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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 8[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little[]

Meeting Between Cousins[]


The Triad, Tharkad
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
21 September 3010


“Let me guess,” Katrina asked as Frederick sat down facing her. “You’ve found a Star League battleship in full working order.”

“Yes, it’s in orbit around Odessa,” he shot back and then cracked a smile as Katrina glared at him, trying to work out if he was serious or not.

“Very funny,” the Archon conceded at last.

He shrugged. “Sorry, I’m working on being more approachable.” The joke was on her - Max was about 90% sure that there was a Farragut-class battleship mothballed around a gas giant in the Odessa system. Not that trying to retrieve it would be a good idea at the moment. Hopefully, she wouldn’t hold it against him. “Dad-jokes are apparently appreciated from a Colonel.”

“As long as you don’t plan on being a full time comedian.”

Frederick studied his cousin as she adjusted her seat. She was hiding it well - both by deportment and make-up, but she was exhausted. “If you need a nap more than this meeting, I can come back later.”

“I’m fine, Frederick.”

“You’re grieving. It’s not a weakness.”

“Leave it.” There was steel in her voice.

He shook his head slightly - in defeat, not in refusal. “Alright.”

Katrina took a deep breath. “I understand that the offer was well meant,” she offered in a more compromising tone.

“Thank you.” He folded his hands on his lap and adopted a formal tone. “I am at your service, Archon.”

“That’s good to know.” She rested her hands on the desk. “Now that the borders are relatively secure after the last few years, I’m going to be redeploying several units. Higher priority transport needs mean that some units have been getting too set in their deployments and a little too embedded into local interests.”

Frederick nodded in understanding. It wasn’t just moving the units, there would be thousands of dependents and support staff to move.

“And in the usual somewhat contradictory fashion, other units will be returning to their traditional operating areas now that there’s less short-term need for them to cover weak-spots along our borders.”

“The periphery border has been looking a little weak,” he admitted. “Unavoidable with the circumstances that you inherited, but if that’s what you’re planning to address then I’m glad to hear it. I don’t know what the raid statistics are, but they’re never good and I’d not be surprised if they’d risen over the last five or six years.”

Katrina didn’t smile, but she did seem to relax. “You’re correct. So I want you to understand that pulling you off Wyatt isn’t a punishment for you or for the Seventh Lyran Regulars. You’ve done well with them.”

Frederick’s first thought was concern - being moved away from the border with the Mariks would make it hard to justify raiding them, much less going deep enough to hit Helm. His second thought was: she wants me out of Skye - is she worried about Aldo’s appeals to me?

“Given I just agreed redeployments are needed, I’d be making a fool of myself if I argued now.” He settled a little further back in his seat. “Where are we going?”

“Back to Loric,” the Archon told him. “Iris Steiner wants some more coverage and it’s where the Seventh have usually operated. It also cuts the chances of the Combine going after you the way the Marik Militia did. You seem to have a talent for drawing ire.”

“So long as it’s the enemies of the Commonwealth, I have no problem with that.” Loric, he thought. Right at the far end of the border with the Free Worlds League from Wyatt. It doesn’t make Helm any more accessible - but not much less either. “I trust that we will be replaced on Wyatt?”

“Yes, it isn’t an immediate transfer. One of the Arcturan Guards regiments will be taking over the garrison slot there. Which one hasn’t been decided yet - the move won’t take place until early next year.”

Frederick rubbed his chin. “I take it that it’ll be the usual shell game, to keep the DCMS and FWLM guessing - rather than letting them hammer us while a tenth of our regiments are on Jumpships moving between bases.”

“That’s the general idea,” Katrina agreed. “Why?”

“How would you feel about the Seventh taking a little detour between Wyatt and Loric?”

Katrina’s eyes were calculating. “What do you have in mind?”

“Repeating Operation Commonplace would take too much in the way of resources, but SAFE isn’t necessarily going to realize that. What I’m suggesting is that I take the Regulars across the border and hit a couple of minor worlds, to convince them that they can expect a chain of such raids. That should have them spending at least some of their time and energy looking for those rather than looking across the border at our own worlds.”

“Hmm. You always want to do something aggressive.” she told him.

“It’s about holding the initiative.”

