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Author Topic: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)  (Read 4149 times)

robbybarbera

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #30 on: 20 September 2019, 10:01:57 »
I am one of those lurkers on your many stories Dubble_g. I must say everyone I have read has been outstanding and I look forward to more. I think you bring a real feel to how the average person or people would react and act in the Battle Tech universe. Which in my opinion is not really much different how we are in reality. Humans will be Humans. Keep up the wonderful work. Thank you. Back to lurking.

David CGB

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #31 on: 20 September 2019, 17:25:46 »
great story
Federated Suns fan forever, Ghost Bear Fan since 1992, and as a Ghost Bear David Bekker star captain (in an Alt TL Loremaster)

ThePW

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #32 on: 20 September 2019, 23:38:14 »
My only question? Did the nuke go off in the Long Tom or upon impact? Are these clips supposed to be chapter headers, if this was an actually book?

Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #33 on: 21 September 2019, 02:21:14 »
I was going to keep the Kickstarter joke going for a few more posts, but it just seems ungrateful now you took the time to post. Thanks, really appreciate it guys!

My only question? Did the nuke go off in the Long Tom or upon impact? Are these clips supposed to be chapter headers, if this was an actually book?

Yeah, that's supposed to be an airburst from a roughly 5 kiloton or so nuclear artillery shell, which my research (ha ha, ok, the two Wikipedia articles I read) suggests would be survivable in a Mech at a range of 2km. 5kt appears to be well within the capability for nuke artillery (the US had shells up to around 100kt I think).

The first line in bold is the title of each post, yes. I usually put up a book-style pdf after the whole thing is done and those become the chapter titles.
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

ThePW

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #34 on: 21 September 2019, 22:17:36 »
Very well, Please: Continue! *whips!*  >:D

DOC_Agren

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #35 on: 21 September 2019, 23:53:58 »
So now how will he get off Elbar....
"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!"

mikecj

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #36 on: 22 September 2019, 00:46:01 »
And without a Toothpick! (See BlackTigerActual & Cannonshop's When the Man Comes Around fic)
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
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Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

Dave Talley

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #37 on: 22 September 2019, 03:52:15 »
elbar toothpicks are unpleasant
Resident Smartass since 1998
“Toe jam in training”

Because while the other Great Houses of the Star League thought they were playing chess, House Cameron was playing Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker the entire time.
JA Baker

DOC_Agren

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #38 on: 22 September 2019, 21:53:00 »
And without a Toothpick! (See BlackTigerActual & Cannonshop's When the Man Comes Around fic)
elbar toothpicks are unpleasant
lets hope he avoids them
"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!"

Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #39 on: 23 September 2019, 02:00:18 »
I don't get the meme, but frankly anything to do with dentists or teeth scares the beejesus out of me so we'll skip right on past and hope that nobody asks me whether or not I've been flossing.

So now how will he get off Elbar....
Five kilotons isn't that big--certainly not enough to wipe out the entire regiment. Key takeaways are (A) the growing brutality of the war and (B) the impact that has on the mental and emotional state of the soldiers fighting in it.

***

Heaven’s Chapel

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
December 2796


The hills were ominously silent. Amano and Kirkan moved on, as fast as they dared, tried to put as much distanced between themselves and the downed drone as possible. It wasn’t very far. Kirkan didn’t dare use the jump jets with two passengers wedged in the back, and the hilly terrain was slow going.

His sensors picked up their pursuers easily enough. The Sword of Light wasn’t trying to hide. They wanted the fugitives to know they were coming. They came in lazy, bounding jumps. Four BattleMechs—two Assassins, two Jenners—though this would be only the spearhead, the lightest and fastest ‘Mechs, sent to pin them down and give the heavier units time to arrive.

“Four contacts,” Amano signaled.

“I see them.” Kirkan swore gently to himself. The Assassins had the range and speed to wear the Panthers down to their skeletons, while the Jenners had both the speed and the close-in punch to finish them off. “We need a pass or bridge, something to limit their maneuverability.” He pulled up the map data, hoping, praying. And came up empty. Hills, hills and more hills. Excellent for getting surrounded on, excellent for gallant but doomed last stands, and not much else. “Ah, hell.”

“There’s a cave,” the woman said suddenly.

“A what?”

“A cave. A system of caves, I guess. Big enough for this machine to fit inside.” She reached over his shoulder, pointing slightly off to the right. “Big crystal cave, over that direction. Tourist spot. We call it Heaven’s Chapel.”

Kirkan hesitated. He didn’t think for a microsecond he’d won the woman’s trust, and she might easily be petty enough to lead them both to their deaths. But she had to have a pretty strong survival instinct to stay alive this long. “A cave?”

“Or you can stay out here, and get us all killed.”

“Good point.” It might well be a trick, but it wasn’t like he had any other options. He radioed Amano, then led the way.

The cave, at least, was right where the woman had said. The entrance was tall, a great slash in the hillside, but narrow, forcing them to twist and squeeze their way in, scraping their shoulder and arm armor on karst rocks before they could stumble into the dark cavern beyond.

Kirkan punched the external running lights. And gasped.

It was, as the woman had said, like a chapel, vast enough and beautiful enough for a god, or no, that was thinking too small, it had been built to house a whole pantheon of gods. Massive gypsum crystals jutted everywhere from the cavern floor in a dense tangle of crazy angles. Some were as tall as the Panther and nearly as wide. The Panthers’ external lights glittered and refracted from their faceted surfaces in shimmering rainbows.

Small pools of impossibly turquoise waters rippled as drops of moisture splashed from overhanging crystals. The harpsichord plink of each drop filled the chamber, like an orchestra tuning up, notes that hung in the air for an instant before disappearing into the smothering darkness.

“This place have a back exit?” he asked the woman.

“A couple, but small ones. You’ll have to abandon your machines.”

Kirkan grunted, nodded. That might work in their favor. He signaled Amano. “We’ll take out these first four pursuers, ditch the ‘Mechs and then blow the roof of the cavern, make it look like we were caught in the collapse.” He kept his voice level and measured. Take on and defeat four BattleMechs. As though it were no great challenge, the outcome inevitable, a foregone conclusion. “It’ll take them forever to dig through the rubble and figure out we weren’t killed in the collapse, and it’ll give us time to get to Amishton.”

“Sound like a plan,” agreed Amano. “Now all we need to do is figure out where to make a stand.”

As they moved deeper into the cavern, they had to smash aside or bulldoze through some of the crystal columns, sending brilliant, glittering showers of fragments spiraling down, fading into darkness as they left the cones of illumination from the ‘Mechs’ lights. Each footstep crunched and crackled, echoing and re-echoing like gunfire.

They came to an opening in the cavern, broad enough that the two Panthers could stand side by side, with enough room to maneuver. The cavern walls were dense with crystals, and great columns of gypsum marched down the center like Roman pillars.

“Probably as good a place as any,” said Kirkan.

“It’s going to be knife-work down here,” said Amano. “Nose to nose, up close and personal.”

“Agreed. Disengage the field inhibitor on your PPC. It’s worth the risk of feedback—it’s the only way we can hope to match their firepower.”

PPCs were designed to dampen their ion streams within a hundred meters of the weapon, to prevent themselves being caught in the backblast. The downside was this also meant any opponent within a hundred meters was similarly shielded. You could disengage that field, and possibly wreck your weapon each time you fired.

It was a risk, a gamble, but then this whole adventure was a long shot, and what was one more throw of the dice? Kirkan reached over to the weapons panel, found the toggle for the inhibitor and shut it off, ignoring the string of bleating warnings from the system.

Then all they had to do was wait.

“It’s like a story, isn’t it Tai-i?” Amano said. “Tajima arrow-cutter at the Battle of the Uji Bridge, the lone Viking holding off the Saxons at Stamford, Horatius against the Etruscans, Bayard at Garigliano.”

Thing was, the kid meant it. Kirkan could hear it in his voice. “I wouldn’t count on anybody singing any songs about us.”

“Doesn’t matter if anyone else knows. I’ll know.”

That made Kirkan more sad than anything. Surely the adjunct of any uncaring, callous evil was a legion of young men and women who followed that evil out of some abstract attachment to honor, duty or loyalty. You didn’t get monsters like Jinjiro Kurita without a million more people with dreams of becoming heroes.

And a million more who followed just to save their own skins, Kirkan reminded himself. He wasn’t sure if that made himself better than Amano, or worse.

A sensor pinged for his attention. The time for talk was over.

Two blood-red BattleMechs stalked into the far end of the chamber. Vaguely ostrich silhouettes, with forward-thrust cockpits and stubby arms housing laser weapons pods. Missile launchers sat in humps between their shoulders.

Jenners, Kirkan thought, with some relief. It meant they weren’t from his company, and he wouldn’t be fighting his own men. Not yet, at any rate. The two Assassins would not be far behind.

In close terrain though, the Jenner had a number of advantages over the Panther. Its armament was entirely geared to short-range combat, with a pair of lasers in either arm and a quad missile launcher, it packed nearly double the punch of the Panther. While the Panther’s firepower was all concentrated in its Lord Light cannon, the Jenner’s was more spread out, making it much harder to disarm with a single lucky hit.

A channel beeped. One of the Jenners hailing him. Kirkan clicked it open. “Veil?” the voice asked.

Kirkan’s shoulders slumped slightly. “Viktor. Thought I’d put your Panther out of commission, but I see they’ve given you a loaner.”

“You don’t sound happy to see me, old friend.”

“Thought you’d have the sense to stay away.”

“Not like I had much choice,” Viktor sighed. “It’s just like Omar all over again. Your little escapade has attracted the attention of the Coordinator himself—he remembers you, and he’s quite upset his little Star League orphan has turned against him. Tracking you down is the only way I can quote regain my honor unquote. Which is code for either I kill you or they kill me.”

Kirkan nodded to himself. He should have expected no less, really. “There a point to this conversation?”

“Wanted to give you one last chance to make this right,” Viktor replied. “Do right by everybody—Amano, the civilians, me, even yourself. Nobody else has to die. They don’t care about the woman or the kid, or even Amano. Only you. You’re the one the Coordinator pinned the medal on, you’re the one who has insulted his honor, you’re the one whose head he wants. If you come quietly, we’ll let the others go.”

Kirkan muted the channel, signaled Amano. “Well, you heard him,” Kirkan said. “Won’t get a better offer. What do you say?”

“I say no,” the woman said from behind him. “He’s lying.”

“I agree with the lady. I say we target the one on the right,” said Amano.

“Your funeral. On three. One, two—”

The Jenners fired first. Eight pulses of green fire, blazing in the darkness. They cut through the air. Slammed into crystals. And. Refracted.

An ordinary mirror would have melted in a microsecond. Even a large crystal would simply have disintegrated under the intense assault of a BattleMech laser beam. But these were 50-ton behemoths, ancient and massive things that had slowly grown over a patient millennium, and they withstood the blasts, for a split second, long enough to refract the beams, bounce them off their internal facets and throw back a wild scattering of a dozen beams for every one that hit.

They turned the inside of the cavern into hell’s own light show, the eight beams split and subdivided and split again into half a hundred laser beams ricocheting off crystal columns in every direction, washing out the sensors, blinding the MechWarriors, striking the Panthers, the Jenners, anything and everything in the cavern.

The woman screamed, curled into a ball, shielding the child in her arms.

One Jenner panicked, twisted right and left, not realizing what had happened, suspecting ambush, and began to fire its lasers at the cavern walls, the ceiling, the floor. Where the crystals grew densest. If the laser light had been dazzling before, it quickly became a blinding maelstrom, like standing in the middle of a lightning storm while Raijin and Thor and Zeus competed to throw the biggest thunder bolts.

The other Jenner—Viktor’s machine—staggered forward, tried to lock onto Kirkan’s Panther and fired again.

His eyes squeezed to slits, Kirkan brought up the PPC, fired. Lightning leaped and crackled, adding to the blistering light show. Arcs of electricity sparkled around the barrel. The Jenner rocked back, then again as Amano’s blast hit it from the side.

Viktor straightened his ‘Mech, took another step forward, closing the range, fired again, lasers starting to do real damage now, burning into the Panther’s left arm and leg, another hit high up on the shoulder.

Kirkan fired again. Lightning spat, not only into the Jenner, but into the Panther’s own right arm, making the myomer muscles twitch and spasm, jerking the arm up and to the right.

The blast hit the Jenner just behind the cockpit, then Amano’s savaged left arm, slagging the weapons pod into a melted, twisted ruin. It must have shaken Viktor. He took a shuffling step back.

Kirkan’s lips peeled back, a feral grin.

The smile died as his sensors announced two new contacts. The Assassins had arrived.

They didn’t bother with laser fire, but loosed a salvo of missiles, flaking more armor away from the left side. One Assassin brutally plowed its shoulder into the side of the panicking Jenner, knocking it down, bringing a startled end to the mad criss-crossing laser light show. The startled pilot fired one last salvo, directly up into the cavern roof, and then his guns went silent.

The cavern rumbled and groaned.

The second Assassin charged directly towards Kirkan.

There was no time for anything but instinct. Get the PPC back down. Fire, directly into the Assassin’s faceplate.

Lightning pulsed, the air quivered, a sphere of light expanded—then contracted, around the barrel of the Panther’s cannon. The PPC exploded. Caught in the backwash of its own killing energy, the weapon blew apart, taking with it the Panther’s right arm below the elbow.

Leaving Kirkan staring open mouthed into the onrushing BattleMech in front of him.

He backpedaled, but rammed the Panther’s back against the cavern wall. He could hear the child screaming in his ear. So near, but so far away. The woman begging him to do something. He wanted to, he wanted to tell her, but. No time, no time.

A blur of movement, and the Assassin was thrown sideways as Amano’s Panther crashed into its side. The Assassin went down in a tangle of broken crystal. The impact shook the cavern again. The groaning grew louder. Chunks of crystal fell from the ceiling, a few whole columns fell, godlike javelins tossed carelessly aside.

Viktor’s Jenner fired, tearing into the side of Amano’s Panther, all four beams converging where the right leg met the body.

The second Assassin twisted towards Amano.

The other Jenner pilot heaved his machine back to its feet.

Amano smashed his Panther’s good foot down on the cockpit of the downed Assassin, raised his PPC for a shot, but another fusillade of laser fire from the two Jenners and the Assassin tore into the Panther, riddling it, punching through its armor, and his PPC blast went wide, high, detonating against the cavern roof, before the ‘Mech sagged and sank to its knees, then fell face-first against the cavern floor.

So close, Kirkan swore. They’d been so close.

The three surviving Sword of Light BattleMechs turned towards him.

Something snapped in the cavern roof. A skyscraper-sized block of stone plummeted down, directly into the second Jenner, smashing it to the ground. More and more and more stone followed, an accelerating avalanche, collapsing the cavern, bringing down the whole side of the hill on top of them. Crashing, roaring, a howl of rage thrown up by the planet itself.

