Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Star League Part 15


In 2598, Nicholas Cameron married Lydia Petersen, the Duchess of Bryant, just before his unit shipped out to serve in the Periphery Territories. As a member of the Department of Star League Education and Information, Duchess Lydia was involved in the public relations campaign to persuade the citizens of the Periphery Territorial States that the Star League was their far-away friend always willing to lend a hand.

The marriage was apparently a very good one, despite the difference in their ages. Duchess Lydia eventually became the Education Department’s second-in-command, taking only a brief leave of absence to give birth to a son, Joseph. Nicholas Cameron was severely wounded on the Periphery world of Badlands on the same day his son was born.

Despite what was, by all accounts, a loving and proper upbringing, Joseph Cameron grew up to be a vain, devious, and aggressive young man. On Joseph’s 16th birthday, his parents sent him on an extended tour of the Star League, accompanied by many admired and respected figures of the realm. They hoped that these dignified men and women would somehow influence their wayward son to change his ways.

Unfortunately, Joseph Cameron seemed even worse by the time the tour was over. At a loss, his parents turned him over to the SLDF, who sent the young man to the newly built War College of Mars as a cadet. The college staff was under strict orders from the Camerons not to give Joseph any preferential treatment. If anything, Nicholas ordered them to give the boy an extra-strong taste of reality so “he’ll learn that foolish actions can lead to serious consequences.”

Joseph’s incorrigible behavior survived the academy, but he also developed a veneer of suave courtesy during that time. A year after leaving the academy, he married a young officer named Josephine Franks. She was one of the reasons that Joseph almost became respectable. Only on the battlefield, where he earned a reputation as a nasty fighter, did his true self fully emerge.

Joseph rose quickly in the ranks of the SLDF, despite several minor scandals. By his 29th birthday, he was a Colonel in command of a Royal regiment. He also became a father that year when Josephine gave birth to Michael Cameron. Believing his son’s days as a delinquent were over, First Lord Nicholas appointed him Director-General of the Terran Hegemony in 2630.

The Mhan-Gradium scandal broke a decade later. Mhan-Gradium Light Conductor Industries was a small manufacturer of light pathways for computers. In 2641, they won an important government contract that gave them virtual dominance in their field. Several months later, investigative reporters traced a series of kickbacks and bribes from the company all the way to the Director-General’s palace. The story went public, and for the next several months, Joseph Cameron repeatedly denied the growing evidence, calling it a lie fabricated by his many enemies.

Just as one reporter was promising the revelation of important new evidence, the man met with a sudden, mysterious death. Suspicion came to rest squarely on the shoulders of Director-General Joseph. The First Lord removed Joseph from his position as Hegemony Director-General until after the investigations, reactivated his commission in the Regular Army, and had him assigned to the backwaters of the SLDF as commander of the Wargame Arrangement and Planning Commission.

Four months later, Joseph died. While participating in a regional wargame with the 112th Royal Hussars (The Jokes of Joseph), his ‘Mech stepped on an improperly prepared vibrabomb that blew its leg off. Joseph attempted to eject from his falling ‘Mech, but the rockets fired before the cockpit hatch could open. The accident occurred just as the investigation into the reporter’s death was leading to a warrant for Joseph’s arrest.

During Joseph’s few short months at the Wargame Arrangement and Planning Commission, he devised one of the most important training tools of the SLDF. These were a series of contests that turned warfare into a competitive event in the Star League. The competitions not only helped soldiers to keep their combat skills honed to a fine edge, but the contests instilled esprit de corps. Regional wargames determined which units would go on to face the champions from other regions. The cycle of competitions continued for four years until the final and ultimate wargame, the Martial Olympiad, was held to determine the best fighting units in the SLDF.


In 2646, Nicholas Cameron designated his grandson Michael as his successor. This surprised many who expected the First Lord to name one of his daughters or his second son, Mitchell, as Heir-Designate. The unexpected announcement, plus the cloud of suspicion that still clung to Joseph’s memory stirred up considerable debate among the member-states. Michael Cameron attended the War Academy and graduated as a Naval officer, though he had a scholarly bent. Most of his military career was spent aboard the battleship Arkansas, first as its Science Officer and then as its second-in-command.

