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C.S.V. Republic
Aegis Division staging site
3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

I stood before a sweeping set of displays in the Republic's Combat Information Center, watching live drone video feeds of the engagement at the artifact site, while simultaneously scanning incoming secondary data about the tactical situation - everything from fuel levels to force compositions and weather reports. All of it was relevant - the balance of power in a military engagement could be shifted by the most innocuous variable, and so it paid to have as complete a picture as possible of what those fringe situations were likely to be.

It would so happen that Alexander Blackwood and Marius Lennox were about to pass me a major variable.

As I watched the garrison wall buckle and then fail completely under the combined-arms assault of Hammer and Anvil lances, my sitrep board lit up with a new incoming telemetry report from the field. Glancing at it, I keyed open a comm channel to its originator.

"Alright, Traveler, what am I looking at here?"

"We've got four new bogies out here, Major," Blackwood began, his voice sounding filtered and tinny as the combination of active ECM and Nirasaki's atmosphere played havoc with the transmission. "A MAD-4A Marauder II, a TDR-5S Thunderbolt, an HBK-4N Hunchback, and a JR7-D Jenner. They're up in the compound and getting pounded on by the locals. None of them are broadcasting IFF of any kind. We're reading them on sensors only."

"That's damn peculiar. We'll analyze now and advise further," I replied, pivoting to one of our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operators. "Martinez, I need an eye in the sky on an incoming lance. I'm sending you the coordinates."

"Aye, Major," Martinez replied. "Unit 47-Delta is inbound."

Nodding to the pilot, I brought up the feed from the drone. As it swept over the sandy battlefield, I briefly saw an exchange of muzzle flashes between the lances commanded by Captain Maxwell and Lieutenant Weyland as they engaged with the pirate armor units. Then, the aircraft banked sharply to the left, affording me a view of the smoldering crater where a section of the barrier wall once stood, the void now filled with brawling, bipedal war machines which were shooting, punching, and charging one another as one side tried to breach the security perimeter, while the other side fought to keep them out.

The camera feed twitched erratically as Martinez tracked, and then locked on to, the lance of interest. As the camera feed zoomed in, I could see a Marauder, painted in dark grays and browns, grappling with a Wolverine. To its right flank, a Thunderbolt, in a similar camouflage scheme, was taking shots at a BattleMaster that seemed to have the upper hand in the fight.

"Martinez, hold on that Thunderbolt and pull it in as tight as you can," I requested, my attention glued to the feed.

"Coming in now," Martinez answered. As the image pulled in, my eyes widened.

I've seen this 'Mech before...but where?

Through the grainy feed, I could just make out a mottled black-and-white insignia on the 'Mech's flank. But the image fidelity was far too low for me to be able to discern its details.

"Martinez, I need you to get me closer to the Thunderbolt. I need an ident on the unit insignia," I advised.

"I'll get you as close as I can, sir," the pilot acknowledged. The video feed dipped downward momentarily as the drone accelerated and descended. We were now significantly closer to the action, and plumes of smoke occasionally obscured the video feed. As the drone's operator brought it around for another pass on the Thunderbolt's flank, the 'Mech's badge rolled into view - a stylized, flaming DropShip, pointed toward the ground, illustrated above an inverted chevron.

"Ho-ly shit..." I exclaimed. "That's Black Phalanx. The same unit - and, if I'm not mistaken, the same Thunderbolt  - that we encountered at Gan Singh."

I quickly typed out an emergency action message to all Aegis Division units in the operating theater, advising of the situation, before opening the general comms channel once again.

"Black Phalanx mercenary unit - you are illegally interfering in a salvage operation by Aegis Division. State your intentions," I transmitted. There came no reply.

"Black Phalanx mercenary unit - you are illegally interfering in a salvage operation. State your intentions," I repeated. "If you do not reply, we will consider you hostile."

"Major, I don't think that whether we reply or not makes much of a difference," a youthful, yet cold and detached voice answered. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled.

"Schmidt?" I replied, incredulously.

"Yes, Major. Unfortunately, our business here is mutually-exclusive. First to the wreck is all that matters."

