MWO Fan Fiction

MechWarrior Online (MWO) is a first person shooter (FPS) game where you pilot a giant, customizable robot (referred to as ‘mech) and attempt to blow up other players’ giant, customizable robots. If you know me (and I believe all four of you do) then you know I am by no means a hotshot FPS player. Role Playing Games (RPGs) and games of Strategic Turn-based Design (STDs… wait, that can’t be right) are more my speed. However, I have been a lifelong fan of the BattleTech and MechWarrrior franchises and so it was inevitable I would play this game. When I started playing back in 2012, I immediately became a devoted fan and have played it ever since. This is odd for me, since not only is it a FPS, but also the length of time I play any game generally spans anywhere from one week to one year, but rarely longer.

But somehow this game has managed to satisfy not only most of my gaming needs, but also to capture my imagination. I have been a part of two different in-game “guilds” (we call them mercenary companies) and have written numerous vignettes for them that feature the players I play with and the fun and funny aspects of the game we play. Although the pilot names are usually… unconventional, to say the least, the little stories should be comprehensible to most anyone who enjoys science fiction.

The latest series of fan fiction vignettes I have done have reflected the recent addition to the game of a persistent galaxy map – a place where all of our explosive robot struggles are tracked and remembered and where all of our noble sacrifices have meaning. We have just concluded the “beta” test of this feature, so the map has been reset. I’ve decided that’s a good time to export the vignettes I have written to this blog.

Told as a series of “embedded reporter” articles, they were great fun to write and allowed me to play with writing in present tense. Also, there are some inside jokes here, so don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you missed something. Anyway, enough talk! Enjoy.

MWO: http://mwomercs.com/

My Mercenary Company: http://www.228ibr.com/index.php

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FULL-SCALE WAR (12-11-3049)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service

 

Hostilities erupted around the Inner Sphere today as simmering border tensions flared into open aggression. All of the major Houses have deployed forces to various hotspots in an effort to stem the tide of violence before the situation spirals into full-scale war.

“We are already at war,” Steiner spokesperson Blake Christianson said when asked
why Steiner forces were reported to be deploying into Kurita territory.

“We have always been at war,” confirmed Kurita spokesperson Ito Shimosaki when reached for comment. “The relative lack of aggression in recent years has simply been prelude to the ultimate struggle before us. The latest invasion of foreign operatives, who Steiner High Command has refused to acknowledge as working for them, into our territory on the periphery is only proof that they have been busy planning this surprise attack for years. We do not recognize these “Clans” as anything but mercenaries working for the obvious Steiner-Davion agenda to destroy the Combine and rule the Inner Sphere together. But they will fail. House Kurita will block their nefarious plans and show the other Houses that their apparent hegemony can and will be stopped.”

When asked how the Combine plans to stop the multiple angles of advance into their territory, Shimosaki revealed that the DCMS has recently concluded negotiations with several reputable mercenary groups to thwart the Steiner-Davion aggression. Most notably among these is the 228th IBR, one of the most highly decorated, mysterious, and feared ‘Mech regiments of the Inner Sphere. At the time of writing this the 228th IBR is already deployed in the defense of Port Moseby as well as the attack on Halesowen.

 

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KURITA LOSING, MERCS LEAVING, ALIENS INVADING (12-20-3049)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service

 

The Inner Sphere continues to blaze with unrestricted hostilities in what has clearly become another round of devastating open warfare. All the major Houses, not to mention mysterious aggressors from the periphery, are now involved in the fighting. At first it was suspected that these invaders – the sparks that lit the fuse to the current conflict, if you will – were simply cleverly disguised mercs working for either Steiner or Kurita. However, as reports of their strange mechs, weapons, tactics and orders of battle poured in all this week, it has become apparent that they represent a new threat from beyond the borders of explored space. Who are these unknown assailants? Why have they come here?

“I know not. I care not,” said a tired and haggard looking Ito Shimosaki, spokesman for the DCMS. Nights of lost sleep and days filled with anxiety have reduced his voice to a gravelly shadow of its former rich baritone. “Furthermore, it matters not. We will push back their incursions and reclaim what has been lost.”

But Kuritan forces have already lost much, not just to the mysterious invaders known as Clan Smoke Jaguar and Clan Ghost Bear, but also to House Steiner and House Davion. When asked if Kurita would consider signing a ceasefire with any of its current enemies so that it could concentrate on these alien threats, Shimosaki simply grunted and held up the shredded ceasefire agreement with the Free Rasalhague Republic that had lasted only hours before disintegrating into renewed violence.

It has not been just Kurita’s diplomatic efforts that have been futile, but also their military ones as well. Confusion, bickering and incompetence seemed to frustrate any attempt by the DCMS to conduct coordinated campaigns against its attackers. The one bright spot of the war so far for House Kurita has been the valiant efforts of the mercenary unit known as the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment. Initially signing on to investigate the raids along the border, the 228th was soon involved in every theatre of Kuritan military operations.

In just one week, they managed to successfully defend Camlann from Steiner assault and capture Port Moseby. Elsewhere, they stalled Clan Ghost Bear’s advance on Constance and held up Davion’s conquest of Tripoli for several days. Facing vastly superior numbers from offensives on all borders, even the valiant efforts of the 228th could not make up for the lack of a cohesive strategy among the DCMS leadership. When asked for his opinion on Kuritan overall strategy, 228th Precentor Daval “Deadfire” Locke declined to comment, simply stating the 228th was currently evaluating existing contract terms and new proposals.

Recently, all communications with the 228th have gone dark and rumors have run wild that they chose not to renew their contract with Kurita. Although there has been no official word from either the DCMS or the 228th, the merc unit disappeared from Lambrecht soon after they captured it for House Kurita and have not been heard from since, although unsubstantiated reports suggest they have entered Steiner space.

 

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DEFENSES INADEQUATE, EMBATTLED HOUSES STRUGGLE TO HOLD GROUND (1-2-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Occupied territory, somewhere in the Free World’s League

 

Another fireball erupts into the sky over the massive blast door that protects the narrow pass that leads into the valley where the orbital defense cannon that the guys have affectionately nicknamed “Soft Serve Sunny” (Sunny is short for Sunspot-3L Particle Projection Cannon) sits and wards away any bombardment or invasion from enemy warships in orbit. The fireball is from the destruction of yet another of our automated defense turrets that are supposed to keep attackers from getting too close, but never do. The “Soft Serve Sunny” nickname is because if any attacker gets close enough to the power generator for the massive NPPC (Naval Particle Projection Cannon), they can quickly turn it into a pile of molten metal that in turn changes the ice formations around us into an avalanche of slush.

