BattleTech Fanon Wiki

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[]

Chapter 6: Twists of Fate[]

Synopsis: Previous sections are Wages of Honor, Wager with the Clans, Trap of Imagination, Trials of Loyalty and Eye of the Storm. . The Suomi Warders. lead by Major John Linna, have won half of their legal battle with the Draconis Combine. The fate of Chu-i Naoko Fujiwara still balances between the ComStar Review Board, Combine Council Heiro Taki, and her own heart. Meanwhile three assassins plan for their second attempt on John’s life while the Warders have realized the corporate nature of their hidden foe. Mixed into the distractions of trials and killers, the unit’s normal business must still go on. While Captain Woods and Lieutenant Fosters worry about the Major’s safety, Major Linna is feeling the weight of the threats aligned against both himself personally, his family, and his beloved unit. Information from the terrible day upon the Starcade that reshaped Major Linna’s and Lieutenant Aukland’s life some to light.

Streets around ComStar Center
Harlech city, Outreach
6 May 3052

John leaned drowsily against the interior of the armored limousine. For mysterious reasons his lead council hadn’t divulged, the hearing date for Naoko’s fate had been pushed back two more days. It had been two days too many as far as John was concerned. He wanted to get this thing over with one way or another and get the snot off of Outreach as soon as possible. It wasn’t that the locals were being inhospitable; to the contrary in fact. The Dragoons had been far more forthcoming with special gear and assistance than he would have expected to rate. Sure, he had money and influence but the Dragoons owned the entire planet and had little use for his firms’ equipment or technicians. They seemed to be doing an awful lot for him simply from the goodness of their hearts. Maybe it was just because having visiting COs, even mere Majors, murdered on your turf was bad for business. While it was one of the few good breaks he’d had in the past few days, in his current frame of mind he had begun to view the largess with suspicion.

The day after the attempt on his life had gone pretty good. And the next. But then things had started to slip downhill. He’d been sleeping poorly and getting grouchy. And he knew it. He was also loosing the personal touch he had always had with his people. Part of it was simply that there was twice as many of them as there used to be. But he’d also become paranoid about being around his comrades as the days wore on uneventfully. He was deathly afraid that someone else might get killed by an attack meant for him. Hell, he was afraid that he might get killed by an attack meant for him. He’d never had difficulty focusing on running the unit before a battle. Death was always possible, but had never been a specter that preyed on his thoughts. But that initial feeling of fear that had washed through him that first moment they told him assassins were gunning for him had crept back and was growing. Facing death was one thing; waiting for it to silently stick you in the back before you ever saw it coming- that was proving to be something else.

It seemed like Gracie was becoming somewhat distant right at a time he could really use her inner strength to bolster his own. He had strong feelings for Naoko, but in truth they hardly knew each other and dumping his anxieties on her didn’t feel right. Sven was always good for listening, but right now Sven was building his first command into a functional team. The last thing Jorgenson needed right now was his CO whining to him about dark insecurities. Osmo seemed to be practically working around the clock juggling all sorts of details and driving an investigation – he didn’t need any more problems to worry about. The tankers and infantrymen were all busy with internal issues and needed his strong support rather than his angst. With a start he realized that until this week he had never really experienced the loneliness of command that his Grandmother had often spoken of.

What they needed to do was get back home. He figured he’d be a harder target on his own turf. Plus his unit could get down to the real work of building an integrated as a combined arms force. Meanwhile, he could hire a small army of investigators and computer analysts to start breaking down information and figure out which big-money company or corporation was the ‘bad guy’ out to get him. Preparing to act was energizing, waiting to be acted upon paralyzing.

Hopefully this was the first step. Ahead of him in another car rode his legal team and Naoko. The two vehicles where on their way to the ComStar Review Board. Captain Woods and Lieutenant Fosters had both felt that entering or leaving the hearing building was the likeliest time the assassins might try again. Thus extra precautions had been taken. One of them was parked up ahead on the right.

The roadside vehicle looked like a two-deck tour bus. The top level was mostly window; a tinted plastic that would let riders view the outside world without feeling like they were on display. In reality it was a security command vehicle. A few tons of commo and surveillance gear was packed within along with operators. A TURT unit (Tactical Urban Reaction Team) plus some of Warder Third Platoon were stationed within as well. The tinted window area topside was actually tactical armored “glass”, bullet resistant from the outside but capable of allowing passengers to shoot out without destroying the windows. The special “one way” protective material had been first developed way back in the late 1990s. Sticky resins would bind to bullets headed one way but allow those headed the opposite way to pass through the outer shell layer. In later centuries laser protection had been formulated into the mix, providing the dark tint. That proved to be a “two way” solution though. Laser fire was affected from either side.

One particular rider on that bus had been a point of contention among an otherwise smooth working relationship between the Warder’s and the local security force. Corporal Maxine Utala was listed as ‘Marksman’ under her military occupation specialty in the Warder files. Specialty naming games aside, she was the unit’s sole sniper. The TURT team had two counter snipers in place on building tops. They were not very fond of the idea the Warders posting their own shooter as well. But Lieutenant Fosters had insisted and eventually got his way. John understood that they had been practicing protection scenarios for the area just in front of hearing building for the past three days. As they passed the vehicle John saw that the engine compartment door was up in the rear and a bored mechanic had put warning cones around the bus before sitting on the curb to read a magazine. He appeared to waiting for either a parts or a tow truck. The ‘mechanic’ was another security force member.

Lieutenant Karl Fosters stood near the street with two of his troopers. He’d been involved with two kidnapping rescues but this was his first protection mission. He had a bad feeling about the deal today but there wasn’t anything solid to pin it on. The way the entrance was built into an angled “winglet” of the ComStar building meant that any attack would likely come from across the street and “down” from his current position. The building itself obstructed line of sight “up” the street and the buildings on the ComStar side of the street were ones they had been able to access and secure. But the opposite side was composed of a long row of five story structures of mixed residential and commercial / office use. It was great from the standpoint of urban design and keeping people living near their work places. But it allowed far too many available windows to shoot out of from Karl’s viewpoint. Barring vehicle bombs ramming John’s limo or an unlikely ‘Mech attack, the rows of tinted windows across the street were the biggest threat. He had the newly hired Hawks circling within a few minutes airtime to deal with either of the first two threats. The windows were the responsibility of the TURT unit and his own folks. A few off duty First and Second Platoon troopers were wandering the far side of the street in civilian clothes as an uninvited rapid response force. They weren’t looking very unobtrusive and Fosters had identified them to the TURT people so none of the Warders got shot as potential hostiles if a fireworks party broke out today. Within the ‘bus’, Maxine swept her scope along the windows looking for any telltale sign of movement. She ignored the occasional glare from the body armored TURT team below her. She’d have been resentful in their place as well. Back when she was SWAT, a similar type response unit, she’d have been POed if a ‘rouge’ sniper had been forced upon her as well. But they’d just have to live with it. It was her CO on the line and he got the best available. The TURT shooters were no doubt very good; but she was the best.

