The Cairo Saga, Book 2:
The Solaris Irregulars
Zenith recharge station, Solaris VII
Lt. Steven Clark of Los Alamos Defence Force, champion of the Solaris VII open-league, stood with the rest of the DropShip's crew, watching the news footage of the destruction of the Wolf Dragoon's on the mess-halls view screen. The image changed to show the headquarters of Mercenary Review and Bonding Commission explode as a Navel PPC blasted it from Orbit.
"There are reports that some Wolf Dragoon's unit's made it off-planet during the attack, but Commander Jaime Wolf and General Maeve Wolf are reported missing, presumed dead.” The reporter's voiceover continued, “Word of Blake is still to release a statement as to why they attacked Outreach with such force, and reports continue to come in from the Chaos March, telling of Word of Blake attacks on ComStar HPG stations."
Sinead was still crying, and Clark put his arm around his wife to comfort her. The crew looked on as the monitor showed a vicious space battle between the Wolf Dragoon's Cyclop-1 space station and several Word of Blake Impavaido class destroyers. The station exploded, and the W.o.B Warship's moved off to attack fleeing Dragoon JumpShips.
The com-system by the hatch chimed, and Clark went to answer it. The huge face of Xander, one of Rix's Elementals filled the screen "Precentor Clearwater is here to see you sir."
Clark nodded "Tell him I'll be right down." Xander acknowledge and killed the link. Clark tuned to Sinead "You better come too." His wife stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes, then followed him from the room.
Clearwater stood in the airlock that attached the Wataru to the massive recharge station. The ComStar man nodded grimly to Clark and Sinead "I need to talk to you concerning these recent events."
Clark raised his eyebrow, and then shrugged "You better follow me then. We can talk in our cabin." He led the way to the captain's cabin.
Sinead sat on the end of the bed, while Clearwater took the only chair. Clark stood by the closed hatched "So what dose all this have to do with us?"
Clearwater rubbed his forehead "ComStar recently received a communication from one of our agents within Word of Blake: the message told us that the attack on Outreach, and the following attacks on the HPG station in the Chaos March, are the first stages of a Jihad, a 'holy war', against the entire Inner Sphere. They seek to destroy society, and then rebuild it in their image. I am afraid to say that ComStar its self held such beliefs at one time. I was there when Word of Blake split from ComStar, and I lost a good friend during the fall of Terra."
Clark looked the Precentor straight in the eye "What has this got to do with us?"
Clearwater looked at Clark, then to Sinead, and then back to Clark "We need your help."
Clark looked at Clearwater "What do you mean 'We need your help'?"
The ComStar Precentor rubbed his forehead "Most of our forces are up along the Clan border. We have no unit's of sufficient size or experience to stand up to Word of Blake anywhere near here. We're still trying to calm things down from the Fed-Com Civil War. There is fighting across the entire Chaos March, and the Jade Falcons are keeping us busy on Blair Atholl. I've just come from there myself; I had a message to deliver for an old friend." Clearwater seemed to drift away for a second, but got back to business "There is the equivalent of ten regiments on Solaris VII: MechWarriors with hundreds of hours of experience and top of the line machines. You just won the open-league; they respect you. If you go back as Cairo and ask them to help us, some of them will. I can arrange transport and supplies for an army, but I don't have the troops."
“Cairo is dead, he died in the Coliseum” Clark leaned back against the hatch, “I'm Steven Clark; I've never won a championship.”
Clearwater looked at Clark, who saw the fire in the older man's eyes "Word of Blake has to be stopped. Do you think that they will be content with the Chaos March? Or even the Inner Sphere? You walk away now and one day they will come knocking on your door back on Los Alamos, and there will be nothing you or anyone else will be able to do about it!"
"I'll help.” Sinead stood up, “I lost some good friends on Outreach."
Clark looked at his wife "If you think, for even one second, that I'm letting you get involved in this, you're mad."
Sinead slapped him "I may be your wife, but you don't own me!"
Clark rubbed his cheek "I'm not saying that I own you, but you are pregnant, remember? Word of Blake does have it in for the two of us, and I doubt that they will want to take ether of us prisoner." He turned to Clearwater "I'll help you, but you get Sinead to a safe place. That's the deal."
Clearwater nodded his agreement as Sinead jumped to her feet "If you think I'm leaving you to take on Word of Blake without me, you're very much mistaken! We've fought together before, and I'm not going to risk losing you by not being there to watch your back!"
Clark went to argue, but the look in his wife's face persuaded him to back down. He turned to Clearwater "Look's like you got your self two volunteers. I'll go tell the rest of the crew."
Clark called a meeting of the entire crew in the Mech-bay, the only part of the ship that could hold all of them at one time.
"You all know what has happen to Outreach, and what Word of Blake is up to. Sinead and I have agreed to help Precentor Clearwater to try and raise an army back on Solaris. None of you need to join us on this endeavour, in fact I ask you to think about finding somewhere to hide. If any of you wish to stay, take one step forwards. Those of you who want to leave can take the next JumpShip heading your way with no recriminations."
As one, the crew of the Wataru stepped forwards.
Thor’s Shieldhall, Silesia
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Clark looked at the five MechWarriors before him: Out of the hundreds of pilots on Solaris VII, they where the only ones willing to help him fight Word of Blake. The only good thing to say about them where that they where all experienced, some even had combat-time.
He sat at a table with a note-puter in his hand, and one by one, called the volunteers up. The first was a tall, dark-skinned man. Cairo held his light pen over the computer screen “Name?”
“Hawk-that-Settles” the man said in a dry voice that seemed older than he was.
“Do you have a Mech?” The tall man shock his head. Cairo sighed “Go talk to Sergeant McCoy, he will assign you one.”
Hawk nodded and walked over to the next table.
The second man before Cairo seemed to be of Japanese descent, but it was hard to tell in the dark bar. “Name?”
“Akira Takayama” the man said with almost no hint of accent.
“Do you have a Mech?” Cairo asked, ready to send the man to McCoy.
“I have a RVN-3L Raven that is in need of some repair, but is in good working order none the less.”
“Go talk to Lt. Dancer for lance assignment.”
Takayama bowed and stepped to the side.
A tall, chestnut haired woman stood before Cairo. He looked up at her “Name?”
“Do you have a Mech?”
“A TLR1-O Templar.” The woman nodded in curt military fashion.
Cairo was impressed: very few of the new Federated Sun’s OmniMech’s had made it as far as the Lyran Alliance. “Go talk to Lt. Dancer for lance assignment.”
Sgt Carpenter saluted and marched over to Dancers table.
Sinead walked through the door with two men in Wolf Dragoon’s uniform in tow. They stood to attention behind her as she spoke to he husband “Privet René Alphonse and MechWarrior Josh, formally of Clan Jade Falcon. They made it this far, and when they heard you where looking for help, they came looking for me.”
Cairo nodded; his distrust of the Dragoon’s still not lifted “Do they have Mechs?”
Sinead handed over a disc for his noteputer “René has a NSR-9J Nightstar, and Josh has a Timber Wolf, but only enough spare-parts for the Primary variant.”
Cairo nodded “Take them over to Rob for lance assignment.”
His wife smiled at him, and then walked off.
A slight, raven hair woman stood before Cairo. He looked her over “Name?”
“Do you have a Mech?”
“A Shadow Cat Prime.” The woman nodded eagerly.
Cairo thought about asking her a question, but changed his mind “Go talk to Lt. Dancer for lance assignment.”
The last volunteer stood before Cairo, almost blocking the light as he did. The mountain of a man must have stood two-meters tall, and was almost as heavily built as one of Rix’s Elementals. Despite this, there was genteelness to the way he stood and looked. Cairo picked up his noteputer “Name?”
“Do you have a Mech?”
“I am afraid that I am disposed at this time.” The bear of a man smiled weekly.
Cairo understood how that could fell: being a MechWarrior without a BattleMech was like being a painter without a paintbrush. “Go talk to Sergeant McCoy, he will assign you one.”
“Thank you sir.” Dante smiled, showing off an immaculate set of teeth.
Two hours later Cairo sat with Sinead, Dancer and McCoy. He looked over the files on the new members of the unit “Ok, Sinead and I will lead up the Command Lance with MechWarrior Josh and Hawk-that-Settles. Rob, you take the Battle Lance with Carpenter, Alphonse and Dante. It means letting go of your Centurion, but I need someone I know in charge.” The Combine Warrior nodded.
Cairo tapped a few commands into his noteputer and continued “Rebecca will take the Recon Lance with Slone and Takayama. We are still one light-Mech short, but Rix and his boy’s and girls can off-set that.”
The other three nodded their agreement.
There was a slight breeze as Clearwater walked in “Ah, Captain, glad to see you have this all salted out. I have arranged transport for your unit, and I have outdone myself.” The Precentor said with a wolverine smile.
Solaris Spaceport, International Zone
Solaris City, Solaris VII
Clearwater led Cairo, Sinead, Jackson and McCoy across the fast landing field. They rounded a warehouse and stopped before a DropShip. Clearwater smiled “There’s you new command Mr Jackson: The Shimmering Star. Union-C, formally property of Clan Smoke Jaguar, taken salvage during Operation Bulldog.”
Jackson looked up at the massive DropShip: at 4,700 tonnes, it was more than twice the size of the Wataru, and unlike the old Leaped-class DropShip, it was of spherical design. “I’ve never flown a Union, or any other Sphere for that matter.”
“Don’t worry; we have a pilot for you.” Clearwater patted him on the shoulder “You will be the captain.”
The ComStar Precentor smiled to the four of them “Well, that’s the first part of my surprise, the second is in orbit.” He led them to a small shuttle with ComsGuard’s markings. The ride into Orbit was relatively smooth, and they where soon clear of the atmosphere. Clearwater turned from his seat next to the pilot and smiled at Cairo “Now this you’re really going to love!” he nodded to the pilot, who rotated the shuttle through 90-degrees.
A massive shadow fell over the shuttle. Cairo looked out of the view port and gasped: a WarShip floated in space before him, the Star of Cameron painted on its side.
Clearwater chuckled “She’s the Spirit Sight, a Fredasa class Corvette belonging to Clan Nova Cat. She was on patrol with the SLDF fleet in the Capellan March when all this started. I talked the Nova Cats into lending her to us for the duration.”
“What are her vitals?” Jackson got his voce back.
Clearwater handed over a noteputer “175,000-tonnes displaced, 415 meters long. She carries 4 NAC/10’s, a NAC/40, 8 NL-45’s, and a small arsenal of anti-fighter and anti-DropShip weapons. She has a Lithium-Fusion battery system, allowing her to make two jumps without recharging. She has a crew of 85, and is commanded by a Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux. Nice man, very friendly, but if you ask me, he’s spent a little to long in space, if you know what I mean.”
The shuttle banked to the side and lined up to dock with the WarShip.
County Shu, Epsilon Eridani
Commander Tybalt Kelly of the County Shu Volunteer Battalion moved his Lineholder back just in time to dodge the Word of Blake Axeman’s hatchet. The Word of Blake forces where trying to gain control of the CSVB’s Mech depot, and so far Kelly was not doing a good job stopping them. His augmented lance was down two Mechs, and the last three where out-classed by the near company size formation of attackers.
The Axeman raised its hatchet high, getting ready for a killer blow, when it seemed to stiffen, then fell to the ground. The voice of Jorge Jourewicz, JJ to his friends, came over the radio “Kelly, there is a second company of Mech’s moving in from the north. I can’t make out the marking, but that Axeman was just taken down by a Templar!”
Kelly moved his Mech out onto the parried ground in time to see a Mad Cat OmniMech take down a Word of Blake Catapult with a barrage of 40-LRM’s. The fire-support Mech crumpled under the onslaught and fell. A Word of Blake Mauler tried to stand its ground, but received four Gauss slugs for its trouble, thanks to a Thunder Hawk and a Banshee.
The surviving Word of Blake Mech’s fled from the battlefield, harried all the time by the mysterious company of Mech. Kelly keyed his radio to an open frequency “This is Commander Tybalt Kelly of the County Shu Volunteer Battalion to un-identified Mech’s: identify yourselves.” He knew there was little he could do if they where hostile, but he decided to act friendly, at lest to start with.
An Orion steeped forward and raised its right arm slightly. The radio crackled “This is Captain Steven Cairo of the Solaris Irregulars. We’ve been sent to see how bad the situation is here on Epsilon Eridani, and to see if we can help.”
Kelly was puzzled “I can’t say I’ve heard of the ‘Solaris Irregulars’, but I do recognise your name and Mech Captain Cairo. I saw your battle in the Coliseum on Solaris VII. What are you doing here, and who sent you?”
Cairo laughed, “Let’s just say the Word of Blake wouldn’t let me go home, so I took a job with ComStar. It’s my job to scout out the Chaos March while the ComsGuard’s and what remains of the SLDF set themselves up for a counter-attack.”
Kelly decided to trust Cairo “How are things out there? Word of Blake shut down the HPG about a week before they attacked.”
“Grim, most of the Chaos March is now under Word of Blake control, as is most of the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation. They’ve attacked worlds in the Lyran Alliance, Draconis Combine and Federated Commonwealth. Epsilon Eridani is one of the last free planets in this sector, and if you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before they get you to. I’m sorry.”
“What can we do to slow them down, buy the rest of the Inner Sphere time?”
“I have a plan to do just that…”
Kelly smiled to himself.
Kelly still didn’t understand Cairo’s plan, but he had agreed to go along with it regardless. The three Mech’s left from his lance led the Solaris Irregulars through a mountain pass that lead to the Fitzgerald Hydro-electric plant. The plant was built into a dam that blocked a fast-flowing river, and used the pent up energy to generate electricity.
They Mech convoy rounded the last bend and the Fitzgerald plant came into sight. Cairo ordered Akira Takayama to position his Raven where it would be able to get a clear signal. The Heavy and Assault lances moved off to attack the defenders, while the Scout lance and the CSVB held their ground, ready to act as reinforcements if needed, and to warn of reinforcements.
Kelly watched in wonder as the Irregulars tore the defending Duvic and Word of Blake forces to pieces. He watched as the Shadow Hawk he knew to be piloted by Sinead Cairo blasted a TMP-3M Tempest to scrap, then moved on to help her husband finish off a damaged W.o.B ALB-3U Albatross. The Clan weapons the Irregulars carried mad short work of the older Duvic Mech’s, and gave them the edge on the Word of Blake Mech’s.
The only casualty was Hawk-that-Settles, his Avatar OmniMech damaged badly by a pair of Gauss Slugs from a Word of Blake MR-V2 Cerberus. The assault Mech made the mistake of falling under the guns of René Alphonse’s Nightstar and Vassili Dante’s Banshee, and its pilot died a quick death.
Kelly watched as on of the Elementals from the scout lance placed a large metal object at the base of the dam. Cairo’s voice came over the radio “Ok Akira; let it rip.”
“This is Highball to Lancaster: Fire for effect!” The Raven pilot’s voice came over the radio.
“Rodger that Highball, Lancaster is three-minuets out and counting.” An unfamiliar came over the radio, “Fire in the hole!”
The link broke, and Cairo’s voice came over the radio “Ok people, lets get out of dodge before this all goes down.” The Irregulars pulled back to the mountain pass, followed closely by the CSVB Mech: the last thing they wanted was to be caught this far into enemy territory on their own.
High above the retreating Mech’s, Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux sat on the bridge of the Spirit Sight “Helm; bring us round into a firing position. Guns; lock onto the beacon and prepare to fire.”
