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Suomi Warders
By: Dave Waino

Chapter 1: The Wages of Honor
Chapter 2: A Wager with the Clans
Chapter 3: A Trap of Imagination
Chapter 4: Trials of Loyalty
Chapter 5: Eye of the Storm
Chapter 6: Twists of Fate
Chapter 7: Domestic Issues
Chapter 8: Fateful Choices
Chapter 9: Deadly Objectives
Chapter 10: Hard Truths and Harder Questions
Chapter 11: Major Decisions
Chapter 12: A Call to Arms
Chapter 13: Allocation of Resources
Chapter 14: Special Delivery
Chapter 15: Seize and Rescue
Chapter 16: Combined Arms
Chapter 17: Battered 'Mechs and Broken Bodies
Chapter 18: Matters of Perspective
Chapter 19: Deals of Life and Death

Suomi Warders: 3057

Innocence Lost - Part One
Innocence Lost - Part Two

Chapter Index[]


SW10: Hard Truths and Harder Questions[]

Hard Truths and Harder Questions
by Dave Wainio


DropShip Bright Star
Circinus System Nadir Point
06 August 3052

John Linna rolled his shoulders to loosen their tension as he stared at his hand and concentrated on the cards. He glanced towards Gracie over the top of the plastic rectangles he held fanned out. She was looked at the video feed from Circinus rather than her own cards as if she hadn’t a care in the world. But he knew it was all an act. A carefully crafted ‘poker face’. His attention wandered to the small wall mounted screen for a moment when the news-reader announced a special bulletin. But he immediately lost interest when the special report turned out to be the same canned speech by President H.R. “Little Bob” McIntyre they had heard six times already during the inbound trip. Clayborne Remembered city only broadcasted one channel and John and his team had already watched anything worth watching from the small collection of tri-Ds the Bright Star held in her computers. It had been a very long eight day burn to the planet. The delayed broadcast feed from the planet continued to drone on as background noise in the small cabin.

Gracie only had two cards in her hand. John would have to consider his next play very, very carefully.

“Do you have any sixes?” he asked finally.

With a small smile twitching at the corner of her mouth she shook her head no. “Go fish.”

Grumbling he drew from the pile. An ace. Didn’t match anything in his hand.

“How about an ace ?” she asked.

With a frown John handed it over. He started to ask how she knew he had drawn an ace, then stopped himself. She only had two cards. She’d already tried for duces moments ago.

Although this trip had been short by intergalactic travel times, it had been a long one by his internal clock. Everyday had brought him one step closer to reuniting with his missing sister. One step closer to finding out why she hadn’t called for her family long ago. Agonizing as that had been, as least the voyage had seemed to slowly heal the rift between he and Gracie. Their easy camaraderie had slowly returned. Although there was still a small hitch, an unspoken about area neither choose to mention.

He sighed heavily. Now he had to call a card he knew she didn’t have or risk giving her the victory.

“Sixes,” he called again. She just smiled and nodded at the pile. He drew again, this time getting a match and placing a pair of nines down on the table before him. At least they had had several days of gravity during the burn in.

“Deuces?” she purred. She already knew he didn’t. But it was her only card so it was her only possible call.

“Go fish,” he replied with gusto. He’d been down to two cards earlier only to have bad luck build his hand but up again. Now it would be her turn.

“Read ‘em and weep.” Gracie turned her newly drawn card around to show him it was also a two and used it to flip over her final card on the table. “I win. Again. Any game Duckling, I have your number. You know the old saying…”

She stopped herself. She’d been about to say ‘lucky in cards, lucky in love’. She didn’t want to tred there.

The end of the news show on the video screen gave her a subject to switch to. “Look, nice national insignia they have. Oh no, we don’t encourage piracy around Circinus.”

John glanced back at the flat screen. The official Circinus crest, a fanged skull with a spiked crown centered in an old style pilot wheel from a sailing craft - the wheel also spiked - stared back at him until the news show cut to commercial. Gracie had a good point. If they wanted to convince the rest of the Sphere that they were going legit they better come up with a more friendly design.

“It’s my turn to pick the game,” he reminded her. “How much do I owe you now anyway?”

She did some quick calculations on a noteputer. John took it as a bad sign that she needed it’s assistance to tally his debt.

“Looks like 47,000 C-Bills.”

“You want that in ammo or armor?” he cracked.

“Neither. Paid vacation. I’ll check back with you in about six months.”

“What do you call this? Here we are almost at Circinus, vacation capitol of the universe.”

“Yeah,” she chuckled as she got up to look out the single view port. “You really know how to take a girl to the nicest places. If nothing else I hear the night life is real exciting.”

“Attention all passengers,” interrupted the ship’s intercom system. “Store all lose articles and prepare for atmospheric entry in less than an hour.”

She turned and locked eyes with him and for a longtime neither of them said anything. Finally she nodded slightly and said simply, “I guess this is it.”

“I guess it is,” he agreed.

With that she left for her cabin while he set about making sure that all his gear was gathered. Fairly soon the small band of pirate hunting Warders would be planetside where no one would have ever expected to find them. On Circinus itself, a planet largely regarded as ‘Pirate Central’ on this edge of the Inner Sphere.


Red Robber Inn
Clayborne Remembered, Circinus
06 August 3052

Circinus does, in fact, harbor a small flightless bird called the Red Robber for it’s habit of stealing eggs from the native reptiles’ ground nests. But as John nursed a warm, flat beer in the Inn’s ‘beer garden’ he found himself doubting that the small plucky bird had been the establishment’s namesake. Although new wall prints sported the bird’s likeness, the glass before him still carried a faded image of a rather buccaneer looking fellow wearing a red hat and red eye patch.

The capital city of Clayborne Remembered was officially listed in most travel loges as having around 10,000 inhabitants. John’s personal estimate was that double or perhaps even triple that number lived in the sprawling city of low slung buildings. His brother Jeffery had opined that perhaps the lower figure was simply a count of the registered, tax paying citizens. John didn’t care much either way. Ten thousand or thirty thousand, it was only one specific resident he was here to find. As his attempt to find her was stalled while waiting for their paid agent to show, he was growing impatient.

He glanced up as a hand briefly rested upon his shoulder. Gracie smiled at him as she slid back into her seat beside him.

“He’ll be here when he gets here. Staring a hole through the door won’t speed him up any,” she admonished as she tossed back a good portion of her second brew.

Across the table from her Jeff glanced at his barely touched glass. “What is this stuff called again?”

“It’s a Stout,” supplied Sergeant Harding, the fourth person at the round table. “It’s a traditional beer style.”

Jeff eyed the dark cloudy liquid dubiously. “If it’s not cold and you can’t see through it, then it’s not beer,” he groused. But his mind really wasn’t on matters of drink. He was just making conversation to try to distract himself. He’d been having a terrible premonition that his hired investigator was going to arrive only to announce that Holly had just been killed in a car accident or some such. It was a horrible thing to think but he just couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom out of his head.

John tried to take Gracie’s advice and look at something else beside the entrance way. Glancing around the room he saw that Sergeant Cascade and her three troopers were spread about and alert for trouble. So far his little party had encountered surprisingly little difficulty. Harding had observed the ebb and flow at the DropPort for a little while then got them through ‘customs’ with little problem despite the rather large arsenal of personal weapons the group was carrying. Although here on Circinus there really wasn’t much in the way of gun control laws. And although they’d been warned several times that rooms were scare in “C R”, as the locals called it, they’d had no trouble securing lodging.

Without fanfare the door suddenly swung open, admitting both a narrow wedge of light into the dim interior as well as a nondescript man of middle years dressed in what served as common workman’s clothing for the city. He paused in the entryway to let his eyes adjust to the dimness within then fixed his gaze on the table where the Linna brothers sat and raised one eyebrow slightly in what appeared to me mild surprise. Then he ambled over to their table - careful to keep his hands visible and his movements non-threatening. He’d marked at least two watchful security types presumably attached to his rich visitors and wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more on hand he hadn’t spotted.

“Greetings,” the man said with a small half-bow that was common to many cultures. “I am Niles Reese. I believe you are expecting me. May I join you?”

“Indeed,” nodded John to the fellow. “We’ve been eager for your arrival,” John added a bit sharply.

Niles shrugged in apology. “Although I have no reason to think I am being followed, I decided to take precautions just in case. I believe I have the information you seek. May I presume you have the payment with you?”

John and Jeffery exchanged glances, then Jeff produced an electronic funds card from one of his pockets. He slid it across the table to Niles who very carefully- mindful of the eyes trained on him- extracted a card reader from his belt pouch and checked the amount. With a satisfied smile he slipped the card into an inner pocket.

“As agreed,” noted the information broker as he leaned forward a bit. “I’ll get directly to the point gentlemen, then answer any of your questions as best I can. At this exact moment I have an associate watching your sister- although that associate knows only that she is tailing a group of MechWarriors and not that any specific one is of notable interest. As of ten minutes ago your sister Holly was at a taproom down near what we optimistically call ‘the financial district’ in CR. She has risen to be a Lieutenant in the Cirion faction of the Black Warriors and has been with the Warriors about sixteen months. As far as I have been able to determine, she has been on this planet for about three years. I have not been able to track her actions before that.

“It’s quite remarkable that no one has recognized her for who she is considering her pattern of activities. While I suppose almost no one out here has ever heard of the Starcade affair or the Linna dynasty of Sampsa and those that have likely assume she’s dead; anyone involved in her original abduction would presumably know better. As her actions suggest she is searching for someone or something and your sister is still alive I can only assume that either she’s been very lucky or there’s no one in the city that was involved with her abduction.

“I feel I should warn you that she has a rather…combative…personality. As the antagonism between Cirion’s portion of the Warriors and those directly loyal to “Little Bob” McIntyre has been growing of late that personality is likely to be a problem for her. Although it is likely that Cirion’s loyalists will get shipped off to the worse parts of our little federation soon- which might make it easier to extract her or might make it almost impossible. If you’re planning on forcibly abducting her be aware that her three unit mates are fiercely loyal to her and that she is very skilled with the huge knife she always carries around with her. Other than her three MechWarrior subordinates she has no other friends or personal attachments that I have been able to find.

