Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wanted: Sam Tarmalin

For crimes against facial hair.
(Artist's impression.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Up Close with Konnor Garysson

“It’s the 24th hour on Friday 14 winter 1933.”

“Good evening and welcome to ‘Up Close’ with me, your host, Konnor Garysson.”

“Tonight we will look into the report published this week by the Prince Gable Council sub-committee on political affairs which focused on the events leading to and occurring on 10 Autumn 1931 in Lance Point in which 357 workers were killed in violent clashes with the MILICIA’s 11th heavy gear regiment, the Rapiers.”

“A little more than a cycle after its founding, NuCoal faced its first major scandal when the report published findings of ‘gross negligence’ and ‘potentially culpable misconduct’ on the part of ‘senior officials’ within NuCoal.”

“Just prior to this report, it had been announced by the Fort Neil Mayor’s office that Royz Malkolm would not be running for re-election in next year’s campaign, choosing instead to focus on his duties as chairman of NuCoal. His spokesperson said this decision was made last season, after 3 terms as mayor he felt he needed to focus on his new responsibilities and ‘leave the mantle of municipal governing to someone new’.”

“However SNS has obtained a copy of a memo drafted by the NuCoal chairman’s chief of staff in Autumn of 1931 which calls for ‘longer deliberation’ before acting in Lance Point. The chief of staff at that time was Tomohiro Chambers, an expatriated Mekongese who had become a prominent Badlands businessman and philanthropist.”

“As we were preparing this story, NuCoal announced it was ‘considering’ opening a hearing on the events of ten-A-thirty-one in light of the report and the memo obtained by this program.”

“When we tried to reach Mr. Chambers’ office for comment, we received notice that he was stepping down as CEO of Guildebank, the central banking apparatus for NuCoal as well as all his other private appointments including President of the Badlands Caravan Guild, trustee of the Meredine Foundation and the Lelland Endowment, Doctor Chambers is also major stock holder of numerous other enterprises including SNS news. His office said that Mr. Chambers would be retiring from public view citing ‘personal reasons’.”

“Some pundits say this is as near an admission of guilt in the Lance Point affair as we are likely to see while others argue that he could be falling on his sword to avoid a full blown scandal for NuCoal.”

“No official reaction has been forthcoming from NuCoal concerning Mr. Chambers’ departure; however they have announced plans to restructure the GuildeBank into the NuCoal Reserve Fiduciary.”

“Later in the program we’ll meet some of the victims of that fateful day in Lance Point and hear how they’ve coped since then as well as look into the rumors surrounding a group calling themselves the Badlands Revolutionary Front. That and more when we return.”<

Thursday, March 25, 2010


17 Winter, TN 1935

He looks just like his mother.

Bartholomew Vonyran jotted the line down in his datapad, the stylus ticking softly against the small screen. He sat cross-legged on a bunk, the only open space in the cabin. The caravan was moving, and everything was tied down and folded up. Bart watched a laundry sack sway gently as the big truck navigated the Barrington Basin. He looked back down at his datapad, writing furiously:

Everyone says that. But never to my face. They whisper it just as I leave to do a chore. Ugh. I can't believe that these people all knew my mom and dad. But it'd be alright if they'd at least TALKED TO ME LIKE A NORMAL HUMAN BEING and not like some sort of freak show! After two weeks you'd think that--

"Knock knock!" a woman's voice startled Bart. He looked up. The door to the cabin was open, so the interloper was at least announcing her presence politely. Bart swallowed, trying vainly to hide his datapad journal. It was Tessa, one of the younger members of the caravan, who was something of a mystery to him. Well, more mysterious than most of the crew, anyways. Also, she was pretty and exotic-looking, with big green eyes and very light skin. Bart's experience with the fairer sex was limited to homesteader girls, who were, in his experience, all kinda dull.

"Oh, uh, hi Tessa." Bart gulped, hand on the datapad, covering up the text display.

"Hi Bart!" replied Tessa, sliding into the room confidently. She carried a bowl on a tray, "thought you might be hungry after today, so I brought you some gulash." She placed it on the bed next to the boy.

