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Three days later...

Black Canyon
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 7, 3029

__________________________________

No matter how many times Bishop did a Vtol insert he could never get over the adrenaline rush of it. His heightened sense made the feeling euphoric to his mind. The smell of aircraft fuel, the sent of of the forest and earth filling the open troop bay and the scream of the engine made the beast howl with delight. His could help but have a shit eating grin the entire ride. 

The pilot of the ship allowed Bishop to conduct the pre-flight checks of the aircraft and fire up the reactor. To his teams absolute surprise the mercenary smoothly brought the kestrel up off the ground to a hover then began flying it toward the LZ. After a while the pilot took over and Bishop movies back to the troop compartment. The team was surprised at his work, he even got the pilot to sign off on his first flight log. 

After few hours the ship dropped into the LZ, with dust and wind ripping about the unit debarked and headed to their respective mechs. Bishop stood in awe of the massive war machine the stood before him. The 100 ton Atlas stood tall imposing its sheer brutal will upon the landscape. He felt a kinship to avatar of war and destruction, like him, it was a machine of war. After a few moments captain Maxwell broke the silence....

“You ready Lieutenant?” 

Bishop respectively nodded 

“Permission to come aboard sir”

The Captain smile and gave a short laugh

“ Lieutenant... after all this time you still need to show the military discipline... you can’t loose it can you?”

“Professionals are predictable sir” quipped the Skinwalker with a smile. 

“Yes ..... yes they are Weyland” smiled Maxwell. 

Both warriors climbed the ladder up into the waiting cockpit. Bishop hulled his combat load that weighed in close to 250 pounds. His augments made it seem as though the load was as light as a feather. After settling in the hulking mercenary changed into a custom made mech suit that would protect him from heat and the often dangerous environment that happened in the cocky of a mech. The gunners seat was slightly altered to accommodate his massive frame, after a few moments of studying the control Bishop felt relatively comfortable. The Captain had but him through multiple classes and simulation. 

A spike of excitement surged through Bishop as the mech came to life, he could feel its heart beat and power surge through the floor plates. 

Like riding a bike," Maxwell mused. "How're things looking back there, Weyland?"

“I don’t know how you mech jocks get used to this.... its amazing experience” Bishop responded. 

Maxwell laughed. “I’ll take that as you are good to go then”. Keying his mike “All units...all units... status check”.

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Black Canyon
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 7, 3029
____________________________________

"This is where the fun begins," Charles chuckled from across the VTOL, his excitement to be getting into a BattleMech again showing clearly.

As the VTOL settled onto the makeshift landing zone we all gathered our gear and stepped out into the twilight, the long shadows cast by large trees creating sharp contrasting lines of light and dark. The normally large and imposing shapes of our BattleMechs unusually dwarfed by what had to be ancient everygreens, they sat partially in shadow but with enough light to still clearly see them and the details of their fresh looking paint jobs. Crayven, or whoever they paid to repaint the 'mechs, I think I'd heard it was a company called RCPM, had decided to keep our original paint jobs and mostly just touched them up while adding in the appropriate Aegis Division logo and MRB license decals indicating we were legitimate mercenaries. MyMerlin stood beside the others in its typical powered down stance with its arms lowered, legs bent a little and head tilted slightly towards the ground. The deep black of its paint job standing in contrast to even the deepest shadows currently cast upon it while the limited emerald green highlights appeared almost irridescent in the twilight light yet still seemed to blend in partially with the natural tones surrounding our staging area.

Several minutes later...

I settled into the cockpit of the Merlin MLN-1J and began the startup sequence while donning my combat neurohelmet and cooling vest. Upon first entering the cockpit I stashed my gear in the custom locker installed into the back of the pilot seat and checked over everything I couldn't reach from the chair itself. Since we were planning on performing a portion of this mission on foot, without a means to change our loadout anywhere convenient I had brought my full compliment of infantry gear, including the ballistic plate vest, Blazer rifle, custom field kit, holomap, and remote sensor kit, along with a few other odds and ends. Most of the gear was stored in the seat locker, the rifle and armour specifically, while the rest was stored safely in the standard cockpit locker. This meant that in the worst case scenario if I was forced to eject I would at least still have access to the rifle, armour, and a few other items, arguably the most important gear I brought with me.

Having donned the combat neurohelmet and successfully connected it to the onboard systems I continued with the war machine's unnecessarily complex start up, I made it more complex than necessary as part of the security measures in place to prevent tampering or theft. While the BattleMech could easily be started up in a maintenance mode that allowed it to be driven around by anyone capable of using a neurohelmet, in order to unlock the weapons and the machines full combat capabilities you would either need the proper sequence of authorizations and "random" control switches and dials or a significant amount of time with some powerful hacking equipment to bypass the lockout. Unlike the other 'mechs in our lance, with the possible exception of the Raven, my Merlin was essentially brand new, it wasn't even 20 years old yet, and it showed with the slick touchscreen interface which was complimented by (and fully backed up by) a set of conventional controls which I tended to use. Although the touchscreen interfaces were very nice for working with the HUD and sub-monitors.

The HUD blinked into reality on the main screen as the roughly 12.2m (40') tall Merlin powered up and its systems came online. The machine straightened itself upright as the myomer bunders received power from the reactor and a cascade of text flooded across the HUD as the system performed its routine startup checks before coming to the point where it required user authentication.

"Voice Recognition Required" chimed the female computer voice.

"Today, is a good day to die," I responded, not having cycled to different security phrase yet.

"Voice Authorization accepted"

Reactor online...
Sensors online...
Weapons online...

As the pleasant computerized voice read off the main system's status the corresponding displays lit up within the cockpit and soon the high tech war machine was fully operational and ready to go. I turned torso of Bastion, the name I had given my Merlin after its recent refit, and looked both left and right, a move not entirely necessary due to the sophisticated sensors on all BattleMechs and the HUD/neurohelmet's varying degrees of being able to show a compressed view of up to 360° around the 'mech within your normal viewing angle. Not all 'mechs were capable of showing a full 360°, especially after years of being ravaged by continous war and sometimes limited repairs, but all 'mechs could show at least a 180° view on a banner in the normal HUD. Despite this I still preferred to turn and look using the cockpits armoured ferroglass canopy whenever possible, it was better to not rely solely on fancy, and breakable, technology when piloting a machine designed to be shot by some of the heaviest weapons in the Inner Sphere.

"All Units, all units... Status Check," came Maxwell's voice over the lance comms.

The techs that had positioned our 'mechs had also apparently gone ahead and setup our comm channels ahead of time for us, fine by me as it saved me the trouble of doing so, not that it was overly difficult.

Keying my own comms I replied, "Orpheus-2 here, my Merlin, Bastion, is ready to go, green across the board."

As the others responded I turned to look at each in turn before re-keying my mic, "This is Jaeger, I'm going to take Bastion for a quick stroll around the island, stretch her legs and such."

"Copy that, just as a precaution let's hold off on any weapons tests for the moment though," replied Maxwell from within the confines of the massive Atlas.

"Roger that, maneuvering tests only."

With that I pushed the throttle forward and relished the feeling as the 60-ton beast easily strode forward into a gentle jog, I slowly eased it forward until the Merlin was cruising along at its maximum speed of 65km/h (40mph), its broad armoured feet digging into the dirt with each stride. About half way around our small staging area I depressed the foot pedals controlling the jump jets and the machine rocketed through the air on quad plumes of exhaust jetting out of the 'mechs legs, the Class II jump jets easily lifting the Merlin, which was at the lowest weight bracket requiring the Class II jets, through the air. I landed with a thump a few meters away from where I initially started, grinning ear to ear inside my neurohelmet before maneuvering the BattleMech back to our starting location completely satisfied that she was in excellent condition.

