Chapter 11: Shockwaves

September 2, 3025

Weldry

The Icebox

Kamea watched anxiously from the cockpit of the Kintaro over the Icebox facility, or what was left of it. Smoke billowed from blown-out weapons emplacements and the snow was trampled by the desperate feet of 'Mechs and soldiers alike, then blackened by weapons fire. The gates had been blown open, but despite bullet holes and craters from shoulder-mounted weapons, the prison buildings themselves were still mostly intact, and crucially, the ultra-sonic emitters were still functioning. That was increasingly important. And they'd better stay on. She looked out at the huge cloud of Bronson Mosquitos swarming against the invisible barrier, frenzied by the blood spilled across the snow.

The central open space was jam-packed with vehicles, with something like a dozen APC's parked near the buildings, screened by a number of her loaned infantry. Surrounding those were a small contingent of BattleMechs, heaviest among them her Kintaro. They were almost untouched save for three of the Wolves who were a mess, surrounding the fallen Blackjack.

On the corner of her HUD a countdown showed a little over six hours left until the Directorate could get reinforcements from elsewhere on the planet. Below another crowd of prisoners emerged from the buildings, escorted by two soldiers and draped in thermal blankets. They slipped and slid in the snow and began clambering into an APC. The seconds ticked by and the APC sealed up and started the journey out to one of the three DropShips parked beyond the perimeter.

Deep breaths, Kamea, we've still got a long way to go, but we're still on schedule.

Her com board lit up with a call. "Yes Alexander?"

"Kamea, I'm at the front of the prison complex."

She looked over and saw him there, waving in the direction of her cockpit. "I need you to meet me in the prison complex right now."

"What is it?"

"It's… it's not an emergency, but it might be best if you saw it for yourself. And Kamea, prepare yourself. This isn't going to be easy."

The connection died and Kamea swallowed hard. She was tempted to call him back and demand he explain himself, and then glanced at the countdown, which changed her mind. She trusted Alexander and there was no time to delay. She pulled on the controls and the heavy 'Mech eased down to one knee, drawing nervous glances from the ground troops. She popped the canopy's seal and immediately shivered as an icy wind blasted into her.

Kamea forced herself to ignore it—with her red half-jacket and white gloves a brief exposure shouldn't do any lasting harm. She made her way down the emergency handholds on the Kintaro's leg, and by the time her boots splashed into the slush a full squad of soldiers had formed up as an escort.

Another young Section Leader came to attention, his uniform smeared with what looked like blood. "My Lady, we will be your escort. Lord Madeira has instructed us where to meet him. Whenever you are ready, High Lady."

She clenched her teeth to keep from shivering and simply nodded. The soldiers turned, their rifles in their hands but pointed skyward. They marched forward in lockstep surrounding her as they made their way towards the nearest holding building. She glanced to the side as they went at the Wolves' medical personnel clustered around the downed Blackjack, and then she was at the entrance.

The outer doors had been shredded with shaped charges. The entryway was a charnel house with a half-dozen Directorate soldiers gunned down, their blood seeping into her boots. Deeper inside there was another layer of dead security people, her people, and they weren't alone this time—a number of Restoration troops were down as well, most dead, but a borrowed Canopian combat medic was laboring over one of them now, who gurgled on blood, legs kicking feebly in agony.

And then they were into the prison proper, a sea of metal bars. It was loud inside as prisoners, serial killers and madmen, hooted and hollered at the violence. It looked like at least some of the prisoners had been out to exercise when the attack had happened, as another squad of troopers screamed at them to get back into their cells. As the caged prisoners caught sight of Kamea and her full bodyguard contingent they worked themselves into a frenzy banging against the bars and stamping.

Her men hustled her through deeper into the prison and into a separate cell block. She caught sight of Alexander and a pair of soldiers at his back. He motioned the soldiers to step back and give them a little space. "Kamea… I'm so sorry." He gestured into the neighboring cell.

Kamea had a sudden, horrifying suspicion. She stepped into the cell and froze—lying on a small cot was Sir Raju Montgomery, Captain of the Royal Guard, and more importantly, her friend.

He looked older than she remembered, worn and broken down. And then he'd been beaten, his face battered, and then, at last, he'd been shot twice at close range very recently.

