Friday, March 28, 2014

Duel (A Wozniak's Wraiths story), Part 2

Not much new going on --- my part of the valiant RPG is coming down to the wire, and that's been the main focus of my recent efforts. So, here we go with part 2 of Duel:

       I won't bore you with the details of the meeting. It was long, tiresome, and nothing major came out of it. The only thing we agreed upon was Corlin volunteering to be the go-between for Tosig and myself. By the time the meeting broke up, the sun was just coming up, and we all headed for our bunks.
       After several hours of sleep, a late breakfast, and a very cold shower, I walked down to the Mechbays to have a talk with the Headhunters senior tech, Ivan "I.V." MacGregger.
       I found him in his office, a small room just inside the main door of the largest Mechbay. The office itself was in its usual state, which meant paper was everywhere. A pot of coolant which passes for coffee down there was warming on top of on old fashion filing cabinet which was older then the entire tech force put together. Old pictures and schematics dotted the walls like old wallpaper, and a calendar that was twenty years out of date hung in the place of honor over the desk.
       MacGregger was short and broad, with a bushy beard shot through with grey. He was wearing dirty green overalls and a battered blue baseball cap over his closely cropped hair. He glanced up at me quizzically, a mass of papers in his hand."Yeah?" he growled at me.
       "I need your help. I-"
       "Need something that can take on a Thor Primary piloted by a madman Clansman, Right?"
       I nodded slowly, remembering that several of MacGregger's people had been in the bar. “Any ideas?”
       “What you need is something bigger. Coffee?"
       I declined the coffee. "Like what?"
       He leaned back in his chair, the springs protesting every inch of the way. "Humm...let's see." His eyes closed for a moment as he sorted through his mind. Suddenly his eyes open and he smiled. "Got it."
       "What you need." He stood up, and strode to the doorway. At his bellow, a lanky tech came running, and after a quick conversation in low tones, the tech sprinted off. MacGregger turned to me with a big smile on his face, pored himself a cup of coffee, and sat down again. "It's going to take a couple of minutes for Jonsey to bring it around, so I'll tell you something about it."
       "What is it?" I asked in irritation.
       "It's a mech called the Claymore. It's seventy-five tons, good firepower, decent armor, almost as fast as the Thor. A small company in the Lyran side makes them. We brought one a couple of years ago as a backup mech, and haven't had a reason to use it yet."
       "What do you mean by good firepower?" I asked curiously.
       MacGregger shrugged his shoulders "Gauss rifle, LRM fifteen rack, extended-range large laser, and four medium lasers just in case your opponent wants to get in close with you."
       I gave a low whistle, and was about to ask MacGregger more about it when Corlin stuck his head in the office door. His expression was telling me that he was upset about something. “I must talk to you,” he said. “Now.” His tone matched his expression.
       “I’ll be outside,” said MacGregger. He strode out of the office, and Corlin walked in, looking even more unhappy.
       "What is it ?" I asked, hoping it wasn't more bad news.
       "I talked to Tanni, who is acting as Tosig's second. She was the one who was with him last night.”
       “Yeah, the blonde. What about her?”
       Corlin took a deep breath. “According to her, every planet they have landed on since they left Jade Falcon Territory, Tosig has challenged someone to a duel. Sometimes in ‘Mechs, sometimes in hand to hand, but always in some sort of combat. So far, he has won them all, but he has not acted as a warrior of the Clans."
       "So this joker has a death wish and acts like a spoiled brat, so what?"
       Corlin took another deep breath and launched into an explanation. "According to Tanni, he has violent mood swings that are becoming more and more extreme. The last duel he fought, he repeatedly smashed the cockpit of his opponent with his ‘Mech’s arms, long after his opponent was dead. A Clan Warrior would not do such a thing, were he sane."
       "So you're telling that Tosig is out of his mind?"
       "It is my belief that yes, he is insane."
       I cursed for several seconds, none of which are printable. "Can't Tanni restrain him at all?"
       "She has neither the authority nor the skill to restrain him. She and the others with Tosig are all freeborns. Her orders are not to interfere with Tosig’s actions, and she fears that were she to challenge him in a Circle of Equals, he would kill her. She fears him."
       “Great,” I muttered. “Have you found out why he’s several hundred light years behind the front line?”
       Corlin shook his head. “Not yet. He has the permission of the Khans - Tanni received her orders directly from Khan Crichell himself.”
       That raised an eyebrow. Crichell was the senior Khan, the number one guy in Clan Jade Falcon. Tosig was a jerk, but he was a jerk with some serious backing. “Do you think he is a spy?”
       It was Corlin’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “They could have not sent a more incompetent spy even if they tried.”
       This was just getting better and better. But before I could continue, MacGregger stuck his head into the office. “Jonsey’s coming.”
       Both Corlin and myself went outside. Just then, a Mech made its way clear of the Mechbays and strode over to where we were standing. It stopped ten meters from us, and stood there, a monument to technology. I had never seen this type of ‘Mech before, so I figured it was the Claymore. The massive right arm was spouting a barrel that just had to be the Gauss rifle, and I could see the missile launcher perched on the left shoulder. Several openings in the torsos marked the positions of the lasers. It was definitely a 'Mech for the job ahead.
       MacGregger walked up behind us and asked "What do you think?"
       "Its perfect," I replied "Don't bother to wrap it up, just sent it over to the training area before tomorrow morning." I turned to Corlin."So it's up to me and the Claymore here to restrain him, isn't? Oh Wonderful." I grabbed Corlin by the arm "Come on. First, we see the Colonel about your news, then I need one last drink before I start training."


       The next three days were a blur. The early mornings would find me in the cockpit of the Claymore, putting it through its paces. A quick lunch, and I was back in the Claymore, this time running simulated combats against Mikki and Tony. In the Evenings, Corlin would go over everything he knew about Tosig and the Thor class. Then it as early to bed, and the whole thing started over.
       During those three days, Corlin ironed out all the details of the duel with Tanni. It would take place in a narrow canyon near the middle of Battle Island call Rook's Gash. Tosig and myself would be dropped off at opposite ends of the Gash, and from there we would move into the canyon and try to kill each other like civilized people. He seemed kind of nervous about something, but he clammed up when any of us asked him. “I will tell you after the duel,” he said.
       And how did Tosig and his happy band of Falcons end up so far from the front lines? Simple, seems the Clans sent warriors to survey the rest of the Inner Sphere while their leaders were off doing whatever they were doing. Already, they'd landed on Solaris, taken one good look at the 'Mech games there, and declared it an ‘abomination’. Individual Clanners had been spotted as far as Terra and Sian. In the case of Tosig’s happy little band of genetic goons, it seems they had bribed a minor official on one of the worlds bordering the Clan zone, who gave them official FedCom citizenship. I have no idea how that thin an excuse managed to get them deep into Federated Suns Territory, but it did. When the Colonel heard about this, he headed straight for the comm center. From his expression, that "minor official" would be lucky if he was allowed an oxygen ration on the way to prison.
       On the State level, the Colonel sent word to MIIO about out little Clan problem, but with the exception of publicly sending a couple of observers to watch the fight, well, they didn’t seem to do much. A message to the First Prince himself came back with a 100 C-bill note and instructions to bet on me. Several reporters showed up, including one that had been trailing after the Tosig terror, but they made almost no headway against either the Duke or the Colonel. There was a redhead reporter that managed to get into the base, but made the mistake of running into Tony. Not many woman can resist Tony when he puts on the charm, and this reporter was no exception. For the next couple of days, Tony was smiling like a cat that had managed to eat a 200 kilogram canary.
       What wasn't so cheerful was Tosig’s track record since hopping over the Falcon’s border. Twelve planets visited, ten duels, ten wins, no losses, seven dead opponents. Seven had been ‘Mech to ‘Mech combat, the rest hand to hand. The Colonel had managed to get footage of his last two matches, both ‘Mech combat, and had us watch them. What we saw was not pretty.
       Tosig started off cool and calm. But, at some point in both battles, he went berserk. Like a switch had gone off in his head, he would start hammering his opponent with alpha strike after alpha strike, pushing his Thor way beyond the normal heat limits. If the other guy was still standing after that, he moved in, firing every step of the way and if the poor guy was still standing, start punching and kicking, until the other ‘Mech fell down. In the second fight, the opponent’s ’Mech, a Zeus, had fallen, but Tosig still continued to hammer away at the cockpit until both it and the pilot inside were unrecognizable.
       Corlin had been understating Tosig’s insanity. No Clanner in their right mind like physical combat - it wasn't their way. But Tosig had tossed that little idiosyncrasy out the window. Which meant that all bets were off, all plans were null and void, and predictions and probabilities went out the door. I was going to have to play this entire fight by ear and hope Tosig was tone deaf.
       That combat drop over Liao was looking mighty good right then. . . .



