Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Prince of Havoc

Michael A. Stackpole


  Osis pulled his left arm free, allowing the armored sleeve to drop to the ground. He slipped his right arm from its shell, letting the small laser that capped it fall away. He flexed his arms and chest and allowed the SRM launcher assembly to crash to the ground.

  "Do you know how I won my bloodname, Victor? I met and broke MechWarriors like you in single combat. To become an Osis, I had to destroy one who, like you, sat safely locked away in the cockpit of a BattleMech. From a cliff I leaped down and landed on his Adder. He could hear me there, so he crawled from the cockpit and tried to kill me. He failed, and his genetic heritage was discarded."

  Victor's eyes narrowed. "You killed a man who clearly had been defeated? Why?"

  "He wanted to die. He knew he was not the sort of material the Osis House would want to pass on to future generations." Osis stood and made no attempt to hide the hideous wound on his left leg. Victor punched up magnification on his holographic display and clearly saw sutures. And there's blood oozing from the wound.

  Osis opened his arms. "I am the last of the Smoke Jaguars, Victor Davion. I invite you now to face me, man to man, and earn the honor you think you deserve. Come to me, Victor, and I will teach you things in seconds that men study lifetimes to learn."



  Twilight of the Clans VII:


  Michael A. Stackpole


  Published by the Penguingroup Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, lOAicom Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (NX) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

  First published by Roc, an imprint of Dutton NAL, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.

  First Printing, December, 1998 10987654321

  Copyright © FASA Corporation, 1998 All rights reserved

  Series Editor: Donna Ippolito

  Mechanical Drawings: Duane Loose and the FASA art department


  BATTLETECH, FASA, and the distinctive BATTLETECH and FASA logos are trademarks of the FASA Corporation, 1100 W. Cermak, Suite B305, Chicago, IL 60608.

  Printed in the United States of America

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


  If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was repotted as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

  To Faith,

  My new niece. Welcome to the family. Don't worry. Others of us Stackpoles have real jobs.

  The author would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this book: Donna Ippolito, Bryan Nystul, and Randall Bills, for editorial direction and insight. Blaine Pardoe, Loren Coleman, Chris Hartford, and Thomas Gressman, whose work I've hopelessly mangled in here, and who, along with Dan Grendell, offered comments that fixed errors in the first draft. John-Allen Price, for the continuing loan of Galen Cox/Jerry Cranston. Steven Applegarth, for his generous contribution to charity in return for his appearance here and in future. And, as always, Liz Danforth, for putting up with me during the temporary insanity that masquerades as writing to a deadline.


  Star League Expeditionary Force Command Center

  Lootera, Huntress

  Kerensky Cluster, Clan Space

  9 April 3060

  Prince Victor Ian Steiner-Davion slowly mounted the steps of the low dais at the southern end of the Field of Heroes on the edge of Lootera. He did so partially out of respect for the men and women following him, so he would not outstrip them as they ascended. They were the true victors of Huntress, the leaders of Task Force Serpent. They had come to Huntress and bested the Smoke Jaguars. They had inflicted so much damage that Lincoln Osis, Smoke Jaguar Khan and ilKhan of all the Clans, had fled the planet before Victor and his forces had even arrived in the system.

  Victor's arrival had cemented the victory. His troops had come down and mopped up what little Clan resistance remained on Huntress. The Serpents had been sent out to completely destroy the Smoke Jaguar warrior caste. They were to erase every shred of evidence of its existence and, save for a few monuments and whoever escaped the system with Lincoln Osis, they had accomplished their mission flawlessly.

  But not without cost, terrible cost, and the weight of that loss also slowed Victor. Ariana Winston, commander of the Eridani Light Horse mercenary brigade, had been slain along with the better part of her warriors. Countless others had perished, many of whom Victor had never even seen, much less had a chance to get to know. And then there was Morgan Hasek-Davion, his cousin and dear friend; a man who had shouldered an incredible amount of responsibility after the death of Victor's father. Morgan had led the Serpents, but had been cut down by treachery before they ever got to Huntress.

  Victor reached the top step, then turned with his back to the crowd standing before the dais. As each of the Task Force commanders joined him, he thanked him or her. He also offered his heartfelt sympathies for their losses and praised them for their people's efforts. He fed them details of what their people had done, to let them know he had studied all the data beamed to his incoming DropShip. I do know what you have been through, and I honor it more than you will ever know.

  When the last of them, Andrew Redburn, released his hand and limped over to the chair that had been set out for him, Victor turned and walked to the microphone mounted in the center of the dais. The day was overcast and humid, and a slight breeze ruffled the banners and regimental flags hanging from the shattered statues surrounding the broken stone that had once been a paved parade ground. He took his time, lowering the microphone to a proper height, then looked out over the troops assembled before him.

