With a lever big enough I can move the world (Chapter 6)
A Battletech FanFiction
With a lever big enough I can move the world
Andrew “MageOhki” Norris
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.
Readers: Those of you more familiar with the HBS game setting (Battletech), or have acquired the House Aranao Sourcebook for Battletech, realize I will be taking severe liberties with the source material. You have two choices: 1. Accept that House Aranao and other material that contradict what I have written wasn’t in my hands at the time, and pre-readers and kibitzers did not note the mistake til it was too late and accept this is a slightly altered universe. (Writer’s note: I find the information of the Coalition’s status in 3026 laughable. Are you trying to tell me they’re weaker than the frigging MARIANS?) Or 2: Be a purist and stop reading. I honestly doubt if you’ve made it this far, if you’re a purist, so my apologies in advance.
Life is full of ups and downs. Operation Medea, after the easy recovery of the Argo, was three disappointments after another. No jumpships, a battle that had reminded me of the cost of war, for the first time in this universe, and then a station that we couldn’t really salvage except for an item we already had, and a long term project to destroy Comstar. When we had bet on what Castle Watchtower would be, Case was the optimist.
The Lesson I learned at Castle Watchtower. Yes, being a cynic or a pessimist means all your surprises are pleasant. And that I owed Case 200 c-bills. Which I was very happy to pay.
As I’ve said before, this is a not so nice universe. I got reminded of that, at Artu. The saddest bit, wasn’t so much the destruction, which even the locals admitted was well above historical norms, but outside the scope of the raid, how routine it was for both sides, in a lot of ways. Piracy is a heinous crime. Yet… these people in primus had grown so used to it, it was like the weather to them. Remember, I did say this wasn’t a nice universe. Artu truly made that point. And … made me question truly what I did on Spencer. Was it any different, admittedly in at least wanton violence, than what the pirates did to Artu, just because it was state sanctioned? I still don’t have a good answer.
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.
Bridge of Xanadu, unnamed system, early afternoon, New Avalon Time, August 27th.
“Transmission of Codes, complete.” A pause from Helldog 1, the lead Hellcat 213, with Beagle active probe, an ideal recon bird for the mission we had, was broken by his next response. “Wow. A big cavern just lit up and it seems to lead deep into this rock, Dancer.”
Dancer, or Commodore Micte Messana, my senior fighter pilot, responded. “Permission to proceed, one lance, then another when you’re breaking up on the relay, granted, Helldog.”
“Copy that, Dancer. One meter per second.” His reporting in, updating us on the status and the look of the cavern inside the asteroid quickly became background.
I leaned over to Mitcte, looking at her salt and pepper curly hair. “Dancer? Never asked.”
She answered distractedly. “Took ballet as a girl. It stuck.” I nodded, and looked around the bridge of my home. Kikyo-original had planned it to be her home, and a home for Aiko, as the rent on a dropship pad was cheaper, even with the flagging taxes needed for Xanadu, than buying a big house.
Kath leaned over. “Read the script you’re writing. I severely doubt Hanse’s censors are ever going to release it.”
“Eventually, and Rohan will get the fame she deserves, she helped loosen a religious cult’s grip on the universe.” I responded quietly.
“Oh, no question. Just saying.” Her response was in my ear as she leaned back. It really did help knowing the young pilot hadn’t died in vain.
Ran floated over, quirking an eyebrow. “Discussing call signs? Mine’s Beaver as you know. Got it because I do lumbering as an off time activity.”
I stared at the monocled man. “I’m having problems seeing you in flannel.” I finally responded.
“Oh, it’s quite pleasant, on a cold winter’s day,” he responded, a grin gracing his lips, as we bantered, being joined by others about call signs we had and the worst we knew. As this went on, Asha remained quiet, looking at the feed from the Hellcats, looking over her superior’s shoulder.
Before we could get too ribad, a shout broke through on the HellDog’s channel. “CONTACT, MANY CONTACTS.” A pause, as the feed updated. “Oh… my… god.”
As we all looked Micte with a shaking hand, tossed the Hellcat’s data feed to the Holotank.
After a long long long moment which no one even breathed… Katheryn finally spoke.
“Bloody hell.” Ran’s voice was awed.
Micte summed up what we were seeing. “So, Boss Ferret. Which planet are you going to ask for?”
I weakly responded. “New Avalon?” It was meant as a joke, but Uri commented.
“He does need a duchess, and it’d save him paying for all this, yes.” The tone was a bit shellshocked.
Kath read off the list in the Holotank as the fighters finally made it to the back of the cavern. “Nine warships, a Newgrange, a Belknap, “ her tone had risen on the last in disbelief. So had mine. None of the Star League's mobile factory ships, designed to set up industrial bases of any nature had made it through the Amaris Civil war, much less left the Inner sphere with Kerensky, but some Newgranges had, and even though they were aimed at ship repair and building, they could do the same job, just slower. Before anyone would interrupt, she continued on.
“Six Monoliths, ten Star Lords, fourteen Invaders, fifteen Merchants, and last but not least four Scouts. While the data’s saying there’s dropships and other things, what has my eye is the damage to the warships, but the jumpships look solid.”
“As long as their cores and those two…” Ran’s voice was hushed. “Fabrication ships factories are intact, we will stay til we can get them out. My god.”
Everyone nodded. Micte wasn’t kidding, when she said Hanse just might marry me the moment I got back to New Avalon, the Belknap was beyond priceless if she had her fabrication capabilities online. Not only could she build anything the Star League could, she could easily build the factories to do so. A Newgrange as noted, was a giant yard ship, able to do what the Belknaps could, but was much better at shipbuilding, and often used to set up shipyards as well.
Case coasted over, a cigar stolen from somewhere, though if I had to bet, it was one of Morgans. “Soo… about that bet?”
“... okay.” I had to admit. Case won. Again.
Castle Watchtower Control Room, midmorning, New Avalon tome, August 29th.
We had run ourselves to dropping and then picked ourselves up to do it again, seeing everything and verifying everything inside the asteroid, and had managed to tug *very* carefully our jumpships into it. It also helped that when the station had been mothballed, it was done so very carefully and only needed food and Oxygen to be brought back online. The senior command staff was gathered for a preliminary briefing from Ahmad, who had taken over the shipwright’s part of the operation, and was de facto head.
“Thanks to Miss Cunningham, we have a summary of the events here.” Cummin ran his hand though his thinning hair. “First, this is basically a pair of Hughes class stations, the Star League's assemble-on-the-spot space stations?” He looked at us, seeing us all nod. Those were the Star Leauge’s semi-portable space stations to do shipyard and repair work on their vast fleets, and were developed before the Newgrange class was designed and built.
“Kerensky took most of the surviving ones with him, if I remember right.” Kath’s tone was idle, but I could tell the strain of her not saying ‘Great Father’ instead of Kerensky. Case simply grinned at her.
Cummin’s nod answered her. “There’s indications a few more of these are around, though, so…” He shrugged. “Anyways, they put these in place about the same time they finished Quatre Belle, as a reserve backup, call it 2725, if well…” He shrugged, as Asha picked up.
“The exploited nations of the Periphery rose up to cast off the Star League’s benevolent rule?” Her tone was acidic.
Ran turned at looked at both of the spacers. “We can discuss politics later, gentlemen and ladies. I understand and can empathize with both sides of that debate, but this is not the time, nor the place.” He looked around, and received nods. “Continue, Admiral.”
Cummin nodded and did so. “Well, there was a full crew here all along, the SLDF never really hurted for manpower in those years, and well, a lot of CIA, SLDF Intelligence and Navy ships who didn’t want to be seen came through here for refit and repair. However… These ships came from the fleets involved in the Uprising, all ate at least a nuke close enough to be annoying, or so their logs say.”
Ran’s face shut down at that, that could mean the ships were going to be a lot more hassle than he had hoped. Cummin however smiled.
“While Kerenksy was ripping the Rim Worlds apart, and then bulldozing his way to Terra, the roughly three people were left here to keep an eye on them, decided to fix them and decomm them. These Jumpships didn’t take a nuke close enough to kill them, but just close enough to pick up enough nasty radiation in the hulls and crew areas. Must have been just far enough away from the warships as the Perp navies fought the SLN.” He shrugged. “None of the ships now have any radiation, mind you, and all the Jumpships should be in working order. Warships are in varying states of repair, though core surveys were done, and that’s why they weren’t scrapped at all. It appears that some of the jumpships and better off Warships were repaired and sent off with parts they picked off these warships, but there was no need for the jumpships.”
Cummin noted the disbeliving looks at his last statement, and expanded on it. “After the uprising, and during the Civil War, Kernseky’s issue wasn’t jumpships, hell, not even warships, in fact, However, there’s some notes that several were sold outright by him, and the station had delivered them to the buyers. He was short on money and people. Trained combat spacers don’t grow on trees, and while the SLN’s jumpship crews weren’t of the quality of the warship crews, they still were trained to the same standard.”
“I see. He took these ship’s crews, and used them elsewhere, and what ships the caretakers could fix, were sold off?” Ran’s eyes brightened however at what truly interested him.. “So the cores themselves are intact? And all the ships aren’t radioactive?”
Cummin nodded. “And at least according to logs, they finally finished testing and fixing all the fabrication and factory parts on the Newgrange and the Belknap. But given their damage, they were loath to take them out. The Jumpships themselves were repaired fully, then mothballed completely. ”
Katheryn broke in. “So, why were they left here?” Kath was interested too, clearly as she leaned forward.
Cummin shrugged. “Based on the last log entry, before the station itself was shut down, Kerensky sent his recall and assembly order for the Exodus. By this point, all the remaining shipyard crew were fully qualified to crew the Jumpships, and a few warships, which they took with them.” He turned and looked around. “This is what they didn’t have crew for when they left. As for why Kerensky didn’t send crews for the rest?” He shrugged. “No idea.”
Ran smiled. “And you say this is a pair of Hughes, did you not?”
“Attached and semi buried inside the Asteroid, yes.” Cummin’s tone was wary. “You do realize we’re going to have to investigate every ship, and at the least, refill their tanks? The Helium to keep the ship’s cores cold, is never stored while not active, because it’d have boiled off by now? And any hydrogen left, which you don’t do during mothballing, or major repairs, is also pretty much gone from them, same reason.”
Ran sighed. “And how much fuel is left on the station, Admiral?”
“That bad?” I finally broke in.
“Helium is all but gone, 200 years and it’d boil off and leak, of course.” He shrugged. “There’s enough maybe to keep one core cool. Of a Scout.” He noted the winces at that. “It is what it is. As for Hydrogen, even with us putting half of the Aqueducts remaining in, it’s needed for the station, and if we run more than we are, might last six months of half operation.”
“Still.” Ran smiled. “Hydrogen isn’t a problem, annoying, yes, but not a problem. Helium, bit trickier, but I’m sure the Prince will make it happen.”
I couldn’t resist. “Even if he has to squeaky voice all the way here for us?”
Katheryn, Case and even Ran laughed. “Indeed.” The Marshal removed his glass as he wiped his eye. “I could see him doing exactly that, for these prizes.”
Cummin shook his head. “Ain’t that easy, Marshal. Assuming everyone of our task force is a fully trained shipyard worker, which we aren’t, and trained in this hardware, which we sure as hell aren’t, you’re still looking at just to reactivate the jumpships, call it…” He thought for a moment. “Based on how we got the Cav’s… forty-one days with triple shifts, and trained crews. Per jumpship. Warship, damned if I know. You’d be able to make a good of a guess as I, since we’re going to need to fix hulls, drives and other components. As for getting the station out of the rock?” His shrug said it all. “Personally, if we get it all done in five years, with what we have here, I’d say we were dammed lucky. Even with extra personnel, it’d be a question if we can do it in two. My bet, some of us will still be here when the next decade starts, in 3021. If not the decade after that.”
Katheryn Sandoval tilted her head. “Surely, for this, The Prince would send a lot of people. You’re being a pessimist.”
I, and surprisingly Ahmad shook our heads. I gave the floor to the most experienced spacer I knew. “Ma’am. There aren’t enough people. To use this stuff, you’re looking at the few from Kathil, Delavan and Galax. And they’re needed there.”
I picked up. “Not to mention how much you want to bet that ISF, Maskirovka, LIC, SAFE, hell, Comstar itself watches them like hawks?’
