Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chapter One: You Can’t Go Home Again

-= 1 =-


Prefecture IV

Republic of the Sphere

April 12 3132



    The shouted word intrigued the young man sitting on his bar stool, enough for him to spin to face the individual from whence the exclamation had originated. It caught his attention not for being uncouth, hell as an exclamation was far from obscenity; but for its singularity. No one yells out hell in public. Yelling out hell doesn't make sense. The beer which proceeded to fuse with his trousers satiated his curiosity before the image of a distraught bar-tendress confirmed what had occurred.
    Terrible as it was, the thunder outside seemed to affect this woman alone, much less to the extent of spilling a freshly poured beer on its' potential new owner, in addition to the counter and her pants as well. Her green eyes struggled to build a firewall around the spreading plasmatic embarrassment at what she had done as she immediately set upon rectifying the situation. Within a short period of time she'd produced a bottle of wood cleaning solvent and a cloth to wipe off the bar. The subtlety with which her hand suddenly became pinned to the oak of the bar-top belied the potential of its owner: the victim of the great beer spilling accident.
    "Don't worry so much. It's too late in the evening for worries." He smiled as he spoke, watching the flame of embarrassment and concern in her eyes in its evolution into fearsome curiosity.

Given that he understood what an event it was to spill a beer, it was regardless too trivial a thing to get worked up over, even though it was beer. Anything that contained alcohol seemed to intensify the mess when it was spilled. Whether it was because of the color of different liquors and beers, or the smell, or the fact that it presented a possibly sticky and unpleasant cleaning task, spilling a beer was definitely worse than spilling a glass of water. He figured it was mostly the two reasons he hadn't considered: beer was expensive, and it was beloved.
    "My name is Johannes." he announced in a very serene tone so that only she would hear, still lingering his hand upon hers, which she appeared to have no desire to move.
    The girl used her free left hand to tuck rogue strands of jet black hair behind small, undecorated ears as she replied through a restrained grin.

    "Niobe." she excitedly chirped back to him. He figured the clientele must not be too keen on associating with the bar employees, a lack of conversation which he decided was much to her chagrin.

The joint was rather well decorated as far as bars went, not featuring the cheap neon or contemporary decoration of a standard street bar. Walls on each side eventually gave way to a high vaulted ceiling, sparsely showcased with ancient but tried incandescent lights. Everything was finished wood, save for the metal supports of barstools and leather coverings in the booth seats. Johannes couldn't personally speak for millennia of drinking establishments both on and outside of Terra, but as far as he knew it was as traditional a Bier Haüs as possible thousands of years and billions of astronomical miles away from the origin of humanity.

He interrupted what he felt could be awkward silence with an attempt at humor.
     "A friend of mine once claimed a German wouldn't know a good beer if it were spilled all over him." Hans, as he liked to be called, winked when he finished telling his humorous but cheesily appropriate story, and Niobe responded with a hearty giggle. Technically he wasn't German, his family was of Austrian descent, but for all intents and purposes he could be classified as Germanic and had no quips about it. As far as the beer was concerned, it was the Diamond Negro, the best brand of beer in all of the Republic and probably the galaxy.
     "Do you always react to thunder like so?" He tried hard to make his question sound neutral, but he often came off as having some sort of bias behind his speech. She had practically leapt at the crack of thunder, but in her defense it was relatively frightening. Technically, the bar was on the top floor of a tower which did reach into the clouds. Provided they were low enough, anyway. Subsequently, anyone in the tower was in fact much closer to the source of thunder.

She frowned slightly and nodded to him.

