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 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 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.

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

Eastern Central Divide
176 kilometers east of Zathras
1621 hours 08 December 3080

 Major Sean Farquharson looked over the advance from the slightly to the rear of the line of Mechs he commanded and grinned slightly.  This was the beginning of the end for the invaders, he was sure. The initial assaults on Centarus by the Word of Blake had met with mixed success.  Those turncoats on the planet had managed to have some victories- most notably over on Johnson and near Crossroads.  That they had used Phoenix Lancer hospitality to enable an invasion of the planet… well, that just pissed him the hell off.

  Advancing on the front was the entirety of Charlie Company, First Battalion and they were supported by the Hammer Lance of Alpha First Battalion- an entire lance of Warhammers.  Support for all the mechs was a pair of Maxim transports with platoon of Cavalier battle-armor and a full platoon of Bulldog tanks.  It was one of the largest groups he’d ever led and he was rather pumped.

  The command channel pinged, and he answered it. “Aye, Charlie Six…” he said as he piloted his machine forward.

 “Charlie Six, Auburn Command…” The voice of Governor Sodher-Schaller was heard. “I have information for you…”

 “Send it.” That it was Diane calling and not one of the communications technicians was ominous.

 [Sean, we have an identity on who you’re facing.  Up until the drone was shot down at least,] She said. [A unit called Gordon’s Dragoons… they landed with the Zathras forces.]

 Sean blinked. Gordons?  “Lass… are ye sure?” He asked.

 [Yes, which is why I am calling…] She replied. [Remember the mission, Sean.  No vendettas… Do you understand?]

 He growled.  “Lass… I nae be stupid.  Me Clan hatreds willnae color my response to these bastards overmuch.  I want them off as much as anyone else and I willnae jeopardize kicking them off planet just to give an extra kickin’”

 Silence. [I will believe you for now, Major… I know you and I know if you give me your word, you will stick to it. No crazy vendetta Honor Hunts.] She said. [Am I clear?]

 Sean replied firmly. “Crystal, Governor…  I know if th’ Colonel were here, he’d just pull me or stick me as follow on.” A pause. “Mission first….”

[Good.] She said.  [Data sent… be well, Sean and I look forward to hearing from you after this. Auburn clear.]

 Sean looked at the tactical plan and noted the information relayed to him.  The hated Gordons were spread line abreast, with a light lance supporting a platoon of Zhukov tanks and what looked like an Ontos of all things.  A Badger platoon was on the far right of their line and looked like they were going to be spoilers.

 The heart of their line was anchored by a pair of clan machines, a Dire Wolf and a Stormcrow. A Griffin occupied the central area while their left flank had a pair of heavy hitters- a Highlander and an Awesome.  Those two were supported on their left by a vicious quartet consisting of an Avatar, Warhammer, Lynx and a Nightsky. A Vulture was lurking out there too and would be a concern. It was a very strong force… and it looked like it outweighed him a bit.

 “Tonnage is overrated…” he breathed and clicked on the transmit key to Chief Colt. “Chief… we find a comms channel for the other side or am I insulting the bastards over Guard?”

[I was wondering when you were going to ask that…] Colt answered. [I took a stab at looking and I think I got it. Pirated a feed off some sensor they have out here- fuck if I know where but it’ll do.  Put your secondary on One-Four-Four-Niner-Sierra…]

 Sean entered the channel in on the secondary comm unit. “Alrighty… Time tae insult a bunch of shitebag Gordons…”

**

  Lieutenant Colonel James Michael Gordon sat in the command couch of his Highlander and looked at the data feeds from his own drone, still flying out and about.  One of the early moves he had done was to salt the forward areas of their lane with sensors.  Basic things, they were… but they served to provide basic data.

   And the sensors were working well as they picked up the collection of Lancer troops advancing on his position.  A pair of Panthers, a Valkyrie, a Hatchetman on the enemy leftfollowed by a lance of Warhammers, a Marauder and Rifleman in the center with a a pair of Blackjacks, a Griffin, Shadow hawk, Wolverine and Centurion anchoring their right flank. What was curious to him was the two Maxims, not exactly the best in hilly terrain and a platoon of Bulldogs split between the center and enemy left.

 Targets for his Zhukovs, he supposed when the sensor feed became corrupted. “What the hell?” He said as he tapped the screen. All of a sudden, he heard a voice come from the unit speakers.

[Mar sin dè am baga shit Gòrdan a tha a’ stiùireadh an rabble seo?]*

(*: So which shitbag Gordon leads this rabble)

 Gordon cursed as he adjusted a commset to the channel to reply. “Unknown sender… Identify your honorless self…”

 [Am Màidsear Sean Fearcharson Chlann Fhearchair, a shit. Faigh a-mach às mo fhearann ​​​​mus cuir mi gu bàs thu.]

(Major Sean Farquharson of Clan Farquharson, you shit. Get off my land before I kill you.)

