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BattleTech Fan Fiction Index


The Cairo Saga, Book 1:
The Ballad of Cairo

Los Alamos,

The Periphery,

Spinward of the Federated Commonwealth

 

It was a cold night on the periphery world of Los Alamos. Two lances of planetary militia were out looking for a Mech that had been reported in the area. The first lance consisted of four Pegasus scout tanks, while the second consisted of four Mech’s: two Stingers, a Commando and a Locust. The light tanks acted as scouts while the Mech’s moved across the rolling grassland that sustained the farms that had reported the strange mech.

 

Lt. Steve Clark moved his Commando past a small line of trees and caught sight of what had once been a farm. All the buildings had been flattened and the cattle slaughtered. Of the farmers and their families there was no sign.

 

He keyed in his mike, “Rolling Thunder One, this is Walk Tall One, head down the road and see if there’s any sign of survivors”.

 

“Roger that Walk Tall One, Rolling Thunder One confirms. Rolling Thunder lance, move out!”

 

The four tanks headed off down the dirt track that headed to the nearest town. Clark’s Commando and the two Stingers started to move some of the wreckage out of the way while the Locust reported in to control.

 

Clark was lifting part of a barn when the Pegasus tanks reported in. “Walk Tall one, this is Rolling Thunder two, the Sarge is down. The Mech is here - it’s tearing the town apart! It’s a…” The radio went dead.

 

“Rolling Thunder lance report! Rolling Thunder lance respond! Walk Tall lance, make best speed for the town…move it!” Clark screamed his orders. The town the tanks were reporting from was his hometown…Cairo.

 

The Locust shot off down the track towards the town. The Stingers formed up on either side of Clark. As they rounded the last bend, they caught sight of the town. Flames reached high into the night, framing the pirate Mech like some sort of demonic beast raised from the very depth of hell its self. The four Pegasus tanks were now burning hulks at the side of the road. Clark hit the War-Book command on his Mech’s computer.

 

“Ok people it’s a Champion. She’s a 60-ton heavy, but we out-weigh her by 20 tons -combined weight. #2 and #3 go in from the right; #4 come with me from the left.” The two Stingers moved off to the right while the Locust followed his Commando to the left.

 

The pirate Champion was tearing the town apart, firing it’s lasers at buildings and watching them explode. As Clark got closer he could make out more details. The Mech was jet-black all over. He could just make out skulls painted on the knees in the flickering firelight. He locked on his SRM’s and fired a spread at the back of the Mech. The Champion shuddered as most of the missiles struck.

 

The heavy Mech turned and fired a stream of AC10 rounds into the Locust. The light Mech staggered backwards as the depleted-uranium slugs tore into its armour. The right leg was almost severed and the right arm torn off at the shoulder. Clark let rip with another swarm of missiles, this time backed up with his lasers. The Champion replied with its own SRM’s and lasers. Armour fell to the ground in shards as his Mech was ripped apart. The two Stingers rounded the corner at the end of the street and fired their lasers at the pirate. The twin medium lasers struck the heavy Mech on the left arm. The Champion fired more SRM’s at Clark’s Mech, this time snapping both legs off at the knees.

 

Clark hit his head on the control panel as the remains of his Mech hit the ground. Half conscious, he watched as the black Champion tore the two Stingers apart, one by one. He blacked out as the pirate Mech finished its work on the town.

 


 

The following day, while Clark was sitting in his hospital room, he looked at the list of casualties. Of the two lances, he was the only survivor. Over three hundred civilians had been killed, including his entire family. As he read the list of names, Clark made a vow on his honour as an officer and a gentleman, on the souls of his family and his dead comrades, to hunt down the pirate…or die trying.

 


 

Assault orbit,

Talon,

The Periphery,

Spinward of the Federated Commonwealth

 

The revenge raid by the Los Alamos Defence Force was carried out a month later. A friendly merchant had learned that the neighbouring planet of Talon had ordered the raid. The 1st company of the LADF was going to hit the Talon Mech brigade HQ in an attempt to kill or capture the warrior responsible for the attack on the town of Cairo.

 

Lt. Steve Clark sat at the controls of his new Mech, a battered CN9-A Centurion that had seen better days. The full Tech support unit from his old lance had spent days going over the Mech with a fine-toothed comb, cleaning every component and testing it to the point where it was probably the best Mech in the assault force, although not the biggest.

 

The DropShip shuddered as it landed. Several minutes later, the loading bay hatch in front of Clark opened up and dawn light flooded in. The Major leading the expedition gave the order, and Clark took point as the rag-tag company of Mechs moved out.

 

The dusty savannah spread from horizon to horizon, giving a clear route of advance to the enemy HQ. Clark pushed the throttle of his Mech all the way forward, sending the old Centurion to its top speed of 64.8 km/h. The rest of the LADF Mechs kept station as best they could. The two assault Mechs, the Major’s old AS7-D Atlas and the second in command’s STK-3F Stalker, found the going slower and most of the raiders slowed so as to keep the unit’s formation intact.

 

Not Clark: his Mech continued to race forward at full speed, meaning he was the first to encounter the defenders. A UM-R60 UrbanMech was foolish enough to try and stop Clark, receiving as punishment the full force of the Centurion’s armament. The LRM-10 launcher sent missiles walking up the lighter Mech, tearing at the legs and centre torso. One impacted against the cockpit, shaking up the pilot. The Luxor D-Series AC-10 sent rounds into the Urbie’s right torso, followed by the forward -arc medium laser. The light Mech blew apart as the ammo for its own AC-10 cooked off under the heat from the laser.

 

Clark continued past the lighter Mech like it was part of the scenery, his eyes locked on the next Mech, an ON1-K Orion. The enemy Mech fired its LRM-15 launcher at Clark, shredding armour from the left arm and torso of his Centurion. Medium lasers started to work their way through the armour on his right leg. AC-10 rounds tore at his centre torso, just missing his medium laser.

 

Clark was calm, un-afraid of death. His life had only one meaning: revenge. The Orion before him was the largest Mech in the Talon arsenal, meaning it was probably the unit commander’s Mech and thus the pilot was the one responsible for the destruction of his hometown. A thin smile played on Clark’s lips as he targeted the Orion.

 

By the time the rest of the LADF Company found Clark, he had chased the Orion into a blind alley and was repeatedly firing his forward medium laser into its burning cockpit. His Centurion was out of LRM’s and autocannon rounds and its left arm missing – left behind somewhere on the battlefield. The Major had to step in-between Clark and the Orion to get him to stop.

 

As the Techs started to salvage what they could from the battle, the Major took Clark aside for a brief talk that would change the younger man’s life.

 

“Look Clark, it’s obvious that you’re not going to let go of this until you find the pirate that attacked Cairo. It seems someone high up in the planetary council wants revenge too. We’ve got orders to seek out the pilot and bring them back…alive if possible. The records we’ve pulled from the brigade HQ’s computers point to the Champion being a mercenary from the Inner Sphere. The Techs say we can salvage the Orion you took down, so I’m giving it to you and sending you to Outreach. An agent from the intelligence directorate will accompany you, as will a small team of Techs to keep the Mech running.”

 

The Major handed over a thick folder to Clark. “This is every C-Bill and IS-bond that the planetary council could get its hands on, plus some scraped together from the survivors of Cairo, among others. A merchant DropShip can take you as far as the Outworlds Alliance… from there you’re going to have to find your own way to Outreach. Good luck Clark.”

 

Clark looked at the Major, the flame of vengeance burning in his eyes “No…not Clark…not any more. Call me Cairo…Steven Cairo”.

 


 

Ferris City Spaceport, Ferris,

Outworlds Alliance,

The Periphery

 

The Leopard class DropShip Alistair landed roughly on the concrete pad of the Spaceport, some 50 kilometres from the city of Ferris itself. Clark, who hand taken to calling himself Cairo, walked his ON1-K Orion out of the cargo-bay as soon as the huge door was open and the ramp down. Behind him, a small cargo truck driven by the Tech unit sent with him, as well as the agent from the intelligence directorate, trundled down with what little spare parts and personal possessions they carried.

 

It was two months after the battle of Deep-River Plains on Talon and Cairo had spent most of that time familiarising himself with his new Mech. The Orion was 20 tons bigger than the Centurion he had used to kill his new Mech’s former pilot, and 50 tons bigger than the Commando he had been piloting back on Los Alamos on that bitter night three months ago.

 

He walked his Mech over to the customs office and dismounted.

 

The bored-looking customs agent looked at him wearily as he went through the list of questions he had to ask every newcomer to the planet.

 

“Name?”
 

“Cairo, Steven Cairo”
 

“Home world?”
 

“Los Alamos”
 

“Reason for visit?”
 

“My colleagues and I need to find transportation to Outreach.”
 

“Well, there is a merchant bound for Greeley in the Fed-Com, you might be able to get a ship from there to New Avalon, then on to Outreach, but they just started that Civil War of theirs and the schedules are all messed up.”
 

“Thank you. Is there somewhere I can leave my Mech while I arrange transport?”
 

“Try the cargo master’s office over there” The customs agent pointed to a low building some distance away “They may be able to help you - it’s right next door to the booking office. Good luck.”

 

Cairo smiled as he walked back to the truck to talk to the senior Tech. “Okay McCoy, the Customs man says we should be able to get a ship to the Fed-Com from here, but it will be a long trip. Leave a guard on the truck and my Mech, then head into town and get some supplies. I don’t know if our tickets will include food, but it’s best not to risk it.”

 

“Okay sir, will do”. The gruff old sergeant saluted Cairo and turned back to his assistants to give them their orders.

 

Cairo looked at the Intelligence Directorate agent who had been sent with him. He was a short man, very indistinct. The sort of man who could be easily lost in a crowd…something he had told Cairo was a good thing in his line of work. “Jackson, check out the local bars and taverns. See if anyone remembers a jet-black Champion with skulls painted on the knees coming through here sometime recently. This is the main entry point to the Outworlds Alliance and the Inner Sphere for any traffic from our part of the Periphery so the odds are pretty good he’ll have passed this way.”

 

“I’m on it”, the agent said in his normal low voice, then walked off towards the main spaceport building.

 

Cairo looked around. McCoy was organising his As-Techs into two teams and Jackson was nowhere to be seen. He took a small tin of grey paint and a brush from the back of the supply-truck and climbed the retractable ladder up to the cockpit of his Orion. He opened the tin and using careful brush strokes, named his new Mech…Retribution.

 


 

Merchant Sector, Ferris,

Outworlds Alliance,

The Periphery

 

Cairo looked up at the sign that hung above the entrance to the tavern, announcing its name as ‘The Centurion’s Head’. Jackson had sent him a message that someone in the bar knew of the Mech that they where looking for. He pushed open the door and stepped into the dark, smoke-filled room. A few heads turned to look at him, but for the most part he was ignored. He walked to the bar and ordered a glass of the local ale. He scanned the room for Jackson, but the intelligence officer was nowhere to be seen.

 

He started on his drink, and was not surprised when Jackson suddenly appeared at his side. “There’s a dock-worker over there who says he saw a jet-black Champion with skulls painted on the knees in the cargo bay of a DropShip bound for the Fed-Com border that passed through here six weeks ago.”

 

“And you think he’s telling the truth?” Cairo asked, trying not to get his hopes up to much.

 

“I told him I was a Mech-junkie who wanted to know about any that came through the spaceport. That…and a few drinks got him talking.”

 

It was at this point that a drunken tavern customer slipped and fell against Cairo. “Hey, you spilt my drink you did! You’re gonna’ pay for that!” The drunk said, pushing Cairo against the bar.

 

“Look, we don’t want any trouble, let us buy you a drink and we’ll call it quits, ok?” suggested Jackson, not wanting any trouble. Cairo pointed at two equally drunk men wearing the same uniform as the troublemaker, now approaching them.

 

“You boys from the local garrison or something?” Cairo asked, seeking a way to defuse the situation.

 

“And if we are, what’s it to you, pal?” the last word was more spat than spoken at Cairo. “Maybe he’s a pirate, sent here to check out the defences before a raid.” One of the two newcomers to the conversation suggested. Cairo and Jackson saw weapons being readied, knives and pool cues mainly.

 

Jackson reacted first, pulling a sawn-off shotgun from his long trench coat and pointing it at the ceiling. In the confined space of the bar, the blast from the shotgun was deafening. The pellets struck the ceiling, sending a shower of plaster over everyone at the bar. Cairo grabbed Jackson by the collar and pulled him behind an overturned table. A series of thumps and bangs told him he was just in time as several knives and bottles struck the tabletop.

 

Cairo looked over the top of the table, firing his service laser at some of the rioters. Many of them had managed to find cover behind the bar-top, and were trying to shoot back with a selection of slug-throwers, lasers and bottles. Cairo turned to Jackson. “How many shells you got left in that thing” he asked, pointing at the shotgun. Jackson examined his weapon. “Three, maybe four. What have you got in mind?”

 

Cairo pointed over the top of the barricade. “See if you can hit some of the bottles above the bar.” Jackson looked round the end of the table. “Ok. Cover me.” They came up shooting, Cairo keeping the heads of the rioters down while Jackson let rip on the drinks above the bar, shattering bottles. “Ok, why did I just do that?” asked Jackson, pulling out a small slug-thrower out of his pocket. “Watch and learn my friend, watch and learn.” Cairo stood up and fired his laser at the shattered bottles. The heat from the laser beam set light to the alcohol that had spread over the top of the bar.

 

A sheet of flame covered the bar from end to end, sending the rioters running for their lives. Cairo looked down at Jackson. “I think we’d better get out of here.”

 

“I’m with you on that!” replied the intelligence officer, picking up his shotgun and running for the door.

 

The small hover car that Cairo had rented was still where he had left it. He got behind the wheel while Jackson jumped into the passenger seat. Jackson turned to Cairo, “I think we’d better get off-planet as soon as we can. The local cops are going to be after us in no time.”

 

“Don’t worry there is a DropShip leaving for Inner End this afternoon. McCoy has got us tickets for it.” Cairo replied.

 

Jackson smiled as he settled down, “Federated Commonwealth, here we come”.

 


 

DropShip Wandering Star

Inbound, Greeley System,

Federated Commonwealth

 

Cairo, Jackson and McCoy sat around a table in the DropShip’s observation room. On the table were several empty bottles of strong whisky that McCoy said was reputed to help with jump-sickness.

 

McCoy put his glass down and looked at Jackson. “I know why the lieutenant here is on this mission, by why did you volunteer for it?”

 

The intelligence officer finished the last of his whisky and looked from Cairo to McCoy “My father was chief engineer on a DropShip, a Union, same as this. My mother was a schoolteacher and I’d spend most of my time with her, but during the holidays we’d all spend time together on the DropShip. My father taught me a lot about life, love and engines on those trips among the more friendly planets around Los Alamos. From the age of about six onwards, all I wanted to do was be an engineer like my dad. So, when I finished school I went to the technical collage in Los Alamos City.”

 

Jackson refilled his glass with whisky, downed it in one and continued, “It was during my second year there that I was called to the Dean’s office and he told me to take a seat. My father’s DropShip, the Wild Rover, had been attacked by pirates while on a routine trip to the Santa Cruz system. The entire crew were killed when one of the main bulkheads gave way and vented the ship’s air supply”.

 

Jackson put his glass down and stared into space “I dropped out of college…started drinking. I was going down hill fast. Then, one day, I get a call. The Intelligence Directorate was looking for people to form a new anti-pirate unit. With my experience of DropShips, my technical knowledge and my ‘personal interest’ in pirates, I was offered the job of commanding a Leopard CV tasked with patrolling the systems where raids were most common. I doubt we ever went up against the ones that killed my dad, but it felt good to be striking back. When this mission came up, I gave my First Officer the ship and volunteered.”

 

Cairo nodded as Jackson finished his story. He looked at McCoy “Why’d you sign on for this then? We all know you are one of the top Techs from back home. What made you give up a comfortable job and go pirate hunting?”

 

McCoy was now the one to down his glass of whisky in one go. “In a way, my story echoes yours. My son was the gunner on one of the tanks that was with you the night Cairo was attacked. He was killed, leaving a wife and young daughter behind. How could I sit by while the person responsible for killing my only son, making my daughter-in-law a widow and my grand-daughter cry herself to sleep every night, wondering why her daddy went away, get away? You came here seeking revenge for losing your family. Jackson has an anti-pirate vendetta. The Techs in my unit all lost someone to pirates or the raids on farms around Cairo. We all have scores to settle.”

 

Jackson re-filled all three glasses and proposed a toast. “To absent friends, and making those responsible pay”

 

Cairo and McCoy raised their glasses “Absent friends.”

 


 

Greeley Spaceport
Greeley
Federated Commonwealth.


Cairo sat in the bar overlooking the Spaceport. For two weeks he had been trying to find a DropShip going anywhere near Outreach, but there were none. As he sipped his drink a Union class DropShip came in to land. The emblem on the side of the ship was that of the Wolf’s Dragoons, a unit known even in the Periphery as one of the best Mercenary units going. Cairo also knew that their home world was Outreach. The second emblem on the side of the DropShip he didn’t recognize.

He called Jackson over from the jukebox in the corner of the bar. “Find out what unit that is. If they are going back to Outreach, we may be able to hitch a lift”.

