I've been a writer for SNN for most of my life, at this point, so you think this might get easier. And, to some extent, it definitely does. Time passes, you get used to it. From the lowest blood pits to the Big Five, one truth remains eternal: you put two people in multi-ton war machines and load them up with live ammo, odds are pretty good someone might not walk away from it.
I've known plenty of mechwarriors over the years – and so, I've also known many who never walked back out of the ring, or came back with so many parts knocked off that they may as well have not come back at all.
But sometimes, a mech jock punches their final ticket, and it hits different. All the usual detachment doesn't quite keep the sting off.
So let me tell you about Jeremiah Hurt.
I met Jeremiah in a bar – the Little Mackie – down in one of the worse parts of the Black Hills. He was fresh off the dropship, didn't even have a place to stay, but had decided to go and toast old comrades – to drink to the dead in thanks for making planetfall, or maybe just to drink – either way, it was typical of the man. He was 47 years old, had never been on Solaris save for watching it in the feeds, and had just had the mercenary company he'd spent the last 28 years of his life with shot down around him.
A FedSuns boy from the Raven Alliance edge of the border, Hurt was 19 when Grey Monday cut his little dirtball of a homeworld off from the rest of space. Six months later, pirates attacked, looking to establish themselves a little fief all their own, and made that world a living hell. Three months more, and purely by chance, the Merc Outfit known as MacAbee's Marauders entered the system, trying to get their feet under them – and, in a purely un-mercenary move – decided to help push the pirates offworld. Maybe the Marauders had standing beef, or maybe ol' MacAbee had a bit of the Periphery Errant to her, but either way, the Marauders knocked the pirates off planet a month before Hurt's birthday. He – without family, having just spent a year as a teen guerilla with nothing to lose – signed on with them.
Twenty eight years later, Captain Jeremiah Hurt of MacAbee's Marauders was one of seven survivors of the entire unit when the Combine hit Pholexia. The rest split up, most too numb to know what to do with themselves. Hurt went to Solaris, and then went to a terrible little bar.
I learned the following after a several-hour conversation that started with him asking who the smart bet was on a blood pit match up on the holotable, and let me tell you, you're just getting the shortened version – Jeremiah was an exceptional storyteller, and I took a liking to him almost immediately.
I passed him my card, pointed him to a few of the local stables I knew were hiring and might take a risk on an old-but-seasoned jock like Hurt, and promised to keep in touch – and damned if the old war dog didn't take to Solaris like a fish to water.
15-5-0 after three years on Solaris might not seem like much who can only see the annointed golden boys who can boast that after a year, but Hurt did it right – did it the old school way – started all the way down at the bottom in the 'Class zeroes' and let his skills speak for himself. I should note he was 15-5 in sanctioned matches; his record was nearly double that if you count the time he spent in the blood pits. Tough – both as a pilot and as a human being – a solid shot and a good fighter, I figured Hurt would go the distance. Hell, he'd picked up a circuit name, and was even listed in the 'hot hires' list for the LC bracket this last season. He'd taken his licks, kept on kicking, and – I'm not ashamed to admit – been my little 'ace in the hole bet' more than once.
And then bang. Start of a new Season, picked up by an LC stable with money to burn, they load him into a fucking Ostscout and Jerry gets himself vaporized in a freak shot by a jumped-up Flea. Not even enough left to bury, not even enough left to find – just a ozone-rich hole where a mechwarrior, ex-soldier, and damn good man used to be.
That's Solaris. But damned if it never gets any easier.
Though, perhaps, that's the most fitting memorial I have for Jeremiah. As he told me once – Christmas, a couple years ago, both of us drunk off our asses at a Solaris Cross-Circuit Sporting Comission party – "Manny, nobody gets to stay down but the dead. So long as you've got your legs, you keep on kicking – that's all there is. It ain't easy, but so long as you can keep going, you've got to."
So I guess I will keep going, and leave one more good old soldier to finally stay down.