Private Cooper was sweeping along the windows with a high powered heat imaging scope. With it he’d be able to pick out a human body standing behind any of the windows tinted or shaded enough to block normal sight within. She’d thought about mounting such a unit on her weapon but decided against it. It might let her see a target outline, but she wouldn’t necessarily see a ledge or window bar that might deflect her shot. Below them a tactical specialist was running off a dialog relaying the progress of their charges to everyone else in the bus.

“The DC people are still hovering about near the doorway,” reported the Tac Officer. “They look like they’re watching the limos arrive. The first has stopped. Doors opening. The lawyers are out now as is Fujiwara. They’re all moving towards the steps as Fosters and his two troopers are now moving to the curb for the package limo. Limo two is approaching the curb now.”

Above and behind the Tac Officer, Cooper focused in tight on a particular window. “Maxine, we’ve got loiterers at building six, level four, window five.”

“Roger,” she replied as she swung the high powered rifle to cover the sighting. She couldn’t see anything but tinted glass through her optics. This was the third ‘loiter’ call in the past five minutes. Person or persons unknown were standing near a window facing the Review Hall. “Negative eye-ball,” she added to let him know she couldn’t see anything directly.

“Two positive, maybe a third,” he reported. Through his eyepiece he saw mainly blackness with ghost images framed by the angles caused by the window. The figures were yellow where warmest, then faded to green then red. The center torso and center head were yellow with the body outlined in red and green filling the space between. “Occupying the left half, bottom corner. Possible third farther in.”

Maxine adjusted her aim point a bit. If they only filled the bottom quarter of the opening from the bus’s line of sight they must be standing somewhat back from the window. Barring arm movements Cooper wouldn’t be able to tell which way they faced. Elbows generally only bend upwards to the side a target’s face was on. These people might not even be looking out the window. They could be looking elsewhere inside the room.

Most weapons wouldn’t give off enough heat signature to register on a scope like Cooper’s. This one didn’t either. But the sweeping motion as the long tube was brought up to shoulder level was unmistakable and the thick projector made a black slash across the heat outline of the second person. Cooper didn’t hesitate a moment.

“Shooter, Shooter, Shooter,” he called into the open frequency. “B-Six, L-Four, W-Five. Bottom corner. Launcher, Launcher, Launcher.”

As ‘Shooter-Shooter-Shooter’ was called John had just started to slip up out of the seat for the open door. He was slammed backwards as Karl Fosters flung himself head first at John, tumbling them both back into the limo. Trooper Lahvti started yelling Go, Go, Go to the limo driver while in the bus Maxine lowered her cross hairs over the designated window.

With the calling of the letters-number combinations the TURT rooftop shooters were starting to adjust to the target window while the unit in the bus started to react by reaching for weapons. At the limo Lahvti sprung forward to slam the door shut while his partner Marheim was taking up a firing position behind the limo’s rear section. Naoko was urging those around her into a run for the building entrance where Yamoto and Taki stood rooted in place at the sight of the sudden flurry of activity. ‘Bottom Corner’ had been a place marker for Maxine, letting her know that her unseen target was manly visible in that given section of the window. Her aim dropped to a hand’s width above the corner.

Her breathing had already stilled. Cooper yelling less than a meter away from her, the stir of movement from the TURT unit below her, the slight sway of the bus as they began moving- all of these things were noted by her but were now part of a different world. He world was only an imaginary silhouette she painted with her mind in a dark window and a spot she had picked to put a bullet through. Maxine’s finger tenderly tightened on the trigger. Only a slight pressure was required to activate the hammer mechanism and ignite the prime within the 12mm hand loaded sniper round. The bullet crashed out, slicing through her window and then smashing through the one far above before the crack of it’s supersonic velocity could be registered by human ears.

As light travels faster than sound the launch flare of the missile from above was visible a split instant before the sound of the rifle could be heard. To anyone in position to see and hear both events however, they seemed to occur at the same time.

Mark Timmons was sighting through the missile launcher’s optics as the target’s car pulled up to the curb. This would be their best chance and they would leave nothing to chance. Rather than simply hit the car they would wait until the Major was half way between the car and the building. Instead of taking their chances with random explosive forces, they were using an Inferno missile to make sure anyone standing on the sidewalk would be killed. They had even test fired a missile through a window pane similar to the one he would fire through now to make sure the warhead wouldn’t detonate. Luckily they were on the perfect planet for obtaining and test firing man-portable missile systems.

Lynx stood a few steps to his left and slightly behind him. Thomas was hovering even farther back in the apartment. Both of the other men were careful not to stand in the blow back area behind the launcher. Lynx was eager to see the festivities, thus he was positioned to see out the window. Thomas Chan was more interested in their escape, thus he stayed near the door. The residents of this particular apartment would be at work today. Neither Triad assassin had the slightest qualm about killing innocents, but the fewer killing required before the main attack the less complications generally occurred.

The limo door opened and Mark squeezed the trigger half way back. About four steps and the target would be in the kill zone. Then one of the guards suddenly lunged into the car, pushing the target back. Two others were stepping up to the vehicle, one starting to look in his general direction as Mark hovered indecisively. Shoot or scrub? Then fire slashed across his ribs and his finger tightened convulsively as the supersonic crack of the bullet reached him. Falling back from the window he saw the trail of exhaust headed for the limo then slammed to the carpet. Lynx was slowly slumping down across from him, both hands pressed over a large red splotch in his belly. The shot that had clipped Mark had then tore solidly into Lynx.

As Maxine watched the missile flash away she was tempted to put a few more rounds into the window. But she didn’t. The high velocity slugs would easily punch through more than one interior wall. It was too late now to stop the assassins. She’d hate to kill some innocent lady or little kid in a room across the hall by firing wildly into the building. By turning her head she could track the missile and have an unobstructed view of the strike zone. But she didn’t look. The headphones would tell the tale soon enough.

John struggled instinctively against the sudden attack, pushing himself upright and trying to get out from under Fosters. He could see PFCs Lahvti and Marheim outside the armored glass. The unforgettable sound of missile whoosh filled his ears followed by a ball of flames filling his sight as the incendiary warhead exploded and flung jelled fire in a circle of death. John saw his two troopers start to burn and scream before the flames washed over that side of the limo, blocking them from sight. Even before Fosters started yelling at the driver to go, the limo lurched forward and started to roll away from the inferno. Heat beat down through the roof and the armored windows were already starting to bubble. As the tires on the flaming side blew out, the car jerked to an angle and ground forward on the wheel rims.

