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An American Tanker in Prince Davion's Court (Chapter Cover Art)

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Chapter 20 - An American Tanker in Prince Davion's Court[]


Judgement Day - Part 2[]

NAIS testing & training range
New Avalon, Federated Suns
September 18th, 3029


Shortly after leaving the assembly area, General Hodges descends into his tank, closes the hatch behind him and says "Alright, people; let's do this by the numbers. Status check on all systems."

The responses come quickly...

"Weapons, fire control and ammunition storage is green"

"Reactor and transmission are green"

"Communications, sensors and ECM are green"

"Environmental systems are green"

Sgt. Phil Masterson speaks up and asks "What's the plan, skipper? Are we going to let Kerensky come to us or are we going to go out and look for her?"

A grim smile crosses Hodges' face as he replies "Guns, we're going to take up a position in the northeast corner of the range. Kerensky and her Warhammer will be opposite to us in the southwest corner; this is just over 14 kilometers in a straight-line distance. Given the lay of the land, there are few places where our line of sight will extend to more than 2,000 meters. Kerensky has a bad habit of sneaking up on her opponents and attacking from where it is least expected. So, we'll prevent this by assuming the offense. When we arrive on station, we'll mount a standard patrol pattern until we make contact. For now, load SABOT..."

"Yes, Sir"

Sgt. Masterson taps the assistant gunner on the shoulder who, in turn, toggles his controls. The breech of the tank's main gun opens and the autoloader selects a round of 150-mm APFSDSDU and slides it into the breech. Automatically, the breech closes and Masterson calls out "SABOT UP"; next, the assistant gunner engages the tank's stealth systems.

Warhammer (In Urban Battlefield - Papercraft Squared Version)

Warhammer Heavy 'Mech

14.1 kilometers away, Natasha Kerensky is alone in her jet-black Warhammer. Function checks for her 'mech take but a few seconds, then she considers how best to meet the challenge from General Hodges. Inwardly, she thinks "I've been doing this for almost 30 years. This Hodges looks like a competent sort, but anyone with sense knows that taking on a heavy 'mech with just one tank is a losing proposition; I'm looking forward to seeing him dance..."

Presently, Kerensky's Warhammer is standing among a cluster of buildings that have been made to look as if they are a ruined industrial complex. In order to begin using the 'mech's sensor suite to detect her opponent, Kerensky moves out of the complex and halts, so that she can use her passive seismometer; though it has the longest range of all battlemech sensors, a seismometer isn't specific enough to provide targeting information. All it can do is to give a bearing and approximate range to target, along with the approximate weight class and type of target. Kerensky attempts to cross-feed the sensor input from her MAD, but gets no reading because of all the scattered metal wreckage in the area; over in his corner of the range, General Hodges' tank begins to move. If there were anyone nearby, they'd remark with amazement that a 70-ton machine like this has no business moving so quietly.

Hodges' next order of business is to release six small surveillance drones from a storage compartment in back of the tank's turret. These machines are fully-autonomous and are about the size of a pigeon; during flight operations, their small rotors sound very much like a hornet or wasp buzzing through the air.

In the cockpit of the Warhammer, Kerensky is piloting her machine forward while scenarios of how she’s going to engage General Hodges run through her mind. Just then, a light on the control panel flashes red; there is a verbal prompt:

‘WARNING, TARGET DETECTED BEARING 045 RELATIVE; RANGE 10,000 YARDS AND CLOSING. SPEED OF ADVANCE IS 43.2 KPH AND WEIGHT CLASS IS 70 TONS.’

Kerensky’s speed matches her opponent; with their combined speed, both machines will be upon each other in just under seven minutes. As she moves forward, Kerensky sees that her other sensory scans of the target are strangely indistinct.