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Duel (A Wozniak's Wraiths story)

Still working hard to get that assignment for Valiant done, so not much to report of the Battletech story front. The thread I opened on the official BT forums,"Want to ask a Battletech Writer something? " is still open and I'm still answering questions.

For tonight, I thought I'd start posting the squeal to "Snakedance". This was my first solo effort, even though I left Rob's name on, as he was still very much a part of the process. This was the first (and up to now, the only) time I used one of my own designs in a story (The Rattlesnake was about 98% Rob's work). I hope you enjoy the opening act:


Tales of the Headhunters: Wozniak's Wraiths #2Duel
Craig A. Reed, Jr. ((c)1995 Robert Madson and Craig A. Reed Jr., 2005 Rewrite by Craig A. Reed Jr.)

Nunivack CommandChirikof Operations Area, Federated CommonwealthMarch, 3051

      A Clan ’MechWarrior walks into a bar. . . . Doesn't that sound like the beginning of a bad joke? Well, not in this case. When this joker walked into the wrong bar, it ended with a duel. But I should start at the beginning.
      The Annul Bar is in the city of Sharpsberg, Antietam’s capital city. It's supposed to be a replica of a type of old Earth bar that's called a Pub. Inside, the oaken beams, wooden tables and soft lighting combine to give the place a cozy feeling. The only jarring exception to the feel are certain reminders of the outside world, like the large Kuritan Banner that hangs behind the bar, the spoil of a raid years ago. Several pieces of Mech armor, tarnished by age, yet still showing the insignia of the dead 'Mech's unit, were scattered about the walls. To some, it's a little uncomfortable, but to us it's home.
      It's the favorite bar of my outfit, known more by their nickname of Mallory's Headhunters then as their official designation as the Antietam Guards, for several reasons. First, its near the fortress that houses our HQ when we're on planet. Second, it serves great food and drink at decent prices. And third, and the most important, Its owned by one of us, Regimental Sergeant Major Grady Hachkaser (Ret.), a man who keeps us well supplied with drink and advice on anything, asked for or not.
      There was a good crowd in the bar tonight, mostly Headhunters, both active and retired, with a few locals who braved the atmosphere. The four of us, Myself, Mikki, Tony, and Corlin, had managed to snag our favorite booth in the back, away from the bar itself, in order to quietly celebrating several things. The first was that we were finally getting some down time at home after nearly a year of playing tag with Clanners. Another reason was that we be staying for a while, training some newbees in the fine arts of mayhem and destroying ’Mechs. Third, we were tasked with pulling together another ’Mech company to fill out our battalion. The last thing to celebrate was my promotion to Captain of said company.
      "How did old 'Happy' take the fact they promoted you ?" asked Mikki with a lopsided grin.
      "Major Hart took it the same way she takes everything that involves me," I replied, sipping my beer. " She scowled at me in her sweet and gentle way and threaten to shoot me if I got out of line."
      That brought a round of chuckles from everyone, including Corlin. In the last year, our Clan bondsman had loosened up a lot, though there were still times he could be reserved. It had taken him a few months to adjust to the idea that we weren’t a Mercenary unit, which the Clans don’t really like, but he was settling into his new life now. At the current time, he was well on his way to snagging the four slot in my new Command Lance, so the next time we went out, he would be going with us.
      The Clans had stopped their invasion near the end of last year, for exactly what reason we weren’t sure of. Rumors that the Clan’s IlKhan, their leader, had been killed in some battle in Rasalhague Republic persisted, though the Clans could have just been rearming and placing themselves for their next wave of attacks. Whatever the reason, we were pulled back for rebuilding. We had taken losses, but there were several Clan-held worlds who had felt our opinion of their invasion.
      “You thought about who you’re going to have in the company?” Tony asked. He had filled in as Lance Sargent so well, when I got the company, he naturally ended up as my Company Sargent, the senior NCO.
      “The Major is sending over a list of candidates,” I replied. “She’s promised a good selection.”
      “Have you decided what’s the Company’s nickname is going to be?” Mikki asked. Short, petite, she looks like everyone’s kid sister. But Corlin found out the hard way that under that little sister image is a dirty and vicious fighter. He had suggested that he demonstrated what a trial of grievance was. Mikki volunteered and got a little carried away in the demonstration. It only took Corlin two weeks before he stopped limping. . . .
      “Wozniak’s Warriors?” Corlin suggested.
      “Williams’ company over in Third Bat is already known as the Warriors,” Tony replied.
      “Besides,” I said, “We’re going to be a fast attack company, not one of the sluggers.” Before the Clans showed up, each Headhunter battalion had been made up of two medium, two light ’Mech companies, an aerospace company and a company of infantry. Now the battalions were being rebuilt as one assault-heavy command company, a medium-heavy company, and two light-medium companies, with a heavy aerospace company and a reinforced armored infantry company. My company was going to be one of the light-medium companies, built on speed and mobility.
      “So we’re going to be fast moving and hard hitting?” Mikki asked.
      “That’s the plan.”
      “Like ghosts,” Corlin whispered.
      “Or,” said Tony, with a smile. “Like Wraiths.”
      “Wozniak’s Wraiths?” Mikki said, trying out the name. “I like it.”
      “I, too find it fitting,” said Corlin.
      “That’s three in favor,” Tony said. “What about you, Boss?”
      “Thanks for including me in the discussion,” I said sarcastically. “And suppose I say no?”
      “You’re outvoted, Boss. Wozniak’s Wraiths it is.”
      I sighed. “Whose turn to buy the beer ?" I asked.
      “Yours,” replied the three of them in unison.
      "Figured," I said in a wounded tone of voice.
      “Hey, boss, look at it this way,” said Tony as I stood up. “You're now making enough to pay off your bar tab.”
      "Not if I have to buy you guys beer all the time," I shot back over my shoulder as I made my way through the tables to the bar.
      Grady himself was behind the bar, a short, wiry man with a bald head and a hook nose. He smiled at my approach, and asked for my order. I placed my order, three Golden Lion beers and a bottle of Fulgar's for myself, and stood there taking to Grady for several minutes. The conversation had just gotten around to my bar tab, and when it was going to be paid off, when the front door slammed open.
      A pair of giants strode through the door. They stood there like a couple of oversized bookends for several seconds, then stepped aside to let a normal size human through the door. If the two unarmored Elementals hadn't been a giveaway, the joker who strode in couldn't have been mistaken for anything else but a Clan ’Mechwarrior. The place had fallen silent at the appearance of the Elementals, but you could have heard a pin drop when the ’Mechwarrior stalked in like he owned the place.
      He was slightly shorter than me, but broader. His dark hair was cut close to the scalp, which revealed a mass of fine scars running across his skull. His features, battered and scared from years of combat, were screwed up as if he smelled something bad. A green Falcon was tattooed on his left cheek, which didn't leave any doubt which outfit he was a part of. A slim blonde followed him in, her expression tempered with anxiety, and stood next to the Elementals by the front door.
      He looked around in disgust, staring at each person in the room one at a time. He made eye contact with me, and I stared back at him with a look of disdain, and I smiled as he broke eye contact first. He finished giving the room, and the people in it, the once over, then headed for my lancemates in the corner.
      By a quirk of fate, we were the only Mechwarriors in the bar at the time. The rest of the patrons that night were a mix of techs, off-duty infantry, and others that weren't human in the eyes of most Clanners. No, this jerk was looking for a fight, and he pick my Lance for it.
      He stood there at the table for several seconds, looking over my friends like he was picking out a clean pair of socks. He zeroed in on Corlin and said in a scornful voice "Corlin, is it not ?"
      "It is," Corlin replied in a low voice, meeting the newcomer gaze "What brings you here, Tosig?"
      Tosig's smile was cold and bleak as he replied " I am just looking around. I like to know where Freebirth scum hide when they are not in battle."
      "You will not find what you are looking for."
      "Are you so really sure?" The sneer was completely in place now. " That is a revelation coming from such a poor excuse of a warrior."
      "I was beaten in battle, in fair fight." By the tone of his voice, the poor kid was on the verge of challenging this joker to combat.
