A Son’s Requiem (Part III)

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18 November 3078
Denver Cargo Transit Tunnels, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

“And I don’t give a damn who you think you are, Sir!” The last word came out in a sneer, the balding officer’s face twisting into a snarl as he responded.

Alex sighed, already writing off the conversation as a loss. He pulled his Sternsnacht from its holster and leveled it at the portly man’s jowly face. “It’s not a request, Acolyte,” he whispered.

The man’s face paled in the wane light of the cavernous tunnel. He gulped, then slowly straightened up and saluted, albeit reluctantly. “You can’t have it. You’ll kill us all.”

Alex slowly nodded. “Those who remain, yes. Or hadn’t you noticed the lack of people in the streets after the firebombing the enemy did last night? You do realize that most of the city is blackened rubble above our heads?”

Baldy paled, his already-white skin turning nearly translucent.

“I neither desire nor require your acceptance of my need, so I’m not going to explain myself.” Alex glanced at his wrist chronometer, then back at the officer. “And I don’t have the time, regardless. So. Move­—“ he wagged the gun briefly “—or not. Your body will not be a hindrance, alive or dead.”

After a moment’s brief hesitation, Baldy took two long sidesteps, then turned and ran past Alex and Rogers. Already forgetting him, Alex strode forward and pulled open the truck door. Glancing back at his aide, he nodded in the direction of the car they had driven down into the tunnels. “Drive ahead of me and make sure we have no obstacles. I’d hate to jostle our cargo more than necessary.” The aide saluted and dashed back to the vehicle.

Alex settled into the cab of the cargo truck and turned over the engine. With a muffled groan, the truck puttered to life and rattled as he pushed it into gear, rambling the ancient vehicle back up the tunnel, towards the night and the Word’s makeshift camp. He followed the dim glow of taillights, no further disturbances interrupting their trek back into Denver proper.

Rogers was waiting for him as the truck shuddered to a halt, the engine ticking loudly as he turned off the ignition. Clambering out of the cab, he brushed at his fatigues but the weeks-old dust and grime refused to cooperate.

“What a piece of junk,” said Rogers, glancing up at the ancient four-wheeled hauler, then back down at her handheld. “Pickets are reporting all’s quiet; no sign of incursion along this sector of the city.”

Alex grunted, looking around at the ramshackle ‘camp.’ Suitable in name only, the Seventeenth’s current location looked more of a walking junkyard. Only five BattleMechs—Alex’s Legacy the heaviest of the bunch—remained operational. Rogers’ Skulker was gone; her current roost was in the back of a hastily modified Pegasus. He snorted, knowing that the ‘hastily modified’ tag given by the Division’s mechanics meant ‘almost a wrecked hulk’ than any type of functional repairs. A Goblin held the last four remaining and operational Purifier suits; it was those troopers that Alex needed now. He turned and set off towards the tank, beckoning Rogers to follow.

“I’m assuming they had what you needed?”

Alex shook his head. “Not in the way of arms and supplies, no. The base was mostly reservists, who bolted at the first sign of Stone’s forces entering the city.” He gestured towards the ruined skyline beyond their small gathering. “The firebombing last night didn’t help convince anyone to stick around. I was fortunate enough to have the ranking officer meet me at the rendezvous point…” He stopped, turning to look at Rogers.

“He looked inside the crates, didn’t he.”

The young officer nodded, remaining silent.

The lines on Alex’s face deepened as he frowned with the realization. “He did look, and then tried to argue with me about it, but it was obvious he was done with everything.” Alex let out a deep breath. “Not that I blame him. What we have in mind is somewhat heinous.”

Rogers stood still, her eyes on her superior, saying nothing.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling the grit and sweat beneath his fingers. “It’s a damnable thing, war,” he whispered.

“Sir?”

Alex looked up at Rogers. “Just something my father once said. I re-read it in the journal he left me. ‘It’s a damnable thing, war, but only the strong of heart and purpose can divine what is right, and what is best for the people under his protection.’” He gestured vaguely about the camp. “What we’re about to do, to carry out, will be considered reprehensible by the victors and the armchair generals…but it is what I must do to protect the Seventeenth. There is no other way.”

