Sometime during Operation: Serpent…
Colonel Paul Masters, leader of the Knights of the Inner
Sphere and conscience of the multi-governmental Task Force Serpent sent to wipe
out Clan Smoke Jaguar, looked out at the devastation that had once been a small
training base. The bulk of the fighting was done; the Clan was virtually wiped
out. Only small, token resistance groups still harassed the troops of the newly
reformed Star League. He would be leaving soon to discuss future operations
with the task force commander, Prince Victor Davion, and he was enjoying the
brief lull in activity.
Masters?" came the interruption. Paul turned to see another knight approaching.
He recognized him as Sir William Lebeau, one of the newer members of the
Knights of the Inner Sphere. He was clad in typical MechWarrior attire.
MechWarrior was the modern knight, the ultimate warrior of the 31st
century. They were the masters of the battlefield, and there were many such
fields to master. Strapped inside their BattleMechs, several meters above the
mundane hand-to-hand combat of war; they were like gods among ants. The Knights
represented an order started by Paul's patron, Captain-General Thomas Marik of
the Free Worlds League, which wanted to bring chivalry and fair-play back into
war. War was going to happen; the idea of peace was simply naïve; and if there
was going to be war, then it should be conducted between militaries and not
Knights were part of this operation to ensure that the Star League forces did
not descend in barbarism, as was common in such military ventures. Clan Smoke
Jaguar was to be destroyed as a military force, not eliminated in a fit of
genocide. In order to get the most benefit from the operation, Paul had seen to
it that many of the "greener" MechWarriors were brought along so that they may
get some combat experience. "Yes?" he replied to the breathless knight. The man
saluted, which Paul returned.
of a Clan binary in Sector 5…two stars of 'Mechs," the knight replied, taking
in gasps of air. It was obvious that he had run all the way out to this remote
location. Taking in the information, Paul briefly glanced at his battle-scarred
Phoenix Hawk standing against the
Clans, descendants of the military forces that had left the original Star League
for life in unknown space, had centered their basic military structure around
units composed of five components, whereas most Inner Sphere militaries and
even mercenary groups, base their structures on four components. Where the
Inner Sphere used the lance, composed of four BattleMechs, the Clans used
stars, which had five BattleMechs or Elementals or any other damned vehicle
they could come up with. A binary meant two stars, or roughly, 10 BattleMechs.
"Any reports on the composition of the force?"
other man wiped some sweat from his brow and looked up into the sky. It was a
clear day, relatively, and quite unusual for the planet Huntress. Normally, the
sky was a shade of gray. It probably wouldn't last long. "No definites, sir;
the call was placed by a small scouting party, but we lost contact with them
almost immediately. Based upon what we know of Smoke Jaguar forces that were
stationed in this area, we believe it may be a training cadre."
nodded and looked again at the remnants of the base. This had been a very small
base; obviously used to simulate actual field conditions. The resistance had
been very light, which had led Paul to believe, initially, that they were
facing students. Huntress, while the home world of Clan Smoke Jaguar, was not defended
very well by the standards of the Inner Sphere. In a society where the warrior
is the top of the food chain, it was almost ironic that the center of the
culture was staffed with what was considered the failures of the military. Solohma units, those composed of
warriors too old to fight (35 years old and above!), and training cadres were
what had been awaiting the Inner Sphere armies.
the Clans may have considered middle-aged warriors obsolete, Paul knew better.
The battle to take Huntress had been fierce; perhaps the fiercest fighting he
had ever been part of. He silently cursed himself for accepting the token
resistance offered by the small force his men had encountered. It had been a
feint, a sham that allowed the, most likely, instructors to head into the woods
where they would regroup and counter-attack.
5, however, was at the far end of his area of responsibility and Paul had
trouble calling up what units he had out there. "Who do we have?"
other man seemed reluctant to answer, and Paul was afraid he was about to be
told that there was nobody in the area, except for the small scout force that
had obviously been overrun. This would be disastrous. Certainly, two stars of
BattleMechs would not reverse the destiny of the Smoke Jaguars, but it could
lead to unnecessary casualties. Worse, if they managed to link up with other
roaming Clan units, then a sizable fighting force might be able to be created.
