NSS – The Set Up
Black Hills Sector
January 15, 3061
It was a dark, drizzly night on Solaris (hey, aren't they all?).
It was a long walk from the hotel to the restaurant. It was even longer the way I was going, but I preferred it to the cab. Easier to see if anyone's following...
Rounding the corner, I saw the Cathedral up ahead and smiled. Every time a got a look at that window, it never failed to lift my spirits.
As I neared it, I slowed and half turned my head, appearing to look at the old structure. In reality, I was checking to see if I was being tailed. After making sure there was no-one following, I glanced at my watch. It was nearly 9:30. If I didn't move I was going to be late.
I increased my pace, but not enough to draw attention. I didn't want people to idly wonder where I was going. That sort of thing led to people noticing you, and that could lead to being remembered. Not a good thing.
Walking through the door of The New Avalon brought back a few memories, nearly all of them good. I checked my coat, and presented myself to the man at the door.
"Do you have a reservation sir?"
"No, I am here with the Cualder party. I am a running a little late."
He checked his list before looking up with a slightly friendly look on his face.
"Certainly sir, if you'll just follow me." he made a small sweeping motion with his hand as an invitation before striding into the restaurant proper.
I followed two steps behind, doing a scan of the diners for any familiar faces. Most were obviously mechjocks, the kind that thinks their twice as good as they are. There were a few up and comers, as well as a few retired vets of the games, but none I knew personally. It had been a few years...
"Here you are sir."
The man nodded before making his way back through the maze of tables.
It was a corner table with three chairs, two of which had their backs to a wall. In the one to the right sat a familiar face, the other two were empty. The man before me stood, and offered his hand.
"Good to see you again."
"Likewise," I replied.
He offered me the other chair backing onto a wall, which I took.
"So why did you request a meeting?" I asked.
"I have an offer for you. My employers are keen to engage your services."
"I thought that would peak your interest. At any rate, they have a mutual problem that neither trusts the other to deal with, so they have sort out a neutral third party to facilitate a mutually agreeable outcome."
"In other words, they found a discreet freelancer with mercenary contacts to perform some sort of military operation on the quiet, yes?"
"Almost. My employers are being troubled by a particularly well equipped and trained group of pirates. Unfortunately, my employer's efforts to deal with the problem have been largely unsuccessful. They seem to know when a strike against them will be made, and plan accordingly. They also seem to know where to hit, and with just how much force to achieve their goal. Initially my employers thought they were the only ones affected, but recent Intel has proven that this is not the case. In a rare act of cooperation by some high ranking intelligence members, they have agreed to a plan that may resolve the problem."
"You mean your representing two separate governments? Not bad Steven, you're moving up in the world."
"Thankyou, so are you interested?"
"That depends, why me."
"You control one of the groups that have been identified by both sides as being able to complete the mission."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you then. The STMG are engaged in combat with pirates in the Kendall system, I can't pull them out for ano..."
He raised his hand to cut me off, "I'm not talking about the Strikes Twice."
"Wait, you want the Sentinels?"
"Why?" I asked with suspicion in my voice.
"Because their profile is low enough that no-one would notice their movement."
"My employers both believe that whoever these pirates are getting their information from is very well informed. As such, they believed that using their own forces would lead to the mission being discovered. They also theorised that they would watch mercenary units in the event that my employers would hire them to deal with the problem."
"As such, they reviewed nearly every mercenary company in existence to produce a shortlist of potential candidates. The Sentinels made that list."
"What were the criteria?"
He paused for a moment. "Low grade mercenary units with near zero recognition. Units that, if moved, would not be noticed by many people. Preferably green or recently formed units with no prior history. Units that have small contracts that could be easily gotten out of without causing problems and drawing attention. This list goes on, but you get the idea..."
"Yeah, you wanted nobodies that wouldn't be missed." I said angrily.
"Hey don't shoot the messenger."
"So, where do we stand?"
"Actually, the Sentinels were pretty low on the list."
"Because they have some pretty high profile people when compared to some of the other candidates. Not to mention the hardware they've got. Some of the better units don't have the stuff your guys have..."
"Don't remind me..."
"At any rate, I think your guys have better chance at pulling this off than any of the others."
