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My targeting sensors wailed, screaming a lock for my SRM-6 and two medium lasers as the humanoid figure approached my Raven. I didn't know who this hijacker was or his motive - but I had to give it to him - he had balls. After trying to steal a Dragon BattleMech out from under a mercenary command and failing catastrophically, he'd survived a lateral ejection, two skips off the surface of a river in a yeet seat, and a ricochet off a pile of rocks - and was now, apparently, having a physical showdown with a 35-ton biped war machine.

The dude was either brave, insane, or a combination of both.

"Look," I announced over my PA system, as the orange-suited figure assumed a combat stance in response to the approach of my BattleMech, "we can do this easy, or we can do this hard. Your choice. Either way, we have some questions for you, and you probably ought to get looked at by our medic after that epic ricochet you did off the rock pile."

The hijacker shook his head, and then fumbled wildly for a set of controls on the side of his neon-orange helmet.

What the hell is he doing...? I wondered to myself. Just then, I saw Captain Maxwell and Nathan Schmidt arriving at a full run, the Captain drawing up behind the hijacker while clearly doing what he could to keep his approach unannounced.

Suddenly, the heat indicators on my SRM launcher's ammo bin started to wail.

"What in the fuck...?" I blurted, looking at the system readout. Everything seemed entirely normal save for an intense heat spike on the missile rack's feeds.

"What's going on, Radar?" Maxwell radioed. Through my windshield, I saw him drawing up on the hijacker.

"I'm getting a weird, dangerous heat spike on the feed belts for my missile launcher," I replied. "I'm not sure, but I think our guest has something to do with it. I've got some weird thermals happening up here. What do you want me to do with this guy?"

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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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As Nick and I ran up on the standoff between Alyssa Chase and our yet-to-be-identified hijacker, I noticed that the man, clad in a bright orange pilot's uniform and helmet, was standing in a firing stance, though with nothing obvious held out before him.

"I'm getting a weird, dangerous heat spike on the feed belts for my missile launcher," Alyssa advised. "I'm not sure, but I think our guest has something to do with it. I've got some weird thermals happening up here. What do you want me to do with this guy?"

"Stand fast," I responded. "We're on top of you now." Slowing to a jog, I drew my Hawk Eagle and held it at my side. Circling around behind the hijacker, I glanced up at the Raven's missile launcher, seeing the glow of a laser sight slowly coring into the 'Mech's armor.

Where in the hell is that coming from?

"Nathan," I whispered into my headset, "I'm going to hold position back here. See if you can figure out where that laser's coming from. I think this guy - or someone associated with him - is trying to pop the Raven's ammo bins."

"Captain, I don't mean to be impatient," Alyssa radioed, "but things are heating up here. I'm gonna need to either start ejecting ammunition or change position."

"Just a moment more," I replied. "I'd rather get answers than put a bullet in this guy's back if I can help it."

"It's his helmet, Captain," Nathan advised, moving into the man's blind spot and gesturing subtly. "I can see the aperture glowing."

"That's what I needed to know," I replied. Holstering the Hawk Eagle, I lunged toward the stranger, tackling him to the ground.

"You and I need to have a conversation, buddy!"

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I accidentally bit the controller as I hit the ground, triggering the helmet’s LED light show again. The guy who’d just jumped me didn’t seem to notice.

 

“You and I need to have a conversation, buddy!” the guy said.

 

One arm was pinned under me, and I didn’t have enough leverage with the other one to get up or throw the guy off. “Yeah… sure,” I mumbled, and then spat out the controller. “Whatever you say.”

 

“I’m going to let you up, and then you’re going to take off the laser helmet. Understood?”

 

“Yeah,” I said. So much for keeping my identity secret. At least these guys weren’t locals.

 

He got off of me, and I took the helmet off and awkwardly got to my feet. This guy wasn’t as big as he’d seemed, just taller than me - but a lot of people were taller than me. I’d been waiting on one last growth spurt for a couple years now, and it never showed up. He was wearing a cooling suit, so he was probably a mech pilot, and the suit was in really good condition - not patched together or having duct tape on it or anything. He didn’t look like he wanted to kill me, just kind of stern and focused, which didn’t mean he wouldn’t kill me but it still seemed like a good sign.

