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

Damage alarms wailed throughout the cockpit, accompanied by a myriad of warning lights ranging from amber to an attention grabbing fire engine red, all indicating the same thing that I could clearly see on my HUD. My Merlin was at the end of its proverbial rope, the battle with the Champion had decimated what armour I'd had left from this morning's fight, the computer estimated I had about 36% of my total armour remaining and 90% of my internal structure, although the paltry 4.75 tons of armour left was almost exclusively on my 'mech's legs. The internal structure damage didn't look bad until you realized that all the damage was concentrated into my side torsos, which where at 57% and 78% for the left and right respectively, and there was no armour left to protect those regions, my one saving grace being that my remaining ammo, or all of it for that matter, was located in my center torso and thus currently protected from weapons fire so there was no immediate risk of an ammunition explosion. On the flip side, all of my weapons were located either in the arms or side torsos so a loss of either would significantly impact my ability to deal meaningful damage. To top everything off my fight with the Champion wasn't even over yet, they still had some dangerous weaponry and it looked like they were already struggling to get their 'mech back on its feet.

Before I had a chance to respond to renewed threat of the Champion, having just finished silencing all the damage alerts and warning klaxons that had been left unchecked during our battle, an azure large laser beam and four emerald lances from medium lasers pierced through the recovering pirate 'mech. The large laser punching straight through the 'mech's severely damaged cockpit and essentially vapourizing the pirate within while the quad medium lasers pierced deep into the center torso and left leg, severing what was left of the latter and effectively finished the removal of the entire left side of the damaged 'mech. I looked over, and while he couldn't see it through the cockpit canopy, I nodded my head in thanks towards the Scorched Earth Grasshopper that just delivered the final blow.

"You're welcome," came Johhny's somewhat arrogant voice over the comms.

Keying the mic to respond I held back on saying something too snarky, "Much appreciated Short Circuit, though that might have been overkill."

"I'd rather be sure than dead," Johnny responded tersely.

My targeting system lit up with a new contact, this one a Quickdraw and I did a double take thinking that the system misidentified Lucius' 'mech somehow but indeed there was a second one now and this one very clearly a pirate 'mech as it engaged both Nick's damaged LAM and Charles' now zombified Atlas. I wasn't sure how the Captain's 'mech was still standing, let alone fighting after the all the punishment it had been taking, but the Atlas was truly living up to its legend as the king of the battlefield. Another warning tone warbled out of the cockpit speaker as a second enemy contact lit up my HUD, this one was bigger, in the Assault class range but the system was having trouble identifying the 'mech, the readout kept switching between a Thug and a Striker, neither of which was going to be a fun time. I moved around the shattered remnants of the Champion while Johnny strafed his Grasshopper as far to the flank as he could manage in the tight confines of the cave, both of us trying to get a visual on the latest threat but the smoke and haze now filling the chamber prevented us from doing so at first. A silhouette began to emerge from the almost misty haze but it didn't match any Assault 'mech I was familiar with, it had the twin antennas of a Thug sticking up from the back of what looked like the 'mech's low slung cockpit but it was missing the high shoulders traditional to that 'mech. As the silhouette solidified more it was clear that one of the prominent shoulders of a Thug was present but the other was level and more sleek looking, both arms were more rounded and less bulky while also lacking the iconic PPCs that would normally appear as though strapped to the 'mech's forearms. Instead there was a long cylindrical barrel more akin to a ballistics weapons on the left arm while the right arm appeared to have a slimmed down laser in place of the PPC. The 'mech still had the Thug's reverse jointed legs though as it moved closer through the smoke it wasted no time in opening fire, first one azure beam of light lanced out from the right arm, confirming that it was indeed a large laser despite it's slim look, then a second matched beam ripped through the smoke and haze from the pirate's left torso. The first large laser shot went wide and high, completely missing me but the second one found it's mark and tore into the exposed internals of my 'mech's left torso and slagged what little structure remained there. The damage control panel was screaming bloody murder at me as the Merlin's left arm lost power, rendering the medium laser within useless and causing the limb to hang limply as the myomer bundles and actuators were likewise taken offline. The molten and compromised internal structure managed to hold together enough though to prevent the arm from simply tearing itself free of its mounting, greatly simplifying repairs should I manage to keep the rest of Bastion in one piece. The roar of an autocannon, the targeting system ID'ing the weapon as an AC/5 a moment after it fired, confirmed that the left arm was housing a ballistic weapon and the medium sized round shattered half of my remaining armour on the Merlin's right arm. I returned fire with my singular medium laser, the emerald beam of coherent light piercing into the oncoming pirate's center torso but he didn't seem to even notice. Without concern for the potential of feedback damage from my PPC, the only remaining weapon I had that could cause meaningful damage against the 80 ton FrankenMech that was bull rushing me, I quickly disabled the field inhibitor and mashed the firing stub hardly even needing to aim as the heavily modified Thug ran in a straight line, barreling towards me. The particle beam lanced out and struck with impressive force against the oncoming 'mech's left torso, melting more than the better half of a ton of armour in less than a second as the high energy rippled across the enemy 'mech but still the pirate charged ahead. As the smoke thinned a sudden moment of recognition crossed my mind as I finally got a good look at the quickly approaching Assault 'mech, it was the same Thug that I had fought this morning, portions of the 'mech still bore the scars from that battle and it was likely the same pirate in the pilot seat who was now dead set on some revenge.

I didn't have time at the moment due to the very real danger and imminent threat of death at the hands of the clearly crazed pirate and his FrankenMech Thug but had there been I would have admired the impressive work the techs had managed to do on the 'mech in such short time. They clearly had a talented team with some impressive equipment at least on par most mercenary commands in order to salvage together two separate 'mechs the way they did, the damaged Thug from the morning had lost both its arms and had moderate damage to its left torso with nearly all of its weapons destroyed or disabled. It looked like the pirates must have had a damaged Striker, likely from their earlier brawl with Irian, and pulled what they could from it in order to fix the Thug. The left torso and arm were straight off the Striker and even had that 'mech's original armament according to my targeting systems, a large laser and AC/5 respectively, the right arm also appeared to be pulled straight from the Striker but it lacked any armament on that 'mech and so the techs had attempted to install a large laser to try and make up for the lost firepower on the Thug. Apparently they hadn't gotten very far and closer inspection would show that the weapon was crudely jury rigged to the outside of the 'mech's arm and had no actual armour protecting it, just the thin sheet metal casing surrounding the laser's core and lending to the weapon's unusually slim appearance. Also according to my targeting system the enemy 'mech didn't appear to have been fully armoured either, likely due to time constraints with getting an entire side torso and two arms attached, but it still estimated the Assault 'mech's overall status around 85%, more than enough to completely demolish what was left of my Merlin.

