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Lockheed Martin Headquarters Bethesda, Maryland United States of America, Earth January 17, 2007/3022

Brian Kirkpatrick silently stood in thought as he looked out through one of large reflective, one-way windows that covered the outside wall of the Lockheed Martin executive board room. The evening lights of Bethesda began to twinkle softly as the evening set in early as it was prone to do this time of year. Watching the lights come on helped to ease his unease. This wasn’t the first time he had been in this room. No, he had been here on numerous occasions beforehand to present projects and brief on them. However, this was the first time he had ever been in this room with so many people who were not only from outside of the company, but who had been direct competitors and enemy’s when he had begun working for Lockheed back in 1981.

“Brian,” Bob Stevens, the current CEO of Lockheed Martin spoke up. “It seems we have everyone here. If you’d please….”

Nodding his head in acknowledgment the 56 year-old engineer silently wondered how he had gotten to this point. By all rights he should’ve been getting ready for retirement in a few years, not preparing to head up the most ambitious project that the company had conceived of yet. He had worked on the F-22 and that fighter’s would be successor, the F-35, but this…this would leave both of those well and truly behind.

“Gentlemen,” Bob Stevens began as people found their seats around the large conference table or shifted in them to get more comfortable. “As you are all keenly aware Boeing industries and BMW both won the contract for the Mech factory that the Draconis Combine has gifted the CSN and moved to Antallos. You are aware of this as all of our companies attempted to win that contract for ourselves. This is the reason why we have all gathered here together.”

Looking around the room Stevens saw the faces of people whom he had met at many an aerospace conference, business conventions, and/or because Lockheed Martin had outbid them or been outbid by them for a contract. Each and every one of them internally seethed at the fact that hey had lost the multi-billion dollar contract offered to refurbish and then run the Mech factory. Though he was the only CEO present, something that had been decided in order to try and keep the new partnership between all of their companies secret until they were ready to announce as well as because Lockheed had been the one to propose the joint venture and do most of the leg work in getting every party to arrive, each person at the table was important enough to make decisions for the company they represented.

“Hmmph, the boys and girls down in legal were ready to start launching anti-trust suits and make accusations of corrupt business practices when Boeing won the contract,” Mark Liktos, a representative from Northrop Grumman, noted with a snort. “How exactly is this any different?”

“For that I turn you over to our resident lawyer-in-chief,” Bob said with a chuckle.

All eyes at the table turned to look at a white haired man wearing wireframe spectacles and dressed in a tweed suit. Nearly all of them knew who he was, Lord John Ashbury was a legend in international economics and law. The man had studied at Oxford and Harvard and had then proceeded to teach at both of his alma maters as well as at Stanford and Cambridge. He had also been on several advisory committees at the UN, the World Bank, and called in several times for G8 and G20 summits. He was literally one of the most knowledgeable men regarding trade law and economics currently alive.

“Yes, well, harrumph,” the immensely British man noted as he cleared his throat. “The answer to you question is in fact quite simple really. You see all of you gathered here are still separate companies and corporations. This venture you are entering into is basically a joint venture and partnership and not an actual merger. You are also acting in an international sense and with this distinction many of the domestic anti-trust laws can not be properly applied. At the same time because of the nature of this venture you are actually slipping through one of the larger loopholes in international trade agreements.”

“And should someone decide to target us,” Hikio Natsura, the representative from Mitsubishi, noted. “You will of course be defending us in whatever court is required, won’t you Ashbury-san?”

“Of course,” the white haired man returned with a grin. “You all will be, after all, paying me a considerable fee for my expertise and abilities. It would be impolite and against my contract to simply advise you and then not carry through on any actual legal concerns that should arise. However, considering the political playing field at the moment I doubt any major issues will be raised.”

“And even if they are it will most likely be too late and we will have already secured our position,” Bob Stevens commented.

“Yes, it does help when you have certain…connections,” Andre Grapillon the Dassault Group representative noted, knowing full well that every company represented in the room had major ties with their home governments and had quite the fair stable of politicians to call upon when and if needed.

“Oh come now,” U.S. Senator Robert McKynter of California, a leading member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, interjected with a chortle, “You make us sound so easy and rather untrustworthy…and after all that me and my colleagues have done to help facilitate this meeting.”

“Indeed,” Pierre Lefote, a leading member of the Palais Bourbon, commented, “It was not easy making sure this meeting and the other setting it up did not leak to the papers. Can you imagine how your competitors would feel knowing that you are all here preparing to launch what is essentially one of the greatest military proposals since the Manhattan Project?”

Around the table the gathered businessmen sent the small group of diplomats and politicians from their home countries nods of thanks. While the public would probably have been supportive of the group, what with the spirit of cooperation being so strong right now, many of their direct competitors would probably throw fits if they learned about the meetings that had laid the groundwork for this one. Thankfully their contacts with the political machine had paid off, keeping the entire affair relatively secret as they had gathered to here the some of the major aspects of the proposal that had been floated to them over the last few months. Now it was just a matter of hearing the major details of this venture that was drawing them together. Once that was done they could get down to the more specific points.

“Hmm, yes,” Bob hummed in agreement, this was indeed going to be a major endeavor. “Now I would like to focus our attention back on the matter at hand, the reason that we have come together and the overall goal of this venture. Brian, if you would please?”

Standing up and moving to the far wall as the light dimmed and the projection screen lit up, Brian Kirkpatrick began, “As you are all aware victory in modern warfare in the last century and into this new one has been decided ultimately by airpower. Dominance of the skies has led armies to victory as they were able to cut off their enemy’s supplies and reinforcements as well as reduce entire formations of troops to little more than the exercise of proverbially shooting fish in a barrel. To this end we have seen the development of some of the most fantastic airframes in order to secure and maintain the idea of air superiority and tactical ability.”

With those words the first slide came up. The images on the screen were of four well known aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, the B-2 Spirit, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 JSF.

“These were the greatest aircraft modern warfare has seen on this planet,” Brian stated with a hint of pride in his voice as he had worked directly in the last two. “They have the most sophisticated electronics packages, carried the best weapons, could out fly nearly everything else in the sky, and had the added advantage of utilizing ‘stealth’ technologies to hide them almost completely from sensors. However….”

The slide shifted. The images now being shown were now both familiar and yet still alien in nature. The screen now showed a Union class Dropship, a Leopard class Dropship, an Invader Class Jumpship, a Seydlitz Aerospace Fighter, and a Sparrowhawk Aerospace fighter.

“These are the new faces of power in the skies,” Kirkpatrick supplied as he highlighted and then enlarged each image as he went through them. “We have seen ships capable of entering and leaving the atmosphere under their own power and capable of doing so multiple times. These craft measure from being multi-storied giants to smaller, fleeter craft that can run rings around many of our most modern fighters. On top of that these craft have superior firepower and armor, meaning they can outlast anything we have in production. Now we are look-….”

“Ahem,” David Crowley of BAE Systems interrupted, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t a number of our current air superiority fighters shoot down these ‘superior’ fighters during the invasion?”

Taking an immediate dislike to the high and mighty tone the British man had effected…that or it was the Irish Catholic in him, Kirkpatrick sternly replied, “You are correct in that our fighters did manage to shoot down all of the Aerospace Fighters encountered during the invasion, however, that is neither a valid comparison of the technologies nor is it a true example of the purported capabilities of the enemies we will face in the future.”

“Gentlemen, if I may?” Bob Stevens interjected. “We have seen that our fighters can engage this new threat, however, doing so came with a high cost. Our current 4th generation and 5th generation fighters sent against the pirate invasion force killed ever pirate Aerospace Fighter, but in doing so they paid a heavy price. 4th generation fighters suffered a total of 47% casualty rate and 5th generation fighters, of whom the United States is currently the full operator of, suffered 15% casualty rate.”

“Such numbers are…deceptive,” Sergei Mischklov of Sukhoi threw in. “Battletech Aerospace Fighter is far deadlier than numbers suggest. Our pilots only encountered dozen or so of these Aerospace Fighters and these fighters were dispersed across globe, not concentrated.”

“Yes sir,” Brian Kirkpatrick agreed as he steered the conversation back to the presentation at hand. “Had the pirates concentrated their fighters and had more of them the casualty rates for the military squadrons who encountered them would have been much higher. If the pirates had been a well equipped House unit or ComStar unit with a dedicated Aerospace Fighter Corps the casualty estimates are staggering.”

“What are the estimates, Kirkpatrick-san,” Natsura inquired politely.

His unblinking eyes reflecting his seriousness, Kirkpatrick responded solemnly, “If our current squadrons were to encounter their Inner Sphere counterparts in a situation where numbers were equal…well it would be bad. Conservative estimates place the casualty rate for 4th generation equipped fighter squadrons at nearly 78% on the first day while 5th generation equipped units would have casualty rate of 46% on the first day while the Inner Sphere units would suffer anywhere from 32-56% casualty rates. As time progresses the numbers contin-….”

“Excuse me,” Ken Wilkerson of Daimler-Chrysler interrupted, “But why is there such an open range on enemy casualty rates?”

“Unlike our military air units,” Bob Stevens began, taking over for Brian. “The Inner Sphere has a far wider range of fighters to choose from and with which to compose their units according to the source material. We could face anything from the light fighters weighing in at 20tons to the assault fighters that weigh in at 100tons. Each weight class has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of speed, armor, and weaponry. Our estimates are based upon encountering a mixed Aerospace fighter unit that has a variety of weights in it but focuses upon one or two particular classes for the core of the squadron. It would seem that many of my colleagues in the defense industry have been previously briefed on this matter beforehand. Even if we armed every fighter currently available with the missiles necessary to penetrated BT grade armor we would still see casualty rates nearly as high as the initial assessments. Recall that we said that these were conservative estimates. If the Inner Sphere sent a massed assault of their best Aerospace Fighters against us it could turn into a relative shooting gallery with our planes coming out on the losing end. BT Aerospace Fighters just have too many advantages in terms or armor and weapons at the moment.”

Looking around the table Stevens saw the faces of the representatives of Dassault, Sukhoi, Saab, Northrop Grumman, the Mikoyan-i-Gurevich Design Bureau, and even BAE systems all grimly nod in acknowledgement. Not a one of them dismissed the capabilities or the pilots employed by their home militaries, in fact they all felt a great deal of pride in having produced some of the finest aircraft and weapon systems ever and then discovering that the pilots chosen to use them had pushed them above and beyond what had originally been imagined. However, it was hard to dismiss stone-cold statistics and carefully crafted estimates, especially when those statistics and estimates meant the deaths of not only the pilots that flew the aircraft that they had labored so hard to produce but later on the deaths of themselves and all of the others that the pilots had sworn to defend.

“There is some good news, however,” Brian Kirkpatrick spoke, getting back to the presentation as he focused the screen onto the image of the F-22. “We do hold advantages in our ‘stealth’ capabilities and in the capabilities of the electronics employed in our fighters. The F-22 is currently the pinnacle of this advantage, limited only in quantity. The older 4th generation fighters, while not having ‘stealth’ capabilities, do still have an advantage in their electronic packages.”

“Such…advantages,” Ivan Gurelgo, the representative from MiG began, “Are hardly enough, that is what you are saying, yes?”

“That is correct sir,” Kirkpatrick answered with a nod of his head. “Even if we replaced every fighter the militaries of Earth have in service with F-22s it would not be enough. Our fighters are simply not built tough enough to take on and defeat their equivalent Battletech counterparts.”

“What about expanding missile production?” David Crowley inquired. “The GDI and many of our own national militaries are calling for better missiles that can punch through that thick armor that the Inner Sphere seems to love. Better missiles are going to cost us all less to make and still rake in a tidy profit for us.”

“It isn’t just about being able to counter this new foe,” Brian Kirkpatrick answered quickly. “Better missiles will only do so much. Battletech based Aerospace Fighters can literally appear almost out of nowhere should they be launched from a Dropship in orbit. Producing the requisite number of missiles to take on such threats is merely a temporary solution. In order to secure air superiority wherever Earth desires we will need something that is more than just a temporary measure.”

“This is why we have all gathered here,” Bob Stevens spoke up, as he poured himself a glass of water from one of the metal pitchers on the conference table. “We are here to address this problem as well as others that have been raised regarding the retention of air superiority for our various armed forces. Brian, if you would please….”

“Yes sir,” the Lockheed engineer replied as he shifted the image on the screen to one depicting a hanger filled with a number of new craft inside it. “Gentlemen, these are the spoils of war recovered from the fighting on Antallos. The GDI has shipped back nearly every fighter that they recovered there and have just recently released a list of these spoils as well as pictures of each design recovered. In total there are 8 different designs of fighter that have been recovered and these designs represent the entire gamut of the Inner Sphere’s weight class system.”

“8 different designs at our disposal and there are supposed to be even more in current service with Inner Sphere forces?” Wilkerson spoke up and let out a low whistle. “We’ll need to really play catch up if we want to field comparable aircraft before someone out there realizes that the GDI is significantly vulnerable to massed air assaults.

“Such an attack can be mitigated by properly outfitting ground forces with anti-air weaponry and by using numerous SAM launchers,” Andre Grapillon stated. “However, that would not be a perfect solution given that we could face massed air assaults, unless GDI forces are willing to detonate tactical nuclear weapons in the atmosphere over a battlefield that is.”

That statement brought a bit of uncomfortable silence to the meeting. The deployment of nuclear weapons had long been a bogeyman that all those present had grown up with during the Cold War. Using nukes to help fight off the pirate invasion of earth had been a decision made by the various nuclear powers belonging to the CSN and had been the first line of defense against an invader from space. However, using nuclear weaponry in space was one thing, using nukes in the atmosphere of a habitable planet or actually on the surface of such a world was something different. No one was truly willing to advocate such a thing partially out of old fears and partially due to the frenzy it would cause amidst the anti-proliferation and use groups.

“Hmm, yes, there is quite the number of types of craft flying about the Inner Sphere’s skies, not to mention the numerous Mech types tromping around on the ground. But then what would you expect from a civilization that is fighting using multiple refurbished weapons that have salvaged who knows how many times, ” Kirkpatrick stated, gaining a few short laughs from the assembled group as he broke the tension in the room. “Now as for the Aerospace Fighters, the GDI has available 6 Seydlitz, 4 Sholagar, 6 Sparrowhawk, 3 Corsairs, 2 Lucifer, 4 Shilone, 2 Stingray, and 2 Slayer Class Aerospace Fighters for R&D work. The first three that I named, according to the weight classification system that is utilized by the Inner Sphere, are all lights. The Corsair the Lucifer, Shilone, and Stingray are all mediums, and the Slayer is a heavy.”

“What? They didn’t capture any assault class fighters?” Crowley asked suddenly, a bit of arrogance in his noticeable British public school accented voice.

“That is a misnomer, as no such class exists,” Kirkpatrick corrected, wishing that the man had actually read the source material before coming to this meeting. “While Aerospace Fighters range from the lightest at 20tons and the heaviest being 100tons, much like BattleMechs do, they are not organized in the same weight classification system. You have lights, mediums, and heavies. Lights are anything from 20-45tons, mediums anything from 50-65tons, and heavies being 70-100tons.”

“Gentlemen,” Bob Stevens spoke up, drawing the focus back to what he considered to be of more importance than such semantics. “I believe that by working together to present a united bid we can gain access to the majority of these fighters if not all of them. From there we can test, tinker, and take apart these fighters in order to learn their secrets and then we c-….

“And then we begin producing our own fighters,” David Crowley finished with a wry grin. “Oh that’s good. That’s very good old boy. We’ll be able to dominate the fighter market for at least a decade if not longer should we all work together.”

“Exactly,” Stevens responded, slightly annoyed that the Brit had interrupted him. “However, this is but only a single part of our overall goal. Brian…?”

“Yes sir,” Kirkpatrick answered as the images on the screen switched to the images of several bulbous craft and a few aerodyne craft. “The GDI has also released a list of the Dropships that were captured on Antallos as well. They are making available for R&D a number of Unions and Leopards along with a few Buccaneers, a Leopard CV, several Mules, and a Fortress Class Dropship.”

“We will bid to get look at these as well, yes?” Gurelgo inquired quite assuredly.

“Of course,” Bob Stevens answered. “However, do to their larger nature I believe we should limit the bid to only look at the Fortress, the Leopard CV, a few Mules, a few Leopards, and a few of the Buccaneers.”

“Your reasoning being?” Hikio Natsura inquired, asking the question that weighed on the others minds.

“Each of those classes offers a far better overall look as well as a specific look at Dropship construction and use,” Brian Kirkpatrick answered, knowing that his boss would approve as this was part of the presentation. “The Mule Class Dropship is mainly a civilian freighter and carries little military value. The knowledge to build such a type of Dropship can be easily inferred from looking at the carrying capacity of the others. The Fortress Class in rather unique in that it is designed as a true ground assault craft, being heavily armored and armed with a BT artillery piece to help clear its landing zone. It can carry 12 Mechs, 12 armored vehicles of various sizes and weights, and 3 platoons of infantry. It is far better than the Union Class in both armor, armament, and carrying capacity and also not only rivals but also surpasses the larger Overlord Class in areas of armor and armament. The Leopard CV on the other hand, is a dedicated Aerospace Fighter Carrier and studying it would allow us insight into how to produce carrier Dropships of our own. The Buccaneers were originally going to be dismissed, but….”

“But in the course of the Battle for Prot Krin the GDI made great use of the Leopards they had modified to supply close air support,” Stevens interjected wanting to get to the meat of the discussion. “However, reports from the crews of those Leopards reported that it was somewhat difficult to keep the Leopards stable enough to provide the accurate fire needed to support ground troops. Some of the Lockheed Engineers believe that the Buccaneer may offer a more stable platform as it has larger wings than the Leopard does while mounting comparable armor.”

“We were under the impression at Daimler-Chrysler that all of the modified Leopards that went with the Expeditionary Force were heavily damaged, some of them even destroyed,” Ken Wilkerson interjected, voicing a concern that some at the table shared. “Forgive me for asking, but how would modified Buccaneers be any better?”

“Other than possibly having greater stability they wouldn’t,” Kirkpatrick answered, his boss holding up his hands to forestall any outbursts at that statement. “The Buccaneers are not solely being looked at for modification, such a thing is merely a stop-gap measure. We are instead proposing using the information gained from the modified Leopards’ performances and information from the Buccaneers to create a new ground support Dropship that will not only replicate the lauded abilities of the AC-130 ‘Spooky’ Gunship but also include the armor and armament necessary for such a Dropship to defend itself properly from airborne threats. This along with properly designed and employed Aerospace Fighters would give GDI forces air superiority as well as much needed close-air support.”

“Interesting,” Natsura spoke up, his tone remaining calm and polite, “We would copy the best designs to establish ourselves in the market relatively quickly and gain favor with an equipment hungry GDI. But back to the new designs that you think we should examine. Would these proposed Dropships also be able to carry the bombs that were only partially utilized by the modified Leopards on Antallos?”

“Yes sir, we are proposing that such a capability also be included,” Brian answered, taking a liking to the Japanese man who always seemed to ask pertinent questions. “Some of the engineers are suggesting possibly incorporating the bomb launcher designs from the B-2 as it would also allow such a Dropship to carry larger ordinance such as Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, the American made MOAB, the Russian made FOAB, the proposed Massive Ordinance Penetrator, as well as nuclear ordinance if necessary. We are also thinking that it could be utilized to deploy airborne troops and equipment needed by them.”

“Would these proposed Dropships also replace the Monitor class that is currently in service?” Ferdinand Stasel of Saab asked, entering the discussion for the first time.

“Possibly, we could build a true replacement for the Monitor class off of the same chassis and thus maximize our production capabilities while keeping costs down,” Bob Stevens answered, fielding the question in order to give Brian a chance to prepare to move onto to eh next major discussion point. “We can all agree that the Monitor class is a stop-gap measure seeing as how the only Monitor currently in service is a hodgepodge of technologies and parts. While it has been upgraded since its initial launch it would be hard pressed to fight off some of the true Assault Dropships that many of the Successor States have available according to the Battletech source materials. In the near future we will need true Assault Dropships and what the Battletech source material refers to as ‘Pocket’ Warships.”

“I’m unfamiliar with that last term,” David Crowley said, having only skimmed much of the BT material presented to him before this meeting. “What are these ‘Pocket’ Warships?”

Grinning slightly over the fact that British engineer had to ask such a question, what with the history of British naval forces and their battles, Stevens replied, “They are Assault Dropships that have been armed with Capital Class and Sub-capital Class weaponry. They are designed to easily kill any other Dropship out there and to be able to harass, cripple and/or kill all but the largest Warships by working in pairs or in larger groups.”

“I was under the impression that we didn’t have to worry about facing Warships for quite sometime,” Stasel remarked, leaning forward slightly to rest his elbows on the conference table. “I though the briefings and source materials all said that the Successor States lost their Warship fleets almost a full century ago.”

“They did, however, I would remind you that one major power in the Inner Sphere still has a large fleet of Warships and has managed to keep it a relative secret,” Kirkpatrick returned, flipping the images on the projector to the artistic renderings of BT Warships along with a logo that was becoming a familiar topic of discussion in many corporate communities. “According to the source material, ComStar has a large fleet of Warships and while the majority of these ships are mothballed and most likely lack trained crews to operate them it would only take a few of these craft to….”

“That is why we have nuclear shield being built,” Ivan Gurelgo interjected forcefully. “No ship will be able to threaten Earth so long as we have nuclear missiles deployed in orbit to defend us.”

“That may be sir, but such a shield is limited in its capabilities,” Brian commented and then began to explain. “The shield you are referring to only defends this planet. The GDI will need fighting ships to protect other worlds that we may colonize and acquire. Also, the shield, while formidable, is only one line of defense. Against a determined, fanatical enemy it would be prudent to have as many options and weapons as possible.”

Silence reigned in the conference room for a moment. Each man present, even if they hadn’t fully read their briefings or any of the Battletech source material, knew that ComStar was possibly the largest threat that Earth could potentially face in the near future merely from the hushed rumors and conversations that permeated the halls of their places of work. Not a single person who worked in an industry that was based upon what the Inner Sphere would consider advanced technology desired to see ComStar suddenly show up. The techno-cult was at this point in time still rather fanatical in their beliefs and would most likely either seek to take control of earth and its technologies or simply wipe them out completely. The order also had a rather nasty history of infiltration, assassination, sabotage, and kidnapping if the rumors and source materials were to be believed.

“This brings us to the final part of our presentation,” Bob Stevens noted, breaking the silence as he also nodded to Brian to continue.

Nodding in acknowledgement the engineer and father of four began to speak once again, “While the production of Aerospace Fighters and Dropships are a priority we should also look to begin designing and production of ‘true’ Warships in the future. Such ships would….”

“Pardon my interruption,” Mark Liktos said as he fidgeted with the pen in his hand. “But how exactly are we supposed to begin designing such craft. Unlike the fighters and Dropships we have no examples to work from other than artistic renderings and stats on game sheets. We all know that such things hardly constitute the necessary information to actually successfully design and produce an actual working craft.”

“You are correct sir,” Kirkpatrick answered. “However, we are predicting that we will possibly be able to gain access to real design specifications in the near future.”

“How?” Liktos asked, tapping his pen on the table for emphasis.

“Ahem,” Bob Stevens coughed into his fist, drawing he attention of everyone present. “Some of you are aware of this through your government contacts, others of you, however, are not. I have been given permission by the military and President Ryan, due to the nature of the information having passed to the Lockheed Skunk Works when we supplied a few engineers for the missions, to share this with those we deem as necessary to the completion of future projects.”

“Really?” Mark Liktos remarked, a hint of suspicion in his tone. “Forgive me for not believing you immediately but I’d like some confirmation from some of our political friends before I’m party to what could have us drawn up on charges of treason.”

“Of course,” Stevens returned knowingly. “Gentlemen, if you would be so kind?”

“It’s true,” Congressman Douglas Adams of Tennessee, a prominent member of the Congressional Oversight Committee, commented. “I was in the meeting with a few others from my committee as well as members from the Armed Services Committee and the Secretary of Defense discussed the matter with the Joint Chiefs and the President.”

“The Prime Minister had a similar conversation which I was privy to,” William Dukard, one of the major power brokers in the British House of Commons, supplied. “Apparently our governments are all slightly worried about the fact that the enemy could appear on our doorstep again. The only solution they see at this time is cooperation and collaboration.”

“Now if your fear are put to rest…,” Bob said, getting a nod in return from the Northrop Grumman rep as well as a number of other people at the table. “Around the time of the Antallos mission two other missions were also launched. Each of these other missions involved the use of covert ops and Special Forces drawn from the states currently aligned in the CSN. The objective of these missions is to secure Star League era data cores, one being on the planet Helm and the other being on the lost planet of New Dallas. We are still waiting to hear back in regards to the success of these missions, but if even just one should succeed Earth will have access to many of the technologies and knowledge of the greatest power the Inner Sphere has so far seen.”

Silence once again covered the room as those who had not already known about the missions processed the new information. Those who had already known about the missions simply sat back in their chairs, wry grins on their faces as visions of the money to be made and the technologies to be explored danced in their heads. They may have lost out on the contract for the Mech factory on Antallos, but that was an old relic compared to what they could produce from the data that could soon be in their hands.

“Gentlemen,” Bob Stevens spoke, his tone commanding as the lights came up and Brian Kirkpatrick sat down. “You have heard the proposal and its goals. I have spoken personally with each and every one of your company’s CEOs. They assure me that each of you was sent here to not only evaluate but also formally sign on to the outlined project if you thought it to be worthwhile to your companies. So I ask you, will you work with us to make this proposal a reality?”

Mark Liktos of Northrop Grumman was the first to answer, “Heh, where do we sign up? Northrop will support this venture.”

“Good,” Stevens remarked, having suspected that the ties that Lockheed had fostered with Northrop over the years would pay off here. “The shipyards and dry-docks that your company has at Newport News could possibly be of great benefit to this venture.”

“Your proposal has great merit, Stevens-san,” Hikio Natsura of Mitsubishi commented. “Hmm, producing the craft that you proposed will be costly, but the benefits and rewards outweigh such costs. Many of my country men have fallen in love with their proposed Land-Air-Mechs. It will be enjoyable seeing their faces when we roll out our first fighters and Dropships in a mere fraction of the time they waste attempting to perfect their ‘toys’. Mitsubishi will agree to this venture as well.”

“Arigato my friend,” Stevens responded politely, having hoped that his rather logical and careful friend would decide to join. “You company has long been friendly with ours and we have produced some of the best electronics in the world together. The heavy industry and production lines that you operate could serve us all well.”

“Heh, well we’re in then,” Ken Wilkerson of Daimler Chrysler announced with a short laugh. “We’ve been working with Mitsubishi since the 1970’s, why break up a good thing when it is given the potential to not only grow further, but also rake in substantial profits as well.”

“Well then,” David Crowley noted with a smirk and a nod. “I guess we aught to get right to it, no need to delay further when there is money to be made.”

“We will also join this venture,” Ferdinand Stasel of Saab commented in his usual calm tone.

“As shall we,” Andre Grapillon of Dassault agreed with a nod. “As our American and British friends noted, the potential for substantial profits is too good to pass up.”

“Sergei, Ivan...what do you think?” Bob Stevens asked, turning his head to look at the two Russians, having suspected that they would be the toughest to convince.

“What you propose…is not easy,” Sergei Mischklov of Sukhoi returned, steepling his fingers in front of his face. “There is much distrust in my company despite the friendly relations that have been cultivated with the West and Mother-Russia becoming part of the NATO Alliance only a few years ago.”

“Da, is true,” Ivan Gurelgo of MiG said calmly in agreement with his fellow countryman. “Even if we should agree our government may not permit its two greatest aircraft makers to ally fully with wester-….”

“That point has actually been addressed according to my understanding,” Stevens interjected. “I have it on good authority that that President Ryan has spoken with your President about potential joint ventures. Such dialogue was begun even before the Auckland Raid. I believe it originated with talks regarding the F-35 project and the competing projects that both of your companies were trying to develop.”

“Da,” Josef Krusklov, a key player in the Federation Council of Russia, commented. “Both the President and the Prime Minister approved of the dialogue when we formerly entered into NATO. Your own…progress on such projects was felt to be…lacking, yes? It was originally thought that talks would properly motivate both companies, what with the spirit of capitalism so firmly rooted in us all now.”

While both Russian businessmen gritted their teeth at the slight insult to their companies they knew that it was partially deserved. It was no secret that both Sukhoi and MiG had been trying to develop a 5th generation ‘stealth’ fighter to compete against the American built F-22 and the newly designed F-35. It was also no secret that both projects had made lackluster progress due to funding problems and the small conflict between Russia and China a few years earlier. Both Russian companies had only developed basic prototypes, all of which had not lived up to the goals of the project, though secretly at least one had shown merit. However, that prototype had been lost, secretly sold off on the black market and subsequently destroyed through the efforts of the NSA, though that was not common knowledge.

Bob Stevens was one of the few who actually knew some of the details behind it and decided that now was the perfect time to set the hook he had baited, “I have also have it on good authority that President Ryan is contemplating sharing the technology behind the F-22 and F-35 project with those willing to work with us to develop what is needed for the defense of Earth and all of its peoples. Of course such technology can not just be given out freely, but those who are seen to be working hand in hand with others for the greater good will find favor and….”

“We would be granted access to the aircraft?” Sergei asked, the eagerness in his tone hardly hidden.

“Possibly, there would of course need to be assurances made that the technology would not be allowed to fall into the hands of some of the more rogue elements that still inhabit our world, that and making clear certain understandings regarding patents and keeping certain things classified for the security of all of our countries,” Bob replied, sure that he only needed to begin slowly reeling in now in order to land this big fish. “Lockheed Martin was the developer behind the F-22 and the F-35. Currently the F-35 has yet to enter full production and most likely never shall in light of recent developments. However, if we were to fold the F-35 project’s budget and specialists into our bid for this new project we would all gain a distinct advantage over any others who decided to toss their hat into the ring.”

“So long as you boys continue to play ball with the rest of us as part of NATO, the CSN, and the GDI, President Ryan has made indications that such exchanges would be permissible,” Adams commented, the Congressman leaning forward to fold his hands on the table. “However, we would need a guarantee from both of your companies that shared technologies would not be…misused.”

“Just as the President and Prime Minister have requested similar guarantees from the Americans,” Krusklov added, the Russian showing that he was indeed in-the-know.

“But of course,” Senator McKynter replied giving a slight nod. “We all know that sooner or later the Inner Sphere will come knocking on the door. To keep them polite we’ll need the necessary equipment and the best way to produce it in the numbers we all need is by working together rather than slitting each others throats.”

Pausing for a moment to contemplate the politicians’ words, Ivan Gurelgo finally spoke, “We would be looking at the inclusion of ‘stealth’ into all of projects, yes? It would be necessary for all of us to be…oh how do you say it? On same page of book?”

“Yes, we would indeed all need to be on the same page,” Stevens responded, deciding to le the final piece slip into place and land his catch. “While there of course would be some concerns regarding how to properly apply ‘stealth’ to craft that will be operating in space as well as repeatedly entering and exiting atmosphere, I’m sure we can come up with a proper solution if we were to have our best minds collaborate. There is also the data and materials left over from the failed SR-91 program and the military space shuttle program.”

With those words Robert J. Stevens, CEO of Lockheed Martin, knew he had hooked the two Russians. The SR-91 program had been a proposed project to replace the SR-71 with a craft that would not just fly close to the where atmosphere ended and space began, but actually fly in space in order to fulfill its mission and avoid detection. The military shuttle program was a smaller project that had met with limited success, with currently only a single craft in current use and mainly being used as a test bed for technology that NASA could not be trusted to use due to is classified nature. Both projects had been rumors and the stuff of legend in the aerospace community for years. However, Stevens knew that the Russians had long suspected the truth and greatly desired to actually see the data and info regarding the testing done for both the failed SR-91 and the single prototype military shuttle.

Licking his lips like a hungry wolf, Sergei Mischklov remarked, “So long as your government and mine approve and we can be assured of the sharing of necessary technologies for the mutual defense of Earth…I believe that I can agree to have Sukhoi join this venture.”

“Ivan?” Bob asked, waiting to see what the other Russian’s response would be.

“With guarantee that you personally give in writing then…,” the rather burly man began. “…Da. We shall work together to develop technology and tools necessary to fight those who would try and take advantage of Mother-Earth.”

“Excellent,” Stevens replied happily as he let a toothy grin crease his lips. “Lord Ashbury, if you would be so kind?”

“Ah, but of course,” the British man in the tweed suit remarked as he opened his briefcase and pulled out a large stack of papers. “These are the basic contracts that will be needed in order to formalize this joint venture on the behalves of your companies. Of course some of the details, such as production and testing sights, will need to be hammered out more fully once you all have successfully bid the proposed venture to the CSN and GDI, but that has been noted already. I believe you all brought along a few of your own lawyers in order to look these over?”

“Of course Ashbury-san,” Natsura commented politely, “It is not that we don’t trust you but….”

“Ah, no offense taken old boy,” the old British expert on economics and international law stated with a laugh, “It is the nature of business. One can’t be too careful.”

“I assure you that you will find everything that has been discussed here in those documents and that there are no surprises lurking in them,” Robert Stevens supplied as several young men and women clad in waiters attire walked into the room carrying bottles of champagne and fine crystal glasses. “We will all get what we desire by working together in this venture. We will defend our world, gain access to and produce the greatest technologies in the universe, and we will reap a great deal of profit in doing so.”

Every person at the table nodded their head in agreement, the sound of corks being popped accompanying them and punctuating their actions. They would all get what they desired and potentially more. The public relations windfall would be great as it would be just what the majority of the public desired, the image of cooperation and action be undertaken in the name of defending the world as a whole. Oh sure their would be those who would complain and raise certain issues, but then that is what all of the public relations personnel and lawyers that their companies employed were there for.

“Gentlemen, if you would join me,” Robert Stevens said, rising to his feet a glass of champagne in his hand as his fellows all received their own glasses of the sparkling alcohol. “To our dominance of the sky.”

“To our dominance of the sky!” all of the various men of different companies and nationalities intoned as they raised their glasses before drinking deeply.

Savoring the crisp taste of the champagne on his tongue Stevens spoke again with a grin, “Now let us all adjourn to the hall outside. I have made certain that proper refreshments are available for us to partake in on this momentous occasion.”

Filing out of the room the men all spoke with one another as they began to hash out the details that would need to be formalized once the venture truly began. There would need to be production lines set up, special tools and machines made, material scientists and engineers to prepare, resources to gather, designers and test pilots to get ready, and of course the different project teams to be assembled. Each of their companies would play a role and together they would all reap the profits.

“Sir,” Brian Kirkpatrick remarked as he came to stand next to his boss as they followed behind the throng of influential and powerful businessmen. “Do you think this will all work as you hope?”

“Oh don’t get me wrong Brian. I’m hardly naïve, just as none of them are,” Stevens replied as he noted that Sergei Mischklov had just found the Beluga Caviar that had been flown in fresh from Russia earlier in the day. “We all recognize that there will be problems and hiccups along the way. However, the potential for profit and dominating the market is just too good to pass up and that is not the only benefit. We will gain a great deal of political capital and public relations capital from the CSN and GDI when we formally announce our joint venture bid and our proposed projects. There are many who would say that working together in such fashion will not last long and will become impossible, but they don’t understand the situation properly.”

“What do you mean sir?” Kirkpatrick asked, already aware that he would most likely be heading up the Aerospace Fighter Project given his expertise and experience with both the F-22 and the F-35 and yet also aware that there would probably still be some protests regardless of his knowledge and experience.

“Have you ever met President Ryan before?” Stevens asked rhetorically, knowing that the engineer had not. “I have and I am pretty good friends with Vice President Jackson. President Ryan is a patriot and man of high character. However, he is also a pragmatist. He knows very well that no one country on this planet can hope to not only successfully defend Earth but also allow us to take our rightful position of power and respect in this universe we now find ourselves in. Ryan’s declaration regarding the CSN and GDI are proof enough of his feelings on the matter. By showing him a united front we will gain a great and powerful ally in the CSN and GDI and I do not doubt for an instance that he will be able to get many of the other major powers to go along with his ideas. It is rare to a see a leader who is so respected by the not only his allies but by his enemies as well. Well…what few enemies of his actually remain.”

Knowing that his boss referred to the past destruction of many of the rogue elements that had risen up in attempts to upset peace and order and how under President Ryan many of these threats had been judiciously put down, Brian remarked, “You make it sound as if he could potentially take over and become king if he wanted too.”

“Ha!” Stevens laughed loudly, drawing only cursorily glances as many of those present were engaged in their own conversations and telling each other stories and jokes. “Jack Ryan is beloved and respected by the majority of the people of this country and the world over, but having him take on such a position would be completely against his character. No, if anything he will most likely be selected as the first Chief Executive of the CSN, whenever the politicians get around to deciding such matters. Old Jack Ryan is the living breathing epitome of democratic and republican ideas. Heh, if I was a man who believed in reincarnation I’d almost say that he is the second coming of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy all rolled into one.”

“From you lips to God’s ear, Sir,” Kirkpatrick noted as he too greatly respected President Ryan and fervently believed that the man would be the key to leading not only America, but Earth as a whole into a brighter future.


