Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chapter Two: I Can Has Bullet?


Outbound Dropship Cimbri
Fletcher system
Prefecture IV
April 5 3133

   Simulated dropship gravity never earned the praises of any person to have traveled on board a space vessel, but Alexandra supposed it was better to take advantage of fake gravity than to swim through the air, chasing after globules of her floating cappuccino. The massive , bulbous Union-C class dropship was several million kilometers away from the planet Fletcher, drinking down a sea of fuel as it traveled through space. It was headed to the nadir jump point, a location at the cardinal bottom of the solar system at which a transport waited to ferry it tens of light-years across the galaxy. The Kearny – Fuchida principle, as applied to the transportation of actual matter, dictated this point within the star system as copasetic towards inter-stellar travel as the gravity of the system was nullified at this area. There was  no way to see the jump-ship from this distance, but she knew it was basking in the solar energy of the system's star, soaking it up with a fabric that stored the power known as a solar sail.

She gazed through the massive window of the observation deck, watching the identical dropship next to them in space, the Mauser, and listened in true boredom to the activity below her on the ship's bridge. Unfortunately as far as activity went, there was under normal circumstances a lack of it. Just a lot of blinking lights and occasional orders and some information reported to the captain. When people started getting excited and there were loud noises aboard a spaceship, it was pretty much a certainty that the shit had hit the fan, something that could very well spell disaster out in space. As far as she was concerned, if she never heard anything from the bridge, it was good.
   The sound she did hear, however, was not. The echoes of the man approaching her were like hammer blows to her head, shattering her silent world as each clicking metallic boot heel that rapped against the metal deck floor sounded far louder her to ears than it really was.
    "Yes, Jenkins?" She referred to him by surname; formality hardly appealed to her, not anymore. In a time of peace like the current she didn't expect many other people to care either; military tradition wasn't very well-attended to in this day and age, as much as military people tried.
    "You've a message from a jumpship in-system." The stocky communications officer crisply informed her. He looked rather intimidated in her presence. Surely she didn't deem herself attractive nor dangerous enough to be intimidating anyone, but as she pondered why he did she gave him a smile that would confuse and entertain him long enough to leave her alone. Alexandra nodded to him, and checked that there was no one around the observation deck's sound-proof communications room to determine that her privacy was to remain intact.

Once she was satisfied, she replaced the lid on her beverage and promptly strode over to the small cubicle, reminiscent of a phone booth.
   "This is Captain Visser,"

"Begin transmission." She stated in as military a faction as she could so the microphones in the booth would pick up her voice.
    Without further conversation the message scrolled into the air in front of her, produced in midair by a holographic projector. It consisted merely of text; nothing else but three words.
    "Mueller is here." It read.
    Johannes Mueller was the rightful heir to the to the power seat of Sheratan by blood, the planet from which her mercenary unit had originated and lived on until a few years ago. In addition, he was also the only living pure blood relative of the mercenary band's founder and first commander. Coupled with his Solaris reputation, it was no surprise that at least someone had picked up his trail when he arrived on the planet. However, the only part of it that mattered to Alexandra was that he essentially represented a wild card, one which she and she alone would be able to play. She would make sure of it.
    Right now just didn't feel like the time to plot over it, and besides: It was more prudent to save the "work" for the unit's journey aboard the jumpship, during which they would all be conferencing together on dozens of different topics and situations regarding their assignment on Sheratan.

