See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and other information
I would like to thank Drakensis for kibitzing and Editing, JG/Joe Gunnarson (Of Whateley fame) for the same, Valles, Case/Fosfor, Minako/Scratx for kibitizing. Y'all made this go a LOT faster than the first two, thank you. Psyckosama deserves a special shoutout for helping reinspire, some basic visualization and idea throwing.
Space is vast. Travel in it is long. You can only admire astronomy for so long if you’re not an astronomer. And generally, being cramped up in the tin cans we call dropships, outside maybe the Princess, Monarch or largest cargo ships, means little privacy. My advice? Bring a lot of reading material.
Hurry up and wait never changes. The rush to put together a combat unit was about as intense as anyone can say. Once we left New Avalon’s surface, on the other hand, well. 20th and 21st century troops, hell, even late 19th century troops were spoiled compared to us. There’s only so much training in sims and other types you can do, before you get frustrated. Part of a skilled commander’s job in the 31st century is managing space madness among his troops, which is more accurately defined as stir crazy. Princesses help.
From the journals and notes of Kikyo Onishi, New Avalon Press, 3291 AD, as part of the “Century of Chaos: The Movers and Shakers.” series.
Deep Space, En Route to Axylus, Late Evening (New Avalon Time), May 5th, 3015
“Yep.” Kath shook her head. “People are already feeling the void.” I rolled my eyes. I had closed my window’s shutters in my cabin, but I knew what she was referring to. The plan had us making ten jumps to star systems, where there was a bright star to tell us we weren’t alone. After that, nine jumps to Axylus, all in the black, out of contact, and all alone in the deep night with nothing to say that there was other life. Feeling the Void was the term early spacers had come up with, to describe that feeling. Add that to all the saws about bored troops, marines, squaddies, that are still true here and now… Well.
“And so, the plans you suggested and the others agreed to?” I quirked an eyebrow. Part of Kath’s experiences in the universe here and now, was a year long journey from the Clan homeworlds. You got bored really easily, and to top it off, Clans weren’t big believers in comfort for anyone, and their entertainment… well. Kath said it this way. “If someone had brought a new detective novel, or a New Kyoto or Ozawa shonen manga to the Clans… I’d have trialed every mutherfucker standing in my way.” And that was before a year long travel in a tin can fondly called an Overlord.
“It’s going.” She shook her blond hair. “We had to shift from the more space and exterior to the ships training, but we can do a lot still. I suspect by the time we get back to New Avalon, we’ll have the largest clutch of trained techs, engineers and scientists.”
I nodded. One problem that realists had with the Battletech universe was the lack of troop numbers, vs claimed populations. While populations weren’t as high as Cat labs claimed, since they stated the Federated Suns in 3135 had nearly one point four trillion, they still were large. The 3010 survey of the Federated Suns was 300 billion people, spread out over nearly 350 systems. The rate of population growth was in line to a First World nation of late 20th century, so, by and large, it was possible, barely.
But, you only saw the Suns at this point having roughly 100 division equivalent of federal forces listed, more or less 10,000 people, even counting non seen personnel or talked about support, you were still talking 20,000 give or take in each unit.
That would give a really tiny number of personnel, roughly only two million soldiers, not even a rounding error in terms of population. What the writers didn’t show you were units without mechs, units set for occupation duty, units that were not meant to travel, the full up supporting structures a military tasked with defending a realm with 350 systems and a constant war going on, or the planetary militia forces. Much less the part time military, aka active and inactive reserves. However, what wasn’t stated, that all those named units listed in the various sourcebooks, were part of a winnowing process. You had to make the cut to get into them. Which meant you were generally on the top quarter of human ability in mental capabilities just to attempt to train for them.
Considering the training was two years long just for normal infantry, much less a spacer or mechwarrior for example, and required training in how to survive being in a dropship, what to do if a vacuum leak happened, adapting to various planetary environments, and countless other little tasks that made up the frontline military duties not just in combat, but generally, there were two more winnowing processes, just surviving the training, which routinely killed people every cycle, and passing it. It wasn’t hard to say that any frontline force member, including an private of the infantry, was exceptional. Merc units tended the same way, entertainment notwithstanding. Recruits were either good, or dead, generally.
Our plans took advantage of that. Everyone. Everyone including the marines, the space marines, which we had a regiment of, the small craft pilots, the aerospace fighter pilots, everyone who had any free time trained in something else. We had a lot of experts with us that Hanse had collected, so an intensive training course was set. We figured correctly that there was only so much bitching and card playing the troops would want, so an intense course of technical, scientific and other training was implemented. It’d only pick up as we approached Axylus, to keep people from thinking on the void outside our hulls.
Asha shook her head, still mostly quiet, but opening up to the rest of us inserted as we joked about ourselves. “Even us spacers aren’t that thrilled with the black, and given that at least three of the experts are certified to teach the rest of my degree, I’ve been taking advantage of that, myself. Rest are learning how to maintain their birds, cross work other skills, and other things. It’s going to keep us all busy.”
I nodded. While I was busy with Ran and Kathryn doing tabletop exercises, or when we could arrange it, multi-unit sims with our battlemechs linked up via computer, sim exercises, it didn’t mean I wasn’t taking the chance to learn more. I had thought Case would take the chance to pick the greatest computer brain, but he had avoided Alt Cunningham with a passion that made me wonder. I thought he’d try to hit on her, then settle down to learn all the stuff about Star League era computers.
“The amount of bed hopping being done is fairly impressive.” I finally stated. “I checked, we are going through contraceptives at a slightly higher than expected rate, but we’ll be fine, so far.”
“And you are not getting any.” Kath teased. Growing up in Clan society gave her very warped morals regarding sex, at least as the Inner sphere would see it, as they had effectively delinked sex from procreation. My own urges leaned that way, but I was holding it in check, since everyone aboard Xanadu was my subordinate, and when I was on other ships, I had work to do.
“Laugh it up.” I shot back, annoyed. I blew out a breath. “So. Asha.” The fellow asian woman looked at me, her eyebrow rising. “How are the fighters doing?”
“Good. Very good. I know you were annoyed at losing the Second Carrier squadron and the Second Escort squadron, but we still managed to fit in three full regiments of ASF, between everyone. That’s as many fighters as the New Syrtises carried.” I nodded. When warships were still possible, the New Syrtis class was the largest carrier ever used. Carrying three full regiments, it was able to blanket a system in fighters. In this degraded time, three regiments of fighters was more than any one system could boast of hosting, outside the most critical worlds, and few of those, in fact.
I made a face, though on thinking on how we arranged everything. “I still don’t like giving up six of each Behemoth’s small craft to fit in fighters.” I finally shrugged. “But needs must.”
“We are seriously overprovisioned in small craft, Kikyo.” Kath shook her head. “We still are.” She tilted her head. “But, I understand, you wanted it all!” She caroled the last, a grim, with Asha hiding her laughter, her face alighting in mischief.
“Laugh it up.” I paused, then shook my head at the repeat. “Hasek-Davion…” The other two faces went still, knowing I referred to the recently elevated March Lord, second to only Hanse in the Federated Suns, at least in his own domains, and his attempt to hijack our forces, using the laws and traditions of the Suns against us. It backfired as Hanse had given written orders that none can supersede his orders, no matter what. But his attempt to hijack us, from the putative anti pirate mission, to attack the Taurians, didn’t sit well with any of us, and then his attempt to find out if we had any other orders he wasn’t privy to, had Ran Felster escorting him off the Xanadu in an arm lock. Personally.
“Yeah, that’s not going to come back to bite us, not at all.” Kath shook her head. “He fucked over the Dragoons, now he’s fucking over us.” She raised her eyes towards the ceiling of my cabin. “Can’t he just be a good little weasel and leave people alone?”
I shrugged. “A cocksucker gotta suck, I guess.” Asha snickered, Kath laughed. I had explained what I meant, and both agreed it was amusing. A traitor has to betray, after all.
Kath looked at the display on my wall, and nodded. A screen showed the name, status and current information of all the task forces’ gathered ships. It also showed the basic status of each battalion of forces, or the equivalent we had as well. Hanse’s hopes to attach another jumpship to the thirteen I had brought to this mission had failed, but we still had the ability to carry fifty-six dropships, and considering the combat ones we had accessible, the effective equivalent of two of the Federated Suns famed RCT’s.
“A regiment of marines,” Asha was speaking of space marines, trained to board and fight on spaceships, or fight in vacuum, “Five battalions of jump infantry, “ Those who used jet packs to hop around a battlefield for tactical mobility, she was referring to. “a regiment of regular infantry, all but the Marines, mechanized.” She shook her head. “That’s a lot of ground pounders.”
I agreed. “But they’re useful, even if we don’t see combat.” Both women nodded. If nothing else, they could help load and unload, and given all the training they were getting… well. Extra hands to do stuff won’t go amiss.
“Eight battalions of armor, a battalion of mechanized artillery, two batteries of towed..” Kath listed, picking up from Asha, “three battalions of recon, call it another regiment of vehicles and two regiments of people for support and transport, ten battalions of combat ‘Mechs, two of industrial on top of that.” She blew out a whistle.
Asha picked up from that. “Let’s not forget effectively a wing of gunboats, 3 full regiments of aerospace fighters, plus all the rest of the Small craft.”
“All fitting on four Colossi, five Excaliburs, six Overlords and six Fortresses. Effectively two Davion Regimental combat teams in power, not adding in the five carrier dropships or the five assault dropships.” I spoke amused.
Kath snorted. “The infantry and support people didn’t, Ferret.” To my dismay, Ferret was my official call sign, though Kath got to keep Black from her Dragoon days. Asha’s Dutchman wasn’t talked about by her, though I understood it meant lost in space.
“Isn’t that why we have four of the Comfort modified Monarchs?” Asha asked, a bit amused. I had modified the passenger liner dropship to carry about a regiment and change of people, call it 900, in less comfort than the original Monarchs could boast, but in exchange, they had a full up trauma center and a few other amenities to make trips a bit more pleasant.
“It is. And to round this madness off, we have three Aqueduct tankers, full of hydrogen to hot charge while we’re in the black, and twenty…” I shook my head, amused. Twenty cargo dropships in one place was unheard of in this day and age. Even if they were small ones. But four Behemoths, nine Mammoths, even if six were my modified version for support units, and eleven Mules, plus my Princess? No one would believe it. While nearly eighteen months of food and other consumables was spread out across my Mammoths, the remaining cargo ships were empty. Hanse was hoping. And so was I. Still, I didn’t think we’d need six hundred kilotons of cargo space, and that was actually a fair bit less than we had open.