Both orders where met with a quick “Aye, aye Sir!”
Slowly, the Corvette turned to that its nose faced the planet. The targeting sights on the main screen changed from red to gold, and Leroux gave to order to fire.
Kelly watched as the Fitzgerald plant was ripped apart by rounds from the Spirit Sight’s NAC/40. The river burst through the ruptured dam and flowed to the sea, flowing through the main Word of Blake camp, destroying it totally.
Cairo turned his Orion to leave, but turned it back to Kelly “Tell them the Solaris Irregulars where here.”
“I somehow think they know!” Kelly laughed.
SLS Spirit Sight
Nadia Jump Point
The Chaos March
Cairo looked at the noteputer the com-tech had delivered to him and sighed. The war was not going well: ComsGuard forces found themselves having to deal with Word of Blake insurgents rather than attacking the enemy head on.
The dissolution of the Star League meant that most of the SLDF had been recalled to their home states. Only the Eridani Light Horse and the 1st Royal BattleMech Regiment remained as coherent units, and they where busy holding onto Kathil: if that world fell, and the McKenna Shipyards with it, the Federated Commonwealth would fall apart, like it almost had during the forth Succession War. The orders from Clearwater where strange, but then Cairo thought, nothing made sense anymore.
He called the Irregulars to the briefing room, as well as Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux and the Spirit Sight’s navigator. When the last stragglers had finally arrived, Cairo activated the room’s holo-projector “This is the world of Rio in the FedCom. Capellan forces, believed to be under the command of Word of Blake, took her two weeks ago. Rio is one of a chain of planets that has two HPG stations, allowing real-time communication between New Avalon and Tharkad, and even as far as Tukayyid. We have been ordered to disable one of the HPG’s, thus slowing communication between Word of Blake forces.” The image changed to show a massive building, with a huge satellite dish next to it. “This is the HPG we are aiming for. It’s the smaller of the two, and Intel says it’s not as heavily guarded.”
A chorus of laughter came from the assembled MechWarriors. Cairo allowed himself a chuckle “I know, I know: Military Intelligence is an oxymoron, but it’s all we have to go on. If we try and land the Star, the Wobblies will spot us and we will never make the planet. So instead, we high-and-mighty MechWarriors get to play at being mere grunts. Now, before any of you start on about how you signed up to be Mech pilots, not ground-ponders, remember this: you joined the Solaris Irregulars, and at no point did I say that this was exclusively a Mech unit.”
The hologram expanded to show an area five-kilometres across “We will take one of the Spirit Sight’s shuttles and land here.” A red dot appeared on the map. “We will then split into two teams. The first team, lead by Lt. Dancer will take up position on this rise here.” A second dot appeared “They will be the assault teams back up and fire support, if needed. This team will be made up of the following: Lt. Dancer, Vassili, Rix and his Elementals, Kerry and René. The assault team that will enter the HPG and plant the explosives will be: Elizabeth, Rebecca, Hawk, Akira, Lenny Rodgers, and myself. You all know Lenny, and he knows explosives. Now get some sleep. We jump in twelve hours, and the sooner we launch the surer we are that we have not been spotted. Good night.”
The Irregulars shuffled out of the room till there was just Cairo and Sinead, who stood up and walked up to her husband “Why didn’t you include me in the raid?”
Cairo looked at his wife “Sinead, your six months pregnant: you were barely ably to fit into your cooling vest on Epsilon Eridani. You can’t go playing at being a commando at a time like this. The Doc wasn’t happy about you piloting your Mech, and I can’t say I blame him.”
“So that’s it, no more missions for me. I just sit around here looking after the baby, is that it?”
“No, but no combat until after you’ve recovered from the birth. I know I can’t stop you: if I could, you’d be on Tukayyid, like Clearwater offered. Is it so wrong that I want to keep my wife and child safe?”
“I haven’t had someone care about me so much in a long time.” Sinead smiled, “Thank you Steve.”
HPG station Beta
Cairo inched forwards slowly, the silenced sub-machinegun in his hands an unfamiliar weight. The helmet he wore dated back to the first Star League, and was a masterpiece of lost-tech. It not only contained a night-vision system, but a flash dampener and encrypted com-system too. The fibre-optic camera at the end of his weapon was linked to the HUD in his visor, and allowed him to see around corners.
He looked across the corridor to where Elizabeth Carpenter was crouching. She nodded at him and raised her hand to motion the next team forward. Rebecca, the former Clan Wolf MechWarrior, shuffled past, followed closely by Hawk-that-Settles.
Cairo turned round to cover the rear as Akira Takayama and Lenny Rodgers made their way past. A Word of Blake technician made the mistake of choosing this moment to step out of a side room and into the corridor. Cairo pulled the trigger on his SMG and sent a three shot burst into the man’s head.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
The near silent sound of his weapon going off was followed by the louder sound of the tech hitting the floor, dead. Cairo held his breath, but no one came to investigate the sound. Cairo raised his hand to hurry the raiding party along.
Two-by-two they made their way along the corridor and down a stairwell to the basement below. Rodgers opened the backpack he was carrying and handed each of the raiding party a block of C4 plastic explosive attached to a remote detonator. As he guarded the doorway, the others placed the charges in pre-determined places, and then regrouped in the stairwell.
Two more Techs’ and a Guard had the misfortune of running into the Irregulars as they made their way out of the building, and all three of them died without ever knowing how or why. The raiders slowly made their way out of the HPG, springing between cover to dodge searchlights and cameras. A short burst of static on the radio informed Cairo it was safe to leave the compound, and the raiders met up with the reserve team half a kilometre away.
Cairo activated the timer on the explosive charges, and the two teams double-timed it back to the hidden shuttle. The high-speed Clan shuttle had them quickly away from Rio, and by the time the charges detonated, toppling the HPG transmitter dish and destroying the targeting system, the Irregulars were already on their way back to the Spirit Sight, keeping station at a pirate-point in-system.
SLS Spirit Sight
Nadia Jump Point
Cairo was reading when he got the call to report to the Spirit Sight’s bridge. He was able to make is way there easily due to the small magnetic plates he had sewn into his shoes. Jackson had given him the idea, saying that he always used them. When he reached the Warship’s bridge, the first thing he noticed was the expression on Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux face. The Clan Naval officer handed Cairo a noteputer.
Cairo read the data on the screen twice before looking up “When did you receive this?”
“Two hours ago.” the Star-Commodore looked glum, “It has taken it that long for it to sink in.”
“May I use the intercom to address the crew?”
The Claner handed over a microphone.
Cairo wondered what to say, and in the end, he spoke from the heart “Attention all hands, now here this: we have just received a HPG communication from Tukayyid. The worlds of Solaris VII, Northwind, Epsilon Eridani, Glengarry, Hesperus III and Kathil have fallen to Word of Blake forces. There are reports that elements of the Northwind Highlanders and the Grey Death Legion where able to escape their home worlds, and that units from the Eridani Light Horse and the 1st Royal BattleMech Regiment managed to make it off of Kathil, but these unit’s are no bigger than a single regiment at best. Armed Forces of the Federated Suns, Lyran Alliance Armed Forces, and Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery units have been forced to pull back from worlds bordering the Free Worlds League, the Capellan Confederation and the Chaos March. These units are said to be at most half-strength. Over half the FedCom WarShip fleet is believed lost after the fall of Kathil.”
He gave the crew’s of the Spirit Sight and Shimmering Star a moment to take in what he had just said. “Reports also tell of an army of Mercenaries massing in the former Arc Royal Defensive Cordon. Units said to be involved include the remnants of the Wolf Dragoons, Northwind Highlanders and the Grey Death Legion, as well as the Kell Hounds. Dozens of smaller units have also made their way to planets under Morgan Kell’s control, and are said to be massing for a counter-attack along the Lyran front.”
Again Cairo broke off to give the crews time to comprehend what he had said. “Precenter Martail Victor Steiner-Davion has declared a full state of emergency, as have Archon Peter Steiner-Davion of the Lyran Alliance, First Princes Yvonne Steiner-Davion of the Federated Commonwealth, and Coordinator Theodore Kurita of the Draconis Combine.” Cairo struggled to regain his composure “If any of you wish to leave the Irregulars due to the current state of affairs, you may do so without any fear of reprisal.”
In the end, no one took up Cairo’s offer: The Solaris Irregulars where in the war for the duration.
SLS Spirit Sight
Nadia Jump Point
Cairo was awoken by a kick to the ribs that sent him tumbling from his bed. He was about to ask Sinead why, when he saw the look on her face: she was in pain. For a moment he couldn’t think why and then he remembered: the baby, she was in labour.
He grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his nightclothes, then helped his wife from the bed. She leaned on him, panting like the doctor had told her to, her vice-like grip almost crushing his hand. They managed to make it to the infirmary before Sinead had to collapse onto a bed.
The Med-Tech on duty called for the doctor from the Shimmering Star: the Clan doctor on the Corvette had no experience with delivering children. No sooner had the doctor arrived then she ushered Cairo from the infirmary.
McCoy was standing in the corridor, leaning against the bulkhead, smiling “Don’t worry; I was the same the first time.”
“Shamus, you only had one kid.” Cairo looked at the gruff old Tech, bleary eyed.
“Aye; and I was just like you are now. Any chance of you telling me the names you and Sinead have decided upon? It’s just that there is still time to place a bet: Paul closes the pool the moment the baby is born.”
Cairo shook his head laughing “My first command: my executive officer gets pregnant, and the rest of you are placing bets on the name!”
“True,” Jackson ambled round the corner, “but it would have helped if you and Sinead had decided you wanted to know what sex the kid is: I have people betting on if it’s a boy or a girl, on top of the name.”
Over the next hour, every one of the Irregulars found some excuse to pass by the Infirmary. Even Rebecca, although the fact that she was sharing a cabin with Robert Dancer probably had a lot to do with that. The Clan MechWarrior wandered off while Dancer sat down next to Cairo.
“How are thing between you and Rebecca, Rob?” asked Cairo, seeking some distraction from what was going in inside the infirmary.
“Sometimes it is really good: we got along and have some interests in common.” Dancer seemed to think for a moment, “But any time I talk about the future, she freezes up on me.”
Cairo was about to answer, but the infirmary hatch opened. He shot to his feet, and ran inside. Sinead was lying in bed, a small bundle in her arms. Cairo tentatively walked forwards, smiling. His wife smiled at him “Steven, meet your daughter, Jane.”
There was the sound of running feet from the corridor, and Jackson and McCoy looked through the hatch.
“It’s a girl, Jane.” said Cairo, holding his daughter.
Jackson typed a few commands into a noteputer and shook his head “Son of a bitch!”
McCoy looked at him “Who won?”
“Simon Clearwater...” Jackson showed him the name on the screen.
SLS Spirit Sight
Zenith Jump Point
Cairo played the message from Clearwater for the fifth time, but still couldn’t believe it. He sighed, and then called the Irregulars to the briefing room. Over the next few minuets they ambled through the door in ones and twos: even Sinead joined them, although she was still on leave after Jane’s birth.
Cairo dimmed the lights and activated the holo-projector, displaying a map of the Inner Sphere “Ok people, this is a rush job, top priority. After the fall of Kathil, the remains of the defending forces fled towards New Avalon. On the last ship out was Jackson Davion, Marshal of the Armies of the Federated Suns, and cousin of First Princes Yvonne Steiner-Davion. That ship, the Avalon-class cruiser Melissa Davion, was badly damaged, and her jump-drive is off-line.” Cairo punched a few controls, and the hologram zoomed in to the area surrounding Kathil. “She’s stuck here, in a system halfway between Talcott and Chebanse. Word of Blake is looking for her, and I don’t need to tell you what could happen if they manage to capture Marshal Davion alive.” The Irregulars shudder at the thought.
The holo-projector shut-off and the lights came back on. Cairo looked at his assembled command “In a few minuets we will make the first of two jumps that will take us to the Melissa Davion. Once there, we will retrieve Marshal Davion, and escort him to New Avalon. The Spirit Sight is the only WarShip in range, and command is un-willing to risk such an important mission to a regular JumpShip. Word of Blake command has issued orders to capture Jackson Davion at any cost, so this is likely to get hairy.” He turned to Lt. Scot, the former Clan pilot and commander of the Irregulars Aerospace assets “I need you and Janet to operate in conjunction with the Spirit Sight’s fighters. I’m placing you under Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux’s command for the duration of this mission.” The Clan pilot nodded.
A klaxon sounded, warning of an imminent hyperspace jump: the room seemed to swirl as the Spirit Sight’s Kearny-Fuchida drive tore a hole in the fabric of space-time and sent the ship 30 light-years across the Galaxy. No sooner had the room stopped spinning that the klaxon sounded for a second time, and the room again swirled as the Corvette’s Lithium-Fusion battery system allowed it to make a second jump as soon as coordinates where feed into the guidance system.
Cairo made his way to the bridge. Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux turned to him “We have found the Melissa Davion, and have exchanged codeword. Marshal Davion is on his way over as we speak.”
The Star-Commodore was cut-off by one of his crew “IR signature forming, 20-km off the port bow. War-Book says it is most likely a Suffren class destroyer.”
Cairo and Leroux looked at each other: only Word of Blake used the 540,000-tonne Suffren. It out-weighed the Fredasa-class Spirit Sight almost 4 to 1. The Clan officer reacted quickly “Sound General-Quarters! Answer battle stations on all weapons! Launch the fighters! Lock the grav-deck in place! Seal all interior hatches.”
The bridge came alive with activity as the Spirit Sight prepared to go into battle.
SLS Spirit Sight
Zenith Jump Point
Cairo tried to run to his quarters, but the lack of gravity made it impossible: in the end he had to pall himself along a handrail. He ducked into his quarters and grabbed his knife from the closet: The curve-bladed kukri was a family heirloom that dated back from before the first Star League.
Seined was sat in a chair, holding Jane in her arms “Steven, what’s going on?”
Cairo grabbed her arm and pulled her from her seat “Another WarShip is inbound. The War Book says it’s a Suffren class destroyer. Leroux is trying to coordinate an attack with the Melissa Davion, but most of her weapons are down. From what I can gather, the plan is for the Melissa Davion to hold-off the Suffren while the Spirit Sight hot-loads its jump-drive, then makes a run for it.”
“I may just be a Mech-Jock, but I know for a fact that hot-loading a jump-drive is very dangerous!” Seined came to a stop, almost sending Cairo tumbling.
“Leroux said something about using the Lithium-Fusion battery’s to take the stress off the drive core. Come on!”
Cairo lead Seined into the very heart of the Corvette. They finally reached a door marked Damage Control. Cairo opened the hatch and pushed his wife and daughter inside “This is the safest place on the ship. Stay here!” The hatch closed before Seined could say anything, the reassuring sound of heavy latches slamming into place told Cairo the hatch was sealed.
Cairo double-timed it back to the docking port, and into the Shimmering Star. He found the rest of the Irregulars hurriedly getting into body armour “Ok people: our job is to help repel any Word of Blake boarding parties that try and take over the Spirit Sight. We’re split up into lances: Scout lance will take engineering. Battle Lance, the bridge. Command lance will act as a roving patrol, and will intercept the enemy if and when they latch on. Let’s go!” He grabbed his armour and SMG, and then ran for the door.
Cairo called at stop when the command lance had reached the fighter bay. As he got into his body armour, Hawk-that-Settles turned to him “Sir, with your wife on medical leave, we’re one body short.”
Cairo shook his head and pointed down the corridor: Lenny Rodgers was ambling down a corridor with a shotgun slung over his shoulder.