Katrina drummed her fingers on the table for a moment. “I’ll talk it over with Ed Regis and Arth…” She broke off, looking lost for a moment and then shook her head, continuing as if she’d never broken off. “I’ll consider it. However, if I do authorize this, you’re only to hit minor worlds - no going after the Twenty-Fifth Marik Militia for payback.”

“I’m not playing tit-for-tat,” Frederick replied irritably. “They may be petty enough to try that, but I don’t see any need to sink to their level. Ideally, I’d hit soft targets that don’t have any ‘mech regiments stationed there - hit, run and move on while they try to figure out where we’ll go next. And at most, after two raids I’ll head back across the border and leave them wondering.”

“I should have known you’d want to put your own spin on any plan.” The Archon made a note. “Alright, draw up a plan for Strategy and Tactics and we’ll see if we can assign you the jumpships required.”

“I’ll have it ready for them before I leave for Wyatt,” Frederick promised. “Along with some possible targets.”

Katrina sat back in the chair. “Do you have any other concerns you want to raise?”

“Not about that. However, if you have time for a couple more issues.”

She checked the clock. “I shouldn’t be surprised, Frederick. Go ahead.”

“Firstly, Donna’s looking to go back to frontline service. Is there any chance of her getting one of the prototypes she’s been working on as her personal bird? I can pay Lockheed for it, but since it’s an LCAF contract job, they can’t sell it without government consent.”

“I’ll need to make sure they don’t still need it. I suppose you want to give it to her for Christmas.

“Ideally, or maybe for her birthday next year. But getting for her at all is the point. I don’t like her being out there without the ability to eject.”

Katrina glanced up at his forehead and he realized that she was looking at the scar. “Has it been on your mind?”

“If I hadn’t had an ejection seat, I’d have died,” he pointed out. “If something happened to her, someone would need to take care of Ryan. I’m not sure I’d be a great father figure, but it’d be my responsibility.”

“Parenthood changes a lot,” she admitted. “I’m still wrestling with it myself.”

“The other thing I’m less sure about, but I picked up something in the grapevine and thought you should know.” By grapevine, he meant Max, but soldiers gossiped all the time.

Katrina gave him a thoughtful look. “Anonymous rumors?

“Not usually reliable,” Frederick admitted. “But if there is something to it then you’ll want to get on top of it.”

“I’m listening.”

“Allegedly some of the numbers for the Twelfth Star Guards’ pay may not add up,” he told her. “I’d suggest turning the forensic accountants loose - if there’s anything to it then a good faith effort to correct it may mitigate the damage.”

“****** it!” Katrina hissed, her cool veneer obliterated. “If that’s true then I will nail their liaison to the wall!”

The Twelfth Star Guards were one of the oldest and largest mercenary units in the Inner Sphere, with history dating back to Kerensky’s Exodus. Their four regiments had been on contract to the Lyran Commonwealth since before either of the two Steiners in the room had been born and alienating them would be a serious blow to Lyran military strength.

“If it is, I’ll hold the nails for you,” Frederick agreed. “Looking on the bright side, if there is anything to this then it’ll be an excuse to do a full audit of the Mercenary Troops Liaison office. There’s almost got to be some deadwood you can cut away there and put fear into the hearts of the chairwarmers under Mount Asgard.”

“As a silver lining, that comes with a very large cloud.” Katrina leant back into her chair. “Their contract is up for renewal in just two years. At best we’ll need to sweeten our offer there quite a lot.”

“One of those cases of hoping I’m wrong,” Frederick agreed. “But we have to check.”

“I have to check. It isn’t your problem.” The Archon pinched the bridge of her nose. “I should have taken your offer to cancel this for a nap.”

Frederick pulled himself to his feet. “Go and spend some time with Melissa,” he recommended kindly. “If I can delegate work as a colonel, surely the Archon can do the same.”


Searching for the Keys to the Castle[]

Helmsdown, Helm
Stewart Commonality, Free Worlds League
12 February 3011

There was something jarring about piloting his Orion through a town with weapons live, Max found. As was the concept of a raid like this - he’d never been a soldier, but he didn’t think that such operations were commonplace in the professional militarizes of the twenty-first century.