 Laughter. “Bha mi a ‘smaoineachadh gu robh mi a’ fàileadh cù an seo. Thoir an aire do mhodhan, cur. Tha thu an làthair do rudan as fheàrr …”

(I thought I smelled a dog. Mind your manners, cur. You are in the presence of your betters…)

 [Oh, laddie Is e an aon rud as fheàrr a tha thu mar neach-brathaidh do dhaoine sìobhalta.]  A pause. [An cothrom mu dheireadh … fàg no faigh buille do asal..]

*(The only better you are is as a traitor to civilized people. Last chance… leave or get your ass beat)

 Gordon had a flash of anger. “Pòg mo thòin!!”  He snarled.

* (kiss my ass)

Laughter [B’ fheàrr leam a bhreabadh. And so be it- It’s tae be your funeral.]

(I would rather kick it)

 Gordon cursed as he clicked on the overall command net. “All Dragoons… there be Farquharson dogs over there.  Ten thousand c-bills to the one who brings me his head!”

**

 Sean chuckled to himself.  He was dead sure he pissed the Gordon off… which meant his opponent might make a mistake.  Psychology was part of warfare… and if he had learned nothing else from Tinney over the years, he had learned that much. Clicking on the lance channel, he contacted the Fengs. “Lads…”

[Sir]

[Major]

 “I need ye both to support the right side…” He spoke. “I do believe I am going to be hunted a wee bit…”

 Jun spoke. [Major, what did you do?]

 A chuckle. “I made it personal… Tis a Gordon o’er there and I insulted him a wee bit…” He said. “They will be gunning for me and I need ye both to take advantage of that.”

 Quaing questioned. [Was that smart, Major?]

 “no… but I have Colonel McCormack’s Hammers around me… so its nae like I’m alone.”

 Jun answered. [Then I have confidence you will be fine, Major. Colonel McCormack’s Warhammer pilots are all competent and dangerous. I have no worries.]  This was echoed by his brother.

“Good… Get on with ye then…  It’s almost time tae give them a kickin…”

**

 The battle joined not long after the exchange and lasted for about forty minutes, the fighting fierce as the two sides clashed.  Charlie Company’s light lance worked their frontage like champs, drawing fire and giving the Bulldogs time to get into position to use their missiles against the Zhukovs. The enemy light force came out to engage along with the Badgers and ran right into the sights of Lancer armor.

  First to go was a Gordon Commando, as combined fire slagged it in place as it was looking to plunge the line to go after Sean. Not long after, Destiny worked over a Gordon Night Hawk and harassed it into becoming a target for her lance mate in the Valkyrie. Between the two of them, the enemy light machine died in a hail of pulse and missile fire, mere meters from her father.

 Towards the center, the Gordon Zhukovs and an attached Behemoth engaged the Lancer Warhammers, keeping them honest.  Their fixation on the heavy lance cost them in the end as the Bulldogs eventually closed and wrecked them- two of the heavy tanks detonating from ammunition explosions.

 The Gordon center and left forces had a different problem.  As the enemy Dire Wolf cleared a hill, every available PPC on the Lancer side lit into it. And kept shooting at it over the next few minutes, forcing it to retreat under the punishment. The Gordon Left played a maneuver game with their Lancer counterparts… up until the Maxims arrived with their deadly cargos.

 Cavalier battle armor made their appearance and became the threat they were supposed to be.  Between weapons fire and leg attacks, the suits kept the Gordon Mechs from getting too set in place or comfortable.  This bought the Lancers time to get solid solutions on their foes and make their weapon fire sting.  And sting hard.

 A Gordon Awesome had a particularly hard time of it.  It’s pilot suffered a fall early on from damage and briefly stunned himself… which was long enough for a Cavalier squad to jump on its chest and attempt to rip out an engine.  Even when the pilot managed to return to its feet, the battle armor hung on and continued to rip at various places on the machine’s upper body.

 The Lynx and Nightsky attempted to support their heavy companions but between ranged fire of Charlie’s medium machines and the battle armor, they never were able to make their guns matter. Indeed, the moment they found something to shoot at, it would fade from sight and be replaced by another machine, the Lancer forces using their maneuverability to make life difficult.

 The Gordon Vulture’s role in all of this was muted, at best. Early on, the machine suffered an armor failure from a long-range attack and two pieces of its engine shielding failed.  This forced the former clan machine to fall back as being able to shoot effectively… was rendered nearly impossible.  When this battle would be reviewed later on, the early loss of the fast heavy with its firepower would be deemed a critical event… One of several.

  The carnage being dished was not all one sided… as the Gordon troops laid into the Charlie Company mechs.  Whether it was due to the innate toughness of the battlemechs in the command, luck or just plain better tactical decisions, the only machine to fall was one of the Warhammers. Damage throughout the Lancer forces was substantial but ultimately not enough. More than a few would need extensive time with techs replacing armor and the occasional limb. None of it was enough to stop them in the meantime.

