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  2. Recaptured HPG Complex, Northern Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ I held firmly to Levi's waist and squinted my eyes as the snowmobile bounced and skidded through the ice and snow. What used to look like a frozen battlefield now was only a panorama of white whorls spinning out into infinite space, a space that was at once pressing close and yawing wide. Somewhere in my memories, I knew I'd seen snow like this before - but nothing my threefold identity could grasp felt quite as desolate as this. And nothing in the countless weather simulations I had run aboard the Strumfänger could have prepared me for the sight of the brutal, untamed fury of raw nature at its most merciless. The unending white expanse that whipped past outside my helmet was a harsh reminder of the insignificance of human life in the face of the universe's indifferent vastness. "Curie, are you doing okay back there?" Levi's voice was muffled by the roar of the snowmobile's engine and the howling, biting wind, but I could hear the concern in his words as he stared straight ahead. "Yes." I replied, my own tone less firm than I expected. "We proceed." "Alright, hold on!" Levi answered. "Got some wreckage up ahead we've gotta get around. Looks like one of the OpFor that came out on the losing end of an argument." I tightened my grip as Levi began to maneuver the snowmobile around the giant hulk of twisted metal and scorched composite armour that was once a BattleMech. This close, even through the accumulated snow, I could see the evidence of a brutal fight in the form of deep gouges and scorch marks on its hull. One of the machine's arms lay several meters away, half-buried in the snow. The cockpit was a burned-out husk, its canopy blown open, revealing a grotesque morass of melted metal and glass, possibly all that remained of the MechWarrior who once piloted this ‘Mech. We continued on, mechanically skirting the edges of ashen craters and weaving through a labyrinth of snow-covered debris. As we neared the steep tableau where the Command Van sat, a blast of icy wind buffeted us, momentarily causing the snowmobile to skid off-course. "Careful…" I murmured, my voice rising in pitch as I involuntarily squeezed Levi tighter. "Got it, Curie!" he shouted back, expertly righting our course and continuing the approach. Just then, a bolt of lightning arced overhead, a deafening boom reverberating through the air, momentarily illuminating the frozen, nightmarish landscape in shades of purple. "Thundersnow!" I exclaimed. The inside of my helmet was fogging up, and so I flipped the visor open to clear it. As soon as I did so, I was assailed by the sharp, unkind cold. The snowflakes that hit my face melted almost immediately, leaving my skin feeling raw and chilled. My eyebrows began to frost over, and frozen tears stung at my face as I quickly wiped the visor clean. "Hang on back there!" Levi shouted, his voice tinny in my helmet's speakers. I quickly wiped my nose with the back of a gloved hand and then snapped the visor shut. A moment later, Levi performed a lateral skid just in time to avoid a massive, jagged piece of tank debris that loomed out of the frozen tundra. The snowmobile tilted dangerously, but Levi's skillful driving kept us from flipping. "Good…" I stuttered as my heart leaped into my throat, "...driving." Levi just nodded, focused on the task at hand. "Hw much longer?" I added as another bolt of lightning arced across the sky. "Almost there! See the blink?" Levi pointed to a dimly lit, slowly pulsating red light atop a dark silhouette that was our target - the Command Van. As we ascended the plateau, the snow, wind, and storm grew more intense. The dim glow of the van's exterior lamps struggled to break through the blizzard, acting as a faint guiding light in the midst of the chaotic conditions. I nodded, and a moment later, the snowmobile sputtered to a halt outside the compact field office. Levi assisted me off of the snowmobile, and after finding my footing, I pulled my helmet off and took in my surroundings. The van was perched at the very top of a steep, rocky incline overlooking the battlefield. Quadruple stabilizing legs extended from its chassis, anchoring the vehicle to the frozen ground. An ancient-looking Doppler radar unit hummed softly on the roof, its dish whirling slowly as it dispatched pulses to capture the storm's movements. As I walked towards the van's entrance, the howling wind whipped at my coat, threatening to send me sprawling back down the incline. Levi followed closely behind, using his body to provide some sort of windbreak for me as we made our approach. Levi spoke first, raising his voice to be heard over the gale. "I'll get the door!" He rushed ahead, leaning into the wind, and pulled on the van's heavy metal hatch. With a hiss, it thunked open. Levi stepped inside first and I followed, gripping tightly onto his arm as he led me inside. The interior of the vehicle was a cramped and stuffy space, causing me to quickly strip off my parka and gloves in search of relief. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the warm, artificial lighting before I could make out my new environment. The walls of the van were covered with an array of displays, switches, and blinking lights, most serving purposes that I could only guess at. In the center of it all was the weather interpretation and relay console, along with its telescopic tower that currently rose up into the maelstrom. It was strapped down securely to withstand the fierce winds outside, and it's soft buzzing noise filled the cabin, accompanied by the faint glow of its digital shortwave radio display. As I studied it intently, two technicians from Aegis Division entered through the cab door, holding mugs of steaming liquid in their hands. They both appeared surprised to see us. "Boss Man; Specialist Franklin, you actually risked a ride through that crap to come troubleshoot in person?" asked one of them, a burly man with a thick Minnesotan accent. His counterpart, a wiry lady with fiery red hair, said nothing, but raised an eyebrow at us. "We really need this system up and running," Levi replied breathlessly. I nodded in agreement as I pushed my fingers through my hair to get it out of my eyes, the static in the air causing it to dance slightly around my fingers. I moved over to the console, inclining my head towards Levi as a subtle hint for him to look at what was laid out before us. "Any signs of damage or malfunction?" I asked the room, a bit uncomfortable with all their eyes watching me intently. "No physical damage, Specialist," the burly man replied, rubbing his square jaw thoughtfully. "We've been scratching our heads over it for two hours now. As for malfunction, well, one minute everything was working fine, and the next, it wasn't. It's still receiving, but it's not transmitting. Don't tell me you two know how to fix this thing?" The female technicaian chuckled, stirring her drink as she watched me. "It's a setup for a good joke. A Med Tech and a ‘Mech Tech walk into a bar…" "We can try," I interrupted, my words clipped and terse. I could see the techs exchange a glance of what I understood to be skepticism, which I chose to ignore. "Alright, Curie, let's lobotomize this thing, then start hooking stuff back up until we find the failure point," Levi instructed. And so, we got to work.
  3. Earlier
  4. "We tried," I told Captain Maxwell over the radio, "it can't be fixed from here. Curie and the techs in the command van did some troubleshooting, but the gear on their end needs a - what did you say it was called Curie?" "Sensor resynchronization," Curie finished for me. "That," I said. "The guys in the van don't know how to do it, only Curie does." "So she's walking them through it?" Maxwell asked. "Well, that's what we just tried, but too much is lost in translation. We have an idea for how to fix it, only I don't think you'll like it." "It doesn't matter much what I like. What's your idea?" I hesitated. The low hum of dead air on the radio seemed pricklier than usual. I looked at Curie, and Curie looked at me. And then she saved me from having to be the one to say it. "I fix it myself. At the van." "You're right, I don't like it." Maxwell sighed. "But we need that data." "The Pandora wouldn't make it up the hill, but I can take her there on one of the snowmobiles," I said. "There will still be another left, in case anybody ejects and has to be rescued or anything else crazy happens." Or in case we got stuck or lost, but I sure wasn't going to mention that. "I wish there were a safer option, but that sounds like the best we can do under the circumstances. Suit up, bring a sidearm, and try not to be noticed." "Will do, Captian," I said. So then we got into our snow gear. Curie had taken hers completely off when she got to the Pandora, saying it was too bulky to work in, and once I started putting mine on I didn't blame her. I felt like a microwave burrito after you microwave it a second time to get rid of the cold spots and the whole thing turns to lava. Once I was done I helped her get her suit zippered and velcroed up, which was difficult even without having put my gloves on yet. I said over the local comms that Mallory was in charge, and Antonio was second-in-command for if any tech stuff happened, and then we went out to the aft cargo area that was turned into a vehicle bay for the snowmobiles. The vehicle bay was already a bit chillier than the main BRV cab, which helped us stop feeling as much like we were getting cooked. Curie looked a little bewildered, so I helped her into the back seat and showed her how the safety harnesses go on before I climbed in front and started the engine up. "Loud!" Curie shouted over the engine. "Just hang on a minute, it'll be better when we're out in the open," I shouted back. I pressed the remote button to open the cargo door and caterpillared the snowmobile out through it. Then we went whizzing out over the snow.
  5. MEANWHILE...... CDR Orlex and CPT Maxwell were talking about Strategies and how bad we had got Screwed by the weather and how we were going to go down into some warehouse in the ground, I had tried to tell them that we had already went down there and all we had saw was a Ruin full of Chacnas and Comstar porn, but I guess Nick had found something with his computer Things. So I went off and sat down and got out a pack of laserbeef jerky, Jingles had gave it to me way back when me and Guts were room mates on the moon Op. I peeled the package open and the meat blorped out. "OH shit I dont think Jerky is supposed to look like that" I said, then I squeezed the package and it blorped and toothpasted out, some meat went over the side of my hand and then it fell on the floor and went splat. "Huh maybe its the space jerky version" I said, then I opened my mouth and started to bring the Laserbeef in, SPLAT went the blorps, the floor had more food on it than me so I opened my mouth super wide and stuck my tounge out, I squeezed it again and BLAMMO, the laserbeef sprayed out and fooded all over the inside of my mouth and the taste was like roadkill and expired sewage mixed with citrus. "BLARRRGHHH!!!" I Screamed and I sprayed it out of my Mouth, chunks of ruined laserbeef paste went all over a really old computer screen that said ENTER PASSWORD and made sparks and Firecracker noises come blowing out of it, a bunch of the letters burned out and then it said ENTER ASS instead. "Oh god why did I eat that???" I hollered, then I grabbed my canteen of Wood Alcohol and chugged down half of it before spiting the rest out on the computer screen, the Wood alcohol lit on fire and the flames ate the screen which made the inside of it deplode, a bunch of dead spirits flew out of the inside screaming "WOOOOAAARRRGHHH" and Disintegrated up in the ceiling. "WHAT THE HELL???" I Yelled, then I jammed the rest of the Laserbeef inside the disk drive so that the Next person wouldnt eat it on accident, Jingles had a weird sense of humor and I wasnt going to put it past him to Juice up that jerky with a little something extra just to mess with me. Like Turbo Lax or Vroom or worse… Meanwhile Idris was stomping around the Command Center in his Power Armor looking for technicals to try to fix and doing patrols, I looked around and I didnt see Wicked at first which made me worried, "WICKED!!" I Hollered, then I heard the tinkle tinkle sound of someone peeing in a corner, I looked over and it was him, he was taking a firehose whiz on an Antique mural that was super old and had a picture of Jerome Blake posing on a Throne with a bunch of ladies waving tech at him, "Oh thats where you are Wicked" I said, "Wait WHAT THE HELL?? Why are you bathrooming in here???" Then Jack finished making waterfall noises and zipped up and turned around and he hollered "BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO GET PEE FROZEN TO MY JUNK WHEN I GO BACK OUTSIDE!!!" Then I said "WELL yeha that makes sense BUT you might get electrocuted if you Pee on the wrong thing inside here." Wicked laughed at me and then he spit on the mural, "Nah I got Steel Junk" he said carelessly and then he walked out. I made a Confusion face and I looked at the mural, i looked at the ladies waving tech and it reminded me of the Metal Wars that had happened back on Kuzuu… *** BEGIN FLASHBACK *** BZZZZZAMP "OWWWWW! MY PENIS!" my brother Mikey hollered, it was 8 years ago on Kuzuu and me and Mikey and Robbie Panshovel were doing the Pee on the Electric Fence challenge, it was Friday night and we had got drunk on the Special Reserve Kuzu Moonshine that Aunt Baolim had hidden in her hideyhole behind the Stove. Then we had went out to the edge of Feng Lao’s farm to pee on the fence that was charged for his prize Frumptards, (a bird like animal from Kuzuu that tasted like Chicken but smelled like butt). "Mikey you idiot, that’s 100,000 Volts, if you get too close its gonna arc up your stream and fry your Junk" I warned him as he hopped around holding himself. "My turn!!" Robbie yelled, he had drunk more than we had so he teetered up to the fence and hiked up his pants and just as he was about to pee, Feng Lao came out with his shotgun "WHAT THE HELL YOU KIDS DOIN?" He screamed in rage, well that made Robbie fear pee, SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS BZZZZZZAMMPP went the fence, Robbie flew back and landed in a heap with a singed spot on his pants. "YOU’RE DEAD BOYS!" Feng yelled as he cocked his shotgun, we all took off like a Centipede with FIRE ants in it’s shorts. We ran and jumped into Robbie’s 2983 Montezuma Machismo, it was an old 4-door banger with 4 on the floor and more rust than paint but it had a 350 in it with nitrous. "HURRY Robbie, HURRY! Feng’s gonna shellac our asses up!" I yelled, "I CAN’T DRIVE I BURNED MY JUNK!!!" Robbie yelled, so I ended up driving, I wasnt good at shifting and the transmission made all kinds of groin grabbing noises, but we Blasted down the backroad at 1200 kph in a 50 zone and got away. "WHOOO that was close!!" I yelled, then me and Robbie high-fived, I think I heard Mikey barfing into the back seat pocket but I couldnt be sure. Later on we were up at the top of a Construction site drinking cans of Brain Buster and doing Outhouse Tipping, it was Robbie Panshovel’s turn and the outhouse he had picked was FULL, you could hear all of the Things sloshing as he pushed it. "HARDER!!" I yelled. "I’m trying" Robbie said, then BOOOOOOOMMMMMM! The outhouse was Bouncing and wrecking down the hill, there were like 5 Outhouses at the top of the hill on account of a Construction was going on and we were trying to see how far we could make them flip and how much Filth Water and other things would come blowing out. "RULLLLLLLLL!" Mikey yelled as the one he pushed went up against the barbed wire fence at the end of the ravine, the roof flew off and a whole tidal wave of dook went all over a rotovator and the cow stand next to it. "THAT WAS THE FARTHEST ONE SO FAR!!" Robbie hollered, then he went over to the Next one and he said "OK Steve, your turn!" I was excited, I had been thinking about how to make mine go even farther and spray more Boom Juice everywhere. So I had went with Mikey and got a small engine block out of the junkyard next door, now it was my turn and so I looked at Mikey and I said "OK Mikey let’s load this thing up!" Then we did, we took the engine block and we shoved it into the hole in the outhouse, then Mikey wedged it with some Beer bottles, construction protest signs, and a bunch of toilet paper and then we sealed the Hatch. "Alrighty boys" I said "this one’s gonna be a doozy" and I shoved it HARD over the edge of the ravine… BOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!!!!! SPLOSH SPLAT THUMPA THUMPA THUMPA The outhouse was tumbling and flipping all over the place, spraying the stuff Everywhere, it was going everywhere, onto a tree, the comm tower, a tractor, even some hit a truck parked 300 feet away! "SCOOOOOOOOORE!" Mikey yelled, but then the most unbelievable thing happened, there must of still been some Gas inside the old engine on account of a huge explosion happened the moment it hit the Bottom of the ravine, and stuff came shooting out of that dook hut like a depth charge had gone off in it. It was pretty awesome for a second but then the Dook water lit on fire and the outhouse SMASHED through the fence and went straight at Old Man Clarkson’s farmhouse, well that did it, he came running out of his house with a shotgun yelling "GET OFF MY LAWN YOU DAMN DIRTY KIDS" but the and that was our cue to split! But then as we got inside Robbie’s car, we saw head lights coming from the OTHER direction and we realized we might have a HUE problem. "ROBBIE THAT’S RED HEADLIGHTS, ITS THE METAL REAVERS!!!" I Screamed, ever since the Metal Wars had started it was dangerous to be out after dark with a running engine, because the Metal Reavers prowled the streets looking for easy Prey "I know I know!!!!" Robbie said as he hit the accelerator and we burned rubber right towards the edge of the Ravine and Old Man Clarkson’s farmhouse, we ramped up in the air and went crashing down along the same trail of Dook the outhouse laid down, the next thing I knew… WHAM we wrecked through the outhouse ruins and then there was dook and filth water all over Robbie’s car and we were swerving past Old Man Clarkson who looked really Confused on account of the Reavers were still behind us and all he saw was a car covered in Dook and fire and two idiots yelling take it up to 888 or something like that Right as we got to the end of his farm I heard the shotgun BLASTING and for a second I thought he was shooting at us but nope he was shooting at the Reavers!! "YEAH!!" I yelled sticking my middle finger out the window "EAT IT RED HEADLIGHTS!!!" Then I heard Mikey projectile vomiting into Robbie’s speakers, he was getting Carsick again and… *END FLASHBACK* "STEVE FOCUS" CDR Orlex snapped at me, and I blinked. I was back in the HPG station with a laser rifle getting put in my hands. "ITS TIME TO RAID THE BASEMENT" He intoned. "SIR YES SIR!" I sounded off like I had a pair, "I hope we don’t run into any more monkeys though." "I DONT know what that Means" said CDR Orlex "But you better be good with that rifle on account of you gotta be ready."
  6. Recaptured HPG Complex, Northern Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ "Alright," I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose as a near-solid wall of white overwhelmed my King Crab's cockpit canopy. "Let me read back our sitrep to make sure we're really spinning our wheels as hard as it seems we are." "Go," Commander Jaeger acknowledged, an eerie, static-laden whine intermingling with his voice in my ears. It was a harsh reminder of the brutal blizzard that raged outside, hammering our trancievers with electromagnetic fury. "First," I began, my eyes tracing across the cursory notes I'd scribbled on my electronic notepad, "you and Rebus cleared the main level and secured the control room. Junaid, Dionysus, and Wicked swept the lower levels, and, setting aside whatever ‘Chacma baboons’ may or may not have been roaming around down there, no survivors so far. Just a lot of bodies. Am I tracking you?" "Affirmative," Orlex responded tersely, an unspoken tension clearly coloring his tone. "Exclusively ComStar fatalities, some of whom appear to have been executed. All known staff are accounted for. 100% casualty rate. As for the building, we're still assessing damages, but it's safe to say the Vagabonds didn't care much for preserving ComStar property." I frowned, my gaze casting over the controls, feeling a flash of anger and disgust at the thought of the senseless slaughter. "Second," I continued, "Rebus has managed to break into the station's mainframe, but we haven’t come across any conveniently-placed logs or updates that might tell us what in the hell happened. The only lead we've got, if we can call it that, is a warehouse with an encrypted manifest and an entrance that was somehow overlooked by Team 2." "That about sums it up, sir," Orlex confirmed, "though, in looking at this diagran, I can see how they missed it. Hell, we all might have missed it, with the possible exception of Radar. And that's only because she's been inside one of these places before. If I'm interpreting things correctly, the stairs down to the warehouse are hidden under the floor of an entirely mundane corridor flanked by storage rooms. Team 2 actually cleared that section, no doubt walking right over the access hatch without a clue." "Understandable," I admitted, scribbling a note to myself on the electronic pad. "Alright, moving on. Three: we're slam-bang in the center of a bomb cyclone that's grounded the NapFind drones, reduced visibility to zero, and is kicking up enough EMF that we can't tell sensor ghosts from actual threats. Meanwhile, our weather radar chose this moment to shit the bed, leaving us unable to forecast the duration of this storm. In summary, we are blind, deaf, and trapped inside a mass grave with only a basement mystery box for company." "Yeah," Jaeger responded dryly, "when you put it like that, it sounds like we're having the time of our lives." My head fell back against the padded chair, my neurohelmet protesting with a loud clunk. "It's a veritable vacation, isn't it?" "Should we check that basement, sir?" Orlex prompted. I spared a glance at the glowing indicators and monitors surrounding me, then turned my attention back to the conversation. "Well, far be it from us not to explore every nook and cranny," I sighed, weighing the risks against our dire need for any form of actionable intelligence. "Alright, Bastion, I want you to take Defiance team and see if you can’t find out what that hatch is hiding. Just...be careful. We have no idea what could be down there." "Aye, sir," Orlex affirmed, his tone even despite the tenuous nature of our situation. "Captain, since we've got a solid garrison around the station, do you think you could spare Radar to join us? Her background with this tech would be invaluable." The idea of sending Alyssa into the HPG station made my neck hairs stand on end. Though we had no evidence that any of ComStar's Adepts had survived the brutal attack by Trinity's Onyx Vagabonds, the thought of risking my wife's life in a facility run by people bent on her destruction turned my stomach. However, I couldn't deny that the commander was right. Her expertise could unlock doors, both literal and metaphorical, that might give us an edge and help us survive this mess. I thought for a moment before speaking again. "Radar, you direct on this traffic?" "Affirmative, Rebus," Alyssa's voice crackled over the channel. Her tone was light, but I could hear the undertone of anticipation. "You want me to play show-and-tell with the ComStar tech?" "That's the general idea," I sighed, "but I need a risk assessment as concerns the ECM shutdown we'll have to do while you're inside. And how sure you are your old bosses won't come calling if some random piece of tech detects you're there." Alyssa's response was quick and composed, but there was a hint of worry underscoring her words. "Understood. The storm's doing a pretty good job jamming our sensors, throwing ghosts all over the place, and making visual targeting damn near impossible. If we're struggling, I can only presume the Vagabonds are as well." "And the other half of that answer?" I pressed, the unease in my reply echoing in my ears. After a brief silence, she responded, "Well, you know I've been off their grid for years now. If they manage to somehow tag me today and decide to attack their own rescuers just to get to me, that'd be another level of crazy I'm not sure even they'd stoop to." "Alright," I agreed, my unease only slightly assuaged. "But the second you sense something’s off, you raise the alarm. No heroics, you hear? Let Bastion and Juniad take point." Suddenly, the unmistakable baritone of Jack Whitley resounded across the comm, gravelly and cold as the storm outside. "Don't worry, Eden. It'll be my sincere pleasure to watch her six." The brazen nature of Whitley's lecherous comment had me biting back a retort. "No," I finally shot back, "once she gears up, you're coming back to the garrison. With Radar inside, we're down a ‘Mech." "What?" Jack sneered, his voice drowning in disbelief. "I'm not gonna play nursemaid while there's real work to be done." "I don't remember asking for your opinion," I growled, my patience wearing thin. "And if you have a problem with it, you know how to find the door." A protracted silence followed, punctuated only occasionally by the sound of muffled wind battering the fortified exterior of the station. Whitley, a man who seemed to relish in the opportunity to cause friction, held his tongue for once. Maybe he did know when to pick his battles after all. "Alright then," I continued, "let's get this shown on the road. Radar, get suited up and rendezvous with Bastion, Juniad, Rebus, and Dionysus in the station's main foyer. Wicked, once Radar's on site, pull back to the garrison line and saddle up." One by one, the responses crackled in. I cut the comm connection, allowing the silence of the cockpit to settle in around me. The beeps and hums of Ares' systems filled the void, betraying no signs of affliction by the storm raging outside. "Meanwhile," I muttered to myself, "I'm gonna find out why Levi and Curie haven't got that Blake-damned radar back up yet."