The oncoming Thug staggered to the left as a fusillade of energy beams tore into it from it's right side, Johnny and his Grasshopper taking full advantage of the pirate's seemingly singular focus, but the monstrosity continued on. I fired my singular medium laser as soon as its capacitors recharged, once again lancing into the charging 'mech's center torso to little effect, while the pirate unleashed it's right torso mounted SRM-4 in a blaze of destruction that tore into my stricken 'mech's right and center torsos. The HE warheads exploding violently inside the exposed inner workings of my 'mech severing the power coupling to my PPC and removing my most powerful weapon from the fight but thankfully not completely destroying that torso as well. A pair of emerald lasers speared into the back of the Thug as Octavia's Raven zipped in behind the 'mech for a minute before moving on to the next target of opportunity, the twin beams chewing threw the armour there and exposing internals should anyone get behind the pirate again. Another blast of quad medium lasers cored deeply into the Thug's right side, a pair of them lancing past the 'mech's remaining overly large shoulders to melt copious amounts of armour from the pirate 'mech's head, one of the beams actually severing one of the antennas. The pirate finally seemed to take notice of the much greater threat that the Grasshopper presented but it was too late and the sheer momentum of the Thug drove it into my beleaguered Merlin despite the pirate's attempt to turn to face towards Johnny. The impact was harsh, the two 'mechs colliding violently and crushing the remnants of my Merlin's left arm and shearing the limb clean off as the pirate aborted the charge too late. I had managed to brace my 'mech before getting hit though and I was able to keep my 'mech upright despite the enemy having 20 tons on me and as the larger 'mech continued past with the pirate turning to try and get a bead on the 70 ton Grasshopper he exposed his rear quarter to me and I fired my only remaining weapon yet again. The medium laser somehow striking the rear of the 'mech's head and damaging internals as the weakened armour collapsed with little resistance, my targeting system claiming I had struck both his life support and sensors.

I immediately took advantage of the pirate's diverted attention and began withdrawing towards the passageway we had used to enter this chamber hoping to escape any further damage to my now all but useless Merlin, slipping out as wide as possible within the confines of the chamber to try and avoid the other still ongoing conflicts raging throughout the underground cavern.

"Orpheus-2 to Orpheus-1, sorry sir but I'm out of this fight. There's nothing left of my 'mech to speak of, but I'll do what I can to hold the entrance," I radioed to Maxwell.

"Understood Orpheus-2, we'll cover you."

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

This Schuster fellow had decent questions. Good head on his shoulders. I was curious to these answers as well.    Luckily Luke had provided additional explosives,  no doubt stolen from Johnn

I did a yelling barf into the wishing well pond in the Hydroponics Bay and then I stared, sometimes cross eyed as the fish inside the pond swam up and ate my chunks of barf. It had been a long and har

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MEANWHILE.... 

Total Warfare happened on the Battlefield as THERMO MAN tried to fix the Auto Cannon he had broke when he had tried to steal my Mech. I did a bunch of angry yelling on account of my DRAGON only had lasers left and L. R. M.s didn't work in close space, so when I was banging on the Quickdraw that was coming at me I wasn't doing a lot of stuff to it. "HURRY UP WITH THOSE REPAIRS THERMO MAN!" I Yelled, then the DRAGON got hit hit hard and wrecked into another Mech that was trying to combat with somebody else at the same time. ThermO MAN yelled a bunch and I think he bashed his head on the underside of my steering wheel, then he stuck his head up between my legs and yelled "DRIVE MORE CAREFUL I'M WORKING ON DELECATE WIRES DOWN HERE!" "I'M TRYING" I Yelled over the music that was still stuck on "IT'S HARD TO DRIVE RIGHT WHEN WE'RE GETTING SHOT AT" Then all of the sudden there was a HUGE explosion and I saw a tank go flipping by that had gotten blown up, then a guy flew by on fire and screaming something about being on fire. But I didn't have time to check it out because all of a sudden the Quickdraw fired all 4 lasers at me in reverse while it was running away from me and blasted its jump jets and flew away up onto a ledge. "BALL DAMN IT HOW AM I GOING TO GET HIM UP THERE I GOT NO USEFUL WEAPONS" I raged. "Do you want to come down here and fix this yourself Steve???" THERMO MAN yelled. "Hell no I hate mechanics!" I Yelled back, my dad had tried to teach me them back on Kuuzu but all we had was a rotovator and he wasn't very good at teaching. Nex thing I knew the QUICKDRAW was spamming LRMS and SRMs at me from up on the ledge and I was getting wrecked around, one of the missiles flew in where the windshield was supposed to be and blew up on the inside of my cockpit!! The drink machine exploded everywhere and the back of my seat and the seat of my pants and the back of my shirt all got singed off! "AAAAAAAAHH!" I Yelled. "Now what quit driving like you're drunk!!" THERMO MAN yelled while I meched at the QUCIKDRAW that had just came back down again. "I Can't HELP IT MY BUTT JUST BLEW UP!" I Yelled. "WELL MAYBE YOU NEED A BATHROOM BREAK??" Said Thermo Man. "PULL OVER IF YOU HAVE TO!" 

"IT'S NOT THAT KIND OF EXPLOSION!" I Yelled. Then THERMO MAN said "Hey I touched 2 wires and I think the gun is working, give it a try." 

"ALRIGHT PREPARE TO EAT LEAD!" I Yelled and I spammed a bunch of Auto Cannon at the QUICKDRAW. A whole bunch of explosions went off on the front of it, but then it shot a bunch of stuff back at us and a laser round poked a hole in the back wall of the DRAGON and blue fire started coming out!

"AHHHH THERMO MAN GET OVER THERE AND FIX THAT REACTOR LEAK!" I Yelled. 

"WITH WHAT ITS A FUSION REACTOR??" THERMO MAN yelled, he was stumbling around trying to walk over and look at the damage while I drove around like crazy shooting back at the QUICKDRAW. 

"I DON'T KNOW, TRY THIS!" I Yelled and threw a roll of stickers at him, it was all I had. 

"Hey WAIT maybe I can use my laser and fix this!!!" THERMO MAN said. 

"WARNING. MECH DESTRUCTION IN 2 MINUTES." Came the computer. 

"OH SHIT!!" I Yelled. "OK do it now, we already used our 1 ejection seat and if we get blown up we're dead meat!!!" 

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As I drove my Atlas toward the Quickdraw, trigger-slapping its laser suite and tearing multiple gouges in the pirate 'Mech's armored hide, my eyes traced across the hostile contacts flaring on the tactical display, taking stock of our situation.

Thug, Quickdraw, a Gladiator, and a Shadow Hawk...another full lance. And I've got five autocannon rounds and four medium lasers to my name. Not great odds in our current condition unless Scorched Earth is in better shape than we are, I thought to myself. Simultaneously, a series of gut-wrenching calls crackled in one after another over my Atlas' radio, seemingly timed to underscore just how bad the situation really was.

"Orpheus-1, this is Orpheus-5...I'm in a bad way over here. Can you assist?" Schuster cried out. Simultaneously, Orlex checked in with more grim news.

"Orpheus-2 to Orpheus-1, sorry sir but I'm out of this fight. There's nothing left of my 'Mech to speak of, but I'll do what I can to hold the entrance," the Lieutenant reported. A quick sensor sweep of his Merlin confirmed that Jaeger wasn't merely using a figure of speech - there really was little left of his war machine. 

