Kolovraty, Lyran Commonwealth
18 May 3039
The investigation into the sabotage of Garadun's Hunchback was given top priority by order of Duke Sheridan, who was outraged at the brazen and cowardly attempt on the man's life. One BattleMech destroyed, a highly respected MechWarrior wounded, severe damage to the military base, and dozens of lives put at risk. If the Hunchback had exploded while inside the hangar instead of out on the tarmac…
There was no question that it had been a bomb. Fusion engines simply don't blow themselves to bits for no reason. A small section of the perimeter fence had been found to be cut open, and thanks to the snowy ground there were footprints. Someone had definitely sneaked onto the base. The fence was repaired and Colonel Phillips gave the security teams a dressing-down for letting an enemy intruder get past them. All security protocols were now under review and he wanted them improved. Immediately.
The logical conclusion was that someone who had come with one of the recent DropShips was a professional saboteur, an explosives expert skilled in infiltration. All three ships had been grounded and their crews and passengers were being questioned. The Innsbruck media grabbed hold of the story of course, and there was a great deal of speculation as to who was responsible. Vengeful pirates, a Draconis Combine ISF sleeper agent, a lone madman, Skye separatists, even one of the City Councillors who'd argued against having mercenaries on Kolovraty in the first place.
Garadun dismissed all these ideas for the drek they were. The attempt on his life had been brutal, dramatic, and executed by a hired professional. That meant someone directing the assassin, someone with money, someone who didn't want to get their hands dirty, and someone who wanted him really, really dead. None of his enemies on Solaris fit the bill. But there was one person who did.
Duke Nathan DuVall.
Evidently shooting his lackey in the leg and warning him to stay the hell away from Ian had really honked the man off. Garadun knew he'd made an enemy of the son of a bitch, but he hadn't realised how much until now. There was no way to prove it at the moment, and a good chance he'd never be able to prove it, but DuVall was the only person in the Inner Sphere with the means and (most importantly) the motive to try and snuff him out in such a manner. It fit his sleazebag style of getting others to do his bidding, as well as matching his petty, vindictive attitude.
All right, fine. So be it.
Garadun had warned DuVall what he'd do if the bastard ever tried to mess with Ian or any of the Fusiliers again, and blowing his Hunchback into tiny pieces while trying to murder him certainly fit the bill. But until he got a new ride, tracking down DuVall and killing his ass would have to wait.
There was the hell of it. He was now Dispossessed. He didn't feel the same kind of shame that most MechWarriors did when they lost their 'Mechs and entered the ranks of the Dispossessed. He didn't see having a BattleMech as some sacred right or privilege, that MechWarriors were the elite and therefore better than others. Load of crap, that was. No, he was angry and a bit depressed because being a 'Mech jock was who he was, was his job, and without a 'Mech what was he supposed to do? Yet more than even that, Igor had been his ride. He had earned that 'Mech by putting his ass on the line in the arenas of Solaris. And now it was so much shrapnel. That kinda thing gets to a guy.
There was some talk of possibly buying one of the captured pirate 'Mechs off the Innsbruck Militia, but he wasn't interested. First of all, the Militia needed every single machine so they could start their own 'Mech battalion. Second of all, he didn't want some rundown 'Mech a pirate had been using. Who knew where it'd been? And thirdly, it was in the Fusiliers mercenary contract: all salvage went to the Militia and the Fusiliers were paid compensation. This had been done. Although he was no soldier, he was a man who honoured his agreements and contracts. The 'Mechs belonged to the Militia and that was that. End of story.
Alexandra was putting out feelers, seeing if any unit in a nearby system was willing to sell the Fusiliers a BattleMech. But with the new war on, 'Mechs were of course in high demand. She also sent inquiries to BattleMech manufacturers directly (the closest was Coventry Metal Works) but again because of the war there was little chance they'd have any available for sale. Whatever was coming off the assembly lines would no doubt be going to the AFFC and any mercenary units under contract to fight the war.
Garadun would simply have to wait and hope.
Three weeks later, on the eighteenth of May, just four days after the colossal party celebrating Alexandra's twenty-fifth birthday (held at one of the very best restaurants in Innsbruck, followed by carousing at a chic nightclub) something happened that put aside his concerns about getting a new ride.
Alexandra was in her office on the base when Garadun gave a quick knock and opened the door without waiting for a reply. She looked up and saw the expression on his face. Something was wrong, very wrong indeed.
"Garadun, what is it?"
"You gotta come now," he said urgently.
"What is it?"
"Distant Memory. She just jumped into the system a short while ago," he explained as he led her down the hall toward the communications office.
"What? They're not due back for another two months."
"You have to talk to Captain Hamilton."
They entered the communications office, where she saw Colonel Phillips along with a few technicians. The Colonel ordered the techs to leave.
