|Cover artwork||Boris Vallejo|
|First published||1 March 1993|
|Era||Clan Invasion era|
|Timeline||3054 – 3055|
The author freely admits the story to be inspired by the Vietnam War, writing in his credits:
- "And big kudos to all the folks who provided inspiration for the farcial elements and obscene tragedies sprinkled throughout the book: the Viet Cong, the ARVN, the wacky Diem clan, a group of U.S. presidents with more hybris than historical perspective (the french warned us), and finally, Robert MacNamara, William Westmoreland, and the ladder climbers at the pentagon (c. 1960s) who somehow got the notion you could fight a war like taking a final for an M.B.A degree."
The novel was made available on BattleCorps on 31 December 2009 as a PDF file (text only, without cover, pictures or any other interior artwork except for the usual BattleCorps frame graphics). The PDF copy includes a disclaimer stating that it was created from a pre-final edition text that might differ from the printed version and that canon-wise, the print edition trumps the PDF edition.
(Unlike other BattleCorps publications, the PDF versions of print novels are not available for purchase.)
This novel is also available in an e-book version (.epub, .mobi), which lacks the disclaimer of the .pdf version.
 From the back cover
|“||Captain Paul Masters, a knight of the House of Marik, is well versed in the art of BattleMech combat. A veteran of countless battles, he personifies the virtues of the Inner Sphere MechWarrior. But when he is sent to evaluate a counterinsurgency operation on a backwater planet, he doesn't find the ideal war he expects. Instead of valiant patriots fighting villainous rebels, he discovers a guerrilla war—both sides have abandoned decency for expediency, ideals for body counts, and honor for victory. It's a dirty, dirty war...||”|
 Part 1 - Politics (Chapters 1 through 8)
Thomas Marik, Captain-General of the Free Worlds League, is having a personal dinner with a friend, Captain Paul Masters, in the Marik Palace on Atreus on 19 April 3054. Thomas Marik tells Masters that he has allowed the Word of Blake ("tens of thousands of religious zealots") to settle on Gibson. In return, he has received their combat reports on the Clans, which he had hoped would provide him with more information about the strange invaders on the other end of known space, but now he is worried to find that they contain nothing but numbers and statistics and make little sense to him - although Thomas Marik does have military experience and, like Word of Blake, served in ComStar and should be able to easily understand the reports. He deducts war is turning into a mere numbers game again, and goes on to explain his concept of the Knights of the Inner Sphere to Masters: A chivalric order as a military ruling class, to conduct battle in "the old ways" of ritualized battle like in the days of Lostech at the conclusion of the Third Succession War to control the ravages of the perpetual wars raging across the Inner Sphere. When they part, he gives Masters a copy of Le Morte d'Arthur.
On 1 January 3055, one hundred and fifty MechWarriors from all over the Free Worlds League, including Paul Masters, attend the inception ceremony of the Knights of the Inner Sphere and swear loyalty and fealty to Thomas Marik. In the wake of the celebrations Paul Masters encounters Countess Dystar of Gibson at the palace, a crude and endearing woman who tries to flirt with him. He also gets into a fist fight with Colonel Roush of the Regulan Hussars who thinks the Knights' honor code will weaken the League's resolve in war, and that Thomas Marik is upsetting the League's inner balance by building up a personal army. Later, Thomas Marik introduces Masters to William Blane, an old friend of Thomas from their ComStar days and now Word of Blake Precentor on Gibson. Blane came from Gibson to discuss a rebellion against the Word of Blake settlers that has evolved into a full-blown war over the past year. Countess Dystar as well as Principal Hsiang are sending mercenary infantry armies to suppress the uprising. Irritated to learn that one Precentor Martial Trent Arian of the Word of Blake has apparently assumed overall command over the loyal forces on Gibson now, and from being presented with obscure troop investment-to-casualty ratios presented by Blane to demonstrate that the loyalists are winning the war if given enough time, Thomas Marik decides to send newly knighted Sir Paul Masters back to Gibson with Blane to evaluate the situation.
