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Suomi Warders
By: Dave Waino

Chapter 1: The Wages of Honor
Chapter 2: A Wager with the Clans
Chapter 3: A Trap of Imagination
Chapter 4: Trials of Loyalty
Chapter 5: Eye of the Storm
Chapter 6: Twists of Fate
Chapter 7: Domestic Issues
Chapter 8: Fateful Choices
Chapter 9: Deadly Objectives
Chapter 10: Hard Truths and Harder Questions
Chapter 11: Major Decisions
Chapter 12: A Call to Arms
Chapter 13: Allocation of Resources
Chapter 14: Special Delivery
Chapter 15: Seize and Rescue
Chapter 16: Combined Arms
Chapter 17: Battered 'Mechs and Broken Bodies
Chapter 18: Matters of Perspective
Chapter 19: Deals of Life and Death

Suomi Warders: 3057

Innocence Lost - Part One
Innocence Lost - Part Two

Chapter Index[]


Chapter 9: Deadly Objectives[]

Vicinity of Oroville Pumping Station

Upper Suomi Continent, Sampsa

04 July 3052

The Suomi continent is shaped roughly like an egg with the wider end to the north. An egg with a jagged arm that is. The arm reaches out into the sea to touch another larger continent that expands over the equator region and up into the northern hemisphere. Once all matter of boats crossed the sheltered sea and all type of vehicles motored along the highways of the high altitude land bridge. Then during a regional tiff centuries back in the Star League Era nuclear weapons and orbital bombardment wiped out any reason for the sparsely populated Suomi denizens to visit what had been it’s heavily populated cousin to the north. That continent no longer harbored life.

By 3052 this northern region of Suomi was safe again but rarely visited. The land is lonely and cold. In that long ago time the area was a heavily used oil field. Today the derricks are gone, having been salvaged for the metal long, long ago. But the ever practical Sampsans had left the pumping stations and piping of the great oil line intact on the off chance they might be used again some day. Recently they had been. But not by engineers rebuilding a faded dream. Instead by raiders using the pump station as a base and the service track of the undersea pipeline as a submarine walkway to points farther south.

Even more recently three DropShips had settled into a valley that feeds down into the barren plateau area of the pumping station. As the great jets of drive flame died out and the dust and snow licked up settled the spheroid ship’s bay doors opened. Out poured retribution on legs and fans and treads. The Suomi Warders had come to hunt the frozen highlands of the Suomi north.

Sven Jorgenson, First Lieutenant and current MechCommander of the Warders, paused at the edge of the meadow to look out of his BattleMech’s cockpit and survey their assembled forces. Well technically, he admitted wryly to himself, he wasn’t looking out of the cockpit per se. The Camelot’s control cabin lay behind an armored blast shield and a golden colored mesh array that comprised the outer ‘face plate’ of the humanoid machine’s helmet-like head. The mesh style material served as an antennae surface that both collected comm transmissions and projected electronic counter measure signals. With the louver shutters closed, the real sight out of the armored front view port was a bunch of metal. What the pilot actually looked at was a photo-realistic projection of data collected from several assorted sensors and cameras. The point of view was kept up high to match where he rode to aid with depth perception and fine judgment of the ‘Mech’s position. Right now he had the projection angle dialed back to 180 degrees. Sven could have shown what was behind him in a compressed view or projected across a band above the main view, but he had elected to stay with the field of view he was used to fighting with from his usual mount. There were already enough unfamiliar items about the command ‘Mech that Sven didn’t want any more distractions that necessary.

Although he had repeatedly simmed the Major’s machine and even piloted one around in live exercises before, Sven had never shaken the first impression that he had gotten of the interior of a Camelot. The thing had more info panels, switches and side controls than an AeroTech fighter. Before the Major had left to go after his sister they had downloaded Lawman’s anagrams into the BattleMech’s computers and gave Sven an operation code that would allow him to activate all the systems. Sven had put in an hour or two of sim work with the specialized simulator constructed from an actual Camelot cockpit every night since John had left. It was now proving fortuitous that Sven had started practicing with the Camelot immediately rather than put the sessions off for a few weeks.

The view projection currently showed the three merchant class DropShips sitting roughly in the middle of the meadow. All three ships had been hired solely because they could make themselves available for the short planetary hop immediately. Thus it was some sort of cosmic irony rather than anything Captain Woods had done that one of the ships was named the Hefty Payback. Sven had gathered from his brief chat with the ship’s master that ownership had been established as part of a divorce settlement. That the Payback was delivering just that - the first counter attack of the Warders against the shady forces that had been assailing them since Hamano - seemed a good omen to the large MechWarrior.

Staged about the area between him and the ships was most of the Warder’s combat equipment. The four Lightning hovertanks of Mosquito Lance were buzzing towards Sven’s stationary Camelot. The sleek, low slung machines with their distinctive aircraft-like tails where lightly armed but very fast. They were moving out to assume a criss-crossing scout position in the vanguard of the Warder column. From where the scout tanks had just sprinted off the four Condor hovertanks of Avenger Lance were just starting to move into a lose diamond formation. The larger and curving profile Condors were a recent mounting a quick firing Ultra Class 5 autocannon for improved firepower. Although in terms of raw firepower the Rommels of the Thunder God Lance packed far more punch than the Avengers. As the heavy hitting power of the Class 20 autocannons had limited range, the Rommels were being left behind with the guard force protecting the DropShips. Anything that entered the meadow to fire on the ships would find itself within the reach of the heavy cannons. Lieutenant Runeberg’s command lance of tracked Manticore tanks had formed behind Avenger lance. Warder tactical doctrine called for the tank elements to support the BattleMechs by firing into a Mech engagement from a distance. With a long range missile system that spat out missiles in groups of 10 and the effective particle projector cannon as it’s main weapon, the Manticore was prepared to meet the role.

None of the armor units save the Lightnings (which were the only surviving armor units from Hamano) carried the advanced C3 computer gear that would share targeting data between similarly equipped units. The Warders still hadn’t decided if the time and effort to retro-fit the computer gear into the tanks would be worthwhile.

Away from the tanks the last half of the Laidie’s Hawks VTOL company was about to take to the air. The other half was already circling overhead. Several carried squads of troopers to secure any enemy pilots that ejected, but most were set up for a support combat role. While providing airborne eyes to the ground bound machines, the ungainly looking Redhawk helicopters were also carrying a full load of missiles for their small LRM racks. They would hover just out of weapon range then dart in to provide harassing fire as opportunity presented itself. With the superiority in numbers the Warders would enjoy during this engagement no one expected any of the ‘copters to be forced to close to medium laser range. Although a number of Hawk gunners were hoping a close run or two might somehow work itself into the scenario.

Here and there infantry squads were digging defensive emplacements. The heavy weapons platoon would be staying with the Rommel tanks along with a platoon of regular infantry that usually served as base security. After suffering the indignity of letting the raiders blast into the base then waltz out again, those troopers were particularly keen to get a chance at the invaders. But there was no reason to throw standard infantry at a ‘Mech company when so much fighting metal was available. Guarding the DropShips and hoping that a stray enemy unit managed to find it’s way to the meadow would have to satisfy the platoon for now.

Next to one of the ships the Bifrost command trailer was parked. It was still attached to a pull tractor in case it needed to be loaded back aboard quickly. The one set of advanced mobile repair trucks the Warders owned was still in one of the ships. There they would stay unless needed after the battle.

Closest to Lawman where the other Warder BattleMechs. Each wore a jagged stripe pattern of grayish white and green to help break up it’s outline. The white shield with light blue trim that framed the gold Suomi Lion insignia was present on each ‘Mech, usually down around one “shin” and up on the shoulder area somewhere. BattleMech clashes tended to be fast and furious with the combatants slowly circling in on each other before committing to dashing attacks. Despite modern Identify Friend or Foe gear sometimes a flash of color or glimpse of ID paint was all a pilot had to go on before taking the quick shot that might prove the difference between killing or being killed. Plus infantry and many fighting vehicles didn’t have an IFF system. It was really annoying to have one of your own platoons get spooked and start pouring concentrated fire on your legs when you were busy engaging an enemy ‘Mech. Sven was always touched by the irony of the situation whenever he saw a group of BattleMechs in combat paint. Many centuries after humanity had fought it’s first world war on Terra with primitive weapons, the most advanced machine of the modern battlefield often wore colors for identification just like the early wood and fabric powered kites the people of that bygone era called ‘war planes’. The more things changed the more they seemed to stay the same.

The Warders could have beaten the raiders to the pumping station and laid in wait for them. But the odds were that someone was still sitting at the pumps waiting for the raider’s return. Captain Woods hadn’t wanted to risk losing the enemy again because of a radio check between the enemy ‘Mechs and their rearguard at the pump. A survey plane flying at extremely high altitude had determined that there were no other BattleMechs at the pump site but had no way to check for infantry in the few buildings. Thus the Warders had elected to wait for the raiders to return to their make-shift base and give them a little time to get out of their machines. Planetary AeroSpace defense was on board with the Warders now and would ensure that no DropShip slunk in to the abandoned pump facility.

Actually, if worse came to worse those same fighters could drop from the sky and lay waste to the raider BattleMechs. But the Warders wanted first crack at the invaders as a matter of pride and principal. As the raiders hadn’t threatened or destroyed anything other than Warder property, the SDF brass had agreed to let the mercenary unit play out the battle on their own unless they called for help.

Sven listened to a broadcast from Captain Woods, then switched on the channel that was designated for the ‘Mech force.

“Alright Ladies and Gentlemen. The bad guys have gone to ground and we’re moving out to round them up. Once we clear the hill line we’ll spread out a bit and move up the coast, then move inland toward the pump station. With those two Ravens they have our detection range will be diminished so keep alert. When we get close we’ll use my ECM gear to see if we can catch them napping. Keep your broadcasting power on low but don’t use the comms unless it’s important. When the shooting starts don’t forget to boost your signal again so we can hear you through all the clutter. That’s it. Let’s go hunting.”

For some sixty kilometers four huge pipes ran from under the water’s edge straight inland to a long dormant pumping facility. After several centuries the land lived again, although it was remote and rugged with few inhabitants. The flat icy fields around the remaining buildings and tanks of the pump station eventually gave way to rough mountains on most sides and the sea to the east. Sportsmen sometimes visited the area, although usually when the snows had melted a bit farther into spring. Yet in the old control room of the Oroville pump station a female figure was busy gathering her gear. She had a snowmobile waiting outside and enough cold weather camping and ice fishing gear to pass as the average over-zealous sportsperson at the end of the long trip when she reached the nearest village.

Hillary was not actually a sportsperson. Unless one considered the killing of one’s fellow humans a sport. She was a Triad Assassin. She’d been inserted with the Blitzkrieg MechWarriors as a comm astech but her real role was to kill the entire unit if she was ordered to do so. That order had come in from her Master a while ago. Since then she’d been loading doctored comm signals that would implicate the Warders in the wholesale slaughter of captured prisoners into a computer that would automatically send the records then destroy itself. After she had her gear ready she would go out and leave a few hidden pieces of hard evidence. Such as the empty gas containers that supposedly would be used to kill the ‘prisoners’.

The real gas was already aboard each of the Blitzkrieg ‘Mechs. It was attached to the air freshener system and rigged to be released at her electronic command. She would need to make sure she got all of them with the same pulse as her range was limited and the signal could be easily blocked by either of the ECM ‘Mechs if they were running active. After the mercs called her to make sure the pump area was still secure she would talk them in; then kill them. Twelve ‘Mechs with dead pilots was what the Warders would find here. They would report that and be believed at first. But then a reporter would get an anonymous data recording of the comms. Some checking up here would discover the physical clues. Not enough to be conclusive , just enough to raise doubt.

It was a perfect plan with little that could go wrong. Thus Hillary was caught totally off guard as the door banged open and Hauptman Goering Schmidt walked in.

