Kolovraty, Lyran Commonwealth
28 May 3039
Jimmy had made the comment that the Fusiliers should simply have an assigned parking space at the Robert Marsden Spaceport and be done with it, considering how much time they spent on the tarmac waiting for DropShips to land. Both the APC and Alexandra's aircar were parked one in front of the other, with the Fusiliers lounging in the vehicles, chatting, or pacing while they waited for Shearling to land.
In one of life's weird moments and completely against all expectation, the would-be assassin had been found. Well, presumed would-be assassin if you wanted to get all technical about it, because the suspect was dead and couldn't be questioned. A massive, non-stop investigation had turned up the presence of someone in the city whose records were suspicious. A man who had not arrived with the three current visiting DropShips, but who'd been a passenger aboard the Europa back in December.
When the IPD's special tactical team arrived in force at the apartment he was renting, the suspect had been ready for them. There was a short, violent firefight during which two officers were wounded and one killed before the suspect died in a hail of gunfire. A search of the premises and his possessions had turned up little evidence, but he did have a false Free Worlds League passport under the alias of Jon Keris. A detailed analysis of his clothing turned up minuscule traces of military-grade explosives on a pair of socks. That was it. If he was the bomber, and IPD was pretty damn sure he was, then he'd gotten rid of all his equipment and materials. They were now trying to look into the Jon Keris angle, but they were only a local police department on a small Periphery March world. They weren't some special government agency with tons of resources. Finding out who Jon Keris really was and who'd hired him was very unlikely. Garadun only wished he'd been able to pull the trigger on Keris himself. Somebody trying to blow him up, hired or not, well, he took that kind of thing personally.
On the up side, a huge surprise birthday party was thrown for Erik the day before Elizabeth was due to arrive, which boosted everyone's morale. Birthday parties were now a Fusilier tradition and the big MechWarrior had a great time. Laura really helped with this because she and the birthday boy wound up in bed that night, much to each other's mutual pleasure. However, it wasn't the start of a relationship. Erik had tried dating someone within the same unit before and it had blown up in his face. He didn't want that again. Laura was content. She'd had him.
Distant Memory had recharged her drives, jumped out of the system, and then jumped back in according to plan. The pirate point they'd used was only two days away at a speed of 1G, and Shearling had been there for the rendezvous. It had docked, picked up Elizabeth, and then started the return trip to Kolovraty.
"How long's it been since you saw her last?" Cera asked Alexandra as they strolled side-by-side a little ways off from the others.
"A year and a half now," Alexandra replied. "I stopped at Cavanaugh on my way to Solaris. That's where she goes to prep school. God, I can't wait to see her again."
"She's your only family, right?"
Alexandra sighed. "Yes, only her and I now."
"Well, not exactly," said Cera, giving her a lopsided smile. "You got all us Fusiliers, y'know. And the crew of Distant Memory. Shearling 's crew, too."
"I suppose you're right," said Alexandra, brightening.
"I'm always right," said Cera smugly. "Just ask Gar, he'll tell you."
Alexandra chuckled. "I'm sure he will."
"So any news?"
"Has anyone gotten back to you about a new ride for Gar? Has Duke Sheridan heard anything about anyone trying to find Distant Memory?"
"No, and no. Although his Grace and I did have a long talk," said Alexandra, looking skyward. "He made it very clear that the Fusiliers will always be welcome here, will have a home here if we want it. He said if anyone comes looking for Distant Memory, he'll tell them he doesn't know a thing. He also wishes I'd reconsider about not renewing our contract. He wants us to keep garrisoning the planet."
"That wouldn't be so bad," said Cera. "I've heard it's really beautiful here during the summer. I wouldn't mind that at all."
Alexandra nodded. "Kolovraty's been good to us, I agree. We've made a real bond with the people here. But when the contract runs out we're leaving. I'd like to leave right now but we have to honour it. And not only because we're legally bound to. If I break it, the Fusiliers will lose their reputation."
"You really think the AFFC will come after us?"
"I have no idea and that's the problem. I can't risk having Distant Memory seized. She's the saviour of my family. I've put some things in motion but they won't start until our contract ends. Not to mention we have to follow up that lead I bought from Cyril Jones. That was another reason I didn't renew our garrison contract."
