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Chapter 7[]

Clover Spear - The Story of the '56 War[]

Book 1- A Time to Plan, A Time to Plot

February 6th, 3055
Clan Jade Falcon Watch Office
Hamarr, Sudeten
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone

Star Captain Horatio gripped his stylus tightly in frustration as he read yet another report put together by a stravag technician who had been hastily trained in the art of intelligence analysis by a mixture of unwilling Federated Commonwealth bondsmen and available manuals. Neither had done much, in Horatio’s opinion, to make their reports anything approaching coherent.

Or even worth reading, it was all jumping at shadows, maybes, could be, possibly, how does anyone make a decision based on this information? Freebirth! Horatio’s mind raged.

The trouble was that the information gathering flow was, as one bondsman put it, “Like trying to drink water from a firehose.” Horatio winced at such a wasteful concept, but it was an apt analogy, he had to concede. Our ability to collect all kinds of signals intelligence is incredible, and a testament to the watchfulness of the Clan. But, our ability to analyze the information…as well as to make use of it, is doubtful.

The Jade Falcon Watch was like most Clan intelligence agencies, their human intelligence skills were abysmal, but their SIGINT collection was very, very good. But none of it mattered if the ability to analyze the information was as bad as it was, and the fact was, the Watch simply did not have the tools, nor the skills to build a competent intelligence picture for the Clan Council, let along the Khan and saKhan.

Take the current tasking, Horatio had been charged by the Khan himself to find out what had spurred the current uptick in guerilla activities throughout the Occupation Zone, and why now, even the most trustworthy of bondsmen had been found in sympathy with the guerillas.

One egregious example was a Inner Sphere bondsman acting as a technician placing a bomb right in the ejection seat of a trinary commander in the 124th Striker Cluster on Malibu…the explosion, while small, was enough to blow the aforementioned Star Captain to small pieces.)

The Clan only found out the bondsman had done it after walking into the technician quarters, and killing his Clan-born factor with his bare hands, then hanging himself. Chemical interrogation of his friends and comrades had yielded little, if any useful information. Few subjects had survived the sessions and Horatio suspected that the Elemental who headed up the counter-intelligence section of the Clan Watch was little more than a sadist.

The usual Clan Jade Falcon means of defeating an insurgency was to conduct a number of indoctrination sweeps with ‘Mechs and Elementals and grab hostages to be held against the good behavior of the planet in question, but it appeared just about every world in the Occupation Zone had some sort of guerilla activity. It was forcing the clan to scatter units across the Occupation Zone in an effort to keep the guerilla problem under control. And it was not working.

Horatio read the dry account of the latest freebirth bandit act, several unidentified individuals in a non-descript black (some witnesses said green) ground car had performed a “drive by” with what appeared to be a belt-fed machine gun fired from the rear of said moving car. They had driven quickly by the outdoor seating area of a restaurant where a Star Commander of the 2nd Falcon Jagers was celebrating his selection for the upcoming Bloodname contest in the Malthus bloodhouse. The machine gun had, according to the report, cut down and killed three members of the Star, as well as 8 other local citizens whom had seen the wisdom of cooperating with the Clan. 18 more, including the aforementioned Star Commander, had been wounded. The car had disappeared, found two hours later having been set aflame with a nearby wall spray painted “Sic Semper Tyrannus –Thus Ever to Tyrants”.

It seemed every act of punishment by the Clan’s warriors had done little more than enrage the locals and encourage more resistance. And now, now it was worse than ever. There had been assassination attempts on at least two Star Colonels on Sudeten, one was an aide to the Khan himself.

What made it all a lot more ominous was the movement of FedCom troops all across the ersatz Star League creation known as the Federated Commonwealth.  It seemed that the FedCom has been busy moving troops around, to the border of the occupation zone, as well as other conflicting reports of other troop movements along the Combine, Capellan, and Marik borders. All of it was simply a massive tidal wave of information that did little but overtax Horatio’s staff of ill-trained analysts and barely loyal bondsmen whom he did not trust.

