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Blood legacy

Michael A. Stackpole


  Wolf turned slowly to look at the heads of the Houses Kurita and Davion and their heirs. "The Clans are not going to roll over and play dead just because you command them to do so. I had hoped to use you, the scions of the Inner Sphere's ruling Houses, as an example of how we might all cooperate to combat this threat. I had hoped that the seeds of the rivalries that have sundered the Inner Sphere for three centuries have not yet sprouted or taken sufficient root in you.

  "If I was wrong, I apologize to you, MacKenzie, and to you, Christian, for assigning you the task of bringing this rabble together into a unit." He looked at the heirs. "And make no mistake of it, you will become the unit I need you to be, or you will be discarded. This is no longer a fight of House against House. It is us against the Clans...."





  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, November, 1995 10987654321

  Copyright © FASA Corporation, 1990 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, II 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."

  To Jennifer Roberson and Fred Saberhagen Thanks for proving overwhelming success does not have to spoil an author by bringing with it an overweening ego. Your example is one to which I pray I can do justice.

  * * *

  The author would like to thank Liz Danforth for tolerating after-the-battle reports, Donna Ippolito for translating this book from whatever the author uses as a native tongue, Jordan Weisman and Ross Babcock for giving him the opportunity to do the book, and Sam Lewis for designing yet one more 'Mech variant so no rewrite of a battle chapter was necessary. 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.


  DropShip Charles Martel

  Terra Approach Vector 23917

  31 January 3051

  The instant he touched the cold stone, Anastasius Focht knew he was seated on the Archon's throne. In the darkness of his dream, the massive doors at the far end of the throne room remained deep in shadow. Yet Focht knew that two mute, enormous Griffin BattleMechs stood guard behind him, warding the Lyran Commonwealth rulers and their throne as they had for more than five centuries.

  At first, he thought the great, silent room empty but for him, then saw the shadows begin to stir as a form slowly emerged. The silhouette limped toward him, and Focht gradually made out a face he had not seen for twenty years. "This is madness," he said, as though the words could awaken him from this dream fast becoming a nightmare.

  The shadowman stopped a dozen meters from the throne and smiled with the smugness of a well-schooled courtier. "Of course, it is, my friend. But when did that ever matter?"

  Focht's right fist smashed down on the arm of the throne. "This will end, and end now!" He thrust a finger at the man standing before him. "I know you, Aldo Lestrade, but you have been dead for the past twenty years."

  The phantom shrugged as though to say it mattered little. "Physically, yes. I died years ago, poisoned by a whelp I never knew I had sired." He cackled horribly. "But I have lived on within your mind and thrived there. Yes, yes, I know all about the training those Buddhist monks and ComStar Adepts put you through to free your spirit of worldly attachments and concerns. But now you see, Precentor Martial, that I have been there all along, the receptacle for all the ambition you tried to leave behind."

  The shade raised its hands to take in the entire room. "And now you have done it. Finally. There you sit on the throne of the Lyran Commonwealth, fulfilling the desire you have long held most dear."

  Focht lifted his snow-maned head proudly and stared hard at the shade with his single good eye. "You are wrong, Lestrade. The man I once was desired the throne, but that man is no more." He plucked at the left breast of his long white robe, indicating the golden star insignia embroidered there.

  "I now serve ComStar and the Word of Blake. This throne is the rightful place of Archon Melissa Steiner Davion of the Federated Commonwealth, and I recognize her joint ruler-ship with her husband, Prince Hanse Davion of the Federated Commonwealth."

  Lestrade laughed softly, but the sound was sinister. "Deny it if you will, old friend, but I am here to prove you wrong. I know the truth of your heart, and it is your desire for power. By giving you this vision of yourself on the throne, I permit you to glimpse the possible future. Use the means in your power and take the throne!"

  Banishing his unease, Focht gave a laugh of his own. "It is pure foolishness to believe I either desire the throne or that I would move to take it. It is true that as Precentor Martial of ComStar's forces, I command fifty crack regiments. And yes, that is a force sufficient to depose Melissa if I so desired, but I cannot and I will not."

  "Bah!" snarled Lestrade as the healthy glow of his complexion began to fade to a grayish pallor. "You always had to be pushed to see what must be done ..."

  "Stop!" Focht shot to his feet, towering over the ghost. "You've never been a MechWarrior! You've never understood the code of duty and honor that rules those who pilot these engines of destruction. Placing such an awesome weapon in the hands of an individual implies a similar gesture of trust." Focht's single gray eye flashed with anger. "You betrayed my trust when you were alive. Why would I trust you now?"

