Sleight of Hand
|Sleight of Hand|
|First published||6 January 2005|
|Era||Clan Invasion era|
|Timeline||27 July 3057|
|“||In answer to the many calls to tell more fiction set in the Free Worlds League, Kevin Killiany has brought us a quick-and-dirty adventure following the plight of a League MechWarrior beset by factions at war. He also shows us that a MechWarrior can find help in many different places.||”|
The Falcons regiment of the Silver Hawk Irregulars are deployed alongside the First Free Worlds Guards to recapture Callison from the Federated Commonwealth. Sergeant Julianne Pederson and the other three members of her four-Wasp lance are conducting reconnaissance around the western edge of Harzburg, a city based around trade and tourism and which had been a major population center prior to it being devastated during the Fourth Succession War. Thirty years later, two-thirds of the city had been rebuilt by the Federated Commonwealth and the city was rumored to be a possible stronghold for the Planetary Militia, and perhaps even the focus of popular support for the Commonwealth on the planet.
Jules' sensors pick up a heavy 'Mech concealed inside a building, causing alarm amongst her lancemates as FWLM intelligence had indicated only light and medium 'Mechs within the Militia forces. The only Militia forces believed to be in Harzburg were a single medium lance, one of which was an UrbanMech, making the presence of a heavy 'Mech a very unwelcome surprise. As Jules' lance moves to investigate, one of her lancemates detects a Wyvern approaching at high speed - presenting the riddle of how a FedCom Planetary Militia could gain access to a top of the line ComStar design. The Wyvern guns for Jules' Mech, and she works with her lancemates to try and overpower the enemy 'Mech, all of them moving quickly through the streets and around the buildings, trying to avoid being drawn into an open park nearby where the Wyvern would enjoy a distinct advantage.
Jules' tries to land her Wasp on the roof of a nearby building while fighting the Wyvern, only to crash through the skylight of a hotel, landing four or five floors down inside the building. Approached by a large, grey-haired woman who tells her to get out of her 'Mech quickly, the woman drags a bemused Jules into her room, quickly telling her to call her "Auntie" and that she should use the name Lilith; introducing the teenager in the room as "your cousin, Cole" the woman states that she's Cole's Grandmother and that she should pretend they're all visiting from New Rolso. Even as Auntie is damping Jules' hair down with a shower nozzle and shoving her into a large bathrobe, onlookers and a squad from the local militia are arriving in the hotel, looking for the 'Mech and it's pilot. Cole tells everyone that the 'Mech landed empty, and that the pilot must've ejected while it was still in the air.
With Auntie covering for Jules, a number of the hotel guests are evacuated further into what turns out to be a large mall, and Jules quickly spots a route she could use to pilot her Wasp out of the complex, if she can get back into it. Auntie details briefly what the attitudes amongst the local population are like; some are loyal to the Silver Hawks Coalition, some are loyal to the Commonwealth, many will simply be loyal to whoever's winning, and a small percentage are even loyal to Skye - remembering the period in which Callison was member of the Federation of Skye. When Jules asks if Auntie has heard anything about a strange 'Mech nearby, the older woman confirms that the militia have been hunting for what's rumored to be a prototype from the First Guards and which has been playing cat and mouse with the militia ever since it got cut off from its regiment.
Escorted by a security guard in plain clothes named Marsh, Auntie bluffs a way back into the elevator with Jules, ostensibly to collect clothes from their hotel room. Jules is surprised when, having reached the correct floor and confirmed that no other security personnel are around, Marsh proceeds to hit himself in the face with his own radio before slamming his hand - and the sidearm clutched in it - against the elevator wall, battering and bruising it and breaking at least one finger. Recognising him as a League loyalist like herself, Auntie capitalises on his work by having Jules damage her robe with her laser pistol to create the cover story of her overpowering them both.
Satisfied with the cover story, Auntie reveals herself to a faintly bemused Jules as Technical Sergeant Whilhemina Currie, a former member of the Falcons who had been trapped on Callison on furlough when the Fourth Succession War erupted. After asking if an acquaintance of hers is still serving - someone Jules recognises as the Falcons Commanding Officer, Colonel Lorch - who Currie refers to as "Stork" - Currie covers for Jules' escape efforts by calling in a warning that the Wasp is attempting to escape, allowing the hotel security forces to evacuate people from the floors below who might otherwise have been hurt as the 'Mech moves through the complex.
