The Junior Harvester Tales

By [SK] Furball

Part 3

Chapter XI

Ravager Lmsc scanned the horizon from his defilade position below the hill. Expecting the attack from that direction, he had his sensors actively scanning. The reverse slope defense had been used successfully since warfare began.

Basically, this tactic means you defend from the other side of the hill you are defending. You have to wait though for the enemy to crest the hill to get to you. Conversely, it also means the enemy is skylined and firing down while moving...a distinct disadvantage

It also means that the defender had better have his flanks and defense secure. Because in a reverse slope defense, there is nowhere to run. Especially if you are hiding in a hole.

Which is exactly where Lmsc was.

Lmsc is out training Harvesters this day.

Lmsc is evaluating Harvesters in Goads. Harvesters Blade, Furball, Sidewinder and Skale. The objective of the exercise was for the Harvesters to plan an attack on a defensive position together, and then try to execute it.

"All Harvesters..." he thought to himself. "Fresh meat for the grinder."

"IF we don't do our jobs corrctly" he then thought.

Training Herc pilots was a tremendous responsibility because of the stakes involved. Death, swift and sudden, awaited the unwary, untrained or uncautious. Especially Harvesters newly mounted on their first Hercs. The thrill of your first 'command'. The power in the vehicles, the firepower of the armament, the elevated position above the ground all contributed to what was affectionately called 'harvey head-rush'.

Lmsc is another 'goadzo'. He loves 'em. Passionately. "Oh baby..." he thinks "a pair of 'brid legs and a cute pair of AC!!...."

Bringing himself back to the situation at hand, Lmsc catches a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his left eye. Quickly checking sensors, he catches a flicker of signature energy.

"Hmmmm...either leaky cloak or shields not powered down". Checking his 'sig' logs, he see's that it's Skale's Herc. Noting this for the after-action briefing, he continues to scan.

Suddenly, another Goad, cloaked and moving fast, is skylined above him.

"Either bait or not thinking..." he notes in his log.

Ravager Lmsc's emplaced remote sensors suddenly go off indicating approach from the rear.

"Hmm...good tactic. Let's see how they react now to some real stimulus" he grinned.

Powering up, Lmsc's Goad suddenly reared from it's hide position.

Having already targeted the upslope approaching Goad, Lmsc fires his training lasers. Training lasers, coded to pilot/vehicle and linked to the training computer, were used to simulate combat and weapon effectivities.

A quick look confirms a 'sim' kill to the approaching Goad's shoulder area. It's Sidewinder.

"Ahh...Sidewinder." There's going to be a talk about hill tactics for sure after this.

A radar check indicates rear targets still too far away to be a threat. Turning left, Lmsc acquires Skale and fires to make Skale uncloak and fire. This tactic helps to expose the attacker to the defender's fire and hopefully Skale won't fall for it.

Skale does.

Firing, Skale's cloak dissolves and Lmsc grins as he 'sim' punches Skale's ticket.

Now for the rearguard he thinks to himself.

The sound and light of training lasers engulfs his Goad as he realizes they have lock and he is exposed.

Pivoting quickly, he turns and acquires target lock and begins firing. Beginning to move out of his hide position, he gets lucky and blows the simulated guns off Furball's Herc, leaving him defenseless.

At this, he turns to target the last Goad. He see's it is stationary. Puzzled and maddened at such stupidity from Blade, Lmsc 'sim' destroys his Goad quickly.

As he moves forward, a training mine detonates under his Goad indicating a kill!

"What the he...!" Lmsc thinks.

Then it hits him.

Blade abandoned his Goad and planted the mine, using his Goad as a decoy.

Lmsc chuckles to himself and then keys the command link "All Harvesters, cease attack. Return Hercs to rendevous point!"

Powering up and mentally collecting his thoughts for the debriefing to come, Lmsc drives away.

Chapter XII

Work. Ceaseless and efficient. The hallmark of the Stormkeep.

