A Short Story of the Sentinels
AUTHOR'S NOTE: To be honest, I'd almost forgotten about these stories, concentrating on the moment on Neon Genesis Evangelion Evolution and The Hunters and the Hunted (not to mention real life and the continued struggle to get my "real" book published...sigh), but recent reviews by ProjectVORTEX, Zmuh11, and especially Bienvenido Canonizado have reminded me that the Snowbirds still have a lot of story to tell! So here it is, the second story arc in the "Snowbird Saga" that will take Sheila Arla-Vlata and her friends through the Clan War of Classic Battletech.
There is kind of a rather jarring change from the end of Snowbird Ascendant to the beginning of Snowbird Summer. The reason is that I could never come up with a satisfactory bridge between the planning session on Sudeten to the next battle–so I just threw in hints in the text. Hope that's good enough. Also note that I make a few references to the Sentinels' first battle against the Clans, on Persistence. Don't bother looking for that chapter in Snowbird Ascendant; I've never written that story and probably never will at the rate I'm going.
Note that in official Battletech canon, there is only one battle on Blackjack (the one mentioned in this first chapter). There was never a Lightning Regiment and never a second battle on that planet–this is all my invention. It seems to me, however, that during the brief Clan pause between waves, that the Inner Sphere would do nothing but sit there, especially the offensive-minded generals of the AFFC. Of course, as this story shows, it probably would be better if they had...
Snowbird Summer takes place roughly between Chapters 25 and 27 of Michael Stackpole's novel, Lethal Heritage.
WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE:
It is the year 3050. An Inner Sphere on the brink of peace has been struck by invaders from beyond known space. These Clans, as they call themselves, armed with new and devastating battle technology, have overrun planet after planet. No one knows who they are. No one knows their goals. No one seems to be able to stop them.
A new generation of MechWarriors has risen to to the challenge. Most of them not yet twenty, these young warriors, still with the exuberance and innocence of youth, are sent into battle in a desperate effort to stem the invasion. Many will die. Some will survive. A few will become legends.
This is the story of Sheila Arla-Vlata, a young MechWarrior in the service of the mercenary regiment known as the Sentinels Regimental Combat Team. Nicknamed "Snowbird" by her father for an incident in her youth, she graduated from the prestigious Nagelring military academy just prior to the arrival of the Clans, and fought them well in her first combat action, on Persistence. A few months later, she won the Commonwealth Star saving the life of her friend and fellow MechWarrior, Mimi Stykkis, on Rasalhague. Unfortunately, Mimi was badly wounded, and is now confined to a wheelchair.
As the war enters its fifth month with no victory in sight for the forces of the Inner Sphere, the commanders of the Armies of the Federated Commonwealth have hatched a plan to strike back at the Clans. And so Sheila Arla-Vlata and her friends Tooriu Kku and Max Canis-Vlata go back to war…
"Let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as the night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."
--Sun-Tzu, The Art of War
Blackjack Sector 30-893
Blackjack, Tamar March, Federated Commonwealth
5 July 3050
Sheila Arla-Vlata checked her watch, sighed, and went back to eating her ramen. The noodles were tasteless, but they filled, and that was what she needed at the moment. They had been on Blackjack for six hours, and the dreaded Clan Jade Falcon had yet to make an appearance.
The Lightning Regiment had made its drop unannounced and in the middle of the night, and brushed aside minimal resistance from the Jade Falcons. The scout lances had gone out into the steppe that surrounded the city of Reno and the campus of the Blackjack School of Conflict. The scouts had found nothing, and the Lightning Regiment had set up a defensive perimeter. The regiment's commander, Steven Broughton, planned to wait for the Jade Falcons to gather their forces for a deliberate attack on the Lightning positions. As soon as they massed, a battalion of the regiment's swiftest 'Mechs was to blaze around the Falcons' flank, destroy the Clan supply depots at Monaco, and pull out; the rest of the Lightning Regiment would cover them before pulling out themselves. If no Falcon resistance materialized, then the regiment was to liberate Blackjack. Either way, it would be the first offensive move by the Inner Sphere, and would give the Clans something to think about. The plan had been gamed out back on Sudeten, and approval had been granted by the commanding general of the Armed Forces of the Federated Commonwealth, Morgan Hasek-Davion. At his request, several members of the Sentinels RCT had been chosen to join the newly-formed Lightning Regiment, bringing their experience to the field; Sheila had been one of the chosen.
