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Emergence (Concertverse) Chapter Cover

Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 22
[]

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Fast and Furious[]


Hot Drop on Morges[]

Upper Thermosphere
Morges
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
16th December, 3142


The upper thermosphere of Morges created a brilliant glow on the nose of Devers' Typhoon from his angle of entry.  He ignored the glow as the temporary thing it was, as he quickly changed the angle to focus on the Jagatai fighter he was tracking.  A stream of sapphire bolts from the aft-mounted pulse laser stabbed through the space just behind his fighter.  Aft-mounted weapon, he noted, although he did not break off even with the threat it posed.  His own targeting showed his autocannon was moving on track.  When the indicated flashed gold he pulled the trigger.  A burst of cluster shells crossed the distance before sandblasting armor from the Falcon fighter.  His pulse lasers lit up in tandem, adding their emerald light to the display about him.  The strikes left molten gashes across the left wing and fuselage of the Falcon fighter, though it remained intact and rolled away from him.  With surface damage atmospheric re-entry just got trickier for that one, he thought.  A moment's consideration brought him away from the impulse to pursue and destroy.  The mission had to be seen to.

Around him, the 92nd Squadron and the rest of the 8th Striker's Aerospace Group were doing their part in dueling with the Falcon fliers coming up to meet their landing forces.  Further afield some of Evan Kell's fliers were protecting their DropShips and 8th's approaching ships, and a selection of gray-hulled OmniFighters of the Wolves' Strike Grenadiers Cluster had a different sector of orbital space, actively hunting and breaking up Falcon aerospace units.  Ward's fliers were, by luck of the draw, playing close defense and sticking to the DropShips.

The DropShips themselves weren't inactive.  Missile and laser fire stretched across the void and upper atmosphere of Morges, striking Falcon fighters that penetrated the CAP, as well as the mixed Star of DropShips the Falcons deployed to fight the incoming forces.  The Sara Proctor's pickets, AFS Penzance and AFS Pursuant, were making them regret that with repeated fire from their subcapital weapons carving up the ship-grade armor with an efficacy only exceeded by capital-scale weaponry.

Another group of five Falcon fighters glowed on Devers' HUD.  Looks like some more, he noted in his mind.  "All Flights, engaging new contacts until they pull back out of the drop zone."

"Roger," answered his Flight leads, allowing him to focus on staying alive these next few minutes.  He was spitting crosshairs on one of the fighters, a Jagatai, when warning sirens warned him of a hard lock.  He rolled away and accelerated just as magnetically-propelled ships rippled by, courtesy of the HAG mounted on another of the fighters.  He turned into his roll and, with the glow again showing on his fighter's nose, made a high energy turn that would be stupendously dangerous once they were in the mesosphere.  This put him on the enemy fighters as they lined up on one of the Sunhawk-class DropShips.  Their weapons fire poured into its winged form.  Given the armor protection it enjoyed it was capable of taking punishment, at least for the moment, but it wasn't invulnerable, and the Sunhawk-class ship retorted with a barrage of long range missiles.  Guided by Artemis systems, the launchers accurately deployed over a hundred missiles into the path of the enemy fighters, while the Jagatai's own missile barrage was steadily attributed down by AMS fire before the final impacts.

Devers selected the lead Jagatai, focused crosshairs upon it, and as they moved enough to flash gold, opened fire.

It might have been his shot, or Lieutenant Waterman's PPCs, but either way the enemy Jagatai blew into pieces while his pulse lasers and autocannons played over the fuselage. Heat shielding must've been compromised.  That's the hard part of fighting in the thermosphere.

Devers' heat spiked and he laid off the triggers, giving himself time to line up on another target as the Typhoon cooled as quickly as its heat sinks permitted in the conditions of the thermosphere.  Other fighters in his squadron opened up on the remaining enemy as he waited, a barrage of missiles, ballistic fire, and lasers and PPCs that filled orbit with their fury, some shots hitting and some missing, successful hits scouring armor from the Falcon Jagatais. The enemy evaded, but the only indication they were aware of the 92nd Squadron was their rear-mounted lasers firing at Devers and his people, scoring hits and otherwise forcing the pilots to throw off their aim in evasive rolls.

