Friday, May 30, 2014

Running From the Past, Finale


(Note: the Fronc Reaches flag [seen above] and all the BattleMech illustrations I use in these blog postings are the property of Catalyst Games Labs. I took the images from the most excellent sarna.net Battletech Wiki. I have no claim to any ownership over any of the images and use them for illustration purposes only.)

Yes, this is the last part of Running From the Past. I hope you enjoyed it.

The family member is getting the help they needed and the family can take a breather for the weekend before we move onto the next phase of treatment. As for the Battlecorps stories, they're all around 7,000 words as of this moment. Two are heading toward their climax, but one story's taking a little more of a leisurely pace to get of its climax. I'll have to see how that goes....

Anyway, the final scene from Running From the Past:

***

Ten kilometers northeast of LaCroix,
Cascade, New Colony Region
The Periphery
December 22nd , 3065 


The last thing Jägare expected was a visit from Marshal Jackson and Andrea.

He had plenty of warning, thanks to the sensors, but he still was surprised. He walked outside as they approached his cabin, but not before concealing a pistol under his untucked shirt and leaving his rifle loaded and just inside the doorway.

The sun was bright, the sky cloudless, but there was still a strong chill in the air. There was still snow on the ground, but it was melting, so both Jackson’s and Andrea’s horses had no problems with their footing. Jackson, who was leading the pair, was dressed in a heavy woolen coat, his only concession to the cold. Andrea was dressed warmly enough in a fur-lined parka, and there was a determined look on her face.

“Morning,” Jägare said as they rode up.

“Jägare,” the Marshal replied gruffly after he reigned his horse in. “Got a few minutes?”

“Sure.” Jägare looked up at Andrea as she approached. “What brings you two up here?”

She eased her horse to a stop next to Jägare, leaned over the saddle horn and looked down at him. “Looking for you, of course,” she replied.

“I didn't think you knew where I lived.”

“I’m paid to know things like that,” Jackson replied as he dismounted. He looked around. “Nice property.”

“Thanks. Care to come in for some coffee? I think I’ve got some left over.”

“Now, that is an idea,” Jackson said.

Andrea slid off her horse with ease. “I’ll take a cup.”

“Good,” Jägare said. “Tie up your horses in the barn and I’ll start making it.”

*** 

The three of them sat around the table, three steaming cups of coffee sitting on the table, along with the pot, some sweetener, a load of bread, a knife and some butter. Both Jackson and Andrea had taken off their coats, as the cabin was warm. Jägare left the pistol where it was for now, careful not to lean back in his chair too much.

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

Jackson sipped his coffee. “Since you haven’t been in town for the last three weeks or so, I’d thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing.”

“I’ve been doing all right,” Jägare replied. “Been spending most of my time resting and preparing for the Spring hunting season.” Among other things, he thought.

The aftermath of the slaver raid had been somewhat anticlimactic. Jackson and Kessler had managed to corner the Warhammer in a ravine, and after a short fight, managed to cripple it. Unable to move and outnumbered, the Warhammer pilot, who had been the Raven's pilot at the start of the raid, surrendered. The slavers that tried to escape through the woods were allowed to run for a day and a half before they were given the chance to surrender. Tired, leaderless, hungry, thirsty, and dishearten, the pirates surrendered. The survivors, about thirty-five or so, were now sitting in the Morrow City prison, waiting to be transferred to Fronc for trial. The crimes they committed ranged across several colony worlds, and the colonial legal system wanted to make this a show trial.

All of the bodies of the dead Brotherhood members were laid out, identified, their DNA taken, then cremated in a solar furnace. In the case of Maximilian Shanav, a full autopsy report, with pictures and DNA samples, and a video of his body being cremated, was sent to the Capellan embassy on Canopus IV. The Confederation might be upset at the fact that Shanav was killed by someone other than them, but they would be satisfied that their fugitive was dead.

The freed slaves fell into two groups, those who wanted to go back to the worlds that had been taken from and restart their lives, and those who decided they were better off here on Cascade. It took most of two weeks to interview everyone, take their statements and sort out their next steps. About a third of the group decided to stay on Cascade and they were warmly welcomed. Those that decided to return to their planets stayed in Morrow City until transportation could be arranged. As far as they were concerned, the Colonial Marshals, in the person of William Takezaki, had gained another level of respect.

Jackson had promised to keep Jägare’s name out of the official report about the raid, giving credit to Takezaki for leading the force that captured the DropShips, and the hunters as a whole for mangling the slaver raiding force. Takezaki’s own report had played down his role, as much as was possible, instead give credit to the ‘sizeable’ hunter force he had led. He took credit for Shanav’s death, noting that the man had been shot, then fell on his own knife in some sort of suicide action. He also noted the actions of an unknown MechWarrior who had damaged the Mule before ‘escaping into the night.’

Only a few people knew that Jägare had been that MechWarrior, and most of them thought that Jägare had just overpowered the MechWarrior and stolen the Men Shen. Officially, the Men Shen, which had become a Jenner in Takezaki’s report, was still a Pirate ‘Mech and its pilot was wanted. Jackson’s report noted that an unknown Jenner had been spotted near the battle with the Warhammer, but had disappeared into the woods, and there was officially still a search ongoing for the ‘Mech.

In reality, the Men Shen was stored in a cavern two kilometers from Jägare’s house. He had been shocked by Jackson’s offer to turn the ‘Mech back over to him, but the marshal had pointed out that if the Capellans found out about the ‘Mech, it would draw official attention, and a few spies, to Cascade. It was better that the Men Shen was not seen unless absolutely necessary. Reluctantly, Jägare had agreed to the plan.

Despite the loss of the Men Shen, the Marshals still came out ahead. The Raven and Panther could be repaired, though because of parts scarcity, it would take about a year to do so. The Warhammer needed new leg actuators, but it still could move, if somewhat slower, and its firepower was intact. Both  DropShips were repaired and claimed in the name of the citizens of Cascade. Takezaki’s Marshal was still in the repair shop, waiting for parts from Fronc. Takezaki himself was on his way to Fronc to hand deliver the incident reports and requests for spare parts.

As for Jägare, he had spent a week in the hospital in Morrow City with four broken ribs, a severely bruised thigh, and his hand had been sliced down to the bone. The medical staff had wanted him to stay another week, but Jägare had decided that enough was enough, and had checked himself out of the hospital. He had said good bye to Andrea, then headed for his cabin in the mountains.

Andrea had spent two weeks in the hospital. Her injuries, combined with a few bumps and scrapes and exhaustion, were a little more extensive. Still, by the time she was discharged, she was up and around, relaying on a cane for the next few weeks. When she returned to LaCroix and her store, she found both a town and the hunters ready to give her a hand.

“So you don’t know what’s happened the last three weeks in the colony?” Andrea asked.

“Not a thing,” Jägare replied. Anything happen that I should know about?”

Jackson shook his head. “Besides the fact the worlds of the New Colony Region have again decided to form our own state?”

Jägare looked at him blankly. “What?”

Andrea nodded. “Two days after you left Morrow City, a group of representatives from President Trondel landed and asked to see Governor Radichek and the Colony Council. They presented the proposal, and the Council decided to join the movement.”

“Didn't they try this several years ago? It ended rather badly, if I remember correctly.”

“It did,” Jackson replied. “But Trondel has his head on straight, unlike Maltin. He thinks the best way is to try and negotiate our way out.”

“What about Radichek?” Jägare asked. “Didn't he oppose the proposal? After all, the Taurians have a lot invested in these colonies.”

Jackson shook his head slowly. “Milt Radichek’s family and the Calderons have never seen eye to eye on much of anything, but Milt hates Grover Sharaplen so much that if Grover was ever attacked by a rock tiger, Milt would root for the tiger. In case you’re wondering, the Canopians are at least willing to talk.”

Jägare shrugged his shoulders. “Why bother to tell me?”

“Because we’re going to need people to help defend these planets once we’re independent. People like you.”

A cold shiver crept down Jägare’s back. “What do you mean?”

“It means that Milt was impressed with the work you and the other hunters did to the Brotherhood. He was so impressed that he has decided to add another militia company to the Cascade Defense Force. This company would be made up of Hunters and selected volunteers, who would act as scouts, snipers, and raiders. And he asked me to ask you if you wouldn't mind becoming the Captain of that company.”

Jägare stared at him. “What makes you think that the Hunters would accept me as their captain?” he asked after several seconds of silence. “We’re a bit independent.”

“Well, then you must have made an impression on your fellow Hunters,” Andrea replied. “There was a meeting in LaCroix, and over thirty Hunters signed up to be part of that company. You were the overwhelming choice for the position of Captain. Sven and Tetsuro are your lieutenants, and both Reece and King are sergeants.”

“When did that happen?” Jägare demanded.

“Last week,” Andrea replied with a shrug.

Jägare leaned back in his chair, wincing slightly as the still hidden pistol dug into his back. “I wasn't told about any meeting of the Hunters!”

“I did radio you and invite you into town last week.” Her mouth twitched slightly as she fought not to smile. “It’s not my fault you came to the wrong conclusion.”

“Ian,” said Jackson slowly. “I know you’re hiding out here for a reason. And I’m not going to pry. You've proven to me and some others that you are a leader, with skills we are going to need.”

Jägare stood and walked away from the table. He stared out one of the small windows at the snow-covered landscape. “It had to be done,” he said finally.

“Yes, it did,” Jackson said.

“I didn't want to do it,” Jägare said. “They were not my people.”

“There, you are wrong,” the Marshal replied. Jägare head the chair scrape across the floor as Jackson stood. “Son, your actions proved to every citizen of Cascade that you are one of us. You are as much a part of this planet as the rock tigers and the forest are.”

“I wasn't the only one,” Jägare replied. “Takezaki and the others did their part.”

The Marshal shook his head. “Only after you pointed them in the right direction. Some would call you a hero.”

Jägare turned and looked at him. “Some wouldn't be too sure of that if they knew my background.”

Jackson out a hand on Jägare’s shoulder. “Ian,” he said softly, “I don’t know about your background, and frankly, I don’t care. What I care about is that there are two hundred and fifty people who owe their freedom to what you did. Countless others on other worlds will be spared a life of slavery. I don’t know if that makes up for what you've done in the past, but you have a clean sheet here. So, maybe it’s time to stop running from the past, and time to walk into the future.” He walked to the door and opened it, allowing some cool air to enter. “I need some fresh air.”

Andrea waited until Jackson closed the door behind him before she said, “Kove’s right. You’re one of us now.”

“Don’t be too sure of that,” Jägare replied as he turned to look at her. “It too me a long time to decide that the state I served wasn't my state anymore.”

