Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Running From the Past, Part 3

The Battlecorps stories have to take a back seat for a couple of days, as I'm working on the Valiant RPG, as some extra writing has fallen into my lap, and I need to get that ASAP. But all three stories are closing in on 3,000 words each and I'm still finding the story for each one.

Now, Part 3 of Running from the Past:


Two kilometers northeast of LaCroix,
Cascade, New Colony Region
The Periphery
November 27th, 3065

Jägare smelled the smoke before he saw the town.

A early season blizzard had basically imprisoned him in his cabin for most of the past two weeks, and he was running low on a few things, including composure from two weeks of being cooped up in the cabin. The supplies weren’t at critical levels, but it was best to get them now, before heavier storms arrived. Cascades’s winters were usually brutal and hard, and this one had the earmarks of being even more so.

Besides, he wanted to talk to Andrea. He’d been thinking about it on and off since September. He was still hesitant to commit fully, in case the Confederation came looking for him. But after long reflection, he didn't feel that he was being fair to Andrea. It was time for a long serious talk. Maybe they could come to an understanding that both of them could live with.

The snow still blanketed the ground, but enough had melted to allow Jägare to saddle up just after dawn and go into LaCroix. And he had done so, leading the mule and made his way through the knee high snow. He wore a heavy fur coat, a thick woolen cap, a scarf across his lower face, and thermal gloves against the chilly morning.

But when he smelled the smoke, he knew something was wrong. The wind was blowing from the southeast, from the direction of LaCroix, and even with the scarf on, Jägare could recognize the smell of destruction and death. He pulled down the scarf and the smell raced through his nostrils, awakening old memories. He unslung his rifle and urged his horse and mule on.

It took another forty-five minutes to reach LaCroix, and a single look told Jägare that the town had been attacked. The communications tower next to the Marshal’s Station has been toppled and laid in a broken and twisted heap. Smoke billowed from a dozen structures, several of them torn open by heavy weapons fire. A couple of vehicles had been wreaked, and there were bodies strewn about. The street had been torn up by intense explosions. Jägare hissed to himself as he saw a fallen 'Mech near the road. The Marshal had been ripped apart by a lot of firepower, too much for a bunch of raiders on foot.

As he rode into town, he was aware that there were only a few people out and about. As he approached the Marshal’s Station, a figure came limping out of the damaged station.

“Ian,” Dunn croaked. His clothes were torn and stained with blood and smoke. Small cuts littered his face, his right arm was in a sling, and bandages were visible under his shirt. His eyes were red rimmed and his expression was a entanglement of exhaustion, sadness, fear and anger.

“What happened?” Jägare asked, as he slid off his horse.

“We got attacked,” the Deputy replied, his voice rough. “'Mechs, vehicles and men. Hit us about midnight. Took out the radio tower and the vid-phone exchange before we even knew they were there. Both my men are dead, and I don’t know how many others....” He inhaled slowly. “The kid tried to stop them with his Marshal, but he was outnumbered three to one and didn't stand a chance.”

“Is he dead?”

“No,” said another voice. Takezaki stepped out of the station. He walked stiffly, but seemed all right otherwise. “I ejected just before the machine gun ammo went.” He shook his head slowly. “The chute didn't open all the way. If it wasn't for the snow, I would have been paste.”

Dunn turned to Takezaki. “Doc said you should lie down, sir,” he said.

“He said the same thing to you,” the Marshal replied.

“Do you know which ‘Mechs the raiders used?” Jägare asked the marshal.

“Two lights and a heavy,” Takezaki said bitterly. “One of the lights was a Panther, the other a Raven. The heavy was a damn Warhammer.”

“You were an idiot to go up against all three,” Dunn growled.

“What was I suppose to do?” Takezaki snapped. “Sit there and let them attack?”

“Stop it!” Jägare said sharply. “You can access blame later. Any identification on the raiders?”

“I couldn't see much,” Dunn replied. “They had half-dozen men pinning me down in the station.”

“I did,” Takezaki said slowly. “Each of the ‘Mechs and vehicles had an emblem painted on it of a blood-red skull with a sword thrust through it sideways. ”

Jägare heard Dunn hiss something, then the deputy snarled. “It’s them.”


“The Brotherhood of the Bloody Skull.”

The Hunter remembered the conversation he’d had with Marshal Jackson a couple of months ago. “The slavers the Marshals mentioned a while back?”

“Yeah. The symbol is a match at any rate.”

“If they’re slavers, that’s means– ”

“They have our people.” Dunn’s expression shifted to one of fury. “Damn it!”

“Later,” Jägare snapped. “How long have they been gone?”

“About three hours or so,” the deputy responded.

“They can’t be too far away,” Takezaki said. “But we can’t go after them.”

“I can.”

“You can’t be serious!” Dunn said. “They must have fifty men, half a dozen armored vehicles and those ‘Mechs! You can’t take them all by yourself!”

“I’m not going to,” Jägare replied. “Andrea has a satellite phone at her place. She can –" He stopped as he saw the expression on their faces. “They took her?”

“It looks like they may have,” Dunn said slowly. “No one’s seen her since last night. Max is missing too.”

A shot of fear went through Jägare, but he suppressed it almost as soon as he felt it. Emotion wasn't going to help here. Even as he thought that, he felt himself slip back into the mindset of a Death Commando. “Does Marshal Jackson know?”

“Yeah,” Dunn said. “I sent Jake McCaley’s youngest boy with a full report. I completely forgot about the satellite phone.”

“Now you do. Let’s start doing something besides feeling sorry for ourselves.” He turned and stalked toward Andrea’s Trading Post.



Saturday, April 26, 2014

Running from the Past, Part 2

Sorry for not putting this up yesterday. I hope the story makes up for the oversight. As for my Battlecorps writing, all three stories are still going strong. All are over 2,000 words and still on track.

Here's part 2 (Or chapter 2). Not sure if I should divide this up into chapters yet.


“Team Two, go!”

The two shadows moved across the snow-covered lawn with quick, short strides, weapons moving to cover all possible angles of attack. In seconds, they reached the shadows of the stone building that was their target. Silently, they slipped into position on either side of a thick wooden door. One of the pair attached a small box to the door, right over the lock.

“Team Two in position,” the other one whispered into the small transmitter attached to his facemask. “Wolf and Cobra.”

“Team Three in position,” said another voice five seconds later. “Eagle and Shark.”

“Team Four in position,” A third voice said three seconds after that. “Tiger and Viper.”

“Team one in position,” a fourth voice said. “Dragon and Lion.”

“Team five, in position,” A fifth voice called out. “Jackal and Mantis. Road is clear.”

“Remember, no witnesses,” Dragon said. “And make sure you leave the evidence. We go in three... two... one.”

As soon as ‘one’ echoed in their ears, there was a small ‘pop’ as the box attached to the door exploded, shredding the lock and opening the door with some violence. One went in low, the other high, sweeping the room with the compact machine guns. The room, some sort of storage area, was dark and silent. Moving quickly, they crossed the room to another door in the far wall. One of them tested the door handle and found it moved easily.

The door lead out into a hallway – and the first guard. Dressed in a suit and tie, and carrying a machine gun slung over his shoulder, he wasn’t expecting any trouble. He stopped short at the sight of the two armored and armed men in black who had suddenly appeared and desperately tried to raise his weapon.

Two short busts from the intruder’s silenced weapons knocked the guard back and down. Moving quickly, the pair advanced, one checking on the downed guard, the other covering the hall. One quick look told the intruder the guard was dead. Each intruder grabbed a leg and dragged the guard into the storage room. Wolf knelt down next to the body and removed a small scrap of fabric from a belt pouch. He carefully placed it in the dead man’s had and closed the lifeless fingers around it.

As they stepped out into the hall again, machine gun fire reverberated throughout the house. Over the radio, a voice said, “Eagle here. We’re pinned down in the main hall.”

“Team Two,” said Dragon, his command voice was calm and cold, like ice.“Assist Team Three. Team Four, move to point Alpha Three and wait for me. We have six minutes.”

“Negative movement on the road,” Jackal said.

Six minutes – the length of time it would take the target’s backup security force to reach the house. Team Two moved down the hall at a half-run toward the sounds of the combat, weapons ready.

The hallway lead out into the main hall of the building, where a gun battle was underway. Team three was trapped behind a pair of now shredded couches, while a trio of business-suited guards rained down machine gun fire from a balcony overlooking the hall.

One of Team Three let his machine gun hang by its sling and removed a grenade from his vest harness. He pulled the pin, let the arming lever spring free. The throw was on target, the explosion killing or wounding the guards.

“Team Three clear,” said the team leader on the radio. He gave Team Two a ‘thumbs up’ gesture. “Thanks, Wolf.”

“Team Two and Three, sweep the second floor,” the command voice said. “Team One and Four, ground floor. Five minutes.”

The four intruders moved towards the staircase in the corner of the hall. Two covered while Three advanced up the staircase. As soon as Three reached the top of the stairs, Team Two dashed up the stairs. At the top, they separated, Three going to the right, Two to the left.

The hallway was straight, about fifteen meters long, and ended with a window. There was three doors on each side, with a couple of paintings on the wall between the doors and a small end table under the window. Only a few lights were on, because most of the household had been asleep, and no one had thought to turn the rest on in the shock of the attack.

