A Battletech Christmas Carol
Written With Savage Glee by Sentinel 28A
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I actually wrote this some years ago for Lords of the Battlefield, but came across it while looking through some old saved fanfics. Needless to say, I wrote this before Katherine Steiner-Davion was deposed as Archon Princess in the FedCom Civil War, before Vlad essentially kidnapped her, or before the whole Jihad. Heck, it's even before MechWarrior Dark Ages died off; I wrote it at a time when Dark Ages was still going strong.
So I decided, "What the heck, this is too good a story to moulder in the dark," so I did some reformatting, a few updates, and changed a few names around. Those of you who have reviewed my stories over the past several years—this one's for you.
Oh, and don't try to make too much sense out of this. It's Katherine Steiner-Davion as Scrooge. It's not supposed to make any sense. Like Rumiko Takahashi once said to a fan who asked her if female Ranma could get pregnant: "I don't think about such things, and neither should you."
Since this story is complete…expect updates for the next few days on this story. Much like Scrooge had to get his three ghosts…
PART I: GHOSTS, AND I DON'T MEAN BEARS
Ryan Steiner was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Katherine Steiner-Davion signed it, mainly because she was the Archon Princess and that was sort of her job. And Kat's name was good, at least at the time. But the point is, ol' Ryan was as dead as a doornail, dead as his father before him, dead as the Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes.
Kat knew he was dead? Of course she did. How could it be otherwise? Kat and he were partners, if not friends, for I don't know how many years. Kat was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, his sole mourner.
(Well, okay--Ryan was married, and Free Skye mourned his death too. But the story doesn't work otherwise, so shut it.)
Oh, but she was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Kat Steiner-Davion! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, beautiful, blonde sinner! (Which is why she was idolized by millions, kind of like Britney Spears.) External heat and cold had little influence on her. No warmth could warm, no cold could chill her. No wind that blew was bitterer than she. No falling snow was more intent upon her purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have her. The heaviest rain and snow and hail and sleet and smog could boast of the advantage over her in only one respect: they often stopped coming down on people, whereas Kat never stopped goin--I mean, never stopped coming down on people. Hard. She was the Archon Princess, after all.
Nobody ever stopped her on the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Archon Princess, how are you? When will you come see me?" This was probably because her Loki escorts would beat hell out of them. No beggars implored her to bestow a trifle, no children asked her what time it was, no man or woman ever once in all her life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Kat. Mainly because Loki would beat hell out of them, too. Even seeing eye dogs appeared to know her, and when they saw her coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts, and then would wag their tails as though they said, "Woof," because this isn't a furry story and dogs don't talk, stupid.
But what the heck did Kat care! She was a rich bitch; it was the very thing she liked. To edge her way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, to look down on the teeming masses, was what the knowing ones call "kewl" to Kat. Any more rich and evil, and she would have had a part in Titanic. Or Avatar.
So, anyway, once upon a time of all the good days in the year, upon a Christmas Eve, Kat sat busy in her throne room. It was cold, bleak, biting, foggy weather, and the city clocks outside the Triad had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already. Welcome to Tharkad, garden spot of the Lyran Alliance.
The throne room's doors were open, that she might keep her eye upon her sister and advisor, who, in a dismal little cell beyond, was copying ComStar dispatches. Kat had the thermostat turned down, but the thermostat was turned down even more in her sister's room, so much that her computer tended to fritz out at the extreme temperatures. But she couldn't change the thermostat, for Kat had the control in the throne room, which was guarded by BattleMechs. So surely as the advisor came in to change the thermostat, the Archon Princess predicted she (the advisor) would become a grease spot on the floor of the throne room, courtesy of one of the Fafnirs. Whereupon the sister put on her white comforter, and tried to warm herself with a Sunbeam laser pistol, in which effort she failed. In fact, the hole she put in the ceiling only made the cold worse.
"A Merry Christmas, dear Katherine! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Phelan Kell, Kat's sort-of cousin and Khan of the Wolves-in-Exile, who came upon her so quickly that this was the first intimation Kat had of his approach.
"Bah!" said Kat, once she had peeled herself off the throne room ceiling. "Humbug!"
"Christmas a humbug, Katherine? You do not mean that, quiaff?"
"Aff! Out out, damn Merry Christmas spot! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money, a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer, a time for balancing the budget and having every item in them nitpicked by the Estates General! If I had my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding by PPCs and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."
"Damn, that is hard core!"
"Cousin, keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine. Go conquer a planet or something."
"Keep it? But you do not keep it!" Phelan protested.
"Let me leave it alone, then. Much good may it do you--the Clans don't even celebrate Christmas anyway. Much good it has ever done you, except provide an excuse to attack!"
"There are many things from which I might have derived good," Phelan persisted, "by which I have not profited, I daresay, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around--apart from the veneration due to its sacred origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to thank people below them as if they really were fellow-travelers to the grave, and--"
Kat arched an eyebrow at him. "Would you please put down the book?"