She had agreed to the request, though inwardly she questioned the plan. It assumed the Jade Falcons would be slow to engage their opponents and quickly outmanuevered, which Sheila had learned from painful experience was not true. It was true that fully eighty percent of the Lightning Regiment had combat experience against the Clans, but few of them had worked together before, the regiment put together from volunteers, mercenary companies, and the shattered remnants of a few regiments already overrun by the Clans. To Sheila, it seemed like the whole plan was done in desperate hope that something might come of it. Steven Broughton was an experienced commander with an excellent pedigree, but Sheila would have preferred being in her own unit with her own lancemates; Broughton had personally assigned her to his command lance for the sound reason that she was one of the most experienced Clan fighters that was still alive.
"Tango One Alpha from Oscar Papa Two." Her radio came to life. "I have movement in my sector, over."
Sheila sat up and quickly finished off the ramen. Oscar Papa was one of the scout lances ahead of the company she was in. "Go, Oscar Papa," Broughton—Tango One Alpha—replied.
"Multiple paints, Tango. Approximately fifteen enemy 'Mechs in sight. No battlearmor. Repeat, no Toads." Sheila breathed a sigh of relief at that. Toads was the nickname for the man-sized battlearmor the Clans called Elementals. By themselves, they were little threat, but in packs, which they usually traveled in, they could be deadly, swarming an opponent like army ants. Fighting other BattleMechs was, as her father would say, honest work.
"Oscar Papa, Tango One. Hightail it out of there and reform to the rear."
"Ten-roger, Tango. Oscar Papa out."
Sheila readied herself and her 'Mech, a sixty ton Shruiken. Basically an upgraded and much heavier version of the WLF-2 Wolfhound, the Shruiken was fast and mobile, with a top speed of 82 kilometers an hour. It armed two particle projection cannons and four medium lasers, plus its namesake—a launcher that fired two meter tungsten stars, filled with napalm. There were already four kill marks on the 'Mech's right torso, and Sheila intended to add more. Fifteen Clan OmniMechs, which usually outgunned and outranged their Inner Sphere opponents, would be tough going, but Broughton's command company was larger than usual and excellent terrain to fight in. "Tango One Alpha to Tango Lance," Broughton radioed. "Get into fighting positions. Check in." His voice was steady and assured.
"Tango Two Alpha, up." That would be Mary Scott, a fellow Sentinel. Mary was young and beautiful, knew it, and liked it. She was arrogant, cocky, and liked to boast how many kills she would get. Her Wasp was a light 'Mech, not designed to do the things she apparently planned. Sheila did not know Scott very well, nor did she plan on changing that.
"Tango Three Alpha, up," Andrew Delaney chimed in. Sheila knew Delaney, an old classmate from the Nagelring. He was something of a ladykiller, and had already tried his luck with Sheila, who had politely turned him down. Delaney had taken it with an easy laugh; he was affable and, from what Sheila had seen in simulations and heard about from combat experience, a consummate MechWarrior. His Banshee, one of the brand new types off the production line, already had five kill stars.
"Tango Four Alpha, up." Shawn Fraser was the one MechWarrior Sheila worried about; he was one of the twenty percent of the Lightning Regiment that had no combat experience. Fraser was fresh out of the New Avalon Military Academy and quite clearly felt out of his league. His Archer was brand new.
Sheila thumbed the radio switch on her right joystick. "Tango Five Alpha, up." One of Broughton's innovations was to switch to a five-'Mech setup for the lances under his personal command, turning the Clans' own organization against them.
