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Warrior, coupe

Michael A. Stackpole


  Justin Xiang slapped a new power pack into the Magna laser carbine, then looked around the corner. He snapped his head back as the two silhouetted figures deeper in the corridor triggered a ruby burst at him. He crouched as best his exoskeleton would allow, then dove into the corridor, rolled and came up on one knee. His finger tightened on the trigger.

  Hot scarlet darts of laser fire raked across the corridor. One bolt hit a guard high in the chest, flaring like a meteor against the man's ablative vest. The guard stiffened, then dropped flat on his back. The other guard caught three bolts stitching their way from his right hip to his left shoulder. The impact spun him around, then dropped him in a rigid heap.

  Not bad, so far. . .




  Michael A. Stackpole


  Published by the Penguin Group 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, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

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

  Published by Roc, an imprint of Dutton NAL, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Previously published in a FASA Corporation paperback edition.

  First Roc Printing, November, 1998


  Copyright © FASA Corporation, 1989 All rights reserved

  Series Editor: Donna Ippolito Cover art by Peter Peebles

  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 reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

  This book is dedicated to those who have, in one way or another, aided and abetted me through the years. More specifically, these people have provided me with the means, motive and opportunity to do this book and series.

  They are:

  Means: Michael C. Pearo, Thomas Spinner, James Pacy, Susan Jackson, Marshall True, and Michael Stanton.

  Motive: Hugh B. Cave, Liz Danforth, Gladys Maclntyre, John Ruhlman, and Thomas Helmer.

  Opportunity: L. Ross Babcock III, Jordan Weisman, Donna Ippolito, and Rick Loomis.

  They should all be considered unindicted co-conspirators in this work, and for their help I am very grateful.

  The author would like to thank Liz Danforth for her insightful commentary on the rough draft and Ross Babcock and Donna Ippolito for editing me into literacy. The restaurant in Chapter 44 actually does exist—in Phoenix, not on Sian, however—and the dishes mentioned are two-thirds of a perfect meal. (The perfect meal adds Hot and Sour Spicy Soup, Moo Shu Pork with plum sauce, and House Special Chicken.) An evening spent there can make even a writer less anxious about being past his deadline....


  ComStar First Circuit Compound

  Hilton Head Island, North America, Terra

  27 February 3029

  "You are all fools, blind fools!" Myndo Waterly exploded. "Hanse Davion will drown you in your own juice while you sit here and stew. I demand action! I demand an Interdiction now!"

  Her outburst burned away the silent tension suffocating the oak-walled First Circuit chamber, but it did not crack Primus Julian Tiepolo's composure. "Precentor Dieron," he said calmly. "You will refrain from such childish displays of emotion. You owe your fellow Precentors an apology, for they are neither blind nor foolish. What we decide here will be based on intelligent, open discussion, and not be a knee-jerk response to someone shouting that the sky is falling."

  Myndo stared back at her vulture-faced superior. You are tired, old man, and you’re dragging ComStar into the grave along with you. I will not allow this to happen. She broke off her stare, then bowed her head in supplication. "I do apologize, but you cannot expect me to be dispassionate when I see Jerome Blake's life-dream withering."

  She looked around the chamber, taking in each of the red-robed Precentors. "Like you, I have labored long and hard to see our mission is fulfilled. ComStar is the salvation of mankind and the Word of Blake is a guide to that salvation. Hanse Davion's war against the Capellan Confederation unravels our work, yet you will do nothing to stop it. How can that be justified?"

  Ulthan Everson, the large, blond man standing across from Myndo in the dimly lit chamber, accepted the challenge in her question. "Your vision of the future is not one we share, Precentor Dieron. You have cried wolf so often that we are no longer panicked by your words. You point at shadows as though they had substance. Hanse Davion's war does not contradict Blake's Word. It fulfills it."

  Myndo shook her golden hair back from the shoulders of her red silk robe. "Blake said wars would fragment the Successor States. Then, and only then, would ComStar rise up to lead mankind to its true pinnacle. Hanse Davion's war has swallowed half the Capellan Confederation. It does not divide. It unites!"

  "Pavel Ridzik has created his own nation from the Tikonov Commonality," rebutted a slight, black-haired man. "Fragmentation, not fusion, Myndo."

  "Ha!" Myndo fixed him with a harsh stare. "You refer to that puppet state as a fragment? Please, Precentor Sian, do not waste my time. Hanse Davion allows Ridzik to appear to be independent, but we know the Prince has dispatched his trusted friend, Ardan Sortek, to be Ridzik's watchdog."

  Myndo smiled cruelly. "You would be right to cite Maximilian Liao as working toward fragmentation, but all he's doing is carving his own realm into bite-sized chunks so that Hanse Davion can gorge himself."

  Huthrin Vandel laughed. "Perhaps he hopes the Prince will choke to death."

