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Obrian Chronicle


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#81 cmopatrick

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Posted 11 May 2013 - 05:08 AM

I have recrossed the lake to about where I stepped into it last night with Nightingale. In the dim starlight even the light amplifier doesn't show a lot, with a notable exception: up on Morlan Spire there are some bright lights moving carefully on the north side. I had intended to pass the volcano on the north, now I have to wonder if that's such a good idea.
I pull up my map and consider the alternatives. With just a hint of pride, I realize that I'm now at least able to see that further north are several sharp mountain valleys that would cut directly across my path; without jumpjets, that way would be exceptionally difficult and at best painfully slow.
The moving lights seem very deliberate, they are searching for something or I'm very much mistaken. From up there, would they see me as I passed by at the mountain's foot? Can I risk it? Is there any other alternative?
A passage from Sun Tzu comes unbidden to mind, “Speed is the essence of war: take advantage when the enemy isn't ready, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded places.” (Art of War 9:19) Somehow it seems to me that they have probably already thoroughly searched the most direct route to where we met Nightingale... maybe that is the route I need to take because it will be the least expected.
Trying to remember if there was anything else in there, I am suddenly aware that I miss the man who gave that book to me: Colonel Greer. He probably saved my life when he elevated me into Joe's old 'Mech, but I wonder how we could have saved he and the rest of the GZR. For that matter, how can I now help save not only our survivors, but those others who are now somehow depending on me?
While these things plague me, my eyes are drawn back to the map and my wandering mind comes back to task. Maybe I need to just take off headed towards the barn's remains and trust in my equipment and what skill I've gained.
“Naomi, combat diagnostics, please.”
“Diagnostics started.”
Indicators are blinking as I throttle up and swing south of the mountain. Before long, the lights have disappeared behind the naked stone of the massif.
Naomi informs me, “Combat diagnostics complete, all systems go.”
“Thanks.” I flick on the arming switches as the capacitors hum and missile silo covers retract.
Stumbling onto a dirt and gravel roadway, I can see that it's direction is towards that barn. This is a good time for a run, and I push the 3L to top speed, near 95kph. Thmmp, thmmp, thmmp, thmmp, the rhythm of the footfalls matching the rocking and swaying of the Raven's body become the not-so-subtle heartbeat of our mutual quest to remain alive.
Back and forth I swing the torso as I have observed Fatima do so many times before. BAP is on, I trust I will need to see someone else before I plow straight into them.

…..

The distance passes quickly and I am now standing at the edge of the opening where we stood early last night. Oddly enough, there seem to be mounds of debris where the downed choppers were. Is this another trap? I skirt around the clearing on the north, trying to see the exit I plan to use towards one of the escape routes.
Before I find that exit, however, I see clearly enough to note that the far chopper, the one I shot down, seems pretty much intact. I know the old saw: curiosity killed the cat... but I just have to know what might be over there.
Slowly, I come up on the hulk. It looks like there are several large slashes in it that might well have been laser fire... wounds I don't remember giving it. I walk the Raven right up next to it, all the while scanning for anything that might be out of the ordinary; neither sensors nor eyeballs seem to show anything unusual. The big laser and the missile mounts all seem to still be there, and... no, wait, the laser's housing has taken direct fire, only the long optical chamber is still intact. If I were to guess, they didn't have time to salvage the gear yet and wanted to make sure that anything expensive was saved while destroying enough to make it useless to those without spare parts... like me. The cockpit, though, does seem undamaged... I wonder if their communications gear is still intact?

Do I dare demech on the chance? What if it has been booby-trapped? Wouldn't it be a lot like having secret access to have their comm gear? Is it worth the risks?
This trip seems to have been such a disaster, maybe I need to get a breath of fresh air. I know, it's a lame excuse, but sometimes the flimsiest of reasons seem to be the only way I can make a decision.
After making sure I am facing the majority of the clearing, I order, “Naomi, please kneel the 'Mech.”
The machine moves into a parked position without any verbal comment from the ai interface.
Trying to be as careful as possible not to have any mistakes in how specific I need to be, I follow-up with, “Please alert with contact details using external audio speakers if there are any hostile contacts on sensors. Keep this order active until I am back in the seat and have reconnected the neurohelmet to the system.”
“As you wish.”
“Canopy up, please.”
I guess that will have to do. As the upper half of the Raven's cockpit rises, I have the odd sense that it has opened it's beak to disgorge me like a bad meal. I clear the neurohelm and unbuckle the harness, chuckling to myself over the strange mental image. Out onto the side rail I step, then down the hand-holds and onto the softer soil. The air outside is fresher, though I think I also smell a distant hint of a big storm storm.
I put a small led headlamp on, and after clearing my ballistic sidearm, I approach the hull. I'm not sure what I expect to find, but I rather be prepared for any wild animal or missing pilot that might be hiding within. My caution, while appropriate, is unnecessary: there is no one here and nothing has snuck in to take up residence.
The copilot's door is open and a thin layer of dust seems to cover everything near it. The array of switches and indicators seems on par with what I have in the 3L, though most of that I guess are important systems are located down the center console within easy reach of either cockpit seat.
There are two things that catch my eye: the small control panel labeled “IFF Transponder” and the fairly bulky one labeled “Sequence Communications”. Problem is, I don't have the correct tool for the fancy fasteners they use to secure things in here.

It has taken me a few minutes to realize that the crew wouldn't have tools like that on their persons, but would need to have them in the craft for minor field repairs. Sure enough, right behind the copilot's seat is a small toolbox and... I smile to myself at the thought of how prepared some crew chief wanted them to be... what must be the backup unit for the IFF Transponder block. It looks like it uses the common Star League style cannon plug for connections and power, that or I'm missing a connection point in the limited light my lamp provides.
My hope that there is a similar cache of communications gear elsewhere in here is dashed, however. The electronics bay and silent reactor are both more than I can do anything about, but I have the skill to observe that the reactor is far more compact and better arrayed than any fusion system I've ever seen, much less worked on.
A bright flash illumines the confines much better than my poor torchlight and my heart freezes with my frame... only the rapid crash of a thunderclap releases me from the unexpected terror. Yet another fear hits me, my visor is open, if it starts to rain heavily, it will be soaked and may introduce more problems. I take the IFF thing and the tools and race for my cockpit.
No rain yet. At the Raven's foot, the sky again turns momentarily day, revealing dense roiling clouds overhead. The thunderclap hits me like a punch, but I fight through the din and haul my two prizes back up to the cockpit. I don't have a lot of space in my storage bins, so I just shock cord both to the back wall and drop onto the command couch.
“Please close the canopy, Naomi,” I say and the 'Mech again seals while buckles and neurohelm find their rightful places tying me to the machine.
I must be learning, it occurs that I need to cancel the exterior speaker order, “Naomi, please call any contacts normally.”
“Contact calls now returned to normal routing.”
“Thank you,” I say, just as another huge flash illumines the cockpit.

Edited by cmopatrick, 11 May 2013 - 05:11 AM.


#82 cmopatrick

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 09:26 PM

I have taken the northernmost of Lloyd's routes, and by some combination of his good planning and my luck, I've passed the night without any further excitement. Well, nothing other than this storm. Twice, when stepping clear of some obstruction I have been hit by such strong winds that they have nearly knocked me over. On top of that, the lightning storm has been both beautiful and terrifying; after all, I am walking around in a large metal container that is in fairly constant contact with the ground... can you say, “Lightning Rod”? Well, I haven't been struck, but I have been nearly blinded when a monstrous trunk not fifty meters from me took a direct hit and erupted into millions of flaming pieces; the bolt was so powerful it made my skin crawl and my indicators go wild.
Now, however, I am mostly sheltered within a narrow gorge. Only half a kilometer from it's mouth, the stream that has cut this crevasse tumbles maybe eighty meters from some source above. I'm far enough away from it that the torrent plunging into it's pool threatens me only with mist. Though the tiny canyon has no roof, above it's nearly perpendicular walls towers some great forest and twists along the creek's short narrow course prevent anyone not already within a hundred meters from seeing me. I wonder at how the Ensign could know it was here, even zoomed all the way in, the map reveals none of this to me.
I power down and sit, listening to the thunder and the drumming rain. Maybe I can see just a hint of details, perhaps sunrise isn't that far off.

…..

