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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

Last Stand
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written July 13th, 2020
Story Era Clan Invasion Era

We were on...God, I can't even remember the name of the damn planet!

We'd started up on Thule, helping to train the locals to defend themselves against pirates when the Clans hit us like freight train. When the Ghost Bears landed, we had a reinforced company; by the time we managed to get to the DropShip and pull out, we had a single Lance and a handful of pilots who'd managed to get away after punching out.

Everything went to shit after that. Nobody had expected anything like that to come knocking, least, not anyone this side of Outreach. Traitorous wankers. So we found ourselves swept up in a general retreat, getting plugged into other units to fill holes and try and hold ground. But every time we tried to hold a planet, the Bears or the Wolves would come and wreck our plans, and the lucky ones would drag what was left of the defenders back onto the DropShip and pull back to the next system.

Don't get me wrong: we fought as hard as we could, made the bastards pay for every step they took, but we were out-gunned, out-classed and out-maneuvered at every turn. And we weren't even line units, but rather a grab-bag of mercenaries, militia and even a few bandits that had come running in from the Periphery like their tails were on fire. We all got swept up and given the choice between being left behind on whatever world they found us, or effectively signing up with the KungsArmé "for the duration". I was an owner-operator, and it had be made clear that they'd simply take my 'Mech and give it to someone else, so I didn't really have much choice: I took my forty Krona and followed orders, even if I didn't understand a word of that crazy mixture of Japanese, German and something else the locals used.

And so it went, planet to planet, ignominious defeat after inhomogeneous defeat. I stopped paying attention to the little details, like the name of the unit I was, on paper at least, assigned to, who my Lance mates were, the name of the planet we were dropping on. It would all change by the end, as they pushed us back, world by world, as inevitable and unstoppable as the coming dawn. You'd see someone at breakfast, and by lunch they were gone, either dead, missing or taken prisoner...Oh, I'm sorry: Bondsman. Wouldn't want to offend anyone, now would we?

So, you get jaded, learn not to make too many close friends, and live out of a duffle bag you could stow in your cockpit, because they couldn't even guarantee what ships would be left to pick up any survivors. It was no life to live, but it was pretty clear that we were seen as more than expendable, least in comparison to regular units. We were bodies to throw at the enemy in a desperate bid to buy time, cause a distraction, do something.

Case in point, the bridge.

Like I said, I can't remember the name of the planet we were on, let alone where on it we were running for our lives through. All I remember is the one bridge that spanned a wide, deep valley with a fast-flowing river at the bottom. Valley was over a kilometer wide, walls far to steep to climb down, and this bridge was the only crossing for something like a hundred kilometers in either direction. Only reason they hadn't blown it yet was because we were escorting some VIP or another to the supposed safety of the mountains beyond. Wolves were on us like their namesakes, hounding us the entire way, nipping at our heals. It was clear to all of us that they were playing with us, as they had more than enough firepower to bring us down, but apparently they didn't want to risk the VIP getting hurt, so they tried to grind us down until the Mobile HQ had no choice but to surrender.

Or we made them surrender in a bid to save our own skins. And don't think we didn't consider it.

Well, we come to this bridge. Really impressive looking, probably Star League Era work. Two rail line ran across it, but it was rated to hold BattleMechs. Even if we did do a number on the tracks as we crossed over, one after the other. We had practically no ammo left, and those that did have any were guarding it jealously. Which meant that me and my old Javelin were shit out of luck. To make matters worse, the PPC blast that had taken the left arm off at the shoulder had fried all the active and passive sensors. Leaving my reliant on the Mk.1 Eyeballs that the Good Lord had seen fit to issue me with.

What's that got to do with anything?

Well, when you're riding a half crippled, literally and figuratively unarmed 'Mech you won't hand over to the refit crews because you know you'll never see her again, you don't exactly get the best assignments. Hence, I found myself playing Tail-End Charlie, standing guard at the edge of the forest that stopped about half a klick shy of the bridge. And let me tell you, there's nothing quite like the feeling of being left out to dry with a full trinary of Wolves hunting you, especially when it's highly likely that the first sign of them is when your personal view of the universe goes white, and you find yourself shaking hands with Saint Peter.

Much to my surprise, it wasn't a horde of screaming Clanners I saw making it way along the forest trail, but a badly damaged Axman. I do mean badly. Half the armor looked to have been hastily replaced, the metal unpainted but covered in soot and scorch marks where it wasn't torn or half melted. Smoke rose from the wreckage of the autocannon, and it's left arm hung limply at its side. It was so badly burnt and busted up, that it wasn't even possible to tell at a glance which unit it had once belonged to, and my IFF was shot to hell and back.

Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that the Clanners despise physical attacks, I probably would have called it in as an enemy scout.

