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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

Ultima Ratio Regum
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written June 5th, 2021
Story Era Clan Invasion Era

I was born on... well, some place you've never heard of. We were the backwater of the backwaters, the kind of planet that only shows up on local maps and tax records.

We managed to sit out the worst of the Succession Wars, but there was a local legend from the First. Nobody's quite sure exactly which side of the boarder we were on at the time. Or whose bright idea it was, but somebody got hold of a decrepit old Monitor. They removed what was left of the weapons, and fitted it with an artillery piece or something usually dragged behind a big wheeled or tracked vehicle, and used to lob massive shells at targets kilometers away. Thus was born the myth of the Swamp Dragon, which would prowl the vast river-ways. Estuaries and swamps of the tropics, its presence only marked by the occasional bombardment of, well, anything the crew didn't like the look of.

Control of the Swamp Dragon changed hands with the planet, although there was usually at least a little while before her crew would surrender... more often than not. Dependent on how long their hidden supply caches held out. This state of affairs went on for years: soon as we got word of an invasion or raid, the Swamp Dragon would slip its moorings and disappear into the maze of river, lakes and waterways, hiding in reed beds and mangroves.

Now, you might think that it would be impossible to hide something as big as a Monitor. Even with the regressed technology we have today, but it's a question of scale. See, a Monitor is a draft of only half a meter, meaning it can go places usually only accessible to hovercraft. It's also rather small, all things considered, and with an ICE engine, it can be very hard to pick up on thermals, and is completely invisible to neutrino scanners. Throw in a carefully applied pain scheme and a significant amount of scrim netting, and you're looking for a single pin in a field of haystacks. And forget human intelligence: very few people live out in the Swamp Dragon's natural territory, and those who do... tend to keep their heads down and go out of their way not to pay attention to what anyone else is doing, on the understanding that they will return the favor.

Anyway, all was going well until somewhere between the First and Second Succession Wars, when we were visited by a unit conducting a deep raid to keep... look, lots of world's trade hands pretty often. With all those changes for most people is a new flag, and a new face on the money. The truth is, when you grow up learning two or more national anthems at school, you start not caring too much. You become a citizen of your world, and do your best to ignore the rest of the galaxy and their bullshit. Not easy to do on worlds that have something worth fighting a pitch battle over, even by the time of the Third and Fourth Wars, but, like I said, we're an easily overlooked world. So, please don't take it personally if the records of exactly who we were paying our taxes to, and who consequently attacked us, a couple of hundred years ago. We have better things to worry about.

But, as I was saying, we got word that someone was company was on its way, and the Swamp Dragon duly left harbor and disappeared into several thousand square kilometers of nothingness. Problem was, whoever it was leading this raid, they obviously didn't get the memo about the presence of the Swamp Dragon, and as such, made the mistake of landing their DropShips within artillery range of a river. Well, this was too good an opportunity to pass up, and, two days later, the crew of the Swamp Dragon gave the raiders an early morning wake-up call they'd never forget, dropping a dozen or so high explosive rounds onto their LZ from out of the pre-dawn darkness. Caught them completely by surprise, and caused considerable damage.

Now, any sane, sensible person would take the hint and relocate, but they took it personally, and made it their mission to hunt down the Swamp Dragon, once and far all.

Thus began a prolonged game of cat and mouse, with the raiders scouring the rivers in lakes for the Monitor, while it used hidden back-channels and swamps not on the maps to keep one step ahead. And, every so often, dropping a few more rounds down-range, just to remind everyone that they were there. Sure as night follows day, with every day of fruitless searching, every shell burst, the Raiders anger grew and grew. Pretty soon, whatever objective their raid may have had was forgotten, and all their attention was put on hunting down the Swamp Dragon. Their fighters ran sweep after sweep, photographing every square centimeter of the wetlands and finding exactly nothing. This was followed by infantry patrols, and eventually the deployment of all their BattleMechs.

