May 9, 3056
Goliath Scorpion Ship Jenna Scott
Pirate Jump Point
Circinus, Circinus Federation
“Attention on deck!” sang out one of the ship’s Elementals as Jason and Star Captain Gregor Ben-Shimon entered the crowed briefing room, trailed by Jason’s bondsman. The assembly of Warriors and ship crewmen quickly stood as the master and commander of their ship stepped over the hatch coaming.
“As you were,” Gregor said with a languid wave of one hand. “Take your seats, people, and listen up. We are about to find out exactly why we are so far from home, and I for one do not care to miss an important piece of information because someone was not paying attention. Quineg?”
“Quineg!” roared the attendees in response.
The naval officer nodded and sat down in the chair reserved for him at the very front of the audience. “You may proceed, then, Star Captain Scott.”
“Thank you, Star Captain Ben-Shimon,” Jason answered as he stepped forward to a small podium and lifted the remote that gave him access to the projection screen behind him. “Circinus, the capital of the so-called Circinus Federation,” he said as a planet zoomed into view. “This periphery state consists of a dozen worlds and is little more than a collection of bandits and dezgra mercenaries unable to secure employment elsewhere. With just fifty percent of the planetary surface being covered with water, Circinus is an arid world, with the land masses generally being dry and lacking in atmospheric humidity. There are exceptions, but unless Star Captain Ben-Shimon arranges for Jenna Scott to make a crash landing, I doubt they will concern us today.”
Chuckles filled the compartment as the Scorpions present accepted Jason’s invitation for laughter—even Gregor smiled slightly.
“Currently, the Jenna Scott is at the Lagrange Point immediately star-ward of Circinus, which means that we will be able to land one of our Onagers after just nine hours of flight time—saving us rather more than six days of powered flight had we arrived at either the Zenith or Nadir points. Recharge time will be one hundred and eighty-four hours and seventeen minutes, as of this very moment, although our good commander does have our reserve charge on standby. I, and a small contingent from this vessel, will be taking the Alpha DropShip to the surface. Once there, Star Commander Tomas will attempt to sell his cargo, preserving our identity as a wandering merchantman. While we are grounded, myself, Bondsman Lucien, and Star Commander Amanda Djerassi will see if what we have come so far for is actually here.”
The Scorpion paused and looked around the compartment at the men and women who were waiting. All had heard rumors of what Lucien’s vision during his ritual had revealed, and now they were on edge to find out exactly how much truth lay within it.
Jason smiled. “Yes, there is a chance—a small chance—that an heir of Richard Cameron may indeed be living upon Circinus. According to a portion of a journal that once belonged to Aaron DeChevilier, in the year immediately before the Coup, First Lord Richard Cameron forcibly raped one of the young women of his household staff, and then attempted to have her tried for assaulting him.”
A low muttering growl rose throughout the compartment. Although not prudes in any sense of the term, the very concept of one forcing himself upon an unwilling partner was almost unknown in Clan society. Almost. For it occasionally happened, and when it did the judicial response was swift and extreme.
No longer smiling, Jason nodded in somber agreement. “He was quite a bastard, quiaff? However, Aaron DeChevilier personally smuggled the girl off Terra in defiance of Richard—and he never told Kerensky what had actually happened. The woman was pregnant, and she bore a child—Richard’s child.”
“Years later, when the SLDF left their encampment on Circinus to begin the liberation of the Hegemony, she and the child remained behind. DeChevilier’s journal records her name, and also that she decided to remain in the Inner Sphere when the SLDF left on the Exodus.”
“Now, in addition to searching for this woman’s descendants—who according to our traditions may be free-birth, but are eligible for a restored Cameron Blood Name—I also intend to see how intact the old SLDF facilities on the minor continent of Laredo are.”
Gregor frowned, and Jason paused so that the ship commander could frame his question.
“Nothing in our pre-departure briefing from Khan Suvorov even suggested that the Circinian ruins hold any remaining value for us. Those facilities have been looted for nearly three centuries, Star Captain Scott.”