  When first sent out, Task Force Serpent could have filled the field with rank upon rank of bright-eyed, eager warriors. Now, after some of fiercest fighting seen since BattleMechs first walked the fields of battle six centuries before, the Serpents occupied less than a third of it. The forward ranks were made up of people swathed in bandages, lying in beds that had been carried from the hospital, seated in wheelchairs, or gallantly standing with crutches to steady them.

  Beyond them stood those who had no physical wounds, but who had been just as sorely used. Some of them seemed to sway with the breeze, as if their exhaustion would finally pull them down. Their uniforms were recognizable as such only because warriors of a particular unit stood together. This allowed Victor to piece together what a whole dress uniform might have looked like in better times. Not a few soldiers had appropriated pieces of Smoke Jaguar attire, supplementing their uniforms with the spoils of war.

  Victor started to speak, then hesitated as his throat closed. He glanced down for a moment, forcing himself to breathe through his nose. Finally he clasped his hands at the small of his back and again looked out at the warriors arrayed there.

  "Words fail when I try to think of a way to
quantify what you have done here and praise you. You have accomplished what has never been accomplished before, and because you have done it, no one will ever have to do it again. Your children, and your children's children will never have to fear the Smoke Jaguars as we have, or hate them as we have, or kill them as we have. Their scourge is finished because of your effort Your courage, your sacrifice, your determination will never be forgotten, and will always be praised."

  Victor opened his arms. "Your mission was a most terrible one, and I know you have seen things and done things that are the fabric of nightmares. This war you have waged, the war the rest of us waged in the Inner Sphere, will stay with us forever. These things we cannot share with others who have not been here, who have not faced death in battle, who have not seen friends slain. They do not have the frame of reference to be able to understand. It is not their failing that they do not, but a monument to your spirit that you have experienced these things and have not been consumed by them. We have asked you to bear a burden for the Star League, for the Inner Sphere, that no human can compel another to bear.

  You accepted it as your duty, and shall be lauded for eternity because of it.

  "Even those of us who fought to retake part of the Inner Sphere cannot wholly know what you have experienced here." The Prince pointed to Various places where BattleMechs could be seen patrolling the city's precincts. "I can tell you that every single one Of the people I brought with me is prouder of you than you can possibly imagine, and we all feel honored to assume your burden so you may enjoy the respite you have dearly earned. Your mission, Serpents, has been accomplished."

  Mild applause started in the ranks, then swelled to echo from the buildings and the mountain to the north as the leaders behind Victor joined in. Victor stepped back from the microphone and turned halfway toward the back, so he could see the leaders and the troops both. He added his applause to theirs. As the crowd quieted, Victor flicked away a sudden tear, then approached the microphone one more time-

  "To accomplish your mission, you paid a fearful price. As with all of you, I knew and loved some of those who died here, or on the way here. You who have survived do so not to bear a burden of guilt over your survival, but to live the lives and make real the dreams of your fallen comrades. You've succeeded in making one dream come true already by defeating the Smoke Jaguars; and another by rekindling the spirit that made the Star League strong enough to ward all humanity from disaster.

  "If Morgan Hasek-Davion were here, standing where I am now, I know his heart would be bursting with pride in all of you. It would pain him deeply, and I think would pain your fallen friends deeply, if you allowed their deaths to become a weight that hobbles you. To do that denies the sacrifice they made, which was a sacrifice that is allowing you to live free—something they dearly desire for you. Accept their pride in your survival, couple it with your pride in victory, then take your rightful place in the Inner Sphere as the heroes you all are."

  Victor allowed just the hint of a smile to find its way to his lips. "When you were sent here, you were asked to erase from existence every trace of the Smoke Jaguar warrior caste and culture. "His you have done with one last exception."

  He gestured to the north and everyone turned to look at Mount Szabo. There, incised into the mountain's southeast face, well above the Clan's genetic repository, was a gigantic smoke jaguar. Had the carving not been so fine, and the beast so magnificent, Victor would have found it vulgar. Good thing Katherine can't see this, or she'd get ideas. I can just see her sculpting a moon into her own likeness.

  Victor produced a remote control from his jacket pocket, then turned and waved General Andrew Redburn forward. Limping slightly with a stiff right leg, the commander of the First Kathil Uhlans strode forward. His brown eyes glittered proudly, but Victor could see the tracks of tears on his face as he drew near. Redburn nodded wordlessly as he accepted the remote from Victor and flicked it on. His thumb hovered above the lit red button in the middle of the black box.

  Victor smiled. "That edifice is the last trace of Smoke Jaguar warrior tradition left on this rock—not counting the 'Mechs you've left in scraps around here." He paused as laughter rippled through the crowd. "This is the last thing you need to do, to destroy it. Countdown from three."

  "Three, two, one..."

