|Mech Warrior Dark Age |
An All-New Epic Story Begins
An Inevitable War...
Since the failure of the interplanetary communications system, the ages-long peace within The Republic of the Sphere has begun to shatter. Power-hungry factions—such as the Steel Wolves—are raiding vulnerable worlds to establish their own rule...
As a gateway to Earth, the planet of Northwind has strategic value—making it an exposed target to the splintering factions emerging across The Republic—and Countess Tara Campbell will not allow her home to fall into enemy hands. Offering military assistance, The Republic sends Paladin Ezekiel Crow and his fully armed BattleMech to help defend Northwind.
MechWarrior Anastasia Kerensky, she of the infamous bloodline, has her sights set on possessing Northwind—and what Anastasia wants, Anastasia usually gets. But first she must contend with the deadly politics of the Steel Wolves before she embarks on a conquest that could lead to the very heart of The Republic itself...
Sample ChapterNorthwind: The Fort, City of Tara
November, 3133; local winter
Tara Campbell, Countess of Northwind and Prefect of Prefecture III, stood alone in the Hall of Warriors in the Fort of the Northwind Highlanders. The day's meeting was done, and the chamber was empty. No grave and serious warriors watched her from their places on benches of time-worn, polished oak, looking out across data terminals and communications arrays whose bright screens and metallic reflections gave an incongruous touch of workaday modernity to the stark and ancient chamber.
The room's only illumination came from units built into the walls and ceiling—at this time of day, with the chamber mostly deserted, they put forth only a dim and murky light. Outside the Hall of Warriors, Tara knew that the vast stone bulk of the Fort would still be touched and warmed by the last rays of the sun as it set behind the Rockspire Mountains, painting the sky above Northwind's capital city with vivid streaks of red and orange.
Away to the northern part of the Fort complex lay the New Barracks—a commonplace term for the collection of sprawling stone buildings that had housed the main elements of the Northwind Highlanders ever since they had ceased to be a far-flung mercenary force and had come home to defend their own planet instead. The main armory and the training simulators were also located in the New Barracks, as were a set of living quarters provided as a matter of regimental courtesy to the Prefect whenever he or she was resident on Northwind. Only a few months ago, those quarters would have been offered to Katana Tormark; but Duchess Tormark had broken her oath to The Republic of the Sphere, and had openly declared for House Kurita and the Dragon's Fury.
And to think I led the cheering when they first made that woman Prefect, Tara thought bitterly. I lacked the experience and the seasoning for the job, I said when my name was mentioned, and I told them to choose Katana Tormark instead. She had everything that was needed—the Academy training, the administrative experience, the impressive battlefield record—everything, it turns out, except loyalty. Now she's gone and I'm standing here in her place, and everything I said about myself, that compared to Duchess Tormark I was young and untested and green, is as true now as it was before.
But I, at least, am loyal.
She turned away from the speaker's platform and walked across the floor to the shallow stone steps that led upward to the double doors at the far end of the empty hall. The corridor outside the Hall of Warriors was likewise empty, though of more modern construction and considerably better lit.
"Working late, ma'am?"
The voice of the security guard stationed outside the chamber startled her. I'm getting jumpy, she thought.
"Yes," she said. "I was. But I'm done for the night."
"Will you be wanting an escort to your quarters?"
"Thanks, no," she replied. The walk to the Barracks wasn't long, and passed through the heart of the Fort complex. "See that all stays secure."
"Aye. Good night, ma'am."
Tara was aware of the echoes of her own footsteps as she walked down the corridor toward the elevator on the north rotunda.
The rotunda was dark, and the elevator was a glass-enclosed booth that scooted down the wall into the lower lobby. Tara found this out of place and disturbing for some reason—her mind kept telling her that this elevator belonged in the Senate Chambers on Terra, rather than here on Northwind. She told her mind to be quiet, and entered the elevator.
The door shut behind her. The elevator began to descend.