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The helicopter tore through the Valley at like 600 MPH, ripping around Rocks and doing Barrel rolls to confuse the enemys intrentched in the Valley hiding in the trees like dishonorless dogs. I held on to my Stomach and tried to be Brave, it was a terrible and scary ride but we had to Endure it on account of it being the only way we could get Inserted without being Slayed like cattle. We had been flying for like 3 hours and I was on Cup #19 of Coffee when all of the sudden I had to Pee. It was hard to hold it on a helicopter with no Bathroom that kept going upside down and I was worried that my Bladder was going to burst. So I asked Captain Maxwell could we pull over the Helicopter for a Bio Break.

"Captain Maxwell I need a Bio Break, we have been up in the Air for 3 hours and there isnt a Bathroom on the helicopter!" I Requested. But Captain Maxwell frowned and shook his head.

"You should Of thought of taht before we left, Steve." He said. He sounded like he had Disappointment at my actions.

"But captain I have to go bad, I only need a minute!!" I asked. Then all of /the sudden Jingles appeared behind him!! I looked and screamed in Fear with my mouth open, except no noises came out so it just looked like my mouth was open really wide.

"Don't give me That look steve, You know the rules." Said Captain Maxwell, then he handed me an old Rusty can that said FOLGERS....THE BEST PART OF WAKIN UP IS DRAGONS IN YOUR CUP. It had an old rusty Dangerous edge on its top part.

"There you go Steve, there is the toilet." Said Captan Maxwell. Behind him Jingles made a Cutting move across his throat with a finger and made a face like he was being Strangled. I Screamed in fear and then I started ctying with Embarass,ment when I put the FOLGERS can on the floor and had to do my Deed in front of everyone.....

"SOMEBODY ROLL THE WINDOW DOWN BACK THERE, IT SMELLS LIKE PEE!!" BIshop yelled from the Drivers seat. I turned Red with Dishonor.

***************LATER ON........................**************

We Got to the Battle Camp just in time for the Sun to come up, the Helicopter landed SO HARD that it blew out 2 of 3 Tires from trying to get on the Ground so fast, the driver started yelling and cursing and gout out To tchange the wheel while we were getting Out. I yelled at him about his Piloting and then got out too, I had business to do. It was really sunny outside and I could see for Miles, nothing but trees and Waterfalls in front of us. HAGAKURE my DRAGON was sitting in front of the water, it was painted up in a rand new coat of War paint and it looked all new like it had been Restored. On its outside there was letters in KURITA that spelled out an ancient family Curse for anyone who would make Enemies of House Jhzuizui. I Climbed up the ladder and threw my Stuff in a corner, then I stripped down to my Fruit of the Looms and my sunglasses, I didn't need to wear a bunch of Clothes that were going to get hot and Wrecked in the heat of the battle. Then I put the key in the controls of My mech and turned on some tunes. "Alright, let's see what this thing can do..."

I pulled the NeuroHelmet tightly on my head until I felt my Jaw pop, thats how I knew it was tight. An automated voice chimed in.

"Welcome, pilot. Please state your name."

"BALL DAMN IT YOU KNOW WHO I AM I ALWAYS PILOT YOU!" I Said in rage, it was time for the War to start and I had to be Ready.

"Welcome, BALL DAMN IT YOU KNOW WHO I AM I ALWAYS PILOT YOU, Would you like to learn the functions of this vehichle?"

"Who Factory reset you?? I Don't Need a voice tour!" I couldn't Believe my luck, almost a Year with no Meching andnow I was Sstuck because someone reset my computer.

"Computer............"

"Did you know that PARIS is the capital of Amaristown?? Next fact!" Said the computer

God damn Amaris Coup..... I Started thinking about the Amaris coup, then As I teased the throttle foreward, a warning came up on the screen.

"Warning! Automated Voice Tour halted! Would you like to continue?"

"Damn Right!" I Shouted, I didn't have time for This. I pushed the throttle over again and the Mech started running, it was finally time to Draw first blood. But then the last thing I Ever expected to happen happened......

"YOU WILL DIE FOR DEFILING THIS HOLY PLACE!!"

The man to the left kicked me to the ground and hit me in the stomach with his gun. I fell out of the Cockpit chair and barfed blood.

"May Blake smite you for this action! Your family will be cut down, and your house will be demolished! You are dishonorable ju'nuq'quid'o!" Said the man to the right.

"How did you two Get in my Mech?? How did you get past Security?"

"We are the Camp technicians! We infiltrated your supply Train and we commandeered these Mechs in the name of the Nickel's Boys!" Said one of the fanatics.

"Well thats Weird, I thought you were Religious, I said, then I got Kicked in the stomach again. Blood was all over the place where I had barfed it out, but I didn't care. I sprung into action, kicking one man in the face, and the gun out of the other man. I was lucky enough to Knock the disarmed First guy to the ground with a knee swipe, and came to the ground to seize his head. I started  to bash it on the Floor ground, his screams enraged and the other picked up the gun. I picked the man up off the floor and hurled him into the other as he began to fire the gun wildly. I smashed him in the face with a full garbage can. The bag inside exploded and blew garbage all over him, Then I ripped out my Katana and I threw it at both guys, it Impaled one up against my Control panel but the other guy dodged. Then he shot a laser spike at me, it blew a hole Straight throug my shoulder and I got threw backwards into the Food Slot/Helmet Stand. I lay up against the side, screaming in pain, gagging violently. The Man came at me again but I managed to get out my .357 Magnum and I shot him clean in the crotch, his junk got Ripped off and splattered all over one of my Mechs windows and smeared down the Glass, he started screaming in Pain, but I was in so much pain that I screamed so loud that perhaps my screams drowned out his. I tore off my underwear and tried to wrap it around my shoulder to the armpit, but it stung like hell, and didn't stop the bleeding. I would also guess the kick in the stomach caused some internal bleeding, or a broken rib or two. I tried to stand up, but my leg broke violently when I tried, and I fell down again. All Of a sudden the guy stopped Screaming long enough to answer his radio.

" ...Yes, the one from the Mercenaries. He does not seem to be strong enough to carry loot boxes. Perhaps the Great Sledge will convince him otherwise?"

I blanched with fear. I could taste the weak beer and gruel/macaroni from the Airplane ride biling up in my throat. The Great Sledge was the ultimate punishment in Kurita space. If you misbehaved or if the Police just didn't like you, they would take you to a giant factory building. Inside the giant factory building was a giant man. The giant man had a giant sledge hammer. They would sit you against the wall, and the giant man would take the sledge hammer and put it inside a huge robot arm. Then, it would swing down on a pendulum and smash your Groin so hard that some people didn't survive it. I Knew, because my parents house used to be next to the Sledge House as we called it. On many nights I would go to sleep to the sounds of man, animal, and sometimes even alien screams coming out of the Sledge House. Sometimes on a quiet night you could even hear the crunch of their body parts getting demolished. It was why the birth rate on Kuuzu was so low.

"Please not the sledge!" I cried out. "Send Mallory if you must, but spare me!"

The assassin ignored me and listend to his radio. He waited for a response. "Very well. If he cannot be Sledged I will ask Serkovisk where he can better serve."