 

Thermo Man was just a dumb name I’d made up for the local tech bash league, but the goofy suit still made me a little braver. Now I had to face one of the guys I’d tried to rob as just me. “Sorry, about all the broken stuff.”

 

“That’s what I wanted to ask you about,” he said. “What kinda hare-brained, balls-to-the-wall scheme were you up to? What kinda job were you trying to do that had you convinced you could just...loot a BattleMech out from under a mercenary command, anyway? Are you working for someone? Or...on something? I mean, Can-Do is a hell of a drug. Psycho, too. I got a guy under my command - oh hell, nevermind. Exactly what is your deal?”

 

“No drugs, I just... got in a big mess, and couldn’t get out without a mech. I was walking behind you guys, thought I could try to take a broken one after that fight, but then I saw the losers were the Nickels Boys and I’m trying not to die horribly.”

 

“Huh, you could’ve fooled me.” He was looking at me like I was a crazy person. “Five against one odds seem like the underdog bet. But, that’s me. I’ve always been one for the long shot. Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes, you’re the bug.”

 

“Well I couldn’t go back to town without one, and I ran out of water, so it seemed like the least-bad option. You all don’t look like you’re from around here, so I figured if I got caught you’d just shoot me, instead of… well, I’d rather not give you ideas.”

 

“Holy shit. That’s more desperate than I thought. At this rate, you would have been better off hiring us. Either way. I'm going to give you a chance to offer something worth not tossing your ass in the river and calling it a day, and maybe that arrangement will be mutually beneficial,” Charles replied. Another guy with a short, neat haircut and sunglasses walked up behind him. It was kind of hard to tell because of the sunglasses, but he looked pissed.

 

“If you need me to heat something up without anyone seeing, I could do it. I haven’t ever gone up against a battlemech before today, but my laser works pretty good on smaller things.”

 

Was that what he meant? I figured if I kept talking, maybe I’d eventually hit on something useful enough that they wouldn’t kill me.

 

“If you’re looking for something in town I can help you find it, especially if it’s near Bald Chuckie’s neighborhood, oh and I can fix mechs too, except it would be better if a real mech tech could look it over before you start them up again since I wouldn’t want what happened to Chuckie’s mech to happen to yours…”

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“If you’re looking for something in town I can help you find it, especially if it’s near Bald Chuckie’s neighborhood, oh and I can fix mechs too, except it would be better if a real mech tech could look it over before you start them up again since I wouldn’t want what happened to Chuckie’s mech to happen to yours…”

I looked at the Mech Jacker in disbelief. This guy seemed like he was way out of his league, and possibly also insane, as suggested by Captain Maxwell. As the thought solidified, Steve Jenkins, the personification of insane, ran wailing past us, his arms outstretched behind him, falling to his knees at the sight of his ruined Mech and sobbing to the heavens.

Ok, maybe this guy is saner than I thought, looking back at the hijacker.

"Local knowledge. That happens to be exactly what we're looking for," Charles replied, ignoring Steve's antics and glancing at me.

"You say you were poking around the canyon behind us?" I added. "Did you happen to see either a helicopter or a seriously heavy brigade of Mechs painted in plausible deniability black come tear-assing through here and absolutely steamroll the Nickel's Boys before leaving? If you did, which way did they go? How many of their numbers?"

"Oh, and one other thing," Captain Maxwell asked. "You got a name? I'm Charles Maxwell. CO of Aegis Division."

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The hijacker looked nervously between me and Nick, while also casting the occasional wary eye at the Raven BattleMech still looming over us. As Orlex Jaeger approached, the man reacted with a startled expression, noticing the Lieutenant's augments.

"If you think I look crazy, you should see the guy hanging out in the Atlas," Jaeger quipped.

"I think I'll take a pass on that for now," our would-be thief responded. "My name's, uh, Gamble. Book Gamble."