Back in his tank, General Hodges examines the feed from his surveillance drones and remarks to himself ‘Kerensky is driving a standard WHM-6R; that model is armed with a pair of particle projection cannons, a [SRM[|6-tube short-range missile rack]], a pair of medium lasers, a pair of small lasers and a pair of machine guns; none of the small stuff is a threat to me. The only way I’d be concerned about the PPCs is if I let Kerensky get into my rear arc. She’s driving a nice machine; it’ll be unfortunate if something bad happens to it…’

General Hodges’ tactical screen presents an overhead view of the training range, laid out as if it were a wire-frame model; his position and that of Kerensky’s Warhammer are indicated by icons. The two machines continue to make their approach towards each other; four minutes later, Hodges’ tactical screen indicates he has a firing solution.

“GUNNER, TARGET, RANGE 2,100 METERS, BEARING 225 DEGREES RELATIVE, FIRE!!”

Sgt. Masterson squeezes the trigger and the tank’s main gun fires, “ON THE WAY!!”

The 150-mm APFSDSDU round comes thundering out of the muzzle at a velocity of 1,740 meters per second, with the tracer element burning brilliantly as it flies towards the target. All of 1.2 seconds later, it strikes Kerensky’s Warhammer on the right arm; the impact is such that all of the armor on the right arm is destroyed and the arm is severed at the elbow joint. In her cockpit, Kerensky exclaims “what the hell was that?” as her internal sensors report on the damage her machine just took. She thinks ‘Hodges just nailed me from 2,100 meters..how was that even possible? He’s got to be using some kind of artillery piece against me…’

Kerensky steps on the accelerator, bringing her forward speed up to 86.4 kph. She hopes to close the range and engage Hodges’ tank before he has a chance to reload. Unfortunately for her, it is not to be.

Ten seconds later, General Hodges calls out “GUNNER, TARGET, RANGE 1,860 METERS, SAME BEARING, LOAD HESH.” The gunner replies “UP”

“FIRE!!”

“ON THE WAY…”

The HESH projectile functions exactly as designed and strikes the Warhammer on the right leg just below the hip. The explosive payload flattens out and detonates, with the shockwave traveling through the armor and causing large fragments to spall off from the interior surface; one of these fragments destroys the hip actuator and nearly causes Kerensky’s machine to fall over. However, she’s a good enough pilot to recover her balance.

Kerensky swears obscenely, then targets Hodges’ tank with the PPC in her ‘mech’s left arm. Amazingly, she manages to make a hit on the front glaces of the tank’s turret; the beam carves off a quarter-ton of armor. Inside his tank, General Hodges’ sensors report that his armor is holding and that all other systems are nominal.

“GUNNER, TARGET, RANGE 1,620 METERS, LOAD HESH AND…FIRE!!”

“ON THE WAY”

This third round strikes the Warhammer dead-center on the torso. The fragments that spall off from the interior surface strike the bin holding the ammunition for Kerensky’s machine guns and causes it to explode. The resulting damage destroys the Warhammer’s gyroscope and hits the shield protecting the fusion reactor; but doesn’t penetrate. Once confident of victory, Kerensky is now bitterly disappointed as her machine falls over and lands on its back. All told, the engagement lasted just 30 seconds…

A few minutes later, Hodges’ tank drives up and parks next to the fallen ‘mech. Hodges’ swivels his turret and gently taps on the cockpit canopy with the muzzle end of his cannon.

Hodges open his hatch, climbs out of his machine and up onto Kerensky’s ‘mech. A moment or two later, and Kerensky raises her canopy. She climbs out of the pilot’s chair and angrily exclaims “Hodges, are you going to tell me how in the hell you pulled that off??

“I’d be delighted to, Captain. On old Terra, one of the guiding principles of the United States Army was ‘Peace through Superior Firepower. I designed my tank’s gun, the systems that control it and the ammunition that it fires; the gun succeeded rather well, don’t you think?”

“Err, yes.”

“Since your ride is rather indisposed, I’m going to do the gentlemanly thing and give you a ride back to the reviewing stand. Why don’t you hop on?”

Ruefully, Kerensky climbs on Hodges’ tank and sits with her legs in one of the turret’s hatches. As they drive. Hodges says “Captain, there is the little matter of the wager standing between you and me.”

