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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife
Chapter 2

Fighting on Wansch Ott[]

Wansch Ott Colony
Terminus Systems

There were times, Commander Monty Shephard bitterly reflected, that he really hated his job.

The title of Mechwarrior still retained its glamour, decades after first contact and the accompanying changes. He had no intention of retiring anytime soon. But Mechs were expensive to field and maintain, to say nothing of what he sent back to Coromodir, and a mercenary couldn't always choose the job he wanted. So here he was on some barren desert world, half a galaxy away from his home, preparing to ruin some poor stranger's sleep.

His task force of three lances had touched down four hours ago, well outside of the colony's anti-orbital defenses, and were now approaching the outskirts. There was no possibility of destroying a settlement of two hundred thousand with just twelve Mechs, of course. The contract called for denial of critical infrastructure, which in this case meant blowing up terraforming and life support facilities. The strain on the colony was merely supposed to cripple future growth, and it was a legit MRB job, but that didn't make him feel any better about it.

"Contact," a cheerful voice announced over his radio. "Shephard One, this is Lassie Four. Got visual on the defenders. A unit of tanks, some infantry and three mechs two clicks north of me. Transmitting details now."

"Lassie Four, this is Shephard One. Good job Jenkins, keep an eye on them. We're on our way," Shepard briskly replied, bringing his Hunchback around on a new heading. He eyed the incoming information from Lassie Four's Locust, thinking briefly before opening comms again. "Herd Lance, continue on previous heading and complete the objective. Shephard Lance, we'll handle the defenders. Lassie One, recon for Herd Lance. Lassie Two, Three, watch our flanks. All units, confirm."

Shephard half-listened to the chorus of affirmations as he studied the incoming foes. He wasn't too concerned with the infantry or the tanks, which his targeting computer tentatively identified as lightly armed APCs. One of the Mechs was a medium-weight Centurion, its fluid movement indicating the pilot was a neurohelmet-wearing human. The other two were Beakers, quadruped Turian Mechs that always reminded him of crabs.

Centurion (Winter Forest - Farseen Version)

Centurion Medium 'Mech

Shephard lance, comprised of his Hunchback, Taylor's Griffin, Virty's Centurion, and Freeman's Shadow Hawk, pounded across the dunes at over a hundred kilometres per hour towards Lassie Four's position. It was a gamble; the Beakers, armed with heavy mass accelerators, thick armour and kinetic barriers, could be considered Assault Mechs by certain standards. Even if they had to rely on VI instead of neurohelmets, he had long learned not to underestimate the alien Mechs. Then again, his own Hunchback, the Bloody Igor, was hardly factory standard anymore.

"This is Shephard One. I've got the Centurion. Shephard Two, Three," he ordered as they closed in, "stay back and keep the Beakers busy. Four, stay with me. Take out the APCs and infantry first."

Then they were over the last dune. High-velocity slugs slammed into his Mech, tearing gouges into the torso armour. His own mass-accelerator autocannon fired in return. To his disappointment, the Centurion absorbed the burst harmlessly, an oversized kinetic barrier from its left arm deflecting the shells.

Hunchback (MechCommander)

Hunchback Medium 'Mech

The Bloody Igor charged towards the enemy Mech as their comrades traded fire. Shephard withheld his fire as he approached, manually overriding the autocannon power limit. The Centurion's pilot advanced with a barrage of missiles and shells instead of retreating, suiting Shephard just fine. His Hunchback swerved sideways, putting the Centurion between himself and the Beaker still targeting him. The targeting reticule focused onto his target.

Shephard pressed down on the firing stud and watched as an overstrength volley overwhelmed the kinetic barrier and shredded the Centurion's left arm, tearing the kinetic barrier emitter to pieces. Somewhere behind him, Freeman seized the opportunity to unload a volley of rockets into the now defenseless Mech. Dialing the mass accelerator back to normal strength, Shephard didn't bother waiting for his Mech to cool down before firing a second time, gutting the Centurion and forcing an ejection.

There was no time to appreciate the kill. Heat levels in his Mech spiked to critical levels. His cooling suit kept him uncomfortable and alive, but systems were shutting down from the excess heat. The mass effect field shut down, slowing his Mech to a lumbering gait.

The Breakers turned all their weapons on the Bloody Igor. He had no choice but to weather the hail of destruction, throwing up a fist to shield his cockpit as he stumbled away from the Mechs. Damage indicators lit up across his entire Mech, rapidly approaching critical levels.

Freeman yelled over the radio, "This is Four, I'm going in, targeting Beaker One. Death from above!"

