Persistence, Clan Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
8 December 3053
If this were an action holovid, there would be flashing red lights and wailing alarms going off on every deck of the Lodestar. People would be charging to and fro, section doors closing off, and terse intercom messages about battle status crackling over the speakers.
There is none of that here. The MechWarriors and Techs have been expecting yet another round with the Jade Falcons before leaving Persistence, and the miserable bastards have not disappointed.
“Be careful,” Sharyl says to Ben Gleason as he laces up his coolant vest in their cabin. “Don’t take any chances out there. Please.”
He grins. “Me, take risks?”
“I’m serious.” Sharyl glances over at her own coolant vest, hanging up in a storage locker. She isn’t part of the force heading out today, because of damage done to the communications systems aboard her Dervish. She’ll be waiting out the battle in Lodestar’s CIC, sitting next to Mike Holznecht.
“So am I,” Ben says, serious now. “Old Woody may have better guns and armour now, but he’s still no assault ’Mech. I’ll take care.”
Sharyl wraps her arms around him and rests her forehead against his chest. It’s all she can do to keep from crying.
Brigitte Olafsdottír casts a look at her Axeman’s instrumentation, taking in the status of the heavy BattleMech almost by instinct. The Magna 260 extra light engine is running at peak efficiency, the weapons are primed and ready, and Jerry Bishop’s repairs to the damaged torso armour seem to be holding up just fine.
Here we go again…She opens a comm line. “Ben? Val? You guys up and running okay?”
“I’m here, Skipper,” Ben replies. “Good to go.”
“Likewise,” reports Tyler.
Brigitte looks at her hands. They’re trembling, ever-so-slightly. Fatigue, or nerves, or maybe a combination of the two; she isn't sure. She’s reminded of Skandia, almost two years ago now.
She closes her eyes for a moment before willing herself to be calm. She can’t afford to lose it out there. Too many people are counting on her today.
“As we discussed,” she says. “We stick with a loose defensive formation; overlapping fire patterns. Grizzly says that they’re aimed for the supply depot rather than our landing site.”
“They either want to stop us scavenging the wreckage from the earlier fights, or they want to seize the depot itself,” Val’s voice says as she guides her ’Mech onto Lodestar’s forward elevator platform. “Grabbing their toys must have really pissed them off.”
“We’re playing to their stereotypes, Val.” Ben sounds amused, in a resigned kind of way. “Dirty, loot-grabbing scum, remember?”
“You just described the first ten years of my so-called career, you know that?”
Despite the weariness gnawing away at her bones, Brigitte Olafsdottír finds a smile forming on her lips. She realises that she truly meant what she had told Val in Amber’s cabin earlier: she can’t do this without him.
The elevator reaches ground level and she pilots her ’Mech away from the DropShip to where Silver’s Black Hawk and Juno’s Stormcrow stand waiting for her. The names of the captured OmniMechs make her think of old, old stories that she’d heard as a small child. Stories that go all the way back into the distant pre-spaceflight past. A pair of crows following me into battle… So what does that make me?
Mike Holznecht rubs at the back of his neck and winces as his eyes adjust to the holographic displays in Lodestar’s CIC. He’s better than he was, but he still feels tired. He just hopes he doesn’t mess up again.
Not that Sharyl seems any more at ease than he, Mike notes as she sits down to his left. The Tech-turned-MechWarrior is wound up tight, biting at her bottom lip as she surveys the tactical feeds coming in from the ’Mechs as they move out for the half-emptied supply station.
“Here,” he says, passing her a spare wireless headset. “It’s been linked in.”
She accepts it from him. “Thanks,” she replies. “Any idea on what’s coming their way yet?”
“Looks like another – Binary, is it? That’s ten ’Mechs, on the approach from zero-seven-zero.” Ben Gleason goes quiet for a moment as he consults his scanners. “Yeah, ten machines. It’s a mixed bag, Skipper. Mostly Omnis, but they have... three old Inner Sphere designs as well. Design classics. Must be trying to plug holes in their force roster.”
Brigitte looks at the list of names scrolling down across her heads-up display. There are a few fast-moving light and medium machines in the oncoming Falcon force: a Black Hawk and a pair of Ullers, for example. They’re starting to split up, spreading out into a pair of five-’Mech formations.
“Okay, the heavy Star is slower. That Crusader and Thunderbolt aren’t as fast as their OmniMechs. Looks to me like they’re swinging around to the left. That fast Star is shifting around to our right. Ben, Juno, and Silver: you’re with me. The fast group is ours. Tyler? You and Katsumi turn to... zero-five-five and take the heavies. No heroics.”
“You’re talking to the wrong guy for heroics,” Tyler replies. “By the numbers; Norns style. We all heard the Major, so let’s get this done.”
Brigitte opens her private line to Tyler’s Crusader. “Stop doing that,” she tells him, trying to sound stern and not succeeding. “At this rate you’ll be addressing me as Commanding General of the SLDF.”
“I don’t see why not,” he replies. “You’d look pretty good in one of those old dress uniforms.”