      "Maybe." Tosig look at the others at the table, then zeroing in on Mikki. His smile was cold. "Or maybe there were. . . . other reasons?" The tone in his voice left no doubt on what he was implying.
      I saw Mikki's face redden, which meant one of two things; either she was embarrassed, which I don't think she's been since she was twelve. What was more likely was that she was getting mad, which meant Tosig was seconds away from digesting eight centimeters of steel the hard way. And the dark looks that Tony and Corlin were giving Tosig, they weren't going to stop her. I saw Mikki's eyes narrow and her hand disappeared under the table. One more insult, and the Jade Falcons would be short one ’Mechwarrior.
      The loss of Tosig wouldn't keep me or anyone else in the bar awake at night, but I really didn't want to explain to the Colonel why we had a stiff Clanner on our hands. As the Household troops for the Duke of Antietam, anything we do, say, or cause reflects on the Duke and his Family. Colonel Mallory's Father is the Duke, and one day the Colonel will trade the CO slot for that role. So I did what I thought was right at the time.
      That got his attention. He turned slowly, his face a mask of anger. "Were you talking to me?" he asked in a slow, measured tone.
      "No, I was talking to the banner on the wall," I replied, motioning to the Kuritan pennant "But it has more sense then you, and doesn't talk back. Less arrogant too."
      He took two steps towards me, the arrogant sneer replaced by fury. "YOU DARE TALK TO ME LIKE THAT?" he bellowed, spitting out each word like an autocannon round. "I am Star Captain Tosig of the -"
      "I don't care if you're the ghost of General Kerensky himself," I shot back, my voice surprisingly level. "You've no right to walk in here, make lewd suggestions about my people, and generally act like a spoiled two-year-old. You've two choices here." I held up my finger. "You can walk out of here with your pet Neanderthals, climb back on your dropship, blast off, and never set foot on Antietam again." I held up a second finger "Or you can be carried back to your dropship by your pet Neanderthals. Now, which will it be?"
      It took him all of two seconds to make up his mind. With a bellow that would have done an elephant proud, he charged me. His first kick would have finished me right there had I stayed. As it was, I barely moved out of the way in time, and I heard the wood splinter as his kick connected with the bar. He spun towards me in time to catch two hard lefts and a right uppercut that snapped his head back. He staggered back, his eyes unfocused and glazed, his nose leaking a stream of red. He shook his head to clear his vision, and they refocused on me, and the hate and contempt he had for me was burning there, brighter then before.
      He attacked me again, this time more deliberately. He caught me with a hard left to the jaw that snapped my own head to the left, followed by a right hook to the ribs that hurt. I stepped back, and as he threw an overhand right for my head, I stepped inside and hit him in the gut as hard as I could. As his breath exploded from his lungs, I grabbed his right wrist and upper arm and use a good old judo throw to toss him onto the middle of a nearby table with enough impact to collapse the table. The table’s patrons dove out of the way as the table disintegrated, leaving a stunned Tosig lying in a mix of booze, half eaten food, chips, shattered glasses and smashed dishes.
      As I moved forward to finish the job, a huge pair of arms pinned my arms to my side. I thought an Elemental had joined in and began to struggle, but the voice that was bellowing in my ear was a familiar one.
      It took several seconds for Dregonov's voice to penetrate my skull, but when it did, I relaxed. Dregonov slowly released me, and I turned to him and said "Thank you Sergeant Major. I think I'm all right now."
      "That's still remains to be seen," said a voice from behind Dregonov, and inside I groaned as I snapped to attention, along with every single active duty soldier in the place. The last person I wanted to see right then was Colonel Mallory, but he has a habit of being in the middle of anything that has to do with the Headhunters, no matter where or when.
      The Colonel stepped around Dregonov and looked at me as if deciding what to do with me. Behind him, Deak, the Colonel’s bodyguard, hovered like an irritated wasp, his cold eyes missing nothing. Finally, after several seconds of intense scrutiny, The Colonel said in a low, calm voice "Would you like to explain your actions here, Captain?" The quiet tone of voice meant he was really mad. The Colonel never shouts, but I've seen enough people wither under the quiet voice and his cold blue eyes to make me wish I was somewhere else right now, like in a combat drop over Liao.
      His eyes never left me as I explained. After I finished, the Colonel glanced over to Grady, who was still behind the bar. Grady nodded slowly in agreement, and the Colonel refocused his attention on me.
      "I see," he said in that same calm voice, looking at me in a thoughtful way. "Anything to add?"
      I was stiff from all the standing at attention, but I wasn't going to relax one muscle until the Colonel was satisfied. "No Sir."
      "Very well." He turned to Dregonov "Sergeant Major, see to the. . . .Guests." Dregonov, whose big enough to be mistaken for an Elemental, nodded his bald head once, and moved off to take care of the problem.
      For the first time since the fight started, I took the time to look around and get my bearings. Tosig was being revived by one of our medics and the blonde Clan ’Mechwarrior. The twin Elemental bookends were standing in the middle of a group of hard-face Howlers who were just looking for reason to get in some target practice. The rest of the patrons were being herded out into the night, leaving just my lancemates, the Clanners, and the response team of the Colonel's in the bar.
      "Captain Wozniak, get cleaned up and report to me in one hour," said the Colonel. "Bring your Lancemates and we will figure out what happen here tonight."
      I nodded, saluted, and walked over to where Mikki, Tony, and Corlin were. The relief on their faces was clear, as well as a couple of smiles. Just as I open my mouth to say something, a bellow broke the low mummer that had been the only sound in the room."YOU! STRAVAG!"
      I spun on my heel to face you-know-who. Tosig was back on his feet and was already looking for a rematch. He was bloody, battered, but the gleam in his eyes was dangerous. The other Clan ’Mechwarrior, a short, slim woman who wore her hair in a tight ponytail, held him around the waist, in an attempt to restrain him. He was screaming at me, spitting curses like machine gun fire, and I thought we would have round two right there. Two of the Howlers were moving to help the blonde, but they were several meters away
      "You are a dead man!" Tosig howled at me. He started moving towards me, dragging his companion along like she was some baggage. The two Howlers reached him and each grabbed an arm, arresting his advance, but doing nothing about the glare I was receiving from him.
      And it was some glare. His eyes were wild, and his face was a deep red hue. This wasn't the same arrogant Clan MechWarrior that had stalked in here earlier. Instead, what stood there straining to reach me was a crazed killer, wanting my blood. I have never seen someone so consumed by anger before.
      Before I could do anything, the Colonel stepped between us. He and Tosig locked eyes, and stood there for a minute, each waiting for the other to back down. As I watched, the mad gleam in Tosig's eye slowly faded, and sanity flowed in to replace it. He relaxed, and his partner released her death-grip from around his waist, but the two Howlers didn't relax their grip on him.
      "Are you through?" asked the Colonel, his voice was as cold as a New Sytris winter.
      "I am." A touch of the arrogance came back into Tosig’s voice. "And who are you?"
      "Colonel Ian Mallory."
      "Is he your man?" Tosig asked, pointing at me with his chin.
      "He is."
      "Then I challenge him, here and now, to combat. I am Star Commander Tosig of the 305th Assault Cluster, of clan Jade Falcon. I have participated in four planetary invasions, seventy-four battles, and have thirty-six kills to my credit. What say you to this?"
      Everyone stared at him in shock, myself included. There was silence in the room for several seconds before the Colonel said "I say no."
      Tosig looked at the Colonel with surprise. "Do you speak for him?"
      "I do."
       "So it is true." That arrogant smile was back, as if it hadn't left. "You Headhunters are cowards and not worthy of an honorable death." Clearly, Tosig was in crying need of an attitude adjustment.
      “And you are not worthy of being dealt with as a warrior,” The Colonel replied. He motioned to the Howlers holding Tosig to release him.“You do not act as a warrior should.”
      The Clanner brushed himself off in a theatrical manner. “Imprison me,” he hissed, “and my clan will deal with you harshly.”
      “Your threats are empty.”
      “Do you care to challenge me, or do you too hide behind your rank?”
      The Colonel’s smile could have frozen Oxygen. “Go back to your clan, Star Commander,” he said. “Death waits for you here.”
      “Death does not scare me.”
      “No, you seem to be seeking it.”