Losing the gun is bad enough, but the slush makes evacuating the heavy equipment before the main invasion force lands all but impossible. It’s this reason, the prospect of no easy way to withdraw, that makes the members of the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment look grimly at the wall as they count the seconds to the inevitable destruction of the blast door’s shielding mechanism. After that, the door will burst open like the skin of a rotted tomato from the pressure of exploding enemy munitions.

I’ve seen it before. Butler, when we tried to hold back Clan Jade falcon. Wing, when we fought against Marik’s various mercenary companies. If there is one truth so far in this war, it’s that no one seemed to think they’d need to invest too much in defenses.

“When that door drops, you’re gonna see a full company of light mechs come rushing right through.” IronChance (real name withheld by individual’s request) is leaning against the side of a maintenance shed as he points down the valley. He tosses his cigarette into the snow with disdain and it hisses in agreement with him. “A full company! They’ll run right past all these damn useless calliope and laser turrets and hit the generators before we can take two damn steps. Even if we wipe all the damn things out, there’ll just be another wave hot on their heels to finish the job.”

An alarm klaxon sounds and I turn from the grizzled veteran to look at the blast door as it melts and sags inward. IronChance snorts and starts walking towards his TDR-9S Thunderbolt “IronBolt”, a 65 ton heavy battlemech commonly in use among most front line units of the Inner Sphere. “Helluva damn way to fight a damn war,” he mutters as he passes a technician and gets on the hydraulic lift that carries him up towards the cockpit as I watch.

A scream of twisted metal that echoes down the valley announces the collapse of the blast door and as the Thunderbolt powers up, I run for the cover of the nearby observation post. Inside, it’s warm and I quickly pour myself a cup of coffee before leaning over the shoulder of Adept XI-Rho Robin “True Leader” Wright. She’s been assigned as my official liaison to the 228th by Comstar. After greeting me with a tired smile, she turns back to continue looking at an overview of the battle provided by spy satellite feed. It doesn’t look good. I see IronChance’s Thunderbolt displayed as a blue blip with his ID tag attached. It moves to form up with another group of blue blips and then they accelerate to intercept a group of red blips moving fast toward the gun’s power generator. Too fast. It looks like yet another toe-hold in Marik space will need to be abandoned.

Scant hours remain on our contract with House Steiner and rumors abound about the company’s future. Some say we’ll stay with the Lyran’s, others that we’ll go take advantage of lucrative contracts on the Liao-Davion border. Most believable, however, is that we’ll head directly into the lion’s den itself and try to relieve the besieged and beleaguered defenders of the Free Rasalhague Republic as they desperately try to hold back the advance of the Clans.

“House Steiner has been a generous and competent employer,” explained 228th True Leader in an interview conducted earlier. “But it’s become clear to Comstar that there is a region of space where our services would not only be even more appreciated, but are absolutely critical.”

Wherever we go next, I’m wishing we were already there. More alarm klaxons sound as the generator evaporates and the light from its death fireball comes through the blast-resistant windows and floods the room with a foreboding orange glow. I take my leave of True Leader as she bends to the task of sending out the evacuation codes and follow all the other civilians and support personnel to the Leopard Class dropships already prepped and waiting on nearby landing pads.

 

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THE CRUCIBLE (1-13-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Occupied territory, somewhere in contested Rasalhague space

 

“It’s hard to explain to an outsider,” says True Leader as we walk through the massive ‘mech hangar with its rows of looming mech bays running for at least a mile along each side. She laughs to herself and shakes her head. Strands of her long blonde hair waft and stray in the warm updrafts of idling mech engines and catch the yellow glare of the arc lights above us. For a moment she looks more like the girl who grew up on a grain farm on Terra than the high ranking adept in ComStar’s ROM division. “ComStar has always been a little different from the rest of the Inner Sphere, but it’s especially true with the 228th.”

She looks over at Precentor Panicbutton and laughs and shakes her head again as he holds a black glove in front of a terrified initiate’s face and yells at the top of his lungs. The words carry clearly across the cavernous space between us.

“Does this smell clean to you, initiate? Does it look clean?”

“Yes?” the unfortunate man replies with a confused expression on his face.

“What? You think this is clean? Maybe in whatever sloppy, cut-rate, filthy back-world mercenary unit you come to us from this passes for clean, but not here! This is the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment! We do not compare ourselves to ordinary measures of clean! Here, you are expected to find new and unparalleled definitions of clean! Do I make myself clear?”

The initiate’s response is lost to the deafening hum of a nearby BNC-3E Banshee assault class battlemech powering up its newly installed fusion reactor engine. The overpowering sound drives True Leader and me into ‘Mech Hangar Twelve’s operations office. She closes the door behind us and rolls her eyes.

“That beast is well-named,” she exclaims and I am forced to agree. She offers me a cup of tea and I gratefully accept. The recent campaign to reclaim territory for the Free Rasalhague Republic has been going well for the 228th and several planets have fallen to the skill and tenacity of the regiment’s pilots. The strangely scented and intoxicating teas seized from the hastily abandoned Clan supply depots have been one benefit. Seeing the unit’s most famed and decorated battle leader in action has been another.

“He’s really something,” True Leader admits when I prompt her again about Panicbutton. “He’s one of the few pilots I know of who can beat most anyone else in a duel while also commanding a full company in a hot LZ. Not just that, but he actually cares about the new pilots, too.”

I point out to her that her observation is hard to believe when he’s often seen dressing down an initiate for not cleaning his pilot’s gloves well enough.

“You don’t understand,” she says after savoring another sip of the flavorful brew. She sets down the cup and clasps her hands and gives me a steady stare as if I better get what she’s about to say down right. I make sure my pen is working. “He’s saving their lives. The more pilots he can get to pay attention to as many details as they can, the more aware and awake they’ll be in combat. The more awake they are, the more likely they’ll survive. The more battles they survive, the better they’ll become.”

From what I’ve seen so far, what he’s doing is working. That being said, if I were a merc looking to join 228th, I might first research all the pilot glove cleaning strategies I could.

 

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WHAT ONE HAND DOESN’T KNOW (1-19-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Occupied territory, somewhere in contested Rasalhague space

 

“And so it was that in the year 3025, while the great houses of the Inner Sphere were locked in mortal combat, that a small group of…”

Deadfire’s voice is drowned out by a loud snore coming from the back row of the small auditorium. I’m leaning against the back wall and can easily see, not to mention hear, where it is coming from. John “Vercinix” Hume sits sprawled in his chair with his legs stretching into the aisle and his head thrown over the back. His mouth is gaping and the rise of his chest suggests we are in for another loud interruption to Deadfire’s speech. Instead, True Leader, sitting in front of where I am standing, reaches her leg across the aisle and kicks his shin. Vercinix leaps awake with a cough and a soft curse. He blinks and then gives his assailant a hard stare. She glares at him and makes a gesture to him that suggests he had been sawing logs. He returns a gesture that suggests something altogether quite different.