Jackson nodded, “I’m on it”, he said.

**********************************************

It was two hours before Jackson returned, accompanied by a tall, slender man in a Dragoon duty uniform. “This,” Jackson started the introductions, “is Captain Jack Cameron of the Wolf Dragoons. Captain Cameron, this is Lieutenant Steven Cairo of the Los Alamos Defense Force”.

Cairo shook the captain’s hand, “A pleasure to meet you, Captain”.

“Likewise, Lieutenant”, replied the Dragoon warrior. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing so far from home?”

Cairo motioned to the seat across the table from himself, and the captain sat down. “I’m on a special assignment. Myself, Jackson here and a small tech unit have been sent to the Inner Sphere to try and find a MechWarrior who attacked our planet about five months ago. He or she is wanted on counts of mass-murder and piracy. Records ‘recovered’ from his employer point to Outreach as the place of initial contact between said employers and the mercenary”.

Cairo sat back and let Cameron take in the information. “Well,” the captain said after a minute, “I can certainly understand the reasons behind your mission and I may be able to help you. My unit has been out pirate hunting too and we are a Mech short. I can offer you a temporary contract that will last until we get back to Outreach. You will have to stick with us while we do a short mop-up operation in the Chaos March, but that won’t take long. Jackson tells me you have an ON1-K Orion, and that it’s old, but in good condition. We can help re-furbish it with some new weaponry. It’s a six-month contract for you and your whole party and it will get you to Outreach with a bit of money in your pocket. What do you say?”

Cairo looked at Jackson, who nodded. “I think you have a deal there Captain”, Cairo said smiling as he extended his hand to his new boss.

“Welcome to the Dragoons, Lieutenant”, replied Cameron, shaking Cairo’s hand.

 


 

DropShip Hound-dog
Inbound, Arboris system
The Chaos March


Cairo liked his new comrades. The Dog Soldiers Company of the Wolf Dragoons were a specialist anti-pirate unit. They spent most of their time in or around the Periphery, taking down pirates who either got too bold for the Successor States to ignore or attacked independent worlds with enough money to hire Mercenary units to go after them.

Cairo’s 75-ton Orion was bigger than the 35-ton Panther he was replacing, meaning that a Phoenix Hawk from the Command Lance had been swapped to the scout lance, while he took its place.

The Dragoon techs had, with the consent and help of McCoy’s small team, swapped out Retribution’s old Kali Yama AC/10 for a almost-new Imperator Code Red LB 10-X. Cairo had read about LBX technology, but had never thought he would pilot a Mech armed with it. The Dragoon techs had been surprised by how well the old ON1-K Orion was maintained, especially when they were told about how Cairo had acquired it.

Cairo sat down in the briefing room to find out what exactly he had signed up for. Captain Cameron walked in, followed by the other two lance commanders. The room fell silent as the lights dimmed.

“Ok people, as you all know from reading the briefing material, the planet of Arboris has been in a near constant state of war since the end of the 4th Succession War. Capellan forces, planetary militia units and a “People’s Army” have been fighting for control”. Cameron pressed a button on the desk in front of him and a map of Arboris appeared on the screen behind him. “We are tasked with hunting down a group of pirates who have been using the confusion to stage raids on all three sides. They have agreed to pay us to hunt down the pirates rather than risk trying to send a joint task force out as it is most likely that they would end-up fighting each other”.

One of the lance leaders asked the question that most of the MechWarrior’s had been thinking. “What’s the reception going to be like? Are our employers going to consider us neutral or are they going to attack us?”

Cameron looked at the all of the warriors in turn. “I don’t know. There may be some trouble with hotheads and small, independent units of the People’s Army, but the Capellan forces and the planetary militia are thought of by Intel to be trustworthy. Neither of them wants to upset the Dragoons, given that Outreach is only a few jumps away and the thought of a regiment or five of angry Elite mercenaries dropping on your planet is enough to quell any ideas of attacking us for our Mech’s”.

The screen behind Cameron changed to show a close-up map of a city. “This is the city of Yorvic, which has the closet spaceport to the area the pirates seem to be operating from. We land tomorrow and begin a search pattern in the hills to the north of the city”. Again the map changed to show an area of hills, a river, and woodland. “The scout lance will take the woods to the north; the battle lance will stick to the area around the river where the ground is most level. The command lance will take the area in-between the two. We will sweep from east to west to start with, just getting the feel for the land and looking for any signs of the pirates. They are known to have several heavy Mech’s, as well as a Battlemaster assault Mech. That monster is heavily armed and could take out the scout lance on its own, so be careful. At the first sign of trouble - you call for backup. This is not some bunch of low-life scumbags from the Periphery”. Cairo gave Cameron a look that could have melted Ferro-fibrous armour. “They are more likely to be rough mercenaries or a house unit who have struck out on their own. Any questions? No? Ok then, I suggest you all get some rest…you’re going to need it”.
 


 

Yorvic Plains
Arboris
The Chaos March.


Cairo moved his throttle forward, speeding Retribution up to the old Orion’s top speed of 64 kph. Even at full-speed, he could barely keep up with Captain Cameron’s Thor-Prime. The slightly lighter Mech was the first and only Clan Mech Cairo had ever seen. The 70-ton OmniMech was even more powerful than his old ON1-K due to its advanced technology. The other two Mech’s in the command lance, a pair of BSW-X1 Bushwacker’s, easily kept pace with the Dragoon Captain’s machine.

The rolling, gentle hills of Arboris reminded Cairo of his home back on Los Alamos and that reminded him of why he was here: pirates. The Dragoons Intel said that this was the area the pirates had been seen the most and was likely to be the location of their base. Captain Cameron had ordered top speed because the scout lance had reported contact with 6 hostile Mech’s, believed to be the Pirates. The assault lance was also making for the scout lance’s position, but the bigger Mech’s were slowing them down.

The command lance rounded the last hill and saw what remained of the scout lance. The two Fireflies where down and the Phoenix Hawk was missing its left arm. The 4th Mech, a Panther, was trading PPC blasts with the pirate Battlemaster that Cameron had mentioned at the mission briefing. Two pirate Mech’s, a Centurion and a Blackjack, were also down. Cairo caught a radioed order from Cameron to the assault lance to make best speed, followed by an order to the command lance to attack.

Cairo selected a Mech that his updated war book identified as a Lineholder as his first target. The 55-ton Mech was trying to take down the Phoenix Hawk that had been moved to the scout lance to make way for his Orion. Cairo pressed his thumb down on his primary trigger, sending out a stream of clustered rounds from his newly installed Imperator Code Red LB 10-X autocannon. The effect was certainly spectacular - the sub-munitions tore at the Lineholder’s left arm and shoulder.

The pirate replied with barrage LRM’s from its dual LongFire-V LRM-5 racks. At the close range that the valley enforced upon the Mech’s, it was a wonder that any of the missiles hit, but two hit Retribution’s right torso above the autocannon.

Cairo added his two medium lasers to the LBX for his second attack, finishing-off the Lineholder’s left arm, which housed a deadly large laser. The pirate tried to run, but was caught in a deadly 3-way crossfire when the two Bushwacker’s added their LB 10-X Autocannons to Cairo’s. The Lineholder fell as numerous sub-munitions tore at the pirate machine’s gyro, smashing it to pieces.

The two Bushwacker’s turned back to dealing with a GAL-1GLS Gallowglas that had taken the opportunity offered by the destruction of the Lineholder to savage one of the lighter Mech’s with its ER-PPC and Large Laser.

Cairo picked his next target, a Gauss Rifle toting BZK-F3 Hollander.

 

The Hollander’s pilot was good: the first round from the gauss rifle slammed into Cairo’s right shoulder, damaging the joint badly. The old ON1-K may have been good by Periphery standards, but the armour was not up to dealing with the sort of damage a gauss rifle could give out. Cairo returned fire with all his weapons, flooding his cockpit with heat from the reactor below.

The LRM’s missed high, but the medium lasers and the LBX autocannon tore at the 35 toner’s armour. A dark scar appeared across the Hollander’s centre and left torso while the SRM’s left pockmarks on the left leg. Cairo hoped for a moment that the light Mech would go down, but its pilot managed to keep upright. The second gauss rifle round hit just below the first, and Cairo felt Retribution sway to the left as the right arm fell off.

Cairo moved forward as fast as he could, stepping inside the firing arc of the gauss rifle, then knocked the weapon aside with his Mech’s oversized left arm. The pirate punched with his left arm, damaging the ammo feed for Cairo’s autocannon and jamming the weapon.

Cairo sent a flight of SRM’s at his opponent at point-blank range, hitting the Hollander’s right shoulder and cockpit. The pirate Mech shuddered, the pilot stunned by the impact of 4 high-explosive warheads. This gave Cairo the time he needed to launch a deadly close-range attack.

He swung the old Orion’s left arm up and forward, slamming it into the Hollander’s damaged cockpit, then fired his remaining medium laser. The cockpit view-port was not designed to stand up to such a hellish onslaught at close range and melted. The laser light cored into the head of the Mech, vaporizing the pirate before they even had a chance to scream.

Cairo stepped his Mech back, letting the headless Hollander fall onto its back, smoke pouring from the hole in the visor that had failed to protect its owner.

Cairo looked out at the battle that had been raging around him for the minute it had taken him to deal with the Hollander: the Dragoon’s Panther was down, its pilot ejecting when the SRM-4 ammo had started to cook-off. The
Phoenix Hawk’s right leg had given out, and its pilot was trying to raise the Mech to a sitting position. One of the Bushwacker’s was a burning mess on the ground behind the pirate Gallowglas, which was trading fire with the other Dragoon Mech. Of Cameron’s Thor-Prime or the pirate Battlemaster, there was no sign, the smoke from the burning Panther and Bushwacker obscuring his line of sight, and his sensors damaged by the Hollanders punch.

Cairo fired a spread of SRM’s and LRM’s at the back of the Gallowglas, slamming into the enemy Mech’s damaged left arm and torso, finishing off it’s medium lasers. The Gallowglas fired its ER-PPC and twin large lasers at the remaining Bushwacker, tearing its left torso LRM launcher clean off and dropping it’s left arm to the ground. The Gallowglas jumped clear, and then fired its small laser at Cairo, trying to hit his dangerously exposed gyro through the damage done to his right torso. The old Orion responded with all its remaining weapons, scoring with its medium laser and SRM’s, but missing with its LRM’s.

The Gallowglas’ pilot noticed the Bushwacker line up its LB 10-X autocannon and fire at the back of the mech. The Dragoon warrior, a woman Cairo only knew as O’Brien, fired off over half a ton of ammo at the back of the pirate Mech, ripping off the rear armour and mangling its reactor shielding. The ER large laser that followed exploited the earlier damage, causing the emergency shielding to fail and the reactor went critical. The resulting explosion almost knocked Cairo’s Mech down, as it did with the Bushwacker, which made no move to get up again.

Cairo looked round for any sign of the pirate Battlemaster or Captain Cameron’s Thor. He caught sight of them less than 50 metres away. The OmniMech was lying on its front - the pirate’s PPC raised to the back of the Dragoon warrior’s cockpit.

 

Cairo placed all his might behind the throttle, willing his damaged Mech to move faster. The pirate Battlemaster was preparing to fire at Captain Cameron’s helpless Thor, but all Cairo saw was a jet-black Champion standing over a damaged Stinger, hundreds of light-years and several months before on his home-world of Los Alamos.

The flashback lasted less than a second.

Cairo held back on firing, using all his Orion’s power to move it forward. He shoulder-charged the Battlemaster just in time, the PPC blast striking the ground scant meters from the cockpit of the downed Omni. The blow tore the left arm from the Orion and the right arm from the Battlemaster. Cairo’s Mech was now down to its SRM-4 launcher and its jammed LB 10-X.

He fired the SRM’s at the assault Mech again and again, his finger pressing down on the firing stub the very second the weapon re-loaded. The pirate Mech shuddered under the continued attack, the pilot still shocked by the force of the Orion’s impact.

The Battlemaster looked like it was ready to fall: one more barrage and the Mech would be on the ground and Cairo could kick the Mech’s head in with his Orion’s massive armoured foot. Cairo pressed down the firing-stub and was greeted with the click of an empty magazine. He pressed the firing-stub again and again heard the hollow click of the missile feed system failing to find any missiles to feed the launcher.

He had fired all of his SRM’s.

He was without weapons.

The Battlemaster regained its proper stance and fired its PPC into the Orion’s left knee, melting armour and shattering the joint. Cairo fell backwards, landing on the right leg of Captain Cameron’s Thor, the impact seizing-up the Orion’s already damaged gyro.

Cairo looked up into the double barrel of the pirates PPC. This was the end.

Then he noticed something - a green light.

A green light had blinked on over the autocannon status indicator. The fall must have freed the ammo feed system. He pulled on the main trigger as hard as he could. A stream of clustered rounds shot forth from a sheet of flame two meters long. The front of the assault Mech seemed to erupt like a pond in a rainstorm, sub-munitions tearing at the already weakened armour. Then once again Cairo was greeted with the hollow, deadly click of an empty ammo-bin.

The pirate once again got ready to blast Cairo’s cockpit with its PPC, when a shadow fell over the Orion’s head.

The front of the Battlemaster seemed to disintegrate under the barrage as the assault-lances’ Annihilator fired all four of its LB 10-X Autocannon’s at point-blank range. A Gauss-rifle round from a Cyclops slammed hard into the exposed reactor shielding, tearing the very heart out of the once proud war machine. The Battlemaster teetered, and then slowly fell onto its back, dead.
 


DropShip Hound-Dog
Outbound, Arboris system
The Chaos March


Captain Cameron was lying awake in a sickbay bed when Cairo visited him the next day. The Dragoon MechWarrior’s right leg and left arm were in plaster and his head was bandaged from the concussion caused by neural feedback.

“So…I have you to thank for breaking my Mech’s right leg”, joked Cameron, his voice groggy from the pain medication the doctor was giving him.

“I did what I had to do to stop the pirate from killing you”, replied Cairo. “I couldn’t stand by and watch another comrade killed in such a callous way. Not again”.

“Don’t worry about your mech. I’ll have the techs back on Outreach rebuild it. It’ll be better than ever”, the mercenary promised him. “I owe you my life and the lives of seven of my warriors from what I hear. If you hadn’t stopped that Battlemaster, it would have killed the rest of them”.

“Hey…” smiled Cairo. “What are friends for?”


Harlech
Outreach
The Chaos March


Cairo looked up at the side of the Leopard class DropShip before him. It had the name Wataru painted on its side. He turned to Jackson the intelligence officer, who was smiling as he looked at the ship. “Okay, how did you get the Wolf Dragoons to part with a nearly-new DropShip at a price we could afford?”

The smile on Jackson’s face grew wider. “It was Captain Cameron who talked General Wolf into letting us have it in exchange for the salvage money we would have got from the four Mech’s you helped take down on Arboris. He’s still a bit upset that you turned down the chance to form a second Dog Soldiers company. I don’t think anyone has ever turned down a command with the Dragoons.”

Cairo looked back to the DropShip. “I told him, I still have a mission to carry out. He hates pirates too and ought to understand. Still, Cameron did well to talk his boss into all but giving us the ship.”

Tech Sergeant McCoy walked over to where Cairo and Jackson where standing. “Okay, your Mech is back in one piece. The Dragoons replaced all the weapons and rebuilt the chassis with endo-steel. She’s secured in the cargo-bay”. He turned to Jackson, “Are you sure you can fly this?”

Jackson laughed at the tech, “I grew up on DropShip’s remember? I commanded a Leopard-CV for three years. If it’s got a fusion-drive, I can fly it”.

A fourth figure walked over to where the three of them where standing. Sergeant Sinead O’Brien carried a large rucksack over one shoulder and had a kit bag in her other hand. Cairo turned to look at her. She was definitely attractive: tall, not too thin and powerfully built, her muscles showing under her coveralls. “You don’t have to do this you know. Cameron said he’d take you back if you want to stay”, he said.

“You’re an interesting person to be around. You’re driven by duty and even when you’re offered the chance to command a company of elite warriors, your sense of honour prevents you accepting. I think I’ll tag along for now”, she replied with a smile. “Anyway, I’ve got my own Mech. A Panther my not be as big or powerful as your Orion or my old Bushwacker, but it’s a good Mech”.

Cairo decided not to argue. “Okay, welcome aboard”. He extended his hand and O’Brien shook it strongly. The four of them, followed by the rest of McCoy’s techs, walked up the ramp into their new home.
 



Captain Jack Cameron looked at the receding DropShip as it climbed up through the clouded sky. “You think we did the right thing, sending O’Brien off with them like that?”

Next to him, General Maeve Wolf smiled, “It was the Commander’s idea. We’ve been trying to pin something on Cain for ten years, but the murdering scumbag has been able to keep just clean enough to get away with out being charged with piracy. Cairo hates him and will stop at nothing to kill him.”

A figure stepped from the shadows. “That’s the plan”, smiled Jaime Wolf.


Galaport
Galatea
Skye March, Lyran
Alliance

Cairo looked down from his seat in the stands at the battle going on below. A SDR-9K Venom and a HM-2 Hitman where fighting in an arena almost 1km across. He turned to O’Brien, “Is this normal, wasting Mech’s like this?”