Katheryn blinked. “Well, outside Comstar, I don’t want your money. But why would they?”
I shook my head. Ran cleared his throat. “Comstar is interested in the flow of economies, and if we suddenly took a fair bit of shipyard crew, they’d wonder what and where are we placing those highly trained, and high paid professionals. That’s one reason, the others we suspect, you aren’t cleared for, Colonel.” His tone is reproving.
I nodded. “I wonder how Hanse managed to hide the 100 or so we have.” I looked at Ran, who shrugged.
“Not our problem. MIIO and DMI are very good at what they do, so…” He shrugged. “They likely played a shell game to do it.” He turned to Cummin. “So, to get any ships up and running, you say, we need hydrogen and helium.” Cummin nodded. “Yeah, and call it 100 days per ship, with the crew we have that can mothballed ships. We might get it down to 50, but…” He shrugged. “That’s the jumpships. Dropships here, will be easier, warships?” He sighed. “Figure we’ll have to fix them on site. I have no idea, except as noted, I don’t think we will be leaving this rock anytime soon.”
Ran shook his head. “Katheryn, I’ll take the Admiral's word for it. And… honestly, this changes everything.” He looked around. “I wonder how I’ll look with a Duke’s title as my new name.” He shook himself. “That was a joke.”
Sandoval snorted, her curls bouncing. “It might be your idea of a Joke, Sir. But ten gets you my entire pension, at least one of us, it won’t be a joke.”
Ahmed snorted. “I’ll not take your pension, Colonel. I’d put hard odds on you, me, pretty much any flag being offered exactly that.”
Felsner paused for a moment, then nodded. “I don’t believe I’ll give you money, Admiral, you are well paid as it is. And likely to be even more so. I have seen the contract for this mission.”
Ahmed’s teeth glittered in response, harkening back to his ancestor's desert warrior days, and looking at a fat caravan. “I know. I’d pity the boss’s bank balance. But considering what it’ll look like…”
I deadpanned. “Har. Har. Har.” Pausing, I nodded. “I take it, outside a wing of fighters, and well, the shipwrights, plus a few support personnel, we’re departing to Artu?”
Ran *smiled*. “I do think the Prince would want this news as soon as possible, I do. So, yes. We go.” He looked around. “Let’s be about this, people.”
Dropship Xanadu, Artu System, Nadir jump point. Sept 14th, 3015.
I blinked away the jump nausea and after effects that almost everyone gets, but in my case weren’t very severe, while I saw Case snoring away, and Asha simply shrugging as she released the handhold she grabbed for the jump.
“Ma’am.” Xanadu’s captain turned to me. Melissa nodded once. “All ships accounted for, and all have reported in. However… the Admiral reports fading jump signatures, at least two, from here, about an hour old, he thinks.
I turned to look at Asha, who’s eyes closed. “Pirates.” she answered softly.
“And now us. Oh, blessed spirits…” I sighed. I felt Xanadu detach from Indiana, and slowly maneuver into place with the rest of the dropships. The workup took about an hour, but shortly we were in formation and thrusting in system.
Ran’s voice came over all bridges. “We are sending a communique, going with the ruse that Brigadier Blackhand and General Onishi started on Spencer. We’ll see if it works, which I have no great hope for, but if it doesn’t, really, no harm done.” He smiled over the video. “If it does, well. A slight dig at the Taurian and Lyran friendship isn’t a bad thing.”
He sobered up at the laughter. “Assuming they wish to offer us resistance, and given the reports of the jumpship signatures, and the sparse news broadcasts, I severely doubt they wish that, we shall take the steps needed only, and only to secure our objective, protect our forces, and most importantly, keep as many of these people alive. They’ve been through enough, and we’re not here to hurt them at all. In fact, if we can, I’d prefer arranging assistance, instead of battle. We’ll play that angle. General Onishi’s ships are well equipped to do such.”
I nodded, and Asha’s eyes closed in relief. “Marshal. Make sure they understand that we have the capability to treat wounded and help other ways. If we need to, staying a month or more would be fine, and it’d leave a good impression at least, when they see through our ruse.”
Ran’s smile was a bit winterly. “I agree. A month won’t do much, but if nothing else…”
He sighed. Every Davion officer, well most Albion and NAMA graduates, at the least, spent some time in the Outback. Worn down by neglect, the pressures of the main fronts, and pirates, calling them Skid Row worlds, in reference to old Earth’s bad areas in First world cities was apt. Ran, Katheryn, every Davion officer in the task force knew as well as we would shortly, how this would go and what condition we’d find. We could only hope the pirates didn’t take a lot of slaves… or, as cold as it was, that they targeted the young nubile and studly looking teeangers, instead of the educated population. Too many pirates wanted those who knew how to fix things, teach, treat injuries, over sex slaves. And not many worlds out in the edges of settled space had them to spare. Which explained why the pirates wanted them, they didn’t have enough either.
We waited, as Ran had me record a message and send it. Basically, playing Ditzy McLyran again, and saying how her guards told her there had been a pirate raid, and how we could help. None of us really thought it’d be taken seriously. We were too big, too massive to be anything short of a major invasion, and realistically? Here? It was the Taurians, who’d be hard pressed to mount this force, all the pirates of the area, or all the Domain’s fleet, or well… what we were. Davions. And Artu was an ex-Taurian world, even with its alignment into the new, by galactic standards, Aurigan Coalition.
Finally, a day after the message was sent, we got a reply. Cautious, but it opened the lines of communication, and as playing the ditz, I was able to let Ran play off the “Lyran Mercenary” officer in charge of my safety, as I was funding a historical investigation.
The reply we got back about three hours, made it clear they didn’t really believe the Ditzy McLyran bit, but in their current situation there wasn’t fuckall they could do to us, and if we really meant to help out, could we check out this area? We didn’t even have to ask for where we really wanted to go, as the Castle was close to the center of it. Also, would we be willing to put up some replacement com sats that they had managed to not get stolen this time?
Marshal Felsner quickly agreed, pointing out that we did have medical ships, and well, if they knew some areas that could use them… By the time we after six days of hard acceleration and deceleration, we had arrived in orbit. We arranged the personnel transfers, so two of our Comfort subclass Monarchs could go do their medical duties, with some engineers on the other side of the planet, plus an empty Mule to lift the sats for them, as well as both of our Aqueducts, as the planet was rich in water, and we needed the hydrogen.
We actually followed their guidance and control, which made the locals tell us that the Coalition would be sending troops and aid and they should arrive well, within the next couple of weeks. Ran thanked them, and said that our basic exploration would be more than done by then. With that… soon air began to whistle across our hulls as we approached the end point of the joint force’s mission.
Command Center, Dropship Xanadu, Artu, midday local time, Sept 22nd, 3015.
After we had found the hidden entrance and gained entry via Kath and Morgan, and a quick survey had been done to find the main command post, we had assembled the computer teams. Looking around, I settled on the leader of them, a stunning brunette with tossed hair.
I looked Alt Cunningham and the other computer techs dead in the eye. “I repeat, again. If you find an air gapped computer or databank, use a computer that isn’t linked, transmitting or networked to any other, and won’t be until a complete and total scrub at NAIS is done on it. I’m not kidding, I will shoot you myself, if you break these orders.”
Alt rolled her eyes for the other techs. “You’ve said that three times, now. Why?”
I blinked. I didn’t tell them? Well… oops. They must be thinking my death threats were drama. Time to correct that.
“Dr. Cunningham? It’s simple, Intelligence,” such a useful word, that. “States that
this is one of the locations where Kerensky began research on anti CASPER software. A highly adaptive and lethal virus.” Kath nodded behind me to back my point up.
One of the techs gulped. A virus meant to take out the Star League's ultimate expression of computer capability? Sentient warships, fighters, stations? Yeah, the computers of today would die screaming horribly to it. They got the point, as their nods indicated.
Alt had looked upwards in thought. “Would explain why they didn’t use it, I suppose. They couldn’t control it, given what we know about the CASPER network. Right, I thought you were just being… well, dramatic. If there’s even a chance…” She shuddered, with Case patting her on the shoulder.
“As much as I’d like to say the sexpot’s overreacting, this time? Nope.” He nodded. “We’ll get it done, and the rest of the people will begin the hardcore survey. We know we’re on a clock, and gutting the Aurigans like we gutted Spencer ain’t on the plans, y’hear?” His tone was cold at that.
“Agreed. Be about it.” I grinned at the last statement, then turned to the on duty techs who were supervising aerial operations.
I scanned the main displays, which showed the areas, and were filling out with data. Artu’s surviving leadership had been helpful after the first Comfort had gotten to work, and had given us their last accurate survey map of the planet, and we were keeping them filled with updated information. Depressing information, as this area had been very lightly settled, mostly ranchers, some farmers, some miners, and a dropship port for cargo transfers to the larger continent.
Given the pirate’s behavior, even towards the end of their raiding, we hadn’t found anything living within fifty kilometers of the main LZ, just burnt out farms, slaughtered herds, and a razed town or two. My eyes narrowed as one of our Cynaros flashed the color of an incoming message.
“This is Smoky Eyes Two, to Harem Control. Got a town that isn’t a burnt out wreck, guys… besides what looks like a Union’s landing spot, I see a few … whoof. Confirmed kill on an assault type Frankenmech, how, I’d like to know, given intel said there were no friendly combat mechs on this side… oh, pit trap, nice…” He paused. “And… it looks like two militarized industrial mechs, call them old Jabbers, joined the abomination in death. Nice, nice. Oh, and yeah, looks like some pirate infantry didn’t leave either. Good.”
I leaned forward, at Uri’s bemused look. “Eyes Two, this is Ferret, guess on how?”
“Eh… wait a second. Hey, Sultry Angels, go see over there, I think I see a ‘Mech. Bug, for sure, maybe a Locust. Looks to be about twenty klicks out.” My recon elements all got names somewhat associated with the harem theme that my command unit seemed to be going with for the jokes. Smokey Eyes was the name that the Cyrano helicopters had adopted, while Sultry Angels were the recon hovercrafts. Rolling Brothels was the handle of the reconnaissance Packrats, while the Prowlers we had, were called Kirk Beds. I watched as icons indicated the eight hovercrafts, four of the very small Gabriels went darting towards the unknown contact at speeds hitting nearly 150 kilometers per hour, while their larger cousins trailed behind at a more sedate speed.
I watched the screens to see what the now confirmed Locust would do, as my people were hailing it, trying to tell the pilot who they were.
It was a few minutes before any reaction was gotten, but the sudden, startled “What the SHIT!” over the comms lines got everyone’s attention. “Heads up, this Locust isn’t standard, she just moves and she’s fast, clocking over 150 KPH, circling around the combat area!”
Morgan leaned forward, raising his voice. “You’re faster, Sultries, Smokies. Get it.” He left to board one of our Cobra helicopters, taking a squad with him.
“She’s not firing, looks like we startled the bug. She’s up to 165, and holding, she’s got some battle damage. Four MGs. Laser on the front like normal. Roll cage over the cockpit when she rotates to look at us. I think we found the source of some of the carnage here.” The commander of the recon element was calm, and collected reporting, despite the odd nature of the mech. “The bug has SLDF Marker tags and IFF just like the gear we picked up. Someone found our cache.”
I looked at the tech. “Negative, Smokey 2. The place was sealed.” I paused for a moment. “Doesn’t mean the League didn’t put smaller castles or installations on the planet, though, they tended to build outrider ones, after all.”
“Huh, didn’t know that, damm, this bug is moving erratically.” The pilot responded.
“Smoky two watch out!” The lead hovercraft called. “You’re too low and this bug is moving like a greenie with the throttle wide open, do not encroach or she will fire, Command this bug’s guns are converging, they are not doing the normal move to lock thing and I am getting no lock warning.”
I quirked my eyebrow, then narrowed. Battletech weapons, those on mounts like Kath’s Marauder’s autocannon, those on arms like my medium lasers on Bun Bun, or others of a similar location tended to use computer assisted movements based on the pilot getting a lock with his eyes and computer sensors on the enemy. Note I said and. The mech needed both to get that lock on, and without the sensors, it’d not work. This was how I, Case and Kath theorized Phantom mech worked, by breaking the computer lock somehow, some form of cyberpathy, was our bullshit best guess.