Right then I Knew was my only chance, I had to act while he was distracted. I Summoned up all of my inner strength and drilled my zen until it almost overflowed, then I Emitted a huge scream and a Roaring light filled up the cockpit, the next thing I Knew, I drove a Huge dragon spear triple overhand chop straight into the man's throat So hard it Decapitated him. Gore and Blood sprayed everywhere and I fell down sobbing in Pain as his body also fell down in Death. Finally I blew my nose and I got up and Dragged myself over to the Command chair and moved the Dead guy off the Windshield so I could see, right then Captain Maxwell came on the radio.

"ALL UNITS! ALL UNITS REPORT!"

"Orpheus 4,, ready, let's go do some kills." I Roared. Then I put on some Tunes and waited for orders.

Edited by Steve Jenkins
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The cockpit of the Phoenix Hawk LAM smelled of oil, canvas, and old war hardware. It was laid out like a cross between a BattleMech and an ancient fighter aircraft I'd heard of a long time ago called an F-14 Tomcat. Cramped, with just enough room for me to fit in the seat and close the canopy dome overhead, and cluttered with control panels of every imaginable kind, it was the inevitable outcome of engineers attempting to achieve a fusion of the best BattleMech and air superiority tech the Star League had to offer, but ending up instead with mediocrity.

It was the sad tale of every LAM that had ever been invented. The original concept had been to build a BattleMech that could transform into an AeroSpace fighter, or, if you were an AeroJock, a fighter that also happened to be able to turn into a BattleMech. The drawing board concepts envisioned a machine that could do both and in so doing become the dominant force over space, air, land, and to some extent, even sea. You could deploy from your carrier spaceship high in orbit, blast your way through an enemy blockade in your fighter mode LAM, swoop down to the planet, land smack in the middle of an enemy garrison and turn into a giant walking automaton of death, and then level everything in sight and take off again before the bad guys knew what hit them.

That was how it was supposed to work, anyway. The end result was a bit less awesome.

Scientists had figured out through trial and error that the heaviest you could make a frame and still be able to do all the things that a LAM had to do was 50 tons, so that's the number they started with for the Phoenix Hawk. Then, they had to add all the equipment that would let the machine go into AirMech mode, fly around in atmospheres and in space, carry life support and fuel, and still have some tonnage left over to carry weapons and armor. As a consequence, what rolled off the assembly line was the PHX-HK2, a 'Mech that could move really freaking fast but had paper-thin armor, a kind of underwhelming weapons suite of 3 lasers and 2 machine guns, and a molasses-slow transformation system that required you to stop, initiate the transformation sequence, and then remain motionless until the machine finished making itself into an aircraft or a BattleMech. And if it sounds like that ruined the element of surprise, you'd be right. Not only did that system leave you fully vulnerable, it also left you dead in the water if the conversion mechanism failed or was deliberately disabled by an enemy. In fact, one reason that LAMs had become so rare after the fall of the Star League is because they often met their end as a result of transformation failures or just being regularly outgunned.

So why did I want to pilot one?

It got me back in the saddle, and more importantly, it let me do what I knew how to do well: move fast, be stealthy, and hit before the other guy did, all on an axis that ground-pounders couldn't reach. LAMs could be kinda badass in the right hands, and having one in the lance meant that you could put an eye in the sky on demand and get advance intel about what the other guys were doing. And that's what Captain Maxwell had asked me to do first. I took a deep breath and started the old machine's startup sequence.

The 400-year-old machine jolted as its old fusion reactor came online. I pulled on my neurohelmet, which was much more like a fighter helmet than normal BattleMech helmets were, and I flipped the visor down over my eyes. The weird LAM OS, which had both BattleMech readouts and aircraft readouts competing for space, came into view.

LOCKED - ENTER IDENT SEQUENCE

When I had been given the Mech, it came with instructions about a non-standard way that its now-deceased pilot had used to keep it from being booted up or accessed by outside parties. I initiated the ident system and waited for a retinal scan to complete. Once that was done, I pressed a series of what seemed like random buttons in the cockpit. Then, I waited for a chime, and when that happened, I imagined myself in the form of a raptor, swooping down from the sky.

The machine read all of this feedback from the helmet, compared it to a pattern stored in its memory, and then, its consoles lit up and a bunch of status indicators flared aglow.

"Reactor.....online. Sensors......online. Avionics.....online. Conversion system......functional. AirMech and Land options available in all combat modes. Weapons systems online. All functioning systems.......nominal." said the computer. "Recognize SCHUSTER, NICHOLAS H. Command and control functions unlocked."

"And don't you forget it." I said, and hit a button to begin the transformation process. The 'Mech lumbered and bucked, seeming to grow shorter and shorter as it folded and unfolded its structure around me to turn into a somewhat-ungainly aircraft. In about a minute, the war machine had completed its change into an AeroSpace fighter, sitting on the ground of the island, my lancemates towering over me on all sides.

"That looked pretty damn slick, Orpheus 5." said Bishop's voice over the comms. I gave a thumbs-up in the direction of his Atlas.

"Thanks, now let's just hope I can change back when the time comes." I answered.

"Orpheus 1 to Orpheus lance - is everyone ready to roll out?" Captain Maxwell's voice crackled.

"Aye sir." I replied. "I'm ready to give this thing a test."

"Then no sense in waiting around. Let's get this show on the road. Up in the air, Orpheus 5. Get above the top of the canyon and call the targets as we approach them."

"Aye sir!" I replied, and after taking a deep breath, I slapped the button for the Mech's flight engines. With a deep roar, the LAM started to rise, pushing me back in my chair as its huge mass broke free from the ground and started lifting into the sky.

"Orpheus 5, ready op and on the move!" I called out, pushing forward on the joystick and feeling the Phoenix Hawk pitch forward and start flying toward the first waypoint on the map. It was on me now.....

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"Orpheus-3 to Orpheus-1; ready op," Alyssa Chase's voice crackled, checking in on the heels of Nicholas Schuster.

"Roger that, Orpheus Lance ready status confirmed," I acknowledged, glancing at the command console before me as our MechWarriors maneuvered their steeds into a wedge formation alongside my Atlas. "Orpheus-5, at your leisure, we could use that telemetry."

"Aye, Captain, coming your way as soon as I can....uh...figure out how to keep enough hands on the wheel that you get more than just first-person video of me crashing," Schuster replied, his tone a mixture of frustration and concern.

"Are you telling me that six months in the simulator wasn't enough time for you to figure out how to walk and chew bubblegum at the same time?" I chided, pushing the assault 'Mech forward. From the gunner's seat, I heard Bishop let out a bemused snort.

"It's not that, sir, it's that the system didn't include the little detail about this thing pulling up and to the left. I think one of the thrust nozzles didn't reposition quite right when I did the while transforming deal."

As he spoke, I saw Schuster's LAM pass overhead, its stubby wings wobbling unsteadily. I drove the Atlas down the island's embankment, sending huge torrents of water surging forward from the 'Mech's ankles as it entered the river. To either side of me, Lieutenant Jaeger, Warrant Officer Chase, and Sergeant Jenkins maneuvered into formation.

According to the intelligence report laid out by Lisa Rensselaer, ahead of us lay Nav Alpha, a simple hook to the right in the river canyon. Beyond that, obscured by the rock faces towering over us, was Nav Bravo, a small garrison outpost situated around a reinforced redoubt. The waypoint reportedly served as the pirates' means to annex a section of the canyon for themselves, and it also was currently standing between us and the objective. Intelligence reports had suggested it would be lightly defended - a few assorted medium 'Mechs, a lance or two of armor, and a heavy concentration of infantry, likely equipped with little more than anti-armor and anti-personnel weaponry. An attack VTOL had also been a distinct possibility.

