Under the Shadows of the Stars
|Under the Shadows of the Stars|
|First published||28 September 2007|
|Era||Clan Invasion era|
|Timeline||1 January-2 May 3059|
Under the Shadows of the Stars is a story by Jason Schmetzer that was published online on BattleCorps on 28 September 2007. Page count suggests the story could be regarded as either a novella (which falls under BattleCorps' definition of "short fiction") or a novel; it is therefore categorized as both a novel and a short story.
- 1 Teaser text
- 2 Plot summary
- 3 Featured Locations
- 4 Featured BattleTech
|“||In the deep dark of the Periphery there is little light to illuminate the evil that men are capable of doing to each other. Sometimes it become necessary to bring the light to them in the form of a cleansing fire. When a mercenary unit takes on a vicious pirate band, even the light must bend.||”|
01 Jan 3059
DCMS Supply Station Roku is located on the Deep Periphery world of Durham, and performs a vital role: It's the logistical hub for supplies moving out to forty-seven assorted Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery, Internal Security Force and Explorer Corps operations being conducted in the spinward Periphery as part of the campaign against the Clans. Elsebeth van Tassel—former Leftenant Colonel in the Armed Forces of the Federated Commonwealth, and a countess in her own right—has been hired along with her mercenary unit, the Hessian Horsemen, because Tai-i Samuel Cooper, the commanding officer of the outpost, has a problem. A local pirate band approximately a company in size watches for the DropShips arriving and leaving, and regularly raids Roku. By concealing supplies and keeping his personnel in bunkers, Cooper has managed to keep the operation running, but the pirates are showing up like clockwork, killing those they find in the open, taking any prisoners found in detention cells as slaves, ransacking the administration building and blowing up the sewage processing plant. The pirates are placing operations in jeopardy, and the Horseman have been hired to stop them. Complicating the Hessian's mission is that no-one knows where the pirates are operating from—but there are nineteen habitable systems within a thirty light year radius of Durham, and forty within two jumps... of which only four have been explored.
02 Jan 3059
Having planted a prisoner in the cells ready for the pirate arrival, the morning of the 2nd of January finds Elsebeth and her command concealed outside the base, waiting. A company of Horsemen armor are guarding her grounded DropShips, while her six Thunderbird aerospace fighters are lurking in the skies above. Her two Invader-class JumpShips had already positioned themselves in the system while the Hessians were on approach to Durham, one JumpShip moving to each of the nadir and zenith jump points and depositing an Intruder-class assault ship with a contingent of marines aboard them. There, they wait for signs of the pirates emerging at either jump point. Inside the prison cell, Leftenant Indri Marcus is settling into her role, and making her feelings for her cellmate clear; Jiro, caught raping a seventeen-year-old girl from Rasalhague who worked as a part of the supply ship's crew, has been sentenced to return to the Draconis Combine for execution, and still bears the markings of the beating given to him by the squadmates who caught him.
The pirates duly arrive, approaching from a pirate point close enough to the planet that the Hessian's satellites and orbiting Thunderbirds receive little warning, but the warning they receive is enough to ensure that the ground forces are ready. Elsebeth and her lancemates ambush a pair of pirate 'Mechs—a Bombardier and a Guillotine—before deliberately breaking off to lead them towards the administration building, where the two pirate DropShips have grounded. While the pilot of a pirate Star League Defense Force-vintage Sentinel arrives in the detention center in time to watch Indri bludgeoning her unpleasant cellmate unconscious, Elsebeth ambushes the two pirate 'Mechs for a second time, destroying the Guillotine and sending the Bombardier scurrying for the pirate landing zone.
Inside the detention center the Sentinel pilot, John Blanton, spars verbally with Indri as she slowly reveals her cover story, claiming to have been incarcerated for taking a 'Mech out without permission, spilling details about Elsebeth and the Hessian's mission convincingly enough that Blanton frees her... at which point she kills Jiro, citing the execution as a public service before leaving with Blanton. Frustratingly for Elsebeth, the pirates are running behind schedule, but are still being observed by her troops, including her VTOL commander, Captain Cade Warrent, a descendant of the First Succession War hero of New Rhodes. From the beginning of the raid the pirates have concentrated on looting one specific warehouse building, a clear indication that someone within the supply station is telling them what to go for.
