Copyright © 1998 by A.T. Green
All references to Hercs and the StarSiege Universe © 1998 Dynamix Corporation

The Junior Harvester Tales

By [SK] Furball

Part 1

Chapter I

Furball was talking to himself again. Actually muttering under his breath as he shambled along.

"Oh man, don't these guys ever sleep around here?" as he wandered to his quarters after a long day of checking pressure shields on storage facilities.

"Buildings?" he thought to himself. "I'm supposed to be a Herc 'pilot-in-training' and these guys have me checking pressure seals for Aldur's sake!". Waverider Sinclair always smiled at him as he reported for each new assignment. He was never really caught up on sleep, always stumbling along in a haze of confusion as he attempted to learn the intricate workings of a base of Stormkeepers. Sinclair had handed him his assignment today with extra relish he thought after reviewing it. The worst, outdated, dilapadated, nastiest holes seemed to have been picked out just for him! He'd spent the day crawling through access tunnels 35m below the Martian surface checking re-breathing units, gaskets and ventilation fans. The best part had been crawling blind into a nest of Martian grub-worms that had grown particularly fat and gruesome chewing on power couplings. That evil memory made him involuntarily shudder as he stumbled along blindly searching for his rack.

Mentally exhausted by days of unending indoctrination, Herc sim training and endless watches; he slowly sinks to the ground in an exhausted stupor in a darkened hallway in a remote storage facility....

The evil dream of Cybrid Herc's, Tempestkeeper Ramrod's evil "Dum de dum" training laugh as he drove his Eman' circles around him, and the ever-present HUD after-image slowly fade from his mind as he feels the combat boot of a Herc suit digging into his spine.

"Get up Keeper and stand at attention!" roars the voice.

Instant fear reaction propels him to his feet, back braced against the wall, staring into the dreaded eyes of Tempestaldur Hanuman, Stormkeeper Training Master.

"What do you think you're doing here Furball! And make it snappy I don't have all day!" roared the legendary strategist/tactician of the order.

"Uh...uh...uh......sleeping sir?!?" comes the croaked reply.

A dry chuckle comes from his right elbow as Furball perceives that Tempestkeeper Coke is also with Hanuman.

"Well, give him credit Han, at least he knows what he's doing right now! he..he...brp!" laughs Coke jovially, eyes shining mirthfully in the dim gloom.

"I can see you were sleeping Fur, but why in a corridor way out here?" Hanuman asks patiently.

"I must have dozed off on the way to my quarters sir!" Furball manages to choke out from behind his fear.

Hanuman gives an exasperated sigh as if to signify that he feels especially put upon by the Darkstar itself for having to put up with such a dolt.

"Fine Furball. Stumble along back to your quarters and sleep there. You might have gotten stepped on by something a lot bigger than me if you'd been a little less lucky. And then we'd have had to go to the trouble of holding a funeral for you, right now when we can least afford miscellaneous interruptions like that!"

"Alright off you go now!" commanded Hanuman. "And do it at the double! The sooner you sleep the sooner you can get back to clearing ventilation shafts over in Bay 12!"

Furball hears this over his shoulder as he has already started running full-ahead down the corridor. A dry chuckle follows him as he fades away into the gloom....

"I don't know about him Coke," Hanuman says looking after the departing Harvester, "sometimes I just don't see what you saw when you promoted him to Harvester!"

Coke, staring at his friend across the darkened hallway, smiles.

"Well, at least his reports from Sinclair are satisfactory! And we know he's been getting some nasty assignments from Sin just to try to weed him out!" grins Coke.

"Yeah!" chuckles Hanuman "didja hear about the grubs he had to clear out!" as Hanuman breaks into a full throated laugh. "You could hear him yelling clear over in Ops!"

The two senior Stormkeepers laughed for a moment longer and then Hanuman fixed Coke with his steely glance and resumed "but seriously Coke, I really doubt whether or not Furball has what it takes to make it as a pilot" he says with grim finality.

"I hear that his sim training is not going well at all. He starts attacks well, but Ramrod says that after he's detected and the firing starts, it's just 'Hi Diddle Diddle, straight up the middle' for him" Hanuman continues.

"And as we both know, that's just lethal, stupid behavior if he's ever to actually fight a Herc!"

"I know" Coke sighs. "But still, there's something there. Some ability, otherwise you wouldn't have agreed to continue training him! Much less promote him to Harvester! He's a fighter you got to admit!" Coke continued.