"I do if it's of that magnitude."
     Hans wasn't sure if he had exposed her vulnerability or had outright offended her. He often wondered why the planets with the worst weather were also the planets that were harboring some of the most enjoyable characters.
    The distraction of the beer shower had diverted his attention from the big screen Tri-Vid built into the wall across from the bar, and the thoughts it sent racing through his head. It was a news report, focused around an update on the status of the Hyper-Pulse Generator network, which for all widespread operational intents and purposes had been decommissioned. The HPG network, for short, kept the thousands of star systems inside and outside of the Republic in quick touch for a nominal operational fee. Four months had passed since the entire network had ceased functionality, and without it Hans could sense an almost palpable worry from all the people he came into contact with. He didn't know why exactly, but it seemed humans had an infinite yearning for communication, even if the reality was that they took it for granted and didn't necessarily appreciate the ability to talk to anyone they wanted, anywhere. Perhaps it was more a matter of primal humanity – these people were cut off from the outside. There was no one within trillions of miles that could hear them scream. Fear was beginning to creep into their minds in several different ways.
   Conversation with a beautiful lady was in his reasoning, a superior and clearly preferable alternative to worrying about a situation he could not possibly solve on his own. Whether or not this planet would become permanently cut off didn't scare him, nor did he think it ever would. He didn't care very much. Thus, the beer which soaked his pants might as well not have existed to him, for it necessitated the simple human contact which he could, and did use to generate a conversation free of suspicion, instead of kibitzing.
    "I don't suppose being among the clouds insulates you from the characters native to a sketchier establishment?" Hans purported, letting his thoughts spill into his speech.
    She grinned, and in the sparkle of her eyes he discovered that she had probably figured him out. To prevent any further speculation on his part, she went ahead and vocalized it.
    "You're here, aren't you?" she put him in check.
    "So you spilled beer on a celebrity, but on accident?" he wondered aloud to her.
    His fame was hard-earned and well deserved half of it at least, though he neglected on most occasions to flaunt, within or without the company of beautiful (and often inherently susceptible) women. Johannes had certainly won his celebrity status on Solaris VII the hard, honest way, if it could be considered as one. Solaris VII had always been the premier gaming planet throughout the history of the Inner Sphere. It played host to what was essentially a very high-tech version of the Roman Coliseum. BattleMech pilots fought each other from the cockpits of their giant war machines, sometimes for life, but often for fame and glory and large amounts of money. Like any competition it gave birth to extremely high-stakes gambling both in and out of the arena, in addition to the other numerous races and casinos and other "viceful" establishments across the planet. Hans had never lost a match in his five-year career on Solaris, and was well on his way to becoming the next Kai Allard-Liao, the famed 31st century undefeated champion of Solaris. Fortunately, his genetically inherited claim to fame had as yet not warranted any notice.
   "I jump at the opportunity to spill beer on a MechWarrior, as rare a sight as they are."

She gave him a flirty smile and leaned closer to him over the bar top, her eyes announcing that she had made an exception for the Solaris champion. Hans pictured himself smirking rather than doing the real thing, as if there were such a thing anymore as a "MechWarrior", and began to notice, as he saw more of her, that she was very curvaceous, and her ugly green apron did little to obstruct her form from showing itself off.
   "How about drinking it with one?" Hans slyly proposed.
   Niobe winked, and despite the constant thunder outside she flawlessly poured two fresh bottles of the beer into frosty mugs for them.
   "So, what brings the Champion to Sheratan?" She rested her hands on her cheeks, leaning over the bar top on her elbows.
   At the sight of a celebrity charming the women, some faces diverted from the news coverage on the big screen TV and glanced over at the two of them, though Hans paid them little heed. Basking in his own glory could be saved for a time when everyone in the Inner Sphere could see it, if he actually wanted to do so. Assuming he was still alive at that point. He knew better than to consider himself so important as to deserve an assassination attempt, but stranger things did happen in the universe.
   "I was told the barkeeps are quite a spectacle." He smiled innocently up at her, peering straight into those green eyes. As innocently as a 'mech pilot who had killed a fair share of people could appear. He winked at her and straightened his posture.
    "I grew up here." he stated, in what he felt was far too naive a tone for even a naive person to speak in, in order to convince her that he wasn't all about joking around.
    She changed her face to one of intrigue as he announced that he'd grown up right here in town, and he could see her features perk up as the sounds of the violent thunderstorm outside subsided, if only for the moment.
    "What do you say we get out of here?" Hans put on his most charming set of muscular expressions, and she winked slyly at him. The two walked out of the hotel's penthouse pub sometime later, left and right elbows locked around each other.