Lockheed Martin UK, Manning House London, United Kingdom Sol III, Grantville Cluster 25th January 2007/3022

Those assembled in the conference room which could comfortably seat fifty people heard the approach of their most important attendee well before they saw his massive frame enter the room. This was due to the thump of a prosthetic leg, which ended in a square, rubber-coated band, hitting the meticulously polished floor of the corridor outside. The bearded man, who was starting to go grey around his temples, was dressed in a custom made suit to accommodate the titanium prosthetic that served as his lower left leg. He hobbled in and nodded in greeting to all those in the room, the low din of chatter between the attendees died away immediately. The man came to stop beside the lectern and placed his notes on it, also opening a laptop which had been placed there earlier. The digital projector mounted from the ceiling came to life and after warming up properly showed the laptop’s screen greatly enlarged.

“Good morning, my name is Oliver Wendell Tyler; you all can call me Skip from now on, because we’re going to become very familiar with one another over the next decade or so. Most of you know who I am; those who don’t should’ve read the damn pre-briefing memos. We don’t have time to dick around playing the name game, so I’ll get right into it.” Skip tapped a few keys on the laptop, and the room was treated to rotating wire diagrams of various warships.

“As you know, we now have floating above us two large Star League era Shipyards and four smaller ones, plus the orbital factory to support them. Hooked up to this, after making appropriate backups, we have a Fleet Yard database core. You’re all looking at a small taste of what is inside this core.” Skip gestured to the large screen. The faces in the room looked eager, fascinated, drinking in the sight of the warships. “We will not be building any of them...”

A din erupted; ‘What?’ ‘You’re kidding!’ ‘Why?’ ‘Skip? What the f…’

Skip being the large guy he was, easily overpowered the noise and bellowed, “…as they are!” His glare promised unpleasant consequences and the room quieted again. “Of the designs for warships that the Star League used over the centuries and those the Clans will develop in the future (if the sourcebooks can be totally trusted) I can, with a few notable exceptions, state that all of them are…badly designed, over and under-engineered pieces of crap that will roll out of our new shipyards over my dead body.”

Skip saw the looks of doubt, but he had prepared for this. Many of the men and women before him had what was being termed ‘BTech fever’. With the gold mine of technologies, knowledge and resources Columbus Expedition had returned with, the Defence contractors of the world had turned into the equivalent of ravenous piranhas to get their hands on the SL data and technical specifications. It also meant that the people who had to use it, thought they were looking at holy writ of ‘how it should be done’. While that was true in the basic sense, it would be colossally stupid to assume that the final product had to resemble what was done before.

He tapped his laptop to show the next slide. “This is the Texas Class made by Krester Ship Construction. I’ve never seen something this ugly with the label ‘ship’ attached to it. Its design makes no sense at all, in both construction efficiency and the functions it performs. It’s like the designers started building with two mindsets at once; the front half of the ship based on square geometries, the rear on a cylinder design which juts upward at an angle. There is no unified hull architecture to speak of even among ships that are supposed to fulfil the same roles. Now this is mostly due to the fact that these classes were manufactured by entirely different companies over the course of centuries, but it’s hard to imagine after all this time that no school of thought had developed on what would be an efficient Destroyer, Cruiser or Battleship.”

A man from RKK Energiya raised a hand. “This is the Star League we are talking about; surely they have something in terms of design to offer us.”

“There are two Star League classes, and three designs from the future Clan, FedCom and Free Worlds League that has merit, but please keep in mind that…these are Star League or League-based designs; a government that had raw materials and resources available to it on a scale that is difficult to get ones head around. We have one planet and a single asteroid mine that is perhaps six months away from yielding any raw materials. Solar prospecting is ongoing but once that Mobile Tunnel Miner design is copied, adapted to our needs and suitable ore locations found, only then will we be able to really start laying down hulls.”

“Anyway, the five designs you should focus your attention on are…” Skip switched to the next slide, “the Potemkin troop carrier.” It was a massive one thousand five hundred meter long cylindrical ship which only slightly flared out on the rear near the Fusion Torch engines. “This ship holds the record for most dropship docking collars mounted on a single hull, twenty five, arranged in rings in centre section, its armament consists of sixteen Naval Lasers, eight Barracuda launchers for anti-ASF duty, and twenty four Heavy Naval PPCs. It’s mass…one million five hundred thousand tons.”

The screen now showed another slide. Skip’s mouth twitched in amusement. “Then we have the Fox class Corvette, due to be fielded in 3058 by the future FedCom and manufactured by Federated-Boeing Interstellar.”

Most of the faces in the room turned sour at the mere mention of the company that had won the contract to operate the Mech plant on Antallos with BMW. Most of those in the room wouldn't ever forget losing that hard fought contract bid.

Skip pointedly avoided commenting on that can of worms and continued. “The Fox class is a good and practical design, which is a deadly threat to anything short of another warship, and it will punch way above its weight class after we give it a nuclear makeover. The Lithium Fusion Batteries also give it the jump-in, blow the shit out of it, jump-out option, which makes it a very attractive design for a First Strike battle scenario.”

The screen changed again, another cylindrical ship roughly eight hundred meters long, but more organic in look and rounded features. “The Carrack class, in the Star League it served originally as an armed Merchant transport to run the dangerous Periphery trade routes. It also mounted an LF battery to get it out of dodge should it be ambushed. We armour it up properly, and give it the armament of the…” the projector screen now showed another ship, much more angular in design and a list of weaponry; 12x NAC/20s, 6 x NL45s, 8 x Medium NPPCs, 2 x Killer Whale Missile Launchers, 4 x Barracuda Missile Launchers. “…Sovetskii Soyuz class and we’ve got a proper escort for our Potemkin. Not to mention a Heavy Cruiser medium combatant instead of just a decently armed Merchant ship.”

“Then the sole Clan design of merit, the Conqueror class. As you can see it has a number of rather ridiculous elements considering it flies in space. The exposed bridge tower on top of the large aft section is the first thing I’d target when attacking it and there’s no possibility of gravity for the command crew unless the ship is under acceleration. Then the fore prow is…” Skip sighed as words failed him. “I’d like to ask what the designers were thinking…in fact I’m making it a rule from now on, anyone sends me a ship design with a prow, and you’re out of this joint-venture, period.” Everyone exchanged nervous looks.

“To get back to the Conqueror…its redeeming features to take note of are its high percentage of Naval Autocannons in comparison to its energy weaponry, this is to keep waste heat low. The Conqueror was originally based on the Kimagure class Star League pursuit cruiser, so using that we have a basis to work from. Its failing however was poor heat management; it only had enough heat sinks to fire a broadside at a single target at once. If the enemy attacked from multiple arcs…well the Kimagure saw its ass if that happened. To change that we need install Double Heat Sinks.”

“We can’t yet build DHS, but I'm hopeful the instructions found in the fleetyard core will be enough to change that. In any case, so keep your designs for the moment focused on mounting a higher percentage of ballistic weaponry. The Conqueror can also carry a large amount of ASFs, is extremely manoeuvrable, carries heavy armor, and has devastating firepower. Another ship to think about as an ASF Carrier is the Thera class, which will be introduced by Free Worlds League in 3060. Its shape is also more in line with what you should model on and it carries four full ASF regiments, my only complaint about it is that it’s significantly slower in comparison to the Conqueror.”

A Lockheed Martin rep asked. “I notice these ships, except for the Conqueror; all have a submarine-look to them. Coincidence, Skip?”

The former USN submariner frowned severely. “It just so happens that a cylindrical hull for a sub is something we know very well how to build Harold, since we’ve been doing it effectively since the late nineteenth century.” The Northrop Grumman Newport News group nodded emphatically in agreement. “Now that you know what to look at, you have to keep in mind the GDI space combat doctrine.”

Everyone in the room perked up at hearing that. A lot of people, which included rabid BT fans, scientists, academics, to your average Joe on the street, had flooded the public GDI internet server with suggestions of how to defend Earth and its ever expanding interests. The Doctrine was eventually going to be self-evident but GDI had kept it well under wraps. One of the reasons this meeting was so relatively small was the Top Secret clearance procedures and each attendee signing an NDA that, if violated, pretty much put you in solitary confinement for the rest of your life.

“The GDI has asked for what is tentatively termed a Deep Space Carrier, which will deploy our Monitor craft as the main combatant against enemy Warships, with aerospace fighters from our own ‘Conqueror/Thera class’ providing escort and combat protection. Our job is also to streamline the design of the Monitors that are currently patrolling Sol into a proper production model that isn’t an ugly kludge held together with spit, bubblegum and duct tape. These things need to be able to fit into our Carrier and allow crews to work on them. They need to fire nuclear missiles when the shit has really hit the fan, they need to smash an enemy with Autocannon and PPCs, and they need to be able to take out incoming missiles and enemy ASFs.”

“The Space Carrier represents a significant strategic investment in resources and manpower, so it needs as much protection as we can give it. Therefore, we need our own versions of the Conqueror/Thera, Carrack and Fox classes to give that protection.”

A hand went up belonging to an engineer from CASC. “What about our own design of ASF?”

Skip shook his head. “The team at Headquarters in Maryland will be handling that, our new Dropship class and we will also need to work with them on the Monitor design as well.”

The meeting continued in a similar vein, with the discussion delving into the administrative minutia of the Joint Venture. Skip adjourned the meeting after another two hours of Q and A in that respect.

“All right everyone, you will be leaving with secure flash drives carrying the data you need to do your CAD modelling, you have one week from today to give me some bare bones designs. We will then constructively critique them; you will go back and make your improvements afterwards. In the end, I want to present GDI with ship designs so perfect they'll have no suggested changes to offer. I also want to finally impress upon you the gravity of the job ahead of us.”

“Upon the ships we design in the next few weeks and build in the coming years rests the future of our children and theirs, the fate of our planet, heck, and the fate of the entire Inner Sphere. I’m a father of six children…” Skip glared meaningfully at the group, “…get it right.”

On that note Director Oliver ‘Skip’ Tyler dismissed the first formal meeting of the Joint Space Alliance Company – Warship Division.

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Skip shut down the laptop, all the while eyeing the only remaining person in the room. Hhe had been standing at the back calmly observing everything but not interfering, Skip hadn’t expected him to either. “So what do you think, Captain Kamarov?”

Captain 2nd Rank Pyotr Kamarov dressed impeccably in his black Russian Navy Uniform adorned with the gold GDI Eagle pinned above the two rows of ‘salad bars’ he had earned in his career stepped forward and nodded, his Baltic features set in a cool mask. “It was an adequate briefing, Director. It remains to be seen if we will get any worthwhile designs.”

“Well, I’ m sure that a few of them will force me to shove my left leg up their asses, before they’ll wake up and realize that we can’t build most of the ships they hold dear to their hearts from the various sci-fi universes.”

Kamarov looked hesitant, which was a strange look on the normally cool Russian officer. In the few weeks Skip had known him; he hadn’t seen the man crack a smile once. “I have heard an interesting…I believe the American term is ‘scuttlebutt’, Director.”

“Oh?”

“That it is possible that Navy submarines will be deployed on other worlds in the future.”

“Captain, it’s definitely a future possibility. Where did you hear this?”

“A Captain from the British SBS mentioned it to me.”

Skip smirked knowingly. “Let me guess, Captain Spiers.”

Kamarov nodded. “How did you know, Director?”

Skip snorted in amusement. “Let’s just say that the good Captain has been rather enthusiastic about his idea. He probably heard of your appointment as my liaison and decided to encourage me further in a roundabout way. Well, he needn’t have bothered I’ve already decided to cut my teeth on this as my own project while the rest of JSAC is busy with the warship design; it’ll keep me busy until I put the final stamp of approval on the designs and we eventually head up to the shipyards.”

Kamarov was almost hopeful as he asked. “Do you mind sharing what you have so far, Director?”

“Not at all, we build a special Dropship that is able to land on water, using inflatable buoyancy systems; it then turns itself into a tiny harbour, before launching an SSN. We’ll make it look like a Mule class on the outside to keep it from being spotted as out of the ordinary, also put in a lot more guns and armour for protection, essentially turning it into a Q-ship. There’s a few protocols to work out as well on securing the sub for interstellar travel; for instance you need a supplemental water cooling system to keep the reactor at a manageable temp, power hook-ups from the Dropship to the sub and probably a few others I haven’t thought of yet…we will need to experiment with one of the retired 688s before we even think of putting a Seawolf, Akula or any other on a space voyage.”

“Indeed,” Kamarov looked somewhat relieved. “It’s good to know that in this new age we seamen will continue to have a place.”

Skip nodded emphatically. “Oh yes, Captain, don’t doubt that. In fact, I think in the future we sub drivers will make a big difference.” Low Orbit, Antallos 29th January 2007

The Mule Class GDI Dropship orientated itself to initiate a de-orbit burn from its fusion engines. The egg shaped vessel rocked as the engines ignited, and less than a minute later, having shed most of its orbital velocity; it began the descent to Port Krin’s Spaceport. It was part of the standard run from the Command Circuit between Earth and Antallos and it was hardly unusual. It carried supplies and men for the GDI presence on the planet; however, on this trip inserted into the normalcy was the decidedly unusual. No one besides the Captain knew that the Dropship was actually running with two more passengers than officially listed and their respective equipment, and even he only knew enough not to ask questions that were way over his paygrade or clearance. When someone waved those credentials, he knew to just shut up and not even dream of the existence of the two passengers in question. He gave them their berth in an out of the way part of the Dropship as he could find, showed them where the escape pods were, especially the functional launch tube that lacked a pod, and got on with the business of captaining the ship.

The Dropship was well into the atmosphere now, riding a bright pillar of fusion flame that lit the night to slow its vertical velocity to landing parameters. As it passed from the mesosphere level into the stratosphere, the larger of the two ‘classified’ passengers, fully outfitted for his journey and objectives, climbed into the empty Launch tube. His fair companion had already interfaced her laptop into the tube systems and had overridden its command circuitry, preventing the Bridge from registering the tube opening at all.

He pulled the aviator mask that had been feeding him pure oxygen for the past half an hour away from his face. “Mind if I step outside a while Grim?”

Anna Grimsdóttír smirked at her partner. “Not at all, Sam.” She triggered the inner hatch shut and put on her well worn earphones and integrated microphone, powering up all the encrypted digital com gear. “You read me?”

“Clear as crystal, Grim.”

She turned to her laptop and brought up the ship status feed she had hacked into. It had been laughably easy and the NSA cryptographer wondered that if this was the state of Inner Sphere IT, then Third Echelon would have a much easier time squeezing itself into places it didn’t belong out here in the greater Galaxy. ‘What wonders never cease’ she mused. Here she and Sam were, slightly under two hundred light years from Earth, running a Splinter Cell op.

“Altitude forty-two k.”

It had been a thankfully short trip thanks to the Command circuit, Anna couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine what it must have been like for the GDI Expeditionary force. She was very much a city girl, born in Boston, and grew up around computers and puzzles, being cooped up in the closet that masqueraded as a room on board the Dropship was not her idea of a good time.

“Thirty-one k, stand by.” Her hand waited over the rather large red button, the manual launch – which would open the outer hatch and waited calmly for the ship’s altimeter to read twenty seven kilometers and pushed.

Sam Fischer, his helmet closed and oxygen systems feeding him properly heated and pressurized air; was ejected into the low stratosphere of Antallos. He overcame the initial disorientation from the acceleration and using the military free-fall boots and his arms, expertly righted himself to begin falling in the classic ‘arch’ or ‘belly to the earth’ free fall position. For a few brief moments he stayed level with the descending spheroid dropship, but its rapid deceleration and his rapid acceleration towards the ground soon meant that he was leaving it behind. He moved his body much like a plane would to pull away…getting cooked by the fusion plume of a dropship was not his idea of a good death.

His sub cochlear radio earpiece crackled and Anna’s voice transmitted itself directly into his eardrums. ‘Nice view out there, Sam?

“Picturesque,” was his wry reply. The very odd star field shining down upon the expanding spider web lines of Port Krin’s artificial lighting would make a nice background wallpaper on his office computer in Third Echelon.

Huh, you get the fun old man, whilst I get the ride in what feels like a glorified interstellar gimbal machine.

Sam chuckled and looked at his wrist altimeter. So far so good, his midnight black Mark V Tactical Operations Suit was keeping him nice and warm despite the subzero ambient temperatures around him, thanks to its thermoregulation system, and he was arcing his trajectory carefully over towards his general destination. He was probably being detected by GDI radar, but the stealth properties of his suit made the radar return well below the detection threshold programming that cancelled out birds from showing up on the screens. So at least, the DARPA liaison theorized.

“Approaching parafoil deployment altitude.”

The planet below had swollen considerably to dominate his vision, and he was no longer able to see its curvature. He adjusted his free-fall to now enter the more dangerous ‘head-to-earth’ position, his freefall rate increasing from 190 kilometers per hour to over 257. All his concentration had to go now into being absolutely stable and orientated; as such he now had to rely on his AAD (Auto Activation Device) to unfurl the parafoil. In his head he counted down his best mental estimate of when the AAD would activate…if it didn’t, he would have to pull back into ‘arch’ and deploy his reserve chute…this would increase his profile and he’d definitely be flagged by Radar as ‘suspect’. GDI would investigate and then this ‘blacker than black op’ would be forced into the ‘official’ spotlight.

In the end, his count was only two seconds off. At exactly eight thousand two hundred meters, the parafoil struts were unfurled, and the radar absorbent surfaces locked in place between them, forming a wing that in effect turned him into a human glider. With it came enough stability that let him move his arms freely again, into the control handles under either side of the wing. Carefully he twisted…turning the small flaps to correct his dive.

He had used the Switchblade parafoil once before, it had worked then, and DARPAs ingenuity didn’t fail him now…thank goodness. The thing was still technically in testing.

He had arrested his fall, but still had way too much speed and moved into an S-turn to bleed some of it off. Looking to his left, the arm which held his OPSAT – which had been reprogrammed to work on inertial guidance – he saw that his target was dead ahead, about nine kilometers distant. He’d make that easily.

“On target, Grim.”

“Good, I’d really have preferred we used the GDI spysat in orbit, but we’ll have to learn to make do without it if we’re going to be doing this again in the Inner Sphere.

A minute of flight later Sam spotted his target in the night. The starlight and the buildings’ own lighting reflecting off its sloping, curved lines, and the unmistakable large dish that represented the business end of a Hyperpulse Generator on top.

“Time to get to work.”

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Sam Fisher crouched on the roof of the Comstar HPG station, using the shadow cast by the large antenna dish to remain unseen from any possible observers from the ground, whilst he refolded the parafoil and placed all the HAHO jump gear with it; all of which had been designed with this in mind. It all fit into a duffel bag that was as dark as his own Tactical suit, and he would leave it here for the duration of the mission, retrieving it on his way out…if things didn’t pan out and he was forced to use another exfiltration point, Anna could send a remote command to the duffel bag itself to detonate incendiary charges that were inserted in the linings – Comstar would find nothing but a misshapen lump of scorched black plastics and steel.

With that done he eyed the nearby cracked skylight; apparently damaged by the adjacent HPG dish at some point in the past. A feel of the dish mounting base revealed repair welds. ‘Guess some it must have been blasted off in the past.’ Sam carefully began pulling away the cracked sections of glass out of its housing.

He attached a rope around the base of the HPG dish and threaded it into his harness. The lobby below was darkened with minimal lighting. He gave an exaggerated nod to drop his trifocal vision goggles, observing the room in the green hues of low-light Vision. There was not a soul in sight from his vantage point but he spotted a fixed camera facing directly towards the public entrance, which also covered much of the room.

This wasn’t good enough so he carefully pushed down his fiber-optic camera – twisting it to do a more thorough sweep…and revealed a Comstar Acolyte seated in a far corner, fast asleep. ‘He’s not even patrolling,’ Sam thought derisively. There could be no evidence of any break-in, so it limited his means for proceeding somewhat but it wasn’t insurmountable.

He unslung the SC-20K. It was essentially a highly modified, 30-round, selective fire 5.56x45mm NATO bullpup assault rifle with a suppressor, a 1.5x reflex sight or a 2/4/6x scope, and had an underslung grenade launcher used to launch various less-than-lethal devices. He loaded one such device and carefully aimed at the camera, the weapon barely made a sound as it sent an EMP round to put it out of action.

He quickly looked into the fibre-op cam…the Acolyte was still asleep.

Moments later he had silently rappelled down into the lobby. He unhooked the rope and with a tiny remote, the Ascender he had attached at the base of the sat dish pulled the rope back up, but not completely, as it had to come back down for his exfiltration later.

Adopting a crouch, he walked carefully and efficiently forward, his soft, yet durable shoes preventing any sound from being made by his footfall on the plastic tile floor. He paused directly under the camera he had disabled earlier, and glanced at his watch. The small EMP device that had been stuck there fell right on time, and he easily snatched it out of the air. ‘Score another one for DARPA.

He moved out of the lobby and into the main corridor, there were thankfully no lights here or cameras, but he froze when he saw what looked like laser emitters near the floor. Switching to thermal vision on his goggles, he noted that they weren’t active. “Very sloppy or it’s just broken down.

Back to infrared vision, he continued forward and leaned against a corner, surveying the turn in corridor ahead before proceeding. The area ahead was fully lighted; there were two elevators, another Acolyte – this one looking half-awake and visibly struggling to remain so – and another camera.

Sam carefully removed his SC pistol, also from Fabrique National; the highly modified Five Seven with an attached suppressor fired twenty rounds of NATO 5.7mm ammunition. He was not allowed to kill anybody today, so it was filled with the most potent tranquilizer ammo that Third Echelon had access to. Presenting as little of the weapon around the corner as possible, he fired a dart directly into the Acolyte’ neck. ‘Good night sweetheart.’

He changed ammo at this point to fire a prototype device called an Optically Channeled Potentiator (OCP). They destroyed themselves on impact, unlike the EMP fired from his SC20, and were used to temporarily disrupt electronic devices, such as light fixtures, gun turrets and security cameras.

With the thirty seconds time he had; Sam rushed forward, removed the dart from the Acolyte, pressed both buttons on the elevators – his luck held out, one opened immediately; quickly glanced inside – no cameras and then pushed out the ceiling to find the access hatch, whilst thumbing the ‘Door Close’ button.

He made it into the elevator shaft with three seconds to spare.

So far so good, Sam.’ Grim praised. ‘Precentor Long’s office should be on the fifth floor and thermal imaging has shown the station mainframe on the third.

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Despite the fact that it was the middle of the night, the upper floors had more activity from the Acolytes and Adepts that called the Antallos HPG home. On the third floor Sam had to wait for a bored looking Adept to pass the elevator door, before he could push it open fully. The minimal lighting that the station kept itself under (to spare the lights and extend their life as much as possible probably) gave him a rather easy time of it to advance forward. At one point an Acolyte passed within three feet of him, and didn’t so much as suspect he was there – he might as well have been invisible.

There were more cameras on this level, some of which he didn’t even need to worry about because they had been gutted for parts. It was obvious that Antallos hadn’t been really that much of a priority for Comstar – which was due to change in a hurry no doubt, thanks to GDI’s presence. It was one of the reasons Third Echelon wanted the mission to happen now, as opposed to when (according analysts referencing from the Sourcebooks) the Antallos HPG would likely be upgraded to a higher priority station.

The din of the large mainframes cooling fans resonated throughout the level and he crouched just beside a door to a room that was the hottest he had seen so far, thanks to his own thermal vision. Taking out his fibre-op cam, he threaded it through the gap. The room beyond was almost ten meters in length and about six in width, on either side were two near continuous lengths of BT style computer mainframes, with integrated workstations, display screens and flashing lights spanning that length.

A single Adept was at one station, staring fixedly at the screen whilst tapping the keyboard under it. The room was fully lit – this was not going to be easy at all. Sam drew his pistol, and shot out the closest light to his left to create more darkness. The OCP round did its job permanently this time. He changed ammo to tranq darts and after checking no one was approaching in the hall, thumbed the door control directly above his head.

The doors hissed open on their servos. The light from the Mainframe room cut most of the darkness away, except for a patch on the opposite side of the hall, where Sam was now crouched.

“Hello?”

Sam obviously didn’t respond. He took aim and waited.

The Adept’s tone was now irritated. “Hellooo?”

Finally, there were footsteps and the red-robed Adept was framed in the doorway, his light adapted eyes might as well have been staring into a black hole – there was no way he could see Sam waiting for him.

The pistol gave a muted cough and the Adept gasped, clutching at his throat, and he simply slumped into a heap on the floor. Sam rushed forward thumbing the inner door controls to slide shut. He eyed the Adept, a man with hazel hair…perhaps in his late twenties. Picking him up was easy.

Sam deposited the unfortunate Adept in front of the workstation he had been using and pulled out the dart in his neck. He wasn’t worried about the man remembering anything about this experience…since Third Echelon’s tranq dart cocktail included Flunitrazepam. Sam scowled as he thought of the uses which other SOBs back on Earth used it for.

He posed the Adept to make it seem like he had simply fallen asleep at his station, and scanned the length of the mainframe for what he was looking for. He found it two thirds of the way along its length.

He carefully pulled off the panel. “Grim, I’ve found the interface port.”

Good, the Dropship has landed by the way.”

He pulled out the cord that had been specially interfaced with his radio system, and plugged into the computer socket that was common to BT IT systems.

“You getting anything?”

“Yeah, but signal strength is mid range, it’s all the EM emission from the mainframe…beginning Hydra worm upload…I’m getting five hundred kbps. Fifty seconds till upload completion.”

Sam aimed his pistol at the door and the familiar anxiousness of having to wait in a critical situation reared its familiar unwelcome head. The whole mission could go Fubar in the next minute, because he was now in essence tied to the damn mainframe until the worm upload was done.

Twenty seconds…

The din of the mainframe kept him from being able to hear any footsteps from the corridor as well.

“Ten seconds…”

“Five…”

“Four…”

“Three…”

“Two…”

“One…upload is done.”

Sam pulled out the cable and its autowind mechanism pulled it back in so it was out of his way. He hurried to the door and surveyed the corridor with the fibre-op cam. His heart hammered in his chest as he saw of all people, Precentor Long walking past, in his pajamas and yawning as he went, a sandwich in his hand.

‘Going for a damn midnight snack.’ Sam thought in irritation.

When the Head of the Antallos HPG was out of sight, Sam got out of the Mainframe room and back into the shadows of the main third floor corridor. He breathed an inward sigh of relief. He had played heavy stakes before, where the lives of millions and the survival of his country rode on his actions…but here and now, it was the survival of every person that lived on Earth.

He moved back towards the elevators and once again into the shafts.

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The fifth floor held the Precentor’s office and seemed to be devoted to archival storage; and it was a far cry from the massive server farms of the NSA, a good percentage of it was still hardcopy file cabinets. Not that NSA or Third Echelon had done away with hardcopy formats either; the Agency had to be somewhat immune to a ‘Doomsday scenario’ after all; if the use of electronics and technology were disrupted for any length of time. It seemed though that Comstar had taken that idea much further.

‘It’s somewhat nostalgic,’ Grim commented as he moved through a room lined with ceiling high file cabinets. “It’s like walking through early NSA or even the OSS. I guess the Succession Wars taught them to back up their data in multiple formats.

While there was a lot here that Third Echelon would like to get their hands on, there was too much chance there were passive protections on the cabinets; something as simple as a thin strand of hair or thread stuck to the inside of a drawer. In any case, that was not Sam’s objective. While they knew Precentor Long’s office was on this floor, they didn’t know its exact location. As such he was busy with a systematic survey of every room. It was a frustrating process, as camera coverage on this floor was much better, and it ran down his OCP ammo.

Sam was thankful eventually for human hubris; as ‘Precentor Long’ was written in nice bold lettering to the side of the door in the north-east corner of the floor. Access to this office was the first proper security setup he’d seen in the HPG station; numeric keypad, retinal biometric scanner, with a camera watching over anyone who tried to access it.

He was crouched in the darkness on the opposite side of the corridor, outside the camera’s field of view and mentally rehearsed his actions. Taking a deep breath he aimed his pistol and fired.

30 seconds…

He rushed forward as fast as he dared, pulled out his fibre-op cam and snaked it under the door.

25 seconds…

“Triangulate my position now, Grim.”

Copy that.

21 seconds…

He carefully did a slow right to left pan, surveying the office. Sam first impression was that it looked somewhat like a lawyer’s office; one entire wall was dominated by a bookshelf neatly arranged with volumes and not an inch wasted or unused. On a steel desk that was painted an off white, was a BT standard computer ‘desktop’ and stacks of neatly arranged paperwork. Another wall held an artist’s rendition of Terra and a massive starmap of the Inner Sphere, with the various Successor State territories colored in.

16 seconds…

He found his objective on the far wall behind the desk.

I’ve got your exact X,Y,Z coordinates Sam. Does his office have what we need?

“Oh yes, like any man at the top, the Precentor likes to have a room with a view.”

Good, now get out of there.

9 seconds…

Sam pulled back the fibre-op cam and moved out of view and back into the darkness. “I’ve found another exfil point in the elevator shaft that I can access with a bit of rewiring, it’ll lead me onto the roof and I can retrieve my gear from there.”

Now we don’t have to worry about your low OCP ammo.’

“I’ll see you at the rendezvous.”

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Port Krin, Antallos 30th January 2007

Sam Fisher was now dressed in civilian clothes and used his high power binoculars to scan the HPG station just under a kilometer distant from apartment block that all the Boeing and BMW workers operating in the Combine-leased Mech factory would be using. He and Grim were sharing an apartment in the GDI secured building; their cover being that they were two survey engineers that had arrived from Earth to do a thorough inspection before declaring it safe for use.

He lowered the optics and walked away from the window to observe as Grim assembled the most ingenious surveillance device ever conceived in his own humble opinion.

She grinned at him, pushing her blonde hair out of the way, whilst screwing in the device to the tripod stand. “Done.”

Sam picked the device up at the base of the tripod and brought it over to the window. He made sure it was stable and placed his eye onto the aiming optics, which gave him an extremely magnified view from the telephoto lens. He could see the HPG station gleaming in the sunlight and some of its Comstar personnel were outside it, within the perimeter fence…some studying from books, others just generally chatting with each other or having their breakfast outside.

He moved the device’ crosshairs and panned up, scanning for their target… occasionally referencing from their calculations. “Got it, Grim.” She nodded and sat down behind her laptop, and executed the programs needed.

“Ready…lase it, Sam.”

He pushed down on the small red button.

An invisible Laser crossed the space between them and the reinforced window that lined the outer wall of Precentor Long’s office. The beam penetrated into the office and bounced off the picture of Terra, where the smooth plastic that covered it reflected it straight back to the receiver within the Laser Microphone; the minute differences in the distance traveled by the light as it reflected from the vibrating painting (when anybody in the room spoke or did anything to create noise) would be detected.

Grim put on a pair of military earphones attached to her laptop, tapped a few buttons on her keyboard and grinned. “I have signal and sound.”

Sam leaned away from the Laser Mike and folded his broad arms “Are we sure they don’t have a counter for this surveillance method?” The NSA made use of Laser Microphones extensively, but they also knew how to defeat the technology if it was ever used against them; for example all the glass of the NSA building in Fort Meade, Maryland had rippled layers to provide as poor reflective surface as possible for a laser. Then there were also the specialized light sensors in every office with a window which would sound an alert to a laser penetrating it.

“It’s possible, but the analysts doubt it – it’s lostech at the moment. Not to mention Antallos is as backwater as you can get, and it ‘was’ a nest for every scumbag, slaver and pirate on this side of the Inner Sphere. The HPG here is Class B only because of the business they brought. Even so, we can safely assume from your infiltration last night that they’re very last on the list to get equipment sent here from Terra – I mean its three and half months in one direction with a dedicated Jumpship.”

Sam’s eyebrows raised in appreciation. “That logistics is a nightmare. Except for his office…the Precentor probably got his security tech locally, never mind the state of the art stuff from Terra.”

“Exactly. I think we’ll probably find much the same situation on Enif and Dneiper.”

“It’s too bad it won’t last.”

Grim smiled ruefully. “Yeah, consensus is that with the splash GDI made here, that Antallos HPG will become Class A; that means a proper ROM contingent and much better security tech and procedures. We’ll have to develop a plan for getting around that.”

“That’ll make things much more…interesting. Well then, let’s listen to the typical day of Precentor Long, shall we?”

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Oval Office, The White House Washington DC Sol III, Grantville Cluster 12th February 2007

Jack Ryan stared out of the east facing windows that looked out onto the Rose Garden. He needed to take a break, but unfortunately the Galaxy would not allow that; since the GDI expansion onto Antallos and the return of Operation Phantom Snowflake, not to mention organizing another expedition to begin a full retrieval operation…his workload had only gotten greater…on top dealing with the domestic issues. Yes, he technically shared this load with all the other CSN states, but it didn’t seem like it.

His desk intercom beeped. “Mr. President, you have a call from the NSA on Line 3.”

Jack walked over to his phone. “This is Ryan.”

Mr. President, I just wish to inform you that ‘Operation: Crusher’ is a go.”

“Good, carry on Mr Lambert.”

Thank you, sir.” The line went dead.

Past presidents had not bothered with the nitty-gritty of the spy trade. Jack was not like those past presidents, having been in the spy trade himself, and he was most certainly not a ‘career’ politician. He wondered if he should propose a bill to affect the latter into law. Seattle, Washington State, United States, Earth, Coalition of Sovereign Nations 12 April 2007/3022

Before the expectant crown of officials, reporters, cameras, and random onlookers, the doors of the great hangar parted. Rolling out of the hangar into the bright sun came the latest in Earth engineering. It had been named the Pioneer and it was the latest thing is spaceflight, a product of nearly two years of design and redesign as new technology became available. Finally, it was ready for the public eye.

To the disappointment of some, the Pioneer looked very much like the old, retired Space Shuttles. Like the old Shuttles, this new spacecraft had a boxy, blunt-nosed fuselage, as well as the doors on upper side of said fuselage. But there were some differences a discerning eye could make out, such as the seam running around the nose suggesting yet another cargo door, the single large exhaust on its rear compared to the original’s three, and the air intakes flanking the fuselage above the wings. The wings themselves were not a solid piece, but obviously designed to swivel wide for more lift. And any chance of mistaking the Pioneer for an old Shuttle was terminated by one of the actual Shuttles sitting on the tarmac nearby; the new version was visibly much larger than its ancestor as it rolled past. Minus its wings and tail, the old Shuttle looked like it could have been fitted into the Pioneer’s cargo bay with room to spare.

Pioneer continued to roll, taxiing past the crowd and onto a runway. As it did, a man from Boeing explained exactly what the Pioneer was. It wasn’t a military attack ship as some had speculated. It skin was far too thin for that, not even using the still expensive BT standard armor except in the most limited amounts necessary for atmospheric entry. It was also entirely unarmed, although its one thousand ton rated cargo bay could be outfitted with missile launchers in an emergency. Pioneer was also not a Dropship, lacking the expensive KF boom structure required for surviving interstellar jumps.

In truth, the Pioneer was the first pure civilian spacecraft made by Earth. It was intended to support the growing space-based industries throughout the Solar System. As such, it was little more than a fusion engine, life support sections, and a massive cargo bay all in a box and all made as cheaply as possible.

But the real significance of Pioneer was in its fusion engine. By BT standards, it was overweight, underpowered, and a fuel hog. But then again, unlike every other fusion engine that Earth and the CSN were currently using, no BT manufacturer had made this engine. This engine had not been salvaged from a wreck, confiscated from pirates, or bought from another world. The Pioneer was in fact using the first fusion engine ever constructed by Earth, and construction of the factories to mass produce more such engines were already under way. And once fusion engines could be produced en masse, the wealth and resources of the entire solar system would finally be open to everyone as privately owned spaceflight would then become a reality.

The Pioneer’s wings spread wide, and its main engine roared to shoot it down the runway. As it neared the end, its nose lifted up and Pioneer lifted into the air to the cheers of the crowd. And the nose continued to angle up as the prototype craft reached for space. Presently, its engine was taking in the external air and using it for reaction mass. But once the air became to thin for that to be effective, it would switch over to its internal fuel supply.

As the Pioneer all but vanished into the distance – its fusion tail would be visible for some time yet if not the ship itself – a reporter asked the Boeing man what massed produced fusion engines would mean for the military. Did GDI or any of the national militaries have plans for combat ships using the new fusion engines? The Boeing man’s reply was short and to the point.

“No comment.” Lockheed SkunkWorks Nevada Test and Training Range Nevada, United States of America 25th April 2007/3022

Area 51

Slowly the hanger door slid open and from them emerged a sleek sliver shape. Reminiscent of the F22 in the nose, the delta winged prototype taxied onto the tarmac, the lower two of its four dart like tail stabilizers folded up to allow for clearance. While it was currently armed only with dummy weapons, the sun glittered off the two pods mounted into the wings while the larger mounting under the center made promises of the threat it would one day become.