"Understood Orpheus-2, we'll cover you," I responded. "Get yourself to safety. Orpheus-3, move to reinforce Orpheus-2 and provide electronic countermeasures."

"Roger that, Orpheus-1, up and moving," Alyssa Chase acknowledged.

"Orpheus-5, I'm inbound," I continued, leveling my autocannon on the Quickdraw and snapping off a combined-arms volley of AC/20 and medium laser fire directly into its center of mass. The Quickdraw reeled from the impact, veering off course long enough for me to pivot toward Schuster's Phoenix Hawk LAM. As the ravaged 'Mech rolled into view, I inhaled sharply as I took in its condition. The once-sleek BattleMech had been savaged and nearly torn asunder. Both wings were missing. Huge chunks of armor were melted or ripped completely off, baring delicate internal components to the outside world. Multiple spider cracks crisscrossed its canopy glass, so heavy in their concentration that it looked as though the cockpit had frosted over. Most disturbingly, the 'Mech itself was ablaze.

Harrying Schuster as he attempted to retreat was a heavily-damaged Gladiator that seemed to be afflicted by an electrical overload spilling from its PPC arm. The Gladiator bucked and lurched like a badly-controlled marionette as it fired wildly in the general direction of the Phoenix Hawk, scoring few hits. I drew the Atlas onto an intercept course that would directly intersect the Gladiator's path. 

"Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-5: get behind me! I'm about to cause some fireworks!" I warned.

"Aye sir, I'll see if I can keep this wreck together long enough to do so," Schuster responded, his BattleMech billowing angry black smoke as it passed me in the opposite direction. The Gladiator staggered toward me, raising its PPC at my Atlas' torso, apparently attempting to charge the firing coils and get off a shot.

"Not today, fucko," I muttered, leveling all of my functional weapons, including my LRM launcher, at the Gladiator and unleashing a hellish Alpha strike. A massive blast of emerald-green energy spat forth from the Atlas' gun ports, accompanied by the deafening crack of autocannon fire and the thunderous report of twenty dumb-fired long-range missiles. The Gladiator was consumed by an orange and green firestorm; most of the missiles landing wide, but enough of them finding their marks to devastate its armor while the laser fire obliterated critical components. Half a second later, the pirate 'Mech's center torso was ripped apart by the hypersonic impact of a 203mm depleted-uranium round fired at point-blank range. As the maelstrom cleared, I bore witness to what was left of the Gladiator sprawled out prone on the cavern floor, its pilot attempting to drag the war machine to its feet. I grimaced and pushed my Atlas' throttle forward, feeling a satisfying crunch and a low-grade explosion beneath the BattleMech's right foot moments later.

"Orpheus-1 reporting Tango down," I radioed, making note of the fact that Steve Jenkins had engaged the Quickdraw and was keeping it at least momentarily occupied. Pivoting the Atlas around, I saw that Schuster had taken temporary refuge beside a nearby outcropping and appeared to be attempting fire control measures on his Phoenix Hawk. I pushed the Atlas closer to his position, noting a large conduit haphazardly installed in the cavern's ceiling. Using the zoom function on my targeting reticule, I focused in on the conduit's markings.

H2O outflow...non-potable...

"Orpheus-5, I think I've got a solution to help you get those fires out. Stand by," I advised. Taking careful aim at the pipe, I fired a single laser at the closest point directly overhead the wounded LAM. An explosive discharge of water erupted out of the conduit, cascading down and around Schuster's Phoenix Hawk. As Nathan jockeyed the machine in an attempt to ensure total immersion, by bit, the raging flames were reduced to billowing clouds of steam.

"How are you holding up over there, Orpheus-5?" I called out, quickly rotating my Atlas to snap off a volley of supporting laser fire toward the engagement between Steve's Dragon and the pirate Quickdraw.

"That was some genuine outside-of-the-box thinking....although this water smells like ass. Sir. Thanks for the assist," Nathan answered.

"Don't mention it," I chuckled. "Fall back with Orpheus-2 and Orpheus-3. I'm going to see if I can help Orpheus-4 put down this Quickdraw."

"Roger that, Orpheus-1,"  Nathan acknowledged.

Swinging my Atlas' weapons toward the Quickdraw, I took another quick stock of the tactical situation. The elements of Scorched Earth had fully engaged with the Thug and the Shadow Hawk, while Jenkins careened wildly around his 60-ton assailant, calling out concerning status updates about a possible imminent reactor failure as he did so.

"Opheus-1 to Orpheus-4: hold together. I'm on my way."

Once more unto the breach!

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Damn. My Raven wasn't designed for CQC. It was meant to poke in,  out, dance around,  and let the others take the risks.  

 

Still,  I tried to flit around to keep my mobility up in the cramped space as the Thug and Shadowhawk stared us down.  Maxwell's men had joined us, and weapons fire was firing into mechs and scenery alike as orders,  retorts,  and intel were barked across communications.

 

A stray laser shot from the Grasshopper narrowly missed the Atlas, and a scoff from Johnny rose up from the comms. "Just making sure you're playing attention there bud."

 

"Bullshit, you can't aim."  I muted my comms before the laugh escaped at Maxwell's response. Well said.

 

SRMs streaked over my head, slamming into the Thug, followed by lasers hitting the Shadowhawk.  I fired off a few shots to the back of the Thug as I dashed around. 

 

These new folk weren't bad.  A bit banged up,  but good in a fight.  Could be good allies. If they all survived, that is. 

 

Unmuting as a babbling comment caught my ear,  I spared a glance at Orpheus-1 - not that he could really see,  I suppose. Luke beat me to the punch, however,  asking, "What's this about a reactor failure?"

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The person who’d designed the Dragon didn’t expect to ever have to repair one themselves. If they had, they would have put maintenance access to the mech’s reactor someplace easy to get to, instead of making it a floor hatch right under the pilot’s stinky-ass feet. 

 

So I dropped down in, and dodged good enough that Steve’s feet only whacked me in the head a few times, and then got a faceful of neon green antifreeze sprayed all over me. That explained the MECH DESTRUCTION IN 2 MINUTES stuff - a core breach wouldn’t have wrecked the mech, but an overheat could cause some pretty good havoc if the core didn’t shut down. Every reactor I’d worked on would shut itself off if it got too hot, which was a good safety feature for a cargo lift but maybe not so safe when you were getting shot at.

 

“Hey, Steve!” I called up through the open hatch. “You got any solder?”

 

“NOT RIGHT NOW, I’M ON THE PHONE!” Steve shouted back.

 

The fuck? Okay, other options. Just about everything down here was made of metal, but it was all attached to stuff, and most of it was critical. There was some plating torn half-off on the back side of the mech, so I squeezed in the space next to the reactor and had a go at prying a piece off, but even though the mech’s backside was so shredded I could see the cave floor going by under us, the metal bits weren’t coming off.

 

I could also hear bits and pieces of Steve’s side of the conversation, like “that’s mechanics stuff, I don’t have time for this!” and “it’s just BROKEN, the computer said so!”, and also the mech’s control panel announcing "WARNING. MECH DESTRUCTION IN ONE MINUTES AND THIRTY SECONDS."