Arriving on Gibson on January 22nd at the capital city of Portent, Masters receives a brief tour from Blane and finds that a welcome party has been arranged for him at Principal Hsiang's villa. He meets Assistant Precentor Starling and mysterious Maid Kris, among others, and notes that something is going on within the secure walls of the city where the nobility hide from the war outside.
 Part 2 - Killing (Chapters 9 through 16)
The following day, Masters in his Phoenix Hawk transfers to an outlying outpost and joins a loyalist infantry squad led by Sergeant "Chick" Jacobs. They are investigating the disappearance of another squad of twelve last night, and come upon the site of a battle in the forest where they find the mangled corpsed hanging from a tree, one of them rigged with a bomb. Masters is shocked by the irrational brutality displayed here. Back at the outpost he witnesses infantry being trained into senseless killers and immediately raises his concerns about this with Precentor Arian. Arian in turn is angry at being told how to train his soldiers, or how to lead his war, and rebukes Masters' ideas about civilized warfare as wishful thinking, also pointing out that Masters is under his command while fighting on Gibson.
Masters is then assigned to a Word of Blake lance of three BattleMechs (Blackjack, Shadow Hawk and Hatchetman). He learns that the loyalists are sending mercenary infantry patrols out to be ambushed, then rush in with reinforcements to inflict losses on the attacking Gibson Freedom League (GFL) rebels and score body counts, which in turn determine promotions for the officers in charge. Two of his fellow MechWarriors are young, fanatical Word of Blake followers; the third, Spinard, is a borderline schizophrenic who frequently produces the highest bodycounts, qualifying him as not only fit for battle but in fact the most valued soldier at the outpost. Masters also hears for the first time that there was fighting here on Gibson even before the Word of Blake arrived.
That night, the loyalist infantry comes under attack and the 'Mech lance comes to their assistance. Masters is stunned how the loyalists are hampering themselves by seeking to attain bureaucratic goals instead of military success, namely how they totally concentrate on producing and counting dead enemy bodies. He starts arguing with Lieutenant Valentine, the Blackjack pilot from his lance, when she begins to tab body parts and even a blood trail for a dead body, reaching an obviously exaggerated body count. Unlike Masters, who befriends "Chick" Jacobs, the Word of Blake MechWarriors care nothing about the losses of the loyalist mercenary infantry. While they count the dead, another friendly squad is ambushed and eradicated.
Several similar, though less violent night patrols follow. Precentor Arian is furious when Masters suggests to abandon the madness of the nightly "search-and-destroy" missions and especially when he questions the capabilities of the increasingly psychotic MechWarrior Spinard, who still scores the best kill ratings. Masters witnesses the indiscriminate slaughter of prisoners and is informed by Chick about torture practices and the apparently random designation of huge "free fire zones" wherein every body is declared a target, obviously only to rack up a high kill count.
The next day (February 6th), the 'Mech lance moves out in search of two enemy 'Mechs that have been spotted near the village of Padang. Valentine and Spinard take the fact that villagers are running away from their approaching 'Mechs as proof that they are enemy and, ignoring Masters' orders to stand down, begin to systematically kill everybody in town which they claim has been declared a free fire zone. Over the comm, Precentor Arian demands to know from Masters why he is jeopardizing the operation and only gives in when Masters in his Phoenix Hawk, observing that the villagers do not fight back, physically holds back Spinard's Hatchetman. Masters then orders the infantry to secure the village and help the wounded, but lacking proper equipment, all they can do is put the gravely wounded out of their misery. Beneath one of the buildings, a crate of antitank-missiles is found which the Word of Blake troops take as confirming their stance that the entire village is affiliated with the enemy. Two young boys, around 10 years of age, call for help, claiming their parents are dying in a wrecked building, but then (unsuccessfully) try to lure the soldiers into a tripwire trap; both boys are shot as the trap goes off.
