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Fortunes of War (Chapter Cover) v1

Chapter 6 - Fortunes of War[]

Outskirts of Konstantinople, Konstance
The Draconis Combine
August 16, 3024

Kit’s elation at the praise from Commander Toszka was short-lived. The series of acknowledgements Kit heard in response to Toszka’s evacuation order was alarmingly short, even accounting for the absence of the recon lance.

Vindicator (Firing it's Medium Laser - HBS BattleTech Game version)


As she guided the Vindicator through Konstantinople’s crumbling urban labyrinth, Kit could do nothing but listen to the increasingly frantic comms chatter as the Combine forces pushed in from the edges of the city in pursuit of the fleeing Task Force Talon mercenaries. Kit herself ran into no further hostiles, but that meant there was nothing to distract her as she heard one after another of the Talons MechWarriors abruptly cease transmitting. Through it all Toszka’s energy never flagged as she encouraged and coached her people and tried to vector them to cover each other as they clawed their way towards the waiting DropShip outside the city. Once as she reached the smaller, already half-collapsed buildings at the city’s outskirts Kit thought she saw a 'Mech command chair rocketing into the sky as someone ejected from a crippled machine, but she had no way of knowing whether it was a Talons pilot or one of their Combine adversaries. The mercenaries sounded like they were giving as well as they got, but they were clearly outnumbered and in a bad situation that was getting worse by the minute.”

Kit’s mood momentarily improved as the egg-like shape of the Rochlitz came into view above the roofs of the buildings. Once again the lift in her spirits was brief. As the Vindicator ran onto the barren plains outside the city, she saw that the situation for Task Force Talon was very bad indeed.

Ten BattleMechs faced off on the sun-parched steppe before her. Out of the ten, the towering form of Commander Toszka’s Banshee was instantly recognizable. The mercenary leader’s 'Mech, the only assault-class machine on the field, resembled a blocky suit of armor, with viewports that gave its cockpit the vague aspect of a screaming death’s head. Unfortunately, despite its size and imposing appearance, the Banshee was held in little esteem among MechWarriors. It was a rugged design, and agile for its weight, but paid for its mobility with an underwhelming loadout of weapons.

Banshee (Battlefield - MWO version)

Banshee Assault 'Mech

Flanking the Banshee on either side were Bobby Trishwant’s Crusader and Justin Abbott’s Centurion. Even at a distance Kit could see the savage battle damage defacing the mercenary 'Mechs’ gunmetal paint, and that the Crusader was missing part of an arm. The three Talons Mechs stood with their backs to the Rochlitz, some three hundred meters from the lowered ramp to the DropShip’s 'Mech bay. They were all that seemed to be left of Task Force Talon.

Facing them in a loose semi-circle were seven Combine 'Mechs, a mix of heavy, medium, and lightweight types. Kit guessed the only reason they had not moved in to finish off the mercenaries was because they were wary of moving within range of the DropShip’s weaponry - not knowing that the old Union-class had been demilitarized decades before and sported only a minimal defensive arsenal. All had their backs to the Vindicator, and none seemed to be aware of her approach. But they were all between her and the DropShip. Kit’s heart sank.

“Commander Toszka,” she called, “I made it. But the Kuritans are all between me and you. I’ll try to send you as much data from the Lyran memory bank as I can with a tightbeam laser transmission. Then you can lift off and complete the contract.” Kit swallowed and waited for Toszka to acknowledge the good sense of her suggestion.

“Like hell, Söderlund!” Kit was startled by Toszka’s vehemence. “We’re going to have a lot of rebuilding to do back on Galatea, and you’ve earned your ass a permanent seat in a cockpit.” Inside the bulky neurohelmet, Kit flushed with pride, in spite of the fact that the more rational part of her mind knew the odds of any of them seeing Galatea again approached nil. When Toszka spoke again, her voice was cold steel. “Talons, we’re not leaving anyone behind… not while there’s any chance. Hit ‘em hard!” The trio of battered mercenary 'Mechs lumbered forward as Toszka punctuated her order with a salvo of PPC and autocannon fire.