When Nicholas Cameron died in 2649, control of the Star League passed on the Michael Cameron by right of succession. While the Council Lords publicly welcomed the new First Lord, in private they wondered whether young Michael had enough political skill for the job. Several were looking forward to being able to manipulate him. Events in the Periphery territories would soon prove that the new First Lord was up to the tasks facing him.

Tadeo Amaris, a member of the ruling family of the Rim Worlds Republic, had begun an alarmingly rapid expansion of his military. By 2650, Michael began to receive urgent messages from agents in the area about whole cargoships filled with BattleMechs, tanks, and artillery pieces docking at Tadeo’s homeworld of Apollo. They estimated that within three months Tadeo’s military had swelled from eight regiments of battered light ‘Mechs to 15 regiments of very capable ‘Mechs of all sizes.

Where Tadeo was getting the ‘Mechs was a mystery. The ships delivering the arms were registered to legitimate trading companies from several realms. When questioned, the forms replied that mysterious parties had asked them to ship the weapons with no questions asked. Because they had been paid well, the manufacturers complied, even though it was weapons and ammunition they were transporting.

The First Lord convened an emergency meeting to reveal this information to the other Lords and to seek their advice. The problem was that, technically, Tadeo Amaris was not acting illegally, for he had the right to build up his House forces. When Cameron sent Star League representatives to ask that he disband his army, Amaris quoted passages of the Star League Accord guaranteeing the right to bear arms.

When the High Council and First Lord met to consider the crisis, most expressed fear that this would be only the first of the powerful Periphery families to present a threat. The spectre of another Reunification War seemed to raise its head. The High Councilors believed that they had few choices. They could order the Regular Army and the Navy to march in and simply confiscate and/or destroy Amaris’s weapons, without even the slightest pretext of legality. They could publicly demand that Tadeo disarm. Or they could change the laws so that Amaris’s acts were illegal, forcing him to disband his excess regiments.

Though Michael Cameron was not entirely comfortable with the tactic of rewriting laws, the Council voted to proceed with the third option. The First Lord also persuaded them to approve a new law limiting the militaries of powerful Inner Sphere families and the House armies of each member-state. Council Edict 2650, the law’s official title, dictated the acceptable size of military forces that governments and private families were allowed to raise. An even stricter measure had already been enacted in the Periphery, where even particular weapon systems were specified as unacceptable.

Amaris backed down after the Star League sent in several ‘Mech regiments on extended maneuvers over the Rim Worlds border. The crisis ended without a single shot being fired when Amaris apparently disbanded his extra regiments. He secretly continued to build up his forces through reservists and the formation of local militias, however. It was only much later that anyone learned that Amaris was obtaining his ‘Mechs from the Draconis Combine.



In 2657, First Lord Michael Cameron, who had “lived life to the fullest with many women,” as one news commentator put it, finally fell in love. The woman who had won his heart was Duchess Katarina Mann, a beautiful and intelligent woman from a noble family that traced its lineage to the 15th century.

Katarina was born and raised on her family’s estate outside Magdeburg in northern Germany. She had an early and keen interest in history and flying. She pursued both at the War Academy on Mars, where she became a superb aerospace pilot, a capable officer, and a scholar of ancient European history.

After graduation, Katarina was assigned to the Thirty-fourth Fleet Aero Wing (The Black Aces). Her mothership, the Vengeance Class Dropship Nimitz, was attached to the Forty-ninth Naval Flotilla when the Star League wanted to discourage Tadeo Amaris’s political ambitions in the 2650’s.

News of her father’s death in 2653 cut short Katarina’s promising military career. She returned to Terra to take up her father’s position as her home region’s political and economic leader. She sparked a boom in the region’s economy by coaxing several major defense industries into building factories there. The First Lord met the elegant Katarina Mann on a visit to one of these factories.

