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BattleTech Player Boards => Fan Fiction => Topic started by: Deadborder on 29 January 2011, 21:36:48

Title: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 29 January 2011, 21:36:48
Outside Fullbright, Besitzland
Zollikofen, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
4 April 3133


Juanita Kwan ducked behind a wall, the sound of gunfire filling the air behind her, muffling the sound of the gravel crunching under her boots. She took a moment to catch her breath, even filtered as it was through her gasmask. Fortunately for her, between the smoke and the chunk of concrete wall that she was using for cover, she should be pretty much invisible. Should.

It was an awfully big risk. The derelict factory district that had become a battlefield provided a small, fast-moving target like her with a lot of places to hide. Unfortunately, it also provided plenty of places for an ambush, for enemy snipers, or simply for her to blindly blunder into an enemy patrol not that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She had to be careful as she moved; one mistake could easily be fatal, especially with what she was planning to do. Glancing around again, she saw that the cost was clear. Pistol in hand, she tensed herself, then took off in a mad dash across a stretch of distressingly open ground. A few seconds stretched out into an eternity as she was ever so briefly exposed; then, just as quickly, the moment was gone. Pressing her back to the corrugated iron wall of an old shed, she glanced around as she plotted her next move.

The shed was one of many like it; streaked with rust and decorated with broken windows and empty doorways. Larger buildings loomed in the distance, several large cranes visible in between them. The larger buildings were easily big enough for a mech to hide behind; the same features that protected her also protected her target. However, sight wasn’t the only way to find a mech.

She heard it over the whumph of a distant explosion. There was a clank of moving metal, the whine of moving motors, the scrape of parts in motion. She focused, trying to concentrate and filter out the sounds of distant gunfire that had become almost persistent in the background. Nearby.

Hugging the wall of the shed, she crept along the side, keeping her ears open for any sign of the enemy machine. The sounds grew louder as she approached the corner of the building, telling her that the target was nearby. Cautiously, knowing full well the consequences of a false move, she peered around the corner, ready for action.

Ahead of her, partially obscured by smoke but its presence unmistakable, was the hunchbacked form of a Carbine Constructionmech. At a glance, she could see that the machine had been modified; its right arm, usually mounting a backhoe, instead ended with a pair of weapon muzzles. Similarly, the mech was topped off with a boxy missile launcher. Looks like a standard Carbine MOD package, she assessed. The right arm will have a pair of machine guns, which will be able to turn me into meat if he spots me.

There were two ways to deal with the threat. The first was not to be seen; the second was to reduce the risk to her if she failed at the first. Watching the Carbine, she patiently observed its actions. The enemy pilot didn’t seem to have noticed her so far, which gave her a distinct advantage. After what seemed like an age, the modified ConstructionMech turned away from her.

Seizing the chance, she sprinted across the gap between the buildings, the crunching of gravel underfoot painfully loud as she went. Even when she ducked behind the next wall, she only felt the most minimal amount of relief. An open doorway provided the refuge that she sought, Juanita dashing inside without a moment’s hesitation.

The interior of the building was comfortingly dark compared to the relative brightness of the daylight outside; even the billowing smoke hadn’t provided her with enough cover to make her feel any better. Here, however, she was safe. The building was cluttered with rusted, long abandoned machinery, the only lighting coming from the broken windows and holes in the roof, allowing her to blend in with her surroundings.

Glancing through one of the windows, she could see the Carbine on the move, its less protected left side open to her. Nodding to herself, she broke into a run, moving as fast as he could to keep pace with the Industrialmech. Weaving in and out of machinery, she had to constantly glance between what was in front of her and the view out the next window.

He hasn’t seen me. Perfect. This was the biggest gamble, the one moment that would make or break her plan. She’d minimised the risk as best she could, but she had to act. Reaching the end of the building, she ran out through another open doorway, closing in on the hulking IndustrilaMech.

Up close, she could see the machine’s modifications far more clearly. The right arm was largely hidden by the bulk of its body, but the twin machine guns were obvious from the few glances of it that she could get. While much of the mech was still in its standard safety yellow, she could see patches were extra armour had been attached to the frame and painted in a bright purple to cover the work.

Due to the placement of its cockpit at the front of the machine, ahead of its shoulders and its smoke-belching engine, the Carbine had terrible rear vision, a design flaw that she was determined to take advantage of. Running as close to the mech as possible, she pulled out her trusted Maghook, the tool of her trade. Gripping the weapon firmly and sure of her control, she fired. This had better work.

The head latched onto the machine with a reassuring clunk; a quick pull on the hook told her that it was safe and secure. Holding on tight, she reeled herself in, quickly ascending up the side of the Carbine. She’d won; the other guy just didn’t know it yet. Grabbing onto the Carbine’s flank, she hauled herself up, managing to find some purchase on its back. Glancing up, she could see the SRM launcher that had been mounted on the mech’s back, confirming her suspicions of its configuration.

Putting that aside, she grabbed at the side of the cockpit then unlatched the access hatch. Before the pilot could respond, she swung towards the cockpit, pistol in hand. “Get out of the mech! Now!”

Antonin Rybak casually stopped the throttle, then turned to face her, a pleased look on his face. “Good time, there, Juanita.” He casually replied, irrespective of the fact that she had a gun to his face. “That’s probably your best yet.”

She smirked as she pulled off the gas mask. “Hey, I’m good at what I do. And you’re dead, so you get to buy dinner.”


Galaport
Galatea, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
4 April 3133


The hub of the mercenary trade across the Inner Sphere, Galatea was a high-traffic world by any standards. Since the collapse of the HPG network, it had become even more so; with the chaos that was quickly consuming the Republic, mercenaries were in higher demand then they’d been at any time since the end of the Jihad decades ago. In spite of the economic chaos that the blackout had bought, the planet’s economy was booming.

Starcross Shipping was one of the many companies that had benefitted from this growth. Formerly a middling transport company, they had quickly diversified into shipping weapons as well as providing rental transport for mercenary forces. The result was that the company was now far busier than it had ever been, resulting in a lot of traffic in and out of its offices in Galaport.

This development made it easy to move people in and out of the company’s offices without anyone noticing. It was a fact that Starcross’ parent company, Bannson Universal, had chosen to take advantage of. While normally its meeting rooms were filled with members of the company’s staff, today, they were filled with hired soldiers. However, much like the workers that they were displacing, these soldiers had much to discuss.

Nass Tshuma had always possessed a taste for power. He’d been a gang leader on his homeworld of Kessel, rising to the position at a young age. He’d held onto it with an iron fist, being cruel and merciless to those that had chosen to cross him. One of his favourite punishments had been to drive those he disliked out to the boondocks, then throw them out without respirators and watch them die a long, slow and agonising death in the planet’s tainted atmosphere.

However, now he had aspired to a greater power. A member of a new gang, the Band of Five, Nass was a Mechwarrior, a position of prestige and strength that others could only dream of. The pilot of a BattleMech, he possessed power that was unmatched, and the ability to wield that power to destroy that which stood against him. He’d killed to get where he was, and wouldn’t hesitate to kill again if needed. And that situation was presenting itself now.

Nass was in an interview room with several other members of the Band of Five, gathered to discuss a matter of the utmost importance: the fate of one of their kind. Sitting back in an office chair, Nass surveyed the scene before him, a satisfied smirk on his harsh features. Tall and muscular, his dark skin, shaved head and numerous tattoos gave him an intimidating demeanour, one that he played to his fullest.

In front of him was another heavyset man, currently kneeling on the floor. His hands were cuffed behind his back, his features bloodied and battered from the beating he’d been given by the two soldiers that loomed over him. He was helpless and unable to fight back; a situation that Tshuma preferred his opponents to be in. While he revelled in the power that his BattleMech bought him, he enjoyed it more when he didn’t have to fight.

“Niko Bulgarin” A voice began from across the room. Without looking, Nass knew it was his commanding officer, Bob Sawyer. A fellow Mechwarrior, Sawyer stood in stark contrast to Tsuma. Slender, with a taste for business casual attire and glasses, he looked more like a writer or lecturer then the leader of a group of dangerous men. However, Sawyer was one of the few people who actually could intimidate him, something Tshuma tried to hide.

“We put months of work into the Imbross operation.” Sawyer continued, his tone icy cold. “We funnelled men and equipment on world, taking steps to ensure that neither would be detected. Those preparations alone cost us valuable time and resources. All of that was done on your assurance that you could pull this off.”

“Bulgarin, we gave you the tools to cut out the festering disease that is the Republic’s government on that world, to exercise the malignant cancer that it had become. Instead, you squandered what we gave you; you allowed all that to go to waste. Tell me now, Niko Bulgarin, why I should not just kill you where you are.”

The fact was simply that Sawyer was insane.

“It’s not my fault.” Bulgarin managed to mutter out between swollen, bleeding lips. “Everything went to plan, but someone else stepped in. They hijacked one of my Industrials, shot my men in the back and tipped off the militia that should have been unprepared. My strike would have gone off; instead it turned into a clusterfrack with dug-in troops while someone was attacking me from behind.”

“And yet, you failed to kill them.” Sawyer stated. “You should have at least been able to deliver that lesson to them, to demonstrate what happens to those that cross the Band of Five. Instead, much like the leadership you were sent to purge, you failed your responsibilities.”

“There was another one.” He offered, no hint of desperation in his voice. Nass had to admire that sense of defiance, not that it would help in the long term. “They jacked a second Industrial, and stepped in to save the first. I had the choice of stopping to kill them there, or saving what I could.”

“You say that someone stole one of your mechs.” Kirstin Ross, their armoured commander spoke up. A rough looking woman, she technically outranked him. However, he knew that since he was a Mechwarrior and she a lowly tanker, he could demand respect that she could only dream of. “Do you know who it was?”

“What does it matter?” Someone cut off Niko before he could reply. “The maggot failed. Leave him in the ground with his other wormy faggots.”  Glancing over, he could see that it was Bubba Roscoe, their infantry commander. A massive man, he head heavy featured dominated by a thick beard, and a vastly over-inflated opinion of himself.

“It matters because I want to know if this was random or planned, you idiot.” Kirstin snarled. “If someone deliberately targeted us, it means we could have a leak. If we have a leak, it could mean that any other operation we plan could be jeopardised. We ignore this, we may as well be throwing ourselves away. Think about that, you moron, before you run your mouth off again.”

