Mother: Well, we are back at Blue Diamond. At about 130 light-years, this is the closest to home I've been in six months and the closest I'm likely to be for a while. We're about to head off in the opposite direction about 130 light-years.
As you probably noticed on the return address, things have changed a bit. I've left the Harriers - or rather we calved off the Harriers. Steele's Spartans. I'm now Exec of an independent company-strength mercenary company.
It happened like this. We were on Fomalhaut. As you may have heard, things were tough there for the Steiner first wave. We got caught in the grist. Major Haldane allowed us to be committed piecemeal, and the pieces got well chewed.
My company, Airdrop, was committed to taking and holding an airport to prevent its use by air support. We were supposed to hold for 36 hours. We were relieved after five days. By then end, we had about two thirds effective strength - and we only had that because Hsiu Zhiao (I suggested he jump with us in Gifted's pickup chamber) had been working around the clock (using off-duty mechwarriors as astechs) to keep them running.
While that was going on, Major Haldane had been ordered to force a pass to unbottle the Steiner boys. He took Striker Company and his command lance and bludgeoned a Heavy company of the 5th Sword of Light. They took 50% casualties, including Major Haldane and Captain Cru, commander of Striker Company.
The battalion Exec, Captain Darrian Foster, took over. I've told you about him, yes? He's the last of the original unit founders. He's tough, but he's seen a bit too much combat. We were done as a fighting force on this planet. There weren't enough spare parts around to get Airdrop fully functional. The Steiner command withdrew the unit for refit. So we ended up back on Blue Diamond in mid-February.
Shortly after that, Steele came to me with an offer. Never a particularly introspective type, I guess. He spent a chunk of the return trip inside a bottle and inside his head. He had grown up in the Harriers, been boyhood buddies with Alistair Haldane. They went off to school together, and came back together to find both their fathers died in the same ambush. They've served together for the last four years as brother officers. I guess they are closer than I am to any of my sibs. While a good tactician, Haldane has always been a bit too aggressive for his own good, and it caught up with him in his last battle. Steele was watching as Haldane's 'mech blew up.
Anyway, Steele's father was another of the unit founders, his family a major stockholder. Steele has control of a sizable block of stock. I guess the idea of living through another debacle like Fomalhaut with someone else at the wheel did not appeal to him. He decided to calf off a unit. The Harriers are a bit cash poor at the moment, so he traded his share of the Harriers for six 'mechs, convinced some O-Os to come along from the Harriers for a share of this new organization, hired on some more of us dispossessed (Harrier bonus or share money traded for parts and supplies). Harriers traded off stock liabilities for inventory.
I guess he came to me first. That would make sense. We are living in a rented barracks near the space port, about fifteen klicks from where the Harriers left their dependents. Steele knocked on my door while I was doing a couple studies of a two-mech company re-org from the Harrier's remaining 'Mechs. While sociable enough to me, Steele has never been overly close to me and seldom seeks out my company, so I was a bit taken aback when he appeared at my door, bottle of company spirit in his hand. In his politest drawl, he asked, "Can I come in for a moment, Dysart? I'd like to share some thoughts with you." He gave me the slightest chance to say no, then barged on in.
He started talking in that excessive Talon drawl of his. "Boy," he said. While a mildly annoying form of address to a brother officer of equal rank, Steele calls everyone not of both greater rank and age than himself "boy." And he was my lance leader when I first joined the Harriers. He took out one of his cigars, bit off an end, and lit up as he started to talk. "Boy, I have a serious proposition for you. This last campaign has not been the best for the Harriers. We took some fierce hits on Fomalhaut, in both folk and equipment. Took a right bad morale hit, too, losing Alistair in combat." He poured some company spirit into two plastic cups from the bathroom and handed me one. Hsiu Zhiao has it that Grex's lead Tech Ralph brews the stuff.
"The LCAF pulling back from Zinderneuf" - that's what we called the airport - "three days after relieving us didn't help Airborne much," I said. I sipped. Company spirit hits like a drop from orbit. It jars your whole spine when it lands in your stomach. If shipping wasn't so expensive, I'd send Father a bottle.
"No, it didn't. You're enough of an officer to 'preciate what Fomalhaut did to us as a fighting force." I wrinkled my nose at the thought as well as at the acrid smoke. "Losing Alistair, Cassie, and Amanda in one battle was a rude blow to Cap'n Darrian, too. It was like losing children to him, especially Alistair and Cassie."