As Deadfire continues to recite the entire history of the 228th to the assembled pilots and officers of the same unit, Vercinix gets up and stretches and notices me standing nearby. He nods and indicates that I should follow him before proceeding out the open doors of the auditorium while ignoring the daggers True Leader stares at his back. She makes no move to intercept either of us, however, so I seize the opportunity to talk to one of 228th’s high ranking officers alone.

Vercinix leads me into a room just on the other side of the doors that turns out to be a small kitchen. He pours each of us a cup of coffee and then produces a small flask from somewhere inside his jumpsuit and holds it over my cup. He raises his eyebrows at me and I enthusiastically assent. Jumpship coffee is perhaps the worst, but often the most necessary, concoction known to man. A little whiskey goes a long way toward making it at all desirable.

“So, you’re exempt from the mandatory monthly lore readings?” I ask him as we sip our brews and lean on the counter.

“No, no. Not at all. I’m sure I’ll catch hell for this, but since I can recite every damn word he’s going to say forwards and backwards, I doubt I’ll get worse than a tongue lashing.” He gives me another wink and his eyes twinkle with mischief. “Besides. I already know how it’s going to end, which is the only part ever worth sticking around for.”

“Really? How?”

“Our new marching orders,” he says mysteriously. As if to add emphasis to his tone, the lights dim and a deep thrumming fills the walls, floor and very air as the giant ship’s Kearny-Fuchida drives warm up. “Say goodbye to any Space Viking friends you may have made, buddy boy. We’re off to parts unknown.”

“What?” I struggle to say as the lights come back to full intensity. The term ‘Space Vikings’ was the playful nickname everyone in the 228th had given to the service men and women of the Free Rasalhague Republic. I could only guess that we had received a new contract with another house. “Where?”

Vercinix makes me squirm for a bit before I can weasel the answer out of him. Finally, he admits that we’re on our way to Clan Smoke Jaguar occupied space. My eyebrows threaten to climb up over my head. I point out to him that we were probably nearing the point in Deadfire’s speech where he talks about how the Clans had shattered the old 228th regiment. Was the new 228th on some sort of suicide mission?

“No. Nothing like that. Not yet, anyway.” The last part he adds with a grimace. “No. We’re going to sleep with the enemy for a bit. Word has reached the brass that the Clans have been so impressed with Inner Sphere mercs that they’re offering mercenary contracts. We’re going to go be bad guys for a bit.”

My blood goes cold and the lights dim again as the jump drives engage. Vercinix’s playful, devil-may-care smile does little to settle my nerves. When I ask him why the 228th would do such a thing, he gives me cryptic responses and old platitudes of “know thine enemy” and “one hand doesn’t need to know what the other is doing.” For being the regiment’s morale officer, I don’t find Vercinix to be very reassuring at the moment.

 

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THE RIDE ALONG (1-27-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Schuyler, on the border between Clans Ghost Bear and Smoke Jaguar

 

“Bravo. Stormcrow. Center Torso.”

Panicbutton’s voice crackles over the speakers mounted above the pilot’s couch in the cockpit of the GAR-D Gargoyle 80 ton Clan Assault ‘Mech. I grunt and try not to slip off my corner of the seat as the pilot I’m sharing it with, Antonio “Defunked” Torres pivots the surprisingly nimble machine to the right and lights up an enemy Ghost Bear Stormcrow in his targeting reticle. The 55 ton ‘mech tries to twist and backpedal away from our advancing forces. Just before he slips behind a large outcropping, Defunked lets loose a blast from the arm-mounted medium pulse lasers and hits the thing squarely in the chest.

The ‘mech’s engine compartment is pierced and after a second in which it freezes and the cockpit explodes out and upward, the pilot ejects amidst a storm of shattered glass. As the Stormcrow slowly topples forward, we are close enough to hear the muted crunch of its falling chassis as it crumples to the floor of the sulphur-choked valley.

Defunked doesn’t react. His face is frozen in an expression of cold determination that stands in defiant counterpoint to the face-melting atmosphere outside and the sauna-like temperature inside. I pull my sweat-soaked shirt away from my chest and wipe my eyes and try not to drip on anything that looks important. Defunked pretends not to notice. I think he’s being polite.

Earlier that week, when my request for a ride along had finally been approved, I was overjoyed to find out it would be in a Clan ‘mech. Not much has been publicly released about these devastating weapons the invading Clans have introduced to the Inner Sphere. I was excited to be one of the first, if not the very first, to get a chance to report on them. Vercinix had insisted that the means by which the 228th had procured them remain off the record, but I can tell you that there has been a considerable black market in Clan equipment since their invasion started.

Defunked, however, had been less than enthused at having to share a cockpit with me. The wiry warrior had eyed me with distaste as we waited in the mechbay for the Gargoyle to be prepped. The campaign to wrest control of Schuyler from Clan Ghost Bear was entering the mop-up phase, so no one saw the harm in me crowding into the same cockpit with Defunked to see what these machines were like first hand.

Unfortunately, the cockpit was a single-seater and left little room for extras – especially human-sized extras. I’m not an oversized man by any means – only a little over average height and weight – but I think he had been hoping I’d be more undersized than over.

“All right,” Defunked had said as we climbed onto the hydraulic lift. “Come on, fatty. Try not to sweat on me.”

I had no idea how difficult even that simple task would prove…

 

“Dropship incoming! Turn! Turn!”

Panicbutton’s voice screams over the speakers and I find something to hold on to as Defunked lurches around again. My stomach sinks to my ankles as I see the Leopard class dropship sweep its lasers over several nearby friendly ‘mechs and unload four enemy battlemechs.

“Holy shit!”

“It’s a trap! That’s the rest of the star!”

“I’m cored! Fucking dropship…”

“Clear comms! Give me a target!”

Panicbutton’s voice cuts through the noise of the excited chatter of 228th pilots. Defunked is already lighting up the biggest target and is letting lose a patient stream of pulse laser fire as he triggers them in a chain. His target is a Hellbringer and it’s looking right at us. It’s also moving closer to us. I don’t fail to notice that the other ‘mechs in the enemy pilot’s star are following his lead.

Defunked glances at the target info and sees the Hellbringer is loaded with a brawler configuration – Clan Ultra AC20, SRMs, pulse lasers. Defunked gives ground and speaks the target designation into his mic. Panicbutton repeats it and suddenly the back of the Hellbringer explodes in a shower of twisted metal. The ‘mech collapses forward, but not before delivering a solid stream of autocannon rounds to the Gargoyle’s lower torso. The sound is a terrible gong and my insides turn to water.

Defunked twists the Gargoyle back and forth and continues to give ground. I know he is doing his best to hide our damaged center, but the constant motion does little to help the fear-induced nausea that has seized me. I grab hold of anything I can and shut tight every orifice I have and begin praying. The ejection system for the Gargoyle had never been tested with two people.