"Oh! Thanks!" Bart said, genuinely. He was too wrapped up in his journal that he hadn't noticed how hungry he was. He crammed a laden spoon into his mouth, chewed silently a moment, and then swallowed happily. "Mmm. This is really good. Thanks."

Tessa nodded quietly. She looked the boy over, and sat down across from him on a little stool, leaning against the flimsy interior wall. "So, how do you like it?"

"It's good!" he blinked, confused, "I just said that!"

"No no, silly," Tessa leaned forward, and batted Bart on the side of the head, mussing his already unruly mop of hair, "how do you like working on a caravan?" She leaned back against the wall, the stool rocking a little as the caravan truck hit a bump. The boy was clearly formulating a reply. She watched him squirm.

"Oh, you poor thing," she chuckled, "you don't have worry about offending me. I was younger than you when I started on this caravan. And I figure you hate it."

"Really?" Bart put the bowl down and looked over at Tessa. He blushed, "I er...well, I don't hate it exactly." He looked down at the bed, cramming his hands into his jacket pockets.

"But you're wondering why your Pa put you in our tender care?" she smirked, though her eyes were very tender. When Bart finally looked up at her, he scowled.

"I didn't know her."

"What?" his tone had caught Tessa off-guard.

"My mother. I didn't know her," Bart said again, somewhat maliciously. He watched Tessa's face for a reaction, and then regretted what he had said. Her eyes were watery.

"You're even dumber than your father," Tessa stood, hands on her hips. She glared down at the boy, pulling a data-key off a little chain. "Here." She threw it onto the bed. "Breakfast is at 0400. See you there." She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

Bart was speechless. He looked at the half-empty bowl, the tray, the spoon on his lap, the data-key on his bed. Dumbfounded, he took the data-key and slid it into the reader on his datapad. A video started playing:

"And here we have Natalia Meredine, 35, from... Where are you from Natty?" Tessa's voice was loud. She was clearly the one holding the camera, which jiggled a little as she zoomed in.

The screen showed the increasingly large rear-end of a slim woman, wearing a pair of baggy Northern-issue khakis. She was bent over, her top half buried in what looked like the electronics bay of a heavy gear.

"Wounded Knee," came the reply, "wait, Tessa, what are you..."

Bart inhaled sharply. He had seen pictures of his mother, purple hair and all, but when he watched her pull herself out of the guts of the gear, turn and face the camera with a scowl, he was sucker-punched. Natty was slightly pregnant. With him. And he did look an awful lot like her, he conceded.

"I'm just taking some video of you, for your boy!" Tessa was rapidly zooming the camera back out, as Natty's face had taken up the entire screen.

"Tessa, first off, I'm bigger than a barnaby right now, so thanks a million. Second, we don't know if it's a boy. And third, I'm going to shove that camera up your nose if you don't turn it off!" Natty glared, though her expression betrayed much mirth. "Now, get back into the cockpit and see if this bucket of bolts has any sensors!"

Bart's eyes widened. When Tessa had zoomed the camera out and put it down, he got a good view of the gear. He recognized it instantly. That was Gun.

The video blacked out.

--I just met my mother. They're right. I do look just like her.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


The Saragossa Mountains
The War of the Alliance, TN1913

“Soldiers of the Republic! I am here to tell you that we will not leave this pass alive. That is certain!” Sous-Commandante Saré Mayenne stood in front of what was left of the 54th Southern Republican Army infantry regiment, Les Montagnards. Her regimental commander had been decapitated earlier that day when the CEF’s artillery rained down in the mountains. Saré had assumed command and withdrawn her forces higher up into the jagged terrain.

She let the words ring out in the night. There were, at last count, 84 men left in Les Montagnards. They had acquitted themselves reasonably well against this new Earther foe. But relief was still two days away, as the CEF still dominated low-orbit and had caught the Southern Republic—indeed, all of Terranova—completely by surprise. Instead of fighting Northerners as they had been trained, the Army of the Southern Republic was defending all of Terranova from invaders from Earth, the home planet that had abandoned them to their own devices over 400 cycles ago.