Their courtship became something of a game followed by the whole Hegemony. Journalists, always eager for exclusive pictures or comments, stalked the couple incessantly. An overeager reporter from Der Spiegel, one of the Hegemony’s largest magazines, was thrown to the ground by the Duchess, who was proficient in karate.

The First Lord and Duchess were imaginative in their efforts to escape the press. One of their favorite dodges was to spend a quiet, if not luxurious, week in the middle of an SLDF base, where the guards at the gates gave any inquisitive reporter a tour of the brig. Another time, Duchess Katarina took off in her personal cutter, leading reporters in their chartered vessels on a week-long chase as she tried to rendezvous with Michael.

In 2659, after several years of this courtship in public, First Lord Michael proposed and Katarina accepted. Their marriage took place in the Christian Cathedral at the Court of the Star League. The ceremony, with its medieval flavor, was remembered as one of the grandest pageants in League history.

For their honeymoon, the bride and groom boarded the First Lord’s private JumpShip for a two-year grand tour of the Star League. Escorted by a fleet of military and private vessels, the two visited all five member states and the four Periphery Territories. The trip was a triumph of good will, with the elegant couple charming the nobility and the public wherever they went. Politically, the voyage gave the First Lord a chance to cement his relations with the other member states. Even the economy benefited because the First Lord examined at close hand what his unified economy was accomplishing and what it was not.

When the two eventually settled down to a normal marriage back on Terra, romance gave way to reality. The Duchess despised the almost constant scrutiny that attended the wife of the First Lord, while the First Lord was angry at Katarina’s reluctance to put her responsibilities as First Lady over other concerns, such as the situation in her homeland. For a few tense months, the marriage seemed doomed, but the couple’s mutual affection eventually won out. This was fortunate because Katarina became the First Lord’s closest adviser as well as a voice for caution and peace during coming crises.


The new couple’s charm could not prevent the Draconis Combine’s withdrawal from the League’s social, public, and economic affairs. The Edict of 2650, which placed a ceiling on the size of House armies, had forced the Kuritas to dismantle many units, including several regiments of BattleMechs. The Kurita family was insulted. They believed that the Camerons had drafted the Edict to prevent the Combine from growing too strong. They might have raised an even greater storm but for the fear of being discovered as the arms supplier to Tadeo Amaris. Until they could find a proper response, House Kurita withdrew, slowly raising barriers between itself and the rest of the Star League.

Some of the Draconis Combine’s isolationism can be attributed to a sweeping interest in ancient Japan, the Kuritas’ ancestral homeland. The rise in the use of the Japanese language further isolated the Combine from the rest of the Star League. There was also an upsurge in interest in Bushido, the ancient samurai code of honor. One of the oldest and strictest of warrior philosophies, it suited the Kurita MechWarriors, who already saw themselves as a class apart and above society.

The Kurita family easily exploited Bushido’s emphasis on loyalty to one’s lord and reliance on an uncompromising code of personal honor. In return for this loyalty, the Kurita rulers elevated MechWarriors ever higher by granting them many privileges. The most obvious of these was the right to wear samurai swords as symbols of MechWarrior status.

Along with Bushido came a fascination with dueling. At first, most duels were fought between men armed with swords, but duels between individual warriors in their ‘Mechs soon became common. MechWarrior regiments contested to determine who was the best warrior, often with unfortunate results. Despite the losses, the Kurita leaders supported the idea of dueling as a way to improve the overall quality of their warriors and to promote a fanatical loyalty.

Ultimately, the better and bolder warriors began to challenge warriors from the SLDF regiments based in the Draconis Combine. Though this practice was politically dangerous, the Kurita family condoned it because they considered the SLDF’s 500 bases in the Combine to be a kind of occupation force. The Coordinator could not demand that the SLDF force, numbering about 350 regiments, be removed without causing an immediate crisis, but he could harass them. These duels, which continued for decades, were a kind of hidden war occurring beneath the placid and prosperous daily life of most citizens in the Star League.