Rogers nodded once, then cocked her head. “Not even surrender?”

He laughed, a short, grating bark of sound that caught the attention of the nearby troopers standing around an oil drum. “Do you think surrendering to Stone and his ilk is the best option for us? Do you believe they will treat you with accordance to proper conventions and considerations?” He grimaced, shaking his head. “You’ve seen the same reports I have. There’s no mercy with this crowd. They’re here for blood, and that’s all they want. If we surrender, the best we can get is a public kangaroo trial with a bullet to the noggin. The worst? Well, I’m sure you can think that far ahead.”

She nodded again, frowning. He saw the slight tremor ripple through her shoulders, knew what she was imagining. He’d imagined it himself more times than he could count.

“Very well, sir. Just doing my duty, covering the angles.”

Alex smiled, turning back to the knot of soldiers nearby. “That’s why I keep you around, Adept. Someone has to reign in the insanity parade.”

A Son’s Requiem (Part II)

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14 November 3078
130 km Southwest of Denver, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

The Legacy staggered into the ad hoc camp, a locked ankle joint giving it a stiff-legged gait that threatened to topple it with each lurch. Mercifully, it came to a stop near a dirty gray field tent and Alex clambered down from the cockpit, his hand rubbing along a laser burn marring the lower cockpit glass. As he reached the ground, an aide handed him a combat vest. Alex slipped it over his torso without second thought, jogging past the tent and towards a battered Skulker. Ever since Dodge City, he’d ordered all troops to remain armored even in camp. The sniper threat from Stone’s Coalition and local rebel cells was all too real.

The Skulker’s side door snapped open as Alex approached. “Precentor, good to see you back in one piece.” A dark-skinned woman, her raven-black hair pulled severely back served to highlight her prominent cheekbones and nose, called to him as Alex slipped inside the vehicle.

“Almost didn’t, that time,” he replied. Twisting around, he located his aide who had followed him. “Get the Legacy in the queue for rearming and then start packing up. I want us mobile in three hours.” The aide raced away as Alex closed the door on the chaotic noise outside.

“Rough hike?” Adept Twila Rogers didn’t bother looking up from her data screen, her fingers flying over the device. Alex knew she was already processing the data from his Legacy’s battleROMs. Her cybernetic links to the Skulker’s sensor suites­—and by extension, to all of the Seventeenth’s combat machines­—were yet another advantage over the invaders stalking the Word of Blake’s Seventeenth Division.

An advantage sorely needed ever since the disaster at Dodge City a few scant days ago.

Her grunt was Rogers’ only response. He knew from experience she was processing the data and let her concentrate. He exhaled slowly, releasing the tension he’d stored for the last thirty-six hours. They weren’t in the clear yet­—far from it, actually—but any moment of respite was one to cultivate. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Devlin Stone. The Word’s own anathema, birthed within its own bosom. His so-called “Coalition” had invaded the Terran system a few months ago. Several task forces had landed around the globe, a multi-pronged assault that had taken advantage of the low state of defenses scattered around the world. Only a few Blakist Divisions were on-planet, augmented by TerraSec forces, the glorified reservists meant more for pacification and policing actions than active combat defense.

Nonetheless, the Word of Blake fought hard to resist Stone’s juggernaut. However Precentor ROM Kernoff spun it from Cairo, the Division commanders knew it was a losing battle. The Word’s elite forces were elsewhere, and it was up to those left behind to bleed the would-be conquerors dry.

Alex let out a sigh, squeezing his eyes closed at the flashes of memory from the Dodge City disaster. Misfortune had caught the bulk of the Seventeenth Division outside the city, where Alex watched more than half of his command die under Coalition guns. Barely two Level IIs had escaped the carnage, slipping west towards the last North American bastion not under Stone’s threatening gaze.

At least, not yet.