"Hey, I forgot about that," said Cera.
"I've examined the files he gave me and…hang on," said Alexandra and pointed into the sky. "Look! There she is!"
Cera looked up and saw the small glinting ball that was Shearling, several kilometres above the spaceport. Alexandra was visibly excited, borderline jumping in place. Cera couldn't blame her, not with a little sister on board that she hadn't seen in so long and her only living family. Alexandra flashed her a huge smile.
Shearling came down through the sky smoothly and efficiently, and roughly fifteen minutes later the DropShip's massive landing gear was absorbing the energy of touch-down, her engines pouring out smoke and steam as they shut down. Garadun pulled up beside Alexandra and Cera in the aircar; the ladies hopped in and he whooshed off toward the ship, the APC following behind. When it was safe, everyone got out of the vehicles and waited. It wasn't long before one of the ship's human-sized hatches opened, a ramp extended, and a teenage girl emerged.
"Elizabeth!" Alexandra cried happily and ran toward her.
"Alex!" Elizabeth ran to meet her and the two sisters embraced each other fiercely, tears flowing amid laughter and shouts of joy and both talking at the same time. The Fusiliers stood and watched the reunion with a lot of smiles themselves. You had to have a heart of stone not to find the scene touching. When the Grosvenors had finally calmed down, Alexandra led her sister over with her arm over her shoulder.
Elizabeth Grosvenor looked a lot like her older sister. Her eyes were blue instead of blue-grey and her blonde hair was a shade darker, but otherwise she looked a great deal like a young version of Alexandra. He clothes were equally stylish and like her sister she was wearing a fur coat: white shearling with bleached chinchilla collar.
"Everyone, this is my sister, Elizabeth," said Alexandra proudly. "Elizabeth, these are the Fighting Fusiliers, the best mercenaries in the galaxy."
"Hi, everybody," said Elizabeth with a wide smile. "Alex's told me so much about all of you. Thank you for taking care of my sister."
"It was our pleasure," said Cera happily.
"You're Cera Kuroda," said Elizabeth and they shook hands. "Alex sent me footage from that big fight you had with the pirates. You're amazing!"
Cera beamed. "Thank you, Lady Elizabeth."
"Oh please, just call me Elizabeth," she said, rolling her eyes humorously. "I'm not a Baroness. Alex has the family title, not me."
"All right, Elizabeth it is."
"Let me make the introductions," said Alexandra, and each Fusilier shook hands and exchanged greetings with Elizabeth, all welcoming her. She was thrilled to meet Marie because she was a big fan of the former model, and gushed like the teenage girl she was when Erik kissed her hand. He got that reaction from a lot of women. Ian also made her blush. Wasn't every day she met a Davion, and a really handsome one, too.
"So you're Garadun, huh?" she said with a quirky smile as they shook hands.
"No-one else wanted the job of being me. I got stuck with it."
Elizabeth broke out laughing. "You know, you're just like how Alex describes you in all her vidletters. Is it true you were a Solaris gladiator?"
"Me and Cera both," he said, nodding. "We were partners in the Games. Sayuki was also an arena fighter for a while."
She looked at her sister. "He's not as tall as I expected."
"There was a shortage of height by the time I got to the front of the line."
Elizabeth started laughing again, even harder this time, and for several moments that's all she could do. Garadun smirked while his friends chuckled.
"You never said he was this funny," she said to Alexandra when she finally managed to stop laughing. She turned and put her arms around him, giving him a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you for looking after Alex."
"My pleasure, kiddo," he said, returning the hug. "I'm glad you're safe."
"Thanks," she said and they let go.
"You must be really tired," said Alexandra. "Why don't we get you to my house on the base and get you settled in? Then we can talk."
"Can I go in that?" Elizabeth asked excitedly, pointing to the APC.
Alexandra chuckled. "If that's what you want. Jimmy?"
"It would be an honour, Miss Elizabeth," said Jimmy and offered his arm. She took it and immediately started asking him all sorts of questions about the APC. Most of the Fusiliers followed in their wake.