“I take it you didn't leave the Capellan Confederation under good terms?” There was no question in her voice, just a statement of fact.

He looked at her sharply. “What makes you say that?”

“You piloted an Confederation ‘Mech like you’d done it for years. You accused Max of being a Death Commando, and spoke to him in Chinese.”

“He wasn't a Death Commando. No one that sloppy would have lasted out the training.”

“How would you know?”

He turned away. “I just do.”

She looked down at the coffee cup in her hands. “Who’s Master Sun?”

“You heard?”

She nodded. “Papa always said I have very good hearing. What did you say to him at the end? Just before the Marshal shot him?”

“Who said I said anything to him?”

I saw the look in Max’s eyes and his look told me that he was very surprised.”

“The knife in his chest had something to do with that look.”

She nodded. “I won’t ask again. But it’s always easier to share your burdens then keeping them inside.”

“Not mine.”

She nodded again, not looking up from the cup. “Are you going to accept the post of Captain of the Hunter Company?”

“I’m not sure,” he replied, turning to look at her. “I’m not eager to pledge my allegiance to any one person or state.”

“I see. That explains a lot.” She stood. “But you've already committed yourself. Not to a state, or a leader, but to an idea. The idea that people should be able to live freely.”

Jägare snorted. “A noble idea?”

“Not really,” Andrea replied. Do you know who Mary Fergerson is?” When Jägare shook his head, she continued. “She’s a ten year old girl, cute as a button, had blonde pigtails and a stuffed bear named Fuzzy.” Her tone became a bit harder. “The night the Brotherhood attacked LaCroix, she was dragged out of her bed by one of the slavers and tossed her into one of those armored cars they were using. If it wasn't for you and the others, she would on her way to god knows where. I don’t care if you don’t want to be part of the this new state, and I’m not asking you to pledge your honor and your life to any one person. But there are a lot of people like Mary out there, people who need someone to defend them. Can you make that pledge?”

Jägare’s mind flashed back to a three year old in a closet, a boy he had been ordered to kill for no other reason then his father was a perceived threat to the Confederation. Any other member of the strike team would have killed him without a thought. Was there that much of a difference between not killing a child and defending that child for someone else who wanted to kill him, or worse? Andrea was right. He couldn't stand by and allow someone to do what he had refused to do. If that meant using his skills and experience to make sure it never happened, so be it.

He inhaled slowly. “For the children, then, yes, I can make that pledge.”

Andrea nodded, then grabbed his head and kissed him before he could react. She held the kiss for a few seconds, then stepped back, releasing Jägare’s head. “I’ve been wanting to do that for weeks.”

“But –“

”I don’t care what you did or who is after you.”

“They would kill you or use you to get to me.”

She shrugged. “I can take care of myself.”

Jägare shook his head slowly. “These people are –“

”I don’t care,” Andrea said firmly. “I’ve know you for over three years now, and I have never met a man who was as gentle, warm and as quiet as you. We've been dancing around each other for too long. It’s time we did something about it.”

“But –“

”You don’t get drunk. You’re honest, handsome, intelligent and in great shape, which puts you ahead of most of the single guys around here. What else do you need?”

“But –“

She placed her hand on her hips. “Are you coming into town for Christmas?”

Jägare stared at her. “What?”

“You heard me, are you coming into town for Christmas?”

“No.”

She tilted her head. “Why not?”

He looked at her, wondering where he lost control of this conversation. “Because I –“

She shook her head. “No reason. You are coming into town and you are going to enjoy Christmas with me and the rest of your friends in LaCroix. You’re one of us, now more then ever. It’s about time you accepted that.”

“All right. I’ll be down tomorrow –“

”Wrong. You are coming into town today, and you are coming with me and the Marshal. Understand?”

He sighed and gave her a mock salute. “Yes ma’am.”

“Good. Get dressed, grab enough clothes for a few days, and let’s get going!”

*** 

When Jägare came out of the cabin, he was carrying a pack and a small box. Both Jackson and Andrea were already on their horses. Jägare’s horse and mule were tied to the hitching rail, already saddled. He gave the Marshal a suspicious look. Jackson merely shrugged.

Andrea looked down at him. “What’s in the box?’

Jägare smiled at her. “My past. Can we go by Hallfin’s Gorge on the way to town?”

“Sure. Why?”

He held up the box. “I’m finally getting rid of my past.”

She smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”

***

Now, I need to think of something for next week......

Craig


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Running from the Past, Part 11




(Note: the Death Commando logo [seen above] and all the BattleMech illustrations I use in these blog postings are the property of Catalyst Games Labs. I took the images from the most excellent sarna.net Battletech Wiki. I have no claim to any ownership over any of the images and use them for illustration purposes only.)

Managed to get some work done on those Battlecorps stories over the weekend. The situation with the family member doesn't look like it's going to get resolved in the near future, if at all. Right now, my writing is the one area I can escape into for a while, and it's kept me sane.

This is the climax of Running From the Past. There's a short ending scene I'll post on Thursday, and that will wrap this story up. Any thoughts will be welcomed, as it is the longest Battletech story I've ever written. I would like to now what you guys thought of it.

***

The Ferret VTOL flew at near treetop level, the ground below still in shadows despite the faint but growing light coming from the northeast. The VTOL pilot, a tall thin man wearing a black Stetson, aviator glasses and chomping on an unlit cigar, was humming something under his breath that sounded to Jägare like Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkeries.”

Besides Jägare and the pilot, the only other person on board was the co-pilot, a young woman who looked like she should have been in school rather than in the right hand seat of a combat aircraft. Jägare sat in the small troop compartment, near the front so he could glance into the cabin when he wanted to. He had taken the time to change back into his clothes, and the rifle laying across his lap was his own hunting rifle. A hunting bag sat on the bench next to him, holding a few things like some food, medical supplies, and some extra ammo for both his rifle and pistol.

“Three minutes,” said the co-pilot over her shoulder.

Jägare nodded and closed his eyes. He went through a series of mental exercises he had learned long ago, to sharpen the mind and clear the feelings of fatigue that he felt. The Ferret had been in the air for over twenty minutes, taking an indirect route to the hunting camp on Madson’s Ridge so as not to alert Max to the discovery of his plan. The plan was for the Ferret to touch and go in the middle of the camp, staying on the ground only long enough to allow Jägare to get out. Once the VTOL was away, Jägare would move to disable the ATVs, conceal himself, and wait for Max and Andrea.

Andrea. Was she a hostage, or willing partner to all this? No one had seen her as anything but a prisoner, but there was no way of telling. He would have to rely on his training and instinct to know the truth.

Someone touching he knee made Jägare open his eyes. The co-pilot motioned to her headset. Jägare switched his on. “Yes?”

“Someone calling you. Hunter Five-Four.”

Jägare nodded and motioned her to put the call through. After she adjusted a dial on the console, she turned her head and nodded.

“Hunter Three-One here. Find anything, Tetsuro?”

“Affirmative, Three-One. Took us a while, but we've managed to pick up a trail of footprints heading south, like you said. Two people. One moving fairly quickly, the other stumbling along right behind number one. They can’t be more then an hour old. Looks like they’re making a beeline for Madson’s Ridge and the hunting camp there.”

“Good. I’m about two minutes away from the camp myself. Can you track them?”

“Looks like we can. He tried to cover his tracks the first part of the escape, which is why it took us so long, but now he isn't bothering.”

“Good. Get after him and stay close enough to let him know you’re there, but not close enough to spook him. into doing something nasty. Remember, Andrea is with him.”

“Understood.” There were a few seconds of silence, then Tetsuro said, “Just so we’re clear, Three-One, if he does something to her before they reach the camp, the Marshal’s isn't going to find the body.”

“Understood,” Jägare growled. “Just be careful with Max, Five-Four. Something don’t feel right about him.”

“I think you’re right. We’ll dog him, don’t worry about that. Hunter Five-Four out.”

Jägare nodded to the co-pilot to break the connection and leaned back in his seat. He’d hadn't been exaggerating the feeling he had about Max, an unease that had started right after he’d been told that Max was in with the Brotherhood. He thought back, trying to find the reason for his unease, but nothing came to mind. In fact, he realized he knew almost nothing about Max – his last name, where he come from (or claimed to come from), likes, dislikes, or even where he lived in town. He had appeared one day early in the year and had just become part of the trading post like the shelves and the merchandise. . . .

The Hunter frowned. Or, like a trained intelligence agent, he thought. Become part of the background and no one notices you. In the store, Jägare had very few direct dealings with Max, because Andrea preferred dealing with the hunters herself. He had run into Max several times out in the forest, Max acting as a guide for hunting parties, and he seemed competent enough in that role. But other then that, the man was a mystery, more shadow then human.

Even more of a shadow then I am>, he thought ruefully.

“One minute,” the co-pilot said, her voice startling him out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes and looked at her, but she was watching the dials and gages. Who Max was would have to wait until later. Now, he had to stop him and rescue Andrea in the process.

He looked out the cockpit window just as the Ferret rose over a ridge and come in sight of his objective. The hunting camp was in a large clearing, several log buildings clustered around a raised dirt platform used as a helipad. The piloted angled the Ferret for the pad, the humming stopped in favor of concentrating on the landing. Jägare removed his headset, leaned forward, one hand on his rifle, the other on the seat restraint release.

The Ferret was dropping toward the landing pad at a fast clip. At the last moment, the pilot pulled back on the stick, bringing the nose up and slowing his momentum. As he did so, his right hand grabbed and pulled back on a leaver, releasing the Ferret’s landing gear. Five seconds, later, there was a thump as the VTOL landed on the platform.

As soon as he felt the Ferret touch down, Jägare twisted the restraint release, freeing him from the seat. Grabbing his bag with his free hand, he was standing and heading to the cargo door just as it slid open. Without breaking stride, he jumped out, bending over to keep himself well clear of the VTOL’s blades. He kept moving away from the helicopter, not bothering to look back or straighten up until he head and felt the Ferret lift off the pad. He turned, stood straight and gave the departing VTOL a wave.

Jägare started for the stairs at one end,, slinging the bag over his head and grabbing his radio. “Hunter Three-One to Hunter Five-Four. I’m down and in position.”

“Copy, Three-One. We’re about four klicks north of your location.”

“Copy, Five-Four. Three-One out.” He double-timed it down the stairs, switching radio frequencies as he did so. “Hunter Three One to Marshal One-Five.”

“Marshal One-Five here,” Takezaki said. “Are you in position?”

“Just landed,” Jägare replied. “What about that Warhammer?”

