A BattleTech Short Story
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this on the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, after reading DC Comics' tribute to 9/11 ("The 9/11 Artist's Project"). It "stars" the same characters from my Snowbird Saga stories, albeit older versions. (As such, it may give away a few things about how that saga will end, but that's okay.) I've decided to post it up here, in remembrance of the seventh anniversary of that day.
Recently—and sadly, in my opinion—this event has become rather politicized. This tale is not. Don't make it so.
"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour."
St. Ignatius Loyola Church, Eden
Salem, Capellan March, Federated Suns
11 September 3064
Maysa Bari opened the church doors and walked in, looking for her commanding officer. The church was empty, but that was not particularly surprising; it was 9:15 AM local, in the middle of the week, and Salem was a war zone, though the church was well behind friendly lines. "Sheila?" Maysa's voice was a whisper, but it seemed to her like a pistol shot in the confines of the church.
"I'm over here, Maysa."
Maysa looked over and quickly walked to Sheila Arla-Vlata's side, her combat boots clacking loudly against the flagstones of the nave. Sheila was kneeling, before motive candles. One, new, flickered above the rest. Maysa stopped, respectfully, genuflected towards the altar and crossed herself, then turned and stood some distance behind Sheila. The silence stretched on a few moments, then Sheila asked, "What is it, Maysa? Are the Loyalists on the move?"
"No, they're still penned up near the GM factory, but we did get orders from Duke Hasek." Maysa paused. "It can wait, you know. I don't want to interrupt you."
"It's all right. I was almost done." Sheila bent her head, whispered a few words too low for Maysa to hear, then crossed herself and rose. "I suppose it's time to render unto Caesar. God's fought His share of campaigns; He'll understand."
Maysa looked at herself and Sheila. Both were dressed in the smoke gray fatigues of the Sentinels Regimental Combined Arms Team, and Maysa noted uncomfortably that both were armed: Maysa wore a loaded pistol, while Sheila had two swords stuck in her belt, samurai-style. She had earned the swords over a decade earlier on Kagoshima. Maysa thought her friend looked old, once soft babyish features now beginning to harden, gray circles under Sheila's eyes betraying lack of sleep, her black hair tied back into a ponytail, her left arm steel and plastic instead of flesh. Maysa knew she looked a bit rough around the edges as well, her red hair cropped short for the campaign, the better for her neurohelmet to fit. "We look like being in a church," she sighed.
"It's all right. Remember that this place is named for a soldier." They went out into the morning; it was cool and cloudless, a perfect day. The conifer trees stirred in a slight breeze, and there were children playing in manicured yards. It was hard to believe there was a war on, that less than a hundred kilometers away, the Sentinels were tightening the noose on a Loyalist regiment guilty of nothing more than occupying a target world Victor Steiner-Davion's forces needed. The children stopped and went silent, staring at the two mercenary commanders with a mixture of respect, fear, and awe. Two boys not yet seven stood at solemn attention and saluted, palm out in Davion fashion. Sheila and Maysa smiled wistfully and returned the salute.
"I don't mean to sound like a busybody, but why were you at church so early in the morning? It's a weekday," Maysa said.
"You mean, considering that one, I'm a notorious late sleeper, and two, I don't go to church all that often anyway?" Sheila chuckled as Maysa turned an embarrassed pink. Maysa was a faithful churchgoer, and rose with the dawn. "No offense taken, Maysa. You know what today is?"
Maysa thought for a moment, trying to remember. Had there been a rough battle the Sentinels had fought on September 11? She could not think of one. "No, I can't think of anything."
"Sorry, I guess I forgot not everyone's a history nut like myself. How's your Terran history?"
"Not good. I was raised in the regiment, remember? When you guys were cracking open books, I was learning how to field strip 'Mechs; Mom home-schooled me, and she was more interested in the Succession Wars. I've never even been to Terra."
"I've only been once." Sheila took a deep breath, and Maysa prepared herself with a smile. Sheila was known for launching into impromptu lectures on history, and Maysa always thought that, if Sheila ever tired of commanding a combined arms regiment, she could have a lucrative career as a college professor. Maysa mentally sat back to listen; often, Sheila's lectures contained real pearls of military wisdom, and more than once both women had translated historical lessons into victories on the battlefield.
"Way back in 2001, before the Second Russian Civil War—hell, even before Kearny and Fuchida published their paper on faster-than-light travel—some terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. These two towers were huge skyscrapers; they'd make two of the Triad on Tharkad. Anyhow, the terrorists hijacked two subsonic airliners and crashed them into the towers. The explosion knocked down both towers and killed about three thousand people."
"My God. Was there a war going on or something?"
"I don't think so. They also hit the Pentagon in Washington, DC." That building Maysa had heard of, distantly; it had been the model for the New Avalon Institute of Science's Military Liasion Division building on New Avalon. "They just damaged that one. Another aircraft was going after the White House, where the United States of America's president lived, but apparently it crashed somewhere along the way, after passengers tried to retake the aircraft."
The thought of having to fight inside the claustrophobic confines of a subsonic airliner, probably unarmed, unsettled Maysa. Give me my old Rifleman anyday, she thought. "So what happened?"