“Questions gentlemen?”

“We have no intention of trying to ‘abduct’ her,” John started indignantly. “We only plan to talk to her.”

Niles merely swept open his hands in a gesture to indicate he accepted the answer but it really didn’t concern him either way.

“Do you know who she’s looking for?” asked Gracie.

“I do not. For a while she was asking the kinds of questions in the kinds of places that would tell one who the players are in the pirate end of the Black Warrior command. Nothing that any ambitious new officer wouldn’t do. The last few months she’s been nosing around the DropPort bars asking about a ship named the Salvator. On a whim I looked into it a little but could find no mention of a ship by that name in any of the DropPort records.”

“Has she…been involved in any raiding activity?” John forced himself to ask.

“The records suggest that she has seen almost no action. She’s still far too new and unproven to be invited into any of extra-legal activities the Black Warriors are sometimes engaged in.”

“Can we go to her now?” Jeff wanted to know.

“I see no reason why not. The time of contact is completely up to you.”

With a quick glance to read each other’s mood, both brothers started to rise from their chairs. Each paused as Harding’s voice issued a question.

“What would you estimate the information that both Linna heirs are on Circinus might be worth?”

Niles smiled wryly. “My life I imagine. If any of your rather fierce looking gunmen found out and took umbrage to my activities anyway. But I estimate that I stand to make far more C-Bills by faithfully assisting your fine employers in this matter and any future matters I might be of service with rather than trying to make a quick score selling a simple ‘important persons’ sighting”

The answer seemed to satisfy the experience Sergeant. He too pushed back his chair to rise.

Niles rose from his seat. “I’ll make a quick phone call and then we can set off. Here’s a number you can beep me at if you need to contact me later.”

With that the information peddler headed towards the rear where a set of line-based communication units were set up. It had taken a quick moment for the Warders to catch his meaning as the term “phone” had fallen out of use long ago in the FWL. Then they realized he was going to comm someone. John’s team had researched the communications conditions of the planet before arriving and thus were familiar with the concept of ‘beepers’- basic analog radio devices that accepted simple messages such as “phone numbers”. Clayborne Remembered did not boast a cell-based private communications network as it’s past Presidents had been worried that such easy to access and difficult to track communications would make it possible for others to conspire against them. For the same reason there was not an interlinked planetary computer network on Circinus as there was on most worlds. Despite the regressive communication systems, the people of Clayborne Remembered still found plenty of opportunity to conspire.


Coconut Monkey Taproom
Clayborne Remembered, Circinus
06 August 3052

Lieutenant Holly Linna leaned back in the rickety chair as she considered the info she had just received from the gaudily painted woman seated across the table from her. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something to go on. With a curt nod Holly pushed a small pouch of C-Bill tokens over to the other woman who snatched them up furtively and secreted the money within her rather sparse clothing.

“We done?” the streetwalker wanted to know.

Again Holly just nodded curtly. The other woman slipped from her seat and scuttled towards the door, staying as far away from the new arrivals as possible as she fled for more familiar ground. Clayborne Remembered was a city of unmarked but well defined zones of ‘turf’. She was out of hers and wanted to return to home turf as quickly as possible.

Holly spared a quick glance at the departing back of her ersatz informant then went back to staring into her drink as her mind turned over possibilities. This wasn’t the safest place on Circinus to tune out one’s surroundings, but she was confident her lance mates would watch her back while she mulled things over. Holly knew she’d probably upset an applecart or two in the past three weeks with her most recent line of investigation. She’d been in two fights in places she shouldn’t have been, and was even now in an area only of questionably safety for someone from one of Cirion’s loyalist units. There were a few of Little Bob’s grunt-boys already in here - a fact that Holly had noticed but been unable to do anything about less she potentially blow the prearranged meeting.

Inra’s discreet cough caught Holly’s attention and she turned to look in her lance mate’s direction just in time to see Lieutenant David Trepp of a rival Black Warriors lance only a few steps away from her. Although it hadn’t been anything serious yet, the two had butted heads more than once with each incident pushing the tension between the competitive lance leaders higher.

“I heard it was that way with you,” he said with a leering smile as he stopped next to her table.

She stood to go. “With your head stuck as far up your tail end as it is, I’m surprised you can hear anything at all. Have a nice day Lieutenant."

Holly turned to go but Trepp stepped forward and grabbed her upper arm.

“Hey, don’t be so quick to rush off Darling,” he crooned. “Maybe you and me could start up a little one-on-one détente between the factions. You’d be surprised what a real man can do for you.”

Holly locked a frosty stare on him. “If I ever find one I’ll be sure to ask him about it. Now; let go of my arm before I break yours.”

“Listen wench,” he rasped as he squeezed even harder on her arm, “just one word from me right now and you’ll be….”

The rasping shing of a knife being loosed from a sheath interrupted his threat before completion. He suddenly breathed in sharply and froze his position. He rigidly held himself very, very still. Almost a forearm’s length of razor sharp steel was resting lightly against his groin. The span of three breathes passed as they locked stares before she spoke.

“I’m going to say this slow and in small words so that even you can understand Trepp. Let go of my arm or I will cut your nuts off.”

“Bad move when you’re outnumbered two to one,” he hissed. He was careful not to move - but he didn’t release her arm either.

Holly didn’t look away from him but the scrape of seats being pushed back told her that several people had just risen to her feet. She was sure that her lance was among them - but equally sure that Trepp wasn’t bluffing. He probably had seven or eight compatriots in the taproom to her three. She recognized the crazy screw-the-odds look in his eyes; it was the same one she saw in the mirror sometimes. This was going to go down bad. She and her mates were probably looking at some time in the infirmary- or worse. And neither the CO or the XO would be happy. This might even be the spark that starts the inter-Warrior feud that’s been brewing. But what the hell, she decided, nobody lives forever. She might as well….

“I believe you should double check those odds before you start anything…messy, my friend,” announced an unfamiliar voice into the strained silence.

Cautiously, the two Black Warrior officers craned their necks to the side as they attempted to watch each other and see who dared to interrupt their showdown at the same time. A fairly muscular man of middle years and dark skin was casually strolling towards them. Of more immediate importance was the six or seven armed cohorts filtering to out in a semi-circle behind him.

“Do I know you?” asked David as he released Holly’s arm at last. He took a slow half step back from the knife. She let him drift away unchallenged but remained wary.

“Not yet,” smiled the intruder. “I represent a new business interest in town. I hate to intrude on what is obviously an internal military matter but I have business with the ladies in question here. I’m afraid that I can’t allow them to come to harm until after our dealings are completed. Business before pleasure and all that. I’m sure you understand Lieutenant.”

The last had been directed at Trepp. He nodded slowly. “Yeah, business first. I know how it is. But you’re dealing with losers if you’re dealing with Holly’s Harlots here though.”

“That’s Harassers,” angrily snapped MechWarrior Calahan from one side. Her lance mate Yawni hushed her.

“If they prove untenable then perhaps we shall come talk to you,” nodded Harding. He fished a wad of C-Bills from a pocket and stepped close to David Trepp to stuff them in a front shirt pocket. “Why don’t you and your friends go have a drink or two somewhere else on us. There’s no need for us to part as enemies. I’m sure we’ll be able to conduct future business together.”

The moment of heated impulse had passed. “Sure, why not,” shrugged David as he slid around Holly taking care to stay out of arm’s reach. “It was getting pretty rank smelling in here anyway. Name’s Trepp. Come see me if you need some real warriors.”

Trepp managed to exit with a decent amount of panache with his followers in tow. He paused at the door to shoot Holly a look that promised her that nothing had been settled between them yet - and that the day of reckoning would not be far off. The three Harasser lance-mates looked at Harding with some skepticism. Sure, he’d just saved them from a nasty scrape. But they had no idea who he was or what he wanted. Plus he hadn’t exactly issued a ringing endorsement of them just now.

“We gonna blow out of here?” asked Calahan. She didn’t like the looks of these people much better than Trepp’s group.

Holly looked over the new comers, her eyes lingering over the three MechWarriors that stood together near what looked like an accountant type even in his soldier-of-fortune wanna-be outfit.

“Nah, I’ll listen to their pitch. I have a feeling it should be real interesting,” decided Holly.

Yawni and Inra Bhati exchanged glances. Being sisters, they could usually just about read each other’s thoughts. They both knew they had just come very close to being recklessly plunged into the bad side of a nasty fight. Fortunately this new group seemed to mean them no harm. The weapons had already disappeared and what must be the hired guns had already moved to places where they could cover the front door and see out the few windows to make sure Trepp wouldn’t be causing any more trouble. Leena Calahan was still spoiling for a scrape, but it seemed that the Lieutenant had backed away from the edge. The Goddess seemed to be smiling upon them this time. With a shared nod they slowly sank back into their seats. After a moment Leena sauntered across the room and joined the sisters. The man that had interrupted the brewing fight nodded towards a table at the rear where three of his party had just seated themselves and invited Holly to join them with a slight bow and the sweep of his open hand.

Holly Linna sauntered over to one side of the round table and stood gazing coolly at it’s occupants. She widened her stance a bit and clasped her hands behind her back in a ‘parade rest’ style stance. She knew she tended to gesture with her hands when talking and didn’t want them waving around and making her look juvenile during the confrontation she was expecting. Off to Holly’s left Sergeant Samantha Cascade decided she didn’t like the youngest Linna’s expression. Mindful of the fact that Holly had a rather lengthy combat knife sheathed on the back of her belt, Cascade drifted in tighter from her position near the wall. Just in case.

John watched his sister sweep her eyes across his brother, Gracie and himself with a sinking heart. He was starting to get a real bad feeling about this. But it as too late to back out now and try for a different approach. “Perhaps you’d like to sit,” he invited, “you see…”

“I prefer standing,” she snapped, cutting him off.

“Very well,” he began again. “I guess that I’ll come right to the point then. It’s us, your brothers. John and Jeff.”

