Bred for warMichael A. Stackpole
SURVIVING DEATH ... ?
Though he had killed countless times in his career as a Mech Warrior, Galen Cox had never before felt like a murderer. Looking through the observation bay window, he saw the dead body of Joshua Marik and knew a healthier double had already taken Joshua's place.
Galen shook his head. "Games and deceptions. I wish life was simpler."
Curaitis watched Galen carefully. "Dying is about as simple as it gets."
"But dying doesn't make things more simple."
The security man's eyes narrowed. "It does for him. We flick the switch and he dies easily. The hard part, the complex part, is what we have to do."
"Right." Galen's mouth tasted sour. "We have to make sure the Inner Sphere can survive his death."
BRED FOR WAR
Michael A. Stackpole
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Roc, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
First Printing, January, 1995
Series Editor: Donna Ippolito Cover: Boris Vallejo Mechanical Drawings: Duane Loose Copyright © FAS A Corporation, 1995 All rights reserved
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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 Brian Fargo, the only man I have met with the vision to see the future and the skills necessary to realize it.
The author would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this work:
Patrick Stackpole for his demolitions expertise, J. Ward Stackpole for his medical advice, Kerin Stackpole (of Barrymore & Loots) for legal expertise, Sam Lewis for editorial and story advice, Donna Ippolito for rendering me readable, Liz Danforth for tolerating me while I put this book together, John-Allen Price for the continued loan of a Cox, Larry Acuff for again contributing generously to charity in return for his appearance here, Ron Wolfley and Dave Galloway for perspectives on being professional athletes, and the GEnie Computer Network over which this novel and its revisions passed from the author's computer straight to FASA.
The following books and articles were invaluable in the preparation of this book:
Ranger Handbook, United States Army Infantry School
A History of Warfare, by John Keegan
The Dictionary of War Quotations, edited by Justin Wintle
Simpson's Contemporary Quotations, compiled by James B. Simpson
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Oxford University Press
"The Shadow of a Gunman from World War II," by Robert Wemick, Smithsonian Magazine
A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths are a statistic.
New Avalon, Federated Commonwealth
20 May 3057
Though Galen Cox had killed many an enemy in his career as a Mech Warrior, this was the first time he had ever felt like a murderer. Standing there with Agent Curaitis and Dr. Joseph Harper in the observation deck of the Passive Life Maintenance Unit, he knew part of his uneasiness stemmed from the fact that he really was no longer Galen Cox. That person had died in an explosion on a planet more than four hundred light years away, a faked death from which Galen had been resurrected as Jerrard Cranston, national security advisor to Victor Davion, Prince of the mighty Federated Commonwealth.
If I weren't here under an alias, I probably wouldn't feel like a criminal participating in a crime. He looked around at the others. "Anyone else feel like we're killing this boy?"
Curaitis, the ice-eyed giant standing between him and Harper, showed not the slightest flicker of emotion. "We can't prevent his death, but we can keep it from causing the deaths of many others."
Dr. Harper nodded. "We've tried everything. The boy's hung on far longer than anyone expected. It's time to let him die with a little dignity, Mr. Cranston."
Galen looked down at the emaciated body of Joshua Marik through the observation window. Son of Thomas Marik, heir to the Captain-Generalcy of the Free Worlds League, Joshua had been diagnosed with acute leukemia six years before and later sent to New Avalon for treatment. The New Avalon Institute of Science, the finest research and medical center in the Inner Sphere, had been his best hope, but five years of treatment had left him sallow, bruised and, finally, all but dead. If not for the respirator pumping away beside his bed and the dialysis machine cleansing his blood, the boy would have given out weeks ago.
No one looking at this disease-ravaged child would have wished him one more instant of suffering. But he was so much more than a hapless child that machines had extended his life well beyond any rational period. While Joshua still lived, it gave Thomas Marik a wedge against Sun-Tzu Liao. Sun-Tzu was betrothed to Isis, the other Marik child, but Thomas had been stalling on the marriage for several years. Though Thomas had recognized Isis as legitimate, Joshua, the only child of his marriage, had been named as his heir. Because Sun-Tzu dreamed of nothing short of the destruction of the Federated Commonwealth, anything that kept him from assuming the power of Thomas' throne meant more peace and security for the whole Inner Sphere.
Galen touched the glass separating them from Joshua's room. "I just wish we could have done something more. I feel so impotent knowing that this child is dying from the same disease that has killed people since long before our ancestors left Terra and spread throughout the Inner Sphere."