Bubba glared at her, but said nothing, clearly angry at being out-manoeuvred. Instead, he turned back to look at Bulgarin. “I have no idea who it was.” The battered man admitted. “But they were professionals, I’ll say that much. They took control of one of my mechs without my knowing, taking out one of my men before he could even get off a warning. They operated those mechs like trained pros, like real Mechwarriors, not just scrubs or opportunists.”

“See? That was worth knowing.” Kirstin stated, a superior tone in her voice. “This was no attack of opportunity we suffered. This was planned.”

“So we have an enemy.” The final figure in the room spoke, the only other one who Tshuma was afraid of. Standing rather than sitting, he was clad in a black MechWarrior combat suit and helmet which covered his features in their entirety, leaving no clues to his identity. When he chose to spoke, his voice was gravelly and rough, making people listen to him.

Known only as TF Allen, he was Sawyer’s right-hand man. Nobody knew who he was otherwise; nobody to Nass’ knowledge had ever seen him outside of his combat suit. All that was known was that he was just as dedicated, just as driven and just as ruthless as any one of them. While is identity may have been questionable, his loyalty wasn’t. A MechWarrior in Sawyer’s assault lance, the man seemed to be almost an extension of his commander’s will, unquestionably doing whatever the madman asked of him.

That in and of itself was scary enough; that he had no idea what the man actually looked like, who he was made it even worse. Outside that suit, Allen could be anyone at all. Nass could have seen him dozens of times; hundreds even, and he would have no idea at all. It was enough to make a lesser man paranoid. And, while he did find Allen intimidating, Nass also knew better then to show it. In the Band of Five, a single sign of weakness could be a fatal mistake.

“The question is then, who are they and what do they want?” Allen continued, his voice rough, gravely. “Did they give any indication as to who they were or what they wanted?” His faceplate was focused on Bulgarin, for what little that was worth.

“No.” The man shook his head reluctantly. “They never responded to my attempts to communicate. They were pros; properly trained Mechwarriors. They were big time.”

“You keep talkin’, but you ain’t giving us nothing.” Nass snapped. “I oughta just blow your frakking brains out right now, fool, and save us all the bother.”

“And throw away any chance we could have to find out what really happened.” Kirstin interrupted. “That’s clever. Clearly you didn’t become the boss of your little hellhole on your brains alone.”

“What you talking about, cow?” He snapped, turning to look at her, anger smouldering in his eyes. “You wanna pick a fight? Because if you do, I’m happy to mess you up right after I’m done with him!”

“And throw away two capable officers. You are a smart one.”

“I-“

“Your behaviour is most enlightening.” Sawyer cut in. “And more proof of everything I have always said about society; the way we turn on each other, the way it feeds upon itself.” He sat back in his chair, his hands steeped together in front of his face, his tone calm and collected. “And while it is all fascinating, it does not help us. You are one of my officers, Tshuma. In this situation, I want you to be rational, to think this through.”

A knock at the door interrupted Nass before he could offer his reply. Before Sawyer or anyone else could say anything, it opened; instead the result was several of those present in the room reaching for their sidearms. “Whoah, hang on a moment!” The man in the doorway called out; young and almost scrawny, he didn’t seem to have the same edge to him that was so common in the Band of Five’s members.

“He’s with me.” Nass called out, recognising him instantly. Troy Stradley, a man who, despite all appearances, was a MechWarrior in his lance. A former Taurian Chef’s apprentice, Stradley had a hair-trigger temper that translated into incredible ferocity behind the controls of his Stinger. Nass had seen him take on – and beat – men much larger than him when enraged. It made for an interesting contrast. “What do you want, Stradley?”

“Package was dropped for you.” He called back, clearly trying not to sound nervous given the room he’d just walked into. In one hand, he waved a rather thickly-stuffed brown business envelope.

“Who’s it from?”

Stradley shrugged. “No idea. It was dropped at the front office with your name on it. I figured it had to be important, Boss.”

Tsuma walked over to him, grabbing the envelope off his subordinate. “Let’s see this...” He muttered, ripping it open, then glancing inside.

“Boss?”

He swallowed loudly. “Thanks... thanks Troy. Thanks. Now get out of here, we have important officer stuff to deal with.” He all but shoved Stradley out of the door before slamming it shut.

“Now that we’re through with this petty diversion,” Sawyer began, glaring at Nass as he resumed his seat, “we have to make a decision regarding Bulgarin’s failure.” He leaned forward, looking down at the beaten man. “I, for one, feel that he should not be afforded any second chances. His failure cost us men, machines and a chance at a world, a price that is far too high to accept. Only a sick, weak society would coddle one who has cost them so much. I say he goes.”

“And I beg to differ.” Katrine spoke up, looking down at the man. “Yes, he failed, but it is clear that his failure was due to an unexpected element. I doubt anyone could have anticipated what happened to him that day and planned to counter it. At the same time, he has shown talent, skill and ability in past, and I see no reason to waste those traits. I say that we keep him; demote him, yes and definitely arrange some suitable punishment for his loss, but do not just... discard him.”

“Failure is still failure.” Bubba Roscoe countered. “So we don’t lynch the man. I say we stick a rifle in his hand and shove him in the next cannon-fodder team we need to buy time for the real soldiers. The maggot’s got no business in a Mech, and I don’t think that we should even waste an Industrial on a piece of filth like him. Death at our hands? Too good for him. Let him live with it before he ends up as roadkill.”

“But he has talent and skill.” Allen offered, his gravelly voice surprisingly clear. “And actual leadership ability is in short supply around here. I say we keep him. Make him pay a little, yes, but keep him no less.”

Nass quietly wondered if Allen’s comments were directed at anyone in specific in the room. From where he was sitting, it seemed like the man had turned his helmet to offer a sidelong glance, for want of anything else to call it, in his direction. Does he know? He wondered to himself. Was he the one who sent this? His hand tightened around the envelope. Outside that suit, he could be anyone. And we’d never know.

Why did someone send this to me now? He was trying to remain calm, trying not to let it show. You used to be the boss of Sverdlorsk. Remember that. You’re the man.

“Tsuma?” Sawyer asked, his voice ice-cold. “It is your decision. What do we do with him?” While there was no threat in what he said, his tome made it obvious that he was far from pleased. And that was Sawyer’s way; one moment, he was quiet, the next he was a merciless killer, ranting on about the disease that was human civilisation while ripping some guy apart.

It can’t be him. He wouldn’t do something like this. It’s not his style. But who? He glanced around the room again; everyone seemed to be looking at him now, save for Allen. But then, how could I tell? Behind that helmet he could be doing anything.

“I say we let him live. He’s been piloting an industrial, so stick him in it – but nothing else. Next screw-up and he’s dead.” He finally finished. “But only if I’m the guy who teaches this fool what happens when you mess us around.”

“So be it.” Sawyer finished as he stood. “Niko Bulgarin, you are still a part of the Band of Five. I leave you to Tsuma’s hands. Do not fail us again.” The tone in his voice was icy, suggesting that he was clearly unhappy with the decision. “I am expecting new orders soon, so make sure that he is fit for duty when you’re done.”

Tsuma glanced inside the business envelope one more time, before clenching tightly his hand and taking a look around the room one last time. He was certain that nobody had seen its contents, and would make sure that nobody ever would. Whoever had stuffed that lacy purple bra and matching women’s briefs in the envelope and then sent it to him had known what effect it would have on him. He intended to find out who it was and make sure that they would not be a threat to him again.

------


Nero Nowen had some idea as to what the meeting was about from the moment that he saw Bulgarin being dragged off by the two goons. It was something that didn’t surprise him at all; being a warrior in the Band of Five was a risky business at the best of times, and the last thing anyone wanted to do was screw up. It wasn’t a mistake one made twice. Even then, he still wanted to know exactly what was going on in there.

As a consequence, he’d been lurking nearby, casually waiting for events to unfold. Tall and lanky, he had long blond hair that fell around his shoulders in a tangled mess and ruggedly handsome features dominated by a confident smirk. Many who saw him found him to be strangely familiar; not surprising as before the HPG crash, Nero had been a rock star. His band, Death to the Reverse Side had been one of the hottest acts in the Republic. From there, how he’d ended up a Mechwarrior in a band of murderous thugs was a very interesting story.

Of course, good looks, record sales and some actual musical talent were not enough to maintain a position in the Band of Five. Nero had maintained his position through keeping his eyes on what was going on around him and learning to play his comrades-in-arms against each other. He also had a handful of allies that were incredibly useful.

The sound of heavy boots approaching tipped him off that one of them was present. “So how’d it go?” He casually asked, not looking at the other man.

“Bulgarin’s op was sabotaged by pros” The gravelly voice replied. “He has no idea who it was, only that they knew exactly what they were doing, like they were ready for him.” TF Allen was one of the few people in their group that commanded respect from everyone else; his silent, looming presence was unnerving at the best of times to most other people. It made him invaluable.

“I see. And Bulgarin himself?”

“They’re leaving him alive, for now.” Allen continued. “The bigger worry is who was it that sabotaged him. We could have a real enemy.”

Nero nodded. “Anything else?”

“One thing.” Allen turned to look at him, blank faceplate seemingly staring into his eyes. “Someone has something on Tshuma; they sent him a package that had something in it that really, really freaked him out.”

“Someone who’s not us.” Nero finished. “We need to find out who it is and what they have, and how we can take it from them. Because if we could get Tshuma under our control...” He grinned broadly in spite of himself; under the helmet, he was sure that Allen was doing the same.
Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 29 January 2011, 21:39:10
Port Malibu, Paradisia
Mizar, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
6 April 3133


A world renowned for its stunning natural beauty rather than any military or resource value, Mizar had managed to survive the chaos of the Succession Wars and even the Jihad mostly unscathed. A tourist haven due to its warm climate and beautiful beaches, it had thrived as a part of the Republic and the peace that had come with it. Freed from the pressure of war and the threat of invasion, people had flocked to the world and its resorts bringing it to a peak of prosperity not seen since the Star League.