She switched her position to lean down and brace her hands on the edge of the table, bringing her face closer to theirs. Her voice dripped with scorn.

“I know who you two are. It’s been a long time but I still recognized you. What I don’t know is what the hell you want. If you’re here to rescue me you’re a bit freaking late. As in years late. You washed your hands of me along time ago so I don’t see what we have to say to each other now.”

“Hey, that’s not fair,” complained Jeffery. “Holly, we never stopped looking for you even when most everyone else told us to let it go and move on.”

“Must have been looking real hard,” she spat. “My brother the playboy industrial leader. I’ve noticed that you’ve had the time to build up the company while you’ve been searching for me.” He gaze switched to John. “And you’ve taken the Warders from the corporate security hacks Grandma had let them become to being a real fighting unit. Been out gallivanting around the stars picking fights. What happened big brother? Get a taste for bloodshed as the Hero of the Starcade Massacre?”

Jeff just stared at her in stunned silence while John reeled back in his seat as if he’d been physically struck.

“Now that’s enough Missy,” began Gracie hotly. But Holly cut her off as well.

“No, it’s not enough. But it will have to do because this interview is over. I suppose I do owe you a small bit of thanks though - assuming you are Gracie Aukland as I think you are - you’re the one that made me want to be a MechWarrior. I always remembered the power and purpose you carried about you during your visits when you were in the academy. Unlike my brother who was mainly going through the motions because he didn’t want to disappoint our Grandmother. I survived this far without anyone’s help. I can happily keep on going the same way. In fact…what’s this? My bribe to come home and be a good little girl?”

Jeff had pulled out a pocket-puter and punched some numbers into it, then slid it across the table to Holly while she had been talking.

“No,” he sighed heavily. “It’s just plain yours. No matter what you decide to do. We never let the authorities declare you legally dead. The liquid amount is listed up high. Most of that you can have turned into C-Bills and transferred by ComStar where ever you want. I’ve included my transfer signature surrendering power-of-attorney on your behalf so that you can directly control your funds. The lower lines represent stocks and other items that you’ll need to go to the League and get yourself fully identified before you can mess with them. The last line is family stock that can only be sold or traded while you’re on Sampsa and then many extra rules apply.

“Obviously I had hoped you would be happy to see us and want to come home…but if you believe nothing else then please believe this. We never planned to try to buy you or coerce you into returning with us. If nothing else you should be happy to see the money. With it you can go someplace else other than here and be become just about whoever you want to be.”

Jeff Linna stood, his chair scraping slightly on the floor as he pushed it back. A brief moment later John joined him as well, standing up so he could leave with his brother.

“I imagine that I deserve your anger,” John stated solemnly to his sister. “Know that I tried - I tried so hard to get to you. I was too late and I failed. But I never washed my hands of you Holly. Neither of us did then and we still haven’t. Here’s a card with contact information so you can reach us for the few days we’ll be here on Circinus. I hope….I hope that you can find it in your heart to meet with us again. But please; be more careful than I just watched you be moments ago. If we could find out that you’re trying to track crewmen from the Salvator in just the short time we’ve been here then so can other people. People that will understand the significance and recognize the name ‘Linna’.”

Holly merely nodded. It was her turn to be taken aback. How had he known about the Salvator? For that matter, how much did he know about it and how long had he known? Was it a link to that ship that had finally washed him up here in Claymore Remembered?

“That’s it?” demanded Gracie indignantly of the brothers. “We come all this way and you just say ‘here’s your money, please give us a call before we go?”

John glanced at Holly and could see the mental gears whirring behind her eyes. He was pretty sure he’d figured out what his sister was trying to do in the Black Warriors. And he was also pretty sure that the core part of the little sister that he had once known which absolutely hated being manipulated or feeling forced into things had carried through into the adult Holly that faced him now. And so had the intelligence and curiosity. She’d contact him soon just to find out what he knew about the Salvator.. Whether her anger would be cooled by then was anyone’s guess.

“I don’t think this will be the end of Gracie,” John replied quietly. “But we just dropped on her out of nowhere. I think she’ll want to mull things over for a while. It’s something in the Linna bloodline I figure.”

Despite the sick feeling in his stomach Jeff smiled mildly at his brother’s comment. He’d come to the same conclusions that John had reached. Now that her brothers were a reality in her face rather than two guys a quarter of the Sphere away she’d need some time to decide what she wanted to do about it. Jeff knew from personal experience that all-night brooding sessions were something of a Linna birthright.

“Fine, if you say so,” allowed Gracie. She was picking up some sort of shared vibe between John and Jeff but really didn’t understand why they were suddenly beating a retreat without even trying to offer their side of things. “I’ll catch up in just a moment. I’d like a quick word with the Lieutenant here if you don’t mind.”

The brothers both shrugged their acquiescence to Gracie, then gave Holly a short formal bow of departure before turning and using the exit to leave the taproom.

“You got something to say?” challenged Holly to the older MechWarrior as soon as the brothers cleared the door.

“Yeah, I got something to say all right. It tore them up to lose your parents just as bad is it must have torn up you. And I lost my mother that day so don’t try to tell me I don’t know what it’s like. John never forgave himself for not being able to rescue you despite the fact that he never had a snowball’s chance in hell of pulling it off. He was lucky he survived at all much less managed to save a bunch of the other kids. Then he lost his marriage because he was spending all his energy building up the Warders so he could chase down rumors and leads about what might have happened to you. Meanwhile Jeff was spending considerable amounts of time, energy, and money running a web of private investigators all trying to do the same thing - find you.

“Just recently they gave up control of DEW industries just to protect your inheritance. And despite the fact that we’re locked in a deadly struggle with a powerful enemy that wants John dead, they both dropped everything they were doing when they finally got a solid sighting on you to rush out here. If you have anger issues to work out because the universe has treated you rough then fine - but don’t you dear try to blame your brothers.”

“You through?” asked Holly. Gracie folded her arms and nodded. “Good, because I don’t want to hear any of your ‘poor John and Jeff’ stories. At least they had full bellies, and a safe place to sleep, and no one was…let’s just say things happened to me. Bad things. They’ve had it tough? I’d be willing to trade life experiences with them right here and now lady. And no - you can’t understand. You’ll never be able to understand what I’ve been through and neither will they. And that’s why I can never go back. It just wouldn’t work. And now we’re done. I have things to take care of.”

“That’s about the biggest load of crap I’ve heard all year,” came a female voice from just to Holly’s side.

Turning her head towards the new interloper Holly found herself looking down at a somewhat short woman that was lithe of build but looked to be all muscle. A fighter Holly decided instantly as the warrior inside her made an automatic threat assessment.

“Who cares what you think?” growled Holly. “Now shove off before I use you to sweep up the crud on the floor.”

“Try it and I’ll shove the pommel of that knife you’re fingering behind your back someplace where the sun don’t shine so fast your lance mates won’t have time to get on their feet.”

Holly snorted in amusement at the quick and feisty response…then her face grew taunt as she realized that the other woman meant exactly what she had threatened. Sometimes Holly would see a sort of ‘I don’t really care what happens to me’ bravado in others such as with her near altercation with Trepp just minutes ago. MechWarriors and hired guns had to have some holes in their sense of self-preservation or they wouldn’t be able to do what they did. But this was different. What Holly was seeing in the other’s face was total confidence. Holly had spent many years around captors that projected a palatable aura of menace; extreme hardcase killers that knew they could destroy her in an instant and subtly conveyed that knowledge to keep her in her place. This was the same, yet different. Whoever this person was knew she could handle the larger MechWarrior without problem but conveyed that without projecting any sense of menace. Unless Holly let her anger force something stupid to happen, the dangerous looking woman would not take action.

A byproduct of spending one’s formative years not expecting to live past the next sunrise was that Holly had grown immune to most types of fear or methods of intimidation even though she retained the ability to recognize both. However, she knew she’d already let her quicksilver anger take her past reason once today. It wouldn’t do any harm to keep herself under control and hear what this unknown associate of her brothers had to say.

“All right, we’re done playing ‘who’s the toughest’. Just speak your mind so I can get out of here as soon as possible.”

Sammi smiled faintly, almost harshly. “That you can never go home again is a load Kid. Sure, it ain’t going to be the same as when you left. Your parents are dead, you’re all grown up, and so on. But you’re afraid that somehow you’re damaged goods- that people will always point and whisper about what your captors did to you. A secret part of you believes that you’re no longer fit for normal society so you carved out a place for yourself out here where the scum are plentiful. That plus your need to claim back power for yourself over those that hurt you and used you. You need to hurt them back. To kill them. You think that maybe then you’ll be free from the dreams. Released from the panic that comes in the quiet times in the darkness of the night. But it doesn’t work that way.

The Sergeant’s eyes fogged over slightly as she spoke. For a moment she was seeing a dim scene someplace far away rather than the young MechWarrior standing before her.

“Oh, the revenge helps at first,” Sammi continued. “It’s sweat. Intoxicating. It makes you feel strong. In control of your fate. That the scales have balanced. For a while. Then you start thinking about all the things they took from you that you can never get back. Revenge is a great motivator to accomplish a task but evaporates like the mist once you accomplish your goal and make your kills. Then you have nothing left. The road back to trusting people and living anything close to a normal life requires help from people that love you unconditionally. And you just sent them packing.”

“What makes you think you even have the slightest idea what I’m about?” demanded Holly. But the anger in her voice was mostly bluster. Much of what the other woman had said rang frightfully true.

Sammi Cascade’s eyes refocused and grew hard and cold.

“When I was young I lived in one of two villages that consisted of the entire colony of a far flung world no one else really gave a damn about. It wasn’t a particularly hospitable world. Nothing anyone would really want. Except for the pirates that came every year to take half of our food and carry off a few women. When I was twelve they decided the villagers were getting too rebellious and killed us all off - except the children whose parents had sent them into the woods at the first sign of the raider’s approach. We were on our own. When I was thirteen I got careless and was captured. It wasn’t much longer after that when ‘bad things’ happened to me. Repeatedly. They kept me for almost seven months before I escaped back to the forest hideaways.

