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Basin Lake
Luthien
Draconis Combine
January 4, 3052

Midday

Chu-sa Sven Shamash glanced at his sensors and frowned. The battalion of 1st Sword of Light battlemechs had been pushed aside by heavier Clan Smoke Jaguar elements. Those few stars that made it through the gauntlet of furious DCMS units were almost staggering by the time they reached the company of Eighth Arkab Legion battlemechs; the merciless barrages of missiles shredded the remainder of the advancing invaders from the cover of trees. Even with this success, the Azami officer was concerned- his MilSat link indicated that Clan Nova Cat units were massing just behind the faltering Clan Smoke Jaguar line and he could see their plan very clearly –they will push forward and hit the weakened DCMS units like a massive wave. “Amateurs...” he sighed. “…but very well-equipped amateurs.”

The commlink sounded. “Chu-sa Shamash, this is Saif al-Din.” The face of the Eighth Arkab Legion’s commander appeared on the comm. screen. “Hello, cousin,” responded the Chu-sa. “What are your orders?” Mohammed As`Zaman Bey’s deep voice was tired and he spoke with urgency. “The Coordinator has given the command to pull back. You may retreat and reform at this point.” The Chu-sa noted a navigation indicator appearing on his map display. “Acknowledged,” Shamash replied. He glanced at his forward sensors which showed numerous enemy units approaching. “I may have to leave a small holding force to allow our slower units to break away.” “Use your best judgment, cousin –out,” Mohammed Bey ended his transmission.

The Eighth Arkab Legion was a newly-formed training cadre that served to instruct Inner Sphere units how to use their assets in facing the invading Clans. Experienced in fighting the Clans, it was sheer coincidence that the cadre was now on Luthien, putting their accumulated knowledge to the test. The Chu-sa activated his trinary net, “All elements of Trinary Shamash are to retreat to the point indicated on your navscreens.” He tapped the command frequency button. “Q’arandar, this is Shamash.” “Yes sir,” responded Q’arandar. “You are to take command of the trinary,” he ordered. “I will personally remain behind to delay the enemy.” “Sir, that is suicide,” replied Q’arandar. “Even a star would die for nothing.” “That may be, but we cannot afford to lose a star, Ahmed,” said Sven. “Remember the study materials –I shall take the chance that enough of the enemy will slow to face a single challenger. Now go!” “Yes sir,” replied the adjutant. Q’arandar turned his Mongoose and motioned for the waiting battlemechs to move toward the distant hills.

Moments after the last of his unit pulled away from their prepared positions, Chu-sa Shamash detected the first star of advancing Clan Smoke Jaguar omnimechs on his sensors. The Clan machines on his sensors bore dual tags, indicating both their Inner Sphere and Clan designations. Out of courtesy to his “guest” opponents and as part of his role as a trainer, he eliminated the common-use Inner Sphere labels and used the Clan designations. A severely damaged Gargoyle led the small unit, flanked by a similarly wrecked Mad Dog on its right and a limping Hellbringer on its left. Behind them were other damaged omnimechs; an Adder missing an arm and a Summoner, also in severely damaged condition. “Why don’t these guys just go back to their LZ?” he wondered. Limping to the front lines made very little sense. Shamash moved his Crab CRB-Az variant forward, arms raised in challenge, he barked over the open frequency and external loudspeakers. “I am Trinary Commander Chu-sa Sven Shamash of the glorious Eighth Arkab Legion! I command access to Waseda Hills and challenge the Clan Smoke Jaguar Gargoyle should he desire to pass –Let no others interfere!”

The enemy star halted for a moment, as if conferring. Shamash keyed his microphone, “You are severely damaged, I will allow the Gargoyle hegira if you decide to return to your dropships for repair.” The eighty-ton omnimech raised its arms and strode forward, “I am Star Captain Kisen of the First Jaguar Guard Cluster –Let us fight without interference, Inner Sphere surat!” “Done!” replied Shamash, his Crab suddenly dashed to its left, opening the distance to just over half a kilometer. The Star League grade particle cannon in the mech’s right arm spewed a scintillating beam of energy while the massive long-ranged laser in its left arm tore through the dry, dusty air.

