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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

By JA Baker[]

Facts
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written November 7th, 2020
Story Era Clan Invasion Era





Officially it's known as a Morality Inspection, or something similar. Unofficially, it's the Killjoy Squad.

Military service isn't necessarily... fun, and since the dawn of time, soldiers have always found ways to entertain themselves. Some read, listen to music or collect keepsakes from the planets they visit. Others engage in the more traditional vices: gambling, drinking, recreational pharmaceuticals and company of questionable moral fiber. Now, no one is going to get all bent out of shape about a barracks card-came or chasing tail at a local bar, but wherever there men and women with money to spend and stress to relive, there will be people willing to provide such services as is required. A blind eye is often turned, so long as there is no impact in the combat readiness of the soldier or their unit, but it can also lead to people engaging in acts that leave them open to... external pressure.

Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but blackmail is a close second.

Hence why every military has a dedicated security unit tasked with ensuring that, while the officers and enlisted ranks have a release for their excess energies, it doesn't get beyond a certain point. And, if they think things might be getting out of hand, in goes the Morality Inspection. Heads get busted, a few unlucky sods get made examples of, and life continues as normal.

However, there are times when either the military police are unable or unwilling to get involved themselves. After all, it's not a job that makes you too popular with the rest of the military, and some people are just too well connected to risk upsetting. Times like that, it's not uncommon for a scratch unit to be formed from any available mercenaries, as, well, it's easy money with a reduced risk of getting shot at. Add to that the chance to introduce some chinless noble to a military grade stun-gun and, well, it can be quite enjoyable.

3051, the so-called 'Year of Peace', saw me on Tamar, my old unit having been taken out behind the proverbial woodshed by Clan Wolf the year before. Given the fact that we'd been very obviously used as little more than ablative armor by some high-and-mighty Social Officer who didn't want to risk getting his 'Mech dirty by actually doing is duty, when word came around that the local AFFC commander was looking for people to serve in a Killjoy Squad, I was one of the first to sign-up.

And that's where I first met Joker.

Joker

Joker

I'm not surprised if you've not heard of her before. She isn't one to blow her own horn, but even back then, with just a couple of years under her belt, she was already seen as someone to watch in the Merc world. People talk, and she was already being notified for her scary natural ability behind the controls of a 'Mech, but also because the MRCB seemed to be falling over themselves to pretend that someone only wiling to give an obviously assumed name was perfectly normal and above-board. I don't know if she had compromising photos of Jamie Wolf or what, but she's the only person in history to have a near blank official record, and still get a Triple-A rating.

I straight-up asked her why she was signing up for a job like that, when she could have been out there, raiding behind Clan lines or earning some serious money on Solaris VII, but she just tiled her head to the side and said "You can take the girl away from the Nuns, but you'll never take the Nuns away from the girl."

They let you pick your own choice of weapons for this kind of mission, within reason, and I'd decided on a Buccaneer gel-gun, with my trusty old Serek auto-pistol in reserve. I mean, sure, we were supposed to take people alive, but they might not feel the same about us, you know?

Well, a dozen of us were loaded up into the back of an unmarked truck and driven out to a somewhat rundown part of town. It was mostly warehouses and shipping office, stopping at the end of a narrow alleyway. Getting out, we saw a doorway built into the side of a building that had no place in that part of town. For one, it wasn't covered in graffiti or flyers, but rather was immaculately polished to the pint it almost gleamed in the glow of the street lights. It looked like it should have been inside a bank, or a military base, no the back of what claimed to be a humble shipping company named Lao Che Air Freight.

The lack of any obvious lock or other means of opening it from the outside made it clear that the only way in is if you're invited, and we certainly weren't. There was always the option of going in through the front door, but there was no way of knowing just how to get into the hidden 'Gentleman's Club' without setting off who knows how many alarms. No, the only way in ws through that big slab of metal pretending to be a door, and luckily, we'd brought just the right tool for the job.

It's called, imaginatively enough, 'giving them the finger'.