“All set boss?” The Maori asked.
Cairo nodded and pulled a radio from his belt “Bridge, this is Defence One. We’re in position.”
Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux’s voice came over the link “Rodger that Defence One. The WarShip has just jumped in. It’s the Sword of Blake, one of the Warships that attacked Kathil. I don’t think she’s seen us, but it is only a matter of time. Stand by to repel boarders.”
The Spirit Sight hid itself behind the Melissa Davion as the Sword of Blake began its attack. The Melissa Davion opened up at extreme range with its AR10 anti-ship missiles and its Medium Navel Gauss Cannons. The weapons slammed home against the prow of the Suffren-class Destroyer, ripping away armour and obliterating the Navel PPC. The Word of Blake ship responded with a stream of rounds from its bow mounted NAC/20’s.
The NAC fire gutted the portside armour on the front half of the Cruiser, destroying the remaining weapons housed there. The Fed Sun ship began to turn, trying to bring fresh armour to bear, but a crippling broadside tore all the way through to the jump-drive, mortally-wounding the WarShip. The Spirit Sight continued to pull away from the action, careful to keep in the sensor shadow of the stranded Cruiser.
The Sword of Blake rounded the burning hulk of the shattered Melissa Davion as, for the first time, it detected the fleeing Corvette. The Word of Blake ship wasted no time, and fired its navel lasers at the Spirit Sight: armour melted and floated-off in globules as the anti-ship weapons searched for a weak spot. The Nova Cat ship began a series of evasive manoeuvres in an attempt to shake off the Destroyer.
So intent in destroying the Spirit Sight was the Sword of Blake that it failed to notice the Melissa Davion bring itself around and fire its main engines. The Cruiser pointed itself at the Destroyer, and in a final act of vengeance, rammed the Word of Blake WarShip at full speed. The two ships seemed to merge as armour gave way and internal-structure bent, the Word of Blake ship buckling at the impact. Lifeboats blasted clear from the Melissa Davion, moments before its reactor when critical, and the bright flash rivalling a sun, before being permanently snuffed out.
On the bridge of the Spirit Sight, the crew stood and saluted their lost comrades. Star-Commodore Leroux slowly composed himself, and turned to his operations officer. “Launch the shuttles and the DropShip, retrieve the Lifeboats.” The dark haired woman nodded and talked into a microphone.
Cairo pulled himself through the hatch “What happened?”
Leroux pointed at the screen “The Melissa Davion rammed the Sword of Blake. Both ships are lost. We are picking up survivors. I only hope this victory was worth the cost.”
Cairo nodded his agreement and left. As he pulled himself down the corridor to the mess hall, he saw Rebecca coming the other way, a sad look in her eyes “Sir, that last attack, it depressurised part of engineering: Akira Takayama is dead.”
Cairo turned and started to punch the bulkhead, the sound echoing through the ship, and out into space; the space that had just been filled with death.
ComStar Satellite Facility Alpha-Five
Portland, New Avalon
Cairo sat on the cliff top and looked down at the waves crashing below, the sun colouring them a golden hue. After the Spirit Sight had arrived at the Nadia jump-point with Jackson Davion on board two weeks ago, he had been less than surprised to find Simon Clearwater waiting at the recharge station for him. The ComStar Precentor had said how sorry he was over the death of Akira Takayama, and how he would personally see to it that his family was taken care of.
Cairo believed the second part, but not the first: the look in Clearwater’s eyes had told him that the mysterious ‘HPG administrator’ saw the death as merely a foot note, a statistic. Cairo found himself asking himself for the hundredth time why he had agreed to help. He knew Word of Blake didn’t like him, and would be happy to see him dead, but they where after Steven Cairo, and he had a set of travel papers in his real name, Steven Clark, hidden in his personal effects.
He heard the rumbling roar from a heavy VTOL over the crashing waves, headed towards the facility’s helipad. It wasn’t until the transport turned for the final approach that he saw the markings on the side: Armstrong-1, the first Princesses VTOL. He had known this moment would come for a long time, but he dreaded it none the less.
He glanced around the compound, and saw at lest a dozen security agents, all of them looking at him intently. He knew that there would be twice as many that he couldn’t see. He shrugged, and then straightened his jacket. A door on the side of the VTOL swung down, and a man Cairo recognized as Tancred Sandoval stepped out, had a look around, and then helped his fiancé from the transport. Yvonne Steiner-Davion looked stunning in the simple blue dress, and Cairo understood why her people adored her. Even her shadow flattered her, the thin wisp of black dance his direction.
He watched as the first Princes of the Federated Suns walked towards him. He bowed as she reached him. She smiled, “I assure you Captain Cairo, it is I who should honour you. You saved my cousin, and by that, possibly my realm.”
Cairo shook his head, “I did very little, your majesty: It was Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux and his crew who rescued your cousin. I was merely there.”
The first Princes smiled again “My brother Victor tells me that if not for you, the Solaris Irregulars would never have been formed, and the Spirit Sight would not have been in a position to help. But I must ask: why did you get involved in all this? You are not from the Inner Sphere, and I doubt Word of Blake would have any interest in a…” she trailed off, ashamed of what she had been about to say.
Cairo smile “You can say it: a small Periphery world that dos not matter in the grand scheme of things. Don’t worry; it’s true. I had the chance to walk away and let history take it course, but I didn’t. You can tell the Preccentor Martial that I fight for my own reasons, and that I fight on his side should be enough for him. I mean nether of you any disrespect, but I lost a good man during the fight with the Sword of Blake, and the Spirit Sight lost five crewmembers. We were able to save fifty-three survivors from the Melissa Davion, out of a crew of two hundred and ninety-four. I’m sure that there will be a memorial to them somewhere, but I’m not used to dealing with death on such a large scale. Until a year ago I was a mere lieutenant, only responsible for twenty lives, twenty-one if you count my daughter.” He had to hold back the tears that were forming in his eyes, “Now I’m a Captain, and I have over one hundred people relying on me to make the right decisions, and to keep them safe. I don’t like it, but it’s what I have to do. I know your responsible for a entire nation, but your have advisors, and regional governments to do most of the work: I’m all that between the people under my command and death.” As Cairo finished, his shadow seemed to agree with him, swelling with the courage that he had to show to even speak so candidly, nonetheless speak of his hardships as Captain.
Yvonne Steiner-Davion placed her hand on his cheek “You remind me of my brother Peter: He found his way, so will you. Good luck, Captain Cairo.”
And with that, she left, her shadow dancing back to the VTOL, and the flaring lights from the ship, matching the sun, left Cairo seeing stars, as he slowly began to walk away, his shadow still matching his thoughts, still proud, still brave, still worried, still sad that he had to keep putting his friends and compatriots into danger.
SLS Spirit Sight
Zenith Jump Point
The mood in the mess hall was subdued: the damage done to the Spirit Sight by the Sword of Blake meant a long trip back to the Clan Nova Cat dockyards. Cairo had been able to secure the Irregulars some R&R time on Tukayyid while the repairs took place. He intended to use the time to help the replacement for Akira Takayama, Sylvester Darwin, get used to working with the rest of the scout lance.
Cairo looked at Darwin from over his cup of coffee: the tall, dark haired warrior had volunteered to join the Irregulars on New Avalon. He had been a lance-commander in the newly re-formed First Davion Guards, but had taken a demotion to Private to join up. His UZL-2S Uziel added considerable firepower to the under-gunned Scout Lance, but it lacked the same blend of agility and electronics that Akira’s RVN-3L Raven had brought to the unit.
Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux entered the room and walked up to Cairo “I need to talk with you. Would you please come to my office?”
Cairo shrugged “Ok.”
Leroux lead the way through the maze of corridors that made up the Spirit Sight’s grav-deck. They finally reached the Star-Commodore’s privet office, and sat in a pair of comfortable chairs. Leroux pulled a noteputer from his pocket and handed it to Cairo “In the last hour I have received 4 Priority-A HPG messages from the ComStar station on An Ting. The first one informed me that Word of Blake saboteurs have been able to severely damage my Clan’s WarShip repair faculty in orbit of New Circe. The second told me that Clan Ghost Bear has offered to repair the Spirit Sight at their Alshain facility, but only if you where onboard. The third ordered me to go to Tukayyid after we have finished at Alshain. The forth was a request that we detour to Luthien and pickup two packages. I have no idea how this chain of events as taken place, but I have a feeling that it is important that we do as we are asked. The decision is yours.”
Cairo was in shock: an invitation to the capital world of the Ghost Bear Domain was not something that happened everyday. He thought or a moment: he had helped the Ghost Bears on Constance, but that was four years ago, and he doubted that was the reason the Ghost Bears where willing to let a potentially hostile WarShip, even one as small as the Spirit Sight, enter such an important area.
He knew of Clan Nova Cat’s tendency to follow signs and visions, and decided to trust Leroux on the matter “Ok, we will go to Alshain by way of Luthien.” He stood to leave, “if you do not mind, I will inform my people.”
“And I will inform my crew.” The Clan officer nodded.
Nadir Recharge Station
Even Cairo had to admit that the recharge station was
impressive: built during the first Star League, the huge space station was
built to facilitate the recharging of JumpShips in less time then would
normally be necessary.
Clearwater was waiting for Cairo as he stepped through the airlock that linked the Spirit Sight to the station: "Hello again Captain. Good to see you made it on time."
Cairo grunted an answer. He still didn't like the ComStar Precentor, if that was he really was: Clearwater seemed to have more power and recourses then anyone with his rank should have. The only time Cairo had seen him act in a normal way had been over a year before, when he had asked Cairo for help. Cairo looked around "So where are these packages that I'm meant to take with me?"
A voice came from behind him "I have them, Cairo Steven-san."
Cairo span round and almost lost his balance when he saw who had spoken.
Hohiro Kurita stood flanked by a pair of ISF agents who looked at Cairo with contempt. The heir to the throne of the Draconis Combine handed Cairo a large round box, sealed with the official mark of House Kurita "If you would be so kind as to see this reaches Khan Jorgensson of the Ghost Bears."
Cairo took the package and bowed "I would be honoured to perform such a duty, Kurita Hohiro-san."
Hohiro smiled, then handed him a much smaller package "I request that you place this in the hands of Preccentor Martial Victor Davion personally."
There was pain in his eyes as he spoke, but Cairo bit back the question of why: he had read of the friendship between Hohiro Kurita and Victor Davion, and how it seemed to have ended after the Star League conference on Marik four years before. He bowed again "I will see to it that it reaches him safely."
Kurita bowed in return and walked off.
Cairo turned to Clearwater once the heir to the Dragon was out of sight "What was that all about? Couldn't he send a message to the Preccentor Martial through normal channels?"
The Precentor shook his head "There’s a rift between the two of them. It is a complicated personal matter, and I will not go into it with you at this time." Clearwater stood silently for a moment, and then turned to Cairo "Good luck on your trip to Alshain. The Ghost Bears are a honourable people, and will treat you with the same respect you give them. I recommend that you keep your bondsman close to you as a sign of your respect for them as warriors, and try to play down the fact that you are married with a daughter. The Ghost Bears may be tolerant compared to other Clans, but the Trueborn's are still very self-superior."
"I'll try not to start a war." Cairo smiled.
With that, he returned to the Spirit Sight.
Ghost Bear Dominion
The Spirit Sight emerged from hyperspace and entered the Clan space for the first time in eight years. Immediately, the White Fang and the White Claw, a pair of Essex class Destroyers, formed up on ever side of the smaller Fredasa class Corvette.
Cairo looked at the bridge view-screen, and then turned to Ivan Leroux "Well, it looks like we are here for the duration."
It took the Spirit Sight five days to reach Alshain itself and the defences were even more impressive then those at the jump-points: five Warships, including a Leviathan-2 class Heavy Battleship, orbited the planet. Hundreds of fighters darted about.
"That is the Mountbatton, a Texas class Battleship, the Flagship of Clan Snow Raven.” Star-Commodore Ivan Leroux pointed out one particular WarShip to Cairo, “I am surprised to see her here."
Cairo nodded "Something is definitely going on here, and I intend to find out what!"
With a gentle hiss, the Shimmering Star's airlock slid open. Cairo, dressed in a ComsGuard uniform that Clearwater had given him on Luthien, slowly walked down the step to the spaceport landing-pad. Following him, Sinead, Robert Dancer, Rebecca, Paul Jackson and Ivan Leroux stepped out of the DropShip, all in full dress-uniform. Lenny Rodgers and Rix watched from the hatch, heavy weapons ready but hidden from sight.
An Elemental dressed in a simple field uniform stepped forwards from a line of assembled Mech's. He saluted Cairo " I am Star Captain Jake Kabrinski. I have been sent to escort you and your officers to Khan Jorgensson. If you will please follow me."
He motion to a ground car that sat weighting behind the line of Ghost Bear Mech's. Cairo turned to the DropShip, and signalled that all was well, then followed the Elemental to the car.
The drive to the Khan's office was smooth, and Cairo tried to relax, knowing that he should be safe if he watched his manners. He wished he had been able to convince his wife to stay on the DropShip, or better yet, back on New Avalon. But as ever, Sinead refused to leave his side, saying that she would not trust anyone else with his safety.
The ground-car pulled up in front of an imposing stone building, the Ghost Bear flag flying above it. They got out of the car, and Cairo turned to his subordinates "No matter what, stay cool. We don’t know why we’ve been called here, but the last thing we want to do is start another war with the Clans. Let's deliver the package from Luthien, hear what Khan Jorgensson has to say, then get back to the DropShip in one piece, ok?" they all nodded, and then followed Kabrinski into the building.
Star Captain Kabrinski led Cairo's party into a large meeting room decorated with works of fine art. There were paintings of Mechs and landscapes, but the one that caught Cairo's eye was a simple picture of a ringed planet, half of the globe in the shadow of night. He was so engrossed in the painting that he didn't notice the door behind him opening: it was Sinead's coughs that span him round to face the new arrival, a tall man wearing a simple jump-suit marked with the Ghost Bear emblem.
The man smiled "I am Khan Bjorn Jorgensson, of Clan Ghost Bear. Welcome to Alshain, Captain Steven Cairo."
Reacting instinctively, Cairo came to attention and saluted the Ghost Bear Khan. He allowed himself to relax a little "I thank you for your greeting, Khan Jorgensson, and for you generous offer to repair the Spirit Sight. Hohiro Kurita of the Draconis Combine entrusted me with a package for you, but it was taken from me by your security agents."
Jorgensson smiled again "Do not worry Captain, I have received the package, and you may tell the people of the Draconis Combine that it was appreciated."
Cairo forced himself to relax more "If I may ask, why did you insist that I accompanied the Spirit Sight here?"
The Ghost Bear Khan ushered his gests to some comfortable chairs "I read the report of your trip to Constance. You should know that Star-Colonel Gilmour was greatly impressed with your conduct and prowess as a MechWarrior." He signalled to an Elemental by the door, which quickly left the room. "But that is not why I asked you to come here: I need to know the true extent of the Word of Blake Jihad. My intelligence agencies tend to rely on picking up civilian transitions, but I would feel better hearing it from a warrior who has fought in the war."
Cairo took a deep breath "The war goes badly. Word of Blake, and their Marik and Liao allies have taken a vast number of worlds in the Chaos March, the Lyran Alliance, the Federated Suns and the Draconis Combine. The few units that have managed to make any sort of organised stand against them have been destroyed completely."