  7. Recaptured HPG Complex, northern Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ I swept my flashlight across the dimly lit hall, the powerful beam feeling almost futile as it penetrated but a handful of meters into the darkness beyond the dim automatic lights, once again, or rather still, the hallway was complete devoid of life or anything for that matter. Despite the logical part of my brain rallying against it I couldn't help but feel like we were in some kind of hi-tech, overtly religious, tomb, a surprisingly fitting comparison given ComStar's reputation and what we suspected had happened here when the Vagabonds took over. Swinging back into the room again I took in the entire scene again, there were obvious signs of battle damage literally everywhere you looked, damaged consoles, bullet holes in the walls, broken panels on the large observation windows and even a few corpses that were slowly being covered in snow. This was the first place we actually found bodies, but there wasn't nearly enough of them, not for what we had been told was the approximate complement of the HPG station. Typical ComStar wouldn't give us an exact count, stating that their staffing numbers varied as Acolytes were rotated in and out of duty and the isolated nature of this particular station meant that they had different needs and thus may have more or less attendants than the standard complement would assume. Either way, the dozen or so bodies Nick and I had discovered more than half buried in snow inside the destroyed command center didn't even make up a third of staffing level the place was designed for. This meant one of two things, either this place had been running on a skeletal crew long before the Vagabonds showed up or else there were a lot more bodies to be found; some small part of me held out that there might be survivors but I wasn't holding my breath at this point. "Frakking great!" came Schuster's voice from where he was working on a salvaged terminal. "What is it Rebus?" I called as I rounded the corner of a bank of damaged central consoles, still using codenames despite not using the radio, it didn't hurt to be careful. "Mainframe's a mess, I can't tell if it was Comstar themselves or if the Vagabonds did it but this system is basically shot," offered Nick with an exasperated sigh and shrug of his shoulders. "Is there anything you can pull, logs or something, that could give us an idea what happened?" I asked, already suspecting the answer. "Hard to say Commander," replied Nick with a shake of his head before he suddenly seemed to concentrate more on the screen, "Hang on a second." Some frantic typing later, along with a couple of curious grunts and at least one long 'hmmmmmm', and Nick tossed his hands up in the air though I couldn't tell initially if it was in victory or defeat. "Gotcha!" exclaimed Schuster a second later, "Seems the Vagabonds did get into the system but their tech really didn't know what they were doing. They basically ham-fisted their way around doing little more than brute force their way into every subsystem they could and then left without ever realizing they never actually got into the system." Not quite sure what Nick was on about I gave him a quizzical look and asked him to clarify, "And that means? What exactly, they got into the system but didn't get into the system? You've lost me." "Ummm," Nick offered as he looked up towards the ceiling for a moment, "Think of it this way, the system is a fortress, the real important bits are in the keep in the center, then some other high up stuff is in the courtyard surrounding the keep and protected by the outer walls. This particular fortress has a keep, some inner walls, the outer walls, plus a moat and a palisade wall. The Vagabonds busted through the palisade wall, crossed the moat, and did some damage to the outer walls, made a real mess of the less important stuff outside the main walls but didn't actually breach anything that mattered." "I see," I replied, Nick's explanation obviously simplifying things but making logical sense, "So are you able to get past those main walls? Or do you have to try and brute force it like the Vagabonds failed to do?" "I could brute force it, go toe to toe with system security, Locura would likely be able to manage that, but I don't want to sit here all night. However, even the most technologically advanced group/cult in the Inner Sphere can be hacked when its fanatical members use predictable passwords," Nick said with a triumphant smile and pointed me to his noteputer's screen. It seemed he had managed to connect directly to the terminal and then used a program to try repeated login attempts with various credentials, or something along those lines, until one of them worked. Effectively it was still a brute force tactic but it was more targeted, especially considering the password flashing on the screen was some variation of HoLyBlAkE with a series of numbers and symbols after it. Once finding an appropriate login it was just a matter of time before Schuster had been able to penetrate security from within and gain access to most of the important systems. "Alright, you see what you can dig up in there, I'm going to scout out the hallway a little more, I'm still hopeful we might find the rest of the facilities crew," I said. With a nod Nick set back to work and I moved out into the hallway and the uncomfortable darkness that seemed to follow you everywhere and served only to remind one that they were standing alone in an unknown facility with the potential for anything to be around the next corner. An involuntary shudder rolled down my spine as I shoved the creepy thoughts from my mind and pushed forward, flashlight in one hand, laser pistol raised at the ready in the other. A few steps further into the unknown section of the hallway, just past where the darkness had been encroaching on the automatic lights when standing in the control room doorway, I spotted another streak of what was most likely old blood. This one started out like the others, a smeared pool with evidence of somebody or something being dragged through it, but instead of the streaks fading out like the others this one had tracks that seemed to get thicker and was soon joined by multiple other streaks that almost seemed to branch in from elsewhere, although there was nowhere they could have come from but the hallway itself. As I traced the lines of blood with my flashlight, once again out into the darkness beyond the struggling automated lighting, I became keenly aware that this trail could only have been created by dragging a large number of bodies down this hallway in some manner. In short order an ominous doorway loomed darkly along the side of the corridor, the self-activating lights that typically flanked each doorway had failed to engage and left a shadow in what had thus far been a dim, but constant bubble of light surrounding me. The fact that the blood trail turned and went through the gaping maw of that darkened archway did little to bolster my spirits as I examined the door and failed lights with my meager flashlight. The door itself was just a generic hinged wooden door that wouldn't have been out of place in virtually any other environment, but here it seemed to stand out in its normalcy or else that was just my mind playing tricks on me as I anticipated what was likely behind it. Bracing myself I pulled open the door, using my flashlight toting hand to give the mundane portal a solid tug, and then suppressed a yell as my light splashed across the scene within, at least until the smell reached my nostrils and my gag reflex took over leaving me fighting to not vomit instead. After the initial shock washed over me, and I forced myself to become inoculated against the stench, or rather more accurately the overwhelming aroma deadened my sense of smell enough that I wasn't actively fighting the urge to retch currently, I surveyed the gruesome scene before me. There was no need to search any further in the facility, the sheer volume of bodies within the room before spoke of the terror the Onyx Vagabonds had visited upon the previously placid HPG station. A more thorough examination revealed that most of these individuals had not died during the initial attack on the station, but rather had been executed, likely one or two at a time, by Trinity and her gang of barbarians while they occupied the facility. Originally I had felt some empathy for the group of mercenaries, though I now loathed to refer to them as such, as they had been stranded by their employer and left to rot in enemy territory with no means of escape or even communicating off world. Initially I had understood their attempts to capture the spaceport and then more recently the capture of the HPG as they were simply trying to get home, but now, after seeing this horrid and grisly display of their true colours, of how far they were willing to go, I knew they weren't worth sympathizing with. Swinging the door back closed I noted where it was located and marked it on my noteputer as requiring a full decon and appropriate follow up for when we returned the facility to ComStar and took a deep breath to steady myself. Steeling myself I spun about and marched back towards the command center, radioing in to Charles to report my findings on the way. "... accounts for all the staff we have on record by my reckoning," I reported as I re-entered the command center a few minutes later, "Rebus is working on collecting any useful data from the network, we'll report anything we find. How are things out there? Any luck with the Command Van and the weather radar?" "Alright, keep me informed," replied Charles solemnly, the news about the station's staff did not sit well with him, as expected and understandably so, "As for the Command Van, our uplink to it is still down but Pandora and Archangel are working on it. The storm seems to be letting up for the moment, but I suspect that is just the eye of the storm reaching us." "Copy that, Bastion Out," I said before coming up alongside Nick, "Rebus, how are we making out?" Looking up from the salvaged terminal Nick offered me a shrug, "I'm not finding much, there's the typical maintenance logs and a couple of standard service logs related to messages sent weeks ago prior to the attack, but nothing recent. I also can't gain access to the HPG itself, that it seems is locked behind yet another layer of security that has foiled any attempt to get past it so far. Although I haven't pushed too hard since I didn't want it locking me out of everything if it failed. I do have access to some rudimentary systems, and I think I can even get all the lights turned on, instead of just the creepy motion activated ones." "Do it, some proper lighting would do wonders to cut through this oppressive atmosphere in here," I ordered with a nod, "Don't worry about the HPG, grab whatever logs and notes you can but we didn't come here to gain access to the HPG itself, although I'm sure that could prove useful. Can you make sure the Vagabonds didn't leave any surprises in there when they were bashing their way around?" "I don't expect that they would have, not given their apparent level of expertise, or lack thereof, but I'll have a look," answered Nick, once again refocusing on the computer terminal. A minute or so later the steady stomp of Idris' armoured exoskeleton began to echo from the hallway and soon the other three had regrouped with us in the command center, the others looking like they had seen some unexpected action in the lower levels. "We're here," reported Jack, absently wiping at his fatigues and whatever remnants still seemed to be clinging to them. "So anyone else hungry?" added Steve, a look of confusion washing across my face at his non sequitur. "What?" I began shaking my head, "What did you guys find? And what is that smell?" "Nothing of concern," offered Idris, before adding, "Chacma. They were bad monkeys." "I don't even..." I replied with a shrug and another shake of my head. "Commander," called Nick, thankfully pulling my attention away from whatever bizarre tale I might have extracted from the others, "I found something interesting here. It appears to be a layout of the station, and there seems to be a warehouse or storage facility of some sort on one of the lower levels. If I'm reading it right, it's actually below the HPG itself and built into the rock bordering the ravine this facility is established on." "Interesting," I said, looking at the digital framework Nick had pulled up on the screen, "Any idea what is stored in this warehouse? Would it be worth investigating?" "Could be, only info I can pull up is a bunch of serial numbers or barcodes. I'm assuming it is a list of items but its just random characters with no key or identifier for what they are," replied Schuster with a shake of his head. DHxlNBkbjLHnVjIEWf7wlbdwPedQUpvZ JGXHbofbwv0NfKwzBM1amKkr8Vhw2ou8 XlcOXIeoPk1YsPhGfyI2Za2DJuQ9FiOW IDrlsyyKJ6EMPxdB8iBmkoYGBTPbU8Bx fJl9bwr3KvmKDmPF5MoxQTl7BNWPzAAh a3zWEfrr7M82qpP2LB0MbzwOm7C40Qif ndeUTZrzWGbtM1nE0Vj7SP3ZbqMuxA2p gt2wcNuU6aoWjQPl7GXuOAzrzaJx31Wx YUEvMStv3xpBSFjFBkpUNgVwAdShqu3g lVrEE6rxr8TcjL0o6kkuMPlbWAOOaQsb "What are those ones in red?" I asked, pointing at the list now scrolling through the screen. "I think those ones are missing, but I can't be certain sir," shrugged Nick.
  8. MEANWHILE… While Nick and CDR Orlex had went to look for dead survivors upstairs me and Idris and Jack went down in the basement to look for Living ones. We went downa Bunch of stairs that looked like a Dungeon except on account of all the Neon lights it was more like a Sex Dungeon. The lights were all flickery and shot up on account of the War that had went on before we had went there. Idris was in front on account of he was inside his Power Armor and it went VRUUU VRUUU VRUU every time he took a step, I was in the middle with my Saturday Night Special ready to shoot at anything that moved unless it was a hot lady and Jack was behind me probably so he could Shoot me in the back I think but I did not need to look at his Ugly mug. We turned a corner and saw some doors with Neon signs above that said "RELICS OF JENSEN" and "PRIMA FACIE HOSPES." I guessed they were Storage rooms or something. Jack went up to the first door and kicked it down and it FLEW off the Hinges and I heard it doing a lot of smashing and breaking Noises but nothing came out but some dust so we went to the next one. Jack was about to Kick it down but I said "I Think its unlocked" but then Jack said "IT DOESN’T MATTER I’M GONNA KICK IT DOWN ANYWAY!!" and then he kicked it so hard it went off the wall and flew back at us and wrecked into Idris’s Power Armor and he almost fell down AND I think I peed my pants a little bit. Anyways we didnt find anything except a bunch of weird old mannequins, you know the kind you see at the store where one arm is always put on the wrong way and the head is turned TOO far back, then you go over and you try to move the arm because it looks Weird but then it comes out of the hole and bangs onto the floor and then your Mom hollers at you to put it back but it won’t go in right so then the Manager comes over and Yells at you in a Foreign language and your face gets red with Dishonor? Well it was like that except a Hundred times worse because there was like a HUNDRED of them all posed doing lewd Things and one had a full latex bondage suit on and another one had a Ball gag, I swear to ARC LORD KERENKLAVEN who ran the Sledge House back on Kuuzu I’m not making THAT part up, I was about to Barf but then I smelled the worst thing I have ever smelled, it was like somebody was Farting beef stew and MONTH OLD fish Guts at me and at first I thought Jack had just crop dusted me, "What the FUCK Jack?" I said but then I saw his face was red and I could see the Veins in his neck bulge and that look on his face like he just ate a whole thing of rancid yak Butter on account of trying not to barf too. Then Idris intoned from his Power armor "I am inside my Helmet and I cannot smell it, but we do not have time to argue about Farts" Then I wondered how Idris knew it was a Fart on account of he couldnt smell and I didnt say what it was so then I started to think Idris had delt it, then I noticed it wasnt going away and so I thought maybe he crapped his pants or something which would have been a really funny but also really Terrible thing to happen inside power armor, anyway I didnt see any sparks coming out of his suit so it couldnt of been that. We kept walking down the hallway and we followed the smell to a door with no markings on it. Well jack was about to kick down the door when Idris said "Wait I’LL TRY IT THIS TIME" and he took this big Wrench thing and boom it was open, but this time I kind of wish he had not kicked it down on account of oh my the Smell and also the most TERRIBLE thing I ever saw was behind that door and it wasnt even at the Sledge House on Kuzuu. Inside the room in the dark were A TON of attack monkeys but they were all naked as the day they were born, and covered in blood and gore, some of it looked like Jelly donut goo, They were all Jumping and screeching and Throwing their Poop and I yelled "Chacma baboons!!!" THEN Jack went "HOLD ON GUYS I GOT THIS" and he went busting into the room like some kind of dude from one of those dumb Movies where everyone is shirtless and is named things like BUFF McMACHO and as soon as he did of course they all attacked him, one was right on his face and another went for his leg, there was a 3rd monkey off in the corner taking a dump in its hand that looked like Soft Serve, that one looked at me and I Saw its eyes and I knew it was not a Monkey anymore, a crazed animal like that One in my GRAY DEATH LEGION unit who went insane after doing too many go-pills and ate his own arm he was STILL ALIVE, so I knew what I Had to do. Idris started shouting something and I Knew he was right we had to kill all of them. I pulled my Saturday Night Special and started putting bullets in any monkey I could see but they were so fast and I saw one jump at Idris who just used his Wrench like a goddamn Sledge and POW, that monkey was done for, but there was more and more coming from I didnt even know they could fit through. It was like a Monkey Explosion and Jack was doing a womanly scream and kicking and hollering, I couldnt blame him, then he kicked the monkey off his face just as it bit him, there was blood but I didnt look too close on account of I was busy filling THAT monkey with bullets and then it was just done. Jack was looking at me like I had Wronged him somehow, but that was the least of our problems because there was more monkeys, of COURSE there were. Idris yelled something else and THREW me a fire extinguisher so I caught it and started Spraying the room while we ran back out the door, then Idris turned around and threw a grenade into the monkey room, there was a HUGE explosion and monkey parts came flying out of the room, a leg and part of a butt went by on fire and I swear I saw a tail on fire, but I was just trying not to puke on account of being sprayed with Monkey bits. Jack was cursing up a storm about his pretty uniform now having monkey guts on it, Idris was out of breath and said "What in the hell Just happened?" Then I said something about monkey Business and tried to get the smell of on fire monkey and Heavy Turd out of my nose for the rest of my natural life which I hoped would be a VERY LONG TIME now that the monkeys were Dead. Idris just looked at me funny and Jack said "Not the time for jokes Jenkins." I didnt care, Idris thought it was funny and I could see him trying not to laugh. We called it in on the radio and told CDR Orlex we secured the room but didnt mention the Monkeys, I dont think he would Believe us about the monkeys, no one would, but we Knew what we saw. Those Monkeys are NOT getting back up from THAT comfortable dirt nap they took. SO after we had did that we looked around for more survivors but all we found were more shot up rooms full of weird crap, it was a Grim Tomb that would of been a good episode of Tragedy Tales except it didnt really fit the Format, usually it was episodes like a dude comes in and meets a hot chick named Lust or Greed and then things go bad, but this was just a bunch of dead Monkeys, so no Tales about crazy Aunt Agnes and her electric turkey knife in this place. After like 2 hours of finding nothing except for some REALLY strange Porn magazines we gave up and called CDR Orlex again, "What’s the situation?" Orlex asked. Idris said Sternly, "SIR I think the ComStars got attacked" which was a really weird thing to say but his English is weird sometimes, anyway Orlex said "Alright look for any survivors and if you find a working HPG uplink let me know." Click dead silence on the radio. So we went up to the HPG room on the top floor of the Outpost and Nick was there with CDR Orlex with a bunch of wires pulled out all over the place and his hacking computer doing hacking things to one of the ComStar computers. CDR Orlex looked at us and then Jack said "We’re here" and Orlex scrunched up his face like was confused, then I said "So anyone else hungry?" Then Orlex just looked at me funny again like I was nuts and made his mouth start to move like words were going to come out……
  9. Recaptured HPG Complex, northern Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ The heavy footsteps of Idris’ power armor and the chatter of Steve and Jack faded off into the lower levels of the station as we split up to search the creepy facility, which looked like an LED-bedecked Count Dracula’s castle meets an old movie called "Blade Runner," minus the wacky lights. If you added those back in, of course. Flickering faux-candle lamps cast an ominous glow over every room we passed, while motion sensors surveilled everywhere us from the gloom, switching on and then back off old area lights that followed us along our path. Try as I might, I couldn't shake the feeling that we weren't alone. But then again, maybe it was just the overall aesthetic getting to me, one that felt it had to have been inspired by a really unfortunate era in ancient Terra’s décor. Although, the blood on the walls definitely wasn’t doing much to instill confidence that a fresh coat of paint was the only thing we needed to worry about. "Man, I really hope we find some survivors." Orlex muttered, mirroring my own reservations. "I don't think I can stomach another massacre." "Amen to that, Commander." I replied, my voice bouncing off the cold, weirdly bland walls. I’d only ever been in the customer areas of HPG stations, and those tended to be laid out like cathedrals to technology, all gleaming chrome and holograpic projections. By contrast, every inch of this place was a dark, gothic nightmare covered in entrails. Suddenly, our comm units blistered to life in tandem, causing me to whip my laser rifle to the ready and simultaneously grunt in pain as the motion caused my sore ribs to remind me why I should probably limit my movement, if only slightly. Fortunately, the traffic turned out to be a fairly routine conversation between Captain Maxwell and Levi. Unfortunately, Levi was calling the Captain to notify him that the uplink between the Command Van and Curie’s terminal in the Pandora had shit the bed. Our weather radar was no more. "Well, that's just frakking perfect." I growled, banging a gloved fist against a nearby bulkhead as we rounded another dark corner. "Without that system, we're basically blind out here. We won’t be able to see anything coming at us until it’s practically on top of us." "Blake damn it, calm down." Orlex swore, the expletive sounding out of place coming from his usually stoic mouth. "Let’s focus on what we can do. If we can’t gather much intel out there, it’s all the more reason to figure out what happened in here. We need to find a working terminal so you can patch into the local net." I raised an eyebrow. "You want me to hack ComStar stuff. With a only a noteputer and a pile of scripts?" Commander Jaeger shot me a side-eye and I immediately regretted my words. "Want isn’t it," he growled as he led the way through a doorway labeled "Most High Holy Command Center," clearing the room quickly with the flashlight slung under the barrel of his rifle. I expected eyes to be looking back at us, but all "We need." he continued. "Besides, you’ve hacked all kinds of next-level stuff in the past. Including the Crayven Corporation. You’re our best shot at figuring out what happened here before either Trinity's Onyx Vagabonds or ComStar themselves try to reclaim this place." He had a point. We were bound to get hit by something. It would be bad if it was the Vagabonds. But it would be far worse if it turned out to be ComStar. No matter what the case, we needed to know what we might be up against. As I followed the Commander into the dimly lit room, I spotted multiple terminals of all types and configurations spread out before us. The automated lights built into the ceiling and walls slowly glowed to life, revealing an awful scene. Out of every room we’d been in so far, the Command Center had clearly been hit the hardest by the Vagabonds. Consoles and system terminals were smashed, monitors cracked, and a sickeningly sweet smell hung in the air that of coagulated blood. The giant glass dome looking up at the HPG dish itself was shot full of holes through which snow billowed in, slowly covering the carnage in a white shroud. "Gods." I muttered, my stomach twisting at the sight. "It looks like ComStar made their stand here." "Yeah." Orlex answered, his voice grim. "And here I thought busting security was gonna be the hardest thing we’d have to do. Finding a working piece of machinery to do it on is looking to be a bitch and a half." "I can rewire something if I have to." I offered, mentally girding myself for what was sure to be a difficult if not impossible task. "Worked on worse." "I know you can." Commander Jaeger said, patting my shoulder. "Just be quick. I’ll cover the door while you get to work." I nodded and slung my rifle over my shoulder, walking carefully through the room and making a visual scan of the damaged systems. As I suspected, most of them had taken kinetic or energy weapon hits. To my surprise, however, a few of the more intact consoles looked to have been deliberately smashed by hand. That might have been the work of the ComStar Adepts as they attempted, in futility, to stop the station from being captured. "Commander." I called out, kneeling down next to an overturned monitor that still emitted a faint glow. "I think I found a survivor." Orlex was at my side in a blink. "Hang on." he ordered, kneeling down beside me and checking for traps. "Clear." he added as he carefully turned the computer over. "Great, so first litmus test passed." I nodded as I helped heft the computer on top of a debris-strewn desk. "We didn’t blow up. Now for the hard part. Time to see if I remember my ComStar." I retrieved my noteputer from my rucksack and connected it to an available data port on the salvaged terminal. Double-checking to make sure that the ComStar computer was physically connected to what I assumed was the local network, I hit its power button to bring it out of standby. "Here goes nothing." I muttered. Predictably, the computer booted to a lock screen that read, "THE MOST HOLY BLAKE REQUIRES YOUR CREDENTIALS." "Alright, you fanatics." I snorted, firing up a standard porthack routine that I hoped would connect my noteputer directly to the terminal. "Let’s see what you’ve got."