Myomer really is amazing stuff, and there's no apparent end to the uses it can be put. Take the relatively short length two of us recovered from the back of the truck: it had probably started out life as the finger of a BattleMech, hence the name, but had long ago been stripped out and put to a different use. By adding harnesses to either end, it had become the ultimate skeleton key. While I held it in place with the help of a young lad named Scilicorn, Joker used a bolt-gun intended to affix emergency patches to the hull of a DropShip to secure it to the wall on either side of the doorframe. Then it was just a case of running a power cable back to the truck, and flipping the switch.

A meter of military grade myomer became half a meter in less than a second, ripping the door, frame and all, out of the wall. The massive slab of mettle fell to the ground with a ground-shaking clang, and we got moving.

Joker was the first one through the doorway, her Ceres Arms Crowdbuster sending the two bouncers flying backwards. Anther idiot, I couldn't tell if they were staff or a patron, ran at her, only to take the butt of her weapon to the temple, taking them out of the fight. The rest of us poured in, weapons at the ready, just looking for an excuse to bust heads.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may have your attention please." Joker's commanding voice cut through the shouting, and pretty much everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at her, "As duly appointed representatives of the Judge Advocate General's office, and under the authority of Archon Melissa Steiner, we are here to conduct an officially sanctioned Morality Inspection of these premises, its employees and customers." she took a step forward, over one of the still twitching bouncers, and rested her stun-gun over one shoulder, "Any civilians not linked to the military or government service will, of cause, be free to go, so please form an orderly line for identity verification. The Archon thanks you in advance for your cooperation in this matter."

Now, Joker isn't tall by any definition, but her sheer presence seemed to fill the room, the cold, calculating look in her eyes just begging someone to push their luck. And, I'll admit, part of me wanted to see them try, because it's always fun to watch a master artist at work, and Joker's art is kicking arse and taking names.

Unfortunately, nobody was that stupid, desperate or crazy.

Two young, somewhat exotic looking women, with probably a single bikinis worth of clothing between them, did run forward and started talking rapidly in some language I didn't recognize. Now, I'm fluent in Standard English, German and French, passable in Mandarin and can at least order a drink in Japanese, but I couldn't understand a single word they said. But, it was clear from the look on her face, that Joker could, as she nodded along, eyeing one of the better dressed patrons like a bird of prey eyeing its next meal.

"Ngài?" she asked, almost causally.

"Có, người đàn ông béo với nam tính nhỏ!" one of the young women nodded.

Now, the instruction manual for the Crowdbuster is quite famous for just how thick it is, especially if you get the copy printed up especially for the Maskirovka, which goes into quite some detail as to just what will happen if the weapon is directed at certain parts of the human body. Now, I have no idea if Joker ever read that book, or if she was just going on a gut feeling, but without looking, she pointed the stun-gun at the man's crotch, and pulled the trigger. It's quite something, watching a grown man vomit, piss himself and pass out at the same time, but that's exactly what he did. I've taken a glancing hit from a Crowdbuster, all be it in a low setting, and it made me want to die, so, yeah, I don't even want to imagine what he felt like before his brain just shut-down from the pain.

"Watch him." Joker turned to Aung, a man with the build of an Atlas and the temperament of a happy-go-lucky psychopath, "When he wakes, tell him he's under arrest on suspension of kidnapping, human trafficking, slavery and rape. And that's just for starters."

We all stopped what we were doing and looked down at the man: we were Mercenaries, hired killers who's loyalty is for sale, but even we had standard. If the accusations against the man were true, then, well, he was only half a step up from being a pirate, and not a very hight step at that. Getting a blast from a stun-gun in the joy-department was probably the least he deserved. The two women who had spoken up looked shocked that, not only had Joker understood them, but had taken their accusations seriously.

"Get out of my way, you cretin!" a protesting voice heralded the appearance of an older looking man with a bushy white mustache set upon a face that looked like it was set in a permanent scowl. He marched, not walked, up to Joker and looked down at her with obvious contempt, "Are you in charge of this... rabble?"

"Well, I like to think of us as a collective, but I can certainly listen to any complaints that you may have." Joke smiled in a sickly sweet way, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rising.

"Well then listen, mercenary," the man sneered, "I don't know who you think you are, not do I can. I am..."

"Leutnant-Colonel Marcus DeWinnter, of the Twenty-sixth Lyran Guards RCT." Joker held up a portable biometric scanner, "Your official photo doesn't do you justice." she looked at the readout on the device, "But this doesn't make sense: it says here that you're tonight's Officer of the Watch..."