"Wow, I would have taken that for a callsign," Schuster blurted, "or somebody projecting their love for their hobbies too much." I held a hand up to forestall further commentary.

"Now, now, Mister Schuster, let's not be petty. Pleasure to meet you, Mister Gamble," I interjected. "This fellow to my right is Lieutenant Jaeger, and up there in the Raven is Warrant Officer Chase. The guy down by the river trying to jam the ejection seat back into the Dragon is Sergeant Jenkins, although I suspect you already knew that since you were occupying his ride."

"Wow. That explains a lot," Gamble marveled.

"I'm sorry, I don't follow...?" Nick asked.

"Never mind," the man replied. "It's not important. To answer your question - yeah - I did see the 'Mechs and the helicopter. That was yesterday. There were four 'Mechs and all of them looked like they were heavy or assaults. Shiny and new. They were posted up outside the cave over there. I considered trying to grab one of their rides, but I've learned that trying to steal stuff with no identifying insignia and blackout paint all over is even more suicidal than trying to take one of your machines. No offense."

"None taken," I quipped. "Go on."

"So, the Nickel's Boys came out and started shooting at them for some reason. I guess they didn't like someone else stepping on their turf. It ended badly for the pirates. As you figured out when you came along. They retreated, and meanwhile, the guys with the black 'Mechs loaded something into the helicopter. It hauled ass out of here and headed for the city. The pirates tried to chase it in their own VTOL, but it outran them. Meanwhile, the mystery BattleMechs blasted the cave entrance in and left," Gamble continued.

"This is sounding more and more like an Irian operation," Orlex mused. "The OpFor commander alluded to that earlier."

"Did you happen to get a tail number or anything on that chopper?" I asked.

"Yeah, of course," Book enthused. "It's all in my helmet camera. Unfortunately, I don't have a way to play it back. I think my laser burned out the screen a few days ago. I haven't sorted out all of Thermo Man's voltage issues just yet."

"Who the hell is Thermo Man?" Nick asked.

"Uh, he's a hobby of mine. Anyway - do you have a playback unit?" Gamble asked.

"Of course I do," Schuster replied, pulling his noteputer from a cargo pocket.

###

Several minutes later...

After a few false starts on the video playback, during which, we were treated to a montage of first-person views of Gamble's botched hijacking being run in reverse, Nick managed to queue up the relevant time index. The recording played out exactly as Book described. A lance of four pristine war machines, bereft of even standard markings such as caution tape or unit numbers, had maneuvered expertly into the canyon, smashed back a wave of Nickel's Boys, and proceeded to extract something from the cave in a sealed litter that closely resembled the dimensions of the containment unit we'd been given. Loading it into a Peregrine assault VTOL, the unidentified force quickly cleared out of the area, imploding the entrance of the cave in the process. In the final moments of the recording, the Peregrine swept close to the camera, revealing a tail number: NX84237. As it flew out of the frame, pursued by a Karnov tiltrotor aircraft, it appeared that the pirates had at the very least spotted that detail as well, judging by the manner in which the pursuing VTOL deliberately held a straight and steady course behind the Peregrine before breaking away and returning to its FBO. I made a note of the information and switched off the recording.

"Thank you, Gamble - that was very informative," I replied, returning the man's helmet to him.

"Don't mention it, though I'm not sure what you saw that was helpful," Book responded.

"Two things," I explained. "The tail number, and where the aircraft went that was surveilling it. We don't have the ability to look up flight plans in the field, but I have a strong suspicion that redoubt back at the river bend is set up in just such a manner. And at the moment, it's quite unoccupied."

"And you're thinking the information is going to be there?" Gamble asked.

"I'm counting on it," I replied. "You want a lift out of here?"

"That would be great. This neighborhood's gotten a little too rough for me," Book answered.

"Alright. Go help Steve put the seat back in his 'Mech. Then, we'll clear out of here. Meanwhile, I need to make a call to Scorched Earth."

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Elsewhere...

Johnny was two cigars in before we made it back to our mechs, courtesy of Luke doubling and tripling us on our path back to shake off any unwanted company. Where he pulled the seemingly endless supply from,  I didn't know. 