They're outnumbered and still pressing home the attack! It was like being in one of the battleROMs shown in his days as a Rivshal cadet, watching Galedonian aerospace fighters brave insane amounts of fire to drive home their attack runs, sometimes even intentionally plowing their damaged fighters into targets.

Devers briefly worried one of the Clan shots would hit something vital, but none did.  The Clan fighters, recognizing this, pressed on, but that only brought them attention from the lasers and autocannon emplacements.  Devers changed his angle of attack to not take friendly fire before getting a dead-center shot with his weapons on the lead fighter.  He left his larger pulse lasers out of this shot, engaging with the mediums and his autocannon.

This time the kill was unambiguously his.  He didn't even need to see his own gun camera footage to recognize the results of a cluster round punching through armor and hitting a missile magazine.  The enemy fighter turned into a bright fireball, spreading debris everywhere.

The attack run continued regardless of their losses, the now-three fighters sending another salvo into the DropShip that flayed more armor from the ship.  "Don't let them get a third shot!" he cried into the tactical line.

His squadron reacted, and the increase in firepower thrown into the Falcons' paths did the work.  They didn't break off, but they did fail to get the third salvo.  One of the craft died to the plentiful missiles fired from their target.  Another was shot down by pinpoint PPC hits from Waterman, and another to unseen shots from others in his squadron, likely one of the Lightning IIIs.

"Well done 92 Squadron," reported the ASG director on the Penton.  "They slipped through the outer screen while 165 was engaged.  Damage to the Angelina Grimke was light, she's still good for drop."

"Returning to escort position and velocity." Devers replied.  He twisted and pulled his stick until the Typhoon was back on atmospheric entry.  With his damage indicators showing no worse than yellow, with no detected exposure of non-heat-shielded components, he was safe for entry.  "Sound off, anyone no good for entry?"

"Charlie 2 here, sir, showing an armor fault on the wing, heat shielding failed from a laser hit," came one reply.

"Then break off and signal for orbital docking, we'll see you dirtside when this is over."

"Roger." answered Charlie 2

That's another one of ours down, he thought.  A check also showed Charlie 4 and Bravo 3 were not responding; those fighters were out.  Hope they bailed successfully and the S&R shuttles can get them.

And if this was their greeting in orbit, I feel bad for the folks going to the ground. As that thought hit his head, his systems picked up the pods sailing past, dropped in the final leg of acceleration and on their way to the target.  A squadron worth of gray Wolf Clan fighters burned after them to provide protection on their final approach.  Good luck, groundpounders, Devers thought before more enemy contacts drew his attention.  They're making a fight of this one.


Dangerous Landing[]

With so many firsts in so short a time, Eva found herself facing yet another; her first orbital drop under fire.

Orbital drops were a different thing entirely from an air drop.  There at least you could see what was going on easily, and you could move in mid-air, with the right skill and use of your jets.  Orbital drop pods were one way, straight down, and all you had was external cameras; if a stray laser or missile took them out, you'd be blind until the pod opened… or got broken up by enemy fire.

In the cockpit of her Paladin she could only watch those external camera feeds showing the raging fight in the atmosphere.  These Falcons were like the fanatics she'd fought on Timkovichi and Great X, 'Mongols' who'd reportedly laughed at Khan Fetladral when he proposed the granting of safcon.  Now the Falcon aerospace forces were locked in combat with the attack force, pressing hard attacks home on the DropShips and pods.

Over the commlines she occasionally heard her comrades talking… or screaming as they watched enemy fighters approaching on the cameras.  She noticed one of them herself, a thick-chinned heavy fighter, that looked like it was trying to get a bead on her as her pod rocketed past.  At the minute lasers from a gray-and-gold Wolf Clan fighter played over the machine's wings and distracted the pilot.

