First Meeting


Pryde Rock

Terra’s Pryde Headquarters

August 15, 3057


Chains jingling on his black leather uniform jacket as he walked, Medron glanced around at the small HQ.  Not much more than a command van, some wooden buildings, and a DropShip landing/parking field full of fighters getting a white paintjob, those on the base found themselves surrounded by an earthen wall and some mines.  There was no way the headquarters would win any prizes in the beauty department, especially compared to the family estates on Marik and Atreus.  Most of the men and women here lived off the DropShips in fact, though they stored their ’Mechs or vehicles outside the DropShips in case they had to move fast against an assault.

Many of the vehicles stayed in the rough-looking buildings, shielding them from the frequent windstorms, while not on patrol.  Another “gust” buffeted him around, nearly bowling him off his feet and he winced as his eyes teared up against the flying dust.  The forecast called for another one of those lovely little storms today and it felt like it was winding up to be a doozy.  The buildings weren’t nearly as ramshackle as they looked or they wouldn’t be standing after the near-weekly windstorms.

The old Star League base had been built on, possibly, the least comfortable part of the planet, in the middle of its largest landmass, where the extremes of winter and summer were…extreme.  Or, more accurately, it had been built under the middle of the largest landmass.  They’d probably assumed it made the base harder to find.  They were right.  Even with the Marian Hegemony right next door, it had taken decades for anyone to find any part of it, and they still missed most of it, figuring the small depot was all there was.  The discovery of the rest of the Complex had been a fluke accident.  Oh, he’d heard the official story, but he’d also talked to the people actually involved.  He’d laughed too hard to give them the butt chewing they deserved for that stunt.

During the hot summers around here, the heavy winds driving down out of the mountains threw dust everywhere, scouring the rocks and any flesh left exposed bare.  During winter, it was snow that shot down out of the mountains.  At least the windstorms didn’t leave much accumulation behind to shovel, but unless you had a BattleMech or a vehicle equipped with sensors to see through the whiteouts, nobody traveled during the windstorms.  During any season.  The local spring and summer seasons were, possibly, the most interesting times.  The windstorms drove rain before them, cleaning off any surface they found.  At least his people didn’t have to worry about cleaning the outsides of their buildings, or the roads, or anything else for that matter.  The winds could take anything not rooted down and send it far, far away.

He’d heard that in the first couple months here, the popular way of getting rid of garbage was to put it outside the DropShip and let the next windstorm take it away.  Until a piece of badly warped metal left outside by accident was driven through a scout car.  After that, an aggressive recycling campaign had been put in place to keep anything like that from happening again.

The gust faded away and Medron relaxed, tugging the left sleeve of his leather jacket down to make sure it still fully covered his artificial arm.  Another tug on his glove to make sure it was firmly seated as he approached the command van completed his preparations before walking into it.  The outer wooden door opened into an entryway built out of wood like most of the buildings.  The trees that lived in this area of the world were uncommonly hard, giving them a renewable building material as hard as most metals.  Of course, the trees grew very slowly, but efforts to replant harvested areas had been put in place even before he arrived.  His people always found new ways to impress him.

He shut the door behind him to shield the interior of the command van from a stray gust of wind, opened the vehicle’s door, and walked inside to see his people sitting at their stations, all wearing the standard dark gray Terra’s Pryde uniform, scanning their displays, many of them jury-rigged into place, for any threats.  One set of displays pulled data from the satellites in orbit that monitored nearby space, another from various sensor stations placed several kilometers around the headquarters monitoring ground and air traffic, and another set showed the sensor readings of the command van itself and the sensors buried in the earthen walls.  Another display took time-delayed readings from platforms setup at the two jump points.

The command van, an old vehicle even before becoming the organizational heart of David’s mixed unit, now ran the sensors of an entire system.  Talk about overloading the computers.  Medron shook his head in amusement and turned to look at the small holographic table in the middle that showed an ever-changing view from every system it was linked to, giving the officer on watch a quick summary of what was going on in each place.  He or she could of course easily control the table, telling it to show whatever he wanted, but most watch officers left it to its automated settings.  The computer was supposed to be good about alerting them to anything out of the ordinary.  At least that was what he was told.

“Sir?” the officer of the watch asked, clearing her throat, and Medron glanced over to see her sitting in a chair on the other end of the table, quickly shifting his gaze to her black leather jacket.  She was the only one in the van wearing one.  The others lay draped over the techs’ chairs.  He read her nametag as quickly as he could and turned back to the technicians for a second.  It had been over a year since he’d seen most of the people from David’s unit, and even on the best of days he had the memory of a goldfish when it came to names.

“Kara,” he noted and turned back as she smiled.

“Forgot it again?” she asked and Medron nodded awkwardly.  He was her commander.  The least she could expect was that he’d know her name.

