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Chapter 10 - Mechwarrior: Wild Rose[]

Meridian Manufacturing Plant One
New St Andrews IV, The Periphery
Rimward of the Circinus Federation
May 17th, 3077

Caradin leaned against her ‘Mech’s foot, taking a moment to breathe before getting back to work. The Katamari sat silently nearby, its power plant cold. Hoshino was taking a moment to relieve himself behind a tree while his lunch sat half-eaten on the ground. In the distance Wolf was on patrol, his ‘Mech’s footsteps barely felt through the ground.

She unwrapped her MRE. The mid-afternoon sun was bright enough that nothing about the contents was left to the imagination, letting her see the scraps of freeze-dried bread and brown sauce waiting to kill her appetite. She pinched a tab on one corner of the tray, flash-cooking a shapeless blob of protein. She didn’t bother looking at the label on it; it all tasted like wet cardboard anyway. Eating these military rations had become just another part of the job she put up with. She told herself it wasn’t so bad. Back in her younger days on Skye, she’d have killed to have flavorless, prepackaged sludge on hand.

She glanced up at the manufacturing plant half a kilometer away from her, where Bower’s Arbiter was parked. When she checked on him with the binoculars at her side, she could see the thick hoses hooked up to the ‘Mech’s back, pumping in more liquid hydrogen for its fuel cells.

Fuel cells, she thought for the umpteenth time. Meridian had been keeping quiet about their ‘Mech’s actual specs, so she hadn’t been able to resist scanning the thing with Fleetfoot’s Beagle Active Probe as soon as Bower had strutted it out of the bay and started posing. She was still incredulous at what she’d seen. A fuel cell engine instead of a fusion reactor. An industrial structure. Even the cockpit was mostly a transplant out of an IndustrialMech. That huge arm cannon was just a mostly-empty housing built around a weapon from over four centuries ago. It was hopelessly outclassed even by the obsolete weapons from the Succession Wars. Calling the Arbiter a “BattleMech” was far beyond charitable. It was more like an aggressive forklift.

Arbiter Light MilitaMech (by Tychorion)

Arbiter Light MilitaMech

She picked up her datapad, which was synced to Fleetfoot’s computers to let her see the records from the scouting sweeps so far. All the latest strikes had been in the general area of Plant Three. The Hussars had been keeping up the pressure, making wide sweeps around the Plant and waiting to pounce on any hints of pirate activity. Unfortunately, all they’d seen so far was evidence of strikes the Hussars had missed. Pirates seemed to be hitting anything that moved, and a few things that didn’t. The Hussars had passed by another overnight mining operation just today. It had been a hole bored into a mountainside, hastily drilled and just as hastily abandoned. Just outside of it had been the footprints of ‘Mechs, disappearing into the woods alongside the smoldering remains of a few tractors, likely belonging to a nearby farm. Damn locals didn’t know to take a threat seriously, and yet the Hussars were blamed for every cocksure farmer that got stepped on.

A sour look settled onto her face as she read over the reports. Tracking the raiders into the woods had proven shockingly difficult; the underbrush and trees covered any sort of trail the pirates might have left. It was ridiculous to think, but somehow a hundred tons of metal and weapons could come and go like ghosts, leaving behind nothing but wreckage she had to explain to an increasingly angry employer.

“Lieutenant, I am going to take some rest time,” Hoshino said. Caradin waved him off without looking at him, keeping her attention on her datapad. She had them all on a staggered rest schedule so they could keep up their sweeps continuously. Bower, Hoshino, and Wolfgang could actually afford to shut their eyes, while she had duties to attend to as the unit commander. Even now there was an incoming message from Meridian.

She knew what they were calling about – Meridian was seeing the same reports she did, and they were furious she wasn’t making more progress. It was painfully typical, really. The people who had never even sat in a BattleMech, much less commanded a lance of them, thought they could critique the job she was doing. She could tell them all day that field operations took time, especially when she was working with such sparse intel, but Meridian didn’t care. They just wanted results.

