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Story by MohammedAsZaman

Night

  The alarm on his console screamed and Stephen’s eyes shot open. He slapped the screen to shut off the shrill wail. 

  “Wake up, stray cats!” announced the star captain, “We are marching to the sound of the guns; A battle is being waged and we do not want to miss it!” 

  “Fighting at this hour?” Stephen asked, “This is another ‘clever plan’ by Clan Smoke Jaguar, eh?” 

  “Worse, if that could be possible,” replied Drummond, “our allies are clashing against Wolf’s Dragoons and the Kell Hounds and they are finally calling for help.” 

  “They want us to pull their nuts out of the fire,” laughed Stephen, “If you asked me, I would let their nuts burn.” 

  The overlay of a map was superimposed on his console, and he could see red arrows pointing on the path his unit was instructed to take. 

  “Make your best speed to Kado-guchi valley,” said the star captain, “you are to advance until within combat range, form up, then advance to contact.”   

  There was a chorus of “Aff” from the trinary of omnimechs, as they trotted through the darkness.

  Mira commented, “It looks like a thunderstorm.” 

  “Those are the Long Tom batteries that surround Luthien City,” answered Stephen, “Woe to the unit that is forced to endure the brutal hammering of their shells.” 

  “Keep moving,” sighed Drummond, “do not let yourself be a target, avoid standing stationary for any length of time, or you will be showered with artillery shells.” 

  “So, Clan Smoke Jaguar is finally getting a lesson on real war,” commented Stephen, “I wonder, how would they fight if they had their backs to the wall, and struggling for survival?” 

  “As funny as that would be to observe,” responded his commander, “that would be a disaster for all of the Clans.” 

  “This Nova Cat reserves the right to choose upon which side I fight,” declared Stephen, “and I shall always oppose Clan Smoke Jaguar and their ilk, because they are a stain on the Clans, as a whole.” 

  “Please hold off on your trial of annihilation,” cautioned Drummond, “at least until this campaign ends,” she added a graphic overlay to his display, “It looks like our allies have committed all they have to this push.”

  The Clan Nova Cat trinary loped into the valley indicated on their navigation displays, they had passed occasional Clan Smoke Jaguar omnimechs, limping away from the front, mutilated from battle damage. They found scattered wreckage of dozens of Jaguar machines, strewn about like broken toys, on ground cratered and smoking.   

  Enemy aerospace fighters screamed overhead, which caused Stephen to break out in a cold sweat. Fighting another battlemech is one thing, being the mere target of several tons of bombs is no way for a warrior to die. He pictured an insect being crushed under a boot. 

  The terrain changed into a gradual incline and Stephen’s display showed the remnants of a Smoke Jaguar trinary struggling against a small, mixed force defending a stately mansion that overlooked the valley. As they approached, they could see a company of armored vehicles behind a berm, only their turrets exposed to fire. Behind those vehicles, stood five battlemechs, which Stephen recognized as a Victor, a Whitworth, and a pair of Panthers.     

  A Summoner jumped over the mansion and in mid-flight, it was struck by a pair of particle projectors and a smattering of missiles, which caused the hapless omnimech to spin in mid-air and tumble onto the green ceramic tiles of one of the mansion’s wings and into the structure, where its icon went dark.      

  In a brief exchange against a Timber Wolf, the Whitworth erupted into a ball of fire and collapsed in a heap. A Firefly dropped to the ground, under the Victor’s withering fire. One of the Panthers lost a leg and struggled to stand to keep fighting.   

  “Look, at the top of the heights!” cried Elissa, “Kell Hounds!” 

  “There has to be over a hundred battlemechs,” added Lawrence, “They are pursuing the fleeing Jaguars!” 

  “Stand your ground, my kittens,” said Drummond, her voice calm and firm, “We cover the retreat.” 

  “I suppose this battle is over,” Stephen commented, “When Clan Smoke Jaguar discovered the many extra units present, they had the full right to alter their bid, aff?” 

  “Aff,” agreed the star captain, “We could have revised our own bid, which, in winning, may have placed our clan in charge of the operation and take the overall leadership away from the Smoke Jaguars,” Drummond growled, “I believe that was what the Jaguars feared most: Success under another Clan’s command.”