"Look here, you jumped-up little cun..." DeWinnter started, then suddenly stopped as Joker took his balls in a vice-like grip.

"You're out of uniform and away from your duty station without permission. An act that, at a time of war, is classed as high treason and punishable by death." her voice remained unchanged, but her eyes were hard enough to cut diamond, "I could blow out what brains you have, here and now, and they'd probably thank me for saving them the cost of a trial."

Joker gave DeWinnter a sharp twist and a yank that had every conscious man in the room wince, and he dropped to his knees, his mouth opening and closing like a landed fish.

"Bag and Tag this waste of a uniform." she strode past him, heading for the managers office, "I've got more important things to do."

Taking a couple of zip-ties, I secured the gasping officers hands and legs, adding a red tag to his restraints indicating that he was to be held for further investigation.

After those displays of... intention, everyone else fell in line relatively quickly. About half the patrons were allowed to leave, all be it without getting dressed first, the rest either being military or high enough up in the civilian government that they really should have known better. Then it was discovered that one of the young ladies, who was apparently working to pay off a leveraged debt owed by her family, was under the legal age of consent. Joker didn't seem to have much problem with the general depravity and kink of the clientele, but when the barman told her that one customer in particular had a thing for, well, the younger the better, Aung and I had the physically restrain her. Didn't want to, but the last thing we needed was a dead body that had a noble title attached to it.

Not before the police had had a chance to investigate, at least.

But, seeing the look on her face, knowing that his life was hanging in the balance in a very literal way, he started talking. In fact, I wasn't sure we'd be able to get him to shut-up, ever again, despite the angry looks he was getting from some of the others. Somewhere in the middle of implicating himself in several crimes, he mentioned a hidden door that led to a secret basement, part of the club only accessible to a select few members. He'd never actually been invited there himself, but he had seen people coming and going, including before our arrival.

Joker walked over to the section of wall he'd indicated, and sure enough, found a pressure switch in the floor that activated a hidden door.

"Scilicorn, Aung, Kelso, you're with me." Joker pointed to the dark staircase, "Rest of you, keep processing. And when the Provosts arrive, send them in after us."

The basement was real old school; genuine wax candles and thick, iron-bound wooden doors. Someone had gone to a lot of time, effort and money to give it that genuine 'evil dungeon' air. Hell, Tamar had been settled for over seven centuries by that point, so who knows. Maybe it was as old as it was trying to look. Planet had taken more than a few knocks down the years, entire cities getting leveled in one war or another, so who's to say what originally stood above our heads?

"******..." a hiss from Scilicorn brought me back to reality, and I looked through the doorway he was standing beside, and very quickly wished I hadn't.

I've seen my fare share of death on the battlefield, grown somewhat hardened to it, just to survive, but still... There are quick and clean ways to die, and then there's whatever the hell had taken place in that room. Blood covered the floor, walls, and God help me, even the ceiling. And, as if it couldn't get any worse, there were patches where you could see a layer of dried blood beneath it. And, in the middle of it all, a large table, upon which sat the remains of... someone, who most certainly hadn't died quick or clean.

"Per istam sanctam Unctiónem, et suam piisimam misericórdiam, indúlgeat tibi Dóminus quidquid per visum. Amen." Joker stood over the body of the young woman, a girl, really, and certainly under the age of consent, and closed her eyes for the last time, "Go with God, for he has no place in what we're about to do."

Without a word being spoken, we all put away our less lethal weapons, and drew our very lethal ones. A line had been crossed, and not in a shy way, and we were going to make sure someone paid.

There were other rooms... cells, really, and other... victims. A few, all too few, were still alive, all be it with their minds broken by I don't want to imagine what. Some would curl up in the corner, shrinking away from us as we tried to approach, while others just stood, sat or laid there impassively, already resigned to whatever fate they though awaited them. I've seen PoW camps, even taken part in a raid on a Capellan 'reduction camp' to rescue some idiot who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but even then, there was some cold, twisted logic behind the brutality I'd seen. But what I saw that night, it wasn't even some sick ****** fetish: it was hurting people for the sake of causing as much pain and suffering as possible before they died.

