Zenith Jump Point
Kolovraty, Lyran Commonwealth
2 August 3038
It wasn't an easy thing saying goodbye but Alexandra didn't have a choice. She'd been blessed with having Nebula and Pulsar living with her in her spacious quarters for two weeks (rooms which had belonged to her parents) but now that time was over. Distant Memory had made the final jump and they were in the Kolovraty system. It was time for the Fighting Fusiliers to begin the last stage of their journey.
It had been a tough decision, especially with so many crewmembers volunteering to look after the kittens, but Alexandra had settled on Midshipman Camille Brown to take the responsibility of becoming their new parent. They were the ship's mascots and technically belonged to everyone, but they couldn't be bounced from cabin to cabin, especially at their tender age. Camille was elated and swore she would do everything she could to make sure they were raised in a loving environment. Most of the crew would pitch in to help but the ultimate responsibility was hers.
In addition to the pamphlet, Garadun had written a list of dos and don'ts on how to raise cats, and also had a long sit-down talk with Camille to make sure she knew what was required. The kittens were only five months old and needed a lot of love and attention and stimulation to help them develop into healthy, well-adjusted adult cats. They were not toys. They were living creatures and deserved the same love and devotion as any human child. Camille understood. She asked several questions which Garadun was only too happy to answer.
"I'm really going to miss you," said Alexandra, hugging and kissing Nebula and Pulsar in turn. She wiped tears from her eyes. "By the time I see you again you'll be all grown up. Please take good care of them, Camille."
"I will, my Lady. I promise," said Camille, holding them in her arms.
Alexandra petted them again and wiped away more tears. Now she truly understood how Garadun felt about his own cats. In only two weeks she'd fallen in love with the little darlings, and adored all their silly antics and utter cuteness. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye, to know they really weren't hers anymore.
"Time to go, Alexandra," said Garadun gently.
"Until we meet again, Captain."
"We'll be in regular contact, my Lady," he said, saluting. Alexandra gave a sigh and turned away, heading through the airlock that connected Distant Memory to Shearling. As Garadun turned to follow, Captain Hamilton stopped him.
"Look after her, Mr Morr. She's the heart of the Grosvenor family."
"I'll watch her back, don't worry," said Garadun, evenly. "You take care of the ship. And you look after those kitties, Camille."
Camille smiled. "I will."
"Later," he said and stepped back, letting the airlock seal itself. Captain Hamilton led Camille out of the interior airlock and sealed the main doors. They had just returned to the bridge when Shearling detached from Distant Memory and began manoeuvring away from the JumpShip on its thrusters. When it reached a safe distance it fired its main engines and started the trip in-system, heading for Kolovraty.
"Godspeed, Lady Alexandra," said Captain Hamilton. "Safe journey."
Kolovraty was a white main sequence star, classified F7 V. Unlike Sol and so many other systems throughout the Inner Sphere and Periphery, Kolovraty only had four planets in orbit around it. There was no asteroid belt and, when compared to Sol, few comets and asteroids. The first planet in the system, Vulcan, sat right next to its sun at a mere 0.1 AU and was a scorched, burning rock without any atmosphere.
The other three planets were all gas giants of various sizes. At a distance of 1.7 AU was Apollo, the largest of them all with a diameter of around 300,000 kilometres. At 3.3 AU was Janus with a diameter of some 50,000 kilometres, and the last at 6.5 AU was Juno, which was roughly 90,000 kilometres in diameter. All three were orbited by numerous moons of various types and sizes, with Apollo featuring a ring system that was even more spectacular than that of Saturn. It was here that could be found the star's only inhabited world.
Kolovraty was technically a moon, but a moon which was bigger than Terra with a diameter of 14,550 kilometres; yet less dense, with a surface gravity of 0.99 G. From the surface it had arguably the most incredible view in the Lyran Commonwealth, if not the entire Inner Sphere. The world's parent gas giant, Apollo, with its stunning ring, was visible night and day, and its twenty-nine sister moons could be seen now and then, depending on time of day and their orbits in relation to Kolovraty.
It was a cool world despite its hot star, with an average temperature at the equator of only 20 Celsius. Fifty-four percent of the surface was covered in water and there were two main continents, Burgenland and Carinthia. Kolovraty had a very breathable atmosphere and supported a diverse ecosystem, with the highest native animal equal to mammals. Terran animals which had been introduced to the world, from cattle to household pets, had adapted and thrived. Its magnetic field was quite strong, producing fantastic auroras and shielding the surface from harmful radiation from both the star and the parent gas giant. Each day was twenty-six standard hours long, and the Kolovraty year consisted of 543 local days. The capitol city was Innsbruck.
And though Kolovraty lay on the very edge of Lyran space with nothing but the untamed Deep Periphery at its back, the world was not without history. Centuries ago the system had been part of the Rim Worlds Republic, a large area of Periphery space bordering the Lyran Commonwealth. The Republic had been founded in the mid-twenty-third century, and was then later destroyed as a political nation during the Amaris Civil War; which had in turn led to the collapse of the Star League. After the war, much of the Rim Worlds Republic was annexed by the Lyran Commonwealth. The remaining worlds were eradicated by bandits, went independent, or were simply forgotten by history, their fates unknown. Kolovraty had continued on as part of the Lyran Commonwealth.
All this information was learned by each of the Fusiliers, at Alexandra's insistence. They were going to be garrisoning the world for a standard year; they had to know at least the basics. It took thirteen days to reach Kolovraty from the system's jump points, so they had plenty of time to study.