  Focht turned and waved a hand at the twin Griffins standing behind the throne. "For more than six hundred years, the BattleMech has occupied a central place in the mythology we spin around ourselves like a cocoon then call reality. Since the fall of the Star League, it is BattleMechs that have decided the outcome of our endless wars. It is those very wars that have destroyed most of the means to produce these magnificent war machines. Worse, we have lost so much technology in this long Dark Age that our 'Mechs haven't half the capabilities of those their great-great grandfathers took into battle. In these centuries of Suc
cession Wars, the leaders of the Great Houses lost the vision of a unified humanity. They only saw their greed for another's land or power, and that was how they put the BattleMech to use."

  Lestrade opened his mouth to speak, but Focht cut him off. "For centuries, we have told ourselves that the BattleMech is invincible. New models like the Hatchetman or Wolfhound have shown that improvements are possible, but these designs were still based on technology we understand. They present no new threat."

  "The same cannot be said of the Clans. Though they, too, fight with 'Mechs, theirs surpass even those our ancestors knew at the pinnacle of man's technological development. Clan 'Mechs move faster, shoot more accurately, and can hit targets at ranges much greater than our machines. What's more, the Clans, as a people, devote their whole existence to firing the engine of war. The defeats they suffered last year were little more than accidents. The Federated Commonwealth attacked them on the poorly garrisoned backwater world of Twycross. And, yes, the Lians forces were crack troops, but Kai Allard-Liao's single-handed destruction of a whole Cluster of front-line Clan 'Mechs can only be attributed to luck."

  Lestrade's mechanical left hand worked his jaw around to make it work. "And what of the battle on Wolcott? Theodore Kurita defeated a planetary assault."

  "True," Focht conceded with a nod. "He managed to use the Clans' own military conventions against them, but the greater significance of how the Clans function has escaped notice. Some military thinkers of the Inner Sphere believe it only some quirk that makes the Clans bid away troops in order to attack a planet with the minimum number of troops. In fact, it is a sinister omen of things to come. When the Clans stop bidding so boldly, their technological edge will overwhelm our forces. All will be lost."

  Lestrade smiled broadly, tearing the desiccated flesh off his lips. "And all the more reason for you to seize control of Tharkad and the throne."

  "Have you heard nothing I've just said?" In his anger, Focht grasped the fabric of his nightmare, making the towering Griffins waver, then shift to become the hulking forms of the Clan 'Mech known as the Madcat. Mounted on birdlike legs bent backward at the knee, the blocky body thrust the cockpit forward. Above the hip joints rode two boxy long-range missile launchers, and each arm ended in slender, rectangular weapons pods. The slate gray 'Mechs looked like deadly, predators ready to devour any opposition.

  "These are the kinds of 'Mech we face now. They have more than double the effectiveness of our machines." This time, Focht took the shadows and formed them into a man-sized suit of armor. The right arm ended in a laser muzzle while the left hand had only three thick fingers. A rocket-launcher rode on the back of the armor suit, and the individual wearing the suit had only a V-shaped black glass slit for a viewport.

  "The Clans call these powered suits and the people who pilot them Elementals. This armored infantry can withstand direct hits by 'Mech weaponry. Working in concert, Elementals can take down and destroy a 'Mech." Focht ran the slender fingers of his left hand through his white hair. "The only way mankind can hope to hold back the Clans is by uniting their full resources to defeating the invaders."

  Lestrade stared at the armor suit, but seemed unimpressed. "It took no such union to drive the Clans off this time, did it?"

  Focht snarled inarticulately, then warped the stuff of dreams again. Against the darkness of the throne room, pinpoints of light began to burn. Above, a system's sun rotated and shot out a massive solar flare. Below, just beyond the whiplash of solar plasma, dozens of waspy JumpShips materialized in the system in two distinct groups. The thick hulls of the smaller group, composed of one massive and four small ships, bristled with weaponry. The larger group, looking skeletal compared to its foes, detached DropShip after DropShip and launched furious flights of fighters in a space-borne assault.

  The Precentor Martial gritted his teeth and focused the dream on one fighter. Shaped like a boomerang, the craft made one strafing run from the bow to the stern of the enemy flagship, then turned and came back again. Both the fighter and its wingman were hit in the second run. The wingman's ship drifted away from the battle, but the primary ship boosted forward. Dropping into a long, sweeping dive, it ran its engines higher than they were meant to go. Glowing like a nova, the Shilone fighter smashed into the bridge of the Clan JumpShip.

  Focht pointed to the gaping hole torn in the JumpShip's hull. "There. That's the reason the Clans have stopped their assaults. That suicide ship killed their ilKhan, the man in charge of the whole invasion of the Inner Sphere. The Clan leaders have withdrawn to elect a new overlord, but the garrison they have left is more than ample to ward the worlds they have taken. Having chosen a new warlord, they will return. This I have from Ulric, Khan of the Wolf Clan, who has never given me reason to doubt him or his words. Once again, it was sheer luck that aided us in our war against the Clans, but to depend on such luck would be suicidal."

