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Author Topic: The Excaliburs Saga  (Read 2195 times)


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The Excaliburs Saga
« on: 09 April 2020, 15:29:01 »
My new MegaMek single-player campaign, The Excaliburs Saga, is in part a work of BT fan fiction.  So I thought I would post the between-mission fiction installments here as well as on the campaign website, for people who like BT fiction but who don't play MegaMek.

Episode 1: Escape from Earth


His dad's Excalibur was the first 'Mech Dan Kenner ever saw, and for a long, idyllic time it was the only 'Mech in his world, like Earth was the only planet.  Dad would be gone for months at a time. Mom would be a little snippy and sad for those months, and she'd always say he was out in the Excalibur, on some other planet.  Then when he came back, she was happy.

Dan told him one day, "The kids at school pretend to be 'Mechs sometimes. We stomp around and punch each other."

"Oh yeah?" he said.  He was laughing, but Dan didn't pick up on such things at that age.

"You ever punch a 'Mech for real, Dad?"

"That wouldn't be a good idea.  The Excalibur's not built for punching.  It's not for fighting up close.  I have to stand back and shoot from a distance."

So from then on, when Dan pretended to be the Excalibur, he stood back and threw snowballs.

When he was five, Dad took him for a ride.  That was when he first saw the 'Mech.  It did look like a knight.  "Is that a sword?" Dan said.  "I thought it wasn't for fighting up close."

"Not a sword," said Dad.  "That's the most powerful gun in the Inner Sphere.  A Gauss cannon."

A tall woman in a Com Guard uniform came up behind him.  "Your dad's a dead shot with that gun."

"Dan, this is Nini Khumalo," said Dad.  "I've told you about Nini, right?"
Dan remembered.  "You're the Adept.  Dad's second in command."

She nodded.  "You taking the kid out for a spin, Geoff?" said Nini.

"You let Jake ride in the Black Knight all the time," he said.  "I figured why not."

The two of them went out on the training ground.  It was mostly empty, a Chameleon or two jumping around, but not much activity.  Dad crouched the 'Mech behind a barrier and drew a bead on a target.  "Want to shoot the gun?"  He showed Dan which trigger to press.  At Dan's touch, the rifle blew the target apart.

He'd thought about growing up to be a MechWarrior before then, but after that day he never wanted any other life.

Mom got more sad as that year went on.  One night he heard her and Dad talking quietly, intensely, when they thought he was asleep.  At first it sounded like a fight, but then he realized they were scared.

He asked her later about one of the things he overheard.  "I thought ComStar was the good guys?"

"There are a lot of good people in ComStar.  Dad works with good people.  But the ones I work for, some of them can be bad.  I'm trying to figure out how I can be good and--" she hesitated.  "And still keep my job."

"But you're a doctor, right, mom?  How can your job be bad?"

"It's hard to explain, honey.  But it turns out doctors can be as bad as anyone."

MARCH 3036

The night it all happened, he thought he was alone in the house with Mom--Dad had been out in the Excalibur for a couple of days.  But when someone shook him awake, it was Dad.

"We've got to go, Dan.  No time to get dressed."  There was no time for anything, it sounded like.  All Dan's things would have to stay behind.

"We're going into space," Dad said when he asked.

When he asked about Mom, Dad took a while to answer, and even when he did Dan could tell the next thing he said was a lie.  "She should be on the DropShip with us."

There was a car outside, its engine already going.  Dad introduced the driver.  "Ben's one of my MechWarriors."

That was exciting.  "What do you pilot?"  By then Dan had broadened his horizons a bit, beyond just the Excalibur.

"A Griffin," Ben said.

Dan wanted to ask more about the Griffin, but Dad told him to stay quiet.  The car seemed to be going pretty fast.  After a little while a call came in for Dad.  He listened for a while, then just hung up.  "G.od d.amn it."  Bad language meant he was mad, Dan knew.

"What?" said Ben.

"They know what we're up to.  Firefight's already started.  We're holding the port, but they won't take long breaking through."

"We'll have to just gun it, then."

"I know."

Ben, the MechWarrior in the driver seat, turned back to Dan.  "Buckle up, Dan.  You're going to be real brave and real quiet, aren't you?"

Dan nodded.

Ben turned back to the wheel.  "After we get out of here, you get a ride in the Griffin."


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #1 on: 09 April 2020, 23:38:51 »
so internal Comstar fight?
or early WOB breakup?
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #2 on: 10 April 2020, 14:52:10 »
so internal Comstar fight?
or early WOB breakup?

More like the former! But read on...


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #3 on: 10 April 2020, 14:59:47 »
Episode 2: Saving Taggart

  • Temporary Case Report 3036.84
    ROM Branch Delta/Epsilon

        Special Order 3036.84 is presently incomplete; Adept V-Delta/Epsilon Roger Stearn KIA. Adept Stearn targeted mission subject GEOFFREY KENNER while exiting Charleston, SC staff office. Adept Stearn was then fired upon by Acolyte BENJAMIN WABASH. Stearn was fatally wounded; Wabash and Kenner are at large, unharmed.
        Wabash's actions suggest Purity of Vision III-Alpha may be of unreliable loyalty. Recommend we expand this operation to detain all Purist MechWarriors until Kenner and Wabash are successfully terminated.

After the DropShip made it out, after Dad told him Mom had died, Dan spent a lot of time on the aft observation deck.  For days and days you could still see Terra.

One night an African kid about his age came up to him.  "Hey, Jake," Dan said.  Jake was Nini Khumalo's son.

"I heard your mom didn't make it to the ship," Jake said.  "Neither did my dad."

"I'm sorry, Jake."  It felt like a really important thing to say.

"You too, buddy."

MAY 3036

"When we land on Atria," said Dad, "I've got to take the Excalibur out."

"How come?" said Dan.

"Got to find an old buddy of mine.  You remember I used to talk about John Taggart?"

Dan nodded.  "The mercenary."

"Well, the troops and I are going to need work out here.  We can't be Com Guards anymore.  We have to be soldiers for the Great Houses.  John's been doing that for years.  He can help us get started.  But he's in a tough fight down there.  If he's going to help us, we have to help him first."

Geoff Kenner dismounted from the Excalibur.  John Taggart was already waiting for him by the 'Mech's feet.

"Kenner!  Never thought I'd see the likes of you again, after you up and joined that cult."

Just hearing his accent, Geoff grinned.  Back on Earth, he'd loved his occasional trips out to Wales, in large part because of that accent and the way it reminded him of his old friend.  They saluted each other and followed it up with an embrace.

"By God," said Taggart, "I thought we were well and truly thumped out there."

"You were!" said Geoff.  "The Dracs had you dead to rights."

"No longer.  Techs tell me we can save at least half the regiment."  Taggart shook his head.  "Not the colonel, though.  Krieger took one in the cockpit."

"So the Irregulars are yours?"

"I suppose.  Unless you want 'em?"

"That's not how the chain of command usually works."

"You did save our arses.  And you'd be doing us a big favor, joining up.  I mean, look at this!"  He gestured up at the Excalibur.  "You got the crews to maintain this stuff?"

"Our whole tech team is on the Overlord."

"That settles it, then!"

Geoff rolled his eyes.  "Here, tell you what.  You got a half-kroner piece?"

Taggart handed him the coin.

"Call it," said Geoff.


He flipped the coin.  "It's tails."

Taggart laughed.  "Like I said, it's settled.  Kenner's Irregulars."

"That sounds stupid, John.  Not to mention egotistical."

"Why, what do you want to call the unit?"

"I don't know, something else.  Anything."

Taggart looked up again at the 'Mech.  "The Excaliburs?"

The crowd of mercenaries outnumbered the coffins, but not by much.  Geoff's Purists had changed out of their Com Guard uniforms, but it was still easy to tell them apart from the surviving Irregulars.  Taggart's troops seemed stooped over to Geoff--tired, prematurely aged by their losses.

But that made them veterans, too.  And once they healed, it would make them better warriors in the end.

He heard Taggart's voice behind him and turned to see someone else he knew--a young officer in the garb of an Irregulars lieutenant.

"Geoff, you remember Anita Chu Lai," said Taggart.

"A. Chu Lai!"  Geoff shook her hand.  "I thought you were a Blazing Ace for life, Anita."

She shook her head.  "I came as far as I could working for Gideon, but then I wanted to be an officer.  There's no room for advancement in a lance-sized unit.  John put in a good word for me when Krieger needed a new lance commander."

"Didn't want to sign back on with Waco?"

Chu Lai rolled her eyes.  "Never again.  Talk about a regiment with a death wish."  She turned serious.  "So what's this about reorganizing, sir?  Should I be calling you Colonel?"

Geoff looked at John, who shrugged.  "We're keeping a few things under our hat for the time being," he said.

The memorial service began.  A sash with the Irregulars' insignia was draped over each coffin, ending with Josiah Krieger's.  Taggart took the podium.

"We lost more brothers and sisters yesterday than we have in the regiment's whole life prior.  Such a loss can't help but transform us.  The Irregulars are Joe Krieger's unit.  We'll bury that name and begin something new, and hopefully better, here today.  But first we need to talk about what it is we're burying.  It's a noble tradition--not an old one, but a great one all the same.  A tradition of service.  That's what Joe built for us.

"He was a mercenary, same as all of us, and that meant fighting for money.  But he never loved money the way some do, not the way he loved people.  He was always the one to buy the first round, and the second.  So many times I saw him dip into his personal fortune to send his soldiers to the best hospitals, and their children to the best schools.  Make sure to lift a glass in his name tonight.  I know he'd appreciate that, and he'd want to be there for it."

Taggart motioned Geoff to come up to the podium.  "I want you to meet an old friend.  Geoff Kenner has been cloistered with ComStar for a few years, but he's still the mate who fought beside me for four years in the Dioscuri, still the hero who fought and won beside Gideon Braver on Albiero.  Yesterday his Guards saved us and our regiment from an early grave."

Geoff approached the microphone.  The crowd watched him expectantly.  He saw a few tears, drawn out either by the laying of the caskets or by Taggart's speech.  He tried not to let himself feel the pressure.  "John and I have plans for the unit," he began, "but this isn't the time for that.  This is the time to heal.  John and I have spoken with the Commonwealth liaison and are finalizing plans for a period of rest and refit."

"I wish I'd met your colonel," he went on.  "I've fought beside you now, but not bled with you.  Not the way he did.  Still, I lost someone recently.  Maybe that's enough to help me understand.  One thing I'm sure of: we have to go on together and try to hold each other up.  That may seem hard now, but we're soldiers.  We survived the battle.  We can survive its aftermath."

The 'Mechs were painted silver with gold and blue details--no more Com Guard white, no more of Krieger's blue.  Kenner's Purists had to get used to lances, companies, lieutenants, captains, colonels--which suited them just fine.  They were warriors.  Good riddance to the religion of Blake.

Most of the changes were a pain in Geoff's ass, though.  Taggart was a good XO, but Krieger's Irregulars had been gutted on Atria, and now they were being asked to reorganize under a colonel they'd only just met.  Kenner kept the surviving officers at their posts--even the ones who didn't impress him much--and promoted the ones he felt deserved it.  Anita Chu Lai became a captain.

Then Purity of Vision III-Alpha was disbanded for good, its officers and troops reassigned among the new battalions.  One of the battalions had lost its major, leaving room for Nini to take over command.  She was more than ready.

There were pleasant sides to all this, too.  He especially relished pinning a lieutenant's silver bar to Ben Wabash's collar.

"Is this in honor of my driving skills?" said Ben.

"It's for being a good soldier," said Geoff.  "For saving my son's life--and mine--I should give you a medal."

Ben looked around him, as if for eavesdroppers, although they were alone.  "We haven't talked much about that, sir.  When I saved you."

"I hope you know, that's not because I wasn't grateful."

"Sure, of course.  But the guy I killed, he was ROM.  I mean, should I be worried?"  Ben suddenly looked very tired.  "I am worried."

"Me too, Ben.  There's no way they're just going to let us go.  The best we can do is try to be prepared when they come at us."

Not very reassuring, Geoff knew--but it was true.  They weren't safe, and there wasn't much to do except wait.

Ben tried to fill the silence.  "Krieger's contract here is almost up, sir.  What's next?"

"Good question.  We can't go through the Mercenary Review Board--ComStar's blacklisted us.  But the Commonwealth is interested in seeing more of us.  I think they're mostly interested in having the Star League 'Mechs on their side.  Anyway, we're in negotiations now for a new deployment to the Sarna March."

"Nice easy action."

"Maybe.  The Capellans are in bad shape, but they still have some good troops.  And the best ones will be on that border, staring us down."


    Kenner was one of the first Com Guards recruited after the end of the Fourth Succession War, at the beginning of the Guards' expansion.  A veteran mercenary who previously served with the Dioscuri and the Blazing Aces, Kenner chafed under the constant scrutiny of ROM, but chose to remain in the Guard after marrying ComStar physician Audrey Tetlock.  He rose to command Purity of Vision, a special forces battalion.  Although Geoff would be the first to admit that he is only an average 'Mech pilot, his long-range marksmanship skills are second to none.  Even more importantly, he is a superb battlefield strategist.

David CGB

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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #4 on: 10 April 2020, 15:50:40 »
Great story, love to see someone who does not believe all the lies!
Federated Suns fan forever, Ghost Bear Fan since 1992, and as a Ghost Bear David Bekker star captain (in an Alt TL Loremaster)


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #5 on: 10 April 2020, 21:03:45 »
ONE. Ping. Only.


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #6 on: 10 April 2020, 21:19:23 »
have you worked out a equipment list for this unit.


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #7 on: 11 April 2020, 00:20:46 »
have you worked out a equipment list for this unit.

Parts of it, to greater and lesser extents, at different points in the unit's history.  But not a full TO&E or anything.  Might be fun to put together a full list of everything they have in '36, wouldn't be crazy hard to do.

At this point in the history they're a short regiment (7 'Mech companies) with about 30 of the 'Mechs ComGuard-standard and the rest a wide variety of 3025 IS 'Mechs.  The roster in 3036 looks like this:

1 Regiment [Veteran, Reliable]

Command Lance
Col. Geoffrey Kenner
[4 BattleMechs, Heavy]

Air Reconaissance Platoon [4 VTOLs]

Fleet Defense Flight [6 AeroSpace Fighters]

1st BattleMech Battalion
Lt. Col. John Taggart
A Company [12 BattleMechs, Assault]
B Company [12 BattleMechs, Heavy]
C Company [12 BattleMechs, Medium]

2nd BattleMech Battalion
Maj. Nini Khumalo
D Company [12 BattleMechs, Heavy]
E Company [12 BattleMechs, Light]

3rd BattleMech Battalion
Maj. Ryan Carstairs
F Company [12 BattleMechs, Medium]
G Company [12 BattleMechs, Medium]

Armored Scout Company [12 Hovertanks]

1 Invader JumpShip: EXS Camelot
1 Overlord DropShip: EXS Lancelot
2 Union DropShips: EXS Percival, SS Pelanor


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #8 on: 16 April 2020, 00:06:11 »
Part 3: The Alliance


Dan liked the compound here on Corey just fine.  There was a 'Mech simulator game in the rec room that wasn't too big for a kid to use.  He and Jake Khumalo played against each other whenever Dad and Nini came here to hang out.  The game wasn't programmed to simulate an Excalibur, but there were a lot of other good 'Mechs.  Dan liked the Awesome and the Griffin a lot.  Both were cool, but the Awesome was a little easier to use.