The former Wolf Dragoon sergeant laughed at him “You don’t have Mech fights on Los Alamos?” she asked.

“There aren’t enough Mech’s around to justify it. My planet has a small factory that can turn out two old-style Stingers a month. Most of them are sold to keep our JumpShips and DropShip’s going. The ones we keep are mainly used for training and spare parts”. Cairo and O’Brien turned back to the arena as the Venom finished off the Hitman with a blast from 3 of its medium pulse lasers, setting off the lighter Mech’s LRM ammo.

O’Brien continued the conversation as the two of them walked back to the spaceport. “So, your planet has a small Mech factory and you sell most of the Mech’s it makes - yet you had to salvage the Orion you pilot now?”

Cairo smiled as he stepped through the outer gate of the spaceport, “Like I said, we have to sell most of the Mech’s we produce just to keep our ships running. The only place within reasonable range is the Outworlds Alliance, and they charge a fortune. We had to work a deal with them where we give them half the Mech’s the factory puts out in exchange for having our ships serviced”.

A dark figure stepped out in front of them and they heard a second behind them. “Okay”, the shadowy figure said. “Hand over all your money and valuables or the lady gets it”. O’Brien looked at Cairo then kicked back at the man behind them, doubling him over.

Cairo’s response was more to the point.

His arm cam up at high speed, a slug-thrower suddenly appearing in it as if by magic. He fired a single shot through the forehead of the man in front of him, then turned and calmly shot the one on the ground behind him.

O’Brien was shocked by the terminal action her new CO had taken. Even more so when Jackson stepped from the shadows clapping, “Very nice. Clean, two shots and no mess. Couldn’t have done it better myself. I saw them stalking you from the Spaceport bar and figured I’d come and help. Looks like you didn’t need it”.

Cairo looked up at the intelligence officer. “You think the police will give us any trouble?”

Jackson shook his head. “We’re out of here as soon as we get back to the ship. I’ve got a lead on Cain. He’s in the Combine, up near the Clan Occupation Zone. I’ve found a way to get us as far as Wolcott”.

Cairo and Jackson started off towards the DropShip, O’Brien running to catch up. “You shot them! You just shot them…why?” she demanded.

Cairo turned to her, “If I hadn’t, they would have killed us… probably raping you first. I’ve already seen too many people I care about die to let it happen again if I can stop it. If you’re going to shed tears, shed them for the people they probably killed before”.

O’Brien looked at him. “You really are a strange person Steven. You’re going to take a long time to work out”.

“No doubt General Wolf can do without your profile on me for a little while longer Sinead”, he replied walking off.

O’Brien was stunned. “How long have you known?” she asked.

Jackson turned to look at her, “Why else would they sell us a 60-million C-Bill DropShip for only 10 million, huh? We may be from the Periphery, but were not stupid”, he said coldly.


DropShip Wataru
Inbound, Wolcott
The Draconis Combine


Lt. Steve Clark ran along the streets of Cairo with only his service revolver in his hand. A jet-black CHP-2N Champion ran along ahead of him, firing its weapons at buildings that exploded when hit. Clark fired his revolver at the back of the 60-tonne Mech as he ran, the bullets bouncing off the heavy armour.

No matter how fast Clark ran, the Champion simply strode on, not even noticing Clark. The Mech turned a corner, stepping over the bunt-out hulk of a Commando. Clark lost sight of the Mech while he ran around the fallen machine.

When he turned the corner he saw the terrifying spectre of the Champion towering over him. The twin turret mounted small lasers on the dark Mech’s centre torso swung down to point straight at Clark. The laser barrels glowed blue as the weapons discharged.

Lt. Steve Cairo sat bolt upright in his bunk, which was unfortunate as the distance between his bunk and the bunk above him was less than the distance between his bunk and the top of his head. He let off a string of curses that would have made a dockworker blush. He looked at the clock beside his bed and noticed that it was not long before he had to get up as it was. He turned off the alarm and headed to the shower.

Twenty minutes later he was on the DropShip’s bridge. Jackson was sitting in the pilot’s seat, McCoy was at the engineer’s station and O’Brien was at the com-unit, asking the ground-controller for an approach vector. Cairo sat in the captain’s chair, it being the only spare seat in the room. McCoy’s small band of techs where ether off-duty or in the engine room.

Cairo drank a cup of coffee from a vacuum bubble – since the ship’s drives were not in use and there was no gravity. O’Brien looked at him and saw the bump on his forehead, “Bad dreams again sir?”

Cairo sighed. He had told the rest of the crew about his dreams after McCoy had burst into his room a few nights ago, when he’d heard Steven screaming. “Same old same old. Back home on Los Alamos, chasing after Cain’s Mech. I’ll get something to help me sleep when we land. When do we land by the way?”

O’Brien tapped the screen of the Com-unit. “We have permission to land on Runway 6 at Wolcott Spaceport. We should be down in about two hours”.

Cairo looked at the Wolf Dragoon sergeant, “And who is our contact on Wolcott? No doubt General Wolf has friends or underlings working on the Draconis Combine’s centre of mercenary activity?” he asked.

O’Brien looked ashamed. If it was because she was still in the employ of the Dragoons, despite telling Cairo several times that she was not, or if it was because he and Jackson had seen through her guise so quickly, Cairo nether neither knew nor cared. “The man we need to see is called Jeremiah Rose”, she said, reading the information from a small note-puter with a Wolf Dragoons’ logo on the back. “He owns the Black Thorns mercenary unit. They got lucky back in 3057, scoring big time after getting very generous salvage terms on a contract. He runs the local branch of the Mercenary Bonding and Review Board and owns two companies of Mech’s, plus two Union Class DropShip’s; the Bristol and the Tracy K.

“Ok then”, smiled Cairo, sitting back in his chair. “Let’s go meet Mr Rose.”


The Red Rose bar
Wolcott city, Wolcott
Draconis Combine


Cairo, Jackson and O’Brien stepped out of the hover car and looked up at the glowing neon sign above the door to The Red Rose bar. “Christ what a dump!” exclaimed Cairo as he examined the worn façade of the building. “O’Brien, I thought you said this guy was rich?”

O’Brien was taken aback, “Hey, I’m just going by what the Intel people gave me”. She shot Jackson a sarcastic look. The intelligence officer laughed and led them into the bar.

The inside of the bar was as run-down as the outside. Loud music blared out of speakers at them and group of drunken revellers stumbled about on the dance floor. The three of them walked to the bar and ordered drinks. O’Brien asked the barman if the owner was in. He pointed to a door just to their right that had ‘Office’ painted on it. Cairo led the way and knocked on the office door. “Who is it?” a voice from the other side enquired.

“The name’s Cairo…I’m looking for Jeremiah Rose. It’s about Sebastian Cain”. Cairo was not surprised when the door opened to reveal a laser pistol.

“And what do you want with that scumbag?” asked a slight woman in worn MechWarrior fatigues, the nametag on the left breast pocket read ‘Rose. R’.

Cairo stared down at the gun, his arms crossed casually. “I want to kill him, that’s what”. He cautiously extended his hand. “I’m Lt. Steven Cairo”, he said cordially. Gesturing to the others he added, “And this is Sergeant Sinead O’Brien and Paul Jackson”.

The gun was lowered but not put away. “Rhiannon Rose, executive officer of the Black Thorns mercenary unit”, said the woman. “My brother is away on Luthien at the moment, so I’ll have to do. Have a seat”. Rhiannon motioned to a pair of chairs and a sofa on one side of the desk at the far end of the room.

Jackson took the sofa while Cairo and O’Brien sat in the chairs. Rhiannon seemed pained as she sat down. “I had a bad landing while drop training with my company last month. My brother sent me here to rest while my back gets better”, she explained, catching the look in Cairo’s eyes. “Until then, I’m in charge of what passes for the Mercenary Bonding and Review Board around here”.

“Are things that bad?” enquired O’Brien.

“Things have been bad since Operation Bulldog. All the top mercenaries went back to Outreach. All we have left are the ones who aren’t good enough or don’t want to gain the attention of the real MBRC. In a few years this place will be as bad as Galatea”, explained the mercenary sadly.

“Believe me”, said Cairo, “We can handle Galatea type trouble”. He smiled at O’Brien, who looked away, still shocked by his actions back in the Lyran Alliance. Rhiannon saw the look O’Brien gave Cairo, but decided to ignore it.

“Well, if it’s Cain you’re after, he’s meant to be on Idlewind, preparing for a raid on Constance in the Ghost Bear Domain”. She pointed to a map on the wall that Cairo, O’Brien and Jackson stood to inspect. “You may catch him when he returns there afterwards, but the mission is set to launch in six weeks. You’ll never get there in time.”

Cairo turned to the mercenary, “Thank you for your time and assistance Miss Rose.”

Rhiannon smiled at him, “Anything for someone who wants that pirate dead. Good luck, Mr Cairo.”


Cairo and O’Brien had retired to a table as far from the music as they could, while Jackson was taking advantage of the fact that they were not due to leave Wolcott for a few days and was propping up the bar.

Cairo took a long drink of beer and turned to O’Brien. “So Sinead, what’s your story?”

O’Brien looked him square in the eye, “Took your time in asking didn’t you Steve? I was born on Somerset in what is now the Jade Falcon Occupation Zone. My parents managed to get transport to New Exford when the Clans reached as far as Anywhere and I got a place at a MechWarrior training college. I didn’t score enough to get a place in the LAAF, so I made my way to Outreach”.

She re-filled her glass from a pitcher on the table, “There I met a young lieutenant in the Wolf Dragoons by the name of Jack Cameron, who had this crazy idea of creating a unit just to fight pirates. I needed a job, so I agreed to help him prepare his case to take to the Old Man. He got approval and a promotion to Captain. I got made Sergeant and his second in command. We managed to build up a reputation as one of the best anti-pirate units going. Then one day on Greeley, Captain Cameron meets a stranger from the Periphery who’s on some damn-fool quest to find and kill a known pirate who has been able to keep just clean enough to avoid the law”.

Cairo finished his drink. “Interesting. Any idea of how to get to Idlewind from here?”

O’Brien pulled out her note-puter and hit a few keys. “There is a route that goes by way of Albiero, Hanover, Brocchi’s Cluster, Almunge and Rockland before arriving at Idlewind. It’s long but we should get there before Cain gets back from Constance”.

Cairo looked at his watch. “We’d better go get Jackson before he passes out and head back to the spaceport to book our passage to Idlewind. We’re going to have to earn some money soon - it cost us most of our money to get here.” O’Brien started to interrupt but Cairo held up his hand, “And I’m not asking your employers for any money. I’ll do this my way. If you don’t like that: go back to Outreach.”

O’Brien smiled, “Oh, don’t worry – I’m not going anywhere. I’ve told you before Steve, you’re an interesting person to be around.”


Idlewind city
Idlewind
The Draconis Combine


Cairo, Jackson, O’Brien and McCoy’s tech unit had been on Idlewind for almost three days, passing the time until Cain returned from the raid on Constance in the Ghost Bear Domain. The local garrison didn’t know how to treat them. Cairo, Jackson and McCoy were military officers from a Periphery world, while O’Brien was still in the pay of The Wolf Dragoons. In the end they where allowed to land the Wataru at the spaceport and wait.

All that changed on the fourth day.

A company of pirate Mech’s used a pirate point to jump in-system less than a day from Idlewind. They landed 400 kilometres from the planetary capital and began to harass local population.

The garrison, consisting of a lance of Zephyr hover tanks and a Mech lance made up of a pair of PNT-10K Panthers, similar to O’Brien’s, a CN9-D Centurion and a DRG-5K Grand Dragon, headed off to meet the raiders.

On board the Wataru, Jackson was able to patch into the Draconis com-system so they could listen in on the battle.

“Sir, the last of the Zephyrs just fell to the pirate Shadow Hawk! What do we do?” asked a worried voice, heavy with static.

“Pull back 200-meters. Go-cho Dancer and I will move to assist you. We must hold the pirates until the town in evacuated”. Cairo recognised the new voice as that of Tai-I Akira Goto, commander of the garrison and pilot of the Grand Dragon. The radio roared with the high-pitch sound of a PPC discharge.

“It shall be done Tai-I Goto Akira san!” Replied the first voice.

Cairo turned to McCoy. “Are our Mech’s ready for a battle?”

The gruff old sergeant smiled “As if I’d let my boys have them in any other condition!” he said with mock anger.

Cairo turned to O’Brien. “Go down and get strapped into your Panther.” He turned to Jackson as the mercenary hurried out, closely followed by McCoy. “Get this crate up in the air and take us to the battle zone as fast as you can. Bring us in low so we can jump out, then try and find the DropShip the pirates used and keep it on the ground”.

Jackson looked at Cairo. “You’re crazy, but you’re the boss!” He said, a maniacal grin on his face, “LET’S ROCK AND ROLL!

 


 

400km north of Idlewind City
Idlewind
The Draconis Combine


Cairo braced himself as the docking clamp that had been holding his Mech to the DropShip, released him. He fell the last 20 metres, bending the Orion’s knees as he hit the ground to absorb the impact.

He felt his front teeth chip as 75-tons of Mech hit the earth with a jolt. He checked his secondary monitor for damage: he’d landed hard and the armour on the Orion’s legs had taken a beating, indicated by amber segments on the damage display. He’d have to be very careful about taking damage there; they wouldn’t take as much as before.

He checked his screen for targets. Most of the pirate Mech’s were down…and so were all but three of the DCMS Mech’s. Tai-I Goto’s Grand Dragon was still up, as was the Centurion that Cairo decided must belong to Go-cho Dancer. One of the Panthers was missing its left arm but was still mobile and fighting.

He keyed his radio into a frequency that gave him a secure channel to Jackson. “Talk to me Paul, what’s the word on the rest of the garrison forces?”

Ok boss-man, we have two lances of light Mech’s pounding down the highway to the west of you, they’re about 20 minutes out. A heavy company is about half an hour behind them. There are a few fighters up, but they seem to be focusing on the pirate DropShip.” The intelligence officer was pulling the Leopard through a low arc that took him towards the pirates’ L-Z.

Cairo chuckled at the spy-turned-pilot. “Go kick some ass…and that’s an order!”

It was Jackson’s turn to laugh. “SIR! YES SIR!

Cairo changed channels to talk to O’Brien. “Sinead, what the hell am I looking at? My War-book tells me it’s a Shadow Hawk, but it doesn’t look like any I’ve ever seen”.

He could hear the sergeant gasp over the sounds of battle. “Oh my God!” she said after a second “Steve, that’s a brand-new SHD-5D Shadow Hawk. It’s just been brought out by Kallon Industries. This is no ordinary pirate band. That’s a multi-million C-Bill piece of hardware. We’ve got to be dealing with top-flight Mercenaries - no one else out here would have that sort of money to spend.”

Cairo saw the last of the DCMS Panthers go down and made up his mind. “Ok, you go help the Centurion take out that Blackjack, I’ll help the Grand Dragon with the Shadow Hawk. Good luck Sinead”.

Cairo could almost hear the tall, stocky MechWarrior smiling. “I don’t need luck. Watch your back Steve”.

Cairo moved Retribution forward at a trot, firing his missiles at the Shadow Hawk as he went. He swerved to avoid a stream of shells from the pirate’s Rotary AC/5. He felt a few of them dig into the Orion’s right shoulder and tear at the armour. He replied with a full ton of ammo from his LB 10-X.

The clustered rounds stripped armour from the shoulder and arm of the lighter Mech, digging through to the myomer beneath. He followed through with a blast from both of his medium lasers, scoring hits on the pirate’s centre torso.

It was then that the Shadow Hawk brought its RAC back into play.

 

The stream of high velocity rounds from the Shadow Hawk’s RAC/5 tore the armour from Retribution’s left arm and shoulder. Armour plates gave way, opening up the old Orion’s shoulder joint to the assault. Cairo saw the monitor image of his Mech’s left arm go first red then black as the devastating attack snapped the endo-steel bone just below the joint.

Cairo felt his Mech shift to the right as its centre of balance shifted due to the loss of several tons of armour and weaponry. He repaid the pirate with a full ton of ammo from his LB 10-X. The Shadow Hawk’s right torso gave way and the sub-munitions found the magazine for the SRM-4 pack on the side of the 55-tonners head. The CASE panels directed the bulk of the resulting explosion away from the Mech, but failed to save the adjoining arm.

The Shadow Hawk nearly fell as the severed arm fell, slamming into the leg below. Cairo tried to fire his LRM-15 launcher, but the weapon system reported a jam, no doubt due to the loss of the left arm. The Shadow Hawk began to bring its RAC back into line with Cairo’s Mech, only to receive the full attention of Akira Goto’s Grand Dragon.

The Draconis warrior scored with his PPC and LRM-10, but missed with his left arm Medium Laser. The PPC blasted the centre torso of the pirate Mech, stripping a full ton of armour off in one go. The LRM’s worried the engine shielding that Cairo’s earlier attack exposed.

The pirate Mech, suddenly finding itself fighting two Mech’s, both of them bigger than it was, tried to break off contact, only to run into Go-cho Dancer’s Centurion. Faced with the combined force of defending Mech’s, plus the two lances of light Mech’s that had just appeared on long-range scanners, the pirate raised its left arm in surrender and powered down.