Two more enemy ‘mechs are destroyed by Panicbutton and the rest of the company. The last one is a Timberwolf. It’s heavily damaged, but seems intent on delivering the death blow to our battered ‘mech. We stop twisting. I give Defunked what must be a terrified look.

He doesn’t notice. He’s sneering at the display in front of him. He jabs his thumb down on the engine override button and releases a full alpha at the Timberwolf’s damaged left shoulder. The side of the ‘mech explodes and half of its weapons fall away. It responds with what it has left and we are rocked by a blast from its particle projection cannon. The heat generated from our alpha strike sets off automated engine temperature warnings and threatens to overwhelm my senses. Defunked ignores the alarm, the ppc fire and my involuntary moans of fear and immediately fires another alpha at the enemy’s opposite shoulder.

Luckily, I succeed in not passing out as the internal temperature soars so high I feel like my brain is starting to cook like a hardboiled egg. Instead, I blink away sweat and look out the reinforced cockpit glass and blearily make out that the enemy ‘mech has lost its other shoulder and is toppling over to the ground in a smoking ruin.

“Not today, bitch,” Defunked says with a satisfied smirk. Through the heat waves rolling through the cockpit, I see him turn to me with a questioning look. “What’s that smell? Did you fart?”

 

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NAMES, GAMES AND DEATH (2-11-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Deep space

 

“Juice, you got any threes?”

“Go fish, Pisces… Hey. Get it? Fish? Pisces?”

“You’re fucking kidding me. You’re seriously telling me you have no threes?”

“Did I stutter?”

The place is The Poop Deck, the nickname for the main pilot’s lounge on board the JumpShip Alcibiades. The time is around 2100 DZT (drop zone time) for our planned invasion zone. I’m sitting at a table with four of 228th’s elite pilots. Like all men and women of the 228th, they commonly refer to each other by their call signs. Most don’t even know each other’s real names.

“Makes it easier to forget them when they die,” True Leader had explained to me earlier. Her tone had been matter of fact, but the look in her eyes had been touched with sadness. She sat with me now at the table, sipping tea and watching four pilots play a juvenile card game so they could pretend that the coming invasion didn’t mean anything to them.

They knew each other as Edmiester, Juicebox, Pisceszero and El Duckerino. The banter was lively, acerbic to the point of caustic – and always laced with an undertone of deep friendship. What was unsaid mattered far more than what was said.

“I swear to god, you cough up those threes or I’m reaching over this table and-”

“And what? Do something.”

“Don’t make me come over there. Do not make me-“

“This is ridiculous,” El Duckerino interjects. As he waves his arms in exasperation his German accent becomes more noticeable with every word. “I don’t know why we bother playing this game. We never finish a single hand!”

“Ducky,” Pisces says and leans forward and extends a finger at Juicebox. “Ducky, all I’m saying is the game is played on an honor system and this walking argument against freebirth over here is clearly cheating.”

“What?” Juicebox raises his hands innocently.

At that moment, Vercinix appears over Juice’s shoulder and squints down at his cards. He stands upright and announces “He’s cheating.”

Before anyone can respond, the intercom crackles to life and a voice calls Vercinix to his office. He sighs and shakes his head.

“Now I remember what I came in here for,” he mutters as he walks over to a cabinet and gets a box of tissues. “Panicbutton made a claimant cry again.” As Vercinix walks out the door, True Leader smirks and takes another sip of tea. I look around the table and see nothing has changed, except Pisces is holding a knife and pointing it at Juicebox.

“I will cut you. I will cut you with this butter knife.”

“Juice, I got 100 c-bills says he can’t cut you with a butter knife,” Edmiester states as he jumps forward in his chair. Until then he had been almost comatose, playing the game as if it was a meditation. No one was really sure when the ace light ‘mech pilot had joined the unit. It was as if he had simply materialized one day. Everyone treated him as if he had always been there.

As the four of them begin to engage in an animated discussion over the lethality of various kitchen cutlery, I realize that the card game will never end. It will continue as long as the pilots are able to play it, which is the only thing that matters.

 

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FAKE FIGHTS AND NEW ORDERS (2-14-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
System space, undisclosed star system

 

For looking as big as it is, the interior of an Overlord Class Dropship can get a little crowded. What with most of the space being taken up by reinforced bulkheads, redundant systems, and cavernous hangars filled with BattleMechs and supplies, there’s little room left for crew and passengers. I’m reminded of this as True Leader and I are led by Adept Peter2000 down a narrow corridor choked with stacks of plastic containers and cables dropping in tied loops from the ceiling.

As we pass through the hatch to a small control room, I see Peter reach up towards a piece of notebook paper hanging above the opening. Before he grabs it, I can see “FRR OR RIOT” spelled out in large red letters. Peter crumples it up and stuffs it in his pocket and then waves us inside. The control room has two chairs and several banks of computers and display screens. In fact, one entire wall of the cramped space is dominated by monitors. Two screens are active and show views of simulated battlefields from the perspectives of simulated ‘Mech cockpits.

“Bam! Bam! Bam! Queenblade makes it look easy!” A familiar voice blares out of the speakers hung from the high corners of the room. “Now let’s see if he can go the distance!”

“Is that… Duncan Fisher?” I ask True Leader.

“He wishes,” she mutters.

“All right, Queen,” Peter says as he punches a button and leans down to speak into a microphone. “Nice job. That’s two apiece. Now, let’s have you and Gream get set for the tie-breaker, please.”

As he presses a few more buttons, Peter gestures out the window above the main console. The room beyond is dimly lit by only a couple of floodlights, but I can see twelve egg-shaped compartments lined up in three rows of four. Peter explains this is their main simulation room, although there is a secondary one on the other side of the hangar. 228th uses it for testing out new ‘Mech loadouts and tactics.

Today he’s having Queenblade and Gream in the eggs, plus a referee. Queen is testing a pulse laser equipped Firestarter against Gream’s short range missile loaded Griffin to determine which are more efficient at destroying a BattleMech’s legs. Peter finishes transferring the data from the last match into a spreadsheet and then frowns at the wall screens.

“Pudding, reload the match and get set up to referee again, please.”

When nothing happens, Peter starts to repeat himself, but then all twelve view screens activate at once and a message flashes across in bold red letters “FRR OR RIOT.” Before Peter can react, the message disappears and all but the two original monitors go dark. The match is reset.

“God damn it, Pudding,” Peter says under his breath.

“Welcome to Solaris, now let me show you the sky!” Queen calls out in his announcer’s voice.

“Mmm-hmm,” Gream replies in his unmistakably soft and deadly tone.

“Oh, that Gream is one sassy pilot, but the fans love him!”

As the two move to engage each other, I turn to True Leader and try to get her to tell me where the 228th will be taking their next contract.