"What are the terms?"
He reached down and picked up his briefcase and took put a manila folder and a large yellow envelope and handed me the folder. I opened it and read the mission brief. Seemed like a straightforward assault on a base, then research and recover. Then I read the contract. My eyes widened when I got to the terms.
"You have to be kidding!"
"Nope, they're the terms."
"This is too good to be true... What's the catch?"
"The catch comes when you accept. But you have to admit, it's a lucrative contract for a start-up. Folks'd be lining up if they knew what was being offered."
"How do they plan on accomplishing this?"
"One of my employers will be providing the logistical support; the other will be fronting the cash. They'll be sharing the Intel and remaining salvage."
"What's with the 50% Clan recovery clause?"
"Very simple, in two of the raids, several examples of Clan technology were stolen. These pirates have integrated these pieces in to their arsenal. However, they were using some Clan weapons in their first recorded attack, so it's not something they haven't encountered before."
I sat in thought for a moment, looking the contract over a third and fourth time.
"Okay, show me the envelope"
Grinning like a wolf, Steve opened the envelope and gave me a small stack of photos.
"These are images taken during skirmishes with the pirates. We've identified 25 different mechs of varying design. Of these, slightly less than half have some form of clan weaponry. We have also identified several combat vehicles they use on missions. They seem especially fond of these."
He handed me a photo of a pair of Shrek's with a Union in the far background.
"They use three of these to protect their Landing Zone's whilst the bulk of their force is off doing the fighting. They also have a large contingent of support vehicles."
"Are you kidding, we can't take on that many..."
"You won't have too."
He handed me some aerial photos.
"We think this is their base of operations. The locals of this planet have a small mining and production operation. They export a high grade ore and some fairly decent armour plating. About a two years ago, a small band of pirates, about 5 or 6 mechs strong, established a small base 180km north-east of the main city. The pirates left the locals alone, in exchange for cheaper rates on the finished armour. The pirates were left alone, because they largely attacked other pirates. They saw themselves as modern day heroes of the people..."
"About six months ago, Intel indicates that someone else arrived on the planet, and took over the base. No-one knows what happened exactly, but the relatively free contact between the pirates and the locals ceased. No-one came into the city to visit the bars, no-one bought supplies, nothing for weeks. The only contact in this time was the former leader of the group found wandering aimlessly along the only sealed road that leads to the base."
"When the locals found him, he was mumbling something about it all being gone, before falling into a coma. Apparently, he'd suffered massive trauma, probably from a failed ejection. They figured he'd been wandering the area for a couple of days. He died shortly after that."
"Anyway, about 6-7 weeks after the new guys showed up, they started attacking the locals. They avoided taking out the infrastructure, and instead concentrated on the business areas and homes. Now the local populace wasn't all that big to begin with. Somewhere in the range of 120-130 thousand people. As it currently stands, there are about 30,000 people left, all of whom are in the main city."
"Now the folks that were running the planet were smart. They'd based their entire defence force around easily replaced and repaired units. They had three primary weapons systems. SRM6's, AC/5's and LRM10's. They didn't have any mechs, but they had a large conventional vehicle force. Nearly a battalion and a half of tanks, as well as a full company of aircraft. The new guys must have known what their defences were like because they walked right through them. They've reduced the planets military to a handful of the old Striker Tanks, a few old SRM Carriers, a pair of Scorpions, and three Warrior Attack Choppers. They've also got 6 Guardian fighters and three SRM Mechbusters."
"There in no shape to fight back, but they've also halted the enemy's advance. They've been in a stalemate for nearly a month."
"According to the locals, they new guys have entrenched themselves in a fortified position. The pirates base was little more than a few buildings set against a small cliff of a mountain. Whoever these guys are, in about three months, they have carved out a large defensive bunker. Several underground bunkers have been built, heavy and medium buildings erected, as well as defensive turrets."
"Now, my employers both got operatives on world, and they've been feeding the Intel back for the last few weeks. They've worked out the best time to attack is when they go on raid. This is when their base is most vulnerable. Now that doesn't mean it's going to be easy..."
"What are we looking at?"
He pulled out another small stack of photos and handed them to me.