      “That is my business.” His smile was cruel. “Care to challenge me?”
      Before the Colonel decided to cure Tosig of his nasty habit of breathing, I stepped forward, and stood next to the Colonel. "I am Captain Gordon Wozniak. I have twelve campaigns, twenty-three raids, and twenty-six kills to my credit, three of which were of Clan Jade Falcon. I accept your challenge. Five days from now, on Battle Island." Battle Island was one of the training ground the Headhunters used, a chunk of land in the northern sea of Antietam. It would be the perfect place for a fight, with no civilians to get in the way.
      "Agreed." Tosig's smile was large, and I wonder for a moment if that wasn't the reason for coming in here in the first place. “Release me, and I swear that I will cause no more trouble for the next five days.”
      “What makes you think I want you around for five days?” the Colonel asked.
      “Because it would not be wise to be labeled as a Dezgra unit.”
      “They are not Clan!” Corlin shouted. “They cannot be labeled as Dezgra!”
      “Maybe not, but they will be view as no better then Bandit case, by all Clans. You know me, Corlin. You know that there are Warriors in power that will listen to me. And it will not take much to declare your new friends as breakers of Rede. No Hagira will be extended, no Isorla would be allowed.”
      “That doesn't sound good,” I said.
      “It is not,” Corlin replied, looking a little pale. “Any Clan unit we would face in battle would fight and pursue us until we or they were all dead. No Bondsmen would be taken, no chance of withdrawing will be allowed. Anyone taken prisoner would be executed.”
      “That definitely not good,” I muttered.
      “Captain,” The Colonel said. “Shut up.”
      Tosig continued. “If the duel goes on at the scheduled time, no matter the outcome, your people will not be labeled Dezgra. On that, you have my word.”
      “Why should I trust you?”
      Tosig looked at Corlin. “You know me, Corlin. You know that I do not break my word, Quaff?”
      “Aff,” Corlin replied. “Colonel, he will keep his word.”
      Colonel Mallory nodded slowly. “Star Commander,” he said “There is a training base three hundred kilometers southwest of the city that is not currently in use. You and your people will use it until the duel. If we spot you anywhere else on this planet in the next five days, I will cancel the duel and throw the entire bunch of you into a jail cell. Is that understood?”
      Tosig nodded. “Perfect.” He looked at me. “You will die,” he said, then turned and strode out of the bar, the blonde following him like a little puppy. The pair of Elementals fell in behind them and the four of them marched out the door and into the night.
      “That could have gone better,” I said.
      I found almost everyone staring at me as if I had just declared my undying love for Natashia Kerensky. Even the Colonel, who does not show strong emotion in public, looked at me in surprise. The only three who didn't look at me like I was insane were my lancemates. Mikki and Tony had resigned looks on their faces that said 'here we go again', while Corlin wore an expression that was part concern, part thoughtful.
      "What's the problem?" I asked the Colonel.
      "I said no." His eyes were boring through me now, and now I was thinking about it instead of reacting, the implications of what I had done sent a chill into me. But I was in it, and I don't like to back down.
      "I'm sorry Colonel," I replied "But there's no way that any genetic freak of nature with a bloated ego is going to walk into OUR bar and insult all of US with impunity." I shot a glance at Corlin. "Sorry, Corlin, no offence meant."
      "Insults I can live with," shot back the Colonel "Dead Warriors I can't." He directed his attention to Corlin "Is there any way to call this off?"
      Corlin shook his head "Only the combatants can, and not without good reason. To do otherwise would brand the one who called it off as a coward, and not worthy to be a warrior. He had influence with his Galaxy commander and the SaKahn. He could have carried out his threat to have us treated as Bandit Caste.”
      The Colonel swore under his breath. He then said "How well do you know this Tosig?"
      "I know him somewhat. When I was with the Jade Falcons, he was considered a Rinstar.... er.. a ’MechWarrior with great promise for a Bloodname.”
      “So he’s a good ’Mechwarrior?”
      “Very good.” Corlin frowned. “But there is something is wrong here."
      "His anger that he displayed towards Captain Wozniak. That is not normal for him.”
      “Part of my charm I guess,” I said. The Colonel glared at me.
      Corlin shook his head. “It is not like Tosig. He is cruel and arrogant, yes, but never have I seen him so out of control. Irrational anger like that is not him. It is a weakness that a Clan Warrior cannot afford, and he has always taken pride on being the perfect Clan warrior."
      "For the record, what does he pilot?" I asked.
      "A Summoner, or what you would call a Thor. He favors the primary version."
      It was my turn to curse under my breath. A Thor. Seventy tons of heavy ’Mech that could move as fast as most mediums. Primary version carried a heavy autocannon, extended range particle projection cannon and a long-range missile rack. At the current time, I had still my Rattlesnake, but it wouldn't stand a chance against a Thor one on one. I started to speak, but the Colonel cut me off.
      "Enough of this. Captain, go clean up and I want you and the rest of your. . . ” His gaze took in my entire Lance. “. . . happy little crew in my office in fifty minutes. We've got a long night ahead of us."



Friday, March 21, 2014

Just a Short Note Tonight....

The work of the Valiant RPG continues on, but I'm spending a lot of time trying to run down anything I can use. The 90's series is a no-go -- the company rebooted their universe when they started up in 2011, so they want the RPG to reflect the reboot. Understandable, but I have to go over all the new stuff the characters I'm responsible for with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything I can use. Not easy.

BTW, I opened a thread on the official Battletech forum called "What to ask a Battletech Writer Something?",38114.0.html If you want to ask me anything, you can go there, ask the question, and I'll answer it (Within reason). All the Q&A will become future blog posts!

That's all. It's late and I have a character who needs some defining....


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Story Thoughts --- Snipe Hunt

Well, the project I'm working on for Catalyst Game Labs has been announced:

So, I need to find out as much as I can about the one title I'm responsible for. The problem is I have only the current series to draw from (the previous series can't be considered, as there are major differences between the two series, even though they're about the same characters.) The current series is short, and the latest I can't draw from for several reasons. The fun of being a writer....but I'm digging out as much as I can!

For the rest of this post, I thought I'd write about Snipe Hunt, published back in 2009 (Nearly FIVE years ago --- where does the time fly?)

Snipe Hunt was my fourth published Battlecorps and up to now, my shortest story, clocking in at about five thousand words. As a new writer, I wanted to show Jason Schmitzer, Battlecorps' editor, that I could write for any faction. I had done a Federated Suns-based story, a Draconis Combine story, and a Word of Blake story. So I decided to try a Free Worlds League-based story, and another time period. So, I chose the League-Andurian War in the late 3030s. I found the circumstances in the Brush Wars sourcebook, just a paragraph describing the action on Conquista, That was followed by a look at the Free Worlds League Field Manual to find the Twenty-third Marik Recon Regiment as a part of the Sixth Marik Militia in 3059, so, since I found nothing to contradict it, I decided the Twenty-third had been a part of the Sixth for more than twenty years. I now had a place, circumstances, background, and an outcome. Now I just needed the characters and the actual story.

Instead of a MechWarrior, I decided to use a tanker's POV for this one, and Sergeant Faust Myers reported for duty. What I didn't have was any experience in how the crew of an armored vehicle worked together. However one of the workshop people did, and with a few words, gave me enough knowledge to make the dialogue and actions inside the tank feel realistic. I decided on an NCO as the main character, again because I wanted to make sure I was doing different things every time. And I came up with the idea of a snipe hunt that turns into something too real.

A snipe hunt was one of the practical jokes new boy scouts were exposed to (Yes, I was a boy scout --- made Eagle rank too!). A snipe hunt involved looking for a snipe, a type of bird and trying to capture it by doing something silly, such as making strange noises or running around the woods with a bag. Snipe are a real bird, are hard to capture, but most camping sites are nowhere near the Snipes' range (As an aside, the word "Sniper" comes from the snipe --- since the snipe isn't an easy bird to shoot or capture, anyone who had the skill to shoot one was called a sniper.) A snipe hunt is a wild goose chase, usually a deliberate joke used to harmlessly haze a new camper or boy scout.

According to the Field Manual, the Sixth Marik is an assault regiment, who rely on lighter armor to scout and guard their flanks. The Twenty-third Marik Recon Regiment, by it's very name, meant that I had to use light armor. I decided that the Pegasus hover tanks were the best vehicle I could think of for the role.

From there, it was figuring out the flow of the battle. I actually played this one out on MegaMek, as an experiment, and was surprised at how lethal the Pegasi actually were. What I wrote about in the battle was basically what happened in the game (I ran the Pegasi, while the computer ran the Andurians), with tweeks here and there for dramatic effect.

Later on, I used the story as a basis for a scenario which was published on Battlecorps. I enjoyed writing the story, and I think it's a good story, from a voice not often heard from in the Battletech universe.



Friday, March 14, 2014

Snakedance, Part 2

Just a small update before we get back to the story....

I've got a writing assignment for a CGL project (Non-Battletech) that is due April 1st, so I'm putting by Battlecorps writing on hold so I can concentrate on this.

Anyway, the rest of Snakedance!