    As the days passed by from his arrival in his home town, Hans began more and more to notice the changes that had gripped his former stomping ground. When last Hans had lived here at the age of sixteen, everything seemed tolerable and harmonic. The city had a stable political environment and a compassionate, engaged populace composing almost entirely of Republic citizens. Perhaps his perception of home was attributable – excusably, in the case that it was incorrect - to the naiveté inherent with adolescence. Still, Hans felt something was amiss in his home city.
    Oddly enough, it seemed quite possible that a divine force was tuned in to his thoughts. At first he wasn't so sure, only feeling a slight tremble of the ground. It was a low growl on the horizon and he could easily pass it off as the beginnings of a storm, which could easily have been the truth on this planet. However with each pair of seconds that went by, the feeling grew in intensity, and he could see the tremors rippling through his cup of coffee. Before long they were constant and long lasting. Suddenly the muscles of his face contorted to fit with the flame of concern that lit up in each of his azure eyes.
   With a genuine air of reciprocity, Niobe's head slightly tilted towards him and the muscles in her face changed to mirror it. Silently he scolded his lack of self control, as his face bled with emotion. His transparency had made futile any potential attempt to lie to her, so he simply slid his rippling cup of coffee to occupy her newspaper's former resting place. A bartender tackling a newspaper crossword seemed odd to him, but he immediately dismissed his intrigue to ignorance. Again her face morphed expressions as she pursued the meaning of a rippling coffee cup, and Hans noted her perplexion to be astonishingly cute.
   A shriek from one of the coffee joint's female employees in conjunction with the loud crash outside the storefront window solidified Hans's growing unease. The huge metal foot of a Raven, a 35-ton scout 'mech, pounded into the road beneath it as the machine strode past the storefront and down the street. Niobe jolted out of her seat, being the closest person in the building to the window, and he hastily pulled her into his lap to stop her from falling. Clearly it was not the sort of event that made her day.

As quick as it had come, the white/red paint scheme and thunderous noise of the machine had subsided as it made its way down the street, leaving his new female friend and her face a few centimeters from his own. He found it humorous that so lethal and gargantuan of a machine had created so gentle and enjoyable of a scenario. Of all the mission parameters for a BattleMech, romantic acceleration was a new addition to Hans' resume of experience with the ancient machines. However, he presumed it was a very likely scenario – every person in the Inner Sphere wasn't intimately acquainted with these destroyers on a scale that they would feel comfortable with them encroaching upon their every day surroundings.
   Despite the easily won prize in his lap and the reciprocal enjoyment in her eyes, he found it hard to avoid stepping outside himself and worry about the ramifications of what had just happened. For almost two generations, the central area of the planets in the galaxy occupied by humans had been united as the Republic of the Sphere, to usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Subsequently, vehicles of war and their accompanying means of production and upkeep were decommissioned, and their rare occurrence was only in Republic armies and select planetary militias. His own 'mech he left on Solaris VII in the hands of people he knew he could trust. People whose pockets stood to profit very well from its staying in his possession. Hans left the planet when the HPG grid went down and was no longer able to broadcast neither his career nor his life all over the Inner Sphere, and brought a sizeable amount of money with him, which rivaled the fortune of some of the richest nobles he'd ever known of in the Republic. 
    In truth, his profit on Solaris VII in conjunction with his inheritance from the Mueller family was more than enough to buy him a new and better 'mech, but it was the principle that mattered. Unfortunately the Republic and its "laws" to keep the people safe forbid him from sailing around the galaxy with a deadly machine as cargo, much less to merely own two of them privately.
    He felt reality welcome him back in the most generous manner as the chest of the petite woman on his lap brushed softly against his own. The feeling was more innocent than what usually happened to him on Solaris, and demanded his respect. Immediately upon contact he peered into her eyes, which were gleaming with enjoyment.
    "There's something you don't see every day." Hans said, grinning at her.
    "You are charming to the core." The golden skinned girl responded, a hint of blush leaking into her cheeks.
    "I meant the 'mech." Hans covered his tease with a sincere grin, letting his joviality show in his eyes as he gazed upon her. She responded the way any girl would, taking it personally and striking his shoulder to help enforce her facial expression.
    "Do you ever pick up any information working for Hasek?" he paused, and when he saw that she was forming a defensive expression, he quickly clarified his question.

"Like why there are 'mechs walking down the street?"
    "The feeling around here, from what I gather, is that the Republic can no longer guarantee our safety. It seems that plenty of mercenaries can solve that, or so he believes. Hasek is just doing what he can."
    She paused, deciding how much to divulge it seemed. Hans wondered who the security was really for.
   "So much for getting that job then." Hans sighed. He didn't consider himself to be a mercenary, nor had he ever done any mercenary work, but with no machine to use he pretty much couldn't be effective at anything. He was a nerd gone 'mech jockey, but a prestigious and laudable education didn't comfort him on this planet. As much as he loved his home, only insanity could convince him that an experimental military technologist would make any career on a planet with no 'mech factories or research institutes.    Niobe studied him as if she had known him her entire life. Maybe some people really did watch those documentaries that came out of Solaris, especially the ones about him.
   "Poor mech jockey. He doesn't know what to do without someone to shoot with lasers." 