"This is Colonel Phillips," he said, activating the transmitter. "Lady Alexandra is now in the comm office. Captain Hamilton, please proceed with your message." He turned off the microphone. "I'll give you some privacy, Lady Alexandra," he added and walked out and closed the door, leaving her and Garadun alone.
With the JumpShip many light-minutes away at the zenith jump point, it took time for the transmission to reach the ship and for the reply to come back. But when it did, Alexandra paled at the news, sinking into a chair.
"This is Captain Hamilton. Lady Alexandra, I am afraid I must inform you that we have a Survival Protocol One situation on our hands. On nine February of this year, while stationed at Cavanaugh, I was contacted by a Commodore Foster and told that Distant Memory was forthwith conscripted into the service of the Armed Forces of the Federated Commonwealth, for an unspecified amount of time, to perform missions deemed classified.
"As per Protocol, I told the Commodore we would comply as soon as our ship was finished recharging. Since we were already in the Cavanaugh system, where your sister was attending school, I immediately sent Elizabeth a message and told her Survival Protocol One was in effect. She hired the first available private shuttle and hurried to meet with Distant Memory. Once she was safely aboard, I jumped the ship across the border to Epsilon, in the Free Worlds League. From there I took the ship along the League border, through a couple of systems in the Marian Hegemony, and then straight up through the Commonwealth in a direct line to Kolovraty. As per Protocol, each time Distant Memory needed to recharge her batteries, we jumped into an uninhabited star system. Each time we could do a double jump, we stopped briefly at an inhabited system to listen to planetary broadcasts and collect news and data before jumping again. We have maintained completed radio silence, deactivated our transponder, and to the best of my knowledge those AFFC bastards have no idea where we are.
"Elizabeth is safe and well, and I await further orders."
Alexandra stared at the speaker on the communications set, at a total loss for words. Survival Protocol One hadn't been used since the Third Succession War. Everything was put aside to save the Grosvenors and Distant Memory from Successor State governments and their militaries. Everything. They simply packed up and ran. They had done so for generations, each time the ship was in danger of destruction or capture.
"What do we do now, my Lady?" Garadun asked, and when she looked up she saw determination on his face. He never called her "my Lady" unless it was serious. She closed her eyes to compose her thoughts, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She opened her eyes and switched on the microphone.
"Captain Hamilton, this is Lady Alexandra. Here's what you're going to do. You will unfurl the jump sail and begin recharging procedures. Once that is underway, you will start scanning the system to find and calculate every likely pirate point. When you have found the one which is closest to Apollo, you will relay the coordinates to Shearling. When the ship is fully charged, you will jump to the last system you were in, set course for the chosen pirate point and jump back here. By that time Shearling should be waiting for you in deep space. It will dock with you and take Elizabeth aboard, then return here. You will start charging the drives again and stay on-station. Acknowledge."
After what seemed forever came the reply. "Acknowledged, Lady Alexandra. The jump sail is being unfurled as I speak. I will contact you as soon as I have the coordinates of the pirate point. Stand by." There was a pause, and then a teenage girl's voice.
"Alex, it's me, Lizzie. I'm all right. Captain Hamilton rescued me just like you always said he would if this happened. I've missed you a lot and I'm really looking forward to seeing you again. I know you've had so much to do, and I'm incredibly proud of you, Alex. But I've still missed my big sister. See you soon."
Alexandra closed her eyes and tears spilled down her cheeks. Her chest shook as emotions flooded though her, and then Garadun was kneeling beside her and holding her. She clung to him and sobbed, and he held her and stroked her soft, pale blonde hair, telling her it would be okay, until the tide of emotions had ebbed and she stopped crying. He found a box of tissues and gave them to her. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, giving him a grateful smile.
"Thank you, Garadun."
"No, really. Thank you," she said and squeezed his hand. "You're always there for me when I need advice, or in a tough spot, or when I need a shoulder to cry on, like now. To say nothing of how much I rely on you for your knowledge and experience."
"Hey, that's what friends are for." He met her eyes, still lovely despite the crying, and suddenly felt self-conscious. He had a strong urge to kiss her. He stood up and put his hands in his jacket pockets, not sure what to say or do.
"So…guess I better go tell the guys what's going on."
"I'll come with you," she said, and took a calming breath before getting out of the chair. He held the door open for her and she smiled. "You're a good man."
"–a rumour somebody started," she said, her smile becoming a grin. "I know."
Alexandra looked at him fondly, kissed him on the cheek, and then walked through the door. He felt his face burning from a mix of emotions, all of which were unsettling. He really didn't like feeling the way he did about her. It was complicated and unwanted and would only lead to trouble.
"Bugger," he said, and kicked the doorjamb.