Two had moved down the hallway to almost the first set of doors, when two guards stepped into the hall from the second set and opened fire on them. One was firing an assault rifle, the other a handgun. Both intruders dropped to their knees and returned fire, their burst slamming into the two guards and killing them. The intruder on the left side of the hallway grunted as he fell. Lobo knelt next to him. “How bad?” he asked in a soft voice.

“Collarbone,” the wounded man replied. In the dim light, the wetness just about the body armor on the right side of the body. “The vest stopped the others.” He groaned in pain. “Hurts like hell.”

“Can you continue?” Wolf asked.

Cobra nodded.

“Wolf to Dragon,” Lobo said. “Cobra has been hit, but is still active.” He removed a small package from the wounded man’s harness and unsealed it. He slapped it over Cobra’s wound. Immediately, the patch sealed itself to the wound, pumping in antibiotics and blood coagulate to help seal the wound.

“Understood, Wolf,” Dragon said. “Any sign of the targets?”

“Negative, Dragon. We have six rooms to clear.”

“You have four minutes.”

“Understood, Dragon, Wolf out.” He helped his partner to his feet.

Cobra allowed his machine gun to hang free, and akwardly pulled his pistol from its holster. He motioned to the door on the right side of the hall.“You enter, I cover.”

“Right.” Wolf replied, pulling a grenade from his harness. He pulled the pin and let the arming lever slip free. With grunt he rased his foot and slammed it into the door, cracking the wood around the door’s lock and slamming it open. Even as the door flew open, Wolf tossed the grenade in and flattened himself against the wall. The grenade exploded with a thud that was still audible, despite the noise dampeners each intruder wore. Wolf counted to two and darted inside, Cobra following him as far as the doorway.

The room was a bedroom, unoccupied, but had been in use, if the state of the bed was any indication. Besides the bed, there was a night stand, a bureau, two overstuffed chairs, and a couple of lamps. There were a pair of windows in the far wall, their panes shattered by the concussion of the grenade. Wolf could see two other doors in the room, one on the left, the other on the right wall. He motioned to Cobra to cover the door on the right, then darted across the room to the one on the left. He flattened himself to one side of the door and placed his hand on the handle. With a quick jerk of the hand, he threw the door open, dropped to one knee and leaned around the edge of the door jam, machine gun up and ready to fire.

Nothing but an empty closet greeted him. “Clear,” he said, standing and moving toward the other door and repeating the process. The bathroom was also empty. He moved back to the doorway leading out into the hall and motioned to the door across from the one they were standing in. Cobra nodded.

It took them two more minutes to clear four of the other rooms, finding nothing in the way of occupants. The basic layout for each room was the same -- bed, closet, and a bathroom, with windows on the opposite wall. The last door on the right was closed and looked slightly different from the others. Wolf touched the door. “Steel,” he whispered to Cobra.

“Tiger to Dragon,” the radio crackled. “Secondary target found.” There was a dull thud, the sound of a silenced weapon. “Secondary target eliminated.”

“Understood,” Dragon replied. “Two minutes.”

Lobo removed a box similar to the one they had used on the outside door and attached it to the door above the lock. Both men stepped back just before the box detonated, destroying the lock. Even as the door swung open, Wolf pitched a grenade into the room. It exploded, and he darted inside, Cobra covering him from the doorway.

Despite the wreckage, it was unquestionably a children’s room, with a bed and a crib in opposite corners, a few toys, some child-size furniture, and a changing table. Wolf motioned for Cobra to cover the door on the right while he checked the door on the left wall. He flattened himself to one side of the door, placed his hand on the handle, and jerked it open. He dropped to one knee, leaned around the edge of the door jam, machine gun ready –

– and found himself staring into the blue eyes of a three year old boy....

Jägare’s eyes opened and he sat up quickly, his hand halfway to the pistol on the table next to the bed before he realized what had happened. He ran a hand through his dark short hair and scowled. Can’t I have one night’s sleep in peace? He glanced at the clock on the table, and scowled even more. Daybreak in another hour. Not much use trying to get any more of it.

He carefully scanned the room, which was lit by a pair of small lamps, until he was satisfied he was alone. He threw off the heavy fur and two blankets he had sleeping under and swung his feet over until he sat on the side of the bed. He didn't wear much when he slept, usually just a pair of shorts, relying on the heavy blankets and furs to keep him warm. There were a number of scars that ran across his body, most of then white with age. The coolness of the cabin’s air raised goose bumps over his skin, but he was use to it by now.

The cabin was five meters by four, a large room built into the base of a cliff face. The back wall and one of the shorter walls was the cliff face itself, still showing the marks of long hours of work to smooth it to a rough consistency. An overhang supplied most of the ceiling, leaving a height of three meters from it to the floor. The front of the cabin, the other short wall, and what little of the roof the overhang did not provide consisted of two meters of the same military-grade dura-plast used by the people in LaCroix, In addition to keeping out the cold and dampness, the walls were also resistant against the firepower almost all man portable weapons, a prudent choice considering the firepower his enemies could bring against him, if they ever found him. Besides the military strength steel door leading outside, three small windows, each set about head height, allowed natural light to enter and acted as natural firing posts.

The interior of the cabin was comfortably, if somewhat crudely, furnished. Besides the bed in the corner, there was a wardrobe, several chairs, two bookcases, a table, and a gun rack, all locally made from the hardwoods that were Cascade’s main export. The floor was made from the same wood, rough-hewn and thick, with several throw rugs scattered across it A stove sat in another corner, with a large pile of logs next to it. Several blankets hung around the room, one hiding the mouth of a cave when Jägare kept his extra supplies, while another one separated the bathroom from the rest of the cabin. A compact reloading station for ammunition sat next to the cave mouth.

There were a few examples of modern civilization about. The pair of lamps, a satellite phone, the small computer, and an old, but still serviceable, Tri-D didn't look out of place, as all of them had passed though many hands before they reached his. The electricity was supplied by a solar powered generator next to the cabin, sufficient for his modest needs.

Jägare threw on a pair of trousers, a flannel shirt, thick socks and mountain boots. Now dressed, he walked over to the stove and checked the firebox. Finding it still aglow with embers, he added wood shavings, bringing the fire back to life. After adding a couple of logs, he filled a battered coffee pot with water from a barrel next to the stove. After he retrieved some coffee, a cup, and a freeze-dried meal from a cabinet, he ripped open the bag containing the meal, and poured in some of the water from the pot, allowing the heating element at the base of the bag to activate. He placed the coffee pot on the stove, then went and sat at the table holding the small computer.

The security program was still running, monitoring the sensors Jägare had burred soon after he finished his cabin. All units showed no signs of anyone or anything violating the perimeter. Satisfied that no enemy was coming, Jägare leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and thought.

The dream again, the ever-present reminder of why he was out on the edge of known space. He didn't need to be reminded of the events, the circumstances that showed him that he wasn't like his fellow warriors. Opening his eyes, Jägare stood and went over to a small section of the back wall of the cabin. The stone looked like it was firmly attached to the rock face, but it was actually a carefully concealed hiding place. He worked the rock loose, revealing a roughly formed hole several centimeters tall and nearly the same width. He reached in and felt the small box that was the only purpose for this secret place, the last remaining link to his old life.

He walked back to the table and sat down, placing the box on the table and stared at it for a few seconds. Slowly, he reached out and opened the box.

The sole object that laid there was the insignia of a small elite force under the direct command of the Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation. A group whose name was whispered among all the Great Houses, rumored to be responsible for many deeds, many deaths. A group that was known by the stylized skull pin each member wore when they were in uniform.

A pin like the one that was in the box.

The pin of a Liao Death Commando.

Jägare stared at the pin for several minutes. He should have gotten rid of it long ago, but something had always stopped him from doing so. Pride? Guilt? He wasn't sure of the main reason, but he’d kept it anyway and would take it out once in a while and stare at it, and remember why he was here and not serving the Chancellor like every other member of the unit was doing.

Unlike most of the others in the Death Commandos, he’d been a line soldier who’d used the skills he’d learned as a hunter on his home world of Bharat to become one of the top snipers in the Confederation armed forces. When he was approached with the offer to join the Death Commandos, he couldn't say no. He had become one of the few, elite warriors on which the Chancellor relied upon to protect the Confederation from all its many enemies. And he had been proud to be one of the chosen.

Until he found himself looking into the face of a three-year old boy with blue eyes and an innocent expression. It was then that a flaw in his personality come to the forefront. Despite all the strict training, the psychological tests, the stringent background checks, and the constant surveillance, Jägare found he had one thing that made him dangerous to everything he was.

He had a conscience.

An armed soldier he could kill without hesitation, an adult he could assassinate without remorse. Up to that point in his life, he thought he could execute any order given to him with no compunction. But when he found himself staring into those blue eyes, something inside of him said ‘no.’ When confronted with the choice, he couldn't bring himself to kill a child, especially one armed with only a stuffed bear and a confused expression. So, at the time, he had done the only thing he could do – he’d just said ‘clear,’ closed the door and prayed the child stayed silent until they were long gone.

