Legends and Myths Eighty Four- The Storm: Shire Three

Gulf of Lune near Harlond Bay

11km east of LZ

0901hr 08 December 3080

 The lead elements of the Immortals recon group followed the shore east, headed for where available maps indicated a bay-side village. The lead vehicle, a recon variant of the Chimera APC, advanced at a slow pace, its sensors active and the hatches open to allow extra eyes to look out.  So far, the unit’s advance had seen no resistance or defenders which suited the men of the recon unit just fine.  They didn’t want to run into anything without warning; their transport was tough enough for minor skirmishes but there were no illusions about large ones.

 Coming to a stop as they reached a stream that fed into the bay, a team of troopers deployed out and went to check the potential crossing area. Covering them, the vehicle commander used his sensors to scan the tree line for anything watching.  This was the third time they had to do this… and he wasn’t counting on anyone not being here- especially two hours after landing. Intel said there wasn’t much on this continent, but intel has been wrong before…

**

 On the other side of the crossing point, ODA 1st Special Forces Group 1st Battalion 1st Company, 1st Team (ODA 1111) was observing the advancing recon vehicle from their hasty hide. The eleven troopers of the ODA had been rushed out here to lay eyes on the advancing invaders and either engage if possible or simply get a better assessment on what was coming. All eleven of them were in position to observe or engage if shooting was necessary.

 The team leader, Captain Diego Moss, took a long look via mag-oculars, assessing the vehicle before them and the overall attentiveness of the troops. “Ciara… ever see an APC like that?” he asked the trooper next to him.

 Sergeant First Class Ciara Hoskins shook her head. As the assistant Team Sergeant and resident Intelligence Sergeant to go along with her weapons rating, there was very little out there that she had no knowledge of. At least from any of the major manufacturers of combat vehicles. There were a lot of non-mainstream out there though… and this was one of the latter. “Nope… this one’s a new one on me.” She said as she too looked at the machine before them. “Light auto cannon on the hull, turret laser and some machine guns… not bad for a troop carrier but not great.”

 “Autocannon still kill you dead.”

 “True, true… nope, boss… I got nothing.  Get me a signal to use, I can get something but right now I got nothing.” She replied. “I do know I recognize the insignia.”

 Moss looked over at his intel NCO. “Who?” he asked as he turned to look again.

 “Spanac’s Immortals… Only reason why I know them is I got into a bar fight with some on Galatea about five years ago…” Hoskins said as she stowed her mag-noculars. “Fucking full of themselves assholes, the lot of them.”

 “Do tell…” He commented as he too put his device away and backed off from their observation point.

 Hoskins backed away out of sight and moved down the low rise they were behind, her rifle out. “Yeah… one made with his hands in a place he shouldn’t and got hands back.” The very fit sergeant replied. “Bozo and his buddies found out what happens when you fuck around.”

“And?”

 “Left five wanna-be’s on the ground moaning. Two with broken limbs…” Ciara smiled grimly. “Angry Bill over in Third can vouch for that one. He was there.”

A snort. “Ok… now that we have established that they are amoral shits… are they any good?” Moss asked as he joined her on the thin path back to their temp camp. The others in the ODA that were in positions to overwatch and shoot if need be would warn him if things went to shit while he was calling to make a report. They didn’t have heavy enough guns to engage anything in an IFV, but they could watch all right.

 “Last I knew, they were competent and NOT fanatical.  Their boss is an opportunist… and depending on the how well the Wolverines’ Navy handles anything space related…” Hoskins stated. “We might get out of this without a big fight.”

 “Noted…” Moss replied. “I need to update Testudo; Its Harvie’s call….” Adjusting his com-gear, he made the call.

**

About ten minutes later, Moss ended the call and shook his head.  “Well shit…” he mused aloud. “The old man wants blood.” 

 Walking up to Hoskins, he tapped her on the shoulder. “Answers…  They want as good a count on what they got as we can get. Chief Harvie the First would like to know how many there are, within reason, so he can sick the dogs on them….”

 Hoskins blinked and then laughed. “Sic’ing the dogs boys on them will be something to see.  The rest of the team should have a good count right now. Ain’t no one reported being seen at least.” She chuckled. “This should be easy.”

 A slight smile. “that’s the problem, Hoskins… It’s too easy.” Moss replied.  “Which means I think we need to go pay a visit to their drop ship and see what they left to guard it. Testudo asking for that. Based on estimates, five hours for us walking.”

“Joy…”

**

 As the last vehicle cleared the crossing point, Spanac looked at the master plot map of the area.  There was three more major fording points on the fastest route of march to be made.  So far, nothing had jumped at them, but he’d be a fool to think that was going to last.

 Yeah, they made three crossings already… but if he was a betting man (and he was), it would be this one or Crossing Four he’d hit them. Considering three was now behind them, the pucker factor was ratcheting up some the closer they got.

 “Woz, tell the heavy boys to deploy at the next crossing,” he said to his commo sergeant. “I don’t think the next one is going to be peaceful…”

 “Gotcha Colonel…” Tech Sergeant Wally (Woz) Wozniak replied and passed along the orders.  After he did so, he looked back at the Colonel. “Got a feeling, sir?”

 “Yes I do,” Spanac commented. “We are making decent time, but I know something is waiting for us…. I refuse to believe we avoided interdiction so far.” A shrug. “Call it paranoia… but were it me, I’d have hit us by now.”

 Woz grabbed his rifle and made sure ammunition was chambered right. “Well sir… if they hit us, we hit ‘em back.” He said. “They ain’t got enough ass to deal with everyone here…. And them Blakists should have things in hand by tonight…. Right?”

 A shrug. “They should… I’ll get an update once we get to near Grey Havens, provided our info on what’s out here isn’t shit…”

Legends and Myths Eighty Three- The Storm: Shire Two

Gulf of Lune near Harlond Bay

0701hr 08 December 3080

 The Condor class drop ship sat on the ground near the wood line bordering the shoreline along the bay. The craft had landed not long ago and disgorged its infantry cargo.  The half of the three hundred troops of Anatoli’s Footmen set up a perimeter around their landed ship while the rest assisted with the offloading of the twenty light tracked APCs of the force.

 Colonel Anatoli Spanac watched from the hatch of his command Chimera APC and chomped on his cigar.  This foray to the wilds of Centarus was something of a gamble for the now-renegade mercenary infantry unit and it was hoped it would prove to be profitable.  The force had been hired about a year ago to set up something of a cover story about getting advanced training from the Lancers and maybe winning a security contract here; after all, a battalion of infantry was solid inexpensive asset to have available if the Bad Guys came calling.

 Their cover story held up for the most part and they had been on the planet for about six months. They used that time well in learning a good bit about both their hosts, the areas on the populated side and as much as possible about the wilder areas of the world. They also spent it legitimately training up too; because there was an irony to having the guys who you were gonna be fighting teach you their methods…

 Everything he or his people had learned about the military commercial and industrial sectors seemed to indicate that the companies that maintained R and D here had their quieter operations elsewhere from the main continents… and those places didn’t have much in the way of defenders of the places on the Crowell and other populated areas, there was going to be enough fighting there to make espionage difficult.  But in the information gathering, Spanac’s intel guy had managed to learn of a battle armor testing facility over here during a hunting trip he took about two months back. The facility supposedly wasn’t heavily guarded by much, some tanks and maybe a platoon or two of troops.  Being somewhere out of the way was a big help with protection and could make a small force that much more dangerous.

 When this was learned of, Spanac decided he didn’t want to be part of some Word of Blake party and that getting his hands on whatever the Lancers and their tech boys were doing with armor might be a better idea.  He’d been impressed by their maintenance and equipment during exercises, with the Phoenix Lancer specific gear being very solidly efficient.  Add in that they also produced some of their own suits rather than buy off planet… gave him the idea to snatch and run.

 Now, doing so would be damn hard… as the overall security of the world was pretty good.  But with the incoming assault on the planet, Spanac figured they could raid the facility, take what they could and find a means of leaving in the chaos. Granted, there was a Warship problem but given the Word was supposed to be the best at it, the prospect of leaving was possible.

 At least a few of the Jump Ships coming in would want to have a paying contract to leave once the Word settled in to beat down the defenders. Anatoli was sure the Renegade Adepts of the Word of Blake could beat these guys.  AS good as the Lancers may be, the Word was as good with a lot better tech to do the job.  Fanaticism was a strong ally and could be a force multiplier.  And the Word of Blake had that in spades.

 Which was also why he wanted out; when allied with fanatics, the possibility of them turning on you for not being fanatical enough for them was always a threat.  And after hearing of some of their acts elsewhere during the Jihad, he was only going to take their coin until he could find something more valuable.  And cutting-edge research on power armor… would be that more valuable thing to someone… be it the Cappellans, Kurita or something on the Periphery.

 When word of the pending attack came to them from an agent off world, Spanac started planning in earnest… and had managed to get his troops loaded under false documents on their ship.  The ship then lifted and stayed low as the warning orders came in about the invasion fleets…. And the chaos that developed from other turncoats doing their things. This kept them from getting too much attention in the ensuing couple of hours as they sub-orbitaled their way to the far side of the planet.

 When they did get noticed, it was far too late for anyone to prevent their flight…. And here they were, on the shore of one of the bays near their eventual goal.

 Spanac knew they only had so much time before someone, or something came looking for them here… and his Drop Ship needed to be pulled under as much of the available tall trees as it could.  Nets could only do so much.

 “Colonel, contact report!” Came the word from his electronics expert who was manning the ground radar unit in the Damocles Rhino.

“What do you have, Sergi?” Spanac replied to the man as he turned to look at him.

 “Recon Drone, bearing 091, about five kilometers out,” came the answer. “It’s flying towards us at about one hundred kilometers an hour and closing. Here in about two minutes.”