But this was the thirty-first century and hitting an enemy world with the intent to seize some local resources was a fairly typical military action.

The Seventh Lyran Regulars had arrived over Helm after almost a month ‘off the grid’. The soldiers, most of them young and active, had been pent up as the Jumpship brought them here via Pardeau, Gniezno and Lolobrzeg - all dead systems, left unpopulated after the early Succession Wars. Their enthusiasm in hunting down what garrison there was could hardly be called lacking… but Jolly’s Jaguars, the current landholders, had two-thirds of their strength posted on the border, leaving a single combined arms battalion outnumbered almost eight-to-one in ‘mechs, even with one of the Seventh’s three BattleMech battalions posted to protect their dropships.

At the least, that left no real threats except possibly snipers and other guerilla action as Max played the role of one of the escorts to one of the infantry companies moving in on the fortified buildings that served as the landholder’s seat of government.

Such government as was actually needed resided in the town, so the fort was mostly a headquarters for the mercenaries. Capturing it would hopefully yield some supplies and perhaps tools - valuable to a degree but not really worth this raid.

A single turret spat LRMs at Max as he came in view of it and a chill went down his spine. Someone was trying to kill him!

Reflexes from his training on Duran cut in before he could really think about that - centering his crosshairs on the turret, he waited for them to pulse and confirm that he had a lock. The moment he did so, he squeezed one trigger and then a second.

Orion ( On the March)

Orion Heavy 'Mech in combat.

The Orion barely broke stride as his own LRM launcher hurled ten missiles back at the turret, but there was a palpable vibration as the autocannon fired.

The turret didn’t fire again. Max wasn’t sure if the turret was destroyed or if the crew had simply thought better of continuing to fight as four ‘mechs bore down on them. Leutnant Boreman’s Orion was of the same configuration as Max’s, recovered from New Dallas and reconditioned by Bowie. The soldier moved his with far more fluidity than the secretary did, but that was hardly surprising. The other two ‘Mechs were out on the flanks but now they swept in and any intelligence member of the Jaguars would be leaving or surrendering. Tom Wright’s Commando was a serviceable machine, but Kristina Schmidt piloted a Firestarter - a design feared and hated by infantry.

“This is the Seventh Lyran Regulars.” Boreman’s voice boomed out through his loudspeakers. “We are taking temporary possession of this facility and ownership of some of its contents. As long as you keep your heads down and don’t resist further, we won’t take your lives.”

“How do we know we can trust you?”

The leutnant’s voice was wry: “You don’t - but unless you have at least a lance of heavy armor stashed away here, you don’t really have any better options either.”

As unsatisfying as that sounded to Max, it did appear convincing since no one fired at him again - or at the infantry as they exited the large Hover APCs that were carrying them.

Each squad had a distinct target to find - sometimes to bring them back if they were portable, sometimes to mark locations and secure heavier goods until the much slower heavy trucks arrived - Wright would be able to do much of the loading since his Commando had two hands, unlike the rest of the improvised lance.

Max waited, studying his sensors. The stronghold looked small from the cockpit of his Orion, but the simple fact that it was scaled for ‘Mechs to be able to walk into the lower levels made it much larger from a human perspective. He had to force himself to wait for the soldiers to reach their destinations and for some of them to return.

After what seemed like an eternity, one of the squads emerged from the main building with six of them carrying a desk between them. Max could only guess that they’d taken to bring the full contents of the office very literally, because the squad leader was carrying a chair.

Locking his ‘Mech into position, Max shut it down before he unstrapped himself. There was no way they were getting that up to his cockpit, so he’d have to go down. Cracking the cockpit hatch, he lowered the rope ladder and then slowly climbed down. His arms ached just doing this and he’d have to climb back up again later.

Still, at least he managed it in a practical time. His earlier attempts when he first acquired the Orion had been slower… and not always successful.

The squad set down the desk and the chair was placed behind it.

“Ah, back in my comfort zone,” Max quipped, sitting down on the chair. He opened up the drawers and started going through the contents. “You’re sure that this is Jolly’s desk?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You don’t have to call me, sir, I’m not an officer.” he said absently, and pulled a small stack of magazines out of the top drawer. “Not what I’m looking for.” He tossed them to the nearest member of the squad. “Share them around.”

