaguar Guard Cluster –Let us fight without interference, Inner Sphere surat!”
  “Done!” replied Shamash, his Crab suddenly dashed to its left, opening the distance to just over half a kilometer. The Star League grade particle cannon in the mech’s right arm spewed a scintillating beam of energy while the massive long-ranged laser in its left arm tore through the dry, dusty air.

  Caught by surprise, the Clan assault omni’s weapons fired wide, sending its autocannon fragments into trees and raising clouds of dust from the trampled grass.
  Perspire formed on his brow, Shamash set his mech’s speed and circled the larger omni, while he waited for his weapons to recharge. The Crab’s cockpit was warm but not to a point of discomfort. The larger omni trundled forward, arm weapons blazing away. Sven noted the trace damage to an arm and leg. “Scratched my paint…” He loosed both arm weapons once more and scanned his path as his Crab dashed toward a stand of heavy woods. He winced as the Clan Smoke Jaguar omnimech’s head spouted smoke and flame when the particle bolt struck it.
  The Gargoyle halted; its arms fell to its sides before it pitched forward as if in slow motion. Shamash gritted his teeth as the omnimech landed face-first onto the field of tall grass and lay motionless.
  The Crab slowed to a walk, the Azami officer cautiously backed away from his fallen opponent and waited for a few seconds to allow his now sweltering cockpit to cool. “I declare myself victor,” Shamash announced with Clanlike arrogance, “If the Mad Dog is willing, I am ready to allow you hegira or accept your challenge for passage to Waseda Hills.”

  The Mad Dog slowly stalked forward, its twin gauss rifles swerving. “I, Mechwarrior Unda of the First Jaguar Guard, am ready to fight you.”
  Shamash had pushed his mech into motion as the new challenger began to speak, twisting his weapons to face his target, he fired at a run. The Crab churned a trail of dust over the dry ground and shuddered. Sven saw the status indicator screen flash yellow as armor was stripped from his mech’s left leg. His own weapons struck the Clan omnimech but it still attempted to draw closer.
  Breaking into a run, the Crab zigzagged, its actuators whining in protest. Shamash was perspiring profusely now, mostly from the adrenalin coursing through his body. Two nickel-alloy projectiles screamed past the camouflaged mech, tearing deep, smoking grooves in the dry soil. As he crashed through a grove of trees, the Arkab officer saw the Mad Dog’s right arm explode and the omnimech collapsed onto its right side, resting on the tattered remnants of its arm.
  Again, Chu-sa Shamash slowed his machine and circled the prone enemy, weapons ready.
“Inner Sphere warrior…” came the call, “my omnimech is out of ammunition –it will be an easy kill.” The omnimech slowly rolled onto its avianlike legs and stood, as if waiting for the final blow.
  Shamash backed his Crab away from the stricken Mad Dog. “Agreed. Mechwarrior Unda, I grant hegira. You may depart without shame to fight another day.” He raised his Crab’s arms, “Once the Mad Dog has cleared the field, I choose to face the Summoner if he too, is prepared to wear the mantle of defeat.”

  A cloud of long-range missiles erupted from the Smoke Jaguar omnimech, almost catching Shamash by surprise. He twisted his controls and the Crab leapt into motion, a few scattered missiles impacting along the right side of his mech. He grinned as he spun his mount around, raking the Summoner’s right arm with energy fire, sending the limb spinning to the ground. Autocannon fire sprayed after the speeding Crab, raising plumes of dirt and clouds of yellow dust. A second flight of missiles set fire to the patch of forest Sven’s mech was gliding through. His screens flickered as he let loose with particle cannon and enhanced range large laser. The large laser struck the Summoner’s right torso, easily slicing through its already torn layer of armor.
  The Summoner took two more steps and shut down, still on its feet. “Chu-sa Shamash,” the omnimech’s pilot announced, “my power plant has been destroyed and I can no longer continue –Well fought.”

  With a wave of a claw, the Eighth Arkab Legion Crab backed away slowly, “Well fought, indeed!” Shamash placed his targeting pipper on the Loki. “Is the pilot of the Hellbringer ready fight or flee?”
  The Hellbringer limped forward; its right leg armor lay open with singed actuators and ripped myomer bundles exposed. The Azami mechwarrior was amazed that the pilot had chosen to advance with such a damaged machine, it was stripped of armor in several areas and its torso was smoking. He mentally shrugged at what manner of people he faced. He kicked his mech into a run, weapons leveled at his target.
  A female’s voice, unwavering and determined, spoke over the comm, “Mechwarrior Zena is prepared to face you, Inner Sphere surat.” The Hellbringer let loose with a pair of what appeared to be large lasers, a medium autocannon and a heavy missile pod.
  The Crab dashed between stands of trees, alternating laser and particle cannon as fast as they could recharge. The Azami pilot saw his status screen flash as enemy fire blasted away layers of his mount’s armor. Shamash saw his opponent staggering slightly, the thermal images of the Hellbringer indicating that it was severely overheating. The Smoke Jaguar pilot was overriding its heat sensors in order to keep firing.

  The Crab pounded across the rolling meadows of feather grass, a long cloud of dust rolling behind it. The Hellbringer stopped moving but still loosed autocannon bursts vainly at the speeding mech. The Crab’s particle cannon struck the Hellbringer in its center of mass and a massive explosion lifted the Hellbringer from the ground and tossed it backwards. The 65-ton omnimech crashed to the ground, resting on its back while fragments of its armor and inner components rained down over a small area, setting the grass aflame.

  Chu-sa Shamash slowed his Crab to a walk and scanned the area. Sure enough, the pilot was able to eject. He saluted with a claw and turned to face the last Smoke Jaguar omni. “I challenge the Adder.” He stated calmly and used a towel to dry his face. “I am all that remains defending the way to Waseda Hills.” He tapped an icon and smiled in relief –he saw that the unit that was once under his command had a good head start on its way to where the Eighth Arkab Legion’s elements would regroup.

  The Azami officer advanced his Crab toward where the Adder paced, as if impatient. The omnimech leaned forward and broke into a run, its remaining particle cannon loosing a bolt of deadly energy. The Adder staggered as particle cannon and laser struck its body.
  Twisting the 50-ton Crab’s torso to the right, Sven kept his battlemech running despite the rising cockpit heat. He raced through a clump of trees, seeking to keep his Crab on the side of the Adder that lacked an arm. Again the Crab’s weapons struck the Adder, this time low. The Smoke Jaguar omnimech’s legs gave out from beneath it and the Adder collapsed in a heap, leaning on its right side. Its left arm feebly tried to lift its bulk from the ground.

  The Crab cautiously approached from the Adder’s right, weapons trained at the angular hood that covered the alien battlemech’s body. The Clan omnimech tried to rise but fell, taking more damage.
  “Go ahead, curse you…fire and be done with it,” the Clan pilot growled.
  Chu-sa Shamash had his Crab take a few steps back, “It is fitting for a warrior to die on his feet.” the Arkab mechwarrior replied. “I shall not fire until you stand, although I offer hegira.” He noted that his MilSat map indicated massed enemy targets slowly closing upon his position. He turned his Crab’s torso so that his cameras could sweep the open plains. Despite the heat of the cockpit, coldness gripped his spine momentarily. There seemed no end to the numbers of hostile omnimechs trudging towards Waseda Hills. He suddenly felt very much alone.

“Your offer of hegira is generous, but I must refuse,” the Clan mechwarrior answered, his voice somewhat hoarse, which caught the Chu-sa’s attention. “I thank you for allowing a mechwarrior the honor of dying on his feet.” There was a loud squealing and grating of ruined, twisted armor as the Adder practically leapt to its feet, its left arm swinging with trained precision and drawing level to the Crab’s cockpit.
  Instincts kicking in, Sven triggered his weapons a split second before his enemy lock-on alarm sounded. Large and medium laser burned away armor and reduced the Adder’s left torso to smoking ruin. The particle bolt caught the omnimech full in the cockpit. Its weapon unfired, the Adder collapsed to the ground with a loud crash.

  Shamash slumped in his seat as the Crab turned to face the hordes that drew closer and halted to observe the last contest. Suddenly, the Arkab mechwarrior sat upright and a great feeling of elation swept over him. His heart thundered, not from fear but from a joy that filled his breast –Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful had chosen for him to be here at this moment and there was nowhere else he would rather be.

  Chu-sa Sven Shamash set his jaw as he raised his battered Crab’s arms and announced in a booming voice: “I am Trinary Commander Chu-sa Sven Shamash of the incomparable Eighth Arkab Legion! Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful commands that I defend the way to Waseda Hills and to the Imperial City beyond. Hegira is offered to those wise enough to turn back. Who will be the first to challenge, allowing no other to interfere?”

  There was a long moment of silence before a pristine Nova raised its arms and stepped out of the throng of Nova Cat omnimechs.
  “Accepted,” Sven said. His Crab’s cockpit once again cool and comfortable, he pushed the machine into his usual run. The Nova dashed straight at the Crab, its heavy pulse laser raking the Crab’s torso and melting away armor. The medium autocannon burst flew wide. The Crab returned fire, reducing layers of armor to molten slag.
“This one’s fresh and the pilot skilled.” muttered the Azami officer to himself, he reversed his mech at full speed. More of the Crab’s armor was pecked away by the Nova’s autocannon. His own weapons tore into the Nova and left gaping holes in its torso and limbs.

  The fight slowly edged its way towards the Waseda Hills. Chu-sa Shamash noted the MilSat display -two columns of enemy omnimechs had continued on their way into the low foothills and were chasing down the slower DCMS units as they attempted to flee to safety. The Arkab officer also took notice of the one column of Nova Cats that paused to witness his last battle.
  Using his best efforts at maneuvering, Sven managed to avoid the Nova’s pulse laser but the rapid-firing autocannon still managed to score hits. He barely managed to keep the distance where his particle cannon was just within range. The pulse laser couldn’t hit the Crab if he kept at range but he could not escape the autocannon's telling fire, he winced as shards of his mount's armor fell away.

  Shamash glanced at his chronograph and realized that his current fight had lasted over five minutes. He had intended to buy his comrades ten minutes when he ordered the retreat almost half an hour earlier! He smiled broadly and suddenly halted, allowing the furious Nova Cat pilot to dash forward. He fired all three weapons, which destroyed the omnimech’s left torso. As the Nova’s left arm fell away, it fired its autocannon one last time before the omnimech’s fusion engine shut down.

Alarm icons flashed on his systems screen and Chu-sa Shamash could smell the odor of overheated wiring. The last autocannon burst tore open the Crab’s left arm and damaged the mech’s shoulder actuator. One of his Star League grade heat sinks was offline –something that he knew would cause problems in the next challenge.
A large circle of Clan Nova Cat omnimechs now surrounded his Crab; he spun his machine about and saw dozens of omnis raising their arms in challenge but willing to wait for this lone Crab’s pilot to make a selection.

  Shamash chuckled and stabbed at a commlink button. “Cousin Mohammed, you have to see this.” He waited for a while but there was no response. He connected to the satellite uplink and transmitted the record and a live feed of his battle to one of the Eighth Legion’s dropships and left a brief, final message for his cousin.

In the few seconds it took to establish the link, he tapped his status screen and opened an image of his wife, Kahaneh and two young sons, Mohammed and Gunnar. He moved the picture to the corner of the display so that he could see their faces as he fought.
  Chu-sa Shamash bowed his head. “Merciful Allah, Lord of Worlds, Owner of the Day of Judgment, I humbly thank thee for showing me the path of righteousness and allotting me a happy and fruitful life. I humbly thank thee for thy divine protection and may your wisdom and guidance ever bless and steer your chosen people on the path to Heaven. Lastly, please protect my cousin Mohammed.” His right arm flicked out and his finger touched the control that disabled his ejection seat. “I almost forgot.”

  “Please forgive my delay,” Sven announced, “I needed a moment to recalibrate my targeting system.” He cast about, taking note of the many willing challengers, quickly eliminating any of lower weight than his fifty-ton Crab. His targeting pipper moved over a heavy omnimech, “Ah, this one has a battery of short-ranged missiles,” he muttered under his breath.
  “The gray Mad Dog with the scattered star pattern, I accept your challenge. Please announce your name and unit so that I may know with whom I have the honor of battling.”
  “I am Mechwarrior Stephen, One Hundred Nineteenth Nova Cat Striker Cluster, Trinary Striker, Alpha Striker Star.”
  The Crab immediately began to back away, weapons raised. Shamash weighed the idea of using his large laser –The Crab’s damaged shoulder made hitting his target difficult and being short a heat sink may cause his mount to lose speed which would be fatal should the Mad Dog manage to loose a volley of missiles. The Clan Nova Cat omnimech’s particle cannon and autocannon were bad enough.

  The first exchange of fire was at long range, the Mad Dog missed while the Crab’s particle cannon stripped some armor from its target’s left leg.
  The cockpit heat shot up immediately and Sven rapped at his controls to override his mech’s safety features. “That wasn’t good…”
  Alarms sounded, Shamash continued backing away as the Mad Dog followed at a walk. Sven fired the particle cannon, again overheating his wounded Crab. He cursed under his breath as the energy bolt missed by mere centimeters. The Clanner’s autocannon raked the Arkab mech’s torso and the Status Display showed the artificial gyroscope flashing yellow as was the power plant.

  Still backing away, the Crab scored a hit on the Mad Dog’s right arm while the Clanner’s energy weapon missed. The Crab’s right arm was struck twice, shattering bits of the limb’s internal frame, which flashed angry red on Sven’s display.
  As the Crab passed through a grove of maple trees, a squad of DCMS infantry stood up and saluted. The Azami officer keyed his loudspeaker, “Take cover, soldiers –and dare not interfere. This is my fight.”

  The Mad Dog suddenly broke into a run and fired all of its weapons. The autocannon and missiles flew wide but a searing energy bolt burned its way through the Crab’s left torso. Shamash gasped as another heat sink exploded with a shower of coolant, then shut down. The Arkab officer saw his medium laser miss while his particle cannon melted away layers of armor from the omnimech’s left torso.

  Backing through more woods, Shamash shook his head as he missed his next two shots –he had been on the move since before sunrise, fought in several meeting engagements since dawn and was now locked in combat with his seventh challenger in half an hour.

 The Azami mechwarrior realized that he had pushed himself to his limits and his reactions were gradually slowing. The Mad Dog managed to strike the Crab’s center torso, flaking away at its frame. Another left leg strike bit off more armor.                                                         
  Vainly trying to keep the distance, Chu-sa Shamash had to back out of the protection of the wooded area and into the open meadow of gracefully waving grass.

  Despite the sound of alarms and the blinking warning lights, he glanced at the monitors to which his external cameras fed. It was a beautiful afternoon, the skies blue with silvery clouds slowly making their way to the Southwest. Numerous condensation trails crisscrossed the skies denoting another battle raging far above the one in which he fought.
The Crab’s MilSat display showed countless Aerofighters locked in combat as well as dozens of emergency location transmitters indicating pilots who were forced to eject from their stricken craft.

  In a violent exchange of weapons fire, Sven’s battlemech shuddered as its right arm was sheared away, taking the precious particle cannon with it. The Crab’s left arm was without armor and took more damage to its already weakened frame. To his surprise, the enemy did not escape unscathed –while the laser stripped away all but a thin layer of the Mad Dog’s right arm’s armor, the particle cannon’s last burst struck the omnimech’s head and tore it open, exposing the injured pilot.
  The Mad Dog staggered as if dazed. The Azami officer held his breath for a moment; his eyes raced over his scanners as the Clan omnimech assumed a wide stance and spun its torso to face in his direction.

  Grimly, Sven realized that he had few options left. He backed toward the ring of observing Clan Nova Cat omnimechs, swung the Crab’s torso and fired his large laser at the closest, stationary Dire Wolf and the medium laser at a nearby Gargoyle. “Allahu akbar!” Chu-sa Shamash placed his right hand on the image of his family and bowed his head.
  The Mad Dog stood immobile, stunned for a few seconds as the huge omnimechs, without thinking, reacted to the unexpected challenges. Their torsos turned, weapons instinctively snapped into position and fired at point blank range. Struck from all sides, the Crab collapsed as its cockpit, right torso and right leg were torn asunder by the torrent of concentrated fire.

  From their vantage point hidden in a copse of trees, a lone squad of Eighth Arkab Legion jump infantry observed their comrade’s final battle. They had abandoned their wrecked hover which was struck by a chance round which killed the vehicle’s crew.   While the Clan Nova Cat column was concentrating on the fight, they dropped their jet packs and dashed from one stand of woods to another, hoping against hope to see the Crab’s pilot escape alive. As one, the soldiers turned and faded into the woods, a long walk ahead of them.

  Many kilometers away in the dropship Omar Mukhtar, the Arkab crew sat in shocked silence, and each man wiped away bitter tears when the satellite feed ceased.

DOC_Agren

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #2 on: 25 May 2019, 09:11:20 »
Love the bounty hunter story...
"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!"

qc mech3

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #3 on: 25 May 2019, 13:52:14 »
Bwa, ha, ha, ha  ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D

Who was that bounty hunter? Greedo? Seriously, I would have loved to see the game for that one.  :)) :)) :))

... The Compassionate. the Merciful is still poignant. I would just like to see a note from the Nova Cat point of view.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #4 on: 06 June 2019, 07:03:49 »
The Call of Ancient Blood

Luthien, Draconis Combine
November 12, 2931
1700 Hours


Vincent Dumare adjusted his harness and took a long drag from his electronic pipe and exhaled thick clouds of vapor into his Black Knight’s cockpit. His mercenary unit awaited their orders, while their dropships circled the planet in low orbit.
  He tapped is comm, “Colonel, any update?”
  “Nah,” came the gravel-voiced reply, “still negotiating.”
  “Got it,” growled Dumare. He flicked the comm off and brought up the map of the palace his unit was supposed to storm, should the negotiations fail. The briefing claimed that their mission was a “hostage rescue” but he knew that nobody was being rescued; The mission would kill Coordinator Hugai Kurita and replace him with his sister, Acolyte Neccess Kurita…or a suitable substitute.
  He chuckled over the thought of pulling the same stunt with the other Houses. It would be easy, considering how stupid these inbred nobles were. They learned nothing from the loonbar Cameron line.
  He poured over the maps and floor diagrams, studied the briefing materials and made notations on his overlays for the upcoming combat drop.

2100 Hours

  Demare lay in his bunk, depressed and disappointed at the cancellation of his mission. In a rare display of intelligence, a House lord was threatened with military action and backed down. Neccess Kurita was escorted from Luthien by ComStar and all units were recalled to Terra.
  Unable to sleep, he fished his autodoc kit from his cooling suit and dosed himself with Crash, a painkiller and sedative. Before he drifted off to sleep, he placed an order to refill his medical supplies. His eyes closed, and he felt his body grow lighter. He was in his cockpit, executing a combat drop over Luthien. The palace below was already burning in several locations and he could see tracers and missile trails rising from defenders on the ground.
  Pulse lasers blasted at the scattered guards. He wondered if they even thought of the futility of their efforts. His HUD indicated that a lance had entered the throne room, so he headed to the east wing, where Neccess Kurita was kept, under guard.
  The Black Knight sauntered between the buildings, unchallenged. The second floor windows were shoulder height and he scanned the far end of the building before he tore the metal bars from a window and keyed his comm, “Demare at the east wing, going in.”
  There were no guards and the mercenary easily unlocked the doors to the suite at the end of a long corridor.  Pistol ready, he stepped into the suite and closed the doors behind him. His eyes swept the spacious living room, which was sumptuously decorated with teak and rosewood, with silk paintings and hanging lamps. A young woman in the robes of a ComStar Acolyte knelt in prayer next to a low table. She looked up and bowed her head.
  He walked over to the woman, “Coordinator Neccess Kurita, I am here to collect my reward.” He grabbed her roughly by the wrist and pulled her to her feet.
  “No!” He loved it when they protested. She didn’t have much strength so dragging he to her boudoir was easy. Her small frame allowed him to toss her upon the bed without effort.
   “Either I get paid,” he warned, “or I report that you were killed by your guards.” He licked his lips as her robe fell away.


Havana, Cuba
Terra
February 15, 2932
0300 Hours


  Dumare loved Havana. He enjoyed the weather, the beaches, the cheap hotel room, the cheap alcohol, and the cheap women who knew enough to leave before he woke up. The only thing he didn’t enjoy were the dreams he had; As usual, he'd be in the cockpit of his battlemech, but his Black Knight would be standing on a remote, snow-covered beach. The sky would be overcast, and the clouds glowed blue in the twilight. He would push his ‘mech forward into the gray waves and feel exhilaration as the freezing water washed over his cockpit, as he ventured into the bleak depths, which somehow called to him.
  His Black Knight trudged through the silt, kicking up ashen clouds that were carried away by the strong undercurrent. The mild incline was barren, with few fish or ragged strands of kelp. Eventually, he would find dark, undersea valleys that required illumination from his spotlights to navigate. The Black Knight’s inner structure creaked as his depth meter read three hundred meters. In the murky depths ahead, he could see a glimmer of light that he assumed would be creatures possessing some manner of bioluminescence. As he passed 400 meters, the rocky path grew less rough and flattened, as if it were a paved path. Portions of the valley walls appeared nearly vertical and some even resembled bricks, by some illusion of the light.
  The coral growth at around the depth of 500 meters strangely resembled fluted columns and some radiated a blue glow that illuminated his way toward a darkened mass that seemed to draw him forward. As he drew closer, the mass assumed a blocky shape and almost looked like some manner of building. He suddenly became apprehensive, and he believed that shadows moved, just out of his range of sight. The dark, blocky mass became more defined and if he had to guess, he would say it appeared to be an imitation of the Parthenon. When the Black Knight stood at the foot of the marble stairs, he could discern movement in the shadows between the dimly lit columns, and from the blackened center, a dim blue light cut through the darkness. Inside his head, he heard a voice, an unnatural growl that insinuated itself over his thoughts, and it whispered, “Cthulhu.”


1100 Hours

  “Thank you for meeting with me,” said the middle-aged gentleman. He wore a fancy suit and Dumare gave him a firm handshake.
  The hotel’s restaurant was nearly empty, which was odd, considering the number of people who flock to Havana when the continent endured its winter. Vincent sniffed, “Okay, Colonel Dietrikson woke me up to meet you,” he replied, “who are you and what do you want?”
  “Here,” the stranger handed Dumare a business card, “You have been selected for a mission.”
  The mercenary looked at the card and raised an eyebrow, “You’re ComStar Primus York?”

1800 Hours

  “Your records show that you were born somewhere in the Periphery,” said Adept Maxim Thalassa, “where would that be?”
  “I have no idea,” answered Demare, “my mother left the Periphery when I was five years old, and never bothered to tell me.”
  “That isn’t important, at this time,” announced the acolyte, “So your battlemech was your mother’s?”
  “No, it was my father’s,” replied the mercenary, “He died, and it passed to my mother…and to me after she died.”
  “My condolences,” offered Thalassa, “Let’s get down to business.” He opened a briefcase and pulled out a chart of settled space. “As you know, man has settled a vast number of planets of various quality.”
  “Yes,” acknowledged Dumare.
  “The fall of the Star League, as well as the subsequent wars have tragically, pushed hundreds of marginally inhabitable worlds to the point where they are no longer viable for adequate human habitation.” The acolyte leaned close and whispered, “ComStar has a list of these worlds that may still have human settlers.”
  Dumare nodded, “Those would be invaluable,” he whispered in return, “What’s my role?”
  Adept Thalassa smiled, “Due to the collapse of the rule of law, many of these worlds have become havens for pirates, or, at least, easy targets; We require a number of experienced guards.”
  “Why the secrecy?” Vincent asked, “You could have just asked the unit for grunts.”
  “We don’t trust all of the mercenaries in our hire,” said Thalassa, “especially those with ties to any of the Houses.”
  “I see,” agreed Dumare, “none of the Houses can be trusted, and misplaced patriotism might taint a mercenary’s professional ethics.”
  “I’m glad you understand,” the acolyte appeared to relax, “ComStar’s long-term plans include a kind of corps of exploration, that will extend our influence out to the Periphery, but for now, we cannot afford to have the Houses fighting over systems we have brought back from the brink.”
  “I fully understand.”
  Thalassa returned his charts to the briefcase and locked it. He still had a folder before him, “No family?”
  “None.”
  “Your records indicate you were married and divorced,” the acolyte observed, “no children?”
  “None.”
  “What was the problem?”
  Dumare was beginning to get annoyed, “Like most women, she didn’t know her place,” he slapped the table, “What’s the point of these questions?”
  Thalassa put up his hands, “I beg your pardon, the mission is partially colonization and may be very remote,” he replied, “and you have a reputation for requiring female company.”
  “Yeah? What about it?”
  “Raping a few women can be ignored during a war,” the Adept explained, “ComStar is ready to assign a woman to be your companion during this mission.”
  “Is that so?” He had heard that wealthier mercenary units even fielded their own brothels that serviced a variety of tastes. “Agreed, but I get to choose the woman.”
  The acolyte had anticipated Dumare’s condition and handed him a file with images and dossiers. “You’ll get to meet your selection before you depart.”

Al-tinnin IV
Ex-Terran Hegemony (Now Draconis Combine)
June 20, 2932
0830 Hours


  Adept Thalassa sat at his console and glumly listened to the preliminary reports of the initial scans of the planet they orbited.
  “There are no traces of any of the expected major power generators on the surface and the urban center that once supported over five hundred thousand inhabitants appears to be abandoned,” reported Acolyte van der Meer.
  “Due to over half the orbital Storm Generators being offline, the planet’s average temperature is currently about ten degrees Celcius, with minor glaciation on the one major continent,” announced Acolyte Savra, she added, “Planetary conditions are harsh, but still habitable.”
  “I’m figuring piracy and massive looting,” assessed Vincent Dumare, “Plenty of meat for the slave markets, too.”
  “I want a team from the Hermes to work on those Storm Generators,” ordered Thalassa, “and prepare the Hugin to land at the coordinates of Port Innsmouth.”
  “Have my lance members ready for immediate deployment,” said the mercenary.
 
1300 Hours

  “All I’m getting is massive amounts of wreckage,” reported Captain Dumare, “No heat sources, no evidence of recent inhabitation.” He looked over the bleak landscape of ruined buildings, covered with layers of snow. The skies were slate gray, cold and foreboding; Snow fell in damp clumps.
  “I want our camp set up in the town’s center,” commanded Adept Thalassa, to the engineering vehicles, as they trundled down the dropship’s ramp.
  The mission’s two dropships contained just over a hundred settlers, most were couples, made up of technicians and survey crews. The primary mission was to evaluate the feasibility of restoring the terraforming satellites to operation and salvaging the wealth of resource mining operations the planet was recorded to possess. Despite the near universal use of fusion power, fossil fuels have still proven the be the most reliable, economical and efficient energy source known to humanity and there was always a market for it.
 
1500 Hours

  The lance was made up of Dumare’s Black Knight, a Hermes piloted by Sergeant Colleen MacCuan, a Crab piloted by Sergeant Kalani Nu’ukai and a Phoenix Hawk piloted by Lieutenant Ravi Samudra.
Samudra’s Phoenix Hawk acted as point and strode through the debris-strewn streets at a casual pace, languidly sweeping to the left and right with its scanners.
  “Nothing in the town center to worry about,” reported Samudra, “it just needs a bulldozer to clear the rubble.”
  “There be nae evidence of battle,” mused MacCuan, in her thick brogue, “some fire damage, but nary a bullet nor shell hole to speak of.”
  “I’d guess that the town was ripped apart by looters,” Dumare pondered aloud, “but no trace of inhabitants, not even bodies.”
  “Yeah,” agreed Nu’ukai, “Pirates rarely clean up after themselves, so there were enough survivors to clear the bodies, but that doesn’t mean there are any of their descendants still around.”
  “We have under three hours of daylight,” announced the captain, “Take this route to the northwest, the mining site is about fifteen kilometers outside of town.”
  The lance followed a highway of broken pavement, where plants and trees managed to break through the layer of asphalt. The wet snow gave way to large, blowing flakes that tumbled from the drab skies and were hurled by the winds. The highway was flanked by dense forests of evergreen trees, although the gray skeletons of deciduous trees remained, as there was no Spring for them to recover from the Winters that came to stay.
  “Look!” The Phoenix Hawk halted, its left arm leveled, its hand gestured to the side of the highway. A brown-furred rabbit nibbled at the leaves of a small bush at the edge of the forest. Samudra sent a page from the fauna report that indicated small bears, deer and squirrels should also be present, as would the creatures common to human habitation: Dogs, cats and rats. There were several dozen animals and birds that the early settlers released into the environment.
  “Eh, they also released king crabs, tuna and lobster!” noted Nu’ukai, “Ravi, we go fishing later!” He sent the images of lobster and crab traps to his lancemates.
  “Nae birds yet,” commented MacCuan, “we passed the ruins of at least three farms, yet nae a single, wee chicken.”
  “I’d rather have lobster,” inserted Nu’ukai, with a chuckle. “But you right, no pigs, either.”
  “They’d all be feral now,” commented Dumare, “Nobody around to feed them.”
  “The mining site’s up this hill,” indicated Samudra, “The buildings appear to be in better shape than those in town.” Most of the walls still stood, even though much of the roofs had collapsed long ago. There were even the weathered wrecks of vehicles, crumbling with over a century’s worth of rust.
  “Coal,” announced Dumare, “It appears that this place hasn’t been looted, the generator is still here.” He was glad that his mech’s Beagle Active Probe still operated. “I’ll call it in.”

1830 Hours

  The lance made a brief sweep around the mining site and headed back toward the town as the cloudy skies grew darker. The center of town was ablaze from the light towers that allowed the advance party to continue their work into the night.
   Captain Dumare informed his subordinates of their watch schedules and departed for the landing zone, where a warm bunk awaited him. In the hangar, he could see Sergeant Nu’ukai describing the construction of a lobster trap to a nodding acolyte. He wouldn’t mind some seafood to break the monotony of the usual rations, even high-quality, preserved food served by ComStar. He made a note to sign out a rifle and ammunition from the armory, just in case he ran across a deer or feral pig.

2200 Hours

  Dumare slapped the annoying comm unit that stirred him from his sleep. “Ugh, we had better be under attack.”
  “Many apologies, captain,” said MacCuan, in her lilting voice, “you just may want to see this.”
  “No, no, no, no, no,” he scolded, “Just tell me what it is.” He really wasn’t in the mood.
  “Very good, sir,” she began, “I started my watch about an hour ago and I was casually scanning the panorama. When I faced the hill above the mining site, I could distinctly make out a moving light among the trees.”
  The mercenary closed his eyes for a moment, “Holy crap…” He thought for a moment and said, “Excellent work, keep an eye on the location and try to get a fix on it,” he continued, “We’ll check it out in the morning.”

End of Part 1
« Last Edit: 27 September 2019, 21:32:35 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #5 on: 10 June 2019, 04:18:21 »
Interviews

Galaport, Galatea
Federated Commonwealth
January 24th, 3039
0800 Hours


  Colonel Valborg adjusted his uniform and sat down at the long table. The conference room was rented, as his mercenary unit’s offices next door was too cramped to hold interviews and didn’t even have an adequate waiting room.  At least coffee and pastries were included with the rental.
  After checking his watch, Valborg called the unit clerk, “Marta, how many applicants do we have today?”
  “Just two,” replied Marta, “That’s what the hall informed me of.”
  “Uh, thank you, Marta,” muttered the colonel glumly, he had hoped for at least half a dozen applicants in response to his advertisement. He should have mentioned the free pastries.

Waiting Room

  Two men waited in the spacious waiting room. One was middle aged and wore the uniform of an officer of the Lyran regulars. The other was in his teens and wore the robes of a desert nomad of North African descent. The Lyran paced the room and impatiently smoked a cigarette while the teen quietly sipped a cup of tea.
  “Looking for a job, eh?” asked the mercenary, “Officers are always looking for a good manservant.”
  “Do tell, sahib,” agreed the youth.
  “They pay elites like me very well,” bragged the Lyran, “if they don’t want you, maybe I’ll hire you myself.”
  “That is quite generous of you, sahib,” replied the nomad, with a slight bow.
  The door opened, and a plainly attired woman entered, “Good morning gentlemen, thank you for your patience with us,” she nodded, “My name is Marta and we’ll be beginning the interviews in a few minutes….”
    “I’d like to go first,” volunteered the Lyran, “it won’t take long for the colonel to hire me once he sees my record,” he winked at her, “I know all this is just a formality.”
  Marta paused for a moment, “Uh, alright, if you insist, I’ll inform Colonel Valborg.” She left and closed the door behind her.
  “I’m doing you a favor boy,” grunted the mercenary, “Valborg will be so happy after he signs me up, he’ll take you as well, and I’ll even put in a good word for you.”
  The teen bowed deeply, “How blessed I am, meeting a sahib possessing such boundless charity!”

