“Well, what did the report from Star Captain Harga say?” Lizabet Danforth asked as she tapped her foot impatiently for the report from her subordinate. Valten Folkner had gone off somewhere with his sensor personnel, undoubtedly to deliver a severe tongue lashing. She suspected he might be angry enough to resort to other kinds of lashing as well, specifically the neural whip kind.
The fighting for the day had been quite successful, with only three defeats, and even the losses suffered were not serious. The Arch Lancers had fought off Daniela Mattlov’s Supernova Trinary, inflicting only Elemental casualties. In return, they had lost three vehicles and an estimated one platoon of infantry. Daniela had offered Ian Dorlacen hegira, a wise move to preserve her own forces for other battles. Lizabet was aware that the fighting against the Lancers would be difficult and drawn out, and she had selected Daniela as the best suited for such a fight. Her choice was being vindicated by the relative success of the young Star Captain.
Another unit, Winslet’s Warriors, had managed to trap her opposing Falcons in a river by spilling fuel onto the surface and setting the explosive fuel alight. Massed LRM and PPC strikes took down about a star of mechs before they were able to disengage. In return, a lance of the mercenaries was destroyed, which made the defeat a bit more palatable.
What infuriated her the most was the performance of Star Captain Harga’s Trinary. He had bid himself down to a binary, only to be severely damaged by the resurgent Dragoon/Raider force. He had called upon his last bid, a heavy star, to support a final attack which would have crushed the mercenaries if not for the arrival of the insolent Goliath Scorpions. She was now awaiting the full report from Star Captain Harga, as nobody had any idea what conspired below to force Harga‘s withdrawal from the field of battle.
Her aide, Star Captain Dale Icaza, cleared his throat before speaking. “Galaxy Commander, here is the condensed report. Star Captain Harga moved his binary into the woods near the mercenaries’ position before the battle. He had configured his mechs for medium and long range combat, expecting them to stay out of range of his mechs as they tried to lure him into another of their innumerable traps.”
He continued, “The mercenaries did not act as he expected. They charged directly into his mechs, and proceeded to inflict heavy damage. One mech was forced to withdraw, while four were destroyed. Harga managed to pull his mechs out of the melee, and offered the mercenary commander, a certain Frank Meronac, surrender. He further communicated with his heavy star, authorizing them to advance to support his attack.”
Lizabet cut in. “It was about this time that the Goliath Scorpions landed, quiaff?”
“Aff. The star of heavy reinforcements moved forward, while Harga headed towards them to regroup. Alpha Strike Star did not move far before they were challenged to a Trial of Grievance by a Nova Cat and a Stormcrow. The strike Star Commander, Star Commander Trepi Crichell, accepted the challenge from the Goliath Scorpion Star Captain Descartin Winters…”
“Wait! What was the name of the Goliath Scorpion again?”
“Interesting. Do you know who he is, Dale?”
“I have never heard of him. I do not care for what goes on outside our clan. The warriors of the home clans are nothing special.”
“You are wrong. This Descartin Winters is worthy of attention. Did you know he was not from Clan Goliath Scorpion originally?”
Dale shook his head in the negative.
“His first clan was the Nova Cats. He has attained a lot of honor for himself and his Bloodright over the years. Amongst the clans, he is called ‘The Wanderer’. He has been a member of at least five clans, and in every clan, he had achieved some task for the clan that made it stronger. Unfortunately, every time that happened, he would invariably fall into the hands of another clan. It was this sole reason that has prevented him from rising any further in the ranks.”
“And what does this got to do with our present situation?”
“Descartin Winters is said to be unbeatable in zellbrigen. He downed three opponents in his first Trial of Position, two of them heavier mechs than his own. In the report, the warriors who challenged him were defeated, quiaff?”
Dale looked at the report, then replied, “Aff.”
“Continue with the report, then.” She waved, a signal for Dale to finish the report.
“Star Commander Crichell fought with the Nova Cat, but was defeated, as you have surmised. So was her second, Mechwarrior Basier, when he fought with the Stormcrow. Upon arriving at the scene, Harga knew at once that with the loss of two mechs, he lacked enough mech strength to defeat the mercenaries, who were in pursuit. In order to save his mechs and his warriors, he decided that retreat was the best option. Pausing only to retrieve Tepri Crichell and Basier from their mechs, he left the field and headed for his dropship. The Goliath Scorpions did not stop him.”
He stopped, having finished the report. He noticed Galaxy Commander Danforth now looking off into the space in front of her window, obviously deep in thought.
She muttered, “I wonder how Descartin Winters knew about this place…”
Sitting around a roaring fire, Frank finally got the chance to sit down and talk business with Descartin Winters.
Upon arriving at the Nile, the first thing Frank did was to get in contact with the other mercs groups, more specifically Ian Dorlacen and Karen Winslet. The importance of the key machines was growing daily in his mind, as Frank slowly came to the realization that discovery of the hidden base could be a find greater than any other in the history of mankind.
Descartin Winters and Deserk had not been idle either. Descartin had sent a message to his dropship Bleeding Past after reaching the base camp with Frank’s permission, getting it to rendezvous with the Nile.
When Frank asked him why it was so important that they get the dropships together, Descartin had only answered with a cryptic “You will see”.
The mercs had gathered around the campfire, like moths drawn to a flame when Deserk had lighted it up with a plentiful supply of twigs and firewood collected from the forest.
Right now, they were feeling relaxed and happy after their victory over the Falcons. Sitting around chewing on their rations, they discussed the fighting of the day and bragged about their deeds.
“What does this remind you of?” Deserk asked Descartin, as the two sat down on an empty spot with their rations of canned beans.
“Aye, the Chronicle of Battles. Those were good days.” Descartin said wistfully as he dug his spoon into the can and scooped out a heapful of beans.
“What are the two of you talking about? What’s the Chronicle of Battles?” Frank asked as he walked up with his own food, a dried fruit bar.
“The Chronicle of Battles is an event where warriors of a unit gather to regale one another of past deeds and battles. It also provides an opportunity for warriors to prepare for battles ahead.” Deserk replied.
“It has been many years since I have participated in such. I wonder if I will ever have the opportunity again.” Descartin added
“Des, why are you even with the Goliath Scorpions? I had always thought you were destined for higher command in the Nova Cats,” Deserk asked as he looked towards where the other Goliath Scorpion, who Des had introduced as Star Commander Jean Posavatz, sitting alone amidst the laughing mercs. She did not look exactly happy as she tried to concentrate on eating her food and ignoring the gleeful celebrations of the mercenaries around her.
“Long story. The short version goes like this: After Tukayyid, I got transferred back to the homeworld and promoted to Star Colonel. It lasted for about a week before Clan Ghost Bear attacked my garrison with two clusters of mechs. I became bondsman to the Bears, and so my walkabout around the clans started. I would get captured, always when up against outrageous odds, work my way back up to warrior status, then get captured again. When I finally landed with the Goliath Scorpions, the lure of wandering the stars had taken root in me. So I decided to become a Seeker, searching for relics of the lost Star League.”
“How did you find this place? Heck, the Inner Sphere did not have anything concerning this place, or the houses would have been here already. We know from what the Arch Lancers told us that the Falcons got the wind of this place because of a timed message in their databanks, but what’s your story?”
“Would you believe me if I told you my dreams led me to this place?” Des smiled.
“Listen, I got a vision, a vision telling me to go to the jungles of Eden, where I managed to find a diary of a scientist who managed to escaped the fighting in the cities when the wars broke out. In his journals, he related the events of his life. Near the end of the journal, where it was quite clear he was delirious and dying from a virus native to Eden, he placed down important information that he felt future generations must know.”
“Information about this place?” Frank asked.
“Aff. Coordinates of this world… and more. I assume you have found the Star League bases already?” Des’ face grew serious now.
“Yes, we have.”
“Tell me, what have you found?”
Frank hesitated. How much does he know? And can I trust him that much? What does he intend? Frank thought. Looking around to ensure that there was no one else besides Deserk around, he came to a decision.
His gut feelings told him that Des was trustworthy and was a potentially useful ally. And he had not been let down by his instincts so far. All the way then, he told himself.
“We found several ruined Star League bases, and they seem to have suffered some kind of attack in their last days. Before we could explore them though, we were attacked by advanced drone robots which nobody had ever seen before. We got rid of them, and managed to get plenty of data and lostech.” Frank paused, as the next bit of information was the shocker.
“And we found evidence that there might be uhm…”
“Alien presence here before the first man ever set foot on this planet.” Descartin finished for him, speaking softly.
Frank and Deserk gaped, their mouths hanging open for an instant before snapping shut again.
“You already know about this?” Deserk asked. “Then do the rest of the clans know about this as well?”
Des held up his hand. “No, not even the Khan of the Goliath Scorpions know about this. As a seeker, I am not obliged to release every piece of information to the clan as I find them. I can always choose to inform the clan of my findings after the entire quest is over. As for your first question, the dying scientist stated the findings they had on this world in his journal.”
“How is it possible? I mean, this was obviously a top secret facility…”
”The scientist, his name was Robert Pearson, worked here for ten years before he returned to the Star League. However, Amaris commenced his takeover of the Terran Hegemony at the same time. All research data pertaining to the work done here was expunged and destroyed by the personnel before Amaris’ forces could discover them. The scientists who knew were all killed, with the sole exception of this Robert Pearson, who was in transit in the Free Worlds League at the time. He joined up with Jerome Blake’s technical staff, and proceeded to aid in the liberation of Terra. He never divulged the secrets of this world to anyone, however, afraid of the consequences, and also because he was sworn to secrecy. He assumed that research at Area 51 would continue unabated and the scientists, after a certain breakthrough, would join up with the Star League Defense Force when the time is right.”
“What about the SLDF commanders?” Deserk queried, “General Kerensky must have known about this.”
“According to this Robert, he did not. Everyone who knew was either in this system or dead, with Robert the sole exception. He kept the knowledge to himself, even through the entire journey during the exodus, only to find chaos and death in front of him, during the war on the Pentagon worlds. He was unable to seek sanctuary with the second exodus, and escaped to a jungle hideout where he would await the end of the fighting. He caught the virus not soon after, and determined that his knowledge would not die with him, he broke his oath and tried to put down as much of his knowledge down before he died.”
“And you found it after more than two hundred years.” Deserk completed for him.
“Aff. I must confess I was highly skeptical of his claims in the beginning, but after consulting an… expert, he assured me the data was authentic. I proceeded to gather an expedition to get here, and so here I am.”
“The certain breakthrough you mentioned, did it have anything to do with a hidden base on the planet?” Frank was fully engrossed in the discussion now, his brows narrowed in concentration.
It was Descartin’s turn to look surprised. “You know about that as well? Very good, then we have no secrets to hide from each other. Yes, I was here for the artifacts and lostech data, but more importantly, I want to ascertain the presence of the alien base. I decided to scout out this planet first for my clan, because I was not sure whether anybody would still be alive here after three hundred years without support, and I did not want to get disgraced if I had sent the clan here and nothing of note was found!”
“In the scientist’s journal, was there any indication of where the alien base might be found?” Frank polished off the last of the fruit bar.
“That stumped me too. It was a crucial piece of information he left out, though I suspect he was having difficulty organizing his thoughts by then. He described the base as being a mountain in a deep crater, but nothing else. I find it difficult to imagine such a place.”
Frank was excited now. “There are two such places on this planet! We only have to scout them out to ascertain the location!”
“But what about the door opening mechanism? You know what they are? Do you have them?” Des asked.
“The six machines used to open the door? Yes, we have them, or more accurately, we have some of them. There’s one with us right now, and four others are with the other units scattered around the planet. The Falcons have one as well.”
“Stravag! This is not good.” Des cursed vehemently, tossing his empty can of beans onto the ground in anger.