 

Once back,  he hollered at Timmy to be ready to pick us up and "bust ass to get the hell out".  To our skinny XO's credit, he and Persephone did manage to stop making sheep eyes at each other long enough to bustle around and get things ready.  

 

Luke waited until the others were out of earshot before approaching, face drawn in concern. "Perhaps we should ... take precautions.  In case these new allies are less trustworthy than we hope."

 

"And then we have more people on our trail."

 

Wisely, he didn't point out that it was mostly my fault we had so many people after us, and instead nodded.  Good vassal. 

 

Mechs up,  we headed towards the rendezvous, keeping an eye out.

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I let out a huge womanly scream and ran toward where HAGAKURE laid in its fallen location. When I got close I Fell down on my knees and sobbed like a maniac as I realized what THERMO MAN had did to it.

"NOoooooooOOOOO" I Wailed. 

The roof qas gone. There was water in the floorboards. The Battle Curses written on the walls in Ancient Kurita were all runny and gross. A terrible sewage was running down the side of the Mech. There was dead guy parts everywhere. The Milk Machine was stuck on and still milking. Even my posters and tape of We Are The Champions had got lit on fire by the ejector seat and now they were on fire and burning And my seat was gone. I went over and dragged the seat back to the mech and tried to put it inside, but the Mech was in a weird angle and I couldn't drag the chair up the ladder to fix it, I let out an Anger yell and then a Pain yell as the chair fell back down and then smashed my foot. 

Just then a guy with an orange suit came over and said "Hi I'm Thermo Man"" Nice to meet, hey wait, you're the guy who did this to my Mech!!" I yelled at him.

"You want I should blow his brains out???" Jingles asked suddenly appearing behind THERMO MAN and getting out his 357 Magnum revolver 

"AHHH! JINGLES!! NO!!!" I Screamed. Jingles gave me The Finger and poofed away. 

"Yeah sorry about that, Captain Maxwell told me to come help you put your seat back in." said Thermo Man. "OK great" I said. "Let's push it up the ramp together." So we did and we were almost there when my handheld rang. I really let go and quickly answered it. In the background Thermo Man yelled as the Chair ran out control without 2 people moving it and ran over his foot. 

A video came on and I could see the Quartermaster was on the line doing Things. 

"Hey, Quartermaster It's an old pal."

"Wot are you talking about?? "

Quartermaster strolled past me, and picked up a small box with flies, then turned to me.

"Who the 'ell are you? He said, picking around the flies, paying attention to the box more than me.

"It's Steve. Jenkins." 

"No y'er nott, scram kid!" He squeaked, as some of the flies jumped from the box onto the floor. I started to hang up, and he began again.

"Son of a bitch, I had these organised alphabeticaly, you little punk! Why, If I had a knife I would slit your little... His voice trailed off.

"Quartermaster... My... My Dragon is smashed. What the hell am I going to use?"

"You bastard! I wos all done with the repairs, and yew said yew'd love'r like your 'ild! And look at this! You wrecklessly blow 'er up! Wot the 'eller we gonna do nao!

"Exactly what I wanted to know."

She's done for! Now ye got me all pissed-like! And right when i'm done werken for the mission or whatever yew pilots dew! Now yew cooked me up som damn work! 'Ya littel badstar!

The Quartermaster stormed behind his desk, spilling his tea on the floor. A huge burrito detonated in the microwave behind him, blowing a wall of food all over the inside of the microwave door, blotting out the view of the inside. I didn't know what to think. I had never see my poorly-grammered friend pissed off.

"Ehat... Uh... What do you think we should do about this???" I demanded in a bargaining tone. I wanted the Quartermaster to realize that I was in an Alpha role here. I straightened my wakisashi blade as I spoke, and hiked up my pants, in a manly way.

"QUIT WIF YER POSTURING!!!" the Quartermaster screamed, so loud that one of his teeth flew out. I watched in tranced as the tooth pinged around and then landed in a fizzing cup of dentures. I wondered verbally what the Quartermaster was using dentures for.