 “Noted. Warn everyone…”

  The warning went out within seconds and everything that go to ground did so and the handful of LRM troops got their weapons set and ready to fire.  The Immortals were well trained and by the time the drone arrived, weapons were set to shoot it from the sky….

**

  The drone flew on, its sensors canning the ground below and as it came into range of the defending weapons, the little machine managed to get a fairly good picture of the landing area and the marks on the ground before weapons fire from the defenders opened up on it.

  Within ten seconds, the drone was shot from the sky and a renewed emphasis on the Immortals to get deeper into the woods and a bit of distance from their ship.  The troops knew that there would be more coming but if they could finish camouflaging their ship, it might get missed by other craft looking.

Testudo Complex Operations
0715 hrs

 Justin stood with his father watching the feeds of the drone and whistled slightly when it filmed the landing zone before it was blown from the sky. “I think they aren’t too happy about our drone…”

 Eric shook his head. “No, they weren’t… how soon for the ODA’s to get on location?”

 “Sometime in the next hour,” Justin replied. “Had to get their Kestrel reconfigured. Squad Orange is on their Karnov and enroute to Grey Havens.”

 A nod. “Ok… I want to know when the ODAs are in position to eyeball these guys,” Eric replied. “I need to update whomever is in charge back on Cromwell about all this.”

 Justin looked over to the communications console where Sergeant Heather Coins sat listening to reports from the other side of the world. “Sergeant Coins…”

 Coins, who had been paying attention to her bosses, tapped her console a few times. “Sir… Forbes Center still has operational Control.  Raising them now.  Camera Two.”

 Eric moved on the command dais over to where Camera Two would see him.  When Coins nodded, he spoke. “Forbes Center, Testudo…”

After a moment, a hologram sprung to life and the image of Governor Devine sprang into view. [Devine…]

 “Roy, Eric… We are current on the situation over there. Calling to let you know we have some rats over here now too.”

 [Do you now?] Roy commented as the projection showed him being handed a data pad. [One drop ship, aerodyne style?]

 “Yeah… we had a drone investigate and before it went off-line, showed an infantry carrier ship and a bunch of armored personnel carriers with troops. You should have the imagery now.” Eric informed his old friend. “Our uninvited guests weren’t terribly happy about it.”

 Roy nodded. [Yeah, I imagine they wouldn’t be.  I don’t know what I can send to support you right now; still chaotic here. As you likely know, the space battles are only just finishing and we have problems all over out here. Nothing that can’t be dealt with but it’s going to take time; we are down almost two battalions of combat assets with the Barbados mission. Any counter offensive is a knife’s edge…]

 Eric thought a moment. “I am pretty sure we can deal with them. If it’s only that one ship and its troops, then I know we can manage.” He smiled. “I have more than enough of the battle armor testing units here as well as that new heavy infantry kit. As I didn’t see anything very heavy among them, what I have should work fine. There is nothing big they can grab out there to use- though the garage in Grey Havens has those mothballed J Edgars going through Omni Vehicle conversion; they are light but fast.”

 A frown. [Are they operational?]

 Eric glanced at Justin who held up two fingers and then returned his gaze towards the camera. “Only two. Not enough to be a huge problem but not something I want to lose. Any idea who these guys might be?”

 [Not yet though I will have someone check the list of known units on Centarus and get that information to you…] Roy said. [These guys chose the wrong people to stab in the back, Word assistance or no…]

Eric smiled. “And this unit chose the wrong place to go solo. Most of our experiments are ready for live testing…”

A chuckle. [Nice of them to volunteer for you, Eric] Roy laughed. [I will see what can get sent out your way if you think you’ll need it fast.]

 Eric shook his head. “Right now, I think we have what we need… though I may need some additional security troops.  I only have about sixty combatants here not counting staff and prisoners use up human assets. What other people are here are not exactly all soldier types. Backwoods Militia sorts, sure… but I think we need regulars.”

 [Noted… and I will see who we can shake loose. Should have an answer in an hour or two- most of the initial engagements ongoing are slowing down and assets can be allocated better,] Roy answered. [It’s mostly been battle mech fights; infantry has been playing clean up and securing specific areas.]

A nod. “About what I figured…  We’ll manage for a few days, I think. But sooner I know if I have additional forces coming, the better.”

 [Will do, Eric.] Roy said. [When the situation irons out here, I or Diane will contact you.]

“Ok.  I’ll be waiting…” Eric answered. “This attack took some balls…”

[It did… and Diane is looking to cut more than few off right now.  Updates soon. Forbes clear.]

“Testudo clear.”

Legends and Myths Eighty Two- The Storm: Welcome to the Shire

 As the assaults were ongoing over on the populated side of the world, the areas on the far side, collectively known as the lands of Tolkien, named after a famous writer of 20th Century Earth by the original settlers, was largely left alone.

 As one of founding settlers had put it, “These lands seem to be similar in scope to the places in those books; the continent even looks like the map of those places- though more trees. Be a shame to wreck them…” It was this sentiment that partly kept everything localized to the five continents most of the population was in currently. That and the need for easy access to the primary sites used for landing for equipment or normal needs.

 As such, the areas of Tolkien stayed predominately pristine.  More than a few small settlements were to be had out here over the centuries- though most of them remained small and low impact. There was no civilian industry other than Tourism to speak of out here either; the founding fathers electing to keep such on the continents of Cromwell, Forbes and Johnson, with Ashton serving as the resource hub, rich as it was in minerals and ores. That said, anything needed for construction was taken from one area nicknamed Mordor, for the stone here was dark and foreboding… even the control tower for the shuttles moving ores from here was stylized as if from the books.

  All major industry that left scars upon the land became localized to this area.  Doing so helped keep the rest of the continent clean of pollution and remaining as natural as possible.  Despite the dirty industry that covered the area known as Mordor, efforts were made to mitigate as much as possible.  These efforts were successful in the long run- despite the dingy dark appearance of the area, it was no more polluted than anything on Cromwell or Ashton.  You could live there… though as dingy as it was, why would you…

 All in all, this side of the planet was under-populated, with at most ten thousand people spread throughout the continent; in the almost three hundred years since planetfall, it remained that way. This was not to say that the planetary rulers didn’t use anything over here. On the contrary, there was many labs and research facilities located in the various places out here. Many of them dealt with electronics or refinement of various systems used in civilian or military gear.  Most of the sites entered and exited mothball status over the years, as the various companies required their use.

 One site was one long associated with the military side of things.  Testudo Base, a mixed training and research complex, sat in a low hills region of the continent labeled the Shire and it was a site that specialized in the research of battlefield electronics.  Given that the Lancers had long been able to maintain their command computers and comms gear, special attention had been given to manage their refinement and when possible, expand their utility.

  A secondary role of the facility was the refinement of recon drones, remote systems and battle armor.  Much of the observation equipment used in the various training ranges got it start here as a concept and experimented with before seeing deployment at them or on a mission off world.

 The Battle Armor Testing Facility was a newer portion of the facility with its activation just after the Jihad concluded. Since that time, it had seen quite a bit of use, with testing of light power armor such as the Nighthawk suits of the Blood Spirits tactical teams and the recent acquisition of several Clan elemental suits from the Trial last year, claimed as salvage.  The Lancers had several of the older suits from missions years past but with some of the advances in Clan technology, these newer examples were being dismantled for inspection and potential lessons for refining existing suits.

 The Complex, being as unobtrusive as it was, was not heavily guarded with battlemechs. Indeed, the head of the facility was not a fan of those machines and preferred regular armor units or battle armor as defensive means. Between the electronics available to him at the facility, the utility of all the various units of powered armor for security troops and the easy obscurement of the armored company stationed here, it was felt there was plenty of defenses should anyone come calling. It also helped that many a Special Operations detachment trained out here, and at any given time, there was four of them doing something.

 Anything Battlemech related that attacked here would regret it, or so the facility commander had assured Colonel Tinney when assuming command.  Between harassment by the complex’s multiple battle armor teams plus the extensive drone systems assigned here, anyone stupid enough to come assaulting wouldn’t last long.

 Besides, assigning battlemechs here made the place a bigger target than it needed to be.

Testudo Complex operations
The Shire, continent of Tolkien
0350 Local time 08 December 3080 (1550 Landing time 07 December)

 Chief Warrant Officer Five Eric Harvie woke with a startled jump by the base alarms. “Goddamnit…” he swore as he looked at the clock on the wall. “You’d think they’d have a drill during the damn day?” Getting up, he hit his communication button on the night stand as he also turned on a light. “Harvie to operations…”

Within a second, the voice of his son Justin was heard. [Dad, this isn’t a drill,] The calm laid back attitude of Chief Warrant Officer Three Justin Harvie belied the seriousness of what was happening elsewhere. [The system is under attack and Governor Sodher-Schaller has declared an alert planet wide.] Justin was obviously in early or just hadn’t gone to bed yet.  Either was likely with his son…

Pausing as he was pulling on pants, Eric questioned his son. “Sodher-Schaller? Where’s Tinney or McCormack?”

 [Uncle John left with Khan Hollister for the reclamation mission to Barbados a few months ago and Leslie should be on Alshain by now as a guest of the Ghost Bears.] Justin replied. [This is why he missed the fishing trip two months ago… or don’t you remember?]

 Eric could hear the half smile in his son’s voice, the question being a gentle chiding over his habit of losing track of the universe when neck-deep in a project. “Yeah yeah… I remember. I think… Never mind,” He replied to his son. “Who’d being stupid enough to attack us through a warship fleet?” He at least remembered the Star League era warships that had come with the Wolverines last year. And how could he forget those…

 If there was one thing he shared as an interest with Lieutenant Colonel McCormack, it was a love of old military things. The deep detailed tour she had scored for him of their Texas class for his birthday was the best gift he ever gotten from anyone.

