The Capacitor Lounge
April 4th 3049
The Capacitor Lounge wasn't the kind of place you went to pick up chicks. What it was; was an incredibly cramped, windowless, whole in the wall; on the mostly industrial west side of Harlech. No… not a place to pick up chicks, but the beer was cheap, and Gauge kept um cumin'.
Gauge was an ancient looking Lyran mercenary veteran who'd found himself too old, and too tired, but sitting on just enough C-bills to open a Bar. Smith figured he didn't really give a damn about the place; it looked like shit and smelled worse, but it was Axel's place; a place to tell nostalgic stories of his time; his wars gone by, but most importantly it was his place; a place to call his own. Smith wondered weather or not this was just what an old timer did when he ran out of fight and all his friends were dead; or if this was what you did when all your luck had run out, and you knew that next fight was going to be the last one. Most likely it was both. Smith wondered if he would live long enough to have a place of his own; maybe like this, maybe something else… but something. Right now just about anything was a lot more than what Smith had.
The Capacitor Lounge may have been a shithole, but it was Smith's shithole; at least it had been for about three weeks now, but his bank account was drying up faster than his glass, and that first big payment would be due to Tharkad First Mutual in a week or so. If the last three weeks had taught anything is was that being an out of work mech jock cost way too much money. A month ago Smith had been a Lance Commander in Ronda Snord's Irregulars, but ten years in hadn't gotten him much; all he had to show was Sidekick; his highly modified Hunchback HBK-4H, a nice letter of reference, and a little beer money. Soon the beer money would be gone, and he'd have to figure out what to do for work. The Dracs would have called him Ronin. Ronin, ha! He felt more like a bum with Battlemech; nothin' more. Tomorrow he'd be broke, but that was tomorrow; tonight he was going to party like it was 2999.
"Gauge my good man; beer me up!" Smith yelled, as he saddled up to the bar.
"I'll be right vit you Herr Schmitt, I ave another patron." Gauge's German accent was thick like molasses on a cold day.
"What! Another customer in this shit hole? I'll believe that when the Dracs role in, and open a fuckin' tea house!" Smith shouted.
"Ja… it's ard to believe, but I am afraid Herr Komiker ear ordered first, and he tips much better than you do… ven you tip at all Herr Shmit." Gauge gestured to a tall thin man with short dark hair wearing the unmistakable leather jacket of a Mechwarrior.
"'Mr. Comedian' what the fuck kind of name is that?" Smith yelled across the room, to the stranger at the bar.
"It's Joker, asshole, and it's a call sign," the stranger said.
"Oh! Well I beg your apologies great Mechwarrior!" replied Smith sarcastically. "I meant no offence." He said without meaning it. Smith didn't care for just anybody walking into his watering hole, only to get in his way when he ordered a drink.
"You should show some respect guy. I've killed better men than you for less" Joker's words were cold and sharp, the words of a killer.
"Alright, alright, vent some coolant bro. I'm not looking for any fights tonight. Names' Smith… well that's my call sign anyway." He walked over to Joker and held out his hand. Smith was the kind of guy who could act like a complete asshole, and still make friends. It was a special kind of gift the kind most people wanted but almost none actually had.
"So Joker dude, you some noble man's lap dog, or do you kill people for money like the rest of us on Outreach?"
"I‘m a… I was a Lance Commander in Snord's Irregulars; until a few weeks ago anyway." Joker's words were heavy with shame; his service with the Irregulars had meant a lot to him.
"No shit! Those bastards just laid me off too; and after ten years of faithful service no less!" Smith's excitement was almost inappropriate considering Joker's obvious regret. He knew others had been let go, but he didn't think he'd run into anybody; most people had families on Clinton to go home to. "So how the heck is it I don't know you?"
"I was a Lance Commander; third battalion, second company, recon lance" Joker said.
"That's crazy. I was a Lance Commander also; first battalion, third company, attack lance. Wow… it sure was a big regiment wasn't it?"
"Recon lance eh, what'd you pilot?"
"I picked up a Jenner in 39' I've been in it ever since."
"Yeah that was my first milk run. I started out in a Spider but it got pretty messed up the night before that big counter assault; a lance of scouts pushed our sector. I managed to drop two of them so command gave me choice of the salvage."
"Damn Dracs popped my cherry there too; I was just a scarred kid, but I managed to come home with all my fingers and toes."
"Some didn't" the inflection in Jokers voice changed just a little.
"You're tellin' me; I thought I'd never make it back into that Overlord."
"I guess Ronda's first fighting retreat worked out better for some than others." Joker laughed; it was a strange kind of laugh; not a happy one. Dark humor was a coping mechanism for a lot of vets, but it seemed to power Joker like a fusion reactor.
