Chapter Twenty One
Perigard Zalman was both angry and confused. His anger always remained close to the surface, but the Jade Falcons’ behaviour had left it a raging torrent. He wanted to strike at them repeatedly, yet they chose to flee. That in itself was unlike them, as was the disobedience of their fighter pilots. Although, one of his Mechwarriors had claimed to see a reversed Falcon emblem. Zalman was inclined to put that down to the obvious cranial damage the man had suffered, when his escape pod activated.
“My Khan,” came a flat voice across his circuit, “new targets, closing fast. I count ten Mechs plus a number of Elemental Stars.”
“More Jade Falcons?”
“It would appear so, however first reports indicate non-typical behaviour,” there was silence for a moment, then the voice came back puzzled, “They are demanding our withdrawal, My Khan. A Khan Sheehan claims this world in the name of the Dark Falcons. He says we have interfered in the affairs of his planet and his war against the Jade Falcons. If we leave now, he will grant us Hegira.”
“Dark Falcons?,” Zalman’s voice was pensive, “Spheroid trash, no doubt. There will be no mercy for such as they. Relay my answer.”
Again, there was only static and Zalman demanded a reply from his warrior, “What do they say?”
“The khan’s answer is….”
Zalman could hear the sound of battle and shouts over the comm. circuit. He tried to interpose some discipline, but a strange voice interposed itself amidst the furore of weapons fire.
“…You had your chance.”
Jax drove his men hard. Somewhere nearby, their comrades were engaged with the Clan forces and he had no intention of being left out of the fight.
“What have you gathered from the comm. chatter?” he asked Elias.
“It seems that Khan Sheehan has taken the battle direct to both sets of Clansmen,” said the Tech, “and that we will have our own set of company, shortly.”
“Why is that?” Jax watched the Tech’s face, which was lit by the colours from the screen in front of him.
“We have Omnimech’s coming our way,” Elias said.
“Whose?” asked Jax, as he prepared to leave the APC in which he was travelling.
“Not ours,” replied Elias, “and they are approaching at top speed.”
“Never a dull moment,” muttered Jax.
“And Sir?” there was a tremble in the Tech’s voice, something that Jax had never heard before.
“Yes…?” the question hung in the air for a moment.
“Drop pods, Sir,” answered Elias, as he continued to stare at the screen.
“Don’t tell me,” Jax said sarcastically, “not ours, either.”
“No, Sir,” said the Tech, “and it appears that they are centring their landing around the Eastern Mountains.”
“Change of plan,” Jax said decisively, “order our withdrawal and full speed towards the Cavern. Our Khan has never demonstrated the necessity for outside help and we have too many of our people in jeopardy on this new front.”
Rapidly, the orders were transmitted and Jax’s mobile unit sped away from their impending encounter. Jade Falcon Omnimechs passed by in full flight, without ever knowing how close they had been to an ambush. Jax could only hope that they would reach the Cavern in time. He had an awful feeling that he knew exactly who were the new forces, and if he was right, the people in the Cavern would need all the help that they could get.
“Power down, Elias’ Guardians,” commanded Walter, “we will use them once we have drawn our enemies here.”
“What about our people?” asked Diana, as she looked down upon the mass of humanity below. They had brought the majority of the survivors from the main city here and had swept up many of the outlying communities.
As well as them, there were the many caste members of the Jade Falcons who had been taken in battle. All were willing to fight. Their allegiance had long ago shifted to the Dark Falcons, who to them had been the only ones ready to stand for Winfield. In fact, many of them wore a semblance of the Dark Falcon emblem on their homespun tunics.
“They are our future,” said Walter, “someone needs to get them out of here, and when the time is right, that person will be you.”
Diana started to object, but saw the concrete resolve on the veteran’s face.
“Okay,” she agreed, “but only on the understanding that you come too. Remember, we leave no-one behind.”
He nodded in accordance with her wishes, but there was a resignation in his look, a worldliness which spoke volumes.
“Let us get them moving,” he said business-like, “the Tech’s have opened a subsidiary tunnel which leads away from the conflict zone. Essential personnel will remain only .”
Walter watched Diana hurry away and then called Jurgen over, “You will see that she obeys me, Jurgen, I am counting on you.”
“I will not be staying at your side, Star Commander?” he asked, surprised.
“No,” said Walter, resting his hand on the powerful warrior’s shoulder, “Diana is typical of the Inner Sphere, you will be needed by the Dark Falcons to instil our steel in them. They show promise and it is people like you who will allow that to flourish. Do not fail me.”
Jurgen nodded, but seemed to swell with pride. He looked on Walter as a father figure, not that he understood truly what a father was. Such a man gave purpose and pride to a warrior’s life and he inwardly swore not to let him down.
A sudden commotion below indicated that their enemies were close and Jurgen ran towards his Mech. Before he left, he had some fighting to do and another way to make the old man proud.
“No Diana,” said Walter as she rushed towards her Victor, “I gave instructions for our machines to be swapped. We need to preserve the Clan technology as much as possible as you will need it later. Two of my men have also swapped with others from your lance. And no arguments…”
Diana had been about to object, but there was no time. In a sudden rush of emotion she hugged Walter and kissed him on the cheek. He was a little non-plussed at the attitude, but she had already turned away.
Jurgen watched the side-play and smiled. Wherever he went, Walter brought out the best in his people. Thrusting aside worthless thoughts he ran through the pre-checks on his Omnimech. The atonal sound of his on-board computer gave him a reassuring feeling, and the green lights on his weapons board a surge of anticipation. He felt the comforting purr of the fusion reactor beneath him and moved his Mech forward. By his side, his men did the same, allowing the Star Commander to take the lead.