[Apparently the Word of Blake is….] His son replied. [And they have brought warships of their own.  They are apparently getting help from assets on planet currently. Apparently, there was enough deep cover agents to blow up the HPG station over in Kensington Park.]

 Eric stopped dead as he pulled on his boots. “What?”

 [Dad…. I wish I was wrong.]

 A sigh. “Ok, let Auburn Command know we are awake over here; I’ll be over in a bit.” He said. “Anything coming our way?”

[No one sees anything just yet but who knows?] Justin replied. [Lieutenant Montgomery thinks there was something that landed over near Lune Gulf. Auburn Command thinks it might be a unit that was already here. Something infantry based…. They are working on it.]

 Eric, for the first time since he was woken up with the alarms, smiled. “Oh this is not going to be good if they did… for whoever it is.” He said. “See you in three minutes.”

[Ok dad…] Justin said and ended the call.

**

 Some five minutes later, Eric entered the operations center for the complex and looked at the holographic displays on the far side of the room.  Unlike the main operations center over on the main continent, this center had several systems they didn’t. Given free reign to customize and optimize this place, Eric had worked with his son to update everything in this facility.

  High-end computers, holographic displays of various sizes… a number of the holographic systems were of the sort one found on Star League ships and in some of the old facilities discovered on the planet.  All of what was here was reverse engineered by himself and Eric was rather proud of the results.  That they were now being tested by an invasion… well, he was about to see how well they worked in a real situation. He had updated some of Auburn Command Center systems last year and he was sure they were working just fine. But he had the full suite here… and as near as he could tell looking around the Ops Room, every single system was working just fine.

  Looking over to his son, Eric walked over next to him and held out a hand.  Justin deposited a data pad into it.

 “Ok dad… we are seeing the same data Auburn is in real time…” Justin explained. “Just as you modeled it, everything seems to be working as it should.  Forbes Center just went online; we don’t have the same feeds from there but as long as Auburn is operational, we got it.”

 Eric looked at the data pad then around at the screens. “This is good,” he replied. “Anything on that blip?”

 Justin looked over to his right and lifted a hand control.  Clicking a button, one of the displays changed to show a representation of the Gulf of Lune.  On it, a series of dots with labels appeared. “A dropship landed on the coastal plain there about a minute ago… It isn’t ours or anyone claiming to be allied.” He said. “I requested a proper satellite pass… and I sent a drone to go look.”

 “Any idea who?”

 “Nope.”

 Eric pondered on a course of action…. And decided on one. “Ok… who can we get out there? I would like some eyes on the ground looking.” He asked

 Justin looked at one of the other screens and pointed. “First and Seventh Operational Detachments and Squad Orange of the Canis Pugnax with their Rottweiler suits… call it an hour?”

Eric nodded. “Do it… The faster we know what they have shown up with, the more we can do something about it. I don’t expect much help from Auburn; judging by that display, they have enough problems…” He said as he pointed at a holographic display showing the situation on the other side of the planet. “If the unannounced guests are infantry based, we can deal with it on our own.”

Legends and Myths Eighty One- The Storm: Suzail and the mail…

City-Walk Time Share complex

Port City of Suzail Harbor district Southeastern Cromwell

0551 Hours 09 December 3080

 Trinity entered the small apartment in the time share she had gotten years ago. It was a thing she had gotten on a lark, the harbor area of Suzail being something of a tourist draw with its restaurants and shops along with a pair of museums. With the invasion, these places would likely be empty as anyone not in the militia would be home prepping to run if need be. It was kept stocked with some stuff, a long term agreement for dry goods to be resupplied had been made when she got it. She had figured then that if she was using it, she’d likely not be in the mood to be shopping for much. And considering why she was now here, that forethought was smart.

 On the way down, she had managed to acquire an older sedan at a rest area south of Hilp.  The previous owner of the sedan and its contents had been a member of the Centarus Militia, on his way north to his unit. He was obviously running late, which worked in her favor. Trin ambushed him as he was exiting the rest room with a fire extinguisher over the head and had dragged him into a utility closet after tying him up. She was pretty sure he’d be found eventually- he had still been breathing when she left with his car…

 A car she eventually ditched in a car park outside of the city and as a result, hoofed it across town to here.  After getting to the complex, she made a point to observe the area for a good half hour to see if there was any abnormal security presence before heading to her time share. Not for the first time, she silently was glad for how digital everything was for accessing places.  Either through apps or via keycode.  This place was via keycode as not everyone wanted to have electronic leashes like smart coms and the like with them.  Tablets were usually the other option but considering she’d not had one in over a year…. She was simply glad she remembered the code.

After relocking the door, the now-brunette woman made a point to clear the apartment before even remotely relaxing. The ride down had been stressful, and she had managed to find a station on the radio that had something approaching updated news.  And what she had heard was both good and not good…

 As far as the public news was concerned, the local space lanes were completely secure as the Blakist fleet had been defeated for the most part. A chunk of them had managed to land forces in places on the more populated places on planet and one had dropped on the sparsely populated side of the world. The news program had mentioned Auburn Command had no comment on the turncoat units on planet other than they were units under the employ of the Word of Blake.  That so many had managed to get on world had to be a vexing thing for her uncle.  There would be a reckoning for the vetting teams when this was over, she was sure.  And she was glad it wasn’t her.

 Trinity had enough trouble of her own with being an escapee.  The package she sent her father should be reaching him by today maybe or tomorrow most likely.  Having all that intel might mitigate some anger at her for running; while her father held grudges, she was still his daughter.  Family was of huge importance to him… which could buy her a reprieve, if caught.

 She had no illusions she would get caught eventually- as much as she ridiculed Planetary Security, they were capable… and they would have incentive to be better than they were because of the invasion. But with an invasion using all resources to fight, as long as she wasn’t stupid, she would manage to evade being caught.  And she was by far not stupid.

  Searching through some of the drawers in the space, she noted nothing seemed to be amiss. Good, she thought. Dry goods are fine, some of the canned stuff is still within dates… just need some milk. Closing up the pantry, Trinity then went into the far closet and after grabbing a step ladder, reached up to a corner above the door and grabbed a small pull ring that was there. With a tug, she popped open the panel then reached inside to grab a small box.  Stepping down with the box, she took it to a table and opened it up. Contained within was several stacks of planetary currency and two credit chits.

  Looking at the names on the chits when she removed them, she noted the one name was compromised and replaced it in the box. The other was, to her knowledge, still clean and she pocketed that. Two sets of identity papers were also in the box, and she took the set that matched the credit chit she pocketed.  Taking a pack of the currency, she replaced the lid on the box and then returned it to the hiding place in the closet.

  With a deep breath, Trinity settled her nerves and moved into the bedroom with her pack. Setting the pack on the ground next to the low bed, she sat on the bed and after kicking off shoes, attempted to relax.  A few hours of sleep were needed before she attempted to check on passage to one of the offshore islands where she knew she could disappear for a good while.  She had money and her wits… that would be good enough for now.

 What she didn’t have was allies anymore.  By leaving the path set out for her by her WoB contact, she had successfully blown that potential link.  When she didn’t arrive in the occupied areas, that charge on the bike was gonna blow, she was sure… and there would be investigations by Security.  With any luck, the package she sent her father would add to the chaos… and in it, she’d continue to avoid notice.

  I have to be crazy, she thought to herself as she lay down. Between Dad and the Word, avoiding BOTH is going to be a bitch… but if one is hunting the other and the other is trying to dodge the one, I’ll be fine… At least I have enough cash for three months, four if I scrimp. By then, off world passage should be doable.

Postal Service Sorting Area,

Housing Area of Phoenix Lancers Main Compound

2133hrs 09 December 3080

 The Postal Service of Centarus was still working even while the fighting was going on all over the world.

 Albeit they were doing so with reduced staff as some of their number were reservists but they were still working.  This night saw the pick ups from the night before that finally get processed for future delivery and it was during this process when the padded envelope for Major Farquharson was noted to have a tear that revealed the interior of the parcel. It needed to be either sealed up or repackaged before it would continue its way to its destination. So, the package was set aside for repacking. About an hour later, the tech assigned for such work arrived at her work station and started processing the handful of items here.  When she got to this piece, she looked a little closer at the names on the package prior to placing it in the new external bag for it.

  Mail Technician Connie West was a retired SecFor sergeant-major and despite being gone from active duty for a few years, had remained in the loop as most retired senior enlisted sorts (at least those who reached higher command ranks) did on important events, especially events that were not public knowledge or involved names of infamous residents. Infamous residents… like the name of an incarcerated Lancer family member. Such things tended to stick out for her, and this package’s return name stuck out.

 When she saw the name of said incarcerated Lancer Family member (who she knew was missing) as the return name on the parcel as well as who it was to, a mental lightbulb went off.  Looking into the envelope through the tear, she could see part of a map with markings.  Seeing this, her blood got cold; Connie knew she had something huge here… and that it needed to be acted on fast.  Lifting a phone off the desk next to her, she quick dialed a number from memory.  When the call was answered, she spoke. “Evening Sergeant Jenson, its Connie West over at Parcel Facility Five; who’s the duty officer for the Spooks?”

  After a few moments of listening, she continued. “Jenson, I know there is a war on, but I’ve got something pretty fucking important her-” She started to say when she was interrupted.  After another few seconds, she cut him off. “Hold Up… SERGEANT Jenson; You WILL shut up a hot second or I WILL come over there and my retired Sergeant Major boot will be tickling your fucking tonsils…”

 When she had his attention, she continued. “You will notify the Duty Intel Officer that there is an ITEM of CONCERN over at Parcel Sorting Facility Five and they might wanna bring a team. I think its THAT important…. I will be leaving the item alone until they get here and it will be under guard.….” After a few more moments of listening to Jenson respond, West finished. “Very good, Sergeant Jenson. I will be awaiting their arrival.”

