E P I S O D E I:
B O R N T O L O S E
PROLOGUE:DropShip No Leaf Clover
TWO YEARS AGO
En route from Espia System zenith Jump Point to planet Espia 4
Andurien Commonality, Capellan Confederation
February 23rd, 3028“Anyone got a pencil I can borrow?”
asked Bobby Taggart, callsign ‘Golden Boy,’ as he slouched in his chair.“The hell do you need a pencil for?”
Lena von Kemp, callsign ‘Wrathchild,’ asked from behind him, arms crossed.“Just want to keep my tally going,”
Bobby grinned. “The bossman loves to make his speeches, so I like to keep track of how many times I’ve heard his favorite catch phrases.”
He held up a small notepad, on which were written a handful of phrases. “We do the job and we do it right,” “Trust your training, trust your lancemates,” “Information is ammunition,” and so on. Next to each phrase was a row of tick marks.
Lena rolled her eyes. Golden Boy had been given his callsign due to how quickly he had shot up the ranks. 21, and already a lance commander. A lot of the other Mechwarriors in Gawain’s Green Knights grumbled and said he was too big for his breeches, but none of them could come close to his scores in the sim pods. And with three confirmed ‘Mech kills during the last campaign, he could back up his boasting.
That didn’t make him less of an asshole, though.“All right, boys and girls, on your feet!”
came the voice of Captain Sally Roth, the platinum-haired Dropship captain making her presence known as she strode into the crowded briefing room of her ship. “Commanding officer on deck!”
The briefing room filled with the sounds of rustling uniforms and scuffing boots. Some of the more professional soldiers, like the longtime Knights original Raven “Family Man” Rivers, or the new recruit Ingrid “Ramrod” Daschke, snapped to quick attention. Others, like Golden Boy or the often languid Emma “Alleycat” Ziska, took their time rising from their seats, with little regard for military decorum. The murmurs and grumbles, however, came to a stop when the Colonel entered.“Ladies…gentlemen…Mechwarriors,”
he began, as Golden Boy added a mental tick
to the list, “much of the information we’ll be going over in today’s briefing we already discussed when you signed on. However, to make sure there are no misunderstandings, no miscommunications, and no misinformation, I will be treating you as if today is your very first day in the Inner Sphere.”
Colonel Gaius Wayne, callsign “Gawain,” paced back and forth in front of the briefing room with a deliberate gait, giving an appraising look to the Green Knights. Golden Boy had never been particularly close with the Colonel, but he’d seen him sit in on the occasional poker night in the galley. Some of Golden Boy’s fellow Knights, like Wrathchild or Reya the weapons engineer, saw him as a mentor or father-figure. Some of the older folks, like Family Man or Master Sergeant Dalton, looked at him as an old friend. Today, though, he was all business, which honestly made it that much harder for Golden Boy to take him seriously.“As you know,”
Colonel Wayne continued, “our client for this contract is the Capellan Confederation. House Liao is paying us a significant amount to reinforce their garrison on the border world of Espia. Breathable atmosphere, gravity within 0.1 of standard G, day-night cycle is 36 standard hours broken up into four 9-hour shifts. The water on Espia is extremely salty, with no natural freshwater on-planet. Because of this, the citizens are dependent on a series of offshore desalination platforms for usable water. The high value and possibly catastrophic consequences of damage to these targets is why the Cappies are willing to shell out big bills for ‘Mech support on a border world.”“Right,”
scoffed Freddie ‘Breezy’ Johansen, a new hire to the Knightsbut longtime freelancer, “because everyone knows the Capellans care so much about civilian life.”“Breezy, you now owe me two hundred push-ups for interrupting,”
the Colonel remarked, drawing a few chuckles from the other Knights. “But you are partially correct; the Liaos do have another vested interest on Espia: deposits of a rare-earth mineral called Neodymium. It’s most commonly found in magnets, but it’s also a component in advanced electronics. Potentially worth an awful lot of C-Bills, and the Capellans want to protect their investment. And if they’re willing to pay for the job, then we’re willing to get the job done.”
Golden Boy smirked, and made another tick
on his list.