The collapse of the HPG network had bought that to a crashing halt. With the Republic of the Sphere descending into chaos and the rise of nationalist militias, people were more concerned with remaining secure and protecting themselves then they were with expensive holidays to tourist resorts, even in the relatively peaceful Prefecture VIII. The result was that Mizar’s economy had gone into free-fall as its chief source of trade had evaporated overnight.

As she casually strolled through the streets of Port Malibu, Gillian Blackrock couldn’t help but notice the signs of the planet’s economic collapse. A thriving resort town a year ago, now its streets were all but empty, the stores lined with darkened storefronts. Businesses that had been catering to the tourist trade had either closed down or reduced their trading hours to near nonexistent in order to stay open. There had been virtually no traffic into the town in months, and its businesses were suffering for it.

Gillian was one of the few people to come to the town in the last month. She’d been with a tour package, the majority of which had been locals who were on cheap trips that had been underwritten by tax incentives to help stimulate the local economy. As near as she could tell, she was the only person in the group who was from off-world.

The few businesses that remained open were trying their best to serve those people, almost as if those involved were trying to convince themselves that everything would turn out just fine if they pretended that nothing had changed. It was somewhere between pathetic and strangely endearing; her only real regret was that she wasn’t here for the tourist trade and, as such, wouldn’t be able to offer even the most token of support.

Instead, she’d come here for one event. Port Malibu, much like the rest of the Venice Beach district was suffering from the collapse of the tourist trade. The district governor had come to the town to launch an incentive program, which to her eyes seemed to be nothing but a series of “feel good” measures and morale-building speeches. However, it meant that she had a job to do.

Glad for the lack of other pedestrian traffic, she lugged her suitcase towards a boarded-off building. The Summer Star hotel had been intended as a first-class resort hotel, the largest in Port Malibu that would eclipse any others. Construction had been completed with the fitting out yet to be started when then HPG network had gone offline; as a result, the building had been abandoned. It had stood silently for eight months, its structure complete but its interiors little more than bare ferrocrete. There had been talk of turning it into emergency housing, but as yet, nothing had come of it.

It was easy enough to enter the building; security was non-existent and the supposedly locked doors had long ago been opened by the homeless looking for shelter. Nobody really paid attention to the building, not wanting to acknowledge the failings of the local economy. Making her way in, she cautiously moved through the building, careful not to disturb those transients that had taken up residence. Instead, she made for the fire stairs, heading to the upper floors that nobody bothered to use.

An agonisingly long climb later bought her to one of the upmost floors of the hotel. The door opened onto a long, bare hallway, with empty doors leading into vacant rooms. Only the barest minimum of work had been done up here; internal walls were largely missing, with most surfaces being bare concrete. In the last six months, she figured that there had only been a single person up here – herself.

She entered one of the rooms, stepping out onto the balcony. Ignoring the water that had pooled by the edge, she looked down at the view. In the distance, she could see the park in front of city hall, partially obscured by a much smaller, nearer building. It was a view she had spent hours watching the last time she was here, making sure it was exactly what she wanted.

Confident in her observations, she opened her case and began unpacking its contents. Taking time and care to ensure that all was present and accounted for, she began the slow and careful task of assembling the Minolta 9000 Advanced Sniper Rifle. Once she was confident that all was in place, Gillian carefully hefted the rifle, balancing it on the railing of the balcony.

Kneeling, she took sight on her target. The District Governor had just stepped up to his podium, and was presumably beginning his feel-good speech. She had a clear line of sight, even allowing for the building before her. It was the reason she’d picked this spot; any initial attempt to trace her back would lead to the nearer building, buying her plenty of time.

Confident, she fired, the rifle’s advanced systems reducing the recoil from the weapon to non-existent, the suppressors reducing the noise to a muffled pop. Moments later, the District Governor stumbled and fell, a brilliant red stain on his chest.

Gillian wasn’t waiting around. Hurriedly, she ducked back inside the empty hotel room, the rifle cradled in her arms. She had prepared her stash ahead of time, carefully wrapping the weapon in an old blanket, then placing it inside a hollow in a partially-completed wall. It’d be a while before anyone thought to search up here, and even longer before they reached this floor and this particular location.

Of course, she figured to herself as she began to race down the fire stairs, in a week it wouldn’t matter if they found the rifle or not.

-----

Outside Fullbright, Besitzland
Zollikofen, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
19 April 3133


Looking up from the sink, Juanita took the time to study her reflection in the grimy bathroom mirror. Last few weeks have been good to you, Zoom-Zoom, she admitted to herself as she looked over the woman she saw staring back at her. She’d definitely toned up, her normally slim form showing a bit of muscle now. Better for kicking arse and yanking people from mechs.

She ran a hand through her damp hair, carefully eyeing it. The last traces of the bright green streaks she’d worn on Imbross were long gone, her hair restored to its natural glossy black. She’d grown her fringe out a little to hide the scar on her forehead, a physical reminder of the battle in Trunner. Well, nobody’s perfect

The last month had seen her pushed through a lot more training. Between her first meeting with Antonin and the Imbross job he’d given her some degree of training n the use of mech-mounted weapons, something that she was already familiar with thanks to some practical experience with SecurityMechs. In the last month, they’d done a lot more. She’d been clocking up simulator time, working on operating true BattleMechs under battlefield conditions, better learning both the intricacies of manoeuvring, various weapons systems and heat management along with getting a better grip on battlefield tactics.

Her opponents had been AI simulations of various mechs, tanks, battle armour and conventional infantry forces, managed by the system’s computers. From what Antonin had explained, she was facing designs that would be commonly found in the Republic in the hands of the various nationalist forces that were rising up. Many of the forces she’d faced seemed very ad-hoc, thrown-together messes, which seemed appropriate.

She’d also noticed the occasional enemy who would be a lot sharper than the others; a part of her suspected that it was Antonin (or someone else) behind the controls, rather than a computer. She’d decided not to ask, just as much as she’d decided not to ask where he got a military-quality simulator to begin with, something that was definitely restricted technology.

When she wasn’t clocking time in the sims, she’d been engaged in field exercises. Chasing Antonin in a Carbine had been a recurring feature of those, with the idea being to evade him and then capture the machine. He’d claimed that the derelict factory complex they’d been working out of was a perfect training ground for the urban combat that was becoming an all-too common occurrence in the Republic. Throwing in smokebombs and audio tracks of battlefield noises was his way of helping acclimatise her.

It had worked. Following a few early moments where she’d been caught off-balance by the sheer shock of it all, she’d taken well to the simulated battlefields. So far, her record against Antonin was very one-sided to her favour. Of course, there was also the sobering fact that her few losses would have been fatal in a real battle; two heavy machine guns would do that to someone.

There were two other things that were bothering her. One of them she’d still need to talk to Antonin about.

She stepped out of the washroom, towel draped over her shoulders as she went. Antonin was in what passed for their living area, apparently reading something as she entered. “How are you doing?” He casually asked, glancing up at her as she entered.

Jealous that your hair’s longer and nicer than mine. She wanted to say, but instead decided for the answer he wanted. “Good. Figure that I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.” She commented. “Slick move you pulled in the simulator, by the way, using that Dervish. You had me convinced you were an AI bot.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” He replied with badly feigned innocence.

“Sure.” Truth was, it had been a hard fight, even if simulated. She’d been getting to know very much what an overheated BattleMech felt like. Certainly it wasn’t fun. “Well then that ‘bot’ seemed to suddenly pull its finger out and come very close to kicking my arse all across the simulated battlefield.”

“Some days the Bods ate like that.” He simply offered. “And how are you doing mentally? After what happened on Imbross and all.”

She blinked in confusion for a moment at his sudden change of subject. before finally answering. “I’m fine, really.” It was mostly the truth. The simple fact was that she had been trying not to think about the ForestryMech pilot she’d killed; even though she hadn’t seen his face, even though she had no idea who he was or even if it was a man she’d killed, it still had left a mark on her.

She’d never deliberately tried to kill anyone before, a defence she resolutely stuck to in spite of everything else. She’d thrown the Band of Five pilot out of his Crosscut and let him fall seven or eight meters to the road below, something that probably wouldn’t have done him any favours, but that wasn’t a deliberate attempt to kill him. She didn’t know if he’d survived or not, and was trying her best not to think about it.

Juanita knew she’d never killed anyone during her days as a ‘joyrider’, but that was still not a good answer. She knew she’d injured people, and knew that in many cases it was simple accidents resulting from her reckless use of IndustrialMechs. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like luck that she hadn’t killed anyone before.

“Really.” She finally finished.

“Good.” Antonin stated. “Because that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” He turned to her, clipboard in hand. “I have another job for you, one that will need all your talents; both those you already possessed and those that you’ve learned in the last month.”

She considered this for a moment, contemplation obvious on her face. “Depends, Ponytail. Will this get me my BattleMech?”

He couldn’t help but smirk in response. “I’d say that’s a distinct possibility, just depending on how well you perform.”

Juanita burst into a broad grin at the thought. “Then tell me what I need to do.”
Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 29 January 2011, 21:43:49
Port Malibu, Paradisia
Mizar, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
29 April 3133



Watching the hulking form of the Crusader looming over him, Nass Tshuma felt that he should have some degree of elation or satisfaction. After all, the bulky war machine was his BattleMech, a symbol of power and prestige. He’d driven it into battle, and watched its devastating weapons crush whatever stood in its path. Certainly it had been more than enough to sweep aside the Mizar militia forces that he had faced two weeks ago.

The so-called battle of Port Malibu had been little more then a one-sided massacre, a well-orchestrated ambush set up by the Band of Five. The assassination of the district governor had been followed up by a bomb blast that had wiped out an emergency session of the local government, followed by a wave of seemingly random terrorist attacks across the region. The result had been unparalleled chaos as the peace of an otherwise tranquil region had been disrupted.

And then a seemingly random accident had only exacerbated the situation; a cargo dropship with a damaged drive had almost crashed into Port Malibu, its crew managing to redirect the ship and bring it down safely just outside the town. However, the damage had been done, throwing the already nervous population into a panic, resulting in the Mizar Militia dispatching a battalion of troops to stabilise the area and restore order.

Instead, they’d walked into an ambush by the Band of Five’s forces that had been smuggled on-world in the dropship. The battle, such as it was, had been a brief affair, the militia troops surrounded, outnumbered and out-gunned. Their force had been crushed, with only a few units able to flee. A few survivors had been rounded up and then strung up in the town square to get the point over, that the Band of Five were in control.

