Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Lethal heritage

Michael A. Stackpole


  Shin dropped the sword and pulled his pistol. The first shot to the head dropped the raider to his knees, but it took the rest of the clip to kill him. Even with such massive trauma, the armor continued to pump out black synthetic flesh to fill the wounds. Besides sealing the body in a black cocoon, it injected more drugs, then sprayed out some other clear chemical that killed the flies starting to land on the black skin.

  Shin glanced over his shoulder at the black curtain of smoke that had risen to hide the sun. These are no Periphery bandits, that's for sure. I don't know what they are, but if they decide to take every world in the Inner Sphere, who can stop them?



  The Blood of Kerensky—Vol. 1:


  Michael A. Stackpole


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books USA 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 Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. Previously published by FASA.

  First Roc Printing, September, 1995 10 9876543

  Copyright © FASA Corporation, 1989 All rights reserved

  Series Editor: Donna Ippolito Cover: Roger Loveless

  Maps: Mike Nielsen 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."

  For Charles James Thanks for letting me know there's a big, wide world out there and that happiness in what you're doing is the greatest measure of success.

  The author would like to thank the following people for their help in this book: Liz Danforth for listening to the whole thing in bits and pieces; Ricia Mainhardt for making it feasible; Ross Babcock, Donna Ippolito, and Jordan Weisman for forcing me to write well and in English; and lastly, Brian Fargo for his understanding as yet another of his projects waited for this book to be finished.



  Tikonov Free Republic

  16 August 3030

  The fiery-haired mercenary Natasha Kerensky walked into Colonel Jaime Wolf's office without knocking or hesitation. She held the yellow sheet of paper out for his inspection, but he looked straight through it and her. Seated behind a cluttered desk, he leaned back in his chair and pressed his hands together, fingertip to fingertip. Only the rise and fall of his chest told her he was alive.

  She kept her voice soft and friendly—both of a volume and tone her troops would have sworn she could never manage—and placed the paper on his desk. "I thought you'd want to see this immediately, Jaime. It came in over Field Marshal Ardan Sortek's signature. The Tikonov Republic has, at Prince Hanse Davion's suggestion, given us free and clear title to Outreach."

  The news brought animation back to Wolf's face. Though a small man, he gave off an aura of strength and his presence was commanding. Still, long years of almost constant warfare had taken their toll. His once-black hair was shot through with white, while the lines around his eyes and creasing his forehead showed how heavy had been the weight of his burdens. The slump in his shoulders told that he knew more difficulties were in the offing, but the glint in his gray eyes left no doubt that he would face what he must.

  He gave the Black Widow a smile. "Yes, Natasha. Thank you. This is welcome news indeed."

  Kerensky glanced out through the arched window near Wolf's desk. "I thought we'd have had more trouble getting this world for our home. I assumed Hanse Davion would be determined to keep it once he heard we wanted it."

  Wolf shrugged. "Davion is well aware that Outreach was once the Warrior World. He knows that the Star League's Army used to hold their martial Olympics here and that not quite all of the useful equipment has been stripped from it in the three centuries since General Kerensky and his Star League troops left the Inner Sphere forever."

  The dying sun burned highlights into Kerensky's hair as she turned to face him. "Do you think Davion knows exactly how much equipment is left? He'd surely have asked Quintus Allard to send some of his damnable operatives here to see what we would be getting."

  The leader of Wolf's Dragoons smiled like a man with a secret. "Hanse has lived up to his nickname of 'the Fox' rather admirably on this one. Quintus Allard asked us to complete a technological survey because he claimed he couldn't spare an agent for Outreach at this time. Hanse must certainly expect that we've withheld some information, but I don't think it matters to him. He's happy to have us here because it prevents local rebellions or a strike from the Free Worlds League. The report we sent back to Allard should be enough to quiet any complaints that we were handed a treasure trove of lostech."

  The use of the idiom for valuable technology lost after the fall of the Star League era brought a brief smile to Kerensky's full lips, but her tone was worried. "Is our own survey complete yet? Is there enough equipment here for our needs?"

  Wolf shook his head and steepled his fingers again. "It looks as though things like computers and obvious manufacturing resources were carried off long ago, but I don't think anyone out there even guesses at the vast complex of stuff under the surface here. We've got the facilities we need to repair and manufacture BattleMechs. But whether it's enough to complete our mission is hard to say."

  She fairly trembled with irritation. "You can't still be clinging to the idea that we have a mission, can you? We've done what they required of us. I say we should get ourselves healthy, get our machines at a hundred and ten percent, and then go kick some tail!"

  The Widow's outburst made Wolf smile in spite of himself. "Natasha," he said quietly, "I'd like nothing better, but you know I can't agree to that. You also know that the others won't be able to stop them. We've been entrusted with a duty that we cannot abandon."