Khan Jorgensson looked at Cairo for a moment "You speak very plainly for someone who is talking to a potential enemy. With the Inner Sphere busy fighting Word of Blake, it would be easy for my Clan to attack and take worlds."
"Easy, but not honourable.” Cairo smiled, “I am not a trained diplomat, or am I even a native of the Inner Sphere. I come from a periphery world that almost no one has heard off. I have no real feelings for the Inner Sphere, or for the Clans, but I know that Word of Blake is a danger to the very existence of humanity as a species, and must be stopped. From what I have been told and have read about the Ghost Bears, you are a Warden Clan, and feel that your destiny and duty is to defend the Inner Sphere from some unknown enemy. I say this to you: Word of Blake is that enemy!"
"I could not agree with you more." The Ghost Bear Khan smiled.
Despite his previous words, Cairo was shocked by Khan Jorgensson's reply. He shook his head a few times and tried to get his mind to work "Are you saying that the Ghost Bears will help fight Word of Blake?"
The Khan smiled "If we are asked, we will help. To simply send my warriors into Combine or Lyran territory without concert would cause much confusion. I still need to deal with the Council of Khan's, but Khan McKenna of the Snow Ravens has agreed to help with them. Her Clan is in no position to offer warriors to the war effort, but they can offer Warship's and transports. You saw her flagship, the Mountbatton, in orbit on your way down?" Cairo nodded, and Jorgensson continued, "Well, after we have finished here, I ask you to go to Tukayyid and present my offer to Preccentor Martial Davion."
Cairo nodded again "I will convey your offer, and I hope that he accepts. The Inner Sphere may be able to stop Word of Blake on its own, but only at a terrible cost." He stood "If you do not mind, I will return to my DropShip and leave. I was told that the repairs to the Spirit Sight would not take long, and I wish to be underway as soon as possible."
The Ghost Bear Khan stood "I will send the White Fang with you as escort to the border: Clan Wolf is desperate to learn what is going on here, and I do not trust Vladimir Ward to bide by my pledge of safecon. Have a safe and speedy journey, Steven Cairo." The two men shook hands, and Cairo left.
In the car taking them back to the Spaceport, Cairo turned to Star-Commodore Leroux "How soon to you think the Ghost Bears could be ready to move against Word of Blake?"
The Clan officer rubbed his chin as he thought "I doubt that Khan Jorgensson would make the offer if his forces were not in a position to move now. If Victor Davion accepts, the Ghost Bears will want to move immediately. The Word of Blake Jihad, as you said, supports the Warden philosophy. The Snow Raven and the other Warden Clans may help, as will the Warden elements of the Crusader Clans, but that depends on what the Council of Khan's says. Some of them may realise that the Warden philosophy is the true spirit behind the founding of the Clans, but that is yet to be seen."
Cairo was about to reply when Sinead pinched him "You do realise that the painting your where looking at was painted by Khan Jorgensson?"
Cairo was dumbstruck "How do you know that? It didn't have a signature."
"I saw the way he looked when he saw you where so engrossed in it that you didn't notice him enter the room. His was a look of pride."
Leroux nodded "Your wife speaks the truth: Khan Jorgensson did indeed look proud that you admired that painting as much as you did. I would also say that he painted it."
Cairo sat back and smiled as the car entered the spaceport "It's nice to make friends."
Zenith Jump point
The Time/Space Continuum ripped apart, and the Spirit Sight jumped-in from the Eguilles system. Cairo was able to suppress the urge to be sick, and slowly the bridge came back into focus. He had almost regained his sense of equilibrium when the alarms started going off. He focused on the main view screen, and gasped.
A second WarShip, a Lola III class Destroyer baring the mark of Clan Wolf hung in space 200-km off the port bow. He turned to Star-Commodore Leroux "How long until the White Fang jumps-in?"
The WarShip captain punched a few commands into the computer "About 10-muinets, but in ten minuets, we will be dead or bondsman: There isn’t any way that we can defeat her."
"Then we will have to keep her talking until our escort arrives."
Cairo adjusted his uniform while the ComTech's finished making the connection. The star-field despaired from the view screen, and the image of a red-haired woman in a Clan naval uniform appeared "This is Star Captain Jo Carns of the Clan Wolf WarShip Nature's Wrath. Surrender your vessel and prepare to be boarded."
Cairo smiled slightly "This is Captain Steven Cairo of the Solaris Irregulars. The Spirit Sight is operating under my command, and I was pledged the right of safecon by Khan Bjorn Jorgensson of the Ghost Bears himself. This is Ghost Bear territory, is it not?"
"The Ghost Bear's do not scare me.” StarCaptain Carns face changed to a vicious scow, “I am operating under the direct command of Khan Vladimir Ward: he has ordered me to capture your ship if possible, and if not, to destroy it."
Cairo's smile widened "If you wish to fight me, I must tell you that three times I have fought Clan Wolf, and three times I have won. I have even captured eight bondsmen, plus a Goshawk, two Sulla OmniFighters and five sets of elemental armour, not to mention a small mountain of Clan weaponry."
"I have been made aware of your 'exploits', Captain Cairo, and I think you will find there is a difference between a BattleMech and a WarShip. Surrender."
Cairo looked at Leroux, who smiled. "You should now be picking up the IR signature of an incoming WarShip. That ship is the CGB White Fang, our escort. Unless you wish to start a war between the Wolfs and the Ghost Bears, I suggest YOU surrender YOUR vessel to me. Take your time Star Captain, you have," Cairo checked the timer on the screen "two minuets until she jumps-in."
StarCaptain Carns was shocked, but she slowly pulled herself together "Very well, Captain Cairo, I surrender my vessel."
Cairo grinned, "Consider yourself and your entire crew bondsmen of the Solaris Irregulars, and I claim your ship as Isorla. You will remain in command, and will travel with the Spirit Sight to Tukayyid. I call upon your honour to do as your bondsmaster tells you."
Carns just nodded.
Precenter Martail's office
Free Rasalhague Republic
Cairo sat wearily in a chair outside the Precenter Martail's office: he had spent the last week arranging billets for crew of the Nature's Wrath. The problems had started as soon as the ship jumped into the Tukayyid system, setting-off alarms with the defensive systems.
The office door opened, and Simon Clearwater stepped out "The Precenter Martail will see you know."
Cairo got up and walked between the massive oak doors. Victor Davion sat behind a cluttered desk at the far end of the room. His Elemental bodyguard, Tiaret Nevversan, gave him the once over, her hand resting on her pistol holster. He stood and extended his hand "So you must be Steven Cairo. I'm glad to finally meet you in person."
Cairo shook the offered hand, then pulled a small package from his pocket "Hohiro Kurita entrusted this to me on the Luthien recharge station."
Victor opened the package and pulled-out sheet of paper that he quickly read. His expression changed to one of wonder as he pulled a simple photo-frame from the box. Cairo could see tires form in the Precenter Martail's eyes, but Victor put the photo into a draw and turned back to his guest "What news do you bring from Alshain?" he said, offering a chair.
Cairo sat down and drew a deep breath "Khan Jorgensson has offered to help fight Word of Blake, but only if you ask: he will not send troops into Lyran or Combine territory without permission."
Victor turned to Clearwater "Send an immediate message to Alshain: the Lyran Alliance, Federated Suns, Draconis Combine, Free Rasalhague Republic and ComStar officially request the help of Clan Ghost Bear in fighting Word of Blake. Send a message to Peter, Yvonne, Theodore and Christian Mansdotter letting them know what’s happening. And see if Phalen can come here to coordinate."
Cairo stirred uncomfortably "Sir, I also wish to resign my commission. I am no longer needed, and I want to go home."
Victor looked like he had been slapped "You can't be serious!"
Cairo shook his head "I am completely serious: I entered the Inner Sphere five years ago to hunt-down Sebastian Cain. I did that, and killed him. I agreed to stay on to help deal with Word of Blake while ComStar arranged a counter-attack. Well, you now have the Ghost Bears, so you don't need me. Good day." Cairo stood and left the room.
Jackson was waiting for Cairo back at the barracks that had been assigned to the Solaris Irregulars, "So, you told them you quit?"
"Yep.” Cairo nodded “If you want to stay, you can: I'll higher someone to pilot the Wataru back home." He walked to the room that he shared with Sinead, who sat reading a book.
She looked at him as he took his LADF uniform from the closet "So, I finally get to see my new home?"
Steven Clark nodded as he changed "And Jane gets to grow up on a planet rather than a WarShip." He sat down on the bed next to his wife "I'm tired of war Sinead: I just want it to end."
Free Rasalhague Republic
The sun was shining, and Sinead and Steven Clark where enjoying their last day on Tukayyid. The quiet café that Sinead and picked for lunch was out of the way, but they where not that surprised when Simon Clearwater found them. The ComStar operative sat down at their table and ordered a coffee "Look, Steven, you can't go: you're the only commander to win a battle with Word of Blake. The press is building you up as the hero of the war. We still need you."
Clark shook his head "I can't do it, I can't be responsible for so many lives. Look, the Irregulars are set up, give Rob Dancer command: he's been a member from the beginning. You even have the Nature's Wrath to play with now. You don't need me."
Clearwater turned to Sinead "Can't you talk some sense into him?"
"If I could talk Steven into anything, he'd never have faced Cain on Solaris VII.” Sinead laughed, “Anyway, I want my daughter to grow up on a planet, not a series of DropShips and Warships. We've made up our minds."
Clearwater sighed, "Ok, I admit defeat: you both want to get out, and I can't blame you." He stood to leave "I wish you both the best of luck with the rest of your lives."
No sooner where to words out of his mouth then the front of the café exploded. Clark felt himself being lifted through the air: the sensation was almost pleasant, but the impact against the rear wall was not. He managed to get himself into a seated position, and through the remains of the front wall he saw a man trying to reload a portable SRM launcher. Clark pulled himself to his feet, and managed to get his service revolver from its holster.
Aiming with blurry eyes, he began to fire at his attacker. The first two rounds missed, but the third smashed the man’s left kneecap. The next two rounds ripped through his right lung. The sixth round missed over his left shoulder, but the seventh entered just below his chin and snapped his neck in two. The final round blew the back of the man’s head off, his brains creating a strangely beautiful cloud signalling the end of the threat
The gun fell from Clark’s shaking hand, and he made his way back into the ruins on the café. Clearwater was standing un-steadily, shaking his head slowly, and trying to make the ringing stop. Clark walked past him, and came to the place where Sinead lay. Blood ran is streams from her ears and nose, and her eyes where closed. Clark fell to his knees and checked her pulse: slow and irregular.
He looked around the derbies, his eyes unfocused as shock took hold "Someone call a doctor!"
He was still shouting two minuets later when the first ambulance arrived.
Clark stood staring through the glass screen at the bed where his wife lay. Tubes and wires led from her to a battery of medical equipment. Doctors, their white coats mimicking her pale skin, went over charts as they discussed what to do.
Victor Davion ran along the corridor, Tiaret Nevversan easily keeping pace with the shorter Precenter Martail. Robert Dancer intercepted the two of them before they reached Clark, "Sir, I don't think it's a good idea for you to talk to him right now: he's in shock, and the doctors say Sinead only has a 50-50 chance of survival."
Victor looked into the hospital room "What's wrong with her?"
Dancer shrugged "What isn't? She has a ruptured spleen and eardrum, a crushed lung, internal bleeding and a broken arm. They say she's lucky to have go this far."
Victor slowly walked along the reminder of the corridor to where Clarks stood, "I'm sorry that this happened. We have increased security around the hospital and the barracks where the Irregulars are based. Isis Marik is looking after Jane."
"WHAT!” Clark span round, looking ready to floor the other man, “Her father is the lunatic leading the band of religious fanatics that just tried to kill Seined, and you giver her my daughter!"
Victor took a step back "Calm down. The Thomas Marik who's leading Word of Blake is not Isis' father, he's a double: ComStar substituted him for the real one back before the Clan invasion. I've known since '58, but kept quite because we needed the manufacturing capabilities of the Free Worlds League. I told Isis the truth at the start of the war. I trust her."
"I want back in!" Clark seemed to calm down slightly.
"Your in no fit state to fight.” Victor shook his head, “You need time to get over this; and then we're talk about you rejoining the war."
"Look, sir, ether you let me back in as leader of the Solaris Irregulars, or I'll tack my Mech, my DropShip and my WarShip and I'll go attack Word of Blake on my own.” Clarks eye's burned with rage, “I captured the Natures Wrath, and the way Isorla works means she belongs to me. I own my Mech, and I own the Wataru. Use me or get the hell out of my way!"
Victor gave up "Ok, your back in; the Irregulars are yours. I'll arrange for someone to take over as executive officer, until your wife is better." With that, he turned and left.
Clark turned to Dancer "Go back to barracks: Tell them I'm back. Tell them Cairo’s back." Dancer nodded, and walked-off. Clark turned to look at his wife, tires in his eyes. They changed, growing to the diamond-hard eyes of the man known as Steven Cairo. He pressed his face against the screen, "I'll make them pay for this; I swear it!"
Cairo called the assembled Irregulars together, as well as Ivan Leroux and Jo Carns. As the last of the warriors stumbled into the briefing room, he dimmed the lights and turned on the over-head projector linked to the computer in front of him: A face appeared on the screen. Cairo began the mission briefing, "This, to those of you who don't know, is Major General Archer Christifori, of the LAAF. He's a war-hero who won the Star League meddle of Horner on Huntress, and served under Victor Davion during the Fed-Com civil war."
A few keystrokes, and the image changed to a map, "At the start of the jihad, he was on his home world of Thorin, but was called back to here, Hesperus II, to defend the Defiance Industries plant there. When Hesperus II fell to Word of Blake, Christifori's command company fought a holding- action while the units under his command pulled-back and managed to get off- planet." The map changed again to a photo taken from orbit. "As of last communication, Christifori is here, in the Myoo Highlands. Our job is to go in and pull what ever is left of his command out." The projector turned off and the lights came back on.
Cairo sat up straight in his seat "Due to the fact that the Spirit Sight only carries one DropShip, and the Nature's Wrath can't carry any, we are going to leave the Shimmering Star behind. Our new DropShip is the Mary- Ellen Carter, an Overlord. We only have her for this one mission, so let's keep her clean and tidy." A few laughs came from the assembled Irregulars, but Cairo dealt them scarce attention.
Vassili Dante put up his hand, and Cairo nodded permission to speak, "Who is stepping in as executive officer until Sinead gets back on her feet?"
Cairo winced uncomfortably at the mention of his wife's condition, but he knew the question deserved an answer, "The Precenter Martail said he would assign someone for the time being. They should arrive today."
"They have arrived.” A voice called from the doorway, “Good to see you again Steven."
Cairo turned to look Jack Cameron in the eyes. The former leader of the Dog Soldiers Company of the Wolf Dragoons stood at attention in his uniform.
Jackson reacted quickly, tackling Cairo as he drew his revolver from its holster: the bullet missed wide and hit the doorframe. Rix grabbed the gun from Cairo's hand and pulled him to his feet. Cairo looked at Cameron; hate in his eyes "YOU! What the hell are you doing here?"
"I was assigned here.” Cameron shrugged, “They said you needed a new executive officer. Something about your regular one is in hospital. Where is Sinead by the way?"
Rix fought the urge to let go.
"She's the one who's in Hospital you bastard!" Cairo's snarled.
"But the file I was given gave the name of your former XO as S Clark?” Cameron seemed miffed, “Hang on: you got married, and when you decided to leave, you started using your real name. My mistake, I apologise. I'm sorry to hear about what happened. I'll visit her."