The Axman stopped, maybe a hundred meters away, the pilot obviously surveying the bridge and the valley below. It the turned to look at me, and gestured towards the bridge with its still functioning arm, the hatchet that gave it its name almost gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Well, I didn't need telling twice, and coaxing as much speed as I could out of my Javelin, I made my way across the bridge to the supposed safety of the far bank, then turned to watch the Axman cross behind me. Only it stopped half way, turned... and waited.

Not that it had long to wait, as maybe two minutes later, a Fenris appeared at the tree line, followed closely by a Koshi, a pair of Pumas and five of those Elementals they use as infantry. Not exactly a standard unit, but it's hard to think about the enemies TO&E when you're running for your life.

I was a good kilometer away, and not even Clan weapons can hit quite that far out. Well, not with any accuracy. Anyway, but the Axman was just within the extreme range of some of their weapons. But, while any sensible pilot would order everyone to just dog-pile the enemy, a Clanner's got to prove that their honor out honors the honorable honor of their honorable comrade, so the light weight Koshi OmniMech advanced first.

Everyone knows the story of Kai Allard-Liao and his defense of the Great Gash on Twycross. While I'm not trying to take anything away from what he did. That's because it was absolutely amazing and worthy of praise, but I do wish more people knew the story of the Axman that held that bridge.

The Koshi advanced, tentatively at first. Even back then, we could still hurt the Clanners, given the opportunity, and this particular Wolf wasn't going to just rush into close range with a 'Mech known for its devastating close-range punch. But it soon became apparent that the Axman was down to just it's namesake hatchet for defense, even it if was apparently ignoring the damage it was taking from the lighter' Mech.

Instead, the Axman simply raised its remaining remaining weapon high.

I don't know if they were deliberately trying to provoke them or not, but it worked. The Koshi sprinted forward, evidently trying to get in close to finish their adversary off quickly. For its part, the Axman stood its ground, only adjusting its stance a little to hold its weapon at the ready. Any sensible pilot would have kept the range open, especially give the fact that the Axman was completely exposed with nowhere to go but forwards or back. Nothing stops a Clanner from thinking straight quite like questioning their honor, so it just charged right on in, eventually getting too close.

The hatchet fell once, severing the Koshi's right arm. Then swung again, crippling one of its legs. It tried to fight back, but few Clanners are any good up-close; their tech advantage encourages them to keep the range open. Which also allows their more advanced targeting and tracking systems to work at their optimum level. You get in close enough, and the scales start to shift in your favor. Only problem is surviving long enough to actually get in close.

The Axman archived this by goading the Wolf in taunting it by its defiance.

What happened next is something I know I'll remember for the rest of my life. The Axman kicked the Koshi. I don't mean like a kick to the shin or something. No, leaning back, it razed its right foot to damn near 90-degrees and hit the smaller unbalanced 'Mechs square in the chest. The Koshi stumbled backwards, the pilot obviously as shocked as I was... only I wasn't standing on a narrow bridge several hundred meters above a fast-flowing river. They tried to take a step back, only to discover that there wasn't as much bridge behind them as they first thought.

Gravity did the rest.

The Koshi fell, the pilot having the sense to hit the chicken-switch. The pilot rode their command couch out of the valley, arcing up an back over the forest as the parachute started to deploy.

This caused the Elementals to come bounding in firing their SRM's as the let throughout the air. But they were still too far out, and even their advanced targeting systems have their limits. As the rockets corkscrewed off at random, most falling into the river far below. The Axman ignored them, until they got into range. The hatchet swung right to left, cutting an Elemental clean into, then a backhand sent a second tumbling helplessly into the river. The third was crushed when a massive foot came crashing down upon it, leaving just two than survived to latch onto the Axman's already damaged torso.

My ears rang as the flat of the blade was slammed into the Axman's chest one... twice... three times, and the mangled remains of the Elementals fell to the tracks.

I guess that the Wolves decided "to hell with honor!", because all three of the surviving scouts opened up. Unleashing a torrent of particle streams towards the Axman, which responded by sprinting towards them, hatchet at the ready.

No, I didn't stay to watch. Partly out of fear of being on the receiving end of their anger once they got across the bridge... and partly because I didn't want to see the bravest MechWarrior I had ever seen die. So I turned and pushed my throttle as hard as I dared, making my way along the winding mountain pass towards the waiting DropShip. I made it safely while the Wolves never caught up with us, that unknown, unnamed, but not forgotten pilot buying us the time we needed to get off planet.

I don't know if the Clans understand the concept of fear, but I like to think that that Axman taught it to at least a few of them.

The End

Notes from the Author
I predict that most of you are going to get the inspiration for this wrong. The correct answer will be at the end.

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