Subsequently, Chick casually warns Masters that he overheard how Precentor Arian has ordered Lieutenant Valentine to arrest Masters over the radio. Since Chick and some of his men cannot take the killing anymore they offer to take Masters on their hovercraft and escape together. Masters accepts, but insists on escaping in his 'Mech and is wounded in the firefight that breaks out when Chick's hovercraft escapes. Pursued by his three former lancemates Valentine, Spinard and Belgrade, he runs off into the forest in his 'Mech until he arrives at a great lake, where his instruments suddenly indicate another 'Mech lance hidden in the water.
 Part 3 - Battles (Chapters 17 through 24)
A heavy lance (Crusader, Catapult, Rifleman, Quickdraw) from the Principality of Regulus emerges from the water and enganges both Masters and his pursuers. Masters can disable the Crusader, but Spinard's Hatchetman and Belgrade's Shadow Hawk are downed, as is Masters' Phoenix Hawk. He is taken prisoner by the Regulans, who turn out to be led by Colonel Roush.
Imprisoned together with MechWarrior Spinard at an underground GFL base, Masters gets to really talk to Spinard for the first time and finds that Spinard's mind snapped over the atrocities he was ordered to commit; all that Spinard now wants is to become one with the emotionless, flawless and impregnable machine that his 'Mech is, to leave his fear and sense of guilt behind.
Masters immdediately mounts an escape, but Spinard is killed by a stray bullet. Over the course of his flight through the GFL caves Masters comes across crates stenciled "Davey"-something, and finally escapes. He is eventually taken in by a farmer who has an equally low opinion on the GFL, loyalists and Word of Blake and explains the background of the war to Masters, namely that the GFL initially formed years ago to overthrow the hated and incompetent Principal Hsiang when their appeals to Countess Dystar and Thomas Marik fell on deaf ears, and that the arrival of the Word of Blake galvanized the resistance against Word of Blake who had immediately come to good terms with the local government. Masters is shocked to learn that Gibson has been pleading to the FWL leadership on Atreus for years already, something neither he nor Thomas Marik had been aware of. The GFL is now courting the Principality of Regulus for support, while Word of Blake has ursurped power from the inept Principal Hsiang and essentially purchased total freedom. The people on Gibson are now overtaxed to fund the war and fear that Word of Blake may seek to impose their religion on them; taxes and religion were the reasons why Gibson originally broke away from Regulus two hundred and fifty years ago and the people still feel very strongly about both issues.
Disguised in civilian clothes, Masters leaves his weapon behind and walks back to Portent, where he arrives after seven days. In the shantytown he is apprehended by Maid Kris, revealed to be a GFL agent. She further explains that Countess Dystar has been mediating between Principal Hsiang and Word of Blake (and previously, ComStar) for years to presumably profit from the unrest while keeping House Marik unaware of the local situation. She also informs Masters that Precentor Blane was arrested in the meantime and that his former assistant, Precentor Starling, has seized control of the Word of Blake on Gibson.
Realizing that Countess Dystar, Principal Hsiang and Word of Blake depend on each other but have different agendas, Masters and Maid Kris come up with a plan to play these factions against each other: At Hsiang's palace they start rumours that Dystar and the Word of Blake plan on supplanting Hsiang, which they add must be wrong as Precentor Blane is a friend of the people on Gibson and would never allow that (pretending to be backwater farmers unaware of Blane's recent arrest); at Dystar castle Masters sneaks into the Countess' quarters and "warns" her (at gunpoint) that Precentor Starling seeks to depose Hsiang and that Regulus is openly supporting the GFL, leaving her politically isolated. Seeing Hsiang's troops already on the move from her window convinces the Duchess that she needs to secure help from Word of Blake to maintain her control.
The seeds of mistrust planted by Masters and Kris quickly lead to armed forces of both Duchess Dystar and Principal Hsien, independently from each other, demanding Precentor Blane be handed over to them by Word of Blake. Before long, fighting breaks out in the city and in the ensuing chaos Masters and Maid Kris rescue Precentor Blane from prison. They intend to bring him to the HPG compound to send word about the situation to Atreus, but Blane informs them that he had already reported on Paul Masters going missing after fighting his own unit, and that Thomas Marik remained convinced that Masters was right whatever he was doing. Even while they speak, three DropShips carrying Thomas Marik and the Knights of the Inner Sphere descend on Portent's starport area.