"Tango Lance, listen up," Broughton told them. "Our job here is to hold for a few minutes, then fall back on the company behind us. The Clans will run into two companies instead of just one, and we should be close enough to negate their range advantage. We also have a platoon of hovertanks that will nibble on their flanks once we get into the general melee. Hold fire until I give the word. Then let's mix it up and kick ass." Sheila looked over at Broughton's all-black Marauder. He had done this before on Barcelona, and it had worked–long enough for his former unit, the 17th Skye Rangers, to escape. Broughton, Sheila had noticed at the briefing before the drop, was a bit full of himself, but his voice had betrayed no nerves either then or now. She saw Scott's Wasp pause before the Marauder, and smiled; on the trip from Sudeten, she had noticed Broughton's active pursuit of Scott, something she returned with zest. Sheila felt a brief pang of envy for the other Sentinel–she hadn't been on a date in months–then returned her mind to the job at hand.
Sheila moved her Shruiken forward to the spot she had picked. It was a niche between two cliffs that exposed very little of her 'Mech, and had a ready-made firing rest for the twin PPCs in her right arm. To either side of her, two more lances took up position, making a stand along a line of limestone hills that rose abruptly from the plain.
Sheila was glad of the bubble canopy of her 'Mech, which gave her excellent visibility. She made out the oncoming Clan 'Mechs, and felt a curious mix of fear and excitement in her stomach. It would be her third combat engagement, but already she felt like a veteran. "Tango One Alpha, Five Alpha. I've got a Clan medium unit moving in to engage, fifteen 'Mechs…looks like three Pumas, five Fenris, three Black Hawks, and two Thors. Concur?"
"Concur, Five Alpha. Let them get in a bit closer."
The Clan 'Mechs approached in open order, spread out to avoid artillery strikes, moving quickly but carefully. The hills were an obvious place for ambush, but all their scanners were going to get was white noise, thanks to the remote electronic jammers Broughton had set along the line. A Fenris was coming right towards her at a walk, and Sheila's fingers shook with adrenalin, waiting for the order to fire.
There was a haunting, eerie sound in her headphones, the ominous beep of a Beagle Probe. The Inner Sphere ECM pods were not yet ready to counter those. If the Clan 'Mechs had not detected them in that sweep, the next one would.
Broughton had heard it as well. "All Tango elements, engage!"
Delaney stepped his Banshee out from behind a hill and opened fire with his 'Mech's Gauss Rifle. A steel ball cracked across the battlefield at several times the speed of sound, shattering the armor over the Fenris' left torso and actually spinning the Clan 'Mech around to face its assailant. It raised its arm and pointed at Delaney in clear challenge, despite the fact that the Banshee outweighed the Fenris by fifty tons.
A feral grin came to Sheila's lips, and she opened fire with her PPCs. "We aren't Kuritans, bastard!" she snarled to herself. "We don't fight one on one!" The azure light boiled the armor off of the Clan 'Mech's left leg, leaving only the smoking steel bone.
"He didn't go down, Five Alpha," Mary Scott said mockingly as she readied to engage with her Wasp.
Sheila, however, saw the Fenris stagger and sway drunkenly as its MechWarrior tried to fight the universe's one immutable law—gravity. Gravity, predictably, won; the Fenris crashed to the ground.
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary," Sheila crowed. Delaney, moving in to finish the Clansman off, gave her a thumbs-up, and Sheila returned it.
Long range missiles boiled up from Fraser's Archer and the battle was well and truly on. Scarlet laser bolts and missile trails began crisscrossing the battlefield, turning the once pristine steppe to charred wasteland. 'Mechs went down on both sides, some not getting back up, shuddering from internal explosions or vanishing in towering reactor overloads.
The Jade Falcons were taking the worse of it. They still hit harder than their opponents, but for once the Inner Sphere unit had the advantage of greater firepower and were not fighting according to Clan rules. For the first time, Sheila felt the Clan unit begin to break.
Maximillian Canis-Vlata sincerely prayed for such a heaven sent opportunity that had been given to his distant relative.
His lance—his now, since the lance commander's Atlas was missing its head—were being forced backwards. The three 'Mechs that were left were being engaged by an equal number of Jade Falcons; though other Falcons were in position to fire, they held off, according to their own system of honor. Max supposed he should be grateful, but the three he was fighting were doing a great job on their own. "Bravo One, this is Echo Two," he called out. "We've got big problems over here in Sector two-seven."