"Amanda may yet turn up. The After-Action review seemed pretty sure she was alive when you left." Two 'mechs and a tank had been destroyed trying to rescue Amanda after her 'mech was destroyed trying a rescue of her own. Haldane had left the unit in combat too long, with too small a margin to last through a retreat. Total cost: six 'mechs and three tanks out of twenty units committed.
"Hope so. She's one tough lady. But Alistair, Cassie, young Jimmy Hunt, Lauren Cooke, and Cru and the tankers weigh on Cap'n Darrian. He's a shoo-in for commander, between his family's votes, the Haldane bloc, and the Blakes, but I don't think he's got what we need to pull us out of the ditch."
"I'm afraid I don't supply you with much vote ammo."
"Ain't what I got in mind. I'm a-thinking of leaving the Harriers and starting a fresh unit. Company-sized, all-mech, lean and mean, I was wonderin' if you'd care to join. As Exec."
I was a company exec for Airborne. But that was kind of low on the totem pole in an oversized battalion. And we were going to re-org around two mech companies instead of three. This would be Exec of a whole merc unit. Bigger responsibility. A chance to be number 2 instead 8 (by my latest count). A chance to show some more skills. A chance to run a unit properly. I toyed with my rag as I thought.
"Where are you going to get 'mechs? I don't own Gifted, and you don't own El Ponderosa."
"I figure to cash in my family's share of the Harriers in trade for some 'mechs. I figure to recruit some trustworthy pilots from the unit - mebbe even some of the boys with their own 'mechs. Blue Diamond is the jumping off point for the whole corridor, so I may get some recruits that way. And Galatea is a jump away, though I understand the pickings ain't what they used to be." With the war having run over a year, many of the better mercenary recruits had already joined other units.
Leaving the Harriers meant leaving Gifted. Piloting Gifted is a singular experience, rendering one powerful, maneuverable, and close to invulnerable. But I didn't own Gifted, and probably never would (short of theft). I thought I could negotiate my way into better bonus-earning contract, and thus earn my own 'mech faster (I did).
"What about Hsiu Zhiao? If I leave the Harriers, he must come along," I said.
"I had kinda hoped you'd say that. I want Hsiu Zhiao to come along. As Chief Tech." He looked at me down that cigar a moment to let that sink in. "I read the reports from Zinderneuf, yours and Bear's. We're gonna need someone who can drive Techs and astechs the way he drove you mechwarriors."
I finished the company spirit. "I would need to talk with Hsiu Zhiao, of course, before I commit him to such a course. But, it sounds good. It would depend on the 'mechs involved, what you see as our mission, org and training profiles, equipment and stores avail-"
"Sometimes, boy, you need to leap out of the fire and just trust your landing jets. Not everything is cut and dried yet. I got to have some commitments just to start the process." He puffed some more.
"By the way, if'n we do this, would you be willing to trade in your Harrier shares for shares in the new unit? Betcha you get a bigger bloc." Of course. My Harrier shares would provide a larger piece of a smaller pie. Of course, if we profited, I'd receive a larger dividend.
"What are you calling this unit?"
"The Spartans. Steele's Spartans. Kinda sings, don't it?" It did at that.
Not everything worked out as neatly as could be hoped. In order to lay his claims on 'mechs, equipment and cash, those of us who are joining the Spartans had to commit our Harriers shares. Only once the total pool had been decided could we negotiate which 'mechs were transferred to the Spartans. Things were uncomfortable throughout the ranks between the time we had to declare ourselves and the time a settlement was reached.
There were some very tight moments around the table, with both Fosters, Captain Davis (Chief Tech holds a commission in the Harriers), Doctor Blake, a Steiner lawyer, and MWSgt Corazon (who could probably sell you an asteroid as a vacation spot) on their side of the table, and Steele, Hsiu Zhiao, Vinnie Steiner and a Steiner lawyer on our side. Old Darrian (now Major confirmed by stockholder vote) Foster was tight-faced and said little through the whole thing. Doctor Blake looked disappointed and said more than once "Are you sure this is what you want to do, Grex?" Vinnie Steiner was there to lend us mostly the weight of his family name; he'll be joining the unit as a private citizen, stockholder, and chief administration and marketting officer.