“But we can’t even figure out how to activate them. Did the journal say anything about that?”
“Unfortunately, no.” At this moment, Descartin shouted at Star Commander Jean, who was sitting uneasily near the mercs, startling her into attention.
“Jean, get the others to stop whatever they are doing on the dropship and come down here!”
“All of them?” She shouted back.
Descartin turned back towards Frank and Deserk. “But I know someone who can help us. In fact, he was the one who helped verify the information in the first place.”
A Japanese man walked up at that moment. At his side was a katana, making him seem very menacing as he approached them.
Frank and Deserk put themselves on alert when they saw him, relaxing only when Descartin said, “He is with me.”
The man walked up and bowed to Frank and Deserk in Kuritan fashion, surprising them.
“Uh, what is this?” Deserk asked.
“Star Commander Deserk, it has been a long time.” The man spoke as he looked at the former clanner.
Deserk stared at him for a while before recognition bled into his eyes. “Yoshino Ihara! You were the bondsman Descartin captured on Avon! Why aren’t you with the Nova Cats?”
“Hai. As for my situation, let me just say that it was much more interesting to follow Star Captain Winters across the stars. Since then, I have served as a warrior whenever freeborns were allowed to in a clan. Right now, I am a warrior again. As I am indebted to Des for my life all those years ago, I have decided to follow him wherever he goes.” Yoshino replied as he sat down.
“And I cannot get rid of you anyway.” Des laughed. “What about the rest of the troupe?”
“I won’t call them a troupe, Des. They might get offended. As good as you are, are you willing to take on an elemental in hand to hand?”
Descartin looked askance at Yoshino for a moment, before conceding, “Neg.”
“Hah! To think that the mighty Descartin Winters is actually afraid of a lowly Sage!” A booming voice rang out, shocking them out of their sitting positions.
The man, no, giant who spoke walked towards them, a huge grin on his face. His massive frame was hidden by, of all things, a lab coat.
“Lowly? Sorry, but I would not exactly call someone who can break my bones in one blow ‘lowly’. I have better sense than that.”
Frank was shocked. He had heard of the massive clan infantry soldiers called elementals, but this was his first time he met one. And apparently, this one was a bit unusual.
“Uhm, forgive me my ignorance, but what is a sage?”
”Yes, what is it? You mentioned being a seeker, but I have not heard of such either. Enlighten us.” Deserk said with a tinge of sarcasm.
“The Seekers of Clan Goliath Scorpion are devoted to recovering the lost relics of the Star League. They, which does not necessarily include me, believe that by doing so, they can rebuild the Star League piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle. A Sage is part of a Seeker’s living heraldry, his entourage. Living heraldry consists of the Seeker’s followers. Bondsmen like Yoshino are called Yeomen, laborers are called Footmen, and technicians are called Tinkers. These are the most common members of a living heraldry. Merchant caste Sutlers and scientist caste Sages, like Lorik here, are only involved in lengthy quests outside the homeworlds.”
“Like the one you’re now on?” Frank raised an eyebrow.
“Aff. Having a scientist on your side on something like this is a real advantage. He verified the information in the journal for me.”
“He can say that again. Who was the one begging for me to join his quest in the first place?” Lorik smiled.
Deserk was the first to notice the slight discrepancy. “This elemental is a scientist?” He asked, incredulous.
“Who says elementals cannot be scientists?” The huge man asked. “I am tired of all the usual stereotypes that seem to insist that people born of the elemental genotype are brainless and dumb, fit only to be warriors or laborers.”
“Uh no, I didn’t say that. But you have to admit, it is unusual…”
“Undoubtedly true. I entered the scientist caste with a lot of what you call baggage. It took me a long time to find my niche, and to be accepted for what I can do, not for what I look like.”
“And what is your specialty?” Frank was eager for some help after running into the brick wall of his inadequate knowledge of engineering and physics when dealing with the key machine.
“I am a physicist. My labname is one of the most honored in the caste, Einstein.”
Deserk burst out laughing. “What a coincidence! We called this planet Einstein!”
“Incredible! What are the odds on that happening?” Yoshino exclaimed.
“Even better. He’s a physicist, which means he can help us figure out how to use the machines to get inside the base when we find it.”
“And where is the machine? Can I see it?”
“Sure, follow me.”
“Hey, what about Tina?” Yoshino said just as the whole group got up.
“You stay and tell her to, uh, entertain the mercenaries. That is her job anyway.”
“Who’s Tina?” A curious Deserk asked as they walked through the open bay doors of the Nile.
“An artist who insists on joining my group. Says she wants to be a Harbinger.”
“And a Harbinger is?” Deserk prompted Descartin to continue.
“An artist who acts as a Seeker’s chronicler and artisan.” Descartin sighed. “Harbingers get a lot of prestige and status, so it is little wonder she wants to be one. She practically flung herself at me on my first quest!” His words got the whole group laughing.
It did not take long for Frank to lead them to the cargo bay where all the lostech was stored.
The key machine sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by other pieces of technology and equipment that the mercs were unwilling to activate for fear of blowing themselves up. The room was unlit and even with the lights on, the illumination was poor.
For a moment, Frank felt like a treasure hunter entering a tomb of hidden gold. Shaking it off, he walked up to it. “Here it is. What do you think?”
Almost immediately, Lorik was all over the machine, shining a torchlight into every nook and cranny. “I will tell you in, say, two days time? Now shoo!” He waved them off, enticed by the piece of lostech in front of him.
The others backed off, realizing that there was no way to drag the enthusiastic scientist off the machine.
Not that they could anyway, Frank remarked as they walked back to his office for further planning. Dragging a hundred plus kilograms, two and a half meter tall man is a tough proposition, even for three mechwarriors.
“What do we do next?” Deserk asked as Frank handed him a glass of water from the dispenser in the lab.
“Right now, we’re doing pretty fine in the mech department.” Frank poured Descartin another glass before having one for himself. “With Descartin’s help, we should be able to pull off our next objectives, which is to gather the rest of the key machines and to locate the alien base. Here, Des, look at this.” Frank spread out the topographic map on the table. Deserk and Descartin crowded around as they looked at the map.
“Here,” Frank pointed with a finger, “and here. These are the two spots which comes closest to the description of the location of the base in the journal.”
“These are quite far away. We will have to use the dropships to get there.”
“Which is why I need you to convince the Jade Falcon Galaxy Commander to allow us to use our dropships. There’s no way we’re gonna go anywhere if they have fighters ready to pounce on us the moment we lift.”
“Do not worry. I will take care of this matter.”
“There is one more thing. Won’t it be a dishonor for you to be seen with Inner Sphere mercenaries?” Deserk asked.
“Why fight and gain nothing when I can cooperate and gain the lostech? I am as eager as any of you to uncover the secrets of this world. By the way, you will share the knowledge with me?”
“I guess so. The others may not like it though.”
“I assure you that I will not take any of the lostech equipment. I will take only the data from the Star League bases, as well as any data we might find in the base, things that we can share and duplicate. The things here are the property of all humanity, and should not be restricted by anyone, from anyone. This knowledge has been withheld for far too long. With it, perhaps we can establish a new golden age.”
“I wouldn’t think that far ahead, considering we still got a galaxy of Falcons on our backs. Any brilliant ideas on how to get rid of them without getting ourselves killed?”
At this, the office fell silent.
“What in heaven’s name happened to yer mech!” Pascal Thome screamed in despair.
Ian Dorlacen climbed down from his cockpit wearily. “The Falcons happened to it. Don’t worry, its mostly armor damage only. Superficial stuff.”
“I’ll believe that when I inspect its innards!” Pascal continued on his rant as he waved his crowbar dangerously at Ian. “Why I ever chose to join up as yer tech chief, I never know. All you give me is more trouble.”
Stepping to one side, Ian dodged the imposing implement. “Hey, trust me, will you? At least we didn’t lose any mechs!” He shouted back. Ian was not feeling charitable either. The last thing he wanted now was a fight with his tech chief.
“I would have preferred that yer mechs were lost! Then me and me boys wouldn’t have to fix up these walking wrecks!” Pascal smashed the crowbar several times against the left foot actuator of the Awesome for emphasis. The armour was almost all melted away, and strands of myomer could be seen through the holes.
“All right, all right. Bonus pay for this time?” Ian was too tired for another fight, after the vicious one he had just been through.
That seemed to mollify the raging tech chief. ”Ok, but you’d better remember! Not like on Sheratan when you promised but used the money to fix up the dropship instead!”
“Sure.” Ian replied as he hurried through the bay doors of the Fortress-class dropship to the sickbay. He had more important things to worry about.
It was a horrific sight as he walked through the cargo bays. The injured PBIs had been brought into the dropship directly by the jeeps and MASH vehicles, all to get them to the medical center more quickly. This was obvious by the trails of blood and gore that marked the passage of the wounded. Melted flesh and burnt skin were very much in present all over the floor, the stench almost overpowering. Ian had to swallow his own bile as it rose up into his throat.
The infantry had suffered almost fifty percent casualties.
The only good thing that had happened from the battle was the escape of his fire lance from the Nova chasing them. They had snucked into a cave and shut down their mechs, leaving no fusion signal for the Falcons to track.
As he walked into the med center, he was struck by the gruesome scene of dead and dying soldiers stacked up in various corners of the overcrowded room. Wails of pain and grunts of struggle could be heard as injured men fought yet another war, this time for their lives.
A med tech saw Ian as he walked in, and quickly gestured him to follow. Ian nodded, knowing that he was to follow.
He was led to a bed, where a grizzled soldier was lying. The soldier was missing parts of his left leg and arm. There was blood all over the bed, soaking the white sheets in waves of red. His eyes were blurred with pain, and spittle could be seen on the corners of his mouth. He was still cognizant of his surroundings, though, and tried to sit up when Ian approached.
“Stay still Captain. Don’t get up. How’re you feeling?” Ian held out his hand, not wanting to put his friend through any more pain. He sat on a nearby stool, so that the other soldier would not need to strain to speak.
“Like… hell, sir.” The whispered words came from Captain Sachin with difficulty. He was dying from sheer blood loss. “At least the plan worked.”
The ploy of using troops hidden in the treetops had come from Captain Sachin. He had convinced Ian to use them, in spite of the strong likelihood that losses were going to be hideous if the Falcons managed to retaliate. Which is exactly what happened.
“I’m sorry, Sachin. Fifty percent causalties for your men in return for zero mech losses. I don’t know if it’s worth it. I don’t even know how long we can keep this up if the damn Falcons keep throwing whole Supernovas at us. I shouldn’t have listened to you.”
“Heh. Remember Ian, … lives… are cheap.” Sachin said, forcing the words out, “Battlemechs… aren’t.”
The infantry captain tried to draw in one last breath, but then his body finally failed him. He relaxed, and his eyes went blank. Ian hesitated, then gently drew his hands over the man’s eyes, closing them for his friend’s eternal sleep.
The mechwarrior sat by the bed for several long moments, holding back his tears, building up a slow, strong anger. The dead captain had been a good friend and soldier, constantly covering his back during the long, vicious campaigns in the Chaos March. It had been Sachin who had taught Ian the finer points of combined arms fighting, more specifically between vehicles and ground troops. Ian knew he would miss the veteran’s advice in the coming days.
He looked for the doctor, and found him trying to amputate an arm off a screaming female soldier. Knowing that there was no point in staying there any longer, he left the room. He was depressed enough without having to watch more of his troops die.
Almost immediately, he bumped into Drenner. The big elemental was dragging dead bodies out of the medical center and packing them into plastic bags, where they would be later buried on Einstein. Mercenaries without a home, they laid their dead to rest wherever they were stationed. It was a long tradition, established long ago since the start of the Succession Wars.