We had one open dropship slots, meant for the Argo herself, given her size, she needed either a Scout class jumpship to herself, or two rings on a bigger ship, with the exception of the Merchant. Technically the Behemoths did too, but they fit quite nicely on a pair of Merchants, who’s pair of dropship docking ports didn’t block each other by being 180 degrees separated. All other jumpships would have one port blocked by the massive ships.
Kath stood up, her magbooks clicking. Even though Xanadu was docked to Indiana, our Monolith jumpship, and could be spun on a tether for gravity, we hadn’t been extended on it, to allow easy transfer to and from one of the three command dropships. Ancon and Achamer, two of my Colossus class, and the command ships for the Davion Guard unit and Sandoval’s Training battalion were on the same carousel arrangement as Xanadu, and so, movement between all three ships was easy, but moving around them was a bit of a challenge. This is why magnetic shoes existed. All ships were metal, and therefore, you could magnetically lock yourself to a deck.
“Six days to charge?” Asha asked, a bit dubiously. “That’s a bit fast, isn’t it?” She also stood.
Kath answered as she started heading out. “We’re in great shape, and have all the ships with late Star League era equipment, Asha. We’re good. We can charge faster, in fact, but the boss doesn’t like the wear and tear.”
“More like the components needed for rapid charging aren’t being made anymore.” Since the dawn of the thirty light year jumpship, and currently, an average of seven days, depending on the star, or hot charging, meaning you charged from your jumpship’s reactor, which of course drank fuel, was the standard for how long between jumps. The idea a jumpcore needed that long to cool down was false, a day generally would put it to safe temperatures. It was actually the charging of the massive capacitors that fired the core to jump the ship, that took that long. Or so everyone knew.
The Star League Navy however had managed to get hot charging down to 120 hours, or five days, but those required more advanced components, and while they lasted longer than what was made before and now made today, trying to charge faster than seven days added wear to them. The Star League could afford it, we couldn’t. But cutting one day off the charging time, would speed up the travel by a normal jump’s wait, so worth it. The Star League and Clans didn’t use this feature much, waste is waste, and repairing those parts was a pain in the ass, even for them. Us? They weren’t being made.
“If you want to spend another nine days in the black, we can arrange it…” I trailed off, as Asha blanched, and fled out the cabin, the clicking sounds fading.
“That was mean, Ferret.” Kath grinned as she shot the comment over her shoulder. She sashayed out, as I looked.
I looked, thinking about it. Asha hadn’t told us how she activated the Phantom mech ability, but she was clearly traumatized by it. And I would have sped up to five days per jump, if Kath hadn’t protested, pointing out each five day charge cycle cut component lifespan by five years, while a six day cycle by only a year. A half century off the component lifespan of two centuries… I understood. It also raised the risks of mischarging and misjumping sharply. None of our ships had a full SLDF inspection to cerity that’d be safe, after all. We didn’t know when a component would fail, and increased work would raise that faster. And we didn’t have spares.
Dropship Xanadu, Unnamed System, Early afternoon (New Avalon Time), July 13th, 3015.
“Finally!” Case exclaimed from the rumble chair he was in, on the bridge of Xanadu.
I nodded. The large gas giant about a half AU away filled our screens, and we had jumped perfectly into the large pirate point that it generated, putting us only a day away from the target, the moon Axylus, which was already highlighted in our holotank. “A couple hours to assemble the task force we’re taking, then twenty or so hours to travel, before we find out who’s there, if anyone.”
Marshal Felsner nodded from his screen. “Your Navigators performed beyond anyone’s expectations, General. I will personally thank them, and I am sure the Prince will as well.” I nodded. I had already sent out my thanks, and a bonus to the thirteen who performed a task that the best that the battle hardened and experienced SLN at Terra for the final assault would find difficult.
“Extra praise doesn’t hurt, no.” I responded. “Shall we see to our commands?”
“CONTACT…. MULTIPLE CONTACTS!” rang out before the Marshall could respond. “Tentative ID… Merchant, Invader, Scion.” The last was said with a bit of shock. Scions hadn’t been seen in centuries. The tech shook it off and continued. “Not appearing to be carrying any dropships, roughly one k-klick outside point. Powering up.”
I snapped over the general frequency. “Launch Assault Squadron and Carrier Squadron, flush all gunboats and fighters immediately! Alert Armstrong’s Animals to prepare to board!” I paused, realizing I had just overridden my superior. I turned to the screen he was on, and before I could speak, he grinned and spoke loudly. “DO it! Also Alert Avalon’s Blacks and the Black Balls.” He was referring to the Marines assigned to the New Avalon Training battalion and his own marines. “Also, alert Brigadier Blackhand he has work to do.” I winced, knowing I forgot that.
“Incoming comms.” Indiana’s communications rating spoke. “From the Invader.”
“Patch it to me, with feeds to General Onishi and Colonel Sandoval, please.” Felsner spoke mildly, as our fighters and assault dropships were spreading out. Quick math showed that at a meter per second, those jumpships wouldn’t make it back to the pirate point in time to jump before our fighters were all over them. And that they didn’t want to take the chance of the Suns not honoring the neutrality of any jumpship in this age.
It was done, and a bearded man appeared on the screen. “I’m Commodore Black. I’d like to talk a deal. I leave, with my jumpships, and my fellows on the moon, you get the location of over two dozen jumpships, about thirty or so dropships, and the Argo, since that’s what I figure you’re here for.”
I blinked. Kathryn’s face in a window on my screen blinked. Ran just leaned back. “I’m afraid just the location isn’t enough. Exactly what do you have besides your jumpships on the moon?”
“A full regiment of mechs, a half dozen dropships and a regiment of infantry!” The Commodore boasted. “We’ll also be taking our plunder and slaves, y’hear?”
“One moment.” Ran held up his hand, and the tech obeyed. “Get Blackhand on the line.” Morgan was half suited up when put on. Ran quickly outlined the situation.
“Marshal? What do you want done.” For once, the cigar ever present was missing in the operator’s mouth.
“Can you plant bombs on their helium tanks that would be undetectable from anything but a full up dockyard search, to go off on a week or ten day timer?”
“Can do, plus vent their cabins and bridge if you so desire.” Morgan’s grin was savage.
“Prepare to make it happen. You’ll know when.” Ran muted Morgan’s screen and nodded at the tech. The line reopened.
“Sooo…?” The pirate was grinning.
“I think not.” The Marshal’s voice was cold. “Allow my counter offer, instead of my fighters blowing your jumpships to vapor. You may take your jumpships, three dropships, with any equipment we don’t deem part of our mission here, and those who wish to go with you. Further, you have my word as a Federated Suns officer, and a loyal servant of my Prince, and unto God himself, that I will not interfere with your leaving this system. “ He paused, and nodded once.
“However, the price is, you will evacuate your jumpships, we will examine their logs, and your electronic signatures, for records, you understand, and until I verify your information, and have the situation on the ground handled, you will be under guard. Any resistance, and we kill you all, by the easiest means possible to us, and trust that God knows his own.” Katherine Steiner who had just stepped in, nodded at that. Last but not least, if your ships and personnel are ever found by an Federated Suns officer, you shall have no mercy, and no quarter. You have thirty seconds to accept my offer, or we kill you all.”
For a long moment, part of me hoped that he refused. What Ran was going to do was cruel, mean, and even assuming the charges on the cabins and bridges didn’t go off, a long cold way to die. Then I realized. Pirates. This would save on the rope.
“Well, huh. Guess you boys aren’t dumb after all.” The pirate stroked his beard as our fighters streaked closer. I knew our pilots knew where to punch the ships for the helium tanks, but the hesitation of shooting dropships would possibly be a problem. Before I could deal with it, the drives slllooowly accelerating the jumpships cut out. “We accept, Marshal. Mind if I offer you a drink of fine Canopian Brandy I had looted?”
“I… rather not, you understand.” Ran’s voice was urbane. “My marines will see to your ships and your people. Please do see to your people moonside. I don’t want to waste the power packs.”
“Don’t you worry, those boys know who’s boss.” With that Ran cut the screen.
Morgan’s voice came in. “Don’t you worry, General, Marshal. They’ll have time to realize that we don’t let pirates live.” He grinned. “And that’s a guarantee.” He turned off his screen, as we passed orders to our marines.
Shortly, while all but one of the pirates were being held by our Marines on the various assault ships, under guard, the so called Commodore Black walked into a lounge, with Armstrong and a fellow beefy Marine guarding him with needlers ready to fire. Ran had explained how odd the band of pirates known as Blacks’ Bearded Butchers were. Contrary to almost every other pirate group, they were run by Commodore Black, off a jumpship. I snorted. Finally a jumpship captain realized the pirates danced to his tune, or he could leave them.
By and large, most jumpship skippers who weren’t military tended to not care what dropships or to where they went, though the majority would balk at outright pirates, leaving three groups of jumpship crews who transported the pirates. Those under duress, as the pirates had their families, those who were amoral as hell, and didn’t care, and those who grew up in the lifestyle, because their daddies and granddaddies moved pirates along. Sadly for the Suns, the majority of pirate jumpships were Tortuga Domain ships, and they had been a thorn in the Suns and Taruians side since the end of the Reunification war.
It was just our luck not only to have found one of that ilk, but one smarter than most, who realized, if the Pirates didn’t dance to his tune, he could leave them to the locals. And used it. I kept a still face, with Ran next to me, and Kathryn on the other side. Case and Kath were behind us, pistols unsecured and ready to draw. Rios and her squad were also in the room.
“Fancy. A Princess, still in original condition.” The Pirate lord shook his head. “My, you nobles travel well. Welp. Here I am. My boys on Axylus are waiting for us. Let’s get this done, and me on my way so I can go see what plunder I can take from the Mariks.” He grinned. “Crappie shit isn’t worth the time, Taruians are too stubborn, and Canopians… some days you get lucky, some days you get shit, and the girls either are great at sucking, or great at biting it off. Bit tiring guessing which one.”
I didn’t say a word, but noted that Morgan should disable the charges, but set it up so their radios wouldn’t work either. Nor should their reactors. I had a good idea on how that’d go.
“Yes. Quite. About that force you talked about.” Ran’s tone was still urbane, though a hint of frost was in it.
“Oh, it’s real, Marshal. But I’ll be fair, half are franken mechs and bug frankens at that.” He shrugged. “What can you do?”
“I see. Which three dropships do you want?” I felt Xanadu start to accelerate towards Axylus.
“Oh, I’ll take the Overlord we had, that Dictator, and the Mule. We’ll get by with those.”
His stained teeth didn’t impress anyone as he grinned. “I’ll even be nice and only take seventy-two ‘Mechs.”
“The best, I presume.” Kathryn’s voice was dry. The Pirate’s shrug, and attempt to spread his hands, which were chained, answered her.
Ran nodded at Armstrong, who poked the pirate in the back.