Harper shook his head sadly. "I share your frustration," he said. "We've done everything possible to save Joshua's life, but even that wasn't enough. It saddens me even more because I've come to like this boy in the five years he's been here. You're afraid his death will lead to war with the Free Worlds League, but my regret is that Joshua will never grow up to take his father's place."
"Having a Captain-General who'd spent some of his formative years here and owed his life to the Federated Commonwealth certainly wouldn't have hurt us."
"It's more than that, Mr. Cranston. Joshua was a bright boy. Charming, yet inquisitive and intelligent. He could be a normal little child with the other young patients when he was well enough, yet he knew how to play the role of a noble for important visitors." Harper pressed his lips together into a thin line. "His death is a loss for the future as well as his fa
Galen focused beyond his own reflection in the glass onto Joshua's face. "That's our job now, Doctor, to make sure the loss isn't catastrophic in scope."
The doctor nodded understanding. "Things have been arranged as Curaitis ordered. Once we let the boy die, his body will be cryogenically preserved so that he can be sent back to the Free Worlds League later. The double was inserted in Joshua's place six months ago and has been fully accepted. Staff members who've worked with the real Joshua Marik have been transferred to other facilities both here and on other worlds—though that's another loss. Those transfers have virtually gutted our oncology research projects."
From his greater height, the stiff-backed Curaitis looked down at the physician. "Those people are continuing their work at their new posts."
"You don't understand. For this kind of difficult research, there's not a single other facility like the New Avalon Institute of Science in known space. You're setting cancer research back by centuries."
Galen tried to calm the doctor. "Orders have already gone out for all your people to have priority access to any medical research and procedures recovered from old Star League records. They'll also get priority routing anytime they want to exchange data with their colleagues."
Harper wearily rubbed one hand down from his receding hairline and across his face. "Look, there's a difference between this research and the other advances that the discovery of Star League records have made possible. The recovery of library cores and old Star League equipment have helped us bring our war toys back up to the specs our ancestors considered normal, but they've done nothing for cancer research.
"The Star League scientists didn't know much more than we do today. In the same three centuries that saw BattleMechs develop from crude machines to powerful engines of war, genetic research foundered. The little that was done was directed toward finding cures for the various and sundry new diseases human settlers were encountering as they colonized planets across space. Much of it was also directed at preserving life and extending our life spans. It's true that we know how to control many of the diseases that kill us as we age, but juvenile diseases and genetic ailments that happen later in life both have been neglected."
Harper stopped suddenly and held both his hands up. "Forgive me, gentlemen. I know this rant is well outside your reasons for being here. It's just that I've seen too much research money going to projects aimed at recovering military technology from old Star League records instead of being directed into new research. Granted that a lot of genetic research has led to nothing but a dead end, but what about the Clans? If what I hear about their breeding programs and genetic manipulation is even half true, they've made incredible breakthroughs. Some of that could have helped here."
Curaitis smiled slightly. "Could you clone Joshua?"
"I doubt it. Clones created beyond the embryonic stage don't seem to be viable. But I can't rule it out as a possibility. If the Clans—with their military focus—did it, we could too. But that would require funding we just don't have right now."
Galen scratched at the beard he'd grown since becoming Jerrard Cranston. "I'll speak to Prince Victor about it, Dr. Harper. You won't get your team back—at least not for the few more years we need to maintain the illusion that Joshua is still alive—but after that we might be able to reunite you."
From the look on Curaitis' face, Galen knew the intelligence man would fight that idea as a breach of security, but Galen didn't care. "What's important right now is making certain no one in this hospital except us knows that Joshua has died."
"Don't worry, Mr. Cranston, all my people are professionals and patriots. The transition has gone smoothly. Your double's been fully accepted up in the hospital. The real Joshua will die down here, but up there he'll continue to live." Harper turned and pointed to a pair of switches mounted on the wall between the observation window and the door beyond it. "All the life support equipment has been routed through this red switch. Most folks think it's rather ghoulish to watch while a patient in the Passive Life Maintenance unit dies, so the green switch closes the drapes on the other side."
While Harper seemed unable to take the final step up to the switches, Galen was not. He was willing to accept the responsibility for shutting off Joshua's life support, yet his reach faltered an instant in the enormous gulf between willingness and desire. In that moment of hesitation, Curaitis moved forward and reached for the switches.
"Wait, please," Harper said softly. "I know that Joshua really died weeks ago and that he can no longer hear or see anything, but I'd like to be in there with him when he goes."