"So you just suddenly decided to come back? Why?" she inquired.

"Well it kind of sucks not being able to find out what's going on back where you grew up." Hans began, nonchalantly lying to her as though it were nothing.

"The HPG network being down makes things kind of boring on a planet revolving entirely around it's ability to communicate with everyone else."

Again what he said wasn't necessarily the whole truth. Han's didn't know everything about the internal workings of Solaris. He tried to acquire as much business savvy and insight to the tourism and gambling business as possible in his deceptively short period of time on the world, but was a novice at best. On the same note, he didn't know much of anything about the HPG system, either. He did, however, study them while earning his Masters accreditation on New Avalon.

Hyper-pulse generators, known commonly as HPGs, were one of the two oldest "new" technologies of the third and fourth millennium, with the other being the Kearny – Fuchida jump drive. Both systems operated on the same scientific principle, although their individual implementations were drastically separated by degrees of difficulty.

Working together at Stanford University in the Terran pre-stellar era, Thomas Kearny and Takayoshi Fuchida published a series of papers that attacked the foundations of modern physics. However, despite being publicly ridiculed and ultimately failing to see their ideas come to life, eighty years brought a new generation of scientists ready to validate their theories.

The Kearny – Fuchida Principle, as it was coined, states that instantaneous transport of matter and/or energy can be accomplished by generating a field of precise characteristics around a quantity located at any point A and moving it through an alternate dimension, commonly referred to as hyper-space, thereby instantaneously transporting the mass or energy to any point B. This scientific principle simultaneously paved the way for both interstellar communications and modern space travel.

As far as HPGs were concerned, if the quantity to be transmitted is energy or an energy pattern, such as an electromagnetic wavelength containing a message, then the presence of gravity need not be taken into account when making the calculations. Applying the Kearny-Fuchida principle to generate the necessary field required at the applicative point A, Cassie DeBurke created a successful apparatus in 2630 which came to be known as the modern Hyoerpulse Generator.

The Hyperpulse Generator, since it's inception in the 27th century was the standard medium of communication between the star-spanning empires of the Inner Sphere, although it obviously did not displace more ancient technologies such as modulation based radio transmitters. In six hundred years of both peace and warfare, the HPG network spawned it's own inter-stellar powerhouse known as ComStar.

ComStar and their communications net, composed of myriad powerful hyper-pulse generators capable of transmitting or receiving these instantaneous signals across enormous interstellar distances, has proved on multiple occasions vital not only to the conduct of peaceful relations among the four Successor states, but in the past century played a major and decisive role in both external and internal conflicts threatening them as well. The network was composed of two types of relay stations: Class A stations, and Class B stations. The larger stations, Class A stations, could transmit signals in a 50 light-year radius. Class A stations were sparsely located around the Inner Sphere, only on planets of major significance, with only around 50 in operation. Class B stations, the smaller of the two, could transmit and receive within a radius between 20 and 30 light-years. Virtually every inhabited planet in known space had a Class B station, maintained by it's respective ComStar staff.

Messages transmitted and received by both Class A and B stations were processed on a first – come, first – serve basis, and a Class A station generally transmitted to each subservient Class B station on a 12 – to 24- hour schedule. In contrast, the smaller Class B stations generally only transmitted two r three times a week. Although the communications themselves were instant, the volume of consumer traffic tended to slow things down to what occasionally seemed like a pre-Information Age level.

She seemed to be examining him curiously, so he bored her with a synopsis of what his thoughts on ComStar and their network and it's recently experienced plight.
Hans escorted the young lady home at the end of the night, to her apartment which seemed almost too conveniently located little more than a block or two from his hotel. Eventually the conversation had ended, and with a gentle brush of his lips against her cheek he parted ways with her rain-soaked doorstep. Hopefully he had warranted further involvement with her. Suspicion began to creep up on him, however. Never in his entire life on this planet had he met a girl like this, who just so happened to be right nearby. It felt weird, but at the same time it made him feel doubly weird for suspecting something just because she dwelled right near her job. People have historically lived near their jobs if it were at all possible to accomplish.

