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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 14[]

State of the Union[]

Loknar DQ, Addicks
Draconis March, Federated Commonwealth
1 April 3063

Jerry Foster's Locust staggered as LRMs arced up over the wall of the compound and rained down over the upper hull and cockpit.

"Keep moving!" Lieutenant Melanie Troia shouted. "Don't give them a target they can focus down."

There was a crackle of explosions behind the wall as Jerry junked his 'Mech to one side. Artillery strikes, Conner Sortek thought as he rushed his Battle Hawk closer to give his classmate extra cover.

Another volley of LRMs flew past them both and the anti-missile system behind Conner's cockpit spat flechettes into their path, thinning their number. The missiles overshot, plastering the ground ahead of the recon lance.

"Thanks!" Jerry said and pushed the Locust into a run, ahead of the other three 'Mechs.

The ground seemed to explode where the twenty-ton 'Mech stood and he staggered to a halt. "Thunder LRMs!"

Conner swore and hit his jump-jets. The missiles hadn't been aimed to hit, they'd been laying a minefield ahead of them. Fortunately it couldn't be a large one and he soared over the impact site, followed by Troia's Valkyrie and Jasper Carrott's Jenner light 'Mechs.

Valkyerie (TRO 3028 version - Battlefield)

Valkyrie Light BattleMech

Jerry was backing his Locust up, the 'Mech seeming to mince as the damaged feet didn't adjust to the ground correctly - actuator damage, Conner guessed.

Battle Hawk Light BattleMech (in Combat - Painted Miniature by Nardyes)

Battle Hawk Light 'Mech in combat

"Foster, get out of here," Troia snapped. "If you can't run you can't -"

Her signal cut off abruptly as a stream of tracer fire intercepted her 'Mech.

"- back up!" she continued a moment later, "We got company!"

Two 'Mechs had perched on top of the wall - an Enforcer and a Dervish, both classic medium-class House Davion designs. The Dervish pointed its spade-like hands towards Conner and he twisted away. Four missiles arching towards him showed he'd not managed to break the lock but only two hit as the anti-missile system chattered again.

Neither of the Short Range Missiles did much damage, but the Battle Hawk wasn't all that well protected to begin with. Conner slewed it around and raised his 'Mech's arms partly to bring the weapons to bear and partly to use them to shield his torso.

The Enforcer was nearer so he focused on that - three pulse lasers stitched holes in the blocky chest plate of the 'Mech but he couldn't get a lock for his Streak SRMs as the 'Mech leapt down to close the distance and to avoid the lasers - fired a moment later - by Jasper and Troia.

"Looks like we have their attention." the lieutenant decided. "Pull back and let's draw them away from the wall."

Conner jabbed down hard on his pedals, firing his jump-jets again to pull away and re-orientate for a withdrawal. Jasper might be able to do that on speed alone - his Jenner could keep pace with Jerry's Locust now that the latter had damage - but Conner and Troia weren't so fortunate. The Enforcer and Dervish were collectively almost as heavy as the entire lance and they had top speeds almost identical to those of the Valkyrie and the Battle Hawk.

There was thump from somewhere below Conner and he saw the status diagram update, highlighting his 'Mech's left leg in red. armor penetration! Glancing at the enemy he saw the Enforcer's arms were lowered, muzzles still tracking the Battle Hawk's legs.

More missiles streaked at him from the Dervish and he somehow used the last reserves of power in the jump jets to skid aside. The Long Range Missiles were within their minimum arming range and missed clean but four Streaks tracked him and this time the antimissile system only clawed one out of the air, three more digging into his 'Mech's light rear armor.

He had basically no coverage on the rear of his torso, forcing him to swing the Battle Hawk at the hip as he ran away, shielding the vulnerable plating with his right arm and the pulse lasers.

Even as he thought that, more LRMs arched up over the wall. Fortunately they missed him, unfortunately they landed in his path and Conner had to turn the Battle Hawk aside in case they were more Thunder LRMs.

"Can someone take out that turret!" he cried as he fired his pulse lasers. The Enforcer was leading with its right arm and several pulses of energy marked along the autocannon barrel and up to the shoulder.

The Enforcer pilot fired the autocannon first and then rotated his own torso to shield the damaged right side and fire his laser. A few of the cluster rounds scored hits on the left leg, tearing into its exposed myomers but the laser slashed armor away from the right arm of the Battle Hawk, stripping most of the casing around the pulse lasers.

"Artillery strike on the way." Troia snapped. "Can you still move?"

Conner felt the Battle Hawk sake as he pushed it towards maximum speed. "They've lamed me!" he reported tersely. "Get clear. I'll try to buy you time!"

"Don't give me that, Sortek!"

Firing his jump jets carefully, Conner skimmed away from the wall and the pursuit, bringing his left arm to bear. This time the Streak launcher managed to lock on and both missiles rocketed from the launcher, one cratering the right thigh of the Enforcer and the other smashing into the low dome of metal above the cockpit.