“Marshal One-Six and Two-Three are closing in on him now.” There was a touch of frustration in the Marshal’s voice. With his injuries, Takezaki was stuck at the mobile HQ, coordinating the mop-up operation, while Jackson and Kessler, the deputy that had been sent to get them from the DropShip, was now piloting the Men Shen in pursuit of the pirate ‘Mech.

“Understood. Anything new on Max’s background?” Before he’d left, Jägare had asked Takezaki to check up on the renegade’s background while on Cascade.

“Not much more then what we already knew,” Takezaki replied. Wait a minute. . . . “ Five seconds passed, which was long enough for Jägare to reach the bottom of the steps and start toward the shed housing the ATVs. “We got a hit in the BOTL files.”

“BOTL?”

“Be on the lookout. It’s a file on wanted criminals that’s updated every few months.”

“And no one thought to check this file when Max showed up?”

“It was checked,” the marshal said, sounding defensive. “It’s checked for every single person when they come through immigration. But this report is only three months old. Besides, the file has over three million entries, and each update adds another fifty thousand. We don’t have the time to check it unless we have to.”

“Never mind the excuse,” Jägare replied bluntly. What does the report say?”

“Basically, a man by the name of Max Vanash is wanted on Rollis in connection with the murder of a smuggler and his two bodyguards. The general description fits our Max, and all three victims were killed with a knife, just like the Warhammer pilot.”

Jägare reached the shed and took a second to consider the lock. “Anything else?”

“Not yet. Still working through the BOTL database.”

“Rollis is in Capellan territory. Maybe there’s more in the Confederation warrants list. Keep at it and let me know if you manage to dig up anything else about Max.”

“Copy on the Confed angle. I’ll add it to the search parameters, Three-One. One-Five out.”

Jägare drew and fired his pistol, the shot echoing through the clearing. The lock disintegrated, and gave up its last bit of cohesion when Jägare kicked the door open. He strode inside, letting his eyes adjust to the almost darkness before he did anything. It was getting lighter, as the two small windows indicated, but the shed itself was still mostly in darkness.

A work bench ran along one wall, but most of the space was taken up by two ATVs. Designed to seat three comfortably, two in front and one in the rear, and four in a pinch, the vehicles rode along on six tube-like tires. A roll bar protected the occupants in case the ATV flipped, but still allowed a hunter to stand up in the back seat and shoot.

Jägare went to the rear of the first ATV. It took him a couple of seconds to locate the latch and pull it. There was a pop, and he pushed on the rear of the seat. The seat moved up and forward, displaying the electric motor that powered the ATV. He reached in and found a wingnut by touch. After a few seconds resistance, the nut finally started turning and he removed it. He pocketed it and pushed the engine cover back. It took him several more seconds to find and remove three circuit boards from the engine. He moved onto the other ATV, not bothering to take the time to close the engine cover. In less then two minutes, he was back outside, six circuit boards in his hand. Without these circuits, the ATVs were not going anywhere.

Ten minutes later, he returned to the clearing, the looted circuit boards carefully buried twenty meters in the woods. It would take Max hours to find them, if he found them at all.

“Marshal One-Five to Hunter Three-One,” Takezaki said.

“Hunter Three-One here. What do you have?”

“Another hit on the BOTL list for our friend Max. You guessed right about there being more then one warrant for the Confed, and I think you should hear this ASAP.”

Jägare walked across the clearing. “What?”

“A special warrant has been issued for one Maximilian Shanav by the Office of Special Prosecution, Prefect of Sian,” Takezaki read. He continued with, “Interestingly enough, this warrant is being distributed only to the Magistracy of Canopus, the Taurian Concordat, and the New Colony Region.”

Jägare stopped in the middle of the clearing. “You said, ‘Office of Special Prosecution?’”

“That’s what it says here. Why, you know what it is?”

Jägare started walking again, but his pace was quicker. “I do. The Office is nothing more then a paper front for the Maskirovka.”

“Capellan Intelligence?”

“The same. They use that to try and track down suspects they think have left Confederation space. What do they want him for?”

“Just says here, ‘for the murder of two defenders of the Confederation, the attempted murder of three more defenders of the Confederation and the attempted assassination of a Jiang-jun Cho Su, whoever that is. It provides a picture, and it’s close to a perfect match with our Max.”

Jägare felt a cold lump form in his stomach. “I think we’re dealing with a renegade Liao Death Commando,” he said, forcing the words out.

“You’re kidding,” Takezaki said.

“The hell I am,” Jägare shot back, sprinting for one of the cabins. “Cho Su is an alias for Jiang-Jun Michael Hyung-Tsei, who is the commanding officer of the Death Commandos. More likely then not, those dead and wounded ‘defenders of the Confederation’ were Death Commandos.”

“How would you know anything about the Death Commandos?”

“I read a lot.”

“According to this warrant, if spotted, no action is to be taken against him and the Office of Special Prosecution is to be notified immediately.”

“So they can send a Death Commando team to take him.”

“More reading?”

“I have a lot of free time during winter,” Jägare replied as he stopped in front of the cabin. “After a while, you’ll read anything.”

“If you say so. But, if this guy is a Death Commando, you can’t take him on alone. I can have two platoons up there in less then half an hour.”

“And he’ll kill Andrea before the VTOLs touch down, then evade the militia. He’s no fool.”

“What can you do against him?”

“More then he knows. Hunter Three-One out.” Jägare turned off the radio and opened the door to the cabin. The interior was plain, with two bunkbeds, a fireplace, four high-backed unadorned wooden chairs around an unfinished table. Two windows in each side of the single door let in enough light to see the thin layer of dust on everything.

Jägare went over to one of the chairs, picked it up and carried it to the window. He placed the chair off to one side so he could see most of the clearing, including the shed, but far enough back so he wasn't readily visible from the clearing. Another chair was placed next to the first, and he placed the bag on it and leaned his rifle there. He stepped outside and took one last look around before going back inside, closing the door and settling down to wait.

Half an hour passed, then forty-five minutes. Jägare ate some jerky and drank a little water to take the edge off his hunger. Sleep nibbled at his awareness, but he forced himself to stay awake, using techniques from his past life, techniques that he was finding out had never really left him, but had stayed dormant until he needed them again. Part of him wonder if he should be impressed or scared about the retention of all those skills.

Movement on the far side of the clearing put those thought aside. Jägare picked up his rifle, but continued to watch from his position. After a few more seconds, two figures came into the clearing. One was Max, dressed in black cargo pants, blood-red shirt and black vest. In one hand he carried a rifle, in the other, a thin chain leading to a collar around Andrea Starver’s neck. Andrea looked tired, her clothes were ripped and dirty, and her arms were manacled in front of her. But she was alive and in relatively good shape.

Jägare watched as Max dragged Andrea toward the shed. Short of the structure, he saw the pirate stop and stare at the destroyed lock. With a snarl, Max sling the rifle over his shoulder and yanked on the chain, sending Andrea stumbling forward. As she got close to him, Max released the chain and pulled out a long double-bladed knife from a belt sheath and grabbed her by the chin and spun her around so that she was between him and the shed. Slowly, Max forced Andrea into the shed, the knife hovering close to her neck. They disappeared into the darkness.

The hunter stood and moved to the door. He opened it slowly, just enough to allow him to see the clearing. A handful of seconds later, Andrea came stumbling out of the shed, Max right behind her. He grabbed her by the hair and held up the knife. “All right!” he said in a cold, menacing voice. “I want to see everyone out in the open in ten seconds, or I will cut her throat!”

Jägare frowned. Andrea was too close to Max for a shot at this distance. He stepped out, his rifle pointing at the both of them. “Just me, Max,” he said in a loud voice.

Max glared at him. “Jägare,” he said in a low voice.

Jägare walked toward them, slowly. “I’m here, alone.”

“Why should I believe you?” Max demanded.

“Kill him, Ian!” Andrea yelled. “Kill the bastard!”

Max redoubled his grip on the woman’s hair. “You’re the one who removed those ATV circuits,” he said in a even tempered voice.

“Of course. I figured out the Warhammer was a bluff.”

The hatchet-faced man shrugged. “It was a good plan. Keller didn't like it much, but I convinced him.”

Jägare continued to walk forward. "You can't escape."

“Stop where you are and drop your weapons,” Max snarled. He held the blade near Andrea’s throat. “Rifle and pistol both.”

Jägare stopped. He held up his rifle and placed it on the ground in front of him, then unbuckled his gunbelt and let it fall to the ground. “Satisfied?”

“Take ten steps toward us,” Max ordered, his blade never wavering. “And keep your hands up.”

The hunter took ten measured paces toward Max and Andrea, his hands held out and away from his body. He stopped about five meters from the pair. “The Brotherhood is finished, Max,” he said. “We've captured both DropShips, and most of the gang is dead or captured.”

A flicker of irritation crossed Max’s face, but it didn't stay long. “The citizens here were more prepared then we thought.”

“Not really,” Jägare said, switching to Mandarin. “Its just the people here take a real dislike to pirates.”

The hatchet-face man’s eyes narrowed. “A shrewd guess,” he replied in the same language.

“We found the warrant for you issued by the Office of Special Prosecution, Prefect of Sian, Maximilian Shanav.”

“I am impressed. You have been busy.”

“I also know who Jiang-jun Cho Su really is. Death Commandos don’t like it when one of their own desert.”

Max snorted. “And how would you know anything about –“

Andrea snarled an curse as she stepped back and slammed her elbow into Max’s gut. As the pirate’s eyes widen in pain, she grabbed his knife hand with both of hers and bit his wrist. He snarled a curse of his own and yanked her back. Before he could do anything else, Jägare plowed into both of them, sending all three of them to the ground, Max on the bottom, then Andrea, and finally Jägare on top. Jägare’s hat went flying off into the snow.

Jägare shoved Andrea off of Max and she quickly rolled away, finally free as Jägare landed on top of Max. the slaver slashed at her with his knife, but she was beyond his reach. Before he could slash at Jägare, the hunter grabbed the knife hand with his left and punched Max between the eyes with his right. With a snarl, the pirate slammed a knee into Jägare ‘s ribs. Pain exploded along the ribs, the same area where he’d been slashed during the DropShip fight. In retaliation, he hit Max between the eyes yet again.

Twice more, the knee struck the ribs, and each time, the pain got worse. Jägare third punch was met with Max’s forehead as he raised his head and tucked his chin into his chest. A left cross connected with Jägare’s chin with enough force to daze him. He rolled off of Max, and lurched to his feet, his right hand drawing out his own knife from it’s belt sheath.

Max was already on his feet, a bit bloody, but his eyes shone with menace and his knife was held in a low guard. “Not bad,” he said in Mandarin. “But I was trained by the very best in the Capellan Confederation.”

“So you say,” Jägare replied with a small smile.