“Sir!” the squad leader protested, the young woman a little red-faced at the obvious nature of the magazines.

“I’m sorry if they’re not your taste, corporal But I didn’t put them in there.”

The next drawer contained pens, pencils and a stack of notebooks. Max thumbed through them and set the notebooks aside to hand them over for LIC to check if there was anything useful to learn. It wasn’t very likely but there was no harm in trying.

He started closing the drawer but stopped when he heard something moving. Checking again, he found a case at the back. Unclasping it, he found that the box contained a miscellany of badges, a sash and a memory clip. Max’s heart began to beat harder, and he closed the case before checking the other drawers. Other than some more notebooks, a couple of tactical manuals and a mostly-empty bottle of tequila, nothing looked likely.

“I’ll trust you not to open this until we’re offworld,” he told the squad leader, passing the bottle over. “You can put the furniture back.”

“Is this really worthwhile, sir?” the young woman asked Max as he stacked the books and the little case to take with him.

He gave her a look and then shrugged. “It could be. It’s one of those things that we won’t know immediately.”

A pair of trucks pulled up and the Commando moved into the hanger, emerging with a heavy crate in its hands. Max wasn’t sure what was be in it but depriving the Jaguars would presumably affect their readiness and therefore help the LCAF slightly.

Looking up at the Orion, Max reached for the ladder and then realized he now only had one free hand. “...dammit.” He turned back to the squad. “Did any of you happen to see a knapsack we can take?”

Fortunately, they had and Max was able to climb up into his Orion again, grunting and breathing heavily as he did so. He really should look at putting more time in at the gym on upper body work. Or give up on this entire Mechwarrior business, but that would seem pretty ungrateful towards Frederick.

Besides, once he did retire then the Orion was worth a very substantial amount of money. Selling it would be something to fall back on if he needed to
.

Closing the cockpit, he brought the reactor back up from standby and put the knapsack on his lap while he strapped in again. By the time all the screens and lights were lit up, he was secure and opened the knapsack. Taking the memory clip out of the case, he studied its interface socket and opened up one of the cabinets built into the cockpit, producing an adapter. Once this was done, he plugged it into one of the tactical computers.

The screen assigned to that device went to a hold pattern and then brought up a map that was recognizably Helm - though not the Helm of the modern day. What he knew from the initial briefing was called the ‘Dead Flats’ was here replaced by sea several hundred kilometers long and a large modern city sprawled along one shore.

The city was called Freeport and the map was showing its image from before Minoru Kurita or whoever he’d sent (Max wasn’t entirely convinced that the Coordinator of the entire Draconis Combine would have commanded what amounted to a raid into a rival who was at best a secondary concern) had deployed nuclear weapons and killed about eighty percent of Helm’s population, rendering much of the surface irradiated deserts.

Max had grown up in the Cold War. He remembered seeing warnings in the media that the world could end within thirty minutes and realizing that there was nothing he could do about it. That era had managed to avoid this sort of devastation. Worlds like Helm were a terrible reminder that Frederick’s history had not.

“You maniacs,” he murmured. “You blew it up.”

Then he shook his head and activated his radio. “Torrent-Actual, this is Chieftain.”

“Chieftain, this is Torrent-Actual.” Frederick sounded calm and at ease. “What’s your situation?”

“We are state four, I repeat state four.”

“Good work, Chieftain. Keep it up. We are moving to Stage Xenophon. I repeat. Stage Xenophon.”

“Roger. Moving to stage Xenophon.” Max cut the channel. He took a deep breath. They had what appeared to be the key to opening the Nagayan Mountain Castle Brian. Now all he had to do was play it cool, while the looting of the base concluded and return to their dropships. Stage Xenophon meant that Frederick was breaking off a detachment to take out the spaceport facilities - hopefully without too many losses to the staff there.

Without the radars of the spaceport, no one on Helm should be able to tell the difference between the Seventh Lyran Regulars taking off and heading for their jumpship, and them taking off only to land near the Dead Flats to complete their actual mission here.