The craft moved into a straight line and two gets of pure plasma, solar matter, were expelled from the rear like the fires of hell. Faster than any craft ever built on earth, the vehicle accelerated, pitching its nose up and taking to the air. With almost artistic simplicity the landing gear folded up and the lower two aft stabilizers folded down, completing its transformation from a awkward ground vehicle, to a sleek predator of the skies and opened its throttle.

With a earth shattering sonic boom, it was done. The MiG/Lockheed-Martin ASF-01 BearCat had officially translated from idea to reality. There was still much testing to be done, but Earth had officially taken the first tangible step to entering the Star-Fighter game.

From her place in the stands, Major Jane Ibrahim calmly smiled as sipped her mango drink, seemingly unaffected by the spontaneous celebration exploding around her. While for this this was a monumental occasion, for her it was just a moment of deeply set personal satisfaction.

For the past year she'd been a ranking advisor for this program, watching and helping as they developed it from nothing to what it was today. While it was not the most spectacular fighter in the Sphere she would admit, it really wasn't half bad. Armed to the teeth and armored like a tank, but with a trade off in speed. Easy to repair and easy to modify, with superior electronics and stealth features that made it difficult to spot at range. Yes, if it lived up to its promises, it had all the makings of a good fighter.

Her smile grew. And as soon as they finished working out the bugs, she'd own one. The King of Saudi Arabia has promised her one of the first production run, to be powered by the engine of a Stinger her husband had destroyed in the Battle of Mecca as his gift of respect to a hero of the faith. Sure, it would never have the same deeply felt emotional attachment of her families late Sparrowhawk, but she was sure as hell not going to turn down a chance to fly as a warrior once again.

She leaned back and her smile grew once again as she kicked her feet up on the rail in front of her.

Which variant to take? She wondered. The first model mounted a simple, reliable Class Five Autocannon. The A model was slotted to mount a larger laser imported from the Outworlds Alliance and some additional Heatsinks to keep her cool. The B a PPC, if they could find a reliable suppler. Finally, there was the C, which was to mount a internal rotary missile launcher and 12 of their terrific new Thunderbolt Multi-Aspect Missiles.

“Ah,” she said with a contented sigh. “Decisions, decisions.” January 10, 2007/3022 OHB selected for the construction of 20 modular multi-purpose satellites to be deployed on Antallos

Vice-President Antonio Tajani today announced that the CSN has selected the consortium led by OHB-System AG for building and testing 20 satellites for the Antallos SkyEye system, a program of and funded jointly by the Coalition of Sovereign Nations and Global Defense Initiative. Berry Smutny, CEO of OHB-System AG, stated upon learning of the decision “We are very pleased and honoured with the Commission’s decision. SkyEye is one of Earth’s most important infrastructure export programs. We will start and do our industrial job once we’re upgraded our factories; this is a big success for Bremen. We are very proud to serve this program along the road towards the creation of Antallos’ own dedicated satellite system“. As a result of this decision, OHB-System will be assuming the role of prime contractor for the fabrication of the 20 satellites, including full responsibility for developing the satellite platform and overall integration of the satellites. The 20 satellites will be assembled in Bremen.

The SkyEye satellite system will be the first satellite built and designed to take advantage of the plentiful orbital lifting capacity, making weight savings a tertiary aim after EMP-hardening and multi-purpose functionality. It consists of a modular system that will be able to host a wide range of payload modules up to ten metric tons, including TV and communication systems as well as RADAR, cameras or meteorological modules. CSN ordered ten satellites for communications, traffic control and meteorology while GDI ordered another ten. The exact nature of their payload is not detailed, but they can use the same modules as the civilian satellites. “We hope to sell those models to new founded colonies and are proud to be one of the first companies with a build to stock satellite production. The days of waiting for a start date are over, today’s challenge is to be able to deliver high-quality systems to our customers in a very short time.” In the construction of the satellites, OHB will be able to harvest the many years of experience which they have amassed. Not least of all, OHB-System successfully built and launched the German SAR-Lupe radar reconnaissance system, a constellation of five satellites, on time and within budget.

OHB did bid for the new orbital nuclear platform but lost the contract to a consortium of EADS Astrium and Boeing Satellite Systems.


Port Krin Spaceport Port Krin, Antallos 10 February 2007/3022

The door of the GDI dropship opened and five truck engines started. “Let’s see Port Krin.” Gefreiter Schulze said, driving his truck out of the first cargo-bay and transporting a transhospital container. Next to him sat Stabsarzt Koslowski, an actual doctor and officer, and while both of them belonged to the German Bundeswehr medical detachment, they had spoken English ever since leaving Earth to get used to it.

Led by a Canadian GDI jeep, the trucks painted with a bronze GDI eagle and transporting medical containers drove over the landing field and led for the crowded streets. “Looks like a mixture of 1001 nights and Heidelberg…” Koslowski commented, looking out of the window. “Well. And a fucking Airport.”

“Interesting mixture, Sir.” They were passing the first post and actually entered the narrow streets. About half an hour later, a time which Koslowski used to point out he had read the briefing material soon becoming an actual tourist guide and pointing to every single construction site for schools, colleges, hospitals or religious buildings - there were a lot of them but Port Krin had more than a million inhabitants after all – they reached the first fence of the GDI base.

Tent cities had months ago been replaced by houses a lot better than the Antallos standard and there was a big influx of people wanting to help as well as dozens of construction sites, including several churches, mosques and synagogues. The first schools had already opened, while a lot of others and colleges or free public libraries were still being built.

Port Krins Infrastructure already had improving dramatically and it would go on as the first permanent hospitals and homes for the disabled were going to be build.

The street in front of the base was literally besieged by people - patients, beggars and citizens looking for a chance to get a ticket to “Motherlode”. A cute brunette in a hot dress smiled to them and wanted to come nearer, but they were entering the camp at that moment.

Inside the base was a small city built from containers, passageways and tents. 100 of the Bundeswehrs 250 field hospital containers were placed here, and they were transporting another 25. The medical detachment was truly international, intermingled with members of Doctors without borders. There were shops and a post office, too. It was even more crowded. The only areas relatively clear of people were the CSN embassy and the construction sites for several churches - including what looked like a small monastery - mosques and synagogues.

After stopping the truck and leaving it, Schulze looked at the inner fence, which actually was guarded and was greeted by another German truck driver. “I wonder what’s behind that fence…”

“That? That’s Motherlode sector.”

“Hmm?”

“It’s for ‘Motherloders’.” He lowered his voice “A cinema, a few shops with beer from home, McDonalds, …”

“Ah, I see.” Schulze grinned “The comforts of home without telling too much.”

“Exactly. The innermost part is used by the actual troops. HQ, power plant, housing…”

“Thanks mate. I’ll buy you a beer, but now I have to go and fetch another container. Heck, they’re unloading them insanely fast!”


Later that evening.


Schulze entered a bar in Motherlode Sector. It looked like a mixture of a cheap restaurant and bar that wouldn't look wrong on any city on Earth, too. It was filled with various Earth citizens of all ethnicities and military or civilian vocations - bureaucrats, construction workers, priests of very different religions, soldiers, technicians, medics and many more.

“Hi!”

He looked around and saw the truck driver he met earlier. “Hi, may I take a seat?”

"Sure, welcome to the base. My buddies will come later."

"Thanks. It's nice over here." he seated himself.

"Yeah, much better than on that ship, don't you think...?"

Schulze grabbed the menu "Definitely. Wow, that's good. Burgers, fries, Schnitzels, Pizza, ... Beer. I take a Pils, what about you?"

"The taste of home... They have a rotating menu in the staff canteen with a different national food and a fitting cook every week. Works very well. And the cook here is actually Franco-Italian. I’ll take another Pils, thanks."

"Sounds good, very good… And what's that over there?" he pointed to a billboard that had attracted a sizable crowd.

“Oh, that's the movie schedule."

"Ah, what are they showing?"

"Well, people like 300. Just keeps running and running. But the most interesting thing on that schedule in the moment is the sports newscast. Football, that stuff the Americans call football, baseball, cricket… everything. I'll go to the cinema later and watch Bayern München vs. Borussia Dortmund."

"What, that game was..."

"Don't you dare!"

"Sorry. Seems like they do a lot to inform us about home... Just look at all those news magazines out there. TIME, Newsweek, Le Point, Maclean's, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, The Week, Le Nouvel Observateur, Kommersant Vlast,...!"

"Yeah, that entire weekly stuff. There's even two 'weeks' - an Indian and an UK edition. We get infodumps from daily newspaper's websites into the internal net, too. We definitely can't complain about missing news over here. No Earth news may leave the sector, that's one of the reasons it's that popular. The only periodical allowed outside the base is the Antallos Gazette."

"There’s even a local newspaper in here?"

"Yes, it's written both for us and the locals to inform about changes on the city and its surroundings. There are spheroid reporters out there, of course, but this is written by some of our new local bureaucrats that at least have a hint of both worlds and a few ‘local’ Earthlings that write the ‘classified’ Earthling-only-part. If you leave the base, be prepared to be interviewed. They like to pick on newcomers. Be especially careful towards a Lois Lane, she already got some good coverage..."

"A reporter called Lois Lane? You got to be kidding me!"

Shushō Kantei Building Tokyo, Japan April 31, 2007/3022

Japan was an economic power, not a military one. Though it was (seventh) in the world in terms of military spending, its total forces remained too few to realistically defend all of its islands. Power rested on the corporations, who saw their commerce as the lifeblood of the nation. A few years back, a businessman named Raizo Yamata manipulated the corporation chiefs, helped put a lecherous and corrupt politian (Goto) into office as Prime Minister, handled the acquisition of ICBM technology from the Russians and the secret construction of launching sites, opened up the conspiracy with India and China, and forced the nation into a state of war against America. This was all to repay a 'Debt of Honor' from his parent's suicide death in Saipan during World War 2.

Yamata stoked fears about a trade war, or blocking Japanese products from American markets, as an attack against their economy. If they could not depend upon the American market for their resources, then they needed to secure it from other sources. In the conspiracy between China, India and Japan to gain access to the 'Northern Resource Area', the newly-discovered massive reserves of Siberian gold and oil, Japan made the first agressive move and prepared for the retaliation.

Not unexpectedly, instead of Japan gaining respect as a global power with its own nuclear arsenal, this aggression only made them lose 'face'. At the end of it, not only had Japan lost its secret store of nuclear ICBMs, but the global stock market had systematically collapsed the yen in the exact same manner that they had hoped to destroy the dollar.

The Prime Minister before that was Mogataru Koga, and he took back the office to end the insanity. He, along with the nation, still had a long way to go on the road to recovery from Goto's inept handling of the situation.

He stared out at the garden of the Kantei building, the Prime Minister's official workplace. He could see part of the National Diet Building, and again it struck him how little power the government itself seemed to have compared to the corporations.

Everyone involved knew just which corporation Yamata was in charge of, but for delicacy's sake no one mentioned it. The public knew that he had engineered the stock market sabotage, not the full extent of how much damage he had done to the nation. "He should suffer more than just several consecutive life sentences." Koga mused aloud.

"Just so, Prime Minister." replied his visitor. "However the other zaibatsu heads share equal blame. It is a pity they are now dead."

Koga turned and sat back down on his chair. Respectfully, Hoshi Nasuno did remained standing until as his direct superior motioned for him to sit as well. "We cannot make the corporations suffer too much for the actions of their directors." the Prime Minister added. "They had the first taste of what would become the Ryan Doctrine, and if more suffering must be assigned then it should be for all of us that we have allowed them to operate like feudal lords for long. So, Nasuno, tell me how our much longer our economy will have to bear the pains of their folly."

Hoshi Nasuno was Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The Central Government Reform program had the MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Economy) merge with several other agencies related to economic activity, such as the Economic Planning Agency. This was part of the forced policy change pushed by the Americans after again winning a shooting war.

METI Minister Nasuno remembered that MITI escaped the judicious assassinations only because Yamata had bypassed their agency entirely. His predecessor had been ignominously fired, nonetheless."Our economy has just stabilized even with the depreciation of the yen. Our people continue to put their savings in banks, which fortunately means that essential capital is somewhat independent of the stock market."

"The zaibatsus must learn humility. The people do not know the banks are primarily responsible for this." Koga continued. Zaibatsus were vertically-oriented associations of companies, centered around a large holding company that holds stock in smaller companies, and a that bank provides loans and financial support. The Japanese people put their faith in banks, which in turn gave up loans that enabled the companies to attempt riskier methods of growth. The madness of military adventurism was fueled by the people's good faith. "We must all now try to keep calm and not muddy the waters, until the world is ready to trust us again."

War was not a rational act. They required America's continued goodwill, the trade deficit between them just another proof of their inextricable relationship. Japan depended upon a web of coinciding interests and obsessive diversification. Business was business.

Fortunately for them, other events quickly took over the world's attention. After Saddam Hussein's assassination, Iran and Iraq briefly unified into the United Islamic and launched an WMD attack against the US with the Ebola virus. This kicked off the second Persian Gulf War, and sent oil prices spinning. After having stabbed Japan in the back in the conspiracy to remove the US Navy from the Pacific, China took overt means of claiming the 'Northern Resource Area'. Russia and China fought until, again, America intervened after Russia got inducted into NATO.

Prime Minister Koga groaned and rubbed at his forehead. "As long as Jack Ryan is around, it seems some new disaster will arrive to test America's resolve and the quality their military hardware. This latest calamity may be more than even they can handle."

"We have been nothing less than generous to GDI in terms of material support. There is not much more we can do without directly contributing military forces, Koga-san."

"Yes, that is why I had asked for this meeting. How is this affecting our economy?"

"Our growth rate is still stagnant, but the need for new technologies is fueling a global trade boom. The lower price of oil is also helping to keep transport costs enough to prevent runaway inflation."

"Not enough. We must have access to the Inner Sphere's markets." Only GDI could clear the way.

The disconnect between the cold, formal logic of their boardrooms and the hysteria of their pop culture was well-known. Most deemed this the natural effect of a society that sees great virtue in conformity, in emotional repression in formal matters, that the informal has to work twice as hard to compensate. The rebels of today become that conservatives of tomorrow; or so the saying goes.

Foreign companies that had the most success in dealing with the Japanese recognized that there was no disconnect. The manager was just as hysterical towards profit as the teen to his leather jackets and the 'scene'. Government policy encouraged a culture bent towards the accumulation of wealth.

To have money was not being wealthy. Wealth was -resources-. Status all over the world was marked by greater access to resources; be it the rock star to millions in dollars and adoring fans, the Joint Chiefs of Staffs and the ability to direct military forces through the globe, and of course the salaryman out to get his son into the 'good' schools.

Profit was -survival-.

"We cannot afford war." Nasuno explained after first apologizing for having to state the obvious. "It is not just in terms of military expenditure, but in the interruption of trade that daily nourishes our whole society. But it is trade that ties us to the wellbeing of other nations. "

Koga nodded. "Indeed, it is why the zaibatsu could excuse their actions in that the Americans first deliberately attacked our economy." We may not like it, but the facts are clear. There is more room to expand on this planet.' he thought. The growth of every company in its market shares was necessarily at the expense of another. That was also why many other nations resented Japan's dominance in their own markets with hgh-quality yet affordable mass-produced good. Mass production also had its own peril, however. Someone needs to buy the goods we produce, or this economy is destroyed. Its energy is its own vulnerability.'

Commerce, wealth, was the health of the nation, and his thoughts of late drifted towards how to sustain that level of growth. It was for good reason that other nations resented the dominance of Japanese products in their own markets. 'The Inner Sphere is something different. There we must -build- the necessary markets.'

"It would only have delayed the inevitable. What affects one economy affects the world. Having antagonized the American and European markets, that would only leave China and India as the only appreciable sources of revenue. Surely they should have seen that these two have far less reason to be kindly disposed to our nation. Our old ally, America, held the advantage but for the most part did not press too hard. China and India, having inefficient economies of their own, would surely not hesitate to press their advantage."

"The plan was for a coordinated attack towards Siberia and the Northern Resource Area." Koga thought about it. It was Japanese resource explorers that first discovered the reserves. "We once held Sakhalin. Having it again would have granted us something our nation never posessed."

"Hai. Oil -is- the lifeblood of the worldwide economy."

Raizo Yamata tried to achieve economic independence through the acquisition of nuclear weapons and forcing other nations to accept a new equilibrium. It did not work. Ironically, Japan now had everything the man wanted, plus renewed investor confidence, all a -gift- from the skies.

"Fusion Power is a godsend.", Prime Minister Koga had to admit. It would finally allow them to wean off foreign oil and its unstable market, bringing the nation one step closer to its golden dream of self-sufficiency. That this also brought with it the knowledge of the existence of the Draconis Combine was a nightmare, but also something of a relief.

It was like they had spent the last fifty years preparing for just this moment. Just as the Emperor would never bow to the Coordinator, so would the Land of the Rising Sun never bow down to the Dragon.

He brought his attention back to the Trade Minister. "How much in the development of mecha costing us, compared to what you would have needed to do to stimulate the economy?"

"It is hard to define, Koga-san. Many of the new production lines have been set by the corporations' own initiative, and the capital they use come from the banks. Two years back we had to release three hundred billion dollars worth in 'bailout money'." Because the yen was in turmoil at the time, it was a more precise value. "That is now in open circulation. We have, as before, put our support in construction works, but with the extremely high uncertainty of possible aggression from the Inner Sphere, there is no way of knowing how long before Hakone and the industries supporting it can turn a profit. It could be anywhere from five years, twenty years, or next year."

The reduction in oil prices helped stave off its effects in the economy, but that would not last. "How much is GDI offering to recoup our losses?"

METI had provided Nasuno with the estimates and TROs of the products expected from HINODE. "In the next year, Hakone is expected to produce at least twelve GM-1 BattleMecha and eight VF-1 Land-Air Mecha. At about four million bills and five million C-bills estimated value each, and converting that into dollars, the expected gross return would be seven hundred sixty-five million dollars."

The Prime Minister groaned. "Pitiful."

"At this rate, it will take eight years for everyone involved to recoup their losses. As facilities for mass production are set up, and research in other nations allow for cheaper, more plentiful parts such as heatsinks, weapons, and armor, production costs are expected to decrease. However, Koga-san, it is true that the export market will likely provide the best return for our investment."

"This is from Hakone alone. What about other interests?"

"DropShip and WarShip development will likely take longer. We know how to build nuclear weapons and their launch vehicles, but no longer the ability as per the renewed treaty. Semiconductors, metals, and I.T. companies are already experiencing a minor boom of their own. This is enough to stimulate other related areas of the economy, that the effects of Hakone as a money sink do not yet reach the public."

"I see. Nasuno-san, I must ask then the important question. Can we afford to do -more-?"

"I would have to say... yes, Koga-san. GDI takes its funding from many different nations, and thus they can well afford to pick up locally-produced machinery. Increasing our support of GDI allows us to bring more elements to their operations area. Specialists, scientists, entrepreneurs, they are the key to opening up the new markets we need. The quality of our products in GDI's hands serve as sufficient demonstration for potential clients. Our foreign debt is expected to increase, and as orbital facilities go online the metals market will likely go the same way as oil. However, our economy would only suffer from not taking action."

Koga nodded. With every nation on Earth doing its own thing, banks were unwilling to call in their debts. Homeworld security took precedence over all things, allowing Japan to operate with a surprising degree of independence.

'The Japanese people forever renounce war as the sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes', thus went the line in their Constitution. Yamata's course was clear treason. Magnificently, building war machines or sending voluntary brigades to GDI would not count. The debate was loud and long, and once again the Emperor had to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Survival.

Japan was allowed to build up its military to whatever strength it deemed necessary. Japan had stabilized against the dollar again, and though the new anti-trust and anti-protectionism laws remained in effect the corporations experienced short-term vibrant growth in consumer products (though their investments would not pay off for quite a while) from accelerated market motion. Once again, exactly as Yamata had peddled to the corporate heads that went along with his intricately planned fit of pique. The only true limitation was that off-world, GDI held complete authority over these units.

If only he had waited. That amused the Prime Minister greatly. Of course it was impossible to know ahead of time about their ISOT event, but things had developed to make the entire debacle completely unnecessary. We have lost much, but now we have the chance to flourish without fear again.

Mogataru Koga was determined not to let anyone, even the zaibatsu heads, fuck that up.

-- --

HINODE Industrial Compact Testing Facility Hakone Region, Japan April 31, 2007/3022

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was one of the many corporations that joined the Joint Venture to produce Earth's first ASF. It soon became clear that 'too many cooks could spoil the broth' and companies began to seek out specific lines of interests that would help the process of ASF production.

Through all this however, Mitsubishi had to consider that with so many companies invested into the BearCat ASF, each of them still had plenty let over for their own schemes. With major players from to Sukhoi to Rolls-Royce in the game, they felt it was redundant to try and run the race to innovate but rather to wait and refine the technology.

Japan, with its capture of a functional LAM and several scout mechs with Jump Jets, had all that they needed to develop Fusion-powered engines for superior atmospheric performance. Data from this would then be fed into the BearCat's own avionics, still useful though it used a Fusion Rocket propulsion even in the atmosphere. The Americans in going against F-15J Eagles discovered that those Mitsubishi-made jets held superior radar sets, though expertise in stealth and sneaky manuevers still carried the day. That was the extent of their participation.

The Venture had decided to base the BearCat upon the JSF/F-35 airframe. It was a small airframe, and there was only so much that could be done, only so many parts that could be made to fit. Mitsubishi promised support in terms of actual production of the craft, not its development. Other companies were much better in such theoretical realms of expertise.

Mitsubishi had other obligations.

Mitsubishi, like most of the keiretsu mainstays, had to support the legions of suppliers that provided the parts and resources for their products. They made more than just cars. Sony, Hitachi and the other electronics giants were geared towards producing control parts and myomer bundles. Fortunately one did not need as much superconducting material. Nippon Steel, was the world's second largest producer of steel, but they were vastly more diversified and conducted research more than the one ahead, and thus had the natural inclination to figure out the riddle of Endo Steel. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had a great stake in Fusion Engines and the Jump Jet/Thrusters.

Japan did not have the rose-tinted reverence others had towards Star League technology. It was -technology-, and therefore there was substantial determination in that they must be able to reverse-engineer it. Duplicating the existing parts proved a difficult but rewarding exercise.

"Many of my country men have fallen in love with their proposed Land-Air-Mechs. It will be enjoyable seeing their faces when we roll out our first fighters and Dropships in a mere fraction of the time they waste attempting to perfect their ‘toys’. Mitsubishi will agree to this venture as well.” Hikio Natsura of Mitsubishi had said in the meeting to discuss the Joint Venture to create the world's first ASF.

It was a logical enough perspective, he did not understand the obsession the companies had towards producing something just from 'anime'. Military necessities had to trump otaku leanings.

He had shown company disloyalty, however. Though events had set it aside, other nations had not yet forgotten that Japan attempted to sabotage the global market, and that Mitsubishi did not produce its own aircraft but rather just copied the designs of others.

Japanese industry had long been accused of not being able to innovate. Their Air Defense Force did not have any unique aircraft but rather used variants of those found in other nations. Their primary asset was the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, manufactured under license and with Japanese electronics as the F-15J. Incidentally, by Mitsubishi. Other supersonic aircraft, the Mitsubishi T2 and the Kawasaki T4, were based off the SEPECAT Jaguar. The JASDF had expressed willingness to acquire the Eurofighter Typhoon for their next-generation fighter. Not since the end of WW2 had any completely new combat aircraft been produced in Japanese territory, by choice, it was far more efficient to purchase innovation and perfect the technology than to invest in basic development. From cars to computers, this had always been the route by which Japan had outpaced its competitors.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was considered small fry, in that gathering. He was young, and his fortright demeanor was good for dealing with foreign businessmen. Mitsubishi agreed, no qualms, with the Joint Venture. The company did not appreciate the insult he had delivered against his own countrymen.

The form was immaterial, but function followed -people- with reason and enthusiasm for the task. Like the same zaibatsu heads that mistook their role in the economy as health for the nation as whole, there were many in management who forgot the essential psychology of the very minds that produced their products.

One year later, he was chided for his lack of faith. Japan had outbid and was ready to produce the GM, the world's first true BattleMech well ahead of anyone else. The LAM project was not an AeroSpace Fighter, but a BattleMech frame with very high mobility values. In January of 2007, they had already duplicated the conversion mechanisms to enable existing BattleMechs to convert into LAMs. That was two more LAMs than what they had started out with.

They had to work very, very hard to recover the reputation Yamata's foolishness had cost them. They now had the additional pressure of moving from test to production, twenty-four new mecha in a year. There was no time to rest, exhausting as the development process as may be. Being chosen by GDI was not enough to make up for the dishonor, but it was a start.

- -


Mitsubishi Heavy Industry produced everything from cars, to ships, to aircraft, and even nuclear power plants. They had less to risk from the market closure, but inevitably as its suppliers crashed and burned even the giant would become vulnerable.

The zaibatsu heads who went along with Koga had either mysteriously vanished or died very conspicuous deaths. A CEO was answerable to the Board of Directors of a company. They had to be held accountable too, but unfortunately Ministry of International Trade and Industry could not apply any real force against them. Shame and dishonor had to suffice. There was politics even inside the boardroom, and sometimes the majority took action even without the knowledge of certain others that would surely have objected or even tried to sabotage the consensus. These who had nothing to do with the disaster had now greater voice over the direction they must now go.

Hiroyuki Fukuda was fifty-four years old. He had no memories of the war, only of a nation fighting for every scrap of respectability. For him, it Japan had grown before his eyes like a rose in the rain, beautiful, fragile. To do as his grandfather and grandfather did, to sublimate his own will into something that would risk harm to the nation? Unthinkable! No one's pride, not even the Emperor's, should go before the safety of the nation and its citizens. Yamata and his manipulations... how so short-sighted! The corporations, in a total trade war, would suffer. But the nation would survive. It was in the present that one must endure to prepare for the future, not the reverse.

The Mitsubishi corporate jet touched down at one of the new Hakone airfields. A part of him thought it was a waste to lose so many excellent golf courses, but it was very small price to secure the future. The SUNRISE group was composed of practically every heavy-hitter in Japan's list of big businesses, along with the approval of the government, and thus though culturally they avoided direct confrontation when the collective acts it does so with monstrous force. Yamata's invisible take-over of the keiretsu and thus indirectly the government and its armed forces, had proved that. There were new checks and balances to make sure that no one would ever again confuse the wellbeing of their own companies for that of the nation.

In many ways, coming here is unnecessary. the old man mused as he let himself be led away by junior management flunkies, making only perfunctory gestures in return. It is the will of the Diet, the people, and the Emperor, that we will accept nothing less than success.

This sort of brash optimism was not unprecedented, but fortunately unlike 1942 and Yamata's incredible gall in sabotaging the US stock market, crippling two aircraft carriers and sinking two submarines, plus the seizure of the Marianas (all just as the opening move) their results met up well with the predictions. Machines were no mystery. They were predictable. Plans were not the same as people, so many in the higher executive positions had lost sight of that.

Hakone was just the primary protyping and testing facility. Research into materials science went on all over Japan, taking priority one over all other concerns; even consumer products. There was a minor market shock, in that for a year, only a smattering of the expected ever-new and more sophisticated gadgets appeared in Akibahara.

HINODE's AeroSpace initiatives were primarily of Mitsubishi and Fuji Heavy Industries. The hangars and facilities were duplicates of their own facilities. Many of the essential research were still being carried out in the home laboratories, but Fukuda knew that true breakthroughs could happen nowhere else but here, in Hakone. The company car approached HANGAR 131, and the old man could feel the car's own metal skin start to vibrate.

As he stepped out of the car, the dull roar turned into the breath of a dragon. Fukuda smiled. There was nothing quite like the roar of jet engine, except perhaps Gojira-san's challenge to the world. Beyond profit, it was the fulfillment of mankind's old dream - to fly.

"FUKUDA-SAN!" Operations Manager Ono bowed low. "IT IS AN HONOR! THIS IS NOT A VERY HOSPITABLE PLACE. WHAT CAN WE DO FOR YOU?"

"WHERE IS HE?" Their voices sounded angry, but it was necessary. The noise was that loud. "WHERE IS MORINO REI?!"

"REI-SENSEI IS INSIDE. PLEASE WAIT A -" one of the technicians approached to give a combination headset radio/ear protectors to the old man. As soon as he put it on, the manager's voice became clearer through the headset. "Our deepest apologies, sir. Please wait a moment, and we will call for him."

"No need. Where is he? Inside, you say? Then I will go inside."

Manager Ono hesitated, but bowed again. Sure, the hangar was a 'Danger Zone' as long as the Jump Jet was turned on, but he had no authority to deny the inspection.

The hangar was big enough, but it was hard not to notice the Jump Jet on the far side. It blazed red, the glow pulsing on and off. The Jump Jet was laid on its side, on heavy mountings preventing it from moving no matter what. Nevertheless, sensors calculate how much mass that thrust was expected to lift.

"How long has this this been active?"

"Fourteen days and five hours now, Fukuda-san."

The old man nodded. It was standard procedure to perform a continued test for reliability. Two weeks was nothing really, he knew that Pratt and Whitney had concluded recently three thousand engine test hours for their F-35 engine. It was a shame that such an excellent engine would just be set aside for second-line airbreathing conventional fighters. He had many things to say about BT technology, but Fukuda openly admired their simple rugged resilience. If that was a BT Jump Jet, then it should be capable of much more than that. If that was a -copy- of a BT Jump Jet, then at the very least it should manage at least a dozen engine test hours without anything breaking loose.

Close by was the Nissan 175 Fusion Engine. The old man marveled at just how small it was, capable of matching up to power plants and here just devoted to warming up air into plasma. War was such a magnificent waste of potential. No matter.

On a raised gantry, Professor Rei stared at the assembly much like Galileo must have considered his Mona Lisa. He was tall, scruffy-looking, his hair still in the puffy afro. The old man decided he did not want to know. The professor's assistant for the day was Dr. Ikumi Nanbara.

"Has been getting enough sleep?"

"As far as we know, Fukuda-san." Contrary to rumors, she did not share Prof. Rei's bed. The man might as well have been asexual. She was not the first woman to find him infuriating for a variety of reasons, but someone had to take care of that useful brain. Prof. Rei had multiple doctorates, but preferred the title of professor, sensei, a teacher. By his own logic, that was what he was, wasn't he? He never cured anyone of anything. That same brain demanded nothing but total accuracy, even from himself. "But probably not."

Hiroyuki Fukuda was Athur Morino Rei's father-in-law. Being put in charge of both the GM and VF projects would have stank of nepotism, were it not for Prof. Rei so conspicuously -brilliant- in the scientific community. So brilliant, in fact, that it was why Fukuda had not raised more than a token protest when his only daughter had nine years back decided to marry her sweetheart straight from the university.

"Rei-sensei." the old man bowed stiffly.

"Fukuda-jiji." the scientist merely gave a brief nod. 'Old man Fukuda' that was what the honorific implied.

Between them, Dr. Nanbara looked unfortable. As much as she was popular among foreigners for her outspoken nature, so did being too blunt hamper her relationships with others. The two men's mannerisms were too direct to the point of antipathy.

"You weren't here during the tech demo." Prof. Rei continued.

"I'm surprised you even noticed." That was three months ago. Prof. Rei's long-term memory of mundane matters was notoriously unreliable. So was his short-term memory, for that matter.

The scientist nodded and turned back to the bank of monitors. "The demonstration date was set weeks in advance. I couldn't just disappear."

"She would not hold it against you." the old man replied. January 21 was the wedding day between Arthur Rei and Fuyumi Fukuda. The old man had visited her grave to explain.

What the two men shared was an understanding that had no need for the usual run-around. Hiroyuki Fukuda's own wife, Fuyumi's mother, had died soon after giving birth. His own mother had also died early, not from the Tokyo bombings directly, from the lack of hospitals and medicine. He had no idea how it was for his own father, but given that the man was born in era of rapid change from feudalism into industrialization, it was likely that he had his own difficulties. It was like a family curse.

As always, rather than deal with a painful memory head-on, both men just let work bury their attentions. "Is this Jump Jet one of their or one of ours?"

"Ours. It's a hybrid. There is a turbofan compressor to compensate for that we don't have enough superconductors to heat up the air to the degree of a normal BT Jump Jet."

Director Fukuda frowned. The reliability of the BT Jump Jet rested upon its brute simplicity. It took in air, heated it up with the Fusion Reactor until it became plasma, and vented it right out to hurl a 50-ton unaerodynamic lump of metal fifty meters straight into the air. However, any air intake was an obvious vulnerability and added mechanical complexity. "Is there any benefit to this arrangement?"

"Each JumpJet has its own intake. Compared to conventional engines, the inlets are tiny. Unlike normal jets, we require no fuel. Unlike BT jets, the plasma jet can provide as much thrust for less heat."

The implications did not escape the old man. "You can hover."

"We can hover."

The ability for a Variable Fighter to hover in place had long been a mainstay of Macross-style tactics. Though intended as mere entertainment, many of the minds behind the mechanical design of such things had spent long hours contemplating what it would take to make such movements possible.

Once attained, what could then be done? Prof. Rei explained how it was such a point of frustration (specially for Shoji Kawamori)that for some reason, BT LAMs were incapable of that most basic of VTOL capabilities. They had more than enough thrust for the job. Why did they require jumping and flying around rather than a controlled hover closer to the ground?

"It's true that jumping around makes it hard to predict what you'll do next, but what about the necesary delay between jumps? Look, the back-bent legs of LAM is really inefficient at walking and running." Compared to other avian-frame legs, the LAM's legs bent back too far just to keep its center of gravity.

It was in the nature of the Jump Jets. They were forced ramjets, relying on the expansion of hot gases out a nozzle to provide lift. The problem with venting plasma straight out the reactor was that energetic as the reaction may be, they were also extremely hot. All that heat has to go somewhere. The Jump Jets made one long burn, then cut off. A constant burn would strain the heatsinks to capacity, which left very little to the more practical effort of firing weapons to actually destroy the enemy.

"Is it THAT important that our Land-Air Mecha be capable of controlled hovering?"

Prof. Rei turned around, and his eyes lost the characteristic sleepy disinterest. "From what we know of how the Inner Sphere uses their mecha, a pilot jumps into the air, brakes suddenly with the leg thrusters, and goes into a barely-controlled crash landing. This makes their movements unpredictable. This is good. But this is VSTOL, not VTOL."

He gestured wildly in the air. "This accomplishes two things. First, the landing phase for the old maneuver goes from 'barely-controlled' into 'controllable', much safer and less stressful for the pilot. Second, hover mode functions not just in Gerwalk mode but in Battroid too. This is based on test results from the "Action" ZAKU Hover Lift System. In Gerwalk, this allows sustained movement of 300kph in whatever direction. In Battroid, it allows for brief bursts in speed and longer jumps, enough that the mecha should get far enough enough to transform safely."

"I suppose the reason why even the Star League did not pursue this area of research is mechanical complexity. How does it compare to the Fusion rockets of AeroSpace Fighters? How will this affect a LAM's performance in Fighter mode?"

"We have a problem with that." Prof. Rei conceded. "We give up 'Space' capability for efficiency in atmospheric operations. It can still manuever, of course, using fuel for propellant, but likely all it will need to do is to manuever for insertion. It does no good to try and fight -three- battles straight after another."

That was not good news for Mitsubishi, which looking to produce Japan's first production ASF. "So it cannot compete with ASFs?"

"Not in space, no."

"In the atmosphere?"

"We haven't done any tests, so it's impossible to say. The computer models do predict that the hybrid engine should perform to the level of a 'pure' Fusion thruster. It will depend more upon the shape of the airframe. " The rush of air helped immeasurably in terms of fuel efficiency. For so long, Earth had to hurl twenty or so tons of airframe into the sky past the speed of sound with two engines to provide thrust. The thrust provided by burning fuel sufficed through extensive research into making do with what they had never really considered as 'inferior' technology. Fusion-powered Engines were just that staggeringly more powerful. There would have been no point in trying to optimize conventional airbreathing engines to compete; never would they be able to carry as much weight for so long. Brute endurance was the defining advantage of the Fusion-powered jet.

Once again Mitsubishi was coaxing first-class performance out of a second-rate engine. As Prof. Rei explained, no one in the history of the Terran Hegemony saw any need to push the bar that far. Earth's own engines had such performance at low weight, perhaps as unto an XL ICE, simply because they had not known any better. This was all they had to work with, so there was a vested interest in improving it to the furthest possible extent.

Combining the performance-boosting components of the lightweight combustion jet engine to the enduring quality of the Fusion engine, they could therefore coax the same level of jump ability at half the expected jump heat and the same weight. It was too good to be true, Fukuda considered. There had to be an obvious disadvantage.

"How difficult would it be to produce this Hybrid Jump Jet?"

Prof. Rei shrugged. How the hell should he know? He provided technical solutions, not economic ones. Fortunately, as ever, his students were ready to cover his areas of disinterest.

"We have already sent the proposal over to the Mitsubishi Lab. The most difficult part of is finding materials that are sufficiently lightweight but still, as Rei-sensei said, PPC proof. Our electronics are very vulnerable to EMP effects." Dr. Nanbara bowed a bit, to apologize for not being able to give a direct value. "However, we can produce it with completely native parts and materials. Just as we have been told, the Americans have completed their Fusion Rocket, so are we ready to begin production."