"I know how much Mastiff meant to you. He was a friend and mentor to us both."

"How," she whispered. "How did this happen? Why? Why do this?"

Lord Madeira entered the cell and stood beside her. "Once the walls were breached at least one of the officers enacted some sort of emergency protocol. The internal security camera tapes were burned and some of the political prisoners were executed in their cells. As to why… they must have known something the Directorate didn't want to get out. We're fortunate we were able to save any of them."

"Alexander, let me be alone for a while."

He proffered a small bow that was garishly out of place against the backdrop of bloody stone and jeering prisoners, and withdrew outside of the cell.

Kamea sat down, heedless of urine stains and filth, sat where Raju had sat, trapped for the last three years. Three years he'd been here, suffering, trapped, while she waited, built support, prepared while he was dying. He'd always been there for her, but when he'd needed her, she was off in hiding. Mentally she knew that wasn't true, that he'd sacrificed himself to allow her to escape, but she knew herself well enough after losing her parents to know that it would take time, probably a long time, before her heart felt that.

She wanted to grieve, to lose herself in the emotional release, but all she felt was numb. And in that internal quiet, staring at the walls Raju had watched as he'd been shot hours, maybe even minutes prior, her mind burned along, thinking, weighing.

Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Not with the universe, that was a truth she'd accepted long ago—no, something was seriously wrong with her calculations, her political calculus, and that mistake had gotten the good man lying next to her, and possibly a lot of people, killed. She tried to nail it down, that illusive, half-recognized something. Well, the biggest, most obvious indicator were those four 'Mechs outside. They had no business being in this terrible place, or even within the next system or two. She knew just how thing the Coalition's supply of 'Mechs was, and that was before many had been damaged and destroyed in the coup, despite Santiago's best efforts to sabotage and preserve as many 'Mechs as he could.

Well…it was possible it was a coincidence, that they were here for some other reason. But that was a very unlikely coincidence, and they'd have to have a good reason to be here besides, and she couldn't think of one. No, the most likely answer was that they'd been tipped off, at least to some extent. But by whom? And why?

She could understand the motivation to sell her out completely, but something so… halfway like this? Lady Centrella, as petty revenge for her outmaneuvering her to wrest away control of the Wolves? No, to pay so much for them and immediately let them be killed off would reflect too poorly on Ana Maria—she was too calculating to make that short-sighted a move. But who else was there? She didn't know, and that was a terrifying thought.

Kamea looked at Raju's rough features, now smooth in death. "I'm swimming in shark-infested waters, Raju. You tried to warn me of that when you were alive, but I think I've finally learned that lesson. There is always another angle, another motivation. I'm only sorry it took your death for me to learn it. But I won't forget, Raju—I won't forget. And I will win this fight."

Wolf opened his eyes with a gasp of pain, head swimming while agony lanced through his left side. He hung awkwardly from his restraints on the broken command couch. He took a deep breath trying to clear his head and immediately gasped at a stab of pain from his side. Small breaths, small breaths.

Okay. Something was seriously hurt, probably broken, in his side. That was bad. Wait, nobody was shooting at him, that was… good? Either way, he was done fighting—he could barely move and had no idea where his weapons were. All he knew was that they weren't on his chair any longer. The only way to try to resist the Directorate pulling him out was releasing the restraints and falling against the rear of the cockpit, finding his weapons, and overriding the universal medical cockpit release code. The thought might seem appealing from safety of a DropShip while uninjured, but the fall alone would almost certainly knock him out and aggravate whatever injuries he had.

Well, the good news was his head felt alright, no doubt thanks to his advanced neurohelmet… which didn't seem to be working anymore. Damn.

The cockpit release warning sounded and the hatch hissed open with a gust of freezing wind. He shivered against the cold and gasped at a jolt of pain.

"Wolf, are you okay?"

He slowly turned his head and saw Dr. Harrin and… "Sumire?"

The Draconis Combine native clambered inside next to him, talking while her eyes examined the cockpit and command chair. "Dr. Harrin needed a hand and we jumped on the first APC back. Can you feel your hands and feet?"

"Yeah."

"Good. No other signs of spinal injuries. Doctor?"