Drenner did not seem too dismayed by the task confronting him. Ian noticed that clanners did not have the same level of reverance for life that people in the Inner Sphere have, which made them extremely suited to a life of war and death. Maybe that’s why they’ve managed to conquer so much of the Successor States in so short a time.
He was shaken out of his thoughts when Drenner waved a massive hand in front of his face.
“Sir, are you feeling well?”
Ian sighed. “I’ve just lost half of my groundpounders, as well as my infantry commander, who’s an old friend from the beginning. What do you think? Right now, I feel like shit. I really envy you clanners. You just don’t have the same emotional hungups that we have.”
Drenner scratched his chin. “I am not sure what you mean, but in the clans, warriors are honoured for valiant deaths, not mourned. These soldiers died bravely, meeting their fate like true warriors. There is no need to grieve.”
Ian certainly understood what the elemental meant, but he still had difficulty accepting that view. He realized that this issue of the sanctity of life was one of the major differences between the clans and the Inner Sphere. He doubted he could ever bring himself to understand their beliefs, which are almost alien at times.
“By the way, Major Ian, who was the Falcon commander? It does seem unfair to us that Galaxy Commander Danforth would have sent an entire Supernova Trinary after you. It is high praise indeed for a mercenary battalion.”
“High praise? I’d rather do without that, thank you very much. As for the Falcon commander, it’s one Star Captain Daniela Mattlov.”
Drenner visibly shuddered at the name. “Well, that does not bode well for your chances. She is a ristar in the clan, and great things are expected of her in the future.”
“A ristar? What’s that?”
“A ristar is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘risng star’, which is used to denote anyone who has great skill and ability. To be deemed a ristar is to be marked for a successful career as a warrior in the clans. I had hoped to be labeled as such when I was younger, but it was not to be.”
“So ristars are tough, huh?”
“And this one’s in command of a Supernova trinary ready to nail our hides. No offense, Drenner, but it looks like you would be rejoining your clan in no time soon.”
Drenner gave a sly smile. “It would seem dishonourable of me and the other bondsmen if we do not aid our present ‘clan’, that is, you, in this conflict. Even if we were taken back if you lost, we might not be acknowledged as true warriors, for we did not behave as such. You remember that there are at least ten elemental suits taken by your troops when we surrendered?” He continued to pack another body, oblivious to Ian’s look of distaste.
“You’re implying that…”
“We, as in the elementals you captured, are now willing to fight for the Arch Lancers. We do so not only because we want to prove our worth as warriors, but also because we feel that the clan has abandoned its honour in sending an entire supernova trinary at your unit, a measly battalion. What we are doing simply makes the coming battles more balanced. Still, a fight against overwhelming odds. What clansman would abandon such a chance at glory?”
“I’m flattered, really, but…”
“Do not hesitate, Major. Use us well, and who knows, victory may yet be yours.” Drenner left with this parting shot as he slung three corpses wrapped in plastic with ease over his shoulders and marched down the corridor.
Ten elemental warriors. Ian thought to himself. He remembered long discussions with Sachin over coffee at night over possible uses of armoured infantry in tandem with other combat units, coming up with several innovative tactics. This was when the Inner Sphere armies had started adopting battlearmor of their own, especially the more specialized versions like the Achilieus, the Purifier, and Infiltrator Mk 2. He had long tried to get enough funds to outfit the infantry with such equipment, but there never was quite enough money to do so, between upgrading the mechs, buying more vehicles, or simply maintaining their ancient dropship.
He finally had a chance to use those tactics now, though he was sad that it had to be after Sachin died. Two elemental points were easily worth two infantry platoons in firepower and endurance, and their anti-mech capabilities make them even more useful in mech combat. The beginnings of another outrageous plan began to form in his mind.
He went back to the repair area, where Pascal and his techs were swarming over the mechs, trying to get them repaired in time for the next battle.
“Pascal! I need you to get me some techs and all the excess useless junk salvage we have! I’ve a plan for the next fight!”
Back in her makeshift office, Daniela Mattlov was busy resisting the urge to tear out her hair and scream in frustration. She had outnumbered and outgunned the Arch Lancers, and yet they were still able to squeak out a draw. She had been as cautious as possible, she had not underestimated them in any way, but they simply refused to play by the usual rules, and had managed to pull out a trick from their hat just as she was sure her Falcons would win.
The Nova chasing the vehicle company had been led on a merry chase up and down the plains, losing a mech to actuator damage, easily repaired, and several elementals due to long range sniping, but had managed to destroy three vehicles in return. It was a marginal victory for the Falcons, but Daniela had expected better.
The Nova that had split off to pursue the smaller four mech Lancer force had eventually lost their prey amongst the thick forest of the Whining Pines. In essence, it was a draw, but Daniela privately considered it a loss. They should have managed to track down the mercenaries and annihilated them.
Finally, there was her own unit, which had engaged in such a brutal fight that the technicians had reported that it would take at least three days before her mechs are fully operational again. She had suffered mostly armor damage to her mechs, but quite some internal as well, with some limbs severed on the mechs. The elemental losses were more worrying, twelve elementals from her command Nova lost in combat, and twenty-one overall, almost a full star.
She had been surprised by the sudden appearance of infantry in the treetops, and that had led to an inexcusable lapse in concentration, which in turn had led to the stalemate. Her offer of hegira was forced, but in hindsight, she did feel that the Arch Lancers had fought well and bravely, even if they did not adhere to clan rules of engagement.
The mercenary battalion was obviously full of tricks, and they were likely to have even more in store for her Falcons. No surprise there, but she did feel sorry for the mercs, judging by the fact that during the invasion, an unit like hers was capable of defeating, and did defeat, inner sphere regiments on its own, and yet was pitted against a single battalion in this case. The mercs were simply seeking to survive, and they were doing so admirably.
She was surprised, however, by the offer of a future duel from Major Ian Dorlacen. She was also much surprised by the amount of skill he possessed, as evidenced by his shooting off her Warhawk’s arm in the battle, in return for only armor damage on his Awesome.
If they had been using mechs of equal ability, she knew that she would have lost, and lost badly at that. For a proud Jade Falcon, that was a particularly galling fact to admit, but Daniela forced herself to acknowledge the truth. She saw no point in lying to herself. Her bluntness had caused her no small amount of trouble in the past, though.
She had accepted his challenge on the spur of the moment, without thinking it through at the time. Now, she was begininng to have second thoughts. Even so, she could not imagine a way of having the duel, unless she won and took him as a bondsman. She did not think he would be alive if his unit lost anyway. As a Jade Falcon, she had agreed to the duel, and honor-bound to ensure that it occurs. If her current problems were not difficult enough, now she must also seek a way to defeat the Arch Lancers without killing their CO, in order for them to have their duel.
In any case, he was an elite mechwarrior, with a sense of honor to match, despite employing despicable tactics to win. Daniela had been in the Inner Sphere long enough to recognize that not everybody had the same code of honor the clans have, but have other, equally valid ones. He obviously wanted satisfaction from being outmatched by her Warhawk.
Groaning, she leaned back in her seat. She could win the campaign, but she was afraid that her losses would be too severe. Severe enough that Galaxy Commander Lizabet Danforth might decide that she was still too raw and inexperienced to command a cluster.
And a cluster command was what Daniela really wanted. She knew she was good, and she had talent. She had attained her bloodname when she was twenty-five, and now at thirty-one, she felt ready to command a whole cluster.
In the clans, age was a warrior’s worst enemy. By thirty, if a warrior had not attained Star Captain rank at the very least, it was certain that most commanders would have given up on the warrior ever achieving the rank, with solahma duty on the way in one quick year. Likewise, the age threshold for Star Colonelcy was about thirty-five. Forty for Galaxy Command. Daniela was getting anxious, with only four more years before she would be dumped into the solahma bin.
She wanted to last long enough to take part in the renewed invasion when it comes, but with the clan still regaining its strength, and with most of the other clans either unwilling or unable to execute a second invasion even in 30XX, it was getting obvious that Clan Jade Falcon would have to go it alone, or perhaps with the hated Wolves as unlikely allies.
To this end, Khan Marthe Pryde had decided to increase the Touman yet again, with sixty clusters as the new target in five years time, even more than the traitorous Ghost Bears. Sibkos have been pushed into accelerated programs and freeborn recruitment had soared in the past few years, as Clan Jade Falcon continued to recover from the ruinous Refusal War. But in order for Daniela to take part in the liberation of Terra, she had to avoid being relegated to the ranks of the solahma by winning a Trial of Position for the rank of Star Colonel.
The present campaign had been a good opportunity for her to show her mettle, and hopefully gain the eye of the Khan with excellent results. She had hoped to gain command of one of the new clusters formed to strengthen the Touman, but she reckoned that there was little chance of that now.
Judging from her simulations and extrapolation of the day’s results, defeat of the mercenaries was almost inevitable. She had lost almost a star of elemental, in return for an estimated two platoons of infantry killed, and three vehicles. At the present rate of attrition on both sides, she would win in the end, but with almost sixty percent losses. In other words, unacceptable losses.
How to win without incurring such losses? She wondered.
Just then, there was a knock, no, more like a bang, on her door.
The man who walked through the door had a furious expression on his face as he entered the room and stomped right up to Daniela’s table without a single word of greeting.
“What is it this time?” She asked wearily,already half-suspecting the answer.
Star Commander Jedec roared back, “Those filthy sibbies have gone too far! They are ill-disciplined, arrogant sons of bitches! They should all be taken out, shot, and deposited to be food for pigs!”
She raised an eyebrow. “Your speech has been corrupted by living in the Inner Sphere. Furthermore, you have not answered my question, Star Commander.” She spoke in an icy voice, putting some emphasis on his rank.
“Ten minutes ago, just because his mech had lost all of the actuators on one leg, Mechwarrior Orden and his ilk decided to take out his anger on some of the techs servicing the mechs. Two techs are now in the sickbay with broken limbs, and three more being treated for concussions. The doctor refuses to let them return to work, citing that they might make critical errors in the state they are now in. Because of this, the chief tech tells me that it would be impossible for him to get all our mechs ready in three days time.”
Daniela could only put her head in her hands in despair. The sibbies are going to be the death of her.
“Well, Frank, what is this brilliant plan of yours?” A skeptical Forsen Mandela asked as he folded his arms above his not-so-unsubstantial girth.
Frank winced at the tone of sarcasm. “Descartin says he can get authorization from the Galaxy Commander to allow us to relocate. Remember that I’ve told you that our survival may depend on getting the ‘key’ machines. If we can get to the other merc units, we may be able to give, or at the very least, sell them the spare machines we have, and incidentally, gather the other key machines.”
“And how does that help us in the long run, huh?”
“If we could get into the alien base, we could bunker down in there and thumb our noses at the Falcons. It may also be a useful bargaining chip for us to get back to the Inner Sphere. And resupplying the other mercs will force the Falcons to use up their assets in dealing with them. Right now, we have the extra mechs, but no drivers for them. They might have the opposite problem.”
“And this clanner thinks he can help us?” Forsen glanced suspiciously at Descartin, who was standing impassively at one side, hands behind his back in the classic ‘at ease’ position.
The other warriors present on the bridge of the Nile were Deserk, Kily and Yoshino, lounging around trying not to look bored as Frank tried to sell the merchant his latest idea.
“Give him a chance, okay? He’s already helped us back in that last fight. What else could he do to make things worse?”
“Alright. But I want him to try to get offworld authorization as well.”
“Bargained well and done.” Descartin said as he relaxed his stance and walked up next to Frank. “Open your communications now.”
Forsen gestured to the communications console, as the other mercs gathered excitedly around.
“Linking to the Falcon Warship, boss.” The tech reported as he steadied the link. “Ok, the line’s open, you can speak.”
“Attention, Jade Falcon Warship, this is Star Captain Descartin Winters of Clan Goliath Scorpion. I wish to talk to your Galaxy Commander Lizabet Danforth.”