 Hanging up, West reached into her lunch pail and drew out a pistol.  Placing it in her waistband, she next called her supervisor. “Joe,” She said when he answered the phone, “We got a problem over here; I already called Ops and they are sending a team….”  Connie listened to her supervisor talk for a few moments before answering. “One of the packages separated for repacking…. Is the item in question. Recognized something with the addresses and well… a closer exam tells me it’s a problem. Not a boom kind though.”

  A few seconds of silence from her as she listened to her supe. “No… no evacuation needed. But I will say shut down anything coming here. I’m sitting on this until they get here. And send Mikey; I can use a bit of backup I trust. I’m THAT worried…”

 She hung up a few seconds later.  While Connie trusted most of her fellow workers in this area, she was no fool.  Having another person here with her till the Intel idiots showed up would be a good thing in case there was a mole or fifth columnist here. And she wanted someone she *knew*.  If that map was what she thought it was and who sent it actually sent it… this was something big.

Very big…

Legends and Myths Eighty- The Storm: Khon Kaen’s Pre Drop Briefing (guest story)

Fortress Class Dropship Apocalypse

Zenith Jump Point

1500 Hours 10 December,3080

   The makeshift conference room was so silent that you could hear the sounds of the tech using heavy equipment in the deck under them. A holographic projector showed a three-dimensional image of a small space port, switching points of view from overhead to different cardinal directions.

   Hauptmann-Kommandant Adam Francis Pryme began the planning meeting with a simple statement, “Where do we stand with troops?”

  Kommandant Lori Spector began giving her briefing. Lori was the vision of a Valkyrie, tall statuesque with sandy blonde hair and pale green eyes that could be as gentle as her smile or as intimidating as her scowl. Rumor had it that she once stared down a clan elemental who was in full battle armor. “Two companies of the Legion Battlemech Battalion are aboard the Overlord dropship Armageddon; the rest of the berths have the mechs of the Close Assault Group and the 99th Pursuit Squadron.  The Headquarters Company, my Battalion Command Lance, the 718th Armor Company and the battle armor plus the transports of the Close Assault Company are aboard this dropship.”

    The Kommandant paused for a second, “The Lion dropship Tantalus has the Infantry, armor and battlemechs of the Fire Support Cohort. And of course, the Overlord A-3 Dante’s Limbo is ready with the 36th Interceptor Squadron.  The rest of the Legion is on standby one jump away.  Their dropships are grounded, but they can be at this jump point 3 days after the message is received, the ‘black box’ devices add 30 hours to that estimate.

  The Jump ship Mekstet is on standby charged and ready. SecOps Group Company 3 of the Battlemech Battalion, the 642nd Armor Company and Omega Trinary are running in-house training cycles to keep the troops busy and are ready to go. Both the Czar dropship Shangra La and the Dictator dropship Purgatory will be fueled and ready for launch when ready.”  Spector sat and it was now Pryme’s turn to speak,

 “According to our hosts, the Grey Bolts are, rather, were, apparently secretly working with WoB forces. The Grey Bolts then landed under false pretenses and stabbed them in the back, similar to the way Waco’s Rangers stabbed the Dragoons in the back.  They apparently had the mission to secure a small spaceport.”  There was some murmuring amongst the various commanders which Pryme quieted with a slap of his hand on the table. “If the Wobbies need that spaceport and the Grey Bolts have it, I want it!  Are there any questions?”

    Hauptmann Andrew Garland spoke first. He was a tall muscular man of North American African descent. His dark tan skin showed the scars of battle. “Sir, why do we have to solve their problem?”  As commander of the Close Assault Group, he knew that his troops would probably be in the thick of the fighting, if not the first to go in. He relished a good fight but had long since learned to have a good reason to fight.

    Adam took a moment to ponder the question before answering.  The various commanders looked on as he began, “We have a mission,” he said slowly. “Our job is to get ships and supplies back for the Lyran Alliance; the Mercenary Review Board has already declared the Grey Bolts a rogue unit.”

Every person in the room shuddered. Being Declared a Rogue Unit was analogous to being excommunicated from the Catholic Church. For the unit it meant that there was a bounty the head of the commander and others who committed grave crimes, and that their equipment was subject to immediate confiscation, if you had the ability or the firepower to do so. Being declared rogue was the last step into piracy.

 Pryme continued, “As we know, The Grey Bolts broke contract then stole Alliance dropships and supplies. Their unit is rogue because of the death and destruction they caused doing it. Furthermore, this means there is a bounty on their heads and the battlemechs they now pilot are considered stolen property and now the rightful property of whoever can take them.” Pryme paused to let that sink in; most of the units mech warriors did not own the mech that they piloted. To claim one or more as salvage was like winning the Star League Lottery.

 “Sooooo”, Pryme continued, “If they win this battle against the Wobbies, I don’t think they’ll let us have either our property or the Grey Bolts. As I see it THEIR problem is OUR problem… In addition, should we be successful for this, the Lancers will indemnify, all repairs for our equipment. People,” he said with a smile, “If we’re successful, we get all damage repairs free from the Phoenix Lancers, paid by the Alliance plus a percentage of the cargo for the recovery of the dropships, paid by the MRBC for the Grey Bolts bounties and all the equipment or salvage owned by them is ours to do with as we wish.”

  Pryme leaned forward and put both hands on the table. “One mission, one fight we have to make no matter what and three clients will pay for the mission we’re supposed to be on anyway. Are there any other questions?”

    The subcommanders looked at each other and then looked to their commander for direction. Pryme smiled, “OK then, unit commanders- we undock in one hour, unless things change. We will go with our preplanned operation, the mechs of the Close Assault Group will make a low altitude combat drop onto the Grey Bolts AO from the Overlord, which will be the last to land. All three dropships will land as close as possible the Fortress will land first and give initial artillery support while we offload, but then all dropships will lift off to an elliptical orbit standing by until needed.

 Fire Support Group will take over artillery support and your infantry will move into a position to form a defensive perimeter for the LZ.” Hauptmann Kristin Barracano nodded, her unit contained three OBK 10M Obakemono artillery mechs, each capable of launching two Arrow-IV missiles every ten seconds. She would load two of them with standard rounds and the third with target acquisition rounds to be guided by the SPT N2 Spartan battlemechs in the two legion battlemech battalion companies.

 “Kommandant Spector, inform Commodore Thompson that his dropship and the 36th Interceptor Squadron will take a patrol circuit above the combat zone and deal with any blockade runners and that the 99th Pursuit will be providing CAP over our operations zone and contact our liaison officer for the latest aerial vids of the drop zone.  With my compliments.”  Kommandant Spector nodded to acknowledge. “Once grounded we will advance at best possible speed will relieve you. Hauptmann Garland, your battle armor and vehicles will be the first to disembark so they should reach the edge of the objective just as you drop in. The rest of the battalion will standby, and the Battalion Command Lance and my Headquarters Company will move to act as a reserve unit.  Are there any questions?

 Hauptmann Barracano spoke, “Sir, I hate saying this but what if the Wobbies show up?”

 All the officers present stopped and looked to Pryme. As he looked around him, he knew they just wanted him to say what none of them wanted to admit.  “I’m not looking for another fight with the Wobbies” He said slowly, “if they get in the way, then they’re standing on the train tracks and we are going to give them two choices, run away …………. Or get run over!”

Legends and Myths Seventy Nine- The Storm: Complications

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

0439 hours

 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.

 “That bad?”

 “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.”

Legends and Myths Seventy Eight- The Storm: Riposte Four

Western areas of the Central Divide

Approx. 100 kilometers west of the Drazi-Zathras road and 50 kilometers north of Delta Third

1435 hrs local 09 December 3080

 Major Barry Borton pressed the button on the music player he had installed on the upper wall of his Orion’s cockpit, ending the Mozart that had been playing as his company moved to the expected battle area. The ON2-K was a custom machine, a solid rework of the ON1-K but with completely modernized equipment such as the Streak launcher, Light Barrel cannon and ECM complimenting the double heat sinks. A lighter skeleton had been used to reinforce the machine, the endo-steel replacing portions of the structure that had become compromised over the near four centuries of use it had seen.

 That this machine was the oldest platform in the regiment (the serial number of its original 1-K frame being in the low forties) and piloted by the oldest MechWarrior in the regiment… the good-natured poke at his age was not lost on him. Hell, the average age of everyone in his company was fifty…  But like most things old in this regiment, if it was here it was still serviceable and capable.

 And that adage was about to get proven yet again.

 The command channel pinged and he answered it. “Borton…”

 [Barry… I suspect our foes have been waiting for us to arrive,] the measured diction of the other older mech warrior among his company, Captain Linton von Beroldingen, came across the speakers.  Linton, nicknamed Graf due to the Von in his name and his German lineage that went all the way back to the state of Hesse in the original Germany on Terra) served as Barry’s exec in the company and something of a dry counter to Barry’s sometimes pointed commentary. [I also suspect our waiting for everyone to use facilities before we left might have something to do with it…]

 “Hey, listen… when you gotta go, you really should go,” Barry cracked back, a smile on his face. “And its not like they didn’t know we were coming.”

 [This is true.  Seventy Ton machines tend to resonate the ground some and we have almost a company of them.] Graf replied. [Judging by their markings and equipment, I do not believe they are going to be overly impressed by us.]