"THEN ANSWER MY QUESTION ABOUT MY MECH, WHAT DO I GET NEXT???" I finally blew up loudly. I was tired of his obtusiveness and wanted to show authority.

"You get a 1993 Mazda Mirage with a combat gun and run-flat tires this time!!! That's all you deserve!"

"What the hell..."

There was silence. Then the Quartermaster flatulated loudly to indicate the conversation was over. The microwave dinged, and turned off. Then the Quartermaster hung up. 

"I don't know what that even Was..." I said out loud in an audible way. 

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

I hadn't even finished powering down my war machine before Steve bolted for the canopy exit and was probably half way down the deployable ladder before I removed my neurohelmet. I made my own way out of the 'mech and towards our would-be 'mech hijacker, who somewhat surprisingly did not appear restrained in any form despite his recent actions, and was mildly entertained by the sudden look of shock that washed over the man's face as he looked at me and clearly noticed my synthetic arm.

"If you think I look crazy, you should see the guy hanging out in the Atlas," I quipped, more to see the man's reaction than anything else.

Several minutes later...

Eventually we got to see some footage of who we assumed to be Irian giving the Nickel's Boys a bloody nose with ease before ransacking the cave we had spent the better part of the morning clearing out. The footage wasn't the best quality but it was sufficient enough to get some useful information from the it all the same. Through the conversation and the man's willingness to assist us it seemed the Captain had decided not to detain or otherwise charge the foolish man, to be fair it did seem like he was just down on his luck and made some bad decisions, and instead actually offered to give him a ride out of the canyon, provided he could help Jenkins re-install his 'mech's now non-functional ejection seat. As the others departed I approached the Captain before he left back towards his Atlas with a few questions about the footage we just saw.

"Captain, I have a few questions," I asked as the Captain turned towards me.

"What is Jaeger?"

"Do you think we can trust this man? I mean he did just try to steal from us."

"Trust him? Don't know him enough for that, but we can trust him not to try and screw us over again. Besides I believe we should give him the benefit of the doubt in this case."

"That's your call sir, won't argue with you on it. I will be keeping an eye on him though all the same," I replied.

"Understandable Lieutenant, I won't fault you for being cautious," answered Maxwell with a slight grin, "What else is bothering you, I don't think this one fool is enough to get you riled up."

"No sir," I chuckled, "Regarding the footage, assuming it's real, which we have no reason to doubt and besides I don't think Mr. Gamble is capable of editing or creating that kind of footage to any extent, nor does he have any reason to. But there was a couple things I found concerning in it. First off the VTOL, it looked like a Peregrine but there was something off about it, couldn't really tell in the footage but it looked like a custom job. Not really concerning just something I noticed."

"I noticed that too," replied Charles with a nod, "if it is indeed Irian we are dealing with though I wouldn't be surprised if they had a modified VTOL on hand. Aside from not knowing it's full capabilities I don't think it's an issue though. What's the second problem?"

"Only issue with the VTOL is that Irian, or whoever it is we're dealing with, must be taking whatever their mission is quite serious if they are willing to commit custom hardware to it, especially as far out in the Periphery as we are. Which leads into the second problem, that lance of 'mechs we saw were some serious heavy hitters, I didn't get a great look at them with how shaky the footage was during that part but I don't think I saw anything under 70 or 75 tons. With the state our own lance is in, if we come up against that kind of firepower, well frankly we might be lucky if we can walk away on our legs to say nothing of what will be left of our 'mechs."

"Duly noted," said Charles with a slightly furrowed brow, "if we were running the risk of facing them on our own we most definitely would be in some trouble. However, since Scorched Earth so kindly offered to assist us I think that just about evens the odds should we run into these folks in black head on. Judging from how quick their exfil was though I don't think we'll have to worry about running into those 'mechs except on our own terms. Hopefully the intel we get back at the redoubt will mean we can avoid any unnecessary run-ins with those unmarked 'mechs."

