The investigations into the anti-Clan resistance and the missing Nova Cat technician began to slow down as leads petered out. Davrik spent the next few days taking care of his duties and checking in on his friends. Then things started heating up again.
First, news came in from Savinsville, a planet one jump away. It had been liberated from Smoke Jaguar control by Sphere forces operating out of Wolcott. Not only did the Combine regain the Kanazuchi plant located there, they also got refit kits the Jaguars had intended to use to convert some of the battle armor production lines to produce Clan armor. (In our AU, battle armor was the mainstay of armed conflict in the Sphere rather than ‘mechs, so specialized designs like the Kanazuchi appeared earlier without requiring a nudge from interaction with Clan Elemental armor.)
A few days later, a ship jumped into the Schuyler system at a pirate point, discharged two Union DropShips, and immediately jumped back out. The ships were on a 2-G burn for Schuyler, putting them a day and a half away. Star Colonel Lanis called an emergency staff meeting. Davrik proposed working with the Smoke Jaguars to repel the invaders, assuming they were indeed invaders (something I had written in my notes as a possible avenue the Jaguars might have sought; I hadn’t expected Davrik to jump right into calling them up after they had come stomping their ‘mechs toward Kerrigan the session prior). Lanis made the call with Davrik at hand. The Jaguar Star Colonel, Jacob Perez, agreed to a joint effort. Davrik proposed that each Clan send up a DropShip to intercept the incoming vessels. Everyone agreed, and work immediately began on the Excellent Vision to make it ready for launch within a day.
When the ships were prepared and launched, the invading ships drew close enough to the satellite network to finally allow for a good look. They had Peanuts characters painted on their sides. The Clanfolk were surprised when the mercenaries – for that’s who the invaders were – contacted them and offered a batchall for possession of both Clans’ occupation zones on Schuyler. Lanis appointed Davrik as her negotiator, while Colonel Perez negotiated himself for the Jaguars. The commander of the Li’l Folks mercenary unit, Major Chuck Reinhardt, reversed things a little by declaring that he would commit all his forces to attacking the Clans, rather than basing his attack forces on what was offered in defense of the planet.
Davrik got a bit sneaky. He declared that the location of the Trial would be in space – it would be a naval battle. Major Reinhardt was taken aback. He asked if he could at least drop his people on-planet so that they wouldn’t needlessly die in a battle in which they couldn’t reasonably take part. Davrik offered him a bone – he could land his forces, and if the naval battle was inconclusive, the Trial would be settled firmly by a ground combat. Davrik also declared that if the Clans won the trial, the mercenaries’ gear would be taken as isorla and they and their non-combatants would be made bondsfolk. “Let’s be clear about everything going into this,” Davrik said. “I’d hate to feel like you were pulling the football away.” Major Reinhardt was truly put off his balance, but he reluctantly agreed. (My spouse would later note that she thought he still agreed a little too readily.)
So the Unions – the Charlie Brown and the Lucy – landed in the fields between Kerrigan and Creekshell and disgorged their passengers. As the ships took off for their orbital battle (which they would both lose, though not decisively), the Nova Cats were studying the force composition of the Li’l Folks’ ground units via satellite. There were a few vehicles, mostly infantry transports and a handful of tanks, but the majority of their forces seemed to be PBIs. The satellite images weren’t clear enough to determine whether they were conventional or armored infantry.
Since naval combat didn’t provide a clear resolution, the Clans happily enjoined the mercenaries in conventional warfare. We broke out Alpha Strike and gave it a test run. Davrik’s Star (well, Gale’s Star, of which Davrik was XO) ran out to greet the mercs, along with four Harasser laser tanks. The mercs brought two Axel heavy tanks, two Patton heavy tanks, and five tracked APCs loaded with IS Standard battle armor.
Some notes on how Alpha Strike ran for us:
- Vehicles are much tougher in AS than in standard Battletech, it seems. The heavy tanks didn’t hit terribly often, but when they did it was devastating. In return, the 1/3 chance of a motive systems hit which accompanies any damage a vehicle receives wasn’t quite enough to significantly affect the tanks’ movement. Two of the tanks wound up being destroyed without losing a single inch of movement.