A hand shot up. “What kind of potential threats are we expecting, sir?”
Colonel Wayne nodded, and drew his attention to the map on the far wall. The planet Espia was displayed as a small dot in the center of the map, barely on the right side of a jagged line. To the right of the line, the space was filled with light green, and to its left, the region was purple. Slightly beneath that was a third region, colored in teal.“As you can see,”
the Colonel stated, “Espia is located on the border of the Capellan Confederation and the Free Worlds League. Historically, the Free Worlders have been the biggest threat to the Capellan border, but with the signing of the Concord of Kapetyn, the Mariks and Liaos, as well as the Kuritas, are notionally all on the same side.”“In theory, at least,”
Captain Roth added.“Yeah, you know how Free Worlders are,”
Golden Boy said, his remark aimed at Aroxty Sameve, trying to rile up the tank commander who had originally hailed from the League. “Ask two Mariks a question, you’ll get three answers.”“You stow that shit, Golden Boy,”
Master Sergeant Dalton glared with a look that could peel the paint off of an Atlas
’s faceplate. Golden Boy raised his hands in mock surrender, and the Colonel fixed him with a stare that let him know he’d be joining Breezy doing push-ups later.“As I was saying,”
Colonel Wayne continued, “the chances of Marik making a move on Liao are slim to none, not with the two Houses signing a non-aggression pact to counter the alliance between Davion and Steiner. Officially, the Third Succession War is over, so for the time being the Marik border is considered relatively safe.”
He then motioned further down on the map, to the area in teal.“The other major player in the region is the Magistracy of Canopus. While I’m sure many of you have heard of them by reputation, there is more to the Magistracy than pleasure-circuses and hard drugs. The Canopians have a significant military force, one that can rival a House army in both size and skill. And unlike the Mariks, they did not sign the Concord, so they aren’t beholden to any non-aggression pact. However, historically the Magistracy has avoided the worst of the Succession Wars specifically by not getting involved in heavy fighting, so again, the chances of them rolling in on Espia are slim.”“Then why bring in a company of ‘Mechs, sir?”
Wrathchild asked.“Because of the third potential threat to the planet’s stability,”
Gawain answered, “which, unfortunately, are the people of Espia themselves. The citizens here have little loyalty to the Confederation, if any, and there have been quite a few demonstrations and protests against House Liao’s leadership. A growing political movement in the government, the so-called “Espian Free People’s Movement,” has been openly talking about secession. There hasn’t been any actual violence…yet…but the Capellans want to make a show of force to keep any of these protests from getting out of hand.”“So we’re the bad guys on this job?”
asked Reya Wyatt.“We’re keeping the peace, that’s all,”
the Colonel responded. “The Green Knights will be operating independently of the Espian Guard, but I have received full authorization from the local Governor to maintain law and order by any means necessary. Let me repeat that: I have full authorization. You do not. Our job is to convince any potential rioters or insurgents to disperse by looking impressive and scary, but you will not make any direct action against the local population without my explicit orders, is that clear?”
“Sir, yes sir!” the Green Knights answered in unison.“I said is that clear?”
“SIR, YES SIR!”“Good,”
he stated. “We are not a House army, but we are professional soldiers. And I expect you to behave as such. Those of you who know me, know that I judge disciplinary action based on a complex and robust equation based around five variable factors. Captain Roth, what are those factors?”
Captain Sally Roth looked across the Green Knights and gave them a switchblade smirk as she listed them off. ”How many bystanders you hurt, how much you cost the company in damages, how many local laws you broke, how many MRB regulations you broke, and how much you pissed the Colonel off.””That is correct,”
he said, his own taciturn demeanor contrasting the Captain’s almost playful tone. ”Based on the results of that equation, I will administer one of four levels of disciplinary action. Level One, I dock your pay 25 percent, and you spend a week in the brig. Level Two, I dock your pay 50 percent, you spend a month in the brig, and you get ten lashes in front of the Knights at the end, just to give you something to look forward to. Level Three, I dock your pay 75 percent, you spend the rest of the contract in the brig, and you get ten lashes at the end of every month. And Level Four, I dock your pay 100 percent, and I shoot you in the head. I’ve been in the mercenary game for twelve years, I have only had to administer a Level Four disciplinary action twice. Do not be the third.”