"You go near her and I'll kill you myself! “ Cairo almost broke-free of Rix's grip. “Stay away from her! You're the one who sent her to spy on me. If you think I'm having you as my XO, you're mistaken."
"Orders, signed by Precenter Martail Davion himself.” Cameron shook his head, “It's me or nothing, and your need every MechWarrior you can get for this mission. What do you say?"
"This mission, then your out of here so fast your feet won't touch the floor.” Cairo spat at the floor, “You get me?"
Zenith Jump point
Word of Blake occupation Zone
Spirit Sight and the Nature's Wrath timed their jumps so that they appeared in system at almost the same time. No sooner had the ship's finished the transit, then their proximity alarms went-off: another WarShip was in system. Cairo floated over the holo-tank on the Spirit Sight's bridge, "Who is she?" he asked Star-Commodore Leroux.
The veteran spacer rubbed his chin "Her beacon gives her name as Blake's True Disciple, a Fox class corvette, but her transponder code is Davion."
Cairo looked confused, so Leroux continued, "Over the years, ships change ownership, and people change the name as they see fit. But, to help identify a ships place of origin, each House and Clan has its own prefix-code. The Disciple's prefix is 403, witch is the code for the old Federated Commonwealth, but all Fed-Com ships that remained in the Federated Suns after the civil war changed back to 404, while the Lyran Alliance ships changed to 303, to old Lyran Commonwealth code."
Cairo looked at the raider-screen "So, she's a Fed-Com ship that was taken by Word of Blake at some point. What Foxes have gone missing?"
Leroux typed commands into the computer, and the screen flashed, "Only one; the FSS Arthur Steiner-Davion. She was last reported in the Coventry system, waiting to attack our old friend the Melissa Davion during the Civil War. She disappeared without trace."
"Well, we now know what happened to her.” Cairo smiled grimly, “Signal the Nature's Wrath: I want her taken intact. Not only will it be a moral-boost to the entire Inner Sphere, but also it will help the Fed-Sun's to have another WarShip after the fall of Kathil."
The Irregular's two Warships advanced on the Word of Blake corvette. The Nature's Wrath began the battle with a spread of White Shark and Barracuda missiles.
The Blake's True Disciple returned fire with its own Barracuda missiles, but the faster Clan ships soon got within their effective range. The Spirit Sight and the Nature's Wrath where able to catch the Word of Blake ship in a deadly crossfire of Navel laser and Autocannon fire, disabling the Disciple while taking minimal damage.
Cairo smiled as he activated the ships caller "Lieutenant-Commander Jackson to the bridge."
It only took a few minuets for the DropShip captain to arrive, and he was smiling when he did: "Another WarShip? What are you doing Steven, starting a collection?"
"No, returning one.” Cairo laughed, “She's the Arthur Steiner-Davion, formally of the Federated Commonwealth. Word of Blake captured her during the Davion Civil War. We're going to give her back. I want you to go over with the boarding party and take command of her for now. Get her working while I go rescue General Christifori, and we're take her back to Tukayyid with us."
Jackson nodded and ran off along the corridor.
Cairo turned to Leroux "Hold the jump-point as long as you can; If heavy Word of Blake reinforcements turn-up, signal us then jump to the pirate- point behind the forth planet. Stay alert; we may need to call you in- system if another WarShip turns up at the Nadir Jump point."
Leroux smiled, "Good luck Captain Cairo: you may need it."
Word of Blake occupation Zone,
Cairo felt his stomach lurch upwards as the clamps holding the drop-pod released. The transit from the DropShip Mary-Ellen Carter to the upper atmosphere of Hesperus II started silently, with only the steady tick-tock of the drop-clock and the ever-changing altimeter to show that any time had passed.
As the atmosphere outside the pod started to thicken, a steady howling grew from barely audible to hurricane-force as the steel and titanium cocoon forced its way through the ever-thickening air. A buzzer sounded, and five- seconds later the cocoon blasted clear of the Orion.
The Mech continued to fall towards the Myoo Highlands at hundreds of miles an hour. The first drone-parachute deployed, and the Orion shock as the speed started to bleed-off. The micro-chute detached, and Cairo continued his plunge towards the Word of Blake controlled planet. Cairo adjusted the controls for the detachable jump-packs that where mounted on his Mech's back: slowly, Retribution span round. Cairo could clearly see the rest of the command lance spread out below his falling Mech.
Again a buzzer sounded, and the main- parachute deployed with a thump. The old Orion shudder as the acceleration dropped to zero, and the Mech started to slow-down. Cairo eased his thrusters, trying to remember the words of his instructor back on Los Alamos: keep it steady and try not to land at an angle.
His HUD came alive with contacts on the ground: some the green of friendly units, others the red of the enemy. He broke radio-silence, "Command Lance, Battle Lance, this is Command-1: the LZ is hot, I repeat, the Wobblies are on the ground below us. It look's like Christifori's people are throwing us a welcome party. Arm your weapons and be ready to come-in fighting. Let's lock and load!" he saw Azure PPC bolts shoot-forth from Cameron's Thor and Carpenter's Templar, striking out at targets below.
He targeted a W.o.B ALB-3U Albatross and blasted it with his arm-mounted Large Heavy Laser. The beam of coherent light meted its way through the assault Mech's right arm, dropping the limb to the ground
Off-balance, the Albatross fell to the ground. With a quick adjustment of his thrusters, Cairo lined up his Orion with the back of the struggling Assault Mech.
Cairo cut the jump-pack free and the Orion struck with a force many times it's own mass: the relatively thin rear armour slowed the heavy Mech to a relative speed of only a few kilometres an hour, but failed to save the W.o.B Mech.
Cairo set his radio to a general frequency, "Listen up Wobblies: the Solaris Irregulars are here, and it's payback time!" he switch back to the command channel "Irregulars, ATTACK!"
He grinned as the Mech's of the Command and Battle lances began to tear into the Word of Blake forces.
Cairo stepped his Orion out of the remains of the W.o.B Albatross, and began target still-standing enemy Mech's. He turned off his comunit and opened up the door in the back of his mind that kept the madness at bay. He gripped his controls so hard that his knuckles went white.
It is often said that people fight like demons when they are angry, but was not true of Cairo: he fought like a sane person. None of his shots went wide or missed. Despite being out numbered by the Word of Blake forces, Solaris Irregulars began a steady advance towards the remains of Christifori's command company, trapping the Wobblies between the two formations.
Cairo stalked the battlefield like a god, dealing death and destruction to all those who dared appose him. He surveyed the carnage: MechWarrior Josh was down, his Timber Wolf disabled with a blown knee-actuator. The Word of Blake Black Knight that dealt the damage crumpled when four Gauss Rifle round, courtesy of Robert Dancer, René Alphonse and Vassili Dante, hit it at once. The W.o.B Mech's tried to run, but where trapped like rats in a barrel, and one-by-one, they died.
Cairo opened turned his radio back on and set it to the frequency Clearwater had given him back on Tukayyid, "This is Captain Steven Cairo of the Solaris Irregulars calling Major General Archer Christifori."
A stocky Hunchback took a step forwards, "I am Major Katya Chaffee, General Christifori's second in command. We where told that a rescue mission would be launched, but we did not expect it to be by a unit with a reputation like the Solaris Irregulars. I am afraid that the General was capture two days ago. He is being held in the HPG station in Maria's Elegy, the planetary capital."
Cairo bit his lip, "Then we will have to get him back. Our DropShip is set to land 50-km north of here, I suggest we go meet it." He cut the comlink and turned his Mech north. The remains of the 1st Thorin regiment's command company fell in behind, the Irregulars brought up the rear.
Major Chaffee brought her Hunchback up alongside Jack Cameron's Thor, and then activated a tight-beam communication system, "What's the deal with Cairo? I've never seen anyone fight like he did!"
The former Dragoon sounded hesitant, "It's a long story, but the most resent part of it is Word of Blake assassins just put his wife Sinead, my predecessor as XO, in hospital on Tukayyid. She was still in a coma when we jumped out to come here. He tends to take that sort of thing personally. Word is he shouted at Precenter Martail Davion when he was refused permission to lead the Irregulars on this mission."
"That must have taken some guts!"
“Cairo has guts, but it's anger the drives him now. Point him at any Word of Blake force and he'll take it down. He almost shot me, but that's a long story that I'm not proud of. Just be glad he's here to help."
The Major was left with her thoughts.
Word of Blake occupation Zone
Cairo's plan was simple, but given the time constraint, it was the only plan that could work. Cairo, Dancer, Dante and Cameron, dressed in Word of Blake security uniforms, escorted a handcuffed Katya Chaffee between them. As they approached the HPG station, Cairo turned to the 'prisoner', "This is your last chance to change your mind Major."
Katya shook her head, "I'm getting Archer out of there, one way or another."
Cairo nodded, "Then I hope you forgive me for this."
Before Katya could answer, Cairo swung the butt of his assault rifle round, catching her on the back of her head, "Move it!" he shouted in a gruff voice. The four 'guards' pulled their semi-conscious prisoner up the steps to the entrance of the HPG.
"Who is this prisoner?" The lieutenant in charge of the guard detail stopped them.
"Sir!” Cairo came to attention, “Her dog tags identifier her as Major Katya Chaffee of the 1st Thorin Regiment, LCAF. We were ordered to bring her here for interrogation."
The lieutenant nodded, and signalled for the doors to be opened.
A quick elevator ride took the raiders down to the prison level, and allowed Katya time to recover, "Was that really necessary, Captain?"
"Had to make it look good.” Cairo shrugged, “That lieutenant was looking at us while we spoke before crossing the road. I needed him to think I was just a dumb thug."
Katya rubbed the back of her head with her now un-cuffed hands "Well, next time, tell me before you knock me out." The elevated reached its destination, and the raiding party drew their weapons.
The Word of Blake guard who sat facing the elevator died when a 9mm round from Cairo's silenced pistol hit him between the eyes. The other three guards in the corridor also died sudden, silent deaths, and soon the Irregulars had secured the prison block. Cairo checked a computer terminal, and was surprised to find that Christifori was the only prisoner. They quickly found the cell he was being kept in, and using a length of detonator-cord, blew the lock off.
Katya ran into the cell and lifted Christifori off of the floor, "Archer, it's me, Katya. Are you ok?"
The General focused his weary eyes "Katya! But how? Who are these people?"
Cairo pulled up the visor on his riot helmet and saluted "Captain Steven Cairo, Solaris Irregulars. We've been sent to rescue you. I suggest we get out of here now."
The rescue party made their way out to the back of the building, only to find the way blocked: the lieutenant from the front of the building stood at the centre of an entire platoon of infantry platoon. He pointed his gun straight at Cairo's head, "That's far enough. You thought that I would not be told of prisoner transfers? Drop your guns and raise your hands."
Cairo dropped his gun, followed by the other Irregulars.
Then he saw the glint of sunlight reflecting off of Plexiglas, and smiled.
"Plan B people." He whispered trough gritted-teeth. He flexed his wrists, and a pair of laser pistols appeared in his hands as if by magic. He brought them down and started firing just as the Elementals of the scout lance jumped over the compound wall, followed closely by Rebecca's Goshawk and Sylvester Darwin's Uziel.
The arrival of the Goshawk and the Uziel tipped the balance completely into the Irregulars' favour: the heavy machineguns the light Mech's carried ripped the un-armoured Word of Blake soldiers to shreds. Cairo's lasers burned those who had been able to find cover from the rain of death.
The wooden gates exploded inwards as a ground car hit them at high-speed. Cairo could see Lenny Rodgers behind the wheel. He turned to the rest of the raiders, "Let's get the hell out of Dodge before the local garrison gets here."
Dancer and Cameron helped the still groggy Christifori into the back of the car, while Dante lobbed a bag of grenades into the HPG station: the resulting explosion gutted the ground floor.
Cairo ran to the ground car, and pulling a GPMG from the passenger seat, stood-up through the sunroof and sprayed the remaining Wobblies with tracer- fire. The armour-piecing rounds set off a Jeep's full tank, and it was blown 50-feet into the air. Cairo looked down at Rodgers, "DRIVE!" He managed to drop down to the passenger seat as the car lurched-off at break-neck speed. The Mech's and Elementals of the scout lance ran cover for the fleeing car as it raced from town.
Word of Blake occupation Zone
Rodgers didn't stop the ground car, but drove it into the cargo-bay of the Mary-Ellen Carter at such a speed that he barely had time to hit the brakes. As soon as the last Mech was onboard, the DropShip took of at maximum speed: the G-forces pinned the occupants of the cars into their seats.
The DropShip rocked several times as fighters from the local Word of Blake garrison tested their mettle against the Overlord's armour: none of them survived the battle with the DropShip's impressive armament.
Eventually, the acceleration decreased, and Cairo was able to turn to Christifori, "Well General, I hope you where not inconvenienced by your sudden check-out of your accommodations back on Hesperus II?"
Christifori laughed, "Believe me captain, that is one hotel that will not get any stars from me."
"Well all we have to do now is: reach the jump-point, jump back to friendly space and deliver you to Tukayyid.” Cairo smiled, “Easy."
Free Rasalhague Republic
The Mary-Ellen Carter landed softly, and Cairo walked, duffle bag in hand, down the cargo ramp. He looked up at the sky, and the starts seemed to dance: despite it being almost 3 A.M. local time, DropShips by the dozen still made their way down through the gravity-well to Tukayyid City Spaceport.
Across the concourse, he could see a Clan Wolf-in-Exile DropShip unloading Mech's and equipment. Dozens of MechWarriors marched from troop transports to a line of trucks that stood ready to take them to barracks. He looked up to see a flight of Aerospace fighters shoot by with their afterburners glowing in the dark.
Cairo smiled: for now, at least, this was home.
As he walked across the landing pad, he thought of the trip back from Hesperus II: long weeks of tedium while the jump-drives of the three Warship's recharged, then the nauseating oblivion of a hyperspace jump. He was grateful for the Lithium-Fusion battery systems that the ship carried, cutting the four-month trip down to just two.
He reached the Spaceport terminal, and hailed a taxi. He told the driver to head for the hospital where Sinead was, and relaxed in the back seat for the short drive. Tukayyid City had certainly seen some changes while he had been away: prefab buildings covered what had been vacant lots. He saw MechWarriors in the uniforms of a dozen units: Lyran, Draconis, Fed-Sun's, Mercenary, and even a few Clan pilots, sticking to small groups. The war was certainly heating up for such a force to be assembled.
The hospital was quiet, and Cairo's ComStar pass got him past the security guards who had tried to pointed out visiting times to him. He quietly walked along the corridor to his wife's room: she lay still on the bed, most of the tubes and bandages removed.
Cairo asked the nurse on duty if there had been any changes, "Well, she stopped bleeding internally not long after she got here. We have been able to repair most of her injuries, and now it’s just a case of letting her come-around in her own time." Cairo thanked the nurse, and sat himself down in the chair next to the bed.
Cairo woke next morning to the feel of a hand resting on his own. He sat bolt upright, and was greeted with a smile from Sinead.
"How long have I been out?" Her voce was groggy, but she was awake.
"About five mouths.” Cairo clasped her hand tight, “You where pretty badly banged up."
"What happened? The last thing I remember was sitting in a café, talking to Clearwater."
"It was Word of Blake. One of their agents fired an SRM at the café. I managed to shoot him before he could re-load."
"Isis Marik is looking after her. Don't worry; it's a long story. I had to go on a mission, only got back last night."
"So how am I?"