Fortunately, the target’s backup security forces reacted quicker then the plan had called for, and the team had been forced to withdraw early. The primary target had escaped, so the mission was basically a failure, but the secondary target, the man’s wife, had been killed and the evidence the team had planted would lead the local authorities to believe a radical environmental group had been behind the attack. No word had been mentioned about the child in the news reports, so it was possible that no one knew he had seen and spared the child.

But the entire incident had shaken awake something deep in his soul, and it began to entered his thoughts over time, slowly eroding away his sense of duty and honor. It didn't ease his mind, as he stood guard in the Celestial Palace, to watch and listen to the Chancellor – the man who he had sworn a personal blood oath to – order the death of innocents, in the name of the state. What was even more disturbing was the Chancellor allowing his obviously insane sister to take control of an assassin cult. The rumors that came out about the cult, stories of violence and sex that made even the most harden Commando feel uneasy.

He would lay in his bunk at night and consider his thoughts. Was it right for the State, any State, to order the death of a child? Was it right for the State to condemn a three year old boy for the actions of his parents? How could a State kill people, innocent civilians, in the name of ‘self-defense?’ Questions and others like them floated on his mind, becoming stronger over time. At each turn, the answer to those question became ‘no.’ Finally, he had no choice....

The whistle of the coffee pot told him the water was boiling. He stood and retrieved the pot, returning with it to the table and pouring the hot water into the cup. He dropped three cubes of coffee into the water, allowing the cubes to dissolve before he stirred it with a spoon. Once satisfied, he sat down again and started eating the now hot meal. Every so often, he would glance at the pin and his thoughts drifted.

He had done the unthinkable – he had walked away from the Death Commandos and the Chancellor, turned his back on his state, all because he couldn't kill a child – any child – in cold blood.

The actual act of leaving hadn't been that hard to set up, but it had taken time. Three years after staring into the face of that boy, a raid on a dissident’s home in the St Ives Commonality, to repossess data stolen from the Maskirovka, provided the opportunity he had been waiting for. The plan called for a HALO jump to assault the home a mansion located on the cliffs overlooking one of the most dangerous stretches of water on the planet. All it took was a ‘failure’ in his parachute and a splash down in the rough seas, well known for it’s ocean predators. It would appear to all that he had been killed and eaten in the rough seas. In reality, he had swam his way several kilometers down the coast, waited for a couple of days, then started his journey to a new life.

It took him two weeks to reach the nearest city that had a spaceport, living off the land and avoiding any contact with the locals. Using one of his alternate identities that was unknown to his superiors, he boarded a DropShip heading to the Taurian Concordat. Over the next several months, he made his way across the Concordat, occasionally changing his identity and slowly altering his appearance with the help of a few shady plastic surgeons along the way. Using the last of his identities, that of Ian Jägare, he chose Cascade in the New Colony Region for his final destination. While it was only a little more then a hundred and thirty light years from Confederation space, it was mostly an area ignored by the Chancellor in favor of the real threats of both the Free Worlds League and the Federated Suns.

And here he started building a new life for himself, free from the specter of killing children or other innocents. But the child’s look still haunted him, even after several years. Part of him wondered what would have happened if he had killed the boy. Could he have lived with himself? He didn't know, and that was the most disturbing thing of all.....


Back to writing,


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Running From the Past, Part 1

The update on the three stories I'm working on are all three are over 1500 words and still going strong. But tonight is the start of a story I wrote 8-9 years ago. It's the longest Battletech Fanfiction I've ever written (As of now, it's the longest Battletech story I've ever written).

The following is from the original post on Battletechuniverse.com, which explains much of the background. The original story was part of BTU's Periphery fanfiction contest. That one won, but people wanted to see more. So I did....


Author's notes:

All right, because I was asked to, here is the revised and extended version of Running From the Past. To give you an idea of the difference between this one and the original, the version that won the contest was 38 pages and 15,121 words. this version is 80 pages and 33,399 words. A novella.....

The story here was the one I was writing when my muse, she of bluntness, slapped alongside the head and yelled at me "it's a *#*@%#&!^#% short story, you moron, not a novel!" That's why I ended up with the first version of this story -- I cut out a lot of half-written scenes and simplified the plot. It won, and a few of you wanted to read more, saying it was too short. So, I went and expanded the plot as I originally saw it, added back in the half written scenes I had save off, and completed them.

When I use the term "Revised and Extended, I mean just that. Almost everything in the middle to late part of this story is brand new. I did go through and rewrite some things, either to make it mesh with other events in the story, to add some depth to things and people, and left one or two things for the reader's imagination to chew over.

Anyway, this is rated PG-13 for violence, but there's no nudity or porn, which is a good thing, as this isn't the place for it. I hope you enjoy this. :D


Running From the Past: A Story of the Periphery (Revised and Extended) 
By Craig A. Reed, Jr. (Trboturtle)
Rating: PG-13

“Which of us can overcome his past?” 
– James Baldwin, Alas, Poor Richard, 1961 

Cascade, New Colony Region
The Periphery
19 September, 3063

Ian Jägare rode into town slowly.

His horse was a small grey gelding, bread for endurance, sturdiness, and intelligence. The donkey Jägare led by a rope harness was also small and gray, and burdened with a number of canvass bundles strapped across its back. Jägare himself was slightly above medium height, muscular and agile, making him look younger then his thirty-seven years. He was clean shaven, revealing a face that was too angular to be called handsome, but there was a rough quality some women would find attractive. He was dressed in heavy, calf-high boots, military-style pants, shirt, sweater, over which he wore a duster. A wide brimmed hat was on his head, shielding his face from the drizzle of rain that was an almost constant presence on Cascade. A large-bore hunting rifle was slung across his back, a revolver rode on his right hip, while a long knife was sheathed on his left.

There were only a few people out on the street, most choosing to stay indoors in this weather. One or two waved at Jägare as he rode by, and he waved back. Most of the population of LaCroix knew him by sight, though few actually had ever talked to him, something that Jägare didn't mind too much. He preferred his own company and the solitude of the forest surrounding LaCroix.

LaCroix consisted of nearly a hundred buildings huddled in a bend of the Knife River, with a population of about four hundred people. Most of the people were involved in Cascade’s lumber industry in one way or another, while a few, like Jägare, used LaCroix as their base for their hunting and guide businesses. Most of the buildings were made from military-grade dura-plast, strong enough to keep out the chill and dampness of the harsh Cascade winters. Most residents had made the attempt to soften the harsh lines of the dura-plast with wooden siding and facings, with some success. The town’s roads were paved, though, with the exception of the road to Morrow City and the pair of lumber mills to the east, they all ended at the edge of town, where they became dirt trails. There were only a few vehicles in town, but a sizable number of horses and a few mules.

Jägare reined his horse in front of a small building with a sign that said ‘Marshal’s Station.’ A man limped out of the building and stood under the shelter of the building’s eaves. “Hello, Ian,” he said with a nod.

“Amos,” Jägare replied as he wrapped the guide rope of the donkey around the pommel of his saddle. He then got off his horse and climbed the two steps from the road to the promenade, shaking some of the water from his duster. “How’s things been?”

“Quiet.” Amos Dunn was LaCroix’s senior deputy marshal. He was shorter then Jägare, but broader in the shoulders and hips. “What about you?”

Jägare unslung his rifle. “Good. Heard from Janos Delaney lately?”

“Nope.” Dunn was older then Jägare, and his near-blond hair was losing the battle against time. With his watery blue eyes and moon face, the Deputy looked like a naive man, but in reality, he was a retired Magistracy of Canopus Banner Sergeant, a combat veteran, and one of Marshal Kove Jackson’s most trusted men.

“Good,” Jägare replied, removing the magazine from the rifle and handing the ten-round clip to Dunn. “That means that rock tiger I killed north of his place last week was probably the one that had been attacking his cattle herd.” With a practiced ease, Jägare pulled the heavy bolt of the rifle back, allowing the round already in the chamber to be ejected and to be caught in mid-air. He then handed the rifle and the bullet to Dunn.

“About time,” Dunn said, taking the rifle and pocketing the magazine after loading the free bullet in it. “Delaney’s been a pain in the neck since that tiger showed up.”

Jägare unhooked his gun belt, removed it and handed it to the deputy. “He had reason to be upset,” he said. “The one I killed was three meters long, not including the tail, and weight nearly eight hundred kilograms. That’s a lot of tiger to kept fed.”

Dunn nodded as he slung the gun belt over his shoulder. “You going to be in town long?” he asked.

“A while. I need to over to the trading post and pick up some things. Why?”

“The Marshal is up here. He wants to talk to you about something.”

“Oh?” Jägare replied. “What?”

“He’d better explain. He’s showing a new Marshal around the town right now.”

“New Marshal?”

Dunn nodded. “Some young buck fresh out of the Marshal school. They sent him out here to get some hands-on experience.”

“About time. Kove could use the help.”

The deputy shrugged. “If the kid wasn't so wet behind the ears, I’d agree with you.”

“We were all wet behind the ears sometime in our lives,” Jägare said.

“I suppose so.” Dunn held up Jägare’s rifle and gun belt. “They’ll be ready for you when you’re set to leave town.”

Jägare nodded. “I’m heading for the stables, then Andrea’s for a couple of hours. After that, I’ll probably stop for a drink at Ramsey’s before I head out. I want to be back in my cabin before dark.”