However, despite their success in their capture of Port Malibu, Tshuma didn’t feel the mood. The last few weeks had seen him closely and cautiously watching every last one of his so-called ‘comrades’ in order to figure out just who it was who had sent the package. What annoyed him was that, whoever they were, they had chosen to be sublte about it. There had been no further ‘presents’, no indications of what they wanted. He’d been left to go around his business as normal, as if nothing had happened.

It worried him. Whoever it was clearly had some long-term plan for him, one that he couldn’t begin to figure out. If they had made threats, or demanded actions from him or anything else, it would actually be less worrying. Instead, whoever it was now had influence over him, an officer and a Mechwarrior.

When the Band had taken over the town, they’d chosen to use the Grand Swann Casino-Hotel as a base of operations. A part of this came from the fact that it was the largest building in the building baring the one incomplete hotel. However, the main reason was simple luxury. After all, if you had the chance to stay in a five star hotel and abuse the facilities without paying, you would to.

The staff had been “gently encouraged” to remain at work, to keep the games and meals and other services flowing for the benefit of the Band’s soldiers. The result was that the hotel was some of the busiest it had been in months and, on the surface, seemed to be thriving. However, even a quick glance would reveal the fact that it was more armed camp then resort, and that the smiles the staff wore didn’t adequately cover how much they feared for their lives.

Of course, looking around outside the casino would dispel any illusions of normalcy. The building was surrounded by military equipment, not the least of which were several towering BattleMechs. The massive humanoid war machines, even though they were far smaller than the large hotels, still seemed to dwarf all around them.

He up at the Crusader again, as if the mech held all the answers. “Damn it, when I got up there, I was supposed to be king of the damn world.” He muttered, looking at the tan and blue machine. The Crusader was his mech, one that he had fought to earn. Behind its controls, he feared nothing; anyone who was stupid enough to stand in his way was easily crushed and swept aside. “So who the hell has got me?”

Snarling, he finished off his cigar, stubbing it out on one of the pot planters. Turning around, he  stomped back into the Casino, all but ignoring the terrified-looking doorman as he entered. Instead, he made his way to the casino floor, picking his way through the tables and gaming machines while ignoring the storm of bright lights and sounds around him. Instead, he was closely watching the members of the Band in the casino.
 
So who was it? He asked himself as he looked around. There were plenty of people who it couldn’t be, plenty of low-lifes and thugs who lacked the intelligence to pull something like this off. Many of them were little more than cannon-fodder infantry, men who banded together for survival and that near-legendary chance of crippling a Battlemech and claiming it for their own. While yes, many of them had ambition, he couldn’t see such a move coming from them.

He’d gotten this far through such ambition, but that in turn had been aided by ruthlessness and a certain animal cunning. He also knew that quiet suggestions were less effective then true threats. Now, his mind was reeling with ideas for how to “educate” them, all of which were pleasing thoughts in spite of the situation. Glancing around the room, he noted several members of the Band that he immediately recognised. One of them in particular, Nero Nowen, was a member of Sawyer’s lance. A former rock star, he seemed to be little more than a drug-addled pretty boy who had somehow made his way into a Battlemech. Harmless. Fool don’t even know the time of day half the time.

Leaving the games floor, entered the adjacent lounge, designated as a shelter to give visitors a few minutes to relax before going off to spend more of their wages. He glanced over to the bar, noting the members of the Band seated there. Kirstin Ross, their tank commander, immediately caught his eye. He knew that she resented his position as a Mechwarrior and that she felt that she should have authority over him, not the other way around. Stupid cow needs to learn her place and quit acting like she’s big. Any idiot can be a tanker.

He knew of Kirstin’s past, how she’d massacred civilians she suspected of harbouring enemy forces, resulting her being blacklisted from the Mercenary trade. He’d seen that she was the type that would do what it took to get what she wanted. He just wasn’t sure if blackmail was her style. She’d out and say it, not hide and be vague. And she wouldn’t wait weeks before saying anything. As much as he wanted an excuse to deal with her – and he knew he’d enjoy making her squeal – he crossed her off his list of suspects.

Another figure at the bar caught his eye, Francis Strucker, one of the Mechwarriors in his Lance. Strucker was possibly the antithesis of the typical member of the Band; slightly overweight, balding and with a pleasant demeanour, he dressed in impeccably neat suits and wore glasses. At present, he was talking with a man in a similarly sharp suit, one who was doing his best to look professional rather than haggard, and was failing badly.

“I can see what you mean, mister Carpolle.” Strucker commented as Nass approached. “Between the collapse of the tourist trade and our requisitioning of your wonderful casino for our base of operations you will certainly be facing tremendous losses. These are, after all, most trying times.”

 â€œYou are eating me out of house and home, Major Strucker. I am losing money hand over fist to you and your subordinates.” Carpolle’s tone was demanding, but at the same time obviously tempered by the fact that he was arguing with a man from a band of killers.

“And we appreciate your hospitality.” Strucker replied with a warm tone. “Very few in the city would be so pleasant in these circumstances, after all. In truth, I’m glad I met you.”

“How so?”

Trucker smiled warmly as he took a sip from his drink. “Mister Carpolle, I am well-paced within our parent organisation, one that has contacts across the entire Republic. Now while yes, in the short term, you are facing losses to our men, I can ensure you that not only will you be well-compensated, but I can provide much more for you.”

Carpolle’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, Major Strucker?”

“Simply put, we’re looking for investors to help with rebuilding the Republic once this unpleasantness is over and the situation stabilises.” Strucker explained. “Men of vision, men who are willing to work to rebuild the Republic, to stay true to Stone’s dream for a brighter future and a better life. Yes, there will be short-term loss; there is always risk with such projects. However, those who have the intelligence and foresight, men like you, mister Carpolle, will be able to overcome these losses and then reap the rewards of what is to come. All it would take is a small initial investment.” He smiled warmly. “Besides, think of what could come of being associated with such a project. It’d be a lot of good publicity for you and your company”

Instead of brute force, violence and intimidation, Strucker got what he wanted through charm, wit and out-and-out bald-faced lying. The man was a professional con artist, one who had talked his way into a Battlemech. Could he have... Nass considered. It’d fit him, the little bastard. Don’t fight, just talk. Charming, witty and conversant, he was gifted with a silver tongue that could convince anyone of anything. He could get someone to bet on Troy Stradley to win against Kai Allard-Liao and assure them it was a sure thing.

“Can I have a moment, Major Strucker?” He all but demanded.

“Ah, lieutenant Tshuma. Of course.” Strucker didn’t miss a beat. “Mister Carpolle, I’ll give you a moment to consider what I’ve said.”

The pair of them moved off to a corner of the bar, Strucker doing his best to make sure he was out of sight of his mark. “What did you need, lieutenant?” He continued, his tone still casual and friendly.

Tsuma cracked his knuckles loudly. “Just wanted to make sure of something, Strucker.” He stated, the menace obvious in his voice. “You and I both know that this ain’t no fracking social club. People here will do what they want to who they want to get ahead, be it a knife in the back or whatever.”

“Of course. However, Lieutenant, you can rest assured that you have my full and unconditional support.” Strucker offered. “And while I can fully understand the often cutthroat nature of this agency, I for one feel that some stability would also be vital to its future operations. I feel that you can always rely on me Lieutenant, be it on or off the battlefield.”

Tshuma glared down at the man, sizing him up. Is he lying to keep me happy or is it the actual truth? He’s a con, yeah but is he a blackmailer? And would he actually stick his neck out like that? Strucker himself seemed to be his usual clam and content self, irrespective of the fact that Nass’ hand was close to his own pistol. “Right. Well you just remember that, Corporal Strucker.”

“Of course I will, Lieutenant.” Strucker finished. “Was there anything else?”

What Nass wanted to do was punch the man’s face in right there and then for being such a smug little piece of crap. However he also knew that it wouldn’t get him anywhere. “Nah.” He snarled instead, turning to leave him behind. To say that he found the situation infuriating would be an understatement. Somebody had his dirty little secret, and he had to find out who it was and how they knew. His only consolidation was thinking about what he’d do to that person once he got his hands on them. By the time they were done, he’d make sure that they’d never pull that crap on anyone again.

As he headed back to the casino floor, he couldn’t help but notice a single, distinctive figure standing by a door, arms crossed, seemingly watching the room. Clad in his black MechWarrior combat suit, TF Allen was unmistakeable, in so far as there was nobody else that he could be. All he knew for sure was that there was someone inside that suit.

Could he know? It made sense. Outside of that suit, Allen could be anywhere or anyone. He could have discovered Nass’ dirty secret in his alter ego, and then simply hidden in plain sight. The man could have been using Nass all along for his own ends and he wouldn’t know it. As long as he had no idea who was behind that mask, he was a suspect. And the only reason he’s wearing that is that he has something to hide. What does he want?

Allen nodded ever so slightly to him. Nass gave a silent reply, casually tapping the hilt of his gun. I’m onto you. Whoever you are, I’m gonna make you my bitch, and I’m gonna make you squeal. You’re gonna die, but not until I’m ready.

-----

Located to the south of Port Malibu, Palm Springs had existed largely as a stopover destination along the way. Built alongside the main highway, the small town’s economy was based largely on Recharging stations for vehicle batteries, cheap motels and places to eat. Much like the rest of the Venice Beach district, it had suffered from the collapse of the tourist trade since the HPG blackout. However, the recent chaos in Port Malibu had given the town a strange burst of life.

The abortive attempt to stabilise the resort town had used Palm Springs as a staging ground, with the few survivors from the attack falling back there. Since then, a larger force from the Mizar Militia had moved up to the town, using it as a base of operations as they decided what to do about the occupying force. The result was that much like Port Malibu to the north, Palm Springs was now effectively under military control, albeit a far more benign hand.

Major Junko Suzuhara, the acting commander of the Mizar Militia, had taken control of the Palm Springs town hall to serve as a command centre. Short and more then a little overweight, her hair was tied back into a rather frazzled bun, matching the evident stress on her face. She’d been charged with the task of retaking Port Malibu, a goal that was already looking to be well beyond her unit’s capabilities. She’d been over the reports from the first battle; the only positive thing that she could think to say was that it was very unlikely that these raiders would have more hidden forces.