Much diminished by the day, the storm has resigned itself to being just a whimper of last night. The greatest peril seems to be the often flooded streams and rivers, but with care I have crossed them unscathed.
I can just make out the larger forms of the terraformer's old hangars when a bolt of lightning flashes across my nose; not from the storm, but the PPC kind. My comms crackle to life, “Raven, stand and identify yourself.”
I back out of my throttle and answer, “It's just the nutcase back from our little soirée for parts.”
“Name and Rank!”
“O'Brian and either Commander or Lieutenant will do.”
The Black Knight moves from the shadow of one of the hangars and a welcoming voice says, “Hoped it was you, Commander. They're all waiting in the big bunker.”
“Thanks, Ma'am.”
“Good to see you back, sir.”

…..

“So let me get this straight, this night bird says...”
“Nightingale.”
“... yeah, whatever. So she says they are coming here in the next week or so.”
“Yup, that's about it.”
One of the Major's men clears his throat and we all look his way. “Well, maybe. We have several cells, all stronger than the one preceding it, about to slam into this area. Heck, the winter snows may start before the last ones move through.”
“And you are?” I ask.
Major Knuckner answers for him, “He is out meteorologist. Gets it right more often than not.” He smiles at the lad and the latter pretends to be annoyed.
“Fair enough. How long do you think things will be too poor for the Jade whatevers to come looking?”
“Honestly? Next spring.”

…..

One of the Waco techs is holding up a tool, “This sure looks like an old Star League torx socket. I've worked on some of those ancient 'Mechs and these things were standardized across the entire military force. But these things are brand spanking new, probably never used.”
I nod, trying to piece together what that might mean about our enemies.
Sonya, meanwhile, has been going over the IFF unit itself, with Anne also very interested. “Commander?” she asks.
“Yes, Lieutenant?”
“I think I understand the differences in these from ours. Got an idea, too.”
“Fire away.”
“Ok, there are four parts to the main transponder that represent four transmitting frequencies. Without knowing the given code for a day or mission, I can't duplicate their transmissions enough to hide one of our 'Mechs in plain sight, but I might be able to build a jammer out of this that would keep an enemy unit from identifying you at all.

Edited by cmopatrick, 15 May 2013 - 09:26 PM.


#83 cmopatrick

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 10:03 PM

I am sitting with Major Knuckner, Fatima, Nanako, and several of the Winfield techs in what appears to be a communications control vehicle.
One of the techs is speaking, “... and when we added the VT741 and the twin AM6000s, we were live at five.”
The Major looks at me and asks, “Did you get that, Commander?”
“I have no clue at all what he just said, but I could take a nap about now.”
While the techs look puzzled, everyone else laughs. The Major offers, “They have upgraded our comm equipment to allow us to send and receive voice and data across the planet. With the transcoder, we should also be able to try to contact our own satellites and begin to probe theirs.”
“Oh. Cool.”
“Try to get Nightingale,” Fatima suggests.
“Oh, we had her already,” one of the younger techs replies as if this were old news.
“Anything since two days ago?”
“Yeah, had one just before dawn this morning, any part you want to hear?”
“Anything about an angel?”
He looks a bit uncertain, then says, “No, don't think...”
“Yeah there was, Bobby, remember? That bit about hurrying to heaven or some such cr-ap.”
“Oh, yeah, about seven minutes in.” Looking at me he says, “Hang on a minute, we'll get it for you.”
The second of the two already had one earpiece of a headphone pressed agains his right ear as he does what I guess is scrolling. “Got it,” he announces with a grin, and flicking a switch he lets us hear it on the console speakers.
“... to see the sea. Break. For my friend and protector Angel, look to the skies and head to heaven. The light comes too soon to stay bound to your temporal abode. Flee from the sins of the unclean before tomorrow passes. Break. For The Hoppers...”
“That's all I need, thanks.” The playback stops and I continue, “If there are any more messages for Angel, please let me know about them right away.”
“Angel?!” Fatima asks as the tech nods confirming that he'll let me know.
“She picked it, wouldn't hear of my changing it,” I answer. “She asked what my call-sign was and I didn't know, so she said mine is 'Angel' since I rescued her and got her away safely from both ambushes.”
“If she only knew you,” Fatima laughs and the Major joins in.
I roll my eyes and agree, “I told her as much, but she insisted and I didn't have a defense. Do you have a call-sign?” I ask the Lieutenant.
“Of course, though the GZR never used it. I am 'Shabah', in English, that is 'Ghost'.”
Without being asked, Nanako offers, “I'm 'Tachi', it is an ancient type of sword. I've never used an English version.” At this last, she shrugs disinterestedly.
Major Knuckner laughs when I look his way, “I'm with the tread heads, unit names and designators only... Angel.”
The three of them get a good chuckle at this and I fear I have unintentionally made it stick.

The amusement dies as Nanako asks, “So, what did all that stuff mean?”
My brow furrows as I say, “Nightingale said they were going to be coming in a week or so, maybe she means it has been moved up to tomorrow or the next day.”
“Not good,” The Major comments and Fatima nods in agreement. He continues, “They will certainly have a sat tasked on the location. Even with cloud cover, there isn't enough shelter between here and the next good hiding place for us to move. They would take us in the open and it would be all over.”
“Well, if we can't run away, can we actually defend this place?” I pose.
“Probably not,” Fatima states. “Would be too easy to trap us in here.”
“I'm not so sure,” Nanako opines. “We found a set of tunnels at the north end that come out beyond the river, but the far ends are very well hidden. I bet we could make a go of it and run away if needed.”
I try to remember the Sun Tzu book; what would it advise?
The Major is way ahead of me, “I bet we have enough gel and munitions to make them think this place is just one giant booby-trap. We deliberately make tracks into every building and lay trip wires, fixed small arms, IEDs, and mines along each. As each kill zone is found, most likely some of them the hard way, their commanders will become warier and warier... soon, the whole place will look like its just one big trap. We lay the mouth of this bunker with automated things the exact same way. But we remain, hidden powered down at the far ends,” here he gestures towards the long dark reaches of our underground complex. “Then they might not be able to detect us and give up. Maybe they collapse the entry, maybe not. We might even knock out some of their gear.”
Fatima nods, “This is a good location, if they think they have searched it, they might assume they don't need to come back.”
Major Knuckner nods, too, and I admit, “I like it. What do we do?”

…..

We have done all we can. Yesterday and all of last night, we dug and hid and pointed and placed. Even last night's downpour may have helped, all the tracks and marks of activity have been softened but not erased. Lasers, gel, and ballistic toys of various caliber are all ready to provide a welcome rather warmer than the empty hangars and bunkers are worth. It should feel like a giant setup, nothing more or less at our bunker's entrance. We've swept the floor plates and concrete within a klick of the ramp, no real signs of our host recently having bivouacked here remain. We did leave remains of a small bonfire, but they too are booby-trapped.
A small red light, sheltered from anything other than ourselves, blinks on and off in front of us. One of the sensors that indicates hostile contact has alerted and Major Knuckner in our bus has lit the visual signal that we all need to mount up.
I climb through the small rear service entrance and sit into the command couch. Pulling my harness across my chest in the inky blackness, seating my neurohelm, adjusting the cooling hose connections where I inadvertently sat on one... until there is nothing left to do but wait.

It has been an hour. It felt at times like there might have been a couple of distant explosions, but then again, just sitting here might be making me imagine it.
Two little red lights blink. Ten seconds pass and they go out. The enemy is close to our bunker.
“Naomi, are we ready to emergency power up?”
“Yes, ready and waiting, sir.”
There is a sudden flash at the ramp's mouth. Another follows it rapidly. I wish I could zoom in and see what is happening, but dare not start my Raven up prematurely.
Surely that is laser fire, from the inside towards the ramp. More explosions. Close at hand, three little red lights blink once, twice, and a third time... they are inside. Even at this distance, I can see bright lights slicing at everything. There is a huge explosion, they have detonated the bonfire... and I have no idea if they have casualties.
From the mouth, a huge searchlight shines in, trying to reach the distant walls and pretty much failing. We trust to the camouflage between us to make visual detection difficult and indeed, the beacon does not linger or even slow as it passes us. When it goes out, I have to wonder... will they come and see that we are here?

Edited by cmopatrick, 17 May 2013 - 10:09 PM.


