Chapter Six of the Snowbird Saga
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The deviations in here from Battletech canon are minor, such as having Sheila Arla-Vlata, Max Canis-Vlata, and Marion Rhialla as trainers for the "young royals." All of the events in here take place between the last chapter of Michael Stackpole's Lethal Heritage and about halfway through Blood Legacy.
This part of the story arc is actually fairly humorous; I've tried to write it as such, anyway. As for this particular chapter, most of the dialogue is taken from Lethal Heritage.
Thanks for sticking with me. And as always, all characters in here are the property of WizKids, Fanpro, and Michael Stackpole. No infringement of copyright is intended.
Some of you had some questions about Senefa's reaction in The Falcon and the Snowbird. They will be answered later on in this chapter.
1. A Match Made in Heaven
Wolf's Dragoons General Headquarters
Outreach, Sarna March, Federated Commonwealth
12 January 3051
Victor Steiner-Davion stood in the doorway of the giant meeting chamber and had to consciously keep his jaw from dropping.
He was no stranger to balls and fetes, grand meetings and parties, for that was part and parcel of being a royal in the Inner Sphere, no matter what House one belonged to. He had hated them then and he hated them now, a thought that made him smile sardonically; his mother had made him dress up for so many formal occasions that he now associated them with being colossally bored.
That was not likely to happen this time. He saw every uniform of every House in the Inner Sphere, and not a few mercenary units as well. Some were sticking to the familar cliques of House units, while others moved freely about the room. There were so many there that no one so much graced Victor with a nod. He felt a momentary pang of jealousy–he would be the most powerful man in the Inner Sphere, someday–but then fought it down. He was only nineteen, still a small fish with one victory under his belt, and that more through blind luck than his own skill. It would be a long time before he would match a good deal of these people. Now feeling self-conscious, he walked down the stairs and looked for a familiar face.
He found one quickly enough. Morgan Kell was in conversation with two officers who wore Marik Militia uniforms. At well over six feet, Morgan towered over most people in the room, and the man's charisma made him seem even taller. He wore the blood-red and black uniform of the Kell Hounds, one "ear" of the stylized fox's head tunic bedecked in medals and campaign ribbons. Though his hair and beard were going gray, he still wore it long over his shoulders, and his movements made him seem a lot younger than his nearly fifty years.
Morgan's face split in a wide grin, revealing evenly-spaced teeth, and the Marik officers withdrew as Victor walked up. They shook hands, Morgan's large paw seemingly engulfing Victor's. "Highness, as always, seeing you is a pleasure without equal."
Victor raised an eyebrow. "Without equal? My mother won't be happy to hear that."
Morgan laughed. "Ah, you've caught me–your mother has a special place in my heart. Consider my statement amended but no less heartfelt."
Morgan stepped back and looked Victor over. He nodded at the Order of Steiner-Davion that was pinned to Victor's tunic; he wore the gold and blue formal uniform of the AFFC. "Dan Allard told me good things about you in that action on Twycross. He said you can think on your feet and you're not afraid of mixing it up. That's good. It got your uncle Ian killed on Mallory's World, but it's pulled your father and your cousin Morgan Hasek-Davion out of more scrapes than I've got digits to remember."
"If the Hounds hadn't been there and Colonel Allard not been willing to take a chance, things might have turned out much differently," Victor said quietly.
"And if you hadn't sent Kai Allard to recon the pass, how do you think things would have turned out?" His eyebrows beetled together, and Victor heard the admonishment in his voice. Morgan was not about to let Victor grind himself down.
Victor looked over and spotted Kai, who wore the same uniform as he did. He was talking with his mother, Candace Liao, and his father, Justin Xiang. Both were legends, of course. Kai's younger sisters were there too, not yet out of secondary school, though Kuan Yin and Cassandra were rapidly growing into beautiful women. Victor noticed Kai looking studiously at the ground while his father said something to him. "If only he'd allow himself to realize it, Morgan."
Morgan put a beefy arm around Victor's shoulders. "I think you'll find warriors like Kai keep a tight rein on themselves because they're afraid of what would happen if they don't. If he ever cuts loose, there's not much in the Inner Sphere that could stop him." Morgan chuckled. "Just be glad he's on your side." He noticed something and his grin grew wider. "And speaking of someone else I'm glad is on our side, it looks like the wedding couple is here."
"Wedding couple?" Victor spun around. "What are they doing here?"
"I think Jaime invited them."
"I know that, but they're supposed to be on their honeymoon...the ceremony was today!" Victor looked at Morgan. "I had just enough time to get changed and take a shower."