The first duel involving a member of the SLDF occurred in 2681, just outside Fort Shandra on the Kurita world of Benjamin. Dueling Master Amanda Kazutoyo, a MechWarrior from the Third Benjamin Regulars, lifted her BattleMaster’s fist before the main gates of the base and loudly declared that all Star League MechWarriors lacked courage and the warrior’s spirit.

When the base commander asked her to leave the area, she refused and parked her ‘Mech squarely in front of the gates. For ten days, she sat there in her BattleMaster, periodically reissuing her challenge to the MechWarriors inside the fortress. This game of psychological warfare wore down the good sense and resolve of the SLDF troops.

The resentment within the Regular Army finally reached the boiling point, and Lieutenant Bradley Grebbers and his Warhammer left the fort without permission to face Amanda Kazutoyo. The fight lasted little more than ten minutes after the two had located suitable ground away from the fort. With a series of incredibly precise missile shots, MechWarrior Kazutoyo disabled her opponent’s legs, forcing the ‘Mech to its knees. Lieutenant Grebbers was helpless as his opponent walked up from behind and placed her ‘Mech’s PPC at the back of the Warhammer’s cockpit. The coup de grace was quick, but very painful for the spectators.

The callousness of the duel was shocking. The commander of the regiment barely prevented his warriors from charging out of the fort and tearing Kazutoyo limb from limb.


First Lord Michael vigorously protested this and other duels as reports of individual contests between Kurita and Star League ‘Mechs reached Terra. Each time the First Lord complained, Urizen Kurita threw up his hands in consternation, telling Michael Cameron that the “duelists” were beyond his authority. He complained that most of them had once been loyal soldiers in the Combine military until Michael Cameron’s edict on troops strength had forced their discharge.

The Coordinator did not tell the First Lord that these ronin (the Japanese word for masterless warriors) had been allowed to take their weapons with them. Most of them were then reassigned to nobles in the Combine government as “civilian bodyguards,” a euphemism for a fully armed and trained reserve force.

Urizen told First Lord Michael that he could barely prevent the better ronin MechWarriors from challenging the Kurita military. He said that he had neither the time, the money, nor the troops to hunt down each masterless MechWarrior and strip him of his ‘Mech. Coordinator Urizen did indeed control the ronin, however. His memos to his commanding officers show that he supported the ronin with transportation and supplies, and he even ordered the best of them to engage Star League warriors.

He hoped that humiliating the best of the Star League would reduce its prestige among the Combine common people. If enough commoners saw a Combine ‘Mech disposing of a Star League ‘Mech, perhaps they would be less willing to join the SLDF as soldiers and thus deplete the Combine’s pool of labor resources.

At first, the Coordinator’s plan worked quite well. Both freelancing ronin and champions from local ‘Mech regiments began to defeat their Star League counterparts with shocking speed and ease. The Kurita warriors showed superior handling skills and control over their ‘Mechs. The First Lord realized quickly that the duels jeopardized the Star League’s prestige among the common citizens of the Combine. Should the League lose the people’s respect, the SLDF units stationed in the Combine would be surrounded by a scornful and potentially hostile populace.

The First Lord also wondered how the Combine warriors were able to control their ‘Mechs so well. He worried that they had discovered new technology, such as an improved joint system that allowed greater mobility. He ordered that one of the ‘Mechs used by a champion be captured at all costs.

A month later, a ronin ‘Mech marched up to the gates of Fort McHenry on Leiston. With the usual bravado, the warrior challenged the local champion. While the ronin recited the usual litany of insults, two forces of ‘Mechs from the base approached from behind. By the time the ronin finally noticed, the force was on top of him. With several mighty pushes, they forced the ‘Mech into Fort McHenry. Before they could persuade him to leave his ‘Mech, he committed suicide. The ‘Mech was shipped off to the Hegemony and examined.

