Tantamount – Episode 7 – Profiles of the Freeway Phantom

Victimology FP

To further support our podcast Tantamount: Season One, the Washington DC Serial Killer the Freeway Phantom, I had a friend suggest I post the transcript of the episode up.  Obviously I encourage you to give us a listen.  We’re on most of the Podcast providers.

Link to Podbean Episode on Profiles of the Freeway Phantom

Here’s the transcript of the Episode:

Hello, this is Blaine Pardoe

And this is Victoria Hester –co-author to my dad and a bestselling true crime author too.  Sorry it has taken so long for another episode but I am a Director of Nursing and this whole pandemic-thing has really eaten into my free time.

I’m glad we are able to get back to putting out some content.  .

Me too. It’s great to talk about something other than this damned spicy virus.  Okay then, welcome to Episode 7 of Tantamount Season One – Profiles of the Freeway Phantom.  Up to this point we have covered the crimes of the Phantom in 1971 and 72.  We talked about how these victims are connected.  We explored the, and I am quoting here, ‘confessions’ of the Green Vega Gang.  We also dug into Robert Askins as a suspect.  This episode we are stepping back a bit and looking at the criminal profiles the authorities have used on these cases.  If you are a fan of the Netflix series Mindhunter, you’ll get a kick out of this one.

For me, I think it is important to frame the early profiles in terms of the years the crimes took place.  Remember, profiling really didn’t emerge until the early 1980’s.  So there was no model for it, no established precedent for investigators.  There weren’t any true experts, though some were starting to emerge in the early 1970’s.

So where does that leave the police?  With a lot of guesswork by local psychiatrists and mental health experts.  The authorities went to local psychiatric hospitals, not so much to get a profile, but to see if any of the doctors had patients that could be the killer.

You couldn’t do that today, not with the HIPPA rules.

Boy that’s true.  And none of these doctors seemed to have the kind of training, such as studying past serial killers, that could help them frame their thinking.  So what you get is little fragments of their best guesses.

Let me go through some and you’ll see what I mean.

One doctor said the killer should be, “considered quite clever.”  He was likely to have  a “sociopathic personality disorder,” and was likely able to function in society without attracting much attention to himself.

Another doctor at the Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, Maryland, said that killer was “extremely dangerous…bordering on psychopathic extremes in behavior.”  Such a person would exhibit paranoid delusions, possibly triggered by phonetic sounds. His belief that sounds may trigger an explosion of violence was tied to the name “Denise.”

So, what he’s saying is that the name ‘Denise’ is what triggered the behavior?

Apparently.

I see what you mean about these being best guesses.

He wasn’t alone with the whole Denise-connection – a number of doctors interviewed by the Washington DC newspapers called out that name and said that the killer had an obsession with girls that had that name.  Of course, none of them could explain the real question – how would the killer know that the girls had that as middle names?  I mean this is an age before the internet and social media – so how could he have known?  They went to different schools, lived in different parts of the city…so how could that possibly be a connection?

It can’t.

I agree.

Anyway, A doctor Radauskas of the Perkins State Hospital in Jessup, Maryland,said the killer “likely functioned very well in society.”  He suggested it was a “personality quirk” that manifested him to opt for strangulation as the means to kill his young victims.  Calling what the Freeway Phantom did as a ‘quirk’ seems a bit disingenuous to me.

It does make me wonder just how much information the authorities shared with these doctors?  If they didn’t tell them much, then their responses might be pretty vague.

That’s a part of the problem.  The records we were able to obtain from our confidential sources really don’t go into that much depth.

One that stood out for me was Dr. Regis Riesenman, a forensic physician from Arlington Virginia.  He suggested that the suspect felt inadequate and/or insecure, and that this is likely stemming from having a weak or absent male or father figure and a dominant or strong mother. He said that this would have led to him demonstrating, “cowardly traits.”

I think I know where you are going here.

Yup – this sounds like Robert Askins.

In his analysis, the suspect is paranoid and schizoid…a likely sadist since he appears to obtain sexual thrills from the use of physical violence. Dr. Reisenman did not rule out that the suspect practiced necrophilia.  That is interesting because it doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of the Freeway Phantom – that we know of.

The doctor believed that the suspect may be under the influence of drugs, and he is possibly a megalomaniac, braggart, who labors under a strong compulsion to kill. In his thinking, the likely suspect is clever, with above-average intelligence.

I think the best one they got early on was from a former FBI agent named Walter McLaughlin.  He was old school FBI, but was a pioneer in criminal sexual classification and what would become known as profiling.  He was years ahead of the others in this field.

He believed that the unsub was a young Negro male. In his words, “This is mostly substantiated with his free and undetected movement in the close-knit neighborhoods. He may have a job or even live in those areas.”  In other words he definitely has familiarity with the streets he hunted on.

“The unsub demonstrated a degree of higher learning, with at least one or two years of college education. The killer had ready access to an automobile. Based on the note left on Brenda Woodard and his actions – he harbors a hatred towards women.”

McLaughlin further theorized that the unsub sought out victims who appealed to him in a personal manner, possibly linked to his mother, wife, or girlfriend. He didn’t see the victims as children at all – simply as females. The name Denise meant nothing; it was simply coincidental that some of his victims shared this name. He believed that the killer had previous brushes with the law, likely being minor incidents.

His suggestion to the investigators was to contact the high school English teachers in the area to determine whether any students they have had in the past used or misused the word, “tantamount.”

What adds credibility to this is that he says that the name Denise is coincidental.

It does.  Another interesting opinion was offered by Dr. Oscar Prado, the Director of Forensic Psychiatry at the Springfield State Hospital.  In his interview with investigators he said that he believed that the killer was akin to a man, “going on a hunt,” choosing an area to operate were he would find a “pool” of potential victims who met his mental criteria. In his mind, this was a white male, based mostly on the fact that his victims were black. Interestingly, he said if all the victims were white, he would have thought it was a black suspect. He said that the killer was likely a “leg man,” because all the victims were in skirts or shorts.

The potential suspect would be “typical” looking in appearance, be in his late twenties in terms of age, extremely clever with above-average intelligence. He would likely be an unreliable employee, most likely working in some sort of blue-collar capacity. The murderer had likely not been hospitalized, but if he had, it would have been for a crime related to violence rather than sex.

Dr. Prado suggested that the person they should be looking for was potentially suffering from a “superman complex,” with grandiose delusions. He was complex and consumed with a severe hatred of women.

Prado was the only person authorities consulted with that suggested that the Phantom was a white man.  He said that if the victims had been white, he would have suggested the killer was a black man.

It is interesting and says something about the times and the race tensions.

He said that the killer was likely a “leg man,” because all the victims were in skirts or shorts.

These were young kids in some cases…I call bullshit on the theory that he chose his victims based on their legs.  Clearly these folks were just taking stabs in the dark.  What I found the most compelling was the FBI profile that had been done in the 1990’s.  We were able to obtain it from a confidential police informant.  What makes it stand out is that it was done two decades later, when profiling was a tool for investigators.

The first thing that stands out is that Teara Ann Bryant was included in the profile.  The Washington DC and Prince George’s County had always excluded her.  For reasons we covered earlier in these podcasts, we think she is a part of the Freeway Phantom crimes and clearly the FBI did as well.

From a victimology perspective, the FBI highlights that the victims were essentially at low risk of being the targets of violent crimes. What may have made them more susceptible was their age and naiveté. Combined with being alone at night and outdoors increased their risk factors.

Their common denominator was being adolescent, black females, alone at the time of initial contact with their killer in highly populated areas. The FBI concluded that their killer was not someone they knew but a stranger.

The FBI determined that the nature by which the victims were killed, the depositing of the bodies and the fact they had no relation to their attacker, all point to, and I quote here, “…our conclusion that these homicides were perpetrated by the same assailant.”

“The offender offset his risk somewhat by approaching the older victims later at night.” His approach to his prey was to not apply immediate physical force. The lack of defensive wounds, other that Brenda Woodard, “seem to suggest that at least for a time the victims were willing to be in the company of the offender. Either they did not perceive him to be an immediate threat or he was able to gain complete control of his victims by fear and the threat of immediate and serious bodily harm. More likely, it is suggested that the offender used a combination of the two. His approach to the victims may not even have been perceived by them as an immediate threat. Yet, once he had the victims alone, he was able to dominate and control them by the display and threat of a weapon (possibly a knife). With younger victims, the display of the weapon may not have been necessary as they could have been intimidated by the offender’s age, size, and/or verbal threats.”

The FBI hit on other key points that stand out to me.  They said the Phantom’s contact with his victims was “opportunistic.” The victims were out alone, at night, walking…not necessarily following a standard pattern. Some were known to accept rides from strangers. The killer had to have used an automobile to abduct his victims. He may have simply used his car and an offer of a ride as part of his initial contact with them. “This does not preclude the possibility that he was driving around looking for potential victims,” the profile highlights.

Another key piece they surfaced in their profile was, “the offender reduced his risk of having the bodies connected to him. If confronted near the disposal areas, he could have the same ‘alibi” as thousands of other travelers, ‘I was just driving down the road.’ This procedure also offset the offender’s risk of being seen in the short amount of time it took him to ‘dump’ the bodies.”  They added, “He, essentially, removed any chance of being identified by killing the only witnesses he believed to exist, the victims.”