Cairo had a look round for O’Brien. He saw her Panther lying on the ground, a gaping hole where the engine used to be. He flicked on his radio to a general channel. “Go-cho Dancer, what happened to Sergeant O’Brien?”

A reply came back in a decidedly un-Japanese accent. “Relax sir, that Blackjack gave her a pounding, so she punched out before her reactor went critical. One of the support units picked her up and took her to the nearest town to see a doctor. She saved my ass back there; I owe her a cold one”.

Cairo smiled, before he saw a massive explosion from the direction of the pirate DropShip’s position. He keyed his radio to a direct channel to the Wataru. “Jackson, speak to me!” he ordered.

The radio crackled into life. “Relax Steve; we just took out the pirate’s engines. That bastard isn’t going anywhere.”

Cairo allowed him self to relax. His lack of concentration caused the Orion to fall onto its right hand side. A babble of voices clamoured for his attention, “Lt. Cairo, are you okay?”

He shook his head, trying to get over a dose of feedback from his neural-helmet. “I’m fine Tai-I Goto Akira san - I just forgot my Mech only had one arm. Won’t be doing that again soon”.

“I am glad Cairo Steven san. You are a formidable warrior. It would be a shame to lose you after the battle was over”, the DCMS MechWarrior said solemnly.

 


Garrison Hospital
Idlewind City
Idlewind
The Draconis Combine


Cairo walked along the ward, its beds full of soldiers injured in the pirate attack. O’Brien was sitting up in bed, reading the damage assessment of her downed Panther. She looked up as Cairo approached “It’s a complete write-off. McCoy says the reactor gutted the torso and melted half the electronics and myomer. It’ll never work again”.

Cairo smiled as he sat on the end of her bed, “Don’t worry about that Sinead, you’re not getting out of this mission that easily. Tai-I Goto has kindly given us the rights to salvage the pirate Shadow Hawk. McCoy and his boys are loading her onto the Wataru as we speak. He say’s it should not be too hard to fix her up”.

O’Brien smiled. “Why are you so good to me Steve?”

Cairo kissed her on the forehead. “You’re a good pilot and I’ve got used to having you around. You just get your back better and I’ll deal with your new Mech”. With that he walked off, ignoring O’Brien’s shouts calling him back.


Garrison Situation Room
Idlewind City
Idlewind
The Draconis Combine


Cairo looked at the holo-tank before him and saw the last lance of pirate Mech’s try to make for the presumed safety of Fakir’s Canyon. He turned to Akira Goto. “Can the pursuit-force catch them?”

The Combine MechWarrior shook his head. “No, they can not. The pirates have to great a lead. They will be through the canyon at almost at the other DropShip before our forces catch up with them.”

Cairo examined the holo-tank. He pointed at the image that represented the Wataru. “What if Jackson does a few strafing runs to slow them down a bit? Some of your units can jump up-and-over this out-crop here, get in front of the pirates and catch them in a crossfire.”

Tai-I Goto rubbed his chin slowly. “If your pilot can hold them up for a few minutes, some of my Panthers can do as you say and cut the pirates off.”

Cairo tapped his wrist-com “Paul, can you try and hold up the pirates a bit while the garrison Mech’s try to cut them off.”

The radio crackled as the holo-tank showed the Wataru change course, swinging towards the pirate force. “We’ll have the pirates eating dirt in under a minute Steve.”

Over the next few minutes, Cairo, Goto and Go-cho Dancer watched the holo-tank as the Wataru made pass after pass over the pirates, firing PPC’s and LRM’s at the Mech’s in the canyon. Soon, the DCMS Panthers worked their way round behind the raiders and moved in for the kill. The Wataru started to circle; ready to pounce on any pirate that tried to escape. The remaining two enemy Mech’s surrendered, their pilots powering down as a sign of submission.

Cairo turned to Goto and Dancer. “Well, gentlemen, I must be leaving. We have found a JumpShip that will take us to Constance. We will have to go and ask the Ghost Bears where Cain is. I only hope they don’t do anything foolish like try to stop us”.

As he turned to leave, Go-cho Dancer stepped forward. “Lt. Cairo sir; request permission to join you. I owe Sgt. O’Brien my life. The code of Bushido demands that I repay her. Any less would be a great dishonour”.

Cairo shrugged. “Grab your gear and be on the Wataru by 07:45 tomorrow. I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into - it’s my turn to cook this week”.

 


 

DropShip Wataru
Out-bound, Idlewind
The Draconis Combine


Cairo found O’Brien in the observation lounge. She was staring out at the JumpShip that was going to take them into the Ghost Bear Domain. He floated over to her. “Hey, how’s the new Mech working out?”

O’Brien turned to him. “The Mech is fine, but what I don’t get is why I got it. It’s more powerful and faster than your Orion, but you gave it to me. Why?”

Cairo leaned back against the handrail. “Several reasons. One, you don’t have a Mech. Two, I like my Orion. Three, you’re better at using jump jets than I am. Apart from that I like having you around. If you had no Mech you would not be able to keep up the pretence that you’re here to help me and the Dragoons would call you back. I don’t want that…do you?”

As an answer, O’Brien leaned forward and kissed him.

 



When Cairo woke up the next morning, it was not from his normal nightmare. Instead he was looking up at the ceiling of the captain’s cabin and as this was the only single-occupancy room on the ship, it had been given to O’Brien. He turned his head to the side and saw her smiling at him.

“I was wondering if you were going to have a nightmare, but after last night, you were probably too tired”. She leaned over and put an arm across his chest. “You know, this changes everything. Most militaries have rules against commanding officers having this kind of relationship with their subordinates”.

Cairo smiled. “Well, since my army is a few hundred light-years a way and you are not technically my subordinate, they can go whistle Dixie for all I care”. He leaned over and kissed her.

The com-system beside the bed chimed. “Lt Cairo to the bridge please. Lt Cairo to the bridge please”.

Cairo stared at the speaker. “That was a direct message, not a general announcement. How did they know where I was?”

O’Brien laughed. “Steven, I think Paul would have realised you weren’t in you quarters last night, given that he’s in the bunk above you and all. Word travels fast when it concerns personal matters in a space as small as a DropShip, with so few people on board. Now go get dressed - you’re wanted on the bridge”. With that she kicked him in the ribs, sending him floating across the room.

“That was not nice!” Cairo said in mock protest, grabbing his clothes. “And, as you said, I’m your commanding officer, and I say you have to report to the bridge too”. He dodged the pillow that was hurled at him and ducked through the hatch.
 



Jackson was outside the bridge when Cairo arrived. “Have a quiet night, sir?” he asked with a smile on his face.

“Shut up Paul”, replied Cairo, also smiling.

As he went to open the hatch to the bridge, Jackson put an arm out to block his path, his voice suddenly serious. “Just ask yourself one thing. Is she doing this because she wants to, or because she has orders from Outreach; don’t forget, she received a HPG message from them just before we took off”.

That made Cairo think - and he didn’t like what his instincts were telling him.

 


DropShip Wataru
Inbound, Constance
Clan Ghost Bear Domain


Cairo managed to survive the hyperspace jump without being sick. He’d never known he got jump-sick until the raid on Talon, his first time out of his home system. Jackson pushed a few buttons and the Wataru detached itself from the JumpShip that had brought them into Clan space.

As soon as the small DropShip was safely away, the JumpShip used its double-lithium batteries to jump back to Idlewind and safety. “Nice to know we’re all in this together”, said O’Brien, floating through the hatch as the Draconis ship departed. The rest of the crew shared her sentiment: from now on, they were truly alone.

Cairo opened a broadband radio channel. “Attention Ghost Bear command on Constance. This is the DropShip Wataru, now in-bound from your Nadir Jump point. We are not hostile and only wish to investigate the recent raid you suffered at the hands of mercenary forces. We are transmitting our inventory and personnel files to you on a carrier frequency now. Please respond Clan Ghost Bear command”. He keyed off the mike and looked at the people surrounding him. “Well, I hope they believe us”.

It was two hours before they received a reply. “Attention DropShip Wataru, this is Star Colonel Frank Gilmour of Clan Ghost Bear. I am willing to discus the matter of the raid when you land. A Star of OmniFighters will escort you in. If you deviate from the approach vector we are sending you, your ship will be destroyed without any further warning. Ghost Bear command out”.

Dancer had joined the others on the bridge by this time and commented on the transmission. “Relatively short and to the point. He means it about blowing the ship up. You’ve given him your word that we come in peace. Give any indication that we’ve not and he will not hesitate in ordering his fighters to attack”.

Cairo’s face was grim. “Well, let’s not give him any reason to doubt us. Jackson, keep to the course they’ve sent as unless I say otherwise. McCoy; have your techs standby the weapons systems, but do not activate the targeting scanner. I’ve never met a Clanner, but from what I’ve read they are honourable and as long as we act the same and don’t provoke them, we should be okay”. O’Brien and Dancer nodded. McCoy went off to talk to his Techs, while Jackson set the autopilot to the course the Ghost Bears had transmitted.

 



Cairo walked down to the mess to get a cup of coffee. He was not surprised when O’Brien joined him. “Steve, we need to talk about last night. I don’t know about you, but I don’t jump into bed with just anyone. I like you…I really like you and I want this to work, but how will it affect you if we go into battle?”

Cairo put his arm around her shoulder. “That is a question I have been asking myself since I woke up. Well…that’s not quite true: first thing I asked myself was, ‘did that really happen or did I dream it’, but after that I wondered what I’d do if we have to fight again. To tell you the truth, I don’t know. This is not a situation I’ve ever been in before. This is why militaries have rules about relationships like this”.

He kissed her, and then added, “We will have to see what this Star Colonel Frank Gilmour has to say, and then talk again”. O’Brien smiled and put her head on his shoulder, holding him close. Cairo was glad she couldn’t see his face: Jackson’s warning before the jump was still playing on his mind.

 


DropShip Wataru
Inbound, Constance
Clan Ghost Bear Domain


Cairo sat in the small captain’s office and read the info O’Brien and Dancer had given him on Clan Ghost Bear. Until entering the Inner Sphere he’d only read about the Clans, but now he was heading deep into the territory of one of, if not the, most powerful Clans. He re-read the same page a second time before finally giving up. He keyed the intercom, “Go-cho Dancer, please report to the captain’s office”. He got himself a cup of tea while he waited for the Combine warrior to arrive.

There was a knock on the hatch and Cairo turned. “Enter”.

Dancer floated through that hatch and sat down. “How can I help you, Lieutenant?”

Cairo handed him the file he had been reading, “What can you tell me about the Ghost Bears?”

Dancer looked at the file and leafed through the first few pages, “Not a lot more than this file. Most of my experience with them has been by way of incoming fire. I’ve talked to a few bondsmen, but they tend to be a bit reticent talking about their former Clan. What I do know is that they are what the Clans call Wardens”.

Cairo was confused, “Wardens?”

“Let me put it this way: there are two types of Clans - Wardens and Crusaders. Wardens feel they should protect and defend the Inner Sphere from outside forces, while Crusaders feel it is their duty and destiny to take over and re-mould humanity in their image. The two types have been fighting each other since before the Clan invasion”, Dancer explained. “Clan Wolf split in two along the Warden/Crusader divide. The splinter faction - Clan Wolf-in-Exile - now resides in the Lyran Alliance.”

Cairo sat back, “So the Ghost Bears may help us?”

Dancer shook his head, “Help is too strong a word. They will probably let us hunt for Cain, but they won’t help us find him. If they do find him, they will kill him as a pirate, but to them, pirate hunting is the lowest calling for a warrior, reserved for the old and incompetent.”

Cairo laughed, “Well, a lot of people think that about me. Tell me Go-cho Dancer, where are you from? You don’t strike me as a typical Combine citizen.”

Dancer smiled, “Please, call me Rob. Well, I was born on Lambrecht in a region of space known as the Lyon’s Thumb. My father is a merchant from Kervil. He met a young Lyran woman; they fell in love and got married, had three kids, two boys and a girl. My older brother joined the Com Guards…he was killed fighting Word of Blake forces on Terra during the take-over. My sister lives on Dyev; she has a family of her own now. I joined the DCMS and got sent up here to help turn back the Ghost Bear invasion back in ’64. I’ve been on Idlewind ever since. Now, due to my debt to Sgt. O’Brien, I am here.”

Cairo regarded him thoughtfully. “Well Rob, that’s your choice.”

 


DropShip Wataru
Central Spaceport
Constance

Clan Ghost Bear Domain

Cairo looked out of the open airlock at the concourse beyond. A full Trinary of Clan Mech’s stood before him. They weren’t exactly hostile, but then they weren’t exactly friendly. He turned to Jackson, O’Brien and Dancer. “Okay, looks like the reception committee is here. No sudden moves and no going for weapons unless I say so”. He stepped out of the door and onto the concrete landing pad.

A tall man wearing the field uniform Clan Ghost Bear walked briskly towards them, surrounded by a point of armoured Elementals. “I am Star Colonel Frank Gilmour of Clan Ghost Bear, garrison commander of Constance. And you are?”

Cairo stepped forward and brought him self to full attention. “Lt Steven Cairo, Bravo Lance, 1st Company, Los Alamos Defence Force. I have been sent here to find a man named Sebastian Cain. I was informed that he had been hired to take part in a raid on this planet. I have orders for his arrest on charges of piracy and mass-murder in beach of the Ares Conventions”. He handed over the documentation he had been given before leaving home.

The Star Colonel looked at the papers and then back to Cairo. “Well, Lieutenant, I can confirm that a Champion BattleMech matching the one described in these papers did indeed take part in a raid here last month. The mercenaries that attacked broke every rule of honourable combat. They concentrated their fire on a single Mech, they shot pilots who had ejected and fired upon civilians. I am sorry to inform you that they managed to escape”.

A woman in the uniform of a Ghost Bear Star Captain came running up to the Colonel as he was finishing and spoke to him in a low voice. His eyes went wide and he issued a string of curt orders, “Bring the garrison to full alert. Order Striker Star back from the mountains and have the Techs load out our Mech’s for defensive operations”. He turned to Cairo, “I have just been informed that a Clan Wolf Trinary is on its way to attack this planet. They have offered no Batchall, but have just stated their intentions to take this planet from us”.

Cairo turned to look at his three companions and then back to Gilmour, “Can we help?”

The Clan warrior seemed surprised, “Why would you help us?”

Cairo shrugged, “You have not done anything to us and you have given us information concerning Cain. Apart from that, I doubt that the Wolves will just let us leave”.

The Star Colonel smiled, “As you wish. Some of my warriors are sick and you may take their places in the Trinary. You are in luck - it will be a glorious battle!”

Cairo smiled, “As my DropShip pilot says - any battle you can walk away from…”


River Valley 2114
Constance
Clan Ghost Bear Domain


The rain was so heavy that Cairo had to activate Retribution’s HUD to see where he was going. The dark night came alive with holographic Mech’s and Elementals. They were still a few kilometres from the last known position of the Clan Wolf Trinary that was trying to take the planet from the Ghost Bears. Cairo looked to his left and saw the image of O’Brien’s Shadow Hawk in his heads-up display. To his right was Go-cho Dancer in his Centurion.

The first sign that the Clan Wolf forces were nearby was when a Ghost Bear Elemental was sent flying back the way it had come by a round from a Gauss Rifle. Star Colonel Frank Gilmour’s voice came over the radio, “Attention Ghost Bears. We have made contact with the accursed Wolves. Pick you targets and fight with honour. Seyla!” A chorus of voices came back with the ritual response. Cairo checked his HUD: there were several Wolf Mech’s before him, but they where all engaged in fighting.

Suddenly a Goshawk landed before him. The Mech bowed gently and a voice came over the radio, “I am MechWarrior Rebecca of Clan Wolf. I claim the right to fight the warrior piloting this Orion before me”.

Cairo shrugged and keyed into the same general frequency, “I am Lt Steven Cairo of the Los Alamos Defence Force. I accept your challenge MechWarrior Rebecca of Clan Wolf. Let us begin”. With that he fired a spread of LRM’s catching the lighter Mech in the chest.

The Clan Mech responded with a series of blasts from its Large Pulse Laser. Bolts of crimson light illuminated the battlefield like some strange lightning. To Cairo, it seemed the rest of the universe disappeared. The only things left were himself and the Goshawk. Time seemed to slow down as the two Mech’s danced around each other, striking out with lasers, missiles and autocannon blasts, trying to get in the killing shot.

Eventually Cairo was able to blast the last of the armour around the medium Mech’s XL-fusion engine with a spread of SRM’s. The follow-up blast from his two lasers sent the Clan Wolf Mech to the ground. He opened the same radio channel as before. “MechWarrior Rebecca, do you yield?”

“Aff, Lt Cairo, I yield”. The voice that came back was of someone in pain.

Cairo tried to remember words of the book O’Brien had given him; “I exercise my right to clam you as my Bondsman and your Mech as Isorla. Power down and stand by for further instructions”.

He looked round the battlefield. The Ghost Bears had managed to rout the Wolves and were pushing them back to their DropShip. He opened up channel to Dancer, “Rob, have you seen Sinead?”

Dancer’s voice was full of sadness, “I saw her Mech fighting a Loki. She was badly damaged and ejected. The Loki pilot claimed her as a bondsman. Last I saw of her, a pair of Elementals was dragging her aboard their DropShip”.

