An assault drop meant that for at least the initial occupation of the position, Airdrop would be alone. None of the other 'Mech companies was fully drop capable. But then, that was the type of mission we were organized to perform.
Mess was quiet that evening. We knew something was up, but no one had anything definite to report. Hsiu Zhiao told me the Techs had been asked for bay inventories by volume-but had received no pack orders yet. Larkin told me that Katrovarisch had found his friends in Training/Ops particularly reticent to discuss anything but the weather-which makes a short conversation on Caph.
It was a mission on another planet - the sky background and weather patterns in the sims did not represent Caph. The other companies knew something was up, but had little to report either. They knew that our few intense days in the sims meant a special mission.
After mess, Airdrop Company was called into what had once been someone's living room. It held up to twenty people comfortably on modular sectional seating in a tasteful mauve. We were using it as a medium briefing room. It was a bit more relaxed than I would have arranged, but the Major is rather lax about some aspects of discipline.
Sitting on one side were Leutnant Steiner, Captain Tom Foster, and Captain Cru, the Steiner liaison officer and the other company commanders. Steiner looked curious, Foster relaxed (he wasn't going), and Cru sat still, stern, and implacable as a boulder, panzer boy among mechwarriors.
My lance entered together and sat in a row. Bear sat in the center of the room with his arms folded. Bear looked slightly annoyed-but then, he often did. I'd supposed he had heard at least the gist of this before. I was annoyed that I had not been briefed at all. Bear's lance sat arrayed around him-Goddard in his traditional black with unit markings had his boots up on a section; Wade had something in a can to drink; Ridlyn, the rookie Wasp pilot, looked like a nervous puppy, head whipping around to look at each of us for the proper attitude to wear.
Part of Katrovarisch's lance was there before my lance arrived: Blake and Akton were talking in whispers. Katrovarisch and Hildner arrived last, Hildner still using a wipe on the grease on his fingers. Larkin had told me that Hildner had beaten and removed three Techs assigned to him back in the Legion of Vega, claiming he could to a better job caring for his 'mech in his spare time. He did. He kept his nose in his mech now, even though it was not his property.
When everyone was seated and the noise dropped to a low roar, Major Haldane nodded to Captain Darrian Foster, who nodded to one of his staff sergeants seated at a console hooked to a briefer before a blank white wall. "Listen up. I hope that even the least astute of you by now realizes that we've had airdrop in intense training for an upcoming special mission. Some of the brighter heads among you will have figured out that the background scenery in your sims isn't on Caph." I had.
A quick look at a jump map made the probable target easy to find. From Caph, a single jump radius included Terra, Keid, Bryant, Northwind, Fomalhaut, Altair, Deiron, New Home, Epsilon Indi, and Rigil Kentaurus. Terra is, of course, neutral. Rigil Kent is in Lyran space, and is where we staged out of. Altair and Deiron were Kuritan space. Keid, Bryant, New Home, and Epsi Indi were Liao stars. It's one thing for an offensive to retake occupied worlds. It's another to invade Liao or Kuritan home space.
Both Northwind and Fomalhaut were earth-like. Both were long-time colony worlds. If the goal of the offensive was to re-open the Davion Corridor, I'd have gone for Northwind, as it had the longer reach. From Northwind, the LCAF could jump as far as Errai. Northwind was also on the Liao side of the Corridor and possibly an easier nut to crack. But we were attached to the 4th Skye Rangers, some of House Steiner's best. So Fomalhaut was a likely choice.
"The Harriers have been handed a special mission for the first phase of our next planetary assault. You ladies and gentlemen get the honor of being the first to represent the Harriers on Fomalhaut II, as well as among the first of the Steiner forces to set foot there. VII Corps Command picked the Harriers for this mission and we picked you folks as the best to carry it off. As you may have guessed, your job is to seize and hold an airfield. And you will have to perform the assault pretty much on your own. Captain Foster has more detailed information and will take your questions." The major traded places with Captain Foster.
I glanced at my lance briefly while the two men exchanged positions. Larkin sat quietly beside me, his note pad out like mine. Rasputin sat in a slovenly, undignified slouch, her tunic open low enough to see a touch of red lace. McCabe was relaxed, curious, and attentive, as though in class. This was his first combat brief with the Harriers.
Something felt wrong about this mission. It hit me from below my training and experience. Unbidden, other missions of history listed themselves where the orders read "hold until relieved: Virconium, Magdeburg, Richmond, Singapore, Hong Kong, Corregidor, Stalingrad, Tobruk, Arnhem, Sevastopol, Warsaw, Gelledtown, Jerbum V, Seattle. Each had ended in the full destruction or surrender of the defending force.
Captain Foster glanced at his notes and read out detail, which I copied down:
Hildner asked, "And fer the three days, sir, who performs repairs?"
"I believe you have the best qualifications for that, Mr. Hildner."
Rasputin piped up "You mean no Techs? We'll have to fix 'em ourselves?"
McCabe chimed in "Sorry, no distractions for you."
I looked over at them. "Quiet. Show some decorum during the briefing," said Larkin.
Captain Foster scanned the room and the comments stopped. "VII Corps does not expect to have full control of space, orbit, or air during the opening phases of the invasion. We cannot risk the Leopards going all the way to ground, nor can we risk them sitting long enough to unload your technical support."
I glanced over at Bear. He had not appeared to move since the briefing began. He HAD heard this already. And complained. And been denied.
Foster continued, "Many of you have some Tech knowledge. You are dropping onto a military base. They probably have decent tools and supplies on site. We aren't asking you to overhaul your 'mechs. Just to keep them op for three days."
I asked about extraction contingencies.
Captain Foster frowned and said, "Ground relief is the only plan currently in the works. Remember, we're part of the Lyran force, so this is kind of in their hands. There are some more planning details for the officers. Start thinking about what you want to pack in your cockpit. You may be there for a few days."
Major Haldane stared at a mark on the wall, refusing to catch anyone's eye.