The Bureau believed that investigators are dealing with a black male suspect. This is substantiated by the finding of Negroid head hair on many of the victims and the racial make-up of the neighborhoods where the victims were first approached and abducted.

The killer was likely to be between 27 and 32 years of age. This was arrived at by examining the ages of the victims, the degree of trauma inflicted, the amount of control the killer had to use over his victims and, to a lesser degree, the willingness of the victims to initially be in the presence of their killer during their first contact. The FBI admits though that the age of the killer was difficult to access. It proved difficult for them to compare the chronological and emotional age of the Freeway Phantom. “This estimate relates to a suspected chronological age, however, no suspect should be eliminated based on age alone.”

The murderer was smart – possessing a high school education and likely a higher education such as college.

The killer most likely held down a full-time job. All his victims were confronted after what would be considered normal working hours. Their bodies were all disposed of late at night or early in the morning. The killer never demonstrated a desire to rob his victims, everyone he picked was too young to have any money of consequence on them. The FBI believed he could be working as a delivery man, postal worker, medical assistant, a role in security, the military or possibly in recreation.

The Freeway Phantom is able to have relationships with people, even women but likely does not have the skills to maintain “healthy” relationships. The FBI believes he is single and either lives alone or with an older, significant female.  He follows his crimes in the media – hence having Brenda Woodard write a note found on her body.

The FBI acknowledged that the killer owned his own vehicle – a late model car and kept it well maintained.

The Freeway Phantom was not a drinker or drug user, at least during the times of his crimes. His control obsession would not have allowed it. The use of such substances would have lowered his inhibitions and possibly ruined the experience he felt.

As an investigator and author, when I read that profile, it was pretty chilling to me.  You get a mental picture of the killer.  Almost all of the profiles, even the quirky ones early on, all point to one thing – this is a person that is smart. According to the FBI profile, he is able to blend in well in the community.  This guy is all about control – of his victims – of himself.

I remember reading in the profile we obtained, that the Phantom was most likely intimidated by women his own age or older. That was why he chose younger women as targets. They were easier to control and allowed him to act on his disdain for the opposite sex.

They went onto say that if the murderer did have an arrest record, it would probably include, “…vice-related offenses, such as solicitation for prostitution or assault on women.”  So for me, this was another arrow pointing squarely at Robert Askins.

I have to agree with you on that.  He also had no father figure – he was raised by his mother and aunt.

Listen to this from the report, “The offender feels no remorse or guilt, as to him killing the victims had no consequence. His only concern was that he may have been seen with the victims. Once he became assured he was not a suspect, he would have felt safe.”

The FBI explored his deposition of victims too.  When done with the murders and disposing of his victims, he went home or to another “safe place.” There was little on him physically in the way of evidence that linked him to the crimes.

They had an interesting section on why there was such a long period between Brenda Woodard and Dianne Williams.  There were two possibilities for the gap according to the FBI. One, after the resistance he experienced with Brenda Woodard, he may have had, “some difficulty and retreated into his fantasies of past killings,” rather than return to his hunting patterns. Her fighting back against him ruined the experience for him or even scared him that he could not maintain control.

The other possibility was that he had moved on, been institutionalized/jailed, or left the area. When he was trolling for Dianne Williams, he returned to the same area where Spinks and Johnson had lived – returning to his old stalking grounds.

What stand out to me is that this is probably the most up-to-date victim-based profile out there on the killer.  It’s certainly the first one that was done with knowledge of how serial killers operated.  Even so, from the 1990’s, it is slightly dated.  I remember reading one portion, worth repeating here:

Consideration must be given as to why this series of murders has stopped. Based upon research conducted by the NCAVC (National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime), this type of offender does not just stop because he wants to. The offender has either died, been incarcerated in an institution of some kind, or has moved from the area. If the offender has moved, it is likely that the new jurisdiction has experienced similar murders of similar victims.”

Of course when this was written, we didn’t have information on the Green River Killer or BTK where there were instances where serial killers stopped.

True.  At the time, the thought was that he was dead, moved on, or in jail.  Now we know more about the minds of serial killers.  They can stop – due to a change in their lives or a dangerous brush with law enforcement.

It is also important to note that the profile doesn’t solve the case on its own.  It is a framework that helps you narrow potential suspects.  The FBI profilers were clear to the investigators, ‘don’t rule out a suspect just because he doesn’t 100% fit the profile.’

And in this case, the profile still has not generated the desired outcome – and arrest.

For me, this makes me settle on a few things.  First, this is a smart killer, smarter than average. Second, he is black.  These are not racially motivated crimes.  Third, the killer has some deep-rooted mommy issues…that’s where his issues with women comes into play

I don’t disagree.  He also has a very good knowledge of the areas where he is picking up his victims and where he is dumping their bodies.  All of which leads us to take a look at the geography of these sites.  We can probably get closer to who the killer is with an in-depth look at geographic profiling…narrowing the search even more.  I was toying with jumping into it here, but it really deserves a full episode all on its own.

I agree.

In the next episode of Tantamount – We dive into the intriguing area of geographic profiling that was done on the case in 2006, and where that leads us.  Join us for Episode 8, The Phantom of St. E’s

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 37 – The Chalice of St. John

Shit

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Brandon…

“I think the best reason for us to get the chalice is simple – it could be used against us by Barristen,” Theren said as we assembled in the morning. To me it made sense.  The Chalice of St. John was said to have resurrective powers. We had flirted with death many times – and the chance to die and come back had appeal to me.

“I like the idea of an artifact that can keep me living forever,” Althalus added wryly. Somehow when he said it, it made me nervous.  We bid farewell to the Order of the Sapphire and went to the town gate and gathered our weapons.  I was going to miss Alistair.  The people there were friendly and seemed to really like us.

“What was it that was guarding this chalice?” I asked.

“A beguiling female demon.  I think it’s a succubus,” Althalus said.  “So I’m super-onboard with this little side trip.”

Our first night out, I heard the sound of a nearby wolf pack, howling in the distance.  I approached the nearest of the pack.  I pulled some jerky out of my haversack and offered it to the wolf, which it greedily ate. It took some coaxing on my part, but soon I was able to get close enough to pet it. When I looked into its eyes, I could sense a bond between us.  I lured it away from the pack and towards our camp, offering it scraps of food. I knew the ways of the wolf as a ranger, and calmed the beast with a magic spell…convincing it that I was its friend. The wolf cuddled my side.

“I love puppies!” Althalus said from behind me.

“Don’t hug him,” I warned.  “He and I are companions now, or we will be by the time I am done training him.”

The next day was uneventful until the afternoon.  I was on point as usual, when I picked up the murmurs of goblin voices.  They chattered in that babble they call a language for a few minutes, then mysteriously went quiet.  My wolf began to growl.  Theren stepped up and cast one of his fire spells into the brush, flushing out these beasties quickly.  Goblin arrows rained down on me, one hitting in the right shoulder and sticking there.

Althalus blasted away with his emerald green eldritch power, sending one of the goblins flying back with smoking holes in its tiny chest.  Some fired back at our Warlock, I was hit again as I drew my bow and unleashed an arrow, hitting it in the throat mid-squeal, leaving it with gushing blood and a gurgle as it staggered back. My second arrow hit it as well, leaving it clinging to life.  My new wolf companion sprung and tore at it, ripping it futilely.

Theren cast ice knife – hitting one and exploding shards of ice out from the damaged one.  Goblin parts flew into the air, along with a rain of sickly green blood.  Althalus blew another one apart, tossing its bloody corpse back some ten heads.  The remaining three goblins opted to flee in a panic. My trusty wolf tore at the loin cloth of one who managed to scramble and run away, tossing it about playfully.

As we marched on, the mountain range to the west seemed to loom before us. We marched on for two more days with little incident.  During my watch I heard a lute playing in the distance.  I stealthfully woke up the camp.

“That lute…it’s out of tune,” Theren said as he yawned.

“Who would be out in the forest playing a lute?” Arius asked.

We opted for caution.  After two hours or so, the music stopped.  No one seemed to be approaching the camp.  The next morning we notice camp smoke rising from the north of our site. Exercising caution, we paid them little heed.  That night, however, we were approached by one of their protectors.

Cautiously we approached the small gray-robed party.  Althalus opened a dialogue with them and determined they were the source of the lute music.  They were led by Brother Mortimer and said that he and the others were looking for the Stairs – like us.  They said that one of them, Sister Margaret, had gone before them and had not been heard from in days.  To me, they seemed pretty sincere and not much of a threat. I wondered if she was some sort of virgin, off to be sacrificed – and I kind of found that appealing.

Althalus told them we were heading to the Stars as well.  He seemed to know about the Chalice of St. John as well.  Margaret went into the old priory there and she never came back.  There were eight of the parishioners including Mortimer and he invited us to join him.  We didn’t detect any deceit in what he was offering.  Packing up, we joined them. Most of them seemed intrigued with Arius given he was a paladin.

I asked if they knew anything about a succubus, but Mortimer said it was likely an old-wives tale.  “The church abandoned the old priory in the Stairs ages ago, for reasons only known to their exalted leadership.  The pilgrims went there to try and find the abandoned artifacts there and recover them in the name of God.”  So why did the church abandon this place?  That answer was for us to discover.

