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Lt. Nathaniel Thorne

[Battletech] Fiction - Back in the Saddle

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It has been nearly 6 weeks now that Nathaniel Thorne, former Tai-i of the DCMS and bondsman of Clan Nova Cat was a free man again. He retained most of his personal belongings, at least the little things he still possessed which he called his own. There was a number of old graph paper notepads which contained his observations and drawings from his time as Bondsman – it was his way of easing his mind and put things in order and it helped him visualize what he learned from their culture which was in some ways similar to the DCMS way of the warrior and Bushido but also very different, almost to an alien degree.

When the quartermaster of Aldrigde’s Avengers handed out a new graphpaper-notepad Nathen earned the same look he received from most of the unit since his arrival. His education and code of conduct, indoctrined into his very being by the DCMS, reflected in his every day dealings. He bowed instead of shaking hands, he kept a certain distance when he talked to the staff, like a zone of respect he didn’t want to breach or be breached.

Nathan was generally polite and friendly and should any conflict or missunderstanding arise his force of personality, some would call it charisma, managed to ease the tension and get things done without involving violence – but he was always ready to fight, should he be forced to.

He was sitting just outside the Dropship observing how the technicians checked the mechbays and went through their maintanance checklist. He appreciated Aldridge’s command and detail for these things. It was paramount for unit like this to keep their equipment in pristine condition.

The wind blew his long hair in chaotic strands over his face but that didn’t bother him. Nathan took his pencil and opened the notepad starting on the first page.

20th June, 3057 –

Lt. Nathaniel Thorne – Notes III

Captain Aldridge’s Company of Mercenaries seems to be my new home for the next couple of months, maybe even years. At least I’m back in command and back in my Mech – a very welcomed change to the last months I spent in disgrace and captivity by Clan Nova Cat. I must confess these Clanners treated me better than my own people which made me re-assess the general state of affair concerning the Clans.

I had a brief glimpse at how and most importantly why they were on this invasion and much of it was politics – at least as far as my understanding could fathom. Yet they destroyed much and they were here to stay. Even after the truce they cannot be fully trusted. Something I have to keep in mind the next time we meet on the battlefield.

Aldridge gave me command of his Battle Lance. An unexpected move I must confess but not unwelcomed. His men are disciplined and capable but I have yet to learn the strength and weaknesses of my lance mates.

He looked over the landscape and then back to the Dropship and started to sketch a rough portrait of Julia WhiteElk. With a few quick lines he managed to capture her exotic features, a talent he could trace back to his mother, who had been a teacher of arts back on Quentin.

Nathan smiled before he continued to write.

Jules Warpath WhiteElk – There are not many female Mechwarriors in the DCMS, something that is part of the patriarchial tradition of House Kurita. She pilots a Black Knight – a rare sight on the battlefield and thus little intel is available about its capabilities. Something I intent to take full advantage of. It takes a special breed of Mechwarrior to pilot a Mech with a huge swordlike hatchet for close combat manouvres. Taking out a Mech sometimes resulted in a meltdown of the fusion reactor – standing too close to it could be the last mistake you made.

I doubt Captain Aldridge is keeping records of his Mercs, at least not the way I’m used to so I will have to take my personal notes here and see how to evaluate what I observe. Our encounters have been brief and formal.

Then there is Mel Hyena Grimson –

Another quick sketch capturing his goofy features followed before Nathan continued with his notes.

Pilots a Penetrator, another jump capable heavy mech fitted with a barrage of Lasers exclusively. If he knows how to manage the heat he could deal some serious damage. Something I have to assess soon in order to put him to maximum effect. He’s a nice contrast to the beautiful exotic Lyran, and seems to have a loose tongue but maybe I got him wrong, who knows? Assuming Captain Aldridge’s choice of Mechwarriors was as thoroughly as the strutcturing of his unit I can look forward to fighting alongside these soldiers.

Nathan looked up and let his eyes stare into the horizon. He was not quiet finished with his notes but sometimes his mind drifted off when some memory resurfaced from the battle which had changed everything and cost him his honor. One day he would reclaim his place and wash his name clean, one day...