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Site 187 7.5 kilometers from the Gellen's Heights spaceport Gellen's Heights, Sheratan III March 11, 3029 ______________________________________________________ The sunlight poured in thr

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

A tremendous explosion rocked the chassis of my Maxim as the first of the Sabaku Kazes burst  out of the pirate compound and opened fire on our convoy, delivering a pair of LRM volleys into the APC's armored hide while simultaneously strafing our lead Condor. I fought the vehicle's steering wheel as it threatened to pry free from my grip, forcing it to stay on course as we tore across the desert floor toward our objective.

"We're getting lit up, guys!" I called out to the Maxim's crew. "Anything you can do to get this clown off of us would be appreciated."

"Working on it, sir," one of our gunners replied. The loud whoosh of the APC's short-range missile launchers discharging, coupled with a deafening barrage of machine gun rounds firing, soon followed. At the same time, the Condor ahead of us rotated its turret toward the assailant, snapping off a salvo of AC/5 fire. A blossom of flame rippled across my peripheral vision, an indication that the rounds had most likely found their mark.

"Predator, stay frosty back there," I radioed to Weyland's Condor, which followed us at a short distance. "They're not pulling their punches. Whatever's up that hill, they don't want us getting."

"No problem, Cap'n," Bishop's voice responded, a backdrop of heavy weapons fire punctuating his words. Another series of impacts registered on our hull, the distinctive sound of laser energy melting armor drawing my attention to a Harasser laser platform that had joined the Sabaku Kaze's attack on the convoy. The new arrival was evasively maneuvering at a blistering speed, causing difficulty to our gun crews in landing their machine gun rounds.

"Captain, any chance you can match his moves?" one of the gunners shouted.

"Not a chance on this sand," I replied. "I don't want to risk us sliding out. I can get enough distance for an LRM lock, though!"

"That'd be great!" the gunner replied. Quickly, I slammed the Maxim's throttle to full, opening a wider gap between us and the the Harasser. As we traveled outside of the minimum distance required for our LRM launchers to achieve a lock, the Maxim gave a tremendous lurch as all of its short and long-range missile tubes catapulted a torrent of warheads at the light tank. A terrific explosion, accompanied by a plume of sand and flying debris, signaled the end of the line for the pirate vehicle.

"Nice shooting, guys," I replied. Toggling my comm unit open to Weyland's Condor, I continued.

"Predator, this is Eden. What's your situation back there?"

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

I couldn't believe it. The Aegis Division people came through the wall incredibly fast, and Jack Whitley, in hits Marauder, having killed the Wolverine, was now fighting an Aegis Division Marauder, trying to keep it out of the compound. I couldn't believe the irony. Meanwhile, I'd called for backup from the Kusanagi and a Hatchetman driven by Miyamoto was now on scene, alternating between swatting at an enemy Mongoose and trying to support Whitley by sniping away at the Aegis Division Marauder. We had our hands full, and luckily the fight between the two MAD-3Ds was basically keeping the hole into and out of the base plugged. 

Simultaneously, a pirate Spider had set upon our Thunderbolt and was spraying it with machine gun fire. Our Hunchback was grappling with a Charger. And I had the perverse privilege of having a BattleMaster, of all things, coming right at my Jenner, shredding its armor apart with PPC blasts. I backed away wildly, bombarding the BattleMaster with my laser and SRM suites. The BattleMaster returned the gesture with another PPC blast, blowing critical structure off my Jenner's right arm and hip. Before I could react, my assailant was suddenly rocked by a number of laser and machine gun hits. I looked behind the BattleMaster and was shocked to see a Phoenix Hawk LAM headed toward it, flying the Aegis Division colors. 

Where in the hell did they find a Phoenix Hawk? 

It had to have been Kauffman. I could just imagine him watching the battle, smiling a smarmy grin as his various wild cards got laid on the table. 

"Black Phalanx mercenary unit - you are illegally interfering in a salvage operation by Aegis Division. State your intentions." my radio crackled with Major Hayes' voice.

I waited for somebody to answer, but nobody did.