She pushed a button to silence the call; there was no need to waste her time with that sort of thing. One of the few advantages of being out in the woods on a backwater like New St. Andrews was that communications with home base were spotty. The planet didn’t have so much as a single communications satellite to work with, and any terrestrial communications got scrambled up by the minerals in the ground. In short, no one could blame her for not getting the latest pissed-off communication from the client.

She switched her data readout to the latest information from Plant One. During her sweeps today she’d been able to get to high ground long enough for Fleetfoot’s enhanced communications array to overcome the atmospheric scrambling and download Thomas’ status updates from the last week. Her sergeant’s reports were satisfying thorough, and lacking the accusations that Meridian’s did. She glanced over his summary of the Broken Blossom’s scouting patrols, nodding as she saw that at least everything was quiet down at Plant One. That was unsurprising, considering how the Hussars had spent the last few weeks pushing the pirates away from all three Plants. Not that Meridian cared about that.

In contrast to the rest of the reports, Thomas’ summary of McCloud’s training had a subtle tone of frustration to it. He gave the numbers, but emphasized that she was still behind the curve. Apparently McCloud was up to a sixty percent score on the simulator runs. Caradin smirked, wondering what score the sergeant was telling McCloud she earned. The man took his job seriously, she gave him that much.

She glanced over Thomas’s note at the end, remarking that he had seen McCloud sneaking in extra time in the simulator, and that she was using it for conversations with her mother, often going on for an hour or more. Caradin just shook her head at that, imagining McCloud crying to her mother about how tough the job was. She had no doubt Thomas was riding the girl hard, but she expected McCloud to be stronger than that. And it was concerning that her scores were still so low even with extra sim time. At this rate she might have to actually look at Thomas’ repeated requests to be assigned to the Blossom.

Well, training is only part of the job, she reasoned, before moving on to other things. She had given McCloud escort duty on the latest shipment to keep her occupied and throw a bone to Meridian. As much as the client was complaining about the Hussars’ progress, they seemed happy photographing the Blossom. That, plus all the photo ops Bower had been taking on this deployment, were giving their marketing department plenty to work with, along with exposure for her unit. That was what Caradin had to keep in mind when Meridian was getting frustrated. So long as she kept the Plants safe until the pirates left she could call it a job well done, and wait for her next employer to see the Hussars logo on a Periphery-wide advertising push. Her smirk grew at the thought of the Hussars’ advanced ‘Mechs being shown right alongside Meridian’s shoddy equipment. She also took a moment to double-check her hair and clothes, making sure she was presentable. Bower traveled with a small fleet of camera drones tucked into his cockpit with him, and every time he stopped the drones would fly out, taking pictures of anything nearby. Caradin knew she had to always look her best with those things around.

Her datapad beeped at another incoming message, this one coming from the Broken Blossom. McCloud at least could remember orders to give regular updates. The Blossom’s own communications suite was solid, so it could manage a connection to her ‘Mech even over the long distance. Caradin tapped on the pad to accept the call.

<<“Fleetfoot, come in?”>> McCloud’s voice asked through a wall of distortion. “This is Blossom, reporting.”

<<“This is Fleetfoot. I can barely hear you, Blossom. Get to higher ground and try again.”>>

“Copy that, there’s a ridge a few hundred meters from me. I can be up there in a minute if I jump.”

<<“Denied, Pilot,”>> Caradin sharply ordered. <<“This is a chance to test your balance. Climb up the hill.”>>


Caradin terminated the connection and shook her head at the disappointed tone in McCloud’s voice. The girl was enthusiastic about piloting, but she was far too focused on being airborne. She wondered if McCloud would change her tone if she had to pay for the aerospace fuel her jump jets burned. The LAM was drawing all the attention she’d hoped for and then some, putting her unit front and center of the cameras, but Caradin knew she’d have to be careful with the machine or else she’d be paying more to keep it running than any publicity could justify.

After several minutes her datapad chirped again with a message from the Blossom. Caradin let it sit for a few long seconds before finally answering it.