All 'keepers are always at work on defenses, strategies, tactics, life-support, Herc maintenance. Whatever contributes to the success of the squad.

As a Harvester, Furball is in the thick of things. Part of constant varied work is the knowledge it imparts. It may seem like madness to a new Harvester, but constant varied exposure to all aspects of a Stormkeep is the best way to learn how one works, to learn many different jobs and to get exposure to all aspects of the life as quickly as possible.

Because of his early exposure to the varied and numerous tunnels beneath the Stormkeep, Furball has acquired the unofficial title of 'Dungeon Master' from his peers. To his seniors, he's affectionately called 'the Mole'.

Today, Fur is working for Earthmaster Asbuniggiwubbits. He hadn't thought anyone could have a stranger name than his until he heard of his. He still couldn't pronounce it without stumbling through it. Some just called him 'Asb'. Some called him 'wubbits'. Fur just called it even and said "Sir!".

"Awright now. You jes get on down this here hole Mole-boy, and see what's causing them weird recirc patterns we got goin' on out here" Earthmaster Asbuniggiwubbits directed Furball.

"An see if'n you can't scare us up some more of 'dem grub's fer our lunch. I'm a getting a might peckish what with missing chow an' all" he grinned as Fur lowers himself through the access tube.

"Yeah, and how'd you like a charge accumulator coupled to your 'sim' death counter" mutters Furball as the darkness envelops him.

In his behalf, these tunnels and corridors had become like a second home to Furball, and he no longer lived in fear of what might be around the next corner. As he drops out of the access tube into the tunnel, he realizes that he's been here before.

"It was the night Hanuman and Coke found me asleep in the corridor!" he laughs to himself. That thought and smile fades though as the memory of the dreams returns to haunt him.

His more and more frequent visits to these darkened ways seems to have awakened something in Furball. Some nights, he dreams of a violent night, filled with screams and explosions. Other nights he dreams of a voice in the blackness telling him things he can't quite make out. And still on other nights, the voice returns, and then excrutiating pain below his eye.

Weekly visits to Sabbath for 'hyp' therapy don't seem to be helping much. His squad leader, Keeper Gi-Jose, had ordered him to start going after Sweet-Sugar confided that his nightly dreams seemed to be getting worse.

"I don't know sir. I'm kinda worried about ole' Fur and his dreams" she says to Gi. "He's a likeable fellow and they seem to be draining him!"

Jose had thanked SS for keeping him informed and then passed the word up the chain of command. Stormkeepers watch over their own.

As Furball hits the tunnel floor, he get's it again.

That 'ghost' feeling he had whenever he was around Louie or Lollipop. Quickly spinning around in the gloom, he shines his 'scanner' around to see if they are waiting for him or something. Be just like Lollipop to jump out of the dark and yell "Boo!".

As he pans the light around him, he notices (...or thinks he does!) something about the tunnel.

"That's odd" he says quietly.

"I thought this tunnel went back towards the Stormkeep!?!"

"Now it looks like it just ends about 50m ahead.?" his puzzled, whispered voice echoes sibilantly as he slowly advances to what is very obviously a dead end in the tunnel.

Coming up the wall, he puts out his hand and verifies to himself that yes indeed, it is solid 'crete'.

"But...I've got to be able to go farther. The 'recirc' units I'm down here to check have got to be this direction!?" he mutters, continuing to slowly run his hand over the hard, smooth surface.

"Well, maybe I'm just pointed the wrong way" he says as he checks his scanner for bearings.

"Nope! Stormkeep is definately over there, and this wall shouldn't be here!" he exclaims.

"And I've been down here for a while with nothing accomplished! Oh man, ''bubbit's is going to 'heel 'n hide' me to the door of Bay 1 if I don't get this done today!"

Turning his back on the wall, he begins to walk tiredly back the way he came.

"What I do For The Darkstar!"

As he says those words, he hears a rumbling sound behind him. Spinning around fast, he catches glimpse of a brilliant light out of the corner of his eye as his body is caught in a 'lyso' beam, his vision fades...