“The base was a trap,” he announced without preamble. “I hurried back with one of the Ravens to check on our ride off this ice ball.”

Hillary fought to steady her mind. It was unthinkable. Goering had ignored his own plan. He hadn’t called ahead. He never ignored a plan - especially his own. But here he was now with one of his cohorts likely still ‘Meched up outside. This was something she had never factored into her plans.

“I’m afraid the ship Captain is balking Sir,” she replied after a quick hesitation. “The sat-net is up again and he’s worried he’ll be spotted.”

“I figured it’d be something like that,” growled Schmidt. “And I see you’re planning on heading off on your own. So much for loyalty. Well good riddance. You weren’t much help anyway. Hope you freeze out there. Now get out of my way and let me at that comm gear.”

Hillary moved meekly to one side as the mercenary leader stormed toward the radio intent on somehow convincing the DropShip Captain on risking the run through the mountains. Hillary figured that if the Blitzkrieg warriors abandoned their BattleMechs and some sort of small shuttle was talked into coming for them they’d have a decent chance of escape. Assuming air patrols weren’t already cruising the area. But she couldn’t risk assuming anything at this point. He couldn’t be allowed to use the comm set.

Goering had long ago dismissed the timid astech as practically useless. But just as he passed her he noticed something intangible. A sense of menace felt rather than observed. He looked at her just as she launched into an acrobatic spinning kick. Schmidt had fast reflexes plus passable melee training and was able to get partially out of the way. Still her kick caught him on his hip sent him staggering back. She landed an open palm into his nose that hurt like hell and made his eyes water then danced back out of the way of his round house punch. Then that was the end of the physical contest. Pulling a large bore needler from under her coat she shot him in the belly. He stared at the messy wound for a moment in shock before sinking to his knees as the pain found its way to his brain receptors.

“Well, I guess there’ll be a minor change of plans,” she mentioned matter-of-factly as she took advantage of his initial shock to slip his pistol from it’s shoulder holster.

Then she left him there to ponder the blood seeping between his fingers as she turned her back on him and started rooting through one of her bags.

“Hurts doesn’t it,” she called over her shoulder. “Being gut shot like that I mean. It can take anywhere from minutes to hours before you finally die.”

She found what she was looking for then turned to face him once again.

“You know, I don’t usually get to enjoy my nasty side like this very often. Being a professional assassin means you don’t really get to savor most of your kills. A bomb here, some poison there - and you read about the results in the evening news feeds. Sometimes you get lucky though and get to watch the life drain from your victim’s eyes. Like today. Now it’s time for you to order your flunky outside to run off and bring the others back so I can kill them too. Don’t worry, it’ll be quick and clean.”

“Checked already,” he ground out painfully. “There’s no explosives in our ‘Mechs.”

“My but what a non-trusting and unimaginative mind you have herr Hauptman. No bombs. Try nerve gas in the air system and a remote control. Maybe I’ll even let you push the button.”

“I won’t make the call,” he spat.

“Like I would trust you to do it,” she scoffed. Then she held the small box up to her lips and spoke into it. Goering heard his own voice coming out of the speaker. “Testing, testing, one…two…three. All good MechWarriors must come running to me.”

She smiled sweetly. “You do know the only kind of good MechWarrior right?”

The Hauptman clawed his combat knife free with a blood stained hand. “I won’t let you gas them,” he ground through clenched teeth.

While the sight of the brave commander brandishing a knife from his knees to defend his men was somewhat heroic, it was also hopelessly pathetic. Hillary couldn’t help but throw back her head and laugh.

“And you’re going to do what? Come over here and stab me in the foot? You can’t even stand much less gurk…. “

Her last word had been cut off by the scraping metal of a release spring and the meaty thunk of a knife blade jamming into human flesh. Hillary’s hands clutched at her front where they found the tine end of a knife blade protruding from just above her rib cage at the base of her throat.

“But…but…” she gurgled as she fell to her knees as well. In her dimming sight she could see the mercenary still pointing the hilt of his knife at her. She realized that the damn thing had been one of those spring loaded “leaper” models. They could be dangerous to carry around if the safety release failed. Safety releases proved to be her final thought as she drifted off into oblivion and whatever hell might be waiting for her.

Goering drug himself the rest of the way to the radio and called Willie in the waiting Raven.

“Leopard One, this is Striker one. Make contact with the rest of the company and return here at top speed. Everyone stays with their ‘Mechs except for Troll One who will report to me in the control room. Now move it warrior.”

The Hauptman next tried to raise the DropShip Captain but the frequency was dead. There was no one else to call. The Blitzkrieg Company had been left for dead. Planning on selling their lives dearly, Goering started the long painful crawl towards the emergency medical kit that lay next to Hillary’s piled gear. He didn’t spare her prone form a second glance.

First Leutnant Manfred Vonbruen arrived a while later and was horrified when he found his CO laying at the end of a trail of blood. When the XO approached closer Schmidt looked up at him with alert eyes however.

“Report,” rasped Schmidt.

“Leopard Two spotted sensor traces behind us along the coast. Somebody is closing in on us. The rest of the unit is surrounding the pump station at the moment. What happened to you Sir? And her?”

“Damn astech was an assassin. Triad I’m betting. One of Ong’s people. Was supposed to make sure we never reported back again. There’s no ride out of here Manfred. I’ve done what I can with my wound and drugged myself up to deal with the pain, but I’m already a dead man. It’s just a matter of how long I have left. It’s the end of the line for the Company. We’ve been tossed away like useless junk.”

“We are not junk Sir,” flared Vonbuen. “This is one of the finest units I’ve ever served with.”

Goering smiled. “Faithful Manfred. This is how I see our situation. We can run. But there’s no where to go and they’ll find us eventually. We can fight. And probably lose. Or we can wait and surrender. Me, I’m going to see if I can’t bag me a Warder Major. I’ve got nothing left to lose. But if they brought superior numbers I can’t justify wasting your lives.”

“If you fight, I fight. I’m sure the men will all feel that way too.”

“Half maybe,” grinned the Hauptman. He had no illusions about the loyalty of his troops. A deep cough racked his body. “Very well, let us face our fate like the Landsknechte of old. Shoulder to shoulder against our enemies. Help me up so I can go mount my ‘Mech.”

Lawman acknowledged the report from the VTOLs and called the war party to a stop while he connected to Captain Woods in Bifrost. Woods had heard the same report. The company of raider BattleMechs was standing in a line formation roughly facing the Warder’s approach vector. As far as the helicopters could tell, the enemy was simply waiting. Occasional movement told the VTOL crews that there were indeed pilots in the machines. The two ranking Warder officers came to a quick consensus. They would keep their force grouped in one body and go see what the raiders intended to do.

“Listen up Warders,” commed Lawman to the ground forces. “We’ll form in three Mech groups with the Lady Killers on the south, the Steel Posse the north, and Kissa and I in the middle. Ranger, you’ll lead the Posse. We’ll put a tank group between the mech lances but back a few hundred meters like we discussed. Mosquito Lance, swing out to the north and hold out there. The Hawks will sit on the back door to give them something to think about. Assuming that they just wait for us, we’ll stop out of range to see if they feel like talking. If fired on, all units are cleared to engage but stay with your leaders.”

“Understood Sir,” responded Katana as she moved down several hundred meters with Cowgirl and Storm in tow.

“We’ll lock down the topside, Lawman,” cracked Ranger as he led Sirocco and Racker in the opposite direction.

“I’ve got your six Lawman,” came from Kissa.

Lieutenant Runeburg considered the deployment from his tank and decided to mix his lances. During the pre-attack exercises he had been starting to think that having each of the heavier lances composed of the same vehicle wasn’t such a hot idea. The Condors were better close in fighters than the Manticores. They could better cover each other when mixed by pairs in each lance. On the other hand the Condors were much faster if it became a running engagement. Well, for right now he’d pair one of each together. Long term disposition could be worried about later.

After issuing orders to Avenger and his own lance he dialed up the Mosquitos. “Hey Moss-One, this is LK-One. You’re the fastest boats out here. If anything unusual happens you’ll need to act quick and slow them down for us.”

“Roger LK-One, we’ll keep our eyes peeled,” replied Jeff from his Lightning - the Brainiac. The light hovertanks roared off over the frozen tundra leaving a wake of frozen particles drifting behind.

Hauptman Schmidt watched his sensor display as the blips and their code designations lined up and closed on his unit. Battle would follow soon now. The enemy would take up a position far enough outside long range that his units would have to move forward, indicating their intent to attack. Well, he hadn’t really expected a mistake as basic as forming up too close from the Warders. The first volley would heavily favor the Warders. Several of the Blitzkrieg ‘Mechs failed to mount long range weaponry. But there was no helping that now and no terrain to use for cover. It was time for the final act to play out he told himself. He switched on a frequency known to be used by the Warders and transmitted in the open.

“At long last, the illustrious Major Linna I presume. I am Hauptmann Schmidt of the Blitzkrieg Company.”

There was a pause then a voice came back into his cabin. “This is Captain Woods of the Suomi Warders. If you surrender now you will be treated fairly and delivered to the proper authorities.”

“Where is your Major?” demanded Schmidt. “Protocol demands that the force commanders negotiate directly.”

There was another pause. Then it was Captain Woods again. “You broke protocol when you used your attack to provide a diversion for the kidnapping attempt. Major Linna says to convey that he is feeling a bit peeved with you at the moment and would prefer that I conclude this surrender. He might be tempted to misinterpret something and pass the order to fire.”

“I see,” sighed Goering as he paused to consider. It seemed that the Chairman was up to his usual routine of plans within plans. There must have been an unsuccessful attempt to grab the Linna girl. The cloistered and family oriented Sampsans were probably out for blood now. Actually it was rather surprising that they hadn’t just attacked his ‘Mechs on sight.

Or maybe not that surprising. They probably wanted to know who had hired the Blitzkrieg. None of the others knew their true employer save himself, but the Warders couldn’t know that. “I assume you are offering the standard mercenary conditions including return of our equipment after suitable payment?”

The scorn in the Captain’s voice came through loud and clear even over the small speakers of the Hauptman’s helmet.

“Hardly Hauptman. Your unit has gone pirate and will be treated as such. Your equipment will be confiscated and held pending trials. If any of you have not been engaged in pirate activities - or connected to the kidnapping - then they will be allowed to go free after making reparations for destroying Warder property. You’re scum that preys on the helpless, Hauptmann. The only promise we make is that you will be treated humanely until handed over to the proper government authorities. I’m sure that after Sampsa, the Hamano planetary government will want to have a few words with you as well. This is your only warning Hauptman. Stand down or be destroyed.”

Goering switched to their secure inter-unit channel. “There you have it men. They don’t plan to treat us as fellow mercenaries. They label us pirates and won’t let up until you’re swinging at the end of a rope. Anyone that wants to let that happen without getting in a few shots is free to fall back.”

For a few moments the Blitzkrieg pilots shuffled about abuzz in side conversations between friends and lance-mates. Several wanted to know what the kidnapping bit was about but all knew that technically they were guilty of piracy on several worlds. Justice held little promise for them. One by one they called in to say they were with the Hauptman.

“Then prepare to attack,” smiled Goering through his pain. He had accepted that this was his end. That it would be a glorious end against superior odds pleased him. “Those with the reach fire at whomever takes your fancy when we first cross into long range. Then when I give the word concentrate all fire on the Camelot and anything near it. We’ll destroy their leader and smash through their lines, then go commandeer one of their DropShips.”

As the affirmation clicks came back Schmidt was already checking the power levels on his lasers. It was an impossible plan of course. There would be further defenses at the ships and the VTOLs would hound them all the way there. The only true goal was to take Major Linna with him so Goering could complete his final mission. The DropShip part was just false bravado to prop up the shaky resolve of some of his warriors. No one from his company was leaving this field of butchery unless it was in a plastic bag or prisoner cuffs. The Hauptman knew which way he would be leaving.