"Well, the nurse last night told me you where almost completely better. They are a bit worried about your sense of balance: the blast ruptured your eardrums."
"So I may be barred from piloting a Mech again. Well, at lest I'm still alive, and you're here. Now go get my daughter: I want to see how she's grown while I've been asleep. And have a shower, you stink like a skunk."
Free Rasalhague Republic
Cairo sat, his back resting against a palm tree, looking out to sea. Sinead lay in the sun, trying to get some colour back into her skin after her hospital stay. Jane was playing with a bucket and spade, trying to pile up the soft sand. Cairo smiled: it was times like this he was content, despite everything that had happened to bring him to the point in his life.
As he looked at the horizon he saw a black dot that started to grow. Picking up a pair of binoculars, he focused in on the aircraft: it was some kind of VTOL transport, and it was heading directly for him. The radio next to him beeped. He sighed and picked it up.
"Steven, there is an emissary from Clan Wolf looking for you.” Clearwater's voice came over the link. “They asked for safecon, and Victor granted it. They say they want to talk to you. I don't know why, but be careful."
Cairo banged his head against the tree,
"They've found me. I'm sending Sinead and Jane back to town. Call Jackson; have him meet them there. I'll deal with this on my own. Out." With that, he turned the radio off.
Sinead looked up, "If you think for one moment that I'm leaving you."
Cairo raised his hand, "One: you are in no condition to fight if needs be. Two: One of us needs to look after Jane, and they asked for me by name. And three: I don't want you in any more danger than necessary. Please, for me, just go meet Jackson: send him along if you want."
Sinead reluctantly stood, and lifted her daughter off the ground. Cairo didn't move until he herd the ground car pull away.
He slowly stood up, and then reached round to check that his Kukri was still in place at the small of his back. Slowly, the VTOL came in to land and settled on the beach. Two un-armoured, but heavily armed, Elementals climbed out of the transport and took up cover positions. Cairo stood unmoving, his arms crossed across his chest. A door in the side of the transport opened, and it was all Cairo could do to keep his face straight when he saw whom the passenger was.
Katherine Steiner-Davion stood before him in the ceremonial dress of a Clan Wolf Star-Commander. She smiled at him in a way that was obviously meant to endear him to her, but failed: Cairo had read about her rule as Archon of the Lyran Alliance, and had talked to General Christifori about the Civil War. He was only glad that he had sent his wife away: Sinead's feelings towards the woman now stood before him where lese than polite. He did note that her uniform gave her name as Katrina, and did no note any surname or Bloodname.
She walked towards him, "Captain Steven Cairo, I presume?"
That got a reaction, but only slight, "Please, call me Katrina. I find rank very impersonal." She continued with a smile.
"I was informed that you wish to talk to me." Cairo continued to stand a still as a rock, his eyes unreadable behind his sunglasses.
"Khan Vladimir Ward would be interested to know of what you talked to Khan Bjorn Jorgensson of on Alshain last year."
"That was a private discussion, and Khan Jorgensson chooses to share it with his fellow Khans, that is up to him. I will not speak of it with you. Is there anything else?"
Katherine's eyes narrowed, "I had hoped that as a Lyran citizen, you would talk openly with me…"
"My wife is Lyran, but I am from the Periphery.” Cairo raised his hand in objection, “Please do not try and call on patriotism for my wife's homeland to get the information you wish. As I said: is there anything else you wish to discuss, Star-Commander?"
"There is the matter of the Nature's Wrath.” Katherine went back to the smile “Khan Ward feels that you did not obtain her as Isorla in the correct manor. We would like her back."
"HA!” Cairo flung his head back and laughed, “Your Khan sends a ship to kidnap me while I am under safecon, and now he has the gull to ask for his ship back. Perhaps he would have preferred a war with the Ghost Bears, quiaff?" Cairo could see Katherine's anger rising, but she did her best to hide it.
"Neg, Captain Cairo, my Clan has no wish to fight the Ghost Bears." She looked round to see a pair of VTOL's approaching along the coast at speed. She turned back to Cairo, "This is not over, Captain." She hurried back to her transport, and it took off in a hurricane of sand and spray. It was soon out of sight.
The two new VTOL's landed, and Cairo smiled when Victor Davion climbed from the first one. Precenter Martail walked up to Cairo, "Who was it?"
"No one important." Cairo shrugged, as he turned to leave, "Just your sister."
Free Rasalhague Republic
The Shadow Hawk moved at top-speed across the open grassland. A Wolfhound appeared from behind a hill and fired its ER Large Laser at the heavy Mech. The Hawk hit back with a blast from its twin Clan ER Medium Lasers, and then closed the range to bring its Rotary AC/5 into play.
The high-speed stream of depleted-uranium slugs tore the Wolfhound's right leg off, sending the Mech to the ground. As the light Mech tired to get into a sitting position, the Shadow Hawk fired its Clan Streak SRM-4. The missiles hit the Wolfhound in the centre torso, ripping away the armor and levering its gyro exposed, and a blast from the ER Medium Lasers melted it to slag.
Leaving the downed Wolfhound behind, the Shadow Hawk continued until it reached a wide river. Without breaking its stride, the Mech took to the air on plumes of fire, easy clearing the water. The rocky nature of the far bank made the going tough, but the Shadow Hawk took it in stride.
Eventually the grassland gave way to forest, and the Shadow Hawk was forced to slow. Picking its way between the trees, the Hawk was set upon by a Star of Elementals. The battle-armoured infantry jumped in, firing their Lasers and SRM's at the Shadow Hawk. The Mech responded by sending stream of RAC/5 rounds through one of the Elementals, effetely cutting it in half. Another died when it was hit by both of the Medium Lasers. The Shadow Hawk was able to grab one of the Elements in its huge battle-fists, and squeezed the life out of the struggling figure.
All of this was in vain though, as the last two Elementals where able to get onto the Shadow Hawks back and rip-away the armour protecting the rector. A few well placed laser blasts, and the containment-shield cut in, saving the Mech from a catastrophic rector overload, but cutting power.
The screen dimmed, and the simulator pod opened. Sinead took off the neural helmet, and unplugged her cooling vest. As soon as she had removed her safety harness, she climbed out of the command couch and onto the gantry outside.
Cairo stood against the safety rail, a huge grin on his lips, "The doc says you pass: you’re fit for duty again."
Sinead ran at him, and he lifted her up in a tight embrace. She throw her head back and screamed, "YES!"
"No more getting yourself hurt though.” Cairo let her down onto the gantry and kissed her, “I can't go through this again: you’re nasty when you’re not allowed to pilot a Mech."
"Watch it mister. I may be your executive officer, but I'm also your wife.” Sinead kicked his shin, “Any more taunts like that and you're sleeping on the sofa!"
Cairo examined the holo-tank in the centre of the briefing room: a 3D representation of the Inner Sphere slowly rotated. A large part of the map was red, indicating worlds that had fallen to the Word of Blake advance. Precenter Martail Davion stood before the assembled officers; "Our main concern at the moment is the Word of Blake push on the Lyran Capital, Tharkad." One of the worlds on the map became highlighted in gold. "At the moment, Word of Blake is here, on Whittington, but our intelligence leads us to believe that they are heading here, Callisto-V. If they take that world, they will be able to strike at Donegal and Tharkad."
The hologram faded, and the lights came on. Archer Christifori walked to the centre of the room, "Field Marshal Kell has assigned the defence of Callisto V to me. I will land over a dozen regiments to Callisto, and prepare the defence of the planet. The Precenter Martail has graciously agreed to send certain ComsGuard units to help. Theses units will be the 117th Division and the Solaris Irregulars. Captain Cairo, your unit are to be expanded to a battalion, and you are being promoted to Major. Captain Cameron will command your second company, while Clan Ghost Bear has offered to provide a Trinary to act as the third company. I believe you know the Star Captain, one Jake Kabrinski?"
"We met on Alshain." Cairo nodded.
Christifori smiled, "Good, then you know the people under your command. You will keep the DropShip Mary-Ellen Carter, as well as your Warship's: they would follow you into the jaws of death after your recent adventures and I don't want to break up the team. Your command will be the first to land on Callisto. I need you to scout the main landing zone before the bulk of the forces arrive. We have reports of Word of Blake cells causing trouble on worlds just before they are hit, and I need you to keep them busy."
"As you wish, Sir." Cairo nodded.
The meeting broke-up, and Cairo walked back to barracks. The Irregulars quickly came to attention. Cairo smiled, and called them to form a semicircle, "Ok, listen up and listen good: the Solaris Irregulars are now officially of battalion strength. Captain Cameron is building a company out of former Wolf Dragoon warriors, and our friends the Ghost Bears are lending us a Trinary." The room was filled with wolf-whistles and catcalls, but Cairo clamed them down, "As you know, a Battalion is commanded by a Major, so get used to me going up another rank. I'm still the same-old Steven Cairo you all know and love, and you can still talk to me if and when you need. Sinead is back as XO, so get used to her being back around. Get some rest: we ship-out for the front in two days."
There was the usual slaps on the back and congratulations about his promotion, but Cairo was able to get to his room relatively quickly. He collapsed into a chair as his wife walked-in.
"That was a brave face your put on for them Steven, but you don't need to do it for me." Sinead looked at him.
Cairo rested his head against the back of his chair and closed his eyes, "I don't want this promotion Sinead. I don't want to be responsible for all those extra lives."
Cairo turned his Orion to give him a better view of the landing-zone: his new battalion was busy unloading supplies from the DropShip Mary-Ellen Carter. The three new Mobile Field Base vehicles that Clearwater had secured for him were moving off to the abandoned quarry that was to serve as the Irregulars base of operations.
He watched as Star Captain Jake Kabrinski moved his Trinary out across the grassland, heading out on patrol. Sinead moved her SHD-5D Shadow Hawk up next to his older Mech, "Hell of a sight Steven."
"It is that Sinead, it is that.” Cairo nodded, “Any news on Word of Blake cells on planet?"
"You have a meeting in two hours with the commander of the local garrison forces.” Sinead punched a few commands into her Mech's computer, “He should have the report General Christifori requested."
The last supply vehicles left the DropShip and Cairo moved his Orion's arm after them, "Let's go."
Sinead closed up behind and to the side of Cairo's Mech, and was the first to spot the ATV's. She stopped her Mech to get a better view, "Steve, there are two 4X4's heading for the DropShip. They look like they're packing missile launchers."
Cairo groaned, "And I thought Wobblies where meant to be smart!" He changed his radio to the frequency used by the DropShip, "Paul, you have two missile-packing ATV's heading your way a high-speed, probable Word of Blake. Deal with them."
The radio crackled, "Rodger that Steve, we see them." Gun-turrets on the side of the massive Overlord class DropShip turned to face the charging vehicles: PPC blasts and missile filled the air between the DropShip and the ATV's, lifting one of the light- vehicles into the air on a pillar of flame. The second raider managed to avoid the defensive weapons, and fire a missile at the DropShip.
The Mary-Ellen Carter disappeared in a blinding flash of light.
Cairo felt his Mech being lifted off the ground and thrown across the ground. The old Orion landed heavily on it's back, crushing several small trees. Cairo blinked several times, trying to get the afterimage of the blast from his eyes. He stopped once he realized what had happened: the one missile had destroyed the DropShip.
"NUKES!" he screamed into his radio, "The Wobbly bastards used a Nuke!" The radio filled with chatter as lance commanders started taking roll calls to see who was missing. Cairo managed to raise him Mech to a sitting position. He looked back across the landing field: the skeletal remains of the DropShip were just visible through the smoke and flames. His voice broke, "Paul!"
Sinead's battered Shadow Hawk limed up next to his Orion, her taut voice filling his ears, "We better get out of here. There's no telling if they have any more of those around, and we have to warn the General."
Without answering, Cairo raised his Mech to its feet and followed his wife from the landing field.
Cairo ran to the command vehicle that contained the surface-to-space communication system. The Tech at the controls flipped a few switches, "Connection's made Sir."
Cairo nodded as he grabbed the radio handset, trying to remember the code-words, "Stonewall, this is Traveller: party is compromised. Repeat: the party is compromised. Word of Blake forces have destroyed our wheels with fireworks. I repeat: Word of Blake forces have used fireworks. Traveller is stranded."
Cairo sat in silence and counted off the minuets it took for his message to reach the Task Force, and the time it took for General Christifori to respond. The radio crackled into life, "Traveller, this is Stonewall: party is still on for your location. Secure the house and prepare to receive guest."
It took Cairo time to decipher the message, "Negative Stonewall, the party is off, repeat, off. Gatecrashers have ruined the vibe. Scatter before the cops arrive."
Long minuets passed, but Christifori's reply finally came through, "Attention Traveller, this is Stonewall: party is officially bust. Unable to pick you up before cops arrive; keep low and good luck. Stonewall out."
Cairo dropped the radio mike. He turned to the Tech manning the communication array, "Turn it off. We can't risk the Wobblies triangulating our position."
Cairo almost walked straight into Star Captain Jake Kabrinski and Jack Cameron. He turned to his two company commanders, "Christifori's pulled the plug. He's not willing to risk another DropShip at this time, and I can't say I blame him. Organise your forces as best you can: we are going to be here for a while." His two subordinates nodded and walked off. Cairo turned to Sinead, "It's not good: we're on our own on a world that Word of Blake is about to role right over this planet. We are so screwed it isn’t even funny."
Sinead put her arms around her husband's neck, offering him comfort and strength, "You’ll come up with a plan: it’s what you do, what you always do."
"I’d surrender in a heart-beat right now if I thought for a second that the Wobblies wouldn't just vaporize us."
"You’re better than they are: you care about the people under your command. That's what makes you a good officer and an even better human being. You have reserves of strength that you've never tapped."
"I wish I could believe you."
Cairo stood before his assembled command in a cave that made up part of the quarry, "As you are all aware by now, we have been cut off and stranded here on Callisto V. After Word of Blake destroyed our DropShip, General Christifori had no choice but the pull back the rest of the Task Force. They are unable to send another DropShip to pick us up."
"I now have to inform you that we have received a communication from the Task Force, warning us that at lest two regiments of Word of Blake Mech's are inbound at this time. We will be out-numbered at lest six to one. There is no way we could defeat them in an open battle, so we won't try. What we are going to do is this: we are going to make life on Callisto V so difficult for them that they ether pull out, or are in no fit state to fight when General Christifori comes back." That statement was greeted with a cheer from the Irregulars.
Cairo began to pace backwards and forwards, "It's going to be tough, and it's going to be dangerous, but if you wanted a safe life, you'd never have joined the military. I want you all to get settled-in here: there are barracks to sort out, repair facilities to assemble, and defences to set-up. Report to your Lance commanders for assignments." He stopped in the centre of the cavern, "I know a lot of you must be wondering why we just don't surrender to the Wobblies. Well, let me remind you of one thing: Word of Blake used a tactical nuclear weapon to destroy our DropShip. Had we still been on board, we would have all been killed. They have no problem with using drugs and torture to get information from prisoners, and if any of you are captured or surrender, it could kill us all." He took a deep breath, "I am not saying you should kill yourself rather than be taken prisoner, but I have experienced firsthand Word of Blake hospitality, and I will gladly die before I go through that again. Dismissed."
Suddenly sombre after Cairo's last words, the Irregulars broke into small groups to discuss what he had said.
Sinead found Cairo in an abandoned sight office that he had taken over as his command centre, "Do you really mean what you said about not being taken prisoner again?"