This time, right in the middle of their fight, Jake's Marauder stopped and just stood there.  At first Dan took advantage, but then he realized there was something wrong.  Jake wasn't even in his seat.  Everyone in the rec room was quiet, crowded around the screen.

Dan got up.  The news anchor was saying, "Here we have the first still photos since the bombing.  Notice the scars on the Captain-General's face.  Thomas Marik, alive and assuming control of the Free Worlds League..."

Dan came up next to Dad.  Nini Khumalo was shaking her head.  "That's impossible."  She turned to Dad.  "Geoff, it's impossible.  We saw his--"

Dad coughed loudly, and for some reason Nini shut up at once.  "I guess we didn't see what we thought we saw," he said.

"Why are you talking weird, Dad?" said Dan.  "Who is that guy?"

"That's the new Captain-General," said Dad.  "He used to live on Earth, you know.  Your mom was his doctor for a while."

"Was he a good patient?"

For a moment, Dad looked almost as if Dan had hurt his feelings or something.  Then he said, "He wasn't her favorite."

Geoff excused himself early that night.  Not her favorite patient.  He wondered how he would ever find the way to explain to Dan the circumstances of Audrey's death.  It could wait--would have to wait--until the boy was old enough to understand.

He locked himself inside his office.  His little library was coming back together here; only a few of the books had been on the DropShip when the Purists fled Earth.  He imagined ROM adepts going over the collection he and Audrey had kept, looking for something.  Geoff didn't even know what.

But he knew they wouldn't find it.  He took a hardbound volume from the shelf.  JOURNAL, the side cover said.  Keep it always, she'd told him.  Maybe it can keep you safe.

He'd been through it all, and had no idea what she was talking about.  But it had something to do with Thomas Marik, he was sure of that now.  How could the man be alive?

For what felt like the thousandth time, he paged through the journal.  Came to the very matter-of-fact section that detailed Marik's treatment, before the bombing.  He sighed, turned his reading light on and poured a cup of coffee.  There had to be something here.

When he saw it, he leapt to his feet, knocking the chair over behind him.  The page numbers.  They were out of sequence on all the pages describing Marik's treatment.

The odd phrasing of these pages was another piece of the puzzle.  "After which, was CXC administered..."  Hardly Audrey's ordinary style.  There was something else going on here, some sort of code or cipher she was using.  A hidden message in the journal.

He went to his desk, took out his camera and began photographing pages.


When he turned seven, Dan began fencing lessons.  John Taggart was his instructor.  Dad was probably better than John--he seemed to win most of the time when they fenced against each other--but maybe he thought it would be easier for Dan to take instructions from John.  Anyway, John was a lot of fun.

Mostly the lessons just involved Dan learning to stand and take steps with his feet in a weird sideways position.  "The footwork will feel strange for a while yet, but it's very important.  Standing sideways shows your opponent less of your body, so there's less for him to hit.  And if you want to use a saber, which is the weapon most of the Excaliburs use, you won't be allowed to cross your feet."

Sometimes John would tell him stories.  "Your dad and I met through fencing, you know?  We were with the Dioscuri at that time, but it was a big unit and we'd never met.  But some officer who fenced as a hobby decided to hold a tournament like the Excaliburs have.  And your dad and I fenced each other for the gold medal.  I never expected there'd be someone else that good with the Dioscuri.  After that I had someone to practice with."

That sounded nice to Dan: someone to practice with.  "Can Jake Khumalo take lessons too, John?"

"I don't see any reason why not."  So from then on, Jake joined them once a week.  He was very serious about it, as he was about most things.  Dan wondered which of them would turn out to be better with a saber.

MARCH 3037

"Wake up, Kenner."

Geoff went bolt upright.  His bedroom was still dark.  Where had the voice come from?  A woman's voice, familiar...

The lights went on.  Blinking against the sudden brightness, he made out a female figure near the door, a gun in her hand.  He knew her.  ROM adept Christine Briggs.

"Your little boy has grown since the last time I saw him," she said.

Geoff rose threateningly to his feet.

"What's wrong, Geoff?" said Briggs.  "Are you surprised we can get this close to you?  You shouldn't be.  And no doubt you can understand why we'd want to.  You killed a ROM adept."

"Who tried to kill me.  I'm surprised you haven't tried yourself."

"I want to see where we stand, first."

"All right."  The tension twisting in Geoff reached its peak.  It was time to see what the diary was worth to ROM.  "You were Audrey's 'bodyguard,' Briggs.  Did you know she kept a diary?"

The ROM agent kept a careful poker face.  "Did she?"

Geoff pulled the book off his shelf and handed it to Briggs.  "Open it to the center."

Briggs thumbed through for a moment, then closed it.  "You can't possibly decipher this."

"I bet Davion's DMI could, though.  If they had it."

"So they don't have it?  That's very smart, Geoff."  Briggs held the book up in one hand.  "This is a dangerous thing for you to have."

"Seems more like an insurance policy to me."

"It's just another reason for us to want you gone."

"I don't know about that.  What would you do in my position, Briggs, if you had a book like that?  Make a few copies?  Pass them around, with instructions about where to send them if you ever happen to disappear?  That's what I'd do."

"I see."  She put the book in a small shoulder pack she wore.  "We'll see what Audrey had to say.  For now it doesn't change anything either way.  What I came to tell you is, you're our man now.  That's the price of your life and the other lives that matter to you."

"Your man?  ROM's, you mean?"

She nodded.  "You may have heard, there's a covert war on.  The Federated Commonwealth is trying to purge our people from its territory.  Now we're fighting back.  I'll have tasks for you, eventually.  In the meantime, you'll let me know if anything of interest arises on Corey, via an HPG address I will leave with you.  If you contact the DMI, I'll know about it and the deal will be forfeit."

Geoff nodded slowly.

"You agree?" she said.

"Yes."  At least it was a way to buy some time.

APRIL 3037

Dan tugged Nini Khumalo's sleeve.  "Why is everyone out here to see this landing?  DropShips come in every day."

Nini leaned back on the fence.  She smiled and rolled her eyes.  "But not the legendary Blazing Aces."

Dan frowned.  It sounded like she was joking.  He'd grown up on Dad's stories about the Aces, Gideon Braver's heroism and the liberation of Ander's Moon.

Nini laughed again.  "Don't get me wrong, the Aces are heroes.  It's just that knowing your father as long as I have, you get a bit tired of hearing stories about back when Geoff and John used to run with the Aces."

A roar sounded from the sky above, and Jake Khumalo tapped Geoff on the shoulder.  "Look!"  The Leopard DropShip appeared out of the clouds, trailed by its own cloud of darker gray exhaust.

When the ship was down, its bay doors rolled up to reveal the 'Mechs inside.  Dan and Jake could see two of the 'Mech bays from where they sat.  One was a BattleMaster--Dan recalled that Tank Smith piloted a BattleMaster for the Aces.  At first Dan thought the other 'Mech was a BattleMaster too.  But it was too big, and instead of holding a PPC its right hand was empty.  The box-shaped missile launcher on the 'Mech's shoulder was gone, and in its place was a much larger drum-shaped launcher.

"Wow," said Jake.  "What's that thing?"

"Gideon," said Geoff, "this is my son Daniel and Nini's boy Jake."

Dan and Jake had apparently planned what to say here.  They looked at each other, nodded, and then in synch they both saluted.  "Welcome to Corey, Lieutenant Braver!"

Gideon Braver saluted back.  "Thank you, boys."  He turned to Geoff.  "Is anyone ever going to start calling me Vandenburg?"

"That's like asking people to call Mark Twain Samuel Clemmons," said Geoff.  "It's not going to happen."

"Who's Vandenburg?" said Dan.

"Nobody," said Geoff.  He bent down to a little girl who seemed to want to push her way out in front of Braver.  She looked about five--two years younger than Dan and Jake.  "You must be Maria."

"Maria Vandenburg," she declared.

"All right, all right."  Geoff laughed.  "You get to be a Vandenburg."  He pointed to Jake and Dan.  "As you can see, Duchess Vandenburg, I've assigned two young MechWarriors as your escort while you're here on Corey.  Let me know if they meet your approval."

That settled the pecking order among the three kids--Maria immediately took charge of the boys.  The kids wandered a little ways in the direction of the DropShip, losing themselves in the world of pretend.

"Three birds of a feather," said Braver, looking pointedly at Geoff and John with a smile.  The same could be said of the three men--Braver and his two old lancemates.

He'd been born Gideon Vandenburg, of course, and now held his rightful title, Duke of Ander's Moon.  All of that meant little to Gideon, and even less to Geoff.  What did mean something was the combat they'd faced together under the colors of the Blazing Aces, and the fact that Gideon was one of the finest MechWarriors--and by far the finest lance-level tactician--that Geoff had ever served with.

John Taggart put his arm around Braver's shoulder.  "What brings you here, LT?"  That's what they'd always called Gideon in their days with the Aces.  The difference in their ranks now seemed ridiculous; John and Geoff had always seen Braver as their superior, and they always would.  But the Blazing Aces were a lance-sized unit, and a lieutenant led a lance.  "And what," John added, "is with the BattleMaster's big brother?"

"That's what brings me here," said Braver.  "I'll let the engineer explain."

"The engineer?"

Geoff and John followed Braver into the Leopard's cramped briefing room.  The ship had been cleared of crew by now; only the engineer was waiting for them inside.

She was a trim, businesslike woman somewhere in her 30s.  "Kelly Celeste," she said as she shook hands with the Excalibur officers.

On the briefing room's viewscreen she projected an image of the 'Mech Taggart had called the big Battlemaster.  With this closer look Geoff realized that the large gun barrels slung under the 'Mech's armpits were particle projection cannons.  Two PPCs and twenty LRM tubes was an impressive long-range arsenal.

"This is the last operational prototype of the Alliance," said Celeste.

"I feel like I've heard of it before," said Geoff.

"You may well have, if you followed the press leading up to the Fourth Succession War.  The prototype Alliances were produced by NAIS as a misinformation campaign intended to deceive the Commonwealth's enemies about the date of the impending war.  The military press spread the story that a new assault 'Mech was in the works, intended to be the spearhead of the next Succession War.  The Combine and the Confederation were meant to conclude that the war was years down the road, since we weren't rushing the new design to the factories.

"The propaganda worked," she said, "and the invasion of the Sarna region came as a surprise to our enemies.  The Alliance was never intended to see the light of day.  But one of the prototypes, the 2A, was one hell of a 'Mech.  I've been trying to get the thing into production ever since.  It was my baby; I designed the modifications that worked out the weaknesses in the original Alliance chassis."

Geoff raised a skeptical eyebrow.  "I can't believe Hanse Davion would leave an effective BattleMech on the drawing board."

"The earlier prototype that was most extensively tested was nothing special.  And the whole budget allotted to the Alliance was spent on the prototypes and the information warfare campaign.  There was nothing left for production, so the bureaucrats checked their boxes and filed the design away."

"You're here to see if Hollis will produce the thing."

"We're here to demonstrate what it can do," said Braver.  "The Corey factory is right on the front with Liao.  You're certain to see action here.  Give the Aces a subcontract, and we'll take the Alliance into battle."

"Once the Hollis people see the Alliance fight," Kelly Celeste said, "they'll be breaking down NAIS's door for the blueprints."

Geoff glanced at Braver, then back at Celeste.  "And you have NAIS's official permission to demonstrate the thing in real combat?"

Her face took on a devilish expression.  "As far as you know, I do."  As Geoff began to balk, she waved her hand dismissively.  "There's a paper trail.  It'll hold up well enough to exonerate you if anyone above my paygrade gets uppity."

Braver grinned eagerly.  "Shall we talk terms for the subcontract?"

John Taggart had been stewing in his seat.  He kept glancing at the hologram of the Alliance.  The man was a connoisseur of assault 'Mechs.  He'd piloted everything above eighty tons, and bragged about it constantly.

"Term one," said Geoff.  "John gets to pilot the Alliance."

Braver erupted with laughter.

Afterward the two commanding officers toasted their new arrangement in Geoff's apartment.  "It's going to be odd being the one giving you orders, LT," said Geoff.

"You'll get used to it," said Braver.  "Anyway, I won't be a lieutenant much longer."

"The Aces are expanding?"

"I've had the money set aside for a few years now.  We've recruited most of the warriors we need and we're just beginning to order the 'Mechs.  The payoff from this contract will be the safety net, in case unexpected costs arise."

"Well, congratulations, Captain."

Braver waved off the sentiment.  "It's nothing next to what you've put together."

"It means nothing unless I can keep it together."

"This is a fine regiment, Geoff.  It could be one of the best in the Sphere, in time.  I don't think you have anything to worry about."  Braver managed to turn the last sentence into an unspoken question: was there anything to worry about?

"More than you know.  At first I imagined ROM might let us go.  I hoped.  But they won't.  I'm supposed to be their spy now, Gideon.  Their informant.  Helping the people who murdered Audrey."

Braver put a hand on his friend's shoulder as Geoff let his head slump.  "What about the diary you found?  That must be some leverage."

"Some, maybe.  I can't tell how much it matters to them."

"If it didn't matter, they'd have killed you already.  Don't you think?"


"Geoff," said Braver, "you have to tell them about the Alliance."

Geoff looked up at him.  "What?"

"Report to them about the prototype.  They'll probably find out anyway, eventually.  If you don't go to them about this important piece of tech that's landed in your lap, they'll know you aren't loyal."

"You don't know what ROM is like, Gideon.  They hate the idea of the Successor States coming out of this dark age.  They'll try to steal it, or destroy it."

"So we'll handle that, if it comes.  The point is to buy you some time.  Tell them, Geoff.  The Aces and the Excaliburs can handle ROM together."

"All right.  But there's no reason I have to give them your name, Gideon.  I'm keeping the Aces out of it, if I can."

MAY 3037

The general quarters alarm here was obnoxious--Geoff Kenner almost hit the ceiling.  He could hear Dan crying in the next room over.  He'd have had to wake the kid up anyway, he supposed.  Geoff had promised himself a while back that he'd never go into battle without saying goodbye to his son.

When Geoff came into his room, Dan stopped crying immediately.  "You taking the Excalibur out?" he said.

"Yeah."  Geoff hugged him.

"Don't let the bad guys get too close."

By the time Geoff made it to the HQ, there were surveillance videos already running on the screens.  Nini Khumalo was there already, along with Leftenant General Wilcox.  Wilcox was Geoff's CO; the Excaliburs were integrated as a temporary second regiment of the Corey SMM.  Geoff liked her all right.

His first thought was to check the markings on the DropShips.  "Those are McCarron's ships."

"First Regiment," said Nini.  "They've dropped 'Mechs east of the Hollis facilities, with what looks like a pick-up zone ten K behind."

Geoff looked to the general.

"We'll get between them and the 'Mech plant," she said.  "You hit the ships at the pick-up zone.  Salvage is yours, Colonel.  Do this right and you can scavenge a DropShip or two."

She'd taken the safer assignment for her own troops, but she was right about the salvage.  To a young merc unit with too few ships, the risk was worth it.  It's a deal, General, he thought.

Geoff had only just strapped into his cockpit when the call came.  He kissed his photo of Audrey for luck, and then he heard the speaker crackle.  It was Anita Chu Lai, captain of the Excalibur company that had been on patrol closest to the MAC landing site.