"Dracs put up a hell of a fight, didn't they? Everything else seems almost tame after that" Smith said.
"That was a real war; everything after that was just glorified rent-a-cop action."
"Were you on Callison for that corporate job last November?" Smith asked.
"No; third battalion got left behind on that one. Why, did you go? I heard there were a couple real gun fights."
"Yeah I was there. Those Marik raiders were third rate, but it was still a good time. I dropped an entire lance when they tried to pull out. The fucking idiots had this tendency to turn and run straight away. Damn those were some easy targets."
"You'd shoot a man in the back?" Joker chuckled as he said it.
"I'm a scout; I'll put fire anywhere I can before I have to run my ass out of there."
Gauge interrupted with fresh drinks. The Lyran beer was cold, and the war stories when on for hours. The lack of windows created this strange time machine effect in a place like the Capacitor Lounge.
"So did you take the buyout option when you left?" Joker asked.
"I did. They only wanted two, point five mil for my Hunchy. You can't just walk away from that… can you?"
"You can't. But you probably should have" Joker smirked.
"What, you think I can't make the payments?"
"With work as scarce as it's been lately I don't think any of us can make the payments."
"I'll worry about work in the morning" said Smith.
"It is morning" Joker responded.
"Well shit; now I'm piss drunk, dead broke, and hungry. Maybe I'll go down to the spaceport, and just hang out on Sidekicks foot with a cardboard sign that says have battlemech will travel"
"You know Smith; we probably aren't the only guys in town short on work" Joker said.
"I know! That only complicates the whole getting a job thing."
"No, no, what I'm saying is; we could find a couple more half rate, out of work pilots, and form our own company."
"You really think a couple of Irregular has-beens can put together a MRB rated company in a week, while hung over?"
"It worked for the brothers Kell" Joker laughed.
"Fuck it I'm in. It was that or prostitution anyway."
Rio Grande Space Port
April 11th 3049
Harlech's spaceport was a seemingly unending field of ferrocrete, gantry cranes, and communications towers. Smith watched through the window as a giant Overlord dropship slowly fell from the purple orange evening sky on a huge plum of golden fusion fire. Below the window, loader mechs worked loading and unloading creates, and stillage's destined for worlds throughout the Inner Sphere
The executive lounge above concourse C was a much nicer bar than Smith was used to. Joker had even forced him to buy a tie for the occasion. If things had been different Smith thought; this might have actually been a good place to pick up chicks. Harlech's spaceport was one of the best places in the city to meet people and people where exactly what Joker and Smith needed right now.
If a guy wanted to create his own job in the mercenary trade he needed a number
of things; all of which came back to the people who could provide them. The
first thing you would need were other Mercenaries, one and two man armies are
great for action holovids, but on the real battlefield you wouldn't last more
than a few minutes without a good group of lance mates. The next thing you needed
was equipment; mainly spare parts and ammunition. Sidekick's class five ultra
autocannon wasn't going to feed itself, and Smith didn't know any pilots who
could get in a fight and come back without any need of repairs. So of course
you also needed a support staff to load that ammunition and make those repairs.
After that you needed a job to do, but before you could get one you needed to
be registered, certified, and rated with Comstar's Mercenary Review Board or
MRB. Without these guys say so you couldn't get a real job anywhere in the Inner
Sphere. There was always illegal or gray market work in the periphery, but that
wouldn't pay the bills nearly as well as a cakewalk guard job for the Federated
It had been one week since Smith and Joker had first met at the Capacitor Lounge, and they were only now beginning to realize the full scope of their undertaking. They had set up meetings with ten possible Mechwarriors, three potential; corporate investors, and a low level assistant to one of the greatest arms dealers in the Inner Sphere. It had been a long but not very productive day.
"So how exactly are you a qualified battlemech pilot?" Joker asked.
"Well I've spent time in the simulators. And I've got three years with the active reserve for house Davion" Bowman replied.
"So what was the name of this reserve unit, and what exactly did you do in it?"
"Well... I was in the 13th logistical support unit, New Avalon Crucis March Militia... reserve. It was the only unit on Victoria where I grew up. I was a... well... a cook actually" Bowman said.
"You know we're looking for Mechwarriors, not cooks" Smith said.
"I think we've heard enough. We'll let you know when we need a cook" Joker said.
Bowman got up and left.
"That's the third damned wannabe mech jock in a row!" Smith's frustration was obvious. "Who would have thought that there were so many assholes on Outreach claiming to be Mechwarriors when the only time they have behind the controls was playing children's arcade games."
"Well that first guy wasn't half bad."
"His call sign was Bone Collector" Smith said. "Do you really want to work with a guy who calls himself the bone collector?"