We encountered the first, I guess Cultist is the word, while we were trying to figure out what to do with the survivors. They were dressed in a long, flowing scarlet robe with a hood, with some kind of mask over their face, that was utterly featureless aside from two slits for eyes. They drew a long, jagged knife from their belt and charged at us without saying a word, only to take a laser bolt between the eyes from Joker, killing them instantly.

"I want survivors. Someone has to answer for what's happened here." her voice was almost worryingly calm and passive, "But don't take any chances."

Without further discussion, we continued deeper into the dungeon, weapons always at the ready, checking every corner and crevice as we went. We found rooms filled with truly ancient looking books, alongside the most up-to-date maps of the Inner Sphere you could ask for. Other Chambers had clearly been used for some kind of meeting, while some... it was clear that some of the prisoners had been... abused, before being killed. And based upon what we say, it when we'll beyond the scope of a Morality Inspection. No, this was into I don't know what territory.

We reached the top of a winding circular staircase leading deeper, the sound of distant chanting raising up from the depths. I took the lead, back against the outer wall, pistol pointed down the steps, followed by Joker and Scilicorn, Aung bringing up the rear. The stairs led down quite some way, eventually opened out onto a landing overlooking a massive chamber lit by several large fire pits. A couple of dozen robed figures were standing before some kind of alter, upon which was tied two naked bodies, one male, and female, both very young. Over them stood a figure in a snow-white robe, hands held out high above them.

"Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Baphomet, Lucifer, Loki, Cthulhu, Lilith, Hela." he called out a Succession of names, some of which I half remembered from late-night TriVid binges between missions, "Blood given to you all!"

"On any other day, this would seem strange." Scilicorn mused, "On any other day, that is."

"Some things never change." Aung spoke, his voice like someone who was gargling with gravel, "Your soul for power and fortune, just sign on the dotted line with your blood."

"Or somebody else's." Joker looked PISSED, "Okay, I want that arsehole alive. He's obviously the one calling the shots. Don't care about the rest..."

"You have come. The witness to the end of time." A knife appeared in the hand of the figure in the white robe, "It's now!"

"Okay, new plan." Joker raised her gun, "Let's just shoot every one who resists."

As one, we erupted from the shadows.

"MORALITY INSPECTION!" I yelled out at the top of my voice, "NOBODY ****** MOVE!"

All hell broke lose.

Some tried to run, others surrender, but enough drew their own knives that it turned into a real shit-show. We were at the top of a flight of stairs, with clear lines of fire, but the moment we started shooting, the mob below us panicked like a flock of headless chickens. I guess facing armed, prepared opponents was a bit different to butchering some terrified kid tied to a table. They'd wanted blood to flow that night, and God as my witness, we made sure it did.

And then...

Afterwards, after the Provosts arrived and pulled us out to be looked over by the medics, they told us that they'd been burning some kind of rare plant, that the smoke had been full of some kind of hallucinogenic drug. That said that the things we was weren't real, that they couldn't have been real. That the wounds we saw inflicted were the result of the knives the Cultists had used as they turned upon one another. And I most certainly didn't see a blue skinned woman, big as a BattleMech and with four arms, appear in the middle of the room and rip the white robed figure limb from limb. That's apparently just the result of the drugs triggering a memory of growing up on Naka Pabni, and I most definitely did not see the Goddess Kali appear before me in all her glory to destroy the evil and protect the innocent.

I mean, yeah, my mother was a Hindu, and I grew up learning about her culture and religion, but I'm most definitely lapsed NACC!

We were all individually debriefed by representatives of the JAG and Mercenary Liaison Office, who told us that the Club had been a cover for a deranged Cult who believed that the Clan Invasion was a sign of the End Times. They wanted to hurry things along by summoning... something, they didn't seem to care what, believing that, by helping to usher in the apocalypse, they'd be rewarded when it was all over. Well, most of them ended up dead, the few survivors would have spent the rest of their lives in prison on a mental hospital if you guys hadn't invaded. I was still in the hospital recovering, but the others?

If you haven't captured them, then I have no idea where they are.

So, yes, Khan Natasha Kerensky, I have met Joker, and to the best of my knowledge. She's very much alive and well, but no, I have no idea where she is.

The End


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