  10. Recaptured HPG Complex, northern Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ The snowfall billowed past my viewport glass, the howling winds buffeting Ares’ armored hull as the winds of Concord's harsh tundra whipped the flakes into vicious swirling patterns. The storm that Curie had been tracking throughout the morning was now fully upon us; an aggressive bomb cyclone that was quickly reducing our operating conditions to zero-zero. Even with our sensors tweaked to their fullest to ensure that nothing made it past us undetected, we barely had a consistent range of 15 meters. "Alright everyone, for those that don't watch horror movies, this is where we fatefully decide to split up into smaller groups so the supernatural killer can off us one by one," Orlex’s voice hissed over the comm channel from deep within the station. "Your guys call, we can stick together and clear the place slowly, hoping that the storm outside doesn't bury us completely and leave us stranded by the time we're done or we can split up and try to clear what appears to be a completely abandoned, and only slightly creepy, place a little quicker." "Yeah, well, if it weren’t for the blood and bullet holes everywhere, I’d be a little less convinced that there were malevolent spirits out to get us," I heard Steve retort, the echo of his voice against the seemingly empty station’s walls drifting through the link. "I mean, this place looks like it belongs to a vampire with a hardcore neon fetish. But what do I know? Splitting up sounds like the better of two shitty options." "Well, whatever you do," Mallory suddenly interjected in the channel, "make it quick, or you’re going to be setting up camp in there. Curie’s got the latest weather report, and it looks like we’re going to be burrowing in here for a while until this blizzard blows over. Be happy the ‘Mech Techs managed to shut those blast doors." "Copy," Orlex acknowledged. "I’m thinking we’re gonna get this building cleared a lot faster as two teams. Won’t be able to communicate once we're far enough apart, though. Idris, Jenkins, and Whitley, take the lower level. Schuster, you’re with me on the main floor; let’s see if we can get any of these terminals accessible and figure out what happened here. First sign of trouble, we all meet up back at the blast door." A series of affirmatives filtered back through the radio, along with the sounds of sidearms being drawn. "Eden to Defiance team - stay sharp in there. The last thing we need is another seemingly empty objective turning into a kill box without warning," I advised. "Couldn’t agree more," Jaeger responded, his voice crisp and authoritative. "Let’s move out." The channel went quiet as the two teams split up, leaving the garrison team and me to maintain the protective cordon outside while the others went to work. However, no sooner had the silence enveloped us than a new transmission, this time from Levi Wright, filled our ears. "Pandora to Eden, come in, please," his voice breathless. "This is Eden," I answered, suddenly very concerned. "What's wrong?" "Uh, well...you know how I said we were having a little bit of sputtering in the radar uplink earlier?" he asked hesitantly. "Yes," I replied cautiously, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. "Well, Curie’s advising that the link from the Pandora to the Command Van just went down completely. There’s no weather telemetry coming in at all. We’re blind out here, boss." "Blake damn it," I swore. "Any idea what’s wrong? And if so, can you fix it?" "I’m sorry, Captain, but I don't know yet. Diagnostics say we’re receiving and that the problem is on the Command Van’s end. But the techs we have posted up there haven’t worked with weather sensors before, especially none as old as what we used for that retrofit. I’m gonna have to do some digging. I think we have a serious problem that’s probably going to require a physical inspection, which is going to suck in these conditions. Unless you have any ideas." I bit back another curse. "This is normally where I’d ask Radar or Rebus to weigh in, but I don’t want to pull either of them off post at the moment. Have Curie work with you on that. In the mean time, we’ll have to make do without our eyes." "Understood, sir. I’ll keep you apprised."
  11. Recaptured HPG Complex, northern Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ The heavy metal doors creaked open loudly on what seemed to be unstable hinges, the hallway within faded away into darkness despite the sufficient ambient light outside now spilling in. The storm without, with its howling winds and newly added bursts of lightning, seemed to be swallowed up by the apparent emptiness of the facility; a wall of muffled silence engulfed all who passed through the ponderous archway and even the heavy snowfall that even now was already filling the entrance was silent compared to the fury outside. Stepping inside, to the edge of the limited light pouring in through the storm outside, one could note a warmth in the air the moment they crossed the threshold, somehow it didn't feel like a welcoming warmth though, not like the kind you might feel beside a campfire or hearth, instead it was almost cloying, like the air was thick with some unwelcome scent. Clicking on his tactical flashlight he splashed the powerful beam of light around the entryway, penetrating the clinging darkness in small concentrated portions as the light revealed little more than aging ceramic tiles and spartan walls with nary a visible light fixture or any other feature for that matter. The ceiling was equally barren with uniform tiles in a repeating pattern as far as the light could reach. "We're inside Eden, place looks abandoned so far, and not the least bit creepy as all hell," I radioed to Charles, sarcasm coating the last part of my report. "Copy that Bastion, proceed into the facility and maintain radio contact, see if you can find anything of note. We need to make sure the Vagabonds didn't leave any surprises and maybe we'll get lucky and they left the hostages behind in their rush to escape," replied Charles, the optimism seemed forced but I wasn't about to call him on it. "Wilco, we are moving deeper into the facility," I replied, keeping the comm live, but not active, as I turned to the others. "Looks like we get to be ghost hunters," I said with a shrug, hoping to be funny though I felt like the joke didn't land as I had hoped. Upon our arrival at the HPG station, amidst what felt like the storm of the century to us but was apparently just a typically Friday for Concord II, we had split into two teams to secure the facility. The first group, consisting of Captain Maxwell, Lieutenant Lennox, Lieutenant Blackwood, and First Lieutenant Maxwell were securing the perimeter in their 'mechs. Charles and Marius, in the King Crab and Marauder respectively, had two of the biggest 'mechs and both were excellent brawlers, 'mech and MechWarrior alike, so they would hold the perimeter should anything untoward happen while the rest of us were securing the station itself. Alexander's Catapult could provide them support while Alyssa's Raven could both find and locate any enemy units despite the storms best efforts while also giving us the ability stay hidden away beneath the cover of her powerful ECM suite. The second group meanwhile consisted of myself, Sergeant Jenkins, Corporal Schuster, Technician Nasir, and Private Whitley, and we had the fun of exploring the depths of the HPG station's various facilities and buildings to ascertain whether the enemy mercenaries, Trinity's Onyx Vagabonds, had well and truly abandoned the place and we could claim it as being recaptured or not. We also had the not so pleasant task of finding out what happened to the Vagabonds hostages that had supposedly been held somewhere on the grounds, a situation that likely did not bode well considering what we knew of the Vagabonds and their actions thus far. Finally our supplemental forces, mainly the support teams aboard the Pandora BRV as well as their security teams, Aces Wild and the Bridgeburners, were rendezvousing with our first group at the HPG entrance and would soon be splitting up to attend to whatever task was needed, including accompanying us into the facility. Having originally planned for the Bridgeburners to clear the facility if required I didn't bring my full infantry kit with me when we hot dropped from the Sturmfänger, instead I had a basic survival kit that always rode in my 'mech along with a simple set of concealed ablative/flak BDU fatigues that I could easily pull over my standard MechWarrior outfit, or lack thereof, that had limited but still effective armour panels sewn into the fabric to provide a modicum of protection. The fatigues themselves consisted of the usual modified pair of pants that allowed me quick access to the storage unit in my prosthetic right leg and a basic vest that protected my vitals while not impeding any use of my prosthetic left arm. For armaments I had my signature Serrek 7875D auto-pistol and my more newly acquired AWA Wiliby MK4 Laser Pistol, a sidearm that I was quickly coming to appreciate and was seriously considering as a full time replacement for the Serrek. To say I felt underarmed and underprotected, compared to my usual fare, was an understatement of near epic proportions at this moment, however, with the Bridgeburners transport getting stuck in the snow and the worsening storm preventing us from delaying things until their arrival we needed to clear this facility now. At the same time, the Bridgeburners gear would allow them to operate outside in the storm with little impact meaning they could likely be more beneficial to keep on perimeter duty anyways. Checking that the power pack was fully inserted into the MK4, and that its charge was full, I motioned our team further into the dark facility, flashlight and firearm at the ready. As we crossed the transient threshold between the light from outside and the darkness engulfing the hallway before us I heard the click of a switch followed by the dull hum of electrical equipment firing up. Signaling a halt almost immediately everyone seemed to tense as we waited to see what was happening, a collective sigh of relief seeming to be released as what appeared to be very old incandescent lighting slowly flickered to life along the top border of the wall tiles. The lighting was insufficient by anyone's standards but it did disperse the oppressive darkness, to some small degree, for about 20 feet ahead of us and as we started moving again some sort of sensor kept the lights moving forward as we progressed. The dull yellow glow shutting off about 20 feet behind us once we were far enough into the facility to notice, creating an effect as though we were being slowly swallowed up by the HPG station. Moving cautiously down the hall we kept our flashlights on to supplement the poor facility lighting, noting how old the structure appeared to be even though it was in constant use by ComStar up until a couple weeks ago. The odd sign hanging from the ceiling, written in a language I didn't immediately recognize, was the only thing to break up the monotonous hallway for the first 100m or so and it was disconcerting that there were no windows, doorways, or even other hallways that branched off from this main one yet. About halfway down the hall Idris noted what appeared to be a large blood stain on the floor, a slight smearing in our direction of travel indicating someone, or something was dragged through it before it had dried. His armoured exoskeleton, which actually fit easily within the large hallway, provided him access to thermal imaging gear which he used to verify there was no one else within range in the long corridor, yet another feature I was missing since my combat helmet was tucked away with the rest of my infantry gear aboard the Pandora. The powerful spotlight on the ICE-S's shoulder pauldron provided excellent directional light, although it also made it harder to see elsewhere as the stark contrast between it and the dim facility lighting meant our eyes had to keep adjusting. Spotting two more similar blood stains on the floor we finally reached the end of the hallway, the corridor opening up through a large, door-less threshold into what appeared to be an open cavern in the poor lighting. As we entered dim cathedral style lighting hanging down from the unseen ceiling flickered into existence, their orange and yellow glow offset by an electric purplish-blue that seemed to blaze along the perimeter like electric fire. Shining our flashlight upwards we could see the ceiling, some 4m (13 feet) above us, painted an obsidian black as though to purposefully hide its presence and give the false feeling of being in a much larger room. The purple-blue lights ringing the room were of a more modern LED design but were inset into equally ancient looking sconces along the wall while the cathedral style chandeliers appeared as though meant to mimic a candelabra or similar ancient lighting technology. We spread out slightly and whatever sensors had been tracking our progress continued to do so, lighting the appropriate fixtures for each individual in whatever direction we chose to move in, so at least it would appear the facility was still functional, however the "mood lighting" as it were did little to instill confidence and instead seemed to purposefully maintain a sense of awe or even dread about what may lie just beyond the limited lighting. Along one side of the wall we entered on a series of terminals were found, not powered up but otherwise appearing intact, these screen and keyboards appeared as equally ancient as the rest of the facility with a general design and aesthetic meant to come across as both ancient and high-tech at the same time, a fitting choice given the mystique and generally reclusive nature of many of Comstar's more devoted followers. "Alright everyone, for those that don't watch horror movies, this is where we fatefully decide to split up into smaller groups so the supernatural killer can off us one by one," I said with a half chuckle, getting little response other than an eye roll from Whitley I continued, "Your guys call, we can stick together and clear the place slowly, hoping that the storm outside doesn't bury us completely and leave us stranded by the time we're done or we can split up and try to clear what appears to be a completely abandoned, and only slightly creepy, place a little quicker."
  12. Final approach to the HPG Complex, northern Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ The cerulean beam of ionized particles streaked through the air, its characteristic helix of barely contained energy looping around the more coherent stream of particles making it look like man made lightning as it as the energy beam pierced through the blizzard, sublimated snow and ice directly into steam with its high energy output. The PPC struck home with a solid blow against the Black Knight's right torso, alarms blaring as the armour in that section was reduced to less than half in a single hit. The kinetic energy imparted by the particle beam sufficient to noticeably stagger the 75 ton 'mech as it advanced on its adversary. Returning fire I opened up with the quartet of medium lasers mounted across the Black Knight, the war machine letting loose with an impressive array of emerald beams of coalesced photons that punched through the winter storm in a manner similar to the PPC. Two of the beams struck large rocks and outcroppings that provided partial cover for the enemy Striker's legs while another beam missed entirely, the fourth however found its mark on the Striker's left torso, carving an angry furrow into the armour but only dealing about half the damage of the enemy's PPC. Not to be outdone I followed up with the Black Knight's own PPC, a Hellstar II model, and unleashed a blue-white stream of particles that was nearly washed out against the snowy background save for the wisps of steam dissipated in small contrails in its wake. The beam struck true against the 80-ton enemy 'mech's left arm, despite the difficulties with targeting in the worsening storm, and melted half the armour to slag in mere seconds, critical components momentarily exposed before the molten slag effectively resealed the damaged armour. The external vents over the Black Knight's heat sinks glowing a brightening orange as the 'mech's systems combated the sudden spike in temperatures the energy weapons produced. The opening salvos unleashed the two behemoth's jockeyed for positioning as their weapon systems cycled and waste heat was exhausted into the frozen air, the lower ambient temperature actually working in the Mechwarrior's favour this time around. Movement to my right drew my attention as I noted Jack Whitley in my personal 'mech, a 60-ton Merlin, flanking the enemy Striker at the edges of the limited vision still provided by the swirling blizzard. It appeared he was attempting to assist me against the technically heavier 'mech, although the Striker only had a mere 5 tons on the Black Knight I was currently piloting despite being classified as an Assault 'mech versus a Heavy 'mech. Of course it was equally possible that Jack was simply looking for an easy kill under the guise of assisting his XO, as he tended to be more worried about "Numero Uno" rather than any given teammate. The Striker's pilot however was equally eagle-eyed in the storm and spotted the smaller 'mech circling around him, pivoting just enough with the Striker's torso they unleashed a series of shots towards the Merlin in an apparent attempt to dissuade the flanking attempt. The medium laser and AC/5 went wide, disappearing into the storm to strike harmlessly somewhere beyond the 60-ton 'mech, but the enemy's PPC shot hit center mass on the Merlin, causing it to stutter step as its center torso armour absorbed the impact and the ablative armour dissipated the colossal amount of energy by vapourizing nearly 2/3rds of a ton of armour. The torso mounted PPC on the Merlin returned fire and melted the last remnants of armour clinging to the Striker's left arm, however the follow up medium lasers and LRM-5 missiles all missed their mark as Jack took on a more evasive approach. The distraction was all I needed to get around the side of the enemy and I unleashed the full fury of the Black Knight's impressive laser arsenal into the side of the Striker, the two large lasers combined melted a full ton of armour off the 'mech's right side while the quad medium lasers bored deep tunnels into the armour on multiple exposed surfaces. The heat spiked exponentially in my cockpit as the considerable, but still inadequate, 20 heat sinks mounted on the 'mech were overwhelmed almost instantly by the intensity of the barrage, one of the only drawbacks to the Black Knight and its all energy arsenal. The sub-zero temperatures outside helped mitigate any lasting effects from the heat spike but the life support systems in the cockpit still took several moments to even begin to cope with the surge, my cooling vest the only thing keeping me from being stuck in sauna on full blast. The heavy blast of weapons fire, despite being almost all energy based, still staggered the Striker enough that it appeared as though it may fall over for just a moment before its gyro, and the pilots own sense of balance through the neurohelmet, managed to right itself and compensate for the sudden loss just over 2.5 tons of armour. A series of detonations exploded around my 'mech in rapid succession, the initial blast making me think I had been caught by artillery until I realized none of the blasts were actually hitting me directly, or causing any meaningful amounts of damage. Gathering my wits after the initial disorientation I determined that the explosions were coming from ground fire and quickly deduced that a tank or similar combat vehicle must be nearby and appeared to firing Flak rounds at me; the proximity explosives and shrapnel laden rounds were extremely effective at bringing down aircraft with their exposed engines or rotors but the low penetrative power left them nearly ineffective against the heavy ablative armour of 'mechs. Noting that Jack had once again engaged the Striker I took the time to determine the trajectory of the ballistic fire and spotted muzzle flashes in the heavy snow that were located in a nearby depression, one that appeared to be perfect to hide a tank in. A momentary clearing in the snow, more of a slight reduction in the wall of falling snow rather than a true clearing, allowed me to spot a series of barrels on a turret that were aimed in my direction within that depression and I assumed that the enemy Pike had chosen to engage me in an attempt to assist the outnumbered Striker. I fired off a snapshot with my arm-mounted PPC, the Hellstar II projecting ionized particles to race across the battlefield at nearly the speed of light until they blasted through the edge of the rocky depression and exploded violently against the front hull of the enemy tank. The armoured vehicle survived the strike but was forced to retreat, at least momentarily, lest they face the full wrath of a BattleMech, a feat that only a handful of combat vehicles could hope to survive. Turning back towards the Striker it was my turn to be on the receiving end of an attack against a distracted MechWarrior and the Black Knight ate all three of the Striker's medium lasers to the torso, alarms wailed again as damage levels increased past safety tolerances and I slammed the silence button as I watched the azure beam of a large laser skim past my cockpit and out into the storm. Returning fire, but mindful of my still high heat, I a trio of my own medium lasers back at the Striker one of which cored into the internals of the damaged left arm but failed to find anything critical, the other two carving paths into the armour that would render the replaceable panels useless if the 'mech were to survive this encounter. A weird stutter to its step, combined with some smoke now billowing from a new gouge in its armour that my attack did not create, indicated some internal damage caused by Jack in the Merlin while I had been focused on the Pike. My sensors indicated possible gyro and engine damage, and although that data was speculative by the battle computer it often was accurate enough. The impact of a particle beam flashed around from the back of the Striker, the bottled lightning silhouetting the large 'mech for a fraction of a second, before the 80-ton war machine stumbled forward and then fell face first into the snow. Its damaged gyro and potentially compromised frame unable to withstand any further forces in that moment and smoke billowed from the new hole in its rear armour like the barrel of a smoking gun, the assault 'mech bounced ever so slightly on the frozen ground before resting face down, sprawled out like some ungainly child that got pushed over. Intending to finish the job I lined up my large lasers and PPC on the prone 'mech, its stationary stance making things incredibly easy for the battle computer to calculate even with the interference of the storm, but before I could pull the trigger a renewed onslaught of flak rounds exploded in succession around my 'mech. The Pike had returned, determined to save its fallen comrade, and the attack worked. The flak rounds, while still causing minimal damage, were incredibly distracting and the Striker itself posed no threat in its current state. Instead I turned to face down the combat vehicle that had mistakenly thought it had a chance alone against a BattleMech and my sensors finally picked up a solid lock on the enemy unit, to my surprise it was not a Pike but rather a more generic AC/2 Carrier tank. A similar model to the Pike that we had identified earlier but it lacked the SRM racks of the Pike and carried 2 additional AC/2's at significant cost to its overall armour. The PPC blast from earlier had nearly compromised its armour, whereas the Pike would have been able to withstand at least one, if not two, more similar hits. Firing a single large laser and the PPC at the AC/2 Carrier my Black Knight immobilized the tank as the large laser cut clean through the track on its right side and the PPC slammed into the turret, the impact of the particle beam collapsing the superheated armour and structure in one fell swoop before blasting out the rear of the mechanism and leaving naught but smoking, twisted wreckage in its wake. The enemy tank refused to give up however and it still continued to fire whichever cannons were still left functional, although it appeared the turret itself was either destroyed or jammed as they were unable to track my 'mech as stepped away from their firing line. Jack in the Merlin showed up again from within the snow storm, its stout, broad-shouldered silhohuette instantly recognizable as he held down the firing stub on the twin machine guns sending a literal torrent of ballistic rain into the rear of the doomed tank. A sudden series of explosions ripped through the snow and up the side of the Merlin, putting a halt to the stream of lead chewing through the soon to be remnants of the AC/2 Carrier, the blasts rocking the Merlin off balance, though Jack was able to recover with relative ease. A sudden hail of lead streamed from somewhere within the storm clouds at the Merlin as though the storm itself was somehow fighting on the behalf of the stricken tank, the machine gun fire raking across the 60-ton 'mech and leaving the armour chipped and fractured across the torso and left side. Firing his PPC almost blindly Jack let loose a stream of particles into the air in the general direction the bullets were coming from but, unsurprisingly, hit nothing but empty air, the shot did however disperse the falling snow long enough for the outline of a Karnov Gunship to come into view. Following up with the arm-mounted medium lasers Jack managed to clip the left side of the VTOL, one beam carving away what little armour was present, but failing to cause any structural damage, while the other emerald beam scored glancing strike against the port side tilt-rotor causing smoke and flame to erupt from the housing, although the rotor remained functional enough to stay airborne for the time being. Disappearing once more into the storm the Karnov circled around but now my sensors had gotten a lock on it and despite the lack of visual acuity I was able to track the VTOL through IR and magnetic anomaly systems, my HUD projecting a 3D wireframe over its suspected location. Sensors indicated that the Karnov was carrying external stores, additional weapon payloads on wing mounted pylons, and they were listed as bombs and/or rocket pods, both of which could prove much more dangerous to a 'mech than the usual bevy of 8 machine guns, 2 on each facing, the gunship typically toted. Not waiting for it to attack again I lined up my reticule on the wireframe and pulled the trigger on the particle cannon, the Hellstar II PPC recoiled as the ionized beam ripped through the atmosphere, blue-white lightning piercing the storm until it intersected with the unfortunate Karnov. The lightweight armour on the support VTOL stood no chance against the particle beam and the PPC tore through armour and structure alike, the off-center strike carved straight through most of the right wing and fused the tilt-rotor in place, both its orientation and the blades themselves. The Karnov fell instantly from the sky, its 30-ton frame unable to remain airborne on a single, damaged, rotor and its torque as it pivoted towards the ground sheered off what little remained of the right wing and engine. Striking the ground a second later, its trajectory causing it almost land on top of the immobilized and critically damaged AC/2 Carrier, its entire cargo of 2 tons of machine gun ammunition plus the 3 remaining external stores detonated in a fireball that lit up the blizzard like a festive display. The destructive power of the blast vapourized what was left of the mangled Karnov and the blast wave alone, due to its proximity to the AC/2 Carrier tank, sheered off the remaining armour plates of the immobilized enemy tank. The rolling wave of fire that followed cooked whatever internals remained and melted the snow for nearly 15m in every direction from the point of impact. With both the tank and VTOL taken care of I turned back to face the Striker, mostly to make sure they were still no longer a threat. Once again to my surprise the Striker was attempting to get up, its pilot struggling valiantly despite the gyro and structural damage the 80-ton 'mech had received. Its left arm was little more than a skeletal framework, the mechanisms of the AC/5 within exposed and vulnerable with its barrel the only part of the arm that looked solid still. Its 'waist' where the gyro was housed was punched through with multiple holes and still had considerable amounts of smoke rising from somewhere within the bowels of the machine while its engine with the damaged shielding continued to pump additional waste heat into the likely already taxed coolant systems. Unwilling to let the 80-ton BattleMech rejoin the fight I slammed down on the triggers of every weapon I had available, the alpha strike coring the Striker as it tried to rise. The medium lasers pierced both the left and right torsos while the large lasers bracketed the 'mech with a blow to the back of the head and its left hip, the PPC meanwhile shattered the both the left torso and the shoulder, severing the arm as the cannon cut clean through the damaged 'mech. Red alarm lights and multiple klaxons immediately sounded within my own cockpit, heat levels shot through the roof and the computer intoned warnings about automatic shutdowns and heat levels being critical, I ignored them all and punched the override button, the noise subsiding substantially although the red overheat indicator was still lit and the HUD's display was still showing a "HEAT CRITICAL" alert. The override prevented the reactor from shutting down, temporarily, but I couldn't just use it indefinitely, aside from the fact that I risked literally cooking myself alive if I ever tried multiple alpha strikes in a row, the extreme levels of heat would cause internal damage and could lead to myomer or actuator failure or even an ammunition cook-off if the Black Knight had carried ammunition. As it was I was completely drenched in sweat, the cooling vest and cockpit life support had all but given up on keeping me even close to a reasonable temperature, and it still felt like I pressed against a hot metal pipe at midday on some scorching hot desert planet with two suns. But the threat was eliminated, for sure this time as its smoking ruin laying at the feet of my Black Knight, and I checked in with the others to see what threats might possibly remain. It seemed the Striker had been the last active threat and in short order Aegis Division had regrouped for our final push on the HPG Station. "Radar to Eden," came Alyssa's voice on the unit wide channel. "Go ahead Radar," answered Charles. "I'm still picking up what appears to be support elements of the Vagabonds but they have moved off a significant distance, barely getting readings at my max range. If I didn't know any better it seems like they might have abandoned the HPG station during the fight." "WOHOO!! WE ROCK!" cried Jenkins, cutting in on the line. "Let's hold on the celebrations until we confirm it Dionysus. That is good news though Radar, keep us posted," ordered Charles, "Aegis, let's finish our advance on the station and officially claim it. All support elements, rendezvous with us ASAP and we'll setup a perimeter. Good work everyone."