Her attention was focused on the camera if only to avoid the nausea and discomfort of the last few hours of intense burn.  Aerospace assets aside, the 8th Striker were going in mostly solo, being the only unit among the group trained in high-G inward transit burns.  It wasn't easy to go from enduring a 2.5G burn for 2 to 3 hours to fighting on the field in a 'Mech.  It really wasn't easy to do that with a five minute ride in a drop pod between those two, even if it gave some slight opportunity to decompress (literally) from the Gs.

We're doing this for a good reason, she reminded herself.  She flashed back to the briefing before the jump into Morges, and Brigadier Laguna's address to the whole unit.  "They'll kill their prisoners before letting them get rescued.  We're burning in fast to stop that.  'Fast and Furious', Sunhawks, that's the Striker way, and this is the 'Fast' part.  We're gonna let the Falcons feel the 'Furious' part when we're groundside."

"Pod's hit!" a panicked voice came over the line.  She swallowed.  That's Lance Lieutenant Norton!  "Pod's hit!  Pod's—"

After a few moments Captain Choudhury's voice resonated in her strong Bolanese soprano.  "Lieutenant Norton?  Lieutenant Norton, respond."

Nothing. Eva drew in a breath.  She didn't know him well, but he'd led properly enough on Great X.  Now he was gone, just like Lieutenant von Krager.

"Lieutenant Kilroy, you've got seniority in your lance.  Battlefield promotion to 1st Lieutenant effective now."  The strain in Choudhury's voice was evident.  "Confirm?"

After a few moments Kevin replied.  "Confirm, Captain.  I've got Bravo Lance."

Within moments there was another voice crying out about their pod being hit.  Then another.  Eva stopped breathing, wondering if maybe the Falcon fighter pilots were actually fast enough to do this.  Orbital pods were supposed to be fast enough fighters didn't have much time for an intercept, but these Clanners were better than normal, right?  Trained all their lives for this?  Maybe one was lining up on her right now and any moment lasers or autocannons would tear the pod open, core her 'Mech, leave her to fall through fifty kilometers of sky…

She felt that way even as the drop timer reached its final seconds.  She felt the kick force her against the harness of her command couch, hard enough she thought it'd leave a bruise.  The pod's deceleration burn lasted only a few seconds…

...and then everything hurt as the entire pod shuddered in place, sending the vibration of pain through her and taking her breath away for a moment.  In that moment, the external camera cut out, giving her just a glimpse of a snow-covered plain and distant structures before the screen blanked.  She raised her 'Mech's left hand and pressed against the pod, an unnecessary gesture as it folded outward like a gift box, freeing her Paladin.

Her computers confirmed she was off by a kilometer, which was rather good given the margin of error was twenty.  "Bravo Two is down." she said.

For a moment, a blissful moment, she wasn't under high Gs, or in that ominously coffin-like pod.  She was on a planet, firm ground, in her 'Mech, and all was right in the world.

"Bravo Three down," Gupta confirmed, from the cockpit of her Chevalier. The system showed she'd landed about three kilometers to Eva's north and west.  Eva put her 'Mech into a run towards that position to link up with her lancemate.  When another ten seconds, then twenty, passed with nothing from Kevin, she felt worry.  Had he been shot down too?  Killed?  Would that mean she was now Lance Lieutenant? No, no no, I can't.

"Bravo Lead down."

Relief filled Eva.  She noted he was beyond Gupta but not by far; they'd meet up together easily enough.

Along the way she noted the streaks in the air.  A few were too small, too chaotic, to be intact pods, but most were coming down straight and true.

Well, I'm still alive, she thought.  Another crazy thing I've survived.  She just hoped it wasn't going to be the last thing she'd survived.


The Liberation of Prisoners[]

The camp had what you'd expect from a prison camp.  Quonset huts, towers, larger buildings, guard shacks, and the thick multi-layered barbed wire fencing to keep the occupants in.

Given the stories from Great X about what happened in those camps, Eva felt a rush of pleasure in how easily the barbed wire snapped at her passage.  Her seventy-five ton machine's legs broke through and crushed the supporting frame of the fence.