Precentor Martial Cameron St. Jamais’ original plan had been to withdraw from Stone along three separate axis in hopes that Stone would pursue one or two and allow the remaining Word forces turn and strike into the Coalition’s rear. Unfortunately, St. Jamais’ plan fell apart when a nuclear strike missed most of Stone’s forces; the enemy’s force had enough units to pursue each of the Word’s smaller groups.

With the Precentor Martial’s plan in tatters, and the man himself unavailable, it fell to Alex as the highest ranking commander to figure out what to do next. The burden of command weighed heavily on his shoulders, and Alex felt the yoke press him deeper into the Skulker’s bucket seat.

“A fine showing, sir,” said Rogers, her eyes never leaving the screen in front of her. Sometimes he wondered what exactly it was she saw through those green-gray eyes. “Blowing out a chunk of the highway was genius; they’ll need to go another two hundred kilometers around with their ‘Mechs. Assuming they don’t split their force; I’m seeing reports that they’ve got a sizeable VTOL contingent in play.”

“I think by now we know not to assume our own arrogance in this endeavor,” Alex groused. “Looking at it from their point of view, they’ve got enough forces to split pursuit.” He opened his eyes, shaking out the tension in his hands. “But I doubt they’d expect us to double-back and head into Denver.” Grabbing a mapsheet from a nearby seat pocket, he spread it out into his lap. The topographical map of the Rocky Mountain region was streaked with red and yellow arrows. A rust-colored stain covered the lower corner; Alex pointedly ignored it and the memory it threatened to provoke. Instead, he ran a finger along a black ribbon of road. “We’ll head northeast along Route 285 and move into Denver at nightfall. What’s the weather for today?”

Rogers tapped her pad. “Looks like the fog’s with us for the day; should give us coverage up until we pass Mount Logan.”

“Good. Notify any of our agents in Denver and arrange a rendezvous; drop the coordinates into my nav.”

“As you wish, Precentor.”

Alex leaned back, thoughtful. “Is Fort Collins still on lockdown?”

“Last we knew.”

“Find out. If we still hold it, connect me as soon as possible. I think I know how we can rid ourselves of our unwanted guests.”

“Yes, Precentor.”

Alex closed his eyes again, nodding off to the sound of tapping keys. A glimmer of hope remained. It wouldn’t be enough to stem the Coalition’s tide, but it could buy him and his people enough time to escape.

The Word had to live on. Even if it meant abandoning holy Terra.

It’s what his father would do.

Shred of Honor [Part III]

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[Author’s note: This was a story I started back when I was assisting with the secret production of Jihad Secrets: Blake Documents. I had intended for it to be published via Battlecorps shortly after the book’s release, but then completely forgot about it. I rediscovered it during my Wars of Reaving writing, did some tweaking to fit that material, and then promptly forgot about it again. Until about a week ago. I decided I needed more of my stuff on my blog, even if it’s not ‘canon’ to the universe, so here it is.

That said, this is entirely a work of fan fiction and not canon. You can read Part I here, and Part II here. ~BHR]

Bangor Pass
Evciler, Clan Jade Falcon OZ
12 August 3071

0838 hours

In the time it took the Hellions to sort themselves out, Pryde’s Alpha Galaxy had formed a kilometer-wide circle, intermixed with various Hellion forces previously seen down below in the valley. He had not moved from his perch on the hill; as he scanned his HUD he could see the silent sentinels of his Galaxy surrounding him. A witness to his test of honor.

Or his death.

Brian was not clear on which they preferred.

He glanced at the countdown clock as the last minutes ticked away. He watched the last of the enemy below trickle away, making it clear who his opponent would be.

Brian wasn’t surprised at the Hellion Khan’s temerity, leaving behind a full Star of ProtoMechs. She truly wanted to make his loss as dishonorable as possible. Like stylized demigods of ancient Terra, the twenty-five oversized battle armor – or perhaps micro-sized BattleMechs? – pulled into formation at the bottom of the hill. Montose clearly thought she was being clever by using the smaller machines within the letter of Clan law for Trials, in order to bring down further humiliation upon the Falcons.