"Just heard from the scout choppers, sir.  They're on their way back to their ships.  I think they realized we've nipped this in the bud and are ready to get out.  You'll never get here in time."

Geoff felt his shoulders slump.  He wouldn't even see a fight today.  It was relieving and frustrating, both at once.

John Taggart came on.  He'd been in the field test-piloting the Alliance.  "Geoff, my lance is closer than our main body.  I can intercept one of the enemy lances.  We still have a chance to show the Hollis observers what this 'Mech can do."

Geoff activated his strategic display.  The enemy lances were somewhat dispersed, but still... "I don't know, buddy.  Whichever lance you go after, they'll be able to call for help fast--a lot faster than we can get any help to you."

"Not as fast as I can kill them in this thing.  Trust me, Geoff."

Geoff wasn't especially inclined to tell his old friend when he could and couldn't put his own ass on the line.  "All right, you have my permission to engage."

He watched the display as John's lance moved into attack range of an enemy trooper lance.  As the engagement began, another two McCarrons lances began angling in Taggart's direction.  Geoff sighed.  "You have about three minutes before reinforcements start showing up, John.  Get this done fast and get out."


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #9 on: 16 April 2020, 00:38:41 »


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #10 on: 25 April 2020, 20:38:40 »
Finally found the time to adapt more of this into another post...

Part 4: Rescue Drop

It wasn't easy watching Taggart on the strat map, unable to do anything but offer advice.  But when it was over, Geoff knew he'd made the right call.

"Well done, John.  Now get out of there.."

Geoff's column was ten minutes out from the front when another call came in from Anita Chu Lai.  "A Mac company is approaching, Colonel.  They've got truce flags flying."

"Truce flags?"

"You've got me.  Their other forces have all left."

Geoff reached the battlefield and clambered down the rope ladder from his Excalibur.  Anita was waiting for him there with the Armored Cavalry commander, also dismounted--a tall, barrel-chested guy who Geoff imagined must pilot a heavy 'Mech, since he wouldn't fit comfortably into anything too light.  He seemed to have changed out of his 'Mech gear and into his uniform in preparation for this meeting.  Instead of the usual McCarron's baseball cap, he wore a cowboy hat with black and gold tassels, clearly well cared for.  He tipped the hat in greeting as Geoff approached.

"Colonel," Chu Lai said, "this is Captain Joe Garcia, commander of Echo Company, First McCarron's AC.  Garcia's Gauchos, sir."

The name rang a bell, to say the least.  These Gauchos were a raiding company; they had been the Capellan equivalent of the Fox's Teeth ever since McCarron's signed on with House Liao.

"Captain, it's an honor," said Geoff.  "What, exactly, do I owe it to?"

Garcia put his hands on his hips and lifted one foot up to rest on a rock, displaying an elaborate leather boot.  A hotshot with an ego to match, that much was clear.  "We're looking to join your outfit, Colonel Kenner."

"Join the Excaliburs?"  Geoff thought for a moment about trying to hide his incredulity, but decided he'd already blew it.  "You want to give up a post in the Big Mac to join us?"

Garcia snorted.  "A post in the Mac isn't worth much these days.  Not to me and my troops.  We're mercenaries, Colonel.  My father was a mercenary MechWarrior, his father, and so on since the end of the Star League.  I want my son and my daughter to follow that path, too.  Meanwhile McCarron wants the Cavalry to become a House unit.  For House Liao.  He's tying us to the mast of a sinking go.ddam.n ship."  He gestured at the Gaucho 'Mechs behind him.  "My warriors feel the same way."

"In that case--"

But Garcia's speech was not quite over.  "I've been checking out every outfit this side of the border.  You're the newest, but you're also one of the best.  That's not public knowledge yet, but it will be.  We want in on the ground floor.  And we'd like a chance to try out some of your lostech hardware."

He seemed to be done at last.  "I think that can be arranged, Captain Garcia."  Geoff shook the man's hand.  "Our second and third 'Mech battalions are each just two companies strong.  You can take your pick."

Of course Garcia pored over the service records of both battalions before picking, but in the end Garcia's Gauchos became Fox Company, Second 'Mech Battalion of the Excaliburs.

When Geoff returned from the field, Dan wanted to go to Nini's to play with Jake.  That was fine.  Geoff was too tired to entertain the kid himself.  The deep exhaustion of unused adrenaline wearing off had fully taken hold of him by then.  He went into his room and fell onto the bed, started to open his cooling vest.

"Might want to keep that on, Kenner.  For modesty's sake."

It was a woman's voice, from inside the room, right behind him.  Geoff vaulted off the bed, toward the closet where he kept a gun.

"No need for that."  His uninvited visitor stepped into the light.  Geoff recognized her.  "You won't find what you're looking for, anyway."

Geoff turned to face the intruder.  "I'm sure you were thorough, Briggs."

"Always."  Adept Briggs leaned back against the wall of Geoff's room.

"You're here about the Alliance."

"Indeed.  Some of my colleagues in ROM thought it was a waste to recruit you.  They figured you'd never pass on any information that was worth anything.  I'm glad to see you're smarter than that, Geoff."

"What do you want, Briggs?"

"Kelly Celeste has a useful mind.  She could go far in ComStar."  Briggs stood up and moved toward the door.  "I'm to supervise the handing over of Celeste and the prototype to a ComStar DropShip that will arrive in one week."  She stopped in the doorway and turned back to him.  "I'll need quarters here until then."

"What about the Hollis Industries people?  They were pretty damn impressed with the prototype."

"We'll handle Hollis.  Their true loyalties still lie with the Capellans, anyway.  It will be as if the Alliance never set foot on Corey."

"There's a world of difference between passing on information and helping you kidnap an innocent woman, Briggs."

"I don't know, Geoff.  They don't seem so different to me.  They're both things you'll need to do for me if you want to stay alive."  She winked.

Geoff watched the debris cloud begin to drift and dissipate as the unmarked Union DropShip settled to the ground at the far end of the Hollis Proving Grounds.  He looked across the observation room at Briggs, who nodded to him.

Geoff turned to John Taggart.  "Kelly's agreed to ride with you on this trip out to check out the systems on the Alliance.  Try to keep her calm.  She doesn't need to know what's happening."

John nodded and left.  Geoff watched as the Alliance lumbered out of the hangar.  He saw Briggs's eyes following the 'Mech too, vigilant for any sign of betrayal.

He approached her.  "At what point will this sort of service to ComStar be enough to call the slate clean?"

"No telling, Geoff."  She gestured at the 'Mech, now visible only as a trail of airborne dust.  "This is only the beginning of paying back your debt."

Chatter came over the comms as the Alliance approached the ComStar ship.  No Excaliburs could approach within five kilometers of the landing site--that was his deal with Briggs.

Geoff watched on his holographic strategic display as the Alliance closed in on the open ramp of the Union.  A Level II demi-company of 'Mechs ringed the ship.

Briggs's private communicator buzzed.  She lifted it to her ear, then turned to Geoff.  "We have a DropShip with no flight path logged.  Its orbit is bringing it above the proving grounds.  What do you know about this?"

Geoff tensed, forced himself to breathe.  This would be a crucial moment.  "All Excalibur ships are grounded.  Feel free to check that by satellite."

She put the comm to her ear and quietly gave orders in code.  A minute passed.  Two.

She turned to Geoff, her expression cold.  "Open fire," she said into her comm.  "Destroy the 'Mech now."

Geoff dived for the strategic console, transmitting to John Taggart.  "Take cover, John!  All Excaliburs forces, move in now."  He gestured to Anita Chu Lai and two of her warriors, who firmly relieved Briggs of her comm.

Four new contacts appeared on the display--Blazing Aces 'Mechs, dropping from orbit.  The only 'Mechs close enough to help John Taggart and his passenger against the Com Guard force.  The fastest-moving reinforcements were a platoon of Drillson tanks, but they would take more than three minutes at top speed to reach the field.  Taggart and the Aces were on their own until then.

JUNE 3037

Geoff Kenner slid open the door to the holding cell.  Briggs casually shaded her eyes against the light from the doorway.

Geoff pulled up a folding chair.  She faced him, waiting for him to speak.

"I'm sure you've been counting the days," he said.  "In case you haven't, it's been three weeks."

"Sounds about right," she said.

"Three weeks without any reprisals from ComStar.  No attempts on my life, nothing.  And not a whisper of interest in you.  Certainly no demands that we release you into the Order's custody.  You know what that says to me?"

She glared at him silently.

"It says," he continued, "that they're as scared of Audrey's diary as I hoped.  Otherwise I'd be dead already.  That was the gamble I took when I betrayed you.  I decided I'd rather get it over with and die than be a tool of the people who killed my wife.  But lucky me.  They don't want to kill me even after I killed a demi-company of Com Guards and took their DropShip for salvage.  Because they know then the diary goes straight to Davion.  They must be damn scared of that diary, Briggs."

"You've bought yourself a few years at best," she said.  "We'll find another way to erase you."

He shrugged.  "A few years is more than I thought I had.  But about that 'we.'  They haven't asked for you back.  That tells me something else.  Your bosses are disappointed, Briggs.  Your operation went bad, as bad as it could have gone.  No one cares whether they get you back or not."

Her chin lifted in defiance.  "Exactly what I signed up for."

"I like your attitude."  He took out his sidearm.  "There's one thing I want from you.  Tell me how it happened.  I know you betrayed her, or you'd have died trying to protect her.  So you must have been there."

She looked down at the floor.

"It won't change what happens to you.  I don't believe in torture."

"I did it," she said.  "Two shots to the head.  Not my favorite job.  I liked her."

He nodded.  A tear escaped the corner of his eye, but he tried to keep his voice nonchalant as he raised the pistol.  "Two shots to the head."

Outside the boarding ramp of the Aces' Leopard, Geoff clasped Gideon's hand in a handshake that quickly turned into a hug.  "Sorry to see you go, LT."

"You'll have to stop calling me that," said Gideon.  "I'm off to build a company."

"Sure," said Geoff.  "Maybe I'll start calling you Vandenburg too."

 Instead of chuckling at Geoff's levity, Gideon appraised his expression.  "Are you going to be all right, Geoff?"

 They hadn't spoken about the murder of Briggs, but of course Gideon had eyes.  He knew the ROM agent had disappeared, and he must have guessed where.

 "I'll be fine," said Geoff.  "With any luck, this will be the last I hear from ROM.  Just keep that document safe, and if anything ever happens to me..."

 "Right.  Send it to Davion's intelligence secretariat."  Geoff hadn't told Gideon everything about Audrey's coded diary, figuring it was safer for him not to know.  All he knew was that it was an insurance policy against further ComStar meddling.

 Kelly Celeste was next to shake Geoff's hand.  "I suppose I'd better forgive you for keeping me in the dark about your plan, given how well it worked.  Thanks for saving the Alliance.  If only it hadn't come to nothing."

 "I can't believe Hollis is turning you down."

 She shrugged.  "Maybe ComStar got to them.  Or maybe it's just their lingering Capellan loyalties.  Either way, this is the end for the Alliance.  The Aces' security contract used up the last of my grant money, and NAIS just sent me a strongly worded HPG burst.  I'm supposed to liquidate the prototype."


 "Sell it for parts."

 He shook his head sadly.  "I can't stand by and watch a thing of beauty like that be stripped down for parts.  What if I offer to buy it from you in one piece?"

 "Prototypes are testy.  It's no insult to your tech team to say that I don't think they could maintain it.  I'm not sure anyone except me could do that."

 "That sounds like you're angling for a job."

 She raised an eyebrow.

 "I'm serious, Kelly.  We have lots of testy machines that need difficult maintenace.  Some Star League tech for you to play with, even.  And I wouldn't ask you to come in at the entry level.  You'd be second to our chief tech, who I expect will retire before too many more years go by."

 She nodded slowly as she thought it over.  Geoff grinned.  He could tell she was going to say yes.


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #11 on: 25 April 2020, 22:25:35 »
I absolutely loved that pic. Set the excitement to 10...


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #12 on: 26 April 2020, 15:08:38 »
Thanks!  That's valuable feedback, I can easily include more MM screenshots. :)

I wasn't aware of any canonical camo look for the Blazing Aces, so I figured something fire-themed would fit the bill.
« Last Edit: 26 April 2020, 15:10:58 by Trailblazer »


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #13 on: 29 April 2020, 01:38:03 »
Nice! And I like how you tied in several pieces of the collective BT past.

TAGged for more!
* No, FASA wasn't big on errata - ColBosch
* The Housebook series is from the 80's and is the foundation of Btech, the 80's heart wrapped in heavy metal that beats to this day - Sigma
* To sum it up: FASAnomics: By Cthulhu, for Cthulhu - Moonsword
* Because Battletech is a conspiracy by Habsburg & Bourbon pretenders - MadCapellan
* The Hellbringer is cool, either way. It's not cool because it's bad, it's cool because it's bad with balls - Nightsky
* It was a glorious time for people who felt that we didn't have enough Marauder variants - HABeas2, re "Empires Aflame"


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #14 on: 12 May 2020, 14:25:51 »
Part 5: Capella

MAY 3038

Out of all the Excalibur MechWarriors--except Dad, of course--Dan liked Ben Wabash the best.  Nini and John were cool too, but they felt like real adults.  Ben was more like a friend.  A good friend, who kept all his promises, like when he promised Dan a ride in his Griffin after they made it off Earth.  That had been Dan's second most favorite ride in a 'Mech, ever.

Dad knew how much Dan liked Ben, so he'd invite him to babysit for Dan when he had to go out.  Usually this meant Dad was on duty, but tonight he didn't say why he had to go.  Anyway, Dan had a good time just hanging out with Ben.

After they ate, Dan watched a little TV, but he was soon distracted by something Ben was doing.  He'd taken out a brush and a sheet of paper, and was drawing funny little patterns of curved lines.

Dan thought he recognized the shapes from a book.  "Is that Japanese?"

Ben looked up.  "That's right."

"What are you writing about?"

"Just practicing calligraphy.  Penmanship."  Ben showed him the sheet, and indeed, he'd drawn the same character repeatedly in rows.

"Where did you learn to do that?"

"At home," he said.  "I grew up in the Combine."

"No way," said Dan.

"I did!  I thought for a while about becoming a samurai.  I even trained for it a bit.  But my father was a ComStar Adept at the station on Benjamin, and when the Com Guard was formed I decided it would honor him more if I joined them."  Ben laughed, but not happily.  "I got kind of a nasty message from him after we all left the Guard.  I imagine he's still pretty mad."

That sounded sad, so Dan told him he was sorry.  Ben said it was OK, and had Dan try a few Japanese letters.  "That one's called shi."  It was tough writing with a brush.  After a few minutes Dan gave up.

But he had to ask: "What was samurai training like?"

"A lot of writing," said Ben.  He pointed at the sheet of calligraphy.  "Like this.  My master told me that writing and swordsmanship share many principles in common, so that the sword can't be mastered without first mastering calligraphy.  I've found that to be true."

"You know how to sword fight?"

"Yes, but not like what you're learning from Colonel Taggart.  I learned kendo, Japanese-style fencing."

"Can you teach me?"

Ben thought for a moment.  Then he said, "How about this.  You have to master writing first, like I did, before I'll teach you the sword.  Once you've learned calligraphy, then I'll teach you kendo."