“Yes, the training facilities on the main continent of Circinus—High Plains—have been quite thoroughly looted during our prolonged absence from the Inner Sphere. But, Laredo is uninhabited and it was that continent—not High Plains—that was the location of General Kerensky’s headquarters complex. Furthermore, contrary to public opinion, the SLDF did build factories on Circinus, all underground on Laredo. Those factories turned out massive amounts of munitions and parts to resupply and support the SLDF during the Liberation and afterwards—and when the SLDF departed, they mothballed those facilities and hid them.”
Another officer spoke up. “Are you certain they have not been found, Star Captain?”
Jason shook his head. “Neg. But, a discovery of this magnitude would have attracted the Scavenger Lords like vultures circling a rotting carcass in the midst of the desert. No one could have kept a find of this level secret—except ComStar, and they would have destroyed the facilities.”
“I plan to travel to Laredo—with Lucien and Amanda—and find out for myself and my Clan if these facilities still exist; and if they do still remain intact, whether or not we Scorpions will be the ones to use them in the future.”
May 10, 3056
Circinus, Circinus Federation
Lucien’s mouth gaped open as he stared at the hustle and bustle of the filthy refuse laden streets of the capital city of Circinus. The air was thick and heavy with smog, carrying foul odors from the open sewage that stagnated in shallow gutters between the broken streets and the cracked sidewalks.
“People live like this?” he whispered.
“Aff, Lucien,” Jason answered just as quietly. “People and animals who once were people often live just like this.”
“These conditions,” said Amanda with a shudder, “not even our lowest caste would be permitted to wallow in such.”
“No. And that is one of the reasons that I feel the stance our Clan has chosen on the Invasion is mistaken,” the leader of the three answered. “This city is the worst on the entire planet, but make no mistake, my Scorpions, there is just as much misery in even the smallest of villages here. Their only hope for a better tomorrow lies with us—I am growing more and more convinced of that.”
“Seyla,” the bondsman and the female warrior intoned.
“Guard yourselves well, brethren, for truly we walk amidst the Dark Caste in this place. Have you the package that I requested, Amanda?”
She snorted. “As if I would forget, Jason. But are you certain? It does break with tradition, after all?”
“I am certain,” he answered. He took a canvas wrapped item from Amanda and turned to face the former Falcon elemental.
“Lucien, on this world, in this city, none who are free go about unarmed. Neither shall you.”
The stoutly built man blinked his eyes twice in surprise, as Jason unwrapped the canvas and revealed a gun-belt, a weapon already holstered amid loops of individual bullets—large bullets.
“Take this instrument, Bondsman, and use it to defend yourself, your fellow Clansmen, and your honor for as long as we remain on this world.”
Lucien reached out and reverently took the belt, but then he frowned. “Star Cap. . . .Jason, I am unfamiliar with this weapon.”
Jason grinned and Amanda scowled. Although he had been instructed to call both of them by name, rather than title, his companion MechWarrior had wagered twenty Kerensky’s that the Falcon would have to be reminded—a bet that she had just lost.
“It is a dreiling, Lucien. Which is also known as a drilling—one that has been very heavily modified, but it remains a drilling nonetheless.”
Lucien buckled the belt around his waist, and tied the long holster to his right leg, then he drew the massive three-barreled pistol to examine it more closely.
“It is an old weapon, one which predates space-flight by more than century, Lucien. A drilling is a combination weapon that has three—sometimes four—separate barrels, divided among smooth bores for shot and rifled bores for bullets. This particular drilling is a Taurian weapon, captured from the body of a dead TDF officer during the Reunification War, and is more than five centuries old. Most drillings were rifle-length, but this one has barrels of just eight inches in length and a pistol grip. The two upper rifled barrels are chambered for .577 Magnum shells—that’s 14.9mm, Lucien. The lower barrel is a 10-gauge shotgun—19.7mm. Each barrel holds one cartridge, and that lever on the side breaks open the weapon to reload. There is no safety, but the hammers must be cocked before the weapon can fire. It has a single trigger, which controls all three hammers—any that are cocked are released, so you fire one, two, or all three simultaneously.”