“I have given the honor of your defeat to Star Colonel Katya and her Blizzard Star,” crackled Khan Montose’s voice over the com system. “You may, of course, withdraw now from the field with no loss of honor.” Brian could practically hear Raina sneering as she spoke the words.

He shook his head, knowing full well the Khan could not see the motion. “Neg, Khan Montose. I gladly accept your challenge.” He glanced at the countdown clock, noting the last seconds tick away. “The Trial begins…now.”

The Hellions gathered below wasted no time and they surged up the hill towards him, drifting into Points. Calmly, he settled his targeting reticules on three different machines within one Point and gently squeezed his triggers. Pryde welcomed the short, rapid booms of his hyper-assault gauss cannons mounted deep in the Jupiter’s torso and smiled grimly as two Orcs dropped onto their backs, hideous rents belching black smoke. Another Orc tripped over its suddenly-prone comrade, dropping its head into line with Brian’s PPC beam. The headless ProtoMech flopped on top of its Pointmate but he knew it would rise again soon; he had been aiming for the machine’s torso, precisely where the tiny cockpit was located.

While he knew holding the high ground was tactically sound, it would only give him an edge for a few more moments. Once the Hellions crested the hill, they would utilize their superior speed and mobility in an attempt to kill him by pieces. He slipped his multiple crosshairs across his HUD, tapping fire commands with his fingers as they slid over the oncoming targets. Two more ProtoMechs stumbled to the ground, one with a leg amputated at the hip and another catapulting backwards down the hill, a smoking hole blasted through its chestplate. Missiles bloomed from his shoulder mounts, cascading explosive rain down into the mass of Hellion machines, popping delicately-tooled armor and scorching the grassy slope below in a hellish firestorm.

The Hellions reached optimal range halfway through their charge; several missiles clawed up the hillside towards the massive Falcon ‘Mech and crimson beams from lasers scythed across its legs. The explosions from detonating shells and autocannon fire shook the assault machine but failed to dislodge it; with rock-steady deliberation, Brian raised its left arm and cut loose with another PPC blast, eviscerating a Cercerops. It was the last ranged blast he could muster before the first ProtoMech point surged the hillcrest, the lizard-faced Basilisks swarming around him and unleashing their volley together.

Well, seems some of them learned how to cooperate. The Jupiter shook hard enough to force him in breaking his stance. Stepping back, he braced and spun to the left, sweeping a massive arm alongside him to collide with one of the Basilisks in the head, caving in half of the metal skull. Without thinking, he squeezed his triggers again, vaporizing the leg of an oncoming Orc. He barely registered the falling crash of the ProtoMech before turning again to vomit two full salvos of missiles. Two more Basilisks took the brunt of the attack and went down quickly as the Brian moved the Jupiter back a few more steps.

The battle devolved into a stream of consciousness. Without so much as a stop to breathe, the Falcon warrior had the Jupiter dancing along the ridgeline, slamming PPC and HAG fire into his opponents as he twisted and turned. The ProtoMechs tried to flank the assault ‘Mech with their superior speed but to no avail. The Jupiter kept moving in such a delicate martial dance, its weaker rear armor only visible for scant moments, denying all attempts to receive Hellion fire. The ProtoMechs unleashed volley after volley of lasers and missiles at the raging beast among them, the sheer volume of uncoordinated fire soon covering the ‘Mech with smoking pits, laser creases, and ragged gaps.

Within the Jupiter, Brian heard the quiet alarms, the burnt smoke tickling his nose as his eyes flicked with fierce determination from HUD to console to readouts and back again. The heat steadily rose in the cockpit until his skin was slick with sweat, his fingers twitching with purpose and finality as each shot was acquired and dispatched in the blink of an eye.