Eureka Moment[]

Nagayan Mountains, Helm
Stewart Commonality, Free Worlds League
13 February 3011

It had been well over two hundred years since the small, pyramidal building near what had once been the Vermilion River had been visited, but the computer still worked. Max seemed to find that impressive, which was one more reason Frederick didn’t think the twenty-first century was as good as the man seemed to believe. Presumably quality control had been developed at some point after his time his era.

The two of them were the only ones inside. Almost everyone else was still in the dropships, with the drives warm and ready to take off if something went wrong.

“So, the moment of truth,” Max told him, taking the memory clip out of his pocket. “If this winds up killing us, Frederick, it’s been an experience.”

“Could you be any more lukewarm about it?” Frederick asked him dourly.

“On balance, working for you will go on my resume as ‘things I have done’ when I apply to be reincarnated.” The man’s voice was dry as he said that.

One day he’d learn not to give Max openings like that. But not today, evidently. “Just put it in the slot, Max.”

“I did.” The older man stepped back and showed him empty hands. He paused and cocked his head. “I don’t hear anything, so I think we’re going to… live!”

“Fantastic. But did it open the door?”

Max shrugged and retrieved the memory clip. He headed for the exit from the building. “Only one way to find out.”

Outside, the river-bed had led to a vertical slab of rock about half the size of a Union-class dropship. Now that slab had an opening in it. Twice the height of a ‘Mech and half that wide, a section of the rock had been pulled back into the mountain by hidden machinery, and then - as the two men watched - the panel slid aside and left a dark, cavernous space inside.

“Do you think we’ll find wonderful things inside?”

“As you just said, there’s only one way to find out.” Frederick led the way over to the opening and pulled a flashlight off his belt before entering.

The light inside was utterly inadequate compared to the cavernous space, the ceiling no lower than the doorway and the walls to either side at least that far away from the two. In depth it was hard to say, for the light revealed no end to the passageway delving deep into the mountain.

“You could march a regiment through this in minutes,” he declared, voice echoing off the stone walls. “And defend it with a lance.”

“The material rewards may be deeper within,” Max replied softly, reverently. He indicated the one other feature of the chamber - a truncated pyramid the same size as that outside. “But this could be the real prize.”

They exchanged looks and walked towards it. Words were carved into the ferrocrete, next to the closed door. STAR LEAGUE FIELD LIBRARY FACILITY, HELM, DE90-2699.

“It’s real.” Frederick wasn’t sure which of them had spoken for an instant, but a moment later he realized that it was him.

“Ja.” Max grinned weakly. He touched the door with his hand and it slid open as easily as the entrance to the Castle Brian.

Frederick stepped inside and the lights went on, showing a computer console rising from the carpeted floor. He tried the controls.

Nothing.

God. Was it dead? Had this of all the place suffered some irreparable failure.

“Same key as before.” Max passed him the memory clip.

With a surge of relief, Frederick accepted the small electronic device and found the proper socket. Once it slid into lace, the entire wall facing them lit up with what was recognizably a directory.

“Congratulations.” Max rested one hand on the console. “Now you need to digest it.”

“Not until we have it home.” Frederick took his radio out and all but ran out, heading back for the outside door. Checking he had set the signal to minimum, just barely enough to be detected by the dropships a kilometer away, he opened the channel. “Tim.”

“Sir.” Hickson’s voice came through clearly. “Do you need evacuation?”

“No. Not at all.” Frederick paused, looking out the valley. “We’ve found an entrance and a command center. Get the first technical crew down here and unload the hovercraft. We’ll need to survey the place and see what’s stored deeper inside - there may also be other entrances to secure.”

“Can the crews cool their drives?” the Kommandant asked.

“Yes, we’re probably safe enough for now.”

Within moments, the Retribution’s ramps were lowered and vehicles began to pour out of the dropship. The initial surge of hovertanks fanned out, working to establish a perimeter, but after that a little column of scout-cars and APCS rolled towards Frederick.

“Sir.” Warrant Officer Jenna Sheppard was older than Frederick, and the best computer specialist the Regulars had in their technical section. That didn’t make her as good as the best in the Commonwealth, but hopefully she’d be good enough. “Where do you want us?”

