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Praxis Wings (Chapter Cover Art)

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Chapter 3 - Winged Praxis (Battletech 3015 CYOA)[]


The Pain of Loss[]

Lloyd Marik-Stanley Aerospace School
Republic of Kasnov-Greenland, New Olympia
Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
1st January, 3015


I was a momma's boy.

It wasn't perhaps that big of a surprise. Gideon had grown up around the other kibbutniks of Kibbutz Machseh, but he hadn't had any other blood relations growing up other than his mother. And Ariel Zalman had been his hero. Skilled Mechwarrior, well-traveled, and always there for him. Gideon had known that he was telling the truth when he said that his eema could beat up other boys' papas.

Still, I hadn't expected it from a fighter pilot to be, even if maybe I should have.

Stop it, I told myself. You don't know she's dead. There's a world of difference between a liberation unit being out of contact and KIA.

It was a relentlessly logical argument that was doing very little to convince my local feelings that the world was a safe place where I would go from strength to strength and victory to victory. The world was feeling very unfair.

The world is unfair, I told myself. You know this. The just world hypothesis is inherently fallacious and a known correlate to anxiety and depression. And you're not a twenty-year-old coming up against the injustice of reality for the first time, not really. You have practice with this. Use it. It's okay to experience the emotion, but don't let it control you.

I looked inward. Gideon was filled with fear for his mother. It was actually worse that he didn't have definitive news. After all, liberation units frequently worked on the Liao front, and everyone knew that the Cappies could be inventive when they caught spies and saboteurs. Anxiety was natural. Plus, there was this stupid situation with Liszt. All sorts of bad news that I couldn't just punch in the face. Not to mention the dread of all I had left behind…

Breath, I told myself. Just breath. You can't take on all of this stuff right now. But you can get to a place where you will.

Awareness of the world beyond the inside of my head filtered back in.

"…hey Gid, are you okay?" asked Terri, tucked in close to me in a convenient alcove.

I blew out the lungful I had with only a little shudder. "No." I met her eyes. "But I will be."

The worry on her face was wiped away by a determined expression. "Damn right you will. Ready to go yell at a lawyer?"

I surprised myself by letting out half of a chuckle. "With any luck, I won't need to."

"First time for everything, I suppose."


Unexpected Inheritance[]


The lawyer turned out to be a short woman with blue-black hair and skin one shade off the Combine's ideal. The lines of the currently fashionable jacketed gown she wore were upset by a visitor's badge clipped to the royal purple decorative placket. Upon my entrance, she looked up from the contents of a briefcase and stood. "Hello, Mr. Zalman. My name is Phillipa Kasparova. I am serving as the executor of your father's will for our firm." She held out a hand to me. "My condolences on your loss."

I shook the offered hand. "Thank you, Ma'am. To be honest, I'm surprised to be featured in his will. I'm sorry that you were forced to come to New Olympia for this."

She let a tight smile onto her lips. "Not at all. I got to expense a very nice cruise through some of the more congenial worlds of the League. I'm rather partial to the zero-g dance scene in the League, and I admit to an appreciation of burlesque here as an alternative to back home." Her green eyes flicked past my shoulders to where Terri stood. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, miss."

Blinking, I turned to introduce Terri. "This is Cadet Teresa Tomlinson of the Holt Tomlinsons. She was ordered to escort me to you."

When I turned back to Phillipa, her expression was somewhat cooler. "I see. Mr. Zalman, we will be discussing financial matters that you may wish to keep private. With no disrespect to the cadet, I cannot proceed without your verbal confirmation that you wish to proceed with her present, or until she leaves the room."

Terri looked over to me. "The captain ordered me to get you to her, Gid. I can leave."

I shrugged and scoffed. "Not like this is going to be anything but pocket change for you, Terri. We can proceed, Ms. Kasparova." I sat down at the table.

The lawyer coughed. "You may be underestimating the size of your inheritance, Mr. Zalman."