Naoko looked up from atop Yamoto. Just before the explosion she had tackled him on the run, pushing him down past the top of the entrance stairs. Fire roared below them and some had splattered past them to cling to the building but she and the Tai-sa were unharmed. A quick glance around told her that the lawyer trio and Council Taki had also hit the bricks and avoided the flames. There was a sharp pain within her chest as she looked into the fire though. Through the flames and heat she couldn’t tell what had become of the Major or his guards. The Tai-sa looked like he was about to say something but she didn’t bother to pay attention. Instead she climbed to her feet and started edging quickly around the blast radius to discover John’s fate and help as she could.

“We can’t stay in here much longer,” Karl yelled to the driver inside the flaming limo.

“I know, I know,” he yelled back. “We’re crossing to that building. On three we exit. I’ll take right, you take left.”

“Understood,” replied Karl.

Surprise had worn off and John was back in the game now. The driver planned to get close to an entrance then have them vacate the burning car. John didn’t have any problems with the idea. Swaying on it’s suspension as it bumped up the curb, the limo turned slightly and came to a stop as the driver counted out. Then the left doors popped open and three armed men stormed out of the burning machine. A very surprised city maintenance worked dropped his roll of garbage bags and raised his hands as a running uniformed man kept a handgun trained on him. Then the three of them were gone inside the building’s lobby, leaving him alone with his clipboard and garbage collection gear. And his newest piece of abandoned trash; a flaming limo.

Sammi and her crew were startled when they realized they were sitting in the outdoor café of the very building being called out over the hidden ear-coms they wore. They had made it to their feet just as the missile flashed over their heads. With growing horror they watched it strike just past the limo. But as the car lurched forward and they heard Lieutenant Fosters call that the Major was unharmed they sprung into action.

“Tac Two, Tac Two,” the Sergeant yelled as her troopers ripped comgear headsets from their pockets and produced weapons from beneath clothing. “First and Second team to the lobby elevators, Third team take the garage. Remember, we need one alive. At any cost, take one alive.”

“Sisu Sarge,” came various replies as they swarmed into the building. The TURT group was just starting to exit the tactical vehicle and would be headed for the same building with the same plans. But Warder First Platoon had a good head start on them.

Thomas Chan shook his head in disbelief as he grabbed towels from the bathroom. Somehow they’d been made and a sniper had hit both Timmons and Lynx. At first Chan had thought two different shooters had hit them until he checked the wounds. Mark’s was shallow, a jagged slash along a rib. The bullet had almost missed him. But set to tumbling by Mark’s rib it had then torn into Lynx’s guts with a vengeance.

“We have to move,” Thomas told Mark as he handed him the makeshift wound dressing.

“I can make it. I’ll find something to hide the blood. What about Lynx?”

Thomas just shook his had no. “You find a coat. I’ll take care of Lynx.”

Lynx looked up when Chan’s feet walked into his field of vision. It still hurt pretty bad, but he was starting to go numb and fuzzy feeling. He was getting chilly though. Thomas took a second look in case he had been wrong the first time but nothing had changed. The big local tough was literally holding his guts from spilling out. The smell and exposed intestines told Chan that Lynx was finished.

“Lynx, I’m sorry but it’s fatal. There’s nothing left to do but bleed out or end it quick,” Thomas told him gently.

Lynx nodded slightly in comprehension. Somehow he’d always known he could expect a violent death. But he’d never thought he’d end up gut shot and dying like this out of nowhere. He wasn’t ready to die; he just wasn’t ready. But he was out of choices except for one. “Do it,” he managed to blurt out. At least the hurt would stop.

Thomas walked to one side before pulling his flechette pistol out. It was something that Lynx wouldn’t want to see coming. Lynx must have had the same thought as his eyes were screwed tightly shut. Tears rolled from each but the man refused to wail or sob. The pistol came up, the barrel leveled at Lynx’s temple. The big man’s pained lips whispered “mother” just before the pistol coughed and ended the hurt forever. Chan made sure his friend was dead before going to check on Timmon’s progress.

“It’s a little small but it’ll have to do,” grimaced Mark as he pulled on a business jacket over his blood soaked shirt.

“If we can get clear, we run for it. But if not…” Thomas left the rest unsaid.

Mark nodded his understanding. Escape or death. It was the Triad way. Capture was not an option.

A quick glance in the hall showed it clear. The pair moved towards the main landing and the elevators. Their plan was to bluff their way out, perhaps using the confusion of a crowd if they could find one. Luck was with them as they saw five other people milling excitedly and waiting for the elevator. They all buzzed with news of the explosion and questions about what it was all about. When the lift doors opened the crowd was immediately silenced and edged backwards. Three rather unsavory looking people popped out of it with mini-submachine guns held at the ready. They scanned the small group for a moment then a short female barked questions.

“Did anyone run by here? Use the stairwell?”

There was a general chorus of ‘no’s.

“All right people, here’s the score,” she continued. “There’s a Death Commando cell in the building. Everyone wait over there but away from that window. As soon as we secure the lower landings we’ll send you down and outside.”

Mark and Thomas let themselves be herded into the landing alcove. A Death Commando group? They wondered what made the security types think that. Whatever the reason the Triad pair hoped to make use of the assumption to get to the ground floor. They’d still need to break away once on the lower level. Regular security practice was to isolate all rescued hostages until identities could be confirmed. Most people didn’t realize that the first thing police often did with anybody rescued from a dangerous situation was handcuff them.

Sammi motioned for her men to move down each hallway a bit. She turned her back on the milling residents for a moment as she fished under her light windbreaker. There might be some civil lawsuits over her next maneuver but legal niceties had never been her forte- stopping the enemy by any means possible was. One of the people behind her had blood drips on his pants and a bulge under his tight jacket that could only be a shoulder holstered pistol. One or more of the others around him were likely his fellow assassins. By feel she clicked the grenade to the shortest fuse time. She pulled the charge knob, counted to three, then spun and rolled it toward the milling people and covered her ears with her hands. The concussion grenade went off with a loud bang and blinding flash. The Triad duo had recognized the weapon when it hit the floor but didn’t have enough time to react. Being in such close proximity they were knocked senseless by the explosion. Ears ringing and blinking spots from her vision, Sammi rushed in to secure anyone that had a weapon. Followed by securing everyone else.

“Jeez Sarge, give a guy some warning the next time you do that,” yelled the trooper to her left over his ringing ears.

She looked up and grinned, but didn’t stop her search of the fallen bodies.