Cairo’s eyes went wide, “Get back to the Wataru, we’re going after her”. He changed frequencies, “McCoy, get a salvage team to pick up Sinead’s Mech, we’re going after that Wolf DropShip." He then contacted the Wataru, “Jackson - get ready for immediate lift-off”. Switching back to his chief tech, “Oh, and McCoy, pick up the Goshawk I downed…and the pilot too. We may be able to use her as a bargaining piece”.

Cairo turned and, bringing his Mech to full throttle, headed back to the Spaceport.


DropShip Wataru
Out-bound, Constance
Clan Ghost Bear Domain


The hull of the Wataru hummed as Jackson pushed her to 2-G’s of acceleration. Cairo sat strapped into the captain’s chair as the intelligence officer used all his skill to keep the DropShip on course. At the weapons console was Lenny Rodgers, one of McCoy’s Assistant Techs. The huge mountain of a man’s Maori ancestry was evident - not only by his sheer size, but also by the network of tattoos that covered his body.

The giant turned to Cairo, “We are coming up on them fast sir: estimated time to intercept – two hours. We should be on them just as they reach the JumpShip”.

Cairo nodded and turned to Dancer, “What does our new friend have to say about this?”

Dancer was having some trouble with the speed of the DropShip, the acceleration pushing his small frame deep into the padded chair he was sitting in. “She says that they were based on Leoban and have been ordered back to Clan space for rest and refit. The Star Colonel commanding decided to make a slight detour and hit Constance to see if he could take the planet”.

Cairo’s face didn’t change, “Did she say where in Clan space they where going?”

Dancer smiled, “Seems they were being sent to garrison the city of Bager on Huntress. The Wolves took it after the Star League took out the Smoke Jaguars back in 3060”.

Rodgers interrupted, “Sir, we have two fighters peeling off from the Wolf DropShip and heading our way. War Book identifies them as Clan Sulla-class OmniFighters. They will intercept in less than ten minutes”.

Cairo moved forward in his chair, “Bring weapons systems on-line. Close all interior hatches. Prepare ship for attack”. He keyed a line to the engine room, “McCoy, I’ll need every amp you can squeeze out of the reactor”. He keyed off without waiting for his reply. He turned to Jackson, “Paul, show me what you got”. The normally jovial pilot’s face was a mask of grim concentration.

When the fighters made their first pass, Rodgers fired every forward-arc weapon at the lead fighter. The PPC’s and lasers hit, but the missile missed high. The fighters responded with an ER-PPC and twin ER Large Laser each. The attacks left streaks of melted armour along the right flank of the Wataru and the lead fighter veered off, trailing smoke.

Jackson was forced to break off pursuit of the Clan Wolf DropShip to take the fighters. Again and again the sleek Sulla’s dived at the Wataru. Again and again Rodgers fended them off with the DropShip’s armament. In the end the Clan DropShip made it to the JumpShip and left the system behind.

Cairo sent out a broadband transmission to the two Clan fighters, “Attention Clan fighters, this is the DropShip Wataru. Your friends have left without you. Surrender and you may continue to fly your ships… just not for Clan Wolf”.

The radio crackled into life, “This is Star Commander Scot of Clan Wolf. You intend to make us bondsman and take our fighters as Isorla, Quiaff?”

Cairo’s response was curt, “Aff Star Commander Scot, I do indeed intend to make you my bondsman and take your fighters as Isorla. The only other choice you have is to float here until your air runs out. I know that you can’t have enough to make it back to Constance and your Clan will not come back for you…its your choice – surrender or die”.

The Clan fighter pilot’s voice was full of resignation, “Aff, DropShip Wataru, we surrender”.

Cairo nodded at the radio. “We will open our docking bay. Manoeuvre your fighters in and power down. A member of the crew will meet you there. Do not try anything funny. I am in no mood to make deals”.

He turned to Rodgers, “Lenny, go and welcome our guests…take a shotgun with you, just in case. Take them to the mess, I’ll meet you there”. He turned to Dancer, “Bring MechWarrior Rebecca along”. The Combine warrior nodded and left after Rodgers. Cairo turned to Jackson, “Take us back to Constance. We need to find a way to Huntress”.

The intelligence officer looked round to make sure they were alone, “Is that wise? Our mission is to find Cain, not rescue a mercenary who got shot out of her Mech”.

Cairo gave Jackson a look that made his blood run cold. “I am in charge of this mission, Mr Jackson and I decide what our priorities are. I will not leave anyone behind. Even if I have to take on Clan Wolf alone, we will find Sinead and we will get her back”.

Jackson was surprised by Cairo’s uncharacteristic display of emotion. “You must really like her”.

Cairo bowed his head towards the deck, “I think I love her”.


ISS Scapa Flow
Zenith Jump Point
Waypoint Juniper
Deep Periphery


Cairo was relaxing on the grav-deck of the merchant-class JumpShip when Jackson found him. In the two months since the battle for Constance, Cairo had spent all of his time integrating their bondsmen into the team. MechWarrior Rebecca had taken to the change in life very easily, mainly due to her freebirth origins. Star Commander Scot and Aerospace pilot Jennet however, were products of the Clans’ genetic engineering system and tended to be a little full of themselves around everyone else.

Jackson sat in a chair opposite Cairo and handed him a note-puter. Cairo put down his drink and read the information on the small screen:

From: General Maeve Wolf, commanding officer, Wolf’s Dragoons.
To: Sergeant Sinead O’Brien.
Subject:
Cairo, Lt. Steven.
Message reads:

I am glad to hear that you and Lt Cairo have become close friends, but do not let this interfere with your mission. You are to get as close as you can to Lt. Cairo and find out if his mission really is to find Cain.

Use any and all means at your disposal to gain his trust and confidence and as soon as you have any evidence as to what his true mission is, transmit it us at the earliest possible convenience. I recommend that you use the obvious attraction the lieutenant has for you to our advantage.

Message ends.


Cairo put down the note-puter and Jackson saw tears in his eyes. Jackson spoke softly, “The message was received just before we left Idlewind - about the time your ‘relationship’ with the sergeant began. I’m not saying that she only slept with you because she was ordered to. I think she does indeed like you, but the timing is too much of a coincidence.”

Cairo was openly crying now, tears running down his face. “For the first time since the attack on my home town I thought I’d found something good, something to hold onto other than the pain. I trusted her, I LOVE her and now I don’t know if she was just using me to get information or not.”

Jackson tried to be as diplomatic as he could. “Are we still heading for Huntress, or do I try and find a ship heading back to the Inner Sphere?”

Cairo shook his head, “No, we go on. I need to know the truth.”


Lootera City, Huntress
Kerensky Cluster
Clan Space


Cairo and Jackson walked up the front steps of the Star League Defence Force HQ building. They had an appointment to see the garrison commander and wanted to ask how to get to the Clan Wolf base at the city of Bagera. The regimental standard behind the reception desk showed a white ghost wolf on a black shield with a white border. Underneath the emblem were the words ‘Shadow Company, SLDF’. Neither Cairo nor Jackson recognised the unit, but as they were relatively new to the Inner Sphere, they just forgot about it.

They were directed to an office on the second floor. Cairo knocked on the door and a voice on the other side responded “Enter”. Inside the room were three men in SLDF uniforms. Cairo saluted the captain and nodded to the two lieutenants. The senior officer returned the salute, “Ah yes; the man from the Periphery”.

Cairo tried to hide his feelings over the man’s contempt. “Lieutenants Steven Cairo and Paul Jackson of the Los Alamos Defence Force. We have come here to recover a member of my unit who was taken by a Clan Wolf Trinary. The three bondsmen we captured informed us their next posting was to be the city of Bagera. I would like any information you have on the city”.

The SLDF captain stood up and for the first time, Cairo could read the name on the man’s uniform: Piecemaker. “And you just plan to waltz in there and take your lost solider, is that it?” The Captain’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Cairo kept a straight face. “No sir, I intend to demand a Trial of Possession for the Sergeant in question. I will fight the warrior who defeated her. If I win, we will leave Huntress on the first available ship back to the Inner Sphere. If I lose…well…we will have to wait and see”.

Piecemaker looked at the two SLDF lieutenants who were trying to hold back laughter. “Very well Lt. Cairo”, he reached into a draw in his desk and pulled out a map, “This will get you as far as Bagera. Good luck.” Cairo and Jackson saluted and left. No sooner had they closed the door than laughter echoed from the other side.

Cairo smiled at Jackson, a dangerous look in his eyes, “Let’s go.”


50km outside Bagera
Huntress, Kerensky Cluster
Clan Space


Cairo’s Orion was walking along the side of the road with Dancer’s Centurion one his right and MechWarrior Rebecca’s Goshawk on his left. Behind them, in a small ground car, Jackson and McCoy were discussing the recent changes in their boss. “I’m telling you Shamus, Steve’s lost it big time. He’s been simmering ever since the attack on his hometown. Just look at the evidence: the way he captured that Orion, changing his name from Clark to Cairo, naming his Mech ‘Retribution’, the way he dealt with those two muggers on Galatea”.

McCoy nodded, “I know what you mean lad, but he seemed better after him and Sinead started seeing each other. If it were not for that letter, he would be okay. He was just beginning to trust Sinead when all this started”.

Jackson shook his head, “I should never have shown him that communication from Outreach”.

The old sergeant looked at the DropShip pilot-turned-spy, “Don’t beat yourself up over it Paul, he had a right to know about that. She has a lot of explaining to do”.

The radio crackled and Cairo’s voice came over it. “Okay people, we are now starting to show up on the Wolves’ sensors. Stay sharp, but don’t do anything unless I tell you to”. With that he switched to a general frequency. “Attention Clan Wolf garrison, this is Lt. Steven Cairo of the Los Alamos Defence Force. I have come to reclaim a bondswoman you took on Constance in the Ghost Bear Domain. I wish to challenge the MechWarrior who piloted the Hellbringer for the bondswoman Sinead O’Brien”.

A voice full of scorn answered his call, “I am Star Commander Marcus. I captured the one you call Sinead. I will fight you and kill you with my bare hands for the insult of thinking you are my equal. I will be at your position in ten minutes”. The radio went dead.

It was nine and a half minutes later that a star of Clan OmniMech’s, followed by a hover-car, halted 100 metres from Cairo’s Mech. The pilot of the Hellbringer dismounted and walked to the hover-car. Cairo climbed down from the cockpit of his Orion and walked halfway towards the Clan force.

A tall man in the uniform of Clan Wolf walked towards him, dragging O’Brien. To say that she had looked better would have been an understatement: her bottom lip was cut and her left eye was black. She was walking with a slight limp in her right leg and was holding her left arm.

The Clan warrior spoke, “You are the one called Cairo, Quiaff?”

Cairo nodded “Aff, I am the one who issued the challenge, do you accept?”

The Star Commander sneered, “Aff, I accept your ‘challenge’ and I will kill you for insulting my honour. Do you really think you are my equal?”

Cairo nodded, “And I’m going to kick your arse from one end of this clearing to the other. We fight: I win, I leave here with Sinead. You win, you keep Sinead, and you get me; Deal?”

The Clanner spat at Cairo’s foot. “When I win it will be your death…freebirth scum”.

Cairo smiled, “Then lets begin…trashborn”. The Star Commander threw O’Brien to the ground and leapt at Cairo.

The Clan warrior kicked out at Cairo, who was able to dodge. It was obvious that the Star Commander had been trained in unarmed combat, but so had Cairo. He had grown up in a very rough part of town and had spent many years in a street gang. Star Commander Marcus may have been taught the proper way to fight, but Cairo had learned to fight dirty.

While the Clanner tried to go for knockdown blows, Cairo concentrated on doing as much damage as he could. He rained down blows on his opponent’s kidneys, throat and groin. His next blow was a head-butt that broke the Star Commander’s nose. He followed this through with a vicious kick to the groin. While his opponent was doubled over, he brought up his other foot and caught the Clanner below the ribs, winding him.

Marcus fell to the ground, gasping for breath. Cairo elbow-dropped him on the back, cracking two ribs. The Clan MechWarrior lost consciousness. Cairo looked over to the other Clan warriors who had gathered round the hover-car. They nodded to confirm his victory.

He picked up O’Brien and helped her back to the ground car that Jackson and McCoy had driven. Cairo walked back to his Mech as the other two helped the battered MechWarrior into the back of the car.

Cairo was just climbing into his cockpit when a voice called out over a loudspeaker, “I am Star Captain Drake of Clan Wolf. I wish to speak to the one who defeated Star Commander Marcus”.

Cairo picked up his neural-helmet and keyed in the radio to a general frequency. “This is Lt. Steven Cairo. I defeated the Star Commander”. His eyes went wide as a further ten Clan OmniMech’s burst forth from the tree line.

“The trial you fought for the bondswoman Sinead was not sanctioned by me”, the Star Captain continued, “And thus I am not bound to abide by the results of the trial”. His Timber Wolf raised its arms at Cairo. “Surrender or die!”

“I doubt he’ll do that...Canister-Mopper!” Came a voice from behind Cairo. He turned to see a company of Mech’s walking towards him. He recognised the unit emblem on the Mech’s: Shadow Company. Piecemaker’s voice came over the radio again, “And just to keep you from doing anything stupid, Star Captain, we are going to escort him and his friends back to Lootera. If you have a problem with that, you can take it up with me and my men”.

Star Captain Drake responded by firing his Timber Wolf’s twin ER Large Lasers at Piecemaker’s Awesome. The SLDF Mech hit back with a trio of ER-PPC’s.

Cairo ducked into his cockpit and strapped himself in as the battle began.

The exchange of fire between Star Captain Drake and Captain Piecemaker started a free-for-all battle between the Clan Wolf forces and Shadow Company, with Cairo and his people caught in the crossfire. Cairo quickly strapped himself into his command couch and hit the quick-start button to light up Retribution’s fusion reactor.

Go-Cho Dancer and MechWarrior Rebecca had started to pull back towards Lootera, covering the ground car containing Jackson, McCoy and the injured O’Brien. Cairo fired on a Shadow Cat that had taken a shot at the fleeing car. He fired every one of his weapons at the OmniMech, instantly sending the old Orion’s cockpit temperature from cool to searing. The Clan Mech shuddered as every weapon hit. The LRM’s slammed into its left and centre torso, ripping armour off in shards. The LBX autocannon caught a lucky hit on the Gauss Rifle, ripping the capacitor out, destroying the right torso in a blaze of electrical-discharge. The Medium Lasers and SRM’s tore the exposed XL engine to shreds.

As the medium Mech went down, Cairo had a look around the battlefield. Shadow Company had slashed its way through the Clan lines, ripping Mech’s to pieces. Cairo saw an Avatar go down to a Mad Dog, and fired on the Wolf Mech. His spread of LRM’s caught the OmniMech in the leg, and destroyed its knee actuator. His opponent turned on him and fired a spread of missiles like none Cairo had ever seen. Eighteen missiles caught the old Orion in the left torso, taking the shoulder and arm off.

After fighting to recover his balance, he clicked on his radio. “Rebecca, what the hell just hit me?”

The bondswoman came over the link, “Advanced Tactical Missiles. They can fire either Extended Range or High Explosive missiles. The ER versions has a longer range than a LRM, and the HE version is almost as powerful as a SRM”. Cairo shifted his Mech to avoid a second spread of missiles. “It’s a very new weapon. At the time you defeated me on Constance, only one Mech in the Trinary had them fitted”.

Cairo fired the last of his LBX ammo at the Mad Dog at point-blank range, ripping a hole all the way to the reactor beneath. The Mech fell to the ground as the emergency shutdown system kicked in.

Cairo looked round the clearing. The Clan Wolf Mech’s were in full retreat, being hounded by the surviving Shadow Company Mech’s. Piecemaker’s Awesome limped over to Cairo’s Orion. “You did well Lieutenant Cairo. I lost more than a few C-Bills to Boyd, my Catapult driver, when you took down that Star Commander one-on-one. You can have the pick of the salvage to repair your Mech’s and then get the hell out of Clan Space before the rest of Clan Wolf comes hunting for you. I don’t need that sort of trouble on my watch”.

“Don’t worry Captain; I have a man to kill back in the Inner Sphere”. Cairo turned his Mech and followed the ground car back to Lootera.


Lootera City, Huntress
Kerensky Cluster
Clan Space


O’Brien was lying on a bed in the Wataru’s small sickbay when Cairo went to visit her. Sally O’Day, the ship’s acting medical officer, stopped him outside the hatch. “Sir, I don’t think you should see her right now. She’s been through a lot the past two months and needs time to get over it.” Cairo just nodded and walked off to the Mech bay.

McCoy was standing on the upper gantry when Cairo found him. “No, I said the left torso! The ATM launcher is to replace the LRM and SRM racks. Oh, hi Sir, just doing the upgrade you asked for. I’ve managed to fit that new Advanced Tactical Missile unit into your Mech’s torso, and I’ve put a Large Heavy Laser into the re-built left arm. The Targeting computer from that Star Captain’s Timber Wolf is jammed in above your LBX. I tried changing your Medium Laser for a Clan ER version, but the coupling won’t match. Dancer has switched his LB 10-X for a Clan Ultra and his Medium Lasers for ER ones. We didn’t find a LRM-10 rack, so he’s had to keep the old one.” The old sergeant seemed pleased with himself.