The response did not take long. “This is Lizabet Danforth. What slimy arachnid dares to oppose the talons of the Jade Falcon? Have you any sense of honour, collaborating with dezgra mercenaries?”
“I have honour enough to deal with you and yours, Galaxy Commander. What I do with them is my business, which is none of your concern. I have come to discuss something on behalf of the mercenaries, concerning the movement of their dropships.”
“Oh, so they have finally realized the futility of their position, and wish to bargain for passage offworld? They may do so, but only as our bondsmen.”
Descartin shot Forsen a look that said volumes about Forsen’s chances of getting escaping the planet. He then continued.
“Neg. They do not wish to obtain passage offworld, but they do wish to move around the planet to support their comrades.
“They can do so, provided they can fight off my aerospace forces.”
“You are not being fair here, Galaxy Commander. They have no aerospace assets, and to use their dropships for combat is suicidal and foolhardy, considering that they have to transport their battlemechs as well. You will gain more honour if you defeat them on the ground on level terms, not by attacking merchant dropships with clan fighters that are better than anything else humanity has!”
“You have a point there, Descartin Winters. But I would like to know what, if anything, they intend to do with this new freedom.”
“The warriors of the dropship Nile plan to rendezvous with Rasouf’s Rangers at site Epsilon. I will accompany them in my search for Star League artifacts.”
“Very well, I shall allow you to travel across the planet. In fact, I now allow all of the mercs to do so, but with one condition. We must be informed of all movement. Any movement off planet will be severely dealt with, and I assure you that even if all the dropships try to escape at the same time, none of them will succeed. I have more than just Warships and fighters available to me. In fact, I have two Noruff class assault dropships more than willing to destroy your ships if they attempt something foolish.”
“Bargained well and done. Winters out.” Descartin drew a line across his throat, signaling the tech to cut the link.
Frank, who had been listening to the exchange with trepidation, finally let out a sigh of relief. This did not go unnoticed by Kily.
“Hey, Frank, why so nervous?”
“You realize that if we couldn’t get to the Rangers, we could only wait to fight off ever more Falcons here? We’ve been surviving more on luck than anything else, and this has got to change. Hooking up with the other mercs will be the first step to consolidating our forces. It’ll also force the Falcons into choosing whether to engage the bigger merc groups first, or the smaller ones. We’ve been losing too many of our smaller groups to the Falcons in the small unit engagements.”
Deserk entered the conversation. “Frank’s right. In the smaller unit battles, losses to the Falcons were much less than in the bigger ones. Losses in armor and weapons is nothing compared to the loss of entire mechs in engagements that involve more than ten mechs on all sides. By getting together, we can hurt the Falcons more.”
Frank turned to Forsen, “Send the word out to the other groups. We can now move around at will!”
Ian could not believe his ears.
“Deserk, you’re sure of this?”
“Aff.” Came the reply. “Authorization just came from Rho Galaxy command, straight from Lizabet Danforth’s mouth. Only condition is that we must inform them first. We think they might be letting us group together, so as to defeat us more easily.”
“No more second guessing. My Lancers have a battle tomorrow. If we survive, we’re heading for Winslet’s Warriors. We should’ve engaged in large groups from the very start, not let ourselves get chewed up piecemeal. Anything else?”
“There is one more thing. You have one of the key machines, right?”
“Yup. What do you want me to do?” From Deserk’s tone, Ian knew something was up.
“Get to Karen, and get her key machine. After that, contact us, and we’ll tell you where to go next. We have several possibilities for the location of the hidden base, but Frank wants to get all the machines together before seeking out the base.”
“But one machines has been taken by the Falcons… And the last one we have not accounted for yet is with the Ragged Ones. They’ve been out of communications for several days now. Nobody, not even the Falcons, know where they are. They fought a binary to a draw, then abandoned their dropship and disappeared in the jungle. That was their last report before they disappeared.”
Deserk uttered a curse softly. “Freebirth. This is just great. How are we going to find these last two machines?”
“We will come to that when we’re ready. Right now, let’s just do what we can. I’ll contact you as soon as I get the machine from Karen. And tell Frank I wish him the best of luck. He’ll need it.”
“I’ll pass it on. Good luck to you too. Deserk out.”
Valten Folkner stared at Lizabet Danforth. He was trying to control his anger. Unsuccessfully.
“What in the Kerensky’s name were you thinking when you gave them aerospace access?” He shouted. “They might be able to take advantage of this by organizing all their dropships into a group capable of punching through our blockade!”
“Which they will not. They will not leave until they have found the other Star League base on the planet. I allowed them movement because it suits my purposes.”
At Valten’s puzzled look, she continued. “The information we have gathered from our victories thus far had been either lacking in the pertinent data, or had been corrupted by time. There is a base yet unfound, and it seems that a certain set of machines are required to gain access to it. So far, we have only one of the six machines, and the mercenaries have the other five.”
Valten did not take long to realize her plan. “And now you allow them atmospheric movement because you want them to find and open the base first.”
“Find, yes. Open, no. I intend to have forces shadowing the Dragoon group, ready to issue a challenge once they have found the base.”
Valten clapped his hands. “Brilliant. But would it not be better if we could defeat the mercenaries first?”
Lizabet snorted. “They have managed to fight off some of our best units in previous battles. What makes you so assured of a victory in future battles? No, we will simply whittle them slowly with more battles, before overwhelming them when they find the hidden base. I can take the loss of some honour. These are dezgra mercs after all. Another consideration is information on the location of the base, which is completely lacking from the archives we have captured. Possibly only the mercs know the location, so I will not want to take the risk of losing the information by having them die in combat.”
“They could have stored it in their computers…”
“Unlikely. It does not matter now anyway. We will find the hidden base, thanks to them, and maybe set up a permanent station here. The other mercenary units will probably band together for mutual protection. It will avail them little. The fighting of the previous days has given the younger warriors a taste of real combat against the Inner Sphere, and they will be more prepared for their freebirth tricks now. It is time to let them have a taste of larger unit action. This ‘training’ will come in useful when we renew the invasion.”
She paused. “And how about the missing jumpships?”
“We are still working on it.” Valten answered immediately, having anticipated the question. “We have narrowed down the possible pirate points, but there are still more than forty possibilities. It will still take at least a week before we are able to track them down.”
“See? Once we have captured their jumpships, it would not matter if they are able to travel off planet. We can hunt their dropships down at our own leisure. No, this campaign will be decided on the ground, between mechwarriors and elementals, the way it should be.”
Valten saluted her. “And with you in charge, our victory is inevitable.”
“Ready for lift, Sir!” A tech called out to Forsen Mandela as Frank walked onto the bridge.
Forsen looked over to the young mechcommander. “Ready, Frank?”
“It’s your call. How about Descartin?”
“The Bleeding Past is also ready for lift. You’re sure about the clanners following us?”
“Definitely. These are good clanners, or so I’ve been told by Deserk, and he hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”
“Okay. Engines at full power! Activate thrusters!” Forsen barked out as the bridge crew scrambled to obey his orders.
A deep rumbling could be felt beneath their feet, as the powerful fusion engines of the Overlord-class dropship prepared to unleash their nuclear fire, harnessed by the technology of man to provide near limitless power.
“Go!” As soon as the words were uttered, a roar could be heard as the Nile blasted off into the sky, followed closely by an aerodyne Broadsword.
Captain Hamirah Rasouf of Rasouf’s Rangers cursed softly in fluent Arabic as Lieutenant Benny Greaves, her second in command, came up with the latest piece of news, which she was sure was going to be bad.
His face showed delight though, confusing her. “Captain, we have just received great news! The mercs off the Nile have managed to get permission from the Falcons to move around the planet, and are heading here right now!”
Her face immediately lost its sour disposition. “Right now? How soon till they get here? And how did that happen?”
“About an hour. As to how they did it, I have no idea. We can ask them when they arrive.” He look at Hamirah in a querying manner. “Uhm, what do you think they want?”
“Isn’t it obvious? They want our key machine. But they have to give us something good in return if they want it. Nothing goes for free, especially when it involves us.”
“Good thinking, boss lady.” Benny had high respect for his commander, increased when she had managed to beat off the attacking binary of Falcon mechs with only their two lances of mechs and one lance of tanks. The Falcons officially lost, ceding the field to the mercs, but none of the four dropped Falcon mechs were salvageable, while the mercs had lost all their vehicles and four mechs. The remaining mechs were also badly damaged, but the techs had already fixed them up as best as they can.
That left four pilots cooling their heels, the Rangers lucky enough not to lose any mechwarriors. They were further given a long reprieve by the Falcons, obviously judging them no longer a viable threat or challenge. Hopefully, the incoming mercs would have spare mechs for the Rangers, which would make them no longer dependent on the clanners’ generosity for their continued survival.
Almost precisely an hour later, two huge shapes appeared in the skies. It did not take them long as land, as landing spots had already been marked out carefully by the Rangers. The Overlord-class Nile swung over and touched down vertically, its landing struts extending to absorb the impact of thousand of tons of steel hitting the ground.
The Bleeding Past, being shaped like a plane, landed differently, its landing gear extended as it bumped to a stop on a impromptu landing strip cleared of trees, courtesy of some quick lumberjacking by the mechs of the Rangers.
It could have used its vertical thrusters, but that approach used more fuel, and Hamirah knew that hydrogen refueling was not exactly easy to come by in the Periphery.
She glinted as sunlight was reflected off the hull of the Overlord, casting bright rays over the landing site. A whirring sound was heard as a bay door slowly opened, the ramp extending to the ground like a moat drawbridge.
The first person she saw was also the one she least expected.
The first thing Frank noticed as the bay door came down was a massive Stalker behind the welcoming committee of the Rangers. Somehow, it looked familiar to him.
As the door went down further, he saw the Rangers, seemingly none the worse for wear after their run in with the Jade Falcons.
Even before the ramp had touched the ground, he walked forward, eager to talk to their commander, a smile on his face.
He had barely taken two steps off the ramp before he was socked by a roundhouse thrown by a Arab woman in a faded green and brown uniform.
The uniform of the 22nd Avalon Hussars.
A small man in a jumpsuit sprang forward, holding back the furious woman by her shoulders as Kily quickly interposed himself between the woman and Frank, who was lying on the ground clutching his jaw.
“Stop!” Deserk shouted as mercenaries from both sides quickly stepped into one another’s faces. “Everybody stop!” He shouted in vain as he moved to Frank’s side.
Frank was seeing plenty of stars as he tried to block out the pain from his aching chin. He staggered to his feet, helped up by Deserk.
The woman was shouting insults and curses at Frank in some strange language, lapsing into English at certain points.
Then he heard, “Meronac, you caused the death of my company on Bromhead! You butcher!”
So that was what it was all about. She had fought for the ‘other side’ in the civil war. Memories, many of them bad, flooded into his mind.
“Everyone stand down!” Frank shouted in the most commanding voice he could muster, which did not seem like much to him.
Amazingly, the mercs off the Nile managed to lower their raised fists, and move away from the Rangers, defusing a potentially explosive situation.
The small man holding back the cursing woman shouted at his fellow mercs, ordering them to stand down as well.
“Get back! Get back! Where’re your manners, boys?” He scolded.
By now, the woman’s anger had subsided, but her eyes still burned with hate. Coherent now, she shook off the man holding her, and walked up to Frank.
“You caused my disgrace. Caused my unit’s defeat. Frank Meronac, the Hero of Bromhead.” She said, her tone low and threatening. ”Have you come to gloat?”
“No. Heck, I don’t even know what I’ve done to deserve this sort of welcome!” Frank replied.
“Obviously you don’t. To the Hero of Bromhead, the 22nd Avalon Hussars are nothing, right? Scarcely worth the bother to even be remembered.” She continued in a sarcastic tone.