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Mel was looking through his room, giving it a little polish-up, though with little apparent boost in quality of appearance. Honestly, his room regularly looked at least a little bit untidy, but eventually he would at times, observe the status of his domicile on the DropShip had reached proportions even he had to correct.

This of course, was one of those times. Bed made, with new sheets and blanket, most things cleared up. And then Mel saw in his cooler, an unopened bottle of Oberon's Finest. Which was an oxymoron kind of liquor, but he remembered this bottle. After all, since the Clans, no more Oberon Confederation.

Somehow, it had been on the shuttle on which Mel and a tiny clump of the crew had fled the lost flotilla... it had been Grimson's sole remaining memento for his past and family, at any rate. The mercenary frowned, as much with the fact it was not drank as with the memories...

Finally, he decided... the bottle would still be around even if the drink inside wasn't, right?

A short time later, Nathaniel heard Mel's voice, joyously singing, what Mel knew to be an old traditional pirate song, taken from Terra. "Yarr, harr, fibity, being a pirate is alright with me, do what you want, cause a pirate is free, you are a pirate!"

The mercenary was swinging a bottle of drink - which did look mostly full, and held a glass in the other hand partly filled with liquor. When one had enough time to get used to Mel, the difference between him being drunk or silly was clear. Right now, just silly.

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He wasn’t really daydreaming. In his minds eye scenes from the last battle replayed again and again trying to find the critical moment when he failed to see it was a trap. Nathan sighed heavily when his thoughts got interrupted by Mel’s singing voice.

First impressions...

Nathan focused back on his notepad and then put it back in his chest pocket and stowed the pencil next to it. He stood up from the table and gave Mel a brief nod stopping himself from bowing like he normally would.

“Hello... Mel.”, he pursed his lips briefly and let out another sigh. “What are you celebrating?”, he inquired obviously not familiar with the habit of getting drunk ‘just because’.

While Mel was still in silly mode Nathan tried to read the label on the bottle of Liquor and rolled his eyes when he recognised the brand. “Before you ask, I politely decline.”

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Mel looked at his new lance commander, even as he swigged down the liquid in his glass. Nathaniel was an awfully odd guy, but such seemed to be the case with a lot of traditional Draconis types. He wouldn't even accept Mel calling him 'Nate'. Well, when push came to show, if he could do his job on the battlefield, no worries.

After all, Mel could do his battlefield job just fine, contrary to appearances.

"A wise decision, Lieutenant Nathan." Mel commented with a grin. "I'm just drinking a little now, this isn't the time to really get drunk yet... that's for the evenings after we've survived a mission. Also, the booze in this bottle has been preserved for several years, I had to uncork it sometime, right?"

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There was a small olive tree that grew on their compound. Odds were it had survived only because it was small and out of the way. Tucked in next to the shed that housed most of the mechs, it hung onto life with a fierce determination. Underwatered, overshaded, it grew despite the fact that it should die. No one had paid much attention to it, until Jules. Now people were starting to think of it as her tree, because she could usually be found under it, sitting cross-legged with her nose in a manual or cleaning her rifle.

Today she was doing both. Her rifle lay disassembled in front of her, while she cradled the barrel in her hand. Her other hand held an old rag but she wasn’t really focusing on the cleaning. She was leaning over the book flattened on her knee, one greaseless pinky keeping the page out of the grip of the wind while she painstakingly worked out the Cyrillic letters. Discourse on the Capabilities of the Shadow Cat was probably the most boring book ever written. The long, dry, discourses on Clan tactics was a snoozefest. But if you could claw through the technical words and flat prose, there was a wealth of tactical information.

Aldridge had loaned it to her so she was trying not to get gun oil on it. She suspected he’d gotten it from Rosse. Jules didn’t like to think about that, so she just thanked Jason for thinking of her and tried to treat the book like his.

The other book, lying just behind her knee, was grease-covered and battered. The Russian-English dictionary had been a necessary purchase for Jules once she’d learned the premiere language of the Clan. She’d been using the book heavily for the last few months, and the wear and tear on it was apparent in the battered cover and stained pages.