“Okay, okay, bet the brig is fancy here…” The pirate stated as he started to shuffle out.
A long minute passed, and once everyone was sure the pirate was long gone. “Well.” Kath Steiner spoke. “If I had any questions about letting them die a lingering death, Marshal…”
The other Kath, her black curls shaking as she repressed laughter at that, gasped out. “He believed you!”
“Oh, I didn’t lie, ladies.” Ran smiled coldly. “I said this system, nothing about another, did I not?”
Case laughed. “I like.”
“Well, I believe we have planning to do, and preparations, do we not?” I responded finally. The original part of me was trying to digest what was happening, while the part from the twentieth century was coldly calculating… and wondering if leaving a gloating video to play after the bombs went off would be too much.
Outside SLN Argo, Early morning(New Avalon Time), July 16th, 3015
“Well.” Ran’s voice came though Bun Bun’s speakers as I waited for the final verdict. He was speaking from his Altas which he had used as his command post for all parts of this. “Eighty-three of their slaves, wished to go with them. Out of 900.” He shook his head. “They were half mining metals, germanium, if you’d believe it, and half farming in aquaculture greenhouses set up. This pirate was a bit odd.”
I nodded, forgetting again that Bun Bun would try to do it… and that looked hilarious on an Archer. The snickers from the Marshal’s mech indicated as such. I stopped, and spoke. “Yes, Marshal. Word on the Survey?” I was referring to the Argo.
The tone indicated a bit of annoyance. “First, the ship’s hull is in fairly good shape, all told, though frame members are a bit trickier. The drive…” He sighed. “She can’t lift. Not on her side, though from what we can tell, her last captain put her down aft first, but that bent the main drive nozzles.”
“I… see.” I thought a second. “We’re going to have to tow her off then?”
“Looks like. Our engineers and shipwrights are estimating exactly where to put tow cables on, and we’ll use all the eggs to lift her slowly. Once we fully copy the data, of course. Captain Cunningham says it’s no problem, and with your lovely Colonel’s codes, the computers purred for her.”
Kath had given up a general code set, she said that should open up any SLDF computer. She was right. General Kerensky’s own codes, which were master codes as far as she, or any other Clanner knew. I wasn’t so sanguine. Yes, Alexander Kerenksy was the last commanding General of the SLDF, trusted enough to be regent and guardian for the last Cameron, but… institutional paranoia ran deep. I had a bet with Kath that we’d find computers it’d not crack.
“How long?” I rubbed my forehead, in irritation, not liking being her, and wondering when the other shoe would drop. Having acquired a Union, a Leopard, and a Leopard CV was just added annoyance. I had already agreed that they could be split between the Davions, and Team Banzai. Ran had given Team Banzai the first pick, and was out one Leopard carrier. Upside for me, was I was already promised the Argo, with everything in it, except, and this was key, Hanse got the data, complete, unaltered, and as organized as we could arrange it, plus Fed Boeing’s Shipwrights to look over and study the Argo.
Looking at the ship, I figured out why it took the Canopians several years to fix her in the Battletech computer game. Not only were the main drive nozzles huge, they were half wrecked, likely requiring all new ones, there was holes, dents, and other problems with the ship. Not to mention Canopus likely had taken it completely apart to create detailed blueprints.
“I’d say at least two days after our confirmation gets back, then two days to get her to our ships.” He shrugged. Ironically, the Leopards with dismounted wings, could be carried in the Behemoths, and the Argo herself, and one reason Hanse was so eager to have Fed Boeing, her original builders examine her, was to see if they could refigure out how the KF extender worked inside her. That’d allow the Union to be docked to the Argo.
I sighed. “I know it’s mean, and so unlikely to be true, but is it so wrong to hope that Black’s information is bogus?”
I felt the Marshal shake his head. “Not at all my dear. But like you, I am confident enough to bet on it, that it’s accurate enough for us. He was too confident otherwise… and would you place yourself in our hands, if it wasn’t?”
I laughed. Kath’s Marauder was also in the circuit, as she responded for me. “Or an idiot… which he isn’t… though believing you…”
“Aw, Black, that’s easy to understand. Jumpships are sacred. If we were gonna damage them, we’d damage them here so we can keep ‘em, not let him escape with them!” Case’s shrug was heard though the net. “So, from that view… not completley stupid.”
“Quite so, Leftenant.” Ran grinned coldy. “Shame for him, that since he’s giving us a fair passel of ships, his three aren’t that. Needed, and in the end, someone will find them again, with a buried log from the lovely Cunningham.”
“Well, I’m going back to the Xanadu.” I grumbled. The shipwrights and other trained spacers had kept us from gawking in the inside, and wouldn’t even give us a tour, dammit.
“I don’t blame you, we still have to finish processing the freed ex-slaves.” Ran’s voice indicated that’d be my job, I was a more pleasant face to look at, more reassuring. With 854 people, that’d take a bit. At least only thirty-five were under fifteen. Small mercies.
Dropship Xanadu, docked to Indiana, right outside Axylus Pirate Point. Midday (New Avalon Local time), July 29th, 3015.
Commodore Black’s stained teeth disgraced my screen, as he grinned at us on his Invader. “Well, a deal’s a deal.” His ships were already halfway though the jump cycle, and the first flickering of a jump were happening. “Now, y’all get those ships fast, since once I hit Herotitus, I’m gonna sell the info, y’hear? Consider this a friendly warning.”
“Rest assured, four weeks is more than enough. Even if we’re still present, I doubt very few will wish to tangle with my command, Black.” Felsner’s urbane tone carried a cold tone of warning. “I’m sure you noted we brought along enough shipwrights.”
“About the only way you’d be able to get poor Argo off the planet, even with those eggs y’all have, yep.” He tipped his cowboy hat at us. “Hope y’all fix her up right and proper… so I can find her and take her, later on.” His laughter was not returned.
“We shall see.” I responded for the Marshal. The Jump was beyond stopping, now, as I had learned over the journey how jumps worked, but before Black could respond, the views of the ships on another monitor showed something odd, and in the Holotank on Xanadu’s bridge, they all suddenly glowed pink, as a sharp but yet quiet boom was heard on the channel.
“What the he..” All three ships warped, space curling around and through them, in ways that never should happen, and the signal from the ship cut off. I snapped my head to Morgan’s only to notice his sharp grin.
“Bridager, what did you do?” Ran’s voice cut though my shock. The last ship had dissolved finally, and all of us were blinking at the aftereffects.
“You, Marshal, promised you wouldn’t hinder them. You never made that promise for me.” Morgan’s cigar shifted, with his sharp grin. “Talked to Jonna, the head of the shipwrights? She told me exactly when during a jump a component had to fail to catastrophically misjump. So, sent the signal the moment I was sure they were gonna jump.”
“My… god.” Kathryn’s voice sounded sick. I was too. Event Horizon, the twentieth century horror movie about jumping, was the least of the horror tales of misjumps.
Ran’s eyes closed. “May God have mercy.” He slowly opened his eyes, and looked at Morgan. “... It is a good thing you are no longer a member of the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns, Bridager. Rest assured, I will report this, and it’ll be in your file, for future consideration of your status, if you choose to return to the Prince’s service. You broke my implicit statement. Your unit, and your commander was under my command, and I had meant myself and those under my command.”
Morgan shrugged. “Pirates. And I’m a Rabid Fox. You didn’t ask for them not to suffer, I just wanted to see it.” His grin returned. “Shame I didn’t see his face when he realized what happened.” He lit his cigar again, and when it was drawing properly. “Pirates and Slavers. A good day.”
I stared at him. Operators were operators, and I had known a few.but one this vicious? Rare. And one who took that much pleasure, even on admitted pirates and slavers, on their lingering and horrified deaths? There was a dark side to the man, that he kept leashed. But when it could slip free… it did. Something to keep in mind.
“Morgan.” I finally responded. “I’ll remember this.”
His smile was cutting. “Good. You need to.” With that, he unclicked his boots, and shot off the bridge.
Ran’s expression was sad. “He wasn’t just busted for the blown operation he told you about, you now realize.” I nodded, as Felsner continued. “Not only has he done stunts like this before… there are markers in his makeup, that are…” He thought of a way to put it.
Sofia Rios, Rogue, Morgan’s second spoke softly. “The word you’re looking for is troublesome. He’s about as close to a functioning psychopath and sociopath as you’ll ever meet. Loyal? Yes. Loving? He can be. But to those who are enemy? And those who don’t merit the value codes he’s told to obey? He doesn’t care. Not one bit. And in some cases? Enjoys their suffering.”
Kathryn Sandoval, an AFFS officer stared at the woman though the screen. “And he was allowed to be a Rabid Fox, command them?”
Sofia’s smile was twisted. “You note that he does obey a moral and ethical code, when told to and what it is. You’d also note he doesn’t go after allies or non combatants unless it’s the mission. But… Rabid Foxes need the best possible, even if it’s wrapped up in a monster. He is. ANd he’s the best at training future Rabid Foxes. His trainees have the highest success and survival rates.”
Kath Steiner’s voice was quiet, as she whispered in my ear. “And he’d fit right in with the Clans, wouldn’t he, too well, far too well.”
I nodded sadly. We’d need him. But… looking into my soul, keeping that man alive, knowing what I knew, and what I could suspect, I realized I was walking a path of darkness again. I’d need levers on him. Fast.
Dropship Xanadu, Axylus System, Late Evening (New Avalon Local time), July 29th, 3015.
We had moved the task force to where the mangled Pirate Commodore told us the other jumpships had been mothballed. It was a location outside the system’s jump interdiction zone, but still close enough to see the star. A brief digression I suppose. Jumpships could only jump to zones of certain gravity or less, which means points in a system corresponding to the Lagrange points, specifically the L1 point, to a planet and the star, or a planet and a large enough moon, or outside a certain boundary, dependent on the star’s size. For a star like Sol, that was roughly 11.2 AU out. Most jumpships either jumped to a pirate point, also known as those Lagrange points above, or to the zenith or nadir of a star system. We hadn’t this time, because where the mothballed ships were, wasn’t there.
The Star League had a problem during the Reunification war. They had captured enemy ships, drop, jump and even warships. The problem was simple. What to do with them? For the warships, most had ended up being scrapped, as they had no practical resale value, and Ian Cameron’s idea was to end wars, meaning why keep around half wrecked ships? The other ships weren’t so easily dealt with. From the logs of the Invader we had scanned, then destroyed, the two Corps involved in the Canopian and Taruian campaigns, had basically stashed the ship away for later use. Then, from what we could guess, forgot about them.