Kirkan was shaken, deafened. Blinded.

And then. Silence.

He faced a wall of loose and crumbled stone, only a few meters away. Only by backing up against the far cavern wall had he been saved. The others. Viktor, Amano, the two Assassins, the luckless Jenner. All gone, buried, hopelessly buried under thousands of tons of rock and crystal and dirt.

The Jenner pilot was almost certainly dead. Amano too. This is what that kid had been hoping for, all along, more than an escape, more than redemption—a chance to go out in a blaze of glory, like some gallant but doomed samurai out of legend. Trying to live up to fiction, trying to embody ideals that never existed.

Kirkan didn’t know if that was good or evil, or something in between.

As for Viktor and the other two MechWarriors, he didn’t know. Dead or alive, he didn’t know. Probably alive. But trapped. To slowly suffocate or starve, depending.

Or maybe not. The DCMS might yet rescue them. Miracles happened. Like the cave-in itself.

“Almost,” he whispered, knowing the woman could hear, “almost, I begin to believe in this God of yours.”
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

DOC_Agren

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #40 on: 23 September 2019, 18:38:04 »
I don't get the meme, but frankly anything to do with dentists or teeth scares the beejesus out of me so we'll skip right on past and hope that nobody asks me whether or not I've been flossing.
well The Elbar Toothpick
Was left over from a Cannonshop well done, Ngo Universe stuff.  It was when we had a fan council game here and it was a inunverse atrocity where there Kowloonese troop commited it.  In the service of Kerensky.  If you have not read his stuff I would say you might want too
Quote
Five kilotons isn't that big--certainly not enough to wipe out the entire regiment. Key takeaways are (A) the growing brutality of the war and (B) the impact that has on the mental and emotional state of the soldiers fighting in it.
Understood but was interested if they still had "droppers left" and plus well I expected the locals to be unhappy
Quote
“Almost,” he whispered, knowing the woman could hear, “almost, I begin to believe in this God of yours.”
So what it going to take for him to believe?  He was saved by an Act of God, or at least that what the insurance company will call it :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!"

Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #41 on: 24 September 2019, 20:32:23 »
... and then the Smoke Jaguars came along and killed everyone and, no, wait, hang on, getting my handbook threads mixed up.

Right. House Kurita. Gotcha. On with the show.

***

Cold Comfort

Imbrial III
Occupied Federated Suns
May 2789 (T-7 years)


The shell on Elbar hadn’t been the first use of nuclear weapons, nor was it the last. Soldiers adjusted to the new reality. Positions were spread out more, air defense were strengthened and anti-missile batteries were introduced, and the war went on. The 42nd Hussars withdrew off-world, as the Federated Suns fell back all across the front, leaving pockets of resistance on abandoned worlds like New Rhodes and Kentares. The war went on.

The names of systems and planets began to run together. Elbar was followed by Johnsondale, then Layover, then DeWitt and one had been hot and wet and on another Kirkan had had to wear a mask outdoors all the time and he wasn’t sure which was which. The war went on.

Two years. Kirkan Veil and the rest of humanity had been at war for two years. Long enough to have earned a week on leave. The Dragon was as generous as it was kind.

‘Leave’ meant something different out here, hundreds of lightyears from the closest Combine world. Kirkan could change into civilian clothes—denim jeans, a plain black T-Shirt, the only civilian clothes he had—he could navigate the maze of roadblocks and check points and guard posts and steel spikes and concrete trapezoids that guarded the camp’s entrance, pick his way around the splayed feet of the hulking BattleMechs on guard outside, and step out onto the road, but he was still stuck here. He couldn’t ‘leave’, really. There was nowhere else to go.

Kirkan made it as far as the first street corner before his legs just seized up, slowed down and stopped, as though of their own accord. It was just all so, so, so very, so alien.

The people, they were just so, so, so very free. He’d been told they were selfish, vain, petty, untrustworthy, lying, scheming, but the Combine tutors never mentioned how free they seemed. Even occupied and guarded and beaten down as they were, they were free.

No two were dressed alike, blouses and skirts and slacks and jackets and scarves in every color imaginable. Some laden with shopping bags, others with pets on a leash, a family with a three-wheeled pram, cooing at the infant inside, a young couple lost in one another’s features, hands entwined tentatively together, deliriously happy in this eternal, stretching moment of buzzing, hormonal attraction.

It was all so bizarre. They didn’t bow to one another. Some openly wore tattoos. Men and women held hands or even kissed in public. Their sing-song Standard was infected with the sound of the Mediterranean, with olive oil and ouzo and grappa, rather than the flat iron of Japanese.

It wasn’t all to the good, of course. You could see their freedom came at the cost of caring for the community, for one another. In the stores, they did not line up in orderly queues, but jostled one another for the best position. They talked too loudly, blared music from their open windows, without the briefest thought for their fellow citizens. The roadside was lined with litter carelessly tossed from the windows of moving vehicles.

It was all so free. It was all so strange.

The most normal things about the scene were the armored cars that seemed to make up about one in every four vehicles that drove along the road, and the clusters of brown, almost termite-hill-shaped lumps of heavily-armed soldiers encamped at every intersection.

Not that the people here were entirely free, Kirkan reminded himself. There were work gangs, scruffy, untidy teams of locals yanked at random off the street and put to work clearing the debris and rubble. Old, young, men, women, bankers, businessmen, janitors, bus drivers, it made no difference—the security forces loaded them onto trucks without explanation, carted them halfway across the city and thrust a shovel or pickaxe into their hands and told them to get to work.

There was a lesson there. Today you might be free, tomorrow a slave. Now you might be alive, then Bam!, in a flash someone fires a nuclear shell at you, and all that’s left of you is cinders and ashes.

Kirkan needed a drink. He needed several drinks. Life was short, brutally short. Drink, fight, indulge in all of life’s pleasures, because there probably wasn’t much of life left.

There were two Comfort Houses in the town, one for officers, one for enlisted soldiers. They’d been set up by the Procurement Department, who presumably had ‘procured’ the employees as well. The two buildings sat on opposite sides of the street. There were two for the men, and none for the women soldiers, of course, who were supposed to remain above such base desires.

Kirkan showed his pass to the two Military Police at the door and was waved inside. There was a machine in the vestibule, with a small flat-display screen and a slot for putting your money in. The display showed photos of the women who were available. You pressed the photo to select, inserted the required amount of money and the inner door would unlock to admit you.

The first floor was the bar, where you could buy yourself and your chosen companion massively overpriced, massively watered-down drinks in order to make what you were about to do seem more palatable, or you could simply proceed upstairs and skip the preliminaries. The bar was hot, smoky, and filled with coarse laughter and jokes and off-key singing and Kirkan ducked his head to avoid eye contact, and went upstairs.

The woman inside the room was stringy and thin, her large brown eyes smeared with too much black eyeshadow and liner, the sharp shadow of her collar bone stark above the line of her very low-cut camisole. She followed his gaze, and pulled a fake-silk dressing gown a little tighter around her body.

He smiled apologetically, gave an embarrassed shrug, and held some extra money out. She made no move to take it, and left him standing awkwardly there, wad of K-bills flapping uselessly in the dank and musty air. He shuffled over to the bed, and placed the money on the small table there, trapping the bills beneath a bottle of disinfectant.

“My name’s Kirkan,” he said, then suddenly felt stupid. Why would she care? “What’s yours?” She made no answer, only continued to look at him with a bottomless, endless lack of curiosity. “Sorry, I ah, I’ve never ... you know ... never, ah ....”

“You’re different from the others,” she said without emotion, neither happy nor unhappy, like a sailor remarking on the pitch of the deck or a slight lessening in the wind. “The ones that make a point of not speaking Standard, and hit you when you move too slow or too fast or just because they enjoy it. They don’t think of us as people. You do. But you’re here anyway. I’m not sure if that makes you better, or worse.”

Kirkan sat on the bed beside her, careful to leave a gap between them. The sheets felt like the sheets on a hospital bed, with more plastic in the weave than cotton.

“It doesn’t have to be unpleasant,” he said lamely.

“For you or for me?”

“It’s better this way, isn’t it? Don’t you prefer it if we treat you kindly?”

“You will take what you paid for, either way, so your kindness is just a veil,” she replied. “It’s about trying to ease the guilt you feel by coming here. It’s about making yourself feel better, not me.” She flopped back onto the bed, starting up at the ceiling. “So do what you came to do and be damned. Your kindness wins you no forgiveness. No absolution.”

He stood up. “I’ll go.”

“Well, don’t leave on my account, Mister Gallant Gentleman. They’ll just send in another that much sooner.”

“I’ll stay then.”

“Oh bless my lucky stars.”

“Why are you being this way?”

“Take a fracking look around you, Lieutenant Moral Principles. Breathe deep, inhale that cheap perfume, stale sex and lubricant smell. Do you realize you’re in an official brothel, don’t you? Why am I being this way? Why do you think? Or do you mean, why am I being this way to you in particular? Because I can. Because I know you won’t kill me for it.”

“And that’s what I get for trying to be nice to you? That’s what my kindness gets me?”

“And this is what your kindness gets you,” she agreed. Still prone on the bed, she waved one hand lazily around, encompassing the room, the whole building, the city, the planet, the galaxy beyond it. “This is what good manners and playing by the rules and trying to do what’s right and not making a fuss and doing what you’re told gets all of us.”

Kirkan ended up sitting on a chair, and the woman lay staring up at the ceiling, neither one of them talking, and after a while the woman began to snore.

He remembered what she’d said about having to service the next client that much sooner, so he waited out the hour he’d paid for, before standing up, shaking the woman awake and walking out the door. He left the extra money on the table.

Kirkan was going to have a drink at least on the first floor, but then he overheard the soldier next to him at the bar say he’d originally been in the Amaris Empire’s Republican Lancers and before Kirkan knew it he was throwing a punch, then several more, then being carted out horizontally by two sympathetic-looking MPs.

“Sorry, Chu-i,” one MP said quietly, almost apologetic, as they dragged him from the room. “Would like to do the same myself, but rules is rules. Ordinarily, you’d be in lockup, but in this case I think we can make an exception.”

The dregs of the Empire's army had turned mercenary, and found employment, but not every realm had forgotten. The soldiers of the Usurper had executed Drago Kurita, cousin to the Coordinator. Collective responsibility—someone in Amaris’ army had done it, so they were all guilty. Expediency might dictate that the survivors be allowed to serve as mercenaries, but expediency didn’t stop the Combine despising them.

The MPs lofted Kirkan almost gently into the road outside, and angled it so he landed on the relative softness of a pile of garbage bags rather than the asphalt. They kick the mercenary ex-Lancer out, too, considerably less gently.

It was dark in the road outside. The temperature had dropped, and Kirkan was suddenly cold in his T-Shirt. He shivered, stuck his hands deep into his pockets and hunched his shoulders, wishing he’d brought a jacket. Wishing he had a jacket to bring, other than his uniform. He began to walk back towards the base, head bowed. Against the cold, against the frustration, against the anger.

He nearly collided with someone, catching sight of the oncoming feet at the last minute, trying to twist aside but staggering instead, nearly out into the road, until a hand reached out and took his elbow.

“Veil?” A familiar voice asked, and the shadow moved and resolved itself into the silhouette of his old BattleMech trainer, Brenna Amador.
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mikecj

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #42 on: 25 September 2019, 21:26:01 »
Nicely written.
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
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Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #43 on: 25 September 2019, 21:56:52 »
Thanks mikecj!

***

That Was It

Imbrial III
Occupied Federated Suns
May 2789 (T-7 years)


“I heard you were somewhere on-planet,” Brenna said.

“Amador-tono!” Kirkan hastily saluted.

“Easy there,” she replied, returning the salute. “They said you made Chu-i now, too. We’re equals.”

“We are? But you made Chu-i before I even graduated. How ...”

Brenna gave him a pitying look. “A woman, in the DCMS? Come on Kir-kun, we both know I’m never rising any higher.” She noticed his bruised face, split lip and a scrape on his elbow from when he’d been thrown into the street. “Having a good night, I see?”

“I’ve had better,” he admitted, glancing back up the road.

Brenna followed his look, at the building that stood there, and then nodded her head in dawning comprehension. “Been at the officer’s club, have you?” she asked wryly.

“I ... no, well actually yes, but really no.”

“Uh-huh.” A single raised eyebrow heralded her skepticism.

“I couldn’t ...” he shrugged. “So I left.”

She narrowed her eyes for a moment, about to say one thing, changed her mind. Instead, she said: “Come on, the night is still salvageable. I’ll buy you a drink, to celebrate your promotion.”

The place they found was filled with off-duty DCMS personnel, which was probably safer. The walls were plastered with a zoo of taxidermied cartoon characters from Japan’s ancient history, mouthless cats and madly grinning pirates, anthropomorphic technicolor animals and food-shaped superheroes. A staggering group of four infantrymen, their arms interlinked, were singing some poppy, cutesy falsetto song together in swaying rhythm.

They leaned against the far corner and Brenna bought him a drink, as promised, and then another.

“So why did you leave the Department of Indoctrination?” Kirkan asked over the rim of the second drink. Leave it to the DCMS to put training under the control of their propaganda people.

“Too many complaints about me being a woman, to the point that I got to be a liability for the DDG,” she said, shrugging with feigned indifference, but Kirkan caught something deeper in her tone. “So they transferred me.”

“Where to?”

“The Professional Soldiery Liaison,” she said.

“Mercenaries?”

“Yup. The only people a female officer is allowed to be in charge of are cadets—part of the motherhood image, right—or gaijin.” Her lip curled in distaste. “The Longhorns. Used to be the 201st Republican Lancers. Honorless pigs.”

“Ah,” nodded Kirkan, absently feeling his split lower lip. “Yeah, think I might’ve met one of them.”

“Good lad,” she said, approvingly. “Strictly between you and me.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t.”

“Atta boy.” She sighed. “I think one of our problems is that we don’t have enough veterans left, or rather, too many veterans from the wrong side. I think having people around who survived the last war tends to put a damper on the eagerness for another. Honor their sacrifice, and all that. Only, the ones we might actually have wanted to honor all disappeared up their own aspirations, and what’s left are the ones we wished had sacrificed just a little bit more.”

“Might be different if they’d stayed,” Kirkan agreed. “But then again, maybe not. Even in the SLDF, if you killed enough people they pinned a medal on your chest and gave you a promotion. And there are plenty of folks who still remember the ‘Liberation’. Doesn’t seem to have slowed anybody down.”

“No, guess not,” Brenna nodded. “I was forgetting you were from Dieron. A veteran in your own way, huh? Another drink?”

“Why stop now?” Kirkan agreed, mentally ignoring half a dozen perfectly good reasons for stopping.

“Heard you got nuked.”