        Although we were a 'Mech short, we were still the best unit for this kind of mission, a search-and-rescue in hostile territory. Our Rattlesnakes look a lot like the more common Jenners, which is intentional. Inside, though, they're stuffed full of high-tech upgrades. They have almost twice the armor and firepower of a Jenner, and they're even more maneuverable. We could cover a lot of ground fast, deal with a lot of units that might try to stop us, or outrun what we couldn't outfight. We weren't looking for trouble, but no matter what Captain Hart thought, we were ready to make trouble for anyone who wanted it.

        Three quiet hours later, we entered the Ramagen Canyon system. The Canyon is a dry riverbed, and one of the great tourist spots on the planet. It's not quite as big as the Grand Canyon on Terra, but searching it one valley at a time is still a long and painful process. Clearly, the Star Guard boys were not standing around waiting for us to wander by.

        We'd been winding our way between the sheer granite walls for nearly an hour when Mikki's voice came over the radio. "I've got a moving MAD contact at 10 o'clock, range 2500, and it's a BIG one!"

        "IFF reading?"

        "Negatory, Woz. If it's one of ours, he's not advertising the fact."

        "Might be one of the Guards or a TDF member, but it could be a hostile. Let's check it out. Mikki, behind me; Tony, you take the rear."



        We closed cautiously with the contact. At about 1000 meters, we came to the mouth of yet another box canyon, much like the dozens of others we'd already checked. The floor of the canyon was uneven, with small clumps of tired-looking trees growing between rock-strewn patches. The canyon was about 1000 meters long, with jagged 200-meters cliffs on either side, and an even taller cliff at the far end. We'd seen the same features over and over again.

        The thing that made this canyon different were the two 'Mechs at the far end. One was a Star Guard ‘Mech, an Awesome that looked like it had been fed through a meat grinder. It had fallen onto its back, smoke streaming from several armor breaches, and its right arm PPC barrel was twisted and bent.

        But the other 'Mech. . . .

        It was standing there, as if it was waiting for something. It had a pod-like body, like a Stalker, with an armored shield over the top and a missile rack on the left shoulder. The heavy forearms had multiple barrels instead of hands, and the legs bent backward like a Marauder's It was an assault class 'Mech, one that look like it been designed to do one thing -- kill. A chill ran down my spine as my battle computer confirmed what I'd already guessed--this 'Mech wasn't a familiar design to anyone in the Inner Sphere.

        Now, we could have backed up and gotten out of there, but it never really crossed our minds. First, we didn't like enemy ‘Mechs wandering around behind us. Second, we wanted some blood in return for Hanson and Flynn. And third, it was still possible the Guard ‘Mechwarrior was still alive, and we were ordered to find all the mercenaries we could.

        Tony said it all: "What in blazes is THAT!?"

        "I don't know," Mikki said, "but I wouldn't want to meet it in a dark alley."

        "I've got news for you," I replied, as I activated my targeting system and gun cameras. "That's what we're doing right now."

        "Boss, you always did look at the bright side of things," came Tony's response.

        "Can the chatter for now. Spread out, pattern Delta."

        Mikki started edging her 'Mech toward the left wall of the canyon. "We're not going to have a lot of room to maneuver in here, Woz."

        "It's the best way to go up against heavy armor," I replied. "We'll have to substitute cover for distance." As Mikki continued her move on my left and Tony mirrored it on my right, the 'Mech at the end of the canyon stepped forward, its arms bringing their weapons to bear on us. We stared at each other for a few seconds, each side sizing up the other. Then, without warning, a gravelly, distorted voice came over our supposedly secure radio.

        "I am Corlin of the Jade Falcon Keshik, Clan Jade Falcon. Who do I have the honor of meeting in combat?"

        Tony's muffled curse told me that I wasn't hearing things. How could this guy tap into our scrambled communications? I took a couple of seconds to recover my wits and decided to play by the book for a change.

        "This is Lieutenant Gordon Wozniak of Second Battalion, First Regiment, Antietam Guards. Deactivate your weapons and open your canopy, or we will be forced to open fire."

        Even with the distortion, I could hear the contempt in the raider's voice as he replied, "I do not yield so easily, Lieutenant. The Star Guards Stravag have already found that out. Prepare to defend yourselves!"

        "Switch to scramble India, guys," I called into the radio. India is our ‘unauthorized’ lance channel. We use it when we don't want our own side to know what we're doing. Hopefully, the raider only had our standard unit scrambles and wouldn't be able to break this one right away. I punched the new code into the radio. "This guy not only has our scramble codes, he's got a serious attitude problem. What do you think we should do about him?"

        "Happy told us to stay out of trouble," said Mikki. "But then again, when have we ever been able to stay out of trouble?"

        "I don't think we should just walk away from this," replied Tony. "After what they did to Hansen and Flynn, I'm not in the mood to let some self-important assault jockey intimidate us."

        "It's your call, Woz. Do we take him?" asked Mikki.

        I bit my lip and thought for a second. The MAD gave this guy's mass at 100 tons, and the invaders were ton-for-ton nastier than anything we'd ever run into before. Our Rattlesnakes were worlds better than standard Jenners, but I had almost decided that discretion was the better part of valor when the other guy made our decision for us. A flight of LRMs ripped out of the launcher on the raider's shoulder. Although the missiles fell far short, they made his intentions clear.

        I switched my radio to the company channel. "Bravo Leader, this is Rattler Leader requesting immediate assistance. One enemy assault 'Mech of unknown design trapped in a box canyon with a downed Star Guard ‘Mech. I'm transmitting video over the data channel. Please acknowledge, over!"

        Happy's voice came over the speakers. Even through the heavy static I could hear the resignation in her tone. "Rattler Leader, this is Bravo Leader. Roger on receiving video. We are not in position to support you. Reinforcements cannot arrive in under three-zero minutes. You're on your own."

        "Understood, Bravo Leader," I replied. I didn't really expect any help, but it doesn't hurt to ask. I switched my radio back to the lance channel. "Mikki, Tony, if anyone asks, remember he shot first. If this guy wants a fight, he chose the wrong people to have it with. Let's take him!"

        We tore down the canyon at full speed, Tony hugging the right wall, Mikki the left, and me charging right up the middle. Delta is our favorite tactic for taking on big 'Mechs. The idea is basically to avoid giving the enemy a shot at any single target for more than a few seconds. As one 'Mech draws the enemy's fire, the others go for the weak back armor. Done right, Delta means that at least one 'Mech will have a back shot all the time. It isn't the ideal way to fight in a canyon, but we didn't have time to develop new tactics.

        The raider wasn't much for fancy tactics either. He stepped away from the Awesome and came at us head-on, as if he expected to crush one of us with a single volley. With a standard Jenner, that might work. This guy wouldn't be the first one, though, to be surprised by a Rattlesnake's armor.

        As I closed, I could make out the insignia on the 'Mech's chest: a green bird holding a sword in its talons. The Warbook computer came up with zip on the insignia. I had just enough time to register that fact before a barrage of laser fire erupted from the raider's Mech.

        This guy might have been arrogant, but he was good enough to back it up. At 600 meters, he didn't have much of a chance to hit a target moving at better then 115 klicks an hour. Still, the lasers flashing all around me were way too close for comfort. "Watch out!" I called, as I launched my 'Mech into a 200-meter jump to the left that took me out of the immediate line of fire. "This guy's almost as good as he thinks he is!"

        "I see it, Boss," replied Tony as he finished his end run and begin to approach the raider from behind.

        "Me too," said Mikki, as she mirrored Tony's move on the other side.

        The raider turned to keep his weapons aimed at me, but his move exposed his rear armor to Tony's fire. Armor vaporized from the left arm, but there was no obvious damage.

        Instinctively, the raider turned toward the immediate threat. By turning toward Tony, though, the raider had left his back exposed to Mikki. More armor puffed, this time from the right leg. Then it was my turn.

        Rattlesnakes are heavily armored for light 'Mechs, but they aren't designed for stand-up fights with assault 'Mechs, especially one that has more firepower than any two Atlases. My job was to get in the enemy's face and distract him while my lancemates chewed on him from behind. With a bit of luck, I might survive. With a lot of luck, I might even do some damage.

        The raider swiveled toward me, took one step forward, and then the world lit up like a nova, his laser barrage backed up by medium autocannons. My canopy quickly polarized, but not fast enough to keep me from being dazzled by the glare. I slammed down on the jump jet controls and the laser triggers in the same convulsive motion and vectored to the right, landing heavily. A quick scan of the monitors showed heavy damage to my 'Mech's left arm and torso, but no malfunctions. Tony's voice cut through the static.

        "You all right, Boss?"

        "Nothing hurt but my pride. You take decoy. I'll work on him from here."