Gradually he began to notice he was running out of targets. Less than a point of ProtoMechs remained, the survivors more worse for his wear. With almost casual indifference, he dispatched another Basilisk with a PPC blast at near point-blank range, the ‘Mech’s left hand reaching out and grabbing a Roc with metal fingers. The diminutive machine struggled, firing its last missile salvo over the Jupiter’s head as Brian squeezed his hand inside the small sleeve on his command chair. Outside, the massive metal fingers closed into a tightening vice. He watched as a limping Cecerops fled down the hill; bracing the Jupiter‘s legs, he turned the war machine’s torso and unleashed the last shot from his torso-mounted HAG. The hailstorm of high-speed metal slugs screamed from the barrel and slammed into the back of the fleeing ProtoMech. It fell in a tangle of limbs, nearly cut in half from the violence of the shot.

“Khan Montose,” Brian bellowed into his microphone, watching the Roc go limp as the Jupiter’s fist continued to close, “this Trial is over. Clan Jade Falcon claims victory in this matter; release your DropShips to us.” He paused.

“And, as you will recall, you are now my bondsman.”

An incoherent scream of rage and bitterness erupted from the cockpit’s internal speakers.

Typical, thought Pryde, a small smile creasing his face.

The speaker crackled. “Clan Ice Hellion recognizes the victory won by Galaxy Commander Pryde of the Jade Falcons,” Montose responded, her voice flat. “The DropShips are yours.”

“Thank you, Khan.”

“You fought well, Commander. For a solahma Falcon.” He could hear the bitterness dripping from the Khan’s reply.

Brian snorted, turning the Jupiter to stare across the littered ridgeline into the valley below. “And your forces just fought.”

“But I regret to inform you that my duties as Khan interfere with being your bondsman.”

He swung the ‘Mech’s left arm forward, relaxing the left hand and letting momentum take the lifeless Roc forward. The ProtoMech crashed to the ground a short distance away, rolling a quarter of the way down the hill in a tangle of shattered armor and leaking coolant, mixed with bits of pilot. “Why am I not surprised that a Hellion cannot keep an honorable agreement?”

The Ice Hellion Khan spluttered a response but he ignored it, switching to Alpha’s frequency. “Alpha Galaxy, form up and march. Coordinates as previously discussed,” he said, pausing. “The Khan has also broken our well-bargained agreement. They are dezgra for as long as they exist on this planet.

“Therefore, you are free to remove their blight from this land. The end of the Hellion disease poisoning Jade Falcon space begins today.” Brian could not help but smile as he turned the battle-torn Jupiter back towards the Falcon encampment.

He saw the flashing light of an incoming message from Clees. One battle won, another on the horizon. He knew with the victory that he had violated the Khan’s orders.

As Alpha Galaxy moved around him to engage the now-fleeing Hellions, Brian switched the comm line over to the waiting saKhan. “My Khan…”

Samantha cut him off with a chortling, grunting laugh. “Well played, Galaxy Commander. While you have violated the letter of my orders to you, you have retained its spirit.” A brief explosion to his left punctuated the saKhan’s statement. A Falcon Marauder IIc stalked through the smoke and fire, moving away from him and seeking another victim. “You have goaded Montose into breaking faith, giving us an opening to eviscerate her forces in a proper manner in the Way of the Clans, as well as keep this system in our hands.” She paused. “Well done.”

Brian watched as the Alpha’s lone Turkina crossed in front of him, its low-slung HAG cannons belching thunder and fire. Was she praising him?

Her throaty voice continued to fill his ears. “Reclaimed your personal honor and furthered the Falcon’s goals on Evciler, giving us a victory when none could be found?” She chuckled. “You are more than Pershaw says.”

He swallowed hard, still grasping at her compliment. “Thank you, saKhan.”

“Finish removing the vermin, then return. We must plot our next step, and I require your…inventiveness.” She paused. Brian shuffled the battered Jupiter around, following his command as they pursued the retreating Hellions from their encampment.

“We will win this war, Pryde. And I am proud to have such a worthy warrior at my side,” Clees responded after a moment. “Venture forth, and claim the blood and spoils due our Clan.”