Caught by surprise, the Clan assault omni’s weapons fired wide, sending its autocannon fragments into trees and raising clouds of dust from the trampled grass. Perspire formed on his brow, Shamash set his mech’s speed and circled the larger omni, while he waited for his weapons to recharge. The Crab’s cockpit was warm but not to a point of discomfort. The larger omni trundled forward, arm weapons blazing away. Sven noted the trace damage to an arm and leg. “Scratched my paint…” He loosed both arm weapons once more and scanned his path as his Crab dashed toward a stand of heavy woods. He winced as the Clan Smoke Jaguar omnimech’s head spouted smoke and flame when the particle bolt struck it. The Gargoyle halted; its arms fell to its sides before it pitched forward as if in slow motion. Shamash gritted his teeth as the omnimech landed face-first onto the field of tall grass and lay motionless. The Crab slowed to a walk, the Azami officer cautiously backed away from his fallen opponent and waited for a few seconds to allow his now sweltering cockpit to cool. “I declare myself victor,” Shamash announced with Clanlike arrogance, “If the Mad Dog is willing, I am ready to allow you hegira or accept your challenge for passage to Waseda Hills.”

The Mad Dog slowly stalked forward, its twin gauss rifles swerving. “I, Mechwarrior Unda of the First Jaguar Guard, am ready to fight you.” Shamash had pushed his mech into motion as the new challenger began to speak, twisting his weapons to face his target, he fired at a run. The Crab churned a trail of dust over the dry ground and shuddered. Sven saw the status indicator screen flash yellow as armor was stripped from his mech’s left leg. His own weapons struck the Clan omnimech but it still attempted to draw closer. Breaking into a run, the Crab zigzagged, its actuators whining in protest. Shamash was perspiring profusely now, mostly from the adrenalin coursing through his body. Two nickel-alloy projectiles screamed past the camouflaged mech, tearing deep, smoking grooves in the dry soil. As he crashed through a grove of trees, the Arkab officer saw the Mad Dog’s right arm explode and the omnimech collapsed onto its right side, resting on the tattered remnants of its arm. Again, Chu-sa Shamash slowed his machine and circled the prone enemy, weapons ready. “Inner Sphere warrior…” came the call, “my omnimech is out of ammunition –it will be an easy kill.” The omnimech slowly rolled onto its avianlike legs and stood, as if waiting for the final blow. Shamash backed his Crab away from the stricken Mad Dog. “Agreed. Mechwarrior Unda, I grant hegira. You may depart without shame to fight another day.” He raised his Crab’s arms, “Once the Mad Dog has cleared the field, I choose to face the Summoner if he too, is prepared to wear the mantle of defeat.”

A cloud of long-range missiles erupted from the Smoke Jaguar omnimech, almost catching Shamash by surprise. He twisted his controls and the Crab leapt into motion, a few scattered missiles impacting along the right side of his mech. He grinned as he spun his mount around, raking the Summoner’s right arm with energy fire, sending the limb spinning to the ground. Autocannon fire sprayed after the speeding Crab, raising plumes of dirt and clouds of yellow dust. A second flight of missiles set fire to the patch of forest Sven’s mech was gliding through. His screens flickered as he let loose with particle cannon and enhanced range large laser. The large laser struck the Summoner’s right torso, easily slicing through its already torn layer of armor. The Summoner took two more steps and shut down, still on its feet. “Chu-sa Shamash,” the omnimech’s pilot announced, “my power plant has been destroyed and I can no longer continue –Well fought.”

With a wave of a claw, the Eighth Arkab Legion Crab backed away slowly, “Well fought, indeed!” Shamash placed his targeting pipper on the Loki. “Is the pilot of the Hellbringer ready fight or flee?” The Hellbringer limped forward; its right leg armor lay open with singed actuators and ripped myomer bundles exposed. The Azami mechwarrior was amazed that the pilot had chosen to advance with such a damaged machine, it was stripped of armor in several areas and its torso was smoking. He mentally shrugged at what manner of people he faced. He kicked his mech into a run, weapons leveled at his target. A female’s voice, unwavering and determined, spoke over the comm, “Mechwarrior Zena is prepared to face you, Inner Sphere surat.” The Hellbringer let loose with a pair of what appeared to be large lasers, a medium autocannon and a heavy missile pod. The Crab dashed between stands of trees, alternating laser and particle cannon as fast as they could recharge. The Azami pilot saw his status screen flash as enemy fire blasted away layers of his mount’s armor. Shamash saw his opponent staggering slightly, the thermal images of the Hellbringer indicating that it was severely overheating. The Smoke Jaguar pilot was overriding its heat sensors in order to keep firing.