“Just one question Shamus, how did you and Jackson capture a point of Elementals?” Cairo asked just before he left.

The Tech seemed a little ashamed, “Well, me and Jackson, before we left Outreach, had a little wander round the weapons storage locker there and picked up a few bits and pieces…”

Cairo stopped and turned, “What sort of ‘bits and pieces’ are we talking about?”

“Just a man-portable Gauss Rifle and PPC, nothing the Dragoons will miss.” McCoy was trying to hide the smile on his face. Cairo shook his head and walked off.



Jackson was on the bridge, his head under the weapons station and a radio in his hand. “Ok Lenny, connect the last of the ER-PPC’s and I’ll run power to it.”

A tinny voice came back, “Okay, the power coupling is attached and the targeting system is set.” There was a shower of sparks as Jackson attached to last two wires.

“Okay, that’s worked Sir, the test system has started up.” the as-tech’s voice came over the radio.

Jackson pulled himself out from under the opened panel and saw Cairo. “Hi Steve, how you doing?” he asked as he stood up.

“The question is Paul, what are YOU doing?” Cairo said, sitting down.

The DropShip pilot wiped his hands on a cloth. “Lenny and I have been swapping the Wataru’s weapons for Clan ones that we salvaged. We should be able to give anybody who messes with us a nasty shock.”

Cairo activated the targeting system and saw that the weapons system was working better than ever. “And our new friends?”

Jackson sat in the weapons officer’s seat. “You mean Rix and his boys and girls? They’re doing okay. We put them in the troop dormitory with the other bondsmen. They seem to have accepted being captured. I don’t think they were expecting McCoy and me to be packing anti-Mech weapons.”

Cairo nodded, “Shamus told me about your little shopping trip on Outreach.”

Jackson smiled, “Well, I figured we may need some heavy duty persuaders. You know what they say: pray for rabbit but pack for bear…or Wolf as the case may be.”


O’Brien was beginning to wonder where everyone was when she found Jackson on the bridge of the Wataru. “Paul, have you seen Steven? He seems to be avoiding me.”

The pilot shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “He gave everyone the day off: McCoy and his Techs are off shooting pool with the boys from Shadow Company, Dancer’s hang-gliding, and the Clanners are off visiting the Smoke Jaguar genetic repository. I don’t know where Steve is.” O’Brien walked off to find McCoy.


The Shadow Company compound was a hive of activity. Techs were trying to repair the damage done to the units Mech’s during the battle with the Clan Wolf Trinary two days before. She found McCoy in the officers’ mess, counting out his winnings. “It’s like I told you Dimitri, Diego Sanchez is the best pool-player I’ve ever seen.” The old sergeant turned when he saw her enter. “Oh, hey Sinead; you feeling better?”

“Shamus, have you seen Steven?” she asked walking over to the side of the pool table.

McCoy shook his head, “Sorry, haven’t see him since this morning.”


O’Brien had given up hope and had walked back to the Spaceport when she saw a familiar figure on top of the Wataru. She climbed up the inspection ladder and found Cairo sitting against the main turret, reading a book. He turned to look at her, and then went back to reading.

“Steven, why have you been avoiding me?” O’Brien asked, blocking his reading-light. Cairo looked at her, then pulled a note-puter out of his pocked and handed it to her. She recognised the letter on the screen:

From: General Maeve Wolf, commanding officer, Wolfs Dragoons.
To: Sergeant Sinead O’Brien.
Subject:
Cairo, Lt. Steven.
Message reads:

I am glad to hear that you and the Lt Cairo have become close friends, but do not let this interfere with your mission. You are to get a close as you can Lt. Cairo and find out if his mission really is to find Cain.

Use any and all means at your disposal to gain his trust and confidence, and as soon as you have any evidence as to what his true mission is, transmit it us at the earliest possible convenience. I recommend that you use the obvious attraction the lieutenant has for you to our advantage.

Message ends.


For the first time, O’Brien could see the hurt in his eyes. “Where did you find this?”

Cairo put his book down, “I had Paul go through your note-puter to try and find any information on the Clan Wolf unit that took you. If it makes you feel any better, he didn’t want to show it to me, but he, like you, was following orders.” His voice dripped with venom.

Cairo stood up and climbed back down the side of the DropShip. When O’Brien reached the bottom, Jackson was standing there. “He had a right to know. He would have found out, sooner or later.” He went to walk away, but turned back. “The dumb thing is, he still loves you: he just doesn’t trust you.” O’Brien was left with her thoughts.


The Red Rose bar
Wolcott City, Wolcott
The Draconis Combine


Cairo looked at the patrons of the bar: mercenaries, gamblers, Mech-junkies and just plain scum. He saw the man he was looking for. Lyle Jones was said to be the biggest source of information outside of ComStar. If it was illegal or immoral, Jones knew about it. The small, weasel-looking man sat at the bar, a heavy on ether side.

Cairo walked up to them like he was taking a stroll in the park, then hit the first heavy in the back with a stun-stick. The man went down, his body convulsing as five thousand volts of electricity shot through his nerves system. The second heavy tried to grab Cairo, only to get a kick in the super plexus, sending him to the ground, winded.

Jones made a run for it, but caught the shaft of the stun-stick on the back of his head. A few of the barflies decided to get involved, only to be warned off by Lenny Rodgers, a massive combat-shotgun looking like a toy in the Maori’s hands. Cairo picked the information-broker off of the ground and held the stun-stick centimetres from the man’s face. “Where is Sebastian Cain? Tell me or I’ll get nasty!”

Jones blinked, “You’re not nasty now?”

Cairo shook his head; “I’m only a bit tetchy at the moment. We could go for nasty if you want.”

The information-broker looked at his two bodyguards. The one who had taken a shock from the stun-stick was still twitching, while the other was barely able to sit-up, let along help him. “Borghese, Lyran Alliance. He got in trouble with the local police force and had to run. He took a short garrison job till the dust blows over.”

Cairo could see the man was too terrified to lie to him, but decided that a little fear never hurt. “He better be, you little runt, or I’ll come back for you and I’ll be angry…and you DO NOT WANT TO SEE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY!" He dropped the man to the ground and walked out, Rodgers covering the bar with his shotgun.


DropShip Wataru,
Wolcott spaceport, Wolcott,
The Draconis Combine


Cairo walked onto the bridge of the DropShip and turned to Jackson. “Borghese, Lyran Alliance. Get us there.” As he turned to leave he saw O’Brien sitting at the com-unit. He had hardly spoken to her since Huntress, two mouths before. He had told her to go back to Outreach, but she had stayed and he couldn’t bring himself to throw her off the ship. He left the bridge and stormed off.

Rodgers turned to the others, “I’m telling you: he’s lost it big time. He almost killed two people, and dammed near crippled a third. He needs help, like a psychiatrist or something!”

O’Brien turned back to the radio so that no one could see her cry.


Borghese Spaceport
Borghese
Lyran
Alliance

Jackson brought the Wataru to a stop on their assigned pad at the spaceport. Out of the view port he could see a crowd of people standing behind a security fence and several VTOLs flying overhead. Whatever was going on, he didn’t like it.

He keyed on the PA system. “Lt. Cairo to the bridge…Lt. Cairo to the bridge.”

Cairo appeared a few minutes later, “What’s up?”

Jackson just pointed out of the window. Cairo picked up a pair of binoculars and scanned the crowd. “Some of the people out there have placards with our names on.” He looked more closely at the VTOLs. “Holo-news agencies? Paul, see if you can pick up some TV on the main screen”.

Jackson flicked a few switches and a man appeared, standing in front of the crowd that surrounded the DropShip. “Just moments ago the DropShip Wataru landed here at the Borghese Spaceport. It is believed that Lt Steven Cairo and the so-called ‘Cairo’s Crusaders’ are indeed onboard, though no one has left the ship since it stopped.” The screen changed to a photo of Cairo taken when he was serving with the Dog Soldiers Company. “Since entering the Federated Commonwealth almost a year ago, Lt. Cairo, a native of the world of Los Alamos in the Periphery, has waged a one-man war against pirates. His fight has taken him from Arboris, to Wolcolt, to Idlewind in the Draconis Combine and into the Ghost Bear Domain. He has even gone as far as the former Clan Smoke Jaguar home-world of Huntress, before finally coming here to Borghese.”

The photo changed to one that Cairo knew every millimetre of. “Lt. Cairo is said to be hunting this man, Sebastian Cain, a mercenary who has been accused of piracy on more than one occasion. The Wolf Dragons, who for a time employed Lt. Cairo, refuse to release any information as to the reason for this feud and are still looking into who leaked Lt. Cairo’s story to the press.”

Cairo turned off the monitor and screamed at the intercom, “Sgt. O’Brien to the bridge, double time!” His face was a mask of anger when O’Brien ran through the hatch. He turned the monitor back on and let her see what was happening.

She seemed almost as shocked as he was. “Steven I swear to you, I haven’t told anyone but Outreach about what we’ve been doing.”

For a moment she thought Cairo was going to hit her, then he seemed to relax, if only a little. “You realise that Cain now knows I’m after him and will be looking for me?” Cairo pushed past her and stormed off.

Jackson shook his head. “This is not going to help. If the press see him like that, we may be in for some trouble. They seem to have built him up as some sort of hero, but if they think that he’s a raving psychopath, then they’ll turn on him…and us. If that happens then we may as well go home. This mission requires stealth to work. No more reports to Outreach - not until we’ve found the leak. You may want to lay low for a while. He’s got even more reasons to hate you now and I don’t think he can keep control much longer. We have to get him to a psychiatrist soon.” O’Brien nodded and walked back to her cabin.


Cairo squeezed himself into the jump seat of Star Commander Scot’s Sulla OmniFighter. The genetically engineered pilot strapped himself in and turned to his bondsmaster, “Is this really necessary sir? Cannot the local police just tell the people to disperse?”

Cairo shook his head, “Here in the Inner Sphere they have rules about freedom of assembly. I know what you mean though: Back on Los Alamos, the security teams would have kept them away from the beginning. I will never understand how this place works.” Cairo re-checked his harness as the bay doors opened.

There was a sudden surge of power and a feeling like several people where standing on his chest, then the fighter was in the air and away. For all the Clan pilot’s arrogance, he really knew how to fly. The sleek fighter took a wide arc over the city and set course for the garrison base. Cairo opened a radio channel “Borghese garrison, this is fighter Angle out of the DropShip Wataru, requesting permeation to land, over.” He looked at the pilot, “Why did you name this fighter Angle?”

The bondsman turned his head to the side slightly, “Why did you name you Mech Retribution? It just felt right.”

The radio crackled, “This is Borghese garrison command. The Colonel is expecting you. Come right to runway 30-30. You are cleared for landing, fighter Angle. Welcome to Borghese, Lt. Cairo.” The radio went dead.

Cairo banged his helmeted head against the side of the cockpit, “Why is it everyone knows who I am?”

Scot thought for a moment, “Maybe they need heroes during this Civil War? You are neutral, safe to like”. He brought the fighter round for final approach, “You have to admit sir: your story is quite remarkable”.

Cairo frowned, “One thing you, like every one else, has to learn is this: I don not care for the Inner Sphere, or the Clans, or the Star League. My planet was attacked during the Reunification War and has never recovered. I don not have this image of the Star League as a golden era. To me, it is just a page in a history book.” The fighter kissed the ground and came to a stop. “Stay with the fighter, I’ll go talk to the base commander. Cain has no doubt skipped planet, but there may be some clues as to where he went.”

Cairo walked across the tarmac to a waiting car. The private in the driver’s seat saluted, “I’m afraid the Colonel is quite busy at the moment. Some of the news agencies were able to track your fighter here and have laid siege to the front gate. He wanted you to have this and asks if you can leave ASAP?”

Cairo took the padded envelope the private held out and nodded, “We’re leaving now. Thank you.” He turned back to the OmniFighter.

The Clan pilot seemed shocked that Cairo was back so soon. “Is something wrong sir?”

Cairo nodded, “The press tracked us here and the base commander is busy dealing with them. He asked us to leave as soon as possible, so let us head back to the DropShip.” He hauled himself back into the fighter as VTOLs started to hover overhead. “And if any of those press copters should get in our way; shoot them down.”


The flight back to the spaceport was uneventful and Scot brought his fighter to a stop beside the Wataru. The recovery arm extended from above the fighter bay and picked the Sulla off of the ground and carried it in. Only after the bay door was closed and sealed did Scot open the canopy.

Cairo walked to his quarters before opening the envelope. It contained two pieces of paper and a CD-ROM disk. The first piece of paper was a letter from the garrison commander apologising for not being able to see him personally and the second was a copy of a DropShip passenger list. The name ‘Cain, S’ was highlighted, as was the destination, Solaris VII. He placed the CD-ROM in the terminal beside his bunk. It showed gun-camera footage of a Commando being hit by SRM fire and its legs snapping under the onslaught. After the Mech had hit the ground, a line of text appeared on the screen: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN,
CLARK.

Cairo’s fist shattered the screen, cutting his hand badly on the glass. The door opened and O’Brien ran in “What was that?”

Cairo looked at her, “Cain.” He stood up, “I told you to leave, why did you stay?” He advanced towards her, his hand dripping blood. She took a step back, but he reached out and hit the close button on the door. He stood only centimetres from her.

She swallowed hard, “I wanted to. I want to make it up to you. I didn’t sleep with you just because I was ordered to get close to you. I’d never follow an order like that, never.”

Cairo’s eyes burned like supernovas, the pure rage that drove him crystal clear to O’Brien. He pushed the open button beside the door and she fell backwards, landing in the corridor beyond.

Jackson walked up to her, “What happened in there?”

O’Brien looked at him, “Pain…I saw his pain.”

“We all have." The spy turned pilot nodded,  "We all have.”


DropShip Wataru
Zenith jump-point

Ginestra system
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo was asleep when the com-system woke him up. “Lt. Cairo to the med-bay, immediately!” Wearily, he dragged himself out of bed and floated down to the med-bay. The room was a hive of activity. Sally O’Day, the ship’s med-tech was busy attaching sensors to O’Brien’s inert body. MechWarrior Rebecca, O’Brien’s new roommate, was standing against one wall.

Cairo floated over to her. “What happened?”

The bondswoman handed him a jar of sleeping pills “She took an overdose of these. She told Sally that she was having trouble sleeping, O’Day prescribed her these and she took an overdose.” She looked at him, hate and fear in her eyes, “Are you happy now?”

Cairo was taken aback. “What do you mean?”

The MechWarrior looked like she wanted to slap him. “You have no idea how she feels about you, do you? I know the Clans are not known for understanding emotional attachments, but I am a freeborn and grew up in a family, so I have a better understanding than most. Sinead loves you and the thought of you being this angry with her made her want to die!”

Cairo was about to respond when Point Commander Rix pulled his way through the hatch, towing a suit of Elemental armour. He wedged the armour against one wall, then picked up O’Brien and slid her into the opening at the back. As soon as the hatch on the back of the battle armour closed, the internal med-sensors detected what was wrong with O’Brien and started to administer counter-agents and stimulants.

The sounds of O’Brien choking and starting to breathe came from inside the Elemental armour. Rix opened up the back, pulled her out and laid her down on the intensive care bed. He turned to Cairo and pinned him against the wall with one massive hand. “To lose a warrior in battle is expected…to lose one due to personal feelings is unacceptable!” He didn’t let go until Rebecca laid her hand on his shoulder. The look he gave Cairo before he left the room could have melted a hole in the side of the DropShip.

Cairo looked at O’Brien’s unconscious body, then kicked himself off the wall and through the hatch. When he got back to his quarters he opened the bottom draw of his dresser and pulled out a bottle of cheap whisky. He put a vacuum cap over the end and started to drink. He passed out before he reached the end of the bottle.


He found himself standing in the centre of a spotlight, with darkness all-round him. He could hear footsteps walking towards him, but could not make out which direction they came from. Suddenly Cain was standing before him. Cairo tried to grab him, but his hands would not respond. Cain shook his head “Don’t worry, I’m not really here. Here is the inside of that messed up head of yours. I’m the part of you that attacks people like Lyle Jones and drives people like Sinead to try and commit suicide.”

A new voice came from behind Cairo. “And I’m the part of you that knows why you hunt Cain…and why you love Sinead.” Cairo turned and found himself staring at McCoy.

“And you are here to decide which of us to follow,” the two figures said as one.

Cairo looked from Cain to McCoy. “What do you mean?”

Cain stepped forward, “This is your subconscious mind’s way of asking you which way you want go: to dedicate your life to hunting down Sebastian Cain and destroying your life in the process”.

The figure of McCoy came round and stood next to Cain, “Or to hunt down Cain, but still have something left afterwards”.

“You have reached a crossroads in your life: be consumed by the anger, or control it and make it work for you”. Again the two figures spoke as one.

“I still don’t understand. What difference will it make?” Cairo asked.

The image of McCoy smiled, “If you follow my path, you will still be able to hunt down Cain, but you will also be able to let people close to you. You pushed Sinead away…not because you don’t love her or trust her, but because you are afraid of being hurt again”.

