Warrior: Riposte (The Warrior Trilogy, Book Two): BattleTech Legends, #58Michael A. Stackpole
BattleTech Legends: Warrior: Riposte
The Warrior Trilogy: Book Two
Michael A. Stackpole
PART ONE: ENVELOPMENT
PART TWO: RECOVERY
PART THREE: DOUBLÉ
PART FOUR: REMISE
About the Author
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The Warrior Trilogy comprised my first published three novels. They originally came out from FASA in 1988 and 1989, but they were born in the summer of 1987 at Origins. The DragonLance novels had been released to great success a couple years earlier, and FASA had brought out the first Gray Death Legion novel by that time. I’d written a fantasy novel, Talion: Revenant, that I was beginning to shop around, but which had not had any takers as yet.
At the convention, I stopped by the FASA booth. I saw Decision at Thunder Rift and commented to Sam Lewis and Jordan Weisman and Ross Babcock (at different times) that I’d written a novel and “if you have any needs, I’d be glad to work on something.” Back in those days, when I was a freelancer, that was my sophisticated method of cadging for work. Jordan showed me some material from the upcoming Renegade Legion game, and suggested maybe I could do a novel for it. Sam promised to send me some product, and Ross said he wouldn’t mind looking at writing samples.
So I got home, sent six chapters from the fantasy plus a SF short story (set in Steve Jackson’s Ogre universe) to show I could do pyrotechnics. Shortly after the convention I got a box full of stuff, including a lot of BattleTech material, with a note promising Renegade Legion stuff when it was ready.
I started reading. I devoured the source books (I had the Kurita one in proofs, the Steiner book in actual copy) as well as the novels. I found a really rich universe full of excitement and politics and history—all the things I love. I started getting some ideas for stories and jotted them down. This despite knowing I was going to be looking ahead for Renegade Legion stuff.
On a Monday, Ross called. “I liked the chapters you sent. I want to read the rest of the book.”
“Great, I’ll send the rest of it off to you.” Mind you, this meant creating a half-dozen 5.25 inch floppy disks, but I was happy to do it. And then, being a freelancer and cadging for work, I said, “Hey, I got all the BattleTech stuff you sent. It’s cool. If you ever need a book set in that universe, let me know. I have a couple ideas.”
Ross, deadpan, said, “That’s what I want to talk to you about. We want you to do a trilogy.”
The expression of my face—delighted surprise—scared my tropical fish.
Then he continued. “Three books, 100,000 words each. You have nine months. Can you do it?”
So in every writer’s life, there’s a serious gut-check moment. This was mine. If I said no, I got nothing. If I said yes, I had a boatload of work to do.
I had but one choice.
“Yeah, sure, piece of cake.”
“Great, we’ll talk at Gen Con.”
I should note, for the record, that it took ten and a half months to complete the trilogy. But, during that time, I also wrote the Kell Hounds scenario book and several other BattleTech-related articles.
Two other incidents I’ll relate, only because they were fun, and indicative of the whole process. When I’d sent the first book in, the editor, Donna Ippolito, called me. Once pleasantries had been exchanged, she said, “Well, this is like a real book.” To this day I’m not exactly sure what that remark is supposed to mean, but the editorial process was pretty easy, so I guess it was good.
Later, when I was writing Riposte, right around Christmas, Jordan Weisman called. (Actually, it was during the FASA Christmas party.) “So we’ve been thinking, and this is what we see ComStar doing during this second book.” And I’m thinking, You mean the book I’ve outlined, had approved, and am working on now? But I listened. Turns out that everything they wanted fit well into stuff I was going to do anyway, and really tightened the screws on the whole universe. In fact, the repercussions of it can still be seen in the fiction today.
With those books and all the others, I’ve been reminded of one thing: the abiding love all the readers have for the universe. Most folks look at the books as military-SF. Heck, there’s a vocal group of SF Literati who refer to such books as “war-porn.” This means, of course, that they’ve never read one, so they’ve never learned what the fans have. It’s not about war—it’s about soldiers and their lives.
I don’t get comments about how things blow up—okay, aside from ribbing about things that become “the Stackpole rule” and the like. No, the comments are about characters; how much people love or hate them. I’ve seen tears come to eyes when readers describe the passing of a favorite, or looks of joy when something goes right for someone they love.
And that points out the key to BattleTech’s enduring appeal: these stories are about life and heart, not violence and death. Writing that type of story has always been my goal. Achieving it got a fine start here in The Warrior Trilogy.