Max attacked with several short slashes, moving with speed and power. Jägare blocked two slashes, avoided the third and absorbed the last one on his heavy winter coat. He ducked an elbow and kicked out at Max’s knee, which the pirate managed to avoid. Jägare spun to his left and snapped out a spinning hook kick, the heel of his boot barely grazing the pirate’s chin. Max staggered, but recovered quickly.

The hunter snapped thrust his own knife toward Max’s chest, making the pirate swing his own knife down to block the attack, then hit him with an overhand left that snapped his opponent's head to the right. Jägare stepped forward, ducked a spinning slash that neck high, and kicked at Max’s groin. The slaver managed to twist away, his thigh absorbing the kick, the countered with an open palm strike that smashed into Jägare’s chest. The winter coat and layers of this clothes dispersed the power of the strike, but it still forced Jägare to back up several steps to regain his balance.

Max charged in, his knife aimed at the hunter’s face. Jägare spun to his right, slapping his opponent’s knife-welding arm with his left hand. He continued to spin, intent on driving the pommel of his knife into Max’s temple, but the hatchet-face man ducked and hit Jägare with a shoulder in the stomach that sent the hunter staggering. Before Jägare could recover, Max was on the attack again, hacking at Jägare with a flurry of slashes. More cuts appeared in Jägare‘s winter coat before Max was forced to leap back to avoid Jägare’s thrusting counterattack.

They circled each other, knives held close to the body. Jägare’s ribs burned, but he ignored it. Small puffs of down were slowly being expelled through the gashes in his coat. Sweat beaded on his forehead before it cooled off in the chill air. “Give it up, Shanav,” he said in English. “There’s no way you can get off planet now.”

“I’ve got an entire planet to hide on,” the slaver replied.

“You think the Hunters will leave you alone?”

“If I kill enough of them, they will. And I’m going to start with you.” He moved in again, the steel of his knife shimmering in the morning light. Jägare’s coat absorbed several more slashes, but he didn't know how much more it could take. A kick meant to break Jägare’s kneecap smashed painfully into the lower part of his thigh, and only sheer will kept him from falling. Max’s follow-up elbow was knocked aside by Jägare, who then stepped in, and used a shoulder throw to try and drive Max into the ground. The pirate managed to break his fall for the most part, and slashed several times at Jägare’s legs to keep him away long enough to roll into a crouch.

Max glanced over at Andrea, who was kneeling several meters away, trying to remove the collar from around her neck. He smiled at Jägare, then uncoiled himself and darted toward Andrea. Jägare moved to cut him off, but only after a couple of strides, Max suddenly darted at him, his knife slashing through Jägare’s coat, shirt and into his skin. In reply, Jägare managed to snap a kick into Max’s solar plexus, the force just enough to make the slaver gasp in surprise, but the follow-up knee to the face was prevented by the pirate’s quick reflexes. However, Max wasn't quite fast enough to completely avoid Jägare’s slash that left a long trail of blood along the right side of his face.

Each man pulled back, assessing his opponent. Fire burned from the top of Jägare’s left hip to the right breast, and the hunter could feel wetness seep into his shirt. His breathing was ragged, every move sending new jolts of pain through his abused thigh and ribs. Tiredness was beginning to set in, the events of the last day working hard to try and take him under. He fought off the urge to fall down, and just smiled at his enemy.

Max looked more relaxed, though the slash on his face bled profusely. “It appears that I underestimated you,” he said in English.

“Not my fault,” Jägare’s replied.

“Ready to tell me where those ATV circuits are?”

“No.”

“I suppose I could skin you alive, but I don’t have the time.”

“You've run out of time. There’s hunters in the woods, waiting for a clear shot at you, and Marshal Takezaaki is on his way with some militia. Even if you beat me, you can’t escape.”

Max shrugged. “That’s what they said when I tried to shoot Hyung-Tsei, but I managed to get away then. If I can avoid the clutches of the Death Commandos, why not a handful of mountain men and half-trained soldiers?”

“Why did you try and kill the commander of the Death Commandos?” Jägare asked.

The slaver shook his head. “Can’t tell you. My master wouldn't like it.”

“Your master?”

“He showed me the way.” Max darted forward, his knife angling for Jägare’s face. The hunter raised an arm to block, but the pirate shot a powerful sidekick into Jägare’s exposed and injured ribs. He bit off a scream and back handed Max across the face as the slaver closed in. But Max swept his knife in an arc aiming to slash Jägare’s throat.

Just as he did, the crack of a pistol going off as the same instance as a blossom of crimson appeared on Max’s right shoulder. The pirate spun to the right, a flat black blade appearing in his left hand as if by magic. He snapped threw the blade, his target Andrea, who was holding Jägare’s pistol in both hands and trying to line up another shot. The sharp edged missile bit deep into the woman’s left thigh and she grunted in surprise and pain. A second missile followed the first, this one hitting Andrea in the right shoulder. She collapsed, blood flowing from her wounds.

“Stay out of this, Andrea,” Max said coldly. “Or the next one I throw will kill you.”

Jägare stepped in and slashed at the slaver. Max blocked the first one, dodged the second, and slashed at the Jägare’s knife hand. The leather of Jägare’s glove parted easily, and explosion of agony from the back of his hand was intense. The sudden pain made his hand open, letting his knife to fall to the ground. Max hit him with a left hook to his already damaged ribs, then a straight right to the point of his chin.

Jägare felt the corners of his mind black out as he fought to stay conscious. He experienced the coppery taste of blood in his mouth and breathing became a problem. His eyes were unfocused and he felt the blood pound in his ears. He felt drained, wanting nothing more then to lie down and sleep.

“A valiant attempt,” Max said. “But you couldn't have beaten me. Master Sun told me once I was the fourth best fighter he had ever trained, and the other three are dead.”

The name Master Sun reached deep into Jägare’s memories. The Death Commando’s melee weapon and unarmed combat instructor. Seventy years old and still could move with the swiftness and lethality of a cobra. Jägare had learn a lot from the old man, including a few things not normally taught. He just needed a few seconds to regain his senses. “Did. . .did you kill them too?” he gasped, trying to sound more hurt than he was.

Max shook his head. “One’s retired, one died during the raid on Kathil back in ‘29, and the last one was lost on a mission in the St. Ives Compact several years back. I had no need to kill them.” he stepped forward. “Time to die.”

The thrust was underhanded, and aimed for his solar plexus. With a burst of energy, Jägare slid to his left and hit Max in the face with the hardest palm strike he could muster. The slaver’s nose deformed under the blow, and for a heartbeat, Max’s brain was in shock.

Jägare’s hands grabbed the pirate’s extended arm. His right hand seized the elbow, his thumb digging into the pressure point in the inside of the joint, while his left hand gripped Max’s knife hand and twisted. Before the pirate knew what had happened, Jägare drove Max’s hand, still holding the knife, back into the slaver’s body. A stunned look came across Max’s face as the knife went deep into him.

“By the way,” Jägare hissed into Max’s ear in Mandarin. “Master Sun also taught me. I’m the one that went missing from that mission into the Compact five years ago. Lost at sea during the insertion, or so they think.” A look of comprehension crossed Max’s face, just before the high pitch crack of a rifle was heard. Something slammed into the mortally wounded pirate’s back and he slumped to the ground, his eyes open and unseeing.

Jägare stumbled away, taking several steps before he fell down. The cold wet snow felt soothing on his face, but he managed to push himself onto his back so he could breathe the cold air. He heard shouts and the sounds of footsteps in the snow, but all he saw was a clear blue sky with a few high clouds. He tried to raise his head, but the effort was too much. With a groan, he waited.

“Jägare!” he heard someone shout, but he was too tired to do anything besides raise his hand and feebly wave. He became aware of footsteps getting close, and several people standing over him. “Lie still,” he heard one of them say.

He chuckled softly. “I can’t do anything but,” he said in a low voice.

One of the group knelt next to him. “You look like Hell,” Takezaki said. His arm was still bandaged, but he had lost the sling somewhere, and his sniper rifle was sling over his back.

“Feel like it,” Jägare replied. “What are you doing here?”

“Come looking for you and Max,” the Marshal replied.

“Well, you found us. Andrea?”

“We have medics working on her. She looks like she’ll survive all right. How bad are you hurt?”

“Ribs mostly. Max?”

“If he gets up from that shot, I’ll eat my hat.”

“Shot?”

“Yeah. I shot him just as you two stood there. Hit him right between the shoulder blades.”

“You shot him in the back? I thought Marshals weren't suppose to do that.”

Takezaki shrugged. “He was too far away to hear me order him to turn around, and I couldn't take the time to get any closer. Besides, it’s far easier explaining to Marshal Jackson why I shot him then trying to explain why I didn't shoot him.”

Jägare’s chuckle was hampered by his shallow breathing. “Roll him over,” he said. “If he gets up from your shot in the back and his knife in his chest, then you and I will both be eating our hats.”

***

Hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend!

Craig

Friday, May 23, 2014

Running From the Past, Part 10



(Note: the Colonial Marshal logo [seen above] and all the BattleMech illustrations I use in these blog postings are the property of Catalyst Games Labs. I took the images from the most excellent sarna.net Battletech Wiki. I have no claim to any ownership over any of the images and use them for illustration purposes only.)

The family member is still incapacitated and most of our family's focus is on them. My writing is slowly moving forward on all fronts, but with little time and no mental energy left at the end of the day for a real hard push.


Here is part 10 of Running with the Past. I hope you continue enjoying it.

***


By the time the militia arrived and rounded up the few surviving Brotherhood members who had survived the attempts to storm the loading ramp, Jägare was back on the main cargo deck. Removing the gas mask, he tossed it away and took a canteen from a soldier who took one look at him and offered it. The water was lukewarm, but Jägare drank it all in one shot. He handed the now empty canteen back to the militiaman with a word of thanks, then walked on.

The main deck was a hive of activity and he stopped near some crates to watch the activity. Several of the soldiers were helping the freed prisoners, while the militia medics were tending to injuries. The armed ex-prisoners stayed on the edges of the group, reluctant to give up either weapons or the idea of protecting their friends and families. The new set of prisoners, maybe a dozen in all, were huddled in one corner of the deck, a strong guard to not only keep them there, but to protect them from their former captives, who watched them with evil stares.

Takezaki walked up to him, his arm in a sling and several patches on his hands and face. The gas mask was slung around his neck and he looked a little more focused. “Find anyone up on the bridge?” he asked.

“No,” Jägare replied in a monotone. “The deck was empty. Evidently they were all in the attack.”

“Including Graff?”

“Yes. What was the butcher’s bill?”

