18 November 3078
Denver Cargo Transit Tunnels, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate
“And I don’t give a damn who you think you are, Sir!” The last word came out in a sneer, the balding officer’s face twisting into a snarl as he responded.
Alex sighed, already writing off the conversation as a loss. He pulled his Sternsnacht from its holster and leveled it at the portly man’s jowly face. “It’s not a request, Acolyte,” he whispered.
The man’s face paled in the wane light of the cavernous tunnel. He gulped, then slowly straightened up and saluted, albeit reluctantly. “You can’t have it. You’ll kill us all.”
Alex slowly nodded. “Those who remain, yes. Or hadn’t you noticed the lack of people in the streets after the firebombing the enemy did last night? You do realize that most of the city is blackened rubble above our heads?”
Baldy paled, his already-white skin turning nearly translucent.
“I neither desire nor require your acceptance of my need, so I’m not going to explain myself.” Alex glanced at his wrist chronometer, then back at the officer. “And I don’t have the time, regardless. So. Move—“ he wagged the gun briefly “—or not. Your body will not be a hindrance, alive or dead.”
After a moment’s brief hesitation, Baldy took two long sidesteps, then turned and ran past Alex and Rogers. Already forgetting him, Alex strode forward and pulled open the truck door. Glancing back at his aide, he nodded in the direction of the car they had driven down into the tunnels. “Drive ahead of me and make sure we have no obstacles. I’d hate to jostle our cargo more than necessary.” The aide saluted and dashed back to the vehicle.
Alex settled into the cab of the cargo truck and turned over the engine. With a muffled groan, the truck puttered to life and rattled as he pushed it into gear, rambling the ancient vehicle back up the tunnel, towards the night and the Word’s makeshift camp. He followed the dim glow of taillights, no further disturbances interrupting their trek back into Denver proper.
Rogers was waiting for him as the truck shuddered to a halt, the engine ticking loudly as he turned off the ignition. Clambering out of the cab, he brushed at his fatigues but the weeks-old dust and grime refused to cooperate.
“What a piece of junk,” said Rogers, glancing up at the ancient four-wheeled hauler, then back down at her handheld. “Pickets are reporting all’s quiet; no sign of incursion along this sector of the city.”
Alex grunted, looking around at the ramshackle ‘camp.’ Suitable in name only, the Seventeenth’s current location looked more of a walking junkyard. Only five BattleMechs—Alex’s Legacy the heaviest of the bunch—remained operational. Rogers’ Skulker was gone; her current roost was in the back of a hastily modified Pegasus. He snorted, knowing that the ‘hastily modified’ tag given by the Division’s mechanics meant ‘almost a wrecked hulk’ than any type of functional repairs. A Goblin held the last four remaining and operational Purifier suits; it was those troopers that Alex needed now. He turned and set off towards the tank, beckoning Rogers to follow.
“I’m assuming they had what you needed?”
Alex shook his head. “Not in the way of arms and supplies, no. The base was mostly reservists, who bolted at the first sign of Stone’s forces entering the city.” He gestured towards the ruined skyline beyond their small gathering. “The firebombing last night didn’t help convince anyone to stick around. I was fortunate enough to have the ranking officer meet me at the rendezvous point…” He stopped, turning to look at Rogers.
“He looked inside the crates, didn’t he.”
The young officer nodded, remaining silent.
The lines on Alex’s face deepened as he frowned with the realization. “He did look, and then tried to argue with me about it, but it was obvious he was done with everything.” Alex let out a deep breath. “Not that I blame him. What we have in mind is somewhat heinous.”
Rogers stood still, her eyes on her superior, saying nothing.
He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling the grit and sweat beneath his fingers. “It’s a damnable thing, war,” he whispered.
Alex looked up at Rogers. “Just something my father once said. I re-read it in the journal he left me. ‘It’s a damnable thing, war, but only the strong of heart and purpose can divine what is right, and what is best for the people under his protection.’” He gestured vaguely about the camp. “What we’re about to do, to carry out, will be considered reprehensible by the victors and the armchair generals…but it is what I must do to protect the Seventeenth. There is no other way.”
Rogers nodded once, then cocked her head. “Not even surrender?”
He laughed, a short, grating bark of sound that caught the attention of the nearby troopers standing around an oil drum. “Do you think surrendering to Stone and his ilk is the best option for us? Do you believe they will treat you with accordance to proper conventions and considerations?” He grimaced, shaking his head. “You’ve seen the same reports I have. There’s no mercy with this crowd. They’re here for blood, and that’s all they want. If we surrender, the best we can get is a public kangaroo trial with a bullet to the noggin. The worst? Well, I’m sure you can think that far ahead.”
She nodded again, frowning. He saw the slight tremor ripple through her shoulders, knew what she was imagining. He’d imagined it himself more times than he could count.
“Very well, sir. Just doing my duty, covering the angles.”
Alex smiled, turning back to the knot of soldiers nearby. “That’s why I keep you around, Adept. Someone has to reign in the insanity parade.”