“Oh, I’m sure with your instincts for hard-nosed investigative journalism, you’ll be able to suss it out.”

 

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SUPPLY LINES AND BATTLE LINES (2-24-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Occupied territory, somewhere in Free Rasalhague space

 

The rain beats steadily down onto the hood of the decades old Aston-Martin Fiver Traveler we had commandeered just a couple of hours before. I can barely see the building we are parked in front of through the gloom of the night. I had wanted to go in with the others, but True Leader had steadfastly refused.

She and I sit in the rear seat, waiting for three of 228th’s pilots to come back out of the door they had disappeared into a half hour ago. We’re on a mission to replenish the regiment’s dwindling supplies. I don’t know what significance the squat, darkened structure plays in a supply run, but I had been itching to find out.

“The locals are scared,” True Leader had said when she told me I had to stay in the car with her. “If we can’t liberate this planet, they won’t want anyone knowing they helped us – least of all a nosy reporter. The Clans don’t take kindly to disobedience.”

Through the rain streaked window, I can see Val, Kyle and Queenblade come out of the front door and walk towards the Traveler. I let out a breath I am not aware I’m holding. They open the doors and get in the car, rain dripping from their faces. Val slides her slight frame silently into the back seat with me and True Leader. Kyle gets behind the wheel with a gleeful smile on his face. Finally, Queenblade rides shotgun. Literally.

“Whelp, we’ve got food and medicine coming our way,” Queen says as he stares out at the building as Kyle guns the engine and we peel away. Well, as close to peeling as the ancient automobile can manage at any rate.

“How’d you swing that?” True Leader asks with an arched eyebrow.

“The Shadowbroker never reveals his secrets!” Queen exclaims with a wink.

“Queen…”

“I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse,” he says with a shrug.

“This offer wouldn’t have anything to do with whether or not our recon patrols ever notice their smuggling enterprise would it?”

Queen looks back at her and winks again and smiles. True Leader sighs and leans back and crosses her arms over her chest. Val smiles enigmatically and Kyle keeps it up with the crazy grin.

When we get back to the barracks a pilot known simply as The Beef is holding an empty container of .50 caliber ammo in front of Zargslayer’s face. Neither of them look happy. Kyle flicks his brother’s ear as he walks by and Zarg has to take it without responding as Beef leans in closer to him.

“What is this?” Beef inquires in a timbre that is perhaps the deepest bass I’ve ever heard. Combined with his French accent, it makes his voice unmistakable. “Where are my cookies?”

“Look, I don’t know, all right?” Zargslayer responds with an innocent shrug. “Supplies are running out. You know that.”

“Impossible! This was my private stash!”

“I don’t know. Maybe one of the new guys.”

“Which one?”

“How should I know? They all look alike to me, anyway.”

Alarm klaxons sound. Everybody drops everything and races to their lockers to grab ‘mech pilot jumpsuits before dashing out the door to the ‘mech bays across the airfield. Soon, the entire barracks is empty and True Leader and I make our way to the command center. Deadfire is there, running his hands through rapidly graying hair. Before he pulls on the headset to address his troops, a voice breaks over the general audience intercom.

“Greetings, ‘Mechwarriors. This is The Beef speaking. I do not know which one of you has broken into my private collection of delicious baked goods, but I hope they will aid you in our coming battle. Also, you owe me a package of soft, chewy cookies. That is all.”

Deadfire doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to be angry or amused. He decides to just shake his head and starts issuing orders to his drop commanders. I silently wish them all luck, just like I always do, except this time I throw in an extra wish that Queenblade’s new friends have access to some good cookies.

 

——————————————————————————————————————

THESE JIMMIES DON’T RUSTLE (4-7-3050)
Sirus Conroy
Comstar Associated Press Service
Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment
Vega, Reclaimed Kurita Space

 

“So, remember. You have to be absolutely quiet. Coordinating lances and companies remotely requires an incredible amount of concentration and planning. We need everything to go smoothly or the whole operation could blow up in our faces.”

True Leader and I are heading towards the 228th’s mobile HQ. She’s finally given me permission to sit in on a remote command during an actual battle in progress. 228th prefers to use on-field commanders, but the recent campaign on Vega had entered the mop-up stage. At this point, 228th likes to send out individual lances to hunt down broken units instead of full companies. This saves a lot of time at the tail end of a campaign, but can be maddeningly complicated to coordinate. With 228th’s resources almost always over extended, much of this work often falls to pilots who have very limited command experience.

Before we reach the massive tracked vehicle that mounts a small HPG dish, we duck into the officers’ mess to pick up some snacks. It’s after the dinner hour, but there’s usually some goodies to be found here at almost any time of night.

“Anything to eat here besides cookies?” I ask True Leader as I survey a mound of baked goods arranged on a large platter.

“Well, there’s pudding,” she responds as she gestures to a mysterious gelatinous mass in a big dish on the counter.

“What kind of pudding?”

“Moderate Pudding.”

“What the hell is Moderate Pudding?”

“Well, it’s kind of salty.”

“Nevermind.”

I grab a coffee and she gets some tea and we head over to the HQ. Inside, Grim sits at a console in front of a large bank of monitors. Irvine sits with his back to him, facing a similar set up on the opposite wall. True Leader holds her finger to her lips and motions me over to a small planning table nearby where we can sit and observe.

Four of the monitors in front of Grim show real time video of pilots, their ‘mechs and their vitals. The names on Grim’s monitors are JayZ, Kageru, Emdee and Bulbasaur. He wears a headset and murmurs into his mic in low and measured tones, no doubt to keep from distracting Irvine, who appears to be monitoring the comms channels of several affiliated units also operating on Vega.

“What? JayZ, can you repeat?” Grim’s voice escalates in volume just a bit. He pushes his headset back and flips a switch.

“…said…-ference…loss of signal…” Bursts of static interrupt JayZ’s reply as it comes over the speakers mounted above Grim.

“What the fuck are you saying? Emdee, what the fuck is he saying?”

“I didn’t hear it any better than you did.”

“…something here…behind this… Epsilon.” JayZ’s broken communication continues as if he hadn’t heard anyone.

“Jay? Damn it… Jay!” Grim’s hands fly over the console trying to tune the signal.

“…to investigate… on my left…”

“JayZ! Hold your position!”

“Should we head over to Epsilon, then?” Kageru’s voice inquires.

“Heading Epsilon,” Bulbasaur chirps.

“God! Fucking! Damn! It!” Grim shouts as he tears off his headset and flings it at the console. He gets up and pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and starts walking to the door. “Shit’s broke, yo,” he mumbles as he smacks Irvine on the shoulder in irritation. Irvine doesn’t immediately react as his partner slams against the push bar and disappears into the night.