Pressed by the Hessians, the pirates begin falling back after less than three hours on Durham. But Indri learns while riding in the cockpit of Blanton's Sentinel that the pirates are falling back because they've already taken what they need, although the loss of the Guillotine is an upset that Blanton will have to explain back on their JumpShip. The Bombardier soon falls as well, attempting to fight Elsebeth's Vindicator at short range despite already being damaged.
Indri wakes in Blanton's quarters aboard the pirate DropShip, and learns that she's now one of the pirates—who Blanton cheerfully confirms know all of the pirate points around Durham. When she pushes, he reveals their identity, showing her a unit patch depicting a mounted warrior with a curved sword riding to a white sunset, and welcoming her to the Cossacks.
Meanwhile, Elsebeth and two of her lancemates meet again with Cooper and his two Chu-is and reveal the identity of Indri, provoking a confrontation when Elsebeth announces that she knows the three Combine officers have been talking with the pirates and leaving the supplies they demand in a particular warehouse for each raid. Cooper defends their actions as being essential to ensuring the base continues to survive and remain hidden, and states that his oyabun is content with the arrangement—one that Elsebeth intends to take advantage of, after her lancemates have rendered the chu-is unconscious to confirm that everyone understands where exactly they stand.
19 Jan 3059
Taking just a day to rendezvous with their JumpShip, the pirates and Indri are in the city of Kerman on Isfahan, a planet located barely a week from its own jump points. The pirate cantonment is located outside the city, kept clear of the local population by a high wall and a daytime 'Mech patrol, and the world is bright, hot and dusty, with wind from the desert bringing grit into the city on a regular basis. Indri is struck by the contrast between Kerman and the cities she knew on Hamilton, but spends an hour exploring the market with Blanton as escort. The market is a mix of sundries from a dozen worlds and the merchandise she expected to see in a pirate stronghold—guns, knives, slaves, spare parts. Some of the items on sale are surprisingly new, like the latest Imperator AX-22 assault rifle, sold by khat-chewing armorers.
Exposed to the caged slaves—referred to as "pongoes" by Blanton—Indri learns a little of how the local economy works; the local currency is the bit, representative of the grain-sized particles of gold collected once a year from areas of the desert where the plates rise and the sand can be sifted with water to extract the valuable metal. A single coin worth less than a Lyran kroner has an equivalent value of three to four thousand bits on Isfahan, and a nineteen-year-old slave girl has a selling price of four hundred bits. Blanton uses the old adage about life being cheap while 'Mechs aren't to make a point—on Isfahan, life isn't cheap, because something has to have a value to be cheap.
27 Jan 3059
Out on the practice fields on Durham, Cooper and Elsebeth watch elements of her command training—four platoons of infantry defending a building from a company of Schrek PPC Carriers, with a squadron of new Cavalry VTOLs supporting the infantry. Cooper realises that he's being given instruction, even though Elsebeth has ordered the Schrek's to use inferior tactics to prove a point with the infantry and Cavalry. While her subordinates banter, Elsebeth receives a signal she's been waiting for...
24 Jan 3059
Indri finally gets to meet Salander White, the captain of the Cossacks—Corazon's Cossacks, as she finally learns. Pushing White, Indri argues for the chance to pilot a 'Mech, while White confirms that although the pilots might drive the 'Mechs, every 'Mech on Isfahan is his—and that while Blanton has tested her in the simulators and thinks she has potential, White will meet her demands to not go into the pens by simply executing her if she fails his assessment.
Indri's test is simple; to take the aging Striker that was Blanton's ride before he moved into the Sentinel, go out into the training area and fight a lance of Cossacks already there. All she has to do is defeat two of them to pass. Indri's opponents are a Mongoose, an Exterminator and a pair of Crabs. The pirate 'Mechs work well together using decent tactics, but Indri manages to destroy the Exterminator and the Mongoose before being felled in turn, gaining membership of the Cossacks.