“Just a little one,” he nodded, patted his own cheek. “This isn’t just a healthy glow.”

“There go any hopes of having kids, then.” Brenna eyed him speculatively. “Married?”

Kikran barked a short, involuntary laugh. “In the middle of all this? Are you joking?”

Brenna merely smiled and waved to the bartender for another round. Something tall, brown, fizzy and probably moderately deadly to his cranium was duly pushed in Kirkan’s direction.

Kirkan eyed it suspiciously.

“Come on Kirk, drink up,” she urged. “It’ll speed this up.”

“Speed what up?”

“I’m getting you drunk.”

“I noticed,” he nodded, looking at the unsteady surface of the drink in his hand, and the way the ripples in the liquid’s surface seemed mirrored by ripples in the floor, in the surface of the tables, in the gentle revolving rotation of the walls. “Why?”

“So that you’ll say ‘Yes’. I’ve got a proposal for you.”

“What kind of proposal?”

“A proposal proposal.”

“Come again?” One of them was not making much sense, and he suspected it might be her.

“Marriage, Veil. I’m asking you to marry me.”

Yes, it was definitely her. “What? I mean, ah, very flattering, and all that. Little bit sudden, don’t you think? I hardly know you.”

“Nonsense. You’ve known me for, what, two, three years?”

“That’s accurate without being especially true, Brenna. Why me? Why now?”

“The only way out of this is if I get married,” she said. “It’s the only way a front-line soldier gets sent home. The DCMS will string you up by your guts if you even hint you’re less than desperately eager to throw your life away for his blessed gloriousness, the old geezer of Luthien. But tell them you want to make babies and they’ll ship you home faster than you can say ‘outdated gender roles.’”

“That’s cold.”

“Is it? Is dying out here that much warmer? Come on, forget the silly romance BS the Federated Suns has been feeding you. Marriage is a practical matter, a contract, always has been. It’s an economic unit to ensure the rearing of the next generation and the survival of the species. You get something, I get something. What’s cold about that?”

“I’m only 22.”

“I’m 30, so what? What are you saving yourself for?”

“So what do I get out of it?”

“I’ll show you later.” She gave him a wink. “What do you say?”

Hell. The normal rules of behavior were out the window. They all might die tomorrow. He’d seen that, first-hand. Chu-i Seacrest dead without ever knowing what had hit him. Tai-i Blessed and poor Mike Calico, vaporized in an eye-blink.
They all might die, so why not drink as much as you could, make love as much as you could, live life as much as you could. Because it all might be over before you knew it. So. Why not?

“Do you like my idea?”

“I do.”

Hand-in-hand, they left the bar. They never made it as far as the bed—they barely made it inside the doorway of Kirkan’s quarters.

You didn’t need a marriage license in the Combine. The Dragon didn’t care about your religion, only that you followed proper procedures. All it took was for the two of you to submit an official marriage application, get it stamped by the local administrator, and you were done.

So Kirkan found himself in front of the registrar the next morning, woefully hungover but still grinning like an idiot, as he and Brenna stamped their names on the form.

“Right, seems in order,” said the registrar, sticking the form on a pile of papers. He typed the details into the DCMS family registry, pecking at the keys with only his index fingers.

“That’s it?” Kirkan looked to Brenna.

“That’s it,” the man confirmed.

“That’s it,” whispered Brenna, into his ear.

Six months later, she received notification of her reassignment to the Bureau of Indoctrination, back on Dieron. They celebrated at the bar where they had gone, that first night.

Her transport DropShip lifted off just in time to be caught in a Davion attack.

The Longhorns had decided to switch sides and leaked details of the defenses to the Federated Suns. A number of warships and transports were destroyed, including Brenna Amador’s.

And that was it.

Her DropShip was hit as it neared the system’s zenith Jump Point, above the star’s north pole. Kirkan didn’t know if she’d died in an explosion, or lived long enough to be blown out into space.

Either way, her body would almost certainly drift towards the star, to be incinerated in its furnace. Reduced to carbon dust, that might be blown on the solar wind, back out into the system.

And so at times he stood out under the naked sky, face upturned, imagining that Brenna Amador, transformed into star dust, might be blown back to the surface of Imbrial III, back to the man who waited there, to pass through the clouds, to fall like invisible rain, and so come back to him.

Kirkan’s vicious, murderous and ruthless hunting down of every last one of the Longhorns earned him a medal and another promotion to Tai-i.
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ThePW

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #44 on: 25 September 2019, 22:54:26 »
If you could animate this story... it would be glorious.

Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #45 on: 26 September 2019, 20:29:43 »
If you could animate this story... it would be glorious.

Hands up all those old enough to remember the BattleTech cartoon ... Yeah, it would be great to see what the could do with modern CG and a decent budget, like a more military SF version of Pacific Rim. Wonder if the licensing/trademark issue might not get in the way though... A discussion for another thread.

***

Out of Sight

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
January 2796


They’d clambered free of the crippled BattleMech, left it down in the collapsed cavern, sudden tomb to five MechWarriors. Walked and crawled and wormed and wriggled their way through the caves, to an exit, to an escape.

They took shelter by day, moved by night. There were no satellites in orbit above Kentares, but there were aerial patrols, by aerospace fighters, conventional jets, VTOLs and unmanned drones, even by jump-pack infantry, so they slept in abandoned homes or stores—and there were many, so very many, in the endless ghost towns haunted by blackened, grey-white piles of ash at their outskirts—or else in deep woods, under overhanging ledges or in caves.

Food and water were not hard to come by. Houses stood as though expecting their owners home at any second. Tables were still laid, larders still stocked, vases of wilted and dead flowers stood on mantelpieces and bedside tables. Toys lay scattered in yards.

Kirkan had been worried the child might cry, give them away, but the boy was as silent as the numberless dead. The three of them lay still in a second-floor bedroom as a squad marched in the dusty street below, listening to the muffled crunch of their boots and bored, lazy voices, and the child did not move, or whimper, or show any fear. The eyes were blank, the mind behind them far, far away.

One time the regular beat of footsteps stopped outside their hiding place. They heard shouts from outside, some angry, some cheering. After minutes of agony in frozen stillness, Kirkan wormed over to the wall, and peered through a hole blown in the house’s stone wall.

Soccer.

A platoon of men were playing soccer in the town’s park. Rifles stuck bayonet-first into the ground marked the goal posts, the ball was a bunched-up wad of medicinal gauze held in place with puttee tape. Shirts and skins dashed back and forth, whooping like schoolchildren, until someone kicked the ball too hard, sent it sailing over a keeper’s head, and it rolled and bounced to the foot of one of the funeral pyres.

The laughter died. Smiles faded from their faces. The men put their shirts back on, yanked their rifles from the ground, and trailed out of the village. They left their ball behind.

Outside another a gibbet had been erected, and three limp bodies twisted in the breeze at the end of ropes about their necks. Each man wore the tan uniform of the Combine infantry. A roughly-hacked piece of wood was hung about each man’s neck, bearing inked characters: 略奪者, 脱走兵 and臆病者.

“What, you’ve run out of people to kill so now you’re butchering each other?” the woman asked.

Kirkan pointed at the signs. “Looting, desertion, cowardice,” he read.

“They hung a man for stealing?”

Kirkan nodded. “They’re allowed to execute citizens, not steal from them,” he said. “Bad for discipline.”

There was a sign outside the next village, WELCOME TO— but the name was obscured behind a layer of ash.

The woman reached up a hand to wipe it away, revealing the first word in the name. “New—” she whispered out loud.

“Snowfield,” Kirkan finished for her.

“You’ve been here before?” she asked.

He nodded, and walked past the sign. “Come on,” he said. “I know a place that should be safe.”

It had been a church. A place of prayer, of singing, but more than that, a place of meeting for the tiny, rural community. The headless hulk of a Firestarter BattleMech had planted itself in the field outside. The stone walls were mostly intact, but half the roof was missing now, the altar was stripped of decoration, and the furnishings were haphazardly piled in corners, pews lying face-down on the ground, chairs with their legs twisting mutely in the air. There was a spiral staircase up the bell tower, easy enough to climb, a platform at the top that gave a view of the countryside.

There were signs of a fire there, blackened ash on the floor. A couple of empty food cans. A pair of green, fuzzy blankets carelessly left in a heap. The boy fell asleep as soon as he lay down, and the woman gently placed a blanket over his shoulders, and wrapped herself in the other.

Kirkan turned and watched the night outside. Thinking about star dust, and the woman who would never come back to him. It was the wrong star, it was the wrong dust, and she was lost to him forever.

The night sky was overcast, hiding the stars. No rain fell. Sheet lightning illuminated the clouds from inside. The entire sky flickered with each static burst, white, black, white, black. Like the world was an ancient tri-D set. Like God was trying to change the channel.

Thunder rattled among the clouds, but it must have been high up, as it came to them as a distant, muted roar, like far-off waves.

Kirkan sat cross-legged, watching the light show, waiting for the rain to fall.

There was a noise behind him and he twisted around, to find the woman watching him. A dark and ghostly shadow in the night, visible only in the reflected light of the sky. She had the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The boy slept at her side, curled into a ball.

“Kirkan,” he said to her suddenly. “My name is Kirkan. Kirkan Veil. From Dieron.”

She looked at him steadily, but made no reaction, until her shoulders twitched a little, a microscopic shrug. “Okay?”

“Sounds like your God is angry,” Kirkan said, and looked back at the sky.

“Don’t you folks believe in God?” she asked. “No. No, I guess not. Don’t see how you could.”

“On the contrary—in Shinto, almost anything can be a kami, a god. A mountain, a tree, a fox. There’s kind of a folk superstition about the Dragon too, but that’s kind of like believing in astrology for them. For us. Most people in the Combine aren’t especially religious though, well, apart from the Azami.

“You see, I figure all religions basically have two parts: Mythology and morality. They explain the way the universe is, and tell you how to live in it. In the Combine, they’ve—we’ve—got the Dictum Honorium for the second part, so we only really need the first part, the fairy tales.

“Mind you, I suppose Buddhism can be trickier. People believing this world is an illusion and everything’s gonna be alright once we leave it can skew your priorities.”

“You don’t believe?”

“I’ve seen a lot.” Kirkan smiled at the irony—now he could barely see anything. Lightning, brief outlines of clouds, the grey-on-black shadows of trees and rippling grass, the highlights of the woman’s face. He waved at the lightning. “Like this. I’ve seen lights in the sky, lots of times. Like when the SLDF was bombing my home world. And when the Amaris Empire burned my home to the ground. I’ve seen lights in the sky, when the AFFS dropped an atomic bomb on my unit. I’ve never seen any heavenly lights, though.”

“I have,” she said, with quiet determination. “It’s everywhere, if you look.” She pushed a strand of hair from her face, tucked it behind her ear in a way that triggered a memory and made it hurt to watch. Kirkan went back to watching the sky instead, which hurt too, but not as sharply.

“But you, you don’t see that, do you?” the woman continued. “You don’t see what we had here, this little piece of paradise. The people of Kentares aren’t fighters. We never tried to rob anyone or tell them who to follow or who to worship. We just wanted to leave all that behind when we left Terra. Wanted to come out here, and make a world the way God intended. Pioneers.”

“Pioneers,” Kirkan nodded. Thinking of the farms, high up in the valleys on Dieron. Just 20 light years from Terra. Why that far, and no further? There were worlds five, 10, 20 time further away from the cradle of humanity. Why only so far, and no further? Fear, maybe. Comfort. They got used to Dieron, and never looked to see if life could be better elsewhere. “I guess everyone was looking for the good life, back in the Exodus.”

“And yet, they brought so much evil.”

Maybe that was why mankind’s exodus had petered out. They’d taken to the stars with such hopes, reaching out to grasp almost unimaginable possibilities—and found nothing they hadn’t brought with them. No alien life, no wisdom, no secrets of the heavens, just people, being people, with all that meant. There was no better life out there—only hardships. Only war. No sign of the Christian or any other God. “I don’t think I believe in evil, not anymore. There’s no such thing as right or wrong, it’s all just a bunch of dumb, made-up rules we all pretend to follow, but actually we don’t.” He tugged at the collar of his jumpsuit, rubbed the material between thumb and forefinger. “This is all there is. This crude matter. Selfish genes, trying to survive. Atoms and electrons, all randomly bouncing off each other.”

“I don’t think I’d want to live in a universe that didn’t have a God.”

“I don’t think I’d want to live in a universe that had a God ... and this, too.”

“Then why?”

He knew what she meant. Why do it. Why risk his life to save her. Why not go on, being a bundle of atoms and electrons, listening to his selfish genes. “You reminded me of someone.”

“Who?”

“My wife.”

“Someone married you? I pity her. Where is she now?”

“Dead.” Kirkan shrugged. He’d barely known her. A marriage of convenience, a cold-blooded contract, that itself had barely lasted half a year. Nothing, to a survivor, to this collection of self-preserving atoms. Nothing, easily discarded, that was life. He wiped away a silent tear. “She’s dead.”

“So is my husband,” she replied. “I’ll give you three guesses how he died. No sympathy for you there. Nor do I want yours. I’m not your wife.”

“No. No, you aren’t. Kid reminded me of someone, too. Myself. Your kid?”

“No. Found him in one of the homes. Never speaks, but he seems to understand. God knows what he’s seen, what he’s endured. A survivor. Like me. Like you. I hope it was worth it.”

Kirkan shrugged. “Jury’s out on that one.”

She lay down, curling beside the boy, closing her eyes. “Faith,” she said, sleepily.

“I manage without.”

“No, that’s my name. Faith.”

Kirkan started to laugh but he saw she was serious, and he caught himself. “It’s a fine name,” he said, but she was already asleep.

He tried to stay awake, but the rumbling sky became like a lullaby, and he was tired, tired of walking, and he would only close his eyes for a few seconds, a couple of minutes maybe, just a little, not too long.
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mikecj

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #46 on: 27 September 2019, 10:43:27 »
As usual, I enjoyed this chapter.  You write very "human" scenes.
There are no fish in my pond.
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Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

TheBrokenLance

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #47 on: 27 September 2019, 17:44:14 »
Who's cutting the onions????  Stop that!

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #48 on: 29 September 2019, 20:48:08 »
Who's cutting the onions????  Stop that!
Yeah, with the subject being what it is this is a lot more downbeat that a lot of my other writing, but I've got more upbeat stories in my archive (link in my sig).

As usual, I enjoyed this chapter.  You write very "human" scenes.
Thanks mikecj. It's been fun to focus a little less on action, a little more on interaction, as it were.

***

Earning It

New Valencia
Occupied Federated Suns
April, 2791 (T-5 years
)


Jinjiro Kurita, heir to the throne of the Draconis Combine, personally pinned the Bushido Blade on Tai-i Kirkan Veil’s uniform.