"Most of this is software anyway." the professor added, losing interest again. "The Plasma Rate Governor should be 'black-boxed', and even if we export the Hybrid Engine, it would be difficult for anyone else to duplicate. The Inner Sphere would first have to find some way of integrating some automatic control mechanism just as small, lightweight, and responsive as our microchips."

Fukuda stared down at the burning Jump Jet engine again. The possibilities were enormous. It was not just for the LAM, but a hybrid Fusion jet engine if scaled up would allow for massive cargo capacities. Ships have always had the the advantage in that they were the cheapest way of transporting things all over the planet, if much slower than most other alternatives. There were now new oceans, new words, and new markets to explore. The Americans, with their space shuttle technology, were preparing an aerospace shuttle carrier. In the upper atmosphere, a ramjet could attain literally obscene fuel efficiencies, and with Fusion power practically free movement. Japan's recent sins had seen the closure of many opportunities, but space... no one could deny them that. They had in good faith poured funds and expertise into GDI. They had the -right-.

It would be much, much cheaper than having to build single-shot rockets just to throw a few tons outside of the gravity well. DropShips were too precious, too few, to ever become their primary launching mechanism. It would help that the Hybrid Engine would also put less strain on the environment than the pure Fusion exhaust of DropShips. Cheap lift capability was something that Japan sorely needed.

And they made this just for something that would go off to shoot things up. War. He sighed. What a waste. Fortunately desperation made for leaps normally no one would dare contemplate.

"Would you like to see the LAMs?" Prof. Rei asked suddenly.

Fukuda nodded slowly. The GMs were costly, but development costs for them were about half as much as that of the VF project. The BattleMech project was off its prototype stage and ready to be put into production. It was now time for Mitsubishi to see if its own investments were bearing fruit.

-- --

Inside the car and on the way to the second site, Hiroyuki Fukuda commented blandly "I have been to the second venture review meeting, and just as in the first, no one asked the stupidly obvious question." The other aerospace interests were subtly amused or disdainful at Japan's insistence on following the expensive LAM route.

Prof. Rei did not react. That stupidly obvious question was why he was put in charge of both GM and VF projects.

"It is a question that not even the inventors of the LAM asked. Why is that?"

Seeing the teacher was once again off somewhere distant, mentally, it was Dr. Nanbara who answered. "Even the Star League must deal with competition. The inventor of the LAM, Orguss Company, produced battlemechs. To try and compete with ASFs would have been disastrous, it was impossible to match ASF prices, but there was a reasonable cost comparison with existing Medium battlemechs. If the Star League did not do it, then obviously no one else saw worth in pursuing that line of inquiry. There was more profit in producing distinct other products."

They arrived at Hangar 140, and there the two LAMs rested. Miriya's Wasp LAM with the red trim remained in Battroid mode. It was used for agility tests in the humanoid frame. Max's Stinger LAM, with its blue trim, was in Fighter mode. The Stinger in Fighter mode had an uncanny resemblance to the F-15 Eagle and F-14 Tomcat Fighter Jets. Mitsubishi had the license to produce the F-15J air superiority fighter, and had steadily been tinkering with it over years and years.

-

Prof. Rei had decided to research by taking all the Macross, Dougram, and Gundam series DVDs and watching them in one long marathon session. Someone brought in Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23, and Bubblegum Crisis for comparison's sake. Then eventually they got to Full Metal Panic. Then FMP: Fumoffu. Before they knew it, they were watching the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi.

The women of Prof. Rei's team had to drag them out of the room. "That's not research anymore! Get back to work, you lazy goofs!"

Two days later, Prof. Rei walked into the HINODE planning session and asked "Hey, we have an airframe that we know works with a Fusion reactor and is capable of supersonic flight or orbital insertion. Why don't we just use that as basis for the AeroSpace Fighter?"

Objections basically boiled down to 'the Star League didn't do it'. But why? If the mecha components were removed, the Stinger in fighter mode could perform to the level of known conventional fighters; the principles for agility and the control surfaces were in the familiar shapes. It was not like the Hellcat II, a broad-wing design, that for its ability in the air took up lots of hangar space. Had LexaTech decided to pursue an ASF using only the Stinger frame in Fighter mode, it would have come to light that such an ASF would cost only slightly more than half a Stinger LAM.

"We have the airframe. We can purchase Fusion Thruster technology." Prof. Rei added, in a completely unexcited tone. "Building on the Stinger frame, which is also the basis for the Phoenix Hawk frame, will reduce the amount of different parts we have to produce."

Later, to Emilio Lang, he summarized even further. "Let us fuck with their minds so that they will be completely unable to predict if what's after them is a LAM or an ASF."

-

"This is the shape of our production LAM..." Director Fukuda whispered appreciatively. The production LAMs and ASFs would have certain features changed to reduce air intake vulnerability and stealth purposes. The LAMs was the middle ground between 'Mech and ASF, sharing the qualities of both to cover for limited lift capability. HINODE had to build a pure ASF anyway, if just for performance comparisons.

Just as Japan had two years lead in BattleMech production, they had the better part of year to examine LAM transformation. One of those mode, of course, was as a Fighter. Fukuda wondered why the rest of the world was unable to look past the LAM and recognize that through it, Japanese Industry and Research already had the elements of a working BT AeroSpace Fighter. "What are you proposing for our production ratios?"

It was numbers, so Prof. Rei could recall it easily. "Well, for the LAM we're looking at 25% parts commonality with the ASF and 40% with the GM. I can tell you that according to the Technical Read-Out, the VF-1 LAM will cost only slightly more than the GM, while its ASF mode stripped of all Mecha parts will cost only about half of it to produce."

"I need something more specific than that, Rei-kun."

"The TRO don't really SAY how much it will cost for us to produce, you know. The calculations only say about the general prices of... stuff... in the Inner Sphere, and what they might be expecting to pay for a complete machine."

Fukuda nodded. "That is fine. We have intended our products for export value right from the start."

"So ka. I'll go get the TROs."

"I'll do it, Rei-sensei." Dr. Nanbara cut in. Likely as not, the professor would encounter some technician with a question or something shiny and completely forget about why he had gone into the hangar in the first place.

TROs served as overall guidelines for construction. Everyone there knew that ratcheted limits were for the sake of game balance, but it surprised even BT technicians that the mass ratios, specially between Engines and Internal Structures, were so close to reality. The prices were subject to vagaries of the different House markets of course, but the listed price was not more than two or three hundred thousand C-bills off. That was still a munificent sum, but a workable estimate.

Dr. Nanbara returned with several printouts.

"Our first priority with the LAM, unlike the GMs, is not for a robust weapons platform but just something that works according to specifications. It's very unlikely that any LAM would have to fight so soon. The Variable Fighter-1 prototype just needs to outperform the known capabilities of a stock Stinger or Phoenix Hawk LAM. The Space/Strike Fighter-1 is going to serve as the testbed machine to measure the performance of LAMs. The first production run will be trainers for the next line of true combat-capable machines."

Hiroyuki Fukuda put on his glasses and looked at the first looked at the LAM's TRO.


BattleMech Technical Readout

Type/Model: Variable Fighter-01 LAM Experimental Tech: Inner Sphere / 3025 Config: Land Air BattleMech Rules: Level 3, Standard design

Mass: 40 tons Chassis: Standard Power Plant: 200 Nissan Fusion Walking Speed: 54.0 km/h Maximum Speed: 86.4 km/h Jump Jets: 5 Standard Jump Jets Jump Capacity: 150 meters Armor Type: Standard Armament: 1 Light AC/5 2 Medium Lasers 2 Rocket Launcher 10 (OS)s Manufacturer: (Unknown) Location: (Unknown) Communications System: (Unknown) Targeting & Tracking System: (Unknown)


Type/Model: VF-01 LAM Experimental Mass: 40 tons

Equipment: Crits Mass Int. Struct.: 67 pts Standard 0 4.00 Engine: 200 Fusion 6 8.50 Walking MP: 5 Running MP: 8 Jumping MP: 5 [15] Heat Sinks: 10 Single 2 .00 (Heat Sink Loc: 1 LT, 1 RT) Gyro: 4 2.00 Small Cockpit, Life Supt., Sensors: 4 2.00 Actuators: L: Sh+UA+LA+H R: Sh+UA+LA+H 16 .00 Armor Factor: 128 pts Standard 0 8.00

Internal Armor Structure Value Head: 3 9 Center Torso: 12 16 Center Torso (Rear): 5 L/R Side Torso: 10 14/14 L/R Side Torso (Rear): 5/5 L/R Arm: 6 11/11 L/R Leg: 10 19/19

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Crits Mass


1 Light AC/5 RA 1 20 3 6.00 (Ammo Locations: 1 RA) 1 Medium Laser RT 3 1 1.00 1 Rocket Launcher 10 (OS)RT 3 1 .50 1 Medium Laser LT 3 1 1.00 1 Rocket Launcher 10 (OS)LT 3 1 .50 5 Standard Jump Jets: 5 2.50 (Jump Jet Loc: 1 LT, 1 RT, 1 CT, 1 LL, 1 RL) LAM Conversion Equipment: 0 4.00


TOTALS: 7 44 40.00 Crits & Tons Left: 34 .00

Calculated Factors: Total Cost: 5,208,046 C-Bills Battle Value: 1,092 Cost per BV: 4,769.27 Weapon Value: 575 / 575 (Ratio = .53 / .53) Damage Factors: SRDmg = 22; MRDmg = 12; LRDmg = 3 BattleForce2: MP: 5J, Armor/Structure: 3/3 Damage PB/M/L: 2/2/-, Overheat: 0 Class: MM; Point Value: 11



He frowned and looked again. "This does not use Endo Steel."

The most critical factor ramping up LAM costs was Endo Steel. The Japanese had taken command of that line of research, for while most of the other nations gave over the use of their captured DropShips for transport between Antallos and Earth, or for space exploitation, Japan dedicated its Leopard DropShip to pure research.

"Just like with the GM, there's going to be two types, one for GDI use and another for export." Dr. Rei was shifting his weight from one foot to the other and humming the 'Sobakasu' theme. "We save just one ton instead of nearly removing the weight penalty of conversion equipment with Endo Steel. The GDI LAM loses just one ton, the Export three tons."

It was already explained to Director Fukuda that the .5 tons of the Rocket Launcher/10 was a placeholder for a 500-kilogram bomb or two air-to-air missiles. The "Small Cockpit" was only in comparison to BT cockpits; by normal standards, compared to the one in the F-15J, it held luxurious leg room. "I see. How is the GDI Issue LAM different from this export version?"

"Not very much. That's just two tons advantage. More armor, of course, extra ammo for the VAC/5, and one more heatsink. The problem is that even the Hybrid Engine still produces heat, which limits how long it can go. All that jumping around keeps the LAM heat from building up unnecessarily. Two more heatsinks would mean that the GDI LAM can jump and hover for longer than the export version."

Internal and Export LAMs had the same level of firepower. Director Fukuda was unsure of the wisdom of that. It would help promote the idea that export LAMs were not intentionally crippled versions of true GDI LAMs. They were the best available. He smiled a bit. That was even literally true. The only other producer of LAMs, the Draconis Combine factory at Irece, produced LAMs that had a quarter less armor and half the firepower at only ten tons and one million C-bills less.

Others had made breakthroughs in Point Eight armor and carbon nanotubes, and were well on the way towards practical Fusion. That was fine. We can always purchase the technology later. thought Fukuda.

On their side, surprisingly, it was Endo Steel that broke first. It was not so much an entirely new material but the arrangement of steel and carbon into a lattice. Unlike the KF-drive, most of what goes into a BattleMech still had to obey the laws of physics. Atoms could only be arranged in so many ways; often the most cursedly difficult portion was not the theory or proving its existence, but the practical production.

All they needed to know was that it -existed-. Steel was steel, no matter how one tried to change it. Not even the BT universe had alchemy, to change one element for another. It was very likely some form of alloy. It might not even be Endo 'Steel', just a brand name, but there were known alternatives to that too.

"It's either Endo Steel or Light Fusion." Prof. Rei added.

"What?"

"We have two main methods of reducing the weight of any mecha using a Fusion reactor. The first, is to use Endo Steel to reduce its overall mass but not its volume. The other is to strip out safety features of an existing Fusion Engine and use more lightweight shielding materials. Like Endo Steel, it's going to be slightly bulkier from all predictions. It won't be as vulnerable or hard to make an Extra-Light Engine, though."

"That sounds... dangerous."

"There's really no other way. We can't shrink a Fusion Engine anymore. We don't even know how to make any Fusion Reactor smaller than a building, must less to try messing with the fundamentals of something that already works." Prof. Rei nodded. "Oh, we're going to go down that route anyway."

"The Clans, Fukuda-san." Dr. Nanbara added helpfully. "We've had success duplicating basic materials, but much of Star League technology, specially in the bionics field, is stil beyond us. The Clans have Star League technology and are said to have been refining it for two hundred fifty years now."

Japan had in panic rapidly industrialized, from seeing the gap between it and and the West. Fukuda shuddered to imagine what it would be like to face someone with two hundred fifty years advantage.

"Endo Steel is safer, and more importantly, we already have it." he concluded. The other two nodded in assent.

As expected it could not be produced on Earth, and even in zero-G they wasted nine out of ten batches from the final phase of the process while inside the refitted DropShip Daedalus. Over a year, four days out of every week, they had slowly stockpiled a workable amount. Most of that went into the GNDM and the two LAM refits.

The old man smiled thinly. To be sure, they did not know if it was indeed the same as Star League Endo Steel. For all they knew, there were different types of material under the heading 'Endo Steel', after all, had they not several different theories as to its composition? The important thing was that 'Nihon-type' Endo Steel was at least as strong as the Standard frame (which was really nothing more than aluminium wrapped in good high-temperature steel and several other composites).

Endo Steel was, as expected, bulky. The memory of his flustered engineers amused him still; for them, savings in weight -naturally- came with a reduction in size. It made no sense to them. Miniaturization had always been the key.

Survivability, now; the order came from on high. Never again would Mitsubishi make the mistake of the Zeke, the Mitsubishi A6M Type Zero, trying to get first-rate performance out of a second-rate engine by sacrificing armor and the lives of its pilots. Whatever weight saved just went into armor, to counter the slightly greater fragility of the internal frame.

Next, affordability. The VF-1 LAM was intended to undercut all known LAMs in the Inner Sphere, so much so that the Federated Suns would be all over the machine trying to grab at something only the Kuritans could previously deploy in any sizable quantity. It was well suited to their own methods of mobile warfare. The Draconis Combine would either have to force their own factories to match the quality (a highly unlikely prospect) or mass buy from GDI and SUNRISE to upgrade their own line of LAM forces.

The Steiners? What, only five million? Bargain, bargain, bargain. Much as they might rely on heavy and assault 'mechs, something that could serve as both 'mech and fighter may -seem- like the perfect stopgap to their own woeful Medium/fast response doctrines.

Japan had absolutely no fear of not finding LAM buyers. The (gleeful) reaction of every Inner Sphere technician or MechWarrior they had interviewed so far bore out this scenario.

He turned to the next page, the SF-1 X AeroSpace version.


AeroTech 2 Vessel Technical Readout VALIDATED

Class/Model/Name: Space/Strike Fighter - 01 SF-01J Tech: Inner Sphere / 3025 Vessel Type: Aerospace Fighter Rules: Level 2, Standard design Rules Set: AeroTech2

Mass: 50 tons Length: 16 meters Power Plant: 200 Fusion Safe Thrust: 6 Maximum Thrust: 9 Armor Type: Standard Armament: 1 Large Laser 2 RL 10 (OS) 3 Medium Laser 2 LRM 5


Class/Model/Name: Space/Strike Fighter - 01 SF-01J Mass: 50 tons

Equipment: Mass Power Plant: 200 Fusion 8.50 Thrust: Safe Thrust: 6 (5 at max bomb load) Maximum Thrust: 9 (8 at max bomb load) Structural Integrity: 6 .00 Total Heat Sinks: 17 Single 7.00 Fuel: 5.00 Cockpit & Attitude Thrusters: 3.00 Armor Type: Standard (200 total armor pts) 12.50 Standard Scale Armor Pts Location: L / R Nose: 67 Left/Right Wings: 50/50 Aft: 33

Weapons and Equipment Loc SRV MRV LRV ERV Heat Mass


1 Large Laser Nose 8 8 -- -- 8 5.00 1 RL 10 (OS) Nose 6 6 -- -- 3 .50 1 RL 10 (OS) Nose 6 6 -- -- 3 .50 1 Medium Laser Nose 5 -- -- -- 3 1.00 1 Medium Laser RW 5 -- -- -- 3 1.00 1 Medium Laser LW 5 -- -- -- 3 1.00 1 LRM 5 RW 3 3 3 -- 2 2.00 1 LRM 5 LW 3 3 3 -- 2 2.00 Ammo (LRM 5) 24 --- 1.00


TOTALS: Heat: 21 50.00 Tons Left: .00

External Stores Load: 5 Laser-Guided (LG) Bombs (5 tons) Total Stores Load 5 tons total Note: Safe Thrust is reduced from 6 to 5 at max bomb load.

Calculated Factors: Total Cost: 2,390,208 C-Bills Battle Value: 1,159 Cost per BV: 2,062.3 Weapon Value: 1,737 (Ratio = 1.50) Damage Factors: SRV = 30; MRV = 14; LRV = 1; ERV = 0 BattleForce2: MP: 6, Armor/Structure: 5 / 0 Damage PB/M/L: 3/1/1, Overheat: 0 Class: FM; Point Value: 12 Specials: if

"Why is this fifty tons?" The proposed first-run VF-01 LAM was only 40 tons.

"Unlike mecha, the ASF does not need to obey the hardcoded limits of the BT gryo, Fukuda-san." Dr. Nanbara noted. "The only real consideration is the capacity of the engines. Because Rei-sensei intended the SF, VF, and GMs to use the same class 200 Fusion Engine, the Fusion Rocket Thrusters are capable of carrying an extra load with no reduction in manueverability. It is a Medium Fighter, and the maximum thrust of 4.5 G is a compromise between speed, fuel efficiency, and effective armament."

"One Large Laser, three Medium Lasers, and a mix of missiles." The old thought about what about that seemed most familiar. "Ah! The Export GM has as its armament one Large Laser and three Medium Lasers as well."

"If the GMs on the ground have PPCs, let the SFs carry a PPC as its most powerful weapon. If they have Lasers, let it have Lasers." Prof. Rei added. "Weapons are also included in parts commonality. Of course, since we haven't started production on any LAM or ASF, there is still time to decide if more armor or speed would be of better use."

"An ASF is less exotic technology. We can overcharge slightly with the LAM, but if we are to believe the listed price as how difficult it would be to produce in the Inner Sphere, then two million C-bills is worth almost half of a LAM or Mech of comparable firepower."

Prof. Rei nodded. "And thus why the inventors of the LAM buried any possible links to their products with any ASF. If their parts were unique, then the Star League had to buy up a sizable stockpile. For certain reasons, the ASF does seem more fragile in its internal structure, but we can attempt to fix that. Even if it costs almost as much as a GM, it's worth it if it becomes more capable of surviving a hit that manages to blow through the armor." What the hell was up with the six points of structural integrity? A LAM had over fifty points of it. Assigning arbitrary values to practical concerns was dangerous, of course, which was why Prof. Rei wanted to design the ASF with the same internal reinforcement as its LAM.

"How soon can you begin prototyping?"

Prof. Rei just shook his head. He was considering if it was worth it, to reduce the firepower of the ASF to exactly that of a LAM, just to ensure that the SF-1 was capable of taking sustained damage to its separate sections.

At seeing him unwilling to answer, Dr. Nanbara explained "The two LAMs you see here, plus the third experimental refit of a Phoenix Hawk, are the only LAMs we can have for the forseeable future. We need more Fusion Engines before we can go anywhere. The Americans are said to be using between Class 120 to 175 Engine for their new ASF, and these are reportedly very common Engines. We require the Class 200 as the balance between performance and weight for three different machines. It's also reportedly easy to find, the Outworld Alliance makes them, but we just don't have any. We are the only nation on Earth with the production lines ready to produce BattleMechs, but even the GM requires the Engine.

The ones showed at the demonstration used a class 240 Engine. We can't produce mecha like that, just using whatever Engine we can scrounge up." Those Engines were taken from salvaged Heavy Mechs.

"Understandable. We must look for easy logistics to support our own interests in GDI." Director Fukuda folded the TROs and handed back the papers. While interesting, it would crease his suit to keep them in his pocket. "The Near Periphery Trading Company has already sent out bids for as many Engines as it can have. Rest assured we will secure the Engines you require."

Prof. Rei blinked, back from whatever contemplations he had had strayed onto. "Hey, want to meet the LAM pilots?"

-- --

As the company car left the site, Hiroyuki Fukuda felt more at ease. Interacting with his son-in-law was still a tense, and frustrating affair (he understood well enough how the scientist had that effect on relatively saner people) but it was a productive journey. "These mercenaries are interesting." he had to admit. He had come to Hakone with the natural disdain towards the gaijin invaders. He had not expected them to be competent and possessing honor of their own. "Miriya Parina was most impressive."

"I noticed." Prof. Rei replied, yawning. He gestured with his hands. "Her breasts are out to here."

Fukuda chuckled lightly. "Even you are not that obtuse."

Dr. Nanbara snorted. "Men."

Cafeteria, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts, United States, Earth 1 May 2007/3022

“Hey, I finally had a chance to looked at the specs for that ‘Point Eight’ armor you guys are making,” Belle Frye said around a mouthful of pizza. Belle had always loved pizza, and she had sorely missed it when she had left Terra for a “short term assignment” to Columbus as a materials engineer. The base cook had also been a health food fanatic. Coming to Earth was like coming home… in more ways that one.

“Really? That’s good,” Josh Goldberg replied. He was a materials engineer too here at MIT getting retrained on all the new science technology to keep his knowledge from becoming obsolete. And for an early twenty-first century primitive barbarian, he was cute too, in Belle’s opinion. “So have you figured out what we’ve been doing wrong?”

“Sorry,” Belle said, shaking her head. She swallowed her current mouthful of food before speaking further. “I dunno what you guys are doing wrong. The material looks exactly like the standard armor. Maybe if I had an actual sample to look at…”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Josh told her. “Not that I expect much. I think the suits think that you already have too much on your plate.” He eyed her meal and smirked. “And I don’t mean your lunch either.”

Belle chuckled at that. Josh was fun, too!

“Tell me about it,” Belle said. “’How do you make room temperature superconductors?’ ‘How do you scale up production of crystalline polymers?’ ‘How do you Ragnarok-proof everything?’ I swear, I feel like I’m in one of those ISOT novels that you guy like so much.”

“You are in one of those ISOT novels,” Josh returned, wagging a finger at her. “Only it’s not a novel and the genre is popular because it actually happened to us.”

“Yeah, put that way, it doesn’t make work look so bad,” Belle agreed with a shiver. No one had yet to determine the cause, but with theories ranging from industrial accident in yet another universe to ‘Alien Space Bats’, each theory was simply more unsettling than the rest. A fifty lightyear radius of space shifted through time and space for no apparent reason? Could it happen again? Was it happening all the time without anyone noticing? The only consensus Earth could come up with was that since Earth was the apparent epicenter of the phenomenon, it couldn’t have been natural.

Belle cut off that thought. It was just too unsettling to think about. She decided to bring the subject back to the original topic.

“So about those armor specs,” Belle said, taking another bite of her pizza. “I did notice that they were incomplete.”

“Incomplete?” Josh asked, puzzled.

“Yeah. How are you spacing the layers?” Belle asked.

“Spacing?” Josh repeated, a look of dawning realization slowly creeping across his face.

“You know, spacing?” Belle said. She put a hand over the pizza slice in her hand, holding it just a few millimeters from touching it. “Standard armor is made in layers held a few micrometers apart at most. This helps prevent armor penetration by…”

“…by having the outer layers absorb, deflect, and/or shed the bulk of the energy of weapons fire while minimizing the amount being transferred to the layers underneath,” Josh finished. “Damn! We know this! Hell, we’ve made stuff like this! We just never applied it on such a tiny scale before! That’s why the stuff can bounce off high velocity APDFS rounds while lower velocity impact collisions can do more damage even if both carry the same amount of kinetic energy, right?”

“Pretty much,” Beller confirmed. “Armor piercing sabots like the ones you guys used try to do all their damage at once. That doesn’t work so good for modern armor; the outer most layer just soaks up all the impact energy. To defeat modern armor, you need to spread your damage out over time, hence the use of burst fire autocannon, long duration lasers, and what you guys call ‘missile spam’.”

“Or really strong explosions, or single ‘soft’ rounds that will flatten themselves on impact instead of bouncing off,” Josh added. He whistled in awe. “You know, we’re going to have to retool our production lines again?” He chuckled. “Yeah, I can just hear the bureaucrats screaming about the expense now…”

“’But we just spent boatloads of money on this!’” Belle mocked with a laugh.

“Ha, yeah,” Josh agreed. He looked at Belle funny. “So, um, are you doing anything later?”

Fort Irwin California, Earth 24 Mar 2007

After stepping out of a taxi in freshly pressed, unadorned khakis, Thomas Jerald O'Malley, until relatively recently a Captain in the 11th ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment), squinted at the harsh desert terrain. After a look around, he put his slouch hat on and slipped the strap under his chin. "Nice to be home," he muttered to himself as he settled the duffel bag on his back after retrieving it from the taxi's trunk, and headed for the base gate.

Major Staedele's office

Standing at all of 178cm and 88kg, the wiry man standing at attention before Major Staedele wasn't all that special. Or, at least, nothing special until one looked into his hazel eyes, where one who knew what to look for could find the look of someone who's been around the block a few times.

"Normally I'd have a subordinate do this, but the timing of this application makes that impractical." Major Staedele added, a moment later, "At ease."

O'Malley dropped into Parade Rest position. "My apologies for that, but there were... personal issues that couldn't be rescheduled or delayed. They have no bearing on my application other than its timing, however."

"I see. Mr. O'Malley, the record in your personnel file is, in general, well above average. The only point that may be an issue, as far as I can see, is a barely passing pistol qualification score. You may be seeking to be an artillerist, but everyone in the Cav has to meet basic self defense requirements, including with pistols."

"Yes, sir, I'm aware of that. Gimme a few rounds of practice, and I can drop arty shells on the X all day long, even with a gun I've never even seen before and with nothing but a slip-stick and a plotting board. I've never been good at pistols, though, and not for a lack of trying. I never bought into the notion that because I'm a cannon cocker I don't have to worry about Murphy biting me in the ass. As the old saw goes, 'shit happens'."

Staedele nodded. "Good attitude. Let's set that aside for the moment, and go to the next subject: why did you leave the service when you did? From what I see in your file, it seemed you were advancing pretty well by US Army standards, according to discussions I've had with others on base."

"At the time my parents were having a bit of a rough spot, with dad having a lot of lung trouble, and after pounding the UIR I didn't see anything else worth sticking around for. Unfortunately, that meant I missed out on China, but cannon cockers weren't really in demand in that war. After I left the service, I moved closer to Chicago to help them out where I could. Then your former associates showed up." The rest of his explanation was in a cold tone totally devoid of emotion. "A mech reactor going up destroyed the hospital wing where my dad was recovering from surgery, and a collapsing building trapped my mom bad enough that they couldn't dig her out before she ran out of air."

"I... see. My condolences on your loss. You're not looking for revenge, are you? Buron Cav may not be loaded with rulebook-hugging martinets, but we do insist on our personnel being professionals. Vengeance is not 'professional'." But combinging business with pleasure is an option, Staedele mentally added.

O'Malley shook his head. "No, not at all," the tone of his reply back to normal. "The responsible parties are dead. Even if they weren't, making them so wouldn't change anything." Left unmentioned by the former captain was how some of those responsible wound up dead. Some of those invaders killed died after they were captured, in 'accidents' before prisoner duty was taken over from the Illinois National Guard troops. He hadn't been involved in that, but he could have been.

"Good. Now tell me why we should hire you. Sell me." Staedele leaned back in his chair, giving the former Army officer his undivided attention.

After only moment's pause, O'Malley called up the sales pitch he had planned prior to the meeting, just in case such a situation arose. "You need a cannon cocker that can speak both Arty and NATO when interacting with GDI forces, as well as do a good job on the tubes. I was practically raised on the stuff, so it's instinctual for me. There won't be a moment's pause to remember the proper phrasing that won't get your message blown off as being from an idiot. With the losses your non-mech forces took against the Combine, you need someone who's seen the elephant, as it were. Someone who won't soil their shorts when Charlie inevitably dances the Foxtrot, giving the gun crews someone to look to when they see a cloud of dust thrown up by the brigade of heavy mechs charging towards their position, and not panic because they know there are people with them that have been there, done that. People who not only survived to tell the tale of when three armored corps came charging at them, but can tell it with a grin that says 'fuck you' to the world. I have 'been there, done that', and once familiarized with the Cav's way of doing business I can backstop your own vets when they're babysitting the new meat who've not previously seen anything more violent than a bar brawl or a mugging. People who don't lose their heads in a crunch while the rest of the world is going batshit insane are worth their weight in... well, brass, at least. That's me."

The major considered the person before him for a few seconds. "You practiced that beforehand, didn't you?" Staedele chuckled. "You don't have to answer that."

He brought his chair upright, looking into O'Malley's eyes. "Let me tell you what, Mr. O'Malley. I do need people who won't 'soil their shorts when Charlie inevitably dances the Foxtrot', as you put it, and an artillerist that speaks GDI does have value. I'm still concerned about your pistol aim, though. The Cav holds to a higher standard for pistol quals than does the Army, and I'm not in the habit of giving people exceptions just because they have a skill that's useful to me. I'm especially not in the habit of giving them to people with whom I've not worked previously. With that in mind, you're in provisionally, provided you prove to me that you can meet all the qualifications. Since you are starting from scratch with the Cav, you can forget about your captain's bars, or any commissioned officer's rank. You'll be starting at the bottom with everyone else. In the future, you might gain a commission in the Cav if you bust ass, but it wouldn't be any time soon. Will this be a problem for you?"

"Not at all," the now very former captain said in response. "I figured I'd be coming in at the bottom if you accepted me, and I'm fine with that as long as I'm given the chance to come up from there."

Staedele nodded. "Good. Talk to the Lieutenant in the next room about assignment to the recruit barracks. Training starts at oh-five-thirty sharp Monday morning. You probably already know this, but don't bring half your house with you. Even that bag," with a nod to the duffel bag sitting by the door, "is too much. The Lieutenant has the details for you about getting your kit." He rose to his feet, and extended his hand to the other man. "Provided you meet the pistol quals - I doubt the rest will prove problematic - welcome to Buron Cavalry, Recruit O'Malley."

"Thank you, sir," the new recruit replied as he reached over to accept the handshake.

"Oh, and Recruit? This time it's acceptable because I told you to make a sales pitch, but if you give me fertilizer like that again, it had better be because I've flipped my lid and have decided to become a farmer." The admonition was delivered with a grin. "I've talked with General Diggs. Your arty was never seriously threatened by the Army of God, nor were all three Corps heading for your position. Dismissed."

After having come to attention, the new recruit turned to depart.


London, England Earth, Granville Cluster 29 January 2007

"The International Olympic Committee released a news statement today addressing the petition to allow the world of Antallos to participate in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. They rejected the petition on three grounds. First, that Antallos does not have any form of professionally organized sporting events recognized as an Olympic Sport, thus it is unlikely that they would be able to field a proper team within the next 18 months.

"Secondly, the City-State of Port Krin is not a soverign state, currently under the purview of a military govenorship by the Coalition. The IOC reiterated that self-determination is a requirement in order to be a representable nation at the Olympics.

"Lastly, the GDI still has a limit on the transportation space between Port Krin and Earth, as well as security concerns about the location of our world.

"The IOC has reserved judgement on possible participation in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at this time. They have also rejected a public petition to include Battlemech gladitorial combat in future Olympics.

"In economic news, the OPEC Nations are facing a continnuing crisis under the new leadership of Secretary General Abdallah Salem el-Badri. With the announcement by General Electric America of the first civilian Fusion Electrical Power Plant to begin construction in New York State within 12 months (pending approval by the Atomic Energy Commission), the price of crude Oil dropped to $19.50US per barrel. This is the latest in a long series of decreases in the value of that natural resource, leading many economic speculators to believe that the OPEC economies will face recession or depression in the coming decade. Similar ventures in India, Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa and Japan are predicted to drive the price of crude oil down further.

"In related news, the stock prices for General Motors and Toyota rose today with the annoucement that the two companies would seperately develop and begin manufacuring of a larger series of Electric, Hybrid and Electric Fuel Cell vehicles. Both companies cited a projected surplus in electricity in the coming decades, as well as economic pressures in their decisions. Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of General Motors thanked Toyota for the competition during his press confrence yesterday, thinking that the massive cooperative projects seen in the past 6 months by various comapines as a bad thing for the long term economies of the involved corporations.

"On to Weather. The massive Cold Wave in southern Asia continnues unabated this week, with forcasters not seeing any sign of an end to this unusual weather pattern. In Northern Europe, a severe wind storm warning is still in effect, in conjunction with the unusual heat wave coming off the North Atlantic. In North America, the economic damage from the mid-January Ice Storm is still being tallied, and is expected to reach $1 Billion US.

"This is the BBC Hourly News. Please stay tuned for our next programme..."

Antallos Jumpoint 02 Febuary 2007/3022

Space bent, warped, and broke, leaving behind a half-dozen jumphsips, all bearing the hearldry of the Draconis Combine. The GDI jumpship that patrolled the point returned the signal announcing their arrival, not that such was needed as ComStar had delivered a message earlier in the week that the convoy was one jump out.

Ulysses Kurita watched as the bridge crew of his dropship made final preperations to seperate from the jumpship and head in-system. 4 days transit, then he would once again put his feet onto the soil of this interesting world. On the decks below him, a ROM agent carefuly hid the evidence of their actions. Opening a supposedly sealed container, the Agent damaged certain particular pieces of valuable machinery under the guise of making sure the cargo was ready for acceleration.

The Agent was unsettled by the necessity of damaging such precious technology, but recognized that only into the service of the Word would this machine reach its fullest potential. And these Motherloders were not followers of Blake. How could they be? No, better to show them the error of their ways when they falsely use these machines. Let them be punished for their sins.

Afterall, it's not like they would look inside a supposedly sealed device, to see through the casing of the machine, one clearly labeled 'Do not Open'.

Faith and Trust Non Standard Jumpoint, Wallacia, Free Worlds League Mid Febuary, 2007

An allergy. That was the final prognosis from the Doctor as to the cause of death. David was miserable as the imprompru casket was escorted into the airlock. The deceased was the only other proper civilian in the Tomb Raider expidtion. And now he was dead, headed for an unmarked grave, a burial inside a star.

Daniel wanted to get a drink, throw up, and sleep - hoping to wake safe at home; all in no particular order.

The normal party to decide the new name of their Jumpship and Dropship (the first such party had taken place after they had left the OWA for the Federated Suns) had been put on hold when the deceased had fallen ill during supper. Apparently, one of the fruits had caused a reaction that there simply wasn't time to counter. A shot of Epinepheran had done nothing, and the poor man had been pronounced dead within the hour.

The next day, the Samurai announced the new name for their Jumpship. No longer the Avante Garde or the Hail Mary, she would be called Hope for Tomorrow.

Nadair Jump Point Sol System, Granville Cluster 13 Febuary 2007

The GDI jumpship snapped into existence, and within milliseconds, it had sent out a coded IFF pulse, and received a secure confirmation that they were who they were, and were where they were supposed to be. Weapon systems disarmed, preventing the jumpship from being enguled in nuclear fire. All this in the time it took for the Captain of the jumpship to look down from the main viewscrean to his command chair at the Green light that signaled their safety.

This was was lost on the passengers of the refitted Union Olympus. When she first came to Earth, she had been fitted to carry a lance of Mechs, and plenty of loot. Now she was meant to ferry about important people for the CSN. Today, her passengers were a dozen representatives of the Draconis Combine - diplomats, a couple lawyers, as well as three guards.

The diplomatic party were briefed on what came next though. Because the distance from the jumppoint to Motherlode was ten days at standard acceleration (a lie they had no reason to doubt), they would transfer to another jumpship for the last leg of the Circuit. They noted that normally dropships would simply cruise in, but they had freed up the Jumpship Emerald City to ferry them to a Pirate Point closer to Earth. It would be less than a day from there, cutting two off the total travel time.

Within half an hour, the dropship had switched jumpships, and vanished towards the distant star. The left-behind jumpship deployed its sail, and waited for the arrival of its next load of passengers and equipment bound for Antallos.

May 10, 2007 RWTH Aachen, Germany, Grantville Cluster

The Star League Engineer looked into the auditorium and his audience. Those weren't his usual students. Those were engineers and scientists with decades of professional experience.