"Ah...'tis the hair of the cat"

"Not entirely unexpected this is. Inconvenient, yes. Yes. But no harm done"

Fur could tell he was lying prone, but could not see, and then conciousness leaves him.

Chapter XIII

"No sir! I will not leave it be!" Waverider Sinclair spoke vehemently.

" I can't properly maintain, purchase or build with what I've been given for resources!"

Sinclair was in a meeting with Tempestaldur's Venom and Hanuman discussing Stormkeep logistics.

"Sir, I know you came up through 'log's', so I know you know what I'm talking about!"

"You haven't given me enough credits to repair what the 'harvey's do my stuff on a weekly basis, much less buy weapons or new Hercs!" Sinclair fairly shouted.

"Why! Ramrod's nursery is better equipped than my Herc bays! I've even got two Herc's without FEET for Aldur's sake!"

"That'll be quite enough Sin..." Hanuman starts.

"No sir! I'm sorry sir, but I've got to state my case!" Sinclair WAS now shouting. Sometimes a Stormkeeper must stand his ground to his superiors.

"I can't buy paint for skins, lube', 200cm bolts, food, circuits, uniforms or AC rounds on promises! Why, if it weren't for the Mole fixing my 'recirc's and scrounging parts from othe.." Sinclair suddenly stopped and froze.

Venom looks up from the reports he's been studying.

" were saying Sin?" Venom asks.

"Uh...." Sin stared straight ahead think of how to extricate himself from the mess his mouth had gotten him into.

"Waverider Sinclair..." Hanuman began, "I'd hate to think that you were in any way compormising the moral indoctrination of our Harvester's by encouraging certain of their 'talents' for 'finding' equipment from other squads!" he said.

"Oh Han," Venon said, "I'm sure Sinclair here was just about to say 'other Herc's', and not other squads!" Venom said, pointedly looking at Sinclair.

"Uh yes sir! Uh, yeah...yeah...that's right! Other Hercs'!" Sinclair says.

"Because if I EVER heard of such behavior, I'd have the offending Stormkeeper manning a listening post ALONE for the rest of his days!" Venom said in his menacing tone.

Hanuman leaned back in his chair and allowed the faintest smile to flicker arcoss his mask. The 'mask' is how Hanuman thought of the total projection of himself that he showed the rest of the world. As a senior leader of the Stormkeepers, he could not afford to let his subordinates know that might actually be human. And even quite a likeable enough fellow too!

"Sinclair, I hear you", Han said. "I know what you are up against in keeping things running smoothly. But you have to understand, there are needs you are not aware of that are dictating expenditures right now" he concluded.

"But sir! How are we supposed to fight off any attack with Herc's that are not in top shape"? Sinclair continued.

"I mean, for all the credits I'm NOT getting, I could go out and buy an entire squads worth of equipment!"

Venom looks up from his papers.

"Or...or, build 'em up from scratch myself! Or..."

Sinclair stops again. This time with a slight tilt of his head. As if thinking of something new. Something radical.

He looks at his Chief.

Hanuman and Venom are not moving. Not speaking. Just staring. Staring right at Waverider Sinclair.

"Uh...uh...uh. Right sir!" Sinclair says, sweat breaking out on his forehead.

"My team will do whatever we have to do with what we're given sir!" Sinclair affirms as he salutes smartly.

"Hmmmm...Sinclair?..." Hanuman begins.

"No, never mind. Ok. Allright. And thanks Sin. That's the spirit! Dismissed!" Hanuman orders.

Sinclair fairly spins on his heels and rockets out the door as fast as he can.

Hanuman and Venom glance at each other with very serious looks indeed.

"And?" Hanuman asks.

"I don't think so...not yet....not completely" Venom says. "But he might in time. Watch him Han!" Venom replies to his friend.

Hanuman nods and looks at the door after the departed Sinclair.

Meanwhile, a very nervous, very discomfitted head of Stomekeep Logistics is making his way back to his Bay's and whispering to himself.

