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Obrian Chronicle


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#1 cmopatrick

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 02:22 PM

“Damn, man, in town they said you was dead!”
“Yes, pilot, why didn't you check in when...”
An electronic voice says, “Simulation ending.” The visor display retracts from my face and...
“BOY, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?!”
“Where's Joe?!”
I look up to see Captain Howard angrily glaring down at me and Marty with a very puzzled look. I’m not completely sure what I've done wrong, but judging from the Captain's face I'm pretty sure it's serious.
“How did you get logged in under Joe's sim ID?” It is not a question, more like a demand, and I rather be shot than invite the wrath due for failing to answer the Captain.
“Joe lets me log in every week when he is out, especially Friday mornings before ten.”
“When did you say?” Marty now seems more interested than confused. He and the Captain share a quick look and now look back at me.
Captain Howard queries, “And what do you do when you are in before ten on Fridays? For that matter, how long have you been doing it?”
I look back and forth between the two of them hunched over the sim cockpit and worry that I’m getting Joe into a world of trouble... and wonder what is the right way to answer that will keep me in my job and Joe from restricting me from piloting the simulation at least occasionally. Finally, I just settle for the simple truth, “He lets me run some of his favorite sims and it's been probably six months. Please, Sir, I didn't mean to get him in trouble.”
To the Captain, Marty says, “well, if Joe is toast and Paddy here has been doing his qualifying for the last six months, maybe we won't have as much trouble tomorrow.”
They both look down at me and I feel really odd.

….........

Ok, before I get too far, let me tell you a bit about me. My name is Padraig OBrian, but most folks call me Paddy. I am the crew chief, mechanic, ammo loader, weapon polisher, mech washer, mud scrubber and occasional vomit cleaner for an old Raven piloted by the sometimes sober Lieutenant Joseph Green. Even though I’m just seventeen, I’m actually getting pretty good at my job here in a little two lance 'Mech merc unit called the Green Zone Riders (don't ask me where that name came from, I just work here).
Now before you get your pants in a knot about my age, I bet I’m the equal of your best mechanic. Around here, even old gray-headed Master Wolte who crews the Colonel's old Dragon accepts me as capable, and he has fought in real wars.
Ok, I gotta admit it's just natural for me. You see, my da is a mechanic. Granda, too. Fixing things is in my blood... sorta. Once I grew big enough to hold a torque wrench, I was invited into the shop. The lads figured out quickly that if they showed me anything once, I caught on and could help... and when I was old enough, just to do it on my own. I always wanted to know what things did and why, by the time I was 13, I pretty much understood the complex systems that made up the heavy farming and transport machinery that modern life seems to depend on. Soon after, da started taking me all over the planet to help with big contracts. I was never the best on our teams, that was da, but I was close and I knew it. When I turned 15, I finally got tired of being in da's shadow and wanted to prove I could do things on my own.

Da listened when I sounded off, but said I was not ready. Even worse, he said I needed time to mature. At the time I thought he was angry and hurt that I didn't want to stay and inherit the business, but now I'm not so sure. Didn't matter, I felt burdened to be there in our shop. I needed change.
I remember that the advert was pretty simple: “Heavy equipment mechanic needed. Great pay and travel opportunities. Need Immediately.” I sent what was asked for to the contact number, thinking it was a long shot, but wanting any chance to make my mark... on my own.
Almost before I sent my info, I had their reply. In retrospect, it might have seemed they were a bit too eager... almost desperate... to talk with me. Yeah, I neglected to accurately present my age; an act of omission rather than lying with a false number.

It was Master Chief Wolte who met me in that downtown warehouse near the Spaceport. Face like chiseled granite, I hadn't learned yet to read what he thought, but his questions were direct and he soon had me assemble what looked like a large hydraulic actuator and install it onto what I now know was a Hunchback lower-leg assembly. Testing wiring bundles followed, then diagnosing a simulated problem in what I now know was a myomer bundle. It was not until he asked me to troubleshoot and repair the alignment on a large bore weapon with complicated magnetic coils and capacitors that I began to suspect that this was something more than the average job.

I remember looking at him and asking, “just who would I be working for?”
He laughed and answered, “The Green Zone Riders, a Battlemech Mercenary Corps. Still interested?”
I guess I saw nothing but glory in the very idea, without thinking through the reality of life like this. I was younger and very excited at the chance to do even more than I thought my da could ever do... and I said, “Yes.”
In the end, I was offered the job. I wondered that he never even asked my age, but I now think he didn't care. My problem was, they were leaving the next morning and I could not get home in time to talk it over with da. Master Wolte needed an answer then, and I again said, “Yes.”

Now I’m on a dropship parked at the edge of a hot spaceport on a dusty little world at the border of the Periphery... I don't even know the stupid planet's name. I work on our least glamorous mech, a RVN-2X. If I understand its history correctly, it was captured by the Federated Suns many years ago from the Capellans and refitted, then after a murky period wound up being added to our stable from the selection some dealer on Solaris VII. By the time I got to be its caretaker, it had been rebuilt and refitted to the point of battle-worthiness, but not much more. The job of keeping it running has meant a lot of long nights, especially considering the casual and somewhat haphazard approach to piloting that Joe brings to the command chair.

….........

“You will be in my office in twenty minutes of I'll have you scrubbing deck plates until we have a rock I think I can fairly to drop you off on.”
“Yes, Sir.”
They exchange looks again and the Captain strides off.
“Am I in trouble?” I ask Marty.
He smiles and cryptically answers, “Define 'trouble'.”
As he too walks away, I have to wonder...

Edited by cmopatrick, 23 November 2012 - 02:44 PM.


#2 cmopatrick

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Posted 27 November 2012 - 06:16 PM

Captain Howard's office is so sparse I might have mistaken it for a school counselor's office back home. It has one desk with a less than comfortable looking chair parked on it's far side. There is a little folding chair that I think I am supposed to sit in, but right now I have a lot more nervous energy than such a frail looking thing could contain. Along one wall are what look like 'Mech schematics, some appear to have been hand drawn, others printed in some kind of relief so they at least appear to have a shallow third dimension. Other than a pair of combat boots in the corner, the whole place has about the same sterile sense that fills the nurse's office at the other end of the deck.
Waiting in the relative still of a landed dropship, I try not to imagine all the kinds of trouble I’m in and if my sim use is illicit enough to earn me an escort out into the starport with my few belongings in a box. Kinda hate to admit it, but right now I’m not all that worried about how much trouble I'll get Joe into.
There are two doors into the room, one behind me and one just left of the desk, the latter opens suddenly and in stride three people: Captain Howard is first in line, one of the light pilots comes second, and Colonel Jackson Greer follows briskly.

Captain Howard is about as tall as I am, maybe five or so centimeters taller, but then again maybe not. He seems about average build, neither soft or hard, if you know what I mean... and if I were to guess, I'd say he is in his thirties or forties, especially since there is no sign of gray in his mustache. Right now, he is dressed about like he was twenty minutes or so ago: black combat jacket, a black shirt of some sort under it, and black pants.
The light pilot is a pretty young woman, maybe ten centimeters shorter than I, with a light but wiry frame. I think her first name is Fatima, but she doesn't hang out with anyone I know, so I’m not sure. I am fairly certain that she pilots our newer Raven, a 3L, for the Colonel's lance... and while I know Joe doesn't seem to like her, he has a solid respect for her skills. She too is in the informal uniform of a combat jacket, shirt, and heavy pants, but hers are a vibrant royal blue.
Colonel Greer seems a bit ruffled, I might almost guess he was sleeping and had to get ready in a hurry for this. Dressed in the same gear as the Captain, but with gold trim on his sleeves and at the shirt collar, i would guess he is just a few centimeters taller than the Captain. Even while seeming slightly unprepared, he gives off a sense of presence that evokes a loyal impulse... he is our leader and only a fool would miss it. He has a close cropped beard and mustache with just a little gray adding texture; I would guess he is about fifty, but looks both fit and strong.
At their entrance, I try to remember how some of the pilots come to attention when they show up and hope I’m not embarrassing myself by attempting some semblance of that pose. The Colonel tilts his head just a little as I do this, not sure what he is thinking, but he at least has noticed.

Captain Howard speaks first, “Mr. O'Brian, would you tell the Colonel what you told me about your sim use under Lieutenant Green's id?”
“Um, yes, sir. Well, you see, I didn't mean to get Joe, er... Lieutenant Green, into any trouble, sir. I didn't mean to...”
“O'Brian,” the Colonel interrupts, “don't worry about Joe. I want to know what you have done.” He doesn't seem really angry... in fact I’m not at all sure what he could be thinking right now, but I had better answer anyway.
“Yes, sir. I pretend to pilot Joes mech in some of his favorite sims.”
“And when do you do this?”
“Whenever I have free time, but he gives me Friday mornings off just to relax and do it uninterrupted. He says it will help my productivity to become familiar with his Raven's controls in a simulated use environment.”
The Raven pilot looks over at the Colonel, then back at me.
Captain Howard picks up, “just how did you get him to let you into the sim under his id in the first place?”

I try to remember, it has been months now. They are all three staring at me, I think they almost expect me to lie.
“I was in Joe's... um... Lieutenant Green's cockpit, seems I was running a targeting diagnostic... oh, yeah, I had just done a test on the right arm weapon after replacing a damaged powersource. I had set the unit to power up the alignment beam and hud reticule when he leaned over the side of the cockpit and asked what I was doing. I explained and he looked at me funny; I figured he was...” my voice trails off as I try to think of some way of saying it.
“Drunk or drugged?” the Colonel finishes my sentence.
I guess I can't really help Joe by being less than honest, “Yes, sir. Anyway, he said something about not being able to use a 'Mech without being a pilot and I didn't argue... instead I asked if he could teach me how. I don't know why, I just think 'Mechs are pretty extraordinary and wanted to know what it takes to actually walk one out.”
Captain and Colonel exchange glances again; it's like they know something I don't.
The lady light pilot asks, “so he showed you?”
“Yes, Ma'am. It took a weekend to get it down enough that he said he would have to teach me more lessons by acting as my opponent. One on one, we played three sim drops, and he won two out of three.” I smile a little with a pinch of pride showing, “but that was the last time he won more than he lost.”
The Colonel's stare is intense, “Can you follow orders?”

….........

I am back in the sim cockpit, this time with an actual neurohelm on. But unlike my easy sparrs with Joe, this time I will face a sober and probably serious opponent: Lieutenant Fatima al-Zafirah, the other Raven pilot.
Unexpectedly, I hear the Colonel over my headset, “O'Brian, I will give you a series of orders. Carry them out in the simulation to the best of your ability until or unless I tell you otherwise.”
“Yes, sir,” I hear myself respond.
“This will be a cradle insertion. Have you ever done a hot drop in your sims?”
“No, sir.”
“Ok, cradles are normally not under your control anyway, so all you need to know is that at first you will not feel the gyro's. They will only be released to your control moments before the cradle releases you at the surface.”
“Feel the gyros?”
I can hear talking in the background as the Colonel's voice comes on again, “you have never piloted your sims with a neurohelmet connection, have you, son?”
“No, sir. But I can learn.”
I hear him chuckling as he keys back up, “That's the spirit. You'll get the hang of it really quickly. OK, when you touch down, crouch your mech, run a combat diagnostic and then take all weapons hot.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good luck, Mr. OBrian.”
“Thank you, sir.”

(ooc note: edit changed Fatima's second name to al-Zafirah as a cultural sensitivity to avoid an unexpected and unintended but potentially divisive sectarian association the original combined name had).

Edited by cmopatrick, 29 November 2012 - 05:30 PM.


#3 cmopatrick

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Posted 29 November 2012 - 06:24 PM

The virtual world flickers once and then becomes almost real. I seem to be both jolting and floating down through something that looks like a gray mist... no, now I can see that these are clouds and I’m almost through. Below me, a broad countryside of choppy green and granite hills and azure lakes opens as I seem to get closer. In the not too distance, a range of more precipitous slopes rises to sharp crags. Truly in the distance, there are peaks that seem to already tower above me, some snow covered and others completely lost in the clouds.
I have an instant of panic, the ground near a small lake seems to be approaching very quickly and I feel the near vertigo of falling from a high place. My palms seem suddenly wet and I shiver once. Can I really handle a 'Mech in a test like this? Should I just give up and accept whatever punishment they have in mind?
No, I am in a 'Mech, a Raven 2X... and I am a pilot, if only in a sim. I will have no fear, just as if I were in the real thing at a battle. No man or woman will make me afraid. I am an O'Brian. I am strong.

