“The Clan Invasion left the Successor States struggling to recover from the war that devastated the forces of the Inner Sphere. The Federated Commonwealth took heavy losses, and its misfortune was compounded by the untimely death of Hanse Davion.
“The alliance is in a precarious position. The New Avalon Institute of Science has been charged to find a technological edge with which House Davion may regain its lost power. Study of salvaged Clan equipment sent research in bold new directions, and led to an extraordinary breakthrough in BattleMech design.
“Unfortunately, the Federated Commonwealth’s salvation is in the hands of a madman.”
Escape Vector 317-Gamma, Cislunar Space
Skandia System, Free Rasalhague Republic
18 February 3052
The smell is what brings her around finally. Löjtnant Brigitte Olafsdottír, late of the Third Drakøns, comes to with a violent start. She is wedged into a narrow space that exists between a wall stanchion and a vertical conduit. She can pick out a whole cocktail of odours, none of them pleasant or wholesome.
The scent of smoke and dried sweat comes from her. She is still wearing her cooling vest, shorts, and combat boots; the same garments she’d had on when she had been forced to punch out of her dying Quickdraw. How long it has been since that happened, she doesn’t know.
There is ozone and a trace of bleach… She looks around. She’s inside a storage bay, aboard a DropShip. Someone has draped a blanket over her at some point. The faint rumble that transmits itself through the deck plates and up along her spine tells her they are in transit. Transit to where, Olafsdottír can’t begin to guess.
She sniffs the air. Blood. Across from her, there is a small, half-dried puddle of blood on the decking. Some other poor devil must have been sitting there, she realises.
A door opens and a pair of boots comes clomping into view. She looks upwards and relaxes a little: a familiar face at last.
MechWarrior Roland Kusaka, one of the people from her now-destroyed company, looks down at her. He’s wearing overalls a size too small for him. His left eye is hidden behind a wad of gauze, and bandages are wrapped around his forehead. His right eye is bloodshot, and circled by black rings. He looks about as wrung-out and wretched as she feels herself.
“Löjtnant… Good to see you,” Kusaka says tiredly. He offers her a foil-packed rations kit. The labelling is in Japanese. “It’s not great, but it’s all they can spare.”
She feels too disoriented to be hungry, but she accepts the packet regardless. “Good to see you, too. Where the hell are we?”
Kusaka hands her a bottle of water. “Free trader ship, a cargo boat out of Tukayyid. They flew us out last night. The Wolves didn’t bother shooting at us.”
She makes a face. “Why should they? They’ve destroyed all our ’Mechs. How much of a threat do we pose to them now?”
Kusaka shrugs. “The trader crew picked up a bunch of us before lifting. The skipper tells me he can get us to FedCom space in maybe a fortnight, ten days, something like that.”
Olafsdottír is unscrewing the bottle top as he speaks. She pauses to nod at the drying patch of blood. “Who was that?”
“Löjtnant Richardson, from Third Battalion. We thought he’d just passed out on us. Turned out he had an internal bleed, Ma’am. He… never woke up.”
A tired surge of anger rises in her breast. They beat us. They tore us apart and made us run like frightened deer… and they’re still killing us. Bastards…
She chokes down a mouthful of water, and it makes her realise just how thirsty she is. Her neck and legs ache. She wants to sleep for a week.
Kusaka has just said something. Olafsdottír blinks. “Sorry, you were saying?”
“I said, uh, what do we do now? I mean, there’s about fifteen of us, Ma’am, and you’re the only officer we’ve got, what with Richardson gone. Any orders?”
She sighs. “Kusaka… We got our heads handed to us. All of our ’Mechs are gone. I’m guessing any command integrity the Third might have had is history. Right now, we’re in no shape to take on a litter of kittens, never mind the Wolves, and we’re relying on a merchant crew to get us away from the invasion theatre.
“I don’t have any orders, any ideas, anything. We should just get the hell out of the way and link up with someone who’s still fighting the Clans. Maybe by then I’ll have thought of something.” Even as she speaks, Olafsdottír silently scolds herself for being so negative. What about morale?
She sneers inwardly at the earnest voice of the freshly minted Löjtnant. Hard to accept that she had been so naïve, not so very long ago… What about morale? What morale? All we can do right now is survive. We don’t even know if anyone else made it off of Skandia…
Thankfully, Kusaka is far too burnt-out, too fatigued to really register what she is telling him. Olafsdottír feels ashamed at herself, but only briefly. She’s far too tired to sustain much in the way of strong feelings.
Swigging down more water, she scratches at her matted black hair, crushed back against her scalp from wearing her neurohelmet. Even that takes an effort…
The Here and Now
Solaris VII, Lyran Commonwealth
4 January 3053
The smell of sweat and scorched insulation from the junction housing makes her blink. Strange just how a memory can be triggered, Brigitte realises. She looks around the dingy, scuffed loading deck of the old Union-class DropShip before she scoops up her pack and slings it across her shoulder.