- As in standard BT, gunnery is the factor which most hampers a quick game. Regular units with a gunnery of 4 rarely hit unless they’re at short range or are targeting exceedingly slow units. Wooded terrain also dragged things out for us. To make AS play as quickly as it promises, having veteran units with their gunnery of 3 be the standard is probably the way to go.
- In this one test example, the original PV1 system of point matching for matching up forces – essentially taking the Battletech unit’s BV and dividing it by 100 – made for a nail-biting even matchup. The Nova Cats won, but it was close. Aside from a couple of Harassers which got swarmed by battle armor, every single unit on the Nova Cats’ side was taken down by the heavy tanks; only Sasha’s Mist Lynx remained standing in the end. I don’t know whether the newer PV2 is going to produce a result that’s that even.
At one point in the battle, mercenary battlesuit units ripped open a Harasser, pulled out the crew, and took off for the woods with their captives in tow. They met up with an APC nearby and boarded. Gale wound up taking down the APC before a Patton got her rear armor, and Sasha made her successful final stand from a copse of woods practically standing over the downed APC.
Davrik had to spend half the battle trapped in his Kit Fox A, taken down by damage. His comm system was still operational. That’s how he heard the voice that tightbeamed to him: “So this is where you ended up.” Davrik waited for more, but the voice didn’t speak again. However, a communique came across his secondary monitor, indicating a verse from the Remembrance. In the newer, edited Remembrance, that passage was Kerensky’s quatrain about honorable combat, the basis of the Clan Trial system: “It follows, then, no warrior worth the name / Would place the lives of innocents at stake; / Disgraced is he who puts their homes to flame / Or threatens field or herd, or hostage take.” However, in the older, original Remembrance, the verse number pointed to a tale of two of the Founders escaping from pirates (specifically, Founders who would go on to form the Nova Cats): “Thus Phillip Drummond and Michelle Winters / Did lurk among the hulks of ships long dead / And watch the pirates’ march through DropShip graves / And so escaped detection for some days.”
While Davrik was mulling that over and watching the last few rounds of fire being traded, he got a call from Colonel Lanis. She ordered him to return to base to discuss his “outside activities”. He immediately worried that she had discovered his hidden Remembrance knowledge.
The battle ended, and Nova Cat APCs rolled up to begin ferrying tankers and ‘mech pilots from their ruined machines. As Davrik began climbing down, his communicator squawked again. He scrambled back up to hear Exetea calling him. She said she feared the Colonel had been tipped off and wanted to come get him. Davrik waved off the APC commander, saying he was going to catch a ride back to base. The commander was hesitant; he was under orders to ensure that Davrik made it to base. But when Exetea’s Mad Dog strode up half a minute later, he deferred to the Star Captain’s rank and took off.
In Exetea’s cockpit, the two warriors discussed their options. Both of them feared being executed or otherwise treated unfairly. Davrik still pressed to go face the music; he didn’t want any harm to come to his other friends should any suspicion be cast onto them in his absence. Exetea piloted them straight for home base, and they went directly to Lanis’s office.
Lanis wasn’t alone. Joining her was a man dressed in black Nova Cat fatigues with a close-fitting half-face helmet. Davrik recognized him from his jawline and nose – he was the one who had assassinated his mentor and set his home on fire. Davrik immediately spoke up and called the man an assassin and a covert operative. The man responded that he was simply here on the orders of saKhan and commander of Alpha Galaxy Lucian Carns, as well as the commander of Gamma Galaxy. Lanis informed Davrik that, based on information provided by Leaf (the man in black), he was being charged with sedition and with acting to deliberately undermine the Nova Cat way with his activities on Schuyler in an attempt to eventually supplant the true Remembrance and guidepost of Clan life with his own forged version. Davrik came out about his story and the history of the Remembrance.
Lanis dismissed Leaf from the room and asked Davrik why he didn’t just keep his head down and not make waves. Davrik replied that, while he was originally in the Sphere to keep his head down – at least until the Jags and Cats invaded and conscripted him – he had since acted on his principles, which were inextricably based on the Remembrance as he knew it. Her hands tied, Lanis ordered both warriors to report to their quarters and informed them that they were confined to the compound until further notice.