  13. MEANWHILE… While the other Aegises were hollering their targets and Total War was exploding everywhere, I ramped up HAGAKURE’s engine really loud and went BLOWING into the middle of the battle field, I was gonna find a Target and show Jack Whitley who’s boss at meching, I put my tape of WE WILL ROCK YOU in the player, it wasnt my battle clan song but this time I needed something that would get me so Hyped that I could jam a pair of scissors in my own Crotch and I wouldn’t even notice it. Just then my Battle Computer bleeped and blooped and then played WHAM BAM I’M A MAN in my cockpit which was weird on account of I would of thought it would say something else, I punched the dashboard and then it intoned "ENEMY TARGET NOTICED," I looked through my remove view windows and saw it…it was one of those CRD-3r Crusaders and it was a hot minute away but closing in fast, I was going to take it on so I revved HAGAKURE’s engines even louder and I threw her into reverse gear on accident, that made a bunch of Groin Grabbing noises and Oil Smells that drowned out what I was saying on the radio, "Dionysus to all units, I’m gonna take out the Crusader!" I yelled into my microphone "WHAT??" Said CPT Maxwell while I was busy with my floor shifter trying to put HAGAKURE back in the right gear, "I said I’m gonna CRUSH that Crusader!" I screamed, I was trying to sound Hardcore but then HAGAKURE banged into gear which made me slam my nuts on the seat Pommel and so I ended up yelling a high pitched and surprised "KERNEESHA" "Steve, just focus on the mission and try not to get yourself killed!!" Ordered CPT Maxwell, I could tell he wasn’t too thrilled about my radio yelling but I would make it up to him, I started Meching toward the Crusader and I could see it was one of those nightmare models with like a billion weapons. I stomped HAGAKURE in position behind a snowy rock formation and I prepped her weapons, "Prepare to unleash hell!" I yelled as I double checked the safety on my large and medium lasers. I must of got Distracted or something because the next thing I Knew the Crusader came around a HUGE pile of snow and fired its LRMs at me!! "AHHHH!!" I Screamed, I had no time to react,I braced for impact as the rockets came Screaming in, a bunch of explosions happened and HAGAKURE’s lights flickered and alarms started going off all over the cockpit, then a bunch of Fire came out of the tape player and the WE WILL ROCK YOU song started sounding like demonic gargling "...willllll REEEOoOOOOo, willlll REEEOOOoOOooo, another one bites the Daaaaust.." I hit the eject button and the Flaming Tape popped out and toileted around on the floor for a minute before it burned a hole in the rug and then went out, just as another HUGE blanket of missiles came my way. "Please miss please miss PLEASE I beg of you!" I yelled as I got all of HAGAKURE’S lasers pointed at the Cursader and I fired all of them at once, the lasers hit the cockpit and made a bunch of black burns on it, unfortunately the missiles also hit me and exploded in a BOOM of shrapnel, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t want to know about. "Steve report!" CPT Maxwell’s Transmission blared, "I’m fine sir! I just ran into an issue or two" I yelled back, "Issue or two? STEVE youre on fire!!" he hollered. "We’re all on fire in one way or another Sir!!!" I yelled back as I shot the Crusader’s left leg and somehow I got lucky and it gave out on the Ice and he went crashing into a large mound of snow. But then somehow even though he was Prone he machine gunned and lasered HAGAKURE underneath the cockpit and the controls between my legs shorted out and "Sir, I have to go, I gotta go put out this fire in my shorts...uh..I mean HAGAKURE!" I yelled and cut the comms. The enemy pilot was trying to stand the Crusader back up and I could also see him reloading his missiles so I had maybe 30 seconds to figure something out before he turned me into Steve Sausage. I threw HAGAKURE into reverse and the back up beeper came on and I drove backwards to try to get a Bead on the Crusader with all of my weapons, but then the Battle Computer speakers blared "OBJECTION HUMANOID UNIT! PREPARE FOR IMPACT!" and I wrecked into a boulder at full backwards speed, I heard the bumper and other armor getting all crumpled up as I hit. "BALL DAMN IT! Well that didn’t go as planned" I said, then I opened fire on the Crusader with all of my lasers just as he was standing up, and I clipped it right on the back to the left. I must of hit something good because the Missile rack on the Crusader’s left arm exploded and it went flying off and it was thrown probably a good 1000 meters by the force of the blast, then the Mech did a move like it was really surprised and then it put up its right arm and spammed a whole launch of SRMs at me. I tried to drive behind the giant Boulder and a bunch of the missiles slammed into it but some more hit me and blew off all my left armor and one of my medium lasers. I vented a bunch of Coolant and then I popped out of cover and fired everything I had, I scored a direct hit on the Crusader’s lower torso and the entire right side of the Crusader’s torso caved in and exploded in a ball of fire. "YOU BROKE YOUR MECH! Now you gotta pay for it!" I yelled into my PA system and I was about to put another laser blast into the Crusader when all the sudden the pilot tried to eject, I guess, only the cockpit glass didnt deplode out of the way like it should have, and so the ejection seat just exploded inside the cockpit and sprayed gore all over the inside, and then the Mech just crashed forward like a tree and fell face first into the ground, Dead as disco. "WOOOOOOO!!" I Hollered into the radio, "SCRATCH ONE CRUSADER FOR JENKINS!!" Then I heard Wicked come back with something that sounded like a fart or a cough, but I couldn't tell, then he said "Mhm, lucky shot." I rolled my eyes and did a Victory stance in my mech, then I took a celebration shot of Wood Alcohol and I threw the can in the floor, it was time to get out there and see how many more bad guys wanted to feel my Wrath!
  14. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ The artillery fire suddenly stopped. This was good because as I navigated the icy hills and tried to avoid the BattleMechs fighting each other, I had nowhere to hide. I was looking for the tank units we spotted earlier. According to Alyssa, it was an 80-ton AC/2 Partisan heavy tank, a 60-ton Pike support vehicle, and most likely a 60-ton Bulldog main battle tank. I didn't know how I would handle such firepower. Yes, I was wearing the Industrial Exoskeleton Combat Suit, or ICE-S for short, but it was not suitable for such monsters. Even one of them posed a serious threat to me, especially since I only had a Federated Barrett M61A laser rifle system, a light single-shot anti-vehicle weapon and explosives, and a grenade launcher on my rifle....Not that big of an arsenal considering what I caught. "I'm pretty sure the observer is dead. I just chased a Sherpa and crushed him," Jack Whitley said on the radio. This explains the sudden silence. I grunted and braced myself for the bitter arctic wind as I approached the coordinates provided by Home Plate. Soon, like a massive chunk of metal hiding in plain sight, I spotted the Partisan Heavy Tank. It was covered in white camouflage netting, but its enormous size was impossible to miss. The five barrels of the autocannons gleamed menacingly in the cold light, although they were partially hidden under the stealth net. My heart pounded in my chest as I approached, and every instinct told me to retreat, to run from the metal beast, but I swallowed the fear. It was impossible to do anything useful with this monster, so I turned my attention to other goals. The Pike support vehicle and the Bulldog main battle tank had to be hidden nearby. "Junaid to Aden," I radioed Captain Maxwell in a whisper. I didn't know why I was whispering, no one could hear me in my armor, through the winds of these frozen wastes, through the thick hulls of their assault vehicles, but somehow it felt right. As if just talking could alert the tanks to my presence. "Eden. Go ahead," Captain Maxwell’s voice responded immediately, unusual calm and steady contrast to the raging blizzard outside my shield. "I understand you're hunting for armor, sir. Got a visual on a Partisan," I said, keeping my eyes open for any sign of movement. "It's a big one. Disguised. I'll send you the coordinates." " Understood," Maxwell replied. I quickly put a mark on my wrist computer map and sent it to the captain's King Crab. I then continued pushing through the snow, staying away from the dug-in Partisan to avoid detection. The lizzard itself was an enemy, cruel and merciless, and a bad ally. It becomes increasingly difficult to see anything more than five meters away. But maybe it wasn't so bad. If I couldn't see them, there was a good chance they wouldn't be able to see me either. Suddenly, a sudden movement to the southwest caught my attention. I knelt behind the cover of the snow-covered hill, looked up at the top, and activated my binocular vision to pierce the blizzard. Two figures appeared beneath heavily camouflaged fabric, their crisp lines creating an unnatural contrast with the wild landscape around me. Despite the enemy's careful attempts to hide their combat vehicles in the form of rocks and other plains, the wind betrayed his attempts. The closer of the two figures was undoubtedly the Pike. I assumed that the much larger figure was the Bulldog, huge and imposing even from this distance. "Junaid to Eden..." I began with my voice dropping lower. "Eden. Go," Maxwell replied. "Got two more targets. It is Pike and Bulldog. I’ll send you the coordinates now." I quickly dropped two more markers on the map and sent them off. "They're dug deep, sir. I recommend an air strike if we can do it." "Air support in this storm is impossible," came Maxwell’s response. The weather turned out to be as serious an enemy as the tank division I was pursuing. "I'll take care of them. Move to a safe observation position." The captain's answer surprised me. I knew that he was not afraid of bold actions, but the idea of attacking the Partisan, Pike and Bulldog tanks alone, even in the King Crab, seemed unreasonable even for him. "Sir," I countered, "those seem like long odds, especially with the visibility so bad." "Idris," Maxwell's voice cut across the channel. "You've seen me pull longer odds ." Damn, he was right. I had. And not just once, but again and again, in increasingly difficult circumstances. But I knew that this luck could dry up over time. "Eden, I think I can help. I can take the Pike while you pull Partisan and Bulldog away." I explained. "60 tons is still punching significantly above your weight, Idris," Maxwell responded, his worry clear over the static. "Yes sir, but I'd rather give us any advantage I can," I hesitated and slowly crawled towards the covered tanks, adrenaline coursing through my veins. "I'd rather go down fighting than hiding in the snow." There was a long pause on the radio. While I was waiting for an answer, I crept up to the enemy position, using the blizzard as the best cover, turning myself into a mere ghost in the snowstorm. "Okay, Junaid," Maxwell finally said. "I'm less than 30 seconds out, coming in hot. Get ready to do this, and remember, I need you on the other side." I steeled my nerves that were jangling in anticipation. "Yes, sir," I replied, stealthily heading towards the Pike, trying my best. This was done so as not to alert the other two enemy tanks. The visibility was bad enough to hide me from their sensors. This is good, because compared to the Pike, the Bulldog and Partisans were real monsters. Approaching the spear, I prepared a plan of attack. I will have light anti-vehicle weapons ready to use. I positioned myself on the high ground directly behind and above the Pike's position. As Captain Maxwell began his assault, I'd charge the rear of the Pike and try to rip off its access hatch with brute strength. The Pike's weak spot, I remembered. If I could get it open, I could fire the light anti-vehicle rocket directly into the tank's interior, obliterating both its crew and its internals. I crouched behind a snowdrift, approaching the top of the hill. Just as I began to look at the blizzard, the form of Captain Maxwell's King Crab appeared, emerging from the storm like a vengeful snow god. "Go, Junaid!" Captain Maxwell shouted over the radio as his massive AC/20s opened fire on the nearby Bulldog and a distant Partisan. The ground shook beneath me under the onslaught of those huge guns. As expected, the two large tanks immediately attacked Maxwell's 'Mech and withdrew from their guard position. This was my moment. "Nasir, let’s do this," I said to myself, activating the exoskeleton’s jump pack. The world became a blur as I descended the hill, the stern of the Pike getting closer by the second. The sound of my jump pack drowned out the howling wind and I braced himself for impact. As I landed behind the spear, the force of the impact with the frozen ground sent a shockwave through my exoskeleton. I was a little disoriented, but nothing beat a good fight to clear your head quickly. Unfortunately, just as I reached the rear door of the tank, the Pike began to move forward, likely to aid his allies in attacking Captain Maxwell. I held onto the edges of the hatch with my gauntlets as the tank dragged me across the tundra. "I need to hurry," I muttered, pulling with all the strength the exoskeleton could muster to pull me onto the small aft deck. The wind howled and the tank lurched, shaking me as I struggled to stay on my feet. My gauntlets slipped, but I was able to grab the railing at the edge of the deck and climb all the way aboard. I took a deep breath and calmed myself before moving towards the hatch. Every step was difficult as the surface of the tank was covered with ice and slippery m snowfall. My boots were sliding on the deck and my heart was pounding in my chest. I knew that if I slipped, I probably wouldn't have another chance to board it again. I slowly approached the hatch, trying not to lose my balance. I took advantage of the moment and wrapped my fingers around the sturdy access handles. I pulled the exosuit as hard as I could against the frozen seal. With loud creaks and groans, the hatch eventually gave in. It banged open, revealing the warm, moderately lit interior of the Pike tank, as well as the shocked expressions on the crew's faces as they saw the exoskeleton's power armor. I didn't waste time on pleasantries and introductions. "Out. Now." she ordered. My voice sounded very deep and artificial from the power armor's external speakers. They clamored out, slipping and cursing on the icy deck, bailing out into the snow. As the last man evacuated the Pike, I raised the single-shot rocket launcher. Taking one last look at the empty cabin of the Pike, I made my move, pulled the trigger, and then immediately fired my jump jets. The rocket burst from the launcher with a powerful roar, illuminating the insides of the Pike with an eerie glow. The explosion was loud, echoing through the air and shaking the ground beneath my feet as I flew upward. Shrapnel hissed as I rode the exosuit into the sky, moving as far as possible from the destructive explosion. Reaching the top of my arc , I looked down at the Pike. Now it was a burning ruin, the hull of the ship was torn apart like a tin can, and thick black smoke rose from within. I was full of satisfaction, watching the light slowly dissipate into the snowstorm. "Junaid to Home Plate," I radioed. "Tango down. Pike eliminated."
  15. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ No sooner had I left the maximum weapons range of the Aces Wild safety perimeter than the enemy artillery began its chorus of destruction. Blinding explosions erupted around my 'Mech, sending shockwaves that rocked Perses like a ship on stormy seas. While the shells Trinity's Onyx Vagabonds were using didn’t have much penetrating power, their concussive output was nothing to scoff at. The detonations felt like depth charges going off around me. Even inside the 'Mech, the vibrations rattled me to my bones. "If someone wants to take out that Thumper, it'd be much appreciated!" I yelled into my comms, as another shell exploded too close for comfort. Just then, my threat indicator board lit up like a Liao New Year festival. A large blip, fast and closing from the east, marked by the distinctive IFF tag of the Archer that Markus Drake and his lancemates had run off earlier. Even though it had gotten its ass handed to it earlier, the heavy ‘Mech was still a menace. My sensors indicated its twin LRM-20s were still online and capable of raining destruction from afar. I quickly skimmed over the status of its other systems: its armor was Swiss-cheesed, but three out of four lasers were still good. The wireframe of its right leg was highlighted in orange - a clear indicator that it had nearly been gimped but was, for the moment, damaged but still functional. And now its pilot was driving toward me like a mad bull. "Great." I muttered as I kicked Perses into gear, lining up my AC/10 on the Archer as it came into view. Twin plumes of orange flashed from the enemy BattleMech’s missile racks as it launched its first volley. There was no time to think. The salvo raced towards me at breakneck speed, arcing over the snowy landscape in a curtain of destruction. I jerked the Orion’s yoke hard to the left and pushed my speed up to full, pivoting Perses’ torso back toward my target. Then, I took aim and let loose a salvo from my autocannon. The weapon roared, spitting shell after shell at the charging Archer, shells leaving contrails of snow vapor in their wake before slamming into the enemy 'Mech. Unfortunately, my HUD flashed with warning indicators as the LRM salvo connected with Perses’ left torso and arm. My Mech rocked violently, shards of armor plating crumbled under the force, sensor arrays flickered in and out, and my left arm control went haywire. I braced myself against the console, trying to keep my senses against the disorienting roll of the cockpit. "Time to return the favor." I growled, finding the Archer beneath my crosshairs. I triggered the Orion's LRM-15 and SRM-4 launcher sequentially. A swarm of missiles streaked across the white expanse between us, bathing my forward viewport in a wash of orange and red as they found their mark. Then came the shockwave. The Archer took the hits square on, and one of its ammo bins detonated in an exaggerated fireball. It stumbled aimlessly for a second, its right arm blown clean off and its chassis ravaged by the explosion. But to my surprise, it regained its balance and snapped off another round of LRM-20 missiles in my direction, following that up with a barrage of medium laser fire. An unexpected iciness swept over me as the missiles exploded against my Orion’s hull; this was not a fight I could easily win. The Archer was being piloted by a madman. Or a genius. Whichever it was, he was damn good. But so was I, and I had no intention of being second best on this snow-covered battlefield. I figured if I could close the distance, get in under the rain of his missiles, I could gain the upper hand. So, muttering a quick prayer to whatever spirits were out there, I forcefully jammed the throttle forward and launched into a sprint. The Orion's feet crunched through the snow and ice as I charged the beleaguered Archer. I fought to draw a bead on the most heavily damaged areas of its body as my targeting reticle bobbed and weaved with Perses’ movements. "Alright, let's dance!" I shouted, igniting my medium lasers and SRM-4. Half of the shots flew wide, but two drilled into the Archer's chest, melting armor and cutting deeply into its torso. The enemy pilot returned fire with his two remaining lasers, the beams of light cutting through the swirling snow to score across my hull. I barely registered the hit as I focused on getting close to the enemy Mech. My mind raced with different calculations and strategies, but I discarded each of them as quickly as it came. This wasn't a game of chess. It was a dance of death, and my dance partner was trying desperately to step on my toes. Once I was sure I was inside the minimum effective range of the Archer’s LRM-20s, I leaned heavily into Perses’ charging momentum, using the force to twist and pivot, bringing my AC/10 to bear on the gaping hole where the enemy ‘Mech’s right arm and missile launcher used to be. A slug of high-explosive ammunition cored straight into the Archer's exposed internals. I saw the explosion light up from within, splinters of steel and flashes of sparks spewing out in a gruesome display of destructive power. The Archer stumbled stumbled back, nearly falling in the deep snow, but the pilot managed to keep his balance. He fired his lasers again, one shot searing left shoulder, further damaging the armor and blowing something out in my cockpit that sent a plume of ozone-scented smoke billowing across my field of view. The other shot grazed my 'Mech's canopy, momentarily washing out the glass with a blinding glare. "Shit!" I yelled. I really didn’t understand how the Archer was still in the fight. Pushing Perses backwards, I again fired my AC/10 into the gaping wound I had cut into the Archer's side. As the shell connected, it further tore apart the 'Mech's internals, revealing actuators, servos, and other delicate internals that should never have been exposed to the daylight. The Archer rocked to one side, and its movement stalled momentarily. "Give it up!" I yelled at the Archer, knowing full well that the pilot couldn't hear me. But I needed to vent my frustration. That damn 'Mech should have collapsed already. It was like a holo-zombie from some cheap horror holovid; relentless and seemingly impervious. Suddenly, the Archer’s pilot began pivoting the ‘Mech’s uninjured side toward me, bringing the good LRM-20 launcher and remaining two medium lasers to bear. My heart pounded in my chest as I found myself nearly in the crosshairs. "You're not the only one who can still throw a punch." I muttered grimly under my breath. In a split second, I’d chain-linked the firing controls for all my weapons together and aimed them directly at the savaged beast’s vulnerable wound. With a smirk of determination, I fired everything I had. The resulting barrage sounded like thunder as three medium lasers, the AC/10, and a storm of missiles from both my launchers converged into the Archer's open torso in a brilliant blaze of destruction. Slamming through its fragile internal bulkheads, the broadside quickly found the ‘Mech’s remaining ammunition bins, and with a thunderous roar, they exploded in a blinding flash of fire and shrapnel. "Eat that, you bastard!" I shouted as the Archer's torso blew apart, torsional forces hurling the upper half in one direction while the lower section plowed a crater into the frozen ground below. In the midst of the hellish scene, an escape pod rocketed skyward before arcing down into the snowy landscape. The pilot had grievously miscalculated his trajectory and ended up plowing deep into a snowbank, the pod half-buried in powder. "Damn." I gasped, hands shaking on the controls as the adrenaline of combat began to ebb. The Archer was down, finally. My heart pounded against my sore ribcage and I could taste the coppery flavor of adrenaline on my tongue. "Rebus to all units: tango down. Archer destroyed." I reported, before gathering my wits to assess the situation. Squinting through the wintery maelstrom, I could see the ominous HPG station protruding from the snow-covered landscape like an icy monolith. It was still in enemy hands, and we were far from done.
