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I sat, surveying the river gorge and the parked BattleMechs of Aegis Division with detached patience. I didn't expect anything to happen, nor did I really wish it - I just wanted to be sure that if anything threw off our perception of the OpFor while I was here, I made sure to make a note of it and pass it along to the decision makers.

Suddenly, Steve Jenkins' Dragon flared to life on my radar, its reactor going from bluish-cold on my thermal scope to white hot. I double-checked the operational overview to ensure that I hadn't missed anything. They were supposed to be up at the colony. Steve definitely wasn't scheduled to be here. Yet, here he was, powering up, and I had no idea why.

"Radar to Dionysus - please advise status," I requested. There came no response. The Dragon rose unsteadily, then started waddling toward the river.

"Radar to Dionysus - please advise your status." SIlence.

"Radar to Orpheus-1 - be advised, Dinoysus is moving out toward objective unknown, but I think he must be having a radio problem. I can't raise him on the channel. Can you please advise our operational status?"

After a brief pause, Captain Maxwell replied, foregoing codenames in his incredulity.

"Chase, what the hell are you talking about? Jenkins is right here with us."

I balked at the reply, watching the Dragon waddle unsteadily away.

"In that case, Captain, we have a problem. I'm watching Dionysus' 'Mech leave without us. And I'm in a Raven. Not exactly outfit with the firepower to stop it."

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I slumped down in the tiny patch of shade at the base of a boulder, and held my jacket over my head to keep the sun off. I’d gave up on wearing the helmet and clipped it on my belt instead a ways back

Black Canyon Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation October 7, 3029 ____________________________________ "Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-2 and Orpheus-5 - it looks like we've got some double trouble up ahe

PART DEUX....  "Well I DON'T want to get Fines and low credit scores for doing Atrocities like ripping out teeth, go ahead and do what you need to do Steve, just don't melt his brain." Said CPT M

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"In that case, Captain, we have a problem. I'm watching Dionysus' 'Mech leave without us. And I'm in a Raven. Not exactly outfit with the firepower to stop it."

I stared, wide-eyed, at Octavia, Orlex, and Steve as the words came across the channel. 

"Sergeant Jenkins," I asked, slowly, "did you lock out your BattleMech?" 

"Well, I might have forgot at the same time I forgot my guns. It was all a blur on account of my battle injuries," Steve replied with a shrug. I swore silently. 

"Do what you can, Chase. Try to jam them, hack them - whatever you need to do, but do not engage. I don't want to lose you or that Raven. We're on our way," I radioed. 

"Aye, Captain. I'll keep you posted." 

"Seems like you're having a hell of a day. What can we do to help?" Octavia asked, eliciting a stare from Johnny. 

"Saddle up your 'Mechs and meet us outside the cave as soon as you're ready. I've got a hunch about where we can get the location of the pirate stronghold, given that our most promising lead is now...indisposed. After my team gets this shitshow with the Dragon sorted out, we'll head for the redoubt," I replied, tossing the spent end of the Yak 42 on the pavement and stomping it out with my boot. 

"Sounds like a plan. Have fun with your 'Mechjacker," Johnny quipped. I cast him an exasperated eye roll in reply. 

"Jaeger, Jenkins, Weyland, Schuster - let's get back to the shoreline!" I barked, taking off in a hard run for the forest... 

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I wiped my mouth on my sleeve. Still felt just as sick to my stomach as a minute ago, but there was nothing left to keep down, now. Dead guys and sewage and an unconfigured neuro helmet making the mech feel like a mechanical bull ride was just too much.

 

I’d missed some kind of radio message, too. I frantically checked the control panels for a mic, and found a bunch of mystery toggles, some fancier versions of displays I recognized from the Flea and some that it didn’t even have, and a button that played ancient rock music over top of the screaming metal music, but no mic - and no way to turn off the death metal. Then I checked the armrests and sides of the chair, and stuck my hand in a cupholder half-full of nasty smelling booze but didn’t find any buttons. Then, finally, I found the mic button built into the helmet, which I would’ve appreciated the practicality of if I wasn’t panicking and pissed off about my response being delayed so suspiciously long. Better late than never, though.

 

“Ranger, this is, um, Dinosaurus. Just got word from the boss, he needs me for another job.”

 

“What job is that, Dionysus?” a woman’s voice replied.

 

“He said it’s… need to know?”