  Gordon recognized that things were not going well and this was struck home when the Warhammer on the left fell followed by the Lynx. That entire front had been rolled… and his right was folding too.  The Zhukovs had held their positions well and their weapons had ripped much from the Lancers in front of them… but the enemy had the right combo to put them down. 

 As the last of his heavy tanks was rendered unable to fight, he signaled to the command to fall back. This battle did not go the way he intended, and it would be a neat trick to get out with half of his command at this point.  He’d lost far too much and with the Awesome being mobbed as long as it had been and leg damage to his own Highlander from those damn power suits, preserving what he had become very important.

 From what he could tell, his niece got dropped but managed to get away from her Warhammer; there was enough of his men in the area to make sure of it. If not, Gordon felt she’d not let herself get captured. That would be an embarrassment… especially with who he lost to.

 The damnable Farquharson on the other side had managed to beat him… this was a stain he’d find difficult to live down.  He knew he had the bastard on the ropes… but just couldn’t pull off a finishing attack. Perhaps he had over extended… he didn’t think so but then, war was a funny thing; sides that should prevail sometimes don’t.

 There would be a next time… as the invasion force would not be dislodged anytime soon.

**

  “Charlie Company, Charlie six…  Hold position and let ‘em git.” Sean called over the company net as he paused his mech’s advance. “They be runnin’ with their tails between legs and tha’s good enough for the likes o’us.”

  Even he was surprised he pulled this off.  Going into the battle, the weight disparity was serious. When you factored in the Firepower, even more so… but terrain and mobility were keys here.  And perhaps, his insulting the Gordon on the other side. That was fun…  When the command channel pinged, he answered it right away. “Aye Charlie Six…”

 [Major, Stiletto One,] the lead battle armor squad leader was calling him. [Are the MP’s on the way?]

“Stiletto, Charlie Six; they are, lass. Why for?”

 [Six, it would seem we have a prisoner to add to the collection the armor boys have. My team just pulled the pilot out of that Warhammer of theirs.  And she has an interesting last name…]

 Sean lifted an eyebrow. “Do tell.”

 [Name tag says Gordon…  Had a quick search done and ID papers has her listed as a Colour-Sergeant Hannah Gordon, age twenty-six…] Stiletto One replied. [I got her drug over to our transport; she’s a mess.]

 Sean thought a moment. “Aye… make ‘er comfy, One, and watch ye sharps. I’m certain she’s nae going to be happy when she wakes, and Gordons are good for stabbin’ ye in thae arse when ye distracted.” He said. “I’ll be by tae give a look-see later when follow on’s get here.”

[Six, don’t worry- she’s in no real condition to be stabbing anyone but thanks for the warning,] Stiletto One replied with a slight chuckle. [Already called for medivac so she won’t be our problem long. Even money who gets here first- recovery or them.]

“Good on ye,” He replied. “If nothing else, she is a bargaining chip.”

[Stiletto One receive. See you when you get here.] One replied. [One clear.]

.

Legends and Myths Seventy Two- The Storm: Galatea six

 Over the course of the next fifteen minutes or so, Talamini laid out what sort of fines and or violations had been racked up with this little operation, along with the potential MRBC repercussions…. And how all of it was being taken care of.  The city charges were not even being leveled at them, with the Galatea City Police, of all people, telling the Port that The Colorado Blues was part of an ad hoc operation against a nest of possible Blakists.

  The MRBC was already notified of a Sub-Contract the group had signed with the police, by way of Hooker, Starsky and Hutchinson Security Services (Talamini produced a paper copy of the contract and tablet with a digital one for Rhi to sign) that covered the use of the Dropship within city limits.  The MRBC was also notified of the potential issue with Blackthorne Enterprises being a front for Blakist Intelligence and a clearing house for their mercenary employment operations…. And that Arkanian Group had brought it to the attention of a bonded representative and law enforcement.  Because of this, any penalties incurred for a contract breach or breaking should be moot because of Blackthorne’s associations. The local MRBC offices and the planetary government’s dislike for the Word of Blake being the major reason for no issues here.

 And this was the issues the AG would have had with the city and the Commission.  Financially… the compensation for the operation would be different.

 The AG would make money out of all this. There was no issue there where compensation was concerned. How much was the question, though as well as future employment options.

 Future employment on Galatea could be in jeopardy as the cover story to free them from repercussions with the MRBC could give them issues with other units or potential employers. Any merc unit that worked with Authorities to investigate or assault other entities would be viewed as suspect by others. Not so much by the larger groups- but by anyone smaller who had dubious morality or ties. And such units were all over the Mercenary World and the profession. Always would be that way too… Not everyone was a Light Horse or Romanov’s Crusaders, with their reps as Honest and Moral Mercenary Commands.

 In the near term, Talamini explained, his employer was rewarding them with approximately one-point-seven million Cbills, which would more than cover unit salary plus expenses.  A princely sum but one earned by blood. New lodging would be arranged too, as their current location was now compromised… and likely going to be assaulted/destroyed by parties unknown.