"Probably," I said as Terri paused, halfway to sitting. "But I have a decent appreciation of just how well-off she is. And I trust T-Bone with my life in tactical flying. She can stay." Terri slid into the chair next to me, giving me a nudge of gratitude.

"Very well," conceded Phillipa. "In that case, it is my duty to pass on these recordings of your father." She pushed a sealed RHE datacassette across the table to me, along with a videopad that had seals over its screen, audio outputs, and the datacard slot. "My instructions are to impress upon you that these should be watched in private for at least the first time. My understanding is that they are similar, if not identical recordings." She lifted a sealed envelope out of the briefcase and placed it in front of me. "This contains the master copies of your father's files, along with notes to guide you in his organization system."

I pursed my lips as I weighed the envelope in one hand. It had some weight. If I assumed that it was in datacards, there was a lot of data there. More than I was likely to get use out of, if I was being honest. "I suppose that sending this all through HPG would have been prohibitively expensive?"

Phillipa paused. "It would be expensive, yes. But in any case the instructions stipulated hand delivery." She pulled a box out of the briefcase. "And this could not have been sent over HPG."

My eyes widened as I recognized the iridescent sensor pad of a fucking verigraph. "Hijo de puta," I breathed. "Por supuesto?" I looked over to Terri, who looked as confused as I felt.

"My understanding is that this system is keyed to you alone, Mr. Zalman. I think it goes without saying that it contains something your father wanted to keep secure."

I set the box aside, being careful to not touch the sensor pad. "Yes, I think that's fair to say." My mind ran in circles as I tried to bring all this on board. I had no idea how I was going to keep this all secure. It wasn't as if cadets had more than the bare illusion of privacy at LMS. And I got the distinct suspicion I wanted very badly to keep the information Ephraim Adelman had left to me secure. I doubted it was cost savings that had made my father specify hand-delivery.

"No kidding," said Terri. "Your dad didn't do anything by half, huh, Gid?"

"Claro que no," I agreed. "Not based on this." I spread my hands out to encompass the sealed information and the malfing verigraph locked box. "Anything else you've got to shock me with?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," said Phillipa, retrieving what looked like a small vidnovel and powering it on. "Mr. Adelman left you liquid funds as well. Following sales, fees, tax, etcetera, you have inherited a sum of roughly three hundred thirty six million C-bills."

My jaw dropped.

So did Terri's.

The lawyer pushed the screen across the table. "Here are the details."

With numb fingers, I picked up the screen. Scrolling through the numbers did nothing to help me take on board the fact that I had just effectively become what part of my mind was referring to as a billionaire. That was an absurd amount of wealth that had just landed in my lap.

Terri started laughing uproariously. Bringing herself somewhat under control, she wiped tears away from the corners of her eyes, even as chuckles threatened to overcome her again. "Well, Duster, that's certainly not pocket change!"

"Lechi tizdayyni, Terri." I laid the vidnovel back on the table. With that kind of money I could buy myself any ride I wanted. I could buy multiples. I could replace Unktomi. I could replace Unktomi with an Awesome. With an Atlas! I could fix everything at the kibbutz. Just everything. And I'd still have more money than I knew what to do with. Not to mention what would happen if I invested it. That much money pretty reliably generated more. "Well, Ms. Kasparova, you did try and warn me."

The lawyer had the professionalism to not tell me that she had told me so. "The firm has taken the liberty of compiling a list of investment managers that can help you put your funds to work." At my nod, she went on. "Beyond the liquid capital…"

"There's more?" I squeaked. Terri started pounding her fist on the table, obviously finding my reaction hilarious.

"Oh yes." Phillipa reached across the table and advanced pages on the noteputer. "You are now the largest single shareholder in Adleman Prospecting, though you do not have a strict majority share. You also are the owner of record of the Carl Sagan, a Mule-class Cargo Dropship, as well as the Chaim Yosef David Azulai." She flipped through a few other pages. "That's a Merchant-class." She checked again. "Sorry, an Invader-class."