"Black Phalanx mercenary unit - you are illegally interfering in a salvage operation. State your intentions." Hayes repeated. "If you do not reply, we will consider you hostile."

"Major, I don't think that whether we reply or not makes much of a difference." I finally cut in.

"Schmidt?" Hayes replied, incredulously.

"Yes, Major. Unfortunately, our business here is mutually-exclusive. First to the wreck is all that matters." I really didn't know what else to say, but there was no further reply. I turned my weapons back onto the BattleMaster...I decided to take advantage of the Phoenix Hawk's distraction to score some easy hits. 

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

It was one thing to apprentice at the controls of Dexter's Raven. It was quite another to be kicked up to the helm of Captain Maxwell's family heirloom, the CPLT-C1 Catapult known as Tyche. A full thirty tons heavier than the Raven, and possessing significantly more firepower, it was a lot of 'Mech for me, only rated for Light-class 'Mechs, to get my head wrapped around in a very short time. However, this situation required all hands on deck, and if I couldn't be running electronic warfare duty, fire support was a good fallback plan. Sticking me in the heavy-class Catapult instead of the assault-class Longbow, where Alexander Blackwood had temporarily been reassigned, was an even better plan.

After the intel had come back from the Republic that the mystery lance was Black Phalanx, and that they weren't here to play nice, I actually felt a certain sense of relief. Their safety wasn't our problem, and we could concentrate on our own issues at hand - namely, getting shot at for long enough that Captain Maxwell and Lieutenant Weyland could make it to the wreck with their convoys. And getting shot at was exactly what I intended to do.

"Mantis to Traveler - I'm gonna try to get a better shooting solution from the other side of that wall. If I can get over there, you can IDF off my telemetry. Standing here helpless while the break in the wall is plugged up by those two Marauders isn't getting us anywhere," I radioed to Blackwood.

"Just to make sure I understand - you're gonna jump Tyche over the wall so that you can call targets from inside the base?"

"Affirmative - it looks like everyone's pretty busy throwing punches, and I'm pretty sure I can jump jet over without too much of an issue. I must've done it in the simulator at least two dozen times," I replied.

"Uhhhhh..." Blackwood responded. "And if you stick the landing and end up with two broken legs, what then?"

"You'll save me, right?" I laughed.

"Command, are you direct on this traffic?" Alexander answered. After a moment's pause, Major Hayes came on the channel.

"Affirmative, Mantis and Traveler. Mantis: the IDF plan is a good one; eye in the sky does seem to indicate that the pirates are pretty preoccupied with Black Phalanx and Aegis Primary right now. But how certain do you feel about jump jet operations in an actual BattleMech?" Hayes inquired.

I reassured the Major. "I wouldn't be asking to do it if I didn't think I could pull it off."

"Alright, Marius. I'm gonna trust your judgement here. Go for it," Hayes said, a hint of trepidation in his tone.

"Affirmative. I'm going in," I grinned, pushing the Catapult into a full run. "Traveler, you got my six?"

"I do. Happy landings," Blackwood replied.

As Tyche loped across the sandy terrain, I could feel the BattleMech attempting to correct for the uneven, soft earth. My plan was to vault over the wall at a place where I could be reasonably certain to land on a finished surface that wouldn't have too much give, yet would be more level than the rubble-strewn waste that constituted the majority of our environment. With the wall drawing near, I pulled up an aerial overlay of the operating theater on my HUD, and zoomed it in. There was a paved clearing on the other side of the wall just to the right of the breach, and if I landed there, it would put me squarely in the rear arc of multiple hostiles. If things went south, I also had a pretty straight shot toward the area where the armor was headed, giving me a favorable escape route.

Drawing to less than 60 meters from the wall, I fired Tyche's jump jets. The 'Mech was instantly thrust into the air, the G-forces of the acceleration throwing me back against my pilot's chair. As I sailed over the wall, I saw an XV-M Buster HaulerMech MOD wandering into my landing zone.

Shit... I thought to myself. This is gonna be a hot landing.