  16. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ My targeting computer beeped as the Stalker once again emerged from behind a sharp ridge of ice. My hands clenched the control sticks tighter while my eyes remained glued to the heat signature on my scope. Its heavily armored torso remained pivoted directly toward me, the pilot likely expecting that I’d be tracking his movements. A shrill alarm pierced through my cockpit, indicating a missile lock-on from the Stalker. I reacted instinctively, taking a split-second to adjust my aim and then firing both of Ares’ AC/20s, taking a split-second to adjust my aim. Twin booms shook the King Crab's cockpit as the cannons responded, spitting out lethal shells at a blistering speed. The twin shells screamed across the battlefield, leaving behind a pulsating wave of heat distortion. One of the rounds smashed into the Stalker's torso, triggering a shower of white-hot sparks against the stark white of the blizzard. Simultaneously, dual plumes of smoke blossomed from the Stalker’s missile racks, the first barrage of 40 long-range missiles streaming across the blizzard-wrapped terrain toward me. With adrenaline surging through my veins, I attempted to maneuver Ares into a sidestep, its gyros groaning with the change in direction. My attempt was only partially successful; half the missile barrage impacted against my heavily armored shell, their explosive payloads sending shockwaves throughout my 'Mech. The sound inside the cockpit was deafening, a cacophony of detonations and metallic shrieks. Ares reeled back from the impact, 100 tons of ferrosteel and circuits struggling to maintain balance as smoke and debris roared around me. I clenched the pilot’s controls, fighting the urge to wince, pulling Ares back to steady footing before a fresh salvo could knock me on my ass. Finding my target again, I slapped the medium pulse laser triggers, sending a quick succession of high-intensity beams screaming toward the Stalker. The lasers seared through the snow, vaporizing it to mist before they slammed into the thick hide of my enemy. Seconds later, my targeting computer indicated that the LRM-10 suite had acquired a lock. The circle encompassing the hostile 'Mech pulsed red and morphed into a square, confirmation that I had a clear shot. With a grim smile, I slammed my fist onto the launch button. A muted boom of propellant igniting, followed by the vibrations of the missile rack, signaled the launch of ten missiles arcing through the elements. But just as they were about to strike their target, the pilot of the Stalker cleverly maneuvered behind a frozen hillock, using the terrain as cover. The target lock was lost in an instant, causing the warheads to detonate harmlessly in the midst of the blizzard, their blazing trails quickly extinguished by unrelenting snowfall. Swearing under my breath, I pressed forward, guiding Ares over the uneven terrain and toward the knoll, following the red dot on my sensor plotter marking the elusive Stalker. As I approached, my comm unit suddenly came alive with the voice of Curie. "Archangel to Eden. On station," she advised. "At Pandora. Weather oversight resuming." "Copy that, Archangel," I responded. "Keep the updates coming." Then, without warning, the Stalker reappeared from behind the ice-encrusted terrain, its twin medium lasers and SRM-6 launchers blazing to life, searing the glacial landscape with their deadly glow. The cockpit shook violently as the combined-arms volley hit Ares' hull, bright flashes crossing my vision. At the same time, a powerful artillery strike struck my 'Mech’s flank, nearly toppling it over. The impact threw me against my harness, and I urgently pulled on the control stick to keep Ares steady. In response, the 'Mech lurched in the commanded direction, eliciting a loud pop from somewhere within its skeleton and alarms to blare. Through blurred eyes, I took in the bright orange wireframe on the damage display panel. Left leg - moderate servo damage, probably from the inadvertent over-torquing on it when the ‘Mech pitched to the side. The foot actuator was also showing signs of strain, but it held together for the moment. Wasting no time, I steered directly toward the Stalker, raking it with a salvo of medium pulse laser fire. The enemy 'Mech shuddered under the onslaught, the glancing hits leaving molten armor running down its prominent snout. I held my breath as my targeting reticle became dialed in on the Stalker's pelvic joint, the red circle pulsing with promise. Quickly, I squeezed the trigger, unleashing a firestorm of missiles and autocannon slugs into its underbelly. Smoke and fire erupted from the enemy 'Mech as it teetered backward, its already ungainly center of gravity compromised by the onslaught. Continuing to close on the monstrous, I strafed the gearbox with my pulse lasers, eroding away what remained of its armor plating. The Stalker, in a desperate attempt to defend itself, dumb-fired another volley of lasers and missiles. The beams missed entirely, scarring the snow-covered ground, while only a few stray short-range missiles grazed Ares' armor. My autocannon status indicator cycled to green, and without a moment’s pause, I let loose another broadside. At this close proximity, the slugs punched devastatingly into the Stalker's frame, causing the central servos that drove its legs to fold inward and buckle as if drowning under an invisible tide. Its hip joints collapsed unceremoniously inward, and the towering ‘Mech crumpled to the ground, its heavy, oblong torso smashing chin-first into the hardened soil. I watched with grim satisfaction as a plume of black smoke billowed out from its cockpit, and an ejection pod hurtled away from the wreckage, tracing a comet-like path through the snow-filled sky before disappearing into the storm. The Stalker was no longer a threat. "Eden to Home Plate: Tango down," I reported tersely into my headset. "Home Plate to Eden," Commander Dunlap responded in my earpiece. "Understand tango down. Nice shooting." "All units," Curie’s voice suddenly cut across the channel. "Weather update. Atmospheric depression intensifying. Visibility down to 15 meters and falling. Expect communication disruption." "Eden to Archangel," I replied, squinting through the swirling storm, trying to discern shapes in the icy maelstrom, "thanks for the update. Go ahead and get the NapFind recon drones spun up to augment the radar system. I think we’re gonna need their eyes once we put down these bogies and move on the station." "Roger, Eden. I will launch the NapFinds," Curie answered, her clipped response carrying a reassuring note of efficiency. However, no sooner had the transmission finished than my sensor grid lit up with the Partisan Heavy Tank, the Pike Support Vehicle, and the Bulldog Main Battle Tank we’d picked up earlier. "Eden to Home Plate," I continued, twisting my control yoke to keep Ares moving forward. "Be advised: Moving to engage hostile armor units. Requesting fire support as able." "Home Plate copies, Eden," Commander Dunlap replied, her voice laced with a steely edge. "Give 'em hell. We'll start moving the cavalry in your direction." "Much appreciated, Home Plate," I acknowledged. As I pushed the throttle forward, the snow, at long last, swallowed the battlefield whole, a white abyss consuming the world outside the cockpit. Even with the firepower at my disposal, these conditions would have been challenging enough in a skirmish against infantry. Against BattleMechs and armored tanks, they held the promise of lethality. Once more into the breach…
  17. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ To my surprise, the hatch to Nick's Orion opened without my intervention. Curie looked up at me from the top of the ladder, staring at me with stubborn determination despite the falling snowflakes hitting her face. "I climbed by myself," she explained, obviously reading the surprise on my face. "Well done," I responded, impressed. I then extended the arms of my exoskeleton to help lift her onto Orion's broad shoulders. "But down is tricky." Curie nodded, her eyes widening as I placed her on top of the 'Mech's body and pointed to the ground far below her. Aces Wild's tank line still held out, keeping the advancing enemy forces at bay. Their cannon fire roared through the blizzard, illuminating the snow with fiery orange flashes and casting long shadows. I saw the fear in Curie's eyes as Blackwood's Catapult and Lennox's Marauder suddenly abandoned their defensive positions near Pandora and rushed into battle. This can't be good sign, I thought, as Curie's shaking hands caught my attention. "Look at me," I ordered, grabbing her shoulders to try to focus her attention for the moment. The concern in her eyes diminished a little. "I'll protect you. It'll work just like before. I'll pick you up. Hold me tight. I'll use my jump pack and take you to the ground. We'll get you safe and warm to Pandora with Mallory and Levi." "Okay," Curie nodded, her voice shaking as did her hands. I could see her mind racing, probably assessing the likelihood of something going wrong. She took a step towards me and I nodded firmly, picking her up with my armored gloves and holding her protectively against my power armored chest once more. She wrapped her arms around my neck and held me while I activated the jump pack. The engine roared to life, kicking up a cloud of snow from Orion's shoulder as we began our ascent. I leaned forward slightly to get us away from the BattleMech's huge body. Once we were clear, I straightened and quickly turned the jets on and off to achieve a controlled descent. "Everything's fine?" I asked Curie on the radio. "Yes," she replied, her voice barely audible over the noise of the jets. As we passed by the Orion's wide body, the damage from its fight with the Enforcer was clearly visible. A sea of scorch marks, twisted armor plates, and leaking fluids formed a terrible image of the once majestic machine. As we got closer to the ground, I felt Curie tense up at the sight. Even for her, who was not a MechWarrior, the damage was clearly severe. "I'm going to set us down now," I warned her just as the jump pack let out a particularly loud howl of protest. I ignored the warning signs from my prototype and increased thrust to soften the landing. We landed on the ground with a thud, snow swirling around us. I hugged Curie tighter as she let out a short, muffled yelp from the sudden jolt. "I'm sorry," I apologized, releasing her arms. She smiled shakily back, releasing my armor and brushing the snow off her lab coat. Her fingers fumbled with the safety strap on her helmet, so I reached out to help her. "Are you OK?" "Yes…just…surprised," she explained. I saw the confusion in her eyes. This was not the world she was used to. She was brilliant in her own way, but this…this was a battlefield. And it was clear that she found it overwhelming. “Come on,” I said, pointing to the bulky cab of the Pandora recovery vehicle and its long, trailer that housed a combined mobile command center, medical bay, and workshop. Curie nodded and held one of my gloves for stability as we walked the few meters to the front door of the truck. When we got there, she pressed the access button on the control panel and the hatch opened to reveal Levi standing there with a tense expression on his face. “Thank Blake, for getting here alive! "Nick…is he okay?" Levi asked, eyes wide. He looked at Curie, who was next to me. “His BattleMech suffered some damage,” I replied in a calm voice. "But he wasn’t hurt in the process.” “He got hurt before,” Curie clarified. “On landing. Hurt ribs.” Levi's eyes widened. “Damaged ribs? This is not good, especially in a cockpit. The internal bleeding could be..." - he stopped mid-sentence and looked worriedly at Curie. “I fixed him,” she replied plainly. “Can I come in?” Levi quickly stepped aside and cleared the way for her. “Of course, Curie. Come in. Get warm." She nodded approvingly, walked past him, looked at me, and added, "Thank you, Idris." I nodded and began to turn around, my attention drawn to the sounds of the battle still raging, but Levi's voice stopped me. "Idris." I turned to him. He looked at me with a serious expression on his face. "You'll protect Nick, right?" he asked, and I could hear the concern in his voice. "I'll do my best," I promised. His eyes held mine for a moment longer before he stepped back and closed the hatch behind him. I turned around and walked back into the frozen chaos. "Juniad to Rebus,” I shouted into the radio. “The package has been delivered and secured. Let's get out there and clean up this mess."
  18. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ “I need you to get Archangel back to the Pandora!” Captain Maxwell’s voice shouted in my headset, his words backdropped by the explosions of combat and artillery fire "We need her watching the Doppler radar so that we’ve got eyes in this goddamn mess.” I shoved Perses’ throttle to full, narrowly avoiding the impact of another artillery shell that would have blown Idris completely off the ‘Mech’s shoulder. Curie, in the rumble seat behind and to my immediate left, gave a surprised yell as I veered the massive BattleMech sharply to the right, almost on instinct. My head swam under the effects of the cocktail of Vitamin K and prothrombin complex concentrate that she’d injected me with to try to balance out the blood thinner keeping my nanites flowing. "Copy that, Eden." I responded, glancing apologetically at Curie. "Sorry, this is going to be a rough ride." “OK.” she responded tersely, her face a bit pale as I flipped the ‘Mech into full sprint towards the safety of our command vehicle. The hard turn made us lurch violently to the side, the Orion’s feet losing traction on the snow and ice. "Easy there Rebus!" Idris barked through the comm, his voice laced with an edge of fear. “I am barely hanging on out here.” I looked at the external feed and saw his power armor was clinging to my ‘Mech’s hull for dear life. "I'm doing what I can, but it's a damned war zone out here!" I called back apologetically as another artillery round exploded directly beside us, jarring the cockpit and causing my ribs to protest in pain. Even though Curie had done what she could to get my torso bandaged up, there was only so much she could do in the cramped confines of a moving 'Mech. It felt like the world had transformed into a seismograph as we ran, each step of the Orion shaking us violently. “So, look, Juniad, when we get there, I think you’re gonna need to scoop up Curie and - “ I began, but my words were cut off and we were abruptly thrown forward as forty long-range missiles and a blistering pounding of medium laser fire smashed into Perses’ rear armor, the alarming shriek of metal and alarms blaring in response. “Nick…!” Curie stammered as the impact almost knocked us flat. "Hold on!" I barked, bringing the Orion about and trying to identify our assailant. The cockpit bucked violently again under another devastating impact of missiles and lasers. “Junaid! You still alive out there?” "Jah, but...barely!" Idris managed to reply through heavy gasps. The battlefield was a blender of chaos and destruction. Aegis Division’s ‘Mechs were all in a pitched brawl with the Onyx Vagabonds, trading punches with high-impact weaponry that would make lesser machines crumble. Artillery rained from the sky like a deadly hailstorm, turning the ground into a treacherous minefield of explosions, craters, and debris. All the while, the looming blizzard progressively blotted out the sun more and more, casting the environment in an ominous twilight. As I caught sight of the offending BattleMech, a monstrous Archer painted blood red, I instinctively drew a bead on it and cut loose with Perses’ AC/10 and LRM-10, flinging an angry volley of ordnance back at the assault ‘Mech. The Archer recoiled slightly as my slugs and missiles tore into its armor. But the hulking machine barely paused in its movement as it returned fire with a backhanded sweep of medium laser fire, the green energy bolts cleaving through the frigid air and striking my Orion's center of mass. "Fuck!" I yelled as the assault rocked the cockpit. “Not much armor!” Curie pointed out, her voice strained. "Need…move more!" “Where the fuck is Aces Wild?” I asked, gritting my teeth. To my surprise, Markus Drake’s gravelly tone cut across the comms. “We’re posted up to the east of your position, Rebus.” he replied. “Currently dug in providing overwatch for Pandora and adjacent support units. If you can get to us, we can get that Archer off your back.” "Appreciated." I responded, my words punctuated by a grunt as another salvo hit the Orion. Quickly, I slammed my ‘Mech into an evasive run, weaving through the artillery fire while periodically pivoting its torso to sling autocannon, laser, and missile fire haphazardly back at the Archer. Under the dual onslaught of my own wild shooting and occasional friendly artillery fire from its own flanks, the Archer started to give ground, but it didn't abandon its pursuit. Undeterred, I pressed forward, barreling through the icy landscape towards Drake's position. Soon, I could see the hulking shapes of a Manticore and three Rommel tanks looming ahead in the snow. Their turrets swiveled towards us, watching the unfolding chase with predatory ease. I felt a sudden wave of relief wash over me, followed by a surge of renewed adrenaline. "Rebus." Drake's voice crackled again. "You have three seconds to clear our firing line. Make it count.” “That’s all I need.” I advised as I drove Perses at a stupidly reckless speed towards the line of tanks. “Three.” Drake’s voice counted off, as clinical and detached as if he were announcing the time of day. I could feel every thud and clatter as the Orion lumbered the uneven ground, missile and laser rounds occasionally striking the rear armor, making its chassis creak and wail in protest. “Two.” Drake continued, the tension in the air rising with each passing second. Curie clung to the safety harness, a wide-eyed expression of concern set on her face. The distance between the Archer and my 'Mech was shrinking dangerously close. "Ready?" I asked her, not taking my eyes off the rapidly approaching line of friendly tanks. She nodded, gripping the edges of her seat tighter. "Ready." she murmured, her voice barely audible over the deafening alarms and weapons fire. As we breached the firing line, I swerved hard to the right, throwing the Orion into a power slide, veering sharply to one side. "One.” Markus' voice was ice-cold, the single syllable echoing in my cockpit. His tanks opened fire, sending a salvo of shell, energy, and missile blasts rocketing past my 'Mech into the pursuing Archer. The ground shook from the barrage, and I clenched the controls to steel us against the shockwave that rattled through Perses. The Archer, too close to retreat, was engulfed in a storm of fire and shrapnel. It staggered, caught off-guard by the onslaught, its armor cracking and smoking. As the enemy pilot regained his footing and began reversing away from the defensive line, the combined forces of Aces Wild fired again. This time, the Archer's left arm armor disintegrated in a blinding flash of light and smoke while its right ammunition bin spontaneously exploded, its torso twisting violently in response to the blowout. The enemy ‘Mech, now a walking inferno, stumbled backward and faltered, its movements jerky and uncoordinated. Struggling for control, its pilot turned away from the engagement and made a run for it, dragging the Archer’s damaged body off into the snow-streaked landscape. “Thank you, Dragon lance.” I called out on the radio. “Don’t mention it.” Drake replied. I steered Perses alongside the Pandora BRV and brought us to a rough, skidding stop. The blizzard was almost on tope of us now, and the world outside my cockpit into a white maelstrom. "Curie, we're here. You ready to disembark?" I asked. Curie looked up from her grip on the safety harness, her eyes meeting mine. "Ready." she said, her fingers tightening around the metal supports. I nodded. “OK. Go ahead and get your stuff together. I’ll page your ride.” Keying the comms microphone, I hailed Idris. "Juniad, this is Rebus. Requesting immediate extraction for Technician Franklin. Over." "Copy that, Rebus. Tell me when to pop the hatch." came Idris's calm reply. Even after everything we’d just been through, he was still unflappable, something I admired about the guy. I turned to Curie, who had unbuckled, gotten herself fully attired, and had her medical bag slung over her shoulder. As we made eye contact, she raised an eyebrow. “Fly…again?” she asked hesitantly. "Yeah, but just a quick one this time. And, thanks...for patching me up." I smiled. Curie nodded. "Take care...of you." she said, then looked up at the cockpit hatch. "Be safe." "I'll try." I replied. But I knew I could only do so much.
  19. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ “All units, be aware of the attempted ambush and watch out for other hidden units. We still don't know where their aerospace assets are but don't anticipate any of them in the worsening storm, and we haven’t located the Vagabonds’ third lance yet. You are weapons-free; call your targets once in range. Good hunting, Aegis,” I radioed as we advanced on the enemy. The snow was coming down thicker now, turning the world into a swirling white panorama punctuated by the dark silhouettes of towering BattleMechs. In the distance, I saw the distinctive muzzle flash of artillery: sudden pulses of orange fire that slashed through the whiteout. "Artillery at two o'clock!" I shouted. "Keep out of their direct line of sight!" “Looking for the spotter!” Alyssa announced as I brought my King Crab's torso around, swinging it into an evasive turn, its twin Gauss Rifles tracking the oncoming Stalker. The bulky, two-legged BattleMech was designed for heavy firefights, armed with a formidable mixture of long and short-range weaponry. Packing twin LRM-20s, four medium lasers, and two SRM-6 launchers, the damn thing was a nightmare for any 'Mech not equipped for brawling. I steeled my nerves and glanced down at my weather readout to calibrate my aim. The wind was picking up, moving in from the east at a blistering speed that would skew any shot I didn't account for. Unfortunately, the readout was blank. Curie was still aboard Nick’s Orion. The air around my BattleMech erupted into a hellish tempest as the artillery rounds exploded, the shockwaves rocking the heavy King Crab. I winced as debris peppered the cockpit's reinforced windshield, a cacophony of violent impacts muted only by the thick plating of my ‘Mech. I cursed as the maelstrom subsided, only to be replaced by Ares’ battle computer screaming warnings of missile locks. With grim determination, I focused on my enemy, threading the targeting reticle over the distant form of the Stalker. As I did so, twin blossoms of smoke and fire erupted from its LRM-20 launchers, streaks of deadly intent carving through the snowfall toward me. "Eden to all units: engaging the Stalker!" I called out as the salvo hit home, chewing into my armor. I gritted my teeth, feeling the vibrations through my cockpit. Recovering, I thumbed the communications console to switch to a direct line with Warrant Officer Schuster. “Break. Eden to Rebus.” “Go ahead, Eden!” Schuster's voice responded just as a bright lance of laser fire shot past my cockpit, illuminating the darkened interior for a fraction of a second before dissipating into the swirling snowstorm. The Stalker was living up to its name. “Rebus, are you all patched up over there?” I asked, the wail of Ares’ LRM-10 suite announcing a hard lock on the Stalker. I squeezed the firing trigger, launching a salvo of missiles into the blizzard. “As much as I’m gonna be,” Schuster's voice strained over the comms as he wrestled with an unseen assailant. “Ready to join the fun again.” “Good. I need you to get Archangel back to the Pandora,” I explained, unleashing twin AC/20 rounds from the King Crab's claws into the Stalker. The hypersonic slugs caught the beast across its nose, staggering it sideways. The impact smashed through several layers of armor plating, scattering pieces into the wind. "We need her watching the Doppler radar so that we’ve got eyes in this goddamn mess.” "Copy that, Eden," Schuster acknowledged, his words punctuating the distant rumble of a fresh artillery barrage. “Traveler and Mantis are holding the staging area and can cover your retreat. Be quick, though - we need every gun we can get out here," I added, not taking my eyes off the stormy battlefield. The Stalker had steered into a long, lazy turn, disappearing intermittently behind a series of snow-covered outcroppings. I raked Ares’ pulse lasers across the frozen stone, pulverizing the rocks and revealing the Stalker once more. It immediately pivoted its torso toward me, retorting with blistering return fire - a cocktail of SRM and medium later fire that washed over the King Crab's hull with a deafening impact. "Roger that, Eden, Junaid and I are on it!" Nick’s voice faded as he cut the transmission. I squeezed off another twin volley of AC/20 rounds, the muffled thud of impact further out telling me that my rounds had found their mark. The Stalker seemed to falter, its movements becoming sluggish in the freezing conditions. Just as I thought I was gaining the upper hand, a fresh wave of artillery fire rained down on my position. I felt the ground shake, the world outside the cockpit becoming a fiery hellscape as the high-explosive rounds detonated all around me and sent shards of frozen earth up into the air. The King Crab's advanced gyroscopic stabilizer struggled to maintain balance, but I fought against the disorienting sway and kept Ares upright. "Come on old girl…don't fail me now," I muttered under my breath. “Let’s take the fight back to them.”