“Fight well Men. Charge.” It wasn’t a very dramatic statement, but it produced the desired result. The raider ‘Mechs turned to face the Warder units and worked up to a run.

At the end of the raider battle line MechWarrior Mitchell was on a private line with his buddy Gunther. “Hey Gunther, forget all that ‘kill the Major’ crap. Make sure you shoot for the spacer kid that joined them after we lost on Hamano.”

“Vhat for?” groused the other. He had more important things on his mind at the moment. “He is one of the least threats, nien?”

“I’m betting he’s the only one that can actually ID us. As long as no one rats out, the law will be long on talk but short on evidence. I’m a survivor Gunther. You be one too.”

Gunther didn’t respond but as he watched the range indicator winding down he was considering the Corporal’s words very closely. Gary Mitchell was indeed a survivor. He may have a good point. Gunther shifted his aim from the low slung Bushwacker onto the over-bulky Vulcan that was reportedly piloted by their ex-ally Jason. Gunther’s Centurion’s Artemis IV system achieved a guide lock for his missile system just as the big autocannon arm came up.

At almost the same time the two commanders gave the order to fire. It was is if the ancient Norse Gods had risen to do battle with their arch enemies the Giants as the frozen plain came alive with the sound of thunder and the clash of lightning. Reticules wavered on solid, lock signals wailed, threat buzzers sounded, and the longest ranged weapons lashed out.

From the viewport of his 40 ton modified Vulcan Jason nervously kept his main targeting reticule trained on the enemy Wolftrap. He knew that the four raiders on their side of the line outranged his large laser, but took some comfort from the knowledge that his two lance-mates had equal or better range with the enemy ‘Mechs. While all BattleMechs carried basic electronic counter measure systems, his Vulcan had been fitted with an advanced suite of electronics which he flipped on to counter the Artemis IV fire control systems his ECM had picked up. His grip on the control sticks grew tighter as his threat detection system reported two sets of tone for two separate targeting radars. Surely they knew he was the smallest threat. Why where they targeting him?

Lawman had noticed the same thing from the C3 connection he shared with the younger pilot. “Racker, break towards me.”

“Roger,” Jason managed to bark out as he left off tracking the incoming Wolftrap and pushed hard on the steering pedal while applying throttle with his left hand. He was trying to remember everything Lawman had taught him about being a harder target as he shutter stepped and made sudden changes to his speed. Just in front of him the ground erupted in dirt and ice as incoming fire crashed into the turf. Then he felt the rattle through his seat as several small hits washed across his machine and chipped away at his armor. A cluster round hit he figured but two small clouds of missiles where foremost in his attention. They didn’t look like they were tracking directly at him but he didn’t risk stopping to find out. Some hit behind him and the rest flew by high, then another targeting radar locked on him making the threat tone pulse more insistently. Jason reversed direction just before the third ‘Mech fired on him. Between the range and the enemy’s running charge their targeting was poor and more cluster ammo sailed by followed by a salvo of missiles. Jason let his breathe out slowly as his mind registered all the near misses. That was at extreme range. What if they continued to target him when they where closer?

Frank Parks had decided that he’d take his chances with the enemy’s fire and pulled up to a full stop to steady his aim. He saw the Wolftrap fire on Jason as Frank’s reticule turned gold to indicate that all of his selected weapons had tracked to the same focal point. The Wolftrap was just stepping into that point as Ranger squeezed the main trigger. The emerald shaft of an ER large laser and the crimson darts of the Clan pulse laser flashed out as the five tube LRM mounted on his shoulder spat out it’s salvo. He hadn’t been aiming particularly low, but both laser weapons cut into the left leg, stripping away the armor and burning away numerous myomer bundles beneath. Ranger smiled to himself as he held the pulse laser on target for the short duration of it’s capacitor charge then was treated to watching several of his missiles explode high on it’s chest. The few missiles where a mere bee sting, more insult than injury- but Ranger was in the mood to add insult to injury. If he knew what frequency he could talk to them on he’d probably be adding verbal insults as well.

Which was probably why Lawman and the Captain had kept the specific contact channel to themselves when they bounced the chat with the enemy commander to everyone on the Warder’s open comm.

From his formidable looking Grand Dragon Sirocco had tracked one of the Centurions and let lose with his extended range laser and both his long range missile packs. He frowned slightly to himself as only one flight of missiles scored a solid hit. The electric blue flash of a PPC bolt lashed out from the enemy Lancelot and struck Ranger’s Bushwacker next to Basem but the Sirocco didn’t see any evidence of serious damage to his lance-mate’s ‘Mech. It did seem odd to Sirocco that so many of the enemy had fired on Racker. But there wasn’t much he could do about it at the moment except murmur a quick prayer for the youngster.

On the opposite side of the Warder battle line Cowgirl whooped with excitement into the shared comm line of her lance as her fire ripped heavily into the Clint that had narrowly missed her with it’s PPC. The ECM gear of a Raven near her target was interfering with her Atremis system but a neutral observer wouldn’t have noticed as a good portion of her 20 LRMs slammed into the Clint. Just before they hit she’d placed a very solid hit of cluster ammunition from her class 10 LB-X autocannon on it as well. It was bounced around but it’s pilot kept it upright and running. Cowgirl could not see any evidence of a critical hit to any of it’s systems but to her eye she thought it might be favoring one leg just a bit. She’d try to work on that side some more and maybe take it out of the fight early.

Katana had called for her lance to concentrate fire on the Clint as it was the only one capable of returning firing at the current range. She managed to put a few long range missiles into it, but failed to add much more damage to what Keena had done. Storm was just out of range for her weapons and would have to wait a bit longer before she could bring her three standard large lasers to target.

In the center of the line only the Blitzkrieg Exterminator piloted by the Hauptman had the range to engage the Warders. He put the ability to good use however and peppered a number of long range missiles across Lawman’s Camelot. Kissa, standing behind and to the side of Lawman, decided to try for one of the Ravens and landed a burst on the center torso. Kissa had elected to hold off the double-fire mode of his Ultra Class 5 autocannon until the range tightened up to conserve ammo. With the way the enemy was running right at them that range should be tightening up within the next twenty or thirty seconds.

Inside the Camelot Sven was finding a new respect for Major’s Linna’s MechWarrior skills. There was an almost overwhelming amount of information swirling about him on the various displays and ringing out from the speakers. The other three ‘Mechs of his usual lance showed a huge range of information about each as they where all directly tied to his C3 master computer. Icons with lesser but still substantial data for the rest of the Warder BattleMechs was being fed to him by Bifrost. If Gracie’s Awesome with it’s master C3 would have been present he’d be getting full data from the Lady Killers as well.

His comm system could broadcast on up to four channels at once and monitored on up to six frequencies at the same time. Voice recognition software transcribed anything said on those channels to yet more panels to one side, the scrolling text color coded to indicate which channel and marked with a sender ID if such was encoded with the transmission. In addition, some or all of the incoming chatter could be played on audio at the same time. Priority filters could drop the lesser desired ones to the background but Lawman found himself really only able to listen to one at a time: whichever had priority. He knew from training sessions spent in the back seat that while John piloted the Major habitually listened to all of them somehow. After noticing that Racker seemed to be a major target for some reason and ordering evasive maneuvers, Sven had found himself too busy moving and aiming to assign targets like the Major usually did. Lawman had practiced long and hard learning to effectively direct a lance. But he was finding the control of an entire company more challenging than he’d expected. Especially while directly participating. Not only did he have the friendly ‘Mech information, the master plot also showed the tanks and their maximum effective weapon ranges plus the VTOLs that were moving in behind the enemy.

Sven was relieved that those other two groups had their own officers in charge and that Captain Woods was keeping an eye on the overall situation from Bifrost. Still, with all the distractions he managed to be a hair late when his targeting box swept across the charging enemy ‘Mech and sent his ER PPC bolt burning away harmlessly across the horizon.

“Time to fall back,” came Wood’s calm voice over the comm that only Sven and the Captain shared.

Sven hadn’t forgotten and was about to give the order anyway. It had been courteous of the Captain to contact Sven privately rather than just give the order himself. Having calculated that they had better long range hitting power than the raiders, the Warders had planned to get off as many long range shots as they could. From this initial exchange the plan looked good. The Warders had inflicted more punishment on the raiders than they had taken in return. Now they would back up towards the tank line where the tanks would add their firepower. The charging enemy ‘Mechs would close some of the distance but the next exchange should occur outside medium laser range. After that if they continued to charge the raiders would be in among the Warders for a brutal up-close exchange. The VTOLs and light hover tanks would lend slashing attacks soon to distract the enemy and divide their fire or perhaps even finish off a ‘Mech that might get heavily wounded in the next exchange. Still, if six or seven raiders got in close and all fired on the same target the Warders would definitely lose a ‘Mech or two.

The challenge was keeping the enemy’s attention split up. A higher volume of fire should help. “This is Lawman. All units fall back to the next fire point,” he called into the channel set to transmit only to the other BattleMechs. “Time to let the armor join the party.”

Hauptman Schmidt watched as the Warder ‘Mechs scrambled back towards their tank line. He recognized what they were doing but he had no intention of breaking off. “Everyone hold ranks, don’t make yourself an obvious target by running off alone,” he ordered. A few of the smaller ‘Mechs in his unit could outrun the rest but he held everyone to his Exterminator’s respectable top speed of around 97 KPH. Anyone that ran ahead would likely draw extra attention and get singled out for a volley attack. Schmidt hoped that by keeping the line abreast formation the Warders would spread their fire trying for a few lucky critical hits that could string out the attack wave.

Lieutenant Laidie lowered the nose of the combat ‘copter to gain speed as she lead her unit on it’s attack run. Ahead and below her the frozen expanse looked like something from a docu-drama about an Age of Rifles battle. The raiders had charged forward keeping an almost perfect line formation while the Warder ‘Mechs had waddled backwards and would be forming a deeper and rougher looking line with their eight heavier tanks. It was a throwback to the ancient days when armies lined up and shot at each other. Although the four fast striking Lightning hovertanks where now zooming in from an angle on the south most raider. She saw it’s torso swing over to align on the Lightnings.

“Listen up Hawks,” she said into her mic, “Bifrost says to try to take down one of the Ravens. I’ve picked the one on the right. We’ll fire just after making maximum range then carry forward for another volley before breaking off left. Let’s do it.”

She sounded far more confident than she felt. In truth, she’d only piloted a VTOL on real attack runs five times before. That included shooting up the car on the road earlier today. Technically all she really had to do was watch her instruments and stay in her flight lane so she didn’t obstruct those following her. Her nose gunner would be the one firing the LRMs. Laidie was tempted to comm the gunner just to comment something like ‘make them count’ but resisted the temptation. He didn’t need any extra distractions like the Skipper breathing down his neck.

Down in the forward gunner’s bubble of the Lady Hawk, Airman ‘Zeke’ Danet was indeed planning on making the attack run count. There was a touch of fear in any real firing run, but in truth it was exhilarating at the same time. It was strange mix he had only tasted a few times before, but privately he had to admit to himself that combat had a certain intoxication to it. As Zeke kept touching the joystick to track for the missile lock he couldn’t help but think that the panorama below looked an awful lot like some of the cheesy Tri-D scenes they had once been a part of creating. Except the real explosions weren’t as big and fiery as the fake one’s of the Tri-D. The flights of missiles looked more convincing in real life though.