“I’ll tell the Marshal,” Dunn said.


Andrea Starver ran what she called a ‘trading post’ in LaCroix. Unlike some of the other stores in town, she was willing to trade goods and services for supplies and equipment. Most of the hunters and guides, like Jägare, preferred bartering over payment, because cash wasn’t much use out in the wilderness. In return for the supplies and equipment, Andrea took the furs and hides from the hunters, then turn around and sold them to someone in Morrow City who would then either export them or sell them to someone else on-planet. The system worked well: Andrea bargained fairly, so both sides got what they wanted without too much disagreement.

She was one of the few people on Cascade that Jägare knew better than just as a passing acquaintances. Over the last couple of years, he and Andrea and spent several afternoons and a few more evenings talking over meals and coffee. She was bright, funny, and listened well. Like most people here on Cascade, she didn’t pry into Jägare’s past, but took what little he had said at face value. It was friendship, quiet and strong, but part of Jägare knew it was drifting into something more. . . personal.

Andrea’s father had started the trading post some seven years before, almost as soon as LaCroix had been founded. His business quickly became the preferred location for the hunters and guides to get their supplies and trade their hides and furs. Andreas Starver was a friend and adviser to most of the hunters, treating them fairly and with respect. In return, the hunters made sure Andreas was never short of fresh meat or Cascadian Scrimshaw to sell in the capital. When he died the year before Jägare arrived, all of the Hunters turned out for his funeral.

Andrea had immediately stepped up and taken over the business, running much as her father had done. Most of the hunters treated Andrea like their kid sister, and all had an unspoken knowledge of how far they could go. New Hunters quickly found out that Andrea was not fair game, and she had a number of ‘older brothers’ to back it up. Of course, not one consulted Andrea on this, very much to her annoyance.

It hadn't been hard to take the hints about Andrea from the hunters when Jägare first arrived in LaCroix. However, it hadn't take long for Jägare to realize that Andrea wasn't seeing him as an older brother, but as a potential romantic partner. They had been dancing around each other for a while, but Jägare didn't know how much longer she would take ‘no’ for an answer.

Her trading post was two blocks down from the stables, so Jägare walked the distance, staying in the shelter of the building’s eaves as much as possible. As he did so, his eyes scanned his surroundings, as they always did when he was on the hunt. It was a holdover from his past, and one that had stood him in good stead since then. There were no rock tigers or stonehorn antelope this close to town, but Jägare was more concerned about that same past of his catching up and killing him.

The store occupied the ground floor of a medium-sized building, and was crowded with everything from firearms to food, generators to feed grain. The isles were narrow and the items on the shelves were packed almost to the point of overflowing. A counter ran along the right side of the room, behind which some more fragile items were on display. Over in one corner, a thin, hatchet-face man was placing some items on a shelf, while a young woman was reading over some papers on the counter.

When he walked in, the woman looked up. “Ian!” she said with a smile. “About time you came into town!” She was shorter then Jägare by half a head, with long blonde hair, green eyes and striking features that made her one of the most attractive women in town. She was dressed in jeans a flannel shirt, and boots, the standard ‘business dress’ in LaCroix.

“Andrea,” Jägare said.

“I thought you were going to hold up in that cabin of yours until next spring,” she said, walking from behind the counter and toward Jägare. She was fit and moved with a grace that would make a dancer envious. Her expression was one of hope and expectation.

“Needed some supplies,” he said., feeling his throat constrict. Andrea was a smart, beautiful and tough woman who had never hid her attraction for him. And were the circumstances different, he would be more then willing to allow her into his heart and life, despite the other hunters. But he couldn't take that chance.

Not with his past.

She faltered slightly, her expression fading into sadness. “I see,” she said. Then, in a more brisk tone, she said. “What do you have?”

He reached into the pocket of his duster and drew out a folded sheet of paper. “Here’s a list of what I've got over at Scott’s stables.”

She took the list and scanned it. “I’ll send Max over and pick up the stuff.” She looked at the hatchet-faced man, who simply nodded, walked past them, and continued out the door. She then looked at Jägare, her expression determined. “Then, we bargain.”

After Max returned with the items, it took them about an hour to work their way through the furs and other items Jägare had brought in. Despite Andrea’s disappointment, she didn't let that affect her bargaining skills or the way she treated him. Jägare wasn't surprised that the final total for his goods was within a hundred C-bills of his own estimate, more then enough to cover the supplies he wanted.

Jägare removed another list from his pocket and handed it to Andrea. “This is what I’m aiming for in the way of supplies,” he said.

She scanned the list. “Ammo won’t be a problem,” she said, not looking up. “Neither will be the flour and feed grain. The tri-vid programs, on the other hand, are rather thin right now. Most of what I have is second rate Capellian and Leaguer stuff. And novels? Forget it. What I have is mostly third-rate Canopus romance and Compact text books so dull, you’d be unconscious before the end of the first chapter! Most everything else I can swing, but –“

Jägare heard someone outside approaching the front door of the store. Out of habit, he turned slightly, allowing him to see the door out of the corner of his right eye. At the same time, he hooked his thumb of his right hand into his belt so the fingers were only a few millimeters from the hilt of his knife. He had long ago memorized the location of both the firearms and the ammunition in the store, just in case.

When the door finally opened, it took Jägare a couple of heartbeats to recognize the first man to enter. Slowly, he relaxed and moved his hand away from the knife. Andrea looked up from the list. “Marshal,” she said with a smile.

“Miss Starver,” said Marshal Kove Jackson. “Jägare.” He looked at Max and gave him a nod. The hatchet-faced man nodded back and went back to stocking a shelf.

The Marshal was taller then Jägare, with wide shoulders and narrow hips. Most of his face was hidden in the shadow of the wide brimmed hat he wore, but when he tilted his head back, showing a face that resembled a slightly unfinished statue, with angular cheekbones, a jaw square and strong, as a piece of granite and a fierce, beak-like nose. His cold blue eyes swept the store before he focused his attention on Andrea and Jägare. His clothes were worn, yet clean, and the large gold star denoting the position he held was pinned to the right side of his chest. A pistol belt was around his waist, with the pistol low on his right hip.

“Marshal,” Jägare replied. He had no personal problems with Jackson, and he was somewhat of a friend, but the Marshal was the law on Cascade, and someone to keep at arm’s length. In the wild and untamed area of the New Colony Region, the Colonial Marshals were rapidly becoming the glue that held the fragile new colonies together.

Jackson motioned to the other man with him. “This is Marshal William Takezaki. He’s been assigned to Cascade. William, this is Andrea Starver, who owns this store, and Ian Jägare, one of our Hunters.”

Takezaki was taller and beefier then Jackson, but didn't carry himself with the same authority as the older man. He was somewhat handsome, with the only indication of his Asian ancestry was the slight fold along the edge of his eyes. Jägare noticed his eyes were taking in everything around him like Jackson had done, but not at the same speed or certainty. Like the older Marshal, he wore military-style boots, trousers, shirt, gunbelt, gold star, and broad-brimmed hat, but everything had the cleanness of new clothing. He touched the brim of his hat in a gesture of respect. “Ma’am, Mister Jägare.”

“Marshal Takezaki,” said Andrea. “Been on Cascade long?”

“A couple of weeks,” Takezaki replied. “Marshal Jackson has been showing me around the Colony.”

Jackson nodded. “I want to start rotating him through the towns on a biweekly basis.”

“Is that a good idea?” Jägare asked.

The senior Marshal looked at Jägare carefully. “Do you think that will be a problem?”

“Some of these towns can be a bit rowdy, especially when its payday.”

“Nothing that the Deputies can’t handle. I want him to get a feel for the people and the problems we have here.”

Jägare shrugged. “That’s your call.”

Takezaki tilted his head slightly. “You don’t think I can handle myself, do you Mister Jägare?”

“I don’t know that. But green troops, no matter how well trained, will make mistakes that might kill them.”

Jägare watched Takezaki, looking for any hints of anger, but the larger man just shrugged. “I know, but everyone is green at sometime in their life. Right now, its my turn to do and learn from my mistakes.”

“Assuming they don’t kill you.”

“If I wanted to stay safe, I wouldn't have left Taurus and joined the Colonial Marshals.”

“We’ll have to see how it works out,” Jackson said. “Ian, I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Dunn said you did.” Jägare replied.

“Let’s talk outside. Will, stay here and look around the store.. Have Andrea show you the rock tiger pelts.”

While Andrea lead the young Marshal away from the counter, Jackson lead Jägare outside. By now, the rain had stopped, but the air was heavy with humidity. A few more people were walking around the town, but no one was near the two men.

“He’s green,” Jägare said.

“I know,” Jackson replied. “But he graduated at the top of his class, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He doesn't anger easily, as you've already seen.”

“Yeah. What did you want to see me about?”

“How much contact do you have with the other Hunters?”

Jägare shrugged. “Not too often. We’ll cross trails sometimes, run into each other while we’re in town. We’re not exactly the most sociable group on Cascade. Why?”

Jackson let his eyes drift both to the left and right before he continued. “I’ve received some reports from Fort Carradine involving slaver raids on NCR planets.”