 

“Uh, huh,” she said. I checked the tactical map; my mech was running at nearly top speed, and she was still gaining on me. “Look, we both know you’re not supposed to be in there. I’ve radioed my unit, and they’re coming to apprehend you.” I tried to push the mech to go faster. It felt like it was stumbling around like a tweaker trying to go for a jog, but the display showed it going in a mostly-straight line. “If you surrender now, and tell me who you’re working for, I’ll  make sure my more battle-hardened colleagues leave you in one piece.”

 

Keeping all my parts on was a good start, but I really needed that and a mech. I considered stopping so I could switch to the Thermo Man helmet and try to disable the other mech, but even if I had enough juice to mess with something that big, it would require getting really close in giant-war-machine terms. And my laser probably wouldn’t work through the cockpit’s heat-shielded glass, anyway.

 

The mech lurched, and the displays winked out. The screaming speakers suddenly went silent, too.

 

When everything came back up a moment later, warning messages were plastered all over, like “communications unavailable” and “electrical fault detected” and “targeting system inoperative”.

 

So, shooting the other mech in the foot and hoping it didn’t retaliate was out. But maybe I could still do something about the inactive mechs, without provoking the lady chasing me.

 

I stopped, pivoted the mech’s torso, and then doubled over clutching my stomach because everything kept spinning around me and I definitely would have lost my cookies if I’d had any left to lose. When I could sit up again, I manually targeted the cliff face behind the group of parked mechs and mashed the row of six buttons that this mech’s usual pilot had helpfully labeled with stickers of bullets with angry faces on them.

 

I turned forward again, more slowly this time, and kept running. The other mech was nearly on top of me now. There was supposed to be a rockslide. I didn’t hear a rockslide. I really, really hoped that was just because the mech had good soundproofing.

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

"Jaeger, Jenkins, Weyland, Schuster - let's get back to the shoreline!" Charles barked, taking off in a hard run for the forest.

The rest of us quickly fell in behind the Captain as we made our way back towards the edge of the village, from our higher up vantage point we could see what appeared to be a second path heading down to the canyon floor which would bypass the need to traverse through the cave again. Plus this path wasn't nearly as hidden as the other one since we could make it out, if faintly, looking down from above most of the trees, which was good because we were running flat out and didn't have time to carefully trace a hidden trail through dense forest. We still had to watch our footing, and the currently gentle downward slope added just enough trouble that we couldn't full on sprint, not that any of us besides Bishop and possibly Schuster would be able to keep that up. Bishop also was easily outpacing us, his longer strides and enhanced speed meant he could cover more ground faster than anyone else on the team, plus I don't think he'd had an opportunity yet to fully test out how fast he could go. The limited space on the dropship and lack of free time planet side meant he probably hadn't been able to really get out and test his limits yet, but this was the perfect opportunity. At first it was simply his longer strides that was letting Bishop gain distance on the rest of us but soon his enhanced strength and speed boosted the gap between us even further as he grew comfortable with his own capabilities and his enhanced endurance began outpacing even the most physically fit of the rest of the team. By the time we reached the canyon floor, several minutes later, Bishop was several hundred meters ahead of us and already climbing up into the powered down Atlas as we were just clearing the woods and reaching level ground.

Everyone else in the team was gassed from the hard run, some more than others, myself included, and while my muscles weren't exhausted yet I was very much out of breath. The 6 months on the dropship with limited exercise were showing their effects quite prominently. A quick scan of the river bed showed no other 'mechs to be seen, more importantly neither the Dragon nor the Raven were visible from our current location. The team made their way over to our remaining 'mechs as quickly as possible, climbed in and started them up. Bishop already had the Atlas powered up by the time we reached him so as soon as Maxwell climbed aboard and into his chair the 'mech moved away from the others and turned around slowly, as though looking for the missing 'mechs. Reaching the Merlin I climbed up on the boarding ladder and got halfway up before stopping and looking back towards the ground.

I had momentarily forgotten that it was Steve's 'mech that was stolen and so he didn't actually have a ride yet, with the Atlas already full with both Charles and Bishop aboard that left either the relatively diminutive cockpit of the LAM, which would work but would not have been comfortable for anyone, or my comparatively spacious Merlin. While the Merlin didn't have a full rumble seat like some 'mechs did, it at least was large enough for two people to comfortably fit inside the cockpit and it did have a small fold-down seat on the back wall that could serve in a pinch.