A mixed bag, Ben Gleason thinks as the basic details of the oncoming Falcon ’Mechs flicker across his primary display. A pair of light Ullers, a medium Fenris, and a spindly 20-ton Dasher that is probably the fastest little BattleMech he’s ever seen in the field.
Following in their wake is a 60-ton Vulture… or a Mad Dog, according to Silver and Juno. Whatever you choose to call the thing, it’s an effective fire-support heavy. A 20-tube LRM pod is located either side of the narrow cockpit, and each arm carries a large and medium pulse laser in tandem. The superior Clan technology that goes into its construction means that it can carry all that firepower and travel just as fast as Sharyl’s Dervish.
Ben feels a moment’s concern as the ‘fast’ Star splits up. Three machines are heading across his line of advance, moving into an area of rocky outcrops and scattered trees surrounding a small body of water. Line of sight is restricted. The other two – the Vulture and one of the Ullers – is moving due south, apparently intent on engaging Maya’s and Malky Duncan’s ’Mechs.
He forces himself to focus on the problem at hand: take these guys down first. He glances to his left, and sees that Silver, Juno, and Brigitte are still advancing. Ben has to admire the way the two Clan expatriates pilot their machines. The damn things move almost like living creatures.
“Engaging!” Juno’s voice is matched by the red and green flicker of lasers the instant she gets a clear shot. The first Omni to break into view from behind a stand of trees is the Dasher. The scout ’Mech pivots its torso to bring its own guns to bear, and the pilot manages to get a salvo off before their machine is torn to pieces.
The Dasher’s right arm is incinerated, Juno’s laser fire cutting laterally into the side of the torso, burning away armour, structural members, and the outer casing of the Omni’s XL engine. The large laser strike to the centre torso is almost unnecessary, and the light ’Mech collapses in a cloud of grey and black smoke, hitting the ground with a rattling crash.
By comparison, the Dasher’s return fire does little but chip a little armour away from the arms and left leg of Juno’s Stormcrow.
“Shit!” Ben flinches as the ’Mech following up behind the Dasher – the Fenris – takes a snapshot at him. A blistering proton bolt from its PPC rips through the air less than a metre behind his Clint’s head. Half his cockpit displays turn to fuzz and static for a moment.
Maya Sieberg scowls as she adjusts her targeting system. The Archer is running better now than it has in years, but there are still a number of problems with the tired old monster. Delaney and his staff have done their best with what they had on hand at Camelot but it doesn’t overcome the fact that most of the Archer’s components are, well, old… old and worn.
She braces the 70-ton ’Mech and prepares to fire her LRMs. Directly due south of her position are two Falcon Omnis, dressed in a lurid lime-green paint scheme. “Firing!” she announces into her neurohelmet’s microphone.
The Omnis are already launching flights of long-range missiles back at her and Malky. Forty LRMs from the Vulture, and to her unhappy surprise, the Uller launches almost as many warheads itself. Damn! The little fracker’s a walking rocket battery!
Out of the corner of her eye, Maya catches a pulsing flash of light as the point-defence cannon built into Malky’s Excalibur locks onto the incoming missiles and starts firing.
She nudges her targeting joystick forwards just a touch and hits the trigger. She wants that Uller down and out of the action.
“Benjamin, keep moving!”
He doesn’t need telling twice. Heeding Silver’s warning Ben wrenches at his controls before stamping down on his jump-jet pedals. Venting from ports in the legs and back of his ’Mech, superheated plasma blasts downwards. Woody lurches into the air, thrusting away from the immediate threat of the Fenris.
Gleason adjusts his trajectory, turning the rebuilt Clint in mid-air. He’s just in time to see Silver’s Black Hawk turn and engage the Fenris.
White-hot lumps of hull armour tumble away from the Falcon machine before its right arm, molten and misshapen, is torn clean off under Silver’s assault. As he reaches the zenith of his jump, Ben catches sight of a massive exchange of long-range rockets between Maya, Malky, and their Clan opponents.
Woody touches down on the western shore of the small lake. Ben takes a moment to steady the ’Mech, and catches sight of the second Uller. Unlike the machine fighting Maya, this one isn’t rigged out to be a missile boat. Its right arm is carrying a hulking autocannon that looks to be twice as powerful as the antique Armstrong class-5 that Woody used to pack. The six-tube SRM pod slung underneath the autocannon is almost an afterthought.
He targets the Uller with his lasers and fires... just as the Falcon ’Mech starts firing at him. The jet of flame strobing from the autocannon’s muzzle spits out a massive stream of shells. The impact is like getting kicked in the chest plating by an Atlas.
Woody reels and staggers, with clouds of splintered Durallex Medium armour flying from its torso plating. Red lights flash across Ben’s primary and secondary displays, and he’s all too aware that something important has just ruptured in the back of the cockpit; he can smell insulation burning. He hopes to hell it isn’t something toxic. It’s all he can do to keep the Clint from falling. He can hear a voice, probably Silver’s, yelling in his earphones but he can’t make out any of the words.
Brigitte Olafsdottír’s heart is in her mouth. Ben Gleason’s transponder signal winks out for an instant. When it flickers back on again, there’s an amber warning marker next to it. Severe damage detected.