#84 cmopatrick

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 07:04 PM

The silence has lasted for an hour since the two lights flashed. Our surveillance crew in the bus must still see them outside, but they are no longer at the mouth of our bunker.
I about jump out of my skin as a tapping sound starts on my back hatch. Neurohelm and straps off, I rise and manually unlatch the accessway.
It's Lloyd. “They seem to be prowling around looking at the various traps and some of the damaged equipment. We killed one 'Mech and a couple tank-like things, and I saw them carrying what looked like mini 'Mechs out of the bunker here. I thought they would come pick up the 'Mech at least, but so far they seem to have been working on it. Can they fix it out here?”
“I don't know. How many 'Mechs are there?”
“Nine now. When they got here, they moved in two groups of five. Eight tank things now, but they seemed to move more in pairs. The mini-'Mechs moved in groups of five also, there were twenty-five of them when they first showed up. There were also what looked like the shadows of two helicopters. Does that help?”
“Yeah, that's great, Lloyd. Keep me posted.” He turns and it occurs to me, “Oh, Lloyd?”
“Yes, sir?”
“Thanks for all the work you did on that map with the alternate routes back. You definitely saved my life.”
I can't see his face, but his voice sounds appreciative, “Thanks, sir. That means a lot to me.”
“You are most welcome. I still plan to get those map lessons from you.”
“It will be my pleasure to teach you, sir.”

…..

They have been gone for more than four hours now. I'm sitting in the bus with Nanako, Fatima, Lloyd, and Major Knuckner; we're watching our surveillance trivids of the Jade Falcons' incursion into our little space.
Fatima has just had us pause on something and we stare at the screens wondering what she sees. “Please zoom in on cam four, center on the 'Mech and those working on it.”
Lloyd has the controls and does so.
“A little more, please.”
“That better, Lieutenant?”
“Yes. Can we now play that one from maybe two minutes back?”
He shrugs and replies, “Sure,” runs the counter back two minutes, and resumes play.
I watch the little figures scurrying around the downed 'Mech, carrying something from out of the frame to the 'Mech and looking like they have added or attached it... because when they leave, they aren't carrying anything.
“They have mined the wreck. I bet if we look at the tanks, they will also have folks working on them adding bulky things that make no sense otherwise.”
“Why?”
“Reversing the booby-traps. They think we will go out to look at the salvage from wherever we are hiding and they get to kill two birds with one stone... they destroy the equipment and add a cautionary tale to the resistance.”
The Major pipes up, “Or they rig the equipment to be trackable, figuring the resistance will want to get hold of all the equipment to study... and reveal the location of our base that way.
“How can we know for sure?”
“We'll have to wait until the next storm blows through.”
“So it will get wet and short the stuff out?”
He laughs; actually, everyone else chuckles at least a little, too. “No, so we can have cover from satellites.”
Sometimes I feel so dumb. “Oh,” is all I manage to get out.

…..

Fairuz is driving her six-by through a long dark passageway towards the westernmost hidden exit. I have the shotgun seat, with Fatima and a radiation tech named Sergeant Ryan in the main compartment behind us. Trailing us in the duce and a half are Sonya, one of the former Waco techs, and a pair of snipers from the Militia.
It is the day after the Falcons' visit, and the next storm has rolled in with heavy rain and howling winds. Lloyd and the meteorologist both insist that we are good to go and will have at minimum eight good hours to investigate if we follow the plan. And the plan is to take this escape exit and run back as if we were from a distant location. We can't take too long; the forecast for tonight is for some or all of the precipitation to turn to snow and it wouldn't do to have fresh tire tracks leading to our entrance, now would it?
Ryan should be able to detect any signals being broadcast, power-source radiation, or magnetic fluctuations.

“So,” Fairuz starts unexpectedly, “How old are you?”
“Um, seventeen. You?”
She laughs, “Twenty. You look older than that. You must be very mature for your age.”
“Oh... um... thanks. I try.”
“You don't sound like you're very sure.”
I shrug, forgetting for a moment that she really can't look over at me. We drive along in silence.
“I kinda like the way that vest looks on you when you're doing your 'Mech thing.”
“Um...” I desperately wonder what she is talking about. Then I realize she means the cooling vest.
“The one that goes with your cute short shorts and those masculine boots,” she adds while I try to get my mouth working.
“You like them?” I ask, thinking about the rather thread-worn vest.
“Well, it's the man who makes the clothes, not the clothes that make the man.”
I have no idea what to say... then it dawns: I think she's flirting with me. A cute older woman flirting with me? Wow.
I think there must be some compliments I can give her. Maybe something about her pretty eyes or her sweet voice or her full chest... no, wait, not that... um... I don't know. Of course, all this remains in my head and nothing comes out of my mouth to encourage her; she seems to go back to driving.

We reach the exit and a metal door slides open for us to pass; from the inside, I guess we are entering a shallow cave. We picked this route because it is the only exit south of the river, which saves us from crossing a bridge. We mark the spot on a temporal map and roll out into the weather with the duce and a half not ten seconds behind us. Fairuz flickers the trim lights and Sonya flashes hers in response. Out we go, into the deluge; visibility beyond maybe fifty meters is iffy at best. The console in front of Fairuz has a map displayed, along with other notations that she can probably see well, but which elude me from this seat.
After bouncing along for fifteen of twenty seconds, we reach a ill maintained road and turn southeast on it. In the rear-view mirror I see Sonya turn to follow.

“Should I wear my hair up?” Fairuz asks as we bounce along through the downpour. I look over at her and realize she isn't concentrating on the road, she's looking at me.
“Um...” I look back in front of us hoping we don't die out here.
“You don't like my hair, do you?”
I look back at her, hoping a good answer will get her to look back at the road; “No, you have lovely hair. It frames your face and eyes so well. I wouldn't change a thing.”
“Thanks. I like yours, too.” She must have something in her eyes, she sure seems to be blinking a lot.
“My what?”
“Are you being difficult?”
I have no clue what that question is about. “I don't understand. I'm just worried about getting there safe.”
A dark eyebrow goes up and she looks back in front of us. “Fine,” she opines, with a slight shake of her head.

Edited by cmopatrick, 24 May 2013 - 05:36 AM.


#85 cmopatrick

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 07:16 PM

Our hope is that our two vehicles will get through without giving any indication of being related to military units; neither vehicle has an IFF transponder and hopefully we won't run into any resistance unit that is willing to shoot first and ask questions when the smoke has cleared. The road is clear and we have a little good luck, the rain has lessened for now to something more like a drizzle, albeit one that more than occasionally seems to be moving horizontally in the gale.
The map screen, at least what I can see of it, leads me to believe we are getting close. Yup, there is the huge tower at the western edge, the one we have never figured out. Black as night, it rises like an obsidian finger at least a hundred meters to poke a hole in the sky. Beyond it are the familiar shapes of the hangars. Fairuz angles south of our bunker, acting as if we simply want to take a shortcut across these several kilometers of smooth pavement to another road on the southeast. The duce and a half is now trailing at least a half klick behind, in position to cover us with the miniguns if we have to scramble out of here.
We slow as we reach a corner two buildings down from where the dead 'Mech lies, as if seeing it for the first time. On the intercom I announce, “Ok, Sergeant Ryan. Let's see if there is anything active.”
“You got it, sir,” the answer fills the speakers.
“You ready for this, Fairuz?”
“Yes, Paddy.”
“Well, let's do this like we're curious but cautious.”
She looks over at me like I'm daft, “I was there when we discussed this, don't you think I can do it without the reminder?”
“Oh, um... sorry.”

We turn back out in front of the building, giving it a wide enough berth to avoid any of our own booby-traps and start to roll slowly towards the hulking form that seems to grow in size as we approach.
“Got a signal.”
We stop.
Ryan continues, “Looks like a simple beacon signal, not fluctuations on an ultra-high frequency... not normal comm frequency or where anyone would likely look if they were in a hurry.”
“Thanks. Power supply?”
“Nope, nothing yet.”
“Understood.”
“You know,” Fairuz says to me, “You sure do seem more sure of yourself. I think you are really becoming a commander.”
“Um... thanks,” is all I can get out. I look over at her and think I see admiration in her expression. She sure is pretty sitting there. Looking forward, she lets the moment pass and I join her in considering the equipment.