“It is our duty that we hold this pass through the Saragossa Mountains until relieved. We will not be relieved in time,” she said simply, pacing among her assembled soldiers, “but we can make the Earther’s advance into our homeland a costly one. We can, and we must. Our beloved Republic is depending on us, and we will be remembered. This, I can promise. We will fight and die, and we will be remembered!”

Saré Mayenne dismissed her soldiers and was left alone, high up in the mountains. She looked up at the sky, filled with stars, and cursed them for the first time in her life. It is bad enough to hate each other on this planet. Why does the Earth hate us? Her face betrayed no emotion, but she screamed inwardly with rage. As soon as it started, however, it stopped. She smiled, knowing that her death would not be in vain. For Saré had suddenly thought of her husband, her love.

I know you will avenge me, Kain DeLacroix!

3 Winter, TN1935
The Saragossa Mountains
Les Montagnards Memorial

Kain stood before the cenotaph, high in the cold mountains. He was pleased. He had been the largest donor for the establishment of the memorial, anonymously, of course. The simple, rock-hewn obelisk was the sort of thing that Saré had been fond of. He read the inscription:

It was here, in the early, desperate days of the War of the Alliance, that the 54eme Regiment D’Infanterie, Les Montagnards, was destroyed to the last man in a desperate holding action against overwhelming numbers. The men and women of the 54eme were led to glory by their executive officer, Sous-Commandante Saré Mayenne, who assumed command after the regimental commander was killed in the initial barrage…

“This is nice, Kain.”

Kain’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t look behind him, towards the voice that had interrupted his private moment with the memory of his wife. Andy Pearl had found him.

“Thank you Andy,” Kain replied, softly.

“She would have liked this,” Andy continued, coming to stand next to Kain, in front of the monument. He looked around at the quiet mountain clearing, nodding his approval. “She really and truly would have liked this.”

“Yes Andy, I know. I did come to appreciate her tastes.”

“You were difficult to track down, Kain.”

“Thank you. And congratulations on finding me.”

“Thank you,” Andy smiled tightly, “I suppose this is fitting, having the cenotaph in the Badlands, where you can visit, and not in the military cemetery in Aquitaine, where she’s buried.”

“I do not need to visit her grave to honour her every day,” Kain lied, “and this way her actions are given the special merit they deserve.”

“Yes,” Andy replied, knowingly.

Kain finally let himself look at his former friend. “You didn’t have to tar her name like that Andy.”

“We both know that I didn’t have anything to do with that, Kain,” Andy replied coldly, meeting Kain’s look. This was true enough. Once word of Kain’s actions in Baja after the War came out in the Southern Republic military establishment, it was clear that Kain’s late wife was clearly unfit for the full honour she was due, having married such a traitor. Such was the way of things in the Southern Republic.

Both men looked back at the memorial.

…killed in the initial barrage. The infantrymen of the 54eme knew their task and the desperate circumstances all too well. Les Montagnards held their ground long enough, so that relief forces were able to arrive in time to prevent the invader from advancing any further. Their bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Vive le Republique!
Vive la Terranova libre!
1 Winter, TN1935

“Very nice,” Andy nodded.

“What do you want, Andy?” Kain’s long sojourn in the Badlands had not done wonders for his temperament.

“Things have heated up again Kain. I advise you to stay out of my way.”

Kain turned and smiled at his former friend.

“I think we both know that you’re advising me to do the impossible.”

Andy frowned, the act distorting his face unnaturally. He nodded towards the cenotaph gently, “think of her, Kain, before you do anything rash.” Andy turned and left.

“I always do, Pearl. I always do.”

3 Winter, TN1935




Fifteen Cycles Later... 2

Sam sat in quiet meditation. His perch high in the Pacifica Mountains was so quiet, and his inner mantra so profound, that the soft crunch of boots announcing the approach of a disciple assaulted his ears.

“Dekko,” Sam smiled, eyes opening, “you’ve come back from your journey,” he looked over at the younger man, “early.”