Within the Bushwacker’s cockpit Ranger watched the exchange grow fiercer as the range closed within large laser reach and the tanks now to his left joined the fray. The weapon fire wasn’t in definable waves now, it was a constant stream down the line as pilots and crews lined up a good shot and took it at whatever pace they could muster. He saw Racker put a solid hit to the Wolftrap’s center torso despite the hail of fire that had landed around Jason’s Vulcan earlier and that was starting to home in on him once again. Parks himself was still tracking the same target and opened up with several of his weapons as the enemy machine came closer. His missiles failed to hold lock and flew off high but his trusty Clan pulse laser sprayed about the Wolftrap leaving huge gaps in the ‘Mech’s left torso. Ranger then pumped in the searing lance of his extended range large laser. He’d wanted the same area, but the moving target took the second hit mid chest instead. Ranger knew there couldn’t be much more than tissue paper left across the front of the Wolftrap but it came on undeterred as it trailed streamers of vaporized armor in the cold air.

Frank watched Sirocco put three more hits on one of the Centurions, but then it got within better missile range and opened up once again on Racker’s Vulcan. Then his Bushwhacker rattled with multiple hits from the wounded Wolftrap’s cluster-fire but a quick glance at his armor levels showed Frank that he was still in good shape. Then he swore anyway as two strings of missiles slammed into Jason’s machine. Some definitely hit it in the rounded head. As the Vulcan staggered sideways it was hit with more LB-10X fire.

“Racker!” Parks urgently called as the young MechWarrior’s Vulcan listed hard to the right then fell over and crashed to the ground. The C3 feed from the downed ‘Mech showed a green bar for the other’s health status but Racker failed to answer Park’s calls. Ranger waited impatiently for his weapons to recycle so he could shoot again.

“Lawman, see if you can put some fire on the Wolftrap from the tanks,” Frank requested as he switched his targeting lock to the wounded Centurion that seemed intent on destroying Jason. He’d make them sorry they went after Racker. Really sorry.

Sven had just smashed an ER PPC bolt dead center into the unknown ‘Mech of the enemy commander when he caught something over one of the channels from Ranger. But he was busy dodging from an LRM volley and missed what was said exactly. Something about the tanks on that side. A reflexive glance at his unit’s icons showed Racker’s Vulcan with a yellow head outline. Reversing his studder steps to bring his enemy back under the reticule Lawman took the time to read the transcripts that scrolled across the side display and found Ranger’s message. That group of armor had been concentrating on taking out one of the Ravens. They’d hit it hard, staggering it while shredding away almost all of the torso and cockpit armor. Lawman couldn’t tell but he didn’t think they’d inflicted much internal damage yet. Sven switched to the tanker’s channel.

“Long Knife One, this is Lawman. Racker’s down in front of you. Ranger’s requesting direct fire on the Wolftrap.”

“Understood Lawman,” came the deep and steady voice of Lieutenant Runeburg. “We’ll cover him.”

“Thanks LK, Lawman out.”

At the other end of the Warder line in the Star League era Flashman Misty finally found an enemy within range. It wasn’t the Clint that her Lance Leader had ordered directed fire against but it was something to shoot at. Besides, the enemy Vulcan had just twisted to orient it’s weapons on the Lightnings that were charging in on their attack run. The raider fired off a large pulse laser at the light hovertanks before she fired herself. Two of her three emerald shafts caught it across the right torso leaving deep burn marks while the third just missed to side. Structural supports were laid bare as armor vaporized from directly under the lasers and ran away in rivulets from the edges of the beams.

“Nice shooting Storm,” same Katana’s voice in response to the double hit. “Keep an eye on him but start shifting towards us.”

“Wilco Katana,” Storm replied to Naoko. She could see the VTOLs swooping down from behind the raiders and the hovertanks coming on from an angle. That Vulcan might not be much of a worry in the next five or ten seconds anyway.

In the Blitzkrieg Clint private Gonzalez was running and shooting for all he was worth. That nasty butt Warder Orion had put the serious pucker factor into his rear end when it started blasting chunks off his armor. If he wasn’t convinced these Warders would just hang him as soon as they got their hands on him he would have been running in the other direction long ago. With sweaty hands he squeezed off his PPC and scored a direct hit on the 75 ton monster that was trying to kill him. But it seemed to shrug off the man-made lightning ball like it was a mosquito bite and flared brightly as autocannon rounds and missiles leapt from it. With his detection system screeching multiple radar locks at him he felt a heavy thud as his chest took a bad hit. Panic jabbed into his heart as he realized that the Kintaro and some tanks were all firing on him. He raised his hands up to ward his head involuntarily as his Clint ran into the wall of fire. Spinning wildly as it suffered hit after hit, Gonzalez never even had a prayer of keeping it under control as it crashed to the ground. Shocked to still be alive and have power, he turned his head sideways to read the damage indicators.

It was grim news. All chest compartments breached. Right arm gone. Right leg gone. Left leg damaged and showing actuator failure. Left arm damaged heavily. Hell, the only un-breached section of his machine was the cockpit area within the head. So now what he asked himself as the acrid scent of burnt electronics wafted through his cockpit. Get out and shoot at them with his pistol ? Gonzalez was struggling out of his harness when his Clint was rocked by the explosions of missiles that had missed their primary target only to crash into the ground around his disabled ‘Mech. Then it was suddenly eerily quiet in his cockpit as different targets came under fire and the shut down routine of his now dead Clint began to take effect. Killing the warning beepers was a welcome part of the shut down.

A few more errant missiles landed near his prone machine, jarring him within the cockpit. With a curious look on his face the private looked up towards the main air feed grill for the cockpit. Something had been knocked lose and clanged around up there. He hadn’t thought that anything was mounted behind the vent screen. In the brief silence that followed the near miss explosions he wondered what that hissing sound was he could faintly hear.

The Raven that had been running alongside the Clint faired no better. It had already taken one torso hit from a Warder ‘Mech and now two tanks blasted it with class 5 AC fire, missiles, and a PPC hit. Just as it was reeling under that damage the LRM 5 flights of the VTOLs started to rain down around it from behind. Only three of the ten salvos actually hit it, but with the other damage it was enough. Suffering internal damage and a lost leg, the critical damage afflicted on the gyros from a back hit ensured that the machine had finished it’s ill fated charge. Corporal Bob Nancy yelped in pain as his back was jarred in the violent crash. His anger at being downed before he had even fired a shot was quickly replaced by growing panic as he realized that he couldn’t make his right arm move.

For a brief moment Bob did nothing but pull at his now useless right arm with his left. Then the Hauptman’s stern voice cut into his panic over the comms.

“All units, converge on the Camelot. It’s payback time.”

As his Raven lay on it’s back with the clear blue sky of Sampsa filling his canopy Corporal Nancy flirted with hysteria. The part of him that wanted to break down and sob demanded ‘payback for what ?’ He and this stupid semi-legal Blitzkrieg command had come here to surprise attack a base. Hardly something the Blitzkrieg was owed any payback for. But the part that wanted to rage against the loss of his arm; the part that wanted to somehow will his mortally wounded BattleMech back onto it’s feet to follow the Hauptamn knew the answer. It was payback for everything. For a universe that had slighted great men like the Hauptman and himself. One that forced them out of the great house militaries and branded them brigands and pirates for doing the same kind of raiding all the Houses were involved in.

The medium laser of his right arm-mount was still functional and a chime reminded him that enemy units had moved within it’s range and arc. In his current mental state Nancy latched onto the chime and weapon as something to do. The VTOL flight was nosing in towards him, probably trying to decide if he was dead thought Bob. He’d show them who was dead and who wasn’t. High pitched laughter echoed within the cockpit as Bob brought the laser to bare on the lead VTOL.

In Lady Hawk’s pilot seat Lieutenant Ladie had continued leading the run but had waived off a second missile attack on the Raven. The tanks had blasted the living crud out of it and the VTOL’s fire had finished it off. It was down and out of the fight. From her vantage point she could see that a number of the enemy machines seemed to be changing vector to head for the Major’s…Lieutenant Jorgenson’s he reminded herself…Camelot.

“Bifrost this is Hawk One. It looks like they’re going for a group bang on the Camelot. I repeat….”

But she broke off her report when a shaft of green light shot out from the grounded Raven just to their left. Jinking to the right and mindful of the fact the Raven she had thought dead also mounted short range missiles she called ‘fire’ into the air-company channel. In a ragged but growing crescendo flights of five LRMs flashed out from the exposed missile ports of the RedHawks. The more forward VTOLs, including hers at the point position, added the nose mounted medium laser as well.

With his leg gone and most of his chest exposed the Corporal continued to laugh as the swarms of missiles started to drop in on his stationary Raven. His finger kept squeezing the firing stud but the medium laser wasn’t ready yet. A large number of the incoming missiles crashed directly into his engine housing, blasting away the shielding and laying bare the contained reaction that brought power and life to a BattleMech. The released energy burst away, taking the form of energy plasma for the most part. But between the high pressure main heat exchange within the core blowing and the SRM ammo getting detonated the resulting destructive forces literally ripped the light ‘Mech apart and shot pieces of it off in every direction. The one-time Davion Sergeant turned pirate Corporal was erased from existence as hot plasma shot up the core of the machine and raced through the command cabin before blowing out the armored windows.

“Damn,” whispered Zeke to himself from the gunner chair in Lady Hawk’s nose. He’d never seen one of them do that before. But even as the VTOL passed directly above the smoking ruins of the Raven he would be seeing it again less then 300 meters ahead of them.

When the Hauptman had called for the attack run against the Camelot private Reese in one of the Blitzkrieg Vulcans had complied. He had been the second to the outside unit of the light weight Striker Lance and so far hadn’t come under serious fire. He kept his throttle wide open and started a slow turn that lined him up with the center of the Warder formation - but was bringing him across the field of fire of the seven Warder units of that half of the formation. The Private hadn’t realized that he was now the sole target in their zone of responsibility. His wingman, The Vulcan of Striker Two, had ignored the Hauptman’s orders to turn and instead had slowed to engage the four hovertanks screaming towards it while the two warriors that had been to Reese’s left were now flaming wrecks.

Reese’s lack of allied support soon became self evident however. A cluster burst hit and two large laser burns almost threw him to the ground but he managed to regain his balance and move enough to fire successfully at the Camelot that was their object. His large pulse laser burned gouges across his target’s left shoulder. Then he was rocked hard by a PPC hit and several smaller autocannon bursts that blasted away his light armor and dug deep into his endo-steel skeleton. Missiles were starting to savage his ‘Mech as a torrent of pulse laser energy poured from the Orion directly into his left side. Power surges were popping breakers and his damage markets were starting to show red and black across almost the entire machine as he reached for the ejection lever - but missed it on the first attempt.

The combined medium pulse and standard laser fire of the Orion ate through the left torso and touched off much of the machine gun ammunition just as an azure PPC bolt from one of the Manticores flew through the breach of the center torso. The electro-magnetic properties of the PPC bolt crashed the automatic safeguards of the power plany just before the secondary explosions shattering the left torso compartment blasted through the engine shielding. Mere seconds after the it had occurred the first time, a second reactor vented it’s energy in one pulse and blew cart wheeling pieces of BattleMech across the battlefield.

South of both exploding ‘Mechs the Vulcan designated Striker Two fired first his large pulse laser then his medium pulse laser at the leading Lightning. He scored hits on the nose and right flank but the tank continued to bear down on him. The pilot remembered what had happened to a Flashman on Hamano when one of these suicidal Lightnings had rammed it at high speed and had no desire to re-create the incident in the much lighter armored Vulcan. Frantically Vinny started hop steps to one side in an effort to get out of the way. However, none of the four craft attempted to ram him on the run. They did unload two medium pulse lasers each from very close range as they raced by.

