Bad Water

This article is about the short story. For the symptoms of Brisbane Virus infection, see Brisbane Virus.

Bad Water
Product information
Type Short story
Author Kevin Killiany
Pages 41
Publication information
Publisher BattleCorps
First published 9 April 2010
Era Succession Wars era
Timeline 17 October-29 December 3041

Bad Water is a short story by Kevin Killiany that was published online on BattleCorps on 9 April 2010.

Although neither Laconis nor Rollis are mentioned, the story ties into and explains the background of a later conflict between those two worlds: Taurian Concordat troops were framed for an attack on a Capellan Confederation world by the Federated Suns in a one-off operation that could not be repeated. (See Author's Commentary below for details.)

Teaser text[edit]

War is a specialty trade... and just like most trades, it has unique aspects that require experts to succeed. When the Concordat goes looking for the just the man for the job, they get more than they expected about things they never knew...

Plot summary[edit]

Terrence Henderson used to work for the Brisbane Maritime Constabulary, but following an injury where his head was split open he left service fifteen years ago and by late 3041 is operating a seagoing boat (outwardly unassuming but in fact massively upgraded to near-military standard) for tourists as well as smuggling and poaching on Brisbane. On 17 October 3041 he and his son are almost caught poaching by the Tucumcari, a Brisbane Maritime Constabulary cutter, and upon returning to his seaside home Henderson is bluntly informed by Boatmaster Thompson that both he and his boat are needed for a covert mission on Bromhead by the 27th Armored Recon under one officer named Andrew. Henderson tries to refuse, but is coerced into going anyways by not-so-subtle threats referring to his poaching activities, and by being reactivated from the reserve. Thompson and Andrew insist that Henderson is uniquely qualified.

By 4 December, Henderson is moving a group of seven Taurian Concordat agents under one Force Sergeant Jerrod through the Sholon Delta on the Salazar continent's west coast, Bromhead, with a local pilot named Sauud guiding them through the treacherous waters. Henderson rebuffs Jerrod's attempts to socialize, and treats him with open contempt while lecturig him about geology and seamanship. He does form a bond with Sauud though over their shared interst for boating and navigating the treacherous area. With their combined great skill they reach the cliff where the recon squad is set off to reconnoiter a training camp beyond the ridgeline.

As soon as the scouts are gone, Henderson is knocked down by Sauud and taken captive by Federated Suns forces. When Sauud demands Henderson to climb the cliff Henderson refuses, citing his "bad water", and then explains to Sauud that this is a Brisbane expression for impaired balance and reflexes, a result of his head injury. He is then lifted across the cliffs in a sling. From his captors Henderson learns that the Taurian recon squad is walking into a trap to which they were "invited". Sauud overheard that Henderson was an unwilling civilian conscript on the mission and quite hostile to the Taurian soldiers, and thus suggested that Henderson may be a willing source of information. Due to Henderson's unexpected skill in navigating the boat (Sauud expected them to never actually reach the drop-off point) the Federated Suns troops were out of position to capture the recon team. At the Federated Suns compound, Henderson sees operatives in Taurian uniforms and deducts that House Davion is training infiltrators here, and invited real Taurian commandos to capture and study them so that they could be impersonated by the Davion troops. Due to his (partly feigned, partly real) deteriorating condition Henderson is brought to the infirmary. There, he appropriates a syringe, draws blood from his own vein, and secretly injects his blood into vitamin shots destined for the trainee commandos.

Shortly afterwards, Henderson is rescued by the commando team he brought. They have killed most of the staff at the Davion facility and taken Sauud hostage. After feeding him some misinformation, Henderson leaves Sauud (feeling they are square now, as Sauud had used and betrayed him but had been relatively decent in the process) and proceeds to evacuate the Taurian squad in his boad, using knowledge gleaned from Sauud and during the trip upriver to facilitate a quick escape with the special gadgets of the boat. When Sauud mentions that Henderson would not have the reflexes to pull that off due to his "bad water", the troopers react strangely, but they pull through with the plan and manage an escape on a shuttle that had been hidden at the extraction point.

In the debriefing back on Brisbane on 29 December it is revealed that "bad water" in reality is a local term for the Brisbane Virus infection, a bloodborne pathogen that attacks the central nervous system and will incapacitate a person within some two years. Henderson had tried to live his life to the fullest in the brief time he has left, and could have walked away from the assignment by revealing his true condition, but he accepted the mission as he felt they really needed his expertise to pull it off. He also tells Thompson that he contaminated the vitamin shots with his own infected blood—the Davion agents may be dangerous now and cause some damage yet, but within two years they will not have a man standing anymore.

Featured Planets[edit]

Author's Commentary[edit]

The following commentary about this story was posted by author Kevin Killiany on the (now defunct) BattleCorps forum on 17 April 2010:

The original idea for "Bad Water" came to me several years ago. I was reading about a region of the Inner Sphere where the corners of three warring nations (Taurian Concordant, Federated Suns, and Capellan Confederation) butt together like a lopsided Mercedes emblem. This paragraph caught my eye:
"In the early 3040's, a raiding party from the Taurian Concordat attacked the [Capellan world of Rollis] … After learning the raid originated on the [Taurian] world of Laconis … [the surviving planetary ruler] ordered the Rollis militia to attack. The raid on Laconis proved especially brutal and destructive … [Laconis] responded by hiring mercenaries to strike back at Rollis, establishing a lethal cycle of attrition that continues today."

That Laconis lacked sufficient military assets, had to hire mercenaries to protect themselves, told me they'd been set up. Someone else had attacked Rollis and framed them. (It should be noted these sketchy scraps of history exist solely to give game players reasons to mount military campaigns.) The chief beneficiary of Taurian/Capellan conflict is the Federated Suns, which left only the question of how. This led to a half-page of disjointed phrases, but no story. Beyond the fact that I wanted to make it a personal story – not a military chess game – and wanted to include the Taurian world of Brisbane, I did not have a solid vision of the narrative as a whole. (Brisbane's description sounds much like the coastal Florida of my youth, back when clapboard rental cabins stood where multi-million-dollar villas are today and a boy in his skiff could go anywhere. Brisbane is also plagued by a virulent virus with symptoms similar to Parkinson's, a disease that has afflicted several in my family. So I felt a pretty strong connection to the place.)

Unable to develop "Bad Water" further, I dropped the page in my "idea file" where it languished until the last week of 2009. At that time I was poking around my file of undeveloped ideas looking for a new project and the half-page summary resonated. I spent a few days reading up on the unfamiliar faction and location and quickly discovered that while my original character and core conflict were solid, the story would not work. Laconis had been set up, but not the way I'd thought.

On Thursday, December 31, I sat down with my pad of graph paper and diagramed new stories around the same protagonist and core concept. The first, set nearly four centuries earlier, worked even less than the original. The second redraft was worse. So I went back to my original idea, but took out Laconis and Rollis. This leaves a hole – the Taurians go home without discovering why the FedSuns want a faux Taurian unit. But that's real life. Many operations end without the people on the ground ever getting the whole picture. Not knowing actually adds to the realism of the story. On Friday, 01-01-10, I began writing and – with a brief timeout due to real life complications – got the story off to Jason shortly thereafter.


  • Brisbane has been mentioned as a world under quarantine for the Brisbane virus and is sometimes even omitted from official maps.