Pirate Encampment, SLSC M9V.2016 (Third Planet)
Dark Nebula, Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
15 November 3053
“Thanks,” Delaney says into his earpiece comm as the Archer’s massive paw-like hands lift the pallet of scrap parts off the ground.
“You’re welcome,” Maya Sieberg’s voice comes back. “Where do you want this?”
As Del gives the pirate ’Mech jockey directions, Amber Tyler turns to take a look at the junked carcass sprawled out flat next to the untidy pile of shipping containers that has served as the pirate group’s ‘command centre’. It’s another Archer, missing most of its torso plating and minus the left arm. She can see where missile fire has cracked and cratered the derelict machine’s thigh and shin armour.
“Are we taking that as well? It’s nothing but junk.”
Del glances in the direction she’s pointing. “Sure. We’ve got the carry capacity for it aboard that old Mule.”
Amber rolls her eyes. “That’s if the thing doesn’t explode the minute they fire the engines. That DropShip looks like it hasn’t had repair work in a hundred years!”
“You’re starting to sound like your brother. When exactly did you start shooting up on sarcasm?”
The heavy-duty chains that secure the decapitated Commando to the flatbed trailer clatter and shift… but hold fast. Brigitte, watching from the top of the DropShip loading gantry, lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
“Don’t worry,” Cameron tells her. “That beastie’s not sliding off. I lashed it down myself.”
“Okay,” Brigitte replies. “It’s all just been… really weird, you know? We’ve got ourselves a pile of ’Mechs, salvage, and three DropShips!”
“Don’t forget the Toads.”
“As if I could!” Brigitte reflects upon entering the service bay aboard the Iron Tower, where Zoë and her remaining Elementals removed their damaged suits. Seeing the Clan infantry without their armour had left her feeling downright puny. They must feed them on raw steak and steroids.
Cameron Mackenzie leans on the guardrail and watches the lift platform rising below them. “Between that carcass there and the bits of machinery Jacobs’ crew have built up, I reckon we could give you another Commando… say in a month or two.”
“Really? Huh.” Olafsdottír brushes a lock of white hair back out of her eyes. “That would be good – it’d make up a full lance of missile carriers with Amber’s Raven to supply the Narc beacons.”
“You just have to figure out who’s going to drive the thing.”
“First things first! We still have to haul all of this stuff back to Camelot… and hopefully not have the Irregulars mistake us for an attack force and start shooting.”
“It’d be a shame,” the Tech allows. He looks around as they are joined by Silver. “What’s the problem, hen?”
The trueborn takes a moment to answer, obviously none too sure about Cameron’s accent. “The Snow Leopard is fully loaded and ready to button down.”
“They could just have told me,” Brigitte says with a raised eyebrow.
“Neg. It is the chain of command,” Silver says with a shake of her head. “They reported to a Warrior – me – to take it to you, Brigitte. The Leopard’s captain and flight crew are of a subordinate caste to you. They would never approach you directly.”
A sour expression appears on Brigitte’s face. “I hate that. They’re not my servants, Silver, and they shouldn’t be seeing themselves that way!”
The former Smoke Jaguar actually looks down and away. “I am… sorry. They have had very little contact with the rest of you. They do not know how you do things, so they hold to how it is done in the Clan.”
Cameron frowns. “So the old routine is something they’re comfortable with?”
“That is going to have to change.” Olafsdottír takes a moment to control her temper. It’s not Silver’s fault; she simply didn’t see what the problem was. She looks up and sighs. “No, Silver, don’t even think about asking me to punish you for doing wrong…”
“I don’t see why not,” Cameron says. “I could film you two and we’d make a few kroner out of the distribution rights… ouch!”
Brigitte’s just jabbed him sharply in the ribs. “You’re disgusting, Mackenzie!”
“Just sayin’. There’s quite a market for that sort of ’vid. Throw in some lubricant and you’d make a fortune.”
Silver blinks and gives Olafsdottír a bewildered look. “Whatever is he talking about, Brigitte?”