Cain stepped between Cairo and McCoy, “But if you follow my path, you will have the edge you need to kill the real Cain. You need to let go of your conscience and use you anger. Forget about the others. They weren’t there that night…they don’t know how you feel”.

McCoy pulled Cain back and spoke to Cairo. “But if you follow his path, you will not have anything left at the end. You will be just like Cain - a killing machine with no concept of right and wrong. Are you ready to become that?”

Cairo shook his head. “No, I’m not”. He turned to Cain, “I may hunt you, but I’m not like you…I’m better than you”. The two figures nodded and the world faded to darkness.


DropShip Wataru
Whittington
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo blinked and looked up at the ceiling of the med-bay. He tried to move his arms, but found they where bound to the bed. He looked round and saw Sally O’Day walking over to him. “How are you feeling Sir?” she asked, flashing a light in his eyes.

“Better.” He said, smiling.

O’Day nodded and walked over to the com-unit on the wall. “He’s awake.”

Less than a minute later, O’Brien walked through the hatch. Her eyes were red from crying. She sat down the chair next to his bed. “Hey Steve; how you feeling?”

Cairo took her hand in his, “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you Sinead. I was in a very dark place for a long time and I took it out on you. I thought I’d lost you on Constance. Then when Jackson found that message from Outreach, I just lost control.”

O’Brien smiled at him, “I’m just glad I’ve got you back. I sent a message to Outreach: I quit the Dragoons. You’re not going to get rid of me without a fight.”

Cairo smiled, “So where the hell are we?”

O’Brien laughed, “Jackson decided we both needed time to recover, so he landed us on Whittington. We still have six jumps ‘til we reach Solaris. The next JumpShip going that way is not due for a month, so we can spend some time together off-ship. That’s if you want to?” There was fear in her eyes.

Cairo squeezed her hand, “I never want to lose you again. Now, can you talk Sally into letting me out of here?”


Whittington spaceport,
Whittington,
Lyran Alliance


Cairo was loading some bags into a VTOL he had hired for a few days when a man in flowing white robs walked up to him. “Lt. Cairo? I am Demi-Precentor Bartholomew Hendrix of the Blake Guards 101st Division. I would like to talk to you about procuring some of the Clan technology you salvaged on Huntress.”

Cairo closed the door of the helicopter and looked at Hendrix. “You want the ATMs and the Heavy Lasers, right?” The Demi-Precentor nodded. Cairo shook his head, “I’m not selling.”

Cairo walked back to the Wataru’s airlock. “Sinead, you ready?”

Just a minute!” A voice from within the DropShip echoed back.

Hendrix followed Cairo back to the aircraft. “I assure you Lieutenant, Word of Blake is willing to make a more than generous offer for the weapons.”

Cairo turned to Hendrix; “I’m going to need those weapons when I reach Solaris. Talk to me afterwards.”

O’Brien walked over to the VTOL wearing a blouse and shorts that where enough to make Cairo’s heart beat faster. He turned to the Demi-Precentor, “Look, one of my MechWarrior’s, Go-cho Robert Dancer, told me about Word of Blake and what he said was not exactly flattering. If I decide to sell the weapons after I have finished with them, you’ll have to bid for them like everyone else.” He climbed into the transport and closed the door. “Now if you don’t mind, we’ve got a few days before we are due to leave and we want to spend it together. Good day.”

As the small aircraft disappeared over the horizon, Hendrix took a small radio from a pocket in his robes and spoke into it. “He is unwilling to sell…proceed with plan B.” A thin smile crept to his lips.


Washington forest,
Whittington,
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo brought the VTOL in low over the trees, searching for a clearing to put down in for the night. O’Brien had just pointed to a small clearing by a stream when the small radar unit picked up four unidentified airborne contacts. He swung the civilian transport round so O’Brien could get a good look with a pair of binoculars. She gasped with alarm, “Steven, those are Ripper attack VTOLs…they have no markings and are heading right for us!”

Cairo didn’t need telling twice. He put the aircraft into a steep dive while pushing the throttle to maximum. He made for the trees as the first of the Rippers opened up with its Medium Lasers. Cairo brought the small VTOL round in a tight turn and headed down a valley at full speed. The unmarked Rippers followed one at a time, weaving their way around tight corners as Cairo tried to lose them. O’Brien tried to call the DropShip for help as emerald bursts of laser-light shot past the cockpit. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Sgt. Sinead O’Brien calling DropShip Wataru, come in please!”

There was a hiss of static as Jackson’s voice replied, “I read you Sinead, what’s going on?”

O’Brien was knocked to one side as Cairo took a corner so tightly that the undercarriage was ripped off by the cliff face. “We have four unmarked Ripper attack ships chasing us. They seem to be trying to force us down!”

There was a loud bang, followed by a string of curses form Cairo, “They’ve taken out the main engine. We’re going down!”

“Star Commander Scot is in the air heading your way. We don’t know where Jane is. I’ve alerted the civilian authorities and two Cyrano gun-ships are on the way”. Jackson was as agitated as Cairo had ever heard him. “Try to land near a river, it will make it easier for the rescue teams to find y…” The radio went dead as a shot from the attacking VTOLs took out the antenna.

Cairo wrestled with the controls as the helicopter started to lose height. He brought the nose up just in time to stop the Plexiglas cockpit from hitting a tree. The rotors were torn off as the stricken transport fell to the ground. Both Cairo and O’Brien were knocked unconscious by the force of the impact.


Unknown location
Whittington
Lyran
Alliance

When Cairo came round he was sitting handcuffed to a chair in a small room. O’Brien was in a chair next to him, still out cold. A door opened in the wall before them and Demi-Precentor Hendrix walked in. “Hello again Lieutenant. I hope you now realise how much Word of Blake wants those new weapons systems. I tried to be reasonable, I offered to buy them from you, but you didn’t want to sell”. He sat down on a stool and looked at Cairo. “Here is what we are going to do. I’m going to let you go and you are going to go to your DropShip. You will instruct your techs to remove the ATM launcher and Heavy Laser from your Mech and then take them to a location I will give you shortly. To make sure you play by the rules, the Sergeant here will stay with us until you deliver. If you alert the police, she dies. If you try and escape, she dies. Do anything stupid, like turn up at the drop-off point with your Mech’s and Elementals…and she dies. Do you understand?”

Cairo strained against his bonds, “You hurt her and I will hunt you down and kill you. You’ve seen the reports on the holo-vid’s…you know I’ll do it.”

Hendrix stood to up to leave. “If you do as I say, Sgt. O’Brien will be perfectly safe. If not, then I will leave her to the not-so-tender mercies of some of my less-respectable brethren.”


Cairo and O’Brien where dragged out of their prison, a building that seemed to be a small warehouse. A trio of hover-cars waited outside. Hendrix pushed O’Brien into the middle one before turning to Cairo and handing him a map. “This is the location of the trade. You have 24 hours to remove the equipment we asked for from your Mech and deliver it. If you are even one second late, Miss O’Brien will suffer terribly before she dies”. He unlocked Cairo’s handcuffs and got into the hover-car next to Sinead.

Just as the first Word of Blake hover-car was pulling away from the warehouse, a silver streak shot forth from behind a line of hedges and hit its front dead centre. The car stopped just as if it had hit a brick wall. A second silver streak from the same position and hit the car containing Hendrix and O’Brien, ripping a hole ten centimetres across straight through the engine block. Cairo ran to the disabled car as Point Commander Rix and his Elementals leapt from behind a row of trees and started to rip the third car to shreds.

Cairo pulled open the door to Hendrix’s car and pulled O’Brien out. The Word of Blake Demi-Precentor got out of the other side, brandishing a laser pistol, only to be ripped apart by large-calibre machinegun fire from MechWarrior Rebecca’s Goshawk as it emerged from the same group of trees as the Elementals. Robert Dancer walked his Centurion around from behind the warehouse and sent a stream of Ultra AC/10 rounds into the first two hover-cars. Cairo and O’Brien where blown through the air as the fuel tank in the first car exploded under the onslaught of 100-milimeter high-explosive rounds.

Sally O’Day ran forward with a med-kit, followed closely by Rodgers and Jackson, both of whom were toting man-portable Gauss-rifles. They had obviously been responsible for disabling the first two hover-cars. People wearing light combat armour with Word of Blake insignias ran from the warehouse, only to meet death in the guise of Dancer’s forward medium laser. O’Day was checking Cairo and O’Brien for injuries when a series of police cars came screaming down the street with lights blazing.

A greying man in the uniform of a Com-Star Precentor walked up to Cairo. “My name is Simon Clearwater, administrator of the local Hyper-Pulse Generator. On behalf of ComStar I would like to thank you for clearing up this little problem. We’ve known for a while that this group has been planning something, but until now we have been unable to pin anything on them. If any of them survive this they will spend the rest of their lives in prison”.

Cairo shook the Precentor’s hand, “That’s something I’m glad to hear.”


DropShip Wataru
Out-bound, Whittington
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo and O’Brien were alone in the Wataru’s observation bay, watching the planet of Whittington fade into the darkness of space. Cairo pulled a small box from his pocket and handed it to O’Brien. “I was going to give this to you during our little holiday, but I never got the chance”. O’Brien opened the box to reveal a diamond ring. Cairo carefully took the ring from the box and held it up to her. “Sinead, will you marry me?”

O’Brien smiled - tears of joy shining in her eyes. “Yes…yes, of course I will Steven.”


International Zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

One thing that can be said for Solaris City is that if you have the money, anything is possible. Arranging a wedding when you have a small arsenal of Clan weapons and equipment to sell is exceptionally easy. The small chapel that Cairo and O’Brien and decided upon was more than willing to keep the ceremony on the quiet, as long as the price was right.

The priest conducting the service continued where he had left off. “And if there is anyone present who has any just reason why these two should not be joined in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.” It was at this point that six men armed with silenced sub-machineguns burst into the room.

O’Brien looked at them and then turned to Cairo, “Didn’t we say formal wear on the invitations?” Everyone scattered as the men opened fire.

Cairo and O’Brien found themselves behind an overturned oak table, the 9mm rounds from the attackers’ guns unable to penetrate the thick wood. Cairo drew his service revolver and turned to O’Brien. “I’m glad we decided to get married in uniform. I just hope the others brought live ammo.” He ducked round the end of the table and fired, catching one of the gunmen in the leg. A beam of high-energy light from O’Brien’s laser hit the man in the head, killing him instantly.

She turned to Cairo, “What you think: Word of Blake or Cain?”

Cairo looked at the black uniform the dead man was wearing. “Word of Blake: We must have really ticked them off on Whittington.” He ducked back behind the table as a stream of bullets shot over the top of the table.

There was a loud bang as Point Commander Rix fired his gyro-jet pistol at the attackers, blasting one of them across the room. A hail of regular rounds from Jackson, Dancer and Rebecca caught three more, killing them instantly. The last one tried to run, but was brought down by a round through the knee.

Cairo looked over the top of his barricade, “Clear!”

Jackson popped his head up “Clear!”

As the crew of the Wataru walked to the centre of the room, Rix disarmed the surviving gunman. Cairo looked at the man’s knee. “Who managed to do that?”

The figure of Precentor Clearwater stepped forward, a smoking gun in his hand. “That one was me. We were informed by one of our agents that Word of Blake was still after you, so we decided to keep an eye on you. I’m sorry to interrupt your wedding, but they must have decided to catch you away from your Mech.”

Cairo looked at the Com-Star man. “You’re telling us that they are going to be after me forever?”

“They may decide that you are just too much trouble.” Clearwater shrugged, “You’ve already managed to stop two of their operations relatively easily.”

Cairo turned to O’Brien. “We may have to postpone the wedding for a little while. You okay with that?”

O’Brien smiled and put her arm through his. “I told you Steven…you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”


Ishiyama, Kobe
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo walked Retribution through the twisting tunnels of the massive Draconis arena. This was his first battle in the Solaris VII league and if he wanted a shot at Cain, he needed to win. His opponent was piloting a PTR-4D Penetrator, a 75-ton Mech armed solely with energy weapons. In the confined spaces of the infamous “knot”, the range advantage of his opponent’s ER Large Lasers was nullified, but he still had to be wary of its six Medium Pulse Lasers. As he exited a tunnel that lead to an underground lake, the Penetrator leaped from the dark waters, firing all of its close-range weapons.

The old Orion rocked backwards as tons of armour plating vaporised instantly. He fired a brace of ATMs, and caught his opponent in the air. The high explosive warheads slammed into the Penetrator, knocking it backwards and into the far wall. A salvo from Cairo’s LB 10-X, followed by a blast from his Heavy Large Laser, exposed then fused the Davion Mech’s left knee. The Penetrator hit back with another series of shots from all six pulse lasers, but Retribution’s Clan Ferro-Fibrous armour easily handled the onslaught.

A second flight of ATMs turned the left leg into scrap and the Penetrator fell. Its pilot raised his Mech’s right arm as a sign of surrender and powered down.


DBC Studios, Silesia
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo detested having to do the talk shows, especially as the presenters kept talking about his battle with Star Commander Marcus on Huntress. That belonged to a time in his life when he had looked into the abyss and the abyss had threatened to swallow him. He had been more than a little crazy at the time and had driven O’Brien to try and kill herself: something he would never forgive himself for.

The replay of his battle in the Ishiyama “knot” ended and his host, Todd Richards, turned to him. “So, Lt. Cairo, you’ve fought your first battle on Solaris. How does it differ from your experience on the battlefield?”

Cairo shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Well Todd, with the exception of my short battle on Constance, I’ve only fought people who wanted to kill me. Fighting in a situation where I can ask for - and normally receive - mercy is quite strange.”

Richards changed tack. “Yes, but on Constance you defeated and captured a Clan MechWarrior - a young lady by the name of Rebecca. You have kept her as a bondswoman and she fought for you on Huntress, also helping Go-cho Dancer rescue you on Whittington after your run-in with Word of Blake. Can you really compare the two?”

Cairo shook his head. “Comparing Clan battle techniques and the sort of duelling that goes on here on Solaris is stupid: Had MechWarrior Rebecca defeated me, she would have claimed me as her bondsman. I know this because she has told me so. When I fought Tom Woodland in the Knot, it was not to kill him or make him my bondsman - it was just to progress in the competition. I have earned my place in the Open Melee for a place in the Championship…nothing more.”


Thor’s Shieldhall, Silesia
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance
       
The crew of the Wataru had taken over a table at the back of the bar after Cairo’s interview on Mech-Talk. Most of them where drinking beer, except for Rebecca, who being only 19, had to stick to fruit juice. She turned to Jackson. “Why can I drink alcohol on the DropShip, but not here?”

The pilot smiled. “DropShip’s and JumpShips can set their own rules on drinking, but in the Lyran Alliance, you have to be 21.”

The Clan MechWarrior shrugged, “Very strange.”

Cairo and O’Brien were discussing the next match: a Lance-on-Lance event in which all four MechWarrior’s would fight, when a voice from behind called out, “Hello Sinead…long time no see!”

O’Brien’s face went white. Cairo turned to see who the speaker was and his eyes went wide: it was Sebastian Cain! He tried to grab the pirate - only to be held back by Rix. He struggled in the Elementals grip, but he was no match for the genetically engineered infantryman.

O’Brien stood and slowly made for the exit. Cain smiled at her as she walked away then turned to Cairo “I’ll see you in the games.” Cairo watched him as he walked off through the crowd. Only when Cain was out of sight did Rix let Cairo go. Much to the surprise of everyone at the table, he went after O’Brien rather than Cain.

He caught up with her as she walked down the street. He could see she was crying and his anger slipped away. “What was that all about?”

O’Brien wiped her eyes and sat on a bench. “I once told you about how I was born on Somerset, but my family fled to New Exford during the invasion. Well, that’s partly true. My father was in the Somerset Militia and stayed behind to give the DropShip’s taking refugees time to get away. He was killed defending the spaceport. About two years later we reached New Exford and soon after, my mother re-married. The man’s name was Patrick Cain…Sebastian Cain is my stepbrother.”

Cairo’s knees buckled as he felt the strength drain from him and he collapsed onto the bench next to O’Brien, who continued her story. “When I was 18, I completed my MechWarrior training. A group of us cadets went out to celebrate. We were trying to find somewhere that would serve us alcohol when we bumped into Sebastian. He got us served in a bar he knew and we all got pretty drunk. I told you that I went to Outreach because I didn’t get a place in the Lyran military, but that’s not true: I had been offered a place…but I ran away.”

Fresh tears welled up in her eyes. “I ran away because Sebastian tried to rape me. He got me drunk and he tried to rape me. I told my mother, but she didn’t believe me. The police said there was no evidence, so they couldn’t arrest him. Everyone thought I was crazy, making wild accusations against a member of the local garrison, so I ran to Outreach and never looked back. I’ve not spoken to my family since.” She collapsed into Cairo’s arms and he held her close.

“I’ll kill him…I promise you!” he whispered.


DropShip Wataru, International zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

O’Brien was running a few tests on her Shadow Hawk when Rebecca popped her head through the hatch. “Um, Sinead…I need some advice…” she said, sounding embarrassed.

O’Brien was surprised by Rebecca’s tone. During the time they had shared a cabin, the Clan MechWarrior had never had trouble discussing anything. “Okay, what about?” she asked.