"Jenkins, you're with me!" I shouted down towards Steve who was looking somewhat sullenly between my Merlin and Nick's Phoenix Hawk LAM.

"Right on!" he shouted back with a smile and ran over to the ladder, jumping on before I had a chance to finish boarding myself and causing the free hanging ladder to swing uncontrollably.

With more effort that typically required I managed to climb the last few meters to the cockpit despite the swaying ladder and was joined moments later by Steve Jenkins inside.

"Thanks man, you're the best," said Jenkins, still with a giant grin on his face, "thought I was going to have to walk for a minute there."

"Don't mention it, we weren't going to leave you behind," I replied as I settled into the command chair and strapped myself in, donning the combat neurohelmet and powering up the 'mech, "Better get strapped in back there, she may be new but Bastion can still be a pretty rough ride if I push her."

"That's what she said," giggled Jenkins from behind me.

Shaking my head I finished the startup sequence and watched as the HUD sprang to life, a mixture of holograms projected directly onto the canopy glass and the more traditional displays shown inside the neurohelmet visor itself. I had barely taken a few steps in the 'mech, and just started to turn around to join Maxwell's Atlas, now facing back the way we had originally come and slowly walking that direction, when I heard Steve pipe up behind me.

"You got any tunes in this beast? Can't go into battle without tunes."

"Not currently no, I'm not opposed to tunes just hadn't thought of it," I replied as we made our way to join up with Maxwell and Bishop, I noted Schuster's LAM was also powered up and moving into position on my flank.

"No worries, I got us covered," said Jenkins amidst the sound of rummaging, Blake knows where.

A moment later I heard the distinctive click of a push button on some type of media player before the sounds of what was once called "Power Metal" back on ancient Terra resounded through the cockpit of my 'mech, somehow drowning out the sounds of the reactor and even the 'mech's footfalls despite coming from a presumably small player that Jenkins had been carrying on his person. "Far from their land as they made their stand, They stood strong and the legend still lives on" the lyrics echoed within the confines of the 'mech before a drumline that sounded more like gunshots than drums rang out with powerful percussive force.

"Nice tunes, who is this?" I called back to Jenkins as the song picked up tempo and we caught up to our Atlas.

"Uh, I think they're called Sabaton, yeah or at least that's what the tape says on it," replied Jenkins.

"... Orpheus-2 please respond, do you have Orpheus-4?" came Maxwell's voice over the intercom, I barely was able to hear it over the music blasting from behind me and I had turned the comm unit volume to full.

"Sorry Orpheus-1, please repeat, I wasn't able to hear you," I said keying the mic.

"Never mind, I can clearly hear you have him with you," answered Charles with a chuckle.

Flipping the comm unit from my usual cockpit speaker to the neurohelmet's built in comm unit I toggled the channel again, "Sorry sir, Jenkins is here with me yes, he insisted we needed some battle tunes, I did not anticipate them being so loud."

"Not a problem, I've got a lead on our errant 'mech and Radar is tracking it. Oddly enough they haven't engaged her yet, so that could be promising," said Charles.

"Maybe they haven't figured out how to get the weapons operational yet," I answered, the Neurohelmet comm unit filtering out enough of the music that we could carry on a normal conversation.

"I don't think so, Radar reported they fired weapons but not directly at her yet," stated Charles, "Well shit..."

"What is it Captain?" I queried as Charles minor expletive filtered over the channel.

"I think we found what our 'mech jacker was firing at..."

As I came up alongside the Atlas, the Merlin's faster speed allowing me to catch up with relative ease, I spotted the issue Maxwell was referring to, a small pile of rocks that were too clean to have been there long. They were just large enough to give even a 'mech trouble if trying to climb over it and the pile looked too sparse to be stable if anything close to our 'mech's size did try to climb onto it. We could blast our way through, or even clear it manually with the Atlas's hands but that would take too much time. Pulling up a topographic map I spotted a way around that wasn't too far out of the way, a large rock outcropping in the middle of the riverbed had prevented the small rockslide from completely sealing off the canyon despite it's relative narrowness here. Instead it would only slow us down by a minute or two at most, or in my case not at all as I could simply use my jump jets and clear the obstacle in a few seconds.

"Captain, it looks like we could easily get around this mess a little ways to the East," I radioed to Charles.