The moment Tyche's feet plowed into the ground, I was under attack, the Buster's route having been interrupted by my arrival. Regaining my Catapult's controls after the hard landing, I reversed away from the Buster, somehow managing to avoid being hit by its autocannon fire, and responding with all four of Tyche's medium pulse lasers. Much to my surprise, three of the four laser shots landed true, inflicting critical hits that smashed through the HaulerMech's torso and ravaged its gyro, engine, upper left arm, and shoulder. The Buster reeled under the assault, nearly falling over from the impact and loss of its gyro controls.

"Mantis to Control - I'm in and throwing down with the locals!" I radioed to the Republic. My fighting advantage was short-lived, however; moments after successfully assailing the Buster, a mechanized tracked platoon, evidently becoming aware of my incursion, broke from the eastern part of the compound to maneuver toward me and unleash a flurry of laser rounds at my BattleMech. The shots were unusually powerful, tearing off far more armor from the Catapult's frame, and I realized that I had a potentially larger problem on my hands as a Shadow Hawk moved to join the fight.

Things were getting real...

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

“Predator, this is Eden. What's your situation back there?"

It was a standup fight from the moment they came off the DropShip.  Bishop hadn’t a moment to even analyze the overall situation. It was just running and gunning while trying to keep the transports moving. Multiple times the Lieutenant had to order his driver, Corporal Wilks to push the Condor up next to Captain Maxwell’s Maxim to block in coming fire. 

Bishop had to yell over the sound of the Condor’s screaming engine 

“It’s getting hot back here!”

Out of the corner of Bishop’s eye he caught movement on his scope. In the flying dust and smoke the Mercenary found his target... one Sabaku Kaze stalking up from his left flank. Bishop jerked both his joysticks left causing the Condor’s turret to traverse left. Weyland knew it was just a matter of seconds before the faster hovercraft was in range with all its weapons. Triggering the Condor’s auto cannon Bishop fired a long burst into the Sabaku .... BOOM.BOOM. BOOM. BOOM... sparks and amor exploded on the angled bow of the attacking hover tank. 

The driver of the Sabaku flinched causing the hover tank to slide past the rear arch of Bishops condor. The Sabaku was hit but it’s armor held fast from Bishop’s onslaught. The mercenary had to try and keep his turret traversing at the same rate as the Sabaku’s movement. Just then the enemy hover retuned fire with two volleys of SRMs, and four medium lasers. 

“IN COMING!!!” Barked Bishop 

Without warning Wilks yanked back and hard right on the Condor’s yoke. The hover tank responded violently by both reversing its fans and turning its fins right. The vehicle began to spin left and slow its speed. The evasive maneuver would cause the condor to slide out of control and spin like a top. Instinctively Bishop hit the emergency override control that would unlock the turreted bezel ring and allow the tank’s turret to stay in one place and the chassis of the vehicle to spin below it. This extremely dangerous maneuver allowed Wilks to bring the Condor’s heavier frontal armor to bear for the oncoming assault and throw the enemies targeting off. 

The fifty ton hover tank violently shook as only two SRM and two medium lasers hit home. Sparks and dust filled the inside of the turret. Bishop recoiled from the red hot armor glowing ten inches from his face. The Condor’s armor held. Multiple monitors blinked out then returned. Bishop shot his eyes to his armor display. Most of the condors frontal armor went from green to yellow.... but still held true. 

As Wilks fought to get the hover tank’s movement under control, Bishop reacquired the Sabaku who now was trying to slow to match the Condors position and speed. Now both tanks where almost point blank range. Weyland didn’t bother to aim, both of his fingers smashed the joystick triggers down. All of the Condors weapon’s responded in unison, two medium lasers, autocannon and machine gun fired. The Sabaku erupted in fire and a detentions. 

Bishop screamed “FUCK OFF AND DIE!!!” As the enemy tank crashed into the sand. Causing a tsunami of sand to wash over it. 

One of the Drillson commander keyed the net 

“Mech infantry.... in the open... 200 meters...from the north!!!” 

Weyland jerked the joysticks back to his left, the Condor’s target system picked out three platoons of infantry inter mixed with tracked APCs. 

“Shift north! Protect the transports!”Bishop barked into command channel. In unison, the Drillsons and Condors drifted over the sand at close to 70mph to intercept the knew threat. 