There was an ominous silence on the battlefield. A line of Omnimechs had turned to face them and Sheehan knew that there would be little room for sleight of hand. The remaining Steel Viper forces had taken up their position, with a staggered two deep front. It was an awe-inspiring sight, which Sheehan could not afford to overawe him. He moved his Omnimech to the front of the line and activated his external speakers.
“I am Khan Sheehan of the Dark Falcons, you have received our ultimatum. What is your response?”
A Mad Cat stepped to meet him, Khan Zalman’s voice boomed forth.
“There is no Dark Falcon Clan. We will deal with your imposters, just as we would any Falcon. Death will be your only reward.”
“So, that’s a no, then?” asked Sheehan as he checked the readiness of his people.
Static erupted in his headset and faintly he heard Diana’s voice, “Repeat, please,” he said calmly.
“We are…attack. Multiple Mechs…ground forces…ComStar…”
“Hold your positions, we are on our way,” Sheehan replied, then reactivated his speakers.
“I do not have time to play with you,” he snarled at the Steel Viper Khan, “you are in my way. Our forces are under attack by ComStar and the quickest route to their aid is through you. We, as of yet, have no direct quarrel with you, but that can be quickly remedied.
“You may leave with the honour you showed in your battle against our enemies, the Jade Falcons. Or you can choose a quick death. Make up your mind.”
Perigard Zalman was confused. There was no fear in this Spheroid’s voice, only determination. His Clan’s belief had always been different to that of the others. They propounded cooperation with the Inner Sphere, after conquest, but co-operation none the less. If he could trust this upstart perhaps he could win his battle against the Jade Falcons here on this world. No weakness could be shown though.
“What do you offer?” he asked carefully, “A rede?”
“He wants your oath,” Mattlov’s voice whispered in his ear.
“Yes,” replied Sheehan, “stand aside and we will fight with you against the Jade Falcons and beyond, if you wish it. You may call on my aid.”
Zalman thought quickly and then moved his Mech aside, “Well bargained and done,” he said.
Mechs formed a menacing corridor through which Sheehan ran. He had taken his decision, oblivious of the consequences. Right now, he had to deal with ComStar.
A Steel Viper guard of honour watched the Dark Falcon Mechs thunder by, their Elementals following. Perigard Zalman could only watch in wonder as they looked neither right nor left. As they disappeared from view, he paused for a moment in thought, and then followed. Behind him strode the rest of his command, eager to see the battle unfold.
“This does not look good,” muttered Diana.
”Quiet!” snapped Walter, quelling any idle chatter, but even he was impressed by the first two Mech’s to begin the climb up the approach to the Cavern’s main entrance. First an Awesome and then an Atlas moved slowly forward, behind them came a stream of lighter Mechs.
“Diana,” Walter said clearly, “you will take your lance with you and guard our people’s withdrawal.”
“But…” she began, but his command whiplashed into her helmet.
She knew what he intended to do, or at least thought she did. He would sacrifice himself and his men to ensure her and the other’s survival, and it stung her pride. Her men waited for her, and then a vision of unarmoured civilians facing Mechs crossed her mind, and she savagely wrenched her machine round.
“Move!” she snarled, but was still the last to enter the tunnel leading into the mountains.
“You too, Jurgen,” said Walter calmly,” I have my two volunteers and the Guardians’ personnel. It is time.”
Jurgen looked down at the copy of Walter’s codex, which he held in his hand, and then followed Diana. There were no words to say, Walter intended to die as he lived, a warrior. Unnecessary emotions would only detract from his sacrifice. As Jurgen passed the main entrance, he activated the remote countdown on the charges placed there. Whatever happened, the ComStar Mechs were entering into as much of a trap, as that they thought they had laid for the Dark Falcons.
Walter in his borrowed Victor stood in front of Diana’s Centurion, and the Whitworth. His two companions would share his fate. Higher up the side of the entrance and hastily concealed were the three Guardians cobbled together by Elias. Their firepower would be devastating, but only within their short arc of fire. He needed to draw the ComStar forces into their range, and that meant damage.
If Khan Sheehan was to have any chance, Walter would have to bottle up his enemies, holding them here for as long as possible. Diana and Jurgen would also need time to spirit the rest of the Dark Falcon personnel away. How much was uncertain.
He wondered where his recent protégé, Jax, was. It was probably a good thing that the maniac was elsewhere. His tendencies for insane operations would not be in their best interests today. No, a calm head was required, not something the Lieutenant was known for.
“Multiple contacts,” Elias’ voice chimed helpfully, “and all making their way towards the Cavern.”
“Enemies, I take it?” asked Jax, although he knew the answer.
The reply was icy, flat. Jax could feel desperation sneaking up on him. The numbers that he had been quoted made it obvious that the punitive nature of this mission was meant to send a message. Well, he thought to himself, we can also send a message.
“Communication from the Khan,” Elias interrupted his thoughts, “he will be with us shortly. He asks to be patched through to you directly.”
There was a momentary silence and then Jax heard Sheehan’s voice clearly.
“Lieutenant, I know it will be pointless asking you to wait for us. Therefore, I am giving you clear permission to take down as many of these frakkers as you can. You will use maximum force. You will destroy them and you will make them fear the Dark Falcon name. Are we clear?”
“Yes, My Khan,” responded Jax, sheepishly.
“Good. Keep them busy and leave some of them for us. Out.”
Jax grinned to himself, despite the dire nature of the circumstances. Just what he liked, orders with latitude.
“Falcons!”, he transmitted in a cold and deadly voice, “Time to do some damage.”