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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 27[]

State of the Union[]

Camelot, New Avalon
Crucis March, Federated Commonwealth
15 July 3063


Conner's first thought when he counted twelve 'Mechs moving towards the flank of the First Davion Guards was that he'd run into a fresh company. It wasn't until he saw a tan-colored Battle Hawk amid the predominantly red and black 'Mechs that he realized this must be a scratch force mixing Robinson Rangers and Deneb Light Cavalry.

Survivors then, more dangerous in some ways and less in others.

A low-slung shape darting behind the enemy 'Mechs reminded him that the 'Mechs weren't the only dangers on the battlefield. LRMs arced from the Fulcrum hovertank and smashed against the chest and right arm of his Mackie, marking the blue and gold paintwork.

"This is Crucis Actual," he ordered. "..hit them hard."

His company had unusual mass and uniformity, very few units could concentrate a full company of assault 'Mechs much less one entirely made up entirely of one model. They were also a design that none of the Deneb and Ranger Mechwarriors would ever have encountered before.

His first target was a Cestus, one of the largest enemy 'Mechs present. Conner brought his crosshairs down on it, trying to stabilize the shot. For a moment he thought he had the idea shot, right into the gauss rifle below and to the right of the cockpit but at the last moment something shifted under the foot of his Mackie and the shots hit too high - the laser and PPC ripping into the armor of the smaller 'Mech's right arm while the autocannon fire went wild.

The Gauss Rifle spat a shot back at him, the slug cracking the armor on the Mackie's chest right below the red and white pschent that marked the regiment's identity. Backing up and bracing, the Cestus raised both arms and slashed systematically with one laser after another.

Armor was peeling away and Conner twisted to prevent a penetration, bringing the autocannon back down and tracking shots from it back onto target. Several of them dug into the battered shoulder of the Cestus and the entire right arm gave way, much more easily than it should have.

He had no chance to enjoy that minor triumph though as a salvo of missiles corkscrewed into Conner's Mackie, peppering the 'Mech with shrapnel and doing equal damage to the farm fence he was straddling.

Turning he identified the source, a forty-ton Chimera just as it rose into the air on its jump jets, firing down onto him as it bounded aside from his return fire.

The light 'Mech didn't get away entirely as explosions wreathed its ungainly looking legs. Conner traced the source of the fire to a Davion Guards Blackjack OmniMech tracking the Chimera with a pair of autocannon.

"Deal with the Cestus." a gruff voice demanded, the Dalban Micronics set wired into the place of the original electronics automatically highlighting the source as a laser transmission from the Blackjack's CommSuite. "Where did you even get those museum pieces?"

Another gauss rifle shot, this one tearing into the armor plating of his 'Mech highlighted the need to finish the Cestus. Conner charged it, firing everything he had and was satisfied to see armor plating fall away - red-black and bare metal patches crumbling. The Ranger mechwarrior tried to sidestep but Conner moved aside to match him and fired his PPC again just before they got too close for the bean to focus properly. Blowing through the right side, protection, this shot did what he'd hoped - there was a flash of light as the capacitors for the Gauss Rifle blew, ripping apart the engine shielding on that side of the 'Mech.

The cockpit burst open as the Mechwarrior ejected and the heavy 'Mech fell.

Turning to check his company, Conner saw one of the Mackies staggering as an Enforcer III outflanked it amd punishing the rear armor with its high speed autocannon. He braced, checked his heat and then fired everything.

Only the laser hit but it was enough to penetrate just above the Enforcer III's left hip and wreck the laser mounted there. Not much but it drove the medium 'Mech to back up and gave the Mackie a needed chance to stop trying to outturn it.

"Are they running?" someone asked.

"Just switching it up, look out!" the Blackjack driver shouted in warning as a line of hovertanks swept easily past the reforming 'Mechs, sensor locks dissolving as electronic countermeasures played havoc on the generally reliable systems Holstein had fitted to the Mackies in place of long-removed or obsolete equipment.

Conner stepped forwards to cover the damaged rear of his Mechwarrior and let fly at one of the Pegasus hovertanks, tearing a strip out of one flank with the extended range laser, although his PPC shot just blew a few square meters of farmland apart.

Beside him the Blackjack was more successful, the sub-munitions of his autocannon ripping apart the skirts of one of the tanks. The Pegasus slewed to the side until one edge hit the dirt and then flipped, landing upside down.

The return fire from the line of tanks was mostly short-ranged missiles and Conner saw them batter at damaged 'Mechs, picking out the most vulnerable with practiced ease.

He expected damage, he didn't expect screams as four of his Mechs emerged from the salvos ablaze with fire. One fell immediately, smoke and flames rising from a ruptured cockpit. The others glowed ferociously on infrared scanners, overheating and quite unable to risk firing their weapons.

"Infernos!"

And now the enemy 'Mechs, having taken the opportunity to cool down, pressed again. Only six left but a column of mixed tanks were grinding along behind them, dirt spraying up from their tracks.

"Baker Actual to Crucis Actual!" The voice of Michael Searcy cut across the command net. "Wheel your left flank back, we're coming in on them."

"Acknowledged," he snapped back, there was no time to argue. "Crucis Company, refuse the flank!"

The three burning Mackies were moving sluggishly but they complied under covering fire from Conner and the other five Mackies as they focused their fire on a Firestarter and Javelin light BattleMechs leading the renewed loyalist attack.

Conner saw the Javelin go down as one leg snapped but the tan-painted Firestarter ducked and weaved, armor pockmarked with damage but never quite enough. A Bushwacker stalked in behind them and Conner highlighted it. "Drop the 'wacker!" he ordered - the Firestarter was just too nimble and opened fire. Tracing autocannon shots along the left arm's long barreled missile launcher and blasting away armor plates between the cockpit and the left shoulder assembly with the PPC.

A torrent of autocannon fire and LRMs hammered Hancock's Mackie down, the young mechwarrior - one of Conner's classmates - losing control and toppling his 'Mech backwards into the dirt as the fire ripped away armor plating across its front. Clearly the Guards didn't have a monopoly on concentrating fire.

For a moment Conner thought Hancock would be able to right the Mackie but two missiles arched down out of the sky and blew through the fallen 'Mech's sides with devastating ease, ammunition stores erupting from the hole on the right side and flipping the 'Mech over as safety mechanisms tried to divert the secondary explosions out the back, unaware that there was a solid surface behind it.

"Arrow IV battery." the Blackjack pilot said grimly, still blazing away at the remaining Pegasus hover tanks. "These little devils are spotting for them."

They weren't just spotting, a handful of SRMs slapped napalm across the side of Conner's Mech and he cut the Mackie's large laser out of the firing circuit as temperature soared inside his cockpit.

A moment later, the Pegasus responsible blew apart and fresh Mackies charged into the fray, catching the loyalists in their flank as they tried to wrap around Crucis Company.

On the fresh blue and gold paint jobs, Conner saw the markings of Baker Company and understood what Searcy had been doing. He turned his sights back on the Bushwacker and fired again, his shots tearing through the armor on one leg and severing a myomer bundle. A moment later, a Crucis Company Mackie, covered from shoulder to fire in napalm, reached the bird-legged Mech and drove a kick into the damaged leg, snapping it like a rotten twig and toppling the Bushwacker to the ground.

"Still think we're antiques?" Conner asked as he looked for a fresh target.

"Maybe a little old-fashioned," the Davion Guard replied as he moved his Blackjack to stand next to Conner's Mackie. "..but we respect that in the First Guards."


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