“Three dead and six injured on our side. On their side. . . .” He grimaced. “At least thirty-five dead, but I’m guessing it’s more like fifty. Several wounded, and you saw the ones that were captured.”

Jägare nodded. “Anything from Jackson about the rest of the Brotherhood?”

“Not yet, but they can’t be too far away.”

Jägare glanced at the open hatch just as a young man in civilian clothes strode into view. “I think you’re about to find out,” he said. “Kessler just came up the ramp.”

The marshal looked toward the ramp. “That’s him alright.” He gave a sharp whistle and waved his good arm in the air until Kessler saw him. The young man strode quickly toward the. In the overhead lights, the soft silver glint of deputy’s badge on the young man’s chest became more noticeable as he got closer.

“Marshal,” he said briskly to Takezaki. “Jägare.”

“Deputy,” Takezaki said. “What’s the latest?”

“Marshal Jackson sent me to get both of you,” Kessler replied. “He said it was important.”

“Oh? What about the pirate gang?”

“Well, we managed to surround them on Hallman’s Ridge and stop them cold, but in the confusion, some of the pirates managed to slip away into the forest, including the Warhammer.”

“What about our people?”

“We got most of them, but we’re missing a few.”

“What about Andrea Starver?” Jägare asked.

“I don’t know, sir. He just asked me to fetch you.”

Jägare nodded. “The Warhammer’s still loose?”

“Yes sir.”

“Right,” Jägare said. “Marshal, you can ride with Kessler.”

Takezaki frowned. “Where are you going?”

Jägare looked around and up at the Men Shen. “I’m going to do some hunting.”


***


Three kilometers West of the Brotherhood’s landing site,
Cascade, New Colony Region
The Periphery
November 28th, 3065


“Marshal One-Six, this is Hunter Three-One, what is your status?”

Jägare guided the Men Shen through the forest, avoiding the heavier tree growth. Dawn wasn't far away now, and the clear sky made the night air cold and dry. He had stripped down to his shorts again, but he had taken the time to find the coolant vest, which had been stuffed in a small compartment behind the pilot’s chair. The ‘Mech moved at a ground covering lope, but no where near its top speed.

Jägare’s radio crackled. “This is Marshal One-Six. We’re still sweeping up the mess on Hallman’s Ridge. What is your location?”

“I’m about five kilometers out for your position, at the controls of a captured Men Shen.”

“A Men Shen?” Jackson asked. “How in the hell did a Pirate band capture a front-line Capellan ‘Mech, and how in the hell can you pilot a ‘Mech?”

“I can’t answer the first question, and I rather not answer the second. I think what’s relevant is that there is no way you can track down and take out a Warhammer all by yourself.”

“I know, but I think the problem is worse then we thought.”

Jägare frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been talking to a few of the rescued citizens. Andrea’s employee, Max, is one of the Brotherhood.”

A cold lump formed in Jägare’s stomach. “Are you sure?”

“They are. According to them, Max was one of the leaders, and the other pirates were scared spitless of him.”

“What about Andrea? Is she all right?”

“We don’t know. She and Max are missing, and we found the body of a man that several of the survivors positively identified as the leader of the Brotherhood. Ian, he was the Warhammer’s pilot.”

*** 

The scene at Hallman’s Ridge was similar to the one at the DropShips. Medics helping the wounded and injured, a few pirate prisoners under heavy guard, and militiamen walking around, trying to bring some sort of order to the scene. A pair of Brotherhood APCs were still smoldering, and a few bodies were still scattered around. Jackson’s Marshal was standing next to a battered mobile HQ, the obvious focal point for the effort.

Jägare brought the Men Shen to a stop a short distance away from the mobile HQ and switched the ‘Mech’s reactor to stand-by. He climbed down the ‘Mech, ignoring the chill in the air. By the time he reached the ground, a pair of militiamen were waiting for him. They silently escorted him to the door of the mobile HQ.

Inside, the vehicle was full of activity. Communication techs were monitoring and directing the com traffic. Other militiamen were clustered around a status table, moving small plastic blocks in response to messages piped through their earphones. Beyond them, Jägare could see Jackson and several others assembled around another, smaller table.

He made his way up the aisle, earning a few glances from the techs as he passed them. Jackson looked up as he reached the table. “Ian,” he said. He motioned to a slightly overweight officer standing next to him. “Major Townsend, Cascade Militia .”

“Marshal, Major,” Jägare replied. “What’s the latest?”

Jackson motioned to the table, a flat screen that was displaying a map of the area and the moments occurring at the larger table behind Jägare. “We have about fifteen or so pirates who managed to escape in the darkness. They’re clumped in five or six groups, and seem only to be interested in getting away. The hunters are tracking them, letting them tire themselves out before we move in.”

“What about the Warhammer?” Jägare asked flatly.

Jackson pointed to a small cube moving north on the map. “It’s moving through the forest here. It’s taken a beating, mostly from several near misses with improvised mines, but it’s weapons array is still intact. Best guess we have is that Max is trying to reach one of the shut-down lumber camps along the Green March River.”

“We don’t know why he’s heading that direction,” said Townsend. “There’s not much up there in the way of food.”

Jägare studied the map. “Are you sure Max is in that ‘Mech? And that Andrea is with him?”

“Everything indicates she is,” Jackson replied. “According to our people, he never let her out of his sight the entire time, and they disappeared about the same time. The prisoners say that Max was talking to the Brotherhood leader right before the attack, and they were arguing. Right after the attack, we found the leader with his throat cut and his coolant vest was missing.”

“He can’t run forever,” the officer said.

“He isn't,” Jägare replied. “Who’s tracking him?”

“Sven and a couple of others,” Jackson replied. “Fortunately, the area is rugged, and they can keep up with him.”

“Until he reaches the Green March River,” Jägare said. “The river bottom is flat and hard. He can move upriver or down fairly quickly.”

“But for what reason?” the officer asked. “He knows he can’t escape off-planet, and that Warhammer is too easy to track.”

“He’s panicking?” Jackson asked.

Jägare continued to look at the map. “No one thought about escaping south?” he asked.

“We didn't find anyone,” the militia officer replied.

Jägare nodded, thought coalescing into an idea. “Marshal, The other pirate MechWarriors. Have you accounted for them?”

“Just one,” Jackson responded. “He was busted up when his Panther was hit by a tree.”

“What about the Raven's pilot?”

“Not yet.” The Marshal’s eyes lit up in understanding. “It’s a trick.”

“A misdirection,” Jägare said. “Everyone thinks Max’s piloting the Warhammer, but he’s taken off south, with Andrea.”

“Why does he still have her?” Townsend asked.

“Hostage,” Jackson replied. “He’ll hang onto her until he thinks he’s safe.”

Jägare nodded and pointed to a spot on the table map. “There’s a hunting camp up on Madson Ridge here. There’s some emergency supplies and a couple of ATVs stored there. It wouldn't take him long to get one of those vehicles up and running again. He’s worked as a guide, so he knows the area pretty well.”

“He’ll vanish into the forest,” Townsend muttered.

Jägare strengthened. “Marshal, I’ll need a helicopter. I want to get up to the hunting camp and check it out.”

“And if he’s actually in the Warhammer?” Townsend asked mildly.

“That’s my job,” said Jackson. “Ian, mind if we borrow the Men Shen?”

“Go ahead,” Jägare replied.

“Good.”

“Are there any hunters still around?” Jägare asked.

Jackson snorted. “Tetsuro and his bomb happy bunch. Why in hell did you give that man explosives? There’s a trail of craters, exploded trees, and rock piles between here and LaCroix!”

“I told him to slow the Brotherhood down. I didn't tell him how to do it.”

“What do you want with them?”

“I want them to start looking for Max’s trail and if they find it, start dogging him. I want them to stay close enough so Max knows they’re there, but not too close.”

“That’s assuming that’s the direction he’s heading.”

“I’m certain of it,” Jägare said. “Because that’s what I would do, if I was in his place.”


***

Later!

Craig

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Running From the Past, Part 9


(Note: the Panther [seen above] and all the BattleMech illustrations I use in these blog postings are the property of Catalyst Games Labs. I took the images from the most excellent sarna.net Battletech Wiki. I have no claim to any ownership over any of the images and use them for illustration purposes only.)

Family matter delayed this blog, as a family member has become incapacitated, and we have been focusing on that matter, to the exclusion of mostly everything else. For me that means my writing has been in spurts, as I try to put aside the matter long enough to dive into a world where I make the rules, and not have Reality kick me in the groin as it does so often. (Herb has nothing on Reality, even with the nukes and the cats.)

I can report that all three Battlecorps entries are between 5300-5500 words, and it's time to make the clubhouse turn and ride for the finish line. I hope to get some done over the next couple of day, then really crack down on the weekend.

To help make up for this blog being a little late, here is a long passage from Running From the Past:

***

Jägare flashed him a small grin, the picked up his rifle and went out into the corridor. Reece had been busy, as he and ex-slaves with him had put together several makeshift barricades of tables, chairs, and other items, most of which had been pried up from their mountings. All four passageways were blocked with the waist high bulwarks, three clustered near the intersection, while the fourth was far enough down the passage to include the central communications room inside the perimeter. Each barrier was manned by at least one of the former slaves, with the one by the Central communications being held by two. Everyone was kneeling or sitting down, rifles ready.

Jägare darted down the corridor, bent double to avoid any possible fire from any direction. “Impressive,” he said to Reece as he knelt next to his fellow Hunter.

“Not my idea,” Reece replied. He motioned to the others. “They were highly motivated and wouldn't take no for an answer.”

“Well, we might get some action when the marshal starts talking, so be ready.”

“Right.”

“Attention pirates outside of the Mule DropShip and on the bridge!” boomed Takezaki’s voice from the loudspeakers. “This is Marshal William Takezaki, Colonial Marshals. This DropShip has been impounded and its ability to leave this planet neutralized. Lay down your arms and surrender now, or we will be compelled to use force! You have three minutes to comply!”

Jägare caught something out of the corner of his eye dropping from a ladder to his left. He turned towards it as the grenade skittered across the deck and exploded in a cloud of white smoke. Another low boom come from behind him and he turned in time to see a fog of frosty smoke belch forth from a canister. A faint smell tickled Jägare’s nostrils. “DRX gas!” he shouted.

“What’s that?” Reece asked.

“Anti-riot gas, designed for subduing crowds,” Jägare replied quickly. “One good whiff of that stuff, and we won’t be able to do anything for several hours but puke up our guts!”

“There’s some gas masks downstairs!” Reece shouted.

“Get them!”

Reece tapped one of the others on the shoulder and they raced for the central ladder, dropping down it and out of sight. As they did so, Jägare heard the elevator doors opening down the corridor to his right. He turned, brought his rifle up smoothly and waited until the first gas mask-wearing Brotherhood member stepped out of the elevator car before he fired.