<<“This is Fleetfoot. Report, Blossom.”>>

<<“Lieutenant, escort mission is going fine,”>> McCloud said, the connection clear enough now that Caradin could make out the annoyed tone in her voice. <<“We left a little behind schedule, but we’re making up the time on the road. Should be at Kilrymont in another six hours.”>>

<<“You’ve still got your eye on the convoy, yes?”>> Caradin asked. <<“Don’t turn your back on your ward just to talk to me.”>>

<<“I…yes, Sir.”>> McCloud stammered in response. Caradin imagined the young Pilot hastily turning her ‘Mech to look back at the convoy she’d left behind on the road to come up to high ground for her report. “I can see them. Everything’s fine, screens are clear.” She hesitated a moment. “How about you? Have you found anything up in your area, sir?”

“Pirates have been avoiding us, but that gives us control over their movements. We stay between them and the Plants, and Meridian is safe. We’ve got things in hand here.”

“…Yes, sir. Good to know.”

She took a moment to consider the dejected tone in McCloud’s voice. It was easy enough to hear the girl had something more to say. After weeks training under Thomas, odds were the girl doubted she could even pilot a ‘Mech competently. McCloud wasn’t very good at hiding her insecurity, and if Caradin could hear it over a commline she could only imagine what the Meridian cameras were seeing. A little boost was called for.

“Something on your mind, McCloud?” she asked.

“…I remember you said if you get any hint that there’s trouble you were going to call me out there. So…any hope I’m about to be called out to the lance?”

Caradin took a moment to choose her words. “Our operations up here are ongoing. I know people like this. They’ll make a mistake soon and then it’ll be your turn. Right now I need you down there to keep everyone safe.”

“I understand,” McCloud grumbled. “But, sir – ”

“You know I put you there because that’s where the simulators are?” Caradin asked her. “From what I hear you’re tearing through the training courses.”

“You must be reading a different report. The sergeant says I’m the worst pilot he’s ever seen.”

Caradin laughed a little at that. So predictable. “Thomas can’t help himself. He’s like that with everyone. He’s just seeing if you’re serious about the job. Take him with a grain of salt, everyone else does. I can see you were made for this kind of work.”

“Thank you, sir. I just wish there was more to the work. I’m kind of feeling like a dancing monkey. You know they’re always filming me down here? Even the transport convoy has cameras running all the time.”

This got another laugh. “They admitted up front they like the LAM, so that’s not a surprise. And you’re photogenic. See it as a compliment that they want you on camera.”

“Uh…thank you, Sir. But seriously, I barely get any time without them bugging me. Literally right now they’re trying to contact me with the latest set of notes. I’ll bet you my next paycheck it’s something dumb like how I’m standing in the wrong place or I’m getting the wrong lighting.”

“Is that really such a problem?”

She heard McCloud stammer for a moment. “It’d be less of a problem if this wasn’t all a waste of time. Have you seen the equipment they’re making around here? These tanks are using guns from back when JumpShips were science fiction! And that Arbiter just looks impressive. It’s just a fancy shell built around an IndustrialMech, sir. There’s not even a reactor onboard.”

“…sounds about right. What’s your point?”

“You knew?” McCloud asked incredulously.

“Of course. Don’t forget I’m on deployment with one of those overblown tractors. You have my envy that all you have to deal with is producer’s notes. We’ve got to deal with Bower strutting around in that Arbiter acting like he’s the universe’s chosen warrior, and treating the whole thing like one giant holo shoot. Everything he does slows us down. It’s making the whole operation more difficult.”

“I mean…couldn’t you put him on Plant guard duty instead? He’d fit right in with the producer’s notes.”

Caradin snorted dismissively. “Tempting, but the client’s orders are to have him out with us. It’s the way of things right now,” she said dismissively. “The way things are, it’s a bad look for mercenary units to try going unsupervised.” She sighed. “Anyway, it’s not my fault if Meridian wants to make a scary-looking tractor and sell it like it’s actually dangerous. They’re willing to pay us to defend their facilities, and that’s all we need to care about.”

“I understand, Sir.” McCloud said quietly.

“Now how’d you find time to look inside an Arbiter? Has Thomas been letting you slack off?”

“I don’t sleep so much,” McCloud answered honestly. “I wake up early, and then I’m bored. My uniform gets the techs to step aside and let me look under the hood.”