A few people shuddered. Some nodded grimly. Golden Boy made another tick
on his list.”We are not here to be the ‘bad guys’ or the ‘good guys,’”
Colonel Wayne said, approaching the wrap-up of his speech. ”We are here to be professionals. We are here because there is work that needs doing, and because there are standards to be met. The Green Knights do the job, and we do it right, is that clear?”“SIR, YES SIR!”
the Knights answered as one.
Golden Boy jotted down the biggest tick
he could on his list.”Now let’s open up the floor for some questions…”
SIX MONTHS AGOByeong-Ho Square
Balya Gora, capital city of Espia
September 14th, 3029”For too long, the people of Espia have suffered under the yoke of the Capellan Confederation!”
a young woman bellowed into a megaphone over the roar of the crowd. ”For generation after generation, House Liao has fed us nothing but lies and fear-mongering, all while propping up a regime that is corrupt, callous, cruel, and incompetent! How many Espians have to die in the mines every year before the Liaos are satisfied? How many of our sick, our elderly, our disabled die of thirst because Governor Xiu considers them a ‘drain’ on water rations, while the Aqua Vitae Corporation rakes in record profits?! And now after promising us ‘security’ and ‘safety’ in exchange for all this suffering, the Capellan Confederation abandons us, leaving our lives in the hands of money-grubbing mercenaries!”
Around her, the crowd bellowed with rage. In front of them, lines of Espian Guards armed with riot shields, tear gas, and batons struggled to hold back the mass of fuming humanity. Behind the first line, a second line of Guards waited with assault rifles at the ready.
From behind the lines of riot guards, Golden Boy whistled inside the cockpit of his Vindicator. ”Hooo-ee, they are all kinds of pissed off.””Hate to say it,”
Breezy’s voice crackled over the comms from his Locust
, ”but the lady has a point.””Ehhh, I don’t have time for all that ‘power to the people’ jazz,”
Bigtime said dismissively, his Urbanmech
sweeping the barrel of its autocannon back and forth over the angry crowd. ”People like this are gonna bellyache no matter who’s in charge.””Just keep focused,”
Wrathchild chided her lancemates. ”We don’t have to be friends with these people; we just need to keep them from doing something stupid.””And how are we gonna do that?”
Golden Boy complained, as a glass bottle shattered against the cockpit of his ‘Mech. ”Colonel says we can’t open up on these whiners without his express permission. And there ain’t exactly a non-lethal way to use these things. We might as well be out here with squirt guns.””WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!”
The woman with the megaphone shouted. ”If House Liao will not protect us, then the time has come to protect ourselves! From outsiders, from oppressors, and from our own corrupt and broken puppet government! The time has come to join up and shout, FREE ESPIA!”
With a surge of anger that can only come from a population that’s had all it can stand, the crowd rushed forward and began bowling over the riot guards. Pops of smoke grenades rang out, and shouts of rage and pain filled the air.
Another bottle soared through the air, arcing towards Bigtime’s Urbanmech.
This bottle, however, had a flaming rag sticking out of the top, and when it shattered, it covered the short squat ‘Mech in fiery liquid.”Aw, to hell with this,”
the Mechwarrior said, taking a step forward and aiming his cannon toward the crowd, ”You saw them provoke me, right?”
The city square echoed with the sudden crash and shrieking of metal-on-metal, as the fist of Wrathchild’s Wolverine
slammed into the Urbanmech’s
side, sending the smaller ‘Mech stumbling back.”You’re not wasting these people just because you’re mad that one of them ruined your paint job, Bigshot,”
Wrathchild snarled.”Hey, what the hell are you two doing?”
Breezy demanded, but kept his Locust
away from the two ‘Mechs. Between the size of the Wolverine
and the Urbanmech’s
cannon, there was little his insect-like 20-ton scout ‘Mech could do.”Back off, Wrathchild,”
Golden Boy warned, a dangerous edge to his voice as he leveled his Particle Projector Cannon at the Wolverine
, ”Don’t side with a random mob over your lancemate.”
