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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 9[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little[]

First Battle[]


Nagayan Mountains, Helm
Stewart Commonality, Free Worlds League
22 March 3011


“It’s time.”

Frederick was not known for lengthy or complicated orders - much less for inspiring speeches. Everyone knew - or should know - what to do. Thus Max only heard two words from the colonel before the Seventh Lyran Regulars leapt into action.

Max was amongst them. Every ‘Mech was needed.

There were a dozen more ‘mechs alongside his Orion as he emerged from cover and opened fire on the Marik scout force, focusing his fire on a Rifleman in the colors of the Twenty-Fifth Marik Militia. The LRMs spiraled through the air and obliterated patches of armor, but the enemy Mechwarrior managed to sidestep in time to avoid Max’s autocannon.

Orion ( On the March)

Orion Heavy 'Mech in Combat

He wasn’t the only one firing at the Rifleman - it was a heavy ‘Mech with impressive firepower but lacking armor or mobility, a sensible priority among the enemy force. However, Max’s Orion drew its fire in return. As if realizing that the odds were against surviving long, the Marik Militia mechwarrior held nothing back.

Rifleman (Firing In Desert with Water - Miniature painted by Kazdok)

Rifleman Heavy 'Mech

Lasers and autocannon bit into the Orion, though its thick armor soaked up the impacts. Even so, he struggled to keep up, particularly as a pair of hovertanks supporting the Marik ‘Mechs opened up on him, salvos of SRMs tearing into the shins and thighs of the heavy ‘mech.

He wasn’t confident of hitting the Rifleman at this range with his shorter-range weapons, even if its own comparable weapons were scoring hits. Instead, Max shifted targets to the nearer hovertank - a Pegasus. The lasers scored two glowing lines across the sleek vehicle’s hull and it side-slipped, escaping his return salvo of SRMs.

However, in so doing, the crew had opened the range enough that Max managed to lock on and his LRM racks cycled, seven of the ten missile scoring hits that ripped holes in the skirts of the Pegasus. It lost height and speed, struggling to stay ahead.

Max centered his crosshairs on it, intending to finish the tank off with his autocannon. However, the Rifleman wasn’t done with him. More shots hammered into his ‘mech and Max’s fire went wild as he tried to compensate for the impacts.

There was no third salvo from the purple Rifleman. Frederick had finished off the Wolverine that was his own initial target and now he turned and caught the Marik heavy ‘mech from the flank, exactly far enough around it to pour autocannon shells and LRMs into the paper-thin real armor.

The autocannon ammunition inside the Rifleman detonated, ripping the core out of the reactor and gyro. An instant before the explosion, the cockpit blew open and rockets threw the mechwarrior inside up and into the air.

They should have survived, but pure bad luck put the deploying parachute into the path of a stream of tracers from a Marik Hermes II.

Max imagined he could hear a despairing scream from the Militia mechwarrior but he had no time to deal with it because the shells were aimed for his Orion and they tore into the knee, breaking through armor plating already damaged by the earlier missile and shredding the knee actuator.

That was beyond Max’s ability to overcome and the ‘Mech fell face first onto the ground. All he could do was throw out the arms of the heavy ‘Mech to absorb some of the impact. Even so, it was tooth-rattling.

He rolled the Orion, to protect its own rear armor, and fought the controls to make it stand once more. However, he failed to gain traction and all that he managed was to cause more damage to his armor as the Orion fell for the second time.

Another short salvo of autocannon hit home against the Orion, causing minor damage to one of the LRM launchers. Only an amber light on the diagram… but that might be enough to cause the weapon to fail.

Fortunately, the short battle was over by the time he managed to get the Orion’s feet under it. The Wolverine and the Rifleman were the only enemy ‘mech casualties, but a full lance of Scorpion light tanks and a pair of LRM carriers had been destroyed. About half the Marik Militia and their support had escaped - two Hermes II medium ‘mechs and the faster ground vehicles such as the two Pegasus.

Wolverine BattleMech (firing)

Wolverine Medium 'Mech

“Who’s down?” demanded Frederick.

“Just Mustermann, and he’s up again.” one of the Lyran Regulars reported.

“Anyone else?”

With no one else speaking up, Max checked his Orion’s condition. Almost a third of its armor was compromised, mostly across the legs, but the arms and back were flagged, and the knee actuator’s condition would slow the ‘mech down more than he liked. “I’m about conditional seven,” he reported.