"I suppose they couldn't miss this. I can hardly blame them; I'm already having flashbacks to your parents' wedding." Morgan's eyes twinkled. "Well? Where are your manners, Victor? I haven't met Sheila Arla-Vlata since that last inane reception at the Nagelring."
Victor winced at that. "Right." He and Morgan walked over to where the newly married Vlatas were.
Max Canis-Vlata wore a white uniform with powder blue trimming, the new formal uniform of the Snowbirds Special Missions Combined Arms Team. A cape in the same colors was fastened around his shoulders, and his pants were bloused into shining MechWarrior boots, with spurs in the Davion fashion. His awards were somewhat more substantial than Victor's, but not by much. He adjusted his glasses and returned the handshake of a rakish man in Dragoon colors.
Next to him was Sheila Arla-Vlata, and she didn't wear a uniform, but her bridal gown. It was very traditional, with a floor-length, billowing dress and thin waist. The dress ended above her breasts, and she was covered from there to her throat with shimmersilk. She still had on her veil, thrown back somewhat haphazardly over her black hair.Her one concession to a uniform was the Commonwealth Star worn around her throat.
"My God, what happened to her?" Morgan exclaimed.
"She got married." Victor couldn't resist.
"Smartass. Her face, Victor."
Victor winced again and wondered if Sheila should have kept the veil over her face. Victor had heard of the Trial of Possession a month ago, but Sheila's face was still puffy, she had the remnants of a black eye, and there was a scar across her cheek and a bandage over the bridge of her nose. "She fought a Clan warrior hand-to-hand."
Morgan nodded. "I know, but it was a month ago. That must have been some fight." Sheila waved at him happily, and he smiled, returning it.
"Hey, Vic!" she called out, apparently not giving a categorical damn if someone took offense at her easy familiarity. "You were missed at the reception."
"I know. I had planned to attend, but I had to get over here. I hadn't realized you were coming."
Sheila's eyes twinkled. "What, and miss this? Jaime Wolf gathering the leaders of the Inner Sphere for some sort of grand strategy meeting? I'll tell my kids about this, if I ever have any." She pulled on Max's arm. "Let me steal him back from you, Colonel Jamison." J. Elliot Jamison, the roguish commander of the equally roguish Zeta Battalion, gave his assent, nodded cordially to Morgan and Victor, and joined a circle of Dragoon officers.
"Sheila, Max, you know Colonel Morgan Kell of the Kell Hounds, of course," Victor said by way of introduction. Recognition flooded their features, and Victor caught the sidelong glance between husband and wife. They were in the prescence of possibly the greatest MechWarrior of the century.
Both came to attention and saluted, Sheila looking a little strange doing so in her gown. Morgan only smiled and put out his hand to Max, who shyly took it. "A pleasure to meet you, Maximillian," Morgan intoned formally. "I see you're continuing the family tradition of marrying beautiful women–your mother was and is quite the lady." Max stammered something about it the pleasure being his.
Sheila had her hand out for a handshake, but Morgan took it, bent over, and kissed it. Victor fought down a laugh as a red blush went from Sheila's neck to her forehead like a heat gauge on a 'Mech. "Ah, Sheila," Morgan said, smiling at her. "Absolutely stunning." He gestured at the bandages. "How did the other one look?"
"A lot worse," Sheila answered before she thought about it. "Sir," she added hastily.
Morgan waved it off. "Enough with the 'sir'. I'm a mercenary, same as you. I work for a living." He folded his arms across his chest. "I read about what you did on Planting, and on Twycross and Rasalhague. I think you've made up for your infraction on Blackjack." He turned to Max. "Both of you have done exceptionally well against the Clans. You'll have to share your secret with the rest of us."
Sheila and Max looked at each other again, and Victor could read their thoughts: Morgan Kell's asking us what our secret is?
"If we figure it out," Sheila replied finally, "you'll be the first to know. Half the time I wasn't even thinking about what to do."
"I'd say luck, sir," Max added, having forgotten Morgan's admonishment about rank.
"Luck is what others call skill when they have none," Morgan said. "No, Max, luck isn't the reason. You've discovered a key that we old heads haven't yet. And in case you haven't figured it out yet, that's why you're here. I'd enjoy your honeymoon while it lasts, because I imagine a lot of people are going to want to know how you've excelled against an enemy that's rolled over everyone else." Morgan's smile returned. "And I'm not doing what your father, Sheila, calls blowing sunshine up someone's rear end. In case Victor hasn't told you, I am not that kind of person."
"Er...your reputation kind of preceded you..." Max said haltingly.
