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Family Values by David McCallum ID #701548

It doesn’t matter if you are talking about family, a group of friends, clan, company, country, planet or Empire, sooner or later you run into a tradition.

The longer that the entity in question has been around, the greater the chances.

Take my clan. Last time I checked, we were one of the oldest in continuous existence. Its possible we are the oldest now.

As such, we have a lot of traditions; some old, some new.

Our oldest is trust. The boss trusts us to do our job with the minimum of interference and to step in to the breach when needed. The biggest sign of that for me personally was the one occasion he was stuck off base when it came to try and register for war. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to step in, and for one time only I led a clan to gold. No questions, no particular thanks, just a bunch of professionals that slotted in and did their jobs and the leadership was passed back to the big boss afterwards with no comment.

Not quite so old, but still pretty venerable is our tradition of specialists. We put as much stock in our specialists as we do in our main lines, because we know we aren’t the richest of clans. We need that equalizer to make us viable. And we are pretty good at it too. A Gold in the Rise of the Specialists. A Gold in the Mechalympix where you had to be able to throw together all sorts of formations.

Other clans with bigger wallets have state of the art facilities; massive bases with extensive training facilities and cutting edge simulators that cost more than a moderate sized star system.

We dont. We prefer a more conservative, some would say old fashioned approach. The boss insists on comfort in our downtime, and while keeping a mech formation up to scratch is an expensive business, in civilian terms we are all extremely wealthy. As such, while we come together at the central barracks in war time, our individual home bases are not only luxurious and restful but incorporate training facilities suited to our own tastes.

The boss spends his time out in the backwoods; sturdy enough and with enough cover that the big boys can play, but rugged enough that you are best off with a little bit of everything. Ideal Rainbow country. Plus the fishing is good. Just woe betide anyone who lets off a stray shot that breaches the agridome of his personal (and to be honest, completely necessary) coffee plantation.

Big Col has a place over on New Nu Hibernia, up in the highlands. Nothing but sheep, mountains, woolly cows and bad weather. That’s where we train in Red Ants, because even an Anzu can’t navigate up there.

The Chins are spread on a volcanic island chain on Aloha 37. Good for Lightweights; 20s and 30s.

The Colonel on the other hand has taken over a few derelict city blocks, a real urban jungle. Good for unlimited, but with all that concrete it doesn’t burn all that well. Which is probably a good thing. I’m not saying the guy has a problem, but if you invite him to a birthday, take my advice and politely decline if he offers to light the candles on the cake.

And frisk him for matches.

And flammable liquids.

Basically anything that can create a spark.

Me and the family have just moved into our new place on the coastal plains of Nova Zealandia. A high water table and sandy soil makes for liquefaction, so if you want to check out your mains you need to take them inland. Here though is ideal cruiser country; 70s are still light enough not to bog down. If the daughter wants to play with her Commissars, she can either head down towards the beach or west towards the Alpine Ridge.

We do things the traditional way, out on the proving grounds, in our mechs. Trained by actual veterans who know what they are doing. People who tell you exactly how useless you are and who have no qualms about pushing you so hard that you throw up and/or cry.

The fact that the Colonel gets more newbies crying than most is, I’m sure, more to do with the fact that he is a grizzled old warrior who has earned his rank many times over and has nothing to do with him threatening to set people on fire if they fu.. mess up one more time. I’m certain that the Jerry can he keeps next to him is simply for show.

So when the latest war clarion went up and we saw the report on restrictions and atmospheric instability in the drop zone, the wife didn’t bother asking. She simply started unpacking the spare bedding and sent a message out for the guys to bring camp chairs if they wanted somewhere to sit.

Bed space wasn’t going to be an issue, even though truth to tell we weren’t geared up for that many visitors at the same time. You see, while our top two clans had their 70 ton specialists already chosen since they are regulars, our other clans didn’t. Those slots would be chosen after training, and since it was my home base, the implicit tradition held that I was stepping up and taking charge.

Ergo, any 70 ton spec had better be ready to sleep in their mech because that’s what you would be doing during a war.

The first to arrive were the Howes family, closely followed by my old clan mate from when I first joined, Skywise. They were really keen to get started, so in short order we were mounted up and taking a few practice runs.

The Howes weren’t too bad although they had made a few fundamental mistakes in their lineup, and I was even able to give Sky some pointers. Enough at least for him to take another full rank out of my formation once he implemented them.

It was upon returning to the compound that my world took a few turns for the worse.

While I’d been out having fun (and I admit it, getting to play with my specialist toys is fun because I don’t get to do it anywhere near enough), another visitor had arrived.

The Colonel.