"The first thing we know is they have seven operational Scorpion tanks. They salvaged these from their attacks on the locals. They also have close to a company of mechs defending the site. Now we know they have three Jagers, and three Enforcer's. Now there old, but two of the Enforcers have Clan large lasers, and all three Jagers have Clan AC's, we just don't know what calibre."
"What about the other's?"
"Well, they've definitely got an Avatar omni. We can't tell what variant, because the operatives can't get close enough, and it only arrived a few weeks ago with a large shipment of supplies."
"Big, like what you'd take to a war big. These guys had heavy trucks hauling stuff from a pair of Mules for two days. They even had a pair of Mech Transports, which leads us to believe they've got another two mechs we can't even begin to identify.
We also know they got some C3 equipment amongst the shipment."
"How do you know that?"
He pointed to one of the photos, "Because these crates here are identical to ones that were bound for NAIS. They contained three C3 masters and six slaves."
"Okay, what else?"
"Don't know. It depends on what they take with them on their next raid. Now, when they leave the system, you'll jump in and head for the planet, which should take about 2-4 days. Once you've been dropped off, the dropships will return to the Jumpship. You'll be left with a K1 Class Drop Shuttle that will hold your supplies and such. After arriving, you'll have between 5-8 days to complete your mission before they return in system. We'll return 10 days after you've been dispatched to the surface. Even if you haven't completed your mission, you'll need to return to the ship immediately. The dropships won't wait long for you if you've failed..."
"Okay, you mentioned turrets?"
"Yep, each of these turrets, one at each end of the wall and the three along the ridgeline here, has a single SRM4 and a LB 2-X AC. They are heavily armoured. There are also two towers, one either side of the main gate here. Each of these has two
MG's in it. We also think this communication tower here is important. Ever since the big supply run, there have always been two Scorpions around it at all times."
"What about patrols?"
"Like clockwork. Two mechs and a Scorpion leave the base once every four hours. You can always count on a Jager or Enforcer to be in the mix. The have the patrols timed so that as one is leaving, another is just about to return, and a third is halfway through."
He glanced at his watch.
"Got another appointment?"
"Not exactly, I have to report back in about an hour."
"You expect me to decide in an hour, without all the information about the job?"
"Well, without sounding arrogant, I was expecting an answer now."
I glared across the table.
"When is this supposed to happen?"
"They want them in place in three weeks."
He pulled a fountain pen out of his pocket, and wrote a name on a napkin, and handed it to me.
"Are you kidding? My guys are in the Confederation at the moment. There also spread across two systems. It'll take at least 2 weeks just to get them organised."
"No it won't, I already have a Merchant on standby in each system your guys are in. They will transport them to Armington, where they will transfer to a Tramp that will take them to the planet."
I looked at him across the table, "You were so certain I'd agree to this?"
"Well, it is the contract of a lifetime..." there was that grin again...
"We get 60% of the Clan salvage."
"You do realise that the locals get first pick of that anyway right?"
"WHAT? How the hell did that happen?"
"There providing air support. Four Guardians and a MechBuster will strafe the base just before you engage, and again when you do."
"And for this they get salvage?"
"Well, that and all the Intel, and a few other things."
"20% and the first pick."
"Fine, but I still want 60%. You 'employers' can bicker over the remains."
"I'll see what I can do. Are you at 'The Imperial'?"
I snorted in disdain, "No, 'The Royale', much more civilised..."
"Right, I'll arrange for all the current Intel I have to be forwarded to you."
"Very well. It was good seeing you again Steve."
"And you to Sir! If you ever need my services..."
"...I know where to find you."
I stood and shook his hand, before turning to leave.
I collected my coat, and headed back out into the night. At least it had stopped drizzling.
I started walking towards the Cathedral, I was intending to catch a cab from there, when I noticed someone rush out of the restaurant behind me and look around. They composed themselves, and crossed the street.
Immediately I was on the defensive, and I waved down the first cab I saw.
As the cab peeled away, I looked out the window. The gentleman that had crossed the street was now hailing a cab. I pulled out my phone and dialled a memorized number.
"Frank, it's me. Are you working security tonight? Good. I might have a situation, eta 7 minutes."
As I put the phone back in my pocket, I began wondering just what I had agreed to...