Conference Room

  Colonel Valborg stood up when the door opened, he leaned over the table and shook the Lyran’s hand, “Good morning Mister, uh, Ness.”
  “That would be Lieutenant Ness,” corrected the mercenary.
  “Please have a seat,” invited the colonel, “I’ve looked through your dossier and there is no indication of any officer rank or OCS training from an accredited academy, Mister Ness.” He tapped the folder with an index finger to emphasize his point.
  “That may be,” replied the Lyran, “but have a look at my performance records, and you’ll see that I’m more than qualified to be an officer.”
  Valborg took his seat, adjusted his glasses, and flipped through the folder in front of him, “Hmmm, I’ll save that for later,” he looked at the applicant, “What is your full name?”
  “I go by Y.P. Ness,” he replied, “The Y stands for ‘Yuge’.”
  “Ah, Yuge P. Ness…” pondered Valborg, “a pseudonym, no doubt.”
  “Indeed,” answered Ness, “Clever, eh?”
  “Unique, to say the least,” commented the colonel, “but I have to ask you a serious question, what exactly do you bring to my unit?”
  “Need you ask?” the Lyran was incredulous, “my records are right there, in front of you, I’m rated an elite as both pilot and a gunner in a battlemech!”
  “Is that it?” asked Valborg seriously, “so, you’re just a triggerman?” He shook his head and peered over the rims of his wire-framed spectacles, “Without a battlemech, you have no value to me.”
  “I’m a crack shot with both rifle and pistol,” declared Ness, “and I also know martial arts.”
  “I suppose you would wind up walking guard duty, when out of your assigned machine,” Valborg told him, “but I didn’t advertise for just another grunt.”
   “Are you mad?” the Lyran asked, annoyed, “Any other unit would leap at getting an elite-level mechwarrior…”
  “Yet, here you are,” pointed out the commander, “after being rejected by all the other units before winding up looking for a job with my tiny outfit, and you have no idea why.”
  “So, if you aren’t looking for mechwarriors,” growled Ness, “what are you looking for?”
  “You don’t seem to understand,” replied Valborg, “I’m not looking for two-dimensional, one-trick ponies.” He stood up and tapped the other folder in front of him, “Did you meet the young man in the waiting room?”
  “Yes, what about him?” replied the mercenary, “Are you hiring menials, too?”
  “You still don’t seem to understand,” instructed Valborg, “that lad is an academy graduate, with honors; and OCS graduate, as well,” announced the commander, “This was in the Draconis Combine, which has the highest standards for screening mechwarriors in the whole of the Inner Sphere.”
  Ness averted his eyes and fidgeted a bit.
  “He has records of formal scout training, invaluable to any unit,” added Valborg, “he achieved high marks as an administrator and most importantly, he’s rated as a trainer, which means he can impart his knowledge and skills to other members of my unit,” he looked at Ness, “Could you say the same?”
  The mercenary looked down at the table and shook his head.
  “Say I put you in charge of a lance,” posed the commander, “you would be tasked with seeing that all their munitions were properly ordered through the supply chain, their machines maintained, and out in the field, the lance properly positioned.” He stood up, “Those are merely some of the duties expected of an officer, all of which, that young man of sixteen years waiting outside, is fully trained, qualified and experienced.” Valborg continued, “You expect the rank, pay and respect due and officer, yet your skills are more befitting a noncommissioned officer, albeit a slightly better paid one.”
  Ness shook his head.
  “How many languages do you speak?”
  “German and Standard,” Ness answered, his tone somewhat fatalistic.
  “That youth you assumed to be a menial laborer is rated in Standard, German, Japanese, Swedish, Arabic, French and whatever obscure language the Azami speak,” he looked at the dossier, “yes, Amazigen.”
  “I guess I’m done here.”
  Valborg raised a hand, “Before you go, here,” he handed Ness a paper, “this is a list of skills we are looking for here, you will realize that all the better units are looking for the same,” he continued, “Go to an accredited school and work on those skills.”
  The mercenary took the paper, folded it, then placed it in his chest pocket, “Thank you, sir.”
  “Perhaps we shall see you again, Mister Ness,” said Valborg, cheerfully, “Please inform Lieutenant As`Zaman that I shall see him next.”

  The Lyran opened the door to the waiting room, “Hey, boy, the colonel is ready for your interview.”
  “How did you do, sahib?” asked the teen, as he rose to his feet.
  “Er, I had to turn them down,” replied Ness, “I have to set my sights higher, you know, maybe try Outreach next.”
  “Too bad we aren’t serving together,” said the young man, his voice somewhat disappointed, “I wish you the best of luck, sahib.”
  “You too, boy,” replied the mercenary, “take care.”

  Ness waited until the door closed and he was alone before he stuffed his pockets with the remaining pastries and filled up a plastic cup with coffee to take with him. He also grabbed a fist full of cream and sugar packets and pocketed them as well. He departed the building with no little haste and headed back to his rented flat.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #6 on: 15 June 2019, 08:15:40 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Two)

August, 2900

The Black Knight headed North through the town at a run. The waiting dropship was about 15 minutes away, so the pilot avoided contact with the raiders. Panicked civilians ran inland, away from the approaching raiders who chose to wade out of the sea, but without firing any weapons. The sky was overcast, as usual, with light rainfall, obscuring long-ranged visibility. The raiders’ battlemechs weren’t in a hurry, there was a brief battle when the Stinger ventured to oppose them, but his frantic transmissions were confused, almost hysterical. He was unable to identify the machines at all and shouted something about his weapons being ineffective before contact was lost.
  From the crest of a hill, the Black Knight could see the town was no longer powered, with flames and columns of smoke marking the advance of the unknown enemy. Through the haze and dying light, the pilot could make out towering shapes that lumbered through the abandoned streets, but not enough to identify what they were. On the opposite side of town, dozens of the residents fled uphill, towards the coal mine, but through the obscured distance looked like so many rats fleeing predators.
  The dropship stood in the distance, its landing zone in a remote valley, its location known to few.
  “Lucienne, you are ordered to return,” crackled the angry voice over the comm, “You are to bring back my son and return my battlemech.”
  “I’m leaving, Charles,” replied the Black Knight’s pilot, “Those raiders are your friends, and I want nothing to do with them.” She killed the comm and headed straight for the dropship’s welcoming ramp.


June 20, 2932
0830 Hours


  There was a dirt trail that led from the coal mining site to the hills above and behind the mine. Dumare led his lance up the gradual incline until they found the hill too steep for battlemechs to safely traverse.
  “Nothing on the sensors,” remarked the captain, “we continue on foot.” Dumare unfastened his harness and opened his cockpit, an act that he immediately regretted, as his olfactory senses were immediately assailed by a hideous fetid stench that it took all of his willpower to resist uncontrolled retching. He closed his cockpit and activated the biological/chemical warfare environmental evacuation and cleansing system. “Stay in your mechs!” he warned his lance mates, “the air is unbreathable.” He opened his toxic ops kit and after a moment of thought, decided to don the entirety of his hostile environment gear and breathing apparatus. “I’m going full toxic enviro- Full suit.”
  “Gah, something is very dead out there!” replied Nu’ukai, coughing, “I thought I was goin’ puke.”
  “I threw up,” reported MacCuan, her voice weak, “do you mind if I rest for a wee bit? I’m sorry…”
  “You can keep watch, Coleen,” replied Dumare, “I got more than a whiff of that ghastly reek, so I understand.”
  “Thank you, sir.”
  “Lock and load, people,” announced Dumare, “that stench didn’t cause itself.” He drew the automatic rifle from his bugout kit and checked his air supply. He’d be using filters for as long as possible, but he could go self-contained mode for half an hour, if need be.
  The side of the hill was not so sheer as to prevent human negotiation and the trio followed what appeared to be an animal trail that circled the mount. Dumare could see Innsmouth in the distance, through the haze. The ComStar camp stood out in the town’s center, the temporary structures formed an edifice of dark blocks that dominated the surrounding ruins. The two bulldozers industriously toiled at clearing the streets that radiated from the camp of rubble and debris to facilitate access to various quadrants of the town’s remains for detailed exploration by dedicated research teams. From the heights, the mercenary could see beyond the town’s decayed corpse and through the undulating mist he could barely discern the vague shapes of a harbor and naval vessel, which clearly listed at its moorings.
  “Phoenix Base, Black Knight, reporting.”
  “Black Knight, Phoenix Base, go ahead.”
  “Dumare here, from the hill I can make out port facilities to the South of Innsmouth.”
  “Roger, Black Knight, our records indicate the port and a fish cannery at that location, investigation is pending.”
  “Got it, Black Knight out.”
  The men on foot traveled up toward the wooded peak. Dumare signaled for his fellows to halt.
  “Do you hear that?”
  “It sounds like buzzing,” replies Samudra, “Bees? Hornets?”
  Nu’ukai stiffened, “No braddah, I’ve seen this before after a city battle, the stink of piles of bodies, and flies, millions of damn flies.”
  “It’s just beyond these trees,” warned Dumare, “if you think you might puke at the sight, you can stay here.”
  “Nah,” replied the bulky Hawaiian, “I seen dis stuff before.”

1900 Hours

  Dumare sat in his berth in the Hugin as he wrote out his report. He was tired, and the cold beer he sipped was finally helping him to relax.
  “Near the top of the hill the team discovered a powerful odor of decay and located what may have once been a trash pit, filled beyond capacity with generations of garbage, as well as the rotting carcasses of partially eaten animals and humans. About seventy meters from that overflowing pit was the entrance of a system of caverns, occupied by some of the remaining descendants of the survivors of Innsmouth. It was then I called for support, to help gather the survivors, transport them to the camp and question them.”
“The people who we found dwelling in the caverns were in horrible condition: Scabrous, infested with parasites, some were ill and all of them malnourished, due to surviving for generations on the sparse hunting and forage. They were terrified at our presence, but simply cowered meekly as we explored the network of crudely bored caves these people, once civilized, had retreated.”
“Sixty seven people, mostly women and children, wearing little more than rags and uncured hides, were holed up under those frightful conditions, their only light from two cook fires and a scattering of crude lanterns, which burned oily fat. I asked the older women about the men and they informed me, in a halting, broken version of Standard, that the few men fled soon after the Hugin touched down, as the settlers had been raided by pirates in the past, which confirms the theory that Innsmouth may have been inhabited as late as fifty years ago by a band of pirates, who were descendants of deserters from the Star League military.”
“Adept Thalassa ordered a fenced compound erected to house the settlers, and the remains of an old warehouse was selected. Many of the older people were opposed to going to Innsmouth, while others seemed terrified of the prospect. Some even refused to abandon the safety of the caverns but only one shout was needed to reduce any of them into silent compliance. It didn’t take long to dawn on me that in this primitive, closed society, the strong ruled and since their men had run away, they had no leaders.”
“After the people were cleared from the caverns, the old cookpots fashioned from steel drum halves were emptied and among their contents were bones from various animals and from humans, mostly very young children. The older women informed me that during the many lean times, the handful of men would select the oldest boys to be killed and butchered to feed the rest. I worried about what manner of threat the men could pose but the women assured me that the last of the firearms had been rendered useless due to the lack of munitions decades ago, while hunting, and the men were primarily armed with crude spears fashioned of metal scraps, sharpened with stones, attached to wooden hafts, and other similar primitive arms. I was informed of rumors of arms safes, in the abandoned private homes, that could not be opened and lay rusting, their contents untouched.”
“While we were evacuating the settlers, they cringed in horror at the sight of our battlemechs, likely due to the stories of pirates, passed down through the years. They found the Black Knight especially terrifying, until I demonstrated that the machine was under my control, and of no danger to them. Telling them that we were from Terra also had a profound calming effect upon them, and they soon became much more trusting and obedient.”


  A soft chime alerted the mercenary of somebody at the cabin door. He got up and stepped over to the portal, “Dumare, what’s up?” He saw Nu’ukai’s grinning face on the tiny screen.
  “Hey, braddah,” asked the large mechwarrior, “you get plans fo’ dinner?”
  Dumare opened the door and saw the large, wheeled container the sergeant was pulling. No’ukai unlocked the lid and the captain saw the contents packed in crushed ice.
  “Holy…” he was amazed, the chest was filled with fish, shellfish and lobsters the size of dachshunds. The very thought made his mouth water. “Shoots, what time?”
  “Ravi stay starting the barbecue,” replied the Hawaiian, “We went put the traps out yesterday and they was full when we come back,” he rubbed his large chin, “The crab traps not big enough, though, plenny crabs but not the beeg ones…tomorrow we fix ‘em. We start luau, one hour.”
  “We’ll be there!”

2030 Hours

  Despite the ambient cold weather outside, the dining tent was warm and comfortable. Everybody who was not on duty happily joined the impromptu feast assembled by the two mechwarrior sergeants.
  Nu’ukai and Samudra stood at the grill, which was laden with clams and fish filets. A set of bamboo steamers filled with lobsters and crabs were stacked upon pots of boiling water. Next to the cooking station was a long serving table, heaped with food of various types.
  “Captain Dumare!” called the Hawaiian, “grab a plate and help yourself!”
  The mercenary waved at the sergeant, “This is fantastic!” He remembered how hungry he was, grabbed a tin tray and headed to the serving line, “Round one!” Gorging himself on fresh food was a rare treat.
  Samudra transferred cooked food to the trays on the serving table, “Eh, kanaka, we need more clams!” He replaced the tray of steamed rice with a full one and dumped the remnants of the old tray on top of it, “We should have plenty rice left over for fried rice tomorrow.”
  The Polynesian tossed several large clams onto the grill, “We got `em!”
  Sitting beside Dumare was a smiling young woman, a ComStar medical technician, who was assigned to pose as the mercenary’s wife. The captain chose her out of a dozen women selected by her employers, primarily due to her physical attributes and secondly, her agreement to satisfy his physical needs, which were prodigious.
  “Dimitra, will you be having any more?” asked Dumare, “MacCuan is on duty, so I’d like to take her a dinner plate, while everything is still hot.”
  “As much as I’d love to, I can’t possibly eat another bite,” she replied. The feast included a large selection of local seafood of amazing size. The lobsters were huge, but not due to advanced age, which would tend to make them tough. Their meat was succulent and sweet to the taste. Samudra had found enormous clams living in the mud flats to the North of the town, as well as beds of oysters, just off shore. To the South, Nu’ukai crossed the rusted trestle bridge which spanned the broad river. He found a variety of salmon making their way up stream so placed a couple of fish traps between the rocks and they yielded a bountiful catch.
  The captain heaped a tin tray with a selection of food and carried it to the Hermes, that stood watching other the brightly lit camp. Aware of the presence of armed, potentially hostile settlers, several volunteers walked about the perimeter in pairs, autorifles slung or carried at the ready. His mind was filled with questions, such as, why didn’t the settlers take advantage of the easily harvested seafood? It was evident that they salvaged scraps of debris to cobble together their crude weapons and tools but why not wire traps? Did they just lack the related skills? Were they so terrified of being discovered by pirates that they refused to venture anywhere near the town? Were they just clueless about fishing? So many mysteries…
  “MacCuan, this is Dumare, I brought you a tray from the luau.”
  “There isn’t any raw fish among it, right?”
  “No, it’s all cooked and delicious!” Dumare emphasized the “delicious” part.
  “I’ll be right down, captain.”
 
   “Welcome back,” Dimitra waved to Dumare with a spoon.
   “What are you eating now?” the mercenary sat next to her.
   She scooped the contents of a small bowl and closed her eyes as she savored the taste, “One of the techs made custard...and I have room for custard.”
  The captain rose to his feet, “I’ll have some too, do you want another one?”
  “Oh, please!” she smiled sweetly.
  Dumare returned a few moments later and Dimitra eagerly snatched the bowl from his hand.
  “Thanks, dear!”
  “This isn’t bad,” Vincent commented, “not bad at all.”
  “How did Colleen like her meal?” she asked, using her spoon to clean every trace of custard from her bowl.
  “’Ecstatic’ would be a suitable term,” he replied, “although, she turned down my offer for a threesome after she finished her shift.”
    “You’re lucky I’m not the jealous type,” said Dimitra, licking her spoon clean and setting it on the table, “but I really don’t need all the women in camp knowing what a pig you really are.”
  “That’s why we aren’t in a tent in camp,” he responded, “we’d keep everybody else awake.”
  “Well, it’s late,” announced the woman, “We may as well head back to our sound-proof cabin on the dropship.” She rose to her feet and stretched.
  “We may opt for a tent,” he suggested, “if only to have more room to relax and rest without the constant noise of a flying factory.”
  Dimitra brightened, “I know, once we get settled in and secure, we should claim one of those farmhouses further inland and fix it up.”
  “Ready for domesticity, are we?” laughed the mercenary, “Looking to raise a brood of kids, eh?”  He waved to Nu’ukai and Samudra as he led Dimitra out of the mess tent, “Goodnight, and thanks!”
  “We could do worse,” she said, taking his arm as they headed back to the dropship, “We may be here for years, and this world has plenty of potential.”
  “I guess I’ll have to put more thought into it,” he mused, “well, we do have a good start, I mean, most people just settle on what they could get.”
  “Wait, you picked me from a dozen or so candidates for my bust size,” she pointed out, “I’m sure the interview helped, but there was no way you were getting a test drive.”
  “You are wrong there,” he assured her, “the interview was key, because I had to determine that you weren’t an idiot,” he continued, “your physical aspects were icing on the cake.”
  “Alright,” Dimitra assented, “I won’t knife you in your sleep tonight.”
  They walked quietly for a while and when they reached the edge of the town, Dumare noticed some movement along the nearby sea wall. By the robes, it looked like Acolyte Thalassa, and he was praying or meditating while facing the ocean. As devoted the man may have been to his faith, it was still kind of extreme to brave the frigid wind to display that kind of faith. He slipped his arm around Dimitra’s slim waist, pulled her close and dismissed the thought he had about movement in the water near the praying acolyte as illusions played by shadows in the night.

End Part 2
« Last Edit: 28 October 2019, 10:44:49 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

DOC_Agren

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #7 on: 15 June 2019, 21:09:33 »
I await part 3  :thumbsup:
"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!"

Elmoth

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #8 on: 17 June 2019, 06:00:57 »
Cthulhu fhtagn!

Nice story so far. I like that the protagonist is not a shinning jewel.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #9 on: 17 June 2019, 09:17:33 »
The Cat and the Mirror

Clan Nova Cat Landing Zone
Luthien
Draconis Combine
January 4, 3052
Before Dawn


  “All Trinary Striker elements, please report to conference room 201 for briefing.”
  Mechwarrior Stephen hurried down the busy corridor towards the lift. The fastener to his neural helmet’s chin strap needed repair and kept forgetting to have it serviced. He made a mental note that he was sure to forget by the time he returned to the LZ.
The conference room was packed, Stephen was glad that he wasn’t assigned to a Binary, the room was far too small for Elementals.
  “Listen up, all of you,” Star Captain Janet Drummond was never one for wasting time, she fired up the holographic projector and highlighted several unit icons on display, “All of you have already received the briefing concerning Clan Smoke Jaguar’s obviously asinine battle plan, which I officially call, ‘Clan Smoke Jaguar’s Obviously Asinine Battle Plan’, just in case you were unaware.” The plan’s title appeared in large letters above the projected map. “This is a refresher briefing,” stated the star captain, “as we already know, Clan Smoke Jaguar intends to win this battle on their own, with Clan Nova Cats as passive observers.” The trinary members chuckled. “We are about fifty kilometers from Luthien, a heavily urbanized capitol city,” Drummond said, “it is ringed by defensive batteries, which will be a problem if we fail to close with them swiftly.”
She opened the map to show the planet, “Khan Furey is gambling on numerous, small attacks scattered across the planet will deny the capitol of vital reinforcements,” Drummond shook her head, “I disagree, the Draconis Combine is more than willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve victory; How many times has this enemy sacrificed soldiers and vehicles to save their battlemech forces, in order to fight another battle? Khan Furey has even forgotten that on Wolcott, the Combine forces sacrificed their honor in order to secure victory, and caused Clan Smoke Jaguar to shamefully flee the field,” she looked from one pilot to another, “our enemy knows our target, does any fool actually believe that they will not easily sacrifice a handful of targets of little importance in order to defend that known target?”   

The map returned to a display of the path as outlined in Khan Furey’s plan. “The 119th shall first assemble in battle line, two hundred fifty meters behind the First Jaguar Cluster,” the unit icons appeared on the map. “From our landing zone, we shall maintain sequence toward Tairakana Plains here, beside Basin Lake, where we expect to meet the first major resistance,” Khan Furey expects to make little work of these defenders and charge into Waseda Hills, unopposed.” She shrugged, “Well, that is the plan.”
  One of the pilots raised his hand, “What about their aerospace?”
  “Funny you should ask,” replied Drummond, “I posed the same question to Khan Furey and he was dismissive, he assured me that the savagery of his pilots shall clear the skies of opposition, on the first day.”
  “What about the dropships we lost while burning in and on final approach?”
  “The day is not over, yet,” explained the star captain, “so do your best to stay alive, because we will need to extract our valuable forces from this disaster.”
  Drummond straightened up, “Trinary Striker,” the pilots snapped to attention, “fall out and mount up!”
  “Yes, star captain!”

Sunrise

  Stephen marched his Mad Dog to join his starmates. He looked at his navigation display and his star’s position was marked. As one, the five omnimechs moved to assume their assigned starting location. The sky was just beginning to glow through the gray industrial haze that blanketed the skies over the city. The Clan Smoke Jaguar lines were already arrayed in line abreast while it was still dark, they were so anxious, even though the time to advance on the enemy was set.
  “This is Khan Furey speaking,” crackled the radio.
  Stephen rolled his eyes, “Oh, please, not a silly, motivational speech!” He turned the volume down and tapped an icon in order to play a game of solitaire, to fend off imminent boredom, waiting for Clan Smoke Jaguar to finally get on with the battle.
  In the middle of his fourth hand, there was cheering over the comm and Stephan saw the Smoke Jaguar line begin to trudge forward. “About bloody time!” The mechwarrior never liked the condescending manner Khan Furey addressed people, like a Sibko instructor who could only talk to children, so that is how he talked to everybody. The speech was a droning, prosy affair, with a smattering of Sibko-level platitudes that would drive even a Sibko member to challenge Furey to a Circle of Equals, just to shut him up.
  “Point Three, neaten up the line.”
  He hadn’t noticed that the Jaguar line had slowed and he was outpacing the others in his formation, “Heh, just eager to get ahead.”
  “Maintain formation, the enemy is not going anywhere, Stephen.”


Sunrise

  There was the flash of muzzles and the strobing of lasers as the First Jaguar Cluster engaged the enemy across their line. The Nova Cats were ordered to halt and hold their position, despite the larger number of enemy units ahead of the Clan forces. Enemy battlemechs toppled to the ground and the First Jaguar Cluster surged forward in triumph. Stephen was slowly becoming depressed, as the Jaguars were about to destroy their opponents so handily.
The whole planet seemed to shake. Massive explosions some three hundred meters ahead sent columns of mushroom clouds into the air, as well as limbs and fragments of battlemechs. He saw a star of omnimechs rush a lance of enemy machines and engulfed in brilliant light before being flung like broken toys. A Warhawk, its legs shredded, stumbled drunkenly and trod on a cluster of landmines before crashing headlong into the field of tall grass, now burning in spots.
  Stephen shook his head, “Star Captain Drummond was right, again!” The mechwarrior saw the folly of Khan Furey’s insult by refusing to offer batchall, he literally told the Draconis Combine that dishonorable combat was expected, and their only choice. To most Clan warriors, the difference between honorable and dishonorable combat is a simple matter of checking a box. Khan Furey totally lacked the imagination required to anticipate the devious capabilities of Inner Sphere warriors and is now being taught a lesson that he cannot fathom, because he refuses the grant the Inner Sphere any form of respect.

Morning

  An icon appeared to the right flank of the Jaguar line, then two, then five then a dozen and more. “Otomo,” Stephen said to himself, as he checked the unit identification. The front line was in chaos, with the sudden appearance of the elite Inner Sphere unit. He checked his comm, still no messages, “What are we waiting for?” More icons appeared, this time, Clan aerospace fighters, “Now this is an insult,” murmured Stephen, “instead of calling us, Clan Smoke Jaguar would rather be saved by their aerospace,” he keyed his microphone, “Is it too late for us to change sides?” His comment was met with laughter.
  “Why am I not surprised?” Stephen slumped in his command couch as Clan Smoke Jaguar units, called from the reserves, moved forward, while the Nova Cat elements, originally give the task, were being slighted. More enemy unit icons appeared on his display. “First Sword of Light, Second Legion of Vega…” the Smoke Jaguar had pounced and instead of bearing down their opponent, they had been stopped in their tracks and were being shaken in the jaws of the Dragon as a terrier would shake a rat. He rather liked that image.

  Bolstered by fresh Clan Smoke Jaguar reserves and aerospace support, the First Sword of Light gradually gave ground, but made the haughty Jaguars pay for every meter.
  Star Colonel Thara Lossey finally transmitted the message that Stephen for which he had awaited all morning, “119th Striker Cluster, prepare to advance.” He looked forward and could barely discern the Clan Smoke Jaguar line ahead, the fighting was obscured by smoke from the burning tall grass and flaming wreckage of both friend and foe machines. Above the battle, Smoke Jaguar aerospace units no longer struck with impunity, as a swarm of Draconis Combine air units had arrived to challenge Clan control of the skies and savaged Clan Smoke Jaguar’s tactical air support, scattering formations, driving many away and sending others plummeting to the ground.

  As a single organism, the Clan Nova Cat battle line marched forward at a slow walk. “Maintain formation, keep it neat,” commanded Star Captain Drummond, “Show the Jaguars how a disciplined, elite unit fights.”
  “The Draconis Combine has already given them that lesson, Star Captain,” commented Stephen.
  “Point taken, Stephen, I stand corrected,” replied Drummond, “it will behoove all of you to pay attention to the invaluable lesson Clan Smoke Jaguar is presenting to us, on what not to do.”
  “Star Captain Drummond, I have a question,” said Stephen.
  Drummond replied, “If it is pertinent, ask away.”
  “I believe the question is pertinent to the current situation, Star Captain,” Stephen commented, “How exactly did Clan Smoke Jaguar achieve a Clan-wide reputation as the most powerful Clan? To be clear, I see nothing in the histories to prove that claim.”
  “Ah,” the captain stalled to gather her response, “I am going to have to put it this way,” she slowly pieced together her answer, “I suppose, mind you, I suppose, that it was a rumor started among the Smoke Jaguars and repeated often enough to the other Clans and left unchallenged to the point that the rumor was eventually accepted as truth,” she sighed in seeming exasperation, “we are prone to that kind of gullibility, are we not?”
  “Indeed, Star Captain,” Stephen agreed, “This whole invasion has opened my eyes to a reality unrealized in the Home Worlds.”
  The ground shook as artillery rounds landed among the Smoke Jaguar ranks one hundred fifty meters ahead of them. Stephen had never faced artillery before and the very thought of an unseen opponent attacking without any form of retaliation rather unsettling.

  Star Colonel Sean Wirth growled as his Gargoyle staggered, missiles, particle beams and gauss projectiles tore rents in its once pristine armor. “Trinary Commander Maximillian Devalis,” he sneered over the link, “Why do your stars not advance to support my unit? I am being attacked by massed vehicles.”
  Devalis answered casually, “I do not recall my trinary being attached to support you, Star Colonel,” he mocked, “Your task is to sweep aside all resistance –Is not your broom big enough for the job?”
  “Have a care, Nova Cat!” hissed Wirth, “Lest I teach you a lesson in a Circle of Equals.”
  “Obviously the ones wielding the brooms are out of their depth…”
  Mechwarrior Stephen chuckled at the exchange between the commanders, he wondered if there would be a point where the two clans would ignore the planet’s defenders and attempt to destroy each other. “No matter what happens,” he muttered to himself, “Clan Smoke Jaguar will place the blame on ilKhan Kerensky.”
  On his display, it appeared that the First Sword of Light’s center had broken and, much to his chagrin, a Smoke Jaguar reserve trinary rushed into the gap ahead of his unit. Much to his surprise, a unit icon suddenly appeared, it was a green banner with a gold fringe and a curious script that with which he was wholly unfamiliar. “8th Arkab Legion?” His computer had no information on the unit at all, was it newly formed?

  Through the smoke and dust, he saw an Atlas, painted in light earth tones with mottled green; at its ponderous feet, a formation of unmistakable Star League era vehicles, like snarling attack dogs. “That has to be their commander!” Stephen exclaimed. A pair of VTOLs swooped through the fighting units, their lasers blazing. These too, were of Star League design. Who were these warriors? He accessed his onboard computer and established that there were only seven Arkab legions, and four of them had been destroyed over the years. The reports showed that the Arkab Legions were unique due to their fielding pristine Star League equipment, despite centuries without supply. It was another mystery.

  Ahead of him, Stephen watched the Atlas blast a Gargoyle’s head from its shoulders. Three Mad Dogs rushed forward to challenge the three Puma heavy tanks that blasted away at the Smoke Jaguar ranks. Once the trio of heavy omnimechs planted their feet and attempted to intimidate the three vehicles, the formation sped forward, flanked them, then raked their rear armor with massed fire, which immediately sent one of the Mad Dogs sprawling to the ground. The Atlas fired continuously, all the while it was enveloped by a white cloud. Stephen could barely make out the vehicle behind the Atlas, which sported a set of turrets from which it sprayed the assault battlemech with streams of coolant, allowing the Atlas to fire its weapons without overheating.

  It was just after the beheaded Gargoyle dropped to the ground, that a voice could be heard over the din of combat:
  “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar!
Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar!
Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa-llah
Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa-llah
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasulu-llah
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasulu-llah.”

  Stephen felt the hair at the back of his neck stand up at the melodious call, which rang out in a clear tenor voice. He could see the plains littered with wreckage, strewn with destroyed fighting machines as Clan omnimechs and battlemechs of the Inner Sphere struggled against one another, in a senseless battle that was entirely avoidable.
  “This is insanity!” he exclaimed, “how can we maintain the delusion of superiority after witnessing their expertise at true warfare?”
  “Stephen, what is wrong?” Captain Drummond was concerned.
  “Just look!” he replied, “have you ever seen Clan Smoke Jaguar units in such confusion and disarray?” He noted that not only had his star halted, but his entire trinary paused to watch the savage battle before them, an obscure Inner Sphere unit had interposed itself between the advancing Clan units and the stream of broken, damaged and demoralized units fleeing the front line. They refused to yield a millimeter, but fought and fell where they stood, not without taking a toll on the proud Smoke Jaguar ranks, which also sent damaged omnimechs back to waiting repair bays. Then the Smoke Jaguar line stepped back, almost withdrawing to the Nova Cat line to avoid the constant rain of artillery. It was during that brief moment that the stalwart 8th Arkab Legion also backed away, then retired in good order while their three valiant Pumas, their armor rent and stripped bare, remained in contact with the Jaguar line, firing their weapons in every direction, until under massed fire they perished.

  “Dress the line, Striker Trinary,” ordered the star captain, “at a walk, advance!”
  The Nova Cat line marched smartly forward, only pausing to dispatch a lone Sword of Light Jenner, a leg severed and propped against a tree, that refused to surrender.
  “Unless we find wounded or mercenaries,” commented Stephen, “there shall be scant prisoners, but their tenacity will cost us even more.”
  On his display, Stephen could see that the Clan forces were advancing across its front, chasing down fleeing Combine units, occasionally finding small knots of resistance by those unable to flee fast enough. They advanced upon a range of mildly rolling terrain called Waseda Hills but the display showed a small grouping of omnimechs whose advance was halted by a single target marked by an 8th Arkab Legion icon. “Alpha Star, follow me!” he kicked his mech forward and pushed the throttle to maximum speed. “Captain Drummond, you must see this!”

  The plains before Waseda Hills was spotted with occasional stands of trees and Stephen could see a mass of omnimechs gathering ahead of him, with more rushing to view the spectacle, from every direction. His Mad Dog slowed to a walk as he moved into a gap between the throng of Clan omnimechs, just in time to watch an Adder collapse, both its left torso and head destroyed. Stalking about the defeated Adder was a Crab battlemech, painted in the mottled desert colors of the Arkab Legion. The Crab’s armor was badly scarred, its arms battered and nearly stripped bare, yet it still fought on, accepting one challenger after another.
  Stephan looked at the Nova standing beside him, “Walter, what did I miss?”
  “Hey, Stephen,” replied the Nova’s pilot, “I hear he has taken down a Gargoyle, Mad Dog, Summoner, Hellbringer and this Adder, all from Clan Smoke Jaguar” he added, “I arrived to see the Summoner go down, but I have to add, those omnimechs were in sorry shape to begin with and probably did not expect a pristine Star League battlemech to bar their path.”