The lights everywhere were dim. Outside the walls it would be full night by now, and the entire building was deserted. That too, she thought, was wrong. The Fort was never completely empty. It was above all else a military installation, with troopers standing guard and officers on watch night and day.
She told her mind to stop picking at insignificant details, and rode the elevator down.
As she descended into the dark, a shadow moved below her—a shadow in human form. Tara looked again.
The person down there is a woman, she thought. And she moves—she moves like —
The elevator reached the bottom of its transit just as the shadow-woman moved forward. Tara gasped, but managed to maintain her composure.
"Katana!" she said.
"Yes," the other woman said. "I've come back. I've come back for you."
"I knew that you were loyal," Tara said. "But why didn't you tell me?"
"Because—" two swords whispered from their sheaths "—facing you in a 'Mech wouldn't be nearly as satisfying as slicing you to pieces hand to hand."
Tara fell backwards, avoiding the twin blows that sliced through the air where she had been standing, rolled to her feet, and feinted right. A katana—the long sword of the samurai—was nothing to take on barehanded. But she didn't have a choice; the lobby of the Senate Chamber wasn't the sort of area that was full of the makings of improvised weapons.
"This is going to be fun," Katana said.
Her right-hand blade made a whistling sound as she spun it forward and down toward where Tara had moved. The second blade came in from the side, waist-high.
Tara retreated again, spinning to let the whirling steel miss her.
"Katana!" she said. "What are you doing here? And why—"
She leapt again. The last attack had come too close, slicing the cloth above her chest.
"You lured me here."
"No, it was me."
The voice came from behind them. A man's voice. The security guard. How did he get here? Tara wondered, in the instant before Katana brought both her blades across the space Tara had been occupying. But instead of feeling steel bite through flesh, the Duchess found herself facing a guard with a drawn handgun.
"What have you done with Tara Campbell?" he asked.
The light was dim, and getting dimmer. And Tara was . . .
. . . awake, and tangled in the sheets of her bed in the Barracks, with the early-morning sunlight hitting her in the face. She lay still for a few minutes, waiting for the adrenaline rush from the nightmare to subside. Finally, she gave up on trying to relax and rose to a sitting position.
"Never mind trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep," she said aloud. "I'm going to go over to the armory, and I'm going to fight something in a simulator that knows it's a simulator, and that I know is a simulator, and I'm going to fight it until it's dead."
She got out of bed and dressed hastily in a plain set of uniform fatigues. After a brief moment's consideration, she pulled a dark fleece changing-robe out of her closet and added it to the zippered bag that held her MechWarrior's neurohelmet and cooling vest. Fighting in a simulator was almost as hot and sticky a job as fighting in a real 'Mech—the training wouldn't be any good if that weren't the case—and she didn't want to risk taking a chill when she left the simulator for the colder air outside.
The main floor of the armory was all but deserted when she entered. She exchanged salutes with the sergeant on duty at the front desk, said "If anybody needs me in the next hour or so, I'm going to be training in the 'Mech simulator," and within minutes was exorcizing the last vestiges of her nightmare in a scenario featuring a single Hatchetman 'Mech against two tanks, a hovercraft, and a full platoon of armored infantry.
She reduced both tanks and the hovercraft to smoking rubble within the first fifteen minutes, but the infantry proved more recalcitrant, harassing her 'Mech with rifle fire and grenades in an attempt to distract her from a fire team with a laser cannon that was maneuvering for position. The simulated game of high-firepower tag that resulted went on for almost half an hour, and had not yet reached a conclusion when the communications rig inside the simulator buzzed and crackled.
" . . . Colonel Michael Griffin . . ." it said, between bursts of static.
The outside sound pickup wasn't as good as it would have been in a real 'Mech; the audio portion in a simulation came over the internal system, and the simulator's designers had paid more attention to blocking out external noise than they did to admitting it.
" . . . important news."