“I’d have said six,” Frederick grunted. “You were a comparatively easy target, almost all of them were firing at you.”

Max took a deep breath. “Aha, my lame duck technique saved you all.” he declared with patently false bravado.

“Some people will do anything to get drinks,” another mechwarrior joked, and the command company’s tension drained.

“Max is cheap to buy for,” declared Frederick dismissively. “Mission complete, we’re going back to the tunnels. Can you make it, Max?”

“I’m mobile,” he confirmed. “Just don’t expect me to sprint.”

The attack hadn’t been strictly necessary, but the relief force had arrived in system and would be landing in just over twenty-four hours. By what was probably bad luck, three search groups were combing parts of the Nagayan mountains so there was no possible way that they could miss the Dropships landing even if somehow the FWLM aerospace elements proved blind and radar coverage failed.

As such, Frederick decided that there was no point maintaining secrecy. Attacking now would give the Home Guards and the Marik Militia a little more time to gather their forces, but also allowed the possibility of reducing their numbers before they could do so. And in addition, they weren’t striking anywhere particularly close to the main entrance or to the landing zone that had been communicated to the Dropships. Hopefully, that would at least direct the enemy forces to focus on the wrong part of the mountains.

Hopefully.

“You were lucky,” Frederick observed privately to Max. “You need more practice.”

“Lots more.” Or not getting into fights, but in the 31st century that could be hard to assure.

“Still, for your first battle, it wasn’t too bad. It was sensible of you to protect your rear armor. A bit more damage and you might have had to punch out.”

“I got a good view of how that can go wrong.” Max shook his head, thinking back to the Mechwarrior in the Rifleman. “I’d be happier if this thing had a full-head ejection system.”

“A what?”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like. Rather than just ejecting the mechwarrior, the entire head takes off - it means you’re still inside the armored canopy the whole time.”

Frederick sounded bemused. “That can’t be as easy as it sounds, but I wish I had one too. Is there any data on it in the data core we recovered? What ‘mechs used it?”

“It hasn’t been invented yet. I believe it was Doctor Banzai of Team Banzai that came up with it in the 3020s for the Hatchetman, and later some other designs.”

“Something that even the Star League didn’t have? That’s hard to believe.”

“They were only men and women,” Max told him. “If they were infallible, the Star League would not have fallen. There are plenty of technologies that didn’t exist back then which will be developed in future decades. This was one of the sooner ones.”

“Perhaps we can develop some others. It would be something no one would expect,” Frederick mused. “Not even ComStar.”

“Finally prepared to believe me?”

Max could almost see Frederick’s face twisted in irritation. “I’d like to think there must be some merit to the organization, since I apparently chose to serve in it. Even if the joining wasn’t entirely my own idea from what you said.”

“And you had been hit in the head,” Max agreed. “Shot, in fact.”

“I definitely want one of those full-head ejection systems. One head injury was enough.”


Reinforcements[]

Nagayan Mountains, Helm
Stewart Commonality, Free Worlds League
23 February 3011

The sky above the Nagayan mountains was alight with moving stars as dropships dove through the upper atmosphere, surrounded by squadrons of aerospace fighters trying to protect or destroy them. Almost seventy of those fighters were marked in purple on the holotable Frederick was looking at, a modest numerical advantage over the blue icons - which made this the largest clash of aerospace fighters he'd ever seen.

Fortunately, the edge in numbers didn’t appear to be decisive. Flight-pairs danced and feinted towards each other’s dropships but none seemed to be getting close enough to threaten the intensely valuable core force.

Up above, a trio of dropships were in geostationary above the mountains. Max was frowning at the icons. “They’re not landing?” he asked.

Frederick shook his head, realizing the older man didn’t recognise the codes. “One of our Vengeance-class dropships,” he explained - indicating the largest of the trio. “It can’t land, and it needs an escort. That was a pair of much smaller Achilles-class dropships. Fast, fleet craft that were taking up three precious collars on the jumpships… but without them, the freighters and the ground forces likely wouldn’t have made it to the surface against the Marik fighters.”

Max hissed. “Well, Katrina’s taking you seriously.”

Frederick nodded. Very few of the dedicated aerospace carriers had survived the Succession Wars. It was irreplaceable… at least, unless the Helm data core contained information on how to construct them. “We’d be utterly doomed if she hadn’t,” he admitted. “I’ve never seen this many fighters in the air at one time.”

“There’s not going to be as many if this keeps up,” the ground control officer of the Seventh Lyran Regulars muttered. “They’re getting desperate.”