You could override the computer, Kath had actually praised what Uri and Gry had thought of as a bad idea, and manually move it with your joysticks, but it wasn’t really recommended, nor was it really easy to do. Iron sight shooting was not approved of, and for all the holovideos and dramas that used it, every actual teacher of Mech Combat would hit you, and I do mean that literally if you tried it in real life. Except Kath. Case was neutral on it, Uri bemoaned bad habits, but couldn’t argue with a Dragoon doing and approving of it.
“Sultry 3, pilot may be trying manual targeting, stay out of range, per doctrine.” I spoke into the mic. “Keep pursuit, try to keep the bug corralled until Solo and company arrive.”
“Break, Sultry this is Caveman, She’s on comms but she’s on the civilian bands. I don’t think she knows what she’s doing. Patching the audio.” Caveman was the Sigint Commander responsible for monitoring traffic near operations and breaking enemy comms encryption.
“... Last warning, assholes, ID up, back off or get stomped on!” the voice tried to sound ferocious and failing, with the lilting local drawl of a teenage girl, but with an actual undercurrent of intent. Crazily enough, none of the combat veterans could say the warning was anything but genuine intent.
I cut my mic into the same circuit, and responded for my recon elements, my voice slightly amused. “I’d prefer it if you don’t try, and note that word, try to stomp my fancy League hovercrafts and their highly paid drivers.” I made a snap decision, abandoning the Ditzy McLyran routine, I decided in this case, this girl gets the truth. “I am General Kikyo Onishi, and if you have any clue about the movies, yes, that Onishi from the Federated Suns. I inherited a merc unit, and we’re here, following up some rumors of Lostech, for the Federated Suns, while providing some relief for your world. Now, if you don’t mind, who are you? And where did you get the Locust?” My other comm techs had told the recon boys the score, and they had slightly backed off, more circling her, and staying well out of her weapons or sprint range. They too didn’t want to get stepped on.
“Fun, have your boys back off a bit, they’re making me nervous. I thought your dropship was the fucktards coming back. Ain’t anyone else here alive but me, Onishi. Just burned farms and me.” The voice was bitter, and controlled, angry. Any normal woman or teenager should be just this side of hysterics. Most men for that matter.
“We noticed.” I paused, and signaled for my recon boys to back off a bit more. While she wasn’t in the grips of hysterics, she wasn’t that far away from it. “And no, I doubt any pirate has Colossus class dropships. Nor the mechs to fill them. Much less all up heavy and assault battalions. Why don’t you come on in, and see for yourself. If I wanted you dead, you would be. It’d take me less than a half dozen minutes to have my BARCAP drop by and say hi. With cluster bombs.”
“Where the fuck did you get an SLDF Brigade transpo…” She stopped and took a breath. “BARCAP? What, did you raid a history book for terminology? And where you at?”
I looked at the map, and made a snap decision. “Vector 227, about 60 kilometers, from where you’re at roughly. The drop-port you all used, was actually the SLDF’s for the Castle Brian, Nautilus they called it, on Artu.” I shrugged. “And no, while I do use USN terms for naval operations, it’s only fitting, I’m pretty sure some relatives of mine would rise from the grave if I didn’t. I might be willing to tell you where I learned it from, if you come in. Do lead the way for my boys, they haven’t learned the creed of proper recon experts.” I grinned at the last.
The Comms were silent for a long moment, and only a grumble that sounded suspiciously like “Semper Gumby” was barely audible. The Recon elements acknowledged the abrupt turn, and reported the Locust was maintaining a steady max speed of 165.9 KPH, a good thirty-three over a normal locust. “If you meet me with a company of mechs and missiles I’m going to be horrifically disappointed in you.”
I grinned. “The missiles I can assure you, Faithful, aren’t happening. Company of mechs? Ehh…” I looked at the monitor looking outside. “Sorry, can’t say there isn’t a few more than just a company on the tarmac.”
“Peachy,” came the dry reply as two Aerospace fighters reported on station. “Is this a merc unit or an invasion force?”
“Eh… I did say we’re on Suns business, didn’t I?” I shrugged. “The Prince insisted his troops hitch a ride with mine to do a bit of touring on lostech. He doesn’t get that I lead the way of my own accord. He didn’t need keepers.” I snort, giggling at the message, that I had patched to Kath and Case. “But, no, we’re not an invasion force. I’ll admit we have the weight to roll over half the Coalition, no question, but not the First Prince’s style. At least to this area or the Taurians.” I shrugged, uncaring it couldn’t be seen. “I told you the truth the first time, Lostech.”
The bugs were fast, but it was hard to appreciate speed until you saw it. Bucking the normal trend of Locusts to be skittish, the Red-on-White bugmech rather brazenly rolled past the outer sentries, the upper torso locking and tracking each mech like a laser until it was clear they weren’t aiming down at her, then continuing on. The Locust slowed down when it saw non-mech vehicles, and began picking it’s way through the area, torso angled down, with greater care than one might expect. It was a thing rookies tended to do when they were unsure of the flow of a work area.
The Locust finally came to a halt below Bun-Bun, barely coming up past the waist of the bigger mech. I was able to clearly see the sign emblazoned on the top and back of the Locust: “If you can read this… DON’T STEP ON ME!”
I waved down at the roll barred cockpit, my barely contained breasts jiggling a bit. It *was* warm here, and a pleasant day. Too pleasant for what lay outside the drop port, really. “Hello there, I’m Onishi. This is my Archer, Bun Bun. Don’t annoy him, he won’t step on you, he’ll stab you.” I shouted through a megaphone. “Why don’t you come out?” I hooked one hand’s thumb though my short short’s belt loop.
The cockpit of the Locust was small, and had a roll cage. The figure inside could be seen flipping switches, pausing, reaching for one, then going for a different one. It became painfully obvious that she was not the most experienced when she pulled out a clipboard, looked at it, flipped five control switches and the angry, red, wounded little bug powered down, finally. I could see quad machineguns where normally there would only be two. This was an intriguing, little upgunned monstrosity. It also didn’t bear the telltales of a mech that had been modified by amateurs, or half-competent techs. She looked like she had been built this way.
The pilot finally popped the hatch and climbed out, sans neural helmet. Far from the sane and sensible minimalist clothing, what came out was a girl who couldn’t be more than sixteen or seventeen tops, long, unkempt, dark red hair with a body that looked like it was built to be dragged into a hayloft at the earliest opportunity. Her Daddy probably owned many shotguns, and she wasn’t much bigger than I was, if at all. She was dressed in a purple and red flannel, with a white tank top, tight blue jeans and boots.
I cringed. If I didn't have a combat suit from the SLDF, I’d be wearing less than I was now, and that was very little as is. I’d have ditched the shorts at the very least. And purple? Goddess bless, I felt my inner fashionista cry. “Well.” I spoke after a moment, putting on my helm, and guiding Bun Bun’s arm to act as a ramp for me. After I took off my neurohelmet, I walked over to the shoulder, slid down the arm in my white shorts and green bikini, though I was wearing sensible combat boots with a dagger stuck into one, and had my dark wine red hair in a braid. Hopping over to the Locust, I looked up at the Farmer’s daughter. “Purple. Really. If I didn’t know you were a Marine, crayon eater, I’d know it just from the lack of color taste. At least my favorite color goes with my hair.”
She looked me over critically. “Guessin’ that favorite color would be ‘nothing’ from the looks of you.” the girl smirked. “And this is the Outback, We don’t have such fancy snacks ‘round here.”
“Eh, nah, I adore Green. Union Blue isn’t bad either, though. As for the fancy snacks… Yeah, jarhead. Did you punch out those three pirate ‘mechs my boys spotted, in your Trollcust?
“Frankenfatty downtown, Two loaders with lasers, there’s something resembling a wasp and an urbanmech somewhere around here face-down and the lake about ten clicks east had a Rifleman mostly intact just standing there. I caught the pilot out taking a piss. You may need a couple good sponges.”
I quirked my eyebrows, noting that for later recovery. “So, you said you’d like to know how I knew old American Naval terminology. I’d like to know the same about you. As you say, this is the Periphery…” I spread my hands. “No offense, it’s not like this world was Canopus or Samantha, or even Alphertaz, before … well.” I alluded to recent events.
“Auriga’s Auriga. Aurigans are gonna Auriga. King’s not long for the world, and the Princess is about due for coronation. I happen to enjoy history, my specialty is Circa 1980 through 2020.”
“Mostly by having the memories of someone who lived through it, I’d not suppose?” My tone, as I hooked my thumbs through belt loops, was dry. “I’d say the same on my end, though I do recall getting too many sheepskins for that subject, though mostly the Second World war.”
“Memories from there? You’d have to be dumber than a Ranger to believe that.”
I smiled. “So, Marine, then? Let’s cut the play out. We don’t have the time, nor the reason. You know why I’m here, and I made sure my geeks aren’t going to unleash the Locura.” I sighed. “Also, It’s a Scarlet gathering, girl.”
“If you know about the Locura you also know what’s gonna happen here in about a year, three tops. Gonna bork that timeline.”
“Case has already made that point. And more importantly, I didn’t play the game, nor did I think what the Princess did was in any shape, way or form, acceptable. The loss of the Data core was a goddamned bonehead move on her part, helping the toaster worshippers.” I shrugged. “But, Case wants them helped out, and we’ll make it happen, somehow. If nothing else, I’ll drop my divison on their fucking heads.” I smiled. “So, who were you? Some call me Cabbit.”
“Of course, the magpie gets every fucking shiny piece in sight.” the girl rolled her eyes. “You’re still not allowed to touch my fucking guns without adult supervision.”
I smile. “Not so long of a time, here, but good to see you, Marine. We have a Lunar, and oddly enough a Pole. Haven’t seen the insanity maker, or the Brit, though.” My hand is out, with a relieved smile.
“Yeah nice to finally meet you in person.” She looked over. “Last memory was a firefight on a cold day. Just out of nowhere. Woke up to a sweet sixteen birthday, found a diary in an inheritance I was supposed to get then, and found my Great grandpa, many times removed’s, cache. Spent a few months on and off teaching myself to drive the Bridge-stalker here while everyone was asleep. The other mech wasn’t sealed correctly, so she’s a bit fucked up, otherwise I’d have rolled HER out to mash faces.”
“Pirates roasted everyone. Just burned the fucking town because an old, retired soldier shot one of their looters.”
I winced, even in the best storage, an unsealed Battlemech would require some serious love before it could see the battlefield again. As for the pirate’s actions... “I doubt it was because they got shot at, they’ve done it too many other times, and on the other side of this world, too. Artu got hammered. But… C’mon, I’ll get Kath, aka Lunar, and Case, our Pole. We even have a Siddie. The Pole and the Siddie can empathize, they grew up around the Space Amish. Kath? Shee. She’ll not be too thrilled to hear this, but she has her own nightmare fuel.” I tilted my head, sadly. “Imagine growing up and remembering the 20th century in a Cloud Cobra sibko.”
“Hey I always wanted to have a suicide ideation fantasy, thanks for that.” the snarky redhead replied. Her ice-blue eyes rolled. “You’re a fucking convergence of unlikely events.”
“I Blame ROB.” I shrug. “Unlike Case, or Kath, I woke up on the first of the year, Kikyo, now my birthday. Twentieth. My biological father had kicked the bucket and sent an inheritance. Long story short, Hanse wanted it, I didn’t want to give it to him. And lo, here we are. Part of me thinks it was one of Kikyo’s parties out of control… but a dream with said asshole Omnipotent.. Well.” I shrug again. “Who knows, what I do know, is I’m here. If the bastard was right, a pretty girl with the full knowledge of a fusion degree of this time, is in my old body.”
“So what’s the play? You do realize that the odds your techs will be able to isolate psychotic sentient computer virus is minimal.” She looked about. “And that core? I’m not sure we want to give that thing to anyone. Because inevitably that one’s going to have some potentially dangerous tech.”
I shook my head. “The easiest way to not release Skynet, the Star League variant, is to, well, honor air gapping.” I roll my eyes. “They kept it air gapped here, after all.” I look upwards. “The play is very simple. NAIS gets the core. We take the loot from here, and leave. Couple years, we make Arano very happy, by deposing the coupers, and Case can shut up. Helm’s on our list, but not sure when.”