Two days travel west we arrived at the Stairs.  It was a massive crack in the mountain range, rising high into the heavy mists above. Old worn and weathered stone stairs twisted and rose up crack, towering above us.  Mortimer and the others called out for Sister Margaret but their voices merely echoed sadly upward into the heart of the mountain range. Margaret, we learned through scraps of conversation, had been chosen by her village to lead the pilgrimage.  Her party planned on waiting at the foot of the Stairs, waiting for her to return.  On the other hand, we were planning on foraging onward.

As I led the party upward, the stone walls of the great crack seemed to come to a close, the stairs ending where the walls came together.  It seemed odd to me – after all, the stairs went upward for hundreds of feet, but led nowhere but a dead end.  Theren simply walked forward into the crack, seeming to pass through a veil or magical curtain of some sort.  On the other side the steps continued upward.  Theren leaned back to us and told us it was all an illusion.

We dallied with the thought of telling the pilgrims we had found a way in, but Althalus cautioned against it.  “What good does that information do for them?”  We opted to remain quiet and press on.

The stairway twisted and turned upward – well-worn where footfalls had slowly eroded the steps. We were concerned that a fall might kill one or more of us.  I found a few bits of chain and long dried blood on several steps. At the end, hundreds of feet up and into the mountain, we came to a sealed door with the words, “Speak unto God,” carved into it. We were unsure how to proceed – the door was sealed and would not open.  “Which one?” Althalus asked. “There are a lot of gods.”

Arius stared at the door deep in thought.  The paladin pondered the stone door in silence.  He knocked on the door but nothing happened.  He then lowered on one knee and prayed in front of the door and it cracked open with a deep echoing crack – sending a billow of light dust outward.

The chamber held a large dais in the middle of the room, and two statues flanking it.  We could make out a door at the far end of the chamber.  As we approached we saw that the statues had been vandalized, their heads had been broken off and were on the floor under a thin film of dust. Theren lit the sconces and noticed some strange shadows in the domed ceiling.  The creatures moved on us, thin black shadows, almost a void in the air.  Five of them darted in at us, moving like men.

I drew my bow and fired, missing one, hitting with the second shot. My wolf moved in front of one near Arius and attacked, ripping at one of the ethereal shadow-creatures, knocking it to the floor.  Althalus unleashed his magical beams – slamming into one of them, knocking it into the wall, leaving an inky black splatter where the creature existed.

Theren’s quarterstaff shimmered in the air hitting one hard.  Arius unleashed his holy smite with Skullringer, killing one instantly.  The room became a blur around me.  One hit Theren, making his body sag as it drew away his strength.  I sent an arrow into the injured one, killing it.  My trusty wolf savaged his downed shadow. Althalus’s emerald beams cut down the last one, cutting it into shreds.

We moved to the door on the far wall and opened it.  A rush of air almost blew out the flames from the torches in the sconces.  A long two-head wide stone bridge stretched out over a vast chasm, hundreds of feet deep.  The walls were some fifty heads away, flanking the bridge. Above, the chasm opened to the sky, giving us enough light to see the stark white bones and rusted armor below.

“They could have at least put up some rails,” Althalus said.  None of us thought it was very funny.

Theren devised a plan to transform into a giant spider. He went across for a short distance and two pendulums with spinning blades swung across, one hitting him, one missing. That was enough for him, he moved under the bridge, moving underneath.  In one portion, he found a five foot piece of the bridge missing, it was an illusion.  If we had crossed we would have plummeted to our death.  He spun a web over the spot and reached the far side.

The spider-Theren returned and, after some strange signals with his legs, convinced us to climb onto him and he proceeded to shuttle us across one at a time, under the bridge.  I was forced to leave my pet wolf behind, which saddened me greatly.  He had already proven himself a worthy companion.  One of our trips had triggered a log on chains swinging across – enough to knock anyone on the bridge off if we had been there. It took us over an hour to get across.

The bridge ended in a landing with a single ironoak door.  Arius turned the handle and pushed it open.  It was a sixty by twenty foot room with a pair of alabaster baths and two water pools.  No doubt this is was where pilgrims could cleanse themselves when this had been managed by the church.

As Arius moved near one pool, the water took form and struck at him, slamming him hard.  An Elemental!  Theren fired webbing to restrain the creature, but it failed to have any effect.  Arius bore the brunt of the wet assault.  I leapt in with Nightstalker and Bonebreaker, splashing water about the room. Althalus’s eldritch blasts left wisps of steam from the holes they burned. Arius hit with Skullringer and a blast of holy smites, spraying water everywhere in the room.

Theren changed back to human form, lashing out with his thorn whip spell – the whip harmlessly passing through the creature.

The elemental turned on me, overwhelming me, grappling me.  I could not breathe, water filled my nose and mouth. I wanted to use my teleport ring, but the water made uttering the word impossible.  Althalus’s beams tore into the form.  Arius slammed it again with Skullringer, finishing it off.  I dropped to the floor, gasping for breath.

We found a golden cross embedded with emeralds in the pool. Theren took it and put it in his kit. The room appeared to be a dead end, so we searched for a hidden door, which our druid found.  A narrow hallway stretched out then turned a hard left.  Further exploration led to stairs down, deeper into the mountain.  Theren fell into the trap pit with spikes, falling 15 heads and tore up his legs.  We pulled him out. At the end of the snaking hallway was a large chamber.  Paintings, long ago defaced, lined the walls, which made me cringe slightly.

Althalus spoke up.  “Which one of you want to take point?”  We all gave him a scornful look.  There was a strange symbol in maroon, perhaps dried blood on the floor.  The shattered skeletons of over thirty dead littered the floor.

“That’s demonic,” the Warlock said pointing to the symbol.  “This is some satanic shit right here.”  We saw a hallway at the far end of the chamber.  I got an ominous feeling about all of this. These were once holy grounds…so that symbol boded ill.

“We should rest up,” Arius said.

“Here?” I asked.

Theren and I surveyed the hallway at the far end, hoping to avoid any surprises.  It went back 25 heads to a dead end.  Suddenly a stone slab dropped and began a slow grind.  Theren cast a spell on it to stop it, tipping the stone over. I found a hidden door at the end.  Thoughts of resting vanished for the time-being.  We moved down another twisting hallway.

We entered a massive chamber, 45 heads across, circular, with a tall ceiling that was domed.  I led the way into the room.  There was a massive heap of thick iron chains.  A raised seat in the center of the chamber with a female seated there.  She had giant bat wings and the stubs of horns on her head.  She was adorned in armor.  The braziers next to her lit up as I stepped in, illuminating the room.

Athalus followed me, half-stumbling into the room.  Looking up at her, his skin went pale.  “It’s a Cambion, the offspring of a Succubus.”  I had no idea what he was talking about but none of it sounded good. She seemed unfazed as we entered.

“You’ve made it father than most, for that I respect you,” she said in an eerily calm voice. “I am Chinahara.  Who are you?”

I puffed out my chest.  “I am Brandon Winderford,” I said proudly.

“Oh, so we’re going to tell her?” Althalus asked. “What the hell…I am Althalus, seeker of the Sapphire Eye.”

“Let me guess, you came for this?” she hissed.  “The chalice has been the perfect bait for me to lure in true believers and kill them.  I look forward to tasting your blood.”  She smiled, but not a good smile, a bad one.

She turns on Althalus.  “So you are a slayer of devils and demons? Drethcara, the gnawer of bones!  Long have I wondered what happened to him.  You carry his head like a trophy – Devil-slayer.  You will be the last to die so that you can see your friends perish.”

“I’m oddly good with that,” whispered Arius. She turned her eyes on him and locked her gaze.  I turned and drew Nightstalker, which burst into brilliant light, and charged at Chinahara, swinging hard.  My sword glanced off of her, but Bonebreaker did hit her gut hard.  Suddenly, Arius drew Skullringer and to my amazement, he reeled on Althalus, narrowly missing the warlock.  “What the fuck?”

Theren dropped a moonbeam on her, bursting her into flames, adding to the light in the room. Just then, the chains on the floor started to move, pulling together and forming up to a humanoid shape.  “A chain golem,” Althalus muttered.  Things got instantly worst.

She moved out of the moonbeam and onto me, hitting him with beams of fire. The chain golem started spinning, whipping the chains like massive flails.  Althalus turned invisible, disappearing in a blink of an eye.

I lost my grip on Nightstalker, sending it skittering along the floor, tossing up sparks.  “Aw crap!” I spat, still hitting with Bonebreaker.  Theren heated the metal of the golem, but that only seemed to make it both glow and get stronger.  Seeing that was failing, he transformed into a bear.

The sight of the bear got Chinahara drew her wrath. One of her beams of fire burned the fur of our druid, the stench of burned hide stung my nostrils. The chain golem hit me with a chain hard, hitting me hard, making my ribs ache.  My vision tunneled and I fell into unconsciousness.  The last thing I remembered was hearing with Chinahara commanding Arius to attack the bear.  The blackness took me away, muffling the rumble of the battle around me.

I regained my wits and managed to stagger to my feet.  The battle was still raging around me still.  In a throbbing haze, I moved in behind the Cambion and cast a spell that wrapped her in vines, which she snapped easily.  I hit with Bonebreaker, again, only scratching the armor.

Theren returned to human form, then made an attack, but bearly (intentionally) scratched her. The chain golem lashed out at but missed, the air whishing with the chains.

Althalus, no visible, hit her with his eldritch blast.  Chinahara hit the wall hard, hissing, then seemed to collapse inward, blinking out of the room. I staggered towards the chain golem, hitting it with a glancing blow.  The rattle of the chains from the impact did not bespeak any real damage.