Tsk. All old Jumpships, and examples of the original mass produced classes, both with and without rings, but even back then, they built to last, and one Leviathan, a predecessor to the Monolith class, discontinued due to how easy it was to hijack, three Scions, six Liberties, five Pioneers and six Merchants rested, sails banked to receive no charge. What amused me was the three Aquilas as well. Old, short ranged compared to modern jumpships, lacking even solar sails, they could move at more than a measly one meter per second squared of acceleration. But given their limits, I suspected we’d be leaving them behind.
With them were a clutch of dropships, all of the older models too. Three Lions, the predecessor to the Fortress, seven Jumbos, a cargo carrier like the Mule, and finally a dozen Leopards.
“Well.” Kathryn Sandoval looked pleased, floating next to me. “This trip has paid for itself, just about.” I nodded, these jumpships would be taken into service for the Federated Suns, well, their share. “Though I’m not sure the older ships are worth the effort. The Merchants, on the other hand?”
“Actually, none of them are.” We all turned to look at Cummin, who had walked in. “Even the dropships.”
Ran tilted his head. “Explain.” He sounded annoyed, but was willing to listen.
“The Aqulias, we all know about, and a ship survey which is underway has already shown a significant amount of micrometeorite damage to them, as well as part stripping, and a detailed look at least at the sails of the rest, show they’re also punched though by the same. My suspicion is when they were left, no care was taken about the orbit they’re in, outside it was on the elliptic.”
I was annoyed. “Meaning?”
“They’ve been hit repeatedly by radiation, micro and not so micro meteorites, and it’d surprise me if any care was taken to safe their tanks before being deactivated. They’re dead, and as for the dropships, just a few pictures show they’ve been stripped for parts. My bet is, it took parts from all these ships to get that Merchant and Scion up and running. What are you going to do to Morgan?” Cummin’s tone was hard. “He destroyed three jumpships.” What Admiral Ahmad was referring to, was the almost universally observed rule that Jumpships were not to be targeted, sabotaged or otherwise destroyed by any combat forces. Pirates bent the line by boarding actions, but the Great houses didn’t, except to target to disable occasionally a pirate jumpship.
I rubbed my head. “I’m not sure. I’m honestly not sure at all. I know, I know, he broke the rules, and those ships should have been only disabled. I’ll look for suggestions once we verify your estimate that the ships are dead.”
He shrugged. “Just keep that sociopath off my ship, Ma’am. Or any other jumpship, until time passes. We can’t, we as in humanity, cannot have jumpships being lost. We’re barely replacing failure losses as it stands.” And that was the reason why jumpships had nearly universal ironclad neutrality. You needed them for interstellar war, interstellar commerce, and all the basic underpinnings of interstellar civilization. Therefore, they were a finite resource, and any combat loss hurt everyone. I would need to punish Morgan, somehow, and make it visible. But, I knew with that action, unless he did something awesome, Morgan could never return to the AFFS.
I turned around, and walked out of the observation deck, the Admiral and Kathyrn following. We shortly arrived in a briefing room, with a holotank, that Kath was playing with.
“Hey.” The blonde waved at us, clearly distracted. “What’s the story on those ships?”
“Wrecks.” Kathryns’ voice was disgusted. “Which means Blackhand is in even more trouble.” I rubbed my forehead.
“Actually, Admiral? We need him. He’s a monster, but… Only Xanadu’s bridge crew, and the four of us on the communication link heard. And I know you told Xanadu’s crew not to talk about it.” Ahmed’s head tilted in response.
“Spread rumors it was the stripping of these ships that lead to it, instead of Morgan’s action, my lady?” Cummin sounded resigned. “He is ours, yes… but is he a monster we want?”
I shook my head. “I will have a long talk with him, but we’ve previously discussed situations… and honestly, I can’t see better to put onto pirates or the DCMS, or even senior leadership of the Liaos.”
Kathryn’s sigh indicated her displeasure at the idea. “I don’t like it. I don’t think he should skate on this. But… part of me is wanting to unleash him against the snakes, apologies, Ahmed.”
Cummin snorted amused. “You’d note I left the Combine. I agree. As long as we realize which of the Combine citizens are snakes. Most …”
Kath broke in. “I agree, there Admiral. And bluntly, he’s an asset. We need him, in my eyes, but… Kikyo. Deal. Your position.”
I sighed. “I will.” I paused, situations running through my head. Would it work… maybe. Rios might not agree, or she might have a suggestion herself. “I have an idea, at least for short-term. Maybe.” Kath’s golden eyebrow rose. I shook my head and pointed at the star map in the holo tank. “What are you looking at, Black?”
“Oh. This is the complete map file the Blackwatch had.” She nodded. “It actually took several extra codes to get it all out, but it’s going to take a while to sort through all of it.” I nodded, waving at her to continue. “What’s interesting is there’s four locations on this map, that I’m not sure about.” My dark red eyebrow rose in question. “Artu.” She tapped a command and a star system glowed. “Our original target.” She grinned. “Now easy to get.” She tapped another system. “THis one, we all know about it, and Hanse waved us off.”. She tapped yet another button, and the system we were in lit up. “Apparently the SLDF forgot, Blackwatch didn’t, and they and the Blackhearts were occasionally raiding this system to keep parts going for some of their ships off the books, is my guess.” She shrugged. “That was the first system that caught my eye on the map. Then we have these three.” Three other systems lit up.
Kathryn’s black eyebrows rose slightly. “And?”
“A CIA site, an SLN site, under high secrecy, and a Blackhearts site.” She pointed at each in order. “One’s a jump away, the other is another jump away from the CIA site, and the Blackheart site is on Spencer.”
Admiral Ahmed’s brow was furrowed. “Okay. Pretend I’m missing something. What’s so important?”
Kath thought about it for a moment. “I’ll say this. Wolfnet has none of these sites, except the first two. And I’d point out we didn’t know about them before getting the map.”
Kathryn did a low whistle. “Wolfnet knew about Artu? How?”
“Because we paid attention to rumors, stories, and old old local history books and like. Artu has stories of SLDF personnel on it, being nice and good, before the Uprising, but it’s not on any of the publically open pre Application locations for the SLDF.” Kath smiled. “Where specifically? Nope, we didn't know, but I at least thought about following up.”
Cummin grinned. “Your father did the same exact thing. It usually paid off, not a lot, mind you, but it paid off.”
Kathryn’s expression became a frown. “Why does it sound like lostech hunting is archaeology and mythology research?”
I couldn’t help but snicker. “Because it is. Just a profitable one.” I smoothed my expression and turned to Kath. “CIA? I thought the TH disbanded it’s intelligence service.”
“Officially, yes, just like they disbanded the THAF.” Kath rolled her eyes. “Royal Command, anyone?” Various ahhs answered her. “I’m not sure, but I think they kept the CIA moniker as a recognition code for Blackheart support intelligence or even Blackwatch only.”
Ran spoke up surprising everyone. “Logical. So. Send a team to Spencer for the Blackwatch, a team to the outer reaches of this Independence system?” He drummed his fingers. “And a team to this unnamed and from the way I’m reading your notations, Colonel, unrecorded by any but this map, system?”
Kath grinned. “That’d be my thoughts.” She sobered. “I’m not sure what would be the best option, remaining concentrated is a good thing, but, as I understand it, we have a bit of a time crunch?”
The Marshal hmmed. “We do, but there’s some slippage.” He tilted his head slightly. “However, Spencer is habited. Admiral. How long would it take to unmark one of the Fortresses?”
“About a day or two, if we just wanted to cover up unit symbols, I presume.” The admiral's tone was questioning.
“I recall, in the briefings, the Blackhearts killed your father, basically, Baroness.” I blinked at the Marshal’s tone.
“Uh… yes.” I paused. “Oh… but what about the rest of his command?”
Ran’s smile was wintery. “Isn’t his call sign Solo?”
Kath winced. “That’s … evil.”
“He survives, this blackballing I want to do goes away, and the plan you put out, goes out, with some modification, to make it as him taking the hit for me, since I could have been blamed…” Ran nodded, then added. “He doesn’t, he’s repented.”
“... And you’re suspecting the codes in here aren’t going to help enough.” Kath’s tone was quiet.
Ran nodded. “It’s a reasonable thought, yes. He succeeds, he’s a hero, live or die. He fails, he’s dead, and his name is cleared. We win either way.” Kath and Kathryn nodded in agreement. I started to open my mouth to protest, then realized, it was true. It would neatly solve many problems. No matter the outcome.
I realized at that moment, that Morgan wasn’t the only monster. Just more obvious about it. And that Kikyo’s original self wasn’t equipped to deal with this. Even my 20th century self had put those shadows to bed, but they were waking up again.
Kikyo’s Office, Dropship Xanadu, Late Evening (New Avalon time)
I watched, stone faced, as Morgan walked in. He was perfectly attired, and ramrod straight, though a hint of confusion was in his expression.
“Explain to me, why I don’t have you arrested for a war crime, Brigadier?” I finally responded.
“Marshal Felsner gave the orders to sabotage the jumpships and make the personnel onboard suffer, and he’s the command authority for this mission, was I mistaken?” Blackhand’s response was crisp, honest and clear.
“... on the method, and the destruction of the jumpships was not intended, considering the explicit method he listed to be used.” I responded, a bit sharp. “That’s a war crime, that’d get all of us blacklisted, Bridager. Even if I cashiered you now, and turned you over to New Avalon, or C*’s courts…” I had it explained to me by Cummin and Uri exactly how much hot water Morgan was in, and even with the rumors that Xandau’s crew was spreading, and that Ran had confirmed offhandedly…
“Ah. I was under the impression no crime could be done to pirates.” Blackhand was still ramrod straight.
“... you know, you’re correct there.” I put my face in my hands, realizing the problem. “The crime was against civilization by destroying those jumpships. Any losses bring interstellar civilization closer to collapse, that’s why we don’t destroy them.”
“Oh.” Morgan blinked. “Ah. I had wondered why people seemed so leery of destroying them. You hadn’t given orders not to, it was the most effective way to confirm the orders regarding Black and his pirates, and my suggestion that we poison Black and his actual combatant people was rejected.”
I hadn’t known that. “I see. Why did you want to be clear that his orders were obeyed?” I waved at the chair, realizing he was a psychopath, not a sociopath. The big difference between the two in this case, was psychopaths didn’t understand morality and ethics as others did. Sociopaths merely believed morality, ethics and often laws, simply do not apply to them.
He sat, and slouched. “Right. Look. I took your coin, and your leash.” He smiled a bit twistedly. “I know what I am, and I know that I really don’t understand how other people see things, not at a level that makes me a member of society.” He paused. “Well, a safe member of society, anyways. I mean, yeah, I’ll keep my word. I’ll keep my allies safe. I have friends, and I’d go to the wall from them. You say we don’t kill children? We don’t. You say we do? We do. You say we use nerve gas on nuns? I’d protest, mostly because it’d be a waste of expensive nerve gas. And what did they do to deserve it. Nerve gas the Sword of Light? I’d do that with a song in my heart.” He shrugged. “Now you know. Give me a job, and I’ll do it, in the way I think best suited to the targets. Civilized rules? I don’t care, they don’t apply. Your rules do, as long as I have your coin.” He shrugged. “Will be interesting if I’m not under anyone’s rules.”