The burst of fire slammed the slaver back against the one behind them, knocking them both off balance. Jägare fired again, this burst hitting the second pirate before he could disentangle himself from his fellow marauder. By now, two of the freed prisoners were also firing, and the elevator car became a small shooting gallery. Jägare knelt, grabbed one of the makeshift fire bombs. The freeman next to him stopped shooting long enough to strike a match and light the cloth wick. Jägare tossed the bottle down the corridor in a flat trajectory. The bottle landed near the half open doors of the elevator and broke open in a flash of fire. There were a few screams, followed by frantic movement as bodies were hastily shoved out of the path of the elevator doors. When the doors snapped shut, there was silence for a few seconds.

Takezaki stuck his head out of the Communications compartment. “Are you all right?”

“For now,” Jägare replied. “Told you those elevators were death traps. Get back in there and dog that hatch!” The marshal disappeared back into the compartment and the hatch slammed shut.

The smell of the DRX gas was getting stronger. Even now, Jägare felt his stomach begin to become unsettled. His mind frantically searched for everything he knew about the gas. It was a persistent gas, designed not to easily dissipate. It was usually fired into a crowd from a grenade launcher, not tossed like these were. So, while the gas enveloped each end of the corridor, the DRX was still too far away to have its full effect on the small group of invaders.

It won’t take them long to figure that out, Jägare thought.

“Attention Brotherhood members,” Takezaki said again, his voice booming from the corridor’s loudspeakers. “This is Marshal William Takezaki, Colonial Marshals. This DropShip has been confiscated and any chance of escape has been eliminated. Lay down your arms and surrender now, or we will be compelled to use force! You now have two minutes to comply!”

“Ian!” Homer shouted over the radio. “They’re making another attempt to storm the ramp!”

Jägare grabbed his radio. “Hold them off!” he ordered. “Takezaki!”

“Yes?” the marshal replied tersely.

“Get on the internal com system and tell them upstairs they have. . .” Jägare looked at his watch. “. . .about four and half minutes to surrender before the life support systems on this DropShip are slagged.”

“That’s going to piss them off.”

“I’m counting on it.”

Two more small explosions from the ends of the corridor with the ladders brought a frown to Jägare’s face. He stepped over to the central ladder and knelt down. “Reece!” he snapped.

“Here!” Reece replied from the bottom of the ladder. He held up a bag. “Got them!”

“Get them up here now! They just dropped two more gas grenades!”

Reece slung the bag over his shoulder and started up, followed by the freeman who had helped him. The air was becoming hazy, and Jägare’s stomach became even more unstable. Near the top, Reece unslung the bag and passed it up to Jägare. “Sam’s bringing up something else we found,” Reece said as he climbed out of the shaft.

Jägare opened the bag, took out one of the gas masks and put it on. He tossed the bag to one of the other freemen, who was looking pale. “Get those masks on now!” he turned back to Reece. “What did you find down there?”

Another man climbed out of the shaft, carrying another bag and pulling up an oblong can behind him. Reece smiled as he put on his own mask, which had been hanging around his neck. “Oil. Nice, thick, flammable oil. With a couple of other things we found, we’ll give those Molotovs of yours an extra bite.”

“You two start mixing,” Jägare said. He spoke into his radio. “Homer, what’s going on down there?”

“I’m a bit busy!” Homer snapped. “This ‘Mech isn't the best weapon to kill people with!”

“Are you holding?”

“For now, but three or four managed to get up the ramp and into cover. I could shred their cover, but I might blow us all to Hades doing it! There’s a lot of stuff down here marked ‘flammable’ and ‘danger explosives.’”

“Hold them! We’re close to finishing this!”

“For what it’s worth, if this attack fails, I don’t think there’s enough of them left to try again.”

“Do what you have to, but be careful. Jägare out. Marshal, did you send the people upstairs that message?”

“Yes,” Takezaki replied. “The leader has a very large vocabulary of swear words, and sounds pissed. About the only non-swear word he used was ‘you.’”

“Good. Get out here and help us. Reece got some gas masks for us to use.”

“On my way.”

By the time the marshal opened the hatch and stepped out, the gas was a solid mass for most of the corridor’s length. Reece flipped him a gas mask before he and Sam went back to mixing some improved Molotovs. The Marshal slipped the mask on and went over to Jägare.

“You’re expecting an attack?” Takezaki asked.

Jägare nodded. “If the life support goes, so does their chances of escaping. They don’t have time to wait for reinforcements.”

“We don’t know how many of them there are.”

“And they don’t know how many of us there are. They’re counting on the DRX gas to do most of their work.”

The Marshal shook his head. “It’s going to be bloody.”

“Can’t be helped. They had a chance to surrender, and didn't take it. What happens next is on their own heads.”

“Still don’t like it.”

“Don’t have to, but survival means you’re still around to not like it. If you’re dead, you don’t care.”

Takezaki nodded, but his eyes made it clear he didn't relish it. Just then, gunfire erupted from the gas-filled corridor to Jägare’s right. Fortunately, all of Jägare’s team were kneeling or sitting, well below the streams of bullets. Jägare gripped his rifle, counting down the seconds for what was coming.

When the lull came, he raised himself pointed his rifle in the direction of the gunfire and fired off what was left of the magazine into the thick smoke. Several heartbeats later, Takezaki and one of the ex prisoners joined in, flooding the corridor with lead. Numerous grunts and one all-out scream were the only reply before the pirates returned fire again.

Jägare dropped behind the barricade, swapped out magazines on his rifle and readied himself for another round of fire, when he heard Reece yell from behind him, “Fire in the hole! Down!” He turned just in time to see Reece hurl a Molotov down the corridor. The bottle and its volatile contents sailed down the corridor and disappeared into the white gas. The shattering of glass was almost drowned out by the ‘whoom’ of fire exploding and high-pitched screams. Fir a brief second, the gas went from white to orange, yellow and red before it faded back to a white tinged with those same colors.

Jägare saw someone stagger towards them out of the gas, flames engulfing his upper torso and back. The Hunter fired a pair of mercy rounds, striking the doomed pirate and ending his misery. Fortunately, the gas mask filtered out most of the smell, but Jägare’s stomach still felt queasy.

The pirates’ fire slacken, then stopped altogether. There were a few scraping sounds, and vague shadows flickered in the smoke. After a few more seconds, the only sounds were the crackling of fire and the harsh breathing of Jägare’s group.

“Now what?” Takezaki asked.

“Depends on them,” Jägare replied. “I expect they’ll try and hit us from at least two directions next time, assuming they have enough men to do it.”

“They've only got about three minutes left,” the marshal said. “They must have figured out we have gas masks by now.”

“Probably.” Jägare picked up his radio. “Homer! What’s your status?”

After a few seconds, Homer replied, “We’re clear here. Stopped them cold, and anyone who survived is outside, freezing their butts off.” He sounded tired. “If it wasn't for those reinforcements, we might have been really screwed.”

Jägare frowned. “What reinforcements?”

The sound of someone climbing up the central ladder alerted Jägare and the others when the first heard appeared, he found himself looking down the barrels of half a dozen rifles. His eyes popped opened. “Don’t shoot!” he squeaked.

“He’s one of us!” one of the ex-prisoners said, lowering his rifle.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Jägare growled.

The former slave slowly climbed out of the shaft, a rifle slung over his shoulder. Like his fellows, he had long, stringy hair, a couple of months of beard growth, and a thinness that only substandard meals could create. He held his hands out from his body. “Ten minutes after you left, one of the guys you left to protect us found a small armory in one of the offices. We decided that since you were helping, we had to help you.”

“How many are with you?” Takezaki asked.

“Half a dozen with me, and we sent the rest to help out down at the ramp.”

“Good,” the marshal said. “Reece, did you leave any gas masks down there?”

“Yeah,” the hunter replied. “We only grabbed enough for us.”

Takezaki nodded, then looked at the newcomer. “What’s your name?”

“Wilson, Wilson Green, from Kincade colony.”

“Well, Wilson, the pirates have released DRX gas up here, and you and the others are going to need gas masks, or you’re going to be too sick to do anything. After you get everyone a mask, get them up here and get ready to fight. We’re waiting for the next attack, and it could happen at any second.”

“Right.”

Jägare spoke into the radio. “Never mind the last question, Homer.”

Wilson unslung the bag he was carrying. “We also found some other things we thought you could use.” His expression suddenly became one of shock. “I don’t feel so well all of a sudden,” he said.

“It’s the gas,” Takezaki said. “Give me the bag and go get a mask ASAP.”

Wilson nodded, handed the bag to the marshal and went back down the ladder. Takezaki opened the bag and began to go through its contents. “A couple of grenades,” he muttered, “Several more rifle magazines, water purifier. . . .What’s this?”

He took out a cylinder. It was as long as his forearm, slightly wider, with several alternating bands of black and yellow at the top and bottom. Jägare’s eyes widen as his memory connected the colors with the cylinder’s contents. “Careful!” he barked, reaching out to take the cylinder from Takezaki’s hands.

“What?” the Marshal demanded. “Is it dangerous?”

“Very,” Jägare replied, gently putting the cylinder onto the deck. “Are there any others in there like this?”

“No, but –“

Jägare leaned down into the shaft and shouted, “Wilson! How many of the cylinders with the black and yellow stripes did you bring with you?”

The former prisoner looked up, the gas mask around his next. “Two or three,” he replied, looking puzzled. “That’s all there was.”

“Get them, put them into a bag, and get them up here right now! And handle them like your lives depended on it because they do!”

“What is it?” Takezaki demanded.

“Kertotin-C,” Jägare replied.

Takezaki’s eyes widen. “Are you sure?” Jägare nodded.

“What the hell is Kerotin-C?” Reece queried.

“Nerve gas,” the marshal replied tersely.

“Breathe it in and you’ll be dead within three minutes,” Jägare said in a monotone. “If a drop lands on your skin, five minutes.”

“Holy mother of God,” one of the others said.

“Where did it come from?” Takezaki asked.

“I don’t know,” Jägare replied. “But I do know that there’s enough here in this one cylinder to kill everyone on this dropship. Seems like DRX wasn't the only option our friends upstairs had in case of a prisoner riot.”

Wilson’s head appeared at the entrance of the shaft. “Here you go,” he said, handing Takezaki a bag. “Two more.”

The marshal took the bag and gave it to Jägare. “We’d better get these out of the way,” he said.

“I have a better idea,” Jägare replied, picking up the cylinder from the deck and carefully placing it into the bag with the others. “Wilson, get your people up here now! Marshal, get ready to defend here, but be ready to everyone down that shaft when I tell you to and seal this deck off.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ve going to make the pirates upstairs a simple offer.”