  20. Final approach to the HPG Complex, northern Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ We'd managed to regroup with the rest of Aegis Division in short order and were back on track towards the HPG station, we had dispatched the singular enemy lance with relative ease and to the best of our knowledge we had even prevented them from alerting the rest of the Vagabonds mercenary company to our presence. However, we weren't naïve enough to think that the enemy was completely unprepared or that we had any further element of surprise than what the storm itself was providing and Alyssa's ECM suite. After regrouping Charles contacted our support elements, who were supposed to be approaching the HPG from the South and South-East along the road from Bascombe, and confirmed that the BRV, along with our supplies and the Command Van following behind, were making decent headway and should be at their rendezvous more or less on schedule. Their rendezvous location would be roughly at the same elevation as the clifftop stationed HPG facility, though at sufficient distance as to avoid any combat that would be occurring in a few short minutes when we arrived to recapture it. Due to the fight with the enemy lance, and despite it being a running battle, we were slightly behind in our original schedule and the support elements would arrive at their station before we engaged the enemies at the HPG facility, we needed to make up the lost time or risk the chance that the Vagabonds would detect our support elements and move to investigate, or worse, engage them. Pushing our machines to the max in the deepening snow held its own risks but they were ones we had to accept if we wanted to reach the HPG soon enough to protect our support elements and ahead of the still oncoming storm. Checking with Charles, since Curie was apparently now in Nick's Orion somehow, I missed the details on that one, we confirmed that the weather front was indeed still approaching rapidly and that what we had experienced thus far was just the fringes of the real storm bearing down on us. That was a scary thought given the difficulty already experienced and looking back towards the horizon from which the storm approached told wonders from what little we could make out amongst the still falling snow. The Black Knight groaned as it plodded its way up a steadily increasing incline, according to the topographical maps we had our approach to the HPG station, coming in from the East, had a nearly 40° incline for the last 3km before reaching the HPG station situated on a narrow but wide plateau that followed alongside a deep ravine cut by an ancient glacier. This meant that the HPG was nearly 2km higher in elevation than we currently were, and our 'mechs would be slowed down even more due to the strain of climbing such a steep incline. Thankfully the humanoid form of BattleMechs allowed for such an endeavour as a conventional vehicle would never make it up that slope in the current conditions. At some in the first third of the climb a momentary glow was spotted somewhere in the distance, hidden by the falling snow but unmistakable all the same, it wasn't clear what the source was but shortly after a streak of muted light, almost resembling a long lasting meteor, was spotted in the sky. "What is that?" inquired Marius on the comms, genuine curiosity in his voice, "Is anyone else seeing this, ... streak of light?" "I see it Mantis, but I don't know what it is. Shouldn't be anything flying in this weather," I offered, also now watching the odd streak of light rise higher wondering if it actually had an arc to it or if it was just my vision playing tricks with the snowfall. "I see it too," replied Steve jumping into the conversation, his tone implying there was more he was going to add but only empty silence followed. A few more speculative observations were given before everyone was able to see that the streak indeed did have an arc of some kind as its upwards ascent slowed and then came to a stop before the streak then began a slight downwards trajectory, its glow becoming subtly brighter. "I've got a bad feeling about this guys," said Alyssa, concern wringing her voice as we all realized that whatever this glow was it was potentially now heading towards us. The streak suddenly seemed to be getting steadily larger and brighter, although it had actually been doing so for some time it was now suddenly noticeable and Charles, along with a few others, came to conclusion that it was in all likelihood some kind of attack. "Scatter!" shouted Charles on the comms, "It's artillery!" The artillery shell, burning bright like a rocket on reentry now like some kind of tracer round, ripped through the snowstorm as though it cared nothing for the gale force winds that must have been buffeting it in the upper atmosphere. We had no real idea where it was coming from our going to but the threat of an artillery strike against was more than enough to get everyone moving. With the steep incline preventing any meaningful increase in speed heading West most everyone moved laterally to spread out across the large hill and hopefully avoid the impact, or at least lessen the damage suffered as a whole across the entire team. No sooner had we begun to split off than the artillery shell fired off a series of flares like a conventional fighter might do to try and shake a heat-seeking missile. These considerably smaller streaks of light arced out in pairs until 8 new light sources seemed to hover in the air in a large ring before the main 'shell' appears to burn out and disappear, as the incredibly bright ring of flares hovered in the air it became apparent that this first artillery shell had actually been an illumination shell and didn't actual pose a direct threat to us, however the long lasting flares were bright enough to pierce through even the dense snowfall and provided an easy target for further shots from whatever artillery unit was firing at us. Once again taking charge, Charles commanded on the radio, "Fan out, 90m spread, keep advancing." As everyone moved to comply a sudden explosion erupted some distance behind us, too far back to have any chance of hitting anyone but the size of the blast and the cloud of snow and debris launched skyward were still daunting. Several long seconds later, Aegis Division continuing to advance up the steep hill, a second explosion ripped apart the frozen tundra even farther behind us, the storm likely affecting the accuracy of the artillery as shattered rocks and ice scattered across the snow in deep furrows. "I'm guessing its a Thumper Eden," I offered as I noted the size of the explosions, which were actually comparatively small compared to some artillery I'd seen in the Alliance Militia. "I concur," added Idris, "And only one unit judging by the interval between shells." "Excellent observations, Bastion, Juniad. That's still one piece more than I want to deal with," replied Charles, "I don't think they are accounting for the travel times of the shells either, if those last two are anything to go by." A third explosion erupted close, in the artillery sense (within 40m), to Maxwell's King Crab the fireball engulfing the colossal machine in a momentary firestorm that flared out almost as quickly as it arrived, the Assault 'mech stomping through the wispy remains as though nothing had happened. "Scratch that," intoned the Captain, his voice unperturbed despite just getting hit by literal artillery, "They fixed their aim, and it is definitely a Thumper. The explosion may be impressive but it barely scratched the paint, pretty sure a medium laser would have done at least as much damage. Still, I wouldn't recommend getting any closer to the point of impact." A fourth explosion followed in relatively close succession, the timing between shots becoming obvious now, but this one was once again way off from the mark, this time over 100m to the north. Aegis continued to stay fanned out, doing our best to maintain 90m between any given units will navigating the difficult terrain and the heavy snow all at once. The next round was another flare shell, a series of bright military grade flares illuminating the storm darkened sky some distance ahead of us and in a location we would have no choice but to pass beneath. Yet another explosive shell came next, I had the timing down now and could anticipate when the next shell would arrive, eliminating the surprise and involuntary jump as the sudden explosion rumbled the ground enough to be felt inside the 'mech itself. I could not however guess where the explosion would occur and this time it was the Black Knight and I that were caught in the crossfire. The shell impacted somewhere to my right, far enough away to avoid the worst of the pressure wave and blast from the HE round itself but still close enough to feel everything as my 75-ton 'mech rocked heavily to the side. The Black Knight's center of gravity was notably higher in comparison to the King Crab and being 25 tons lighter meant it couldn't simply weather through the blast through sheer size alone; however, I was still able to keep the war machine upright with ease and as Charles had previously stated the actual damage sustained was barely comparable to a medium laser or AC/5. Wisps of smoke curled up from the burnt paint on my 'mech's right shoulder, its now blackened exterior standing in a sharper contrast against the snow than the steel blue of the Aegis Division paint job that had been adorning the Black Knight previously. Pushing onwards I drove my lightly damaged BattleMech further up the slope, trying to maintain a point position even though our formation had effectively broken apart at the start of the artillery barrage. A pair of flare rounds followed next in succession, the first lighting up the vicinity around Charles' King Crab and Marius' Marauder, while the second landed some distance ahead of us again, although seemingly to far ahead to have been planned. Next followed a true barrage of HE rounds as 5 consecutive rounds landed with near perfect timing, the impacts scattered amongst our formation with only one of them managing to just clip both Wicked in the Merlin and Traveler in the Catapult when they inadvertently got close together, although given the travel time the rounds seemed to have it was more likely just a lucky shot as opposed to a carefully calculated one. Several of the shots in the barrage landed close to Nick's Orion, two of them in succession, when he strayed under one of the flares for too long, which lead to this exchange between Idris and Nick. "Rebus, stay away from flares if you please. You may be cozy inside explosion proof metal box, I, not so much." "Sorry Juniad, I didn't forget about you out there, this terrain is being difficult. I didn't think they'd track us that quickly from this distance," replied Nick apologetically. "Good point. I think they must have spotter nearby," answered Idris thoughtfully. "Good call Junaid," broke in Charles, "All units, be on the lookout for a potential spotter. They must have someone directing that artillery." A minute or so later, after the remainder of the current barrage of HE shells had passed and the artillery unit began launching another salvo of flare rounds, Whitley spoke up on the comms. "Pretty sure that spotter is dead, I hunted down a Sherpa and crushed it just now," reported Whitley assuredly, unbeknownst to the rest of Aegis he merely stumbled upon the vehicle hidden amongst some rocks by accident as he attempted to climb over said rocks in the Merlin, even crushing it had been inadvertent when the 'mech's foot slipped on the snow and ice. "That's good," answered Alyssa somewhat dismissively, "But I've got more bad news, I'm reading 4 large contacts ahead and they are getting closer." "Vagabonds?" inquired Charles, more to just confirm it as there would be no reason for picking up any other contacts out here in this weather. "Afraid so," replied Alyssa, the tone of her voice imparting an image of her shaking her head in resignation. "Distance?" "A kilometer away, just outside the HPG but closing on us. Close enough that soon the artillery is going to have to think twice about shooting at us to avoid the risk of friendly fire in this weather," confirmed Alyssa, as though reading Charles' mind. A short time later, after only 2 final HE shells from the artillery unit, both of which missed by a considerable margin, my own sensors began picking up contacts, the enemy making no attempt to hide their identity, location, or intentions as they marched straight at us in a line with the heaviest 'mech's they had available. Confirming with the rest of the team as they also began to pick up the 'mech contacts it appeared that the Onyx Vagabonds had dispatched their heavy lance to meet us outside the HPG station head-on. Alyssa added that she had support vehicle contacts in the vicinity of the HPG station now, but they appeared to be stationed on the north side of the complex as though prepping to evac. An 80-ton STC-2C Striker, a 65-ton CRD-3R Crusader, an 85-ton STK-3H Stalker (a well known missile variant), and a 70-ton ARC-2R Archer, rumoured to be Taryne Trinity's personal 'mech. A formidable force to be certain but we still outclassed them both in sheer numbers and overall weight, although one for one they were on pretty even footing with us and likely still had their third lance in reserve somewhere. As we continued to approach, neither group adjusting their pace, a series of flare rounds began to explode above us and to the front illuminating what would likely become our battleground within mere minutes. "Bastion, you seeing that, at the edge of the shadows from those flares ahead. Pretty sure that rock has gun barrels," Nick asked, his Orion now flanking me as our lances began forming up again to face the oncoming threat. "I do," I replied as I spotted what Nick had seen and then spotted a similar object on the other side of the area illuminated by the same flare, "There's another one on the other side too." Using my 'mechs "improved" sensors, as in they weren't completely degraded by centuries of patchwork repairs and the command-level gear aboard the Black Knight offering additional processing power for sensor interpretations, I tried to pry out what the clearly disguised units might be but with limited success. It was obvious that they were conventional combat vehicles, just from the size and orientation of them, but the only thing I could confidently confirm was that they did not possess fusion engines, which did basically nothing to actually identify them. Passing the odd detail on to Alyssa her actually advanced sensor suite was able to pick out some further details when directed to the proper locations and came back with potential matches that aligned with the known enemy units operating with the Onyx Vagabonds. An 80-ton AC2 variant of the Partisan Heavy Tank, a 60-ton Pike Support Vehicle, and what was most likely a 60-ton Bulldog Main Battle Tank. Maxwell, who was privy to the whole conversation, made the call to continue the advance, opting to use the knowledge of the attempted ambush to thwart it head-on while not revealing that the enemy's own flares had tipped their hand. With Aegis Division's lances reformed we continued the push up the last of the incline before engaging with this new set of enemy units. "All units, be aware of the attempted ambush and watch out for other hidden units. We still don't know where their aerospace assets are but don't anticipate any of them in the worsening storm and we haven't located the Vagabonds third lance yet. You are weapons free, call your targets once in range. Good hunting Aegis."
  21. North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ The radio crackled to life. “Eden to Rebus. Need a hand?” Snow drifts went blasting up the windshield of the BRV as its' plow plowed through them. Real snow really did look kinda like those Scene TV snow graphics, and the staticky radio completed the effect. There was a fluctuation on the line that sounded sorta like breathing. I really hoped Nick's comms were just broken, and nothing worse had happened. "Rebus, do you copy?" the captain said over the radio. I looked in one of the mirrors for seeing what was going on in the BRV and helping people not bump into each other and stuff; Mallory was poking at a terminal looking really tense, which didn't make me feel better at all. "Is he alright?" I asked. "Your other half's seems to have found himself a dancing partner and now they're doing the tango, but he can handle himself. All you have to worry about is keeping us on the road." I watched the whole top half of another snowdrift blast up the windshield and white us out for a couple seconds. "Uh, yeah, bad news about that - GPS got weird and I can't tell if we're messing up the left shoulder or the right shoulder in all this snow." Mallory laughed. "At least the road crews will have job security when this blows ov-" "Tango down," Idris said over the comms, barely hearable through all the static. "Enforcer eliminated." And then there was Nick's voice: "Thank you, Juniad. That was something else." He sounded exhausted and kinda fucked up, but he'd made it. I breathed, "ohthankgoodness," and relaxed for about half a second, but then the BRV tanked over something that went crunch and I had to focus on the maps and trying to find the road, or at least making sure we didn't run off a cliff. "Easy now," Mallory said." Nick pulled through. Imagine his disappointment if you pulled up to the HPG station dead." I did a nervous laugh. A few more crunches happened, but they weren't as loud, so maybe that was less bad? "Hey, wait a minute," I said. "How can I pull up anywhere if I'm dead? I mean somebody else could drive, but then they'd be the one pulling up." "Somehow, I don't think that would lessen his grief." Then there was another crunch, and a reflective yellow road sign went flying up the windshield, and there was a thing on it, and I yelled "WHAAAAA" and accidentally swerved the BRV. "What's going on up there?" one of the techs yelled. "I FOUND THE ROAD!" I hollared back. I swerved the BRV some more, because now I knew where the road was supposed to be, to the left of the sign. The BRV didn't drive any different, but at least it was probably doing less property damage now. "Hey," I said, "does anyone know what a road sign with a walrus-thing with a shell and drooly bits is supposed to be?" Somebody who'd walked right behind me, I think Antonio, said "I think the 'drooly bits' are tentacles." Mallory added, "a mammal with tentacles, that's a first." There'd been a whole bunch of radio traffic between Idris and the captain that I hadn't paid a ton of attention to, since I could barely make out the words anyway, but then one caught my ear - "Eden to Rebus." "We don't know it's a mammal," Antonio argued, "it could be convergent evol-" "Ssh!" I said. I was pretty sure Nick had been on the comms but I hadn't been able to hear at all. The radio said "bzzz bzzzzz direct on bzzt?" and then, "Robzzzt Eden, bzzzz when you are." Of course it wasn't possible to tell how he was doing just from a radio transmission where I couldn't even make out all the words, but I had this really, really bad feeling. It was too similar to how he'd sounded in between puking his guts out at the circus, except it definitely wasn't an alcohol problem this time. "Excellent," said the next transmission. "Bzzzzt speed and be ready-" and then it collapsed into static. "Think about it," Antonio droned on, "about half the planets with complex vertibrates and moderate tempuratures have something like a cow, and wherever crabs are studied they usually find at least three completely unrelated kinds, sometimes as many as fourteen, and-" The BRV lurched backward without actually moving backward - we just sorta lost forward momentum for half a second. "Hey Antonio," I half-yelled over the radio static, "what's ahead on the topo map? Does it get any steeper?" There was some mumbling and shuffling, and then Antonio called back, "not much, we're almost over the ridge - getting back up it when we leave could be interesting, though." I pumped the gas, hoping that'd get a little more traction to the treads like the opposite of an anti-lock break. "Thanks - we'll save the shrapnel for later then, we might need it. Hopefully we won't have to retreat in a hurry or anything." As we reached the top of the ridge, the radio static started to make words again. "Excellent. Match my speed and be ready to receive Junaid and Archangel." "Archangel?" I asked. "Isn't that-" "Curie," Mallory finished. For a few minutes after that it was like the BRV got too cold for speech bubbles. Antonio finally broke the silence. "How can she switch mechs when the mechs are moving? I mean, with the hatch positions on a King Crab and an Orion, docking them wouldn't work at all." Antonio made a weird gesture with his fingers, probably meaning for each hand to be a mech, but it made no sense at all. "Holy shit, I think he's gonna use the jetpack. That's awesome," I said without thinking. "I mean, other than being wildly dangerous, I can't believe they got Maxwell on board with that plan, it'd have to be-" I caught Mallory's eyes in the mirror, and the cab got even colder. "oh. oh crap." "Yeah," Mallory said softly. The BRV's treads ground on a snowdrift, then finally cut through, spraying the windshield with white. "Let's hope Idris knows what he's doing, and the weather holds." I did my best to keep the BRV on the road as it lurched and skidded down the slope, and we all listened to the radio. “The package is ready. Are you?” "I am ready." A gust of wind picked up, throwing snow sideways across the windshield and whiting out all the windows on the left side. "Very well. Rebus, I need bzzzzbzzzbzzzt maneuvers, aff? Let’s give Junaid the most stable platforms we can.” “I’m on it.” Nick sounded like he'd just gone three rounds with a rabid dog and been told a tiger was up next, which I guessed made sense, if his blood was filling up with pointy little robots again. “Alright, sir. I’m there. Ready for launch.” "We’re readzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt, too. Juniad, you can bzzzzzzzz soon bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt-” "Come on come on, not now," I hissed at the radio's speaker. "Weather window's closing," Mallory said, almost monotone. "Can you give her more gas?" "I'm trying, but Nick's probably dying or something and Curie and Idris might get splatted like windshield bugs, it's really distracting!" "Focus on what you can do," Mallory said. "Get us to the rendezvous point, and trust them to handle the rest. Your boyfriend, Idris and Curie are all tough cookies." Mallory's face was uncharacteristically blank in the BRV's mirror. I drove.