The nav point projected on my HUD began to flash from green to amber as our convoy cleared the two-kilometer mark. We crested a small rise in the riverbed, beyond which the temperate archipelago sprawled in all directions. A morning haze hung like a blanket across the marsh, through which the outline of the far shore could just be seen. My sensors remained silent, registering no hostiles.

"Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-5 - you got anything on your scope? How's that telemetry coming together?"

"Almost got it - got it! Ok, the feed is coming to you now," Nick responded. The small CRT display on the Atlas' command console sputtered with interference, the image gradually giving way to an in-flight visual beaming down from a camera slung under the LAM's nose. Simultaneously, the friendly signatures of our own lance winked into positions as overlays on the video, wobbling and scrolling to either side of the screen in tandem with the aircraft's movements.

"Things look pretty clear out this way," Nick added. "I'm cutting a wide arc out over the left canyon wall before I turn toward the redoubt. If it's occupied, I don't want to get taken out by some asshole with a homemade RPG launcher by flying straight over it."

"I've got nothing from here, either," Bishop growled, studying his gunner's scope. "That doesn't mean anything. How about you, Orpheus-3? You showing anything?"

Warrant Officer Chase's Raven sprinted ahead of us a few yards and then dropped to one knee. Its torso pivoted slightly from left to right as the Lyran swept her zoom window across the open waters.

"I've got nothi...wait - hold on. I've got a real fuzzy hit to the northeast! It's an aerospace spotter up on the canyon ledge! May I suggest we..."

"...break formation!" I barked, shoving the Atlas'  throttle forward and powering straight down the middle of the river. Orlex's Merlin lumbered off to the northwest, snapping off a flight of LRMs in the direction of the cliff face upon which the aerospace spotter hid, while Jenkins' Dragon veered off to the northeast. The shriek of turbojet engines being pushed to their limit filled my ears as a modified cargo VTOL tore over the eastern canyon wall, powering directly over our Atlas' 's cockpit from behind as it released eight high-yield bombs from its cargo bay. Bishop fired wildly as the VTOL pulled away, sending a phalanx of missiles and a barrage of laser fire arcing toward the retreating aircraft. I couldn't tell if he had succeeded in hitting the target, however, for moments later, the Atlas bucked drunkenly and was nearly swept from its feet as the concussive force of five of the bombs pummeled its frame.

"Ladies and gentlemen - I'd guess we've found our garrison! Let's kick the tires and light the fires!" I shouted. "Schuster, take out that aerospace spotter and then see if you can swat down the VTOL before he makes another pass!"

A murky ping on the Atlas' radar screen began sounding off in the confines of the cockpit as I struggled to get the war machine back on balance.

"Chase, I need a sitrep! What have we got inbound?" Weyland barked.

"I have bearing on eight bogeys, registering as BattleMech classification, bearing 132 degrees northeast.

"Eight? Dammit! That's more than we had expected!" I replied, shoving the Atlas into a flanking maneuver. "I need target idents! Now!"

Chase's Raven skittered into heavy underbrush on the nearby shore in an attempt to find a better scouting position. Before she had a chance to power up the 'Mech's long-range identification equipment, the sinister crack of an autocannon resounded across the battlefield, and fifteen depleted-urainium rounds glanced past my cockpit, slamming into the right arm of Sergeant Jenkins' Dragon. The pings on the radar were nearly a steady tone as the targets closed to weapons range, the lead 'Mech emerging from the morning mist and becoming recognizable in a chilling display.

"Holy shit - it's an Annihilator, Captain!" Bishop Weyland announced.

"...the fuck are they doing with that museum piece?" I marveled.

"I'm also tracking a Thug, an Orion, a Rifleman, two Condors, a Blackjack, and an Arrow IV artillery unit on a trailer!" Chase added. "I think we had the misfortune of intercepting a raiding party!"

"Well, at least our intel was right about two of them..." I grumbled. A sudden, loud squelch cut off Alyssa's voice as a new transmitter stepped onto the comm channel.

"Irian units: this Marshall Gregory Janos of the Nickel's Boys. You really had the gall to come back down here after what you did yesterday?"

I glanced over my shoulder at Bishop, wide-eyed.

"Irian?" I asked on the internal channel.

"I got no goddamned clue," Weyland replied. I toggled open the all-call radio channel as I continued to push the Atlas through evasive manuevers.

"Listen, Greg, we're not Irian, and we'd love to talk this out, but that's kind of hard to do while you're shooting at us. Why don't you - "

"Fuck you and die," Janos replied, cutting off the channel, his Annihilator  spitting out a devastating barrage of autocannon fire as he did so. The Atlas' armor was ravaged by the impacts, sparks bursting from a nearby console as at least one round scored a lucky hit.

"Time to dance, people!" I shouted into the all-call. "Call your targets and engage!"

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Black Canyon
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 7, 3029
____________________________________

My Merlin crashed through the shallow water beside Captain Maxwell's Atlas, water splashing in cascades all around the 'mech's feet as the lance made its way deeper into the river canyon. Like any battle it started out relatively peaceful and quiet and then in one moment all hell breaks loose and chaos is upon you. That moment for us came just as Alyssa was recommending we spread out as she spotted what appeared to be a spotter for aerospace assets, a recommendation that the Captain finished with urgency as a VTOL crested the canyon wall and rocketed towards us. Being on the left side of the formation I immediately drove my Merlin into a full speed run and angled away from the rest of the lance while I snapped off a flight of 5 LRMs from my launcher, dumb-fired in the general direction of where Alyssa saw the spotter. Her Raven's optics considerably improved over my own and I could only hope my aim close enough to at least rattle the spotter. The VTOL dropped a series of HE bombs as it flew past overhead at flank speed, several of the bombs managing to strike home on the Atlas and rocking its massive frame before the VTOL disappeared over the other side of the canyon, missiles and laser fire tracking after it with a zealous fervour.

No sooner had Charles managed to recover from the bomb impacts than a deadly barrage of autocannon fire tore through the canyon striking Jenkins' 'mech, I quickly brought my weapons to bear further down the canyon were several bogeys now pinged on my radar. Switching to active mode on the sensors the threat panel lit up as Alyssa called out targets as her Raven's advanced experimental electronic warfare package ID'd them at a much greater range than my own standard systems could manage. 

"Oh Fuck!" I said to myself as the lead enemy 'mech emerged from the rolling mist and solidified into the unmistakable form of an Annihilator, a 100-ton monstrosity from the past that had only recently been seen in active combat with the Wolf's Dragoons and their eclectic roster of LosTech BattleMechs.

We were in trouble, 8 confirmed contacts plus the VTOL that was sure to return and 3 of them were in the Assault class, our entire lance weighed in at 305 tons with 5 'mechs, their 5 'mechs outweighed us by 55 tons plus they had two 50 ton hover tanks, a VTOL, AND a blake-damned Arrow IV artillery unit. I almost unleashed an alpha strike on the Annihilator but it appeared that the Captain was trying to reason with our aggressors, though I had no idea why they referred to us as Irian. Aside from Bishop none of us had any connection to them that I was aware of.

"Fuck you and die," Janos replied, cutting off the channel, his Annihilator spitting out a devastating barrage of autocannon fire as he did so.

"Time to dance, people!" Charles shouted into the all-call. "Call your targets and engage!"

