AUTHOR'S NOTES: Last chapter of this story arc. I've already begun to work on the next one, so I'll have that up soon.
I felt that the story was starting to get too long and too depressing, so I truncated a few scenes here. I really tried to make Sheila's speech not sound cliché or too much like I was borrowing stuff, but inevitably my long years of watching war movies crept in here, so I apologize for the We Were Soldiers ref. (I won't apologize for the little bit of John Wayne's Longest Day speech, since that's actually what Vandevoort said on the eve of D-Day.) I also hope Louisa doesn't come across as too calm (or worse, a sociopath), but I have a tough time writing a six-year old's feelings. I remember my own when my dad had to go off on long deployments during his time in the military; they were much like Louisa's.
I wanted to finish Snowbird's Rubicon on a hopeful note, so I must've went through a dozen songs to end the story. All of them were good (and some of them are below in the Music Corner section), but all of them had the same problem of copyright. gets understandably sensitive when it comes to that. Then a version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Mannheim Steamroller came on, so I went with that, since the lyrics are public domain. Plus it seemed to fit the scene pretty well. Yes, it's a religious song, but it's also an icon of American history in particular, and moreover, there are no atheists in foxholes—or BattleMechs. With apologies to Barack Obama, but soldiers very much cling to guns and religion because one keeps them alive and the other gives them hope. I make no apologies about that, either.
Anyway, enjoy…The Race of the Snowbirds will be up soon.
Panzerfaust: We'll see about Todd Canis, but I've probably given away the farm with him. And you're absolutely right on Mimi.
Mosin: The theme of that section was kind of "friends grow up and apart," and Sheila and Mimi have been apart for a long time. Thanks for your comments on Max; sometimes I think I've been neglecting him in favor of Sheila. True, the story is about her, but still.
FraserMage: Yep. Uh oh…
(Where's the rest of you turkeys at? R&R, dammit!)
MUSIC CORNER: "True Faith" by New Order (which I had originally used), "The Final Countdown" by Europe, "Voices of Babylon" by The Outfield, "Burning Bridges" from the Kelly's Heroes soundtrack, and of course "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Outbound from Sudeten, Tamar March, Federated Commonwealth
28 October 3051
Sheila Arla-Vlata stared out of the thick transparisteel window of the Minerva. Sudeten filled the lower half of the window. They had already passed out of the atmosphere, though it would be another day or so before they reached their JumpShip, the Back of Beyond. She was alone on the tiny observation "deck," though a more proper term would be compartment. The last eight days had passed in a blur, but at last the day had come: the Snowbirds were outbound. Operation Rubicon had begun.
Sheila looked out among the stars. Some of them were moving—inbound or outbound DropShips coming into Sudeten. Among one of them was Louisa Keynes, now formally Louisa Arla-Vlata. Max and Sheila had signed the adoption papers three days before, making things official. If something happened on Rubicon, Louisa would still bear their name—or Sheila's, who had changed her name from Bighorn-Vlata to Arla-Vlata to honor her mother's family, which was traditional among the people of Quantraine, where Sheila's mother hailed from. Max had chosen to keep his own surname. Neither asked the other to change. Whatever the case, Louisa was now the heir to fifteen unbroken generations of MechWarriors, the Vlata name that stretched back before the Star League.
There was a good chance that she might become the sole heir. Sheila and Max were heading into the unknown, while Calla and Arla were staying on Sudeten to defend the planet against the encroaching Jade Falcons. If all four were to die—certainly not impossible—then Louisa alone would carry on. Louisa had been evacuated with the last of the Sentinel children to Grunwald, where she would be taken care of by Arla Bighorn-Vlata's mother, now approaching seventy. Louisa would find Beatrice Nonnius tough but fair.