  The Primus shook his head in silent rebuke. "Myndo is correct. Liao's efforts have been ineffective at stemming the Davion tide. Let us not forget that Hanse Davion has justly earned the nickname of the Fox. None of us anticipated his purchasing the loyalty of Liao's Northwind Highlanders with the world of Northwind. The Highlanders returned to their ancestral home and disrupted the Kurita assault on the Terran Corridor. It was a well-planned move on the Prince's part."

  The Primus's intervention on her behalf rattled Myndo slightly. Is it possible that he has begun to see the threat, or is he merely reining in his underlings? She studied Tiepolo's face, but the man's dark eyes and blank expression gave her no clue to his thoughts.

  Myndo looked away toward the other Precentors. "As I recall from our last debate on this subject, you, Precentor Sian, suggested that the Liao counterstrike in January would destroy Davion supply bases and blunt the advance on the TikonovI Federated border. But Liao's strike played directly into a massive Davion ambush. Capellan offensive capabilities have been destroyed, and their defensive strength is

  Precentor Sian shook his head. "May I point out, Precentor Dieron, that Hanse Davion's troops have not moved forward since the ambush. We project that their next assault wave will come in May, at the earliest. You will recall that not all the Liao attacks were repulsed. The Fourth Tau Ceti Rangers hit Axton and managed to escape after raiding. This attack behind the lines has certainly soured the taste of victory for the Prince."

  Vandel ran his fingers back through his black hair. "As the Precentor on New Avalon, I can confirm that the Court is not pleased that this attack was not anticipated. The Fourth Tau Ceti Rangers managed to hurt an NAIS training cadre."

  The Primus looked toward Precentor Sian. "Has your staff on the Liao capital yet figured out the significance of the message the Rangers sent out from Axton to Sian before they left? 'Go Fish' is a strange, though economical, communication to send during a military operation."

  In spite of herself, Myndo smiled along with her colleagues.

  Villius Tejh let the snickers die before he answered the Primus's question. "The message went to Justin Xiang. From what little we've been able to piece together, Xiang is hunting for a New Avalon Institute of Science facility that he believes could hold the key to a new generation of BattleMechs . .."

  Precentor New Avalon cut in. "That would probably be the Bethel lab complex. Very small, but staffed with some good people."

  Myndo looked to the Primus. "Our ROM agents have not infiltrated it?"

  The Primus did not reply. Instead, he nodded almost imperceptibly that Precentor Sian should continue.

  "Xiang has organized a strike on Bethel using the Fourth Tau Ceti Rangers," Tejh said. "It is believed that their message from Axton indicates that they did not find the lab there. Xiang himself is supposed to lead the assault on Bethel."

  Ulthan Everson glanced at Precentor New Avalon. "What sort of defense will Xiang's mission encounter?"

  Vandel shrugged. "Davion is constantly moving troops around. If the attack goes off before the end of April, the Capellans will face a company of Davion Light Guards. If Xiang shows any of his usual inventiveness, his people will certainly win out."

  Myndo shook her head. "I cannot believe I'm listening to this chatter about one tiny aspect of this war. The Lyran Commonwealth has reshaped its border with the Draconis Combine, and Wolf's Dragoons are singlehandedly holding the Draconians out of the Federated Suns. House Marik is still at war with the Davion-sponsored separatist movements inside its own borders, and Hanse Davion is eating up the Capellan Confederation. What good can this assault by Justin Xiang do? What difference can it make?"

  The Primus smiled coldly. "Precentor Dieron, are you well? How often have you admonished us that Davion is the devil incarnate because of his desire to recover the sciences lost over the last three centuries? I should think you would applaud this strike against an NAIS facility."

  "I would applaud Xiang's effort if he were to attack the NAIS itself," Myndo retorted angrily. Don't try to strangle me with my own words!

  "Anyway, this discussion takes us away from the point of my original statement. I demand that we interdict House Davion now! If we cut off all their communications, not only do we hamper their military attacks, but we cripple the Federated Suns. The people of the Federated Suns will suffer if we allow no messages to go in or out of their worlds. This will lead to discontent, fear, and unrest. It will pull the carpet out from under the Prince. It's the only way to stop him."

  Precentor Tharkad shook his head. "My dear Myndo, you demanded Interdiction last year. We all agreed to set a threshold for what we would tolerate. We agreed to interdict communications if Davion forces attacked Sarna."

  Myndo fumed. "Need I remind you, Ulthan, that this agreement was made before Davion's ambush and before the Prince's only rival, Duke Michael Hasek-Davion, so conveniently took himself out of the competition? Things are far more grave now than they were then."

  "But Davion is no stronger," Precentor Sian said heatedly. "Were we to intervene, it would make us seem partial. Hanse Davion could turn his force against us."