To say we are like chalk and cheese is doing a disservice to, say, chalk and neat sulfuric acid.

Anyone who suggests we get on like a house on fire is perhaps not in the know as to his particular issues.

He didn’t, however, have his usual disapproving scowl. Instead, there was a very disturbing look on his face. One I definitely do not wish to see on any grown man’s ever again. It’s just too creepy.

“Those Infernoes are…. murderous…”

I had the horrible feeling he may have been having a moment and was about to point him in the direction of a very cold shower.

He did however manage to pull himself together and asked, “So why don’t you make a complete line of them?”

I shrugged. “Put them all in a line and its too easy to shield against fire. Mixing it up keeps it unpredictable.” It then occurred to me that the Colonel was one of the last people I would have expected to see out here. I felt comfortable querying this fact.

“So what brings you out here?” I queried accordingly.

It was his turn to shrug. “This may be a cruiser dance, and to that I’ll bow to your expertise. But the atmospherics show that flamers are going to play a bigger part in this, so I need to do the rounds and make sure our people are up to speed.”

I exhaled heavily. I didn’t like the Colonel cramping my style at the best of times, and to have somebody like him second guessing my specialty was something that would stick in my craw any day of the week. The problem was he was right, and we had our duty to simply step in as needed. Which meant that I was obliged to work alongside possibly the biggest pyromaniac I’d ever come across.

Oh rapturous joy.

It was at this point that two of my favorite females showed up to pour oil on the proverbial fire.

I am of course referring to my darling wife and miss junior pilot.

And I have to say ‘two of my favorite’ as opposed to ‘my two favorite’ because my 70 ton flag mech Aurora identifies as a female and she is the one who tends to keep me alive the most, plus my A.I. adjutant Dolly is probably reading this, and she can get very possessive.

And she’s very liable to accidentally download comments such as the above over to Aurora just to drop me in it.

As it was, the wife opened up the conversation with perhaps the worst possible sentence in the history of our clan. Not necessarily a bad one per se, but she really should have been mindful of who she said it in front of.

“Honey, I’ve just fired up the barbecue for the boys,” she started innocently enough.

‘Ride me sideways, have I not got enough on my plate?’ I was thinking as I observed the mesmerized glow grow in the Colonel’s eyes.

Boy, can I think fast when the need arises. No no, you know the tradition sir. Senior pilot acts as host, and since this is a 70 ton base, if I’m indisposed that falls to young Skywise. No, its fine sir, you take my seat, it looks like the wife needs me for something. SKY!!! Find some dead animal and cook it!!! And keep him away from any naked flames, it’s a new house for <insert your chosen expletive or deities> sake.

Immediate crisis averted, I turned my gaze down the twin barrels of the next immediate crisis, that being the gaze of my good wife who I had managed to cut across mid sentence.

The look gave me fair warning that I was on notice and that I would keep for later dissection.

The voice however said, “Your daughter would like to ask you something.”

Have you ever noticed how its ‘our daughter/son’ when they’ve done something good, but if its other circumstances you are definitely the parent to blame? I had little time to ponder the irony of the situation, when dearest daughter shuffled forward with the put-upon expression of teens everywhere.

She rolled her eyes and huffed. I am reliably informed that this is the universal greeting of teens on a universe wide scale and has nothing to do with myself as an individual.

“Da-a-ad?”

How is it that children can manage to extend a word into having the same amount of tonal intonations and syllables as it has letters? And why does such a word said in such tones generally give you the feeling that you are about to get conned into doing far more things than you ever intended, in as much as you believe you have earned a quiet life and feel as if you are about to have that calm shattered, more than likely involving large amounts of angst on other peoples behalves?

I responded with the traditional response of parents everywhere in these situations, to whit a neutral expression and a word consisting entirely of lots of letter Ms.

She changed tack and tried her most winning, wheedling voice. “Dad, you know how 70 ton formations are mandatory this time round and you are, like, really good at them?”

I nodded and used the multiple M word again.

“Weeeee-eeell, is there any chance you could, like, help me with mine?”

I shrugged. “Sure,” I said, “on the understanding that ‘help’ means that I will give aid and advice while you do the bulk of the work as opposed to me doing it all for you.”

I’m sure I could actually hear her eyes roll as she pronounced the word “Fine!” in the tones normally associated with the handing down of capitol punishment as she turned and stomped off in the direction of her hanger.

I guess my answer was not necessarily the one she was looking for. I was pondering this thought when my wife interposed herself on my ruminations.

“And when you are finished helping your daughter, I’ll need help with my 70s as well,” she stated. A raised finger hushed my response before I could voice it. “And by help, I of course mean that you can let me know when you’ve got them sorted.”