“No, they were developing a virus to kill CASPERS. That means that the Core has specifications and likely fully realized CASPER AI in it for them to turn the virus loose on.” She gave a long look.
I shot the girl a look. “And I told them not to connect any computer to the cores, and treat this as exactly that.” I shrugged. “They’re not idiots, they’re the best Hanse Davion can find.”
I sighed. “And as for what the core has…” I shrugged. “It’s not like there’s not things coming, and being able to crush Comstar has its appeal, doesn’t it?” I paused for a moment. “Okay, what is your name here. I’m Kikyo Onishi.”
“Evangeline Kessler. Call me Evie.” She sighed. “I need to pull my shit. You got a spot open? This place is fucking dead to me.”
“For a friend? And a sister, now, not brother? Did you think the answer was no?” I smile sadly. “There’s always room for my friends. No matter why.”
“Tell you what, I keep my Grandpa’s gear, all of it, and I’ll bring it aboard. I’ve got a machine shop and setup for maintaining the trollcust and my other mech. I’ll see if I can coax her to the dropship.”
I shrug. “I can see what we can do, it’ll depend on what we have here, really, and what we’ll leave for the Aranos.” I shrug. “It really depends on who they send. Part of me is tempted to leave a warkit behind, and some factory bits, but another part…” I pause and nod once. “Also, we might have more dropships than we need, depending on the other hidden location we found. Let’s go find Kath and Case, and I’ll tell you en route.” I slip under the taller girl’s arm. “Let’s go down the rabbit hole, shall we?”
“Sure, why the hell not?” Evangeline grinned. “Besides, you’re gonna want me to rebuild the other mech and get her running.”
As I guided Evie, a Marine from my other self’s time, now a farmer’s daughter, as hot as I was, into the Castle Brian, I went… “Oh… tell me more…”
Little did I realize, she would not disappoint.
Command Center, Castle Nautilus, Artu, Late Afternoon
I looked at the Main screen and blinked. It was a complete map, and on one side, various information about what was where. Evie, Case and Kath were with Asha, discussing the situation, but I had been called into the main command node of the Castle.
“My Lady.” Ran Felsner, ever the gentleman, bent and kissed my hand. “Our prize is beyond belief, and we have established the command chain, to Castle Watchtower as planned.” He smiled. “I won’t steal Dr. Cunningham’s thunder, but intelligence was slightly wrong, I’m afraid” His smile was broad and pleased.
Alt rolled her eyes, pulling a stylus out from her hair. Extending it, she tapped a screen in front of her, which lit up one spot, and lit the same spot up on the main display.
“Okay, your intel wasn’t wrong.” She shrugged. “It was incomplete.” She shook her hair, and smiled. “While within a week of figuring out what happened on Terra, they shifted to an anti-CASPER virus, that’s not what they were on. This is the place that NCC and SLDF Royal command was working on CASPER III. At least the software end, anyways.”
I blinked in confusion but before I could ask, Ran smiled and asked. “Why don’t you explain, Doctor?”
“Sure. Next generation software and hardware for the space defenses of the Terran Hegemony, and well, if I read the logs right, ground combat drones.”
“... What.” I paused. Images of Skynet and well, Cylons flashed though my head, in horror. “What the hell, Camerons?”
“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.” the genius computer scientist popped her P, as Dr. Banzai broke in.
“Which means…” He studied the Computer scientist slightly, then shrugged. “The virus is actually what they called an corrupted and insane AI. While there are complete notes and copies of the CASPER software, and some hardware, the fighter drones, and the M-3’s computer systems, for example, they’re all stored in a separate datacore, and there’s an advanced computer, where the third generation AI is stored.” He shrugged. “And there’s separate datastores of course for the other programs that were being designed for the third generation.”
“I am thinking…” I paused. “I am thinking the Camerons were completely insane, and some of the people working for them were beyond crazy. While under orders, we have to copy that datastores, my thoughts are copy it once, wipe it here, and tell the Prince what they are, but make sure he gets rid of them.” I shook my head. “I’m not against automated drones, but there’s a point, gentlemen and ladies. And I think that the Terrans were going well past it.”
“I tend to agree, m’lady.” Ran’s tone was mild. “I suppose your suggestion is the best, though. Make it happen, Doctors.” His tone brooked no disobedience.
“Yes, sir.” “Yes, sir.” responded from the two doctors.
Ran nodded, turning to his second, who I had for some reason never remembered her name. “Lizelle. As you’re in charge of the evaluation, and loading. The plan is simple. The moment we have a Mule loaded, spare parts first, mobile equipment second, the bays third, the Mule goes to one of the waiting Behemoths. It loads, comes back. Moment the Behemoth’s full, it goes to the waiting Merchant, and when there’s both of them, it goes. Then we do the Mules, and hopefully by that time, there will be some luck on their end.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” The forgettable woman saluted, and departed.
Ran nodded at a smaller screen next to the main one. “As you see, General, there are outlying forts, which Katherine’s codes should open. I’ll be sending people to each one, but preliminary information shows that a small amount of equipment was left in each one.”
I thought for a moment and nodded. “Sir, may I have a moment of your time, privately?” Ran blinked, then nodded. Gesturing, we went into a slightly dusty office.
“Say what you want.” Ran’s eyebrow was raised.
“My advice, after I get lesser but still valid codes from Katherine, is we give those to the Aranos personally, as payment for this.”
Ran’s eyebrows narrowed. “You think the High Lord would personally lead a mission?”
“Or send his daughter, perchance.” I shrugged. “And perhaps leave some other things behind.”
Ran leaned back, thinking. “...I am unsure of this, Baroness, explain your logic, please.”
I nodded once. “Having a friendly Aurigan power next to the Taurians, for one, as well as a possible base to launch strikes against the Confederation, as well.”
“...A long term ploy, but from what we have already recovered and what the manifests say…” He thought about it. “As you say, they do deserve payment. I like the idea of the outrider castles being left for them. Capital idea, now that I think about it. Even if they don’t become friends, we can honestly say to the First Prince, we tried. And if nothing else… who knows, it just might work.”
“Yes, sir, that was my thought.” I smiled. I was going to help a bit, now, though the the future Arano lady wasn't’ my favorite person, safe to say as she blew up the Castle Brian and it’s precious, precious, precious datastores. “I would however say that the Star League purged all data, before departing to take the Rim.”
“... I see your point, and I can play it up. Your intelligence has been remarkably good, I may say. I’d hope you will tell the First Prince and MIIO where you got it from.” Felsner leaned back. “More victories like these.. .and well, I can see a Davion taking Terra’s throne.” His grin was savage.
“Perhaps, sir, or he already has all that I know. But I agree with you.” I didn’t say I knew of another way for him to make that play for Terra. And one that he was already primed to accept.
Upper Gate, Castle Nautilus, Late Evening
I shivered as we reviewed the message that I was taking to Comstar’s outpost in Artu’s Capital city of First Landing, reviewing the subtle coding of my hands and head position, so my sister could read the message, and confirm it. Clapping my hands together. “That’s it.”
Case yawned. “Yeah, it’ll work. We’ll add the static, you drop it off at Comstar’s fort, give it... three to five days, and Hanse will have one hell of a spit take. You did make sure to ask Aiko to get a photo, right?” I grinned at his comment.
“Of course, it’s the little things that make this worthwhile.” I paused. “Are we sure Comstar won’t catch us pulling a Clancy?” I was referring to embedding the actual message to the First Prince inside a set of random seeming static on the recording medium, and playing the Ditz to get it though. We had done this before with a different type of noise in the background for the first message, but this was a bit more obvious than I liked. Even with that, we had encoded the static in a cypher, and used a substitution code before that.
“When we asked MIIO about it, they blinked. I think it never occurred to them, or if it did, they didn’t bother. It does take some hefty processing at both ends. You rigged Xanadu for all up top end editing and video, plus the computers that can do serious CGI, so… they can also encode quite well.” He shrugged. “Comstar won’t see it coming, those toaster humpers.”
“Good. Very very good.” I smiled. Hopefully they wouldn’t see it coming, not for a good while.
Hanse’s Office, Castle Avalon, Midday, October 3rd, 3015
Hanse snickered, as the video ended. Kikyo was a wonderfully good actress, though he suspected she was laughing at this whole masquerade. Turning to his two guests. “Well, Major, Aiko?”
Ichigo sighed. “Sire? Can’t tell. I think she’s actually excited, but… Joining the AFFS put a bit of a crimp on seeing her personality develop.” Aiko snorted and rolled her eyes.
“She really is, and using family body speak to say “Jaaackpot.”” Aiko snickered. “Whatever it is, it’s bigger than she thought.”
Hanse nodded, noting Yvonne and Justin, acting as her junior aide this month, walking in, both faces stunned. “Sword rules, Major, Lady Aiko. And don’t you have a hideously expensive physics tutor to pester, m’lady?” His smile took any sting out of the words, as Aiko eepd, and quickly walked out. Ichigo saluted, and followed, clearly planning to return to his barracks.
“Hanse?” Yvonne’s voice was hushed and still. “This is the only copy of the information she transmitted to us, and we have over 95% confidence it’s as accurate as she transmitted. My… god, if true…” Hanse’s eyebrows went up as he took the file.
Hanse read through the message once. Twice. A third time. He looked up, and a fire was in his eyes, as his smile showed teeth and a savage satisfaction. “Right.”
“Sire?” Justin had to ask.
“We need to get as many people as we can, without disrupting anything else, without them being security risks, and we need to start building a command chain to meet hers. You know what we’ll need, correct Yvonne?” Hanse had immediately moved to “solve this awesome crisis” mode.
“I do, but we won’t have many people we can spare. I assume the priority is the Belknap and the Newgrange?” Yvonne’s eyebrow rose.
“After the datacores, yes.” Hanse sighed. “I know, but it’s still more than possible. Her idea of running out a command chain from this… Castle Watchtower is a smart one.” He thought for a moment, then nodded. “It’s… what? Eighteen total links?”
Justin responded for his superior. “Actually, nineteen total, counting both ends. I am amused by her plans to stay on Artu for relief efforts, until she speaks to the senior officer of the relief force, at least. Are you … irritated at her idea of ..” Hanse held up his hand.
“We’re at the point of an embarrassment of riches, Justin. Leaving behind one hundred mechs and another one hundred combat vehicles as payment, is not a problem.” He paused. “Who knows, maybe it will work out as she has planned.” He nodded. “As I understand it, the Heavy Cav has some jumpships still here, they can help expand the chain on our end.” He rubbed his forehead. “Assuming Ran makes the schedule, hmm…” Hanse thought for a moment.
“And if we fill out the chain from our end, call it eight to ten weeks before we’re back in contact. I’d expect eleven.” Yvonne stated reprovingling.
“So… December.” Hanse looked at the calendar, and a smile entered his eyes. “Let’s plan on me being at Castle Watchtower for the 15th… and back to New Avalon by the 24th.. Doable?” Yvonne’s wince indicated her dislike of hte idea.
Justin looked at a Calendar. “It’d be tight, but we could likely have you out a bit earlier, and back earlier. Perhaps bringing home the New Avalon Training Battalion and the Heavy Guards?”
“Capital.” He grinned, then turned serious. “Regarding that other project, Aphrodite, Justin?”
“It is going quite well, Sire.” Justin’s smile reassured Hanse.
“It might be the only thing keeping me from begging on the streets to pay the debt we owe now.” Hanse’s grin was wry.
Yvonne huffed. “I do have that suggestion about Challenger, Hanse, if we got a ah, competent CEO, plus well.. Certain assurances?”
Hanse nodded. “That’s more than on the table, we can start planning that.” He looked, and nodded once. “So, the deal with Janos?”
“Going well. The Monolith has arrived in our space, he’s buying fifty mechs a month at our official price, plus another twenty at what the market would bear. The Invader is finishing up, and a few of our people are there, we expect no problems. The Lyrans are slightly ahead of him on purchasing, but not by too much, and Katrina’s offer of a Star Lord, to help defray her greed… useful, and she’s arrived in our space as well.” Yvonne smiled slightly amused.
“Of course now we don’t need them as badly. Amazing how that works.” Hanse snorted. “But we’d have excess production, and better in their hands, than say, Takashi’s?”