"Agreed sir, speaking of Scorched Earth, they should be enroute by now. I can't expect they'll sacrifice their 'mechs saving our ass or anything if it came down to it, but I'll never complain about some more firepower and a few extra targets for the enemy to shoot at."

A quick salute to Captain Maxwell and I was heading back towards the Merlin when I overhead the muted tones of yelling coming from the direction of Steve's Dragon, I couldn't make any of it out due to the distance but it looked like the two men were struggling to get his ejection seat back into the 'mech. It wouldn't be pretty, and probably be a hell of a rough ride but it might be enough to get the Dragon back on it's feet for the time being. I'd hoped so at least, I didn't want to have a passenger in Bastion if we ran into some trouble if at all possible.

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Black Canyon
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 7, 3029
Redoubt Zulu Alpha
____________________________________

Our lance of BattleMechs stomped toward the still-smoldering remains of the Nickel's Boys fortification that had previously secured a key choke point in the river canyon. Ahead of us, in a line astern formation, stood the elements of Scorched Earth. True to their word, they'd arrived with a Quickdraw, a Grasshopper, and a Raven. Compared to the nearly-pristine condition of their war machines, we must have been a sorry sight indeed as we drew upon them with an Atlas that had the better part of its front half blown off, a Phoenix Hawk LAM that was missing a wing and stuck in AirMech mode, and a Dragon with no roof and an improvised pilot's seat. Only Orlex Jaeger's Merlin and Alyssa's Raven still looked reasonably functional, along with Mallory Aldon's M.A.S.H. unit and the Swiftwind I'd asked Lieutenant Weyland to commandeer as an augment to our sensor net. I would have preferred to keep him as a gunner in the Atlas, but since the assault 'Mech was literally experiencing a shortage of guns at the moment, Weyland's scouting finesse would come in handy.

"Orpheus-1 to Scorched Earth detachment, how copy?" I radioed on the open all-call channel.

"Short Circuit to Orpheus-1, copy 4 out of 5," a voice that I recognized as belonging to Johnny replied.

"Roger that, nice to have you here. All elements, squawk five two eight seven Bravo," I advised, reaching for the frequency selector on my comm unit.

"Neg, Orpheus-1, I want our home plate monitoring this joint exercise. Go to frequency three two one niner dot seven Foxtrot," Johnny interjected.

"Alright, it's your show," I acknowledged, a hint of exasperation coloring my tone. "All units, squawk three two one niner dot seven Foxtrot."

A flurry of chirps and check-ins on the shared comm channel followed. After verifying that everyone that needed to be listening was plugged in, Johnny spoke again.

"Short Circuit to all units, the plan is as follows: we'll set up a perimeter here while no more than two of you go down to the ground and attempt to exfiltrate the information we're after from the redoubt. No sightseeing. We need the location of the primary pirate fortification and the flight plan from that tail number your guy caught on video. Once you have the data, get back here and we'll move on the objective, assuming that it's anywhere in the neighborhood. Got it?"

"Orpheus-1 copies," I responded. "Just two units? Don't you think that's a little light?"

"Negative, Orpheus-1," Johnny replied in an agitated tone. "I think I'm being generous. Taking even two of your guys offline doesn't leave us a with a lot of firepower with those wrecks you're piloting." Our Ravens might be able to throw up a decent ECM blanket, but I still don't want us getting caught with our pants down if the Nickel's Boys just happen to be out for a stroll and spot us."

"Duly noted, Short Circuit," I radioed back. "In that case, I'm going to give us the best possible odds and send down my computer specialist and my combat specialist. Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-2 and Orpheus-5 - I need your boots on the ground. I'm sending you a list of what we're after."