        "Roger. I'll...Mikki, break left!"

The raider had turned his attention toward Mikki. As she dodged to the left, he triggered another massive laser volley, throwing in the LRMs for good measure. Mikki avoided the worst of it. Even so, enough connected to strip the armor off her right leg and torso.

        "I'm still ticking," called Mikki, before either of us could react. To prove her point, she triggered a retaliatory salvo. Four of her lasers scored, cutting deep into the damaged armor on the raider's right leg.

        I moved forward and triggered all my lasers as the raider reacted to Mikki's fire. Five of my shots chewed deep into the raider's torso, but not in time to prevent him from firing a second volley at Mikki. This time she was ready and jumped clear.

        "Tony! Keep him busy!" I yelled as I pushed my 'Mech to full speed. "Try to cover me, I'm going to do something really stupid." From the front, this bogey could ace any of us in three volleys. So far, though, he hadn't fired anything to the rear. Maybe he didn't have anything back there to fire--I was about to find out the hard way.

        I ran my Rattlesnake right up behind the guy; I couldn't have been more than 10 meters away. At this range, he was even uglier from the back than from the front, but nothing shot back at me. As Tony dodged yet another volley, I triggered every weapon I had. If I had a slingshot, I would have fired it, too. Eight eye-searing beams lanced from my 'Mech into the bogey's rear, cutting jagged holes through layers of torso armor and into its vitals.

        There are few mobile objects that can ignore that kind of damage, and this 'Mech wasn't one of them. He tried to spin around and shoot at me, but one of my shots must have creased his gyro. He managed to turn about halfway, then staggered forward half a step, trying desperately to turn his back away from me and stay standing at the same time. Tony's Rattler came flashing in, adding his lasers to the barrage, and Mikki added some more. The raider scored a couple of hits on Tony, but then the raider must have lost it. He started firing wildly, sending shots in every direction, but not hitting anything but the canyon walls.

        I screamed into the radio, "We've got him! Go for the damaged leg!" as I slammed another volley onto his back. Mikki and Tony fired almost simultaneously, carving deep furrows through the damaged armor on the raider's legs, and savaging the 'Mech's internal structure, severing the limb. This time, he couldn't keep control, and the enemy 'Mech collapsed onto its face, sending a cloud of dust into the air.

        As we closed in for the kill, a hatch popped open on the head of the raider Mech, and the pilot jumped out, landing hard in a pile of rocks. He slowly climbed to his feet, his hands raised in surrender. As we moved in to cover him, just as the tension of battle was starting to ease, our MAD detectors lit up with multiple targets, no more than 300 meters away, directly behind us.

        The three of us spun as one to face the new threat. It took us several seconds to realize that the 'Mechs at the canyon mouth weren't an avenging group of raiders. These 'Mechs we recognized, and underneath the maze of scorch marks and battle damage on their armor we could make out the Star Guards insignia. A heavily-scarred Thunderbolt stepped forward, and a clipped voice came over the general frequency.

        "I say, we seemed to have missed all the fun. Might I inquire which of you chaps is Leftenant Wozniak?"

        "That would be me," I replied as I tripped my IFF beacon. "And who are you, if you don't mind me asking?"

        "Ah. I'm Major Lethbridge, in command of what remains of the 3th Battalion. Your Captain Hart--delightful lady, I must say--informed us that you might be in a spot of trouble. I see you found Charlie.”


        “Charles Fellows, the Awesome’s pilot.”

        “We don’t know if he’s still alive.”

        “Well, let’s find out, shall we? I'm frightfully sorry we're late; the cliffs confused the signal from your transponders and we were misled into the wrong canyon. I'm delighted to see that our help was not required, but rather disappointed that you've finished without us."

        "Sorry," I responded. "Our friend here doesn't seem to want to play anymore."

        "Oh, that's unfortunate. The lads and I were quite looking forward to a second go-round with these blighters. He's your prisoner of course. You'd best accept his surrender before he changes his mind."

        Something about the way this man could keep his sense of humor in the middle of disaster struck a chord in me. I decided that the best thing I could do would be give Lethbridge a chance to meet the enemy as a victor instead of a victim.

        "Would you do me the honor of accompanying me, sir?"

        "Delighted, Leftenant."

        Leaving a couple of the Guards near the mouth of the canyon to make sure we weren’t surprised, the Thunderbolt and a battered Centurion walked down the canyon toward us. While the Centurion went over to the Awesome, the Thunderbolt stopped near me and a tall figure climbed down from the ‘Mech. As he walked to the feet of my 'Mech, I got out of the cockpit and climbed down.

        The Major was a older, gray-haired man with a neatly-trimmed mustache and an air of command about him. He waited until I on the ground before he said, “You had better luck with the enemy then most of us did.” I just nodded to Lethbridge, drew my pistol, and together we walked toward the prisoner.

        He had sat down to wait for us, holding his head in his hands. As we approached, he raised his head, but made no attempt to stand. Lethbridge and I stared at him for a second, glanced at each other, then looked back at our captive. The pilot of an assault 'Mech, the warrior who had so coldly challenged us, couldn't have been more than 20 years old!

        Apparently, we weren't the only ones surprised. The prisoner's eyes locked with Lethbridge's, and his jaw dropped. "I did not know we were fighting a Solahma unit!" he exclaimed.

        “A what?” I asked.

        “A unit of old warriors!” he said, looking at Lethbridge.

        "I may not be the picture of youth, but I deserve more respect than that from a child like yourself," replied Lethbridge coldly, his joviality vanishing into a glare that could shatter armor.

        I moved forward to divert their attention from each other and onto me. "In the name of the Federated Commonwealth and of House Mallory, I require your surrender," I said, quoting directly (I swear!) from the Antietam Guards's Code of Military Conduct.

        It was my turn to be stared at. "You are Lieutenant Wozniak?"

        A few good lines ran through my head, but with the state Major Lethbridge was in I figured I'd better keep playing it straight. "I am."

        He bowed his head slightly to me. "Very well, I surrender to you. You and your comrades are superior warriors. I hereby submit myself to your Clan Mallory and their justice."

        Meanwhile, Lethbridge had wandered away to cool off and was looking in the hatch of the enemy 'Mech. "I say, Leftenant," he called out. "This machine is remarkable! I've not seen a design this sophisticated in my entire career!"

        At that moment, Tony broke in on my wrist comm. "Woz, Cap'n Happy is on the line, and she's mad enough to chew through a DropShip’s hull. You'd better let her know what's going on."

        "Patch me through, Tony," I replied, keeping my eyes on my prisoner.

        "...olation of direct orders..." came Happy's voice, in its usual sweet and soothing tones.

        "Rattler Leader here, Bravo Leader,” I said, sounding cheerful. “Good news; it's Headhunters one, raiders zip. We have a prisoner, a mostly-intact enemy 'Mech and we managed to find a lance of the Star Guard. Major Lethbridge says the enemy 'Mech is something special. Any chance we can keep it?"

        "Wait one, Rattler Leader." After about a minute, Happy came back on line. "You’re in luck,” she said, the last word spat out with all the intensity of a curse. “There’s a small convoy of supply truck near your current location. The Major is sending them to your location, ETA twenty-two minutes, to pick up the enemy 'Mech. You and the Star Guards can escort it to the landing site. And assuming you can avoid any more trouble, they’ll be enough room for your lance, but after this stunt, I really don't care if you're aboard when we take off. Copy?"

        "I copy, Bravo Leader. By the way, Happy, Major Lethbridge sends his warmest regards." Tony didn't cut the link fast enough to avoid a few choice words from our fearless leader.

        For the next half hour, I had nothing to do but talk to the prisoner. It turned out his name was Corlin, no last name--according to him, you have to pass some sort of test to get one. He was from a unit called the Jade Falcons, but now, since we'd defeated him, he considered himself part of "Clan Mallory." This was his second campaign, and he was upset at himself for losing to three "overgunned garbage cans," as he described light 'Mechs in general and our Rattlesnakes in particular.

        Well, the Convoy showed up. The Awesome's pilot was battered, bloody, but still breathing. We packed Corlin’s ‘Mech and the Awesome onto the trucks, managed to avoid the rest of the Jade Falcons, made it to the landing site in time, and we boosted outsystem at max thrust all the way. The surviving Star Guards went to Wotan, while we hopped to Black Earth long enough to get ourselves together, then we went on the offensive. Over the last six months, we've been doing what we Headhunters do best, hit-and-run attacks against the Clans, and we're shipping out again as soon as we complete repair-and-resupply.

