Lost destinyMichael A. Stackpole
"THIS IS THE WORLD OF TUKAYYID."
The Primus of ComStar yawned. "Interesting, Precentor Martial. I take it you find this world significant for more than its ability to bore the Clans to death?"
"Indeed I do, Primus." Precentor Martial Focht pressed his hands together carefully. "You are looking at the world that will be the salvation of Terra."
"I do not understand."
"As the Successor States have discovered, we cannot determine in advance where the Clans will strike next. By all analysis of their techniques for selecting targets, they should bypass Tukayyid because it presents no threat to them.
"But I know of a way to make Tukayyid a prime target for the Wolf Clan. That is, quite simply to challenge Khan Ulric to a battle on this world, which will decide the fate of Terra...."
The Blood of Kerensky—Vol. 3
Michael A. Stackpole
Published by the Penguin Group
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Published by Roc, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. Previously published by FASA.
First Roc Printing, December, 1995 10987654321
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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."
To the men and women of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Sic Semper Tyrannis. If we ever get to the stars, it will be because people with your bravery and sense of duty lead us.
The author would like to thank Liz Danforth, Jennifer Roberson, and Dennis L. McKiernan for their help in dissecting and repairing the difficult parts of this book. He also thanks John-Allen Price for the loan of a member of the Cox family for this series, and David W. Jewell for the loan of his name and family. Thanks also to Dr. J. Ward Stackpole for the help with medical technology, errors are those of the author. Ditto military information, which was supplied by Captain Patrick T. Stackpole; again the errors belong to the scribe. As always, the author's utmost thanks to Donna Ippolito for bringing this book into mainstream English, Jordan Weisman and Ross Babcock for giving him the opportunity to do the book, then Jordan again and Sam Lewis for pushing the author to an even greater effort. Lastly, the author thanks the GEnie Network, over which this novel and edits passed through e-mail, from the author's computer, through GEnie, straight to FASA.
Sian Commonality, Capellan Confederation
5 January 3052
When Sun-Tzu Liao saw the smile on his mother's face, it took all the self-control he'd developed over his twenty years to suppress a shudder. His sister Kali, darting past him into the throne room, had no such doubts. Her transfigured expression was the mirror image of Romano's. Glancing at his father, Sun-Tzu felt disgust at the smile Tsen Shang had pasted on his face even though his whole body seemed to cringe.
There she sat in the massive mahogany chair known as the Celestial Throne. The huge disk backing it was carved with constellations and mystical symbols defining the universe according to Capellan mythology. Seated on the throne, it was as though Romano presided over the whole of the Inner Sphere, the universe spreading from her head like a Christian saint's halo.
"What is it, Mother? Why have you summoned us?" Sun-Tzu kept his voice even, not daring to infuse it with mock enthusiasm for fear his anticipation of disaster would bleed into it. Whatever it was, he could tell from her expression that Romano considered it an incredible coup. He could only hope that for once the rational universe and his mother's personal universe were in conjunction.
Resplendent in her rainbow-hued silk robe embroidered with tigers cavorting and striking, Romano said nothing. The diffuse light streaming into the room from the lattice-work galleries around the upper reaches gave substance to thin ribbons of incense smoke drifting from censers hidden behind the throne. The Chancellor opened her hands and indicated that her children should be seated at her feet.
No, not this again. It has been too long. Sun-Tzu held back a bit, though anything short of bodily launching himself at the throne would have made him look stopped dead compared to his sister. Kali immediately draped herself over the steps leading up to the throne and, cat-like, rubbed her face against Romano's leg. As he approached, his sister turned to him, her face momentarily contorted in anger before Romano reached down to stroke Kali's auburn hair.
At the foot of the steps, Sun-Tzu stopped and clasped his hands behind his back like a soldier at ease. Romano's face darkened briefly, then she graced him with a smile. Though accustomed to his mother's quicksilver emotions, Sun-Tzu had felt a true jolt of fear at her look of displeasure, then great relief when she smiled. More karma burned. I must have been very good in a past life.
Romano clasped her hands together in her lap. "In the beginning," she intoned solemnly, "Pangu created Heaven and Earth from the egg of his birth, then became the life of his creation. Niiwa created men and women, and from among them chose one family to be exalted above all others."
Kali, anxiously tugging at her mother's robe, was granted leave to speak with an indulgent caress from Romano. "The Liao, recognized for their wisdom and courage, were placed above the rest of mankind, but they did not lord it over their subjects. Mentors rather than dictators, they guided from behind the scenes, except in times of crisis, when only Liao leadership could save mankind."
Romano looked to Tsen Shang, who winced visibly. "So mankind flourished beneath the guidance of the Liao, and mankind prospered. Out and away from his home did mankind go until his settlements were flung as far as the furthest star, and then further yet. And the Liao remained with him, always helping and guiding. The Star League was the Liao instrument and the enlightenment of mankind their goal."