  “I am Trinary Commander Chu-sa Sven Shamash of the incomparable Eighth Arkab Legion! Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful commands that I defend the way to Waseda Hills and to the Imperial City beyond. Hegira is offered to those wise enough to turn back. Who will be the first to challenge, allowing no other to interfere?” The Crab swiveled its torso from side to side as it stalked in a circle. In response, every omnimech present raised their arms in challenge, each pilot hoping for a chance at glory before their peers.
  Stephen practically jumped from his seat, the arms of his Mad Dog raised high. His heart pounded as the Crab paused and turned in his direction. Suddenly, Walter’s Nova stepped in front of his Mad Dog. “Accepted,” announced the Crab’s pilot.
  “Blast you, Walter!” shouted Stephen, this wasn’t the first time Mechwarrior Walter had cut in line ahead of him…

  The Crab broke into a lateral run. Walter’s Nova dashed straight at the Crab, its heavy pulse laser raked the Crab’s torso and ripped away armor. The medium autocannon burst flew wide. The Crab returned fire, reduced layers of the Nova’s armor to molten slag.
 The Crab then backed away. More of the Crab’s armor pecked away by the Nova’s autocannon. The Crab’s weapons tore into the Nova and left gaping holes in its torso and limbs.

  The fight slowly edged its way towards the Waseda Hills. Stephen noted on his display -two columns of Clan omnimechs had continued on their way into the low foothills and were chasing down the slower DCMS units as they attempted to flee to safety. He also took notice of the one column of Nova Cats that paused to witness this battle.
  The Crab managed to avoid the Nova’s pulse laser but the rapid-firing autocannon still managed to score hits. The Arkab battlemech barely managed to keep the distance where its particle cannon was just within range. The pulse laser couldn’t hit the Crab if it maintained range, but it could not escape the autocannon's telling fire, and shards of its armor fell away.

  Stephen realized that this current fight had lasted over five minutes. The Crab suddenly halted and allowed the furious Nova to charge forward. The Arkab battlemech braced and fired all three weapons, its PPC, Large and Medium Lasers, which destroyed the omnimech’s left torso. Before the Nova’s left arm fell away, it fired its autocannon one last time before the omnimech’s fusion engine shut down.
  Again, Stephen raised his Mad Dog’s arms in challenge. He silently smirked as Walter emerged from his crippled Nova. The Crab turned about, ringed by dozens of Clan Nova Cat omnimechs, each eager to taste battle that day.
  “Captain Drummond,” said the mechwarrior over the comm, “we must do all we can to capture this brilliant warrior! We need him!”
  “Aff,” agreed his commander, “I shall tell the others in the trinary, should they be chosen.”

  “Please forgive my delay,” the Crab’s pilot announced, “I needed a moment to recalibrate my targeting system.” The Star League machine slowly rotated, as if looking for something in particular.  “The gray Mad Dog with the scattered star pattern, I accept your challenge. Please announce your name and unit so that I may know with whom I have the honor of battling.”
  “I am Mechwarrior Stephen, One Hundred Nineteenth Nova Cat Striker Cluster, Striker Trinary, Alpha Striker Star,” he was glad he didn’t babble like a fool, he was suddenly so nervous.
  The Crab immediately began to back away, weapons raised and ready.

End of Part 1
« Last Edit: 03 July 2020, 23:37:38 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

ThePW

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #10 on: 17 June 2019, 13:19:33 »
Tagged with Interest!

qc mech3

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #11 on: 17 June 2019, 14:51:12 »
Merci, my Bey! This followup of The Compassionate, the Merciful is just what I hoped for.  :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Daryk

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #12 on: 17 June 2019, 16:21:13 »
A very interesting retelling from the other perspective of the Crab vs. the Universe battle!  :thumbsup:

Elmoth: It's not just that the protagonist isn't a "shining jewel"... I won't feel the least bit of remorse when he eventually loses his mind (and probably his body) to the Old Ones...

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #13 on: 11 July 2019, 01:26:45 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Three)

June 30, 2932
1030 Hours


  Dumare stifled a yawn and shifted in his chair. Briefings were a necessary evil that he found tedious and far more exhausting than battle. It didn’t help that the medical technician delivering the briefing read his report in a droning monotone that would have made pornography boring.
  He looked over at Nu’ukai, who also appeared bored, but sat silent, his muscular arms crossed in front of his broad chest.
  The mess tent served as a briefing room. It spanned five meters wide by twenty meters deep and had a ceiling of about four meters at its peak, with walls two meters high. There were six oil-burning heaters spaced evenly in the interior, which provided warm comfort to the people who used the tent and, in a pinch, could be used to heat rations apportioned to the personnel when meals weren’t being served. The ranks of folding tables and chairs easily provided seating for sixty people, with ample room for serving stables with serving trays.
While the two dropships provided excellent shelter from the elements, they were also very noisy for people unaccustomed to prolonged space travel, so many of the paired colonists opted to occupy the many medium-sized tents that comfortably served four soldiers. The town center provided the space for a small tent city for twenty or so dwellings, including several larger tents that served as offices and workshops for the many technicians. Encircling the tent city was a chain link fence, three meters high and topped with razor wire. There were two gates, one to the North, facing the path to the landing zone and another facing to the West, toward the road leading inland, uphill to the long-abandoned mines and farms.
  MacCuan and Samudra were in their battlemechs, patrolling the Innsmouth perimeter. There were scattered reports of movement outside of the town ruins, such as one or two humans lurking in the tree line, probably the adult males that escaped from the caverns, and their actions were unpredictable. Patrols had found crude traps, mostly snares, obviously aimed at humans but clumsily executed and poorly camouflaged.
The sixty-seven colonists were now living under careful watch, in two large tents surrounded by fence and razor wire, to the South of the camp. The medical technicians spent many hours cleaning the near feral humans and treating their many ailments, while the anthropologists had a field day, studying first hand people who had regressed to the Stone Age, due to the collapse of society. The three eldest women were in their mid-forties, but the interviews yielded little details. They could recall the town being inhabited, and their being swept away into the wilderness, to hide from raiders. They held the battlemechs in awe and learned to flee the thunder of dropships, which brought raiders and slavers. Their tribe was currently ruled by three men, who shared their rulership, although there was one elder, who had passed away countless years before, but was the last colonist who used a firearm. Their command of Standard was limited to a mid-elementary school level and their vocabulary limited, and only vague memories of literacy. They knew nothing of modern technologies, no idea of metallurgy or medicine, and had no clue of civilization on other worlds.
  Demare pondered the reports related by the colony’s “social workers” as he referred to the anthropologists. The last raid on Innsmouth was probably thirty years prior, when the last of the inhabitants still lived in the town. The reports continued, from one team after another. There were fields of winter wheat, overgrown with weeds and wild brush, unharvested for decades. Feral cattle wandered the inland fields in tiny herds, alongside deer and wild fowl. The technicians who explored the mining site gave a positive report of the abandoned equipment and their ability to restore the mine to operation, although the colony had no use for tons of bituminous coal, at the moment.
The team that reported the condition of the fish cannery wasn’t so positive. A fishing trawler listed at its moorings, its turbines irreparable. The factory itself was in sore disrepair; the generators could be refurbished but the assembly lines were in a hopeless state; the delicate equipment and computers ravaged by exposure to the elements.
For the most part, the reports of the colony’s conditions were positive. The lumber mill could be running within a month, the water reservoir will be back in service within a week, the engineers were ready to restore select buildings and infrastructure. The reports from the distant drilling site were just as hopeful. It seemed that this planet would be brought back from the Stone Age in under a year.
  Bored, the mercenary looked about the table and at his fellow colonists. Most of them took notes and listened to the reports intently. He eyed a couple of the women and smiled when their eyes met. Very few of the techs were alpha males, he noted, he even doubted that many of the men had even touched a woman before. Well, the colony needed more betas than alphas, in order to do the menial work. He knew his place as chief was assured, among this group. He’d get all the women he’d ever want, while the underachievers will have to settle for holovid games. He wondered if the social workers had a clue that the previous colonists experienced the natural progression of society -The alpha males took over and the women existed to breed and act as menials. There were no males older than toddlers among the cavern people, the alphas were shortsighted in that respect but Demare suspected that the elder male was likely killed by the younger males, who couldn’t figure out how the elder’s firearm worked. He surmised that paleolithic man was no different, might made right and naturally, men made all the rules and called the shots. “Yeah, that was paradise…”

July 10
1830 Hours


  “I’d like to commend you and your lance for keeping the colony protected,” said Adept Thalassa, “while we have yet to capture the feral men, your efforts and security suggestions have kept them from attacking any of our teams and from interfering with any of our efforts at restoring the various necessary sites.”
  “No problem at all, Adept, replied Dumare, “I pretty much have an idea how the feral men think. They’ve been the ruling class for the past three decades and now their worst nightmare has happened. We took their women, their workers, and destroyed their society and there’s nothing they could do about it.”
  “We have been trying to convince them to surrender,” explained Thalassa, “but they haven’t even shown themselves.”
  “They won’t,” answered Dumare, “The dropships only mean death and slavery to them, and our openly armed patrols and guards remind them of raiders, as well. I wouldn’t trust them if they did surrender. We took everything from them and they would do anything to get it back, including the use of guile and violence, if they could get away with it.”
  “Do you think so?”
  “I know so,” said Dumare, “I’ve dealt with Neanderthal types before, they hate anybody who touches their stuff.”
  “Don’t you believe that you are underestimating them?” asked the Adept.
  Dumare laughed, “These ignorant cavemen resorted to cannibalism, even though there are herd beasts and once domesticated fowl in what was once farmland,” he tapped the report folder on the Adept’s desk, “Most of the vegetables in their diet were barely nutritional wild weeds and leaves, even though they could have gleaned potatoes, onions and turnips that still grew in the abandoned gardens near the farm houses.” He shook his head, “They were surrounded by food sources but had no clue or incentive to hunt or gather all they needed.”
  “How would you explain that, Dumare?”
  “I figure that the real alpha male died or was murdered by the current dominant males, who are probably gammas,” declared the mercenary, “they were alpha wannabes, lazy underachievers, and natural bullies, when there is nobody to challenge them -Kerensky was a gamma.”
  Thalassa started, “That was unexpected, why do you say that?  Kerensky won a lot of battles, didn’t he?”
  Dumare rolled his eyes, “A monkey could have won a lot of battles pushing the SLDF around the map,” he leaned forward, “Yet he was driven out of the Periphery with his tail between his legs by inferior forces and had to compensate over his shameful retreat by massing his forces and crushing the virtually defenseless Rim Worlds Republic.”
  “What else about him pointed to gamma status?”
  “Gammas tend to disrupt order,” said Dumare, “Kerensky was a public grandstander who, instead of fixing problems, he would call a press conference, which should have gotten him canned but somebody in the SLDF command must have liked him, or he was being used, which showed after Amaris was defeated.”
  “Go on.”
  “Given the position of ultimate leadership, Kerensky failed to reorganize the Terran Hegemony,” Dumare began, “yet the real alpha males of the Houses relegated him to serving as a rubber stamp.”
  “Why do you think he failed at restoring the Hegemony?”
  “Remember what I said about gammas being disruptive to order?” he waited for Thalassa to nod, “Kerensky lacked the basic leadership, which led him to the ultimate disruption of a system that he could not manipulate, the Exodus.”
  “Well, isn’t that some evidence of leadership?” the Adept was very interested.
  “Gammas are less leaders than they are manipulators,” instructed the mercenary, “Kerensky believed the mythology generated about his performance on toppling Emperor Amaris, many of the servile beta men and women in the SDLF were just as deluded.” He continued, “That mass delusion explains the willingness of many of the SLDF rank and file to violate their oaths and desert their posts to follow Kerensky.”
  “What do you think happened to them?”
  “Kerensky made sure to kidnap thousands of slaves from towns and factories, many of them engineers and technicians,” he began, “he also had his stooges rob warehouses and depots of supplies, so all the deserters had to do is find a habitable world.” He paused for a moment, “Kerensky would set himself up as an insufferable, narcissistic god king and rule with an iron hand, so I’d expect a bloody rebellion or two.”
  Adept Thalassa bowed his head in contemplation, “I find your insight incredibly interesting,” he handed Dumare a data crystal, “these are the personal dossiers of everybody assigned to this colony, including the dropship crews, I want you to assess all of them, assign them ratings and make any comments you consider necessary that contributes to the success of this colony.”
  The mercenary made a face, “Seriously, paperwork?”
  Thalassa chuckled, “I’m sorry, but this is power and responsibility too important to leave to some beta or worse, one of the many gammas, and you know who they are.”
   Dumare scoffed, “Any alpha could spot them immediately,” he rose to his feet and tucked the data crystal into a pocket, “When do you want this project completed?”
  The Adept put up his hands, “Take all the time you need, Captain, your input will matter in the long run.”

2130 Hours

  Dimitra sat at the small desk in their dropship berth and looked over the data projected before her, “I can’t believe Thalassa gave you all this information.”
   “He trusts my judgement,” Dumare replied, “and rightly so, I know what this colony requires for success and we have to make sure the wrong people aren’t given too much influence.”
  “The wrong people?”
  “Like the IT section.”
  She nodded in acknowledgment, “Ohhhhh, yeah, those guys…”
  “It isn’t any surprise that women aren’t interested in them,” he observed, “well, not the desirable women.”
  “The realistic women know enough to aim their sights low,” added Dimitra, “I kind of feel sorry for the ones who are born unattractive, but some women don’t even try.”
  Dumare looked over his display, “Heh, I have a complete list of the paired couples and all the personal introductions from people looking for matches.”
  “Oh, no!” she laughed, “That’s like reading peoples’ private mail!”
  “’I consider myself eighty percent straight, love costumes and roleplay…’” Dumare shook his head, “here’s another computer technician who will be playing holovid games until he dies…alone.”
  Dimitra put her hand over her face, “As true as that may be, you really don’t have to be so cruel about it.” She shook, trying to stifle her laughter. “So, this is the base of your republic?”
  “Republics are only slightly worse than democracies,” replied the mercenary, “only an idiot believes that a hundred people could make better decisions than one man.”
  Dimitra frowned, “Hey, Greece did just fine with democracy!”
  “Yes, having seventy-five percent of the population as slaves gave the citizens of Athens much more time to think and invade their neighbors,” he told her, “and giving the inferior menials a voice has only ruined societies whenever it has been tried.”
  “So, a caste system?”
  “Definitely,” he replied, “stratification creates order based upon contribution to society as a whole.”
  “Oh, a meritocracy…”
  He interrupted, “Don’t say that, it’s the vulgar term used by people who know nothing of government,” he corrected, “the proper word is aristocracy, the rule of the best.”
  She looked confused, “You would establish a nobility?”
  He shook his head, “That’s the ‘dictionary of common usage’ definition, which is what pedestrians or amateurs who think they learned anything in political science courses would use,” he continued, “An aristocracy means the people most qualified would rule, it was the noble classes who made the assumption that it referred to them.”
  “So, a monarchy, then?” she asked.
  “That seems to be the most stable and efficient, historically,” said Demare, “The Star League, the Houses, the lasting governments of Terra, all were essentially monarchies, with parliaments to handle the menial, nonessential details of daily operation, like trash collection and train schedules.”
  “You seem to have put some thought into this,” she commented.
  “All leaders think about what they would do if they had the power and opportunity to build a better world,” replied Dumare, “We all see how others fail, how the quality of our lives is cheapened due to lesser men in positions of power.”
  “Yes, I’ve always pondered about what I would so if I were put in charge,” mused Dimitra, “I guess any employee wonders that.”
  The mercenary shook his head, “You’d be amazed at the number of people who avoid responsibility and positions of leadership,” he continued, “many people are just sheep, too many.”
  She nodded in agreement, “Agreed, even among my team, when projects come up, the same people step up to lead, each time,” Dimitra stretched and shifted in her chair, “and the same people shirk any leadership roles at all…” She perked up, “So, does that mean I’m going to be the queen?”
  Dumare laughed, “Of course, I picked you, after all.”
  She shrugged, “That may be, but you seem to be the harem type, not that I would mind, as long as I’m the first wife.”
  “I’m glad you are so understanding.”

July 15
0900 Hours


  Adept Thalassa was buoyant, “Captain Dumare, I finished your report and I’m thankful I picked you for that project.”
  The captain took a sip of his coffee, “I’m glad you like it, I also included some long-term organizational recommendations.”
  “I saw those!” the adept replied, “I was up late reading them, you are quite the philosopher!” He leaned forward and asked, “You also mentioned a variety of problems, which do you consider the most serious?”
  “I’ll start with the most serious,” began Dumare, “First, we are all employees here, which is problematic, because we have no real economy here, there’s nowhere to spend the money we earn.”
  Thalassa nodded, “Some of the people brought that up, and asked about ordering things to deliver.”
  “I know there should be a dropship every six months for regular supplies, although the jumpship will be on station for another week, so people may place orders for what they may want until it leaves,” replied Dumare, “I’ve already seen the lists submitted by the engineers and computer technicians, I’ve submitted a few suggestions for getting some of the farms and fields back into production while Nu’ukai has great ideas for constructing salt pans and fish ponds for aquaculture.”
  “You seem to be on top of it,” said the adept, “I’ll be sure put out a notice for last-minute orders.”
  “I’m not done yet,” interrupted Demare, “this colony shall eventually be self-sustaining, save for a few components for machinery and medicines, what is there for an economy?” He paused to finish the last of his coffee, “People will either produce items on their own time, or trade services on their own time, which means exchanging C-Bills or bartering products or services, which may cause problems.”
  “What so you mean?”
  “I’ve been a mercenary for years, adept,” he began, “I have spent years campaigning alongside men and women, many of whom were undesirable to the opposite sex, so either they looked to buy or sell services, or they used force.”
  The adept raised an eyebrow, “Do you think that might happen here?”
  “We’ve been only here for about a month,” Dumare answered, “after about three months, I fully expect to see problems, especially among the gammas,” he explained, “I’d also keep tight control over the medical supplies and the equipment that could be used to bootleg alcohol -If soldiers could do it, any tech with a chemistry background could easily do it.”
  Thalassa shook his head, “Huh…I wish I had consulted you months before we left, while we were still selecting volunteers,”
  Dumare chuckled, “Effective strategy is more than simply planning, as Clausewitz put it, ‘Some generals consider only unilateral action, whereas war consists of a continuous interaction of opposites … no strategy ever survives the first engagement with the enemy.’” He continued, “Dealing with other people is also dynamic, we could make plans but sometimes those plans don’t account for the actions taken by others.”
  The adept grinned, “So, you look at other people as enemies?”
  “Potential,” responded Dumare, “Right now, I’d say competitors, more or less, mostly less, but once we begin reorganizing, I expect some opposition, and I may have to crush them.”
  “You seem to be looking forward to that.”
  Dumare laughed, “You know it.”
  Adept Thalassa turned to a metal office cabinet and placed a key in the lock. “One of the crewmen working on the plumbing in a collapsed cellar found a safe that contained this.” He unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a data crystal, “This is a recorded message about fifty years old, recorded by a settler while the town was still inhabited.” He handed the data crystal to Dumare, “I am the only one to view the recording, I know you’ll have to sense to keep it secret, but I want your opinions.”
  The mercenary nodded and pocketed the data crystal.

End Part 3
« Last Edit: 11 July 2019, 23:15:46 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Daryk

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #14 on: 11 July 2019, 18:57:31 »
Dumare is lucky there isn't a ROM agent along.  He'd have a bullet in the back of his head so fast, it would make his head spin...

ThePW

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #15 on: 11 July 2019, 22:30:30 »
Dumare is lucky there isn't a ROM agent along.  He'd have a bullet in the back of his head so fast, it would make his head spin...
How do we not know that the adept isn't also a ROM?

Daryk

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  • The Double Deuce II/II-σ
Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #16 on: 12 July 2019, 07:01:37 »
So the Adept is simply enabling Dumare to commit some crimes against humanity so his later trial will be a slam dunk?  I suppose that's possible...

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #17 on: 12 July 2019, 17:33:03 »
The Cat and the Mirror (Part 2)

   The first exchange of fire was at long range, Stephen cursed as his volley of missiles flew wide while the Crab’s particle cannon stripped some armor from the Mad Dog’s left leg.
    The Crab backed away while Stephen pushed his omnimech forward at a walk. The Crab’s particle cannon missed while his autocannon raked the Arkab mech’s torso and he could see the armor stripped away, exposing internal components.
  Still backing away, the Crab scored a hit on Stephen’s Mad Dog’s right arm while his laser missed. Missiles struck the Crab’s right arm twice, shattering bits of the limb’s internal frame.
  As the Crab passed through a grove of maple trees, a squad of DCMS infantry stood up and saluted. The Azami officer keyed his loudspeaker, “Take cover, soldiers –and dare not interfere. This is my fight.”
  The Mad Dog suddenly broke into a run and fired all of its weapons. The autocannon and missiles flew wide, but a searing energy bolt burned its way through the Crab’s left torso. A heat sink exploded with a shower of steaming coolant. The Crab’s medium laser missed while the particle cannon melted away layers of armor from the omnimech’s left torso.
  The Crab backed through light woods, the Nova Cat Mad Dog followed, walking cautiously.
  The Mad Dog managed to strike the Crab’s center torso, flaking away at its frame. Another left leg strike bit off more armor.                                                         
  The Azami battlemech backed out of the protection of the wooded area and into the open meadow of gracefully waving grass. The wide circle of omnimechs moved to keep the combatants in their center.
  Stephen’s Mad Dog stepped out of the shading canopy of trees and squinted his eyes for a moment. It was a beautiful afternoon, the skies blue with silvery clouds slowly making their way to the Southwest. Numerous condensation trails crisscrossed the skies denoting another battle raging far above the one in which he fought.
The omnimech tapped into the planetary MilSat display, which showed countless aerofighters locked in combat as well as dozens of emergency location transmitters indicating pilots who were forced to eject from their stricken craft.

  In a violent exchange of weapons fire, the Azami battlemech shuddered as its right arm was sheared away, taking the precious particle cannon with it. The Crab’s left arm was without armor and took more damage to its already weakened frame. The Crab’s laser stripped away all but a thin layer of the Mad Dog’s right arm’s armor, the particle cannon’s burst struck the omnimech’s head and tore it open.
  The Mad Dog staggered as if dazed. Stephen remembered a bright flash, followed by pain. He could feel the warm sun on his face and feel the breeze that moved the tall grass in green waves, he could feel the blood trickle down the right side of his face. He ignored the flashing lights on his console and spun his omnimech’s torso to face his opponent.

  The stricken Crab backed toward the ring of observing Clan Nova Cat omnimechs, swung its torso and fired its large laser at the closest, stationary Dire Wolf and the medium laser at a nearby Gargoyle. “Allahu akbar!”
  The Mad Dog stood immobile, Stephen was stunned for a few seconds as the huge omnimechs, without thinking, reacted to the unexpected challenges. Their torsos turned, weapons instinctively snapped into position and fired at point blank range. Struck from all sides, the Crab collapsed as its cockpit, right torso and right leg were torn asunder by the torrent of concentrated fire.
  The Nova Cat mechwarrior fought back the tears that welled in his stinging eyes and tried to shut out the voices of his comrades congratulating his victory.
  “I have failed my Clan.”

Noon

  Stephen knelt beside the wreckage of the Azami Crab, long after the circle of omnimechs had broken up and continued on their way to Waseda Hills. He felt the approach of Elementals before he heard them.
  “Cheer up, Stephen,” said one of the Elementals through his tinny, external speaker, “Star Captain Drummond told us to bring this casualty bag for the fallen mechwarrior, and she ordered us to stand by and guard the site until his people come to recover him.”
  The Clan mechwarrior slowly rose to his feet, “Thank you, Morris, but I must apologize for denying you the opportunity to fight.”
  “Do not worry yourself over it, Stephen,” answered the other Elemental, whose gentle, female voice seemed incongruous with the massive battle armor she wore, “The Star Captain says that you have to get back to the dropship and have your omnimech repaired…and I will give you a big hug later.”
  Stephen smiled, “Aff, I shall head back,” he turned to face the ruined Crab and saluted. “Thank you, Katya, I look forward to that hug.”

Clan Nova Cat Landing Zone

  The Medical Science Officer handed the mechwarrior a small bottle, “Take one of these after each meal.”
  “Thank you, Nigel, I feel better already,” Stephen said, “It may take a while before my omnimech is ready, they decided it would be faster to replace entire limbs than repair them.”
  “You, my friend, are lucky to be able to get back into the fight,” commented Nigel.
  Stephen shook his head, “I am still depressed, that fine warrior chose death over capture.”
  “I saw that!” exclaimed the Medic, “Those two boys are in for a serious scolding, as the word had been put out to take that Crab’s pilot alive.”
   “You saw it?”
  “We were getting live feed from the first arrivals on the scene,” Nigel said, “some of our media technicians are already piecing together a full-length holovid of the ‘Heroic Crab’,” he told Stephen, “They have probably pulled data from your battlerom to add to the production.”
  “As much as I appreciate all the congratulations I have received,” Stephen said, “I still feel horrible about it, and people keep bringing it up.”
  “I see,” said Nigel softly, “well, get to your bunk and try to rest.”
 
  Stephen stopped off at the mess for tea and a buttered scone and closed his eyes as he took a sip of his tea and savored its subtle flavors.
  “Attention, all personnel: Please refrain from offering your well-meant comments to Mechwarrior Stephen, as he is rather vexed over the outcome of his recent fight,” it was Medical Science Officer Nigel’s calm voice, “give him some quiet for a day or so, if you please.”
  The mechwarrior shook his head then smiled, “Good old Nigel.”
  One of the servers approached his table, “Forgive me, Stephen, I was so insensitive!”
  “No worries, Molly,” he replied, “you were unaware, at the time.”
  “More tea?”
  “Please.” Stephen felt much better.

Early Afternoon

  The annoying buzz from the intercom prompted Stephen to force open one eye. He slapped the button on the console, “Mechwarrior Stephen,” he grunted, as he rolled upright in his bunk.
  “Hey Stephen, this is Greg in the repair bay, you may saddle up, it is in the Prime configuration.”
  “Warm it up for me!”
  The Nova Cat pilot was already fully dressed and wearing his shoes as he jumped from his bunk and grabbed his neural helmet on his way out the door.

  The repair bay was unusually quiet, Stephen realized that of his star, his Mad Dog was the only machine to incur damage, so far. He mounted the catwalk and practically leaped into his cockpit and grinned as the displays glowed with data; His trinary was still advancing through Waseda Hills.
  “Restraints away!” shouted Greg, his team members stood back and saluted as the Mad Dog strode out of the bay and down the ramp. The shadows were long as the heavy omnimech loped swiftly across Tairakana Plains and past Basin Lake, where dozens of wrecked battlemechs lay strewn across the field.
  “Star Captain Drummond, Mechwarrior Stephen, on my way to Waseda Hills.”
 “Good to hear from you, Stephen,” answered Drummond, “We are looking at pausing at our current position for reorganization,” she added, “We may have a rough time since our allies have almost depleted their promised aerospace assets by noon,” she continued her report, “Clan Smoke Jaguar has also reported a Combine force had penetrated behind their lines and inflicted almost two stars’ worth of omnimech casualties to their reserve elements; They were abandoned in the field in exchange for the loss of two Combine machines.”
  “How did we ever agree to fight alongside them?”

Afternoon

“We are going to halt here for a while as cluster command awaits updated orders,” said Star Captain Janet Drummond, “Stephen and Lawrence shall be on first watch,” announced the captain, “Enjoy your rations and get some rest.”
  Stephen pulled the sliding table from under his console and removed the ceramic teacup from its padded container. He pulled the teabag from a cooling vest pocket and brushed the lint off it before placing it in the teacup, held the cup under the small tap beneath the right of the dashboard and filled it with steaming hot water.
  While his tea steeped in the small table, he fished a scone out of one of his trouser cargo pockets and unwrapped it. The scone wasn’t fresh, but the sweet, buttery flavor put him immediately at ease.
  “Hey Stephen!” It was Lawrence, “Which ration box do you have…what do you have to trade for a tin of biscuits and blackberry jam?”
  “Seriously?” Stephen was hesitant, “That is not worth a tin of pound cake and you know it.”
  “Pound cake? Please, please, please! What if I give you tomorrow’s dessert too?”
  “Alright, but it had better not be the granola bar.”

  The pulse from the alarm caused Stephen to emerge from his nap to a full state of alertness almost immediately. He felt rested and commenced his startup sequence.

  “Listen up, my war kittens,” began Star Captain Gwenneth Carns, the Trinary’s commander, “Star Colonel Thara Lossey, has declared a contest for the recovery of the best ‘venir’ of the campaign, entries beginning immediately and ending when our last dropship lifts off.”
  Stephen laughed, he loved the 119th Striker Cluster’s way of commemorating their campaigns by collecting mementos, or souvenirs. Each unit would hunt down and retrieve some item that best represented their participation; it didn’t have to be extremely valuable, just a suitable symbol of their campaign. The unit members would gather items and submit images upon which the unit members would cast their votes. The reward was a simple plaque and a notation in the unit’s historical record, while the ‘venir’ was eventually placed in the Nova Cat museum back on their Homeworld.

  Stephen wondered to where the enemy had run off, “They cannot have pulled all the way back Luthien city.” There was an unexpected whoop over the radio, the 17th Striker Binary captured an armored car parked under camouflage in a stand of trees. They called for a cargo VTOL to pick it up. “Good show, lads!”
  “Stephen, there is a village in our path,” mentioned the star captain, “take Mira with you and see if it is clear.”
   “Aff,” replied the mechwarrior, “Mira, dear, we get to visit yonder village, please watch my back while I scout ahead.”
  “My pleasure, Stephen,” Mira replied, “flush out something for me to shoot at.”

  The village was a collection of low buildings around a small park, most of the inhabitants appeared to live on the farms that surrounded that village and as the Mad Dog crept along the paved street, Stephen surmised that the village had already been evacuated. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a small shop with its doors open.
  “Mira, I am going to investigate something.”
 
  Mechwarrior Mira’s Timber Wolf was about a hundred meters behind the Mad Dog when she saw the omnimech kneel and the pilot dismount. She scanned the surrounding buildings and expected militia snipers to cut her friend down at any minute.
 
  “Irrashaimas’!” a cheerful, elderly woman greeted Stephen with a humble bow as he sauntered through the open door. The shop appeared to contain a variety of goods, from small farming tools to canned food, to clothing.
  “Good morning, old woman, I thought you would be evacuated by now,” said Stephen, he looked at a case of plastic-wrapped products, “What are these?”
  “I’m eighty-five years old,” the woman replied, “I would rather rest at home instead of an uncomfortable cot in a refugee station…” She picked up a package to show him, “This is instant ramen, it tastes very good, you know,” She suddenly grinned, “You like try some? I make for you!”
  Stephen was suddenly touched by her sincere hospitality, “If it is not too much trouble, dear lady,” he thought for a moment, “Could you prepare two meals? I have a friend with me.”

  The Timber Wolf halted outside of the store and paused beside the parked Mad Dog.     
  “Mira, come in and try this.”
  The omnimech knelt carefully and the mechwarrior emerged from the cockpit.
  The Clan Nova Cat woman entered the shop and saw Stephen seated at a little folding table across from the oldest human she had ever seen, her skin was incredibly wrinkled, her hair white as the clouds in the sky. Three steaming bowls of soup sat on the table.
  “Have a seat, Mira,” Stephen motioned to her, “this stuff smells delicious!”

  “Honestly, Stephen, twenty cases of Tomoe-chan ramen?”
  The mechwarrior replied, “You loved it too, right?” He pushed a hand truck loaded with a stack of cardboard boxes.
  “Well, it is better than the boring rations and easier to prepare,” she assented.
  “Yukiko-san was so nice and gave us an awesome deal, as well, Mira,” said Stephen, “we get her entire inventory of ramen, the twenty liters of soy sauce, the fifteen cases of mochi candy you liked…”
  “Oh, that mochi is heavenly!” she popped a little square of the chewy candy into her mouth. “Mmmmm!”
  “All that for a two hundred-fifty-gram ingot of gold,” explained the mechwarrior, “and Yukiko-san let us borrow this hand truck to load all the goods into your Timber Wolf.”
  Mira rolled her eyes, “Yeah, yeah, because your Mad Dog barely has room for a pilot.”
  “That reminds me,” added Stephen, “I have to ask Yukiko-san to use her latrine before we leave.”
  “How did you get the idea of trading the gold ingot?” asked Mira.
  “If you must know, I once met a Clan Diamond Shark merchant caste member and asked him about dealing with Inner Sphere civilians in order to obtain venirs without having to fight for them,” Stephen told her, “He told me that gold or silver were universally accepted mediums of exchange.”
  “So, how did you get your hands on an ingot of gold?” she asked, “I figured they would be controlled.”
  “Gold is strictly controlled, due the massive black market that we all know exists,” answered the mechwarrior, “but certain techs, such as the electricians, use a lot gold repairing and electroplating crucial components,” he continued, “the ingot cost me half a year’s worth of ration pound cakes I had saved up.”