Assaulting the apartment that had been the assassin’s roost was left for the TURT unit. They expertly secured the living quarters, rather disappointed that there was no resistance. The only occupant was a large man that had suffered a high caliber wound to the stomach and a close range pistol shot to the head.

“Sick puppies,” muttered one of the TURT guys as he looked at Lynx’s remains. “Shot their own guy so they wouldn’t have to carry him out. Well, saved us the bother of a trial I guess.”

Jiang Wu finished his two block walk to the parked municipal vehicle and stowed away the garbage gear. He’d almost tried for a shot at the target, but the well trained driver had kept his weapon leveled at Wu until the trio had entered the building. Someone had fired a rifle just before the missile launch. Likely the assassins had been spotted. Perhaps they would escape but more likely they would die. Jiang could stay and attempt to finish the contract himself, but as the Master’s Second his duty was to report the failure so that Master Ong could decide upon which course of action should be next. A new identity awaited in a locker at the DropPort. Shaming as it might be, it was time to leave.

Central Detention Center
Harlech City, Outreach
7 May 3052

Four uniformed Warder officers followed the detention guard down the hushed corridors of the high security facility. John had insisted on seeing the captured assassins personally. Karl, who had barely left John’s side since the missile attack yesterday, insisted on going along. The Major hadn’t seemed his usual self the past few days and his fury had practically become a living entity since the attack killed two troopers and threatened many other people. Thus as Exec Osmo had decided to tag along even though he’d already had a chance to interrogate the prisoners last night. Osmo had invited Gracie along as a break on John. If anyone could arrest a stray impulse to act on his part it would be her. But seeing the fierce anticipation in her eyes at a confrontation with the killers made Captain Woods wonder if he had made a mistake in adding her to the party.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” tried Osmo one last time.

“No,” snapped John as he kept pace with the guard. Woods hated it when he did that. John would verbally agree with you while going along his merry way doing whatever it was he was planning to do.

“I’m serious John,” persisted Osmo. “I was with the interrogation team that was at them all night. They’ve been trained against interrogation tactics and are highly motivated to stay silent. It’ll take days or weeks before getting anything useful out of them.”

John finally stopped. “I heard your report the first time Osmo. Yes, I know that they aren’t going to suddenly start talking just because I paid them a visit. But who knows? Maybe they’ll taunt me or make some obscure comment that might lead to something. Besides,” he finished darkly, “they killed two of our own on a city sidewalk in cold blood. I have to look them in the eye and memorize their faces. I want them to know that it’s not a faceless legal system against them now. That it’s us, the Warders, and it’s personal.” He motioned for the guard to keep going.

Osmo shrugged in defeat. Looked like they’d be paying the prisoners a visit.

The two assassins sat on simple cots in plain orange jumpsuits. Each wore padded arm and leg cuffs that restricted movement and were wired to give a large shock at remote control. The cell wall between the guard station and the prisoner’s cell was clear armored plastic, unbreakable while allowing the guards to spot any creative suicide attempts. Both guards stationed within rose from their seats as John’s party entered. The prisoners didn’t immediately look up as the wall was mostly sound proofed and neither happened to be looking towards the guards.

“Sir,” saluted the guard Sergeant, “May I see your passes?”

“Certainly,” nodded John as he handed them over. The guard checked them over quite carefully before deciding they were authentic and removing his hand from the butt of his holstered pistol.

“These are the men you requested to see,” confirmed the Sergeant.

“Can I go in?” asked John.

“Regulations require me to remind the Major that physical abuse of prisoners is not allowed under….”

John cut the Sergeant off. “Yes, yes. I know. I’m not here to rough them up. And if I decide I want them dead I’ll just walk my ‘Mech up to the outer wall and blow the hell out of that cell from outside. Now open the door please Sergeant.”

The two guards exchanged uneasy glances. From the visitor’s tone they half suspected he was serious about using his ‘Mech if he decided to. This was not a good situation and if he could have thought of a good excuse the Sergeant would have loved to send the Major packing. But there wasn’t one.

“Yes Sir. We’ll leave the speakers on in case you need something. Your sidearm please.”

John started to vent his pent up fury on the guard sergeant, then realized the request was likely a regulation to keep prisoners from seizing weapons. A simple and sensible precaution. He undid his gunbelt and handed the old style .45 over to the waiting private.

“On your feet scumbags,” barked the Sergeant into a microphone. “You’ve got company.”

The pair shuffled to their feet as the clear door slid aside on it’s rails. John couldn’t help but be surprised at how ordinary the pair looked. He understood that the big one from the hotel had been killed by one of these two before they tried to flee. They both looked somewhat familiar to him. Thomas Chan looked up in disinterest at their newest questioner and was surprised to be looking into the face of their most recent target. The surprise registered on his face, and as they locked eyes the assassin and the mercenary realized where they had seen each other before.

“You son of a …” The rest John’s sudden roar was lost in his grunt as he picked Chan up and slammed him against the wall with all his might.

“Hey, hey, hey,” repeatedly shouted the Sergeant as he started for the open doorway. He’d known something like this would happen. What admin idiot had signed the admit pass? But the stocky Warder infantry officer slid into the guard’s path and blocked the doorway as the Warder CO slammed Chan into Timmons then stepped back. John reached for his sidearm without thinking, intent on shooting both of the rotten SOBs then and there. But his hand came up empty. The guard private had his gun.

John spun and marched from the cell, slipping around Karl who moved to let him pass and shaking off the Sergeant as the guard leader reached for him.

“Give me that pistol soldier,” John ordered the second guard.

The young man melted away from the fiery tone but refused to hand over the weapon.

“Sir, you can not shoot them!” yelled the Sergeant as he reoriented on the Major again. “They haven’t been tried yet.”

“Yes they have,” snapped John. “Now give over my weapon.”

“Gracie,” hissed Osmo to her, “do something!”

She nodded her willingness to become involved. “John, other than the fact they’re scum sucking assassin bastards that killed two of our own is there any particular reason we need to shoot them now instead later?”

Osmo rolled his eyes upwards. That was not the kind of help he had in mind.

John stopped chasing the private around the guard desk to make eye contact with her. His words chilled Gracie and Carl to the bone and shook Osmo as well even though he was only peripherally involved. “Because the last place I was them was on the Starcade in security uniforms. Running away, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Crew infiltrators. They helped kill our people.”

The words were more than a statement of fact. They were a death sentence.

“Here, take mine,” she offered as she reached for her own sidearm.

“Or mine Sir,” Karl was offering.

The Sergeant already had his out, but he was pointing it at the visitors rather than the prisoners. John locked a scathing look on the man.