Arius, in control of his senses again, hit the creature with Skullringer.  The smite of the blow made the chains expand outward for a moment, then reform again.  The golem turned on me, hitting me so hard that I once more blacked out, skidding along the floor.  I saw a tunnel in the darkness and started to drift towards a dot of light. Death loomed and I was prepared to face it.  Something tugged at me, pulling me back.

When I came too, there was a mound of chains and my comrades, drenched in blood and sweat, lit up by the flames of the braziers.

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Part 35

Part 36

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Shrapnel – The BattleTech Magazine, is now available for sale on Amazon (Kindle)

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When the Kickstarter came out for BattleTech and I saw one of the incentives was a BattleTech magazine, I have to admit a little kid inside me squealed with joy.  I remember the old days when we had fan magazines, StarDate, and BattleTechnology.  BattleCorps was a good source of fiction, but there wasn’t enough of it. There is a lot of goodness out there for BattleTech that isn’t novel-length, and a magazine would be a great format.

The Kickstarter backers got their copies two weeks ago.  Stop whining if you think that wasn’t fair, you had your chance to take part in the Kickstarter…  I was stunned at the sheer size.  It took me a while to get through it.  This is easily the size of a small book…much more than I expected.

The fiction includes the first part of a multi-part story by Mike Stackpole on the Kell Hounds (huzzah!) some Crescent Hawks love, a fantastic piece by my favorite author (me) on the Smoke Jaguars, and several other solid pieces.  Some of these stories are pretty long and engaging, especially the Ghost Bears story.  Grimm Sentence by Chris Hussey actually made me give a damn about Hendrik Grimm, no small task mind you.  There’s a lot of unexplored corners of the BattleTech universe screaming for this kind of good fiction.

There’s some game support material on the Eridani Light Horse and sniper rifles, for you RPG fans.  I loved Craig Reed’s fiction, Tales from the Cracked Canopy.

Perhaps the most important thing is that Shrapnel opens the door for fans to get their fiction published.  The submission guidelines are there – so go to town!  Fiction is back in the driver’s seat for the universe so this is your chance to prove your mettle.  Will you accept my batchall?

My only hope for improvement is more artwork.  This issue was packed with fiction but not a lot of art.  I would have liked to see more artwork in the pages.

Don’t be a Bob and ask me if this is going to be in print-copy.  I heard it was, but I honestly don’t know for sure.  I also have no idea if this will be an audio book, and, I can’t stress this enough, I don’t care.

BattleTech is back baby!

Okay – The Cat is Out of the Bag Rock of the Republic, an Unnamed novel, and Hour of the Wolf!

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Strike the pipes Craig Gulledge!  It’s time for the Highlanders to wade into battle! 

I have been silent and deliberately misleading about the ilClan book for a long time.  But this announcement:  The Big News!  allows me a chance to finally say two titles out loud – Rock of the Republic and Hour of the Wolf.

There’s another prequel coming out that is not on the list.  I think it simply got overlooked.  Shit happens.  More on that as soon as I find out what is happening with it. I’m confident it will come out at the same time as HotW (Hour of the Wolf) or before since it lays some pretty critical foundation for the events of ilClan.

So, for over a year now I have used XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX for Hour of the Wolf in my social media posts. We were worried about the title getting out because people make assumptions – usually incorrectly.  Technically, to throw people off, this fake title could have been deciphered to: Hour of the Jade Falcon.  So all of you codebreakers out there, you didn’t count on me being a total douchebag and deliberately using the wrong number of X’s.  Bad call on your part. Welcome to the Thunderdome!

Key thing here…don’t let the title fool you.  As with everything in the BattleTech universe, nothing is black and white.  Personally, I think it is a fantastic book with some fairly significant twists and turns.  Then again, I wrote it.  We shall see when the editor comes back with final “tweaks.” I seriously doubt we will be changing the winner(s) in this coming struggle.

You don’t have to read the prequels that come out – but honestly, they all layer together to tell a massive universe-changing story.  The story stands alone for new fans that want to jump into BattleTech with both feet – but for the experienced fans, I recommend devouring all of the fiction leading to the big show.

Rock’s rewrite was finished last weekend, so it is going to happen soon.  This story will set the stage for Devlin Stone’s defense of Terra – with a dash of Fidelis goodness tossed in.  I haven’t seen the cover for it, but I know it’s being worked on.  Usually, around the time I see the cover, that’s when I know it’s going to pop.  The unmentioned book will set the stage for Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon.  Throw in Icons of War and some Northwind Highlander shenanigans, and what you’ve already read in Divided We Fall,  and everything leads up to Hour of the Wolf!

I only wish we could have done the release in August at GenCon – as planned. Then again, fans can’t strangle me if I’m not there…so there’s that.

Buried in the announcement is the Spotlight on Snord’s Irregulars…which dovetails into another fiction piece on that iconic unit.  The boys are back with a vengence!

So, finally, the title is out. People will read into the announcement summaries and see in them whatever they will.  Some of you can cook up schemes and plots better than I can.  All I can say at this time is we are building up to a huge fight, sweeping politics, and the deviousness of key characters that BattleTech is known for.  Which Wolf am I referring to?  What of the Dragoons?  Is there are reason that there are Northwind Highlander books coming out too?  What other new ‘Mechs are coming?  Will The Republic of the Sphere be triumphant?  What about the other Clans?  What is Julian Davion wearing to the fall formal?  How do you pronounce Alaric again?  Where is Terra on the map?  Where in the hell are the Wolverines?  He mentioned Snord’s Irregulars, what’s the deal with that?  Why does he mess with us so?

Stay tuned.  “Same bat-time – same bat-channel…”

Moving and Packing Tips

Duck
Perhaps the worst product ever sold.

My wife and I are building a house so we had to pack and move most of our possessions into storage, move “essentials” into a temporary apartment, and, if that wasn’t enough, tomorrow we help my daughter move to her new house.  So, for the last 2-3 months, moving is something I have developed a competency in.  I thought I’d share some tips that will help you.

It’s just stuff.  Be prepared to throw stuff away. I don’t care who you are, you saved a lot of stuff that you know you will never use.  It is work to box it, costly to store it, and a pain in the lower back if you never are going to use it.  So, get rid of it.  Take pictures of stuff rather than keep the stuff.  Getting rid of your excess house is tricky because of COVID.  Learn the hours and rules of your local landfills.  Ours said they closed at 4:00pm but in reality, the gate closed at 3:50pm.  (I was tempted to argue with these folks but they have a rough enough job, working at a dump.)  Each landfill/dump is unnecessarily complicated – such as you can only bring one load a day or if you come in a truck you drive to a different area.  This weekend I got into an argument about geography – whether I really lived in the county or not (despite the evidence of my driver’s license).  Key here, learn the rules before you start hauling.

Donate.  We wanted to donate a lot of furniture.  That was nearly impossible given COVID.  Goodwill stopped taking the stuff.  Salvation Army stopped all pickups, as did the local RESTORE (Habitat for Humanity).  Even when they are open, they have rules and limitations.  With everyone cleaning their houses out during their time at home, many charities are full up as well.  We found a local charitable thrift store that gladly helped us out.  Make sure you keep the paperwork for your tax deductions to charity.

Boxes.  Some UHaul locations have a fantastic selection of oddly shaped boxes – like for lamps.  Lowes and Home Depot have boxes too.  Use the smaller boxes for the heavier stuff if you can.  I got a mix of boxes and sizes, making it like a game of Tetris for the movers to stack stuff for storage.  They told me that having a mix of sizes is a good thing – you can get more packed in a truck.  So…there you go.

I didn’t buy my boxes all at once.  We got ours in small batches and ended up with only three that were left over.  We used of about 45% small boxes, 30% medium boxes, 20% large boxes, and 5% extra large or strange shaped boxes.  Your results may vary.

Tape.  Do NOT buy Duck Brand Shipping Tape.  If the Duck people are reading this – your product sucks!  It wouldn’t even stick to itself for more than 10 minutes.  I’m not sure how it even stays rolled up.  It frustrated the hell out of us to pack a box and watch as the tape simply let go. I was going to complain to them but I feared they would send me more of their product.  Spend the money on good tape, it is important. This isn’t the thing to try and save a few cents on.

Glassware?  Use paper.  We bought bubble wrap and wrapping paper from UHaul.  The paper was the absolute best for wrapping stuff.  It is relatively cheap, easy to use, and you avoid all of the cutting of bubblewrap.  Most importantly, it works (based on past experience).

Mark your boxes.  Put down what room you want them to go into.  UHaul makes some tape that is great for this with bright colors for each room of your house as well as the name of the room.  Yes, the movers will tag the stuff, but they tag it based on the room it was picked up in.  You are more interested in the room it will be going to.  Keep that in mind.

Spot Shot.  We cleaned the house for two days so that the new owners could just move in.  You will have strange spots on the floor.  Spot Shot is perfect for quick clean-ups.  I have no idea what it is made of, but it works on small carpet spots.  I love this product. We used it for quick spots and the steam cleaner for the big carpet areas.

SpotShot

Don’t watch the movers.  You will cringe and bite your nails at some of the stuff they do to get your stuff out of the house.  Don’t watch them – focus on some other task like cleaning.

