The Junior Harvester Tales

By [SK] Furball

Part 2

Chapter V

It had been an evil night and Tempestkeeper Coke was not happy.

He was leading a Bas' patrol in the Stormkeepers Area of Operations based on rumours of activity in SK controlled territory. As a hastily planned and executed mission, normal lead/wingman assignments were not the priority. Coke knew arranging teams on the fly was risky, but this mission needed speed.

And then the garbled, screamed plea for help had come scorching in at SK Ops.

"This is Javen Station! Javen Station! Stormkeepers! Stormkeepers! Do you copy!" came the frantic call.

"Javen Station is under attack! Unknown force attacking! .... dead! Help Stormkeepers! We... rom...dead!"

The transmission began to flux in and out.

And then the final "...keepers! Help us! Atta..." and then silence.

Javen Station was a remote agricultural station far outside normal habitated regions, and chance had placed it within the Stormkeepers perimeter. With minor trading and support both ways, Javen Station had come to see itself as being under the protection of the Order of Chaos and Calm; and the Stormkeepers, ever the Guardians, looked after it as best they could.

But on that night, as reports had begun to come in from remote sensors of unusual activity, Javen Station fell.

Coke and his party, consisting of Fire-Rage Onfire, Ravagers John and Lmsc, Earthmasters Bummer and Jeffr and SumatranTiger; had ventured out in force-recon mode. In staggered double wedge formation, the patrol visited sensor outposts and found destroyed equipment and scorched martian terrain. Weapons of power had been used here. But who and what? That was the question.

When Coke and the patrol were informed of the urgent call for help from Javen, they slammed their sticks to max and rocketed across the martian landscape toward an unknown destiny.

What they found there defied belief.

Great gaping craters yawned before them where only hours before, homes, businesses and warehouses had stood. All had been reduced to rubble through a tremendous application of force. Only the wreckage now remained.

"Roving perimeter! John and Bummer go now!" Tempestkeeper Coke ordered.

"Sumatra and Lsmc...scan for life signs center to north. Onfire, you're with me center to south!"

As the keepers began to grimly go about the business of establishing a defense and life scan, wonder began to seep in at the extent of destruction and the rapidity at which it had been accomplished. Something, someone, some force had swiftly and mercilessly destroyed Javen Station.

"Life sign bearing 210 Coke!" Onfire reported.

"Check! Watch my six. I'm getting out to check" Coke replied as he pivoted his Herc towards the faint reading.

Coke checked his 'resc' unit for full functionality, popped the hatch on his Herc and clambered down the side using the hand and toe holds built in. Checking his hand scanner for exact location, he entered the remains of a warehouse that appeared to have been in disuse, although destroyed along with the rest of the station. As he picked his way along, he homed in on the signal until he arrived at the source.

He found a very slight, tall form in a filthy 'viro' suit that was barely functioning.

Chapter VI

Furball didn't have a name. At least none other than Furball.

Some of the SK's had names that they used as their callsigns. Others used names of whimsy for their callsigns. But they had names. All he had was Furball.

When he was young, Fur's mother had told him that giving birth to him was like a cat throwing up a furball. And so the name stuck. It didn't seem to bother him most of the time. For most of his life, people had called him other, worse names than Furball.

After being rescued by Tempestkeeper Coke, he had woken up in the med bay of the Stormkeep. The lone survivor of the destruction of Javen Station.

He knew nothing of who or what had attacked Javen. He had snuck into the Javen compound that very night in search of a place to sleep and to scrounge some food. All he remembered of the attack were severe concussions and then blackness.

The Stormkeeper leadership had been extrememly disturbed (and still were!) by the extent and ferocity of the attack on Javen Station. That coupled with the fact that they had recovered no other live humans (save Furball...and why was that?) or detected any other life signs greatly troubled them.

The awful suspicion that the attack had been Cybrid was ever present in senior SK thoughts. If it had been Cybrids on a lifeform raid, would be better to have been killed in the attack.

Chapter VII

Furball allowed himself to be led forward by Fire-Rage Louie. Towards his doom. Towards Hobart.

It gradually grew in his vision until it filled his sight.

At 6 meters by 5 meters, the Cybrid Goad was not the largest Herc by any measure, but up close, any Herc is enormous.

Crouched in power-down mode, the Herc waited. Almost seeming alive, it seemed to know he was coming and seemed to await him. He became aware that Louie was speaking to him...