"I see that Lieutenant, you and Orpheus-5 continue on and link up with Radar. Bishop and I will make our way around and meet you there. If at all possible try to retrieve our errant 'mech without destroying it or killing the 'mech jacker. I'd like to have some words with that individual."

"Yes sir, Orpheus-2 moving out."

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Even with its throttle pushed to full, the Atlas in which Bishop and I rode couldn't lope along faster than 54.0 KPH, a fact that I cursed as I watched the radar signature of the Dragon draw steadily further and further away from us. As bulky and ungainly-looking as Steve's 'Mech was, it could achieve nearly twice our speed, and we simply had no hope of catching up with it in our towering assault-class BattleMech. As I pushed around the small pile of boulders that the hijacker left in our path, I glanced at the holographic scope laid out before me, and saw that Alyssa was easily keeping pace with the Dragon, weaving from side to side behind it to stay in its rear arc.

"Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-3: stay on him. You're the only eyes we've got on our hijacker at the moment. Any luck with getting into his systems?" I asked over a secure channel.

"Aye, Captain. I'm doing my best. I haven't had much success getting into the Dragon's computer; it's harder than you might imagine to try to hack while piloting a 'Mech. I was able to overload the Guardian ECM and put out a pretty solid EMP. It seemed like it knocked him offline momentarily. I'll keep trying," Alyssa replied.

"Keep me posted. We have a uniquely-difficult situation - we need that 'Mech intact - we have to prevent whoever's got it from doing any damage to it while also ensuring we don't do the same," I advised, maneuvering the Atlas around the river bend and into a channel of water that was now hip-deep. "Watch out for these river depths, too. They're starting to drop off pretty fast."

"I noticed," Chase responded. "It's making it tricky to stay in his rear arc."

"Do what you can," I answered. "Orpheus-1 out."

I twisted my head to look at Bishop.

"Have you got any suggestions?" I asked.

"Just one, but you're not gonna like it," Weyland began.

"Right now, one shitty option is better than zero good ones," I quipped. "Lay it on me."

"Well, Schuster's got a LAM with hands. You could order him to use AirMech mode, fly in, and tackle the Dragon from behind. If he hits it just right, he might be able to throw it off balance and take it down. The landing might fuck up the LAM a bit, but you'd have a fully-intact Dragon and a mostly-intact Phoenix Hawk," Bishop explained. "On the other hand, if Nathan fucks up the landing and the Dragon gets the jump on him, he's toast."

"Those are shitty choices," I replied.

"I said you wouldn't like it," the Lieutenant acknowledged.

"Yeah, but it's what we've got for right now. Alright. We might as well give it a shot. Alyssa's the only other pilot that can even keep up with the Dragon, and she's not equipped for a brawl with a 'Mech twice her tonnage," I responded, throwing a toggle open to contact Schuster. "Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-5: I need you to do something that's going to sound crazy..."

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This is crazy this is crazy this is crazy.... I thought to myself as my LAM sailed through the air in half giant robot, half airplane mode, about to do a crazy football tackle on an enemy target that was 10 tons heavier than my own BattleMech. It wasn't just the weight difference alone that concern me, though. It was the fact that I was designed like an airplane and Steve's Dragon was designed like a tank. Not an even match in any given scenario. There was likely only one outcome to this situation, and it was pretty bad. I didn't want to think about that, because if I was currently driving my coffin, I'd want a coffin with thicker walls and better armor. Captain Maxwell's request was almost suicidal, but as he had explained, it was the best shot we had. I got that. And if anyone was going to be the sacrificial pilot, it made sense for me to do it. I had committed crimes beyond forgiveness. The rest of the Aegis folks didn't deserve to pay for things.

"900 meters...800 meters... 700... 600... 500... 400m... 300... 200... 100...here we go!" I shouted into my headset, watching the bulky Dragon rushing toward me. A jarring impact slammed through my BattleMech as its legs made contact with the riverbed and its arms crashed into the  Dragon's shoulders. Damage indicators wailed and flashed red on my HUD, one of the LAM's arms going completely offline. The Dragon flaiked wildly, jockeying for position for several seconds before tilting violently backwards and falling toward me. A colossal crash resonated through my LAM's hull and even more damage indicators wailed. I extended my LAM's one working arm and pushed back against the Mech but I couldn't hold it off. The Dragon continued to tumble toward me, and my Mech, still in AirMech mode, crashed to the ground beneath the surface of the water, its wings snapping off as it smashed into the riverbed under 60 tons of Dragon. The pilot of the hostile Mech, his cockpit still above the water, failed the Mech wildly, trying to get it back up. 

