I won't bore you with the details of the meeting. It was long, tiresome, and nothing major came out of it. The only thing we agreed upon was Corlin volunteering to be the go-between for Tosig and myself. By the time the meeting broke up, the sun was just coming up, and we all headed for our bunks.
After several hours of sleep, a late breakfast, and a very cold shower, I walked down to the Mechbays to have a talk with the Headhunters senior tech, Ivan "I.V." MacGregger.
I found him in his office, a small room just inside the main door of the largest Mechbay. The office itself was in its usual state, which meant paper was everywhere. A pot of coolant which passes for coffee down there was warming on top of on old fashion filing cabinet which was older then the entire tech force put together. Old pictures and schematics dotted the walls like old wallpaper, and a calendar that was twenty years out of date hung in the place of honor over the desk.
MacGregger was short and broad, with a bushy beard shot through with grey. He was wearing dirty green overalls and a battered blue baseball cap over his closely cropped hair. He glanced up at me quizzically, a mass of papers in his hand."Yeah?" he growled at me.
"I need your help. I-"
"Need something that can take on a Thor Primary piloted by a madman Clansman, Right?"
I nodded slowly, remembering that several of MacGregger's people had been in the bar. “Any ideas?”
“What you need is something bigger. Coffee?"
I declined the coffee. "Like what?"
He leaned back in his chair, the springs protesting every inch of the way. "Humm...let's see." His eyes closed for a moment as he sorted through his mind. Suddenly his eyes open and he smiled. "Got it."
"What you need." He stood up, and strode to the doorway. At his bellow, a lanky tech came running, and after a quick conversation in low tones, the tech sprinted off. MacGregger turned to me with a big smile on his face, pored himself a cup of coffee, and sat down again. "It's going to take a couple of minutes for Jonsey to bring it around, so I'll tell you something about it."
"What is it?" I asked in irritation.
"It's a mech called the Claymore. It's seventy-five tons, good firepower, decent armor, almost as fast as the Thor. A small company in the Lyran side makes them. We brought one a couple of years ago as a backup mech, and haven't had a reason to use it yet."
"What do you mean by good firepower?" I asked curiously.
MacGregger shrugged his shoulders "Gauss rifle, LRM fifteen rack, extended-range large laser, and four medium lasers just in case your opponent wants to get in close with you."
I gave a low whistle, and was about to ask MacGregger more about it when Corlin stuck his head in the office door. His expression was telling me that he was upset about something. “I must talk to you,” he said. “Now.” His tone matched his expression.
“I’ll be outside,” said MacGregger. He strode out of the office, and Corlin walked in, looking even more unhappy.
"What is it ?" I asked, hoping it wasn't more bad news.
"I talked to Tanni, who is acting as Tosig's second. She was the one who was with him last night.”
“Yeah, the blonde. What about her?”
Corlin took a deep breath. “According to her, every planet they have landed on since they left Jade Falcon Territory, Tosig has challenged someone to a duel. Sometimes in ‘Mechs, sometimes in hand to hand, but always in some sort of combat. So far, he has won them all, but he has not acted as a warrior of the Clans."
"So this joker has a death wish and acts like a spoiled brat, so what?"
Corlin took another deep breath and launched into an explanation. "According to Tanni, he has violent mood swings that are becoming more and more extreme. The last duel he fought, he repeatedly smashed the cockpit of his opponent with his ‘Mech’s arms, long after his opponent was dead. A Clan Warrior would not do such a thing, were he sane."
"So you're telling that Tosig is out of his mind?"
"It is my belief that yes, he is insane."
I cursed for several seconds, none of which are printable. "Can't Tanni restrain him at all?"
"She has neither the authority nor the skill to restrain him. She and the others with Tosig are all freeborns. Her orders are not to interfere with Tosig’s actions, and she fears that were she to challenge him in a Circle of Equals, he would kill her. She fears him."
“Great,” I muttered. “Have you found out why he’s several hundred light years behind the front line?”
Corlin shook his head. “Not yet. He has the permission of the Khans - Tanni received her orders directly from Khan Crichell himself.”
That raised an eyebrow. Crichell was the senior Khan, the number one guy in Clan Jade Falcon. Tosig was a jerk, but he was a jerk with some serious backing. “Do you think he is a spy?”