“Then one day my prayers were answered. I found one of my tormentors carelessly taking a dump in the woods without a buddy to watch over him. I killed him with a sharp stick. That gained me a knife and a gun to kill more of them with. So I did. With the help of the other kids we made the edges of the airstrip too dangerous for them. But once they realized they’d never catch us in the forests they simply picked up and left for another part of the planet.

“We’d have starved except a relief mission finally arrived. A rich lady in the League had heard of the destruction of several outer colonies and had bankrolled a survivor search. If I could have figured out a way to keep chasing the pirates and kill even more of them I wouldn’t have gotten on that relief shuttle. But it was go or starve so I went. By then I figured it really didn’t matter what happened to me anyway. By the strict religious mores of my home I was defiled. There could be no worth to my life.

“I ended up settled as a developmentally challenged ward of an old couple that lived on the edge of nowhere running a small co-operative outfit for a tribal based people on a world I’d never even heard of. They took me fully into their hearts and showed me that it was okay to trust and love again. The stoic Amerindian folk of the area lived a life that measured others by what was in their heart rather than what fate had gifted or cursed them with. After time, I even finally learned how to be friends with and trust men again.

“So I know exactly what you’re about. Because once upon a time I was you. Maybe you need to find your revenge before you can move on. I don’t know about that. But mark my words Holly Linna. If you want to start truly healing inside you’re going to need a different setting than where you are now. Meaning no disrespect for your chosen lance-mates but you’re not going to get over your aversion to men by rubbing elbows with the worse samples of humanity you can find on a daily basis. And that’s one of the easier steps you have before you. The rest are progressively harder.”

Sammi grinned ruefully as she turned to go. She was getting downright talkative in her middle years she chided to herself. First with Jenkins, then back with the MechWarrior kid Jason and now with the Major’s long lost sister. At this rate she might as well write a book. How I Went From Religious Pilgrim To Trained Professional Killer Without Going Totally Insane by Sergeant Samantha Cascade.

“What makes you think I have a problem with men,” snapped Holly in an automatic defense mechanism honed to instant reaction by the repeated remarks of her fellow Black Warrior officers.

Sammi just paused and looked pointedly to where the three woman of Holly’s Harassers were looking back at them. Then made her way out in the direction John and Jeff had went.

Holly’s head was a swirl of conflicting ideas and emotions. She happened to glance over towards where Sergeant Harding was standing a few paces away to her right.

“You got something you want to say too?”

He just shook his head no. “No ma’am. In fact I think I’ll be going now.” He nodded at Aukland, who returned the gesture and the two of them headed for the door as well. This left a very quiet Holly Linna in their wake.

Just after they stepped outside Harding looked around to make sure no one was within earshot then leaned over to have a quick, quiet word with Gracie.

“Between you and me that woman scares me a little bit,” he confided.

“Who? Holly?”

“No,” snorted Harding. “I mean Sammi. Holly’s just raw rage at the universe. That’s not so unusual. Sammi’s controlled rage with a whole lotta dangerous skills attached.”

Gracie really didn’t have anything to say to that. How close had John been to becoming like Holly? How close was he to being like Cascade? How about Gracie’s own temper? How close was she herself to becoming a reckless cannon? They were troubling questions without definitive answers.


Golden Hinde Terraces
Clayborne Remembered, Circinus
06 August 3052

The Golden Hinde Terrance had once been an upscale apartment complex. Of late it had slid down to the lower middle rung. As it always seemed to have a fair number of unoccupied flats, it was a favorite of long term visitors to Clayborne Remembered. As Black Warriors, Holly and her lance could have stayed for free in the semi-rigid tent like facilities that had been provided for their unit at the ad-hock military base but they had elected to pool their meager pay and rent one of the larger units available at the Terraces.

They had spoken little since the dramatic turn of events at the taproom. The others could tell that Holly wasn’t in a mood for chit-chat and there had been the need to stay alert for David Trepp and his cronies should they be laying in ambush somewhere along the way. Now the female warriors were safety ensconced in the main room of their shared habitat. Leena sat on the couch moodily pulling at a bottle of brew while Yawni sat at the table idly leafing through a field maintenance manual on ‘Mech grade lasers while her older sister Inra was brewing a pot of tea in the small kitchen. Holly was pacing restlessly about the small place.

After a short time Inra appeared from the kitchen and poured herself and her sister some tea.

“We couldn’t hear much of what was said,” the dusky skinned MechWarrior noted, “but I gather that your two ‘lost’ brothers just came calling?”

Holly stopped pacing and turned to look at Inra. There was hurt and a hint of accusation in the other’s voice. And with reason Holly had to admit to herself. They had all made blood oath to be true to each other and keep no secrets between them. In the society they survived within a trustworthy ally was more precious than C-Bills or gold.

“You’re right,” sighed Holly. “Technically they were never lost. I was the one that was lost from them. But I hadn’t meant to deceive you. I really did consider them lost to me. I never expected to see them face to face again. After all these years how could I expect them to bother tracking me down and paying me a visit.”

“It’s not like Holly’s been using a fake name or anything,” added Leena in support.

The two sisters exchanged a telling look between them.

“They are your brothers, your kin,” noted Inra sadly. “How could you expect otherwise?”

“You never even sent them a message letting them know you were alive?” asked Yawni in disbelief.

“Hey, they’re the ones that abandoned me to my fate,” snapped Holly automatically.

“I see,” was Inra’s only reply. Her younger sister seemed to have found something fascinating about her tea cup as she was studying it intently. Inra kept her eyes locked on Holly’s however.

Lieutenant Linna met that gaze without flinching, but inside she quailed at what she was seeing. Two lance-mates, friends that had backed her up through thick and thin in some damn dangerous situations, were now looking at her like she was a stranger they didn’t know. Or trust.

From the couch Leena decided she had better come to her leader’s defense. She tried to redirect the conversation. “How much money did they want to leave you to soothe their consciousness’ anyway?”

Holly pulled the small noteputer from her pocket, keyed it on then selected the screen Jeff had shown her and passed it over. Leena glanced at it, started to say something flippant, then froze with her mouth open as she looked at the numbers again. A whistle of surprise escaped her.

“That’s an awful lot of guilt there,” she said at last.

Leena responded to the questioning looks on the sister’s faces by tossing them the electronic device. They read the figures and were momentarily speechless as well.

“You could outfit an entire lance for that,” breathed Yawni finally. “Or maybe even a company.”

Inra stared hard at Holly for a moment as her brain worked over general news she’d picked up over the past few years. Then a media article about the richest families of the FWL she’d read a long time ago skipped to the forefront of her consciousness. “By the Great Goddess….Danielle Electronics and Weaponry. You’re the missing and presumed dead heir. Sister of the company CEO and the Warders commanding officer and owner.”

Leena frowned. “Hey, where have I heard of the Warders before?”

“The Suomi Warders. They were mentioned once in a briefing about pirate hunting mercenary outfits to be wary of,” prompted Yawni. “There’s also a few Black Warrior officers that will pay money for recent sightings and update info on them.”

“Oh yeah, those Warders. Hey, if anyone knew that they were here…..” Leena let the thought hang unfinished.

“Somebody realized who you are,” Inra told her lance leader. “Luckily for you that person sold the information to your brothers instead of somebody else. When word finally gets out about your connections every bit player and hoodlum on the planet is going to start laying kidnapping plans.”

“It’s not my fault they came out here and messed everything up,” blazed Holly angrily.

“No, it is not,” agreed Inra. “But now what to be done about the situation has become your responsibility.”

Holly paced heatedly across the floor for several minutes while the others held any more thoughts to themselves. Finally Holly turned decisively and stomped towards her shared room.

“I’m not going to get any sleep until this is settled,” she tossed out over her shoulder. “I’m going over there right now.”

Several minutes later Holly emerged prepared for her cross town trip. The others had argued with her about coming along but finally she’d resorted to ordering them to stay behind. This was a private matter. A family matter. Inra slipped out the door right behind her to have a private word with Holly before she stormed off into the night.

“I think it would be wise to listen to what your brothers have come to say,” advised the older woman to Holly. “They have come at great personal danger. They must love you very much.”

“Love,” snorted Holly in disdain. “I wouldn’t know much about love from my life. There’s no room in a MechWarrior’s heart for emotions like love. It only weakens you.”

Inra watched as her lance leader strode forcefully down the hall towards the elevator. Defiance radiated off the youngest Linna almost like a palatable force field. For several heart beats Inra continued to stare at the closed doors where they had slid shut and taken Holly from her view.

“A warrior finds strength and resolution in Love,” Inra whispered to herself in Holly’s empty wake. “May the Goddess grant you that discovery.”


Blue Harbor Suites
Clayborne Remembered, Circinus
06 August 3052

Holly Linna headed down the hallway indicated by the door guard to find two more guards stationed at the suite’s entrance. One was the tough little hardcase from the taproom that had been ready to throw down with her on the spot while the other was a young guy maybe a few years younger than Holly she didn’t remember seeing in the bar. His stance telegraphed his pride and professionalism although his eyes still held as a touch of the innocence of youth. They widened noticeably when he saw who was coming down the hall.

The woman merely extended her hand with the palm up without saying a word. Holly nodded with a wry grin and deposited her pistol, hold out derringer, and fighting knife with the bodyguard. It seemed that her big brothers were a bit lacking in the trust department. Or maybe it was just the door guard herself that was worried about it. The hard bitten trooper didn’t look like she trusted much of anything to Holly. A good survival trait.

The Black Warrior officer was about to ask if she could go in when something about the second guard’s eyes drew her attention again. There was something about his face….

“Do I know you?” she asked him.

She was surprised to see that he blushed.

“We’ve met briefly before ma’am. As children,” admitted Jenkins.

Holly looked harder then suddenly she realized where she knew him. Unconsciously she took a half step back as the recognition rocked her.

“You were in the play cabin with me. On the Starcade,” she accused.

“Yes ma’am. I was there when they took you and the others away. I….I, uh…well, that is if I may be permitted to say…I’d just like to say that I’m very happy to see you alive and well …and that I’m terribly sorry and to say thank you.”