Vinny tried to twist around to shield his vulnerable right side but didn’t do it quick enough as multiple streams of angry red energy lashed out at him. Striker Two’s ‘Mech fell to one knee as he struggled to counteract the loss of all his systems on one side as his right torso was riddled through and ‘killed’. Mounting a standard engine rather than the space eating XL model, his Vulcan was still powered up and operating after the pass. But he had lost all of his center armor and much of his left side armor and even suffered some light internal damage in the central body compartment. The right upper half of his machine was totally dead. He called up a side view to his left on the main display and practically slumped in dismay. Everything on his side of the Hauptman had been wiped from the field except him. The fighting looked fierce on the other side where the heavier Blitzkrieg Mechs where. But only one Warder ‘Mech looked to be down. How much was one man worth he wondered to himself as he read over his very discouraging damage indicators. In about ten seconds he could very easily go the way of Striker Four. A lost containment field followed by bright flash and eternal darkness.

Not for him. Vinny Hector was pretty damn certain that he didn’t want this Major Linna guy dead enough to get killed in the attempt. Hector was through. The Hauptmann would have to carry on his mad attack without him.

In the Bifrost CIC trailer Captain Woods was considering the VTOL officer’s observation as he watched the master plot of the engagement. While they didn’t have a satellite overhead for a precise plot, the feed from the Warder machines’ sensor readings was being collected and compiled to show the relative positions and movement of the engaged units. The location of terrain features was based only upon a global positioning fix made before the combat started which had then been mated to a survey map of the area. But as the field of battle was basically a big empty plain with the pipeline running away from the fight there wasn’t any danger of Woods erroneously believing that a hill or tree stand would block line of sight. Although each of the comm specialists was listening to the channels of the different elements, Woods had all of them running at the same time on the main speakers. Like Major Linna, Woods had trained himself to listen to the babble and put together a mental picture of the action. It could get confusing very easily, especially in a quick moving engagement like this. So far brute firepower had been far more important that tactical considerations, and so far Woods had been unable to decipher what the raiders might be trying to accomplish other than commit suicide.

Then it all clicked into place in his head. He had never stopped mulling over the question of why they had bothered to sneak onto Sampsa in the first place. It was a useful but unnecessarily heavy handed diversion for a kidnapping attempt. But the brains behind all of this had operated at more than one level at Hamano. The pirates had been a diversion to draw off the Warders. They had also been expendable and their ‘Mechs rigged for destruction by cockpit explosion. There had been two attempts on the Major’s life on Outreach but no action against any other Warders - many of whom would have been far easier targets. This raid on their home base wasn’t about attacking the Warders per se; it had to be about attacking a specific Warder. John Linna. They probably had an assassination team on the ground that was supposed to act if the BattleMech attack failed. That team was doomed to disappointment as John had left many days ago to look for his sister. The kidnapping attempt might have been a back-up plan. But why try to kidnap the daughter of someone that you’re planning on killing?

That question would have to wait. Right now he was acting CO of a unit in a firefight. If the raiders really did come all the way to Sampsa just to kill John then the Camelot would be their target for massed fire at close range. Lt. Ladie had indeed seen what she thought she had seen. The raiders didn’t know that John was gone. They would try to hit the Camelot. He keyed the priority channel to Lawman as the Camelot’s icon started turning yellow and red from the growing firepower being directed at it.

Sven was dancing the 55 ton Camelot back and forth for all he was worth but there was only so much one could do with a BattleMech to avoid enemy fire. A big flat empty plain and his unwillingness to use Kissa for cover had reduced those options even further. Just before it exploded under intense fire a Vulcan had peeled toward him and tagged him with a large pulse laser. Four other Mechs were firing on him while rushing right at him including a Spider that would be toe to toe with him in a matter of seconds. A few of the bigger raiders still seemed intent on destroying Racker for some reason - in fact Jason hadn’t responded to any calls although his life signs were all solid on Sven’s master pilot display. He must have been stunned or knocked totally unconscious by his fall.

“Posse Lance, protect Racker. Kissa, watch yourself. It looks like most of them are headed our way.”

Then Sven paused his attempt to direct his forces to fire off his ER PPC at the enemy commander - and miss. Then he was fighting the controls as the ‘Mech he missed stabbed several medium laser strikes into the Camelot. The Blitzkrieg Lancelot had hung back and was shooting at him too, the spitting and sparking blue bolt of it’s PPC missing to the right but both large lasers played across him, stripping away another ton or so of armor plating.

“Lawman, this is Bifrost One,” came Woods’ voice over their private channel. “The raiders are gunning for you. I’ll direct the others; you just worry about surviving.”

“Roger,” barked Sven. It stung a bit, but the big MechWarrior had to admit to himself that he wasn’t up to directing everyone else while under such intense attack. In fact, that Spider looked like it was planning to ram him. Switching targets Sven fired his three medium lasers, scoring with two of them. He punched deep burns into the enemy ‘Mech but it came on at a speed far higher than Lawman could match.

Two bursts of autocannon fire lanced out from behind and to his left as Kissa switched his ultra model weapon to high speed fire and chewed up the charging Spider. The first burst stripped away at a leg, then riding the recoil up the second burst landed higher and shredded the already damaged left arm that Sven had hit. The Spider pilot stumbled a bit but regained control. It was all the break that the Lawman required however. Lawman surged to one side, taking advantage of the slight drift in the opposite direction the stumble had created and the enemy pounded past in a clean miss. As it tried to slow and stop Kissa pierced it’s back with a medium pulse laser, hurting it but failing to take it down.

With a deep groan followed by a coughing spasm brought about by the smoke that the air system had failed to scrub from his cockpit, Jason opened his eyes and shook his head in an attempt to clear it. That only made his headache worse but it was too late to take it back. Everything returned to him in a rush and he started working at his controls to get on his feet again even as he was looking about to see where everyone was. The ugly form of a Wolftrap was rushing in only 70 meters from him. Autocannon fire was bursting from it’s arm mounted weapon but the shells where headed over him. Presumably the guy was shooting at the far more lively tanks. He saw the tracers of return fire crashing into the enemy ‘Mech that had to be coming from the armor lance. SRMs where just starting to slam into the Wolftrap but Racker’s attention switched targets as he felt his Vulcan rocking heavily under more hits.

One of those Centurions that had it in for him was closing as well. The other seemed to have hung back somewhat. At first Jason wasn’t sure why, but then it sent another swarm of LRMs at him and the answer came to him. While the first had closed inside effective missile range, the other guy didn’t want to do that. The closer Centurion grew closer still and though it swayed heavily under intense fire from Ranger’s Bushwacker it came on and burned heavily into Racker’s shoulder with a laser.

That was when Jason noticed that he could actually see a sliver of daylight through a slim crack in the top of his cockpit. With no other viable option, he covered the rounded head as best he could with one arm just as an LRM batch hit. The strike shook his cockpit violently and slammed the 40 ton Vulcan back to the ground from the almost kneeling position he had coaxed it into. This time Jason retained consciousness but almost wished he hadn’t.

His particular Vulcan had been heavily modified for use on Solaris. While it carried far more armor than a standard model, it also had an enlarged torso section that housed an extra light power plant to free up weight capacity for the armor. The XL plant became a liability today for Racker as the LRM flight tore up the rest of his left side. Leaking coolant and venting plasma from the damaged side the safety protocols took over and shut down the plant. For his own safety and the safety of anyone or anything in the immediate area there wasn’t anyway to over-ride the shutdown. He was powerless. Dead on the ground with 55 tons of flame trailing Centurion baring down on him. Laid out like he was, ejection wasn’t an option. His breath caught in his chest as he realized that trapped in the powerless cockpit of a BattleMech was about to become the way he died.

From the nearby Bushwacker Ranger had unloaded everything but the LRMs at the charging Centurion. He’d hit it with everything too. If the long range missiles would have had time to arm he’d have launched them as well. But although damaged and trailing flames from two electrical fires within it’s limbs the determined Centurion plowed forward on it’s quest to crush Jason’s Vulcan. Ranger was even hosing it down with his heavy machine gun, washing the spray of bullets across the leg area and hoping for a lucky actuator hit. All he seemed to be accomplishing was creating a great deal of sparks.

The damage the Centurion had absorbed was why the giant humanoid war machines were often called the Kings of the Battlefield. Compartmentalized, heavily armored, and with kilometers of the tough bundles of myomer fibers serving not just as muscles but proving additional protection for their internal systems, a larger BattleMech could often absorb huge amounts of enemy fire before going down. Sure, with occasional frequency a lucky gyro hit or telling cockpit shot could bring one down quickly. But so far not that particular Centurion on this day. There was only one sure way to stop it from going over there and stomping the life out of Racker. Frank Parks dismissed his floating targeting reticules and slammed his throttle forward on an intercept course.

Basem had been about to fire on the Centurion that was charging past when a target assignment suddenly popped up via his 3C interface. He was being ordered to engage the Lancelot that had lagged behind the attack surge. It was firing towards the middle of the Warder formation, although Sirocco couldn’t be sure who it’s target was. With a worried glance towards the prone Vulcan of Racker he retargeted as ordered and fired his large laser, followed by the paired five-tube LRM racks. He struck the Lancelot along the right side, blasting and melting armor from the leg and torso, but it was going to take far more damage than that to bring down the 60 ton enemy.

Trailing the farthest behind the attacking Blitzkrieg, Gary Mitchell swore to himself as he gave up trying to call off Gunther. Sometimes the other pilot went into a berserk state where he fixated on a single target and went after it at any cost. This was a particularly bad time to have done that. Sure, Mitchell wanted the Jason kid dead, but he wasn’t willing to run into the teeth of all that firepower just to confirm the kill. Gunther was the closest thing he had to a friend but when all was said and done a guy had to look out for number one. He hadn’t told Gunther to go charging in like that. It appeared that the squat Grand Dragon - which Gary decided must have something wrong with it’s usual LRM 10 as it kept shooting out it’s missile payload in two halves - was busy with the Lancelot so Gary decided it was time to back out of this affair. He had no illusion that he could escape. The helicopters could pace him all day and those Lightning hovertanks where probably faster than anything on the field. Even if he ditched or destroyed any pursuit, he was a long way from civilization and wasn’t exactly carrying a picnic basket full of food with him. Nope, his best chance was surrender at this point and hope that Jason didn’t live to tell any tales. He’d just have to wait until his unit was effectively destroyed so none of them decided to make firing on him their last great act of revenge.

Within Bifrost Woods was frenetically issuing orders and designating targets. He was talking on his headset issuing orders first to Runeburg and his bigger tanks, then the VTOLs, and finally directly to the Mosquito lance as they had a tendency to hair off on their own. Meanwhile he was using a touch sensitive display to redirect the Warder ‘Mechs to fire on specific units.

Sirocco was probably going to wonder what was going on figured Woods as he gave Basem yet another target change. The Captain decided he better give Sirocco a direct call to let him know what the plan was. Storm too for that matter. It was important to protect Lawman but it was also important to make sure they came out of this with some live prisoners.

In the Hermes II Vilho was feeling a but rusty but otherwise fine. The panic attack he had been secretly fearing - despite his positive comments to Lawman - had never materialized. Now that he was engaged he wasn’t even thinking about his fears. He head was fully in the battle. His marksmanship was still sharp but the unfamiliar ‘Mech kept over-reacting to his movement inputs. A purple marker appeared on his HUD display designating the other Spider that was hurtling in towards Lawman as an assigned target. But Kissa hesitated for a moment. If he went after the new target as ordered he’d be leaving the first Spider behind Lawman. Then he swallowed his doubt and prompted himself into action. The only two people that could directly designate a target through the C3 like that were Lawman or Captain Woods from Bifrost. Neither one would do so without having a good tactical reason. Vilho would just have to trust them and leave that first Spider to someone else.

The second Spider seemed just as determined to ram into the Camelot as the first one had. Probably hoped to knock Lawman down so the larger ‘Mech coming straight down the middle would have an easy target. While the Spider was a pretty light ‘Mech at 30 tons, his Hermes II didn’t pack too much firepower. The only way to be sure that Lawman didn’t get knocked over was the knock down that Spider. Wincing in anticipation of how much this was going to hurt, Kissa threw his 40 ton ‘Mech forward towards the enemy machine. “I’ve got bogey six Lawman,” he added into the comm to let Sven know he had the oncoming Spider covered.