"It touched off a war that lasted years. I'm not really sure what happened afterwards, as far as specific events. Humanity's lost a lot in the last thousand years. I know it had something to do with the Second Russian Civil War, later on." Sheila paused. "Come to think of it, it was a terrorist that killed Oleg Tikonov. Maybe it was one of the same bunch. I don't think anyone really remembers the terrorists."
"I hate to say this, Sheila, but I'm surprised that anyone remembers the whole thing. Not when you compare it to Kentares IV or Turtle Bay." Millions had died on both planets.
"True. But it was a defining moment in American history, and I imagine you'd hear more about it if you had lived here in the FedSuns, since they absorbed most of the American immigrants during the Exodus."
"Yeah, but you were born in the Lyran Commonwealth, Sheila, like me. I'm not surprised you know about it, as crazy as you are about history. But why go to church and light a candle for it?"
Sheila shrugged. "You've got me there, Maysa. It's been a tradition in my family for as long as we can remember. Maybe we lost someone in the attacks, or maybe they just felt indebted to do so. But we've always lit a candle on September 11 and said a prayer. It's said that Karelia Bighorn-Vlata, my ancestor, stopped in a little church to pray on September 11 even when she was running from Stefan Amaris' forces. I remember my dad dragging me to church to do it, and I guess I've felt like continuing the tradition. I suppose it's like the Eridani Light Horse reading their old commander's refusal to accompany Alexandr Kerensky out of the Inner Sphere, or like that one Clan Wolf unit wearing the patch of the ancient 55th Massachusetts Infantry to show their commitment to diversity and tolerance. We don't know exactly why we do it, but it's tradition."
"Along with the story?"
"Yeah, that too. Dad told me that story when I was like, five or something. It wasn't just rote, either; Dad actually did some research on it. Like he said, it's always good to remember that you don't have to have a weapon to have courage, and what enough good people can do when the chips are down."
"I'm confused. You said three thousand died."
"Yes, but many more survived because you had brave policemen, firemen—hell, just ordinary people too. Matter of fact, quite a bit died in the process of saving others. That part Dad always emphasized. 'Never think that because someone isn't a MechWarrior that they won't fight,' he told me. 'Everyone has the potential to be a hero.'"
Maysa had a gentle heart, and many people had commented that this woman, who wept openly at the sight of a battlefield, was not only a MechWarrior, but the regiment's finest. She felt her throat tighten up. "No greater love," she said. "It's what my mom used to say about heroes. Nobody sets out to become one, and those that do usually just get killed. It's just the fellow who says, 'I can't just stand here, I have to do something!' God knows we've seen enough of that ourselves, Sheila."
"Too true, Maysa. Thank God we've had more than our share in the Sentinels, too. Remember Kikkia Settsi turning back to hold off that Trinary of Wolves, all by herself in that puke green Wolverine of hers?"
"Yeah, or Art Sterling driving his hovertanks in between us and the Nova Cats? That guy's got more guts than sense. Crazy brave. There was that time that you went back for Mimi Stykkis on Rasalhague."
Sheila shuddered. "I still get chills thinking about that. I wished I had thought that through; of course, if I did, I probably wouldn't have done it. And don't act like butter won't melt in your mouth, Maysa. I remember you jumping out front at Toriiyama on Kagoshima—that same morning you sang 'Men of Harlech' while we were staring down a Smoke Jaguar Cluster." She looked at her artificial arm. "I also remember someone coming back for me when they didn't have to," Sheila said, more quietly.
Maysa looked away modestly. "Max talked us into that one. I was scared out of my mind."
Sheila nodded. "Maybe that's why my family's lit the candle for the last thousand years, Maysa. To remember a day when the brave held their ground."
Maysa stared into the cerulean blue sky; both women were lost in thought for a few minutes. After awhile, Maysa said, "I wonder who they were, those people at…what was it, the American Trade Center?"
"World Trade Center. More than Americans died there. As for the people, I guess they were just that, people. If you're really curious about who they were, there's a nice memorial on Terra. It was still there when I visited back in 3053. I hope the Word of Blake hasn't messed with it. It lists the names and has this really cool statue of a flag-raising."
"Yeah, if the Wobbies ever decide to let people who don't think Blake sits at the right hand of God, I'll have to go see it. You've got me interested now." Both women stopped as two Sentinel F-94 Stingrays roared overhead, heading towards their combat air patrol station. In the distance, they could see their BattleMechs drawn up at the regimental headquarters. "Maybe that's the other reason, Sheila."
"Your family. They don't just remember sacrifice or bravery. It's also remembering why good people have to make stands every now and then. Those people had to respond to terror. Your ancestor, and mine for all I know" –Maysa was an orphan—"had to make a stand against Stefan Amaris. You and me, we have to fight Katherine Steiner-Davion, so she can't dictate to our children what they can read or who they can be with. True, she's not there yet, but she's well on the way…"
"And we have to make sure she never gets there. Well, that's the reason why the unit's called the Sentinels." Sheila sighed. "You'd think in a thousand years, someone would realize that war just isn't a whole hell of a lot of fun."
"You'd think. But here we are."
"Yeah. Well, there's always a chance that our grandchildren won't feel the need to pick up a knife or a gun to settle an argument. I guess that's worth fighting for." Sheila smiled at Maysa. "Shall we see what Georgie Hasek wants us to do now?"
"How different the new order would be if we could consult the veteran instead of the politician."