“You’re sorry?,” asked a perplexed Holly. “You were a little kid like me back then. What do you have to be sorry about?”

He shifted uncomfortable and stole a quick glance towards the Sergeant- who ever so slightly nodded approval for him to go ahead. “My parents were crew. They died in a shipboard explosion right after you were taken. No one really knows if they were involved or not but I always figured that at a minimum they share responsibility for not sufficiently protecting the passengers. They’re gone, so I kinda figured it was part my responsibility to help find you and the others if I could. Just like it falls to me to apologize for their failure to perform their duties.”

Holly blinked twice as she stared at him, unsure what to say. Finally she simply nodded and murmured “I see. And the Thank You?”

“For my life. A pirate was about to kill me because I couldn’t stop crying. The Major broke in just in time to save me and the other kids. But in saving and protecting us he lost you. Those of us he saved never forgot that.”

“So thank him, not me.”

“Oh, I could never do that,” he exclaimed in horror.

“Why?” challenged Holly.

“First because he doesn’t know that I was there. I joined the Warders because everyone knew that the Major was still looking for you. It seemed my best chance to help. But I didn’t want it to look like I was seeking favors or that I needed special help to make the cut. So almost nobody knows. But mainly because it hurts him to be reminded. If I’d have thanked him for saving me, I couldn’t do that without reminding him that he lost you. Maybe after we’re done here I can finally tell him. Or when we find the rest of the lost five.”

Holly’s face softened as sorrow touched it. “I hate to tell you this but Marci died shortly after she and I escaped. The three boys were separated from us right after we left the Starcade. I have no idea what ever happened to them.” “I’m sorry the hear about Marci.” He swallowed hard once as the news crashed through him then squared his shoulders back more. “But we’ll find the others. The Major found you. He’ll find the rest.”

“Sure,” she agreed quietly. “Sure he will.”

Holly turned to look back at the other guard to find the short woman totally unreadable.

“Would you like to enter now?” asked Cascade in an even voice.

Holly merely nodded. She felt off balance as the Sergeant opened the door. On her way over Holly had finally settled on the issue of her brothers interfering with her holy crusade of revenge as the primary fuel for sustaining her fury. But this chance encounter had dowsed the flames of her anger. She’s focused her life on gaining revenge while this fellow Starcade child had spent his looking to rescue people he didn’t even know. Her quest seemed notably less…noble all of a sudden. She hadn’t given any thought to the boys that had been separated from her so long ago.

The door opened and she stood tall, squaring her shoulders and marching into the room. She assumed the same parade rest she’d taken up at the taproom as her brothers rose to their feet. It was obvious that both had started to move towards her, then thought better of the impulse. Sergeant Cascade withdrew, closing the door behind her. Then the Linna siblings were alone together for the first time in over nine years.

“I’m glad that you came,” offered John.

“I’m…not sure if I’m going to be,” she admitted out loud. “I came over here to give you holy hell and basically drive you two off this planet. I think. Anyway, now I’m not really sure why I’m here. A few recent conversations have given me a lot to think about.”

John spread his hands in a motion that encompassed both his siblings. “Then I think we’re all in the same boat. I’ve been thinking about what I would say to you for months. And now that we’re here face to face, nothing seems adequate.”

“Maybe you stoic warrior types are tongue tied, but I’m not,” announced Jeffery Linna. “It’s pretty straight forward actually, my dear sister. We want you to know you can come home. We want you to not hate us. We want you to know that we love you. We want to help you; even if that means packing up and going away tomorrow without you. We want to know why you never called us- but won’t push you for an answer. And we want to be able to change everything, have our parents back, give you back your lost childhood, and generally have life be happily ever after. But we can’t change the past. We can, just maybe, shape the future. If we try hard enough. Our hope is that you’ll join us in shaping it.”

John rubbed awkwardly at the back of his neck then shrugged.

“Uh, yeah. Pretty much what he just said,” agreed a sheepish John.

“That’s a damn big We Want list you have going,” snorted Holly. “Truth be told, I really don’t know what I want in the long run. But I do know what I want in the short run. I want the people that killed our parents and messed up my life. So we do have a bit of common ground to work from on the other issues from. You say you want to help me? Then fine, give me what you have on the Salvator.”

The Major cocked his head sideways a bit. “Are you sure that’s all you want?”

“Why? Am I missing something?”

He shrugged. “We don’t have all the answers, but we do have more than just a crew contact from the Salvator about the Starcade murderers. Our primary concern has always been finding you, then finding the other missing children, and then dispensing some justice. We have made some progress on that third issue.”

Holly smiled. It was the toothy smile of a predator scenting prey rather than a sister showing favor to her brothers.

“Maybe you two have been doing more than just sitting on you fat arses all these years after all.” She paused as she looked over first John then Jefferey. “Yes, tell me. Tell me all of it.”

She moved to seat herself at the room’s only table and the brothers were quick to match her action. Planning mayhem wasn’t the type of reunion conversation either brother had envisioned- but it was a start. And a start was the most either had dared hope for.


Holy Trinity Chapel and Orphanage
Clayborne Remembered, Circinus
07 August 3052

Holly Linna stopped before the rusted iron bars of the open gate and read the faded sign for the third time.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” she asked again.

John only shrugged.

Jeff swept his eyes across the poorly kept compound. Four ragamuffin children could be seen playing a game with a large red ball off near one of the buildings. The place looked like it had once been a school of some sort. A newer but still run down looking building straight ahead was obviously the sanctuary itself. The cross and stained glass windows announced the structure’s purpose.

“That’s what our guy said. Ex helmsman Torrin can supposedly be found at this address,” confirmed Jeff. Although privately he was having his own doubts as well.

“Only one way to find out,” observed John. He crossed the threshold and headed towards the children.

As the group of adults neared, the children stopped their play and watched warily. To John’s eye they looked like they were on the verge of bolting. He motioned behind his back for the others to drop back a bit and approached the kids alone. They ranged around the age of his own daughter. He was relieved to see that although they were dirty and scruffy, they didn’t show any signs of maltreatment or malnourishment. John squatted down to put himself more at their level.

“Good morning. We’re looking for Gregory Torrin. Do you know where we might find him?”

The kids exchanged looks, then finally three of them ended up looking to the oldest. It was obvious to John that they were deciding whether or not provide the answer.

“I think I saw him working in the gym,” the eldest finally answered as he pointed towards one of the other buildings.

“Thanks. I apologize for interrupting your game.”

The adults regrouped and headed for the Gym. When they were almost there, the children suddenly broke into a run for what looked like a small administrative structure. Sergeant Cascade used hand signals to station two of her people outside the building to keep an eye on developments. Inside the building they found one large room with a wooden floor and a bent old man that was intent upon his task of mending wooden desk chairs for further use. He didn’t even look up when they opened the door. The Linna siblings exchanged glances as they paused in the doorway. Standing behind them, Gracie couldn’t help but notice that Holly’s hand had drifted behind her back where that huge knife she favored was attached to the rear of her belt.

“Gregory Torrin?” demanded Holly with steel in her voice as they walked up behind the oblivious worker.

“Heh? Yes, I am Gregory,” replied a harsh but surprising young sounding voice. The gnarled figure turned on his stool to face the newcomers and paused as he studied them. They spent that moment studying him in return. Gregory proved to be not an old man but rather a young one ravished by radiation sickness and suffering from chemical exposure. Most likely from the caustic heat transfer liquid that many older DropShip design employed to distribute heat or cooling from engineering sections.

The pitted face smiled as recognition flashed into his eyes.

“Ah, all three Linnas,” he croaked. “I expected someone to come for me eventually. One of you, one of them…but all three of the Linna family. Most unexpected, eh?”

“Then I take it you are the ex-helmsman of the Salvator?” prompted John.

“Yes, yes indeed,” agreed the figure sadly. “And now it ends eh? The Lord’s vengeance has come at last to be played upon me. An eye for an eye and all. I’m afraid there’s not much of me left these days. Cancer and the sickness and all you know. Poor reward for all your travels to find me eh? Heh. Well, here I am. Do as you will.”

“What is the meaning of this!” demanded a stern voice from behind them.

They turned to find a thin faced man wearing the dark suit and collar favored by many priests striding towards them. The two Warder door guards trailed just behind, neither hindering him but both ready to act should he prove to be something other than the compound’s resident clergyman.

“Justice,” answered Holly defiantly as she faced off with the priest. “This man took part in our parent’s killing and the killing of many others. We have come to see justice done.”

“I know your type,” he responded as he took in her Black Watch pilot’s jacket. “Justice is just a word you use to explain away your wanton killing. Gregory is a kind soul that has helped with this place and the children for over five years. During that time he has hardly left the grounds. Just look at him. He is poisoned in body such that he has few years left to him. What harm can he possibly pose anyone? What could he have done that brings armed thugs into a compound dedicated to the Lord? You accost the wrong man. Be gone with the lot of you!”

“No Father, they are not mistaken,” came the raspy voice of Gregory before John could reply. “I have sinned terribly and been part of horrid things. Long ago their parents- as well as many other innocents- were gunned down in cold blood on a star liner. I did not pull the triggers, but I was pilot of one of the ships that delivered the raiders. None of us knew the intentions of the pirates. But we had been of poor moral conduct in our earlier trips or else they never would have sought us out for hire. I will go with them quietly. Keep an eye on little Tiffany Father. I noticed she had the sniffles this morning.”

The bent figure stood, a small wince of pain washing across his face as he steadied his feet under him.

“But..this cannot be true,” stammered Father Kunn. “I demand that you explain to me why I should let these ruffians take you away.”

“Actually, we want your story as well,” prompted the Major.

The helmsman shrugged, then with a sigh of contentment settled back down onto his stool.