In the Camelot Sven also noted the appearance of a purple indicator, his singling out the enemy commander. Lawman knew he had an enemy behind him and one charging on an angle from his right side as well. Then he heard Kissa calling the Spider vectoring in on him. Checking the master plot to his right Lawman could see that Woods was designating targets to the ‘Mechs from Bifost. Presumably the Captain had a plan to take care of the one behind the Camelot, thus leaving the two leaders to clash. That worked for him. Somehow Sven just sensed that the odd looking reflective BattleMech was going to close for physical attacks. He could wait and leap-frog the oncoming MechWarrior but the other guy might have jump jets too. Sven didn’t want to chance the randomness of a mid-air collision. He did want whatever edge he could grab however. It took a precious three more seconds to hunt down the switches, but he found them and shut off his heat sinks.

Although the Spider was on the low end of the weight scale for a BattleMech, it’s 30 tons was churning along at better than 120 KPH as it closed on the Warder lead ‘Mech. The pilot within had been pleasantly surprised when the four tanks he’d crossed in front of had decided to fire on something else. His vision narrowed to only his target ‘Mech - a condition often called ‘tunnel vision’ by combat vets to describe someone that fixates on something and fails to notice anything else. Like the 40 ton Hermes II hurtling forward towards him. The combined collision force of 70 tons of metal at over 180 KPH produced a sickening crashing crunch sound as the two BattleMechs slammed together.

Being better prepared, Kissa received less damage as he was able to drop his shoulder and lower his center of gravity beneath the other’s. The Spider got it’s left arm trapped and smashed against it’s chest then pushed up to strike the lower head area. It half spun as it bounced off Kissa’s Hermes II and crashed to the ground where it suffered further flank damage and bent up a jump jet vent beyond safe use. Although his own armor damage was less extensive, Kissa found himself on the way down too as he too lost control following the violent collision. The fall seemed to rattle his teeth and there was a ringing in his ears but a quick checked showed that his ‘Mech had lost armor but was still fully functional. He knew the Spider likely was as well, thus it would be a race to see who could regain their feet first.

Both Katana and Cowgirl responded to their orders to fire on the unknown ‘Mech rushing Lawman, but both where chagrined when they only managed to connect with a total of two medium lasers between them- one from each. The armor damage was notable but did not slow the Hauptman’s ‘Mech in any way. By the time either got a decent target solution for their LRMs the enemy ‘Mech and the Warder Camelot were engaged in a close up brawl. Both Lady Killer lance pilots started towards the melee, but each was reluctant to fire in fear of accidentally hitting Lawman.

Storm found herself ordered to engage the Vulcan that had just survived the Lightning pass. She’d only fired two of her large lasers earlier to husband her heat levels so she linked all three and was about to pull the trigger when Captain Woods came on the line with a verbal addendum to her targeting orders. Capture the machine if possible. She was wondering exactly how she might accomplish that and fired a medium laser at it to make sure she had the other MechWarrior’s attention as she stomped towards it. Apparently she did as it bent down on one knee and raised both it’s working arms in what could only be a symbol of surrender. This pilot didn’t want to go the way of his lance mates it seemed to Storm. That solved her problem of capturing it - but now what? She doubted she was supposed to climb out and go get the other guy. She’d just have to wait for a clarification of her orders. Part of her was relieved that the battle seemed to be done for her - but she was also annoyed that she had contributed so little and concerned about the enemy still firing at her friends.

The Spider that had gotten behind Lawman started to push itself up only to be hammered by twin AC 5 blasts. The shells blasted away armor and ate at internal structure as a warning to stay down. The four tanks poised to fire on him should have given the pilot pause, but he had accepted death and was determined to help the Hauptman against the Warder Major at any cost. He tried to twist so he could fire at the Camelot from his laying position but the tank crews weren’t handing out any more warning shots. PPC and SRM fire slammed into the prone machine, tearing and ripping at armor, myomer, and endo-steel. One of the PPC bolts happened to clip it in it’s head area. The accelerated particles burned and punched through the relatively thin armor then obliterated the control cabin before private Jett even had the chance to scream his defiance.

On the other side of the Warder battle line ArmorCommander Lt. Runeberg had finished his quick conversation with Bifrost and had his half of the armor force sighting on the Lancelot. “Try to aim a little low,” he advised. “This one will make a great trophy.” Lancelots were somewhat rare and whatever remained of this one after his tank lance shot it up would serve as spare parts for Lieutenant Jorgenson’s normal ride. Runeberg had been a MechWarrior once and as a seasoned campaigner he was always alert for the chance for a little salvage.

The Lancelot pilot had hesitated, waiting for a clean shot against the Warder leader until his own commander had gotten too close to risk firing into the melee. Vonbruen activated his zoom reticule to take a closer look at the nearest tanks. One of them was showing a good amount of armor damage. He decided he’d take it out of it’s misery. Missile lock tone along with the muzzle flash of autocannons and the blue maelstrom of PPC fire told him that the tankers must have been thinking something along the same lines about him. He got off his paired large lasers and was rewarded with the turret being slagged through on one of the lighter Condor tanks. But even as he fired, a Warder PPC bolt was smashing through the final shreds of armor on his damaged right leg while the second crashed low against his right torso. Cannon fire chewed at his left side and arm followed by two waves of LRMs that further picked away at his failing armor. Battered and smashed though it was, the Lancelot staggered but refused to go down under the withering barrage.

Unfortunately for Vonbruen there was yet another Warder group targeting him. About half of the VTOLs had closed in behind him on their arcing turn. They were too close for effective use of their LRMs, but six medium lasers came into play. Green fire reached out and burned away at the ‘Mech, some of it eating through the unprotected myomer and framework of the right leg. The reinforced limb didn’t sheer away, but the 60 ton machine tottered on the infirm leg then finally surrendered to gravity and the pounding it was suffering and went down.

The other four VTOLs dove on the injured Wolftrap and pierced it’s rear armor to leave deep burns within two of it’s torso compartments. Already staggering like a drunken soldier from it’s damaged gyros, the BattleMech floundered even worse as the medium lasers played across it’s back. The thundering fusillade of the four tanks right in front of him screamed by at someone behind him and Steff Riker decided he didn’t want to still be sitting in the injured Wolftrap when that armor lance reloaded and recharged. They might elect to finish him off next. Narrowly missing an accidental collision with a passing helicopter, the ejection pod of the Wolftrap lifted it’s pilot to an uncertain future.

Trapped in his powerless cockpit, Jason gripped tightly at the arm rests of his seat as he watched an enemy Centurion growing larger and larger in the front portal. Because of the way his ‘Mech was laying, the ground looked like it was almost at a right angle and the closing ‘Mech was running on the face of a cliff. Something in the back of his mind kept repeating that he needed to do something, do anything - but he remained frozen in place as his death loomed forward on metal legs. Then they literally became all he could see. The shins of the Centurion. It stopped before him to secure it’s balance before finishing him off. Racker closed his eyes in anticipation wishing he knew some sort of prayer to utter as his last words as shortly thereafter came the ear splitting screech of metal slamming into metal.

But there wasn’t any impact. Jason risked a peek and found a different set of legs outside his cockpit now. These had part of the Suomi Lyon insignia visible on them. Realizing that he had been holding his breath for an unknown amount of time Jason gulped in air in a great sigh of relief. He might just survive his third BattleMech combat after all.

Just outside Racker’s cockpit Frank Parks battled with his controls to keep from letting his forward momentum trip him over the prone Vulcan. He’d managed to shove the Centurion away before it could further damage the downed Warder BattleMech but from the quick glance Parks had taken it looked like Jason’s machine was pretty thoroughly trashed. One side was totally caved in and there was definitely armor damage on the Vulcan’s ball shaped head. A snarl of anger escaped Ranger’s throat as he fought to bring his targeting reticule over the enemy ‘Mech. Although the modified Bushwacker had about as many heat sinks as possible stuffed into it, the Warder ‘Mech was running hot. Already the controls felt a little mushy and non-responsive to Parks. The targeting bracket’s crawl across the HUD seemed agonizingly slow. Slow enough that the Centurion regained it’s composure and turned to bring it’s own weapons to bare on the Bushwacker. As the two MechWarriors faced off neither gave a thought to the finer points of heat management, weapon ranges, or evasive action as both centered their aim from less than 30 meters apart and fired everything they had in one large blast with a single shared thought. Blowing the other guy to scrap.

Autocannon submunitions exploded all across the Bushwhacker, chipping at armor but failing to find an opening to sneak through the heavy outer shell of armor to score a hit on a critical system. LRMs bounced into the chest, doing minor damage due to kinetic impact but falling to the ground or screaming off in random directions as the solid fuel motors continued to burn. They had failed to arm in during the short flight time. A medium laser stabbed at the Bushwacker’s left arm, leaving an angry red scar but failing to punch through.

Even as it was taking damage, the Warder ‘Mech was responding in kind. It’s machine gun hammered away as crimson death from the large pulse laser chewed off the Centurion’s center armor in clouds of vaporized armor. A heavy green beam laid into the left leg, stripping away fibrous muscle and laying bare the frame beneath and exploding the upper leg actuator in the process. Medium pulse lasers ripped away at the center and left torso while a standard medium laser severed the final muscle work of the cannon bearing arm causing it to fall limp. Ranger had fired his LRMs as well, although instead of hitting before arming his arced over the other’s shoulder in a clean miss and headed off across the horizon. With a sharp electrical arc the medium laser housed in the Centurion’s chest exploded as the continuing machine gun fire found the now unprotected weapon.

Within the battered Centurion Gunther slipped back towards a more stable frame of mind as he took stock of his situation. That Bushwhacker packed serious firepower. Obviously far more serious than his. In fact, at this point he really didn’t pack much firepower at all. His autocannon was dangling uselessly from a shattered arm and the medium laser was off line from internal damage. His other medium laser was pointed backwards where- despite what some designer had believed- it would never do any good. That left his LRM 10 launcher. Not the most effective weapon choice when taking a pounding from practically point blank range he mused. He could see the humor and irony in his life now that he knew his life had come to it’s end. Somehow he’d always fooled himself into believing that he would someday redeem himself for his cowardliness when the Free Rasalhague Republic was falling to the Clans. He’d never even told Gary his true name so that his family honor wouldn’t be tainted by the deeds he had performed waiting for his “glorious return” to FRR space. Capture now would bring a final failure worse than death. His family would learn that the warrior they believed lost bravely defending their homeland had actually fled only to become a brigand that preyed upon the weak.

No, he promised himself. He would not further wound his parents’ hearts.

While ‘Gunther’ was playing out his final act, Hauptman Schmidt was attempting to complete his final mission as well. He was well aware that most of his company had fallen around him. But it didn’t matter any more. All that mattered was not ending his career and his life with a failed objective. Surely, fickle as she had proven to be on this mission, fate wouldn’t rob him of one tiny victory. He’d been largely shielded from the withering flanking fire of the other Warder ‘Mechs. Destiny had called for his death but had also delivered his objective into his hand. The Major’s Camelot fired a pair of medium lasers then fell silent as it waited for him.

Sven sweated as he watched the heat gauge rise higher. With the cooling system shut down the lasers had significantly raised the core temperature of his ‘Mech as the energy required to feed them pulsed up conduits from the power plant and the discharging capacitors grew hot. Yet the yellow warning bar on the heat scale had also activated a green light on one of the Camelot’s subsystems. Lawman had activated the drive circuitry for the triple-strength myomer that laced throughout the BattleMech’s body. The special myomer fibers granted extra strength and speed, but required a much higher operating temperature than most of a ‘Mech’s components were designed for.

