(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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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?”
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.”
“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.