We roll forward again, very slowly now. I can see one of the tanks to the south as we pass the gap between buildings, it looks even more damaged from here than on the trivids. But the damage on the 'Mech in front of us isn't quite so obvious. We roll to about fifty meters from it, then stop. Now I can see clearly what the security cams told us, the 'Mech walked onto a mine, something like two hundred kilos of gel covered with solid metal plates we had cut to act as shrapnel. He or she walked it onto the plate and a simple compression detonator set it off; the 'Mech's legs became bare metal almost to the knee and it had immediately fallen. The booby-trap had included a pair of medium lasers that had burnt their battery charges in two shots each, but from here their damage isn't obvious.
“My turn,” Fatima says over the intercom. “Remember the horn if Ryan finds anything I should worry about.”
“Will do. You take care of your self,” Fairuz answers before I can.
OF course, I still answer as well, “Come back safe, Ok, Lieutenant?”
There is a smile in her voice as she answers, “As you wish, Commander.”

The hatch light indicates she is out into the weather. Now I can see her gently picking her way over to the fallen behemoth, stepping warily across any debris that hides the ground beneath.
She pauses, halfway through a step, her left foot just holding in the air maybe fifteen to twenty centimeters off the ground. I wonder what she sees. It must be something that worries her, she is stepping backwards, trying to retrace her footwork with very great care. She pivots and hand signals that there may be a mine just ahead. It is pretty close to where the 'Mech itself lies face down, I guess it could be ours. She is skirting closer to the building moving to where she might have a less debris-laden path, then approaching with at least the same care again.
Lt. Al-Zafirah reaches the head and, after a quick look around, finds enough hand holds to climb up to the top hatch. She cautiously turns first one and then another of the recessed latches, working her way around all of them. She climbs away from it some and now I see she has brought a long piece of metal and is trying to pry to hatch open from a little distance. It seems to resist her, she is working it pretty hard now. Ah, she got it to move and while shading her face against any hazard with one arm levers it open with the other. It doesn't stay open very well, it is hinged at the back, so it wants to fall forward and close, but she manages to prop it open with the rod or whatever that is. She climbs back up and peeks into the dark cockpit. I see a small light come on, she has slipped on a headmount lamp and must be trying to discern if there are risks. In she climbs, but just as her foot comse up, it kicks the bar and the hatch flops back down, imprisoning her.
Fairuz and I both jump at once.
“I'm going to rescue her!” I say much too loudly and am out of my seat before anything further happens.
“No, wait, there she is!” I turn back and Fairuz is right, Fatima is sticking her head back out of the hatch and waving. The hatch closes and I wonder what will happen next.

Edited by cmopatrick, 26 May 2013 - 02:33 PM.


#86 cmopatrick

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Posted 26 May 2013 - 02:27 PM

It has been almost twenty minutes since Fatima entered the 'Mech. I wonder what...
“Something's Wrong!” Sergeant Ryan shouts into the intercom just as the prone Falcon's hatch flies open and Fatima half-leaps from the 'Mech. She hits the ground and is up and running away into the hangar and waving us back too.
“Reverse!” I shout just as Fairuz does exactly that, slamming us both forward against our restraints.
“I have an active fusion core, dead ahead!” exclaims Ryan. “Going wild, he may be scramming it!”
Fairuz knows this vehicle and even though it's making me a little nauseous, she is quickly doing 50kph in reverse.
“Reactor will fail in...”
In front of us there is a huge explosion, pulverizing the downed 'Mech. The windscreen section directly in front of me shatters as something hits it with incredible force. There is a pattering of small things striking me, but I get my arms up and nothing more strikes my face. Fairuz, bless her soul, has not stopped going backwards, getting us away from the smoke and dust cloud the seems to have completely obscured the place the 'Mech lay.
Finally, she slows us to a halt, maybe half a klick out. The dust and such is settling and... well, there isn't a 'Mech there now.
“Fatima. We need to go back and get her,” I finally say.
Over the intercom, Ryan adds a bit of humor, “I have no signals now. Anything interesting happen up there?”
I look at Fairuz and laugh, only to realize she is suddenly upset about something. She stops the six-by, is unbuckled and bounds across the intervening equipment to me. Only as she gets close do I realize there is something odd about how I feel... a little woozy, perhaps... she has her outer shirt off and is holding it to... my head. “Medkit!” she shouts and somehow Ryan hears her.
I see a look of concern in her eyes, it seems like I've done that before... her shirt is covered with blood. Just great, I seem to be just so fragile whenever she is around.
I try to think clearly, it seems rather hard to do right now. I seem to have a monster headache coming on. “We need to get Fatima, she may be injured.”
“Paddy, you are injured, you come first.”
“No, my crew is first; Master Wolte taught me that.”
“Let me stop the bleeding, then we get her.”
“What is wrong with me?”
“It looks like something hit you at the hairline right here,” she touches something and suddenly all I can think of is how hard it is not to scream... I'm somewhat saved at the moment by realizing how close her t-shirt covered chest is to me as she concentrates on bandaging me up.
“Looks like the Lieutenant was right,” I hear Sergeant Ryan comment as he holds the medkit open for Fairuz.
“Ok, that will have to do,” she comments and heads back to her seat.

Through the open air in front of me I see a distant figure exit a small door on the side of the hangar we just left. “Fatima,” I state.
Fairuz puts the machine into gear and we are rolling forward again. Yes, it is the Lieutenant, stumbling towards us. As we get closer, it looks like she is covered with dust, but not blood. Her expression is pretty lucid, compared to how I feel. Her expression changes as we get closer and she looks into the windscreen opening where rain now seems interested in soaking me. She disappears beneath the rig, then I see the hatch light flick on and back off.
“Let's get turned around and clear in case they come investigate,” Fatima suggests as she pokes her head into the cab.
We do and race to where the duce and a half sits. I give Sonya the signal to abort.
“We should probably figure something out before we go, this gear doesn't like rain,” Fairuz offers while waving at the complicated electronics between us.
At Fairuz' direction, Ryan and Fatima find a tarp in one of the compartments, and together we tape it up as well as possible to keep the elements out. Ok, I just hold a corner while they work, I seem to have trouble standing up without feeling like I should lose my lunch. The final result isn't perfect, but much less of the precipitation is blowing in. Fairuz covers the consoles with a clear vinyl and sits back into her chair.
“Ok, now we go,” Fairuz says; she buckles herself in, but doesn't shift into motion. “Actually, I would feel much better if you went back and sat with the Sergeant. Lieutenant Al-Zafirah can sit up here if she wants the shower. I don't want you doing the fever thing again, that is much harder on me than it should be.”
I start to object, but Fatima seems to be behind me and speaks up, “Actually, I think Sergeant Ryan would do well up here, the Commander and I need to talk privately.”
I try to turn around to look at her and nearly fall out of my chair. She catches me and together we make our way back into the crew section.

Sgt Ryan is sitting at his equipment and looks up as we enter.
“We need you to take the Commander's seat for a while, Sergeant,” Fatima states.
He nods, rises from his place, and wraps his coat about his shoulders.
My mind is clear enough to offer, “You did well back there, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Fatima helps me to a seat on one side of a crew table and then takes the seat opposite. From one of her jumpsuit's cargo pockets she extracts a good sized box, maybe twenty centimeters by fifteen. From one end sniped wires and a severed harness ribbon make odd curly shapes.
I don't feel very good right now, but my curiosity is up. “What is it?”
“Well, I tried to be very careful to see if it was still there and it was, trouble is, like most of the old ones from Star League 'Mechs, it kicked off a self-destruct when it was disconnected.”
“What is is again, Lieutenant?”
She smiles and I know from the way she is waving it as she holds it that it has to be seriously important. Finally, she answers, “The 'Mech's mission recorder.”

Edited by cmopatrick, 26 May 2013 - 02:31 PM.