Cheetah F13 (Free Worlds League - Yellow - by Palomides)

Cheeta Aerpospace Fighter

A squadron of Cheetahs expended themselves (in the sense that the five survivors fled, with damage markers made it clear that continuing to fight would mean joining their comrade in being shot down) in the process of drawing a similar number of heavier and slower Lyran fighters out of the way so that a handful of Eagles and Stingrays could break through the perimeter.

Frederick felt his teeth grinding as he watched the aerospace fighters dive in. They wouldn’t make it back, that was assured, but thin-skinned and essentially unarmed freighters wouldn’t stand a -

Six new icons flashed into being amid the dropships where they’d apparently been lurking. They were a striking crimson on the display, subtly different from the scarlet of the Draconis Combine.

Four Shilones and a pair of Slayers, heavier than the Marik strike fighters, faced them head on and both sides opened up with everything they had.

Shilone Aerospace Fighter

Shilone Aerospace Fighter

“Kell Hounds!” Max exclaimed, connecting the dots.

Frederick nodded. For a moment it seemed that the twelve fighters would wipe each other in head-to-head collisions, none willing to break away and carry the brunt of the firepower of their enemies. But at the last moment the formations interpenetrated, and the combined air turbulence sent all twelve tumbling wildly, fighting to stabilize themselves and regroup before more fighters could arrive.

Only one Lyran fighter made it in time, a lone Lucifer that dropped in on the tail of a Stingray and stuck to it through wild evasive patterns. Then they were lost in the furball as Marik and Kell Hound fighters closed in.

Slayer Heavy Fighter (In combat in storms)

Slayer Heavy Aerospace Fighter

Frederick took a deep breath and looked at the dropships. They were turning to bring their drives beneath them to cushion their landings. Trajectory predictions flashed across the display - his reinforcements would be coming down right outside the lower entrances to the caves, the Marik redeployment was split with their spheroid dropships converging out on the flats and a mix of aerodynes heading for Freeport where the old highways would probably provide a landing.

When he looked back, the six Kell Hounds were folding back into a defensive position, along with dozens of Lyran fighters. Their opponents were slipping away to cover the landings.

“We made it.”

Max nodded. “So far.”

“The aerowings from the Vengeance need to break off to regroup aboard her,” the air controller reported. “And we have seven ejected pilots.”

Lucifer Medium Fighter (In flight - IWM - Painted by Paul Eckes 2008)

Lucifer Medium Aerospace Fighter

Frederick felt a chill. “Good job none of the Lucifers were lost,” he muttered. Then he saw Max reach into the holodisplay and indicate a glowing azure point that was the estimated landing point for one of the fallen pilots. “What?”

“It said LCF,” the secretary murmured. He glanced at their air-controller. “A Lucifer, ja?”

“Yes, sir.”

“No, ******!” Frederick slammed his fist into the console. His knuckles split and bled. “Get me the name of that pilot!”

The air-controller was white-faced, he pressed one hand against his earpiece and muttered frantically into his microphone.

Forcing himself away, Frederick turned to Hickson. “Get the loading going. No change to the existing priorities. Every ‘Mech that can carry a load doing that, the rest out on the perimeter. We’re going to be seeing an attack across the flats.”

No cover for either side, but with the two battalions of the Kell Hounds added to what the Regulars could spare from the loading should be enough to keep the Mariks clear. Could. Should.

“Sir.” The air controller’s voice was admirably steady. “The Lucifer pilot w… she is Hauptmann-Kommandant Donna Steiner.”

For a moment Frederick wanted to scream out loud. He’d done everything he could to keep Donna away from Sevren, but now she’d been shot down here?! What good was Max’s help if he couldn’t even change that?!

Duty re-asserted itself, and some hope. At least she had an ejection seat ow. “What do we have for recovery?” he demanded.

“Three helicopters are heading out for the ones in the mountains,” the man informed him. “But the Hauptmann-Komamndant went down nearer to Freeport, inside their likely air defense perimeter. We’ll have to see what the scouts can manage.”

Holotank

Holotable

Staring at the holotable, he looked for any justification to taken ‘mechs out that way. But the simple fact was, between loading the dropships and keeping them safe from the Marik forces already on the flats… he didn’t have anything much to spare. A lot of his ‘techs were already in cockpits to help the loading but everything he could spare would be needed for skirmishing in the mountain passes.