"I look forward to the meetings–and I meant what I said about that honeymoon." Morgan winked at Max. "When I got married, I couldn't wait to get the guests out the door. I admire your restraint, Max."
Max blushed and was about to stammer a reply when the whine of an electric wheelchair cut him off. They turned to see a white-haired, bearded man dressed in the uniform of a general of the Free Rasalhague Republic. His face was horribly scarred. A respectful distance behind the wheelchair was a young woman about Sheila's age, though not as tall.
The man scowled at Morgan. "You are Morgan Kell?" It was nothing less than a challenge. At Morgan's slow nod, the man spat, "I am Tor Miraborg. Your son murdered my daughter!"
Victor was taken aback, and he heard Sheila gasp with the sheer venom of the statement. Morgan, however, merely clasped his hands behind his back, his face calm. "Do you mind explaining how my son, dead for a year and a half now, could have murdered your daughter?"
"Your son came between Tyra and me," Miraborg shot back. "His influence drove her away and made her accept a position with the Rasalhague Drakons. My daughter died fighting the invaders." He practically flung the words in Morgan's face.
Morgan's face grew a shade darker. "Then your daughter and my son shared one last thing in their all-too-brief lives. I recieved a holodisk from her not long ago, and she was kind enough to share with my wife and I some remembrances of her time with Phelan."
The fight went out of Miraborg instantly, and he suddenly looked very old. "She...she talked to you? She recorded a holodisk...for you?"
"Her disk came in response to one I had sent her. I will let you see the message, if you wish," Morgan said gently.
Miraborg sat up in the wheelchair. "No. I want no part of your message. She stopped being my daughter the day she left Gunzburg." He spun the wheelchair around and disappeared in the crowd, nearly running over the girl behind him. She looked in Miraborg's wake, then turned back to Morgan. "Colonel Kell, I'm Anika Janssen. I was Tyra's wingmate. I also like to think I was her best friend." She glanced back in Miraborg's general direction. "Please ignore what he said. He's just a bitter old man. I knew your son and was with him and Tyra many times. I was there when they met the first time. You've nothing to be ashamed of in your son. Phelan and Tyra were very good for each other."
Morgan nodded, putting his hands on Janssen's slim shoulders. "Thank you, Lojtnant. I'm glad to know Phelan had friends."
The fighter pilot swallowed, looking at her boots. "And if you wouldn't mind, sir, I'd like to see that disk she made. Tyra and I never had a chance to say goodbye. She rode her Shilone into the flagship's bridge. She did more to stop the invasion than anyone else in the whole Royal Kungsarme, and the Iron Jarl"–she referred to Miraborg–"he won't even acknowledge her existence, let alone her heroism."
"The Kungsarme?" Sheila said. "Lojtnant Janssen, she did more in five seconds than the entire Inner Sphere's done in five months. You know she got the Clanner's top man." Sheila shook her head. "It won't bring her back, I know, but..."
"Yes, I know." Janssen nodded. "Thank you, uh..."
"Lieutenant Commander Sheila Arla-Vlata, of the Sentinels. We were on Rasalhague at the end. I think you guys had already gotten out." She noticed Janssen's stare. "Uh, yeah. We just got married. My husband, Major Max Canis-Vlata."
Janssen smiled and offered her congratulations, but Victor noticed the smile never made it to her eyes. "Excuse me," she said, "I must go and find the Iron Jarl. He's my responsibility."
"Of course," Morgan replied. "I'll have a copy of the disk to you tomorrow morning." He returned her respectful nod, and then the pilot was gone.
"Maybe we should leave," Max said quietly, but not so quietly Morgan didn't hear. He looked at them over his shoulder. "No," he said sternly. "Stay. I know what you're thinking, Max, but you and Sheila arriving directly from your wedding represents something very important." He motioned around the room. "We've lost a great deal in the last six months. Not just me, not just Miraborg. It's all too easy to get wrapped up in hate.
"Hatred blinds you. A man can only live on it for so long until it burns him out. If he survives, he becomes a shell." Morgan's gaze was fixed on where Miraborg had been. "You're right, Max. When I see both of you standing there, I wonder what Tyra and Phelan would have looked like in the same pose. But I don't think that merely because I so dearly wish that it could be true. I think it because, like them, you've managed to find a piece of love in the middle of so much hatred. It might be useful to remind everyone in this room of that, because you represent the future. If we don't fight for that, then why do we bother in the first place? It will also silence those who think that the new generation can't hack it."