A strange sensation fills my body, like I am suddenly very agile. I have never felt this, it is like there is a new power in me.
I feel the cradle release the 'Mech and a moment later I am standing on the ground. No... wait... I am in a 'Mech, aren't I? In the artificial sim cockpit I see me in the command seat, why do I feel like I’m suddenly standing up?
Remember to crouch your 'Mech first,” the Colonel instructs, breaking the disorienting sense that I’m not doing what I feel like I’m doing.
How do I do that?” I ask, as I remember his original instructions.
Tell the ai to crouch the 'Mech.”
Crouch the 'Mech, please.”
Yes, Sir.” It is a woman's voice that speaks, but she seems a lot nicer than the one Joe calls “hitching Betty” in the sims.
Suddenly and without warning I seem to have crouched down. I can almost feel my legs bend and I know that I’m keeping myself balanced. My right hand leaves the stick and I realize that my legs and the rest of me are still seated.
Is this what you mean by feeling the gyros?”
I would guess what you are experiencing is part of it. I have never tried to explain it to anyone, but I would guess that yes, you are experiencing that first marriage of man with machine.”
Wow.”

I start to think of the things I was to do and key the combat diagnostic command on the small console that tucks under the sensor screen.
Frame undamaged and ready,” the warm, almost smoky, voice of the ai intones.
Reactor online, power at five percent.”
I see the indicators going through their progressions and hear her call each system when it checks out.
Finally, “All systems go for combat.”
What was next? Oh, yeah... I flick the safeties off and hear the hum as the the laser's capacitors load up with charge and the missile loading system racks six missiles into my launch tubes. There are only two weapons on this Raven, a large pulse laser in my left torso and a SRM6 in my right. My right arm has a TAG unit mounted, but it only helps semi-locked ordinance... something I don't expect to encounter here.
Good start, pilot. Now, stand your 'Mech, and move about a hundred meters offshore to your left... map grid AlphaFoxtrot 117.”

I pull up the battlemap and see that the coordinates are about 300 meters West Northwest of my position, then click the map away and bump the throttle up to about 20%. I wonder where Lt. al-Zafirah might be hiding and try to move with the scant cover to the last point before I have to head out into the open. I rotate the torso and look for enemy contact indications... but see nothing of note.
I reach the spot and have an interesting sensation of almost floating. The water comes almost up to the cockpit windows here and wavelets play with the Raven's nose, sometimes splashing, sometimes making it seem to bob a little. There isn't any significant wind, and as far as the distant shore I notice only hints of mountain reflection in the almost unruffled surface.
Back and forth I swing the Raven head, stirring a little wake and bubble trail with each motion. If she is nearby, she will spot me while I’m still mostly helpless.
The urge to move, to do something, builds. I wish I knew what to anticipate, but I don't. I check the infrared and see nothing that looks like the hint of a moving mech. Again, my palms seem to be sweating a lot, especially the one on the throttle. I wonder if they forgot about me, maybe something happened in the control room. Why didn't they give me more instructions before they left? Do they want to see if I'll show some initiative and go looking for the Lieutenant on my own.
In my mind, I hear that question again, “Can you follow orders?”
Maybe this is part of the test, to see if I can do as I’m told without having to do my own thing or have all the answers.

A fish of some sort jumps after a mayfly only a few meters in front of my nose. I imagine the sound of the splash, but there is silence in my ears.
I bring up the battle map again and study it. In the spars with Joe, we were never so far apart that I needed to consider a map, but this thing must be huge. I zoom in an order, and then an order again. It must be some sat map with a 3d dataset to help set the hills and valleys into perspective. I note that my position is represented with just an icon, I would guess that the map is not a “live” view, probably set on some world with historic satellite imagery.
Every ten seconds or so, I click the map away and check my surroundings, then bring it back up. I zoom back to the original magnification. Fifty rows by fifty columns... if the scale is accurate, the map must cover 2500 or so square kilometers. I zoom back another order and realize that there must be a nearly continental basis for the map.
I nearly jump as I hear, “That is a three meter tactical battle map. What that means is it resolves objects down to three meters in size. That particular map covers roughly one degree of longitude for that planet.”
Thank you, sir.”
You are welcome, pilot. Now, move back to the shore and along it to the little bay at AlphaHotel 97.”
Yes, sir.”
Throttle up to what would be a comfortable walk on land, but seems a veritable crawl here. Things get easier the closer I get to shore, and the sense of buoyancy and gentle rocking diminish until I sense them no more.

I am suddenly aware that I have no sense of urgency, of danger. Something Marty said while fitting me for the neurohelm sounds in my mind as if an alarm had shrieked in my ears, “ALWAYS watch out for al-Zafirah, she knows her stuff.”
Things I have learned to do while evading Joe in spars invade my sense and I begin arhythmically moving the throttle, making small course adjustments in as arbitrary a manner as possible, and looking in all directions as I go. Nothing on sensors, no IR signature, nothing...

I pick my way slowly along, ever aware that the Lieutenant may be shadowing me just out of sensor range, waiting for a clear shot. Still, I keep on, moving my 'Mech to minimize exposure while still getting to the bay ahead in something I hope will be a reasonable amount of time.

Edited by cmopatrick, 29 November 2012 - 06:29 PM.


#4 cmopatrick

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 08:31 PM

BOOOOMMMMM!!!
The sound rattles the little 'Mech cockpit, but I see no damage. I am, however, suddenly driven by instinct into moving quickly to the nearest bank for shelter.
What was that?!”
The ai answers, “from the frequency, probably a near miss on the cockpit from a gauss round.”
That seems odd, Lt. Al-Zafirah's Raven doesn't mount a gauss. Well... did anyone actually say she would be dropping in one?
Thank you,” I finally reply, rather out of habit.
You are welcome.” Wow, this ai is actually sort of intelligent.

I pull up the battle map and try to figure out where the shot could have come from. I had just passed a creek, perhaps back in the hills to my right? The lake shore to my left seems barren and close to two kilometers to it's nearest point.

What should I do? The Colonel gave me orders, but he didn't know about this. Well... no... wait, this is a sim; of course he knows. What is the test here?
Colonel Greer, I just had a gauss fired at me. Do you want me to go back and investigate or continue with my orders?”
The comms are quiet, but in asking the question, I think I already know the answer.
I key the mic live again, “Continuing as originally ordered. Moving on carefully.”
I thrust the throttle forward, as if the power of my motion might make the Raven accelerate just a bit faster. Sprinting to the next cover protecting my right flank, trying to still move a little unpredictably, I see a rock face explode from an impact just before I come even with it. She led me by too much, I’m safe... this time. She must be behind me and to my right. I pivot to see behind me, but either she is staying in cover or out of my sensor range. I double check with heat, but nothing shows back there. Looking forward, I know I have a several kilometers left to get to the bay, perhaps a bit of maneuvering will get me there in one piece, then I can maybe hide and catch her as she comes up.

Throttle up and down, turning and twisting as I go, I make the fastest time I can to the bay. Neither seeing nor hearing another shot, I am rather congratulating myself as I step onto the rather stony beach.
TSSSSSS!!!!
The Raven's nose glows from the lasers that seem to converge on it out of nowhere. My hud shows the center torso as a rather angry orange. I pivot towards the fire and glimpse another Raven arcing around a corner about three hundred meters away.
Those lasers will be ineffective underwater. Head out to the center of the bay.” The colonel's voice is as even and unemotional as if he were declaring it “day” when a sun is up.

While I muse on this, my reflexes obey and I'm running straight into the water. I worry for a moment that I won't be able to defend myself when she comes back, especially as I get closer to having just the upper torso and cockpit exposed.
Sealing weapons,” the ai intones, and distant mechanical sounds tell me they are both secure from the water now.
The further out I go, the deeper I go. Well over my head now, I see only the ripples on the surface up above.
In front of me, however, are what look like ruins. The stone bones of buildings seem to mark a drowned hamlet... one that, as I go deeper, obviously once had at least some Battlemech presence. I begin to follow a pathway of sorts between algae encrusted carcases of destroyed 'Mechs, not always or even usually recognizing them as I pass.

The whole thing seems so surreal, and come to think of it... it makes no sense. Small schools of minnows dart in and out of holes where weapon fire ripped gashes into the armor and underlying components. Was there a damn built and the town got flooded? Some climactic catastrophe that deluged the place?
The sensors beep and I can see a red triangle approaching from my right. I target it and see it is Lt. Al-Zafirah's Raven approaching. I can't really see much in the water, things kinda fade to a blue haze about forty meters out.
Pilot, I need you to follow me.” That sounds like what little I remember her voice to be, but why would I want to follow an enemy?
I'm sorry, Ma'am, but my orders are to move here.”
Again, I sense the Colonel chuckling as he says, “Very good, O'Brian. I am now going to change your orders: I will have the Lieutenant become an ally. You are to follow her on whichever flank she asks you to. Stay within either sensor or visual range until you reach your original insertion point. If she requires assistance, you are to provide it. Do you understand your orders?”
I think so, sir. Well... kinda...”
What do you not understand?”
Sorry to have to ask a stupid question, sir, but what does 'flank' mean in this situation?”
He is laughing as he answers, “on a side, a little behind but never very far away. It is a position that helps protect her from attacks from behind.”
Thank you, sir.”
Two more things, pilot.”
Yes, sir?”
First, the only stupid question is the one you don't ask when you don't understand. Second, you probably don't know that Lt. Al-Zafirah's Raven has something that limits how far out from you she will show on your sensors. Be very careful not to stray too far or lose sight of her, no matter how complicated her movements seem.”
Yes, sir.” I hope I’m up to it, but I try not to show any hesitation.
The Raven is about 50 meters in front of me when the mech indicators in my hud switch from enemy red to friendly cyan.

Again, I hear Lt. Al-Zafirah's voice in my headset, “Pilot, I need you to follow me.”
Yes, Ma'am.”
She turns just a bit and passes me closely on the right.
I want you on my right flank about fifty by a hundred.” I try to sort out what she means by the numbers and am about to ask when she adds, “that would be fifty meters back and about a hundred meters to my right.”

I fall a bit behind and look for a way to move to the right, but nothing presents itself until we have moved a several hundred meters. As it opens out, I move at an angle to her and get about where she asked me, then move to match her pace. I am certain now that everything we have done so far has a purpose and sense that this is somehow the final test... and I SO don't want to mess it up.
Her head breaks the surface and the 'Mech begins to pick up speed. I match it as best I can, though at first I am a bit distracted at how her mech seems to surge a lot.
No, wait, those are throttle variations like I have learned to do. Her pattern is very different, but she is also a good pilot, maybe I can learn something that I can use against Joe the next time we spar.
My Raven's head breaks the water, too. I can see her torso swing back and forth, she is looking for something, anything. I can clearly see that she has no gauss mounted on her 'Mech, now I have to wonder.
Lt. Al-Zafirah?”
Yes, Pilot.”
I got shot at by a gauss twice, up ahead near that creek in Alpha... um... what is 'G' called?”
Golf”
Thanks. AlphaGolf 102. came from my right then, so our left now.”
Very good. Thank you.”
I notice her moving a bit closer to the bank and hugging it's contours more. I feel a bit more exposed, but this is where she wants me.

Edited by cmopatrick, 30 November 2012 - 08:34 PM.


#5 cmopatrick

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 09:37 PM

My Raven tromps along, splashing through ankle deep water, sometimes sinking a bit deeper, but never too far. All the while, this new sensation of actually doing the walking myself, add a bit of wonder to the sim and the reality that I’m not actually doing anything beyond piloting.

A jet of water plumes up to the right of the Lieutenant's 'Mech. I see her suddenly start moving in a complicated dance, the 'Mech becomes completely unpredictable in it's speed and direction.
“Pilot,” she says quickly, “evade the fire, but continue to cover my flank as best you can.”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
Her Raven darts towards where the fire must have originated, but she is never moving in a straight line.
BOOOOMMMMM!
I however, have been paying attention to her piloting and mostly forgotten mine. I have just lost my right arm and the TAG with it. I find cover quickly, but am shocked at just how easy it was to wing my ride. Looking over, I can see mangled metal and strands of myomer lit by some kind of electrical flickering.
The ai speaks up, “right arm destroyed. TAG destroyed. Right torso armor at 74 percent. Right shoulder joint has minor frame damage.”
“Thanks.”
“You are welcome.”