"Speak up, good knight; remember, the truth will set you free," Paul said, quoting
an old Christian proverb.
sir, the truth might well set you off," the knight said. "The only unit in that
sector is…" Again there was hesitation, as if speaking the name of the unit
would damn the sweating knight to hell.
sighed. "Answer the damn question, Captain!" he snapped.
knight straightened up with military order and bearing. "Sir, the only unit in
the area is Sir Simmons' Black Knights."
jaw dropped and his eyes widened. "We're doomed."
Simmons, Knight of the Inner Sphere, wiped his wet brow and slung the sweat to
the floor of the cockpit of his Bushwhacker.
The 55-ton medium 'Mech was moving at a decent pace, in the lead of the Black
Knight's lance. His lance.
was not the type of MechWarrior one would think to be part of something so high
and mighty as the Knights of the Inner Sphere. He had not been a soldier,
regular army or mercenary, but instead had trained in the piloting of a
BattleMech with the Circus Mechinus, a traveling show of daredevil and stunt MechWarriors.
When Thomas Marik had put out the call for those pilots who wanted to be part
of something bigger than them, he had answered, much to his own chagrin.
Initially, he had been rejected entry into the organization, along with the
three other members of his lance, but heavy casualties sustained bringing down
a rebellion had gained them spots in the 150 warrior organization.
lance, however, had no combat experience and had been relegated to every nasty
job a 'Mech could be used for; from guarding the extreme rear to protecting the
garbage hover trucks. His second-in-command, Dame Lydia Courant, nicknamed
Jiggles because of her inability to hold a targeting reticule on an enemy 'Mech
(and not because of her ample female attributes as the rumor was), was the
daughter of Sylus Courant, owner of one of the largest PPC manufacturing plants
in the Inner Sphere. It was because of her that Thomas Marik was able to arm
his Knights with the particle projection cannons at very reduced cost.
checked his status screen and saw that her Hunchback
was keeping pace behind him. She and him had once been more than comrades in
arms, but those days were long since gone. Now, they were good friends and only
occasional lovers. It depended on how far away they were from her husband.
"BK2, this is BK1," he said into his helm-mike.
ahead," she replied in her usual lax tone. Because of his position within the
Knights, he had to put on the face of someone who could appreciate military
discipline. That included proper use of communications. Lydia, on the other
hand, knew that she could say just about anything and get away with it, so
significant was the discount her father extended to the Free World's League.
sign of Frick and Frack?" he asked, indicating the other two members of his
response, the mellow voice of Tommy Yasoka came across the comm. channel. "Yo,
dude, I'm over here!"
torso-twisted to the left and then the right and just above the treetops he saw
the waving of a Victor. Sir Yasoka
was a distant relative of Theodore Kurita, Coordinator of the Draconis Combine,
and had been accepted into the Knights as a token to the Combine. A competent
pilot, his attitude, considered to be inherited from his Lyran-born mother, was
what prevented him from having a promising career in the service of the Dragon,
as the Coordinator was often referred to. After two years in the supply corps,
he was discharged and had no place to go. Tommy wanted to be a MechWarrior and
he was a good one; it was the military he had a real problem with. Because of
his place in Draconis society, there was no way he could ever become a
mercenary. The Knights of the Inner Sphere offered a happy medium. "Sargent,"
Merrick said, "keep your eyes peeled over there."
like I'd pilot with my eyes closed," came the response. Suddenly, the Victor stumbled into the path of Merrick
and Lydia, walking about as if drunk. The 80-ton 'Mech knocked down trees and
stumbled into the forest on the left side of the path. "Damn it, Tommy, open
your eyes!" Merrick called.
here, sir," Corporal Richard Kerensky called, a bit of sarcasm on the last
word. Kerensky was a second generation 'Mech inventor. His name, however, being
the same as Alexander and Nicholas Kerensky, the founders of the Clans,
prevented him from getting work with any 'Mech manufacturers (the invasion of
3050 was still fresh on everyone's minds). A very capable pilot, the only way
he could support his wife and ten children was to become a MechWarrior by
profession. However, his disdain for combat, killing in particular, did not set
well with mercenary units. His age didn't help either. Well past forty, he had
finally found a sponsor for inclusion in the Knights.