A power signature drew her attention; a pair of ultralight tonnage Security 'Mechs, armed with flamers and machine guns, were turning their focus on her.  Mindful of her firing angle, she took a step to the right to clear the barracks before her left hand's index finger squeezed.  Cerulean energy crackled and sparked through the air, a twisting chaotic helix of particles that slammed into the chest of one of the security 'Mechs.  Its armor burned white hot and broke under the fury, letting the man-made lightning of her PPC blast through the fuel cell engine that powered the 'Mech.  It collapsed like a lifeless doll.

A thick beam of  sapphire light cut through the other security 'Mech, flaying its torso open with a bright molten wound in place.  Chemical spray and smoke poured forth from the injury and the security machine staggered and fell.

"Looks like we caught 'em mid-piss!" Kevin laughed.

Eva scanned for more targets but found none, at least not until an SRM rushed through the air and hit her 'Mech's shoulder.  She twisted to her left and identified a figure in a jade green military parka, a launcher on their shoulders.  Their comrades were already reloading it.  She put her crosshairs over them and squeezed the trigger on one of her medium lasers.  The resulting lance of emerald light took the missile carrier from head to shin, an instant kill that incinerated man and launcher together.

More friendly contacts showed on her screens.  Battle armor infantry, fresh from one of the pods, swarmed through the broken fence.  On the other end, a Mad Cat II broke through and a squad of Striker battle armor-clad infantry disembarked from the machine, moving forward to engage the camp guards.

Colonel Patel's voice crackled over her radio.  "Regimental command to all 'Mech battalions.  Enemy BattleMechs en route, along with vehicles and armored infantry, assault weight machines confirmed.  1st and 3rd Battalions, form up on camp's south, 2nd and 4th, the northeast.  We have to hold until our comrades land."

"It looks like they took a quick piss, Bravo Lead." Gupta opined sarcastically.

At that moment another missile corkscrewed through the air at Eva, only to be claimed mid-air by Gupta'sAMS.  Eva found the culprit, another of the guards, but they were already being machine-gunned by the armored infantry.  She took up with the rest of her lance to meet at the south gate of the camp.

Minutes passed.  With every passing second other 'Mechs came in, heavy and medium-weight machines of the 1st and 2nd Battalions.  More than that, a growing roar overhead told of the landing DropShips.  The aerodynes came in first, dropping battle armor and jump infantry to finish securing the camp, with the medium and light machines of the 3rd and 4th grounding.  Far above the Sinclair and Penton would becoming in…

"Confirm enemy artillery firing!"

Eva felt her stomach twist.  Didn't they take care of that with the air power?!

Evidently they hadn't, and soon explosions flowered everywhere.  Shells broke the quonsets apart where they hit, pulverized ferrocrete, and turned the guard shacks and towers into metallic splinters. Blast waves battered her machine even without any shells coming down on her.

"They got their artillery ready faster than anticipated, hold tight 8th," Brigadier Laguna said over the regimental tac-com.  "Fire missions are on the way."

It was little comfort to Eva, especially as one shell went off and peppered the entire lance with shrapnel that cut and warped their armor, damaging it even if nothing penetrated.  If they had more artillery on sight this would kill us all in minutes, she thought gravely.  If they get more active…


Fighting Terror[]

The initial contact with the Falcons were their Stars of fast mediums and lights.  The pilots were skilled, frustratingly so for Eva, who found it difficult to hit them effectively given their low frames and raw speed.  The 3rd's pilots tangled with them more directly, particularly the aggressive pilots in the Sunhawk OmniMechs, who employed their MASC systems in brief spurts to hit a hundred and fifty KPH and bring their close range weapons to bear.  More than one Falcon 'Mech went down to the Streak launchers many of those pilots used, as well as their lasers, though a couple of the Sunhawk 'Mechs and other machines were left to limp back or were brought down as well.