“Very well. Originally the skipper of the Salvator had hired me on as much as a pilot as a bed warmer. Hard to imagine now eh? But once I was a strong and handsome lad. I was indeed. Heh. But against all expectations she and I grew close. When her helm officer left for a bigger ship, she promoted me to the spot. Running cargo for the LoadStar Stellar Shipping line was always an adventure. What with the spot of gray cargo here and there eh? A nip of contraband to line the profit margin. It was a right fine little piece of the action we were in on. But we did no real harm now did we?

“Ah but that would change. That would change. We were just leaving Liao space when a company rep from LoadStar met us at a jump point. He had a special job for us. We’d be delivering some paying passengers to a JumpShip in League space. It was a special surprise. They passengers hardly talked with us and never told us their plans. And we pretended to not know what type of persons we had on board. Told ourselves it wasn’t our concern eh? A common thing. People do it all the time. Don’t ask. Don’t think. Don’t be involved eh? Especially when the money is good.

“When the Starcade arrived in system with her escort we were waiting. We had the proper pass codes to approach. Just another DropShip of lesser dignitaries there for a quick link up. Some of the killers were already aboard of course. A few as crew, a few as passengers. To skip formal protocols we had a recording. It was the daughter of the Line owner herself with a message asking for an unannounced docking so she could surprise her young new husband who was already aboard. Who could deny young love eh? A minimal guard was sent to the docking collar to quietly receive the girl and her party. But you have guessed by now eh? She was not on board. We carried not marriage bliss but terror and woe in our hull.”

John’s breath caught in his chest and his knees buckled. He staggered back a half step and bumped into Gracie, who caught and steadied him. Their hunched narrator had not noticed the Major’s reaction and was continuing with his tale. Gracie started to interrupt, to ask John what was wrong. But as she caught a glimpse of his ashen face and she realized what he had. Her own heart sank into despair as she slipped one arm around him and pulled him closer to better support his weight. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t damn stinking fair. How much burden did the universe expect one man to be able to shoulder. The others had all become enwrapped in Gregory’s words and had not noticed John’s reaction to Gregory’s tale. Except for Jeffery. He’d understood the implications as well. He rested one hand on John’s shoulder to provide what little comfort he could as he traded worried looks with Gracie.

“They seized the ship,” continued Gregory without pause. “Two of them came onto our own bridge with weapons drawn and seized our vessel as well. For a long time we all just sat there. Then something went wrong for the raiders. Later I would learn that one Cadet Linna had freed the guard troops and sparked a counter attack. Their escape pilot was killed and suddenly I was looking far less expendable than I had been moments before eh?

“I told them I was a bad navigator, that our skipper usually did that work. I could see the others of my crew pleading with their eyes to try to save them too. But I had not the courage, eh? They took Megan and I to be their shuttle crew. Like Judas we betrayed and abandoned our fellows to a deadly fate. My skipper was a looker she was. And a smooth talker as well. Somehow she talked our way out of execution time after time as she found some task we’d be handy for. Then the Clans helped us. A good joke. Heh. The periphery world that supported the killers we had fallen in with was destroyed by the Clans. They needed their pet pilot/navigator pair all the more after that.

“Until one day Megan must have misjudged. She was killed and I never knew why. Soon after I was in the engine room of a shuttle when the auxiliary power plant suffered a critical failure. It limped in to Clayborne. They assumed I had to be dead. Four days with the radiation eh? But I had crawled into a shielded emergency suit and then into the escape pod. I escaped the shuttle once it was on the ground but collapsed on the streets soon after. I awoke the shriveled husk you see now. Two of their killers came looking for me. I feigned unconsciousness as they talked with a nurse at my bedside. I was not expected to live, especially without an expensive treatment that would not be occurring unless someone showed up to pay. That wasn’t likely eh? The ‘recovery’ wards of for that can’t pay are crowded and ill kept on this world. That night I pushed the bed of some other disfigured soul where mine was and staggered out into the darkness.

“That’s when I bumped into the good Father here. He gave me sanctuary. A miracle? A penance? Just a bad diagnosis in the hospital? Heh. Who knows? But I still live eh? For a little while yet anyway. Heh.”

Holly had been staring intently at the speaker’s face the entire time he had been telling his tale.

“It’s you, isn’t it. You’re the one that was in the cargo bay,” she demanded.

He simply smiled and nodded.

“Cargo bay?” prompted Jefferey Linna.

“After being held for years, Marci and I finally got big enough to try to escape. We had been kept on a planet for a number of months and were being moved again. We had already discovered how to break free from the securing straps they used to keep us in the acceleration couches and had a plan. During lift off we slipped out and headed for the cargo bay. We were hiding in a dark niche behind some pipes as they searched for us. Gregory came near and shined his light right on my face. One of the others called out asking if he’d seen us, and looking me right in the eye he yelled back no, that he didn’t see anybody in the hold.

“After they left we used a cargo pod to jettison ourselves. It thumped down in the city and we ran from it as quick as we could. I don’t know if they ever came back to look for us or not.” The hand that had been gripping her knife fell away to hang limply at her side.

“So now we have his story,” sighed the Father into the brief silence that had followed Holly’s part of the story. “And you have made yourselves his judge and jury. His is not an evil heart. He has suffered much and suffers still. What is to be his fate? Will you drag him out and kill him now? Leave him in the ditches outside the city? This I say to you: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

“No,” announced John numbly. He’s regained most of his composure and had leaned away from Gracie to stand fully on his own once again. “His death would be senseless. We shall leave. But before we go, is there anything you can tell us about the pirates that would help us find them Gregory? Or the other children they took?”

“Yes, yes indeed. Heh. I heard things before I ran away. I hear things still sometimes in the back alleys. And the older children hear things they tell to me. I will share what I know, eh? The man that organized and led the Starcade attack is called the Electrical Contractor on the streets. He arranges killings. Just like flipping a switch, it’s light out for the target eh?. When the Clans took his home he needed a new one. He went to Yu-shan. Heads one of the unofficially sanctioned raider forces. Try there. You may find him there eh? They say that captured slaves grow the food. Perhaps your missing lambs will be there too.”

Neither John nor anyone else gave any signal that they were done here. But almost in unison the group turned and began shuffling out the door. Gracie looked back to see that with a Gregory simply shrug and return to his work repairing chairs. Jeff hung back a bit, letting the others leave first before stepping close to Father Kunn.

“Say a prayer for us Father,” Jeffery said. “I think we’re going to need it.”

Outside Holly turned to face the others.

“I know of Yu-shan. It’s a star system that got mismarked as not having any habitable planets in a Star League era survey. But about twenty years ago somebody happened by to recharge and discovered the truth. There’s a city there that’s a ‘freeport’ - a place for laundering plundered goods. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get sent there to look around for over a year. Two of Little Bob’s unofficially sanctioned pirate bands supposedly have bases there. It all fits. So what are you going to do?”

The last bit was directed to her older brother.

John snapped out of his own thoughts as he considered his sister’s question for a brief moment.

“What am I going to do?” he repeated bitterly. “I’m going to go home, gather up everything I can get my hands on, then go out there and lay waste to anything that moves. Why? You want to come along?”

“Damn right I do,” she started excitedly. “Oh hell. My lance. I’m going to have to talk to them. I…I don’t know what they’ll want to do. There’s a place called Danny’s a couple of blocks from where you’re staying. Meet me there in about three hours OK? There may be some formal introductions to do. I hope.”

“Danny’s. Three Hours. Got it,” nodded John.

Holly raced off towards the rented ground car her brothers had provided for her as the Warder group moved towards theirs at a more leisurely pace.

“All right people, here’s the plan of action,” announced John. “Jeff, I’d like you to get in touch with our information broker and get everything he has about this Yu-shen. Take Sergeant Harding with you. Sergeant, secure passage off this pit on the next available ship headed anyplace into the League. For now assume that we’ll have four extra people coming with us. Cost is not an object. I want to be outbound by tonight latest. Sergeant Cascade, have some of your people check out this Danny’s and make sure it looks safe. Now everyone run along and I’ll link up later at the Blue Harbor. I’ve got some thinking to do.”

Those he addressed reluctantly broke apart and moved to follow his orders. John headed across the street towards an abandoned warehouse whose grounds had become an impromptu dumping ground over the years.

“Go on,” Gracie urged Jeff as they both watched the Major walking off. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Jeff nodded and joined the waiting Sergeant Harding in one of the cars. Gracie watched the others drive off, then sighed heavily to herself. Sammi Cascade was still standing behind her.

“Even if I ordered you away you’d just sneak back around where I couldn’t see you anyway huh?” the tall MechWarrior asked the shorter ground trooper.

“It’s true,” agreed Sammi. “While we’re on this mission, his safety is my responsibility.”

“I figured as much. Well, I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have looking out for him. Let’s make sure we give him some space though. He’s got a lot on his mind at the moment.”

“That human wreckage we were listening to just implicated his ex-wife in the Starcade massacre. I’d imagine that he would have a few issues to work out.”

Gracie glanced sidelong at the Sergeant. “You caught that did you? Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. You don’t miss much.”

“There’s one thing I don’t get.”

“What’s that?”

“You lost your mother in the same attack. Yet you don’t seem terribly affected by the news of his ex’s involvement. I’d think you’d have a good mad going about now.”

“You know, it’s a funny thing,” sighed Gracie with a slow shake of her head. “I guess because I’ve already loathed that woman for so long now, this little extra bit of info doesn’t really change much for me. But John…buried deep inside he still loved her a little. No matter how many petty jibes she took at him, he never really stopped loving her even after he knew she had become a political enemy. I don’t know what direction he’s going to run with this one Samantha. I just don’t know.”

Cascade just frowned and nodded. There were many men she respected, but few she admired. She hoped that the Major would be able to weather this latest blow. It was important to have people you admired. It gave you something to strive for in your own development. “We better go re-establish visual contact.”

“Let’s do it,” agreed Aukland.


“AAAARRRRRRRR!”

It was an inarticulate yell that none the less conveyed the depth of pain and despair that had spawned it.

The resounding crash that punctuated the shout told of rusting metal succumbing to a forceful blow. The scenario had been repeated several times already. When he had first sent the others away John had been thinking that he wanted some quiet. To be alone while he pulled his thoughts together and forced his emotions under control.