 Barry looked at the tactical displays. “No, I imagine they won’t be, Graf. At least we outweigh them…” The enemy force in front of them was a mixed bag of machines, sporting the colors of the Ronin- a pseudo merc force the Phoenix Lancers had sparred with in the past.  Two clan machines- a Viper and a Hellbringer, were supported by a pair of Trebuchet and on the field more or less opposite his command lance was a full lance of Jenners.  The enemy left was a Warhammer, a pair of Daikyu and a Marauder… and judging by the big ass guns on the arms, it looked like that heavy PPC variant Farquharson faced last year. Great…. He thought as he tightened his seatbelts. “And I’m not sure if weight is gonna matter.”

**

1530 Hours

 Barry throttled back as the last of the enemy Jenners ran, one of them nosed into the ground after it got picked off by a slug from his Light Barrel and a volley of missiles.  Assessing his command, he shook his head at the punishment they took… and the extra punishment they dished out.

 On the right flank of his line, the lance of Captain Hera Somers in her Hercules, the rest being a Caesar, Cataphract and a Royal Warhammer had stared down the enemy heavy lance, advancing into the face of the heavy fire coming from them. The two sides exchanged shots through the light woods and hills of that area and neither had really scored terribly much against the other until their Marauder had scored a pair of hits to the leg of Bravo Lance’s leader Sanchez Hachiman and his Helios, who had strayed within line of sight to enemy heavy.

 Twin heavy particle cannon had removed its leg and dropped the lighter heavy to the ground.  However, Sanchez was not out of the fight- the gauss rifle of his machine, mounted in an arm, eventually was instrumental in putting down the Marauder after it had been worked over by the Warhammer and Cataphract of Hera’s Alpha Lance

 Sanchez’s Bravo lance, the only difference between them and Alpha was his machine, had not fared nearly as well. It had suffered an early loss of his lance’s Cataphract to a large amount of long range missile fire removing a leg, a freak instance of a limb being blasted off from internal damage. But it did not prevent the others from giving what they got.

  Cookie Bastardi in her Warhammer had weathered the fire from the two enemy Trebuchet and reached the hill they were hiding behind. Standing above them, she shook off their close-range fire and delivered a devastating volley at one before planting her mech’s foot in the head assembly of the other.

Barry’s command lance had squared off against the Jenner force and it turned into a big mess.  As his lance spread out some, with Graf in his Royal Thunderbolt anchoring his right, the quartet of enemy lights bore into his force and mad a beeline for him. Bill Grover in the Papa variant of the Modest Motorworks version of the Orion tried like hell to hammer them on their way in, his light particle cannon scoring a targeting computer guided hit to one but it wasn’t enough.

  Three Jenners laid into his mech and when the smoke cleared, Barry was still standing. The fourth Jenner had picked a fight with Jack Sprat in his Grasshopper and discovered that was a mistake- the highly accurate pilot blasting away armor over the enemy machine’s SRM ammunition- which set it off in spectacular fireworks fashion.

  The Viper and Hellbringer engaged Bravo’s Caesar and failed to do much to it. Graf slipped over to cover him and between the two, brought down the larger of the two Clan-spec machines. The Viper darted between targets, eventually getting tripped up from damage received as it raced among them. The pilot had issues getting up and away from being shot at, taking some more fire as it raced away from the very messy scrum that had developed.

 The three Jenners had tried to maneuver to drag him down, but his old Orion simply shrugged off the damage. In the process, Sprat and Grover maneuvered in and ripped up two of the enemy lights.  This, combined with the carnage on the other side of the front, caused the enemy light machines to run. When Graf finished off the Hellbringer, it was the punctuation that spelled the collapse of their battleline.

 Over on his far right, Hera and company had punched through the lance facing hers with gusto.  As the last of their forces on that side fell to her lance’s guns, they began to reorient themselves to face anything coming from the center.  And nothing did, as Graf moved past the downed Hellbringer to help Bastardi bring down the other Trebuchet.

 Barry, after musing over the winding down of the battle, snapped out of his reverie and called over the battalion net. “Auburn Command, Three Alpha Six…”

[Three Alpha Six, Auburn Command…] Came back the reply from far to the east.

“Auburn Command…  The Grumpy Old People own the field. Follow on can come in to secure prisoners and the scrap.”

A chuckle over the line. [Three Alpha, we copy you kicked them off the lawn.  Security troops and recovery equipment will be dispatched.]

 “Three Alpha copies follow on enroute. We’ll be here…  Three Alpha clear.” Barry answered and switched to the Company band. “Everyone… round them up and ride herd till the MP’s get here.  There are still two Jenners and a Viper running around; they might have something to say about our taking prisoners.”

 One he got acknowledgements, he then relaxed some.  He was getting too old for this shit. Maybe after the Blakists were kicked off world again, he’d pack it in. Until then, he’d keep doing this.  At least the Lancers had a retirement plan…

Legends and Myths Seventy Seven- The Storm: A quick meeting

Conference Room of the SLS Mustafa

1949 hours local, 09 December 3080

  Tinney stood at the viewport of the conference room awaiting the incoming guest.  When the Marines boarded the Charon, the captain of that jump ship explained in detail who they were carrying.  An impromptu meeting between the commander of the unit on board and the Marine Captain followed by a com-call… set up this most unusual contract discussion.

 Hollister sat at the table off to the side and commented. “Are you sure of this?”

 Tinney answered without looking. “About as sure as anything else in the universe, John. I mean… who would have thought the Blakist bastards would have tried this stunt?” he said. “Based on what Diane told me in her report, they are contained but not fully.  We can take ‘em with what we have on planet but it will be a slog… and take time.  This Khon Kaen Legion group seems almost too perfect a solution, but their initial info reads legit. And possibly cut down some of the time for the major ops to be completed.”

 Hollister shook his head. “I agree… fortuitous appearance on their part,” He replied. “That their information matches what we have from PMM over in Woodbine helps their case. I’m not sure meeting him in this fashion is smart though.”

 Tinney looked back at his friend. “Maybe not… but down on a planet? If they are questionable, down there is not a good idea… Out here, they can be contained.” He shook his head. “Callahan will blow them out of space if they are frauds.”

 A chuckle. “That he will…” Hollister’s data pad pinged and he looked at its message. “It would seem our guest has arrived. Two persons…”

 Tinney turned to face the entryway in order to greet their guests….

**

 Pryme and his exec, Lorraine Spector, strode through the passageways escorted by a trio of Marines. Both mercenary officers were sans weapons which admittedly made the older warrior feel a bit naked. His exec wasn’t feeling much better, though that she still had her bodice knife was a thing. The marine that had searched her had missed it in among her cleavage.  Not that a stiletto would do much, of course, but it was still a weapon.

 The two mercs were quiet as they followed the marine in front of them. Pryme noted the alertness of the crewmen as they were encountered and their overall politeness in interactions. Impressive, he thought. But when you have a big gun, being polite isn’t all that hard…

 Coming out onto the bridge deck, they in turn were politely escorted to the conference room off to the side of the deck.  The door opened to reveal a small conference room with two persons in it.  Both older men, with the one, a bald man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, standing on the opposite side of the table within. He, like the other man in the room, was clad in a Star League style combat uniform with name tapes attached. Both wore the rank of Colonel though the man seated also had a Khan’s rank. Well that’s damn odd… he thought as he came to a stop just short of the table. Lorraine did likewise.

 “Welcome to the Mustafa, Colonel Pryme,” the bald man said as he offered a hand across the table. “Sorry for the conditions of this meeting but circumstances… My associate, John Hollister, Khan of Clan Wolverine.”

 Pryme smiled slightly as he took the offered hand. “No worries, Colonel Tinney and pleasure to meet you, Khan Hollister. A pleasure to meet a Myth.” He smiled a bit wider. “Given what I’ve learned about what’s gone on so far, I completely get all the precautions. This is my Exec, Lieutenant Colonel Lorraine Spector,” Pryme replied, indicating his companion. “I’m not sure I’d do much different, at least if I had the shipping you have.” A wave of the hand at the accommodations and the ship as a whole. “A Black Lion like this is a relic. A very functioning one, obviously… but a relic.”

A low chuckle. “Yeah, it is… a very functioning one, too. Please be seated.” Tinney said as he too sat.  When Pryme was seated along with Spector, he continued. “As you are very aware, the system right now is in a bit of flux.  More planet side than anything… and one of our problems seems to be something of interest to you. Correct?”

 Pryme nodded. “Yessir…  a command known as the Grey Bolts. They were on Khon Kaen about nine months ago when a trio of supply dropships went missing. They were last seen in their company as the unit boosted for their jump ships.” He informed the Lancer leader. “My government was rather pissed, shall we say, as the supplies on those ships were meant to be surplus supplies; Khon Kaen had only recently rebuilt from the Jihad invasion by the Circinus Federation. For once, someone was far thinking and to lose it like that….” He shrugged. “Well, there was some angry voices. And my force was sent to either get them back, dispense some punishment or both.”

 Tinney glanced at Hollister, who was consulting the datapad in front of him.  At the Wolverine leader’s nod, he spoke. “According to Khan Hollister,” he indicated the Wolverine leader who looked up with a slight smile.” What we can verify from the data we have from a news archive, your story about the assault and the retaking of Khon Kaen checks. As does your overall mission, as per the March command notes we have.” He paused some and leaned back in a chair. “This indicates to me, on the face, that your story is likely truthful.  I’m pretty happy about that…”

 Leaning forward, he continued. “This also leads into what we know about the Grey Bolts. Our records on them are spotty… but several times over the last ten years, the Lancers have had interactions with them on a combat level or as part of an overall mission we were part of. There is a short period prior to their appearance here on planet we don’t have information on.  That period seems to correlate to what happened on Khon Kaen.” A pause. “As to how they got here, given history… they said all the right things to our negotiators”

 Spector nodded in understanding. “Which is why this little meeting…  Face to face is harder to spoof and its why you asked for me to be here with him.” She said carefully. “If we weren’t truly who we were, one of us would be the clue.”