"2nd and 4th are penned down hard on the northeast, air support is focusing on them," Perez informed them.  The Lieutenant Colonel was on the field in his new machine, an eighty ton OmniMech called the Grizzly. The 'Mech was the only assault weight 'Mech in the unit, due to its colossal engine giving it the necessary speed even without MASC engaged, and was configured as an armored command 'Mech.  The arm mounted large lasers on the machine and the Variable Focus Snub-Nosed PPC on the hip gave it some decent firepower, while an ECM system and a command cockpit augmented the machine's usefulness for Perez's role.  "We just need to hold for another ten minutes, tops.  The Wolf Clan forces are approaching the upper atmosphere.  Pick a target, do what you can to put it down, and listen to your lance commanders."

Well, that sounds do-able…

...until it didn't, as enemy machines thundered on towards them, and most of them were assault weight.

A number were winged machines.  Machines that struck cold into Eva as they reminded her of that machine, the Black Rose, the killer of Captain Kincaid and Lieutenant von Krager.  Some were of the very same model, in fact.  Others were different types, carrying various armaments, and their pilots were pushing them forward at incredible speeds.  They must have gone at a sprint.  All this way?!

The enemy was roused, and they opened fire at maximum range.  A fusillade of lightning bolts, sapphire lances, missiles, and gauss slugs struck at Eva and her comrades.  She joined them in returning fire, even if at this range a lot of the shots either missed or glanced off the armor without any damage.  She focused on one of the winged machines, which despite its black and green paint scheme still reminded her of Malvina Hazen's 'Mech.  It was, according to her systems, the same.  A Shrike.

But when it fired at her, it wasn't firing rounds from a pair of ultra autocannons.  Twin bolts of sizzling particles struck at her, one glancing over the side of the Paladin and the other striking her just below the head module, blasting blackened chunks of ferro-fibrous armor away from the impact site.  Just a meter or two higher and I'd be dead.  Like Kincaid.

The terror that thought gave her made her thumbs and index fingers tense up and hit her triggers.

Her cockpit became a sauna in that moment and her 'Mech's power systems struggled to fire all her heavy weapons at once, but they did.

Most of her shots missed, too.  That was the worst of it, if expected for poor fire discipline.  The PPC went to the side.  The large laser ineffectively carved a sliver of armor from the Shrike's wing. The medium lasers, at that range, failed against the armor.  Only the extended range pulse laser's sapphire bolts told on the Shrike, scouring its ebon hide.

Twin laser beams struck her in reply, carving more armor from her chest and the right side of her Paladin. She felt the tell-tale wobble of the gyro struggling to compensate for losing so many tons of armor so quickly and shifted her 'Mech's weight, keeping it upright.  With her heat still unacceptably high, she compelled her hands to remain solid and only triggered her own large laser.  This time the lance was true, a beam that sliced armor from the Shrike's arm.

There were ten ripples of flame from the 'Mech.  LRMs.  Gupta's AMS systems were otherwise engaged with a different volley.  Eva ducked her machine slightly and twisted, trying to cover the existing wounds in her armor. The missile crashed against her, six out of ten striking home.  Warheads sent more of the armor protecting her machine into the snowy ground as blackened chips of metal.

The cold helped with her heat levels, naturally drawing off the accumulated heat through conduction into the colder atmosphere.  She took careful aim and triggered the extended range large pulse laser on her 'Mech's torso.  The sapphire bolts mostly hit air from the enemy Shrike adjusting.

Her crosshairs were adjusting too.  She stroked the PPC and regular large laser next, and this time she struck home.  Both weapons impacted and sloughed armor from the torso of the machine.

It lifted into the air on jets of fusion plasma, bearing down on Eva's position.  She sidestepped, keeping her relative position but not breaking the solid line that 1st and 3rd Battalion formed to keep the enemy from the camp. Rather than try to hit the fast-moving aerial target she waited until the Shrike hit the ground before she yet again triggered everything.

Yet she still missed as the Shrike dropped low and to the side, the pilot using the momentum of their landing to do so quickly, causing only glancing hits on the wind and shoulder that did no damage.  Eva cursed, and it was all she had time to do before the left arm of the Shrike snapped up and it, in turned, fired everything.