Dekko nodded and sat next to his mentor, “The Eastern Sun Emirates are…complicated,” the last word came out slowly.

“I see…” Sam did not quite see, but was willing to wait for an explanation.

“The city of Basal is in open revolt. Its people are desperate for freedom, and Emir Nigel Shirow has offered them another way,” Dekko stared out over the desolate valley so far below, “I helped. But there’s more to do.”

“Then why did you come back early?”

“Sam, I…they need you,” Dekko turned towards Sam, eyes tired. Whatever had happened in the Eastern Sun Emirates had affected the once happy-go-lucky gunhand profoundly.

“They need me?” Sam sensed there was more to this.

“Yes, they do,” Dekko swallowed, “the people of Basal need the best gunfighter in the Badlands to help fight the Patriarch, and his backers in the Southern Republic.”

Sam’s gaze hardened. There was something else.

“And…she needs you,” Dekko produced a locket, made out of a blasting cap, hung on multicoloured necklace made of demolition wire.


“She told me that she needs you. To help free these people.”

Fifteen Cycles Later... 1

3 Winter, TN1935
Badlands Homestead county of Tribeka

It was a beautiful morning in the Eastern Desert. The sun shone brightly, but still hadn’t brought out a haze on the horizon. From the top of a rocky ridge, you could see clear off to the Serpentine Mountains a few thousand kilometres away.

At least, that’s what Bart Vonyran wished. The boy sighed, sitting back in his seat as he surveyed an endless expanse of broken, flat, stone desert. He looked over his shoulder, back at the small cluster of stubby oasis towers that marked the center of Tribeka county. Even this far away, they were the only discernable features except for the low ridge he had just climbed, as far as the eye could see.

Bart sighed again.

The bike’s engine hummed softly. He leaned forward and was about to kick his bike back into gear to return home when something off in the distance shone brilliantly in the sun. A little plume of dust appeared over where a vehicle was slowly grinding its way towards the Tribeka oasis towers.

His eyes wide, curiosity burning brightly in his heart, Bart leaned down and opened the throttle, pointing the bike down the other side of the ridge. The machine growled happily, the single tread of the bike-meets-tractor kicking up rock and sand and dust as Bart sped off.

The bike was a gift from Bart’s father for his 15th birthday, and it performed very well in the Badlands, its tread giving it extra purchase in all sorts of situations. The extra time Bart spent making sure the treads were in perfect working order was considered well-spent, since Bart was always working on fixing something anyways, just like his father. He imagined that should he ever get to ride on a city street, the tractor-bike might not have the same speed as a wheeled bike, but then again, Bart hadn’t seen inside a city’s walls since he was born. The bike, built by his father’s own hands, hadn’t seen the inside of a city’s walls either.

As he got closer to the growing cloud of dust, Bart frowned. It wasn’t just one vehicle, but a column of them. There wasn’t much of a road out here, but they were going down one of the dirt tracks that the homesteaders used to drive into Tribeka. Bart watched them approach through his small binoculars as he sat back again on his bike, on the side of the road. He blinked. There were at least a dozen gears, and a pair of big bulky armoured tin cans that he knew to be personnel carriers. They were still far away. Bart’s curiosity was replaced with dread.

He kicked the bike into a hard turn, spraying the road with gravel, and headed back home. This was the sort of thing his father would need to know about, and quickly.

Vonyran Homestead
Tribeka County
3 Winter, TN1935

“Dad! Dad!” Bart had sprinted into the workshop attached to the little Vonyran home, and—“Dad! Soldiers! Gears! APC’s! On the way!” the boy was waving his arms wildly, and nearly hyperventilating.

“Ok, slow down boy, slow down!” Gade Vonyran had been waist-deep in the targeting system of a Hunter Heavy Gear, but his son’s sudden arrival had made him stand up suddenly. The workshop was a constant mess, and Gade’s head bumped into the moveable lamp that was providing much of the light for this work. The swaying lamp splashed light haphazardly all over the workshop.

“What did you see?” Gade asked again, as Bart took a deep breath.