Lt. Al-Zafirah's Raven has disappeared from my sensors... how?... nevermind. Throttle up, dancing towards where I last saw her...
BOOOOMMMMM!
The screen goes dark and I hear the ai alert, “EJECTING!”

….........

I am sitting in a very nice office. It belongs to Colonel Greer, and seem appointed befitting his role as our commanding officer. There are several leather chairs, his behind the desk being the largest. Ensconced in it's plushness, he seems quite comfortable and, if appearances mean anything, he is satisfied and not angry.
Captain Howard is seated in another comfortable leather chair a bit closer to my side of the desk and on my left. To my right is another chair like his, a dark leather that all but begs one to sit down... but I will not without invitation.

As if reading my mind, the Captain does indeed ask, “will you sit down, Mr. O'Brian?”
“Um... yes, sir.”
Capt. Howard continues, “how do you think you did, O'Brian?”
“Um... I died, sir. Not too good after all.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Well, yes, sir. I had been looking at my damage and lost contact with Lt. Al-Zafirah's Raven and knew I was supposed to keep her flank protected. I kinda ran out into trouble.”
He nods. “did you learn anything from that or the rest of the exercise?”
“Yes, sir. Quite a bit, if I can count the gyros thing and walking underwater and trying to remember not to walk in a straight line under fire... and...”
“That's fine for now.” He turns to the Colonel and asks, “well, what say you?”
They all look briefly at me and then the Captain continues, “I grant he is rough and will need a lot of more serious sim time and maybe some lessons from Fatima and some of my guys, but if you are willing to risk it, I think he could do for now. I'll make sure he is carefully briefed and able to do what I need.”
Again, they all look at me, but this time they do not look away.

I feel completely out of the loop, something just doesn't add up. Da used to tell me to ask questions whenever possible, and I take the initiative now, “excuse me, but I feel like I’m in the middle of something and I have no idea what. I would really rather not be part of getting Joe into trouble, if that is what you are planning for me to do. Please don't ask me to do that, sirs...”
I’m not at all sure what I just said that was so funny, but they are both laughing pretty hard as if I was one of those top shelf stand-up comedians.
The Colonel comes to my aid, “you don't know what all this was about, do you?”
“No, sir.”
Capt. Howard looks suddenly serious, “Joe was in town last night. The report I have states he was drunk or drugged and got in a fight with someone who beat him up pretty quickly. You know Joe's temper, well, he pulled his sidearm and the person he was fighting with, a militia officer no less, was faster on the draw and Joe... well... he didn't make it.”
“Joe's... he's dead?”
“Yes.”
I search their eyes; the laughter is gone and sympathy has replaced it in both pairs.
“Padraig,” the Colonel starts, “the sim drill was to see if you could pilot and follow orders well enough to take Lt. Green's place. It would be on a trial basis for now, but we are short a qualified pilot for a mission tomorrow and I would personally appreciate it if you would give this a try.”
“You would be our lance's second wing, roughly the same job Marty does for my flank you would do for Ray,” the Captain explains.
Lt. Raymond Jordan is a burly no nonsense guy. Joe thinks he... er... thought he is a really good pilot. He has our Hunchback 4H, an intimidating fifty ton 'Mech that he has earned a reputation for piloting very viciously. I wonder what he will think about getting stuck with me... then again, if his expressions when hes dealt with Joe have meant what I think they do, he might think I’m something of an improvement as long as I don't shoot him in the back.

“So, what does that mean for me?”
They both smile and Colonel Greer answers, “you would be the Raven 2x pilot on our mission tomorrow. We will pay your expenses and you will earn what Joe would have if the mission is a success. If it doesn't work out, I won't hold it against you and you can return to being a crew chief. I'll even give you a bonus for taking the risk, even if we don't succeed. What do you say?”
Me... pilot a 'Mech... myself... my heart is pounding so hard... I know it must be dangerous, but... I WANT to do this... all of a sudden I know I have ALWAYS wanted to do this.
“Ok, what do I do now?”
“Are you agreeing, O'Brian?” Capt. Howard asks.
“Yes, sir!”
They both grin and the Captain starts to rise from his chair. “Well, then we better get you started. Come with me.”

(edit: corrected two spelling errors)

Edited by cmopatrick, 05 December 2012 - 08:06 PM.


#6 cmopatrick

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 09:14 PM

Lieutenants Raymond Jordan and Martin Kuti are standing in a small common area the pilots in Captain Howard's lance share, chatting about something as the Captain leads me into the room.
“Ray, do you know Paddy O'Brian?”
They both look my way and Lt. Jordan nods a little, glances at Marty and then back at the Captain.
“Yes, sir,” he responds.
“You know about Joe, right?”
“Yes, sir.”
If I were to read his expression, I'd guess Lt. Jordan is trying to look serious, but there are obvious undercurrents of the “I knew it was coming” or maybe even “it was long overdue” racing across his features.
“Has Marty filled you in on Paddy's target practice for Joe over the last several months?”
Both lieutenants look my way again and this time neither looks back as Lt. Jordan answers, “Yes, sir. I take it you had him tested?”
The Captain chuckles, “don't miss a thing, do you? Yes, we ran a light one and he actually took orders...”
Ray whistles and nods while chuckling...
“... until he got a bit overloaded and took a gauss in the face.”
The Lieutenant gets a bit more serious, his eyes never leaving mine, “so you are wanting him to take the late Mr. Green's place on my flank. Do I have a say in the matter?”
“Well, yes. But, in the end, would you rather have a green pilot who can at least shoot acceptably, tries to obey orders, and will be sober on your flank or be an exposed solo if we get separated?”
“I take it the Colonel approves.”
“I think he likes the idea. Paddy has the moves, just no tactical awareness. His only spars have been against Joe.”
Lt. Jordan snorts, derision obvious as he looks at the captain.
Capt. Howard continues, “so you see my point.”
“Yeah.” He looks back at me, “You good with this, O'Brian?”
“I'm a little scared, sir, but I won't let you down.”
Marty is nodding and out of the corner of my eye I see Capt. Howard look at Lt. Jordan while doing the same.
Lieutenant Jordan asks, “what did you say?”
Maybe I shouldn't have been so honest, “that I won't let you down, sir?”
“No, the other part.”
I think I’m flushed, my face is so hot I could cool down in an oven. “I'm a little scared, sir.”
He smiles, “yeah, bet you are.” He looks at the Captain, “he'll do. Gonna be a change from little he-who-hides-in-back.”
The three of them laugh.
Marty starts up, “you'll need to get him some gear, he had my spare helm on this morning.”
“Yeah, and is he doing his own 'Mech or do you need to get Master Wolte to assign help?”
“Can you handle servicing your 'Mech for right now?” Captain Howard asks.
“I can handle all of...” I think about what I do and hesitate, “well, almost all of what I need. I'll need help on the pre-walk.”
“No problem, I'll talk to Master Wolte when we're done. Marty, would you take him over to supply and get him a cooling suit, boots, and a proper helm?”
Marty grins, “yes, sir.”
“Hey, O'Brian,” Lt. Jordan says, “lets do a sim drop at 1700, ok? Give us a chance to try some things out and let me get a feel for what you can do.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Hey, if you're a pilot in our lance, drop the 'sir' stuff with us,” he motions to Marty and himself, “I'm Ray, ok?”
“Yes, si... er... Ray. I'm Paddy.”
They all three laugh and Marty waves me to follow him as he heads out into the 'Mechbay.

….........

Sonya, our quartermaster, looks a pit puzzled at Marty's request. “You want what for the chief?”
“He is going to pilot the 2X tomorrow and needs pilot gear.”
“Pilot it where?”
“We have a mission.”
“You mean he will walk it out of here with the lance?!” Her tone and expression define incredulous. “Not that I think much of Joe, but what does the Captain think of this? Or the Colonel, for that matter?”
“The Captain is the one ordering it. Colonel Greer must be on board, too, or it would never go down.”
“No offense, Marty, but you have pulled way to may practicals for me to believe this. Let me call the Colonel.”
She walks over to her desk comm, “I'm calling the Colonel now.”
“Go ahead,” Marty replies.
“I mean it,” her hand is on the pad.
Marty grins and nods.
“Colonel, Sonya in supply.” She says clearly. “Too late now, Marty,” she smirks.
“Sonya, what's up?” Colonel Greer's voice comes on.
“Thank you, sir. I have Lieutenant Kuti and Chief O'Brian here. Sorry to disturb you, sir, but the lieutenant says...”
The Colonel interrupts, his tone all business, “Sorry to cut you off, but I’m short on time and I know where you are going, Sonya. O'Brian will be piloting a 'Mech tomorrow and needs whatever any other pilot needs. Consider this authorization to give it to him.”
Sonya looks thunderstruck. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“You are welcome.”
She looks up at us... no, at me actually, as if she had never seen me before. “Wow. I’m sorry I didn't believe it. If anyone deserves it, it's you. Well, except me, of course,” she grins and I smile back.

(edit: forgot the bold)

Edited by cmopatrick, 05 December 2012 - 09:19 PM.


#7 cmopatrick

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 05:02 PM

“Hey, Paddy might know!”
That sounds like Mike, Marty's crew chief on the Wolfhound. He is standing in a huddle of other chiefs in a corner of the 'Mech bay.
“Hey, Paddy!” that would be Gloria, hard to miss her voice, “Come 'ere a min.”
The bag with my new gear is rather heavy, but I can't seem to resist being drawn towards the group. In addition to Mike, there are four other chiefs: Gloria, chief for Lt. Jordan's Hunchie; Anne, chief for Lt. Al-Zafirah's Raven; Butch, chief for Lt. John Ames' Cicada; and Donna, chief on Capt. Marcie Stevens' Trebuchet. Heck, the only chiefs missing are Senior Chief Lora Zandervan from Captain Howard's JagerMech and Master Chief Wolte who leads the lot of us and is chief for the Colonel's Dragon.

“What's up?” I ask no one in particular.
“Hey, we heard a rumor that Joe got in some kind of serious trouble in town. Was he really arrested for ******* on the mayor or some...” Mike's words die as he sees my expression. “Paddy, what happened?” Maybe he thinks my bag is my gear and I’m leaving, “You get canned?”
I smile weakly and say, “Nah, but Joe got killed last night.”
There are gasps and shocked looks for all and Gloria comes over and gives me a quick hug.
Now I’m puzzled, “what was that for?”
“Well, you must feel pretty bad about that.”
“He wasn't my da or brother, why would I feel bad?”
“Oh... sorry.”
Even if I thought I understood women, which I don't, I sometimes think think I should still catch whatever these social cues are, but I’m rather clueless right now.
“You don't think you'll miss Lt. Green?” Donna asks.
“Only if I break more stuff than he did.”
Now several of them have puzzled looks. Mike and Gloria both open their mouths as if to speak, then look at each other.
“You first,” Mike offers.
Gloria nods then asks, “why would anything break, we don't have anyone right now to walk the 'Mech for the next mission, shouldn't break just sitting there.”
I must be grinning way too much and they seem to have forgotten completely about Lt. Green.
“What's up, Paddy?” That's Mike again.
“They want me to walk it out tomorrow.”
Seems like everyone has about the same look Sonya had... it's at least an order of magnitude more surprised than the word “stunned” represents.
Anne looks thoughtful, then, “were you the person Fatima said she had an unscheduled drill with this morning? I thought she was talking about someone from an MRBC post.”
“Yeah, that would be me. I got killed pretty quick.”
“She said the pilot seemed pretty green but had potential and could at least follow orders.”

“I've heard that a lot, as if Joe couldn't. If he didn't follow orders, why was he still walking the 2x?”
While some of them look a bit confused, Donna and Gloria exchange a glance then Donna replies, “He was the founder's son. While the Colonel was still the XO, Colonel Green was killed on a mission. Colonel Greer has never really told me, but I think Colonel Green had asked him to look after Joe... and he did, well as best he could. That's why Joe's 2x is so customized, the Colonel wanted him to be able to pilot a more viable machine and didn't spare the expense to refit it.”
“Yeah, shame Joe got to pilot it, though...” Gloria starts, then seems to think better of where she was going, “no, I shouldn't have said that. Joe had his demons to deal with, just like his dad.”
I think there must be a lot more to this, but Gloria looks like she has awakened some kind of sadness and wants to say no more about it. Maybe its good that this is the moment Master Wolte chooses to walk up to us.
“Good day, crew.” We all acknowledge him and he continues, “Well, Paddy, looks like you get a trial pass in the 2x. Colonel seems to think you can bring it back in one piece, or at least few enough that we can put it back together.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, your captain asked me to grab someone to help you finish the prewalk in the morning... you have a preference from the techs or anyone else?”
I feel kinda odd choosing a chief for myself and just shake my head.
“Ok, well, I think maybe since this is still a trial run, I will do it myself if you can be ready a half hour before the drop time. That work for you?”
Again, I don't really know what to say and just nod.
“Done and done, then.” As he turns to leave, he offers, “good day all.”
After he is gone, Anne breathes, “I am SO jealous.”
“I was just going to say that,” Butch agrees.