 

“Steve, seriously, I need something to melt!” I called up. “Scrap metal, a soda can, something?”

 

“THERMO MAN, the captain wants to know what you broke!” Steve shouted, and then a headset bounced off my helmet, glanced off the wall with a metallic ping, and landed in the muck.

 

So I prioritized, and stomped on the single earphone of the headset til the cover popped off - it was some kind of lightweight metal, probably aluminum, hopefully low melting point. The headset was making a talking-ish crackling sound, so I held what was left of it up to my ear.

 

The voice on the headset sounded kinda frantic. “Orpheus 4? Dionysus? Say again, your what is about to explode?”

 

I was pretty sure Dionisis or Dinosauraus or whatever was this mech - that’s the callsign they’d tried to hail back when I stole it. “Hi, um… Captain? Or whoever, this is Dinosaurus’s... copilot? mechanic? or something,” I said into the mic while giving the broken-off piece a couple more stomps to mostly-flatten it. “We got shot in the reactor. I’m tryinna fix it.” I picked up the mostly-squashed earphone cover and gave it a shake to get the sludge off.

 

“Can I trust that Sergeant Jenkins is still in control of the mech?” the voice on the headset said.

 

“That’s Steve, right?” I asked. “Yeah, he’s just-”

 

"WARNING. MECH DESTRUCTION IN ONE MINUTES."

 

“Uh, hold on a sec,” I said, since I couldn’t keep holding the headset in hearing range for the next part. I snapped the end off of the headband to expose a thin metal bit, and then threaded it through a hole in the smashed earphone cover so I could hold it up without touching it. Then I held it up against the leaky part of the coolant line and lasered it til it got all melty. Once the metal started to stick on, I unthreaded the headset’s headband and used it to poke the patch into place. It blistered up a little around the leak, but luckily the coolant was cold and low-pressure enough that the patch turned solid before it warped totally out of shape.

 

“We’re good, Steve! Leak’s fixed!” I shouted.

 

“WOOOHOOOO!!!” Steve hollered.

 

“Yeah, Steve’s fine,” I said into the headset. “The reactor is too, the coolant got shot and I couldn’t find any scrap so I had to weld so

 

“Is Steve the one driving?” the voice on the headset said.

 

“Ooooh.” They thought I’d stolen the headset, and possibly the entire mech. “Yeah, he’s at the controls, I’m in the engine room. Once he gets his feet out of my way I’ll give the headset back so you can talk to him.”

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Oberon VI, 3015
Moments later...

Four Maskirovka agents lay dead on the floor of the accounting office, gaping laser wounds smoldering in the center of their chests. The treasurer stood before me, hands raised in surrender. I looked back and forth between him and my unknown liberator, who stood in the doorway of the chamber, clad entirely in a dark green-hued Nighthawk PA(L) suit, a matching pair of Sternsnacht Claymore Heavy Pistols leveled at the official.

"My god!" the treasurer exclaimed. "You - you - you saved us! We were just concluding our business when those...those men burst in on us, and - "

"Cut the crap," a male voice hissed from within the Nighthawk suit. "I know you're working for the Capellans. Your boss is about to find out, too."

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm going to have you removed!" the treasurer bellowed, lunging toward his desk, his faux terror subsiding abruptly. In a single, fluid movement, the armored man holstered one of the Claymores, swapped it for a stun gun, and fired its projectiles directly into the treasurer. The official dropped to the floor of the office like the proverbial sack of potatoes, convulsing wildly on the floor.

"I was sick of talking to that asshole anyway," the apparent vigilante grumbled. Stomping over to the prone man, he used the toe of his armored suit to roll the treasurer over, slapping a pair of submission cuffs on the fellow's wrists and hoisting him to his feet.

"Get up. You're coming with me. Don't try anything, or you're gonna lose your head sooner rather than later,"  the voice from the Nighthawk suit hissed again, forcibly tearing an embedded safe from the treasurer's desk with his free, power-armored hand. "I'm not from around here, but scuttlebutt says that King Grimm hasn't taken the guillotine off the books."

Then, glancing at me, the marauder continued. "You better follow me out of here too, blondie. Unless you want to stick around for the shitstorm that's about to blow in."

"Please don't think I'm ungrateful for your timely intervention," I replied, "but it would reassure me if I could know to whom I'm about to entrust my safety in this den of wolves - and whether or not I should harbor any concern about my own head."

The power armor paused momentarily.

"I'm a bounty hunter. And today's your lucky day. I'm your ride out of here."

###

Six months later...

Vertigo lounge
Outreach - 3016


"So you are my mysterious benefactor," I began, pensively, as I sat down at a corner table across from a heavyset man with a bushy moustache, fiery red hair, and a gleam in his emerald green eyes.

"William Kauffman?" he asked.

"Yes - I take it you're Harold Jones?" I replied.

"Guilty as charged!" the man replied with a jovial laugh. "Did you bring it?"

Cautiously, I set the safe on the table before me. Harold's eyes widened and a smile played across his face.

"I've been in suspense for half a year," I remarked. "Both out of curiosity as to its contents, and also how anything within could possibly be so valuable that it represents fifty percent of the wages His Majesty owed me."

"You mean to tell me that the Bounty Hunter didn't fill you in?" Jones asked, incredulously. A server robot trundled up to our table. "Can I buy you a drink?"

"Nothing for me, thank you," I answered.

"Your loss," Harold chuckled, turning toward the robot. "Two Pharaohs and a Quillar Fizz for my friend here, in case he changes his mind."

The robot chirped in acknowledgement and rumbled off to process the drink order.

"Now then - where was I? Oh, yes. The Bounty Hunter didn't fill you in?" Jones continued.

"He did not," I responded, shaking my head. "He simply said, 'I do the job, and then I get paid.'"

Harold let out another bellowing hearty laugh. Then, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, he withdrew a small piece of hardware from a pocket of his oversized coat.

"Well - let me not bury the lede," he answered, removing a piece of hardware from his oversized coat and connecting it to the safe. The container elicited a muted squelch, followed by several sequential pops. Then, the lid hissed open. Jones reached inside the safe, retrieving something from within and placing it on the table with a flourish.

"What is it?" I asked, studying the device, which appeared to be a small computer set atop a tripod equipped with five optical emitters.

"This," Harold replied, "is your payment." With that, he tapped several keys on top of the unit. Suddenly, the emitters around its circumference began to glow. A bluish grid, projected by lasers, splashed across the table at the base of the tripod, transforming seconds later into a three-dimensional topographical map. The holographic image flickered momentarily, and then, the familiar form of a Castle Brian began to take form.

"You're joking," I exhaled with true amazement. "Is that..."

"Yes," Jones laughed, pressing another key on the projector. The projection zoomed out further and further until it resolved into an orbital image of a familiar planet. "And this confirms what I'd suspected for some time."

"You're joking. You're saying that there's a Castle Brian on New Earth?" I asked incredulously.