The PPCs played over her central torso again, both striking home.  Her armor disintegrated under the particle fire, which had enough fury left to break through into her internals.  The lasers played over the armor on her shoulder, again obliterating the Sunhawk patch on the 'Mech's left chest, and exacerbated the damage she'd suffered in the first strike.

Eva felt the 'Mech's feet slip.  Her gyro was hit, and with so much armor and structure destroyed, the 'Mech's mass was wildly unbalanced.  The damaged gyro caused her to overcompensate to her right.  She couldn't stop the entire machine from tipping over into the snow.  The impact hurt, rattling her about in her command couch and leaving her topped over on her right, the same with her machine.  The indicators on her damage display turned red all over the torso, showing complete armor loss; her engine core was likewise exposed.

The Shrike stood up, overheated for the moment, but with its wings visibly radiating heat into the atmosphere on her thermoscan display, it would be ready to fire shortly.  She pressed her right arm into the snow, hoping it wouldn't do anything to the PPC, and used it to raise her 'Mech.  With her crosshairs solidly on the wounds she'd already carved into the enemy machine, she pressed the triggers.

This time she hit.  The large lasers' sapphire light melted more armor away, and the emerald lances of her medium lasers cut into the missile launcher on the enemy machine.  She hoped to see the fireball of an ammo explosion, but all she got was the much smaller sparking and smoke of a blasted launching system.

The enemy Shrike's left arm leveled and fired.  Twin PPC bolts sizzled through the air and into her Paladin's right arm, flaying the armor away.  Exposed myomer smoked and snapped. The arm didn't come away, as the structural bone was intact, but the lost myomer meant she lost movement power.  The arm couldn't support the weight of her 'Mech's upper body anymore.  The arm failed and her 'Mech fell back over.

She squeezed all of her triggers again.  The large lasers hadn't finished recharging their capacitors, though, and only the mediums fired.  Emerald light played over the damaged armor of the enemy 'Mech.

Nothing happened.

The Shrike's shoulder-mounted lasers fired.  Twin sapphire lances struck below her cockpit again.  Warning klaxons sounded and, after just a second, her 'Mech's systems died.  She could only watch the brief spurt of fusion plasma from her ruined machine before the engine's safeties kicked in and cut off the fuel in the exposed fusion vessel.

She'd been defeated.  And she was utterly helpless.

Through her cockpit window, she watched the Shrike's left arm point at her.

She was about to die.  Here, on this cold world, far from home, far from anyone who'd loved her.  She couldn't hold back the tears.

The man-made lightning she expected to flash-fry her into ash never struck home.  A looming 'Mech moved between them, half its hip myomer exposed from damage, but visibly the leg of a Paladin.

Thanks to her cockpit's backup battery power, her radio crackled to life.  "Stay put!  Don't dismount or ye'll never make it!"  Kevin's voice had an air of desperation.  "Dammit just stay put, Bravo Two, we'll cover ye!"

Since the battery couldn't power anything but radio and life support, she couldn't see what else happened.  Just more flashes of energy, more shells bursting across the snow, or lasers vaporizing the snow into steam as they cut through.  Occasional raining of snapped and burnt metal landed in view.

And then… the roar of DropShip engines.  Even more light and fire from above.  A deep booming voice crackled over the radio.  "Well fought, Sunhawks.  Now we shall drive these dezgra back together."

They'd done it.  The Wolves were landing.

Several more moments passed before she heard Kevin's voice again.  "These must be the Golden Keshik fellows we met at The Hound. Damned sight for sore eyes, they are.  We've got medtechs comin' to check ye out, Bravo Two, just hold tight a wee bit longer so we can see these bastards off."

She had no intention of defying him on that.  She curled up in her command couch, pushed away the receiver on her neurohelmet's radio set, and felt the pent up terror finally gush forth in the deep, racking sobs that came from her throat.