“Hm…You’re a curious one, that’s a good quality for a scout. Make it a point to know everything that’s going on around you. It’s why I ride with a Beagle Probe onboard. Just remember the contract included a non-disclosure agreement,” she added on in warning. “It was good initiative to take a look at the Arbiter’s internals, but you talk to anyone about what you saw, and the whole unit might get our pay cut.”

“…I understand,” McCloud replied, a guilty tone in her voice hinting that she’d already been talking to people about it. Passing rumors along to mommy, Caradin thought to herself. Well, no matter. Meridian had been giving her a hard enough time so far over their progress against the pirates. A little public embarrassment would serve them right.

She decided to give her rookie Pilot a little more to chew on. “I’ll be honest with you, the Hussars have had a rough couple of contracts,” she began. “Huntington was just the latest fiasco. We pulled out of there so fast, Thomas’ mech was a complete loss. We couldn’t even go back to salvage it for spare parts. And before that, I’ve had to deal with employers disappearing, and others that send us off on jobs with false intel just so when we were forced to pull out they could justify cutting our pay. To say nothing of the ones who didn’t even bother with the excuse, they just cut our pay because they knew a small unit like mine can’t afford to fight them over it. It’s a bad time to be a mercenary right now, McCloud. These jokers are at least excited to have us around, and their C-bills are real enough, even if their ‘pirate buster’ isn’t.”

“…I didn’t know. Are they paying enough?” McCloud asked. There was a tone of self-conscious embarrassment in the girl’s voice, likely as she was wondering how much of a loan Caradin had had to take out to secure the rights to that LAM or cover her salary.

Caradin let her sit for a few seconds before responding. “Enough to make ends meet, which is enough for me right now. My people need to recuperate after these last few contracts. Pushing off a few pirates and saving these idiots is just what we need.”

Before she say any more she saw another message coming in from Meridian. Caradin stared at the alert in annoyance for a few seconds.

“Lieutenant, Meridian is trying to contact me again,” McCloud said over the commline.

Caradin shook her head. Typical needy client, complaining on multiple channels at once.

“Tell you what, let me talk to them,” she said, putting a warmer tone in her voice. “I’ve been trying to tell them orders to my people have to go through me. Loop them into this channel.”

“Understood, Sir.” McCloud answered, sounding relieved. There was a beep as she connected to the incoming transmission.

Caradin was expecting Coghill’s whiny voice complaining about something inane, and she was prepared to say whatever it took to disarm him. But it was not Coghill’s voice she heard over the line. To the contrary, she heard a harder, more frightened voice repeating an emergency call.

“…they’re hitting us from multiple angles!” the voice was shouting. “Anyone out there, we need support immediately!”

Caradin blinked hard, losing precious seconds as she processed what she was hearing. “This is Fleetfoot, we read you,” she said firmly. “Confirm your location.”

<<“This is Security Actual at Plant One!”>> the voice said, the signal popping with distortion. <<“Any of you in range, we are under attack from multiple BattleMechs! They’re striking from the ridge…”>> anything else he said vanished in a wave of static.

“Plant One, respond,” Caradin ordered into the line, getting no response. “Plant One, respond, over.” Still nothing.

“Lieutenant, what’s going on?” McCloud asked. “Plant One’s under attack? But I thought you were pushing the pirates away from here?”

“Quiet!” Caradin snapped. She took a breath and recovered her composure. Then she switched to the lance-wide channel. “Wolf, form up on me now. Katamari, get your reactor up. We are moving out immediately.” She took another breath, doing the math on the distance. The big Katamari would slow them down, to say nothing of that useless Arbiter she was saddled with. Not that it really mattered; even at Fleetfoot’s maximum speed, it would take her hours to reach Plant One from where they were.

She bit back a curse and switched back to the line to McCloud. “Blossom, you’re the front line on this. Return to Plant One immediately and respond to the strike.”

“Sir, you want me to go in alone?”

“They need us, and you’re all we’ve got in the area. Sync sensor data to me,” she said coolly. She went on before McCloud had even acknowledged the order. “Now get moving, Blossom! Head back to Plant One…”

“…and engage the contacts!”

