On approach in Low Orbit

Gibson

Free Worlds League

October 9th, 3057

I still am haunted by the death of Gibson. Haunted mentally, physically, and morally. Some asked me why I stepped down from commanding the Knights after that? It's because of what I knew I would have to do next, and what it drove me to do. And yes, ten years on? I am still proud of it. The naïve man I was then, was a fool who nestled a viper to the bosom of the nation I love. I owed it repentance for that. My soul was a cheap price indeed.

Paul Masters, Blakist Hunter, An Autobiography – pp. 150-151, Atreus Press, 3060

"Are you sure, Demos?" Paul Master's scarred face grimaced, he did not like the fact he had not heard from any of Corrine's assets in system since they had arrived. In fact, the entire world was quiet, too damn quiet. Masters wore all-black tunic and trousers, wrapped in a heavy hooded grey cloak, he usually wore the hood up to hide the extent of his injuries. Old prejudices die hard I suppose. The edges of the cloak floated free in the microgravity. Masters rose from his command chair on the bridge of the dropship and floated towards a window overlooking the planet. He looked out contemplatively.

Demos cleared his throat out of equal parts nervousness and needing a moment to collect his thoughts before delivering the seemingly unlikely news. "Yes, sire. We cannot definitively find any proof of life anywhere on Gibson. This doesn't preclude there being life on its face, but sire, the SIGINT team is well and utterly convinced there's been some sort of catastrophic incident down there. And worse, we're detecting extremely high rad levels down there, sire. about 1,000 rads per hour, with spikes as high as 5,000. It's bad down there sire." What transmissions they were getting were weak, confused and sounded automated. Like something had taken the populace down swiftly and utterly. His aide, Demos, was immaculately turned out in the uniform of the Knights of the Inner Sphere, his blue eyes were expectant and at times, puppy like. Demos is new to the Knights and expects the Knights of old. The Blakists burned that out of me. Now, I intend to repay those bastards for what they did to us.

In an instant, that thought, and the news Demos had delivered unnerved Paul Masters. What the hell happened down there? Gibson is a world of 4.2 billion. They did not all vanish. They could not have. Masters turned to back to his aide. "Demos pass the word, we're keeping the rest of the force in orbit. Ask for volunteers from the Knights, we are going down there. Why do I get the feeling I should have killed that sonofabitch Arian when I had the damn chance! Master's mind roared. I should have taken more of a hands-on role with regards to my world. Masters didn't like the new "him." But he realized, this was the way of things, at least until accounts with the Blakists were settled, in full.

"Demos, we drop in half an hour, inform the rest of the force. And tell the Guards I expect them to come in hot if things get…unpleasant." Demos nodded in understanding.

What in God's name happened down there?

1 hour later

The answers came unbidden and were all too obvious. Gibson had been irradiated by a massive radiation event. The dead were all over, covered in detritus from the horrific and agonizing manner of their demise. Radiation exposure isn't a quick way to go, and whatever happened, it was global, massive, and it had blanketed the world in a sheet of radiation that wasn't going to be cleaned up anytime soon. Master's Pheonix Hawk sealed itself immediately, radiation and NBC exposure alarms hooting like a clutch of startled owls until Masters turned them off.

Even the grass and the trees were dying, the trees losing leaves like some sort of sick parody of fall, and the grass itself turning a sort of sickly brown. Nothing at all lived on Gibson. Not anymore.

2 Hours Later

New Beginnings Primary School

20km SSW of Harrisburg

Gibson

Free Worlds League

Paul Masters looked on at the collection of sat recon and aerial recon photos as he sat at the teacher's desk at the head of the classroom. All the bodies had been long since removed. They'd been found huddled in a corner. They had enough time to know what was about to happen to them. All showed the same thing, heaps of dead, bodies stilled forever in the streets, and burning militia armories…their contents systematically looted. The Word of Blake compound was empty, the infantry sent to clear it had tripped a few lethal booby traps, but other than that, no one was home. Noone, except buildings and a Mercury battlemech that had been abandoned in a mechbay, and stripped of everything useful, leaving only it's metal chassis behind. It was a mute witness to what had occurred. It had all been a cipher.

Someone told them we were coming; someone gave them enough time to…do this.

A knock came at the wooden door, which Masters had closed, so he could have time to think, to process this obscenity.

Masters looked up, the bile rising in his throat as he mentally composed his report to Corrine.

"Enter." he barked.

"It's Demos, your liege, we found something. It's a ROM, addressed to you from Cameron St. Jamais. It's verigraphed sir. It's him for sure. You'll want to see it."

Masters rose, and opened the door, ushering Demos in. "Have we found any survivors? Any at all?"

Demos swallowed "Yes, some in some basements, underground garages, and invasion shelters. We figure it is upwards of half a million in total, perhaps three-quarters. We haven't had the chance to take an accurate count." Demos produced a portable folding ROM player. "My liege. You're going to want to see this. It was found in his offices."

"Play it." Masters intoned softly, his voice the tone of a man who was defeated.

Demos gently pressed the PLAY button on the portable player as he set it on the desk. The screen was 12cm wide but was adequate for the purpose. The screen began with a test pattern and then faded to white, with the broadsword sigil of the Word Of Blake fading in from the center of the screen. The screen soon came to a white hooded man sitting at a desk, the figure soon flipped his hood back, the figure had straight hair in a bowl cut favored by the Blakists. His eyes burned bright green with the fire of fanaticism, and his face was framed by an unmistakable and distinctive goatee. It was no doubt. It was Cameron St. Jamais.