"Ohhh Sin....Ohhhh buddy...that was too close...TOO close..." he mutters.

"Remember Shadow-Axe buddy...and keep that mouth of your's shut!!!!" he told himself and walked on.

Chapter XIV

Furball woke sitting propped up against the cool wall of the corridor. One mother-huge headache making his eyes hurt. He hears footsteps coming towards him.

"Dag nab it son! What the DS you doin boy?" 'Wubbits asks, striding up to him.

"You sleepin' the on the job troop?" he demands.

Struggling to his feet, Furball feels a little disoriented.

"What was I doing?" he thinks to himself. Looking around him he finds that the surroundings aren't familiar. "How did I get here?" he thinks.

"You allright boy?" 'Wubbits asks. He's beginning to realize that there is something wrong with Furball, what with the way he looks so pale and all...and that funny look on his face.

"You okay Harverster?" 'Wubbits asks again.

"Uh...sir? What am I doing down here?" Furball asks.

Surprised, Earthmaster Asbuniggiwubbits peers at his young troop.

"Musta been the exertion he's been under.." he thinks. He looks again.

Not liking what he see's, he orders Furball off to Bay 6 to pull some 'maint' on Hobart.

As Furball climbs back up the tube, 'Wubbitts is standing rubbing his chin...and thinking.

Furball has come to love Hobart. He calls him 'Hobie'.

Furball has become pretty good with his beat-up Herc. Every waking minute not spent on watch, work or studies has been spent in Bay 6, feet hanging out of an access panel, exploring the inner workings of his old Goad.

Right now, Furball is almost completely inside the 'nose' of 'Hobie'. He has opened the sliding access cover and crawled inside to check on his fire-control circuits. Harvester Velociraptor and Newbie are on the bay floor.

"Yo Fur! Whatcha doin' in there man! Readin' a 'holo' or somthin'?" Velo' yells up.

Fur's voice come back from inside the Herc.

"Nah...just a little longer! Just found it!" he yells out.

"It's a loose 'las' gyro! Give me another couple of minutes to lock it down!"

Velo looks around disgustedly. His Herc, code named 'Talon', is backed in and berthed beside 'Hobie' in Bay 6.

Bay 6, being the furthest from the Stormkeep always seems to be the place where all the junk accumulates. Scrapped sleds, broken tools, part piles, a pool of slimy liquid near the wall, and even two old, nasty Herc's that appear to be missing their feet greet his gaze.

"Hey Velo, get that 'gant' over here! I'm ready to come down!" Furball yells to his friend and fellow 'harvey'.

Sighing, Velo takes Harvester Newbie by the elbow and says "come on Newb', let's push it together".

Maneuvering the 'gant' under the 'nose' of Hobie, Velo locks it down and waits for Fur to grab on and steady himself.

Coming down the stairs, Furball see's the puddle of liquid over by the wall. Walking over to the mess, he crouches, dips a finger in and sniffs.

"Whew!" he says wrinkling his nose.

"Hey Velo! You been bleedin' 'Talon's' primary coolant by Hobie" he asks suspiciously.

"No way man! I just saw that myself! Sure stinks don't it?!?" he says.

"Well it came from somewhere! If you didn't do it... who did?" he says not quite believing Velo.

"I dunno man. But look, we got Sacred Services in 20, and you haven't buttoned up Hobie yet" as he indicated the open access port on the crouched Herc.

"Oh well" Furball says. "I'll come back later and close 'er up! Come on! I gotta 'freshed' and change before. Last time I went to the Close smelly and rumpled, Sabbath had me fixing 'cleaners' for a week!" he grinned as they policed up Newb and left.

"That was close!"

"Do you think they suspect anything?"

"No, just a couple of 'harvey's' "

"Well, let's get out there and clean it up before anybody else notices. I never thought it would leak through..."

In the darkened Bay, two shadowy figures man mops and 'vac' droids.

To Be Continued...