"...and it's been fully fitted with a 'holo' so you don't have to use the windshield. 'Course, you can't anyway cause of Lollipop...but hey! It's customized already for you 'harvey'!" laughed Louie.

"Come over and help me with this gantry" Louie said as he walked towards a moveable ladder meant to facilitate getting into Hercs and for maintenance. Furball helped his senior officer push the 'mag-lev' gantry into place and then watched as Louie set the field 'stab' so that it wouldn't move.

Fire-Rage Louie pressed the remote cockpit open switch and gestured towards the Herc.

"Well, get in 'harvey'." Louie said.

"Man, I thought I was going to have to get a 'resc' unit for Furball!" Lollipop laughed.

"He looked absolutely green around the gills! And you could have been nicer too bud!" he grinned and said to his friend.

"I know, I know. I just couldn't resist. It was just too priceless an opportunity to pass up!" Louie laughed.

"I mean....Hobart! For Aldur's sake! What a nightmare for your first Herc huh?!?"

"Ya know.." Lollipop observed. "It was kinda weird. But after he got over the initial shock of actually being in his first Herc. He got sort of quiet and something changed. Dunno what it was."

"Yeah. I saw that too man." Louie agreed. "Maybe it grew him up a little."

"Yeah. That'd be a good thing huh?" Lolli looked at his friend seriously.

Louie nodded his assent and they went back to de-bugging Looies Herc.

Chapter VIII

Life proceeds apace for the Stormkeepers. Ever vigilant. Ever watchful. Praying for peace and preparing for war. The life of a Stormkeeper. Chaos and Calm.

In the Stormkeep, life proceeds very like other places. Human life differs very slightly from place to place. Babies are born, the old die. Sleeping, eating, training, standing watch. The life of a Stormkeeper.

Furball has been taking life very seriously since his introduction to 'herchood' as it's called. Poring over an archaic tome entitled "Field Dynamics in Crystalluminum Structures Under High Plasma Bombardment Densities" by Waverider Flea 103. Keeper Flea, being a Goad driver, had a keen interest in keeping himself alive in battle, and thus was a Stormkeeper subject matter expert on Goad structural integrity in battle conditions.

Fuball looks up as a Keeper named Floyd takes up a position opposite him in the refectory and begins to consume his meal. Floyd is newer to the order than Furball, but due to his piloting skill, has been placed at the Keeper level. This doesn't bother Furball as he knows he has much to learn before he can even aspire to promotion. Furball has heard about Floyd from some of his other bunkmates. Floyd was in Finance or a C.P.A. or something before he joined the Stormkeepers.

"Whatcha' readin man?" Floyd asks between bites on his near-Strog.

"Physics man. Physics. And it's makin my eyes cross!" Furball wearily replies. "I mean, who the hell can write this, much less read it, and still be called a human being!" He rubs his eyes and lays his head on the dining table.

"You know" Floyd chompily and cheerily opines "you need to take it a little slower dude!"

"You seem to have some kind of mother-huge chip on your shoulder what with being a wanderer, an orphan and having a name like Furball and all".

"Thanks bro! I needed to hear that from you!" Furball says as he gathers his books from the table and leaves.

"Hey man! Anytime you need some cheering come see old Floyd okay!" Floyd calls happily after him as he returns to his meal.

Chapter IX

Earthmaster Sabbath was having a busy day.

He'd just completed the Rite of Dedication and Nurturing for Tempestkeeper Ramrod's son and had an upcoming discussion on inter-squad protocol with Tempestkeeper Coke and needed to prepare. As he settles down at his desk there is a knock on the door.

"Come in!"

"Sir! Harvester Furball requests a counselling session sir!" Furball says as he walks dejectedly into the room.

"Uh oh..." thinks Sabbath to himself as he sees Furball's condition.

As the Stormkeep Counsellor, Sabbath takes his duties very seriously indeed. He makes it his business to ensure that he knows all about the 'keepers in his care. Aside from being a 'stompin' Herc pilot, Sabbath is imbued with a great capacity for empathy which is why he serves as Counsellor. Along with a knack for helping people over a friendly game of Thrack, he's also famed for making the best Zorph in six systems.

"Sit down son" he says while putting away his protocol papers. Oh well. Coke will understand.

"What's on your mind Fur?"

