|First published||10 January 2006|
|Era||Succession Wars era|
|“||We all have Chains that bind us. Some more tightly than others... and some that aren't even our own... Jeff Kautz tells a tale of one man's chains.||”|
Chains recounts the death of 235, a prisoner from the Draconis Combine indoctrinated into one of the notorious chain gangs and dropped on a suicide mission on an unidentified Lyran world. Bearing his serial number in black numbers tattooed across his forehead, 235 is frequently incoherent; with no memory of his name or identity, he and the others like him have been welded into the cockpits of their ramshackle 'Mechs. Where the ejection seat mechanism would be in another 'Mech there is instead a large IV dispenser of "Chem-courage", a more effective and dangerous version of street-level stims, and the system is set up to automatically flood 235's body whenever his heart rate goes above a certain level. Chem-courage dampens fear and the sense of self, whilst also providing focus and enchanced levels of aggression.
235 has no clear recollection of his training, which lasted an indeterminate number of weeks, but he's able to land his 'Mech - a century-old Dragon - upright and immediately charges into the fight going on around the landing zone; it's a stormy night, and flashes of lightning on the horizon periodically illuminate the city that 235 and the other members of Ghost Company have been sent to attack. The Lyran defenders are waiting for them, with light and medium 'Mechs arranged in a skirmish line near the LZ, and 235 can see other members of the company fighting and dying nearby. 235 swaps fire with a Lyran Trebuchet before charging it and trampling over the lighter 'Mech, before finding himself under fire from two heavier Lyran 'Mechs. 235 attacks the largest, a Zeus, but the Zeus shears the left leg off his Dragon and takes 235 out of the battle.
When 235 wakes up the Chem-courage dispenser is broken and empty, and his ferroglass concrete has been smashed. Taking the dirty work shirt that's the only item found in the storage area where emergency supplies would normally be kept, 235 staggers toward the Lyran settlement nearby and into a bar, where the barman doesn't understand 235's broken Swedenese and mistakes him for a drunk or an addict. The barman sends 235 into a nearby alley to find someone named Dugan, who turns out to be a local drug dealer. A free stim sample from Dugan gives 235 a little relief from the pain of drug withdrawal and a little clarity back - but no relief from the visible hallucinations 235 has begun seeing. 235 tries to get more of the stims, even offering up that he has a 'Mech nearby that could be salvaged, but that simply provokes Dugan into trying to capture him for the reward being offered for all the chain-gangers, prompting 235 to attack and kill Dugan, taking the remaining stims away from the dealer.
235's attack on Dugan is observed by two local police officers, and 235 attacks them in turn - killing or disabling one, and nearly killing a second, before he's overwhelmed by additional police officers responding to a call for assistance. 235 is beaten unconscious by the officers, and begins to return to consciousness somewhere in a Lyran hospital, confused by the doctor's attempts to talk to him in broken Japanese - which sounds unfamiliar to 235 - and when the Doctor's attempts to treat 235 end up inflicting pain on him, 235 breaks free of some of the restraints and attacks the Doctor, severing a finger with his teeth.
When 235 reawakens from the sedative given to him by the desperate hospital staff, he finds himself in a prison cell and in acute pain from drug withdrawal again; his memories are confused, and he attempts to beg for water from one of the guards, only to be punished by an older guard, angry at the harm 235 has done for others. Berated in German and Star League Standard, with several of his fingers broken under the older guard's boot, 235 is left alone with just a younger guard, who he manipulates into bringing him water. Able to reach the guard, 235 disables him and loots a Sternsnacht heavy pistol from the office, retrieving some of his pilfered stims from the police evidence locker, before lapsing into memories after taking one of the stims. With memories of his indoctrination process returning to him - of being addicted to Chem-courage, and being one of those who developed an increased tolerance for it; of being among other prisoners, all unproductives like him, and of tests involving having to kill other prisoners - 235 sleeps or dozes briefly, only to be woken by the return of the older guard, who 235 ambushes and kills.
235 runs from the police station into the rainy night, coming across warning posters with his picture on - a picture he barely recognises - and then actively pursued, 235 breaks into a building and snatches a young girl he finds in the building as a hostage. As armed police officers storm towards him, 235 backs away, memories returning to him of his former identity; part of a Tyr cell that had been compromised, he was arrested in the night from his living room, leaving behind his wife and young daughter, and shipped to a prison on Richmond. With new insight - and a mix of memories and pain swirling around him - 235 releases the girl back to her father, wishing briefly for a good life for her and his own lost daughter before deliberately unloading his Sternsnacht and deliberately provoking the nearby police officers into killing him.