Again Rebecca seemed nervous. “It is kind of personal. Can we talk somewhere else?”

O’Brien could see several of the Techs working in the cargo bay, as well as Rix putting his Elementals through some exercises. She undid her harness. “Sure, we can talk in the observation bay.”

The small observation bay at the front of the DropShip was deserted when they got there. The two of them sat down. “I am not sure how to begin…” began Rebecca. “I have become very close to Robert over the last few months and I know he likes me, but I am beginning to have feelings for him that I have not had before.” she finished uneasily.

O’Brien managed with considerable effort not to laugh. “Well…I do believe you are falling in love.” Rebecca blushed, but O’Brien continued. “It’s understandable. Rob is an attractive young man and not that much older than you. You told me once that your parents were, not necessarily married, but in a life-long relationship. I know that the Clans don’t abide by that sort of thing, but it’s the way you were brought up. Have the two of you been intimate?”

Rebecca shook her head. “No, I have not been with anyone since I was made a bondwoman. I did think at first that the Lieutenant might use his position as my bondsmaster and make me be with him, but he never did. Star Commander Scot is a typical trueborn and never speaks to me if he can avoid it. He spends most of his time with Janet. The rest of the crew all have families and because of this I have spent most of my time with Robert.”

O’Brien nodded - the two aerospace pilots were well known for their lofty attitudes. She thought for a moment. “Well, if you really do have these feelings for Rob, there’s no reason not to act on them.”

Rebecca looked down at the deck. “There is one reason. As soon as the Lieutenant is finished here, he will go back to Los Alamos. Robert intends to return to the Draconis Combine when this assignment is over, but as a bondswoman, I have to go where my bondsmaster goes.”

O’Brien put her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “I’ll talk to Steven. He won’t make you go to Los Alamos if you want to go with Robert.”

“But you will go to Los Alamos with the Lieutenant, will you not?”

 “That’s because I love him and he loves me. I’ve seen enough and been through enough to last me a lifetime. I think it’s time I settled down.”

“Thank you Sinead”.

O’Brien laughed, “It’s nice to help someone for a change. Most of my life all I’ve done is fight. It’s good to know I still have sensitive side.”


Boreal Reach, Black Hills
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran Alliance


Cairo winced as he heard the commentator announce the four of them as Cairo’s Crusaders. The name had been coined by the press on Whittington and had followed them to Solaris. He tried to concentrate on the lance of Mech’s that they would be facing: a Lineholder, a Bushwacker, an Apollo and a Stealth. He keyed open the lance-wide channel on his radio “Okay, I’ll take the Bushwacker - it’s the most dangerous of the four. Sinead, you deal with the Lineholder. Get in the minimum range of his LRM’s and use that RAC of yours to cut him down to size. Rob, you take the Stealth. Your Ultra AC/10 should make short work of him. Rebecca, you deal with the Apollo. Once you get within the minimum range of its LRM’s, use that Large Pulse Laser of yours to rip it a new arsehole. If any of you finish your opponent before someone else, feel free to help someone else with his or hers”. Three voices confirmed his orders.

The signal went off to announce the start of the match and the two lances opened fire on each other. Cairo saw O’Brien and Rebecca jump away from the starting position in an attempt to get a better firing position. The advanced holo-projectors had been set to simulate a snowfield, confusing visuals and heat-sensors. Cairo pushed a button on his control panel, and the HUD switched to magna-scan mode. He locked onto the reactor of the Bushwacker, and fired his ATM-9 launcher. The Thakad-built Mech staggered as the HE-warheads stripped armour from its right-arm. It returned fire with its ER Large Laser and AC/10.

Retribution shook as the depleted-uranium rounds dug into its left hip. Red lights warned Cairo of damage to his Mech’s left leg: the hip joint was jammed. The laser cut a vicious scar down the Orion’s centre torso.

He returned the favour. His LB 10-X autocannon sent a shower of clustered rounds into the centre torso of the Bushwacker, while his Heavy Large Laser welded the lighter Mech’s left foot in place, slowing the 55-tonner down. A score of LRM’s missed his Mech by several metres. For some reason, his opponent seemed to be in trouble. Cairo fired his Heavy Laser again, doing severe damage to the Bushwacker’s centre torso. The 55-ton Mech stood frozen for a second, before falling forward, digging a huge rent in the arena floor.

Cairo received a message from the control room - the Bushwacker’s pilot was unconscious and thus out of the match. Cairo surveyed that battlefield as best he could. O’Brien and Rebecca seemed to be doing okay, but Dancer was having trouble with the Stealth. He flicked the ammo-select button for his ATM-9 from HE to ER and sent a flight of missiles at the 45-ton Mech while it was jumping. The missiles destroyed the lighter Mech’s right torso jump jets. Unbalanced, the Stealth cart wheeled over as its left torso jump jets continued to send out plasma. The Mech hit the ground, its right arm shearing off under the impact. It made no move to get up again.

A loud klaxon heralded the end of the match. The Crusaders were victorious! Cairo smiled…he was one step closer to Cain…and one step closer to revenge.


The Final Approach, International zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran Alliance

The Final
was a small pub that catered to people who worked in the air traffic control centre for the Solaris City spaceport. The crew of the Wataru had taken it as their regular drinking hole as it was a five-minute walk from where the DropShip was parked.

Cairo was playing pool against Dancer when O’Brien came in, a look of despair on her face. She walked up to Cairo and handed him a note-puter. “Your next fight just got posted…you’re up against Erika Silvesterson: She’s a friend of Cain - they ran from the Combine together. She’s piloting a SD1-O Sunder. There is no way your Orion can stand up to that, not even with the Clan weapons McCoy fitted”.

Cairo looked at the note-puter, then at his fiancée. “If I don’t fight her, I’m out of the tournament…and I don’t get a shot at Cain. But you’re right; going up against a 90-ton OmniMech in a 75-tonner is suicide”. He sunk the 8-ball, winning the game.

The three of them walked over to a table in the corner. Cairo put his drink down. “Maybe if we sell the rest of the Clan-tech we’ve got, we could buy an assault Mech”.

Dancer shook his head, “You’d need a lot more than what that salvage is worth to get an assault Mech. You’d have to sell the Wataru to get the sort of money we need”.

Cairo finished his drink. “If I do that, we have nowhere to live and we lose the Mech repair facilities”.

“Maybe I can help?” said a voice from behind them.

Cairo turned, “Clearwater? I’m getting you a bell: It’s not safe to sneak up on people like that”.

The Com-Star Precentor smiled. “I apologise, but as I said, I may be able to help you. The local Com Guard garrison force just received a brand-new TDK-7X Thunder Hawk. Due to your help on Whittington, we, that is to say ComStar, is willing to lend it to you for the duration of your stay on Solaris VII.”

O’Brien stood toe to toe with Clearwater. “What’s the catch? Is Word of Blake still after us?”

Clearwater rested his hands lightly on her shoulders. “I assure you Miss O’Brien, if Word of Blake were still after you, then I’d not be here alone - I’d have half of ROM with me. Mr Cain is suspected of being involved in attacks on several ComStar HPG stations in the Chaos March. We want him dead as much as any of you.”

Cairo stood and shook the Precentor’s hand, “When can I have a look at the Mech?”

Clearwater handed him three security passes, “0900 hours tomorrow. I’ll see you there.”


Com Guard compound, International Zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo looked up at the towering form of the Thunder Hawk. This Mech would get him to the Championship Final, but he would face Cain in his Orion, Retribution.


Ishiyama, Kobe
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo moved his new Thunder Hawk through the knot, trying to find Silvesterson’s Sunder in the multi-levelled maze. They had traded shots earlier, Cairo scoring with his Gauss Rifles, but Silvesterson had torn a huge rent in his armour, from his left hip to his centre torso with her 120-mm Autocannon. The metallic makeup of the artificial cave system clouded his sensors, forcing him to rely on luck and gut instinct to find Cain’s friend.

Cairo found himself at a crossroads of four tunnels. He was about to continue forwards when eight SRM’s struck his right arm. He struck back with his right arm Gauss Rifle and medium laser, ripping the Sunder’s left arm off, robbing it of its twin large lasers. Cairo moved his Mech forward at a slow walk, firing his Gauss Rifles as they re-loaded, sending round after round into Silvesterson’s Mach, forcing her to back up the way she had come.

By the time the battered Omni had reached the lake in the centre of the arena, it was more scrap than war machine, lacking almost all of its front armour. Cairo continued to press the attack, sending the Sunder backwards into the dark waters. The assault Mech disappeared below the surface and Cairo heard a cry for help over the general radio frequency: one of his shots had cracked Silvesterson’s cockpit and it was filling with water.

Cairo charged the Thunder Hawk forward at top speed, reaching the downed Sunder in a matter of moments. Using the Hawk’s massive battle fists, he ripped the cockpit from the Sunder and raised it above the water line. He could hear the sounds of the crowd going wild over the com-system. He didn’t know if they where cheering or booing and he didn’t care.


The Final Approach, International zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

Cairo was alone in the pub when Cain walked in and sat beside him. The pirate looked at him. “Why did you save her?”

Cairo finished his drink and stood to leave. “Enough people have died because of you. She didn’t do anything to me and I have nothing against her. You’re the one I want dead. When I go up against you, it will be in my Orion. If you have any honour, you will face me in your Champion. Until then...”

Cairo walked back to the Wataru and went straight to the quarters he and O’Brien where sharing. O’Brien was there and saw the look on his face. “What happened?”

He looked at her, “Cain came to see me at the Final Approach and asked my why I didn’t kill Silvesterson. I told him it was because she had never done anything to me…but that’s a lie - I saved her to prove that I was better than him…to prove that what I do is justified. But that isn’t true either. I could so easily have become like him, but you brought me back.”

O’Brien smiled and kissed him, “And I’m glad I did.”


DropShip Wataru, International Zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

It had taken many weeks and many fights in the arenas of Solaris VII, but Cairo finally had his match against Cain. The mood aboard the DropShip was like a wake - sombre and reserved. Even the normally jovial McCoy seemed ill at ease. Cairo decided that something needed to be done before the match the next day.

He picked up a knife and walked round the table, cutting the bondcord’s of the Clanners one by one. The last one he cut was that of MechWarrior Rebecca. She smiled at O’Brien who nodded knowingly. Cairo called them all to attention. “As you all know, tomorrow I fight Cain in the Coliseum and I fully intend to kill him. You all know why I am doing this and I hope you all understand my reasons, even if you do not agree with them.”

He looked over at O’Brien for a moment and her expression made him frown slightly. “There are many things I had hoped to do before now, but I have had very little time. First of all, I want to thank you all for putting up with me while I was a little off my head after Huntress. I did and said some things that I will never forgive myself for.” O’Brien went to speak, but Cairo hushed her. “Secondly, I want to say what an honour it has been to serve with all of you. I have never met a more dedicated group of individuals in my entire life. I am proud to call you all my friends.”

Cairo rested his hands on the table. “I have been told that the bookmakers are offering even odds on the outcome of tomorrow’s match, so I have one final order to give you: If I die, forget about seeking revenge. Hunting Cain almost destroyed me and I do not wish for the same to happen to you. Those of you who have homes to return to: go home and live a full, happy, and long life.” He turned to the Clanners. “To the rest of you, there is a whole universe out there full of opportunities…go discover your destinies.” He saw the way Rebecca looked at Robert Dancer and knew where she would go.

He pulled a data-disc from his pocked and handed it to Jackson. “Here is my final report for Los Alamos. If I do not survive, make sure it reaches them.” He pulled a second disc from another pocket and handed it to O’Brien. “You may need this: it contains the ownership deeds to the Wataru, as well as access codes for a bank account where I have been putting the prize money I have won during the tournament. There is enough for you to start a new life anywhere in the Inner Sphere and then some.”

O’Brien smiled and stood. “I have an announcement of my own to make. As you are all aware, Steven and I have been involved for some time now and plan to get married. Well, sometimes things happen faster than people plan.” She lifted Cairo’s hand from the table and placed it on her stomach. “You’re going to be a father Steven.”

Cairo’s eyes went wide and he stood staring at her, open-mouthed in shock for several moments. As the shock turned to joy, he smiled broadly, pulled her to him and kissed her.


The Coliseum, Silesia
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Lyran Alliance


Cairo walked Retribution out into the bright sunlight that filtered through from the roof of the massive Roman-styled arena. Banners flew from the upper seating and a steady rain of confetti fell round the old Orion’s feet.

Across the arena, Cain moved his Champion, named Black Death, to meet Cairo in the centre. The past three years dissolved into the background: the same jet-black paint, the same skull and cross-bones on the knees.

The two Mech’s stopped 200 metres from each other. The crowed fell silent. Time seemed to stand still as the clock slowly counted down to noon. Cairo could see over 100 holo-cameras recording the event. The airwaves were filled with the excited voices of commentators describing the scene.

Cairo turned off his com-system. He closed his eyes and opened up the door in the back of his mind that kept the darkness at bay. White-hot rage flowed through every part of his body. In his ears he could hear the voices of all the people Cain had killed cry out for vengeance. He was no longer human…he was the right hand of Death - come to claim Sebastian Cain.

The buzzer sounded and both Mech’s opened up with everything at their disposal. The air between the two war machines became a torrent of energy and destruction as Cairo and Cain simply held down the triggers and firing studs on their weapons. Armour fell like rain during a hurricane as the two avatars of war pummelled each other.

Cairo pushed his throttle forward, slowly pushing Cain back against the edge of the arena. The autocannon on the two BattleMech’s fell silent as their ammo reserves ran dry. Still neither Mech fell. The SRM launchers on Cain’s Champion ran out of ammo. Soon after, Cairo’s ATM launcher fell silent.

Laser bolts continued to cross between the two Mech’s, but eventually, they too fell quiet as the focusing crystals melted under the strain. Heat bled from the two BattleMech’s in huge shimmering veils, easily visible to the infrared cameras that the TV crews used.

Still the crowd made no noise and even the commentators fell silent in awe of the sheer ferocity of the duel going on the arena below. The two Mech’s where sluggish from the heat; their pilots finding it hard to stay conscious in the hellish infernos that were their cockpits.

A lucky shot from Cain’s medium lasers cut Cairo’s legs out from under him. The old Orion fell onto its back. The battered Champion staggered forwards to deliver the killing shot, but Retribution’s left arm rose up to meet the centre of the lighter Mech, just below the cockpit. Cairo flipped a switch that disabled the power regulator to the heavy laser that the arm housed and fired.

A ruby-red beam of hyper-intense light ate through the last of the Champion’s torso armour and into the reactor housing. The dampening field tried to hold the reactor, but failed under the prolonged fire of the Clan built laser.

A bolt of plasma shot forth from the centre of Cain’s Mech, propelling it backwards. It slammed into the detonator grid, before falling to the ground at the edge of the arena. The control system finally gave way and the full fury of the nuclear heart of the Champion tore the 65-ton Mech to shreds.

O’Brien was the first to reach the shattered Orion that lay at the very centre of the Coliseum, closely followed by Rix, Jackson and McCoy. A gaggle of rescue personal followed them out, stretchers and first aid kits at the ready.


DropShip Wataru
Outbound, Solaris VII
Lyran
Alliance

O’Brien stood looking out of the observation bay at the receding Game World. She heard the door behind her opening and a shadow fell over her. She looked at the new reflection in the window. “Feeling better now?”

“Better than I have in a long time.” Lt. Steven Clark of the Los Alamos Defence Force smiled.

“It’s going to be weird, seeing you with that uniform,” O’Brien turned and smiled, tracing his name badge with her finger, “getting used to calling you Clark rather than Cairo.”

“Cairo served his purpose.” Clark smiled, “He’s not needed anymore”

O’Brien kissed him, “Well, Lt. Clark, sir, be in the mess hall in ten minutes. Dress uniform. You have an obligation to live up to.”
 



“One of the happiest duties a ship’s captain is allowed to do is to perform marriage ceremonies.” Jackson smiled at the DropShip crew. “This is only the second time I’ve been asked to do this, so I hope you’ll bear with me.” He turned to Clark, “Do you, Steven Patrick Clark, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?”

“I do.” Clark smiled.

Jackson turned to O’Brien. “Do you, Sinead Elizabeth O’Brien, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?”

“Of course I do.” She laughed,

Jackson grinned from ear to ear. “Then by the power invested in me as master of this vessel, I pronounce you man and wife.” Clark and Sinead kissed and the assembled crew cheered.
 



A pounding on the cabin hatch Clark early next morning. Sinead stirred as he got out of bed and, pulling a robe around himself, floated across the room. Jackson was outside, a note-puter in his hand and a grim look on his face. Clark took the note-puter and closed the hatch without a word.

Sinead was sitting up in bed by the time he had read the message for the second time. “What is it Steven?” she asked sleepily.

Clark tossed the note-puter to his wife. “Word of Blake has attacked Outreach. The Dragoons are all but destroyed. There are reports of fighting across the entire Chaos March. It’s the start of a war.” Sinead caught the slowly spinning note-puter and read it for herself as Clark pushed himself off of the hatch and to the closet. He slowly pulled out the uniform with Cairo still printed on the left chest. ‘Some things never change’, he thought silently to himself.



End of Book 1

BattleTech Fan Fiction