She pressed her face closer to his, trailing a slender finger over his cheek as she spoke the words in a teasing, baby-talk manner.
   Hans supposed it was in order for him to be teased. And with a wink and as dreamy a look as his eyes could manage, he poked back at her.
   "Sure I do." He winked, and in one swift motion he whisked her out of the coffee shop. Outside it was mid-day and citizens were flooding the streets. Far down the road to the east there were children chasing the Raven simply to gawk at it and bask in its presence which to them, was all but a fable at this point in history.
   It was still interesting to live as a civilian for the short time he had done so, although much of his time on Solaris was spent as a celebrity. He was constantly in a conference, or an interview, or helping to film a documentary or promote some product. On the other hand he did spend a good deal of time listening to threats from gamblers, and often times swindling their money away from them, among other more dangerous activities. He did yearn for his typical life of adventure but was beginning to appreciate the company of the same beautiful woman every day. With or without it he was doing what he could to maintain Republic citizenship because, despite how easy it had been for the government's goons to find him already, he would be in a world of hurt if he did not have constitutional rights. 

They diverted their attention from the lumbering bird-legged battlemech and trotted a few blocks east to Davion Memorial Park, a medium sized plaza over which towered a to scale marble statue of former Prince Victor Ian Steiner Davion, standing opposite a full-scale statue of his Direwolf omnimech. Walking in the park with one of the Baron's employees wasn't a great way to avoid attention, but he doubted Hasek would be able to pull off anything detrimental to him and still manage to effectively skirt around the legal repercussions.
    Niobe battered his arm with a few girly punches; it seemed to be her developing solution to the times when he didn't pay attention.
    "Whatever you're worrying about up there" she gently pressed her right index finger to his forehead "it'll all become clear if you let it run its course." She gave him another smile, and guided him by hand around the park until they were in a central, stone area with a very large fountain pool surrounded with statues of history's most famous. Devlin Stone, Victor Steiner-Davion to name a few, and most importantly to Hans there was a statue of his father, whose arm was wrapped around the shoulder of his most favored second cousin: Adrian Hasek.  The man who had technically murdered his father, squandered the majority of his assets, and subsequently secured his own spot on the throne of Sheratan. Fortunately for Hasek, the amount of time that had passed since then had closed the case and there was no longer evidence against him. Still, Hans felt the governor had more crimes to commit, no matter how peaceful things currently seemed.
    "So, do you come here often?" Hans interrupted his own thoughts, though he was paying more attention to a tiny sliver of light which had been crawling its way toward him ever since they had entered the central area of the park, like a drunk driver trying to walk a straight line.
   "When the weather is right." Niobe replied, inspecting the statues as if she had been offended by his overactive mind. Hans couldn't help it; he was searching for the source of the little light circle. Suddenly it stopped just over his heart.
   "Get down!!" He yelled desperately as he dove onto his female company, tacking her through a thicket of bushes and ultimately plunging them both, wrapped around each other, into the fountain as he felt a crushing pain in  his chest.

The impact stung through his body like he had been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer, and he tried with all his energy just to breath, sinking to the bottom of the shallow fountain. It all felt like a video drama, as his head bounced off the marble bed of the pool and he watched a second bullet push through the water, losing speed as it changed directory and ultimately just chipping into the marble. Niobe's head burst back up through the water and she cowered below the edge of the marble fountain, fearing for her life and bringing Hans out of his undersea nightmare. He couldn't help but moan in pain as he collapsed on the soaking wet cotton that clung to her shoulder, gasping violently for breath.
    The water and the sounds and the light all fused into the same hazy mess and the next time he was able to keep his eyes open long enough to comprehend his surroundings, they were naught but the utilitarian decor of a hospital emergency room. Fortunately, he had worn the Kevlar combat vest from his mech, a lesson he had learned from living on a world which seethed with danger. His ears worked well enough to take in the chatter about bruised ribs, and by his own analysis he was fine. It could have been far worse. A faint physical awareness of pressure crept into his mind, and as he struggled to lift his head he could make out the image of Niobe, wrapped in a towel, watching over him. His only complex thought was his gratitude that he had not brought a weapon with him - it would have stirred up a legal hassle that he had no desire to deal with. Hans Mueller smiled, and he drifted back into unconsciousness again.