        As for us, it turns out the 'Mech we captured was what the Inner Sphere would called a Daishi, but what these Cans called a Dire Wolf. Corlin was part of the first wave of Clan invaders, the descendants of the long lost Star League Defense Force. That little revelation gave some Intel boys some much needed nights of no sleep. The Dashi was quickly claimed as an ‘intelligence asset’ by MIIO, but Colonel Mallory ‘forgot’ to tell them about Corlin, figuring that since we were going to be the ones in direct combat with these Clans, it would be best to have an expert on them close at hand. Because of that, the Headhunters have a new "special consultant" by the name of Corlin Mallory.

        Ever since that battle, one question has been running through my mind. Corlin was on the young side to be piloting a brand-new assault 'Mech. If these guys are putting young pilots in assault 'Mechs, what are the veterans driving?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Snakedance (Rewritten and Expanded, 2005) Part 1.

Back in 1991, a friend, Rob Madson, and myself decided to submit some stuff to the magazine,  Battletechnology. We had some initial success with the SurbanMech design, which appeared in issue #16. We decided to write a combination of 'Mech design/Story/Scenario and sent it in. The "'Mech design was the Rattlesnake (Which was my friend's design, refined over a number of BT games.), the Scenario was "Snake, Rattle, & Roll" (Which was not our name, but theirs), and the story was Snakedance (Which we wrote together) We sent them in, and it was published in Issue #21.... and were never paid for any of it.

Later on, I wrote several more stories involving these Characters -- Duel, Snowfall, and did a first draft of Free For All. I posted them and basically forgot about them

Anyhow, several years back, I was going through some old file and found two more half-written BT stories, starring the same Characters. I thought, "Why don't I finish these?"

I read over the stories I was finished in this series, and realized it was kind of plain. I then decided to rewrite them, adding details and strengthening some weak points I saw in the stories. I also decided to group the stores together under the series name, Tales of the Headhunters: Wozniak's Wraiths. I posted these to fanfiction forum, and decided to add them to the blog.

The first one up is the rewritten Snakedance, Part 1. I hope you find this an improved version of the story....


Tales of the Headhunters: Wozniak's Wraiths #1
Snake Dance
Craig A. Reed, Jr. and Robert Madson

(Originally published in Battletechnology #21, rewritten, 2005)

Wotan Command
Bone and Trellshire Theater (Blackjack Operations Area)
March, 3050

You've heard people talking about where they were when the Clans first hit. You've heard the wild stories about single pilots in Stingers taking down Clan heavies. You've heard the stories of single Clan 'Mechs devastating Inner Sphere companies. Well, some of it's true, and I saw a lot of it. You would have too, if you were with the Headhunters.

Mallory's Headhunters are the nickname of the ‘Mech regiments in the service of the Mallory family, a Dukedom in the Federated Suns. Officially, we're the Antietam Guards, but I haven't seen Antietam in over a year. The Headhunters have a long history of service in the Federated Suns, specialize in anti-piracy tactics, counterinsurgency, and the occasional dirty jobs nobody else wants. Not many people have heard of us, and that's just the way we want it.

When the Clans first wave hit, Second Battalion, First Regiment, was assigned to Toland, a cold, dry world on the edge of Rasalhague space. The locals had been complaining of pirate raids, and we were detailed to start our own raiding campaign right back at the pirates. When we received reports that someone had jumped in at the nadir jump point and started releasing JumpsSips, we thought that maybe the pirates had saved us the trouble of looking for them. What happened next, though, was not a normal pirate raid in any way.

The Second Regiment of the 12th Star Guards had been assigned to cover the planet, augmented by three local mixed regiments called the Toland Defense Force (TDF). The Headhunters' staging base was a camp about 400 klicks to the north of the capital. We and the Star Guard boys didn't mix much, as we were more concerned with getting ready to pummel pirates then we were about being diplomatic, but we had no problems with either them or the local militia.

The first sign that something was wrong was when the Aerojocks went up to repel the enemy DropShips and came back with their tails between their legs, at least those who did come back. They had been hammered and hammered hard. We lost two of our own aerospace fighters in the battle, but the Star Guards lost over half their fighter contingent and didn't even slow the raiders' DropShips down.

The second sign was when the raiders, who IDed themselves as a Clan Jade Falcon, called from orbit to ask who was defending the planet. The Guards CO, Colonel Marinetti, must have thought this request was funny, and transmitted his entire force roster just to show the pirates what kind of trouble they'd jumped into. When Major Richmond Ryan, our battalion commander, got the same message, he stayed silent. We figured the raiders would get all the information they would ever need when we pounded them into scrap.

As the raider’s DropShips were burning hard for the planet’s surface, there was a flurry of messages between the Major and Colonel Marrinetti. We weren't part of the planetary defense command structure, but we couldn't stand by and do nothing. The Colonel wasn't too sure about us, but he decided that we would be useful covering the Capital with the single TDF regiment being left behind. So, we moved down into Toland City and watched the Star Guards and two thirds of the local militia move out to face off against the enemy.

The pirates had landed a couple of hundred klicks south of the Capital. The Star Guard and the TDF moved into an area called the Judea Jungle, which was between the Capital and the Raider's landing area. It was a solid defensive position, as it straddled the only route these Falcons could take if they wanted to hit anything of value. Major Ryan sent Charlie Company of our battalion to observe and report the battle first hand. We clustered around the communications room to hear the news as the Guards shook out into a defensive line and prepared to fight. The raiders had put down about a battalion and a half against an entire regiment of veteran mercenaries, with two solid local regiments as backup. With that kind of mismatch, we figured the Guards and the TDF would get a light workout and be back in town celebrating in a day or two.

Boy, were we ever wrong.

The battle started around 0800, with these Falcons plunging straight into the Guards' defensive line. These guys were not subtle, but hit the Guards like a sledgehammer. About 1100, word came that the entire defensive line had been pushed back a dozen klicks, with the Guards and the TDF taking heavy casualties. Another four hours had the Guards pushed out of the Jungle and onto the Cantor Climb. The Falcons took the opportunity to rest and reload, while their aerospace fighters used the retreating defenders as target practice on the exposed wasteland of the Climb. The third TDF regiment went out to help their fellows, but their presence only stiffened the defensive line for about half a day,

By the next morning, their 'Mechs were back at it again, hitting the 12th Star Guards and what remained of the TDF, driving them back toward the city. Our Charlie Company had gotten caught up in the battle covering a retreating Star Guards company, and had lost four 'Mechs and two pilots for its trouble. All we had to do in the city was swat at a couple of aerospace fighters of unknown types, but we couldn't move out and join the fight without exposing the city, and the Star Guards' dependents, to a possible attack. So we sat there and watched four regiments get shattered by a force less then one-fourth their number.

About dawn on the third day of the 'campaign', Charlie Company and the very shattered remains of a Guard 'Mech battalion straggled into Toland City. After they were sorted out, Captain "Happy" Hart, our company CO, walked over to our lance's parking area, her usual scowl on her face.

"Lieutenant Wozniak!" she barked.

"What's up, Happy?" I queried.

Happy's scowl got even deeper. She's a good commander, but her sense of humor is like Takashi Kurita with a toothache. I’m the toothache.

"Charlie Company's recon lance lost its lieutenant and lance sergeant. The Major's borrowing Sergeant Johnson from your lance to take over Charlie Recon."

I was silent for a moment. I'd known Hansen and Flynn pretty well, and I'd grieve for them later. For now, though, their loss had left a hole in the command structure, and Johnson was the best man to fill it. I wasn't happy to lose him from my lance, but I could see the need.

"Johnson's doing maintenance on his 'Mech. I'll go get him," I said.

"No, I will," replied Hart sharply. "You've got a mission briefing in five minutes." She strode off toward the maintenance area, and I rounded up Mikki and Tony, the other members of my lance.

The mission briefing was given by Major Ryan himself, with Happy standing in a corner, glaring at us. The four of us stood around a table in the Star Guards HQ building. "According to Colonel Marrinetti, some of his people were cut off during the retreat and radioed that they had withdrawn into the Remagen Canyon to the west of the city. The Guard Dropships are relocating to our original camp to the north to pick up both survivors and dependents, but they aren't sure they can contact all of their remaining units. Your mission is to search the canyon for survivors and lead them to the camp."

"Are we bugging out?" I asked with a surprised tone in my voice.

Major Ryan gave me one of his patented 'Are you dense, or just being stupid today?' looks. He's mastered the look to the point where he doesn't bother with yelling. "We're not dealing with a normal raiding party," he said with a patient tone. "They have superior weaponry, unknown ‘Mech designs and are very well organized. If an entire regiment of the Star Guards and three militia regiments couldn't slow them down, what chance would we have?"