 Hollister answered her. “Correct. Usually, one of a command pairing has the poker face, as I’ve been told. Stories that are false will have a point in them that a ‘tell’ will show. Neither of you are displaying any…. Which indicated you are either excellent actors or there is no duplicity here.” The man’s face was completely calm, as if he was discussing the weather.

 Tinney spoke then. “And if you WERE being duplicitous, this chat would be over damn fast.”

 The two visiting officers looked at each other then back across the table. “Well… we aren’t… and I’m too damn old for such nonsense.” Pryme sighed. “I have a job to do, and this is a damn wrinkle if there was ever one.”

 Spector added. “Understatement…”

 Tinney nodded. “It is… and I am choosing to believe you both.  I would also like to offer you a chance to continue your mission.” Reaching over to a data pad on a chair next to him, he picked it up and placed it on the table.  Tapping the screen a few times, he pushed it across the table to Pryme, who lifted it up. “It would seem in their success at their part in the attacks, your quarry has placed themselves in a rather good location for your forces.”

 Pryme handed the pad to Spector as he looked at Tinney. “Good is one of the words I’d use, Colonel Tinney.  Only one though.   One of the others isn’t meant for the negotiating table.” He paused. “How soon can we be involved?”

 Tinney looked at Hollister then back at the Legion commander. “Within a day I’ll wager. If you need to have your troops to land for combat operation prep, it will be longer.”

 Pryme looked at Spector. “Its been a while, but I think we can have someone ready for a combat drop. There is a space port, right?” he asked when she nodded at the combat drop idea.

 “There is,” Tinney replied. “I do not know where their ships went after offload, but it should not be hard to locate them.”

 “Then I suppose we should work out some final details on an adhoc contract,” Pryme said. “We aren’t really mercs but I’m certain some sort of deal can be framed out for this. I somehow don’t think a Gentleman’s Agreement can properly cover this…”

 A low chuckle. “Not really… but for the initial effort, certainly. Use of facilities and such can be discussed later. Our standard compensation is complete repairs post battle as needed; it’s part of our business, after all. Consumables are a different matter and can be discussed later.”

 “Sounds like we have a temporary deal, then,” Pryme replied. “If you do not mind, we have some pre-battle work to be done with whatever information you can get us for planning.”

  Tinney nodded. “Of course.  Take the pad with you; it has a good topographical map of Johnson and where the various defense bunkers are- you will know what we think is compromised, at the very least. While we don’t have a full disposition on what the Grey Bolts have, we do know it is at least a reinforced battalion of mechs and armor.”

  Spector commented. “That’s plenty to know… and we’ve had less information,” She looked at the two hosts. “I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to expect us dropping in.”

 Tinney smiled. “That’s the plan, ma’am… your force is likely not known to be so close, if they knew you were coming.  And perhaps, if they did know you were coming, they thought we’d just shoot you first without knowing who you all were.” A shrug. “Not our style.”

  Pryme nodded. “And I am pretty glad it isn’t. By your leave?”

 “Of course…” Tinney replied. “We will be in orbit about four hours after you are back aboard, providing your ship has the fuel.”

  The two officers departed, and Hollister rose. “I should think this will pose a serious surprise for them…” He said. “I have my doubts on all this but its minor ones. Their appearance is a small blessing; the Lancers are a bit stretched and half of our combat power is elsewhere.”

A sigh. “yeah we are… with that battalion out on Barbados, kicking them off would take a far longer time otherwise.  And that’s with your assistance….  Warship bombardment is not something I want to do here if I can help it. I will… but last option. Barbados…. That was to save lives in the end.”

 “Yes it was,” Hollister said. “Do you want me to brief Auburn?”

 “No… I’ll do it,” Tinney said. “I need a better conversation with Diane about what’s going on. I expect we are managing down there but I need to know how well before anything more drastic than this drop happens.”

“Agreed.”

**

 Back aboard the shuttle heading for the Charon, Spector finally spoke. “Adam… that was an incredibly short meeting… Too short.”

 Pryme was quiet for a good minute then answered. “It was… but I think there was a lot learned in it. A heck of a lot…. You noticed they didn’t discuss their assets much and it was business quick?”

 “I did…”

 Pryme sighed. “Unless I am wrong as hell, I think they aren’t as strong as they would like to be right now… and we are a damn gift in that department.” He said. “Yeah, they have these warships and that’s huge. But nothing beats boots on the ground. Nothing… and while my knowledge of the Phoenix Lancers isn’t large, what I know about the Wolverines is a shitton less. If they had the ground ass, they would let us cool heels.”

Lorraine blinked. “What makes you think they don’t? Aren’t they a reinforced Regiment like us? Or better?”

 “Last I knew, they were…” He answered. “But I am thinking part of their assets are elsewhere.  And why would their bosses be on a ship jumping in behind us?” He shook his head. “No… I think those two were on their way back from something… Something large… which has a draw on their combat power. They are good troops, Lor and a strong unit with a killer rep… but if part of their guns aren’t here, that puts a crimp in their fighting plans.  We are that unforeseen opportunity to deal with one of their problems… and are willing to cut any sort of deal right now.”

  He paused. “And whatever contract they DO offer… will likely be pretty damn fair. I know of their refit company; the handful of machines I’ve seen that have gone through their skunk works have all been solid. Sometimes their custom work is not as up-gunned as one might like but every single one has been an improvement in my opinion. And assistance with repairs… that will take heat off our supplies.”

 Lorraine shook her head. “Adam, while that’s a plus, I’m not totally sold on it. I have heard stories of units being beholden to employers via Company Store Syndrome. Are they immune to that temptation?”

A chuckle. “I think so…  Tech Work is cheap compared to replacement of equipment… and they do have a world to resupply from. Reputation is a thing… and they have one to maintain too. Screwing over a Merc unit, much less one like us, would not go over well.” Pryme leaned back into his seat. “I’m thinking we will be fine… and right now, I think we can back-burner the contract thing for now.  The initial offer for complete repair to anything damaged is worth it for us.  Especially as I think its on their dime, I think.”

A chuckle. “I hope you’re right, Boss…”

 “So do I, Exec… so do I.”

Legends and Myths Seventy Six- The Storm: Operation Riposte Three

Western areas of the Central Divide

Approx. 200 kilometers west of the Drazi-Zathras road

0920 hrs local 09 December 3080

 Captain Ben Leisey plodded forward in his repurposed Daishi Widowmaker and assessed the advance of his assault company.  One of the newest companies in the Lancers, Delta Company of Third Mech Battalion was also one of the heaviest. Possessing two of the newest local variants of the Awesome, they were joined by a trio of Warhammers, an Orion, Banshee 5S and Tempest. A Grand Dragon and a pair of Goliaths rounded out the company. It was a lot of beef on the field and the sheer firepower was impressive.

 That they were not a fast company was an issue but when you had the guns they did, speed was not exactly available. The fastest was the Grand Dragon and he functioned as a scout, of sorts, and a harassment machine.  The platform was excellent at it. Ben was fairly certain Warrant Officer Shanice King would be running hard throughout the battle… but given how tough a go Charlie Company had, he had no illusions over how difficult his attempt to push them back was going to be.

  As his company adopted a solid line-abreast formation, Ben looked at the command screen that had been installed last month. The Daishi was NOT a commander’s machine, but it had space for some of the necessary gear to be installed.  Gear which he was now relying on somewhat to manage the battleline. “If I wanted easy…” He muttered to himself as he looked out of the cockpit, “I’d have taken a Marauder…”

Hills above the Ice Eagle Supply Station

Along the Drazi-Zathras Road

0920 hours 09 December 3080

 Master Sergeant Foraker spat a bit of chew juice from his mouth as he looked through the scope of his M18. “Gawdamn are they stupid,” he said quietly to his RTO. “Piss poor security, poor fields of fire, just… poor.”

  What he was describing was the former construction yard the Ice Eagles, the contingent of the invaders occupying this area of the central divide, had occupied as a supply point and minor repair facility. The facility was a good location for it, Foraker gave the attackers that much, with its walls, security fences and larger shelters for its loading cranes being good for what they were using it for. However, the defense positions chosen to secure the place against infiltration by folks like him was shit. Complete shit…

 Clearly whoever thought out this defensive plan here got their job out of a box of crackerjacks… whatever that means.  Foraker looked through his scope one last time then sighed. “Kate, gimme the handset.”

 Specialist Kate Kidney, the copper-and-white-haired comms specialist next to him, handed him the handset. “Here ya go,” she said. “I’m pretty sure everyone is ready by now…”

 A spit of more juice. “Damn well better be….” he replied as he took the handset. Activating the mic after Kate confirmed it was the right channel, he spoke. “Wolverines, Wolverine Six.  Pick your targets and commence firing when the tower idiot drops.”

 When acknowledgements came, he handed the handset back to Kate and picked up his rifle again.  Sighting in on the aforementioned target, he steadied his breathing and counted to himself. Four… three… two…

**

  Standing on the water tower, Trooper Schultz scanned the area, his weapon at the ready.  When his command had come to this world, he had been impressed by the standards of living here of its people.  Growing up on the factory world of Hesperus before entering The Trades, he’d never had much in the way of wealth. Mind you, the life of infantry as a mercenary was never going to make him rich but at least he should be comfortable.

 After coming here, Schultz had come to the realization that maybe he needed to get out of this life. Maybe go House Military… or at least a planetary militia somewhere… and somewhere comfortable. That would be the life… somewhere not to hot, not too cold. As he smiled to himself at the thought, he paused in his scan of the area as a small flash was seen. “What’s that?” He asked aloud as he brought up a set of binoculars to his face.  It was an action he never finished as bullet impacted his face.