Being a good and honest engineer, he realized he was a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants. And some of those giants - or at least alternate identities of them - could be in this room at the RWTH Aachen. Or in any other room on any University around the globe. He and his colleagues had taught in Beijing, Tokyo, Paris, Mumbai, the MIT, Oxfrord and countless other universities, teaching the locals how to use the scientific data he took for granted best. Today, it was in Germany. But it didn't matter as the lecture was seen on every single university on Earth and at literally millions of home computers on the global Datanet the locals called "internet". It would be saved and repeated an unimaginable number of times.

The persons in this audience had designed cars, airplanes, tanks, power plants, and lots of other things - even spacecraft - with tools being just a little short of the stone age when seen by a Star League Engineer. He was full of respect for them, but he knew they believed in utterly outdated theories and while those might include fresh ideas, it was his job to update their basics. And they were willing to learn. There were dozens of questions after every lecture. His colleagues in material sciences had been answering questions for hours with manufacturers, of cars, airplanes and spacecraft patently waiting for their time to ask.

He stepped onto the stage and cleared his throat. "Guten Abend meine Damen und Herren" his German was a bit rusty, but it was enough for this greeting "Good evening ladies and Gentlemen." He activated a holoprojector showing schematics. "This was the most common civilian fusion reactor for cars when I was frozen. In the same series, there was a bigger surface-ship plant as well as a civilian aircraft reactor." the schematics changed accordingly "None of those includes the excessive shielding the successor states use or will be able to run for centuries, but they are cheap, reliable and easy to produce."

Oval Office White House, Washington DC Earth, Grantville Cluster 3rd May 2007

Jack Ryan Sr had ever since the first Spheroid Pirate invasion of New Zealand heard many schemes, proposals, plans and projects that many in his own administration had dreamed up, including some that filtered through the various alphabet soup agencies. Most of the ideas had concrete benefits, that he could see would work out long-term, and had gotten his stamp of approval and bumped around to the rest of the CSN Head of States. Some were good ideas, but not entirely practical. Others were the equivalent of political nitro-glycerine that could threaten to divide the very new CSN even before it properly got off the ground – off-world colonization policy was such an issue for example, especially in light of the Outer Space Treaty; while they ignored the nukes in space bit, everything else was still firmly being adhered to, especially the clause that prevented any government (singular) from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet, since it was the ‘Common heritage of mankind’. The Treaty said nothing of a supra-national government or agency though, like the CSN and GDI.

From his seated position on the couches surrounding the Seal of the President, Jack stared at the two people standing beside an easel with chart diagrams explaining their proposal. He stomped down on his first reaction; which was to blurt out ‘This can’t possibly work outside of fiction.’ but a President didn’t say such things to his Science Advisor and a top tier DARPA scientist. Not especially when fiction had indeed turned to reality. In addition he knew his Science Tsar well enough; and the fifty two year old man would most certainly not be wasting his President’s time with nonsense.

“This is actually feasible?”

Dr Stephen Young, PhD in aeronautics, astronautics and plasma physics, current Director of the Presidential Office of Science and Technology Policy nodded earnestly, “Oh yes, Mr. President. Casaba Howitzer’s theoretical work was started in the Sixties when the military advisors to Project Orion noticed that if you could make the plasma burst a little faster and with a narrower spread, it would no longer be a propulsion system. It would be a directed energy weapon of a magnitude that would dwarf any reusable ‘cannon’ –style system.”

Jack nodded in understanding but asked, “Okay, so instead of having a propulsion system that is essentially a shaped nuclear charge under a tin can, now you’re proposing we use that shaped charge to shoot at an enemy?”

“We’re using the nuke to get the energy to blast a mass of Lithium or Potassium plasma at them, Mr. President.”

“I see,” Jack nodded. “So this, the Bomb Pumped gamma-ray laser and the FusionT weapon is what you propose to close the gaps in the Nuclear Shield?”

“Yes, Mr. President. Dr Kemp’s proposal…” Dr Young nodded to his rather attractive fellow scientist; who was standing on the other side of the easel in a woman’s suit, looking highly professional but her face showed her nervousness of being in the ‘Office’ and meeting with the Boss. “…is the only viable solution we see to the problem of an enemy jumping into the Solar System with prior knowledge of our Nuclear Gauntlet and equipping large amounts of Laser based AMS systems.”

It was not a common known fact to the man in the street that a standard nuclear weapon detonated in space was actually far from the iconic mushroom clouds that had burned itself into the minds of people since the first one was detonated over Hiroshima. With no air medium around the weapon, in a vacuum a nuke needed to contact detonate against a ship hull to destroy it for sure. If it missed and went off just a mere one kilometer from the target (a tiny relative distance in space) then the weapon would just singe the paint and perhaps blind the targets’ sensors for a time.

Then you had to factor in a ship equipped anti-missile systems that blasted away with Small Lasers at ranges well beyond a kilometer and while Spheroid targeting computers didn’t even come close to passing muster against their Earth counterparts, it would still require firing dozens of nukes at a ship to score a kill. That figure went up into the hundreds when going against a prepared opponent.

Jack thought for a moment and then nodded firmly, “Okay, you’ve both sold me on Casaba and the long-term goal of a bomb pumped Graser. However, I’m a bit leery of the idea of turning a Dropship engine into a weapon – it’s an extremely double-edged sword.”

“In that our Spheroid enemies could imitate it relatively quickly once we’ve used it against them,” Dr Young agreed. “Mr. President, I advise that the Fusion Torch weapon, if successful, should only be deployed within the Solar System on ODPs, and even then is fired as a weapon of last resort. The Casabas and Grasers are to be issued to ODPs and our future warships and battlecarriers, but again are only to be used if the ship and/or colony in question have exhausted all other avenues of defence.”

Jack sat back in the soft couch and shook his head ruefully, “We’re going to end up with MAD eventually, except on an interstellar scale.”

Dr Young didn’t bother to point out that it had been Mutually Assured Destruction that had kept the West and Warsaw Pact from ever considering turning the Cold War into a hot one, and ensured a lasting ‘peace’ that had resulted eventually in the current relatively stable political climate on Earth. Jack Ryan knew this as surely as the man knew how to tie his shoelaces. “DARPA has taken that into account, Mr President.”

Jack raised his eyebrows, feeling intrigued, “Oh?”

Young turned to the woman who had done the watered down technical part of the presentation for the President, “Dr Kemp?”

Dr Evangeline Kemp cleared her throat nervously, “Mr. President, DARPA has not been approaching this from just a perspective of us developing the weapons. We’ve also established a counter-project team, whose job is to develop methods and technologies from defending against Casabas, Grasers and FusionT weapons.”

Jack frowned, “I’m sorry, Dr Kemp, but with the capabilities of Casaba and others…how would our future ships defend against that?”

“Casaba is a mass of plasma travelling at extremely high velocity; you need to hit it before it can detonate. We hope to eventually produce a Casaba that can accurately hit a ship a thousand kilometres from the point of detonation. To counter we could adapt the Star League Barracuda Missile and its relevant Launchers; develop a means to extend its range even further beyond nine hundred kilometres – this could be done by developing a small FusionT engine, attach our latest guidance and sensor packages, vectored thrust and theoretically we’ve extended the Barracuda’s range as much as we can squeeze reaction mass inside it for propulsion.”

Jack understood, “Essentially an anti-missile missile for space.”

“Yes, Mr. President, they’re also working on achieving the Beyond Light-second range goal for ship mounted Lasers and PPCs. With our superior optics and computers, especially with quantum state IT soon to be introduced we are already on our way to that end.”

“We will eventually be able to hit a ship at an extreme stand-off range that no Spheroid faction or Clan will be able to match, Mr. President,” Dr Young concluded.

“The counter-project team is also researching the idea of the Blue Shield Particle Field Dampener for our future warships.”

Jack blinked, he was not sure he had heard that right, “Shield?”

Dr Kemp grinned and shook her head, “It’s not a ‘Shield’ in the Star Trek sense, Mr. President. It’s a system that cuts down significantly on the damage a PPC can inflict; by dampening the incoming ions that the PPC beam is throwing into the target. This system will have to be developed from scratch though; we will have to wait until New Dallas Expedition returns with the Star League Core to aid us in development.”

“Even with that, it’s not a sure thing,” Dr Young argued. “Blue Shield will not be developed for another thirty one years, according to the sourcebook timeline. All we have is the idea, and no practical starting point of even where we should begin to experiment. I think we would be better off focusing on the Cold Plasma Defense Shield.”

Jack pinched the bridge of his nose wearily, he was probably going to regret asking this, “Which is…?”

Young explained, “Sorry, Mr. President. Cold Plasma is exactly what its name implies; plasma that exists at room temperature and not at the sun hot temperatures that are normally found in fusion reactor plasma. Several years ago, the first practical techniques were developed to generate large quantities of the low-temp plasma. The Air Force has picked up the tab for the research as it had great potential to protect and hide satellites if they were enveloped in a field of this cold plasma.”

Jack was baffled, “How would a bubble of cold plasma hide an entire satellite of all things?”

“Mr. President, this plasma can be made into a kind of energy absorber, pulling in incoming electromagnetic waves, such as those emitted from ground-based radars, and dissipating them. With enough power and density, the plasma could also serve as a disposable barrier to Laser and PPC fire.”

Kemp shook her head. “Cold Plasma Shielding, in theory, can deflect both varieties of directed energy weapon attacks – but there is no guarantee we could tune the plasma frequency high enough to do that…there’s also no way we could practically envelop an entire warship or jumpship with the shield. It would also effectively blind the ship’s sensors…”

Dr Young was incredulous. “You can’t be suggesting we throw CP out the window?”

“Not at all, it’s a technology with good potential, but combat and logistical conditions will make it impractical for protecting warships against directed energy weaponry. I can see it being used to aid other weapons in performing their jobs better; keeping dust off laser optics for instance, stealth, the rapid decontamination of clothing, equipment or personal gear…”

Dr Young was about to retort, but Jack interrupted the potential argument and stood from the couch, “Regardless of either the Particle Dampener and Cold Plasma’s viability or their potential applications, I can see the advantage and the need to develop both technologies and leverage them well. Consider your entire project green-lighted, I’ll run it by the CSN for further funding and support to be thrown your way.”

Both scientists inadvertently chorused, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Jack shook Evangeline’s hand, “You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you Dr Kemp, and I suggest you get started.”

The determination was clear in her voice, “We won’t disappoint, Mr. President.”

“Have a good day, Mr. President,” Dr Young promptly ushered the DARPA scientist out.

March 24th 3022 Fort Irwin, California

Major Staedele took a look through the door inside the newly built hangar. After his return, he had found out that Ft Irwin had been considerably expanded since his departure for Antallos, mostly to give the newly formed GDI units more training space. Incidentally, that had also allowed the Pentagon to reserve a small part of the installation for permanent use of the Buron Cav, which, as an official had explained, was the most sensible thing to do, given the long duration of the contract between the mercenary unit and the United States. That these building were just about the farthest from the main gate of any building in the entire installation was, of course, not exactly a coincidence.

Through the door, he watched the crowd of several hundred people inside. "Quite a few more than we expected", he remarked towards the gathered 'inner circle' of the Buron Cavalry. Nedeljko, Johnson, Hinze (now kicked up to Lieutenant) and, of course, his wife and aunt were all present.

"No kidding", Johnson answered, "I didn't expect so many to show up, either."

"Ditto," Nedeljko threw in. "Let's not let them wait any longer, shall we. Lead the way, oh our fearless commander", he said with a smirk.

"Okay, here goes", Staedele quipped before walking through the door with the rest of the group in tow. He went directly towards the small wooden stage that had been erected at one end of the building, noticing how the entire room went quiet upon noticing the presence of the newcomers. As he reached the stage, he took a look at the gathered crowd. From what he could see, there were men and women from all kinds of ethnicites and of many differrent ages gathered, though most of them looked to be in their twenties or early thirties. He cleared his throat and began his speech, speaking in a hard, military tone.

"I am Andreas Staedele, commanding officer of the Buron Cavalry mercenary unit. Of course, you should already know this. All of you are here because you applied to the job advertisements placed upon our website directly after the ratification of the Reykjavik Accords. You want to become members of our unit. In the next four weeks, we will put you through a training program that will make sure that only the best of you will get one of the limited number of places we have open at the moment. Wether you applied to be an infantryman, an artilleryman or a tech does not make a differrence. You will all go through this process.

Now, I know that some of you might have overly romantic illusions about what they can expect from being a member of a mercenary command. So, just to adress such expectations, let me be frank: The career you are applying for here will be hard. It will be hard, dangerous and often unrewarding. You might spend years, if not decades, separated from your families and your homes. You might die on one of the thousands of god-forsaken backwaters out there and hardly anyone might notice. Just another dead merc nobody cares about. And quite likely, your daily routine will require more of you than many other jobs.

Additionally, it should be noted that while the discipline inside a mercenary unit might be considered lax compared to the military in many aspects, it will, if at all, be even stricter in other regards, so don't even think that it will be easy going. Just for an example, you will find out that neither me, nor any other of the officers you will be serving under will have any kind of patience with anyone attempting to discriminate another human because of their race, gender, religious believes and so on. There will be no place for bigots in my unit.

Last, but not least: By signing the contract that makes you a member of our unit, you will effectively sign away a great deal of your personal rights and freedoms for the duration of the contract. You will be expected to carry out the orders of your superior officers and you will be subject to the laws and regulations of both the unit and our employer at all times.

You can also expect the following:", the Majors voice became a bit softer at that. "If you become a member of this unit, we will look after you. We will care. We will treat you much like family. No matter the situation, if you have a problem, you will be able to go to the rest of the unit and we will help you to the best of our ability. Nobody gets left behind or thrown under the bus in this unit as long as I draw breath. That is a promise."

He paused for a few seconds before continuing in the previous manner. "Many of you already had military training. Others did not. This will not play a role in the upcoming course. For the first week, all of you will be going through a series of physical tests as well as learning how to use basic firearms. For the remaining three weeks, you will be split up and trained in the respective areas you have applied for. This training will be hard. We will try and get you right up to the edge of what you are capable of and then we will judge you accordingly. If anyone of you wants to quit, he is perfectly welcome to turn to the nearest officer and declare it. In that case, you will pack your stuff, get a bus ticket to L. A. from us and then be escorted to the main gates of Ft Irwin.

I hope you understood what I explained to you right now. All of you will now be escorted to the administration building in which you will sign the contract for this probation and be given your basic gear and directions to your barracks. From then on, you will be under the care of Captain Johnson."

Staedele paused for a second to let it sink in.

"And before I forget it: Welcome to the Cav.

Dismissed."


April 3rd, 3022 Fort Irwin, California 11:50 local time

The bang of an artillery gun firing momentarily shatterred the almost tranquil silence of the Mojave Desert. It was the third day of the specialised training. A bit more than half the applicants had decided to carry on after the Majors speech and the first week of being brought to the edge in the mandatory self-defence training that everyone in the Buron Cavalry, even the techs, had to run through.

Major Staedele, accompanied by his Co-pilot, lieutenant Reed, was moving towards the guns arrayed for another exercise of the new artillerymen.

"That was nicely done, Lieutenant. You scared the crap out of the new guys. You're learning."

The gun thundered again.

"Thanks, Major," Lieutenant Reed answered. During the morning training, both of them, riding Altes Eisen had participated in the first practical anti-Mech training lesson for the applicants. The Major had been content on giving his co-pilot full control over the Mech to further train the Lieutenant. The exercise itself had not been much a challenge, though. BlueFor, consisting of two platoons of applicants, had been brutally mauled by the Warhammer. They had committed a number of fatal beginner mistakes and paid for it with a rather humiliating defeat.

Coming close enough to the guns and the group of people assembled in front of a small table by the vehicle, the Major gave a wink towards the newly promoted Lieutenant Hinze, who was busy teaching the prospective artillerymen. The Lieutenant stopped pointing out things on what appeared to be a map of the region and saluted. Seeing this, the assembled class turned around and hastily saluted the CO of the Buron Cavalry.

He returned the salute before adressing the LT. "Lieutenant, would you mind me interrupting your lesson? It's almost time for noon break anyway."

Hinze, all the professional, answered: "No problem, sir." Then, he turned towards the assembled crowd. "You heard the Major. You can thank him for extending your break by a few minutes. Dismissed."

And on that signal, the class dispersed at a verily astonishing speed. As such, the Major did not have to wait long before turning towards Hinze again.

"So, Eduart, what do you think about your newcomers?"

"Well, boss, most of them already know the basics of gunnery and running a SPG, so much of my training will be concentrated on our specific equipment. I already picked out a few promising candidates that seem to learn faster than the rest, but the competition is wide open. Overall, this seems to work out pretty well. There is one thing that bugs me, though."

At this, the Major raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"They're a bit too trusting in their toys. Yes, those new targetting systems we managed to get for the Thumpers are bloody marvelous, but I have people in this class that aren't capable of quickly computing a firing mission without those technological gadgets. Damn boys were looking at me like I'm some kind of magician when I demonstrated a manually computed and entered firing missions. One of the guys flat out told me that it'd be impossible to do it that fast. He almost had his eyeballs popping out when the FO called in the second shot as a hit. Okay, that was lucky, but he wouldn't stop gawking even after I told him that I normally need about three shots. Hell, they make me feel like some wise old man! Like, one of those sensei figures out of these old movie flicks."

Grinning at that, the Major answered, "Not only you, Eduard, not only you. Some of the PBIs were just standing there with their jaws agape when Marc and his squad showed them a good anti-Mech attack. Well, they and Lieutenant Reed here when he realised just how much he had been had. Right?"

Slightly embarrassed, the Lieutenant answered with a rather silent "Yes, sir."

Staedele continued, "But for all that's holy, try getting them to be able to do it without aid as well as you can. Those 'gadgets', as you call them, might be bloody marvelous, but they're also bloody fragile and we can't afford a gun being unable to hit a target and hit it fast just because part of the new electronics have a bad day."

"Will do, sir, will do. Now, I think it's time to go to the canteen. Trying to teach newcomers how to do artillery the old way is hard work. You coming?"

"You bet, Eduard."

Thirty minutes later

The canteen was slowly emptying as the noon break for the trainees came to its end. Sitting at one end of the hall, Major Staedele was discussing a whole slew of things with his wife.

"The newcomers? From what I've seen they're pretty good in quite a few areas, but sorely lacking in many others. Not one of them had seen a functioning energy weapon before yesterday and teaching them the finer points will take time. And the kind of intuition that makes a good tech is something you can't really teach. Ask me again in two weeks or so, dear. Oh well, for the afternoon, they're Dyer's problem. We two have an appointment with Esthers class teacher."

"Thanks, honey. I wonder why they want to talk to us. I haven't heard anything bad about Esther since we sent her and the other other kids on the bases' school. All the reports describe her as doing just fine, those few problems with the initial integration into the class set aside. Well, except for that first meeting when they were berating us over the way her education had gaps in subjects we never thought about teaching her." The Major shudderred. That had been an unpleasant day. And frankly, what use had a girl grown up in a mercenry units DropShip for detailed biology lessons, anyway? For the biology of a single planet, at that? Overall, he and Marie were more than happy for their kid to get the chance to get an education they would have never dreamed of, but some of the finer points still failed to make any sense.

With a frown, Marie answered: "From what I gather, they're not exactly happy about the fact that we're sending the kids to some extra lessons from Ms Avilés during the afternoon."

The Major simply sighed. This particular thing had been a matter of conflict between him and the school since Day 1. And Filatov had continued the fight during his absence. "Well, it's not our fault that there's barely any certified teacher out there that can educate the kids on the technology, history and politics of the Inner Sphere. Especially after the bureaucrats are blocking any attempts of Silvia to become a bona fide teacher. I have the feeling that this talk will again end without any result."

"Yes, I think so, too. Especially as Esther and the kids wouldn't even want it to stop. They love Silvia. Hell, even the other kids in the kindergarten loved her when she was helping out last month. The only way you could get Esther to miss one of her lessons would be to buy her another new game for that Xbox."

"Heh, ain't that the truth? Not getting her to skip classes. She's growing so fast... I was almost shocked to see just how much she had grown up when we came back from Antallos."

"Me too, Andreas, me too. So, any more plans this week besides the training, or do we have some spare time for ourselves.

"Spare time, honey, spare time. Except for Friday afternoon. I finally managed to get an appointment to interview that Black Lightning guy. But otherwise, there's nothing this week.


January 1, 2006/3021 Papal Office Apostolic Palace, Vatican City Earth, Grantville Cluster


Pope Benedict XVI. sat in his office and listened to William Joseph Levada, his successor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He had already decided that the past tense was proper for referring to a future separate from their own.

“The sourcebooks say that Vatican City was occupied in 2770 AD in the Inner Sphere when Stefan Amaris conquered Earth. The papal successor, Pope Clement XX, sent out messages to the head Cardinals, on basically every major world, which gave them full control over their dioceses as long as Amaris controlled the territory of the Holy See. Amaris did not take this lightly and destroyed the city, as he did with other places like Mecca and Jerusalem.”

"What do you mean, destroyed? How?"

"Nuclear, your Holiness."

Pope Benedict XVI looked outside, with the sunlight trailing in through colored glass windows. Beyond was Rome, all the hustle and bustle somehow stopping a bubble of quiet dignity that was the Vatican. Rome, the beloved and eternal city. History soaked through its roads, and he wondered how someone could so easily in a fit of pique destroy such a legacy? Rome has endured barbarians, its own rulers, and the march of science. Faith endured. He had no emotional connection to the history Levada was speaking, but Amaris and his many crimes against humanity was understandably unforgivable.

Though formerly Joseph Ratzinger, he understandably grown to love the city within a city that stands devoted to God. It was home. Once more threatened by barbarians on all sides. He said nothing but nodded, a signal for Levada to go on.

“As life never is that easy, the message to New Avalon, the capital of the Federated Suns, was corrupted... intercepted... changed, it does not matter. The ruling Cardinal of New Avalon, a Medici, thought he was put in charge of the whole Church and declared himself Pope Thomas X. This, of course, created a schism, especially as his successors implemented a lot of reforms that people wish. Female priests, no celibacy…”

"It’s a pity that a man who thinks the Church has to bow to the zeitgeist of a single area had become cardinal." Benedict interrupted. "We surrender our entire beings to God, and to give way so easily is to erode the very pillars of faith and duty that grants us the trust of our flock. The zeitgeist changes. The Church is eternal." He paused, and looked up with a quirked expression. "A Medici? Really?"

"Apparently in this new... timeline... the influence of the Medici family is not as extinct as we had thought. It could simply be a new family trying to give themselves the veneer of legitimacy by evoking the old."

"It does not matter. What is done is done."

“Yes, Holy Father.” Levada agreed curtly.

“Nonetheless, what about… more sane reforms? What about the Church that remains centered upon Terra?"

"I regret that we do not have information other than what is written in the books."

The Pope frowned. The Battletech source material were barely even literature, they should not be looked at as if holy writ that would reveal the mysteries of the universe. "I did not make you my successor just to study a few books. What about other sources of knowledge?” Benedict asked, changing the subject somewhat.

“We have not been granted access to the prisoners, but they are not exactly good Catholics anyway. The Church has weak presence in the Periphery, ignoring it much like the Successor Lords have done. We require better sources. Earth will strike back to Antallos, the periphery pirate harbor that the invaders came from, in June or July.” Levada reported as he flipped a page of the report in his hands. "There is still the possibility of failure, but it is likely that GDI will succeed. These elements will remain to perform peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. A hub of transport and trade would provide better opportunities to gather such knowledge."

"We must know more, my child. See if we can send some of your men with them. We will be able to help in ways that are not dependent upon guns and coercion."

“Yes, Holy Father.”

Benedict looked at Levada again searchingly before asking, “So Clement XX really was the last Pope?”

“No, your Holiness. Cardinal Viadimir Kosiv, of the People’s Union of Kazkakh, was elected Pope John Paul V in 2779 of the... BT calendar.”

Pope Benedict was an old man. For a moment he relaxed his control over his official dignity. He put both palms over his face and groaned. “Two Popes. It's the Middle Ages all over again, isn’t it?”

“Exactly, Holy Father.”

“So what exactly has been happening in the past... two hundred years, is it?”

“Two hundred and fourty-two years, Holy Father. There have been many efforts to reconcile the rift, but all have failed. In the beginning, such failures happened with active help from House Davion, if we can trust the books. But it fits, they probably saw the New Avalon Catholic Church as a chance to draw support away from Terra and the League and to promote patriotism. On individual planets, the conflict between the two Churches was ‘settled’ with wars that make Northern Ireland look tame. Today, an uneasy truce exists between the two Churches, with each of the two seeing the other as being wrong and sending a Cardinal to each other every few years. Compared to real life ecumenism, it is a futile and unsuccessful effort.” Levada reported.

"The Churches of the Inner Sphere have allowed themselves to become tools of the Successor Lords." Pope Benedict hissed.

William Joseph Levada blinked and bowed. Even he had to admit, the Pope could pull off a very impressive villainous sneer. It was ironic that he was in reality a peaceful, solemn man.

"They have FAILED." Pope Benedict XVI spoke with grim finality. "They who should have acted to limit the rapacious greed of the Successor Lords. They who could have worked to shelter the downtrodden and enlighten the ignorant. They who should have been the succor of the helpless, the comfort of the afflicted, the last hope of the lost! They have failed their flock! The have failed their duties! They have spurned the holy and worthy toil granted them by GOD for their own meager survival!"

Levada kept his eyes downward. A Pope was the head of Roman Catholic Church, the steersman of the Faith. He was more than just a figurehead, but chosen for his convictions and the steel of his will.

"It would be most troublesome to embroil ourselves into that mess..." Pope Benedict added with a weary sigh. "But to take us from our time and into a different universe with such darkness, is nothing less than the will of our Lord made manifest. We have a responsibility to bring the flock together and save them from the wolves that surround them. We must know more. We must know, before we can act. We have a duty. We must not fail them, not again."

"Yes, Holy Father. Please be assured, we will do all that we can." Archbishop William Levada was an American Cardinal and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The office he held, however, was once known as that of the Grand Inquisitor of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.


April 3rd, 2007/3022 Fort Irwin, California 11:50 Lima

He returned the salute before adressing the LT. "Lieutenant, would you mind me interrupting your lesson? It's almost time for noon break anyway."

Hinze, all the professional, answered: "No problem, sir." Then, he turned towards the assembled crowd. "You heard the Major. You can thank him for extending your break by a few minutes. Dismissed."

And on that signal, the class dispersed at a verily astonishing speed.

Canteen

"I'm telling you, a hit on only the second round is nuts!" The chubby recruit who had been wowed by Lt. Hinze's landing a hit on only the second shot looked down at the tray with disgust. "Likewise expecting us to eat this slop. Back on the farm we wouldn't feed this to the pigs."

O'Malley rolled his eyes. "Which is why we're getting it. Army food isn't about taste, it's about calories, and fixing up food fast. Oh, the major and his regulars might eat a little better, depending on the mood of the food people, but they've earned it. We, on the other hand, are just raw meat." He had already decided to not try to argue in defense of Lt. Hinze's shot. It was luck, but luck is just as much a part of warfare as bullets and beans. He also declined to note that the recruit could stand to lose a few more pounds, beyond what the recruit training all applicants had to do had worked off.

Williams, the recruit in question, looked up at O'Malley with annoyance. "I ain't no 'raw meat', I've been doin' this for years now."

"Yeah, what, all two of them, in some backwater shithole that wouldn't merit the attention of even the worst pirate group in the history of the Inner Sphere?" O'Malley snorted.

The younger recruit scowled, and turned his attention back to his meal in silence, confirming O'Malley's suspicions on the subject.

"Scoop it down fast, so you don't have your taste buds give your gut any warning of the incoming fire. Ignorance really is bliss, in this case," O'Malley advised, before he put words to action for his own lunch.

With the relative quiet from O'Malley's mouth being full of food, and the apparent end of the conversation between him and Williams, another spoke up, a tiny little vaguely Asian looking woman who maybe massed 50kg soaking wet, and only in a pair of platform shoes could she top 150cm.

"Say, Tom, mind if I ask you a question?" After he nodded in the negative, she continued. "I heard some of the other Earthers here call you 'Alleycat'. What's up with that? Popular with the ladies or something?"

Years of experience with the general tone of the query was all that kept him from choking on the mouthful of mashed potatoes - or at least a passable facsimile of them - he had just put into his mouth. He swallowed, then turned to the inquisitive raven-haired woman. "Um, no. An unfortunate coincidence of naming with a character from a childrens' animated movie that came out shortly after I was born." With that, another forkful of the ersatz mashed potatoes was put into his mouth, hoping against experience that he could satisfy her curiosity with only that as his answer.

His apparent reluctance to continue was not, alas, enough to quench her curiosity. "Oh? What movie was that?"

O'Malley sighed, and mentally repeated his usual comment that it'd be nice if someone would let him leave his answer at what he had just said, breaking the zero-to-ungodly-large record. "'The Aristocats. The male protagonist was a feline named Thomas O'Malley. Yes, an alleycat. Not exactly a point of pride in my youth, and not much more of one in adulthood with those who had shown the film to their kids, or to kids they had babysat."

The answer was enough to set the woman giggling, and Williams to choking on his own food after a failed attempt to suppress a laugh. "So what about your middle name? Or do you not have one?" she asked.

"I do, but that's not much better, if a mite more obscure. I get seasick on an inflatable toy in a kiddie pool, how would I fly a chopper off a postage stamp of a landing pad on a frigate in the middle of a North Atlantic winter?" he asked rhetorically. "Larry Bond can burn in hell for all I care."

"Ooh, sore point I take it. Okay, I'll not press you on that one. But can you at least tell me the book?" She remembered seeing, at the PX, some books by a technothriller author of that name, so she at least knew he was a book author.

O'Malley sighed. "Red Storm Rising. Now, if you don't mind, our time's almost up, and there's still food to eat."

With that pointed message to drop the conversation, they went back to their lunch.

West Point, New York State United States, Earth Coalition of Sovereign Nations 9 May 2007

Sally Ryan ran the Pheonix Hawk she was piloting down the broad, tree-lined street, avoiding the abandoned cars choking the road as best she could. An enemy Vindicator stepped into an intersection ahead of her and raised it’s gun arm at her. At the tell tale glow of its muzzle, Sally dodged to the side, just in time to barely avoid the PPC bolt that turned a tree into a fire ball.

Sally had no time to notice as she raised her weapons, and speared the Vindicator in the chest with her own mech’s large laser. That made a nice little fireball, but hardly inconvenienced the other mech as only armor was blown off.

The range closed. More fire was exchanged. More armor was shed on both sides. But the hit rate was very much in Sally’s favor, with the coupe de-grace delivered by a near judo kick that snapped what was left of the Vindicator’s right leg off at the knee.

Sally was exultant, she was victorious… and she wasn’t paying attention when an enemy Cicada whipped around a corner behind her and speared the back of her Pheonix Hawk with its own pair of lasers.

Everything went black.

With a hiss of equalizing pressure, the canopy of Sally’s simulator pod popped open. The rather handsome Captain in charge of the sim looked down on her with a mixture of amusement and sympathy.

“Sorry, Miss Ryan,” he said as he helped her out of the pod. “But you just got killed by ammo explosion.”

White House, Washington DC United States, Earth Coalition of Sovereign Nations 10 May 2007

“So, how’d you do?” Jack Ryan Jr. asked eagerly.

“Better than I thought I did,” Sally told her little brother. “I got told that my tactics need work, but that’s why we have things like military academies.” She picked up one of many pamphlets arrayed in front of her. “They even gave me an invitation to join the US military branch of my choice.”

“Cool,” Jack said, obviously green with envy. “But how’d you do in the sim? You get a good sync ratio?”

“Sync ratio” had become a well known term among the military and civilian mech fans on Earth. With the revelation that the Battletech franchise was based on reality, they had taken a good hard look at just what the technology entailed. Inner Sphere neurohelmet technology for example was required for piloting mechs, but it was an imperfect technology. Some people were simply better at using it than others, being able to synchronize their neural patterns better with what the neurohelmets were looking for. The very best ones almost didn’t need manual controls at all, and Sally’s little brother wanted to know where Sally fell into that spectrum.

“I dunno, Jack,” Sally said slowly. She looked down at the pamphlets in front of her. There were a lot of them, and most weren’t from military or even government institutions. “Should I really let one trait define my future here?”

“Sally…”

“Okay, okay,” Sally laughed. She looked Jack in the eye and said, “Top 10 percentile.”

“Huh, cool,” Jack said, impressed. “So you’re going to be a mechwarrior, right?”

“Maybe,” Sally said doubtfully. “But I’m not really sure the military life is for me. Or hell, I’m not sure it’s even the best use for my talents.”

“What? Why wouldn’t you want to be a mechwarrior?” Jack asked, confused. Then more slyly, he added, “What, don’t you wanna be close to your boyfriend…” Sally whapped him with a brochure. “Hey! No physically abusing little brothers here!”

“Tony Dansel is not my boyfriend,” Sally told him in exasperation. “Okay, I have… had a crush on the guy and he is easy on the eyes…”

“Ew!”

“…but I’ve only me the guy once! Once!” Sally said emphatically. She closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m never going to live that party down, am I?”

“Never!” Jack agreed. “But seriously, how come you don’t want to be a mechwarrior? It’s like the coolest job in the universe!”

“Is it?” Sally asked doubtfully. “Sure, sure, mechs are cool and all that, but I don’t think blowing stuff up is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

”So what do you want to do?” Jack asked.

“I want to help people,” Sally said. “Have you seen Sullivan’s documentary on Port Krin? Better than half the Inner Sphere’s like that and more mechwarriors aren’t going to fix it. What the Inner Sphere needs are teachers and doctors and engineers, people we take for granted but which they have a severe shortage of. If I become one of those, at least I’ll know I’m helping people.”

Port Krin, Antallos Coalition of Sovereign Nations 17 May 2007

Administrators came and went, regimes changed, but the Split Axe tavern endured. The coming of the GDI and the reforms they instituted did very little to interrupt business. Only these days, the clientele now included a good number of off duty GDI and Legion personnel. To the bemusement of the staff, the Split Axe’s reputation had somehow spread to Motherlode, attracting not a few tourists as well as military people.

Among the Split Axe’s amenities were side rooms for hosting private parties. To Jane Koltan’s amusement, the one rented by Major Burgess Hale happened to be the exact same one in which she had not two years ago briefed “Vorax’s Army” on their target, Motherlode. Thinking about she and everyone else had thoroughly underestimated the resistance that they’d run into still gave her the shivers some times. It was a miracle that she had not only survived that day, but prospered.

But then again, so had everyone else here.

“So, here we are,” Hale was saying to the assembled former pirate band of the Dropship Drakon. “Two years ago, we were a down on our luck pirate band barely making ends meet. Two years ago, we discovered what we thought was the biggest score of our lives. And I guess it was that, even if not quite the way we thought.”

“Yeah, I heard you’re rich now, Burg,” Jane’s husband, Irdon Koltan said. “Complete with a title and everything. Should we be calling you ‘milord’ now?”

“Please don’t, Irdon,” Hale replied with a roll of his eyes. “I’ve already heard every joke under the suns about that.”

“You want I tell a few, sir?” Jankowski added. That was another change, Jane thought. Two years ago, Jankowski never would have called anyone ‘sir’. ‘Boss’ maybe, but not ‘sir’. And he looked better too; military discipline seemed to suit him. “I’m sure I’ve heard a few you missed.”

“Don’t you dare, Jankowski,” Hale growled. That drew a chuckle from the others. “So what have you guys been up to?”

“Me? I’ve been up to my elbows in R and D,” Dana Zumross said, waving a fork with a bit of steak on it. “I can’t really talk about the particulars of what we’re doing at the moment, but suffice to say that the Legion is due for a few upgrades in the coming months.”

“Ah, you know what I’ve been doing,” Jankowski said. “Lieutenant First Class Ken Jankowski, Legion Mech Ace extraordinaire!”

“’Extraordinaire’?” Zumross echoed. “Jankowski, have you been taking those correspondence courses?”

“What? I’m a great and mighty mechwarrior! I don’t need no… stinking…” Jankowski trailed off under Zumross’ stare. “Yes, I have,” he admitted, embarrassed. “But don’t you tell anyone!”

“Well good for you!” Zumross said approvingly.

“Huh, really?” Jankowski said, surprised. “So, uh, you doing anything later, Dana?”

“Yeah, I’m going to be meeting with my fiancé later,” Dana told him, flashing the ring on her finger.

“Fiance… you’re getting married?” Jankowski said, dumbfounded.

“So, Irdon, how have you been doing?” Hale asked, turning away from the chatting former lancemates.

“My lovely wife here has gone and gotten a commission in the GDI,” Irdon said with pride, nodding in Jane’s direction.

“Yeah, I kinda gathered that from the uniform,” Hale said dryly, looking down at his own GDI uniform. “So, Jane, what is it exactly you do for the GDI?”

“Same old, same old,” Jane replied with a shrug. “I specialize in Dropship operations. I actually used to teach Dropship operations, but I think I trained up enough people that they can take over. Now, the GDI is developing a new class of… well we can’t exactly call them Dropships since they can’t use Jumpship docking collars, but they’re also too big to be called a shuttle or fighter and too small to be a Monitor.”

“Yeah, I think I’ve read speculation about these things in the news,” Hale said.