Sir Henry Albern was sending messages back and forth between himself and Duke Josef Sheridan and other planetary officials several times a day. Alexandra was also in daily contact with the Kolovraty government, and was sending and receiving messages via the planet's ComStar facility, arranging shipping contracts. Once she and the Fusiliers had safely touched down on Kolovraty, Distant Memory would be jumping out of the system to continue the business of transporting DropShips; bringing in a continuous stream of revenue for the Grosvenor family. The furs, cases of Timbiqui ale and other high-end goods that had been in the JumpShip's hold were now aboard Shearling and would be sold to Kolovraty merchants; who would then sell them to local citizens who, living in the Periphery as they did, were always eager for luxury items.
Daily meetings of the Fusiliers were held to discuss all sorts of matters; the local laws and ordinances, what kinds of native life were dangerous, liaising with the Innsbruck Militia who were the planet's only other defence force, and where they would be living. Cera and Garadun also had some ideas of their own to bring to the table, which they did a few days into the journey.
Alexandra sat down in her chair in the conference room. "Now, anyone else?"
"Yeah, me if I may," said Garadun, and when she gave him a smile and a nod he got to his feet. "Cera and I got a few things to cover."
"This should be good," said Ian, winking at Sayuki. Garadun spared him a look, then drew his heavy auto pistol and put it on the table.
"Weapons," he said with unusual seriousness. "Always have one on you. I cannot stress this enough. Go armed. This isn't Earth. Always have at least one gun on you. You never know when you might need it. Not only are there indigenous critters out there, but it's not unknown for locals to resent mercenaries."
"But Sir Henry says everyone wants us here," said Laura.
"He can say what he likes," Cera interjected. "He's part of the government, not the average person on the street. We go armed. So should you."
"And that especially goes for when you're in your 'Mech," Garadun continued. "I know lots of MechWarriors scoff at it, call pilots who do it 'hot jocks' and whatever, but you never know when you might have to eject. You don't wanna be outside your ride without a gun. Especially in combat."
"Garadun has a valid point," said Alexandra. "Please carry a sidearm."
"Thank you, Alexandra. As for the locals
"Don't call them 'indigs'," said Cera emphatically. "A lot of mercenary and House units do, and it's a very insulting term. We're better than that. We're Fusiliers."
There were murmurs of agreement around the table.
"Well said," said Alexandra approvingly.
"And when it comes to mixing with the locals," said Garadun, now smirking, "again keep in mind that we're outsiders. There's always some berk out there who'll get all bent outta shape because you're getting cosy with one of 'their' men or women."
"We had to deal with this all the time on Solaris," Cera added. "There it was mixing Houses, but the principle applies. I had trouble a few times because I was a 'Drac' and some baka tare didn't like me making time with a girl from the Federated Suns."
"I got that when I was dating a Free Worlds girl," said Jimmy, nodding. "Not just from the Leaguers but from fellow Capellans as well."
"Date who you like, but keep it in mind," said Garadun.
"Goddamn bigots," said Ian vehemently and Sayuki held his hand. He gave her a kiss. They knew firsthand what it was like dealing with prejudice.
"Anything else?" Alexandra asked.
"Actually, yes," said Cera and Garadun sat beside her, leaning back in his chair. "It's about when we get to Kolovraty. As I understand it, it's tradition for an incoming 'Mech unit to march off the DropShip and line up on parade?"
"Yes, that's right," Alexandra confirmed.
"I've done it myself," Laura added.
"Same with me," said Sun-Lao.
"I learned parade drill at the academy," said Ian.
"We practiced parade drill when I was at Blackjack, too," said Marie.
"Well, I had an idea about that," said Cera, grinning. "Instead of just marching off the ship and lining up in a row, how about we give them a bit of a show?"
Alexandra raised a delicate eyebrow. "A show?"
"Yes, walk out to some music, put some moves in there, make it entertaining," Cera explained happily. "When we were on Solaris people just didn't want to see us fight. They wanted some oomph, they wanted razzle-dazzle."
"That's certainly true," Jimmy confirmed. "The most successful pilots always made it entertaining. Custom paint jobs on the 'Mechs, flashy moves, music blaring from the external speakers; anything to get the crowd going."
"Hai, people like to be entertained," Sayuki agreed.
"We're not on Solaris," said Alexandra hesitantly. "We're mercenaries."
"Doesn't mean we can't have some style," Cera reasoned. "We're a tiny unit. We need to make a name for ourselves."
"It doesn't sound very dignified to me," said Laura sceptically.
"Oh please, we're not in the Royal Guards," Garadun countered, and she blushed. "And we ain't the Eridani Light Horse or the Gray Death Legion. Look, I'm not saying we should pile outta some 'Mech-sized clown car or anything," he said and everyone laughed, "but there's nothing wrong with a bit of flash."
Alexandra clasped her hands together on the table. "What've you in mind?"
"Thanks to Gar's library I've picked a good piece of music we can use," Cera replied. "It's ancient, all the way back to Terra's late twentieth century. So to everyone listening it'll be brand-new. I've also been working on a routine."
"Like choreography?" said Marie, both surprised and intrigued.
"Sort of. It's not hard. We can practice it in the pods."
"How long is this 'routine' exactly?" Alexandra asked.
"Two minutes," said Cera and looked around at her friends. "Not long, just enough to give the locals a bit of a show."
Alexandra gave it some thought. "All right, hands. Who wants to do this?"
Cera's hand shot instantly into the air of course, followed by Garadun and Sayuki. Ian put up his hand, and then so did Marie. Sun-Lao, seeing the others going for it, put up his as well. Laura sighed and put hers up.
"All right, we'll give it a try," said Alexandra.
"Yes!" said Cera ecstatically.
"But I want to see a computer simulation before we do anything," she added, looking at Cera. "The whole thing, with music. If I like it, we'll do it."
Cera was beaming. "I'll have it for you tomorrow."
"Very well. Anything else?" said Alexandra. "No? All right, dismissed."