Back in Exetea’s room, the two of them talked it over. On the one hand, they didn’t want to run away on the chance that their friends might face consequences. On the other hand, Davrik was fairly certain that, if they were taken off-planet to face a trial, they would never make it to their destination. In the end, it was the mysterious communication Davrik had received in his damaged ‘mech that convinced them to leave. They would steal a jeep and hide in the Galileo Instruments testbed port, where all the decommissioned DropShips lay rusting. That seemed to be the messenger’s intent.
The two warriors snuck out of Exetea’s window in the fading twilight and crept along the wall of the building toward the vehicle depot. Up ahead, a figure stood in the shadows. Davrik approached, and the figure resolved into a woman in stealth gear and a DEST helmet with cat ears – Cynthia, the Cat Burglar, had apparently stolen back her gear and was waiting for them. “I figured you’d do this,” she said by way of explanation. The trio crept into the vehicle depot. They were spotted, but Davrik hotwired a jeep and crashed through the wooden barrier arm and out to freedom.
They agreed to ditch the truck by smashing it into a tree (unoccupied) on the road leading east to Kerrigan, then head south toward the testbed spaceport. They made it to the DropShip graveyard with no incident. An Achilles-class ship, made for naval combat rather than cargo transport, seemed a likely place to hide – it was intact, though unmaintained, and it could potentially be repaired and made flight-ready… though three people hardly made for even a skeleton crew. They made their way aboard and began checking things out. Davrik immediately went to connect auxiliary power and get the communications array online. He hoped that the owner of the voice which had told him to come to the testbed port would get in contact soon to explain why he was helping Davrik and perhaps offer further assistance. Exetea manned the comm while he went to check the engine line.
A directional comm burst came through – it was Bianca, calling after them. “Boss? You there? I’m on patrol out near the city. Things have gotten crazy back at the base. Lanis and that new guy got into it, and they were shouting, and then all of a sudden all those mercenary bondsfolk started a revolution and grabbed all the vehicles and swarmed out. I think this situation has gotten out of control. I have a feeling you guys might be in this direction.” Davrik was worried that she might be acting as a lure, but he took a chance and sent her back a confirmation. He told her to ditch her ‘mech (a Fire Moth; her Jenner IIC had been blown apart by an Axel earlier that day) and her codex at the bottom of the river and make her way on foot to the testbed port.
It wasn’t long after they had welcomed Bianca aboard that another communication came through. This time it was Major Reinhardt, calling for Nathan – the guy whose apartment had been booby-trapped while Davrik and Bianca were investigating the missing Nova Cat technician. Davrik answered, and Reinhardt said that he and the rest of the mercenaries had escaped both Clans and were headed for the rendezvous he and Nathan had agreed upon: the very ship Davrik and company were on. As it was the largest potentially operative ship in the port, it made sense. Davrik thought about it – that many mercenaries would fill out the crew slots on the ship, and Reinhardt said he had pilots available. This might turn out okay after all.
One last radio call came in, this one the same voice which had spoken to Davrik in his ‘mech. The voice asked to be let into the ship. Davrik and the others lowered the gangplank. The owner of the voice was hidden inside a suit of Salamander battle armor. The arm-mounted flamer was pointed up the plank, and its inferno SRM menaced. The voice ordered Davrik to come quietly. Davrik figured out that this must be Nathan, and that the communication to his ‘mech was meant as a trap for Davrik should he slip away from the assassin at the compound. Nathan confirmed his suspicion and noted that the assassin hunting Davrik was dumb enough to leave his battle armor unsecured so that Nathan could access it. Now Nathan would fulfill his contract and get paid the remaining amount due him. Davrik countered that money would be worth nothing when the Jaguars cracked down and sent reinforcements to take advantage of the Nova Cats’ disarray and wrest control of Kerrigan from them. “I don’t think you’ll kill me here,” Davrik said. “I think you should come with us instead. Whatever we find out there has got to be better than what you’ll get if you stay here.” After a long moment’s hesitation, Nathan agreed and boarded the vessel.
We closed with the mercenaries rolling in, hurriedly making their way to various ship’s stations, and preparing to take the vessel out of mothballs double-time.