If Kit was surprised by Toszka’s decision to go on the offensive, the Combine MechWarriors were more so. Several of the Kurita 'Mechs recoiled back a step, and many of their first shots as they returned fire at the Talons were poorly aimed. Gritting her teeth, Kit dropped her crosshairs over a Kurita Trebuchet, waited for the drone of the lock signal and launched a flight of missiles. Then she depressed the foot pedals and sent the Vindicator into a loping run out onto the plain.

Her missiles peppered the back of the Trebuchet, doing little damage but adding to the Combine MechWarrior’s confusion. The Trebuchet back-pedaled to its left and twisted its torso to the right to find the source of the unexpected attack. Before it could open fire on her it was enveloped in a hellstorm of missiles from Trishwant’s Crusader. Trying to create more chaos, Kit fired a snap-shot from her PPC at the flank of a Jenner ahead and to her right. The bolt missed but succeeded in catching the Combine pilot’s attention. The Jenner spun and started running to intercept her only to receive a flight of missiles and a heavy-caliber autocannon shell in the back from Abbott’s Centurion. The Jenner toppled forward and slid, its forward-jutting cockpit digging a furrow into the plain.

To their credit, the Combine troops recovered quickly from their shock and regrouped to confront the greater threat from the three mercenary 'Mechs in front of them. Three of the Kurita 'Mechs opened up on Abbott’s Centurion and the concentrated fire breached the fifty-ton 'Mech’s ammunition magazines. The Centurion’s faceplate blew off as Abbott tried to punch out. His command rose clear of the doomed 'Mech, but not swiftly enough. Kit watched in horror as an orange petal of the blossoming ammunition detonation caught it. The ejection seat spiraled upwards like a firework, hung in midair as the parachute deployed, then plunged back down to the plain as the airfoil was consumed to ash.

Kit’s attention was diverted from Abbott’s horrific death by the more pressing concern of a Dragon moving into position to block her run towards the DropShip. Kit spotted a blackened scar on the heavy 'Mech’s left torso and realized it was the same one she had tagged with a PPC shot back at the canal. The Dragon took her under fire with its autocannon and a volley of missiles from the tubes that dotted its forward-jutting torso. The Vindicator strained under the impact of the barrage like a man running into a headwind.

Kit sized up her options. Circling to the right would lengthen the distance between her and the DropShip, circling to the left would bring her closer to more Kurita 'Mechs. With a curse she fired the Vindicator’s jump jets and was shoved hard down into her seat as the Vindicator leaped into the air and rocketed over the enemy Dragon.

It rotated to track her, oblivious to the hulking form of Diana Toszka’s charging Banshee. The Kurita MechWarrior realized the danger too late, when Toszka was less than ninety meters away. As the Dragon reversed its turn to confront the assault 'Mech, Toszka made use of one of the few positive qualities for which her 'Mech was noted. The Banshee’s giant fist dropped on the Dragon’s cockpit like a mallet driving a fencepost into the plain, and the Combine 'Mech collapsed in a heap as its pilot was crushed.

As she reached the apex of her jump arc, Kit had a momentary birds-eye view of the battle. Trishwant’s Crusader had won a missile duel with the Trebuchet, which lay smoking on the ground. Apparently out of warheads, Trishwant was now engaging a Kurita Marauder in a pitifully unequal struggle with only his 'Mech’s one remaining laser and machine gun. A Combine Hunchback moved to flank him, taking aim with its massive shoulder-mounted autocannon. A Phoenix Hawk and a Panther lashed Toszka’s Banshee with laser beams and PPC fire as it stepped away from the wreck of the Dragon.

Phoenix Hawk (Unseen - City Ruins)

Phoenix Hawk 'Medium 'Mech

Kit angled the Vindicator to the left as it arced downwards, aiming for a landing spot only a hundred meters from the Rochlitz’s waiting ramp. As the ground rushed up to meet her and she fired the Vindicator’s jump jets again to soften her landing, she realized her mistake.

There were few greater challenges a BattleMech’s gyroscopes could be presented with than keeping the 'Mech on its feet after a jump jet landing. Even a minor error in transmitting the pilot’s own sense of balance through the neurohelmet could have catastrophic effects. In choosing to leap over the Dragon, Kit had forgotten the issue of her poorly-fitting, “borrowed” neurohelmet. She had almost gotten used to the undercurrent of nausea from the feedback, preoccupied as she had been with more immediate terrors.