“Light them up.... kill them all” growled Weyland.  

The next few minutes were lost in time and space as the hover tanks engaged the enemy. It was a massacre, laser and machine gun fire raked the land. The detention of missiles and and autocannon fire assaulted the ear drums in a deadly yet beautiful symphony. At one point the hovercrafts began running over the scattering infantrymen in droves. As promised,  the Skinwalkers painted a scene of death and destruction on the pirates. It was a masterpiece of artwork.... they would call it Death. 

As the battle slowed, Bishop had popped open his hatch and was now standing tall in the turrets. The echos of laser and autocannon fire pierced the the air around him. The battle field was bathed in burning wrecked vehicles and smoldering bodies. The oil black smoke blacked out the burning sun. For a moment Bishop smiled at the carnage laid before him, he lived for these moments. As Captain Maxwell’s Maxim slide into view Bishop turned to see his Captain, like proud dog of war he stood and waited for Maxwell to see his work. 

In that moment of exhaustion and warrior bliss Bishop didn’t see the attack the struck his Condor. He had let his guard down, now he would pay the price... the price would be his soul. 

Edited by Joker 4-1
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Elsewhere...

Persephone Forest
Glendale Nature Preserve
Olympus, Thorin
January 31, 3029
___________________________

My hiking boots thudded softly on the mossy path that wound through the towering, ancient forests of Thorin's northern continent, while the gentle trills and chirps of bird song wafted through the spring air. As I made my way through a section of undergrowth that was thick in ferns and other palm-shaped foliage, I glanced up at the thick overstory that blanketed the woodlands from over a hundred meters above, taking in the rays of golden sunlight that filtered down through the crowns of the trees to spill puddles of warm daylight onto the mottled green and brown hues of the floor below.

I took a deep breath, letting a slow, satisfied exhale escape my lips as I simply immersed myself in the natural beauty of the place. It was far removed from the urban megalopolis of New York, where I'd been present up until a few days ago, ushering in the new year as a distinguished guest at the Terran Stock Exchange, where I'd had the distinct pleasure of ringing the opening bell on the first trading day of the year, availing purchases of Crayven Corporation stock to the market for the first time since the rebirth of the company. Our initial public offering had been fantastically successful - within a matter of days, the value of shares in the Crayven Corporation had surged by 212%, rendering our organization flush with new capital by the end of the first week of the year.

Following a brief stay on Terra to sightsee and make new business contacts, I'd traveled to Thorin, where I met with a Hauptmann General, and his council, who were principally-responsible for overseeing LIC operations in the Sarna March and its outlying regions. They'd been deeply disturbed by the actions of Schmidt, emphasizing that the operation was not authorized by the Commonwealth. After a profuse apology on behalf of the Lyran government, along with the promise of a full investigation, he'd also reimbursed us for the cost of repairs to the Half Moon, including the replacement of the Slayer with which Nathan had absconded.

Though I no longer believed the Lyran Commonwealth to have been responsible for the actions of their operative, in light of the events transpired, I'd subsequently made the decision to institute a company policy forbidding outside intelligence agents from having physical access to sensitive corporate facilities without a thorough background check in advance. Even in the absence of Schmidt's treachery, the policy seemed rational.

Finding myself with a brief respite after my meetings, I'd decided to spend today taking a solitary walk in the nearby Persephone forest, which I'd been told was breathtaking example of the immense woodlands for which the world was known. Tomorrow, I'd be traveling to a secretive shipyard in orbit of the world's moon, where I'd conduct an inspection of the Excalibur-class DropShip which the Commonwealth had promised us in exchange for intelligence about our archaeological expeditions.

As I rounded a bend in the woodland path, a small creek, bisected by a series of five stepping stones, came into view. The sounds of wildlife were more robust here, with the croaking of frogs, melodies of birdsong, and the rustles, pops, and cracks of various animals moving about the tree trunks especially vibrant. I smiled at the pastoral scene, pausing for a moment to snap a photograph of it, before making my way toward the stepping stones and climbing atop the first one. The water rushed past below, and as I gazed down into it, I could see several small schools of fish undulating past.