Between the Green Knights’ feet, the mob broke through the first line of riot guards.”You heard the Colonel’s orders,”
she demanded. ”No firing on–””The Colonel ain’t out here,”
Bigshot said as he turned his own gun on her. ”These ain’t our people, Wrathchild. Hell, they don’t even like us. You really feel like getting popped today because you wanted to play hero?””FREE ESPIA!””Guys…”
Breezy tried to cut in, but was ignored.”You pull that trigger, Bigshot, and it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.””You open up on your lancemate, Wrathchild, and I’ll cut you down here and now.”
Wrathchild turned her arm, aiming her autocannon at Golden Boy’s Vindicator
while keeping her laser and short-range missiles trained on the Urbanmech
.”Guys…””You’re an asshole, Golden Boy,”
she snarled.”And you’re nowhere near as good as you think you are, Wrathchild.””GUYS!”
The square erupted with the chatter of gun fire, followed immediately with screams.
The gunfire didn’t come from the Urbanmech
, or the Vindicator.
It came from beneath them, from the Espian Guards and their TK Assault Rifles. By the end of their second volley, dozens of protestors were dead. The nameless hundreds or thousands more began stampeding in all directions, some trampling each other while trying to flee, others charging forward with righteous indignation.”Awww, fuck,”
Golden Boy groaned. ”The Colonel’s going to have our hides for this…”
ONE WEEK AGOStreets of Balya Gora
March 15th, 3030
Day Four of Military Coup”PEOPLE OF ESPIA,”
the automated recording sounded from the megaphone of the Scorpion Light Tank as it rumbled through the city streets. ”REMAIN IN YOUR HOMES. THE ESPIAN GUARD HAS ASSUMED POLITICAL CONTROL UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. ANYONE OUTSIDE OF THEIR HOMES DURING THE TRANSITION OF POWER WILL BE CONSIDERED AN ENEMY COMBATANT. ANYONE FOUND GIVING SHELTER OR AID TO GOVERNOR XIU'S REGIME OR TO THE OFF-WORLD MERCENARIES WILL BE CONSIDERED AN ENEMY COMBATANT. FOR YOUR SAFETY AND SECURITY, REMAIN IN YOUR HOMES UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. MESSAGE REPEATS. PEOPLE OF–”
With a thunder-crack of man-made lightning and a flash of bright cerulean, the Scorpion erupted. From the cockpit of his Vindicator
, Golden Boy scowled.”Ungrateful assholes,”
he spat.”Come on,”
Wrathchild chided him. ”Let’s get this sector clear, so we can link up with Alpha and Bravo Lance.””That Scorpion was the only thing in two kliks of us making any kind of noise,”
Bigshot said, ”I think it’s safe to call this sector cl–”
His last words were cut short by the thunderous blast of a massive autocannon. Before anyone could realize what happened, the torso of the Urbanmech
collapsed in on itself, and the squat ‘Mech crumpled to the pavement in a heap.”Shit!”
Golden boy swore as the remaining three ‘Mechs broke formation, scattering for what cover they could find. ENEMY ‘MECH DETECTED,
computer warned him too late.”Getting sensor lock,”
Breezy said, the antennae of his Locust
twitching. ”Seismic sensors are reading it as a fifty-tonner….hell, it’s a Hunchback! Enemy Hunchback!”
Sure enough, striding from the smoke and dust down the ruined city street was a short but powerfully built medium ‘Mech, humanoid in shape, its arms bowed out like a bodybuilder, and an absolutely enormous autocannon on its right shoulder.”What the hell?”
Golden Boy asked, more to himself than to his lancemates. ”I thought we were the only ‘Mech force on the planet!””Well, you thought wrong,”
Wrathchild said, triggering her jump jets as her Wolverine
rose into the air. It slammed down on the roof of a nearby building, kicking up a huge cloud of dust as the building’s structure somehow managed to hold the ‘Mech’s mass. ”Doesn’t change the plan. We clear the sector of hostiles, ‘Mechs or not.””Easy for you to say!”