"Yeah, but I have four more lines to go!"
"Well, in any case, cousin, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good, and will do me good, and I say, God bless it!" Phelan slammed the book shut. "So there!" And he stuck out his tongue. The advisor in the other room applauded.
"Let me hear another sound from you," snapped Kat at the advisor, "and you'll keep your Christmas by being dropkicked by one of my Fafnirs!" Turning to Phelan, she added, "You're quite a powerful speaker, Khan Phelan. Too bad there's no politician caste in the Clans."
"Do not be bitchy, quiaff? Come on, dine with us tomorrow, or I will challenge you to a Circle of Equals!"
"Fine." Kat thrust her hand forward. "Paper."
"Rock. Dammit!" Phelan exclaimed. "Why will you not eat with us?"
"Why did you get married?"
"Because I fell in love and Ranna has a bumpin' booty."
"Because you fell in love!" Kat said mock-sweetly, as if that was the only thing in the world more ridiculous than a Merry Christmas. "Gad, you make me sick! Get out of my throne room!"
"Wait a second, you never came to see me before I tied the knot. Why give it as a reason now, quiaff?"
"I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends, quiaff?"
"Because I hate your frigging guts and your quiaffs and the fact that you get to roll on the Clan Wolf tables and my forces don't! Get out!"
Phelan half-bowed. "I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party."
"A little thing called the Clan War slip your mind? Get out!"
"But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas," Phelan continued, not hearing her, "and I'll keep my Christmas humor to the last. So, a Merry Christmas, Your Overwhelmingly Highhandedness!"
Kat threw a shoe at him. "GET OUT!"
"And a Happy New Year!" Phelan shouted from the antechamber, and was gone before Kat could order her MechWarrior guards to open fire. The clerk, in letting Phelan out, had let two other people in. They were older gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, in respectful attention, in the throne room. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to her.
"The Lyran Alliance's Archon, I believe," said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. "Have I the pleasure of addressing Archon Katherine Steiner-Davion?"
"Duh," replied Kat derisively.
"At this festive season of the year, Your Highnessness," said the gentleman, taking up a PDA, "it is more than usually desireable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute mercenaries of the Inner Sphere, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands of MechWarriors are in want of common necessaries and common comforts, madame."
"Isn't there a war on somewhere, Colonel Canonizado?"
"Plenty of them," Bien Canonizado replied, "but they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the unoffending multitude. So, a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the poor mercenaries some meat and drink, means of warmth, and new 'Mechs. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoicies. Plus everyone's a soft touch this time of year. What shall I put you down for?" He raised the stylus for his PDA.
"Zilch. Nada. Nothing!"
"You wish to be anonymous?"
"You wish to swab out a Heavy Gauss? I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle mercs merry. I help to support them by starting wars--they cost enough--and those who are badly off need to go fight somebody."
"Many can't go there, and many would rather die," answered Canonizado.
"Good. Decrease the surplus population. Beat it." Kat pointed at the door.
Later, the hour of closing down the throne room for the day arrived. With an ill will, Kat, dismounting from her throne, tacitly admitted this fact to her expectant younger sister in the small room, who closed down her computer and put on her hat.
"You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?" Kat sighed.
"If it's convienent, Your Highness," the clerk replied.
"It is not convienent, and it's not fair. If I was to dock you 200 C-Bills for it, you'd think I'm a cheap bitch, right?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"And yet you don't think I'm a cheap bitch when I pay a day's wages for no work at all."
"It's only once a year, Your Highness," pleaded Kat's younger sister.
"Hmpf. A poor excuse for picking my pocket every 25th of December. But I suppose you must have the whole day, or you'll run off and tell Victor and I'll have a civil war or something. Be here all the earlier next morning." The clerk promised that she would, and Kat walked out with a growl. The throne room was closed in a twinkling, and the younger sister, with the long ends of her white comforter dangling below her waist (for she boasted no uniform greatcoat), ran home as hard as she could, to see the rest of the family.
Kat took her low-cal, diet gruel in her usual low-cal, diet tavern, and having seen all the day's news tridees, and beguiled the rest of the evening with the Lyran Alliance's budget, went to her chambers to bed. She lived in chambers which had once belonged to her deceased mother. They were a gloomy suite of rooms. Nobody lived in this wing of the Triad but Kat, the other rooms being used as storage.
Now it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about Kat's knockers, except that they were very large and that Kat had seen them, night and morning, during her whole residence in that place. And yet Kat, having her key in the lock of the door, saw in the knockers, without their undergoing any intermediate process of change, not knockers, but Ryan Steiner's face. Ryan's face, with a dismal light about them in their twin reflections, like a bad lobster in the Bebop's refrigerator. It was not angry or ferocious, but they looked at Kat as Ryan used to look, with ghostly rank upon their ghostly collars.
