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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 9[]

State of the Union[]

Caddo City, New Dallas
Free Worlds League Space
6 January 3063


There was a lot more to the space under the dome than Peter had expected. He shouldn't have been surprised given the Star League was infamous for digging deep into the ground for military bases, factories and almost everything else. The long hangar had opened into a central hub area with five other openings, two of them more storage and the others ramps leading up (once) or down (twice). Even if the ramp up was an exit - much easier than the hole they'd dug for extracting the 'Mech chassis they'd found - that indicated at least one more level.

Naturally, Catherine's footprints had led downwards.

He played his searchlight across the markings on the walls. They were obscure, probably to confuse an intruder like himself, but the basic logic matched a military base. Peter followed the footprints into an administrative section and to his annoyance, after wandering around for a whole and after he'd entered, Catherine had left because the footprints of her departure hadn't been there when he entered.

"Maybe she has private business, chief." one of the prospectors suggested. "Chasing a woman doesn't always work out. Wait and she'll be back."

"What if she has an accident and she can't?" he snapped. "See if the computers are working. Maybe there's a map - or a manifest of what's been stored here."

The halls echoed with his exoskeleton's feet as he stomped it out and after her again only to lose the trail in a hangar full of what looked like self-propelled guns - each missing the artillery guns that should have been mounted on their upper hulls. There was less dust here for some reason. Maybe the air conditioning had been better or maybe these sections had been cleaned out a few times.

Returning to the hub of the level - the third one down, no less - Peter halted his exoskeleton and tried to listen for any sounds. Nothing. "Catherine!" he shouted. No reply. He jammed his speakers to maximum and shouted into them. "CATHERINE!"

"-et-an?" came a distant reply.

Huffing indignantly, he marched off in its direction, finding a battered down door into what looked as if it might have been office space at one time. More broken doors led him at last to a room right at the back, Catherine standing just outside it, a cylindrical casing held in both her exoskeleton's hands.

"Found you!" she said brightly.

"No, I found you."

She frowned, considered and then nodded cautiously. "That's right. I found... hmm." Through the mask she looked down at the casing. "Ah, I found this." She held it up triumphantly.

"Dammit, Catherine! What were you thinking?" He moved his hand to knock it aside but thought better of it. "You shouldn't go off on your own. What if you had an accident."

"I'm not alone. You're here."

"But I wasn't with you until now."

"oh."

"Yes. Oh."
"Who was with you?" she asked, looking around.

"...no one," he admitted grudgingly. "Look, that's not the point. Is there anything here that isn't junk?"

His sister considered and then tucked the casing under one arm, before shrugging helplessly.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. These aren't mechs, they're wrecks. I should have just headed to Arc Royal or somewhere like that."

"Found this." she states to him

"Yes, very good," he snapped. "I'm sure that that makes up for all the time we've wasted grubbing around here." Peter threw up his hands. "Come on. We're headed back, how much air do you have left?"

Cat squinted down at the dial inside her mask. "Half?" she said questioningly.

"Right. Good job I found you." He didn't even have that much left. "At least this crap'll cover the costs. We'll get into the Federated Suns and head for Kathil. Clovis said there was fighting there between George Hasek's people and the Archon's."

"Kathil's a mess," Catherine said in a lecturing tone.

"Yeah, but I can probably get someone to take you to New Syrtis from there. George'll at least keep you safe. Maybe he can figure out who it is on New Avalon too."

"It's a qu-quagmire."

Peter grabbed her exoskeleton by the wrist. "Come on." he snapped and half-pulled her after him, up the ramps and back to the original entry point.

Searcy must have noticed his tone and didn't bother with any small-talk as he used the winch to hoist the two of them back up and out of the hangar. "Do you know where Clovis Holstein is?" Peter asked him.

"Back in the shelter, sir."

"Right." He took a deep breath. "I'll get a fresh mask and then we can see about finding the original entrance. We'll need that if we're getting anything out of there."


They'd set up a temporary shelter inside one of the more intact buildings under the dome, somewhat hampered by the local air-pressure. Peter's ears popped unpleasantly as they went through two separate airlocks necessary to get in. Even after that the air inside smelt rotten, which approximately everyone on the expedition had complained about to him.

"Ah, Ardan!" Clovis looked up from the technician's computer he was studying as they climbed out of the exoskeletons. "You found our lost lamb, I see."
"Lamb?" Cat made a face. "Horrible ration packs."