The Crab pounded across the rolling meadows of feather grass, a long cloud of dust rolling behind it. The Hellbringer stopped moving but still loosed autocannon bursts vainly at the speeding mech. The Crab’s particle cannon struck the Hellbringer in its center of mass and a massive explosion lifted the Hellbringer from the ground and tossed it backwards. The 65-ton omnimech crashed to the ground, resting on its back while fragments of its armor and inner components rained down over a small area, setting the grass aflame.

Chu-sa Shamash slowed his Crab to a walk and scanned the area. Sure enough, the pilot was able to eject. He saluted with a claw and turned to face the last Smoke Jaguar omni. “I challenge the Adder.” He stated calmly and used a towel to dry his face. “I am all that remains defending the way to Waseda Hills.” He tapped an icon and smiled in relief –he saw that the unit that was once under his command had a good head start on its way to where the Eighth Arkab Legion’s elements would regroup.

The Azami officer advanced his Crab toward where the Adder paced, as if impatient. The omnimech leaned forward and broke into a run, its remaining particle cannon loosing a bolt of deadly energy. The Adder staggered as particle cannon and laser struck its body. Twisting the 50-ton Crab’s torso to the right, Sven kept his battlemech running despite the rising cockpit heat. He raced through a clump of trees, seeking to keep his Crab on the side of the Adder that lacked an arm. Again the Crab’s weapons struck the Adder, this time low. The Smoke Jaguar omnimech’s legs gave out from beneath it and the Adder collapsed in a heap, leaning on its right side. Its left arm feebly tried to lift its bulk from the ground.

The Crab cautiously approached from the Adder’s right, weapons trained at the angular hood that covered the alien battlemech’s body. The Clan omnimech tried to rise but fell, taking more damage. “Go ahead, curse you…fire and be done with it,” the Clan pilot growled. Chu-sa Shamash had his Crab take a few steps back, “It is fitting for a warrior to die on his feet.” the Arkab mechwarrior replied. “I shall not fire until you stand, although I offer hegira.” He noted that his MilSat map indicated massed enemy targets slowly closing upon his position. He turned his Crab’s torso so that his cameras could sweep the open plains. Despite the heat of the cockpit, coldness gripped his spine momentarily. There seemed no end to the numbers of hostile omnimechs trudging towards Waseda Hills. He suddenly felt very much alone.

“Your offer of hegira is generous, but I must refuse,” the Clan mechwarrior answered, his voice somewhat hoarse, which caught the Chu-sa’s attention. “I thank you for allowing a mechwarrior the honor of dying on his feet.” There was a loud squealing and grating of ruined, twisted armor as the Adder practically leapt to its feet, its left arm swinging with trained precision and drawing level to the Crab’s cockpit. Instincts kicking in, Sven triggered his weapons a split second before his enemy lock-on alarm sounded. Large and medium laser burned away armor and reduced the Adder’s left torso to smoking ruin. The particle bolt caught the omnimech full in the cockpit. Its weapon unfired, the Adder collapsed to the ground with a loud crash.

Shamash slumped in his seat as the Crab turned to face the hordes that drew closer and halted to observe the last contest. Suddenly, the Arkab mechwarrior sat upright and a great feeling of elation swept over him. His heart thundered, not from fear but from a joy that filled his breast –Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful had chosen for him to be here at this moment and there was nowhere else he would rather be.

Chu-sa Sven Shamash set his jaw as he raised his battered Crab’s arms and announced in a booming voice: “I am Trinary Commander Chu-sa Sven Shamash of the incomparable Eighth Arkab Legion! Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful commands that I defend the way to Waseda Hills and to the Imperial City beyond. Hegira is offered to those wise enough to turn back. Who will be the first to challenge, allowing no other to interfere?”