“Don’t remind me; I gave my word to you and I’ll pay up.”

“Of course. As I have laid you low, so too will I raise you up. When we get back to the reviewing stand, I’ll make arrangements to have your Warhammer taken back to the shop at NAIS; I’ll have it repaired at my own expense and refitted with some of the goodies that I used to defeat you.”

“Oh, do tell me more…”


Settling Accounts []

NAIS test range and elsewhere
New Avalon, Federated Suns
September 18th, 3029


General Hodges' tank moves out of the training area and back towards the reviewing stand where the First Prince and the other observers are waiting. Hodges is standing tall in the commander's hatch, while Captain Kerensky is sitting in front of the turret with her right arm draped over the barrel of the main gun. The vehicle comes to a stop, whereupon Hodges dismounts and comes over to where the official party is standing. He salutes the First Prince and says "Your Highness, I hope you and Field Marshal Davion found my little demonstration interesting?"

"General, If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed that such a thing was possible; it was the best gunnery I've ever seen."

"Indeed, Your Highness. As impressive as the range of that engagement was to you, I could have done for Captain Kerensky at 3,000 meters or more." At this, Kerensky and Colonel Wolf exchange glances (as if to indicate that everything they thought they knew about combat got tossed out the window).

"You'll notice that I deliberately avoided targeting the head of Captain Kerensky's 'mech; had I not done so, she would have painted the insides of her cockpit a nice shade of arterial red. As for why I closed the range as I did, i simply wanted my worthy opponent to think that she had a chance of defeating me..."

"Very impressive, General. You'll be pleased to know that, in light of how your tech performed in the recent war, I have spoken to Archon Katrina; together, we have decided to issue orders that your equipment goes into general production for use by the AFFS. What I just saw only further-reinforces this decision in my mind."

"Thank you, sir."

To Jaime Wolf, General Hodges turns and says "Colonel, if you don't mind, I'd like to borrow Captain Kerensky for a while. You see, there is the little matter of that wager standing between us, and it is time for her to pay up."

"Very well, General. I have no objections..."

"Of course, Colonel. After the wager has been settled, I'd like to invite you and Captain Kerensky to my house for dinner. I cook a pretty mean steak, and Kym Sorensen makes a great salad. Ahh, Kym, there you are. Thanks for bringing 'Captain America'...."

A slight smile crosses Colonel Wolf's face as he replies "I'll be pleased to accept your gracious invitation, Sir."


Nearby, the tank's gunner Sgt. Phil Masterson is standing up in his hatch. General Hodges calls over and says "Guns, I want you and the boys to take 'Wargasm' back to the repair bay and fix up that little divot in the turret glacis. Also, have Captain Kerensky's Warammer brought in; tell the techs I want them to give it the business."

"Sir, yes sir."

Lastly, General Hodges bestrides his motorcycle. He gestures to Captain Kerensky, grins widely and says "Hop on, Natasha. I'm taking you for a ride." Hodges throttles his machine up, then he and his passenger ride off in a cloud of dust. 15 minutes later, he pulls up and parks in front of the Doll House (a 'gentleman's club' located near the NAIS spaceport), with which he has some familiarity.

"Well, here we are, Captain. You ready to pay up?"

"Of course I am; never let it be said that the Black Widow doesn't keep her word..."

"Excellent. Please follow me; I sent word beforehand and the proprietor of this excellent establishment is expecting us."

Inside the Doll House, the lights in certain locations are turned down low. One on side of the main room, there is a full-length bar with people bellied up to it while ordering their drinks and watching the latest matches from Solaris VII on several video screens; on the other side, there is a low platform on which a multi-Genre band called 'The Marauders' is performing such tunes as 'The Cantina Band', 'Through Being Cool', 'Radar Rider', 'Heavy Metal', 'The Pink Panther', 'Peter Gunn', ‘Police Squad’ and 'Smuggler's Blues'.

