First of all I want to apologize for the delay of posting the part 2 of the story. The reason for this is that I had my hands full with work and will probably continue to be just as busy until the second half of July.
I have decided to post the draft
of the part 2 - that means that it cuts off in a unnatural place + at some things will be changed in the finished version (not the events that take place only the wording + some fluff added).
Expect the final version of part 2 and part 3 to be posted in the second half of july.
Update. As promised entire part 2 is now posted. Bit rushed I admit.
15 years later
Bureaucratic mistake. That is what they call situations like this, Mattias thought. A mercenary mech lance, originally bound for Thule had been rescheduled to Nyland by a clerical error. Mattias, in lack of a more proper port official, had been assigned by his länsman brother to meet and deal with, what would probably be a very angry group of mercenaries.
Mattias sighed at his poor fortune. He, like any sensible citizen of the Rasalhague Republic, thought of mercenaries as glorified bandits. Now he would have to deal with group of them - that is if he could find them.
The drop ship has been down for a day but the mercenaries and their mechs were nowhere to see. The two port workers, part time dock workers that is, could offer no information on the missing mercenaries. Just as he was about to inspect the port's storage area, a blond woman in dirty blue coverall, exited the steel metal container that serviced as the port terminal's cantina. She headed straight towards him. Mattias could see the left side of her face – it was horribly scarred and disfigured.
“Work accident,” the woman explained, obviously aware of what had caught the port official's attention.
“Oh..Sorry...I did not mean to stare”
“That's ok. I am Anna Holm, the liaison to Buck's Boys mercenary lance.”
So she was not the mercenary herself, merely a go between civilian government on her planet and the mercenary group, Mattias thought.
“I was told you have been looking for a group of mercenaries?”
“Of course. A terrible mistake has happened. The freighter captain that brought you here apparently received orders to change course while you were still inbound to his ship. I don't understand why and how. Where are the mercenaries?”
“They got suspicious after being landed here so they camped their mechs behind the hill,” she said pointing to hill behind her.
“Oh..I see...Well, the next outbound freighter to Thule is Nevros, arriving in four weeks...ah..that is roughly three standard week's time”
“So we are stuck in mean time here?”
“I am sorry but it seems like it...”
One Standard Week later
“Can we go home earlier today?”
The high school history teacher Olaf looked up from his desk on the pudgy kid that had asked the question.
“But other teacher's always are letting us of earlier these days. It is end of the school year and we are finished with the book...”
“Well, the other teachers are kind, considerate people that like working with children. Do I strike you as one of those?”
“Exactly – NOW SIT DOWN! We are going to have a visit from a veteran of Ronin War...”
Anna breathed a sigh of relief. She hated talking about the Ronin War but whenever the people found out who she was, she was nearly always asked to do just that. This also happened when the authorities on Nyland found out who she was. Due to her being an officer in KungsArmé, she couldn't refuse an official request for speeches about Ronin War.
The truth was of course that she had not actually participated in Ronin War – except of being one of the first victims of it. Most of the war she spent in a hospital with doctors trying to save her life - and then another half year after the war was spent in the hospital after reconstruction of her face failed and caused further complications.
Still, because she was the sole survivor of “Ambush at Skalteborg” (that despite not being anyway near Skalteborg and being just a 20 to 30 seconds long, one sided fight, was elevated to heroic last stand by brave soldiers of KungsArmé which had fought against numerically superior force) she was ordered to make inspirational speeches now and then. Those speeches, Anna was told, were building national pride which would inspire future generations to great deeds.
Well, Anna thought, the kids on Nyland Elementary School No. 1 were not inspired. Actually they obviously wanted to be somewhere else. So did Anna. Still she did her part and they did theirs, clapping politely at the end.