Stravag, the pain. His head was pounding again. It was a souvenir of Tukayyid, when his Summoner had had a massive freak ammunition explosion that produced a tidal wave of neurofeedback. According to one of the doctors back in the Cluster aid station, he had been lucky to live through it, but the damage was such that he would never pilot a ‘Mech again and he was soon forced out in a Trial of Position…reduced to an ordinary Warrior, who would soon be relegated to solahma status. Horatio downed a couple of pain pills, and then held the desk like a life preserver. The room has not begun moving yet, thank the Founder.

But Kael Pershaw needed someone who could “think outside the box”, and of all the likely candidates, Horatio seemed to fit the bill the best. After an unagumented Trial of Position for the job, it was his…and here he had stayed for the last three years. Barely considered a warrior, let alone an officer of the Clan, there had been whispers of Horatio being little more than the Loremaster’s pet, and were Pershaw not around, it would not be long before someone used the cover of a trial to remove a “stain on the Clan’s honor”.

As the throbbing began to slowly subside, it was still muddy inside Horatio’s mind, he could barely think through the implications of the fact that the AFFC had formed 8 new regiments in the last 2 years. Or, at least that is what it seemed like. The pain was rather bad this time..perhaps it was time to call an early end to the work day.

Horatio levered himself upward gingerly, the protuberances of his uniform catching on the battered old desk in the small office, which had been converted from a broom closet in the old City Hall. The Watch had not even been granted offices in the Clan Headquarters, as the Clan Council wanted the stench of “Inner Sphere methods” far from the center of Clan Jade Falcon.

As he made his way to his quarters, little more than ten steps away and through a small door, he thought about when he would get an honorable release from the purgatory he now found himself in. The medication was now taking an effect, slowly luring him into the soporific paradise of sleep on his Clan issue cot, dreams of past glories dancing through his head.

Within minutes, he was dead to the world, and the door slowly opened, a bondsman by the name of Abagail made her way into the Star Captain’s office, she wore a dark green jumpsuit, with no adornment as bondsmen were not allowed to wear the insigil of the clan. Her stringy blond hair framed her hollow, sunken hazel eyes that were devoid of any real life. Abagail tidied up and swept a little being sure to keep the noise down. Her failure to do so had once earned her a savage beating from the Star Captain. She always kept her eyes down, and never looked up, in short, she was the perfect bondsman, unnoticed, like part of the furniture, only to be noticed when a task was to be done.

But Star Captain Horatio was a poor spymaster, and in the Inner Sphere, would never have been given the job of head of the analysis section for such an organization. It was his mixture of distaste for his job, shame over his current predicament, and contempt for his bondsmen that made what happened next possible.

Star Captain Horatio had left his passcode for his desk terminal written down on a piece of Clan Watch stationary on his desk for all to see. Before long, it was in Abagail’s pocket as she wiped down the desk. She also managed to photograph the monthly SOI pad, as well as three reports from the Watch analysts on how they were tracking the FC buildup along the border, as well as dealing with the increasingly effective insurgency throughout the Occupation Zone.

Leftenant Abagail Hearns, LIC smiled. God, the Clanners make this so damned easy. The Elementals at the door don’t even search me, except for weapons or explosives, and this idiot of a Star Captain is too busy being drugged out of his mind. I could lead a dozen Loki into this place and kill everyone here and be gone before the dumb bastards knew we were here..with just about every scrap of intelligence in the building. They don’t even have a burn bag for god’s sake.

Hearns had been inserted two years ago to replace a previous agent-in-place who had died when he had inadvertently blown his cover. Sadly, while their ability to gather, analyze, and compile intelligence for decision makers was decidedly suspect, as well as their ability to secure such data from other intelligence agencies, there was nothing wrong with Clan interrogation methods. The Clan systems of torture and mechanical interrogation worked all too well, as her predecessor had found out. LIC lost 4 good people when Haputmann Frederich was made to talk. Hearns intended to not get sloppy.

Hearns quickly packed up her cleaning supplies, and returned them to the labor caste storage area that had formerly been an old office, the local Factor, a preening-Clan born individual by the name of Rudnik, with greasy hands and wild hair, was only too happy to lord over the 4 bondsmen that had been assigned to him from the general populace. Abagail’s cover was that of a former infantryman from the Sudeten Militia, now POW with no technical skills, and thus, relegated to the laborer caste. It suited Hearns just fine.

It was at that moment Rudnik looked on in her direction. “Abagail, a moment?”