“Silver, go get that bastard! The Fenris is mine.” She triggers her own jump jets, leaping her Axeman up and over the outcrop screening the Fenris from her. She’s firing her primary weapons even before she touches down.
Pulse-laser fire and class-20 autocannon shells hammer into the damaged Falcon Omni like the impact of a crash-landing DropShip. They split open the armour from ankle to hip on the right leg before damaging the actuators.
As serious as that damage is, it’s nothing compared to what comes next. Brigitte, snarling, swings her Axeman’s namesake weapon up and over, slamming it down into the smaller ’Mech’s sternum. The advanced ferro-fibrous composite cracks open underneath the impact like it’s thin plywood.
Away to the west, skirting a large stand of hardwood trees, Katsumi Kuramoto takes her first shot of the battle. Coming into view up ahead are two Falcon ’Mechs. Directly in front of her is a Dervish that’s almost identical to Sharyl’s machine. Slightly behind and to the left is a Black Hawk that is sporting a giant cannon in place of its right arm.
“Spread out a bit, Jessie, Liam. Don’t bunch up,” Katsumi says as she targets the Dervish and fires. Her particle beam misses high, but six of her ten Artemis-guided rockets explode against the Falcon ’Mech’s chest and right shin.
By way of reply, the Dervish’s chest-mounted LRM covers flip open and twenty missiles are launched directly at Katsumi’s ’Mech.
“Wow,” Maya Sieberg mutters as the stationary Vulture’s torso pivots to the side. The big Omni rocks a little in place and the arms seem to go slack. Malky’s return fire went in a bit too high, most of it missing altogether. The handful of long-range rockets that did acquire detonated against the Vulture’s cockpit module and upper left torso.
“Musta knocked him out cold,” Malky observes. “How are ye doing, hen?”
Maya is tempted – just for a second – to ask for a translation. Half the time she has to guess at what Malky Duncan’s saying, and she usually gets it wrong.
Most of her own LRM fire isn’t even going where she wants it to. Something is wrong – badly wrong – with the Archer’s fire-control system.
She’s just about to answer him when a hail of missile fire blasts past her cockpit, heading in towards Valentine Tyler’s ’Mech.
Ultra autocannon, Ben realises, a little groggily. The armour on either side of Woody’s torso has been all but destroyed. His own laser fire, in return, has only scored one hit.
The Uller isn’t about to let him go. It’s moving in closer, circling the southern boundary of the lake to get a better line of fire on him.
Ben Gleason braces himself. He’s only got one chance left, and it’s all down to how he times it...
An instant before the Uller fires again he hits the jump jets again. Woody lurches into the air, wobbling, and its gyros are still badly out of synch. Ben finds the abused ’Mech wanting to lean to its left and he has to compensate.
Blitzing out another stream of shells, the Uller misses with half of them. It yanks its arm upwards to track the soaring Spheroid BattleMech, and catches the Clint with its autocannon. Every last piece of armour on Woody’s left arm is blown away, and a chunk of internal support is chewed away from the ’Mech’s structural framework.
Two SRMs slam into the Clint’s upper torso, one on both sides, and Gleason realises that the hull’s been breached. Son of a bitch.
How he doesn’t lose control altogether and slam headlong into the ground is a mystery that stays with Ben for the rest of his days. Somehow, he’s able to use the loss of weight on the left side of his ’Mech to pivot Woody in mid-air, setting down maybe fifty metres behind the Falcon OmniMech.
Coming to a dead stop at the very edge of the lakeshore, the Uller turns on its heel to swing its main weaponry to bear on the badly damaged Clint. At this close range, it simply can’t miss.
Its pilot takes a little too long to line up their shot.
“Benjamin, now! Hit him!”
Splashing through the shallows, water streaming from its feet and shins, Silver’s Black Hawk levels its arms and opens fire on the Falcon light ’Mech from behind. Clan-made medium lasers bracket the Uller, before Silver can adjust her aim and hit the Omni.
Ben Gleason needs no second invitation. He fires his own lasers, trapping the Uller between them. He catches sight of the ’Mech’s right arm being torn to fragments, flying apart in a cloud of sparks. Then the torso structural framing melts under Silver’s assault, and what’s left of the Uller collapses in a heap of charred metal and ceramics.
“Well done, Silver!”
Olafsdottir reaches out with her Axeman’s left hand and braces against the burnt and broken hull of the crippled, stationary Fenris. She wrenches her hatchet free and a pressurised stream of ’Mech coolant squirts free of the dreadful wound she’s just inflicted.
The Falcon pilot has had enough. Before she can swing the hatchet again, the Omni’s escape hatch blows off and the command couch ejects, carrying its pilot clear of the mangled Fenris. Brigitte allows the inert machine to topple over onto its side before turning her attention to the next target.
“Captain, you’d better have Ben fall back.” Mike Holznecht’s voice sounds grim. “His ’Mech’s in a mess. I’ve got multiple breaches on the telemetry.”
“Copy that,” she acknowledges. “Ben? Find yourself some cover and sit tight.”
“Skipper, I can still…”
“No, you can’t. As soon as it’s safe, get out of there. Understood?”
“Understood.” His disappointment is plain to hear.