  The corpse applauded heartily. As his metal hand impacted the other of flesh, the decaying hand lost bits and pieces of skin and fingers. "Spoken like a warrior, Precentor. As such, your analysis of the situation is flawless. You are correct that only the unification of the warring states of the Inner Sphere could defeat the Clans. You speak as a soldier, but I, as a politician, see the impossibility of it all."

  "Is that so?" Focht smiled calmly. "Jaime Wolf has gathered the leaders of all the Great Houses to his world of Outreach to discuss the situation. He could forge the ties that will bind everything together."

  The sound of Lestrade's teeth rattling loosely in his jaw made an irritating counterpoint to his words. "For that, Wolf would have to be a magician, not a mercenary leader. Hanse Davion and Theodore Kurita can no more get along than light and darkness can abide each other. Twice in the last twenty-five years the Federated Suns had launched an invasion of the Draconis Combine, and twice Theodore Kurita has turned them back. Davion and Kurita are like a snake and a mongoose, each one knowing a single false step could be his death."

  Lestrade tried to gesture broadly with his metal arm, but a grinding click in the joint left it hanging useless at his side. "And let us not forget the sisters Liao. The St. Ives Compact ruled by Candace is little more than a protectorate of the Federated Commonwealth. If not for Davion troops stationed there, Romano would have long since have attempted to retake the Compact worlds for the Capellan Confederation. As it is, Romano has made at least a dozen assassination attempts on her sister's life, and she has a bounty out on the heads of Candace's friends and the kin of her husband, Justin Allard. The idea of anyone cooperating with Romano, no matter what the threat to the Successor States, is ludicrous."

  The dead Duke's head came up and his lifeless eyes locked on Focht. "As for the Free Worlds League, I'd not expect much from them. Wolf clearly does not trust ComStar, hence the barring of any ComStar personnel from his world and this conference, in particular. As Thomas Marik was a ComStar Acolyte before he took his father's place on the throne, I cannot believe Wolf will be inclined to put much faith in anything Thomas does or says.

  "There is also the problem of Thomas' four-year-old son, who has leukemia. It is a cruel blow, but you already know that he had signed the decree legitimizing Isis, his sixteen-year-old daughter by a mistress. Aside from his domestic troubles, Thomas is in a good position to bargain hard for his support because the Clans will have to come through the Lyran Commonwealth before they can hit him. Hanse and Theodore will have to make concessions to Marik for his help. But with the Primus backing him, Thomas still might not give in."

  Focht stiffened at the mention of ComStar's leader, and the revenant pounced at this show of anxiety. "Don't try to hide from me, Precentor Martial. Am I not inside your brain and knowing your very thoughts? You style yourself a warrior, and you are good at it, but politics is a minefield. Your Primus, Myndo Waterly, is an excellent player, isn't she? She's convinced that ComStar can work with the Clans until the invaders have bled themselves white in battle, and then ComStar can step in, destroy them, and refor
m all society into Blake's dream of a Utopia. Has there ever been a greater foolishness?"

  As they spoke, the shade of what had once been Aldo Lestrade slowly disintegrated. His flesh was all but gone and the white of his bones showed through the worm-gnawed rents in his clothing. His death's-head watched Focht with shadow-filled eye sockets, but the bony jaw worked up and down uselessly, no words coming from its throat.

  Focht leaned back in the throne. "If you are the container for whatever trace of ambition still claims me, I am pleased to see the state it is in. I am a warrior who commands other warriors. I know better than to dabble in politics." He raised his hand to adjust the patch over his right eye. "I paid a dear price for that realization, but I survived the lesson. You, Aldo Lestrade, did not."

  The ghoul laughed one last time. "But what you did not learn, Anastasius Focht, is that you can never escape politics. It is everywhere and, someday, it will lay you in the ground, just as it has me ..."

  Lestrade's skeleton collapsed into a pile of dust, but his laughter continued to echo in Focht's brain until the sound gradually transformed into the incessant beeping of the Drop-Ship's visiphone intercom system. Pulling himself up into a sitting position, Focht reached out to punch the glowing button on the console beside his bed.


  The ComStar acolyte on the screen bowed his head. "Forgive me for waking you, Precentor, but you asked to be alerted two hours prior to atmospheric entry. We have just passed that mark and should be on the ground in just under three hours."

  Focht nodded. "Call Sandhurst and have them arrange a full staff meeting for ETA plus 30 minutes. No excuses accepted for absence."

  The Acolyte paled visibly. "I cannot do that, Precentor."

  Focht's voice deepened with a rumble of anger. "Explain."

  'The Primus sent us a priority directive while you slept. We are to land at Hilton Head, and you are to brief her immediately on the Clan situation. You will then address the First Circuit."