Voices broke through her torturous mental translation, and Jules glanced up, peering through her sunglasses at the interruption. It was Hyena, of course. Right now, it looked like he was baiting Thorne; Jules smirked a little at the image of the goofy mech pilot baiting the prim and proper lance commander. It was like watching Hyena’s namesake animal pestering a lion. Thorne glanced at her and caught her looking; rather than seem like a bitch and ignore him, Jules gave him a casual nod. It was a greeting without implying any further contact was necessary.

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Mel looked at his new lance commander, even as he swigged down the liquid in his glass. Nathaniel was an awfully odd guy, but such seemed to be the case with a lot of traditional Draconis types. He wouldn't even accept Mel calling him 'Nate'. Well, when push came to show, if he could do his job on the battlefield, no worries.

After all, Mel could do his battlefield job just fine, contrary to appearances.

"A wise decision, Lieutenant Nathan." Mel commented with a grin. "I'm just drinking a little now, this isn't the time to really get drunk yet... that's for the evenings after we've survived a mission. Also, the booze in this bottle has been preserved for several years, I had to uncork it sometime, right?"

"It's Lieutenant Thorne, or Nathan if you want to be informal, Mel.", he didn't mean to lecture him but Nathan preferred one or the other, but not a mix-up like Hyena was proposing. Unfortunately his british accent didn't make it sound like a well meant advice - it came off a bit too brash probably.

One of Lt. Thorne's unusual talents was languages. The knuckledraggers and techs have heard him speak German and Russian as fluently as he was in English - and those weren't even his native tongue. Nathan kept up his smile and tried to salvage some of the damage he might have done.

"I don't think we're having anything on the premise or else the Tai..., I mean Captain," he corrected himself quickly, "would've told me. I guess some leeway can be given as long as we're not on call. How long have you been serving in this unit, Mel?", it was an attempt to gather some information from his subordinate and he knew he would've to exchange some of his past but he was well prepared to share just enough without giving away too much.

His eyes did notice the exotic beauty sitting under her tree and studying a book and he acknowledged her informal greet by nodding back at her. He'd talk to her once Mel would be bored of him, which would probably happen in the next five minutes. People who drank had the custom to find a drinking buddy and Nathan never drank alcohol but there was surely someone nearby who wouldn't refuse the offer to get a shot of Oberon's finest...

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Mel grinned as he saw Jules under the tree, following Nathan's gaze. He gave his lancemate a brisk, bottle-gripped wave and then kneeling down next to Lieutenant Nathan, he poured another shot of Oberon's before explaining. "Well, about a year. Jules too, it was basically that big re-recruitment time."

At Nathan's confused look, Mel clarified casually. "The Avengers took serious losses about a year ago, much of Captain Aldridge's original ComGuards vets went down to the Clans. I was in turnover between units, and went to the Avengers for a job. It didn't take long for Aldridge to hire me. A good sense of humor will get you places. That and talent-slash-experience. But mostly humor."

The shot of Oberon's emptied into Mel's gullet, and he swigged it down with a mix of sour face and glee. "Nothing like schadenfreude with a drink, eh?"

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"Sounds like a real treat.", the Lieutenant remarked, eyeing the shot glass suspiciously.

"From the records I've seen there have been 3 high risk, high yield assignments which you succesfully completed - can you tell me anything about your former Commander? All I heard he got incinerated in his Marauder's cockpit during the last mission. I assume by some Clan elite Warrior.", Nathan wasn't really used to this kind of small talk. The DCMS had very strict rules about how to talk to your subordinates and especially when. There were no real 'informal' meetings, nothing like these periods of wait for the next contract. It would take some getting used to for him to fill the gaps between assignments but it was a hundred time better than playing liaison for the Clanners.

From the distance Jules could see that Nathan was keeping his usual formal distance, as if he was surrounded by some kind of neutral zone that no one was allowed to breach. And even though Mel wasn't the type he was thrilled to deal with the results this unit produced were impressive and not to be trifled with. A company of Battlemechs, used under the right strategical condition could make a decisive difference - something of Thorne's speciality. The ability to get the maximum effect out of the limited resources available was something he admired from the Clans.