The other mercs were gathered around the two commanders, trying to make sense of her words.
“I was in a Stalker that day, defending one of our forward key supply dumps. And suddenly there was this Dart appearing out of nowhere and blowing up our supplies.”
Frank suddenly realized what she was talking about. She was the Stalker pilot at the supply depot, defending it against his accidental discovery. The destruction of the supplies could not really be directly attributed to him, but more to sheer blind luck and the vagaries of warfare. Without a doubt, that had been the turning point of the campaign.
“Because of the destruction of our supplies, my entire company was wiped out by your artillery.” Hamirah shook her fist in front of Frank’s face. “And because of that, I spent four years in a POW camp, constantly ridiculed for my failure against a light mech piloted by someone who wasn’t even a mechwarrior!”
“And that’s my fault?” Frank asked in a weary tone. “It was war. Civil war. No quarter asked or given. I was just doing my duty.”
“Duty? Oh yeah, you were only a doctor, right? So what were you doing in a mech? Trying to stitch men together with mech fingers?”
“Damn it. I didn’t even know what I was doing more than half the time, let alone what else could happen. Blame yourself for what happened. You were the one who fired the shot that went into the crates, not me!”
Hamirah let out a scream of rage, and lunged at Frank before being pulled back by two Rangers. The small man stepped up, and nervously spoke to Frank.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know this would happen. Captain Hamirah never told us her past before forming the Rangers. She’ll settle down in a while, I hope. Can we talk inside your mech bay? I also want to look at what mechs you have available that you can spare us.”
“Sure.” Frank flicked a thumb back to the dropship. “Come on. Anything to get to more familiar territory.”
“We need your mechs.” Benny said. “End of request.”
“And we need your key machine. End of sentence.” Descartin Winters replied. He had joined them in the mech bay of the Nile along with Yoshino Ihara shortly after they had landed. He had not witnessed the fracas involving the Rangers’ CO, but he had been told all the same.
“We exchange the mechs for the machine, it’s that simple.” Kily said. “Isn’t it?” He looked around. He saw only doubtful faces.
“It’s not that simple. I don’t think Captain Rasouf would exchange the key machine willingly, even for our spare mechs. Not with me here.” Frank said sourly. “I’m sorry for this. How the heck was I supposed to know?”
“Exactly. You weren’t. Not your fault, Frank.” Deserk turned to Benny. “Lieutenant Greaves, can you persuade your captain to agree to the exchange? It’s for the greater good of us all.”
“I dunno, but I’ll try.”
Suddenly, Forsen’s voice came over the PA system.
“Frank, Deserk, the sensor pickets of the Rangers have picked up a trinary of clan mechs heading our way.” Forsen sounded nervous. “Mostly heavies, from the looks of things. You guys better get in gear, ASAP!”
“Bryan, what’s the sitrep?” Frank asked as he ran his Night Gyr along a path created by the rest of the company ahead.
Bryan, who was leading the way towards the Falcons in his Fenris, and further afield than everybody else, answered, “Not good. My Beagle Probe is picking up at least six assault class tremors approximately 2 klicks ahead. The overlap’s too much for the probe to make any distinctions, but I can tell you we are going to get stomped!”
“Shut up Bryan, and clamp down on the defeatist talk.” Descartin cut in. “Frank, where are the Rangers? We need every mech we can muster here.”
“They’re two minutes back. Captain Rasouf is leading her surviving mech lance. If she doesn’t want to join us, I don’t blame her. Six assaults is quite a lot of firepower. I’ve already told Benny to let their dispossessed take any of our spare mechs, but Captain Rasouf is forbidding him to do so.”
While the twenty battlemechs of the combined Raider/Dragoon/Ranger/Goliath Scorpion force was very impressive, everybody knew the odds against an assault trinary were not going to be good.
Benny Greaves had been left back with the other three spare mechwarriors of the Rangers to have Frank’s spare mechs prepared for them. The addition of a Wasp, a Stalker, an Enforcer III, and the Dire Wolf salvaged from the last battle would turn the odds completely in their favour.
If only Hamirah Rasouf would allow her men to use them.
Apparently, she was not going to accept any favours from Frank, who she had refused to meet, or even talk to. Everybody, even her own troops, knew she was taking her vendetta too far, but she was still the Rangers CO, and they were soldiers with good discipline, unwilling to stage a mutiny.
Switching over to the Rangers tactical frequency, Frank could hear Benny continuing his campaign of persuasion on his superior officer.
“Sir, Commander Meronac’s right!” Benny was obviously trying very hard. “War is war, and it wasn’t personal. Can’t you just put it down to fate, and let the past be? God knows that with every battle we take part in, someone has to die. No different in the civil war. Kill or be killed, that’s our life. Are you going to take out your anger on Frank, who was only a pawn on someone’s chessboard? We are all pawns, dammit!”
“Captain Rasouf,” Frank interjected, “My scouts have picked up at least six assaults in front at one point five klicks. Get your mechs ready to engage.”
“Shut up! I don’t need your advice!” The response came.
“Captain!” Benny wailed. “Just let us use their mechs! We can settle it after we’ve won!”
“No!!” She angrily replied.
“Frank, heads up. We’re getting into combat range.” Kily reported from his new Wolfhound, formerly a Dragoon machine, but assigned to him after his Commando lost its arm, which they had been unable to replace at short notice. Frank could hear a certain newfound assurance and confidence in the young mercenary’s voice, where he would have once gave his report in a semi-panic.
Suddenly, there was a sudden transmission over Frank’s headphones.
A male voice came in. “Commander Frank, Star Captain Descartin Winters, this is Star Captain Harga. I have not forgotten my humiliation at your hands a few days ago. I will now regain my lost honour! You now face Trinary Bravo. Prepare to die!”
“Frank, are you receiving the challenge?” Des asked.
“Yup. He’s mad at us, all right.” Frank slowed his mech down, signalling to the rest of the unit to do the same.
“Here is my plan.” Descartin voice came over the comms. “Get your recon lance in a flanking attack to threaten their rear. The rest of us will engage at long range, crescent formation, anchors towards the Falcons. I will suggest concentrating fire on their heaviest machines. The recon lance must refrain from attacking until I give the signal. Keep pulling back constantly, so that when Benny Greaves and his men get permission, they don’t have to travel too far. Everybody got that?”
A chorus of ‘ayes’ and ‘affs’ replied, Frank’s among them. He knew that Descartin Winters was by far the most experienced warrior on their side, and was the best candidate to get them out of the mess they’re now in. He was not worried about ceding command to Des, but he wondered at the Seeker’s confidence that Benny would enter the battle.
Almost immediately, the recon lance led by Bryan peeled away in a rapid movement to the right flank, with Jean Posavatz’ Ryoken following to provide more firepower.
The rest of the mercs slowed to form a crescent, directly countering the wedge formation of the Falcons as they approached. The four mechs of the Rangers took up a position behind the crescent, ready to support any position in the crescent should the front mechs falter, or to blast through if an opportunity presents itself.
Not that a Stalker, two Griffins, and a Lineholder could do much against clan omnimechs, Frank thought uncharitably.
The foremost charging mech of the Falcon wedge, a massive Daishi, came in at full speed as it fired at Des’ Nova Cat. Autocannon and laser blasts erupted throughout the battlefield as the battle got underway.
Frank, who was anchored on one of the crescent points, found himself facing a Cauldron-Born. It fired its Gauss rifle at his mech, the nickel-iron slug smashing into the left leg. A volley of pulse lasers from its left arm melted armour all over his middle.
Frank was not worried, letting his armour do its job while he locked onto the enemy mech with his lasers. Since the last battle, they had recovered enough salvage that some reconfiguring of the omnimechs was possible. Frank had stripped out the streak SRMs and a large pulse laser for a trio of extended range large lasers, wanting a flatter damage curve for his mech. The trio of lasers lashed out, scoring hits on the Cauldron-Born’s left and right torso. The exchange left Frank with a clear advantage in armour, which was already quite substantial to begin with.
Meanwhile, the rest of the unit was having some difficulty turning back the Falcon advance. Descartin squared off against the Daishi, every single one of his autocannon and heavy laser shots hitting the center torso of the assault omnimech, tearing it apart with just one attack in an incredible display of skill backed up by a targeting computer.
The Daishi slammed down face first into the ground, as its compatriots continued to advance, firing their weapons. One Turkina, two Gladiators, two Masakaris, and three Kingfishers stomped their terrifying way into the merc lines, with another Night Gyr and a Thor following close behind.
It did not take the Falcons long to identify Descartin’s Nova Cat as the most deadly opponent, as they concentrated fire on it. Missiles explosions, PPC, and laser blasts bloomed all over the mech as Descartin tried to manoeuvre out of the way. As the explosions died down, Frank could hear sounds of relief all over the tactical net as a badly mangled, but still functional Nova Cat emerged, with almost no armour left, and a missing arm. In his short time with the mercs, Descartin Winters had made himself quite popular.
“Stravag Falcons! Take down the Turkina and the Warhawks, sorry, Masakaris down now!” A frantic Descartin yelled. “They have thrown away their own ROEs!”
The return fire of the mercenaries was no less impressive, as they extracted revenge for Descartin. Concentrating their own firepower on the Turkina and the two of the Masakaris, they managed to wipe most of the armour off the clan mechs. The Rangers chipped in with swarms of supporting LRM fire on the Turkina.
Frank found himself still engaging the Cauldron-Born, as the clanner closed in. He received a transmission from the enemy mech as it fired its large pulse laser and streak SRMs.
“I am Star Commander Lerner. Star Captain Harga has sent me to ensure your death. Now die!”
“Oh yeah?” Frank retorted as he kept his mech upright despite the damage taken. “Come and claim my life then, if you can!” As he said the words, he fired his ultra autocannon at Lerner, missing with one salvo, but hitting with the other. The shot hit the legs of the Cauldron-Born, and the mech suddenly staggered for a while before regaining its balance. Frank grinned, knowing he had likely destroyed one of the leg actuators.
That makes us even in speed now, Frank thought as he ignited his jumpjets, jumping to his left as he prepared to hit the rest of the Falcons from the rear after taking care of the Cauldron-Born.
The rest of the Falcon mechs had now split their fire, engaging each mercenary mech separately, with only the huge Turkina still fixated on Descartin. From their previous battle, everybody knew it was Harga’s mech, and from the way the Falcons had acted, he really wants Descartin dead.
The Turkina fired its LB-20X autocannon, the shotgun shells blasting into the shattered Nova Cat, but failing to put it down. Laser pulses smashed into the left torso, destroying the engine and the targeting computer there. Defying all odds, the mech refused to die.
Fighting his rising heat levels, his damaged gyro, and his damaged engine, Descartin nevertheless responded with his remaining dual heavy lasers in his right arm, missing with one laser blast, but sending the other straight into the head of the Turkina, killing Harga immediately.
The Nova Cat shut down after that, its few remaining heat sinks strained to breaking point by the heat build-up in the last few moments. Descartin did not eject, electing to rejoin the battle once his heat levels were down. It was a huge risk to remain in an immobile mech during a battle.
Anxious to keep the Falcons away from Descartin’s mech, the rest of the mercs also spilt their fire now, dealing out damage almost evenly among the attacking clanners but drawing much unwelcome attention. Mechs were damaged, and none were destroyed, but Geenan’s Vindicator came the closest with a damaged engine. Following Descartin’s plan, the mercs were moving backwards, but the Falcons were following close behind.
“Geenan! Get back to the Nile, your Vindie can’t take much more of this!” Kety moved his Gallowglas to cover his lancemate’s retreat as he barked out the order.
The Masakari they were both fighting fired its gauss rifle and the medium lasers at the retreating Vindicator, which were thankfully stopped by the Gallowglas, which had moved just in time to intercept the shots.