Breezy called out, his Locust
bobbing and weaving to make himself as difficult a target as possible for the Hunchback. ”That thing hits me, I’m a ghost!!””Then don’t let it hit you!”
Wrathchild shouted before firing off a burst of cannon fire and a volley of short-range missiles at the enemy ‘Mech. High-velocity shells and warheads gouged pockmarks out of the Hunchback’s
armor, but did very little else.”I’ve got him,”
Golden Boy said, triggering his own jump jets as he and Wrathchild tried to surround the ‘Mech. Triggering the Vindicator’s
PPC in mid-jump, the sudden spike of heat in his cockpit made him hiss through his teeth, but the bright blue beam struck the Hunchback
in the chest, forcing it to stagger backwards into an apartment block. With a thunderous crash, the building collapsed, burying the Hunchback
under rubble and dust.”Good shot, Golden Boy,”
Wrathchild admitted with grudging respect, ”But stay sharp, chances are he’s still–””Multiple contacts incoming!”
Breezy called out. ”Reading three, no, for–wait…sensors have gone dead. What the hell? I’m being jammed!”
Golden Boy frowned, and checked his own sensors. Sure enough, his screen was blank, which could only mean either the coast was clear–which it plainly wasn’t– or they were being hit with some major electronic interference.”Heads on a swivel, Knights,”
Wrathchild said, sweeping her gun back and forth from her elevated position. ”Call targets when you see them. We need to–”
Two fiery streaks rushed through the air, one from in front of Wrathchild, the other behind, sticking into the leg and back of her Wolverine.
There was no explosion, no alarms. Dud rounds, maybe?”What the hell?”
Golden Boy caught movement in his peripheral vision, and turned to see a small, bird-like ‘Mech disappearing behind a corner.”Got an enemy Raven, two o’clock,”
he called to his lancemates. ”That’s gotta be what’s screwing with our sensors.””Another one, seven o’clock,”
Breezy called out, wheeling his Locust
around to pursue.”Ravens? Then that means…shit, I’m Narced!”
, a top-of-the-line scout ‘Mech from House Liao, was equipped with an incredibly advanced electronic warfare package. In addition to its ECM capabilities, it boasted a particularly nasty piece of support equipment: a Narc missile beacon. And Wrathchild had just been tagged with two of them.”Wrathchild, bug out!”
Breezy shouted. ”They’ve got you scouted for–”
At that point, though, it was too late. From beyond the city skyline, Golden Boy watched a flight of long-range missiles reaching up into the sky. Then another. Then two more. Then four
more. Their contrails criss-crossed through the sky towards them. As Golden Boy watched them, he found them almost beautiful.
Then all at once, they came down on Wrathchild’s Wolverine
enveloping the 50-ton ‘Mech in a maelstrom of explosions.”Wrathchild!”
he called to his lancemate. ”Talk to me.”
Moments later, the charred husk of an eviscerated ‘Mech tilted forward through the smoke, toppling off of the rooftop and crumbling on the ground.”Hell with this!”
Breezy said, ”I’m bugging out. We’re not getting paid to–”
Another thundercrack and flash of lightning, and the Locust
hit the pavement hard, its left leg snapped completely off at the knee. The ‘Mech’s momentum kept the torso moving forward, tumbling over itself again and again in a series of vicious snap-rolls before it came to a stop in a smoking heap.”Breezy, punch out! Breezy!”
pilot never had the chance to respond, as a massive foot came crashing down on the small ‘Mech’s cockpit. Golden Boy’s blood ran cold as he saw the ‘Mech that had killed Breezy. Standing over the wreckage was the imposing frame of a Battlemaster.
Weighing in at 85 tons, the Battlemaster
was nearly twice the size of Golden Boy’s Vindicator.
Mostly humanoid with a large, almost airplane-like cockpit assembly for a head, its right arm carried the same type of PPC as his own ‘Mech, but whereas the Vindicator
only had a 5-shot rack of LRMs and a medium laser to back it up, the Battlemaster
carried a devastating array of short-range weapons. Colonel Wayne used to pilot one just like it before he lost his arm, and Golden Boy was always glad to see it on his side.