"Orpheus... uh... Rebus to all units!" I exclaimed, completely forgetting our unit call signs and falling back on my personal moniker. "I need assistance - I've got the hijacker down. Bastion - you're the fastest apart from Radar. Can you assist!?" 

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There was a massive crash that felt like what I thought being in a semi truck that got hit by another semi truck must feel like, and then my sense of direction got completely wrecked. The mech felt like it was tumbling wildly down a hill, which shouldn’t be possible since we were already at pretty much the lowest point in the canyon. My vision was getting kind of blurry, but I was pretty sure I saw water through the cockpit glass. I kept messing with the control levers for the mech’s arms and legs, like I was trying to guess a secret combo in a video game or something, and I couldn’t even tell if it was working or not.

 

I ripped the neuro helmet off and chucked it across the cockpit. It banged into the cockpit glass and then splatted right into the bloody, poop-scented mess on the floor. I was probably going to regret that… But at least up was up again. Well, up was mostly behind me, which wasn’t a great situation, but at least I knew it now.

 

The Thermo Man helmet hadn’t gone flying into the horrible mess on the floor because its’ buckle got snagged on the mech’s seat belt, and I figured I should put it back on before it had a chance to get un-snagged and fall into the horrible slop, so I did. My vision was coming back into focus again with the neuro helmet gone, so I studied the controls again, looking for something that had some chance of fixing this situation.

 

Only some of the controls had labels, and some of the labels were made of crusty tape and marker and not all of them made sense. “KABOOM” and “DAKKA” seemed like they’d be more useful once I’d stood up and could see what was attacking me. I already knew that “TUNES” turned on some second sound system and did not turn off the painfully loud screaming music. The controls that still had their stock labels were clear, but not helpful for making the mech stand up - sensor configuration, weapons targeting, that sort of thing. That just left the slightly oversized red button, with a strip of red tape below it labeled “AAAAAA”. Some kind of emergency recovery system?

 

I pressed it.

The cockpit ceiling detached with a bang. I felt something under my chair go “click”. Before I could say “oh SHIT”, I was skidding along the canyon floor, occasionally bouncing off rocks and tumbling around so that the back of the cockpit seat, my elbow and knee pads and my jeans all got scraped up pretty good.

When the ejection jet finally burned itself out and the seat came to a stop, I scrambled to unbuckle and get out of there as fast as I could. These people were not going to be happy with me. I didn’t know which way I’d been launched or whether it was towards or away from the mechs that were after me, I just picked a direction and ran.

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

I had barely finished clearing the fallen rocks with my jump jets when I saw Nick and his Phoenix Hawk LAM go flying past me in AirMech mode, the wings of the LAM extended and the head transformed into the cockpit of the Aerospace Fighter it could fully turn into while still retaining the legs and arms of the BattleMech form. This mode provided Schuster with the best of both worlds in a sense, he could move around and fire like a typical BattleMech on the ground, albeit slowly, but he could also take to the skies and move quickly for relatively extended periods, even hovering for a while, without needing to use the limited Aerospace Fighter fuel he carried. As he rushed ahead, his LAM easily three times faster in the air than the best speed my Merlin could manage, I pushed my 'mech to its limit trying to catch up to our Dragon that was currently AWOL, which was also faster than me...

A minute later I rounded a bend in the river canyon and finally caught sight of our current quarry, the Dragon was wobbling along at maybe half its rated speed, most likely due to its current occupant trying to use an uncalibrated neurohelmet and having some difficulty. I didn't see Alyssa's Raven currently but I knew she had to be nearby, instead I saw Schuster's LAM flying directly towards the Dragon at fairly high speed and it only took a moment for me to realize what he was about to try and do.

"Is he crazy? What is he thinking?" I said aloud to no one in particular, momentarily forgetting that Jenkins was in the 'mech with me.

"What is he doing? What's going on? I can't see shit back here," replied Jenkins, assumedly trying to look around my pilot chair to look out the canopy glass.

"I think he's going to try and tackle your Dragon," I said turning back towards Steve as I spoke, "I mean, it could work, whoever jacked your 'mech doesn't seem very good at piloting it. I don't think I'd want to do it AirMech mode, probably should have transformed back to a BattleMech first but it's too late for that now."