Shortly he was back within range of Der überplatz hotel, juggling the prospect of sleeping in enemy territory in his head as he moved his legs. Hans held a legitimate claim to the throne of Sheratan, by blood, and was staying in a hotel owned and run entirely by the political faction that had stolen his inheritance from him. Obviously it wasn't advisable, but he was a glutton for adventure and intriguing women. Prudence hardly served him nobly in his experience thus far.
    Unfortunately, his presence on the planet had piqued the interest of more than just a bar tendress at his hotel, as he found himself having a rendezvous with the ferrocrete alleyway after a sharp blow to the knees. Before Hans knew it he had a brand new friend. His face became intimately acquainted with the grimy silt that coated the alleyway, a steel-toed combat boot crushing his head forcefully against the ground. Suddenly a thousand molten needles plunged into his knees and his head dove into a cold sea of what he imagined a magnetic rail gun might feel like after firing. His body crumpled like a rag doll. A block from safety and the young champion had been intercepted by three individuals whom he would never be able to describe after the ensuing debacle was over.

   "You were asked nicely to stay off of this planet, Mr. Mueller." the one standing directly in front of his head taunted him, accentuating the word mister.
    As much as it pissed him off to hear it out loud, the man wasn't telling lies. The planetary government had exiled him, setting up his new identity and even providing him with the Shadow-Cat 'mech he piloted all throughout his Solaris career. The truth was that they'd done a favor for him, probably in the hopes that he would get himself killed. Maybe they figured it would be better to indirectly absolve their relations with a political refugee, rather than keep his blood on the administration's hands. Hans hated to disappoint them so much, or so he would claim whenever he came into contact with the local government.
    "It must have slipped my mind." He snickered proudly to the speaker, whose face was still cast in shadow. He grinned and delivered a swift series of kicks to Han's chest, causing him to cough violently and spit blood onto the ground.
   "I'm sure it did Mr. Mueller. Baron Hasek wishes merely to welcome you home. He regrets that he cannot greet you in person at this time, but he wishes to inform you of a need for your...abilities."

Hans finally figured it out - the speaker's name was Cranston. There was a point in time, perhaps eight years ago, that he might have called this guy his friend. They palled around in those days, these three goons and the two rich Hasek kids. He always knew they were douche-bags, obviously he was right. Instead of making something of themselves they were still riding on Hasek's coat-tails.

Until now the conversation had been so enthralling that the physical pain and damage he suffered has temporarily slipped his mind, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized his body hurt badly enough to make him want to go the hospital. A warm and sticky trail of what he could only assume was his blood had trickled from his right temple to cheek, spilling onto his neck and the ground the whole time he spent talking to Hasek's goons. At least he could take solace in the fact that they had literally started the blood shed by spilling his own, if anything extreme were to begin happening in the planet.

   "You will be contacted in the future." Cranston said abruptly.
    The foot pressed against his skull let up and as the three left, he received another sharp kick, this time to the kidney, from what felt like a very well constructed high heel. Hans coughed violently once again as he struggled to push himself off of the dirty alleyway, and he gave his outfit a quick glance-over. For a downtown post-rainstorm alleyway, he made it out of the encounter with little more than some wet clothes and a bloodstain. Coughing the whole way, he hastily slipped through a rear-access door to some of the hotels parking garage elevators, and collapsed against the wall of the first elevator car to meet his needs. Thankfully, he was alone the entire way to his 13th floor suite, and he fell onto the bed and drifted to sleep remarkably fast.

All in all, as far as the potential combinations of events that eventually came together to construct a day in the Inner Sphere were concerned, this day had turned out to be among some of the more interesting and colorful days Hans had encountered in his time. Meet a beautiful woman, get the shit kicked out of you in an alley by masked banditos. It was all in a hard days work.

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