Northern Knox Mountains
Approximately six kilometers ENE of MacKenzie Cottage
2310 hrs 10 December 3080
Trotting through the woods and the snow covering the ground, the five Nighthawk clad troopers of Spectre Team Alpha and their commander moved with a purpose. They had been landed at the MacKenzie cottage some two hours ago and after Argyle had secured two things from the building, they had set out for the area held by the Blakist battlegroup.
Making their way, the team was quiet, each of them alert and yet alone with thoughts. Much like so many others on Centarus, no one had ever expected the Word of Blake to return in this fashion. The occasional spy or saboteur team, sure…. But an invasion? No way.
But here they were and the carnage that had followed had been fairly epic. All of Team Alpha had expected they would be used in the Direct-Action role as their training emphasized, either as commando or assassins. No one but Mercer had expected the orders they got and when pressed, all he said was If You Don’t Know Who They Are, You Can’t Hunt The Right Ones. Or as Argyle said later, they needed to figure out what nail they needed to beat on and even commandos did snoop and poop.
And this was a big snoop and poop. At the briefing, Governor Sodher-Schaller had emphasized the need to know what was in the area the Blakists were calling their primary base. What was needed known was what sort of defenses and if there were non-combatants there. That last was an odd request but the leader for Beta Team, Captain Mileof Belcher had understood the why and said so. They gotta know we have Warships… and if they have hostages, we can’t use the Texas to remove them, he had said. Somebody has to check… and we are the best at it
As a result, four Spectre teams were assigned to this recon mission. Alpha, led by Argyle, would insert near the MacKenzie lands. Beta, Mileof’s team, would come from the northern areas while Gamma (Cpt Salem Belmont) and Epsilon (Cpt Reyna Wolf) teams were entering from the east and southern sides respectively and all of them had the same mission- get in and make sure no civilians were in the area. It was why the four teams were assigned; one or two teams might miss where four… pretty much was a check on each other. If there were civilians on location, one of the teams would find them.
The closer they got to the Mission Zone, the more Cass got a funny feeling about what was to be found. Clicking on the suit communications, she tight-beamed to Argyle. “Argyle… question.”
“Go ahead,” the captain replied as he didn’t change pace. “You haven’t used your quota yet… And I was worried…”
Cass smirked as she continued. “If we find civilians here, are we to rescue?” An honest question… and with four teams assigned, a reasonable one. Blood Sprit Teams were highly capable commandos and, in these suits, the five of them could take on a platoon of normal infantry with reasonable success. With twenty out here…. “Crazy talk, I know… but I have to ask.”
Argyle gave a low chuckle. “If I think we can, sure but I better be damn certain… And I got an earful on the side about that too. All four of the leads got an earful. From Duncan himself, actually…”
Cass blinked. “What did the old man have to say?” She asked. “Other than he should be out here too…”
“He said this is the one time he’s cautioning against any sort of holovid heroics, telling us to stick to the mission plan. Get in, get information, get out and no more,” Argyle replied. “As he put it to us, given what little we DO know of what’s up there- not even he would deviate from the plan and he’s notorious for improv. Shit… Duncan’s a master of improv on the fly… but he’s never been one to outright say don’t do it. At least usually not to me. Be Cautious or use my grey matter, sure… but never don’t do it. This time he did though. The Old Man said leave them unless I have a surefire means of extraction. I know he hated saying it… but he did.” A pause. “Mileof was entertained… only by the insanity of hearing the old man say such shit.”
A snort. “Improv master is an understatement… and I don’t believe he said leave them.”
A laugh. “Given the stunt he and Bronwyn pulled a few days ago with that pilot, totally agree; that was some make-shit-up-on-the-fly if there was ever one… but I’m actually with him on this, Cass. I got some weird feelings on this job too… like this is someone who knows some of our playbook and is leaving bait.” The captain was quiet after he said it for a few seconds.
“We ain’t perfect by any damn means… but we are pretty good at defense, pointed direct action and having a plan for stuff; we also don’t leave people behind… We got took by someone who knows our hospitality habits and responses… along with some of our weaknesses. And trying to make sure of no collateral is one of our hallmarks…. I almost expect something fucked up here.”
A pause. “We also got hit when both Commanders were out of town, so to speak… which reinforces the thinking whoever is in charge on the other side knows us. Or has a good idea about us…”
“Like who?” She asked. “The Greybolts over on Johnson know us; letting them here was a mistake, by the way and I’mma die on that hill; whoever approved THAT needs a smack. The Word knows some about us, but we got rid of the moles… last one being Farquharson’s daughter. We did that!”
“For everyone you find, there is two you don’t…” Argyle replied, obviously quoting someone. “No one thought we got them all, Cass. But everyone, including me, thought whatever was left was fuck’n cowed some. Or little fish not worth hunting… Hunting the little fish is the sort of manhunt that creates trouble while trying to remove a cancer.” He paused. “Do you understand?”