It was Corlin’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “They could have not sent a more incompetent spy even if they tried.”
This was just getting better and better. But before I could continue, MacGregger stuck his head into the office. “Jonsey’s coming.”
Both Corlin and myself went outside. Just then, a Mech made its way clear of the Mechbays and strode over to where we were standing. It stopped ten meters from us, and stood there, a monument to technology. I had never seen this type of ‘Mech before, so I figured it was the Claymore. The massive right arm was spouting a barrel that just had to be the Gauss rifle, and I could see the missile launcher perched on the left shoulder. Several openings in the torsos marked the positions of the lasers. It was definitely a 'Mech for the job ahead.
MacGregger walked up behind us and asked "What do you think?"
"Its perfect," I replied "Don't bother to wrap it up, just sent it over to the training area before tomorrow morning." I turned to Corlin."So it's up to me and the Claymore here to restrain him, isn't? Oh Wonderful." I grabbed Corlin by the arm "Come on. First, we see the Colonel about your news, then I need one last drink before I start training."
The next three days were a blur. The early mornings would find me in the cockpit of the Claymore, putting it through its paces. A quick lunch, and I was back in the Claymore, this time running simulated combats against Mikki and Tony. In the Evenings, Corlin would go over everything he knew about Tosig and the Thor class. Then it as early to bed, and the whole thing started over.
During those three days, Corlin ironed out all the details of the duel with Tanni. It would take place in a narrow canyon near the middle of Battle Island call Rook's Gash. Tosig and myself would be dropped off at opposite ends of the Gash, and from there we would move into the canyon and try to kill each other like civilized people. He seemed kind of nervous about something, but he clammed up when any of us asked him. “I will tell you after the duel,” he said.
And how did Tosig and his happy band of Falcons end up so far from the front lines? Simple, seems the Clans sent warriors to survey the rest of the Inner Sphere while their leaders were off doing whatever they were doing. Already, they'd landed on Solaris, taken one good look at the 'Mech games there, and declared it an ‘abomination’. Individual Clanners had been spotted as far as Terra and Sian. In the case of Tosig’s happy little band of genetic goons, it seems they had bribed a minor official on one of the worlds bordering the Clan zone, who gave them official FedCom citizenship. I have no idea how that thin an excuse managed to get them deep into Federated Suns Territory, but it did. When the Colonel heard about this, he headed straight for the comm center. From his expression, that "minor official" would be lucky if he was allowed an oxygen ration on the way to prison.
On the State level, the Colonel sent word to MIIO about out little Clan problem, but with the exception of publicly sending a couple of observers to watch the fight, well, they didn’t seem to do much. A message to the First Prince himself came back with a 100 C-bill note and instructions to bet on me. Several reporters showed up, including one that had been trailing after the Tosig terror, but they made almost no headway against either the Duke or the Colonel. There was a redhead reporter that managed to get into the base, but made the mistake of running into Tony. Not many woman can resist Tony when he puts on the charm, and this reporter was no exception. For the next couple of days, Tony was smiling like a cat that had managed to eat a 200 kilogram canary.
What wasn't so cheerful was Tosig’s track record since hopping over the Falcon’s border. Twelve planets visited, ten duels, ten wins, no losses, seven dead opponents. Seven had been ‘Mech to ‘Mech combat, the rest hand to hand. The Colonel had managed to get footage of his last two matches, both ‘Mech combat, and had us watch them. What we saw was not pretty.
Tosig started off cool and calm. But, at some point in both battles, he went berserk. Like a switch had gone off in his head, he would start hammering his opponent with alpha strike after alpha strike, pushing his Thor way beyond the normal heat limits. If the other guy was still standing after that, he moved in, firing every step of the way and if the poor guy was still standing, start punching and kicking, until the other ‘Mech fell down. In the second fight, the opponent’s ’Mech, a Zeus, had fallen, but Tosig still continued to hammer away at the cockpit until both it and the pilot inside were unrecognizable.
Corlin had been understating Tosig’s insanity. No Clanner in their right mind like physical combat - it wasn't their way. But Tosig had tossed that little idiosyncrasy out the window. Which meant that all bets were off, all plans were null and void, and predictions and probabilities went out the door. I was going to have to play this entire fight by ear and hope Tosig was tone deaf.
That combat drop over Liao was looking mighty good right then. . . .