“Copy that, moving to respond!” Marie sent back. She glanced back at the control board, where a blinking light indicated another waiting message from Meridian. She switched to the general channel and the commline lit up with chatter of nervous security guards reporting contacts with ‘Mechs at Plant One. She could hear tanks’ guns thundering in the distance behind them. The Plant had only just managed to put together a few Vedette tanks to serve as their paltry defense force while she was away guarding the convoy to the spaceport.

Her jaw tight, she looked at the display screen, down at the ground far below her position up on a ridge. Only up here could she hope to get any kind of reliable commline connection; as soon as she climbed down it would be a communications blackout. She started by syncing her sensor data to Fleetfoot, causing her screens to populate with the data Plant One was sending Caradin about the attackers. Then she sent an acknowledgement back to the Plant, and notified the convoy leader of the attack and her orders to respond to it. Then she steeled herself and started the ‘Mech moving.

The Blossom carefully headed down the ridge line towards the ground below. She could have made the trip down quickly with one burst from her jump jets, but she could practically hear Thomas losing his mind over her even touching the jets. So instead she carefully navigated the rocky terrain, the gyro whirling furiously as she struggled to stay upright. Her heart stopped once or twice as the ground shifted under the ‘Mech’s feet, but she managed to keep from going tumbling. Marie finally took a breath as the Blossom’s feet hit the solid ground at the foot of the ridge. Then she aimed herself towards Plant One and pushed the ‘Mech up to her maximum speed. She struggled to remember the map of the area as she ran. If she didn’t make a wrong turn she could be at the Plant in under half an hour…

Yet she couldn’t concentrate. A thought clawed at her consciousness, refusing to let her focus. Napier had said Plant One was secure and the people would be safe behind the thick walls and armored doors. On top of that, with the latest shipment on the road there wasn’t much left in the Plant to take. And in a simulation, right about now is when Thomas would hit her with an unpleasant surprise which she ‘should have seen coming.’

She switched the commline to the Hussar lance channel. “Lieutenant? Lieutenant, I just thought of something.”

Silence was the only reply. Marie boosted the power on her comms array and tried again. Fleetfoot’s comm systems were supposed to be top-notch, maybe they could cut through the interference…

“Lieutenant, this is Blossom, what if this is another feint attack?” she asked. Still silence. “Lieutenant, please respond!” Nothing. She cursed and clenched her jaw. To even have a chance of reconnecting to her lieutenant, she’d have to climb up the ridgeline again, and that meant losing precious time. Assuming I don’t slip and fall on my face.

She slowed down, turning to look back towards the convoy. She’d had to move away from it just to reach Caradin in the first place. Now it was over two kilometers away from her. Its only other guards were Scorpion Light Tanks, armed with guns that were barely even a threat to ‘Mechs. They were all that stood between a pirate strike and a convoy full of fresh military hardware.

Swallowing hard, she turned the Blossom around. She tried to reach the convoy over the commline, but again just got static in response. On its own, that wasn’t surprising. If she couldn’t reach an advanced BattleMech, there was no way she could connect to the tanks. Or it could be something else…

Lightheaded from the stress of it all, she pushed up the throttle, starting back the way she’d come. First real engagement and I’m already ignoring orders, she thought. I’m a model Pilot, aren’t I?

She uselessly tried again and again to connect with the convoy, getting nothing but static back. She briefly considered changing modes; after weeks of sim training with her mother, she was getting the hang of maneuvering the AirMech, and could at least keep it steady. She could establish tight-beam communication with the convoy if she could just get in view of them, and that would be child’s play from the air. She decided against it all the same. She was already getting herself in trouble doing this much, she didn’t need to explain why she’d also violated the strict no-fly order over a paranoid hunch. Not to mention she was still rough on landing the AirMech.

Phoenix Hawk LAM (by Fed0t1)

Phoenix Hawk LAM "Blossum" in AirMech mode

She kept moving, closing the distance as quickly as she could. After several minutes she came to the top of a gentle rise in the road, looking down into a valley. The Blossom’s sensors picked out the thermal plumes from the convoy’s internal combustion engines below her. Marie slowed the Blossom to a stop and tried to line up her comms array with the plumes.