24 Feb 3059
At the zenith jump point in the Labbezanga system the marines of the Intruder-class DropShip Corvine board a pirate Merchant-class JumpShip; one squad is lost when their shuttle is destroyed on approach, but the other three squads battle their way through the JumpShip, which has a much larger crew than expected. Meanwhile, the Corvine's sister ship Raven is ready at the nadir jump point to do the same, should any other pirate vessels appear.
04 Mar 3059
Indri and the other Cossacks are at a smelting plant outside Santin on Labbezanga, delivering slave labour and collecting booty when they detect airborne forces approaching—despite the fact that there should be nothing on the world that can fly other than pirates. Realising that the VTOLs are from the Hessians, Indri tries to find a way to get their attention without falling victim to them.
Flying through the pirate position on a fast recon run, Warrent's Cavalry VTOLs confirm the presence of a dozen Cossack 'Mechs on the ground, six active and six warming up; wanting to inflict at least some damage, he orders a strike on Indri's Striker, even as Indri misleads the Cossacks with genuine-sounding advice on Elsebeth's tactics, forcing them to split their attention.
Alerted to Indri's presence, Warrent breaks off the attack; on the ground, Indri convinces Blanton that the Hessians will be going for the pirate DropShips, and that someone in Santin must've betrayed them. Rather than trying to power through, she suggests making the Hessians come to them, letting the Cossacks destroy them piecemeal—tactics Blanton approves of.
Reassured that Indri is alive, Elsebeth realises she has to let the pirates go; the navcomputers on the Merchant were wiped by the pirates before the ship fell, and without the location of the pirate base, she can't complete her contract. Aware that all of the pirate 'Mechs are Star League era relics and therefore likely to be more advanced than most of her own command, Elsebeth and Vinson, one of her officers, debate tactics while in the pirate camp, Indri and Blanton face down dissenters within the pirate ranks who distrust Indri.
05 Mar 3059
While Blanton leads the Cossacks through the jungle parallel to the road back to Santin, Indri is goaded constantly by Hendricks, the pilot of the Exterminator she defeated during the training exercise. The pirates make reasonable time, but don't realise that infantry scouts from the Hessians are lurking in the woods, and have detected them.
At the DropPort, Elsebeth and her officers firm their plan up; leaving two 'Mech lances in the forefront as bait, with a heavier lance waiting further back to reinforce them, Elsebeth wants to lure the Cossacks in and inflict enough damage that they'll only be able to make a grab for the grounded Mule-class DropShip, rather than the Union. The Raven has deliberately left a Scout-class JumpShip intact and unmolested at the nadir jump point for the pirates to retreat to, and has deliberately had her guards on the Mule let slip to the pirates that the Merchant at the zenith jump point had been captured.
The pirates camp for the night, and Indri discusses the upcoming battle with Blanton, struggling with her growing attraction for the pirate; against her better judgement, she sleeps with him, despite knowing that she's going to betray him and the rest of the Cossacks.
06 Mar 3059
The Hessians catch the pirates by surprise, with Hendrick's Exterminator taking the brunt of the opening volley. The battle is closely fought, but the Hessians consistently have the upper hand, forcing the pirates to retreat. Indri urges Blanton to fall back, but he acts as a rearguard, covering the other Cossacks as they retreat. Several pirate 'Mechs are defeated along with at least one Hessian 'Mech before Blanton's Sentinel explodes.
Two days later, Elsebeth and her troops make it back to Santin and find the city in flames and the Mule gone; waiting for her is a package from Indri, containing a data chip that belonged to Blanton and the location of the pirate base... as well as a note, saying that whatever else Blanton was, he was her friend.
24 Apr 3059
Having captured the Scout and escaped using its pre-programmed jump to a small star barely an hour ahead of a pursuing Hessian Intruder, the Cossacks are finally back on Isfahan, trying to explain to an outraged White how they've returned with seven 'Mechs missing along with their Union and the expected booty.
One of the pirate lance commanders, Morrissey, confirms to White that he destroyed Santin to punish the locals for cooperating with the Hessians, only for White to call for his immediate execution, incensed at the destruction of a friendly city. The Cossacks had been using Santin for resupply, confident that they wouldn't have to deal with hostile defenses, and the loss of Santin means the loss of the ore they traded for—ore that they needed to trade with the Harwell family on Cable for ammunition. With no other easy source within a hundred light years, Morrissey's intemperate actions have made life harder for the Cossacks, and Indri—who would already have killed Morrissey on Labbezanga, if she'd had an opportunity—quickly puts a bullet in his head. Indri's swift action both amuses White and convinces him of her version of events, and he begins reorganizing the Cossacks while planning his next move.