Steele didn't want to press hard enough to hurt and kill the Harriers, but we needed enough equipment to be viable. As you can guess, war supplies and parts are becoming rare and expensive. Fortunately, Corazon's heart didn't seem to be in this one. He may not be much in a 'mech, but he's dynamite at an arbitration table.
The long and short of it is that I don't want to have to go through a month like that again. We ended up with six 'mechs from the Harriers with pilots to match, two more O-Os from the Harriers, and four O-O hirees. Kind of a mixed bag.
First off, the mechs we got: a twisted Griffin, a Griffin-S, two Vindicators, a Commando (modified to jump), and a Valkyrie. The Griffins and the Vinds are fairly used. Their pilots are Steele, me, Boris Katrovarisch, "Minister" Goddard, William Bradford, and Karl Hildner. The owned and operated 'mechs are a Jenner (Banzai Weiner), another Griffin (Samuel Larkin), another jumping Commando (Gator Boudreau), a Wolverine (Eric Wade), a Catapult (Sarah Lange), and an Orion (Jamie Wreth).
Steele is as good as I am, a slightly better pilot, but I have a tactical edge. Katrovarisch and Goddard served with the Harriers about as long as I have. Katrovarisch was junior lance leader in Airdrop and will be our third lance leader. Goddard was sergeant under Captain Bear, but he has had two 'mechs shot out from under him - his own Vind during Blacksmith and a Griffin-S (the one I now pilot) at Zinderneuf (from a destroyed Gyro). Boudreau has been serving with us since we've been under Steiner contract as Vinnie Steiner's subordinate, took his option to muster out of LCAF. Hildner and Weiner were part of that crew of Legion of Vega renegades that joined us during the raid on Proserpina; both have since proved dependable enough in combat. Wade joined us en route to the Corridor campaign; he's an Allison grad (class of '25), a good pilot and a good shot. Bradford was first in combat on Fomalhaut, having been apprenticed in the Harriers. The other three are new, just names and faces, though Larkin is a Sakhara grad (class of '28), and Lange and Wyeth seem steady enough in sims.
Steele selected which Harriers he would ask to join the Spartans, without any input from me. Since things became uncomfortable when we started declaring, I never really had a chance to ask those Harriers who did not join us if they had been asked. Steele dodges the subject when it comes up. I was miffed that he didn't ask Alex Larkin, who surely would have come if I was going. I was surprised he asked Bradford, as there are better dispossessed pilots among the Harriers, let alone haunting the bars around Port Simion.
At least we won't have to hitch rides everywhere. Steele sank a major chunk of the Spartan's cash (about half our Harrier's stock value came out in cash, plus the Steele family flashed him some more after several angry messages about manipulating family resources without consulting them) into a Union Dropship. Vinnie Steiner arranged, through family connections, several MCbills to provide the cash for a down payment at a greatly reduced price and a real honey for terms on a Dropship the LCAF was considering scrapping. I'm not sure how large a chunk of the Spartans Vinnie now owns - or how much of his share he owes to outside interests. I did access our corporate balance sheet, and we'll be bleeding money for a while. But having a flying base is mighty helpful.
Natividad (Rechristened Coven) has some indecent wear on her. We probably caught the LCAF torn between gutting her for parts or an expensive repair. We will have to settle for ownership and cheap repairs. But she's licensed spaceworthy. I believe we'll be happier knowing the ride home is loyal to us first, rather than an employer.
Steele and Steiner convinced Barbara Yadd to kick in with us as captain. She captained one of the Harrier's Leopards. I also seem to remember seeing a lot of Yadd and Steiner together at meals and off-duty. That's been going on since Somerset. Yadd collected a skeleton crew from the Harriers and filled out the watch bill from beached spacehands on Blue Diamond.
The Carter twins also left the Harriers to join us as organic air cover. The pair of Corsairs will be most welcome. I hope I can raise their decorum level a bit.
All of the above, plus the five senior Techs are charter stockholders of Steele's Spartans, incorporated on Blue Diamond, Lyran Commonwealth.
I now have the unenvied task of organizing the unit and seeing to its care and feeding, so that Steele has a military unit and not a mob to lead. At least Vinnie will oversee the support staff once organized. We've currently organized the unit as two near identical medium lances and a heavy lance (Griffin, Griffin, Commando, Jenner; Griffin-S, Wolverine, Commando, Valkyrie; and two Vindicators, Catapult, and Orion). At least the lances balance out as Regulars.