"After what almost happened on Whittington, yes.” Cairo nodded, “You where unconscious for most of it, but I remember every moment of it: the VTOL crash, Hendrix's threat to kill you if I didn't give him the weapons he wanted, the gun fight when the other rescued us, all of it."
Sinead hugged her husband tight, "I can't imagine what it must have been like for you, especially after all you had already been through. Just promise me one thing: no missions you know you wont come back from: Death in combat I might be able to accept, but your going out just to die I could not."
Cairo watched as the company of Word of Blake Mech made their way across the open grassland, and approached the tree line where two of his companies were hidden, their Mech's powered down. His eyes alternated between the view from his cockpit window and his laser-rangefinder.
When the first Mech reached 100-meters, he fired his ATM-launcher at it.
The high explosive rounds struck the ANV-3M Anvil dead centre, ripping armor plates apart. This was also the signal for the other Mechs to open fire: a wall of destruction shot forth from the tree line and decimated the W.o.B Mech's. Soon, the entire enemy formation was destroyed.
Cairo surveyed the scene, then opened a com-channel to Star Captain Jake Kabrinski, "That was way to easy: we have used the same trick twice before, and yet they walked right into it."
"Aff Major,” Kabrinski seemed uneasy, “it does not make any sense for them to repeat the same mistake for a third time."
Cairo was about to respond when the air was filled with the high- pitched wine of incoming artillery rounds. The shells exploded less than 10-meters of the Irregulars.
Cairo hit the Battalion-wide channel, "SCATER!" The Mechs shot-off by Lances, heading to different rendezvous points. Cairo stood his Orion at the start of a dirt track and counted-off the Mechs of his command Lance: Sinead's Shadow Hawk, MechWarrior Josh's Timber Wolf and Hawk-that-Settles' Avatar. He took one last look around to make sure that the rest of the Mech's where clear, and followed on behind the others.
The shelling continued, slowly moving across the plains, following the line of retreat. Cairo gritted his teeth as rounds started to fall around his slower Mech. The road before him erupted in a geyser of dirt and smoke. His Orion stumbled in the shell-hole, almost falling, but he was able to keep it upright.
"This is bad Steve, really bad." Sinead's voice came over their private link.
"Yes,” Cairo's eyes narrowed, “but it proves a theory of mine."
"We have a traitor in our midst."
Cairo watched the other three Mech's of his command lance slowly make their way along the forest track to the rendezvous point, his head still spinning, trying to work out who the traitor was. He made a mental list of the people he new he could trust. Sinead and McCoy were beyond reproach, he added Rob Dancer, Rebecca, Rix's point and Scot and Janet, his two aerospace pilots to the list: all had been with him since before he had come to the attention of Word of Blake.
He added the other Clanners and Jack Cameron to the list: despite his personal feelings towards the man, Cairo new he would never work for W.o.B.
He was still contemplating this when his threat-detector started bleeping: he had been targeted! His eyes scanned his passive-sensors for any sign of the enemy. There: two reactor-signatures where showing up on his MAD, and they were big ones.
He opened a com-link to the rest of his lance and spoke quietly to try and mask the signal, "Don't react right away, but it looks like we've got two Assault-Mechs stalking us. One of them has locked onto me with its Artemis IV. Stay calm, but be ready for a fight…"
No sooner were the words out of his mouth then there was in ear splitting roar as twenty LRM's hit his Orion across the chest.
He reacted instantly: selecting high-explosive rounds, he sent a spread of missiles from his ATM-9 back down the track of the incoming fire. There was a high-pitched whine as Sinead brought her RAC on line, followed by a low roar as it fired off a stream of rounds. Lasers shot-fourth from Hawk-that-Settles' Avatar and Josh's Timber Wolf, igniting foliage as they burned they way to the targets.
Cairo switched his sensor to active, and his jaw dropped: the two enemy Mech's where an Atlas and a Templar, and according to the intelligence data he had been given, there was only one Templar on Callisto V.
He gritted his teeth and fired his Large Heavy Laser at the OmniMech, cutting a nasty scar across its left arm and torso. The Mech responded with a Gauss Rifle round that smashed Cairo's medium laser. He quickly opened up with his LB 10-X, sending a stream of cluster rounds at the Assault-Mech, doing minimal damage. The Templar fired its Large and Medium Pulse Lasers and Cairo, knocking his Orion from its feet.
Dazed, Cairo looked up to see the Templar lower it's Gauss Rifle to face his cockpit at point-blank range.
"Any last words, Sir?" A mocking voice filled his ears.
Cairo looked up at the barrel of the Gauss Rifle and smiled, "Nothing in particular Carpenter: I'm just wondering when my darling wife's going to get her finger out and fire."
The air was filled with the sudden roar as Seined fired her RAC point-blank into the back of the Assault-Omni. The Templar shudder as the stream of rounds hit it, and Cairo fired his ATM- launcher, sending a flight of HE-missiles upwards.
The Templar fell to the ground as Cairo slowly got his Orion to its feet. He carefully aimed his Heavy Laser at the OmniMech's cockpit, "Surrender or Die!"
"What's the point, your just kill me in any case." Carpenter's voice came back over the link.
"Surrender and I give you my word that no-one under my command will hurt you in anyway." His sensors showed that the Templar's reactor was shutting down.
"Very well, I surrender to you." Carpenter sounded dejected.
The W.o.B Atlas hit the ground with a thump as the rest of Rob Dancer's Assault-Lance appeared, followed closely by the Scout-Lance. Cairo smiled, "Rix, take Sgt. Carpenter prisoner, and see if the pilot of that Atlas is still alive. Rob, secure the perimeter. Rebecca, take your Mechs and head back to base; tell Cameron to move to the alternate location, and get McCoy back here with the prime movers. If we can salvage these two Mech we will, if not, we blast them to pieces." His commands where met with his unit's normal efficiency.
He was just beginning to relax when his com-system bleeped, telling him he had an incoming message from Sinead. Sighing, he turned the radio on, "Yes, oh light of my life?"
"'Going to get her finger out and fire' that's what you said, wasn't it." Seined sounded less than impressed.
"True, but you had been standing behind her for about 15-seconds and you were yet to fire."
"I just wounded what your last words were going to be. You're lucky as hell that she didn't just shoot you out of hand."
"I've found that people like her have a need to gloat before they kill you. It's a character trait that can often lead to trouble: an honest person would have just fired."
"So you were saved by Carpenters need to gloat before she killed you? Don't rely on that in future Steven: there are plenty of 'honest' people in Word of Blake."
Carpenter was handcuffed to a chair in the basement of the abandoned Castles Brian. Next to her sat Precentor James Van-Peters, the Word of Blake MechWarrior who's Atlas had tried to assist her in killing Steven Cairo.
Cairo walked in and sat on a chair opposite them, "Well now, who wants to tell me what I want to know, and who wants pain?"
"You gave me your word that no harm would come to me if I surrendered!" Carpenter looked him hard in the eye.
"No, I said that no-one under my command would hurt you, I never said anything about hurting you myself!" To prove his point, Cairo drew his pistol and slowly screwed a silencer onto the end. He pointed the gun at the floor and looked at his two prisoners, "Anything to say?"
"I would rather die than tell you anything!" Van-Peters spat at Cairo, hitting him on the arm.
"Anyone can be brave when facing certain death, but there are worse things than dying.” Cairo smiled, wiping the spit from his sleeve, “Trust me, I know." He pointed the pistol at the Precentor's leg and fired.
The 9mm round shattered the man kneecap, making him cry out with agony.
"You're insane!" Carpenters eyes went wide.
"According to my last psych-evaluation, yes." Cairo smiled wildly as he pointed the gun at Carpenters knee, "You want to talk, or shall I tell the doc to get two plastic kneecaps ready?"
"I'll talk!" Carpenters eyes where wide with fear.
"Good." Cairo smiled, putting the gun back in its holster, then opened the door, allowing two medics to enter, "Of course, it's not me who'll be asking the questions. I'm sure that Loki has people back on Tharkad who know what to ask, and how to encourage you."
Carpenter was completely confused, "How do you intend to get us to Tharkad?" Cairo smiled, "That's a surprise."
Cairo managed to get back to his quarters before he regurgitated his last two meals.
Sinead handed him a towel once he had finished, "You know, a few years back, this would not have fazed you, but now it makes you physically sick."
Cairo nodded, washing his mouth out thoroughly, "Well, I'm not the same person I was back then." He took his wife in his arms, "At lest, not when I'm around you: I went a little crazy when you where in hospital back on Tukayyid. I didn't like what I became."
"That's because you're not like that anymore, and that's why I married you." Sinead smiled.
Cairo kissed her, "So it had nothing to do with you being pregnant at the time?"
Cairo watched as the techs got the two Sulla OmniFighters ready. His attention turned to Scot and Janet, his two former Clan Wolf Aerospace pilots, "Ok, now remember this: Carpenter told the Wobblies everything, but I do not think they will be expecting this. Just get out of the atmosphere and split up. The Spirit Sight should be at the pirate-point as planed, but if she is not, you will have to head back. If that happens, send the coded signal, then bail out: I would rather lose the fighters then have the two of you captured or killed."
He stopped talking as brought out the two prisoners. He smiled at Carpenter, "Give my regards to Loki when you get to Tharkad." He turned back to the two pilots, "If they give you any trouble at all, and I mean anything, you have my permission to kill them. Any questions?" The two pilots shook their heads. Cairo smiled, "Good luck."
Cairo watched as the two OmniFighters rocketed along the old runway and into the air, keeping low to avoid radar. McCoy shook his head, "You sure that this is the best thing to do?"
Cairo shrugged, "No, but I can't interrogate them myself, and if they stay here, I can't guaranty their safety." He chuckled, "I'd probably end up shooting them myself. They have useful information, and from what I've read, Loki is the organization to get it from them. Anyway, what's the point of getting the information out of them if we're the only ones to know?" He shook his head, "It's better that the information they have is learned by the wider universe than just this small base."
The two Clan fighters made their way along a series of valleys before raising their noses for a high-G burn to orbit. Both pilots and unwilling passengers felt themselves being pushed into their seats as the fighters clawed their way up at maximum climb. A passing flight of SHV-O Shiva OmniFighters tried to intercept them, but the faster Clan-built craft soon left them far behind. More fighters tried to stop them, but the genetically engineered Clan pilots where able to easily out-fly the Word of Blake pilots, and soon controlled the skies over Callisto V.
As instructed, the two fighters split-up and made their own way to the waiting Spirit Sight. They docked less than an hour apart, and soon the Clan WarShip was ready to make the jump to Tharkad as ordered. With a blinding flash, the Corvette disappeared into hyperspace, cutting the Irregulars off completely.
Cairo felt his guts wrench as the bullets hit Kerry Slone in the stomach, knocking her over backwards. He lifted his TK Assault-rifle and sent a burst of 1-mm rounds back at the Word of Blake guards, cutting them down.
It had been a simple plan: while the other two companies where off on diversionary raids, his forces would launch a commando raid on a Word of Blake outpost manned only by infantry. In order to get close to the buildings, it had been necessary to leave their Mech's back at the field- base, and proceed by way of ground cars.
Things had gone bad when someone had tripped an alarm, rousing the guards and activating the spotlights. What was meant to have been a meticulously planned raid dissolved into a mad firefight with both sides trying to lay down as much fire as they could in the tight confines. Both side seemed to be winning, and it was quickly becoming a battle of attrition.
Cairo ran across to where Slone lay, and dragged her back behind the cover of a low wall. She was still alive, but from the amount of blood she had lost, it was only a matter of time before she passed the point of no-retune. Cairo quickly grabbed his medi-pack and placed bandages over the entry and exit wounds. He gave her a shot of morphine, and tried to keep her stable.
He poked his head over the wall and saw that things were at a stalemate. He sighed: there was only one thing left to do. He drew a flair-gun from his belt and fired it up into the night sky. The red shell cast strange shadows over the battlefield, and black-dressed figures started to brake-off from the fight and disappear into the darkness beyond. Gently lifting Slone over his shoulder, Cairo began to make his way out of the base, keeping to the shadows, and sprinting across patches of light.
The sound of gunfire slowly died down as Cairo got further and further away from the outpost, until all he could hear was Slone's breathing and the sound of his feet rustling the short grass. He made his way to the rendezvous point, but all of the ground cars were gone. He scanned the surrounding area with his night-vision goggles: there was a farmhouse less than a kilometre away and by the looks of it no one was home.
Re-settling Salon's unconscious body on his shoulder, Cairo began the trek to the promised safety of the farmhouse, the sun beginning to rise in the East.
The farmhouse was indeed deserted, and by the looks of it, it had been ransacked for anything of value. Cairo remembered one of the briefings they had been given about Work of Blake, and about how they often recruited from pirate bands to fill out the ranks of their foot soldiers.
He managed to find a bed in an upstairs room where he could change Slone's bandages: most of the bleeding appeared to have stopped, but there was still the question of the amount of blood she had lost, and the damage done of the bullets as they passed through. He checked her vitals, and she seemed to be stable, so he decided to have a look round the house to see what he could find.
What ever had happened here, it had happened in a hurry: personal possessions were strewn across every room in no discernable order. He managed to find a shirt and pair of denim trousers to replace his blood-soaked combat gear. He found a few extra shirts he could use as bandages for Slone if needed.
Slone was awake when he went to check on her, "How do you feel?"
"Kind of tingly." she smiled slightly.
"That's the morphine I gave you: you'll feel great for now, but as soon as it wears off, the pain is really going to hit."
"How bad is it?"
"I don't know, but it doesn't look good: you lost a lot of blood, and took at lest 4-rounds through your guts."
Despite the effects of the morphine, Slone's mind seamed to work fine: "There should be some blood-expander packs in our med kits, but you're have to be careful how you use them: too much and I could start bleeding again."
"I think I can remember something about that from my training."
Cairo sat on a chair next to the bed as he went through the equipment; “There's something I've been wanting to ask you ever since you sighed up back on Solaris.”
"Well, I'm not going anywhere right now: ask away."
"You seemed more eager than anyone else to sign up, why?"
"Well, they say confession is good for the soul: My mother was from the Free Worlds League, and my older brother joined the FWL military when he was 18; He's a Knight of the Inner Sphere. At first I was really proud of him, of the fact that he was considered good enough to join such an elite unit. But then he seemed to change: His letters has always been very open, but he started becoming more and more guarded about where he was and what he was doing. At first I put it down to typical military security, but then all of this started."
"All off suddenly, everything that had happen made sense: my brother was working for Word of Blake. I couldn't believe it at first, but then I got a letter from him, telling me to get off of Solaris ASAP. I figured out that he must have had something to do with what was happening, so I signed up with you in an attempt to atone for what he had done."
"You've nothing to atone for: he made his own decisions, and nothing you can do now can change that. But, you are one hell of a Mech-jockey, and I'm glad that you did sign up.” Cairo stood, “Now, I'm going to go see if I can find us a way out of here before it gets too light outside."
Cairo managed to get an old pickup truck working, and drove Slone back to the field base. The Doctors took her away for proper treatment, and Cairo found himself facing a glum looking Jack Cameron, “We got a problem.”
The command post was a hive of activity, and Cairo found his command staff clustered around a TV monitor. McCoy nodded when he saw Cairo, and pressed the replay button.
The image that appeared on the screen was that of a greying man in a Word of Blake uniform. He smiled at the camera; “This is a wide-band broadcast for Major Steven Cairo of the so-called Solaris Irregulars: If you do not surrender yourself to us by midnight tonight, we will detonate a nuclear device in a city chosen at random. We will do the same every day that passes until you comply.” The man's eyes narrowed, “Be under no misconception: I will order the detonation if you don't comply.” The screen went blank.