Morgan blinked, then half-smiled. "I apologize. I didn't mean to preach." He returned the wave of Dan Allard across the room. "Let me give the newlyweds some advice–and you should remember this too, Victor. It'll be your turn some day. Don't waste time arguing over things. You're both MechWarriors; our profession is one of the most dangerous in the Inner Sphere. You don't have time to argue. Live." Morgan's eyes bored into them. "I speak from experience. I abandoned the woman I'm married to for a decade, and I regret that lost time now." He shook hands with Max, and kissed Sheila's cheek. "Good luck. I'll see you all later." And with that, Morgan strode away, into the crowd.
Sheila was the first to find her voice. "Victor," she said solemnly, "I wouldn't make a pimple on that man's ass."
Victor laughed, breaking the tension. "Neither would I."
"Looks like it's unanimous," Max sighed. "Didn't you know Phelan, Sheila?"
"Not very well. He stayed aloof–he always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder the size of a HPG platform. Vic knew him better than I did."
Victor shook his head. "We moved in different circles." He did not want to speak ill of the dead; in truth, he had thought Phelan a prima donna, too independent, and definitely not a team player. He wondered if that was how Phelan had met his end–alone. He suppressed a shudder, and then a sigh as he saw Max take Sheila's hand. They looked so very happy. Victor envied them, and doubted he ever would feel the same way.
He was nearly knocked over by a giant of a man. At first he thought it was Morgan, but this man was even taller and broader. He turned around and had to lean back to look the man in the face. "Tooriu Kku?" he asked.
Tooriu grinned toothily. "Heya, Victor. You missed the reception, dude." Victor's smile returned involuntarily; he wondered if Tooriu would amble up to his father, Hanse Davion, and ask to bum a light off of him. Knowing Tooriu, he probably already had. The man simply did not acknowledge higher rank or station. Tooriu twirled around something on his finger.
Sheila leaned forward. "All right, Tooriu. I know damn good and well you didn't catch my garter. I'm relatively sure Drax caught it."
Tooriu shrugged. "I bought it off of him for ten C-bills." He laughed. "I'm just kiddin'. I just borrowed it to show some of the guys." He looked down at Victor. "See what you missed? I bet Sheila would have thrown it to you."
"Not with Goliath of Gath in my way," Victor snorted, poking a finger into Tooriu's chest. It felt like poking BattleMech armor plate, but he figured if Tooriu could be completely without pretention, so could he.
"Huh. So who was the dude in the chair? He looked like a mean old bastard. I was gonna come over here and wrap that chair around his saggy ass."
"It's a long story," Max sighed. He looked around Tooriu. "Is that Romano Liao that just walked in?"
"Yeah," Tooriu groused. "She shoved one Dragoon and I thought the guy was gonna bitch slap her. I'd give a month's pay to see that."
"Marion Rhialla is still at the Harlech DropPort, isn't she?" Sheila asked.
Tooriu shrugged. "Last I heard, she was going out to get liquored up with Carabinera. I told your dad, because I think they were going to go look up the Black Widow and try and drink her under the table, or kick her butt, whichever came first. Either way, they may end up starting a riot in Harlech."
"I just hope they're not here. Romano had most of Rhialla's old battalion shot. One look at her and Marion's likely to do a hell of a lot more than bitch slap her."
"Now that you mention it," Victor said, "where is Natasha Kerensky? I recognize most of the Dragoon officers, but someone like her isn't someone you miss."
"Probably out killing Clanners," Tooriu mused.
"I don't know," Max said. "There's Gentleman Jim Clavell over there. I don't think the Widow would be out hunting alone."
Maysa Bari came up to them. "Hi, Sheila," she said, hugging her. "You look positively angelic!"
"Humpf. I'm about as angelic as Catherine the Great," Sheila said. The reference went right over Maysa's head, so she continued. "Maysa, you've met Victor, haven't you?"
Victor turned. "Hello." He had not met Maysa Bari, a sixteen-year old MechWarrior who Sheila had mentioned as the best shot in her battalion. She looked far too childlike for that; her bright red hair was shaved close to her temples, Steiner fashion, for better contact with her neurohelmet, but it made her look even more like a child playing MechWarrior.
Maysa turned white as a sheet, and her eyes grew as wide as saucers. "H-h-hello," she stammered. "P-p-pleasure meet you–I mean–i-it's a–"
Victor shook her hand. "Same here." A series of soft chimes got everyone's attention, for which he was glad, because Maysa looked on the verge of passing out. Out of the corner of one eye, Victor would swear that Maysa was now hiding behind Sheila. He had run into all kinds of reactions his name brought–toadying, boorishness, snide remarks, casual indifference, even outright hatred–but this was the first time he had ever scared anyone.