Dan agreed.


    TO: Col. Geoffrey Kenner, CO, Excaliburs
    FROM: Lt. Carla Sinclair, Gray Death Legion

    Dear Col. Kenner,
        Thanks for your interest.  I like your idea of a unit of tank-supported infantry.  Goblins don't get enough use, in my opinion.  There's a Kurita variant that I especially like, which has the space to carry a whole platoon.  Not the easiest thing to find this side of the Drac border, but I understand your technical staff is capable of miracles.
        In answer to your question, my experience with the Legion has been fantastic, although I can see why you might wonder.  My reasons for seeking a new post are entirely personal--after a recent divorce, I'd rather not remain in the same tightly-knit unit as my ex-husband.  (I expect my reference letter from Carlyle will corroborate this.)
        I hope to find an equally welcoming community among the Excaliburs.  If you're ready to sign me on, I'll buy a ticket to Corey at once.

"General," said Geoff, "I don't understand why none of my officers can join us."

General Wilcox stopped in mid-stride.  "You haven't told them about this meeting, have you?"

"No, ma'am.  I follow orders."

"Good," she said.  "Keep it up another couple minutes and you'll see why you had to come alone."

She led him into a bunker, past AFFS guards.  A nondescript escort, wearing no uniform, took them to a windowless conference room.  Inside was a single man, already seated at the far end of the conference table.

"Colonel," said Wilcox, motioning him to sit.  So did she.

All three were silent for a moment.  Then Geoff said, "You're Quintus Allard."

"Glad to meet you, Colonel Kenner."  Allard slid a sheet of paper across the table.  "These orders explain the strict confidentiality of our meeting here.  Please read them and sign before we go on."

Allard and Wilcox watched while Geoff signed, essentially promising never to discuss their meeting with anyone below a stratospherically high level of clearance--including his own officers and troops.

When he was done, Allard sealed the letter in an envelope.  "So," he said.  "You were in the Com Guard, Colonel?"

"Yes, sir."

"Adept XI-Epsilon, is that right?  Are you the highest-ranking officer to have deserted the Guards and Militia?"

"Yes, sir.  To my knowledge."  He had a bad feeling that this line of questioning would continue in directions he could not safely pursue.

"To mine as well.  And your departure was essentially an act of mutiny?"

Geoff felt a twinge of fear that threatened to become panic.  A line had been crossed. "I'm not prepared to discuss the details of my departure from ComStar."

"We know some of the details already."

"Perhaps you could tell me what you know, sir."

"Jesus, Kenner," said Wilcox.

But Allard held up a hand.  "It's all right, Leftenant General.  Kenner, this is what we know.  March 8, 3036, your wife Audrey Kenner is taken into custody by ROM, later to be executed.  That same night, your subordinate Acolyte Benjamin Wabash shoots to death a ROM operative whose apparent mission was to assassinate you.  Elements of your Level III unit then engage other ComGuard forces in a firefight at the Savannah, Georgia spaceport.  At some point your Overlord DropShip presumably signals an Invader-class JumpShip, CSS Naples, keeping station at the system's nadir jump point.  By the time your Overlord lifts off, Naples has jumped from the nadir point to Earth's nearest known pirate point.  Then, using a lithium-fusion battery--" Allard raised an eyebrow, "--or so we must presume, Naples jumps to New Earth."

"All of that is correct," said Geoff.

"Given the intricacies of this escape plan, we must conclude that it was put into motion well in advance."

"That would be a reasonable thing to conclude."

"Indeed," said Allard, recognizing Geoff's veiled affirmation.  "But we still have no answers to the 'why' questions of the case.  What reason did ROM have for wanting you dead?  How did you know it was coming?"

Geoff looked from Allard to Wilcox and back.  "My lord, I'm not going to be able to carry on this conversation."


"I believe that my silence concerning these matters is the only thing preventing another attempt on my life."

Allard watched him for a moment.  "General Wilcox is your superior officer.  If she were to order you to reply to my question, what would be your response?"

"I'd be forced to resign and turn the Excaliburs over to Lieutenant Colonel Taggart."

"No one wants that."

"No, sir."

"Kenner, I'm willing to respect your wishes in this matter if you'll cooperate in a venture I consider rather more important.  You still deploy a certain amount of Com Guard-standard equipment, including a few weapons the Great Houses are no longer able to repair or manufacture.  What if I were to offer you a good price for a single Gauss cannon, an extended-range particle cannon and a Streak missile system from your reserve of spare parts?"

"Those parts are priceless, and we only have so many.  Once they're used up, we won't be able to replace losses."

"I fully understand.  How does two hundred million kroner sound?  Or C-bills, if you prefer."  He chuckled at Kenner's expression.  "NAIS is at work on re-engineering these weapons.  A few functioning models would be invaluable to that effort."

"In that case," said Geoff, "if I may add one other condition..."

"Go ahead."

"I have a nine-year-old son.  He talks about wanting to be a MechWarrior, but we'll see.  Anyway, whatever path he chooses, a NAIS education would be quite an opportunity for him."

"He'll have to pass entrance exams like any other student," said Allard.  "But very well.  He'll be given the same opportunity as a noble-born applicant.  Tuition-free, if he's admitted."

After another warning about the confidentiality of it all, Wilcox's escort dropped Geoff off at the Excaliburs' base.  He went to his apartment to check on Dan.  Ben had agreed to watch him, and was asleep on the couch, Dan's little plastic toy 'Mechs littered on the floor in front of him.  Geoff roused him and told him he could go.

The boy was sleeping calmly--motherless, with no real home, but still inexplicably okay.  How he pulled it off, Geoff could scarcely understand.  He went to his own room for a moment, dug around in an old box and found what he was looking for.  Then he stole quietly down the hall to the rec room.

The cabinet behind the bar opened with his key.  Geoff took a bottle of whatever scotch they made on Corey--Glencorey, they probably called it--and went to the fridge for some ice.

Quintus Allard had given him a great gift tonight, and promised another one for his son, but despite all that Geoff found himself despising the man.  Allard acted as if it was all his business; that was why.  Audrey's capture and death, the details and the reasons.  Allard thought he had some right to those things, to the most pivotal and terrible moments of Geoff's life.  She's still mine, thought Geoff.

He took out the thing he'd gotten from his room.  Audrey's little gold chain, with a cross on the end.  She used to wear it more often, when he first knew her.  Used to say she felt so lucky, to live on Earth among all the old cathedrals.  After Dan was born, something changed.

This is what we know.  March 8, 3036, your wife Audrey Kenner was taken into custody by ROM, later to be executed.  Bastard.

He heard a sound from the other end of the bar--someone else getting a glass.  He looked and saw that it was Nini.  She came up beside him and poured herself a glass of Glencorey or whatever, neat.

"Can I join you?" she said.  "If it's private time, I can take this to my room."

"Sit down," he said.

She noticed the cross.  "Haven't seen that in a long time.  She used to always wear it."

He twirled it around a finger.  "She kind of gave up on it, I guess.  Don't know why I took it, when so much else got left behind."

"Dan sleeping?"


"Jake too, finally.  He was quite the little prick today."  She took a drink.  "Don't look at me that way.  I know Dan's a perfect little man, but you know what, he still has his dad.  Male role models matter."

Geoff held up Audrey's cross.  "I don't know.  I think she would've done a better job on her own than I am.  And he wouldn't have to worry about losing his remaining parent."

"We're rich already, Geoff, if you count how much we could sell the 'Mechs for.  You could retire tomorrow."

"How long do you think it would be, then, before ROM came for us?"

"Not very long.  But is that the only reason you keep it up?"

He shook his head no.  "Dan's already caught it from me.  I try to tell him, there are other things he can do with his life.  It's like he can't even hear me."

"Jake's just the same.  You think they'll be lancemates some day?"

"I hope at least one of them can break free and have a real life."

"We can have real lives," she said.  "We do."

He held Audrey's cross above his glass and let go of it.  Then he turned around in his seat and kissed her.  For a moment he couldn't believe he'd done it, but even in that moment he had no regrets.

"Hey," she said.  "Let's wait and talk this over tomorrow, OK?"


"First, you're in a weird mood and you've had a few drinks.  Second, you brought that cross here for a reason.  You don't just get to drop it in a glass and say you're over losing her."

"Do I have to be over her?  Is that the rule?"

She stood up.  "Get some rest, Geoff."  She kissed him back, quickly, then left.

He took the cross out of his glass, held it in front of him with his hands clasped around the chain.  Closing his eyes, he thought perhaps he felt something.


"Are we going to be brothers now?" said Dan.

"They call it being stepbrothers," said Jake Khumalo.  He extended his foil and lunged at the target on the wall.

"But you guys will live with us?"

"Yeah."  Jake lowered his sword and turned around.  "Were you going to practice, Dan?  Colonel Taggart wanted us to practice."

"In a minute.  I just--"  Dan didn't really know how to say what was bothering him.  "Are you worried about living with my dad?"

Jake's face took on a serious look.  "No.  He's the colonel.  He'll take good care of us, and I'll get to see how he runs the regiment.  I've always wanted to."

"Oh yeah?"  What Jake had said made Dan feel a little childish.

"Maybe then, when you're the colonel, I can be the lieutenant colonel.  Wouldn't that be cool?"

"Why would I be the colonel?"

Jake shrugged.  "Your dad's the colonel."

That night, he asked Dad if Jake was right about that.

"It's not a noble title that gets passed down," said Dad.  "Not like the First Prince.  "But Nini, John and I together own a controlling share of the unit.  The common property, like all the 'Mechs that aren't owned by their warriors, that belongs to us.  So together we get to choose who commands.  Anyway, you'll inherit my part of that, and I suppose Jake will take Nini's.  So when you two grow up, you'll have to decide together who will be colonel."

That sounded a bit more fair, but it still seemed kind of weird.  How were he and Jake supposed to decide?  Flip a coin?

The troops were getting ready to leave on some kind of raid.  Everyone was busy, especially Dad.  Ben found the time to meet with Dan, though, for their calligraphy practice.  Dan had been practicing for months, but today he was supposed to clear his mind and not think about that.  His master gave him a pen and a single sheet of paper.  One by one, spacing them evenly, Dan wrote out the forty-eight letters of the hiragana alphabet.  When it was done, he knew it wasn't perfect, but it was the best he'd ever done.

Ben looked at the sheet, then at Dan.  "Very good, Daniel-san."  He always smiled when he called Dan that, as if it were a joke, but Dan never saw what was funny.  He continued, "You are ready to begin your study of the sword."

Dan grinned, bowed to Ben, asked his permission to leave, then jumped up in the air and ran to tell Dad.


    TO: Laius Orange*
    FROM: Herald*

    My sources have learned of an impending raid by the Excaliburs mercenary regiment on the planet Capella, to commence in 55 hours.  Excalibur order of battle for this operation is appended to this message.  Do as you see fit with this information.

    *Wolfnet intelligence has since discovered that "Laius Orange" is an operational code name for Maskirovka director Tsen Shang, while "Herald" is an alias sometimes used by Precentor ROM Charles Seneca.


Joe Garcia shook his head.  "These regiment-sized raids can be a mess.  Send us in alone, sir.  We'll get the job done."

Geoff sighed.  "I tend to agree with you, Joe, but our orders are quite specific.  We've got to take on the Blandford's Grenadiers head on.  The good news is, they're at sixty percent strength after the Ninth Marik Militia struck here a couple of months ago."

Garcia noticed Geoff's half-hearted tone.  "But that's also the bad news, isn't it?"

"Yes.  The CCAF won't leave the defense of their most strategically important planet to half a regiment.  They'll have relief troops ready at hand."

"So we have no idea what we'll actually be facing down there?"

"Not if we get bogged down," said Geoff.  "Our best chance is to get out before their reinforcements can make it in.  That means we need to do a lot of damage quickly, which is your specialty.  I'm detaching the Gauchos from the regiment.  Our main body will hit the Ceres complex, but I don't expect to get very far with that.  We won't commit fully.  You'll do the real work by destroying the cargo ships they're loading at this dropport here."  He lit up the port on the strategic map.  "That's enough real damage that we'll be able to declare mission accomplished and get out of here before whatever killer regiment they have on standby has time to drop in."

"It's a sound plan," said Garcia.

Geoff looked him up and down.  "This will be your first action against your old Liao employers.  How do your troops feel about that?"

"To be honest, I think they're excited.  We switched sides for a reason.  If we were going against the Mac, it might be different, but they're off attacking the Capellan March."

Geoff nodded.  "That's why we're here."  Prince Davion had decided the Armored Cavalry's attack on Kathil could not go unanswered.  A series of punitive raids had been launched along the Capellan border.  Geoff was glad they wouldn't have to face the Mac.  Word had it that McCarron and his officers held the Excaliburs responsible for the Gauchos' mutiny.  Geoff doubted they'd offer any quarter in combat.

Geoff's radio lit up with a transmission from the new infantry commander, Carla Sinclair.

"We're in sight of the river bridge, Colonel," said Sinclair.  "It's bad news.  Two lances of Capellan 'Mechs have it covered.  No way my infantry can take it, even with cover from our Goblins."

Bad news indeed, Geoff thought.  The main body of Grenadier armor was on the far side of that bridge, with a battalion of heavy tanks closing in to cross there.  If those tanks made it across the bridge, the main body of Excaliburs would be in for a tough fight.

Nini Khumalo came on the other channel.  "My command lance is twelve minutes away.  How soon will the tanks cross?"

Geoff checked the strategic display.  "You'll arrive before the first column, but not by much."

"We'll have to blow out the bridge fast, then."

He fought for a moment against the urge to order her to withdraw instead.  The commander in him knew the right call was to attack, to take the risk--even though it was Nini whose life was at risk.

"Go," he said.


    Born in 3004 in Cape Town, South Africa, Nini Khumalo joined the Com Guard to satisfy her lifelong fascination with BattleMechs and the military.  Like many Terran-born Excaliburs, she pines for a home she never expects to see again, as well as for her husband, Edwin, assassinated by ROM.  Although a skilled gunner, her greatest gift in the cockpit is hand-to-hand combat.  She considers her Black Knight the perfect 'Mech for her fighting style and would never consider piloting another.  As CO of Second Battalion, she is third in command of the Excaliburs.  She also is an amateur scholar, well-versed in the history of war, and spends much of her spare time tinkering with a manuscript on the principles of 31st Century armored warfare.


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #15 on: 12 May 2020, 18:54:07 »
Nice update! A good read.
* No, FASA wasn't big on errata - ColBosch
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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #16 on: 12 May 2020, 18:59:16 »
I would think they would be doing as much as they can to obfuscate any intel available on the unit, within the limitations of employer knowledge and hardware. I. E. Renaming or going to secondary call signs for units, maybe implementing the level system under lance company battalion names? Know thy enemy and know thyself, right?


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #17 on: 12 May 2020, 23:40:36 »
Interesting, I wonder if Wolfnet will share that info with the FS. :thumbsup:
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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #18 on: 12 July 2020, 20:52:02 »
I would think they would be doing as much as they can to obfuscate any intel available on the unit, within the limitations of employer knowledge and hardware. I. E. Renaming or going to secondary call signs for units, maybe implementing the level system under lance company battalion names? Know thy enemy and know thyself, right?

Fair point!  I suppose I wasn't thinking of that possibility when I came up with the premise.