“What? You going to finish their contract for them and kill me Sergeant.?”

“I will do my duty Sir,” grated the Sergeant through clinched teeth.

“Damn it, this is insane,” shouted Osmo as he slapped Gracie’s gun down.

“You don’t like the way I do things then go find some other unit to play soldier in,” John snapped back.

“Don’t temp me,” Osmo hotly replied, “it wouldn’t be that hard.”

“Then go. No one’s keeping you here. Gracie?” he asked as he reached out for her pistol again.

“Drop it Lieutenant,” ordered the Sergeant.

“You drop it,” spat back Karl as he trained his gun on the Sergeant.

The guard private looked helplessly to Osmo. “Shut the damn door,” the Captain snapped. The private nodded and slapped the security switch that rolled the access panel closed. “There. Now no one is shooting anybody,” announced Woods.

“Osmo,” both Gracie and John growled in unison.

“Think about Holly,” demanded Woods. “These two are the only living link we know of to her kidnapping. Kill them and kill everything they know.”

John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He realized he was trembling with rage, with the need to kill. There had only ever been one other time he had felt an actual desire to slaughter. Back on the Starcade. But he was a different person now, with different responsibilities. The rational part of his mind knew that things had gotten way out of control here. He’d never expected to meet any of the Starcade butchers and certainly not here. He’d never mentally prepared himself for the possibility. “Karl, Gracie.” He said evenly without opening his eyes, “we’ve overstayed our welcome. Please leave your weapons on the desk there. Sergeant, kindly have them sent to our quarters at the DropPort this evening.”

“Are you sure Sir?” Karl wanted to know. He too felt the need to ensure retribution.

“I’m sure. I won’t dishonor the memory of those we’ve lost for the pleasure of gunning down that trash in the cell. I’ll make sure there’s no plea bargains or state’s evidence offer. We’ll get them extradited to Sampsa where justice will be done. Now it’s time to go.”

“Yes Sir,” snapped Karl in precise military professionalism as he turned his pistol around and offered it to the Sergeant, butt first. With great relief the guard took it gingerly. Gracie just grunted and tossed hers on the desk. The private jumped slightly as it thumped unto the surface.

John pulled up in front of Osmo. “Captain, you’ve stopped me from doing a wrong thing. I’d like to say I’m a big enough man to thank you for it. Unfortunately, at this moment I’m not.” He turned to look at the two guards. “Sergeant, Private…have a nice day.”

He then swept out of the room with Gracie and Karl in his wake. Osmo sighed and leaned back against the door jam while watching the trio march stone faced down the hall. A few weeks ago they’d all been on top of the world. Now he didn’t even know if he still had his job, much less if he could hold the Warders together long enough to be useful against the Clans. Any army was only as good as it’s leaders and a small mercenary group thrived or died by it’s commanding officer. The strains were finally beginning to show on the Major and it was starting to affect the others closest to him. From there, it would affect their subordinates. And Osmo had no cheesing idea how to stop it. The real hell of it was that he cared. He liked John and he liked his fellow Warders. Their crusade had slowly become his crusade. He really hoped he wasn’t looking at the beginning of the end.

“Thank you Sir,” said the Sergeant, interrupting his thoughts. “It was about to get very ugly.”

“Oh, it’s already very ugly Segreant,” Osmo told him. “Your two boys in the cell there partly responsible for killing the Major’s parents, kidnapping his sister, killing her parents, and helping kill a whole ship full of dignitaries from the Warder’s homeworld. That’s all on top of trying to kill the Major twice here and burning two good men to death with an Inferno missile. And who knows what else to other people. I can’t excuse The Major’s behavior but I sure can understand it.”

The Sergeant considered the three surrendered handguns and wondered how close he had just come to dying. Apparently that was a line they weren’t prepared to cross – luckily for him. “I guess I can understand too. For what it’s worth, I think that the security tape of the last ten minutes is going to accidentally get erased. There’s a glitch with the changing system. Happens all the time. And maybe you’d best take these. I couldn’t make it outside without explaining where they came from. You were checked into the facility along with them, you can carry them out again without triggering too many pointed questions.”

“Thanks Sergeant. You’re a good man with a rotten job.”

“You know the military Sir. Somebody’s gotta do it.”

From within the cell Thomas watched the last Warder officer collect the pistols and leave. “I was rather hoping the Major would get his way and shoot us,” he sighed.

“It would have solved our problems,” agreed Mark. “Too bad we get shocked automatically if we get within a meter of the door. If we could have stumbled out there that would have been enough to push them over the edge.”

“Can’t have everything I suppose.”

“Nope, certainly can’t.”

Military Sectrion, Harlech DropPort
Harlech city, Outreach
7 May 3052

John stepped from the shower and wrapped a towel around him. Entering the small bedroom of his current quarters he rummaged through one of his bags until he found a pair of shorts. As usual, he hadn’t bothered to unpack his clothes into the dressers provided. He stared for a moment at the blank Tri-D unit, then his hand-cell, then at his noteputer sitting next to the desktop computer, and finally at the two magazines laying on his bed. One was a recent issue of Merc World with a note attached asking for an interview and an in-depth article on the Warders. The fact that the reporter had bothered to hand write the note and personally deliver it along with an issue with some his work had almost gained the interview. The personal touch was refreshing compared to the mass of electronic mail requests he always had for this, that and the other thing. John still hadn’t totally decided against the article, but he wanted to wait until they were done with Outreach one way or another.

At the moment John could think of a number of things he should do, but none that felt enough energy to tackle. The righteous anger of the prisoner visit had worn off and now he just felt …. well, he wasn’t really sure how he felt. Unsettled anyway. Pulled in too many directions to be effective at any given single task. And now yet another new weight had settled invisibly on his shoulders. The heavy burden that he was somehow responsible for producing closure for the entire Starcade incident. Find the person or group that had originally planned the massacre and bring them to justice. Find his sister. Finally put it all to rest so he and so many others like him could move on. Despite the fact that he had leads, a bigger unit than he’d ever had, and the required resources to push the issue it still felt like a dark time in Warder history to him.

Warder history. Maybe that’s what he needed right now. Dialing his combination into the locked briefcase he called his “brain bag” for the important materials kept within, he located and extracted a set of data-disks. A quick search through his bags turned up a Reader, a specialized mini-computer with a large, sharp focusing screen designed for reading electronic documents with minimal eye strain. He selected a disk at random and inserted it then typed an unlock code. A menu came up on the screen.