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Jules’s smile widened as she watched the lion gamely try to interact with the giggling hyena. The conversation, carried to her in the afternoon calm, only added to the surreal feeling of the scene. Most people would be talking about things other than their jobs; for the stiff Nathan, that seemed to be the only conversational topic he could manage.

Privately, the woman wondered what would happen if Mel asked a personal question of the lance commander. Hmmm, will he stutter, or would his head explode? She lifted her finger off the book and let it flap shut. As it slid off her knee, she shifted her barrel and focused on cleaning the gun. It was a comfortable action, one that she’d done hundreds, maybe thousands of times now. She practiced every morning at the range, and cleaned the rifle after. Sometimes she spent hours on it, but she rarely had quite the show she was getting today.

Leaning against the tree, she let her hands smooth the oily rag over the metal and rested her head against a branch. Comfortable, she didn’t pretend she wasn’t watching the men interacting in front of her.

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Mel was having similar thoughts to Jules in this situation, and an idea creeped into his head. Loosen up the Draconic stick in the mud, and make him more flexible... Like a reed, if one wanted a poetic analogy to appeal to Lieutenant Nathan Thorne.

"We can talk about the old commander any time." A sly smile broke out on his face. "Let's talk about you... it must have been good being DCMS when you got home for R&R. The finest sushi, drinks - and willing geisha throwing themselves at you. Mustn't forget the geisha, right?"

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"Geisha...", Nathan nodded looking down and smiling inwardly. "Oh yes, of course.", his smile turned into a wolfish grin exposing his perfect white teeth.

"You know the word 'Gei-' means Art or Arts and 'sha-' means Person - Geisha - Person of Arts, or an artist if you want to put it that way. I think the right word you were looking for is prostitute but I can understand that these two traditions can be easily confused.", by the tone of his voice Mel could tell that this was a topic he disliked.

"I don't expect you to understand my way of living. The DCMS has taught me everything I know, showed me the meaning of Bushido - the way of the Warrior.", he paused briefly before he summarized it just in case Mel didn't know what he was talking about, "Discipline, Honor and Respect."

"I don't expect you or anyone else for that matter to understand this but don't make assumptions based on hearsay. I'm trying to be open minded here and leave all of my prejudice behind - blank slate. Why don't we start over?", he asked and made a step forward reaching his hand out to Mel for a formal handshake.

"Hi, my name is Nathaniel Thorne - you may call me Nathan if we're off duty.", his smile was back to his 'friendly' mode and his voice was even and polite. Nathan for his part meant every word he said.

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Jules laughed softly at Mel’s words, particularly at the implication leveled by them. She knew what was coming. Dan had felt the same way about Geisha; as a foolish young bride, in a fit of jealousy, she’d once asked if he’d been to a Geisha before. When he’d told her of course he had, she’d started a fight. He’d ended it by putting her over his shoulder and taking her to a Geisha. When she’d accused him of taking her to a fake one, he’d merely asked the ladies to explain. By the time they had politely and firmly disavowed all of her misconceptions, Jules had been deeply embarrassed. That night, she’d treated Dan to what she’d accused him of getting from those women as an apology.

Nathan’s reply stopped her laughter; she was nodding by the time that Nathan was done. Mel had no idea the insult he’d leveled, both on Nathan and his culture, but Nathan seemed very willing to move past it. It spoke well for him—not that she wanted it to.

Far too much about Nathan reminded of her Dan. She sighed and shifted slightly as she set the barrel on a towel and picked up the next piece, carefully and methodically wiping it down. It would figure that she’d end up with a commander who reminded her of her dead husband. The scars on her shoulder twitched and itched; Jules made a face and ignored the sensations. They always itched when she thought of what she’d lost.

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Mel's smile disappeared at Nathan's words for a moment, but it returned with alacrity. To be quite honest, at times his attitude and behavior could rub someone the wrong way, and it happened once in a while, of course. Fortunately, Mel knew how to deal with those times.

