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Scars of Victoria (Cover Art)

Scars of Victoria[]

Chapter 2 - Sapper School[]

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Inspecting an Factory[]

Capella, Capellan Confederation - 03/24/3048


The Draconis Combine flag rose high over Capella’s Regional (Military) Training Center situated outside of Ceres Metals Industries’ fortress like factory complex. Dark Green CCAF Pos and Light Gray DCMS Bulldogs Tanks rumbled from garages toward the firing ranges for their weekly tank biathlon training past chanting cadets conducting morning PT. Trainees in tan (DCMS), green (CCAF), and gray (People’s Armed Police) fatigues crowded a lecture hall. Combat Support and Engineering’s Shiro (Castle) Emblem flickered on an overhead projector as they chatted amongst one another.

Minoru Kurita sat in the second row sweltering from the summer heat despite the open windows and industrial strength fan positioned just outside the door. Four armed and sunbeaten senior enlisted from the CCN and CSE entered through the double doors lugging a pair of hard cases marked ‘Volatile’ behind them.

A graying man stood behind the desk while his companions started unlocking the hardcases. He spoke in standard rather than Japanese to prevent any errors in translation. “I am Master Sergeant Daichi Hayabushi of the Combine Support and Engineering Corps. Chief Sapper trainer here at CRTC.
You are here because you have been selected to undergo a back breaking, nail biting, and nerve wracking task that poses a very real threat of death or dismemberment, that of an explosive expert. If you are fearful of this task, I suggest you drop now and save the Chiefs and I training time for those that are more serious as we are already pushing our limits.”

None of the trainees stood, “Excellent, we shall begin with a brief survey of the tools of our trade. Sergeant Sato let’s see them.”

Sergeant Sato opened the plastic weatherproof case, pulling out several items and putting them on the desk. “Rope and Webbing, As sappers we use a wide range of rope for everything from rappelling to obstacle clearance and construction. One of the core skills we will go over today is knotwork which will be applied to explosive rope charges for a variety of demolition tasks. Failing to learn these knots to our satisfaction by the end of the day will result in immediate dismissal”
.

“Before we begin, I will clarify that each of these items are made of bronze as are many of our tools. Many mines are ferromagnetic, and sparks can cause accidental demolition so despite living in the Thirty First Century we still use bronze. Many of these tools have loops somewhere on them, sometimes more than rope can be threaded through. You will throw a lot of stuff during this month so learn fast.”

“Grappling hook, used to take down wire obstacles, remotely activate trip lines, shift surface mines, and for light climbing or pulling tasks. It is plenty hard and decently heavy so it can take a lot of abuse if you can throw it well.

“Kunai or digging knife, used to probe for mines, pry open containers, or as a piton, counterweight, etc... You get the idea it also has a sharp edge near the handle for cutting rope, wires, cables, or for self-defense.”

Hammerhead Tomahawk, used for heavier cutting tasks while also serving as a secondary tool. Sometimes the problem is a nail and its nice to have a hammer. This one has a very fine hammerhead that can punch through light steel with a stout hit but not over penetrate.”

“Wire cutters, while you could cut wires with a Kunai its not practical to use it inside a bomb itself. Since you already possess advanced training in electronics, I imagine you are comfortable with them. We will also use their big brother Bolt Cutters for some breaching later in the curriculum.”

“Finally, we get to my favorite.”

Daichi stepped over to the case and pulled out a stockless shotgun with stubby shotshells lined up on the attached sling. A quick pump caught everyone’s attention, “A bomb cannot go off if you break the detonator or separate it into smaller pieces. We in the business call it ‘energetic disruption’ although this is probably going to be mounted on a robot most of the time.”

He reached over with his left hand and pulled the skin right off his right hand to reveal an advanced prosthetic. “Better safe than sorry. I can tell you from experience.”

His cybernetic hand lifted the breech to show it was empty, “As you can see it is not loaded. We’ll leave it right here on the desk. More specific tools will be issued in the standard demolition kit along with a coil of explosive cord, blocks of C-eight, and every type of initiator imaginable.

Now I will cede the floor to Chief Petty Officer Stanislav Belyaev of the Confederation Navy who will provide a brief overview of the CCAF’s vast array of landmines. Each has their own peculiar method of disarmament so you must learn how to quickly identify the type and adapt your approach, lest you end up worse than we did. There is a reason we are mostly cadre instructors and technical advisors.”