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

The shattered remains of the pirate "fortress" lay before us, a few minutes earlier Nicholas Schuster and myself had departed from our BattleMechs in order to scour the remnants of the Nickel's Boys' redoubt for the intel we needed to continue our mission. What was left of the base was laid out in a relatively common 'T' shaped design with a singular pronounced entrance sticking out from the rest of the roughly rectangular base area, all of which was enclosed by a fortified wall that overall was shaped similar to a block letter capital 'T'. The fortified wall was more of a visual deterrent meant to make those inside feel safe and provide a modicum of protection against combat vehicles but not BattleMechs, as evident from the numerous holes easily punched through the outer wall during our previous engagement here. Nick and I now stood inside the ruined entrance, the turrets and fortifications blasted into ruins by our Atlas' earlier rampage while clearing our way through the canyon, despite the destroyed nature of the pirate base I still felt exposed being without my BattleMech on a potential battlefield, although the heavy ballistic plate vest and my other armour did help a little. We didn't anticipate running into any real resistance while exploring the destroyed, and likely now abandoned, base but I wasn't taking any chances. However, our primary objective was to find a functional computer system and see if we can pull any useful information from it, specifically we were hoping to find navigational data on flight paths, ideally from the planetary database if at all possible, and also find information on the location of the main Nickel's Boys' base on this continent. The latter was actually for Scorched Earth and not pertinent to our actual mission of recovering the artifact so it was automatically relegated to a secondary objective in my mind, however Captain Maxwell had agreed to assist them with their task and as such I would still do my utmost to accomplish that goal as well, provided of course it did not jeopardize our own.

Looking over towards Nick I readjusted the satchel-style rucksack I had brought to carry my extra equipment before saying with a slight chuckle, "Might as well get this show on the road, it's not like everyone is waiting on us or anything."

"Yeah, no pressure at all," said Nick with a shake of his head.

"Orpheus-2 to Orpheus-1, we're heading in. Place looks pretty abandoned so far but I can still see some intact buildings further in, we'll start our search there," I said after keying the comm unit built into my advanced combat helmet.

"Copy that Orpheus-2, keep us apprised of the situation," replied Charles.

The first intact building we came across appeared to be a mess hall of sorts, two large open halls filled with cafeteria style tables and a set of field kitchens in the back, and naturally resulted in nothing useful being found. Moving on we cleared a few more buildings that provided either nothing useful or just non-functioning equipment in various states of disrepair, once into the main portion of the base we quickly found a section that was surrounded by a smaller fortified wall that still posed a significant obstacle to us on foot. We still had seen no signs of activity or anything to indicate that any pirates remained in the base but I was still cautious, possibly overly so as we stuck to cover and moved slowly anytime we might be in the open. We decided to try and find a gate leading into the cordoned off section of the base, it was our best chance at finding operational equipment since it didn't appear to have been hit when we cleared out the defenders earlier.

"There," called out Nick and pointing towards a semi-shadowed alcove that appeared to be hold a man-sized door into the wall, "looks like we can get in there, come on!"

I turned from where I had been scanning the open field area that likely had served as the small base's parade ground and soon spotted the alcove Schuster had pointed out, as the young man moved out from behind the large building debris we were using as cover I also spotted the pair of laser turrets flanking either side of door and quickly dove towards Nick and dragged him back down into cover. Roughly shoving him up against a flat slab of ferrocrete as I dropped down beside him leaving Nick sitting unexpectedly on the ground while I barely managed to remain crouching on my feet, my hand still on his shoulder and the Blazer laser rifle hanging freely from its sling.

"Careful man, did you not see the laser turrets on either side of the door? I've heard about your remarkable healing capabilities but I'm pretty sure there needs to be enough of you left to heal in the first place."

"Thanks," replied Nick and got his feet back under himself, but remained crouched, "but I did see them, pretty sure they're powered down though."

"What makes you say that? It's not like those things have a handy light on them to indicate if they're functional or anything," I replied, more harshly than intended.

"The spotlight above them are off, and there a few large displays further down the wall that also seem to have no power. Looks to me like the entire wall is without power at the moment," came Nick's answer with only the smallest snideness in his voice, which was well warranted.

I looked at what he was talking about and noted the spotlights and dark screens that appeared to indicate a lack of power, a further survey also showed none of the standing buildings had lights on or anything else to indicate that the base actually had any power. I had naturally assumed that it was due to being the middle of the day and no need for artificial lighting but had neglected to consider that the generators we had destroyed earlier were the base's only source of power, in my abundance of caution and thorough searching for potential hostiles I missed a fairly mundane but potentially vital piece of information. It was likely that the inner fortification would have it's own source of power or at least some form of backup but it did not appear to extend to the inner wall itself for whatever reason.