"No fair! I'm from the Periphery, I'm the one who gets unfounded prejudice!" Yet no sooner had the mock hurt exclamation exited his mouth that Mel reached out and shook Nathan's hand. "Seriously though, I'm sorry about that Nathan. You're just going to have to teach me about life in the DC. In all the honorable, glorious detail. Right now."

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Nathan’s smile turned into a brief laugh as he shook Mel’s hand not believing what he just heard. This guy didn’t know when he crossed lines but Nathan’s face remained perfectly friendly and polite.

“This might take too long, honestly.”, he replied with an apolegetic look. “I was born on Quentin when it was still controlled by the Federated Suns. House Kurita conquered the planet when I was 10 years-old and the FS never bothered reclaiming it. I joined their military because I had no other choice.”, Nathan paused and gathered his thoughts for a moment.

“We might have more in common than you want to admit, Mel – I too don’t know what ‘home’ really means, I’ve never stayed in one place for more than a couple of years, sometimes only months or days. I have probably more of a Merc’s soul than I like to admit.”, he glanced over at Jules smiling at her with a hint of regret or was it sadness?

“The Clans reached the Periphery long before they started the invasion – did you have contact with them? Was there any hint what they were up to?”, Nathan had learned quiet a lot about the Clans and their motivations to invade the Inner Sphere but some of their politics still eluded him. Their warfaring nature didn’t reveal if they had an ultimate goal, like conquering the Inner Sphere or if they were racing towards something and trying to get there first – like a competition with very cruel results.

Nathan also learned that the Clans acted very differently even though their combat behaviour was generally the same, Clan Wolf for example cooperated with the worlds they conquered while Clans Smoke Jaguar and Jade Falcon did not and thus had constant trouble with partisans and guerilla resistances who tried to reconquer their planets. At least the Clan Juggernaut was brought to a halt after Tukayyid and the truce would hold for another 10 years – enough time for Nathan to reclaim his place and forge a unit to strike back at the Clans and drive them off the Inner Sphere for once and for all.

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The questions did not destroy Mel's aura of good humor, but it seemed at that instant damaged and much more forced by the mention of the Clans... "I'd say all-out attacks out of nowhere are rather strong hints. They're not good guests either."

When Nathan looked at him, Mel giggled, yet chillingly mirthlessly. "They don't knock on the front door, they smash it down. I know. The Periphery was my home, all of it, being in a traveling merchant flotilla. And the Clans wrecked it."

It was ambiguous whether he meant the Periphery, the flotilla or both. It was all the same to Mel really. He started pouring himself a much bigger portion of the Oberon's Finest.

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“There’s more to them than meets the eye, Mel.”, Nathan’s voice took on a more somber note. He didn’t like it but part of him even admired how the Clans ‘worked’. They were less... tainted it seemed but then again there were political plots under the surface which caused disharmony. One might think the Clans had a common goal but the Inner Sphere wasn’t their sole target – they also warred against each other, even now.

“We’ll kick their asses, I’m sure about that. Being stationed here under House Kurita contracts should give us more than enough missions against the Clans.”, Nathan nodded at Mel acknowledging his story but he was also sure that Mel wasn’t really in the mood for sharing personal stories by the way he poured himself a double Oberon.

"Will you excuse me, Mel? I want to finish my notes. Thanks for talking.", Nathan excused himself and gave Mel another nod that was originally meant to be a bow. He would still need some time to completely adjust to his new situation.

The ex-Draconis Tai-I returned to his table and got out his notepad and pencil staring into the distance for a minute or two before he continued writing.

Goeff "Rogue" Wealks

Pilots a Clan 'Loki' in Prime Configuration. The Clans refer to it as 'Hellbringer'. A very versatile Mech if you have access to the different Pods. A luxury we won't have.

The Loki Prime is another Energy-Heavy Mech and the lightest of the Battle Lance. It also lacks Jump Jets which I have to keep in mind when planning strikes. It still is a fine addition to our Lance and should give us a significant advantage in combat - if put to right use.