"Pull him out."

Sumire nodded. I'm going to get you out of those restraints Donavan. Brace yourself—it's going to hurt."

Before he could say anything, she hit the emergency release catch and he dropped awkwardly into her arms and managed a single grunt of pain before going under once again.

Sumire shivered against the bitter cold as a gust of wind seemed to cut straight through her heavy parka. She glanced down at Donavan on the stretcher held between Dr. Harrin's two assistants and adjusted the thermal blanket on him that was beginning to slip off in the wind. They reached the APC and clambered into the vehicle, setting Donavan down onto the floor. The door slammed shut and the engines hummed as they started into motion. Thankfully this was the sole hover APC, designated as the medical APC, and Donavan was spared bounces as they zoomed quickly across the snow. After a few moments of the heaters on full blast her shoulders started to relax.

She looked around at the weapon racks and trauma packs and wondered exactly what she was doing there.

You're a DropShip pilot, Sumire, you have no business being out in the field like this. And yet, there she was, and not entirely sure how she'd ended up there. She'd seen Dr. Harris packing up, heard Donavan was hurt, and just followed her out.

She considered the situation critically. Ensuring the Commander's wellbeing is important—when we lost Markham the whole company nearly collapsed. That was certainly true… to a point. But her presence wasn't really contributing very much, and risking the pilot without a good reasons was actively counterproductive. That left emotional considerations.

Sumire frowned and looked down at the blank face of Donavan, pale from shock, and considered her feelings. The two of them were friendly, certainly, and she enjoyed conversations with him, which was admittedly unusual for her. Was there something more? … No. But perhaps, somewhere down the line, that might change. Perhaps.

Kamea emerged from the cell that had become Raju's tomb after nearly an hour, her eyes once again dry. She'd through and analyzed and schemed until she had a plan, risky as it was, and then the grief came, and she'd broken down in silent tears—all she could afford as a leader of state. And as she cried, she remembered, remembered the lessons with Raju, his kind smile, his generosity and protective instincts towards the young House scion and visiting mercenaries alike. And now he was gone thanks to Santiago and, in part, thanks to her.

She couldn't change that. But she could make his sacrifice not be in vain.

"Alexander."

"Yes, my Lady?"

"Prepare to withdraw and send the film crew to meet me outside the cell blocks."

Alexander couldn't help his eyes widening marginally in surprise, but he took in the expression on her face and simply nodded. "Of course, my Lady."

Twenty minutes later Kamea stood outside once more, ignoring the cold and checking the time—the first Directorate reinforcements could arrive in a little over three hours. They were cutting it very close, but she had to do this.

"My Lady, we are ready."

She turned back to the cameras, brought along to catalogue their victories, but now put to a very different purpose. Her Kintaro was behind her, as well as two large House Arano banners pulled out of the Cormorant for the occasion, flapping wildly in the harsh wind.

"People of the Aurigan Reach, I am Kamea Arano, and I have failed you. For three long years Director Espinosa has imprisoned and starved and murdered our people… and where was I? Hiding in a palace, light years away, building support, planning, while the Director's secret police turned neighbor against neighbor, made your loved ones disappear, conscripted your children. I wasn't here. I… didn't know. The crimes I have witnessed here today are unforgiveable. No doubt Director Espinosa believes the ends justify the means, that the Aurigan Reach has been made strong. Well I say that strength built on fear is brittle! The Directorate is a paper tiger, and I declare this restoration today to rally the true strength of our people, our resilience, our freedom! Let Weldry be a call to arms. Join us, and together we will liberate the Founding Houses and retake Coromodir. Not because it is my birthright, but because the Directorate's crimes against you, the Aurigan people, will no longer be tolerated. That is what I fight for, and I now vow to fight for your freedoms until my dying breath."

The cameras cut, and one of her two choices was made. As they withdrew, that video would be pushed through the HPG network as hard and as far as she could get it. And then they would wait and see.

September 3, 3025

Magistracy of Canopus

Canopus IV

Capital City of Delphi – Palace Complex

Lady Ana Maria Centrella was distinctly nervous as she stepped into the small side chamber for an 'unofficial' meeting with Magestrix Kyalla Centrella. Relations they might be, but she was painfully aware that she was a very distant relation, and that that relationship meant very little to the Magestrix.