he represented the Duchy of Mantacor, the smallest land grant in the Inner
Sphere. If not for his excellent technical ability (he could repair any 'Mech,
as was evidenced by the Clan Mad Cat
he was currently piloting; his Raven
had been rendered inoperable during the first engagements on Huntress), there
was no doubt that he never would have been accepted into the Knights. It wasn't
that they were a group of misfits; they simply did not fit in anywhere else in
the Knights organization. "You need to keep an eye out as well."
blew a raspberry into the mike. "Bunch of damn vegetables chasing us." It was
no secret that Kerensky hated the Clans, if only for the fact that he was so
often associated with them because of his name (Kerensky was a bloodname
associated with Clan Wolf). Add to that his distaste for the Clan genetics
program by which natural child creation was looked upon with disgust, and you
had the perfect combination to give the junior man in the lance a very bad
attitude towards clanners in general.
computerized, yet feminine voice broke into the conversation. "'Mech power-up
immediately checked his screen and said a silent curse. Five red blips
appeared, indicating the fusion engines of Clan BattleMechs. "Black Knights,
form up around me," he said, watching as the enemy 'Mechs moved towards them.
The minutes ticked by slowly as his lance took on a simple firing line. The
plan was to simply ask for surrender, and Merrick hoped that the clanners would
take the offer.
had his doubts when he saw the first Smoke Jaguar 'Mech come into view. It was
a Daishi, a 100-ton 'Mech. "Great
green globs of gopher snot!" Kerensky called. "I'm leaving."
Mad Cat started to turn to walk away.
"Hold position, mister," Merrick said in his most authorative tone. He hoped he
sounded very military-like since he guessed that the clanners were monitoring
their communications. "We have to wait to see of they offer us a batchall," Merrick said, indicating the
Clan ritual challenge for combat.
other Clan 'Mechs came into view at the end of the roadway they had been
following. It was a hodgepodge of 'Mechs of varying classes and weights,
obviously thrown together in haste. The Daishi,
being the largest 'Mech, would hold the star commander. "Dude, I like hate to
break the news to you and all, especially at this most dire moment, but, like
the Smoke Jaguar's stopped issuing challenges. They just attack now."
smacked his forehead as he remembered the briefing with Colonel Masters several
days before when it was made known that the issuing of ritual challenges had
been dropped by this clan when dealing with Inner Sphere forces, since they
were considered dishonorable savages. Still, it would be nice to know what the
clanners intended. The enemy 'Mechs were not in the best of shape, and Merrick
knew that hey had to be low on expendables, relying more on energy weapons than
could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how good the pilot of the enemy
'Mech was. Energy weapons tended to build up heat, and heat was a BattleMech's
Achilles Heel. Then mighty war machines built up large amounts of heat that had
to be dissipated in order to run efficiently. Using too many energy weapons and
the 'Mech would either shut down or blow up. "So, you want to do something tonight?"
Lydia said in a lusty voice.
the clanners weren't doing any talking, Merrick shrugged and keyed the transmit
button. "Feel like playing around?"
his lover could answer, there was some static and then a deep baritone voice
boomed over the speakers in the knights' cockpits "I am Star Captain Simon of
Clan Smoke Jaguar and your freebirth speech is most offensive! For that alone,
I will see you dead before me."
he just call me a freebirth?" Kerensky yelled. It was a common derogatory statement
used by clansman to describe those individuals born by the physical union of
man and woman. "Look here, you fungus…"
came a new voice. "Star Captain, these stravags
do not deserve the honor of a batchall!
They dare to compare us to plants!"
in a dish like a germ!" Kerensky called.
blew out. "Star Captain Simon, I am Captain Merrick Simmons…"
dare they invoke a bloodname!" shouted a third clansman. The use of a surname
was reserved only to those warriors in clan society that had proven themselves
worthy of one. "Allow me the honor of killing them, Star Captain!"