Max slapped his shoulder. “Get out and defend the dropships,” he advised. “I’ll let everyone in the skirmish force know to keep an eye out for your sister while they slow the Mariks down.”

Frederick glared at him.

The older man gave a little shrug, the sort that meant he knew he was right. “My ‘mech’s on a flatbed waiting to be loaded. I’ve got literally nothing better to do than look for her for you.”

With a curt nod, the large blond turned away and headed for his Zeus. At least Donna had ejected. There was a good chance she was alive… and she could be ransomed.

Then he thought about the self-destruct mechanisms, which Sheppard was still convinced could be triggered by someone breaching the main doors of the Castle Brian, and a chill went down his spine.


Behind Enemy Lines[]

Nagayan Mountains, Helm
Stewart Commonality, Free Worlds League
24 March 3011

Packrat (Driving on desert road - Oswald)

Packrat Scout Car

“My dear family, I am doing something damned stupid,” Max acknowledged out loud as he drove up the Vermilion River valley. “All I can say is, it’s in a good cause.” Now all he needed was a family to tell that to.

The boxy Packrat scout-car he was driving was very much like that he’d learned to drive in - the eight rugged tires making easy progress over the rough terrain. It was disquietingly silent though, perhaps why he was talking to himself. Unlike those already in use by the Seventh Lyran Regulars, this one had been cached away here in Helm and used by the techs to check that they could get the reactors of the stored equipment active. Given the Packrat’s reactor had the same rating as that of a Stinger or a Wasp, it wasn’t surprising that the Regulars’ Packrats had long since had their reactors replaced by louder, larger and less efficient diesel engines.

The lack of engine noise was a real bonus for a scout vehicle though, and Max checked the map on his dashboard. It wasn’t all that great, but he’d applied a marker to indicate the best guess of where Donna Steiner might have landed. If he had the landmarks right, then he should be near that marker. And maybe even near Frederick’s sister.

If he didn’t then he might be a long way from the dropships when the time came for them to take off.

“If I get left behind, Frederick will kill me,” Max continued. “And if I get spotted by the Mariks, they’ll kill me. But if Frederick’s sister goes missing, he might do something really stupid.” The Packrat bumped over a ditch and he gripped the steering wheel. “I hate this century.”

Reaching a side-valley that had perhaps once contained a minor tributary of the no longer mighty Vermilion, Max slowed to a halt and then checked his map again. Probably this was right. So… According to one of the consoles, the prevailing wind was… up into the valley? Maybe.

The balding man had only learned to drive in a Packrat, the sensor systems were still somewhat outside of his understanding. Still, parachutes were blown by the wind he figured she might have wound up further that way than initially estimated.

Checking the clock, he decided that he would check all the way up this side-valley and then he’d better make his way back down towards the cache again. He didn’t fancy being anywhere in this part of Helm if someone did trigger the self-destruct. The Packrat was a pretty sturdy piece of equipment, but it probably wasn’t tough enough to survive that.

Opening the driver’s window, he put the scout-car back into gear and it rolled obediently into the valley. Max could hear the wheels on the ground now that the window was open, but hopefully that wouldn’t prevent him from hearing someone calling out for him. Donna Steiner, for example.

He’d never met the woman, but she was already complicating his life. This is why relationships were hard!

It was, oddly enough, a fairly nice morning. Max could have seen the mountains being a decent tourist destination for tours if there was any sort of local population. Then again, the area had been irradiated for a couple of generations - nothing like as badly as New Dallas, but enough that the people of Helm had gotten into the habit of avoiding this half of the planet. Vegetation had recovered a little but there wasn’t enough water for the agriculture that had once been the major industry of Helm to recover.

And without a much larger number of jumpships, bulk shipping of things like food was also unlikely to be economically viable, he thought.

At the end of the valley, he’d still seen no sign of Donna. Hopefully someone else had found her - he knew there were six or seven small units out here, looking for signs of the advance of the Marik forces that had landed in Freeport. On the lengthy list of things that Frederick didn’t want, it was the unit on the flat acting as an anvil, holding the Seventh Lyran Regulars in place while the second force came around like a hammer.

Turning the wheel, Max drove the Packrat through a half-loop and aimed the nose back down the valley. He was about to open up the throttle - the scout-car was supposedly good for upwards of a hundred and ten kilometers an hour - when something banged off the roof.

“What was that?” he asked, as if anyone was likely to answer, and hit the brakes. Whatever it was skittered audibly off the flat roof and fell to the ground. A stone, about the size of a small plate.