“You pilot the Phoenix Hawk,” he noted and she beamed with pleasure.  “You were born in the Andurien worlds after they seceded from the Free Worlds League.  Your father died fighting the Capellans when Canopus and Andurien attacked them.  Your older brother died when the League brought Andurien back into the fold.  Your family spent nearly two decades rebuilding your father’s ’Mech and now you pilot it,” he rattled off the series of facts about her past quickly and she nodded in surprise, pleased that he took the time to memorize that.  It wasn’t like it was difficult.  His memory for stories was nearly perfect.  Exactly the opposite of his memory for names.  He knew the basic histories of every one of his MechWarriors and ASF pilots, and many of the vehicle and infantry crews.  “You came here because you knew one of my distant cousins.  He…was a tech who worked on your ’Mech.  He…told you that I was reforming an old family unit that died a long time ago.  And…your commander knew your family history.  Wouldn’t let an Andy secessionist be promoted no matter what you could do.  It was a dead end track in the League military, so you decided to go mercenary.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the experience so far,” he finished with a smile and she shook her head in amusement.

“Do you remember his name?” she asked and he sighed in defeat.

“I wouldn’t remember his name if you hit me over the head with it,” he whispered sadly.  “But I do know that he’s one of only a few of my cousins who still live in Andurien space.  Most of them moved out to the Magistry or the Concordat after the League retook the Duchy.”

“He always talked about moving,” she whispered.  “But his mother was sick and needed medical care.  That’s why he worked on ’Mechs.  For the money.”

“It makes sense,” Medron returned, slotting another part of the story into his brain for later recall, and glanced around at the displays.  “So how are things going on here?” he asked in a more serious tone.

“All normal.  Just another quiet shift watching the little whities play with their machines down there.”

“Excuse me?” Medron asked and she cocked her head at him.  Then she chuckled.

“That’s right, you haven’t been here very long.  We must have forgotten to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” Medron asked and she smiled as she ran her fingers across the controls to bring up a view from inside the Complex showing several ComStar acolytes working on a computer.  Medron blinked, shook his head, and looked again, finally realizing what she meant.  “You’re spying on them!  They’re our employers, and you’re spying on them?” he asked, his voice starting to shift towards anger, tinged with a bit of fear.  If ComStar figured out what was going on…

“Oh yeah,” she returned happily.  “They love it.”  Medron stared at her in astonished disbelief and she laughed at the look on his face.  “It gives them something to do,” she explained.  “Every time David goes down, he drops off a few little pretties.  And their Counter-Intel guys and girls start trying to find whatever he drops off.  They get practice and they love it.  And we get to see what they’re up to for a while,” she added with a bigger smile and shifted to another sensor.  The holotank shimmered before the new input locked in and Medron’s jaw dropped as he saw one of the BattleMech lines in it.  Like everything else in the Complex, the line was offline, mothballed by the Star League officers who’d originally lived here.

After the Exodus, the men and women who’d decided to stay had moved to the coasts where their descendents proceeded to forget almost everything they knew about the Inner Sphere.  All they had left were legends about a big war in the stars.  Reduced to a subsistence level of farming, they’d completely forgotten what ’Mechs, or any technology above a windmill or a hand-made pistol looked like until the pirates arrived.  David had spent the last few months walking around to the various towns, getting them to realize that the pirates weren’t ever going to bother them again, and offering to pay them for food.  That alone had shocked the major towns into thinking he wasn’t lying.  Turning the pirates who’d been guilty of the worst abuses over to local justice had done everything else required to get the friendship of the locals.

“Amazing,” Medron whispered, coming back to the matter at hand.  “Well, if they like the practice, by all means, keep giving them a workout,” he finished and one of the technicians watching the displays chuckled.

“I’m sure one or two of us will be happy to keep it up,” the Lieutenant returned with a smile towards the technician.  Kara.  Kara.  Kara.  Medron ran the name through his mind multiple times, trying to keep himself from forgetting it.  It would happen again.  It always did, but the least he could do was try.  It was the least his people deserved.  His attention returned to the present as an alarm when off.  He looked up quickly to see what was wrong but Kara just shook her head humorously.  “It’s just telling us that someone’s coming,” she whispered and flipped the holotank over to show an outside view.

Medron frowned as he saw the unfamiliar young woman walking towards the door in her standard dark gray uniform.  Like most members of Terra’s Pryde, she also wore her black leather jacket, rather than the dark gray casual uniform jacket.  He was starting to wonder why he even bothered with it.  It would save money to just forget it ever existed.  He stepped over and started manipulating the controls, zooming in on her chest.  Lents her nametag said.  Just Lents.  No last name?  Or was it her last name?  He moved the view over to her left breast and scowled as he noted the long golden chain hanging off it.  Second Lieutenant.  Now that was really odd.  Either she was a squad commander, a vehicle commander, or piloted a ’Mech or fighter with that rank.  He zoomed out the view again and watched her walk.  It wasn’t the walk of an infantry or vehicle commander.  It was the walk of a MechWarrior.  And he knew all of his MechWarriors by face.  He glanced back at her face and scowled.  As if he could ever forget that face whatever position she had in this unit.