These were memoirs, logs, personal notes, and other data recorded by various officers and non-comms of the Warder’s long past. Some were intensely personal, others were dry commentaries of battle tactics or logistics solutions. One of his favorites was a set of eight long poems about the average day-to-day life of a Warder soldier three hundred years ago written by a mess sergeant. Some of the rhymes were a stretch but the meter always held true and the set always brought a smile to his lips. His own contributions tended to the dry side. They were accurate and often contained unflattering truths he didn’t try to hide. But they never really spoke to his thoughts or feelings. He noticed several selections from one of the occupation periods when several different partisan groups had called themselves the Warders. Should be sufficiently depressing he mused to himself as he selected the first entry.

He woke in the late morning still on the couch where he had been reading the night before. The reader had gone to power-save mode somewhere during the darkness. They’d both fallen asleep he realized. Checking a clock he saw that it was midmorning already. He’d left his schedule clear for the entire day except for his hand to hand session with Sergeant Cascade. A sure sign that he was slacking. When was the last time he had an unscheduled day, even in the field? It was high time he stopped moping and started taking care of business. Sisu. His people had demonstrated the concept for him time and time again – he needed to start living it himself. Grabbing his hand-cell he called the comm tech on switch duty.

“Good morning, this is Major Linna. I’d like a page message sent and verbal confirmation of receipt from all personnel. There will be a general assembly tonight at eighteen hundred local time. Location to be announced later but it should be here on the DropPort military section. Attendance required except for the medically excused and those on security details. And make sure you directly contact Lieutenant Laidie so she can inform her people. I don’t think they have hand-cells like ours yet. Pull in extra staff for the call load if necessary. ……Subject? Just call it an update briefing……yes, that will be fine. Thanks.”

General Use Hanger B17
Harlech DropPort, Outreach
8 May 3052

Lieutenant Laidie looked around the hanger taking in her various fellow mercenaries. This was her first official summons as a Suomi Warder. She was acutely aware that her group was not only the newest addition, they comprised about the largest single group of those present with her tech force factored in. An expectant buzz filled her ears as both her people and the original Warders talked among themselves, making guesses as to what they might be about to hear. The stage that had been set up was bare of anything except a simple speaking podium of dark wood. As far as Jenny could tell this show was going to be all Major Linna. His senior officers seemed to be spread out and seated among the rank and file.

The buzz hushed as the Major was spotted approaching the open hanger door on foot. As he entered the sergeant leading the guard force for the hanger called out loudly. “Attention!” She thought that her Hawks had stood-to fairly orderly but the Warder infantry present seemed to move as one body. They must practice that stuff a lot she thought.

He walked up to the podium and settled behind the microphone. “At ease, please be seated everyone.”

Jenny saw him signal someone she couldn’t see and the doors began to grind their way closed. The Major waited until they had fully shut before talking again.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I had hoped to book a more comfortable audience hall for this but an empty hanger was all I could get on such short notice. Still, this will do fine. We’re here to talk business, not perform ceremonies.

“Two days ago we lost two more of our brothers. Privates Jorr Lahvti and Leonard Marheim were killed in the line of duty by an attack meant to assassinate me. Of the three men responsible one is dead and two are in custody. They were the same men involved with the hotel attack so we feel that the current threat to my safety is low. Another team might be dispatched to take their place but that should take a while.

“The assassins are lowlifes barely capable of qualifying as human. Yet it is not their foul deeds I plan to speak of with you; but of Lahvti’s and Marheim’s bravery and sacrifice. Simply stated, they died to protect me. Am I worth their lives? Somehow I doubt that Jorr’s widow will think so. The harsh truth is that good people get unfairly killed all the time. And that is also part of the reason they were willing to risk their lives as they did. Since the Warder’s creation as the 3rd Rapid Response Battalion in the year 2222 that has been what the Warders were about – protecting people. We fight and risk and die in service to those that cannot defend themselves. Yes, since 2795 we’ve been a private unit and one that accepts pay from outsiders. Mercenaries. But our main directive has never changed. We’ve never taken blood money to attack the citizens of other worlds. Jorr and Leonard knew of our history and put their lives on the line not just in defense of me. It was also in defense of the people of Harlech, in defense of the next victims the assassins would have targeted, and in defiance of the hidden powers that hire honor less scum to advance their causes through treachery and murder.

“Between hearings and reporters and assassination attempts I think I lost touch with the Warder mission. I have my own personal agenda to pursue as do all of you. But the unit’s mission always needs to come first. I of all people can’t afford to become distracted and lead us off down diversionary paths.

“For 830 years the Suomi Warders have persevered in one form or another. We’ve tangled with just about everyone from Marik and Andurian forces through the other Great Houses, bandits and even the old Star League Regular Army. Warders were even thick headed enough to attack General Kerensky’s troops when they made planet fall on Sampsa on their way to the liberation of Terra. Assumed they were just another group there to occupy us rather than realizing the General’s troops were after the Aramis units stationed on planet. Luckily we got that one straightened out fairly quickly.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by numbers and simply our maneuvered in our history. We’ve lost, we’ve suffered occupation and even been forcibly disbanded more than once. In 2795, when Sampsa peacefully joined the Free Worlds League, any unit that had ever fought against House Marik forces was disallowed from further military existence with the Sampsa Planetary Defense Force. An ancestor of mine, along with several other businessmen and leaders of Suomi, collected those that wished to remain Warders and recruited new members. The Warders continued as a free company from that point forward.

“There have been three constants from that time. Two of them I am changing. The third I hope will always remain intact as long as there is a Suomi Warders no matter who leads them.

“Historically we’ve been a closed unit. With few exceptions our personnel always came from the same planet. Fine soldiers such as Captain Osmo Woods, Sergeant Samantha Cascade, Lieutenant Basem Dhafar, Cadet MechWarrior Jason Nelson and un-official Warder Chu-i Naoko Fujiwara have aptly demonstrated that the rest of the worlds have much to offer us. I am sure that I can count on our new Warders here today and any in the future to uphold the unit’s honor. We’ll have to modify some of our traditions, such as adding the Flight Officer rank the Hawk’s use to our rolls as a Junior Lieutenant equivalent, but I’m sure we’ll adjust.

“The second constant regards our combat role. We’ve mostly restricted ourselves to defensive actions. This will be the case no longer. We still aren’t for hire for political raids, but from now forward we won’t just wait for the bad guys. If we have to go to the pirates to hurt them then we will. And I think there’s at least one Clan occupied planet out there that’s waiting for our return visit.”

He had to pause a moment as the Coleson’s Orb recruits burst out in cheer. Actually he hadn’t planned to promise that the Warders would try to liberate the Orb some day. It came out of him on the spot. But he was fine with the impulsive announcement. The Inner Sphere would have to start retaking worlds somewhere someday, he’d just make sure the Orb wasn’t overlooked for too long.