“Meridian Convoy Lead, this is Broken Blossom. Come back?” she asked. Again, there was no response. Marie frustratedly adjusted the Blossom’s aim. “Convoy Lead, please respo – ”

She cut off as a tree abruptly fell down next to her. Her brow furrowing, she turned in place to zoom in on the tree. Its trunk had been torn apart, like it had exploded. Or been shot…

As that thought crossed her mind, the Blossom rocked with an impact. Marie jumped in her seat and frantically looked for the source, the computer ultimately picking out a reactor signature and zooming in on one spot in the distance. As the screens focused could barely pick out a needle-thin humanoid form standing among the trees. The Blossom’s computer identified it a moment later as a Vulcan BattleMech. It turned at the waist, the long-range autocannon at its hip tracking her. She saw the gun flash, and a heartbeat later there was the spang of heavy rounds ricocheting off the Blossom’s armor.

Muscle memory kicked in, born of her weeks of training and enforced push-ups for every failure. Marie turned the Blossom, throwing the ‘Mech into reverse and backing her up to take cover between some trees. She tried the commline again.

“Lieutenant, reporting contact! I’m taking fire!” Silence. “Sergeant! Convoy leader! Anyone on this channel, this is Blossom, I’m under fire!”

She heard a fuzzy response over the commline as she finally managed to make a line-of-sight connection with the convoy leader. She barely had time to hear the man reporting contacts of his own before the day lit up.

Fire bloomed out into the trees, sending dark smoke billowing up into the sky. Marie saw one burst of fire erupt to the south, in front of the convoy. Moments later another one ignited at the rear of the line of trucks. The commline dissolved into screams as one of the tanks was engulfed.

“Contact!” she desperately repeated, hoping against hope that something would get through. Instead, all she got was the lock-on alert, sending a chill down her spine. She looked up in time to see LRMs arcing through the air towards her.

Her feet twitched towards the jump jet tabs, but then stopped as she remembered the simulated PPC she’d taken to the cockpit. She tried to turn, but her hand refused to move on the stick. She could only wince as LRMs bombed down around her. Somehow none of the missiles found their mark, leaving her with just a staccato rattling in the cockpit as debris ricocheted off of her. She hastily threw the Blossom back into motion to try and get out of the line of fire –

–and was immediately left reeling as the ground exploded under her.

Marie yelped, alerts blaring in the cockpit as the Blossom’s foot shook with a detonation, and the wire frame signaled damage to the legs. She slammed the throttle back to zero and staggered in place, struggling to regain her balance.

Thunder LRMs?! she thought. That was why none of them had hit her. Rather than carrying standard warheads, Thunder LRMs carried payloads of small mines that they scattered around the target area. At a glance they’d appear to do nothing, but try to move over the ground and you’d find just how much damage the mines could do to ‘Mech legs.

Marie’s whole body turned to ice. She knew she had to do something, get out and engage the enemies, but her hands wouldn’t move, and her chest was so tight it felt like she would collapse. The commline was alive with calls for reinforcements, and her mouth was too dry to respond. The voices were soon drowned out by a high-pitched ringing in her ears, and all she could feel was her own panicked breathing.

Her mind was swimming. Everything was pulling her in opposite directions. She had to fire, but she had to stay out of sight from return fire. She had to move, but she couldn’t move without hitting mines. She had to get to the Plant, but she also had to protect the convoy. She had to engage, but she didn’t even know what she was engaging. She had to report in, but no one was answering. The Blossom felt like a heavy weight on her shoulders, sitting like an immovable mountain of metal.

Breathe, she heard a calm voice say in the back of her mind. She took a shuddering breath and blinked. You can get out of this. Now move.

She closed her eyes and swallowed to force the lump out of her throat, then took another unsteady breath. “Come on…” she mumbled to the ‘Mech. “Come on, old girl. We’re just getting started, right?”

Vulcan Medium Mech (Marching at Night - Farseer Animation version)

Vulcan Medium 'Mech

With trembling hands she turned the Blossom, trying to track where the LRMs had come from. The Vulcan had been located over there, so…

“Convoy leader, this is Blossom. Hang on, I’m en route to you!” she called into the commline. Then, fighting against her instincts screaming at her to hide, she gripped the control sticks and mashed her feet down on the jump jet tabs. The thrusters on the Blossom’s back roared, lifting the ‘Mech off the ground. Mines detonated under the heat from the jets, but the Blossom had already been carried clear of them.