A small group of officers from the 19th including Kirkan and Sho-sa Antonescu, made the jumps from Imbrial III to New Valencia while the rest of the regiment recuperated following the campaign against the Longhorns. Recuperated as much as they could, that is—replacement parts and personnel were few and far between, and the regiment’s technicians were learning to do without, to salvage and jury-rig and rewire and somehow keep their machines moving.

Kirkan felt like one of the regiment’s BattleMechs at the end of the journey, patched up and held together with caffeine and nervous energy.

During the ceremony, he stood far down the line of the heroes of the day. Well behind the lucky MechWarrior receiving the black and silver Katana Cluster for destroying the highest tonnage of BattleMechs in the last year. Well behind the two generals inducted into the Order of the Dragon for conquering Saunemin and Kestrel.

He had plenty of time to observe the Coordinator’s infamous son.

Even at this distance, you couldn’t help but notice the man’s charm. (They’d forget that, Kirkan thought many years later, they’d forget the charm, remember only the temper, the anger, the violence, because that made it easier to rationalize away if Jinjiro was just a monster). Jinjiro stopped and chatted with each man, swapped jokes, drew a laugh, cuffed men comradely on the shoulders, made each man feel special. Noticed.

And it was Kirkan’s turn.

“Ah, our Star League orphan.” Jinjiro’s smiled faded, his face assumed a look of grave and somber regret. “Kono tabi wa goshushosama de gozaimasu...” Please accept my condolences for your loss. “It is never an easy thing, to lose a loved one.”

Kirkan was startled into tears, by the memory, by the words. He found he could only bow, muttering a hoarse “Arigato gozaimasu.

“When I heard what happened to your wife, it reminded me of why we invaded the Federated Suns,” said Jinjiro with sudden vehemence. “That’s just the kind of cowardly, honorless vermin that they are. We’ve kicked their asses in every battle, so they’ve already lost any manhood they ever had. Guys like that will shoot down a civilian transport, shoot down women and children, instead of fighting warriors, like men. So let me tell you, Tai-i Veil, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot guys like that. It’s fun to kill some people.”

“Hai.”

“We’re taking Delavan and Odell after this, and when we do, I’ll personally kill some of the bastards, in memory of your wife.”

Kirkan found he was quickly running out of noncommittal things to say. He supposed he was meant to feel flattered by the offer. More dead bodies felt like a strange way to honor Brenna’s memory. In any case, rumor was the Combine and Federated Suns battle fleets had immolated one another over the Cholame system, and no new planetary assaults could be launched for at least another six months, if not a year.

“You do me too much honor,” he said instead.

“Nonsense, least I could do for you and her is string some of the frakkers up by their guts.” Jinjiro took the medal from a box proffered by an aide, a round red disk emblazoned with a black sword, and pinned it to the breast of Kirkan’s uniform. “Took out nine of the bastards, eh? Fracking mercenaries. We need more men like you, Veil-kun. Keep up the good work, and maybe I can see if there’s an opening in the Sword of Light for you.”

And Jinjiro was moving on down the line before Kirkan had a chance to respond.

The Sword of Light brigade were the elite of the elite, BattleMech regiments supposedly filled with the finest, bravest, most fanatically loyal MechWarriors in the entire DCMS. Entry was usually restricted to men with at least five years’ exemplary service in another regiment, scoring in the top five percent in every metric, and only after a thorough background check and the seal of approval from the ISF.

It was meant as an honor. It would mean going where the fighting was thickest. He wasn’t sure it was an honor he wanted.

There was a dinner to celebrate that night. The medal-winners sat on tatami flooring before low tables and an endless series of small and delicate dishes was brought by servants in colorful yukata, who poured chilled nihonshu into thimble cups as the men endlessly toasted one another.

The sliding rice-paper doors on one side of the room had all been opened, revealing a peaceful garden. It was autumn on New Valencia, and in the garden, a sea of spiky, serrated maple leaves glowed red and orange and gold in the early evening light.

In Combine dinner parties you weren’t expected to stay in your seat, but encouraged to get up, move around, pour a drink for your comrades, share jokes and tales and say all the things that you never could in ordinary life, all the words that social rules and custom and hierarchy would have strangled in your throat if you were both sober.

There was a throng around Jinjiro Kurita, generals and Tai-sa and governors and ministers all lining up to pour the heir a drink, share a few choice, chosen words, hope that they might be remembered in future.

“I grew up in the Unity Palace, but I never had a home until I joined the DCMS,” Jinjiro was saying. “I used to organize the other court boys into platoons and we’d have mock battles. My side always won, of course. Ha ha! At the academy, I realized I’d been training for this my whole life. This is what I was meant to do!” His mood suddenly shifted, and he stabbed an angry finger at those closest to him. “I’m a thousand times the general that idiot Kerensky ever was! We’ll show them! We’ll show the whole Inner Sphere one Kurita is worth a thousand Kerensky’s! A single DCMS samurai is better than a thousand of those useless toy soldiers in the SLDF!” And just as quickly, the mood changed again. He wiped away a melancholy tear. “Ah, if only Mother could have lived to see it.”

The crowd nodded and cooed in sympathy.

“You!” Jinjiro bellowed, suddenly pointing at Kirkan. “I heard the SLDF rescued you as an orphan, Tai-i Veil.”

The room fell quiet and Kirkan felt the weight of a hundred pairs of eyes. He stood, bowed. “Hai, Kurita-dono. My home was burned by the Amaris Empire during the liberation—”

“Liberation! Pah!” Jinjiro said. “Your real liberation came when your world joined the Combine, isn’t that right? Which would you rather be, a little doll in a white uniform, or a real samurai, in Kurita red?”

“A warrior in the Combine of course, Kurita-dono.”

“See!” Jinjiro turned to his companions. “You see! Even our Star League orphan recognizes the superiority of the Combine Way!”

Everyone nodded sagely. Kirkan breathed a little easier, no longer the focus of attention. He took a half-full bottle of nihonshu and escaped out to the veranda overlooking the garden.

It was easy to forget that there was beauty, too, in the Combine soul. Always melancholy, touched with an awareness of the impermanence of all things, beauty that smiled through its tears. The beauty of cherry blossom petals blowing in the wind and falling to earth, their brief lives spent. The beauty of spaces left empty.

Of absent people. Of words unsaid.

Kirkan raised his glass and toasted the skies, and the stars beyond.

Combine culture was the culture of poverty. The Combine ruled over many worlds, but many were dry, dusty, with poor soils, few precious metals, and unforgiving climates. So Combine culture was the culture of a people who had nothing. Spaces left empty because there was nothing to fill them with. Furniture, utensils, buildings and clothing were austere, for none could afford ornamentation. They strove for perfection, because they couldn’t afford to repair or do things over again. A people of community because one selfish, careless person could mean the death of a village.

And hard places grew hard, unforgiving people. The beauty grew from that lack, but also the ugliness, and wasn’t it a joke, a monstrous joke, that to get the one you had to have the other.

“Lookin’ all lonesome over there, Veil-san,” a voice intruded, and when Kirkan turned Sho-sa Antonescu was there, minus the Stetson and cowboy boots, a touch greyer, a little more wrinkled, but still improbably belt-buckled, still the samurai cowboy. He threw an arm around Kirkan’s shoulder and they stood side by side in the mapled shade.

“Just a little hot in there,” Kirkan said, and wasn’t that a Combine thing to say? The little white lie—you didn’t say you wanted to be alone because that might offend, so you made up a socially acceptable excuse.

“I hear ya. Always been more at home in the saddle myself.”

They clinked glasses and drank in silence.

There was a burst of raucous laughter from the main room. Jinjiro Kurita had General Dazai Sorai in a headlock, and was laughingly trying to pull the man’s hair out, insisting it was a wig, despite the general’s cries. Jinjiro finally tore free a clump, held it up in mock astonishment and admitted he’d been wrong.

The general rubbed his scalp gingerly.

“Don’t be such a baby,” the Coordinator-to-be chided. “Oh, look, Sorai-kun, I promise I’ll never hurt another hair on your pasty little head. Alright?”

Beside Kirkan, Sho-sa Antonescu chuckled, and shook his head in a boys-will-be-boys kind of way.

“I’m amazed he gets away with behavior like that,” Kirkan said. “I’ve seen blood feuds start for less.”

“He’s the Coordinator’s son,” Antonescu grinned. “Kind of changes the rules, you know? In the Combine, we’re not so big on absolute principles. Morality is situational. It all depends. Jinjiro Kurita is who he is, and we’ll treat him accordingly.”

“Like the language,” Kirkan remarked, only half-listening. “The Coordinator is always so careful to present a samurai face, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard his son speak Japanese in private.”

“No, he doesn’t like it much, only speaks it when he has to, to put on a public performance,” Antonescu shrugged. “It’s like they say: We’ve all got one face we show the world, one face we show our friends, and our real face, that we show to nobody.”

“Seems a little duplicitous.”

“Oh, you’re from Dieron, so you don’t understand. You gaijin do it too. You just pretend you don’t.”

Gaijin, Sho-sa? I’ve been in the DCMS for, what, four years now.”

Antonescu shrugged again. “You’re still a gaijin to us. Always will be. You didn’t grown up in the Combine. Being Combine is like being a veteran: You don’t have the scars, kid. You can learn the language, learn the culture, but you’ll never be one of us. Not really.”

“Ah, not two-faced. Just xenophobic.”

“Don’t give me that crap, Veil-san. You look at the Davion family tree, count how many Patel’s or Zhang’s or Mwangi’s you find, then tell me who the real xenophobes are. Now in the Combine, if you act like one of us, we’ll accept you, even if you aren’t one of us.” Antonescu tapped his buckle. “Like I told you boys when you joined, you’re allowed to be different in the Combine. But you have to earn it.”

“The way you have?”

“Damn straight,” Antonescu nodded. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Keep a secret?”

“Of course.”

“Me? A cowboy? Hell, I ain’t never even ridden on a horse.”

“No?”

“Frack no,” Antonescu emphasized. “Those things scare me silly. This is all just for show. For the image.”

“You aren’t from the edge of Pesht?”

“Aw hell naw.” The Sho-sa grinned. Then his accent disappeared: “I’m from Kagoshima, Veil-san. Motherland of the Combine. Like I said: one face for the world, one face for our friends, one face for ourselves.”

He topped up Kirkan’s glass, ignoring Veil’s bemused look, gave him a pat on the shoulder and wandered off to join the throng about Jinjiro. Soon, they were singing. Some syrupy sing-along ballad about saying goodbye, sweet enough to give chocolate diabetes: “A-ri-ga-to, sa-yo-na-ra sen-n-n-sei ...”

And Kirkan was left, feeling alone in the crowd, a stranger in his own home, wondering if he’d ever understand these people of wild extremes.

Jinjiro Kurita was singing the loudest, of course. Bright tears in his eyes.

In the garden outside, the first leaves were beginning to fall.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #49 on: 30 September 2019, 20:42:34 »
Not Worth Dying For

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
July 2796 (T-5 months)


Kirkan’s first impression of the planet on arrival was unimpressive. The spaceport appeared to have been slapped down in the precise, carefully-calculated, exact geographical middle of nowhere. Outside of the spaceport, there were no buildings, no houses, no fields, iya, not even any geography—just endless, flat plains whose scrubby grass wasn’t even that impressive.

Kirkan had put on his dress uniform, with its high-collared white tunic, cavalry trousers and boots. The moment he stepped out of the DropShip a wall of dense, humid, cloying heat smacked into his face and made him instantly regret his choice. He was sweating by the time he reached the bottom of the steps.

There was a small group of four men at the bottom to welcome him, about three more than he thought a Tai-i could reasonably have expected. Welcome to the Sword of Light brigade, he mused. Salute, bow, salute, bow, exchange names (which he immediately forgot), a bit more saluting and bowing just to make sure, and then they ushered him towards a waiting ground car.

It was mercifully air-conditioned inside.

The inhabitants stood to the side of the road when the ground car approached, like good Combine citizens, though it seemed to Kirkan that although their heads were bowed, they watched the car through their eyelashes with the same independent, self-reliant pioneer hostility the Germanic tribes might have shown the Romans, the Sioux the American settlers or the Boers showed the British.
 
Perhaps the German—Roman dynamic was the closest to what was happening on Kentares. Kirkan had read the population of the entire planet only just scraped past the 50 million mark. The last time Terra’s population had been that small, humans on the shores of the world’s great rivers were just figuring out this new-fangled iron thing and the pyramid-building business had been booming.

From what Kirkan could see, the technology level on the planet was not much more advanced. The sparse, scattered inhabitants seemed to live an almost Quaker-like simple existence on their sprawling, muddy farms. He saw carts being pulled by some kind of oxen-analogue, even a man on a horse. A horse! He wished Antonescu were here to see it.

It was like stepping back in time.

But quaint and charming as it might be, it felt like an anachronism. What was here that could possibly worth tying up one of the vaunted Sword of Light regiments? There was nothing worth fighting for here, except for endless acres of dirt and mud, a stunningly foul-looking species of grass, and several bushels of wheat. Hardly worth so much as scraping your hands for, much less dying.

The commander of the Sixth Sword of Light, Tai-sa Evan Watanabe, made about as good an impression as the planet he effectively ruled. He was a short, bald man, with a fleshy nose and a sad, perpetually mournful mouth.

Aside from the surname, Evan Watanabe was not noticeably Japanese in any way. Kirkan assumed Watanabe’s family, like many others, had found it politically and socially expedient to change their name when the Kurita family and the rest of the Combine had abruptly rediscovered its inner samurai some centuries previous.

“Hai, hai, hai, come in, don’t hover in the doorway,” Watanabe looked up briefly and beckoned from behind a pair of screens and several haphazard stacks of paper.

The Combine still loved good, old-fashioned, crinkly, wood pulp and glue paper, Kirkan had noticed. They liked paper for the same reason they liked writing poetry in charcoal ink with real horsehair brushes. Part of it was the whole nostalgia for the 17th century, part of it was the fashion for using an ivory carved stamp or seal instead of a signature on official documents. Clicking a key to put a digital stamp on something wasn’t quite the same as whipping out your ancestral ivory seal, tamping it down on a bed of fresh, wet red ink and then smacking on a document with a satisfying thunk.

Watanabe was bent over a stack of documents now, carefully stamping each one with careful precision.

Kirkan bowed, said the formal, ritual “Shitsurei shimasu” (which covered a lot of the work done by both “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” in Standard) and positioned himself in front of Watanabe’s desk, still standing at attention.

“Welcome to the Roku Hoken rentai, the 6th Sword of Light, Tai-i Veil. Yokoso,” Watanabe said, still not looking up. “Yasume. Well, what do you think of the place?”

Kirkan clasped his hands behind his back. “I have yet to inspect my men or their quarters, sir.” He’d been able to get Viktor into the unit, though he’d be arriving on a different transport. Kirkan was looking forward to seeing his old comrade again.