“Anyway, I’m on the team developing operational doctrine for them,” Jane said. “You wouldn’t believe how much work that requires given that practically nothing about the weapons load out has been finalized.”

“Sounds like you got your work cut out for you,” Hale observed. “And you, Irdon? How’s ‘Motherlode’ treating you?”

“Okay, Burg,” Irdon replied. “I’m doing… okay.”

“What, no details?”

“Well, y’know how it is,” Irdon sighed. “It’s not like Earth actually needs another infantry commander after all.”

“Oh, Irdon…”

“No, really, Burg, I’m good,” Irdon insisted. “I’m better than good, actually. I was infantry and I like to think that I was good at being a grunt. But being a grunt was the best option out of a lot of bad ones. Earth’s actually provided me with some good options.”

“Such as?” Hale asked.

“Ah…” Irdon hesitated.

“Oh, go ahead and tell him, Ird,” Jane told her husband. “You love your new job. It’s nothing to be ashamed of!”

“I teach Inner Sphere history,” Irdon mumbled.

“What?” Hale said, not quite certain that he had heard correctly.

“I teach Inner Sphere history, Burg,” Irdon repeated more clearly. “Go ahead, laugh, but I happen to think it’s important to know how we got where we are today. It’s just as important as knowing math and chemistry and all the technical stuff that Earth has and the Inner Sphere’s lost.”

“Not laughing here, Irdon,” Hale said seriously, holding up his hands in surrender. “In fact, working for the GDI, I like to think I have an inkling for how much everyone in the Inner Sphere’s lost too. So what brings you to Antallos?”

“Irdon’s got a job at the Tesla Institute,” Jane announced proudly. Her husband nodded confirmation.

“The Tesla Institute, huh?” Hale said thoughtfully. “I guess if anyone tries to stage a raid on the place, it’ll help to have a bad-ass ex-infantry commander on the staff.” He looked around at his people and shook his head. “Amazing what a change of perspective Earth has been,” he mused. “Two years ago, I would have laughed at the very idea of you becoming a school teacher, Irdon. Now…”

“Now, we get to do what we want to do,” Irdon finished for him. “And what’s more, we get the feeling that what we do matters, that we’re contributing to the improvement of the human condition.” He shook his head. “Two years ago, I never would have believed it possible.”

“Except for those of us that didn’t make it,” Jane said sadly, her mind flashing back to that day. “Hugo Chin certainly should have lived to see all this.”

“Tony Denaro,” Hale added in agreement. “Not a bad guy. Shame he didn’t join up with the GDI.”

“I can think of quite a few people we lost when Mamoto lifted off with the Drakon’s bay door wide open,” Irdon said with a scowl. “Death by enemy action is one of the risks of the business. Death because people on your own side are idiots and cowards is personal!”

“So whatever happened to our former Dropship captain, anyway?” Hale asked.

“Last I looked, he was selling used cars in Los Angeles,” Irdon answered in disgust. “And it looked like he was doing well too!”

“I guess Mamoto’s prospering too,” Hale mused aloud. “Or at least found a job that better suited his talents.” He stood up. “Everyone, I have something I’d like to say.” Everyone looked at him expectantly. “Two years ago to the day, we found a Periphery world off the beaten track that looked like the answer to all our problems. And in a way, it was. All it required was for us to get our asses kicked by the locals.”

That drew a few chuckles all around.

“So I propose a toast,” Hale continued, holding up his wine glass. “To getting our asses kicked! The best thing that ever happened to us!”

“TO GETTING OUR ASSES KICKED!”


Port Krin Spaceport Antallos 06 February 2007/3022

The Eight dropships descended towards the spaceport in an impressive display of synchronization and fireworks. The Combine vessels were being guided by beacons towards a secured portion of the port, where the welcoming committee was already waiting.

As part of that group, Colonel Kurita tugged at his collar in the heat. Tai-sa Ulysses had radioed ahead, asking for him to be there. General Davis had no objection, as it gave him more time to catch up on paperwork, so the GDI officer now waited for the Combine to arrive.

Beside him were Ambassadors Smith and Taro, the two making small talk while the Boeing/BMW representative, a German named Richter, paced nervously. He and his associates had only arrived a couple days previous, and they were still getting used to the local gravity and atmosphere. But they were satisfied with the production of the factory so far, and had made themselves at home in the apartment building set aside for them. Rounding out the party was Alicia Kurita, waiting to see her grandfather for the first time in months, as well as to be officially relieved as the commander of the Combine garrison on-world.

The droppers landed, and they waited in silence while the heat from the engines dissipated. Chou glanced behind him at the honor guard being deployed - a full lance of Battlemasters. The weapons were locked, and ammo removed, but it was hoped that the sight of such a nominally powerful force would show that they were taking the Combine seriously. Of course, no one outside the GDI was aware of the artillery pointed at the landing site, in case things went wrong.

The field operators gave the all clear, and the diplomatic group loaded themselves into the two waiting Hummers to make the quick trip to the base of the lead dropship. As they approached, the loading ramp on the dropper opened up, allowing a lance of mismatched medium mechs to disembark, and take up their own guard positions.

It was fairly obvious to anyone who was watching which side was more professional. Smith winced internally at the slight they had been given by the Combine, but there would be time to smooth that over later. The two ground cars stopped, and the party got out to greet Tai-sa Kurita, who had walked down the ramp to meet the others. Ambassador Taro and the youngest Kurita took the lead, and quickly exchanged personal and official greetings. In an unusual break from official protocol, the old Kurita hugged his granddaughter closely before releasing her.

Chou and Smith wondered who the well dressed man behind Ulysses was. Both of them quickly pegged him as a professional, given the way he was taking in all the sights without being overwhelmed, or being condescending.

Separating from Alicia, Ulysses strode with a firm gait over to Chou, who salutes. The Tai-sa responded in kind, and then reached into an inside pocket. He produced a scroll that was tied off with a velvet ribbon and sealed in wax. Chou was confused as it was handed to him, and he examined it more closely. The only identifying mark on it was the impression of a Chinese dragon on the seal. Looking up at his counterpart, who nods, Chou gently broke the seal and unrolled the paper. He was aware of Taro and Smith looking over his shoulders, both curious as to its contents.

He read it, then read it again. "Kuso!" he swore. A glance at Taro, then a "Sorry, Ambassador."

"To our beloved Cousin, Chou Kurita;

I, Takashi Kurita, do invite you to a personal audience with the Dragon upon the world of Luthien before the year is out. It is understood that your current commitments prevent a prompt presence before his August person, and so you have been granted this period of grace. It is hoped that despite this, you will arrive soon."

Below was an ink stamp with the name of Takashi Kurita impressed into the paper.

Smith read it over, then looked up at the Colonel, who was still trying to process this. "Well, my boy. It seems like you need to get an appropriate present."

HPG Station Port Krin, Antallos 14 February 3022

The lineups at the ComStar station were longer than usual. Something to do with the holiday that day, Remus supposed. He paid the Acolyte for the small slip of paper with the message addressed to him, and politely turned down the offer of a junior acolyte to read it for him. While he had used such services in the past, his current assignment meant he didn't have to pretend to be illiterate.

He left the HPG station, and shielded his eyes from the harsh noon-day glare. It was one of his days off from Bob's shop, and so he tended to use these days to either catch up on his real job, or actually relax. Today was a definite relaxation day, he reminded himself. The entire shop had pulled extra shifts when the GDI needed people to help build the new factory on the edge of town, and Bob's was considered trustworthy enough for the job. But now that it was done, he turned down one of the roads, and headed towards a unique feature that had emerged over the past couple months.

Somehow, someone with plenty of money had purchased a full city block near the center of Port Krin, just off the core, and demolished all the buildings there. In its place a park was planted, using trees and grasses from Antallos and apparently from Motherlode as well. The greenery was an amazing contrast to the dust and dirty buildings that surrounded it, and the civilian population had taken an immediate liking to the area.

Remus suspected the GDI was behind this, as part of their Urban Renewal Project, but there was no evidence for or against that position. As we wandered in that general direction, intending to take part of the relaxing atmosphere, maybe even put his feet into one of the small ponds there, he walked past a recently erected shipping-container apartment.

It was yet another novel idea from the Motherloders as he paused, and wished he had that camera he purchased with him. Shipping containers were ubiquitous across the Sphere, and even into Clan space, a universal standard for the transportation of cargo. Even Motherlode used the same dimensions, but that wasn't the point. Here, they were converting unused containers into temporary homes, stacked and arranged like apartments for one or two people. And even these steel crates provided a definite improvement over the standards of living a mere year previous.

It also offered an interesting view into the mind set of the Initiative. They wasted nothing, and tried to find extra uses for anything they could get their hands on. It wasn't that it was a unique attitude when compared to others across the Sphere, but the way they went about it was. To them, even if something was built for one purpose, they could make it so that it could be used for another. And the things they made? Well, Cargo containers became homes and mobile clinics, soldiers acted as police - helping lost children and old ladies cross the street. He had even seen one of their tanks pull a civilian vehicle that had broken down out of a ditch.

On that thought, he wondered just why they used the phrase Macgyvering when describing such multi-functionality. And yet, if their world was truly the Motherlode as promised by the previous Administrator of the Port, why were they so conscientious about reusing and recycling everything? Certainly salvage had a part in that, but the more he thought about that subject, the less it seemed like they were just salvaging. So few of the mechs and materials recovered across Antallos were being refurbished and returned to duty.

It made perfect sense that some mechs would be too far gone to be restored, but then, where was all the extra material going? The easiest answer was Motherlode. But why? It was apparent that world was far away, so why move military assets back there?

Too many questions, and not enough answers. Once again, he wondered if he had done the right thing in fending off the offer to join the GDI Foreign Legion. But as he told the recruiter in the sands those weeks ago after finding the Orion, he liked working for Bob (not a lie), and that running an Industrial Mech required different skills than piloting a Battlemech (also not a lie). And yet, any other group in the Inner Sphere would have drafted or conscripted him into the army over those reasons, and he was afraid that the GDI would as well. But the recruitment officer simply nodded, and accepted his reasoning.

They did, however, leave an open invitation should he change his mind. This was a frame of thought that boggled the Clansman. Back home, the Caste system made sure everyone was in their proper place, with Mechwarriors at the top of Clan structure, while in the Inner Sphere, nobility ruled and people did as they were told. The GDI? They seemed more like a meritocracy. You were given the position you felt you were best at doing. They didn't force anything, but simply let their society organize itself into whatever was needed.

He shook his head, clearing his mind of the stray thoughts. He was supposed to be relaxing today, not thinking about work. And besides, there was only so much conjecture he could do by himself, so he unfolded the piece of paper with the message on it, and began to read as he crossed into the park. It was from his 'mother'.

"Dear Remus, thank you for your letter. Your description of a good life have convinced your sister Mary (and her husband) to pack up and try to move to Antallos as well!" There was more, but that was the substance of the letter. He was being told that there were two more agents coming sometime in the next three months, depending on jumpship travel times.

College of Engineering, New Avalon Institute of Science New Avalon, Federated Suns 27 February 3022

The sounds of welding vanished as the door closed behind the two Battlemech Engineers. Quentin Watson and Robyn Leewood each sat down at the table in the room, and began to examine the information before them.

“The shoulder connections are well designed,” Quentin began as he tapped the paper in front of him, “but they didn’t send anything about how they got the electronics to hook up.”

“Well, that’s all we really asked for, Quentin." Robyn countered as she examined her own copy of the same paper. "And besides, it's not like the Motherloders would actually tell us how to build this Mad Cat of theirs. Let them have their pride." She smiled. "Even though it was pretty obvious what parts they used."

"Marauder and Catapult. Intriguing concept, I must admit. Although lacking in imagination on the name. How goes your students on that front?"

Robyn leaned back in her chair. "We have two competing designs. Both follow the same design schema as the Mad Cat. The first has 2 PPCs and 2 LRM 10's on a 70 ton frame. 10 tonnes of armor, but definite heat problems. And only moves 65 klicks. The other design is lighter. 60 tons; 8 of armor, an AC-10 in one arm, and 3 Medium lasers on the right side. Good heat management, and a 300 series engine for 85 klicks."

"Interesting. Prototypes?"

"My boys are building them now, and both should be ready by the end of the year. The 70 tonner is being called the Sun Cat, and the smaller one the Moon Cat for now. We've already reserved the name Rakshasa for the final design."

"Well then, I do look forward to the results. It would be quite embarrassing to be out-designed by some Periphery world, lostech or no." Robyn only nodded, planning on showing the entire Inner Sphere just how to do a Mad Cat properly.

ComStar Jumpship Holy Terra Draconis Combine 28 February 3022

Considering they were transporting HPG equipment, ComStar had allowed the use of one of their small number of (official) Jumpships to go to Antallos. The use of the old ship, a Star League relic, also meant that the personel and passengers aboard had guaranteed privacy.

Precentor Julius Style (ROM) looked at the clock in his office. It was time for his meeting with Adept Fox, who had asked for this to report something that he had discovered about the mysterious Motherloders. While Julius had some doubts about the young analyst, they were not about his ability to understand the information put in front of him. That the Precentor ROM himself had selected Fox to be sent to Antallos was a testament to his skill.

A knock on the door, and Julius called out that it was unlocked. Adept Fox opened the door, and greeted his superior. The ROM agent returned the greeting, and motioned for the analyst to take a seat. Mulligan had gotten over his nervousness at being in this office weeks ago when he first presented what knowledge he had about Motherlode to Style.

"Thank you for letting me have this time, Precentor." Mulligan said as he placed a folder onto the table in front of him.

"I am glad for it, Adept Fox. You have been a boon to the cause of Blake, and I would be at fault to not listen to you." Not a total lie, the Precentor reminded himself. But it was part of his orders to slowly initiate the Adept into the Word. And to that end, his skills were truly a Blessing from Blake. "Now, what is it you wished to tell me?"

"Well, Precentor, I was going over old reports, seeking more information about the Motherloders. Now, while their retributive attack on Antallos is quite obviously their first public foray, I believe that they have had an active presence in the Inner Sphere for almost 20 years already.

"Now, it makes no sense for a Periphery state to just lose all semblance of space flight. They would have had jumpships just to get to their colony world." Julius nodded, accepting the explanation so far. "In addition, it stands to reason that because our Explorer Corps haven't detected Motherlode yet, they are fairly far out." He flipped open the folder, and produced a map of the eastern edge of the Inner Sphere. Handing it to Julius, he pointed at various lines and marks on it. "Here is Antallos, where we know they are. You can see the extent of the Outworlds Alliance, the FedSuns and the Combine here, here and here."

"Why is this world circled?" Julius squinted. "Delos IV, here in the Federated Suns. And this large line leading away from the Sphere?"

"Ah, I was getting to those. Now, you can see this grey line here. This is the area of space that the Explorer Corps have gone to. You can see that it includes pretty much everything within 200 light-years of the Inner Sphere. Although we haven't actually visited all these worlds, the Corps has listened for Radio signals, and found nothing in that region to indicate Motherlode.

"That line you pointed out was the known exit vector of Kerensky's Fleet. It lay between Antallos and Delos IV, moving away from the Sphere. Although, you already know this, I felt it prudent to include that on this map to help support my case.

"On April 11, 3005, here at Delos IV, was the first appearance of the mercenary group called the Wolf's Dragoons. Please note the proximity to the exit line of Kerensky, as well as Antallos on the other side of that line."

"I think I see where you are going with this, but please continue." Julius saw the pieces fall into place, and waited for Fox to confirm his own thoughts.

"Yes, yes. Well, here's the thing. I believe that the Dragoons are in fact Motherloders, and that Motherlode itself is the final stop for the missing Star League forces. Look at the new Mech designs that the Dragoons have, as well as the professional attitudes coming from the GDI and the Dragoons. Very similar. Not to mention where would they get their supplies.

"But the Motherloders used only captured ships and mechs in their attack on Antallos."

"It has to be a case of misinformation! They did not want to reveal their hand, so they used their own non-mech forces, supplementing the salvaged pirates!" Mulligan was enthusiastic about his deductions. "This makes a lot of sense. The Motherloders rebuilt, and sent the Dragoons to scout out the Inner Sphere - look at the regular 5 year contracts they have, and their circling through the Great Houses. They will be done with their contract with Steiner in '25, then move onto the Combine to be done in '30, then disappear back to Motherlode. Although I suppose that was their plan before Antallos stumbled upon them, and forced their hand."

Julius took the folder in hand, and examined the contents in more detail. In contrast to the excited declarations by Fox, the written analysis was far more detailed, with plenty of supporting evidence. And the evidence was there. There was even a note showing how the Bronze Eagle used by the GDI was similar to a certain battalion taken by Kerensky when he fled the Sphere.

"But why don't they fly the flag of Cameron? Surely if they are Star League, they would use it? Or why not come to ComStar?"

Mulligan shook his head. "Precentor, the Successor States cannot, and will never, agree to any Star League without them at the head of it. Now can you imagine what would happen if some Deep Periphery state appeared, flying that flag? Far too much attention, and it would probably end poorly for the Motherloders.

"As for asking for the assistance of our Blessed Order, I would put forth that if an unknown Jumpship appeared at Terra, and proclaimed themselves the lost Star League, how would any rational member of the Order respond? With disbelief, I assure you. No, it is better for them to hide their true identity until they are ready to reveal it.

"This is quite troubling, Adept. If you are right, that means that the Star League still exists in some fashion in the Deep Periphery to the East of the Sphere, out past the Grantville cluster. And I can understand why they would sneak the Wolf's in first, to see what the state of the Inner Sphere is for themselves."

Mulligan sat down, pleased that he had convinced the Precentor.

"I will forward this to the Primus right away. We must make plans for this contingency. Good work, Adept, and thank you."

"All for Blake, Precentor Style."

Offices of the Precentor Dieron Terra, Sol System 02 March 3022

Normally, reporting to the Precentor in the safety of her own office was a very touch-and-go proposition. There was always the chance that even good news could be turned against the bearer, an unfortunate occurrence that had occurred in the past.

So, the ROM analyst took a deep breath to steady his nerves when Precentor Waterly walked into his office instead.

"Precentor! An honor! I wasn't expecting yo..."

"You have something for me?"

The analyst's mind stumbled, trying to recall just what, exactly, that the Precentor had wanted. And then in a flash it came back to him. "Ah, yes! A moment please!" He was grateful that he had something to give to her before she lost any patience with him, necessitating his replacement. "Please, have a seat while I get the file prepared." He offered her his chair as he quickly went into the back room to get it.

He emerged a couple minutes later to find that the Precentor Dieron had cleared off his desk, and was filling out some of the paperwork that would normally have gotten to her desk later. He reminded himself that she wasn't the sort to waste time, a trait that served her well on the First Circuit.

Sitting in the seat normally used for his own guests, he handed the thin file to the Precentor. "In accordance with your instructions, we have been looking for any unusual events coming from the regions around Antallos, looking for anything that could be traced back to the nascent CSN."

Waterly glared, a frown on her face. She recognized when someone was buying time, and was giving warning that she would not tolerate that from her subordinate.

"Well, there was a request from an ISF agent in the Outworlds Alliance a few months ago for more information about a certain Jumpship. It got lost in the fact that this was a minor agent making an inane request with no collaborating evidence."

Waterly's glare turned back a notch. She recognized that base line information was also important, but was eager to get to the important parts.

"Well, we normally would think nothing of this ourselves, except that the ISF eventually returned that the ship was not unusual. A Merchant jumper and a Seeker dropper. But when you asked for us to look again, we noticed that this ship corresponds to a jumper and dropper deployed by Port Krin, but not yet seen afterwards.

"To make things more interesting, once the Avante Garde left the OWA, we lost track of it, but a search of the records indicated that another Merchant / Seeker combination appeared a couple systems away under different names."

That bit got Waterly's attention. "Prove it."

"That ship was distributing farming equipment under both aliases, using a design that, while quite simple and robust, as one of our agents reported to the Precentor ROM New Avalon, but not found in the Inner Sphere for several hundred years." He paused from his slightly rushed delivery, not sure how to best frame this next bit of information. "The office on New Avalon" - best to deflect blame to them, not to him - "believes that the last factory making that design was on Terra, and was destroyed in the Coup."

"New Avalon thinks this?"

"I am merely repeating what they sent to me." Silently, he added prayers to Blake that he could get out of this in one piece. If only he had time to properly put the information together before presenting it, he could do much better...

"And what of this ship now?" The Precentor seemed to be thinking, rather than reacting. A good sign.

"I sent word to New Avalon to trace this jumpship, and I was awaiting a reply before coming to see you with this information."

Waterly stood up, and circled the desk, heading for the exit. "Tell me more when New Avalon gives you the information." The door slammed behind her, and the ROM analyst took a few deep breaths before heading to the washroom.

While he was gone, a fresh report was delivered, one from a certain Jumpship on the way to the Periphery.

GDI Base, Port Krin Antallos, Periphery January 25, 2007/3022

Captain Greg Moore bolted straight up in his bed as he woke with a start. Panting heavily the professional soldier felt the cold sweat on his body and in the dampness of his sheets. He had been having that dream more and more lately. His dream, no, calling it a dream wasn’t being completely fair, nor would it be so calling it a nightmare. It was a memory, plain and simple.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he barely noticed the slight chill of the floor against the bare skin of his feet. The privilege of rank allowed him his own private room, though it wasn’t really much considering the building the GDI was using as part of its barracks was an old hotel that had clearly seen better days. Greg didn’t particularly care; the only thing he wanted was privacy. Besides, he had been in worse shit-holes since he had earned his Marine Officer’s commission when he came out of the Naval ROTC program at Duke University.

Standing up, the clink of his dog tags tapping together as they landed against the bare flesh of his muscled chest and his breathing the only sounds in the room, the young U.S. Marine turned GDI soldier walked the few feet to the bathroom attached to his bedroom. Hitting the lights and leaning over a large bowl that he filled with water from a metal pitcher, the plumbing in the old hotel wasn’t the best, the 26 year-old splashed his face to remove the sticky sweat that clung to his skin. Looking into mirror the man found his own blue eyes staring back at him as water dripped off his nose and ran down his chin.

However, that wasn’t the only thing there. No, the lingering memories and thoughts that had woken him remained.


Port Krin, Antallos Antallos System, Periphery August 8, 2006/3021

“All right Blue Group let’s get going. We’ve got reports from the front that a new wave is forming to try and knock us off planet,” Brevet-Captain Gregory Moore noted as he moved his OSR-2C Ostroc, designated as Blue 1, up to a walking pace of 41.6kph, being careful as he walked the heavy machine down one of the poorly paved streets of Port Krin.

“Right with you Lead,” Blue 2, 1st Lieutenant Mark Eckel reported as he brought the RFL-3N Rifleman he piloted with his backseater 2nd Lieutenant Carol Wienberg to pace Moore’s Mech on its right flank.

“Copy that Boss,” 1st Lieutenant Roger Bligh, piloting a TDR-5SE Thunderbolt designated as Blue 4, reported as his backseater, 1st Lieutenant Willy Matzer checked over the power feed to the Mech’s large laser.

Hearing the confirmation from the two other Mechs currently left in his unit Moore leaned back slightly in his pilot’s chair to shout, “How we doing Frank?”

1st Lieutenant Franklin Oh was the Ostroc’s backseater and the closet thing Greg Moore had to a best friend at the moment. The two men had both been in the United States Marine Corp before volunteering/being tapped to join the GDI Expeditionary Force, having met during ROTC and bonding slightly when they learned that they shared a love of science fiction, especially the Battletech and Mechwarrior series. Neither one would’ve guessed back when they were 18 and just freshmen at Duke University that they would one day actually sit in a real BattleMech and use it in an actual operation on an ‘alien’ planet.

“I’m fine, just concerned about the fact that we’re out of ammo for the missile launcher,” the Korean-American responded as he noted that the wire outline of the heavy Mech was entirely yellow with a few specs of red here and there. “I wish we had been able to get more than just some armor replaced before heading back out.”

“Not much we can do about that seeing as how the entire expedition is running low on expendables,” Greg commented as he side stepped the barely patched up Ostroc around a tarp covered cart that had rolled out of nearby alleyway. “Personally I would’ve liked to have seen the techs get Alex and Tony back up and running.”

“Yeah, that would’ve been nice considering the odds we’re facing,” the 26 year-old soldier noted from the backseat.

Red 3, a TBT-5N Trebuchet piloted by 1st Lieutenant Alex Mendez and backseated by 2nd Lieutenant Tony Catelli had gone down that morning after a nasty tangle with a VND-1R Vindicator. The Vindicator had nearly severed the slightly heavier Mech’s right leg with its PPC. Only the timely intervention of Blue 2 and Blue 1 had saved the Trebuchet and its pilots from being destroyed seeing as how the rest of its armor had been just as thoroughly ravaged. Even so the right hip actuator had seized up when the slag from the PPC hits had gotten into it. It had taken everything Alex Mendez had as a pilot to get the wounded Mech back to a rear area to see if the techs could use what spare parts and armor were left to try and get the Mech back into the fighting. Unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be.

“At least they’re both still alive,” the 26 year-old Marine pilot thought as he noted that he and the two other remaining Mechs of Blue Group were coming up on the halfway point to the front.

Originally Blue Group had just been Moore and the other three Mechs designated as Blue 2, 3, and 4. However, the old adage of no plan surviving contact with the enemy had proven quite true when the GDI had found their single day of battle stretching out now to day three of what almost appeared to be a never ending series of fights. With new enemies crashing against the defenses every other hour of each day GDI units had been hastily regrouped as Mechs and Tanks were lost and no fresh replacements were available. In the course of that Blue Group had gotten the two survivors of Red Group folded in with them. With Red 2 and 3 added in the six Mech unit had been designated a ‘flying’ platoon by Colonel Chou Kurita who had then designated the 26 year-old Moore as Brevet-Captain of the 6 machine unit, basically giving the Marine turned GDI trooper an impromptu battlefield promotion. The men and women of the small detachment had moved around constantly to plug gaps in the line and prevent any breakthroughs into Port Krin by the enemy. Such actions had not been without costs however. Blue 3 and Red 2 had been lost with only the backseater from Red 2 surviving the wounds that took the life of his partner and pilot. The two troopers of Red 3 might have their Mech currently out of commission, but at least they were both still alive.

“Hey Greg,” Frank Oh suddenly piped up. “Something’s up. Com-net has just lit up with a ton of traffic. It looks like…. Wait, I’m patching you in.”

“Priority Alert! Priority Alert! This is Captain Benjamin Hertzel of Lion Group,” the voice of the Israeli tank commander broke through into Moore’s helmet receiver. “I have bogey’s coming up out of the river to the Southeast! Strike that, I have bandits! I say again multiple ban-…Zzzzzt!”

“Lion 1! This is Titan 2, say again!” the voice of Colonel Kurita breaking the static that had cluttered the com channel. “Sitrep! Somebody talk to me! Does anyone have eyes on Lion Group?!”

“Titan 2 this is Fox 1,” the voice of FeldWebel Hans Rücker answered. “Fox squad is nearby and has visual on Lion. I see five, count zero-five Mechs coming out of the river to the Southeast, they’re a mixed group. They are engaging the tanks of Lion Group. Mein Gott, Lion is getting slaughtered!”

Though he couldn’t see it himself Brevet-Captain Moore could tell by the tension in Rücker’s voice that things were bad. It didn’t help matters that many of the GDI tank groups had been moved to the flanks and rear because of the shortage of ammo. Lion Group probably had only a few rounds between them at best and if those Mechs had come up out of the river then they had gotten right on top of the tankers before the Merkavas could use their range advantage.

“Blue 2, Blue 4, prepare for course correction,” Greg ordered as he pulled the Ostroc up and began to turn it towards the Southeast. “Frank, patch me through to Colonel Kurita and Fox 1.”

“You’re green Boss,” Oh’s response came back having anticipated his friend and commander’s order.

“Titan 2 this is Blue 1, requesting vector and best speed course to intercept bandits,” the 26 year-old declared as he began to walk his Mech towards the anticipated confrontation.

“Blue 1, Titan 2 here. You only have three Mechs, patchwork armor, and no ammo between you,” Colonel Chou Kurita stated bluntly. “I can not guarantee you assistance or relief. All other GDI elements are preparing for main assault at the front. There is no artillery to send your way and Leopards are currently out of commission or prioritized elsewhere.”

“Blue 1 acknowledges Titan 2,” Greg said without hesitation, though he knew he was probably condemning him and his fellows to a suicide stand. “Blue Elements will hold the line and buy time for other forces to regroup, prepare defense, and ready for counterattack or withdrawal.”

The line was silent for a moment before Colonel Kurita’s voice cam back online, “Titan 2 acknowledges Blue 1. Best speed course is being sent now. Good luck.”

Rather than comment on the somber tone of Chou Kurita’s voice or make some witty remark Greg Moore focused his attention on what was important, moving his Mech and the two other machines of his group to intercept the enemy before these new bandits could get too far into the city and closer to the GDI rear area. Throttling up to 65kph, he set the Ostroc into a light run, the Thunderbolt and Rifleman both following along behind him at their top speeds. It was dangerous for those Mechs to travel so fast, especially in the tight confines of the city, but right now hitting the enemy before they could advance any further was the priority.

“Fox 1 this is Blue 1. Blue 1, 2, and 4 are moving to intercept bandits! Sitrep!” the young Marine turned GDI Mech pilot called out over the com.

“Fox 1 here Blue Lead. Lion Elements have been destroyed, but they took out a Panther in the process,” the FeldWebel responded over the encrypted channel. “Bandit numbers are now four Mechs, say again zero-four Mechs. Designation of remaining bandits is as follows: one Griffin, one Shadow Hawk, one Wolverine, and one Commando.”

“Blue Group copies that Fox 1,” Moore answered as he moved his small group ever closer to the intended intercept point.

“Well at least Lion got one of the bastards before they went down,” Franklin Oh commented from his backseat position.

Ignoring the remark from his friend Greg concentrated on moving the Ostroc towards the coming engagement. The 26 year-old’s blue eyes were carefully looking between that, the Mech’s sensors, and the weapons diagnostic. He had the two large lasers and the two medium lasers working properly, though they were out of ammo for the 60ton Mech’s missile launcher. The sensors had already picked up the five enemy Mechs moving into the outskirts of Port Krin and Frank had patched in to the feed from one of the satellites over head that the Expeditionary Force had deployed on their initial burn in at Antallos. The biggest problem right now was that while he could see the enemy neither he nor Blue 2 or 4 could actually hit them what with their longer ranged weapons out of ammo and several larger buildings in the way of their large lasers. Thankfully the enemy couldn’t see them yet due to their craptastic BT sensor packages and the fact that the buildings of the city were blocking line of sight for the most part.

“Alright people I want this done smart,” Moore ordered as he and the other two units of Blue Group got ever closer to the enemy. “We don’t have to beat them totally, just slow them down and buy every one back at the rear time. Let’s give them a few salvos and then see if we can’t string them out. If we can take a few of them down then we’ll do so, but don’t take unnecessary risks.”

“Just to clarify for the record, this is a necessary risk, right?” Lieutenant Mark Eckel said over the com with a chuckle in his voice.

“Heh,” Franklin Oh responded with a chortle. “Look on the bright side, things can’t get much wor-….”

“Don’t you dare finish that statement! “Lieutenant Willy Matzer, the backseater of Blue 4, declared over the com. “Whenever someone says that they’re always proven wrong. Right now we all don’t need any more trouble.”

“Cut the chatter and prepare to engage,” Brevet-Captain Moore ordered as he noted that he and his unit were entering the maximum range of their large lasers.

“I’ve got a hard sensor lock on the enemy, we’re entering maximum range on the large lasers,” Carol Wienberg stated as Mark Eckel moved the Rifleman forward. “Crap sensors or not those guys have got to know that we are almost on them.”

“Copy that Blue 2, remember to keep something covering your back. That Rifleman has shit for rear armor,” Greg ordered as he began to feel the rush of adrenaline hit him as his body anticipated the coming combat. “Blue 4, get ready to pull a ‘Jack-in-the-Box’ on my mark…. Mark!”

With that declaration both the TDR-5SE Thunderbolt triggered its jumpjets and rocketed up and over the buildings blocking its line of sight with the enemy as the OSC-2R Ostroc throttled up to 86.6kph and swung around the sides of buildings to support its jumping companion. Riding upon the powerful plumes of fusion fire and smoke the Thunderbolt arced over the buildings almost elegantly. As the Mech reached the peak of its arc the beams from its large laser lashed out as the two large laser beams from the Ostroc also fired. By pure coincided the three beams all struck the same targeted enemy, the Commando that had been out in the lead and had entered a small square with an old broken-down fountain in its center.

Throwing his throttle down to slow the Ostroc into a skid that began to take it behind a nearby building, Brevet-Captain Greg Moore watched as the lighter Commando reeled back as the armor on its front melted like butter beneath a red hot knife. Just as his Mech skidded behind the building, cutting the line of sight, the blond haired 26 year-old noticed a rather nice explosion engulf the upper chest of the 25ton Mech. The concentrated firepower of the three large lasers must have been enough to touch off the ammo for the SRM6 launcher housed in the light Mech’s chest, the Marine turned GDI trooper decided.

“Good shooting Blue 2,” the leader of the small GDI Mech detachment declared as he readied his Mech to pop back around the corner of the building and fire at the Commando one last time to make certain it got put down. “Remember, we need to slow these guys down. Do what you need to.”

“I copy lead,” Bligh responded, moving the Thunderbolt out of his own cover to use two of his three medium lasers to fire upon the Shadow Hawk that was moving up to support the lighter Commando. “Hey Mark, you can jump in here any time you know!”

“Heh, some of us don’t have fancy booster rockets strapped to our rides,” the Rifleman pilot joked as he stepped the slower Mech around the corner of a building and fired his large lasers into the same Shadow hawk that the Thunderbolt had targeted, striking the right arm of the medium Mech with both of them. “Besides, I prefer good old fashion walking anyways. All that jumping around will rattle away what little brain you have left.”

Rolling his eyes slightly at the banter of his troopers Greg did not bother to tell either to pipe down. The three GDI Mechs were in a bad situation and were facing death. If a person needed witty banter to try and deal with the fear that attempted to overwhelm them then he would allow it. After all, the comments were currently only being broadcast onto the private com line used by Blue group. Even if someone in the GDI was listening in it hardly mattered to him. All that Greg cared about right now was making sure that the enemy did not get any closer to the vulnerable rear area of the GDI. He’d deal with everything else if he and his men survived.

“Commando is down,” the leader of Blue group called out as he finished off the crippled Commando with his medium lasers, letting his large lasers cycle through and avoiding taxing the Ostroc’s heatsinks too much too soon.

“The Griffin is trying to flank us on our right,” Frank called out from his seat behind Moore. “Blue 2 and 4 have the Shadow Hawk caught in a nasty crossfire.”

“Roger,” the Brevet-captain answered as he turned the Ostroc only to see the Griffin slip behind a building and out of his crosshairs before he could fire. “Where’s that Wolverine?”

“Tracking it now and…,” the Lieutenant began only to trail off and then suddenly yell, “Bravo 4, to your left!”

Using its jumpjets to clear a few buildings, much like how the Thunderbolt of Blue group had done earlier, the enemy Wolverine came down on jets of fire to the left of the slightly larger Rifleman. Carol Wienberg must have already noticed the enemy machine before Frank had called the warning as the Rifleman was already beginning to turn to try and protect its left flank. However, 60tons of machine doesn’t exactly turn on a dime so as the heavy Mech turned the Wolverine opened up with a full Alpha Strike.

Six SRMs corkscrewed out from the launcher perched on the medium Mech’s left shoulder. Two of the unguided missiles missed but the other four struck the Rifleman. Two of the SRMs struck the left arm just behind where the double barrels of a large laser and AC/5 connected with the rest of the arm while the other two found the patched armor just underneath the arm, where the heavy limb connected back to the Mech’s torso. The explosion of the missiles warheads and the subsequent loss of armor caused the heavy Mech to stumble like a punch drunk fighter in a desperate attempt to adjust for the change in weight coupled with the momentum caused by the turn it had begun executing as the Wolverine had been firing. The shifting and faltering of the heavy Mech was, luckily, enough to dodge the Wolverine’s medium laser, the deadly beam of light striking the upper floor of the building towards the Rifleman’s right flank and setting it ablaze as concrete melted and/or ignited beneath its hellish touch. The worst damage, however, occurred when the Wolverine’s autocannon barked. The shells from the AC/5 stitched their way up the left hip and left side of the heavier Mech, the stumble of the Rifleman causing the stream of shells to strike it in its proverbial armpit. With armor previously damaged from earlier fights and from the SRMs that had hit only milliseconds before the stream of fire form the Wolverine’s AC/5 worked like a buzzsaw, cutting the already weak left arm off from the torso of the larger Mech.

“Bastard!” Roger Bligh yelled loudly over the com channel, having seen the destruction wrought on his teammate’s Mech; turning his Thunderbolt enough to lash out with the three medium lasers in the 65ton Mech’s left torso.

“Bligh! Matzer!” Frank tried to call out a warning as the move by the Thunderbolt had left it open to attack from the Shadow Hawk.