#8 cmopatrick

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 01:54 PM

It all seems new. I’m sitting in the cockpit I have been in a hundred or more times before... but always when Joe would be taking it out. I switch on systems to test and realize that the tests are more that something to do, tomorrow, the pre-walk checklist follows the same basic order, but the systems will stay on until I return alive or... well...
What am I doing? I have got to be crazy. I hear the short range rack go through a load cycle, hear the tube covers clear, and realize that tomorrow it will be for real, against someone or something that will shoot back... and not nearly as sloppy as Joe's shooting... they will not be out for what little pride they have left, they will be trying to kill me before I do the same to them.

Wow.

The realization that it's not a game, that things could go wrong... well, suddenly my stomach is doing somersaults and my head feels a bit dizzy.

Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap.

I look up and there is Colonel Greer at the left window, trying to get my attention. I flip the switch and the canopy rises. He is standing on the service gantry next to the 2x's cockpit, but not looking at all out of sorts... his expression even reminds me of how da would look at times when I needed help or advice.
Colonel Greer, sir” I start while tring to disentangle myself enough to stand up...
Stay there, O'Brian.” He is not ordering, but friendly. “I brought you something and wanted to offer you a bit of advice. That Ok with you?”
Um... yes, sir?”
He laughs, then, “nothing to worry about, just two things to help you prepare. First, I give a copy of this to every pilot I command.”
He hands me a smallish book (you know the kind; words printed in enk on bundles of paper... like ancient manuals from the days before pads); the title is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.
I look up at him and try to figure out if I should be glad for this; presuming that I should, I offer, “Thank you, sir.”
You look confused,” he laughs, “it is light reading at first, but can be learned from each time you go back through it. I am assigning you to read it though once tonight. It will help you get your mind off of tomorrow and you might learn something useful that you can use.”
I look back down at the mostly brown cover, it feels solid in my hand even though it is barely a centimeter thick. I look back up, unsure of what to say other than, “Thank you, sir.”
He seems like a pretty jovial guy right now, because he laughs again and shakes his head just a bit as if he can hardly remember his first time in my position.
The other thing is I want you to start using this drill.” He hands me a chip obviously meant for the 2x's tactical pad. “This is the light version of the Battlemech Tactical Combat Trainer, 17th edition. I think you can be a great pilot, but we can't send you anywhere to train with proper instruction. I know we are asking a lot of you tomorrow, and hopefully there will be more to come, so you are going to have to learn this stuff as fast as you can. Do you understand, Padraig?”
Yes, sir.”
Will you give it a try?”
I nod, “yes, sir.”
Good man. I'll let you get back to finishing your tests, but I want you to start the drill this afternoon, ok?”
Yes, sir.”
Well done. As you were.” With that, he turns and walks away down the gantry.

Sun Tzu, seems like a Liao name; kinda odd that the Colonel would give out something from the Capellans, considering what i've heard about his experiences with them. I flip through the pages and stop randomly:

21: Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the enemy is advancing. The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass means that the enemy wants to make us suspicious.*

I wonder what a “screen” is, but guess the other stuff might make sense. It continues:

22: The rising of birds in their flight is a sign of an ambuscade. Startled beasts indicate than a sudden attack is coming.*

This must be pretty old stuff, I can't imagine that it would matter to a 'Mech what the animals are doing or if the trees are swaying... isn't that what sensors are for? For now, I put the book in my jacket pocket, maybe I'll read it after dinner.

….........

I’m about done, the tests are all over and I am just looking at all the little things I never thought I had any business checking out before.
There is an actual little picture of a teen with a uniformed man, I would guess its a lad with his da, printed on something paperlike; its stuck into a crevice where two equipment units butt up against each other. I wonder if this is Joe with the late Colonel Green.
The little box mounted like a drawer under the main console catches my eye... and I don't look away. Privacy seems irrelevant now; I reach out and pull it far enough forward to open the lid. It isn't locked, and inside there are some papers and a few small things. One item catches my eye, a unit emblem from the Wolf's Dragoons... was Joe's da from there? What about Colonel Greer?
For a moment, the similarity of their names, Greer and Green, strikes me as humorous. Bet that got folks in trouble at times... well... anyway.
I look down at the little chip on the tactical pad. It must be pretty important, maybe I could take a look at it now. I power the unit on and a cover slides down, locking the chip in place. The “neurohelm delinked” icon flashes center console; I nestle the helmet onto my skull and feel the mech link with me.
The woman ai I heard this morning comes on, “new pilot detected. Greetings, pilot. Welcome to the 17th edition of the Battlemech Tactical Combat Trainer. I will be your instructor in all drills and sims, and serve as your cockpit ai while the BTCT is installed. Are you ready to begin?”

*from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, chapter 9.

(edit: corrected a misformat and add citation from "The Art of War")

Edited by cmopatrick, 09 December 2012 - 03:09 PM.


#9 cmopatrick

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 08:45 PM

“Lesson interrupted for communication.”
I am still in the Raven 2x, trying to learn and practice all the drills... or at least all the drills the ai is giving me. I must have been at this for an hour or so, it's really kinda fun to get a feeling that I really can learn all this.
“Hey, O'Brian, ready for our sim?” Its Ray, he must be wanting to move things up.
“Um, sure or we can wait until 1700.”
“It is 1700, Padraig.”
What?! That can't be right... but the cockpit clock agrees... where did the time go?
“Oh, Ok. I kinda lost track of time.”
“It happens. Did the Colonel give you a BTCT copy?”
“Yeah.”
“Good, I was hoping he would. Can you transmit you current scores?”
“Um...” I look around the cockpit, “if I knew how, I would.”
“Tell the ai so send your BTCT scores to connected mech HB-R.”
“Ok, just a minute.” I say, then I try to talk to the 'Mech, “um, ai, I need you to send my BTCT scores to 'Mech HB-R.”
“O'Brian, you need to set the mic to a key, so you don't make everyone listen to you talk to your computer. The switch to make it 'push-to-talk' should be on the panel on your left side, just above the small keyboard. Usually a yellow pushbutton physical switch. When it is set, there should be a little yellow icon that is supposed to be closed lips.”
It takes a few seconds to find the button, I've seen it before but never had to service it. Now that I press it, I can see the odd shape that is supposed to be lips, and understand why Ray sounds like he thinks its a stupid icon.
“Got it, sir... er... Ray.”
“Good. Your ai already sent the scores, looks like you are a passable shot and ok for basic dancing, but entirely clueless on situational tactics, combat tactics, and environmental dangers.”
“Oh...”
“Don't sweat it, tomorrow is probably more about the dance anyway. Being able to shoot at something with a minimum of accuracy is a plus.”
“Um, Ok... if that isn't an insult of some sort.”
I hear his tone soften just a hint, “no, probably just projecting on you. My bad. Ok, lets walk these things out.”
I try to understand what he is getting at with “projecting” and wonder if I should be offended, but for the moment it is clear as ebony.
“Initiating simulation.”
The scene flickers, I wonder if my neuro helm has a bad connection, maybe I had better... Ray's Hunchback is moving, walking towards the open dropship portal. Wait, when did they open... oh, I get it, I’m in the sim, now.
“Thats pretty slick, I almost missed the change.”
Ray keys up, but all I hear is a chuckle.

I push the throttle up, turn, and step out the door behind him. Dust swirls at each footfall as the Hunchie throttles up to a full walk. Kinda makes sense, don't want to burn out the myomer needlessly running everywhere.
At this pace, the little 2x keeps up easily. For the first time, I notice a rather pronounced rocking motion, side to side. The command chair has pneumatic and hydraulic dampers that keep the walk from being a painful experience, and I suddenly realize that all the movement is why they mount the little 'Mech's combat stick and throttle on the chair itself.

“Ok, have you done the heat drills yet?”
“Um, no, don't think so.”
“No problem, your left hand is on the throttle, correct?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ok, assuming your fingers are each lined up over a button, press the button your ring finger is lined up with.”
Tthe screen takes on a garish quality, lots of greys with just a hint of color in most places... except the Hunchback. It looks different, with blues and a slight hint of yellow.
“I think I have it, your 'Mech looks mostly blue, but nothing else does.”
“Sounds about right. Ok, watch my 'Mech for a minute.”
All of a sudden, there is a warming of the color. We walk a few seconds more and it becomes positively yellow. Again, not many moments pass and now it is almost a vivid orange.
“Don't get too close, mine will shut down in a few seconds.”
I back the throttle and just as the Raven starts to respond, the Hunchie does indeed stop while glowing a bright red. I also think I notice what might be his lasers firing in front of him just before he shut down.
“These are the ranges for a 'Mech's heat seen through our infrared adapters. Used with a zoom, you can often spot targets or at least their movements by their heat signature.”
“Even when its hot out like it is here?”
“Sure. If is a bit harder while the 'Mech is just walking and cool, but get it running or firing weapons, and it is an easy spot.”
“Ok, thanks.”

I flip back and forth between the two modes, seeing that indeed the exterior heat is marginal compared to the Hunchback, at least for a while until is cools completely off.
“Ok, normally, I would want you to be a scout, slightly ahead and to my blind side.”
“Um...”
“Right side, behind the hunch. I can actually see around it with the helmet's visor, but it always seems like there are things that don't come through from that side, don't know why.”
“No problem. I’m going out in front.”
“You use a lot of words, O'Brian. Try to use as few as possible in combat, it helps reduce the overload a brain suffers when everything is ugly and lots of people are talking in your ear.”
“What should I say?”
“Well, I use, 'En route!'”
“Good enough for me, if I can remember it.”
“Just try, that will be grand. I'll help remind you if it will help.”
“Um, sure, well... if I don't get too nervous.”
“I'll try not to be too hard on you... at first.”
“Fair enough, sir.”
“Ray.”
“Ooops, sorry.”
“And do you want to be Paddy or O'Brian, or something else?”
“Can I just be 'Pad'?”
He laughs, “sure can, Pad.”
For just a moment, I don't feel so much like a teen in a man's world... I feel like I belong.

