Saturday, April 14, 2018

Memories Surface: A Celebration

(Author's Note: This post and the review with shall follow shortly are dedicated to the memory of friend, grognard, and brother-in-gaming Jason Caldwell. There are a lot of Battletech terms listed below. I haven't taken the time to define them. Sorry to anyone who gets confused but it is what it is.)

Recently I received a request to review a Battletech novel (The Nellus Academy Incident by Jennifer Brozek). It's a good book. The review will be up in a day or two. I really enjoyed it. But, at it's core, the book is not what this post is about. This is a post about memory. It's a post about missing someone you haven't thought about in a long time. It's about something SOOO cool happening that you have to share it with one specific individual... and that individual is gone. Very few people will get all the specifics of this post, but many will get the gist.

Back in the early nineteen-nineties I first met a guy named Jeff Caldwell. He was, and probably still is, a really cool guy. What that actually means is that he is (or at least was, I haven't talked to him in awhile) as geeky as me. We had biology together. I got sent to Locker 19. It was fun. I mean, I never want to see another microscope, but whatever. Between us and John Morris, who sat on the other side of me, we had a riot. We made up stupid songs about our teacher (That's my science teacher's name Doo-da, Doo-dah [It was actually Duda, but close enough.]) John made drawings. Jeff introduced me to the Dragonlance Chronicles and inadverdently caused my lifelong love of fantasy and cost me thousands of dollars in book purchases. My nickname was Scribble. If you've seen my handwriting that makes sense. Not long after, Jeff introduced me to his brother Jason.

Jason was even cooler than Jeff, by which I mean geekier. And yes, I said was because we lost him a few years back. It had to do with a kidney condition. I'm not sure of all of the details because I hadn't spoken to him in years. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't mad or anything. It's just, well... Jason wasn't Jason anymore. He had left his house to walk to mine (it was less than a quarter mile) and collapsed. It was that same kidney thing, only it caused his heart to stop. His family immediately called 911 but he had suffered severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain by the time the paramedics got there. I don't blame his family. They did everything they could. I don't blame the paramedics. They got there as soon as they could. I don't really blame anybody. It just sucks that it happened.

I received a letter from his mother that I never answered. I'm sure it hurt her, but I didn't know what to say. I'm basically a coward who pulled a total bitch move. I was seventeen and didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. I'd apologize if I could get hold of her. But that's not what this post is really about. That's all just background. I know. I know. I'm getting there.

See, Jason is the guy who introduced me to a thing called Battletech. I fell in love with it. Giant 'Mechs duking it out on the field of battle with the fate of all humanity hanging in the balance. I came in right around the time of the Clan Invasion with all of its associated fiction and Technical Readouts. There was new tech available! The most powerful foe in history was invading the Inner Sphere! It was time to go to war. With an implacable enemy headed straight for Terra and hell bent on conquest there was an enormous need for warriors to stop them. Enter the Jolly Rogers mercenary company, Jim McCoy commanding, Jason Caldwell as the executive officer.

We did it right. I kept a Table of Organization and Equipment. Jason kept the unit history. We fought battle after battle. We'd set up the board on my bedroom floor and it would sit there until we were done. We'd fight each other for hours. One of us took charge of the Jolly Rogers. The other took Opfor. It was kind of ironic. My favorite faction in BT has always been either the Federated Suns or the the Federated Commonwealth, depending on era. But, being the GM as well as a player, I decided that I could have a one of a kind 'Mech that I had designed with the appropriate rules. It was called the Renegade and it was a prototype liberated from the New Avalon Institute of Science when Jim (and yes, we really did use our real names for our characters) decided he didn't want to be a member of the Fedcom military anymore. So not only did we have to deal with the Clans and their invasion, we had to fight off the odd Fedcom raid with them trying to get their 'Mech back. It was a hoot but I'm afraid that I never made Victor Steiner-Davion's list of favorite people.