“Oh, yes, Hanse. That I agree with.” Yvonne smiled. “And the fact it allowed us to add another eighty mechs a month to our own forces… well, it’s looking like by the end of the year, all our regiments, and even our major mercenary commands will be at full strength for once. We can take risks.”
“I have some ideas, Tell me… what do you think of…” Hanse pulled out a folder and passed it to her, and they began discussing the merits of the various operations, as Justin fetched coffee and paperwork. The candles burned long in Castle Davion that night.
Dropport Artu, Artu, Early evening, October 28th, 3015
We had made significant progress on removing Castle Nautilus' items. Oddly enough, Hanse had gotten one message through to us, approving of the attempt and saying ‘See if you can make it better’. We had thought, looking at everything the Castle had, and deciding that with a bit of rework, it could make some mechs, aerospace fighters and Dropships. The maintenance bays that were inside could assemble easily enough, and there was some part fabrication ability. Leaving that, and the service files plus ‘how to’ guides on how to do it, would give the Coalition a heavy industry. It’d be their problem to keep it from the Taurians, however.
Ran adjusted his half-breastplate of his uniform, as he eyed the opening dropship. “Four Dropship bays, twelve mech bays, twelve each vee bays, and twelve aerospace bays. By what Dr. Banzai estimated, that’d be… what? Two to three dropships a year, plus repairs, and twelve combat vehicles, six mechs and six aerospace fighters a month?” He smiled. “With all the instructions on how to do it, just about. Will give the Taurians a bit to worry about, wouldn’t it?”
I nodded. Add the fact that we, agents of the Federated Suns (and we had abandoned the Ditzy McLyran, it had ran its course, just about, plus if hostile intelligence agents couldn’t count Colossus class dropships, I’d be shocked.), didn’t take it, left it virtually turn key for the Aurigans, against my better judgement, plus roughly 100 mechs and same in combat vehicles? Well. Thomas would be having sleepless nights, Ran hoped.
My black uniform, with its actual real gold piping, contrasted against Sandoval’s and Felsner’s dark blue and massive gold displays. At least I had a cape and black gloves to look formal… as well as a katana at my hip. Yes, I know, it’s a Kuritan weapon, but it was the blade Kikyo got from her mother, and that’d be an insult to the woman’s memory not to wear it. It didn’t hurt I knew how to use it.
“It will be interesting to see how the two react.” I finally spoke, as honor guards, though in practical uniforms of the House Arano format, calmly marched down the Overlord’s ramp. One of two the Coalition boasted, both modified for combined arms, like the Faceless Soldier single one that had joined my fleet.
Katherine Steiner, in the same uniform as mine, but a saber at her hip, quietly mentioned. “Espinosa is expected to be aggressive and demand we hand it all over.” She shrugged. “Between me pulling a full set of information from Wolfnet, and of course the MIIO’s…” I paused. She had told me and Case, then Asha what the deal was there, and I was amazed. Jamie got off his ass and did shit. Even before being ordered. But, mentioning she still had access to Wolfnet in front of two Davion Officers?
Ran’s eyes narrowed, meaning he caught it. “Quite so, Colonel. The profiles you and the few intelligence analysis that the General has put together…” He shrugged, the light glinting, as we saw the High Lord and Council Lord step out.
I very carefully didn’t nod. “Tamati will good cop, Santiago Espinosa will demand it all. Considering what we are planning to leave, and what we have?” I shook my head. “High Lord Arano will be happy with what he has, and terrified at the threat now that the Taurians provide. Santiago won’t see that risk.”
“Or he might not care.” Katheryn said sotto voice. “They did bring along an combined arms brigade, similar to yours or the Outworld’s pattern, short on fighters, mind you, but they are unloading conventional air to cover. Plus a second mech regiment.”
Kathrine and Felsner snorted in unison. Case’s quiet comment behind them. “Be the dumbest thing they can do. We’d tear them apart. They didn’t bring along any assault dropships, and if worse comes to worse, we can fall back to the Castle, and wait for the Prince to dump a pair of full up RCT’s on their head.”
I nodded. “We actually surpass them in mechs, combat vehicles, aerospace fighters, infantry, and our quality is equal or better. They didn’t bring along artillery, orbital support or even heavy command and control capabilities. I don’t think it’d be easy…” Dr. Banzai snorted at that. “But it’d be the ruin of their nation if they tried.”
“Let’s make sure they understand that.” Felsner said. “As agreed, you are the face, so be about it, General.”
I walked forward, as Tamati Arano, and Santiago Espinosa reached the bottom of the ramp. Shortly the party I was leading was at the two Aurigan nobles, and I saluted. “Welcome to Artu, I wish we could be meeting for better reasons, High Lord, Lord Espinosa.”
Tamati Arano, with his greying hair nodded, and clasped my hand as I brought down my salute. “Baroness Winterfell, while I will admit it is a pleasure to see you, your pictures don’t do you justice, I will agree that the reason is not the best. Though, I must thank you and your people, as well as the Marshal’s and Colonel’s for the assistance they have provided Artu in relief from such an atrocity.” The High lord was referring to roughly ten percent of the planet’s population taken as slaves or otherwise killed, and literally a quarter to a third of the world’s easily uprooted infrastructure taken, and about half of the more fixed infrastructure such as roads, dams, communication networks, destroyed.
The task force’s infantry, engineers and a fair bit of the techs we had, had done yeomans’ work trying to put it all back together. The only saving grace to this disaster, was that a fair bit of the food from harvest had already been brought in, and the pirates didn’t get to the main storage, and the areas that had the most infrastructure damage, were, sadly the areas that had lost the most people.
“It was the least we could do, High Lord.” I shook my head. “I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I didn’t try to help.”
Santiago’s face which had been tightening during the conversation, finally couldn’t contain his words. “When you have come to loot yourself, a legacy that is ours, not yours…” He was cut off by Tamati placing a hand on him.
“Peace, brother. We can discuss that privately. Artu’s citizens don’t care why she’s here, nor what she’s taking, if it isn’t something they claimed, to begin with.” Tamati’s smile was a bit strained. “I do understand my brother in law’s frustration, Baroness. That castle… and what is in it…”
I smiled slightly. “Better to say what was.” I shook my head. “While I will agree that there was a lot of useful war material, and to be fair, items that would help any industrialization, or even more, the prize we had hoped to find, wasn’t.” I sighed in a bit of disappointment. “Rest assured, the First Prince would have traded everything inside Artu, much less what we have taken out, for what we had believed could be there. An SLDF field library, for their long term personnel.” I raised an eyebrow, receiving the nods in response. Most people didn’t realize it, but these two did. Militaries, especially those on long duration posts, sat out to improve their people, by self study.
Ran’s face had carefully tightened, not in anger, but annoyance. Katheryn’s went stone face, and Kath slightly nodded. We had discussed this to hammer home that fact we wanted them to believe and pass along. While it wasn’t what Helm had, nor was it complete, a SLDF field library, combined with what Hanse had acquired at Halstead would go a long way to replacing what was lost in the Succession wars, knowledge wise. And we had two. One more suited for the Navy and space operations and shipyard work, one more for the Army and computer aspects.
“... that is a shame.” Tamati’s face was a bit of a study. While he wanted the same thing we did, at least in regards to the core… he had to admit, that the Cappelians, Taurians, Canopians, the Davions, would move heaven and earth for a copy. By raining battlemechs if need be.
“Perhaps we can discuss Castle Nautilus inside Xanadu? Once your people clear it?” I suggested.
The swarthy man, Espinosa started to speak, only to be once again, cut off. Tamati looked at him. “If they wanted to kill us, or otherwise threaten us, they just have to point at their Battlemechs, their tanks, their Achilles, and the fact that even if by some miracle, we won that battle, we’d lose.” He was referring to the fact that by rough calculations, our firepower edge was at least two to one, before you factored in the Castle itself… which we controlled fully.
Any battle would cost them too much to win, much less lose. And given that we likely would destroy the dropships for both sides in the process, the Aurigans would be out nearly three fourths of their strategic lift. I finally responded to that. “I prefer talking. I do not want a repeat of Spencer, nor do I like the thought of leaving your nation vulnerable for … this…” I implied what happened to Artu. “On all your worlds. While I do have my orders and instructions, I prefer to find a way we both can if not be happy, at least realize this was the best we could do without trying to kill each other.” I shook my head. “We are all realists. Hanse Davion could have sent and arguably should have, the entire Guards, or at least two commands of it. Instead he chose a somewhat lighter touch.” I titled my head. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that means we will simply roll over. As I’ve said, we control the Castle Fully.” Tamati nodded at that.
“As you say, we are all realists. At least from what you imply, the Prince is more than willing to leave some of the prize behind?” Tamati’s tone shifted, as we walked towards Xanadu’s waiting ramp.
“Quite so.” Felsner spoke. “While we had a more… covert method planned, we have generally abandoned it, thanks to the situation here.” He shrugged. “The Prince feels, I think, if you can look after yourselves, as well as strengthen yourselves, you will be a thorn in the Cappelian’s and Taurian’s sides. Nations we have… issues with.” Felsner shrugged. “Not to mention his personal dislike of piracy, mind you, and his wish all could live in comfort and safety.”
As we walked into my ship and home, I could feel Espinosa’s seething anger, even against my own natural ki, trying to boost my charisma and words. Case called it the ‘Listen to me! Notice me!’ effect, but against someone a bit more than determined, it didn’t help.
Tamati’s eyes glanced around. “I must admit, while tasteful and well apportioned, Xanadu seems a bit sparse, and not fully a pleasure ship, as she has been listed.”
I smiled. “Honesty compels me to admit I like living in comfort when I can arrange it, but the height of excess the Star League allowed, is a bit too much comfort, and wasn’t all needed.” I pointed out a change in the Princess’ normal layout. “As you can see as we walk to the lift, we fitted in space for a lance of Battlemechs. You’ll see my Bun Bun, along with my lance mate’s Redline, Stormbringer and Kath’s poor nameless Marauder.” I had pointed each one out.
“I suspect there’s other military equipment on board, besides just a token security force, as well as refitted command and control electronics, and better weapons for defense.” Tamati’s voice was mild.
“That would be an accurate suspicion, m’lord. I don’t see the thrill in risks that can be ameliorated, you understand.” I smiled, as I gestured into the meeting room where Kelia waited.
The two men settled in the fine seats, as their guards peeled off to join mine, and two inside across from my two guards. Kelia was efficient in making sure both gentleman had coffee or water, as their preference, while Tamati accepted the coffee, with a smile and a slightly wider one after his first sip, Espinosa refused both curtly.
Santiago spoke first. “Don’t think your self serving ‘good’ deeds buy you one iota of anything! Artu is our system, what is in it is ours, and you are no better than a pirate yourself. Spencer has unfond views of you! We know how to treat your kind, and we will regain what is ours.” Tamati had looked at the darker man, a bit annoyed, but didn’t say anything.
I sipped my own coffee for a moment, and let his glare slide off me, as Felsner and Sandoval didn’t look impressed. Nor did Steiner, and Case’s low chuckle from near the guards showed his impression. “I could argue, and point out that Lady Death, the ruler of the Domains, is what a pirate is.” I sip again. “As she was the one to personally lead the raid.” Tamati’s eyes closed.
“We did not know this.” I slide over a thick folder, gathered from cameras and other sources on planet to him.
“This is all from ELINT on planet, and a few survivors’ descriptions of them. One of which, was lucky and found a mech and, to our surprise, was able to at least extract some vengeance.” I slightly smiled, though it was very Russian. “She’s agreed to join us, and we’ve more than allowed her to bring her two mechs and other personal belongings with her as hers.”
“We would like to speak to her, if possible.” Tamati’s expression was neutral.
“Of course.” I returned to staring at Espinosa. “I could argue we took nothing that was in the possession of the government of this planet, or the people living on it. I could argue we did not harm a single person, and in fact, our doctors and other personnel have been working themselves into exhaustion to try to fix some of the damage, both to the bodies and to the souls of Artu’s people.” I tilted my head, and smiled.
“But we are all realists, I believe I said before. The Coalition only survives because it’s not rich enough to be targeted by the Capellans, in their risk and reward calculation, same with the Taurians. The Canopians likewise feel the amount of effort needed, to bring you to them, verus the risk is too high. Generally the Davions wouldn’t even see a point.” I tilted my head.