  Stephen’s Mad Dog rose to its feet, “One last inspection before we head on out,” he announced. His omnimech turned and crossed through the small park.
  “Mira, look at that!” he exclaimed. The Mad Dog spun to its left and pounded across the parking lot's pavement.
  “What is it?”
  “Follow me,” he said, “we found a winner!” The Mad Dog trotted across the well-manicured grass and halted before a marble pedestal, upon which an ancient, verdigris covered, bronze statue stood, a samurai warrior in full armor, his katana raised in defiance, with an ornate, engraved bronze plaque that read, “Coordinator Urizen II (2590-2710)”.
  “Hey Gary, this is Stephen,” he transmitted, “here are the coordinates, send out a VTOL and an engineer team to retrieve my ‘venir’ entry.”
  Gary exclaimed, “Wooo! Awesome find, Stephen! We are on our way!”

Stephen rejoined his star, which was made up of his Mad Dog, Mira’s Timber Wolf, Elissa and her Storm Crow, Lawrence with his Hellbringer and Sofia in her Timber Wolf. Mira made sure everybody got a sample of mochi candy and promised that nobody in their star was eating rations for dinner that evening.

  “The town up ahead is called Bernoulli,” instructed Star Captain Janet Drummond, “at the entrance to Kado-guchi Valley, with a population of about one hundred thousand, we expect the defenders to be merely a couple of battalions of militia infantry with some vehicles,” she reported, “the First Elemental Binary and the 17th Striker Binary have been committed, while we have been relegated to serve as the reserves, as needed.”

Late Afternoon

  Mechwarrior Stephen could not believe the tenacity of the defending Kurita soldiers. The units were dug in and camouflaged, heavily armed with VLAWs that inflicted incredible damage to Elementals and Omnimechs alike, and when attacked, often fought to a man, without yielding a millimeter.
  Of the cluster’s two Binaries, only three points of Elementals survived and Star Colonel Thara Lossey bitterly pulled them from the battle after a company of infantry holed up in a hospital, which turned that valuable resource into a valid target. That forced the cluster commander to break her own order to preserve valuable assets and level the collection of medical buildings with volleys of Arrow IV missiles.
  Stephen’s cluster was finally thrown into the fray in order to cut off a handful of surviving vehicles as they fled toward Luthien. Slaughtering the helpless personnel carriers made him ill.
 
  Elsewhere on the battlefield, Stephen was shocked at the reports of the presence of the notorious Wolf’s Dragoons and the powerful Kell Hounds, two huge units that ComStar failed to include in their report of Luthien’s defenders. “How long will it take that nincompoop, Khan Furey to revise his bid to match the latest data?”
  There are two, massive, unexpected units, surely there is no shame at adjusting their forces to match the current defenders? There were several, uncommitted galaxies aching to land and fight, currently sidelined due to the false data provided by ComStar.

  The news of the 32nd Assault Cluster’s breakthrough followed by headlong retreat in the face of a strong counter offensive left Stephen slack-jawed. The campaign was suddenly turning into disaster at every level.
  With Clan units in retreat on nearly every front, Mechwarrior Stephen expected a recall order. His Striker Star hunted down a pair of vehicles that managed to slip through the cordon of Clan Nova Cat omnimechs. The vehicles sped across a bridge, followed by the eager star. Mira’s Timber Wolf carried one of the remaining points of Elementals from the abortive assault on Bernoulli.
  The vehicles crested a berm and disappeared from sight. Heedless of the risk, the Mad Dog bounded over the rise and Stephen beheld an amazing sight.
  Stretched out before his omnimech was a vast tent city, perhaps a regimental marshalling point, where masses of soldiers stood in neat formations while awaiting to board dozens of transport lorries. Instinctively, Stephen swept his weapons from one side to another, raked the enemy infantry and vehicles to deadly effect. Mira’s Timber Wolf opened up a split second later, the Elementals leaped into the massed formations and delivered flaming death to the panicking militia.
  The lorries scattered like so many cockroaches after the lights were turned on, they plowed over the tents in an effort to escape the wrath of the invading machines that had appeared out of nowhere.
  Mechwarrior Elissa in her Storm Crow sprinted after several escaping lorries then reported, “Stephen, you are not going to believe this…”
  “Go ahead and report, Elissa.”
  “Just beyond the tent city is a huge, I repeat, huge, depot,” she reported, “I mean munitions, fuel, supplies, components, even vehicles!”
  “Mira, have our Elementals rig the depot for demolition, posthaste!” Stephen suggested.
  “On it,” Mira replied.

  The carnage lasted only a few minutes. Their sudden fury cooled, the Nova Cat omnimechs found themselves standing over hundreds of surrendered and wounded militia soldiers.
  “There is no way we are taking this planet,” said Stephen, “Have those unfortunate people find operational vehicles to load the wounded and get them to Luthien.”
 
  As twilight began to fall, the first fuel tanks exploded among ammunition crates and a dozen columns of black smoke rose into the sky and soon, the light of the flames reflected off the clouds above Kado-guchi Valley.

  “Stephen, report your position.”
  “Hello, Star Captain Janet,” answered the mechwarrior, “We crossed a river between Bernoulli and Luthien.”
  “Well, get back here, immediately!” she ordered, “The Smoke Jaguars are furious that a Nova Cat unit made it further than any of their assets, and they reminded me that our role in this campaign is supportive or as reserves, and you are certainly not permitted to cross that river.”
  “Well, what do you want me to do, put out the fires and fix all the damage too?” This day was beginning to get to him.
  “Just reposition on the Bernoulli side of the bridge.”
  “Whatever you say, Janet,” he replied glumly. “Mira, we have to move out,” he informed her, “Get that regimental banner before we leave.”

Dusk

  As the star of omnimechs crossed back over the river, Stephen noted two pairs of targets approaching the burning depot at high speed.
  “Hurry up people,” he warned, “we trespassed into the enemy’s back yard and left a huge, smoking dump.”
  “Thank you for that image, Stephen,” commented Mira, “I am probably going to dream about it.”
  “Every time I see a huge, smoking dump, I will think of you, Stephen,” added Elissa.
  Stephen laughed nervously, an eye on the targets that made a several passes over the enemy camp. He was thankful that darkness was falling and the aerospace fighters that buzzed around the area like angry hornets would have difficulty spotting his fleeing star.

  Mira found a tranquil hill overlooking the town of Bernoulli and the exhausted star laagered at that position, along with the other two stars of their trinary.
  There were grills and picnic tables at the site and the trinary shared bowls of ramen, pickled vegetables and a variety of candies that Stephen and Mira had crammed into their omnimechs.

  Star Captain Janet Drummond looked weary, “Another victory like Bernoulli and we will surely lose the war,” she said, “our cluster lacks the Elementals for another urban fight and tomorrow, we may be involved in a street to street battle against several regiments of fanatical Draconis Combine infantry, armed to the teeth.”
  The very thought made Stephen shudder.
« Last Edit: 04 July 2020, 00:05:21 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

ThePW

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #18 on: 13 July 2019, 01:20:10 »
I love this (but in several passages, the clanners sometimes use contractions more so than merely accidently)...

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #19 on: 13 July 2019, 02:23:14 »
I love this (but in several passages, the clanners sometimes use contractions more so than merely accidently)...
  I fully admit that I have a problem with Clan dialogue. When I play it in my head, it sounds clumsy, as though it is only suitable for cartoon voices. Even Shakespeare used contractions because they were natural to the normal flow of speech. I've done plays and written scripts and Clan dialect is another clumsy BTism...
« Last Edit: 13 July 2019, 02:38:51 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Daryk

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #20 on: 13 July 2019, 02:28:32 »
 ???

Blank post?

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #21 on: 13 July 2019, 02:41:32 »
???

Blank post?
  My comp flickered in mid-post and somehow the reply got saved with just the quote. Go figure.

Daryk

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #22 on: 13 July 2019, 02:48:44 »
Happens to me every now and then too... gotta love the internet!  ::)

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #23 on: 21 July 2019, 05:33:03 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Four)


  An elderly woman wearing a white coat sat at a desk in what looked like a business office. The room was spartan, save a couple of framed certificates on the wall and a few photographs. Her should-length hair was wavy and gray, and she wore a pair of simple, wire-framed glasses.
  “My name is Doctor Elizabeth Ferguson. It is the eighth of November, 2874. If you are viewing this holovid, I have likely been murdered. It has been about a century since the last Terran Hegemony ship has arrived to maintain the orbital storm inhibitors, and the remaining satellites in orbit have been gradually failing to keep the planet’s climate from dropping.”

  “The planet’s population has fallen from over one hundred thousand to less than half that,” she said, “We get occasional visits from pirates, but they are too afraid to attack the town, proper, choosing to raid the outlying farms and orchards beyond the coal mine, but these were the primary sources of food and fuel, after the fishing trawler was attacked and sank in a pirate raid and the refinery shut down, its workers evacuated not long after the Hegemony supply deliveries stopped. ”

  “About fifty years ago, a couple of fishermen hoping to catch salmon discovered what was believed to be a megalithic burial mound of indeterminate age,” she explained, “at first, we all believed it to be a prank, probably done by Star League engineers, long ago,” she shook her head, “we had no idea how wrong we were, at the time.”

  “Unwilling to wait for the geology experts, the fishermen used one of the tractors to force the entrance and returned to Innsmouth with a small hoard of gold articles. They also reported a human corpse, but in their greed to loot the site, they practically demolished the grave and the burial chamber,” she indicated a star-shaped object on the desk, “They also found this, a carven stone key, which they kept secret for a long time.”

  “Some of our scientists examined the remains found in the chamber and concluded that it was a middle-aged human male with a number of minor physical defects, such as webbed hands and unusually large eye sockets, she pointed out, “All of that caused a bit of a stir concerning the health of the citizens, and possible effects of radiation or exposure to toxic material dump sites. As for the actual age of the megalith, we had no method to measure its age available.”

  “I was still a child when this all happened, but I remember some of it,” she said, “some people began behaving oddly, starting with the two fishermen…” she leaned forward, “they began to keep to themselves and avoided the company of others, which didn’t concern anybody for a while.”

  “Months later, the two men asked for permission to reopen the abandoned church and the town council allowed it, citing the need for moral strength and guidance,” she shook her head, “That was the beginning of the real problems, as the two men called the reopened church the ‘Temple of Dagon’ based upon dreams and visions they purported to have had following their discovery of the megalith, soon, they were joined by several other people.”

  “The temple drew a lot of attention, as it explained why the planet was suddenly isolated,” the woman said, “that the people of Innsmouth were chosen for divine protection, away from the wars that plagued the fallen Star League, insulated from the corruption that caused so much death and destruction, and the settlers gathered every week to hear the two self-proclaimed priests of Dagon preach their message of salvation.”

  “At first, their message was welcome and reassuring to the general populace, but eventually, their message became divisive and critical of the settlers who showed no interest in their temple. Eventually, temple members controlled the town council and suddenly the Dagon faction had the power over the rationing system imposed due to the acute shortages.”

  “The ownership of firearms under the Terran Hegemony was always strictly controlled and there was little opposition to the town council declaring all firearms as community property, and the settlers willingly turned all of their weapons and munitions over to the town government. Citizens were permitted access to a weapon for authorized hunting forays, but the council kept meticulous inventory of every bullet issued.”

  “The council’s draconian policies fueled unrest among the people who were unaffiliated with the temple but that changed when the council somehow produced a large haul of seafood; Fish, clams, crabs, squid and lobster that they freely distributed to the populace. They also managed to find stores of coal and fuel oil, which meant light and heat for the winter months. These incidents attracted throngs of devotees to the doors of the temple.”

  “The council took advantage of their new popularity and asked for volunteers to restore services they considered essential, such as opening the mine, harvesting, tending the herds, even running the sawmill. The turnout was impressive, and things looked positive for a while, but as usual, people started to complain over the division of labor and who was benefiting the most.”

  “During that time, I attended school, which would shorten on days that teachers and students would be transported to the orchard or fields to pick fruits and vegetables. Every week, members of the Temple of Dagon would make presentations in the classrooms and they would make certain we were all well fed and aware of our civic duties and obligations.”

  “Some of the parents weren’t happy about the indoctrination but were willing to give lip service to the temple in exchange for food and comfort. The situation lasted about ten years before a jumpship contacted the mayor’s office, which caused a significant stir among the settlers, who were very wary of the possibility of pirates. The jumpship declared that they were from a SLDF contingent and requested a status report, which the mayor’s office gladly delivered. The mayor was shortly informed that a dropship was inbound to give the colony protection and support, which was met with great celebration.”

  “The dropship was loaded with food, fuel, much needed medical supplies and a lance of battlemechs, the leader of whom pledged his loyal defense of the colony and its people. It was soon after that the town council enacted several laws for the safety of the public, such as a full database of the colony’s medical records, especially vaccinations,” she added, “There was something they were looking for, as I was subjected to having an examination, blood, urine, and a few other tests. I didn’t know it at the time but we all were submitting to detailed DNA testing.”

  “It wasn’t long after that people began to disappear, first while they were away from Innsmouth then they’d be reported missing from their homes. Since we really didn’t have dedicated detectives to investigate, let alone a police force, it was up to a handful of volunteers to determine the cause of the disappearances. The volunteers were a quirky bunch of eccentrics who weren’t suitable for the essential duties, save as menial labor, but they were intelligent and eager to solve the mystery.”

  “Despite their energy and optimism, the would-be investigators couldn’t find any evidence at all, while people kept disappearing, about one every week. They finally approached the town council and asked if they could install security cameras about town, which was permitted, privacy concerns notwithstanding. After some weeks of discouraging results, one of the members concluded that perhaps people were not being taken but were actually leaving on their own accord.”

  “The town council considered the theory preposterous and dismissed the team, with somber gratitude. The team members, adamant about solving the mystery, kept working, nonetheless, even questioning the priests of Dagon about the content of their sermons. The priests complained to the town council, who strongly admonished the team, but the council admitted that they no longer employed the men in any fashion, so they were free to ask questions so long as they didn’t actively harass anyone.”

  Dr. Ferguson paused for a moment and took a breath, “Let me first talk about the Temple of Dagon. The two men who found the megalithic structure believed that they had proof that Terra was first settled by ancient travelers, led by Dagon, who was also called the Lord of the Abyss. They didn’t make clear who these travelers were, if they were humans or some other manner of aliens but their contention was that Dagon appeared to them in dreams and instructed the two to dedicate a temple to whom they contended was the first and most ancient god of Terra.”

  “Some of the settlers searched what database we had for information concerning Dagon and we all found the same, brief information of the Babylonian pantheon and the paragraph or two concerning the Dagon of Mesopotamia. Information was scant and there was much speculation on the meaning of the word ‘Abyss’ as well. Babylonian mythos stated that the abyss was the underworld of the dead, while others theorized that it referred to the depths of the oceans of Terra, as Dagon’s human worshippers were a sea-going race. One last theory called the abyss a reference to the vast darkness of outer space.”

  “According to the temple’s pamphlets, Dagon offered a paradise for his followers, who would be willing to enter or cross the abyss to join him. The team of investigators called the temple’s doctrines into question and asked for some basis for their claims. The priests relented and placed the artifacts they removed from the mound on display. They even allowed certain parties to examine the gold and stone artifacts. The investigation team was able to take images of the artifacts and spent more weeks researching the images and curious script molded in gold and etched into stone.”

  “In good faith, the team released their findings publicly, with copies of their data and opinions available to anybody who requested it. It was their conclusion that some of the artifacts contained a map of the continent and text like that of the ancient Phoenicians, although they could not translate any of it. Utilizing images taken from orbit, the team searched to terrain that corresponded with the images on the artifacts. They agreed that the Valborg River, named after the company that operated the seafood cannery, was clearly identifiable and that it led to a mountain range in the distance. With that knowledge, dozens of volunteers stepped forward to explore, including one of the high priests.”

  “Much time was placed on planning the trek across the continent, provisions gathered, and equipment secured. The SLDF dropship was made available, as were two battlemechs, and twenty volunteers selected. The morale among the colonists was very high in those days, people were optimistic, and it was also reported that there was a significant drop in reports of missing people. The dropship departed with great fanfare and for a month, people eagerly waited for good news.”

  “But there was no good news. After a month, the dropship returned and following a hurried meeting  with the Innsmouth council, it was announced that the expedition had found a location where the Valborg River met the mountain range and to their dismay, they found several corpses, in addition to dozens of  people who were barely alive after walking from the town, across over fifteen hundred kilometers of wilderness, with minimal provisions or protective clothing.”

  “It was the high priest who explained what may have happened. He told the council that Dagon communicated with his devotees through dreams and perhaps the people who had wandered into the cold wilderness were subject to suggestion. The interviews of the few survivors confirmed the theory that the missing people had vivid dreams about being called by a calm voice and they walked from town, almost in a dream state. It was immediately ordered that vehicles be dispatched to search and rescue other ‘walkers’ along the path between Innsmouth and the distant mountains.”

  “The council also established regular patrols around the town, especially along the river, to intercept ‘walkers’ who might wander out of town. Due to the work in rounding up ‘walkers’ and recovering the dead, the exploration team was unable to fulfil its primary mission and when again made ready, they planned to attempt another sortie. The high priest of Dagon was certain that what they searched for was near the cliff where most of the bodies were discovered. Again, the dropship traversed the continent to find whatever Dagon was calling random people to find.”

  “The exploration team established that the base of the cliff would be their starting point and one of the battlemechs indicated an area where its sensors had detected energy and machinery. The cliff was solid basalt and after hours with picks and sledgehammers, the battlemechs took turns at kicking at a location suspected of being near the doors indicated on the map. As sheets of the solid rock crumbled at the battlemechs’ assault, the explorers exulted at the appearance of a flat, bronze surface, polished to a mirrorlike sheen and engraved with more of the Phoenician glyphs. After a few hours of demolition work, the battlemechs managed to clear away the layer of basalt that covered the twin doors, as illuminated on the artifacts. The door to the right had a star-shaped depression, about shoulder height. The high priest uttered a prayer and unwrapped the key stone from its silk shroud.”

  “As a young girl, I saw images of those titanic doors, they were at least twenty meters in height and together, nearly the same width. They appeared to be bronze but despite the battering needed to remove the layer of stone, they still were mirror polished, without a hint of marring. The high priest requested that the others stand back while he hefted the keystone into the depression. The explorers reported that the ground shook as the arcane mechanism hidden beneath the mountain caused the massive portals to swing slowly inward, and it seemed that the very mountain exhaled a cold breath.”

  “The high priest straightened and confidently strode forward, into the darkness. The explorers followed, albeit more cautiously, a few brought hand torches. The floor was polished, black basalt, and a few seconds after the high priest entered the first chamber, bright lights flared to life from the vaulted ceiling. The battlemechs then walked slowly into the cavernous room. The walls were covered with painted ceramic tiles, and some of the sections depicted geometric shapes, images and the curious glyphs yet undeciphered.”

  “At the far end of the hall was a dais, constructed of the same material as the massive portals, to the right of the dais, on the wall to the north, was another pair of cyclopean doors, ornately decorated but without a place for a keystone. The high priest looked over the dais for several minutes, then slumped his shoulders, he could not fathom the controls. He looked over the array of knobs, levers and switches and decided that Dagon had not yet chosen a time to reveal his secrets.”

“The explorers each took turns examining the controls, made notes and took images of the arcane symbols but dared not touch any of them. Nobody could read the ancient script and could only speculate on the meaning of the various symbols. They agreed to retire to the dropship, but the high priest was unable to determine how to close the entrance. He had tried removing the key stone but without result. It was determined that one battlemech and five explorers remained to keep watch at the site overnight.”

  “The next morning came and the explorers were astonished to find the men who stood guard over the hall were gone, as was the battlemech. The doors to the right of the dais were open. The second battlemech attempted to contact the missing machine but with no success. For some reason, the party guarding the entrance had gone into the unknown depths of the mountain. The high priest wondered if Dagon had summoned them and instructed them to use the dais.”

  “Volunteers were selected and the remaining battlemech accompanied them into the hall, through the inner doors, and down the corridor to find the others. Another group was chosen to keep watch and when the next morning arrived, the giant bronze doors were again sealed shut, and the guards nowhere in sight. Most distressing was the fact that the key stone, the only method to open the ponderous doorway, was gone as well. The explorers returned to Innsmouth, and an inquiry held by the council. Fifteen men and two battlemechs were missing, with no explanation possible. Coincidentally, no more people were reported missing after that time.”

  “Two months later, one of the missing explorers returned to his home. He was very ill due to exposure and had to have several toes amputated because of frostbite. He was filthy and suffered from many small cuts and what looked like animal bites. He was in shock and it was a miracle that he survived. He remained unconscious for two days after his surgery and it was another two days before he was well enough to answer questions.”

She pulled a small, worn, leather bound book from her pocket. “That man was my father, he was among the second group of men guarding the site, and this is his journal,” she opened the book to a marked page, “At dusk, the five of us settled in for the evening. We brought a portable stove for heat and to make tea. After the watches were selected, those of us not on duty laid out our sleeping bags and turned in. It was just after midnight, local time, that I was shaken awake by Smythe, who told me that Jones, who had been on watch, was gone and the entrance doors closed. We fought off the initial panic and gathered our wits. Despite the warnings against touching the controls on the dais, we sketched the current layout and attempted to reason out the meanings of the various symbols. It was figured that opening and closing a door would be an on/off affair, so we eliminated the dials and slides, which left us with a dozen or so levers and switches with which to contend.”

  “Much to our dismay, many of the controls seemed to be locked in place, and we desperately searched the dais, which was a column of solid bronze, for any hidden features, without success. After three hours of fruitless effort, we reached a consensus to venture forward, through the open portal, into the unknown depths of the mountain. Higgins took point and Smythe, who carries the pistol, backed him up, about 20 paces behind. Garrido and I took up the rear, another 10 paces in trail. With the main doors sealed, the complex was surprisingly comfortable, and we wondered what manner of environmental system would maintain that level of comfort. The long, wide corridor was lit by lighting embedded in the high ceiling. As we walked, the hall was totally silent, save for the echoes of our footsteps and occasional comments and observations.”

  “We estimated that we had covered about five kilometers before we encountered an enormous lift. It was fashioned of the same sturdy material that resembled bronze and there were unfathomable controls that after minutes if trying, were also locked from operation. After some examination, we concluded that we could squeeze between the platform and the frame and climb down to where we believed the others had gone before us.”

  “While we climbed the metal framework, we discussed our theories on who had constructed the complex. Smythe insisted on his assertion that only the Terran Hegemony could master such technologies and the structure was part of many of the massive Star League Defense Force bases that were used to defend Terra.
“Garrido laughed at Smythe’s patriotic bias and theorized that the complex was obviously ancient and was doubtless of alien origin. That sparked a rigorous debate concerning pyramids, Atlantis and how human capabilities are both over- and under- estimated. I was certain the two of them would have come to blows if they weren’t so busy climbing. About a hundred down, Higgins claimed he could hear the sound of machinery. We strained our ears and faint as the sound was, we could also hear it.”

  “We continued our climb down, now cautiously and without conversation. Plans and contingencies were whispered back and forth, with debate about negotiation versus initiating violence. We were entering unknown territory, we knew of no attacks against us, so how would we face the people who owned this massive fortress? Smythe agreed to keep his revolver pocketed until it was needed. Just above an opening, out group paused for a breath. The sound of machinery, voices and powered tools drifted up to where we clung to the lift’s supporting frame.”

  “Higgins went down to have a peek and returned to our position. He reported that it appeared to be a workshop of some manner, with compartments, scaffolding and catwalks, with a handful of workers, in full environmental gear. Smythe mentioned that it sounded like they were battlemech bays that he had read about. Higgins also mentioned that there were battlemechs in some of the bays, one of them was the first battlemech to disappear, while he could not recognize the others. Smythe became gleeful, he claimed to have been correct in assessing the complex as a secret SLDF base and perhaps we should just turn ourselves in. Higgins warned that perhaps the base belonged to one of the Houses, and that our presence would not be very welcome. That comment merely sparked another debate on how the Houses could never possibly construct such a facility.”

  “As we really had no alternative, moving forward was the only choice, although we did discuss the possibility of bypassing the repair floor and continuing down, further into the depths. The opening was blocked by a two-meter high wire fence gate, over which we had no trouble climbing. Higgins was first, and he helped each of us as we climbed from the framework and back onto the polished, black floor. Oddly, it took a while for anybody to notice our presence, possibly due to their confidence in their security or perhaps their attention to their work. Eventually, one of the workers spotted us, tapped the worker beside him and pointed.”

  “You cannot imagine the relief that we weren’t immediately gunned down or that a loud klaxon horn didn’t blare out an alarm. Instead, two of the workers climbed down from their scaffolds and walked over to us, their posture slightly stooped and their gait unusual. Smythe, the most technical savvy of the group, surmised that their protective gear and other equipment accounted for their posture and hampered their ability to walk. Whispered discussion about why people would require full body protection, began and in the minute the pair of strangers crossed the cavernous work area, we were still wondering if the environment in the facility was toxic.”

  “Oddly, the workers didn’t utter a word, they motioned for us to follow them and turned around. We pelted them with questions, but they paid no heed as they walked past the battlemech bays and into another massive corridor. Higgins closed his eyes and said we were heading west, by his reckoning. When asked what lay West, beyond the mountain range, Higgins was certain it was ocean. Our guides didn’t seem to mind us talking amongst ourselves and we again engaged in speculation.”

  “Our guides let us to a door, it was bronze, just like the like the massive doors at the entrance, as well as the inner portals, but only about three meters high. They opened the door and motioned for us to enter. We stepped into the dimly lit room and were met by three of the others, who had ventured into the facility with the second battlemech. The three had been asleep and after being awoken, taken at gunpoint by their fellows and brought here. The second battlemech pilot, one Lieutenant Ziegler, was also taken prisoner but separated from them and taken elsewhere.”

  “The room was spartan, it had a sink with a tap, and a connecting restroom. The others had their sleeping bags, as we also carried ours, and they were happy that we still possessed our portable stove and a decent supply of tea. We were informed that our captors would bring food and drinks every six or so hours, and that the meals were of decent quality; Hot stews, soup, bread and fresh salad, which made us wonder how they were being supplied with vegetables, grains and meat.”
  “When we asked about which men of out group took them prisoner, they gave us a list, and underscored the fact that they were led by the commander of the SLDF battlemech lance, Major Charles Dumare.”
« Last Edit: 21 July 2019, 05:42:18 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #24 on: 22 July 2019, 23:43:18 »
The Cat and the Mirror (Part 3)

Night

  The alarm on his console screamed and Stephen’s eyes shot open. He slapped the screen to shut off the shrill wail.
  “Wake up, stray cats!” announced the star captain, “We are marching to the sound of the guns; A battle is being waged and we do not want to miss it!”
  “Fighting at this hour?” Stephen asked, “This is another ‘clever plan’ by Clan Smoke Jaguar, eh?”
  “Worse, if that could be possible,” replied Drummond, “our allies are clashing against Wolf’s Dragoons and the Kell Hounds and they are finally calling for help.”
  “They want us to pull their nuts out of the fire,” laughed Stephen, “If you asked me, I would let their nuts burn.”
  The overlay of a map was superimposed on his console, and he could see red arrows pointing on the path his unit was instructed to take.
  “Make your best speed to Kado-guchi valley,” said the star captain, “you are to advance until within combat range, form up, then advance to contact.”
   There was a chorus of “Aff” from the trinary of omnimechs, as they trotted through the darkness.

  Mira commented, “It looks like a thunderstorm.”
  “Those are the Long Tom batteries that surround Luthien City,” answered Stephen, “Woe to the unit that is forced to endure the brutal hammering of their shells.”
  “Keep moving,” sighed Drummond, “do not let yourself be a target, avoid standing stationary for any length of time, or you will be showered with artillery shells.”
  “So, Clan Smoke Jaguar is finally getting a lesson on real war,” commented Stephen, “I wonder, how would they fight if they had their backs to the wall, and struggling for survival?”
  “As funny as that would be to observe,” responded his commander, “that would be a disaster for all of the Clans.”
  “This Nova Cat reserves the right to choose upon which side I fight,” declared Stephen, “and I shall always oppose Clan Smoke Jaguar and their ilk, because they are a stain on the Clans, as a whole.”
  “Please hold off on your trial of annihilation,” cautioned Drummond, “at least until this campaign ends,” she added a graphic overlay to his display, “It looks like our allies have committed all they have to this push.”

  The Clan Nova Cat trinary loped into the valley indicated on their navigation displays, they had passed occasional Clan Smoke Jaguar omnimechs, limping away from the front, mutilated from battle damage. They found scattered wreckage of dozens of Jaguar machines, strewn about like broken toys, on ground cratered and smoking.
  Enemy aerospace fighters screamed overhead, which caused Stephen to break out in a cold sweat. Fighting another battlemech is one thing, being the mere target of several tons of bombs is no way for a warrior to die. He pictured an insect being crushed under a boot.
 
  The terrain changed into a gradual incline and Stephen’s display showed the remnants of a Smoke Jaguar trinary struggling against a small, mixed force defending a stately mansion that overlooked the valley. As they approached, they could see a company of armored vehicles behind a berm, only their turrets exposed to fire. Behind those vehicles, stood five battlemechs, which Stephen recognized as a Victor, a Whitworth, and a pair of Panthers.
  A Summoner jumped over the mansion and in mid-flight, it was struck by a pair of particle projectors and a smattering of missiles, which caused the hapless omnimech to spin in mid-air and tumble onto the green ceramic tiles of one of the mansion’s wings and into the structure, where its icon went dark.
   In a brief exchange against a Timber Wolf, the Whitworth erupted into a ball of fire and collapsed in a heap. A Firefly dropped to the ground, under the Victor’s withering fire. One of the Panthers lost a leg and struggled to stand to keep fighting.
   
  “Look, at the top of the heights!” cried Elissa, “Kell Hounds!”
  “There has to be over a hundred battlemechs,” added Lawrence, “They are pursuing the fleeing Jaguars!”
  “Stand your ground, my kittens,” said Drummond, her voice calm and firm, “We cover the retreat.”
  “I suppose this battle is over,” Stephen commented, “When Clan Smoke Jaguar discovered the many extra units present, they had the full right to alter their bid, aff?”
  “Aff,” agreed the star captain, “We could have revised our own bid, which, in winning, may have placed our clan in charge of the operation and take the overall leadership away from the Smoke Jaguars,” Drummond growled, “I believe that was what the Jaguars feared most: Success under another Clan’s command.”

  “Keep your interval,” cautioned Drummond, “just back away at a walk.”
  A handful of damaged omnimechs passed through our lines, the entire cluster formed as a bulwark against an irresistible, massive wave of enemy machines.
  “They advance, but why not charge us?” asked Mira, “We would be overwhelmed.”
  “Mayhap they have had their fill of slaughter,” mused Stephen, “do you forget our attack on that town?”
  “Aff,” Mira responded glumly, “that was dreadful.”

Late Evening

 The thin line of defending omnimechs retreated to the Tairakana Plains, to the foot of the Waseda Hills. The trinary stood near the wreckage of a Crab, where two Elementals stood vigil over a body bag. The massed Inner Sphere forces were a kilometer away, advancing at a slow walk.
  “Katya, Morris, it is time to go home,” Stephen said, “Thank you.”
  “It is good to see you, Stephen,” Katya answered, as she climbed up to the brackets, “We go home.”
  Ahead of the approaching ranks of enemy battlemechs, advanced two Crabs and a Dragon, followed by a vehicle, a Maxim hovercraft, all in mottled, mustard yellow camouflage, and displaying the green banner of the 8th Arkab Training Cadre, etched with gold Arabic script. The Maxim flew a white flag and as the Clan Nova Cat trinary backed away, the Arkab contingent stopped at the fallen Crab and several infantrymen dismounted from the vehicle carrying a stretcher. One of the Crabs knelt near the body and its female pilot dismounted. She fell to her knees and bowed her head beside the dead pilot, while the soldiers lifted the body bag onto the stretcher and solemnly bore it away to place it upon the Maxim. The mechwarrior rose to her feet and snapped to attention and saluted the receding trinary before she returned to her machine.

  The advancing Inner Sphere units halted at Waseda Hills and the Clan Nova Cat Cluster finally turned and marched back to the landing zone, without interruption.
  Mechwarrior Stephen was silent for the rest of the journey back to his dropship and dreaded the coming debriefings that followed every operation, especially a failed operation.
  “Will you look at that?” exclaimed Mira.
  Elissa asked, “What is it?”
  “They placed spotlights to light it up!” chimed in Lawrence, “It is bolted to the very top of our dropship.”
  “Congratulations, Stephen,” announced Star Captain Janet Drummond, “you won the contest!”
  Stephen was still somewhat confused until he looked up. Standing on top of the Union dropship, illuminated by a circle of spotlights blazing brilliantly in the darkness, was the statue of Coordinator Urizen Kurita II.