Elsewhere, there is a large center stage upon which two girls are performing a joint routine involving a certain amount of acrobatics and the removal of pieces of their outfits (which resemble much-abbreviated version of the robes worn by Comstar acolytes) to the cheers of the audience sitting around it; the enthusiasm of the crowd can be judged by the pound notes of various denominations scattered all over the stage.

On either side of the main stage are several smaller platforms with centrally-placed floor-to ceiling bars of polished brass; these are populated with performers engaging in their routines; it is a measure of the Doll House's popularity that the floor is tiled in marble while the stages and platforms have floors of polished walnut. All around the edges of the main floor are a number of private suites, the entrances to which are ,made to resemble smaller versions of a dropship's cargo bay doors; the suites themselves are built to resemble the inside of various 'mech cockpits.

Upon seeing General Hodges and his guest entering the room, the floor boss comes over and says "Hiya, Jim; Long time, no see."

"Eddie, my main man. What do you know? What do you say?"

The two men shake hands and Eddie says "The manager told me you were coming; got one of the suites in back all set up for you. The DJ wants to know what tunes you want him to play.."

"Hmm, how about 'Unskinny Bop' for the first routine, 'Cherry Pie' for the second and 'Pour Some Sugar on Me' for the third?"

"You got it, boss. Anything else?"

"Yeah. I rather like the outfits the girls on center stage aren't wearing; anyone from the ******-Up Phone Company been by to complain?"

Eddie snorts with derisive laughter as he says "Not hardly, Jim, especially since a couple of demi-precentors and members of the staff from Avalon City's HPG station come by every so often to take in the sights; however, a couple of the acolytes griped about the mis-use of the Phone Company's 'sacred' robes until I shut the whole bunch up by extending them the 'courtesies' of the house..."

"That was a smart play, Eddie. Now, if you would be good enough to have one of the waitresses bring back a couple of tall cold ones to the Atlas Room. What's on tap for today?"

"We've got Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob and Pabst.."

"Alright; make it a couple of Bud Lights." Following this, Hodges tips Eddie with a 500-Pound note.

The suite selected for General Hodges' use is the largest one in the entire establishment; appropriately enough, it is named the 'Atlas'. The room is roughly-hemispherical, measuring 18' across and 12' in height; the structural members in the walls and ceiling resemble those which hold the armor panels protecting an Atlas' cockpit, while the video screens in the back are patterned after the viewports in the canopy.

Before Kerensky climbs up onto the platform to begin her first routine (fully-clothed), Hodges shares a beer with her and says in his best Faux Bogart voice "of all the gin joints in all the towns on all the worlds of the Inner Sphere, you walked into this one; here's looking at you, Kid." Following this, Hodges settles back into the room's 'command couch', lights up a cigar and takes a few appreciative puffs. Following a long pull on his beer, he signals he DJ to start playing 'Unskinny Bop'.

The song ends 3:48 later, and Kerensky takes a short break before 'Cherry Pie' begins to play. This tune lasts 3:18 and ends with Natasha bare to the waist; the final tune is "Pour Some Sugar on Me', which lasts 4:24. Her third routine is the most acrobatic and energetic of all, with the remaining pieces of Kerensky's outfit flying off as if they were leaves in a gale. It concludes with an acrobatic flourish as Kerensky drapes herself on the central pole. General Hodges rolls his eyes over Kerensky’s finely-chiseled form and responds with enthusiastic applause.

“Bravissimo, madam; that was a magnificent performance.”

“You’re welcome, General.”

Hodges grins and replies “Natasha, when we’re off the clock, please call me James.”

After Kerensky gets dressed, she and Hodges drive back to his house on his motorcycle; already waiting on their arrival is Colonel Wolf and Kym Sorensen. By previous invitation, Dr. Banzai is also there.

Sorensen’s first comment is “I assume everything went well, Jim.”

“It did indeed, my dear. The wager between Captain Kerensky and me has been paid in full.”

“Great. I’ve got the salad ready and the steaks have been marinating in red wine.”