Sounds to me like Star Captain Crunch there never earned a bloodname either,
dude," Tommy called in his most obnoxious tone. "Must have been too busy being,
you know, a loser. Loooooossssser!"
knew he had to gain control of the situation. The problem was that when they
normally acted this way, it was during exercises with other Knights; this was
their first actual combat experience and he was worried about their chances of
getting away with their lives. "Black Knights, stand down, that's an order."
challenge has been issued," Simon said, his voice still booming. "I challenge
the pilot of the Victor to a Circle
of Equals. Whomever wins is the victor of this battle; the defeated agrees to
surrender their entire star."
was an eerie silence, and Merrick could just imagine the Star Captain smiling
to himself, so sure was he of victory. The Daishi
was no match for the combined firepower of his lance; but one on one against
any of them, the clanner would definitely be the winner. Tommy was a good
pilot, but he was sure that the Star Captain was an experienced and seasoned
warrior. None of them were; only Richard had any kills and that had been
was sure that Tommy was appraising the situation and if he imagined the young
man thinking about his family and the traditions he would expected to uphold
with this challenge. The code of Bushido normally guided the actions of the
Draconis Combine MechWarrior and Merrick actually felt a little pride,
imagining Tommy sticking his chest out and calling to his ancestors for their
blessings and guidance.
dog, do you accept my challenge?" came the impatient request of Star Captain
What, dude? I'm like sorry, I had my radio turned up and couldn't hear you." He
then laughed obnoxiously.
broke in. "Fungus-boy wants to fight you."
way! He's like bigger than me!" The Victor
turned to Merrick's Bushwhacker. "He
can bite me if he thinks I'm going up against that!"
you speak so, dogs?" Simon said, a snarl in his voice. Merrick remembered that
the use of contractions was considered insulting and vulgar in clan society. He
was about to tell Tommy to be quiet again when he started to think about how
ridiculous the situation was. "Have none of you the courage to come and face
looked down at his status board and saw that the turning Victor was trying to raise him via direct-sight laser communication.
He switched to the appropriate frequency and keyed the mike. "Go ahead, I'm
was the sound of deflating lungs. "Dude, we got to get that big momma to come a
little closer. If we can all hit him at once, he'll go down."
not very fair, Sarge," Merrick said with a grin, suddenly realizing the other
pilot's plan. "Not to mention below the standards of the Knights of the Inner
on chivalry, that's a Daishi out
there, fully loaded too, oh fearless leader. If you want to go toe to toe with
him, be my guest; I'm sure I can keep the luscious Lydia most warm on cold
snorted and then keyed up his extremely private line with Lydia. "Hey, babe, is
that clanner still yapping?"
was a momentary pause and then he heard her speak, a slight giggle in her
voice. "Yeah, Corporal Kerensky just asked what the ingredients to make a
trueborn wuss were. I'm picking up some movement to out left." Her sensors were
much more powerful than his own. "The way they're moving I'd say they were
not so bad…it's probably only training 'Mechs," Merrick said, putting aside the
flanking 'Mechs as he concentrated on the Daishi.
It wasn't that it was a supremely powerful 'Mech, but it was a big one,
outweighing Kerensky's salvaged Mad Cat
by at least 25 tons. He hit the zoom on his HUD and made out two of the other
'Mechs ahead of them. He recognized one as older model scout 'Mechs, no threat
to his lance. However, they could become a true menace after a fight with an
was the real problem at the moment. He looked over at the Victor. The humanoid BattleMech was making some sort of obscene
gesture and he noted that the Daishi
started to move forward slowly. "Man-oh-man," came the booming voice of
Kerensky, "must be nice to be part of a clan…pop a few cells in the microwave
and out pops a Star Captain!"
Daishi took another step forward.
"Dogs! You dare to wear the insignia of the Star League on your 'Mechs!