"When I found him out there, half buried in the rubble of the abandoned warehouse he'd been scavaging, he was barely alive! But he was fighting for life! Apparently he's had to fight just to stay alive his whole life!"

"That's what I saw, and that's what I think you and Ram should build on!" Coke continued passionately. "Sure he's stupid tactically right now. And I agree with you, I wouldn't trust him to back a Bas' into it's bay as far as his Pilot skills go, but there's something there. I feel it!" Coke concluded finally. The silence between the two grew as they studied each other across the hallway.

Dispassionately, Hanuman eyed his friend and longtime fighting companion. Coke had found and resuced Furball, and was therefore somewhat attached to the boy. Hanuman knew that he could afford no such feelings. As Master Trainer, he was morally bound to ensure that NO ONE fought for the Stormkeepers that he wasn't 100% sure had had the full benefit of training, and was adequately prepared. He had serious doubts now that Furball would ever make it as a Herc pilot.

A known Goadzo, Furball seemed to gravitate to Goad's in the simulator. Preferring their speed and maneuverability to the firepower or resiliency of other Herc's, he drove Goad's almost exclusively. While Goad or Cybrid Herc drivers were not uncommon in the Order, exclusive preference for one vehicle was frowned upon. It was felt that knowledge and practice with other vehicles was best for the 'rounding out' of a finished pilot.

A lot of pilots jokingly referred to Goad pilots as 'head cases' for wanting to pilot such a vehicle what with it's limits, but Hanuman himself had started in Goad's, and was therefore partial to anyone who showed an interest in his former 'first love'.

He thought back to his training review with Ramrod this afternoon. Ramrod had been detailing his thorough 'thumping' as he called it, of Furball in the simulator.

"Oh man, I tell you it was total carnage in there!" Ramrod exclaimed. "J2 was hitting him with so many lefts, Fur was beggin' for a right by the time it was over!" he laughed uproariously. Tempestkeeper Ramrod was referring to Keeper J2CA_AZ who had been in the sim facility when Furball had been scheduled for training.

"J2 just jumped in with me and chased that poor guy from one end of Mars2 to the other!" he grinned as if remembering something particularly toothsome about the whole battle.

And then the grin faded.

"But I tell you sir, he's got some serious shortcomings that need to be addressed and tended to fast!" Ramrod continued. "He continues to fall for the same tricks over and over! Why, in Ice3 he always got zapped by the wingman in the under-garage ploy as he turned to face the first hidden Herc. He just kept gettin' nailed!"

"And Fire-Rage Hawkeye has been out on patrol duty so much lately he hasn't had enough time to evalute him completely" Ramrod continued.

"But to be honest, he did seek out help, and Ravager Lmsc spent some good, quality time with him, so he's got initiative and the will to learn. I just don't know if he'll 'get it' in the end though!" Ramrod concluded.

"Okay Ram, thanks for the update" Hanuman replied to his Assistant Training Instructor. "And thanks also for the extra time you've been putting in helping out training new guys. I know that with your new family responsibilities it's a burden!"

Ramrod's mien softened as he thought about his new child and his beloved family he fought so hard to protect. His Chief's words meant much to him and made him feel renewed pride in being part of such an organization as the Stormkeepers.

Ramrod squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and said "well chief, we'll do our best, or kill him in the process!" he laughed.

"As Blackie says "It is better to be hit with the Stick of Training than by the Sword of Experience."

And with that Ramrod saluted crisply and turning on his heels, strode out of Hanuman's office humming 'Dum de dum...' and grinning....

Hanuman came back from his reverie still looking thoughtfully at Coke.

"Ok Coke. We continue with Furball's training" he said.

"It's about time we got his 'brain case housing group' into a real Herc anyway, so I'm going to tell Hawkeye to put him into Hobart".

Coke jolted off the wall at those dreaded words.

"You're not serious! Hobart!" he exclaimed. An incredulous look spreading over his face is suddenly masked by an outburst of uncontolled laughter. And then they both start laughing.

It soon dies out as they come back to the real world and it's concerns. They begin walking back down the dimly lit corridor, heads together, disucssing the increasingly worrisome reports and the endless stream of demands that their high offices dictate.

Chapter II

"Harvester Furball, report immediately to Fire-Rage Hawkeye's office. Reply."

"Harvester Furball, report immediately to Fire-Rage Hawkeye's office. Reply."

"Now that's something I've not heard in these dreams before" thinks Furball in his sleepy stupor. And then it hits him.