When Hegemony engineers could identify nothing unusual in the ‘Mech’s construction, SLDF officers realized that superior training accounted for the difference in fighting abilities. Faced with this fact, the First Lord ordered his soldiers to refuse all dueling challenges until further notice. By this time, in 2682, five MechWarriors had been killed in duels and 15 had been wounded. The Draconis Combine made political hay from the First Lord’s orders, never failing to make oblique references to the SLDF’s seeming cowardice.

Deep within the Hegemony military, certain MechWarriors were undergoing extensive retraining as part of the ACMS (Advanced Combat and Maneuvering Skills) Project. From ancient Oriental martial philosophies to advanced neural-thought technology, these warriors relearned almost everything about piloting a BattleMech. The 52 warriors in the first graduating class became the SLDF’s champions.

The first group of Star League champions arrived at their postings inside the Draconis Combine in late 2687. Colonel Donovan Fresnel of the Seventy-fifth Royal Hussar Regiment, then stationed on the Combine world of Minakuchi, was the first of the highly trained MechWarriors to participate in a duel. Challenging him was the champion of the local Combine regiment in his brand new Marauder. In his Warhammer, Colonel Fresnel was able, after an hour of fighting, to force his shocked opponent to a draw, a first for the Star League. Ten days later, Lieutenant Karen Graham, in her Phoenix Hawk, defeated a ronin MechWarrior on the planet Awano.

Any hopes that these successes would discourage the Kurita champions and ronin from issuing further challenges were quickly dashed. Now that the Star League finally had warriors worthy of fighting, the Kurita champions were keener than ever to duel.

Realizing that he could not prevent duels, the First Lord tried another tack. He began to send envoys to Combine bases, not to challenge their champions but to offer them commissions in the SLDF. There was little the outraged Coordinator Urizen could do about it, either. As the First Lord expected, only a few champion Kurita MechWarriors wanted to join the SLDF, but those who did became instructors in the Regular Army’s expanded ACMS program. Renamed the “Gunslinger Program,” the intensive training regimen eventually became an important part of the Military Academy of Aphros. Only the Academy’s most skilled MechWarrior graduates won spots in the Gunslinger Program. To wear the crossed six-shooters on their uniforms became a great honor among Star League MechWarriors.

This dueling continued off and on into the next century and did not stop until 50 years later. The final tally between the two sides was a House Kurita victory 49% of the time, 47% for the Regular Army, and 4% of the time the combatants fought to a draw.


Lieutenant Oha Heller
Champion of the 231st Light Horse Regiment from 2689 to 2693, Lieutenant Oha Heller was one of the first graduates of the Gunslinger program and among the first to score a victory when her Dervish, the Wild Scream, faced a ronin Wolverine BattleMech. In the next four years, she entered into ten duels, winning eight, losing one, and fighting to a draw once. She finally lost to a Kurita champion in a Victor BattleMech.

Colonel Daniel Allison
Commander and champion of the Twenty-ninth Royal Dragoon Regiment from 2701 until 2743, Colonel Daniel Allison and his BattleMaster lasted longer than any other SLDF Gunslinger. He was a phenomenal marksman and ended many duels in the first seconds with shots that disabled his opponents before they could take a step. After 42 years of dueling, Colonel Allison’s record stood at 59-0-1. He retired in 2743 and became a major BattleMech designer for Kallon Industries.

Captain Wilbur Frews
Champion of the 124th Royal Heavy Assault Regiment from 2711 to 2718, Captain Wilbur Frews may have been the strangest graduate of the Gunslinger Program. He immersed himself in the Wild West mythos in the belief that to know everything about the ancient gunslingers would give him the edge over an opponent. After joining the 124th, he stopped wearing his uniform, instead dressing like gunmen of the ancient American West. Seven years of dueling took their toll, and by the end of 2718, Captain Frews had lost his mental stability. His commanding officers were finally forced to restrain him and sent him back to Terra for rest and recovery. His record was a 19-0-0.

-From The Gunslinger Project: A History, by Frederick Galard, Albion Military Press, New Avalon 2823

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