Seylah, my Khan.” Brian snapped the comm line off. The sounds of distant autocannon fire and the thrum of the Jupiter‘s systems enveloped him in comfortable familiarity. He felt himself relax, his fingers idly stroking the triggers underneath his touch. He smiled.

Today, my honor begins anew.

 

Shred of Honor [Part I]

Counterattack

[Author’s note: This was a story I started back when I was assisting with the secret production of Jihad Secrets: Blake Documents. I had intended for it to be published via Battlecorps shortly after the book’s release, but then completely forgot about it. I rediscovered it during my Wars of Reaving writing, did some tweaking to fit that material, and then promptly forgot about it again. Until about a week ago. I decided I needed more of my stuff on my blog, even if it’s not ‘canon’ to the universe, so here it is.

That said, this is entirely a work of fan fiction and not canon, mainly defined as such because the details do smudge off a bit from Jason Schmetzer’s more excellent novella detailing the Ice Hellion/Jade Falcon war. So with that in mind, I do hope you enjoy it. ~BHR]

Bangor Pass
Evciler, Clan Jade Falcon OZ
12 August 3071

The gigantic machine of war moved slowly, each step ponderously pummeling the grassland beneath it. Occasionally a heavy footstep would fall into a standing pool of water, spraying the remnants of last night’s rain into a glittering shower before falling back to the dirt. The machine did not stop; its forward-mounted canopy fixed like a cyclopsian eye on the ridgeline ahead of it.

As if the fates decreed it, the massive Jupiter assault ‘Mech crested the ridge just as the system’s primary burst from the hills behind him. Inside the darkened canopy, the pilot smiled as he saw with his own eyes what his sensors had told him several minutes before: the valley below him was filled with the enemy.

Scattered with chaotic cohesion, the Ice Hellion forces below him were a work of confusion. The Jupiter’s pilot could see the Hellion headquarters building, a pitiful portable contraption roughly two kilometers away. Surrounding it were a rough breastworks of toppled trees and in a few cases, burned-out ‘Mech skeletons. The offal of the battlefields lay behind him, irreparable scrap that the Hellions chose to waste rather than attempt repairs.

The camp was already stirring; he knew they were not blind to his approach. The message he had directed to Ice Hellion Khan Raina Montose less than ten hours ago had specified the time and place of his arrival under a flag of honor.

He drew a deep breath, held it. Blew it out slowly as his eyes flicked from enemy to enemy searching for prey. He was Clan Jade Falcon.

He would wait.

32 hours earlier

The water drained from the sink slowly, the silt and grime circling the rusted drain in a tightening spiral. His arms posted to either edge, Galaxy Commander Brian Pryde stared down into the miniature whirlpool, his thoughts slipping along with the current.

His entire Star, dead. Slaughtered like so much Erewhonian rabbits, snapped up and crushed by the Ice Hellion horde.

He, the only survivor. Shamed. Disgraced.

How could he honor the Bloodname he so recently grasped with such a dishonorable display of war?

Brian shook his head, shaking the water from his short, spiky red hair. He half-snorted, realizing that had finally fallen low enough to become equal with the rest of the warriors under his command. Closing his eyes, he scraped his face with his hands, pulling the remaining grime into sweaty streaks across his visage. Staring into the camp mirror at his own parody of a death mask, he sighed again at the whirlwind of disgrace rattling around in his head and splashed the remaining water at his face.

His first command with the Pryde name and all he had to show for it was four shattered BattleMechs and four dead warriors.

He heard more than saw the latrine’s door open. A scrawny technician stuck his face in. “Galaxy Commander Pryde, the saKhan requires your presence.” Without waiting for a reply, the man withdrew as the door slapped shut.

Well, that did not take long. He snatched a scrap of linen from the rack nearby and patted down his face and neck, doing his best to remove as much of the sweaty streaks as possible. Evciler’s heat was not helping anyone stay clean, so he stopped after getting the worst of it transferred to the rag.

Time to suffer the consequences of his dishonor.