Dishonorable scum such as you could never hope to aspire to the ideals of the
hate to break it to you, Star Captain, but we are the Star League now," Lydia said, a lusty sneer in her voice,
"and you guys are nothing more than well-organized bandits."
was enough to enrage the clan star leader beyond reasonable thought. In truth,
Merrick decided that he felt sorry for the unlucky clansmen. They had, no
doubt, upon recognizing the colors and insignia of the Knights of the Inner
Sphere, probably assumed that his lance would be "honorable", as compared to
other Inner Sphere units. The issue of the formal challenge was a clear
indication that this particular Star Captain was probably not such a bad guy.
Daishi began to move forward, the
remainder of its star behind it in perfect inverted "V" formation. The smaller
'Mechs began firing immediately, lasers and missiles flying towards the Inner
Sphere lance. Merrick prepared for the initial brunt of the attack, while still
putting his own firing reticule on the advancing Daishi. Small and medium lasers were the first to strike his Bushwhacker, burning off paint more than
anything else. BattleMechs could take a lot of damage, so these first volleys
were nothing more than casual introductions between the combatants.
was the first to return fire, her Hunchback
steeping forward and firing a dual PPC blast at the lead clan 'Mech. The blue
spheres of man-made lightning smacked into the right leg of the Daishi, sending small ripples of
electric lightning traveling all over the 'Mech's body. Lydia's PPC cannons
were special prototype models from her father's company and they packed more
kilojoules of power than any standard or clan model. Their only drawback was
the incredible amount of heat that they produced.
such, Lydia tended to operate her 'Mech without the benefit of any clothing,
except her cooling vest.
such, it was never very difficult for Lydia to get someone to partner up on
patrol with her.
Daishi slowed slightly as its heat
sinks overloaded and Merrick fired his two large pulse lasers as the 'Mech's
damaged right leg. Tommy's Victor broke
off to the left, crashing into the trees as he yelled "tallyho". One of the
scout 'Mechs, an old Locust, broke
out of the formation to pursue him. "That'll be a short fight," Merrick said to
himself, backing the Bushwhacker up.
all of this, Kerensky simply sat there, taking laser blasts and missile hits,
his Mad Cat turning back and forth.
"Damn it, Kerensky, would you please decide what you are going to do and then
do it!" Lydia screamed into her mike. Merrick could see the distortion of the
air around her 'Mech as her heat sinks worked to get rid of the waste heat
generated by her PPC's.
Daishi, though slowed down, kept
coming and Merrick saw that it was apparently coming after him. Since both he
and Lydia had attacked a single enemy, the clanners would feel free to gang up
on them now as well. As Merrick aimed for another blast to the Daishi's wounded leg, Kerensky opened up
with an Alpha Strike to the right flank of the star leader.
Alpha Strike was generally reserved for a last-ditch, final option.
Essentially, the MechWarrior tied all of his or her weapons into one group and
fired them all at once. The Mad Cat
that Kerensky was piloting was armed with Streak SRM's and medium pulse lasers.
This provided for a very devastating attack, but would then leave the
BattleMech initiating the strike defenseless. Very few models would be able to
absorb so much heat without shutting down, unless the pilot hit the manual
override, and that would lead to even more danger.
Star Captain had not been expecting the attack, as was evidenced by the way the
Daishi seemed to jerk suddenly. The
short-ranged missiles impacted, weakening armor up and down the right side of
the clan 'Mech. The medium pulse lasers bore into the cracked structures,
digging deep and severing myomer muscles and melting titanium bones. "Stravag dogs! Cowards! Have you no
courage? Where is the honor of the Knights of the Inner Sphere!"
reply, Merrick saw the form of a Locust,
missing one leg, come flying from the woods where Tommy's Victor had disappeared. The twenty-ton scout 'Mech crashed into the
Daishi, and both machines tumbled
into the mud. While Lydia moved across Merrick's filed of fire on her way to
cover Kerensky's shutdown Mad Cat,
the lance commander smiled an evil smile and opened the general communications
channel. "Star Captain Simon of Clan Smoke Jaguar, I claim you as asshola in the name of the Star League
was static before the reply. "Illiterate fool! The word is isorla!"
dud, you are an ass-hole-uh," Tommy said, his Victor coming out where the Locust
had just came from. A clan Kit Fox,
badly damaged from Lydia's PPC's, struggled over to engage the larger 'Mech.