I will pilot the Griffin-S. Goddard had piloted it with the Harriers, until its Gyro was destroyed at Zinderneuf. It had been in decent shape until then. I renamed it Raptor. While I hate to give up Gifted, it will probably be a good experience for me to pilot a medium 'mech for a while. I haven't piloted a Griffin since Goshen, and that was only for a brief orientation. Certainly make it easier to judge what subordinates and enemies can and cannot do.
Hsiu Zhiao (some of the other pilots formerly of Airdrop call him the 'Hero of Zinderneuf', which embarrasses him) has his hands full organizing the unwieldy collection of Techs required to care for our 'mechs, their mismatched tools, supplies, and spare parts. He's been boning up on administrative practices, but does not appear too enthusiastic about that part of the job. About half of the twenty Techs are from the Harriers, the others new hires, the interviewing and selection of which Hsiu had a large hand. All in all, he's handling the responsibility well, and he and I coordinate frequently. Please tell his parents he does them and us proud.
Sometimes, I wonder if Steele didn't ask me to join just to ensure that Hsiu Zhiao would.
I have had a few disagreements with (now Captain) Steele about how to organize, train, and operate the company. He wants to run a looser organization, since we're only company strength. Disregarding of the virtues and discipline brought by maintaining high military standards, especially during this training and organization phase of a new unit, Steele has vetoed a mandatory daily PT and a rigorous inspection regime, although all equipment goes through regular readiness checks.
Rank structure is less formal - Captain, lance leader (Leftenant after Davion practice), mechwarrior, support staff. I'm senior lance leader. Steven Carter, Vinnie Steiner, Hsiu Zhiao, Barbara Yadd, and Dr. Vho are lance-leader equivalents for aerospace, support, Tech, Dropship, and medical staffs (certainly enough for an officer table with Steele, Katrovarisch, and myself). Steele does not require saluting except for formal occasions - and except for the initial incorporation and signing on ceremony, we have not had one. For uniforms, we're using Harrier grays with the unit patch replaced by one Steele devised with the help of a local artist.
Steele runs mess in a manner more suited to a college dorm than a military unit. He encourages mixing of officer and enlisted, staff and mechwarrior. He purposely comes late to mess and sits in the midst of a table selected at random disregarding that I reserve a place for him at the head of a table. Granted that at this time we are using a common mess to save funds, but I believe he wants to keep things this way.
Since Hsiu Zhiao is too busy to act as my batman, I have singled out one Johann Denko, a local hiree out of the kitchen. Hsiu Zhiao has taught him some basics, and I have given him some instructions, but he has not yet developed the appreciation for orderliness Hsiu Zhiao has. I've been over the proper organization of my locker three times with him. My unforms are not properly pressed, forcing me to do touch up in the mornings. The slob evens adds wrinkles when he lays them out. And his mess service - nearly everything clinks when it arrives, not to mention the slopping of soup and drink. If he does not get it straight, I'll leave him on Blue Diamond when we ship out.
Which will be soon. While we were negotiating the birth of the unit, we were also wangling for a contract. Thanks to contacts of Steiner's, we got a couple of offers. We took the one that best suited our unit's strength (mobility) - Raid and raid defense on the Kurita border. I cannot say precisely where, naturally. In addition to being suited to our make up and size, the Spartans are in some need of cash, so some successful raiding may well help there.
We hear a rumor that the Eridani Light Horse are afoot on the Galtor front - as are Wolf's Dragoons. Perhaps brother Michael will get a few licks in for Father. I undertsand that due to my current location, you cannot tell me much about Aaron, SuAlice, Rueben, or Joel. Do send them my best. Please send me a vid of my nephews and neices. One has not caugt up with me for over a year. Shocking to think how large some of the kinder are by now.
War news seems accurate and timely here a few jumps back from the front. On Somerset, we heard everything as month-old news releases. On the front,of course, we heard nothing (at Zinderneuf, it took a lot of convincing to get our own staff to tell us how far off relief was). But here, the news is fairly current, even on a ComStar back channel, plus rumors brought back by jumpship.
As usual, I cannot tell when I will see you next. This new unit makes it difficult to tell when I will be able to get away for the time required to travel home - and it is difficult to forsee when both Hsiu and I can both get away. Someone will need to keep this group operating! I do miss home and the smell of the air as well as your company and the rest of the House. I'll write again and tell you how the Spartans shake down.