As Kat looked fixedly at these phenomenon, they were door knockers again. (What did you think I was talking about?) Kat said, "I need to quit drinking before noon," and closed the door with a bang. The sound resounded through the palace like thunder. Every room above and every storage box below appeared to have a separate peal of echoes of its own. Kat was not a woman to be frightened by echoes. She fastened the door, and walked across the hall, and up the stairs. She didn't care that it was dark, for darkness is cheap, and Kat liked it. Because she's evil and all.
But before she shut her heavy door, she walked through the rooms to see that all was right. She had just enough recollection of their faces on her knockers to do that. Sitting room, bedroom, game room: all as they should be. Nobody under the table, nobody under the sofa; a small fire in the fireplace, and a little saucepan of blood pudding on the counter. Nobody under the bed, nobody in the bed (dammit), nobody in the closet, nobody in her pajamas (that would be bizarre). Quite satisfied, she closed the door and locked herself in; double-locked herself in with a molecular key, which was not her custom. Thus secured against anything but rabid Elementals, she took off her clothes (yowza), put on her pajamas and slippers, and sat down before the very low fire to take her blood pudding. Because she's evil and all.
As she sat back in the chair, her glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room for some reason now forgotten. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that, as she looked, she saw this bell begin to swing. Soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the palace wing--her tridee, her grandfather clock, her Hello Kitty chronometer.
This was succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the boxes in the storage rooms.
Then she heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards the door. Kat knew she should call security, but she was too petrified. The clanking came on through the heavy door, and a spectre passed into the room before her eyes. And upon its coming in, the dying flame leapt up, as though it cried, "I know him! Ryan Steiner's ghost!" But it didn't--if dogs can't talk, fires damn sure can't.
The same face, the very same. Ryan Steiner in his Skye Rangers uniform. His body was transparent, so that Kat, looking through his uniform, could see the holdout pistols stuck in the belt behind. Kat had often heard it said that Ryan had no guts, but she hadn't believed it until now.
Hell, she didn't believe it even now. Though she looked the phantom through and through, though she felt the chilling influence of its death cold eyes, and though she noticed the very large hole in the sides of his noggin, she was still incredulous.
"WTF?" said Kat, caustic and cold as ever. "What do you want with me?"
"Much!" It was Ryan's voice, no doubt about it.
"Who are you?"
"Ask me who I was."
Kat rolled her eyes. "Okay, who were you then?"
"In life, I was your partner in crime, Ryan Steiner."
"Can you--can you sit down?"
"Well, do it then." Kat asked the question, because she didn't know whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair, and besides, it might be funny to see the ghost fall on its transparent ass. But the ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fireplace, as if quite used to it.
"You don't believe in me," the ghost said.
"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"
It was Ryan's turn to roll his eyes. As he picked them up off the floor, he said, "Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. Either that, or the cooks are slipping LSD into my food." Kat was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did she feel in her heart by any means humorous then. The truth is that she tried to be a smartass, as a means of distracting her own attention, and keeping down her horror. But how much greater was her horror when the phantom stuck its eyeballs in the holes the assassin's bullets had made, and made its head spin around on its neck a few times.
"Great suffering zot!" Kat cried. "Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me? Why do spirits walk the earth--or Tharkad, I guess--and why do they come to me? And put your eyeballs back where they belong, have you lost your mind?"
Ryan put his eyes back where they were supposed to be, grinning at his little joke. "It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide. If that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. Or something like that. I cannot tell you all I would. A very little more is permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond the borders of the Lyran Alliance in life, and weary journeys lie before me!"
"Two years dead. And traveling all the time. You must rack up the frequent jumper miles."
"So, you want to tell me where the Minnesota Tribe is?"
"Oh blind woman, blind woman! Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities missed! Yet I was like this man, I once was like this man!" Ryan shrieked.
"Now you're starting to sound like Cobra Commander," Kat advised, "but you were always a good man of politics, Ryan."
"Politics!" cried the ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my politics. The common welfare was my politics! Charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, trade and sell, were all my politics! But I ignored all of it for politics!" This bothered Kat; she had been confident that, if she should die, she could take over hell. "Hear me!" Ryan exclaimed, "my time is nearly gone!"
"Okay, okay," Kat sighed. "I'm listening."
"I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Katherine."
"Whatever. You will be haunted by three spirits."
"That's the chance and hope you mentioned? That sucks!"
"Tough shit. Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first this morning, when the chronometer tolls one AM. Expect the second an hour later. The third, at three. Look to see me no more, and look that, for you own sake, you remember what has passed between us!"
"You can't raise a ghost army like that guy in Return of the King, can you, because that would be so kewl?" Yet the ghost walked backwards from her, and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that, when the apparition reached it, it was wide open. Then it disappeared. The ghost, not the window, silly.
Kat closed the window, and examined the door by which the ghost had entered. It was double-locked still, and the molecular coding was intact. "Humbug!" Kat tried to say, but stopped at the first syllable. And much in need of repose, she went straight to bed, and fell asleep on the instant, without undressing. Damn.