Sheila wasn't sure how Louisa would take being separated after being together a little over a month. The little girl clearly cherished Sheila and Max—love was probably too much to hope for in such a short time—and didn't want to be separated from them. But when Sheila had broken the news to Louisa that she would be staying with her new great-grandmother for a few months, Louisa had merely nodded and said, "Okay." Sheila was stunned, not sure if it was shock or merely six year old faith: Mom and Dad fought the bad guys, so that meant they had to be gone sometimes. They had done everything they could to spend all the time they could spare to make Louisa's last week on Sudeten fun, but even Louisa could sense the sword of Damocles over their heads. When they had finally parted the day before, Sheila and Max had been unable to hold back their tears, but Louisa had. She had given them a heartbreakingly gentle smile, said, "Goodbye, mama; goodbye, papa," and walked aboard the DropShip with all the dignity in the universe, rabbit slung over one shoulder like a rifle and Boo Boo Kitty backpack bouncing along, like she was going off to school. Neither Max nor Sheila would ever know that Louisa's inhuman reserve lasted until the DropShip had lifted off, whereupon she had burst into uncontrollable sobs, convinced that this time, she truly was alone, that there would be no third pair of mommies and daddies to save her.
Max himself had been morose over the past few days, Sheila thought, though he had covered it well. While he didn't seem depressed as such—certainly he had reduced her to a quivering mass the night of the party, though Sheila had been fairly into her cups at the time—he did seem uncharacteristically melancholy. Max had told her that there was nothing wrong, that he and his dad had mended fences, but something else had happened, and Sheila had been afraid to ask. During the final loading of the DropShips the Snowbirds would be taking on Rubicon—the Minerva for the MechWarriors, the Cambrai for the tank crews and Charlie Heavy lance, and the supply ships Aspen and Bellenda—Max had seemed to be looking for something, or someone. From the disappointed look that he had when they had finally raised ship, Sheila knew that Max had not found what or who he was looking for. She suspected she knew who it was. Since Rubicon was secret, there was no grand ceremony of leave-taking. The supply ships had left the day before, two more anonymous DropShips, and the Snowbirds were obstensibly going on extended exercises in the southern part of Sudeten's main continent. Still, Calla had come to shake hands with a few of the Snowbirds, which caused misgivings among the warriors, since the regiment's commander wouldn't be coming out to bid them goodbye for a mere exercise. Nor would he had enfolded Sheila in a fierce hug that both tried to prolong as much as possible. Sheila had thought that she had seen more people gathered in the armored observation lounge of the DropPort as they lifted off, but it was hard to tell.
"Sheila?" Max's voice cut through her thoughts. She turned to face him. "The battalion's assembled."
"Thanks." She walked towards him and suddenly hugged him, tears running down her face. "Max," she whispered, "am I doing the right thing?"
"Yes," he answered. "You're doing all you can do." He kissed her forehead and gently wiped away her tears. "The Snowbirds need Commander Arla-Vlata right now, babe."
Sheila understood. She wiped her face, composed herself, took a deep breath, straightened her uniform, and walked resolutely onto the cavernous 'Mech bay of the Minerva. "Attention on deck! Commanding officer present!" Max barked out, and the men and women gathered there snapped to attention. There was no dais, so Sheila climbed up on the foot of Kaatha's Griffin. "At ease," she told them, and they went as one to an at rest position. From monitors placed in the corners of the 'Mech bay, the crews and Snowbirds on the other ships could see her.
She looked out over them and felt a burst of pride and deep emotion. She knew these people. There was Kaatha, Marcus Drax, and Frederick Matria. Tessya Blackthorn, who had adorned her hair with feathers for the occasion. Philip Scott, who grinned at her; Kassy Holliday, whose black mohawk stood in direct contrast with Felisanna's pink one. Chuck Badaxe, who looked out of sorts, since his girlfriend Maria Thyatis was on the Cambrai. Cecilia Masterson, who looked as if she could barely contain herself in excitement. Mary Scott, who once hated Sheila and now maintained a crisp at-ease position; Senefa Malthus, who had twice nearly killed Sheila and now was her best friend. Maysa Bari, who winked at her, surprisingly not in tears herself, but looking all too eager to get back into the fight. Daniel Polycutt, who stood behind Maysa to her right, and Marion Rhialla, who stood behind Maysa to her left and occasionally shot Polycutt proprietary glances. Mimi Stykkis, who balanced steadily against the subtle rocking of the DropShip on her braces. The Drakon twins, who looked like mirror images now more than ever. Shasti Buena, the sole tanker aboard the Minerva, having designated herself the liasion. The old veterans, Alfred Dennison, Glynnis Griffin, John Lawson, and Megan O'Reilly, who merely looked bored. Robert Copeland and Kahvi Falx, who stood nervously apart from the others, part of the Snowbirds yet isolated in their own minds. The techs, who perched on the 'Mechs like monkeys in the trees, mainly because there wasn't anywhere else left to stand—except for Nicia Caii, who had insisted on coming along and managed to convince Calla to let her go. All the rest, all Snowbirds, all Sheila's to wield in combat and hopefully get home alive. They were more than her comrades in arms: they were her family.