“No, the planet, Veil. What do you think of the planet?”

Kirkan thought for a moment. “I imagine the flat terrain favors fast-moving forces with long-range firepower, sir. I am concerned the Panther will be at a disadvantage.”

Watanabe laughed, short and dry. “Are they worth being concerned about, these Sons of the Federation?”

Veil thought for a moment. “The Federation soldier breaks under fire more easily than the Combine, but rallies faster, too. A Combine unit will remain in position until it wins, dies or shatters completely. A Suns unit may run away, reform, and survive to fight again, so they take fewer casualties in a losing engagement than we do. Which is why, despite our victories, much of their army remains intact.

“Combined arms coordination is poor, a fact for which we must be grateful. Their infantry know the ‘Mechs and tanks won’t support them, so they run away in the face of anything armored. Their BattleMechs are easily ambushed as they lack adequate reconnaissance. Their aerospace forces are almost never used for ground support. Their artillery in particular could be devastating if handled properly: A green gun crew fights almost as well as a veteran one, as firing artillery in battle is much the same as in a drill. I think that about covers it, sir. Though I was under impression the battle was almost won.”

Watanabe grunted, noncommittal. “Well, we’ve got the 7th Crucis mostly pinned into the mountains. Bacchanal Mountains? No. Bucolic? Carbonic? Something like that. Plenty of opportunity to show your stuff. The Lancers are fighting like rhinotitans in heat.”

“I must admit, I am surprised by their determination, Tai-sa.”

Watanabe put his stamp back on its rest, and looked up at Kirkan with a sad smile. “I’ll let you into a secret, Tai-i: I think we and the Davions like fighting on Kentares because almost nobody lives here and there’s nothing worth fighting for,” he said. “What they call a ‘city’ here would be villages on more successful planet, little clusters of humanity that wouldn’t even rate a dot on the map. Here there’s no annoying civilians or infrastructure to get in the way of the fun. It’s low-fat war, diet war, war without the guilty conscience. So we’ve let it drag on rather than let anyone ruin the fun.”

Kirkan sensed something was being left unsaid. “Until now, sir?”

“Until now,” Watanabe nodded. “The idiots on New Rhodes managed to get their ammunition and fuel dump blown up, and our supply lines were already stretched as it was, so that’s put the whole advance on New Avalon at risk. Just when we’ve got the Davion lackeys on the ropes. The Coordinator is … disappointed. His son is incandescent.”

Kirkan nodded in understanding. “A new depot will be built on Kentares then?”

“Once we’ve cleared the dregs of the 7th Crucis away, yes.” Watanabe sighed mournfully. “An assignment to the 6th is a bit of a mixed blessing at the moment, I’m afraid,” the Tai-sa told him. “Yes, we’re a Sword of Light regiment, but in the Coordinator’s eyes we’re in the doghouse at the moment. He wanted the Crucis Lancers defeated within days of our landing here. It’s already taken a month.”

The man’s pessimistic tone was already beginning to wear on Kirkan. He saluted, and took the opening to excuse himself. “In which case sir, I had best be seeing to my company. The sooner we get started, the sooner it ends.”

Watanabe nodded and waved him away in dismissal. When Kirkan reached the doorway, Watanabe called out. “Oh, and drop by the quartermaster and get yourself a sword before you see the men,” he said. “You’re in the Sword of Light now, appearances are important.”

Kirkan hesitated, half-turned back. He’d never been trained to use a sword, and it seemed an odd encumbrance in the cockpit. “Does it really matter so much, sir?”

Watanabe shrugged. “Ordinarily, no. But these are no ordinary times.”

“Are they not?”

“No, I need the whole unit to look its best now, and that includes making sure my officers look like proper samurai officers, no matter how provincial their origins,” Watanabe said. “You see, the Coordinator himself is on his way here to assume personal command.”
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ThePW

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #50 on: 30 September 2019, 23:18:29 »
*waits on baited breath...*

Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #51 on: 01 October 2019, 21:09:14 »
*waits on baited breath...*

Ho ho. Gotta wait a little bit longer though...

***

Twisted by Circumstances

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
January 2796


Kirkan awoke with a jerk. Blinked. Started to rub his eyes and froze.

There were four men standing over them. Mostly civilian clothes—checked shirts, work jeans, one with a motorcycle helmet, but also one in mismatched pieces of AFFS infantryman gear. Armed. Weapons as varied as their clothes: The one in quasi-military gear carried a Zeus heavy rifle, another a shotgun, the other two pistols.

Kirkan instinctively reached for his needler. His hand met air. It was gone.

“Drac,” said the one with the shotgun, waving the barrel in Kirkan’s face. “Deserter, maybe.”

“Who cares?” said one of the men with pistols, but he wasn’t looking at Kirkan. From the corner of his eye, Kirkan saw Faith and the child, still wrapped in blankets, but awake now, sitting, eyes round with fear. “Easy enough to figure out why. Only question is which one he’s bedding—the woman or the kid?”

“Probably both,” said the shotgunner with a nasty laugh.

“A Drac is a Drac,” said the fourth, tucking his pistol into the waistband of his jeans behind his back. He drew a heavy-bladed hunting knife from a leather sheath at his hip. “And we know how to deal with Dracs, right Stef?”

The one in fatigues slung the Zeus over his shoulder and crouched on his haunches in front of Kirkan. “That right, Drac?” he asked. “You a deserter?”

Kirkan didn’t waste his breath. He cursed himself, cursed himself for not wondering more at the traces of fire they’d found, the discarded blankets, cursed himself for not staying awake. It seemed once he’d chosen to leave the path of survival, all his instincts had abandoned him. Too late for regrets, now.

“Maybe he don’t speak Standard,” offered the shotgunner. “You know how the Dracs all talk funny. Bark, bark, bark, like fracking animals. Put him down like one, like a dog.”

Fatigues grunted, kept his eyes on Kirkan’s face. “That how it is, Drac?” he asked. “No habla? Parlez-vous Standard? No? Don’t matter though. Paco here is right. You’re all dogs. We shot your Coordinator down, like a rabid mutt, shot his guts out and let him die screaming and crying and wishing to God he’d never set foot on Kentares. We’ll do the same to you.”

He was trying to provoke a reaction. Maybe some small last shred of self-image required Kirkan to throw the first punch, to be the aggressor, then Fatigues would kill with a clear conscience.

“I’ve spent the last, what, four, five months running from you people,” Fatigues sighed. “You don’t know what it’s been like. You can’t imagine. It’s nice when we finally catch one of you instead. We know what you’ve been doing. We’ve all seen. We know there’s nothing human left in you anymore. Paco’s right, you’re animals. Savages. Dogs? You’re less than dogs. Snakes. To be crushed underfoot.”

Kirkan studied the face as the man spoke, paying no attention to the words. Not a soldier, he guessed, a civilian, perhaps a hunter or herder, thrust into this role. Like they all had been. One of the great ironies of humanity was how quickly the victim became the bully, that suffering engendered no empathy for those who suffered and everyone learned the wrong lessons when power was abused. There would be no reasoning with this man. There was nothing Kirkan could say that would convince the man to spare his life. Fear and rage and revenge were all this man had left. Welcome to the club, Kirkan thought.

“So what’re we waiting for?” asked the shotgunner—Paco. He slapped the barrel of the shotgun against his palm.

“Look,” Faith spoke up, voice quavering, “I’m grateful to you and—”

“Slut,” spat the first pistoleer.

“You ain’t the first that’s tried to save your skin that way,” the second pistoleer leered at her, waving his hunting knife towards her. “Maybe you give us a taste, we won’t mention that to the Chief.”

“WHAT?” yelled Faith. “I never!”

“Hush,” said Fatigues, still crouched, turning from Kirkan to look at Faith. “The Dracs have ears, don’t draw a patrol.”

“Look,” Faith tried again, her voice lower. “I am grateful to the Resistance and all—”

“There’s no Resistance,” Fatigues said, standing up slowly. He waved at his three companions. “There’s just the Chief, and about a dozen of us. We’re all the Dracs have left alive, in these parts leastways.”

“Whatever,” she nodded. “Just take us with you, we’ll—”

“Shut up,” Fatigues told her without looking at her or raising his voice. He rubbed his jaw in thought, looking down at the kid. “Normally, we’d string you up next to him for sleeping with the enemy. So count yourself lucky, lady. We don’t have many females and we need a few breeders. The Chief will probably want to keep you as one of his own, otherwise you get shared among the rest of us. Can’t take the kid though. Slow us down.”

“No,” said Faith, arms suddenly clamped about the boy, shaking her head over and over. “No, you can’t leave him. You can’t do that.”

The child stared up, blank eyes growing stressed, confused, fearful, swiveling back and forth between Faith and the four armed men.

“Sure we can,” Fatigues nodded to the first pistoleer. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure the Dracs don’t take him alive.”

The first pistoleer stepped forward and ripped the blanket away.

The child screamed. His hands came up. And held shaking in his fingers was Kirkan’s missing needler pistol.

The belltower went very still. The muzzle of the needler seemed to grow and fill the space, an ocular black hole that irresistibly drew every eye, everyone unable to look away from it. One squeeze of the trigger was all it would take. One squeeze and something like 200 razor-sharp needles would come vomiting out of that pistol and fill the belltower and anyone not behind at least ten centimeters of solid stone would die, die screaming, horribly mutilated, like a pig fed head-first through a meat grinder.

Kirkan tensed, looked to the stairs. Paco was between him and the exit. Not that he stood much of a chance even if the way had been clear. If the kid pulled the trigger, there wouldn’t even be enough time to pray.

The pistoleer looked to Fatigues for orders, blanket still gripped in one hand, pistol in the other.

“Put that down,” Fatigues told the child flatly. “Give it to me, kid.”

“No, don’t,” hissed Faith. The boy kept the pistol raised, the barrel wavering back and forth among the pistoleer, the man with the hunting knife, Paco and Fatigues.

“Keep your damn mouth shut, woman,” growled Paco. He took one step to the side, closer to the stairs, as he spoke. The shotgun trembled in his hands.

Kirkan forgotten for the moment. He shifted, quietly, ready.

“All four of you get back the frack down the stairs, or I tell him to shoot,” ordered Faith.

“Sure,” said Fatigues, calm, reasonable. “Sure, okay. If that’s the way you want it.” He nodded to the first pistoleer.

The man raised his gun.

Kirkan was on his feet, springing across the room, shoulder ramming into Paco, driving the man back, wrestling for the shotgun, sending both of them through the exit, bouncing off the tower wall, tumbling down a step—

The man with the knife lunging towards Kirkan and Paco—

The pistol firing, a deafeningly loud bark in the small room—

“No,” said Fatigues. Quiet. Distinct.

A sound like a sewing machine, running incredible fast—

Screaming, gurgling—

Kirkan twisted the shotgun out of Paco’s hands, cracked the man across the face with the butt, sent him cartwheeling head over heels down half a dozen steps. Paco, rolled to his feet, came up, teeth bared, found himself staring into the muzzle of the shotgun.

Kirkan fired.

Worked the slide back, ejected a shell, already turning, back into the belltower.

It was a slaughterhouse. Most of the pistoleer and his hunting knife friend were splattered across the floor, the far wall and the ceiling. Quivering lumps of meat lay at the base of the wall.

Fatigues lay sprawled not far away, looking bemused at the mangled stump of his left arm, and when he looked up and turned towards Kirkan, Kirkan saw that the left eye, ear and most of the skull was missing too.

“We did what we had to do,” Fatigues said to him. There was fierce concentration in the remaining eye. Focused on this one last message, this last self-absolution, determined that the universe forgive him and find him innocent. “We did what we had to do, to survive.”

Kirkan fired the shotgun again.

Then her turned back, and found Faith still huddled on the floor, the limp and unmoving form of the boy cradled in her arms. A trickle of blood rain from the boy’s mouth and down his chin and the eyes did not move, nor the chest. Faith was rocking back and forth, back and forth, silent, no tears, no crying. Just back and forth. Back and forth.

Faith raised her head to look at Kirkan, and he could see it smeared in red, where the child’s hand had clutched at her.
“Animals,” she said hollowly, in unconscious echo of the four dead men. “Animals.”

Not animals, Kirkan thought. Ordinary men, brutalized by a situation they couldn’t control, twisted by circumstances and their own desperate, violent need to survive. And wasn’t that what had happened to the DCMS, too. Wasn’t that what had happened to everybody on this godforsaken planet. It was like a disease, a viral disease, spreading from person to person, among units, across battle lines, its only symptoms a slide into numbness, uncaring, indifference, then idle cruelty, ending in brutality and hate. A disease. A virus.

“Kill me,” she said, listlessly. Empty. “Shoot me. There’s no point. All I wanted. All I. All I had to do was save one innocent life, and it would mean something. It meant God had something for me to do. He had a purpose to leaving me alive. But there’s nothing. Nothing left.”

Kirkan knelt down next to her, brushed his hand across the child’s face, closing the still-open eyes. He could see the single bullet hole, where the pistol round had entered the boy’s heart.

“You were right,” said Faith. “There’s nobody out there. There’s nothing. No plan. Nothing makes sense. Just this muddy little world. And it’s sick. Uncurably sick. I don’t want any part in it.”

Kirkan felt his own resolve slipping. If the woman died, then he too had thrown his life away for nothing. Amano, and Viktor, and all those lives. “We go on,” he said, reaching for a certainty he did not feel. After their escape from the cave, he’s started to feel—what, destiny, maybe. Fate. All that slipping away. “We go on, we reach ComStar, and you tell them what you’ve seen. You let the galaxy know what happened here.”

Faith continued to rock. Gently slowed. Still staring down at the boy's face. Finally, she whispered, “We go on?”

“We go on.”
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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #52 on: 02 October 2019, 20:46:13 »
A Very Old Man

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
July 2796 (T-5 months)


All 78 surviving MechWarriors in the 6th Sword of Light were in attendance for the ceremony to welcome Minoru Kurita to Kentares. Crisply starched white uniforms dazzled in the long hallway, part of the palace that had once belonged to the planet’s ruling Duke. Red boots and polished silver belt buckles gleamed. Behind them were ranks of infantry soldiers, tankers, aerospace fighter pilots, JumpShip and DropShip crews, technicians, a thousand men in all. Long, blood-red banners bearing the dragon crest stretched from ceiling to floor.

At Tai-sa Watanabe’s invitation, Kirkan stood on Watanabe’s left. It was a chance, Kirkan came to see, for Watanabe to show off his knowledge of the court. “Come on, provincial, you’ve never seen the Coordinator in the flesh before, have you?”

The doors at the far end of the hall swung open. At the signal, thousand pairs of feet snapped against the floor in unison.