"Beggars can't be choosers' dude" Joker replied.
"No, Mr. Smith they cannot." agreement came from a very tall, extremely well-dressed woman with dark brown hair, standing near the entrance. Her white evening gown looked like it cost as much as an Atlas, but was easily twice as intimidating.
"You don't look like our seven o'clock" Smith said.
"Why? Because I'm not dressed like a Mechwarrior; or because I'm not a man; either way it doesn't matter, I met your seven o'clock at the door... I turned him away. Believe me, he only would have wasted your time" she said.
"To whom may I ask do we have the pleasure of speaking with?" Joker asked.
"Names are of such little importance in this line of work Mr. Joker." She looked at her own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. "You can call me Ms. White. I came here to represent a number of interests. To start with, the two of you have quite a lot of individual debt with Tharkad First Mutual, but you happen to be in luck. You see Tharkad First Mutual has been looking for an opportunity to make an investment in the Mercenary market for some time."
"What does that mean for us?" Smith asked
"Well Mr. Smith what that means is this. Tharkad First Mutual with renegotiate the terms of your loans and compile the two you have into one easy payment. They are also willing to extend a corporate credit line to the two of you at a very competitive rate. In exchange Tharkad First Mutual will be your sole provider of financial services and they will hold a ten percent share of your company's value. Oh, and by the way they will hold off on your bill until after you have completed your first contract."
"Ms. White we really appreciate the offer, it sounds like a great deal, but if we can't find some pilots worth their salt, we won't have a company for your banker friends to finance."
Ms. White asked the waiter for three bottles of Terran spring water then sat down at their table. She didn't ask permission. She didn't need to.
Smith got the impression that if she wanted to she could buy the entire spaceport then close it for her own amusement. Smith had never had Terran anything before; the label on the bottle was Italian. Smith could only make out that the company was established in 1917. He wondered if you could really taste the difference between water from one planet and another. He was sure he couldn't tell the difference; but it was still really good... for water.
"They used to say that this water had special healing properties; back on Terra, a very long time ago. The town's people would bathe in it, hoping the magic water would heal their wounds; sometimes it did... I told you that I represent a number of interests." She paused again to stare into her water.
"You two aren't the only out of work Mercenaries on Outreach right now"
she said. "There are actually many more just like you. Other organizations
have let people go too. I don't know all the where's, and whys, but I know there
was thought behind it, intention even. I believe you were set loose on the Inner
Sphere to gain experience. These are peaceful day's boys, but they won't last.
Peace has a way of disappearing overnight."
"I thought Snord's was the only large Merc unit laying people off right now" Smith said.
"I'm afraid not Mr. Smith, the Wolves have also been letting people go." She responded "I'm keeping my eyes open for others as well"
"Why let people go if you have an interest in keeping talented pilots?" Joker asked.
"Maybe these companies have become too large... too big to fail. Maybe they have loyalties to certain political entities. Maybe they want young pilots out there doing the work they can't. Gaining the experience needed for the next real war. Maybe; just maybe, they know where the next war will be, what it will be.
"So these talented pilots you were speaking of; where exactly can we find them?" Smith asked
"I'll make sure you find them; that is of course, if we have a deal."
"What sort of deal?"
"I'm an agent Mr. Smith; I'd like to be your agent."
"We're Mechwarriors, not holovid stars Ms. White" Joker smiled.
"And that's exactly why you need an agent." She looked around the executive lounge. "This isn't your world... It's mine."
"So what's an agent in this business cost?" Smith asked.
"Nothing right now Mr. Smith. But my fee is fifteen percent off the top on every contract completed."
"What about contracts not completed" Joker asked.
"Well this early on in your carrier failing or breaking a contract would
be the end of you; if you're lucky."
"And if we're not?"
"Well then someone will have to travel to take possession of your remains" She said. "I charge extra for that."
Smith turned to Joker. "I like her. Can we keep her? Can we Joker? Please."
"Fifteen percent's a lot of money. Can you guaranty us well paid contracts, and a pass from Comstar's MRB as well?" Joker asked.
"Joker darling let me worry about the details; just head over to the Wolf's Dragoons club next to the privet mech stables on the other side of town. There are some men there that you need to meet with."
"I don't think they'd let us in." Smith added.
"Tell the door man that Catherine sent you."
"So our agents name is Catherine White?" Joker asked.
"No, it's Catherine Valencia. I'm sorry but I don't like to drop names,
my own included."
"Valencia; like the New Valencia, Valencia's?" Smith asked.
"The very same" She said. "See why I don't like to prematurely drop names."
"Well I think we're in capable hands." Smith added "Joker my good friend we have a Dragoons' party to crash."
"I guess we do." Joker agreed.