Stanislav accepted the prime position as Sato circulated the tools throughout the room. Minoru could hear the whining of a strained cybernetic leg as the Chief walked paced about showing inert copies of mines.

There were basic pressure sensitive ones, others leapt into the air to tear into infantry and hover skirts with shrapnel, ones the size of paper cranes that floated after being deployed by aircraft to deny trails to the enemy, more still launched rocket grenades into the sides of armored vehicles from afar, could lift a Bulldog into the sky, take a low flying helicopter or plane out of it, attach themselves to the hulls of ships or Battlemech armor, even disable a Battlemech of a particular weight by the impact of its footsteps.

They were triggered by everything from pressure plates, tripwires, magnetism, electricity, fiber optic command lines, radio signals, lasers, seismic signals, audio cues, and incorporated an immense variety of defeat devices, false fuses, tilt sensors, anchoring lines, etc…

The sheer variety of destructive ordnance was astonishing, appalling, and intriguing to the young engineer. His would be a battle of courage and cunning against the amoral and uncaring remnants of near constant war for decades. Each bomb removed would make a difference in the lives of the surrounding community and that was as noble a purpose as piloting a Battlemech to him.


At the end of the day Minoru stood on the other side of an aluminum table with a series of completed knots in rope, cable, and webbing. Genji Soto sat across from him with a surprised look on his face, “Sergeant this is some of the best knotwork I’ve ever seen from a trainee in my years as a Sapper.”

Minoru bowed slightly in appreciation to the man, “Thank you, Shujin Soto.”

He inspected the Middle of the Rope Prusik under the blinding light which revealed the unnatural reflections of his eye implant, “How did you get so good?”

“I learned some Hojojutsu from a Masamori Metro policewoman on Hachiman while studying there, the mountaineering knots from a Pillarine Illuminatus on Luthien several months ago, and the others from an Able Spaceman.”

“Those Spacers do have quite the reputation as does the MMK. I have heard rumors about what occurred in Masamori’s Ukiyo-e.”
“I have no personal experience with it.”

“Of course not. It’s a pity it was demolished two years ago.
If you keep up this level of work throughout the course, you’ll ace it for sure. You are dismissed Sergeant Kurita.
Get some shut eye.
PT starts at oh four hundred.”


CRTC MOUT Stage[]

Capella, Capellan Confederation - 04/12/3048


A sense of claustrophobia came over Minoru as the eight kilo ballistic helmet was lowered onto him by his fellow trainees. Suddenly the forty kilograms that had seemed so light in training at Crush School weighed heavily on him. “The first thing I am going to do when I get back is figure out how to put this suit on an exoskeleton. Although I guess it is good training once we get it to the next step.”

He looked at the gauntlet computer on his left hand pressed some buttons and felt the chill of his cooling circuit and the stream of purified conditioned air blowing past his short hair. MSGT Daichi Hayabushi stood in front of him looking as grim as usual. His voice crackled in the earpiece, “Good day for a walk, aye?”

“Aye, sir.” Minoru nodded as best he could with the neck dam then felt a tap on the Kevlar helmet near the fiber optic camera lead, “I’ll be watching through the POV camera. Keep your head on straight. It doesn’t go very far in that suit. Target is an apartment building with a red ‘x.’
A bomb has been placed in the basement boiler room, it’s tough to reach for the robot. Get to it, see if you can move it. If you can’t, render it safe in place. Use caution during approach as it might be trapped or on a timer.”

An ominous dread fell on him after he walked alone beyond the security perimeter set up beside the tan CSE MRAP with its strobing yellow light casting an eerie hue on cars abandoned on the desolate street. Unseen eyes seem to be spying on him as he lumbered through an intersection, flashing red lights above him.

His target building, a brutalist looking apartment block with a crimson marking on it seemed on the verge of falling apart. Its metal doors creaked as he passed through them, he activated the flashlight built into his vest. Its pale white light illuminated the gloomy concrete structure while a blinking lightbulb cast fearful shadows down the hall. Heavy footsteps echoed off the concrete walls of the stairwell as he focused on maintaining his balance and keeping an eye out for tripwires.

A chained metal door stood in his way, “Bolt Cutters or Torch?”
“Torch is slower, you should be able to cut it manually without trouble.”
“Roger”

Minoru pulled out the skeleton framed bolt cutters assembling them from the three component parts that fit into his vest.