Performing a short jump onto the second stone, my footsteps echoed in an unusual way, almost as though I heard them twice - once at my present location, and once where I'd just been. Amused by the effect, I stepped forcefully onto the third stone to try to replicate it. To my surprise, the echo which ensued wasn't my footsteps at all - it was the heavy, forceful sound of someone else's footfalls, and as I turned toward its source, I suddenly found myself being thrown violently into the water, a heavy body atop me, pushing my face halfway below the surface of the creek. I thrashed and fought against my assailant, who grabbed a fistful of my sweater and shirt's fabric to haul me out of the water, a booted foot pressed into the backs of my knees to prevent me from standing properly. I twisted against the attacker's grip, hearing my sweater tear in the process, and I was able to turn far enough around to see the individual momentarily - a dark-clad figure in a jet-black biker's helmet of some kind, accompanied by a second individual, similarly-dressed, who stood further back on the shore.

"Who are you - what do you want?" I gasped. In response, the person who'd grabbed me drew back a gloved hand, in which was clenched a stun stick. Before I could react, the stick was driven forcefully into the center of my chest, and the world went black...

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Meanwhile...

Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

Bishop Weyland's Condor drew alongside our Maxim as we continued to blaze along the desert sand at a blistering pace. I glanced over to see the hulking mercenary standing in the open turret of his hovertank, flashing a victorious hand signal at me. I smiled and glanced at the rear view camera, where total carnage met my eyes. Behind the Drillsons guarding our rear flank, where there had once been a trifecta of Sabaku Kazes, a second Harasser, and an infantry squad, there were now a series of gore-strewn, angrily-burning wrecks, the fires of which belched acrid black smoke into the desert sky.

"Nice shootin', Tex," I quipped into my headset, flashing a thumbs-up at Bishop. "Glad you're on our side."

"Yeah, well, the pay is - "

Abruptly, without any foreshadowing, a tremendous explosion ripped through Bishop's Condor, consuming the mercenary in a hellish, mushroom-shaped fireball as the tank itself detonated with such force that the right section of its chassis was blown directly into the left flank of my Maxim, causing me to lose control of the APC. The Maxim slammed into our Drillson escort, the impact thrashing me against the tank's steering controls and cracking the visor of my MechWarrior combat suit. Flaming debris rained down from the sky, pelting the Maxim angrily, bouncing off its hull and littering the sand with the component pieces of what had, moments ago, been a functional war machine. I shook off the daze of my head impact and looked toward the wreck, shouting into my headset as I did so.

"Eden to Predator! Eden to Predator! Respond, please! Advise status!"

There came no reply. Where Weyland's tank had once been, there were now two large pieces of Condor chassis, bisected by a blistered, flaming crater. I saw no survivors.

"God damn it!" I shouted, switching my radio frequency to the emergency channel. "Maxwell to Control - I need a dustoff with an escort and an extraction team to my present coordinates statCondor Alpha is down!"

"Copy that, Eden - we're scrambling a helo now. Continue with your objective," Major Hayes' voice, eerily calm, replied. "We need to keep your convoy moving. We don't have intel on where that round came from, and you could be next. I know you want to go after him."

"Acknowledged," I replied. With my heart in my throat, I slammed the Maxim back into gear, and powered forward across the desert, watching the ruins of Weyland's tank fall away in the rear camera. Seconds later, another of our Condorexploded.

"Move! Move! Move!" Hayes' voice shouted in my headset.

Tearing away from the scene of the ambush at blinding pace, less than a minute later, we reached the sand dune that led up to the eastern end of the wall. The Drillson and Condor at the head of our convoy opened fire on the barrier, bombarding it relentlessly, until a section of it just large enough for us to fit our vehicles through gave way. Following the tanks, I powered the Maxim through the breach and into the compound. We rounded a bend, passing among a series of ramshackle buildings. It was then that I saw it.