“Come on, parrot! Take on someone closer your own size!” Kety shouted as he triggered his own lasers, scouring armour off the clan omnimech’s flanks.
The Masakari was hardly fazed by the Dragoon’s bravado, however, and continued to advance. The rest of the Falcons had also weathered the mercenary attacks easily, the heavy armour of the assault mechs proving difficult to breach.
Frank unleashed another storm of depleted uranium rounds at the Cauldron-Born, followed by his medium pulse lasers. The autocannon fire missed, but both medium pulse lasers hit, one leaving meltmarks on the left arm, the other spitting ruby darts into the already damaged leg. The Cauldron-Born crashed to the ground, but not before launching one more attack at Frank’s Night Gyr.
The Gauss slug hit straight into the middle of the mech, sending Frank’s teeth to clatter painfully, reminding him once again why he hated facing gauss rifles. Pulse laser and missile hits all impacted on the legs, but did not come close to removing the thick armour there.
Out on the main battlefield, the retreating mercs had moved back quite a bit, leaving Frank and Deserk’s wrecked Nova Cat in their rear lines. The Thor moved back to remedy this problem. In the distance, Frank could see two more assault mechs approaching, which he took to be their rearguard, holding off his recon mechs.
The rest of the unit was in trouble now, he could see. The overwhelming firepower of the clan assault omnis were beginning to tell on the mercenaries, as breaches and damaged limbs, as well as pilots losing their mechs’ balance, were reported on the tactical frequency. Yoshino and Kety were trying to keep tabs on the situation, but it was clear that it would not be long before cumulative damage destroyed the mercs.
And then there was the Cauldron-Born at his feet. He could fire his weapons into the cockpit right now, and save time, or he could offer the pilot a chance to surrender.
Frank quickly made his decision, aiming his pulse lasers into the cockpit of the Cauldron-Born before it regained its feet. “Ten, nine, eight…” He started counting, broadcasting the countdown from his loudspeakers, hoping that Lerner would get the hint.
Lerner did, and scrambled out of the cockpit on his hands and knees just before Frank melted it into a mess of twisted and melted alloys.
“Frank, once you’ve finished showboating over there, get the Thor.” Descartin coughed once, obviously bothered by the intense heat inside his own cockpit. “I am bringing in the recon lance. Hopefully, they will be the hammer to my anvil. Keep the Thor off my back.”
“Affirmative.” Frank turned his Night Gyr to head off the Falcon heavy. He could see the merits in Descartin’s plan, but he also knew that their main force was bending under the pressure of the clan assault mechs. At this point, they need a miracle, or at the very least Benny and his warriors in the spare mechs.
The Thor fired its PPC, the bolt of artificial lightning slamming into the right torso of the Night Gyr, frying electrical circuits throughout the mech. Flak rounds from the LB-X cannon nibbled away at the armour, but failed to get into the internals, while the LRMs made pockmarks on the mech’s legs and arms.
Ignoring the smell of smoke in his cockpit, Frank replied with his lasers, the beams lighting up the immediate area as they struck the Thor, evaporating armour and sending clouds of metal vapour into the air.
He could hear a dull roar behind him as the recon lance finally attacked, facing a Man O’War, another Turkina, and a Loki. The three clanners thought they had the upper hand until Descartin sent two heavy laser shots into the back of the Man O’War, damaging its engine shielding and gyro.
The main force was slowly crumpling under the hideous firepower unleashed against them. Glancing at his status screens, Frank could see that Pash and Tim had already ejected from their mechs.
The Falcons were not unscathed either, having lost a Masakari to Kety’s brutally effective laserfire. But there was still more than enough fight left in the clanners to crush the mercs.
Frank, getting desperate, simply dashed into medium range against the Thor, and fired all his weapons in a last ditch alpha strike to try to get to the Falcons’ rear. Autocannon rounds and laser blasts sizzled through the air as they wrought more damage on the Thor. Two of his lasers missed, flying off into the distance, as did one autocannon salvo. The rest hit, but failed to significantly weaken the clanner.
And Frank knew he had made a mistake, as klaxons and warning lights came on all over his console. Blasts of superheated steam streamed into the cockpit, scalding his skin before swept away by the overworked fans. He slammed down on two override switches, knowing that to shut down now was akin to committing suicide. Thankfully, the mech obeyed his commands, and continued to move.
The Thor had no such problems with heat, and continued to blast away with its full armament, shaving off layer after layer of armour off the Night Gyr.
Barely keeping his mech upright, Frank frantically tried to twist his mech around to avoid the worst of the enemy fire. He suppressed the urge to call for help, knowing that the others are having their own problems, and that no help would be forthcoming.
It was a full ten more seconds before his mech had cooled down enough for him to retaliate. By now, the Thor had closed to almost point blank range, pouring fire into the Night Gyr, which was taking internal hits to the legs and the arms, but thankfully for Frank not destroying any of the weapons. He lost his right foot actuator, though, slowing the mech down to a maximum speed of about fifty kph.
Snarling his teeth in rage, Frank jumped his mech over the Thor in a surprising move. The clanner was slow to react to Frank’s rapid movement, and as Frank landed behind the turning Thor, he fired every weapon he had. This time, he got lucky.
He managed to connect with all his short range weapons, and most importantly, both autocannon salvos went into the back of the Thor, followed by pulses of energy from his lasers. Puffs of smoke started coming out of the engine, and a terrible rattling sound could be heard coming from the omnimech even from Frank’s cockpit as the Thor collapsed from engine and gyro failure.
Frank gave a feral grin, exulting at his success before moving forward as fast as he can to catch up with the main battle. He hoped that the recon lance together with Descartin would be able to deal with the three rearguard clanners. His mech would be much more useful in attacking the enemy mechs from the rear.
The main battle had shifted more than a kilometre towards the Nile while he had been duelling with the Thor. Pushing his throttle forward, he quickly got into range of his ER large lasers, and made a quick assessment of the situation.
He was surprised to see that the lines had fully collapsed, with the mercs and the clanners engaged in a close quarters melee. One of the Rangers’ Griffins had its leg destroyed, and was currently propping itself up on one arm and providing highly inaccurate, but valuable all the same, supporting fire from its PPC. The rest of the mercs were putting a premium on evasive manoeuvres, or getting in close to kick out at the Falcons. Not at all encouraging for Frank.
Hamirah’s Stalker was on the ground, shifting around trying to regain its feet, but the lack of arms made the pilot’s task very difficult. Frank saw a Kingfisher standing over the Ranger CO, preparing to fire one last volley.
Uttering a quick prayer, Frank quickly lined up a shot for his battery of ER lasers, hoping that Lady Luck, or perhaps even God, would smile on him sufficiently for his shots to hit at seven hundred and fifty meters, the very extreme range for his weapons.
You may hate me now, but everybody’s important if we’re going to get through this war. Frank mashed down hard on his trigger for his secondary targeting interlock circuit, which fires all his ER lasers.
Three emerald beams lashed out, only one of them hitting the Kingfisher’s right leg. But it was enough to save Hamirah, as the Kingfisher collapsed to the ground with its leg severed at the knee. Previous battle damage had already stripped all the armour from that limb, leaving it vulnerable to Frank’s attack.
“Captain Rasouf, we can’t hold out much longer!” Frank yelled at her as he picked up the pace again, closing in behind the Falcons. One Gladiator turned its attentions from the shattered Lineholder it had been slowly tearing into pieces to Frank’s approach. “Damn it! We need Benny and his men now! Get them in here!”
The Gladiator fired, its own heavy autocannon blowing off the Night Gyr’s left arm. Frank fired his jumpjets in a desperate evasion move as the Stalker got to its feet, launching a flight of SRMs at the clanner.
“No!” The Stalker continued its desperate attack, lasers blazing at the clanner.
The Gladiator turned responded in kind, its autocannon smashing aside armour plates on the Stalker. A bolt of man-made lightning flashed from its right arm, ready to devour the internal components of the Stalker.
Only to be stopped by Frank’s Night Gyr, as he raised his mech’s right arm to intercept the shot. A follow up laser blast slammed into the cockpit.
Frank was momentarily blinded by the hit, his eyeballs overloaded by the amount of intense light energy pumped into his cockpit. His arm was bleeding, the head armour insufficient to keep the full force of the shot from penetrating the cockpit.
“Come on, Captain! What would you accept before bringing them in? My death? Or yours?” Frank raged as he fired his own autocannon in reply, the wild shot missing completely. “I’ve already bled for you. What else do you want? The death of your men? What else do you want?”
Frank swore he could hear her grinding her teeth before replying. “All right, dammit! You win!” Frank heard over his headset, as Hamirah begun another attack on the Gladiator. “Benny, you reading me? Get your butt in here ASAP!”
Just as the Gladiator was about to finish off the Night Gyr, a gauss round punched through its rear armour, followed by a steady stream of energy flechettes. The Gladiator’s torso telescoped downwards around its legs as its internal structure lost all integrity.
“Why, Captain, you had only to ask,” Benny came in sarcastically, “I know we should have waited, but this was really too important. Thanks for the orders anyway.” His newly acquired Daishi lumbered into view, followed by an Enforcer III.
The Falcons, realizing that the odds were no longer in their favour, turned to retreat. A Kingfisher held the back door open against the new arrivals as the Falcons dashed away from the field as fast as they can. The surviving mercs, emboldened by the arrival of Benny and his men, begun jeering at the running Falcons over the open frequency.
As they ran past Frank’s mech, Frank was astounded to realize that they did not take a single shot at him. He resisted the urge to fire at the retreating mechs. The battle was over. He was too drained, both physically, mentally, and emotionally to do more.
“Hah, they are running!” Kily laughed. “Jerks! Running with their tails between their legs. This’ll teach you to mess with us!”
A cheer went up amongst the mercs, as the battered mechs of the recon lance appeared, with Descartin’s almost unrecognisable Nova Cat at their lead.
Against all odds, they had prevailed again.
Frank groaned at the butcher’s bill in front of him. Just when he thought things were getting better, reality would always find a way to knock him down again.
The group had been hammered hard in the day’s fighting. Pash Balaji had been killed when his ejection seat was shot down by one of the clanners. His Puma and Tim’s Gunslinger were destroyed so completely that they were unsalvageable. The rest of the mechs had the techs screaming with oncoming nightmares of overtime work.
The good news was that Hamirah had reluctantly agreed to a truce between her and Frank. It had taken a long talk by Descartin Winters after the battle before she finally agreed to the exchange. This had paved the way for the mercs to exchange equipment, ammunition, and most importantly, the key machine in the Rangers’ dropship.
Frank had no idea how the Goliath Scorpion Seeker had managed to coax her to the negotiating table, but he was grateful all the same.
Frank had agreed to exchange the Daishi, Wasp, Enforcer III, and the Stalker for the key machine, which had initially sent the other Raiders into fits of apoplexy. Some quick talking and persuasion, as well as a bit of arm twisting by Lorik(literally!) convinced everyone that this was a good deal.
The fact remains that they have had good salvage from the field. The Turkina, Cauldron-Born, and the Kingfisher had been recovered sans several key parts, but the techs had assured him that they would be able to cobble something from the rest of the mech junk they had collected to get the mechs fully operational.
The rest of the Raiders wanted to stay long enough to give Pash a proper burial, but Frank had argued for a quick lift to find the Ragged Ones, who disappeared quite close to where Pidge’s Pigs had lost their key machine to the Falcons. The Falcon Binary which had won was still in the area, according to the latest reports, searching for the Ragged Ones. By getting there, they could hopefully get both machines, which would save a great deal of time.
Time which the mercs on Einstein were now short of. More than three regiments of mercenaries had been killed or captured by Clan Jade Falcon, and it seemed that more and more resources are being brought to bear on the most irksome units.