However, she had a job to do, and she was damned if she wasn’t going to figure a way around it. She’d set up in the mayor’s office, and had begun work on trying to figure out the impossible. A knock on her door caught her attention, drawing her up from the mess of maps and reports. “Yes?” She asked, looking for any alternative to the hopeless situation before her.

“There’s a man here to see you.” Her frazzled-looking assistant blurted out. “He says he’s a mercenary, um, and he’s here to help.”

Relief at last. She audibly sighed. “I’ve been expecting him. Send him in, please.” Junko had been contacted a day ago by a mercenary soldier who had just arrived on-world, offering his services. She’d accepted straight away, if only to make sure that he didn’t get a chance to make the offer to the attackers.

A man stepped in; dressed in fatigues and sunglasses, he had a slender face and long black hair tied into a loose ponytail. “Major Suzuhara.” He began, extending his hand. “Andrzej Slawski. I have my MRBC credentials on me.”

She shook his hand, then accepted his biometrics card, quickly examining it with a reader on her noteputer. “Everything seems in order, Mister Slawski. I see that you’re working alone.”

He nodded. “I’m more of a lone gunslinger than anything else. I heard about what had happened here, and felt that you could use my services.”

“To say the least.” She reluctantly agreed as she handed back the card. “We’re not in the best of situations here.”

“What do you have?” He asked, genuine concern on his face. “Tell me exactly what’s going on, and I can help you best I can.”

“Right then...” She nodded, then pulled out one of the maps. “We don’t have any recent intel on their forces in Port Malibu, but it’s very unlikely that they’ve bought in more troops since their first attack. Current estimates say they have two lances of actual BattleMechs, heading up a mixed battalion of armour and infantry. However, they also have support from snipers, combat engineers and well dug-in infantry.”

“To the best of our knowledge, they’re using one of the hotel-casinos in town as their base of operations.” She pulled out a second map, talking as she did. “They blew two of the three bridges that lead into town; save for a few fords, there’s no other good way for us to move our troops in. They’ve largely gone to ground here in the town proper, but have patrols in the surrounding countryside.”

Andrzej nodded slowly as he took this all in. “And your forces?”

She sighed loudly again. “We have about a battalion of mixed armour and infantry, as well as four BattleMechs that I directly command. We’ve requisitioned some IndustrialMechs and are in the process of refitting them with weapons. Also, we’re rounding up volunteers from the local forces and arming them as best we can.” She was trying her best to sound enthusiastic and knowing that she was failing.

“So theoretically, your numbers are about equal.” Andrzej commented. “However, I can see there’s some qualifiers here.”

“Right.” Junko nodded. “Most of our troops have no combat experience at all. Mizar’s a peaceful resort world and we’re nowhere near a border. Even then, the Prefecture VIII territories are quiet. Training has been curtailed in the last decade and we haven’t even had much exercise time.” She nervously brushed a few strands of stray hair back from her face. “Our Firestarter pilot has some experience with burning firebreaks, and that’s it.”

She glanced over at the map again avoiding Andrzej’s sight for a moment. “Even then, we know that their force is heavier than ours. We have two mediums and two light mechs; they have some heavies and even an assault. Your mech will level the numbers a bit, but...”

“Understood. However, I do have some ideas that may be able to help us level things, if I may.” Slawski offered. “While yes, I do work alone on the battlefield, I have associates who have other specialties. I can do my best to neutralise their numbers advantage, throw off their defences and, hopefully, catch them off-guard.”

She looked up, the faintest glimmer of hope on her face. “You can?” She asked.

“Yep.” He replied with a degree of confidence. “If you’ll permit me, Major, I have a few ideas.”

-----

The military presence in Palm Springs had attracted some degree of attention from the locals. While obviously secured, the amount of military hardware on display was rather conspicuous, especially the quartet of Battlemechs. A good number of people shad taken to watching the massive war machines, many in awe of such rare and powerful technology on such obvious display. Besides, the presence of the machines served as a morale booster for the people of Palm Springs, showing the Republic’s military might and its commitment to protecting them.

Despite her interest in Mech technology, Juanita Kwan had been keeping well away from the assembled republic forces. She had no desire to be seen by them right now and, more importantly, by anyone who would be watching them. It was in her best interest right now to maintain a low profile and keep out of sight. After all, she was on a mission.

Instead, she’d been casually strolling around the town. In truth, it was far from exciting or even moderately entertaining. There was very little to see outside of roadside businesses, and certainly nothing resembling entertainment to be had. Instead she had been quietly waiting around and doing anything she could to keep herself occupied without getting into trouble. As dull as the town was, it beat staring at her motel room’s roof.

The most interesting thing she’d found was a local snack, a deep-fried Mars Bar. A gooey mess of melted chocolate, caramel, nougat and batter, it pretty much amounted to a heart attack on a stick. It was delicious and awful at the same time, and she was loving it.

Finishing off the horrific snack, she glanced at her watch. About time. Finally a chance to blow this joint. Carefully disposing of the wrapper, and making sure she wasn’t seen, she headed towards a row of stores off the main street. As with the rest of the town, there were more than a few abandoned stores, the remnants of businesses that had fallen victim to the HPG crash.

Casually strolling past a row of empty shopfronts, she quietly ducked into the space between two buildings. Glancing around to make sure that nobody had seen or followed her, she slipped around to the back alley behind the stores, quietly counting off the numbers before stopping at a particular shabby rear entrance, seemingly no different from any of the others. A quick jostle of the door handle told her that it was unlocked; after a moment’s check for anyone else around, she opened the door and slipped inside.

“Right on time.” Antonin began as soon as she closed the door. The inside of the room was bare concrete, illuminated only by the sunlight coming in from a single grimy window. Apart from a large lump that was covered by a tarpaulin, there was little to see. Antonin himself was by the window, doing his best to remain unseen.

“I hope your meeting went well.” She casually replied. “Because I was bored silly waiting for you. There’s nothing to do in this town besides look at the mechs, and you explicitly ordered me not to even do that. I’d have hated it if you were late.”

She could tell he was smirking, a suspicion which was proved as he stepped into the minimal light available. “I thank you very much for your patience, Juanitia. Things went very well, which means that I will be needing you as I expected.”

“So what do you want, Ponytail?” She asked as she casually shuffled her foot against the edge of the tarpaulin. “I’m guessing that it’s something to do with the bad guys that have taken over the nearby town.”

“As always, your skills of deduction are impressive.” He shot back, a smirk clear on his face despite the dim light. “I’m going to be calling on all your talents in infiltration, observation, acquisition-“

“-and random property damage?” She finished.

“Depending on what you find, that may be needed.”

“Awesome.” She grinned broadly. “So what’s the details?”

“Short version is that the group who took over Port Malibu seem to be the same ones that we fought on Imbross – the Band of Five. They have set up shop in the city, specifically, from all we know, a resort casino in the middle of it. Problem is, the Militia don’t know much about their numbers or equipment, and figure that they may be too well dug in to dislodge with the forces they have at hand.”

“That’s where I come in, right?”

“Correct.” He nodded. “I want you to get into the town and find out as much as you can about them. Get me numbers, troop types, positions and everything else that we need. Any detail that comes to mind, no matter how minor, will be vital.”

“And then?”

“You knew there’d be an ‘and then’, didn’t you?”

“Hey, it’s what you said earlier; every skill I have. And since you found me through my Mech-jacking background I figure that’s what you want.”

“Correct. Depending on how things are looking, you may need to do some damage in order to throw off the occupying force. The best way to do that-“

“-is with a BattleMech.” She grinned broadly at the thought. Simply getting to pilot a BattleMech was a privilege she had never dreamed of having. To be a MechWarrior, one of the elite of the Inner Sphere, to possess that much power… it was a rush just to think about it, to consider all that it represented, all that came with it. And she could be one of them. “No questions asked, Ponytail. Whatever it is, I’ll do it for you.”

“I suspected you’d say that.” He replied. “I’ve put together a package with all you’ll need for the mission. It’s rather bulky, so I also got you some transport.” He indicated towards the lump covered by the tarpaulin. “Take a look. It’s all yours, regardless of what happens.”

Now very curious, she whipped the tarpaulin aside, raising a brow at what she found underneath. It was a one-man, four-wheeled ATV, looking pretty much fresh from the factory floor. She doubted that the red finish had even seen a speck of the mud and dirt that would normally be decorating its body. A large backpack, clearly stuffed full, was tied down to its back. “Nice” She whistled as she looked over the vehicle.

Antonin flicked on a light, the illumination serving to not only illuminate just how shiny new the ATV was but how bare the room was otherwise. “What do you think?” He asked.

She kneeled down next to the ATV, looking over it. “This is an SR Motors Toad-series.” She cocked her head, looking over the details of its engine and machinery. “Specifically, one of the ‘Theodolite’ series of high-end sports machines. It’s definitely a top-of-the-line ride. And you’re just happy to give it away?” She glanced back at him, curious as to his response.

He simply nodded in reply, almost frustrating in his simple gesture as he would have been if he had said nothing. “Like I said, it’s all yours. I want the very best for you, given what you’ll be riding in to.”

She stood, narrowing her eyes as she looked at him. “So what am I looking at?”

“An organisation of killers, it seems.” He stated. “Ruthless, driven, possessed of a willingness to do whatever it takes to win. I won’t lie to you, Juanita; this is a big risk you will be taking by undertaking this. If they discover you, death could be the least of your concerns.”

“But I am willing to do it.” She stated, a resolute tone in her voice. “I’ve been thinking about what happened on Imbross, what they tried to do. I can’t let that happen again, especially not knowing that it was me who made that possible. And while this force may not have any Industrials that I supplied, it’s still the same thing. I want to stop them, and I am willing to place myself at risk if needs be.”

“I understand. And that is why I gave this to you.” He gestured at the Toad. “Not just do I want you to have the best you can, but I want to thank you for what you are doing, the risk you are taking.”

“But then.” Juanita offered. “There’s also the other incentive you gave me. And I’m damned if I’m not getting my BattleMech.”

Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 29 January 2011, 21:53:12
Port Malibu, Paradisia
Mizar, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
30 April 3133

 
“You know,” Nero Nowen began as he lay back on the soft, comfortably warm bed, “we need to take over more resort hotels. A guy could get used to this much luxury.” Naked save for the bedsheets, he was clearly content in his situation.

“Didn’t you used to be in a band?” A voice came from the bathroom. “Shouldn’t you be used to this sort of accommodation?”

“Dude, it was a Neo-Reconstructionalist Metal band, remember? The hotel room would be trashed and full of cheap whores and barnyard animals by now. It comes with the genre.” He shot back, almost mockingly. "Death to the Reverse Side was all about that distinct look and image, to rebuild what was before by emulating all of its traits, no matter what they were."

“Cheap whores and barnyard animals?” The voice shot back, its tone dropping as it did. “Should I be jealous?”

He laughed. “All that’s behind me, remember? It’s just you now, promise.” The truth was that he did miss being in the band; Death to the Reverse Side had been popular and successful, and certainly he had enjoyed all that had come with that success. On the other hand, he was enjoying other benefits of his new life just as much has he had those in his old.

“Sure.” Came an almost gravely mutter.

“What I mean to say is that I like is the chance to actually relax and be comfortable and stuff. And since we’ve spent the last week or so here waiting for the next stage of the op to begin, it’s good to take in a little bit of relaxation and unwind without having to share a room with a bunch of filthy dopeheads.”

“Instead you’re sharing it with your fellow members of the Band.” The voice reminded.

“One of them I don’t mind sharing it with.” He replied with a broad grin on his face.

TF Allen strode out of the bathroom, clad as always in his black MechWarrior combat suit, no hint of expression behind the blank visor. “I will give you that much.” He simply stated, almost impassively.

Nowen shook his head, sizing up the suited figure. The simple blackness of their suit was shockingly stark against the softer colours of the hotel room.  “True the rest of our comrades-in-arms-are a bunch of depraved, mass-murdering serial puppy kickers.” He admitted.

“As opposed to long-haired, tattooed rock stars?” Allen commented as he strode over to the bed.

“Hey, at least some of us have class.” He replied with a grin. “Speaking of which, I thought that you of all people would be taking advantage of this downtime to get out in your skin.”

“I look just as distinctive without this suit as I do with it.” He stated, an almost angry tone in his voice.

“Yes, but it is a different distinctive.” Nowen countered. “And people have no reason to connect the two.”

“Still, I’d rather not let anyone see me for the moment. The Band is still new; I want it to stabilise before I take that risk. You of all people should know that."

“You let me see it.” Nero offered.

“That’s different.” Allen replied with just a hint of defensive defiance. “Besides, you’d do me even if you didn’t know what I looked like under the suit. You almost did.”

“I’d do you in that suit if it wasn’t armoured and had cooling systems and all that.” He replied with a grin. “But that was very uncomfortable and inconvenient when we tried.”

Allen gave a small snort that could almost pass for a laugh. “Besides, I want to find out what’s going on with Tshuma, something you should be doing too.” He was blatantly changing the subject, and not bothering to hide it.

“Instead of lying around in bed?” He playfully offered, not trying to hide it. “You never complained about me in bed before.”

Allen jabbed his chest with a gloved finger. “Not when there is work to be done.”

“You’re no fun anymore, you know that?” Nero finished with a sigh. “Ah well, work needs doing, I suppose.” He smiled. “But it would be nice to see you outside without that on, some day.”

As always, Allen’s mask was impassive. “So you don’t love me for just the suit?”

He laughed. “I don’t know, it could be fun, I could have an affair with you behind your own back.”

“Whatever. Just find out what we need, okay?” He turned to leave. “I intend to be the top dog of this pile, Nero. We’re going to make this little band of criminals work for us.”

-----

For Juanita, getting into Port Malibu had been surprisingly easy. She’d driven overnight cross-country, using the information Antonin had gathered from the Militia to find an easy ford. The Toad had handled beautifully, easting up the countryside with ease. If she got nothing else from the ride, she’d have a great ride for future use.

She’d used the pre-dawn darkness to slip into Port Malibu proper, evading the few foot patrols she’d seen so far. The Band of Five seemed to be confident in their control of the town and surprisingly lax in protecting it against intruders. She didn’t blame them; what she’d seen of the Militia, combined with Antonin’s reports, depicted a force that was short on manpower, skill, morale and direction and unwilling to go anywhere near the town and run the risk of a second ambush and massacre.

She personally suspected that there would be more security around their dropships and the hotel they were using as their command centre. Otherwise, they didn’t need to protect the town. The Militia had effectively hobbled themselves, unwilling and unable to mount an attack. She was beginning to see why they had chosen this world to attack, which also raised further, worrying questions. Whoever was behind the Band of Five clearly had a good idea of what they could expect on Mizar, which suggested a well-informed, well-connected source.

However, that was not hers to worry about. She had other, more pressing concerns right now.

Once she was sure that she hadn’t been spotted, she’d stashed the Toad and most of her gear in an abandoned store. It had been childishly easy to pick the lock on the door, and then just as easy to secure it again. Judging from the build-up of dust inside, she figured that nobody had been inside the building in a few months, which was perfect for her. Of course, once she’d secured the site, she’d made sure to leave behind enough subtle indicators that, if disturbed, would warn her that someone had found her stash.

With that out of the way, she’d begun the second stage of her operation. Blending in to the local population was easy enough, especially with the ‘inconspicuous innocent bystander’ act that she’d perfected over the years of her trade. She simply acted casual and didn’t let anything bother her, like giant war machines roaming the street was the most natural and mundane thing in the world.

That had almost fallen apart when she’d found the Grand Swann, the building that was serving as the headquarters of the invasion force. While she’d been briefed on what was known of their composition, she still found the impact of seeing it in person to be overwhelming.

Standing in front of the hotel were a half-dozen BattleMechs, titanic metal avatars of war that seemed to dominate all around them. The six humanoid machines radiated power, as if intimidating all else by their sheer physical presence alone. Six BattleMechs, she thought to herself as she looked up at them. Six. It was an unimaginable level of wealth and power gathered in one place, especially for the fortunate few who were able to command the massive machines.

Six, she told herself again. In one moment, she’d quadrupled the number of Battlemechs she’d seen in her whole life. While there had been such machines amongst the Militia forces, she’d been avoiding them on Antonin’s orders. She now wished she had seen them, if only so she wouldn’t be so awed now.

She had no idea how long she was standing there before she finally remembered herself. Blinking, she instead looked over the mechs with a more focused eye, paying attention to the information that Antonin had given her. As a part of her training, he’d taught her to remember BattleMech designs and recognise them in the field. Looking over the machines now, she began to put names to designs. Zeus, Black Knight, Crusader, Centurion, Fenris, Stinger. A powerful array of machines, each capable enough in its own right, but together representing more power then she could imagine. The modified Copper and Dig Lord with them seemed to be almost irrelevant by comparison.

Looking around, she could see more military hardware on display; a Carnivore tank, a Thumper Artillery Vehicle, a massive JES II Missile Carrier and many other designs. A wider inspection showed even more vehicles, primarily support units like ammo carriers, coolant trucks and tankers. They have a pretty impressive display here, she noted. Wonder if they’re deliberately showing off, letting us see what they have so we know we don’t have a chance against them? It’d make sense, given what we’ve seen so far. After assassinations and ambushes, intimidation also works.

She carefully made her way around the perimeter of the hotel district, taking as good a look at the assembled forces as possible. While still no expert, as near as she could tell, the assembled mechs were in fully operable condition with no damage in evidence. No such luck there. Whoever’s behind this bunch clearly can keep them supplied and in running condition. Which means that they have plenty of money, resources and, possibly reserves. I’m beginning to think that this Band of Five is just the tip of the iceberg.

The insignia of a bloodied black hand on a red field was prominent on their mechs, the same symbol she’d seen tattooed on the Crosscut pilot she’d ejected back on Imbross. So that’s their insignia then, she thought to herself, making a note of it. The machines otherwise were painted in a mixture of tan and a medium blue, with seemingly regular if even distribution of the shared colours. Don’t recognise the scheme though. Might be useful to remember. Several other details were in evidence, the inevitable customisation that MechWarriors would engage in, but nothing stood out or served as a uniform identifier.

Despite the openness with which the Band were displaying their equipment, they still had barricaded off the hotel and its immediate surroundings, and there were still soldiers on patrol. She knew that there was only so far she could go and only so much she could do out here on the ground. Time for phase two of this little recon operation.

Figuring that she had all that she could get, Juanita headed around the back of the hotel, making sure that she was not followed in the process. Slipping into an alley, she could see the back end of the hotel, a scene far less prestigious and appealing then its front half. A large loading dock and several service entrances fronted onto an alleyway, half-clogged with dumpsters and garbage bags. She could see several soldiers hanging around at either end, casually glancing around but looking almost bored with their posting. The other thing that caught her eye were several members of the hotel staff on a clear cigarette break.

If I was playing host to a bunch of murderous thugs with military hardware, I’d take up smoking too. Casually strolling away, she began looking around for an opening. An idea was forming, one that would fix all her problems.

-----

While the Band of Five’s members were largely criminals, not all of them were killers by trade or nature. Their ranks included many who had other reasons to evade the law and their own desires or vices to fulfil, reasons enough to be drawn to the organisation’s ranks. Barry Mangonel was one such man, one who stood out even amongst the Band’s ranks. It was a fact that he found amusing, causing him to laugh to himself as he strode through the hallways of the Grand Swann Hotel.

Before the HPG blackout, Mangonel had been the opposite of many of the Band’s erstwhile members. Rather than a simple criminal, he had instead been a police officer, one obstinately dedicated to upholding the law. Of course, in his case, the line between criminal and authority had been more than a little blurred. Mangonel had been something of a friend and ally to the criminal classes, one who had been glad to not only turn a blind eye to what they did, but to actively assist them in their various enterprises. In return, they had made his life rather comfortable, well above what he could afford on his salary.

When things had turned against him, he’d skipped town before he could be called to account. For him, the HPG blackout had been a pleasant coincidence that had only aided his flight. As a result, he’d managed to not only to escape the consequences of his actions, but his past experience and not inconsiderable financial reserves had managed to find him a place in a new organisation, the Band of Five.