"Snowbirds," Sheila began, controlling the quaver in her voice, "all of you are quite aware by now that this isn't an exercise." Grins broke out among the gathering. "We're going out. I can't tell you our next stop, but I can tell you that these ships are going to Clan occupied territory." She paused for a minute, gathering her thoughts, but was interrupted by a sudden clapping. It was Bien Canonizado. Then Nicia Caii added her hands, then Larry Stohr, then Tooriu Kku let out a whoop, and suddenly the Minerva was alive with cheers, whistles, yells, and clapping. Sheila raised her hands to get them to quiet down.
"The name of this operation is Rubicon, because there is no going back. This is going to be a raid, but it's going to be more than that. We're not just hitting one planet, but several. Our job will be to destroy Clan supplies, what we don't take for ourselves, kill Clanfolk, assist resistance units where we can, and hopefully get the Clans to chase their tails trying to find us. Make no mistake: we're out here to wreak as much havoc as we can.
"We can't win the war on our own, but we can take some of the pressure off our friends on the firing line. We can't liberate planets, but we can give them hope that they haven't been forgotten. And most of all, we can show the Clans that we're not afraid of them, that we can hit back and hurt them.
"We're going to raid right across the Clan zones, fighting the Jade Falcons, the Wolves, and hopefully the others too. It's going to be a rough fight. Most of us have fought the Clans before, and we know they are tough, mean warriors. We just have to be tougher and meaner.
"Some of us won't be coming home." Sheila paused again, but she had to say it. "We know that. We know that people will die, some of them our friends, some of them our family, but all of them our comrades. It's just a simple fact. I wish I could change that, but I can't. All of us will give something, but some of us will give everything.
"I will promise you that I will do my best as your commander and as your friend. I am honored to be going into battle with you. I can't guarantee that I'll keep all of you alive, but I will guarantee that I will be the first off the DropShip and the last onto it.
"For the past month, I have worked alongside you, ate alongside you, slept alongside you, fought alongside you, and lived alongside you. Now, Snowbirds, I have to ask you to follow me. We will take the war to the enemy, and we will win."
Sheila had hit the end of her prepared speech, but she felt like she needed to add more. "I believe that the next few months will decide this war. The Snowbirds have given a lot, but now we have to give once more. I know we can beat the Clans—I wouldn't have dragged you out here if I didn't believe that. We must win. Otherwise, we lose it all. I've lived in Clan captivity. It's not something I will repeat."
Sheila stopped. She had run out of words. She came to ramrod attention and saluted them. An Achilles might have told his warriors to grasp immortality, a Cortez that his conquistadores would sail into history, or an Armistead that his men were fighting for Virginia. Sheila tried none of those things: the Snowbirds would see them as cheap theatrics. They fought for each other and for their own reasons, in their own way, and that was enough. The assembled came to attention and returned the salute solemnly and quietly.
"Dismissed," Sheila told them, but there was a hesitation among the crowd. A few started to drift off, but then, Shasti Buena began to sing:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
Then Tooriu joined in, followed closely by Maysa, then the entire 'Mech bay reverberated as the battalion added their voices.
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
His truth is marching on!
Sheila felt her eyes mist. The Snowbirds came from at least four different religions and eight different subsects of each religion, and several were agnostics or outright atheists. Yet now everyone was singing. It was more than a religious song; it was a song sung by men over a thousand years before any of them had been born, a song sung by men who were fighting to set other men free. It was a song of hope that good would eventually triumph despite long odds.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement seat
Oh, be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubliant, my feet
Our God is marching on.
The whole DropShip was singing now: the crew, the techs, the MechWarriors. The others were singing as well. Max turned to Sheila and mouthed the word "Wow." She nodded, even as she sang the chorus: it was a moment none present would ever forget.
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
His truth is marching on!