‘Clink

Chain broke under the pressure of the hydraulically enhanced bolt cutters clattering to the floor and the door was forced open through the skillful use of a tomahawk and shoulder check. Warm air rushed out of the door as the boiler room sounds overwhelmed Minoru and made communication difficult.

Quick searches with a mirror probe revealed that the bomb was stuffed beneath the machinery making access to the detonator difficult and hazardous. Minoru took a picture of it and uploaded it to Daichi, “I see a large pipe bomb, get fishing.”

He pulled the grapple hook free from his harness and sharply tugged on it to ensure that his rope was playing out smoothly. “Good thing I have practiced doing just that.
Deep breath, let’s go grapple.”

The grapple landed behind the pipe bomb and Minoru backed up keeping his distance as he pulled the pipe bomb out of its hiding place. His hands reached for the wire cutters and a screwdriver as he lowered himself to the level putting the brunt of his protection in front of him. It’s screw cap came loose and revealed an electronic timer flashing a sickly green countdown of binary time. He pulled the same colored wires out as the timer ticked down, “Not enough time. I can’t find the detonator.”

Daichi’s voice came in over the comms. “Cut the wire next to your middle finger.”

‘Snip

‘Bang

Small smoke and concussion charges detonated inside the device stinging his hands and causing him to jump backward but causing no injury to anything but to his pride. He slammed his fists on the concrete floor in frustration.
“What the hell, Master Sergeant? You told me to cut that wire!”
“And I was wrong, but you would be dead or maimed.
You must trust your instincts and judgement, Minoru.
You said there wasn’t enough time.

When you are there alone next to the bomb, you make the call.
I can only provide advice.
Other than that, you were doing pretty good.
For future reference a bomb like that could have been swaddled in a ballistic blanket and disrupted after you pulled it clear. Manual disarmament should only be done when no other options are available. You're brave enough to walk into a room with a bomb. You don't need to grope it like your date every time too.
Head on back, dress down, and get some water. Also bring the device with you. I’ll place another for the other trainees, and you can watch.”

Minoru tipped himself forward until he could lever himself up to a standing position. He lifted the still sputtering ‘pipe’ bomb and slammed the door behind him. “Roger that.”


Frustrating Conversations[]

Capella, Capellan Confederation - 04/14/3048


Minoru stared intently at the prototype that Dereck and Ryuun had been working with for several weeks. Hard plastic protectors showed signs of damage despite attempts to take the dents out with heat. His fists balled up and turned up to face his taller and larger companions. “What have you been doing to my beautiful machine?”
“Technically it’s Chandreskar’s. Either way It fell off a building.”
“It fell off a building!
How?”

“We didn’t rig it properly when we attempted to shock test it. One of the cables snapped and it landed wrong.”
“Totally screwed up a day’s worth of prep.”
“It’s just cosmetic damage Minoru. Functionality is unaffected.”
“But the Chancellor is going to be here in the morning! For the change of command ceremony.” Minoru put his hand over his forehead. “He just arrived at the L-one.
Guys you need to make it look good. Can you do that?”

Dereck looked toward Ryuun, “I think we might be able too.
You wanted to test the mobility of the joints under that EOD suit.
Right?”

“Eventually.”
“How about we put some armor over it?”
“At least a vest to cover the dents. We don’t need to worry about movement infringement then.”
“That’s brilliant, Ryuun.”
“Put a surcoat on it or something too. Just hurry up before he gets here. For Hohiro-san’s and my sake.”
They delivered a loose, sloppy salute, “Right away, Sergeant.”


Minoru stalked through the Governor’s mansion past DCMS soldiers packing up the last of their military equipment to his brother’s suite. He firmly knocked on the door and was greeted by Yodama Shin’s face through a cracked door after enough moments that he thought to knock harder. The Ghost’s irezumi tattoos showed on his naked body all the way down to as far Minoru cared to look.
Yodama-san looked irritated and attentive, “What is it?
Apologies,
Greetings Minoru-san.
What do you desire?”

“Are you in the middle of something, Shin-san?”
“Nothing that can’t wait for a Prince.” “Is Hohiro-san inside?”
“No, he is night fishing on the beach.”