“...the hell?” he wondered, and looked out the window into…

The muzzle of the pistol facing him was only about ten millimeters wide but it looked chasm-like when it was within inches of his face. He could see the rifling inside.

“Hands on your head,” the gray-eyed blonde holding it demanded. “Get out of the car.”

Max swallowed. “I can’t do both,” he pointed out. “I need at least one hand to open the door.” The lines of the face were familiar, he realized.

“Fine. One hand only. Try anything funny and I’ll ventilate your skull.”

“Are you Donna Steiner?” he asked, slowly lowering one hand towards the door hatch.

“No questions,” she barked, holding the pistol steady with both hands.

Max gently pushed the driver’s door open. “I’d really rather not be left on the side of the road,” he observed. “Can I give you a ride? I’d say anywhere but I’d really suggest to your brother…” He was speaking faster and faster, almost babbling.

“I said no questions.” But she frowned. “Wait, you know my brother.”

“If you’re Duchess Steiner, I work for him.”

Now, at last, the muzzle lowered slightly, and the woman looked at him. “Wait, you look like…” she stepped back slightly, raising the gun. “If you really work for him, why weren’t you at the Triad with him last time we met?”

“I don’t have the security clearance. LIC think there’s an outside chance I’m an ISF plant.”

“Oh god, you are him.” Donna lowered the gun. “What are you doing driving around with your window open?”

“I was listening for any sign of you.”

“You almost got shot!”

“Ja, that would have been a bit embarrassing.” He’d also come closer than he liked to wetting himself. Max pushed the door the rest of the way open. “Look, can you get in? We’re kind of on the clock.”

Donna gave him an old-fashioned look. “I’m not climbing over you, even if you are dicking my brother.”

“Are you aware,” Max asked her heavily as he climbed down and gestured for her to climb past him and into the passenger seat - probably intended to be for a commander - next to the driver. “Of the ancient wisdom of not sticking your dick into crazy?”

“I don’t have one of those, but I’m acquainted with the principle.”

“Your brother is crazy.” He raised his chin slightly. “And I have standards.”

She laughed and climbed past him. Now that he wasn’t focused heavily on the gun, he saw she was wearing a flight suit and had a small survival pack on her back. She peeled the straps off that as she scrambled past the driver’s seat and opened it to fit the gun inside.

Hopping back into the driver’s seat, Max closed the door - and the window - before strapping in, but with that done he opened the throttle.

“So when you said on the clock…?” she asked.

“If the Mariks try to breach the entrance to the cache we found, it’s probably still wired to do something unpleasant to everything within miles.”

“Miles? What did you do, find a strategic stockpile of nukes?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “Although I don’t believe that would be the problem in this case.”

“Aha, Frederick is making a habit of this. I figured when he sent word he needed freighters on Helm that he’d found the legendary SLDF storehouses. He’s got a nose like a bloodhound for that sort of thing these days.” Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw her looking at him thoughtfully. “No, that’s wrong. You’re the one with the nose.”

“Ja,” Max admitted. “Although not the nose exactly.”

“No wonder he’s so fond of you.”

“I would prefer to think it’s my no-nonsense personality.”

Donna smirked. “Yes, that would also appeal. Poor Frederick. I really wish Alessandro hadn’t put the thought of being Archon into his head. He’d be eaten alive.”

Max considered calling in that he’d picked up Donna, but he wasn’t entirely sure he could get a tight-beam signal going up to the dropships in orbit. A wide beam transmission would be too risky. “Did you ever consider making a claim to it?”

She laughed. “No, not I. I’m a damn fine pilot, but I don’t have the sort of military mind that he has. Or Nondi or Katrina. But it also takes more than just that.”

He nodded and then realized he was being a fool again. “Can you get a tight-beam radio link up with the dropships? Frederick’s just about killing himself with worry over you.”

“Brothers,” she said in disgust and started working on the radio.

Max kept the Packrat rolling. They weren’t far from the end of the valley, and he didn’t want to risk wrecking the twenty ton vehicle. Granted, it would probably take a lot more to manage that than the civilian cars he’d had accidents with back in… when… before…

His mind was still stumbling over that familiar discontinuity when he saw the glint of metal up ahead and glanced at the sensors. Then he turned the Packrat sharply and pulled behind one of the boulders that had probably been dislodged two hundred odd years ago when the nukes hit Freeport. It was big enough that even something the size of the armored fighting vehicle could hide.