Terri went still next to me. I gaped. "A JumpShip? You must be joking."

She shook her head. "No, the will was very specific. The firm has allowed both the Carl Sagan and the Chaim Yosef David Azulai to take shipping jobs for the Landynski Syndicate, both to make sure that your assets were not lying fallow, and so there was minimal temptation of governmental overreach. Of course, this is a temporary arrangement, and can be abrogated at any time if you wish."

I shook my head in disbelief. "I understand."

"There is also some real estate on Canopus IV and Hardcore, some vehicles, personal effects, and so on."

"Right," I said. "Of course."

"Finally," she said, "There is the matter of all materiel present at the coordinates outlined in his messages to you. Any and all militarily relevant materiel found there whether it be relevant on a tactical, strategic, operational, or logistic basis is left to you and you alone." She looked at me and shrugged. "I'm afraid that I don't have much information on what that entails, merely that it should be 'sufficient to create a combined arms unit'. What that means is out of my area of expertise."

I shook my head. "Not enough information to say really."

Terri hummed. "Almost certainly enough to set up a Mechwarrior house, though. Maybe a loaded Leopard?"

"Maybe," I demurred. That would make some sense. High performance Combat Vehicles like Mechs and ASFs were even rarer out in the Periphery than in the League. The money I had been left would suggest more than just a Leopard, but sometimes you couldn't buy something for love or money. Still, the wording of what had been left didn't seem to match that.

"Hell, if you got lucky enough to get a Union full of goodies," Terri went on, smiling, "you might be able to make a play for a barony."

"Wh-what?" I managed to get out, brain scrambling to catch up with Terri's excited expression.

That was about the moment the door banged open.

"There you are, thief!" yelled Liszt.

Things devolved into angry shouting, consisting of one part indignant protest about attorney-client privilege, one part school rivalry, two parts noble arrogance, three parts Southwestern cussedness, and a heaping helping of testosterone poisoning.


Losing It[]


"They're going to kick you out," hissed Liszt at me as we sat outside Commandant Lastrade's office. "I'm going to make sure of it, you dirty little thief."

Tension simmered beneath my skin, and I struggled to keep my voice level and low. "You wagered it. You lost it, cabron." My fingernails dug trenches in my palms. "Not my fault you couldn't face daddy after losing your fancy hat. How you ever found the balls to face the Eighteenth, I'll never know."

"Oh, shut up, you cheat." Liszt smiled nastily at me. "We both know you couldn't beat me in a fair fight."

"No," I said. "I don't know that. And neither do you, maricon." I winced at what I had called him on reflex.

Liszt must have misread the wince. "Lying to yourself, too, airhead? Guess you're not so dumb that you can't realize it." His body language grew looser. "Tell me, do you lie to yourself about why Tomlinson keeps you around? You must know you're a disposable fling." He leered at the door. "I was doing her a favor, getting her away from you. She really needs to think about the scandal going around with common-born trash might create."

"Some favor," I scoffed. "Is that what you call falling on your ass and taking a couple of shots to the face?"

"I call standing up an making a gesture to let her get away from you a favor, yes. My bad luck that you turned out to be to be a dishonorable cheater. Not that I should have expected better from your type." Bastard actually flared his nostrils and put his nose in the air.

"I've never heard 'better Mech pilot' pronounced quite that way. Do all nobles take lessons on how to see this world of lies you live in?"

The bluster drained away from Liszt, and something colder was left behind. "No, we learn how to see the truth, gutter trash. You seem to think this is about my hurt pride. You think you can needle me enough that I'll fall apart and you'll get past this with a smudge on your record. That isn't what's happening."