The Exterminator came in swinging hard with a right fist, smashing numerous armor plates from the Camelot’s right shoulder as Sven avoided the head shot by slipping left. Goering was surprised by the force of the counter blow landed on him by the Warder ‘Mech as his left torso armor almost buckled under the driving green and white fist. Both ‘Mechs raised arms to strike again, but the blows collided and smashed armor from each limb while failing to cause any internal damage to either arm.

They exchanged another set of titanic strikes, smashing armor from arms and chests. The Hauptman was trying for a head shot that might end the contest while Lawman tried to guard against such a strike while working on the battered left side on the enemy ‘Mech. Again fists crashed like thunderclaps, this time causing structural damage to each battling machine’s left sides.

As the pummeling between the lead BattleMechs started a very surprised Raven pilot coasted to a stop as BattleMechs thundered and died all around him. After being knocked about by several hits, he had suddenly found himself ignored. Only two units from his outfit continued to struggle. The rest had either given up or been destroyed. Willie Boers decided he’d try his luck with the survivors and powered down the light ‘Mech. Resistance at this point was futile.

Although he was under fire at the moment from the Grand Dragon, Gary Mitchell decided it was time to surrender as well when the saw the XO go down in the Lancelot. Those damn VTOLs were circling his way while the high speed hovertanks were in the process of turning around behind him. With a little luck the spacer kid was dead in his Vulcan. Gunther and the Hauptman were still fighting- but that was their choice and their problem.

Ranger could hear his fellow Warders calling in enemy surrenders over the comms and was expecting the Centurion he had just trashed to do the same. It had staggered under his barrage and trailed smoke from internal fires from several armor breaches. It’s main weapon was hanging limply. It had to be out of fight.Instead he was surprised when it regained it’s balance then leaned forward and started towards him. With Jason’s disabled BattleMech laying on the ground beside, Ranger felt like that he dared not let the Centurion near. His own Bushwhacker wasn’t a very good brawler with it’s grabbing pincher for one hand and a pulse laser ending the other arm. He pulled the joystick back and tracked his reticule up until it was over the bouncing head of the enemy ‘Mech and opened fire. “Come on” he urged his machine impatiently as the enemy unit loomed near. Then it was right before him.

Only his medium class lasers had recycled. One pulser connected with the Centurion’s face, biting deeply into it while the other chewed at the right should and the standard laser just missed high. With the Centurion just three steps away from Ranger’s ‘Mech and his Bushwacker’s heat warning klaxon ringing in his ears the Clan pulse laser finished charging up and automatically responded to the trigger that Frank already held squeezed tight. The ruby laser pulses caught the Centurion just under the chin and tracked upwards, throwing off vaporized armor in a great cloud that hid the terrible damage wrecked upon the cockpit within. The Centurion thudded into the braced Bushwhacker, but it was literally dead weight. The engine that gave it power was still active, but the pilot that gave it life had been obliterated. Ranger punching in over-ride codes to keep his reactor operating and crossed his fingers as the danger icon flashed red for the heat level in his missile ammo bin. But it seemed that having his ammo explode was not to be his fate today as the icon turned a solid yellow. Carefully Ranger shuffled around to force the enemy machine off his ‘Mech so that it fell away from the Vulcan Jason was trapped in.

Frank noticed that the ER Large Laser had just charged and put itself on the firing que. Better late than never he snorted to himself.

“Hey Racker, you O.K. in there?”

Jason let out his breath as a shutter ran through him. That had been way too close. “Uh, yeah. I bit the inside of my mouth real bad though.” Even as it blurted out of him Jason grimaced. That had to have sounded really, really stupid. Ranger’s laughter on the comm line proved it.

“Well I think that’s the least of your problems,” laughed Lieutenant Parks. “We only let you wreck a BattleMech once for free. The second time we bill you.”

As Gunther was being erased from the universe, the Hauptman was forced backwards by a punishing blow that actually broke the elbow joint and blew out the actuators of his left Exterminator’s arm. Although his foe was badly battered, the defiant Camelot refused to fall. Goering’s own BattleMech was a tottering wreck. His frontal armor was rent and smashed. Smoke and sparks boiled forth from secondary fires within his torso. The cooling vest was doing little to help vent the extra heat being spewed by his damaged reactor. It was a minor miracle that his LRM ammo hadn’t exploded. The Camelot had actually pushed the missile’s feed housing halfway out the rear of his ‘Mech. Triple strength myomer Goering had finally realized. While the poorly selling production Camelots didn’t have the expensive advanced myomer, the Major’s personal mount obviously did. And it had pounded him to scrap.

Not that it mattered anymore anyway. Goering himself was in far worse shape than his machine. It could stand at least. He knew that he wouldn’t have the strength to do so should he unstrap himself from the command couch. Rather than press in to finish it the Camelot backed off a few steps. The Hauptman found himself in the center of a half moon of enemy muzzles. If the order was given to fire techs would have to strain the remnants to find any useful nuts or bolts left.

“It’s over,” same the Warder Captain’s voice over the comm. “Your forces have surrendered or been disabled. Power down your BattleMech.”

“Ja, it is over,” agreed the Hauptman wearily. “Will not your Major Linna personally accept my defeat? I knew nothing of the kidnapping. Think what you may of me, I am a warrior. Not a child stealer.”

There was a brief pause then the Captain was back. “He can’t talk to you. He’s not here. The Major hasn’t even been on the planet for a long time. I’m only telling you this because I believe you about the kidnapping. You still have many other crimes you will pay for though.”

Georing closed his eyes as he slumped forward against his restraints. His target had never even been here. How long had the Chairman known? Or that skulking assassin the Chairman was so found of? They had to have been tracking Linna. They had to have known. And they sent him here to die anyway just to cover their botched kidnapping attempt. His Blitzkrieg unit had been thrown away just like the pirate band on Hamano. Goering had believed himself a valued associate. A junior one of course, but better valued by the Chairman than how the Great Houses threw away their military units without thought or cause. But it had all been a lie. It seemed that the Chairman valued his sneaks and assassins more than his MechWarriors. Well, Goering knew more than they thought he did. His travels around the edges of society had put him in contact with people that knew things and were willing to tell stories for the right price. The Hauptman had once pursued dealings with an expatriate of the lost planet called the Assassin’s Hold who knew of Steven Ong and his Triad. That person had passed on the location of Ong’s secret lair.

Georing coughed heavily. After wiping his mouth on the back of his hand he could see the blood smears.

“Know this, Captain Woods. Today I have lost to a superior force - but there will be no trial, no press parades and no rewards. I’m mortally wounded herr Captain. Undone not by your efforts but by the treachery of an agent of the same man that has been trying to kill your Major John Linna.”

Goering had to stop as another coughing spasm crashed though him. The smoke in his cabin was thick, but it was the blood in his lungs that was making him cough rather than tainted recycled air. The shot he had endured in the pump station had nipped the bottom of his lungs as well as destroyed his intestines beyond repair.

“I will repay that…treachery …in kind.” Talking was getting harder. Already his limbs had gone numb. They had done what they could with the emergency first aid kit before the fight but the deep internal damage was untouched. He was bleeding out- from the inside. “Seek the Contractor…in the…Circinus Federation…. On the lost planet….Yu-shan pirates….name…Ong….Triad…..sent by, sent by…..chair man…”

The Exterminator wobbled then fell as the pilot that had been holding it upright by instinct went slack and unsettled the controls while the neurohelmet started transmitting a flat line to the gyro computer.

Woods cursed to himself as he smacked his hand into his thigh in frustration. It was like some cheap holo-vid movie. The villain dies while on the verge of giving up his knowledge. “We did record that right,” he demanded in a tone that made it very clear that if they had not, the astechs would be better off joining the Hauptman in the afterlife.

“Yes Sir,” assured the lead specialist

“Good. Good work all of you. Make sure all the ROMs are saved along with the telemetry and index everything.”

“Sir, it’s Sergeant Sanchez calling,” interrupted the specialist covering the infantry’s frequencies. “His capture teams are on the ground but he says that the pilot of the Lancelot is barricaded in his cockpit with a pistol and won’t come out.”

“Patch me in….Sergeant? This is Captain Woods. I’m not in the mood for any more shenanigans today. Tell that idiot to either come out or shoot himself because if he doesn’t do one or the other in the next thirty seconds you’re going to slap a satchel charge over a view port and blow the crud out of him…………Yes, I mean it. We’re not losing risking any more lives today. If he doesn’t come out blow him up.”

“Yes Sir,” responded the Sergeant enthusiastically. Maybe he had misjudged the Captain when he had first came on board thought Jerson to himself as he signaled one of his team to hand him an explosive charge. It seemed that the Captain had his head in the right place after all.

Jerson hefted the explosive and smiled. It was a shaped charge designed to blow out a leg actuator. It would make short work of the armored transparent material of a view port. He rather much hoped the recalcitrant MechWarrior would stand his ground. It would be a little more payback for the troopers lost on Hamano and Outreach. Like the Sergeant he had replaced to run Second Platoon. Still, Jerson decided he better give the pirate scumbag his thirty seconds. Captain Woods was probably serious about taking him prisoner if the pilot would come quietly. Officers had to take the long view that way; it was just the way it was.

One more reason to remain a non-com.

“Alright troopers. Let’s go collect us another pirate.”

Several minutes later Woods thought better of his orders to the Sergeant and contacted him in an attempt to change them. But it had been too late. The pilot in question had already elected to try his luck as a prisoner than test his chances in the afterlife.


Briefing Hall within Warder Base

Outside Suomi City, Sampsa

04 July 3052

The lead officers of the Warders along with a few non-commissioned officer section heads were spread out within the gallery listening to Captain Woods who was center stage before them. The gallery was designed for a bit more than twice the number present. As Woods looked over some notes before continuing the final assessments he felt a strong premonition that it wouldn’t be much longer before the growing Suomi Warders would once again fill the room. Throughout the day various debriefings had been conducted of the various companies and even individual lances. Pilots and crews had submitted their official action reports and the prisoners had undergone first and second interviews.

“As we’ve already noted,” continued the Captain, “we came away from the action in extremely good shape. The three crew members of the Condor that had it’s turret disabled all survived, and while two of them suffered serious injury a full recovery is expected for both. Two other tankers suffered minor burns when their unit took laser damage and MechWarrior Cadet Jason Nellson was banged up a bit and suffered a self inflicted bite wound but will otherwise recover….”

Woods paused as a chuckle drifted through the room at the mild joke. Up in the gallery Sven grinned. Luckily Jason wasn’t in this meeting or he’s be practically dying of embarrassment. His now infamous response to Lieutenant Parks about his condition had been circulated and seized upon as a cathartic ending to the battle as it was quickly discovered that the Warders had escaped with zero fatalities. It even threatened to enter the general lexicon of the unit. When Woods and Jorgenson had asked one of the wounded tankers how he was doing in the hospital the plucky gunner had answered that except for biting his cheek he was in pretty good shape. No one meant to make direct fun of Nellson by their remarks, although Sven knew that the young pilot was very sensitive about the issue at the moment.

“In short, we lost no personal at all. Three of the raiders were killed in action while a fourth, their commanding officer, died from wounds he had received before we arrived. The other eight raiders have all been apprehended.”

The Captain had to pause again as a brief eruption of applause came from those assembled. Even on a small scale, warfare was a deadly business and everyone in the room was vastly relieved that no more red discs for the Command Post to commemorate lost comrades would be required for the Major’s return. By now it was pretty much common knowledge within the unit that Major Linna was off planet. He would have been missed in too many places and at too many debriefings to successfully hide his absence so a general statement about the Major and a few other Warder personnel being away on a contract negotiation had been issued. While everyone in the unit was proud at their recent accomplishment, the newest Warders of the armor and VTOL companies were especially pleased that they would be able to say they had performed their duty well and safeguarded the unit while Major Linna was away.