There was a long moment of silence before a pristine Nova raised its arms and stepped out of the throng of Nova Cat omnimechs. “Accepted,” Sven said. His Crab’s cockpit once again cool and comfortable, he pushed the machine into his usual run. The Nova dashed straight at the Crab, its heavy pulse laser raking the Crab’s torso and melting away armor. The medium autocannon burst flew wide. The Crab returned fire, reducing layers of armor to molten slag. “This one’s fresh and the pilot skilled.” muttered the Azami officer to himself, he reversed his mech at full speed. More of the Crab’s armor was pecked away by the Nova’s autocannon. His own weapons tore into the Nova and left gaping holes in its torso and limbs.

The fight slowly edged its way towards the Waseda Hills. Chu-sa Shamash noted the MilSat display -two columns of enemy omnimechs had continued on their way into the low foothills and were chasing down the slower DCMS units as they attempted to flee to safety. The Arkab officer also took notice of the one column of Nova Cats that paused to witness his last battle. Using his best efforts at maneuvering, Sven managed to avoid the Nova’s pulse laser but the rapid-firing autocannon still managed to score hits. He barely managed to keep the distance where his particle cannon was just within range. The pulse laser couldn’t hit the Crab if he kept at range but he could not escape the autocannon's telling fire, he winced as shards of his mount's armor fell away.

Shamash glanced at his chronograph and realized that his current fight had lasted over five minutes. He had intended to buy his comrades ten minutes when he ordered the retreat almost half an hour earlier! He smiled broadly and suddenly halted, allowing the furious Nova Cat pilot to dash forward. He fired all three weapons, which destroyed the omnimech’s left torso. As the Nova’s left arm fell away, it fired its autocannon one last time before the omnimech’s fusion engine shut down.

Alarm icons flashed on his systems screen and Chu-sa Shamash could smell the odor of overheated wiring. The last autocannon burst tore open the Crab’s left arm and damaged the mech’s shoulder actuator. One of his Star League grade heat sinks was offline –something that he knew would cause problems in the next challenge. A large circle of Clan Nova Cat omnimechs now surrounded his Crab; he spun his machine about and saw dozens of omnis raising their arms in challenge but willing to wait for this lone Crab’s pilot to make a selection.

Shamash chuckled and stabbed at a commlink button. “Cousin Mohammed, you have to see this.” He waited for a while but there was no response. He connected to the satellite uplink and transmitted the record and a live feed of his battle to one of the Eighth Legion’s dropships and left a brief, final message for his cousin.

In the few seconds it took to establish the link, he tapped his status screen and opened an image of his wife, Kahaneh and two young sons, Mohammed and Gunnar. He moved the picture to the corner of the display so that he could see their faces as he fought. Chu-sa Shamash bowed his head. “Merciful Allah, Lord of Worlds, Owner of the Day of Judgment, I humbly thank thee for showing me the path of righteousness and allotting me a happy and fruitful life. I humbly thank thee for thy divine protection and may your wisdom and guidance ever bless and steer your chosen people on the path to Heaven. Lastly, please protect my cousin Mohammed.” His right arm flicked out and his finger touched the control that disabled his ejection seat. “I almost forgot.”

“Please forgive my delay,” Sven announced, “I needed a moment to recalibrate my targeting system.” He cast about, taking note of the many willing challengers, quickly eliminating any of lower weight than his fifty-ton Crab. His targeting pipper moved over a heavy omnimech, “Ah, this one has a battery of short-ranged missiles,” he muttered under his breath. “The gray Mad Dog with the scattered star pattern, I accept your challenge. Please announce your name and unit so that I may know with whom I have the honor of battling.” “I am Mechwarrior Stephen, One Hundred Nineteenth Nova Cat Striker Cluster, Trinary Striker, Alpha Striker Star.” The Crab immediately began to back away, weapons raised. Shamash weighed the idea of using his large laser –The Crab’s damaged shoulder made hitting his target difficult and being short a heat sink may cause his mount to lose speed which would be fatal should the Mad Dog manage to loose a volley of missiles. The Clan Nova Cat omnimech’s particle cannon and autocannon were bad enough.