Ah well, you win some, you lose some. I trudged off after miss junior pilot. May as well get started.

My wife’s voice called after me. “And just bear in mind I know about your usual ‘I’ll get round to it’… I need them for this war coming, and I need to try them out beforehand!”

Don’t you hate it when your spouse knows you too well?

I entered miss junior pilots hanger and reflected on the fact that it was so similar to her bedroom, to whit you couldn’t tell if you were standing in the middle of a fresh burglary crime scene or not. I summoned all my inner strength not to pass fruitless comment and set to work.

On the plus side, since dearest daughter had not had the best of luck in war or raid prizes, over half of her current main formation was good to go in a 70 ton squadron.

On the minus side, trying to unearth anything else useful was going to take major excavations, possibly with somebody like Indiana Jones leading the expedition.

I’ll say this, when my daughter gets her teeth into a project, she can go at it like a demon and is not afraid to pull an all-nighter to get it finished. In the end, we actually ended up with something that was probably more decent than I had used myself when I first started in this specialty.

She sniffed dismissively. “Still prefer my Commissars.”

There’s teenagers for you.

I was just about to head over and make a start on the wife’s stuff when I heard a small disappointed “Oh..” I wandered over to where dearest daughter was catching up with news and events on her terminal and noted that the assignments had been posted for her clan.

Not only was she not listed as a 20 ton spec, but her leader had already handed out the 70 ton slot. Still, they had a free specialist slot left up for grabs, so maybe the postings weren’t locked yet.

“It’s probably just a clerical oversight. Let them know you’re available to do the 20s,” I advised her.

“But they’ve already chosen who’s doing 70s.”

“Um,” I hesitated, knowing that I was headed down a rabbit hole with this conversation. “But I thought you wanted to do 20s rather than 70s?”

“Well obviously, but that doesn’t give them the right to choose without seeing what I can do.”

So you don’t actually want to do it, but you do want them to want you to do it.

Yep, thats teenage logic for you, and a prime example of why I consider them to be not right in the head.

She did have a point though. While she may be unproven as yet, Gunhed, the pilot who had been assigned to 70s for her clan certainly hadn’t come through these proving grounds either.

“Tell you what,” I began, giving what I considered to be sound practical fatherly advice. “Why don’t you mount up in your new squad and go remind them of your availability. And while you are at it, why don’t you deliver a message to Gunhed, and let him know I expect to see him on the practice grounds here ASAP, hmmm?”

I was working on the wife’s new formation (essentially having to build it from the ground up, harumph) when miss junior pilot returned. She was looking decidedly chipper, which was a disturbing turn of events to say the least. When a teen does that you should probably start looking for a big stick and possibly some chocolate to throw at them.

“Messages delivered?” I inquired politely.

“I think so,” she replied. “I mean, I texted them.”

“I see. Did you get a reply?”

“Nothing yet from my boss, and I think Gunhed was too busy.”

My frown deepened. A 70 tonner too busy to get his arse over here when _I_ request it?

“Too busy with what?” I probably shouldn’t have snapped at her like that.

“Too busy with repairs after I blew away his main formation with my front line, duh!”

OK, I deserved that bit of sarcasm.

I had just finished up with the wife’s formation and was wiping the grease off my hands with a rag as we stood watching our daughter take her squad around the assault course in the lower paddock. This was the point that Gunhed came roaring up the driveway.

There’s nothing quite like the tradition of dueling for honor, and boy, did Gunhed think his honor had been affronted.

There is also such a thing as discretion being the better part of valor, unfortunately Gunhed hadn’t heard that one, otherwise he perhaps wouldn’t have bellowed an outright challenge like he did. His use of the phrase ‘little girl’ was definitely not going to win him any awards for tact and diplomacy, however it probably catapulted him into one of the top contention spots for the Darwin Awards.

As a professional pilot and the officer currently assessing her combat eligibility for the Light Brigade specialist slot, I can only describe our daughters abilities as temperamental.

Fifty percent temper, fifty percent mental.

By the time she had finished with Gunhed, she had right royally gone into one. I have no idea where she dug up the challenge “Fight me, I’m a Gryffindor!” from, but not only did she go through the rest of her clan-mates who were present, but it took one of the older Howes from our second highest clan to subdue her. And that was only due to him having over twice her piloting level.

“Your daughter appears to have some unresolved anger issues dearest,” noted the wife.

“I don’t know… she seems to be resolving them reasonably well.” I winced as I saw her throat punch the technician who was trying to help her out of the wrecked cockpit. “Good technique though,” I observed.