He jolts out of his rack only to smack his head on the overhanging bunk of Harvester Sweet Sugar. Her hand snakes out from beneath the coverlet and smacks him across the temple.

"Furball you oaf!" she hisses sleepily.

"I just got to sleep and you slam me awake every time you wake up! When you gonna learn where you are boy!" she cries out as one who has also been too long without decent REM sleep.

"Sorry SS!" Fur mutters sheepishly as he rubs his head in two places at once.

And then he remembers...

"Harvester Furball ackowledging orders!" he says to the air, knowing that the 'puter in the room will relay it back to Ops. Knowing he has only minutes to comply now, he hops into the 'fresher', then into a rumpled but clean jumpsuit and legs it 'on the double' to Fire-Rage Hawkeye's office.

Hawkeye acknowledge's the timid knock with a curt 'Enter!" as Furball announces himself.

"Stand at attention for orders Harvester!" commands Hawkeye.

Fire-Rage Hawkeye eyes the new Harvester or 'harvey' (as the SK's jokingly refer to their lowest official rank), under his tutelage in the Order of Chaos and Calm. Equivalent to a Cadet or Mid-Shipmen of old, Harvester's are really just there to be trained after passing through Initiation and acceptance into the Stormkeepers.

Hawkeye has been out on Patrol/Interdiction for the past few weeks and has not had much time to work with this new harvey. Having only fought with and against Furball in the 'sim' a few times, he also recognizes the shortcomings of this possible future pilot, but has also seen the spark of aggresiveness and tenacity that his seniors have. He looks up at Furball and takes stock.

At 6'3", Furball is a rangy, dog-eared looking 'harvey'. A short, red beard (barely permissable under regs due to face mask requirements), short close-cropped non-descript hair and a curling, livid scar under his right eye are what you notice.

His height is what Fire-Rage Hawkeye is thinking of now.

"How they ever expect him to work well in Hobart is beyond me" he thinks to himself.

"Fine" he says eyeing Furball.

"You are hereby ordered to report to Bay 6. There you will report to Ravager Lmsc and begin orientation, familiarization and 'hands-on' training with Herc C-00."

At that, Hawkeye inwardly smiles. He knows only too well that Furball has only the dimmest perception of what awaits him in Bay 6.

Upon hearing the dreaded designation of C-00, Furball almost passes out.

Summoning up his courage and shaking off this perceived humiliation, he salutes and crisply replies "Yes Sir!".

Giving him credit for not breaking down into a gibbering pool of iridescent protoplasm at hearing 'C-00', Hawkeye smiles at Furball. Something Furball didn't think was possible for this fabled war hero.

"Harvester" Hawk continues. "It's a mark of passage when a pilot is given his or her first chance at actually getting into a real Herc. It might not seem like it now, but this assignment is in no way indicative of your value to us. It's just that given your vehicle preferences, and what with the state of just happens to be all that we have for your to work with right now. Do you understand?" Hawkeye queries the trembling Furball.

"Yes sir! Thank you sir! I'll do my best for the Darkstart sir!" Furball replies. A bit bolstered by his superiors words, he begins to feel better.

"Allright son. Good attitude! Now, dismissed and double-time it to Bay 6 young man! You've got a full day ahead of you!" Hawkeye commands.

Furball salutes again, and spinning in a crisp about face, strides out of [SK] Hawkeye's office.

Hawkeye continues to eye the shut door, smiling to himself as he remembers his first Herc. Then, with the look of someone completely overworked but absolutely competent, returns to his paperwork.

With his back against Fire-Rage Hawkeye's door, Furball is freaking out.

C-00!!!! "How can this be happening to me!" he thinks to himself.

Glancing around and trying to get a grip, he notices the offices of Stormkeeper Tazar and Tempestaldur Venom. Realizing where he is, the 'holy of holies', near The Corner Suite of the Senior SK's, and not wanting to get caught there, he 'doubles' out.

As he runs, he thinks about what he has seen and heard of those fabled warriors.

Only having seen Venom once, he knows that will hold him for a LONG time. What with his battle scars, ascerbic wit and totally fierce demeanor, he want's nothing to do with the Stormkeepers War Minister. Forever!

And Tazar! If only half the stories about him are true; well, that's one SK he NEVER wants to encounter. As Chief of Intelliegence for The Stormkeepers, Tazar himself regularly goes into harms' way on behalf of The Order of Chaos and Calm. Going alone, un-aided, Tazar is said to actually enter Cybrid bases! And often!