I look at True Leader. Her chagrin is hidden behind a fierce blush. She attempts a shrug as the voices from Grim’s console start a cacophony of queries and reports. Suddenly, Irvine rolls his chair back, seizes Grim’s headset and puts it on backward and flips the mic around so it’s in front of his mouth. He reaches over and flips a couple switches and twists a dial as he starts issuing orders to Grim’s pilots. He only has to repeat himself a couple of times before Kag and Bulba and Emdee synchronize their approach and find JayZ in time to save him from a particularly nasty Hellbringer.

Irvine winks at me as he starts twirling a pen in one hand and rocking in his chair. The wires connecting his twin headsets to the consoles on either side of him make it look like his grinning face is hanging from a clothesline.

I take a sip of coffee. True Leader can’t contain a very loud sigh.

“See? Nothing but clockwork precision here in the HQ,” she says as she lifts her tea cup to her lips with a trembling hand.

“This happen often?” I ask Irvine.

“Not really,” Irvine says with a shrug. “But when it does, Grim knows he has to bring me back some cookies.”

 

—————————————————————————————————————

NOTE: The following takes places a few months after the preceding stories. It’s not quite Battletech Lore fiction and not quite MWO mirror fiction, but I guess kind of a blend of both. Also, it’s quite a bit longer than the vignettes I had been writing. I think I’ll aim for writing a few full-length short stories and we’ll see what they look like. I’m pleased with how this one turned out. It was a lot of fun to write. Hope you enjoy it, too. Custom art courtesy of “Mayhem-usuck” (also known as “Signal” in MWO). You can check out his stuff HERE.

 

SALVAGE IS SWEET (1-19-3051)

Sirus Conroy

Comstar Associated Press Service

Embedded with the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment

Tukayyid – January 19, 351

 

 

It’s cold. Winter has come to Tukayyid.

The battle is over and so is the war – so they tell us – but to the soldiers of the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment, it’s just another day of business. Reorganizing, repairing and rearming. Even if no one is firing, a warrior’s work continues, especially when there’s salvage to be claimed. Although the Clans were technically defeated, both sides suffered losses so large they can’t easily be counted. In the aftermath of the ceasefire, every faction is anxious to try to claim what damaged ‘mechs and equipment they can before departing to neutral corners of the galaxy to lick their wounds.

But salvage is anyone’s game. Even merc units like ours are expected to recover our own dead pilots and destroyed equipment as well as the bounty due us from our salvage rights. It’s the cost of doing business, but it is also part of the profit. 228th’s last engagement zones are rich in destroyed Clan battlemechs and Deadfire wants as many of them on board our dropships before the evacuation deadline. But the deadline passes as every combatant party tries to scavenge from territory that strictly speaking was never theirs, all the while making excuses of logistical problems and bureaucratic delay for the failure to get off world on time.

Inevitably, skirmishes break out over disputed salvage rights – nothing hot enough to break the ceasefire, but still deadly enough to be a concern to the ones who may be trying to take a little more than is their due.

And that’s what brings us here to this windswept, snowy plain. We’re stealing stuff.

But as with all great criminal plans, something has gone awry.

We stand near the smoking ruin of a disabled BRV (Battlemech Recovery Vehicle), which had up until recently been our mode of transport. Everyone is shivering. No one looks happy. Me and a couple of salvage techs are standing as close to the truck’s burning tires as we can get without suffocating on the fumes. IronChance is making snowballs and throwing them into the smoky blaze. Vercinix is glaring at Deadfire. Deadfire is studiously ignoring him. Panicbutton stands a ways away and is using a pair of binoculars to look over a ridge.

“Go get that interesting looking Hunchback, he says,” Vercinix says. “It’s only five kilometers outside our secure zone. We’ll be fine, he says.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining at the time,” Deadfire shoots back.

“That’s because you weren’t listening!”

“That’s enough,” Panicbutton says as he strides back to the group and stuffs the binocs into his belt pouch. “What’s done is done. It looks like the Shadow Cat that jumped us has cleared out, thanks to Queenblade.” Queen had been piloting a Firestarter that was escorting our BRV. He pounced on the Shadow Cat as soon as it attacked us, but since we had strayed so far beyond our original destination, he didn’t get there in time to save the truck from immobility.

It’s unusual to have the 228th’s command staff along on a salvage operation. Such things are usually reserved for salvage techs and pilots-in-training, but today is a special day. Our scouts had reported seeing disabled and destroyed Inner Sphere ‘mechs in Clan Smoke Jaguar colors. This was unusual enough, but added to that was the cursory observation that they had some strange modifications. Deadfire’s curiosity was aroused.

When we came upon the fallen Jenner, it certainly looked like an ordinary Jenner. No one was very impressed. Maybe the Clans were just pressing some enemy salvage into operation? We were about to load it on the truck and haul it back to base when one of the techs spotted a hunchback with two hunches.

“Two hunches?” Deadfire had exclaimed excitedly.

With that, we were off. We went well past our designated mission area. In retrospect, even this reporter has to conclude it was probably a bad idea.

After our BRV was disabled and Queen had driven off our ambusher, Panicbutton had a quiet conversation with Deadfire. I wasn’t invited, but I know enough about them to know Panic was once again patiently explaining that while on mission, his commands should not be overridden by the CO. While Deadfire was the undisputed leader of 228th, everyone knew Panicbutton was the leader on the field.

Panic issues orders to salvage what we can carry from the wreck and make ready for evac. Help is on the way. A Chi-Ha Class Troop Transport has been dispatched from base, along with reinforcements. They should be arriving shortly.

After a couple of minutes, a Wolfhound light mech appears out of the tree line of a nearby hill and comes crunching slowly through the snow up to our group. It’s wearing 228th’s colors. It stops and leans its 30 ton frame down to put its wolfish snout of a cockpit over the wreck of the BRV. Through its loud speaker, I hear a loud sniffing sound, then the ‘mech does something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It balances delicately on its right leg and lifts the other over the destroyed truck. It stays like that and I hear through the loudspeaker the sound of… running water?

Vercinix bursts out laughing. Deadfire just shakes his head.

“Pisces,” Panic says into his commlink. “Stop that.”

“Stop what,” Pisces responds through the ‘mech’s loudspeakers.

“Stop doing that.”

“Stop doing what? What am I doing, Panic?”

“You know damn well what you’re doing. Go back and make sure our ride gets here unharmed.”

“Yes, boss,” Pisces tiredly responds. The ‘mech puts its left leg back down and lopes off back toward the forested hill to look over the approach our transport will take.

“I didn’t even know Pisces could do that with a Wolfhound,” Vercinix finally manages to say as he wipes tears from his eyes.

“Oh, yes,” I chime in. “He’s been putting a lot of seat time into the Wolfhound. He says it’s the most balanced light ‘mech he’s ever driven.”