It was a short jump, just enough to get out of the minefield but still carrying her high enough to get a look down at the convoy. She could see them on the road, trapped by the burning wreckage of a tank at either end of their line. Walking around the assembled trucks was a lumpy, industrial machine. Exhaust ports of an internal combustion engine belched smoke from its back, and a massive, ‘Mech-sized chainsaw hung from its arm. A ForestryMech, she realized. She lost sight of it as the Blossom came down from her jump, but not before she spotted a crew on the ground attaching tow cables from the ForestryMech to several of the convoy trucks.

The Blossom hit the ground hard, flexing her knees to absorb the landing. Marie pushed her fear back as best she could and sped up, moving towards the convoy. She swept her eyes over the control board and sensor readouts, finally spotting a ‘Mech reactor in the distance. She turned the Blossom to aim the shoulder laser in the direction of the reactor, took a breath to steady herself, and pulled the trigger. The large laser flashed a red beam into the woods. She had no idea if she hit anything, but she at least got some attention as autocannon slugs shot back at her. Once the laser cycled back up, she fired again.

She knew she was getting close to the convoy when she saw smoke seeping between the trees, followed shortly by the orange tongues of fire. Marie pushed on ahead. The Blossom barely even slowed down as she plowed through the burning trees. Marie started to sweat as the heat climbed in the cockpit. It’s fine. Just like atmospheric entry, she told herself.

Valkyrie (TRO 3028 version - Battlefield)

Valkyrie Light 'Mech

She saw movement out the corner of her eye and hastily twisted the Blossom at the waist, catching sight of a Valkyrie launching a flight of LRMs ahead of her. Even as she watched the warheads burst in flight, scattering mines through the woods in her path. Marie jerked the control stick, the Blossom turning hard and barely avoiding running through another Thunder minefield. She closed in on the Valkyrie and opened fire with all three of her lasers. She thought she saw one of them hit before the Valkyrie leveled its right arm at her and hosed her down with liquid flames. Marie recoiled away from the fire, distracted by heat alarms screaming at her. She barely needed the alarms; the air in the cockpit was getting so hot it felt like her skin was blistering. If not for the oxygen hoses connected to her helmet she wouldn’t have been able to breathe.

The Valkyrie fired its jump jets and leapt backwards, diving for the cover of the trees. Marie took a shot at it with her smaller arm-mounted lasers and was rewarded with a glancing hit on the ‘Mech. The shot did nothing to help her own situation, though, as the cockpit somehow got even hotter around her. She saw fire roaring through the trees as the Valkyrie fired its arm flamer again, covering its tracks.

She backed away from the retreating Valkyrie and continued towards the convoy. The Blossom was moving very sluggishly, her myomer muscles too overheated to work properly. The woods burning around her were keeping her from bleeding off heat, and it was turning the cockpit into a pressure cooker. Sweating profusely through her clothes, Marie mentally crossed her fingers and hit her jump jets again. The heat alerts screamed at her, but she leapt clear of the burning trees and into the cool afternoon air. The jets, at least, still worked properly. Unfortunately, everything else was going crazy. The screens were fritzing in and out of focus, and the gyro struggled to compensate for her rapid movements.

<{“Warning, heat levels critical. Emergency shutdown imminent.”}> the Blossom’s computer warned, but Marie barely heard it as she caught a glimpse of the Vulcan firing its autocannon at her, clipping her shoulder. The Blossom tilted, leaving Marie struggling to regain control as she descended from her jump. The Blossom landed in the middle of the convoy, barely missing landing on one of the trucks. Marie looked around, trying to get a clear view of what was happening through her malfunctioning screens.

((“Everyone take cover!”)) she shouted over the loudspeakers. ((“Fall back to the…”))

She trailed off as her targeting reticule finally stabilized over a hole in the treeline, with obvious drag marks leading to it from the line of shattered trucks. She followed the trail marks with her eyes, and spotted the hulking form of a ‘Mech in the trees about four hundred meters distant…

…and then the screens went dark.