There, looming ahead, half-buried in the desert sand, was the unmistakable hulk of the D.C.S. Takashima. Laying on its side, exactly as Kauffman's intelligence briefing had illustrated, the ship exuded the eerie appearance of a vessel trapped between the plane of the living and the dark of the underworld. Its ancient hull, blistered, rusted, and worn down by centuries of exposure to the elements, had oxidized to a dark brown, giving the ship a deathly pallor. At the extreme end of its bow, the occupiers of the site had blasted away its cargo bay doors, leaving a gaping maw that descended into darkness.

"This is it, Vulcan and Sabre," I transmitted. "Set up a security perimeter and stay alert. Eden to Abaddon - if you can get the Raven up here, that'd be appreciated. We're going to be down three units with two of our tanks K.O.'d and a Maxim unmanned. We could use the cover. Control - be advised - we have reached the obelisk and are preparing for initial ingress."

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As the brawl continued to play out in multiple ways, suddenly, Whitley gave a yell. 

"Goddamn, my reactor casing's punctured, I gotta bail out!" he yelled. The next thing I knew, his Marauder was crashing to the ground and the elements of Aegis Division were pouring through the hole in the wall. 

"Oh shit!" I yelled into my headset. "Back it off, Phalanx elements! Remember to keep some minimum space. Make it harder for them to hit you as they come through!" I continued my assault on the BattleMaster, though I didn't think I could make much of a dent in it.

The words had barely left my mouth when the BattleMaster's head exploded. Looking in the direction of its killer, I saw a huge Aegis Division King Crab coming through the smoke, its gun barrels still red-hot from the AC/20 fire. It fired a separate volley of pulse laser fire, coring the Wolverine, which exploded with a terrific boom, sending a low level shockwave through the compound.

I stared in disbelief at the shattered remains of two units that had been felled simultaneously. 

Was this it for me? Was it all going to be over this fast?

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"Eden to Abaddon - if you can get the Raven up here, that'd be appreciated. We're going to be down three units with two of our tanks K.O.'d and a Maxim unmanned. We could use the cover. Control - be advised - we have reached the obelisk and are preparing for initial ingress."

The dire news from Maxwell concerning the loss of our comrades to the Unclean, coupled with the revelation that the sacred site had been reached, sent chills down my spine. It had to be protected - at all costs.

"Abaddon to Eden - I am responding," I replied, pushing my Raven into a run, headed in the direction that the convoy had taken to reach the wreck. As I moved out, I saw Steve Jenkins holding station in his Dragon.

"Abaddon to Dionysus - if you're not presently engaged, we could use your firepower at the objective."

"Roger that! Lead the way!" Jenkins exclaimed, falling into formation alongside me. We made haste across the sandy expanse which separated us from Vulcan and Sabre lances, passing the mangled, blasted remains of our fallen colleagues' Condors as we did so. I said a quiet prayer that Blake might watch over them, wherever they now were.

Suddenly, my Raven alerted me to the repeated impacts of laser fire. A Harasser tank, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, had engaged us at the same location where Captain Maxwell's convoy had come under attack - it was, apparently, a favorable ambush location, and we were now the latest intended targets. The Harasser blazed past me, headed straight for Steve Jenkins' Dragon.

"Dionysus, this is Abaddon - you've got an incoming bogey!"

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I started Meching up the hill with Dexter toward the dig site. It was so hot in the desert and my Dragon was going slower than normal. The wind blew sand all over the place, and I turned on the windshield wipers so that I could see better. I also turned up the air conditioner full blast but I was still sweating like crazy. 

We had just got halfway up the approach to the wreck when a Harassers came busting out of nowhere and started lasering my Mech all over its armor. Dexter started hollering on the radio and I activated my "running legs" to get a draw on the tank. I spun my Mech around and started blasting my autocannons, they missed and hit the salvage wall. I backed my Mech up and flipped its arms at the tank and shot again, the rounds hit and blew a big chunk of the tank off. It shot at me again and lasered my armor down to 75%. I shot at the tank again with all of my weapons and saw a huge explosion as the tank exploded. Its driver's body came flying out of the wreck on fire and bounced off my windshield, leaving blood and stuff smeared everywhere. I turned on my wipers and cleared off the mess, then Dexter and I went up to the wreck. 

"Dionysus here." I Radioed. "We're on station for the defense."

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