  22. Somewhere in the Artic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ I ploughed forward into the deepening snow, trying my best to keep up with the Ostroc who had me beat by at least 20km/h at top speed, deep furrows trailing behind me as the war machine fought for purchase in the frozen ground beneath. While the speed difference sounded significant, and actually was in virtually any scenario, I had two things working in my favour; first the time frame we were working with, on the order of minutes for most engagements, meant the enemy couldn't straight up outrun me that easily, or at least my gun ranges. Second, the 'mech's actual design was currently a hindrance, slight as it may be, whereas my Black Knight had a more humanoid styled foot, narrow and long, the Ostroc had a large circular design with clawed toes, great for soft surfaces like sand or deep enough snow where you didn't want to sink in but right now it prevented the 'mech from getting its feet through the fresh fallen snow and onto the hard frozen surface beneath. This meant the 'mech actually had slightly less grip with the fresh snow causing its footing to slip just enough to hinder its top speed, or at least cause the pilot to think twice about pushing it to the max. I intended to take full advantage of the situation and unleashed another barrage of energy weapons fire at the now fleeing Ostroc, my PPC just grazing its left arm and causing minimal damage while the twin large lasers struck an unfortunate boulder that the enemy had just skirted around, the beams dumping enough energy into the frozen rock to cause it to explode in a hail of harmless, at least to a 'mech, stones and shards. Having expected to be chasing down this particular enemy by myself I was surprised to see another PPC bolt flash past me and strike a glancing, but still solid hit to the enemy's left torso, a glowing shallow crater of semi-molten armour quickly cooling in its wake. Expecting to see Marius in the Marauder, just given our original positions when the enemy showed up, I was again surprised to see Jack Whitley in my Merlin bringing up the flank. While both 'mech's technically had the same top speed I noticed that Whitley was somehow gaining on me ever so slightly and in a moment I saw how as he ignited the Merlin's jump jets at full stride, but rather than launching himself fully into the air he cut them short and used short bursts to propel the 'mech along the ground, its similarly long and narrow feet skimming along the top of the larger snow banks before landing back down without breaking its stride. I knew Jack was supposed to be an excellent mech pilot, not least of all from his own boasting, but this was the first time I actually got to see it in action and I was impressed, particularly since he had relatively limited experience in the Merlin. "Nice driving Wicked," I offered over the unit-to-unit comm, "Let's run this guy down." "Yeah, yeah, this is easy," replied Jack nonchalantly, his tone implying he wasn't interested in any small talk, "I got this." Between the terrain and Whitley's skilled use of the Merlin's jump jets he was able to close to just within medium laser range and he unleashed a barrage of fire from the 60-ton 'mech's arsenal. The LRMs flew wide, exploding in fountains of snow and ice all around the evading Ostroc, while the single medium laser he fired just missed the 'mech's right hip, the PPC also melting meaningless amounts of snow a considerable distance away from the enemy 'mech. As tempted as I was to make a comment about Jack's lackluster accuracy I kept my mouth shut as I didn't even have a shot to take at the moment myself, between the intervening rocks and a sudden elevation change I hadn't spotted until the Ostroc suddenly dropped several meters as it ran down the hill, I was left scrambling to get back into a position where I could even fire on the enemy. Cresting the narrow ridge I was greeted by a pair of large lasers that were close enough to warm my canopy glass, though they thankfully didn't hit, as the enemy had slowed and pivoted once fully into the depression to try and bring their weapons to bear on me while also evading another salvo of inaccurate fire from Jack in my old Merlin. Utilizing the Black Knight's powerful sensors I was able to quickly draw a firing solution on the still slowed enemy Ostroc and unleashed an alpha strike despite the overheat risk that was a very real threat given my all energy loadout. Twin azure spears of coherent light lanced out from either torso tracing lines of destruction downrange, only a single beam managed to make contact with the now accelerating Ostroc but it was solid hit to their center torso. The quartet of medium lasers lanced through the raging storm outside with all 4 beams striking home across the enemy 'mech, all three torso locations had new ravines of molten slag etched into their surfaces while the Ostroc's left leg had enough armour melted at the knee joint to cause a hitch in its next step, fortuitously timed to the impact of my PPC. The bolt of charged particles comprising the particle projection cannon's streak of bottled lightning struck violently into the Ostroc's left torso just as the momentarily seized joint on its left leg stuttered before breaking free of the brittle slag. Compounded with the slippery surface and uneven terrain beneath its round feet the combined loss of over 2 tons of armour, the surprisingly heavy impact of a significant amount of particles travelling near the speed of light, and the momentary stumble of the temporarily seized joint was enough to send the Ostroc sprawling across the frozen wastes as its pilot failed to keep the machine upright. Its own weight crushing what little armour remained along its left torso as the frozen tundra tore away the shattered plating, to their credit however the Ostroc's pilot was immediately working on getting back up and wasted no time in getting mobile again, my own weapons barely had time to cycle before they were back on their feet. Not that it mattered as the temperature in my cockpit had sky rocketed to the point of some of the metal paneling actually shimmering with heat waves from the sudden onslaught of heat the alpha strike had delivered, warning klaxons bellowed for attention as I slapped the shutdown override controls hoping the frigid storm outside my 'mech would help alleviate the worst of the heat in short order. From outside the armoured cowlings housing the plentiful heat sinks on my Black Knight would be glowing a deep angry orange, well past the typical red glow of 'mech in combat, and the falling snow was likely sublimating into steam vapour just by entering the vicinity of the Black Knight's overtaxed heat sinks. If my 'mech had carried any ammunition I would have been severely worried about a cook-off but at least the all energy loadout meant that wasn't a concern. Taking advantage of the enemy's fall Jack maneuvered the Merlin into a better firing position, unleashing an alpha strike of his own enroute as the now beleaguered 'mech stood up, most of the shots were glancing blows but the medium lasers were able to core into the Ostroc's left arm though they hit nothing vital. The still rattled enemy Mechwarrior let loose with their own considerable arsenal towards Jack, though his quick use of the Merlin's jump jets meant all of the enemy shots pierced empty air as he sailed over them on quad jets of fire burning from the 'mech's sturdy legs. With my 'mech's heat levels still in the red, though starting to slowly drop finally, I could do little more than watch, and drive my own 'mech ever closer, as the two evenly matched BattleMechs closed to within melee range. The Ostroc pilot had correctly guessed Jack's intentions when he launched skyward over his attempted counterattack and he ensured that he was far enough away to prevent the fated death-from-above attack that some MechWarriors were want to attempt, instead he waited until the Merlin dropped low enough in its arc to prevent any significant course changes and then charged the Ostroc forward in an attempt to get the first blow in. Jack, for his part, also seemed to have anticipated such an action as a quick final burst from the jump jets in the right leg gave the Merlin enough angular momentum to sweep its leg out of the path of the oncoming attack, a running kick with the Ostroc left leg in mid stride. Jack once again showed off his actually impressive piloting skills as he then planted the 60-ton 'mechs right leg just long to arrest his backwards drift before launching forward half a step with the same leg, planting it once again and pivoting hard to bring the Merlin's left leg out in a full powered kick to the rear of the Ostroc's right leg. The missed kick had put the enemy pilot off balance again and then the sudden impact of 12 tons of armoured limb, with the full weight of a 60-ton 'mech behind it, was enough to buckle the enemy's leg from behind and the pilot was once again unable to compensate, the gyro screaming as the 60-ton enemy 'mech toppled backwards in slow motion, its own weight once again crushing a notable amount of armour on its center rear torso, a routinely under-armoured section of most 'mechs. Despite yet another fall the enemy MechWarrior was still able to get their 'mech back upright in short order and were still determined to get away, firing a pair of medium lasers and their SRM-4 at Whitley as they backed away they scored a lucky strike and all three weapons managed to hit the Merlin's right leg before the turned and ran as fast as their 'mech could go. The destruction wreaked upon the Merlin's savaged leg likely had numerous alarms blaring at Jack as more than a ton of armour was stripped from the 'mech within seconds, but despite the brutal onslaught the venerable machine's leg, and indeed the armour itself, held. With my own 'mech finally cooled to the point where I could confidently fire my energy weapons again I took aim at the once again fleeing Ostroc and fired the Black Knight's arm mounted PPC, the transient beam of particles streaked across the winter wonderland like a bolt of lightning before crashing harmfully into the enemy's damaged right leg. The advantageous strike was more luck than skill as I had intentionally aimed for center mass for the best chance of hitting the enemy but I'd still take it as the momentary EMP effect wrapped around the Ostroc's compromised limb, crackling with destructive energies. With Jack and the Merlin having recovered from the enemy's attack he too unleashed his own stream of charged particles, the beam coring into the enemy's right torso at such an angle it merely melted through some thin layers of armour before streaking off into the snowstorm. The medium laser and machine gun fire that followed however were much better aimed with both emerald spears of high energy light lancing through what little remained of the right leg's armour before Jack raked the Merlin's twin machine guns down the stricken Ostroc's rear torso and into the exposed internals of the right leg, the multi-barrel weapons glowing white hot as Jack continued to hold down the trigger spewing sufficient lead from the normally heat-less guns to start actually registering on a 'mech scale. The light-caliber rounds, compared to other 'mech weaponry, made up for their insignificant individual damage with sheer volume of fire as literal hundreds of rounds bullied their way into the comparatively delicate internals of the Ostroc's vulnerable leg. One, or more likely several, of the high velocity shells struck something critical inside as sparks, smoke, and possibly a small explosion erupted from within before the savaged limb literally fell off during the 'mech's next stride. The shattered hip actuator still working helplessly to try and propel a leg that was no longer there as the machine tilted and then fell one final time, the MechWarrior within attempting to brace against the fall with the Ostroc's arms to little effect as the combined weight of the war machine simply crushed the already damaged left arm, its upper arm actuator spearing out the side of the internal structure like a broken bone while the 60-ton 'mech bounced and skidded to a stop on the frozen landscape. Jack and I approached the downed enemy 'mech, its now futile attempt at escape finally put to rest, with our weapons still targeting the enemy unit, both of us aware that a prone 'mech could still be dangerous. With Jack reaching the Ostroc first I stayed back a few steps and prepared to broadcast an order to surrender when Jack turned the Merlin back to look directly at me as he brought the 'mech's foot up above the rear of the downed 'mech's cockpit, as though he wanted to make sure I saw what he was doing. Before I could respond, and even before Jack could drop the 12-ton limb in a curb stomping action that would crush the Ostroc's cockpit, a series of small explosions along the top of the 'mech were followed by a sudden blast of an ejection seat rocketing away on an extremely hazardous horizontal trajectory away from the prone 'mech. The seat appeared to clip something on its way out of the 'mech as the exhaust plume spiraled away at an odd angle into the snowstorm but there was no way to tell if the pilot was injured or if the ejection had simply been slightly off due to the 'mech's unusual orientation. Unfortunately, due to the heavy storm and low visibility I quickly lost track of the small escape pod and my sensors didn't have the fidelity necessary to track something that small. The sound of sheering ferrosteel and grinding armour plates drew my attention back to the now abandoned Ostroc and I saw that Jack, despite the futile effort now, had decided to finish his curb stomp maneuver and crushed the already empty cockpit with a definitive straightening of the Merlin's formidable leg, the destroyed enemy 'mech twisted at a slight angle now from the action. "Bastion to Eden," I called on the company wide channel, "Ostroc is down but the pilot escaped. They ejected towards the south but we lost them in the storm." "Copy that Bastion, nothing we can do about it now. Link up with the rest of team, this storm is only going to get worse and we need to get to that HPG station before it does," replied Charles, the resignation in his voice evident although his stoic resolve overshadowed it. "Affirmative Eden, Wicked and Bastion are Oscar-Mike," I replied, signaling to Jack with the Black Knight's hands the direction we needed to move in. Switching back to the unit-to-unit channel I said, "Nice work Wicked, good to see you're not all talk. Let's regroup with the others." "I told you I'm good, not my fault if you didn't believe me. And unlike your other little minions I know how to keep track of where I am on the battlefield, I don't need you pointing out directions to me," scoffed Jack. With a sigh I closed the channel and shook my head, the man definitely had talent but it seemed to only be limited to fighting, on or off the battlefield, I just hoped Charles and I could blunt his confrontational attitude long enough for him to actually become part of the team, if not I wasn't sure how long he'd last in Aegis Division.
  23. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ As terrified as Curie was at the prospect of being carried aloft to Nick’s Orion, Idris was just as nervous about performing the daunting feat. Sure, he had extensive experience with jump jets, both from his time in the Free Worlds League Military and his years spent servicing 'Mechs. But never had any of those experiences involved ferrying a fragile human life from one moving BattleMech to another, especially not in the midst of a blizzard. This challenge was an entirely different beast. Calm down, Nasir, Idris thought as he clung to Perses’ lumbering frame, waiting for the "go" signal. Do not overthink this plan. You jump to Maxwell’s King Crab. Take up Curie in your arms. Leave one hand free. Jump back to Perses. Slow descent through hover maneuvers. Soft landing. Open unlocked cockpit hatch. Assist Curie onto the ladder. Close hatch. Indeed, it was all easier said than done, but Idris understood that if Captain Maxwell had greenlit as utterly insane a plan as this one, the situation must be dire. Long minutes passed as the technician mentally rehearsed the maneuver, trying to ignore the white flurries descending around them. "Alright, Juniad," Charles’ voice eventually announced, breaking the silence in Idris’ headset, “the package is ready. Are you?” The technician took a deep breath, gripping the armored suit's controls tightly. "I am ready," he replied, his voice more confident than he felt. Charles’ King Crab slid into view, a hulking silhouette against the fast-approaching snowstorm. Idris paused to study the 'Mech, noting the wide, oblong chassis and enormous claws from which the war machine’s name derived. With its arms outstretched, it looked like some monstrous crustacean, and Idris could see Curie's small torso peering out from the open cockpit hatch. "Very well, then," Charles acknowledged, his voice grim. “Rebus, I need you to match both my speed and maneuvers, aff? Let’s give Juniad the most stable platforms we can.” “I’m on it,” Nick replied, his voice strained. Idris could practically hear Nick's teeth gritting with pain. Clearly, the young corporal was hurting - probably a lot. Within a few moments, Perses was in lock-step with Ares, both leviathans leaving huge, plowed furrows in the snow. “Alright, sir. I’m there. Ready for launch.” “We’re ready over here, too,” the captain confirmed. “Junaid, you can begin your run as soon as you’re ready.” Idris nodded, even though he knew Maxwell wasn't there to see it. "Let's do this," he announced, steeling himself for the leap. Drawing on every ounce of his training and years of experience, he leaned forward, extended his parafoil, and, with little else but the storm guiding his path, fired the jump pack. The world seemed to slow as Curie, squinting through the billowing snow, watched the technician throw himself off Perses atop a pillar of flame. Her breath caught in her chest as he shot across the gap, the illuminated glass of his helmet casting a ghostly halo in the churning, virulent snowstorm. For what seemed like an eternity, Idris hung against the blank canvas of the gale, a lone figure in a suit of armor. Then, just as abruptly, time reasserted itself. Idris crashed into Ares’ hull, landing in a kneeled posture with a booming thud that resonated through Curie’s bones. As his parafoil snapped shut, he scrambled to his feet, the exoskeleton making the task almost effortless despite his substantial bulk and gravity’s pull. Curie edged further up the King Crab’s ladder, ensuring that her comm headset was securely seated in her ear. Seconds later, Idris was crouched beside the hatch, meeting her apprehensive gaze with a nod, his large gauntlet outstretched. “Ready to fly, Specialist?” Curie swallowed, nodding as she grabbed the offered hand. Was she ready? Far from it. But this…’wicked stunt’…was necessary for Nick's survival. “Yes,” she replied pensively. Her fingers wrapped around Idris' metallic fingers, and he assisted her up onto Ares’ rolling deck, the cold grip of the suit a stark contrast against her flesh. She clung to him, trying to steady herself, a shiver of apprehension rippling through her as she took in the sight of Perses looming next to them. Idris, meanwhile, regarded the spectacle with concern. Nick’s BattleMech was a far less generous landing platform than Ares. Although the technician could comfortably mount and dismount from the machine’s shoulder on his own, this time, he’d be trying to do so with an altered center of gravity while weighing 56 kilograms more than normal. He cast a glance at Curie, his eyes evaluating her figure as he mentally calculated the risk. "OK, Curie," he finally instructed, outstretching his arms and crouching down. “Arms around my neck. I will carry you.” Curie hesitated for a heartbeat before squaring her shoulders and doing as instructed. Approaching the technician, she wrapped her arms firmly around the back of the suit’s rubberized neck, interlocking her fingers. Then, in an instant, Idris scooped her from the King Crab’s deck, holding her cradled protectively in his left arm. “Juniad to Rebus and Eden: the package is collected. Ready to return,” he advised. “Copy that, Juniad,” Nick responded. “Rebus is ready to receive.” “Eden to Juniad: you’re clear to fly,” Charles confirmed. Idris looked down at Curie one final time. “Here we go.” The next seconds transpired in a blur for Specialist Franklin. As she clung to him, Idris barreled forward, the edge of Ares’ hull rapidly approaching before giving way to a stark, vertiginous drop. With a loud bang, the suit’s parafoil deployed, and there was a brief sensation of free-fall before the armor's jump pack fired, propelling them into the blustery sky. The frosty wind tore at Curie's face, whipping her hair into a frenzied dance. Her heart thudded in her ears as she squinted, trying to see something - anything - through the blizzard's frigid embrace. The world whirled around her in a chaotic canvas of white and gray, punctuated by the intermittent shapes of the two leviathans. "Almost there," Idris reassured her as the Orion loomed straight ahead. “Gonna do a brake and hover.” Curie felt a wild sense of disorientation as Idris suddenly pulled the parafoil into a vertical stall maneuver. As they ascended, frost began to form on Curie's cheeks, the chill of it making her eyes water. Her fingers were becoming numb, and she was grateful for the cold, strong embrace of the ICE-S suit. "Juniad to Rebus. Prepare to receive," Idris' voice echoed in her ear as the ascent bled away. The suit’s parafoil stowed away as the jump pack activated in short, precise bursts. Curie glanced down and noticed that they were descending directly over Perses' shoulder; Idris was using the suit’s jump jets to ensure a gentle, controlled landing. "I see you, Junaid," Nick replied. "I'll try to keep the wheel straight." In moments, the suit’s feet made contact with the Orion’s hull, connecting with a solid thud. Idris reeled slightly and shot out his left gauntlet to grab a nearby handhold. Then, without further pause, he worked his way across the heaving and rolling surface, carrying Curie to the cockpit hatch. Kneeling down to steady himself, Idris opened it with a powerful tug. A blast of warm air rushed past Curie’s neck, making her shudder in the abrupt contrast. "Junaid to Rebus," he reported, “we’re aboard.” “I gathered that,” Nick quipped. “It’s fucking cold in here now!” Idris gave a low chuckle. "Sorry about that, Rebus." He gently unclasped Curie from himself, using the power armor’s considerable strength to place her directly on the cockpit’s ladder. “Good job, Specialist,” he smiled. “Now, go. Be with your patient.” Curie returned a small smile at Idris' words. "Thank you," she whispered as she descended into the Orion. Idris closed the hatch behind her, rose, and returned to his customary hitch point on Perses’ shoulder. Only then did he allow himself a long, shuddering breath, the sheer magnitude of what he’d just pulled off finally sinking in. Elsewhere, within the King Crab’s cockpit, Charles waited pensively for the situation report. He’d refrained from requesting updates, respecting Idris’ need for total focus during the intense maneuver. He’d kept his eyes trained on the HUD, watching the incredible maneuvers with rapt anticipation. But now, the silence was deafening. Just as Charles reached for the comm toggle, the status report he’d been waiting for crackled in. “Rebus to Eden: the package is aboard and unharmed,” Nick advised. “She’s working on me now.” A surge of relief washed over Charles. “Roger that, Rebus. Nice work, both of you. Let’s regroup with the rest of the gang and get to the HPG station before we can’t see our own noses.”
