Monday, August 18, 2008

Before the Gala: Three Caravan Crew Vignettes

“Ummm…Jo?” Tessa reluctantly knocked on her crewmate’s door.

“C’mon in,” came the muffled reply.

Tessa Lin took a deep breath and then opened the door. Josaphina was quietly cleaning and polishing a small arsenal while sitting cross-legged on her bunk: rocket launcher, squad machine gun, and a couple of rugged-looking pistols. Currently the rocket launcher, a Paxton model, was disassembled on the woman’s bed. Josaphina was bent over the sight, giving the lenses a good cleaning, all the while wearing nothing but a sports bra and spandex boxer-briefs–common for desert denizens. She looked up and smiled warmly at the teenager.

“Hi Tessa,” she set the sight assembly down, “how are you?”

“Oh, fine,” Tessa looked around the tiny two-bunk room nervously, “er, Kelly’s not in?”

“Nah,” was the bemused reply, “guard duty.”

“Oh, right. So, Jo,” Tessa’s voice trailed off as she could see the tips of the bullet scars on Josaphina’s back and thighs, “hey, what’s that?” Tessa pointed to a small trideo-locket that was lying on the bed near the pistols, relieved to be changing the subject.

“Oh…that’s-” Josaphina began, but Tessa had already grabbed the locket and flipped it open. The image of a young woman flickered for a moment and then died.

“Aww…it doesn’t work!” Tessa pouted, “why do you keep it if it doesn’t work?”

Josaphina took the locket back and placed it around her neck. Tessa was clearly nervous about something, so she humoured the girl, maintaining a stoic façade. “It’s not the trideo that’s important. The image is of me, anyways,” she smiled at Tessa, who was clearly confused.

“Before the war, I had a boyfriend in high school, back in Baja,” she sat back and began putting the rocket launcher back together. Tessa sat down across from her, listening from Kelly’s bunk, “we were pretty serious. When the CEF landed he made his way to Peace River to join the Resistance. I gave him this locket. Good luck charm, momento, you know. I didn’t want him to fool around on me without at least having to take it off.”

Josaphina smiled shyly. It was something Tessa had never seen her do before.

“What was his name?”

“Jake. He was a terrific dancer, and he had a desert bike,” Josaphina lingered on that and then continued, “he didn’t come back. One of his squadmates, a friend of ours from Baja, brought it back to me, saying that Jake stayed true the entire time. He never took the locket off.”

“Wow,” Tessa was stunned. Josaphina never talked about herself.


“So, Tessa, what brings you here? You didn’t come hoping to hear stories, I know that.”

“Er…yeah, I,” Tessa swallowed, “well, you know there’s that gala right? So, I have to go, and like, I’ll have to wear a dress, and shoes and make-up and I’ll need a purse and well all the other sophisticated stuff. Kain says that this is some big deal, and I don’t want to come off like some trash from…well, from the sticks, you know?”

Josaphina knew all too well. She nodded, “it’s ok Tessa. We’ll get you a dress. And I guess you’ll need to know how to walk in heels too…”


Carmichael took a swig from his flask.

A long one.

The trideo droned on in the background. Every channel featured something about the upcoming tournament. Who was expected to attend. What the fashionistas were expected to wear. Which duelists from the North and South were taking extended furloughs and what their governments were saying about the tournament.

“-Paxton Arms has two representatives in the upcoming tournament,” the trideo announcer was entirely too cheerful, “Mylene Orsat, piloting her trademark Gladiator, and Esteban Perella, in what looks like a very customized Warrior III. Both are expected to make the semi-finals. In other news…”

“Shit,” Carmichael leaned back, raised his flask and bleched, “to Paxton Arms, purveyors of the finest tools of death and dismemberment on the planet!”

“Here, here!” Someone grabbed the flask and took a swig. Carmichael turned around, scowling, “hey! Gimme back my…”

Ben Cantor looked down at the Westerner with mock scorn.

“Oh, it’s you,” Carmichael shot the younger man a dark, contemptuous look as he took his flask back, “comrade Cantor.”

Carmichael,” Ben sat down next to the engineer, glanced at the trideo and scratched his chin, “I figured you’d be out running diagnostics on the gear.” Ben meant Gun, the Caravan Guild’s entry into the tournament.

“Nah, the kids don’t need me right now.”

“I see. Well, shouldn’t you be getting your suit ready for the gala?” Ben pressed his luck.

“Hey, here’s a great idea, Cantor: why don’t you go take a long walk in the Great White Desert? The gala’s nothing but a waste of time. I have better things to do, like take a nap.”