She was sitting on the bench in front of the now empty school, which was a prefab building with no windows. The planet was not one of the worst places in the universe – Anna had seen worse – it had actually a stable climate and breathable atmosphere. But it was definitely one of the most boring places in the universe. Entire planet had one color – gray. Its inhabitants were almost all farmers and almost all settlements featured no more than four buildings. The settlement she was in, actually the capitol “city” of the planet had no name, consisted of three building clusters, that of school, port buildings and that of länsman/port office/planet's parliament building – which was a lofty name for what was just a rusty container. The inhabitants lived in what Anna seemed to be simply holes in the ground which were covered by tarpaulins to keep the elements out.
There was no bars or for that matter any sort of entertainment industry, except a cantine that served lukewarm bland food besides alcoholic drinks that were served only on Saturdays when entire community collectively got drunk as skunks.
The entire settlement was presently covered in thick mist, detracting nothing from the dreary atmosphere of the place.
The lack of any social outlet of course did nothing to improve the sour tempers among the mercenaries. The three mercs belonged to the mercenary company called Buck's Boys. Their leader, Buck Lavrov, looking to increase his profits, had agreed to detach three mechs and their pilots to bolster the defenses of Thule, a planet on the very edge of Rasalhague space.
Anna and her own mech was to go with them and function as the liaison officer between the mercenaries and Thule's valdherre. Unofficially she would also gather as much information as she could on Buck's Boys by carefully and unobtrusively questioning the three mercs once they were away from the watchful eyes of their employer, Buck Lavrov.
Mercenaries had been as dangerous to Free Rasalhague Republic as the ronins during the Ronin War. At the outset of the war, the young state had turned to mercenaries in order to stave of ronin's attacks but most of the mercenary companies did no fighting at all, citing various reasons for avoiding fulfilling their contracts. Many worlds suffered greatly, lulled in false feeling of security due to the presence of a hired mercenary mech force that would do no fighting once ronin forces arrived.
For these reasons RIIA, Rasalhague Internal Intelligence Agency, kept close watch on the mercenary activities in the Republic, occasionally making use of Kungsarmé personnel like Anna for information gathering activities.
The info gathering part of her assignment was a standard routine which Anna had done many times before. She personally doubted that she would be able to uncover anything new or unexpected about the Buck's Boys – the old Lovrov was a greedy fellow running his company with iron hand but that was not unusual or unknown to RIIA.
Nothing she had hear from the three mercenaries had contradicted this notion.
A figure emerged from the mist, hurrying towards her. After a moment of tension, caused by unexpected appearance of the man, Anna relaxed. The man was Mattias, the clerk she met on the arrival to Nyland.
Perhaps he has some info on when we leave this hole, she thought. The man was sweating despite the cold temperature.
“Löjtnant Holm! There you are.. I was looking all over the place for you”
“What is the matter?”
“We got emergency on our hands! Half hour ago we were contacted by the HPG station
This got Anna's attention. Nyland had no HPG stations. Officially at least. And Anna had never heard about an unofficial HPG station...
“You got a HPG station on this planet?”
“Sort of..It is not working properly according to COMSTAR,” Mattias explained, “they tried to explain it to me but I did not understand what they were talking about”
Strange, Anna thought – something wasn't right about this. She was willing to bet that no official body in the Republic knew anything about any HPG stations on Nyland.
“So what do they need help with?” she inquired.
“That's just it – we only got a repeating SOS signal. That's why I approached you. Except for the Länsman and his two deputies, we have no armed men on this planet. ”
So the clerk thought that whatever problems the HPG station had, would require a mech force, Anna concluded. Better to inform him of the lay of the land.
“Mattias, I need you to understand something. While I work with mercenaries, according to contract we, that means Kungsarmé, have with them, I have lot of influence but no direct control over them. You need to speak to them about any help you may need.”
The port's cantina served as the temporary conference room for the occasion. The three mercenaries kept together, sitting on the one of the tables. Anna studied their faces discretely. She wanted to gauge their reactions.