The staggering fire slackened off as the Shadow Hawk crashed on top of one Beaker, metal fists gripping onto a crab leg as a handhold. Unbalanced by the extra weight and lacking a neurohelmet, the quadruped collapsed onto the sands. The second Beaker whirled to assist its brethren, before abruptly beginning a tactical withdrawal, hounded by long-range fire from Taylor and Virty. Shephard checked his diagnostics before turning his attention to the surviving APCs, medium lasers ripping into the rear of the rout.

Meanwhile, Freeman was enthusiastically putting his Solaris skills to good use, tearing a limb from the downed Beaker with a combination of lasers, rockets and brute myomer strength. Its Mech crippled, the turian pilot frantically broadcast its surrender, shutting down kinetic barriers and weapons. The Shadow Hawk flipped the Beaker to secure it, ignoring the panicked squawking from the trapped pilot.

Soon, Shephard Lance stood alone on the battlefield. Except for his own Bloody Igor, they had taken little damage. Jenkin's Locust chased after the fleeing militia soldiers before sullenly breaking off and joining Shephard. Now, there was nothing between them and the colony itself. Somewhere in the distance, a flash of light erupted over the top of the buildings, followed by a deafening rumble. "This is Shephard One. Eliminated enemy force. Herd Lance, status report."

"Shephard One, this is Herd One. Target Alpha is down, moving on to next waypoint. Nothing but infantry and drones so far."

"Alright, Lassie Lance, spread out through the city and find where our friends are. A colony this big must have more than a single lance. Herd Lance, keep up the good work. Shephard Lance will regroup with you at Target Delta."

The five Mechs proceeded into the industrial quarter, Freeman taking the lead briefly before Jenkins outpaced him. Around them, automated facilities were running, oblivious to the danger in their midst. Shephard guiltily wondered if the colonists had emergency shelters to hide in, before quashing his thoughts. He had a job to do. Switching comm channels, he boosted his signal strength to reach the three Leopard dropships waiting over the horizon.

"Calypso, this is Shephard One. Things are going smooth over here. Anything on your side?"

"Negative, skies are quiet." Defenseless colonies in the Terminus were an oxymoron. Whether mercenary, warlord or pirate, colonists always paid tribute to someone and received protection in return. The colony Wansch Ott had kept their security arrangements under wraps, so there was the risk of offworld reinforcements. Just in case, the Calypso had destroyed the only comm buoy in the system the moment it had dropped out of FTL, hopefully before a distress call went out.

"Roger, Calypso. Shephard out." If nothing else popped up, they could finish this job clean and quickly.

Ten minutes later, as Shephard Lance reduced the atmosphere processors to molten rubble, Jenkins broadcast on their global channel.

"It's Jenkins. I found a slave. The bastards are killing human slaves."

Shephard blinked. That sounded wasteful. "Lassie Four, repeat that." Lassie One barked before he could respond.

"I found a human. He says he's Taurian, sir, from one of the new colonies. About a hundred of them got caught in a pirate raid a few years ago and shipped here. Some of them are just slaves, but over half of them got sent to a corporation or something here right away. Unproductive ones are sent there too. They think the corporation's experimenting on them. Nobody comes back. There're even more humans as well, same thing."

"Not our problem, Lassie Four. We're not getting paid to be heroes. Focus on the job." Lassie One admonished.

"This is Shephard. I'd like to take a closer look. Lassie Four, can the local help us?"

"He has a map of the colony, uploading now. Orbital defense systems and militia installations are marked. Lab too."

Well, he wasn't going to turn down free intelligence. "I'll ask Calypso what our database says about this corporation. Shephard Lance, target the satellite uplink. We knock it offline, we blind their guns and we can land our dropships right on the colony. Lassie Lance, check the militia and the lab. Herd Lance, you've been listening?"

"This is Herd One, we've been listening. Don't worry about us. We'll get the real job done nice and easy while you're sightseeing."

When they finally figured out what the lab was researching, even Lassie One agreed to expand their mission parameters.

It only took half an hour to storm the lab compound. Caught between three lances, the dug in defenders had quickly broken. Angry slaves, some with militia training, stormed the interior as the Mechs provided heavy fire support. Only the test subjects survived. Herd One finished off the lab, his Quickdraw euthanising the observation chambers with a relentless barrage of lasers and rockets. The militia was content to leave them be, pinned down defending critical infrastructure as a wave of unrest followed in the wake of their failures.

Their employer probably wouldn't pay a bonus. In fact, the MRB might even censure them for the excess brutality, even if only for appearance's sake. Everything in the lab had been legal in the Terminus Systems, no matter how horrific he considered it. Still, looking down at the former slaves taking in their newfound freedom, Shephard felt a sense of pride for his band of mercenaries. Perhaps, he mused for not the first time, this was what his aunt had meant about protecting humanity.

There were times, Commander Monty Shephard reluctantly admitted, that he really loved his job.

