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Roland, The Headless Hunchback Pilot - By JA Baker[]

Roland, the Headless Hunchback Pilot
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written February 2020
Story Era Jihad Era

Yeah I'd headed the story of Roland Koepp; I think every 'merc working the Chaos March back then had. Word is he was from somewhere up in the Free Rasalhague Republic, as was, who took a job on a counter-insurgent Lance on some planet or another that was changing hands every few months. And word is he was good; the HuItalicnchback is a somewhat specialized "Mech, one not many take the time to master, but Roland did more than master it.

No, he was something else.

It takes a lot to move a big, heavy footed monster like that around, but he could almost make it tap dance. He could pop up right behind his target and blast them without being spotted. Last thing more than one high profile target saw was the flash of his Defiance Mech Hunter in the night as he blasted them to whatever awaited them on the other side. Yeah, everyone knew about Roland, including the Maskirovka. Turned out they were backing one or more of the groups Roland helped take out, and in the end, they put a price on his head.

Enter Nick Van Owen, the kind of guy who becomes a mercenary because they like killing but don't like following orders. He piloted an Axeman, and he loved to get in close as use it's hatchet to finish opponents off. He gets word of the price on Roland's head, and managed to get himself assigned to a simple recon sweep with him. It was a milk run, the kind of mission they send you on just to remind the locals that you're still there, so Roland had no reason to expect trouble.

Well, the next day, after they failed to return or answer over the radio, they go out mob-handed; fingers on the trigger with the safety off and all that. At the far point of the sweep, they find Roland's Hunchback, the entire head cockpit in by Van Owens axe, the Mech stripped of anything usable and just left there. Van Owen was gone, already off planet and counting his thirty pieces of silver.

But, you know, that's the mercenary life, right? We're even more expendable then House Troops. They bury what was left of Roland and move on.

Then the stories start popping up. Only rumors at first, but word soon gets around that someone's been picking off high-value targets but not collecting on their heads. And you just don't do that; even if you don't need the money there and then, reputation is everything in this line of work. So people start asking around, trying to find out just what the hells going on.

And that's when it starts to get creepy.

It started with a story you hear from a tech who was drinking with a guy from another unit; talk of a 'Mech that doesn't show up on sensors, like it's got some crazy Lost-Tech ECM unit. Then you start to hear from other pilots about shooting at something they saw out of the corner of their eye, but hitting nothing. Then comes the day that someone you trust as much as you can trust anyone in this line of work tells you that they saw a Hunchback with a caved in cockpit. And that's the day you start to believe in the Headless Hunchback of the Chaos March.

Yeah, I know: it's a good tale to tell around the camp fire, and I'd be skeptical too, if I hadn't been there the day Roland finally caught up with Van Owen on New Canton.

We were bivouacked out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but open ground all the way to the horizon. A field mouse couldn't have snuck up on us unseen. The unit I was with at the time was back-stopping Van Owens, and we were settling in for the night when one of the guys on sentry duty started screaming something incoherent over the radio. Everyone starts running for their 'Mechs, trying to pull their coolant vests on, when suddenly the Headless Hunchback strode into the middle of the camp. The bit I remember most was that it didn't make a sound, not so much as a snapped twig. Nor did the ground shake, which should be damn near impossible for something that weighs in at 50 tons.

Van Owen looked like a deer trapped in headlights, a noticeable stream of piss running down his legs as he just looked up at the Hunchback. The two of them just stood there for a moment, then the Hunchback opened up with that 200mm autocannon, and Van Owen...well, let's just say that we needed a sponge more than a body-bag. Not that the rest of us got off much better; the sound one of those bastards makes can be deafening even inside a cockpit, let alone standing out in the open. My ears rang like a church bell, and by the time I was able to get my thoughts unscrambled, the Hunchback was gone, the only sign that it had ever been there the smoking creator that had been Nick Van Owen.

I never saw Roland again after that night, but you still hear stories about the Headless Hunchback if you hang around the wrong bars so late it's getting early. You ever want to find him for yourself, just go to where the fightings the fiercest, where you can't tell your friends from your enemies, and maybe you'll see Roland, stalking through the night...

The End

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