Buy help. If you are moving yourself – get a cheap four wheeled dolly.  We used this to move in a soft, box springs, mattresses, you name it.  And they only cost $11.00 at Harbor Freight.

Harbor Freight

So there you have it – unsolicited tips for moving from a “veteran.”  Feel free to share.

My Gaming ‘Origins’

While I have written a lot of role playing and table top miniatures gaming material (and novels) over the years, my start in gaming was with board games.  Like so many people, I started with Avalon Hill and SPI.  I had a copy of Tactics II that I played long and hard.  A veteran on my paper route had a game collection and we played almost every week – starting with Panzer Blitz, Strategy I, Panzer Leader, Squad Leader, Blitzkrieg, Soldiers, and other titles.

A bunch of us traveled to MichCon at Oakland University one hot summer, staying in the un-air-conditioned dorms and gaming to all hours of the night. In 1978 I went to Origins (I think in Ann Arbor) and actually got to play D&D under Gary Gygax himself.

During my recent move (we are building a new house) I came across two relics of that era.  One is the photograph of Tim Hopkins and me, in February of 1978, playing Arab Israeli Wars.  I’m the goofy looking kid on the right.  That was a great game.  It made me do research into the weapons and the war itself, which was what was great about gaming.  It’s a gateway drug to broader learning.

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The other relic I found was my Origins 1978 coin they gave out. Note:  RPG’s are not mentioned on the coin!  It is odd, but I think traveling to these colleges helped me decide to further my education – so another positive byproduct of my gaming.

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One summer I played Terrible Swift Sword with some guys…and we played weekly, all summer long.  That was wild.  I also got into miniatures, playing Tricolor Napoleonic’s using Airfix minis.  No matter what you did those Airfix minis would not hold the paint.

I started with RPG’s in high school, 1977-ish and still have my white box D&D first edition.  I never lost my love of board games – but I did lose the time needed to play them.

In college, my Freshman year, I fell in with a gaming group.  We played D-Day, with Panzer Leader.  It was on a series of maps that covered four ping-pong tables and we played round the clock, all weekend.  Thousands of counters – tons of fun.  My airborne forces (I was the 101st) were scattered but managed to cling onto our objectives…barely.

Of course I moved on to RPG’s, hell, many of us did.  I still have a good collection of board games though that I cherish.  There was something about those early days, moving the counters, rolling the dice, that was pure fun.

Anyway, I thought I would share these with you and I invite you to share your origin stories in gaming in the comments.

Part 2: Discussion of Divided We Fall – BattleTech Short Novel

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Aw, they scuffed up the new paint job!

SPOILER ALERT.  I strongly suggest you purchase, download, and read Divided We Fall before diving into this because this blog post will RUIN the story for you.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon or wherever you got it from.  Every little bit helps.

There is trepidation in writing about the Dragoons.  Wolf’s Dragoons lovers treat the regimental CO’s like saints in the Church of Jamie Wolf – I get that.  Just saying “Misery” conjures up images of deep-seated emotional pain for them, even after all of these years.  On top of that, when you write about Wolf’s Dragoons, it is always done in the shadow of Robert Charrette’s fantastic novels. As a writer, you have to admit that up-front. I always wanted to write about them, but was leery of doing so. After all, I am no Bob Charrette. The work he did with Jamie Wolf has stood the test of time. BattleTech fans can be pretty unforgiving (I know, big holy-shitballs revelation eh?) and the Dragoons were sacred ground for many of them. I knew whatever I wrote was going to be compared to Bob’s books and they were beloved. At the same time, I wanted to write this story.

I’m a gamer…and sometimes, you gotta roll the dice and pray for boxcars.

Some other “fans” warned me in advance about their feelings.  They told me they feel that the Dragoons are a “Mary Sue” unit, toughened by ferro-fibrous plot armor, immune to things that “normal” units (as if there is such a thing) must deal with.  I guess if you get nuked and survive the Mary Sue label comes with it. I never saw the Dragoons in this light.  They are the big boys on the block though, and deserve the respect they have earned. I don’t see them as plot armored, and it will be reflected in upcoming works. They are not infallible.  Some leaders have flaws that all leaders do.  In other words: “Hold my beer…I’ve got this…”

And to you Mary-Sue whiners”:  Who wants to read a story where the big unit gets its ass handed to it and everyone dies? You would bitch and moan if I wrote that story.  So I might as well write the story that I would like to read.  Note:  This is my approach to writing anyways – write what I want to read. 

I waited for years, biding my time for the right opportunity. Jason Schmetzer did some great work with the Dragoons a while back (Redemption Rift) and I knew he was paving the way for other writers like me. Besides, I wanted a really special story to write about around the Dragoons, and this is it.

After the Jihad era, I felt like the Dragoons were hard to distinguish from other big merc companies. Their luster was gone somewhat. The Jihad did that to the great mercenaries. Fu*king Jihad.  Yes, they had a storied past, but in that post-Jihad era we didn’t have Jamie Wolf, Natasha Kerensky, or the other iconic characters that had made the unit pop back in the day. Sourcebooks simply don’t allow for that. In other words, the time was right to tell a new story, with new characters, to make the Dragoons sizzle and pop again.

I wanted to tap the roots of the Dragoons and give the fans a small unit that they could easily embrace. To do that, I had to go back to the original Black Widow Company. I hope I achieved this. It was my desire to make the Dragoons stand out again for what they were. To go forward, you have to look backwards sometimes.

The plot was important, but not nearly as important as the characters. The things people like reading about are the characters.  I wanted to show the Dragoons, warts and all. The Dragoons are elite and when you have a bunch of elite characters, you end up with characters that start looking and sounding the same.  This is me fighting that Mary Sue contingent of fans. Most of the characters have flaws, and their flaws define them. In their heart and core though, they are God Damn Wolf’s Dragoons.  Unity!

That led to going to my shelves of source material.  In doing this novella I broke out my first printing of Tales of the Black Widow Company as a starting point. Boy did that bring back some memories, since I was writing BattleTech back in those glory days. Admit it, you liked the rebellious nature of Kerensky’s band of misfits.  Elite?  Aff!  Perfect?  Neg.  I realized that no matter what I did, I wanted to have some ties to that era. I wanted to recapture some of what made that company so awesome back in the day. For the grognard fans, the old guard, this will hopefully bring back some of that era for you.

I wanted an enemy/antagonist that was worthy the Dragoons.  As it turns out, the best enemy for the Dragoons is the Dragoons.  No one is the bad guy in this book, which makes it complex.  They are all fighting for the right reasons.

I dove in on General Brubaker as a character. He is not Jamie Wolf. I hope that comes through in the story.  He is not beholding to the history of the Dragoons, and that is a huge hindrance to him as a leader.  We have all had that outside manager that came in as our boss who thought he kicked ass and took names later…only to fall short.  Brubaker created his own problem with Crews.  His response of leaving this people in a Combine jail tells you a lot about him.  He does reflect on that in one line of the story, which also gives him a lot of depth. People think that Crews is the one that set things in motion – but in reality, it was Brubaker’s decisions that forced Nicholas Crews into a specific course of action.

BEGIN SIDEBAR:  Not to criticize those that went before me, but when the Black Widows became a battalion, and were no longer filled with reprobates, some of the luster of the unit was lost to me. I wanted to go back, if only just a little, to those heydays of the game.  Small unit action is the core of BattleTech play. I like this book because you can play out the scenario for yourself – I did.  END SIDEBAR

Of course, I am treading on sacred soil.  There are some die-hard Dragoons fans out there who will light torches and grab their pitchforks when they read this book. By the same token, this is happening.  You either get on the bus or get run over by it. All I know is that I am behind the wheel with my foot on the accelerator.

In the final rewrite John Helfers had some good suggestions; his best being the death of Doc Crouch.  I loved that character and the thought of killing him bothered the hell out of me for an hour or so. I didn’t like the thought of Doc dying, by my hand.  It wasn’t that it was hard to write, that only took twenty minutes to make the changes.  My issue was that Doc was a neat character, not an off-the-shelf Dragoon. I figured that if it bothered me, it would play on the heartstrings of the fans too.  Doc was a vital link between the Dragoons of old and Marotta Kerensky; he was a bridge.  Removing him hits both me and the characters hard. So, I pulled the proverbial trigger.  Seyla Doc! Trust me, this is just the start of the blood I have on my virtual hands.

To me, writing about characters means they have an arc, a larger story, that is compelling. Some start small, like Major Andrew Krull in this story.  Seeds must be planted to grow.  You will see him again (assuming he survives the Survivor-ish editing process) and when you do, well, it is awesome. Minor characters can have great story arcs.  PS.  It helps that I know Andrew and I know he will pee (just a little) when he sees where I am going with all of this.

Garry Jackson got his name in the story as a request from one of the European BattleTech communities for his contributions.  Where I can, I try and be user-friendly with these groups.  Yes, I can be an egotistical douchebag most of the time, but not always. I try like hell to support BattleTech everywhere.

What you need to know is that this short novel is part of a series of stories that leads to, well, the big show – the ilClan.  That will be evident from the start.  Each one stands alone, but they all are connected and interconnected.  It is a massive thing you are starting with this story.

In the past, I was pretty casual with the paint schemes of BattleMechs.  After hall, camouflage is pointless on a three story running 80 ton 96 kph war machine. Seriously, hot pink would be just as good as gray or green.  I have changed that stand over the years. A lot of fans like painting a unit. As such, I spend some time on thinking this through. I really make a point of talking paint schemes now in the fiction.