The Hunter frowned. Fort Carradine was the Headquarters for the Colonial Marshals on Fronc. “Slavers?”

The Marshal nodded. “Over the last two years, six planets in the NCR have been hit by a group calling themselves the Brotherhood of the Bloody Skull. Their operational method is to find a colony, land some distance away, sneak in, attack one of the outlying settlements, take as many prisoners as they can, then leave before the locals realize they were there.”

“You think it might happen here?”

“We are on the edge of the region. Sooner or later, we will be attacked.”

Jägare nodded. “What do you want from us Hunters?”

“I don’t have the manpower or equipment to even begin to think about patrolling the forests. Our satellites aren’t designed to track ground units. But you Hunters know the land and you spend most of your time in it. All I’m asking you and the others is to keep an eye out for anything unusual while you’re out hunting.”

“Any idea on the size of the unit these slavers have?” Jägare asked.

Jackson shrugged. “The reports are a bit confused, but they do have at least two ‘Mechs, maybe more. Some vehicles to haul away the captives. Maybe thirty-five to forty thugs with small arms.”

“A sizeable force. Not something that can hide too well.”

“True,” Jackson replied. “But, if no one’s out there to see them, they don’t have to be experts at hiding.”

Jägare nodded. “You’re right. I’ll pass the word along to any Hunter I meet, but we don’t cross paths too often. You’d better fill in Andrea too. She’s more likely to see most of the Hunters before I will.”

“I already planned to.”

“Fine. Anything else?”

The Marshal shook his head. “That’s all. If you do come across them, call it in. There’s no way you can handle a ‘Mech by yourself, even a light one.”

Jägare smiled. “You’d be surprised what some training and the right motivation can do to a ‘Mech.”

Jackson tilted his head slightly. “The Kungsarme teach you?”

Jägare shrugged, still smiling. It was generally assumed that he was from the Rasalhague Republic, and Jägare encouraged the impression. “I’ll call it in,” he said. “Promise. And I’ll pass the word along to any Hunter I meet. Satisfactory?”

“Good enough, and thanks.”

“Anything to help the law,” Jägare said cheerfully, but automatically, his mind started working out possible landing sites and paths of march for a raiding party. With a small shake of his head, he dismissed the line of thought. Can’t shake off all that training so easily, he thought.

It started to rain again. “Let’s go back inside,” the Marshal said, looking into the overcast sky.

Back inside, Andrea was showing Takezaki a pile of furs. They looked up as Jägare and Jackson walked in. “You hunt these?” Takezaki asked, placing a hand on the green and gold striped furs.

Jägare nodded. “Them, stonehorn antelope, rabbit elk, and unicorn deer. Most of the time, we are limited to six rock tigers in a calendar year.” He motioned to the fur under Takezaki’s hand. “But that top one was going after a local rancher’s cattle, so I was hired to kill it.”

The young Marshal nodded. “Make a good living?”

The Hunter shrugged. “Enough to get by.”

“We’d better move on,” Jackson said. “We have a few more business to visit before evening. Miss Staver, I need to talk to you about something. May I come by this evening?”

“Of course,” Andrea replied. “I had some coffee come in on the last shipment.”

Jackson smiled. “Then I will make sure I come by.” He touched the brim of his hat. “Until then.”

He walked to the door. Takezaki, however, had a strange expression on his face. “It’s funny,” he said to Jägare.

“What?” Jägare asked.

“Your name. It’s German for ‘hunter,’ isn't it?”

“Actually, it’s Swedish. But you’re right. It means ‘hunter.’”

“Isn't that a little...well, fortuitous?”

“Will,” said Jackson from the front door. “A quarter of the people on Cascade aren't using the name they were born with. People come out to make a brand new start, and unless he breaks the law here, or his past comes looking for him, I don’t care if Jägare’s real name is Jerome Blake or Sun-Tzu Liao. Leave him alone.”

“But –“

”Son, one of the first things you’ll learn out here is that trouble will come looking for you without you looking for it. Jägare’s a good man, follows the laws, pays his taxes and doesn't hassle anyone else. Who is he and where he’s from aren't our concern. Let’s be on our way.”

Andrea waited until the door closed behind the pair before she said, “I’m glad they finally sent the Marshal some help.”

“Assuming Takezaki doesn't get killed before he learns,” Jägare said softly.

“But Takezaki is right about one thing.” She looked at Jägare. “‘Ian Jägare’ isn't your real name, is it?” The hunter didn't meet her gaze. After a few seconds of silence, she nodded. “I’m not going to ask or pry. Like the Marshal said, people come out to make a brand new start.”

Jägare smiled thinly. “Some things from the past don’t always stay there. If I live long enough and work hard enough, maybe I can outrun them.”

Andrea said softly. “You don’t have to go at it alone.”

He shook his head. “Some actions can’t be forgiven and some people can’t forget. If they find me, they don’t care about anything, or anyone, between them and me.”

She sighed. “All right. Let’s see about getting your supplies together.”


Until Friday!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Story Thoughts --- Groundpounder

Groundpounder was the fifth story that Battlecorps published, and comes in at 6500 words. For those of you that don't known, "Groundpounder" is a slang term used by the Air Force, helicopter, or VTOL personnel to describe the Army or ground-based units. Simply, put, an infantryman,

This was one story in which I had the title before I had a story to go along with it. I was still expanding my Universe worldview, looking for another faction to write about. For some reason, I looked at the Outworld Alliance. The OA doesn't have a large or well-funded military, but they do have some of the best Aerospace fighters in or out of the Inner Sphere. I decided to base the story there.

At at first wanted to do a story about the aerospace fighter pilots, but that didn't seem to fit in with the title. I then thought about someone who had been an aerospace fighter pilot, but for some reason wasn't anymore. From this thinking came Corbin "Razor" St. Cyr, an OA soldier who had been one of the best pilots to come out of the OA's training program, only to be injured and unable to continue as a pilot. A man who can't fly anymore, yet can't walk away from a family tradition of military service. A soldier with both physical and spiritual wounds who withdraws into himself. He becomes a scout, a solitary task that allows him to wall himself away from his friends, family, everything he has known.

The Snow Ravens were introduced to give an outsider's view of the situation, both overall in the OA, and with Corbin himself. There wasn't much written about the Snow Ravens and the Outworld Alliance at the time, only the Ravens were impressed with the OAs pilots' skills, and were looking to make inroads with the Periphery state.

Now that I had established a man hiding from everyone, I needed someone or something to force him to care. Enter Doctor Danaka Hemmer, damsel in distress. A woman who doesn't flinch at the visible scars like so many others had.

With these two, I wanted to try something I hadn't yet written in a story; romance. Most of it happens off-screen, but it does begin to play into the second half of the story, to show while Corbin maybe a groundpounder, he still has a Aerospace pilot's mentality, and now that he has someone to care about, a determination to throw himself into harms way, against a much stronger foe to protect that person and the people around her.

At the end, Corbin isn't the same man. For the first time in several years, he has hope --- maybe to fly again, maybe have a life in which he isn't alone. For him, I wanted him to have some brightness in his life, mostly because writing a dark character is depressing.

I may visit Corbin and Danaka and see how they're doing in a future story. For now, they're fine where they are.

Next Tuesday, I may start serializing a Battletech novella I wrote that is based on a (somewhat) shorter story I wrote for a battletechuniverse.com contest. This was the story that gave me the drive to start writing for Battlecorps, and I hope you like it.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Back to Work!

Last week was a wash -- only about a thousand words of Battletech written. But I'm over the initial shock of Rob's death, and I've thrown myself back into my writing. I started three more stories for Battlecorps, feeling I had to start with something that was going to keep my mind occupied. It seems to be working, as I've already written more words so far this week as I had all of last week.

I've started a third Gazael story. I keep finding excuses to use the Precentor, despite being a member of the most hated faction in Battletech history, the Manei Domini. It's a bit of a challenge finding ways to keep him interesting.

I've also started another story, which, if i ever complete it, will be the earliest in the Battletech timeline I've ever written. It's based on an incident mentioned in both edition of one of the state handbooks, but no one's done any writing in that area. Which means research....

The last story is a personal one. I mentioned in my last entry that I had requested that Rob's design, the Rattlesnake, be given canon status. I've been told that Randall has approved it, and will be appearing in an upcoming product. I plan on writing this story as a tribute to my friend, and bring the Rattlesnake into the official ranks of canon with a bang.

But I have so many stories that I need to finish. We'll see what I can get moving.

Now, I need to go write.....


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Passing of a Friend -- Rob Madson 1965-2014

This has not been a good week for me. A good dear friend, fellow Battletech player, and my co-writer of the story Snakedance, died last week. I posted a blog entry on my other blog, taking about Rob and our friendship, but I'm going to write about here about Rob and game of Battletech.

Robert Madson was from Illinois, but came east to work for the Department of Defense for one of these agencies that's better know by their initials. I met Rob back in '85, in the recently opened Games Workshop store in the Laurel Center Mall (the store lasted only a couple of years). We both found out we had an interest in the recently published game Battletech. From that, we both found common grounds in other areas to expand our friendship beyond the game, but the game was still an important part.