I know it sounds wrong as soon as I say it. Vercinix doubles over in another fit of laughter and even Panic and Deadfire crack smiles. IronChance emerges from the ruined vehicle and sets down a couple of bulging backpacks. He looks around and scratches the stubble on his chin in confusion.

“What’d I miss?” he asks.

It’s warm inside the Chi-Ha. We make good time cruising back to base through the tracks the BRV had made, but before long Pisces suggests a course correction. An enemy lance has been detected.

The transport twists off the track and lumbers up a slope and shelters in a light stand of trees. We maneuver slowly through the tall pines, looking for an easy way to crest the hill and descend into the valley on the opposite side.

“Wait!” Deadfire exclaims. The driver eases the vehicle to a stop. Deadfire points out one of the side windows.

“What?” Vercinix asks.

“Look! I think’s a bunker. A reinforced bunker.”

“Deadfire…”

“No, Verci,” Panic says when he looks out the window. “I think he’s right. It’s worth checking out.”

I look out the window and see a steel grey blast door nestled into the slope where it rises towards the hill’s summit. Although it’s large enough to accommodate a ‘mech, it’s concealed so well behind trees and the slope of the hill to make it all but invisible to anyone not tripping over it.

Panic checks in with Queen and Pisces and confirms none of them have been spotted yet. He orders the driver to approach the door.

When we get out and shuffle through the snow, Deadfire is the first to reach the control panel situated in the massive door’s frame. He claps his hands excitedly like a toddler and then starts pressing buttons before anyone can stop him. With a metallic groan that seems to echo everywhere in the world, the blast doors slide open. My shock at the suddenly illuminated interior and its contents overwhelm any fear I have about our position being given away.

“How did you…” Vercinix begins to ask.

“Kerensky’s birthday,” Deadfire almost shouts out in glee. “What else could it be? Well, besides the departure day, I guess. Also, could have been the Star League foundation-”

“Good job, Colonel,” Panic interrupts. “Let’s get inside and do a quick survey. By twos. Iron, you’re with me. Verci, Deadfire, follow and cover. Sirus, you and the techs hang back.”

Laser Rifles charge and the four of them cautiously move inside. After waiting a minute, I give a helpless glance at the techs, but they just shrug and choose a wall to hug as we follow. I mostly do the same, but I can’t help peeking over their shoulders as much as possible.

The room we enter is a massive cavern. Parts of it have obviously been dug out and supported by the works of engineers, but most of it is naturally formed. It’s well lit by massive overhead lamps that spill dull yellow light everywhere. They must have come on when Deadfire input the code, because the layer of dust on everything suggests nothing has happened here in years or decades. Maybe centuries.

“It’s a…” I begin to say but then stop when I realize my voice carries an echo.

“A Star League Cache!” Deadfire exclaims as he and Panicbutton make their way back toward the entrance from the dim reaches of the back wall.

“Gotta radio this in,” Panic says as he walks back to the Chi-Ha. “Everyone stay here. And don’t touch anything!”

“Too late,” Vercinix says loudly from where he is standing halfway down the quarter mile depth of cavern. He is watching IronChance hug the foot of a giant Battlemech the likes of which I have never seen. As I approach, I hear Iron murmuring to himself. At least, I think he’s talking to himself.

“Oh, baby. Sweet baby,” he whispers as he caresses the ‘mech’s giant foot. “You’ve been in my dreams so long and here I come to you just like in a dream. It’s fate. Kismet. Destiny.”

“What’s he doing?” I ask Vercinix.

“Foreplay, I believe.”

The ‘mech IronChance is caressing is certainly the most impressive of the assortment of equipment, ‘mechs and vehicles in the cache. Most of the rest is covered in tarps or in pieces. One scout car toward the entrance seems like it’s in serviceable condition, but it’s hardly even worth notice.

 

 

As the techs begin to take inventory and Vercinix tries to pry Iron away from the towering battlemech, Panic approaches with Deadfire in tow. The colonel quickly leaves his side to join the techs in excited conversation about the unearthed treasures.

“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” Panic says to Vercinix after casting a bemused glance back at Deadfire.

“Bad news first,” Verci responds. “Always bad news first.”

“The bad news is Queen says the Clan lance has spotted us and is moving in on our position. Fast.”

“Good news?”

“Pisces says True Leader went ape-shit and ordered all available resources to our position to reinforce, but they aren’t going to make it here before we can slip away.”

“Now, wait. That’s bad news and good news and more bad news. You lied to me, Panic.”

“I obfuscated. There’s a difference. Iron, stop touching that!”

“But, Panic,” Iron says as if waking from a dream. “We can stop them! We can use what we’ve got here!” He gestures at the ‘mech he was just foot-loving.

“Iron, that Black Knight has been sitting here since before your grandparents had grandparents. It’s not going to do anything but gather dust a little while longer until we can drag it out of here. Besides, we don’t even know if it has an engine.”

IronChance doesn’t respond, but cackles in manic glee as he all but skips over to a ‘mech prep station and starts flipping switches. I hear the familiar hum and crackle of energy filling a ‘mech’s myomer. Dust begins to spark and vibrate off the Black Knight’s armor. Iron claps and hoots. Panic’s usually steely demeanor drops almost as far as his jaw.

“Techs!” he yells out, but the techs already started running over as soon as they heard the noise. “Get the fuck over here! Help Iron get this thing running in record fucking time! Verci, you’re with me.”

Panic grabs a confused Vercinix and the two of them run over to the vehicle in the entrance. Along the way he shouts at Deadfire to pull the Chi-Ha into the cavern and seal the doors until the Black Knight is ready.

“All right, guys,” Panic says. The commlink in the old modified Shandra Scout Vehicle that he and Vercinix had successfully managed to start from where it had been parked near the cache entrance carries his voice on the frequency Queen and Pisces and the approaching reinforcements can hear. I can hear it, too. Panic shot down my request to join him and Verci in the Shandra. Not enough room for three. I sit in the Chi-Ha and listen in.

“What we’ve got here is a sharp bend in the ridge we need to defend. Our main problem is that the point we’re defending is ahead of our position. The plan is to have Queen and Pisces lure them down the valley between this ridge and the one in front of us and away from the bunker. Hopefully, they’ll pursue and we’ll hammer them to pieces as Charlie lance comes up over the bend. Or around it. Point is, we need to distract and delay.”

“And if they don’t pursue?” Queen asks.

“We’ll improvise and hope Iron can get that BK working in time.”

I don’t know who is in Charlie lance or what ‘mechs they’re piloting, but I hope they’re fast. The curses and shouts I hear from outside the transport where Iron and the others are working on the Black Knight aren’t encouraging. Here’s hoping the cavern walls mask the Black Knight’s energy signature.

“Here they are,” Queen reports. “That Shadow Cat is back. His friends are Arctic Cheetah, Timber Wolf and Hellbringer.”