#87 cmopatrick

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Posted 31 May 2013 - 09:12 PM

I look up into Nanako's face as she bandages my head, seeing moderated concern... I would guess that I'm not going to die, but that she thinks the gash is serious. Something she put on the wound has already begun dulling the volcano of pain, now there is a sense of the healer's touch in her every gentle movement. How could such a person let Master Wolte's pettiness get to her? I guess I'll never understand.
I'm sitting on a cot in the medical trailer. The next cot over, directly behind where Nanako stands, holds Ray's still battered form. He has less bandages and seems more alert, but I am left with no doubt that he has a long way yet to a complete recovery.
We made it back without incident and now while the Doctor works on my head, Lloyd, Fatima, and Major Knuckner are going over the recorder to learn what we can of our opponents.
“Ok, Commander, that's the best I can do for right now. You won't be able to pilot your 'Mech with this on, but I think the Neurohelm would drive you insane with the pain the frontal contacts would generate at the wound site, so you are better off this way.”
“How long until...”
“You are able to mount up and walk out without problems?” she interrupts by finishing my question. “At least a week, maybe two. I'll watch for infection, and I suspect others will, too.”
“What?”
“Fairuz not only did a yeowoman's job patching you up again, I would say she also cares a lot about you.”
“Oh. Seems kinda odd, I feel so awkward around her... I either say something wrong or don't know what to say right. That and I seem to get injured so often, not exactly the big strong type girls like.”
She looks at me with what I guess must be compassion. “Don't worry, just be yourself.”
“But myself is so messed up.”
She shakes her head, “No, not really. Take your time and get to know yourself as well. Just don't let your hormones get ahead of hers. Being friends is more important that more physical things.”
“You think she would really even think about...”
From the bed next to me, Ray is laughing, “You may be a good tech, and I hear you're working on being a good officer, but you're really clueless about women, aren't you?”
Over her shoulder she remonstrates him, “Hush, Lieutenant, or I'll do your bandages next.”
“No! NO! I'll stop!” I guess from his tone that doing his bandages isn't a pleasant experience.
With a hand on either side of my head, she checks her work, then tilts my head up so she can look me in the eye, “You are fine to go.” Her voice drops in volume and modulation to reach just my ears, “If you need to talk about things you don't seem to understand, I am here to offer my counsel if you wish to hear it.”
I nod and she lets my head go.
“As for you, Lieutenant Jordan,” she begins as she turns to face Ray's prone form. I hear him groan and know this is a good time to leave.

…..

“Well, we have learned a lot,” Fatima begins in answer to my question. “First of all, this was a 'Mech called a 'Storm Crow' that I do wish we could have salvaged. It's armaments were light years ahead of our own, as were many of it's other systems. This stuff is beyond even the Helm core rediscoveries.”
“The what core?” Lloyd asks.
“The Helm memory core. It had details on a lot of old Star League military tech that had been lost during the succession wars.”
“Oh, Ok. Please continue.”
Lt. Al-Zafirah looks back at me and resumes, “The recordings seem to be mission oriented and go back to their arrival and initial contact with the Winfield Regiment and militia,” here she nods over at the Major who in turn nods back. She continues, “It also has them chasing down various rebel units, or at least trying to. One thing that was obvious is that they do indeed move in five 'Mech units like the Colonel often had the GZR operate. They call these five a 'star', though that seems to be just a 'Mech size unit, their mini-mechs have twenty-five to a star and the tanks are ten to a star.”
As she says this last, she starts a screen playback of selected parts of the battle they had just after landing... the precision of unit movements and intensity of their actions against an initially larger group make what I have experienced of combat seem like little more that kids with bb guns.
“Would you like to hear the cockpit voice?” she asks.
“Sure,” I naively reply.
She touches a button on her pad surface and...
“... concentrate on my target!”
Multiple voices crisply reply, “Aff!”
I see the reticule swing to the marked 'Mech and suddenly four emerald beams rip out at it from just below what must be a cockpit view. Mine are not the only ones shredding the target, it seems that a lot of munitions are coming from nearby shattering the 'Mech's defenses and demolishing several of it's weapons. Moments later, a flight of missiles rips through the holes we have opened and the hapless victim collapses with obvious electrical arcing from within.
“Next target, concentrate all fire on my target!”
Again, a chorus of “Aff!” replies.
In the background there are multiple other combat situations in a dizzying layering of sound, along with the sound of various kinds of detonation. Finally, in a lull I hear a distant, “No! They are freebirths, you may not challenge any of them under Zellbringen!”
I nod to Fatima, “That's enough sound, Lieutenant; I'm not sure I'm getting half of it anyway.”
“Don't feel bad, Commander, I don't either,” she replies.
“They seem really coordinated,” the Major opines and I notice that all of us nod in agreement.
“They won't be easy to defeat,” Fatima states quietly.

#88 cmopatrick

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 05:09 PM

The snow is three meters deep in most places and has drifted as high as some of the hangars where the wind has left it to drop. The mouth of our bunker is almost closed off, aided in part by a barrier that has been set up to keep most of the snow out, at least until it is packed enough to tunnel through. The only folks who get out now are the techs who keep the cams clean, the sensor posts active, and who are installing our newly minted exotic comm antennas.
It has only been a week since we took the Storm Crow's box, but it seems we keep learning from it. Well, to be honest, it is the Major and Fatima who seem to find new things, but at least they are sharing what they have learned every evening.
Yesterday, when the storm finally cleared, we had a visit from four helicopters much like the two Lieutenant Al-Zafirah and I had encountered the night we met Nightingale. After hovering over the spot the 'Mech had occupied and the places the two tanks still held, they wandered around seemingly aimlessly for about ten minutes, then left without any further action.
I'm standing at the foot of the ramp, feeling the cool fresh air pour in through that narrow gap. It is about an hour after sunset out there, and I have walked all the way over here from our bivouac just for the combination of a cool breeze and the relative quiet.

“Commander?”
I've been so focused on the sounds of a gathering storm out there than I've managed to miss Abbie walking up behind me. Turning, “Yes, Ma'am?”
“May I have a minute?”
“Sure, what's up?”
“I was talking with my guys, our guys, the old Waco techs... anyway, I was talking with them and mentioned the two dead tanks. They were both eager to see if there is anything on them that we could salvage. So... I was kinda wondering... um, do we have a plan to go get them before they rust in place or are we... not?”
Laughing, I reply, “We do plan to go back out, but not until the snow is deep enough to tunnel through. I've been assured that it probably won't be more than a week, now.”
“Well, I kinda guessed that, and... well... they... we think that might be enough to ruin them.”
“It's a possibility.”
“But then why not?”
“First off, I want to keep all of us alive.”
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“Your main contingent didn't survive the Falcons, did it?”
Her face falls, “No, sir.”
“Neither would we. One clear heat sig and they will be back.”
“Next storm, then.”
“That snow is already meters deep.”
“No problem for a 'Mech, I'll just clear a path.”
“One the satellites can't spot?”
“Oh. Yeah.”
“I like the way you're thinking, Abbie, I just have to look out for the rest of us, too.”
“Yeah. Guess you're right.” She stands quietly, then asks, “Are you doing Ok? You seem to wander out here by yourself a lot. Everybody notices. There are a lot of guesses why, but so far, I bet they're all wrong. Wanna talk about it?”
“Nothing to talk about,” I lie.
She gives me that “Oh really?” look and I wonder if I've been so obvious. “Well, if you ever want to talk, I'll listen.”
She starts to turn and I ask the empty air, “What drove Hanse and Nanako to duel?”
Slowly, she turns back. In the crisp space between us, there hangs my question. I have to be decisive but can't find the will... and it seems to have started when my mentor thought it was more important to try to kill someone than help me. Why I have asked this woman I have no idea, but now the words are out.
“I can't speak for her, but maybe you should ask Nanako. Master Wolte seemed to hate her with the same venom our command has for you Dragoons.” She sees my expression and before I can object that I'm not a Dragoon, she does it for me, “Sorry, the Dragoons, I know you weren't ever one.”
“So it was just some pointless thing?”
“I can't answer that, I don't know.”
“But you think I should sit down with the Commander and talk about it? How on Winfield am I supposed to do that?”
“Like you are talking with me right now.”
“I'll try.” I pause. “How are you and your crew doing?”
“Our crew?”
“Sorry, our crew.”
“Bored. This is almost as bad as being cooped up on a Union.”
“Well, I'll try to rustle up some excitement.”
She looks hopeful, “Jix!”

#89 SneakySniper

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 05:01 AM

It's been several weeks now since your last post. I've been enjoying reading this story very much. I would therefore ask that you please continue and not give up on this now.

#90 cmopatrick

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 07:11 AM

The tunnel is a dim but cool blue with ice slicked walls where he lasers melted their way through. One of the techs said the ice is from condensation; all that superheated sublimated snow had to go somewhere and back down the tunnel a few meters to refreeze seems to have been the moisture's choice. The result is a glass-like tube that moves and bends as if some great creature had left it's burrow behind. Outside it is almost night, the clouds have finally parted, the wind is still doing seventy and the temperature is twenty-seven below. Here, some twenty meters down its cold but not breathtakingly so as I walk along the frozen path our techs have made.