Rob was a computer science major, a programmer who earned a Master degree after he moved to Maryland. It was this mindset to which Rob applied to Battletech. Before there was such a thing as a Battle Value, he created a system that we and our fellow Battletech players used in our games to balance out the sides. It was called the CODR (Combined Offense-Defense Rating), and it was simple to use and was fairly accurate, for our purposes. We used it just like the BV is used, setting limits and making sure each side's forces were evenly matched. A simple system that worked.

But his greatest claim to fame has to be the Battletechnology BattleMech called the Rattlesnake. TRO 3050 had just come out, giving us the first look at the new equipment --- The XL engine, endosteel construction, and the double heat sinks. After we had gone through the data, and with a convention coming up in Baltimore, we began planning to field a force of 'Mechs of our own design, based around tactics we developed. We called the plan "HAMMER and ANVIL"

The designs came in two categories: the first was the ANVIL force, 65-ton 'Mechs modified from Crusaders, carrying Gauss rifles. We called these designs Conquistadors. Their job was to hold the line and force the enemy to slow their advance. This would allow the HAMMER force to flank the opponent and catch them in a crossfire.

What Rob did was take a Jenner, strip out everything, replaced the regular internal structure with the Endosteel structure and an XL engine. That left enough room for the design's main firepower --- seven medium lasers, with enough weight left over for double heat sinks and two extra jump jets. He also gave the design max armor, so it could take some punishment. This wasn't a glass cannon, but a fast-moving (7/11/7), hard-hitting brawler with enough firepower to shred the back armor off any 'Mech it got behind, and enough heat sinks to keep it running cool. I think we also discussed using the C3 system, which is why one variant had a C3 slave installed, while another one had an ECM system in it.

I can claim only one input on the design: the name. I said something about it being as fast and as deadly as a Rattlesnake, and the name stuck. We had some success with the design at the convention -- I remember one Rattlesnake getting behind a Crusader and destroy it in two turns with its lasers. From then on, Rob would always have a couple or three on the board at our games, and soon, everyone was either using the Rattlesnake, or designing 'Mechs to defend against it (One of our group designed a Grasshopper variant that had a rear-firing AC/20, just to keep the Rattlesnakes off of him.)

Then one of us (Me, I think) thought it would be a great idea to write for Battletechnology. We tested the waters by submitting a 'Mech design, the UM-90 SurbanMech. That appeared in issue #16, and we looked at each other and said, "We can do this!"

This time, we decided to go all out -- Story, 'Mech design and scenario. The 'Mech design was easy -- the Rattlesnake. The story? That was another thing entirely....

We wrote the Rattlesnake's TRO entry first. The TRO background was a mix of both our universe backgrounds. Rob's contribution was Phoenix Heavy Industries, located on Ashkum, while Hammerstorm Electronics was my industrial contribution. The Fire Hawks mentioned was Rob's unit, while the Antietam Guards (AKA Mallory's Headhunters) are mine. (The logo of the skull in the crosshairs that I use on the forum as my avatar is the insignia for the Headhunters).Then, we moved onto the story.

I can still remember the time and effort we put into writing that. I would go over to Rob's apartment, and we would spend more of that evening creating the story. We didn't plot it out, or make character notes beforehand. We wrote by the seat of our pants, throwing lines, ideas, and descriptions at each other. Rob would do the actual writing (It was his apartment and his computer after all), while I would either sit next to him or pace his apartment in thought (Which did annoy him, so I tried hard to curb the urge when I could.) Rob's mom was a teacher, so Rob's writing skills were superior to mine, so he was the one who did the editing. The scenario, once the story was done, was easy for me to create. Once we had all three, we mailed it off to California and waited.

We wrote that story with only a few scraps of information from canon sources, and looking at it today, it does look kind of rah-rah, and had we set out to write that story, say a year ago, it wouldn't be the same story we sent in then. But it's still a good story, with characters that reflected both of our personalities. You could have though we were high on something when we saw our stuff on the pages, in print. We said, "Let's do it again!"

But that issue was the last regular Battletechnology issue ever put out, and in some way, that was the high point of our romance with Batletech. We played on for a few years, but Rob drifted from the game, and took up other hobbies. I drifted away too, but after a couple of years away, I found myself being drawn back into the game. I tried to get Rob back into it, but he was resistant to the idea. I wrote a couple more stories with the characters from Snakedance, but the drive and passion for the game wasn't there for Rob. I kept after him, trying to nudge him back into the fold, but it wasn't easy. That didn't affect our friendship; even after I moved down here to Florida, we would talk once a month to six weeks, catching up on what we were both doing. I told him about my writing, trying to draw him back. Anytime I saw a mention of the Rattlesnake on the forum (and I never seen anyone have anything bad to say about the design), I would email him the link so he would know that the Rattlesnake was liked, despite not being considered an canon design. He knew people liked it, and like to use it.

When I found out about Rob's death, I asked Randall and CGL to make the Rattlesnake a canon design. It is about the only thing I can do to mark my friend's passing. I want him to look down and know that a small piece of his passion still lives on in the game that he loved, and over which he and I forged a friendship that was still strong, if not as long as it should have been.

Good bye, Rob.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Duel (A Wozniak's Wraiths story), Conclusion

Been goofing more than I should....But I am going back to writing! The "Ask a Battletech Writer"
( http://bg.battletech.com/forums/index.php/topic,38114.0.html ) thread on the forums is still going strong. Just keep asking away!

Now, the conclusion of Duel. It's not very long, and it's kind of crude, but I still like it...


       Grady was nice enough to close the bar down for us that night, so we could privately celebrate my victory. The four of us were sitting at our favorite table, drinking and talking about the fight, reflecting on the events of the day and on the duel itself.
       The aftermath had some interesting angles. Betting on the duel, though not officially allowed, had been heavy, and to my disgust, against me. Mikki and Tony were grinning like large cats let loose in a milk factory. Not only had they bet on me, they had dumped some serious money into the betting pool and had cleaned house. My own share was about two months pay, while Corlin’s share was an unusual large sum. I didn't think he was a betting man, but Corlin explained that he trusted me to win. For a guy that grew up in a society where money wasn’t a big thing, he’d managed to learn quickly. Even the First Prince made out like a bandit, with the Colonel sending the Prince’s share along with a small piece of the Thor’s shattered armor directly to New Avalon.
       On the technical side, there were already Headhunter techs crawling all over the Thor’s remains, learning everything they could, and MacGregger’s expression the last time I saw him that day was that of a man in nirvana. The Claymore was stored away, to be repaired sometime in the near future. It had done the job and would be moved up onto the active consideration list. But it wouldn't be me piloting it into battle the next time. It was too slow and heavy for my new company. A pity, but I was going to have to live with it.
       It took over an hour to described the duel. I detailed the fight, explaining everything I had done from the moment I entered the Gash to the calling in of the medevac teams. When I explained what happened when I started insulting him, Corlin shook his head.
       "I can not believe that an experienced warrior would fall to insults so easily," he said, sipping a beer. "Especially one who is a Star Commander and an experienced warrior."
       I shrugged. "From what I've seen of Tosig, I wouldn't think him capable of leading ducks to water."
       "He is a competent leader,” Corlin said. “What I meant was his anger in response to your insults." He looked puzzled. "Someone who gets angry like Tosig would not keep command long, because he would be killed, be it on the battlefield or in a Circle of Equals.”
       “Maybe that’s why he wasn't allowed to take part in the Trial of Bloodright,” said Mikki
       “True, no one of the Bloodname would sponsor him, for fear of contaminating the gene pool. But why allow him to leave Clan territory and challenge warriors to duels?” He shook his head. “It is a mystery I have no answer for."
       "I have an answer," replied the Colonel, as he strode over to our table. "May I join you?"
       We all turned around in surprise, because we had not heard him come in. Space was quickly made, and soon the Colonel was sitting with us, a drink in one hand, a folder in the other. He tossed the folder onto the table.
       "What is it?" asked Tony.
       "Tosig's medical report," replied the Colonel.
       I looked at the folder with distaste. Despite his efforts, Tosig had survived, though not without serious injuries. I remembered watching the techs cutting the Clanner out of his cockpit and hurrying him to the waiting VTOL and the hospital. I wondered if I was going to have to do it all over again once Tosig got out of a hospital bed.
       That was, of course, assuming we hung onto him. Ten minutes after the techs pulled Tosig out of his Thor, the MIIO observers ‘requested’ that Tosig and the rest of his people be turned over to them. The Colonel told them no. The MIIO guys threaten to take Tosig by force. The Colonel told them to go sit on a sharp spike. Then, the Duke got involved, and while he doesn't have the pull of a Sandoval or a Hasek, Duke Phillip Mallory is not someone you can ignore. Right now, the MIIO was trying to negotiate a settlement with the Duke. I didn't give them good odds.
       "What does it say?" I asked, staring at the folder and trying not to keep the anger out of my voice.
       "Beside the injuries you inflicted on him? A lot of interesting things. Like the reason for Tosig's insane rages."
       "Which are?"
       "Brain tumor." He let those two words sink in before he continued. "Tosig had a malignant tumor that would have killed him in another six months, a year at the outside. As it was, the tumor was in the right place to put pressure on the certain parts of the brain, causing irrational mood swings, including anger."
       "So why didn't the Clan med-techs remove it?" Mikki asked "They can't have been so blind to have missed it."
       Corlin shook his head slowly. "It would have been seen as a weakness in his bloodline,” he replied. “Even if they removed the tumor, its mere presence would indicate something wrong with his DNA. He will be denied a Bloodname and would be excluded from the breeding program as a matter of course. Even if the med-techs removed the tumor, Tosig is close to the end of his useful life as a front line warrior, and would be soon transferred to one of the second line units. And not much is wasted on those units."
       "But why this?" asked Tony. "Why let a terminally ill man go around challenging anyone he can find, and kill them?"
       "Among the Clans, with few exceptions, such as bondsref, suicide is considered a coward’s way out," said Corlin. "Tosig was not looking for victory in these duels, he was looking for a honorable way to die."
       We were silent for a moment, allowing that last simple statement to sink in. The thought then struck me. Tosig wanted to die as he had lived, as a warrior, not in some bed slowly and painfully. No one should have to make a decision like that, and I hope to the Higher Being that I never do.
       "What about the tumor?" asked Mikki. "Are our docs going to leave it there too ?"
       The Colonel glanced down at his chronometer. "They removed it an hour ago." he announced. "They expect him to completely recover."
       "Fine," I snapped "Then what do I do? Wait for him to insult me into another duel?"
       "No need. You beat him in fair combat, so he's in the same boat as Corlin here. Also, Tanni, the Elementals, and their DropShip are now ours as isoria."
       “Does Tosig wear a bondcord?” Corlin asked.
       “It went on right after he came out of the operation,” the Colonel replied. “I have no intention of letting him loose now.”
       “And the others?”
       “They didn't utter a single word of protest. Tanni seemed to be relived. I've assigned her to you as a bondswoman, while Tony and Mikki have an Elemental each assigned to them.” He looked at me. “You, have Tosig, of course.”
       “Of course,” I muttered into my beer. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what the Colonel had said. “Wait a minute! Isoria? How did we end up with the rest of them?”
       Corlin managed to look nervous. “That was part of the deal Tanni and I made,” he said.
       I looked at him, puzzled. "What deal?"
       The Colonel stared back at me. "Didn't Corlin tell you?"
       "Tell me what?" I had a sneaking suspicion that I was about to find out something I didn't want to hear.
       "They were included as part of the duel,” Corlin said. “I am certain that Tanni did not wish to return to Khan Crichell and explain Tosig’s death or defeat.”
       The Colonel nodded. “Because of your victory, the Headhunters are now two Clan pilots, two ‘Mechs, an point of Elementals, and a DropShip better off. I don’t know how long we can hold onto the ‘Mechs, but the personnel and the DropShip are ours."
       I sat there, mouth open for several seconds. "What did you promise them if I lost?" I asked Corlin.
       Corlin looked at me seriously and said "My friend, you do not want to know."