"Roger that, Orpheus-2 engaging the Thug," I called over the comm before unleashing a PPC and LRM-5 salvo at my chosen target. I was outclassed by the Thug in every area except maneuverability, but one on one I could trade blows with the 20 ton heavier 'mech for a respectable amount of time, provided I could spread out the damage. However I knew the Captain would be occupied with the Annihilator, he was the only one in a 'mech that could hope to truly threaten that walking turret, and I was hoping Jenkins' Dragon would be able to brawl with the Orion long enough we could work out some advantage. That left the Rifleman and Blackjack, the Rifleman was a real threat to Nick as long as he was flying around in fighter mode as the Rifleman specialized in shooting down fast aerial targets but it was extremely vulnerable to anything that got behind it. The Blackjack on the other hand was a somewhat underwhelming medium 'mech with an ill-deserved bad reputation, on its own the 'mech wasn't much of a threat but if left alone it could slowly chew through even the toughest armour and at an alarmingly far distance too.

The Thug took the bait and broke off from the others to engage my Merlin as I unleashed another PPC blast towards the assault 'mech, my heat spiking momentarily as the weapon discharged. The Thug pilot responded in kind with paired PPC blasts ripping across the canyon floor trying to connect with my 'mech, the range and evasive actions causing missed shots on both sides. The original PPC and LRM I had fired had managed to hit though and as the distance between us closed my battle computer was finally able to get a solid read on my opponent. It appeared that they were indeed returning from some sort of raid or other engagement as the Thug was already showing damage beyond what my initial salvo could have inflicted, that at least meant the playing field was more level than I had initially feared. The Thug showed signs of damage all along its right side and center torso, primarily its right leg, while its left arm showed severe armour damage, mostly due to my opening PPC shot. The computer also registered that it was a THG-10E, what was considered the standard model now but I was still thankful it didn't appear to have any LosTech like double heat sinks.

Another salvo of nearly blindingly bright PPC fire arced from the Thug's arm mounted barrels and raced towards me, one of the shots slamming my left arm and melting over half a ton of armour to slag almost instantly. I returned fire with the LRMs and PPCs, continuing to angle my 'mech away from the rest of the group while trying to maintain as much distance as I could from the Thug. If I could keep it at long range the pilot would be forced to alternate fire between each PPC or risk shutting down due to its limited heat capacity while I could stay outside of its SRM-4 range but still engage with my own PPC and LRM-5, it would result in a longer drawn out battle but it was one that I had a chance of winning. The small rain of missiles peppered the Thug's weakened left arm while the PPC went wide and struck the 'mech's right arm plunging the HTAL readout for my target's arm deep into the red. The relatively lucky hit seemed to anger the pirate beyond reason and he struck out with a wild alpha strike despite being well outside the range of half of his weapons. Only a single PPC struck home but it hit me dead centre and rocked the Merlin as waves energy arced across the exterior of my 'mech while it dissipated the extreme energy of the PPC bolt. The other PPC went wide striking the far canyon wall with little effect while the SRMs spread out wildly and fell way short of reaching my 'mech as I continued to run Northwest at flank speed. I cut back hard towards the Thug suddenly, hoping that my mental calculations were correct and the Thug was close to redlining now, and unleashed yet another salvo of PPC and LRM fire; the comparatively reduced heat output of my own weapons meaning I was still nice and cool. The LRMs went wide this time, the sudden change in momentum throwing off their targeting as they exploded harmlessly in the shallow water of the river while the PPC struck the Thug's left torso, arcs of high energy particles savaging what had previously been undamaged armour. My gamble paid off though and the Thug's high heat made the pilot miss with the single PPC he fired at my now charging 'mech, I didn't have long to take advantage though as we closed rapidly to within 270m and could each bring our shorter ranged weapons to bear. With my lower overall heat, and planning of the maneuver, I fired my twin medium lasers first scoring two direct hits, one center torso to limited effect but the other managed to hit the Thug square in the head as it hunched forward looking to meet my charge. The assault 'mech was able to weather the barrage with ease but it's head was now showing a bright red outline on my estimated damage display. The pirate returned fire with it's twin torso mounted SRM-4s, the shotgun style blast of missiles flaring out of the 'mech's chest cavities and somehow streaking to either side of my Merlin without a single strike, the shot to the head must have thrown off the pirate's aim.

The Thug's pilot continued charging towards me, and I towards him, as he dropped the arms out wide preparing to grapple with my 'mech as I closed to melee range, except I had no intention of engaging the Thug in a melee. Aside from the fact that he outweighed me by 20 tons, the Thug also had full arm and hand actuators giving it a distinct advantage in a brawl over my Merlin's complete lack of hands. Instead I punched the jump jets on my Merlin just as I reached about 60m from the Thug and I soared into the air while firing both medium lasers again, managing to strike center and left torso on the surprised Thug. As I sailed over the Thug the pilot valiantly tried to track and fire his SRM-4s again, the PPCs being well within their minimum range, and managed to land only two missiles on the right side of my 'mech. As I passed overhead I opened fire with the twin rapid fire machine guns in my Merlin's left torso, the high caliber ripping out in a stream of deadly fire as the modified MGs raked across the Thug'sleft side and head. Turning as I landed on the far side of enemy 'mech I quickly threw the 'mech into reverse trying to get outside the minimum range of my PPC before the Thug had a chance to turn around, the fact that the surprised pirate was still charging forward helped immensely. As soon as I cleared the 90m minimum range I unloaded the PPC and both medium lasers, sweating as the heat spiked to dangerous levels in my 'mech, the combined weapons fire ripping deep into the 'mechs thin rear armour. The PPC melted virtually every last shred of armour on the left rear torso while the medium lasers melted respectable amounts of armour on both arms, the left arm actually taking internal damage according to the computer. The pirate quickly slowed down began turning the 'mech to its right, favouring the damaged left side while he attempted to bring me back into the Thug's firing arcs, an aspect I had actually forgotten about initially, the Thug completely lacked any ability to torso twist, meaning if I was quick I might be able to stay behind the 80 ton assault 'mech and be safe from any return fire. I throttled forward again and began circling around the 'mech towards its rear again, a deadly strafing match ensued where the loser was likely to lose their 'mech if not their life. I closed the gap with the Thug forgoing the use of my PPC in an effort to ensure he also couldn't use his and to use my greater mobility to a larger effect. I continued to fire my lasers as heat allowed and intersperced the high energy coherent beams of light with short, high intensity bursts of rapid machine gun fire, ripping through literal tons of armour on the now disadvantaged Thug. After several rounds of laser and machine gun fire the Thug was badly damaged with its entire right arm destroyed and hanging limply at its side, the scrapped internals barely managed to hang on to the few shreds of the shoulder actuator that were still present.

The pirate decided to try and break away from the circle of death we were engaged in and turned hard to his left while slamming the 'mech into a full speed run, he managed to put some distance between us but due to the limited speed of the Thug I was able to stick to his rear arc, though now on his left side. Another round of laser fire and rapid fire machine guns and the now stricken [/i]Thug's[/i] left arm was shorn clean off at the shoulder, its PPC destroyed by critical damage and the torso mounted SRM-4 also getting chewed to pieces by streams of deadly FMJ 12.7mm (0.50 cal) rounds penetrating deep into the 'mech's exposed internals. A surprisingly well aimed blast of twin blue tinted lasers landed glancing blows on my Merlin's left side, drawing me off from the nearly crippled Thug as I was forced to face the new threat or leave them to potentially rip into my rear armour with reckless abandon. After checking to see the status on the Thug and confirming that the pirate was indeed attempting to withdraw from combat and not circle back to attack me again, in fact the Thug still had its back to me as it ran back towards their redoubt at full throttle, only having a single SRM-4 as its only functional weapon meant it wasn't much of a serious threat anyways and clearly the pirate was more interested in keeping his 'mech in a salvageable state than fighting to the death. With the Thug essentially removed from the fight I turned my attention to the rest of the enemy units to find who had taken a few pot shots at me, or any who looked like a good target of opportunity.