“By Turkina’s Beak,” the elemental warrior whispered as he caressed the rich polished walnut fore-stock that covered the lower half of the barrels. “How did the Taurian ever expect to fire this weapon?”
Amanda laughed. “I told you that even the Elemental would think that thing is too much gun for anyone!”
Jason grinned. “It has a kick like a mule, Lucien, but it functions—and it is an extremely intimidating weapon.”
“That, I can believe,” he answered as he holstered the drilling. And then he began to examine the individual bullets and shells lining his belt. The shells for the 10-gauge (each nearly five inches in overall length) were brightly colored in green, gold, and red casings.
“These shells . . . what is their difference?” he asked.
“Good eyes, Scorpion,” replied Jason. “Green are standard 00 shot—throws a pattern of shells similar to a hunting gun, but the short barrel means the expansion is fast. Gold are solid slugs, while the red contains 35 grams of oxtandite explosive and an impact fuse. Not to mention the roughly fifteen grams of preformed ceramic shards that gives the blast significant fragmentation.”
“It is a grenade launcher, too?” Lucien asked, his eyes have expanded even further.
“I like to think of it as a Swiss army handgun, Lucien—there is something for every situation. Of course, if you do not believe that you can handle it . . .”
“Neg!” the Elemental quickly replied, but then he blushed. “I mean, no, Jason. I think this will do just fine. Just fine indeed.”
“By the founders,” said Amanda, her grin widening, “I think he is in love, Jason!”
“And let that be a lesson to you sib-kin, there is no such thing as too much gun for an Elemental Warrior.”
“Jason, are you certain we are not lost?” Amanda asked.
“Of course we are not lost—we are in Claybourne Remembered,” Jason answered with a grin on his face, as Amanda shook her head.
“You have a unique sense of humor, quiaff?”
“Aff. It is a genetic failing that the scientists have long tried to breed from the Scott line, but they have so far failed because they have absolutely no comprehension of humor, or sarcasm, or wit.”
Lucien suddenly stopped on the crowded street, his eyes drawn to a doorway across the trio. Jason followed his gaze, and saw what precisely had caught the large man’s attention.
A man had just struck down a young woman—a girl, rather; a dirty, unkempt, and underfed girl—with a wicked back hand blow. Her dress (or lack thereof) made clear to Jason exactly what the child was, and what her relationship to the man therefore must be. But Lucien was frowning.
“What troubles you, Lucien?”
“He struck a child with enough force to down a grown man, Jason,” the Elemental whispered. “It is not right. Why would he do such a thing?”
“She is a prostitute, Lucien, and that man is what they call her ‘pimp’. I imagine that she did not earn enough money to satisfy him; it is the way of these people.”
The former Falcon frowned, and Amanda sighed.
“She’s a sex worker, Lucien.”
And Lucien frowned even more. “But that is an honorable profession that helps people—she looks more like a laborer than a sex worker.”
Now Jason scowled. “I doubt that she chose such a profession, Lucien. She is probably forced to couple by that man under threat of violence—and actual violence.”
“Forced?” the single word was choked and Jason fully understood the anger that rumbled in the large man’s throat.
Jason began to walk away, to leave this filthy section of the city behind him, but then he remembered his vision, and he stopped. For a moment, he considered, and then spoke to Lucien. “Take whatever action you deem appropriate, Lucien. Whatever your own honor demands.”
Amanda jerked as though someone had touched her with a live electrical wire. “I thought we were keeping a low profile?”
“A Falcon will guide the way, Amanda,” Jason whispered. “You and I would pass this by, for it does not concern us, but Lucien’s sense of honor, of right and wrong, is more raw, more primal. Let us see what happens here.”
Lucien had already crossed the street and he stood facing the man who was verbally berating the girl-child. Then the man noticed him and looked up, a smug smile on his face.