“Fuck,” Panic breathes before he remembers to toggle his mic. I don’t fault his frustration. Those are probably the four worst ‘mechs we could have expected. While we could have outrun a Direwolf or overpowered Kitfoxes and Stormcrows, this lance seems like the cream of the Clan crop.

“All right, that Shadow Cat will be cautious. Bait that Cheetah in as much as possible, Queen. Pisces, be ready to pounce.”

“Roger,” Pisces and Queen respond.

“I want to see those heavies crest that ridge before you guys break off. It’s going to be tough, but I know you can do it. Don’t break a leg, though.”

There’s no confirmation to that. It’s understood. It’s a bad situation. Sacrifice isn’t needed. What’s needed is excellence. Fortunately for all of us, Pisces and Queen specialize in delivering that particular quality. But unfortunately, this isn’t a mission where 228th will be graded on meeting or exceeding requirements. There will only be survival and great profit, or death and defeat and incomparable loss. Panic and Verci’s scout vehicle doesn’t come equipped with ejector seats and I know without having to ask that they aren’t planning on running.

“Cheetah’s on me,” Queen says. “Bringing him in. Shadow Cat is coming, too.”

“I got you, Queen,” Pisces communicates. “Just a little further… Almost there. Now! Bank right and come up the slope. Let’s hit right leg.”

“Can’t. Shadow Cat is right here. I’ll try to draw him off.”

The two pilots duel the two Clan ‘mechs for what seems like minutes even though I know it’s just a few seconds. Queen is doing well punishing the Shadow Cat he had driven off before, but Pisces is struggling with the Cheetah. It’s the bane of the Inner Sphere. It moves too fast and hits too hard and even though Pisces has been perfecting his Wolfhound skills, the aged Inner Sphere light ‘mech is no match.

“I can’t show him my left leg,” Pisces says without a hint of worry. “I’ll try to soak him and pull him back.”

“Now?” Verci asks. I know he’s seated in the scout vehicle’s gunner compartment, but I have no idea what they’re carrying.

“No,” Panic responds coldly. “Not until we see those heavies. Queen, break off with the Shadow Cat. There should be enough space. See if you can take some heat off Pisces.”

A couple of tense seconds pass. Either I’m grinding my teeth or someone on comms is doing it. I’m too tense to be sure.

“That right leg is red now, Pisces!” Queen hollers. “Get it!”

“Done,” Pisces responds a moment later.

“Heavies on the ridge!” Verci exclaims.

“Shoot the Hellbringer,” Panic commands.

“NARC away!”

The NARC missile is notorious for being the silent killer of battlefields. It does no damage, but it flies quietly and serenely and buries itself into a ‘mech and begins emitting a frequency only friendly ‘mechs can hear, especially friendly ‘mechs who are far away and carry a lot of long range missiles that love to listen to that sweet song as they home in on their target.

“Queen, Pisces – retire,” Panic commands.

“Can’t,” Queen tersely responds. “No armor left. Evade and skirmish, Pisces.”

“That timber is going to eat you guys alive!”

“Charlie’s firing missiles on target!” Verci yells. “The Hellbringer is getting pounded and withdrawing.”

“Charlie Lance! Retarget the Timber!”

“Negative,” comes the response from Charlie Lance’s commander. “No target solution for the timber. Targeting Shadow Cat.”

“Verci – I’m moving us up. Tag and NARC that Timber. Iron, where the hell are you?”

“No, no, no!” I hear Iron’s voice carry across the cavern as he directs the techs. “THAT one goes there. THIS one goes here! Right?”

“Be right there, Panic. Almost ready,” Iron hurriedly adds over the comm.

“Fuck! I’m legged,” Pisces yells out. “Good news, though. Missiles now hitting Shadow Cat. Looks like he’s retreating. No, wait. He’s engaging Queen.”

“Ejecting!” Queen yells out.

“Queen’s out, but his chute deployed. The Shadow Cat is gone, too. Those LRMs caught up to-”

Pisces cuts out ominously. The next few seconds pass without my heart beating.

“Got him. Timber NARC’d and tagged,” Verci says.

“Panic, sir, we have a solution on the timber, do you-”

“Yes! For fuck’s sake! Fire!”

I want to reach for the comm switch and check if Pisces is ok, but I dare not. Comms discipline is strict at the most lax of times in 228th. Me checking to see if he’s ok is not considered critical information.

“Ah Ha! HA HA!” Iron cries out in triumph from across the room. “Colonel! Open that door soon or imma make it open!”

Deadfire keys the interior console and the massive blast doors slide open with a screech, but it is muted by the sound of the Black Knight heavy ‘mech stepping out of its birth and walking to the entrance. Everything seems to shake and hum. I poke my head out of the Chi-Ha and watch the majestic looking ‘mech. As he passes, Iron gives me a thumbs up and a wink from the cockpit. I wave belatedly and then scurry back to the comm console.

“-fucking dodge and move. Charlie, please move up ASAP.” Panic’s voice is almost… well, it’s almost panicked.

“Panic, I’m here. Moving on your position,” Iron says over the comm.

“My position is hurrying the hell over to you. Get this fucking Cheetah’s other leg!”

“Roger that, fucking the Cheetah.”

A moment later, there’s the sound of falling timber outside the blast doors and a lot of cursing over the comm. I can’t even begin to type it all without fear of blushing to death.

“Damnit, Iron! Quit screwing around!”

“Sorry… just didn’t get a chance to configure the weapons the way-”

“Kill it!”

The sound of a large pulse laser firing is a heavy and electric bass that fills you with dread. You’ll never forget it once you hear it. The sound of TWO large pulse lasers is, unsurprisingly, twice as dreadful. Somehow, it’s not so bad when you know it’s coming from one of your own guys.

“Cheetah’s down.”

“Panic. Charlie Lance. We lost contact with the timber. We got a good long licking on him, though.”

“Well, lick some more! He’s right fucking here. Verci, get another NARC on him.”

“Oh, no, no. No need for that fellas,” Iron’s cheery voice cuts in. The sound of the LPLs combined with the mellow buzz of a mass of medium lasers and the peculiarly warm sound of melting metal floats into the cavern.

“Panic, I can see him,” Queen’s voice announces over the comm. “I touched down at the base of the slope. Iron shaved off his right shoulder. He’s pulling out along the tree line. Making for home in a hurry.”

“And the Hellbringer?”

“Giving him ECM coverage,” Charlie Lance commander reports. “Sorry, guys. He stayed behind the ridge and we couldn’t reacquire.”

“No problem, Charlie. Good job.” I can’t hear it, but I’m certain Panicbutton is breathing a sigh of relief. I breathe another one myself just in case anyone else needs it.

“Hey,” a voice breaks in over comms. It takes a second, but the signature devil may care tone of Pisces is unmistakable. “Hey. Did you guys know there’s a hunchback with TWO hunches out here? Can I have it?”

 

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