 As Schultz fell from the tower, a series of thumps and bangs were heard from the direction of the woods and hills surrounding the camp.  Then a few explosions from the just launched grenades occurred.  Explosions in amongst various supplies and pallets of ammunition set for reloading battlemechs…

 The troops defending the camp, approximately two platoons of troops and assorted techs, did well in responding to the attack.  But it became apparent that the defensive machine guns were in poor locations to return fire. And those locations that were in good locations were brought under fire by the attacking forces.  Many defenders became casualties as more grenades were launched into the camp unhindered by return fire.  This went on for a good eight to ten minutes before the incoming fire slacked off.

 Before long, there was nothing left incoming…. And the defenders, when they realized it, were able to finally get to their wounded and assess the damage from the raid. The damage dealt to the camp was substantial and rendered the supply point non-functional.

**

 Foraker counted heads at the rendezvous point and once satisfied he had everyone, ordered his platoon to move out.  This raid was a success and for that he was glad. Coming into this op, he had doubts as to how well this was gonna work.  Granted, it wasn’t likely that the invaders had many places set up to function as bases and in his mind, Foraker had felt a bunch of grunts wasn’t gonna matter much.  But as the scope of what they were expected to hit became clearer, he changed his mind.

 A platoon of airborne infantry could carry a good amount of firepower.  And in the right circumstance, that firepower could wreck some shit.  These early raids were going to matter; those that came later, probably not so much.  The enemy couldn’t stay dumb forever… and if nothing else, he hoped it wasn’t his platoon that found the smart ones.

Western areas of the Central Divide

Approx. 200 kilometers west of the Drazi-Zathras road

0935 hrs local 09 December 3080

 The two forces clashed in among the foothills of the western front. The Ice Eagles, advancing in a modified phalanx formation, marched forward towards the right side of the Lancer lines.  Colonel Sasha Romanova looked at the data coming in on the command systems of her Black Knight and frowned.

 Ahead of her was an assault lance of Phoenix Lancer mechs- a pair of Goliaths, a Banshee and a Grand Dragon- and she wondered exactly where the rest of their force was. Some sensor blips off to her forward and right but nothing concrete.  Then came the report from her Wasp pilot when he crested a high point.

 Pretty much the rest of their force was strung across the valley and running hard at her flank.  Ordering her troops forward, her hope was to have the Lancers force in front of her fully engaged before the others got here.  Surely, they will close, she had thought at the time.  And when they didn’t, she was puzzled up until that flanking force began to shoot.

 The two Awesomes in her force, both KM variants, unleashed their guns at range but it wasn’t enough of a deterrent. Not nearly enough, as the heavier aspects of the oncoming forces kept coming… and laid into one of her KM’s with a vengeance.  Then other machines from their side started finding their range, starting with that Daishi who ripped Bravo Lance’s Griffin (which had only just returned from the last battle) into a nearly crippled mess.

 Just then, her command channel pinged. “India Echo Lead…”

[Lead, Support Alpha] The voice of her unit’s chief technician, Ivan Armata, was heard. [Sasha, we have a problem.]

 “A little busy here at the moment,” she replied as she snapped shots off at the Lancer Grand Dragon dodging in her sights. “What’s the issue?”

 [We just got raided…  Infantry force just wrecked the forward supply dump] He replied. [It’s done.]

 She blinked. “What do you mean it’s done?” Sasha snapped. “Unless they hit it with a fucking company of battle armor…”

 [Sasha…  they didn’t even TRY to capture it or the winery…] Ivan informed her. [They just blew it to hell and gone. Grenade launchers and sustained marksman fire. Picked off anyone who even remotely had a chance to get to a support gun after they blew up the gun bunkers.] He paused. [The site is fucking matchsticks…]

“Christ!” She exclaimed. “How many dead?”

 [Still figuring that out… but its not pretty.] Ivan commented. [I told you this was a shit contract…]

 “You told me a lot of things, Ivan… things like the fucking Lancers never losing… and I beat them yesterday!” She snarled just as one of her forward mechs, a Phoenix Hawk, got shredded by the Grand Dragon she had shot up.

 [Da, I did… and tell me, Sasha- did you really win or did they just back off?] was his reply. [Remember, we are on their lawn… and with how well you got off last time, I can’t help but think it was a set-up… An expensive one for them but still, a set-up.] Ivan paused then simply said what he was thinking. [Sasha, if you hold them off this time, I can’t fix you for whatever comes next. I can’t… Tell me, are they fighting like last time?]

 Sasha looked at her tactical screens again.  Her right flank was now engaged against the bulk of the attacking Lancer forces, the trio of Warhammers backed by a Tempest riding the left flank of the advancing Awesomes and that damned Daishi. And they were advancing as a wall of death.  The lance in front of her was still holding pat, the two Goliath walkers standing just around the corner of the pass and shooting the crap out of her light-medium forces that tried to get at them.  Their Banshee still sat in his mini bunker, having just laid into Kev Mack’s Thunderbolt, which was supporting her advance lance,with a gauss slug and paired particle cannon.

  It was then that it hit her- the lance in front of her was bait. Mother-fucking bait… and the rest of their force was driving hard to pin her against the damn river gorge. While it wasn’t a trap, it damn sure was a meatgrinder she was walking into. And if she managed to get out of it, her crew would be hard pressed to beat a lance of Locusts, especially without supplies. Anything bigger than that… yeah no. She had gotten fixated and walked right into a damn fire sack. Damn brilliant, really, on their part. And her errors early on made it happen.  Fuck.

 “No, they aren’t… and I fucked up, Ivan.” Sasha replied in a defeated tone.  “I need to end this and hope they honor the white flag. You’re right- we are on their lawn, and they are about to be the Cranky Old Guy with a shotgun.”

 [Sasha… I’m sorry.]

 “So am I, Ivan; so am I,” she said. “See to the wounded… I got a thing to do.”

**

  Ben held his advance up and lowered his reticle onto a Thunderbolt that had walked into view when it paused and a series of white flares began to fire up into the sky. “What the hell?” he said with a surprise and noted several of the enemy machines coming to a stop, weapons pointed away.  His exec, Sgt Major Malloy, pinged him on the side.

 [Cap’n, Malloy…  You might wanna tune over to the Guard channel…] he said. [Otherside is asking for you.]

 “Right…” Ben replied. “Tell everyone to hold fire…” He shifted channels. “Enemy Commander, Go Ahead…”

 [This is Colonel Sasha Romanova of the Ice Eagles…  We are requesting a cease fire and end to hostilities.] came the reply.

Well, I’ll be a… Ben thought. “Colonel Romanova, Captain Benjamin Leisey, Phoenix Lancers. I am willing to entertain that notion, but I strongly suggest everyone on your side powers the heck down…” He said. “Not for nothing… but unless I have full assurances of complete surrender and no live guns over there, I ain’t biting on your request… Ain’t no one gonna trust you guys are being legit otherwise.”

[Captain, I understand…] came the reply. [I’m not about to waste lives or machines when I no longer have a secure rear area to fall back to. Your special forces made that plain.]

 Ben lifted an eyebrow. Special forces? What’s she gettin on about? He thought but didn’t let it show in his response as he rolled with the news. “Colonel… I assure you that there is more than just a Spec Ops surprise out there. If none of you are Word Of Blake, I can assure you the normal procedures between Mercenary Commands where surrenders are concerned will be followed. I will tell you to not expect much outside of three hots and a cot though…”

 Romanova’s reply showed her resignation to that fate. [Captain, considering everything, I didn’t expect anything more than that… We will power down. Romanova clear.]

 Ben watched the machines in his sights power down in place, the machines all coming to a rest and cockpits opening where they could. In one case, there was no hatch to speak of but that pilot stood up in the wreckage that was his machine’s head armor.  This battle was over… and for his second foray in charge, having a win, no matter how weird it came, was rather nice. “Malloy,” he called as he swapped back to the other channel.

 [Cap’n?]

 “Get the security boys here…” He said. “In case you missed it, they are surrendering, and we have some prisoners to secure. And a ton of salvage…”

Legends and Myths Seventy Five- The Storm: Airborne!

Karnov “Lady Lodestar”
Nine hundred meters above Central Divide
Approximately thirty kilometers North of Drazi
0030 hours 09 December 3080

 The Lady Lodestar flew through the night air, its rear ramp open.  A pair of pallets sat in the center of the cargo bay and an assistant load master checked the straps on its parachutes one last time. Four troops were on either side of it in jump seats, lounging as they awaited the word to get ready.  The rest of the platoon was further in the craft, all seated much as the pallet teams were.

 Top of the ramp stood the load master who looked out into the night air, a hand to an earphone.  After a moment, the load master walked forward towards the front of the crafts. Stopping by the lead trooper by the starboard door, he tapped him on the shoulder. When the trooper looked up, the loadmaster (who doubled as the Jump Master) held up five fingers then moved on towards the door and triggered it open.

 The trooper he tapped, Sergeant First Class Anthony (Shade) Sadowski took a deep breath after acknowledging the message. Four minutes, He thought to himself and stretched once before sitting up proper.  Looking back over his stick of troopers, he could only lament over their job tonight and how odd it was.

  Shade was part of the Phoenix Lancers’ infantry contingent, which was made up of a number of disciplines ranging from standard foot to special operations. Right now, he was the acting platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon of Bravo Company, Third Battalion, 173rd Airborne Regiment. And they were about get stuck in for the first time this invasion.