James was the oldest of the group, his leathery and scarred face a testament of his hard life. He was high in the hierarchy of the mercenary company and Lovrov had probably put him in command of the mercenary lance because he trusted the old man. Anna had quickly discovered that this tight-lipped man of few words was someone not likely to spill any information to her unless he intended to do so. Right now his attention was on the man who was giving the briefing on the HPG distress signal, the Länsmann of Nyland, a bald man approaching his fifties, which also happened to be the oldest brother of Mattias. Occasionally he would glance at Anna. Watching for my reaction that one, Anna thought.
Unlike James, Arvin was a man eager for the respect of others, loved speaking about the exploits he hard been part of. As a consequence of this, Anna had no trouble in making him talk and he was generally good source for information on Buck's Boys – as long as you never forgot that he did not consider the honesty to be a virtue.
Rikke, the youngest of the mercenaries, was having trouble sitting still and was constantly fidgeting with her hands. She was a hyperactive girl in her twenties, new to the mercenary business. Naive and sociable, she befriended Anna instantly. Often a secondary source to Arvin's tales, Rikke's version of Arvin's stories would let Anna determine how much of what Arvin was telling was actually truth.
The länsmann Markus was speaking slowly, as if every word had to be forced out of his mouth. Right now he seemed to have forgotten what he had been talking about, “Where was I?”
“In addition to emergency signal?” Mattias tried to help.
“Yes, yes...In addition to the emergency signal... Or actually before the emergency signal...We have detected...well, it was actually a man in the neighboring settlement that received the word from his cousin in a fish farm village 4-5 days from here...”
Rikke's face changed to the one of a woman wishing that she could die right this moment. Anna struggled not to laugh.
Not noticing this, the länsmann continued to drone on, “could have been couple of village boys... Well, it is not important... They saw, or perhaps someone told them about it...three trails in the sky that we...that is to say I...I think that those were the trails of drop ships... A day later the emergency signal came from that defect HPG station”
“A defect HPG station? Never heard about such thing,” James commented, rising a brow and looking at Anna.
Mattias shrugged, “That is what comstar guys have been telling us...”
James grunted. Obviously he too, just like Anna, was wondering about what COMSTAR was really doing on Nyland. HPG stations were extremely valuable, as only means of communication between the human worlds. While they could become offline for whatever the reason, COMSTAR never used a decade, if Mattias and his brother länsmann were to be believed, to repair a HPG station. Something was odd about this story.
“So we are to assume that whoever landed, attacked the HPG station after the landing...” Arvin commented. Anna agreed, “Seems about the right – the question is who?”
She turned to the länsmann, “Any possible candidates?”
“Well, there have been raids on this planet... by pirates. ”
“When was the last one?” Rikke asked.
“20-23 standard years ago”
“But the security of this and neighboring systems has been heightened considerably since that,” Anna pointed out.
“This is true,” the länsmann conceded.
“Three dropships sounds to me like a lot of metal being offloaded,” James commented looking squarely at Anna. He wants me to know that he doesn't like this at all, she thought.
“That too is true,” the länsmann said.
James smiled and shook his head slowly, “So we are to advance to a position 500 kilometeres away, with no prior knowledge of the lay of the land”
“You will be provided with tactical maps and...” Mattias interjected.
James raised his hand stopping Mattias, “allow me to finish. We are to advance on a substantial hostile force we know nothing about for sole reason that some COMSTAR nutcases that have been clearly lying last 10 years to you peasants what exactly they are doing in middle of nowhere, are crying for help”
He took a breath, “Go suck vacuum”
Here we are, Anna thought – she had expected James to refuse. Mattias and his brother were red in the face, despite her preparing them for this moment.
“You are contracted to Rasalhague Republic, ” she pointed out to James.
“Seems to me that COMSTAR is the one crying for help...”
“Cut the ****. You know very well the Republic is obliged by the treaty between the two to support COMSTAR in matters of security. Republic local forces have to investigate the SOS from COMSTAR. You and your sorry ***** are hired by Republic. You breach that contract and you know what Buck will do. He will not risk his reputation with, “ and here Anna took a breath before spelling out the next word, “C-O-M-S-T-A-R'S own Mercenary Review Board - He will boot you out of the company instead.”