Ahead are motor sounds and approaching vehicle lights, I wait in a longer straight stretch so they won't be surprised and run me over. Around a corner a smaller carryall swings, the little ICE motor lugging with some kind of heavy load. I move against the glazed wall and as it pulls up along side me I see the reason the motor was straining so: it is hauling a makeshift trailer almost buried under a load of what look like weapons.
One of the guys has a grin that could light up a stadium. “We hit the BIG PRIZE!” he nearly shouts, “Got the fake beacon up and then broke her clean open... there's more stuff I've never seen in there than...” He stops, his tone changes like he isn't sure he hasn't overstepped some rule, and in a subdued way he says, “It was like Christmas, sir. We think we can mount these weapons on some of our 'Mechs. Request permission to try, sir.”
“What do you have?”
“These,” he gestures over his shoulder, “Appear to be an exotic medium laser, we grabbed their outboard capacitors as well... I'm sure that we can figure something out to wire them into one of ours.”
“Well, the one least likely to be missed if it doesn't work is mine, Permission granted IF...” I pause for effect and both techs are completely focused, “And only IF... I can work on them with you.”
At first, I think they think I'm joking.
These guys are the Waco vets, Abbie says they are the best at getting things to work where they might not otherwise belong. I continue, “Look, until just a few months ago, I was a tech myself. I need to feel like I'm doing something I understand, even if it is just to work with people who are respected as masters of the mod.”
They look at each other and back at me... and I note the grins have returned. “Sir, we'd be honored to have the extra hand.”
“Jix! So, was there anything else?”
“Not sure yet, sir. They have a fusion in it that looks to be lighter than the lumps we have.”
The other one picks up, “I think they've sabotaged the big gauss rifles it carried, but we might be able to make one out of the two.”
In tag team, the first resumes, “The vehicle itself is too damaged to make it sound, but we can still strip armor, transmission, and maybe even get the fancy missile rack.”
“Not sure if it uses our missiles, though, sir.”
“Yeah, but they have a ton of ammo unexploded and...”
“Oh,” the other interrupts, “they have pretty fancy machine guns, too. Bet we could even right this slug as a technical.”
I hold up my hands at this point and laughing say, “Ok, you two. I look forward to seeing whatever you come out with, just don't run any more tonight, Ok? We don't know if the lights will show through the snow after dark and the storm has passed for now.”
“Yes, Sir!” they both reply and after a quick salute, they head on to the bunker itself.

…..

In the dark I hear footsteps before I see the dim outline of a woman.
“Hello,” I offer into the near silence.
“Commander?” Fatima's voice floats to me in the gloom of the darkened tunnel.
“Yes, Ma'am.”
“What are you doing out here?”
“Just wanted to be alone.”
“In the cold?”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
“Are you doing Ok, Padraig?”
“I'm working on it.”
“It must still be a bit overwhelming, isn't it?”
“Yeah.”
“If it matters, I think your are doing admirably, especially with how much things have changed so quickly. This is really the first chance you've had to catch your breath since Joe died, isn't it?”
I nod, then realize she probably can't see the gesture, “Yes, Ma'am, things sure have gone nuts.”
“Well, I'm glad you have stepped up... I didn't think you would make it so far so fast, but you have exceeded my hopes. Well done, Padraig. I'm glad I chose you to come with me on that mission... Marty would never have risen to this task.”
“Thanks,” is all I can think of to say.
We stand in silence.
Now she is walking on towards the bunker. A silence returns, limited only by the sound of breathing... mine.

#91 cmopatrick

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 10:40 AM

“I need that blue cannon plug... no, the one to the right of... yeah, that one.”
I didn't realize how much I miss working with my hands until I got up into the wiring harness on my Raven with these two Wacos and Sonya. Now... well it's like I'm back home again.
Right now, Sonya and Bob are trying to match connectors on a capacitor control module for one of these medium lasers, Steve is trying to match the power conduit coupling to something he fabricated. Me? Well I've been working with a reamer to enlarge a bolt-through hole in the laser's mount and just happen to be taking a breather from the hard work to enjoy the sense of belonging.
Sonya's voice rings out with frustration, “Da-mn, this one doesn't fit either.”

The techs salvaged a total of three of these lasers, along with a pile of other stuff. Hopefully, the tanks have given us a gold mine of information as well as parts... though I get the feeling that these parts will need to really kick adz to be worth the trouble. We blew up the tank hulls when another monster storm gave us cover yesterday. We took out most of the tunnels, too, and they're now drifted so deeply that our observation cams outside can't even see where they were.

…..

“Commander? Are you up there?” That would be the Major.
“Yes, sir. Just a minute,” I call from my position as an imitation pretzel threading a large nut onto the mounting bolt. “Can it wait?” I add, wondering if it's just another decision about who gets what food or if there is a fair distribution of firewood.
“Probably not,” he replies. “Looks like we have a Falcon team on the ground at the perimeter... figured you might want to be in on any decisions or combat readiness.”
“Be right there,” I offer, hoping I've gotten enough turns threading the thing that it won't vibrate off later. “Steve?”
From down below I hear, “Yeah, boss?”
I finish extracting myself from the gap between armor and weapon mount and answer, “I still haven't gotten that number three bolt tight, would you make note of it or better yet get it yourself? I need to do officer stuff.”
“You got it sir; you get down and I'll go up.”
“Great, thanks.”

Down the scaffolding I go, trading hard floor with the tech headed back up the way I just came. Major Knuckner is already walking towards the bus and I jog to catch up.
“Any sign what they're up to?”
“No, not yet. Our best guess before I came to get you was that they want to see what happened to the tanks.”
“We used their own explosives, right?”
“Yup.”
“And we left those old snowbikes near both the blast sites, didn't we?”
“Yeah.”
“So it should look like someone came and didn't leave.”
He glances my way and I realize I'm just stating the obvious. He knows I know and just looks back at the bus.

Nanko has her head stuck out the door, “They are digging around the first of the two.” Some ground armor, but mostly those mini-mechs. Nothing in the air; considering the conditions are cra-ppy, I understand that perfectly.”
We join the assembled team in front of several large monitors. There are four light hovercraft with minimal firepower and what look like a couple dozen of the just larger than a man mini-mechs moving around. They are all in winter camouflage, and would have been hard to see in the blowing snow if we hadn't already had the area well marked with sensors that give them away.
They are focused on the still great depression where the snow hasn't quite filled the crater their explosives made when the tank was detonated. Now we find out if our ruse worked or if we have invited the whole of the Jade Falcon force down on us.
There! They have found one of the snowmobiles... and a second one... I let myself smile, this is good.

…..

The Falcons found all four of our sacrificial bikes, and the fake makeshift sleds we had attached to two of them. For better or worse, they demolished the equipment before leaving... but they have left.
The monitors show only blowing snow. Soon, the excavations will be just a memory.
Worry painted on her face, Nanako speaks up, “That was almost too easy.”
Fatima is nodding and the Major has a perplexed look.
Abbie offers, “Yeah, they didn't even look at the fake tunnels from the bikes down to the blasts.”
I wonder out loud, “Did we overlook anything?”

Every face is concerned.
Major Knuckner starts, “No, I don't think...”
Nanako interrupts, “Did we leave enough bio?”
We all look her way and at what must be the same instant we understand... it wasn't that we didn't leave enough... we didn't leave any. There were no traces of the bodies of those who supposedly died for the Falcons to find. We were so sure we had thought of everything, thought we were so sly.
“We didn't put anything like that in there,” Abbie comments.
“We need to be more careful next time,” I say quietly.
“They will destroy everything they can't carry next time,” Fatima somberly states. “They know we got what they left and they won't make that mistake again.”
We all seem to be nodding. I hope I haven't let us make a terrible mistake.