The saKhan’s quarters were simple, much like the rest of the Clan’s temporary battle camp. Set up on the fly by the Clan’s efficient technical corps among the remains of a local campground, it served its function admirably as a Spartan collection of shelter, foodstuffs and supplies. Alpha Galaxy had nearly perfected the art of mobile support over the last several months in their valiant defense of the Clan’s holdings against the intruding Ice Hellions.

Simple though it was, the weather-resistant cloth could not contain the smoldering anger of saKhan Samantha Clees. As Brian approached, he could hear the steady slap-slap-slap of the saKhan’s fists impacting the punching bag she had installed in her quarters. The verbal grunts and occasional epithets exploded like autocannon rounds from the open tent flap; the Falcon warrior wisely stepped to the opening and remained at attention. He took in the room’s simple furnishings as Clees continued pummeling the worn canvas bag. Aside from the compact holotable tucked into the corner, the tent could have been mistaken for any of the other resident tents in the hastily-made compound.

Presently, Clees came to the end of her physical tirade, putting one hand out to still the creaking bag and wiping her face with the towel draped over her shoulder. She turned to face him as she snagged a canteen and motioned him in. “Please, Galaxy Commander, enter. I will be brief because time is currently at a premium.”

“Yes, my Khan.” He stepped in and took the seat she waved towards.

The Khan snapped on the holotable and sat down opposite him. “As you can see, the Hellions have been most successful in repulsing our forward lines these last two days. In fact, Raina Montose’s flanking attack is quite close to breaking into our southern area, where she could conceivably sever our supply line in two and force us to abandon our forward thrusts.” As she spoke, various symbols lit up across the holotable, illuminating the Clan’s losses over the last two days. Brian winced as he saw Alpha’s symbol flare and withdraw; the vector graphics giving his real losses a sterility that only made his head ache.

Clees let the silence stretch for a moment as the troop movements played out across the table. “Our counterassault has begun in a less-than-ideal fashion.” Her voice broke the quiet, an underlying current of anger rippled out from her in waves. “For a Clan poised to lose every world they’ve gained in this reckless gambit, they have a surprising resilience to death.”

Brian folded his arms and slumped back in the camp chair. “Agreed. I cannot say, however, that I am surprised.” He placed a finger on his chin, looking at the holographic map. “From the information that the Loremaster has been passing to me, the Hellions seem to have an air of desperation these days.”

The saKhan nodded, standing up. She began to pace in the center of the tent. “A conclusion I came to as well,” she clipped. “This is a problem, however. And one that needs resolved immediately.”

The Galaxy Commander nodded, cupping his chin as he examined the icons scattered across the holographic map. “Interestingly, they are showing a behavior pattern very similar to the ice weasel they are named for. Specifically, the fact that the Ice Hellion is a ferocious fighter when backed into a corner.”

“Which is what we have done to them.”

“Aff, my Khan.”

“Galaxy Commander, what I am about to ask you to do is fit only because of the special nature of your unit,” said Clees. Her face tightened into a grimace. “Even trying to put this to words is an affront to the honor of the Clan, but it must be so.

“We must lose Evciler. More specifically, we cannot just retreat and give the planet over to them. The Falcon must bleed Montose’s runts, and badly, but ultimately we must cede the system to the Hellions.

“For now.”

The Galaxy Commander’s eyebrow shot up. “We would suffer defeat at the hands of such a lesser Clan?”

Clees emphatically shook her head. “We would be retreating for a temporary moment, to reconsolidate our defenses into a more cohesive counterattack.” She stood up, pacing the perimeter of the makeshift room. “I have been talking with Pershaw at length about this conflict, and he reminded me of something very useful that we can use against Montose.”

Brian looked up at Samantha, who stopped and returned his gaze, silent.

The young officer’s mind whirled with possibilities and other variables, and then his eyes widened as it came to him. Pershaw’s position on the Council gives him insight into ALL the Khans…

“Her ego.” He knew his response was correct. Clees’ short nod only confirmed it.