Other Stuff

My favorite character is Marotta Kerensky, of course.  His character arc is much larger than this book.  Much larger.  He is a trueborn Clanner that has been given a nearly impossible task to accomplish in a difficult time line. I think Clan warriors are their most interesting when they are outside of their comfort zones. Marotta has to change as a character; learn or die. Unity!

Marotta can best be summed up with the fact that he painted the front of his BattleMech during his Bloodname Trial specifically to infuriate his enemy.  Marotta is not your typical Wolf warrior.  By the end of the book, he is a skilled diplomat too, and that is something rather unique.  His arc, as a character, is very big.  You are just seeing the start of the Marotta legend. Parts of that have already been written too, so be prepared.

About the scene on New Earth.  You get it right?  You know, that ancient Elemental, right?  Aw, come on! So what’s going on with that?  That Chapter 1 scene actually dovetails into another book that is forthcoming which will explain all.  The links (Easter Eggs) in these novels and stories are many and cool.  Some fans are going to say, how did he plan that out? Was that intentional?  The answer is, aff!  Note:  There are at least two Easter Eggs that fans have not called out yet.  

Other mysteries emerge.  Where in the world was Garner Kerensky?  Where is Anastasia going?  What’s going on with the Fidelis? I mean, this opens on New Earth…oh, the intrigue!  Is it possible that the Fidelis/Smoke Jaguars are fighting with Clan Wolf, or is something else in play?

Chance Vickers is introduced in Chapter 1 as well.  She slid in during the final rewrite.  She appears in two upcoming books in much greater detail and is one of the more interesting characters I’ve created in years.  Chance is someone worth following, as you will eventually see. It was time for a female character to emerge who was not overly quirky or batshit-Malvina-Hazen crazy.

In terms of the story, Deborah “Debacle” Sheridan is one of my favorites as well.  We are talking ties directly back to the Black Widow Company. She has to struggle with where her loyalties are – to a person, her past, or the Dragoons as a whole.  How we interpret honor and loyalty is a subtheme of this story. Also, her Bloodhouse is not a Wolf one, which leads to some interesting questions about the origins of the original Dragoons.  That will be further poked at in an upcoming story about Snord’s Irregulars that I have written.

The end of this book is a beginning of sorts. Sheridan’s new command is awesome and a tribute to the Black Widow Company of old.  Will we see them in action sometime soon?  (Yes, but don’t tell anyone.  It will be our little secret.)

Byrne is a neat character too.  We see so little of the lower castes in fiction – it is interesting to see a merchant playing such an important role, that of a mentor to a warrior.  I could have omitted that chapter but it also tells us about Marotta – he is amazingly self-aware for a warrior and knows he does not have what it takes.  He needs Byrne’s experience. Byrne is just freaking awesome because he is a teacher.

Another subtext of this story is the nature of Wolf’s Dragoons.  Are they just a mercenary unit, or do they have a higher calling?  What would Jamie Wolf Do…WWJWD…is important.  His ghost haunts the Dragoons, not literally, but metaphorically. PPS.  I will be disappointed if I don’t see T-shirts at the next Gen Con with WWJWD? on them. That, I’m afraid, will have to wait until 2021.  Unity!

One of my favorite moments of the book is a simple line.  The last time a Kerensky fought for the Dragoons it was Natasha – the Black Widow. Let that sink in and it makes those of us who have followed the unit from its origins smile.  That, my friends, is a moment in BattleTech history rekindled to a roaring flame.

Another favorite line is:  “My apologies, Colonel,” Marotta replied. “It is my first prison break.” Marotta has a quirky humor.

Should this have been a larger book?  Not really.  I was slated to do about 32k in words and went over because that is what I do.  Divided clocked in at over 42k words. Old school BattleTech novels were 65k words or more. It would have been interesting to draw out some parts of the story, but I think the pacing here is critical.  The pacing of the story mirrors the time constraints that Marotta is facing. Tick-tock! Yes, I do think at that level.  Pacing is everything, and I wanted readers to experience that tension. The first draft came in at around 33k words.  When I read it, I realized that we wouldn’t have a ‘Mech battle until the end of the story, which can make it a hard read for some fans.  People like the ‘Mech battles.  So I added in Marotta’s Bloodname trial. It tells you a lot about him.

Yes, I included fans in this book as I have been doing for the last few years.  Two are Kickstarter backers – the rest are volunteers chosen because I like the sounds of their names. I love incorporating fans in the fiction because it gives them a sense of ownership.  One is mentioned, Aaron Krull, but I didn’t put him in the acknowledgements.  He actually challenged me on Facebook to put something in about his canon character and, as it turns out, you can’t toss down that gauntlet casually.  I was including fans in the fiction long before the Kickstarter and will continue to do so. Please don’t ask me to include you.  If I need names, I will post it in Facebook. You don’t use Facebook?  Aw, too bad for you…

So, some douchebaggery to consider:

  • How will Alaric use the Dragoons?  Just the word of that question has a lot of potential.
  • What happens to those Dragoon units that were not heading for Terra?  Imagine how pissed the DCMS is going to be that a massive part of the Dragoons have packed up and left without notice.
  • Will they arrive in time on Terra, early, or late?  What are the implications of that?  Imagine a scenario where the Dragoons arrive after Clan Wolf and Jade Falcon slug it out.  Oh, intrigue…
  • Will any of the other Dragoon officers learn of the mutiny?  How will that impact Brubaker and the others?
  • Is Alaric playing the Dragoons as Brubaker insinuated?  If so, will the Dragoons flip it back on him?
  • Can Brubaker retain command after all of this?  He’s had a regimental CO mutiny, one he took an active part in lying about.  That lie can and should come back at some point to bit his ass.  Given this is BattleTech, it should happen at the worst possible time for Brubaker.
  • When all of the smoke clears, what is the fate of the Dragoons?  I can feel your angst with that question.
  • Marotta has been successful, but at what ultimate cost to the Dragoons? This is a Wolf who has now fought with his dream team as a Dragoon.  How far can we stretch his loyalties and what will be the result?

For a short novel, there’s a lot of possibilities opened in just a few short words.

I have had the honor of writing about some fairly historic mercenary units in BattleTech fiction: The Northwind Highlanders, Snord’s Irregulars, the Eridani Light Horse, and now I get to add The Wolves Dragoons to that list.

So – enjoy – savor what is here and start to anticipate what is to come.

Part 1: Discussion of Divided We Fall – BattleTech Short Novel

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Seyla Doc! 

SPOILER ALERT.  I strongly suggest you purchase, download, and read Divided We Fall before diving into this because this blog post will RUIN the story for you. You will be devastated, upset, and may cry. Then again, the story may have the same effect.  Okay, it’s your call; consider yourself warned.

This short novel almost didn’t happen.  True story.

First and foremost, there is a lot of build-up to the ilClan novel. It’s a big event (and a large book) so there is some stage setting books that are coming.  This story is one of those tales. It is the first step on that journey which will include several short novels, two of which I wrote, and then the big book. There are other things I didn’t write that will come out as well – so be prepared!

You can’t imagine the immense relief and ever-present dread tied with this story coming out.  I’m excited because this is not exploding something that is already in a sourcebook.  This is fiction driving the fucking BattleTech universe again!  I think that was one reason people liked Forever Faithful, you didn’t know where it was going because it was new.  It was boldly going where we have gone before-ish. Divided We Fall is breaking new ground right off the bat. I have long missed the days when fiction called the shots in our universe.  Oh, I like sourcebooks, but in the end, give me a beefy novel first.

This all began years ago, literally.  We had a writer’s meeting in 2017 at GenCon and we talked about all of the big stuff coming.  It’s all very hush-hush, (okay, it was all about the ilClan.)  Jason Schmetzer and I were in the camp of, “The Dragoons have to be a part of this thing.”  Everyone loved the idea at the time. Jason and I felt that Clan Wolf would simply hire the Dragoons. Hey, they are mercs!  Like Larry, Darrel and Darrel; anything for a buck.  At the time, everyone agreed to that concept and that went into the first draft. In my copy I paid them in gold, since C-Bills are worthless thanks to Clan Loan Shark buying Space AT&T at a yard sale in the Duchy of Andurien.

The book underwent two big rewrites since then. I won’t bore you with the petty details, but there was one night when I almost pulled the plug on this book…it had gotten that frustrating.  You have to bear in mind, this was a period of time when we got the Game of Thrones final season (WTF?) and Avenger’s Endgame (yay!).  So as we approach the ilClan era, sensitivities are heightened about ending the Dark Ages and starting the ilClan period of the universe.  Add to that, everyone has their own sense of what they think the Dragoons are from a canon perspective. Everyone thinks they know the lore of people and units, especially the big ones.

My philosophy is simple on this subject: Don’t tell me I don’t know the lore – I AM THE LORE. I’ve been at this for 35 years so if you have a number of novels under your belt, I will gladly listen to your input. Beyond that…well…it gets graphic and involves hand gestures and comments about coupling with your mother.

But I am a professional author. (Interpretation:  A hot-steamy raging egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. All of which is well earned. I know I’m a raging self-centered asshat. I own that shit.) If the suggestions/changes people were shoving in front of me could be tweaked, I could make an even better book, well, suck it up buttercup. I’m your Huckleberry.