  The Mad Dog trudged up the ramp towards the repair bay. The technicians were celebrating, as usual, as if they had won the battle. Nevertheless, the fighting was over, and their charges had returned in one piece -more than adequate reason to celebrate.
  Stephen climbed down from the scaffolding, where Katya, now wearing her fatigue uniform, stood waiting. The Elemental woman wrapped her arms about his smaller form and gave Stephen a tight hug.
  “Ouch! Have a care,” he warned, “I was wounded today!”
  Katya released him and stepped back, “Sorry, are you alright?”
  Stephen massaged his neck and rubbed his shoulder, “I will live, I guess,” he reached into a vest pocket and handed Katya a palm-sized box, “Here you go.”
  “What is it?”
  “Mochi candy,” replied the mechwarrior, “I grabbed a case of it, but we have to fetch that and the other boxes of stuff from Mira’s Timber Wolf.”
  Katya unwrapped the small square of soft candy and popped it into her mouth, “Oooh, this is good!” She took is hand and pulled him toward the bay where Mira’s omnimech was located.
  The techs were lounging about the Timber Wolf, munching on mochi.
  “Thank you for the candy, Stephen!” shouted Mira. Her technicians echoed her in chorus.
  Stephen growled under his breath, even though he was going to share the candy with them, anyway. “Make certain all the techs get a small box,” he told them. After they stored the cases he had brought back in a locked storage container shared by the star, he linked arms with the Elemental and led her to the mess. “Katya, have you ever had instant ramen?”

 
The End

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #25 on: 27 September 2019, 19:33:06 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Four)

  An elderly woman wearing a white coat sat at a desk in what looked like a business office. The room was spartan, save a couple of framed certificates on the wall and a few photographs. Her should-length hair was wavy and gray, and she wore a pair of simple, wire-framed glasses.
  “My name is Doctor Elizabeth Ferguson. It is the eighth of November, 2874. If you are viewing this holovid, I have likely been murdered. It has been about a century since the last Terran Hegemony ship has arrived to maintain the orbital storm inhibitors, and the remaining satellites in orbit have been gradually failing to keep the planet’s climate from dropping.”
  “The planet’s population has fallen from over one hundred thousand to less than half that,” she said, “We get occasional visits from pirates, but they are too afraid to attack the town, proper, choosing to raid the outlying farms and orchards beyond the coal mine, but these were the primary sources of food and fuel, after the fishing trawler was attacked and sank in a pirate raid and the refinery shut down, its workers evacuated not long after the Hegemony supply deliveries stopped. ”
  “About fifty years ago, a couple of fishermen hoping to catch salmon discovered what was believed to be a megalithic burial mound of indeterminate age,” she explained, “at first, we all believed it to be a prank, probably done by Star League engineers, long ago,” she shook her head, “we had no idea how wrong we were, at the time.”
  “Unwilling to wait for the geology experts, the fishermen used one of the tractors to force the entrance and returned to Innsmouth with a small hoard of gold articles. They also reported a human corpse, but in their greed to loot the site, they practically demolished the grave and the burial chamber,” she indicated a star-shaped object on the desk, “They also found this, a carven stone key, which they kept secret for a long time.”
  “Some of our scientists examined the remains found in the chamber and concluded that it was a middle-aged human male with a number of minor physical defects, such as webbed hands and unusually large eye sockets, she pointed out, “All of that caused a bit of a stir concerning the health of the citizens, and possible effects of radiation or exposure to toxic material dump sites. As for the actual age of the megalith, we had no method to measure its age available.”
  “I was still a child when this all happened, but I remember some of it,” she said, “some people began behaving oddly, starting with the two fishermen…” she leaned forward, “they began to keep to themselves and avoided the company of others, which didn’t concern anybody for a while.”
  “Months later, the two men asked for permission to reopen the abandoned church and the town council allowed it, citing the need for moral strength and guidance,” she shook her head, “That was the beginning of the real problems, as the two men called the reopened church the ‘Temple of Dagon’ based upon dreams and visions they purported to have had following their discovery of the megalith, soon, they were joined by several other people.”
  “The temple drew a lot of attention, as it explained why the planet was suddenly isolated,” the woman said, “that the people of Innsmouth were chosen for divine protection, away from the wars that plagued the fallen Star League, insulated from the corruption that caused so much death and destruction, and the settlers gathered every week to hear the two self-proclaimed priests of Dagon preach their message of salvation.”
  “At first, their message was welcome and reassuring to the general populace, but eventually, their message became divisive and critical of the settlers who showed no interest in their temple. Eventually, temple members controlled the town council and suddenly the Dagon faction had the power over the rationing system imposed due to the acute shortages.”
  “The ownership of firearms under the Terran Hegemony was always strictly controlled and there was little opposition to the town council declaring all firearms as community property, and the settlers willingly turned all of their weapons and munitions over to the town government. Citizens were permitted access to a weapon for authorized hunting forays, but the council kept meticulous inventory of every bullet issued.”
  “The council’s draconian policies fueled unrest among the people who were unaffiliated with the temple but that changed when the council somehow produced a large haul of seafood; Fish, clams, crabs, squid and lobster that they freely distributed to the populace. They also managed to find stores of coal and fuel oil, which meant light and heat for the winter months. These incidents attracted throngs of devotees to the doors of the temple.”
  “The council took advantage of their new popularity and asked for volunteers to restore services they considered essential, such as opening the mine, harvesting, tending the herds, even running the sawmill. The turnout was impressive, and things looked positive for a while, but as usual, people started to complain over the division of labor and who was benefiting the most.”
  “During that time, I attended school, which would shorten on days that teachers and students would be transported to the orchard or fields to pick fruits and vegetables. Every week, members of the Temple of Dagon would make presentations in the classrooms and they would make certain we were all well fed and aware of our civic duties and obligations.”
  “Some of the parents weren’t happy about the indoctrination but were willing to give lip service to the temple in exchange for food and comfort. The situation lasted about ten years before a jumpship contacted the mayor’s office, which caused a significant stir among the settlers, who were very wary of the possibility of pirates. The jumpship declared that they were from a SLDF contingent and requested a status report, which the mayor’s office gladly delivered. The mayor was shortly informed that a dropship was inbound to give the colony protection and support, which was met with great celebration.”
  “The dropship was loaded with food, fuel, much needed medical supplies and a lance of battlemechs, the leader of whom pledged his loyal defense of the colony and its people. It was soon after that the town council enacted several laws for the safety of the public, such as a full database of the colony’s medical records, especially vaccinations,” she added, “There was something they were looking for, as I was subjected to having an examination, blood, urine, and a few other tests. I didn’t know it at the time but we all were submitting to detailed DNA testing.”
  “It wasn’t long after that people began to disappear, first while they were away from Innsmouth then they’d be reported missing from their homes. Since we really didn’t have dedicated detectives to investigate, let alone a police force, it was up to a handful of volunteers to determine the cause of the disappearances. The volunteers were a quirky bunch of eccentrics who weren’t suitable for the essential duties, save as menial labor, but they were intelligent and eager to solve the mystery.”
  “Despite their energy and optimism, the would-be investigators couldn’t find any evidence at all, while people kept disappearing, about one every week. They finally approached the town council and asked if they could install security cameras about town, which was permitted, privacy concerns notwithstanding. After some weeks of discouraging results, one of the members concluded that perhaps people were not being taken but were actually leaving on their own accord.”
  “The town council considered the theory preposterous and dismissed the team, with somber gratitude. The team members, adamant about solving the mystery, kept working, nonetheless, even questioning the priests of Dagon about the content of their sermons. The priests complained to the town council, who strongly admonished the team, but the council admitted that they no longer employed the men in any fashion, so they were free to ask questions so long as they didn’t actively harass anyone.”
  Dr. Ferguson paused for a moment and took a breath, “Let me first talk about the Temple of Dagon. The two men who found the megalithic structure believed that they had proof that Terra was first settled by ancient travelers, led by Dagon, who was also called the Lord of the Abyss. They didn’t make clear who these travelers were, if they were humans or some other manner of aliens but their contention was that Dagon appeared to them in dreams and instructed the two to dedicate a temple to whom they contended was the first and most ancient god of Terra.”
  “Some of the settlers searched what database we had for information concerning Dagon and we all found the same, brief information of the Babylonian pantheon and the paragraph or two concerning the Dagon of Mesopotamia. Information was scant and there was much speculation on the meaning of the word ‘Abyss’ as well. Babylonian mythos stated that the abyss was the underworld of the dead, while others theorized that it referred to the depths of the oceans of Terra, as Dagon’s human worshippers were a sea-going race. One last theory called the abyss a reference to the vast darkness of outer space.”
  “According to the temple’s pamphlets, Dagon offered a paradise for his followers, who would be willing to enter or cross the abyss to join him. The team of investigators called the temple’s doctrines into question and asked for some basis for their claims. The priests relented and placed the artifacts they removed from the mound on display. They even allowed certain parties to examine the gold and stone artifacts. The investigation team was able to take images of the artifacts and spent more weeks researching the images and curious script molded in gold and etched into stone.”
  “In good faith, the team released their findings publicly, with copies of their data and opinions available to anybody who requested it. It was their conclusion that some of the artifacts contained a map of the continent and text like that of the ancient Phoenicians, although they could not translate any of it. Utilizing images taken from orbit, the team searched to terrain that corresponded with the images on the artifacts. They agreed that the Valborg River, named after the company that operated the seafood cannery, was clearly identifiable and that it led to a mountain range in the distance. With that knowledge, dozens of volunteers stepped forward to explore, including one of the high priests.”
  “Much time was placed on planning the trek across the continent, provisions gathered, and equipment secured. The SLDF dropship was made available, as were two battlemechs, and ten volunteers selected. The morale among the colonists was very high in those days, people were optimistic, and it was also reported that there was a significant drop in reports of missing people. The dropship departed with great fanfare and for a month, people eagerly waited for good news.”
  “But there was no good news. After a month, the dropship returned and following a hurried meeting  with the Innsmouth council, it was announced that the expedition had found a location where the Valborg River met the mountain range and to their dismay, they found several corpses, in addition to dozens of  people who were barely alive after walking from the town, across over fifteen hundred kilometers of wilderness, with minimal provisions or protective clothing.”
  “It was the high priest who explained what may have happened. He told the council that Dagon communicated with his devotees through dreams and perhaps the people who had wandered into the cold wilderness were subject to suggestion. The interviews of the few survivors confirmed the theory that the missing people had vivid dreams about being called by a calm voice and they walked from town, almost in a dream state. It was immediately ordered that vehicles be dispatched to search and rescue other ‘walkers’ along the path between Innsmouth and the distant mountains.”
  “The council also established regular patrols around the town, especially along the river, to intercept ‘walkers’ who might wander out of town. Due to the work in rounding up ‘walkers’ and recovering the dead, the exploration team was unable to fulfil its primary mission and when again made ready, they planned to attempt another sortie. The high priest of Dagon was certain that what they searched for was near the cliff where most of the bodies were discovered. Again, the dropship traversed the continent to find whatever Dagon was calling random people to find.”
  “The exploration team established that the base of the cliff would be their starting point and one of the battlemechs indicated an area where its sensors had detected energy and machinery. The cliff was solid basalt and after hours with picks and sledgehammers, the battlemechs took turns at kicking at a location suspected of being near the doors indicated on the map. As sheets of the solid rock crumbled at the battlemechs’ assault, the explorers exulted at the appearance of a flat, bronze surface, polished to a mirrorlike sheen and engraved with more of the Phoenician glyphs. After a few hours of demolition work, the battlemechs managed to clear away the layer of basalt that covered the twin doors, as illuminated on the artifacts. The door to the right had a star-shaped depression, about shoulder height. The high priest uttered a prayer and unwrapped the key stone from its silk shroud.”
  “As a young girl, I saw images of those titanic doors, they were at least twenty meters in height and together, nearly the same width. They appeared to be bronze but despite the battering needed to remove the layer of stone, they still were mirror polished, without a hint of marring. The high priest requested that the others stand back while he hefted the keystone into the depression. The explorers reported that the ground shook as the arcane mechanism hidden beneath the mountain caused the massive portals to swing slowly inward, and it seemed that the very mountain exhaled a cold breath.”
  “The high priest straightened and confidently strode forward, into the darkness. The explorers followed, albeit more cautiously, a few brought hand torches. The floor was polished, black basalt, and a few seconds after the high priest entered the first chamber, bright lights flared to life from the vaulted ceiling. The battlemechs then walked slowly into the cavernous room. The walls were covered with painted ceramic tiles, and some of the sections depicted geometric shapes, images and the curious glyphs yet undeciphered.”
  “At the far end of the hall was a dais, constructed of the same material as the massive portals, to the right of the dais, on the wall to the north, was another pair of cyclopean doors, ornately decorated but without a place for a keystone. The high priest looked over the dais for several minutes, then slumped his shoulders, he could not fathom the controls. He looked over the array of knobs, levers and switches and decided that Dagon had not yet chosen a time to reveal his secrets.”
“The explorers each took turns examining the controls, made notes and took images of the arcane symbols but dared not touch any of them. Nobody could read the ancient script and could only speculate on the meaning of the various symbols. They agreed to retire to the dropship, but the high priest was unable to determine how to close the entrance. He had tried removing the key stone but without result. It was determined that one battlemech and five explorers remained to keep watch at the site overnight.”
  “The next morning came and the explorers were astonished to find the men who stood guard over the hall were gone, as was the battlemech. The doors to the right of the dais were open. The second battlemech attempted to contact the missing machine but with no success. For some reason, the party guarding the entrance had gone into the unknown depths of the mountain. The high priest wondered if Dagon had summoned them and instructed them to use the dais.”
  “Volunteers were selected and the remaining battlemech accompanied them into the hall, through the inner doors, and down the corridor to find the others. Another group was chosen to keep watch and when the next morning arrived, the giant bronze doors were again sealed shut, and the guards nowhere in sight. Most distressing was the fact that the key stone, the only method to open the ponderous doorway, was gone as well. The explorers returned to Innsmouth, and an inquiry held by the council. Fifteen men and two battlemechs were missing, with no explanation possible. Coincidentally, no more people were reported missing after that time.”
  “Two months later, one of the missing explorers returned to his home. He was very ill due to exposure and had to have several toes amputated because of frostbite. He was filthy and suffered from many small cuts and what looked like animal bites. He was in shock and it was a miracle that he survived. He remained unconscious for two days after his surgery and it was another two days before he was well enough to answer questions.”
She pulls a small, worn, leather bound book from her pocket. “That man was my father, he was among the second group of men guarding the site, and this is his journal,” she opened the book to a marked page, “At dusk, the five of us settled in for the evening. We brought a portable stove for heat and to make tea. After the watches were selected, those of us not on duty laid out our sleeping bags and turned in. It was just after midnight, local time, that I was shaken awake by Smythe, who told me that Jones, who had been on watch, was gone and the entrance doors closed. We fought off the initial panic and gathered our wits. Despite the warnings against touching the controls on the dais, we sketched the current layout and attempted to reason out the meanings of the various symbols. It was figured that opening and closing a door would be an on/off affair, so we eliminated the dials and slides, which left us with a dozen or so levers and switches with which to contend.”
  “Much to our dismay, many of the controls seemed to be locked in place, and we desperately searched the dais, which was a column of solid bronze, for any hidden features, without success. After three hours of fruitless effort, we reached a consensus to venture forward, through the open portal, into the unknown depths of the mountain. Higgins took point and Smythe, who carries the pistol, backed him up, about 20 paces behind. Garrido and I took up the rear, another 10 paces in trail. With the main doors sealed, the complex was surprisingly comfortable, and we wondered what manner of environmental system would maintain that level of comfort. The long, wide corridor was lit by lighting embedded in the high ceiling. As we walked, the hall was totally silent, save for the echoes of our footsteps and occasional comments and observations.”
  “We estimated that we had covered about five kilometers before we encountered an enormous lift. It was fashioned of the same sturdy material that resembled bronze and there were unfathomable controls that after minutes if trying, were also locked from operation. After some examination, we concluded that we could squeeze between the platform and the frame and climb down to where we believed the others had gone before us.”
  “While we climbed the metal framework, we discussed our theories on who had constructed the complex. Smythe insisted on his assertion that only the Terran Hegemony could master such technologies and the structure was part of many of the massive Star League Defense Force bases that were used to defend Terra.
“Garrido laughed at Smythe’s patriotic bias and theorized that the complex was obviously ancient and was doubtless of alien origin. That sparked a rigorous debate concerning pyramids, Atlantis and how human capabilities are both over- and under- estimated. I was certain the two of them would have come to blows if they weren’t so busy climbing. About a hundred down, Higgins claimed he could hear the sound of machinery. We strained our ears and faint as the sound was, we could also hear it.”
  “We continued our climb down, now cautiously and without conversation. Plans and contingencies were whispered back and forth, with debate about negotiation versus initiating violence. We were entering unknown territory, we knew of no attacks against us, so how would we face the people who owned this massive fortress? Smythe agreed to keep his revolver pocketed until it was needed. Just above an opening, out group paused for a breath. The sound of machinery, voices and powered tools drifted up to where we clung to the lift’s supporting frame.”
  “Higgins went down to have a peek and returned to our position. He reported that it appeared to be a workshop of some manner, with compartments, scaffolding and catwalks, with a handful of workers, in full environmental gear. Smythe mentioned that it sounded like they were battlemech bays that he had read about. Higgins also mentioned that there were battlemechs in some of the bays, one of them was the first battlemech to disappear, while he could not recognize the others. Smythe became gleeful, he claimed to have been correct in assessing the complex as a secret SLDF base and perhaps we should just turn ourselves in. Higgins warned that perhaps the base belonged to one of the Houses, and that our presence would not be very welcome. That comment merely sparked another debate on how the Houses could never possibly construct such a facility.”
  “As we really had no alternative, moving forward was the only choice, although we did discuss the possibility of bypassing the repair floor and continuing down, further into the depths. The opening was blocked by a two-meter high wire fence gate, over which we had no trouble climbing. Higgins was first, and he helped each of us as we climbed from the framework and back onto the polished, black floor. Oddly, it took a while for anybody to notice our presence, possibly due to their confidence in their security or perhaps their attention to their work. Eventually, one of the workers spotted us, tapped the worker beside him and pointed.”
  “You cannot imagine the relief that we weren’t immediately gunned down or that a loud klaxon horn didn’t blare out an alarm. Instead, two of the workers climbed down from their scaffolds and walked over to us, their posture slightly stooped and their gait unusual. Smythe, the most technical savvy of the group, surmised that their protective gear and other equipment accounted for their posture and hampered their ability to walk. Whispered discussion about why people would require full body protection, began and in the minute the pair of strangers crossed the cavernous work area, we were still wondering if the environment in the facility was toxic.”
  “Oddly, the workers didn’t utter a word, they motioned for us to follow them and turned around. We pelted them with questions, but they paid no heed as they walked past the battlemech bays and into another massive corridor. Higgins closed his eyes and said we were heading west, by his reckoning. When asked what lay West, beyond the mountain range, Higgins was certain it was ocean. Our guides didn’t seem to mind us talking amongst ourselves and we again engaged in speculation.”
  “Our guides led us to a door, it was bronze, just like the like the massive doors at the entrance, as well as the inner portals, but only about three meters high. They opened the door and motioned for us to enter. We stepped into the dimly lit room and were met by three of the others, who had ventured into the facility with the second battlemech. The three had been asleep and after being awoken, taken at gunpoint by their fellows and brought here. The second battlemech pilot, one Lieutenant Ziegler, was also taken prisoner but separated from them and taken elsewhere.”
  “The room was spartan, it had a sink with a tap, and a connecting restroom. The others had their sleeping bags, as we also carried ours, and they were happy that we still possessed our portable stove and a decent supply of tea. We were informed that our captors would bring food and drinks every six or so hours, and that the meals were of decent quality; Hot stews, soup, bread and fresh salad, which made us wonder how they were being supplied with vegetables, grains and meat.”
  “When we asked about which men of our group took them prisoner, they gave us a list, and underscored the fact that they were led by the commander of the SLDF battlemech lance, Major Charles Dumare.”


End of Part Four
« Last Edit: 27 September 2019, 19:34:41 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #26 on: 16 October 2019, 15:37:57 »
A Brush with Fate

Lucy Montgomery Secondary School
Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia
Terra
April, 2749


Morning

    “Master Todd, William Todd,” the stentorian voice of Mister Brisson caused the heads of the other students in the classroom to turn, “Do you not find this class sufficiently interesting?”
  William Todd, seated far in the back row of desks, didn’t bother to look up from his sketchbook, his pencil kept moving, “Isn’t the answer obvious?”
  Brisson scowled at the teen, “I suppose you are looking forward to another visit with the vice-principal.”
  William sighed under his breath, these dull people always resorted to dull actions, “Mister Vallini is just as boring as all the other employees of this prison,” he responded, pencil still tracing a graceful line, “but the walk will be far more interesting than sitting here.”
  The instructor wasted no time walking over to his desk and filled out the referral form. Todd ignored the smirks of the other students, although Thomas Phillips, the student who sat to his left, rewarded him with a pat to the shoulder and a whisper, “Good job.”

  William Todd looked like your average teenaged boy of medium build, he stood 1.68 meters tall, with straight, brown hair, which partially covered his ears. He liked to dress comfortably, a high-collar long sleeved shirt, loose-fitting trousers with button suspenders, and an aged, wool vest, with watch and chain. He only wore solid colors, never prints or patterns. His skin was pale, as most of the other students, and his eyes were brown and impassive. His usual facial expression at school would be described as “disinterested boredom”.
  Todd used a leisurely stride in his way to the administrative building, and even took a few detours to look at the patches of flowers that bloomed between the buildings, this time around, he stopped to sketch an iris that waved in the warm, languid wind.
 
  “Back again, Mister Todd?” Vallini stood up and leaned over his neat desk to shake his hand, “Please, have a seat.” The man’s thin, wrinkled hands were gentle, as was his thin face. “How is your father?”
  “It was a lovely day out,” William replied, “I needed a walk,” he sat in the ancient, wooden chair that may have been around before his grandfather’s time, “Dad’s chemotherapy is as expected, he’s tired most of the day.”
  Vallini shook his head, “He was such a great musician.”
  “Brisson’s class is a waste of my time,” said the teen, “He’d have no problem with me doing his homework assignments during art class, but he is furious that I dare sketch in his worthless social studies, propaganda outlet.”
  “You are just like your father,” said Vallini, he was much more friendly than usual, Todd expected boring platitudes, but the man was different today, “heh, this note from Brisson was filled out almost an hour ago -make good use of your time, did you?”
   “Indeed, sir,” he opened his sketchbook and handed it over for perusal.
  “You must have been by C building,” Vallini commented, “I can see why Mrs, Johnson considers you her best pupil.”
  “Does she?” William always sensed a hint of jealousy from the aged woman.
  “Indeed, but I’m certain she would never admit it to you,” said Vallini, with a smile. He opened a folder, “We received this circular this week, the Star League is looking for artists from Hegemony schools for their public relations drive, sponsored by Simon Cameron.”
  Todd looked over the few pages posted in the binder, he always considered the Cameron family corrupt and ridden with lunacy, but there was a monetary award that would allow him to provide for his father. “Make me a copy of the entry form, please.”
   “It would be my pleasure,” announced Vallini, “may I sign my name, as your academic sponsor, and I suppose Mrs. Johnson will act as your mentor?”
  William was indifferent, “Yes, yes, that will be fine, I’m certain Mrs. Johnson will be thrilled.”

Noon

  Todd considered the school’s cafeteria “a vast, culinary wasteland” and saved his money by bringing in a humble meal he prepared at home. He preferred a couple of thin layers of ham with cheese between thin slices of buttered dark bread, which he washed down with iced water from an old, insulated bottle. An apple or small bunch of grapes finished his meal.
  “Dude, you should have a hot meal,” said Thomas, who placed his tray of pizza slices and french fried potatoes on the table, “I’ll be right back.”
  William didn’t even have time to respond, he sighed and took a bite from his sandwich.
  Moments later, Phillips returned and placed a carton of chocolate milk in front of Todd, “Here you go,” Thomas smiled, “a drink, on me.”
  “Thanks, but what for?”
  “Ha! Brisson was fuming after you left the classroom,” Phillips said, cheerfully, “he ranted about how you’d never be anything…” he then lowered his voice, “then he said some crap about your father.”
  William put his sandwich down on the paper towel he used as a placemat and straightened, he growled, “One of these days, I will knife that bastard.” He opened the carton of milk and took a sip, then closed his eyes to savor it.
  “He’s just like most of the adults in this town,” Thomas told him, “petty, jealous little people, who could never even hope to reach what your dad achieved.” Phillips had known Todd for years, back when his friend lived in a mansion and wanted for nothing. William’s father was known throughout the Terran Hegemony, he released over a hundred albums, toured dozens of worlds and played packed concerts in each of the Great Houses. At the peak of his career, William’s father was struck down by a sudden illness and soon, all the family’s wealth was gone. His mother, used to a life of ease and opulence, left as well. Surviving on the meagre government Disabled Citizen’s Program, William cared for his crippled father while attending school.
  “They mean nothing to me,” muttered William, “their shallow opinions have no value.”
  Thomas pushed his tray forward, “Help yourself, I can’t finish all of this.”
  Todd smiled slightly, “Thank you,” he picked up a sliver of potato, “this completes my lunch.” As he nibbled at the sliver, his eyes made a cursory sweep of the dining area and a pair of soft, green eyes met his for a moment. Her silky, blonde hair hung to her slim waist. She sat with a group of her friends and after a curt nod, returned to her conversation.
  Phillips noted his interest and turned about to look, “Which one?” He took a bite from a section of pizza, “they are all pretty, but one of them drew your attention.”
  “The blonde,” whispered Todd, “she’s in my literature class this afternoon.”
  “Leonore Brown,” responded Thomas, he shook his head, “she’s an honor student, but I’ll be honest, her type can’t understand artists, few women can.”
  “I’ve spoken with her,” replied William, “she isn’t at all that bad.”
  “I’m sure she’s very nice, as a person,” said Phillips, “I attended middle school with her, known her and her brother for at least three years,” he leaned forward and whispered slyly, “she takes speech courses, you know, the ones that politicians take, to learn ways to lie to people, and sound good about it.”
  William was silent for a moment, deep in thought. “So, you believe that she’s disingenuous?”
  “Thomas shrugged, “I’m sure she’s capable of being honest, on occasion,” he finished the last of his potatoes and downed the remainder of his milk, “but I’d suggest you weigh anything she may say, her kind have no qualms about manipulating people for her own ends.”
  “Aren’t all women that way?”
  Phillips chuckled, “You have a point,” he nodded in agreement, “but few women are as intelligent as Brown, or aware of their abilities.”
  “You seem have done a lot of research,” commented William.
  “I must be honest,” admitted Phillips, “I was interested in her for a while, but learned to avoid girls like her.”

Afternoon

“Depuis huit jours, j'avais déchiré mes bottines
Aux cailloux des chemins. J'entrais à Charleroi,
—Au Cabaret-Vert: je demandai des tartines
De beurre et du jambon qui fût à moitié froid.

Bienheureux, j'allongeai les jambes sous la table Verte:
je contemplai les sujets très naïfs
De la tapisserie. —Et ce fut adorable,
Quand la fille aux tétons énormes, aux yeux vifs,

—Celle-là, ce n'est pas un baiser qui l'épeure!
—Rieuse, m'apporta des tartines de beurre,
Du jambon tiède, dans un plat colorié,

Du jambon rose et blanc parfumé d'une gousse
D'ail,—et m'emplit la chope immense, avec sa mousse
Que dorait un rayon de soleil arriéré.”


  His reading finished, William closed his book of poetry and paused until the smattering of applause ended.
  “Very good, William,” said Miss Micouleau, the young instructor, who appeared barely much older than her students, “an interesting choice, as usual.”
  Todd took his seat, pleased with himself. Arthur Rimbaud was a favorite of his, and he preferred to read his expressive works. He snuck a glance at Leonore, who shyly looked away after their eyes met. He smiled, and wished he could ask her out, but didn’t have any money for that. He would have to look for work, for her, and for his own purposes.

  William found no interest in the various clubs at school, his father waited at home and the teen would have to prepare dinner and tend to a few chores that always awaited. Half the students of his age drove street vehicles, while he and a handful of other students relied on bicycles for transportation.
  The day was pleasant, and he leisurely unchained his ride from the stand and placed the lock and chain in one of the wire panniers attached to the rear wheel. The sun was brighter than he was used to, so he wore an inexpensive pair of thrift store sunglasses as he rode. Before he set out, he sat in the saddle and planned his path of travel; He needed to make one stop before heading home, and it added a couple of kilometers to the trip, and add a few minutes, at a normal pace. He passed the few students who lived close enough to walk and cheerfully waved to the group waiting at the bus stop. The long street was lined with maple trees, their leaves still growing back after winter. A car’s horn sounded in passing -It was Phillips, in his old junker, which was probably old when his grandfather drove it.

  To William, Fort Lawrence wasn’t much of a town, the buildings were few and far between, there weren’t any malls or huge shopping centers, as found in more populated areas, and there was a remarkable absence of fast-food chains, due to inadequate demographics to support a franchise. The town would be the very definition of “out in the boonies” or “the sticks”, as far from civilization as you could get, below the Arctic Circle. He often wondered why his father insisted on moving there, considering the lack of hospitals or doctors with enough expertise at handling his condition. He suspected one thing: His father had given up on living and was content on simply waiting to die.

  Bruckner’s Art & Stationary was in an old building, that hinted at a bygone era, when people rode horse and carriages to the local stores. There were still hitching posts and a raised wooden walk, under an awning. Mr. Bruckner took over the shop after his father retired and his son would have taken over the business, had he not been killed while serving as a soldier in the SLDF in one of the numerous border incidents.
  “Good afternoon, William,” greeted the shopkeeper, “I hope your father is well.”
  “Thank you, Mr. Bruckner,” returned the teen in a polite voice, “my father’s condition is stable.”
  “What is it that I may do for you today?”
  William pointed at a prepared canvas, “I wish to purchase one like that, sir…but…” he looked down, embarrassed, “I haven’t the money and would like to know if I could work for it.”
  The old man replied, “I know you have to care for your father,” he paused in thought, “why don’t you come in this weekend and I’ll see what you can do to pay for it?”
  The teen nodded, “Thank you, Mr. Bruckner, I really appreciate it!”

  The way home was routine and uneventful. His current home was a tiny, one bedroom, cottage that he shared with his father, which was all they could afford on a Disabled Citizen’s check. Much of the paint had faded or peeled away, exposing the aged, gray wood. Such a structure would have fit inside the living room of the mansion in which he grew up, back in happier days, when his father had his health and career, but all that was slowly disappearing from his memory, like a dream, fading like a fog before a cold wind.

  “I’m home, father,” he announced as he stepped through the door. There was no answer. There was rarely an answer, because his father’s only escape from the constant pain was sleep…and the drugs that brought sleep.
He entered the cramped kitchen area and checked the slow cooker. He had filled it with ham bones immersed in seasoned water, which would serve as the stock for their dinner for the next few days. He set about to chopping the carrots, celery and onions and ladled bacon grease into the cast iron skillet, then lit the gas. Next to his art, he enjoyed cooking, which he called “edible art” and he found the activity relaxing. As the vegetables sautéed, he fished the bones from the hot broth, measured out a portion of pearled barley and added it to the broth. He poured the vegetables into the broth and lowered the gas while he cubed half a kilogram of smoked ham, which gave a satisfying sizzle when the small bits struck the hot iron surface. He stirred the frying ham to brown them on all sides and added it all to the simmering broth. He covered the slow cooker and cleaned the cutting board and counter.

  “Son,” a weak voice drifted from the bedroom.
  “Yes, I’m home,” replied William, “dinner will be ready by six, your favorite.”
  “Ah, the house,” the voice gasped, “it smells good, son.” The praise brightened his spirits.
  “I’ll toast some garlic bread for us,” said the teen, he reached for the loaf of hard-crusted bread and made a note to pick up another loaf on the way home from school. He drew the serrated blade across the loaf and separated two slices, each the width of his thumb and returned the remainder of the loaf to its wooden container. He set the slices aside, opened the slow cooker, and brushed the tiny bits of crust into the boiling soup.
In his poverty, the teen learned to discard nothing; While others had the luxury to trim fat away from meat, and compost the ends and leaves from vegetables, William would sauté and boil these things in his broths and strain them out, before placing them in the compost for his garden.

Evening

  William glanced at the clock over the stove and sat in one of the wooden chairs at the spartan dining table, one of the few survivors of his past life, which escaped the estate auctions that condemned most his father’s property to cover his many debts. He broke out his textbooks and folder and committed himself to getting his homework out of the way.
He detested school. Most of the classes bored him to no end. There was a time when his home possessed more books, of better quality, than any school library. He read profusely, on every subject. If the public schools resumed teaching history, he could qualify as an instructor; Instead, history and civics was replaced by “citizenship” studies, which was just another way of saying “mindless indoctrination” and the promotion of Cameron cult worship. The schools even ceased teaching the truth about the Star League. The few old books he kept chronologized the inter-House body from its very inception and included the bloody oppression of the Periphery states. Current publications glossed over the facts; Revised history claims that the Periphery states begged to be members of the organization that currently stations armies of occupation within their borders and impose taxes, in exchange for civil improvement projects, constructed by the Terran Hegemony. All of it was lies, and nobody was permitted to challenge those lies.
 