"There used to be four," Harold answered. "Three of them have been found. This one - a smaller outpost as most of them go - is the fourth. I'd heard rumors about some pirates salvaging a Star League vessel that'd left from New Earth during the Exodus. I chased those stories and they led me to you. I pulled some strings, played a game of telephone or two, and convinced King Grimm that you and I were business associates and that we'd take the memory core from the ship's orbital tomographer as pay."

"I see," I replied, at length. "If you were interested in a business partnership, this course of action seems like an extreme amount of subterfuge to undertake when it would have been far more straightforward to simply approach me and solicit me for one. Why the deceit?"

"Plausible deniability," Jones answered, his expression becoming serious. The waiter droid rolled up to the table, a tray of beverages balanced on its manipulator arm. Harold retrieved the delivery and set it beside the projector. The crack of a beer can being opened punctuated the silence.

"And remind me again of your profession?" I asked.

"I'm an  archeologist-turned-treasure hunter," Harold answered, taking a long swig from his pyramid-shaped beer can. "I also am in charge of a small mercenary regiment to help pay the bills."

"Forgive me, Mister Jones, but I still don't understand. You could have just taken this for yourself. Why proposition me for something you could have simply absconded with? You had a bounty hunter tailing me, for Blake's sake," I pressed.

"Because that would be unethical and put undue attention on my day job." Harold laughed. "In all seriousness - two reasons. One: you need me. I have a keen interest in what's in that Castle Brian, and I have the experience to get you in there. I have some history on New Earth. Last time I was on the planet, I may or may not have stolen nearly a million C-Bills' worth of jewels from the burial crypt of one of the noble rulers of the planet. And two: I can set you up with a functional shell company under which you can claim ownership of the site and mine it to your heart's content without the attention of the authorities."

"And in return I would do what for you?" I asked. The offer sounded too good to be true.

"Simply cut me in for a piece of the action once we get inside," Jones smiled.

###

45 minutes later...

Having weighed the pros and cons of the deal, and gone over the records of several very legitimate previous expeditions undertaken by Harold Jones, I decided to take the plunge and enter into the business arrangement he'd proposed.

"A toast," Harold beamed, holding his third can of Pharaoh aloft.

"Hear hear," I replied, lifting my now-flat glass of Quillar Fizz. "To the future of Stormvanger Heavy Industries."

"And to its newly-minted CEO," Jones grinned.

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Black Canyon
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 7, 3029

____________________________________

“Ooooh,” Gamlble's voice replied through the now static-laden headset. “Yeah, he’s at the controls, I’m in the engine room. Once he gets his feet out of my way I’ll give the headset back so you can talk to him.”

A muffled series of shouts followed, during which I swore I heard Steve complaining about his shoe falling into the engine. Then, Jenkins came on the line.

"We're doing great, Captain Maxwell, THERMO MAN fixed me up real good."

"Thermo...what?" I asked. "Actually - never mind - and please stick to callsigns." A series of explosions resonated through my headset in reply.

"Ahhhh! Captain Maxwell, this Quickdraw really has my number! I could use some help!" Jenkins shouted.

"Orpheus-1 inbound," I responded, shoving my Atlas' throttle to full. Suddenly, the sounds of a blistering firefight roared over the comms. "Short Circuit to all units - we're getting lit up over here! We could use a little bit of crowd control at your convenience!" It was Johnny - the MechWarrior I'd pegged as least likely to ask for any kind of assistance.

"Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-3 - I need you to get into the middle of that fight and pump it as full of ECM as you can. Also, see if you can afford Scorched Earth some fire support while I get Orpheus-4 sorted - but don't get yourself too banged up. You and Baroness are all we've got if we need to bail out of this one," I radioed to Alyssa Chase.

"Roger that, Orpheus-1; I'll link up with Scorched Earth and see what I can do. Orpheus-2 and 5 are maintaining station on the cave entrance with Predator," Chase responded. As the comm traffic finished, my targeting scope chirped loudly with a lock on the Quickdraw. The computer identified it as a QKD-5A - a more recent redesign intended to give the 'Mech more endurance during protracted missions where resupply wasn't guaranteed. The solution of the designers had been to remove the LRM-10 and replace it with two additional forward-firing medium lasers and four additional heat sinks. While it gave the 'Mech a more fearsome punch, I'd heard that it gave it an even bigger heat management problem. I intended to use that to my advantage.

As I closed with the BattleMech, I could see that it was already running hot; its pilot had apparently been firing continuously at Jenkins' Dragon, fortunately landing few shots. Heat radiated from the Quickdraw's chassis, and the pirate at the controls vented several short bursts of coolant as he slowed down his firing interval. I glanced at my AC/20's ammo counter.

Five shots left. Better make them count.

I drew a bead on the Quickdraw's SRM launcher, a boxy structure on the 'Mech's left torso. Toggling the autocannon's zoom reticule, I painstakingly fought to keep its scope level as my Atlas trundled toward the engagement. The crosshairs swayed up and down, alternating back and forth between the red of a hard target lock and the passive yellow of "seek" mode. As the muzzle of the weapon began its next downward arc, I thumbed on its "burst" mode, took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger.

With a thunderous boom, the AC/20 discharged a volley of five HEAP rounds, their white phosphorous tracer payloads igniting in the cavern's dank air. I watched with initial discouragement as two of the rounds sailed harmlessly past the Quickdraw's cockpit. Then, a trifecta of explosions rippled across the stout war machine's chest, followed by a much larger and more violent detonation. In surprise, I looked at the targeting scope and realized that the last three rounds had found their mark and punched through the SRM launcher's hide, striking six warheads that the pirate had loaded and was apparently preparing to fire at Jenkins. I smiled grimly as the Quickdraw staggered backward under the assault and swung its torso toward me.

"That's right, asshole, pay attention to me," I muttered, switching over to the Atlas' laser suite as the words "AMMUNITION DEPLETED" flashed above my autocannon readout. A quadruple volley of emerald energy lanced out to brutalize the Quickdraw again, its left arm, having already been savaged by the ammunition explosion, tearing from its mount completely under the punishing assault. The Quickdraw's pilot dumb-fired his LRM-10 suite at me, several errant warheads managing to strike my BattleMech, but inflicting negligible damage. A moment later, his own quadruple laser suite discharged, all four weapons finding their mark on my Atlas' center torso.

"WARNING. ARMOR BREACH. INTERNAL DAMAGE DETECTED," the computer blared, flashing schematics of several ruined subsystems at me.

"I haven't got time for this..." I grumbled, driving the Atlas straight for the Quickdraw as its pilot fought to keep the overheating war machine online and prepared for another volley. Reaching the 'Mech, I drew the Atlas' right arm across the center torso wound...and then drove it forward in a powerful backhand, slapping the Quickdraw with ten tons of force and causing the machine to reel backwards. The pilot pulled his weapon sights level once again and fired, but this time, with only two lasers, his heat management apparently still posing an obstacle to fully engaging. One round apparently smashed into the actuator responsible for controlling the fingers of the Atlas' left hand, but it hardly mattered at this point - I simply brought the left hand up and swung it as a blunt instrument, making full contact with the side of the Quickdraw's chassis and smashing the 'Mech to the ground. Reversing the Atlas, I slowly backed away from the fallen pirate, continuing to pummel the fallen BattleMech with round after round of chain-fired laser energy. A sudden rat-tat-tat of light autocannon fire drew my attention - it was Steve Jenkins, apparently having fully sorted out the issues with his 'Mech and now rejoining the fight. The rounds found their mark, punching through the Quickdraw's leg actuator and causing the machine to collapse back down onto the cavern floor just as it had begun to rise. Steve fired two more medium laser bursts at his adversary, striking a killing blow as the Quickdraw's reactor went critical, sending the pirate crashing into the cavern floor for the last time.