He leaned back, looking like a satisfied puma, between his golden hair and tanned skin. "What's happening is that the slut's father is part of the Marik coalition's whip's inner circle. That's power, but it's also a position where image matters. Her playing around with a commoner might just make the newsfaxes, especially once they start sizing us up for a patriotic example. 'The loyal cadets standing strong against the usurper's forces,'" he quoted, as if from a headline. "Sounds nice, doesn't it?"

"But what's this?" He asked with mock surprise. "A Tomlinson helping a common-born lover steal from a hero of the battle? Suddenly, people question if House Tomlinson is committed to maintaining the stability of the League. After all, the Marik has been what guided us through these long years of crisis. The power of nobility has kept us together, kept ignorant commoners from tearing us apart.

"Not to mention, parading a fling about, that's such a Lyran affectation. There are excellent reasons for keeping to moral decency. We must have tolerance for our more conservative member states, after all. Not spread our legs for thieves. We must stand united in the face of rebellion and Capellan perfidy. And we will win. Despite the Dragoons, Anton is being pushed back, losing battle after battle. But he's done so much damage. And when it comes time to rebuild, to strengthen after this war, the Marik will need unity from his loyalists. Not a coalition marred by scandal.

Liszt licked his lips. "Which means you won't be seeing any noble support coming your way. I wouldn't be surprised if her father sends her a message telling her to disassociate from you any day now. Might even tell her to play nice with me. Which leaves you a common-born cadet accused of theft, incitement, and disorderly conduct on leave.

"I don't care how good you might be in a fighter, flametail, the FWLM doesn't need you more than it needs discipline and good judgement. And certainly not more than it needs me." He spread his hands. "That's what's happening."

"Liar," I said, practically vibrating in my seat as he laid out his view of the world.

"Just the truth, bandit-blood."

"No, this is still about your hurt pride." I felt my head ratcheting down as I spoke. "It's about the fact that I tore your huevos off and carry them about in my pocket. You didn't want to do Terri any favors, you just wanted to dip your wick, and were too stupid to realize you could lose. And because you're a gutless chatichat chara, you can't deal with that fact, or do anything but run to daddy."

"Oh, if you were worth a damn, I'd be happy to duel you…" he started with a shrug.

"Knives!" I spat, jumping to my feet.

"What?" he asked, taken aback.

"That was a challenge to a duel from a coward. 'Oh, I'd fight you, but I might break a nail.' Coño, I'm calling your bluff. The challenged chooses weapons. Knives," I growled in his face.

Liszt shot to his feet. "Don't you get it, you stupid little peasant?" he roared back at me. "There is no duel here, no fight! You lose! You're getting cashiered, and nothing you can do will stop it! Your mother threw her life away for noth…"

He might have been about to continue, but was too busy spinning and falling to the floor, blood spraying from his nose.

And my knuckles hurt. A lot.

Fuck.

I stood above the moaning body of Liszt as the doors to offices swung open, disgorging brass and administration. I heard Halkias calling for MPs like it was through thick layers of cotton. I didn't resist when they cuffed my hands behind my back. I only vaguely noted Captain Kumari's disappointment, and Terri's horrified expression. Because I was too focused on a cruel truth.

Liszt was right. There wasn't a fight to win here. I was getting cashiered. I had lost.

Eema had thrown her life away for nothing.


  • Notes from the Author
    So this has been a while...and it's a little shorter. I can only beg forgiveness, and give the explanation of final papers and exams crossed with a poorly timed and less than optimal move. Apologies about there being no heavy metal action in this chapter, but again, this felt like the natural stopping point. Sometimes it needs to be about the characters and the politics. Hopefully you can get some enjoyment out of it as well. Or perhaps some of the revealed information on the inheritance is more your speed. Obviously, some of that is still obscured, but at least this narrows it down some.

    On a more self-indulgent note, technically I had Liszt and Gid drop enough information that you can identify Terri's father if you're willing to do some serious digging through the 3025 House Marik book. He is actually a canon character, if a stub.

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