After a half-dozen bodyguards swept the room, even here at the heart of the palace itself, the woman herself swept into the room imperiously. She cut through the formal niceties with an impatient wave of her hand. "Well? What have you to say for yourself?"

Ana Maria bowed deeply. "My Lady, I presume you refer to recent events to spinward?"

Kyalla rolled her eyes. "You presume correctly. Have you lost control of your little toy noble, Ana Maria?"

She managed to avoid swallowing nervously. That was the crux of it, really. Her fallback plan had always been to cut Kamea off at the knees if she ever threatened to slip the leash, pulling her soldiers and 'Mechs and killing her dream… but Kamea hadn't threatened, hadn't given her any warning. She'd simply gone ahead and done it, openly declaring herself in a broadcast that had sent shockwaves across the Periphery. Ana Maria could admit that here and now, and Kamea's little rebellion would die, but not for a while now that she had her own mercenaries… and if she pulled the plug now, the woman would spend every last moment until she and her mercenaries were hunted down telling everyone how it was the Magistracy who'd backed her, and the Directorate would have little choice but to respond. The Directorate wouldn't take it to open warfare of course – even without considering the Taurian's practically chomping at the bit on their flank the Magistracy could defeat them in a straight fight. But it was a fight neither side wanted, and if it erupted while Kyalla had committed their forces to some stunt in the Inner Sphere, it could escalate into a nightmare scenario. And while she had no better idea than anyone else how that might play out, she knew precisely what the consequences would be for one Ana Maria Centrella. And that left her with no choice at all.

"Not at all, Magestrix. The crimes on Weldry were more egregious than expected, and the Directorate's grip more tenuous than we thought. The mere announcement of Kamea's survival alone might very well create the internal turmoil we're after without every putting our forces in harms way. And you may have noted that Lady Arano has made no mention of our involvement at all."

She stressed the 'our' ever so slightly.

Kyalla nodded slowly. "Perhaps, Ana Maria, perhaps. It would be cleanly done, if it worked. But I suspect that your little alliance might be slipping through your fingers. Fortunately for you, the situation has become even more delicate than you know, and replacing you now might cause more damage than it fixes. But do be a dear and try to avoid starting any more civil wars without asking permission first." Her borderline sarcastic tone abruptly hardened. "Nothing will be allowed to interfere with my own plans to coreward. Is that understood?"

Ana Maria bowed meekly, noting Kyalla's clear intent to distance herself from 'her' alliance if things went poorly. "Yes, Magestrix."

"Good. Now, be off with you. I have another consultation with the President of the Board at the Treasury for which I prefer not to be delayed." Kyalla turned to exit as Ana Maria once again bowed. She remained that way until the last of the Magestrix's bodyguards departed, and only then allowed herself to shudder.

September 3, 3025

Aurigan Directorate

Coromodir VI

Cordia City – Palace Complex

"…fight for your freedoms until my dying breath."

The recording clicked as it shut down after the twelfth playthrough, leaving the private office in darkness once again. Director Espinosa stared into the space where Kamea's face had been, so full of righteous anger.

She was alive… alive! One of the two DropShips launched had escaped, but his generals had sworn up and down that she'd gone down on that DropShip the day he's seized power, despite his direct order that she be taken alive.

He was a mess of conflicting emotions. Anger that his own people had lied to him. Deep worry that his information sources, what he used to make policy across the entire Aurigan Reach, were faulty. He was afraid of the portent for the war the Reach couldn't afford. And part of him was overjoyed that the precocious little girl he'd watched over, Victoria's playmate from the cradle, was still alive.

And guilt… guilt for his gratitude that she still lived, guilt at feeling a surge of relief when her survival and honest anger threatened to wreak so much death and destruction among the people he was sworn to protect.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would root out those traitors who had lied to him, made him in turn lie to his people Tomorrow he would see just how far the rot spread, how much false analysis he'd been fed, how much truth there was to Kamea's words. Tomorrow he would probably have to consider whether he could afford not to kill her.

But tonight… tonight he would celebrate alone in the quiet that a brave and honest niece he loved still lived, even if only for a little while longer.