"Greetings, Count Masters. I wanted you to know that we have exacted righteous vengeance against your people for your crimes against our order. You underestimated us. You thought us your pet ComStar. And when we elevated the daughter of one of our allies among you to the Captain-Generalcy, this is how you repay us? By leaving our brethren to die on the fields of Sian, and betraying us here?"

Jamais took a breath and smiled, it was a feral smile that made Master's hair stand on end. "You survived our wrath, Count Masters. As did many of your brethren, much to my regret, but former Primus Blane did not see things as I did. He got a bit squeamish when the conclave decided it was time to apply the righteous punishment here. He died right along with them, I killed him myself." The camera panned to the left, and zoomed in on a body slumped against the wall of the office. The body was dressed in blood-stained white robes, and the face was twisted in a rictus of pain, and the face belonged to William Blane, former Precentor of the Word of Blake. A broadsword with the Word of Blake sigil on the pommel protruded from the body. The camera panned back to Jamais. "It was regrettable but required. We have assumed control of the planet and we are evacuating those who believe, and all material of value to us. The rest? Well, they will be cleansed in a holy shroud of radiation. Their suffering will be a penance for your sins, and the sins of the League, Count Masters. Do not attempt to find us or follow us. But know this: We will return one day, and when we do? We will come with the fire of holy vengeance in our hearts."

The image then swiftly cut out. Masters saw red. The only sound he could hear was the angry beating of his own heart and the blood pumping through his veins. He grabbed the ROM player in a fit of pique, throwing it with all his might against the blackboard, smashing it into a dozen pieces, as they fell to the floor in a cacophony of sounds.

He turned to Demos. His eyes were afire with one thought: Revenge.

Masters drew a dirk from his belt, and carefully removed his Mechwarrior gloves from his hands. He walked over and retrieved the remains of the ROM from the wreckage of the player. He sliced his left palm with the dirk in a fluid motion and squeezed his fist until it drew the crimson ichor of blood. He dripped the blood onto the ROM fragments, and said quietly "I swear, there is nowhere you can flee to, nowhere you can hide, no one who will help you because I seek your death St. Jamais. You and anyone who helped you, anyone who serves you. Anyone who said one kind word about you, or your cause, they will die by my hand. They will not die well, or easily. Of that, I swear."

He turned to Demos. "You saw the oath I took. You know what it means. And you know I must leave the Knights, as of right now."

Demos smiled "Hand me the dirk, blood-brother. I had family in Nagasaki Valley. You do not travel on this path alone."

I knew when I handed Demos that dirk, I had begun a path that would transform both of us forever. I knew not the shape of that path, only why I embarked on it. I am proud of where it took me. I am proud that I have brought forty-three Blakist scum to the justice of the only one that matters, the one true God in heaven. I have become closer to my Catholic faith during all of this, and the papal encyclical regarding Blakists as anathema has given me a solace as I carry out this mission. Some say I am as fanatical as they are. I may be, but the difference is? I do not harm innocents. I harm the guilty. And I always make sure I am not wrong. So far, I have not been. I have no regrets for my life now. I am cleaning the Inner Sphere of a filth not seen since Aramis.

But the Inner Sphere should mark my words. The Blakists have raised their hand against all humanity, Clan, and Inner Sphere alike. They will be back, and we will all regret not joining my crusade to purge them from the ranks of humanity.

Paul Masters, Blakist Hunter, An Autobiography – pp. 245-246, Atreus Press, 3060

Government House

Samantha

Taurian Concordiat

October 11th, 3057

Jeffery Calderon looked on at the blood-red sunrise to the west and smiled a weak smile. "What was that phrase, Doru? Red Sky at Morning...?"

"…sailor take warning, your highness." Doru nodded. "I do have some good news, your highness. Such as it is?"

"Do tell Doru, I could use some. As much as many have criticized our efforts in the former Capellan Confederation? I feel bringing some stability to our border regions and taking advantage of some confusion to enrich our nation on the cheap never hurt us?"

Doru nodded "I can't speak to domestic opinion, sire. I can only speak to military matters. On those, I have little to report. We have been consolidating control of Rollis, with the assistance of Sung's Curiassier's who have accepted a place in the TDF. Larsha's been a bit more difficult, the militia there put up a fight, but it wasn't anything the 2nd Taurian Guards couldn't handle."

Calderon nodded. "So, we should be able to call it a day?"

Doru shrugged "I think so, sire. It was a shame about Corodiz, but the Canopean epidemiologists were firm about not landing there. We're not one hundred percent sure there actually is an outbreak there, but why chance it?"

Calderon nodded sagely. "So why do I get the feeling as much as this will enrich the Concordiat, we've also bought ourselves some long-term trouble?"

Doru nodded "We might have, sire. Word is the FedCom ambassador might be presenting us a strongly worded request for us to advance no further into the Confederation, and there is also the risk of guerilla movements. We don't have a lot of experience with those matters."

Calderon nodded again. "Alright Doru, pass the orders to conclude operations. We'll work out how we're going to administer these worlds. I think we've done enough already."

While some in the Concordiat and the Magistry were chomping at the bit to advance deep into the Confederation, both the Magistrix and the Protector were wise enough to realize that logistically, the advance into the former Confederation had probably reached its zenith…

"Nibbling at The Edges" The Taurian-Canopoean advance into the Capellan Confederation, Foreign Policy Magazine, June 3064 issue by Dr. Daniel Framingham of the NAMA School of International Relations