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placed so little value on individual human life that Marthe was both surprised
and pleased to care, if only for a moment, about the fate of one of her kind.
But now it was time to act again. She headed for the right flank, where she
and her reunited Cluster would go on to successfully delay and, in fact,
significantly blunt the ComStar attacks there. Marthe would not only
survive the
Tukayyid conflict, she would emerge from it as a Jade Falcon covered in glory.
Horse was reluctant to make the jump. He wanted to stay at the bridge and go
down in flames. He knew that if the
Clans lost at Tukayyid and had to honor a fifteen-year truce, this might be
his last chance to die as a Clan warrior. Not many freeborns had the chance to
do so well, certainly not so well as he. Freeborns rarely had the chance to go
down at the front. It had taken the reborn Falcon Guards to give Horse his
opportunity, and he would regret losing it.
But he was still alive when Joanna called his name, and he had no choice but
to engage his jump jets and make the leap toward the center of the makeshift
Robyn's Crossing bridge. It seemed to sway beneath him as he came down just
behind MechWarrior Diana's Warhawk. They almost collided when Diana's
'Mech nearly toppled, but then she managed the second jump. Horse came in
behind her, then went aloft again, cruising after Diana to the other
side.
Once there, Horse joined the Falcon Guards in their covering barrage.
Later, after he had survived the battle of Prezno Plain, Horse would find that
his exploits were so confused in his memory that he did not remember
what he had done when. Whatever these exploits were, they earned
him commendations and a mention in the Jade Falcons Remembrance. Two lines
that extolled a freebom who knew his place.
In the back of her mind Joanna wondered if Aidan Pryde would even make the
jump. She thought he might send everyone else back, then buy some
milliseconds for the others by staying behind. As the number of Falcon
Guards lessened one by one, the remaining warriors had to keep closing ranks.
This went on until only Joanna and Aidan were left.
It was time for Joanna to jump, but, uncharacteristically, she hesitated, the
drillmaster disobeying the drill, to check on Aidan. He was blasting away with
his medium lasers while at least a dozen ComStar warriors were shooting back
without much success. The shots that did hit sent armor flying off from all
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over Aidan's Timber Wolf.
Then Joanna engaged her jump jets and began her leap, calling over the
commline for Aidan to follow her. Glancing at her primary screen, she was
almost surprised to see that he had jumped and was, according to the drill,
right behind her.
On the other side, the Falcon Guards were already dispersing and making the
jumps up the cliffside to gain a better position to defend the general
withdrawal. Joanna requested permission to stay at the bridge with any
volunteers to pick off ComStar BattleMechs as they crossed.
"Not this time," Aidan said. "We have to cover the retreat, and the retreat is
retreating from us/'
The Falcon Guard stand at Robyn's Crossing had allowed the Jade Falcons to
make significant progress toward the waiting DropShips, but the Com
Guards were not done with the Jade Falcons. When the Clan lines
had retreated sufficiently from the Prezno River, the enemy brought in
DropShips full of warriors and their 'Mechs.
"What are they up to now?" Joanna said. "Are we not retreating? Do they want
to wipe us out completely?"
"That must be their intention," Aidan said. "We have damaged them sorely. They
need their honor satisfied."
4 'What has honor to do with it now? The battle is over.''
"It could turn, Joanna. It could turn."
"We have absorbed losses, our supplies are depleted, our "
"But we are Jade Falcons, and we are the best of the Jade Falcons the Falcon
Guards. Maxthe once said of me that
I was a jade phoenix, a bird that dies only to rise again."
"I have heard of the phoenix legend, though this is the first time I have
heard of it as the jade phoenix."
"That was Marthe's idea, her fanciful thought that even if I fell into the
mire, I would always rise out of it on bright flames." Aidan smiled at the
exaggeration, but it touched him that Marine thought of him so. "Perhaps it is
really the
Jade Falcons who fit the legend best. We are a fierce Clan, and no adversity
ever stops us. Perhaps we are the jade phoenix."
"I think you should volunteer for a solahma unit. You are obviously
old and doddering. Phoenix? Sounds like freebirth nonsense to me."
They had no time to continue the discussion, for the newly arrived ComStar
'Mechs were now heading toward the
Falcon Guards. The two sides met in a ferocious and brutal
struggle. The Falcon Guards, weary and low on ammunition, their 'Mechs
pitted and scarred, nevertheless held off numerous attacks and managed to
keep the Com
Guards from breaking through their lines until most of the Jade Falcons
had been lifted off Tukayyid. Joanna was among the fiercest of the
Falcon Guards, topped perhaps only by her commander, Star Colonel Aidan Pryde.
With the retreat nearly complete, it was time for the Falcon Guards
to make a dash for their own DropShip, the
Raptor, which had just landed in the pickup zone. Aidan, Joanna, Horse, and
MechWarrior Diana stood their ground, while the others raced toward the ship.
No matter how many ComStar 'Mechs littered the field, there always seemed to
be more, as though they had developed some kind of amoeba 'Mech that could
split in two, then again, and again, and again. Intelligence had by this time
broken down (nor had Aidan heard from Kael Pershaw for some time), so no one
knew where the new 'Mechs came from. Aidan supposed that DropShips were
landing new ones behind the lines.
"Everyone has reached the Raptor" Joanna informed Aidan.
"So quickly?"
"There are not so many of us left, Star Colonel."
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"Yes, I suppose so. All right then, all remaining BattleMechs, evacuate!"
Joanna turned her Mad Dog toward the Raptor, Diana in her Warhawk right beside
her. She almost did not hear the whining sound of the missile coming at them,
but her 'Mech was rocked with its explosion. A second passed before she
realized that the missile had hit the Warhawk, which was now toppling over.
Joanna rotated her 'Mech and started to fire at the closest ComStar 'Mechs,
without any idea which was responsible for the hit against Diana's Warhawk.
"MechWarrior Diana?" Joanna shouted. "Are you all right?"
The voice came back weak, feint. "I am no, I am not all right. Something
crashed through my cockpit. I am trapped in my seat. I cannot work the eject
mechanism.''
"What is wrong, Star Captain?" It was Aidan, who now stood alongside the
fallen BattleMech, "It is MechWarrior Diana, sir. She is trapped. Somehow the
ejection "
"I heard that, Star Captain. It is unfortunate, but there is nothing we can
do. Our orders are to get to the Raptor immediately. Die bravely,
MechWarrior.''
"If I die," Diana said, her voice trembling, "I plan to die bravely. '
"We leave her behind them?" Joanna asked.
"All techs have left the planet, medic or otherwise. There is no one to
extricate her.'
"I will extricate her," Joanna said. .
"There is no time. You must not sacrifice your BattleMech for a single
warrior, Star Captain Joanna. What has gotten into you? Into the Raptor\"
Joanna did not understand, never understood, what she did next. Or why she did
it.
"I must tell you, Aidan Pryde, that MechWarrior Diana is the daughter of a
scientist named Peri. You are her father."
"Father?" Aidan said in an odd voice.
"You were not to tell," Diana accused, but her voice seemed to fade out on the
last word.
Aidan could never have explained to anyone the thoughts that went [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]