“Who is she?” Medron asked and turned to Kara.  She smiled back, but her eyes betrayed something.  He wasn’t certain exactly what, but there was something about this she didn’t feel comfortable about.

“She’s Second Lieutenant Lents, sir,” Kara returned after a moment’s hesitation.  “She’s a new recruit.”

“She looks Scandinavian,” Medron noted, not taking his eyes off Kara.  She kept her smile up, but something still felt off.

“Yes, sir.  I guess she does,” Kara finally responded and he nodded as the outer door opened, letting a gust of wind burst against the inner door.  Kara’s words didn’t agree with his observation, but they didn’t disagree either.  Interesting.  In the holotank, Lents’ leather jacket fluttered in the wind and he nodded at the slim figure it showed off.  Most interesting.  She shut the outer door, opened the inner door, and walked in with a briefcase tucked under her right arm.

He put on a big smile, stepped forward as she shut the door, and stood in front of her as she turned back to the center of the van, holding his right hand out for her to shake.  She jerked, nearly moving to take his hand, then remembered she was carrying the briefcase just in time to keep from dropping it.  He kept his smile on as she hurriedly put the briefcase down and glanced up to see the five long silver chains hanging over his left breast.  She obviously knew there was only one person in Terra’s Pryde with fine long chains.  She blinked and moved to salute him, but he reached forward and grabbed her right hand.

“I’m Colonel Medron Pryde,” he announced and her eyes flashed angrily at his name, but she took control instantly and held his hand firmly.

“Second Lieutenant Lents,” she returned in very well spoken English.  At least she knew how to speak clearly.  That was better than many in the unit.

“First or last name?” Medron asked and her eyes flashed again.  Interesting.  Why would she be so angry about that question?

“I do not have a last name,” she noted clearly and he frowned.  Something wasn’t adding up here.

“What about your family?” he asked, still holding onto her hand.

“I do not have one,” she answered and he let out a long breath.  Perhaps that explained her anger.  Had her family abandoned her?  He released her hand and stepped back.

“New recruit?” he asked and Lents nodded.

“Ah-” She cut off as Kara coughed behind him and he turned to look at her questioningly.  She coughed again, looking like she was in the middle of a fit, and he turned back to Lents.  “Yes, sir,” she announced clearly and he nodded, inviting her to continue.  “Colonel David hired me,” she added and he continued nodding.  Odd way of saying his name there.  It should be either David or Colonel Pryde.  Colonel David was just…odd.  Which seemed to be par for the course with this girl.  Young woman.  Whatever.

“What do you pilot?” he asked and the first genuine smile he’d seen came to her face.

“I was given a Crab,” she pronounced proudly and his eyebrows rose in surprise.  She didn’t have her own ’Mech but David had given her one of the handful of Star League ’Mechs found in the Complex?  That didn’t make sense.  “I lost my Centurion before joining,” she added and he nodded.  That made a bit more sense.  But still, why did he give her that ’Mech?

“You must be a bit of something behind the stick to get that,” he whispered and she swelled with pride.

“It is an honor to pilot a ’Mech that served in the Star League Army,” she returned and he nodded back.  His phrasing had been designed to have more than one meaning, but she’d either not caught or was ignoring the second meaning entirely.  Again, interesting.  He turned to Kara and walked over to her, leaning in close to her ear.

“What do you think of this Lents?” he asked and leaned back to look at her carefully.  There it was again.  There was something she wasn’t saying.

“She’s a good fighter,” Kara responded with a smile.  This one reached her eyes.  Interesting.  He looked back at Lents, caught her staring intently at him, and turned back to Kara.

“Do you trust her?”  She swallowed, looked him in the eyes, and nodded firmly.

“Yes, I do,” she answered and he nodded back as he turned to Lents.  There was something he was missing here.  He could feel it.  He just couldn’t figure out what it was.  But in the end, it didn’t really matter.  His people trusted her.  His brother trusted her.  And he didn’t know her enough to say whether they were wrong at the moment.  He nodded again, just as firmly as Kara had, and walked back to Lents.  He’d pretty much seen what he’d wanted to see in here anyways.  There wasn’t much more to mess with, and looking at the briefcase she’d brought in, she had something to do here.  He put his right hand on Lents’ shoulder and leaned in close to her ear.

“Never say you don’t have a family again,” he ordered and she looked at him, a confused look on her face.  “We’ve got a large family right here,” he clarified as he waved his left hand around.  “And they’ve decided you’re a part of it.  So, welcome to the family,” he finished with a smile, took his hand off her shoulder, and opened the door to walk out.

It was time to talk to David and find out what was up with this new recruit.  He had some questions about her that needed answering.  Now.