A moment later and the two colossal machines impacted with such force that I could hear the crunch of armour from a kilometer away, the impact sent both machines reeling and it was a testament to both pilots that they managed to stay upright as long as they did. Moments later though the two toppled together into the riverbed as the scrambled for position and trying to stay upright, the Phoenix Hawk LAM lost this part of the struggle though and the Dragon crashed down on top of it, seemingly more out of bad luck than any skill on the mech jacker's part. I was still charging ahead at full speed, a seemingly paltry 64.5km/h considering the distance, when the two 'mechs went down hard, armour getting crushed and possibly a few parts even breaking off on the lighter LAM.

"Orpheus... uh... Rebus to all units!" Nick exclaimed, over the comms, not quite panic in his voice, "I need assistance - I've got the hijacker down. Bastion - you're the fastest apart from Radar. Can you assist!?"

"Rebus, this is Bastion," I replied on the comms, following Schuster's use of personal callsigns, "I'm enroute, I see you. I'm ... 30 seconds out, just hold tight."

My 'mech thundered along the canyon floor, the wide armoured feet tearing up the dirt as the machine's long strides ate up the distance between the downed 'mechs and myself. Just as I closed the final few meters, coming up alongside the 'mechs I watched as the Dragon continued to struggle back and forth on top of the pinned Phoenix Hawk, it appeared to be struggling to get up though as opposed to keeping the LAM pinned down. Moving into position where I could use my Merlin's legs to kick the Dragon off of Nick's 'mech I braced myself before opening an open comm and the 'mech's external loudspeaker system, but before I could I call for the mech jacker's surrender, and forcibly remove him from my lancemate if necessary, the Dragon's top canopy glass blew off as though someone was ejecting. Less than a second later the pilot seat, with occupant, came rocketing out of the Dragon with such speed that they were little more than a blur.

"Well shit, that was unexpected," I said as I turned the 'mech to follow the ejection seat as it tumbled along the canyon floor.

"What happened now? Is Hagakure ok? He didn't wreck my 'mech did he?" came Steve's slightly worried question from the back.

"Uh, not exactly, looks like he prematurely ejected though," I chuckled.

"He just had to hit the big red button didn't he, I knew I should have put a cover on that damn thing."

"Uh Bastion, ... I could still use a hand here, if you're not too busy," came Schuster's now calmer but no less urgent voice over the comm.

"Sorry Rebus, I'll get you out of there," I replied, before using my 'mech to push the now pilotless Dragon off of the LAM as gently as I could using the legs.

With the Dragon now removed from on top of the LAM Nick was able to right his 'mech and eventually get it back to its feet, the damage obvious but not appearing too severe, at least visually, aside from the broken wings. Meanwhile I turned back towards where the ejection seat had launched our 'mech jacker, I saw the remnants of smoke trailing up into the air from the rockets beneath the chair, though the actual ejection seat itself was hidden from view behind a large rock. After ensuring that Nick was alright in his 'mech I moved towards the rock concealing the ejection seat hoping to catch the 'mech jacker before he escaped too far since my 'mech would have difficulty tracking a single man, despite its modern and fully functioning sensor systems. Rounding the rock I spotted nothing but the empty seat and silently cursed to myself as I tried in vain to pick up anything on my scope, short of them standing out in the open and me getting direct line of sight I wasn't likely to see anything since the 'mech's sensors were designed around detecting objects around the size of a small car or larger.

"Orpheus-3, any chance those fancy sensors of yours can pick up anything? I've got nothing here but an empty ejection seat and a clean scope."

"Orpheus-2, I've got him, he's not going anywhere," came Alyssa's casual response, you could hear the grin in her voice.

My scope finally lit up with the friendly contact for the Raven, she must have had her ECM engaged to keep her hidden from the Dragon and subsequently us too. She was standing near a stand of trees and rocks a few hundred meters away, looking as though she was physically blocking someone's path and with her nose pointed to the ground shortly in front her.

