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Deadman's Hand What Price Glory (Story Chapter Art)

Chapter 3[]

Dead Man's Hand: What Price Glory[]

Bakerville, Port Author
Clan Smoke Jaguar Occupation Zone
June 1st, 3059

"It's a sad testament to my life that this is far from the dumbest thing I've ever agreed to." Joker lamented, her face only illuminated by the glow of her cockpit instruments, "And I'm not even drunk this time."

The dark, polluted waters of the Yalu river swirled around outside her viewport as Dead Man's Hand slowly made their way deeper into the city. Technically, their advance should have been stopped by a series of massive nets and booms across the breadth of the river, but they had fallen into disrepair under Clan Smoke Jaguar, allowing them to thread their way through the obstructions without being detected. It ws slow and nerve-wracking work, but it allowed them to enter the city undetected. It was far from an orthodox tactic, especially for the Clans, and as such they'd had to modify their BattleMechs somewhat. The main alteration was the addition of a deployable whisker antenna with a small float on the end that allowed them to listen in to radio signals without the interference of the water.

Now, even the Smoke Jaguars weren't stupid enough to broadcast on unencrypted channels, but they evidently weren't expecting anyone to come looking for trouble in a captured OmniMech, as her Loki's communications suite was able to brute-force its way through the encryption. Or, at least, that used by the local security forces, which were still on high alert after a recent visit by the surviving elements of the 1st Davion Guards. Still, unless they were playing the long-game, it was clear that they weren't expecting any trouble of the Mercenary kind.

One of the great ironies of the modern age was that it was still possible to slip undetected into the all but the most secure system and make planet fall without tripping a single alarm. Oh, sure, it wasn't something they'd have been able to pull off at, say, Luthian, Tharkad or New Avalon: they were covered by nets of sensor satellites and monitoring stations that could supposedly pick up the faintest of jump-signatures weeks out, but Port Arthur wasn't the capital of a Successor State. Add in the fact that the Ante-Up still read as a Clan DropShip at a distance, something they had used to their advantage several times already, and it wasn't too hard to look like just another ship bringing in reenactments.

Eventually, one day, the Clans might actually wise up and realize that the vast majority of humanity didn't see war as a glorified slap-fight, and actually take it seriously. But, the longer that took, the easier it was to catch the canister-born bastards with their pants down.

Still, a night spent hiding in the bottom of a stinking river, with nothing but her imagination for company, hadn't left Joker in the best of moods, and she was looking forward to taking out her frustration on the Jaguars and their lackeys. Mission briefing called for the minimization of collateral damage, but thankfully came with the standard disclaimer that they could take any and all 'reasonable' actions needed to ensure their own survival and the success of the mission. All too many less reputable mercenaries had, down the centuries, used that as an excuse to go into every situation, guns blazing. It had gotten to the point where a famous song about the life of a Mercenary stated that 'war crimes may just happen, unless you pay me more', but Dead Man's Hand wasn't that kind of unit, and would actually go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties, even if intel reported that the locals were fully indoctrinated into the Clan philosophy.

****** knows how long it would take to deprogrammed them all, but that wasn't Joker's concern.

A static laden transmission over the radio heralded the arrival of the armored limousine carrying their target. A former low-level bureaucrat in the local government who had gladly nailed his flag to the mast of Clan Smoke Jaguar, helping to oversee the entire region, while stamping down upon all hints of resistance, often using a BattleMech. Reports indicated that he'd spent considerable time and effort to make himself as indispensable as humanly possible, taking on as much power, influence and authority as his overlords would allow. Taking him out of the picture would not only cripple the local civilian government, but, if they could take him alive, provide an insight into the governance of other plants in the OZ.

The fact that the price on his head had several zeros on the end certainly helped.

"Game time." Joker grinned as she brought her 'Mechs reactor from standby to full power. The Loki coming to life around her as she eased it forward through the mud, silt and garbage that lined the bottom of the river, "Rise and shine, people! Its time to do our thing."