“This spot taken?”
Jacobs looks up from his lunch. “Nah. Park yourself down, Maya.”
The Archer pilot settles herself on the upturned crate and lets out a long sigh. Jessie passes her a bottle of water and a packet of self-heating rations.
“No problem.” Jessie Danvers picks up her own rations carton and resumes eating. “Just good to have something hot to eat.”
“Which isn’t rice,” Maya adds. “I’m never touching that stuff again.” She checks the labelling on her carton before cracking the heating tab.
They’re sitting around a campfire in the half-emptied remains of their refuge. Maya takes a moment to look around. She can’t bring herself to feel sad about leaving the place; it’s a garbage dump, plain and simple.
“So, this is it. We’re outta here,” Jessie says as she finishes off her meal.
“Good riddance,” Maya replies. She takes a pull on her water.
Jacobs shrugs. “It’s served its purpose, Maya. We can’t stay here now. The Falcons or someone else would send another unit to stomp on us.”
“Huh.” Maya takes another look around. “I’m just so tired, you know? Tired of sharing my bunk with small things that squeak. Tired of never being clean. Tired of a fracking rice-based diet that plugs me up real good…”
Jessie nods. “Me, I’m tired of Ustinov’s homebrewed rotgut. I swear he cuts that stuff with his own urine.”
That gets a chuckle from Jacobs. “Yeah, it leaves a build-up on your teeth, don’t it?”
Maya rips the seal off her rations packet. “You reckon the Fräulein’s idea will work? About this parole thing?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Jacobs picks up his water bottle. “I mean we’ve never really been into that ‘burn down the schools and stomp on babies’ shit that some pirates get off on. Like ‘Fireball’ Sampson, remember him?”
Jessie grimaces. “I remember you shooting him in the balls...”
“Hey, he was trying to kill you at the time, Jessie. Or rape you. Or both at the same time, the fracking psycho.” Jacobs sighs. “At least I got to see the look on his ugly face when I shot him. That was something.”
“You also claimed his ’Mech,” Maya points out. “The Warhammer.”
“Useless piece of shit that it is,” Jessie notes. “Much like its old owner.”
The Iron Tower is similar to the Lodestar: a spherical DropShip resting on a set of massively reinforced landing struts. It is in excellent condition from what Brigitte can see, and it features the inevitable Jade Falcon crest on its hull, an emblem that’s bigger than her Axeman.
“It looks like a leprous crow clutching a pig sticker, doesn’t it?”
She glances sidelong at her leading escort. “It’s going to go, believe me.”
Tyler gestures at the lowered lift platform, where Zoë and her battered comrades are waiting for them. “Let’s go take a look.” He looks around at Horst, Rainy, and Grizz. “Eyes and ears open. I don’t want anything going wrong on us.”
If Zoë notices the unbuckled holsters and readied sidearms, she says nothing about it.
“Captain Brigitte,” she says, inclining her head.
“Zoë,” Olafsdottír says in reply, stepping up onto the platform. The rest of her party joins them.
Rainy points upwards. “How many ’Mechs can this thing carry?”
“Two Stars,” the Elemental responds. “Ten ’Mechs. Plus foot infantry, but we were not carrying any on this mission.” She speaks into the communicator in her hand, and a technician-casteman up above sets the lift platform into motion.
“It’s got supplies aboard?”
“Aff, Brigitte. Repair parts and supplies for the ’Mechs and our suits… two thousand tons, all told.”
Tyler shakes his head. “Holy shit,” he mutters.
Northern Uplands, three hundred seventeen kilometres from Danderson City
Persistence, Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
Scientist Ingrid’s boots crunch as she walks across the yellow-tan topsoil. She reaches the spot she wants and stops. It is the work of a few seconds to plant the geophysical remote in the ground, driving the fifty-centimetre spike into the baked ground at her feet. She pauses to flip open the small panel on top of the sensor remote and checks the unit’s readiness.