The 55ton medium Mech triggered its shoulder mounted AC/5 emptying round after round into the larger Thunderbolt. The shells traced a line up the right side of the Mech and over its right arm and the large laser attached there. To add to the injury the pilot of the Shadow Hawk fired his SRM2 launcher, however, both missiles missed, corkscrewing out behind the Thunderbolt to hit the same building that the Wolverine’s medium laser had struck.

Turning his Ostroc enough to bring its torso mounted lasers to bear Greg Moore cut loose with his large lasers striking the exposed left flank of the Shadow Hawk, gasping at the wave of heat that rose through the cockpit. At the same time the man shouted, “Frank! Where’s that damn Griffin?! I don’t want him getting the jump on us!”

The Shadow Hawk shuddered as its flank was blasted with the massive joules of power from the Ostroc’s two large lasers. The medium Mech shifitng around like someone who had just gotten cold-cocked as it swayed slightly back and forth. Sensing an opportunity Brevet-Captain Moore prepared to trigger his medium lasers in the hopes of perhaps knocking the Shadow Hawk down. However, a shout from his backseater stopped him from mashing his thumb down on the firing stud.

“Griffin is at our five o’clock!” Franklin Oh announced loudly over the sound of the fighting and hum of the fusion engine nestled below them. “He’s…he’s on top of the building. He’s got a missile lock on us!”

The warning came just at the right time, Moore responding almost immediately, ducking his Mech below the PPC bolt that would have caught the Ostroc in the back of the head had it been standing straight up. Squatting down the heavy Mech was wreathed with fire as LRMs struck its armor, the missiles having tracked just enough to follow the quick movement. Cranking the control sticks hard the young Brevet-Captain turned his Mech just enough to line up his crosshairs on the offending Griffin. However, before the man could fire his medium lasers the 55ton Mech leapt backwards using its jumpjets to once again slip behind the cover of a building.

Back behind the Ostroc designated as Blue 1 the Wolverine was continuing to punish the Rifleman designated as Blue 2. The medium Mech was relentlessly firing its autocannon into the heavier Mech. In response the Rifleman was desperately trying to return fire with its torso mounted medium lasers and remaining large laser, but the numerous impacts of autocannon rounds threw of its aim as only one of the medium lasers hit. A few buildings down from the two Mechs the Thunderbolt designated as Blue 4 focused back onto the Shadow Hawk.

“Damn it!” Willy Matzer, the backseater for the Thunderbolt, yelled across the unit’s com line, the right arm mounted laser releasing an electrical arc as the beam it fired died out prematurely. “We’ve lost the large laser!”

Turning to try and provide support Moore tried to mindful of the his rear camera in case the Griffin that Frank was tracking should suddenly pop back out of hiding. However, the 26 year-old officer pulled his Mech up short as a frantic voice cut across the com channel.

“Ah! Shit, we’ve taken gyro damage!” 2nd Lieutenant Carol Wienberg screamed as the Rifleman she was in started to list to the side. “The reactor is…Zzzt! Damn it the reactor’s scramming! Zzzt! We’re punching out!”

Fire blossomed around the head of the 60ton Mech as two command chairs and their attached riders rocketed free of the dieing Mech. Collapsing in a heap as its gyro gave out and its reactor shut down to prevent a meltdown or explosion, the Rifleman lay there battered and broken. Wanting to keep an eye on where the ejecting Eckel and Wienberg were heading Greg stopped himself as he knew he had to focus on the remaining enemy Mechs. He and Blue 4 were the only ones left and were now outnumbered again.

“I’ve got track on Mark and Carol,” Franklin stated quickly as the Ostroc shifted and moved forward towards the nearby Shadow Hawk. “I’m relaying their signal to nearby forces. Hopefully Fox or someone can get to them.”

Silently nodding in acknowledgement Moore triggered his medium lasers, one striking the already damaged flank of the Shadow Hawk while the other stuck the 55ton Mech’s left arm at the elbow joint. Blinking the sweat from his eyes as a new wave of heat passed through the cockpit both Moore and Oh were thankful for the GDI issued plugsuits that they wore. The things were rather tight and did little to hid one’s modesty, but the specially woven cooling network in them made the sauna of a cockpit at least somewhat tolerable.

“We can’t keep this up much longer,” the 26 year-old GDI trooper thought as he watched Blue 4’s Thunderbolt strike the Shadowhawk square in the chest with its three medium lasers as it took the missiles from the Hawk’s LRM and SRM launchers on its own chest and a burst of autocannon fire to its back from the Wolverine. “These guys are competent and unlike us came into this with fresh ammo and armor. We’ve got to drag this out longer, but the way things are go-….”

“Griffin is coming up behind us!” Franklin shouted in warning, giving his friend and pilot time to turn and meet the medium Mech.

Striding right around the corner of the building that had blocked two Mechs from each other’s line of sight the Griffin snapped a shot of with its PPC. As the bolt hit, the man made lighting digging deep into the empty missile launcher in the right torso, Greg fired his Mech’s large lasers in response. Only one of the beams hit, cutting a nasty scar across the chest armor of the other Mech while the other arced over its head having been thrown off by the PPC hit. Gritting his teeth, the dulcet tone of a female voice warning him of his heat levels, Brevet-Captain Moore fought to keep the 60ton machine on its feet. The young pilot was thankful at that moment for his backseater as Franklin Oh hit the override button on his own command console to prevent the Mech from shutting down automatically as its heatsinks were pushed to their limits by the repeated firing of the lasers and the heat of the Antallos day.

“We need some help here!” Willy Matzer’s voice broke across the com channel

Shooting a quick glance to his rear camera Greg felt a knot form in his stomach as Roger and Willy in their Thunderbolt got caught in a crossfire of autocannon slugs from both the Wolverine and the Shadow Hawk. They wouldn’t last much longer like this and neither would he and Frank if they kept trading shots with the Griffin. The Mechs he and his group had come into this fight with were poorly patched and long out of ammo. They had already lost Blue 2 and neither his Ostroc or Bligh and Matzer’s Thunderbolt were going to last much longer at this rate. The mission was to buy time and so far they were accomplishing just that, but it was costing them. Greg Moore was a realist. There was no cavalry coming to save them, they were the cavalry. In order to buy the time the rest of the GDI needed, he and his men had to do what was necessary. But he was damned if he wouldn’t take some of these pirate and merc bastards down first.

“Blue 4, break off and try and put some distance between you and the enemy!” the Brevet-Captain ordered as he fired his medium lasers at the Griffin, only a single one of them striking a glancing blow to the slightly smaller Mech’s left side. “We need to string these bastards out or else they’ll cut us to pieces and move on!”

“Copy that!” 1st Lieutenant Roger Bligh replied, the microphone not hiding the hints of doubt and fear in his voice. “But it’s going to be pretty hard, they…Gaaaahhhhh! They got me and Willy pinned Damn good!”

“We’ll make the distraction!” Greg roared over the com as the Ostroc took fire in the form of LRMs fired by the Griffin. “You guys move when it happens!”

Whatever the other Mechpilot said in return went unnoticed as Moore readied himself. It was an insane idea and one he had been told in his quick BattleMech training course never to try. However, right now there seemed to be little choice in the matter as he turned the Ostroc away from the Griffin and towards the enemy Shadow Hawk.

“Hold on tight Frank!” the young pilot yelled as he opened the Ostroc’s throttle up fully.

“What’re you-…?!” the Korean-American began before swearing loudly as the Ostroc charged forward, “OH SHIT!”

Though the distance was too short to get up to the heavy Mech’s top speed of 86.6kph the sudden burst of speed was enough to quickly close the gap between it and the Shadow Hawk. Coming in on the medium Mech’s left flank the young Mechpilot yanked hard on his right control stick Greg forced the 60ton machine to raise its right hand and grab the long autcannon barrel perched on the hawk’s left shoulder. Pulling hard on his sticks Moore found his Mech mirroring his action just as he hoped as it heaved sharply, crumpling the barrel of the weapon, and turned the Shadow Hawk violently towards his own Ostroc.

Rocking to the side hard and pivoting awkwardly from the force being exerted upon it as the mounting of its long barreled autocannon squealed in protest as it was pulled on; the Shadow Hawk was left completely open and unprepared for what was coming. Ignoring the thoughts of how horrified the pilot of the medium Mech must be, Moore gritted his teeth as he drove the left fist of his Ostroc straight into the Hawk’s head, smashing the cockpit’s glass and crushing the pilot inside. To an outside observer it would’ve just looked like the Ostroc had sucker-punched the slightly smaller Shadow Hawk. However, an observer from Earth might have also drawn a parallel observation relating to a children’s game involving a red and blue robot as the head of the medium Mech broke apart and popped off due to the heavy blow. Not really thinking of either, Greg Moore was more interested in keeping his Mech upright now as the body of the Shadow Hawk began to fall to the ground, its left arm striking the Ostroc a glancing blow across the torso as the medium Mech twisted in a death spiral.

“Brace yourself!” the young Brevet Captain cried out as the Ostroc swayed, its Gyro locking up from the sudden shifts in weight and the light strike it had taken.

“SHIT!” 1st Lieutenant Oh yelled as his knuckles turned white as he tightly grasped the crash handles in front of him.

Cutting his throttle and slamming his feet onto the peddles in the cockpit of the Ostroc in order to try and keep the 60ton mass of metal upright Moore felt the heavy Mech shift and skid, its feet digging up the broken asphalt underneath them. Twisting the control sticks in his hands the pilot of the 60ton Mech pushed his Mechs arms out, shifting the dead weight of the Shadow Hawk away as armor plates buckled on the heavier Mechs arms. Warning tones blared as the armor icon showed the arms of the Ostroc flash between yellow and red. With a tumultuous ‘Crash’ the medium Mech slammed into the ground at the feet of the slightly heavier Mech causing the Ostroc to shift and sway some more.

“Frank?! You okay back there?!” the young Marine turned GDI trooper yelled to his partner as he steadied the 60ton machine.

Giving a groan Franklin Oh responded in a half-growl, “Yeah, just don’t do that again…Ever. I don’t think this bucket can take it.”

“You know what they say Frank,” Moore stated. “Those Who Dare, Win.”

“That’s the fucking Brits and their crazy SAS,” the Korean-American replied with a slight hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Yeah and we’re United States Marines,” Greg returned with a wry grin as he noticed his targeting system flicker slightly as he brought the Ostroc around towards Blue 4’s position. “We Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. We’re Devil Dogs and We Never Say Die.”

“OoohRah.” the 1st Lieutenant added firmly though he was still a might bit pissed off at his friend and pilot.

“Blue 4 just like I said,” the blond 26 year-old commanded, “Get going and let’s draw these guys-…!”

“Aaaah!”

The cry over the com drew stopped the Brevet-Captain’s orders. He had been focusing on the damage his Mech had sustained and trying to make sure the Griffin didn’t back shoot him. The sudden cry of Roger Bligh, however, drew his attention away from that and onto the Thunderbolt. Eyes widening the 26 year-old watched as the Thunderbolt collapsed onto the ground, its armor rent and torn in numerous areas as fire and plasma from its fusion engine along with greenish coolant leaked out in some places like blood. Standing over the stricken 65ton Mech the Wolverine did not bother to continue punishing Blue 4 with is autocannon as it had been.

“Blue 4!” Greg yelled into this throat mike, panic hitting him as Frank also tried to contact their stricken teammate. “Get out of there! I’ll provide covering fire just get-…!”

Brevet-Captain Gregory Moore was unable to finish, his mouth going completely dry as he watched in horror as the Wolverine drew back its right leg and with deliberate precision kicked in the head of the downed Thunderbolt. Behind the blue-eyed Marine turned GDI officer 1st lieutenant Franklin Oh sat stunned. When they had punched in the head of the Shadow Hawk the Mech had still been a credible threat. Blue 4, the Thunderbolt piloted by 1st Lieutenant Roger Bligh and backseated by 1st Lieutenant William Matzer had been down, not a real threat anymore what with the way its armor had been mauled and its weaponry almost completely disabled. What the Wolverine pilot had just, deliberately done…. That was….

“Bastard!” Moore screamed, not caring if he was broadcasting or not as he fired everything his Ostroc had.

The beams of the large lasers reached out to strike the Wolverine high on its chest, obliterating the ball turret that housed the medium laser. Only one of the 60ton Mech’s medium lasers fired, slicing into the lower abdomen of the medium Mech. His right eye flicking to the weapons’ readout displayed on his HUD Greg saw that his second medium laser was a glaring red, probably having been disabled when contact had been made with the Shadow Hawk as he had been warned by the Techs that the Fuersturm made lasers were susceptible to the shocks caused by close combat because of the way they were mounted. Cursing silently the bad luck of losing a quarter of the firepower his Mech had come into the fight with originally the young Mechpilot pushed his throttle forward as he angled the Ostroc to move between two buildings and out of the firing arc of the Wolverine’s deadly accurate AC/5 as his already damaged armor would not stand up to it for too long. Adding to his list of problems Greg noted that the heavy Mech was acting sluggish in its responses and it wasn’t accelerating like it should as it was running hot. Quickly slapping the override switch for the automatic shutdown the young Mechpilot angled his machine to slip between buildings and away from the Wolverine.

“My God! Did you see…?! I mean…,” Franklin spoke in fits and spurts as he tried to rationalize what had just happened. “Jesus! They murdered Roger and Willy! They murdered them! They couldn’t fight back anymore and that Wolverine jus-….!”

“I know Frank! I saw it happen!” Greg roared in anger, not solely at his friend but rather at the situation in general and the cruel death that had just been meted out to yet two more of the people that he had been charged with leading. “We all knew the risks. Christ! You and I read the books back when this was all still science fiction! You know damn well that this is the shit Mechwarriors often pull!”

It was true. Back when they had met in ROTC at Duke the two had bonded over a mutual love for the Battletech and Mechwarrior franchises. One of the games they had constantly played was testing each other’s knowledge, often asking for the most obscure detail from a novel, scenario pack, or game. One of the rounds of the game had once even involved coming up with the number of cockpits that got kicked or smashed in by a Mech over the course of a novel.

“Jesus, we’re going to die,” Franklin Oh suddenly stated in a hauntingly calm voice. “We’re really going to fucking die out here!”

“Damn it Frank! Don’t go to pieces on me!” Moore snarled, having actually seen combat up close and personal before this and the Invasion of Earth while Oh had instead been lucky enough to keep his distance from it until they had arrived on Antallos. “Get me a track on that Griffin! I’ll worry about the Wolverine!”

“Are You Fucking Serious?!” Oh screamed, as the Ostroc turned a corner and narrowly avoided the autocannon fire coming from the Wolverine who was in hot pursuit of them. “We gotta get the hell outta here! We can’t hope to-….”

“Our Job is to hold them off and Buy time!” Greg yelled back, mentally cursing that his friend was falling apart now after everything they had already been through. “We’re Staying And Doing Our Job! Get It Together MARINE And Find Me That Fucking Griffin!”

“Oh God, Oh God,” the Korean-American blathered as his fingers danced across his control panels as he tried to fight down his fear and panic. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die, we’re gonna….”

“The Griffin, Where Is It Frank?!” Moore interjected fiercely needing his backseater to start doing his damn job before they got trapped between the two medium Mechs.

Turning the Ostroc sharply the 26 year-old Mechpilot snapped a shot off at the pursuing Wolverine with his medium laser, the beam striking the medium Mech’s right shoulder. Cursing under his breath the Brevet-Captain ducked his heavy Mech behind an old warehouse as 6 SRMs corkscrewed in, two of them losing stability and falling short as another went haywire and veered sharply into a building off to the right. The remaining three missiles, however, tore through the upper part of the warehouse’s sheet metal roof to strike the Ostroc in its left shoulder. Feeling the impacts almost as if he were the Mech itself Greg fought to keep the 60ton machine upright as falling would be a death sentence.

“Where’s the Griffin?!” Greg shouted, the sensor feed on his HUD flickering too erratically to be of any help as he pushed the Ostroc from out behind the warehouse and fired one of his large lasers, hitting the Wolverine in the chest and at the same time feeling a new wave of heat enter the already stifling cockpit.

“I don’t know! I don-…,” the backseater cried out before going quiet and then screaming, “He’s behind us! He got behin-…!”

The warning clicking in his head Moore was unable to turn the sluggish and hot Ostroc in time. Lined up for a perfect back shot as it came down on its jumpjets the Griffin fired its PPC straight into the back of the 60ton Mech. The artificial bolt of lightning and charged particles was devastating as it burned straight through already damaged armor and hit the engine shielding of the heavy Mech. Greg didn’t need to hear the warning alarms or the female voice telling him of the reactor hit, the flush of heat in the cockpit was enough.

“Zzzzt!”

“Gaaaaah!” Franklin Oh screamed as the heat and power surge from the reactor caused the panel he had been typing at to explode in an electrical fury, the tendrils burning through the light insulation of his plugsuits gloves and into his hands and arms.

“Frank?!” Moore yelled in worry as he heard his friend’s scream, his worry growing further when no answer came. “Frank!”

Trying to turn his head to see if his backseater was alright the young Mechpilot brought his hands up to shield his face as several more panels shorted out. Around him the young GDI officer felt the Ostroc shudder and quake as the warning tones and lights grew in number. The 60ton Mech was dieing and Greg knew it as his HUD shorted out taking with it the indicators for his weapons and armor status.

“Well that’s bad,” the young Marine turned GDI officer noted, a hint of fatalistic sarcasm in his voice before he cut the power feed to his helmet to prevent the squealing squawk of the com unit’s demise from deafening him.

Looking out the cockpit glass the young Brevet-Captain noted that the Wolverine was closing in. The fact that neither it nor the Griffin seemed to be firing at him seemed to suggest that they were preparing to deliver the coup de grace to his dieing Ostroc in a far more up close and personal manner. Considering the Wolverine pilot’s action against Roger and Willy when their Thunderbolt had lain stricken it was more than likely the medium Mech was maneuvering to crush the heavier Mech’s cockpit and save ammo.

Unable to tell if he had any power running to his weapons as more of the cockpit systems went dead, Moore sighed to himself, “Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”

Reaching over with one hand to type a short code into a keypad next to his secondary monitor, Moore felt a toothy grin crack his dry lips as the number 30 appeared and then shifted to 29, 28…. Looking through the cockpit’s glass the young Mechpilot reached back over to his throttle and control sticks, his grin growing wider as he felt the Ostroc stir slightly at his command.

“Alright then,” the blond haired man stated as he pushed his throttle forward, counting backwards in his head..

Tearing through the thin metal of the warehouse the Ostroc angled straight towards the oncoming Wolverine. Closing the distance the dieing heavy Mech shuddered as it was pushed to its limit. Reacting to the sluggishly charging Mech the Wolverine brought its AC/5 up and began to fire, shells digging into what little armor remained on the 60ton Ostroc’s torso. Trying to keep the Ostroc upright as the Wolverine unleashed its SRMs, three of them impacting the heavy Mech’s right shoulder, Greg felt the 60ton Mech lurch violently as its right arm blew off. Knowing that there was no time to correct for the loss of the appendage as the Ostroc began to fall Moore reached over and pulled hard on the ejection lever, silently hoping that the Mech’s head was angled enough to toss him and Frank clear and not into any of the nearby buildings.

With barely any warning Brevet-Captain Gregory Moore felt himself jolted hard as the explosive bolts around his Mech’s head fired just before his command chair’s rockets fired. Slammed back into his chair the man screwed his blue eyes shut as the rush of wind struck his face as he and his chair soared free of the dieing Mech, 1st Lieutenant Franklin Oh’s unconscious form following closely in his own command chair. Arcing up into the air and over several buildings the young Mechpilot continued to count down in his head as his parachute deployed, jolting him further. He was waiting ever so patiently for….

“Ka-BOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!”

Two seconds off of his internal count the Ostroc blew. Falling slowly, gripping the straps of his parachute’s harness, Moore was unprepared for the shockwave that hit him. Gripping the straps of his chute the young GDI officer fought to regain control as he quickly approached the abandoned street. Hitting the ground harder than he had anticipated, the blond haired man felt the air get violently knocked out of his lungs and heard at least two of his ribs ‘pop’, though that sound might have been from his neurohelmet cracking as his head bounced on the ground from his hard landing. It was hard to tell.

“Oh…Damn,” Greg wheezed as he lay there, stunned for a few seconds before his chute filled with a gust of air and jerked him causing pain to shoot through his chest.

Levering himself up with is arms the Mechpilot hit the quick release on his parachute just before he was dragged a few yards. Collapsing into a wheezing help on the ground Moore noted the taste of the dust on the ground mixed with the bloody spittle in his mouth. Feeling almost content to just lie there and pass out, considering he had busted at least two ribs, was having trouble breathing, and possibly had a concussion, the 26 year-old felt such thoughts leave him rather quickly as he felt the steady ‘thud’ of an approaching Mech’s footfalls. There were only two Mechs, well two if his little suicide charge had failed to take out the Wolverine, in the area and encountering either out here in the open street would not be a good idea especially considering he only had his standard issue M9 Beretta strapped to his right leg and three spare clips of 9mm ammo for it.

Trying to pushing himself up on his hands and knees, his breath coming back in rasping coughs, the young GDI officer collapsed back down onto the dusty ground. His vision was swimming and the only thing he could be certain of was that he heard the ponderous footfalls of a Mech not too far from where he lay.

“Come on Marine,” the 26 year-old Moore berated himself as he spat some blood and teeth chips out as he pushed himself up again. “You need to get up. You must get up!”

Rising up shakily the young GDI officer stumbled and crawled in order to get out of the center of the street. Coming to rest against the sandstone façade of an old, seemingly abandoned tenement the 26 year-old finally got a chance to look around the area he had landed in. Seeing nothing but crumbling buildings the plugsuit wearing man was about to turn and try to make his way into the building he was leaning against when his ears caught the distinct sound of cloth snapping in the breeze. Looking up Greg Moore felt the color drain from his face as he spied his friend and backseater.

“Frank,” Moore whispered as he saw the condition his buddy was in, forgetting for a moment the plodding footfalls of a Mech approaching the area.

Nearly 8 meters up off the ground Franklin Oh hung in his harness, his parachute having caught on the sharp corner of the building’s roof. Hanging there, swinging slightly in the breeze, the young Korean-American’s head remained drooped in unconsciousness. However, the thing that caught Moore’s immediate attention was the blood covering the front of the other man’s plugsuit as it poured forth from where his face had been smashed, most likely from when Franklin Oh had struck the roof of the building. From where he was standing Greg couldn’t be sure if his friend was unconscious or dead.

“Jesus,” the young Marine turned GDI officer swore out load. “I’ll get you down! You hear me Frank?! I’ll get you down!”

His left arm wrapped protectively around his aching ribs, pain rippling through him whenever he took a breath, Moore quickly repeated, over and over again, his promise of retrieving his friend as he looked for some way to get into the tenement. However, his vision kept fading in and out as he tried to remain standing causing him to stumble and fall several times.

“Ok, definitely have a concussion,” the Brevet-Captain grunted as he fought the painful ache in his chest as he leaned against the building in an effort to stay upright. “Gotta stay awake though.”

“Hey! You alright?! Sir?!”

Hearing the accented voice Greg turned his head to look down the alleyway to his right. Standing there with a Heckler & Koch G36 or some variant of it was a infantryman in the dusty tan combat vest and fatigues of the GDI, the German Flag riding high on his right shoulder’s sleeve. The trooper looked rather fresh-faced underneath all of the grime, dirt, and the greasy camo paint on his face; possibly being only 19 or 20 years old. However, at that moment Moore didn’t really care, he was just glad to see a friendly face at the moment. Letting out a short laugh the Mechpilot slowly collapsed, sliding down the side of the sand scoured building until his rump hit the ground.

“Oi, Herr Hauptman!” the young GDI infantryman started in his accented English, rushing over as he saw the slightly older man go down. “Hey! Are…You…O-K?! Can…You…Hear…Me?!”

His vision swimming and unable to fight the fatigue that was washing over him the 26 year-old Brevet- Captain could barely make out the words be spoken to him and the shouts being directed back down the alleyway from which the trooper had come from. Passing out, Moore was unaware of the other members of the squad running down the narrow confines of the alleyway. Being loaded onto a makeshift ‘field’ stretcher of a rain poncho and two collapsible spars the Mechpilot found only the blissful nothing of unconsciousness.


GDI Base, Port Krin Antallos, Periphery January 25, 2007/3022

Stepping out of his bathroom, a towel in his hands as he dried his face, Greg Moore tried to brush away the lingering thoughts that troubled him. The timely arrival of Hound Squad, a sister squad of Fox squad and one of the other infantry units tagged to the GDI Expeditionary Force from the German Bundeswehr, had been a Godsend. It had been because of them that Moore and his backseater, 1st Lieutenant Franklin Oh had not gotten killed by the Griffin that had stalked the area looking for them after Moore’s suicidal charge and detonation of the Ostroc had crippled the Wolverine and forced its pilot to scram its reactor or face the large fusion engine exploding. Thankfully the German Infantry had done a damn fine job of getting the two Americans someplace safe before Mechwarrior Christine Miller of the Buron Cavalry and four Merkavas, sent as backup by Major Staedele, had put down the Medium Mech that had still been a threat to the GDI rear area.

“Still got a concussion, three broken ribs, and severe bruising to my torso though,” the 26 year-old thought as he stood for a moment with the towel draped across hi neck. “At lest they were able to save Frank in the process of rescuing me.”

1st Lieutenant Franklin Oh had suffered a severe concussion, a broken nose, broken left cheek bone, a broken jaw, the loss of several of his front teeth, and severe electrical feedback. It has all been due to the discharge he had caught when the panel he had been working at had overloaded and the fact that he had been unconscious when ejected from the dieing Ostroc. The damage to his face could be repaired with cosmetic surgery, but the damage to his hands was the greatest concern. The electricity had been enough to melt the gloves of the plugsuit in areas and had caused some major electrical and contact burns for the Korean-American, so much so that the GDI doctors had been forced to surgically cut away the melted gloves and several layers of dead skin around the burns. Frank had been lucky not to have lost his hands or any of his fingers, though the loss of tissue and the way the electricity had destroyed certain nerves meant he would require a long recovery time and intense physical therapy to even be able to hold something as simple as a fork and spoon again. It was one of the reasons why Frank had been on one of the first Droppers back home to Earth.

“Though I wish he were here now,” Greg thought solemnly, missing his friend.

Walking over to the dresser that was pushed up against the wall he found immediately a red shirt with ‘USMC’ written across it in yellow lettering. Tossing the towel off to the side the 26 year-old pulled the t-shirt on over his head before finding a pair of black mesh shorts to throw on over his skivvies. It was 0430 hours Antallos time and that meant that even the early risers, the senior Non-Coms who would awaken many of the GDI troopers in all of the makeshift barracks around the spaceport for a good round of early morning PT, were not yet up and moving and wouldn’t be for at least another 30 or 45 minutes.

That struck Greg fine as he found a pair of socks to wear. He preferred doing PT alone anyways, a privilege he had gained upon rising to the rank of Captain. At that thought the young blond haired man shifted his eyes in the dim pre-dawn light to the small velvet cases that were on top of his dresser. In the first case lay the double brass bars that he had been presented not too long after the Battle for Port Krin. Colonel Kurita and General Davis had confirmed his battlefield promotion and made it official. However, the other case was what bothered Greg the most. In that case lay the Navy Cross that had been presented to him in the awards ceremony a few weeks after the battle.

The award was the second highest that a United States Marine could receive and alongside the Distinguished Service Cross that Tony Dansel had received as the same ceremony, was the highest award that any member of the GDI Expeditionary Force had been awarded. Quite a number of medals, commendations, and awards had been given out to a number of members of the Expeditionary Force. Quite a number of them were posthumously awarded, like the Silver Stars for 1st Lieutenants Roger Bligh and William Matzer, two of Moore’s own. The awards ceremony had occurred a few weeks after the battle for Port Krin had ended, but that wasn’t the end of it. Everyday for the past few months it seemed, new awards were coming in and being presented to the veterans of the Expeditionary Force. It seemed that every country that had contributed troops to the force, as well as several who had not contributed directly, wanted to match the decorations of its fellows. Each member of the CSN it seemed wanted its own heroes recognized along with wanting to recognize the accomplishments of those who had fought in their service from ‘recognized allies’ in the GDI.

Moore frowned at that. Over the past few months he had lost count of how many medals he, Tony Dansel, and several other so-called ‘heroes’ of Port Krin had received. He, at least to his own mind, hadn’t done anything heroic. It was rather cliché, but the young Captain felt that he had simply done his job and been lucky enough to survive doing it.

“But politicians need their heroes,” Moore muttered to himself as he finished putting on a pair of sneakers and walked over to the door of his room, recalling something his Grandfather, a distinguished Marine in his own right had once said. “At least General Davis hasn’t sent me back yet.”

It was something that every veteran in the Expeditionary Force feared on some level or other. A number of politicians back on Earth were clamoring for the GDI Expeditionary Force to return home, or at least send a number of its more ‘distinguished’ personnel back. Supposedly the reason for it would be to ‘boost’ morale and help strengthen the image of the GDI and CSN in the public eye as the ‘heroic’ Expeditionary Force went on a series of public tours. The whole thing stank to high heaven of power politics and political swagger to Moore, and from the conversations he had been in with Dansel and several other ‘heroes’ they all agreed on that point.

“Luckily for us the General and Colonel are keeping the politicos at bay…for the most part at least,” the young Captain noted silently as he narrowed his eyes and stepped out into the harsh fluorescent light of the hallway before closing his door behind him. Two of Moore’s own, Lieutenants Mark Eckel And Carol Wienberg, had gotten tapped to return home as trainers and to help promote the unity of the GDI. That had come down as a direct order from Davis. “Not too much of a surprise there seeing as how getting stars and birds on your shoulder requires you to start playing politics anyways. At least the General and Colonel are doing it for the right reasons.”

It was no secret amongst the Expeditionary Force that General Davis and Colonel Kurita were butting heads with the ‘established’ militaries back home. The GDI right now was a hot topic of debate. There were questions of how it should be funded, how it should be expanded, which countries should be contributing to it, how those contributions should be made, and how it should be structured in the future among numerous others. Leading a hugely successful campaign had bought Davis and Kurita a great deal of clout and so far the two were using it to keep things in check, keep the politicians and home generals at bay, and expand the GDI Expeditionary Force as it should be…a unified force representing every major part of Earth.

“Damn politicians don’t get it,” Greg swore quietly as he began to stretch slightly. “We may have some advantages, but it won’t last forever. We’re still just a small fish in a damn big ocean.”

Shaking his head at the thought of how disunity would only leave Earth vulnerable to predation from outside, the young Captain began to walk briskly down the hallway. He had a long, punishing workout to begin before he had to report for duty later. Hopefully it would clear his head like it usually did, especially considering that his task for the day was rather special. It wouldn’t do to allow such things to cloud his mind or be displayed during the fulfillment of his duties. No, circumstances and his honor as a professional soldier demanded that he be at his best for it even if what he truly desired was another combat assignment and a new Mech to ride in instead.

“Ours is not to question why…,” the young officer noted with a dry, sarcastic wit as he recalled one of his favorite lines from Tennyson. “Ours is but to do and….”

Leaving the second half of that famous line unfinished the young Marine turned GDI officer walked down the hallway to the stairwell, his mind now focused squarely upon starting his morning PT.


Memorial Cemetery, Port Krin Antallos, Periphery January 25, 2007/3022

Standing crisply in the new GDI Dress Uniform that he had been issued a month ago Captain Greg Moore fought down the urge to tug at the stiff neck collar. It wasn’t that different from his regular USMC Dress Uniform, but damn if the heat of Antallos wasn’t already beginning to get nasty even if it was only 1000hours. The new uniform was a bit too warm given that is was a dark navy blue, almost black, in color and the desert conditions meant the sun and temperature were already getting nearly unbearable even this early in the day. However, for a funeral, such burdens could be easily shouldered. Checking to make sure one last time that the braided red cord that circled over and under his right shoulder before crossing over to where his tunic buttoned up the front was properly placed and that his salad board and other awards were all neatly placed as they should be. This was a solemn event and it wouldn’t do to have anything out of place.

Only a few steps away from the 26 year-old stood six men and women similarly clad in the new uniform, though each of them wore the white chevrons of an enlisted man or of a non-com and the white cord of an infantryman or the forest green cord of an armored vehicle crew member rather than the red cord of a Mechpilot. The pallbearers looked sharp with their well polished boots and brass, the sun glinting off of the black bills of their white covers. Inside the small graveyard stood fourteen other similarly dressed GDI troopers, seven of whom stood at ease with rifles as Sergeant Major Tony Ruckard formerly of the British Royal Marines, kept one eye closely upon them and the other firmly upon Moore. Opposite the ceremonial squad stood a small brass quintet with a single trooper carrying a silver bugle standing just off to the side.

“Honor Guard, Atten’hut!” the young GDI Captain ordered as the small convoy of Hummers began to pull up. “Salute.”

The response to the order was immediate. Right hands rose quickly as in the graveyard Sgt. Ruckard directed his men to do the same with their rifles. Holding the salute firmly Greg watched as the different people attending the funeral exited from the Hummers that had been following the lead vehicle, many of whom were just regular GDI troopers attending out of a sense of honor and respect for a fellow soldier though there were a few key notables in attendance. General Davis and Colonel Kurita both looked immaculate in their GDI uniforms. Next to them was Ambassador Smith in a well pressed black suit accompanied by the Draconis Combine and Federated Suns delegations. The Combine’s Ambassador, Shanti Taro Kurita, was dressed in an immaculate white kimono while her young aid Alicia Kurita stood dressed in the white dress uniform of the DCMS. Off handedly from the time he had spent at Okinawa and in the Kendo Club at Duke, Greg recalled that white was the color of death in Japanese society. Both women walked with a sense of solemn purpose, paying honor to the fallen that lay in the graves marked by simple white headstones. In sharp contrast to the two women Carlos Davion strode forward into the graveyard in the royal blue uniform of the Davion Light Guard, a confident swagger to his steps as the traditional cavalry spurs attached to his riding boots, the sign of a Davion Mechwarrior, jingled lightly with every step. Even Precentor Long, looking incredibly out of place in his ComStar robes, was present, though he seemed ready to pass-out given how red in the face he was and how his young aides were fanning him and trying to get him to drink some water.

Moore really hoped that the man didn’t suddenly have a heart attack. One, it would be rather annoying to have the man keel over at a GDI and CSN event, not to mention politically bothersome. Two, it would possibly mean that a far more competent individual would be appointed to Long’s place. Having started out as an Intel officer, before ‘volunteering’ for a special assignment a few years before the attack upon Auckland, Moore was of the mindset that the devil you knew was far better than the devil you didn’t know. Long was rather incompetent or at least that was what Greg had gathered in his conversations with Captain Samantha Swift. Speaking of Swift, the steely eyed and tough as nails head of GDI Military Intelligence on Antallos had just thrown him a nod.

“Wonder what that might imply?” Greg wondered as he watched the other Captain walk with the GDI party further into the graveyard.

Though he may only be 26 years old and have only been an Intel Officer for a few years he had participated in some rather interesting assignments since he had gotten his commission at the age of 21 and had learned that in the intelligence business no gesture was without its double meanings. Where many would’ve seen the nod as simply being a gesture of respect, familiarity, and/or approval of the way he was carrying out his duty, Moore knew differently. Samantha Swift was an intelligence officer to the core. Every gesture she made was calculated beforehand and designed to convey things that were not necessarily evident to laymen.

Deciding that it would be better to contemplate the gesture from the elder Intel Officer, Moore focused back upon watching the small crowd of people that were gathering in the graveyard. He was actually surprised to see as many people here as there were, though this was the first fallen soldier from the Terran Hegemony that they had come across seeing as how the majority of the other corpses had been either mercs or pirates or had belonged to either the Draconis Combine or Federated Suns considering the history of conflict on Antallos. Looking over the crowd without moving his head in the slightest, merely shifting his eyes and scanning with his peripherals, Moore noted that there were even a few regular civilians present. Most likely they were members of the salvage crew who had found the Orion that the fallen Hegemony Mechwarrior had been entombed in.

With the most important people currently on Antallos in the cemetery Moore waited for a good 20 count in order to let them be seated and for any others to find their designated places. His count finally coming to an end the young Captain raised his left arm slightly to just about his waist before making a fist. It was the sign that the pallbearers and the rest of the Honor Guard had been waiting for. Silently releasing their salutes the six pallbearers stepped to the back of the first Humvee, a modified version that had a set of double doors on its tail end. Opening the doors revealed a simple coffin draped in the recreated flag of the Terran Hegemony. As the casket began to be moved out into the light of the day the dulcet tones of ‘Going Home’ slowly filtered out from the brass quintet.


Standing to the back of the small crowd that had gathered in the graveyard Remus Lupin felt his breath catch in his chest as he spied the flag draped coffin being carried on the shoulders of the six pallbearers. The colors of the old Terran Hegemony were something that he, as a former Clansman and member of the Wolf Dragoons, had been taught to venerate as one of the holiest of relics. Incidentally he couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the flag was a recreation or an original.

“It has to be a recreation,” the Wolfnet agent thought calmly as he watched the solemn procession. “Though considering how little we actually know of the origins of this CSN and GDI….”