Carefully moving slowly and stepping around where possible, Jules moves out of the complex - pausing only long enough to destroy a militia truck that attempts to engage her with its machine gun - Jules sets off in pursuit of the Wyvern again. Tracking the battle through the park from the damage inflicted, Jules comes to suspect that the Wyvern's missile launcher isn't working, but soon finds one of her lancemates' Wasps abandoned with a destroyed cockpit, and then the remains of a J-27 Ordnance Transport the militia had modified by hastily mounting the AC/10 from a fallen UrbanMech on it.
Moving to investigate the site where the mysterious heavy 'Mech had been, Jules uncovers - and greatly surprises - a group of technicians from the militia inside the building. The militia techs claim that they had worked frantically to help the damaged heavy 'Mech get moving; having repaired or replaced damaged armour and heat sinks, the techs had been unable to restore the 'Mechs weapon systems. Referring to the 'Mech as a Perseus, the techs indicate that the electronics on the 'Mech were still functioning, and that the pilot had kept them away from those same electronics, suggesting that it was those systems the pilot was most determined to keep out of the hands of the Federated Commonwealth.
Before the Perseus left, the techs had passed him what information the militia had managed to obtain on the location of the Falcons' command center; Jules swiftly sets out to try and find and escort the Perseus, knowing that the FedCom-loyal militia troops have already shown themselves to be tenacious enough that the Wyvern would likely try and attack the Perseus, despite being heavily outweighed - and would soon work out that the Perseus was effectively unarmed. Spotting the Wyvern vectoring in to attack the Perseus, which is moving particularly slowly, Jules tries to call for reinforcements, despite knowing that three of her four communications antennae have been destroyed, and attempts to intercept the FedCom 'Mech.
Making contact with her own forces, Jules spots the Wyvern landing a missile hit on the Perseus and soon finds herself being targeted by a concealed militia tank, even as a militia Whitworth moves out of cover and attempts to target her. With a Falcon lance moving quickly to reinforce her, headed up by Captain D'Condi's Huron Warrior, Jules sees the militia 'Mechs - joined by a third militia 'Mech, a Dervish - begin firing at the approaching League 'Mechs. Jules becomes suspicious when she realises that none of the militia 'Mechs are targeting the Perseus, and moves to investigate; realising that something is very wrong, she calls for D'Condi's lance to fire on the Perseus as a priority, seconds before it explodes, the blast throwing her Wasp into something solid enough to knock her out.
Jules wakes up in an infirmary, loopy from mediciation, later - for long enough to pass on Currie's details to Colonel Logan, before passing out again; waking up twenty-four hours later, Jules is coherent enough to explain what happened in person to Logan. The tipping point for her was not being able to detect any electronics on the Perseus, despite the techs indicating that it was supposedly equipped with prototypes valuable enough the militia were fighting to the death to obtain it; realising that what she had seen but not registered in the cement factory the 'Mech had been concealed in were parts from the inside of a 'Mech and large quantities of explosive, and putting it together with the 'Mech silhouette she had originally detected, which looked like an Orion, Jules had worked out that the techs had hollowed out an old 'Mech and filled it with explosives. Logan confirms that the 'Mech was a barely-functional Orion, likely salvage from the Fourth Succession War, into which the techs had packed fifty tonnes of explosives; the AC/10 Jules had spotted welded to a J-27 truck was actually from that Orion, and the militia had been spreading disinformation about the presence of a crashed Perseus in an effort to persuade the Falcons to rescue it... and load it aboard their command DropShip. The militia were unaware that Jules had actually detected their trojan horse during her reconnaissance run, and Logan confirms that Perseus prototypes do exist - four had been deployed with the First Guards, and he would've fallen for the ploy if not for her.
Jules at one point notes the smell of "centuries of sweat" beginning to bake out of the "ancient neo-leather command couch" within her cockpit. This indicates that either her cockpit or her 'Mech were old - although the WSP-3M variant of the Wasp was introduced in canon as an updated variant in Technical Readout: 3050, produced as a result of information obtained from the Helm Memory Core.