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #19 on: 12 July 2020, 20:56:57 »
Part 6: Breakthrough

Ben Wabash kept his ER PPC hot, firing almost continuously.  Each blast was accompanied by a cracking sound, appropriately similar to thunder.  Per Colonel Taggart's orders, he kept his 'Mech among the trees for cover, but at this range there was really no need.  The Capellan 'Mechs would have to leave their prepared positions to hit him, even with LRMs.  The advantages of ComStar hardware.

It almost felt repetitive, by now.  This had been a day of stand-off fire with long-ranged weapons.  As a Griffin pilot, this suited Ben fine, but he also knew even a slow Excalibur advance would make more of a dent in these Grenadiers.  Kenner and Taggart were fighting very cautiously today.

Taggart's voice came over the comm.  "Gaucho Company has achieved their objective.  We're to disengage and withdraw to the landing site.  Wabash, your lance first.  Fall back."

"Roger," said Ben.  "Aves, Druschke, hug the treeline for eighty meters, then move to the road.  Smith, follow me."  He hit his jump jets and leapt deeper into the woods.

Once they were out of the forest, Ben formed his lance up and ran along the edge of the highway.  They were essentially free and clear now, the day's fighting over.  The Excalibur landing site was well protected by two companies of 'Mechs, plus the infantry, and Grenadier units along this road had already been flushed out.

All the same, Ben felt a little squirrelly.  He saw an overhang he thought he remembered, but which had now collapsed.  The weight of a 'Mech could do that, but it wasn't a spot any of the Excalibur 'Mechs would have stepped on--and Ben's lance had been near the rear of the advance.

"Hold here," he said.  "I'm going to get a look from the top of that ridge."  He hit the jets and jumped toward the collapsed overhang.

At the apex of his flight, Ben caught a glimpse beyond the ridge, and panic immediately gripped him.  "Shit!"  A company of Capellan 'Mechs was standing by in the valley.

As LRMs streaked up to meet him, Ben hit the jets again to divert his path below the hill.  "Back away from the hill," he told his lance.  Then he radioed his sensor log to the landing site and Colonel Taggart.

"Shells incoming!" said MechWarrior Aves.  An instant later, artillery rounds began exploding among the Excalibur 'Mechs.

"Back to the regiment, kids.  Go fast, outrun me if you can."  Ben's Griffin was the slowest 'Mech in the lance.  "But vary your speed.  That'll confuse these artillery spotters, wherever they are."

From the other side of the road, a sound like an earthquake rattled Ben's entire cockpit.  He turned his Griffin's head to see a solid wall of 'Mechs advancing on his lance.

"These are Fifth McCarron's," he said.  Not the colors he'd hoped to see.  But even if they were green troops, his lance was too badly outnumbered.

A samurai would write his death haiku about now, he realized.

"Bottom line," said Taggart, "we have a full battalion coming up behind our backs."

"They've had some time to work up the ground along the road to our landing site," Nini said.  "Wabash mentioned artillery.  Re-opening that path is too risky.  Launch the ships, maybe, but there's an element of risk to that as well."

"Anything we do now has that element," said Geoff.  He searched for a better opportunity.  "I'm seeing a weak point here," he said, "at the opening of this highway.  We can get to the landing site that way, too.  We'll have to push forward, almost to the city limits, but I like our chances better against these Grenadiers than against the Mac."

"Fox company can reach that spot pretty fast," said Taggart.  "And Bravo, minus Wabash."

"Yeah."  Geoff felt a weight settle on his heart.  "John, is there anything we can do for Wabash's lance?  Anything you can think of?"

"No, sir."  Taggart's answer was hesitant, but not out of uncertainty.  "Those lads are at the enemy's mercy."

"All right.  Send B and F in, and move everyone else up behind them.  No point waiting around to see how that fight turns out.  If we can't break through there, we're beaten."


    TO: Col. Geoffrey Kenner, CO, Excaliburs
    FROM: Col. Archibald McCarron, CO, McCarron's Armored Cavalry

    Col. Kenner,

    Thanks.for your generous offer of ransom for Excalibur prisoners taken on Capella.  I am sad to say, there were none.  Lt. Wabash's entire lance perished in their 'Mechs, fighting to delay our pursuit of your main body.  They died with honor and were each given a soldier's funeral.

    Congratulations on your maneuver which ended that battle.  A lesser regiment would have met with defeat that day.  Give my regards to Capt. Garcia and his warriors.

    Archie McCarron


Dan and Jake were waiting on the pad as Geoff and Nini disembarked from the Lancelot.  Geoff wished he could hide the news about Ben, but Dan would have to hear it.  He hugged both boys--he was still getting used to that with Jake, but he could tell that the boy and Nini both appreciated it.

"Dan," he said.  "Both of you.  We've got bad news."

Dan's eyes widened, while Jake set his jaw in understanding.  "Someone died," he said.

"Four Excaliburs were lost," said Geoff.  He looked at Dan.  "Ben Wabash was one of them.  I'm so sorry, Dan.  He was my favorite, too."

Jake shook his head sadly, but he hadn't really known Ben well.  Dan was inconsolable, which for a ten-year-old meant endless tears and wailing.  Jake went into Dan's room to try to cheer him up, but Dan drove him out angrily.  After that Nini and Jake went out for the afternoon.  Geoff waited in the living room, listening for any sign that it was dying down.

After a couple of hours, it did.  Dan went into the bathroom to wash his face, then came out, sniffling and blinking.

"What regiment did it?" he said.

Geoff sighed.  "One of McCarron's regiments.  Their Fifth."

"I'm going to fight them one day.  I'll kill four of them."

"To get them back?  That's not a good reason, Dan.  Not any more than it would be if you hurt another kid for doing something you didn't like."

"They did something evil."  Dan was beginning to sob again.

"Some people would say so.  I'd say that they did their duty, just like Ben did when he was alive.  Do you think he never killed anyone?  You think I haven't?"

Dan began crying again, and Geoff took him in his arms.  He wasn't sure he should be saying these things.  Dan was only a child.  He didn't need his head filled with the moral ambiguities of war.

"It's bad that I want to fight the Mac, isn't it?" said Dan between sobs.

"It's normal," said Geoff.  "I feel it, too.  I think a lot of the troops do.  You know what I'm going to do?"  He held Dan's shoulders so the boy could see his face.  "Our contract comes up in a couple of months.  I'm going ask the Federated Commonwealth to get us out of here, away from the Capellan border.  Then we won't have to worry about the Mac any more."

It was a snap decision, but the more he thought about it, the more it felt right.  He didn't want the Excaliburs' clashes with the Armored Cavalry to become a full-fledged feud, and he could see that beginning to happen.  If it did, more of his troops would die needlessly.  It was time to get out--maybe to the Lyran half of the Commonwealth.

It made sense, and it seemed to raise Dan's spirits.  Geoff resolved to follow through on his promise.


Taggart put his saber up and raised his left index finger.  "Your riposte."

Geoff shook his head.  "Come on, that was too high on my blade.  It was your beat-attack."  But Taggart had already saluted him and removed his mask.  "You're making it too easy, giving me all these free touches," said Geoff.

"If you'd rather not win, we can fence epee instead of saber," said Taggart.

"Maybe tomorrow.  Right now I'm through."  Geoff took off his own mask and unzipped his jacket, letting loose the accustomed cloud of steamy sweat.  He opened his duffel bag.  "You start packing yet?"

Taggart gazed absently out the window.  "Not yet.  I've a feeling Connie will tell me what to do and when."

Geoff nodded.  "As usual."  He let a moment's silence pass.  "I feel like I haven't heard what you think of our move to the Lyran side.  You've been a little quiet in meetings."

Taggart shrugged.  "It's pirate hunting, Geoff," he said.  "Talk about thankless work."

"I know.  But I think it's the best work we can find now.  You agree that we can't stay here, right?  Not with this thing getting worse between us and McCarron's."

"Fair enough," said Taggart.  "But we've a reputation to consider."

"I understand.  But we won't grow that reputation by sitting on a border planet with no action.  After the Dracs just kicked the Commonwealth's ass, you think Davion will want to pick another fight?  Not for a long time.  The Bandit Kings attack on a pretty regular schedule.  That means regular combat experience for our people.  Exactly what we need to turn this regiment into an elite force."

"If a war does come, though, we're going to feel rather wasted sitting it out on the Periphery."

"My hope is that our experience and our equipment will persuade them to move us to the front, if that should happen.  In the meantime, I want to keep our skills sharp."

Taggart nodded, but did not seem entirely mollified.  "Time will tell, I suppose."


Dan had grown tall in the last year--one of those teenage spurts, Geoff supposed.  Whatever the explanation, he had a man's height now.  He'd tested into NAIS and would attend next fall.

Geoff knew he had put off the talk long enough.

Dan was coming off the wargames field with Jake Khumalo.  They'd been out practicing their piloting, Dan in the Excalibur and Jake in the Black Knight.  At fifteen, they were both still learning the basics.  But both showed great aptitude.  Geoff didn't consider himself a particularly qualified instructor, but he saw in each boy the potential for a great MechWarrior.

Even more evident was their friendship, now grown old.  They laughed together, jovially punching each other.  Like real brothers.

He stepped toward them, out of the shade.  "Hi, guys."

"Hey, Dad."

Jake grinned and saluted him.  Geoff snapped a salute back, then turned to his son.

"Dan, can we talk?"

The boy's reply was tentative.  Suspicious, perhaps.  "Sure, Dad."

He led Dan to the field's observation room and locked the door.

"What's this about?" said Dan.

Geoff took a seat.  "Family business, I guess."

"Family business is Jake's business too, you know.  He's also your son."

"This is about your mother, Dan."

"Oh."  He took a seat himself, his expression now serious.

"Yeah.  You can probably guess what this is about."

"The thing you always said you'd tell me when I grew up?"

"Right."  Geoff noticed he'd been fidgeting with a pen.  Stupid habit.  He threw the thing across the room, startling Dan.

"Dad, you don't have to--"

"I do have to, eventually.  Might as well be now."


"Well.  Straight to the point, then.  Your mom died because she knew a secret that ComStar ROM didn't trust her to keep.  The secret is this: Thomas Marik is dead."

Dan's reaction was pretty much what Geoff expected.  "Dead?  But... he's the Captain-General."

"No.  That's some kind of stand-in, created by ComStar.  A clone, maybe?  Or maybe just a look-alike.  Your mom knew near the end, I think, but she couldn't tell me."

"Couldn't tell you?"

"It was top-secret stuff.  She wasn't supposed to tell me, and we knew the house was bugged.  The whole time she was working on that project, we knew they'd bugged the house, and God knows what else.  And if she did tell me, and they found out, we knew they'd kill us both.  But Marik is dead.  Nini and I were there with Audrey when they brought him in, after the bombing.  Trust me, he was dead."

Dan looked down at the table.  "I remember her telling me, the work she was doing was bad.  Morally wrong, she meant.  I didn't really understand."

"No.  You were six."  Geoff put a hand on Dan's shoulder, and the boy smiled a little.  "She couldn't tell me what she was doing, but she did leave something for me.  A journal, I think.  I only found it after we left Terra.  It's written in code, though.  I've tried to break it, but I can't.  Anyway, ROM knows we have it.  I think that's why they haven't had us killed.  They know that if they tried, I'd give the journal to the Davions.  They could probably break the code."

"So you have this thing hidden?"

Geoff nodded.  "There are four hard copies and one electronic one.  The electronic copy is in the Excalibur's computer, and nowhere else.  Nini, John and Gideon Braver each have a copy.  They don't tell me where they keep them.  The third copy I have hidden.  Someday I'll tell you where."

"Why don't you give it to the Davions?"

"Because it's keeping us alive.  I think.  I don't really understand why ROM hasn't tried to assassinate me, but I've threatened to spread around what I know about Audrey's project, and that seemed to work.  I don't want to rock the boat, I guess."

"I see."  Dan looked up at his dad.  "I guess this makes me a man, right?"

"Wish I had a more pleasant rite of passage for you."

"It's all right, Dad."


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #20 on: 13 July 2020, 10:03:02 »
 :-\ Sad to see Ben Wabash dead, but that's merc life especially in shitty situations all around.

Nice end to the latest part though, loved that Geoff finally told Dan about his Mothers death's real reasons. :thumbsup:


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #21 on: 15 July 2020, 12:03:40 »
Part 7: Escaping the Wrath


The last pirate DropShip touched off its main engine.  Captain Carla Sinclair gestured to her troops.  "Back!  Back away from the engine wash!  Get in your transports if you can."  Then she sprinted as best she could through the trees.  The Goblin tank ahead of her dropped its loading door, and her platoon-mates rushed in.  Sinclair turned the corner around the edge of the vehicle and sidestepped behind the door.  A moment later, she heard the wave of kicked-up debris pelt the tank's armor.

She radioed the mission's 'Mech commander--Taggart, this time.  "Last one's in the air, sir."

"Aye, Captain.  And a fine job you did out there."

Sinclair snorted dismissively.  "That might've been the worst-equipped infantry outfit I've ever fought.  I thought Redjack Ryan's troops were supposed to be pretty good."

"What say we get those aid packs passed around and clear out?"

"Roger that."  She turned to her troops.  "Karnov's coming in at the village.  We're moving."  She went up to the turret to direct the tank commander.

Even for a Periphery shantytown, this village was in bad shape.  A lot of the dwellings looked to be made of cardboard.  At least the climate in this region was warm in the summer months.  Get a little further from the equator and Erewhon became damn near uninhabitable.  In Star League times there had been some terafforming here, but it had long since lost hold, accompanied by a major population die-off.  There was simply no way to evacuate a wrecked colony like this, given the expense of DropShip transport and the rarity of JumpShips.

Sinclair's soldiers spread out through the center of town, with her HQ squad helping to direct down the Karnov.  The heavy tilt-rotor VTOL kicked up a dust cloud that felt almost as punishing as the one from the DropShip.  As the rotors spun down, the Excalibur infantry began unloading packages of food and medicine.

A crowd had gathered.  "Line up, folks," said Sinclair.  "There'll be one pack per person.  Our way of showing that Ryan and Morgraine don't really rule here, no matter what they tell you."

That got some funny looks from the crowd--which was, come to think of it, a funny-looking crowd in the first place.  The women were wearing full-body covering robes which looked like they were made of burlap, with bizarre face-hiding hoods.  Only the men came forward to unload the boxes.

Sinclair tapped one guy on the shoulder.  "Hey."  The Periphery man turned toward her, but kept his gaze down at the ground.  "What's up with the clothes on the girls?" said Sinclair.  "Isn't this the feminist utopia of the Greater Valkyrate?"

"The Lord has commanded that men's ways be kept separate from women's," said the man.

"The lord?  You mean Ryan?"

"The Lord of the Expanse, my lady."


"Apparently Erewhon was conquered away from the Valkyrate by some religious nut calling himself the Lord of the Expanse," said Sinclair.  "Those were his troops we scared off, not Redjack Ryan's."

Geoff raised his eyebrows and glanced across the table at Taggart.  It all sounded so bizarre.  "And he's making the women wear veils?"

"That's the least of it," said Sinclair.  "They're enforcing chastity, too.  And with collective punishment.  If a given village isn't 'virtuous' enough, they'll stomp around indiscriminately with 'Mechs, wrecking a few random buildings as an example.  They showed me a couple of crushed houses."