“What the hell?” Donna demanded. “Aren’t we in a hurry?”

“Not that much of a hurry,” Max told her. He pointed at the sensors. “What does that look like to you?”

She reached over and flipped through three screens in rapid succession. “Lots of metal, heavy seismics… look at that IR bloom.” she muttered. “If I was in the air I’d be thinking of a strafing run.”

“Looks like we found the Marik’s advance,” he agreed. “Or part of it.” And they’re between us and our exit, he didn’t add. No need to be obvious. “How about the radio?”

“Just about done,” Donna assured him. She went back to it, a little more urgently this time and he watched the corner of the rocks, wondering if a ‘Mech might come along and take a look at the rock - or at least pick up the metal behind it. Then again, twenty tons was considerably less noticeable than several hundreds.

Connecting a headset to the radio, Donna pressed the push-to-talk switch. “Skana, this is Tybalt-Actual. I am Oscar-India-Zulu. I repeat, Oscar-India-Zulu. Over.”

Max raised an eyebrow.

Donna rolled her eyes. “Standard code for ‘recovered by friendly forces but not out of danger’. Don’t you know this?”

“I’m not a soldier,” he defended himself. “I just get dragged into danger by your brother every now and then.” Twice, so far, unless you counted politics.

“Tybalt-Actual,” the loudspeaker crackled out. “This is Skana. Good to hear, do you require assistance? Over.”

“Confirmed, we have hostile forces approximately eight hundred meters south of our position. Estimating one ‘mech battalion with support. Over.”

There was a pause. “Tybalt-Actual, can you disengage? Over.”

Donna glanced at Max who tapped the map and indicated the route back to the entrance of the cache. He hadn’t marked that, just for security. “Skana, if they keep this route, they’ll be between us and our exit path. Over.”

“Understood, Tybalt-Actual. Sit tight and we’ll give them something else to think about. Over and out.”

Max looked at the map and checked the scale. “I hope they don’t duck in here for cover.”

“There’s not much cover from aerospace fighters,” Donna told him. “And if so, they’ll have other things on their minds.”

They sat, watching the sensors. Time seemed to stretch out interminably. Max forced himself to let go of the wheel and folded his arms.

“What’s keeping the -” Donna began… and then a thunderous noise washed over them.

“Tybalt-Actual,” the radio crackled. “Use the smoke.”

The voice was familiar to both of them and Max grinned. “How do you feel about that over-protectiveness now?” he asked, backing the Packrat up before taking it around the boulder.

Frederick’s sister grabbed the straps holding her in her seat. “What the hell is he doing?”

Max steered out into the valley, seeing the marks of artillery fire. More shells were falling but rather than high explosive, they were spraying smoke across the valley’s confines. Seventh Lyran Regulars’ artillery battalion has over thirty guns,” he told her. “At a rough guess, Frederick’s using all of them to give them something else to worry about.”

Gray and red ‘mechs were scattering, several of them damaged and a column of tanks was trying to back into the valley that the two of them had just entered. The tiny Packrat was lost in the confusion and the boiling clouds of smoke. Shells hit the ground like firecrackers and Max almost had a heart-attack when one landed next to them but it was literally like a firework - sound and fury, no damage. He jammed the throttle wide open. Most ‘Mechs couldn’t move as fast as a Packrat, and he’d just have to take the chance of being spotted by one of the exceptions.

Also, the chance of hitting something.

Donna whooped as the Packrat went over a low rise and went airborne for half a second.

Freaking adrenaline junkie, Max thought. But then they were past the leading edge of the ‘mechs - Home Guards from the colors - and racing down the valley to get to the next turn.

His shoulders itched with anticipation of autocannon fire, LRMs or worse a PPC slamming into them. It was almost an anti-climax when they rounded the corner without any shots fired in their direction.

Max kept the throttle open though. The entrance wasn’t that far ahead. The Home Guards might be close enough to try forcing it within an hour if they knew where to go - and even if they didn’t, they were too close for comfort. He couldn’t risk going for it now, so that meant trying to make it down to the flats and the waiting dropships through the mountains.

“Tell Frederick we’re running very low on time,” he urged.

Donna reached for the push-to-talk and then paused. “Don’t tell him, but right now his overprotective streak feels pretty damn good.” Then she pushed the button. “Tiger-Actual, this is Tybalt-Actual. Your boyfriend says we’re running low on time, over.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, Tybalt-Actual!” Frederick growled.

“You knew who I meant though!” she shot back instantly.


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