  He set the dinner table, placed a soup bowl for his father and one for himself. The pills his father needed for the evening were placed in a shallow condiment dish, next to the glass of water. He ladled the hot soup into the bowls and mixed crushed garlic into melted butter and dipped the bread slices into the pan to coat them before placing onto the skillet to brown them. He removed the skillet from the fire and wiped his hands before helping his father out of bed to his walker.
  “Slowly now,” the teen said gently, “the soup is hot, so you don’t need to hurry.”
  “Thank you, son,” whispered the man, who, despite being in his late thirties, looked wizened and gray, as if he were in his sixties.
  “Take your pills first,” William guided, “I’ll get the toast.”
  The teen placed a small plate with the two slices of toasted bread in the center of the small table and broke one of them in half. He dipped the bit of bread in the steaming bowl and took a bite. He closed his eyes, it was very delicious. He took up the soup spoon beside his bowl and began to eat.
  “It’s very good, son,” his father told him, he had broken up his slice of bread and dropped it into his soup, then spooned the bits into his mouth.
  “The schools are holding an art contest,” announced William, “I submitted the paperwork today.”
  “Oh? That’s good,” replied his father, “maybe you can get your name out.”
  “There’s a cash award,” William told him, “maybe I could get you new clothes and other things to make you comfortable.”
  His father shook his head, “Oh, no, use the money for yourself,” he wheezed, “I have all I really need.”
  “Well, I won’t count my chickens yet,” responded William cautiously, “I still have to win the various levels before reaching the grand prize.”
  “Art is in our blood,” his father told him, “there is no limit beyond our reach.”

  William finished washing the dishes and waited the leftover soup to cool, before placing it in the refrigerator. His stomach full, he was somewhat tired and moved to finish his cleaning and prepare his lunch for the next day.
  He prepared two thin slices of hard bread and spread layers of butter on both, then shaved bits of ham and cheese to make up the sandwich, then placed the assembly in a sealed, plastic container. He sliced and cored an apple and placed it too, in a container and stored all in the refrigerator for the morning.
  He made one more round of the kitchen and dining area then washed the knife and cutting board for the last time of the day. The weathered couch in the living room folded out to his bed, and he dimmed the lights around the house, pausing at the door of his father’s room, “Good night, dad.” There was no reply, which was normal at the hour.

  He straightened out the sheets and fetched a pillow from the linen closet when he noticed the sudden flashes just outside of his range of vision, he knew what came next and sat down at the edge of his bed, as the first ripples of pain started from his eyes and spread across his scalp to the back of his neck. These episodes of pain occurred every few weeks, of varying intensity, sometimes completely debilitating and causing nausea. All he could do ay this point was to kick off his shoes and lay on his bed until the pain subsided, which sometimes took hours. His eyes hurt, and he could feel his pulse in his eye sockets while the pain hammered against the inside of his skull. If he tried to take an aspirin, it would come right back up, and he’d just have to clean up a mess while an icepick repeatedly gouged his brain.
  Over the years, William learned of one way to escape the pain -sleep. He would so his best to ignore the agony and escape into dream.

 
  He floated in space. The distant star was so bright, he had to squint and shield his eyes with a hand. A planet reflected the brilliant light and sparkled blue against the vast blackness. Huge shapes streaked by, fusion drives blinding him as he turned to identify them as they passed. One of them, a large vessel, was engaging a pursuing target, as its turret weapons flashed, and missiles burned into the darkness. Unlike the holovids of warfare in space, all was silent. There was no thunder of guns or the roar of engine exhaust. In the far distance, minute flashes retaliated, and missiles collided with the nearby ship, ripping holes in its hull. The vessel turned and offered its broadside, it seemed intent on interposing itself between the smaller vessels running to the planet and its pursuer. William realized that he wasn’t just stationary. He was able to move at astounding velocity, and managed to draw close to the defending ship, close enough to identify the Lyran Commonwealth insignia and the name, “von Moltke”.

  He assumed that the pursuers must have been one or more Draconis Combine vessels and he moved closer to the distant flashes that grew larger until he could discern a single vessel, damaged but still closing with its targets, bearing the insignia of the Star League Defense Force. It turned to bring its turrets to bear and William could clearly make out its name, “Charybdis”. The SLDF vessel loosed three volleys before a brace of enemy shells tore into her, and fires burned the escaping oxygen. The image of the last seconds of the “Charybdis” was etched in his memory and he knew right away, what the subject of his art entry would be.


Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

  • Captain
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  • Posts: 1933
Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #27 on: 19 October 2019, 19:39:44 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Five)

  The meeting tent was filled with nearly all the colonists that weren’t on duty. A handful chose not to attend in person but would monitor the meeting as broadcast via holovid. The threat of the prowling “ferals”, as the colonists referred to the uncaptured remnants of the previous, collapsed colony, required posting several armed guards around the new perimeter fence, as well as one of the battlemechs, as a security monitor.
  Acolyte Thalassa stepped up to the podium and placed a few notes upon it, “Thank all of you for attending, and thank you to those watching this broadcast,” he began, “Before we begin the reports, please make certain you watch the final summation and announcement, I assure you, you will find the revelations surprising and thought provoking.” He smiled in a bland manner and motioned to the acolytes waiting their turn to speak, “Acolyte Savra, our lead geologist, shall now give her report.”
  The young woman bowed slightly, her calm face bearing a slight smile, as she adjusted her glasses, “The blessings of Blake upon you all!”
  “The blessings of Blake to you!” responded most of the audience.
  Dumare sat with his wife, silent but attentive. Dimitra leaned over and whispered. “How does she rate?”
  “The robe hides a lot,” he whispered, in response, “but she moves well.”
  “She’s been asking about you,” said the woman, “so, if you’re interested…”
  “Sure,” he didn’t even have to think about it. His previous wife was possessive, but Dimitra understood him.
  The Acolyte was wrapping up her report, Dumare thought how cheerfully delivered it was, plenty of positive information of fish and crustacean fossils, bedrock, shale and layers of crude oil as predicted. Before she left the podium, her eyes met his and she turned away, shyly.
  Dimitra was with the team of people reporting on the “ferals” they had in captivity. The collapse of their society was disastrous. Most of them could barely speak, which made communication a challenge. The few elder feral people were able to tell them of an earlier time when they could recall living in the buildings in town, before pirate raids drove them into the nearby caves and mines, some of which, had not yet been explored. Dumare shook his head, the security team was only ten people, having them explore a mineshaft possibly inhabited by feral humans would be risky. He muttered, “Our shopping mall cops are not ready for it.”
  “Overall, the feral people were in poor health,” reported Dimitra, “Aside from severe malnutrition, they suffered from parasites, infections, sores, some had untreated factures and a host of conditions often found in war zones, after prolonged conflict.”
   “The feral young are learning to communicate,” she added, “but civilizing all of them will take time and for many of us, as this is new and unexpected, for example, teaching the adults how to use a toilet, as well as basic hygiene and how to wear clothing -All those things we take for granted on Terra.” She looked about the audience, “If any of you have the time, and a lot of patience, the medical staff could use volunteers.”
  There were stifled chuckles, which stopped when Adept Thalassa stood up to speak, “There are several important projects, unforeseen issues, that will require volunteers,” he announced, “please pay attention to the remaining reports, we shall be taking a list of volunteers over the next few days and figuring out compensation for extra work.”
  Dozens of conversations suddenly broke out, after the colonists learned that they could earn more pay. “That got their attention,” murmured the mercenary. He patted his binder and checked his watch, “Pretty soon.”

  After the first hours of reports, Thalassa called for a short break of coffee and sandwiches.  The captain stepped out of the tent to enjoy a cigarette. “How are you enjoying the reports?” Dimitra stood beside him.
  “Need a volunteer?” asked, “If you have a couple of feral, teenaged females, I’d be happy to teach them all they need to know.”
  She rolled her eyes, “It takes all I have to make sure none of the male techs are alone with the females,” Dimitra told him, “they’ve been taught all their lives that they only have one thing to offer the men.”
  “As Nature intended,” added Dumare, “I don’t know where people got the idea that there could ever be matriarchies -Real men won’t stand for it.”
  “Point taken,” she replied, “if the anthropologists I went to school with were here to see this, their heads would explode.”
  Dumare chuckled, “The ‘Noble Savage’ types, eh?” He took one last drag from his cigarette and crushed it against the sole of his boot, “They think that without civilization, people would revert to a natural, passive and cooperative state, like innocent children -That crap is for science-fantasy holovids.”
  “Now, you are just making them out to be idiots,” she scolded mildly.
  “That bonehead theory has been proven wrong, time and again,” said the mercenary, “Sure, there have been savages friendly to outsiders -That’s only because those travelers never got to see the ugly side of that primitive culture,” he shook his head, “It would be like only seeing a big, pristine city and being totally unaware of the massive landfill a few kilometers away.”
  Dimitra adjusted her white labcoat, “It looks like the break is over.”
  The next hour of reports included many positive updates to ongoing projects, just as running water and hot shower facilities in the compound, so people didn’t have to make the trek to the remaining dropship, which served as the living quarters for most of the colonists. The engineers apologized for the slow work with the instillation of the needed infrastructure but promised that the permanent billets would be constructed and ready for habitation, before the arrival of Winter, the news of which brought applause from the audience.
  The team of biologists and agriculture technicians gave an impressive report on the potential of sustainable food supply, based on returning the fields and orchards to operation, and revitalized fishing.
  “What are you thinking?” whispered Dimitra.
  “Not enough Indians,” Dumare replied in a whisper.
  “Hindus?”
  “Thalassa didn’t consider the need for plain labor,” he explained, “other than the grunts, we only have techs, who don’t expect to do anything more than sit at terminals and exchange data, only the engineers come close, when they have to use shovels and hand tools -the fields can be harvested by machinery but not gardens or orchards, those needs hands, and a lot of them.”
  “That’s why we need to ask for volunteers,” Dimitra replied.
  “Isn’t that my point?” indicated the captain, “I would have brought a ten to twenty percent force of general laborers to do the heavy lifting, construction, digging, farming and harvesting, without having to divert techs to do work that they’ve never done, ever,” he continued, “these people are used to living off of frozen or dehydrated rations; To make the colony truly sustainable, somebody will have to grind the flour and bake the bread on an industrial scale, and not depend on a handful of part-time volunteers.”
  “You have been thinking, haven’t you?”
  “Wait until you hear my report.”

  Dumare lit up his cigarette and wondered if the previous colonists raised tobacco, instead of depending on regular shipments of supplies. He had enough cigs in storage for a year of regular use, if he rationed his consumption to ten or less smoke breaks a day, he chuckled to himself when a thought of Sergeant Chrisman, who inhaled at least forty unfiltered cigarettes every day, sometimes with one in each hand.
  “You seem thoughtful tonight,” Dimitra was at his side and took his free hand in hers.
  “Why do people buy bread?”
  “That came out of nowhere…” she replied, “I suppose with a bread machine, people wouldn’t have to go out and buy bread.”
  “I’m talking about real bread,” said Dumare, “uniform quality, it doesn’t even have to be sliced.”
  “Who would buy bread that wasn’t sliced?”
  He gave her a look. “People buy bread because their time is worth something,” he answered, “even using a bread machine, it still takes up time to put the measured ingredients in the machine and allocate the time to be there to take the finished bread out of the machine,” he went on, “bakeries make bread on a mass scale, based upon demand, which is why grocery shelves are stocked with all sorts of breads for how much? Maybe half a C-bill each, for the decent stuff,” he looked at Dimitra, “if you use your little bread machine, based upon the value of your time, how much would a half kilogram of bread be worth?”
  “Okay, you’ve made your point,” she assented, “the people who bake their own bread tend to be those who actually enjoy baking bread.”

  The break ended, and the audience thinned out to about a third, which Dumare expected, as the remaining briefings scheduled were by the security personnel and nobody expected anything new or interesting. Those remaining deemed to be there for the hot beverages and pastries, as well as hanging out with their friends. Many who left showed little interest in volunteering for extra duties.
  The “shopping mall cops” had nothing new to report, so the briefing was a reminder that there were still hostile feral humans prowling outside the perimeter fence and people inside and outside on the compound should travel in groups, preferably under guard, since ComStar adhered to Terra’s centuries-old severe restrictions on firearms possession.
  Several people got up to leave when Dumare walked to the podium. Some of the technicians, especially a few of the younger acolytes, resented the presence of battlemechs, citing them as a “blatant exhibition of paranoid military aggression”, and contrary to Blake’s teachings, and efforts to rebuild Terra. They argued that the tonnage was wasted on useless war machinery instead of more important cargo.
  Dumare remained impassive as he took his place at the podium. “I would like to thank all of you in the audience for remaining, I shall try to be brief and to the point,” he held a small remote in his hand and activated the holovid projector, “The good news is…we haven’t had any indications of pirate activity in the last 10 years,” he began, “the bad news is, there was a visitation of a dropship, according to one of the feral women, around time of the birth of one of the children, who is about twelve years old,” he paused for a moment, “that means, somewhere there is a dropship crew and possibly several pirates, who know about this world,” he continued, “the pickings may be slim here, but there is plenty of food and water, and an abandoned system makes a good place to hide.”
  “As the head of all security, it has been brought to my attention that the previous colonists found something here that some of you might find interesting.” The holovid showed several men wearing clothing somewhat outdated, in Terran standards, gathered around a group of stone slabs, some of the slabs were standing, others strewn haphazardly nearby, as if the stones formed a structure and portions were pulled away.

  “The colonists discovered what appears to be a megalithic burial mound,” he announced, which caused most of audience to perk up and pay attention, “unfortunately, some of the settlers looted the mound, using farming equipment and caused significant damage to the burial chamber corpse and glyphs of undetermined origin,” he use the remote to shift through several images of the site, of the remains being removed and images of writing carved on some of the stones. Immediately, some of the audience already had their data pads working and searched through the data library in the dropship for any kind of information.
  A hand went up, “Can we get copies of those images?”
  “Where is the site, and can we go there?”
  “Why haven’t we heard of any of this?”
  Dumare nodded, “What data we’ve uncovered is in the Hugin’s database, under ‘Megalith’, as with all of the projects, we are looking for volunteers,” he continued, concealing the fact that only the images found with Doctor Ferguson’s message appeared in his presentation but none of her message,  “the megalith is about twenty kilometers up the river, we shall organize a party of volunteers, once we can assure the safety of the mission,” he paused for a moment, “this all happened after the SLDF retook Terra and this system was only in intermittent contact with anybody outside, we have to assume any word reporting the discovery was either lost or given a very low priority -some of the colonists assumed the whole thing a SLDF hoax, until they found the body.”
  Several people stood up, hands raised. “Allow me to continue, before any more questions,” said Dumare.
  “No, we want to sign up, now!” replied one of the technicians, “we want to be first in line for this!” The others nodded in agreement.
  “Well, thank you very much, we will be screening people for all of the jobs needed here in the colony,” Dumare told them, “some of you may be needed elsewhere.”
  “I didn’t come all this way to be a pea-picker!” cried the tech, “Look at all the people who walked out, because they have no interest in doing more than the minimal work required of them.”
  Dumare had to agree, these remaining people would be the most motivated. “You have a point, see me after the briefing.”  He paused for a moment before continuing, “It is good to see so many people energized by this project,” he again projected the image of the megalith on the screen, “we can’t get our hopes too high, it may very well be a SLDF prank, but there are too many things that indicate it is not, and we may have made the most significant discovery for humanity in centuries,” he folded his notes, “Adept Thalassa has a few words to conclude tonight’s briefings.”


  In their dropship berth, the mercenary and his woman relaxed and sipped red wine from fluted crystal glasses.
  “The briefing went well tonight,” commented Dumare, “I’ve been getting inquiry messages from a number of the people who walked out early.”
  The woman laughed, “You were spot on with your prediction,” she took a sip of her wine, “they lost all of their suspicions of you after you dangled the megalith in front of them.”
  He shook his head, “They are dissatisfied with their lives and seek something higher,” Dumare pulled a cigarette from its silver case and lit it with an aged lighter, “people like them look outside of their regular lives, join cults, study mysticism, read fantasy or science fiction, or find other forms of escapism.”
  “Do you consider ComStar a cult?”
  “Without a doubt!” replied Dumare, “Everybody in the Inner Sphere knows the actual history of ComStar, except for ComStar -they have rewritten their history and elevated Blake to sainthood,” the mercenary stated, “tell me, which pantheon of divinities bestowed sainthood upon him? What supreme being does ComStar worship that would give them a semblance of a religion?”
  The women made a face, “Our studies really don’t delve so deeply into the holy doctrines, at the acolyte level,” Dimitra peered at her watch, “Our guest will be here soon.”
  Dumare finished the last of his wine and refilled the glass, “Will you be joining us?” his face had a trace of a smirk, more from the woman’s evasion than the prospect of a threesome.
  The acolyte shrugged, “We’ll ask her,” she smiled slightly, “she seems like the shy type, but you never know.”
  “You are right about that,” said Dumare, “whenever a combat unit left Galatea, the wives would be trolling the bars before the dropships left atmosphere.”
  “Are all mercenary wives like that?” Dimitra appeared surprised.
  “All military wives are like that,” he replied, “sure, they may be pure and faithful at first, and after they have children,” said the mercenary, “but then the routine bores them, then they resent it,” he sipped his wine, “eventually they learn about their men fathering children on other worlds.”
  “You are being rather general here,” Dimitra pointed out, “you have to admit there are exceptions to the rule.”
  “There are always freaks, those afraid of diseases or worse, getting caught,” answered the mercenary, “they always mask their fear in some false nobility, such as sacred vows or some other moral posturing,” Dumare sneered, “celibacy violates Nature, plain and simple,” he declared, with great certainty, “look at all the cults that practiced celibacy -all resorted to adults secretly forcing themselves on children when denied the regularity of consenting adults.”
  “So, practicing celibacy meets your definition of a cult, too,” responded the woman.
  “As I said, the practice violates nature, as it denies the natural purpose of any species -reproduction and increase,” explained Dumare, “more reproduction means more mutations and therefore, increases the possibility of higher development.”
  “I see, you must believe in evolution, as opposed to divine creation.”
  “Only a fool would deny evolution,” he answered, “travel around the universe and you’d realize that there is no possibility that one, or a few divinities conjured all there is.”

  Dimitra’s personal communicator chirped softly, “one moment,” she stood up, “she’s here, pour her a glass.”
  Dumare stood up and filled a third fluted glass with wine while Dimitra opened the door and greeted Acolyte Savra. The acolyte seemed shy and nervous as she stepped into the berth.
  “Please have a seat,” said Dimitra, “have some wine and relax.”
  Th-thank you, Acolyte Vathos,” murmured Savra, her voice soft.”
  “Call me Dimitra and let me introduce you to Vincent.”
  “I’m pleased to meet you, Vincent,” said Savra in a meek voice, “I guess Acolyte -I mean, Dimitra told you everything.”
  “You’re still not relaxed,” Dumare observed, “have a little wine and tell me your name.”
  “Oh, I-I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I’m Lily.”
  “That’s better,” the mercenary said, his tone calm and gentle, “Dimitra didn’t tell me everything, some of it, I wanted to hear from you, Lily, in your own words.”
  The acolyte seemed startled for a moment, as if she was taken by surprise. Her black hair was thick and wavy, her eyes dark and mild. The acolyte robes she wore hid most of her curves but her moves and mannerisms belied a natural grace. Except for her slightly darker skin tone, she and Dimitra could be mistaken for sisters.
  Lily took a breath and replied, “Um, I applied for this colonization mission for a change of routine, there really wasn’t much of anything interesting for me on Terra,” she explained, “and I wanted someplace new where I could start a family,” she fidgeted nervously, “and I heard some of the other acolytes talking about you.”
  Dumare smiled, he never cared what women thought of him, and wasn’t going to start, “But there are so many other men here,” he told Lily, “didn’t any of them appeal to you?”
  “Yes, some of them did,” she admitted, “but after telling Dimitra about them, she pointed out things I never noticed, or chose to overlook,” she paused to sip her wine, and seemed  more relaxed and open, “I mean, some of them went out of their way to be nice and demonstrate how they were working on making improvements to the colony, and assuming the roles of leaders,” she told them, “but Dimitra opened my eyes on how they were only manipulating me, by posing as leaders and not really contributing as much as they claimed,” she leaned forward, a serious look on her face, “I asked Dimitra how she knew all those things and she revealed that she learned from you.”
“Your reports are filled with factual data,” said Lily, “you give credit to members of your team and never resort to self-promotion, while some of the other acolytes cannot avoid a report that isn’t filled with personal references: ‘I did this’ or ‘I accomplished that.’”
  Dumare nodded, “Very good,” he stood up and finished his glass, “Unfortunately, there are a few legal things to get out of the way,” he picked up a packet of papers from the desk and handed them to Savra, “please read the packet thoroughly, and ask any questions if you require clarification,” he picked up a second packet, “I’ll summarize the content: This legally binding agreement waives any right to hold the party, Vincent Dumare, free of any and all liability, in the event of impregnation, or any condition hitherto related, including any and all medical expenses involved, and, following the birth of any and all offspring, further waives any and all claims of paternity or related expenses, thereof, all involved parties shall respect the privacy of the undersigned, and refrain from undue contact, save by mutual agreement,” the mercenary took a breath, “this agreement does no supersede and previous agreements, nor does it establish limits or conditions upon subsequent agreements,” he looked at Lily, “have you any questions?”
  The young woman shook her head and signed her packet and then his, while Dimitra signed as the legal witness.
  Dimitra placed Dumare’s copy of the agreement in an envelope and locked it away in a desk drawer, “For the best results, I suggest you have sex over the next three days.”
  The mercenary nodded, “I can handle that,” he informed her, “but this young lady might want to rest once in a while.”
  Lily covered her mouth in shock. Dimitra just gave him a stern look.

  End of Part Five
« Last Edit: 14 January 2020, 01:41:26 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #28 on: 26 October 2019, 18:34:31 »
Rheinhardt's Corporate Raiders -First Mission


Nirasaki, Draconis Combine
August, 3038
Day 1, 1700 Hours


  It was a sweltering day on Nirasaki’s Southern continent, despite that, teams of men toiled at loading equipment, transferring pallets of circuit boards to waiting vehicles. Several dozen men sat on the ground, heads bent forward, hands behind their heads, as a handful of armed mercenary infantrymen kept watch over them.
  A lance of battlemechs patrolled the refinery, which was situated close to the production factories that provided the many components for constructing the circuit boards their unit was stealing.
  “Why are those FedSun losers in such a hurry?” Hauptmann Freiherr Helmuth von Wiener asked, to nobody in particular, “The menials could have accomplished this mission while I was at the baccarat table.” He pivoted his Griffin battlemech to face the Whitworth, ninety meters away.
  “The Kearney Highlanders hired our unit to cover the asset recovery teams while they kept the defenders busy,” responded Leutnant Gloria Snockers, “be happy we don’t have to fire a shot.”
  “Don’t give me that rubbish, snapped the Hauptmann, “our employers have their hands full with the third-rate militia units in this mudball,” he taunted, “this mission was a cakewalk, and you know it.”
  “Why did you insist on wasting your first week, after landing, at the resort, gambling and picking up hookers?” responded “we’d already be done here.”
    “Time management,” replied the Freiherr, “and only the enlisted ranks use hookers -as an officer, I engaged an escort service.”
  “Potayto, potahto,” shot back the Leutnant, “you just payed more for the exact same thing.”
  “That just proves how little women know,” mocked von Wiener, he turned his battlemech away, as to indicate his intent to end the discussion.

Day 2, 2300 Hours

  The work crews labored feverishly, the foremen shouted orders as the loaders moved pallets of cargo to waiting vehicles at speeds that violated whole chapters of safety regulations.
  “How in Hell did our employers not notice a Kurita jumpship enter the system and deploy three dropships at the L1 pirate point?” Helmuth von Wiener was livid, “Tell those Kearney amateurs that their militia-hunting party is over.”
  “The ground crew says they need another five hours to make this mission pay off,” relayed the Leutnant, “I’ve ordered Dover and Johnson to escort the vehicles back to the LZ, while we hold off the Dracs.”
  “Commander Donnel had better listen to me next time,” growled the Hauptmann, “these worthless, House rent-a-cops can never be allowed to give us orders, ever.”
  “It looks like the enemy droppers are landing about two-zero kilometers to the Southwest,” warned Snockers, “we may not have five hours.”
  “Crap, crap, crap!” the Freiherr cursed, “have the crewmen move a couple of commandeered vehicles to block the gaps between the warehouses, half a klick from here, we’ll use the buildings as cover and stall the enemy there.”
  “Roger!”
Hauptmann von Wiener looked over the map display and marked off choke points, “Gloria, have the crew barricade these points.”
  “I’m on it!”  The Whitworth turned and marched off to find the crew manager.

Day 3, 0100 Hours

  Three Union-class dropships grounded in the center of a large meadow and commenced deploying their battlemechs and vehicles.
  Tai-sa Matsuda’s Dragon descended the ramp from his Union onto the charred ground, “First Company comes with me, Second Company, go relieve the militia in town, Third Company, establish a perimeter defense, as per the briefing,” the commander examined his display of the local map, “the local militia reported a small force looting the tech park; Bravo Lance, take the North flank, Charlie Lance, the South, the Command Lance with me,” he added, “…and take no unnecessary prisoners.”

0300 Hours

  “Freiherr Helmuth, we’ve got company!” the Whitworth fired its missiles at the closest target, a Panther, “I see a lance, but I’ve gotten reports of the transports being chased by another enemy lance.”
  “I knew this was going to happen!” replied von Wiener, “the rest of our company is guarding the LZ, while those lazy Highlanders are goofing off, chasing the local militia.”
  “I can’t get through to Major McCann,” reported Snockers, “I think they’re being jammed.”
  “It figures,” the Hauptmann replied, “if it wasn’t for the Lyrans, those tea-swilling incompetents would already be speaking Japanese.” He steered his Griffin toward the barricade where the Whitworth fought, and furiously tapped at his display, “Hey Gloria, what keystrokes do I use for ‘God Mode’?”
  “Say again?”
  “How do I call up the ‘God Mode’?” he asked again, “While in the academy, one of the techs showed me, after I slipped him some cash,” explained the Hauptmann, “how do you think I aced the simulator final exam?”
    “Wait…You cheated on that exam?” Snockers was aghast, “That portion kicked my butt!”
  “I didn’t cheat,” argued von Wiener, “I made adequate use of available assets.”
  “I can’t believe it,” the Leutnant said, as she launched another volley of missiles, “and there is no such thing as ‘God Mode’ in a real battle.”
  “Liar,” accused the Hauptmann, “you just don’t want me to outshine you, as I did while we were at the academy.” He kept trying keystroke combinations, obviously without success.
  “Get your cheating, Lyran wannabe posterior over here,” the Leutenant ordered, “the Dracs are closing in!”
  “Who do you think you are?” the Freiherr snapped, “I’m the guy in charge here, and don’t you forget it!” The Griffin staggered as the Panther’s PPC bolt blasted its left shoulder, “Dammit all, Gloria, I need that cheat code!”
   “There are no cheat codes!” shouted Snockers, her Whitworth took damage as she replied with another volley of missiles.
  “Why do these things cost so much? -They don’t even have cheat codes!” He fired his PPC and ducked behind the slowly crumbling barricade, “aren’t those plebeians finished yet?”
    “Yeah, but somebody has to get a message to the Kearney Highlanders,” the Leutenant told him, “we have no idea of what they may send to the LZ -We might be trapped here if they capture our dropships.”
  “Okay,” agreed von Wiener, “you stay here and hold them off, I’ll alert the regulars.”
  “No, I should go,” Snockers argued, “I have more damage and my missiles are nearly depleted.”
  “I have no time for this,” muttered the Hauptmann, he aimed his PPC and fired it low, shattering the armor in the Whitworth’s left leg, then kicked the medium-weight battlemech, for good measure, then backed off as the Whitworth fell to the pavement.
  “What the shi…” cried Snockers, stunned at her senior officer’s sudden attack.
  “Crawl into one of the warehouses and put your back to a wall,” he advised as his machine strode away, “I’ll return with help -and be happy our employers are covering all repairs.” He had to turn his speakers down, due to the steady stream of profanities his subordinate transmitted.

Day 5, 0700 Hours

  Several mercenary and regular officers stood on the dropship’s bridge, the atmosphere was generally cheerful as they discussed their successful mission.
  “You really saved the day, young laddie,” said Major MCann to Freiherr von Wiener, “I can appreciate an officer who can think on his feet.”
  “Thank you, sir,” replied the Hauptmann, with a bow, “I owe it all to my studies at the academy.”
  “The Freiherr is being modest,” Colonel Donnel told the officers, “he graduated at the top of his class, with the highest simulator and field exercise scores in academy history.”
  “I’m even more impressed!” commented the Highlander commander.
  “Don’t forget Leutnant Snockers,” replied the Freiherr, “after all, she volunteered to slow the enemy.”
  “Odd,” pondered Donnel, “she was trying to tell me a very bizarre story when they brought her in.”
  Helmuth shook his head, “The poor thing suffered a head injury when she fell,” he added, “she was delirious, so I had the doctor give her extra sedatives, so she could relax and recover swiftly.”
  “That’s what I truly enjoy seeing,” McCann said in praise, “an officer who takes heartfelt interest in the health and welfare of his men.”
  “Well, her Whitworth did take a lot of damage,” replied the Hauptmann, “including that PPC to the leg from one of the Kurita Panthers.”
  “Yes, I saw that,” agreed the major, “it’s a shame the Whitworth’s battle ROM was destroyed in the fight.”
  Freiherr von Wiener coughed, “Yes, a real shame!” he shrugged, “now I feel guilty for abandoning Leutnant Snockers.” 
  “Don’t feel bad, my boy!” McCann patted Helmuth’s shoulder, “you made the correct command decision -you put the mission first.”
  “Well, it’s a good thing this officer was in charge,” added the mercenary colonel, “he was able to escape the tightening noose and heroically lead the Highlanders to the rescue,” he beamed, “I expect a great review from our employers and maybe a promotion and upgrade recommendations from your mother and the other financial backers.”
  “You needn’t worry about that,” assured the Highlander officer, “I’m writing such a good report, people will believe that you wrote it yourself,” he turned to von Wiener, “as for you, I’m giving you the highest possible rating for your battle performance, your financial backers will think you used cheat codes.”
  “Cheat codes,” laughed Donnel, “did you hear that?”
  Freiherr Helmuth smiled.

snakespinner

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #29 on: 26 October 2019, 21:41:38 »
Love the cheat codes. ;D
I wonder how lucky he will be in the next battle without them. :thumbsup:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #30 on: 28 November 2019, 05:34:51 »
The Call of Ancient Blood (Part Six)

0700 Hours

  Acolyte Greenstein was furious, he stood in the dropship berth assigned to Security Chief Henke and shouted, “Lazy moron! How could you leave the meeting early?” his fist slammed the bulkhead, “You missed the most crucial report!”
  “You told me it was going to be routine,” replied Henke, calmly, “somebody could have called me.”
  “When I’m done with my evaluation, you’ll be back working in a shopping mall,” warned the acolyte, “you are ordered to take a slot with the group of volunteers for the megalith party.”
  “What if they aren’t taking any more volunteers?”
  “Damned idiot,” growled Greenstein, “pull your damn rank and insist at least one more armed guard go along,” his face scowled, “the site may be a hoax, but if it isn’t, contact me immediately!”
  “It shall be done, Acolyte,” replied Henke. He pulled his jacket over his broad shoulders and waited for Greenstein to leave the berth before extinguishing the lights. “I’ll have to deal with that damned mercenary in order to be added to the list of volunteers.”
 
  “This is Black Knight, current location is at the mining site,” transmitted Dumare, “position locator concurs.”
  Acolyte Odagawa nodded, “Your secondary radar confirms your location,” he adjusts his settings, “we should have the global navigation system running in a couple of weeks, if the sats just require a swap of circuit boards and updated software.”
  “That will make patrolling easier,” the mercenary agreed, “we won’t have to rely on the dropship beacon or inertial for navigation.” He expanded his navigation display and noted a new marker several kilometers away, one he had never seen before. In fact, after the satellites were repaired and reactivated, the navigation system in his battlemech indicated several navigation points with labels, none of which he recognized.
  The closest marker was labelled “Arkham Manor” and he turned his Black Knight toward the road and exited the mining site. “Kona Crab, this is Black Knight.”
  “Go ahead, Black Knight,” Nu’ukai responded.
 “I’ll be doing some exploring, about fifty kilometers from my current position,” Dumare reported, “updates to follow -Black Knight, out.”
  “Roger.”