“The last constant has been our will to endure; to do what needs to be done regardless of risk or cost. It’s what we call Sisu back on Sampsa. The Warders will never waiver in our dedication to ward those under threat. We might win and we might lose; but we never give up. We honor our dead, safeguard our wounded, and advance forward.

“In two more days the ComStar Review Board will attempt to meet again. I arranged departure for the unit for the day after. Depending on how many more hearing dates are required I may not be able to return with you. But it’s time for the Suomi Warders to return home and start training in earnest to forge the separate force components you represent in this hangar into an integrated fighting force second to none in this galaxy. Someplace out there are the people that attacked us on Hamano and hired the assassins that killed more of us here on Outreach. We are going to find them and then we are going to drop a whole lot of hurt on them.”

He paused again for the ripple of consent that washed through the assembly.

“And that’s it. I’d like the senior officers – and that includes First Lieutenant Laidie in case she’s wondering – to come forward. I’ve got specific assignments for you to take to your groups. I’ll close now by noting that the Suomi Warders are entering a new era. We’ll be different that we’ve ever been, but different in a good way. I’m proud to serve by your sides during this time of change. That’s it, I’m done up here.” As John left the podium the assembled mercenaries rose to their feet in salute. It wasn’t required after his informal close, but they did so as a show of respect. Flight Officer O’Grady leaned in so that Jenny could hear him. “He’s a good public speaker. I think his guys would be willing to assault the Dragoons if he said it needed to be done.”

“That’s what marks a good officer. Your subordinates trust you to only commit when the task really needs doing. Better give it some though Marcus because we are his guys now.”

“Good point,” he agreed as she moved away through the milling crowd towards the stage.

Osmo had seated himself in the front row and was the first officer to reach the Major. This had been an unexpectedly fine jumpstart to getting back on track. It looked like the John was pulling himself back together and getting focused again. There was still one hurdle to clear though. Was Osmo Woods still a Warder?

None of the others were within earshot yet when the Captain asked John straight out , “am I still one of those officers you’re proud to serve with?”

John smiled sheepishly. “If you still want to be. It’s been an odd ride the past few weeks or so.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” smiled Osmo in return. “But I’m here for the duration Sir. They’ll have to pry this uniform off my cold dead body before I’m done with it.”

“Well, let’s just hope it’s more like your old retiring body instead. And I’m glad to hear you’re still on the payroll because I was afraid I was going to have to do all this work myself.” John handed him a data-disk of assignments.

“Hmm, maybe I should look for a less demanding task master after all,” replied Osmo. But he took the disk with a grin.

Gracie and Sven arrived next. John gave her one disk and Sven four.

“Did I do something wrong Sir?” asked Jorgenson.

“Nope, several things right actually. I’m upgrading you that last notch to our highest information clearance Sven. Like it or not you’re now part of the official Warder Review Board and unofficial cabal of high decision making. The extra ones are some light reading to get you up to speed. When you’re done with them let me know. There are a few items you’ll need briefing on that haven’t been committed to disk. You’re also now our official Training Coordinator. There’s no rank increase – we’re topped out at the moment – but you do get a pay grade bump. Congratulations Sven.”

“Thank you Sir, I’m honored.”

Gracie punched him in the arm. “This is great Sven. Now when I tell you the stuff I’m not supposed to tell you I won’t be breaking regulations anymore because you’ll already know!” She caught Osmo’s scowl before he could hide it. “Hey. I was only kidding Osmo. I never told him Board business. Well hardly ever anyway.”

ComStar Mercenary Review Board,
Blessed Blake Building, Hearing Room 2A
Harlech city, Outreach
10 May 3052

ComStar Adept Toni Lopez was having trouble keeping her mind on the discussion. What she really wanted to know was how the fighting was going on Tukayyid. What she was supposed to be talking about was a DCMS lower officer that had decided to go rogue and shoot up some pirates then lift planet with a band of mercenaries. Somewhere along the line the mercs had really upset somebody. The scortch marks on the walkway in front of the building bore testament to that. But at least the culprits had been caught. These sorts of displays wouldn’t occur if ComStar ruled as it rightly should. But such a blessed turn in politics looked impossibly far away.

“I’m sorry Captain. Could you please repeat that?” she was forced to ask when she realized that a question had been posed to her. “I asked your opinion of the investigator’s report,” Mathew repeated. “It indicates that Major Linna’s and Chu-i Fujiwara’s story is on the up and up.”

Lopez frowned slightly as she leafed through the slim document again. Drinking heavily in a bar to get information. Somehow it seemed beneath the dignity of a Board investigator. “I might doubt the sobriety involved but not the veracity. Major Scott, you are familiar with BattleMechs. What is your opinion of this Sergeant Harding’s technical tales?”

What Scott though was that he wanted Harding on his tech team. But the Adept didn’t seem to be in the mood for his little side comments today. “Aye Adept. His description o’ the technical problems ‘tis sound. If twas was any other small outfit I’d have me doubts about their ability ta produce a control chip. But these Warders are better equipped than most.”

“Very well then, it would appear that it is time to call the hearing to order,” she decided. Toni turned her attention to the bailiff. “Very well Acolyte Bass. Admit the parties.”

Council Heiro Taki followed Tai-sa Yamoto into the hearing room. The Tai-sa had been oddly quiet since the near miss on the steps a few days ago. Although the Tai-sa had protested when Heiro agreed to another postponement request from Tortuga, Heiro had scarcely heard from Yamoto otherwise. If Taki had been unsure of his course of action before, he was sure now. Heiro felt he had seen the Chu-i’s true colors the day she risked herself to safeguard Yamoto and then vaulted off to assist as she could following the explosion. She was just a young woman doing her best to act as a Samurai should; selfless and dedicated to the protection of others. It was horrible that the attack had cost two young men their lives, but the extra time the attack had bought allowed the message Heiro had been waiting for to arrive from Luthien. This time it would be he that wielded a big surprise in the hearing room.

For their part John’s trio of lawyers were a bit spooked still. They’d wanted a change of venue but the Board had turned them down. None of the lawyers was used to close brushes with death. They were having a hard time keeping their focus on the issue at hand. Naoko was preoccupied as well. The last two days John had opened up a little again. They had spent a little time together here and there talking of trivial things. The other Warders were busy with final preparations for leaving. She’d miss them once they were gone. Misty had become a friend while Sven had somewhat become the mentor she’d always wished she’d had and Jason the younger brother she’d never had. The others were all well regarded fellow warriors, many of them now friends at a minimal level at least.