"Well?" said Alexandra hopefully, looking at Cera and Garadun.
"She's fantastic," Cera told her. "I've seen the holographs you showed me of her, but she was younger in those. God, she looks so much like you!"
"Does she ever," Garadun agreed. "A real beauty."
Alexandra blushed. "Thank you, Garadun."
"Real bright spark too, ain't she?" he said, delighted. "Wouldn't be surprised if she followed you in regards to career."
"Elizabeth? A MechWarrior? You really think so?"
"Why not?" said Cera. "You became one. She sure doesn't lack energy."
"I could see her piloting a scout 'Mech," Garadun ventured.
"Like a Spider or Locust or Valkyrie or something," Cera agreed.
"Or even a LAM," he said, his facing lighting up.
"Oooh, yeah! There's something you don't see every day!"
"And hey, we do need some aerospace support."
"All right you two, stop planning my little sister's career for her," said Alexandra with an amused expression. They chuckled.
"Come on, let's get you home," he said, motioning to the aircar.
With Elizabeth established safe and sound in her bungalow at the Innsbruck Barracks, the anxiety Alexandra had been feeling for the past three weeks dissipated. She was still worried about the entire situation surrounding Distant Memory, but now that her sister was with her and protected, her worst fears were gone.
Elizabeth was adopted into the ranks of the Fusiliers rapidly and enthusiastically. As Alexandra's sibling she was a Fusilier by default as far as everyone was concerned. The girl was deeply honoured, not to mention wildly thrilled. It was clear to anyone that she fairly worshipped her older sister. And now that she had been abruptly yanked out of school because of the whole situation with Distant Memory, she began begging Alexandra if she could become an apprentice MechWarrior.
Alexandra told her she'd think about it. She had always expected Elizabeth to finish prep school and then go on to university; become a doctor or a scientist or a historian or whatever it was she wanted. Becoming a mercenary had never entered the picture. But now that Elizabeth was here on Kolovraty and surrounded by heroic MechWarriors who were led by her own sister, well, it was all she could talk about. Faced with such enthusiasm Alexandra tried to steer her toward becoming a BattleMech Technician like Jimmy, which would keep her out of harm's way. But Elizabeth only wanted to be like Alexandra: a MechWarrior.
"Sucks being the perfect role model, eh?" Garadun had noted with a smirk.
After a week of Elizabeth's constant pleading, and following serious discussions with the senior Fusiliers, Alexandra gave in and agreed to her sister's wishes. Elizabeth would become an apprentice MechWarrior. However, Alexandra also made it very, very clear to her that she would receive no special treatment because of who she was. She would have to follow the rules (such as they were) the same as everyone else, would have to work hard and study hard, and if one of the MechWarriors or the Chief Tech told her to do something, then she had better damn well do it.
"This isn't school anymore," Alexandra told her gravely. "This is as real as it gets. These men and women are professionals, trained warriors. They put their lives on the line and depend upon each other completely."
"I understand, Alex."
"You had better. This isn't a game. Garadun almost died on the first of May."
Elizabeth paled. "Really?"
"His 'Mech was sabotaged. It was blown to pieces."
"Oh God…who would–"
"We don't know, not for certain. But we have our suspicions," said Alexandra, her voice harder than Elizabeth had ever heard it. "You still want this?"
Elizabeth licked her lips. "Yes, Alex. I want to be a MechWarrior, like you."
"All right," said Alexandra and smiled. "You begin tomorrow."
"Thank you. What time do we start?"
"Not we. You and Cera."
"What?" said Elizabeth, surprised. "I thought I was going to be your apprentice."
"You're too close to me, Lizzie," Alexandra explained. "You're my sister. There's too much there for me to apprentice you. I also have to run the whole unit. I'll be helping with lessons of course, all the Fusiliers will. But I spoke to Cera, asked if she'd be willing to be your mentor, and she agreed. You couldn't have a better teacher, Lizzie. Cera is an incredible MechWarrior with years of combat experience."
"I'll make you proud of me, Alex. I promise."
"I already am, Lizzie." They hugged each other close. "I already am."