SNOWBIRD ASCENDANT

A Short Story of the Sentinels

By Benjamin Donnelly



AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the first chapter of an ongoing story. It began as part of a campaign waaaay back in the early 90s, and only recently have I gotten around to writing it. Though it will deviate from Battletech canon in some places, the general timeline of the First Clan War will remain intact.

Inspiration for this series, of course, comes from the fantastic "Blood of Kerensky" series by Michael Stackpole, with some help from Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe" saga.

R&R always appreciated. Enjoy!


Rasalhague City

Rasalhague, Free Rasalhague Republic

16 July 3050


"Come on and be damned!" Sheila Arla-Vlata howled over her loudspeakers. If the Clan 'Mechs down the broad avenue heard, they gave no response. Sheila snarled a blasphemy to herself. The Clansmen were not going to attack blindly in piecemeal. And if they attacked in force, they were going to overrun her position. Sheila wasn't sure who she was more angry at—Clan Wolf or the Free Rasalhague Republic.

The FRR had reluctantly asked for help only when the Clans were on the verge of conquering their capital world. The only Armed Forces of the Federated Commonwealth unit close enough and in decent enough shape was the Sentinels. This had incensed the FRR, who hated mercenaries in general, but Prince Hanse Davion had flatly informed the Rasalhagians that the Sentinels were the only show in town; the Federated Commonwealth had their own problems with the Clans. So the Sentinels had been allowed to come in to FRR space, but enough delays had happened that the Sentinels were only able to land on Rasalhague itself in the closing days of the campaign, which was already lost. The best the Sentinels could do was to help cover the evacuation of what units could and would leave. Worse still, the Sentinels themselves were still reorganizing, trying to recover from their own brush with the Clans on Persistence. Lances were formed ad hoc and sent to the front lines as they could.

Which was why Sheila was leading a lance optimistically dubbed the Clan Eaters, made up of people she had never teamed with before. She counted herself lucky that she knew two of her three lancemates. The BattleMechs stood at what had been a traffic circle near the Capitol District of Rasalhague City. It had already been reduced to rubble by a previous battle. The Kungsarme—the Royal Army—was making Clan Wolf pay for every inch of the city, but sheer determination was not enough. The Wolves were taking casualties, but they were still moving forward. It was now only a matter of time.

The provisional lance was made up of Sheila and her Shruiken, Tooriu Kku and his Awesome, and the two Crusaders piloted by Mimi Stykkis and Miko Umcizi. Sheila knew Tooriu and Mimi very well, but Miko was a stranger. All four had combat experience on Persistence, though, and all had heavy 'Mechs. It might be enough.

"Here they come!" shouted Tooriu, bringing up the Awesome's arms.

Sheila brought up her 'Mech's right arm, with its over and under particle projection cannons. "Wait, wait," Sheila said, trying to keep her voice steady. Down the street came five Clan 'Mechs, moving at a lope like their Clan's namesake. She held her fingers over the triggers until she could stand it no longer. "Fire! Fire! Fire!"

Five azure bolts—two from the Shruiken and three from the Awesome—leaped out at the Clan 'Mechs, followed closely by several dozen spiraling smoke trails, missiles from the two Crusaders. Most of the fire connected, and one of the Clansmen, a huge Gladiator, staggered under the impact of Tooriu's shots. Armor boiled away in a cloud of steam, but the Wolves kept coming.

"Keep shooting!" Sheila shouted, though she could feel the heat building up in her own 'Mech from the constant fire. The Wolves began to return fire, but the Sentinel lance was hunkered down behind rubble. Their fire was ineffective. When one of his 'Mechs, a medium Fenris, went down under yet another missile barrage, the Star Commander broke off his attack and sought cover. Sheila, sweat running off of her body in rivers despite the cooling vest she wore, let her 'Mech cool off a bit. Both sides now resorted to sniping at each other, more for moral effect than anything else. Sheila smiled grimly; she had halted the Wolves in this sector, at least. That will change, she thought to herself. So far, what was left of the capital's guard—the 1st Drakons—was acting as a filter. When the Wolves finally crushed them, they would be able to flank the Sentinels' flimsy line, and there would be no stopping them. She was sure that her opposite number, down the block, was already calling for reinforcements. Sheila looked at the smoky sky. An airstrike was not out of the question, either.

"Sentinel Tango Echo One One, this is Tango Alpha Three, come in," her headset crackled. It sounded like the voice of Maximillian Canis-Vlata.

"One-three. Go."

"Sheila, this is Max. The Drakons just folded. You'd better fall back."

Sheila twisted the 'Mech's head around to look down the avenue. The firing had intensified, but she wasn't sure if it was coming towards her. "Wait one, Alpha Three." She quickly switched frequencies back to her lance channel. "Miko, could you take a quick look down Mansdotter Avenue for me?"