James looked at the floor smiling, “If you were leading a lance... With no tactical support... No knowledge of what you were getting into... Would you take your men and women into that sort of fight?”
“I say we take a peek... If there is no heavy opposition, we fight. If we they too tough for us, we fall back and regroup”
James exchanged glances with other mercenaries. He spat on the floor and said, “Fine, we will do it – but how will we do it?”
The HPG station, bearing no name, was placed in the hills, over 500 kilometers from Nyland Port. The four mechs could get there in two to three days but Anna had chosen a route along a several settlements that would lengthen the trip to one standard week.
Anna reasoned that the force that had landed would have managed to overcome the defenders of HPG station, if there were any in first place, long before the relief force arrived, so by plotting an indirect route by some settlements she hoped to gather some intelligence from the settlements along the way. Also she hoped to recruit some volunteers for their mission.
Their force was a decent one on the paper – Anna's own Grasshopper
heavy mech was the most powerful one in the lance. Despite that and that she commanded over the operation, it was the James who was the commander of the lance with his own medium Trebuchet
. The lance's anti-infantry role was filled by Arvin's Vulcan
, while Rikke piloted a battered Clint
that she had inherited from her mother.
During the third day of their march, a line of locals has formed behind their four mechs, riding all sorts of vehicles. They were armed with assortment of weapons, from home made chemical propellent firearms to rusty ancient Mauser laser rifles.
These men were supposed to keep the hostile infantry busy, if there was any, but Anna doubted the local “militia“, as they loved to call themselves, would be of any value. Or sober, she thought, looking at the young men drinking home brew liqueur in back of pick up car. Right now they were riding beside her mech and one of them was mooning her.
Definitely drunk already, she thought. You don't provoke a girl when she rides a 70 tons death machine when sober.
“Want me to deal with him?” Rikke asked.
“Nah, we might need them”
She sighed, “Trying to think of something...”
The villages they had been visiting had always couple of young men willing to join the ”militia” but no information about the invasion forces. The first few settlements hadn't even heard about any landings of unknown forces. As the days went on the rumor spread and to Anna's chagrin the locals tended to fill in the missing details with their own fantasies and had little tangible information to give.
It was only on the fifth day that they arrived at a settlement called Bygda where locals had some solid information about the unknown forces.
“Definitely pirates, madam Kavellrist” old man told Anna.
“How do you know?”
“A son of my cousin saw their vehicles a day before yesterday. Square things with wheels...”
“Where is that son of your cousin? May I speak to him?”
“Well, he traveled back to the capital to tell them of them pirates”
Great, Anna thought. She looked around. Entire settlement have crawled out from their holes, or for whatever passed for their homes, in order to watch the woman KungsArmé officer with horribly scarred face. She had no doubt that her scars would be often repeated tale in the boring nights for couple of generations.
“Can anyone tell me how these vehicles looked like? What they were doing? Were there any mechs around? Information like that.”
“Well they were square and they had rocket things on them. There was two of them, madam Kavellrist”
“Did they knew they were being observed?”
“No madam... There is no better hunter than Thomas in these parts, I can assure you of that. That boy can hide inside your cockpit and you wouldn't notice it”
No further information could be found in the settlement so the mechs and militia moved on after they resupplied on the water. As they were leaving the settlement, the villagers were waving them goodbye. Rikke had her cockpit open and was blowing kisses to local young men that grinned as idiots. The young women with them were not equally amused and were showing the middle finger to Rikke. Anna doubted the gesture was a numerical symbol for number one...
But most cheers were directed to Anna's Grasshopper. The huge mech with Free Rasalhague Republic banners hanging from the sides of the mech's arms, belonged to KungsArmé and not some mercenary outfit. The villagers were awed and visible proud at such awesome display of their nation's power.
Milita men from the capital had already in short time they stayed there managed to spread the rumor that she was a hero of Ronin War that had with this very own mech fought alone against a company of Ronin mechs.
