cover Mech Warrior Dark Age
An All-New Epic Story

Truth and Shadows

The Northwinds of War...

The Highlanders defeated Anastasia Kerensky the last time she attacked Northwind—although she retreated with most of her troops. Now dispersed among several planets, the Highlanders will need a bigger edge if they are to end Karensky's threat completely.

A rumor places Anastasia Kerensky on Northwind. If that's true, then the Steel Wolves must be close by. Determined to locate them, Ezechiel Crow and Tara Campbell order a reconnaissance—unaware that their enemy may be closer than they think.

With her forces on standby, Anastasia believes that there is little the embattled Republic can do to stop her from finally making a trophy of Northwind. What she doesn't realize is that she has allies she never imagined and enemies she never suspected.

It's a moment of truth for Crow, Campbell, and Kerensky, when lies emerge from the shadows, and the fate of a world hangs in the balance.

[Truth and Shadows]


Sample Chapter

Balfour-Douglas Petrochemicals Offshore Drilling Station #47
Oilfields Coast, Northwind
Prefecture III, Republic of the Sphere
November 3133; dry season

Ian Murchison, resident medic on Balfour-Douglas's Station #47, leaned on the rail of the oil rig's observation deck, watching the night sky and taking his ease after a long day. Here on Kearney's Oilfields Coast, the low latitude made for warm weather despite the season. The continental landmass was a dark bulk away over the water to the east, and the memory of sunset lingered in a purple glow along the seaward horizon.

There was no moon tonight to overpower the rest of the night sky. Murchison had seen a meteor shower the night before, out of the usual time for such—maybe, he'd speculated, bits of the tail of some minor and uncharted comet, making its long elliptical journey around Northwind system's central star, only brushing atmosphere once out of centuries. Tonight, however, he saw nothing but the regular twinkling stars, their light refracted by the humid ocean air.

Today had been a long day, but a dull one. Murchison hadn't minded; in his opinion, a little dullness now and then was a good thing. Out on an oil rig, days that weren't dull tended to involve nasty industrial accidents or sudden illnesses, and Balfour-Douglas #47 was a long way from a good hospital, on a long empty stretch of coastline. Even a VTOL craft summoned to evacuate someone seriously ill or injured had to come from over three hours away—which meant that in the case of most emergencies, Murchison's patient was either dead or stable long before transport arrived. Balfour-Douglas #47 hadn't had one of those emergencies since Barry O'Mara's appendix went bad on him in the middle of a force 10 storm, and Murchison was in no hurry to experience another one soon.

He pushed away from the rail. He'd dawdled out here enjoying the night air long enough. It was time to go back to his office cubby, write up the log of the day's cuts and scrapes and bruises, lock up all the drawers and cabinets, and go to bed. If any hurt or discomfort decided to manifest itself later, someone would wake him.

A faint sound—the clink of metal against metal—broke the night. Murchison knew all the regular sounds of the oil rig, so that his mind erased them without thinking all day and night and let him read their steady underbeat as silence, but this sound had not been one of the regular noises. He paused, listening, but heard no repetition of the metallic clink.

He shrugged. Maybe somebody on another of the platform's several decks had dropped something; sounds carried, out here on the water, and the clinking noise could have come from anywhere on the rig. Or maybe the sound had been the metallic structure of the platform itself flexing and creaking, which meant that in a day or two something on the rig would break, probably without warning, and Murchison would have to patch up whoever was in the way when it went.

Whatever, he thought. There was nothing he could do about any of it tonight. He continued on his way inside.

Murchison's office was a small windowless room on the platform's upper admin level, with a one-cot examining room/sick bay immediately adjacent. Both rooms were empty as usual. The office didn't hold much, mostly a desk, computer, and datalink setup—what Murchison didn't know how to treat already, he could look up or discuss with experts at need. He kept a small tri-vid box up on one metal shelf; he turned it to a satellite news channel and settled down to work. He listened with half an ear to the sports news—late rugby scores, mostly—as he pulled up the log page for the day on his computer screen.

0745. Wilkie, Ted, foot fungus. Treated with topical ointment, released to return to work.

The tri-vid news show cycled back to the start of the hour and the big events of the day. The main news story dealt with signs of local economic recovery after the Steel Wolves' incursion during the early summer; the show had brought in an expert from the University of New Lanark to quote statistics.

1156. Barton, Glynis, second-degree burn on right hand from hot oil in deep-fat fryer in galley. Applied sterile bandage, released to two days light duty.

The tri-vid news moved on to the global weather, with a story about how early snowfalls in the Rockspires presaged a hard winter, then cut to the regional weather feeds for local details. In the case of Balfour-Douglas #47, the forecast called for a high tomorrow in the southern Oilfields Coast region of 36 degrees Centigrade, and an overnight low of 22.