"Sab, I'm thinking of quitting the Stormkeepers"

Rocked to his heels by this statement, Sabbath reaches out with his special talent to try to help this troubled youth.

"Furball, what's caused you to come to this decision?" Sabbath asks. Concern for this young 'keeper etched on his face.

"Well sir, it's like this. I don't seem to be getting any better at my piloting skills...and I think the other guys are embarrased to have me on the squad! Plus, I just can't get the hang of sub-moleculor lattice level arrayed physics!" Furball groaned as he stared at the carpet.

"When I fight against the guys in the sim, I get slaughtered here, curb stomped there. I've felt the burn from every Stormkeeper at least a hundred times! They wipe me out all the time!"

"And that J2! He's just the meanest! He and Ramrod just keep running around me shooting my legs and feet off!"

"I hear it in my sleep! Dum de dum...Dum de dum...Dum de dum...It's driving me nuts!"

Keeping his face carefully neutral, Sabbath leaned back and relaxed a little.

"So..." he thought. "He's reached this crisis. Now I know what to say to him"

"Furball, look at me!" Sabbath says as he fixes Furball with his gaze. Furball looks up at the caring face of the Counsellor, seeking relief, pain evident on his young face.

"Son, understand this fact..."

"You are being trained by, and fighting against, the best and finest warriors this Galaxy has ever produced!" he continued.

"The mere fact that you are ALLOWED to battle and train against them, much less occasionally succeed against them, speaks volumes on your behalf!"

"As a matter of fact, Yes. You are being hit hard by the stick of training right now." Sabbath said gravely.

"These are dark times young man. The Order of Chaos and Calm has need of Stormkeepers who are up to those challenges. If your senior officers didn't think you capable of growing into a Stormkeeper, you wouldn't still be here!"

Sabbath leaned back into the foam chair and waited to see what effect his words would have on the young Harvester.

Furball struggled hard to hear what his Counsellor had just said. Could it be true?

All at once, as if the Darkstar itself had enlightened him (and truly, who knows what the Darkstar is capable of?), Furball saw the truth in what his wise advisor had said.

Furball sits up straight and looks his Counsellor in the eye with renewed vigor.

"Sir, I see now! I should have seen it all along but I'm too close to the problem!" he exclaimed.

"My confidence is my problem! I need to understand where I am and not get so wrapped up in my progress! Only in improving!"

Sabbath broke into a wide grin and said "Exactly Son! Let the Darkstar worry about tomorrow! You just worry about today!"

Furball breaks into a relieved laugh and then Sabbath chats with him for a while to settle his young charge.

"Well son, we'll have no more this talk of leaving the order! If you're feeling better, I have to get ready for another meeting!" Sabbath says as he stands.

Getting up with him, Furball extends his hand and shakes Sabbath's hand in gratitude.

"Thank you sir! I feel a lot better now" he says as he turns for the door.

Sabbath heads for his desk and sits down as Furball opens the door, but suddenly looks up at his young charge.

"Oh and Furball?" he says.

"Yes Sir?" Furball says turning to face his senior.

"I don't get sub-moleculor lattice level arrayed physics either" Sabbath says breaking into a wide grin.

"Now get back to your duties young man!"

Chapter X

But as suns don't revolve around worlds, neither does the world revolve around Furball.

Back to a conversation between Tempestaldur Hanuman and Tempestkeeper Coke months back in a darkened, seldom used, dimly lit corridor.

"And what have you heard about the attack lately Coke?" Hanuman asks as he puts the conversation about Furball away in his mind.

"Well sir, other than the fact that a new type of high energy weapon was used, and that no trace of the inhabitants of Javen Station can be found. Nothing" Coke says tiredly as he walks beside his chief.

"We've replaced all the destroyed sensor arrays, analyzed the attacking Herc tracks...and" Coke trails off.

"And what?" Han asks.

"Well sir, the attack pattern is one we haven't seen before to date. That alone causes me concern because it means we have to adopt new tactics to something we haven't fought yet. And then there is the subject of something new within their attacking force that has caused them to create a new attack pattern in the first place!"

Coke is thinking, HAS been thinking of this subject for months since the attack. What was the reason for the attack? WHO attacked? What type of Hercs were used and what weapons were mounted?

All grave concerns for the senior leadership of the Stormkeepers.

But why in that corridor?

To Be Continued...