 Paratroops were a rare thing in the late 31st century, with most militaries using one of the tried-and-true forms of grunts or the flashy Jump-pack types for the non-power armored sorts.  The Lancers, being the odd sorts with their lineage and habit for *non-traditional* means of conducting warfare, elected to use maintain units like his in their forces; indeed, they had three battalions of them..  It was rare they deployed anywhere and in his twelve-year career, he had only been off world twice for contracts and had five combat drops (one a near-space HALO drop!) between those contracts.  And in his career, he never expected to be doing a combat drop on his own world.

 And yet, here he was…. And about five minutes from showtime.

 As the side doors opened on both sides of the craft, he could hear the engines change pitch- the pilot settling into a slow stable speed for dumping troops.  Above the doors, a red light snapped on, bright in its glow.  The Load Master turned to face back towards the troops on board the craft.

“FOUR MINUTES. OUTBOARD, STAND UP!” The Loadmaster screamed out and the troops on the outboard positions stood and turned towards the door.

 “INBOARD, STAND UP!” The troops of the inboard of the craft duplicated the movements of the outboard troopers.

“JUMPERS… HOOK UP!” At the command, the troopers clicked the static lines to the central cable that ran the length of the bay to the door.  The troopers by the pallets did the same for the floor snap-rings for the ramp deployment.  Then they hooked their lines to the center cable that ran to the back ramp. They would be following the pallets when they rolled out.

“JUMPERS…. CHECK STATIC LINES!” All the troopers checked the lines that ran from the hooks to the chutes and made sure they would work as they were supposed to.  One didn’t need a failure when it was time to step.

“JUMPERS…. Check EQUIPMENT and SOUND OFF” The next thirty seconds was spent by the troops checking snaps and chutes, making sure the clasps were in the proper position to function.  From back to front all sounded off that gear was correct. Gearbag tethers were checked to make sure they were connected properly; the biggest mistake was always not checking this and losing your bag.  Such an event would suck as it usually held spare ammo and other items that could be important on the ground.

The light about the door changed to Yellow.  “JUMPERS… STEP UP” The line of troops either side of the craft moved forward two steps towards the doors. The troopers by the pallets rested hands on pallet releases.

The light turned Green.  “GO GO GO GO GO!”

 Shade stepped forward and spun- he’d be the last one out and he patted each man in his stick on the shoulder as they stepped out the door into the night sky.  As soon as the last man went, he followed them out the door.

 The process was duplicated on the opposite side of the craft, his assistant platoon sergeant doing as he did.  The troopers with the pallets hit the released and gave the platforms a shove which sent them down the ramp into the air, followed by the troopers assigned to them.

As soon as all the troopers were out of the craft, the Lady Lodestar flew on for another three minutes before banking south for another five minutes of flight then made a turn for the route home.

 Elsewhere, a similar process played out with four other craft, their passengers all hitting the night sky and floating to the surface of Centarus for their missions.

**

 Shade unbuckled his harness after he gathered in his chute upon landing a few minutes later.  As near as he could tell, all thirty of them managed to land without major mishap.  At least so far…. But he wasn’t counting on shit just yet.

 Dropping the harness on the balled-up parachute, he shoved it under some brush as best he could and went back to his gear bag. Withdrawing his M18 Modular Battle Rifle, he made sure it was loaded before slinging his gear bag over a shoulder. Others near him did the same and within the next six minutes or so, the troops formed up into small teams and headed towards the location of the pallets.

 The M18 was a very updated version of a twentieth century design, the M8. Over the centuries, the weapon concept had been refined and was the standard rifle for the Lancer Para and Special Operations troops due to the options the weapon allowed for. For this mission, everyone was using the Carbine loadout, with at least two men set up for Marksman and two running the light machine gun configuration.  The platoon could dish out serious fire power if needed… And if they did their jobs right, they would not need to unless they chose to.

 Dumb shit always happens though, which is why his platoon had a pair of LS3 robotic pack mules. The LS3 was a concept dating back to the 21st century and had seen use periodically over the centuries. Their use allowed forces like his to have heavier weapons and equipment for missions of importance… much like this one. Carried on the two machines with them was excess ammunition, a collection of one-shot Antitank launchers and various shelter tarps/netting for the soon to be established base camp.

  Shade had been pleased to have the machines for this mission but was also dubious about bringing them because they might not survive it…  Supply was notorious for being pains in the asses over expensive or sensitive equipment and these things were NOT cheap. A battlefield loss could be written off, of course, but it would play hell with the budget for next year… or so his CO had said.

  He thought that was bullshit; the damn planet was invaded, and some supply puke was giving them crap about accountability for this thing? That motherfucker could come out here and claim it back his damn self.

 Jeez….

 Approaching one of his squad leaders, he knelt next to her. “Shantz, you got everyone?” he said in a near whisper.

 Sergeant Ekat Shantz, a five-foot five brunette dynamo and native to Centaurus gave him a thumbs up. “’Course I do,” She replied. “no one twisted an ankle, either. Dunno if that’s good or bad… Already saw Mikey; he has all his goons too. Even Bear.”  The one she referenced, Bryan ‘Bear’ Bogdonivitch, was every bit as big and burly as his nickname.  And just as sleepy most of the time too… at least when he wasn’t busy. There had been a betting pool he was gonna nap through the drop and be asleep on landing.

 “Nice… was he awake?”

 “Yep- even had his chute balled up and stowed. You owe me five credits…”

 A shake of the head. “Shit…”  A pat on the shoulder and Shade moved out, collecting the rest of the platoon and the two MULE teams.  If he was right, they had about four hours to get to the base camp site and then through the pass to the Objective.  It was a small field supply point for the other side, located in one of the wineries and his platoon had been lucky enough to draw that straw. It wasn’t supposed to be all that large but still of importance, even if it was just for ammo.

 If things went right, he and his troops would hit it at sunrise and either take it or blow it.  All things being equal, he’d rather take the place.  Clover Hill made a very nice spiced-wine and the place they were to hit was where it was made.  He really would rather not have to blow the place up…

**

 About four and a half hours later, the assault sections of the platoon were in place at the outskirts of the winery as the sun began to peak over the horizon. Overlooking the place, Shade panned his infrared mag-noculars around and took in what was there. By his count, there was about a dozen, maybe a dozen and a half, troops defending the place and another fifteen to twenty technicians of various sorts.

 Several Caterpillar P5550 Power Loaders were sitting by portable generators and roughly twenty tons of munitions were stacked neatly between rows of wineberry vine-racks- all covered with netting. Several pallets of armor and the fuse-welders for its attachment were sitting to the side of the pressing barn. No major repair facilities otherwise; the site was meant for reloading and basic armor repair only.  And everything was protected from aerial observations by the netting.

  It was neat and orderly… and not terribly out in the open either.  However, it was likely to be busy come mid-morning, though. His platoon leader, First Lieutenant Charles Norris, had told him the armored boys had given the southern defenders of the central divide a big ol’ shove north. It had cost them some, but it cost the invaders more in position and their tanks. Of the battlemechs, it was more ammunition and armor on the machines; may not seem like much but the invaders had retreated.

 Norris figured they would likely come here not long after first light- battlemechs had a rough time at night- and it would be here that they would get a surprise. First of many…

 Shade had made sure every squad had an antitank rocket or three when they left the base camp and was glad he did.  The disposable weapons didn’t have great range, but they were able to hurt a mech…. Or blow up an ammo pallet.  And right now, he didn’t want to face a mech.  So, blowing the place, as much as it pained him… was going to have to be a thing. Having to blow this place up hurt his soul… but such is the hell that was war. I hope they have a warehouse somewhere with this year’s haul, he thought. This will suck if I’m the one who destroyed this year’s product…

 Activating his platoon net, he gave orders to his squad leaders. “Shade to all teams…  we are blowing the place. Engage in ninety, nine zero seconds…. On my mark. Acknowledge.” One by one, his squad leaders acknowledged, and Shade lifted his rifle up. Quickly adjusting his sights, he settled his aim in on a large bell hanging on a post by what looked like a hand pump.

 “At the sound of the bell, unleash hell…” He said into his microphone and focused his aim.  Breathing in, he held it for a moment and then let it out…. Squeezing the trigger at the natural pause in his breathing, the rifle fired.

  The shot split the morning air and it flew true, the round striking the bell with a resounding PING and subsequent ringing with the shock to the device.  A moment later, the morning air was further torn apart with the sounds of multiple rifles shooting at defenders and antitank rockets streaking into ammunition pallets, detonating the contents in a maelstrom of explosions and fragments.

 The resulting explosions had the effect of taking out nearby pallets of armor, damaging them and wrecking various structures they were near. A few of the power loaders toppled from the concussive wave of sound energy and air, the machine falling like dominos.  Some of the technicians were caught in the explosions and not terribly many survived being engulfed. Those that did, did not live long. Few defending troops were able to return fire, the surprise being as complete as one could have hoped for and their lack of expecting to be engaged was plenty plain to see.

Shade pulled back from his sights and watched the carnage unfold. After about three or four minutes, he decided the place had had enough and called into the platoon net once more. “Eagle Platoon, disengage and fall back to rally point. This place is toast.” As the squads acknowledged, he watched a little longer before turning to his RTO (aka Comms Tech; the phrase RTO was something from a looooooooong time ago that was still used. Damned if he knew why…). “Alrighty Sparks, let’s get the flock out of here.”

 The RTO, Specialist Jane Sparks (her real name), nodded. “Couldn’t agree more, Shade; Ain’ no one gonna be happy down there…” She headed out ahead of her platoon sergeant, her weapon at the ready as they moved. “Fuckers shoulda stayed the hell away; crazies get you killed.”

 Shade agreed with his RTO; the bastards down there should have not gotten involved with the Word and this was not going to end well. Not if he had anything to say about it.