To anyone who' d happened to have been watching, it would have at first seamed like the river had started to boil, followed by the antenna atop Aung's Archer breaking the surface, followed closely by his 'Mechs head and broad shoulders. Moments later, the other three 'Mechs likewise emerged from the previously tranquil water, parts of which quickly turned to steam as Scilicorn and Kelso activated their jump-jets, sending their machines arching up onto the wide road that ran along the side of the river. Once, it would have been filled with traffic coming and going from the expansive warehouses and industrial sites of the docklands, but they had all been closed down and relocated by the Smoke Jaguars, meaning that there was only sparse traffic to worry about, and most of that scattered upon seeing the mercenaries emerge.

"Emilio, Bobbie to the sweep right, cut off anyone brave or foolish enough to try and get in our way." Joker orders as she locked onto one of the two patrol cars escorting their target and fired a burst from her machine-guns.

She was aiming for the engine, but the driver swerved at the last moment, and instead she hit one of the front wheels. The tyre may have been designed to allow the driver to maintain control even if it was punctured, but I certainly wasn't up to taking .50cal ceaseless rounds that tore through it and the wheel assembly, shredding the brake calipers and the axle. The driver felt the wheel wrenched out of his hands as the corner of the car slammed into the road. Between the turn and the sudden impact, the car gave into the laws of motion, and flipped over onto its side, rolling twice before hitting a long inoperative lamppost. The metal bent and groaned, but held, stopping the car and its occupants from plunging into the river.

The second patrol car ran headlong into the foot of Aung's Archer, the front of the car crumpling into a useless mess, saving the lives of the occupants. One stumbled out, obviously in shock, and actually drew their side-arm, pointing it upwards in the vague direction of the Archer's cockpit.

"Ah Ah Ah!" An artificially amplified voice warned, and the woman looked around to find herself looking down the barrel of a charged ER-PPC as Joker loomed over her from behind, "Play nice, now."

The woman dropped her gun in surprise, then stumbled backwards. Tripping, she landed against the side of the disabled car.

"Good girl." Joker laughed, "Now, be a dear and call an ambulance for your friends. And don't worry, we'll be long gone by the time they get here."

With unexpected care and finesse, Aung's Archer reached down and plucked the targets limousine from the road and holding it securely in its two massive battle fists. The fire support 'Mech turned just in time, as a quartet of SRM's slammed into its right shoulder, sending shards of broken armor raining down.

"Oh no you didn't!" Joker roared before cutting her PA system and turning her Loki to face the oncoming threat.

Flying low to keep themselves hidden amid the clutter of the various buildings and smokestacks, a pair of Peregrine VTOL's dodged and weaved, doing everything in their power to keep the mercenaries from getting a solid lock. One pulled across to the left, firing a long, rolling barrage with its twin heavy machine-guns, sending sparks flying across the back of Aung's 'Mech as he shifted to keep the car in his hands protected.

"Pull out." Joker ordered, returning fire with her own machine-guns and medium lasers, not trusting her heavier weapons in such a cluttered environment.

Aung did as he was told, moving along the road up the side of the river towards where Scilicorn and Kelso were waiting. Walking her Loki backwards, Joker lay down covering fire as best she could, scoring a few inconsequential hits, while taking two missiles to the right arm in return. It soon became clear that the VTOL pilots had little care for any collateral damage they might inflict, and indeed, several of their attacks missed completely and soon several buildings were on fire. Despite all that, Joker continued to check her fire, and was eventually rewarded when a lucky hit sent one of the VTOL's limping away, trailing smoke as it struggled to maintain altitude.

She wasn't sure if her opponent got cocky or desperate, but eventually they flew out over the river, obviously looking for a clear shot against Aung before he was completely out of range. Unfortunately for them, this also gave Joker a clear shot, and she instinctively fired one of her ER-PPC's. The man-made lightning momentarily joined the two war machines, the cockpit armor of the Peregrine melting away under the onslaught. Effectively decapitated and with its remaining systems short circuiting, the VTOL began to spin out of control. Its tail clipped the front of a warehouse, shattering several windows, before it dropped into the river, a smoking wreck.

"Boss, I'm picking up a faint signal, maybe two clicks North, North-East of here." Kelso announced over the radio, "Looks like someone just activated an emergency rescue beacon."

"Could be a trap... or it could be another downed Davion pilot." Joker mused as a way point appeared on her navigation screen, "Okay, you and I will go check it out. Jay, Emilio, you head back to base with the package. Let's see what other surprises this day has in store to us."

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