Tooriu leaned down to Victor's ear. "She's really shy around strangers," he whispered.
"Didn't notice," Victor quipped. Then he shut his mouth, for Jaime Wolf was taking the stage at the far end of the room. A younger officer wearing the patch of the Black Widow Battalion followed him to the dais, but the rest of the Dragoons' regimental and battalion commanders remained at loose attention along the wall behind Wolf. Natasha Kerensky was not among them, and from the chatter he overheard, he wasn't the only one to notice.
Jaime Wolf was not a tall man, half a head shorter than Morgan Kell, not much taller than Victor himself. Again, it was the force of the man's personality that made him seem bigger, and it came as no surprise that this small man led the largest, most professional unit in the Inner Sphere, the five mysterious, undeniably lethal Wolf's Dragoons. He ran a hand through gray hair, and began to speak.
"Thank you all for responding to the summons that brought us together here on Outreach. Some of you must have found it strange and yet you have sensed that my reason was not frivolous. Rather, I wish to speak with you about a problem that faces all of us and whose depth perhaps only the Dragoons can know."
Max leaned over to Sheila. "Okay, how's he going to back that one up? The Dragoons haven't even fought the Clans that I know of."
Sheila shrugged. "Hey, they're the Dragoons. Major Sneuth told me at the reception that they had a full case of Fanta Orange in our suite. I don't recall telling her that Fanta Orange happens to be my favorite."
Wolf was still talking, indicating the young man behind him. "Some of you may have known him as Major Darnell Winningham. His real name is MacKenzie Wolf, and he is my son. He will be replacing Natasha Kerensky."
That brought a lot of talk among the crowd. "I thought his family was wiped out on New Delos," Sheila said.
Max smiled wanly. "Hey, they're the Dragoons. Wouldn't surprise me if Wolf ripped off a mask and said he was an alien from Andromeda."
"As you all know," Wolf continued, "the Inner Sphere has been invaded in the last year by an enemy possessing BattleMechs of extraordinary power. Recently the Federated Commonwealth and Draconis Combine have had some notable successes against these invaders. After months of trial and error, they have finally managed to hand the invaders some reverses on Twycross, Wolcott, Planting, and most importantly, Radstadt. Since then, the invaders have, for all intents and purposes, withdrawn into the shell of the worlds they conquered."
"It's because we kicked their ass!" Tooriu shouted. Sheila nearly turned as pale as Maysa had at Tooriu's temerity, but his defiant yell was taken up by others in the room, notably wearing Federated Commonwealth white and gold, and Draconis Combine white and red. Tooriu held out a giant hand to Victor, and Victor, caught up in the moment, clasped it like a pair of soccer players after winning a match.
Wolf smiled wanly at Tooriu. "Can you really believe that so implacable an enemy is cowed by minor defeats? They withdrew because one Rasalhague pilot sacrificed herself by smashing her Shilone into the invaders' flagship. At the very least, she killed the invasion's leader and crippled the command structure of the enemy forces. If she'd missed ten meters up or down, left or right, the Clans would still be marching inexorably forward. If you are so naive as to think that two minor victories and a lucky stroke by a brave pilot could drive these invaders back, our chances for success are poor indeed in our war against them."
"Our war?" Romano Liao's voice easily carried over the murmur of the crowd. It had a shrill tone to it that set Sheila's teeth on edge. "Of course! I knew it all along!" She laughed triumphantly and pirouetted to the crowd. "You've just been waiting for our troops to take stock of the invaders. Now Wolf's Dragoons will stalk from their den and into the battle!" Drama queen, Sheila thought, nearly saying it aloud, but then realized that this middle-aged woman with the graying black hair was responsible for more deaths of her own people than Hanse Davion ever could come close to. She was quite insane, and it was not a time to be noticed.
Romano turned back to Wolf and stabbed a long fingernail at him. "Yours are the fiercest mercenaries in the Inner Sphere." Max drove an elbow into Tooriu's side to silence the other MechWarrior before he said something truly stupid. "With your help, we shall send these rimworld renegades running..."
Her words trailed off as Wolf speared her with a cold stare. "I'm afraid you have it all wrong, Madam Chancellor. The enemy we face is not composed of either renegades or bandits. The invaders will be back, probably in less than a year. We'll have to be ready to meet them with everything we've got, because we've only seen a small sample of their strength." Wolf turned from the castigated Chancellor to the crowd at large. "After Radstadt and the death of their leader, they'll come at us full strength. They'll ask no quarter and grant none." Wolf took a breath. "Ladies and gentlemen, now begins what easily could be the last days of the Inner Sphere."