Cass was quiet. “Yeah, I do….” She replied finally. “Sucks…”
“That it does… but it keeps us employed.” He commented. “Head in the Game, Cas; I sooo got reservations because reasons… but I also know what ever we find out here is gonna be important.”
“No argument, Captain…” she replied. “Expect The Dumb and never be disappointed…. By the way, what did you grab at their place?”
“Duncan’s travel flask of Glenfiddich and his ‘I Was Here’ stamp,” Argyle answered. “If I get an opportunity, I absolutely will fuck with Somebody…”
Northern Landing Zone
Fortress Class Dropship “His Vengeful Fire”
0435hrs 11 December 3080
Precentor ROM VI Joshua Dyckman paced the command deck of the headquarters Drop Ship he used as a base. Agitated, he pondered the number of setbacks this operation had suffered over the last 72 hours and wondered where things had gone wrong…. And if something could be salvaged from this potential debacle.
Three months prior, the plan for the complete dismantling and destruction of the Phoenix Lancers had been set in motion after well over a year in planning. All the pieces had been in place or so his Intelligence operatives had informed him. Between the agents hired on Galatea for intelligence gathering and the acquisition of his child, the mercenaries hired for dropping on or being in place on Centarus, the warships he requisitioned and the lack of their most experienced leadership, the plan to invade, occupy and kill the Lancers had proceeded on schedule.
While it had been an ambitious plan, there was very little that he believed would prevent its success. With well over twenty companies of Battlemechs or Armor in place or dropping in, plus a full Level III of the finest Word machines and his personally loyal guard, the landings should have succeeded against the mech regiment and two armor regiments that comprised the Lancer ground forces.
That it hadn’t gone to plan pissed him the hell off. He had been assured by his Intelligence personnel that it would work as long as everyone did their jobs. The Mercenaries were capable and while deemed expendable (for accomplishment of the mission, of course), they should have had far more success than they had. Dyckman had expected a far better showing from them and all but two of the battlemech units had managed to do their jobs. The infantry had managed to do their missions and that was at least something.
“Precentor?” The voice of his assistant, Demi-Precentor Kane, called out to him. “Update for you, sir.”
“Yes Yes…” he replied as he turned to look at his adjunct. “Large change from Midnight?”
“No sir,” the Demi replied. “Some reports of small strikes along the north south highway but nothing as large as yesterday afternoon. Our limited air patrols noted some VTOLs moving on the fringes of the front but no major actions.” He paused. “It appears they are waiting for daybreak to continue operations.”
A sigh. “Expected… they don’t fight at night anymore than any other force. At least with their battlemechs. Make sure the ground patrols are rotated every three hours at night….” Dyckman ordered. “I expect some of their commandos to try something soon. Its part of their operating procedure and I highly doubt none are here. Get the orders out.”
Inside Perimeter Landing Zone West
Mercer made himself as small as possible against the downed trees within the perimeter. All of the team had slipped into the landing zone at different points to check the various raised prefab structures for their contents.
He had drawn one near the southern most point of this site and with a bit of effort, low crawled all the way to a pile of logs next to it. Risking a small glance over the horizontal trunk of the fir tree he was against; the trooper noted the two guards by the shelter entrance.
Only two… and no others nearby, he thought. If I move just right, I can drop both and stash ‘em under the shelter there… As he assessed the best means of removing the two guards, his earbud activated.
[Four, Lead…] Came Argyle’s voice. [There is two others on the other side coming towards the post. Stay down… and get a line into that shelter.]
Damnit, Mercer groused slightly. It was like he knew what he was thinking… “Receive. Three to five minutes.” The red-haired commando sighed once and when it looked like it was clear, he slipped up to the wall and rolled under the raised structure. Crawling carefully, he maneuvered to one of the central joins close to where the wiring couplings ran to various points within the structure. Pulling out the tap-device, he rolled to his back and quickly worked to connect to the internal systems of the structure. Once physically connected, he pulled a tablet out and quickly worked the programs to bypass whatever network security was present.
The structure in question was a prefabricated light shelter used for expeditions the Universe over. Strong and resilient for light construction, the insulated shelters came equipped with built-in wiring and data line runs. Many of these structures also came with Audio-Video stations that with the right equipment, could be tapped into. Tapped into if you could get into them via a hard point. They *were* capable of LAN/WAN use but that was through a demarcation point and hotspot. Where Mercer had gone to was the actual wiring and via the tablet, used a back door these things tended to have.
Cass was usually the one to do this sort of work; she was something of a specialist with these devices. Unfortunately, her physical assets were a hindrance to fitting under these buildings. The Nighthawk suits were slimming but not quite enough for her to be doing this job quickly. Mercer, who was much slighter of build, was nominated to do this task… and while it wasn’t a strong suit of his, he did know how to hack into a simple secure network. And these structures… were considered simple secure networks and among the most secure actually… as you had to physically tap into them to access them when there was no wireless. And even when there was, only the true slicers even tried going remotely… and he wasn’t.