Sun-Tzu took up the story from there. "There rose among the Star League many powers and many people of avarice. Among these were the Amaris, from whom sprang the monster Stefan, an abomination who slew the Star League's rightful ruler, shattered the Liao creation of Star League, and plunged humanity into a dark age."
Romano nodded proudly as her son hit every word perfectly in his recitation. "Once again did
the Liao acknowledge their divine charge and accept the mantle of First Lord of the Star League. Alas, for mankind, the Amaris plague had infected the other Great Houses. Davion, Steiner, Marik, and Kurita each believed itself the legitimate claimant to the Star League throne. They engaged in wars, the first, second, and third, that proceeded to strip mankind of the gifts of wisdom the Liao had imparted. With a vengeance, the false Lords of the Great Houses did hunt down and try to destroy the Liao, but they knew no success until ..."
Kali leaped up and snatched the thread of the story from her mother. "Until a viper came to nest within the Liao bosom. The false Lords knew the Liao weakness was its compassion, so they sent to them a man broken and reviled for his Capellan blood. But this man, this embodiment of evil, was not broken. Rather, he was a vessel of treachery, fashioned and controlled by Hanse Davion. And his name was Justin Xiang."
Sun-Tzu accepted the story from his sister, but stripped away the blood-lust she had woven into the telling. "This Justin Xiang betrayed the kindness the Liao showed him. He seduced the weakest of the Liao and carried Candace off to his Lord's domain, robbing the Liao of their beloved St. Ives." He started to add the line, "And one day this treachery will be avenged," but his mother slammed a fist into the throne's arm to cut him off.
"This treachery has, this day, been avenged! A martyr in the service of the Liao succeeded in exacting retribution for Justin Xiang's foul treason. He and his bitch lie dead on New Avalon, where they foolishly believed themselves safe from my wrath."
Romano's eyes focused distantly as she continued to rant, but Sun-Tzu heard none of her words. Allard dead? Candace, too? The frightful look of victory on his mother's face told him she truly believed what she had said, but Sun-Tzu had learned long ago that his mother's beliefs and reality were not always one and the same.
"Father, is this true? Can this be?"
Tsen Shang nodded wearily. "ComStar thought the news of sufficient import to forward it throughout their network.
Speculation is that your Uncle Tormana will be made Regent of the St. Ives Compact, at least temporarily. Kai will be summoned home from the front with the Clans to rule."
Sun-Tzu frowned in concentration as he tried to block out the chortling sounds of his mother's and sister's gloating. "If Kai returns, what are the chances he will lead troops against us? St. Ives soldiers are fighting the Clans right now. What are the chances they will have some of this advanced Clan technology salvaged and in working order by the time they get here?"
His father shrugged. "I do not know."
"Are you not the head of our intelligence service?" Sun-Tzu snapped. "Surely the Maskirovka is keeping track of Candace's troops. Just because we have struck the head from the Davion intelligence serpent does not mean we can relax."
Tsen Shang's head came up and fire sparked in his eyes, but it died quickly. "Yes, son, we have reports, but they are highly unreliable. The Clans have chewed up everything else that has been thrown at them, so I expect no better for the St. Ives troops."
"I pray you are correct, Father." Sun-Tzu glanced at his mother. "She may hold her sister's children in contempt, but you and I cannot afford that luxury. She believes herself inviolate, but I harbor no such illusions. If we have not yet been hit, it was not because of Candace's inability to strike, but because she withheld her wrath. Her heirs—Kai, Cassandra, or even Kuan Yin or Quintus—may not feel so restrained."
Sun-Tzu chewed his lower lip. "Mark me, Father, they will come. It may wait until after the Clans have been defeated, but one day they will seek to avenge Candace and Justin." He looked at his mother one last time. And when that time comes, I must be ready to preserve my nation.
Mar Negro, Alyina
TreUshire, Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
5 January 3052
Gray smoke cloaked the dark ocean, hiding Kai Allard as his head broke the surface of the water. The eerie quiet, marred only by his ragged, air-sucking gasps, surprised him. This is a war zone, but I don't hear anything! He fought down the irrational fear that his 'Mech's collision with a Clan OmniMech might have deafened as well as knocked him out. No, if that were true, I wouldn't hear either my breathing or the waves.
Kai turned in the direction of the cliff from where his 'Mech had plunged into the waters of Mar Negro. In answer to Prince Victor Davion's urgent call, Kai and his lance had rushed to Victor's defense. Equipped with experimental myomer muscles, Kai's modified Centurion had swiftly outdistanced his companions. Reaching the battle zone first, he saw Hanse Davion's heir in a damaged BattleMech beset by four of the Clans' finest.
I just went berserk! I got too close and let that one 'Mech drag me off the cliff. Kai looked up at the twenty meters of chalky cliff rising above him at the shoreline and remembered the long drop in the OmniMech's deadly embrace. Hitting the water, he'd blacked put, knowing that the shelf went down a full kilometer here.