#92 cmopatrick

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 07:20 AM

It has been a boring week... I almost wish I could go out and scream without the risk that everyone else would freak the heck out. I've been so bored lately that I've been spending a hour or so each evening listening to Nightingale's gobbletygook broadcasts, just to hear that something important is happening somewhere. I have no clue what, of course, but at least it is happening.
We finished my Raven on Friday last week... the lasers are hotter, but have a little more range. After sighting them in, I was reminded by more than one party that my job isn't to be a tech. The others went off to work on upgrades to our other 'Mechs, things like playing with combining the salvaged gauss parts into a single weapon that we can deploy and I... well, let's not consider assigning folks to duty rosters my idea of fun. They get all the fun and... well... did I say I am BORED?!
The best news this week is we have finally decoded the encryption the Falcons slapped on the detailed planetary weather satellites. It's winter outside and summer in the south! Woohoo.
So here I sit, slouching in an uncomfortable chair, the bus lit mostly by our monitors and electronics gear, listening to her voice again. It is a pretty voice, but I don't...
“... Angel,” the name grabs my attention, “have I got news for you! I've got a friend who wants to meet, let's do it where I never said goodby, ok? Two nights or three, and I'd like to see you too. Break. Jason Fall there is...”
“Run that back!” I shout at the poor tech.
“... The sun is rising and the fog will lift. Break. For my friend and protector Angel, have I got news for you! I've got a friend who wants to meet, let's do it where I never said goodby. Two nights or three, and I'd like to see you too. Break...”
“Stop it there. Please dump that part off so we can listen to it.”
He nods and a moment later I'm out of the bus looking for anyone who might be up at this hour.

…..

Major Knuckner isn't very agreeable, “But its only June, winter is FAR from over. You walk out there and we might find you as an ice statue at the perimeter.”
Nanako nods, “Do we even know if we can get a 'Mech out of here?”
I'm not sure why she is here, but Fairuz speaks up, “Well, even if he can't, we have my six-by. It floats over snow like it does everything else.”
I hate to have to ask, but I do, “Can it go under water?”
Her face falls, “No.”
“Thanks, Ma'am, for the offer, but one of the best hiding places enroute is underwater in a huge lake.” She looks dispirited and I hasten to add, “But thanks a lot for the idea, I really appreciate it.” I'm rewarded with a wan smile.
Nanako resumes, “If you can't get your Raven out, I doubt we can or should consider this.”
Lloyd clears his throat and we all look his way. “If I may, I bet that the tunnels would offer a way out. The drifts here are so bad because of the structures.” He pulls up one of the recent weather sats, “Look, along this line, it seems windswept enough that it even has bare ground showing, and that isn't so far from...” he now overlays what I think is a map of our tunnels and points to one, “This exit on the Northeast.”
Fatima nods, as does Abbie.
The Major has an opinion on the idea...“But it's bloody WINTER OUT THERE!” They spot you and you're toast, but if your heat fails for ten minutes you'll be found with icicles hanging from your nose. Thirty below with...”
I hold up my hand to interrupt and oddly enough... he stops.
“I appreciate, Major, that you know this place better than we do, but I also know that Angel saved our bacon already with a warning... and she also knows about the winter weather here. I have to trust that this is important enough that it is worth a risk or she wouldn't say she would be there.”
Fatima is looking at me oddly, I'm not quite sure what she is thinking. Everyone else, the Major and Fairuz excepted, is nodding in agreement. Now even the Major nods too, though I think it comes grudgingly.
Fairuz is looking at her hands. I'm not sure what is wrong, but something plainly is. It's like she is hurt, but I can't for the life of me understand why.
“Ok, how is the cloud cover, Lloyd?”
“Well,” he presses something and the display switches to what I guess is a weather satellite's view of our part of the world. “We are about here,” he points and zooms in somehow, “And this is the most recent IR with water vapor added. Ten meter, so it can give a good resolution, but not perfect for a complete forecast.” He shrugs, “I've been reading up on this forecasting stuff and think I can get by, but this isn't my specialty.”
I see the Major about to object, he glances my way and I shake my head 'no'... and he settles back down.
“Anyway,” Lloyd resumes, “It looks like these bands will bring more snow tonight and tomorrow, but you should have cloud cover all the way for the next two days.”
“What about his return trip?” Fatima asks.
“I can't tell, but I think this storm,” he points of a mass of colors, “should be in in the next three or four days.”
“There are a lot of risks to this plan, sir,” Fatima states and Nanako seems to agree. The Major is smiling and nods too.
I don't know what to do, but I need to think about it on my own... without being distracted by Fairuz' dejection. “Ok, I need to think about this. I'm going to ready my 'Mech in case I go ahead with trying to make it out there, but I am NOT saying I'm going, Ok?”
Everyone except Fairuz nods, she doesn't look up.

Edited by cmopatrick, 26 July 2013 - 07:28 AM.


#93 cmopatrick

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 08:12 PM

“Naomi, please run full combat diagnostics.”
“Yes, sir.”
The lights and panels flicker and blink as if in a merry celebration.
I nearly jump out of my suit as someone says, “May I speak with you, Commander?”
“What the heck?!” I look down and realize someone is on the crew chief connection. “Who is down there?”
“Lieutenant Al-Zafirah.”
“Oh. Sorry, Fatima, I didn't expect anyone to connect and you scared me about witless.”
I think there is a smile in her voice, “It was of course not my intention to startle you, Padraig.”
“Do you need me to come down of can you say what you need to from here?”
“It would be better if we can speak in private, sir.”
“Ok, give me a minute, Ok?”
She laughs, “Sure, I'm not going anywhere.”

…..

“May I be honest with you, sir?”
“About what?” I ask tentatively.
“Two vary different subjects, sir.”
I expect her to continue as we walk alone in the vastness of the dark bunker, but there is only silence. “Go on,” I finally say.
“First, sir, request permission to go with you. I would stop where you need me to to protect your meeting place, but I think it would better protect the asset and... well... you as well... if we are out there as a team.”
My first impulse is to insist that I do it on my own, but part of me warns against such selfishness. “I need to think about that, Fatima. You've already met her, so I don't think that would be a big deal to her, but you are also needed here if something goes wrong. I'll consider it.”
“Very good, sir.”
We walk in silence again.
We are still walking without a word.
“You said there was something else?”
“I am hesitant to bring this up, sir.”
“Why?”
“May I ask a personal question?”
“Sure... not promising I'll answer it.”
“Do you like Fairuz?”
“Huh?” Where did that come from? We walk along and I wonder... do I like Fairuz? She is sweet and I guess I do feel kind of protective when I'm near her... but I also wind up wounded or in some other form of distress every other time I'm around.
Finally, I wonder aloud, “Do you think she likes me?”
“If she does, have you done anything to encourage her?”
“What?” I can feel a defensiveness coming on and try hard to make it pass. “Do I act like I like her?”
“Yes, sir, though I would suggest in a rather clumsy, naive, maybe even unconscious manner.”
What does that mean? “I don't understand.”
“Do you like Fairuz? As a man likes a woman?”
“Yeah, maybe... I don't know.”
“Before you go on this mission, if you decide to go, you should tell her how you feel, even if it is just to say you are confused. Give her something of yours to have. No commitments or foolishness, but make an effort to help her see that even while you are struggling with your own emotions, she is important.”
“I had thought about giving her a cross that Nightingale left for me... I know she's a Christian... would that be appropriate?”
“I don't know Christian traditions. Perhaps.”
“I don't know what else.”
“I am not the one to decide, Padraig: you are.”
“Couldn't I wait until I get back?”
“You can, but I think you shouldn't.”
“Oh.”
Our footfalls ring in the vast emptiness. Finally, I stop and turn back to face the distant camp. Fatima stops as well and though I hear nothing, I'm sure she also now looks back.
“Am I doing Ok, Fatima? Would the Colonel be proud of me?”
“Yes, Padraig. You have done well and I am sure Colonel Greer would be very proud of your progress.”
“Thanks.”
We start to walk back, again we go wordlessly.

#94 cmopatrick

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Posted 30 July 2013 - 08:03 AM

I feel so awkward trying to find something to say to Fairuz. I know I really need to deal with this, but have no real clue how. Maybe I can put it off until I get back; no, my gut tells me I need to do it now.
Problem is, now I can't find her.
I've looked everywhere I can think of and still no dark head bobbing along or bright voice chatting with whomever. I have asked everyone I pass and still no joy. Maybe I should just get the cross and have it handy.
Up the hand-holds I go, up to the open visor and am about to drop into my seat when I hear crying... “Hello!” I state into the air. “Who's there?”
“Me,” Fairuz' voice comes with a sob from behind the command couch. In the darkness, I can just make out that she's in the cockpit.
“How...” I stop asking and just wonder at this.
“I'm sorry, I just wanted to go with you... but when I changed my mind, I couldn't see the handholds down well enough in the dark and was afraid I'd fall and... I'm sorry, I...”
“Hush, hush. If we can't do the rear egress, I'll get a stand. I've been looking for you for a while, can we talk after you get down?”
“Yeah,” she whispers... or whimpers, hard to tell which.
I lean towards the little box, remove the cross, and drop it in my pocket before helping her open the rear hatch.