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The cacaphony of radio traffic, a mixture of yelling, crashes, and what sounded like a low-grade explosion resounded through my headset as I drove our smoldering Atlas toward the site of the engagement. We rounded the bend in the river just in time to see an ejection seat rocket sideways out of Steve's fallen Dragon, skip twice across the surface of the water, and then slam haphazardly into a pile of rocks, where it rolled out of sight.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh! What happened now? Is Hagakure ok? He didn't wreck my 'Mech, did he?" Sergeant Jenkins wailed as smoke billowed from the prone BattleMech's now-roofless cockpit. Lieutenant Jaeger offered a few platitudes to try to placate the Sergeant while simultaneously using his Merlin to move the pilotless war machine off of Nick Schuster's Phoenix Hawk. As the Lyran stood his BattleMech up, I saw that it had been savaged by the brawl. One wing of the LAM was torn completely off, and the other jutted out at an odd angle, appearing to be twisted partially from its mount. A plate of armor was missing from the 'Mech's torso, exposing vulnerable internals in a particularly tempting area for attackers.

"Nice work, Orpheus-5. You doing okay there?" I radioed as I drew up on the fallen Dragon. Kneeling the Atlas down, I used one of its giant manipulators to right Steve's 'Mech as much as I could. I let out a groan as I realized that the machine's cockpit was partially full of water.

"I'm doing okay, Captain, but I can't say the same for the Phoenix Hawk. It's pretty smashed up. I'm afraid that its flying days are temporarily over, and I can't get it out of AirMech mode either."

"Don't worry about it," I replied, using the Atlas to drag the Dragon to shore. Depositing Hagakure at an angle to let it drain, I powered down the Atlas and popped the cockpit hatch. "I'm just glad that you're okay. Now, let's assess how our hijacker fared."

"Orpheus-3, any chance those fancy sensors of yours can pick up anything? I've got nothing here but an empty ejection seat and a clean scope," Orlex's voice crackled as I climbed down the rope ladder, my feet landing with a splash in the shallow water.

"Orpheus-2, I've got him, he's not going anywhere," Alyssa replied. Looking in the direction of her Raven, I could see that the bird-like 'Mech was hunched over something, its nose pitched down like a raptor setting on its prey.

"Nice work, Orpheus-3," I smiled, jogging toward Chase's location. "Let's see if we can find out what kind of crazy person tries a stunt like this."

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I kept running. The massive, thunderous footsteps behind me got bigger and closer and I could feel the ground shaking under me even though I was running as fast as I could. I glanced behind me, just for a second, and my foot must have snagged on a rock or something because next thing I knew I went skidding onto my front through the dirt and the mech’s THUD THUD kept getting closer.

I tried to catch my breath and tried to get up while a massive mechanical foot descended, covering me with it’s shadow. I closed my eyes, bracing to be squished. The foot thumped down next to me.

 

I was… not dead. Actually not dead. But now the other foot was coming down, and I couldn’t tell where it was meant to land which meant it might be supposed to land on me, so I scrambled to my feet and tried to climb up the first foot’s big metal toes - maybe the pilot wouldn’t want to make the mech step on itself since that could damage it? - but the toe was burning my fingers and too slippery and I fell back on my back into the dirt right as the other foot came down with a CLANG right behind my head and shook the earth under me.

 

The bird-like war machine angled its’ front down as though looking at me. (The way a person would look at something, I mean, since birds look at stuff by turning their head sideways and the mech had its’ nose pointing straight toward me.) I couldn’t see the pilot through the glare on the cockpit glass, not that I would’ve been able to read her expression through her helmet anyway.

 

I was pretty sure these people were still going to try to kill me. Probably soon. That’s what most people would do if someone wrecked their mech - that’s how I got in this mess in the first place. I’m not very good at talking my way out of stuff, so my best shot was still to run for it - but I’d need a real good distraction, since it looked like some of the other mechs were starting to catch up to the bird mech.

 

I could see a laser setup poking out of the far side of the mech - not really useful to me. But directly above me, was what looked like a missile launcher. I reached my hand up inside my helmet, and pushed the helmet’s controller to where I could grab it with my mouth. That was kind of gross, especially after I’d just been in the poop-and-death mech and didn’t know what awful things that had got on my hands, but when I was building the helmet I couldn’t figure out a better way to control it than that, so that’s what I was stuck with now. I fumbled around trying to get the controller into position with my tongue, and accidentally turned on the LED light display on the outside of the helmet, then got it turned off, then pressed the button against my teeth that I’d actually been trying to press - the one to turn on the low-powered laser. I pointed my head - and the concealed laser - at the base of the mech’s missile launcher, and waited.

Edited by Thermo Man
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