I have yet to meet this 'Rogue', haven't seen much of him since my arrival but from what I have heard he's probably the most senior member of my Lance. The youngest being the longest in the unit... odd, odd. I guess I should learn to get used to these kinds of oddities. I have a feeling this isn't the last.

Nathan put the pencil down and re-read his entries. He didn't draw a portrait of 'Rogue' but he left enough space above the entry hoping to get a chance to make a quick sketch of the young man should he show up and not bounce right of again. That man seemed to always be on the run.

His eyes blinked several times as he allowed himself to relax a little and let his mind wander astray. It was a welcomed change to draw a blank and just stare beyond the horizon. He didn't know his future and his past was... gone. Nathan didn't notice how he had been sighing for the last minute or two, drawing deep breaths as his mind started grinding again. He was setting up new strategies. Putting together what he has learned during his captivity as 'Bondsman' of Clan Nova Cat and from his experience on the battlefield. He'd have to start training with this unit very soon - they were all individuals thrown together into a Lance - they might aswell be fresh out of boot camp.

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There were very few things Geoff liked more than driving fast. Most people wouldn't call a cargo hauler fast, but Geoff couldn't usually roll the windows down and let his hand channel the wind in the things that he could drive faster.

There was always something the base would need from town, and there was very rarely anyone else who was interested in spending the time to go there and get it, so Geoff often managed to volunteer for the job once or twice a week. Besides, most of the people who might be picked were technical support, and had minimal military training. It wasn't like Geoff was going to fix a mech anytime soon, and he could take care of himself if it came to that.

As the company dropship came into view, Geoff realized he was rubbing his cheek again, and smiled, despite the sting of the reddened handprint on his left cheek. Besides, he thought to himself, there's plenty to do in town.

Uh-oh! I'll bet that's the new lance CO. Time to make a good impression. Geoff started slowing the vehicle down far earlier than he normally would have, and brought it to a gentle stop a few meters from one of the dropship's cargo doors, then hopped out, full of confidence. Then he noticed Hyena with that bottle of paint thinner that he pretended to fancy.

"Special delivery! I think there might be a bottle of something drinkable in the this supply run! If I get a hand unloading the chow, I might even be able to figure out where it is!" Exuberance! COs loooove exuberance!

He put on his most disarming smile and held out his right hand as he stepped forward. "Geoff 'Rogue' Wealks!" he gushed out, hoping he didn't sound too immature.

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For a moment Nathan just stared at the offered hand before he realized it was meant as a greeting. He stood up, shaking Geoff’s hand and nodded at him.

“Nice to meet you. Is there anything I can do for you?”, he asked while his eyes took good measure of the young man and stopping briefly at Geoff’s still slightly reddish cheek. That put a smile on Nathan’s face and he shook his head in amusement but waited politely for an answer or explanation.

It would be surely entertaining to hear how Geoff got himself into that situation.

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Unsure of how to deal with the delay in the handshake, Geoff dealt with it the way he dealt with everything he was unsure of: he charged right in.

Hmmm. Officers like to know the inside scoop. Alright. "Well sir, Hyena's fine, er, spirits not withstanding, I would appreciate some support in stocking the pantry." He paused, looking at the man he suspected would be his future CO appraisingly, the quirk of his left eyebrow lending melodrama to the effect. "After all, every military unit in history has marched on it's stomach." He glanced around warily, eyeing Hyena for a moment, then pausing for a fraction of a second upon spotting Warpath, before leaning forward towards the lieutenant. He raised a hand to block Hyena's line of sight to Rogue's lips, then stage whispered "Just between you and me, I managed to get a few kilos of Red Angus top sirloin and a case of this rye whiskey the locals make." Then he stood straight again, still keeping his eyes on the man in front of him while nodding knowingly for a moment.

In a completely normal tone of voice, he continued: "I might be able to double up on that, with a judicious approval of the use of petty cash funds and the use of the lorry this evening. Or if you could arrange leave, we could have a responsible but liberating night on the town." He smiled, then blinked and suddenly straightened. "Sir! a responsible night on the town, sir!"

You idiot! Did you just ask your CO for leave to go drinking in town within five minutes of meeting him?

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