Oh, everyone else kept their heads down and let them get on with it: every hour they spent, knee deep in mud and sludge was an hour they weren't burning down houses or shooting up what minimal manufacturing capacity we had, even back then. Far better to let the waste their time chasing shadows than, well, anything else. All they seemed able to find were spent shell casings with...friendly messages etched into them. It was perfectly clear to everyone else that the crew of the Swamp Dragon were playing with them, and would only fire the occasional shell, just to keep them interested.

Unfortunately, as is often said, all good things must come to an end.

Eventually, the Raider commander stopped acting like an idiot, and started to actually think for a change. They realized that an incoming weather front had the sea all churned up, easily more than enough to overwhelming a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed brown-water craft like a Monitor. So they redeployed their forces to cut off key choke-points, then started a methodical sweep to drive the Swamp Dragon out into the open. The crew fought back, hitting what targets they could, but artillery isn't especially effective against moving targets, unless you have enough guns to saturate an area.

It took a couple of days, but eventually they managed to flush out the Swamp Dragon, and the old Monitor made her last stand.

Now, artillery isn't really intended to be used in close combat, but aside from hash language. Hand gestures and a few small arms, it was all the crew of the Swamp Dragon had. But, you score a hit with a shell that big, and it doesn't really matter if it flew ten meters or ten thousand; it's still gonna hurt. Reports from the time tell of a savage, bitter fight, the Swamp Dragon going down in flames, her gun firing one last, defiant salvo even as she slipped beneath the waves. She settled low, the water shallow enough that the blackened and burnt end of her main gun could just about be seen above the waterline. Around her lay the burning hulks of three BattleMechs and a dozen vehicles, a testament to the fight she gave.

Well, history is defined as that which happened in the past, and it wasn't long before the Swamp Dragon became just another local legend. She was too far out, and reportedly in too bad a condition, for anyone to try and salvage, so she was allowed to rest peacefully for centuries.

That was, at least, until the Clan Smoke Jaguar came a calling.

Unlike our neighbors across the boarder, they didn't see fit to leave us to our own devices after running up their own flag. No, we had to learn new ways of talking, of thinking, of seeing ourselves and in the grand scheme of things. This wasn't exactly popular, but they'd been tearing through line units like they were made of tissue paper, so what chance did we have?

Well, despite just how badly we were outnumbered, eventually, someone decided to make a stand. A group of local farmers didn't like be told what to plant where, especially as their crops would simply be taken away by our new Clan overlords. I don't know if the Jags were looking for an excuse to remind us of our place in the New Order, but they decided to make an example of the fakers as only a genetically engineered, eugenics bread super-bastard can. Gathering together four of his most brutal warriors, the garrison commander led them on a march towards the farms.

Suddenly realizing just how screwed they were, the farmers tried to back down, offered full and unconditional surrender. But the Jags were out for blood, and simply ignored their pleas.

Well, they were making their way along the highway when evidently their threat detectors went off, and they suddenly stopped and started scanning the surroundings. I don't know if they'd have been better off if they'd kept moving, but suddenly something fell from the sky like the wrath of god and struck the commanders BattleMech right in the head. Clan Tech may be up to taking more of a beating than what we're used to in the Inner Sphere, but there's only so much even they can take, and that explosion tore through the cockpit like a fright train. Pilot probably died never knowing what hit him. His 'Mechs told there for a moment, almost like it was in shock. Then fell face-first into the dirt, sending up a hell of a cloud of dust.

Those Jags went crazy, firing pretty much at random, doing little more than chopping down a few trees. Eventually, someone got their shit together, and started to plot the trajectory of the attack, and they moved out in force, calling up the rest of the garrison to follow suite. This gave the fakers more than enough time to grab what was most precious to them and scatter to the four winds.

I don't know what kind of training Clan warriors get, but maneuvering through soft, waterlogged terrain obviously isn't on the syllabus. As they managed to get several of their 'Mechs, and a not insignificant amount of their battle armor bogged-down in the swamp. Ended up having to ask, nicely, by their standards, for help and a guide. Eventually they reach the point where their fancy computers say that the attack came from... only to find the rusted, submerged wreck of the Swamp Dragon. A quick inspection found no signs of anyone having been there in years, but they did find a single recently spent shell casing still in the breach, upon which was stamped the words The Final Argument of Kings.

The End

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