"Woohoo! I got him!" Steve cheered. "When he comes crawling out of his ride, I'm gonna smoosh him!"

"Now, now, Orpheus-4; let's not be war criminals. Let's see how we can help Scorched Earth instead," I chuckled. "Nice shooting, by the way."

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An Atlas lumbered by, thudding towards a Thug. Maxwell.  At least that was one issue being dealt with. 

 

Laser fire slammed into the side of my Raven's leg, ratting the cockpit. A glancing blow,  but a damned bad place to get legged. I couldn't tell where it came from. Damn pirates. At least imagining that they were with Victarion's crew made me feel a little better when they fell. 

 

"Baro-- Exile, are you alright?"  Luke sounded concerned.  Not bad,  it almost seemed genuine. 

 

"Oh, yeah. Thought I'd upgrade to lighter armor by taking off a few tons." I couldn't bite back the annoyance at getting caught out in front of new allies. Damn pi--

 

"Focus,  you two!"  Johnny emphasized his point by firing a round of lasers into the Shadowhawk in front of us, narrowly dodging a return burst from its A/C.

 

I fired a round of SRMs and -- damn. Missed.  The Shadowhawk had twisted its torso in time to avoid the missiles.  Even as I ran past it, it tried to turn and fire a laser at the back of my 'Mech.  Luke lurched into the path and tanked the hit as I zipped past, using the better positioning to draw it's eye as Johnny lined up another barrage, before charging forward and flat out knocking the Shadowhawk over before firing his entire armory point blank into the downed 'Mech.

 

"Short-circuit, you get yourself killed and the ship is mine," I pointed out.

 

"Fat chance. Might as well hand it over directly to your cousin then. Go see if the others need help. Avoid the lasers this time."

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Black Canyon
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 7, 3029

____________________________________

STC...THG...STC...THG...STC...THG...ERROR.

"Well, that's fucking helpful," I groused as my targeting computer, failing to identify the half-Thug, half-Blake-knows-what BattleMech, gave up and relegated itself to relaying simple telemetry about the freakish machine's status. It looked like Orlex and Scorched Earth had taken a couple of significant chunks out of the machine before it had forced his retreat, but the hulking biped still registered a solid 78% structural integrity estimate, which didn't bode well for how hard I was going to have to hit it with the four medium lasers I had left.

Immediately upon registering my approach, the machine hunched forward and began a run straight at me, raising its spindly right arm and firing off a barrage of purplish coherent energy. The shot smashed into my Atlas' face, the residual energy of the weapon exploding through my shattered cockpit canopy glass. An intense heat washed past my body, and I felt the side of my pilot's chair melt, filling the cockpit with the acrid smell of burning rubber and plastic. The skin along my exposed right arm immediately felt like it had been hit with a blowtorch, causing me to instinctively yell in pain. Multiple equipment bays exploded behind my chair, triggering the 'Mech's fire suppression system and causing alarms to wail. I fired the Atlas' medium lasers blindly, unsure if any of the shots found their mark, hoping that firing for effect would at least give me the upper hand. My Atlas was rocked again by the impact of an autocannon round, followed almost immediately thereafter by a colossal impact that threw me against my harness and very nearly toppled the war machine entirely.

Fighting against my pilot's controls, I drew the 'Mech upright again and assessed the situation. The pilot of the disfigured Thug had rammed my Atlas at full speed and was now torso-to-torso with me, slamming its arms violently against those of my own 'Mech, and preventing me from getting a solid shooting solution given the unfortunate position of my Atlas' medium lasers on its arms. Outside of my cockpit, I could see the top of the Thug's head bobbing up and down, and I realized that my higher center of mass could be used to my advantage. I pushed the Atlas' throttle to full, driving all 100 tons of its mass forward against the Thug. As I did so, I pitched the Atlas' torso forward, hoping to force the shorter war machine backward and off balance. The Thug fought back, lashing out again with its arms, a terrific shredding sound and explosion of sparks in my peripheral vision heralding the loss of the AC/20 I'd manage to preserve up to that point.

Just then, my sensors registered Steve Jenkins' Dragon on approach, closing in on the brawl from my right flank.

"Orpheus-1 to Orpheus-4: Seems I've got this guy's full attention - he's split between beating the shit out of what's left of my Atlas and trying to stay upright. Can you get inside his rear arc?"

"I'll do my best, Orpehus-1!" Steve responded.

"Fantastic. Let me see if I can at least anchor him in place," I replied. Taking a quick read of my 'Mech's damage indicators, I noted with amazement that both of the Atlas' arms were still functional. Grabbing hold of the relevant controls, I drew the war machine's arms forward and forcibly threw them around the Thug, pulling it into what must have looked like some kind of grotesque bear hug and applying maximum pressure to its chassis. As the pirate fought to escape the titanic grip of my savaged BattleMech, I continued to press the controls harder, watching the pneumatic pressure readouts in each limb approach critical levels. In the absence of an intact cockpit canopy, I heard the Thug's superstructure straining as twenty tons of lateral pressure was exerted on it.

"Hahahaha, it looks like you're hugging!" Steve shouted gleefully.

"I'll laugh later, Orpheus-4, right now I need you to get in this bastard's blind spot and finish him off!"

"Alright," Jenkins acknowledged, "I'll see what I can do!"

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

The Merlin hobbled its way to the outside of the waterfall cave pirate base, though hobbled wasn't the right word as the legs were about the only thing still fully functional on the 'mech. The left side was ravaged nearly beyond recognition with the Merlin's left arm completely missing, looking like something had forcibly torn it off, and the where the left torso was supposed to be was nothing but a half melted metal framework that looked like it might have once held important internal components. The right side wasn't much better with virtually no ablative armour panels remaining although there were still identifiable components on that side, including a 5 tube LRM launcher in the torso and what appeared to be a medium laser in the arm. The remnants of the once impressive war machine shambled through the torrents of the waterfall to arrive outside the pirate base where it had clearly taken an extremely severe beating.

"Orpheus-2 to Orpheus-1, I'm clear," I reported before also offering to hold position and take over relaying any intel coming in from Bishop in the Swiftwind in case Alyssa's Raven would be more useful inside, I also reported that I still had one medium laser and an LRM-5 with about half a ton of ammo so I wasn't completely defenseless.

Captain Maxwell acknowledged the offer but didn't immediately call in Orpheus-3 for reinforcements which suggested they may have finally got the upper hand inside the cave. I took the time to do a thorough damage report, or as thorough as possible given the limitations of the computer and the severity of damage, and mentally cringed as I roughly added up the numbers in my head for replacement parts and costs. The fact that the Merlin was still functional given everything it had endured this day was a true testament to the reliability and ruggedness of the design, unfortunately it was going to need a full factory overhaul to ever return to that level again.