  24. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ Charles grunted in frustration as Commander Jaeger's Black Knight and Private Whitley's Merlin disappeared into the oncoming wall of snow, pursuing the enemy Ostroc at a rate of speed much higher than his own King Crab was capable of achieving. Meanwhile, Alyssa and her protective garrison continued to jockey their positions to keep an ECM shield over the expanding area of engagement. Scanning the radar plotter to find another target of opportunity, Charles’ eyes momentarily caught a glimpse of Curie in the jump seat; her brow furrowed in deep concern and eyes fixed on her weather plotter. “Something on your mind, Specialist?” Charles asked, attempting to keep the mood light as he swung toward a hostile Vulcan that was presently harrying Steve Jenkins’ Crab. “Rebus…Nick's…vital signs…are not good,” Curie's voice cut through the cockpit’s internal comms. An expression of deep concern met Charles’ eyes as she looked up at him, interrupted abruptly as her body was jostled by the movement of the BattleMech. Captain Maxwell cursed under his breath, locating Schuster's Orion on the sensor plotter. It was further from the center of the engagement than the captain would have preferred to move his King Crab, given that, while it wasn't particularly fast, the 95-ton assault ‘Mech's incredible stopping power made it a valuable overwatch asset to the rest of the lance. “Define ‘not good,’ Specialist,” Charles pressed as his targeting and tracking system informed him that the enemy Vulcan was now within missile range of the King Crab. Curie, for her part, struggled to form a verbal response. How does one quantify, succinctly, a bio-monitor's warning signs indicating adverse reactions to blood thinners and an aggravated rib injury, especially when words are…hard? After a moment’s pause, she pivoted to her communication tablet, where she typed out the symptoms: The message appeared on Charles' secondary console screen, bathed in the harsh, flickering light of warning indicators and tactical readouts. As the BattleMech bumped and trundled toward Jenkins’ firefight, the captain took a moment to read the information. “Why would he have internal bleeding? When did that happen?” Captain Maxwell pressed, an ominous sensation of dread beginning to grip him. He refocused his attention on the tactical readouts, drawing a bead on the Vulcan with the King Crab’s AC/20s. Curie, still gripping the edge of the cockpit console as the ‘Mech lurched sporadically, pressed her lips into a thin line as she considered how to respond. Nick had specifically asked her to keep the information about his rib injury confidential unless it became an issue that affected the mission. Presently, there was no clear indication that the mission had been jeopardized. But the precipitous drop in his vitals painted an alarming prognosis. Curie found herself wrestling with her innate sense of patient confidentiality and the growing urgency necessitating full disclosure. “WOOT! One Vulcan down!” Steve’s voice shouted over the comms as his opponent was unceremoniously destroyed by an internal ammunition explosion. “And HAGAKURE 2 needs a wash!” Fumbling slightly, Curie quickly typed out a response, her fingers hovering hesitantly over the send button before finally pressing it with an air of resigned necessity. As Charles read the message, he felt his blood pressure rising. Once, just once, he wished that Nick would be transparent about his crises rather than allowing them to escalate to a critical mass before they got addressed. He understood Schuster’s dedication and admired it, but not when it turned into self-destruction. He decided then and there that once they were out of this mess, a conversation about trust was definitely in order. "Son of a bitch," Charles muttered under his breath, his hands tight around the controls as the King Crab plodded its way across the snow-laden terrain. Noticing that Nick appeared to be engaged with a marauding Enforcer, he swung Ares around and began navigating toward the melee, the oncoming blizzard reducing visibility by the second. “Alright. Once we get this mess mopped up, we’ll circle the wagons and get you over there to check him out.” Curie didn’t like the sound of that. “What is…’circle the wagons?’” "It's an old Terran expression," Charles explained, maintaining his focus. "Means we're gonna stop pushing toward the HPG station and bunch up for defense. Make it tough for any bastards thinkin' about takin' a shot at us while we get you down the ladder and over to have a look at Schuster." Curie processed this information with a slight tilt of her head, then looked at her weather plotter with concern. Based on the worsening conditions and the rate of the storm’s advancement, any delay in the attempt to reach the HPG station could result in Aegis Division being stranded in whiteout conditions and unable to navigate. She felt a swell of unease at the impasse she was facing: delaying medical intervention for Corporal Schuster could endanger his life. Delaying the push toward the comm station could endanger everyone. "Ni...Nick must wait," Curie stammered, her voice edged with the situation’s urgency. "We cannot stop. The storm is too close. Too risky." Curie’s advisement caught Captain Maxwell entirely off-guard, his knuckles turning white against Ares’ yoke as he processed her words. He knew It went against every fiber of Curie’s being to keep pushing forward while one of her charges was wounded. But she was right. The storm was closing in fast, and they didn't have time to hunker down. His mind raced as he considered alternative solutions. “Well, let’s at least see if we can help him out with his bad guy, huh? The sooner we get him out of that firefight, the better off he’ll be." "Agreed," Curie replied, her attention rapidly flicking back and forth between the weather station and Schuster’s bio-readouts. Within a few moments, Nick's Orion came into view, locked in combat with the Enforcer. Charles' eyes widened as he saw that, despite the difference in size between the two machines, Schuster's 'Mech had taken the brunt of the damage. Scorches, pockmarks, and gashes covered its frame, with armor plates bent around its shoulders and cockpit - indications it had been on the receiving end of a Death from Above attack. The two war machines were engaged in brutal physical combat, although, to Charles, it seemed like the Orion was mostly on the defensive while the Enforcer relentlessly drove forward, attacking with an unyielding barrage of blows. “Eden to Rebus,” Captain Maxwell radioed as he steered Ares into a wide, counterclockwise orbit around the two combatants. “Need a hand?” Intervening in a ‘Mech-sized brawl with ranged weapons was risky and could potentially hit Nick's Orion. For a moment, Charles considered a physical intervention - ramming the Enforcer with Ares - but quickly dismissed it. While it would certainly put an end to the fight, if the enemy pilot had a good hold on Nick’s ‘Mech at the moment of impact, the inertia could pull both 'Mechs down in a twisted heap. The risk was too high. The comms filled with the sound of Nick breathing heavily, but there came no reply. "Rebus, do you copy?" Charles called again, his tone growing more serious. The static-filled silence that followed was deafening. In the meantime, Curie's attention was split between the violence outside and Nick's vital signs - the results were equally disconcerting. His heart rate and blood pressure were skyrocketing, and the bio-readouts on the secondary screen displayed an alarming increase in adrenaline levels. His breathing was becoming increasingly labored. She knew she had to get to him immediately, but even if time allowed for it, the ongoing 'Mech battle made it impossible. Just then, a plume of flame shot skyward from the Enforcer’s head, causing Charles to throttle Ares down and pivot the ‘Mech directly toward the spectacle for a better look. Curie, too, froze mid-task, her eyes fixed on the sight. A bulky, humanoid shape stood atop the hostile war machine, peering down into its cockpit. Charles moved his zoom reticle over the figure, magnifying the feed. It was a person clad in a suit of powered armor. It was Idris. Barely did Charles and Curie have time to process what they were seeing than Idris cast something into the Enforcer’s cockpit and quickly dove away, the wings of his parafoil snapping open just as a secondary explosion ignited where the enemy pilot had been. The hostile BattleMech relinquished its grip on Nick's Orion, causing it to lurch backward. The Enforcer wobbled for a moment before finally collapsing to the ground, defeated. “Tango down,” Idris’ voice crackled, sounding winded but satisfied. “Enforcer eliminated.” “Thank you, Juniad,” Nick responded, his breathing labored. As he spoke, Perses slowed to a halt. "That was something else." "Any time, sir,” Idris answered. “Coming back up now." Before Charles could cut in, Curie was already on the comms, attempting to hail her patient. “Rebus. You require medical attention,” she explained, her voice firm. A long pause followed. “Yes,” Nick eventually sighed. “But we gotta keep moving. We can’t stop the whole damn convoy just to bring you over.” Charles, listening in, felt a pang of resignation at Corporal Schuster’s words. Despite Nick's condition, it seemed everyone believed it was necessary to keep moving forward. As Idris took his place atop Perses, the war machine began lumbering through the blizzard. Captain Maxwell steered Ares into flank formation alongside the ‘Mech. Meanwhile, Curie continued to converse with its pilot. “You require medical attention,” she argued, even though she realized that the decision to continue on had already been made and that, for better or worse, she’d been a part of it. Despite that, pushing back against Schuster felt like the only form of control she had in this helpless situation. "Your vitals…not within acceptable parameters." "I know," Nick’s pained voice acknowledged. "But we can't afford to halt our progress. Not now." Curie looked toward the captain, eyes pleading to him for guidance. Suddenly, a wave of inspiration swept over Charles. “Eden to Rebus, glad to see you in one piece,” he interjected, cutting into their conversation. There came a fraction of a moment's pause before Schuster responded. “Good to see you too, Eden,” Nick answered. "Rebus," Charles explained reassuringly. "We need you stable in that Orion. You can't function if there's a hitch in your step." "I can handle it, sir," Nick insisted, but his voice wavered slightly. "That’s great to hear, but you might not have to ‘handle’ it,” the captain answered, fixing his gaze on Curie in the rear-view. “Think I’ve got a plan to get help over to you without stopping the convoy. Give me two Mikes, and I’ll be back with you. Meantime, keep your ‘Mech in lock-step with mine, copy?” "Copy, Eden," the corporal affirmed, his voice coming through clenched teeth. Charles quickly closed the channel. Setting Ares’ autopilot, he turned to Curie. "You ever watch one of those holovids where they transfer a sailor between two ships at sea?" Curie looked puzzled for a moment, then her eyes widened as she grasped Captain Maxwell’s intent. "You…move me…to Rebus…while moving?" Charles nodded. "Exactly. Takes far too long to stop both ‘Mechs, drop the emergency ladder, get you dressed and down to the ground, then back up again into Schuster’s cockpit. But, we got a man riding on Perses’ shoulder with a jump pack, parafoil, and an armored suit that can easily carry you.” Curie’s eyes conveyed her trepidation - or possibly shock. The captain's gaze softened. “I know it sounds like pure insanity, Curie, but we don’t have much choice at this point. As you rightly pointed out, that storm wall is damn near on top of us, and we’re fresh out of time. If you want to treat your patient, this is the way to do it.” Curie sat silently for a moment, weighing the risks. She’d never imagined doing something so audacious, let alone ever tried it. Not in any of her lifetimes. But then again, she had never been in a situation quite like this before. Finally, she took a deep breath, nodded, and whispered, "I…I’ll do it," her voice shaking slightly. Charles grinned, relieved. "Good. Get your gear on. Wouldn’t want you to catch your death of cold out there. I'll let Nasir know, and we’ll start the prep." “Wait,” Curie interjected, her voice louder this time. “Who will watch…the weather?” Charles chuckled lightly. "You just focus on gettin' to Nick for now. I'll make sure we don’t run headlong into that storm. At this point, it’s making its position pretty obvious. Think I can handle a turn at the wheel." Curie nodded again, then rose from her station to retrieve her pants and medical coat. Meanwhile, the captain opened a comm channel to Idris. "Eden to Juniad.” “Juniad. Go,” the technician replied, the howling wind in the background nearly drowning out his voice. “Juniad, I've got a job for you,” Charles explained. “One that might just put hair on that chest of yours." Nasir's thick accent came through the speaker with a hint of amusement. "You think I have not enough already?" Maxwell could almost see the mechanic grinning and shook his head with a laugh. "Maybe so, Nasir, but what I need from you is to prep for a passenger transfer. Curie'll be making a quick house call to Rebus, and I’m going to need you to come across and get her." There was another burst of wind, and then Idris' voice came through again, slightly muffled. "Passenger transfer? You mean you want me to…” "Jump," Charles finished for him, "Between my King Crab and Nick's Orion. With some precious cargo." The comm line was silent for a few moments as Nasir digested the task at hand. Finally, he scoffed, "In this weather? With our only meteorologist? You have too much faith in me, Captain." "But faith's what we're all running on, isn't it, Junaid?" Charles quipped, the steady thump of the King Crab's footfalls punctuating his question. "Faith and a good dose of insanity." There was a pause on the other end of the line, then a barely perceptible sigh. "Yes, sir. You are right. I’ll prep for jump and come aboard at your signal." “That’s the spirit,” Maxwell beamed, attempting to keep the mood light. “Break. Eden to Rebus.” “Go ahead, Eden,” Schuster answered. “Were you direct on all of that?” "Roger, Eden," Nick’s strained voice replied. "Ready when you are." "Excellent. Match my speed and be ready to receive Junaid and Archangel." Charles instructed. A grunt that sounded like an affirmative could be heard from Schuster's end. Curie had finished changing into her medical gear by now and stood just behind the pilot's couch. She was bundled up in her coat, the blue scarf pulled tight around her neck, medical satchel slung across her torso. Charles turned to face her, his eyes scanning her worried expression. "You good, Specialist?" Curie bobbed her head, her hands awkwardly fumbling with the straps of the bag. "Sure," she replied, her tone revealing that she was anything but. "No need to worry," Charles reassured her firmly. "You’re in the best hands with Idris." Curie nodded a final time, the storm outside reflecting in her icy blue eyes as the cabin's dim light danced on her cheekbones. "Trusting the plan," she murmured.
  25. Somewhere in the Arctic Tundra North of Bascombe, Concord II Concord system - Free Worlds League May 27, 3031 (Friday) ______________________________________________ In what felt like a split second, we went from trudging through frozen, empty wastes to full-blown combat. Captain Maxwell's King Crab was slugging it out with a Guillotine, Sergeant Jenkins was tangling with a Vulcan, and Commander Jaeger's Black Knight, flanked by Private Whitley's Merlin, was in hot pursuit of a speedy Ostroc. Lieutenant Lennox, piloting a Marauder, and Lieutenant Blackwood, in a Catapult, stood guard on either side of First Lieutenant Maxwell's Raven to ensure no one could disrupt the powerful jamming field she was broadcasting. Meanwhile, I had somehow managed to get the attention of the ENF-4R Enforcer, and we were now circling each other in the thickening snow. Perses, my Orion, felt sluggish under me, probably because I still wasn't used to piloting something as heavy as 75 tons. As I engaged the enemy pilot, I watched as the smaller 50-ton Enforcer sidestepped to its left, trying to stay out of my forward arc while trying get a bead on me with its right arm-mounted large laser. I pivoted Perses in the same direction, keeping the brunt of my 'Mech's armor facing the enemy. The Enforcer fired the first shot. Bluish light sizzled through the air and splashed against my Orion's torso, melting snow and burning paint. “Junaid! You still in one piece out there?” I shouted into my headset, worried that the technician, who was riding on Perses’ shoulder in his ICE-S armor, might have gotten hit in the process. My ribcage screamed in protest from the exertion of yelling as I adjusted my aim for a counterstrike. "Indeed, Rebus." responded Idris’ stoic voice. "No need to worry about me." "Good." I whispered, lining up a shot. The Enforcer was moving fast, and with the blizzard bearing down, visibility was getting worse by the second. I squeezed my trigger, sending a volley of autocannon shells and medium laser fire back at the enemy. The shot was good, hitting the Enforcer square in the chest, sending sparks flying and armor slagging off into the snow. The Enforcer stumbled back, but got its footing back quickly. Then, unexpectedly, it fired its jump jets and soared over me, landing directly in the Orion's rear arc. "Rebus, hostile has landed on your six!" Idris quickly reported. “Blake damn it!” I cursed, feeling the impact of the Enforcer's AC/10,small laser, and large laser slamming into Perses’ rear armor. "Roger that!" I grunted in response, twisting my Orion violently around. “Whoa!” I heard Idris shout in my headset. “Do not forget I am riding on top here!" My broken rib also protested. The pain now felt like a white-hot lance stabbing through my side. I was also surprisingly out of breath, something Curie had warned me was a side effect of the blood thinner. But there was no time to succumb. As the Enforcer came back into view, I could see that the ‘Mech was already lining up for another shot. I knew I had to act first. Not bothering to dial in my aim, I simply blind-fired all three medium lasers, the AC/10, and even the SRM-4 launcher. The resulting explosion of light and heat was blinding, even through my cockpit's polarized canopy. I saw the Enforcer stagger backward as its armor cracked and split, but it still managed to return fire with its AC/10, large laser, and small laser. The depleted uranium rounds, ruby, and emerald beams sliced through the swirling snow and slammed into Perses, sending a shudder through the ‘Mech's massive frame. Warning indicators lit up my HUD, and I pushed the throttle up, trying to start a Circle of Death around the Enforcer. Perses bounded forward, the cockpit and my targeting reticle swinging wildly as I tried to track the Enforcer's movements. Even though my Orion and the Enforcer were matched for speed, the smaller 'Mech moved deftly despite the pounding it had taken, and I had trouble keeping it in my sights. Meanwhile, its pilot continuously took potshots at me, slowly whittling down various sections of Perses’ armor. "Juniad, hang tight!" I called out to Idris. Ignoring the pain in my rib, I threw Perses into a skidding halt that sent tons of snow flying. The Enforcer's pilot didn't anticipate the sudden change in direction, and his last volley went wide. That was the opening I needed. I twisted the control sticks hard, twisting Perses’ torso toward the enemy ‘Mech, and fired. The Enforcer's exposed side was hit with a barrage from my weapons, the force of the blast propelling it sideways. Its pilot tried to compensate for the sudden shift in balance but ended up stumbling over a frozen outcrop instead. Before I could push through the pain in my side and the blurry headspace I was feeling due to the blood thinners, though, the Enforcer's pilot fired the ‘Mech's jump jets. The next thing I knew, the Enforcer was airborne, and a hailstorm of bullets and energy was pounding down on my Orion. I tried to maneuver away, even tipping Perses’ torso up to try to get a shooting solution, but then… “Shit! Rebus! It's a Death from Above!” “Bail out, Junaid, bail out!” I screamed, now in full panic mode. The last thing I saw was Idris in his power armor, launching off Perses' shoulder and into the swirling snow just as the Enforcer came crashing down. With a thunderous impact, the enemy ‘Mech landed on top of Perses. The impact was like an earthquake, throwing me violently into my harness. My vision blurred further, blood roared in my ears, and as both ‘Mechs crashed into the icy tundra, the searing pain from my broken bones reduced my senses to a swirl of bright lights and garbled-sounding sirens. “Fuck…” I moaned, fighting through the haze to stand Perses back up. “Juniad to Rebus, are you alright?” Idris radioed, panic in his voice. “Been better.” I replied. Suddenly, a dull thud vibrated through the hull of my Orion, followed by another and another. Perses began to falter, unable to rise under the impacts. “He's trying to beat you to death!” Idris warned. "Like hell he is!" I snarled back, fighting hard against the controls to get Perses onto its feet. With a surge of adrenaline-fueled determination, I yanked hard on the controls, getting Perses fully upright. The Enforcer kept raining down blows that felt like hammer strikes. The damage alerts were shrieking now, flashing warnings about armor breaches. Once my Orion was on its feet, I reversed hard, hoping to put enough space between us to regain some control over the situation. The external camera that tracked Idris showed him standing a short distance away, waiting helplessly for us to reclaim the upper hand. The Enforcer had other plans. Like an enraged animal, it barreled toward me with raw power, all of its weapons spitting fire. Then, with another impact that nearly made me black out, it slammed into Perses, the enemy pilot leaving his throttle wide open to ensure that both ‘Mechs remained tangled together. As he used his machine's massive gun arms to land hit after hit on my Orion, my vision began to darken around the edges, my body overcome with pain and shutting down from lack of oxygen. “No…” I whispered to myself, clenching my teeth. “Junaid…need help.” What happened next felt like watching some improbable superhero movie, the whole thing playing out on my cockpit monitors like a slow-motion, drug-induced dream sequence. After only a moment's hesitation, Idris, small and insignificant against the hulking BattleMechs, sprinted forward, his power-armored form almost lost in the increasing snow. The camera followed him as he neared the Enforcer and fired the jump infantry pack we'd slotted onto his ICE-S exoskeleton for this mission. The next thing I knew, he'd landed awkwardly on top of the Enforcer’s chassis, though, due to the situation, it was more of a crash that nearly sent him flying off the other side. But, somehow, Idris managed to cling on, his gauntlets finding purchase on the ‘Mech’s armor plates as his boots skidded against the slick surface. As the Enforcer continued its assault and I attempted to fend it off in a drunken haze, Idris forged ahead to the top of the enemy pilot’s cockpit and placed…something…against its access hatch. A split second later, Idris was taking cover as a massive, shaped blast sent the entire hatch assembly spinning off into the blizzard, causing the Enforcer to stagger back in surprise. Idris ran back toward where the hatch had been and pulled out a grenade. I was so close to the Enforcer that I could see the enemy pilot, confused and disoriented by the sudden intrusion, reaching for his sidearm. But Idris was faster. A flash of movement, and the Enforcer’s cockpit was engulfed from within by a bright orange fireball. Idris leaped away, his parafoil deploying and carrying him away from the explosion. There was a brief, glorious moment when the Enforcer stood, frozen and silent, in the midst of a swirling snowstorm. Then, with a final convulsion, the machine fell to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. “Tango down.” Idris’ voice crackled with a hint of exhaustion. “Enforcer eliminated.” “Thank you, Juniad.” I sighed, bringing Perses to a halt and leaning back in my cockpit seat as I tried to steady my breathing. "That was something else." "Anytime, sir. Coming back up now." As I tried to take in controlled breaths, I felt a stabbing feeling in my lungs. That broken rib was making itself known again. Suddenly, as though she could read my mind, Curie’s voice crackled in my headset. “Rebus. You require medical attention.” This time, it wasn’t a question. “Yes.” I sighed. “But we gotta keep moving. We can’t stop the whole damn convoy just to bring you over.” As Idris acknowledged that he was back aboard, I pushed the throttle forward, and Perses started to lumber through the blizzard. Pain radiated from my side with each step. “You require medical attention.” Curie argued. "Your vitals…not within acceptable parameters." "I know." I winced. "But we can't afford to halt our progress. Not now."
  26. MEANWHILE… AFTER the Drop, we had got up to the war place but the war had not started which was good on account of Wicked was super pissed that I had got there First and I needed time to defend my Dignity, after Wicked had got done saying a bunch of swears at me I got on my radio and I tried to say “HEY look Private which is lower than Sergeant I cant help if Im a good Pilot” but for some reason when I had did that my radio just went BOOP. “What the shit??” I Yelled, then I reached over and did the tuning dial, then I tried again. “HEY look Private…” BOOP Then I started hearing Commercials coming out of the radio, “TOILETIZE YOUR LIFE WITH THE NEW FLUSHFORCE 6000 XLT TURBO FOR WHEN THE GOING GETS HOT AND YOU CANT HOLD IT ANYMORE.” “The shit??” I hollered as I tried to tune it again. BOOP “DO YOU NEED BAIL BONDS??” The radio blared “CALL LANNIS BAIL BONDS IT WAS GOOD ENOUGLY FOR ME LANNIS THE 3RD” “What the shit is this shit?” I said as I was trying to Watch my radar and tune the damn radio. I had to say things back to Wicked but all I was getting were TV stations!! It must of been due to the Jamming! So I ripped the knob all the way to the right and I tried again. “Hey Wicked!!!” BOOP went the radio, then I heard the most unbelievable thing, Porn music and “Oooooh ahhhhh unnnnh uhhhh sex me up baby sex me up” and I heard noises like a Bed about to fall apart, “DO ME WITH SEX!!” “What The shit?!?” Then I Twisted the knob again and this time I heard. “THE REALIST NEWS IS BACK AND WERE HERE TO TELL YOU THE HARSH TRUTHS OF THOSE MADDENING SOLDIER BUGS WHO STOLE YOUR JOBS!” “DAMMIT!” I yelled as I smacked the radio. “Okay HAGAKURE 2, we gotta do this the old fashion way.” and I started to get out the Semaphore Flags but then all of the sudden a huge alarm went off, WOOP WOOP WOOP and then the Computer intoned WARNING WARNING COMBAT INITIATINGED WE HAVE INCOMING ENEMIES and then I heard CPT Maxwell and CDR Jaeger hollering “FIRE AT WILL” and I looked and a VULCAN was right there I mean RIGHT THERE, he cut loose with his autocannon and laser and machine gun and I thought “Well I guess we're doing this!” So I slammed down on the go faster handle and turned HAGAKURE to face the Vulcan. “Eat toilet, asshole!!” I yelled as I fired my Small Laser, Medium Laser, and both of my Large Laser Cannons at him. Then HAGAKURE 2 Jerked forward toward the Vulcan and a bunch of leftovers from my 5 minute puke steak and egg breakfast combo special meal with large Dr Peach FIESTA and the spilled milk from the milk machine was launched all up against the inside of the windshield in my cockpit, which was gross. “Gah, I'm gonna throat punch whoever designed this thing!” I Yelled as I wiped the puke from my view screens. Then I saw that HAGAKURE 2 had smashed into the Vulcan and now the Vulcan was spraying lava at me with its flamer!!! “YOU SON OF A BITCH!” I Yelled, then I put HAGAKURE 2 into reverse, as the backup beeper came on I BLASTED the Vulcan with all of my lasers which blew a bunch of parts off his mech that went spinning off into the snow, then he hit me again with all of his guns, and HAGAKURE 2 staggered back, and I yelled “Ow, Damn it” as my cockpit shook. “Last time I let Ironass service my Gyros.” I put HAGAKURE 2 into Drive and did a alpha strike with all my lasers right into one of the Vulcans arms, the arm flew off, and I did a side step as he sprayed my other windshield with his autocannon. WOOP WOOP WOOP Went my War Computer OVERHEAT OVERHEAT “I freakin know!!!” I yelled back at my War computer as I pressed the emergency cooling vent button, which blew freezing air everywhere, along with the puke smell and singed electronics smell, I ended up with a light case of gagosis. Then I remembered I could still make HAGAKURE 2 do Martial Arts against the Vulcan with its big claws. Then I drove into melee range and grabbed the Vulcan's other arm, the one with the flamer, in HAGAKURE 2's claw. It was still lavaing everywhere, well, it was, but then I twisted its arm off and threw it at the Vulcan's cockpit and the Vulcan fell over, then exploded as its ammo blew out. I used HAGAKURE 2's other claw, and smashed the Vulcan's cockpit, hard on account of I had to be sure it wasn't coming Back. I saw a bunch of Gore and Steam spray out so I was pretty sure I had got the bad guy. “WOOT! One Vulcan down!” I hollered on the radio “And HAGAKURE 2 needs a wash!!”
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