When he came to again, he was still in the cockpit of Yen-lo-wang, his Centurion, trapped under the ocean in the arms of a Clan OmniMech. But instead of plunging to the bottom of the sea, the 'Mechs' descent had been interrupted by a ledge only ten meters or so down. Having been under for only half an hour, Kai wriggled free of the cockpit and swam up from that depth without having to worry about decompression.
Reaching the base of the cliff, Kai pulled himself onto a half-submerged rock and took inventory of his gear. The cooling vest from his 'Mech doubled as a bullet-proof vest, but it and the shorts he wore would do little to ward off the cold of the coming night. His heavy, duraplast-armor boots would protect him from the knees down, but they were hardly made for walking. What did count for something was the survival knife sticking up from the sheath in the right boot, and Kai smiled as he fingered the hilt.
"Well, Victor, I get to test your Christmas gift under true battlefield conditions."
Instantly an unfocused dread began to churn in his stomach. I don't even know if Victor survived! I should have been more careful, I should have been there to make sure. If he died because of me ... Kai forced himself to his feet and quickly mounted the narrow pathway that zigzagged up the cliff-face. Though his fear urged him to reckless speed, another part of him remained cautious. Slowing his pace as he neared the top of the cliff, Kai noted the bright white gash that marked where the cliff-edge had crumbled beneath the feet of his 'Mech.
White and black smoke spiraled together in a fog that drifted eerily across the plateau's surface. Barely four hours earlier, this had been a verdant jungle, the kind of place Alyina's Ministry of Tourism might have touted as typical of their world. Yet mere minutes of combat had pitted and scarred the landscape. Blackened stumps that once were trees dotted the plain like gravestones strewn across a graveyard. The only remaining scraps of green were scattered clumps of earth that artillery fire had blasted from the ground.
Everywhere lay the shattered bodies and dismembered bits of the war machines that had died to possess what had once been a paradise. When intact, BattleMechs stood five times Kai's height and seemed like invincible, mechanical avatars of man's warlike nature. For as long as he could remember, Kai had dreamed of only one thing: to follow his parents in the path of a MechWarrior. He saw no honor greater than piloting one of these giant martial engines, and no purpose nobler man to do so in defense of family and nation.
But now, battered and smashed beyond recognition, these BattleMechs mocked what Kai realized was the innocence of youth. Lying in broken huddles or staring sightlessly at the sky, they looked useless and even worse. Kai saw that these machines could only destroy. That was their sole purpose, and they had accomplished it beyond even the wildest dreams of their creators.
Kai darted quickly across the quiet battlefield. Kneeling in the shadow of a downed Hagetaka, he quickly scanned the killing ground for any sign of the Daishi Victor had been piloting. He saw nothing at first, then ran to where he had last seen the Prince's 'Mech. At that spot, he found a foot that had probably belonged to Victor
's 'Mech. Glancing at the half-melted armor plates lying just beyond, he saw a track left by a crippled BattleMech limping away.
"Yes, he made it." Kai slapped his open palm against the Daishi's foot. He made it away from here, but they might still have gotten him, whispered a cold voice in the back of Kai's mind. If you had been here, you could have made sure Victor lived.
The harsh scream of a sea gull brought Kai's head up, startling him from his reverie. The breeze holding the gull aloft parted the smoke and gave Kai a clear view of the dusky sky. Burning brilliantly against the growing dark was a double-diamond pattern of lights moving in unison like a drifting constellation. His spirits lifted instantly as he realized those were the Federated Commonwealth's DropShips burning their way out of Alyina's gravity.
"Victor must have survived. They would never leave so soon if he weren't with them." Glancing around the area, Kai thought it looked like some reinforcements must have arrived to help Victor retreat. From the crests on the uniforms of the dead, he realized they were from the regimental command lance.
The gull screamed again and others joined it as the flock slowly descended. Kai marveled at their effortless flight, grateful for the beauty of their sleek symmetry as a welcome contrast to the nightmare landscape. He smiled as one bird drifted in, then delicately lighted on the shattered shell of a 'Mech cockpit. It was not until another gull tried to land in the same spot and was chased off that Kai understood why the gulls had come to the battlefield.
"No!" Kai sprinted toward the broken 'Mech, waving both birds off. As he reached the cockpit, the stink of blood and burned flesh warned him away, but he did not stop. Peering into the cockpit, he saw what had once been Professor-General Sam Lewis strapped into the command couch. Kai had heard Lewis was attached to the regiment but never thought he'd come out and fight. Things must have gotten really desperate. Half the man's neurohelmet was crushed and half the face beneath it was missing. Kai blanched at the sight and felt his knees turn to water. Turning away, he dropped abruptly to the ground and cradled his head in his hands.