“Scout teams can go right in.” he ordered and then indicated the pyramid with his flashlight. He was amused to see Max was pinning a sign up next to the door, reading ‘Field HQ’, and then realized that the secretary was covering the actual designation. No one going past it would know what was inside now. The other man had thought ahead. “We’ll need some lights out here, and I want you looking at the computer. There should be some sort of map and maybe even an inventory.”

“Got it, sir. We’ll probably be best getting a back-up of the drives first though - if we trigger some SLDF security then it might dump.”

“We don’t want that.” Is Max’s habit of understatement rubbing off on me?

Frederick ushered Sheppard into the chamber ahead of her comrades. It only took a moment for her to take a look at the directories. “Sir, this is…”

“Classified.”

The woman pushed her helmet back and scratched at her graying blonde hair. “Yes, but… Colonel.” Sheppard looked at Max, then back at Sheppard. “You do know what you’ve found?”

“Something that a lot of people would kill to get their hands on, and only a slightly shorter list would kill to deny us.” Frederick folded his arms. “Which means the absolute minimum number of people finding out that what’s in here is infinitely more precious than whatever else we find.”

“...there’s a lot of data here, sir. Can we get the computer core out?”

“It might trigger a self-destruct.” Max warned. “We don’t want to risk anything like that until we’ve got a core off Helm entirely. If at all.”

“Now I’m doubly nervous” The warrant officer examined the listings. “I don’t even recognise some of these file formats.”

Frederick had talked priorities with Max. There was no use coming into this without a plan. “We have twenty data storage units with us on the Retribution. Hopefully they’ll be large enough for multiple full downloads. I’d prefer we have copies as is aboard the dropships before we try altering anything. I’d like a map and inventory if you can get that, but the data download is the priority. Once we have a copy for each of the dropships, you can try getting some of the files converted to something more…”

“User-friendly?” Max suggested.

“Yes, that.”

Sheppard didn’t quite push Max aside to take the controls, but it was close. “Anything about this place should be stored separately if there’s any sort of order to it…”

Frederick stepped back a little. “Who and what do you need?”

Sheppard frowned. “The data storage, and… well, MacCulloch knows how to keep his mouth shut. Him, Sergeants Silf and Fleeson. Four of us is about as many as we can get in here at one time, they’re fairly steady.”

Frederick nodded in agreement. “Consider it done.” He went out the door. “Fleeson and Silf, you’re in here. McCulloch, there should be some data storage modules back on the retribution, get them back here and then report to Warrant Officer Sheppard.” He paused and looked at the other techs. “If you’re not getting lights set up here - or for those doing that, once it’s done - this is a two hundred and thirty year old SLDF base. Go find me some lostech!”

There was a cheer at that. He imagined that many of them were casting themselves as the infamous Doctor Jones from the holovids, lostech hunter extraordinaire. And who knows, some of this really might end up in a museum someday.


Old Friends Arrive[]

Nagayan Mountains, Helm
Stewart Commonality, Free Worlds League
28 February 3011

“There’s no way in hell that this is a coincidence.” Max told h quietly as he watched the icons creeping across the map in the command center set up around the field library.

Frederick folded his arms. “Get it off your chest.” the duke huffed.

Max wasn’t smiling, the situation was far too dire, but he did say the sweetest words in the human language: “I told you so.”

The Nagayan Mountains Castle Brian didn’t just contain more than could be carried aboard the Seventh Lyran Regulars three dropships, it had much more. By Max’s estimation, there was enough equipment to set up an SLDF infantry division and have gear left over - close to four hundred battlemechs, easily as many armored fighting vehicles, a near uncountable number of infantry fighting vehicles… not to mention artillery, helicopters, support vehicles… and then there were supplies. Ammunition, armor, spare parts, uniforms, small arms - anything and everything that could have been needed by the SLDF during the Amaris Civil War.

That included a terrifying quantity of military rations that would probably qualify as a biohazard if the containers were even opened - or maybe not. The SLDF had been very good at storing things for future use.

Faced with the cornucopia of the cache, Frederick had decided that taking only what they could carry and re-sealing the cache for a later visit was too great a risk. The FWLM might find it and even if the computer core was removed, they’d gain far too much. Instead, he’d sent the three dropships back to the jumpship, fully loaded and with complete copies of the database on each dropship - the raw and copies with as many files as possible converted into what would hopefully be a compatible format with LCAF computers.