"Right," Miko replied. His Crusader ran down the avenue a block or two, then turned and ran back. "Sheila, we've got Clan 'Mechs coming through down there."

"Shit. All right, Eaters, let's fall back to the overpass." She switched back to Max. "Max, we're outta here. Falling back to the Flyover."

"Roger, understood."

The Miraborg Flyover was three blocks behind them. The lance fell back as quickly as they could, and Sheila wondered when the Wolves would figure out that they were gone. She did not have long to wait. A Dasher suddenly tore out of a side street, skidded on the concrete, and came right at her, spitting laserfire. The Clan 'Mech was well named for its incredible speed; it could literally run rings around a 'Mech like Sheila's Shruiken. However, it paid a price for it: the huge engine meant that it had only paper-thin armor. Sheila, keeping herself under control, ignored the ruby beams that sizzled armor from her 'Mech, carefully sighted, and fired two PPC blasts. Both caught the Dasher high in the chest. Its forward momentum carried it a few more meters, then it crashed to the ground, smoking, virtually at her feet. The pilot was most likely still alive, and the 'Mech salvageable, but it would do nothing more in this battle. Sheila contemptously gave the prone 'Mech a kick that ripped off its thin arm, and kept walking back.

They had barely reached the Flyover when the Clan 'Mechs came at them again. This time the Sentinel 'Mechs did not have the benefit of cover, and the Wolves did not charge into the attack. Instead, they skillfully advanced in quick runs from building to building, keeping up a steady, and accurate, fire. Sheila shook her head in wonder as yet another laser shot hit her 'Mech. The Clanfolk were simply incredible shots, and they were hitting at ranges impossible for her to respond to.

Something's not right here, she thought. They're shooting at us, but they're not closing the range. Sure, they can take us apart at this range, but that's going to take time…unless they're just trying to keep our heads down…

Too late she remembered the sky.

"Aerofighters, three o' clock!" yelled Miko Umcizi. From out of the sun, two Wolf fighters tumbled down like birds of prey. Sheila knew from terrible experience what the Clan aerofighters could do in a strafing run.

"Get under the bridge!" she shouted. It meant getting closer to the Clan 'Mechs, but it was better than being ripped to pieces in the open. She quickly ducked her Shruiken under the overpass, followed with surprising quickness by Tooriu's ponderous Awesome. Mimi Stykkis ran full speed to hunker down behind a ruined building, but Miko Umcizi stood fast, raising his arms to fire back at the diving Wolves.

"Miko, for God's sake get down!" Sheila screamed at him, but she was ignored. Miko was howling in kwaZulu at the Wolves, a war cry from his proud ancestors who had stood their ground against the British a millennia previously. He was young, proud, and frustrated at not being able to stop the enemy. Missiles shot towards the two Wolf fighters. One apparently was hit; it fluttered slightly and then broke off its attack. The other remained on target, however. It seemed to not notice the missile strikes, and then opened fire with a blistering amount of laserfire. The ground around Miko's Crusader seemed to rise up around him as concrete was splintered and vaporized, then the 'Mech itself staggered under the fusillade. It got off another volley, then fell to one knee. Miko struggled to rise as the fighter howled past, then abruptly the entire upper portion of the Crusader vanished in a fireball as its missile magazines went. The burning remnants fell to the ground.

Sheila didn't have time to mourn Miko's death, because the Wolf 'Mechs were on them. Now they charged with a savage howl: three 'Mechs, the Fenris, a heavier Loki, and a lighter Puma, while the huge Gladiator covered them. Sheila leaned out from behind the overpass' gigantic pylon—a thick tube of concrete that held up a kilometer's worth of bridge—and snapped a few shots off. Both did some damage, but neither stopped the Wolves.

Mimi Stykkis, screaming and cursing incoherently, suddenly broke from cover and charged herself. Her long-range missile launchers were out of ammunition, but her leg-mounted short-range missiles and the lasers on her arms still were operational. She ran into the middle of the Clan charge, firing in every direction. The sudden and berserk countercharge brought the Wolves up short, killing their momentum as they stopped to deal with the maddened Crusader. Tooriu Kku stepped out and began landing PPC bolts, shrugging off return fire like they were annoying flies. His Awesome was only slightly smaller than the Gladiator, and it was heavily armored.

Sheila fired at the Gladiator to force it back behind the building, but the Clansman took the shot and fired back. Sheila yelped and ducked her 'Mech as a Gauss bullet whirred past where her head had been a split-second before. It caromed off the bottom of the overpass and gouged out a crater in the street below. A piece of concrete crashed down after it, and the entire overpass groaned alarmingly. It gave Sheila an idea.

"Tooriu!" she yelled. "Shoot the pylon!" She skipped backwards. Tooriu saw what she had in mind, turned in midstride, and blasted it with three PPC blasts. Sheila switched to her impressive array of lasers and hit the pylon at the same time. The pylon had already been weakened by other hits, but it resolutely did not crumble.