Grave Discovery[]

The Light's Hammer set down outside the camp amid the growing number of field base structures the work crews were erecting.  After the 'Mechs deployed to take up their defensive positions, Bridger rode out of the vehicle bay with Evan in the Kell Hound commander's personal transport.  They drove into the camp.  The Sinclair's guns thundered over their heads, the deployed Long Tom cannons on the great egg-shaped ship's nose undoubtedly supporting the Hound and Wolf forces pushing the Falcons back from the perimeter.  A more distant thunder echoed; the Penton's cannons were likewise engaged.

"Well, all told, bit of a mixed bag on the news front," Evan said from the seat beside Bridger.  They were in cold weather BDUs, with white color the predominant feature.  "Lost some people in the camp to the artillery, but only some.  A lot of survivors, and in worse shape than the ones on Great X.  Surgeons will be busy for a while."

"We're just lucky we kept them guessing so they didn't start shelling the place before we arrived."  The vehicle stopped with the Kell Hound driver having to give way for a 'Mech recovery vehicle.  A cored Paladin 'Mech was on the bed.  Going to need a full engine replacement, Bridger figured from the damage visible on the sky-blue machine.  "Given they kept those assault formations so close I can't help but feel we were anticipated."

"Probably; they’ll have heard about Great X by. Though, hell, Patrik probably threw ‘em off.  There’s history here for the Wolves, y'see.  This is where they fought their first action in exile against the Falcons, along with the Hounds and some other Lyran troops.  Sent them all packing and avenged all their fallen comrades in the Refusal War; Falcons might’ve figured on looking at a rematch."

Bridger nodded as a quiet reply.  The recovery vehicle moved on and their driver kept them going.

"Colonel Kell.  General Bridger."  The voice was Brigadier Laguna's.  "You might want to join us on the southeast side of the camp."

The tone of her voice was dreadful.  Evan snapped the order and the driver obeyed, bringing them around a few of the quonsets and other larger structures towards the open corner of the camp.  Soldiers, some in battle armor or Kell Hound BDUs, loitered at the edge of what looked to be a trench.  The vehicle stopped nearby and the two commanders emerged into the icy air of Morges.  Snow crunched beneath their boots as they walked up to the lip of the trench.

It wasn't a trench.  Stretched out before them was a pit covered in black ash and soot and snow all mixed together.  Breaks in the darkened surface with more snow mixed in showed where people had walked through, spreading the ash.  The scent in the air was chemical, a thick oily smell… and another, fainter one that made Bridger's stomach twist painfully.

A Kell Hound infantryman came up, an object in his hand.  "Sir."  He raised the blackened piece into view.

Bone.  Human bone.

There was a cry from the pit.  Another Hound soldier pulled away, as if struck at by something on the ground.  All eyes turned toward him, and from him to the object of his fright; a human arm, bare, blue, covered in frostbite and bruising, stiff as a board.

"Bodies," Evan growled.  "This was a damn grave pit."

"We're recording everything, sir.  The captives told us about it while we were treating them," the infantryman explained.  "Anyone they shot or who died from starvation or the cold, they'd just toss them in here, pour in some petrol, and light the match.  We're finding bodies now because they never had time to burn the last batch of bodies, just bury them."

Something went snap inside Bridger's heart.  He brought up his personal comm, and his words were cold with rage.  "I need work crews readied, and let the JAG officers now I'm invoking regulations on field judgements for war crimes.  I want the gallows ready by the time we're done."

After a moment Hammersmark's voice came through.  "Understood, I—"  He cut off abruptly for several seconds before speaking up again.  "Sir!  Sara Proctor just radioed, she's picked up ships jumping in at the zenith!"

The news jolted Bridger from the cold rage.  "Clan?" he guessed.  "How many?"

"A 'significant force', sir.  That's all they can verify from this range.  They had to have jumped in during the fight."

Evan frowned.  "******, they must've already called for reinforcements.  Or we're the unluckiest men in the Commonwealth. Hope you weren't plannin’ on buying any lottery tickets, General."

"Keep me appraised, I want to know the moment they detect inbound DropShips.  And get Khan Fetladral here, he needs to see this."  His eyes looked over the blackened pit of death again.  "Everyone does."



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