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Previously...

Oberon VI
Oberon System, Oberon Confederation
October 3, 3029
__________________________________

The world seemed to flash brightly in front of my eyes before everything solidified again and I knew the jump had completed. Once again the world was awash in vivid colours, like stepping outside into a bright sunny day after spending hours in a dark basement, and visually everything appeared normal but it was dead silent. Then, almost before my brain could even process the lack of audio, sound rushed back in like a crashing wave as all the big and small sounds of a running dropship seemed to flood over me at once. It was like this every time, I could visually tell that the jump had been completed but there was always a moment were everything was silent, the kind of dead silence that is just impossible to have on a spaceship that is running, the kind of silence you can only get in the utter cold vacuum of space itself. Yet again, like every other time, by the time I actually process that there is no sound it all comes back, almost as though my acknowledgement of the lack of sound causes sound itself to return to existence or something. The scientists and engineers all say that a jump is instantaneous to those aboard, that the passing of time and the jump itself is imperceptible to human senses inside the K-F field, and yet nearly everyone gets some form of mild nausea or dizziness from a jump. Others get full blown TDS to varying degrees, we have recordings both internal and external that prove a jump is not instantaneous, and I doubt I'm the only person that experiences some form of altered awareness during a jump. I'd never tell that to a physician though, it doesn't bother me and I would never risk my career as an Aerospace Fighter pilot because I'm curious why I don't hear anything after a hyperspace jump.

The weightless environment of the relatively motionless jumpship allowed me to quickly disengage from my jump seat and make my way through the Kirishima, a Gaajian-class dropship, to the ready room. Despite the ship essentially being loaned to me to do my bidding for the duration of my current bounty hunter contract I still was rarely permitted on the bridge, the Captain of the vessel was surly prick whom I hardly got along with and who clearly was put off that he had been given this assignment. Instead most of our meetings were relegated to the either the ready room or occasionally the hangar when the Captain was feeling particularly surly. Today though I wasn't meeting with the Captain, he was up on the bridge and directing our departure from the Scout-class jumpship which had also been assigned to the Kirishima, and by extension myself, for the duration of this mission, despite the astronomical cost involved. All this was being paid for by my employer, the Governor of the Draconis Combine planet "Capra", who seemed to really have it out for my target and was willing to go to any lengths to have them retrieved. Instead of the Captain though today I was meeting up with Link, a sensor operator aboard the Kirishima who also acted as my liason and had become a relatively close friend, along with an intel officer whom I was supposed to be going over our next steps with. 

Arriving at the ready room I had just enough time to grab a seat before the Captain's voice filtered over the inter-ship comm, "Attention all hands, Attention all hands! We will be departing from the jumpship in 15 minutes, secure any loose materials and prepare for acceleration. As discussed this will be a hard burn, once underway we'll be maintaining 2Gs for the next 3 days until we arrive at Oberon VI. I repeat..."

After his announcement the comm speaker squabbled with static before popping and turning off and the three of us present looked over towards it almost in anticipation of some smoke or other sign of internal failure but there was nothing.

"Probably should get that looked at," said Lindsay, the Intel officer I was meeting with.

"Meh, we could submit a maintenance ticket but it'll just get lost amongst all the others. Besides Lindsay, you know they'd just say 'It's in the schedule', the whole T minus 6 thing. 6 what? Days, weeks, months?" chuckled Link as he began to collect an assortment of loose datapads floating above the ready room's table.

"Yeah and when a tech eventually gets around to actually looking at it, they'll just end up saying the thing works fine, or they 'fixed it' already," I added as I moved to assist Link with the datapad collection.

"True enough," replied Lindsay.

The three of us sat down and strapped ourselves into the seats before starting our quick mission brief about what our plan was now that we had supposedly caught up to our quarry. Between the data retrieved on Vega and some more digging through the HPG network we had managed to determine that Aegis Division was indeed onboard the Hurry Up Bessie under contract from the Crayven Corporation but we still hadn't managed to discover what that contract was, although those particular details did not really matter in regards to apprehending my target. We had also managed to dig up that the Hurry Up Bessie was apparently under contract with Stormvanger Heavy Industries, a suspected shell company, to pick up materials on Oberon VI. Knowing where my target was heading had meant we were able to shave a small amount of time off of our pursuit and the use of well documented pirate jump point located at the L4 Lagrange point between Oberon VI and its star meant we saved ourselves nearly 10 days of in system travel time compared with jumping to one of the standard Nadir or Zenith jump points. Now our plan was to do a hard burn to the planet to save additional time and hopefully get me planetside before Aegis Division disappeared on whatever mission they had. In order to help facilitate that I would be launching in Raijin, my customized Lightning LTN-G15X aerospace fighter, around 400,000 km [250,000 miles] (about 16,000 km [10,000 miles] further away than Terra's moon) before we reached Oberon VI. Since the dropship will still be decelerating at that point I would be launching at a speed of around 125 km/s [78 miles/s], in order to slow down enough to safely enter Oberon's atmosphere my Lightning would be required to carry several external fuel tanks, 5 to be precise, in order to have enough fuel for the deceleration maneuver. In addition I wanted to have extra fuel for an extended duration search on the planet itself while still having some extra ordnance if needed so in all the Raijin would be fully loaded on its external hardpoints with 7 fuel tanks, 2 inferno bombs, and 1 cluster bomb. Disposable, ablative heat shields would be used to protect the bombs and remaining 2 fuel tanks during reentry and I would be making planetfall roughly 500 km away from Port Royale, Oberon's capital and likely landing place of the Hurry Up Bessie. The plan seemed solid and would give me the best chance of arriving on Oberon VI undetected and in a timely manner as it was likely that the Kirishima would be delayed in its landing since the Oberon Militia was likely to have detected our arrival at the L4 Lagrange point and would intercept the dropship before it could land. Arranging for the Kirishima to make planetfall itself was solely on the Captain and, providing they could at least stay in system, was not actually required for me to accomplish my mission. We continued to work out the specifics on my insertion as the dropship undocked from the jumpship and fired up its large transit drive, beginning the uncomfortable 3 day long journey at 2Gs heading towards the planet.

A little over 3 days later ....

The Raijin decoupled smoothly from the modified docking bay aboard the Kirishima and glided out into open space, at roughly 400,000 km [250,000 miles] it was still outside any significant gravitational influence from the planet meaning the aerospace fighter simply maintained its initial speed, which my HUD currently showed as 124 km/s [77 miles/s], while the Kirishima itself continued to decelerate at a mildly aggressive 2Gs. It would take me the better part of an hour to traverse the remaining distance to Oberon VI with the engines firing at maximum safe thrust for the final 10 minutes in order to slow down enough to avoid simply burning up in the planet's atmosphere. Aside from the briefest use of attitude thrusters I wanted to avoid any major engine usage until the last possible minute to aid in avoiding detection, during the final deceleration burn I could adjust my fighter's approach as needed to ensure I arrived planetside where I wanted to be.

53 minutes later ...