LRMs from Troia's Valkyrie added to the damage but the Dervish had hung back just far enough that its own LRMs could lock and both its launchers opened up, deluging Conner in missiles.

The AMS did its best but armor blew away and he came down off-balance, which must have been just the opening the Enforcer was waiting for. As Conner tried to stabilize the Battle Hawk a stream of high explosive rounds hammered into the 'Mech's left hip and the joint locked up entirely.

Fighting the gyro, Conner held the 'Mech upright but then more missiles came in from behind the wall. He got a brief impression of his 'Mech's left arm erupting in a fireball and then the cockpit blew away and his ejection seat hurled him up and away from the tumbling wreck that had been his Battle Hawk.

The change in perspective was almost as daunting as the hammer blow of the ejection, followed by another sharp jerk as his parachute opened. Training kicked in and he grabbed the control handles, trying to let the light wind carry him as far as he could from the firefight.

Without 'Mech sensors it was harder to identify the Mechs. The two navy blue ones were clearly the Sixth FedCom pair, but with blocky chests and domed heads it was only by the difference in their weapons fire that he could distinguish them.

More distant, and receding even as he dropped towards the ground, the three bottle green survivors of his lance were retreating. Troia was too responsible an officer to try to come back for him.

The ground hit Conner's feet unexpectedly and he folded his knees, trying to absorb the impact and bring the chute under control at the same time. He succeeded in the first but failed in the second and was tugged trailing along the ground as the wind caught the panels again and yanked him off his feet.

Cursing, the young mechwarrior freed a survival knife from his boot and sawed through the cords on his left shoulder. The chute lost its shape and fell to the ground, letting him claw free of his harness. The rest of his ejection chair, along with most of his survival gear, was a hundred feet away.

Conner tore off his helmet and stared up at the two 'Mechs stalking across the battlefield towards his chair and then himself.

"Nope." he decided and searched for a fold in the ground to hide him. The FedCom pilots would probably want a prisoner rather than to squash him underfoot but 'probably' suddenly felt remarkably unreassuringly.

To his ashamed relief the two towering 'Mechs ignored him to pound after his comrades. It was too much to ask that they had missed him entirely though and he looked around, wondering from which direction supporting infantry would come to intercept him.

A distant whistling had Conner bury himself in the ground and pray fervently that the cannon cockers on whichever side was firing had better things than to lob shells at a dismounted Mechwarrior.

The answer was yes and an explosion behind the wall - towering over a BattleMech and gigantic to a man on foot - marked the death of the LRM turret that had fired on him earlier. From the sounds of it a shell had found the magazine.

The whine of a turbine engine alerted Conner to the imminent arrival of an armored Personnel Carrier and he looked up to see it crawling towards him, the turret-mounted machine gun definitely tracking his position as the small armored vehicle circled the wreck of his Battle Hawk. He saw a stylized tiger's head marking on the flank, confirming it was the Sixth's infantry.

Enforcer (MWO Version)

Enforcer Medium 'Mech

He'd just about resigned himself to captivity when the APC suddenly reversed to shelter behind his fallen 'Mech, the turret swiveling away from him.

Moments later the Enforcer returned to view, missing an arm and running faster than Conner would have cared to push the 'Mech. There was no sign of the Dervish and more 'Mechs were behind the Enforcer, two, four... a dozen, the lightest of them an eighty-ton Victor like the one his father had piloted when Conner was a boy.

Nightstar (MW5)

Nightstar Assault 'Mech

There was a crack of something passing the sound barrier and the Enforcer lurched forwards, its remaining arm torn away.

A Nightstar spearheading the incoming assault 'Mech company brought its autocannon around to finish the job but before it could fire, a Stalker opened up with its full missile batteries and blew the medium 'Mech almost in two.

A trail of tracer fire lashed out from the APC but all that did was give the Nightstar a new target and the assault Mech's arsenal ripped through the light vehicle with contemptuous ease.

Conner pressed his face into the dirt to avoid being blinded by the weapons fire as the Assault Mechs began to hammer on the wall, joined by further artillery fire. They couldn't breach it, it was simply too thick, but within moments they'd broken down enough that Mechs could begin to scramble up it, joined by those few assault 'Mechs in the company that had jump jets.

Scrambling to his feet, Conner watched them enter the fortified supply base and then staggered towards the APC. There was nothing more he could do in the battle, he thought, but at least the APC might have something more protective for him to wear than cooling vest and shorts.

At his first sight of the interior, he doubled up and unashamed threw up, covering the bloody dirt with his breakfast.

The sound of footsteps brought him up and he saw an infantryman in stained fatigues staring at him, rifle clutched in one hand but clearly with no thought of aiming it at him.

"Are they..." the man said weakly. "Did anyone..."

He's younger than me, Conner thought. Must be a recent recruit. "I don't know," he said. "Help me check for survivors and a medical kit."

Presented with direction, the soldier slung his rifle and joined Conner in the search. The tiger badge on his shoulder and the NAIS diamonds on Conner's vest didn't matter now. And besides, they were part of the same armed forces... weren't they?

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