A few minutes later, shortly after Alyssa was called into the waterfall base to provide support for Charles' piecemeal Atlas, and leading to me believe more threats might have shown up inside, my sensors lit up with an unknown contact that was approaching very fast, so fast that it could only mean an Aerospace asset or possibly a conventional fighter. Before my system even had a chance to ID the bogey a medium weight Aerospace fighter blasted by overhead, the roughly 'T' shaped craft was painted gunmetal grey with what appeared to be black and red accents, although its speed prevented me from seeing anything close to details. The unidentified fighter had approached from the south, angled intentionally to fly down the length of the river canyon, and was travelling much to fast for any unprepared combatants to even attempt to engage them. My targetting system was able to get a positive ID but it did offer a likely match of a Lightning medium aerospace fighter, although it couldn't provide a guess on which variant. The Lightning was a 50 ton aerospace fighter according to my computer, I wasn't terribly familiar with alot of aerospace assets but my time in the Outworlds Alliance military had at least made me aware of the most common ones due to their propensity for using them over BattleMechs. As such I was aware that most Lightning variants were built around a massive AC/20 and they had the speed and armour to get close enough to use it, that was a very bad thing if it turned out this apparently lone fighter was hostile. The fighter seemed to continue on oblivious to my 'mech as it travelled quickly out of my sensor range and out of view further down the canyon, the walls of the canyon limiting the range of my sensors even more than normal, however I wasn't going to leave it to chance to see if the fighter did notice me or not and I also needed to make the rest of the unit aware of the potential threat. 

Opening the lance wide comms I contacted Captain Maxwell first, "Orpheus-1, we've got a possible Bogey out here, TAS (Target Acquisition Subsytem) ID'd it as possibly a Lightning, it did a flyby but appears to be moving off. Going to contact the Lieutenant and see if he has anything more."

"Copy that Orpheus-2, be careful and do not engage if possible," replied Charles.

"Yes sir."

Switching over to a direct channel to Lieutenant Weyland's Swiftwind, who had been patrolling the rim of the canyon in an effort to extend our sensor network, I radioed Bishop, "Orpheus-2 to Predator, do you copy?"

Nothing but static and silence on the comm, I tried again, "Orpheus-2 to Predator, Lieutenant are you there?"

Again silence but then came what sounded like something rough rubbing across a microphone followed by a bit more static before Weyland's gruff voice filtered over the comms, "Orpheus-2 this is Predator, I copy. Was indisposed taking care of a small weed problem but it's been solved. What do you need?"

"Predator I had a bogey on my sensors fly overhead, was hoping you could still track it from your position, BRA on my last sensor reading was (bearing, range, altitude) 317 for 1km (0.62 miles) at 500m, from my position. They were moving fast but in a straight line," I replied, glad to have gotten hold of Bishop.

"Copy that Orpheus-2, I see them, they're still on track heading away from you and the canyon. Range is now 5km, they are definitely moving fast," answered Bishop after a brief pause, the advanced sensors and communication gear on the Swiftwind, combined with the increased elevation from being on top of the canyon walls, meant that the Lieutenant had a much farther range for his vehicle's radar system.

A moment later and Bishop radioed me back, "Scratch that Orpheus-2, Bogey has slowed down and come around to bearing 150, looks like they're coming back for another pass. Judging from their new speed they're looking to engage, get ready they're coming in hot."

"Shit, thanks Predator, Orpheus-2 out."

Switching back to the lance comm I radioed the Captain again, "Orpheus-1 we have a problem, Predator confirmed that the Bogey is coming back around, no idea what their intentions are but I'm guessing they aren't looking to help."

"Orpheus-2, this is Orpheus-5, I'm not in much better shape than you but I still have a functional weapons suite, what do you need?" came Schuster's voice over the radio, his LAM, nearly mangled beyond recognition and covered in scorch marks, shambled its own way out from the waterfall base.

"Appreciate it Orpheus-5, right now I think we should hold tight, there's always a chance they're just curious and I have no intentions of picking a fight with Aerospace fighter in my condition. Don't imagine there's any chance you could get airborne?" I joked as I noted the lack of wings and severe damage to the Phoenix Hawk LAM.

"No luck there, I'm not even sure if the jump jets on this thing are functional right now, I can however still point and shoot if it comes down to it," Nick called back.

"Let's hope it doesn't, here they come."

As I finished on the radio I had spotted the approaching fighter coming in much lower to the canyon this time but still at significant speed, they looked to be basically skimming the tree tops lining the canyon walls and were rapidly growing in size. Before we had a chance to respond I spotted a flash and what looked to be a ring of distorted air around the oncoming fighter, they were much too far away for anything short of missiles at this range so I thought maybe it was a sonic boom or something, I was wrong.

The impact rocked my 'mech, shattered armour exploded outwards in a hail of shrapnel as the heavy kinetic round punched clean through the remaining armour on my Merlin's left leg exposing the myomer and actuators within, though thankfully not causing any critical damage to any of them. As alarms wailed amidst a shower of electrical sparks within my cockpit I cursed aloud wondering what the fuck had just hit me, I was well outside the range of anything that had that kind of punch even for an Aerospace fighter and it wasn't until a moment later when the targeting system finally ID'd the Lightning variant I was facing that I realized what had happened. LTN-G15b the readout displayed, a blake-damned Star League era relic loaded to the nines with LosTech, and the offending weapon was a near mythical Gauss Rifle, the holy grail of ballistic sniper weapons. The Gauss Rifle was the pinnacle of Star League ballistic weapons, while it didn't quite match the massive AC/20's pure damage it more than made up for it with impressive accuracy and more than double the range. On top of that it produced virtually no heat since it used a closed circuit series of electromagnetic coils to accelerate solid, ferrous rounds to incredulous speeds, relying purely on kinetic energy to deliver its ferocious damage. As if that wasn't enough, the ammunition itself was non-volatile since it was simply solid metal slugs made of a magnetic alloy with no propellant meaning there was no risk of an ammunition explosion either, although there was a risk of the weapon itself detonating if critically struck while the coils where charged but that risk was considerably less than a ton or more of HE rounds ripping through the insides of your 'mech. Between the explosive impact of the gauss rifle round and the new variety of screaming alarms in the cockpit I never heard if anyone had responded or not but I keyed the mic again, hoping that my combat neurohelmet filtered out enough noise that my transmission could be heard above everything else.

"Bogey is hostile, I repeat, Bogey is hostile."