  “Keep your interval,” cautioned Drummond, “just back away at a walk.” 

  A handful of damaged omnimechs passed through our lines, the entire cluster formed as a bulwark against an irresistible, massive wave of enemy machines. 

  “They advance, but why not charge us?” asked Mira, “We would be overwhelmed.” 

  “Mayhap they have had their fill of slaughter,” mused Stephen, “do you forget our attack on that town?” 

  “Aff,” Mira responded glumly, “that was dreadful.”

Late Evening

 The thin line of defending omnimechs retreated to the Tairakana Plains, to the foot of the Waseda Hills. The trinary stood near the wreckage of a Crab, where two Elementals stood vigil over a body bag. The massed Inner Sphere forces were a kilometer away, advancing at a slow walk. 

 “Katya, Morris, it is time to go home,” Stephen said, “Thank you.” 

 “It is good to see you, Stephen,” Katya answered, as she climbed up to the brackets, “We go home.” 

 Ahead of the approaching ranks of enemy battlemechs, advanced two Crabs and a Dragon, followed by a vehicle, a Maxim hovercraft, all in mottled, mustard yellow camouflage, and displaying the green banner of the 8th Arkab Training Cadre, etched with gold Arabic script. The Maxim flew a white flag and as the Clan Nova Cat trinary backed away, the Arkab contingent stopped at the fallen Crab and several infantrymen dismounted from the vehicle carrying a stretcher. One of the Crabs knelt near the body and its female pilot dismounted. She fell to her knees and bowed her head beside the dead pilot, while the soldiers lifted the body bag onto the stretcher and solemnly bore it away to place it upon the Maxim. The mechwarrior rose to her feet and snapped to attention and saluted the receding trinary before she returned to her machine.

  The advancing Inner Sphere units halted at Waseda Hills and the Clan Nova Cat Cluster finally turned and marched back to the landing zone, without interruption. 

  Mechwarrior Stephen was silent for the rest of the journey back to his dropship and dreaded the coming debriefings that followed every operation, especially a failed operation. 

  “Will you look at that?” exclaimed Mira. 

  Elissa asked, “What is it?” 

  “They placed spotlights to light it up!” chimed in Lawrence, “It is bolted to the very top of our dropship.” 

  “Congratulations, Stephen,” announced Star Captain Janet Drummond, “you won the contest!” 

  Stephen was still somewhat confused until he looked up. Standing on top of the Union dropship, illuminated by a circle of spotlights blazing brilliantly in the darkness, was the statue of Coordinator Urizen Kurita II.

  The Mad Dog trudged up the ramp towards the repair bay. The technicians were celebrating, as usual, as if they had won the battle. Nevertheless, the fighting was over, and their charges had returned in one piece -more than adequate reason to celebrate.

    Stephen climbed down from the scaffolding, where Katya, now wearing her fatigue uniform, stood waiting. The Elemental woman wrapped her arms about his smaller form and gave Stephen a tight hug.

    “Ouch! Have a care,” he warned, “I was wounded today!”

    Katya released him and stepped back, “Sorry, are you alright?”

    Stephen massaged his neck and rubbed his shoulder, “I will live, I guess,” he reached into a vest pocket and handed Katya a palm-sized box, “Here you go.”

    “What is it?”

    “Mochi candy,” replied the mechwarrior, “I grabbed a case of it, but we have to fetch that and the other boxes of stuff from Mira’s Timber Wolf.”

    Katya unwrapped the small square of soft candy and popped it into her mouth, “Oooh, this is good!” She took is hand and pulled him toward the bay where Mira’s omnimech was located.

    The techs were lounging about the Timber Wolf, munching on mochi.

    “Thank you for the candy, Stephen!” shouted Mira. Her technicians echoed her in chorus.

    Stephen growled under his breath, even though he was going to share the candy with them, anyway. “Make certain all the techs get a small box,” he told them. After they stored the cases he had brought back in a locked storage container shared by the star, he linked arms with the Elemental and led her to the mess. “Katya, have you ever had instant ramen?” 

The End

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