The Darlington Dancer is just another threadbare spacecraft, an aging ex-military boat converted over to commercial work. Nothing special. It just happens to be the earliest connection she could find that would get her to the Game World.
Solaris VII. After Terra, it’s probably the most famous world in Human space. The place where MechWarriors fight each other in arenas for fame, fortune, and holovid distribution rights… and hopefully, where a certain cashiered Rasalhagian officer can find herself a BattleMech.
Brigitte Olafsdottír had made her way to the Federated Commonwealth, and thence to the remaining few worlds of the Free Rasalhague Republic. Emphasis on few. Seven planets were left, and what few warriors and ’Mechs had survived the onslaught of the Clan invaders had washed up there. Olafsdottír had stayed there less than three weeks before realising that it was a lost cause. The heart had been torn out of her fellows; many of them were in shock, many more were just stumbling numbly through the motions of living. Others fretted and fumed, dwelling on plans of futile vengeance against the Clans… an elaborate way to commit suicide, in her book.
And if there is one thing furthest from Brigitte Olafsdottír’s mind right now, it is getting herself killed. She’s survived the very worst that the Wolf Clan can throw at her; she will be damned if she will ever be forced to flee again.
Stepping around a stacked pile of cartons, she makes her way towards the crew gangplank. Outside, Solaris City is waiting for her. She needs to clear customs before she can place a visphone call or two.
The customs officer looks at her, raises an eyebrow, and holds up her passport to compare the holograph with her features.
Olafsdottír allows herself a smirk. “The picture’s a little out of date, but my biometrics still match, don’t they?”
The officer nods. “They do.” He picks up a stamp. “Purpose of your visit?”
“Business. I’m a MechWarrior.”
Whack. “Welcome to Solaris VII.”
She accepts back her passport, tucks it away into her jacket, and heads onto the DropPort concourse. She doesn’t bother with the luggage check, because all she has left is either in her pockets or in her pack. Olafsdottír doesn’t even have the holographs of her family any more; they burned with her ’Mech back on Skandia.
She takes a moment or two to stop and look. Solaris City. Even now, she can’t quite believe she’s here.
The central hub of the city is broken up into districts populated by citizens of the five Houses of the Inner Sphere. Montenegro is claimed by the Free Worlds League, and Silesia by the Lyrans. Kobe belongs to the Draconis Combine, Cathay houses the Capellans, and Black Hills is host to people from the Federated Suns. Even now, twenty years after the formal alliance of the Federated Suns and the Lyran Commonwealth, their Solaran counterparts have yet to merge… and from Brigitte has learned on her way in from the system’s jump point, it’s unlikely they ever will.
There is a sixth area, the International Zone, where the Solaris Spaceport, Guild Hall, and the ComStar Community Centre are located. This is where she is now, considering her next move.
“Hey, Whitey, you want to get out the way?”
It takes Olafsdottír a moment to realise that the remark is aimed at her. She raises her free hand to touch the bangs hanging over her forehead. She’s still getting used to her new look. The unruly white hair, shot through with iron grey, is at odds with her brown complexion and black eyebrows. A souvenir courtesy of the Wolf Clan.
As she steps to the side, a small group of men and women come trudging past. Mercenaries, from the look of them. They’re dressed in an uneven motley of fatigues, jumpsuits, and jackets. One or two of them have unit patches on their sleeves: a bleached skull on a dark tombstone. They look about as travel-lagged as she feels herself.
Shrugging, she walks across the concourse towards a cluster of visphone kiosks. She’s got business to attend to. Digging in the breast pocket of her jacket, Brigitte fishes out a datachip.
She selects a vacant kiosk and makes to plug the chip into the reader port. She hesitates for a moment. Is this really such a good idea, girl?
The message had arrived at the ComStar message centre on Orestes, addressed to her. The data was encoded; it refused to unlock until she had submitted to a thumbprint and retina scan.
It was a job offer, along with passage to Solaris VII. A rendezvous at a certain time and place, and a suggestion to make all haste. All very mysterious, the stuff of bad espionage holovids.
Löjtnant Olafsdottír, freshly resigned from the Rasalhague KungsArmé, had had nothing better to do. Given the pitiable condition of the Republic – or what was left of it – she knew it would be months or even years before she was likely to be assigned a replacement ’Mech. She wasn’t prepared to stand around waiting. This message from out of nowhere seemed as good a course of action as any.
And besides, if she stayed on Orestes any longer, she was likely to put a gun to her head. The atmosphere of defeat, despair, and disbelief was choking her.
All right, then... She sets her jaw and slots the datachip into place. The visphone screen lights up with a menu asking her which language she wants to use. Brigitte almost hits the ‘Swedish’ option, but decides to go with ‘English’ at the last moment. She’s going to have to get used to speaking English rather than Swedish now...
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