I also knew that if I walked away from it, another author would screw it up with idiotic changes.  Some of these characters I was deeply invested in and that thought bothered me.  Also, this book dovetails into the much bigger ilClan novel, tentatively titled XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX. Anyone else tampering with it could set off a chain reaction of stuff I would have to clean up later.

So I shelved my massive ego and ate a slice of humble pie and rewrote this bitch, almost from the ground up in many places. The final product was mine – not somebody offering their view of the Dragoons – it was mine. Most importantly, I am proud of the final product.

The original title of this book was Wolves’ Dragoons.  Jason Schmetzer had a great theory he shared in 2017. “The title should always tell you the end of the book.”  I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory but I went with this title because it was subtle and grabbed your attention.  Editor John Helfers asked me to change it in the last draft. I suggested, The Mutiny.  John liked that but in the end came up with a better title that accomplished the same thing.  As a joke, in the first draft, I had the subtitle of the book as:  The Enchanting Prelude to XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX.

I violated my long-standing self-imposed rule and created a new BattleMech – stats provided in the back of this novella. She’s called the Dominator.  Originally I wanted to go with Dominatrix but that opened up a whole bunch of kinky issues and frankly, I did not want to stat out the ‘Mech sized cat of nine tails. I miss the old days when we put art in the back of the novels.  In this case, I figured, let’s do the full tech write-up and stats.  Brent Evans took my design and tweaked it.  I identified the other new ‘Mechs – like the Goliath C.  Brent worked out the stats on those and some other new ones that are forthcoming, and hired a great artist to work on the tech drawings.  Will they be coming out soon?  Time will tell.

About the story itself; this was always a story about Dragoons facing-off against other Dragoons.  Why?  Like it or not, they are the best at what they do.  Hence the reference to their “Tip of the Spear” clause.  The Dragoons want to be at the front, leading the battle.  They are not garrison forces by nature.  Who else would be a worthy foe, if not themselves?  I didn’t want this to be pitched fight for control of the Dragoons – and it isn’t.

Yes, a Dragoon civil war has been done before, but that was for control of the Dragoons. This is not that story.  This is not a civil war.  It is nowhere near that. It is a mutiny. I actually watched Mutiny on the Bounty the weekend of the rewrite to set my frame of mind. Crews and Kerensky are not vying to control the Dragoons.

Having watched Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen, I knew I wanted to write about bad boys and girls. This story definitely has ties to The Dirty Dozen in that these are prisoners, elite soldiers that have run afoul of the law.  We have never seen this side of the Dragoons outside of sourcebook material for the Black Widow Company…35 years ago.  God, I feel old.

Divided We Fall is also a story with no bad guys, which is tricky as hell to write. In other words, it is complex and very human.  Everyone is doing what they think is right for the right reasons.  These are the best kinds of stories I think because it is closer to what we see in the real world.  Black and white characters and scenes are good sometimes – but we live in a world of shades of gray.  If you mentally side with Brubaker, that’s fine, he’s right.  If you fall in with Crews, well, that’s fine too, because he is right as well.  Both have valid arguments and reasons for their actions. Both are passionate professionals. Given the choice to influence the history of the Inner Sphere, what would you do?  Where would you throw your loyalty?

BEGIN SIDEBAR:  In this book you see the Dragoons and they are not cookie-cutter elite warriors. I know pundits will say, “The Dragoons would not tolerate that shit in their ranks.”  Well, you are dead wrong.  Boys will be boys.  I have met some special-forces types, best of the best, elite dudes, who are the hardest to control and the first to break with order and introduce chaos into the mix because they thrive on mayhem. END SIDEBAR

So, needless to say, the journey of doing this book was long, painful, frustrating, and in the end, highly rewarding and almost fun. I love the final product.  I am proud of this novella. Not because of the last minute fact-checker shenanigans, but because I made it into a freaking good core story and wonderful characters that will live on far beyond this book. A new era is coming…sound the alarm.

A few questions have arisen, so I will address the ones I keep getting asked despite my Threat Level Four Bob Warnings.

  1. So what is a White Raven? Up until the last minute, Marotta was piloting a totally rebuilt Black Python in his Bloodright Trial.  Ray apparently suggested a White Raven and I told my editor John, ultimately it didn’t matter to me as the writer since Marotta had stripped and rebuilt the BattleMech. To me, as the author, it didn’t matter because the ‘Mech was not the story, Marotta was. I stand by that and since I’m right, your whining means nothing to me. So at the last minute, the White Raven appeared. Not one of mine, so I had no idea what it is supposed to be carrying. One word: shenanigans. Two words:  Editorial shitfuckery.
  2. When do we get the rest of the story? Has it been written?  Okay, let me break this down for you.  I have written two additional prequel novellas and the ilClan novel.  They are done.  This story is continued (mostly) in the big honking novel, though honestly, it will go much farther.  Divided We Fall sets things in motion for the Dragoons. There are a number of other authors writing material that needs to come out before the big novel as well. No, I do not have timing or the schedule.  I have seen some artwork and stuff for the upcoming stuff, so I know it is in the mythical pipeline.  In other words you will get it whenever CGL determines you will get it.  Suck it up, buttercup. Welcome to my world.
  3. When do we get all of the new ‘Mech stats and stuff? Ray assures me that is forthcoming.  There are quite a few, some tied in with the other novellas and the big novel. I trust that Ray is in contact with IWM on the mini’s too – but that is for him to address.  Remember, I’m just a tiny cog in the vast CGL machine.  I write stories. Some don’t suck.
  4. Will we see Marotta, Crews, and Sheridan again? Yes.  You have to understand, John Helfers is orchestrating a rather complicated sequencing of the stories/books.  Each one lays a foundation, a building block, leading to the big show in the ilClan novel.  Beyond that I have sketched out a further arcs for those that survive what is coming – which is awesome. I can’t promise you that they will all make it.
  5. Where is Anastasia Kerensky going? Sorry, that is classified by the Wolf Watch – though I did write her orders personally in 2017. No, a Trial of Grievance will not solve the issue.  I am not talking.  For some of you it will be a surprise, for others not.
  6. Is that Paul Moon in Chapter 1? Duh.  Of course it is.  Ancient Elemental…New Earth.  Come on!  That entire chapter dovetails into a chapter of one of the novella’s that is a prequel.  That story will explain the whole Fidelis thing once and for all…well, until the big novel comes out.
  7. Why did you stop? Why not tell the rest of the story?  Simply put, the arc for the Dragoons and these characters is big. This novella is not the entire story, it was never intended to be.  It is the first step on a journey.

I know at the end some of you are befuddled…you are wondering what all of the implications are to this.  What happens if word of this mutiny gets out the rest of the Dragoons?  What happens if they don’t arrive on time to Terra?  What if there is a romantic scene with Marotta and Debacle? What is the reckoning that Crews will ultimately face? Is this the end of Wolf’s Dragoons as a unit, or is this going to go a whole different direction?  When will this pandemic lockdown BS be over?  Well, you will have to wait.  Think of this as the BattleTech equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back or Avengers Infinity War.  You got to the end and are left hanging, wondering, speculating…

Yes, I am that evil.

In my next blog post – other stuff, my favorite characters and why, and me being a douchebag with theories, etc.

Review of HBO’s: Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered

The Atlanta Child Murders were an American tragedy.  Anytime a serial killer targets small children it is horrific.  What the authorities did after Wayne Williams was convicted of two of the 29 murders was gut-wrenching.  They closed all of the murders – slamming the door on the victim’s families.  If you watched Netflix’s Mindhunter, it isn’t too far off from the reality. 

This short series cracks open the case files as the City of Atlanta starts looking into the cases anew.  I came into it hopeful to get a well-rounded documentary series that would give me a solid sense of the crimes, evidence, and witnesses.  My expectations were not met – despite the stunning production quality. 

It is clear that this series is focused on Wayne William’s being innocent of these crimes, almost the point where they gloss over and downplay the evidence against him.  The producers throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall, hoping some of it sticks with the viewers.  We get everything from Klan informers to pressures allegedly from the White House to smother the investigation because it was bad for Atlanta’s public image.  The producers quickly mention that many of the accounts and alleged killers were cleared by alibi and polygraph, but instead drill in on a web of speculative intrigue that is hard to contemplate.

I wanted something that was balanced, but what I got was something crafted to try and manipulate me.  As a true crime author, I know that pushing an agenda is dangerous. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I strongly doubt that Williams was responsible for all of these murders. That isn’t the same as being innocent.  Three of the witnesses against him admitted that they lied, but there were other witnesses, including family members, who saw Williams with some of his victims. 

The claim that the fiber evidence was tainted by the FBI overlooks the fact that the GBI did their own analysis and could map fibers and hairs from William’s environment to 23 of the victims.  Remember as well that Williams was first on their radar when he was caught on a bridge when a splash was heard in the river, and a body was found a mile downriver days later.  He lied about his reason for being out at 2am on that bridge, just as he lied about his music promotion business being a viable entity.     

Much of this series is William’s defense team making the pitch that he is innocent.  Rather than admit they didn’t do a good job, they point of a vast conspiracy by the prosecution against them and their client.  I get it, that’s their job.  Again, evidence contrary to their theories is disregarded or ignored by the producers. 

Williams revels in the role of victim.  He accepts zero responsibility for any of his crimes.  That is maddening and sick.  Did he kill all 29 victims though?  No.  I doubt it. 