Michael A. Stackpole
The author would like to express his special thanks to the following people for their help (in many different forms) in completing this novel: Liz Danforth, Jennifer Roberson, Ross Babcock, Donna Ippolito, Jordan Weisman, Bob Charrette, and Sam Lewis. Thanks for straightening out problems, pointing out omissions, filling in the details, and noticing errors that I had allowed to creep into this manuscript.
To my family:
Mom, Dad, Kerin, Patrick, and Joy.
Thanks for the help, encouragement, and support throughout the years.
COMSTAR FIRST CIRCUIT COMPOUND
HILTON HEAD ISLAND
NORTH AMERICA, TERRA
15 JULY 3027
Standing alone in the center of the First Circuit chamber, she held her head high and glared straight ahead at the Primus. Her golden hair fell to the shoulders of her red robe, and hooded her face, cutting off her view of the
other precentors standing at their translucent podiums. Beneath her feet was the gold star inlaid into the alabaster floor, and the harsh overhead spotlight almost seemed to pin her to the spot.
They do not matter. They may surround me physically and their smug contempt provide background annoyances, but this is a battle between Primus Julian Tiepolo and me. Myndo let a thin smile upturn the corners of her mouth. A battle between the Primus and the Word of Blake.
The spotlight’s backglare left no shadows on Primus Tiepolo’s face, whose sallow, waxy flesh was barely a shade lighter than his unpretentious dun robe. His aquiline nose and flat, dark eyes had something predatory about them, and his voice was strong, despite being barely above a whisper. He still has some strength. I must be careful here.
Unblinking, the Primus met her stare. “Do you understand, Myndo Waterly, Precentor of Dieron, that we have summoned you here to account for your actions on May the twenty-second of this year? After hearing your version of what happened, we, the First Circuit of ComStar, will determine whether or not to convene a trial of excommunication. If we do so decide, you will be temporarily stripped of your rights and privileges as a precentor until the verdict is rendered. Do you also understand that the penalty for the alleged infraction of our directives is death?”
Myndo forced herself to nod calmly. “I do.”
The Primus folded his arms, tucking his hands into the robe’s voluminous sleeves. “You have been charged with informing the Internal Security Forces of the Draconis Combine that Melissa Arthur Steiner, Archon-Designate of the Lyran Commonwealth and fiancée of Prince Hanse Davion, ruler of the Federated Suns, was present within their territory. This action involved use of information that ComStar had culled from confidential messages sent through our stations as well as through other, covert methods of information-gathering. Your deed, therefore, threatened to reveal some of our Blessed Order’s secret operations. It also jeopardized our neutralist posture by helping the Draconis Combine.” The Primus paused, fixing Myndo with a piercing stare. “Furthermore, your action flaunted a policy agreed on by this body—a policy we all know you personally loathe. Do you offer a defense of your action?”
Precentor Dieron nodded slowly. “I would submit, Primus, that my action differed in no way from the other operations ComStar has undertaken. We have used information leaks throughout the two and a half centuries that our Blessed Order has been custodian of interstellar communications. Did not Jerome Blake himself write, ‘A well-placed word can defeat a BattleMech legion’?’”
The Primus nodded mechanically. “You should complete the quote, Precentor Dieron. ‘A well-placed word can defeat a BattleMech legion, but worry for the messenger if his duplicity is revealed.’ Your claim that your action mirrors those performed throughout our history could only be true if you were to warp beyond recognition the concept of similarity. Only the Primus can initiate when and how we might meddle in the politics of the Successor States—not some renegade precentor with delusions of divinity!” Tiepolo’s voice echoed from the chamber’s shadow-shrouded walls, seeming to batter at Myndo from all sides. “Above all, our actions must be subtle!”
Summoning her courage, Myndo laughed harshly. “Subtle? Since when, Primus, have your actions been subtle? In 3022, you allowed Hanse Davion and Katrina Steiner to sign a treaty that bound their two realms together. Next year’s marriage between Hanse Davion and Katrina’s heir—a match made possible by the treaty’s secret provisions—will seal that bargain. At the same time, you directed me to engineer another treaty, one allying the Draconis Combine, the Free Worlds League, and the Capellan Confederation. How is that subtle? Certainly, all the players have seen our hand in this series of alliances. Do you even know what subtle is?”