The fighting immediately ends and the warring factions meet for negotiations on February 28th. Thomas Marik makes it clear to Countess Dystar that she has been remiss in her responsibilities, to Principal Hsiang (who is not technically under his jurisdiction) that he has sold out his people and is not taken seriously by anybody, and to Precentor Starling that the Word of Blake are only guests on Gibson and not its owners. Colonel Roush is also present, but is officially on leave from the Principality of Regulus, working on Gibson as a hired mercenary (so Regulus is not officially involved, although obviously backing the "mercenaries"). Marik strips Dystar of her lands and title and passes them all to Masters, despite her protests that she has not done anything that her predecessors had not done for centuries. At this point Roush pledges the support of his "mercenaries" to her, if she would lead Gibson back to the Principality of Regulus; Hsiang follows suit. GFL commander Deraa then pledges the GFL to the cause of Thomas Marik. Precentor Starling in turn declares that the Word of Blake cannot be on the same side as the GFL. To everybody's surprise Thomas Marik then declares that he will not allow the GFL to fight for him, as they are outlaw warriors. On the sidelines, Masters notes that something is going on between Deraa of the GFL and Colonel Roush but cannot find out more.
When all is said and done, Marik points out to Precentor Martial Arian that the Word of Blake 'Mechs are stationed within the city and that a fight there would flatten the city. While Precentor Starling sees this as a strong position, Marik and Arian draw parallels to the Clan ways of conducting warfare: Arian confesses that the defenders had dug in in the cities, virutally forcing the Clans to attack them there even though they probably would have preferred not to. Similarly, the nuclear bombing of Turtle Bay was justified under Clan tenets, as they had not expected the civilians to rise up against the warriors after surrendering their world. Eventually Marik and Arian agree to meet with their forces for a fight outside the city to avoid collateral damage.
At the heighth of the showdown battle, which occurs on March 3rd, the GFL arrives with armed vehicles. To his horror, Masters remembers the crates he saw at their base and identifies the weapons as Davey Crockett-type nuclear warheads. The GFL admit to having received these from the Regulans and now intend to use them against the Regulan and Word of Blake forces with cruel determination. Attacking the six launchers, Masters cannot prevent two of the nuclear devices from being detonated on the battlefield where they inflict losses on the Regulans. Roush then wants to fall back into the city, but Precentor Martial Arian refuses to fight there and surrenders his forces to Thomas Marik and the Knights instead, ending the battle.
Afterwards, Paul Masters is inaugurated as Count of Gibson and arranges for the election of a new Principal. Word of Blake may stay on Gibson, but not rule it. In the spirit of the Knights of the Inner Sphere, mercenaries are outlawed on all worlds directly rules by Thomas Marik including Gibson.
- The "Thomas Marik" who features prominently in the novel is actually the body double known as "False Thomas Marik", as revealed in later publications.
- Masters and Blane travel to the planet of Gibson (within the system) with the JumpShip and their DropShip only detaches in orbit, suggesting their "JumpShip" was in fact a WarShip.
- The book's cover depicts an Awesome bearing the crest of the Lyran Commonwealth, fighting a Marauder displaying the logo of the Gray Death Legion. Neither 'Mech nor faction are even mentioned in the novel.
 Featured characters
- Word of Blake Precentor Martial Trent Arian
- Word of Blake Precentor William Blane
- Countess Dystar of Gibson
- Captain-General Thomas Marik
- Captain Paul Masters, Knight of the Inner Sphere
- Colonel Nathen Roush of the Regulan Hussars
 Featured places
 Featured Units
- Knights of the Inner Sphere
- Gibson Freedom League (GFL)
 Featured BattleTech
- Phoenix Hawk - Masters' 'Mech is a modified PXH-3M, having exchanged one ER Large Laser for a SRM rack.
- Shadow Hawk
- Earthwerks T-420 hovercraft. Sports a Dryfus support machine gun.
- Davey Crockett nuclear missiles