Of course, his being a former police officer, even a corrupt one, had not sat well with many of his erstwhile colleagues. There were many that didn’t dislike him simply for being who he was, and many that he knew would happily leave him dead in a ditch if they had the chance. His naturally abrasive personality; rude, pushy, demanding and with a want of flaunting his position and telling someone to their face when he didn’t like them didn’t help any.

Instead, he’d cleverly built up a network of information on his fellows, material that could be used to keep them from simply dealing with him. He knew their secrets, their failings and their weaknesses, and he knew how to use them. He found it quite fun to watch people squirm around him, to make them fear and respect him when he knew that they wanted gut him. That there were those higher up the food chain in the Band that supported him made it even better. He liked the idea; after all, the best way to run an organisation full of criminals was to ensure that they feared you.

He carried himself with an air of confidence that belied his appearance. Middle aged, overweight and balding, his face dominated by a thick moustache and a nearly permanently sweaty brow. However, more obvious was the way he flaunted his nature; he strode around dressed in a police uniform, making no effort at all to blend in the others and instead stick out like a sore thumb. Respect and fear, that’s what it’s all about.

The downtime in the Grand Swann had been good for him, allowing him to indulge himself. Plentiful food and drink, a little bit of recreational ganging and all the prostitutes he could want (many of whom were desperate for any form of income, which made his use of them all the more enjoyable) covered most of his immediate vices. Furthermore, his fellows were becoming sloppy, making mistakes and letting their weaknesses show or simply failing to figure how much a desperate whore would tell a man.

He was wandering around the backrooms of the casino, looking for something new to amuse him. His grasp on his comrades was far from complete, and he was always searching for something new that he could use. These strolls had already yielded results; he’d managed to “convince” the hotel staff that he should get full access to the hotel and all its facilities, now represented in the access cards and security codes he carried with him.

However, he still wanted more. There were two glaring holes in his files that he wanted filled; his overall leader, Bob Swayer, and his right hand man, TF Allen. To him, Sawyer was a risk; the man was clearly driven to the point of insanity, but didn’t seem to have any weaknesses beyond his simple loathing of all humanity. It wasn’t something that he could immediately use.

Allen, of course, was an enigma. He hated enigmas. He would have given anything to take a look under that helmet, to see what was there. Once he had that, the man would be his.

Looking out for the masked man, he strolled up to the balcony, overlooking the casino floor, to get a better idea of what was going on. As he reached the upper floor, something caught his eye, a lone figure who was also watching the casino floor. An idea began to form in his mind, one that produced a pleased grin as he got closer to his target. It was clearly one of the staff, a maid from the looks of her uniform.

Not bad looking either, he thought with almost hungry delight as he approached her. She was young, with long black hair tied off into a scruffy ponytail. Looks like a bit of Cappie or Drac in her. Whatever. I don’t care. He instead planted a meaty hand on her shoulder. “Scuse me, miss.” He began, using the same demanding tone he’d been using since his first days on the street. “But you’re not supposed to be here”

She turned around, fear evident in her blue eyes as she eyed him up. “I’m sorry!” She squeaked out, clearly more than a little scared at being discovered, and probably inwardly even more terrified at what may happen. “I didn’t mean to spy. I was just watching.”

Barry nodded slowly. “Well that as maybe, ma’am, but rules are rules. You’re intruding on restricted property, and, well, I’m gonna have to do something about that.”

The maid shook her head, several stray hairs falling across her face. “Surely you can let it go, sir. I didn’t mean any harm by that. Maybe we can just work this all out, okay?”

Which was just what he wanted. Fingering his belt buckle, he glanced towards a restroom door further down the hallway. “Well then, miss, if you’ll come with me, we can work it all out.” To emphasise the point, he tightened his grip on her, turning her towards the room. The pair of them walked towards the room, Barry doing nothing to hide the broad grin on his face. This was what he lived for, what he loved. The power, the control, bossing people around and making them do what he wanted.

He let her in first, turning only to make sure that the door was firmly locked. The last thing he wanted was to be interrupted while he was busy. “So now, let’s-“

Barry’s introduction was cut off as she bought her knee up, hard and fast, into his crotch. His body exploded with pain, a loud whumph of exiting air the only response he could offer. As he doubled over, a second heavy blow came to his back, followed by a sharp knee to the face that bought stars to his eyes. Before he could respond any further, he felt a hand on the back of his neck, then a second.

“Whurg?” He slurred as his vision cleared, only to see the tiled wall of the washroom rushing towards him. A bone-jarring crunch of impact was the last sensation he felt, then darkness.

-----

“I hate cops” Juanita muttered as she stood over the unconscious form of the fallen officer. “Don’t even think you’re a real cop, buddy. Just some loser with delusions of grandeur. Still don’t like you anyway.”

A few minutes later, she left the washroom, making sure to close the door, lock it and wedge it shut as best she could from the outside. Her original plan had been to sneak into the hotel in disguise, then use it as an opportunity to sneak a better look at the forces on site and set up some surveillance. She’d figured that her disguise would allow her to dissuade most hints of suspicion that may fall on her if someone saw her moving around.

Instead the so-called cop had been a bonanza for her. While she’d walked off with his wallet which provided a little bit of cash, what was the real bonus were the security cards he’d been carrying on him. The fake cop had managed to, one way or another, get his hands on security cards for all areas of the hotel, even the ones that were only accessible to the highest echelons of the staff. Furthermore, he’d conveniently made notes as to what was what, probably to remind himself where he could go and how he could get in there.

The guy was resourceful, that was obvious. Didn’t mean she had to like him any. She would, however, thank him for giving her the passes. He deserved that much. Moving quietly through the hotel, Juanita headed upwards, taking to a largely deserted middle floor of the hotel. Pausing for a moment to orientate herself, she picked a room from the row and then stepped inside. Placing the all important “do not disturb” sign on the door, she locked it from within.

Despite its plush appointments, her interest did not lie with the room or its contents. Rather, it lay directly in the view it offered. Walking over there, she opened the curtains, looking down at what was below. Even from this height, the Battlemechs of the Band of Five’s force looked imposingly large, even if they were well below her.

Pulling out a micro-camcorder that she’d hidden under her skirt, she began surveying the site, taking in both the assembled array of military hardware and the layout of the area around the hotel. More particularly, her eyes fell on the half-dozen Battlemechs positioned around it. Scanning over them with the camera, she began recording footage while she observed them.

On the surface they all wore the same tan and blue colour scheme, and all sported the same insignia of a black handprint on a red field. However, looking over them also revealed subtle differences, identifying marks that could be used to pick them out. A buxom woman painted on the Centurion, tribal patterns on the Crusader’s forearms, flames along the Black Knight’s limbs. Mentally she began to think back over the soldiers she’d seen in the Casino, wondering if she could connect men to Mechs.

It’d be ironic if that cop was one of their Mechwarriors, she thought to herself. But then he’d probably have a heart attack trying to climb into a mech. Scanning over the assembled forces, she noted a Copper SecurityMech amongst them, a police badge painted on its shoulder despite it wearing the Band of Five’s colours. You have to be frelling well kidding me. He is one of them! That fatarse gets a mech and I don’t? Life is not fair at all.

On the other hand, this means I just incapacitated one of their Mechwarriors without trying. That bought a smile to her face.

Settling the camera down on the table, she pulled out her personal communicator, connecting the two with an adaptor cord. Keying in a contact address, she began transmitting all that she had recorded. “Hey Ponytail, it’s me” She started as it confirmed that the data link was active and secure. “I’ve gotten in, gotten a good look at their forces and their layout, and managed to snag a little bonus along the way.”

Glancing down at the mechs again, she smirked. “In fact, I’m getting an idea. Just let me know when you want me to go, and I’ll handle everything.”

-----

Nero had spent a pleasant enough morning cruising the casino floor, just watching his fellow soldiers in action. In spite of their occupation, the place still seemed to have a holiday air of sorts, with the Band’s soldiers laughing, relaxing and enjoying themselves. Of course, anyone could see that there was more to it then just that; scratch the surface and the situation became a lot grimmer.

The staff still smiled and were pleasant enough to their guests, but the pleasant faces were forced, and fear was hidden right behind their welcome nature. He doubted that any of them had any illusions as to what was going on, and that their lives were only safe for as long as the Band’s members remained entertained. So far, there had been enough ‘incidents’ to remind them of that fact. Anyone of them who stepped out of line, who broke hotel rules, well... they were going to get away with it, unpunished. And Nero didn’t mind at all.

He was more interested today in finding out more about those around him. He and Allen had a plan, and he wanted as much as possible for it. Nero was far from content with simply being a Mechwarrior; while it was a position of power that many only dreamt of, it simply wasn’t enough for him. The Band of Five had suited his ambitions, but it wasn’t enough for him to be one of its members. He wanted to lead them, to use them to carve out his own little chunk of security. And with the Republic seemingly collapsing, he figured it was the best plan.

Maybe I should name a planet after myself. He idly thought, smirking at the idea. Naw, I’m not that pompous. Still, my own planet wouldn’t be a bad idea... For now, however he had but a single ally. And while he knew he could trust them implicitly, he needed more.

Glancing around, he examined the soldiers near him. Kirstin Ross caught his eye for a moment, the tank commander glancing over the room with a look of obvious disdain on her face. She was known for being stern and humourless, and probably didn’t like the whole ‘carnival’ atmosphere that had settled over her men. Unfortunately, that didn’t help him any; while it would be useful to have her in his pocket, she hadn’t given him an avenue of attack as yet.

Moving on, he looked around for other sights, other people that may catch his eye. There was an infantryman, already face down on the bar, drunk into unconsciousness before noon. A more distinctive figure sat next to him; a girl, seemingly no older then sixteen. Dressed in an elaborate frilled petticoat and holding an opened parasol, even indoors, she was starkly out of place. That Nero knew that she was one of Kirstin’s tankers only made her seem more odd.

Gotta figure out Carlotta’s secret. He thought as he glanced at her before moving back towards the stairs. Maybe she just smokes a lot and they stunt her growth. Heading up to the balcony, he figured he could get a better view of the area below, along with a better shot at finding someone trying not to be seen doing something they didn’t want him to know about. But first, a light break.