I kept the shudder from showing, but nodded. “Understood. To ah… “
A grin spread across his face as I searched for a word. “Repent?”
“Yes, that’ll do, for that action, we have a location for you to scout and disarm.” I finished. I passed over the folder with papers.
He opened, and started to read. He did a slow whistle, on completion. “I see. And the odds of the codes given working fully aren’t great, and Blackhearts may have trapped the base on recall anyways.” He grinned. “Excellent. I’d have volunteered for this anyways.”
I blinked. “You do realize this is how my father died, along with…” His nod cut me off.
“My lady? I am the best at what I do. Personally, the only reason why I am in command of the Black Phoenixes, is you didn’t realize. I honestly expected to be released given how everyone’s reacting, and Rios put in my place.” His casual tone sounded as if this was routine for him. “Hell, I’d recommend that anyways. She’s good, ethical and thinks a bit more politically, than I do. Leave me in charge of field ops, and training, put her in overall command of special warfare. Once we grow enough, that is.”
I blinked. “I will take that under consideration. You informed me that you’d not take a bust down to troop leader, when we first met.”
Blackhand shook his head, relaxed. “I’m not. I’d still command a company, in my suggestion, and still train. Plus, the prick was using it to get to me, and didn’t give me all the data. Can’t blame you for doing the same when you didn’t, and Felsner, now that I think about it, was rather clear on what he wanted done. I’m supposed to be a Genie and deliver his wish, in this case. Ooops.” His casual shrug indicated it wasn’t something that’d overly trouble him anymore.
Oh. I nodded after a moment. “Any other questions?”
“Nah, wait, no, one. Can I take people with me?” His grin was wide. “Strictly volunteer, of course, since I can guess you’d not like ordering men to do this. Nor would you if there’s another choice, I suspect.”
I thought about it. “If it’s clear and in writing that they understand the risks and still agree to go, yes, you may take up to five more people with you.”
He stood up, and saluted. “Outstanding. With your permission, I’d like to get started.”
“Granted.” I had stood, and now returned his salute. “Dismissed.”
Spencer Dropship Port, Immgration Terminal, Early Afternoon Local time (Late Night, New Avalon time), August 5th, 3015.
Operation Judas, as I privately labeled the mission had gone off the moment it could. While it’d be at least another week before the rest of the Task force had confirmed the ships were dead, and salvaged any viable parts, plus gone over all the dropships, closer to two, or so I was told, it was decided to undertake the Spencer mission. Xanadu and one of the Fortresses with a combined arms battalion were detailed for this mission, along with the Triumph carrier St. Lo and it’s wing of aerospace fighters would provide cover.
I had to inwardly smile as I played the rich Lyran bitch, using German. The suggestion was from Morgan, actually. I play up being a rich, spoilt noble daughter, who’s Daddy had more money than sense, but at least enough to provide his princess with an proper escort, while she ‘investigated’ rumors of lostech, with a ‘noted’ professor being her ‘guide.’ The idea was that people would take it as the professor was taking the young impressionable Noble for a ride. In more than one way.. The Xanadu, and my acting skills would so sell it. It also helped that we had managed to piece together what good Lyran noble girls would consider ah, inappropriate, but wear anyways, to shock their fathers.
“Yes, yes, I know my papers for archaeological research didn't reach you, but why should I be delayed? Dr. Hand is insistent we start digging.” I pouted. “He’ll be sooo disappointed!” My tone and body language was a girl besotted and willing to do anything for the one she loved, and I looked into the older man’s eyes, who was acting as immgration officer, and pleaded. “Isn’t there something you can do?”
Morgan strolled up, looking all Lyran professor, on an expedition. “My sweet, he is just doing his job, I’m sure he’s thinking of regulations and loopholes that we don’t know about, aren’t you, sir?” His body language came off as condescending and superior as well as as amoral.
The man blinked, and sighed. “Of course.” He paused, and thought about it. “Part of the reason we want this type of paperwork sent ahead, is so we know how much to charge you. A rush like this?” He shook his head. “I have no idea how much.”
I bounced slightly. “Well, what’s the worst it can be? One hundred thousand?” I pause. “500,000? Why don’t I just write you a cheque you can cash at the Comstar compound?”
“Ah, Comstar only cashes checks for account holders on Spencer now, due to a slight… rash of bad behavior of some of our less upstanding citizens.” The slight sheen of sweat crossed his brow, indicated he was lying, and I knew, though Ditzy McLyran as I named the character I was playing wouldn’t of course. “But I can take you there… and I’d say the fee at most would be only a quarter of a million C-bills.”
I grinned at him. “Daddy will be so happy to hear that, he was so grumbling how much this cost before. I’ll tell him it’s cheaper than I thought.” I leaned forward. “Thank you so much.”
“My dear, let us be on our way so this man will help us get to the dig.” His patronizing smile was perfect, as was my response, and I saw the hidden amusement of the official as he took us to the C* compound, and listened to Morgan bolivate on archeological research, how he was tracking the links of the Cameron’s pet thugs to atrocities and incitements, and how they were to blame for the people of the Periphery acting up, as all knew the Periphery just wanted to be left alone.
After drawing the money and ‘a bit extra for your assistance, if that’s allowed’ on Morgan’s ‘insistence’, we were back at Xanadu. Morgan snickered. “That was fun.” Case looked at him flatly, pulling out the earpiece he had linked to the bugs in our clothing.
“You two idiots realize they’re going to have that hotel bugged, so if there’s any lostech they get it?” His grumble answered. “You’re playing the ditz too well.”
Morgan rolled his eyes. “Of course, Case. I know Johnny told you a bit of our past, so while I’ll play up the older ‘gentleman’...” You could hear the quote marks around the last and next words, or so I’d have testified… “‘Educating the ‘young impressionable’ noble lady about the past and the wonders… as well as other things…” His smirk indicated many things. “They won’t get a clue. And let’s be honest. We have sixteen mechs, and a wing of aerospace fighters. Spencer isn’t going to tangle with that, kiddo. Not over a wild goose, and by the time they realize what’s what, half those mechs are gonna have the loot in.”
Case looked at me, snorting. “He’s gonna get us killed, you realize. I’m too young to die, and too poor, dammit!”
“And haven’t killed enough snakes?” I inquired acidly.
“That too.” Case smiled contentedly. “Just so you all know, this is a bad idea, you’re an idiot taking it, Solo, and you’re an idiot going along with it, Ferret. Why didn’t we go with Kath’s suggestion?”
“Did someone take me in vain again?” Kath’s tone was amused as she strolled up. “I thought us doing a full fighter sweep as Morgan’s squad dropped was inspired, and us landing and daring to take us as a viable plan, yes. Spencer might only have a company or so of mechs at best, and a wing of fighters.”
Morgan shook his head. “The idea, Black, is to do this clean, covert and without muss. We’d like to link it to the Lyrans. If not, at least not to the Cav, or the Federated Suns as a whole.”
“Foo.” Kath’s grin was amused. “I thought I suggested pirates.”
Case’s tone was dry. “On this, clanner, I got to agree with Solo. Pirates who knew exactly who and what to hit? I’ll even concede we might get away clean, with the prizes. Who knows.” He sighed. “So, you two going to keep playing to entertain the rubes?”
I blinked. “Aren’t you from the Outworlds here and now?” I blinked, to Asha’s glare at Case.
“Yeah, I am. And I’d tell you the OAI or even an basic Outworlds government official wouldn’t have brought your act. Nor would they have been that easy to deal with. You know he took us for an easy 250, right?” Case’s glare was overblown.
Morgan’s grin but no response left me to defend it. “Which is part of the act.” I rolled my eyes. “Ditzy McLyran has no clue, is so besotted with a man who’s taking her for a ride, and is the stereotypical movie Lyran girl bankrupting her father. That’s the idea.”
“And that’s why I say rube.” Case’s point made to his sasification he stomped off.
Kath and Asha shared a glance. “You realize what Case was trying to imply…”
I nodded. It was needed for the mission. The fact that it’d scratch my itches, was bonus, I figured.
“I do, and it’s not a problem. I’m in no relationship, nor am I committed to anyone, or any oaths. While… the fact it’s with a subordinate is a bit distasteful, in ethical considerations.”
“Mission, girl, mission. Ain’t a big thing. I’d expect to get my leash yanked on when I step out of line again, anyways.” Morgan’s shrug indicated as Kath once said, he’d have done well in the clans. Too well.
Dropship Xanadu, Spencer, Late Afternoon Local Time, August 9th, 3015.
Case slouched against the wall as Kath tsked. We were reviewing the video of Morgan’s penetration of the Blackheart base. Alt Cunningham and a few other techs had gone in recently, along with the lone loader and lone salvage exoskeleton platoon we had brought along, as only one trap remained, and that was what Morgan believed to be the high security storage and armory.
“So far, big waste, Ferret.” Case grumbled. “Well, okay, a dozen advanced mech cubicles, one dropship cublice, and a dozen aerospace and small craft ones, plus the same in light vees, not a total waste, but they’re empty, and the armory only had what? A company’s worth of light infantry gear? Good stuff, and packed up and in here, sure, but really not much worth it.” His tone wasn’t amused.
I shrugged. “You know why we were looking here, Case.” Kath nodded.
“Chance of a K-Fax, or Black Box was worth it, yes.” Her tone was distracted, but she was talking about the first method of interstellar communication, one the Star League had kept secret and supposedly abandoned as too risky for hyperspace travel. In the original timeline, and likely in this one, Katrina Steiner, Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth had found one about a decade ago, but she wasn’t able to fully reverse engineer it, until the alliance with the Federated Suns. Which was at least six years away, hopefully. If I hadn’t sent it spinning away into the void like other situations with my attempts at leveraging a better future.
The hardwire communications that we had trailed in buzzed. “My lady? This is Cunningham. I’ve told Major Blackhand this, but we really want that security vault opened.”
Kath grinned. I rolled my eyes and asked. “Why, Dr. Cunningham?”
“There’s something called secure long ranged quantum tangle communications, inside of it, and well… As I finished downloading the data and service files Colonel Steiner’s codes got us, I took a quick peek at logs regarding it. Messages from CIA Station 19, dated sent about two days before receiving… and it’s not HPG.”
I looked at Case who snarked. “Thanks, Alt. Johnny would hit me for ever doubting you being on a waste of time.”
“And you know it.” Case and Alt had resolved their problems, with Alt basically hitting him for being an idiot and avoiding her, because he had survived, when his previous commander, her fiancee, didn’t.