She straightens up and surveys her surroundings. The Northern Uplands are already starting to shimmer in the heat of the rising sun, even though it is still less than an hour past dawn. Out here, nothing grows or can be grown, except for a couple of species of indigenous lichen that have an alkali content that is almost off the scale. Ingrid finds the bleak, blasted terrain quite striking.
At least out here she can be left alone to do her work, without some thick-necked moron of a Warrior yelling at her for results. She recalls a rumour that she heard once, back on Ironhold, about how half of the trueborn Warriors coming from the breeding programme would not be able to read if they lost the use of their index fingers. Since she arrived here, in the Inner Sphere, she has had ample opportunity to see just how close to truth that rumour was...
Star Colonel Yesukai is a perfect example. Raised and trained to be a MechWarrior, shaped like a blade to be a weapon of singular purpose... and frustrated by her current situation. Exiled to this minor holding of Clan Jade Falcon, away from potential combat and stuck with the ‘honour’ of supervising the inhabitants. The Spheroid barbarians ought to be duly thankful for having been freed from their careless, greedy rulers but so far Ingrid has seen very little gratitude on the part of Persistence’s citizens.
She starts on her way back to her skimmer. She still has three sensors to plant in this search grid before she can start running the analysis. Huffing a little behind her humidifier mask, she trots down the slight incline towards where her vehicle is resting on its skids. Displayed prominently across the blunt nose of the skimmer is the crest of the Jade Falcons. It is identical to the patch Ingrid wears on her jacket sleeve, and to the stencils on the various packs and equipment cases loaded into the skimmer's cargo compartment, right behind the pilot’s seat.
Grid Twelve, she thinks as she climbs into the skimmer and straps in. It will probably yield no more of a result than the first eleven have done, but she will not know that for sure until she gets all the data in. If there is an old SLDF facility hidden someplace out here, I have been looking in all the wrong places. The benefits of having Yesukai dictate where I look... She snorts as she flips the controls to power the skimmer up.
The long-defunct Star League Defence Force established a number of concealed bases and outposts across the Inner Sphere. It equipped these facilities with supplies, parts, and munitions to support combat operations wherever the SLDF might have had need to deploy. Some of these stations were destroyed, and many more were stripped bare thanks to the massive materiel demands of the campaign to overthrow the Usurper. Ingrid is well aware of these facts. She also knows that when General Aleksandr Kerensky chose to lead his army into exile, they emptied out even more of these bases... but not all of them. Some were left intact.
The Jade Falcons knew about one of these outposts, a major repair and refit complex buried on Antares. Once they had overcome the defenders, they set about unearthing and recommissioning the facility. There are references to other such bases within the wedge of systems claimed by the Falcons... but very little in the way of hard detail. When the exiled soldiers of the Star League turned upon each other, on the Pentagon Worlds far to coreward, a great many records were destroyed. Ingrid’s current task is to track down a stockpile of equipment that has been waiting for someone to find it for almost three hundred years.
The Spheroids have a term for the Star League treasures hidden away in these supply dumps: Lostech. They view the equipment used by the SLDF as loot worth murdering one another for, an idea that sends a reflexive shiver of disgust through Ingrid’s body. How can they do that? Kill each other purely for personal gain?
Before she engages the lift fans, she pauses to lift her facemask and take a sip from the vacuum flask in her field kit. The sharp taste of chilled grapefruit juice helps to wake her up. Oh, but that is good... Nothing like this back on Ironhold, she tells herself. It is almost enough to compensate for having to dance to Yesukai’s ill-tempered demands. Ingrid feels a twinge of shame for thinking such disrespectful things about a member of the Warrior caste – a person who is automatically above her in the scheme of Clan society – but the Star Colonel knows nothing about the difficulties that Ingrid and her fellow Scientists have to deal with. Nor does she much care. All she seems to be concerned with is munitions, BattleMech readiness reports, and tactical updates from the border systems…
The End of The Kingdom of Dust
The Norns will return in Persistence.