“Surrender, or we’ll use the Kerotin-C?”

“That’s about it.” Jägare saw the look in Takezaki’s eyes. “Don’t bother. This is war, and none of them up there are innocent civilians. If they had the Kerotin, they would have use it already, and we wouldn't be having this conversation.”

“Releasing that stuff is a criminal act!”

“So is slavery. Which is the more heinous?”

“All right,” Takezaki growled. “But only as a last resort.”

“Believe me, Marshal, I don’t like the idea any more then you do. But if I had to chose between this and trying to storm the bridge, well, I don’t like losing men.” Picking up the bag, Jägare duck walked to the hatchway of the communications department. Once inside, he placed the bag on a chair and went over to the internal communications console. He pressed the button marked BRIDGE. “Attention everyone on the bridge deck. I want to talk to whoever is up there.”

After a few seconds, a voice growled, “This is Brother Graff. Who the hell are you and where is the marshal?”

“He’s busy,” Jägare replied. “He sent me to talk to you.”

“So your surrendering?”

“No you are.”

“Not funny, Frakker. We’re the ones holding the bridge, and we can hold out for a long while. When my friends get back, you’re going to learn a lot about pain.”

“I wouldn't count on your friends,” Jägare said in a calm tone. “Most are never leaving this planet, and those that do will be in chains.”

“You’re bluffing!”

“Folks around here don’t like people like you, Graff.. Last I heard, your friends were down a Panther and Raven, and you’re going to need to fill at least thirty slots in your group’s organization. Your Leopard is now nothing more then an overgrown paperweight, and we've captured the Men Shen. We and the people you had in your cargo hold now control all the decks on this ship, with the exception of the one you occupy. You can save us all a lot of time and surrender now.”

Graff snarled something in Chinese, then said, “Dream on, little man! We’ll kill anyone who tried to come up here!”

“There’s no need for us to do that,” Jägare replied, letting a bit of malice creep into his voice. “You see, we have the Kerotin-C.”

There was a long silence on the other end. Finally Graff said, “You’re bluffing.”

“I’m not. I have it sitting right next to me. You have three minutes to surrender, or I will release it.”

“Bull. No marshal will –“

”I never said I was a marshal,” Jägare replied coolly. “Nor am I a deputy. All I am is a man who wants to live a nice quiet life. You are threatening that. So, the sooner you and your friends are dead or in custody, the sooner I can go back to my life. If that means releasing the Kerotin and stepping over your cold bodies as I walk out of here, so be it.”

There was a longer silence this time before Graff snarled, “What makes you think we’re going to allow any of your rabble to get close enough to us to gas us?”

“I don’t have to,” Jägare responded. “In about ninety seconds, the dropship’s life support will cease to exist as a useful system. Three minutes after that, we’ll retreat and activate the canisters. Then, you will have only two choices. You can either die from the Kerotin very quickly, or you can seal off the upper deck and slowly die of asphyxiation. Your choice.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Fine. You’ll find out in about five minutes that I am not bluffing.” Jägare turned and walked away, picking up the bag as he left. He stepped out into the corridor. “Everything ready?” he asked Takezaki.

“Yeah,” the marshal replied. “Any chance of them surrendering?”

“Maybe, but I think they’re going to try one last attack.”

“You think they’re that desperate?”

“I do.”

Takezaki grimaced. “Maybe we should get the hell out of here.”

Jägare shook his head. “Not until at least the life support is destroyed. With that gone, there’s no reason to continue.”

“Are you going to use those canisters?” Takezaki asked, motioning to the cylinders.

“If I have to, yes.”

“I could arrest you.”

“No, Marshal. Not here and not now. I wish they had never been found, but I’m not going to waste a weapon if it allows me to walk out of here alive.”

Takezaki took a deep breath. “This entire situation sucks.”

“Most situations in combat suck.”

“You know that for a fact?”

Jägare smiled. “Yeah, I know it for a fact.”

Gunfire erupted from both gas-filled corridors, and the elevator doors at the end of the bullet scarred hall opened and several pirates wearing gas masks came charging out. Bullets struck the barricades, chipping and splintering the plastic components and denting the metal parts. A couple of the would-be slaves grunted as bullets found their flesh. Screams mixed with the gunfire as the pirates rushed forward.

A bottle with a burning cloth wick sailed over the makeshift rampart and burst into flames among the slavers charging from the elevator. All thoughts of attack were forgotten as the now burning thugs tried to avoid the flames. A storm of slugs slammed into them from Jägare and several of the others, ending the attack from that direction.

But the attacks from the DRX-filled corridors continued, as several grenades spewing either smoke or more of the riot gas came flying out of the white cloud and landed inside the barricades, cutting visibility even further and making the air on the deck a hazard to breathe.

The gunfire died somewhat as both sides stopped to exchange empty magazines for loaded ones. Before the defenders could open fire again, a number of shapes loomed out of the smoke and crashed into the ramparts. The makeshift obstacles held for a few seconds, but the pirates swarmed over and through them, knives flashing, stunsticks humming and pistols firing.

The gun battle had suddenly became a street fight.

The pirates were brutal, armed to the teeth and survivors of many brawls. The prisoners, weaken from weeks inside the cells and victims of a substandard diet, never the less fought like trapped animals, using any weapon at hand and not backing down an inch. Both Takezaki and Reece, healthy and with some knowledge of fighting, both fought with grim determination. Anything went, from trying to rip an enemy’s gas mask off to trying to beat them with a steel pipe.

Then Jägare enter the brawl like a vengeful wraith. Pistol in one hand, his knife in the other, the hunter threw himself into the fight. He ducked under the swing of a pirate’s battle ax, then shot the thug in the face at point blank range. The next slaver tried stabbing a stunstick into Jägare’s chest, but the hunter hammered the butt of his revolver into the man’s forearm, spun and cut the man’s throat with his knife. He then fired twice, reducing the opponents trying to kill Takezaki from three to one. The marshal took care of the last one by hitting her over the head with his rifle.

The intersection became a hazard as bodies, dropped weapons, barricade remnants and blood began to pile up. Open space became a premium and the only one that didn't seem to have trouble moving through the carnage was Jägare. He had been lucky so far, taking only a shallow gash from a pirate’s knife along his ribs right before he fired his last shot into the tough’s chest. Flipping the gun in his hand so he held it by the still-hot barrel, he moved to help Reece, who was trying to fend off two slavers with stunsticks.

An explosion ripped out of the life support compartment, knocking down several of the fighters who were too close to it at the time. One of the pair fighting Reece turned to look in the direction of the explosion, right as Jägare hit him over the head with the butt of his pistol. Reece dodged the second thug’s stunstick and drove his long knife into the man’s stomach. As the pirate doubled over, Reece yanked the knife out and slammed the over-sized steel pommel into the back of the man’s head. The slaver dropped without a sound.

As suddenly as it had started, it was over. Jägare looked around looking for any more pirates, but the only ones he saw standing were Reece, Takezaki, and a couple of the freed prisoners. Most of those lying on the floor were still, but others still moved, and the sounds of pain and retching replaced the sounds of battle.

“See to our people,” Takezaki said, pushing himself off the wall he had been leaning against. He was spattered with blood, and the face of his gas mask was cracked. Reece nodded, then quickly cleaned the blade of his knife on the sleeve of a dead pirate before putting it away.

Jägare picked his way through the bodies until he reached the marshal. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“I-I’m. . . I’m alive,” Takezaki replied, sounding stunned at the statement.. “I-I. . . I-I didn't expect this when I signed up to be a Marshal.”

“This isn't usually how things are done in the Marshals,” Jägare said.

“I know, but. . . .” Takezaki looked around. “W-what happened here?”

“We won.”

The marshal shook his head. “If this was victory, I-I don’t want to see defeat.”

Jägare nodded. “Get everyone who survived to the deck below. Call Homer and have him send some of his people up to give you a hand. I’m going up to see if there’s anyone left up on the bridge.”

“No,” Takezaki said his voice stronger. He reached out to grab Jägare’s arm. “You’re not going up alone.”

“Trust me, it’s better that I go alone. I’m not looking to take any prisoners.”

“I should stop you, you know.”

“These people need you more then I do. I’ll be all right.”

The marshal released his grip. “Just be careful. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

“I know, but in any case, the Brotherhood of the Bloody Skull has cease to exist as a threat to anyone. All I’m making sure is that none of them are left on this ship.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Jägare replied. He stepped back, knelt next to a dead pirate and cleaned his knife blade of blood, then sheathed it. He quickly reloaded his pistol and picked up an undamaged rifle and several magazines, then disappeared into the smoke.

***

I'll try to get Part 10 up on time Friday.

Craig




Friday, May 16, 2014

Running from the Past, Part 8




(Note: the Mule [seen above] and all the BattleMech illustrations I use in these blog postings are the property of Catalyst Games Labs. I took the images from the most excellent sarna.net Battletech Wiki. I have no claim to any ownership over any of the images and use them for illustration purposes only.)

Looking at my post count, I realize I've now made more blog posts this year than I had in the previous two years combined. I'm a bit surprised that I've managed to continue writing this blog for over four months straight, twice a week.

The Battlecorps stories continue on, but work on the Valiant RPG and the original novel have taken up much of my time this week. I figure most of the weekend will wrap up the Valiant first draft work, and now that I've unraveled the knot on the novel, I can work that alongside the Battlecorps stories.

But back to Running From the Past, Part 8. 

***

Ten minutes later, they had a dozen volunteers, armed and ready to go. Three were assigned to protect the prisoners, while four were sent down to Homer to strengthen the defenses there. That left five ex-prisoners to join Jägare, Takezaki and Reece to continue the takeover of the DropShip.

They went up to the top cargo bay, this one, from the number of bunks, lockers, and personal items scattered around, was used as the quarters for the Brotherhood’s foot soldiers. No one was there and a quick ransacking of the lockers produced a few knives and pistols that were added to the assault team’s equipment.

Jägare spotted some half empty bottles of cheap alcohol in one corner of a bunk. He picked them up and gave them a quick glance before he put them down again and picked up a dirty and greasy blanket. Using his knife, he cut several strips from the blanket and laid them next to the liquor.

“What are you doing?’ Takezaki asked from the other side of the room.

“Makeshift Molotov Cocktails,” Jägare replied, stuffing a strip of blanket down the neck of a liquor bottle. “Not as good as an Inferno round, but it should give the Brotherhood a nasty shock.”

