The Cairo Saga, book 4: Operation Chindit
Part 15: Pilgrims in an unholy land

CNC Spirit Sight
Pirate Point
Devil's Rock
Free Worlds League

"Could some one please explain to me just what we're doing here?" Cairo asked as he looked at the holographic map of the Inner Sphere that dominated the bridge, "Call me a pessimist, but the Free Worlds League isn't exactly on the top of my holiday destinations list."

"That is why it is probably the last place World of Blake will look for us." Leroux sounded smug, "We need some surplices, expendables like food and water, and this is perhaps the best place to look for them."

"And you think that why?"

"The League has collapsed into yet another Civil War, splintering along the same divisions that have always plagued it. Word of Blake does not need to garrison every world to keep what is left of the military out of the war: it is too busy fighting itself.

"True, but we are supposed to be headed for New Syrtis in the Federated Suns."

"Indeed, but as that is our most likely destination, there is a high probability that Word of Blake will be lying in wait for us."

"That is very fuzzy logic."

"What other kid of logic is there?"

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DropShip Wildfire
Inbound, Devil's Rock
Free Worlds League

"Repeat; this is Captain Malcolm Fillion of the DropShip Firefly to approach control, come in please." Serv called into the radio again as the DropShip continued its descent, the altered transponder giving out a false signal of a simple merchant.

"Still nothing." Cairo sat strapped into the captain's seat, "I have a very bad feeling about this."

"You have a very bad feeling about most things." Sinade smiled, "You're a pessimist."

"I prefer to think of myself as a pragmatist."

"You would…"

The DropShip shudder as it passed through an area of turbulence, shaking the craft violently. Cairo fought the urge to be physically sick, instead concentrating on the still silent radio.

"I'll try one last time, then take us in on a general approach vector." Serv shouted over his shoulder, "This is Captain Malcolm Fillion of the merchant DropShip Firefly to approach control, over."

"DropShip Firefly, this is Morningstar Spaceport." A voice crackled over the radio, "State your purpose or you will be fired upon."

"We are a merchant craft looking to purchase supplies." Serv insisted, "Request approach vector."

"En Garde! En Garde!" A new voice came over the radio, "This is Echo Flight leader to DropShip Firefly: we have you in our sights and will escort you down. Deviate from your current aproch vector and you will be fired upon."

"Roger that, Echo flight." Serv cut the link, "Little paranoid, aren't they?"

"Trigger happy would be a better way of putting it." Cairo called up the ships war-book program on the screen attached to the arm of his chair, "Pair of Stingray light fighters. Not exactly the most threatening C.A.P. I've ever seen, but we are supposed to be a harmless merchant transport."

"You going to take the Tin Solders out of the box?"

"No; we're leave them where they are. If we can pull this off without arousing any suspicion, so much the better."

"Expecting Wobblies?"

"There's probably a planetary administrator, maybe some militia guards, but I doubt there's any Mech's: they'd be needed on the front line."

"Even with a rouge Warship loos in the Chaos March?"

"And what good is a BattleMech against a Warship? Hell; I could order Leroux to glass the city from orbit if I wanted to."

"You know, sir, there are times when I don't know if you're joking, or telling the truth."

"There are times when I don't known myself."

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Morningstar Spaceport
Devil's Rock
Free Worlds League

Cairo pulled at the collar of the civilian shirt he was dressed in, making sure that the sub-vocal communicator was in place. He felt ill at ease without the weight of a side arm on his hip, but the jacket he wore was loos enough to hide his Kukri in the small of his back.

The heavy, curved blade felt like an old friend.

Major Akuma stood on the gantry above the cargo bay doors, dressed as a tech. Most of the people in the room were members of her elite strike force, while others were crewmembers, doing their jobs to keep any prying eyes from noticing anything wrong.

Cairo knew for a fact that three of the cargo crates behind him concealed snipers, while a forth, larger container held a point of armoured elementals.

The huge metal door cracked open with a slight hiss of equalising pressure, blowing arid air across Cairo's face as he slipped on his mirrored sunglasses and stepped out onto the landing pad.

The cruel heat of midday beat down relentlessly, making the air shimmer. Cairo could feel the sweat start to bead on his forehead as he started towards the nearby hover car that carried the port officials.

Two men in simple uniforms stood beside the grounded transport, SMG's slung under their arms, within easy reach. Cairo resisted the urge to smile, knowing hat both men would be killed the instant they went for their weapons.

"Captain Fillion?" A tall, balding man stepped out of the shade.

"No, I am Mr Johnson, ship's master." Cairo shook his head, doing his best to sound friendly, "I own the Firefly, but lack the skills needed to fly her."

"I had hoped that you would have a better cover story than that, Mr Cairo." The Stranger smiled, "I am Administrator Brody Hazen, formally Star Colonel Brody Hazen of Clan Jade Falcon. I was captured by ComStar on Tukayyid and made a bondsman. When my bondsmaster sided with Word of Blake, I was forced to go with him. Now I am the senior Word of Blake Administrator for this planet."

"And you heard about my little day-trip to Titan, quaff?"

"Aff; it was mention in a resent dispatch."

"So, how are we going to do this? You kill me; my people will raze this entire planet. You just let me go, Word of Blake will probably do the same. Any chance you would offer me hegira? We only came here for supplies."

"I would be failing in my duty if I did not offer at least some resistance, so I will allow you to fight me in a trial of possession for the supplies you require. If you win, you may take them and go. If I win, then I gain the honour of being the man who stopped the much feared Angel of Death."

"Excuse me?"

"Word of your exploits have spread: there are those in Word of Blake, those who are more extremist in their views, who consider you to be the literal personification of Death. Aside from Delvin Stone, you are the most hated and feared enemy of Blake."

"I am only human."

"I know that, but some believe that you are more. Thus, defeating you in ingle combat will, shake them a little."

"That sounds almost treasonous, Administrator Brody Hazen."

"I have no love or Word of Blake: I follow my orders, as is my duty."

"So, how do you want to settle this?"

"Single combat in BattleMechs, as is right."

"You know, I had hoped to avoid fighting today."

"Hope can be a dangers thing."

"Hope is a good thing, and it never dies."

"If I defeat you, it will be by killing you."

"That's the way these things tend to go." Cairo glanced across the landing field to the sparse grassland beyond, "Over there should do it. Shall we say, one hour?"

"An hour it is."

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Cairo felt ill at ease: although he'd had plenty of time to practise in a simulator, he hadn't actually taken his new HGN-736 Highlander: the Mech had been assigned to him by Clearwater just before his hurried departure from Tharkad. The Mech had been selected because it packed considerable firepower, while also carrying the C3i system that allowed it to share information with other units.

In a lance-on-lance engagement, the system would give Cairo and his people an edge, but in a one-on-one duel, it was 2.5-tons of dead weight.

Gripping the two joysticks tightly, Cairo started the lumbering Mech forward, allowing himself to slowly get the feel of the Highlander. He would have preferred a more flexible and familiar Templar, but there had been none available.

The twin cargo bay doors opened once more, bright, unrelenting sunlight washed across the pale ivory paint. Not one single marking blemished the surface of the Highlander, making it stand out like a mobile statue carved out of alabaster.

Cairo remembered Hazen telling him that Word of Blake considered him the Angel of Death. He remembered that Death, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, supposable road a pale horse. He could just about remember a quote from the Bible, and muttered it under his breath as he started across the landing field towards the chosen battleground:

"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him…"

TBC…