“Alright. Natasha, why don’t you, Colonel Wolf and Dr. Banzai come inside and make yourself comfortable? I’ll get the steaks going…”

Once inside, Colonel Wolf asks “General, is what I heard true about your house getting attacked during the raid on New Avalon?”

“Every word of it. Romano Liao got bent out of shape after I showed her up for the chump she is back on Terra. So, she got backing from Comstar to carry out the attack; the objectives were two-fold. The first was to destroy NAIS and the second was to kill me; while I was away fighting with the First Prince, Kym Sorensen saw off the attack here. Her activities and my defenses resulted in the destruction of two light ‘mechs, two armored personnel carriers and the wipeout of almost an entire platoon of infantry. The best thing was that Kym captured Romano’s husband Tsen Shang with her own hand.”

“Simply amazing…”

“Colonel, the icing on the cake is that Romano will do anything to get her husband back. So, I made a deal with the First Prince to have Tsen Shang released if Romano comes here to make amends in person.”

“Do you mean to say that the head of one of the Inner Sphere’s Great Houses is actually coming here??”

“You are correct, sir. She’s traveling under a safecon that I granted her, and will be here tomorrow.”

“What do you intend to do?”

“The details are private; let’s just say that the interview I’ll be having with her will be without the benefit of tea & biscuits…”

Hodges now gestures towards the couch and says “please have a seat, everybody. I’ll put the steaks on the grill, then we’ll watch one of my movies as they cook.”

“What do you have in mind, General?”

“It’s an old Terran film called ‘Zulu’; movie critics of the late 20th and early 21st centuries called it one of the finest war films ever made.”

Hodges leaves the room to ste the steaks on the grill, then comes back and starts the movie. Very soon thereafter, the opening sequence begins to play; one that shows the aftermath of the disaster at Isandlwana. Periodically, Hodges leaves to attend to the steaks and, after about 15 minutes or so, they’re done. The movie is paused, then the guests take their places at the dinner table.

Hodges pours everyone present a glass of wine with his own hand, then offers a toast.

“Here’s to hot lead, cold steel and good fellowship.”

The toast is returned, and during the meal, topics of various interest are discussed.

“Dr, Banzai, Colonel Wolf, there’s a thought experiment that I’d like to perform.” Curious at this turn of phrase, Banzai responds “What do you have in mind, General?”

“Well, let us suppose that there are two factions (much like the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere) that have been bitterly opposed to each other for centuries; the first faction, I’ll call the Halfwits and the second, the Dimwits. Desiring to end the conflict with their enemies, the Halfwits decide to remove the Dimwits’ homeworld from the playing field..”

Colonel Wolf asks “How is that to be accomplished, General?”

“Well, the Halfwits take a fully-fueled Mammoth-class dropship and position it at a distance equal to 30 days maximum burn from the Dimwits’ capital world. Furthermore, the dropship’s cargo bays are loaded to their maximum capacity with anything that’s available; even dried cat shit; what’s important is the mass. When the Mammoth reaches its target, it will be travelling at .35c and have a KE load 50% greater that the Chicxulub impactor; the one that wiped out the dinosaurs on Terra 65 million years ago. What do you think is going to happen next?’

Dr. Banzai responds “Nothing good, I’ll wager.”

“You’re more correct than you know, Doctor. Upon hitting the targeted planet, the dropship will blow all the way through the planet’s crust and into the upper mantle; the resulting crater will measure 120 miles in diameter and 18 miles deep (if there was anyone alive to measure it which, of course, there won’t be. Everyone within 1,000 miles of the impact will be instantly killed and the resulting ecological devastation will result in the death of every living thing on the planet weighing more than ten kilograms. Afterwards, it will take the planet upwards of ten million years to recover…”

“General, how could you conceive of such a horrible thing?”

“Dr. Banzai, it’s called ‘thinking outside the box’. I have learned through long experience that, if someone can think of something, it is possible to do it. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating such an attack. It would be a war crime to surpass anything the human race has ever committed by an enormous margin. Rather, my purpose for this thought experiment is to demonstrate that such things are possible and that they should be guarded against.”


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