McCoy looked at Cairo, “That's been repeating every 15-minuets since 5 A.M.”
Cairo just nodded before turning to leave.
Seined grabbed him by the arm, “Where are you going?”
“To hand myself in.”
“The hell you are!”
Cairo looked past her, "Rix." The Elemental nodded solemnly, and placed his hands on Seined’s shoulders holding her back as Cairo walked from the command vehicle. He posed at the door, “The Irregulars are yours Cameron: Look after them for me.”
“I will.” The former Wolfs Dragoons officer nodded.
Cairo found the old pickup where he had parked it earlier and got in. Some of the tech's watched him as he drove off: word of the ultimatum had obviously spread. He put the truck into top gear and tried his best not to think about what he had done: he had told Seined that he would rather die than be captured by Word of Blake again, but here he was, surrendering to them.
The drive to Callisto City took most of the day, with a short stop-off while Cairo prepared a little something for the mysteries grey-haired man from the TV. He had thought long and hard about how best to give himself up, but in the end decided to keep it simple.
He stopped the truck outside the HPG station and calmly walked up the steps to the front door. He stood before the receptionist, “Hello, my name is Steven Cairo. I believe your commander is looking for me.”
The receptionist stood there for a moment, jaw gapping open. He finally managed to pick up a phone, “Sir, this is a man here who says you want to see him.” The was a garbled reply, and the receptionist nodded, “Yes sir, but he says his name is Steven Cairo.”
There was the sound of running feet in a nearby corridor, and Cairo smiled as the man from the TV rounded to corner, gun in hand.
Cairo's coat dropped open to reveal 4-blocks of C4 plastic explosive. A remote detonator appeared in his hand, and he smiled at the two shocked Word of Blake men, “Ether of you two know physics? No? Well, one interesting thing about physics is this: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That can be translated into: push some people too far and they will decide they have nothing left to loss if they push right back at you.”
Seemingly without a care in the world, Cairo sat on the receptionist's desk, “Now, over the last 3 to 4 years, I've had to put up with a lot of shit from you people: You shot down the V.T.O.L I was flying, you threatened my girlfriend, you gate-crashed my wedding, placed an assassin in my unit, tried to kill my wife and I with an SRM-launcher, killed my best friend with a tactical-nuke and now you threaten to blow up a city if I don't surrender.” He smiled at the senior W.o.B agent, “Well, I for one have reached the breaking point: I can't put up with this shit any longer.” He calmly pressed the button on the detonator.
The truck parked outside exploded in a fireball that lifted it 20-meters into the air. The doors of the HPG station blew inwards, covering everyone with glass and dust. Cairo leaped from the desk, his kukri drawn from it's hiding place in the small of his back. The heavy curved blade cut through the air and ripped the Word of Blake commander's neck in two in one flowed movement.
Cairo spun around, the kukri stopping just millimetres from the receptionist's jugular, “Now, you tell your boss's replacement that if they try to use the people of Callisto V against me like that again, he'll end up like his predecessor there. If needs be I'll kill every one of you fruit loops one-by-one. Now scat.”
Cairo smiled as the man disappeared off along a corridor: it had all gone better than planed. The only thing he had to do was get away and find out where Cameron had moved the Irregulars to this time.
The street was a scene of absolute chaos: people where running backwards and forwards, screaming at the top of their voices. Sirens could be heard in the distance, and the burning remains of the pickup truck cover a considerable area. Cairo smiled as he made his way along the side streets to where he had parked a second car.
He didn't see the gloved fist until it was too late: his world went dark.
There are many ways to be woken up, and having a glass of water thrown over you is not that bad compared to some of them. Cairo looked up and groaned, "You're pissed at me, I can tell."
“That would be putting it mildly to say the lest Steven.” Sinead looked down at him, “You promised me that you wouldn't go on any suicide-mission's, yet you walked right into that HPG alone."
"If it had been a suicide-mission, we'd not be having this conversation."
"That's not the point Steven, and you damn well know it! Did it ever occur to you that there are people who rely on you?
Cairo looked at his wife, confused by her body language, "Is there something you're not telling me?"
Sinead looked at the floor, "I'm pregnant again Steven."
"Crap!” Cairo buried is face in his hands, “You're pregnant and I go do a stupid thing like that to you!" He looked up, "I'd never have done what I did if I'd know: I would have done something, but not like that. I just couldn't let innocent people suffer because of me."
"I understand that,” Sinead nodded, “but it felt like you had abandon me. I managed to talk the others into a rescue attempt, thinking that you'd be in a cell, but by the time we got into position, you'd already detonated the bomb."
"True: it was the only way I could get close enough to do anything. What happened with the nuke?"
"They didn't set it off, and they've been very quiet since. I think you scared them."
"Well, I've had enough of their mind-games: from now on, the gloves are off. Where are we by the way? Standing orders called for us to move the base if someone was captured."
"We're holed-up for the night, but we should reach the next rally point by tomorrow afternoon." Cairo nodded, rubbing his jaw, "Ok, good. One question: who hit me?"
"Sorry about that,” Sinead smiled, “but I was upset at the time…"
Cairo strapped himself into the command couch of his Orion. It felt good to be back into his Mech after so long. The day's planed march took them along a shallow riverbed, with tall tress on ether side that would hopefully keep them safe from recon-satellites used by the Wobblies. He searched the radio bands for some music to listen to, but all long-range wavelengths were being jammed.
He thought on this for a moment: why would the Wobblies jam all long-range communications? It made no sense. He was about to as the others what they thought when his long-range scanner started picking-up contacts ahead and to each side of them.
The numbers grew until they reached a total of 108: a full regiment of Mech's, 3-times his own command.
He checked the I.F.F., just to make sure: Word of Blake.
He let out the breath he had been holding: the battle for Callisto-V would end here and now.
The Irregulars stopped dead in their tracks.
Cairo took a moment to way up the options: He couldn't order a retreat, as there was nowhere to go. Surrender was out of the question, as he had caused enough trouble to warrant the death sentence as far as Word of Blake was concerned. He took a deep breath then slowly let it out: This was not his decision to make.
He switched his radio to the company-wide channel, "I will not lie to you: I do not believe we can escape or win out. But I for one plan to leave this life the way I came in: kicking and screaming. If any of you want to try and make a run for it, then by all means do so. I've told you before that I will never surrender to Word of Blake, but if any of you feel that you would be better off if you did, then by all means do so. I will not order any of you to fight. You have proven your dedication many times, and I consider it an honour and a privilege to have served with you. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go pick a fight."
Cairo griped the Orion's controls firmly and pushed the throttle forwards, setting the old Mech off at optimum speed. He brought his Active Probe online, and slaved it to the Targeting Computer. He powered up his lasers, and loaded his ATM launcher and LBX Autocannon. He glanced at his sensors and saw that the rest of the Irregulars had formed up on ether side of him. He sighed slightly: he had hoped that some of the lighter Mech's would have made a run for it, or hung-back to protect the Mobile Field Bases. He did see that most of the Elementals had stayed behind: only Rix's and Jake Kabrinski's points where with the main force.
"Go on: ask." Seined’s voice came over the radio.
"Will it make any difference if I do?"
"No, but you have to try."
"Stay out of this fight."
The shadow of the SHD-5D Shadow Hawk his wife piloted covered his view port, "I told you before Steven: I'm in this for the long-run."
"I had to ask." Cairo smiled sadly.
"I know." Seined sounded equally sad.
The first volley of LRM's from the Word of Blake line started to fall amongst the Irregulars, sending up geysers of dirt and flame. Several impacted against Cairo's Mech, denting the Clan-made Ferro-Fibrous armour. He brought up the nearest Wobbly Mech and let loos with a flight ER-ATM rounds, scoring with 5 but missing with the other 4. He slammed the targeting interface with his left fist, and the system reset itself to optimal.
A second flight of missiles struck the enemy Mech hard, every one of them hitting. The ageing Orion shuddered as a gauss round ploughed into the upper right torso, shattering the shoulder joint and dropping the arm to the ground. Cairo smiled as he backtracked the round and targeted a W.o.B Hollander with his ATM and sent a spread of High Explosive missiles its way.
A second gauss round from the Hollander slammed into Cairo's Orion as he closed the gap, and the weapons control system reported that the right- torso mounted LB 10-X Autocannon was off-line, probably destroyed. Cairo swore under his breath: Half of his weapons where disabled. He dumped the spare LBX rounds and the remaining ER rounds for the ATM system.
While the lighter Mech reloaded its only weapon, Cairo closed the gap between the two of them and targeted a flight of HE-rounds at the Hollander. He fired the missiles and watched as the W.o.B Mech staggered under the impact. He lined up his Large Heavy Laser with the other Mech's cockpit and pulled the trigger. The Hollander's armour lasted less than a second under the hellish onslaught and the high-energy beam burned all the way through and out the back, effectively decapitating the Mech.
Cairo took a deep breath as the temperature in his cockpit rose another ten degrees and the remaining heat sinks struggled to compensate. He clanked at his tactical display and was greeted with grim news: The Irregulars had become entangled on the enemy lines and the battalions to the left and right had swung round to encircle them. Over a dozen Irregular Mech's where down, most of them out of the fight for good.
Despite the death and destruction raging around him, Cairo was calm: Ever since that night 8 years ago on Los Alamos he had waited for death, for the final release from the pain that he had carried with him ever since. Now he saw his death before him and he decided to grab it with both hands and go down fighting. He did have some regrets, but like the old song said, too few to mention. There was only one thing that kept him from simply giving up and letting the end come.
Gripping the controls tighter than ever, Cairo swung his Orion round and headed over to where Seined was duelling with an old style Rifleman. He sent a flight of missiles into the famously thin rear armour of the air-defence Mech and was rewarded by a series of flashes that told him there had been an internal ammo explosion. He stood between the Shadow Hawk and the bulk of the Word of Blake Mech's, trying to shield his wife from the worst of the fighting. He could see that almost half of the Irregulars were down, and the Wobblies where getting boulder in their attacks.
Suddenly there was a blinding white flash and a W.o.B Atlas disintegrated before Cairo's eyes. He blinked, and a second flash of light cut a four-legged Goliath in two. There was an ear-splitting roar as a pair of aerospace fighters flew past, strafing the Word of Blake line.
He heard Seined’s voice over a static filled come-line, "Steven, there's a Overlord class DropShip inbound, and the IFF is reading it as ComStar!"
Cairo hit the battalion-wide channel on the radio, "Irregulars, fall back to the DropShip: we're getting out of here!" He bellowed as the fighters came round again, cutting down several light Mech's. The M.F.B's started to make their way to the now landed DropShip, and the surviving Irregulars did the same. He saw several high-speed ground-cars dart around, picking up down pilots and injured Elementals.
The battle raged on, and Cairo's sensors told him that only 20 of his Mech's were still operational: if they didn't get under the protection of the DropShip's guns, they would be lost. Another beam of light shot down through the clouds and ripped into the Word of Blake lines, smashing Mech's apart. Cairo smiled as the other shoe dropped: there were Warships in orbit, training their capital lasers at the ground in an attempt to aid their escape.
The M.F.B's made their way up the cargo ramp and into the waiting DropShip, followed closely by the rest of the support vehicles. The ring around of defending Mech's grew smaller as the few surviving light-Mech's also made their way up the ramp. Cairo was worried when he didn't see Rebecca's Goshawk, but he suddenly had more to worry about: A Word of Blake FNR-5 Fafnir Assault-Mech lumbered forward, the capacitors coils for its twin Heavy Gauss Rifles glowing blue.
Cairo brought his Heavy Laser up and around, and his quick reflexes spoiled the other pilot’s aim: the two huge metal spheres missed their intended target and buried themselves in the ground beneath the DropShip. The huge Mech turned its attention to the old Orion, it's Medium Pulse Laser sending a series of emerald bolts along the lighter Mech's torso, digging into the damage done by other Mech's.
The capacitors flared again, and a second pair of gauss-slugs rocketed out of the Fafnir, one striking Cairo's already damaged right torso, smashing the LB 10-X Autocannon beyond all recognition, the other just missing. The Orion shook as the gauss-round ricocheted around its innards, snapping internal supports and smashing components. Cairo jettisoned the last of his ATM rounds just moments before the slug came to rest in the magazine.
Reacting slowly as the heat from the damaged reactor overwhelmed the remaining heat sinks, Cairo brought his Heavy Laser up and round, and at point-blank range, fired it down the barrel of the Fafnir right Heavy Gauss Rifle. The high-capacity magnets melted under the hellish beam, discharging their stored electrical energy into the Assault Mech. The other capacitor overloaded and sorted out, blasting the entire torso away.
The Mech went down
Cairo had no time to celebrate his victory: the use of such a heat-intensive weapon when most of his heat sinks had been destroyed, added to the damage to his reactor-housing, send the old Vlar 300 engine into overload.
"Warning: critical reactor damage! Warning: critical reactor damage!" The computer screamed warnings at Cairo as the safety system failed. He reached down between his legs and pulled the red handle that activated the ejector seat mechanism, and ducked his head down as the cockpit roof blow clear away.
He felt his spine compress as the rockets fired, and his world went dark as the command-couch was blown clear of the doomed Mech with just seconds to spare.
It is said that the main purpose of pain is to let you know you're still alive.
Cairo couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing: his entire left side was on fire, and his head felt like it was two sizes too small. Every time he breathed, fresh gouts of pain shout across his chest. He slowly opened his eyes, not sure of what view would great him.
“So you've decided to rejoin us then?" Smiled McCoy as he looked down on his commanding officer.
"What happened?" Cairo groaned.
"You caught the side of the canopy when you ejected: busted up you arm, leg and ribs real bad. Doc says you’ll heal, but it will take time."
"How long have I been out?"
"Two days: Sinead was here for most of that, but the Doc finally convinced her to get some rest. And before you ask, both her and the baby are fine."
"How are the others?"
"It's not good lad: we lost over half our Mech's and Elementals.” McCoy shock his head, “Apart from you, your lance lost Josh and Hawk-that-settles, both killed. Rix lost three of his Elementals, and the rest of the Scout lance have injures: Rebecca came or worst with a fractured hip and a punched lung. The Assault lance got through with just damage to their Mech's, and Rob's in with Rebecca now. Get this: he asked her to marry him and she said yes! Can you believe it?"
"I'm happy for them.” Cairo smiled, “What of the others?"
"Cameron's company came of slightly better then yours: only two dead, both from the scout lance, but his Mech's are badly beaten up. We'll probably have to scrap most of them. Kabrinski's came off best: none killed, but several of them where hurt badly. A few may never pilot a Mech again." McCoy's tone was justifiably grave: to any MechWarrior, the possibility of never being able to pilot a Mech again was a crushing blow, but to the Clans, it was worse than a death sentence.
Cairo nodded, "So where are we headed?"
"Tharkad first of all: the Archon wants to pin medals on our chest and parade us around to the media. Then on to Tukayyid, where his brother will no-doubt do the same. Who would have though that we would end up like this huh?”
"True, but not all of us are here to see it."
"True, True. I'll go tell Sinead your up." The old Tech headed for the door, "Oh, and there is one bit of good news for a change: Some inmates as a Wobblies re-education centre on Kittery busted out and have managed to re-take the planet. High-commands is going nuts over this, and have sent an envoy to talk to the leader, some bloke named Devlin Stone…"