This, however, was not Colonel Wayne’s ride. The Battlemaster
that bore down on him was painted a deep red, slashed with white trim. On its breast was an emblem of a skeletal fist.”Know this, mercenary scum,”
the enemy Mechwarrior addressed him on an open channel. ”Today the people of Espia have new leaders. And today, you die to the Crimson Fists.”
strode forward, a half-dozen beams of blinding light erupting from its torso. Six medium lasers raked across the Vindicator
, reducing armor in its torso to molten slag, before a flight of SRMs blasted more of it away. Readouts told him that in that salvo alone, most of the armor on his left side had been taken.”Oh shit, oh shit,”
Golden Boy panted, fighting hard to keep the ‘Mech upright. He then suddenly felt himself thrown against the restraints of his command couch. His ears rang and his eyes blurred, and the cockpit of his Vindicator
flashed red with a hundred warning lights. CRITICAL DAMAGE. RIGHT ARM DESTROYED.
Behind him, the Hunchback
had risen from the rubble of the collapsed apartment building, and was advancing from behind. On either side, Golden Boy saw the two Ravens
stalking between buildings, ready to add their own lasers and missiles to the fight.”P-please, wait,”
he began to sputter as his enemies encircled him. ”I-I-I can help! I’m the b-best shot in my lance! I d-don’t even like these guys! Don’t–”
leveled its PPC at the Vindicator’s
For a split second, Bobby “Golden Boy” Taggart’s world was filled with blinding light, deafening thunder, and searing pain.
Then Bobby “Golden Boy” Taggard never saw, heard, nor felt anything ever again.
NOWAbandoned Neodymium Mine
Eunsan Mountain Range
250 Kilometers Southwest of Balya Gora
March 22nd, 3030
Colonel Gaius Wayne woke up miserable, after a night of fitful sleep. He kept running the situation through his head again and again. How the hell did it happen so quickly?
Golden Boy, KIA.
Wrathchild, MIA….presumed KIA.
More Mechwarriors wounded in the coup, out of action for the foreseeable future.
Three of his four tank crews, both of his VTOLs pilots, and half of his infantry lost.
And worst of all, most of the civilian contingent was now in enemy hands.
Including the families, the children, of the surviving Green Knights.
Including Sally Roth.
He looked down at his left hand, the prosthetic bundle of plastic, metal, and myomer fibers that the doctors had fitten him with three years ago, and a wave of disgust washed over him. If he still had his hand, the prosthetic wouldn’t interfere with his neurohelmet. He could have still piloted his ‘Mech. He could have taken that enemy Battlemaster
‘Mech for ‘Mech.I could’ve saved them,
he thought bitterly.
Around him, the makeshift headquarters they had thrown together buzzed with activity. The cavern was large enough to fit the surviving Knights and their equipment, deep enough in the mountain that they wouldn’t be detected from above by spotter planes or drones, and the old mining scaffolds functioned decently as jury-rigged ‘Mech bays.
It was enough to keep them going, for a time. But only for a time.
Gaius saw some of the kids, the few they had managed to get out before the Espian Guards and their new allies, the so-called ‘Crimson Fists,’ overran the Clover
and the Dittohead.
Some of them were playing, trying to keep their spirits up. Others clearly had tear stains around their eyes. All were getting worryingly thin.They’re going to starve,
he thought to himself. Because you couldn’t be there to save them. Now all you can do is sit and hide and watch your them waste away. They took their parents from them. They took their friends. They took her.
Gaius’s self-pity froze into steely determination at that thought.And you’re going to get them all back.
Shaking his head and clearing the intrusive thoughts from his head, he cupped his hands to his mouth and called out to everyone in the camp.”Attention, Green Knights!”
he shouted. ”Mission briefing in one hour! I repeat, mission briefing in six-zero minutes! We’ve been knocked on our asses, people. Now we go over how we get back on our feet…and how we get our payback.”Do the job,
he thought to himself. And do it right.