1520. Calloway, Tim. Muscle aches and fever of unknown origin. Treated with acetaminophen, sent back to quarters with instructions to rest and drink plenty of water.

In the entertainment news, local Northwind networks were planning new dramas to replace offworld programming lost in the collapse of the HPG communications network: "And now an interview with producer Brett—"

The lights went out and the computer screen went blank. The office and sickbay were silent. Even the humming and ticking of the electronic equipment had suddenly ceased.

Something's happened to the power, Murchison thought.

He heard noises now: the sound of heavy feet pounding on the steel-plate decks of the platform. The alarm down on Deck C began to sound—a strident, metallic pulsebeat. Once it started, it could go on for hours, powered by its own stored energy, until somebody hit the manual disconnect.

Murchison kept a flashlight in his right-hand desk drawer—it had a red lens, so as not to destroy his night vision if he ever needed to use it in an emergency. He also kept a jump bag with basic medical supplies on the floor under the coat rack, to the right of the door. He checked the luminous dial of his watch. He'd wait five minutes to see if the power came back on its own, or if anyone showed up at his office with word of what was happening. Then he'd go look for himself.

He heard noises again. A high-pitched whining sound, repeated several times; the rattle of metallic impact, a long series interrupted by duller, softer bits; shouts—words, but undistinguishable—and at the end a scream.

Murchison knew that sound. Someone was in pain.

He took the flashlight out of the desk drawer, grabbed his jump bag, and headed out.

On this level, at least, no one was moving. The manager's office would be empty at this time of night anyhow—the conference room was never used except for official visitors—the security office's door was halfway open, but no one was inside. The banks of monitor screens that should have covered all the vital spaces and machinery on Balfour-Douglas #47 were off and blank.

Murchison went on downstairs to the next level, his footsteps echoing off the metal treads. He kept alert for more noises as he went, and was no longer surprised to hear, somewhere below, the sound of a slug-pistol firing a series of single shots with spaces between. He realized that he was counting, matching the number of shots against the tally of the oil rig's crew. His subconscious, at least, had already decided that something very bad was happening.

Should he stay where he was, he wondered, or go on? If matters were as bad as he feared, there was no point in cowering in his office. When they—whoever "they" were—found him, he would most likely be dead anyway. And if he was going to be dead, he might as well die doing his duty.

He opened the door to the next level, which held the berthing spaces for the oil rig's crew as well as individual quarters for staff and management. This time, the red light of his flash showed bodies, several of them.

Multiple casualties, he thought. That meant he had to do some serious triage. He was the only medic on #47, and help was hours away if it ever came at all. If he hoped to do any good, he would have to begin his work with the grim task of sorting the casualties into those who could wait for attention, those who could be helped if they were tended immediately, and those who were going to die whether they were helped immediately or not.

He had no idea what was going on, except that it was bad. All he could think of to do was what he had been trained to do, in the way he'd been trained to do it.

He took a deep breath. "Anybody who's not hurt," he called out, "come over here."

There was no response. No walking wounded, then, at least not within sound of his voice. He moved on forward, and knelt by the first body. Entrance wounds from a firearm of some sort had chewed a bloody line across the torso. He gave the man two rescue breaths. No result. He attached a black tag from the supply of them in the side pocket of his jump bag, and moved on.

The second body had half its skull fried away by what might have been a laser rifle. The body had a cooked smell, but was still breathing. A red tag, this time—marking the victim for immediate medical attention when help arrived. If help arrived. He put that thought out of his head, and moved on.

The third body lay in a spreading puddle of blood. One arm, still wearing the sterile bandage he'd put on it earlier that day, twitched feebly. He reached out to check the carotid artery for a pulse, then froze at the sound of footsteps, and looked up—past a pair of high-topped boots, past shapely legs in dark trousers, up to a hand grasping a heavy slug-pistol.

The hand raised the slug-pistol and fired a single shot. The survivor Murchison had begun tending was a survivor no longer, and the medic realized that unless he was very lucky, he was himself already a dead man. He found the knowledge oddly calming. He sat back on his heels and looked all the way up.

He saw a woman dressed in tight trousers and a snug leather jacket, her long dark hair pulled tightly back. She was looking down at him and smiling, and her body and face together were seductive enough to have fulfilled all the most lurid fantasies of his younger self . . . if she hadn't just shot Glynis Barton in the head.

But she hadn't shot Ian Murchison, not yet. He took one breath, then another, the better to control his voice, and asked, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"I am Anastasia Kerensky," she said. "I own this platform now. And because it would be wasteful to kill a medic who has proved that he can carry out his duties even under the most trying circumstances—I also own you."

A Silence in the Heavens Truth and Shadows A Service for the Dead

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