We did the whole "growing unit" arc thing. We started off with a company of 'Mechs fighting off water raiders from the Periphery. By the time Jason was no longer able to continue the campaign, we were a mixed-arms unit with a full regiment each of 'Mechs, armor and infantry to go with multiple dropships and two squadrons of aerospace fighters. We even had our own jumpship.  We had gone from fighting weak-ass water raiders to reconnaissance-in-force of Clan held worlds. We even took one from second-line forces and returned it to  the Free Rasalhauge Republic by "accident". (Oops, sorry guys. Thanks for the bonus! Oh, and we're keeping that mostly undamaged Behemoth. I'm sure we can find a cockpit somewhere.) We were openly talking about a future attack on Strana Mechty. Those were heady days my friends.

And please believe me when I tell you that when the Jolly Rogers showed up to conquer your planet, we conquered the bloody fucking shit out of your planet. We'd fight you to break out of the jump point. We'd fight you in orbit. We'd fight you on the ground. We'd invade your cities. We'd get in bar brawls with the citizens of your world. We straight up kicked every ass we could find and went looking for me. And bro, you don't know what it's like to take an ass-kicking until you've had your position strafed by a Leopard-CV class dropship and its aerospace fighters and then weathered the follow-on assault by 'Mechs upgraded with captured Clan tech. It got ugly. We came loaded with Gauss ammunition and massive amounts of Fuck You. We didn't lose. (Whaddaya mean GMing and leading the unit was a conflict of interests? I would never...*GAG* *COUGH* *CHOKE* I can't say that.  I can't even type that. I think my fingers just cramped.)

Jason had a pretty decent BT collection, but he traded it all to me in exchange for other things. I think he did it on purpose because I wrote the scenarios and I needed the stats and rules so that I could set things up. By the time we were no longer able to play, I had the original BT box set with the cardboard cutouts for 'Mechs, BattleForce, Battletroops, Aerotech, Battlespace (WARSHIPS!!!) and the original Mechwarrior pen and paper RPG rules. We used them all. I used to set up the game on my bedroom floor and it would stay there for weeks. We stopped using Battleforce after we lost a whole lance in like two rounds. Wargaming a battle between company sized elements with a game intended for lance sized units at best took time. It was cool. We played a lot and we played for hours. Unfortunately, I lost my collection when I lost a storage unit and it got auctioned. I want to just look at it right now.

We didn't just play though. We read the novels. We bought the sourcebooks about the Clans and the various houses.  We knew the lore. We talked about where the books were going. I remember telling Jay that they should publish a Battletech novel called Malicious Intent. We both knew it was never going to happen, but then it did. Seriously. This was in the pre-internet days. I didn't know that the thing existed until I rond it at the bookstore. You should have seen the look oh his face when I showed him the book. His eyes got real big and we laughed for like ten minutes. Thank you Michael Stackpole. You made my life.

Dude, I didn't cry when Jay had his heart attack. I didn't cry when he passed. Why am I crying now?

You know, my mom always referred to wargaming and RPGs as "sit on your butt dice games." I can't say she's wrong. That's on one hand. On the other hand, fuck that attitude. There was a friendship build through BT, just like many others have been built through all kinds of gaming. If you've been there, you know what I mean. If not, try gaming. It's fun and you'll never forget the good times you have or the people you had them with. I know I'll never forget Jason.

So, Jason, my friend, rest in peace. Wait for me where the old grognards go. Set up the board. We're gonna hit Strana Mechty and we're gonna hit it hard. Screw the house militaries. We're gonna burn in hard and we're bringing Wolf's Dragoons and whatever remnants of the Gray Death Legion we can find. We're going to win this Trial of Possession and we're going to look good doing it. I'll pilot your Hatchetman into the bay myself before I load up my Renegade. Let the Kerenskys know it's on. The Jolly Rogers are here and we came to kick ass and chew bubble gum. Too bad the quartermasters forgot to load the bubblegum and it's hundreds of light years away. And don't worry. It might take me a minute to get there, but once I do we've got eternity to win this fight.

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