"We can't let this stand, obviously.  You said they weren't much good at fighting?"

"The infantry were absolute shit, sir.  Worst troops I've ever faced."

"'Mech pilots were none too good, either," added Taggart.  "And their equipment was a bit rubbish, too.  A few were missing arms, even before we went to work on them."

"In that case, I don't see much reason for caution.  There aren't too many habitable planets the Lord could be using for a base, and it doesn't sound as if he has the tech to maintain a space colony.  We'll leave behind a decent garrison--maybe one 'Mech battalion--and have the rest of the regiment fitted out for recon in force.  Once we find these cultists, we destroy their ability to make war.  John, put a proposal together for review by our Commonwealth liaison."



"Those are the ships we chased off on Ehrewon," said Taggart.  "These landing facilities look fairly permanent.  I'd say we're looking at home base."

"It's funny," said Geoff.  "That Leopard is in awful condition, but the Union doesn't look so bad.  It's dirty, but I don't see a lot of patched-over damage."

"More recently stolen, maybe?"

"Yeah, maybe."  Geoff scrolled across the map.  “This looks like a good landing site.  I don’t expect strong resistance, based on our orbital surveys.  We’ll land the DropShips here and take one ‘Mech battalion at their camp.”

Carla Sinclair spoke from the comm screen.  “What about my troops?” Sinclair and her infantry were orbiting in three K-1 Dropshuttles.

“It’s not good terrain for the Goblin tanks,” Geoff said.  “You’ll have to land here.”  He highlighted a different site on the map.  “Stay in reserve there until we’ve neutralized the enemy ‘Mechs.”

She frowned at him from the screen.  “I think I speak for the troops when I say we’d prefer a piece of the action.”

“Noted, Captain.  But I like to keep a plan simple when I have the advantage.  Without a rendezvous before the attack, there’s fewer moving parts where something can go wrong.”

Sinclair nodded grudgingly.  Geoff turned to John Taggart.  “Ready to take out the trash, John?”

 The self-styled Lord’s Men were just as incompetent and ill-equipped as advertised.  They fled from their base and the Excaliburs pursued them downhill, toward a river that Geoff knew from orbital scans was fairly deep.  The enemy was trapped.

 The riverbank was visible now in the near distance.  Geoff stopped for a moment and angled his Gauss rifle to take the arm off a rickety Valkyrie.  Then his missile warning sounded.  As LRMs impacted on the Excalibur, Geoff looked around, puzzled, to see where they could be coming from.  The Valkyrie’s launcher was already disabled, and he’d thought that was the last pirate ‘Mech with LRMS.

Then he saw motion in the river.  The water frothed furiously as large forms broke the surface, many of them at once.  BattleMechs.  A water ambush?

Geoff heard the familiar crack of a shell going hypersonic, and his magnetic anomaly sensor registered the firing of one Gauss rifle, then another.  Periphery raiders with Gauss weapons?  Then he zoomed in enough to make out the lead ‘Mech rising from the water.

Taggart’s voice came over the comm.  “Geoff, what is that thing?”

“A Pillager.”  Geoff couldn’t believe his eyes.  “One of the rarest Star League ‘Mechs.”  Even the Com Guard only had a handful.

Pirates deploying a Pillager?  And beside it, Geoff saw a Black Knight step forward.  From the range its PPC was firing at, it had to be the SLDF Royal variant.

“Blake’s Wrath,” Geoff said.  “John, this has to be Blake’s Wrath.  ComStar special forces.”  The ‘Mechs were unmarked, painted in a neutral gray—but who else would have access to this sort of tech?  He switched channels, transmitting to the Ovlerlord DropShip Lancelot at the landing site.  “Captain, relay an emergency alert to the JumpShip and begin unloading the reserve ‘Mechs.”

“An alert just came in from the JumpShip, Colonel.  They’ve come under attack from aerospace fighters.  The fighters didn’t ask for surrender, just opened fire.  They had to jump out of the system or be destroyed.”  Sounds of commotion came over the channel.  “Sir, we’re under attack!”

“It’s a Com Guard ambush,” said Geoff.  He switched to an open channel.  “All Excaliburs, withdraw.  If you can’t retreat, surrender.”

Taggart’s battalion ran for the deep woods.  ‘Mech after ‘Mech fell to the massed firepower of the ambushers.  Another transmission came in from the DropShips: “They’ve holed our main hull, Colonel.  And the other ships.  We can’t lift off without losing structural integrity.”

“Surrender,” said Geoff.  “That’s an order.  All MechWarriors, disengage if you can and rendezvous at the infantry landing site.  Hopefully they didn’t track the dropshuttles on the way down.”


Geoff’s Excalibur was one of the last ‘Mechs to stagger into the infantry camp.  He surveyed the other survivors despondently.  “Is this all?”  Barely more than a company had made it.  He was relieved to see John Taggart’s Alliance and Anita Chu Lai’s Marauder among the surviving ‘Mechs.  At least some of his best warriors had escaped.  He also counted himself lucky that all of the ‘Mechs looked at most only lightly damaged, and most had escaped enemy fire entirely.

He dismounted and found Sinclair, who was already conferring with Taggart and Chu Lai.  “Colonel,” she said.  “Thank God.”

“The sentiment is much appreciated, Captain.  Now let’s see if we can find a way out of this situation.”  He tried to project at least some confidence to his officers.  “I don’t think lifting off in the dropshuttles is an option.  Camelot had to jump out of the system.  We’d have nowhere safe to go.”

“Do the pirates have a JumpShip?” said Chu Lai.

“We’ve been watching the air using the K1’s passive sensors,” Sinclair answered.  “The Lord’s Men’s DropShips lifted off just before you all started arriving.”

“The Union and the Leopard?  Only those two?”

She nodded.

“That’s not enough capacity to carry the Blake’s Blood force.  There must have been at least a Level III—at least a battalion.  There has to be a separate Com Guard base on the planet with their ships.  We find that base and we beat them there.  Our plan has to be something like that.”

Taggart shook his head grimly.  “Tell me how we’re not buggered, Geoff.  Please.”

Geoff turned his gaze toward Sinclair’s infantry, standing guard next to their Goblin fighting vehicles.  “They’d have attacked here if they knew about the dropshuttles’ landing.  So they must not know.  That means they don’t have satellites or scout ships in orbit.  Probably knew that would tip us off to the ambush.  Anyway, they don’t know we have a large force of infantry.  Perhaps that can be our advantage.”


Geoff passed his binoculars to Carla Sinclair.  “Looks like they’ve loaded the ‘Mechs we damaged onto their Overlord for repairs.  That’s almost half their force.”

“Why?” she said.  “It didn’t sound like we inflicted that much damage.”

“They have all the time in the world,” Geoff said.  “We have no ships.  They know we’re not going anywhere.  And the repairs will be simple overnight work, mostly just armor patching.  Tomorrow they’ll have fresh ‘Mechs against our damaged ones and they can send out search parties at will.  Or just wait for us to come to them.”

“All right.  So how do we beat that strategy?”

“With you and your people.  They don’t know we have infantry on the planet.  They’ll be expecting a ‘Mech attack.”  Geoff took back the binoculars, trained them on a large tent complex and tagged it on the viewfinder.  He handed them back to Carla and watched as the binoculars directed her to look at the same structure.

“This has to be where they’re holding the Excalibur prisoners,” said Dan.  “Including our DropShip crews.”

“But you said the ships are disabled.”

“Ours are.  But not theirs.  Not the Com Guard ships.”  Geoff pointed her toward the enemy DropShips.  “They have an Overlord and a Fortress.  The ramps will be lightly guarded, because they don’t know we have infantry.  You split your company into three platoons.  One to break our crews out of that holding tent, one to take the Overlord, one to take the Fortress.

“Those ships have powerful arsenals.  Once you’ve captured them, and our people are at the controls, we’ll attack their perimeter with our remaining ‘Mechs.  They’re expecting that.  But at the exact same time, we open fire on their defending forces with the captured DropShips.”

“And meanwhile half their ‘Mechs are still loaded on the ships for repairs.”  She lowered the binoculars and nodded.  “Not bad, Colonel.”

“Can you pull it off?”

“Honest answer?”  She pursed her lips.  “I’d give it fifty-fifty odds.”

“I didn’t know you were such an optimist, Carla,” said Geoff.  “All right.  In seventy minutes, the planet’s rotation will put their JumpShip on the dark side where signals from here can’t reach it.  Luckily for us, that’s also midnight.  You have an hour to brief and position your platoons.”


Sinclair counted down with her fingers, three-two-one-go.  Then she pulled the manual release on the pressure door to the ComStar Overlord’s bridge.

The pops of her troops’ suppressed assault rifles instantly replaced the silence, followed quickly by the panicked screams of the Com Guard crew.  Sinclair edged around the door herself to join the attack.  She offered no surrender to the enemy crew, just aimed and fired, one after another.  This was no time to take prisoners, especially not with an enemy who’d attacked so brutally.

The radio in her ear buzzed and filled with voices.  The Excalibur DropShip crews were on the ramp.  She heaved the body of a Com Guard crewman away from the main weapons console.

She transmitted to Geoff Kenner.  “One minute, Colonel.  Our crew is onboard.  Get ready to start your attack.”

“We won, Geoff.”  Taggart’s voice over the comm sounded like he was close to tears of relief.  “By God, we beat them.”

Geoff hit the all-band transmit key.  “Excaliburs,” he said, “you fought like hell today.  I owe you all my life.  Thank you.”  He switched to the DropShip channel.  “Carla, you there?”

“Here, Colonel.”

 “Send out some squads to capture the surviving Com Guards.  Keep the officer prisoners separate from each other.  Don’t let them even see each other.  That’s key.”

 She didn’t question the strange order.  “Roger that.”

 Geoff let his head slump into his hands.  Feeling the pressure finally lift from him, at the end of the hardest day of fighting in his life, he let himself shake with sobs.


Geoff entered the makeshift cell alone.  Even handcuffed to a chair, this Blake’s Wrath officer looked imposingly strong.  Some kind of body builder.

 “Adept St. Jamais,” Geoff said.  “Is that right?  Cameron St. Jamais?”

 The Com Guard nodded, holding his evident fury in check.

 “This is your lucky day, Adept.  One Com Guard officer will be making the trip back to the Inner Sphere with us.  If you cooperate, it could be you.”

 St. Jamais was silent.

 “We’ll be moving within the line of communication with your JumpShip soon.  All I need you to do is lie to them.  Tell them the strike force is returning in your DropShips.  We’ll take care of the rest.  No one on the JumpShip will survive to implicate you, I promise.”

 “None of that matters,” said St. Jamais.  “The guardians of Blake will catch and kill whoever turns against us.”

 “How will they know who that is?  Do you know which of your fellow officers survived the fight, and which died in their ‘Mechs?”

 Again St. Jamais glared back in silence.

 “I respect the plan behind your attack,” said Geoff.  “Hire some pirates to play as religious fanatics, draw us deeper into the Periphery so that when your ambush was sprung, no one would know it was ComStar who killed the Excaliburs.  It took real skill.  I think you have the skills to disappear in the Inner Sphere.  Or you could die here, if you prefer.”

 “Go to hell, Kenner.”

 Geoff chuckled.  “Not today.”


One MechWarrior and one surviving DropShip officer ended up volunteering.  Geoff decided to maroon the others on the nameless planet.  “I can’t order the troops to execute them,” he told John.

Taggart nodded.  “Perhaps they’ll be rescued, perhaps not.  There’ll be plenty of killing to do on the JumpShip, anyway.  There’s no avoiding that.”

Geoff saw the Excalibur infantry leading Adept St. Jamais across the broken battlefield to the holding tent.  St. Jamais met his gaze.  Geoff could tell he would not forget what happened here.

“Call me a coward,” said Geoff, “but I hope they aren’t rescued.”

The ComStar Star Lord JumpShip loomed outside the viewport now.

Sinclair nodded to Geoff’s inquiring look.  “Fire teams are ready at the entryway.”

He pointed to the Com Guard DropShip officer, who opened a channel to the Star Lord.  “Ready for final docking sequence.”

The request was acknowledged, and the Fortress, with its crew of Excalibur infantry, settled into the docking ring.  Geoff held tight to the arms of his seat as the ship shuddered.

“Mixing atmospheres now,” the Com Guard captive said.  His voice was admirably calm.  “Airlock checks out A-OK.”

Geoff reclined in his seat and closed his eyes, as if to shut out the world, while the sounds of small arms fire began to echo through the DropShip.  One last massacre, and then this battle would be truly over.


On their long journey home, the Excaliburs began calling the captured Com Guard Fortress Mordred, after King Arthur’s legendary enemy.  Geoff’s family met him at the bottom of the ship’s ramp when it finally touched down.

He embraced Jake and Dan, then took Nini into his arms.

She looked up at the Fortress.  “You keep stealing ships from our old bosses.”

“They keep trying to kill us.”

“How bad was it?”

He didn’t feel capable of describing the horror of the battle.  Instead he retreated to statistics.  “Nineteen MechWarriors lost, and eleven of Carla’s troopers.  Equipment-wise, it was probably a net profit.  John’s battalion will need replenishing, but we captured all the Com Guard ‘Mechs that were under repairs, in addition to the ones we salvaged.  It’s quite a haul.  Pillagers, Cestuses, Royal models… even a Level II unit of Kanga jump tanks.  Rumor always said Blake’s Wrath got top-shelf equipment.  I guess it was true.  The DropShips are all damaged and will need heavy refit, but once that’s done, we’ll have one hell of a transport fleet.”

“And one hell of a target on our backs.”

Geoff shrugged.  “No more than before.  They tried this ambush plan because it was a way of killing some of us while convincing the survivors that they didn’t do it.  They won’t try again unless they think they can get away with it.”

Geoff met Carla Sinclair at the quartermaster’s station, in the shadow of the Mammoth-class DropShip Jakarta, just arrived from Outreach.  He wanted her to see the new equipment he’d ordered from Blackwell.

A Marauder II, just unloaded, was slowly lumbering across the pad toward the ‘Mech gantries.  The ‘Mech was beautiful, but seeing a Marauder expanded to a third again its normal size seemed to distort Geoff’s sense of scale.  He kept having to blink.

“Quite a machine,” said Carla.

Geoff nodded.  “They’ve just started selling to other mercenaries, aside from Jamie Wolf’s old friends who’ve had dibs on the design for years.  I couldn’t say no.”

“I’m sure they’ll make you proud.”

“I’ll tell you what I’m proud of right now,” said Geoff.  He held his hand out to her, palm open so she could see that it held a major’s rank insignia.  “You and your troops, Carla.  You saved us all.”

She took the insignia.  “A major needs a battalion, unless I’m remembering wrong.”

“You’re right.  Let me show you what else we picked up from Blackwell Industries.”  Geoff led her up a ramp, into one of the Mammoth’s cavernous cargo holds.  Flipping on a light, Geoff illuminated a sleek-looking VTOL.

“A Kestrel,” she said.  “This is a special forces chopper.”

“Against Blake’s Wrath,” Geoff said, “you proved to me what special forces could do.  That’s what your troops are, Carla, and they deserved to be recognized as such.  I want to recruit the best infantry in the Sphere.  You can drill them in anti-‘Mech attacks.  You’ll be first on the ground when we fight, our eyes and ears and our secret knife when we need it.  The Trailblazer battalion.”