“I was out on my track,” Bart began, hands at his sides, “just, you know, riding out to the ridge. I was gonna turn and head home when I saw this cloud off in the distance, so I went to check it out.” Bart only now considered how foolish that might have been. His face whitened.

Gade nodded soberly, though made a mental note to bring this up with the boy later, “go on.”

Relieved, Bart frowned and scrunched up his face, concentrating, “all Northern gears, a section’s worth, and I think two wheeled APCs, Badgers,” he said decisively.

“Good, ok. They’re just out of town, and it looks like we’re about to be occupied by a Northern Guard detachment,” Gade had walked over to a sensor station in the workshop and checked the passive sensors he had set up on the perimeter of his property, but with enough power to monitor much of the county.

“Umm… is it because we’re here?” Bart asked meekly, sliding up onto a stool, next to a massive, likely illegal, military-grade sensor pod.

“Oh, no,” Gade replied, smiling as he began taking stock of what was worth salvaging from the workshop, “the North and the South are probably gonna go to war. So they’re starting to really push their armies into the Badlands. We can’t get caught in the middle. So we’re gonna take a little trip.” Gade looked over at his boy. He was still scrawny, still a kid, and reminded him too much of Natty.

“Oh. Umm… where are we going?”

“Good question,” Gade had a tool rig hefted over his shoulder, “first, go pack your things. Don’t forget your Ferretzilla doll,” he called out as Bart bolted up the stairs.

“Daaaaaaaad! I’m not a little kid,” came the reproachful reply, “I don’t need a doll!”

“Bring it!” Gade called back.



There was a pause, then, “fine! But if we meet any hot chicks, it’s your doll, not mine.”

Gade chuckled. He looked over the workshop and smiled.

This was too good to last, and you knew it. Besides, the boy’s old enough to start working on a caravan. It’s best he get his education before he turns into a soft Polar like his father.

Not Quite In From the Cold Yet

From the Journal of Nicosa Renault:

1 Winter, TN1935

I’ve long since come to terms with humanity’s propensity towards violence. I’ve long since come to terms with humanity’s propensity towards stupidity. And yet here we are, the new cycle of 1935, eighteen cycles since we drove the New Earth Commonwealth from our planet. And Terranovans are still pioneers in violence and stupidity. Our leaders have yet to understand that a threat is looming. The North and South are locked arm in arm, spiralling towards another global war. The arms merchants of Paxton are licking their chops, waiting for even more profitable seasons. Everyone’s eyes are turned away from the future. No one who saw the Earthers face-to-face like I did could ever allow themselves the luxury to ignore the looming threat. And yet that’s exactly what’s happening.

I need a drink, and a distraction.

The cold files needed a little warming, and this seems like the best place to start. TARGETER has been going strong for a long time, but I think its time has come. There will be bigger fish to… wait, what’s this?

I’ve got ESE557 open. The Emirates had more than their fair share of collaborators. It stands to reason, since their mythology centers around Enri Masao’s sacrifice and the Human Concordat’s isolation order. Ever since we’ve been alone on Terranova, the Emirates venerate Earth like the Jerusalemites do the Garden of Eden. Still, the Emirates fought for Terranova.

But this, this is something else.

Ask an Emir about the weeks after the signing of the Peace of Westphalia. I did once, and nearly paid for it with my life. The purges were quick, secret, and swept under the rug. Emirs who collaborated simply disappeared, their retinues slaughtered, and their families silenced. No one speaks of those dark times.

This file is surprising, to say the least. It’s the royal palace of Skavara, the video feed dates it for TN1917, just as the purges got underway. I don’t even remember collecting this. So much data, so little time. It would seem that someone survived the purge. I wonder if Emir Draho knows that his father is alive, and living right under his nose.

I’m going to need my best operative for this. Sorry K, you’re going active one last time. Then I’m shutting TARGETER down.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Autumn 1, TN1920:

Nicosa Renault watched the display for the fourth time. The head camera from the Hunter buzzed with static, but the entire fight was caught on this gear's ONNet, and this gear's ONNet alone. Desperate for any clues, she pressed play.