Note this was written way before I wrote anything for Battlecorps, and to be honest, it isn't my best work. But it's still a fun little story, without any pretensions to be anything of a higher nature. I hope you enjoyed it.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Duel (A Wozniak's Wraiths story), Part 3

Right, the first draft of my small part of the Valiant RPG has been turned in, so I can now get back to Battlecorps stuff. I did enjoy the AFD product from CGL, so if you haven't seen it yet, go check it out -- it's free.

And now, State of Grace, my 22nd Battlecorps story, have been published. More in a future blog post about my thoughts on the stories I've gotten published.

But back to Duel


        On the fifth day, I awoke early, took a long hot shower, and got dressed. Both Mikki and Tony were waiting for me outside, both of them somber in the dawn's light. We didn't say much as we walked to the Leopard DropShip that would take me to the island. At the DropShip, a large group had gather to see me off, including Corlin, the Colonel, and even Major Hart. Most murmured 'good luck' and 'show that Clanner whose boss' type of encouragement, while some just shook my hand in silence. It felt more like a wake then a sendoff, with me as the Guest of Honor. Hopefully, it would improve from there, because it couldn't have gotten much worse.
        We lifted off, and headed north. Seventy minutes later, Battle Island came into view. It’s a barren, desolate island thirty or so kilometers off the coast, nothing but rock and dirt that withstood all attempts by farmer, miner, and homesteader to use it. It’s the main reason why it functions as our full scale training area, where we can got all out without having to worry about civilians, property damage, or prying eyes.
        Once the reporters show up, the island had been placed off limits to all but cleared personnel, which was Tanni and Corlin. They had both come out early that morning, to make sure the Gash was clear of any obstacles to a clean fight like vibromines, Elementals, or a hidden lance of Headhunter assault ‘Mechs. The entire fight was going to be broadcast to the Headhunters and ‘guests’ by means of several camera drones supplied and controlled by Comstar. The Press had howled about that, but the local Precentor managed to calm the waves.
        Rook’s Gash was towards the center of the island, a dark streak in the brown and grey landscape. I was to enter the Gash from the north, Tosig from the south. There we would duke it out until one of us was dead, unable to continue, or fled the Gash. From what I’d seen of Tosig, the third option was out. He wasn't going to retreat, and I didn't think he would let me, if I chose to do so.
        By the time the DropShip reached the northern end of Rook's Gash, I was already in the cockpit of the Claymore, powering up. Hooking into the video feeds of the DropShip, I watched with one eye as the rocky surface of the landing area grew larger and larger, finally turning to black as the ship landed. As the DropShip settled, the massive door to my bay opened, flooding the cockpit with sunlight. I waited until the canopy adjusted for the light before I stepped outside. The Claymore moved easily out the hatch and onto the rocky ground.
        Sheer rock walls rose to my left and right, framing the narrow twisting path that laid ahead of me. The entrance to the Gash itself was hidden in deep shadow, like a unspeakable creature waiting for its prey. Despite the fact it was daylight, I felt a chill go through me, the type of feeling that hides in the back of a person's mind, no matter how advanced they are. For the first time since that night in the bar, I realized what I had really done. I had challenged a warrior from a society where a merely good warrior is considered to be a major disappointment, and average warriors don't even make it out of training. Had I really lost my mind by doing this? I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. . . .
        "Yo, boss, speak to me." Tony's voice sounded concerned, and it took me several seconds to respond.
        "I'm still here," I replied with more confidence then I felt.
        Tony let a sigh of relief. "I thought for a moment you had gone south on us."
        "Not yet anyway. I was just thinking how I got myself into this."
        "The same way we get into everything, Boss. At full speed with our eyes closed."
        "Tell me about it." I started to move towards the canyon entrance. "Any sign of our friend?"
        "Radar had a DropShip landing at the Southern entrance of the Gash ten minutes before we touched down," replied Mikki, who was up in the cockpit with the pilot.
        "So, he's shown up." The entrance slowly defined itself in the shadows, and I could just make out the path ahead of me. "How are the odds running?" I just knew that somebody would be betting on this battle, and I knew that my lancemates would be right in the middle of it.
        Tony was silent for a moment before he spoke "Not good boss. Odds the last I heard were five to two in favor of Tosig turning you into a memory."
        "Well, kick in 50 C-bills for me" I replied, trying to sound calm and almost carrying it off.
        "Already did, Woz," said Mikki. “Even Corlin added a few C-bills to the betting pool.”
        "Any more good news before I go into this?" I asked in a sarcastic tone.
        “Wait a minute,” Mikki replied. When she came back, I could hear something in her voice that wasn't right for her. “Corlin just called me. Tanni just told him that Tosig was denied the right to compete in the last Bloodname trial.”
        “What?” I asked, not sure I had heard her right.
        “Tosig is of the Hazen bloodname,” Mikki explained. “There was a Trial of Bloodright in that line three and a half months ago. Tosig should have been one of the top contenders for the honor, but he was not allowed to compete.”
        Not good, I thought. “Does Tanni know why?”
        “No wonder he’s pissed,” I muttered. Having a Bloodname in any of the Clans meant you were someone. They were the heritage that each of the ‘Trueborn’ warriors aspired, to own a Bloodname and have your DNA as part of the next generation. So, not only was Tosig an insane MechWarrior, he was a very angry and insane MechWarrior. Forget about throwing the book out the window, start with tossing the library and go from there. “Any more good news?”
        "Neg, Boss,” Tony replied. “Only Mikki, Corlin, and myself wish you a lot of luck, and may St. Cameron guide your aim."
        Now I know I'm in trouble, I thought with a weak grin, if Tony is calling in the Saints. "Copy Tony, and thanks."
        By now, I had made it through the narrow passage and found myself in Rook's Gash. The Gash itself is a long, roughly rectangular canyon with a few low scrub brush, a couple of piles of rock and dirt could be considered hills, and a shallow pound full of scummy water near the middle. Several dozen rock formations, most higher than a 'Mech, dotted the landscape like a forgotten set of children's blocks. The formations make light of sight tricky, which worked in my favor, as it neutralized most of the range advantage Tosig’s weapons had. Of course, that was before we found out that Tosig had no problem with getting up close and personal with his opponents.
        I moved through the valley, picking my way slowly. Just as I reached the middle of the canyon, the sensors told me that some large and metallic was moving off to my right. As I glanced in that direction, a glint of metal caught my eye from some rocks about two hundred and fifty meters away. Without thinking about it, I backpedaled the Claymore.
        Tosig’s Thor, painted in a dusty brown to match the surrounding rock, open fire first. The charged particle beam missed me by scant centimeters, but the missiles and sub-munitions from his autocannon peppered my armor and sent me staggering back an extra step. Automatically, I returned fire, sending a Gauss rifle round and a spread of long range missiles back at him. The reply was slightly off balance, and only the missiles connected with the Thor, hitting him in the legs and lower torsos as he ran to my left.
        Before he could fire again, I hit the jump jets and landed behind a pile of rocks, out of sight. A quick survey of the monitors showed moderate damage across the front of my 'Mech, but nothing serious. I had just began to move again, when the radio channel Tosig and I had agreed on crackled to life.
        It was Tosig, crowing like a rooster. "Where are you, coward?" he said in a sickly sweet voice. "Do you not want to play anymore, quineg?"
        I didn't answer, but darted out from behind the rocks at a full run. Three hundred meters off to my left, the Thor turned towards me, caught by surprise. In the ensuing exchange, I took a solid ER PPC hit in the left torso, as well as more missiles in the legs. I came close to losing my balance, but just managed to keep the seventy-five ton ’Mech from falling flat on its face. My Gauss round struck the Thor in the right arm, while my missiles again peppered his legs and torsos. Before he could fire again, I made the cover of another rock formation.