  0800 Hours

  Acolyte Thalassa’s face bore the bland smile of a bureaucrat, “Is that your only request?” He glanced at the list of names on his display.
  “Yes,” Henke replied, “I consider the security of the personnel on this project my personal responsibility,” his voice was insistent.
  “I see,” the acolyte said, he made a change to the list, “that is good to hear, I have made the change, you’ll have to report to Acolyte Bond for further assignments.”
  Henke’s jaw dropped, “Wait, I’m not in charge?”
  Thalassa made a face, “You’re just a volunteer, one of two armed guards,” he informed Henke, “so, do your assigned duties and try to stay out of the way -you are just an employee here.”
  Henke stomped off, muttering. At least that bastard Greenstein will have no reason to whine at him, this time.

  The Black Knight trudged along the barely discernible trace of roadway under the layer of snow. The colony was founded near the planet’s equator and was in the grip of an Ice Age before the Terran Hegemony explored the planet for resource deposits. After the drilling and mining began, it was determined that the world only required minimal terraforming to render the world available for sustainable human habitation. The Star League’s collapse doomed the world to isolation and its terraforming technologies slowly failed over the decades, extending the winter months and lowering the planet’s temperatures. The crews working on the carbon dioxide factories toiled to get those generators operating, after so many years of neglect, and they were very optimistic.
  Dumare could make out the snow-coated remnants of fences and walls, orchards of trees long dead, the ruins of dwellings, and carcasses of vehicles. He wondered if such a collapse of civilization was inevitable. Despite months of research, none of the ComStar scientists could reach a conclusion on how and why a community of over one hundred thousand disappeared with hardly any trace or evidence. Dumare really didn’t like playing detective on this kind of scale, and none of the other colonists were up to the challenge, either. The only mystery he had before him was the handful of navigation points programmed into his battlemech’s system. If his father was on this planet as a soldier, it would mean that his mother had lied -He wasn’t born out in the Periphery, he was born on this planet and his mother had a reason to steal his father’s Black Knight and leave.
  “Arkham Manor,” Dumare said to himself, several vague images flashed through his mind, of a huge house where he played as a child, his parents, it was all very cloudy, like a forgotten dream that dissipates after waking, no matter how much you try to remember. He examined the navigation display, the megalith site was marked, the town center was marked, the three petroleum drilling sites were marked and there was a location labelled near the mountain range to the north as “Dagon’s Gate”. It was doubtless the massive metal doorway that led to the strange, underground facility, possibly a remnant of the Star League. It had been over three decades; Would anybody still be there? He had read that Star League era Castles Brian could contain and support two battlemech brigades with ease. Such a facility could easily shelter a smaller unit for years on end, given adequate power and supplies. He would have to investigate that himself.

  1100 Hours

  “I’ve printed out briefing packets for each of us, with duty assignments,” announced Acolyte Bond, “The only significant change is that our head of security, David Henke, will be joining us in Gomez’s place.”
  Henke raised a hand.
  “Yes?”
  Henke stood up and cleared his throat, “I see here you have me assigned to helping with washing dishes and camp cleanup.”
  “Yes?”
  “There are only two armed guards assigned to the site,” Henke said, “I’m not comfortable with that.”
  The acolyte sighed, “We only have two vehicles available,” he replied, “six passengers each plus equipment and supplies, and trailers for the generators and fuel,” he continued, “everybody on the project will be serving duties critical to the success of the mission and frankly, your resume is lacking in skills, save your ability to lug a rifle around,” reasoned Bond, “we have two armed guards, one has a background with internal combustion engines, so he will be maintaining the vehicles and generators, what secondary duties are you available for?”
  Henke scowled, and his expression darkened, “I could run a command center to coordinate all of the operations efficiently.”
  Bond shook his head, “Seriously? That happens to be my job,” he tapped at the display of his portable data device, “your resume lacks any reference to positions of leadership or management,” he leaned forward to emphasize his answer, “sitting all day, answering phones at the security desk in a New Jersey shopping mall doesn’t earn you any points as the leader of this, or  any other project.”
  The security chief sat down, muttering, and glared at some of the people around him when he heard stifled snickering.
  Acolyte Bond checked his notes one last time, “If there is nothing else, we shall be loading equipment this afternoon, please be ready to depart Innsmouth by thirteen hundred,” he stood up and raised a hand, “you have a list of personal items to bring, make certain that your gear is ready and loaded ASAP, because we don’t want any delay in departure -we have no idea how the traveling conditions may impede our travel,” he raised both arms, “may the blessings of Blake be upon you!”

  “I want to know how that information was obtained by that…mercenary,” hissed Acolyte Greenstein, he squirmed in the folding chair in front of the adept’s desk, “why was he even allowed to make such a presentation?”
  Adept Thalassa spread his hands in mock innocence, “Frankly, I have no idea what you mean,” he shrugged, “perhaps one of his people, the ones who discovered the cave of ferals, found the data,” he added, “and nobody screens the briefing materials, except for the time alloted.”
  “This is your responsibility!” shouted the acolyte, “don’t you realize what you’ve done?”
  The adept sighed, “Why don’t you fill me in?”
    “Don’t you recall the protocol required in every newly explored planet that anomalies must be reported immediately,” began the acolyte, “and the site restricted until an official team arrives to investigate?”
    Thalassa nodded, “I’m aware of the protocol, Acolyte Greenstein,” he leaned forward, “and since this world has already been explored and colonized, the protocol does not apply.”
   Greenstein leapt to his feet, “You know very well that this world was settled by the Terran Hegemony,” he was livid, “our recovery of this system is no different than discovery, and the proper protocols must be applied!” he fumed and tapped the Adept’s desk with his index finger, “we must never allow any knowledge of alien intelligence or technology to be made known to the public!”
  “You might want to keep your voice down,” the adept warned the acolyte, “the walls of this tent happen to be very thin, and I’m certain you have already managed to compromise security.”
  That seemed to infuriate Greenstein even more, his face turned red and he spluttered, his voice lowered, “Your superiors shall hear of this -your cavalier attitude is borderline heresy.”
  “Seriously?” Thalassa crossed his arms, “Jerome Blake adhered to the policy of the Hegemony government to find and destroy possible traces of alien technology on Terra as well as throughout the Inner Sphere, a policy carried out by the SLDF, often hidden by military operations,” he chuckled and shook his head, “why does ComStar insist on believing that the idea was theirs?” he then added, “some of us believe that Blake had misgivings over the policy, and that our current standards were enacted after his passing.”
  “Blasphemy!” hissed the acolyte, “our sainted Blake was the originator of cleansing the Inner Sphere of the taint of alien presence,” he ranted, his voice still subdued, “we can never allow the Children of Holy Terra to suffer the indignity of being held inferior to extinct races of nonhumans,” he pointed an accusing finger at Thalassa, “I shall have a word with the other acolytes, do not be surprised if the consensus deems it necessary to remove you from command,” Greenstein turned and stormed out of the adept’s tent.
  The adept shook his head, “Ignorant fool, blinded by fanaticism,” he smiled to himself, “what makes you think they are extinct?”

  Late Afternoon

  Acolyte Bond squinted his eyes as he scanned the snow-covered plains and rolling hills in the distance. Following the river, while making it easier to navigate, had several unforeseen problems, such as swamplands that proved to be impassible, and stretches of slushy mud that threatened to swallow their vehicles and more than once, required the application of tow cables for extraction. He has also forgotten, due to the difference in temperature, the dense fog caused by the combination of the cold, humid air and the warmer river, which slowed their travel to a cautious crawl. The satellite navigation system could guide them to their destination but did not alert them of the many uncharted impediments to their progress, which turned their estimated journey from the expected hour of travel to half a day’s arduous struggle.
   Unlike the stressed drivers, the passengers started out with discussing their mission and speculating on what they may find and what they hoped to uncover. Their discussion lasted through the first couple of hours and devolved into idle banter before the they sat in bored silence and eventually took turns napping, the only excitement being the times one of the vehicles bogged down and required pushing or towing. Their meal in transit was a selection of premade sandwiches and bars composed of compressed nuts and fruit.
  Henke sat among the passengers, sullen and withdrawn, plotting his moves to keep the crew under observation while trying to find a way to gain a position of importance among them.  He reviewed his training in his mind, he weighed covert infiltration with his desire to hold power and control over the others. He wondered why ComStar allowed nonbelievers to participate I the settlement, especially that mercenary, whose records revealed he was a potential problem, an immoral, aggressive and violent man at the controls of one of the most powerful machines known to humanity. Not only is that savage allowed free run of the settlement, he was also placed in charge of security…What was Adept Thalassa thinking?
    Dumare adjusted the settings on his sensors, and looked for anomalies usually present in urban settings, such as underground water and electricity conduits. The structure he was searching for may have relied on above-ground power lines, which would not have survived the decades exposed to the elements, but he preferred caution, especially if the building he scarcely remembered from childhood was still in good enough shape to restore.
  He spotted the building from over two kilometers. It stood over 40 meters tall, with a gabled roof, of an architectural design from ancient Terra, he was told that the house was similar that those where his father’s family had lived, on the East Coast of North America. Dumare wondered what shape that old structure could be in, after the long decades of abandonment. It was probably ransacked by pirates or looters from the town, after order had broken down, but from the distance, the frame, at least, appeared intact.
  From a kilometer away, the sensor readings made him suspicious. If the building was abandoned, the structure’s temperature would be no different than the ambient air. There were traces of heat emanations that were sure indications of some manner of life, animals at the least. He feared that feral humans may have chosen to hole up in the ruins of his home. The idea angered Dumare, and he cursed under his breath and reached down to the side of his command seat to give his submachinegun a reassuring pat. If there were trespassers, he was ready to clear them.
  At half a kilometer distance, Dumare guided his battlemech between the clusters of trees and along the snow-layered driveway. His approach was slow and cautious, he monitored his scanning data which searched for magnetic anomalies or thermal differences on his path, as it would be embarrassing to collapse a cesspool on the way to the property he claimed as his. A hundred meters from the front door, the Black Knight halted, and the mercenary waited for thirty minutes, just observing. Some of the windows showed thermal variances that could only be cause by some form of heating within the building. Much to his surprise, the three-story mansion was in remarkably good condition. None of the windows were broken and the front door was closed. The paint was a very light off-white hue, so he couldn’t determine if the color was normal or had faded due to exposure to harsh weather and sun. He thought for a minute, opened a standard request form on his display and began to fill in the blanks.                                                                                                                         
  “Innsmouth Control, this is Black Knight.”
  “Go ahead, Black Knight.”
  “I’m transmitting data for Adept Thalassa’s approval, please make certain he received that data in a timely manner,” responded Dumare, “Black Knight, out.”
  He slapped the quick release on his safety harness and slung his firearm before he opened the hatch.

  “Thalassa is a heretic!” declared Greenstein, “his poor decisions shall strip us all from Blake’s favor, and doom our settlement.”
  The handful of acolytes in the mess tent glanced at each other nervously, most of them had been recruited by ComStar while attending college, as the holy order offered to cover their expenses and guaranteed jobs upon graduation. 
  “What are you telling us?” asked Acolyte Przpezewsky, “If you have a problem with the Adept’s decisions, why not discuss it with him?”
  Greenstein sneered, “Do you think I haven’t voiced my opposition?” his fist rapped the table, “the heretic is adamant with his decisions, drunk with power and inflexible.”
  “I don’t know…” reasoned the younger acolyte, “he approved the project to examine the megalith, I really wanted to volunteer but my skills at power systems are needed here.”
  “You don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation,” replied Greenstein, “valuable assets have been denied out of whim,” he counted each point with a finger, “he removed two security personnel, which endangers our safety, he allowed valuable specialists to waste time digging instead of contributing to the settlement, and last, he violated ComStar protocols by investigating an archaeological site without waiting for Terra to send a team of qualified professionals.”
  “While I kind of see your point,” Przpezewsky nodded, “I don’t see any harm with investigating the megalith to determine whether it’s real, or just another SLDF hoax,” he shook his head, “I mean, I’ve read about how SLDF engineers would plant these things around just to get people worked up over nothing.”
  Greenstein shook his head, “All of our assets and energy have to be dedicated to the survival and success of our mission, not some frivolous pursuit,” he ranted, “they could be with the people who are harvesting grain or the assembling the prefabricated structures we’ll need for winter.”
  “I’m not arguing with you,” said the acolyte, “I just want to hear you out, although, what is your proposed solution?” he shrugged, “I mean, I’m not fully knowledgeable in the process of replacing the guy ComStar placed in charge, and it’ll be months before the jumpship returns with supplies,” he drew out an imaginary map on the table, “then we send a message  to Terra, and then their reply comes back…that could take almost a year, right?”
  “That’s the casual, administrative route,” Greenstein replied, “we can remove Thalassa from position if we have enough of the acolytes agree upon his removal.”
  “So, we can just vote him out of office?”
  Greenstein smiled, “Yes, we just have to convince enough of the acolytes to see that replacing him would be for the best.”

   “Do you see him?”
  Thomas Heinrich peered through the scope of his rifle, “Not yet.”
  Ricardo Gomez scanned the distant tree line through his binoculars, “He was there a minute ago.”
  The two security members crouched in the guard tower that faced the forest to the north of town, where the feral men were often spotted, lurking among the pines.
  Although a scoped sniper rifle rested in the rack beside the men, Heinrich cradled another weapon in his arms, very similar to the sniper rifle but loaded with drugged darts, each dart with a sedative capable of dropping a horse.
  “I see movement,” whispered Gomez, “yeah, he’s crawling near the edge of large tree with the green reflector.” The security team marked the trunk of several trees with colored reflective plaques, so they could quickly locate the feral men who lurked around the perimeter of the town beyond the wire fence. The fence was topped with razor wire and carried a mild electric current, which proved effective, as the first night it was powered up there was an unmistakable howl from the section nearest the tree line.
  “We’ll be switching to IR in the next hour,” murmured Heinrich, “I’m guessing they will test the fence again,” he eyed the sniper rifle, “if the adept didn’t want them taken alive, we could have just hunted them down, so they wouldn’t be a threat to anyone venturing outside the town.”

  Adept Thalassa logged the form into the colony’s database and smiled to himself, “Everything is progressing as expected.”
  “Adept, are you busy?” a man’s voice sounded from outside the tent’s door.
  “Come in, come in,” Thalassa replied. He stood up and motioned with a hand, “please, have a seat, would you like some tea?”
  Acoltye Przpezewsky nodded, “Thank you adept,” he sat down, “yes, I’ll have some tea, please.”
  Thalassa stepped to his right and picked up a mug and took a ready carafe from the warmer and filled the mug with steaming hot water, “Green or Orange Pekoe?”
  “Green please.”
  The adept picked a teabag from a container, placed it in the mug and handed the acolyte the mug and a spoon, “Most people don’t take sugar with green tea but if you like some, I have it.”
  Przpezewsky shook his head, “This is fine, thank you,” he placed the mug on the desk and let it steep.
  “So, acolyte,” said Thalassa, as he lowered himself into his chair, “what may I do for you?”
  The visitor leaned forward and whispered, “I have something serious to report to you,” he paused for a breath, “one of the acolytes is plotting to have you removed from your position by holding a vote.”
  The adept frowned, “That would be Greenstein.”
  “You know about it?”
  Thalassa chuckled, “Greenstein pretty much told me his plan,” he shook his head, “and he believes that he could do a better job.”
  “He calls your faith into question.”
  The older man shrugged, “Most of the real technicians in ComStar are actually employees and members for the money and job security, ” he leaned forward in emphasis, “but nobody dares admit it,” he leaned back in his chair, “as far as anybody is concerned, none of that is my business, as long as they do their job.”
  “Aren’t you afraid of losing your job?” the acolyte seemed concerned.
  “The people should be worried more about Acolyte Greenstein,” warned Thalassa, “he’s a control freak with extreme interpretations of the garbage attributed to Jerome Blake,” he said, “he’d have pre-arranged marriages and scheduled, compulsory prayer.”
  “A lot of people wont like that,” the acolyte said, “I’m happy with you in charge.”
 Thalassa smiled and patted the other man’s shoulder, “Thank you for your vote of confidence,” he paused in thought, “keep me advised on what’s going on behind my back.”

  Dumare stood in front of the mansion and slowly looked over the windows. The glass panes were intact, and through those panes he could even see white drapes hanging. He had fully believed that there would at least be evidence of forced entry after so many decades, instead, from the front, the structure appeared pristine.
  With great caution, he slowly turned the brass doorknob and found the door unlocked. The door easily swung open and leading with the muzzle of his weapon, he slipped through the portal.
There was an entryway, with brass coat hooks and a cast iron standing hat rack. The floors were polished wood with carpeting. He stealthily crept into a large room with a high ceiling, with a gilt chandelier with glittering crystals and electric candles. The chandelier was lit, as were the wall lamps. It was then he noted that the inside of the mansion was warm, which his battlemech’s sensors had detected. A wide set of stairs led to the upper floors and he turned to look at the glossy black grand piano near its base. He suddenly heard movement above him, the creak of a wooden floor, as if being stepped upon. He brought his SMG up and could see a dark figure standing at the top of the stairs.

  “Welcome home, son.”

End of Part Six

DOC_Agren

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #31 on: 30 November 2019, 11:02:23 »
This is getting, interesting
"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!"

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #32 on: 02 January 2020, 01:54:13 »
Royal Pain

Royal, Draconis Combine, Under Federated Commonwealth Occupation
September 21, 3039
1300 Hours


  Hauptmann Freiherr Helmut von Wiener lounged at a table at the sidewalk café he found in the small town of Charleville. The town was about fifty kilometers from the front lines, so the Lyran noble rewarded himself with a sweet, creamy latte before reporting in to headquarters. He also took the time to work on his reports, which were, as usual, late, due to his habit of drinking and carousing whenever possible.
  The manager of the café, a middle-aged man of Gallic descent, eyed the Hauptmann’s pristine Atlas and sneered when he saw the Draconis Combine insignia displayed on the Battlemech’s ponderous left leg.
  Suddenly irritated, the Freiherr put down his delicate porcelain cup of coffee and sternly addressed the man, “You don’t get to judge me,” he stated, “my employer took this contract and my terms prevented me from declining,” he added, “you may grouse about it all you want, but my commander never expected to be sent here to respond to an invasion.”
  “The Snakes conquered this world a decade ago,” said the manager, “we are finally being liberated.”
  “Potato, potahto,” replied von Wiener, with a dismissive flick of his hand, “the Houses are all the same, just with different window dressing, although the FedSuns has the worst food.”
  The man said nothing, spun on his heel and entered his café. The Freiherr shrugged and resumed his latte break. It was a lovely Spring day, in Royal’s Northern hemisphere, a few clouds with a light breeze.

  After powering up his trivid pad, he began working on his summary of the previous actions of the past two weeks, based upon recorded notes:

Day 1, September 8, 3039.  As per my suggestions, the unit’s aerofighters easily fended off the defender’s air assets and our Dropships landed, virtually unopposed, the only complication being Colonel Donnel’s abortive attempt to land at the spaceport, which resulted in heavy damage to the Dropship Manannan which was struck by Long Tom shells when she attempted to land. I knew the spaceport would be heavily defended but who knew the defenders fielded an entire battery of heavy artillery? The Manannan relocated twenty kilometers to the East, where the remaining Dropships established a landing zone, out of reach of the enemy.
  As I expected, the defenders in this sector are mercenaries, who have chosen to avoid battle and hole up in the capitol city. I haven’t determined which units are regulars and mercenaries, yet, but the Intelligence Section is working on that.

  Day 2, after a brief skirmish that sent the enemy’s light Battlemechs scurrying to the capital, my lance and supporting units captured the spaceport. I managed to claim a mercenary Lucifer, in damaged condition that was undergoing repairs and I have already been credited for a quarter of its value. The aero was marked with the insignia of an obscure mercenary unit and the Intel people have promised to determine who they are.

  Day 5, those Long Toms have been a nuisance. We dare not place any units at the spaceport, as the enemy has spotter infantry that could hide anywhere within sight and call in raining death. Those facilities would be a boon to our aero assets, instead of the poor peripheral airports we currently use. The Manannan could be repaired there as well.

  Day 6, our aerofighters have been searching for the enemy artillery battery but without success. It was assumed that parts of the city were burning but the thick smoke is most likely artificially generated, and effectively obscures anything that travels at street level. When the Long Toms fire, the enemy has cleverly used explosives or other devices to mimic the flash caused by the guns firing, which had made pinpointing the battery more problematic. These guys are certainly mercenaries, as regulars are nowhere near as clever.

  Day 10, a lance of fast, light Battlemechs managed to infiltrate behind our lines and attacked the support elements, causing severe damage and several casualties. I was asleep in the Dropship Leinster, at the time but those who were there are claiming to have seen a pair of machines that they could not identify. The rumor that the enemy is fielding Star League-era equipment is rampant and causing morale problems. I cannot believe that such ancient Battlemechs can be preserved and maintained for so long, and the centuries have rendered above average Battlemechs into objects of mythical power. Commoners can be such children in these matters.


  He paused for a moment and flagged the waiter, “Another one, please,” he pointed at the menu, “and an apple pastry.” He saw the waiter acknowledge the order and returned to his report.

  Day 12, despite my opposition, Colonel Donnel led the regiment on a frontal assault against the city. After taking thirteen percent casualties, we were forced back, even before we hit the minefields -Thank goodness the enemy lacked discipline and couldn’t wait until we were committed to the attack and pounded our ranks with artillery as we moved up. Had they waited until we hit the mines, the retreat would have been a long and slow slaughter.
  So far, it looks like it will be a war of attrition, the enemy is too afraid to leave the safety of the city and our side not stupid enough to try another frontal assault, although Colonel Donnel may take some time to recover from his injuries and the loss of two lances’ worth of Battlemechs was costly, we have the freedom of initiative, and we shall eventually find a hole in their defenses to exploit. If we had use of the spaceport, our aero could fly bombing sorties, but that’s out of the question, if their artillery remains a threat.


   The Freiherr stopped making his entry when the waiter arrived with a tray with a fresh latte and a delicately painted porcelain plate with two baked pastries, golden brown, each with a dollop of sugary apple filling in the center. “Thank you,” he said, as the waiter bowed politely and returned to the café. Von Wiener picked up one of the pastries and closed his eyes as he took a bite from it. The light sweetness filled his mouth and it reminded him of the bakeries of his home on Galatea.
  “This is the life…” The mercenary’s reverie was disturbed by the vibration he could feel in his feet and hear in the rattling of the fine china. A Battlemech’s approach would be felt before it was heard, especially through pavement.
  “Odd,” he thought, “I guess one of the other members of his unit was looking for a little unscheduled R and R. He was about to return to writing his report when the light Battlemech strode around the street corner and casually strode up the café. Von Wiener sat in his chair, shocked. He couldn’t make out the design at all. It was humanoid, although its legs were the “chicken walker” type, which was good for speed. It has hands and what looked like lasers mounted on the back of its wrists. The machine was painted in an overall mustard with mottled brown camouflage. His face suddenly grew pale when he recognized the insignia. It was the same emblem he saw on the Lucifer, a silver shield with the profile of a chess knight in green. In addition to the unit marking, there was a small green flag with a gold inscription that he could only guess was Arabic. He slowly reached to his belt and unbuttoned the flap to his holster.

  “Is it Helmut Freiherr von Wiener?” blared the Battlemech’s external speaker, “it certainly is, fancy meeting you here, of all places!”
  The Hauptmann frowned, the pilot’s voice was remarkably youthful and slightly accented, obviously Standard wasn’t his first language and somehow, that pilot recognized him. He thought about who he might know from Galatea that he could place…
  “It must be Allah’s will that I found you.”
  “Oh, no!” the mercenary sagged in his chair, “No, no, no…” His hands covered his face, “why me?”
  “So, is this your new Atlas I’ve heard so much about?” the strange ‘Mech slowly paced around von Wiener’s machine, “Niiiice…”
  The mercenary straightened, “Uh, so…How’s it going, Mohammed Bey?”
  “I’m doing quite well, thank you,” replied the pilot over the loudspeakers, “and I see you are enjoying the local hospitality, it was my birthday yesterday so, I’ve been celebrating.”
  The Freiherr stood up and motioned to an empty chair, “Oh, well, perhaps you should join me, my treat in honor of your birthday” he said, with a friendly smile.
  “Thank you so much,” Mohammed Bey responded, “as much as I’d love to accept your gracious offer, I happen to be working right now…and I’m not the kind of idiot to get out of my ‘Mech in a war zone.”
  “I had to try,” answered von Wiener, through a forced smile. The perspiration glistened on his forehead, “Are we done here?”

  “I’ve got some business to do, but I’m going to have to run the alternatives past you first, as a professional courtesy,” stated the Azami mechwarrior, “the first is that I could have a VTOL fly in and whisk you off to a cell in the city, pending the prisoner exchange, but that could take months and…” the light Battlemech pointed at the Atlas, “I’d have to destroy this pristine machine.”
  The Lyran shuddered, “…What’s the alternative?”
  “Ah, yes! There is an HPG station here, and lucky for you, our contracts are on file,” said the young pilot, “I’ve already contacted ComStar, so all you need to do is transfer the funds to cover the ransoms for both you and your Atlas. Once your payment is confirmed, I walk away.”
  Von Wiener’s jaw dropped, “What? The combined ransoms would be five million!”
  “Seven million, non-negotiable.”

  The Lyran stomped his feet in anger, “I’m not paying! What are you going to do about that?”
  The light ‘Mech stepped deftly around to the rear of the Atlas and with an open palm, pushed the assault Battlemech forward, which caused it to topple to the ground with a thunderous crash. Von Wiener noticed that several people had gathered in curiosity.
  “What the-“
  The standing ‘Mech leaned forward and from its center torso, a red beam struck the Atlas in the center of its back, which caused the armor to explode in a gout of smoke and molten fragments. The onlookers shielded their faces from the heat and many scurried for cover.
  “Oh god, stop!” the Lyran noble cried, his hands gripping his thick hair, “I’ll pay, dammit! I’ll pay!”
  “Are you sure?” As’Zaman sat back in his command couch and monitored his communications. He saw von Wiener using his tripad, his fingers tapping at various icons as he sat sullenly at his table. An icon appeared on his main display, and a “Betty” voice cheerfully announced, “Payment received.”
  “Vielen Dank, Freiherr Helmut!” announced the Azami teen through his ‘Mech’s speakers, “it is always a pleasure to do business with you.”

  “Wait, wait!” shouted the Lyran mercenary, “you’re just going to run off?” he stood up and held out his hands in supplication, “tell me, what in the hell is that Battlemech?”
  “Oh, this old thing?” replied the youth, “a Mongoose 66, been in my family for over five generations.”
  “How is that even possible?”
  “Sorry,” Mohammed Bey replied, “that information is classified.”
  “How did you get this far behind our lines?”
  “That’s my job.”

  The Freiherr growled, he wanted to throttle the little punk. “I didn’t see you during the last battle.”
  “Ah, I was out doing something else,” explained AsZaman, “Colonel Valborg didn’t stick to my plan and started dropping the artillery too soon,” he said, “your Battlemechs didn’t even reach the minefields.”
  “I knew it! It was a trap all along!”
  “Oh, no, that wasn’t the trap,” corrected the teen, “the trap was the ‘Mech battalion I was leading through the woods to cut you off,” he continued, “had you bogged down at the minefields, our flanking units would have appeared behind you, at least, that was my plan.”
  The Hauptmann was stunned, “So, this whole campaign was a waste of time.”

  “You’re getting paid to be here,” said the teen, his tone consoling, “the capitol now has three regiments of militia infantry, in addition to another regiment’s worth of mercenary forces, we were just biding time for the locals to get their act together to put their own boots in the ground.”
  Von Wiener kicked the nearest chair, sending it flying, “Jesus! What did the Combine expect us to do?”
  “Nothing,” offered the teen, “they sent their best units to reclaim the high priority worlds, and to keep the FedCom off balance with a counteroffensive,” he sighed, “you were sent here as a token gesture to save face.”
  “You’re Combine,” von Wiener pointed out, “why are you even fighting for the FedCom?”
  “I’m an Azami, the Draconis Combine are allies,” Mohammed Bey answered, “ironically, I was bored with being on reserve status so I took leave to be a mercenary,” he said, “I didn’t expect this war to break out, although I did see a lot of movement in the months prior to the offensive, while on Galatea, and I reported my observations to my people, those reports would have eventually made it to the Combine; It was mere coincidence that Colonel Valborg accepted this contract, it was for garrison duty, while the new government consolidated.”
  “So, the Dracs were ready for this?”
  “Yes and no,” replied the Azami pilot, “they knew something was coming in a general sense but wouldn’t know the specific targets until they were actually hit, and there should have been multiple feints.”
  The Lyran mercenary took his seat and tapped at his virtual keyboard, “I hope you don’t mind if I add a few things to my report.”

  “Go ahead, you should be getting a recall order from the Combine in a month or so,” Mohammed Bey informed him, “and Captain Shinsato wants his Lucifer back.”
  The Lyran officer paused, “He could ransom it back.”
  “There is no way you’re going to remove it from the Spaceport.”
  “I could destroy it.”
  “Point taken, I’ll have the captain contact you to hammer out the details, for a small fee of course…”
  “Deal,” he looked into the café, “Garcon! A fresh latte, please!”
  “Time for me to head back to the barn,” announced Mohammed Bey, “the units you called are getting close.”
  “Wait, what?” von Wiener was incredulous, “how did you know?”
  “Remote sensors,” the teen replied, “as I said, that’s my job.”
  “No way!”
  “A pair of Stingers, a Commando and a Firestarter…I could actually beat them…”
  “What?” the Freiherr was on his feet again.
  “But I shouldn’t be so greedy,” mused the teen, “after all, ComStar confirmed my kill claim for an Atlas today.”
  “You…”
  “I’m going to go beat it, now…Byeeee!” The cheerful tone in the teen’s voice irritated the Lyran even more…
 

  Hauptmann Freiherr von Wiener glumly looked at his fallen Atlas, the Mongoose’s laser didn’t come close to penetrating the rear torso armor, but the repairs will still be written up, unless he slipped the crew a convincing bribe…”War is hell,” he muttered under his breath, then he sat down and waited for Captain Shinsato to contact him to negotiate the ransom for that Lucifer.


« Last Edit: 02 January 2020, 02:01:50 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »

snakespinner

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #33 on: 02 January 2020, 03:22:49 »
Enjoyable seeing a light take down an Atlas. 8) ;)
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #34 on: 13 March 2020, 03:22:37 »
A Brush with Fate, Chapter 2

Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia
Terra
May, 2749


Sunday Afternoon

  The young man grasped the pliers and stretched the canvas over the wooden frame. He eyed the linen material to make certain the threads were straight before he stapled the canvas in place.  He paused when he heard the workshop door opening.
  “How are you coming along, William?” inquired Mister Bruckner.
  The teen placed the staple gun and pliers aside and turned to face his employer, “I’ve done twenty-five, so far, ready for gesso and keys, sir.”
  The old man smiled, “Amazing! You picked it up so quickly, young man!” he picked up one of the finished canvases, “Very good…go ahead and keep working -and don’t forget to make one for yourself before you go home.”
  “Thank you, sir,” replied William, “how many of them do you want me to gesso?”
  Bruckner scratched his chin, “Hardly anybody preps their own canvas nowadays,” he pulled a notepad and pencil from his pocket, “about twenty will be fine.” He scribbled the information on the pad and put it away, “Go ahead and finish what you can for the day and make sure you remind me to pay you before you leave.”

School, Monday Morning

  “My mom saw you working at Bruckner’s art store,” whispered Phillips, “that’s awesome!”
  “Thanks,” replied Todd, “I’ve already started on my contest entry.”
  The other teen grinned, “When can I come over and see it?”
  “It should be done by this weekend, but I have to work on Saturday.”
  “Okay, how about if I pick you up when you’re done,” suggested Thomas, “we can grab something to eat and head to your place.”
  “I haven’t been to Molly’s diner in months,” William answered, “deal!” He would be anticipating fresh peach pie for the remainder of the week.
 
  Mister Brisson returned the quiz sheets with a glum face and gave William a glare as he handed the teen his paper. As the teacher walked away, William smiled and leaned back in his chair, his sheet marked with a large red “C”.
  “Why do you only answer enough questions to pass the test?” whispered Thomas, “I answered all my questions but got a ‘C’ too.”
  “If I filled in all the answers,” replied William, “I’d easily get an ‘A’ in this worthless class, and teachers in government schools get a bonus when students score well in classes that are listed as required.”
  “Ah,” said Thomas, in realization, “if you score well, the teacher is rewarded, so you are just screwing with him...Nice!”
  “I’d ace this class without a teacher,” William answered, “Brisson knows it and hates the idea that people like me are aware of how worthless he and this class are.”
  “That’s just hilarious!” He leaned forward on his elbows and thought for a moment, “What if I get some people in class to help out?”
  “I’ll have to think about it,” William whispered, “we can discuss it over lunch.”