The sound of someone on the radio barely filtered through the cacophony of noise in my cockpit but I couldn't make it out, instead I immediately turned to run my 'mech back inside the relative safety of the cave immediately behind the waterfall, or at least attempted to, but despite the computer system saying there was no internal damage the 'mech's left leg didn't budge. I swore again, cursing Blake and every other deity or demi-deity I could think of as the Merlin's leg stubbornly refused to move. Prior to this I had moved a fair distance out from the waterfall thinking that the largest threat would be an unchecked pirate presence emerging from the base behind the waterfall or possibly 'mechs returning to the base through the river canyon which I would have been able to see long before being in weapons range. Now I was seemingly trapped a few hundred meters from what amounted to safety from this new Aerospace threat. Still cursing I fired my jump jets instead, the quad fusion powered rockets lifting my 'mech clear of the ground with ease and propelling me back towards safety, though not far enough in one go. I don't know if it was the landing itself or just the jump jets but something must have gotten knocked loose, or back into place, because after landing my 'mech finally starting walking with the left leg responding to inputs now. During this extremely tense few moments the Lightning aerospace fighter had passed overhead again and now came back around for another pass, clearly attempting to cut me off from the waterfall but with limited space to do so. The enemy pilot launched into a strafing attack while dropping altitude quickly in order to keep me in their sights longer as the narrow canyon leading to the waterfall prevented a normal strafing run from providing enough time to properly fire their weapons. This time though the enemy craft only fire a suite of lasers, although they didn't match up with what the computer claimed the fighter should have meaning it was likely a custom unit rather than a computer error, an azure large laser and twin emerald medium lasers. The large laser melted half a ton of armour from my right leg as the beam managed to intersect with the 'mech's thigh mid-stride while one of the medium lasers left a nasty scar that vapourized the remaining armour on the Merlin's right arm, the other medium laser glassed some sand along the river's edge but missed my 'mech completely. A set of blue and green lasers lanced back through the sky towards the Lightning but it looked like it manage to evade getting hit or only took some armour damage, the lasers likely return fire from Schuster trying to drive the enemy off.

It dawned on me that the pilot appeared to be either terribly unlucky or was intentionally aiming to disable what was left of my poor 'mech, while ignoring Nick's LAM, which meant I actually had a decent chance of surviving this encounter, though the same could not be said about the Merlin. I had pivoted what was left of my torso towards the oncoming fighter as it had begun the strafing run and finally had a solid lock for my LRMs, I let loose the rather pitiful 5 missile barrage and joined it with my surprisingly still functional medium laser in a desperate attempt to ward off the Lightning before it could do any further damage. The missiles exploded across the fighter's nose doing minimal damage while the medium laser raked across the aerospace craft's aft section and striking a lucky hit against one the engines, the leftmost engine flared brightly before starting to sputter erratically as the Lightning finished its strafing run above me and banking towards the west assumedly to come back around again. I immediately punched the jump jets again, not waiting to see what the fighter was doing or trying to track it with my limited weapons, the exhaust nozzles flared to life and once again lifted the remains of my 60 tons war machine skyward on plumes of plasma fire. The parabolic arc of my jump path had me landing just meters from the waterfall and I landed in a full run, as best as I could manage, with the Merlin staggering through the wall of water amid a new wave of sparks and short circuits both inside and outside the 'mech with so many damaged components exposed to the torrent. A panel on my right burnt out with a gusto normally reserved for fireworks before the smell of burning electronics and acrid smoke wafted across the enclosed space before the ventilation system was able to clear it out. Just before I disappearing through the water I noted Nick's LAM, crouched down beside the entrance just on the outside of the waterfall, his remaining weapons trained on the fast approaching Aerospace fighter before he unleashed another brilliant blue lance of pure energy from his large laser. The beam carved through the air at the speed of light before raking across the underbelly of the fighter as it slowed quickly to nearly a hover a few hundred meters away facing the waterfall, the laser piercing through what turned out to be an empty external fuel pod and then cutting loose an inferno bomb which detonated on the ground bathing the pathway to the waterfall in a highly flammable gel that was now burning uncontrollably. The river washed about half of the gel away, still burning on its surface, while the remainder coated the wall and floor of the canyon on the right side.

"Orpheus-5, you better get back inside here, not sure either of us could take a hit from that Gauss rifle right now," I called on the comms to Nick.

"Already ahead of Lieutenant," Nick answered as his beleaguered 'mech crashed back through the waterfall.

Once again inside the damp hidden cave we both turned our 'mechs around so to look out back out the waterfall, I only turned far enough to twist the remnants of my torso to look back out the waterfall to see if I could spot the enemy fighter, the thick rocks of the cavern itself and the heavy flow of water interfering with my sensors enough that I couldn't get a clear reading other than the fact that the aerospace fighter was still present. Moments later a series of cascading light shows refracted off the fast moving water as the pilot futilely attempted to pierce the waterfall with their lasers, the beams diffusing and reflecting or refracting off the myriad streams and flows of water to the point where they were little more than blue and green coloured lights. Suddenly a hole was forcefully ripped through the curtain of water followed immediately by an explosion farther back in the cave, the hole vanished quickly as the water continued to pour down from the top of the cliff but the water did little to slow the gauss rifle round as it ripped through the air at hypersonic velocities. The round had passed through the waterfall precisely where I had entered only moments before, and very clearly not close to the side that Schuster had just come through. Several long moments passed as I waited for a sign of any further attacks by the aerospace fighter but there were none, shortly after that the signal my sensors were still picking up as the Lightning vanished, likely with the craft moving far enough away to finally loose tracking completely.

"Orpheus-5, have you got anything on the scope? It looks to me like our Bogey might have cleared out," I asked Schuster on the radio.

"Same here, scope's clear for what its worth, don't know how trustworthy it is in my current state though."

"Copy that, I'm going to check with Predator and see if he can confirm."

Unwilling to risk poking my 'mech outside in its current state I redirected power normally used by now defunct systems to try and boost my comms system to a point where it could reach Lieutenant Weyland and his Swiftwind on the outside of the canyon.

With as much power as the comm system could safely handle I opened the channel with Bishop, praying for some good news, "Predator this is Orpheus-2, do you read me?"

A moment later and a static filled reply came in, "Orpheus-2 I read you but your signal is faint, what's your status?"

"Definitely had better days but I'm still alive, nothing I can do about the signal on my end though, sorry. Do you still have a track on that hostile Lightning?"

"I do, but it's moving away at speed, its current bearing will take it directly to Port Royal. Looks like whatever you did made them give up," chuckled Bishop, his tone of voice almost sounding disappointed, like he was longing for combat.

"Not likely, but I'll take the win right now," I replied, shaking my head at the sorry state of my nearly destroyed 'mech, "any other signals at the moment?"

"None, our friend just went out of range with no change in direction or speed, scope's clear for now," replied Bishop, his voice back to all business.

"Copy that, thanks Lieutenant."

"Any time, Lieutenant."

Switching back to the lance-wide comms, a channel I could have used to contact Bishop but the direct line was a stronger transmission, I radioed Maxwell again to inform him of my latest situation, "Orpheus-2 to Orpheus-1, hostile air assets have left the area, Predator is continuing to monitor."

"Copy that Orpheus-2, what's your status?"

"Functional sir, I took some more hits but I'm secure inside the waterfall entrance, Bastion's holding together for now it seems, I can still walk out of here."

"Alright, hold position Orpheus-2 we'll come to you, just need to finish mopping up here," replied Captain Maxwell.

Edited by Orlex Jaeger
Fixed Gauss Rifle link
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