The rest of the unit had hunkered down in the Castle Brian, with months of food and other supplies. Margrave Stephen Neil should at a minimum send the jumpship back to recover them. Losing an entire regiment of the LCAF would be a bit much for him to have to explain when they were only supposed to be passing through his theater. More probably he’d send a larger convoy, with an escort. Frederick had requested the latter by HPG (the signal sent to ComStar from the jumpship, encoded in the latest and highest priority military cipher) and being the Archon’s cousin should carry some weight. He’d added the importance that any escort should be chosen for their loyalty to Katrina as much as anything.

It said something about the Seventh Lyran Regulars that Max was the only one who had objected to remaining on Helm and calling for an extraction. Then again, the secretary had also suggested that the mechwarriors were too busy drooling over the Star League-grade ‘mech and making voom-voom noises to notice that they’d been marooned behind enemy lines.

“There are at least two ‘Mech regiments up there, with a lot of support,” Kommandant Hickson concluded, counting the dropships they were picking up. Passive sensors could pick up a lot, particularly when the dropships had their IFF signals turned up to avoid collisions. “And I’m seeing some familiar dropships.”

“Familiar in what way?” asked Frederick, bringing up the list of names.

“Unless they’ve changed hands, six of those Unions are assigned to the Twenty-Fifty Marik Militia.”

“...last report had them stationed at Dieudonne as a reaction force,” he mused.

“Well, they’re reacting.”

He grimaced and rubbed his brow. There was no reason at all for two entire regiments to arrive in response to the raid on its own, that would be closing the door when the horse had already bolted. The only possible explanation was that someone had cracked the code on the message he’d sent. And just getting hold of the message would require that someone in ComStar had leaked it - whether they were the ones who had broken the code or not was almost secondary.

“Fortunately, a planet is a large place,” he said out loud. “And with our dropships away, we can hide everything away inside the Castle Brian until our relief force arrives.” Getting dropships inside would have been impossible - none of the entrances were large enough. Some complexes like Nagayan Mountain had possessed internal dropship storage and launch facilities but this wasn’t one of them.

Max nodded in agreement. “It’s the only real option we have. Fortunately, the message didn’t include our location and they might even need to worry that we’re somewhere else in the star system. The SLDF had an orbital base so for all they know the cache might be on another planet in the system.”

Hickson folded his arms. “I think we should look at getting those lostech ‘mechs ready as well. If it does come to a fight we’ll be outnumbered, using that technology could make all the difference.”

“I don’t like the idea of potentially expending that equipment,” he grumbled. “But you’re right.”

“If you can’t afford to lose it, then you can’t afford to use it.” Max pointed out. “The really valuable samples have been sent back already to see if it can be reverse engineered. It would be nice to take the rest back to the Commonwealth but ultimately, it’s going to be mostly used up in action somewhere, so it might as well be here.”

“It’ll also give the techs something to do,” Hickson added. “Good for morale.”

“I already agreed,” Frederick told them. “You win, if this turns into a stand-up fight, we’re going to deploy some this equipment against the Twenty-Fifth and… Any idea who the other unit is?”

“Best guess is that it’s the Stewart Dragoons’ Home Guard.”

The Free Worlds League’s military was divided into the main federal forces and the private armies of the provinces, which for a major province sometimes included a number of ‘mech regiments. While the Stewart Commonality wasn’t a particularly large province but they were among the oldest their Stewart Dragoons had once fielded five full regiments. The Home Guards were one of only two that remained, and Helm was part of the Stewart Commonality.

Hopefully there would be some useful conflicts within the enemy command structure, what with one of their regiments being federal and the other being provincial.

Frederick scratched his scar again. “Right. Well, if we have to fight this out before our dropships arrive, then we’ll use some of the lostech equipment. Hopefully we won’t need to but once our relief force gets that’ll reveal our location since I don’t imagine they’ll be allowed to land unmolested. However, this is just if we really need them. Most of them are to be prioritized for loading if that’s possible. Just because we can afford to lose them, doesn’t mean that I want to.”


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