Into the hall came Minoru Kurita. The Oyabun himself, the Duke of Luthien, the Daitoryo of the Dorako Rengo, Coordinator of the Draconis Combine, self-proclaimed First Lord of the Star League. Now over 90, he did not sweep into the hall as much as shuffle, the barely-visible center of a mini Inner Sphere of humanity, consisting of a dozen armed Otomo bodyguards, plus aides, ministers, generals, servants, priests, doctors and several concubines.

Those last two Kirkan hoped were purely for show. The Coordinator looked like he might snap in half from anything more exhausting than composing a particularly moving poem.

The man who was arguably, after Stefan Amaris, the one, single individual who’d done the most to bring about the last nine years of unending, apocalyptic bloodshed, did not look much like a warrior. Nor demon, nor murderer. Just a man. A very, very old man.

The hooded, watchful eyes were still bright, but the eyebrows cresting above them were pure white, as was the dry, papery head of hair. He still affected a military mustache, as bleached as the rest of his hair, above a mouth set into a hard and unyielding line.

“It’s like the days of the shogunate and bakufu—the ‘tent government.’ Luthien may be the capital, but the government goes wherever the Coordinator goes,” whispered Watanabe. “The sumo wrestler at the front is the commander of the Otomo bodyguard, Chu-sa Batbayar. They call him ‘The Butcher.’ The man on the Coordinator’s right is his second son, Jinjiro’s half-brother Zabu.”

If Minoru Kurita looked like he belonged in a temple and his elder son Jinjiro on a battlefield, then Zabu was meant for a library. Thin, bespectacled, a little pale, his eyes kept drifting to watch his father’s back with concern.

“On the other side is Rai bin Selamat, Director of the ISF. The woman is Sachiko Kurita, current Abbess of the Order of the Five Pillars and a distant cousin on the Rasalhague side. Who else? The fat one over there is Takeuchi, the Minister of the Interior, and there’s the Procurement head, Kaneyama, next to him.”

The Coordinator mounted a low dais at the end of the hallway, seated himself upon a throne of burnished, highly-decorated wood and plush wine-red cushions.

There followed a series of speeches. Well, to be precise, there followed quite a lot of bowing, with a little bit of speaking sandwiched in between. The generals and Tai-sa and admirals and ministers and governors each took their turns welcoming their Lord to Kentares. Each man to speak stepped forward, and bowed once to the Coordinator, once to the gathered audience. They moved over to the microphone. Before speaking, they bowed again. When done, the process was reversed, with another three bows.

It was soon clear the Dragon was no longer listening to the speeches. The Coordinator’s eyes drifted, and he nodded absently as each speaker finished, dismissing them with a limp wave. Slowly, his head sank forward onto his chest. The Dragon’s snores filled the hallway with their sonorous rumbling.

The speakers continued, undaunted. There was no question of stopping or awakening their Lord. To awake the Coordinator would be to embarrass him, by acknowledging that his weakness had been noticed. Wise men did not embarrass the Coordinator. So the speeches rolled on, if a trifle louder to compensate for the competition they received from the throne.

It was like Morris Dancing, the ancient British folk dance that had essentially died out before the industrial revolution, then been haphazardly reanimated by a culture yearning for the past it had lost. That was the Combine: Morris Dancing with meat cleavers, Morris Dancing with intent.

People trying to reconstruct a culture based on the contents of abandoned, dusty antique shops, macho military docu-dramas and garbled retellings of half-heard stories based on third-hand myths. All this pageantry was the result of urban archeological digs under the bedrooms of melancholic dreamers.

And Kirkan couldn’t find it in himself to blame them.

It looked funny and silly and strange, but then, wasn’t everything? The rest of the Inner Sphere could cover its mouth to hide a snigger, a smile, a sneer, and murmur how strange the Combine was, and in so doing never stop to think and wonder what all the pantomime might mean or have to say about themselves.

This ceremony wasn’t a window into the soul of the Combine, he thought. It was a mirror. In great and small courts across human occupied space, all this bowing and scraping and My-Lording, all those people trying to play these silly little roles in silly little uniforms, saying the silly little things they thought they were supposed to say.

When Watanabe went to speak, the Coordinator’s head jerked up, and the eyes fluttered awake. Watanabe immediately fell silent.

The Coordinator mumbled something, Kirkan couldn’t quite catch: “... asoko no sakura ga kirei to kiita ...” – I’ve heard the sakura there are beautiful. ‘Sakura’ meant ‘cherry blossom.’

Watanabe answered the Coordinator, again too quiet for Kirkan to catch. The Coordinator nodded once, and waved the Tai-sa away. Minoru motioned to a priest, who helped the Coordinator stand. Together the two men walked slowly, painfully down the dais steps and out of the hall.

Zabu Kurita stepped quickly forward to the speaker’s microphone. “My Lords, DCMS officers and men, thank you for your attendance today. This ends the welcoming ceremony. Further instructions will follow. Dismissed.”

There was some quizzical grumbling at the abrupt end to the ceremony, but none dared complain, so they drifted away in twos and threes.

“What was that about?” Kirkan asked Watanabe as the Tai-sa returned to the regiment.

“The Coordinator wishes to visit the front,” Watanabe replied. “He is eager to see the cherry blossoms in the Carmelite Mountains.”

“That’s near the fighting with the 7th. Is that safe?”

“We will make it safe, Tai-i. Or there will be trouble.” He motioned for Kirkan to follow him. “Come, let us take a walk. Away from prying ears.”

They stepped out into the garden. There was a burbling fountain, rows of vivid green hedges, a few delicate marble statues, some dating as far back as the 25th century. It was warmer outside than it had been in the air-conditioned hall. Watanabe reached up and loosened his collar. “So, what did you think of our illustrious leader?”

Kirkan hesitated for just long enough to show that what followed was a guarded opinion, not his real thoughts. Silences could say much in the Combine. “The Coordinator seemed ... tired.”

“He has many burdens.”

“Perhaps it would be better if he were not ... distracted by events here at the front.”

“Perhaps.” Watanabe shrugged. “Just our luck the Japanese happen to be one of the few cultures in the galaxy left that still respect the elderly,” he mused. “In any other society, if an octogenarian suddenly declared themselves emperor of the universe, they’d get a sympathetic pat on the hand, a warm cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Here, they get 10 million screaming fanatics launching themselves across the void for the Honor of the Dragon.”

Kirkan smiled nervously and quickly looked around the garden. Nobody else seemed particularly close. “That is an ... original thought, Tai-sa. And unexpected.”

Watanabe chuckled. “For a commander of a Sword of Light regiment, you mean? You’ll find that fanatics have a way of weeding themselves out of the ranks before they can rise to command a regiment. Foolhardy bravery catches up with most of them, eventually. One way or another. You’ll find most senior officers, even in the Sword of Light brigade, are practical men. Realistic ones.”

“And the Coordinator’s plan to visit the front,” Kirkan wondered. “Is that, too, practical? Realistic?”

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to make sure it is.” Watanabe patted Kirkan on the shoulder. “I’d get some sleep tonight if I were you, Tai-i. You’ll have an early start tomorrow.”
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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #53 on: 03 October 2019, 20:22:55 »
All is Fair

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
August 2796 (T-4 months)


“Aoi Home, this is Gaki Actual. In position, request sitrep. Over.”

“Gaki Actual, this is Aoi Home. Roger that.” The comms officer at the regimental headquarters was brisk, efficient. “Combined arms battalion entrenched in and around village at point Nozomi. Uploading latest known positions to you now. Over.”

The navigation computer briefly displayed a loading icon before filling with icons for the Davion positions in and around the village of New Snowfield: BattleMechs, infantry strongpoints, dug-in tanks, all color-coded by degree of certainty—red for confirmed, fading to magenta for suspected, light pink for possible. There were a lot of light pink icons.

“Aoi Home, this is Gaki Actual. Roger that, data received. What support is available? Over.” A probe by an infantry battalion of the 109th that morning had already been badly mauled and driven back from the village.

“Gaki Actual, this is Aoi Home. Artillery and aerospace assets unavailable at this time. Over.”

“Of course. Great,” Kirkan muttered.

“The Coordinator’s Requests Are Perfect,” the comms officer said sympathetically. Since Minoru Kurita’s arrival on-world the phrase—or more to the point, the acronym the first letters spelled out—had quickly become an inside joke.

Kirkan joined the laugher. “Roger that, Aoi Home. Gaki will comply. Over and out.”

“Honor to the Dragon, Gaki Actual. Out.”

Kirkan shook his head sadly as he surveyed the village. It must have been pretty once, beautiful even. On three sides, the land sloped gently and gradually away, descending into wooded river valleys. There were higher hills on the far side of the village, and mountains beyond.

It was cooler up here in the hills than it had been on the plains, and in the early spring sun the cherry blossoms were blooming, surrounding the village so that it seemed to float amid a sea of pink and white and those who’d named the village ‘Snowfield’ must’ve had more poetry in their souls than you expected from farmers. The fragile petals, so easily lost, swirled and danced in the crisp breeze. There had been mist, earlier in the day, but it had burned off now. In the far distance, the mountaintops had not yet lost their winter dusting of snow.

There were a scattering of bodies in the fields around the town, bodies in brown uniforms, now gently shrouded with pink.

Holes had been knocked in the stone walls of almost every house—probably loopholes for support weapons or tanks. A few vehicles littered the main road leading to the town. A civilian truck abandoned by the side of a three-story house looked more or less intact, but the rest were blackened, twisted and holed.

“Gaki Two,” Kirkan radioed. “Got a job for you.”

“Thought you’d never ask,” came Viktor’s reply.

“Take half the company, work your way around the left flank. There’s a saddle where the hill joins up to the rest of the range, probably their line of retreat. This is a private party: Block that so nobody gets in, nobody gets out. We’ll keep them distracted back here.”

There were 10 BattleMechs left functional in the company—seven Panthers, two Assassins and a rather forlorn Night Hawk. Another Panther had been a total loss after an ammunition hit, yet another was out with a defective gyro. And this was the Sword of Light. Dragon only knew what conditions must be like in the other, less favored and well-supplied regiments.

Viktor took five ‘Mechs—four Panthers and the Night Hawk—on a course around the base of the hill to the left. Soon, the heads and shoulders of the machines were swimming in a rustling, trembling sea of pink foam.

Kirkan called out to the rest of his command: “Gaki Lance, skirmish line and advance to contact. Be liberal with the blue lightning and keep their eyes on us.”

He pushed the throttle gently forward, felt the comforting rhythm as the 35-ton machine strode forward, up the slope. Kirkan angled slightly so the three-story house at the edge of town would block most of the incoming fire. He let the crosshairs settle over a large, solid-looking building, an inn perhaps. Checked the range counter. “Let’s light them up,” he called out, and squeezed the trigger.

The air screamed as three incandescent lances of blue-white light smashed into walls, blew out windows and tore apart roofs. Flights of missiles arced overhead, and fell like furious rain.

The guns in the village blazed in answer. Towed autocannon rattled, spitting glowing tracers. A couple of Bulldog tanks attempted to return fire, but the range was too great, and their lasers glittered harmlessly on the Panthers’ armor, too diffuse to do any damage.

They made themselves targets. “Grid Inu-5,” Kirkan called out, and the wall one tank had sheltered behind glowed, melted, ran and dissolved as a salvo of concentrated particle fire blasted through, tearing into the tank behind. The turret’s main gun sagged and stayed silent.

“Delta Victor, eleven o’clock,” one of the other MechWarriors—a new replacement named Amano—sang out. Kirkan swung around, saw the Dervish BattleMech appear from behind a church tower. At 55 tons, it was heavier than anything in his company, and its pair of long-range missile launchers could fire off more than twice as many missiles as both his Assassins combined.

“Amano, Moon, let’s get close,” Kirkan called. “Rest of you, keep up the pressure.”

Kirkan fired, his shot going wide and high, slid the throttle forward, driving the Panther into a jolting run towards the ‘Mech, keeping the three-story building between them as cover. A salvo of 20 missiles blasted a checkerboard of craters out of the field he’d been standing in. “Viktor, I think we’ve got their attention. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Roger that, Gaki Actual. Over and Out.”

Thunder pulsed and boomed from beyond the top of the hill. The Dervish paused, twisted, changed its mind, faced back towards the oncoming Panthers.

Kirkan reached the three-story building, a stone-walled farmhouse, the abandoned truck beside it. He took a moment to check Amano and Moon. They were trading fire with the Dervish at long range, and already the Davion ‘Mech’s armor was glowing from a number of hits. The pilot turned away from Kirkan, towards the other two. Perfect.

Kirkan stepped forward, around the corner of the building.

By the foot of his Panther was the abandoned truck. In its back were a number of steel barrels, filled with nearly two tons of ball bearings, agricultural fertilizer and diesel fuel. And a detonator.

The truck exploded.

Kirkan’s first thought was of the nuclear bomb on Elbar. Oh frack, not again, he thought. Something slammed into his ‘Mech from low and to one side, scooped it up, lifted it up off its feet, the view out the glass tilting wildly, and then his ears were assaulted with a deafening crash as the Panther landed on its back.

Kirkan found himself looking up at the sky. Red light flooded the cockpit. Alarms were hooting and he looked down from the cockpit, and saw the Panther’s left leg had been completely blown away below the knee. A spar of titanium bone jutted from twisted shreds of armor and writhing, twitching myomer muscles.

“I’m alright,” he lied into the comm in response to Amano’s and Moon’s hollered questions. “Keep up the pressure. Don’t wait for me. I’m just going to take a nap down here.” Davion fire swept overhead, ignoring him for the moment. Likely everyone had assumed he was out of the battle for good.

It wasn’t a bad idea ... but no, he couldn’t stand the thought of being a sitting duck. They might continue ignoring him, they might not. He’d sworn never to be at the mercy of another again. Kirkan got the Panther’s left hand under the torso, braced it against the ground, heaved the BattleMech into a sitting position.

That got their attention. The battle computer hooted in concern, just as two glittering lines of emerald sliced through the air just above the Panther’s head and blasted into the side of the farmhouse, taking off most of the top two floors.

From behind the town church, with its high belltower, came a BattleMech. A 35-ton Firestarter.

And Kirkan was nine years old again. On a farm in a high mountain valley on Dieron, where he’d been watching the skies glow as the SLDF rained death upon his world. And where the soldiers of the Amaris Empire had come with the dawn, knowing they had already lost, but determined to commit one last petty act of revenge.

They’d had a Firestarter, too.

A machine built for terror—lasers mated with flamethrowers mounted on each arm, a third flamethrower in the center of its chest, with a pair of machineguns jutting from either side of the torso. Not optimized for ‘Mech combat, but more than enough for burning out mountain villages.

Kirkan screamed—a scream torn from his lost childhood, rage and regret and negation compressed into a single sound—gave up trying to stand and raised the right arm, fired at the Firestarter.