One of the other pirates, Harker, corners Indri in Blanton's quarters; after a brief discussion of Blanton, Harker reveals that he saw Indri and Blanton together, saw Indri leaving Blanton's tent in the middle of the night, and was told by Morrissey—the pirate closest to Indri during Blanton's last stand—that he knows Indri watched the fight without firing and then retreated.
Knowing that Morrissey's ROMs will have recorded whatever he saw, Indri is attempting to gain access to his Champion when White appears in nondescript garb. White offers her the Champion, and when she declines, declares that he knows its because Blanton gave her the Striker and that she clearly had feelings for him. White describes Blanton as his friend and a good man, and remarks that he was never quite happy with the Cossacks. White is still talking to Indri when they spot moving objects in the night sky—approaching Hessians DropShips.
Elsebeth lands on Isfahan with everything, while in space her marines have captured the Scout and destroyed a Buccaneer-class DropShip. Evan as her Thunderbirds are buzzing the city, half her marines are infiltrating the city on the ground while White prepared to march the Cossacks out and fight. The marines quickly reach the market, and when they discover the slave pens, they quickly record what they can see for broadcast to the rest of the unit, to let the Hessians know what it is they're fighting for on Isfahan. The marines work to evacuate the slaves, transporting them aboard APCs back to the grounded DropShips for medical help, even as a desperate local pleads with them to stop, for fear of the Captain (White) returning to kill them all.
Sitting in the cockpit of her Striker, Indri works to convince herself that her reason to fight is to avenge Blanton by killing the pirates who turned him into something he wasn't. Taking up a rear position in White's column, Indri plots her revenge. Distracted by the Thunderbirds flying overhead, White and the other pirates throw up some ground-to-air fire; when a nearby Black Knight detects Indri's transponder beginning to give the signal that tells the Hessians she's a friendly, Indri fires her PPC through the Black Knight's cockpit and announces herself as Leftenant Indri Marcus before breaking for cover, leading the pirates in a chase through the city.
Harker leads the pursuit of Indri, taunting her with the name "little bird"—a term of affection Blanton used when referring to her. The signs of the two fighting are picked up by the Hessians, who move to engage even as the pirates begin shooting down the Cavalry VTOLs, but not before one Cavalry manages to destroy a Hussar seconds before being shot down by White. Incensed by the losses being taken, Elsebeth takes the lead in the Hessian charge and quickly finds herself facing three Cossack 'Mechs on her own.
Reinforced by her lancemates, Elsebeth pushes into the pirate force, coming face to face with White's Highlander while Indri finds herself fighting both Harker's Lancelot and an Excalibur. With her forces dispersed across the city, Elsebeth faces the real risk of being overrun as White's 'Mech proves devastatingly effective.
Indri manages to down the Lancelot, charging it and driving both of them into a building, only to nearly fall prey to the Excalibur while she struggles with unconsciousness. Saved at the last moment by a Hessian Banshee that destroys the Excalbur from behind, allowing her to escape, Indri is able to rejoin Elsebeth just in time to see White defeated.
02 May 3059
Cooper is conveyed to Isfahan to see what the Hessians have achieved, but Indri is under no illusions that the fragile order instilled by the presence of the Hessians will remain after they leave, or that the Combine will bother installing a garrison on the planet. Having remained on Durham after the Hessians left, Cooper had managed to persuade the next pirate raiding party to set off in pursuit of the Hessians, bringing his own infantry forces to reinforce the Hessians.
While Cooper is busy on Isfahan, Elsebeth takes the chance to see Indri in private, listening to her talk about Blanton and his role in the unit.
- Cable (mentioned)
- Durham (deep periphery)
- Hamilton (mentioned)
- New Rhodes (mentioned)
- Black Knight
- Grand Dragon
- MAD-5S Marauder
- STC-2C Striker
- Intruder-class Corvine and Raven
- Leopard-class Tisiphone
- unspecified class (Ramshackle)