  Natasha leaned forward over his desk. "It's impossible, Jaime. That's what I know. For the last twenty-five years, we've fought for every Great House in the Inner Sphere, and we've fought against every House, too. We know their strengths and weaknesses. We know it's hopeless ..."

  Wolf stood abruptly and paced the length of the room. "It's not hopeless, Natasha. Some of them show promise. We have a place to start."

  Her sharp laugh brought him up short. "Did you just miss the last two years, Jaime? Two years of a war that's left everything changed, including us! The Capellan Confederation has al
l but fallen to the Federated Suns. The Draconis Combine has been hit hard and lost dozens of worlds and crack units. The Lyran Commonwealth was almost split apart by the war, not to mention the death of Frederick Steiner and the loss of his Tenth Lyran Guards in the suicidal attack on Dromini VI. As for the Free Worlds League, ha! Their government is so bound by red tape that they couldn't even mount a defense against the Tikonov Free Republic's troops, and we both know that the province of Andurien is going to secede before year's end with no trouble at all. Hanse Davion may have planned this war well, and his Federated Suns come out the big winner, but he's razed his economy and his people are afraid of another ComStar Interdiction.

  "In short, my friend, the Successor States have clubbed themselves senseless."

  Wolf's eyes flashed at her badgering tone. "That's all well and good, Natasha, but haven't you left out some of the more important factors that concern us? The Successor States might be in sad shape, but not so all of the military. The Kell Hounds survived the war in good shape, as have the Eridani Light Horse and the Northwind Highlanders. I'll admit they're not enough to do everything, but it's a place to start."

  Natasha seated herself on the edge of Wolf's desk, watching him pace. "You're not thinking of bringing them here to train, are you? You wouldn't compromise our security that way!" Suddenly she slapped the open palm of her right hand against her forehead. "You are planning to do that, aren't you? That's why Morgan Kell and his wife Salome are already heading here from their JumpShip. Are you mad? How much does Kell know?"

  Wolf drew himself up to his full height. "Morgan Kell knows what I have trusted him with—and trust him I do. He and Salome are coming here so we can run some tests and help them with an infertility problem."

  The Black Widow's mouth gaped open. "You told them about ..."

  The small man shook his head. "No, I've not told Morgan everything, though I imagine he has figured out what I didn't. The man is a friend and I've decided to help him. He is also a MechWarrior of great skill and courage. While I do not plan to bring his Kell Hounds here to train, I believe Morgan might be persuaded to prepare his forces to help us when the time comes. Furthermore, I think he would be willing to let us train certain of his people so that what we know can be passed on to others without jeopardizing our security."

  A shudder passed through her body. "The next thing I expect to hear you say is that you're going to invite ComStar to set up a communications center here on Outreach."

  That suggestion won a chuckle from Wolf. "Not a chance. ComStar may well control communications between stars in the Inner Sphere, but their benign pacifism died with Primus Julian Tiepolo. The new Primus, this Myndo Waterly, is aggressive and dangerous. She's already forced Davion to allow her to post BattleMechs in ComStar compounds as a condition for lifting the communications ban ComStar imposed over his Federated Suns. I'll not put us in that position."

  Natasha smiled. "Ah, thank God you are sane after all." She sighed wearily. "Look at us. We've been fighting here for twenty-five years. We should be retiring, not worrying about preparing others for a war that may not come. That task should fall to the whelps up and coming."

  Jaime laid a hand on Natasha's shoulder. "I agree with you, but we have a problem. The youngsters have been raised here in the Successor States of the Inner Sphere. We lost a good number of them fifteen years ago in the Free Worlds League, and then even more escaping from the Draconis Combine two years ago. The survivors weren't raised with the same traditions as we. They barely understand that we're different. And now we have outsiders among us. They, too, must be trained and inculcated with our ways. The only people who can do the training are those of us who have survived all these years."

  The Black Widow shook her head ruefully. "You're right, of course. And they were right to put you and not me in charge of this fool's mission." She brought her head up and thrust her chin forward defiantly. "If they're going to come, I only hope they come soon, before I'm too old to pilot a 'Mech. They've got a lot to answer for, and I mean to make them pay."

  Wolf stood back and folded his hands across his chest. "They're coming, all right, and it may be sooner than we think. As much as I understand your wish, I hope you don't get it." He looked her straight in the eye. "Because if we're still around and in fighting shape, you know the others won't have had time to prepare. And that means the Fourth Succession War that's just ended will seem like the overture to the end of Mankind."


  Shadow of the Beast


  Stortalar City , Gunzburg

  Radstadt Province, Free Rasalhague Republic

  19 May 3049

  Feeling like a spy trapped light years behind enemy lines, Phelan Kell forced himself to walk nonchalantly into the smoky beerhaus. For the first time this evening, I wish I'd listened to Jack Tang when he forbade me to head out on this search. Someday I'll learn he's not giving orders just to hear himself talk. The young mercenary squinted to pierce the gloom, but made no effort to remove his mirrored sunglasses. I might have been stupid enough to wander off the reservation, but I'm not removing my disguise, especially not in here. C'mon, Tyra. Be here.