“Although the ever active Snow Hunters volunteered to guard the salvage until pickup is completed tomorrow, we left a base security platoon out there to give the First a rest. Sergeant Tupala, I believe you have a completed report of our damage and salvage. Could you give us all a brief summery please?”

“Certainly Sir,” responded Linda Tupala from her seat. With Sergeant Harding gone, she was the ranking Tech. There was a microphone and a data-pad within the small desk surface attached to one arm of each seat. Tupala punched up the summary pages of her report and piped them to the main screen behind the Captain.

“Racker’s Vulcan took extensive damage. As the machine had already been seriously modified previously, repair will be difficult and very costly. The torso is effectively a custom construction. My recommendation is to salvage all the ECM, weapons, and other useful gear from it and sell the rest for scrap. Between the six ‘Mechs we have mothballed and the salvage we just picked up, providing the Cadet with a new ride isn’t a problem. The Major’s Camelot took quite a pounding as well, including a moderate amount of internal damage and a huge amount of burned out myomer. However the FireWraith is repairable and we have a small store of triple-strength myomer on hand so I personally guarantee that the Major’s BattleMech will be fully restored before he returns home.”

“The heavily damaged Condor hovertank we’ll use for spares and replace with one of the two reserve units. Everything else is fully repairable and work is already underway. Of the enemy units two are total losses - including one of the Ravens unfortunately. The other completely destroyed unit was a Vulcan. We’ve got two Spiders - one of which is shot up something bad including head damage. There’s a pair of Centurions as well, again one is heavily damaged. One actually lost its cockpit center entirely and will require a new head before we can make it operational. That’s not something we can manufacture from scratch. The other suffered only armor damage before the pilot surrendered. There’s a Wolftrap that suffered both engine and gyro damage that I’m recommending we cut apart for components. It’s essentially a Centurion in load-out anyway and we have plenty of ‘Mech chassis on hand as it is. Rounding out the list is a banged up Clint with it’s core systems intact, a Lancelot that lost a leg and some armor, another Vulcan, a Raven that still has all it’s Capellan ECM gear intact and their commander’s unit that we have now identified as an Exterminator. All have some damage but can be restored to full use. All of the raider units carried advanced equipment. Whoever bankrolled these guys gave them updated BattleMechs to come after us with.”

“Thank you Sergeant,” nodded Woods. “We will hold off on the decision of what to sell and what to keep until Major Linna returns. This will put off the bonus pay from sold salvage for a few weeks to a month or two but if any of your people is in a financial bind they can apply for an advance draw.

“Now, I imagine that the most pressing questions are your minds right now is how they got here and what they thought they were going to accomplish. The how part is rather disturbing. Industrial espionage agents that have been in place on this planet for quite a while activated a virus that had been planted in the sat system during install and launched the attacks on the comm networks. A high ranking officer of the Sampsa Air Defense had been compromised and was indirectly involved. He turned himself in when he realized what was occurring and is cooperating with the on going investigation. The raiders, identified as an non-ranked mercenary company calling themselves the Blitzkrieg, slipped in on a DropShip that bribed its way past customs then used the air tracking disruption to slip over to the Oroville Pump Station and drop off the invaders.

“Several of the surviving Blitzkrieg pilots are cooperating in exchange for dropping any charges against them for their actions here. All will still face charges for Hamano and any other places we can pin them down to. Additional charges will likely be lodged at Outreach as technically they can claim to be a mercenary command. The sole purpose of their raid was to attack us and withdraw. None have admitted it but I believe that the real goal was to kill Major Linna and as many of our people as possible as a warning to leave off our investigation of who was backing the raids in the Combine we were defending against. Obviously we will be redoubling our efforts to bring the top criminals down. While I believe that the attempt to kidnap Sandi Touborg-Linna was launched by the same leaders, it seems that the Blitzkrieg were unaware of the kidnapping plan. In fact, their BattleMechs were rigged with nerve gas bombs. Their CO managed to kill the assassin that was supposed to kill his command before the gas could be released by remote. One pilot died from it when damage to his ‘Mech broke open the container in his air vent.”

“Captain?” Lieutenant Laidie wanted to know, “why did he save his people from the gas only to lead them in a suicidal charge?”

“With the Hauptman dead, we’ll likely never know the full answer. My surmise is that he wanted his final military action to be a strategic victory by killing Major Linna. We do know that he goaded several of his pilots into complying by the threat that we’d just hang them as soon as we caught them anyway. He came damn close too. Had more of his ‘Mechs carried long ranged weapons, been heavier, or more of his pilots dedicated to his cause they may well have succeeded in destroying the Fire Wraith and killing who they thought was Major Linna. But from the very start a few decided to follow their own agenda and eliminate Cadet Nellson so that he couldn’t identify them from the Combine raids. Whatever the Hauptman’s reasons, there is now one less company of BattleMech equipped pirates terrorizing innocents. Right before his death he tried to give us information about the assassin group behind the Outreach attempts against the Major as well as the attempt against his own command. If we can verify his information rest assured that we will act on it.”

Despite the dropping of any legal charges by Sampsa’s government, the remaining Blitzkrieg MechWarriors faced a grim future. They had been shielded from knowing anything directly useful about their true employer and thus that employer was unlikely to emerge to defend them. It seemed highly likely they would eventually be extradited to the Draconis Combine for their crimes there. The Dragon was not kind to captured pirates.

“Any other questions?”

“How’s the Corporal that attached himself to that Raven?” Sven asked.

“Thanks to good training, quick thinking, and good survival gear he emerged from his little ocean swim none the worse for wear. I’ve personally submitted him for a Commendation for Bravery to the review board. Anything else?…..No? Then accept my thanks for a job well done under difficult circumstances. Dismissed. And don’t party too hard,” he added with a sly smile.

Osmo Woods himself wouldn’t have too much time for celebrating tonight. He still had information to compile, reports to read through again, and his own reports to prepare for WolfNet. The Dragoons had always been a player in the political arena of the Inner Sphere, but they hadn’t ever really considered the possible threat of a non-aligned corporate entity embarking on it’s own political and military agenda. Faced with a threat such as the Warders were dealing with, the Dragoons might find themselves lacking the required civilian connections across the Sphere to effectively fight back. It was something that Dragoon leadership might want to consider for the future. In fact, Osmo felt a surge of pride at the realization that the much smaller Warders where better prepared to battle such a threat than the heavily armed Dragoons. Which lead him to wonder how much of him had become a Suomi Warder and how much of him was still a Lieutenant of the Dragoons.

DropShip Bright Star

Cerillos System Nadir Point

27 July 3052

If the DropShip waiting at the Cerillos system for it’s next jump ride had indeed been bright at some time, it’s star had long since faded. The Bright Star was a Buccaneer class winged civilian aerodyne that seemed to be held together by rust and sludge as equally as welds and bolts. She carried three holds, the smallest of which had long ago been converted to carry paying passengers. As she was at least 250 years old and still going strong her passengers made allowances. Besides, anyone headed to the Circinus Federation from the Free Worlds League had few options- legal or otherwise.

The small band of Suomi Warders travelling with Major Linna had literally crossed the entire FWL to reach this final inhabited system one jump from Circinus itself. It had taken 18 jumps. Had they been forced to wait a week for recharge for each jump they'd still be far from their destination. That is why John Linna had not elected to commandeer one of his company’s star hopping JumpShips and rather planned a trip based on moving between ships along the major shipping lanes. JumpShips could hop up to 30 light years. Being rather expensive to operate, most JumpShip operators found a route between two to four systems a single jump apart and ran that same run for years until it there was reason to leave. Thus established shipping routes emerged over time similar to railroad schedules of old where major systems saw JumpShips arriving and leaving daily while minor ones where visited far less often.

By changing between DropShips and JumpShips to take the next available ride out system, they had quickly ridden the main FWL trade lines to and between the major capitol systems of Oriente, Regulus, and Atreus itself, the seat of House Marik’s power. After leaving the Duchy of Graham-Marik there had been longer delays between hitching an outbound ride but there was a fairly well traveled corridor of independent planets that lead the direction they were headed. As they had never bothered to set foot on any of the planets they had arrived near, the civilian garbed Warder group had arrived near Circinus space in roughly a month of travel. Ironically, the information John had bought from his ex-wife at the cost of being Chairman of his family corporation had provided the key to reaching Circinus. They’d be using one of her own line’s semi-legitimate free traders on it’s usual activity pattern to make planetfall on the infamous Periphery capitol world.

The Bright Star was slowly motoring it’s way towards a JumpShip, taking it’s time and conserving fuel as the JumpShip wouldn’t be recharged and ready to leave for another 32 hours. It was an old Scout class ship that had seen better days. But most of everything out along the edges of civilization seemed to have seen better days.

Sergeant Samantha Cascade floated tethered near the forward looking veiwport of the “lounge” as the JumpShip slowly grew larger ahead of them. A barely touched flat beer, packaged in special zero-G drinking ball that had imparted a sour plastic taste to the brew, floated near her. She wasn’t particularly found of space travel. It was tedious enough when she had over 25 troopers and their equipment to keep her occupied. With very little to do at all expect enjoy the ride, she had found that enjoying the ride was not terribly enjoyable. Glancing over at a new arrival floating in towards her in the very low gravity she nodded.

Sergeant Harding nodded back with his lazy smile. “Good afternoon Sammi.”

“If you say so. Hard to tell them apart out here.”

“True, true,” allowed Harding. Then for a while he just hung onto a hand strap as he bounced lightly against the floor next to her.

“Something on your mind?” she asked finally.

“Yeah,” he admitted as he looked around to make sure no one was close enough to overhear them. “We’re just about at Circinus. You and me, we’re on the beam together right Sammi?”

She glanced at him curiously. Although they didn’t cross paths often in their regular duties, she’d never had any beef with the Tech chief. “Sure, I guess we are. Is there something you know that you think I should know?”

“More like the other way around maybe. Look, I’m here because my somewhat colorful background has gifted me certain insights and skills that might prove useful where we’re going. Goose is here to give the Maj…John I mean….an ear he trusts to talk to. His brother invited himself along and you’re here in case things get hairy and somebody has to be put down hard.”

Sammi shrugged. So far he wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know. “No offence, but what’s your point?”

“My point is about the people you brought with you. Bronski and Harper I get. They’re the second and third meanest hombres we have after you. But I’m still asking myself why Jenkins is here. I know he’s a Snow Hunter like the rest of you. But he’s also the newest.”

“He’s our commo guy. I figured his tech skills might come in handy.”

“All right, I know a brush off when I hear one,” sighed Harding. “I just like to know the whole score before stepping into enemy territory is all. Sorry if I pried.”

She reached out and touched his arm as he started to turn away.

“Hold on a moment Chief. Look, I gave my word not to say anything about Jenkins so I can’t tell you. He’s here because I knew it would be personally important to him. But I wouldn’t have risked the ... John’s,” both non-coms still found it hard not to refer to John Linna by rank, “life on Jenkins if I didn’t think he was up to it. Is that going to be good enough for you?”

Harding considered for a moment than nodded. He carried secrets, both his own and other people’s, as well. “That’s good enough. Anyone that measures up to your standards measures up to mine.”

She nodded her thanks at his letting the issue go at that and turned her attention back out the viewport. That JumpShip hadn’t gotten any noticeably closer. As Sammi sensed Harding leave she couldn’t help but wonder to herself if she had made the right call. How would Jenkins react if they did find Holly Linna? Would Holly even remember him?

Well, first things first and that meant finding the Major’s missing sister on a world rife with hard cases and petty criminals. Which meant getting to that damned Scout out there. Which didn’t appear to be happening anytime in the near future.

The Bright Star continued her crawl across the heavens as Sammi Cascade brooded alone with her thoughts.


Chapter Index[]

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