John was back to feeling moderately optimistic. Reading of predecessors that had faced more dire problems with fewer resources had somehow re-energized him to tackle the tasks before him. He would hate to lose Naoko though. Which is exactly what he expected to happen. After they kept her out of Yamoto’s hands she’d still have to return to Luthien and eventual reassignment. She was Samurai and too much a creature of duty to run off chasing pirates around with him. Too bad the Combine didn’t appear to be worthy of her devotion.

As they were sworn in and seated John’s table couldn’t help but notice that the young presenter the Combine had used earlier was no longer present. It seemed that Council Taki would be speaking directly for the Combine’s interests. Idly John wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Adept Lopez gaveled the hearing to order and invited the Combine to make it’s initial presentation. Taki stood, holding a folder of hardcopy.

“Honorable Adept, Honorable Officers of the Board; the Draconis Combine withdraws it’s complaints against Chu-i Fujiwara.”

It seemed that no one was more stunned by the surprise announcement than Stephen Yamoto. The Tai-sa shot to his feet.

“We do not withdraw! Taki, what is the meaning of this treachery!”

Wondering what was going on herself, the Adept elected not to gavel in behind the Tai-sa’s out-of-order outburst and instead hear what the Combine Council had to say.

Heiro turned to address Yamoto. “Ours is a society of many duties Tai-sa, but clearly our duty to the Coordinator has the highest place in our hearts and minds. There was an edict by the Coordinator naming the family Fujiwara of special interest to House Kurita for three generations from the 3039 war. Among the specifications is the transfer of the BattleMech Naoko Fujiwara pilots to her family’s possession and that any disciplinary matters concerning a warrior of the Fujiwara line are to be brought directly to the House’s attention.”

When a powerful Combine Lord granted special privilege or favor to someone it was not unusual for some form of protection to be provided to a generation or two of relatives. This was to prevent dishonorable political foes from preying on those who’s only trespass was that they had a family member who had gained favor. The wisdom of House Kurita’s ways was being demonstrated once again.

“Incidentally Tai-sa, the edict does not specify the sex of the protected warrior in case you were wondering. I have here an order from Gunji-no-Kanrei Theodore Kurita’s office directing me to withdraw the complaint against her. I also have an order for the Chu-i from that same office as well as a correspondence for Major Linna If I may be allowed to approach the bench?”

“You may approach,” agreed Lopez. Yamoto had lapsed into a shocked silence as he read through the copy of the decease order that Heiro had left on the table next to him. Toni read through the documents presented to her quickly and motioned for the bailiff to come deliver the appropriate copies to the Linna table.

“Well then, it appears our final case is closed. The withdrawal is accepted by ComStar, Council Taki. It has been a pleasure working with you the past few years,” she told Heiro as she passed the Board’s copy of the documents to the other members to read. Major Scott’s face grew a wide grin as he decided that the universe had a sense of justice after all.

“You have always been most honorable, Adept Lopez,” he replied with a low bow. “The pleasure has been mine.”

“Well don’t leave us hanging dear,” admonished Perry as Naoko read through her new orders. “What does the blasted thing say?”

John had left his untouched for the moment, more interested in hers. Naoko found her heart soaring with joy while her mind threatened to reject what she was reading from sheer disbelief. Her hands were actually trembling.

“It commends me for acting to defend Jeddah from hostile invaders and detaches me to a tactical studies company who’s purpose is to examine non-Combine battle strategies and philosophies. My first assignment is to find a military unit, House or mercenary, that is based in the Free World’s League and will accept me as a liaison officer for the purpose of sharing tactical insights.”

John suddenly grabbed for his correspondence. “It starts off by politely apologizing that the Combine will not be reimbursing us for our expenses on Hamano as there was no contractual agreement,” reported John. “Then it inquires if I would be willing to accept a liaison officer into my unit from the Draconis Combine.”

It actually made sense on a greater scale John realized. He knew from his business activities that the Combine had been making political and economic overtures to the Free Worlds League of late. Starting an officer exchange program would help further the process. But the Deputy for Military Affairs of the Draconis Combine was going to have to fish someplace else for a return liaison officer. John wasn’t about to give up any of his Warders.

“Chu-i Fujiwara,” he intoned formally, “I have been authorized by the Draconis Combine to accept one of their officers in a liaison position. Would you be willing to consider taking the job? I must warn you though, the authorization advises that you will continue to be paid as a Combine officer – which is noticeably less than what my people are paid. Still, I believe we can offer you suitable accommodations and an adequate technical support program for your BattleMech.”

“Hai…yes,” she breathed, scarcely believing her good fortune. “I would be honored to do so.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” grinned John, “because I don’t think the Tai-sa over there would have been open to accepting the offer.”

Clayborne Remembered
Circinus, Circinus Federation
The Periphery
13 May 3052

Niles Reese was an unassuming man capable of going unnoticed in many situations. It was a trait that served him well as a gatherer of information and finder of desired things. A very interesting missing person situation had come to his ears through a business contact from the Inner Sphere. By pure happenstance he happened to know someone with a matching name from a previous investigation of which the name had been only a periphery part. The odds were extremely low though – what would a Free Worlds League heiress be doing in a pirate infested sink-hole like the Circinus Federation?

Still, it was worth checking out. He went to a few taprooms that were frequented by the Black Warriors of Michael Cirion’s faction until he found the person he was looking for. The official military of the Federation, some of the Warriors units were more likely to partake in raids then repel them. They also had a tendency to have ‘accidental’ exchanges of live fire between the faction that supported President “Little Bob” McIntyre and Cirion’s supporters. Thus you never found members of either faction in the same bar unless a fight was in progress. In fact, you rarely found sizable numbers of either on the same planet. Luckily for Niles’ plans, it was a quiet night.

He’d pretty much memorized the picture but he palmed his noteputer and called it up for reference anyway. Studying both faces, the one at the bar with three MechWarriors and the other in the palm of his hand, he giggled with excitement at his discovery. This was a big payday indeed. The picture file had been electronically “aged” to reflect what the missing girl probably looked like by now. Except for the thin scar that ran across her nose and down her left cheek the image was uncannily accurate. It was time to slip out and make tracks for the ComStar station. One Jeffery Linna, Chief Economics Officer of the Linna dynasty, was willing to pay big C-bills for the confirmed location of his long lost sister.

Now if only Holly Linna would be king enough to survive the internecine fighting of the Black Warriors long enough for someone to get here and collect her Niles would be rolling in serious cash. How in the Three Fates she had managed to go from heiress of an industrial fortune to Lieutenant of a Black Warriors lance was probably an interesting story. But not to him. The only thing on Niles’ mind now was if there was anything he could reasonably do to help safeguard his little treasure find until one of the brothers got here. That could take months – which was often just about the life span of junior MechWarriors around these parts.

Chapter Index[]