Tommy's 'Mech immediately leapt into the air on plasma plumes as the Victor engaged its jump jets. The 80-ton
'Mech landed feet first on top of the Kit
Fox, destroying it in a move called "Death From Above" by MechWarriors.
"Aw, man, I've got Truebirth on my shoe!"
saw the Mad Cat finally begin to
move, indicating it had bled off the excess waste heat. Both he and Lydia's Hunchback were advancing on the
remaining clan 'Mechs, and Merrick saw the glint of metal in the woods just
beyond visual range. The other star had arrived.
forward and wiping his brow, he stepped past the fallen Daishi and its embarrassed pilot, hoping to get to the right flank
of the two other 'Mechs. His sensors indicated that the new Clan star was
making a flanking move. Tommy's Victor
disengaged itself from the remains of the Kit
Fox and began moving into the woods.
MechWarriors," Merrick heard Lydia saying to the remains of Star Captain
Simon's star, "Your commander has been defeated and your hopes of an honorable
death in combat have disappeared. Your 'Mechs are no match for ours, even with
your reinforcements. You are solohma
units, old and worthless to your clan, sent here only to annoy us. You may
believe you have honor, but we have strength." She had that cocksure tone to
her voice that drove many young warriors wild.
finally got past the initial group of trees to find a small dirt road that ran
behind the area where the battle had just taken place. Less than a tenth of a
kilometer away was the star he had been searching for. It was comprised
entirely of old model Jenner's and
they appeared to be very lightly armed.
smiled. Tonight, he would share his bed with the wife of another man, regaling
in the glory of his first victory.
Paul Masters, Knight of the Inner Sphere, looked upon the four MechWarrior's
(he dared not to think of them as fellow knights) standing at attention before
him. Each was dressed in their formal dress uniform, but it looked as if none
of them had bothered to wash theirs. "Could someone please, for the love of
God, tell me exactly how it was that you not only lost your battle against
training 'Mechs, but managed to allow the clan to capture your 'Mechs intact?"
began to pace up and down in front of them. "You engaged an enemy force that,
despite superior numbers, lacked your training and weapons…yet," he had to
control the shaking of his hand and he clenched it into a fist, "I now have a
renegade star captain out there with a lance of my 'Mechs, engaging my forces…"
I'd take full responsibility, but these guys wouldn't listen to me," Merrick
Paul shouted, his voice seeming to carry throughout the Knight's encampment.
"You are all out of the Knights of the Inner Sphere. I don't care how talented
you are, how pretty, or who your father knows! You are out! You are all hereby
stripped of your knighthood, of your rank and of your status in the military
forces of the Star League." He stopped in front of them, centered on their
line. "I'd do more except that at least one of you does have the connections
necessary that prevent me from doing what I want. In all of my life, I have
never heard of such things as making jokes at the enemy then ganging up on
them. We are the Knights of the Inner Sphere, not some street gang!"
Paul, dude, you need to chill…"
cannot even fathom what manner of genetic defect in the Kurita line produced
someone with your disposition!" Paul was near the point some people would call
stark raving mad. "This is the military…not a country club!"
spoke up. "Sir Masters, you just said we were no longer in the Knights of the
Inner Sphere, so…technically, of course, we are no longer in the military…"
screamed something primal and unintelligible, causing the four disgraced
MechWarriors to flinch. All four knew that the loss of the BattleMechs to the
training cadre had sealed their fates. They had even contemplated desertion,
but had decided against it. While the Knights did not execute deserters, the
entire operation was under the control of House Davion, and they had no qualms
about shooting those they felt had betrayed them.
Sir Paul continued his ranting, Merrick smiled inwardly. It would be weeks,
despite his former commander's wishes, before they would be shipped off-planet.
They could protest the actions against them, take them up with Prince Victor
Davion, but Merrick actually had another idea.
were dispossessed, MechWarriors without 'Mechs on a world full of warrior-less
were still opportunities to be had.