Santiago’s face darkened, but before he could argue, Tamati’s hand once again rested on his arm. “Peace, again, brother, she is answering your point.”
“We could even argue who legally owns Castle Natitus and the material associated with it.” I shrug. “But let us be cold. You cannot withstand a great house, you cannot withstand an assault by the Taurians. Fighting us, even as noted, if successful, would make the Cappleian assault, or a Taurian assault all but assured. For when nation-states send objective raids to attack or acquire material, none dare call it piracy. And the Heavy Cavalry is under bonded contract. Any battle would gain you very little, as allow me to explain the status of the Castle.”
Espinosa’s face was fit to explode, but he managed to master himself, as Tamati nodded.
“First and foremost, the spaceport aspects of the Castle, both internal, and external have been surveyed, and basic maintenance performed on them. The hydrogen cracking systems are fully functional, plus both ports are in fine shape.” I smiled. “The Star League even included automated repair bays for dropships up to twenty thousand tons, besides ones for vehicles up to two hundred tons, one hundred tons, fifty tons, mechs, small craft, and even aerospace bays.” I waited til the blinks finished.
“As you might be aware, those can also with parts assemble just about anything, if the right programs are loaded.” Kath spoke up. She shrugged.
Feslner’s wintery smile added to the conversation. “As you can guess, they are quite useful and quite wanted to fix elements of our, “ He was referring to the Federated Suns, “industry, all of them.” He smiled slightly. “It wasn’t a trivial task to start disassembling and packing them for shipping, but it wasn’t difficult.”
“How dare you take” Santiago leapt up only to have Case’s ‘tsk tsk’ and half pulled gun bring him to his senses.
“We dare because we need it to defend our people, against the Capellans, who our actions benefit yours, as they stay too worried about us, and of course against the Snakes.” Katheryn’s voice hissed the last.
I picked up from there. “Not to mention, a strong Federated Suns, keeps the Taurians focused on us.”
Tamati paused, then nodded once. “And of course, none dare call it piracy, eh?” He shook his head, not expecting a response. “Understandable. But I sense there’s still room, and while not difficult, as the Marshal says, I still suspect time consuming.”
“Of course.” Dr. Banzi responded. “But our task was eased thanks to a stroke of luck.”
Santiago was still seething, so Arano picked up that thread. “Oh?”
“Yes, our computer experts were able to find and restore the complete system files for the Castle Brian, including all modes of operation of those bays.” Dr. Banzai shrugged. “As well as all systems, which we have checked out.”
Espinosa’s face curdled. He choked out shocked. “You don’t mean…”
Ran’s voice was cold. “Yes, we do mean the weapons, Council Lord. So, if you feel inclined, the Baroness is fond of a saying. Molon Labe.”
The expression on Santiago’s face was a study, while Tamati’s bark of laughter broke the spell.
“Come and take them, eh?” He shook his head. “Fond of history, are you, Baroness?”
I smiled. “Just a tad. Just a tad. We are more than willing to leave it behind, with all files, mind you, including all fixed weapons.” I look upwards. “It would provide an annoyance I believe to the Taurians, if they became aggressive. And in fact, like many Castle complexes, they built small outrider forts, and according to what we have discovered, left setups for maintenance of military equipment, as well as even some mechs and combat vehicles. Our rough guess is about a hundred mechs and a hundred combat vehicles.” I shrugged. “It would be difficult, I suppose to get them while we fight wouldn’t it?”
Tamati saw the deal on the table, but as any politician, and one who practiced compromise with his fellows, he reached for more. “All fine and good, and admittedly a fine token, but surely you recognize the problems. Those bays and the fabricators for parts, well, would be needed to sustain those units.”
“Of course, but a lot of them have already been packed up, mind you, and are already gone.” I smile. “We’ve had nearly forty days to canvass, after all, even with putting the majority of our people helping yours…”
Espinosa went purple with rage. “You couldn’t have! My advisors assured me…”
Dr. Banzai’s tone was cold. “Your advisors are wrong. I command Team Banzai, and every one of my mechwarriors, pilots, infantry, even the newest tanker, is at least a certified basic tech, and most are experts in at least one field. We brought along two regiments of personnel experienced in Star Leauge hardware… and the best that House Davion has at that.”
“And let’s be honest, if you haven't figured out our Behemoths have already made at least one round trip to a hidden location, with a fair bit of load… I wonder how much you talk to the local government.”
“Yes, we have. Two trips I understand, with at least one more departing shortly.” Tamati’s voice indicated the time for soft pressure was over. He turned to look at his brother in law. “Brother, I agree with what you want, at heart for our people. But I don’t agree with you on the ways, but I do listen to you. This time, I cannot. Not only will we not gain the prizes you think we can, but as she pointed out… even if we don’t, too many would come thinking we did.” He paused. “And we would be ill able to defeat them.” He shook his head. “But, like your Prince, Marshal, Baroness, Colonels, or at least before the stresses of the Succession Wars, I answer to a Council myself. Lay it out, please. And don’t pretend you haven’t made off with the Argo, either, it’s the only reason I can think of why you were over there.”
I winced. Katheryn sighed, while Felsner nodded simply. He spoke for us all. “While the Baroness is of course overall responsible for this, and I won’t insult you High lord, by lying to you, we have to ask, what does House Davion get out of this, besides non-wrecked units, and not having to send additional units to relieve us?” He shook his head. “That is only a short term problem, realistically.”
Tamati tilted his head. “What is on the table, first?”
“Well, we haven’t disassembled at all four of the Dropship bays. Nor twelve each of the superheavy, heavy, and light vehicle bays, nor six small craft and six fighter bays.” I look at Dr. Banzai. “As noted, we have the programs needed to run them, as well, fully, and we’ve only disassembled half the fabricators and ammo plants.” I shrugged as though unconcerned with the inevitable outcome. “And of course, the fixed systems and installations, are still fully there, as well as the full control system.” I turned to Dr. Banzai.
He adjusted his tie slightly, “As I’ve stated, we were lucky in finding the deep backups for the site, and it even by some miracle included the installations complete training manuals, as well as the full technical details on the various parts.” He smiled. “Quite useful, we have a copy, of course.”
Tamati’s tone was wry. “Of course.” He looked at Espinosa who had seemed to calm down slightly, realizing a deal was about to be made. “And as you noted, recovering the outlying equipment… well, we could make it a tad difficult, one hundred each you said? What about what was stored inside the Castle?”
I sigh. “Alas, as you can guess, Marshal Felsner was most insistent that the ready to use military equipment and the vast majority of spare parts had to be loaded and gone. I estimate there’s only about ten thousand tons of spare parts left, really.” I shook my head sadly. “A shame.”
Tamati looked at me, with a slight grin. “And what would I have to offer for you to stop disassembling? And leave the remaining spare parts?”
I look upwards. “Well, a stronger Aurigan Coalition is a threat to the Taurians, I’ll admit, as well as the Capellians, didn’t you say so, Marshal?”
“I did.” His slight smile. “And the Prince has always thought we should recognize you, of course, as a proper nation, but…”
“He does have an charge d'affaires, he does.” Tamati nodded. “But the view of both of us, is why taunt the Taurians?”
“But with…” Felsner teased.
“It is a consideration.” Tamati looked at Santiago who was simply sighing, the fight went out of him, and a bit of consideration.
Ran nodded. “One to be expanded on. Now, if we weren’t distrubed in finishing, well, there isn’t much besides the spare parts, really, and those remaining bays that aren’t packed… figure at most, two days to load what we have packed…”
“And what you haven’t?” Tamati grinned.
I smiled back. “A bit longer, though at this point, it is a law of diminishing returns, I’ll admit.”
Espinosa and Tamati looked at each other, then put their heads together for a hushed, but intense short conversation. The darker skinned man stood up, nodded sharply, and spoke.
“My apologies for my temper, m’lady, Marshal, Colonels. I am driven as you are, it sometimes…”
“No apologies needed.” Katheryn soothed. “I’m an Sandoval. You can imagine what I’d do to defend my people from the Snakes.”
The man’s brief smile changed his face, and he nodded. “WIth, again, my apologies, I will go and see to the handover? As well as helping you to depart?” Ran and I both simply nodded.
“There will be a farewell banquet, I do think.” Tamati spoke softly. “We’ll say many things there.”
I nodded. “I do believe we both have things to do, and should be about them, High Lord.”
“As you say, M’lady.” I really was getting used to being a noble, I mused as I watched him stand, then leave after a nod of his head.
Ran grinned. “Are you sure you don’t want diplomatic service, M’lady? That was well played on your end.”
I sagged in relief. “Can I strangle you? I was less stressed in Bun Bun on Spencer.”
Laughter was my only response
Main Convention Hall, First Landing, Artu, Evening of October 30th, 3015.
“Well, my dear.” Espinosa had successfully cornered me for a conversation, “While I’m still not happy with the situation, I must admit, your engineers and techs at least put this world back on recovery, and your First Prince’s agreement to when possible.” He sighed at the last word. “Explain to the so called Lady Death how much of a mistake she made by her actions, at least soothes some of my ill feeling.” He gestured around the ballroom with chatting, happy people, in the formal outfits of the Artuians, the dress uniforms of the AFFS and OHC, and other such accoutrements.
“It does my heart good to see them at least putting aside the pain they feel.” I smiled, hiding the slight unease I felt at his oily smile. Any man who’d kill his own niece for power… Well, I did give Case and Morgan explicit orders to kill him, if he even started to pull a weapon, or came within a hundred meters of Evie, who didn’t need her memories of here reopened. Case had hit me for spreading the as he so crudely put it. ‘Fuck me, please’ smell during the negotiations, which I hadn’t realized I was doing. I apologized to Ran, Kath, Katheryn and Dr. Banzai, who had laughed, and said he built nose filters and gave them to everyone but Case and the Aurigans. I promptly asked for a set for myself, since by the end of the conversation, I was also aroused as hell.
“Well said, well said, m’dear.” He took my arm, and steered our walking towards an area, though I managed to shift him slightly towards the Hors d'oeuvre waiting on a table.
“I must admit, your computer experts are far better than any we have, they were even able to restore some plans.” He shook his head in apparent amazement. “The Spad, the Samurai and the Rapier. All basic versions, but still. Seven airframes a month?” He smiled. “And of fine equipment at that. I could complain about the ‘Mechs, but?” He shook his head. “Urbanmech, Locust, Hunchback and even the Marauder.” He tilted his head. “Doesn’t your clone of the Archon -” He smiled at the wittism that I politely laughed at, “- pilot one?”
“She does, as my lancemate and aide, Lt. Winter pilot the Hunchback. Perhaps not the most glamorous machines… but effective. Even the Urbanmech, used properly will make pirates tremble.”
His smile indicated he wasn’t interested in that detail. “That they would, and the plans for the Danais, Union and Overlord are quite helpful as well.”
“You’ll still need to provide a fair bit of the parts, you realize.” I cautioned. “I would say at best, the setup can only provide for maybe a quarter of the weapons and armor needed.”
He smiled. “You would be surprised at what our technicians can do, m’lady.” He bowed slightly, his eyes drifting down, as I wore a simple seeming dress calculated to impress, instead of my blacks, which I was preferring, but I was acting per Hanse’s orders, as ambassador. “It’d not surprise me if with a bit of work, we can at least replace the weapon factories you claimed. Dare I ask?”
“Oh, I was acting as a mercenary, so that’s a fair question, I believe it will either be sold to a corporation, or I may claim it as my share.” I smiled winningly. “After of course NAIS tears them apart and reassembles them.”
“Of course, of course, even here, we have heard of your prince’s great project. Ambitious, is he not afraid that someone will strike at it?” Santiago’s eyes were indicating actual interest. “In fact, my brother is sending Kamea with you to attend, I believe.”
“The negotiations are well underway, yes.” I agreed. That was a surprising deal reached by Hanse. A hundred Aurigan students, including Tamati’s heir? At the Prince’s cost? Tamati leapt on it, of course. “If I do claim a part of the industrial spoils, I’m thinking of building Vulcans, though since we have the plans as well…”
“If you do, I suspect even if the Davions don’t buy them, you would find eager markets in the Periphery. While my and my brother’s family was fonder of the Star League than most ouside the Great Houses… even I must admit, seeing them fly again, was a stirring sight.” I nodded at his honest praise.