 Once everything was settled down and the various medical cases taken care of, the question of Arkanian Group still wishing to remain on Galatea would need to be addressed. Talamini looked at Arione for that. “As I understand it, you are the final arbiter for where your company goes.” He commented. “Once you deem yourselves able to travel, I can assist in arranging jump-ship passage from her to almost anywhere within the Inner Sphere except clan-held territory.”

 Arione rubbed his chin. He was still in his armor and spent the entire time processing the Mob Money Man’s words.  And they all made sense to him.  He knew they couldn’t stay here long… and leaving here was likely the best plan of action for them. But where was the question. As he pondered this, he recalled his conversation with Adara… and the promise he made her.

 “Mister Talamini… the course of action Arkanian Group will be taking is the one that is probably the more sensible one.  AS soon as my wounded are able to travel and our equipment repaired as needed, the offer of paid transit fees on a Jumpship for us will be accepted.”

 Talamini made a note on his datapad. “Someplace in mind?”

 Arione didn’t even look at Rhiannon when he said it. “Yes. Centarus system. I am told there should be work available for the likes of us there.”

 Rhiannon sputtered. “Wha… Who…” and she quieted as Arione held up a hand.

 “I made a promise to Adara when all this started. And perhaps…” He mused. “Its past time to bury that hatchet.”

 Talamini made another series of notes. “I see… have you been there before?”

 “Nope. Just know a few folks who live there… and can assist with other work.” He replied as Rhiannon struggled to remain quiet and not laugh. Or scream- he wasn’t sure which.

 “Not a problem. I understand it’s a very nice place,” Talamini said, choosing to remain ignorant of the issues between the two Arkanians. Not his business… “As for your wounded, they were taken to a trusted hospital capable of caring for the injuries and the non-injured are currently at an estate not far from here, cleaning up.  Your severely injured member… has been taken to the trauma facility and I believe will be in surgery rather quickly.” Consulting a note that popped up on the tablet screen, he continued. “There is plenty of security on location.”

 Arione nodded. “Thank you for that…”

 “No thanks necessary. Once you and Ms Arkanian was ready to travel, I will take you to them.” With that, Talamini stepped from the bay and back down the ramp. “I will be in the car.”

  When he was out of easy earshot, Rhiannon turned to Arione. “Centarus? Really?” She asked, incredulously. “Are you LOOKING to get in a fight and maybe die? You fucking swore you were gonna kill him… and highlanders are notorious for remembering that shit. That old man…  I love you but my love….”

 Arione sighed. “I know what I said then… and I also know what he did after the fact. And well… sometimes feelings change.”

 Rhiannon snorted as she led the way back to the crew area. “Yeah… and this bitch can fly on her own.” She snarked. “You made a promise to Adara we would go if this didn’t work out here, didn’t you? Or is it something else?”

 Arione removed the armored top of his suit when he got to the cube he used when the ship was in space. “Yeah I did… and to be honest, it is past time to end that grudge.  It really wasn’t his fault what happened, and I was rather… emotional.”

She shook her head. “Actually, it was his fault she ended up in an ICU for a week… He could have killed her but didn’t. Not that smashing her hip and ribs with that damn hammer of his did her any favors.”

He looked at her as he put on a clean shift before removing the lower suit. “Don’t you think I know that… but it *was* business and well, he made right by it.  And right now, resolving my anger issues is likely going to be a big help in keeping us afloat, whatever we get for this job notwithstanding. Add in that she holds no grudges, why should I?”

She just stared at him. “Are you going soft?” She asked, half joking. “I mean, you and grudges…”

 Arione didn’t answer as he fastened his belt and slipped on shoes. “Sometimes, wake up calls happen in the weirdest places and times, Rhi.  This one… happened when Amelia became known to me and the scope of what we were in the middle of became very apparent.”  Grabbing a coat, he led the way out of the spaces and to the ramp where their ride was waiting.

 “I told myself if we survived all this, I would go and bury this grudge. I already know doing so will probably involve a lot of pain and likely, just as much alcohol.” He paused as they reached the top of the ramp and looked over to her. “In the end, it was just business… and we were friends before.”

 Rhiannon chuckled. “Oh, I agree there…” She said as they made their way down the ramp. “There will be a lot of both… I love you but you’ll be lucky if he only breaks your jaw.”

Burlington-Bonaventure Medical Center

Burlington Province, Galatea

0659 hours 09 December 3080

 Adara stirred from the chemically-induced slumber to the low sound of a medical monitor and the slightly louder sound of snoring.  Cracking open an eye, she saw in the dim light that the room chair was occupied by Arione, his head nodded downward onto folded arms as he snoozed.  A soft smile graced her dry lips as she took in the sight. “Hey…” she croaked out. “Wake up before you fall…”

 Arione stirred and lifted his head. “Oh hey, you’re awake…” He said. “how ya feeling?”

 “I’ve been better,” She said as she attempted to adjust her position and the lack of ability to do so vexed her as much as told her she was in no condition to move just yet. “I’d say you should see the other guy but I know better.”