Sinclair ran a hand over the factory-new armor of the Kestrel VTOL.  “It’s a good name for a battalion,” she admitted.
« Last Edit: 15 July 2020, 18:06:38 by Trailblazer »


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #22 on: 15 July 2020, 15:34:13 »
I'm surprised the surrendered personnel weren't executed immediately...  ???


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #23 on: 16 July 2020, 12:56:47 »
Nice story so far. I also thought the damage in the ambush would have been greater, but it looks good in my case. And now we know who is gonna hunt them forever. :)


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #24 on: 16 July 2020, 13:42:46 »
Certainly... the Excaliburs have EARNED that -10 TP ENEMY!  8)

Or, you know... let him live when they REALLY shouldn't have...  ::)


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Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #25 on: 30 July 2020, 22:14:03 »
Part 8: A Warrior's Education


“Damn it,” said Dan.  He peeled off his fencing mask and wiped his forehead on his sleeve.  “Damn it, Dom.  He's up one.”

Dominick Harris smacked him lightly on the shoulder.  “You only need two to win.”

“Yeah, and Forbesie needs half that.”

“But look at the bastard.”

Dan did.  Simon Forbes-Davion was high-fiving his coach.  “He knows he has it,” said Dan.

“That means he'll push.  I've seen him like this before.  He's too tired to move well, but he won't pay attention to that, and he's slower than you in the first place.  Back out of reach.  He'll go for the attack and come up short.”

“Just like that, eh, Dom?”

“When you learn how to beat me, you can question my judgment then.  Your minute's up.  Go do what I told you.”

Might as well, thought Dan.  I'm too exhausted to think for myself.  He returned to the strip and saluted Forbes-Davion with his saber.  Forbesie returned the salute and they went on guard.

All right.  Just work.  Just two more.

“Allez,” said the director, and Forbes-Davion charged.

Dan retreated, not at full speed, but fast enough.  He held his arm forward a little and Forbesie lunged.  Dan pulled back, then lunged himself.  The buzzer went off.  Forbesie screamed at the director, as sabermen are wont to do, but this time Dan didn't even have the energy to yell.

“Halt,” said the director.  “Attack from my left is no, counterattack arrives.  Touch right.  Mr. Kenner has four-four.  Fencers on guard.”

The crowd hushed intently.  Forbes whacked his blade against the floor in frustration.  Dan glanced at Dom, who nodded.  Same thing again?  OK, Dom.  Your call.

“Allez.”  Again Forbes came on as fast as he could.  Dan backed away.  The attack came, and Dan followed with his own lunge.  This time he yelled as loud as his opponent when the buzzer sounded.

“Attack-no, counterattack.  Bout, Kenner.”

Dan let out his breath.  It really was as simple as Dom had said.  Removing his mask, he saluted Forbesie and held out his hand.  But the nobleman turned his back on Dan, whipped his mask off and kicked it away.

Everyone looked at the director.  “Sir?” said Dom after a moment's silence.

The director sighed and pulled a black card from his pocket.  “Mr. Forbes-Davion forfeits his place.  Silver will go to the winner of the bronze medal bout.”

Dom shook Dan's hand.  “A little justice!”

“****** nobles think they can get away with anything,” said Dan in a low voice.

“Everywhere else, they can.  But not here.”

APRIL 3048

Dan waved a handful of crumpled flyers in his roommate's face.  "We can't have this shit in here, Dom."  WE DESERVE THE VOTE, the sheets read.  "I'm already persona non grata with my drill sergeant.  If he sees these, I'll be doing suicides from now until graduation."

Dominick Harris waved him away lazily.  "Come on.  It's perfectly legal.  And you're as much of a republican as I am."

"But they don't need to know that," said Dan, gesturing upward at the powers-that-be.  "It's not the same for you civvies.  Sarge can search my stuff any time he wants.  These could get me blacklisted and packed off to some march militia."

"We can't have that," said Dom.  "Not when you could be earning glory killing Snakes."

Dan thought of Ben Wabash.  "I'd rather go to the Capellan front, actually."

"Fine," said Dom.  "I'll have Melinda keep the propaganda in her room.  As long as you promise to try out the VX-71 on the simulator exam tomorrow."

"That's asking a lot, Dom.  This test is a big deal, and since I can pick any 'Mech I want, they'll make it a nightmare to beat.  I was thinking of taking a Banshee-S or a Stalker."

"The VX-71 can beat a Stalker.  Take it, trust me."

"I don't know, man.  A sixty-tonner?"

"We've talked about this.  Once you get the triple-strength myomer up to speed, they won’t be able to touch you."  Dom laughed at his hesitation.  "Don't be a pussy.  Try the 'Mech, or I'm reporting you to the NAMA commandant as an anti-monarchist subversive."

"Whatever.  Fine.  I'll be your guinea pig."

"Trust me.  You're going to beat Kai Allard's score."

            Dan didn't beat Kai Allard's score, but he did take second.  He went to congratulate Kai, bowing in mock worship.

            "Dan, get up," said Kai.

            "I'm serious," said Dan.  "You beat that lance with a Centurion.  In less time than it took me to win with the best 'Mech I've ever piloted."

            "I was watching," said Kai.  "Where did you find that thing?  I have never seen such a 'Mech."

            Over his shoulder, Dan saw Dom approaching.  He pointed.  "That guy designed it."

            Dom shook Kai's hand perfunctorily, barely paying him any attention.  "Dominick Harris," he said.  Then he turned to Dan.  "What did I tell you?"

            "I'll never doubt you again," said Dan.  "But you know, that's Kai Allard you just brushed off."

            "Oh."  Dom shrugged.  "Congratulations on your score."

`           "You designed that BattleMech he used?" said Kai.

            "That's my baby," said Dom.  "My VX-71.  Dan, how did she handle?  I saw the holo of the fight, but you're the warrior.  What did you think?"

            "The only thing--literally my only quibble--is the lack of a heavier armor-piercing main gun.  But at this mass, that's probably too much to ask.  The thing to do in combat is to pair it with lancemates mounting heavy autocannon."

            "Or Gauss rifles, once those get deployed," said Dom.

            "I guess there's that Caesar they're working on, or the new Bowie Industries Marauder."

            "HildCo is also putting together an upgraded Victor that'll mount one."

            "I hadn't heard of that."

            "I don't love the design," said Dom.  "They're sticking with single heat sinks, for some reason."

            "If I may interrupt," said Kai, "who are you?"

            "I thought I told you.  Dominick Harris."

            Dan patted Dom on the shoulder.  "Remember I told you I had a civilian for a roommate?  That's Dom.  His field is BattleMech engineering.  The man is obsessed with new tech and its uses."

            At Kai's interested look, Dom finally paid him some heed.  "I don't understand how anyone can study here, just down the street from a complete copy of the Helm memory core, and not feel the same way.  'Mech design will never be the same after this stuff goes into production.  You'll see all-energy arsenals that can hit at longer range than LRMs, and stay completely cool even on an alpha strike.  Medium attack 'Mechs with full armor that can outpace present-day recon 'Mechs."

            "Like your VX-71," said Kai.

            "Right!  Imagine what a lance of them could do, even against assault 'Mechs."

            "If the 'Mech ever sees the light of day," said Dan.  "Or is it finally ready to start shopping around?"

            "It's an improvement over the VX-70," said Dom.  "There are a couple things I'd like to try, though.  A five-ton increase in mass could do wonders for its survivability, for one thing."

            "Always fiddling," said Dan.  "We'll be lucky if we ever sit in a real VX-71.  Maybe when we're ready to retire, Kai."

APRIL 3048

            His third night off-duty, Dan stayed in a cabin in an off-the-path town whose name he would soon forget.  It was cold there at night, which he liked.  This trip had to feel different from his cadet life, as different as possible.

            He paid the manager early the next morning, then went back to the cabin and put together two suitcases.  In the first case he put the things he would need on the road.  Into the second went uniforms, documents, most of his books.  He couldn’t decide which case his gun should go in.

            Outside he heard a groundcar pull up.  He hadn’t seen another car here since he arrived, besides his own, so he figured it had to be Professor Sekhar.

            He took his jacket, which was a bomber pilot’s fur-lined leather type, and went outside.  He was right, it was her.

            “Thanks for coming, Professor,” he said.

            Amanda Sekhar crossed her arms.  “That’s all right.”

            “You got a heavier coat?”

            She nodded and took one from the back of her car.

            “Want to go for a walk?” Dan said.  “There’s a stream back here that I like.”

            They walked along the stream a little ways.  The streambed was black with rocks, which made the water stand out darkly against the snowy shore.

            Finally he said, “You ever have a student desert before?”

            She shook her head.  “I’m not sure how to compare you with other Academy students, Dan.”

            “It’s not like I’m the only republican student at NAIS.”

            “No.  But you’re the only one who’s out here.”

            Her footing slipped.  He moved to help her, but she’d already grabbed a tree to steady herself.

            “We can stop here,” said Dan.

            She ignored him.  “Why did you ask me to come out here?  Do you want me to convince you to come back, or to go?”

            “I want to know what you think I should do.”

            “I don’t think you want to desert.”

            “No.”  He twisted a pinecone off one of the tree’s branches.  “But the reasons why I don’t want to—they don’t seem like good reasons.”

            “What reasons are those?”

            “I like fighting.  I think I like it enough that I don’t mind fighting for a cause that I hate.”

            He could tell she didn’t know what to say to that, at first.  Then she said, “You’d change things if you could.  That’s one of the tragedies of life in the Inner Sphere: only a few people are in a position to make a difference.”

            “So since I can’t help, it doesn’t matter what I actually do?  Might as well join the armies that support feudalism?”

            “It does matter.  It might matter a lot, but not in the way you think.  The people who hold the real power in our world, who can make a difference, are the MechWarriors.  That’s the sad fact.  But if you become one of them, you enter those halls of power.  Someday you might be in a place to really change things.  If you disappear out there--” she gestured at the New Avalon wilderness “--you never will.”

            “At least I won’t be a part of it then.”

            “Don’t deceive yourself.  We’re all part of it.”  She stepped closer to him and tried to look him in the eye; he turned away.  “I know what you’re really afraid of, Dan.  You’re worried that it will change you, that you’ll become like them.  But that won’t happen, not to you.  I know you.”

            He walked at graduation, saluting the flags with the rest of them.  But he sat with Dom Harris, away from the other officers.

            The speaker was Morgan Hasek-Davion.  Seeing him inspired mixed feelings in Dan, as the Davion nobility always did.  Hasek-Davion had helped liberate dozens of worlds from Capellan tyranny.  In a meritocracy, he'd have easily earned his place; in any just democracy, he'd have earned the people's vote.  But who could guarantee that the next Davion would be as dependable as Morgan or as clever as Hanse?  And if he or she were not, the people would have no recourse.

            He'd been sixteen when he enrolled at NAMA.  Monarchism had seemed like a fact of life then, not something for reasonable people to question.  Now he faced ten years of service under the Inner Sphere's most powerful monarchy with a sense of moral ambivalence.  The Federated Commonwealth didn't have the vote, but at least the people's basic liberties were respected.  And if he was going to be a MechWarrior, he'd have to serve one of the Great Houses one way or another.

            Still, the way his father served the Steiner-Davions--by arms-length contract rather than sworn fealty--seemed nobler to Dan.  He remembered how jealous Jake Khumalo was when Dan left for the NAIS.  Now Dan was the jealous one.  Jake was an Excalibur, a mercenary.  Master of his own fate.

He missed his dad and the Excaliburs terribly.  Under contract near the Lyran Periphery, more than twenty jumps away, Geoff couldn't even attend his graduation.

            He chose the Tenth Lyran Guards for his first post.  Stationed in Steiner space with the Guards, at least he could visit dad, Nini, Jake and the rest when he had a leave.  And Dom would be nearby too, working with the Defiance Industries design team.  No matter how he felt about the FedCom, he was glad to be stationed near friends and family.


            Dan's first exercises with the Tenth went well.  The Banshee-S was a dream come true, and his assault lance maneuvered expertly, even without prior practice as a team.  He couldn't believe these troops were classed as a green unit.  That would change once they saw some action, he figured.

            One in particular—Leftenant Michael Casey, commander of the other lance in Dan's company—was frankly amazing when it came to 'Mech piloting.  As he approached Casey after the last day of exercises, he overheard a major say, “I've seen a Warhammer move that way once, and it was Natasha Kerensky at the controls.”

            “Casey!” said Dan.  The other leftenant was dropping down from his Warhammer's rope ladder.

            Casey nodded at him.  “Leftenant Kenner.”

            “Let me buy you a Pharaoh, man.”

            “I'm afraid I don't drink, Leftenant.”

            “Hey,” said Dan.  “We're both leftenants, so let's forget that part.  It's Dan, all right?”

            “All right.”  But from Casey's expression, Dan could tell it wasn't exactly all right.

            “Look, there are only two leftenants in Ecker's Company.  If we can't be buddies, who else is there?”

            “Certainly not Ecker,” said Casey.  “If you'd like to bond, I suggest we commiserate about that ****** fool.”

            “He seems fine.”

            “You had to stretch the bounds of his orders twice today to correct his mistakes.”

            “He's not the best in the field, maybe, but come on.  From a Lyran officer, I expected a lot worse.”

            Casey took a long look at Dan, then spoke in a measured voice.  “From the way you talk, Kenner, one would think we were playing for lower stakes than our lives.  But that's ultimately what we'll be risking.  And Ecker's decisions will matter.”

            Dan could see his point.  “Well, so will mine.  I hope you'll hold me to the same high standard.”

            “I do,” said Casey.  “When you make a mistake, you'll hear from me.  So far you haven't.”


            “Ho ho ho,” said Dan as the door opened.

            “Kenner!”  Kai Allard looked surprised to see him.  They shook hands.  “I guess I knew you were with the unit, but it never really occurred to me to look you up.”

            “I know what you mean,” said Dan.  “Figured we'd run into each other at some briefing or other, but it never seemed to happen.  I was going to see if you wanted to come out for a beer, but I scouted ahead at the bars and it's insane out there.  So,” he pulled a bottle out of his bag, “I dipped into my private stock.  Assuming you're not working late or something.”

            “Not at all.”  Kai invited him in.  “But don't be too put off when I get red-faced after two drinks.  The Asian man's curse.”

            Kai updated Dan on mutual NAIS friends who'd graduated with his class.  He was settling in well with the Guards, he said.  “How about you, Leftenant?”

            “I've got a good lance,” said Dan.  “Company CO hasn't impressed me as much, but we get along.  The real character is the other lance commander.  This guy's so good he reminds me of you.  But he's ice cold.”

            “Is that Michael Casey?”

            “You know him?”

            “No, but I have heard a few stories.  People keep suggesting that I duel him in the simulator.”

            “I doubt he'd go for that.  The man is entirely business.  But it sounds like your reputation is spreading?”

            Kai shrugged awkwardly.  “Such as it is.”

            “Well.  I suppose I may have had a bit of a hand in that.”

            Kai gave him a skeptical look.  “You know, I have never understood why you're so friendly with me, Dan.”

            It was an awkward thing for him to bring up.  “Well,” said Dan, “I'm a MechWarrior for a reason.  I respect your art.”

            “But I'd have expected you to have a problem with nobles, given what you believe.”