“Bri..” I started, only to be cut off.
“Forty-five to fifty minutes, then figure at most an half hour to get it out, Ma’am.” Morgan’s tone was calm and cool, as if this was a walk in the park. “Bit tricky this, and I bet you it’s how your father got bit. I’d recommend pulling the others out, since if I read this right, it’s linked to other caches of polonium. But I wouldn’t bother, they already told me no, and they’re stating the disassembly of the Dropship cubicle.”
I paled. “Understood.”
Kath tsked. “I understand why they don’t want to pull out, that bay alone will take an easy hour to disassemble, rest? Eee. We’re pushing how long before Spencer’s militia will come a …” What she was about to say was cut off by the communications watch calling.
“Ma’am? Communication from Archer, Commander Blackwing.” She patched it though.
“Hey, Ferret? You did bribe the locals, didn’t you?” Asha’s tone was a bit confused.
“Yes… I did, overbribed, too.” I paused. “Let me guess, they didn’t stay bought?” I sighed, as Kath was glared at by Case.
“You had to say something. Damned clanner!” Case’s snarl was only accompanied by his pushing off the bulkhead as he started heading for where our lance was stored. Kath rolled her eyes and followed him.
“Yes. One Leopard, twelve Planetlifters, if I had to bet, carrying mechs, from what we see up here, and about the same carrying light tanks. Oh, and call it a battalion of infantry, in helicopters keeping pace. Two Lightnings and four Sabres for aerospace cover, and a wing of conair for ground attack.”
“... Lovely.” I hit general alert. I nodded once. “Asha, scramble your wing, if I don’t call you off, I want you to own the Sky, then kill the Planet Lifters.” I paused, part of me wondering where this assertiveness was coming from, the other part considering it Tuesday. “Leave the Leopard and helicopters for later. Time to arrival?”
“Say forty to fifty minutes before they land, depending where, and anywhere from a half hour to ten minutes before contact, based on that. I’d suppose they’d pick the farther away LZ, since your Long Tom on your Fortress can range on the other good one, or they might try an avalanche drop on your head. Fifty-five minutes if that's their plan. I’ll be on frequency choice 4, and it’ll take me thirty-five minutes to be able to start hammering them.” She sounded slightly off.
“Upside a squadron of Vulcans, Lance of Stuka, squadron of Lightings and another of Sparrowhawks should make short work. I’ll task the Stukas to punch out the Lightnings, and the Sparrowhawks to flush the Sabres for the Vulcans, then we feast on the Planetlifters.” Her tone had lightened slightly. “Are you sure you don’t want me to punch out the Leopard first?”
“You’ll take too many casualties to make it worthwhile, I’d say. Do try to stay out of it’s range. But if you think you can, after you flushed the Planetlifters… go for it.” I paused. “Have Archer relay for Xanadu, please.”
“You think they’re going to actually listen?” Her tone was dry. “Done.”
A short conversation from Asha had the same immigration official we had bribed on arrival, and that Morgan had some drinks with that night, on the line. Morgan had patched in.
“Ah, Mr. Morseau. How pleasant to hear your voice again. Can this wait? This last bit is a bit tricky, you understand.” Morgan’s affected Lyran accent and calmness under it amused me. Until the end, huh?
“As I have informed your security detail, I’m afraid my government demands a complete inspection of your dropships, as well as a complete tour of the disarmed and undisturbed Star League site, buried on our world. You understand. They even assigned a fair bit of our military to insist. How distrustful, I did try to assure them you were just after data, but … ” You could hear the shrug.
“I suppose you didn’t try very hard at all.” Morgan’s voice was amused. “Alas.”
“Oh, yes.” the man’s tone was bemused. “Morgan, if that is your real name, I’m sure you think we’re all backwards and barbaric, but really, LIC needs better covers. I do admit the arm candy you brought along was almost convincing, but we do have Burke’s Peerage, and she’s not in it.” I winced. Dammit!
“I hate when people don’t stay brought. So annoying.” Morgan’s voice was still amused. “Ferret, can you deal?”
I kept in my German accent, and responded. “Ja. Estimate is four assault or heavy, twelve to sixteen light ‘Mechs, twelve to sixteen Scorpions, plus upwards of a battalion at most infantry. Blackwing Private Solutions is on intercept. Go or no go.”
“Go. You know how long.” I turned back to the conversation, as Morgan cut his line.
“Agent Morseau, I can assure you if you don’t trouble us, the Archon will be most grateful.”
His tone was amused. “Ah, but my government thinks she’d be even more grateful if she had to negotiate with us, instead of giving us the scraps. You know how it is, so untrusting.” I didn’t ground my teeth, but it was hard at the next line. “I have informed Blackwing Private Solutions that we’ve informed Comstar that they’re a pirate band, and if they broke off, well, we would say we were mistaken. Accidents happen. I’m sure they will understand, and it’d be a shame for you to suffer one, in your pretty little dropship.”
I thought about it. Shrugged. “We shall see, Herr Morseau. But as for what we came for. Molon Labe, good Herr.” I clicked it off. “Tell Armstrong to run out it’s Long tom,and prepare it, and pass to Asha, blow them out of the air. If they try for an avalanche drop, keep our weapons hidden til large laser range, then open up.”
Melissa bin Salah al Din, the Captain of Xanadu simply nodded and turned to her crew as I departed to where the Mechs waited. “You heard the General. To it!”
Shortly I was in Bun Bun, and flipping switches, as Deb fitted cables into my neurohelmet. She patted my head, and spoke. “Good to go, Ferret. Fire the Rabbit!” as she popped out of the cockpit.
“What is the duty of all good men?” Bun Bun’s voice spoke
“Destroy evil instantly.” My response was cold and sad.
Lights flickered from amber and red to green except 3 lights which remained red.
“And to remember, beware, lest you become what you fight.”
The last three lights switched to green.
Bitching Betty’s voice came on now. “Reactor nominal, gyro nominal, master arm off, all systems ready.” Even her voice, the standard for all Battlemechs sounded eager for combat in so long.
Striding out, I switched to the relay for the people in the Blackheart installation. “Outside Morgan and his people get to the dropships. Only mechs and Morgan’s team will remain.” I looked around and saw Kath’s Marauder wiggle slightly as she tested the recent refits we had done to her electronics and Case’s Redline punch upwards. Last but not least was Kalish Winter, who was as quiet as her last name, who was driving a near clone to Bun Bun.
“Ma’am? If we have an hour, we can get the dropship cubicle out. No question. I have the trucks, the loader mechs, and am already disassembling. It’d take a thousand tons, but we can fit it.” The officer in charge of the salvage team stated. “And doesn’t Brigadier Blackhand need about another forty minutes?” I nodded, forgetting he couldn’t see it.
“Understood.” I nibbled my glove’s tip as I thought. “Do it. JUST that one and make it as fast as you can.” I switched to Morgan. “If you could…”
“As I said, a bit tricky, but routine. Thirty-five to forty minutes, fifteen or so to empty the secure vault, unless it’s a motherlode.” His tone was relaxed and confident.
“Understood.” My eyes glanced to the readouts as Uri arranged the other mechs, around us. 16 to 12 in mechs, all things considered, given that we’d have the weight and fighting from our armed dropships, as well as Xanadu not being standard was well within our capability. It was the air and the extra tanks and infantry that’d make this interesting.
“Ferro has taccom.” I radio’ed to everyone.
“Understood.” His voice came back, calm and Collected, with waypoints and markers on where to be hitting every mech. “Dutchman, we want their air gone, y’hear?”
Asha’s tone was sad. “They didn’t listen, did they, Ferret?” She then responded to Ferro. “Tiger, understood. Ware, the Sabres have punched ahead, call it fifteen, the conair is about five behind, the others are still on profile for an avalanche drop, our intercept time seems to about the moment they get to you. Sorry.”
“Understood. Anti-air capable, kill those Sabres.” His voice rang. “Then the Conair. They’re giving us a chance to let Dutchman’s people own them.”
I twitched as Bun Bun’s right MFD light up with the sabers, and tracking information. I suddenly grinned. “Hey, Black?”
“Yesss?” Kath’s voice drawled.
“Deb loaded heatseekers in mine and Elsa’s Archers.” My voice grinned.
Uri cut in. “Ferret, Elsa, Dropships, and any other, hold fire on the Sabres until they’re in large laser range, then kill them. One salvo each for the Archers.”
We all replied in affirmative.
I thought for a second, and a private channel opened to Ferro. “Major. Is it me, or are they coming in dumb?”
I heard the snicker on the reply. “Yes and no, Ma’am. It’s dumb from our point of view, Xanadu alone could ruin those Sabres day, much less the Conair, and Asha’s wing will tear them a new one as they’re trying the drop.”
I thought. “But they don’t know our refits or Xanadu’s capability.”
“Even if they did, I suspect their plan.” Ferro’s tone was amused. “Which is why the Sabres only get wrecked at midrange, the Conair we kill the moment we can, copy?”
“... They want to ground the dropships.”
Ferro’s tone was satisfied. “That’s my bet.”
“And we’re going to chop them up.” I sighed, and switched frequencies. “Solo, do not set the base to be destroyed, what. So. ever.”
“Ma’am?” Blackhand’s tone was bemused. “I’d have thought….”
“Tempting, yes, but they’re going to need to sell this stuff to replace what we’re about to destroy, or the pirates have lunch.” My voice was sad. While part of me, and I wasn’t sure where this came from exulted in the chance to show what I could do, an older part disliked killing the militia, and not just from the thought of leaving Spencer weaker against Pirates.
“Understood. Will disarm what I had my squad setting up.” Morgan’s voice was professional about it. “Shame.”
“They’re having a bad enough day.” I responded.
A dark chuckle was my only response.
“Black, Case, Elsa. Ready?” I had switched to my lance’s channel as I saw the Sabres streak closer and closer, while waiting.
“Sucks to be them.” Case’s response was satisfied and dark.
“Ready. Shame they didn’t listen.” Kath’s tones matched Asha’s I thought, and summed up my feelings well.
“Tracking.” Winter’s voice was calm.
I felt myself settle into a zen like state, as I waited. Shortly Bitching Betty spoke. “Targets in range.” I felt Bun Bun’s eagerness to unleash, but I held back until the moment was right.
Forty missiles unleashed themselves from my Archer’s exposed tubes, joining the dropships and the other ‘Mech’s fire. In less than two seconds, there were no more Sabres, as they simply disappeared under the weight of fire.
Asha’s sensor relay kept going, showing the conventionally powered aircraft boring in, either not afraid of what had destroyed their space cousins, or braver than most militia would be.
“Damn.” My voice was sad as they sped closer to our range. “They’re not breaking off.”