Of which Frank’s group definitely is one. Lizabet Danforth must be getting sick and tired of reading reports on their victories.
Their best chance for long term survival would be to find the alien base. With it, any price could be negotiated for passage back to the Inner Sphere. Deserk and Decartin might not agree, but Frank could really see no other way out of their present predicament.
Hamirah Rasouf and her unit had agreed to rendezvous at the alien base site once Frank had found it. The more troops they have there, the greater their bargaining power.
Or so he hoped.
He looked up at Kety, who had passed him the initial report from the techs. The lanky Dragoon mechwarrior was doing a fine job of commanding their battle lance, but Pash’s death had seemed to shaken him. He slumped a bit, the loss of a lancemate, especially one under his command, had affected him quite a bit.
“You want to talk to me, Kety?” Frank asked.
“Yes. Frank, put someone else in charge of the battle lance.”
“Why?” Frank sighed, and placed the report on his table with his uninjured arm. “Because Pash died? If that was true, then I should let someone else take over too, since I wasn’t doing my job as a company commander.”
“I’m not saying you weren’t doing a good job…”
“But the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for this role, much like you weren’t. Damn it, who else can take over? Not Geenan, you have experience and seniority over her. Not Tim, because he simply lacks your tactical awareness. And not Gerhard, because he is too aggressive.”
“You could let Deserk take over.”
“Deserk doesn’t want to, and he says he made a mash of things while he was with the Nova Cats as a Star Commander, and Descartin Winters confirms this. Face it. It’s Hobson’s Choice out here.”
“Yes sir.” Kety sounded resigned to his fate, rather than accepting the assignment willingly. “Permission to leave, sir.”
As Kety left the medical bay, Frank rubbed his weary eyes. Commanding a company was as difficult as he had imagined it would be. He looked over to Jadine Sheik’s bed, where the Dragoon captain was lying in her coma.
Wake up soon, Captain. He thought. I’m not sure how long I can keep on running this show.
Ian Dorlacen tapped his throttle with his finger nervously as he waited for the arrival of the Falcons. The day had started off typically, with the Falcon commander Daniela Mattlov issuing yet another challenge with all her forces. Ian had replied that he would respond similarly with all of his forces.
He knew it was a bit underhand of him to neglect mentioning that his force had increased by exactly two elemental points, but he figured he needed all the favours he could get. If Star Captain Mattlow did not bother to ask him for his force composition because she thought she already knew it, that was her own mistake.
This time, he had set up his remaining infantry in a relatively exposed position, on one of the hilltops surrounding the Star League base. Armed with spare LRM racks originally meant for repairing the mechs, they were to serve as decoys for the enemy toads. Ian had also used the last of his command detonated mines in the area surrounding the infantry. Hopefully the Falcon commander will oblige him by sending only her elementals to deal with his infantry. Foot sloggers were meant for each other, after all.
Just moments earlier, his vehicle company had once again drawn the attention of the Falcons, but this time only three mechs set out in pursuit.
Maybe we hurt them more than we thought. Ian quickly checked with his recon lance commander.
“Hong, how many enemy mechs has your Raven picked up?”
“Only eleven mechs sir. I’m still looking for the other four. They must be out here somewhere.”
“Keep an eye out for them, but get ready to join in the battle.”
Thanks to the efforts of Pascal and his techs, they had been able to receive the Falcons with all eleven of their mechs fully operational. Not for the first time, Ian was glad that he had managed to prise Pascal away from the Dragoons support staff five years ago to serve as his tech chief. The man was worth every C-Bill Ian paid him.
They had not made any headway into how the key machines worked, but they had been informed by Frank Meronac that a real physicist was working on it. This was quite a relief to Pascal, who had been completely stumped by the strange technology. This had also enabled him to put his full attention to getting their mechs repaired.
“Sir, Falcons approaching. Masakari in the lead.” Hong came in again. “Want us to engage?”
“Negative. Pull back and wait for their elementals to fall for the bait.”
Daniela Mattlov moved her Warhawk forward with purpose, the elementals clinging on for their dear lives as the omnimech sprinted at top speed towards the Lancers, with seven other mechs behind it, all laden with elementals.
Not for the first time, she cursed Orden. If the sibbies had not beaten up the techs, she would have been attacking with her full mech strength, not 70% as was the case now. With three mechs detached to run down the enemy vehicles, that left her only eight mechs against the Lancers’ eleven.
Her sensors picked up the Lancer mechs, waiting in the midst of rocky terrain. They also detected infantry movements a kilometer away, standing alongside what seemed to be large boxes, but turned out to be LRM launchers when she magnified the image.
What does their CO intend? She could see two options. One was to send the fastest mech she had to flush out the infantry. With her fastest mechs all chasing the Lancer vehicles, her next fastest mech was a Cougar. With her mech strength already depleted, she could not afford to attack with anything less than eight mechs.
That leaves only her elementals to engage the infantry. In all fairness, they were actually the best at facing the LRM launchers. The rocky terrain would offer them plenty of cover to get close to the enemy infantry without getting hit too much by the missiles.
She knew she was reacting yet again to some unknown plan of Ian Dorlacen’s, but again she had little choice. If she used the full force of her eight mechs and the two stars of elementals with her in her attack on the mechs of the Arch Lancers, it would be severe breach of honour in the eyes of her commanders, even one as liberal as Lizabet Danforth.
She was getting tired of the stringent rules of engagement laid down by the clan. While it had become acceptable to concentrate fire on a single target, overwhelming firepower against the enemy was still frowned upon throughout the clan.
But it was a real weakness that could be exploited by a canny opponent. And Ian Dorlacen of the Arch Lancers was one such opponent.
Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Daniela gave the orders for the elementals to attack the infantry. Sensing another trap, she sent her Elementals in two waves. The second star will trail behind the first in case the approach is mined, ready to attack from another direction.
Elementals would be quite ineffectual against the enemy mechs, especially if combat was being waged at a distance in open ground. Better to tie up the enemy infantry. She did not want the Lancers to draw her mechs into the range of those LRM launchers.
The elementals quickly disembarked from the mechs they were hitching rides on, and scooted off towards the enemy launchers, utilizing their jump packs to quickly cover the ground. It would not be long before they are forced to move among the rocks to avoid the LRM fire.
As her mech advanced forward, she placed her targeting cursor over the nearest enemy mech, which was the brick-shaped Awesome she had tangled with in the previous battle.
“Ready to resume our battle, Major?” She asked before loosing two streams of charged particles at the enemy mech, followed by a salvo of energy darts from one of her large pulse lasers.
“Eagerly.” The answer came as the Awesome adroitly sidestepped the attack, having anticipated her actions. Only the pulse laser hit, causing rivulets of molten armour to flow down the left flank.
The Awesome struck back with a vengeance, three artificial lightning bolts flashing from their barrels at her Warhawk. One missed the legs by several meters splattering the rocks with its energy. Another just whizzed by above her cockpit. The last hit her right torso, but she had plenty of armour to spare there.
Her force was now fully engaged with the Arch Lancers, both sides exchanging volleys of PPC, laser, autocannon, and missile fire. Some Lancer mechs have ganged up on her mechs, while some of her own troops are also concentrating fire on the mercenaries. It was now simply a question of who could inflict the most damage in the shortest time.
“Star Captain.” It was her elemental commander, Olager. “We have run into stiff opposition. It turns out that the immediate are leading to the enemy infantry is laden with mines. We are trapped here. My men are working to clear a path, but it will take time. They have several anti-elemental snipers hidden among the rocks, picking off my men as they work.” The whining sound of discharging lasers could be heard in the background. “Request permission to bring in Jerdy’s elementals!”
“Granted, Star Commander.” She answered, for once delighted with her initial assessment of the situation. “Make them pay.”
Ian would have realized that his infantry was only holding out against one elemental star, but he was too busy fending off the fearsome attacks of the Masakari. Wrenching his stick to the right, he twisted the Awesome from yet another of the Masakari’s deadly blasts. Two PPC shots sent furrows along his mech’s left arm, while the laser darts peppered his front.
He was worried about the missing enemy mechs, but with every minute that they failed to appear, the more he was convinced that the Falcons had been unable to fully repair the damage wrought days ago.
While this weakened the Falcons, they were still more than a match for the Lancers. But the fact that he had a three mech advantage meant that simple attrition would favour his troops.
Not that he wanted matters to get that far. A battle of attrition was too costly for both victor and vanquished, and he wanted to avoid one at all costs. He only wanted to inflict enough damage to offer hegira to Daniela. A offer which she could not reject.
He blasted with his triple PPCs, scouring armour all over the Masakari. Try as he might, he just wasn’t getting the same easy shots as in the previous battle. The Masakari pilot was weaving her mech left and right, reducing her chances of getting hit by Ian’s marksmanship but lowering her own accuracy as well.
Zellbrigen had been thrown out the airlock, as six Lancer mechs unleashed a storm of laser fire at a clan medium. The Nova twisted as ammuntion explosions flung the mech onto the ground, the murderous fire too much for even clan mechs to withstand.
The clanners exacted revenge of their own, shearing both arms off the Rifleman before dropping it with a blast straight into the middle of the mech. The Rifleman collapsed as a blast from the head signaled the ejection of the Lancer pilot. Thankfully for Ian, the Falcons did not fire on the exposed pilot.
“Pull back!” Ian shouted as he turned his attention for a moment to a Cougar that had strayed too close to his Awesome while dueling with a Fire Falcon. He grinned as two of his PPCs cored the mech, not putting it down but leaving its internals open to further attack. The infrared image of the clan mech flared, indicating that it had sustained engine damage as well. It would not survive for long.
The rest of the Arch Lancers edged back slowly, past the ruins of the Star League base they had ransacked days ago. The Falcons pursued cautiously, wary of hidden traps.
It ain’t gonna help you much. Ian grinned as he continued walking his Awesome backwards. The Cougar he had mangled a while ago suddenly charged at his Awesome with all guns blazing, followed closely by the Masakari which was firing its full arsenal of PPCs and large pulse lasers at Ian’s mech. Ian was too surprised by the Falcon’s bravado to react immediately.
Chunks of armor flew off and streams of molten alloy flowed down the Awesome as the Falcons unloaded everything they had on the Lancer mech. Ian replied almost immediately with another salvo right into the Cougar, this time destroying its engine completely.
As Ian’s mech staggered under the ruinous assault, he did not even bother to fight against gravity. The damage sustained by the Awesome was simply too much.
Having braced himself for the impact, Ian still had his breath knocked out of his lungs when the 80 ton mech hit the ground, sending a minor tremor through the area. Gasping for air, he started trying to get his mech upright again, at the same time checking his status screens.
What he saw was not good. The mech was lit up like a Christmas tree, with only pieces of armor left scattered all over. Some shots have even gone into the mech’s internals, destroying heat sinks but thankfully nothing else.
All around Ian’s fallen Awesome, the Arch Lancers have rallied to their fallen commander, trading shot after blistering shot with the Jade Falcons as Ian tried to get his Awesome standing.
Another explosion signaled the loss of his Crusader just as the Awesome got to its feet, the heavy mech falling to the ground with both its legs severed at the knee, victim of the Falcons’ deadly marksmanship. The pilot did not eject.
Once he got the Awesome in a kneeling position, he fired two PPCs at the nearest target, a Thor with paired lasers. Only one arc of lighning hit, leaving the armour there more memory than metal. The Thor staggered, then eased off from its assault, keeping its distance from the Lancers.
The Awesome stumbled to its feet, the rest of the Lancers intentionally throwing their mechs in front of it to prevent shots from hitting it. To Ian, though, this was not part of his plan.
“Damn it! Continue to pull back! We have to drag them nearer the base!” By now, the Falcon mechs were only fifty meters away from the not-so-abandoned base.