“They are good birds for their role. It’s a shame and a crying one they became associated with a butchery greater than anything since the days of Old Terra.” I agreed with him.
“Well said. May I ask what you think of your Prince?” He smiled. “Apparently, he’s been dating you since February of this year.” I blinked. What? His eyebrow rose slightly in response. “The theory I have, is given your known ties to a noted treasure hunter, when he sent your unit off with the others, he wanted to provide cover that it really wasn’t a lostech expedition, and well, you have to admit…”
“I do own a mirror.” I said dryly. “Reasonable, though I wasn’t told about it.” I paused, then shrugged. “Hanse does what Hanse does, he is the First Prince.”
“One I admire, at least so far. He seems to be decisive and well, at least using the power his family has consolidated, for the best of his people.” Santiago’s tone was honest admiration. “I have suggested a more centralized rule, in that vein, or Taurus, or Canopus’ own, I suppose, to my brother, though he has resisted somewhat.” He sighed. “The good a strong hand can do for a nation, well, your nation has beat back and even expanded on those who dared harm her.”
I didn’t blink, but nodded along apparently in agreement. “It does, however, require nobility and the backbone of the nation, the common man, to buy in… and without that?” I shake my head.
“But we are crying out for such. And with this prize we now have, if my brother listens to me, which he will, I suspect, and of course, his daughter, when she attains the throne, with the fine education and example on New Avalon, we can finally not only just halt or slow down the spiral we are in, but grow out of it, and take our place, wouldn’t you say?” His eyes gleam with that future. “Our people are a nation of choice, m’lady, and we are only asking to be recognized as such, but in this fallen universe…”
“One could argue a strong hand is needed to make that happen, yes.” I pretended to agree. It wasn’t quite that way in the Suns. While I would concede that Hanse Davion, like most First Princes since the middle or late First Succession War, pretty much had a High Council whose task was to get a rubber stamp, stamp it to everything he did the previous year, then drink like maniacs on his tab, it was at the federal level Hanse’s power was near absolute, and even then, he could have court decisions overrule him, or modify his decisions, there were traditions on what he could do, and absolute freedoms that the Suns enshrined. Even with those checks, there was the threat of ambitious, or motivated nobles, and just plain people going “What are you doing?”, much less something like the Warrior’s Cabal.
Santiago noticed my pause. “M’lady?” He stated as he swapped out my glass for another of champagne, as tonight was the night I signed for Hanse the documents ratifying the agreements, until he could.
“I was just thinking that while your statement had some salient points, and yes, Hanse’s power is quite immense, it’s not quite that simple.” He raised an eyebrow. “First, it came out of the crises of the First and Second Succession Wars, and is generally only at the federal level, he can’t, nor will he tell a local baroness who’s acting within the law, say, that she has to chop down those trees, instead of the ones she wants to.” Espinosa laughed at that. “And in the end, he’s only one man, like the First Princes before him, if enough people don’t want to go along with him…”
Espinosa blinked. “You say they’d depose him?” I laughed.
“I suggest you read up on how his father inherited the throne, for an example of a change that was resisted. While in the end, it all worked out…” I smiled ruefully. “Not that I say Tamati would do such a thing.” I looked at his liege who was chatting with Kath, and Case. Both of which had orders to carefully broach certain subjects with certain people.
“Are you saying his method is better? Look at our nation, compare it to yours!” Espinosa was beginning to get angry again.
“I am not saying that, M’lord.” He blinked. “I’m just saying that being a dictator only lasts as long as you don’t push the people too far. Change is incremental. Your nation is young, and growing, and has a chance to grow stronger than believed.” I tilted my head at him. “While I would agree a firm hand is needed, sometimes the hand that guides is better than the hand that pulls. But at times, I have to admit, a hand that pulls, is sometimes more needed.” I waved my unoccupied hand. “It’s striking the balance that’s the key, I believe. As the gift for Lady Kamea indicated, sometimes you do need a fist.” I was referring, of course, to the Atlas II we had left for her. Tamati was impressed, and accepted my point he couldn’t just give her his ‘Mech for schooling on New Avalon.
He laughed at that, and nodded, then thought about the rest for a moment, then shrugged. “As you say, we are young, and I would use old Earth examples, Chile, the Republic of Korea, even Taiwan, perchance, or the city State of Singapore?”
I blinked. “I… see your point, but from what I recall, Picholet and Park were executed. Two of four indicates not a pleasant trend.”
“Yet, Jiang died in bed, and many kings also.” I conceded the point.
“As you say, and more importantly, that is a debate you should have with your brother and others, not me. I’m a New Avalon girl. We have different views.” I smile.
He accepted the attempt to end that thread. “I understand New Avalon itself is a vibrant city, and the world a lovely place, untouched by the horrors of the Succession wars.” He smiled.
I thought about it. “Depends what you mean untouched. By direct violence? I would agree… but the loss of so much.” My smile was a bit sad. “There are wonders on New Avalon, we cannot duplicate. I am sure you would marvel at them as I have.”
“I would enjoy showing you the wonders of my castle, we have a few ourselves, or you showing me New Avalon’s wonders.” He smiled trying to be charming, and if I didn’t know this man was a kinslayer in the future . “Even this capital, perhaps you could delay a bit? I would so insist, and it would strengthen ties between our realms?” He paused… “Or perhaps… I wonder, your unit didn’t leave New Avalon officially ‘til February, did it not?”
I wondered where he was going, so I played along, trying to think of a way out of this. “Yes, that’s right, we lifted late February first.” My tone indicated it was a question.
“The news reported your prince had dates with you in January, and he is trusting you with this task… perhaps the dates that have been circulating past then aren’t just cover for a lostech mission?” His smile was a bit sharp. I wasn’t sure what Espinosa was implying, but I answered.
“Yes, we had a couple of dates, he wanted to ask about acting and some other things, and well, he had a captive to question.” I smiled. “Not that I mean it in that way, of course, but he tries to do many things, and operates off if you’re not busy living, you’re busy dying, and he has no plans for the latter, and part of living, is learning.”
Sangatio nodded. “A fine point there, but I wonder if he has more than just interest in what you know and own…” He trailed off suggestively, then added. “Forgive me, but you must admit, you have a slight reputation, though to be honest, no one would accuse you of wantonness, at least publically, but you have to admit, before those dates, you were often seen on many a young noble’s arm.”
I laughed. “A pretty young actress who can flatter and knows a bit about mechwarrioring, will never lack for an escort to take her to the balls of New Avalon, and since I lacked a title then…” He nodded, smiling at that. “As for what you’re implying, I doubt it. He had a fiancee…” I trailed off and shook my head. “Not the first, nor sadly, dare I say, the last time a Davion has suffered or will suffer loss at the snake’s hand.”
“All things pass, m’lady. Perhaps he’s thinking toward the future.” I laughed again at that.
“As you say, I have a bit of a reputation, and the age difference… while not insurmountable, well. Davions marry for love, more often than not, and I doubt two dates and meetings would stir such.” I shook my head. “Let’s be honest, while I’ll be honest, and admit, any girl of the Suns would be honored to catch his attention, I doubt I am that one. And it would be a bit of a pickle. I still have things that I wish to do, that being his spouse would make… difficult at the least.”
“Perhaps.” He thought about it for a moment, but before he could expand, Case broke in.
“Ma’am? I need you for a moment.” Mr Scruffy, the Case of Kikyo’s strays, had cleaned up and looked every inch a professional and well mannered. Even his youth had somehow added to it, instead of distracting from the image.
“Of course, Lieutenant.” I turned away from Case, and turned to the Lord. “If you would excuse me?”
He nodded, and waved me away.
“Okay, besides me thanking you for getting away from a man who gave off subtle clues he wanted to have some ah… fun.” I paused. “And I suspect not the fun I’d enjoy the most.” Case snorted at that. “What’s the problem?”
“Kath kept an eye on the situation, cabbit, and you’re too nice to not make an easy getaway. Yeah, maybe not anyone else detected it, but I noted your hand every so often reaching for your blade.” Ooops crossed my mind. Case picked up on that. “Nah. No one else did, it looked natural as you resting it. But…”
“Right, you’re Outworlder, and they adore the arts, as their national sport.” We both shared a grin at that. “And you knew swordsmen before.”
“Ayup.” He led me near the signing table. “It didn’t hurt that Tamati seems to be flagging a bit, and I figured we needed to get this done.”
I nodded, as Kath steered the High Lord. “Any luck?”
“We’ll see. I’m not sure this is a good or bad thing overall, but we’ll see.” Case was serious for once. “Still holding you to your word.”
“If I can, I will, not a question.” I shook my head. We could kill the man now, but I vetoed that. As much as I hated to admit it, a patriot Espinosa was. Just… he hadn’t crossed the line yet, to being a demon, and… who knew if he would now. I couldn’t kill a man for crimes he might not commit, could I?
Castle Watchtower, Late Evening, November 15th, 3015.
Ran blinked at the head shipwright, and acting head of Watchtower Shipyards. “What do you mean, we’re already out of helium?” His voice was calm.
Richard Lutens grimaced. “As per instructions we were to focus on the Dropships and Jumpships, correct?” I and Felsner nodded.
“That doesn't’ explain why you’re short helium already.” I pointed out sweetly. “We drained Artu dry of it, nearly 3,500 tons of it.” I tilted my head. “Plus what you could likely savagle from here.”
“Near enough to four thousand tons, all total, yes.” He looked upwards, and nodded once. “The problem comes from something else.” He looked outside the main window, in the office we were using. “There’s only enough slips able to handle Jumpships to do two at a time, that we can use. We had enough people to also do two dropships, so… The Argo is still in one, but she’ll be ready to leave by the first of the year. She was remarkably less damaged than we feared. But it was a bit tricky resetting all the internals, now we’re just fabricating new drive nozzles, and replacing members and armor plate.” Ran nodded, his eyes narrowing.
“Yet, you have three jumpship slips working, or so I inferred from the report.” His tone was confused.
“Yes. The slip the Newgrange was in.” He looked at his paper. “We hit a stroke of luck there. When they shut down, she was actually undergoing repairs, all her armor removed, a replacement drive assembly fabricated, but not installed. Full armor replacement. They had gotten as far as fixing and certifying everything but the transit drive and repair bay.”
“And?” This was the Marshal again, and he was annoyed.
“Well, while we had enough people all told to run the four yards we were, we had enough extra people with a decent clue, and with supervision to actually run a single shift on the slip the Newgrange was in.” We nodded.
“Makes sense, she’s honestly the one ship we need as good as possible, since she can fix everyone else.” I responded absently. “And speeding up her repairs means we can leave faster, and if she had a new transit drive waiting for her… why not?”
“Capital. How long before she’s ready?” The Marshal realized the same thing I did. Getting SLS Newport News out would be a major victory. Inside her repair bay we could stuff countless boxes and parts, plus even full dropships, upwards of two point three million tons worth of cargo, in fact.
“And that’s why we’re out of Helium already.” The shipyard worker sighed. “Since she’s less than three months out by computer projections, though I’d say closer to five, given our crews…” Everyone nodded at that. “The main computers refuse to release the helium she needs. Take out that 2,300 tons or so, a reserve hundred or so, and that leaves only 1,600 tons. Which the first Monolith ate a fourth of, and the one we’re working on and getting ready to take out, ate another quarter.”
“Well… shit.” I spun at the Marshal’s statement. “That’s unpleasant. I was hoping that we could get more of the command chain with nine total dropship rings, so we could get more of the troops home for Christmas.” We had sent the Monolith Indiana, as well as the SLS Hal ahead, and the pair were going to be anchors, as we tried for a nine ring chain to the Suns. I rubbed my forehead, thinking.
“Okay, look. We are three weeks into building the chain.” Ran and Lutens looked at me, the harried balding black man going “Yes…” with his expression.
“We’ll send out as many of my jumpships to link up, and keep building the chain…” I looked at my map on the tablet I was using to keep track of the chain. “If I’m reading this right…” I sigh. “Using all my jumpships, and sending them out now, we’ll still make the Dec 1st timeline. Risk is of course, us who stay here, are stuck here, until the chain’s complete.” I look at Ran. “That means my aerospace regiment, marines, the independents we have…” I was referring to of course the independent regiments of ASF and the battalion of Marines we had gotten from the FSN.