Anna had to be careful with where and how fast she stepped as the villagers tried to touch her mech. She understood their feelings – she too as little girl felt like that when a rebel mech passed through her city.
They were still within the sight of Bygda settlement when they encountered the enemy.
The road the mechs were following was swinging around a hill and just as Rikke reached the curve, a vehicle identified by the computer as Packrat
almost crashed into her Clint's leg. The driver stopped for a second, as if wondering of what had just happened, then rapidly reversed the vehicle.
“Unknown Packrat, identify yourself,” James barked over the external loudspeakers. The answer was swarm of six missiles that barely missed the left leg of the Clint. Arvin was first to react, firing his machine gun and medium laser on the Packrat. Rikke joined in with her own medium lasers, scorching the sides of the reversing vehicle. The Packrat simply exploded, overturning in the process.
All mech were now sprinting to catch any potential enemy force behind the hill before they regrouped, but there was no enemy force remaining.
“A scout?” Rikke suggested.
“Where is the other one?” Anna asked.
“The other one what?” Arvin wanted to know.
James explained, “The old man was talking about pair of vehicles. Scouts vehicles rarely operate alone. It is likely that there is a friend of his around here somewhere...”
But the sensors showed nothing. The land around them was devoid of any activity and the only sound being picked up by external mics was the burning of the wreck.
“Rikke and Arvin – you two move around and establish parameter security. One kilometer out. Anna – may I suggest investigating the wreck?” James asked.
“Agree on that. I will ask the militia to scour the surrounding area for any signs of vehicle passing. May give us some clues of where the second scout is”
The wreck offered few clues. The design was definitely a Packrat, a durable and decently armored scout vehicle. Obviously rashly painted in fresh camouflage painting with original gray pain showing through, this vehicle was also badly maintained – usually the front armor on a Packrat was enough to defeat the 14.5 mm MG shells from Arvin's Vulcan, but this time they went straight through the four crew members. The communication equipment was non-standard for this vehicle, the original communication suit replaced with civilian grade communication devices. The ****** and SMR ammunition had been removed, the additional free space being filled by now melted plastic bottles of fuel and water.
The smell of burned flesh and fuel pervaded the air. James and Anna, along with few militia men had struggled, under great risk of secondary explosions, to put out the fire. Fortunately only the two bodies in the read had been touched by the flames. The two in front, despite being mangled by machine gun shells were not touched by the fire.
“No uniformity in their uniforms,” James noted, trying to wipe the blood from the sleeves of the jacket of the one of the bodies. He was looking for a unit patch but there was none to be found.
“Could be mercs too... Scout details are rarely issued uniforms”
Seeing Anna's questioning glance, he explained further, “You never know if your scouts get killed like these ones here. Lack of uniforms will deny the enemy information about the identity of merc unit they are dealing with. Identity of merc company can provide great deal of information”
“I still think we are dealing with pirates” Anna said, pointing towards the smallest of the crew members, badly burned and lacking his head.
“That guy was barely out of his teens”
She then pointed to the dead women, “His mom. The father beside her and I bet that the body next to the kid is his own sister”
She turned towards James, “Some pirate gangs operate as collection of family cooperatives. The crew of one tank, or in this case a scout vehicle, are all relatives. Mechs are piloted and maintained by one familiy and so on...”
“And then they land and attack a HPG station relatively deep in Republic space?”
“Who knows... We are not that far away from pirate space. Two jumps away and we are in no man's land”
“Hmm... I hope you are right... Anything else you want to see here?”
“No, I don't think there is anything left for us here... Lets move back to Bygda and make sure someone brings news about this to the capital. Also we need to tell them to bury the bodies. Perhaps they can scavenge something out of the wreck too...”
Nearly 10 kilometers away by now, a lone Packrat was driving away at full speed.
Continue reading the story.
Edited by Warenwolf, 30 August 2012 - 09:58 AM.