“You don’t want to go to the gala?” Ben was genuinely surprised, “men such as you usually wouldn’t dare miss an opportunity to inflict themselves on others.”

Clearly, there was something on Ben’s mind. Carmichael chuckled.

“The gala’s going to be nothing but a den of hedonism and shady dealing, in the middle of the trash city. You see that landship out on Trader’s Way? That’s Emir Inoto’s,” the older man coughed, “Inoto the Third, excuse me. He’s been on a victory cruise ever since the war ended. Only he never fought in the war. But he’s a good Paxton customer, and his little gears all have purple capes. His moveable feast is supplying the gala. What say you to that, comrade? Where’s your revolutionary zeal in denouncing a feudal tyrant?”

Ben frowned as he considered his response. He swallowed the last traces of whatever it was Carmichael was drinking.

“You know, for a guy who’s been given a second chance at walking, you sure do overcompensate. I think you don’t want to go to the gala because the Paxton Arms people make you nervous, because of your legs,” he managed to keep from smiling.

“Why…you…little…commie…puke…” Carmichael was standing now. His face turned a bright shade of purple. He raised his fists. His knees were close to buckling.

“Paxton may have done a second rate job on your legs, but they did something. In Timmins they have a whole ward of the veterans’ hospital filled with amputees. No limb regrowth for them. So instead of sitting here, getting drunk on whatever that shit is that you’ve got in your flask, maybe you should go to the gala and make a point of tweaking Paxton’s nose, hmm? I’m sure there will be lots of reporters there, eager to hear about Paxton’s double-standards.”

Carmichael slowly lowered his fists. He let what Ben was saying swim around in his mind a while, before finally grabbing his cane.

“Seems to me like you’re not as dumb a commie as Kain would have us believe.”

“Seems to me like you had better get Karin to press your suit.”

“Karin? Are you kidding? I’ll do it myself.”





“Admissions,” a bored secretary replied to the call, his headset clearly visible in the video screen.

“Hello,” Thom Knox smiled tightly, “My name is Thomas Knox, application number 6533901.”

The secretary blinked at the screen. Thom could hear him typing away at his computer.

“Oh yes, hello Mr. Knox, how may I help you?”

“I was wondering what the procedure would be for deferral of admission for one cycle?” Thom swallowed, his mouth was dry.

“Well, it shouldn’t be a problem,” there was some more typing, “oh, but it seems that you’ve already deferred once, last year.”

“Well, the war was just finishing,” Thom felt a sinking feeling in his guts.

“The war. The war. It’s been nearly two cycles Mr. Knox, the war is over. Your deferral last Autumn was understandable, given the circumstances, but a second deferral is out of the question.”

“I see,” Thom frowned, and then rubbed his chin, “then, I suppose I’ll have to withdraw my application.”

“You can’t make it here by Autumn 2?” the Southerner’s expression was incredulous.

“Unlikely, no.”

“Very well,” the man shrugged, “I’ll make the necessary changes to your file. Best of luck in…” he squinted at the screen, looking for the origin of the call, “Khayr-ad Din?”

Thom flicked the channel off. His heart broke. It would be nearly impossible to apply again. The conductor of the Baja Symphony had written Thom’s only letter of recommendation when he applied for school. Janos Kovor had died in the CEF orbital bombardment of Baja. Thom had no more connections to his old life as a student composer. He stood, swallowed hard, and went to check the first aid station in the Hang-Out.

Mendelbaum was there, waiting for him. The bandages on his shoulder clearly needed tending to.

“Hey Ari.”

“Thom. You alright?”

“Yeah, just…” Thom shrugged and started peeling off the bandages he had applied just the day before, “how’s the shoulder?”

“Once the meds wear off, it hurts, but it doesn’t feel funny otherwise.”

“Good. Just keep it clean and try not to rip open the stitches.”

“Aye-aye, Thom!” Mendelbaum gave his trademark goofy grin. He got up to leave, turned and looked around at the first aid station, “you know, you got a pretty good set up here man.”


“Sure man. Why don’t you use the space? Put a computer in here, maybe one of those keyboards I seen you pining over in the Bazaar…you’re the medico, so you’ve got to have a little office here.” Ari patted Thom on the back and leaned in conspiratorially, “besides, this way, if you pick up some girl at a saloon, you can take her back here, instead of our room, you know?”

Thom nodded, “I guess I could start sleeping here too. You snore, Mendelbaum.”


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.