  When someone touched his arm, Phelan swung around instantly and nearly jumped out of his skin at the sight of the Gunzburg Eagles uniform. At that moment, he thought he would have to fight his way out of the Allt Ingar, but then he recognized the uniformed woman. Phelan's grimace changed to a smile, but died almost as quickly at the fury on her face.

  "Are you crazy?" she hissed, her tone as wintry as the nightwinds howling in the streets of Stortalar City. She jerked Phelan away from the door and back into a darkened booth. "What the hell are you doing off the reservation?"

  Phelan wedged his long, lean body into the shadowy corner. "Where is she, Anika? I have to talk with her."

  "I don't know, and right now I don't care," Anika Janssen said wearily. "But you've got to get back to the reservation, Phelan. You're only asking for trouble being out here."

  Phelan removed his glasses and hung them by an earpiece at the throat of the thick sweater he wore under the black parka. "I'm going to find her. If you think it means trouble for me to be found outside the mercenary's quarter, wait and see what happens if I don't find Tyra tonight!"

  Anika grabbed Phelan's balled right fist in both her hands. "Dammit, Phelan. Don't fight me on this. If you recall, I backed Tyra's play concerning you to the hilt. Don't act stupid and make me regret it." She snorted with exasperation. "I should have seen it wouldn't work ..."

  Phelan relaxed his fist, but the tension in his body remained. "Not you too, Nik." A sour expression drew his black eyebrows together. "I thought you were free of the anti-mercenary feeling that runs through the Republic."

  "So did I." She matched Phelan's green-eyed stare with one of arctic blue and forced him to yield. "You Kell Hounds, during this unplanned stay in Stortalar City, have done a great deal to explode the myth we Rasalhagians hold so dearly."

  Phelan laughed angrily. "A myth you cling to like a drowning man."

  Anika tightened her right hand, letting the nails dig into his wrist. 'There you go, making me wonder if I'm right to give you a chance at all. Just when I'm about to agree with you, you take a cheap shot that gets my back up. I don't deserve that and you know it."

  Phelan looked down and picked at a set of initials carved into the lacquered table-top. "You're right, Nik." His eyes came back up. "Sentiment among the Hounds has gotten nastier now that we're leaving. You know that the merchants in the restricted zone have gouged the hell out of us, and that there are citizen groups patrolling the area, just waiting for some excuse to bust mercenary skulls."

  Anika winced as she nodded in agreement. "And I don't like it any better than you do. But can't you see that even though Rasalhague is a young nation, we fought for centuries to win back our independence from the Draconis Combine. Then just when we thought we had it—with the Combine's blessings to boot—we had to fight renegade Combine
soldiers in the Ronin Wars. A lot of mercenaries deserted our cause because of technicalities in their contracts, and that left a bad taste. People here resented the mercs even more when we had to turn around almost immediately and hire more to supplement our armed forces to hang on to our freedom. Is it any wonder so many of us hate mercenaries?"

  "No, I don't wonder about that," Phelan said, a twinkle in his eyes. "In fact, with so much of the resentment coming from the Royal Rasalhague Army, I'm proud to count you and Tyra as friends. Even if you are aerojocks ..."

  Anika grinned. "Someone has to teach you dirt-stompers some manners."

  Phelan raked a hand back through his thick black hair. "So, where is she?"

  Anika stiffened. "I told you before that I don't know."

  The young mercenary's eyes narrowed. "But what about the other half of what you said? You do care where she is, Nik." Phelan chewed his lower lip for a moment. "I bet you're out looking for her yourself, aren't you?"

  Anika stared hard at Phelan. "Yes, I do care where she is. She's my wingmate and my flight leader and my friend. Your deduction about why I'm out tonight, however, is grossly off the mark. In point of fact, I was out looking for you." She pointed at his parka and the mirrored sunglasses. "Did you really think that borrowing a Home Guard's jacket and wearing those glasses would disguise you? You're brighter than that."

  Her remark struck home, kindling both anger and frustration. This is getting to be a majority opinion, Phelan. "Perhaps I'm not that intelligent, Lojtnant Janssen."

  Anika pounded her fist into the table, then cast a quick glance around to see if anyone had noticed. "There you go again," she said in an angry whisper. "Most of the time I forget you're just an eighteen-year-old kid because you act so much more mature."

  Phelan's eyes focused distantly. "Growing up in a mercenary company doesn't give you much of an opportunity to be a kid." Especially if your father is a living legend and your cousin is heir to the thrones of the Federated Suns and Lyran Commonwealth. Everyone treats you as though you're different. "Not much of a chance to be a kid at all."