    Adrian Hasek drummed his fingertips against the glass top of his office desk. Beneath it a computer monitor displayed multiple streams of data transmitted to the government from all over the planet. One such statistic was of particular interest to him; a line graph which charted his approval rating since the interstellar communication network had gone down some months ago. The number declined ever so slightly as the months went by without any concrete sign that the government was doing anything to fix the situation. In truth, he had sent a detailed analysis along with a sizeable team of bureaucrats to Terra to work out a solution to the problem. In the interest of efficiency their orders were not to return without the means or way to attain the means of fixing the problem. The investigation had taken a little over a week, and Terra wasn't much more than thirty light-years away.
   The plausibility of their transferring to a second ship that was ready to jump the rest of the way to Terra would only cut a few weeks from their journey at best. It had been four months and Adrian had lost his faith to the extent that he now had military BattleMechs patrolling the streets of his capital city. In contrast to his decision to do so, the prospects of conflict which would actually require the participation of such machines were not very high. However, Hasek did not want to risk appearing unable to protect his people, and was determined that familiarizing his people first-hand with the tools of war was an innocent event so long as they inspired awe instead of fear. In legal terms, BattleMechs were contraband not only for civilians but for just about everyone in the Republic. Despite the mandates, Adrian highly doubted the repercussions of infringing on that law were very solid, if the authorities even managed to stumble upon the infraction in the first place. Republic bureaucrats and military officials were not as ubiquitous as one would expect.
    Repercussions and rewards were a key part of the Republic of the Sphere, one that Hasek did not agree with but had come, through education, to respect for its efficiency. Republics were an ancient form of government that had never effectively administered their domain; the prime example, the Roman Republic, had torn itself apart with issues exacerbated by its own structure and thus, inherent shortcomings. It had only consisted of what was in the 21st century one percent of Terra's population, in comparison to the hundreds of solar systems administered by the Republic. Part of Hasek's concern was the fact that humans had flourished under more democratic forms of government that stemmed out of the lessons of failed governments like Republics, and in his mind this was a regression. The Republic was forged out of a disdain for warfare, and tempered with the blood spilt to establish its permanence. Devlin Stone and the people who followed him spread misconceptions about the limited extent of liberty in what they deigned to be the "serfdoms" of the Great Houses, the five star-spanning empires which made up the Inner Sphere, and it was a remarkable kindling to the pro-Republic fire. Hasek saw fit to change all that.
    While he schemed how, the knock at the door was the only thing in place to bring him back to reality.
    "Who is it?" he barked.
    "Cranston, sir." came the man's repugnant tone.
    "Come in." The heavy oak door swung open and his right-hand man slipped in, looking as though he had finally done enough honest work to merit exhaustion. He stopped on the opposite side of the desk and folded his hands behind his back.
    "Mueller has been shot." He stated in an informative tone. The governor's brow furled as he began to nibble at his fingernails in anxiety.
    "I never authorized that." Adrian growled from his seat.
    "The hospital released him early this morning with a set rib. The med techs said he was wearing a Kevlar vest when he got hit." the man continued to report.
    "And where is he now?"
    "A young woman was with him. It seems she took him back to her home. Her name is Niobe Conway; an employee at your downtown hotel."
    "We found two bullet casings in a warehouse near Victory Park. Local ballistics officials are still digging the other bullet out of the fountain. The cases match the bullet they pulled out his vest."
    "This merits a visit." the baron remarked as he started to grab his jacket.
    "I suggest we encounter him when he's alone." Hasek gave Cranston a look of confusion.
    "The governor visiting a stranger's house is slightly suspicious, to say the least. Hans has a suite of his own in the hotel. Just wait."

No comments:

Post a Comment