#10 cmopatrick

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 11:24 PM

“I gotta question for you, Pad: when you 'sparred' against Joe, were you in terrain, or did he just drop you both into Solaris type arenas?”
“Well, I don't know what a Solaris arena is, but the drops were all kinda enclosed, pretty flat, and with only occasional hiding places.”
“Yeah, an arena of some sort. So you've never spotted or scouted before, right?”
“Yes, sir... ooops... yes, Ray.”
He is laughing as he keys up, “You're a nut, you know that, right?”
“Um, Ok...” What else can I say?
“Hey, that's a good thing, gotta be at least a little nuts to walk one of these things out to fight.”
I smile to myself, then, “Thanks.”
“Ok, while you are out front, watch for sensor signatures and switch back and forth on your heat sensors. ECM 'Mechs won't show on normal sensors until you are right on top of them.”
It's kind of odd, but I would swear that when Ray keys up, there is music in the background. “What are you listening to?”
“Just some vibes. When I’m fighting it helps me stay in the dance flow and when I’m just walking, it helps pass the time.”
“Jix! What are you listening to?”
“Jix? That's a new one.”
“Like 'cool' or 'slabbed'... you don't say 'jix'?”
Ray is laughing pretty hard when he keys up, “No, don't say 'slabbed' either. Am I that much older than you?”
I must be flushed, my face burns like a rising sun. Embarrassed, I shy away from the question, “so, when will we run into the enemy?”
It's quiet for almost a full minute. I wonder if I said something wrong.
“You doing Ok? No disrespect meant in the question, Pad, just trying to make conversation.”
“I guess I’m just feeling a little...”
“Anxious?”
“Yeah.”
“Just take it easy, we are out for a drill. I’m not grading you, just trying to build some team relationship. You ever play sports?”
“Some. CB league when I was little.”
“Classic Basketball? Cool... or... um... jets?!”
For a few moments, I remain clueless, then I understand that he is trying to use, “Jix?”
“Yeah, that's it. Gotta stay enterado somehow, right? Anyway, I played CB in middle ranks, too.”
I try to imagine Ray as a... in my ear, a sensor beep distracts me. My hud has painted a red triangle above some light trees; I select the target and sweep the reticule onto it. “Contact.”
“Good catch, Pad. Got it.”
My sensors show that it is a Flea. Something odd about it... “wait, there are two of them.”
They are suddenly moving towards us and accelerating rapidly.
“Very good. Watch their speed, they are small but in groups can be deadly. When we run into enemies, indicate contact and then retreat to my flank, either on the right or left; which is your choice unless I tell you specifically or you see that I’m about to be attacked on a given side, them move to that side.”
“Yes, sir.” I throttle back and let the Hunchie move past me, torso moving and direction changing fairly often.
“Don't forget to dance... here they come.” His lasers are firing and I see the nearest Flea glow and darken with burnt armor.
I guess I forgot AGAIN... (sigh)... running straight at them. Well, now I’m moving the way I should.
Both Fleas fire and I’m aware that they are splitting up. These guys aren't like Joe, they move quickly to try to get a back armor shot on the Hunchback.
“Pick one and shoot him!”
Ooops. I pivot and am starting to chase one. Reticule crosses the chassis and I fire the LPL. Got one arm. Now he notices me and...
TSSSSSSS! My nose glows as two mediums light me up, and my heat is suddenly not decreasing. I take my eyes off the little light and wonder if I have somehow lost a heat sink or two... then realize the other Flea made a pass and used a flamer on me. The first is doing the same, I hit him again with the LPL and note that my heat is getting pretty bad... systems are getting sluggish, too.
From over my shoulder, I hear a big BOOM! and see lasers slicing into a new hole in the first Flea's side. I don't hear it, but there must be some blast sound as the little 'Mech explodes.
“Never stop in a fight, go after the other one.”
“Yes, sir,” I reply as I pivot to find the other one running almost straight at me.
I shoot missiles and LPL at it's torso and it just explodes.
“Lucky headshot... or did you mean to do it?” Ray asks.
“Just luck, was aiming at the CT.”
“Luck counts. Good job.”
“Thanks.”
“Ok, resume your lead wing spot.”
“En route.”

We run along for about ten minutes this way before Ray asks, “did you notice how your heat made that Raven run a bit slower?”
“Yeah, it did seem sluggish.”
“Exactly. Too much heat for very long will degrade torso twist speed and several of the actuators can seize, not to mention the auto shutdown. Heck, you can even cook off ammo if you let it go too long.”
“So, is that why I had to replace so many shoulder sockets and torso frame spars? The almost always looked like they were poorly heat-treated, but I was always sure I had checked them for quality before I installed them.”
“Well, I would guess so. Never worked on a 'Mech... not really mechanically inclined myself.”
I’m surprised by this admission, but then again, I guess I shouldn't be... I was a crewchief myself and no other pilot in the unit works on their 'Mech.
The 2X stumbles into a small arroyo and jars to my right.
“Don't let your mind wander, Pad. Need to adjust to things like that until you do it by instinct.”
I feel diminished by another failure. I wonder if I really can handle this... do I belong in a 'Mech?

(edit: spelling correction and a punctuation change)

Edited by cmopatrick, 14 December 2012 - 11:30 PM.


#11 cmopatrick

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 02:20 PM

“Ok, Pad, I want you to slow down to about thirty and pull up you battle map for a moment.”
I do and reply, “got it.”
“Do you see the hills about ten klicks in front of us?”
“What's a klick?”
“Kilometer.”
I look out about ten grid squares and see there is a broad range of hills. “Got it.”
“Good. Do you see the little valley at LH166?”
“Yes, sir.”
“That is where we are heading. If you zoom in, you will see the target, a large fuel depot that is supplying convoys and rolling armor.”
“Ok.”
“They will probably have point defenses, some rolling stock, and maybe an active 'Mech or two. If we stay too long, we may have aircraft to worry about as well.”
as I study the map, I feel the Raven step into a hole and almost fall over. I can feel the gyros rotate and spin against the inertia to pull me back, but it's close.
I drop the map and regain control and my place.
“Yeah, you need to not have the map up too long at any time. I should have briefed you before we left; we get a briefing before we walk on any mission, I just forgot on this outing. My bad.”
Wow, I thought pilots never admitted they made mistakes... I guess Joe really was an outlier.

I check the map pretty quickly while the ground is flat. “Which side do we attack from?”
“VERY good!”
Not sure what I did, but I bask a moment in the compliment.
“As you think about it, think about how you would defend it if you had limited resources and might have to stall for time until help arrived.”
“Um... shoot better?”
Laughing, he responds, “Well, that's not exactly where I was going with that. Have you ever done any hunting?”
“Some, but not a lot. Mostly sat in a blind and looked down to wait for something to come by.”
“And what two things would a blind like that have?”
I have no idea what he is getting at, “it's cold and wet?”
He keys up to start to speak but is having trouble controlling his laughter and the line goes quiet without a word said. We tromp along for at least a minute before he tries again, “well, they are that, Pad, but they are also higher and hidden. The higher up you are the better you can usually see and target. Problem is you are easier to see and therefore counter unless you are also hidden.”
That makes sense.
“Point defenses are ones that don't move. They are usually protected by fortifications, covering fire, being hidden, or a combination of those.”
“Ok.”
“Ok, well we are getting too close to let you think about it much more, so I'll just say that we are going to move west of their position and come down at them slowly and carefully.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Correct course to 310 until we reach LF167, I've marked it on your map. Oh, and bump it back up to about 43kph, Ok?”
I do so and try to walk an even speed while toggling back and forth to the map.
“Straight line.”
Hmmmm, was doing it again. “Thanks.”
“Sure.”
There are a LOT of things to think about all at once. I key the map up, try to get the image in my mind, and return to piloting. We are only three or four klicks out, the ground is starting to rise a bit.
“Ok, back it down a bit. Let me take lead again. Flank right.”
I do and notice more and more trees on the hills ahead.
“Careful in the trees, these things are big enough to do some damage.”
“Can't we just blast them?”
Ray is having a lot of fun with me today. Again, he is laughing as he says, “Yeah, if we don't care about letting the bad guys know both that we are coming and where we are.”
I guess that makes sense.
“Stop!” Ray's voice is urgent.
Throttle to zero, the 2x comes to a halt. I don't see what he has, but I'm looking all around with visual, heat, and sensors.

All around us is what looks like fair to good range land, even though I see no animals or ranching gear. There is a small wire fence not far in front of us, maybe three or four strands standing about a meter and a half high. There are little red placards on the top wire about every twenty meters. But I see nothing else and have to wonder why we stopped.
“Could the fence trip us?”
“No, but I would guess you don't recognize the configuration and haven't zoomed in on a placard yet.”
“Um...” I start and do shift enough to zoom in on one.
The little red sign has a white skull and cross bones. Above it are the words 'Danĝero! Minoj!' and under it are what look like Capellan characters 危险!雷区!
“What are...”
“Minefield.”
“Oh.” I look left and right, the fence goes on for a ways on both sides. “Could it be a trick?”
“We aren't going to find out. Follow me.”

(edit: forgot to stay metric, corrected feet to meters)

Edited by cmopatrick, 15 December 2012 - 02:25 PM.


#12 cmopatrick

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 06:19 AM

We have run past the end of the fence and still I follow the Hunchback westward... away from the target.
A kilometer passes.
And another.
Finally, he turns north again. At first I don't understand, what makes this spot better than the previous two and a half kilometers?
“Don't flank, follow exactly in my wake.”
I’m surprised as much by his sudden communication as what he wants me to do, but I obey. I keep expecting to have to weave for tree branches, but I guess he is clearing things out in front of me pretty efficiently... welll... while the Hunchie is too wide for it, I suddenly realize that he is walking along a dirt and gravel track through the trees. Outer boughs swish against his arms and mine, but we have no direct issue with the massive boles themselves.
I pull up the map, but can't for the life of me figure out how he knew it was here.
“How did you know it was there?”
“It had to be.”
Huh? “I don't follow”
“There needs to be a local route around the minefields for locals. Nothing big enough to attract objections from the depot staff, but something that will allow lorries and stock to move. I used to live in land like this, we always had to avoid the bases. Made sense they would, too.”
“Slabbed!”
“Yeah, whatever... look sharp, we have a fork that may go our way.”
“Ok, Ray. Lead on.”
“Actually, I'll step into the left side, but I want you to take the lead onto the right. I'll follow a bit back, just move at my walk pace. You will disturb fewer branches than I and your BAP may be able to detect things before I could.”
“Ok, um...”
“Just follow the track until you get a sensor ping, see another fork, or find something out of the ordinary like another fence or a vehicle. You're gonna do fine, Pad.”
I don't feel like I’m quite likely to be all that good, but I figure it can't hurt.

We are walking, but I can't see nearly as far ahead now, the branches hit the Raven head-high, and until they pass, I’m pretty blinded.
“How did you see through all this?”
He is laughing again as he answers, “you may not have noticed, but I slowed down when the branches were in my way.”
“Oh. Ok.”
I slow down and realize that I can indeed see better. The trees are actually spaced widely enough that we could walk between them, but it would be a pain to do, not very far in any direction would work.
We walk along at about 20kph, rays of light filtering through the forest canopy across the parallel ruts of little used dust make for a bit of challenge, what if I don't see something and set off a bomb or something? But I don't miss... there is a flimsy metal gate across my path and I stop.
“Got a gate of some kind here.”
“Ok. How solid?”
“Pretty flimsy, I could kick it out of the way without risk of damaging the 'Mech.”
“Does it have any markings or anything special?”
I zoom in and see nothing but metal tube style gate and a fairly heavy padlock. It is obviously just there to stop vehicles from proceeding, anything else could go around through the brush.
“Just a roadblock, the kind that keeps hotdoggers off a road they don't belong on. No fence or other stuff on either side.”
“Nothing on your sensors, right?”
“Nope.”
“Ok, stay put.”
I look around at the forest and see on the sensors that he has moved into the woods and is swinging around behind the gate from my right.
“Look at the trees on either side, maybe twenty meters past the gate. Close to the ground. See anything?”
I zoom in and don't see anything. “No, just some rocks and...”
Hmmm... those piles do seem set exactly on opposite sides of the road, with crevasses that might hide something...
“Do you see it now?”
“Well, just piles of rock, but they are rather symmetrical.”
“There is an optical trip beam set up between them. You should be able to at least see the gap between the stones.”
“Got it.”
As I study the rock piles, I think I can even see the cables coming out the side of the left one and a smallish antenna up the trunk about forty meters. Pretty sneaky.

Now that I think about it, the level of detail in this sim is outstanding. Not like the target practice stuff Joe had me do, this is just amazing. I could actually be there and probably not see this much detail.
“Move back down the road, you will see where I left it. Follow where I've been, Ok?”
“Yes, sir.”
I turn back and look for his passage. Fortunately for me, a fifty ton 'Mech doesn't exactly leave brush undisturbed when it goes off-road. I trample the bushes he has mangled, making the same turns and twists to avoid the trunks.
As I come up behind him, he says, “Pad, we are close now. Check you map to orient yourself, and get ready to dance... we will move through these trees pretty quickly, take care that you don't hang that right arm or rip it off, Ok?”
I pull up the map and indeed, we are barely a kilometer out.
“Make sure your weapons are hot, but don't shoot me in the back.”
“Did Joe really do that to you?”
“Most rookies do. Joe was... um... just a rookie longer than most.”

Edited by cmopatrick, 18 December 2012 - 06:22 AM.