Uri’s voice cut off my lance’s responses. “This is likely the best they have, and they know the score. They’re hoping numbers count, and that they can do their mission before we kill them. Dropships, expect heavy rocket fire if there are any leakers.” I blinked.
“Rocket?” I responded, only to have Case answer.
“Yeah, after Kath’s little band dropped by to say hi to the Domains, they cobbled it together, Cabbit.” Case’s tone was amused. “And then decided to sell it to every podunk band and single world. Surprised the majors haven’t picked it up yet.” His tone was disappointed. “Idiots.”
I thought, in the minute or so I had left as the supersonic fighters streaked towards range… “Not invented here, communication sloth, and a lack of perceived need, maybe?”
Kath shot back. “Think militias wouldn’t need it, or imagine a Scorpion replacing it’s autocannon with them?”
I was silent for a moment, and then sighed. “... Point. Make a note.”
“Done.” Case’s voice responded. “Easy money.”
Fire rang out again, as the small and light craft streaked across our range. They simply seemed to melt under our fire, but three made it into firing range of the rockets Uri had warned about. Xanadu took a staggering sixty of them scattered across her hull, while Armstrong County, our Fortress had taken nearly double that.
While neither dropship suffered any hull breeches, Gumarich Lama, Armstrong’s captain broke into the channel. “Can y’all make sure that they don’t hit my nose? One or two good salvos of that weight will make sure we aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t Xanadu, after all, after the refits.”
He was referring to the fact Xanadu had a hull and frame refit, as well as other items. She was far tougher and stronger than a standard Princess, which explained why the strike fighters hadn’t focused their fire.
“Armstrong, Tiger. Will do.” Uri’s voice cut across. “All Harem elements. Expect Avalanche drop outside our range in… eight. Dropships, expect the Leopard to try to play ground support and of course… in… call it five. It’s possible Blackwings will murder them first, but don’t count on it. Armstrong, deploy your response.” His voice was calm, cool, and collected.
Even though Bun Bun was one of the coolest running mechs, he still built up some heat, and the situation and my own jitters about the situation had caused a sheen of sweat to be trapped between my skin and the cooling suit I wore, I had to grin. Armstrong County, a Fortress class dropship, had a Long Tom artillery cannon in her nose, like all other Fortresses. But, unlike most, she could fire it without having to ‘deploy’ it in a manner that rendered her unable to move. It retracted and extended from a turret, which took a bit of tricky refit to arrange, and was a bit cranky, and not recommended to leave extended for space ops. But worth it here.
Bun Bun’s left MFD beeped for attention, and I watched as the first tracked cargo vehicle popped out of the base, carrying half the loader exoskeletons. It was also dragging an improvised trailer, and was overloaded to boot, and clearly straining to get the cargo to Xanadu, where I suspected the majority would be loaded up the ramp waiting. It actually only took a minute, and shortly the loader suits were unloading the excess, and the “Regular Auxiliary Support Vehicle, Cargo”, a fifty ton tracked vehicle was speeding off to the waiting Fortress, and a second one was parking to be unloaded, while a third and a fourth came out. Before I could sigh in relief, Uri spoke.
“They’re dropping, it looks like… Call it a company of infantry, a Merlin, huh, bit unusual, a Rifleman, Asha…”
A sharp “Spotted.” answered that call, since the Rifleman was one of the three mechs most noted for anti air capability, and Ferro continued on.
“A Griffin, and a Hunchback from the Leopard.” Before he could continue, Asha’s fighters were tearing into the unarmed and lightly armored Planetlifters, a cargo aircraft, like the old C-130.
In thirty seconds, I had lost a pilot, and her Sparrowhawk, while the other five of her squadron fled back to the carrier in orbit, but not a single cargo aircraft was in the sky, and the Hellcats went streaking for the helicopters, which had turned and tried to flee.
The Vulcans and Stukas, chased after the Leopard, which was now shooting at them and us, while taking fire from rear and front, and the Eagles and Lightnings dueled. Shortly, neither Lightning was in the sky, but both Eagles had joined the Sparrowhawks in heading for orbit, having their armor stripped to near nothing.
The Leopard’s pass, had rained fire on the two dropships, hitting Xanadu harder this time, as well as hitting two of our mechs, and one of the already unloaded RASVs as it tried to scurry up the the waiting ramp into Armstrong County. While it wasn’t destroyed, it had a clear set of blackened streak marks, where it’s armor had been nearly penetrated.
Before I could turn and fire on the returning Leopard, it had tried to climb for orbit to get away from Asha.
“Oh… my god.” I didn’t realize I had spoke, as the Leopard suddenly caught on fire, and rolled over. Within thirty seconds, the explosion several miles away told me nearly 2,000 tons of combat ship had died.
“Eyes front!” Ferro’s voice snapped. “Enemy contacts. Two heavy, two medium, seven light, plus a half dozen Scorpions and Pegasus hovercraft! Engage at will. Armstrong, pull your cannon back! Keep only two ramps down, Xanadu, just two as well.”
The two dropships obeyed, and hadn’t been penetrated in the short exchange of fire, but it was clear both would need repairs soon, and I wasn’t sure how Armstrong’s nose was still intact.
“Sorry, Harem elements, can’t provide air cover. Except for the Hellcats, all of us are DLC, and while we didn’t lose anyone else…”
“Break and see in you a bit, Dutchman, you did yours.” Ferro’s tone was crisp. “We got this, Forward, Harem!” All of us started moving at that.
Somehow, the company I was in, more or less the command company of mechs for the Heavy Cav, had been nicknamed, ‘Kikyo’s Harem.’ As if.
We rushed forward, seeking to meet them outside their range of the dropships, as they rushed to get there, so the ships couldn’t leave. I really wished I could wipe the sweat from my brow, as it stung my eyes. I couldn’t quite parse how I was feeling as the first LRMs streaked across the battlefield, most seeing me, and my lance mate. Case’s Gauss rifle had also spoken, sadly after the long ranged missile fire, but the Locust had simply plowed into the dirt a second later.
“Goddammit!” I snapped, as Bun Bun rocked to the fire landing on him. I wasn’t good enough as Winters was to simply dance though the long ranged missile fire and only take a missile or two, I had eaten an easy dozen, and Bun Bun’s rocking was him adjusting to the loss of nearly a ton of armor. I paled, noting a crater on my exterior window, made of armored plexiglass, with spiderwebs from it.
Kath’s shout of “Keep your head in, Ferret!” brought my attention back to the display showing my fire’s landing. Unlike Winter’s, my missiles by and large had gone wild, though a Commando had taken a few hits. Winters had concentrated on a Scorpion, which was now burning, and Kath had put down one of the Stingers. Other long range fire had managed to destroy one Valkyrie, as well as a second Scorpion, but the majority of forces were still intact.
More fire criss crossed, the LRM’s now all focusing on Case’s Hunchback. I obeyed the order with Winters to fall to the back of the group, but half watched amazed as he simply grooved though nearly eighty missiles at medium range for them. It wasn’t that they couldn’t hit him, it was he wasn’t there for them to hit.
Our answering fire had erased one of the Wasps, as well as the remaining Scorpion light tanks, who had no place here, but a general communication responded.
“Why are you doing this? This is our world, and you’re acting like pirates.” I blinked, as Bun Bun helpfully illuminated the mech making the transmission. It was the Merlin, and her pilot was the same agent who had been our major point of contact.
As autocannon fire joined the missiles, lasers and particle cannon fire streaking across the battlefield, I felt I owed him a reason. I was still back peddling carefully, as my missiles were being added to the fire, but a display showed one of Uri’s Hunchbacks stagger, and retreat towards the Fortress. Solo broke in, and stated, calmly. “We’re in, five to ten minutes to get what’s here and out. Not a lot, but worthwhile.”
I sighed, and Bun Bun helpfully opened the channel. “Needs must, Mr. Morseau. Needs must.”
“Pirates!” I felt a stitch of autocannon fire and a pair of lasers streak across Bun Bun’s torso, and I barely kept my balance, as the remaining light mechs used this time to try to break past our line, to get at the Archers and the dropships. I was drawing all the long ranged fire thanks to that.
“Idiot!” Kath snapped, shoulder checking me into a fire, which kept a PPC bolt from hitting my already weakened cockpit.. “Tiger, Black, Dutchman reports a Union en route. 10 minutes.” Her PPCs fired, and the Rifleman’s left side exploded, joining me on the ground.
“Understood. Solo, Wrecker. Time?” Uri snapped as he fed orders, and watched as his lancemate nailed the last bugmech trying to break though. I pushed myself back up, as the Merlin fired a PPC bolt at Kath, only for it to slightly miss, and score Bun Bun’s back. I hit the restraints keeping myself in the chair, as Bun Buns’ left ammo supply exploded out of his back, due to the PPC penetrating the ammo bins.
“To Xanadu, Ferret. Now.” Uri snapped. His PPCs nailed the Merlin, blowing off one of it’s legs.
I pushed myself up, tasting blood where I had bitten my tongue, and fire raced across my back, as the downside to Bun Bun’s advanced electronics made themselves known. I knew how Bun Bun felt. And he was very angry, I thought while I believed I had heard Wrecker say that he and the last were finishing unloading and would be done and in the dropships in less than five minutes.
As Winters came by to help lift me up, the last Valkyrie stopped and kicked her, causing her to stagger, as it’s medium laser tracked to where my cockpit was. “Forgive me, dear, but you should have obeyed…” Whatever else he was about to do was cut short by Case’s fist slamming into his cockpit, crumpling it, and dropping the mech.
“That’s one you owe me, and one you owe Kath. Get to the ship, idiot.” With his and Winter’s help, I obeyed, noting the surviving Spencer Lance retreated.
I shook a bit at realizing how close I had come again to dying here. “Actually, two that I owe you. That was the so called immgration official.” I responded after getting my voice under control.
“Everyone who’s at state five or worse, board.” Ferro’s tone was relaxed, and calm, as the last RASV boarded Armstrong, and Solo’s voice. “Headed to the ships. 2 minutes.”
Shortly, less than a minute, really, Deb’s people were clamping Bun Bun in place. “Kikyo, Kikyo, Kikyo. Not your place.” She shook her head, as she helped pull my shaking body out of of my chair.
“It was. It is.” I responded, as she had pulled off the helm while we were on the gantry, and she offered a bottle of water, which I gulped eagerly as I felt the vibrations of the ramps closing, and Xanadu lifting.
Dropship Xanadu, docked to Jumpship Norfolk, unnamed system, Morning, New Avalon Time, August 13th
Case popped a beer, as we spun along Norfolk’s axis while she recharged to rejoin the fleet. If schedules were met, we’ll meet up entering the system on the same day, the 18th. “Still smarting at the strips bitten off?”