 Arione chuckled. “Yeah well… they told me they had to operate right away as there was concerns about a fragment and your spine.”

A nod. “A part of the bullet. It shattered on the way in; armor stopped most of it but it also didn’t help.” She said. “I had Darren explain it all out to me… and I’m the one who said why wait…”

 Arione smiled. “You and waiting… are things that don’t go together.” He joked. “Anyways… I figured I would be the one to tell you that when you are able to travel, we are doing what I promised you.”

Adara’s eyes grew wide. “We are?”

 “Yes….” He said.  “I think you are right- he’d help us out if he can and the Lancers always have work; I checked with the MRBC online records; they have an ongoing contract to train up other merc units and have responsibility for the border areas out there so I am pretty sure they have something we can do. Add in you get to see your teacher and perhaps witness a burying of the hatchet.” A smile. “And not in each other…”

 A chuckle with a groan. “Ha- ow…” She grimaced. “Hurts to laugh. I’m glad you are willing to lose the grudge; it was always stupid.”

 A smirk. “You will note guys can be stupid…”

“I’ve noticed…” Adara answered. “So how soon?”

“Once you are cleared to travel. And not before- its over four months of travel.” He said.

 “Oh, I’ll be ready…. Don’t you worry,” She smiled. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

Drega House

Dregamire Preserve

0610 hrs 09 December 3080

 Aleister Blackthorne sat at a desk in the house’s study. Drega House was a rather stout mansion built in the northern swamps and badlands of the continent four hours north of Galatea City. The house, built of stone and heavy timber, had been in existence for some five hundred years and owned by the Blackthorne family for at least the last two centuries. Constantly undated with new tech as it became available, the residence had all the modern amenities with a frontier veneer.  And it was in the den where Aleister sat, going over the events of the past few days.

  The operation to obtain access to the internal workings of the Phoenix Lancers data networks had not gone to plan.  Taking the girl had been risky but since all external attempts had failed to crack their encryptions, it was deemed the best course. It was not like they hadn’t tried; ever since his organization had allied itself with the Word of Blake, the exchange of training and knowledge had given both sides an edge. His people had benefited more, of course, as the Blakists had access to everything the Star League had worked on when it fell… but some of the advances since had been outside of Comstar or Blakist facilities. That the Word understood this

  That they had wanted access to the Phoenix Lancer networks had proven surprising to him. They were, after all, just a overlarge mercenary organization with a rather effective special operations attachement. All too effective one, in his opinion.  Even with the death of their founder when their world had been assaulted in 3068, the Blood Spirits and their parent unit the Lancers had remained a problem for groups like his own. Groups that worked for their own advancement and the furthering of a ruling elite… Those who knew what was best for all… and unafraid to act.

 The gamble to take the girl was compounded by his selecting the Arkanians.  He supposed he may have relied on the grudge Arione Arkanian had against Duncan MacKenzie, the former exec and a field leader of the Spirits, too much. Given the known animosity between the two, he had been certain there would be no weakness in watching over Amelia Yoder’s incarceration while his experts worked. Aleister had needed the information quickly to support the Blakist operations currently ongoing on Centarus and deemed the snatch necessary.  The guards over them, if repercussions were to happen, had to be expendable. He needed a cutout for this operation, a useful cutout… and the Arkanian Group fit the bill.

 That they ultimately weren’t… was an error on his part in picking them.  Sometimes, he mused, animosity was not enough to ensure usefulness. That it appeared the local mafia was involved in all this was also an oversight in his thinking and something of a surprise.

 It was an oversight that would delay other operations he had planned.  Unfortunate, he thought as he lit his pipe, but not over-comeable.  Such groups could be bought; he just needed to find the right price.

Legends and Myths Seventy One- The Storm: Galatea five

Alisandria Cliffs outside

0010 hours 09 December

 Jon advanced the Vulcan forward onto the property of the estate.  Kennedy’s gunmen had engaged the platoon of troops initially defending their incursion.  As soon as his mech showed itself, additional forces showed themselves in the form of a sniper here and SRM team there. Each time something anti-battlemech showed itself, the snipers of his Allies removed them as a threat. Pretty effective teamwork, when one thinks about it, and that Jon was grateful for.

 It was when the two small missile turrets popped up as the Fury dropship closed on the place that shit started getting real.  And it got very real when a pair of small Quad mechs rose out of the bottom of the pool.

 “What the ever-loving fuck….” He cursed as the two machines crawled from the water and began to engage Kennedy’s men. Dropping the targeting reticle on one machine, he cut loose with his light Armstrong Two.  As the slug struck home, he followed it up with a medium laser which scarred the quad machine’s torso.  “Kennedy! Go to ground or back off; you don’t have the ass for those!”