…..

We are barely onto the concrete when Nanako calls out, “Commander?”
“Yes, Commander?”
“May I have a minute?”
No, not now. Please. Why is it that I have a chance to do whet everyone tells me I need to and something always comes along and scr-ews it up?
“What do you need?”
Fairuz has turned enough towards Nanako that the Commander realizes who she is, “Oh, I can wait.” Seeing her tears she continues, “Are you Ok, Ms. Abboud?”
“Yeah.”
Nanako looks hard at me and there is a definite edge as she asks, “You are behaving yourself, aren't you, Commander?”
Before I can respond, Fairuz speaks, “He is a gentleman, no wrong doing.”
Nanako softens a bit, “Sorry, Sir... just... well, never mind.”
“I need to talk in private with Fairuz,” I say. “Is this something that can wait a little while?”
“Yes, sir. I just need to talk with you before you decide about going.”
“I'll make sure to speak with you.”
“Thanks.”

…..

We are walking away from the camp towards the snowwall at the main entrance. I still don't know what to say, but finally, I hold out the little cross and say, “This is for you. If you like it...”
She holds the little metal form in her hands, the diamonds sparkling even in the dim light. I can't tell if she like it or not, her hair seems to have picked this moment to fall far enough forward that it totally shades her features.
Standing in near total silence, I can hear my heart beating.
Her face comes up and I see her smile. “I love it, Padraig.”
She moves swiftly and I am being kissed... there is a lot of passion in it, but... what am I supposed to do?
“What's wrong?” she asks with hurt as she pulls a little away.
I hate to admit, but know I need to, “I don't know how, I've never been kissed like that before.”
Her head tilts just a little and she is smiling again, “Well, no time like the present to learn.” Her lips meet mine and her tongue traces the lines of my lips until they part. I realize that I want her more than anything...

#95 cmopatrick

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 09:45 PM

21 – Great Timing

“Okay,” I say to the assembled officers. “The way I see this, I need to go to meet Nightingale. I have come to accept that it would be safest if I take Lt. Al-Zafirah with me... presuming she still wants to come along.” She nods and I continue, “I know we are short handed, but this is important.”
There are nods around the group.
I look at Fatima and continue, “We have to make the run immediately. My Raven is ready and provisioned, is there anything you need to make the run?”
“No, sir. Since mine has been the standby 'Mech, I have already got everything ready to fire her up and walk out.”
“I am leaving Commander Tetsuhara in command of RF. We'll be back soon.”
I stand and the rest do likewise... and salute... me. I return the salute, doing so awkwardly enough that in my embarrassment my greatest desire is to run far far away.

…..

“Naomi, please run the combat diagnostic on prewalk completion.”
“Confirmed.”
The 'Mech is warming up, the prewalk completes, and I'm at least a little distracted as indicators and buttons blink merrily and Naomi calls each system clear.
“Prewalk and combat checklists complete,” Naomi declares as the last of the flashing “testing” indicators goes out. I look at the weapon safety switches but don't flip them to their “armed” positions. No need yet for the weapons... yet.
“Commander O'Brian?” Fatima asks over our sequence.
“You are loud and clear here, Lieutenant Al-Zafirah.”
“I have you clear also, Commander. I'm ready to walk, sir.”
“On the general comm sequence, I say, “Return of the Fallen Mission 115 departing. Commander Tetsuhara has unit command for the duration.”
One of the techs responds from the bus, “Copy, sir. Safe return to the both of you, sir.”
Back on our sequence I announce, “Okay, let's go.” The stick swings easily around and I throttle up to a comfortable walk.
On sensors, I can see Lt. Al-Zafirah's IFF transponder is working fine as she walks her Raven not thirty meters behind me.

…..

The tunnels seem to go on forever. What looks short over a holotable gains scale when one has to walk it at no more than ten kilometers an hour. Indeed, it takes just over an hour to reach the exit.
Snow. It reaches as far as the eye can see. I'm sure that without my visor I would have trouble discerning much detail. Fortunately, Lloyd's assessment that there should not be much depth to the dry white stuff is spot on. I don't sink at all and looking back at Fatima's Raven shows that at most there is fifty centimeters swirling about her legs.
Above us, the clouds are a dull gray that further steals detail from the land. They do, however, insure that Falcon satellites will have trouble spotting us, so the dreariness is more endurable.

Kilometer fades into kilometer and the day seems already long. Were it not for a mission map and a position indicator on my hud, I would long ago have despaired of ever getting there. I wish I could talk with Fatima, but I'm unwilling to risk detection from a normal transmission and it won't help us to get there if I stop to tunnel connect for a chat. Man, but it is boring, though.
“Naomi? I need music to help me stay awake.”
“Genre?”
“I don't know, but a good beat would help.”
“You have old Terran dance music loaded, would that work?”
“Sure.”
“Folk, Tech, Electric, or Rock?”
Hmmm, “Surprise me.”
“Tiesto, 'In Search of the Sunrise #3, Continuous Mix,” she announces and it begins. I'm beat-hooked in minutes and the kilometers fade away.

Edited by cmopatrick, 29 May 2014 - 07:28 PM.


#96 cmopatrick

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 07:27 PM

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Raven footpads on snow, over and over and over again.
The mind numbing sameness of snowy flats as far as the flakes allow me to see is starting to drive me a little loopy. If it weren't for the walking music, I'd be a basket case already.
What does all this stuff with Fairuz really mean? I kinda think I need to figure that one out soon. I can still almost feel her kiss and the yearnings it stirred. What am I supposed to do? Heck, I'm still trying to figure out who I am. This has sure been an insane year.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.
What about my 'command'? All those people depending on ME? Something is wrong with the universe, next we will wind up on the event horizon of a black hole. And I don't care what anyone says, I don't feel up to leading anyone. So far, I've just muddled though with a lot of good advice and a shipload of luck.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.
Finally, the Morlan Spire is on my sensors at the edge of their range and the map shows me once again that Lake Arriset is not that far beyond. Maybe I could reach them, but darkness is starting to fall and I'm near the narrow gorge I took refuge in when last I passed this way. Fatima follows me into an overhang that shelters us from the winds and mounting drifts.

…..

Outside the knelt 'Mech, the night winds howl like angry things from some child's nightmare. Even in this sheltered place, the frigid blasts buffet the lanky machine like a crowd trying to press by in a narrow hall. Tucked inside I'm mostly immune to the onslaught as the Raven's cockpit stays warm.
I wonder at the day's events. This kiss is especially central to my thoughts... does she really like me? I can't think of any ulterior motives, but I'm also painfully aware that I don't understand women at all.
I yawn and realize the day has taken my last energy; snuggled under a blanket I finally fall asleep in my chair.

…..

Morning steals it's light into my eyelids in the most gentle manner, just enough to wake me without really being annoying. I guess it helps that the sun is south and I'm facing North, but the snow glare could be almost equally bad... but the warm sunrise colors make for a relaxed way to start my waking hours and I admit to just sitting to take it in. Seems like it has been forever since I last could just sit and enjoy a sunrise on snow.
My view is suddenly blocked by another Raven barely five meters away. It's head swivels towards mine until our noses almost touch. Fatima must be wondering if I'll ever awake. The tunneling tone sounds and I see her lights flash like she has done in the past. I set the connection sequence and our cockpits align.
“Good morning, Commander,” she says in a quiet tone.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.”
“I was wondering when you might want us to continue towards our destination.” Her tact tells me something I really hadn't noticed before: she respects either me or my rank enough to not be pushy or bossy even when she probably has a pretty good idea what needs o be done when.
“I need to take care of a quick need and then I'll be ready to walk. You ready, Ma'am?”
“Yes, I have done my routine and am ready to follow your lead.”
“Then I'll be ready in say five minutes.”
“Very good, sir,” she replies and he 'Mech backs away enough that I can move when I'm ready.

…..

“Prewalk and combat checklists complete,” Naomi states as I finish a very nice piece of jerky that constitutes the last bit of my breakfast. My needs satisfied, I touch the throttle and pivot into the sunshine.
“Naomi, please give me some Irish MidTrad, something with a good steady beat.”
“Would Paddy and the Shee suit your mood?”
“Perfectly.”
The music starts and I quickly adjust my pace to the steady heartbeat of the drum.

Edited by cmopatrick, 29 May 2014 - 07:28 PM.






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