“By himself?”
“Probably, unless he wanted to get in a little extra on our last night here. The beach however is apparently not his favorite location for dalliances.”
“Thank You, Shin, for to much information. Enjoy your evening.”
“You too. Sleep well Minoru-san. Big day tomorrow.”

The door sharply closed after their conversation. “Well, I won’t now.
I won’t be able to get that out of my head.”

He winced at the intimate thought of steel piercing sensitive flesh. “It must have hurt. How does he even?”

His hands slashed away disturbing thoughts as he made his way toward the motor pool. “You know what I don’t even care how he wears his pearls. That’s his problem not mine.”

Wood crackled in flame beneath a canopy of blue velvet set with shimmering stars. A lone figure stood on the shore casting his hook beyond the lapping waves into the placid ocean. Coarse black sand crunched behind him as another man walked toward him silhouetted against motorcycle headlights.

Hohiro dropped his cigarette into a ceramic bowl with its companions as he reeled in his lure. “I hope you brought some beer otouto. I just ran out.”

A wooden box with six brown bottles in it appeared in the sand beside him. Minoru lifted one out and popped it with his multi-tool. “Does Hahaoya know you smoke?”
“Didn’t Franklin tell you almost everyone in the DCMS smokes?”
“It’s part of our field rations. Lighter than food and safer than speed. Makes billions of Ryu for Amphigean every year.”
“I hear their LAGs get harder stuff. I’ve seen the Ghosts with plenty of contraband too.”
I“’ve seen a lot of things I wasn’t expecting out here. Trying to get the last bit of outdoor time before I’m stuck on a dropship for the rest of my tour.”

Hohiro furiously reeled in a fish from the waters, gutted it into a bucket, and placed it onto a skewer beside the fire. He took one for himself and handed the other to Minoru. The brothers sat across from one another near the fire taking in the smells of burning driftwood, the briny estuary, and cooked fish.

He looked grave in the under-light, the way that not enough sleep and too much responsibility affects a man’s face. Minoru on the other hand was still youthful, toned, and strong. Sapper School had little effect on his appearance compared to his weeks at Ironheart Abbey.
“How’s your robot coming along?”

Minoru secretly fumed at his older brother’s ignorance. “It will be fine, there some complications recently but Ryuun and Dereck are on it.”
“Good, we’d hate to disappoint the Chancellor on his big day. You are going to have to play Ambassador for a little while. I will miss this assignment. Capella is a pleasant enough world.”

His chopsticks picked away the frayed pieces of cooked filet laid out on the sand in front of him. “You can eat the fish right out of the ocean, unlike black Luthien.”

Opposite him Minoru did the same with his fingers having neglected to bring chopsticks with him. “You sound like you aren’t looking forward to going back on tour.”

“This is my last hurrah everything else is just cleanup operations. Maybe some pirates but there’s no glory to be had for the DCMS in Tormano’s Capellan Confederation these days. The war has already been fought. I guess I will focus on my poetry then, maybe try Gansai once more.”

“Why the sudden interest in culture, Ni-san?”
“I am offended that you think I am a cultureless brute. We still have the same mother and I learned more than warfare on Kaznejov.”

“The desert is beautiful there.”
“Blue sky, red sand as far as the eye can see.”
“Rocks arranged in whimsical sculptures by the wind, layers of vibrant pigments stacked upon one another like the inside of a candy. The purples of sunset bring tears to one’s eyes.”

“My unit paused maneuvers regularly at sunrise and sunset to admire the view.
“You should visit Gondovia next time you head home Otouto just to appreciate it’s art scene.”

“You speak as though you have already met someone that you look forward to seeing once more.”
“As usual your intuition is spot on.” Hohiro lifted an opal pendant from under his shirt and suspended it near the fire causing brilliant flashes of color to appear within it. “Her father is a wealthy gem trader and patron of the arts. She is a Nihonga painter, generally lovely, and highly cultured. I met them at the theater. You are the first person I’ve told.
So, will you critique my latest compositions.”

“Me?”
“You were Omiko-chan’s favorite reviewer, she says you have keen senses. Yodama-san is for all this benefits not the most sophisticated companion.”

Minoru popped the top from another pair of bottles, white foam poured out onto the sand. “I will listen to your poetry, Hohiro, but you’ll owe me a similar uncomfortable favor.”
Hohiro reached for the other bottle but had it pulled away by Minoru, "Both of these are mine because I witnessed to much about Yodama-san before I came here."


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