Kennedy’s reply was not what he expected. [Nope! But it’s what you’re for,] He said. [We’ll manage- I’ve got Mikey on the way wit’ a trio of MRAPs. He’s a minute out so we’ll manage till he gets here…]

 Jon sent another autocannon round at a quad along with all his machine guns. “Dude… don’t be a hero!” The Lancer’s shooting was rewarded with a smoking short range launcher on his target as the internals lay exposed. His own machine rocked with small explosions from the other quad battlemech’s launcher. That machine earned a laser in return, which shredded leg armor but not much else.

[Again, that’s what you are for…] Kennedy joked with him, the sound of gunfire coming through the comms. [Just don’t miss…]

 The LRM turrets that sprang into being began to fire at the dropship as it approached, the salvos coming fast and furious from the two positions.

“The Colorado Blues”

0010 hours

 Rhiannon had settled into a glide path to the estate when the launchers had appeared. This had elicitied a small curse from the pilot and a squeak of surprise from Caitlyn. “Steady….” Rhi breathed then called out into her microphone, “Gunners… Weapons free, I repeat Weapons Free… Pick your targets kids…”

 The wing gunners let their weapons do the talking, returning long-range missiles back at the two firing points along with medium lasers as they came in range.  The exchange was a little one sided as the gunnery of the drop ship crew showed- the cascade of explosions striking the weapon towers. Neither fell silent but the damage was not small.

 The craft rocked a bit with the damage received but Rhiannon held the ship steady. “Randi… get ready to open the ramp,” she said with a calm she actually felt. Her family was down there doing something crazy; the right thing maybe but crazy… and she was going to get them out.

[On it,] The crew chief replied. [Ramp opening in fifteen seconds… you go this.]

Inside the Underground

0010 hours

 Adara’s charge took her into the room at the end of the hall and her hands lashed out with their weapons, blades slashing into anyone within reach. As some of the defenders were attempting to deal with the CS that had been used, the suited Arkanian used their distraction to full advantage. A stab here, a slash there, the close quarter specialist launched into a macabre dance of blood and death.

 As her old teacher had stated many years ago, all close quarter combat, be it done with weapon or hands, was a dance and it was a dance that only you knew the steps to.  The key was finding that groove and embracing the movement to make it flow. The Flow of the Dance is the key, Lass… without th’grace of ye movement, all ye doing is flailin’ aboot. Find ye flow, find tha’ groove… and th’rest will take care of itself.

 Adara remembered these words as she spun through the room, her blades flashing in the weave of flying blood she was creating.  Within seconds, the six men that had barred the way were dead or dying as she paused in her dance- in many cases, missing a hand or some sort of piece of their body…

 “Darren! Let’s go!” She called as she reset one baton against a floor then stowed it on her suit’s waist. Drawing one of her pistols again as her companion entered the room with the unconscious Amelia over a shoulder, Adara led the way out and into the opening that led outside next to the Manse above. They were close and the two of them could hear the fighting nearby.

“Colorado Blues”

0012hrs

 The gunners on the dropship returned fire at the missile towers, discovering each one had an anti-missile defense system protecting them.  It didn’t matter in the long run as medium lasers from the big craft also stabbed out at each gun tower, slagging armor and inflicting punishment even as the towers dished their own.

  A flash of bright blue-purple light was seen as Rhiannon added the particle-cannon she controlled to the exchange and a tower detonated in response. “Gunners… target remaining tower… engage the other quad as opportunity presents,” she called into the ship’s network. “Stand by for retrieval… Open the ramp…”

[Ramp opening…] Randi called back as she lowered the entryway to halfway.

Outside on the grounds

0012hrs

 Arione and Caelan exited the underground by the pad, looking around at the insanity that was the surface.  In the distance, they could see the Vulcanengaging the second quad battlemech, dancing around the building as each sought to damage the other. The Vulcan was still pretty untouched, a bit of damage to a torso and legs from the handful of successful strikes from the quad. The quad was smoking in spots too as it weathered hits from their ally.

 The dropship glided into place, its guns opening up on the towers that were shooting at it, now one less as the dropship destroyed one emplacement. Out front, the ground troops engaging each other were joined by a trio of APC’s, the heavy wheeled vehicles lending their machine guns to the fighting and suppressing the defenders handily.

 Speaking of defenders, about a half-dozen engaged both the troops on the ramp of the dropship and the two figures coming from the mansion area.  Seeing this, Arione quickly brought his machine pistol into play supporting the advance of his family members.

  The defenders, not expecting the two power armored escapees to have managed to get loose, went to ground to avoid being hit. This allowed Darren (who had shifted Amelia to his front to carry her, shielding her with his body) and Adara to hurry towards the pad and waiting dropship.

 In his ear, the voice of Aleister sounded once more. [You will regret this, Mister Arkanian… you will regret all of this, I assure you…]

 Arione emptied the magazine of his weapon in the direction of the defenders, being rewarded with the dropping of one of them. “I regret a great many things, Aleister… and this won’t be one,” He replied as he quickly reloaded on the move, advancing to a point to better cover Adara and Darren.  Caelan mirrored his movement, his submachinegun stuttering as the highlander shot at defenders trying to kill them.