Myndo’s outburst provoked not even the slightest reaction from the Primus. Allowing the echo of her words to die out, he narrowed his eyes. “I understand subtle, Precentor Dieron, and understand it in degrees you will never comprehend. As an example, I offer our gracious reduction in prices for all communications sent out by the guests who will gather here for the wedding of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner next year. Already the rulers of the Successor States plan out their lines of communications, and their messages of praise for our action come pouring in. We will be privy to every communication transmitted from this most important of gatherings, and our policy encourages that those messages will be sent in abundance.”
Myndo shook her head. “What you consider subtle I find needlessly reckless. I dislike the idea of having so many people invade our home. If anything goes wrong, it will be on our heads. There is too much that could be discovered here. As for encouraging increased messages, will this not raise suspicions about our motives?”
Myndo waved off the Primus’s attempt to reply. “Name one thing, Primus, that you have done in the past that does not bear the stamp of your manipulation.” The coldness of the Primus’s smile shook her confidence, but her anger was undiminished. What is in his mind? she wondered briefly. There is no quote from Blake to answer this.
An amused tone wove its way through the Primus’s answer. “I would not have expected you to notice, as you were so busy provoking a war, but Justin Xiang Allard is now a member of the Maskirovka in the Capellan Confederation. His addition to the Capellan intelligence organization will help Maximilian Liao deal with Hanse Davion. Justin Xiang, as he now styles himself, knows how his father, Quintus Allard, runs Davion’s Ministry of Intelligence, Information, and Operations. Xiang’s addition to the Maskirovka should blunt Davion’s intelligence operations.”
Myndo snorted derisively. “And you claim this chance happening as something you engineered?”
The Primus nodded. “Though we cannot claim credit for having Justin Allard tried for treason and exiled from the Federated Suns, we did manage to turn the situation to our advantage. I ordered dispatches about Justin’s victories in the BattleMech games on Solaris VII to be paired with depressing messages also going to Maximilian Liao. More often than not, news of Justin Xiang’s victories was the only bright glimmer in the Chancellor’s dark days. I manufactured Liao’s fascination with and hunger for Xiang. That moved him into place.”
Myndo bowed her head in a gesture that was equal parts respect and penitence. “I understand what you have said, and I stand corrected.” Her head came back up, slowly, and she met Tiepolo’s dark stare. “I submit, however, that my action was just as carefully orchestrated. I merely jested to a person known to us as an ISF agent that I was surprised at the Combine allowing bandits refuge in the Styx system. The ISF itself manufactured all the other information. They discerned Melissa’s presence on the Silver Eagle. They reacted.”
Myndo narrowed her eyes. “What has happened as a result of my actions that is so important? Quintus Allard has successfully created a story to explain why the Silver Eagle was so important, while keeping Melissa’s presence secret. Melissa was delivered safely into her fiancé’s arms. Some bandits, ISF troopers, and mercenary MechWarriors died. This is no great calamity.”
The Primus winced, and Myndo’s heart leaped. In that instant, she knew that she’d struck some chord that worried him, and that told her he had some weakness she could use against him. By the same token, it means there is something he fears, something he cannot control. Perhaps it is something I should fear as well.
The Primus forced emotion from his voice, but the effort made his lower lip tremble slightly. “One of the mercenaries killed was Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kell. Indeed, it was fortunate that his Kell Hounds arrived in time and with sufficient force to save the Archon-Designate, but his death unlocks a problem that I believed was safely behind us. I have no doubt that his elder brother Morgan will return and once again take control of the Kell Hounds.”
Myndo frowned. This frightens you? “I fail to see the significance of that eventuality, and I challenge the possibility of it ever occurring. The Kell Hounds have not even sent Kell a message about his brother’s death.”
bsp; The Primus shook his head slowly. “No, they have not, nor would they. They will send a messenger to tell Morgan personally. That messenger will also tell him that his old enemy, Yorinaga Kurita, once again fights for the Combine. If the conflict between those two men ignites again, it could become a conflagration beyond our control.”
Myndo watched as the strength drained from the Primus’s body. It is as though he is deflected from his attempt to crucify me. She opened her hands. “I have offered my defense, Primus. I submit that my effort was subtle, and undertaken at a time when it would have been impossible to summon this august body together. Rash though my judgment may have been, I contend that it has caused no real harm. Let it serve as a lesson for all of us concerning the true power behind information, and let this experience temper our thinking. Let it be so in the sacred Name of Jerome Blake!”
The Primus looked up and polled the precentors, then nodded wearily. “In the Name of our Blessed Blake, let it be so.” His body jerked with a silent laugh. “Your peers absolve you of any guilt. You are free to go, but mark your own words. Let this experience temper your thinking, Precentor Dieron.”