The Marshal shrugged. “Needs must. Make it happen, though all the troops stay behind, and with a bit of luck, we can get a third Monolith online, before that deadline as well as a Star Lord and a Merchant, and then we just have to hope the First Prince realizes we need helium.”
I shivered. “I hope so. Five months til SLS Newport News can leave, you say, Lutens?”
“Yes ma’am.” He tilted his head at my expression.
“Let’s try for four.” I nodded at the Marshal’s sharp nod of agreement.
Felsner looked around. “I’ll schedule the extra personnel, I’m sure we’ll find enough extra people. And I suggest you comb your people, General.”
I saluted, at the same time Lutens sighed, but strengthened. “With your permission?”
Kikyo’s office, Dropship Xanadu, Castle Watchtower, Morning, Dec 9th, 3015.
Almost a year since I arrived in this universe and merged with this body, and had thought: At least I don’t have to deal with this paperwork, wonder how my other self will…
Silly me. I had more paperwork than I really dreamed possible, and that was saying something. The only pleasant news, was the chain had connected with one Hanse had managed to… well, hopefully quietly piece together for us, and a pair of Danais dropships had brought 6,000 tons of Helium. This allowed us to obey our orders, and build a Chain to Coromodir as requested. My hatch opened, and I didn’t look up. “Unless you’re here to report that an Aqueduct showed up full of helium, plus enough crew to jump the rest of the ships, please leave…” I sighed, looking at my paperwork.
A laugh that I recognized caused my eyes to shoot up, to Hanse Davion’s grinning face.
“Well, I could report both, and both would be true, but I didn’t think that was my job. Arranging for such, now, well.” His grin just made me chuckle ruefully.
“I apologize for being so rude, Your Highness…” I started, before Hanse’s laugh cut me off.
“This reminds me of my office the week before Royal Court and the High Council arrive.” He looks around. “Well, if I kept it on a dropship, at least.” He tilted his head. “I daresay I have more, though.”
I nodded at that. “I’ll give you that, but well, since Katheryn took the first batch of personnel down the chain, I’m doing her paperwork for what remains, reviewing Gry’s and Stig’s actions and approving them, and…”
He held up a hand. “None of which are critical at this moment. As for Major General Sandoval’s paperwork, she has an executive officer who should be doing it, or someone she left behind. Have your aide - Lt. Winters, I believe? - find said person and dump it on him.”
I raised my eyebrow. “And?”
“I require a tour! I am the First Prince, and your contract holder! My whims are law to you!” He sniffed, broken only by my laugh, and sigh at the paperwork.
“Okay.” I pushed out of my desk, after clamping the pile I was working on to the desk, as well as the tablet I was using. “Better than looking at the nineteenth duplication of a hiring statement anyways.”
Hanse’s eyebrow quirked. “You’re running a brigade plus formation, if you think the Acting General of the Light Horse, Colonel Wolf, or others in your position review each one…” He took my arm, as we headed out of my office. “You are sadly mistaken. It does explain some comments I got, however.” He shook his head.
“Oh?” My tone asked the question.
“More competent than reasonably hoped for, thinks big, knows the basics of combat, and some areas very well… and is fit to run a battalion in any military they can think of. Needs experience for more. Can operate on a strategic field as an independent commander, with a basic objective or mission and not much more.” He shrugged. “It’s almost like you did run a battalion, or at least was fully trained in that regard.”
I thought on how to reply. “Perhaps I’ll explain.”
I felt the chuckle. “Another secret you’re waiting to expose?”
“.. You could say that.” I finally answered. “You could easily say that.” His bemused laughter rang, as we walked to the waiting shuttle to show him the glories of the Star League.
Main control Room, Castle Watchtower, Late Afternoon, Dec 9th, 3015.
“Now that we have had our third date…” Hanse trailed off…
“First, I’ve heard about the little escapades on New Avalon now…” Hanse shrugs, indicating he’d explain later. “Second, that’s not quite a date, no little black dress, no meal…” I shake my head tsk, tsk, tsking.
“That can be arranged…” Hanse trails off again, teasingly.
I shake my head. “Briefing, you need this.” He sighs.
“Business before pleasure, always the bane of dutiful people. Then again, a briefing like this…” He smiles, and gestures me into the meeting room.
I take my seat, as he moves to the head of the table. Ran to his left, I to his right, Banzai to my right, all the way til Lutens at the base. He looks around at everyone and nods. I had my strays as they were being called, and my command staff, Evie, Morgan, Evie Jr as she was being nicknamed, Kath, Case all here.
“First and foremost. I know most of you are surprised to see me here, and I’ll just say I had to see the prizes you have won for the Federated Suns... “ He pauses, bows his head slightly, then sweeps the room with his eyes. “No, humanity. With a bit of luck, and time, we can finally break the cycle of spiraling into worse and worse technology, and begin to return our people, no, again, humanity, to its peak, and then beyond it. Humanity owes you all a great debt, the Federated Suns owes you a great debt, and I owe you that debt.”
Before any of us could respond, Case, ever scruffy, leaning against a wall snarked out. “Well, you could be paying that debt by getting your ass back to New Avalon, and doing your job, you know, being the Prince of the Federated Suns?” He paused. “No offense, Johnny adored Prince Ian, but it got him killed, and it’ll get you killed, if you don’t behave, and be safe. Everyone knows you got balls, you’ve proven that, and no one calls a Davion a coward.”
Hanse blinked. Ran shot Case a glare, who looked over his sunglasses, unimpressed, while Kath just facepalmed.
“You know… I think Yvonne was more polite about it, but she’d applaud you.” He shook his head. “And yes, I know, but… at times, being Prince means I must lead. At times I must see the answer to prayers long prayed.” He looks Case in the eyes. “When I started seeing exactly what we had from Halstead station, I realized even with the NAIS I was starting, it would be my grandchildren’s… no my great grandchildren’ lifetime before we restored in any measure the lifestyle the common man enjoyed in the Late Star League. And now?” His hand waved at the outside. “You have cut that time by an immeasurable fraction, and perhaps with the other objectives we have, I will live to see it for them.”
Case shrugged. “You’ll only do that if you be a good First Prince.” He leaned back again, smirking.
I sigh. “We thank you for your praise, but I do believe we’re getting paid for this.”
Dr. Banzai picked up. “Sire, about what I sent you that message?” Hanse looked at Banzai and nodded. The Doctor turned, and looked at the non-Cav in the room, and then at us. “I should not need to say this, but all this is Sword-One level information, and treated as such. Any, and I mean any reveal of it, will have you executed.” Hanse nods, and Lutens pushes back.
“Too high for my blood, something even more so than this? I’ll wait around the corner, if you don’t mind, Sire.” Hanse looks at the man, and nods.
“I appreciate a man who recognizes his limits. We will call for you. Anyone else?”
Lutens left after that, with Case stopping Alt. Only Morgan, Rios, Justin and Felsner remained who weren’t in the know, besides Dr. Banazi. Evie Cook snorted.
“This should be good.” the older redhead snorted, and Dr. Banzai slightly smiled.
“I would not say good, but I would say interesting.” His slight shrug conveyed a wealth of information. “I have examined and gotten limited permission to discuss the following medical information with you all.” He thought about how to approach this, and then dived in.
“In summary, General Onishi, Lt. Winters were the first I examined with very unusual neurological formations, then Colonel Steiner, then Commander Blackwing and finally, now, Recruit Kessler show the same basic formations.” He looked, tossing up a picture I recognized of my brain.
“I further have seen very unusual behavior, based on previous information on all patients, as well as highly atypical behavior to the stress of combat, on their part. I believe others have commented on similar indicators.” Felsner nodded in response to that, as Hanse waved the ‘get on with it.’
Dr. Banzai rubbed his bridge slightly as he stated simply. “I want… no, I need confirmation.” He looked at us. “Are you reincarnates who recall your last lives?” He paused, thinking for a second. “No, that wouldn’t explain some other indicators. But… Reincarnation would answer so much, but if not that, What?”
I look at Case, and pull out a ten pound note. “Why do I feel that you’re padding your paycheck with mine?”
“Because I am.” Case snarks. He looks at Kath who shrugs, then me, and I sigh.
“My shout, Strays.” I look around and shrug. “None of you are going to believe this… but, in short… we remember another world, 20th and 21st Century Terra, where the Sovs didn’t reclaim power… and Hanse Davion was a fictional character.” I launched into a detailed speech I had mentally practiced, leaving out specifics, but covering the gist.
After a fair thirty minutes, with the rest kibitzing, and interjecting, finally I wound down. I hadn’t gone over the ‘future’ history of this universe’s future at all, but gave enough to know we were operating off that.
Felsner thought for a moment, and then spoke, before Hanse could, and stopped at Rios collecting a twenty pound note from Morgan. “Major?”
“I bet it was something along this. Morgan agreed it was close enough.”
Case stared for a moment, as Alt facepalmed. Case’s laughter rang out finally, then he got himself under control.
“If that’s all…” Ran’s dry tone interjected, and Case waved in agreement. “You were an officer of a military, were you not, General?” I tilted my head. His wintry smile answered that. “Too many clues, I would suspect a Western Military, more than likely the American.” I blushed.
“As for the young Miss Kessler, I would expect military training as well, too.” Dr. Banzai hummed “I would suspect enlisted, and some elite, possibly American Marines, British Para, or similar forces.”
“This is my rifle and this is my gun… one is for killing and one is for fun!” Evie Jr caroled out.
Hanse interjected. “Full Metal Jacket… Wait, American Marines actually sang that?”
I shrugged. “Army, here, Evie?” Evie’s grin and nod answered it.
Hanse looked hard at us. “From what you’ve all implied, you knew what you would find, you knew what was at stake, and what would be. While I understand some of you just gained that knowledge, or were not in a position to use it… “ He turned to Kath and blinked. “Err..” He paused… “Damn, you really are a clone of Katrina Steiner aren’t you?”
She shook her head. “No, not even a clone at all, or even in vitro and tube birthed, just a natural.” She grinned. “Proud of it!” She sobered. “You want to know why, if I’m in general agreement what’s upcoming is bad, the Suns don’t deserve it, nor do the Lyrans, hell, I’ll go as far as the Mariks don’t either… And none of the everyday civilians do, that’s for sure…”
He nodded. Kath sighed. “That’s for a later story, but suffice it to say I was making preparations for when I could move without severe risk of bringing hell on all our heads, and I had a worst case plan if I bit it.”
Hanse leaned back and looked at all the Strays. “Strays. Strays from another universe brought to ours. For … what?”
I looked at the others, but I stood up and started. “To move worlds, Sire. Because evil triumphs when good men stand by and do nothing. Even Case, as cynical and as amoral as he claims, is still a good man.”
Asha picked up. “We can’t stand by and do nothing. If nothing else, at least on our tombstones, it would read ‘Tell the world We tried.’ What we can do, we must.”
Case snorted. “Speak for yourself. I wanna get hot bondswomen, kill snakes, and get a planet. And.. um, SCIENCE!” Kath didn’t look at him as she thwapped him with a backhand.
“Where I came from sucks. Where I came from before that wasn’t perfect but I loved my home. I didn’t recognize home there, but I do here.” Kath stated, her composite ceramic rosary in hand. “I am here but for the Grace of God and I’ll be damned if I don’t act to make things better.” Evie finally sighed and joined in.
“I got nothing here, now, except a few friends. My family, my past? All gone… But one thing, my honor as a Marine, my friends here, and the fact is, I am angry. And there’s a lot of targets to take it out on. Better those who deserve it, than innocents, eh? And I know my friends have my back, I got theirs.” She looked at me. “Sexpot over there, shouldn’t be allowed around guns, wrenches, anything useful without adult supervision, but hey, she’s an officer, that’s expected.” Hanse stifled a guffaw at that. “She does the high faulting thinking and makes the long term calls. I trust her to get that as right as she can, as she trusts me to nail the targets here and now. I trust Case to not screw us over, just everyone else. Flygirl there? She can watch us from above, as we clear the ground.” A crooked grin. “I even trust blondie to know about good times, and where to find them.” Kath snickered. “That’s all we need. We’re the lever that will move worlds.”
End Chapter 6