 As Adara hurried by Arione, she staggered as a heavy rifle shot boomed. A defender, who had managed to get a heavy rifle into play, clipped her in the back she ran.  Caelan ran over to help her up, his weapon firing the occasional burst.

 Arione, seeing who had shot at her, poured the remaining shots from his weapon in his direction.  When it clicked empty, he attached it to his armor and threw a protesting Adara, who was struggling to stand, over his shoulder. “Shut Up!” He scolded. “I know you are a strong independent woman who doesn’t need the help… but trust me, this time you do!”

“Its not that!” She hollered back. “I dropped my pistol and can’t shoot the fucker who shot me…”

Caelan grabbed the dropped pistol. “Got it,” he called as he fired a few rounds back at the mansion.  Running for the ramp behind Arione and the others, he stayed low as other members of AG shot at anything shooting at them.

  As soon as he boarded the ship, it began to lift.

**

 Jon kicked the jump jets into action and his battlemech rode the columns of flame upwards and back as he triggered his autocannon once more at the quad.  Satisfied with the result of the shot, he landed back towards the road.  His headset chirped with an incoming message from Kennedy… “Yo…”

 [Looks like the ship is leaving,] the ground commander said, the sounds of weapons fire heard behind his voice.

 “Yeah it does…” he replied as his laser flashed once more and was rewarded with a direct hit to the quad’s center, slagging it clean through which seemed to power it down like a bot. “Stand by…” He clicked over to the channel he figured Rhiannon might be monitoring.

 “Rescue Two, Rescue One…”

**

 As she lifted from the scene, Rhiannon angled her ship away from the estate and began to gain some speed.  Hearing Jon call over the side channel reserved for use, she answered within a few seconds, realizing why he was calling. “Rescue One, Rescue Two… packages recovered. Two going for a new nest…”

[Two, One; Copy… safe flight and stay low.  Someone will meet you on location.]

“Gotcha One. Be safe and see you later” She replied and flipped her attention back to the low level flying she was about to do.

**

 Jon returned to the other channel. “Alright, Jimmy- get everyone out of here… cops will be arriving eventually, and nobody better be here…”

 [don’t gotta tell us twice.]

 Over the next three minutes, the men who had come with Jimmy Kennedy backed off to the vehicles or MRAPS that had arrived.  Retreating, the mafia gunmen were covered by Jon in the Vulcan as they drove away.

 Jon, as soon as everyone was clear, broke his machine in to a run.  He had a facility to get to where Marone was waiting to collect this prized machine.  While it was not the most powerful machine he’s ever used, this Vulcan had done the job well… and he’d managed to face off against a pair of quad battlemechs in it AND keep it mostly intact.  Good thing they were kinda crappy- otherwise that might not have been the case.

Galatea City Police Department

0012 hours

 Police Captain Lance Katz, a twenty-five-year veteran of the department and a survivor of all the insanity the Jihad had brought to his world, was in Dispatch when the calls came in for the fighting over at Alisandria Cliffs.  As the number of notifications increased, he turned towards the Shift Sergeant, Jon DeMare, another veteran of the madness of the past decade. “Jon, think we should send someone that way?” He said with a wink.

 DeMare glanced at the wall map, which highlighted the area of the complaints. “Isn’t that where Mister Talamini said there was some sort of crazy party going on? Lots of fireworks and a lightshow?” his question was lighthearted in his asking, a cup of coffee in his hand.

 “I do believe that’s what the man said…” Katz replied as a lieutenant looked at the two of them incredulously.

 “Sir… there is a report of a battlemech over there too…” The lieutenant, Kiara Carson, stated.  Kiara, a fairly recent transfer to the city precinct from one of the outlying departments was both confused and somewhat understanding.  She had been here when a most peculiar person had paid a visit to the precinct some six hours ago.

  The Don of Galatea City and his chief accountant had come with several boxes of pizza, just as many boxes of donuts, jugs of coffee (with travel mugs!) and a donation to the Galatea Policeman’s Benevolent Association (a large one, too, from what she heard later) to which the two men merely requested a meeting with the chief, the Shift Captain and Shift Sergeant. All that was wanted was that…

 She suspected that meeting had something to do with the calls they were getting right now. “Sirs?”

 DeMare smiled at the lieutenant. “Lieutenant, have units 31, 33 and 51 head over there, class three. Notify SWAT 5 to also head there, same class. Let them know I’ll be there shortly and not to enter till I get there, if they can help it. Same with EMS…”

 Carson nodded. “Sergeant DeMare, why three? The reported gunfire…”

 DeMare held up a hand. “Kiara… sometimes one doesn’t want to get too involved in arguments between factions. And this is one of those times…” he said. “Matter of fact, go grab your vest; I’ll explain what the hell is going on while on the way. Trust me, it’s an interesting story…”

Bonaventure Airport

175 kilometers west of Galatea City

0050 hours

 Rhiannon set the dropship down on the private airstrip west of the city. The location had been given to her about an hour prior to their lifting for the rescue and she had only had time to just program the location into the NavComp and not much else. As such, she didn’t know much about the place, just that no matter what happened she was to land there, and resources would be available.