I jettisoned the 5 spent fuel tanks moments before hitting the planet's upper atmosphere, I could immediately feel the increasing drag over the control surfaces as the fighter plunged towards the planet only slightly below standard reentry speeds. As the atmosphere thickened the craft's exterior began heating up as the air became superheated around the aerospace fighter, the shell of super hot plasma forming over the leading edges of the craft and the ablative heat shields actually providing an insulating effect against the worst of the reentry heat. Another few minutes later and the Raijin broke through the superheated plasma shell as it slowed enough to stop superheating the air, leaving the remnants of what looked to be a fireball quickly dissipating in the sky above me. The now mostly burnt up heat shielding used to protect my external stores fell away as I triggered their release and the aerospace fighter transitioned smoothly to full atmospheric flight. I plunged the craft lower into the atmosphere until I could get a reliably accurate read on the ground with my sensors and began a grid pattern search heading towards Port Royale looking for any signs of Aegis Division's BattleMechs, which we assumed they had brought aboard the Hurry Up Bessie, specifically for my target's personal 'mech.

Somewhere nearby, roughly 5 minutes before...

"Remind me why we're out here Simon?" asked Tony over his wingman's private comm channel.

"You know why Tony, we're here monitoring for signs of illegal pirate activity. Despite the fact that 6 months ago we were technically illegal pirates ourselves," replied Simon from the cockpit of his Angel Owl II Light Strike Fighter, a small 10 ton conventional fighter armed with a medium laser and twin small lasers.

"Not that, I know what we're doing, I'm asking why we're doing it," responded Tony with boredom in his voice from the cockpit of his own Angel Owl II.

"What? Don't you remember? You beat the Lieutenant at cards again, AND bragged about it for the next two days," stated Simon, "I can hardly blame him for giving you patrol duty. I should be the one upset about getting stuck out here since the only reason I'm here is because of you. If you weren't my wingman I'd be sitting pretty back at base with dame or two feeding me grapes or something."

"Ha, in your dreams Simon," shot back Tony with a chuckle, "you know you haven't got any game with the ladies. There's a reason you're MY wingman, both in the air and on the ground."

"Yeah yeah, whatever. Coming from the guy that couldn't even land a call girl last week..."

"Hold up Simon," cut in Tony, "What the hell is that? 10-o'clock, looks like a Blake-damned meteor. You seeing this?"

After a short pause while Simon looked where Tony was indicating he replied, "Yeah I am seeing it, but I don't think it's a meteor, angles too steep."

"I guess, I don't know, whatever it is I doubt it'll survive," began Tony.

The red and orange streak plummeted through the clouds in a rapid descent, it was hard to tell from this distance but it almost appeared to be slowing down. Suddenly the fireball seemed to burst open from within and quickly dissipated leaving a small dark streak that was clearly flying and heading lower towards the ground.

"Son of bitch!" exclaimed Simon as he checked his sensor readouts, "that's a damn aerospace fighter. Has to be. We gotta call this in Tony."

"Yeah, shit I was hoping for a boring day too," said Tony as he toggled his comms over to the base channel.

The two fighters continued flying on their current path, almost parallel to the aerospace fighters, while Tony called in the sighting to base. They must have received orders to investigate and/or pursue the unknown craft as the two delta wing shaped conventional fighters altered course and seemed to reluctantly engage their after burners heading on an intercept course towards the new arrival.

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My sensor board lit up with hostile contacts moments after I went airborne. As the LAM tore over the canyon, I could see, from my vantage point, a huge number of twists and turns in the gulch, the first one being the bend just head of us. There, a jumbled group of Mechs, some tanks, and a missile boat on a trailer were winding their way back from what I assumed was a raiding mission. There were assorted flatbeds accompanying them with what looked like various crates of contraband and other, probably pilfered goods, and they were all headed back behind the lines of a small fortification blocking further progress along the river. I started to call the targets on my radio, but just as I did, I saw four or five dull flashes of light against the horizion. "What the fu....." I started to ask, but my words trailed off as I realize that there were just as many fireballs starting to accompany the flashes of light, and they were arcing skyward before beginning a descent into the canyon right where our group was.

"Oh shit!" I called out and hit the switch on the comm unit.

"Orpheus 5 to all units, there's an artillery piece up on the canyon wall, and it's got our number! There's also a large - "

My words were cut off again as a blinding flash of coherent energy glanced past my cockpit. The LAM's ancient targeting system lit up and pegged the source of the weapons fire - a Rifleman, down in the group of Mechs, had spotted me and was trying to make shore work of my vulerabile situation. I quickly torqued the control sticks hard to port and sent my Phoenix Hawk into a sharp, sideways descent.

"Warning: pull up. Warning: terrain. Warning: pull up. Warning: terrain." my avionics computer cautioned.

"I know, I suck at flying." I grumbled back. "But this is the only way we're not gonna die."

The g-forces sheared hard on me, my breathing becoming labored and my vision starting to black out. I hadn't expected that my first few minutes in the actual LAM would consist of me trying not to die, but here we were. I guessed trial by fire was the best way to learn.

Another blistering blast of energy rocketed past, almost clipping my wing. The Rifleman was tenacious and its pilot a good aim. I shoved the stick over further, and the LAM turned into a clumsy, slow barrel roll. As it did so, I pushed the sticks upward, forcing the nose over and into a hard, inverted turn. The Rifleman swung into view, and I cut loose with every weapon that the LAM could bring to bear on it. I was pretty sure that none of my weapons hit, but that wasn't the point as much as scaring the other pilot was. I rocketed over the (hopefully) momentarily dazed Rifleman pilot and straight toward the artillery piece set up on the hill. It was a sitting duck, no defenders around it, and no real way to do anything about a Land-Air Mech, which worked to my advantage. I set my sights on it and opened fire with a savage barrage. Most of the hits landed true, and the vehicle exploded in short order with a satisfying orange mushroom cloud.

"Warning: missile lock. Warning: pull up." the computer warned again as my glidescope fell below the horizon set point and a hard missile lock registered on the Mech's sensors. It was an insane balancing act, trying to handle the thing like an aircraft while simultaneously dealing with the rigors of Mech based combat. Two totally different schools of competency. 

Suddenly, a VTOL whipped past my cockpit, loosing a series of black objects from its cargo hold. The next thing I knew, several of the objects detonated violently down in the canyon below, savaging Captain Maxwell's Atlas in the process. The chopper started to turn back toward the fortification from where it had come, probably to reload. I wasn't going to let that happen. I pushed hard on the controls of the LAM and surged forward in pursuit, strafing the VTOL with everything I could bring to bear until one of the shots hit the chopper's back blade. The propeller exploded apart spectacularly, sending the helicopter corkscrewing down into the canyon below, where it exploded in a spectacular fireball. Another blast of weapons fire glanced past my LAM, this time projectile weapons, and I felt the devastating impact of autocannon fire hit somewhere near the Mech's rear quarter. Damage indicators glowed orange, and I realized that the Rifleman was getting better with his shots. It was time to take him out, but I wasn't gonna be able to do that as an aircraft. I'd have to risk a conversion mid battle.

Scoping out a landing site a safe distance from the canyon ledge, I set down and initiated the conversion. It felt like it proceeded in an excruciatingly slow manner. Fortuntely, the process completed, and I was soon lumbering along at nearly 87 KPH toward the edge of the cliff. As soon as I reached it, I fired the Mech's jump jets and soared over the edge, soon landing with a violent impact directly behind the Rifleman. As the startled pilot began to wheel his BattleMech around, I took aim,  and opened fire.....

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I'd seen situations deteriorate quickly over the course of my career; however, this particular situation had gone to shit in record time. Whether it was dumb luck that we'd come across a heavy pirate patrol on their return from a raid, or if the scenario had somehow been timed to coincide with our deployment, I couldn't say, but we were now facing down an eclectic assortment of hardware that was more than a match for our own. And that included a 100-ton walking turret from the distant past of the Inner Sphere. 