The first exchange of fire was at long range, the Mad Dog missed while the Crab’s particle cannon stripped some armor from its target’s left leg. The cockpit heat shot up immediately and Sven rapped at his controls to override his mech’s safety features. “That wasn’t good…” Alarms sounded, Shamash continued backing away as the Mad Dog followed at a walk. Sven fired the particle cannon, again overheating his wounded Crab. He cursed under his breath as the energy bolt missed by mere centimeters. The Clanner’s autocannon raked the Arkab mech’s torso and the Status Display showed the artificial gyroscope flashing yellow as was the power plant.

Still backing away, the Crab scored a hit on the Mad Dog’s right arm while the Clanner’s energy weapon missed. The Crab’s right arm was struck twice, shattering bits of the limb’s internal frame, which flashed angry red on Sven’s display. As the Crab passed through a grove of maple trees, a squad of DCMS infantry stood up and saluted. The Azami officer keyed his loudspeaker, “Take cover, soldiers –and dare not interfere. This is my fight.”

The Mad Dog suddenly broke into a run and fired all of its weapons. The autocannon and missiles flew wide but a searing energy bolt burned its way through the Crab’s left torso. Shamash gasped as another heat sink exploded with a shower of coolant, then shut down. The Arkab officer saw his medium laser miss while his particle cannon melted away layers of armor from the omnimech’s left torso.

Backing through more woods, Shamash shook his head as he missed his next two shots –he had been on the move since before sunrise, fought in several meeting engagements since dawn and was now locked in combat with his seventh challenger in half an hour.

The Azami mechwarrior realized that he had pushed himself to his limits and his reactions were gradually slowing. The Mad Dog managed to strike the Crab’s center torso, flaking away at its frame. Another left leg strike bit off more armor. Vainly trying to keep the distance, Chu-sa Shamash had to back out of the protection of the wooded area and into the open meadow of gracefully waving grass.

Despite the sound of alarms and the blinking warning lights, he glanced at the monitors to which his external cameras fed. It was a beautiful afternoon, the skies blue with silvery clouds slowly making their way to the Southwest. Numerous condensation trails crisscrossed the skies denoting another battle raging far above the one in which he fought. The Crab’s MilSat display showed countless Aerofighters locked in combat as well as dozens of emergency location transmitters indicating pilots who were forced to eject from their stricken craft.

In a violent exchange of weapons fire, Sven’s battlemech shuddered as its right arm was sheared away, taking the precious particle cannon with it. The Crab’s left arm was without armor and took more damage to its already weakened frame. To his surprise, the enemy did not escape unscathed –while the laser stripped away all but a thin layer of the Mad Dog’s right arm’s armor, the particle cannon’s last burst struck the omnimech’s head and tore it open, exposing the injured pilot. The Mad Dog staggered as if dazed. The Azami officer held his breath for a moment; his eyes raced over his scanners as the Clan omnimech assumed a wide stance and spun its torso to face in his direction.

Grimly, Sven realized that he had few options left. He backed toward the ring of observing Clan Nova Cat omnimechs, swung the Crab’s torso and fired his large laser at the closest, stationary Dire Wolf and the medium laser at a nearby Gargoyle. “Allahu akbar!” Chu-sa Shamash placed his right hand on the image of his family and bowed his head. The Mad Dog stood immobile, stunned for a few seconds as the huge omnimechs, without thinking, reacted to the unexpected challenges. Their torsos turned, weapons instinctively snapped into position and fired at point blank range. Struck from all sides, the Crab collapsed as its cockpit, right torso and right leg were torn asunder by the torrent of concentrated fire.

From their vantage point hidden in a copse of trees, a lone squad of Eighth Arkab Legion jump infantry observed their comrade’s final battle. They had abandoned their wrecked hover which was struck by a chance round which killed the vehicle’s crew. While the Clan Nova Cat column was concentrating on the fight, they dropped their jet packs and dashed from one stand of woods to another, hoping against hope to see the Crab’s pilot escape alive. As one, the soldiers turned and faded into the woods, a long walk ahead of them.

Many kilometers away in the dropship Omar Mukhtar, the Arkab crew sat in shocked silence, and each man wiped away bitter tears when the satellite feed ceased.

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