  Mrs. Johnson casually strode between the easels in her advanced art class, giving a nod of approval for most of the projects her students worked on but shaking her head when one of the sports players exhibited quality well below her moderate standards, “Geoffrey, next time try painting a foot baller in some kind of action, instead of just standing.”
  “Okay, ma’am.”
  “That’s a lovely iris, William,” she commented.
  “I sketched some that are blooming by C building last week,” responded Todd, “I just had to paint some in color.”
  “That’s wonderful,” smiled the instructor, “how are you coming along with your Star League project?”
  The teen set down his brush and flexed his fingers, “I’ll bring it in next week to see if you have any pointers for finishing it.”
  Mrs. Johnson adjusted her wire framed glasses, “I can’t wait, this will be a first for our school!”

Noon

  The cafeteria was less crowded than usual, which pleased William, as he and his friend Thomas could share an empty table.
  “Is something going on?” William inquired, “some activity I may have missed?”
  Thomas shook his head, “Not really, my guess is the new Mexican food truck parked across the street.”
  The other teen suddenly lost interest, “Ah, I guess a cholera outbreak would be amusing.”
  Thomas laughed and took a bite from his pizza slice. He chewed and swallowed, “Tell me how you really feel.”
  “Feelings means nothing,” replied Todd, “I just want my imprisonment here to end.”
  “Who doesn’t?” asked Phillips, “I could be wasting my time elsewhere,” he noted that his friend’s attention was drawn elsewhere. “Ah, is Leonore here?”
  Todd was annoyed at his friend being so quick to guess, “Yes.” He popped an apple slice into his mouth and watched as Leonore and two of her friends carried their trays to a vacant table.
  Phillips turned and glanced at the trio, “If you ask me, I’d say the one with the brown hair is more your type,” commented Thomas, “really nice, pretty face, and she can cook; Kathy Muir.”
  “Is she intelligent?”
  “Uhhh…” Thomas groped for a response, “I really don’t place academics on the top of my list, as far the girls are concerned.”
  “Well, I’m not interested in her,” concluded William.
  Phillips shook his head, “Suit yourself, bro,” he understood the cue to drop the subject.
  Todd finished the remainder of his ham sandwich and washed it down with water, “Well, one more agonizing class to go,” he stood up and cleared his table.
  “Ah,” Thomas rose from his seat, “then your last class with Miss Micouleau,” he licked his lips and rubbed his hands together in exaggerated lasciviousness, “she is so hot!”
  William rolled his eyes at his friend’s comical display, “Seriously? Her tastes are pedestrian, but she lets me read the poems I like,” he said, “works that the other students would never know about if I didn’t bring them to class.”
  “William Todd, modern day Prometheus,” announced Phillips, dramatically, “who gets to ogle Leonore Brown in his poetry class.”
  “Shut it,” Todd slung his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the exit.

Afternoon

“Ô muse de mon coeur, amante des palais,
Auras-tu, quand Janvier lâchera ses Borées,
Durant les noirs ennuis des neigeuses soirées,
Un tison pour chauffer tes deux pieds violets?
Ranimeras-tu donc tes épaules marbrées
Aux nocturnes rayons qui percent les volets?
Sentant ta bourse à sec autant que ton palais
Récolteras-tu l'or des voûtes azurées?
II te faut, pour gagner ton pain de chaque soir,
Comme un enfant de choeur, jouer de l'encensoir,
Chanter des Te Deum auxquels tu ne crois guère,
Ou, saltimbanque à jeun, étaler tes appas
Et ton rire trempé de pleurs qu'on ne voit pas,
Pour faire épanouir la rate du vulgaire.”


  There was some applause, but William could see a little confusion and hesitancy among his classmates. It was clear that the others had waited until Miss Micouleau clapped her hands and smiled in approval.
  “As always, William,” said the instructor, “you bring fresh and brilliant poems to share,” she turned to the class as William went back to his desk, “Charles Baudelaire is one of France’s most influential poets, he was very controversial and some of his poems were even banned for almost a century.”
  “Why were they banned?” Karen O’Toole asked.
  Micouleau replied, “His poems were accused of advocating Satanism and immorality,” she continued, walking casually between the seated students, “but he was actually reflecting on contemporary attitudes of cynicism, as well as a rejection of the ideals of nature that had been expounded by poets of the previous century,” she patted William’s shoulder as she passed his desk, “Monsieur Todd here, is kind of like Baudelaire, although I wish he weren’t so cynical about life.”
  William smiled for a moment, “I am cynical because of life,” he patted his book of verses, “like Baudelaire, I refuse to lie to myself or others.”
  “Always bold, Monsieur Todd,” commented the teacher, “as expected,” she brightened, “which brings us to the project for next week, the subject was chosen by Mademoiselle O’Toole -You are to write a poem about an angel.”
  William winced at the announcement. There was no surprise there, no surprise at all; Karen always dumped girly crap like unicorns and flowers on the class. He would make her pay…

  As Todd prepared to leave the classroom, he was approached by Leonore, “William, do you have time to talk?”
  “Miss Brown,” he replied, stalling to organize his thoughts, “of course, what may I do for you?”
  “Your recitations are so insightful and expressive, and your poetry is uniquely soulful,” she told him, “I took this course to study poetry, but I have never been good at writing any of my own,” she looked into his eyes, “I was wondering, perhaps you could help me with the assignment.”
  This was more than he could have hoped for! William’s heart thundered in his chest and he felt lightheaded, “Of course, Miss Brown!”
  “You can call me Leonore, William.”
  “Yes, Leonore,” he felt the palms of his hands break out in a sweat, “would you like to meet somewhere after school or this weekend?”
  “Tomorrow would be fine,” she replied, “I have a car, so I could pick you up and we can go to Molly’s Diner and share ideas…if that’s acceptable to you.”
  “Yes, acceptable, indeed!” he fought to contain his elation, “How does tomorrow evening at six, work for you?”
  Leonore smiled, “It’s a date, then.”

  “Father, I’m home!” William had probably made his best time ever in his ride home. He had tried to gather up the courage to ask Leonore Brown, a girl he had admired from a distance, on a date and by some quirk of Fate, she came to him and asked for his help. He realized that it wasn’t an “official” date, but more like studying together, but it was a huge step for him, nonetheless.
  “What am I going to wear?” he went to the hall closet and looked at the meagre selection of clothes he owned, he had two white shirts, two black shirts and two gray shirts, all identical patterns: Standup collars, long sleeved. He wondered if he should wear a bowtie, but rejected the idea, better to remain informal. The vest and pocket watch would be standard daily wear. He rarely varied his wardrobe; Cotton shirt, black trousers, vest, worn black oxfords…he dressed for comfort, the same way his father dressed for performing on stage. He also believed that straying from his own standards of personal appearance merely to impress somebody else as both an act of self - betrayal and shallow deception. That was a game he declined to play.
  “I guess I’ll decide by tomorrow,” he mused as he shut the closet door. He drew the watch from his pocket to check the time and headed to the kitchen. He took the cutting board from the rack and placed it on the counter.
  “What are you planning for dinner, son?” His father stuck his head partially out of his room. William could see his haggard face and pale skin; today was his scheduled chemotherapy treatment and he was always very weak after the hospital’s van brought him home.
  William piled several vegetables in a colander and began to wash them, “Chicken with vegetable soup, with noodles and garlic bread.”
  “That sounds great.”
  “It should be ready in about an hour,” said William, “you just rest and I’ll call you when it’s done.” He gave the colander a final shake before placing it on the counter next to the cutting board.
  “Thank you, son.” The door closed and William paused in thought before separating the carrots, onions and celery. He went outside to the freezer chest and drew out a plastic bag filled with cubes of frozen chicken broth. The government’s Disabled Allowance Program, provided a meager income for his father that William had to stretch from one month to the next. Making broth from bones was simple and served as the base for a large variety of dishes. He poured several of the broth cubes into an aged saucepan and set it on the gas burner, then retrieved the last of the roast chicken breast from the small refrigerator and placed it on the counter before starting his work.
  William learned to cook from his father, and took up the kitchen duties as his father’s health gradually deteriorated. He wished he could bake his own bread, but it required far too much effort and time, and made such a mess that just purchasing a discounted loaf from the bakery made a better choice. He would be satisfied with griddle cakes but his primary concern was keeping his father as comfortable as possible while he was alive.
  The pot of broth was simmering by the time he had completed dicing the vegetables and he scraped them into the pot with his blade and seasoned the boiling mixture with salt and pepper. He covered  the pot and turned the fire down to let it simmer while he cut the chicken into small cubes. Asv he worked, he thought about the project for his poetry class. He wanted to turn his poem in with a suitable image, a drawing that would counter Karen’s typical female ideal of a motherly, nurturing angel, not something as predictably trite as Lucifer, something beyond mere rebellion or contrarian, with verses to match.
  He fetched his sketchbook from its place in his backpack, took up a pencil and began to draw.
  “My angel will be leaning on a two-handed sword, chipped and bloody, her posture will be weary, as if taking a brief respite between battles, her face, instead of delicate and compassionate, shall be stern and grim, as if glaring at an approaching enemy.” He quickly traced the outline and began to fill in the details, “Her wings won’t be white or glowing, but the glossy black wings of a raven, witness to countless battlefields.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and decided that he should continue his school project after dinner.

Late Evening

  William dried his hands with a soft terry cloth towel and decided to leave the dishes in the rack to dry. He could put them away in the morning after breakfast. His father had returned to his room after dinner and would already be asleep, and he felt the weariness from the long day. He made one last round of the house, turning down the lights and tidying up before retreating to his room.
  The teen’s room was spartan, but the walls were decorated with several years’ worth of drawings and paintings. The twin bed had a simple, wooden frame, while the desk was an old, worn out example of obsolete office furniture, with a chair similar to the seating around the dining table, probably from the same restaurant. The room had a single light in the ceiling, which provided William with sufficient illumination for daily activity, provided he didn’t have to read, although the lamp on the desk provided sufficient illumination for homework and reading. 
  William reached under the desk and retrieved a small, folding easel, which he placed on the desk to hold his sketchbook, opened to the page of his various designs for his angel. He laid his pen and ink pad on the desk and took a small bottle of india ink out of the middle drawer, along with a slim rosewood pen, and a selection of steel nibs. He made a quick outline on the smooth sheet based on his preliminary sketches and sat back as he formed the image he wanted in his head. He chose a medium nib and carefully affixed it to the rosewood shaft before dipping it into the ink and wiping the excess on the side of the well. His deft fingers guided the pen in bold strokes and the figure slowly gained definition. He cleaned the nib with a rag and replaced it with the next finer point. The next stage was the details, the fingers, the folds of the flowing robe, the pattern of the trim, the straight-cut main of long, black hair. He had to pause for a moment to plan out how the gloss would appear in the hair and on the black-plumed wings. He could simply add highlights of white ink but he considered that technique lazy and an indication of lack of mastery. White ink was used to conceal mistakes and reflected poor planning. He could do better than that.

  William pulled the covers over his chest and closed his eyes. He finished the drawing that would accompany his poetry class project and he found that very satisfying. He drifted off to sleep and dreamt of a great armada of space vessels locked in desperate battle, massive ships directing their fire at targets hundreds of kilometers distant, mere flashes of light in the vast darkness. Vessels exploded in the silent void, torn asunder, huge chunks of debris hurtling in every direction, colliding with other vessels and tearing huge holes in their armor. His view moved away from the opposing battle lines to a formation of smaller vessels, with far smaller turrets and armament. The view changed to the inside of one of these smaller craft, it was packed with soldiers in Star League defense Force uniforms, sitting in long rows of seats and securely harnessed. Their armaments were locked in place, fastened to the frames of their seats. The troop transport shuddered as a projectile detonated on its outer hull, and drew alarmed gasps and exclamations from the passengers. many of them bowed their heads, eyes shut, while others glanced about in fright. Another impact rocked the vessel, causing its internal lights to flicker and more distressed wails.
  “Vac Ops gear!” shouted an officer. The soldiers immediately pulled what looked like full head covering masks from the holders attached to their harnesses and with the speed and economy of motion due to repetitive practice, each soldier had sealed his breathing apparatus and gloves, before the air in the hold began to vent. More of the soldiers appeared agitated, they crossed their arms across their chests and bent slightly forward, as if expecting an imminent impact. A tiny hole appeared in a side bulkhead, a soldier went limp as a piece of shrapnel, weighing less than a dozen grams, tore through his armor, shattered bone and ruptured arteries, as it flew through the cabin at hypersonic velocity. More holes appeared, and more men and women died, killed by an unseen enemy. Clouds of blood particles and larger droplets floated in the cabin. Corpses sat limp in their seats, arms stretched out languidly, swaying with every sudden course change.
  What followed was a kaleidoscope of chaos, a swirling maelstrom of confusion as the SLDF fleet charged forward and blasted its way through the line of outnumbered defenders, weapon arrays unloosing death and destruction in every direction. The enemy line shattered and scattering, the troop transports approached the planet at speed.

Morning

  William prepared a light breakfast for himself and his father, while thinking about the significance of his dream. How could something occuring so many light years away be important? What was the context, what did it all mean?
  He could only gather up his backpack and head to school.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Stray Dogs: A Collection of Short Stories
« Reply #35 on: 16 March 2020, 01:56:45 »
Call of Blood (Part Seven)


Al-Tinin IV
Al-Tinin System
Draconis Combine (Uncharted)



  Dumare stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up at the man who had emerged from the shadows, “Son?” he exclaimed, he studied the other man’s features and could see the faint resemblance in the wrinkled face, the high brow and prominent nose, intense eyes that seemed larger than normal, the presence of a strong, prominent jawline partially obscured by gray whiskers. Yes, there was a familial connection, to be sure, and this was the man who stood next to his mother in a collection of old image files. The man was tall, much like the younger mercenary, perhaps a couple of centimeters taller, and his shoulders somewhat broader. He wore a loose fitting set of field green coveralls, very similar to SLDF issue but without patches, insignia or rank designation.
  The man slowly descended the stairs, his face impassive as Dumare could scarcely recall in his dim memories. “Thank you for returning my battlemech, my dear Lucienne, your mother, was not interested in the legacy of our family.”
  “Mother told me that you were dead,” replied the mercenary, “why would she lie to me about you?”
  The older man shook his head, “You, my son, have an ancient inheritance, which your mother had difficulty in accepting.” He stepped closer and placed a large hand on Dumare’s shoulder, “You were called here in your dreams, were you not?”
  “My dreams?” asked Dumare, “how could you know about them?”
  “Your ability to dream is part of your inheritance, my son,” the elder Dumare calmly answered, “through our dreams, we see the ancient past and distant future, all that is possible and that which shall be,” he continued, “our dreams show us the truth beyond illusions and allow us to call to each other beyond the measureless gulfs between the stars, and the immense vastness of time itself.”
  The younger Dumare frowned, “Uh, I still don’t fully comprehend what you are trying to tell me,” he relaxed his stance and took his hand from the grip of his submachine gun, “are you saying that some kind of psychic ability runs in our family?”
  The older man laughed, “Oh, no, my son! We are not carnival hucksters and tarot readers, not tricksters and cheap entertainers,” he shook his head, “we shall discuss the matter at length another time, this is your home of old and this is your home now, the building behind the house, that looks like an old barn is a fully appointed battlemech hangar with the bays for a lance, these are all yours, now.”

Early Evening

  Security Chief Henke shivered as he assisted with putting up one of the four tents under the brilliant lights projected by the land rover. His teeth chattered as the biting cold cut through his insulated clothing. He didn’t expect the temperature to drop so radically after dark, his mittens barely kept his fingers comfortably cold, let alone warm. Even worse, the wind had picked up and snow was falling. He was thankful that Acolyte Bond was a bit of a softy, who made sure everybody was relieved from working outside every few minutes to warm themselves in the first tent, where a heater was installed and hot coffee brewing.
  About fifty meters away, through the blur of falling snow, he could barely make out the shapes of the megalith’s standing stones, gray in the darkness.
  “Ready for a break?”
  Henke nodded, “You bet,” he told his relief, “thanks!” He made a beeline for the break tent and slipped through the entantrance.
  The light was dim but Henke could see three other people seated around the stove, sipping from mugs.
  “Coffee?” one of the acolytes held the pot up, near the mug with his name written on it.
  He pulled his mittens off, “Please, I’ll take it black,” he stripped off his jacket and immediately felt the warm air filling his lungs and caressing his limbs. “I can’t believe it’s gotten so cold.”
  “We are further north and away from the river,” muttered one of them, “the flat terrain has no forestation to abate the winds, this area is outside of our range for accurate meteorological forecasts.”
  Henke sighed and nodded, he pretended to understand, and sipped his coffee.

  “I tell you, you have to watch the full cut scene to catch the hint of the next quest,” said Acolyte Jost, his voice with pedantic insistence. The two acolytes sat in the dining tent, sipping coffee.
  Acolyte Przpezewski shook his head, “The hints are clear enough for me, just playing through the quest,” he responded, “and if I need further clarification, I can refer to the Wiki.”
  “That means you missed the hint,” crowed Jost, “otherwise, you wouldn’t even need the Wiki.”
  “I didn’t need the Wiki to complete the tavern keeper’s side quest.”
  “You didn’t…” Jost covered his face with his hands, “those side quests are distractions,” he said, “the main quest is time-sensitive and the final award for completion is based on how fast you finish.”
  “What?” Przpezewski jumped up from his chair, “I’ve been jumping on all of those side quests!”
  A female acolyte approached the two, “Hey, Stanislaus, what are you guys talking about?”
  Przpezewski stood up, “Hey, Katarina, me and Michael were just talking about our favorite trivid game.”
  “You mean, the one with the ugly, green women?” She had an obvious look of distaste on her face.
  Stanislaus stood up, “Hey!” he seemed wounded, “They aren’t ugly...and they aren’t women, either, they are beautiful, shapely Orcettes.”
  Katarina put a palm to her forehead, “Seriously, I can’t believe that you are really my brother.”
  Michael interceded, “It’s just a harmless game, Kat, it gives us something to do when we aren’t working.”
  “Other than eating and sleeping, that seems to be the only thing you guys do, when you aren’t working,” Katarina shot back, “and a game where the players rack up points for having sex with muscular green females with fangs is hardly my idea of harmless.”
  “That really isn’t fair,” reasoned her brother, “I mean, it’s not like we’re having sex with real women.”
  Katarina could not resist, “No, I have serious doubts about that ever happening.” She smirked and turned to see Acolyte Vathos sitting at a table, her attention on her datapad display. “Hey, Dimitra.”
  The doctor looked up at her friend and waved, “Hi, Kat, what’s going on?” she smiled as the acolyte sat across from her.
  “The megalith away team complained about the lack of weather data,” Kat told her, “we only have what little information from the Hugin’s sensors on the ground.”
  “Why is that your problem, you’re a data systems specialist, right?”
  “According to our avionics technician, Acolyte Simkins, there are still several satellites in orbit but they are offline, due to corrupt programs,” replied Kat, “my guess the problem is more than just that, but Donald wants me to try giving the satnet a remote systems upgrade.”
  Dimitra inclined her head, “So, do you think you can do it?”
  Kat shrugged, “I’m going to try my best,” she sipped her tea, “I’ve done similar upgrades on remote arrays but they were hardwired, not transmitted, although there shouldn’t be much difference,” she saw her brother Stanislaw heading out the door with Michael, and returned his wave, “I’m worried that the problem may be due to hardware, not merely obsolete programming.”
  “I’m sure you can do it,” Dimitra reassured her.
 “Thanks,” said Kat, “at least I’m doing something worthwhile. Did you know Greenstein approached me to design a program to track everybody’s daily activities?”
  “What for? It’s not like we are hourly laborers...or slaves, to be monitored.”
  “He told me that he wanted to ‘optimize how we expend our energy’ by studying time allocation and making recommendations for improvements,” Kat told her.
  “Vincent’s natural cynicism might be rubbing off on me,” commented Dimitra, “but it sounds like the kind of thing a control freak would try to pull by wrapping it in good intentions.”
   “Well, you are so lucky to have a man,” whispered Kat, “I should have found one before coming here.”
  “There are plenty of available men here, aren’t there?” asked Dimitra, “I thought that was the idea behind the selection of equal ratios of men and women.”
  “Katarina covered her mouth when she laughed, “Yes, there are plenty of males, but only a few men worth considering,” she said, in a half-joking tone, “I’m sure your husband is drawing a lot of attention, so I’d keep an eye on him.”
  Dimitra smiled, “Oh, I know!” she responded, “His kind always attracts women -He owns a battlemech, which is material wealth, he has power and responsibility and he has an abundance of good looks, as well.”
  Kat leaned over and whispered, “If you want to see something pitiful, try having a conversation with my brother.”
  Dimitra laughed out loud, “You are so mean!”

  “How can you possibly think that you could get away with approving a land claim, sight unseen?” Greenstein was livid. He stormed into Adept Thalassa’s tent  after hearing about how Dumare’s application was processed.
  “How is any of that your business, Acolyte?” answered the Adept.
  His face turned a shade of red, “Your abuse of power is the business of every faithful member of ComStar,” thundered Greenstein, not caring how thin the tent walls were.
  “You do realize that the claim was an essential part of our mission’s charter,” reasoned Thalassa calmly, “and part of the contractual conditions as outlined for our non-ComStar settlers.”
  “What if the claimed property has controlled technologies?” Greenstein pointed out, “they might find something they aren’t authorized to possess.”
  “Yes, that is also contained in the contract,” the Adept informed him, “although the property’s claimant should inform me of the presence of such technologies, the people who wrote the contract neglected to provide examples of what those controlled technologies might be.”
  The Acolyte was unwilling to budge on the issue, “It is your responsibility to make certain every claim is inspected prior to approval of any claim!”
  “I trust Dumare’s assessment as a competent inspector,” was the Adept’s reply, “if you have nothing else, the matter has been settled, as per regulations and lawful agreements, good day,” Thalassa’s tone underscored the issue being closed.
  “This isn’t the end of this issue!” exclaimed Greenstein, “if I have to take it up to the Primus, himself.”
  “Good day.”

  Nu’ukai hefted a metal toolbox into the back of the all terrain vehicle that belonged to his lance’s maintenance crew.
  “Kal,” called one of the crewmen from the Hugin, the dropship contracted by Comstar, “I heard all of you were packing up.”
  The Polynesian nodded, “The boss called in, said we have a new base,” he took inventory of the remaining space in the back of the vehicle, “when he says ‘Move’, we gotta move.”
  “Man, I’m going to miss your food!” he shook the mechwarrior's hand.
  “No big thing,” Kalani assured him, “we still guard the town, and come back to party.”
  “Well, give me a call when you do,” the crewman turned to leave, “take care!”
  “Aloha!”
  A slim woman with honey-brown skin and dark, wavy hair walked up to the vehicle, she shouldered a Federated Suns military-issue duffle bag and let it fall into the vehicle’s cargo compartment with a dull thud. “That’s the last from our room,” she announced, “Debra and Alex said they will be along, soon.”
  Nu’ukai hugged her, “No rush,” he said, “we not going to leave until morning, anyway.”
  “Ravi and Coleen told me they’ll load their gear right after their shift is done,” Paulette informed him.
  “Good,” Kalani grunted, “we ahead of schedule,” despite all the confusion of the sudden relocation, he took all of it in stride, he fully trusted his commander’s decisions.
  Paulette was Nu’ukai’s woman, as well as the technician who cared for his Crab. Like most Polynesians, they were friendly, outgoing, loyal, hardworking and always ready to celebrate something with friends, mostly in the form of large amounts of food.
  It was at one of these celebrations that Dumare met Nu’ukai, Dumare tried to ask Paulette for a date and Nu’ukai stepped in. Although Dumare rarely ever passed up a good brawl, he saw no reason to ruin a good party and lose a tooth or so in the process. The two men became good friends and as soon as Nu’ukai’s contract with his previous employer was up, Dumare offered him a position in his unit.
  Nu’ukai liked Dumare -he admired his honesty as well as his utter fearlessness in battle; Unlike his previous commanders, Dumare never corrected his heavily accented Standard or occasional use of Hawaiian words, when he thought Standard lacked sufficient impact.


Late Evening

  The Megalith Away Team, as they called themselves, sat down to a meal of hot clam chowder and sourdough toast. Erecting their four tents in the blowing snow was challenging as well as exhausting, so the team members looked forward to a good rest and hoped for calmer weather come morning. The heaters were all working properly and the tents had more than adequate insulation for everybody to sleep at night and work comfortably during the day. The tents were designed for eight adults with room for gear, so even with the cots and folding desks, assigning three people per tent gave the members plenty of space to work and sleep. Security Chief Henke ate his meal in silence, Acolyte Bond had selected five of the team to dine in his tent and discuss their operations for the next two weeks. Because he wasn’t actually part of the research effort, Bond wouldn’t allow him to sit in on the meeting, no matter how he tried to convince the stubborn technician. He would have to determine other ways to keep an eye on every facet of the project.

  “You see,” explained Acolyte Michael Jost, “once the expansion equipment I ordered arrives, I’ll have my private server up and running, and everybody who wants can join in our full, virtual world.”
  “That is so awesome!”  Stanislaus Przpezewski exclaimed, impressed, “especially since I can transfer my current character from the game on my trivid console.”
  “The only restriction being that you start with only the basic equipment,” Jost informed him, “and the early missions will be adjusted for level.”
   “Aw, I wish my character could start with his full suit of Blessed Orcknight Plate and Blade of the Immortal Orcmeister,” Stanislaus grumbled, “That would be tres cool!”
  “Stan, be thankful I’m letting you start with an elite level character instead of a fresh, new one, like all the other new players,” Mike told him, “I mean, it’s bad enough you already know how to play, which gives you a big head start as it is.”
  “So, how many players are we looking at?”
  Jost scratched at his unkempt beard, “At least twenty sounded interested,” he then leaned close and whispered, “and at least three women.”
  Stan’s jaw dropped.

  “You’re leaving?” Acolyte Katarina had burst into the tent serving as Dimitra’s office as soon as she heard the news. “You can’t go!”
  “Kat,” she informed her, “I’ll still be working here every day, you know that, right?”
  “Really? One of the Hugin’s crew mentioned that the mercenaries and their techs were packing their ATV when I went for coffee in the dining tent,” Kat told her, “they said your husband claimed property over fifty kilometers away.”
  “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” said Dimitra, “Vince didn’t give me any details other than I’d like it,” she added, “he then said that any of my friends are invited to visit after we get settled.”
  “You are so lucky!” Kat exclaimed, “you get to live in a real house when some of us will be living in tents a year or so from now.”
  “According to Vince, the area he picked was likely where there were farms and ranches,” Dimitra informed her, “I’ll ask him to look for something you’d like.”
  “Would you? That’s so nice!” she gave her friend a hug.

  “So, all of this is powered by hydroelectric generators in underground rivers?”
  “Yes,” replies Charles Dumare, “a fusion plant would have been easy to detect with the proper sensors,” he continued, “we had considered geothermal but that was rejected due to its unstable nature.” He and his son walked along a wide concrete corridor and reached an intersection, “that way leads to the hydroponic gardens, and that way to power monitoring station.” The corridor measure about four meters across, with a ceiling three meters high, and though lit, the corridor seemed to stretch for over a hundred meters ahead.
  “So, who did all this, was it the Star League?” asked Vincent Dumare.
  The older man chuckled, “Oh, no,” he replied, “the Terran Hegemony bypassed this planet as unusable, or at least, that’s what our people reported before settling here.”
   “Wait, so how did ComStar find this place?”
  “Not long before Amaris toppled the Hegemony,” Charles answered, “a jumpship fleeing pirates jumped into the system and sent dropships to top off their water,” he continued, “Al-Tinin IV was listed as a borderline, subsistence world and claimed by Terra, but the government declined to invest in development, but sold the resource rights to a collection of corporations, who showed up and shoved their Terran Hegemony contracts in the faces of the settlers. Fortunately, the locations of most of the resources were a distance from the town of Innsmouth, so there was little interaction, save for occasional visits by the workers.”
  “If this place was so borderline, why would ComStar bother with it?” asked the younger man.
  “Let me tell you,” said his father, “The Terran Hegemony, the Star League, and ComStar are like many organizations throughout human history,” he said, “they are made up of smaller factions, each with their own agendas.”
  “Okay, I can agree with you, for the most part,” Vince admitted, “but what does that have to do with Al-Tinin?”
  “I didn’t find this planet by accident, and unlike what information you might have dug up,” he added, “the people who sent me gave me a clear briefing of what I would find here,” he pointed at Vincent, “you were chosen to be sent here, as well.”
  “I don’t fully understand,” Vince replied, “why wasn’t given a full briefing as you were?”
  “Your mother.”
  “What?” he exploded, “what has my mother have to do with anything?”
  “How did you find this mansion?” asked Charles.
  It dawned upon the younger man, “The data was stored in the Black Knight’s navigation system.”
  “Your mother was unaware of it,” answered Charles, “and couldn’t access the data even if she desired so.”
   The younger mercenary stopped walking, “Why?” he asked, “What could have driven her to take me from this place, the world I was born, and steal your battlemech in order to escape?”
  Charles Dumare sighed and shook his head, “She could not accept our relatives and legacy,” his voice reflected a tinge of sadness, “my dear Lucienne refused to believe that you were destined for greater things, and could not believe what I told her, until she finally met my mother.”
  “My grandmother was here, too?” he asked in surprise, “I was told she died on Terra, in a retirement home in Boston.”
  “That was your mother’s story,” the old man responded, “she likely wanted you to believe that all ties with my side of your family were neatly severed,” he placed a long-fingered hand on his son’s shoulder, “you shall meet her and many others of our family, soon.”
  “Grandmother, alive?” the younger Dumare felt as if he was in a strange dream, his knees suddenly weak, “and other relatives?” he shook his head as if to clear it, “Grandmother would be in her nineties by now.”
  “Oh, she is far older than that,” said his father, “over twice as old, actually.”
  “That isn’t possible,” Vincent told him, “while recent technology has extended human life considerably, with people normally living to be a hundred years or more, it is rare for anybody to live beyond one hundred and thirty, without significant, expensive machinery.”
  “Your mother thought the same,” Charles replied calmly, “but her perspective was the same as yours, based upon limited knowledge and experience.”
  Vincent frowned in thought, “So what am I missing here?” he inquired, “Does this planet have some sort of property that extends life? Did the settlers discover some miraculous drug?”
  “My son,” the older Dumare told him, “it makes me proud that you have such a nimble, inquisitive mind,” he looked his son in the eye, “everybody brought here shall be exposed to the truth, and some may not like it,” he warned, “your mother rejected what she learned and tried to protect you from it, but you deserve the truth.”
  “Yes, I want the truth!”
  The older man smiled, “And you shall have the truth, my son,” he motioned Vince to follow, as he turned on his way down the dimly lit corridor, “if you received the standard, Inner Sphere education, you were probably taught that the universe as we know it began with a huge explosion of energy and materials that hurled all known matter into the surrounding, empty void, and some of that matter collected to form what we know as our galaxies, stars, and planets.”
  “Yes, that is the commonly accepted theory of the creation of all things,” responded Vincent, “you’re not going to tell me that some omniscient, divine being conjured the universe out of nothing, are you?”
  “Goodness, no,” the older Dumare halted for a moment to face Vincent, “truth is a reflection of empirical reality, not the use of mythology to explain mysteries.”
  “Okay,” replied Vincent, “if you have an alternate hypothesis, I certainly want to hear it, especially if you have empirical evidence.”
  “Very well,” said Charles, “let’s head to the auxiliary battlemech hangar.”
  Vincent walk beside the older man, and tried to estimate the size of the facility under the property he claimed, he knew that he was at least thirty meters below the surface, and from the lift to his current position, he had walked at least a hundred meters, which means that the hangar would be another hundred meters away, likely under the barn, he spotted when he first approached the mansion. He noted the number of doors that lined the main hall, and wondered what existed behind them, because the doors lacked marking.
  At the end of the hall, a large set of doors barred their way. Charles opened a metal panel on the wall next to the doors, reached into pocket and drew out a small data crystal and pressed it against a sensor pad. There was a metallic click and whine of servos as the doors slid into the walls, revealing the darkness beyond.
  “I have to activate the lights,” said Charles, as he depressed a switch.
  Vincent walked into the darkened area and squinted as the lights flickered to full illumination to reveal a vast chamber, possibly measuring a hundred meters by a hundred and fifty meters, with four battlemech bays, complete with lifts. hoists and catwalks, capable of factory-level operations. At the far end of the cavernous facility, a massive lift stood, surrounded by a girder-framed cage.
  “I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

 
(End of Part Seven)
« Last Edit: 17 March 2020, 04:16:26 by Mohammed As`Zaman Bey »