The ANH-2A Annihilator, originally developed by the Star League in Exile in the final year of the Amaris Civil War, was intended as the ultimate fixed position city defense BattleMech. At its scale, the 'Mech was ponderously slow, boasting a maximum speed of 32.4 km/h. However, it didn't need speed to outclass its enemies. Instead, its twelve and a half tons of armor, four LB-X Autocannon/10s, and four Medium Pulse Lasers ensured that the war machine could withstand any assault thrown at it while simultaneously being able to deliver a devastating reply. The monstrosity was an avatar of death that instilled concern in me even as I sat at the controls of an Atlas intended to be the ultimate argument of generals. This fight would likely come down to who could land the most hits in the shortest amount of time.

"Weyland - have you got a shooting solution on that thing?" I asked, shoving the Atlas into as fast a run as it could muster, while twisting its torso back to keep the Annihilator in its sights. "I'm going to try to get into its rear arc, but don't wait for that to happen if you can hit him now."

"Yes, Captain, I've got a bead on him," Weyland responded. "I'm gonna light him up now."

"Roger that, fire at will," I responded. Seconds later, a massive salvo of Autocannon/20, LRM-20, SRM-6, and Medium Lasers exploded forth from our Atlas. A warning klaxon sounded off, the war machine's heat levels surging. As the rounds arced across the battlefield, an orange flash caught my eye, and I glanced up to see the bomb-delivering VTOL aflame and spiraling toward the earth.

"Scratch one VTOL," Schuster's voice crackled in my headset. "I'm gonna convert to 'Mech mode and see what I can do about that Rifleman."

"Nice shooting, Orpheus-5. Be careful," I replied.

The Annihilator bucked and stumbled under the impact of the weapons fire cut loose by Weyland. Simultaneously, the Thug that had been marauding toward us was ripped open by Orlex Jaeger's Merlin. The two BattleMechs broke away from the main body of the engagement to grapple with one another as Steve Jenkins drew the attention of the Blackjack. The Annihilator swung its heavy guns toward us and snapped off 40 blistering depleted-uranium rounds that smashed into our Atlas' right arm. Damage indicators wailed and flared alight with orange and red indicators, while the armor percentages remaining on the right torso of the machine dropped substantially.

"Goddamn it, that guy hits hard," I grumbled. "Let's see if we can knock his arms out."

With a thunderous concussion, our Atlas' ultra autocannon discharged, hurtling supersonic rounds directly into the upper shoulder of the oncoming Annihilator. The assault 'Mech staggered backward, raking our ferroglass canopy with a hail of tracer rounds and leaving pockmarks in the Atlas' prominent head. Weyland took advantage of the Annihilator's momentary loss of balance, firing a lethal Alpha Strike into the 'Mech's right arm, reducing the appendage's actuator to little more than a puddle of molten slag, and leaving its precious inner workings exposed. Our overheat alarm sounded again; I quickly vented a quarter-tank of coolant to ward off the impending automatic shutdown.

The Annihilator's pilot began backing his war machine away from our own as I steered us into the fabled Circle of Death, a maneuver designed to allow a maximum spread of damage to be dealt to a target while keeping the attacker protected from return fire. The Annihilator unleashed another combination of autocannon and laser fire in our general direction, but the shots flew wide, their gunner having miscalculated the lead required to successfully land the hits on a moving target. Bishop replied with another cataclysmic autocannon barrage, tearing an ugly gash across the monstrous 'Mech's chest, into which poured a volley of LRM-20s. Multiple sections of armor were blown away as the missiles found their marks, and myriad circuitry, wiring, and hydraulics hung loose from the wounded BattleMech, smoke rising from the gutted entrails. The Annihilator  retaliated with an angry Alpha Strike of its own, and I cringed as an assortment of coherent light and ballistic fire smashed through the Atlas' left flank, narrowly missing several of our weapons banks as it ripped through the humanoid 'Mech's lower torso.

"Critical hit: heat sink," announced the Atlas' battle computer, in a detached tone that was as devoid of emotion as the programmer who lent her voice to the recording. As if on queue, the heat readout painted on my HUD spiked moderately, before reluctantly dropping into the green once more.

"Damnit!" I exclaimed to no one in particular. We couldn't afford to loose the few heat sinks that the Atlas possessed - as it was, the loadout we were carrying was fairly inadequate for the loadout we carried, and the loss of even a single unit would put our 'Mech, and our lives, at increased risk.

I snapped the Atlas' torso hard over, drawing a solid bead on the hole that Bishop had torn in its torso. The pirate pilot wasn't stupid - he appreciated the risks associated with such critical damage as much as I did, and so attempted to obstruct my line of sight with a series of complex maneuvers that placed the 'Mech's good side directly between the damage and the business end of our gun ports.

"Lieutenant Weyland - let's see if we can put this guy down. Think you can sink another shot on that same location?"

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A HUGE amount of explosions happened as the Orion hit me with total warfare, I screamed a womanly scream and then got embarassed because of my Outburst. I really quickly changed me scream down to a manly scream and then opened fire with all of my guns as I pushed the DRAGON backwa0rds. The Origin shot all kinds of weapons at me and came at me in a really agressive way. "You dishonorable DOG!!!" I Screamed at the same time that Captain Maxwell's Atlas got ripped open by the Anihillator. The mighty Orion was no match for HAGAKURE. I used the rocky landscape to my advantage, and continued trigger slapping. Hiding behind a local mound, I locked my legs. The pissed off Orion came closer to me, and I readdied my jump jets. My 'mech was about to kick the Kuritan pilot in the face.

I shot off a chunk of rock, and dust built up around my legs.

"3... 2... 1... NOW!" I shouted, forcing my thumb down on the button.

HAGAKURE responded by throwing itself off the ground, siding the torso of its "pal".
The top heavy 'mech was smashed towards the floor.

Using what was left of my fuel, I centered myself above the cockpit of the idiot. I could almost feel bad for the guy. I could see his face. I could see him crumbling in fear.

"Your transportation to the floor, provided by Steve Jekins!"

I decided to mingle above him with my remaining fuel, just to toy with him. The guage went empty. The drop seemed like some crazy thrill ride.

"Death from above!" I shouted, and the 60 ton beast fell from the sky, crushing the cockpit and torso immediatly.

"Orpheus 4 to Orpheus Lance, anybody want some Outworlds  roadkill? I heard it makes great in stew."

I rounded the rock again, towards the gorge we had went into near the base. My mood had completely changed when I saw the wall. I came just in time to witness 2 bad guy 'mechs slam into each other, creating a superfusion explosion. I must admit, I've never seen an explosion that big...

I eased my reticle onto the unsispecting Blackjack, as I prepaired my missile launcher my beast screamed out affirmations of ammo.

"Ammunition loaded. Proceed firing."

I slowed my 'mech to give it time. The seemingly musical tones of the target lock prompted me to begin.

Immedatly, hot lashes of metal catapulted towards the target. I aimed for the legs. It was perfect. My lancemates had already engaged, and I pulled up my throttle. A deadly explosion shook the Blacjack and It and it's Tank friends turned towards me immediately. They both prepped their weapons, and the tank opened up.

"Let's go, you bastards!

I slammed the trottle upwards, engaged my Guns, and started trigger-slapping my way to hell.

"Orpheus 4 reports one target down. How are the rest of you guys holding up?"

"Orpheus 4? Where are you! Get on this damn Blackjack! I can't hold 'em both!"

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