Caught the Davion MechWarrior by surprise, blackened and scorched its right side, rocked it back a step. It fired again, targeting the Panther’s supporting left arm, trying to send Kirkan sprawling to the ground again. Armor slagged and ran and dripped down the arm, but it held.

Kirkan gripped the shattered wall of the farmhouse, pushed, brought the Panther tottering up on one leg, leaning on the farmhouse wall for balance, then thrust the stump of the left leg into the rubble, praying it would hold.

The titanium bone skittered off stone, slipped, nearly set his machine sprawling again.

The Firestarter charged, triple lines of flame licking out, setting fire to the grass between the two machines. Too far away to hit the Panther yet, but both a threat and a promise. Kirkan swore, sweating. He had to stop it before it closed the range, got within the PPC’s minimum safe firing distance. He tried to right the Panther again, find some purchase to brace the leg against.

The Firestarter was almost within range.

Light boomed and flickered from the Dervish’s position. Lances of blue and red light pierced it from behind. A moment later, the top of the head blasted open and the MechWarrior ejected, rocketed high into the blue sky on tongues of flame. Viktor’s BattleMechs had arrived.

The Firestarter hesitated. That gave Kirkan an opening. It was enough. The ready light for the PPC winked green again. He fired, splashing blue light across the Firestarter’s head, melting the communication antenna and crumpling one side of the head armor, then followed up with a brace of missiles. The Firestarter responded sluggishly, the MechWarrior either stunned or maybe the controls ionized by the PPC blast. It staggered a step forward.

Plenty of time for Kirkan to steady his breathing, wait for the ready light to cycle, and fire again.

Black smoke rose from between the Firestarter’s shoulders, in the red-rimmed hole where the head unit and cockpit had been. The machine tipped forward, and smashed to the ground, rupturing its flamethrower fuel tanks, which promptly ignited into billowing inferno, sending sheets of orange and clouds of black into the sky.

The arrival of Viktor’s BattleMechs signaled the end of the battle. All the Davion BattleMechs and armor had been destroyed, and the surviving infantry died where they stood, threw down their arms or else crept away in ones and twos, disappearing into the hills about New Snowfield.

They had captured prisoners. A dozen infantrymen, some of them wounded, four tankers. And one MechWarrior.

The Federated Suns MechWarrior sat cross-legged by the hulk of his Dervish BattleMech, surrounded by four infantrymen from the 109th Regiment. The four men were thin, gaunt, their uniforms torn and soot-stained and Kirkan could see the wear of the last nine years in their hollow-eyed faces, read the hooded hatred for their captive, a smiling man, healthy, handsome, happy, everything they were not.

He looked up as Kirkan approached, noted the cooling suit, and threw Kirkan a wry salute.

“Damn, you guys fight like badgers,” the man said. “Thought we had you.”

Kirkan smiled thinly. “Name, rank, ID number?”

“Leftenant Reynard Bulow. You might have heard of my family, the New Avalon Bulows. One of the First Families. I imagine they’ll want to ransom me back.”

A soldier wordlessly handed Kirkan an Armed Forces of the Federated Suns identity card. Kirkan turned it over in his hands, activated the holo which showed Bulow’s thumbprint. “Ransom?” he asked, still studying the card.

“Sure, could make you or your commander very rich men,” Bulow nodded. The prospect of his family losing a fortune to secure his release did not do anything to dampen his mood or smile. “All’s fair in love and war, eh?”

Kirkan looked up. “Is it? I suppose.” He pocketed the ID card. Holding nobles for ransom was not unheard-of, at least among other realms. In the Combine, prisoners would normally be executed after interrogation, but the DCMS was practical, and a high-level prisoner might be more valuable alive. As part of a prisoner exchange, for example, or as blackmail material. The ISF would want to talk to this one, in any event.

“You’re a very lucky man,” he told Bulow. And ignored the man’s puzzled look.

“Tai-i, you should see this.”

Kirkan turned. An infantryman stood at his side. There was something in his face that made Kirkan suddenly cold. The man’s eyes flicked towards Bulow, narrowed, then snapped back to Kirkan. “See what?”

They descended a flight of narrow, rickety steps into the basement of one of the homes. It was a dirt cellar, unfinished, painstakingly dug from the rock of the ground. The stone was red, ochre, vermilion, and the steps creaked loudly with each footfall, echoing inside the narrow space. It was damp, musty. Smelled vaguely of rot.

There was no electricity or lighting. The only illumination came from their handheld torches, casting unsteady, shuddering beams of light into the darkness. Their shadows grew distorted. Hands became claws, shouldered rifles turned into horns.
Kirkan looked back over his shoulder as he went down, and the light of the doorway shrank, seeming so far away. Almost lost in the darkness. He looked back and saw what the infantrymen had found.

The bodies didn’t look especially oriental to Kirkan. Polynesian perhaps. One of the men had dark Maori tattoos inked across one shoulder and bicep. It hadn’t mattered, hadn’t been enough. They’d looked enough like the Kuritists. They’d been different enough, different enough to become targets. Outlets for people’s fear and anger and rage.

Two families. A husband, a wife and a son. Lying in a row on the floor of the dirt cellar. A pace away another family. Four. Two adults, two children. A thin scattering of dirt dotted their clothes, a hasty and half-hearted attempt to hide the evidence.

Kirkan knelt by the boy. Maybe nine years old, he guessed.

He stood, dusted his palms, turned around and tromped wordlessly back up the cellars, through the house and out into the open air. He took a deep breath. Saw Bulow still sitting there, still smiling.

The smile faded as Kirkan strode towards him. Kirkan tore his sword from its sheath. “Now wait a fracking min—” Bulow protested, flinging up an arm. Too late, as the sword bit through his wrist, through his neck, and his shout turned into a scream. Kirkan hacked at him again, and again, and it wasn’t a katana so he couldn’t do it cleanly and that enraged him even more and he was hacking, hacking blindly at the body, hacking until the screams stopped and the head flopped loosely, barely attached to the body.

Kirkan straightened, panting, and found the four infantrymen staring at him.

“Y-y-your orders, Tai-i?” asked a private.

Kirkan waved his bloodied sword at the other prisoners.

“Kill them all,” he said.
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ThePW

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #54 on: 03 October 2019, 21:37:33 »
I seem to recall something from the recent Handbooks... about atrocities committed against Fed Sun Orientals, simply because they were there...

Kidd

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #55 on: 05 October 2019, 15:34:06 »
I'm up to "Not Worth Dying For", just catching up

Very, very nice. Someone's been to a lot of them dinners.

Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #56 on: 06 October 2019, 20:27:16 »
I seem to recall something from the recent Handbooks... about atrocities committed against Fed Sun Orientals, simply because they were there...
Right, that's the inspiration for that scene.

Very, very nice. Someone's been to a lot of them dinners.
Just a few...too many.

***

Night Swimming

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
January 2796


“Amishton.”

Dusk was just beginning to bleed across the corpse-grey sky. Kirkan crouched in the shadow of a rusting, ruined and abandoned Federated Suns APC and peered down at the city from the crest of a low, wooded hill beyond the city outskirts. The ComStar compound and the massive dish of its Hyperpulse Generator dominated the city center, its high ferrocrete wall yellowed with haze, the antenna pointing skyward like an accusing finger, an angry rebuke to the heavens.

The streets were almost completely empty. No pedestrians strolled along its broad avenues, no children played in yards or outside schools, no workers passed in or out of factory gates. Already nature was beginning to reclaim the city, weeds sprouting from cracked pavement, vines crawling up the building walls, mold and moss and lichen spreading in fuzzy clumps. Only the occasional DCMS jeep or truck disturbed the silence. A broad river snaked through the city, cold and dark, blown into restless waves by gusts of wind.

The APC sat at the edge of the woods, leaning drunkenly, as though tired and sick, tires on one side blown off, the rear hatches thrown open and rimmed in black soot. Someone had torn the machineguns from the turret. There were three bodies lying by the side, also in the process of being reclaimed, already half-buried in the planet’s scruffy, tangled grass.
Kirkan crouched by the vehicle’s side as he studied the city, to avoid silhouetting himself against the sky. Faith hunkered down behind him, though not before she threw the dead men a disgusted look. “Idiots,” she muttered.

“They died for you.”

“No. You know, the first sign we had that something bad was going to happen was all our soldiers disappeared. They evacuated them. You understand what that means?” She waved towards the bodies. “It means they knew in advance that you were going to do something horrible, something crazy, so they ran away. They left us here to face it alone. They knew, and they ran. So don’t ever say they died for us. Not for us, not for me. Way I figure it, it’s their fault as much as it is yours.” She put a hand to the side of her head and closed her eyes. “That’s the strange thing. I don’t even know who to hate anymore: You snakes, these dead idiots or my own people. The ones who did what they were told, the ones who told them to do it or the ones who gave them an excuse.”

“Or the ones who stood by, and did nothing,” Kirkan added.

Faith opened her eyes and gave him an odd look. “Well, rest easy there, Big Hero. You did something. Too little, way too fracking late, but something.” She sniffed. “Truth is, this won’t mean anything in the end, will it? Couple million folks on one little world, everything that happened here, all this death, all this evil, and it’s just, like, nothing, no big deal, it’s just another day in the Inner Sphere, not worth getting excited about.” She held up an empty hand, sifting grains of nothing through her fingers. “Hard to hate when you realize how little it matters.”

“It matters,” he said. Well, mainly he thought it would matter by offering a convenient scapegoat for the war. Nobody wanted to hear that it was their own fault—and Kentares presented the rest of the galaxy the perfect chance to wipe their hands clean. And yet. ComStar was neutral in the war. They might surprise him. They had the reach and the audience to make this about more than one realm, one planet. “It might. We might make it matter.” But probably not.

“No. I might have believed that, before. Before they shot the boy.” Faith buried her face in her hands, took a shuddering breath. Steadied, straightened and lowered her hands. “How can we go on, doing this to each other? It’s been what, eight, nine years. It’ll end soon, won’t it? It’s been nine years. Nine years. I can’t see how we can all go on like this. It has to end soon. Right?”

He wished he were better at lying. He couldn’t bring himself to say the comforting lie he didn’t believe. Instead, he said: “No, I don’t think so.”

“No?”

“No.”

“So what, it goes on forever?”

“Maybe. We, that is, the Combine thinks they’re winning, and nobody ever stops a war when they think they’re winning. And someone always thinks they’re winning. If not us, then Steiner or Marik or Liao. I don’t think it will ever end, ever. The galaxy is too big and you can’t keep winning forever, and then it’s someone else’s turn and they’ll want to keep on fighting. Someone will always want to keep fighting.”

“And you?”

“Not me, but plenty of others. In every society, in every war, there are always some who are glad we are at war, some who are not, and some who are indifferent. I thought I was one of the last group, pretending I was one of the first. But in the end it seems I was the second, pretending I was the last.”

“We never wanted any war. We just wanted to be left alone. A little piece of land, to call our own. Couple of kids, maybe, later. Wasn’t so much to ask, was it? Guess it must’ve been, since they cut my husband’s head off for wanting it. Couldn’t have let us be. What do they even need Kentares for, anyway?”

Kirkan shook his head. “You were just in the way. These House Lords collect worlds and people with a kind of indiscriminate kleptomania that doesn’t let anyone choose not to play their game.”

“If we go to ComStar, if I tell them what I’ve seen, what you people are doing here, you think the war will end then? Can we put a stop to it then?”

Her words so closely echoed his own thoughts of a moment earlier, and there was such terrible need in her voice and in her face. A look that was probably mirrored in his own. So Kirkan checked his first response, shut his teeth around his instinct for brutal honesty. He tried to make himself believe.

“Maybe we can’t stop everything,” he said. “But maybe we can start something.”

Faith held his eyes, searching, trying to see past the mask he’d put on, but he’d lived in the Combine long enough that there were no cracks, there was only this face, the face he showed the world. “Maybe,” she said at last. “Sure, maybe. But first we’ve got to get there.”

“Won’t be easy,” Kirkan agreed. “It’s a big city, Quakerville.”

“Amishton,” she corrected.

“Right, Amishton. Big city, lot of ground to cover. On the plus side, there won’t be many soldiers in the city, not with all the people gone, and they won’t be expecting anything.” He nodded towards the river. “You know how to swim?”

“You kidding? In college I was one of the top five swimmers on the planet. I’ll leave you in my wake, Big Hero.”

“College? What happened?”

“Met my husband,” Faith said. She looked away, and was silent for a while. “He was a good man,” she said absently. Blinked once or twice, then refocused on Kirkan. “Twice the man you are, three times better-looking, that’s for sure. He was kind. Kind but stubborn. The Combine aren’t the only ones with strong ideas about what women can or can’t do.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For all the good that does me.”

“Maybe not. Like I said, I think evil is when you have the power and knowledge to make things better, and don’t. I’m starting to think it’s important, that even if we do wrong, we at least have the decency to feel bad about it. When we lose the ability to feel shame, we’re lost.”

Faith didn’t answer immediately. Finally, she nodded towards the river. “Well, when do we go?”

“Wait for nightfall.”

Kirkan used the time to take stock of what they could bring. He checked the three bodies and inside the APC, found a weather-proof rucksack that might keep things dry.

Reluctantly, he decided they’d have to leave the Zeus Rifle and the shotgun he’d taken off the locals. Too heavy to swim with. The two pistols—a stubby automatic and a heavy gyrojet pistol with an octagonal barrel—he wrapped in shreds of uniform and stuffed inside the rucksack.

The moon of Kentares, Columbia, was full that night, and he’d have preferred to wait, but the visibility might help them find a place to come ashore, and their food would not last forever. They crouched and crept down the hill, through the long, scrubby grass, into the reeds that grew along the shore.

Kirkan shucked his boots and pulled off his grey and red MechWarrior jersey, held the material stretched between his hands for a moment. Ran his thumb across the “五” rank symbol at the throat. Then balled it up with sudden fury and hurled it away, into the reeds.

He stood, skin prickling in the evening cold, dressed only in a black undershirt and shorts. He looked over to Faith and saw she’d stripped down to a bra and underwear. There was no desire, nothing sexual about it—she looked lean and hard, even gaunt, nothing at all like—well, never mind who she didn’t look like. Amano wasn’t the only one who’d been chasing phantoms.

“You done looking?” Faith asked him.

Without waiting for his answer, Faith strode into the cold water without hesitation, quickly disappearing up to her neck, and then struck out with strong, smooth strokes.

Kirkan shouldered the rucksack, tightened the straps across his shoulders and chest, and began to wade out after her. When the water reached his waist he found himself reluctant to go on. The swift and icy current tugged at him, threatened to pull him off his feet. But it wasn’t fear of drowning that held him back. If he submerged himself in all this endless, rushing water, it would wash everything away. The ashes and dirt of all those who’d died—Omar, Mike, Brenna, Viktor, Amano and the nameless, faceless army of others—they’d all be washed away, too. He’d lose that piece of him that had once been part of them.