It had been one of the theory’s floating around Port Krin and one he had picked up on early in his deployment here. The popular rumor was that the GDI and CSN were from colony worlds of the former Terran Hegemony, colony worlds that had survived the Amaris Coup and Succession Wars while being lost to time and cut off from the rest of the Inner Sphere. Some of the more extravagant variations of this theory purported that the CSN and GDI were returning to reestablish the Hegemony and bring about a new Star League and a new golden age for humanity.

While Lupin would dismiss the part about reestablishing the Star League he could not necessarily refute the idea that the CSN and GDI had the potential to lead the Inner Sphere into a technological renaissance. They certainly had the lostech to do so, if not more than enough as he had only seen what they had brought here to Antallos and could only imagine what they might have on their homeworlds and capital world. He didn’t dare give an estimate yet on what level of tech they had. He needed more info first before he would even begin to make a conservative estimate. It was one of the reasons why he would soon be requesting additional agents from Colonel Wolf, there was only so much he could do on his own right now.

“At least I don’t have to follow that silly rumor of them being Kerensky’s people returned,” Remus thought with a silent chuckle.

That had been another popular rumor and theory going around as to who the GDI and CSN really were. Remus found it rather ironic that he almost knew for a fact that they couldn’t possibly be related to himself, the Dragoons, or the Clans. The members of the GDI and CSN that he had so far come into contact with bore no resemblance at all to Clan society or even to the way the Dragoons carried themselves. He personally could recall just how hard he had needed to train to break himself of the habits and mannerisms that marked him as being of the Clans before coming to the Inner Sphere. Even then he and the other members of Wolfnet had needed almost another full year to completely learn how to actually blend in with the peoples of the Inner Sphere. For the GDI and CSN to be in a similar vein to the Dragoons would mean that one of the Clans would’ve needed to secretly go against the directives of the Grand Council, build up a secret reconnaissance unit, train and equip that unit, and then insert them into the Periphery all around the time that the Dragoons had been doing the same. It wasn’t impossible that such a thing could happen, but it was highly improbable that it could occur.

“But then that begs the question of how the others will view the GDI and CSN?” Remus thought, wrestling with questions and concerns that had risen up as he had delved further into the mystery that was the GDI and CSN. “If these ‘Motherloaders’ are truly a former set of Terran Hegemony or Star League colonies that have been able to escape the perversions and machinations of the Scavenger Lords then it would be only right that we assist them and defend them.”

Being what would have been deemed a Warden were he still in Clan space Remus Lupin found himself frowning as he suddenly thought as to what the Crusader’s reaction might be should the knowledge of the GDI and CSN reach them. While many of the Warden Clans might agree with his own thoughts the Crusaders would most likely only see another faction to be conquered. Worse yet would be if the Crusaders were able to convince those still on the fence along with a number of Wardens that the GDI and CSN could be a potential threat to the Clans one day if left unchecked. Things had been tense enough back in the homeworlds as it was without more fuel being thrown onto the fire.

“Hopefully the Colonel will know exactly what should be done,” Remus thought as he focused his attention back onto the funeral procession as it had finally reached the gravesite and the brass quintet had finished playing. “Then again maybe we were too quick to erase the data linking us back home. Khan Ward may need to be informed of this development.”


“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake,” Captain Jonathan Krist, Episcopalian Chaplain of the GDI Expeditionary Force and member of the Canadian Armed Forces, intoned solemnly as he recited the 23rd Psalm. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

“Amen.”

The response came naturally from Captain Gregory Moore’s lips along with many others gathered for the funeral of the fallen Terran Hegemony Mechwarrior who was finally being laid to rest centuries after he had fallen in battle. The man’s dog tags had been nearly impossible to read as it was mainly an electronic chip built into a plastic tag. Having been baked in the heat of Antallos and mummified in the makeshift tomb of the Orion’s cockpit the simple ID tag had been rendered completely useless because of the centuries of time that had passed. The computer core of the Orion, despite being an example of what he and others on Earth had noted as BT Ragnarok proofing, had been only partially salvageable. The majority of the data on the core had been destroyed when the Mech had fallen and been consumed by the desert centuries ago. While the core still possessed some data on how the Orion functioned the data regarding its last pilot had been lost, possibly forever.

“We gather here, now, to lay to rest the corporeal remains of our fellow soldier,” Chaplain Krist spoke calmly. “Having fallen in battle we pray that his soul may find comfort in the embrace of the Lord God and that he has been reunited with the family and friends he left behind. Though we do not know him other than as a body we see in him ourselves and our fellow soldiers. We are reminded of the duty and responsibilities that we all share as soldiers and that we too may one day be called upon to give our lives in the name of that duty and responsibility.”

Stepping back slightly Captain Krist made room as General Davis stepped forward. The General was immaculate in his new GDI uniform. However, today the senior officer on world had forgone the wearing of any of the medals and awards he had earned prior to taking up his position in the GDI. It was a subtle sign that would be lost to the foreign dignitaries who knew naught of Earth. To the GDI troopers present however, it was a firm signal to them of the General’s loyalty to them and to the cause of the GDI in defending Earth from all threats. Stepping forward to where the six pallbearers held the Terran Hegemony flag outstretched over the simple casket that housed the earthly remains of Mechwarrior that remained unknown the General snapped off a crisp salute not to the flag itself, but to the man who had fallen in the service of it; a brother soldier.

Dropping his right hand back to his side Davis pulled a small book from the pocket of his tunic, a book whose pages were weathered and yellowed with age, a book that had seen many a funeral, both official ceremonies and the impromptu goodbyes given upon the field of battle. Opening the book to a section that whose pages were dog-eared and worn the General began to read out loud,

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.”

Closing the book General Davis stepped back as Captain Krist took his position at the head of the casket.

“You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith,” the Episcopalian Minister and GDI Captain solemnly stated, paraphrasing 2 Timothy 4:7 for its implications regarding the end of one’s life and the fulfillment of one’s duty. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life. May you find peace in the embrace of the Lord God, most High, and solace in knowledge that you fulfilled your duty to your nation and to your fellow soldiers.”

As those words finished every member of the GDI military, except the pallbearers holding taught the flag of the Terran Hegemony, snapped to attention and saluted. Right hands up crisp and firm in the how they shaded the faces of the GDI soldiers, all of them having come from different nations of ‘Mother’ Earth and yet all dedicated to the singular purpose of her defense, they stood firm and unshakable. Holding their salutes none noticed the small nod that Captain Moore gave…none except those who were looking for it.

Off to the side of the graveyard with his riflemen in perfect line Sergeant major Tony Ruckard caught the subtle shift in his superior’s head and immediately called out, “Honor Guard, Atten’hut!”

Together as one the four men and three women of the GDI bearing rifles snapped to attention.

“Standby…Ready,” the Sergeant Major ordered, the seven soldiers all turning in unison halfway to their right and bringing their rifles up to port arms as they spread their feet to be exactly 10 inches apart from each other in order to obtain a firm and steady stance in preparation of firing. “Load.”

With left hands firmly holding their rifles the seven GDI troopers brought their hands up in perfect synchronization to rake the bolts of their rifles and load the first of three blank rounds into the firing chamber.

“Ready…Aim,” Ruckard commanded, the riflemen switching off the safeties of their weapons before bringing their rifles up to their shoulders, the butt neatly planted where it should be as the muzzle was aimed at a perfect 45 degree angle from the horizontal. “Fire.”

“Bang!”

The sound of the first shot was immediate after the command had been given. A few of the civilians who had gathered, including Precentor Long, flinched at the report of the weapons. However, all of the GDI and CSN personnel along with the Kurita and Davion delegations remained steadfast and strong.

“Ready…Aim,” Ruckard ordered once again. “Fire.”

“Bang!”

“Ready…Aim,” the middle aged British Non-com ordered for a third and final time. “Fire.”

“Bang!”

“Cease Fire,” the gruff Non-com ordered after the third shot rang out. “Ready. Present…Arms!”

With those commands the riflemen of the honor guard immediately safed their weapons and shifted them to port arms before turning to face forward fully, bringing up their weapons directly in front of them in full presentation; a final sign of respect to their fallen brother soldier. Almost immediately as the command to ‘Present Arms’ was enacted at the other point of the graveyard the single bugler raised his silver horn to his lips and began to play the slow, dulcet tones of a tune known most commonly as Taps.


Hearing the mournful tones of Taps echoing off of the stillness of the graveyard on Antallos. Remus Lupin had to almost forcefully stop himself from giving his own Wolf Dragoons salute. The simple tune, he knew, had originally been written by a long dead general from a civil war that had once torn apart the long gone United States of America. The general, a freeborn like himself, named Daniel Adams Butterfield had penned the tune as a tribute to the soldiers that had fought and died under his command after a long and horrendous battle.

“Fading light dims the sight, and a star gems the sky, gleaming bright. From afar drawing nigh – Falls the night,” the Wolfnet agent whispered low to himself. “Day is done, gone the sun, From the lake, from the hills, from the sky; All is well, safely rest, Great Father is nigh.”

“What’s that yer muttering Remus?” Bob, the hidden agent’s boss at the salvage company asked, having only come along in the hopes of gaining perhaps a few more contracts from the GDI.

“A farewell that was once put to this melody,” the former Clanner answered before finishing his recollection of the unofficial lyrics. “Then good night, peaceful night, Till the light of the dawn shineth bright; Great Father is near, do not Fear – Friend, good night.”

“Sounds depressing,” Bob noted without much of a care.

“I find it comforting, as did the original composer,” Remus answered as he watched the GDI pallbearers carefully and, at the same time, precisely fold the flag of the Terran Hegemony into its traditional folded, triangular shape before laying it upon the center of the simple casket. “Some of my brethren do not care for such things anymore and would prefer to distance themselves from them.”

“I don’t particularly care ‘bout your family situation,” the gruff old salvage guru noted with a hint of annoyance in his voice. “So long as it don’t interfere with your work.”

“I try not to let it,” Lupin noted, not being entirely untruthful with the statement. “But then some of the members of my...'extended' family are rather strong in their opinions.”

“Whatever,” the older man noted, turning away from where he stood in the graveyard as the funeral broke up.

Standing there for a moment Remus Lupin made several mental notes as he took in all that he saw and had seen. These people of the GDI and the CSN were unlike any others he or any other Dragoon had encountered in the Inner Sphere. They honored the fallen of those they did not know and had never met in the same manner they would their own dead and showed honor and respect to those that were deemed to be honorable. It was a great deal to take in and think about.

“All the more reason to send word to the Colonel and request that further agents be sent to assist me in this task,” Remus silently noted. “We need to learn more about these ‘Motherloaders’ and their GDI and CSN. They could prove to be the allies that Khan Ward and the other Wardens desire and directed us to find in the effort to stave off the folly of the Crusaders. Hmm, I wonder what will the Colonel think of all this?”

Several yards away, mingled in with the crowd of dignitaries, GDI troopers, and CSN personnel a woman in her mid-thirties stood silently, her brown eyes slowly following the Wolfnet agent from behind her large, dark sunglasses. She wore the identification badge of one who was attached to the CSN Ambassador’s office and indeed working as an assistant to Ambassador Smith was part of her cover. Her true role, however, had been given to her by Mary Pat Foley herself before shipping out with the Ambassador. Sarah Murdock as she was called, had been given several jobs all revolving around keeping the ambassador safe and maintaining the security of Earth. Remus Lupin was a name that had crossed her desk when his name had been tagged as being ‘suspicious’. Seeing him here had been a slight surprise, though now that she thought about it she wasn’t overly surprised considering that he had been part of the salvage team that had found the body. Such dedication and respect was lauded in military circles, but to her it merely indicated that perhaps she had found a potential asset to recruit. She would need to think about it and run it past Samantha Swift, her GDI Military Intelligence counterpart, later on.


“A good job as usual Sergeant Major,” Captain Gregory Moore noted solemnly.

“Thank you Sir,” Sergeant Major Tony Ruckard stated, his Cockney accent coloring his voice. “The lads and lasses deserve the credit though, damn fine lot they are. Disciplined and trained so fine I barely have to do a thing.”

“Hmm…still, make sure they get a round then after they get off duty later and let them know that I’m proud of them,” the young 26 year-old remarked, knowing from the lessons taught to him by his grandfather that it was always a good thing to build a strong rapport with one’s subordinates and that no soldier worth his salt refused a free drink. “You as well. Have the bartender send me the tab for the first round and make sure that it is only for the first round. I may have gotten bumped up to being a Captain, but that hardly means I’m raking in the money.”

Letting out a hearty chuckle at that Ruckard responded, “Aye, I’ll make sure Captain…and I’ll make sure that the lads and lasses raise the first pint to ya, good man that you are.”

Rolling his eyes at that Moore simply grunted and returned the salute given to him by the senior Non-com as the man was dismissed from the gravesite. Moore on the other hand, knew that someone needed to stay for a little while longer. It was necessary to make certain that the final aspects of the burial were handled properly. It wouldn’t do to go through the entire ceremony and then have the deceased treated badly when he was actually being lowered into the ground. It would besmirch both Moore’s honor as a soldier to have his charge wrongfully treated, not to mention that it would give the GDI and CSN a political and media black-eye, as well as ruin the proper send off granted to his own departed comrades by allowing a fellow soldier to be mishandled as he was laid to rest.

“Captain Moore.”

Turning slightly at his name Greg immediately snapped to attention and rendered a quick salute. Standing before him was his commanding officer, General Davis. What was slightly surprising was that the man did not have Ambassador Smith, Colonel Kurita, or any of the foreign delegations in tow.

“At ease Captain,” the elder man ordered as he nodded in return to the salute. “You did a fine job today, did a fine job on all of the others you presided over.”

“Twelve, Sir,” the young Captain noted slowly. “I’ve presided over a dozen military funerals here on Antallos so far.”

“Hmm, yes, you’ve been assigned to that task ever since you got cleared for active duty again,” the General commented as he rested his hand behind his back. “I bet you’re just chomping at the bit to get back to piloting a Mech again, aren’t you?”

“Begging your pardon, General Sir,” Greg began, trying to be as polite as possible without seeming to kiss ass and at the same time trying to hold down his frustration at not having been assigned as new ride yet when nearly every other Mechpilot who had lost a Mech had already done so. “The position of head of ceremonies is adequate, though I won’t deny that I wish to be reassigned to a combat position in the near future.”

“I thought as much,” Davis noted calmly. “Truth be told Moore, I’m directly to blame for your current assignment.”

“Sir?” the blond United States Marine turned GDI officer stated in slight amount of surprise.

“Yes, I’ve purposefully kept you in this position, just as I’ve kept several of your fellow ‘heroes’ in similar ceremonial positions,” the General remarked offhandedly. “The politicians and the brass back home are breathing down my and Chou’s necks. They want you all back home to help them raise political capital or in the case of the home military, raise new training units. While the former disgusts me as a soldier, I can’t dismiss the need for the latter.”

“Am I being transferred back to Earth Sir?” Captain Moore asked only a small bit of hesitance in his voice as he knew that such a thing was very much probable.

“No Moore, you aren’t,” Davis stated assuredly. “I need you out here along with as many veterans of the battle as I can keep. They might not realize it back home, but the battle for Port Krin was only a small taste of what we are likely to face in the future. All of us here in the Expeditionary Force know damn well that sooner or later somebody is going to come back this way looking to get what Earth has…and like before they probably ain’t going to be polite about it.”

Greg nodded in agreement. It had been a major topic of discussion amongst himself and the numerous other officers and senior Non-coms. He, Tony Dansel, and a number of other GDI personnel who had extensive knowledge of the Battletech and Mechwarrior franchise had been key in explaining some of the subtle nuances of the various Inner Sphere powers and how each posed a different threat to Earth.

“The GDI needs to grow, to expand into what Earth needs in order to not only survive but thrive,” the older man noted with calm strength. “We need to become a truly united force that can kick the teeth in of whoever decides that they want to try and subjugate Earth and take what is ours. We’ve all seen that force develop here on Antallos with you veterans. That is why Chou and I have been trying to keep as many of you here as possible. The lot of you are exactly what we need to help the reinforcements and replacements we are supposed to be getting to settle in and work together as a cohesive unit.”

Meeting the General’s blue eyes with his own Greg Moore, Captain in the GDI, Mechpilot, United States Marine Corp Captain, American, and Earthling felt a jolt run through him. There was pure, unadulterated conviction in those dark brown eyes. It wasn’t a conviction that one would associate with madness, but rather with strength and purpose.

“I want you to let all of the others you meet up with on a weekly basis that I’ve heard their griping about their assignments. I want you to let them know that there is a plan and they are where they need to be at the moment and that I take care of my people regardless of where they come from originally,” Davis stated firmly. “You and the others are going to help make sure that the reinforcements and replacements we get are properly brought into the fold and made into what we need them to be. It won’t be quick and it won’t be easy and that is why I need your help, son. Yours and all of the others as well. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes Sir.” Greg returned sharply his hand rising up to salute his General. “We’ll get it done Sir.”

“Good, that is what I was hoping for you to tell me,” Davis stated as he turned to begin walking away. “Oh, and Captain….”

“Yes Sir?” Moore responded.

“Make sure to tell them that in return for their dedication I’m going to make damn sure that you and all of the others get the assignments that they desire,” the older man stated before walking away. “You just need to be patient a little while longer.”

“We will Sir,” Captain Greg Moore stated firmly before turning back to make certain that his current task was finished properly so that he could concentrate upon his new one fully.

Suddenly, the day seemed far more tolerable. It was as the General had said, all they needed to do was be patient for a little while longer.



February 28 2007/3022 Invader class jumpship Scimitar Two jumps away from Antallos

Captain Ismail Al'Heran entered the "wardrobe" where his troops had gathered. He looked his warriors in the eyes and said "You all asked yourself why I decided to skip a good contract and move to this shithole of Antallos."

"Yeah, it'd better be a damn good reason!"

"Yes. It's not only about money. It's about this." He started the life TV feed from the battle.

"Al Jazeera? Which Island..." suddenly there was silence as text was blended in "Battle for Mecca continues" Several light and medium mechs were fighting against heavier machines in front of the great Mosque and the Kaaba. "Allahu ak...!" with those last words a light mech exploded and it was clear the pilot had no chance of survival. There was no doubt those mechs would lose. The news ticker at the lower screen, all but ignored, read "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques declares Jihad. +++ Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah and Al Qaeda declare unilateral truce with Israel and anyone else."

It included a few minutes of TV coverage more and then switched to the face of Mullah Aladdin Al Azim, becoming a standard inner sphere holo feed. "My name is Aladdin Al Azim... Hajji Aladdin Al Azim." he smiled. "God is merciful; he gave us back what we missed all those centuries... the holy cities of old. I'm standing here in front of the great Mosque in Mecca were many of my men are buried. They died as they defended the most holy place in the universe. Only a few of us are left, and there can only be one reason Allah wanted us to stay alive. To get the message out to the faithful. Let me give you a walk through the city."

A full two hours later, every single member of the crew was convinced and the feed switched to Aladdin kneeling down on the place in front of the Kaaba as he spoke with a humble, if strong voice

"Merciful father, you took away from us the most holy of places. Over generations and centuries we lost hope of ever getting it back as we were sinners and humanity stained the stars with blood.

But you, father, decided to test us after all those centuries. You grasped through time and space and gave us back Mecca. And the faithful failed again, as it was a Kufr pirate that found it.

On the second raid, motivated by the sin of greed, we finally found it. We were shocked and in awe, but not worth of standing on this sacred Earth. I am not worth of a single ray of light from the Kaaba reaching my eyes. We fought to defend your city with our lives, in hope to do good for at least some the sins we are responsible for.

Father, a great poet of this world wrote a humble and true prayer I will recite, as I couldn't hope to express this better.


For all we ought to have thought, but have not thought. For all we ought to have said but have not said. For all we ought to have done but have not done. I pray thee, God, for forgiveness. I pray thee, God, for another chance to prove we're worth your gift."

He bowed, raised and said to the camera "God hid the people of Motherlode far out in the periphery. I helped them to conquer Port Krin on Antallos. It will be there we meet and wait for the hajj. It will be from there we defend the holiest planet of all. Every single warrior is needed to defend it. We lost Mecca once, we won't lose it twice. Allahu akbar!"

"Allahu akbar" the shocked and overawed crew responded.

"Now, we can go earn money out in the sphere. Or we can go defend Mecca." No one wanted to go for the money and so they jumped.


"Captain?!" a surprised voice came through the intercom "You'll want to see this!" With those words, the holographic projection changed and showed the standard jump point. There was an actual little traffic jam. "What the..." "I'm counting one Star lord, one Merchant and three invader class jumpships with a full drop ship complement each. Including our Invader, that's 20 dropships! One Condor, one Triumph, three Unions, two Intruders, two Leopards, two Mules, four Buccaneers and even two Monarch class! What the... incoming comm signal, routing through."

"This is Captain Chalid of the Sheik. New Invader class, please identify yourself."

"This is Captain Al'Heran of the Scimitar, merc complement inbound to Antallos looking for work."

"So you got the news, too? Welcome to the fleet, then! Allahu akbar."

"Allahu akbar."

"Group one will jump tomorrow, group two needs another two days to recharge the KF drive. I'm pretty sure there will be a group three that'll include you."

March 1 2007/3022 Zenith Point, Antallos System

At first, there was nothing. The last jumpship to the Inner Sphere had left Antallos hours ago. All of a sudden, ships appeared. Space itself cried in protest as they had to right to exist, but a few minutes later three mostly civilian jumpships left the actual standard point, flying a few hundred kilometers away to make room for their followers. Antennae were directed at Antallos and the captain of the mighty Star Lord class Sheik opened a com channel.

March 1, 2007/3022 Antallos System Antallos high orbit

ASTRO-E2 "Suzaku" had been designated for a start in July 2005, but the pirate raid changed all that. The Japanese satellites main instrument, a high spectroscopic resolution together with a very wide energy band, ranging from soft X-rays up to gamma-rays, had been designed to physically investigate high energy astronomical phenomena, such as black holes and supernovae. After the initial raid, JAXA had bought a high speed photometer like that on Hubble and wanted to deploy it later, but the CSN stepped in and bought it.

Today, it was orbiting Antallos and watched the standard points as part of the traffic control system. His fine instruments detected two new all-spectrum sources appearing at zenith point and his antenna sent a priority signal to the system traffic control while the camera fetched better information about the visitors.

March 1 2007/3022 GDI Headquarters, Antallos Traffic Control Port Krin, Antallos

It was an easy shift as no one expected jump ship traffic except the occasional independent trader.

Private Ford and his colleague Marc Smith, a reservist that had worked as a control tower operator on Earth, were playing a game of cards as an acoustic signal informed them about activity at the standard points. They turned towards their consoles, looked at the screens and cursed. “I’m counting two ships. One Invader and a … holy shit! The warbook ID's it as a Star Lord!

Smith hit a button and klaxons sounded all over the headquarters, while Ford grabbed a phone dialing a number he was instructed to only use in emergencies.

“This is Ford, Traffic Control. Give me the General! Two jumpships incoming, including a Star Lord! Invasion highly probable!”

“We’ll inform him, but we need more details.”

“Two jumpships at zenith point. One Star Lord and one Invader. We haven’t identified the dropships yet, but each seems to carry a full complement. That’s nine dropships right there!”

It took Davis a few minutes they used for further identifying the ships to answer the call. “Davis here. Status?” “Two jump ships at zenith point, one Star Lor… sir, incoming communication. Smith is putting it on speaker.”


"Antallos control, this is Captain Mullah Chalid of the Azami Brotherhood Star Lord 'Sheik'. We want to speak to Mullah Al Azim."

A few minutes later Aladdin stepped in front of the screen. "I'm here, Mullah Chalid."

The older warrior priest looked at him sharply. "You did send an interesting Message... hajji. Grand Ayatollah Azir sent us to bring him proof of the truth of your claims.... or execute you for blasphemy."

“The accusation of blasphemy hurts my heart, but I can see where it comes from as I doubted the first reports of Mecca coming back myself. Still, you need a Star Lord and an invader for that?"

Chalid snorted. "Not all warriors are that skeptic. Our companion in this wave is here to apply for your GDI forces to defend as mujahedeen."

"This wave?"

"We left another two invaders behind, to guard all of the civilians and recharge their KF drives. If we don’t jump back next week to tell them everything’s fine, they’ll think it’s a trap and stay clear."

"Civilians?"

"Pilgrims from the home worlds. Refugees from the combine and everywhere in the sphere we picked up on our way. Expect thousands, if not tens of thousands of them heading to your little world here, even if waves two and three think it’s a trap. Your message hit the faithful like nothing before or since. Group two needs two more days to recharge their KF drives, group three up to a full week."

Aladdin winced. General Davis would kill him slowly. With a spoon. A blunt one.

"You spoke of Port Krin being liberated."

"Yes."

"What about the other cities? Do they already belong to your CSN?”

"No, but eventually they will."

Chalid snorted “Think they will have much time to decide? You have several groups of trigger happy mercenaries on Jihad inbound… My troops will visit your city and spend some time and money there to take a break. But I have no power about the others.”

“Thank you for the warning, Mullah. I will meet you at the spaceport.” Lockheed Martin UK, Manning House London, United Kingdom Earth, Grantville Cluster 14th May 2007/3022

The thoroughly messy and crowded conference room was near pitch dark, the only illumination in the room coming from the large screen which reflected onto the faces of the assembled engineers and scientists in the room, leaving only part of their profiles visible to each other. It provided a blanket of anonymity and non-visibility for any grimace, wince or blush that could possibly show on their faces. It was this that convinced them that the Director was not a thoroughly heartless taskmaster when he was delivering his judgements on their designs.

Skip Tyler was leaning back on his chair, his one good leg comfortably resting on another in front of him. “Okay, let’s see what Monitor designs you have for me today.”

The digital projector flashed and there was a brief nervous silence.

X

“Crap, the firing arcs for the turrets are lousy, not to mention there aren’t enough of them. No engines in nacelles!”

The next slide was projected.

X

“Better, but not there yet…this is a ship of war in space, no windows…not even one.”

Another slide.

“Oh, ha ha, is this another joke, guys? Seriously, the DS9 Defiant?” The pregnant silence in the room was deafening, and a number of the engineers looked to each other in the gloom, wondering which one of their number would dare do this again. They had vivid memories of Skip raking one engineer over the coals for boldly bringing forth a Federation Constitution Class Enterprise BT inspired redesign. The Nacelles had held the FusionT Engines, which connected to the secondary engineering hull; the neck however was modified to connect to the centre of the main saucer section, the entirety of which would spin for gravity and the decks properly modified to take advantage. The only reason Skip hadn’t given the guy the boot was because of the sheer ingenuity the man had displayed in making an Enterprise that on paper at least would actually work…but it was totally impractical as a warship design that only relied on its armour for protection.

Skip opened his mouth to deliver another repetition of ‘This is real life, not Star Trek’ when his eyes caught the specifics of this BT inspired USS Defiant. As a general hull shape it was not half bad, the sloping lines and armour of the one hundred and twenty meter craft made for quite impressive stats when attacked from front, aft, port and starboard, it was lousy from ventral and dorsal aspects though. Then again, most aerodyne ships suffered the same problem. Instead of the magic space warp port and starboard nacelles, they had been replaced with a good number of effective fore and aft facing missile cells. The FusionT engines took the place of the Impulse Drive emitters and instead of Pulse Phasers, four forward facing NL35s. The Quantum Torpedo launchers were also replaced with NAC20s. He felt truly sorry for any bastard who would be caught in this thing’s forward weapon arc. The thing even had a small grav deck for the crew.

Skip coughed and shook his head. “Well, as a theoretical design I’ve got no complaints, it’s only failing was the lack of turreted weaponry that fire into the dorsal and ventral arcs.”

He thumbed the remote and another slide appeared.

X

“Hmmm, another good hull design, the fore missile tubes are a nice touch, but it needs more than one tri-barrel Capital Rail Cannon turret and it’s lacking a nice heavy broadside armament to port and starboard.”

X

Skip whistled in appreciation. “Now this…Infinity Class?...is promising. It’s mean and it’s not something I’d want to try to take on, especially with those four forward facing N-Gauss Rifles, Brightstar NLs and the BrahMos Missile Launcher cells. Hundred and ten meters length. A nice void black coat of paint and radar absorbent stealth material and I can easily see this as being the first production standard class of Monitor. It’s certainly my new favourite.”

X

Skip chuckled ruefully. “Jacques, if you want me to take your designs seriously I’d suggest you lay off putting the French flag on everything…and really a blue hull?” Everyone in the room joined in the laughter.

“Vive la France! Vive la Liberté!” came the tongue in cheek patriotic rejoinder from Jacques Grenier; an engineer from the ESA.

“While I’ll agree with the latter statement wholeheartedly,” Skip smirked, “Jacques, you need more turrets, around the fore and mid quarters, again the window has to go. Another problem about the design is the way it narrows in the centre between the back half and the front half. That is a big problem as it means that it is a potential structural weak point in the armour and if targeted could break the ship’s back. Don’t get me wrong, it looks ‘cool’, but we’re not going to impress our enemies with our hot rod space ships.”

The slides changed again.

“Aha, into battlecarrier design we go…”

X

Three kilometres in length! Goodness that’s two Potemkin’s end to end. No, we don’t have the logistics to build this now…perhaps when we have the entire Grantville Cluster’s resources behind us, we can crank out a dozen of these in time to say hello to the Clans. We’ll file this one in the ‘To be deferred’ folder.”

X

“Nine launch bays for an ASF complement. Another 18 launch points dedicated for the release and recovery of KF Boom equipped ships. Two kilometres in length, much more reasonable, sixteen NL45s, eighteen HNPPC, sixteen Light-NGauss, deployable Brahmos missile launcher cells, thirty two AMS systems, LLs, Gauss Rifles and Thunderbolt20s, two ninety five meter grav decks. Top thrust of 4Gs from two Potemkin class FusionTs…it even looks nice, sleek and deadly.” Skip trailed off thoughtfully, staring at the design with an appreciative glint in his eyes. He stood somewhat awkwardly, and when he was sure of his balance walked over to the podium. The lights came back on forcing everyone in the room to shield their darkness adapted eyes.

“All right everyone it’s getting there, I thought you should all be made aware that GDI planners have issued a revised timetable for Warship deployment. In the next four months I want you to focus on the Monitor, at the end of that time; we will be finalizing the basic production design. We will then head up to the Shipyards to begin construction of a single prototype and then space trials. Once they are over and everything checks out, an initial six ship production run will be completed. If no further problems from that run are identified then we’ll crank up production in a way that would make Henry Ford green with envy…there’s a lot of Solar System to defend and a lot of jobs that need doing in it.”

“This Monitor Mark I will initially only operate in the Solar System, at least until we design and build a ‘Carrier’ Module for the Modular Jumpships that are on the drawing boards, which can carry them internally as cargo for deployment beyond Sol. In three years, Mk II model will be a redesign to include a KF Boom which will allow it to operate on any standard Jumpship design. Technically, that changes the Mk II into an Assault/Combat Dropship, but like the Behemoth Class of Dropship, it will never see the surface of a planet. Finally, we will use those lessons learned to begin construction of the first true Earth Warship. This ship will be filling the role of a Corvette, Frigate or Destroyer class, depending on short to mid-term needs. Personally, I think we’ll end up going for a Frigate…only time will tell really. GDI wants the first one to be ready by 2013.”

Everyone in the room knew the significance of that date. The CSN aimed to stay well away from taking sides in upcoming 4th Succession War, but was preparing for the worst case scenario. The Warship and Monitors at the right place, and the right time, could perhaps one day make all the difference in the world…

“What about the Battlecarrier?” Jacques Grenier frowned.

“One step at a time gentlemen, one has to learn to walk before you can run. Once our smaller warship is in the field we take another step up the ladder to an Armoured Cruiser Class, and then finally to the first Battlecarrier by 2027. By the time 2034 rolls around GDI wants to be ready to throw the Clans a nice, warm, welcome back to the Inner Sphere party.”

88888888888888888 Quote:{| border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="100%" | class="alt2" style="border-bottom: #415c87 1px dotted; border-left: #415c87 1px dotted; border-top: #415c87 1px dotted; border-right: #415c87 1px dotted"|The following segment was written by Knobby |} 88888888888888888

Lockheed Martin UK, Manning House London, United Kingdom Earth, Grantville Cluster 14th May 2007/3022

After everyone had departed from the Warship meeting, Skip Tyler reached under the podium he was using, and dug out a copy of one of the source books covering submarines in the BT universe, the 3026 Technical Readout. He didn't regret in the least his decision to pass on a shot at a 688 command slot, back during the Red October incident, but at heart he was still a submariner. Fortunately, it was looking like there were enough forward thinkers in high places to keep it alive in planners' minds, even if it was only a 'back burner' project.

"Let's see," he mumbled to himself as he flipped open the book, and found the appropriate page for the Neptune class, produced by Federated Suns and later Federated Commonwealth. His eyes were first drawn to the image, after removing a sticky note reading 'see also TRO 3039', placed there by the friend who'd loaned him the book, earlier that day. Seeing nothing blatantly wrong with the depiction other than the silly retractable laser in the bow, from the limited view of the book, he started reading through the 'fluff', as he'd learned the BT gamers referred to it.

The first thing that caught his attention was the description of using extremely low frequency transmissions to coordinate from underwater control centers, and that attention wasn't to the benefit of the writer of the paragraph. The very nature of ELF transmissions precluded any reasonable transmission speed, at least using earth technology, with pre-arranged three letter codes standing in for specific command phrases. At least for fast attack subs, it was only really used to signal for them to come up to periscope depth to receive transmissions through other, faster communications methods.

Continuing on, he thought to himself, resuming his reading from where he left off. He felt an eyebrow involuntarily rise at the displacement. One hundred tons!? That was only slightly more displacement than the very first US Navy submarine, the Holland, and that boat couldn't even crack ten knots with the help of wind and tide, or go deeper than the depth of an Olympic sized pool! And weapons? Forget it, outside of personal sidearms for crew members there simply wasn't enough room. You'd need to make the Neptune a magnitude of order larger to make a lick of sense as a combat vessel.

Setting aside the incredulity that arose from reading that text, he continued on to the propulsion description. Diesel with hydrogen peroxide for AIP travel. Not even the German's Type 212 used that kind of propulsion setup, instead mounting a fuel cell for non-diesel operations... on a boat that was over ten times as heavy as the Neptune. "They apparently had a need for more stringent drug testing at FASA at the time," he groused in disgust. The Navy's hatred of drug users dated back to just after Vietnam, reinforced for Tyler by the drunk driver who'd cost the command candidate his leg.

With a growing sense of something almost like dread, he read further. Test depth of 120 meters? For that size hull, not really unreasonable. About half the depth of a 688's officially claimed test depth, but between BT metallurgy and that tiny hull, not too unrealistic.

Thank goodness they at least understood the concept of passive sonar at FASA was the extent of his comments on the weapons computers, knowing that mediocre performance was almost a given, from what he'd been told by BT grognards.

Then he saw what had to be the topping of a cake seemingly made of stupidity combined with a lack of research. LRMs used as torpedoes? What part of 'water is far more dense than air or vacuum' did the writers fail to understand? And an LRM-20 combined with two SRM-6s? Hyperspace ammo bins or not, that's insane for that size hull. With those weapons and that hull size you couldn't fit six fingers in the crew compartment, let alone six men. And there's that damned laser again. "Submarines have no business directly engaging ground targets like that," he protested to an empty room. He cut off an intended objection about the laser being able to shoot underwater when he realized he had spoken his disbelief about the large laser in the Neptune's bow more loudly than was appropriate for his current location.

Let's see if Catalyst did any better for the reasoning, he said as he switched to the 3039 book, and flipped to the Neptune's listing.

The modified text regarding control communication methods, for those undersea command centers, helped ease Skip's blood pressure back down to safer levels, with the mention of using buoys and hard lines, but only by a little. The buoys would help localize the command center, telling them where to look. He did, however, have to grant the writers their assumption that it still was more protected, even without anything nearby to defend it, than a similar facility on land, where it could be directly targeted by aerospace fighters or dropships.

Unfortunately for him, Tyler's blood pressure was destined to begin rising again. Same top speed, but now a 270 class ICE instead of a 240? They didn't have room for the original, its fuel, and its oxidizer, but then went and put a bigger powerplant in it. And no comment on the hydrogen peroxide system degrading the powerplant over time? He knew, from chats with others involved in AIP methods involving hydrogen peroxide, that the stuff was more dangerous than the diluted stuff they sell at the drug store - or chemist, as they call them here, he adds absently. Being born and raised in the US, he was still adjusting to life in the UK, even after all the time he'd spent in England. And...a thousand meter depth from that overglorified beer can?! The flipping "Alfa" class - referring to the NATO code name for a titanium hulled Russian attack sub class, the deepest diving combat submarine Earth currently had - only goes down to 350 meters, and it's like 600 times as much displacement as this abomination!

He closed the book, not even continuing to read, and put it back under the podium.

"I need a freaking drink," he declared to the world, or at least the part of it inside the room, and then proceeded to head somewhere that he could get just that.

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