Control.

Control had been a central issue in his life. He’d lost control of himself on the Starcade. He’d struggled with control in the months afterward. Eventually he’d forged his control within the heat of his quest, then honed that control with duty and responsibility. In the board room if he let his emotions rule his thinking then the company could lose millions, people could lose jobs, pension funds could fail. As a commanding officer the stakes were dramatically higher. People got maimed. Friends died. Even now, with part of his quest complete, he had been forced to reign himself in lest he spook his estranged sister into bolting before they had enough time to re-forge a family bond. His was the standard that others used to gauge themselves by. He was the example that others would emulate.

He was sick and fricking tired of control.

The bent bar he had picked up whistled through the air again, slamming heavily into the side of an old air conditioning unit as he bellowed out his rage once again. It was pure, raw rage he felt. Rage at his ex wife. Rage at those that had killed his family and his friends. Rage at the universe in general. It was more powerful than the cold, controlled rage that had prompted him to act in the detention center of the Dragoons’ world. This rage was wild and blind and unreasoning.

And it felt good.

He smashed a broken microwave with the bar, kicked over a barrel of trash, then turned his attention back to working over the abused air conditioner. Again and again he crashed his makeshift weapon into it with growing fury. Finally the bar got wedged inside the unit. He pulled with all his remaining might then sunk down onto his knees next to the dead machinery. The bar still protruded from the unit like a bent spear shaft. His adrenaline had run it’s course, the unbridled fury was momentarily spent.

Which still left the hurt. Still left the betrayal. Still left the despair.

“She knew,” he croaked hoarsely as he slammed his fist into the unit’s side. “All that time, all those years, she knew!.”

How many times had he lain next to her in the night? His fist smashed the cooling mesh of the air conditioner with a thunky whap. How many times had he counseled others to cut Lydia a little more slack, that she’s had a rough time as well? His first smashed the unit once more. How many times had he left his daughter in her care to search for a sister that Lydia had an indirect hand in kidnapping? He slammed the air conditioner again, oblivious to growing pain in his hand.

“Easy with that hand,” came Gracie’s familiar voice from behind him. “You’re going to break it.”

He paused and looked at the fist absently. Actually, now that she mentioned it, it did hurt a great deal. The least of his worries however. Still, he was likely to need it fairly soon. His sagged forward until his head rested on the unit’s side as he cradled the injured hand in his lap.

“What am I going to do,” he whispered in despair.

“About what?” asked Gracie gently as she slipped a few steps closer.

“Sandi,” he sighed. “Sorry dear, but mommy was part of killing Grandma and Grandpa so I had to kill her. Or maybe, Sorry dear, but you can’t go see mommy anymore because she’s a conniving, murdering witch.”

Gracie hugged herself as tears streamed down her face. She ached to go to him, to wrap her arms around him and tell him that she would make everything all right. To hold him and somehow take away his anguish. Sadly, she knew her love would not be enough for such a task. She couldn’t erase his pain. Maybe no one could.

“It’s a long ride home,” she offered finally. “There’s plenty of time to come up with a plan.”

“A plan,” he spat bitterly. “Anything can be accomplished with a good enough plan right? And a plan is nothing but strategic and tactical thinking, and I’m supposed to be a whiz at the strategy and tactics thing. So no worries right?”

No worries had become an unofficial slogan of the newer Suomi Warders. A slogan created by John himself following the Warder’s victory over the Nova Cats at Coleson’s Orb. It had been a grand celebration. It seemed so very far away now. There was a more appropriate Warder saying for these times.

“Sisu,” she said softly.

Sisu. To do what must be done no matter the cost. The very word stirred a deep part of his soul every time he heard it. It was more than just a concept. It was the way a Suomi Warder was expected to live their life and perform their duty. Not everyone was capable of living up to it all the time. But plenty of Warders before him had died in it’s pursuit. Sisu was a stoic approach to life. One that required discipline and control. It was time for John Linna, common man, to go back in the bottle. John Linna, Commanding Officer, was required on the deck once again.

“Sisu,” he agreed reluctantly. “Help me up and let’s get out of here before some gang of street kids finds us. It would be an embarrassing way for a pair of MechWarrior to find their end.”


Danny’s
Clayborne Remembered, Circinus
07 August 3052

“So from this Gregory person I finally got a solid lead on who killed my parents and took me,” Holly was explaining to her lance mates. “They’re actually out here in Circinus space, but not where we can get at them.”

“So what’s the plan then boss?” Leena wanted to know.

Holly took a deep breath. “My brother plans to mobilize his unit and go after them. He asked me if I wanted to come. I think…I think it’s my best chance of getting at them.”

“Then you have decided to return with them,” observed Inra.

“Well, yes,” admitted Holly. “But I want you all to come with me. We’ll fight together, like we always planned.”

“I have enough trouble with the lax discipline of the Black Warriors,” frowned Leena. “I don’t know if I can deal with these Warders of your brother’s.”

“You won’t really have to. I was thinking about what Inra said and she’s right. I can outfit a lance a now. I’m proposing that we form am independent command. A Free Lance.”

“After dealing with this Contractor fellow with your brother, where would we be based?” Ywani wanted to know.

Holly shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. Outreach I guess.”

The sisters exchanged one of their glances that silently communicated sentences.

“As long as it’s anyplace other than Circinus, we’re in,” the older sister announced.

Holly raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“Although we were born here, we’ve always been eager to move elsewhere,” explained Yawni. “This region of space is … unenlightened.”

“I don’t know,” hedged Leena. “You know I’d take a bullet for you Holly, but crummy as this place is - it is home. Outreach is far, far away. And you know what kind of stigma we’ll carry because we served in the Black Warriors. After your brother’s little private party I doubt we’ll find many people willing to hire us.”

“All I’m asking right now is that you think about it,” replied Holly. “If you look at…..”

She was interrupted by Inra’s announcement that the Sampsans were approaching the outdoor courtyard of tables.

They waited silently until the Linna brothers and the tall lady MechWarrior they’d seen in the taproom approached their table. John was surprised to see the four women wearing their unit jackets then realized that there wasn’t any reason for them not to. In fact, as they were undoubtedly discussing their future as a team, the symbolic unity of the jackets felt appropriate for the moment. Holly’s Harassers stood as the Warder trio stepped near.

“Fellow Warriors, these are my brothers John and Jeffrey and their friend Graice Aukland. John? What happened to your hand?”

He held up the wrapped appendage. “Machinery accident. I’ll get it checked later when there’s time. This is obviously your lance.”

“Yes,” beamed Holly with pride in her companions. “MechWarriors Inra and Yawni Bhati and MechWarrior Leena Calahan.”

“It is an honor to meet you Sir,” responded Inra formally to John. “And both of you as well.” She and her sister gave each of the Warders in turn the formal welcoming half-bow that was used in the Federation during formal introductions.

“Howdy,” nodded Leena with little enthusiasm. She’d already decided she didn’t care much for these better-than-thou Free Worlds Leaguers.

John and his party had barely finished returning the greetings when a quiet beeping sounded from John’s pocket.

“Trouble,” he announced without preamble as they turned to look behind them.

Across the street stood Lieutenant David Trepp and his lance. He was staring across the open space between them with his eyes fixed on Holly Linna. He started across the street as soon as he saw that those on the restaurant terrace had seen him.

“Whoa, whoa easy,” he announced as he saw several of the same gunman types he’d seen at the taproom closing in on him. “I’m just here to talk,” he assured everyone as he raised his hands up to shoulder level.

John glanced at his sister, who nodded her approval. So he signaled Cascade to let the Black Warrior officer pass. Trepp’s three lance mates milled about uncertainly at the terrace gateway. They had no idea what their Lieutenant was up to and had wanted to keep on walking rather than confront Lieutenant Holly Linna. They figured they could deal with Linna sometime when she didn’t have a bunch of allies around her.

David smiled toothily at those gathered near the table as he approached, careful to keep his hands up high and away from where his sidearm rode low in a hip holster.

“Hey, things got a little out of hand the other day before your new friends stepped in,” he shrugged, “and I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Holly chewed at the inside of her lip. Something didn’t seem right with Trepp. Stealing a quick glance at her companions she saw that they sensed it too.

“Yeah, well sometimes my temper runs a little hot. So no hard feelings I guess,” allowed Holly.

“Oh, I didn’t say that. I just said I was sorry. Sorry I didn’t take care of you like you deserved yesterday.”

David had grown up watching holoactions with Ancient Terran West themes. Gunfighter shows were his particular favorites. He’d practice long and hard until he had what was unarguably the fasting draw in the Black Warriors. Not a skill generally of much worth for a MechWarrior Officer. But useful at this moment.

His hand was already drawing his pistol before Holly and those around her even recognized his action. To his left Sammi Cascade was already bringing her machine pistol to bare but quick as her reflexes were physics were against her. She’d lost a fraction of second responding to his sudden draw and lost a few more precious fractions getting her heavier weapon targeted. Two rounds left his pistol before her burst started tearing him into shreds. Both of his punched squarely into Holly Linna’s chest.

Holly and David were both falling to the ground before anyone else even started to react. Startled and confused about what had just suddenly happened, the three Black Warriors at the terrace edge made the mistake of reaching for their weapons even though they had no idea what they planned to do with them. A hail of gunfire ripped them apart where they stood. Never even understanding what had happened, all three were dead before their bleeding corpses hit the paving stones.

The universe had slipped into slow motion as John watched his sister crumple. Despite the absurdly long amount of time it seemed to take her to fall, he could not get there in time to catch her.

Dear God, don’t let this happen, thought Gracie as she stood by helplessly while John and Jefferey crowded around their sister’s prone form. Holly’s lance mates pressed in as well so that a solid ring of people surrounded Holly. The Warder troopers sprang towards the downed assailants, kicking away weapons and making sure that the threat had been eliminated. Except for private Jensen, who stood rigid where he was with his eyes locked on the crowd around the youngest Linna. Sammi spared a quick look at Jensen then turned her face towards where Holly lay. Looking back down at the piece of garbage she’d just killed she wished he was still alive so she could kill him again.