#13 cmopatrick

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 06:02 AM

“Ok, plan a: we move through the trees directly towards the north end of the depot, near the waterfall...”
“What waterfall?”
“Pull up your map.”
I do, “Ok.”
“See where the creek enters the camp at the north end, right at the edge of LH166 and LH167? See how it looks like it makes a big pool all of a sudden?”
“Yes?”
“Waterfall, all but certain. We're gonna need to get you trained to read a map faster than you can read a repair manual.”
“Ok. Well, if they let me keep piloting.”
“Yeah, well, so far I think you'll do if you don't get cocky. Just keep this 'want to learn' attitude and we will all want to help. The lance does better if we are all the best we can be, trust me, we don't want you to struggle or lag behind.”
“I'll try, Ray, but...”
“No 'buts' about it. You are already doing the right things, we all had to start somewhere.”
We start to walk towards the depot, carefully stepping around the trunks that keep interrupting forward progress.
“Anyway,” Ray resumes, “plan A is to move to the head of the waterfall and try to determine the lay of the land. If we get a hostile contact before we get there, plan B is to move down the near side of the hill, the edge of the clearing, to where we can get a clear shot into the depot generator and/or fuel tanks. Our mission is to blow them and get home in one piece; kills are not important unless we wipe the entire camp and can guarantee that the salvage team won't get killed coming in.”
“And if we get cut off?”
“Keep close, fight hard.”
“What if we get separated?”
“Destroy as much as you can, but leave yourself an out.”
“What?”
“An escape route back into the trees. Remember the minefield, though.”
“And if I get trapped?”
“Your 'Mech has an auto eject. The ai will punch you out if your mech is dying... and I expect you to fight until that Raven is ready to die if you are trapped. ”
I hope I don't get trapped. Well, unless I am already...

We walk along and I think I am beginning to see light on the other side of the trees... I’m guessing a clearing ahead. I pass a trunk, pull up the map, note that we are about a hundred meters from the clearing, flick it back down, and just miss a drooping cedar-like branch that is trying to grab my right arm.
“Shouldn't I have something on the sensors by now?”
“Yeah. Odd, that.”
“Well, where are they, actually?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, its a sim, right? Haven't you done this one before?”
“No. You never repeat a drill with the same terms unless you are planning for a specific known, and even then you really never 'know' all the permutations.”
That complicates things. “Oh.”
“If you know the answer before you do something, there is no challenge to keep you sharp, no chance for the adrenaline to really get pumping, no way to expose your own weaknesses.”
I was understanding until that last bit, “why would I want to expose my weaknesses? I always want to do what I do well.”
“The enemy doesn't care what you want.”
“Touché.”
“If you practice only what you do well, you have at least two problems: you will be limited in what roles you can fill and you will not be able to learn to overcome or lessen the damage your weaknesses introduce to your piloting.”
“Oh.”

We are at the head of a little valley, barely ten meters back into the trees. No contacts. I flip on the external microphone, but hear only the sound of the nearby waterfall. I can see the whole camp and depot beyond, but there is no activity. There seem to be no 'Mechs or other equipment.
“Are they out on a raid or something?”
“No, we missed a passive sensor somewhere... they know we are coming and probably from where. They probably have an ambush laid and are just waiting for us.”
“Oh. What do we do now?”
“Look, I think the sim is trying to use my patterns against us. It knows me and has adapted again. I need you to think through the situation and come up with an idea of your own, Ok?”
Panic starts to rise and I can almost feel my heartbeat shake the 'Mech, “But I've never done this...”
“Settle down, Pad. You aren't responsible for saving the galaxy, just for finding a way to attack the target that I usually wouldn't use.”
Frustration wells up, “Well, how do I know that, I've never dropped with you?!”
There is a deadly edge in his voice, “Don't do the anger thing with me, understand? Don't do it with any of us. You aren't the founder's kid, and you will be out on your *** if you do. Got it?”
I feel like I've been slapped. I don't want to do this anymore. Its not fair.
“Pad, do you understand me?”
“Yes.” I nearly spit the words out.
Unexpectedly, he follows with, “Yes what?”
He is pulling rank. “Yes, sir.”
“If you don't want to do this, say so. I'll end this right now and you can go back to the ground crew. Is that where you want to be? Is that where you belong? You either choose to give this up or you need to settle down right now.”
I am about to snarl a retort, but suddenly his words sink in. He has spent the afternoon trying to help me be better than I was... treating me like an equal, albeit a rookie equal. Why am I suddenly to hostile? Do I really belong on the ground after all? Am I wrong to dream of being a 'Mech pilot? Can I really do it?

#14 cmopatrick

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 08:56 PM

While I try to decide what I should do, I look out at the camp just below me. The depot itself is walled, at least on this side, with a single heavy gate. In between the wall and the waterfall, though, is what appears to be a hamlet worth of shacks and trailers, with what might be some admin or maint buildings mixed in. Along one side, parked rather far from the wall, are a row of semis with tanker trailers. Next to them is what appears to be a decent shop, looks like it could handle several larger vehicles. There are four bays visible from here, I think I see a barrel or two sticking out of one...
“The shop has something in it.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the Hunchie shift it's position slightly.
“Very good, looks like a quad.”
“Why don't they have the trucks inside the wall to protect them?”
“Well, won't matter, they are probably empty anyway.”
“We used to work on all kinds of heavy rigs, including tankers... they always said 'no welding around empty tankers' because an empty fuel tanker is just a fuel-air bomb waiting for a spark.”
“Well, they are too far out from the wall to do much damage, don't you think?”
“Wouldn't they come running if we wipe the line of them and take the shop out also? Kind of a distraction thing?”
“Go on, I'm listening.”
I think for a minute, “if they thought we would attack the tankers and shop, wouldn't they have attacked us before we could get such easy shots?”
“Good point.” his voice is sounding thoughtful.
“Most folks we knew who weren't in the business couldn't understand why transport units paid us so much, but da said they didn't understand logistics... about how things move and how expensive good trucking equipment is to replace.”
“I like where I think you are going with this. I wouldn't have paid them much mind. I would have probably moved around to where I had a clean shot at a the tank farm's cap. What do you suggest?”
I look down at the scene. Two things seem important to me: there is only one way into the camp for anything but a 'Mech, the gate in the depot wall; and the barrels poking out of the maintenance bay could be on a working 'quad (whatever that is), and part of the trap, couldn't they? We go past towards the depot and they shoot us in the back... or maybe I’m just imagining.
“Could that quad thing...”
He interrupts briefly, “Quad-cannon.”
“Quad-cannon be ready to start up in there and we are just supposed to think it is being worked on... if we notice it at all?”
“Very good. What is your range on the shop?”
“About 200 meters.”
“Good, your SRMs are in range.”
“Ok, thanks, Ray. Here's my idea: you hit the tankers and I blow up the shop, then we shoot anything that comes in the gate, and blow up the rest of the buildings down there until someone comes?”
“I like it. We fire together. Count of three.”
“Ok.”
“Go ahead and count, this is your call.”
“er, yes, sir. Three. Two. One. Fire!”
Lasers slice the air and missiles boil forth from their tubes.

A LOT of things happen in far less time than it takes to tell them all.
The first tanker Ray hits explodes in a gianormous ball of fire, and the rest of the tankers almost instantaneously follow suit without another shot at them.
My SRMs rip through the shop's sheet metal roof and there are several satisfying explosions followed by a very large one that sends bits of building flying like so many angry hornets. The fate of the quad-cannon is obscured in the smoke and raining debris, and I wonder if this was such a good idea... no, it worked... its blackened debris-covered form sits, barrels askew, in the wreckage.
“You got a tank, too, Pad.”
“Yeah, I see it now. Never...”
My sensors ping to life with four approaching targets.
“Here they come.”
Through the open gate, two smallish tanks and two larger but rather odd looking treaded vehicles are rolling.
“Back up into the trees, those two at the back are Myrmidons. They have PPC, best to get them closer where we have a better range advantage. The other two id as Galleons, one medium and two small each; light by comparison, should be no big deal.”
“How long are we likely to have before the air you talked about comes?”
“Depends. We don't want to take too long, but if the units guarding the depot think they can get the kills without the flyboys getting credit or salvage, I bet they hold off unless it is obviously going bad for them.”
The tanks have rolled as far as the destroyed shop. I suddenly have a lot of targets in the depot.
“Kill them now!”
I step to the brink and empty my SRM tubes at the first Myrmidon's exposed upper armor. The LPL rips through what is left and the vehicle loses it's 'enemy' designation with a plume of rolling oily black smoke. Ray has chosen the other of the two and shears the PPC barrel clean off of the turret. An AC10 round booms out and blasts clear through the deck halfway between the front and the turret... and two Myrmidons combine to pollute the air.
“They know where we are, their radar has gone hot. No mech signatures yet, but two more myrmidons near the front of the compound and... ouch, a Demolisher... AC20 on that, watch out for him.”
I feel something strange and notice that I seem to be taking damage. What is...”
“Move! Something with an AC2, I could see them hitting your nose, but you need to move when you are getting hit.”
“Ok, sorry.”
“Can you see what or where they are?”
“No... 'fraid not. Should we move to where we can fire on the depot now?”
“Yeah. And head left, behind where the truck lot was. And keep moving until you are near enough the wall to be sure you can hit the storage tanks, generator, or radar.”
“Got it.”

(edit: corrected two spelling errors)

Edited by cmopatrick, 19 December 2012 - 10:20 PM.


#15 cmopatrick

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 12:07 AM

We cross the creek about thirty meters behind the waterfall and are moving into the trees when I get a pinging signal and see the missile locked warning.
“Got missiles!”
“Use the trees.”
I move further back into the woods and am aware that while there are missiles plowing into the arboreal giants, they have not gotten to me... yet.
“I didn't see any tower mounts, they must have carriers or 'Mechs we missed.”
“For what?”
“The LRMs”
“Oh.”
“Don't slow down, we need to keep moving.”
I round a particularly large trunk and feel the whole 'Mech buck as if punched in the shoulder.
The sweet voice of the ai explains, “TAG destroyed. Right Arm destroyed. Right shoulder socket damaged.”
“What?”
The ai doesn't respond and I didn't key up so Ray doesn't either. A quick look out the right cockpit windscreen shows that I have indeed been hit, and badly.
“Not sure what hit me, but I just lost the TAG.”
The Hunchback slows rapidly and turns, lasers up and at the ready... then they sag back down a bit.
Once again, I get to hear laughter as Ray keys up, but no words. What could be so funny about me getting shot? I turn to look behind me and suddenly understand: large portions of the TAG and my right arm hang tangled in a twisted branch close to the tree trunk. To add to the decoration, there's a spaghetti of wires and twisted metal hanging out into what must have been my path.
“I don't mean to say 'I told you so'... no, wait, I do mean to.” Ray returns to laughing at the sight before he releases the comm key.
I guess it was a pretty dumb thing to do.
“C'mon, rookie,” he adds with a chuckle.
We press on, flanking east. I can see the plume of smoke from burning tankers and equipment start to block out the sun, and still we are back in the trees.
I pull up the map. The closest target is the piping and cap to a long row of buried tanks. We are still high enough to be able to shoot over the wall, but I’m not quite in range yet.
Missiles coming again, big trees save me from the challenge once more. I try to get an idea of where they must be coming from.
“Ray, I think the LRMs are coming from either dead center in the compound, or on the far edge near the south wall... lots of clutter in-between.”
“Yeah, that would seem to be the line. We need to keep moving for the target. Look for any option to run out and fire or run out and scout threats to our position relative to targets.”
We continue crushing underbrush and foliage.

Two red triangles suddenly blaze out almost dead ahead.
“Right in front of us!” I excitedly report, but Ray has caught them as well.
His lasers slash out just as I get id on one, a Raven 3L. My LPL reaches out and the SRMs chase it into the gangly 'Mech. Half a heartbeat later, Ray's AC booms out and the Raven's nose crumples into jagged shards of armor clinging to the exposed from. Lightning seems to fill the exposed internals world of metal and gear.
The other 'Mech is long-legged, somewhat like the Raven, with a broad squat torso and deflector plates for arms. It is now running a serpentine curling around the Hunchie, but now looking at me. Two bright powerful lasers lash out from the side torsos, coloring my nose a ruby with heat and bright yellow on my sensors. This is going to be a long night fixing the plates and re... no, wait, it's a sim. Duh.
Instinct takes over and I aim for the windscreen dead center... and at the moment I fire I'm accidentally synced with Ray... and the machine falls moments after the forward window vaporizes from the combined destruction.
“Did he not have an eject option?”
“The sim doesn't add it where it isn't a tactical necessity. Besides, if there's a ghost in there after being hit like that, well, it would glow in the dark.” As he says this, Ray is also finishing off the Raven.
“Ah.”