After handing out three of the bottle bombs to the former prisoners and Takezaki, Jägare lead the way up to the next deck. The deck was laid out with one corridor running north-south, another corridor running east-west, all meeting at a central ladder from the deck below. At each end of the north-south corridors, an elevator went up to the deck above, while ladders were at the end of the east-west corridors. The corridors had an air of hard use, unwashed bodies mixing with the smells of grease, tobacco, liquor, and some other smells Jägare recognized as illegal drugs.

Leaving two of the freed slaves in the intersection to watch the elevators and ladders, the rest of the group quickly searched all the deck’s compartments. They found no one on the deck.

“They must all be up there,” the marshal said, pointing a thumb at the ceiling, “waiting for us.”

Jägare scanned the corridor until he saw what he was looking for. The hatch marked was marked, ‘life support.’ A couple of strides took Jägare to it and he quickly unlatched it. “Need a moment,” he said to the Marshal,

“What are you doing?” Takezaki hissed.

“Taking out an insurance plan,” The hunter replied, as he slipped inside. The Marshal watched as Jägare took a brief glance around the small compartment before he stepped forward to a trio of cables near the far wall. His gaze still on the target, Jägare removed several cubes of explosives from his pocket and molded them around the cables. He stuck a detonator in the putty-like explosive, then repeated the process to several circuitry junctions on either side of the cables. After he was done, he looked at Takezaki. “If we fail, this DropShip won’t be going anywhere.”

“You mean to destroy their life support system.”

“Can you think of a better way of stopping them if we fail?”

“But what about all the people below? They’ll be killed as well!”

“Then we’d better be successful in taking this ship then!” Jägare snapped. He then inhaled slowly, fighting down his anger. “Sorry. We have fifteen minutes before these go off. That’s too short a time to launch this ship, even if they started count down procedures right this minute. The second these go off, there’ll be alarms all over the ship. There’s no way they’ll launch then, and by the time they repair this, Marshal Jackson will have the entire Cascade Militia on top of them.”

Takezaaki nodded. “You have a lot of knowledge about sabotage,” he said.

“And I’m using it in a good cause.” Jägare shoved the last of the detonators into the explosive and stepped out into the corridor again. “The bridge is above us, along with every armed member of the Brotherhood that’s left on this ship. A straight out charge up those shafts would be short and bloody – for us. We could wait for the Militia, but we don’t know how long we've got until the rest of the pirates show up. One ‘Mech and several riflemen will not slow a determined rush for them, especially if they’re desperate. Speaking of which....” He took out his radio. “Hunter Three-One to Two-Three. You still there, Homer?”

“Yeah,” Homer replied. “The pirates tried one more time after you left, but I don’t think they’re too eager to try again anytime soon. Thanks for the reinforcements, but they’re a little too eager to kill slavers. They’re standing up and hurling insults at the survivors, trying to piss off what’s left of the camp into making another charge up the ramp so they can kill them.”

“Keep them under control, Homer. If the rest of the Brotherhood show up before we’re done, they’ll have more then enough targets to settle their bloodlust.”

“Understood. Just don’t take too long, all right? I’m getting antsy just sitting here waiting.”

“We’ll try to be as quick as we can. Hunter One-Three out.” Jägare slipped the radio back onto his belt, then froze for a moment.

“What’s wrong?” Takezaki asked.

“I have an idea,” Jägare replied. “Depends on whether or not they've made major changes to the ship’s layout when they started using this DropShip as a slave transport. Anyone here have knowledge of electronics?”

“I do,” Takezaki replied. “I was three-quarters of the way to an electrical engineering degree when I decided to become a Marshal.” Jägare gave him a look of disbelief. The marshal shrugged. “I got bored with school.”

“Better then I hoped,” Jägare replied. “Reece, take everyone else and cover the ladders. Marshal, come with me.”

Jägare lead Takezaki to a hatch some five meters down the corridor from the life support compartment. The heavy hatch opened slowly, as if suffering from disuse. Inside it was dark and quiet. Jägare stepped into the compartment first, followed by Takezaki. “What is this place?” the marshal asked, looking around the room.

It was a plain-looking compartment, just a few consoles, several chairs, and a few blank monitors on the walls. With the exception of a few cigarette butts and a few pieces of trash, there was little evidence that people had been in here for a while. There was a thin layer of dust on the consoles and chairs, adding to the air of disuse.

“Central communications facility,” Jägare replied, striding over to a console. “Since the Mule is a commercial-class DropShip, it needs to communicate with commercial agents and others who have cargo on board. This setup lets the cargo masters to talk to the clients without tying up the ship’s main comm system. It also enables the DropShip to receive updates on market and local conditions that might affect the bottom line.”

“So why are we here?” Takezaki asked.

Jägare reached under a console and flipped a couple of switches and lifted the top of the console. The front of the console top came up slowly, clearly on some hinges, until there was a click and the top stayed up. “What isn’t as well know,” Jägare continued, “is the Mule’s entire communications systems runs right through this console.” He pointed a thumb up. “Including the comm station on the bridge and the internal signal boosters for the personal radios.”

Takezaki’s eyes narrowed as he nodded his head. “You want to cut the ship’s bridge off from the outside world.”

Jägare nodded. “At the very least, it should make it harder to coordinate any attacks with the survivors outside.”

Takezaki stepped over to the console. “What do you want me to do?”

Jägare closed his eyes for a moment, calling on some old memories. “We need to bypass the main comm line at circuits AA-14 and F-2, the secondaries at B-12 and C-11. The internal signal booster can be degraded by removing the Delta and Epsilon chips from circuit TY-3.”

The Marshal nodded. “And the external loudspeakers?” he asked.

Jägare shook his head. “Sorry. I don’t know. We never did cover that in ‘DropShip Sabotage’ class.”

The burly Marshal grinned. “I think I can find it without too much of a problem.”

Reece stuck his head in the compartment. “We’re ready out here,” he said. “We’ll be able to keep them bottled up, but not forever. If they come at us from all four directions at once, well, we’re screwed.”

“They’ll have to climb down the ladders,” Jägare said, removing a small rolled up pouch from a box attached to the console. He rolled it open, revealing a compact tool kit. “The elevators are death traps and they know it. They could try just dropping down the shafts, but unless you know what you’re doing, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a broken ankle or worse. Doing while someone is shooting at you. . .well, you either have to be highly trained, or insane.”

“Or both,” Takezaki added.

Reece gave them a irritated look. “Well, hurry up,” he said.

“Keep them off our backs,” Jägare directed, “We’ll do the rest.”

It took them ten minutes to locate, test and bypass the circuits for the bridge’s external comm system. They worked in silence, with the exception of asking each other for certain tools from the kit. Finally, Jägare wiped his brow and said, “Done.”

“Good,” Takezaki replied. “First test should be us contacting Marshal Jackson and bring him up to speed.”

“Good idea. Jägare went to the doorway. “Reece!”

“Yeah?”

“Anything from upstairs?”

“Nope. Quiet as a church. Don’t like it.”

“As long as it stays that way, I can live with it.” Jägare took his radio from his belt. “Homer?”

“Still sitting here,” Homer replied. “At least the captives have stopped baiting the slavers outside. Still too quiet.”

“Stay alert. Out.”

While Jägare was talking to Reece and Homer, the marshal had lowered the console’s top back down and locked it into place. “Here goes,” he said, pressing a few buttons. The console hummed to life. Takezaki adjusted the frequency. “Here you go,” he said, pointing to the mike.

“What?” Jägare asked.

“You talk to Jackson.”

Jägare shook his head. “I’m not a Colonial Marshal. He’s your superior, not mine.”

“But you the run running this team!”

“And it’s your job to keep your superiors informed. Besides, the conversation is likely to be recorded and used in any trial. Who’s going to sound better when it’s played back in court, a Colonial Marshal, or a no-name Hunter?”

“But I’m not leading this team!”

“As far as those people on the deck below us below are concerned, you are.”

Takezaki gave him a long hard look. “You did that on purpose, didn't you? You set me up as the leader to those people.”

“Yes, but only because those people are more likely to believe you then me.”

“But we’re lying to them!”

“So?” Jägare replied. “As a Marshal, you automatically command respect the first time someone meets you. Doesn’t matter what your age is, your looks or your actual competence at doing the job. All those people who saw you just now will see and know you as the upholder of law and justice out here in a region that most citizens of the Inner Sphere couldn't find on a map. The only lie we’re telling them is that you’re in charge, and that’s is a small one. Sometimes, lies are the best weapon you have, or the only ally.”

Takezaki sighed and spoke into a mike “Marshal One-Six, this is Marshal One-Five, can you hear me?”

“Marshal One-Six here,” Kove Jackson replied. “What in the Hell took you people so long to call?”

“We've been busy,” Takezaki replied. He removed a small device from a breast pocket and looked at the small screen. “We’re at coordinates seven-three-six by five-seven-one. There’s a Leopard and a Mule Class DropShips at this location. The Leopard has been neutralized. We hold most of the Mule’s decks, but we’re stretched thin and we have at least two hundred civilians in cages to protect. Orders?”

There was silence for about ten seconds. Then Jackson said, “You have been busy. We’re about twenty kilometers west of your location, still in pursuit of the Brotherhood strike force. Tell Jägare that the Hunters are putting the fear of God into the Brotherhood. We've counted thirty slaver bodies so far and have managed to rescue about a third of our people. The Raven is crippled and the Panther was abandoned when a booby-trapped tree fell on it. Jägare’s boys know how to play rough.”

“I’m beginning to see that,” Takezaki muttered, giving Jägare an appraising look.

There was another stretch of silence, then Jackson said, “The estimated enemy force is now about thirty men, three vehicles and that Warhammer. At their rate of travel, I’d figure they’ll be at your position in about forty-five minutes. We’re about ten minutes behind them. Can you hold out for that long?”

“Maybe,” Takezaki replied. “We've isolated the bridge from the outside world, but we don’t know how many there are up there.”

“Hold out the best you can. I’ve just ordered two cargo choppers with a couple of militia platoons into the air and headed for your location. Their ETA is about twenty minutes.”

“We can use them,” Takezaki said. “There’s a clearing about fifty meters west of the DropShips. Not enough space for both VTOLs to land at once, but large enough for each one to make a drop and touch. Make sure they’re aware of hostile forces around those DropShips.”

“They know. Any idea of the opposing force on the ground?”

“Anywhere between a dozen to two dozen, mostly rifles and pistols. They had an APC, but it’s toast now.”

“I’ll pass on the info. Good job. Marshal One-Six out.”

Takezaki looked at Jägare. “We’re about finished here. Want to send a surrender demand upstairs?”

“You do the talking, I’m going out to give Reece a hand.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

***

Sorry to cut it in mid-scene again, but this is a long section. The rest Tuesday!

Craig