The Vindicator landed on one foot, too hard, and Kit felt her spine compress from the impact. The 'Mech staggered forward one step, then another, then sprawled forward. The 'Mech’s head hit the plain and cratered the dirt. Kit’s head bounced painfully against the sides of the too-large neurohelmet. Her vision filled with stars, and with a single convulsive heave she spilled the contents of her stomach over the center cockpit console.

It could have been seconds or hours, for all Kit knew, before Toszka’s voice rose above the ringing in her ears.

“Söderlund! On your feet! On your feet, MechWarrior! You’re almost home! MOVE!”

Kit felt as if she were a passive observer watching her own left hand - or was it her two left hands? Or three? - yank back on the joystick of its own accord and lever the Vindicator up with its left arm. Her vision started to clear. Ahead of her the Rochlitz loomed up through the dried mud caked on the cockpit viewport. On the 360-degree viewstrip, she could see Trishwant’s Crusader behind to her left, laying facedown and motionless. Directly behind her, the Combine Panther stood like a statue, it’s cockpit blown open from the pilot’s ejection. Behind her to the right, Toszka’s Banshee retreated backwards one step at a time, trying to lay down covering fire at the Kurita Marauder, Hunchback, and Phoenix Hawk as they advanced.

A guttural yell rose from Kit’s bile-burned throat as she hauled the Vindicator upright and sent it careening towards the DropShip. The 'Mech’s footfalls on the metal of the ramp reverberated like thunder as she plunged into the Rochlitz’s hold. Kit blinked as her eyes struggled to adjust from the blistering sunlight outside to the dim DropShip 'Mech bay. On the other side of the hold from the open loading door, the MRV had been secured to the floor with the Commando still laying across its trailer deck.

Kit brought the Vindicator to a halt, and turned it to face the open door. The Banshee continued its deliberate, step-by-step withdrawal, the ninety-five ton 'Mech’s thick armor disappearing rapidly under the combined fire of its three foes. “Commander, let’s go!” Kit screamed.

Phoenix Hawk unseen fanmade

The Banshee’s PPC delivered a final bolt of azure lightning. Its autocannon, Kit guessed, had long since run out of ammunition. The hulking assault 'Mech shuffled through a 180-degree turn and broke into a run, Toszka trusting her weaker but more fresh rear armor to hold out long enough to cover the one hundred fifty meters to the ramp.

Fire from the Combine 'Mechs broke over the Banshee like a wave on a rocky cliff. An autocannon shell from the Hunchback smashed one of its elbow actuators, leaving the lower arm hanging limp. A PPC blast from the Marauder found its way through the plating over the Banshee’s spine and Kit could tell from the assault 'Mech’s stumble that the shot had nicked the gyroscopes, but Toszka’s expert piloting quickly corrected for it. Kit held her breath as the Banshee reached the ramp and started to climb.


Union dropship launching underfire.

The Combine Phoenix Hawk raised the pistol-like large laser it held in its right hand and fired. The shot lanced into the back of the Banshee’s head, melting through the remaining armor in an instant and gutting the cockpit. Diana Toszka was dead even before the sapphire after-image of the laser beam had faded from Kit’s vision.

The Banshee toppled backwards and lay still, the upper half of its body on the barren soil of Konstance and its legs splayed across the Rochlitz’s loading ramp.

In the Vindicator’s cockpit Kit’s screams drowned out the groan of machinery as the mechanism which drove the ship’s loading ramp and hold door came to life. The ramp started to retract from under the legs of Toszka’s dead 'Mech, slowly at first, then came free with a jerk. A stray autocannon shell from one of the Kurita 'Mechs flew in through the open loading door and partially demolished a repair gantry to the Vindicator’s left. Kit’s last sight of Konstance as the door sealed shut was the grinning faceplate of the fallen Banshee. She was still screaming as the hold began to echo with the impact of weapons fire against the DropShip’s hull. She was still screaming when the rumble of the DropShip’s engines increased to a roar as it lifted off the planet’s surface. She was still screaming when the unsecured Vindicator toppled to the deck and darkness enveloped her.

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