“What happened,” gasped a stunned Holly. She’d suddenly found herself on her back. A sea of faces was peering down at her and it felt like someone had just stomped on her chest with a BattleMech.

“Lay still,” ordered John. “You’ve been shot. We need to see how bad it is and get you medical help.”

“Shot? damn, that Trepp’s crazier than I am.”

John had been frantically working at the jacket’s fasteners, which were refusing to cooperate with his single handed attempts to open them. Clamping his panic firmly in the back of his mind he took a quick moment to properly assess how they worked and finally noticed that there didn’t seem to be any blood on Holly’s front. Or holes for that matter. In fact, running his hand over the material again, he realized that the jackets were more than just the decorative clothing he had assumed they were.

“This thing’s ballistic weave,” he announced in relief. “It stopped both rounds.”

Holly chuckled, which made her grimace in pain. She wasn’t bleeding but she did probably have a cracked rib or two.

“Of course it is,” she coughed as her breath caught with the pain of her laughter. “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”

“It took a great deal of our pay to have these made,” explained Inra as she leaned down to hug her friend. “But it was obviously worth it.”

Infectious giggles at Holly’s survival spilled from those around her as the troopers looked on in confusion. Cascade immediately realized that the girl must have been wearing body armor. That meant medical aid was no longer their primary concern. Avoiding the local police force was.

“I hate to interrupt,” the Sergeant broke in loudly. “But assuming our wounded is ambulatory we need to start E & E maneuvers immediately.”

The Major straightened at that. Cascade was right of course. Escape and Evade was the order of the day now. He had no desire to test Circinus’ justice system. As his eyes swept across the bodies that his people had just created, John was surprised to discover that they brought no emotional response from him. In the past he’d always felt sorry in a general sort of way that human life had been lost when enemies were killed. It chilled him to realize that he didn’t care about these. His eyes met Sammi Cascade’s as she stood calmly over the Lieutenant she had killed and he realized that she felt the same way. Dead enemies meant nothing to her. And he saw that she read the same in his eyes.

“We need to move,” Cascade stated again, omitting the Sir that wanted to spring to her lips. She’d been ordered not to use ranks or address the officers as Sir or Ma’am while they were operating under cover.

MechWarrior Leena reached down and gripped Holly’s arm then helped pull her to her feet.

“That settles that,” announced Leena as she heaved Holly to her feet. “We can’t stay here now. Trepp’s friends will get us sooner or later if we do. So I’m in with you too, Lieutenant. Let’s get off this rock.”


Fort Ilmarninen (Warder Base)
Outside Suomi City, Sampsa
10 August 3052

Captain Osmo Woods read over the report once again before encrypting it in his personal noteputer. All the work had been done in flash memory so that even if the optical drive was taken apart and micro-shaved no one would ever find any evidence of the file. Not that he expected anyone to try, but there was still that report Gracie had commissioned without his knowledge. Woods still knew nothing about it other than it existed. If Gracie had taken it with her he didn’t know. An attempt to get into her personal safe had almost gone disastrously wrong when what had appeared to be a standard security vault had turned out to be a disguised special model. His intelligence skills didn’t run heavily toward the electronic lock breaking area so he’d left well enough alone after that.

There’d been plenty to keep him occupied anyway. He was the acting CO of the Warders at the moment, as well as pursuing what avenues of investigation he could concerning whoever hired the kidnapping team and the ‘Mech raiders that had recently struck. In truth, he was finding his minimal intelligence gathering duties for the Dragoons to be an annoying drain on his time and energy.

This latest report was a good example. It fairly well laid out what was know so far about the corporate force that had been arranging strife for monetary gain and was currently pitted against the Suomi Warders. But he was sure that his superiors really wouldn’t care. Petty problems like pirates and over-reaching corporations were beneath the mighty Wolf’s Dragoon’s notice. The famous mercenary command had bigger fish to fry. In short, it was a wasted exercise as far as Osmo could tell. Still, duty was duty. He’d post it with the next outgoing hyperpulse batch sent to ComStar.

His door chime sounded and Osmo keyed the room’s external comm.

“Yes, come on in.”

One of the security troopers marched in and saluted, then deposited a sealed bag on his desk.

“Communications just received this for you Sir. It’s eyes only.”

Woods returned the salute and nodded. The private was showing the correct lack of interest that was required of his job. The Captain picked it up and made a quick examination of it to make sure it was properly sealed. The only way to open it was to cut it open - which would reveal that it had been tampered with.

“The package is in good order. Thank you Private.”

“If you would please, Sir,” replied the guard as he handed over a clipboard.

Woods took it and signed for reception of the communications package.

“That will be all Private.”

“Yes Sir. Thank you Sir.”

Woods waited for the guard to leave his office before pulling a knife from his desk and slitting open the package. He also hit a key on his desk consul that locked his door. Then he extracted the computer typed transcript of a ComStar hyperpulse message from the plastic pack. It was addressed to him. The text of the message was all number pairs. Osmo smiled in anticipation as he hopped up and went over to his bookshelf where he extracted a hardbound copy of Homer’s Iliad. Returning to his desk he pulled some flash paper from a drawer and prepared to set to work.

The flash paper would burn completely when spritzed with a certain chemical solvent. Upon a blank flash sheet Osmo began writing down words by going to a specific page in the Illiad (the first number of each pair) then counting to the given word on that page (the second number). It was one of the oldest coding methods known to man and almost unbreakable if you didn’t know what text was being used as the key as long as the writers didn’t keep using the same page/word set every time the same word was needed for the message. Major Linna was carrying the exact same print issue around with him. After several minutes of work the Major’s short message began to form.

Woods read it through once after it was completed and leaned back with a smile. He’d be damned but the Major had actually done it. He’d really found his long lost sister alive and well and was on his way back with her plus a few friends in tow. In truth, Osmo had never expected the girl to be found alive after all this time. The young woman now, he corrected himself. She must have some story to tell. He wondered what she would be like. Would she be a younger John? Or a whole different creature? Whichever the case, he was genuinely happy for the Major. He’d come to think of John as a friend and it was great to see something go well for John in his personal life for a change. There was a projected return path where Osmo might be able to send an update to the Major. John’s note also said he was bringing back information about “his long time enemy”. Osmo assumed the Major meant he had picked up a lead on the Starcade killers while in the Circinus Federation.

On another of the other flash sheets he started penning his own message, leaving room to choose a number pairing under each word. Deciphering messages was the easier task. Encoding them required hunting through the book looking for the word you wanted. Thus the messages tended to be short and to the point. There was a good amount he could tell. The question was, how much was necessary at the moment.

Obviously that his daughter had almost been kidnapped but was fine. That his ex-wife was facing legal problems as the investigation into the satellite sabotage had led back to Lydia in a round about way. There also seemed to be a connection directly from the kidnappers but Osmo figured he’d leave that part for later. John would want to know that the base had been attacked but the raiders were defeated with no loss of Warder lives. Details about what little bit they picked up from the Hauptman before he died could wait.

Osmo glanced at his noteputer in annoyance as the thought crossed his mind that he should update the report it held for WolfNet. Then he pushed the thought away. It could wait for his next monthly report. The things he had to take care of now that the Major was coming home were more important. He’d get around to updating WolfNet later.


The Rold Building, 23
Planet Drayson, Free Worlds League
12 August 3052

The Chairman wheeled himself over to the wetbar in his expansive office suite and poured himself two fingers of bourbon. He rarely drank anymore at his advanced age but today was a good day to make an exception. He was too old and experienced to get overly excited about the latest set of reports he’d received. But he was far from pleased with what he had read.

That damnable John Linna appeared to be living up to the reputation of being unkillable that his planet’s media had tagged him with. Schmidt’s assault force had been out maneuvered and destroyed, although as the Hauptman himself had been killed there wasn’t any potential fallout to worry about from that development. The crack mercenary team that had been assembled for a simple kidnapping had failed miserably in a related issue. That had been a surprising bit of news that left the Touborg woman a potential threat depending on how much she’d guessed at over the years she’d been used by him. That air defense officer had turned himself in as well. Most unexpected considering the condition his daughter was kept in by the Chairman’s agent.

On his way back to where-ever the Contractor hid himself to run his web of assassins, Steven Ong had been kind enough to report that Linna had secretly left the Warder’s home planet for parts unknown. That was the most troubling report. Not that Ong had tucked his tail between his legs and run, but that the Warders had found, isolated, and then used his one spy in their midst to transmit false information to hide John Linna’s departure. Where John might be off to was a complete mystery to the Chairman and he didn’t enjoy mysteries. It all begged the question of how much did Linna know? And what would he do if he discovered who his nemesis was?

In a purely economic battle the Chairman’s holdings held the upper hand against DEW industries. If John Linna didn’t realize that his brother Jeffery was certain to. Legally it was extremely unlikely they would ever be able to touch him. Evidence laws could be such an annoying thing for any prosecution. Finding admissible evidence against the Chairman would be next to impossible. But there was the notable issue of John’s private little army. It was sizable and had been growing larger. But all reports it was also quite capable as these things were measured. While on the surface it seemed ridiculous to think that John Linna might drop his Suomi Warders right here on Drayson, stranger things had happened. Viewed from a certain angle, it was the most viable option available to John Linna. Thus it was time to make that option less palatable.

What he needed was to hire some troops of his own. Not the marginal type like the Blitzkrieg had been but above board heavy hitters like the Northwind Highlanders, Erindini Light Horse, or maybe even Wolf’s Dragoons from Outreach. While the larger outfits usually didn’t do corporate security work, with the damage many had sustained during the Clan’s drive towards Terra one of them might be looking for a little ‘easy money’ now that the Truce would hold the Clanners at bay for a while. Linna would think twice about coming to Drayson with his Warders if a company or two of Dragoon ‘Mechs were here.

He grimaced as the bourbon burned its way down his throat then rolled over to where he could buzz his personal secretary.

“Cindy, I’d like you to come in and take a ComStar transmission for me please,” he told the assistant. “Destination will be Outreach.”

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