"Not much of one," Mikki said. Second Battalion was mostly medium and light 'Mechs, fine for hit-and-run raids, but not for a stand-up fight.

Ryan nodded. I could see in the Major's face how much he hated the idea of running from a fight, but Duke Mallory doesn't hire idiots to command his soldiers. "Exactly. We will lift off at 2300. You have roughly twelve hours to complete your mission. We can't wait any longer than that."

"Can the Aerospace guys help us search?" asked Tony.

"Negative. We have to conserve our remaining fighters to cover our retreat." The Major made ‘retreat’ sound like a four-letter word. He didn't like the idea, but he wasn't stupid enough to throw away his battalion.

"What are our rules of engagement?" I asked.

"We believe there may be Falcon forces in the canyon attempting to hunt down the remaining Guard units. Avoid combat if possible. Remember that your primary mission is search-and-rescue."

As we returned to their hanger and our 'Mechs, Happy had one final comment. "Remember, the Major defined this as a search-and-rescue mission. Avoid combat if possible. If not possible, avoid it anyway. IS THAT CLEAR?"

I have an undeserved reputation for getting into trouble. "Roger, Captain, will do. Save us a seat on the DropShip, huh?" Hart decided my comment wasn't worth a reply, and she stalked away. I climbed into my 'Mech, strapped in, and switched the radio to the lance channel.

"Tony, Mikki, are you ready for this fishing expedition?"

"Roger, Woz," was Mikki's reply.

"Lead on, Boss," said Tony.

We left Toland City and moved out to the west at top speed. The chatter on the taccoms told us that the Falcons were busy sweeping the area from the Climb to the city for defensive holdouts, so we were clear of most the invaders. There was a line of people fleeing toward the city, so we went cross country, keeping one eye out for other 'Mechs of either side, while the other kept a watch for Falcon aerospace fighters


Part 2 will be on Friday.


Friday, March 7, 2014

My Favorite Five NEW 'Mechs from TRO: 3050

A couple of weeks back, had a column of their five favorite 'Mechs from the 3050 TRO. ( This is the first one that has Clan 'Mechs in and the major upgrades are in place.

I'm going to stick with just the brand new designs that first appear in 3050, because I would be repeating myself, because most of my favorites got upgrades that I liked. So, three clan designs and two Inner Sphere ones for this post. (Images are from, and belong to FASA/FanPro/CGL. I have no claim to them as my own)

Mad Dog (Inner Sphere: Vulture or Hagetaka)

One of the more underrated designs in the Clan forces, the Mad Dog is a sinister-looking support 'Mech with enough firepower at all ranges to ruin anyone's day. My favorites variants are the Prime (paired LRM20s, Large Pulse Lasers, and Medium pulse Lasers) and the C (twin Gauss rifles). It's also the only 'Mech to have more than two names. (Hagetaka is Japaneses for Vulture)

Mad Cat (Timber Wolf)

There's been only a few iconic 'Mechs in the last 30 years, and one of those few has to be the Timber Wolf. It looks like a weapon of war, from its cockpit, pod arms and massive missile racks. It's fast for its size, with enough firepower to stomp on anything that gets in its way. My favorite variants are the Prime (Paired LRM20s, ER large lasers ER medium lasers, and machine guns with a single medium pulse laser) and the Pryde (Paired LRM20s, ER large lasers ER medium lasers, a single ER small laser, and jump jets)

Warhawk (Masakari)

In my book, one of the scariest Clan Mechs is the Warhawk. When I was playing in a gaming club, I'd call it a "Massacre", because that's that it would do to any target in its sights. With almost every version carrying a targeting computer, this monster could hit and inflict serious damage at ranges Inner Sphere pilots could only dream about. I like the Prime (4 ERPPCs, LRM10), the C (2 ERPPCs, 2 large pulse lasers, flamer) and H (LRM10, 2 large pulse lasers, 2 large heavy lasers).


"Speak loudly and carry a bigger stick (and use it too!)" sort of describes the Axman. The Hatchetman's big brother, this 'Mech is best in urban environments where long range weapons are limited. With a AC/20-- ax combination, letting this monster get close is suicide. I used this design in my Battlecorps story, The Promise, and wrote a battle between an Axman and a No-Datchi, in which the duel descended into a brutal ax versus sword fight.

Marauder II

Another "big brother," the Marauder II is a is a monster that can jump and take a lot of punishment as well as deal it out. I like the 4K variant (2 heavy PPCs, two ER small lasers, Gauss rifle) and the 4S (2 ERPPCs, 2 ER medium lasers, Heavy Gauss rifle).

Those are my choices. Anyone have one of their own?


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Much Battletech Universe Background is too Much?

Battltech is a large, very detailed universe that has evolved over the last three decades. In that time, A detailed history, covering from about 2000 on up through 3145 has been created. Over fifty interstellar factions have been created, detailed, and given their own personality, then set out in to the universe to live or die at the will of the Line developer. Scientific explanations have been created to explain HPG stations, KF drives, and Battlemechs themselves. Each military has their own ranking system, formations and equipment. It's a large sandbox with countless stories that still need to be told.

But the universe isn't perfect.

I've seen questions from fans and players asking questions on the forum that ask for too much detail. For example, questions about the numbers of 'Mechs produced by a certain factory, or how what is the tax rate in a certain state, or what the population of an interstellar state. Most of these questions fall into what is called "FASAnomics," a term to describe the original creators lack of interest in the economical side of the universe. But those questions are still asked.

My own view, away from the forums and here on my blog, is simple; why worry about those details? For one thing, the economics have no bearing on the game itself, and very little on the fiction. The number of Panthers, Archers or Atlases that exists at the same time is immaterial to the game play. No one is going to complain you have too many 'Mechs of the same design on the board. There are no hard production numbers for any design because there is no need for them, and it isn't anyone's job to keep track of how many 'Mechs there are in the universe.

What do I mean by this? Take for example, the DCMS in 2765: at the height of it's power (or close to it), A quick add up of the number of 'Mech battalions in the DCMS put the total around 350 battalions. Assuming that there's a battalion command lance in each battalion, the numbers of 'Mechs in every battalion is 40. So, th entire number of Battlemechs in major DCMS commands is around 14,000 'Mechs (And that is probably on the low side, as it doesn't take into account over-strength units, other training units not noted in the FR, private forces and secret forces). At no time is there going to be 14,000 DCMS 'Mechs in play on the board at the same time, even across the world. It would be impossible to do so, not matter which age you're playing in. Now multiply that 14,000 by a factor of twenty, to account for all the other interstellar state's military forces, including the SDLF -- Now it's up to 280,000 'Mechs.

There is no way keep track of every single canon  'Mech design or their variants. There are close to 2,000 canon 'Mechs and their variants on the books. The Battletech Brain Trust had enough grief keeping track of all the units and the WarShips during the Jihad, and those are large units to keep track of. Now, try keeping track of, say 100,000 - 200,000 individual 'Mechs, and you see the problem.

But I'm not aware of, say Fields of Fire, keeping track of the number of tanks each country made (even though that is already known), or even the number of soldiers, as the game works at the Platoon/company level, and maybe to battalion level, but no more than that. The same thing with Star Wars' TIE fighters and X-wings, Warhammer 40,000 Rhinos, Walkers in Dust Tactics, or the number of Federation Heavy Cruisers in Star Fleet Battles. There is no need to track individual units in any of these games, because the games are played at a level below the need for hard numbers.

As for keeping track of populations: Again, why worry? Civilian populations have a very limited effect on the game, except as a target, an obstacle, or as an objective. They, as a whole, are not important to either the board game or the RPG, and only mildly important in the fiction.

While I like the interest in people asking questions, there is such a thing as too much information. And it's already a daunting job to keep track of the events, major characters and units, without adding another layer of difficulty to the job. The more details that has to be kept track of, the harder it is to do the job, and the easier it is to screw something up. (See the Black Thorns, as an example of what happens when a detail is overlooked.)

For most of the people CGL work with in putting together Battletech products, this is a secondary job, and they don't have time to spend in minute details that have no effect on the game itself. As for writing, It's dependent on the needs of the plot. If the plot calls for a lance of Valkyres, I will use a lance of Valkyres and not worry about how many there are in the Inner Sphere.

Battletech's universe is a deep and detailed one. But there are some areas in which detail isn't needed or really wanted. To take time in filling areas that have no effect on the game, means that the attention is taken away from more important areas. Battletech doesn't need any more detail, especially if the details don't have a bearing on the game or on the story.

Enough for now,