Missiles incoming again, but this time I misjudge; “Damage Critical” is my ai's assessment.
Ray has reached a decision point of some kind, “turn and attack the cap as quickly as you can. I’m right behind you.”
“Yes, sir!” I swing the stick hard to the right and head for the edge of cover. I'm in range and about to fire on the cap pipe when a strange structure catches my eye, “whats that near the back gate?”
“Good eye, that's the generator; kill it first!”
It is right at the edge of my Large Pulse's optimum range and just out of range of the SRMs. The LPL lashes out, and a half ton or so of concrete is melted into glowing syrup.
BOOMMM! Ray's AC is barking, too.
Missiles incoming!
“Turn your torso to spread the damage on those missiles!”
I pivot away from the incoming volley, and indeed, nothing gets any angrier than the torso.
“Thanks.”
I'm almost to the wall, still just out of range to hit the generator with my SRM. My LPL lashes out at almost exactly the same place I hit before on the generator... some kind of turbine or fan would be my guess as to what it is. Smoke billows and I see about half my targets wink out.
“Got it, good job.”
“I'm hit pretty bad, Ray, should I run back into the trees before the LRM hit me again?
“No, they were on automated turrets. I missed them at first. Look sharp, here come Demolisher and Myrmidons.”
I can see they will take a few more moments before they can line up a shot or two; I pivot and the LPL darts to the clearly exposed tank piping.

An earthquake nearly knocks me to the ground, while the ground before me erupts as if some giant sandworm had chosen that spot to rise.
“You might have warned me you had a nuke over there, Paddy.”
“Um, I don't...”
Ray is laughing, “you must have chosen the right pipe, then.”
I look over at where Ray had been, but don't see him... oh, he did fall down... now I understand. I look back to prepare for the next attack, but it doesn't come.
“You seem to have gotten lucky a lot today. Not a ringer, are you?”
“Well, if you don't count the TAG, sure...”
Ray keys up, “Now THAT'S...” He is laughing again, I can imagine tears running down his face. Finally, “you're one funny guy.”
“What now?”
We both look out at the devastation; with the exception of the badly damaged wall, everything inside the compound is churned like a giant rototiller had played there.
“Well, we can walk back to the 'insertion point' and be bored; we can stand around here and probably deal with the air that I would bet is no more than ten minutes out; or we can end this and meet in the debrief room to see what we can. I'm getting hungry, so I prefer the latter.”
I feel completely agreeable, “sure, I imaging the mess will have some leftovers.”
“No, I don't think so. Officer's mess doesn't have hours like that, and at least tonight you get to eat with us.”
Somehow I had not expected that, but I at least secretly enjoy the chance to enter one of the officer sanctums.

(edit: punctuation correction)

Edited by cmopatrick, 22 December 2012 - 12:18 AM.


#16 cmopatrick

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 08:49 PM

I didn't expect the room to be full, but all six of the other pilots are seated or standing... including Colonel Greer and Captain Howard.
“I thought you said I wasn't being graded.” I almost whisper towards Ray's back as he walks in front of me.
Over his shoulder, he tosses, “you aren't, but we all meet both pre and post mission anyway and, well, even though it was a sim.” He turns as he reaches the front of the room and continues, “this was your first time out... if they are supposed to trust you tomorrow, they have a right to see.”
“I guess that makes sense. So we sit through it again?”
“Yup.”
Colonel Greer walks forward and says something to Ray, then turns and motions everyone else to sit down.
“Ok, just to make sure we are all on the same page, I wanted us to review Paddy O'Brian's sim under Ray's leadership as a mission because we have no other history on him. First, though, let me make sure everyone understands why the Chief is in this position.” He leans, almost sitting, back against a table. Is he tired?
“Last night Lieutenant Green was involved in an incident that cost him his life. I have been dealing with the authorities all day and the security trivids from the establishment show that it was indeed his own fault... we are not going to act in any manner against any involved. We have a mission in the morning that requires both lances and is best served by having them at full strength. By fortunate coincidence, we found out this morning that Chief O'Brian has actually been piloting Joe's Friday shooting range sims, meaning that he has at least a minimal qualifying accuracy. Lieutenant Al-Zafirah ran him through a simple walk-around and we all agree that while he is very green, he can be an asset when we walk tomorrow, provided that all can agree with it.”
There are murmurings around the room and pretty much everyone looks briefly at me and them back at the Colonel.
“Lieutenant Jordan ran him through a depot destruction sim raid using the Zanora Red Lancer compound and a average difficulty setting. All actions and audio is preserved, with both cockpit views and a flyover as well. We'll see the wrap with Lt. Jordan's visor on the left, the flyover centered, and Chief O'Brian's on the right. Any questions?”
Everyone seems to be settling in for the watch, I move to the back wall and stand there hoping I did well enough, afraid to watch just how badly I really did.
To no one in particular, the Colonel says, “Tsaris, please begin the replay.”
An ai voice coming from just above the screen replies, “replay beginning.”

….........

I can see in the center screen that we are in the trees near the beauty of the plunging water. I’m not really paying much attention to the audio and it seems that not many of the others are either as they whisper back and forth.
Suddenly, an angry tone cuts through the room...
“Well, how do I know that, I've never dropped with you?!”
There are distinctly audible gasps from several of the pilots and suddenly most of the otherwise barely interested faces turn towards me as if I had murdered a child or something. Even Marty seems taken aback, he glances my way and then back at the screens, all the while shaking his head.
I sink onto a bench at the back wall, wanting to disappear, so ashamed that I don't want to have to see their faces. I wish they would just end it so I can be through whatever is next.

….........

In the still after the recordings have finished, I wonder if they will still give me a chance.
“Questions?” asks Colonel Greer.
A hand rises, looks like Captain Stevens.
The Colonel nods her way, “Yes, Captain Stevens?”
“Are we anticipating him in Joe's place on Ray's wing or would we be better served having him over on our lance to help keep him in line?”
“Glad you asked,” his eyes move to me and he continues in an even tone, “Chief, I know you must have a skewed idea of what pilots are like because of Joe, but let me be clear, Ray went easy on you. Respond to any of us in anger or frustration like you did him and you will be out of this unit. Not back to ground crew, but out at the first civilian spaceport we reach with a one-way ticket home. Do you understand?”
I know from feeling my heartbeat in my face that I am flushed with embarrassment, but still answer clearly, “Yes, sir.”
“Lieutenant Jordan, I am willing to give you a choice: if you are uncertain and would rather have Lt. Ames as your wing for this mission and until we know for sure if Chief O'Brian will become our eighth Mechwarrior, we will make it so. Captain Stevens would get the Chief, at least until we promote him or pick up another pilot; permanent assignments can be worked out at that point. Your choice.”
Ray looks at me and I realize I am holding my breath in the silence. It must not be an easy choice, he keeps thinking. Finally, he nods a little, almost as if just for himself...
“What about you, Pad? Are you willing to submit to my leadership and work on your self-control?”
I nod, “Yes, sir. As long as you're willing to teach me.”
He smiles and looks back at the Colonel, “Pad is my wing, sir.”
Colonel Greer smiles, “Good. We have one final order of business, but first, are there any further questions about this 'mission'?”
Six faces look at him with indecipherable expressions and mine silently looks on in relief.
“Ok. Chief O'Brian, would you please come up here?”
“Yes, sir.” I walk forward, nervous with the sense that everyone is watching me, hoping I can make a better impression than my failure in the sim did, trying not to look too awkward or anxious.
“Do you still want to walk out tomorrow with Captain Howard's lance in the Raven 2x?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good. By the rules of this unit, we can not have a pilot who is not an 'officer', even if it is only as a temporary field promotion. You are hereby field promoted to lieutenant and shall hold such rank until the field need is past or the promotion is made permanent.” He hands me a bronze bar like Joe used to have and reaches out to shake my hand, “Congratulations, Lieutenant O'Brian.”
“Thank you, sir,” I say as I take the bar with one hand and shake the Colonel's with my other.
To my complete surprise, all six of the remaining pilots applaud.

(edit: punctuation correction)

Edited by cmopatrick, 22 December 2012 - 09:28 PM.


#17 cmopatrick

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 07:48 PM

We are sitting in the officers mess, all of the 'Mech pilots plus the dropship's officers are sitting on either side of a longish table, our meals done, dishes and utensils awaiting the inevitable clearing away.
I push myself a little back and wonder; I don't think I've eaten that well since... well... since home. I feel a pang of something like loneliness, maybe a bit of missing my da... we were close once. When we completed a contract, we would have big meals like this. I wish I...

“Ok, it's time to test our new pilot's nerve!” Martin exclaims suddenly.
I look his way and see he is likewise staring in my direction. By intent or accident, he is down the other end of the table from me; we are not at the ends, but as close to them as possible on opposite sides.
He continues, “I've heard from very reliable sources that Paddy loves HOT food...”
All of the pilots nod in agreement, even though I don't actually know half of them well enough that they would have even noticed me before today.
“So I declare a challenge! I think I can drink a whole one of these before HE can!”
As he speaks, he holds up two little black bottles, marked with red and white skull and cross bones... the mark of Rat's Blood Reactor Fuel. This stuff is know as “the hottest sauce in the galaxy”... it is the epitome of chemical fire to even the most die-hard spicy food lovers. Next to it, the red naga chilies my granda used to grow on the shop roof are milder than green bell peppers. The very fact that a teaspoon in a bowl of chili makes it too hot for even me to eat makes me doubt that I can finish one, much less race someone to be done.
There is a general clamor in assent to the proposed challenge, though I’m not agreeing, yet...
I honestly didn't know that Marty likes spicy food. My dinner normally has several drops of granda's home distilled naga juice, but as far as I can tell, he didn't even add red pepper. Maybe he orders it spicy and I just didn't notice.
But the more I think about it... the very fact that he as not one, but two of the fairly expensive bottles of this brew gives me further pause. If he doesn't like hot why would he have some? Especially considering that one drop is more than most folks can handle.
“He looks a bit frightened.” that was one of the women pilots, not sure which.
Marty smiles what might be a purely evil grin. “What, it this too hot for ya, Paddy-boy?” He asks while again brandishing the two bottles.
“He does look a bit too fragile to handle it, maybe you should challenge him with milk,” that would be Captain Howard.
While everyone else laughs, Lt. Al-Zafirah shakes her head at something, probably disgusted that I have not got enough courage to step up to the challenge. She rises from the table, excuses herself, and after offering a “good evening, all” she leaves the room.

“I think he's just too young to handle that much heat, go easy on him, Marty.” I'm not at all sure who said that, or if I really care right now
“Here, put this at his end of the table,” Marty says, handing one of the bottles to the dropship officer to hand down the line. Hand after hand passes it down to Ray. Lieutenant Jordan is sitting next to me, looks at the little sealed bottle, at me for a long ten seconds or so, and back at the bottle. He moves to pass it back up the line, but Marty interrupts him.
“No, let him see it.” Marty exclaims. “I want him to consider the challenge in all it's glory.”
Ray is shaking his head some, but after thinking about it, hands me the bottle. I look it over, it appears authentic, the old fashioned red wax seal with the gold “radiation danger” symbol impressed into it... I have no doubts, and I used to have one of these.
“Tell you what Paddy-boy...” I do wish he wouldn't say it like that, it's annoying... “you think about it, and I'll go ahead and have some.”
I look up as Marty breaks the seal and opens his bottle.
The Colonel speaks up, “Everyone back from the table, if either one loses it, it's better to be back at a distance.” They all rise and back away to the sides of the room, leaving the table like a field of contest between us.

“Cheers!” Lt. Kuti exclaims and puts the bottle near his mouth... then hesitates. I see what appears to be the natural hesitation that close proximity to the Rat's Blood brings... it's the faint whiff of lava heat that can leave no doubt among the initiated. Suddenly, there is a decision and he puts the bottle mouth to his lips and drinks a swallow. He has a huge involuntary shudder, then swallows.
I'm expecting sweat and tears, the flush of the ultra super-hot spice... but after that first shudder, he simply drinks swallow after swallow as I grow all the more stunned. Even granda on his best day was not in this league.
Martin holds the bottle upside down over his mouth, the last drops making a lessening trickle that announces the container is empty. All eyes are on him in the silent room...
BrrruuuuuuppPPP!
His belch sounds like an explosion in the quiet.
There is a smattering of congratulations, then they all turn my way.
Martin grins at me and I am stunned.
“Well, Paddy-boy, since you won't race, are you too much of a coward to match me?”
I feel the flush of anger at his words, but I also look down at the wee bottle, the likes of which has fueled more than one night of misery for untold braggarts. What is the point of the challenge? If I have no hope of winning, is there a point at all? The cost of my pride would at best be an entire night of misery with the toilet, and perhaps a trip to the infirmary.
“'A man has got to know his limitations',” I quote from a memory, then look up at him and quietly say, “Honor is due.”
Marty's smile fades just a bit. “What?”
I put the bottle on the table. “I'm not in your league, sir. Rather than waste such fine and expensive heat, I acknowledge you are the better man. I accept this is beyond my limitations and concede that honor is due.”