        I counted to twenty, then popped out into the open again. The Thor was about two hundred meters from the rock spire I was using for cover, running toward me, trying to close the distance, but as soon as I appeared, he darted to my right, snap-firing the PPC in his right arm. The charge particle beam slammed into the rock several meters to my right, showing the Claymore with rock fragments. I fired the Claymore’s large laser, striking the Thor just below the cockpit, melting armor like wax. Before I could fire again, he vanished behind another spire.
        “Who’s running now, Tosig?” I asked over the radio. A growl was his only response.
        For the next ten minutes, it was a game of hide and seek. It was a nerve-racking experience as we tried to guess where the other was at any time. MADs were somewhat useless because of the high metallic content of the rocks, so both of us had to rely on sight, experience, and our luck. Three more times we saw each other and exchanged fire, each of us hitting the other hard enough to strip armor and send us reeling back into cover. My torso armor was thinning out to the point where it wouldn't stop a kid with a slingshot, and the right leg wasn't much better. On the other hand, the armor on the Thor’s legs and right arm was nearly gone.
        I kept one eye on my damage readouts, the other eye out for Tosig, all the while trying to think my way out of this mess. Both of us were hurting, and it wouldn't be long before one of us got the better shot. But Tosig had better skill and the better 'Mech, while I had to rely on the Claymore's slight advantage in weight, and my knowledge of the Gash, and that wasn't enough for me. The sniping we were doing were taking a slow, steady toll on the ’Mechs and our nerves. After the first round of insults of Tosig's, the channel between us remained silent, adding to the slightly eerie feeling this fight was taking on.
        I was standing behind a rock formation, deciding what I was going to do next, when I heard a growl. I glanced around, looking for the source, when it hit me that it was coming from the open channel between Tosig and myself. I felt my pulse quicken as Tosig, who had forgotten his open mike, growled again, an inhuman sound that set my teeth on edge. An angry sound, full of hate and ....
        One of the required texts that all members of the Antietam Guards have to read is the classic The Art of War. You might say it’s the way the Headhunters conduct our operations. A passage from Sun Tzu’s work popped into my mind, the one involving the five traits that are dangerous in generals. ‘Those that are quick to anger can be shamed. . . .
        The memories of the bar fight, of his insane-like range only reinforced the idea that was forming in my mind. It was a risk, it was stupid, but so was the current situation of playing tag with Tosig. His anger was his weakness, and if he was angry, he might make a mistake I could exploit.. Of course, he could become enraged to the point where he pounded me into paste, but my options were limited.
        Wasting no more time, I turned my mike on. "Hey! Toecheese!," I yelled. "Call yourself the superior warrior? You're a superman, alright - super stupid, super irritating, and super ugly." The growls got louder, so I continued. "What's the matter, canister-breath? Can't find one little old lowly Inner Sphere warrior you can beat up on?" A bellow, similar to the one in the bar, threaten to puncture my eardrums, and forced me to turn down the channel's sound.
        “Aw,” I said. “Poor widdle Tosiggy don’t like that?” The growl became more pronounced. I was hitting a nerve.
        I saw movement off to my right. The Thor had stormed out of hiding, looking for me. I let him know where I was by darting to my left, firing the Claymore’s Gauss rifle, large laser and the missile rack. The slug snapped past the Thor’s left shoulder close enough to rattle the armor, and the laser drilled a hole in the rock just above the Clan ’Mech’s head. The missiles struck all across the Thor’s front, sending it staggering back.
        I darted back into cover before Tosig could recover and return fire. I could have continued attacking, but Tosig would recover fast and I didn't think I could survive another toe-to toe exchange. I put the Claymore into a full run, changing position before he came after me. “Still there, Toecheese?” I asked.
        “You. . . will. . . Die!” Tosig snarled.
        “How, by talking me to death?”
        I heard the sound of jump jets and saw the Thor rocket into the sky from behind and to the right of me. He spotted me and at the top of his arc, started firing at me with his autocannon and PPC. I continued running as I was pelted by molten rock from the PPC’s near miss and several of the subclustrers from the autocannon that struck the still-pristine rear armor. “Ha!” I shouted over the radio. “Getting sloppy in your old age, huh?”
        “I. . .shall enjoy killing you,” Tosig hissed in response.
        As he dropped out of the sky, I launched the Claymore into the air, guiding it toward a small knob of a hill dominated by a cluster of spires. By the time he could turn and try to get a shot at me, I was already among the rocks near the crest. “I’m shaking in my boots, Toecheese,” I said.
        “Come out and fight me!” he screamed.
        “Come and get me, you has-been,” I shot back. I backed the Claymore off the hill until I reached the bottom and slowly to the left. With the hill between me and Tosig, I hoped he’d think I was still on the hill. The rocks I was using for cover were massive and contained heavy concentration of metals. With a little luck, he’d be looking at the hill and not on the surroundings.
        “Has-been?” he growled. “You dare call me a Solahma, Stravag?”
        “I dare, but you already know the truth.”
        “What truth is that?” Tosig spat out.
        “That even your clan thinks you’re a has-been. That’s why they didn't let you compete in the Trial of Bloodright three months ago.”
        “How did you know....Tanni! I shall kill her with my bare hands!”
        “You have to kill me first, Solahma-bait,” I replied. “Or are you going to wait down there until I die of old age?”
        There was a blood-cuddling scream that sounded like a soul lost in Hell, and through a gap in the rocks, I saw the Thor begin to move forward, toward the hill I had landed on. “How long before you lose a Trial of Possession to a younger warrior?” I taunted. I didn’t want to give him a chance to think. “How long before you’re wiping the behinds of the newest sibko?”
        By now, the Thor was in a flat out run, charging the hill. Over the radio, Tosig was frothing at the mouth, screaming curses and promising me a painful death. He raced up the hill, slowed only by the slope. For a second, I felt sympathy, but that was washed away by the reality of the situation. I stepped away from the rocks, into the open.
        The Thor was halfway up the hill, maybe three hundred meters away. By the jerky motion of the 'Mech as it climbed, it was clear that Tosig was not in control of himself. Part of me wanted to fire now and dump everything into his back, but another part of me said into the radio in a low clear voice "I'm behind you, Star Commander."
        Tosig turned quickly, firing as he turned. Despite his anger, or maybe because of it, the Claymore shuddered under the full assault of the Thor's firepower. The status board started flashing as several missiles penetrated the weak left torso armor and took out one of my medium lasers, while the ERPPC nearly took off my left arm.
        It wasn't all one sided, however. The ERPPC and most of his 'Mech's right arm went spinning away from the impact of a supersonic slug, and the Claymore's ER large laser bit deeply into the Thor's right leg, sending molten metal in every direction. My missile swarm impacted high on the chest of the Clan 'Mech, and his missile launcher slowly fell away from the torso and hit the ground. The Thor staggered up the hill several steps, smoke and fragments pouring from it.
        "Finished?" I asked coldly. "Or do you want more?"
        "Never!" Tosig croaked."I...will...not be...beaten by.. a Freebirth !"
        "Face facts, Leadhead. You're beaten, only you're too proud to admit it. Surrender now, and you'll be treated fairly."
        "NOOOOOO !" With that as his battle cry, he charged down the hill at me, firing wildly with the only weapon he had left, the Autocannon. I held my ground, part of me not believing this, the other part cooling lining up the Thor in my sights.
        I waited until he closed the gap to less than two hundred meters before I open fire. The Gauss round blew apart the right kneecap, dropping the Thor onto its face. As the 'Mech fell, the large laser and missiles cut deep into the torsos and ripping apart the engine shielding, forcing the ’Mech to shut down. It slid down the hill another twenty meters before it come to a stop near the base of the hill.
        For several seconds, I just stood there, watching the fallen 'Mech. It was a feeling of exhaustion that swept over me as I radioed the waiting medevac teams to come in to clean up.

The story concludes Friday