<{“Shutting down.”}> the Blossom’s computer announced, before everything went dead around her, leaving her sitting in darkness.

Marie’s eyes widened and her heart dropped into her stomach. She screamed in fear and frustration, only to find she couldn’t catch her breath as the oxygen pump had also stopped. She frantically pulled off her breathing mask and coughed in the stifling air of the cockpit. It felt like she was pouring hot soup into her lungs. She punched the control console uselessly, getting nothing for her efforts but bruised knuckles.

Concentrate, the voice in her head said. You don’t have time for this. You need to get her back online.

Detecting the darkness around her, emergency flashlights on her neurohelmet came to life. She hastily unbuckled herself from the command seat and ducked down under the control console, pulling open a panel to reveal the sea of wires waiting inside. Even after all the time she’d spent with her head in here, in the sweltering heat and with the sweat dripping her eyes it still took her a moment to remember where to look. The heat gauge was there…and its connection to the control computer was there…

The Blossom shook as something hit her. Marie felt a pit in her stomach as the ‘Mech swayed on her feet with the impact. She grabbed at a junction box, her palms burning under the hot metal as she hastily unscrewed the connectors and yanked out the wires that let the Blossom monitor her own heat levels. She pulled herself back up and smashed the button to restart the reactor.

With the wires disconnected, the Blossom could no longer tell she was running dangerously hot, and so the power-up sequence began normally. The ‘Mech rapidly ran through the pre-checks, skipping over priming the fusion reaction as she detected the reactor was still hot. Within moments the Blossom was coming back up to full power. Marie jumped back into the command chair as the screens lit up again.

Wolverine BattleMech (Custom by RGMimic79)

Custom variant of the Wolverine Medium BattleMech.

There was no sign of the ForestryMech, the Valkyrie, or the Vulcan. Instead, off in the distance on top of a hill Marie caught sight of the blocky shape of a Wolverine, barely recognizeable as such from the array of antennae and dishes sprouting out of its shoulder. The big ‘Mech raised its arm cannon to point at her. Marie instinctively leaned away from it, the Blossom leaning with her as the cannon fired. The blue beam of a PPC lanced out at her, missing her cockpit by millimeters and leaving a blinding afterimage burned into Marie’s retinas. The Blossom’s screens dissolved into static, momentarily going haywire from the electromagnetic wash of the near-miss.

Marie’s finger twitched on the triggers and she returned fire with her large laser. Her screens cleared in time for her to see the Wolverine pulling behind the hill and out of sight, its shoulder SRM launcher barking out half a dozen missiles that struck the ground at its feet. A heartbeat later that whole swath of the forest disappeared into a firey blaze. Inferno missiles, she realized. They were weapons that lived up to their name. They couldn’t actually damage ‘Mech armor, but the firey gel they spat out could roast a MechWarrior alive in their own ‘Mech. Marie felt her heart sink, suddenly very aware of how hot it still was in her cockpit.

The Wolverine disappeared into the smoke and fire. Her pulse racing, Marie planted her feet and swept her guns over the hills and trees around her, waiting for one of the ‘Mechs to reappear. When nothing happened, she turned to look back at the drag marks. She tried to take a step towards them, only for the Blossom to rock again with another mine explosion. She froze, staggering as she tried to keep her balance without moving her feet.

She looked down at the convoy, seeing wreckage everywhere. The line of trucks was broken, many of them sawed in half with their trailers dragged off into the woods. The rest of the trucks had a scattering of security personnel around them holding submachine guns, frantically waving at her not to move. Hovering near them were the omnipresent camera drones taking in everything.

((“Guard unit, what’s your status?”)) she asked over the loudspeakers.

One man signaled her from the ground. “We’ve got a lot of wounded,” he said. “They came out of nowhere! Don’t move, there’s mines everywhere!”

“I know,” Marie replied. “I need you to secure the area and hunker down. I’ll contact HQ…” she began, cutting off as her stomach gurgled.

She pulled her neurohelmet off and barely made it to the field latrine in the back before she lost her lunch.

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