“If we make a press and then let the Hellion’s turn the tide in some manner, you can coordinate a withdrawal and control our losses.”

He tapped his chin rapidly. “It would be a blow to our Clan’s honor, surely. Many of our younger warriors will not find this ‘loss’ very comforting…” He trailed off, realizing why the saKhan had called for him. “That is why you want Alpha to lose. Our honor is already gone, so who would expect otherwise?”

Clees looked at her Galaxy Commander thoughtfully, her hands relaxing from fists as she locked eyes with him. After a moment, she spoke. “Know that I do not toy with honor so lightly. But as our Khan has shown us time and again, the Clan is everything above individual honor.”

Seylah,” he replied, turning his attention back to the symbols parading across Evciler’s holographic terrain in an endless loop. He watched his command hammered over and over, the symbol of his Star winking out each time. It never changed.

The saKhan joined him at the table. “Look, the truth is more than just a simple order from the Khan. If the Hellions walk away with a victory, they will tie down forces to defend it. The victory will also serve to inflate Montose’s fragile ego and cause her to overextend again.” She leaned back, cracking her knuckles. “We have it on good authority that Montose has already shredded her own invasion timetable by a factor of months, forcing saKhan Rood to scramble and leave very thin defenses elsewhere.”

Brian nodded after a moment. “So we want the Hellions to spread themselves too far, too fast, and spread out their defenses to the point where we can sweep everything back up in one concentrated push.” He ran his fingers through his bristly hair. “And you think letting them take Evciler will do that?”

“Aff.” Samantha replied. “Montose will order her next wave even as Rood is not prepared for it.” She grinned. “And that is when our allies of convenience will strike.” Clees waited for him to put the pieces together.

The Galaxy Commander pondered the table for a moment, then looked up. “The Horses.”

“Aff.” Clees nodded.

“They’re the greater threat on our border. Which is why Khan Pryde is making a deal with Khan Cobb.”

“Aff.”

Brian manipulated the table controls, bringing up the Falcon’s Periphery border, dotted with both Hellion and Horse colors. “We cannot fight them both off, so instead we make a deal, keep them in the Wolf backyard, and isolate the Hellions.”

“Aff.”

“Then we come back and shove the Hellions off this planet.”

“Aff.” Clees smiled, a predatory grin that promised dismemberment before death.

“Pardon my temerity, my Khan, but you have grown quite devious in your term as saKhan.”

“Aff. Now shut up and tell me how you will insult the Hellions enough to make them push Alpha off this planet. And then when you are done, I require your personal touch. For the rest of the evening.”

Seylah.”

[Watch for Part II soon.]

 

Faith, Science Fiction, and Gaming (Part 1)

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A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a gaming podcast. This one was not your typical game industry interview, however. Saving the Game is a group of gamers who are Christian; their podcasts focus more on how elements of the Christian walk and faith can interact with games and gaming. It’s not a sermon or a slam on gaming; it’s just guys who game who happen to be of similar faith, discussing their gaming hobby.

The interview was the most fun I’ve had on a podcast or discussion about gaming. We ended up with so much material the podcast was broken into two episodes. The first posted this weekend. (You can listen via streaming or mp3 download.)

In this one, I talk about:

  • Games’ Most Wanted, the new book authored by Chris Hussey and myself due in July 2013
  • What an Assistant Line Developer does for BattleTech
  • Science fiction, religion, and faith in various books and stories
  • Shadowrun
  • BattleTech (specifically, House Kurita and ComStar/Word of Blake)
  • Gamemastering and storytelling

Yes, we do talk about Christianity, but in the context of games and science fiction settings and character. It’s not a “come to Jesus” sermon or forced proselytizing.

I know some of my readers might be instantly turned off because this involves “religion.” All I ask is that you set aside the instant stereotype that just popped into your head and listen with an open mind. I thank you in advance for that.

If anything can be gained from this, people who enjoy my work with BattleTech or other material I’ve written will (hopefully) come away with a better understanding of how this particular writer’s mind works.

I hope you enjoy it. Part 2 will post next week.