His smirk annoyed me. “No, I deserved it.” I looked at the cased boxes against the wall.
“Still trying to think if Rohne’s death was worth it, I bet.” Case took a long pull from his beer. “Blackwing’s already written that letter, but nooo…” I too had written the letter to her next of kin, knowing I had gotten an eighteen year old girl killed while she was dreaming of the stars.
“...I know it was. No, is. But…” I looked out the cracked window, it too had taken a hit in the battle, but was patched already, and I was assured that it’d be good until we could get full repairs.
“But nothing.” He pushed a beer across my desk, and I opened it. “She died, so sad, so tragic, so young. So did the bastards that killed her. So does countless others. This ain’t twentieth century Earth, cabbit. Get hard.”
I bit my tongue at his cold words. He was right. But I shot back. “It will be.”
Case just looked at me, his eyes saying what he’d not. “Uh-huh…” as Uri and Kath walked in to ‘discuss’ my performance. Again.
I knew that the discussion would hold around the fact that I didn’t do what the smart play was, and that was stay as far back as possible. I drove an Archer, therefore I should be at least a kilometer away from the enemy at all times. With Bun Buns’ sensors, that was the smart play, the sane play, and kept me all but out of enemy fire. Only matching LRMs or PPCs could reach out, and Uri was talking about adding an ECM mech to the company to make sure those wouldn’t have a good time at that range.
But, Kath and Uri seemed bound and determined to impress on me, long range was my friend, close combat which my martial arts, and admittedly my past life in the 20th and 21st century had made me prefer, was not the answer and was why Bun Bun was still being repaired. Let’s not mention my tendency to pause when flushing my LRMs at the enemy, either. Shoot and scoot was as old as mechanized warfare for a reason, and I damned well would learn it.
Airless room, unnamed system, location of a CIA installation, Midday, New Avalon time, August 19th
“Well, Kikyo.” Alt’s voice sounded though my suit’s speakers. “There’s nothing here but service files. Not a complete waste of time, since this is a really weird array I’m looking at, but realistically?” We had found a roughly kilometer in radius rock, with a docking port for small craft. The initial investigations showed a mesh of wires and boxes at various joins of the web, but it’s purpose was’t clear until Alt called us in. Ran and Kathryn waved off, so I and Case went, since the station was clear, and it was just that, a station for living, nothing major.
Case snarked for her. “Snark hunting. Always fun.”
I shook my head. “Okay, so it’s a giant radio antenna. What else?”
Alt’s head nodded. “Good question that. I’m not quite sure, myself.” She pulled up a display, looking crisp and clear. “Every about oh, 500 meters, are these things on the array.” She flicked a finger on a pad, blowing it up, and showing the innards.
Case’s head tilted. “Hey. Aren’t those in our fusion reactors? Smaller, mind you, but looks exactly like them.”
Alt’s visored glass turned to me and Case. “Uh…”
“... Case, those are exactly that, and they’re KF Detectors.” I paused, then facepalmed.
“Okay, so?” Case clearly didn’t get it. Odd, for such a brain.
I turned to Alt. “How big are these arrays?”
She turned, and looked at a few screens. “Call it several thousand kilometers, at best, in a web around this rock.”
“I… wonder.” I tilted my head, referring to my classes, well, Kikyo-orginal’s classes on the KF detectors reactors needed.
Case was annoyed at my tone. “Wonder what, Ferret, giant boxes to detect reactors? What’s the point?”
“They detect KF fluctuations, the same you see inside reactors, and a jump or a HPG transmission is just a KF fluctuation, after all.”
Alt’s head flipped to the display with the KF Detector on it. “How sensitive would one of those be?”
I shook my head. “Not sure, would depend on a lot.”
“So… this could be a jump detector array for light years, when fully up?” Case got it.
Alt sharply nodded. “That’d do it, yep, and with the computer power here…”
“Can we disassemble it?” I paused. “Rephrase, is it worth it, or is just the idea enough.”
“I’ll pull all technical data, but really? Besides the small HPG here, and the next black box, nope, nothing’s really worth it, since getting to the computers would require us to spend a month and a half. My advice would be to let Hanse send a team back to salvage what he wants from here, but take the HPG and the other K-fax.”
I sighed. “Okay. Let’s do that.” I flipped to the general frequency, and relayed Alt’s advice to the Marshal, who agreed.
“Still, this has been quite satisfying, I’d say, General.” His tone was happy. “A working intact Mobile HPGs, these… K-faxes, service files, and the idea here. The Prince will be very happy. Plus, we can salvage these computers, too, I suppose. It’ll be up to the First Prince.”
I knew he was right, and all things equal, the Argo’s machine shops and small auto factories in their faraday cages for shielding from Jumps, and why did they need those, holographic computers didn’t need EMP proof shielding, after all, that’s the reason they supplanted chip based binary computers, and the only reason. Well, that and they were as reliable as all hell, and didn’t die at the temperatures combat vehicles could get to. Well, the Argo and it’s datacore, it’s repair and replacement capabilities, the K-faxes, and now the fifty-ton HPG, would make Hanse a very happy man, and he’d consider this a smashing success. So why did I feel so disappointed?
“Onward, to the last unknown system?” Kath’s tone was teasing. “Don’t worry, Artu will be what we expect it to be.” Case’s grin equaled hers.
“Remember, ferret girl, you promised.” His tone was dark, but I nodded.
“I have a plan, actually, Case, one you’d like.” I grinned. “But, as Kath says. Onwards to this Castle Watchtower. I’ll put a hundred on it’s another one of these.”
“I’ll take that bet.” Kath sighed. “I bet it’s a Reunification war era depot.”
Alt snickered at our byplay. “Cut me in, I’ll take it as an astronomy watch point.”
Case looked at all of us. “Nah, I’ll put double or nothing, it was an SLDF fallback point, for what did happen. That’s my bet.” His amusement was clear.
“Easy money, Case. We can’t be that lucky.” Kath shot back. “But, yeah, let’s go.”
I nodded, and turned. “It could be worse, I guess, at least we’re finding some things, and as the Marshall said, Hanse’s going to be very happy.”
Kath’s grin was heard from behind me as I bounced though the station. “Happy enough to give you a third date?”
Hanse’s office, Castle Davion, New Avalon, midafternoon, August 20th.
“Ah, Yvonne. It is so good to see you.” Hanse stood up and walked around the desk to kiss her on the cheek as she dropped a stack of files on it.
“If I believed that, I’d be the sucker some claim you are.” She shook her head. “Report via the cut outs from Task Force Medea.” She sat down across from Hanse’s desk.
“Summarize please, I’m curious now.” Hanse’s eyes alight. “I thought they’d be out of contact for at least another week, if they made their most optimistic schedule, at Artu.”
“Apparently, when they recovered the Argo, Colonel Steiner’s codes, and I’d love to know where and how she got them, popped the databanks wide open, and they found a couple of places to check out. One on Spencer. They’re going in as Lyrans to cover who they really work for.”
“Nice, very nice.” He shook his head. “Anything else?”
“Argo’s recovered, intact but damaged, they had hopes of recovering about two dozen jumpships….” Hanse’s eyes narrowed
“Two dozen… but you said had, so?” His tone sounded cautious.
“They’re write-offs, on initial survey. The majority of the people will stay behind to verify it, but they aren’t holding out much hope.” She shook her head. “Shame, but with three other locations, and Artu, plus of course, the plan for Kikyo to head towards Illyria…” She smiled. “It’s not like we’re missing out on anything, and if Artu’s core pans out?”
“Worth it, just the data alone.” He nodded sharply. “Did they send a summary of what locations are on the map, and what else was in it?”
Yvonne’s head shook. “No. They wanted to keep their largest one time encoding for after the Artu find. Unless something else comes up, of course.”
“Well, part of me hopes not, since the mission’s priority is Artu, after all, after the Argo, but … wouldn’t it be nice.” His tone went wistful.
“Don’t be too greedy, the Argo alone might be worth it, and Artu’s databanks, even if it’s just a standard SLDF Field Library for people in the Castle, is still going to be damned useful.”
“Oh… I know, but…” His roguish grin spoke. “Dream big. I’d like to be able to award them massively, and I’d need a good reason for that. I want it too.”
Yvonne’s eyebrows narrowed. She had been carefully tracking his movements, and a few times he had stopped at a very discreet brothel specializing in certain things.
“Again, Hanse, Artu if even just the data core… is a prize. A prize worthy of a prince.” She childed, bringing Hanse to earth.
“I know, I know.” He looked at the other files. “Well. No rest for the wicked. What fresh disasters do I have to deal with now?”
Yvonne Davion, Prince’s Champion smiled. She started walking him though the issues with the AFFS and several other projects she was keeping a tight lid on as they put the Argo and Artu mission aside for now.
Katrina’s lounge, The Triad, Thrakad, Lyran Commonwealth, Late evening, August 23rd.
“So!” The Archon, a stunning blonde woman, waited til Simon had settled. “Exactly what were you up to on Spencer, that had the Canopian Ambassador so annoyed.”
Simon Jonston, a somewhat forgettable man, blinked. “Spencer?” He paused, racking his brain. “Spencer… near Canopus?” He paused for a moment, then shook his head.
“Yes, between them and the Coalition, that Spencer.” She smiled back. “Something about a lost Star League site? Have you been holding out on me, Simon?”
“Ah… no, I haven’t, Katrina. Not at all. If it was a Lyran who disturbed them, it wasn’t my people. I’ll find out fast, for you.” His tone hardened on the last.
“Oh, I doubt it was them. Several possibilities sprung to my mind, but it’d not surprise me if it was a SAFE operation, meant to discredit us and remind those in the area who the ‘good’ guys are.” She paused, though her tone grew slightly sad. “If it was yours, only one person was lost, and they gathered some things, including the data core from the site.” She tilted her head. “After destroying about twenty five percent of Spencers’ modern battlemech forces, as well as it’s aerospace fighters.”
Simon blinked. “Impressive. As you say, tomorrow morning I’ll look into it.” He shrugged. “I can agree with your basic view, it does seem to fit how heavy handed SAFE can be, the Cappelians would have used the Davions, the Davions would have used the Cappelians, and we would have used the Mariks, of course.” He smiled. “It could always be a Lyran who got too greedy, I suppose.”
“Could be. Why not the Combine, Simon?”
“Because they’d have either owned up to it, or honestly, blamed the Davions too. And you implied that they didn’t blow the site under pressure.” He grinned.
Katrina laughed. “True, true. Well, as amusing as it is, I’ll be sure to inform the Ambassador that my government had no part in it, but if citizens of the Commonwealth did, I would so take them to task.”
“Depending on what they brought home, I suppose.” Simon’s tone was dry.
“Of course. I said task. Not punishment.”