"Well shit, looks like you're right. Sorry Nick, I seriously thought you were about to get vapourized there," standing up I extended a hand to help Nick finish getting up himself, "Still think we need to be cautious though, they might have power inside here still and are likely to have some defenses in there as well."

"Agreed, but let's worry about getting inside first."

We approached the alcove and stepped inside, the blast door clearly locked with a small tactile keypad beside it the only means of access.

"Give me a moment, I should be able to get this open easily," said Nick as he pulled out a small multitool and his noteputer.

I took up position within the shadowed edge of the alcove and watched the abandoned base grounds for any signs of pirates that might have decided to stick around but saw nothing, a few minutes went by with nothing more than some slight cursing from behind me and the sounds of the keypad being dismantled and some rapid typing on the noteputer.

"Shit, door's a no-go Orlex, we're going to have find another way in," came Nick's exasperated voice after another minute or two.

"What's the problem? I can try forcing the door itself if you're having trouble cracking the keypad," I responded over my shoulder.

"It's not that, the same power outage that saved us from these turrets is also preventing us from using the door. The keypad itself has power, likely from a separate low voltage system, and I've cracked it with little issue. The door itself though has no power, and for whatever reason this damn blast door is setup like a bulkhead on a ship, cut the power and the fucker slams closed and no offence but even your augs aren't going to open it. Hell I bet Bishop would struggle to fight this thing open, unless he had his Nighthawk power armour. Unless we can get power to the hydraulics this thing is useless to us."

"Gotcha, well we're in luck then. Possibly," I said as I turned back into the alcove and began searching for an access panel, "if we can find an access panel for the door, I've got a modded power pack that I think we can jury rig into powering the door long enough to get us inside."

"Really? That'll save us some time, though I don't know how we'll get out again after the fact."

"Well, we can worry about that when the time comes, worst comes to worse we call in the cavalry to literally kick the door in," I joked.

"Fair enough," chuckled Nick, "this looks like an access panel, let's see what you've got Jaeger."

A few minutes later and the door groaned as the hydraulics fought against the dead man switch built into the door before it finally gave way the blast door ground open about half way, without waiting the two of us slipped through quickly and mere moments later the military power pack jury rigged into the hydraulic system burnt out and the door slammed close again, though slower than it should have and with a significant amount of steel on steel grinding. With our first major obstacle overcome we moved into this separate area of the base, and while there was still no sign of activity this area was clearly kept to a higher standard than everything else previously seen. The buildings were clean and most were freshly painted, at least so far as the paint did not appear overly weathered yet, the roads and pathways were pristine and there were even tended gardens near a couple of the further buildings that must be officer housing. To our left though stood the most promising building we had seen so far, it was mostly square in shape and roughly 90m (295ft) per side judging from the distance. One corner of the building was extended outwards and was actually a short, stout tower with a large radar or communications dish on top, it was actually reminiscent of a ComStar HPG station but on a smaller scale. The large dish rotated slightly as we watched, likely automatically tracking a local satellite, and confirmed that the building must have some power.

"Well looks like we found our target," I said as Nick and I both moved as one towards the large building, keeping to the shadow of the wall as best as possible.

"Yep, if there's a functioning computer that can access the planetary network it'll be in there. Probably also have a means of contacting their friends too, two birds with one stone as the saying goes," replied Nick with a grin.

I radioed in to Captain Maxwell again to keep him informed as we made our way towards the building, we'd have to rely on Nick's hacking abilities and/or my engineering capabilities if the facility had active security systems, otherwise we'd have to hope our combat expertise would be enough to deal with any actual pirates we came across while searching for our intel.

"Orpheus-1, we've found a promising target. Intact communication facility, looks like it still has satellite uplink too. We'll be breaching in 5, I'll update you once we've retrieved our intel."

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