The moment was not to last. The voice of Calypso's dropship captain, who was supposed to be overseeing salvage of the captured Mechs and Taylor's Griffin, interrupted his thoughts. "Shephard, this is Calypso. We have an emergency. FTL emergence right over the colony. Dropships incoming, IFF Synthetic Technologies. We need to bug out now."

"What? How did they get here so soon? No, forget it. We have to evacuate the humans, Cal." Even as he said it, he knew it was wishful thinking. They had planned to capture transports in the starport, but there would be no breaking the militia in time.

"Dropships don't have the space, Monty. This was supposed to be a quick raid, not a pillage trip. Besides the salvage, we've got maybe space for fifty or so, and that's squeezing them tighter than a hanar lover."

Shephard looked through his cockpit at the faces outside. He had no illusions what would happen to the slaves when the corporation landed. The Terminus Systems was little different from the Periphery in that regard. With a heavy lump in his throat, he lifted a finger to open his loudspeakers.

There were times, Commander Monty Shephard bitterly reflected, that he really hated his job.

Returning to Base[]

Asteroid Omega

The Star Hunters were back in their base of operations within one day, a speed inconceivable to Shephard's ancestors. Technically, it was the local branch of the Aurigan Trading Company. But then again, the only reason the Aurigan Coalition even had a compound on Omega was their association with the Star Hunters.

There was a second reason, but he didn't like to think about it.

The Mechwarriors under his command had gone off on a bar crawl, while Mechs worked to bring their battered rides to full combat effectiveness. He himself was sadly seated in a plain conference room with the other officers and department leaders, with a pretty, young noble glaring lasers at him.

"Well, that's the gist of it." Lady Sumire Arano concluded, wrapping up her report. The splitting image of her grandmother, she oversaw Aurigan interests in the Terminus Systems, which included acting as liaison to his mercenaries. "You got paid, at least, but repairs and everything else is going to eat up most of it. What the hell were you thinking, Monty?"

"You heard the debriefing, Sumire?" he argued, "They had to be stopped."

"Not by you!" She hissed back, "You could have just passed it on, maybe gotten a follow-up contract from the SLDF, or somebody else! But you just had to barge in, consequences be damned."

Sumire paused at his blank face and groaned in a very unladylike matter. With a contrite expression, she continued, "Look, I'm sorry for what I just said. High Lady Arano would probably approve when she receives the report. But with the war right on our border, the Coalition is in danger of being cut off from the relays. I just received a message from Coromodir that FTL-capable dropships are being seized for military use in the Concordat, and the High Lady has issued contingency protocols in response. We're stuck with what we have, and neither you nor the Trading Company can afford to make enemies right now."

"For what it's worth," Chief Virtanen offered consolingly, "Synthetic Technologies will have to deal with fallout themselves. Word will spread about their research, and the House Arano could try seeking help from ComStar or the Star League."

"I hope you're right. The Aurigan Trading Company will work out the issue with Synthetic Technologies, one way or the other."

"That does raise an issue." Mrs Oliveira, Head of Logistics, considered. "The Trading Company is only affiliated with the Star Hunters, but the Star Hunters will likely face some payback for the unsanctioned attack. We may have difficulty finding contracts or suffer retaliation."

"Should we return to Coromidir then, wait it out?" Shephard suggested, "We can try picking up a contract in the Aurigan Reach, or House Arano could hire us."

"While High Lady Arano cannot force you," Lady Arano shook her head, "she would probably prefer if you stayed in the Terminus Systems. Your Leopards and their drive cores are too tempting for 'emergency appropriation'."

"We could take one of the garrison contracts in the FedCom, right?" 'Bonesaw' Rosby, who had been Herd One, suggested. "The SLDF is paying good money right now, we can remain neutral and…" He trailed off at the glares from everybody else in the room.

Wordlessly, Shephard switched a monitor on and toggled it to a public newsfeed.

"Coordinator Hohiro Kurita, brother-in-law to Victor through his sister, Omi Kurita, has denied these allegations. In a recent press release, he has maintained that Kuritan troops were deployed only as neutral peacekeepers in the Draconis March in support of SLDF forces. New reports of fighting on…" Shephard muted the audio and turned back to the others.

"It's too risky. Whatever is going on is spiraling out of control. For now, I say we play it safe and stay out of the mess. Demand in the Inner Sphere isn't dropping anytime soon, and we'll have less competition out here anyway. Maybe when things are clearer, we can pick a good contract in the war, one that won't get us turned into scrap." He took in the nods around the room, then turned to the Arano noble.

Sumire sighed, "Well, the MRB found a new client for you at any rate. Prestigious too, willing to pay good rates. Some hotshot Spectre called Saren."

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