Some of the misdirection presented was obvious.  A person claimed a Klan member said he killed one of the victims who had run into his car with a go-cart.  In reality the victim was at a shopping center with a family member at the time of his abduction, left alone for only a few minutes.  There was no go-cart. No witnesses saw a go-cart.  Rather than point that out the producers chose to ignore the inconsistency to plant the seed that this alleged confession was valid.

Material presented said that another victim had been seen with a known pedophile who was named at or near the time of his disappearance.  That is useful information, but we don’t know why that individual was excluded at the time.  I have spent hundreds of hours of my life reading police reports from that era.  Often times in a murder you will get a half-dozen different witnesses who will point out completely different suspects. Investigators run those things down – they want to solve crimes.  We don’t know why investigators cleared this individual – either the case files were incomplete or the producers simply didn’t say. 

In the middle of all of this is the surviving family members.  Some believe Williams is guilty of some of the murders, others believe he is innocent.  They have been told so many things over the years, sometimes by those in authority, some appear unsure what to believe.  One thing they all share however is the anger and frustration that the authorities arbitrarily closed their cases. 

Reopening the cases is good public relations and long overdue with the family members – but it is unlikely to result in new charges or change anyone’s mind in the end.  The seeds of doubt were planted decades ago and even compelling evidence for or against Williams is going to change most people’s minds.

Having said that, this was a good and compelling documentary series.  You are torn emotionally by the stories and the terrible way that the community and victims’ relatives were treated during all of this.  At the same time you get a sense of frustration on the part of the investigators interviewed because most are quite sure they caught the right man.  As much as I have taken shots at the approach of the series, I still recommend it. 

Snarky Summary of the Jihad the Dark Ages of BattleTech

wob

A fan, I’m sure jerking my chain, asked me what eras followed the Civil War and Clan Invasion.  Now, a sane person would have steered him to Sarna.net.  I refused to accept the title of “sane.”  So I started a snarky response, a little BattleTech humor, for that fan.  Well I tweaked and modified it.  So, when someone asks me about the Jihad or Dark Ages going forward, this is what I steer them to.  I thought all of you still self-imprisoned at home might enjoy a little quirky humor.

Jihad Summary

Space AT&T (The Word of Blake) gets “a bit uppity” and decides that the best way to unify mankind is by destroying most of mankind.  The Wobbies magically super-jump warships to every capital world, lay waste to them and invade everything at once with an army of cyborgs and crazy-cool looking BattleMechs that somehow they have built roughly a bazillion of.  According to the Word of Blake, it was all just a “slight misunderstanding.”  They were not sending in invasion forces, these were “gifts.” Imagine their rage when they didn’t get thank you cards.  How rude!

They were led by a deformed and disfigured individual dubbed, “The Master,” because that title was bound to calm everyone down.  Anyone that has ever watched Dr. Who knew some serious shit was coming with that name.  Added to that, The Master was actually Thomas Marik – as if his adoption into a techno-cult and horrible face mutilation wasn’t enough, he came from House Marik…only slightly more stable than Charles Manson’s family.

Skull-fuckery was the mainstay of the day.  You get that with people that think you have to chant a song to get your Keurig to work.  Almost all of the major characters, mercenary units, and a few billion passersby are killed in a fate worse that death, killed ala sourcebook footnote.  Assassinations, betrayals, bombings, and outright debauchery happen everywhere at once with no apparent strategy, endgame, or even a bit of common sense.  Everyone agreed that the Word of Blake was rather rude, uncouth, and overreacted often with weapons of mass destruction.

The Wobbies used nukes, chemical, and biological weapons combined with badly written rap music to attempt to persuade their victims that worshiping technology was hip.  In a perfect response to this crisis, the House governments were caught with their hands in their pants and tried to fight the Word of Blake on their own because we all know that isn’t going to work.

Out of this utter drug-addled chaos, a nobody named Devlin Stone emerges and rallies the governments to kick the Word of Blake’s ass.  The Blakeists waged a scorched planet policy until everyone glows a pretty shimmering shade of orange.  You know the old saying, what do you call a million dead followers of the World of Blake?  A good start.

Somehow Stone unites the leaders, apparently because he’s not one of them.  He tells the Ghost Bears that the Word of Blake is actually descendants of Clan Wolverine, which unleashes them on a murder spree.  Nothing says loving like good bear mauling.

Eventually Terra was recovered, or what was left of it – then The Master got nuked, reliving a chapter out of Hitler’s last few days.  No one shed a tear.

Dark Ages Summary

ROS

So Devlin Stone forms the Republic of the Sphere, a kind of Terran Hegemony on acid.  A dash of Camelot, a dollop of the Roman Empire, and a healthy dose of raw egotism were the foundation of the Republic. Stone wears a ball cap that says, “Make the Inner Sphere Great Again!” – true story!

He runs his new realm on a promise to beat swords into plowshares – and if you don’t do that, he will go to war with you.  Ask the Cappies about it.  Go on, I dare you.

Stone promises a golden age of peace and everyone is sick and tired of fighting, so they use ‘Mechs to cut down trees, dig holes, and other goofy shit.  I swear, you will see a mining ‘Mech on Gold Rush, season 522.  His great new universe works, for a few hours/days/years.  Even the Clans chill, having gone Reaving-ass on themselves in the homeworlds, wiping out many clans and forming new ones like Clan Stoned Pony.  It’s like My Little Pony got ‘Mech upgrades.  So the homeworlds are left to be a total frame-up restoration and even their Facebook pages were taken down.

Stone’s knights and paladins run around squashing everyone that gets a burr up their ass to start a new war.  Strangely it works, Wizkids even considers renaming BattleTech to PeaceTech.  Everything is mellow and cool, so much so that Stone packs up and disappears, supposedly sitting on a beach somewhere, getting laid and hammered.

What could go wrong?

Well, 80% of the HPG network goes offline and apparently you can’t shut off the HPG network and turn it back on again to fix the problem.  In a normal society, this would lead to caution, but for the Inner Sphere, it was time to open a whole case of whoop-ass which had been on the shelf for years.  Everybody starts beating their plowshares into swords.  For a while, Industrial ‘Mechs are armed until the factories start spitting out newer and more potent BattleMechs.  They even have Superheavies, which is not a description of someone coming out of Space Golden Corral but a three-legged monstrosity clocking in at over 100 tons.  Who would have thought that cultures that have lived at war for centuries might fall back on that the moment they can’t access Space PornHub?  Oh wait, all of us.

The Republic of the Sphere is seen as an easy target and the House lords hit them like hungry sharks on chum.  The Republic gets gobbled up until puts up, “Do Not Disturb!” signs at all jump points and it turns on its magic space shield (Fortress Republic) that somehow scrambled JumpShips trying to penetrate it.  This super-powered space chastity belt allows a few Republic worlds to survive and prepare for the inevitable onslaught.

Outside of the wall we have Knights, Paladins, Fidelis (Smoke Jaguars disguised as ninjas) and Anastasia Fucking Kerensky.  It’s always a party with a Kerensky in the house!

The magic space shield collapses around to Terra while everyone on Earth runs out and hoards toilet paper and meat products because the Clans are a’comin’!  The Wolves have played hippity-hoppity-get-off-my-property and moved to the Lyran/FWL border.

In this corner, his hair weighing in at 12 kilos alone, Alaric Ward, genespawn of everyone’s favorite star of Real Wives of ComStar, Katherine Steiner-Davion-Wolf and Victor Steiner-Davion.  Alaric is preparing to wreck Terra’s ass because he has the genes of a person that rates a 9.2 on the Amaris Scale of Douchebaggery.  PS.  Before your whine incest…Katherine stole Victor’s DNA.  Ew…why would you go there?

And in this corner, weighing in at 56 kilos, chock-full of maniacal mayhem, the one and only Malvina Hazen of Clan Jade Falcon, the Butcher of Wotan.  Malvina makes the Master look like a choir boy sans the pedophile priests of ComStar.  Seriously, she crashed a Jade Falcon WarShip on one of her own cities – just to make a point.  She is intent on taking Terra too – so that she can crash more WarShips onto more cities as part of the Jade Falcon’s Inner Sphere Urban Renewal Program.

Meanwhile, Stone apparently didn’t retire to a Canopian Pleasure Pit but instead put himself on ice and is now thawed and ready to be tagged in on the match.  House Kurita has landed on New Avalon which has had a significant impact on property values and resale value.  The Capellans are making their own run on Terra (and the Federated Suns) with some solid leaders for the first time in ages.  As it turns out, if you don’t have batshit crazy in your genes, you can actually run the Confederation rather well.  The Free World’s League is doing what it does best, shooting itself in its feet over and over again.

The Federated Suns lost one First Prince, Caleb Davion, the Harvey Weinstein of the Inner Sphere.  No one cried over that death, trust me.  Julian Davion runs it now, wrapped in plot-armor, and dealing with the reality that his nation is about to be pinched off like a turd.  The Lyrans are on their 17th Archon in eight months.  Wedged in between Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon, things are looking pretty dire.  Trillian Steiner seems to have what it takes – but she inherited the equivalent of a mobile home owned by a hoarder with a condemned notice tacked on the front door and 100 hungry cats wandering around.  Let’s just say, it’s not great.

So the stage is set, the music is queued, the DJ is on space-meth, and the Inner Sphere is ready to rock.