"And I'd like to join you," Galen said.
Curaitis looked from one man to the other for a moment, and Galen shivered beneath the tall man's icy gaze. "I'll wait until you give me a sign, then I'll shut off his machinery.
Dr. Harper passed through the door, but Galen stopped and looked back at Curaitis. "I get the feeling you think Harper and I are two sentimental fools."
"Not at all."
"But you'll stay in here."
"My job, Mr. Cranston, is to see to it that the universe that permits you to harbor such delicate sentiments continues to exist. Part of that job is turning off Joshua Marik's life support."
Galen frowned. "That's it?"
"I'm sorry the boy's dying, but I didn't make him sick and all my best wishes won't keep him alive any longer." Curaitis stared off unseeing for a moment, then looked back with electric intensity into Galen's eyes. "I didn't know him and, had he grown up, he'd have been as dangerous to the Federated Commonwealth as were his father or grandfather."
"What if he'd turned out to be a man who could reunite the warring nations of the Inner Sphere?"
"A thin line between that and someone who thinks he can reunite the Successor States and starts a war to prove it." Curaitis' gaze did not waver. "The death of a mere boy is sad, but to project anything beyond that is hypothetical and I don't deal in hypotheticals. Can't cover all the possibilities when you do."
"Do you think Victor is right in replacing Joshua with an impostor?"
"Not up to me to second-guess the Prince."
"Especially when you're the one who suggested this course of action."
"I made him aware of the operation his own father had initiated. He chose to employ Project Gemini."
Galen frowned. "Deceiving Thomas Marik this way is bound to cause big trouble."
"Thomas Marik is a pacifist and idealist. His Knights of the Inner Sphere are successful because of the skilled personnel he's recruited, not because of his grand philosophy. Besides, Thomas has other things to worry about."
Galen nodded. "I read the confirmation of the report on the condition of Marik's wife." He narrowed his eyes. "Her injuries weren't caused by one of our operations, were they?"
Curaitis was unruffled. "No. We prefer more subtle means."
"Like killing a child?"
"At least here he isn't going to die from the violence that's plagued so many Mariks right in their own realm and even among their own family."
"I doubt that's much consolation to a little boy who'll never grow up," Galen said, his eyes on the failing little boy. "Sometimes I wish life were simpler."
"Living and dying are as simple as it gets, Cranston. All else is just a question of volume and statistics."
"It doesn't seem to me that dying makes anything simpler."
"The boy will get it right." Curaitis nodded toward the door. "Go on, go see him off. He could do worse than have someone like you with him when he goes."
"You could join us."
The intelligence man shook his head.
"Got something better to do, Curaitis?"
"Yes, I do. While you're in there dealing with his death," Curaitis said quietly, "I'll start making sure we can survive his legacy."
Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.
—George Bernard Shaw, Major Barb
Tharkad City, Tharkad
District of Donegal, Federated Commonwealth
21 May 3057
Caitlin Kell's mouth gaped open as she stared at Katrina Steiner-Davion. "Katrina, are you sure you should be telling me this? That Ryan Steiner was the man behind the assassin who killed our mothers?"
Caitlin slowly lowered herself into a dark leather chair. She had once thought of the furnishings in this room as warm and inviting, but now the leather felt cold as her body sank into it. "Oh, God, and to think I was so sorry for what happened to him."
Katrina knelt down on the thick carpeting in front of Caitlin and took her cousin's hands in her own. "Cait, if there was any other way to let you know this, I would have. The way Ryan died was horrible, but no more horrible than what he did to my mother and your mother and father. When I think of Morgan and the pain on his face when he buried your mother, I..." Katrina's voice faltered and her lower lip trembled.
Caitlin squeezed her cousin's hands and bit back tears of her own. The same bomb blast that murdered their mothers had also destroyed Morgan Kelt's right arm. The loss of his wife Salome had injured Caitlin's father more than anything he'd ever suffered, including the death of his brother so long ago. Melissa's death had also hit Morgan hard, as it had the whole of the Federated Commonwealth, and Caitlin thought that her father's fierce desire to avenge himself on whoever was behind the assassination was the only thing that had driven him to recover from his wounds.
"My father is strong." Caitlin forced the words past the lump in her throat, as much to convince herself as to comfort Katrina. "And it's probably lucky that a sniper got Ryan on Solaris first because even with one arm gone, my father would have torn him apart."
Katrina swiped at her eyes, the tears smearing some mascara across her cheeks. "You're right. Morgan would have gotten him even though he was an aerospace pilot."