“You are interested in good time, yes? Girl will please you greatly—you may even beat her if you wish.”
“The child is coming with me,” Lucien growled. “Leave now and I will not break your spine.”
“The girl is my property—I have the papers to prove it! You leave now, and you keep your unscarred face as it is.”
“You own her?” Lucien asked.
“Yes, paid good money for the wench who eats too much and earns too little.”
Lucien struck as fast a coiled serpent, his massive fist catching the pimp on the side of the face and sending him reeling back into the wall, before he collapsed unconscious to the ground.
“Come, child. That man no longer has any claim over you,” he said, extending his hand to the little girl.
She started to take his hand, but then shrank back as several men wielding pieces of iron rebar filed into the street.
“Don’t think it will be so easy as all that, berk,” said their red-jacketed leader, a gold ring dangling from his nose. “You see, old Tanner here ain’t much of a man, but he’s one of my men. That means you owe me for breaking him. Your choice—blood and broken bones or fresh script.”
Lucien’s eyes narrowed and he looked over the men with an eye well honed from hours upon hours of practice aboard the Jenna Scott. Once upon a time, he would have just laid into the men, but now he waited and he took in his surroundings. He perceived.
Sure enough, two more of the thugs waited within the building, their forms (mostly) hidden by the shadows of the windows they watched from. And at least one carried a firearm of some sort.
Lucien began to open his mouth, but then he heard Jason, and instead he merely smiled.
“No need for that, friends,” the Scorpion said as he and Amanda stepped forward to either side of Lucien. “We shall collect our companion and be on our way—with the girl. And as for script, that I think we can arrange. How much does he owe?”
“Oh, look at the dandy!” snarled one of the thugs. “He owes more than you’ve got—however much you’ve got. But hand all of the coin over—and those weapons—and we might just rethink things.”
“Yeah, you might walk out of this after all.”
Laughter came from the thugs. Their leader stepped forward, slapping his left hand with the piece of iron he held in his right. “But you ain’t taking the gravy train, mister. She’s got a debt to work off.”
“So, you want all of our money and our weapons and you still might do us physical harm? And you intend to keep the girl against her will. Am I correct in my understanding of the situation?” Jason asked.
“I think you understand well, friend,” red jacket answered.
Jason smiled and turned to Amanda. “Fifty says the nose ring is big enough, Amanda.”
She stared at Jason, turned back to look at the leader and gold ring dangling from the center of his nose. She looked at Jason again.
“It is big enough! But not even you can make the shot!”
The thugs simply looked confused, and one of them asked, “What shot?”
“My lady friend here does not seem to believe that I can put a bullet through the center of that ring—without scuffing the gold. I say I can.”
Laughter rang out, and one of the thugs said, “I’d pay 500 com-dollars in gold to see THAT!”
“Bargained well and done,” answered Jason as he smoothly drew his slug-thrower and fired from the hip. The back of the leader’s head exploded, before any of the thugs could react, and Jason kept the weapon trained on the men before him. Lucien had also drawn his weapon and fired it into the first window—the thunderous explosion of the big-bore weapon reverberating from the alley walls. The second sniper began to raise his rifle, but a laser beam from Amanda’s own gun drilled straight through the forehead.
“You,” Jason said in a cold voice, pointing the pistol to one of the thugs. “Check the ring.”
Slowly, the man stepped forward and reached down, he lifted the intact and untouched gold ring from the corpse—the bullet hole directly behind it.
Jason smiled. “I believe you now owe me 500 C-bills, gentlemen. I will give you to the count of three and then I will instead recover it from your corpses. One. Two.”
The former companions of the pimp dropped their weapons and pulled out wads of cash. Jason nodded, and one of them collected the bills and gingerly stepped over to hand them to Amanda.
“In that case, our business is done. I would suggest you leave. NOW.”
They fled without waiting for another word. And Jason smiled. “And we are not lost,” he said pointing down the street to an old three-story mansion surrounded by a high wall. “There it is.”