"What courage!" Furball thinks to himself as he runs. A secretive operator, Tazar is rarely seen. And chances are, if you see Tazar, you are an enemy of the Stormkeepers. And Tazar is likely to be the LAST thing you EVER see again.

Furball is almost at Bay 6.

Chapter III

"Well check it again man! There's a short in there somewhere and I want it OUT ya know?!!!!" Fire-Rage Louie yells up to Fire-Rage Lollipop.

Both of them are working on 'Looies' Herc in Bay 6. Lollipop is half hanging, dangling feet-out of the cockpit with two mech's flanking him. Louie is down below with a mag-flux hand-scanner plugged into the service socket, the dust plug hanging from it's keeper.

"Ya know man...this IS your Herc. You could get up here and let me scan!" Lolli' yells down at his 'bud' and lead.

"Yeah, but you're so good at 'hands on', it would be a shame to waste that DS given talent on something so mundane as scanning!" Louie yells back up at Lollipop grinning.

"Yeah right!" laughs Lollipop as he clambers fully into the cockpit.

Just then, Louie recognizes Furball as he runs across the Bay.

"Hey, hang on Lolli, I got something I got to take care of!" Louie yells up to Lollipop.

"Well don't be gone too long! I miss you when you're not here!" Lollipop yells to his buddy. Laughing, he ducks back into the cockpit. He's seen Furball too.

"Whoa young 'harvey'!" yells Louie. "Come over here a minute!"

Furball swerves to answer the command, stops and salutes.

"Yes sir?"

Stopped dead in front of Fire-Rage Louie, Furball has that old familiar feeling he gets around either Louie or Lollipop.

Every time he gets near either of the other, it seems that he can sense something odd about them. Nothing you could put your finger on. Just a vague feeling that they are 'different' somehow. And it's worse when they are together. Sometimes they finish each others sentences, or know somehow what the other is going to say. Just a vague sense that they are different from the other Stormkeepers.

Not bad mind you. No Stormkeeper gives off a 'bad' air. That's something you notice about the members of the Order of Chaos and Calm. A subtle feeling of 'goodness' offset by the obvious balance of Serenity and Violence.

But with these two, there was something new. A 'connectedness' was the only way Furball could put it to himself. A feeling he'd not felt in a long time. Not since....

He was snapped out of his thoughts as he realized the Fire-Rage was addressing him.

"Ravager Lmsc was called out on Recon duty today so I'm to show you C-00" the Fire-Rage said looking straight through him. Or at least that's the way it felt to Furball.

"C-00 Sir!?!! So, I'm still to be assigned to that one sir??!" Furball asked hoping against hope.

"Yup son. You, and ONLY you have the distinct 'privelage' of being assigned to C-00! Congratulations!" smirked the Fire-Rage.

And with that, Louie turned and gestured towards C-00 lurking behind him in the shadows of the massive Bay...

Chapter IV

Officially C-00. Code named 'Hobart', and affectionately (and also jokingly) called 'The Hobby Horse'.

C-00 was a beat up, mangled, war-torn, misbegotten, forgotten, thrice-fragged, Aldur forsaken piece of Cybrid Goad.

And it was now Furball's.

"Oh this ain't happening man!" thought Furball. "Oh Darkstar! This can't be happening to me!"

Nobody knew how old Hobart was. To be honest, nobody cared. It had obviously been in other battles before the one that finally zapped it and landed it with the Stormkeepers.

There was massive Blaster damage to it's legs and upper shoulder. Multiple laser and missle blast marks scored it's flanks and rear. It's most distinguishing feature though had come courtesy of Fire-Rage Mexican-Connection.

During a heated exchange, Fire-Rage M-C had drilled Hobart (and it's Cybrid pilot) right through the left side of the front of the cockpit. Right where an eye would have been (if it had had one), giving it a hideously gruesome appearance. In a fit of typically Lollipop-esque humour, Lolli had painted his trademark yellow GFX Smiley Face over the blast hole, giving the Herc a ludicrous yet disturbing feeling. A yellow-smiley faced eye-patch over a battle scar.

Yet for all it's damage and it's appearance, the hobby-horse is fully functional, fully repaired, and is used as a trainer when none others are available. And now it is Furball's.

Seeing that the 'harvey' has been struck dumb, Louie grabs him by his elbow, and grinning wildly, proceeds to lead the the stupefied Harvester to his new 'mount'.

To Be Continued...