  Myndo Waterly raised herself to full height. "You sound as though you are afraid of him. We both know that ComStar has more BattleMechs hidden here than any of the Successor States can claim, and you know also that our machines are in better shape than anything even House Davion has. We have nothing to fear from the Fox."

  The Primus's eyes smoldered. "In this you are very wrong, Precentor Dieron. Our impartiality makes us a trusted ally to all in the Successor States. Because of this, they allow us to transmit their communications. Through these communications, we learn about their strengths and weaknesses. We gain knowledge, and that gives us power."

  Myndo met Tiepolo's dark gaze. "Of what use is power that we do not employ?"

  The Primus's granite expression did not change. "We have not said that we will not use our power. We will not use it bluntly. I will not give the order for our 'Mechs to be deployed because it would present an unfavorable image. I will, however, allow you to create a holovid of Davion troops razing one of our communications stations. With this as evidence, we have a valid excuse for discontinuing service with the Federated Suns."

  Precentor Tharkad narrowed his eyebrows. "Will the Interdiction include cutting off information from Davion agents inside the Capellan Confederation?"

  The Primus nodded. "In an effort to slow the Davion advance, I have already begun delaying messages containing intelligence on troop strengths and deployments going out from Davion spies."

  Myndo looked puzzled. "Why not betray the spies to the Maskirovka? I'm sure Maximilian Liao would be grateful for any enemy agents turned over to his secret police."

  Precentor Sian spoke up next. "I would not recommend that approach. Maximilian is under much pressure. He could thank us, or he could accuse us of collaborating with House Davion for not betraying the spies early enough to stop the Davion assault."

  The Primus nodded in agreement. "I do not mind delaying reports that will kill warriors, but I refuse to expose spies. That would be akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. We will continue to accept their reports as though we are transmitting them, but the information will come here for analysis."

  Precentor New Avalon cleared his throat. "If any Davion spies were exposed, I am certain Quintus Allard would be able to recruit new ones and keep their identities safe from us—at least in the short term. Better the devils we know ..."

  Myndo brooded silently. You're a bunch of weak-kneed farmers' wives. You chase after the chicken you want for dinner, hoping it will die. You wait and plot and plan when all you really need is a sharp axe. She watched the Primus carefully. When I take your place, ComStar will become a force greater than anything you can imagine. The Word of Blake will become known for the truth that it is.

  The Primus smiled but without a trace of warmth or pleasantness.

  "If you do not want to be embarrassed, Precentor Dieron, I suggest not calling for a vote on Interdiction. It seems that we choose to stand by our earlier agreement."

  Myndo nodded. "Very well. I am content to wait until House Davion attacks Sarna—but no later." Now all I need do is restructure enough spy reports to make Sarna look very tempting. Into her mind, unbidden, came an image of Hanse Davion. Perhaps, with the Fox doing the planing, I will need do no work at all...



  The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.

  —Oscar Wilde


  New Avalon

  Cruris March, Federated Suns

  3 March 3029

  Hanse Davion squinted his ice-blue eyes against the harsh glare of the lights, while around him, the applause from the reporters jamming the small auditorium thundered. Tall and regal in his maroon dress uniform, the Prince of the Federated Suns stood at the wooden podium, smiling as he waited for the ovation to die down. When it gave no signs of abating, he raised his hands to quiet the enthusiastic crowd.

  "Please, let us at least have the appearance of an objective press...." He joined in with the journalists' laughter at the remark, then set his face in an expression of calm dignity. "I have a statement, ladies and gentlemen, before I take questions."

  Hanse's left hand smoothed his closely cropped auburn hair. "Few would argue that warfare is mankind's oldest profession— and oldest obsession. Wars have decided the course of history in the seven thousand years of recorded time, and the art of warfare was no doubt forged in a crucible of even greater antiquity."

  Hanse paused for a moment to drink from the glass of water set beside the podium. "The history of warfare often glorifies the feats of courage that win battles, or the valiant efforts of those who fought and lost. Historians freely second-guess an order given by this or that general, but they seldom count the Human factors entering into the equations. The barbarity of war can be reduced to statistics, but individuals feel the pain of losing a son or father or brother in emotional rather than mathematical terms.

  "Even wars fought in accordance with the Ares Conventions— warfare that minimizes the impact of battles on civilian populations—are not without loss and pain. Yet it is a rare death that affects a whole nation. Today I have the sad duty of informing you, my people, of just such a death."

  Hanse watched the reporters glance quizzically at one another. No, your sources have not leaked this piece of information. The only way you will hear it is from my mouth. Hanse let his lower lip tremble and injected a huskiness into his voice.

  "Today we received confirmation of the death of Duke Michael Hasek-Davion." The Prince paused as the reporters' shocked outbursts echoed off the room's walls, then resumed his narrative as silence fell over the assembly. "He died—actually was brutally murdered—at the hands of Maximilian Liao. I take full responsibility for Michael's death. He died pursuing a policy he believed I favored.