Abagail froze. Could Rudnik have seen her toss Horatio’s office? She hoped not, but so far, he had proven rather oblivious to a lot of things.  He simply seemed interested in getting into Abagail’s jumpsuit, his hot, rancid breath having made sure Abagail remembered if she did give in to his “charms”, that it would simply be for the job, and little else. Not that I think I ever would. Best to lead him around by his little Clanner beak….

“Abagail, you have not been efficient in your cleaning tasks. You linger too long in the Star Captain’s office, and I cannot have that. Your lack of efficiency has been noticed and if it continues, I will refer you to the Star Captain for discipline-“ Rudnk stepped forward, invading Hearn’s personal space. –“-unless you are willing to provide me with a personal bit of surkai?”

Ugh, the good thing about Clan criminal justice, is that, were an unfortunate accident to befall him, the tankers would not care very much. Abagail’s mind fumed. She tensed her fists, preparing to fight him if she had to, she already have a cover story prepared, where she would say he attempted to force her to couple and she fought him off. The warriors would have a good laugh, and then beat him for losing to a bondsman.

But I do not want it to get to that point…”What did you have in mind, Rudnik?” Hearns said coyly, making sure to keep the tone inviting, but tired, letting him know she might not be up to giving him a good time in any case.

“Use your imagination, bondsman. You are property of the Clan, and as a member of the Clan, I do as I like!” He then grabbed a fistful of her jumpsuit and kissed her forcefully, his technique was sloppy, and stomach churning. Hearns wasn’t in the mood for this. Time to dissuade him.

Hearns stamped down hard on his left foot with her heavy workboots, catching him in the instep. His boots, unlike hers, were steel-toed, but were cheaply made, and did not have the instep protection most warrior issue boots did. Hearns was rewarded with a shriek, as a small bone in his foot snapped like a tree branch. Rudnik collapsed and Hearns grabbed one fist into another, reared back with her right elbow, and drove it with all of her force into Rudnik’s right eye socket. Rudnik went down screaming, and grabbed his bruised eye. Hearns then followed up with a vicious kick to the back of the head, but as she was prepared to deliver a finishing blow, she was picked effortlessly off the battered wooden floor by an unseen force, her feet being 10 centimeters off the ground by the time it was all said and done.

Hearns turned her head to see whom had lifted her off the floor. It was one of the security Elementals, a woman by the name of Azrel. She was a decent sort for a Clanner, having a kind face for a muscular woman who was almost three meters in height. She had warned Hearns her first day about Rudnik, and his proclivities.

“Ahem-“ Azrel cleared her throat for emphasis “What do I have here? A Bondsman giving a laborer factor, her superior a beating. Some would consider this a punishable offense, Bondsman? What is your story?”

“Warrior Azrel, I seek surkai for having beaten the factor, but he attempted to couple with me without my consent. Perhaps this does not have weight in Clan society, but in the Inner Sphere, it is a grave crime.” Hearns said, with just the right amount of supplication in her voice.

Azrel turned to Rudnik, “Is this true, Rudnik? Do not attempt to lie. You know I can and will have you interrogated to discern the truth. Bondsmen have been taken in honorable battle. You cannot even make that claim.”

Rudnik moaned “She is correct, Warrior Azrel. I did as she described. I beg for surkai.”

Azrel smled cruelly at Rudnik, and gingerly released Hearns. “And surkai you will perform. And I will speak with the senior Labor caste factor. I will have you sent back to the homeworlds in disgrace afterwards.”

Rudnik simply moaned in acceptance of his fate.

Azrel turned to Hearns. “Some advice, the Clan can well survive the loss of this factor. If he accosts you again, kill him. I will speak to the Star Captain when he awakens about cutting the prowess strand of your bondcord. You have impressed me today.”

Azrel then turned and lumbered from the room.

Hearns leaned over and whispered into Rudnik’s ear. “I own you now, Rudnik. Cross me again, and you die, get it? Fail to do as I tell you, and I will kill you, and no one will stop me.”

Rudnik sat up slowly, his eye purple and black with rapidly forming bruises, and unable to open as it swelled shut. “What do you require?” he said through gritted teeth.

“I will be in touch Rudnik, I will be in touch.”

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