            “If you actually thought you were entitled to anything, it would probably piss me off.  But if anything, you hold yourself to a higher standard.  It's weird.  I haven't really found a way for my politics to coexist with the rest of my life.  I mean, what about my career, for Christ's sake?”

            “I've never understood that either,” said Kai.  “It's not as if you have roots in the Commonwealth.  You weren't born here, unless I'm misremembering.”

            “No, I wasn't.”

            “Then why not serve a democratic state, like the Free Worlds League?”

            Because Thomas Marik wants my father dead.  Although he couldn't tell Kai the whole story, Dan did answer with some honesty.  “The League isn't a true democracy.  Only a few planets elect their Members of Parliament.  Most of them are hereditary nobles.  And anyway, their Parliament is essentially powerless now.  Besides,” he said, “I wanted to go to NAMA.  I didn't even become a republican until my second year there.”

            “And now you're trapped in a ten-year term of compulsory service to a nation you don't believe in.”

            Dan shrugged.  He'd already wrestled with this issue, and found resolution at least for now.  “I don't feel trapped, really.  I wanted to be a MechWarrior, and the last governments I would've gladly served died before the Star League.  You have to fight for someone.”  Kai didn't exactly look mollified.  Dan understood at last what was bothering him.  “When you think about why soldiers have fought with honor, throughout history, it hasn't usually been because they were patriots.  They didn't want to fail their fellow warriors.  'We band of brothers,' remember?  I may not believe in the Commonwealth the way you do, but I'd never let you down in the field.”

            Kai nodded with respect, and Dan could see that at last he believed him.


  • Warrant Officer
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  • Posts: 570
Re: The Excaliburs Saga
« Reply #26 on: 17 August 2020, 22:07:49 »
Part 9: Mystery Attackers!

MARCH 3050
            The cover of BattleTechnology said "Mystery Attackers!"  There wasn't much new information in the article, though.  Morgan Kell's son had been lost in the Periphery, it said.  But there was no mention of the fighting on Anywhere and Barcelona.

            I suppose it's a good sign that the LIC is getting intelligence to us faster than the press, thought Geoff.  Still, the Lyran reports had so far been quiet about the fate of the garrison regiments these Periphery Clans had attacked.  Edited for mercenary consumption, perhaps.  Hauptmann-General Bissel had order the Excaliburs to dig in for planetary defense, which was perhaps not a good sign.  Geoff had expected they would first face relief duty on one of the worlds under attack.  But if the garrison troops collapsed immediately...

            Nini came in, and the magazine cover drew her eye immediately.  "You got a hardcopy issue?"

            "Took me all morning to find one," said Geoff.  "There's not much new information, I'm afraid."

            "Still, what a photo.  Look at that thing."

            "You ready to take one on?"

            "Don't joke about it.  These things have me scared shitless.  We were making good money just sitting still out here.  Now all of a sudden we're on the front line, against 'Mechs like that."  She gestured at the image of the "Vulture."

            "They may only have Star League tech.  We can match that, at least with half our 'Mechs."

            "Does that look like Star League tech?"

            "There were a lot of lost designs.  But no, you're right.  The aesthetic is totally different.  And if those are twenty-racks on the shoulders, I don't think even the SLDF could fit that much weaponry on a sixty-tonner.  This is something new."

            "We have to be ready to evacuate, even against orders, if we can't beat them.  Keep the DropShips fueled and ready to lift off."

            "That's smart," he said.  "There's a good pirate point close to the planet, too.  I'll order Camelot and Avalon to jump there."

  • Dear Colonel Kenner,

                I write to you with an offer of considerable profit that I hope you will accept.

                As I'm sure you know, the Seventeenth Skye Rangers recently engaged the Clan enemy on Barcelona.  You may not be aware that they've been denied relief of any sort.  The regiment has been forced to abandon their defensive positions and go to ground.  Area Commander Bissel has denied their request for evacuation.  These elite warriors, including many sons and daughters of my own duchy, stand to lose their lives and their families' prized equipment if nothing is done.

                As the only unengaged mercenary unit in the region with their own complement of JumpShips, the Excaliburs are in a unique position to be of service.  I hereby offer you a bounty of one million kroner for each Ranger MechWarrior or pilot rescued from Barcelona, with an additional million for every intact BattleMech or fighter recovered.  My astrogators have plotted a pirate point that should serve for inserting your forces.

                I understand that you are under contract to the Commonwealth, and would be held in violation if you accepted another assignment.  This is why I present my offer in the form of a bounty rather than new employment.  I hope you will find a way, within the boundaries of your terms of service, to render aid to the people of Skye.

    with regards,

    Margaret Aten

    Duchess of Summer

            “We take it,” said Taggart.  “Obviously, we take it.”

            Nini disagreed.  “These guys mauled the Seventeenth Skye and you want to just drop in on them?”

            “We rescue one company, we make twenty-four million in a day.”

            “I agree with John,” interjected Geoff, “and not just because of the money.  We're going to face these Clans eventually.  We need to know how to win—if we can.  If there's a chance to learn that without risking the whole regiment, we need to take it.”

            Nini nodded.  The matter was closed.

            “We'll take Camelot only.  We may need to get out fast with the L-F battery.  The two Overlords and Pendragon will give us the best carrying capacity.  We take one battalion—yours, John, since you're keen to go.  Plus the command company.  That way we can fit another battalion's worth for the trip home.  The Seventeenth can't have more than that remaining.  We'll take the maximum possible fighter complement, though.  Descent and liftoff will be the most dangerous junctures.  We'll need protection then.”

            “How are you going to square this with the terms of our contract?” said Nini.

            Geoff shrugged.  “We're allowed a certain amount of discretion in conducting recon missions.  We'll call it reconnaissance in force.  By the time the Area Commander asks about the details, we'll be gone.  Then what's he going to do?  Fire a unit that's sitting on the front line?”

            Geoff floated beside Taggart over the array of screens where Lancelot's orbital survey cameras were dumping their images.  The two colonels sifted through the data, not trusting the computer with images of unfamiliar BattleMechs.

            “There are two active enemy forces, each about the size of a reinforced battalion,” said Taggart.  “One seems to be sitting things out for the moment.  The other has broken into a reinforced company and six of these five-'Mech elements they like.  The groups of five are searching the marshes north of the capital for Ranger survivors.”  He looked up at Geoff.  “Funny that they're using 'Mechs for this duty.”

          Geoff nodded.  “Maybe they don't have VTOLs with them, but they must at least have sensor-equipped fighters.”

            “Anyhow, it's no trouble of ours if they're not using a proper search procedure.”

            “No, in fact, it gives me an idea.  All three of your companies have at least one ECM-equipped 'Mech, right?”


            “I want your battalion split into companies.  We'll drop them along the path of three of these groups of five.  Set the ECM to passive, and make sure all your 'Mechs stay within 180 meters of the ECM unit.  You'll let the enemy force go by, then follow behind it.  If the Clan 'Mechs find a group of Rangers, you attack immediately.  If not, you follow for twelve hours, then set up an ambush.

            “Meanwhile, we'll land the DropShips in this flat spot between these mountains, with the armor and the command company for protection.  The fighters will return to orbit.  It's not ideal, but it's the best way to keep them in reserve, and they can keep an eye on the other three Clan search teams.”

            “Do you think the ships will have enough protection?”

            “Hard to say.  But we have a small force and we need to split it if we're going to trail the Clan search teams.  It sounds like if we're going to have a chance, we need to outnumber them.  Can you think of another way to accomplish both those tasks?”

            “No, you're right.  We'll just have to keep the fighters ready in case the DropShips need their help.”

            “All right.  Let's brief the troops.”

            Thirty-four MechWarriors and six fighter pilots crowded onto Lancelot's bridge, while eighteen others on Galahad listened via laser comm.

            “I know you all,” Geoff told them.  “I know you're courageous soldiers.  You're going to have to temper that courage with a little wisdom today.  Can you do that for me?”

            A rumbling chorus of 'yessir's rose from the troops.

            “Our golden rule today is: fight when ordered, run when ordered.  You stay back and don't engage until your company commander gives the word.  If you hear the order to withdraw, you obey.  Captains, don't be too hesitant to sound the retreat.  We have to face the possibility that we just can't win against this enemy.”

            He nodded to Taggart.  The Welshman said, “We're going into the unknown today.  You'll all be my good boys and girls, I know you will.  We'll get through this safe and sound.  Now, to your machines.”

 Stalking the Clan unit was the most suspenseful mission Taggart could remember.  It wasn't easy to keep a BattleMech company hidden from an enemy  The Star League Stalker's ECM went a long way and the terrain here was ideal for hidden pursuit.  Still, the enemy 'Mechs were moving at a steady pace.  Both the Stalker and Taggart's Atlas had to jog just to stay close enough to keep tracking the enemy.

            The company communicated only by line-of-sight laser comm.  They kept tight formation, with Taggart watching his tactical map hawkishly to ensure none of the 'Mechs stepped out of range of the Stalker.

            As the enemy force passed each steep rock formation, Taggart's company moved out from behind the next formation and quickly closed the gap—a sort of leapfrogging maneuver from cover to cover.  He was about to give the order to move again when he saw the lightest Clan 'Mech step back, retracing its path.

            “Hold position here,” he told his warriors.

            Had the light 'Mech detected them?  Was that even possible, through the ECM?

            The other four were turning now.  There was only one explanation.  They couldn't have detected Taggart's 'Mechs, even with an active probe, but a probe could potentially notice the ECM's jamming signal if it got too close.

            “They know we're here,” he said over the comm, “but they don't know our numbers and composition.   Get close to the hill and prepare to go at them.”

            The command company cheered as Taggart's voice, relayed via laser by the fighters in orbit, came over the comm.  “It's official,” he said.  “They can be beaten.”

            Updates came in from Bravo and Charlie companies as well.  Charlie's enemy force had come upon an under-strength lance of Skye Ranger stragglers.  When Charlie joined the fight, the Clan 'Mechs were crushed between the two Inner Sphere forces.  Bravo was still stalking its prey.

            The lance Charlie had saved was carrying dispossessed comrades.  That's ten million, thought Geoff.  It ashamed him to think of human lives in this way, but such was the mercenary's lot.

            Kara Adams, commander of the aerospace force, came over the speakers.  “Colonel, I've got bad news.  We've just spotted a group of fifteen Clan 'Mechs headed your way.  Apparently that larger enemy force has decided to mobilize.”

            Geoff brought up the position of the enemy force on his strategic map.  He didn't have long.  There was a small aerospace group approaching from orbit as well.

            “I'm only seeing four fighters in support.”

            “I can confirm that, sir.  They may not have spotted our fighters, at least not all of them.”

            “All right.  Intercept those fighters, then get back here as fast as you can.  We'll need air support if we're going to hold off this attack.  And patch me through to Taggart's companies.”


            “A, B and C companies, return to base.”

            “Bravo here, sir.  The group we've been tailing is linking up with one of the other search parties.  It looks like the other search group has found some Rangers.  This could be the biggest group of survivors.”

            “All right.  You won't get here in time to help, anyway.  Stay on your targets and hit them from behind when they go after the Rangers.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Clan 'Mechs on the ridge,” said one of the tank commanders.  “******, look at those things.”

            Geoff squeezed his cross and shunted power to his Gauss rifle's magnets.

            Another transmission.  “Adams here, sir.”

            “Yes, Captain?”

            “Those enemy birds are nasty.  We lost one fighter, but we took them all out.  Don't know why they only sent four.  Heading for your position now at full thrust.  The Sparrowhawks will arrive first.”

            “We'll try and hold them until you get here.  Fly fast, Kara.  I don't like our chances here without support.”

            “Just hold on tight.  Sparrowhawk lance should reach you in one minute, the rest of us not long after.”

         From where he sat on the foot of his Excalibur, Geoff watched as an Excalibur Atlas dragged the wreck of the clan Thor into the Pendragon’s cargo bay.  Kelly Celeste stepped up beside him.

“The two Thors had completely different arsenals,” Geoff told her.

She nodded.  “They’re using some sort of modular weapon mounts.  A bit like the laser modules on a Mercury, but decades more advanced.  Weapons can be detached from the chassis and re-mounted in minutes, but they’re still fully protected by the ‘Mech’s armor when mounted.”

“Must make salvage easy, at least.”

“That’s right.  We’re stripping the total wrecks now; it shouldn’t take long.  But at least half the chassis look salvageable too.  God knows if we’ll ever be able to work on them, though.  I’ve worked with ferro-fibrous and endo steel, but these composites are denser and more compact.  Probably irreplaceable.”

“We can sell the chassis to the FedCom, or one of their military contractors.  They’ll want as big a sample of these materials as they can get.  It could turn out to be more lucrative than the bounty on the Rangers.”

            “Good on you for negotiating full salvage rights on this contract.”

            “It was easy,” said Geoff.  “They thought we’d be fighting Periphery trash.”

          The last of Taggart's companies boarded Lancelot, and Geoff gave the order to lift off.  They had rescued almost two companies of Ranger 'Mechs, along with more than a dozen newly dispossessed Ranger MechWarriors.

            The highest-ranking officer was Kommandant Forth Bagley, who made his way to Kenner's bridge immediately.  “I had to thank you, Colonel, as soon as I could.  I recognize the profit motive in what you did, but it took courage all the same.”

            “Thanks, Kommandant.”  Geoff absently accepted his handshake.  “We should probably take our seats.  I'm going to order full thrust, at least for this first stretch of the flight.”

            “Naturally,” said Bagley.  “Although I gather you've already overpowered their aerospace forces, from the decisive role of your own fighters in your last engagement.”

            Geoff strapped himself into a couch.  “They only sent four fighters to support their attack.  I can't imagine that's all they have.”

            “I suppose not.  They do seem to have a strange system of holding large bodies of troops in reserve while they attack with minimal force.  We weren't able to make much sense of it.”

            “It's bizarre.  If they'd attacked us with that whole reinforced battalion, rather than just half of it, even the fighters could never have saved us.”

            The acceleration warning lights came on, and thirty seconds later Geoff felt the full weight of 2.5 gees.

            Laboring just to walk, Taggart came on the bridge.  Geoff held up a hand, which took real effort.  “Here's your hero, Kommandant.  Magnificent, John.  Each of your companies won against a superior enemy.”

            Taggart lowered himself carefully into a couch.  “To be fair, we had luck and numbers.  Without those, we'd just as surely have lost.”

            “Sure.  But now we have the measure of the enemy, and we know at least one thing that works.  It seems air power will be crucial.  As soon as we get back to Black Earth, we should see about hiring more fighters.”

            Celeste’s team couldn’t make heads or tails of the Clan weapon modules, so the Excaliburs stored them away in hopes of future discoveries.  Meanwhile they opened negotiations with the Commonwealth for the sale of the OmniMech bodies they’d captured, stripped of weapons.

            “We’ll need long-ranged firepower to hold off these enemies,” Geoff insisted.  “Get our whole stockpile of Com Guard Gauss rifles into the field.  The Houses will be producing them soon.  We can buy more spare parts later, for now we need to survive the fight that’s coming.”

            Celeste agreed.  “I’ve been working on some custom blueprints for our hundred-tonners.  Replacing a class-twenty AC with a Gauss is a field refit.  A King Crab with two railguns, or an Atlas with one rifle plus twenty LRMs, will have a much longer reach and might surprise the Clanners.”
« Last Edit: 18 August 2020, 10:32:40 by Trailblazer »