“Hey, Big Hero,” Faith’s hoarse whisper floated across the water. Squinting, Kirkan could just make out the dark shadow of her head, bobbing as she treaded water. “You coming or what?”

Kirkan shook himself. A crazy thought. Mike and Brenna were years gone. There was no part of his skin left from then. People were ever-emerging butterflies, forever shedding their skins cell by cell, stepping each day from the chrysalis of their past. Each morning we arose anew, changed forever by our passage through the night.

“Forgive me,” he whispered to himself, took a breath and pushed off from the bottom of the river.

They found a fallen tree floating in the river and pushed it out into the middle of the current, clinging to it, keeping only their heads above the water. There were no boats on the water, no patrols. Amishton had been one of the first cities to be emptied.

It was hard to judge distance in the current, in the dark, with his eyes just above the water, his horizon limited to the next wave. Time dragged and the cold seeped in. His legs ached. Kirkan thought he could see the shadow of buildings on the river bank, farmhouses at first, but larger ones now, some four or five stories.

A steel bridge across the river announced itself in the lapping of waves and a negative hole in the starry sky. Kirkan tapped Faith on the shoulder and they angled the tree towards a gap in the bridge’s supports. Somewhere in the darkness an engine coughed, rumbled, and two beams of light stretched across the bridge. A loose line of armored cars began to trundle across the bridge. Faith looked back at Kirkan, and at his nod they both sucked air and dove beneath the surface.

He held his breath as long as he could, feeling the air in his lungs hammer against his chest of release, until at last he pushed to the surface, took a gasping, welcome breath of cool night air. The bridge was receding behind them, the last of the armored cars puttering across to the other side.

There was no sign of the woman.

“Faith?” he hissed. “Faith?” He dove, flailing around in the darkness, trying to strike out and find her. Nothing, only cold and black and endless water. He surfaced again. “Faith?” Wishing he could shout, knowing he didn’t dare. “Faith?”

And then she bobbed to the surface, on the other side of the log. Looking quite relaxed, barely out of breath.

“Faith!”

In the moonlight, he could see her puzzled expression. “What?” she mouthed.

Kirkan shook his head. Kept swimming.

After what felt like an endless eternity, the shore on the near side became flat, regular, right-angled. A dock perhaps. Rows of long, low buildings beyond. Warehouses. Docks might offer steps or a ladder out of the river, easier for them to get out. Kirkan tapped Faith and pointed to the bank. She nodded, and together they began to kick, to push the tree towards the bank.

The current was strong. Stronger than he realized. It was carrying them past the docks. Faith realized it too. They nodded in wordless understanding, and let go of the floating tree. Struck out, against the current, striking out for the docks.

Kirkan was yanked up short. He was caught. A strap on the rucksack. Tangled in one of the branches. It was dragging him along, pulling him under, too heavy and fast to fight against and he couldn’t see, couldn’t see where it was caught, fumbling and shivering fingers couldn’t even find the buckle on the strap and he was under, below the water, still fighting and trying to wriggle out of the rucksack and he couldn’t, couldn’t get free.

His vision narrowed, dimmed. Air burned in his lungs. He was going to die. He was going to drown, here in the dark, in this cold, cold river, and there was nothing he could do. One last bitter joke from a savagely uncaring universe.

A hand caught his shoulder. The rucksack strap came loose.

Kirkan pushed and pushed and his head was above water, he could breathe again. Great, gasping, fish-mouthed breaths. Faith was there, the rucksack floating next to her. With one last look, she swam again for the docks. Kirkan labored after, lungs still aching.

There was a steel-rung ladder. Faith scampered up first, then Kirkan, more slowly, laboriously, pausing for breath on each rung.

Finally, he hauled himself over the top and managed to propel himself upright on shaking knees. They stood, wet and shivering, dripping. Kirkan was suddenly aware of her closeness. How the water trickled and ran along the curve of her face, her arms and legs. He looked to her face and found her watching him. Their eyes met. Both looked away.

“Come on,” Kirkan waved towards the closest warehouse. “Won’t do much good if we die of cold out here.”

The warehouse doors were locked but a window was open. Kirkan lifted Faith up, keeping his eyes on the ground, except maybe once, and then waited until she unlocked the door from the inside.

Inside were broad, industrial-looking shelves stacked five high, packed with bulging, heavy sacks of ammonium nitrate—agricultural fertilizer. Kirkan shivered, not just from the cold, but the memory of New Snowfield.

He stripped off his undershirt, and began to wring it out on the ground. He was about to do the same with his shorts when he noticed Faith sitting with her knees drawn up to her chin, watching him.

“Thank you,” he said. Suddenly awkward. “You could have let me go. Let me drown.”

Faith let her chin rest on her knee. “Why didn’t I?” she asked, softly.

“After all you’ve seen, all that’s happened, you still didn’t let me go.” Kirkan began to put the undershirt back on. Cold, clammy against his skin. “You said you’ve lost hope, but. I think you still believe in other people. I don’t know how you do it.”

“I thought about letting you go,” Faith said. Voice cracking, nearly broken. “Just. Couldn’t do it.”

“I admire that about you.”

“Hey, great for me, I feel admired.”

Kirkan felt stung, but knew he had no right to any sympathy or kindness from this woman. He looked down, tried to loosen the water-logged drawstrings of the rucksack, so he nearly missed what she whispered next:

“You’re my anchor.”

“Your what?”

“My anchor, okay? That’s why I couldn’t let you go. You’re all that’s left. My last connection to the world. I’ve got nobody else. My parents gone, husband gone, that child gone, everyone gone. If you die, I got nothing left. I’d just … float off, into nothing.”

Kirkan reached out a hand towards Faith, a silent offering. After a moment’s hesitation, she clasped it. Held onto it, digging her fingers into his skin.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

There were footsteps outside.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #57 on: 10 October 2019, 20:53:07 »
On Your Honor

Kentares IV
Occupied Federated Suns
January 2796


The voices were just the other side of the door. Two voices, which meant at least two men, possibly more. They spoke loud enough for Kirkan to make out some of their conversation.

“… next time the Tai-i wants to …”

Which killed any doubt—definitely DCMS. Kirkan waved Faith away from the door, into the darkened depths of the warehouse, while he tried to untie the knot in the rucksack drawstring with his other hand.

The door cracked open with a squeal of hinges as Faith scrambled away. The knots fought against Kirkan’s increasingly desperate tearing and fumbling and finally gave, enough for him to jam his hand into the bottom, feeling blindly for one of the pistols.

Two men stood silhouetted in the doorway. Tan uniforms, thickly padded flak jackets, scallop-shell helmets. Stubby bullpup submachineguns were slung from their shoulders. One held a flashlight.

“… heard he caused a cave-in that buried six BattleMechs.”

Kirkan’s hand closed around the butt of a pistol. He yanked. It caught on something, wouldn’t come free.

“Probably better they died than come back empty-handed, I guess.”

“Yeah, Aniki is not in a forgiving mood these days.”

The two men leaned their heads into the warehouse. The flashlight flickered out lazily, almost random and aimless. Part of a routine patrol, the routine so ingrained it was performed almost unconsciously, the men’s minds somewhere else entirely.

“Ventilator in here’s probably busted. Always stinks in these places, like a brothel for cats.”

“A literal cat-house.”

They stepped into the warehouse. Meters away from where Kirkan crouched, wrestling to free the pistol.

The flashlight swung around, and around, and around, and swept across Kirkan.

“Whu-the-who’s—” said the first man. Round-faced, boyish.

“It’s him!” hissed the second. Older, graver, with stubbled cheeks. The numeral “三” at hi collar marked him as a Chu-i, a platoon leader, a lieutenant.

The pistol tore free of the rucksack. Kirkan swung it around, finger on the trigger. The two soldiers’ faces had gone white. Hands hesitated on the grips of their weapons.

Kirkan and the two soldiers stood unmoving, frozen statues. Water dripped and echoed in the wire-taunt moment.

The pistol Kirkan held was the gyrojet. Two rounds only, low recoil, ammunition made of explosive-tipped, rocket-propelled micromissiles. Enough to blow either man to bloody pieces. Loud enough to alert every soldier in the city.

“Shit,” said the first man. “We’re screwed.”

“You’re him. Aren’t you?” asked the second.

“I’m him,” Kirkan agreed.

“We’re gonna die.”

“Did you—Did you really kill six guys?”

“I’ve been fighting for nine years,” Kirkan told them. “I’ve killed a lot more than six.”

“We are dead. So dead.”

“Question is,” Kirkan said, “How many have you killed?”

“I’m only 24 standard. Dragon’s tits. Only 24. Don’t kill me. Kill him!”

The second man looked uncomfortable. “Everyone had to take part. You know that. If you didn’t, they’d call you a coward, a traitor, a deserter, and you’d be the next one on the block.”

“Don’t listen to him, oh please, Unity, don’t listen to him. He’s crazy. I never hurt anybody. Not one. I’m only 24. Unity. Only 24. I’ll never have sex again.”

“I know you had to,” Kiran nodded to the Chu-i, ignoring the first solider. “I also know there comes a time when it’s not enough just to keep your head down. You have to make a choice, and you don’t get to pick when that happens. I didn’t. For you two, that time is now.”

“I choose not to die. Screw the Coordinator. Screw the First Lord. Screw him to Butte Hold and back. I just want to go home. I want to see my mother again. I want to have sex again.”

The second soldier was more cautious. “What do you want?”

“Tell me about the city. Defences? The ComStar compound? The spaceport?” He threw that last one in just in case, to keep the two men guessing about his destination.

“There’s a battalion here, another at the port—” the first man started to babble.

“Yuji, shut up,” his partner said. The, to Kirkan: “If we tell you, then what?”

“Then nothing,” Kirkan said. “You turn around and walk out of here in one piece. You finish your patrol, head back to base, report you saw nothing. You live normal, ordinary lives, you go back home, you see your moms and girlfriends again, you get married, raise families, try to forget this ever happened or even the name ‘Kentares.’”

“And if we don’t, they’ll be picking bits of us out of the woodwork for weeks,” the second soldier nodded. “We could turn around and ambush you the moment we’re out of sight. We could lead you into a trap. Why trust us to tell the truth?”

Kirkan’s mouth twitched in a half-smile. “On your honor.”

The man grunted as if punched. Then returned the faded ghost of a smile. “Like Yuji said, there’s a regiment scattered across this area. A battalion in the city, one at the spaceport, another in the countryside. In Amishton, there’s a company on guard at the compound, another along the road to the spaceport, a third patrolling the city. Small detachments, a squad or two at most. There’s also a BattleMech lance. I don’t know the types. One that looks like a scarecrow, another like a deep-sea diver, another like a kelenken—a flightless bird—and the last one like a waddling garbage can. One or two are usually close to the compound, the other two on patrol or near the spaceport.”

“Are they looking for me?”

“No, everyone thinks you’re hundreds of kilometers away.”

Kirkan eased his finger off the trigger of the gyrojet, tilted the pistol slightly upwards. “All right,” he said. “A deal is a deal. Only … got any food?”

The soldier laughed. “Dragon’s tits, no,” he said. “We haven’t eaten properly in weeks. Only rice balls, and they don’t count.” His smile disappeared and he reached under his flak vest, keeping his right hand up and in view. The left hand emerged, carrying a small square of transparent plastic, inside of which was embedded a shimmering silver disc. “Here,” the man said, and held it out towards Kirkan. “Got this from someone on the high command HQ staff.”

Kirkan didn’t move. “What is it?”

“Proof.”

The Combine was meticulous about keeping records. It went with their perfectionist nature, their desire for order. Everything named and numbered and catalogued, even their atrocities.

If this disc—a storage medium potentially holding hours of video or audio, thousands of data files—if this disc was genuine, it would no longer be his word or Faith’s word against the Combine’s. Dates, units, locations, troop rosters, tallies of the dead. Verifiable to any who cared to check. And there would be many who would.

“How did you get this?” Kirkan asked.

“Some of us don’t like what’s happening. Some in my unit, some at the headquarters. Some of them are close to the Coordinator. It was passed to me, as someone stationed near the ComStar compound. I’ve been looking for a way to get it to them.”

A stroke of luck for both of them. The Chu-i could pass on the incriminating evidence of treason with a clear conscience, at no further risk to himself. Kirkan and Faith would have the evidence to back up their claims.
Kirkan reached out, took the disc. “Thank you.”

“Shit, I just saw treason. High treason. Oh man, if we get caught we are beyond dead. Ultra dead. Can we go now that you two are finished being noble and honorable and just and all that? Because if we’re late reporting in, they’ll know something is up and then we’re dead. All of us.” The first soldier drew an imaginary circle in the air, encompassing the three men. “All of us, dead.”

Kirkan sighed internally. The first soldier would crack. The young man would hold it in for as long as he could, but his idiot conscience would get the better of him some day, and he would blurt out the truth, tell some officer what had happened here, unable to contain it any longer. Kirkan didn’t need long, a day or two, so it would make little difference, but would probably mean the death of the Chu-i who had just given them the information.

Kirkan looked at the Chu-i, and plainly read the same thought in the other man’s eyes. The young, blabber-mouth soldier would probably have an accident, sometime soon. Another death, to add to the numberless others already on the list. For a crime no worse than a guilty conscience.

The Chu-i met Kirkan’s eyes, nodded slightly, saluted with mocking irony, then allowed himself to be ushered out of the warehouse by his junior companion. Kirkan heard their hushed voices, listened as their footsteps receded.

Kirkan allowed himself to relax and lower the pistol. The disc still sat in his hand. It felt heavier than it looked.
Faith emerged from the darkness. “We’d better move,” she said. “They could change their minds at any moment.”

“No,” Kirkan mused, “I don’t think so. I don’t think that lieutenant is a sociopath. He struck me as a man with an uncomfortable conscience. He’s been sick, like all of us have, and he wants to get better.” He waved the disc towards her. “This is his one chance to feel like he tried to do the right thing. I don’t think he’ll throw that away. But.” He stood up, started walking through the warehouse, down the aisles filled to the rafters with bulging sacks of fertilizer. “It’s not a bad idea. Let’s find somewhere to get some rest. And some clothes.”

Faith quickly caught up to him. “Tomorrow we try for the ComStar compound?”

“Yep. Tomorrow’s the big day.” He tried to smile, and fake a confidence he certainly did not feel.
BattleTech fiction and SciFi writing: https://one-way-mirror.blogspot.jp/

Kidd

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #58 on: 10 October 2019, 21:29:56 »
You know you're in deep dwang when you have to rely on Comstar to save you.

ThePW

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Re: Handbook: House Kurita (2796)
« Reply #59 on: 10 October 2019, 21:49:04 »
more importantly, it explains the HOW COMSTAR got the goods...

 

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