Despite the damage her forces were inflicting on the Lancers, Daniela was beginning to feel penned in. The armour on her mechs was now mostly scattered on the ground or vapourised, and internal damage was being reported. The mercenaries were in equally bad shape, but they still had nine mechs to her six remaining.
Combat Loss Groupings, or CLG for short, was essential knowledge for any battlemech commander. Mech effectiveness and durability is much related to the condition of the unit as a whole. There have been plenty of stories about outnumbered mech units fighting ferociously for more than an hour without losing a mech. Once it lost a mech, however, damage is accelerated quickly to the detriment of the outnumbered side, usually leading to a complete rout. This is mostly due to the ability of the side with more mechs to concentrate and draw fire more easily. The destruction of the Smoke Jaguars was one vivid example of the effects of CLG. Even clan mechs, as powerful as they are, are not immune to its effects.
And CLG was beginning to tell on her unit. The accursed Awesome, which had managed to get back on its feet, was leading the Lancers back again, their retreat a few moments back halted when it went down and the mercs rallied to their commander in a show of solidarity that impressed Daniela.
Glancing outside her cockpit at the abandoned Star League base for an instant, Daniela was inexplicably seized by a sense of shame. She had a sudden feeling of wrongness, as if the place was not meant for them to fight over.
Shaking off the strange emotion, she wrenched her attention back to the battle. The Falcons were now all near the base, using the structure for cover. Daniela studied the situation while firing constantly with her pulse lasers, judging the best time for a final charge while the emerald darts peppered an enemy Raven. The Inner Sphere light mech shook off the damage, moving away from the deadly Warhawk.
There was a sudden thump from her mech’s left shoulder. A cry came over the comms.
Daniela did not hesitate. Instinctively, she pushed the Warhawk to the ground, then rolled the mech over, using the long barrels of her PPCs as leverage. The elemental obliged her by stopping its attack on her armour, lifting off on its jumpjets to latch onto another mech, an Executioner.
Its compatriots were not idle either, firing their full weaponry of SRMs and lasers at the Executioner that was their main target. Five of them clambered onto the assault mech, one of them daring enough to jump immediately to the cockpit. The others continued to fire their weapons from the Star League base.
Before the other Falcons could react to the sudden appearance of elementals in the battle, the Lancers advanced, taking advantage of the Falcons’ sudden preoccupation with the new enemy in their midst.
40 LRM missiles from the Archer crashed into Star Commander Jedec’s Thor, their accuracy greatly aided by the Artemis fire control system. The mech staggered, then jumped forward, trying to get within the Archer’s minimum range for its missiles.
Daniela knew immediately what had happened, For reasons best known to himself, Drenner and his troops had thrown in with the Lancers. The most likely reason, judging from his psych report, was his constant urge for action.
“Jump, Werrel!” Daniela shouted. The Executioner would be able to shake off its tormentors by jumping. The mech was now flailing its arms about, the torso turning this way then that, trying to shake off the elementals, as they clung on tenaciously. The most tenacious of all was the one stuck like an offending pie on the broad face of the Executioner, tearing off pieces of armour with its claw.
She saw a burst of light near the cockpit of the Executioner before she got the Warhawk fully upright again. She did not need to get closer to confirm that Werrel was dead, killed in his cockpit.
Her headset crakled with an incoming transmission. “Star Captain! This is Olager. We have turned the tables on the surat infantry, and they are pinned down right now.” This was very good news.
Her mechs were now in retreat, but with the elemental-infested base in their path, they had nowhere to go. She formed them up into a circle, ready for a last stand. It would not come to that however.
If she guessed correctly, the enemy commander would be contacting her soon for some hard bargaining. She smiled ruefully. Who would have guessed that the two consecutive battles would both result in stalemates?
Ian swore bitterly as Lieutenant Wick reported the present dire state of the Lancer infantry. Nobody could have forseen that the Falcons would detach a force as a reserve to strike from an unsuspected direction. It was an Inner Sphere tactic that everyone assumes the clans would not use.
It was a moot point now. A lull had fallen over the battle, as the elementals hid in the abandoned base, the Falcons formed a tight perimeter around their position, and the Lancers formed up on one line facing the Falcons. The Falcons had only five mechs left against the Lancer’s battered nine. There was no doubt about the outscome if the battle continued.
He opened a channel to the Masakari.
“Well, Star Captain Mattlov, it seems we are at an impasse yet again. It seems we are always getting stuck against each other.”
He heard soft laughter. “Indeed. I have your infantry, about twenty of them, trapped by my elementals, while I am trapped by you here. Care to trade with your infantry?”
“Sorry. My men will kill me if I order them in as foot grunts.” Despite himself, Ian found himself grinning. “Listen, you offered me hegira before. Now’s my turn. Nobody else needs to die today. You let my men go, while I let you go.”
“Are you certain? Twenty lives for five clan mechs? Are the lives of your men that important to you?”
“Yes.” Ian closed his eyes, recalling the memory of Captain Sachin dying in the medical bay. He opened his eyes. “I don’t care how people see it. My only objective is to survive. Destroying your unit is only one means to that end. If another could be found, all the better.”
“Mine. You can have the LRM launchers, or whatever is left there. After all, I hold the field here, and I’ve given you a large concession by letting you go. I am, in the end, an honourless mercenary. Money is everything to me.”
He heard a snort, then her voice in a respectful tone. “You lie. I will be certain to fight harder for a victory the next time. You would make a fine bondsman to Clan Jade Falcon.”
Ian raised an eyebrow. That statement was one of the highest accolades a clanner could give to an Inner Sphere warrior.
She continued, “Your offer of hegira is accepted. We shall retreat to our dropships now,” she paused, “Oh, and tell Star Commander Drenner that he had better be prepared to face the Galaxy Commander when he returns.”
The exhausted Lancers trooped back to their dropship. The loss of Ronnie Fensen and his Crusader had immediately dispersed the euphoria that came when Ian announced the Falcon’s withdrawal.
Their disappointment disappeared as quickly as the euphoria earlier when they spied two dropships beside the Battle’s Bane.
The dropships of Winslet’s Warriors.
“So, what brings you over?” Ian asked Captain Karen Winslet in his office room as he poured her a cold beer, taken straight from his personal fridge. “I thought we were supposed to meet up with your unit, not you coming over.”
Supplies were running low, except for beer, which Ian had brought along in excess amounts. It was not Timbiqui Dark or anything expensive though, just simple cheap beer that would not burn too big a hole in the Lancers’ finances. Ian felt the morale boost from having ample beer outweighed the costs, so he had always ensured the Lancers would have enough on a campaign.
The auburn haired mechcommander took a swig from her mug before answering with a shrug, “Details, details. Maybe I just came over for some free alcohol?”
Ian sighed. “Never serious, are you? Like back…”
“Back on Caph when my Warriors tangled with a combined arms merc company for the first time and got our asses whipped?” She laughed. “Of course, we got some payback on Pleione, didn’t we?”
Ian looked at her, waiting for her to get to official business.
It took a while for her to quiet down. She spoke in a sombre tone. “Ok Ian, it’s like this. My boys have torn up the clanners pretty good, but we running low on strength. My aerospace squad is down two fighters, and I have only ten mechs left, two of them salvage from the battle. We’ve got a battle scheduled for tomorrow, and I want to hand you the key machine in case we lose.”
“You won’t lose. I should know, our units have fought together and against each other enough times for me to say you have a good chance.”
“That’s not the point. The point is the key machines are the most valuable piece of lostech on this rock right now. We just can’t let the clans get their hands on any more advance tech.” She paused. “I fought on Tukayyid, remember? I saw how terrifying it was to fight against mechs that were tougher, stornger and faster than anything else on the battlefield. The Inner Sphere spent the last 15 years catching up, and now that we’ve gotten ourselves level, we aren’t going to hand them another tech advantage so quickly! No, you take the machine, and go to the coordinates Frank sent you to search out the alien base. The sooner you find it, the better.”
Ian’s ears perked up. “You are going to give it to me just like that?”
“I think we’ve been enemies and friends long enough for me to trust you. I’ve got a feeling we’re all involved in something that’s bigger than ourselves, bigger than this war.” She stood up, walking over to Ian, who was sitting on his bed.
She sat down beside him, and leaned close. “And I was hoping that maybe you’ll indulge me the one thing we haven’t done together yet.” She literally purred, instantly sending Ian’s heart pounding hard in his chest. His face flushed a bright red. She grinned.
Ever since they met on Caph, Karen Winslet had been trying to get into Ian’s pants. It was common knowledge in both their units that the former Com Guard had a thing for the Lancer commander. Interestingly, it never showed when the Warriors faced the Lancers in battle. However, affairs between the two mech units were often as civil as possible, even in the oft-tense Chaos March, becoming more akin to a chess match as the two commanders maneuvered around for a victory. Ian often won, but he always returned salvaged mechs and pilots back to the Warriors for discount prices. The Warriors reciprocated in kind whenever they won. They were often at their best when operating together, as certain astute employers had done. Despite this, however, Ian and Karen had resisted the urge to combine their units, as they both wanted to lead merc units of their own. It was this reason, more than any other, that kept them apart.
Ian leaned away, trying to maintain his distance. “Hey, let’s keep our manners, shall we?”
“Come on, Ian.” She placed her arms around his head, preventing him from withdrawing further. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Treat it as something in exchange for the key machine.”
Ian gulped once, then ducked under her arms. “Karen,” he continued patiently, “we’re both commanders. What sort of image will this send to our people?”
“That we’re as human as they are? That we have feelings too? Stop being scared of this. Don’t worry, I’ve taken contraceptives. There won’t be any royal scandal, Ian whose-surname-is-not-Dorlacen.”
Ian gaped for an instance, before replying. “I have no idea what you mean.”
“Don’t try to fool me. I know fully well who you are.”
“And who am I exactly? Who else knows?”
“Relax. Only one other person knows, John Fish, and he’s dead.” At Ian’s look of suspicion, she hastened to add. “He was killed by the Falcons.”
“Fish was from the Capellan March world of Warren, where he was part of the CMM. He had a photographic memory, and when he saw your picture in our records, he got curious, and asked me how I came to know you.”
She shrugged. “I told him about the times we’ve met, and how the Warriors would be the best merc unit in the Chaos March if not for you guys. In turn, he told me who you really are, or more accurately, were.”
“Fish told me he liked to watch documentaries, and with his photographic memory, he was able to remember a great deal of stuff. He remembered seeing someone who looks a lot like you in a popular show on his homeworld about missing nobles and the Periphery. Katrina Steiner, the first one I mean, Maurice Avellar, the Calderon heirs, etc.”
Ian opened his mouth to speak, but was hushed by Karen, who held a finger to his lips. “I didn’t want to believe him, so I rang up a few favours from my contacts in Comstar. Turns out he was right.”
“So now you know. That doesn’t change anything. I didn’t want to be placed in a position where people might think I was a power hungry son who had no regard for his parents. I had my own dreams. I followed them, and I’ve achieved them.”
“I’m not blaming you for what you did. After all, if you hadn’t run away, we wouldn’t have met.” She placed her head on his shoulder. “Let’s enjoy what we have, alright? Leave the future, the problems to tomorrow. You’ll set off early in the morning, so let’s not waste time any longer.”
“You sure you’re not doing this just so you can claim to have done it with me on some scandal vid?” He looked straight at her, for the first time allowing himself to drown in her eyes.
“I admit to you I’m scared, Ian.” She hugged herself. Ian put his arms around her, concerned that she was finally showing cracks in her composure. “I’ve got a feeling I’ll die tomorrow. I just don’t want to go out without having spent some quality time with the man I love. Grant me this, will you?”
“You won’t die, Karen.” Ian pulled her close. “Let’s give you one good reason not to, ok?
The lights in the office room went out.