"It's world of hurt over here too, Echo," came back Todd Thatcher, Max's company commander. There was a brief pop of static as Thatcher's Banshee fired a PPC. "See if you can hold on where you are; I'll try and get over to you. You hold them by the nose, and I'll kick 'em in the ass."
"Roger that," Max sighed. "Okay, Echo Lance. Let's hold the line for House Steiner, and all that other crap you house lifers like." That brought nervous laughs from his newfound command, who were all from House Steiner line units. Max was the only mercenary.
"Echo Two, this is Echo Four," came the voice of Reinhard Ritter, in an Orion to Max's right. "The Clanners are pulling back!"
"What the hell?" Max asked himself. There was no way his lance had inflicted that kind of damage. The answer to his question came a moment later when artillery missiles began to explode up and down 2nd Company's line. They did not miss very often; Max saw a Locust obliterated by one missile. "Space out your 'Mechs!" Max ordered.
"Echo Two, Bravo One!" Thatcher shouted. "There's a group of three light 'Mechs to your front—they're spotting for the artillery!"
"Roger; I see them." There were two Ullers and a Koshi, moving quickly across the battlefield and engaging with their secondary weapons. Sighting on the Koshi, which was difficult, because it was small and quick, he opened fire with his Hatchetman's autocannon. He missed, but the Koshi was off-balance.
"Echo Four, Narc that Koshi!" Max yelled. A small missile fired from a tube in the Orion's right torso and struck the Koshi. The Narc missile's magnetic head clamped onto the Clan 'Mech and began beeping furiously. "All Echoes, kill the Koshi!"
The Koshi swiftly became the center of attention for three 'Mechs, and went down under a fusillade of assorted missiles, lasers, and autocannon shells. An Uller loped forward to help its comrade, but was engaged by another Hatchetman, who drove the Clan 'Mech to its knees with its autocannon and a savage swing of its namesake hatchet. "We've got them now!" the Hatchetman's MechWarrior exclaimed jubilantly. The Clan 'Mechs were edging backwards, then without warning, turned and fled. The Hatchetman finished off the Uller and charged forwards, its MechWarrior yelling at the top of his lungs, "Steiner!"
"Steiner!" returned the MechWarriors of Max's lance and those around him, and they took off after the Clan 'Mechs. Max almost followed them, then noticed that the Clan 'Mechs were not moving at their top speed. Instead, they were at a fast walk, which didn't make much sense for a unit that was fleeing for its life, especially uphill. Max's throat went dry and he realized what was happening. "Echo Lance! Hold fast! Stay with me!" He was ignored. Ritter charged up the slope, following the Hatchetman, who had been joined by a Wasp and a Wolverine. "Hold, dammit! It's a trap!"
His sole remaining lancemate, whose name Max did not know, came up beside him at a run, his Battlemaster shaking the ground. Max turned on him, raising his 'Mech's hatchet high. "Echo Three, stop right where you are or I'll bring this fucking axe down on your head." The Battlemaster's pilot did not reply, but slowed to a halt.
Max heard screams of alarm, and whipped his 'Mech around to realize his worst fears. Popping up over the hill were three Clan OmniMechs. A Thor stepped out and dropped the charging Hatchetman with a single shot from a titanic autocannon. The Wasp followed a second later, the Wolverine disappeared behind the hill, and Ritter's Orion staggered under heavy fire, though he gamely stood his ground and returned some of the punishment.
Max started forward to help, but was stopped by Thatcher's voice. "Echo Two, Bravo One. We've lost our flank over here. Better bug out." Max glanced over in that direction. Thatcher's Banshee was falling back, but Max could see a Cyclops and another Atlas down, the remnants of Thatcher's command lance.
"Roger that, Bravo. Falling back to the rally point." He switched over to his lance's frequency. "Echo Four, get the hell out of there. We're covering you."
"Roger that, Two—" Ritter's voice was suddenly cut off. Before Max's horrified eyes, the Orion was hit by a fusillade of laserfire and pitched backwards before its onboard ammunition detonated in a huge explosion. Stepping through the smoke was a Mad Cat, which leveled its weapons directly at Max.