Tooriu did not hesitate. He ran the Awesome forward to crash into the pylon. However, the assault 'Mech was slow—it was not designed to run from anything—and the Clan Star Commander, who apparently also realized what Sheila was attempting, sent the Loki and the Puma after the Awesome. Mimi and the Fenris continued to exchange close range fire.

Sheila sighted on the Loki and swept her 'Mech's left arm in an arc, firing off a shower of the Shruiken's namesake—two meter square throwing stars. They came apart when they struck the armor of the Loki and sent spurts of clear liquid over its arms and chest. The liquid, jellylike Inferno fluid, ignited on contact with the air and turned the Loki into a burning torch. The pilot staggered back from the fight, unable to fire lest he get fried alive in his cockpit.

The Puma closed in on the Awesome, where its weapons would be more effective. Tooriu, however, abruptly turned, skillfully planted one huge foot, and seized the Puma in the Awesome's thick arms. His 'Mech outweighed the light Clan 'Mech nearly three to one; he tossed it bodily into the pylon. It groaned audibly in protest, deep fissures widened and ran upwards with terrifying speed, and the whole pylon collapsed onto one side. The overpass fell in the same direction, though the steel reinforcing beams held. As a result, the entire kilometer section crashed down as one piece onto its side.

The Fenris nimbly skipped out of the way, but Mimi was not so lucky. The overpass slammed down on her Crusader's legs, smashing them to unrecognizable junk. A dust cloud of titanic proportions rose all around them, coating every 'Mech with a fine coat of gray dust. The Puma was buried underneath several tons of smashed concrete, but Tooriu's Awesome stood proudly upright.

"You okay?" Sheila asked him.

"Oh, hell yeah," Tooriu laughed. "That's what the little bastard gets for charging me!" The fact that he had just killed another living being was something to worry about later.

"Okay!" Sheila said, smiling. The overpass now formed a rather nifty abatis. "Mimi, where are you?"

"I'm fine," Mimi said, her voice pained. "My 'Mech is a different story, however…"

Both Tooriu and Sheila went into the dust cloud. The Crusader was pinned beneath the overpass. "You grab one arm and I'll grab the other," Sheila said quickly. With a screech of protesting metal, they pulled the upper torso of the 'Mech free and began to drag it back, towards the distant DropPort, where the Sentinel DropShips would be waiting.

"Tango Echo One One from Alpha One," came a new, authoritative voice over Sheila's earphones. It was her father and her commanding officer, Calla Bighorn-Vlata. "Sitrep."

"Alpha One, Tango Echo One," Sheila replied. "We're pulling back to the rally point. I've got one KIA and I'm dragging back a busted 'Mech with an okay MechWarrior."

"Tango Echo One, get the hell out of there. There's two Stars of Wolves bearing down on you from your right flank."

Sheila twisted around and checked one of her multifunction displays. The radar set into the earlike protrusions of her 'Mech's head was picking up the Clan 'Mechs. Her battered command of two and a half 'Mechs would not last very long.

Mimi, listening in, had heard Calla's warning. Her own electronic equipment was telling her the same thing. "Sheila, take off."

"I'm not leaving you, Mimi!"

"Who said anything about leaving me? They're not going to bother with a wrecked 'Mech! I'll head towards the rally point on foot. You can pick me up on the fly!"

Sheila still wanted to protest; she had known Mimi since they were children. But she knew Mimi was right, though Sheila was not too sure they could come back for her. Still, she would try. "All right, Mimi, dammit. We'll be back before you know it."

"My transponder's frequency is 129.68 megahertz. I'll be running as fast as I can. Get clear, you two!"

Carefully, the two 'Mechs deposited the wrecked Crusader against a building that was in not much better shape. Sheila wished she could see Mimi, but the Crusader's viewport was too cracked and too small for her to see into. She waved anyway and then ran her 'Mech up to full speed, heading for the rally point. Already laser bolts had begun to range on her and Tooriu.

Mimi waited for a few minutes after she shut down. The Clan 'Mechs, not detecting any sign of life from her 'Mech, passed it by. When the thunder of their footfalls had faded, Mimi took a survival vest out of her storage locker, flicked on the transponder, and put it on. She grabbed a pistol and a grenade as well, then popped the hatch open, letting in the constant rumble of the battle and smoky air. She took one last look around at the place where she had spent the longest hours of her life—the last skirmish, the wild fifteen minutes of Persistence, the La Mancha scenario which now seemed so long ago and so petty. Then she climbed out of the Crusader's head and dropped to the ground. Quickly, Mimi pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it into the 'Mech's cockpit. The Wolves might salvage it, but they weren't going to get much use from it. It blew up with a satisfying bang, and Mimi sprinted into the gloomy twilight.