The team included Kain, his partner Sam, the small-time duelist Konnor, and a previously unknown girl who turned up as DaCosta Isobel. What were they doing in the Crescent Moon Canyon in Temple Heights? Why were they at the Cave of the Stone Skull, where an archaeological dig in TN1901 turned up a small chamber, with a Stonehead-style skull only slightly larger than a human skull, sitting on an altar? And why did the mercenary group known as The Collectors, previously The Iron Renegades, show up?

Nicosa figured Isobel had something to do with all this, so she had pulled up the files on Carter Salvage Freelance and found a trail of dead bodies after a little-known failed expedition into the Barrington Basin in TN1919. There were murders in Prince Gable, in Khayr-ad Din (so what?), a few urgent communiques telling everyone to lay low... Nicosa frowned. She watched the display.

The mercs clearly didn't know what hit them--at first. The Hunter showed up with its squadmates and the camera panned over a couple of trucks parked outside the Cave, sentries dead--Kain and Sam's handiwork, no doubt. Then the fireworks began as a Spitting Cobra, Blitz Iguana, Sidewinder and a Hunter--Kain, Sam, Konnor and Isobel--hit the gears hard. There were glitches in the feed, possibly due to Kain's use of electronic countermeasures. Then the Hunter was crippled. It toppled, but the ONNet camera still offered a good vantage point of the entire fight.

More gears showed up--now the Collectors outnumbered Kain and Co. by over 2 to 1. Konnor's Sidewinder did not survive the opening volley, and Isobel ditched her Hunter to get into the Cave. Sam and Kain gave a good account of themselves, but in the end their gears were badly mauled. Nicosa winced--she watched Kain limp into the Cave entrance as he leaned onto Sam.

What? Sympathetic feelings for one of your operatives? Perish the thought, Nico.

A half-dozen mercs went into the cave on foot. There were a few tense minutes, less tense now that Nicosa had already watched the video a few times. She slowed down the playback speed, and watched in slow motion as three mercs scrambled out of the cave mouth, followed by a massive explosion, the men flying like in some cheesy Southern Republic action trideo. She slowed the playback down even further, searching for clues.

Nothing. The Hunter's ONNet shut off. Static. Nicosa sighed and eased back in the buggy's seat. She nodded to the driver, and stepped out onto the fertile soil of the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, at the entrance to the Cave of the Stone Skull. Countless Stoneheads glared down at her accusingly, though she knew that most were actually gazing at the entrance to the Cave. The thought was not comforting.

Nicosa had given up field work some time ago, but Kain was one of a handful of individuals on the planet who knew she was alive. She breathed in the fresh air, and smiled tightly. She entered the Cave. The Temple Heights marshals had done a quick investigation at the behest of the council that maintains the archaeological sites, and took out a few bodies. Nicosa had already seen them at the morgue. None were Sam, Kain or Isobel. The Cave was more or less intact. The demo charges had scarred the walls, but somehow left the altar and much of the chamber untouched. She frowned. There was a Stonehead skull on the altar, glaring at her. She knew it was a fake. Temple Heights had been occupied by the CEF during the War, and the Earthers had plundered all the colonial-era artifacts they could, including the miniature Stonehead that the archaeologists had found looking at them impatiently after at least a thousand cycles of waiting. But this Stonehead looked like it had survived the blast, though a chunk of its ear was missing.

Her instincts took over and she approached it slowly. Seconds later she had hefted it up in her hands and flipped over. On the bottom was a serial number. Nicosa suppressed a chuckle, but only barely. It was the perfect cover. She typed the number into her forearm-mounted datapad and ran the encryption algorithm. This accessed a private message. She leaned back against the cold stone altar and watched Kain’s grim, bandaged face appear on her display. He only said two sentences:

“Operation Targeter still ongoing. Please advise for further orders.”

Nicosa flicked the display off. She should have known.

Vengeance is a force of nature.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hermes 72 Archive Project

Heavy Gear is a roleplaying game that dates back to the mid-nineties, and brought with it all of the accompanying enthusiasm of the emerging Internet.

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