What would help him was that most people never bothered to maintain security on peripheral things like these; computer and network security guys didn’t always maintain side equipment because it took time. With these not expected to operate outside whatever network they were using, odds were against their internal hardware being updated. When you added in the human habit of being lazy, then opportunity developed. Such even applied to Word of Blake Techs; they were human after all. And where Temp structures were concerned, they were still structures… and one should spend the time to secure their networks too. Someone didn’t get a memo, he thought as his initial hack worked.
Within two minutes, he was completely in. After setting up a data siphon, Mercer looked around the outer edge of the structure and made sure no one was close before he pulled out a small antenna with a microfiber line. Attaching the line to the hack point, he crawled carefully to a spot where he could point the antenna in the general direction of the overwatching team and emplaced his device in the shadows.
Within another two minutes, he was done and moving back out the way he came.
Once in his out-side the perimeter hide, he posed the question. “Lead, Four… good feed?”
[Good feed. Exfil as you can…] came Argyle’s order. [Two is trying to download some shit… and running might be a thing.]
“Four copies. See you in ten.”
Argyle looked over Cass’s shoulder as she maneuvered the prompt and finished cracking the network security protocols. It was a standard Word of Blake network encryption- a rather older one, actually… but good enough to stop anyone who never faced it before. Cass had… and was pleasantly surprised when an older bypass worked. “Argyle… that was an old code…” She said.
“Could be… I’d expect something more updated…” She replied. “Think it’s a trap?”
A snort. “Nope. Relies on far too many things to happen and go right. And while we might be predicted, ain’t no one predicted the shitstorm they have hit coming here… Best security is still not being in a wireless network..” He said. “What’cha got?”
Cass maneuvered her way through the breached network and its video feeds. Listening in on a call, the two exchanged looks at the commands being ordered. Someone was aware of their likely presence… and when the Precentor’s name was mentioned, Argyle let out a small curse.
“Shut it down, Cass. We need to get out of here fast…” Argyle said and tapping his wrist com, he sent out a recall code. “This just got a touch more complicated…”
Cass said nothing and shut down her device. Packing it away, she awaited Mercer to get to them as the captain backed away a bit for something. Sid and Jake were rear security and would be making sure nothing was between them and their exfil route.
About three minutes later, Mercer arrived just as Argyle moved back up. “Here?” the captain asked then answered himself. “Good… let’s move…” The captain led the way out, moving quickly and quietly as they went out the way they had come in. It was getting close to five in the morning and while the light snow going on would help, odds were against their remaining hidden much longer. At least not this close.
Meeting up with their rear guard, the group continued out for another two kilometers before Argyle called a pause. When they all gathered, he popped his face-shield up to speak un-augmented. When the others did the same, he spoke. “Ok… things got complicated in a hurry… and thankfully, no one got found.”
Sid looked at their captain. “And? What’s the rush and the complication?”
“The precentor running this madness… is known to me, the older Spirits… and the Lancer Command.” He said. “And I would say not in a good way…”
Mercer looked around then back at Argyle. “Who is it?”
A sigh. “A Joshua Dyckman… He ran with the Lancers a long time ago and had attempted to get crossed some fifteen years ago. One of the few mistakes Birgitta ever made was even letting him within spitting distance of us… and that mistake didn’t last long. Tinney still kicks himself over him being connected to the Lancers back then.”
“Oh shit…” Jake commented, shock in his voice.
“Yeah… I’d use stronger words, though.” Argyle replied. “So yeah, he knows some of how we operate though its old news; personally, I think he’s the reason why for the first invasion back in sixty-eight…. I got ahold of Beta; confirmed what we learned. And they also confirmed there is civilians being held at the various landing zones. Mostly Zathras residents and whomever was on the monorail when they landed. Mileof is fuckin’ mad he can’t spring them but he has no options either.”
Jake commented at that. “Good insurance for the Blakists… he knows we wouldn’t bombard our own. Geez…”
“Right. And if we did, I’m pretty sure he’s got someone ready to film it too,” Argyle added. “Ok… we need to get to a better location before sending this up. I don’t think our shit will be intercepted but I’m not taking chances. Beta is moving out too- Gamma and Epsilon probably won’t be far behind; Mileof said Salem was working an angle which tells me someone is getting yelled at after this.”
“Cap?” Cass asked.
Argyle reached up to his visor. “That slick, slippery fucker will snatch someone and drag him out… ‘cause he’s good at it.” Snapping the visor down, he finished. “Doesn’t matter as he’s not my problem anymore… the moment Duncan came in from the cold, Salem became his…” Everyone could hear the grin in Argyle’s voice. “Enough talking… Let’s move.”