"What?"

"She doesn't like the roast lamb ration packs." Peter translated. "So what did we find?"

The dwarf set down the computer. "As far as I can tell, the 'mechs in the room we found are all the same model: the MCK-6S."

Peter blinked. "The what?"

"Mackies," Clovis expanded. "And a very early model. I'd not be surprised if we found MCK-5S models as well, the first production line version the Hegemony ever deployed."

"Entire battalions of them?" Peter questioned

"Basically, yes. Back then it was normal to fill out companies and battalions with a single design - there wasn't such a great variety of 'Mech designs to begin with."

"And these are early models... museum pieces?"

Clovis hesitated and then nodded his head. "I'd say so, yes. We're talking first generation designs. The armour's mostly been stripped but it's inferior to the basic types we use today. The cockpits are... well, they're probably functional with a little work but they're bulkier and cluttered with systems that fell out of use centuries ago."

"And the weapons?"

"My best guess is that they were stripped for use as replacements on newer machines." Clovis admitted. "Same with the armor. You've basically got the core systems still - reactor, gyro, myomer bundles except in a few cases - but by mass I'd guess about half of each 'Mech is gone."

"You can fix them." Cat offered optimistically.

Peter shook his head. "With a mountain of parts maybe. And the reactors... wasn't there something about the reactors back then... I don't recall exactly."

"They had an efficiency problem," agreed Clovis. "And the shielding wasn't brilliant, mostly because they wound up having to use overpowered engines to get the same effect. Anyway, it'd be a moot point. I've never even seen a manual on the Mackie, I'd pretty much have to tear one apart and document it piece by piece to do anything with it and that would take years. No offense, but..."

"More time than you have?" Peter asked

"Well, more than I care to invest in it. No offense."

Peter shrugged. "You've been more than helpful. It's not your fault Catherine led us to obsolete wrecks."

Turning back to her exoskeleton, Cat tried to pull the casing it was still carrying away. "Here, here!"

"What?"

She pulled again, staggering as the mass exceeded her expectations, nearly dropping the end she was pulling and barely managing to lower it to the floor while the other end remained supported by the exoskeleton. "Here, this is it."

"This is what?" Peter asked, walking over and with an effort pulling the other end out of the exoskeleton's grip. "What are you talking about?"

Clovis studied it and took a sharp breath. "It's a computer core. Where did you find that?"

"Buried." Cat declared. "Buried treasure! Like pirates. Pirate data!"

"I'm pretty sure there weren't any pirates around here." Clovis told her patiently. He plugged a cord in from his computer. "A bit too near to the center of the Inner Sphere." "Maybe in the twenty-third century." Peter thought back to long ago lessons. "This was outside the old Terran Alliance after they withdrew to their oldest colonies so things were pretty wild for a few generations."

"It's encoded. Pretty old security though." The dwarf typed away for a moment. "One science we never really lost, cryptography. Our computers back in the 3020s might not have held a candle to the Star League's but security programs advanced a whole lot."

"Military espionage drove that I guess." Peter ventured a guess

"Yup. This was probably really tight security back in the twenty-sixth century but today, feh." He typed in the final command and data began to appear on his screen. "...oho."

"What?"

"Manuals. All sorts of technical data." Clovis told him.

"On obsolete Terran Hegemony designs." Peter asked wryly.

"Not just them. Seeing Draconian, Capellan, Suns... looks like a database of technical data on every mech and vehicle they could scrape together. Sorted chronologically for some damn reason." He scrolled to the bottom and whistled. "Right the way up to the 2760s. Must have had a feed from somewhere else because this place has been sealed up longer than that."

"Fix the 'Mechs?" asked Cat hopefully.

"Maybe. It'd make it a lot easier." said Clovis

"But still grossly inferior." stated Peter

"Yeah. Sorry, but an engine that big is overkill for a 'Mech that size. I could probably fix the efficiency issue but it's still wasting..." Clovis paused.

"What?"

Clovis steepled his fingers. "I'd have to run some numbers and we'd still need hundreds of tons of parts - armor and weapons."

Catherine dropped to her knees, lowered her head and kowtowed towards the dwarf. "Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope."

"Oh come on, Cat, you're embarrassing him." Peter told her

"I'm not embarrassed." the red-faced Clovis protested. "Although Karla would kill me if she knew a woman our kids' age was throwing herself at me."


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