 So, when they landed, she was only partially surprised by the three ambulances and a few private vans that rolled up on them. “No cops at least,” she said to Cait as she powered down the engines. “I guess the Lancer Boy wasn’t kidding he knew someone.”

 Caitlyn quickly flipped switches on her side to power down other systems. “I guess that’s good…” She replied. “Go on… I go this. I heard Randi’s report on injuries…”

 Rhiannon unbuckled and bolted from her seat. “Thanks kid…” She said as she hurried towards the troop bays.  The pilot scurried down the accessway and slid down the ladder to troop bay one.  Here, she found a fairly elated group of AG troops and a bunch around Adara.  Amelia was being looked after by Darren and he was quietly telling folks to move that patient plus the handful of wounded out of the compartment to the ambulances.

 Her poly-wife was on a litter, power-armor top removed and a series of bandages in place.  Bjorn and Darren had worked on her after lift-off along with the handful of other injuries as the drop ship made its way to the field, Looking at Adara, Rhiannon noted how pale she looked. Stepping up and kneeling, she reached out with a hand. “Hey sugar… you forgot to zag,”

 Adara, who had her eyes closed, opened them up at Rhi’s voice. “I know… and I didn’t see the fucker who got me.”

 “That’s what snipers do, honey…” Rhiannon said as she looked up at Bjorn, who nodded. “Bearman says y’all gonna be alright.”

 The wounded close quarter specialist chuckled. “Yeah… one more scar to add to the collection. Darren said if I hadn’t been in this armor, be a different story.” A pained shrug. “I’mma be fine, Rhi. You just keep the others in line till I get back.”

 Darren showed up at this moment. “Hey, there is a medic truck here… You two-“ he pointed at two of the AG troops. “Get her up and down to them. I’ll be going with…”  The two troopers hopped to it and grabbed the stretcher to move out of the bay and towards the ramp.  Darren looked over at Rhiannon. “Nice flying, by the way.”

 When the stretcher followed by Bjorn left, she looked at Darren. “Truth?”

“Missed her spine by that much,” He held his fingers apart by about five centimeters. “That armor saved her, Period…” He grabbed his bag, closed it quick and continued. “She’s gonna be fine, Rhiannon. If your contact has that good of medical people handy, then definitely…. Go check on Arione- – he’s busy kicking himself.”  With that, he departed after Adara.

 Rhiannon followed along and found her lover standing on the troop ramp watching the ambulances depart with the injured members of the group.  Coming along side of him, she placed an arm around his armored shoulders, noting the areas of damage on it. He’d been hit too, she noted, and was also bleeding a little.  He wasn’t complaining right then but she knew it would happen. “Hey…. We lost nobody,” She said to him as another vehicle pulled up, this one an armored limousine.

 “No. No we didn’t… but I can’t help but wonder if we didn’t fuck ourselves in the end. Even though we did the right thing,” Arione mused as they watched a well-dressed man in a blazer exit the limo.

 “Don’t know till we know,” She replied as the man in the blazer, who now had a briefcase, approached the ramp. Two men remained behind at the vehicle. “Can I help you?” Rhiannon asked in such a way that Randi and the rest of the crew who were nearby took notice, becoming on guard.

 “It’s more like I’m here to help you,” He replied as he came to a stop about three feet away. “Name’s Thomas Talamini… I am the personal financial officer for Gotti Holdings and will be handling some financial issues for you as arranged for yesterday afternoon. In addition, there is the question of compensation for your efforts on behalf of my client; I am here to adjudicate this as well.”

 Arion looked at Rhiannon with a quizzical expression. “Arranged by who?” He asked the pilot, who merely smiled back at him.

 “I told you that the Lancer and I talked… and he told me things were being taken care of, on all fronts as much as possible. I got this,” She replied to her love before turning to Talamini and her charm turned on. “Well come aboard Mistah Talamini… Sorry for the accommodations for discussion but we were a might busy… Rhiannon Arkanian and very pleased to meet you…” She held out a hand.

Talamini didn’t miss the byplay between the two. He had been briefed about the Arkanian Group and its dynamics. He was also warned about the *charms* the pilot was capable of displaying… which is why he chose to do this now instead of later.  A flight suit, while it could be flattering, still requires a bit of lead time to make it so and Rhiannon was a very fetching woman.  But he didn’t get to be Gotti’s money man by being fooled by cleavage and a pretty smile; taking care of things now meant less chance of a mental faux pau

“Oh I am not concerned about the accommodations, Ms Arkanian; I’ve settled many a deal in some off the wall places… An infantry bay on a dropship won’t be the weirdest or the first time, either.” He shook her hand and followed her into the ship.

 Arione followed the two of them and merely listened. Rhiannon had obviously cut some sort of deal- what sort, he didn’t know… but he was about to find out.

 And find out he did.