Word came over the course of several days. More than just the militia had fought against the Coral Vipers on the day of the jail break. A group of Capital City's inhabitants had decided to take up the fight on their own, with a cache of weapons stolen while Kurt's infantry distracted the Vipers with another raid. Rumor had it that the other combat group was led by a militia deserter, some corporal that Captain O'Reilly had known in passing.
When the dropship exploded, the Corporal decided that it was his chance to strike at the mercs. He led a detachment of untrained civilians, each given assault rifles or rocket launchers that they barely knew how to use, and taken them right to the Coral Vipers headquarters. That was where MechWarrior Melton had used his ammunition. The Corporal's "soldiers" were slaughtered by the Crusader and Wolverine before the mercs even noticed the prison attack. Then, when word reached the massive BattleMechs, their first task had been to destroy the second prison, where the remaining militiamen were held.
Kurt wanted to scream at the Corporal's idiocy. All those people were dead for no reason, and Major Raanan would assume that the Corporal was working with whoever had been giving the Coral Vipers so much trouble. The result was that Kurt's forces appeared much more ruthless than they were, and Kurt was unsure how that would pan out in the future. All he knew was that Dana's jeep had not been found, and the Corporal was to blame.
One week remained until the Night Paladins hit planetside. Even without the Crusader, they were outclassed by the Coral Vipers in both skill and raw tonnage. The Atlas and Battlemaster had both been damaged in the dropship explosion, but there was no way to know just how much. Except, perhaps, with an outright attack. It was time to evaluate priorities.
Most planets in the Federated Suns had vegetation derived from Western Europe back on Earth, and the forest that served as home to the Davion rebels was no exception. It was called the Outer Sherwood, a clear indication of House Davion's ties to the British Isles.
Eli Helm sat down on a log not far from Kurt, a lit cigar in hand. He took a long puff to savor the flavor, rather than feed his nicotine addiction. There was chewing gum for the addiction. "Beautiful, isn't it?" Eli asked, almost reading his mind. "It's hard to stay angry at the Dracs when you're spending time with nature."
"It's not so much the woods," Kurt corrected, "as the night. My parents were engineers on a Merchant-class dropship, so I was in space more often than planetside. The trees block out the stars, but the darkness ... I kind of like it."
Eli tried to appreciate the dark, but all he saw were things to fear. It was the trees he took comfort in. Being connected to the Natural World. He thought a little more about Kurt's words.
"We need to find Dana Wadsworth," Kurt said, rather suddenly. "She knows more about dropships and communications than any of your crew. We need her to contact the Night Paladins dropship."
"Do we even know that the dropship is still coming? Or that the Night Paladins are still loyal?"
Kurt did not like those questions, so he did the only reasonable thing: he ignored them. "The militia hasn't had any luck finding her yet. Do you have any ideas?"
"Just two," Eli muttered, wondering about ulterior motives. He, along with the rest of the rebels, knew about Kurt's pseudo-relationship with Dana. He had been sure that it was just hormones at first, but if there was more to it ... then there would be no way to dissuade the MechWarrior. "Either she was captured, or she is hiding."
Kurt shook his head. "If she was in hiding, she would have found a way to contact us by now. It has been too long."
"Then the mercs have her," was the obvious response.
"No. They had no way of knowing that she was even there until after the fighting, and she had plenty of time to get out of there. That leaves one alternative."
Eli did not say what he was thinking, that she had been killed in crossfire.
"She was captured, just not by the mercs. The civilian resistance has her."
The technician tried his best not to scoff at the suggestion. He failed. "What in the Sphere gave you that idea? Leftenant, we don't even know if there are any of the Corporal's fighters left. For all we know, Wadsworth was trapped in the middle of their assault and gunned down. It makes more sense than..." He managed to stop himself, but not in time. Not that it mattered. Kurt's expression had grown more confident, as if the outrageousness of his claim was proof.
"The Coral Vipers would have announced if they had any prisoners from the assault," Kurt reasoned. "This isn't the Sherwood Forest of legend, and 'Sheriff Raanan,' or whatever his name is, isn't our only enemy. So long as they act on their own, the Corporal's little army is just as dangerous as the mercenaries."
The tech was still not convinced by Kurt's logic. "What makes you think the Corporal is still alive? For all we know, he was killed the day of the attack."
"Lack of evidence." Kurt recognized the flimsiness of his excuse, but there was nothing else. He needed to believe that Dana was alive, and this was the only way he could conceive the possibility. Either that, or she was holed up with her old shipmates ... except all her friends had been killed in the Starport Massacre. He could think of no other way.
Before Eli could point out the flaws in Kurt's argument, the MechWarrior turned back to camp and left the tech alone in the wilderness. Eli felt a pang of regret as he watched the MechWarrior leave, but none of it had to do with the previous conversation. He wished he had talked Dana out of going personally, to spare Kurt the sense of loss. A civilian tech did not belong on the front lines of any war. She was working directly for Eli, and that made her fate his responsibility. Eli briefly wondered if Kurt felt the same way, and surmised the Leftenant probably did.
There was another question, one Eli would never ask Kurt Beckett. Did he blame himself for the Corporal's actions? Eli hoped not. Inexperienced officers took failure especially hard. If Kurt continually blamed himself for everything, the AFFS would lose a valuable officer.