I decided it was time for a training exercise. Not only should it give folks a chance to cool off, but the wife needed to test her new formation. So I led our merry host out the Red Zone.

“Interesting terrain,” observed the Colonel, and indeed it was. Two streets along from our compound and the countryside opened up into a vast expanse of open fields and greenery with clumps of bushes and trees dotted throughout. However criss-crossing the whole area were disused roads and pathways.

“Used to be all urban around here,” I explained, “Until the big quake nine years back. After that they decided it was too dangerous to build on, so they demolished the lot. Left the roads and any large plant life and declared it to be a park.”

There were grumblings among the troops. Apparently they weren’t happy because lunch had been skipped.

“You eat what you catch!” I called out. “I don’t run a hotel here! And you aren’t piloting heavies any more, where you just get to stand and trade shots with the enemy!”

I paused to let that sink in. “I expect any cruiser pilot to be fast, agile and to be able to take their shots on the move. Now back in the old days, when they trained boxers for agility, tradition has it they got them to chase and catch chickens.” I jerked a thumb over my shoulder to indicate the approaching trucks. “I’ve got you something more appropriate to your size.”

“Are they ostriches?” queried the Colonel as we watched the drovers herd the large birds down the ramp and off into the Red Zone.

“Emus,” I corrected him. “I know a guy who runs a farm about 50 clicks north of here. We only pay for what we hit, and there’s good grazing for them down here.”

“So its going to be a pretty expensive day for you then,” he remarked disdainfully.

“Says the man who hasn’t studied his military history,” I parried lightly.

His eyebrows furrowed under the trademark stetson. “I don’t recall Sun Tzu saying anything about chickens, emus or any other bird for that matter. Apart from them being a warning of approach if they startle.”

“Terra, old calendar, early 20th century. The Australian army suffered three bad defeats. The first was at a hellhole called Gallipoli, and we still remember it today.” He nodded.

“The second and third, however, were the Emu Wars. Watch and learn.”

I turned to the assembled pilots. “Right, listen up. Use the roads to get up to speed, then cut across country to make your attack run. Mount up, and remember that dinner depends on your accuracy.”

What happened next can only be described as pandemonium. Our guys gunned their engines and came up to speed on the asphalt, but as soon as they turned towards the small flocks dotted around the place, the emus bolted in all directions. There’s a reason why Anzu’s are engineered the way they are, and the pilots suddenly realised that over rough ground, an emu is not only a small target but is just as fast and far more maneuverable than most cruisers mechs. There were birds, feathers and mechs all over the place, all getting in each others way and in most cases our guys couldn’t even take a shot without fear of hitting somebody.

Laugh? I nearly bought a round of drinks. My sides were aching so much a could hardly breath. Even the Colonel, dour faced as he normally is, was forced to turn away in case anybody noticed he had cracked a smile. In fact he even cheered when the wife finally remembered she had a wide angle setting for her flamer nozzles and managed to bring one down ready cooked.

I read the after action report aloud to my assembled trainees.

“Shots expended, two hundred eighty seven thousand four hundred and ninety one.”

“Enemy combatants eliminated……. “

“Three.”

There were a lot of very ashamed, red faces in that line I noticed.

“Friendly fire incidents…… thirty six.”

I allowed time for that to sink in then shook my head. “Go and get cleaned up and get those birds cooked if they need it. Dismissed.”

They glanced at each other and turned to trudge away before I interrupted them, in a somber tone. “Not you pilot. Mount up and get ready. Final exam time. You’ve been challenged.”

I was looking directly at my wife.

It’s funny how suddenly nobody was interested in showers or food.

Out in the dueling paddock was a cruiser formation sitting with its engines on idle. Dave Linton, her commanding officer, was waiting. She wheeled her squadron around to line up against him.

The first clash was brutal. They traded shots and mechs on an equal basis and they both had to eject from their command mounts within seconds of each other. Then the second ranks hit and the wife’s formation dug in, Krampuses anchoring the ends of the line while her center drove forward. Linton’s squad got no further.

He sauntered over to her, rubbing his shoulder where he’d come down hard on his chute and rolled badly.

“Congratulations ma’am. You’re my new 70 ton specialist.” It was that simple.

* * * * * * *

We have a tradition in the Heroes clan as we wait for the final countdown to war time.

Its not our oldest tradition, but its been around for as long as I’ve specialized in cruiser mechs.

I toggled the switch on my comm unit and pulled up a private channel.

“Go ahead kid, you earned it.”

There was a slight giggle to the voice that came back over the inter-clan frequency which almost spoiled it. Only almost though.

+++This is Mongoose in the Light Brigade calling all Heroes clans+++

+++Cruisers on the field+++

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