  Redbura's thumb mashed the button down with a vehemence that threatened to break the remote. after a second's delay, a series of explosions started on the mountainside. Victor saw the bright flashes and gray plumes jetting into the air seconds before he heard the reports. The explosions marched in ranks up over the carving, shredding it from paws to spine. The last, biggest charge had been set in the head and when it went off, it arced pieces of the jaguar's skull over the mountainside. An avalanche of rock rained down the slopes, but rumbled past the genetic repository without crushing it. A gray cloud rose like a ghost above where the stone jaguar had once been. a spontaneous cheer arose from the Serpents and Victor found himself thrusting his fists into the air, laughing and hooting along with them. Though he had not fought here on Huntress, he had helped drive the Smoke Jaguars from the Inner Sphere. That monument's destruction, symbolic as it was, marked the successful end of a brutal campaign. and it heralds the start of another.

  He took His place at the microphone one last time. He waited for the Serpents to quiet down once again, then resumed speaking. "There are two duties with which I must yet charge you, and I trust you will fulfill them as faithfully. The first is to remember that our battle was against the Smoke Jaguar warriors, not all of the people. You have destroyed the warriors, liberating those they have repressed for so long. Don't carry your war further, but turn instead to let them join with you, join with the Star League. The return of the Star League has ever been the goal of the Clans, and now they have realized it. Accept this and them.

  "The second thing I ask of you, and a more difficult one for you, I am certain, is for you to wait. You have ended the threat of a Clan, but those of us who have followed you here now need to go to Strana Mechty and end the threat of all the Clans. With your example to follow and your victory to build upon, we will not be denied. When we have finished this business that you so ably started, we will return here. Together we will return to the Inner Sphere, triumphant."

  Victor snapped to attention and tossed them all a salute, then turned and saluted their leaders. As one, the Serpent commanders returned his salute, then Victor went to each and shook their hands. After he was done, the others filed off the stage and walked out among their troops, to be with them. alone on the dais, Victor looked out at the throng. We asked of them so much, and they delivered so selftessly. Now my people and I must go to Strana Mechty and be prepared to make the same sacrifice they did. A shiver coursed down his spine. Because we must succeed, we will, but I wonder if the price we pay will be this high, or higher still?


  Star League Expeditionary Force Command Center

  Lootera, Huntress

  Kerensky Cluster, Clan Space

  9 April 3060

  "All right, what have we got?" Victor Davion leaned against the back of the chair set at the head of the table in the briefing room. The chair, which had been constructed to hold an Elemental, would have dwarfed him, so he refrained from sitting in it. Synthetic smoke jaguar fur covered all the chairs, and Victor had no doubt they would somehow find their way back to the Inner Sphere as spoils. With so few men and machines to take back, the DropShips will be full of this stuff.

  He looked first to the blond, bearded man at his right hand. "Jerry?"

  Jerrard Cranston smiled carefully and looked at his noteputer. "Concerning Morgan's murder, we've got..."

  "No." Victor shook his head. "Morgan's death can wait. Give me the military data first."

  Cranston hesitated for a moment, then hit a key on the noteputer. "Okay, of the roughly ten regiments assigned to Task Force Serpent, we've got just under two left, and that's if we want to be generous. Morale among those pe
ople is up but not terribly solid. They've been through a lot and they're very glad it's over. I can't see any way we can pack them up and take them with us to Strana Mechty."

  Kai Allard-Liao, a dark-haired, gray-eyed man of obviously Asiatic descent, frowned from Victor's left. "It is decided, then, that we're going to Strana Mechty?"

  Victor shifted his shoulders uneasily. "That's a point to discuss in a moment or two. Whether or not we decide to go, we know the Serpents won't be with us." at the far end of the table, Andrew Redburn leaned forward, a hank of ruddy hair tinged with white curling down over his seamed forehead. "I know our people are ragged, but they've still got fight left in them."

  The Prince nodded solemnly. "No one is questioning their ability to fight, their courage or loyalty. As I said outside, your people have done their jobs. I'll need you with me, General, and some of your Uhlans, but that's because of something I learned on Coventry. I don't expect that trick will work again, mainly because the situations will be entirely different, but your presence will make things go a bit more easily."

  Victor looked back at Cranston again. "What's the salvage situation?"

  "There's stuff littered all over this planet, and stockpiled in warehouses. If standard salvage rules were applied here, the various units would come out very strong, provided they could find pilots to drive this stuff."

  Seated just past Cranston, Anastasius Focht, Precentor Martial of ComStar, cleared his throat. "I have some of my people preparing a comprehensive inventory of supplies here and comparing it with the needs of our units for final refitting of Clan technology. I would expect-we will require less than five percent of what is stored here to become fully operational. I'd like to refit the Fourth Drakøns with Clan machines, bringing them up to spec with the rest of the units that came here with us. Beyond that, I don't believe we will have a high demand for the materials here."