Marty glares at me for a minute, then breaks into a full laugh. Even more unexpectedly, the room applauds.
I seem to be even more clueless about officers than I thought possible, they make no sense to me at all right now.
“Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?” Marty asks.
“Um, excuse me? I don't understand, sir.”
Colonel Greer steps forward, “You did well, O'Brian. Most times Marty actually gets them to take a mouthful... or at least start.”
Ray gets that “guilty as charged” look... in fact, if I read it right, so does Lt. Ames.
“What? I don't understand, sir.”
Marty speaks up, “Your bottle is the real pain. Mine is just beer.”
I still don't get it...
“What was beer?”
He holds up his bottle and shows his teeth with a huge grin, “this bottle was full of beer, not that Rat's Blood stuff.”
I look down at the one on the table, it looks Ok... oh... what was it Sonya said about Marty doing practicals? Did she mean practical jokes?
“So this was just a joke?”
Captain Howard steps in, “Not quite. Consider it part practical joke, but also part initiation hazing and part test of personality. You did a pretty good job, Paddy.”
I look back down at the bottle, then up at no one in particular. “So, does this mean I get to keep it?”
The room fills with laughter and Marty chuckles, “if you really can stand it, take it with my blessing.”

Edited by cmopatrick, 24 December 2012 - 07:49 PM.


#18 cmopatrick

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Posted 25 December 2012 - 01:10 PM

Ray, Marty and I are standing in the main bay, near the foot of the Colonel's Dragon. There is an air-wrench going at the far end of the gallery, but nothing else sounds loud or too close.
“They haven't cleaned out Joe's hole yet, you'll have to bunk in you usual spot tonight,” Marty says quietly.
Ray nods and adds, “If you do well tomorrow, Pad, they'll have it ready for you tomorrow night.”
I too nod. It seems this has been a very long day. Across from us is Marty's Wolfie, one down to the right is the 2x. I have seen it so many times, but it suddenly seems different.
“She's just waiting for you,” Ray observes. He continues, “You doing Ok?”
I realize both of them are looking my way.
“Just thinking. Been a long day, maybe I’m just tired.”
They both chuckle and Marty says, “Yeah, I bet. Not exactly what you expected when you got into that sim this morning, was it?”
This morning. It could have been a year ago, so much has happened.
“Will all my days as a pilot be like this?”
“No,” they answer in unison.
Ray continues, “you probably didn't see it in Joe, but most of us spend our lives in sim drills, tests, and waiting. The fun stuff isn't every hour of every day.”
“Yeah,” Marty picks up, “the space time is the worst. At least you guys in ground crew got to be active and about your business. We get so familiar with our ais that...” he falls unexpectedly silent.
Ray nods.
We stand in silence for a minute or more. Ray looks at his Hunchback, Marty at his Wolfhound, and oddly enough, I look at the 2x. There is nothing really pretty about it, but I have spent many long hours working on her and find a deep appeal in her lines. Tomorrow... well... tomorrow...
“You have something to read?” Ray asks.
Disturbed from my thoughts, it takes me a few moments to answer, “Hmmm... oh, um, no, I...” Remembering the Colonels assignment, I correct myself, “actually, the Colonel gave me something to read, I should do that.”
“Art of War?” Ray asks, and when I nod, he continues, “good. It'll help keep your mind focused, Pad, and may make it easier to sleep.”
“Don't sweat tomorrow, Paddy,” Marty adds. “You are going to do fine.”

I hear footsteps behind me and turn to see Captain Howard walking towards us.
“Alright, gentlemen, walk time is 0530, pre-mission brief at 0300 with breakfast if you need it served then. Go get some shut eye.” He gestures towards me, “if you have trouble getting to sleep, Paddy, the infirmary can give you a tosol patch... guarantees 6 hours shut eye.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Any details on the mission, sir?” Ray asks.
“Things are still fluid, we won't have updated mission info until midnight or later, and the Colonel doesn't want the rest of you worrying or speculating.”
“If they are that loose,” Marty is following up, “is there a chance we won't have enough data to firm it up on time?”
The Captain looks a little troubled, “The contract has a lot of wiggle room on that, but the later we walk, the less chance of complete surprise.”
“Close-in isn't an option?”
“No, their anti-air would eat us alive. We'll have to walk a bit.”
Ray and Marty look at each other and back at the Captain.
“Trust the Colonel, gents. He hasn't led us anywhere we couldn't handle. Now off to bed, I need each of you fresh tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir,” Ray responds.
“Yes, sir,” Marty also.
“Yes, sir,” I likewise reply.
He turns and strides towards another knot of pilots that is huddled at the other end of the gallery.
“Fair warning,” Ray offers me, “don't eat or drink much at the briefing; even better, just have a daral and a small cup of water.”
“Daral makes me jittery. Why wouldn't I just eat normally?”
“Ever notice a men's room in that 2x?”
Even as I answer, I am recognizing the point, “no.”
“Yeah, mine doesn't have one either. The on-board stuff can do the job, but you DON'T want to actually use it short of an emergency.”
“And when you are fighting, taking a potty break is NOT cool.”
“So best for me not to need to go in the first place, right?”
“You got it.”
“Yup.”

….........

Our ground crew bunks are set into long blocks, just over a meter high by a meter wide by two and a quarter meters long. Its really just a bed with a reading light and a bare minimum of room for clothes and personal items. I remember the claustrophobic sense being entombed in mine the first night I crawled into it.
That was a long time ago... almost two years... I left everything I knew for adventure without a clue about what adventures are really like. I’m still not sure I know very much, but I know more than I did.
The Colonel's book seems rather simple, but there is a lot of stuff crammed into it. I've read it though once and am going back through parts of it again.
One thing catches my eye:

16. The spot we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we will have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.*

Is that what Lt. Jordan was trying to teach me in the sim today? As I ponder the many lessons that have flooded over me today, I close my eyes. In the fog that rises through my thoughts, I sense sleep approach... and welcome it as a friend.

*from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Chapter 6, "Weak Points and Strong"

(edit: added Art of War citation)

Edited by cmopatrick, 25 December 2012 - 01:19 PM.


#19 Mikhal Rain Longcut

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Posted 25 December 2012 - 05:56 PM

Well done sir!!!! I actually could not stop reading and when I got to your last post I thought damn now what do I do for entertainment.

#20 cmopatrick

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 10:32 PM

The strobe alarm is going off; I hold my eyes tight against it, but there is no escape... if I don't turn it off, there will be a sonic one in less than sixty seconds that will REALLY set my day on edge. My hand explores the wall of my hole until I hit the pause button. Light becomes a constant and I peek out at the clock: 0245 already. It feels like I have been dreaming something, but I grasp at fog trying to understand the vague unease it must have brought.
I pop the hatch and begin to crawl out into the waking crew quarters; to varying degrees, the rest of the crew chiefs are doing the same. From within Butch's closed hatch, the piercing audio alarm screeches and several of us groan.
“Why does he always have to let it go that long?” One of the women mutters what we all are thinking.
“He hates us, why else?” I think that was Mike.
Master Wolte's head comes around the corner and I bet he is about to go give Butch an “ice water surprise” when Butch's hatch opens, flooding the room with that horrid sound for the moment it takes before the alarm autostops.
Gloria moans, “Make him scrub mud off the footpads.”
Master Wolte grins at us.
Lora raises the bar as she counters, “Or clean out the emergency waste systems.”
Ouch, never want to be on her bad side.
Butch rolls out, his sleeping coveralls rather not as closed as they ought to be; a fact that several of our female teammates take as reason to throw whatever they have near at hand at him. He corrects the offense as quickly as possible.
It always seems like the same drill on walk days. If we are not already up, we are awakened by the alarms with enough time for breakfast and morning roundup before we meet our pilots and start the pre-walks.

“Lieutenant O'Brian, I take it you are not where you should be.”
I look at our Senior Chief, Lora Zandervan, and am about to ask what she means...
“O'Brian, your prewalk briefing is in ten minutes.” Master Wolte gruffly says, as if he had caught me taking an extra desert at mess. “You piloting dressed like that?”
“Piloting...” I start, then it all comes back.
“For what I hope is the last time,” he starts calmly, then shifts to that old familiar yell, “O'Brian, get your *** in gear!”
Everyone laughs and I lunge for my locker. The small door pops open and my bag of combat gear fairly assaults me as it falls out.
I swing the changing door around me and leave the night coveralls for my new cooling suit and the wicking cloth that will drain sweat from my skin. The black combat jacket slips on and when the changing door slips back, I imagine I hear one or two gasps.
Anne and Donna both nod approvingly, Gloria smiles. I don't know why I should be any different, but just for a moment, I wish I were more their age or they mine.
Master Wolte evaluates me for a moment, then he too nods.
Mike salutes. Then everyone else does as well. Even Master Wolte is at attention and saluting.
“Lieutenant,” Lora says, “it is customary for an officer to return a salute.”
I know my hand is rising to return the gesture, but it might be another person doing it. These people are as close to friends as I have ever had, maybe even a stand-in family. I finish the movements and our salutes end, but there is a separation suddenly, and I am aware of a loss.
I have felt this before, when I left home to join these people, and once long before...
I blink back a hint of moisture, take a deep breath, nod to the group, and head out the portal into the main hallway.

At this moment, I pass from otherness to being a pilot... a Battlemech Pilot. I may not live the day, but I know inside that I can never be satisfied with anything less than this. If there is a cost, well... I wonder just what the cost will be, but I know I will pay it.

The briefing room portal slides open and either I am on time or they were waiting for me. No, I must be on time, the colonel and both captains are conferring around a lit screen or table surface or... well... something like that. Lieutenants Jordan and Kuti are sitting together with compads out and glowing, discussing something. Lieutenant Al-Zafirah sits to one side, her command pad also obviously active. I hear someone behind me, turn and see Lieutenant Ames grin as he darts in to take his place.
Captain Howard has noticed me and approaches with a compad. “Here's your pad, Lieutenant. I hope you slept well.” He says while studying my face. “You still good with this, Paddy?”
I smile and admit, “still a bit scared, but I can handle it, sir. I am SO ready for this.”
He smiles and nods, “Good. Glad you're walking with us.” Turning, he walks back up to the front.
Marty whispers loudly, “Over here, Paddy,” confirming it by gesturing to a seat on the other side of Ray.
“Did you get a daral?” Ray asks, and when I shake my head “no” he hands me a little container. “Better jittery than worn, hungry, or needing facilities.”
He knows his stuff; I choose to trust him and accept, “Ok.”
“Water on the table back there, use the little blue cups... full they have just enough water to wash it down.
“Thanks,” I reply, getting back up. The table at back is well laid with meat and dry breads, along with juices and several steaming liquids. The ice-water is at the far end, along with tiny blue cups that must be for just this purpose; I open the container, swallow the daral, and wash it down with one dose of water.

From the front of the room, Colonel Greer starts, “alright pilots, lets get settled.”
I scoot back to my seat and Ray hands me back my pad.
“Turn it on here,” he indicates as if I couldn't turn on a simple pad. Part of me is annoyed, but then the screen turns to an odd slate of shifting colors and I have to admit that I’m suddenly confused.
“Put your hand on the surface, fingers spread like this,” he holds his right hand out with thumb and fingers splayed.
I comply and suddenly there is a bright blue pulse that quickly shrinks to an outline of my hand. I glance at Ray and before I can look back, it has disappeared to a completely black screen.
“Captain Howard,” Ray says loudly enough to be heard up front, and when he catches the captain's eye he motions him over.
“O'Brian's pad doesn't recognize him yet.”
“Sorry about that, here, let me have it.”
I hand him the device, he turns it back on, places his hand, keys something, then hands it to me with it again showing the seemingly random kaleidoscope of colors.
“Handprint it now, O'Brian.”
Again, the blue light contracts around my hand, but this time it flashes suddenly and my screen is a map of some sort. Ray holds his up to compare, and I indeed have the same basic map, though it looks like Ray has already made some notes on his.
“Good,” the captain says as he turns and moves to rejoin the Colonel.

Edited by cmopatrick, 26 December 2012 - 10:39 PM.






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