What he found was that someone had wedged the washroom door shut in addition to locking it. That in and of itself was enough to grab his interest; if someone had gone to that great a length, they wanted to keep people out of there. Someone or something was hiding inside, and he wanted to know what it was. Making sure that there was nobody else around, he began to discreetly go to work. After all he’d broken into in past, a locked loo was nothing.

A minute or two later, he was in. Discretely shutting the door behind him, he took a look around the room for what was hiding. At first it seemed empty; nothing but an almost staggering expanse of local marble, probably worth more than the yearly wage of some of the employees. However, the secret to a bathroom like this was always in the stalls. A quick glance at the expensive wood-panelled booths told him that one of them was, indeed, occupied.

No sense in messing about. He opened the door, ready for anything. Even then, he was moderately surprised. “Well, well.” Nero began with a confident smirk. “Officer Mangonel. One of my least favourite people. I’d love to know how you ended up here.”

Mangonel’s only reply was a series of desperate grunts coming from his gagged mouth. Somebody had done a real number on him; the man was obviously bruised and had one swollen eye, the other wide open in fear. His situation didn’t do him any favours; He was kneeling down over the toilet, his hands had been cuffed to the toilet, while his tie had been wrapped around the seat. His pants had also been pulled down, his belt used to bind his feet. Mercifully, whoever had done this had left his underwear on, although they’d stuffed his socks in his mouth.

“You know, this is just incredible.” Nero continued as he looked down at the helpless former policeman. “Someone did a real number on you, Officer. I’d love to know who you pissed off this much, but I have other concerns right now.” He gave a friendly smile, which only resulted in even more panicked grunting from Mangonel.

“Thing is, officer, I know that nobody here likes you. And I know that you have to be doing something in order to keep yourself alive; you have some insurance, some way of making sure that nobody decides to just put you out of their misery right now. So here’s the deal, officer.” He squatted down next to him.

“You’re going to tell me what that is. And then you’re going to make sure that I get it. Whatever advantage it is you have, I want it myself. You give me that and I’ll let you free and help you discretely clean yourself up, pass on some pile of crap story that  you got drunk while groping waitresses and ended up getting slapped for your trouble.”

“Or, if you refuse, I let it get out that you’re in here, tied up and helpless. I know that there will be plenty of people who will want to pay you a visit, let you know exactly what they think of you. I can imagine that a few might find an inappropriate use for your nightstick, for example.” He smiled a disarmingly friendly smile. “Of course, I also came in here to relive myself, so...”

Barry’s eyes went wide with fear, his grunting coming faster now.

“So do we have a deal?” Nero asked, quirking his brow. “I mean. I’d rather get your secrets, but watching people form a queue to do unspeakable things to you would be a fair consolation.” Mangonel simply nodded slowly.

“Excellent” Nero finished as he stood. “Officer Mangonel, I am always happy to help the police in any way I can.” And this find will help us so much more.

-----

“Well, mister Slawksi?” Junko Suzuhara asked as the mercenary MechWarrior entered his office. “What do you have for me?”

Andrzej Slawski smiled as he adjusted his sunglasses. “Major Suzuhara, my men have come through and delivered us a nice little gift.” He placed a noteputer down on the table in front of her, hitting a few buttons. “This is footage of the enemy force, shot only a few minutes ago.” The screen bought up an image of a quartet of BattleMechs; the shot was a little shaky, but made it clear what they were looking at.

“I’m impressed.” She nodded. “And there’s more?”

“Pretty much.” Slawski continued. “They got a pretty complete look at the enemy forces, both in terms of size and deployment, as well as a good summary of their patrol forces. While our enemy is clearly well dug-in, they also seem to have become rather lax over the last couple of weeks. No offence, but they probably think they have your men intimidated.”

“None taken. I won’t argue with you on that point. Until you showed up, we really had nothing we could use against them.” She conceded. “All this is much better then what we could manage.”

“If you could get me a map of the town, I think we could easily plot out their positions from this footage.” He offered. “It will help us figure out what to do next.”

She glanced up at him. “Something on your mind, Mister Slawski?”

He nodded in reply, his face opening into a broad grin. “I have an idea on how we can tip the odds well in our favour. I will, however, need your trust and, obviously, your forces”

“Mister Slawski,” Junko commented, a note of optimism in her weary voice. “If you can get these monsters off my planet, I’ll give you whatever you want.”

Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 29 January 2011, 22:01:14
Port Malibu, Paradisia
Mizar, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
1 May 3133



Even before the sun came up, Port Malibu was hopping with activity. Despite the dual blows of the economic collapse and the occupation by a hostile army, the city still needed to function as best it could. A small army of service personnel had already gone to work, trying their best to keep the city functioning normally or, at the very least, something that resembled it. Under the watchful eyes of the Band of Five’s soldiers, they tried their best to maintain a semblance of normality under what could be only described as exceptional conditions.

Juniata stalked amongst them, blending into the crowds as she went. Today she wore a plain, stained and anonymous service jumpsuit, her hair tied back into a sloppy bun. She was pushing a street sweeper’s cart, looking for all the world like another one of the staff of maintenance personnel who were tasked with keeping the city looking impeccably neat for the tourist crowds that would never come. Inwardly, she had to thank the city’s leadership for their misplaced sense of civic pride.

They could just leave the place filthy. But I suppose they have to clean up in case they have a sudden rush from the Prefecture or something. It seemed pointless, but it helped her so much. Besides, nobody ever paid attention to the cleaners; they were there, they did their job and the only recognition they got was from people who were glad that it was somebody else and not them doing it. I am so glad that I don’t do this for a living.

Pushing the cart around the back of the Grand Swann, she could see that nothing had overtly changed since yesterday. I guess that so-called cop just figured me for a simple maid, she thought to herself as she bought the trolley to a halt behind a rubbish skip. Or maybe he’s still stuck in that bathroom. That’d serve him right. She couldn’t help but laugh at the idea.

Flipping the lid of the trolley open, she pulled out a heavy pack that she’d stashed inside. Most of her gear, including the Theodolite ATV, was back at her cache, well hidden. Today she’d only bought what she needed for the mission. By the time she was done, her concern would be less that anyone found what she’d hidden and more that no mech stepped on it.

A few minutes later Juanita was in the hotel, apparently undetected. Rather then entering the casino as she had yesterday, she instead descended into the bowels of the building. Instead of the glitz and glamour, she was in amongst a cavern of grey concrete, pipes and cables, the guts of the building that made the magic happen.

And as disgusting as he was, I still should thank him, she thought to herself as she pulled a bank of security cards from her pocket. After all, he generously gave me all these. Rummaging through his pockets had yielded a notebook, most of which had been incoherent scrawls in his crabby handwriting. Disregarding most of it, she’d found a catalogue of the cards, what they did, and what they had access to. It had made her a very, very happy woman.

Reaching the lowest level of the concrete maze, she would what she’d been searching for. One door, thicker than the others that lead outside the hotel proper and into the service tunnels under the city’s streets. Designed to allow access to mains power and water for maintenance and repairs, it also was going to provide her with exactly what she needed.

Slipping in and out, she was soon leaving the hotel proper and under the city streets. Mentally comparing the distance she had travelled to her own understanding of the building’s layout, she cautiously continued down the concrete passage, doing her best to be as quiet as possible. While she was certain that there would be nobody else down here, she also saw no need to take any risks.

Stopping at one point, Juanita glanced up, noting the manhole overhead. She could see shafts of yellow light streaming down through the grating making it clear that it was daybreak already. She could imagine the sight of the planet’s twin suns rising over the brilliant white beaches and the glass-like ocean, views that people would have happily paid small fortunes to relax in.

But I have a job to do. Sightseeing can come later. Clambering up the wall-mounted ladder, she cautiously raised the edge of the grating, peering out. As she had expected, she was right behind one of the BattleMechs, the hulking Zeus that she had observed yesterday. The limited light of the early dawn was enough for her to see by and not the position of the enemy security forces. As she had expected, they’d fanned out to protect the perimeter. Nobody had expected someone to creep up on them from below.

Damn it, I am so smart. She smirked to herself as she cautiously pushed the grate back. Despite the risk she was taking, Juanita couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction at her own planning, her making it this far under a perimeter of armed guards. It was a rush, a thrill to do this, to get away with things like this. It was one of the reasons she’d started in the first place. Getting there’s the trick and where the true genius lies. What you do once you’re in is just the icing on the cake.

A glance up at the massive assault mech suddenly drove that idea from her mind. No, this time the thrill will be in the ride.

Focusing, she slid the grating back, clambering out of the manhole. A quick inspection of the Zeus made it clear how little they had expected anyone to make it in this far. The mech’s boarding ladder was extended and, while the canopy was closed and almost certainly sealed, the ladder pretty much amounted to a written invitation in her eyes.

Making sure to be as quiet as possible, she grabbed hold of the ladder and began to haul herself up. This was the hardest part of the whole operation, the moment of the greatest risk and where she was the most vulnerable. If she was spotted now, not only would it mean that she would have little protection and few avenues of escape, but it would mean that her whole operation was blown right open. Even if she managed an escape, they’d know she was here and easily figure out what she was trying to do.

She’d taken as many precautions as possible; she was still on the dark side of the massive machine, hidden by the shadows of the retreating night and she was sure that she was not within the immediate vision of any of the soldiers. All she could do was climb and hope. Inwardly, she didn’t know if she should be terrified at the risk, or thrilled by it.

After what seemed like an eternity on a knife-edge, she reached the cockpit of the towering Zeus; while she was twelve meters from the ground, the combination of the risks taken in the climb and the sheer presence of the assault mech she stood upon made it seem like so much more. Stopping for a breath was all she could allow before going to work.

Looking over the Zeus’ cockpit, she could see everything as described in the books, technical diagrams, manuals and all the other literature that she had studied on Battlemech design. It was so different then the IndustrialMechs that she had stolen in past, but it all made sense now that she was here. There was an obvious pressure panel by the cockpit; pressing it, she turned it clockwise a full rotation, exactly as instructed. With a click – quiet, yet earth-shatteringly loud at the same time – it slid back.

Underneath the panel lay a handle. Grabbing a firm hold of it, Juanita turned it clockwise until she felt it lock solidly into place. Then, with the slightest of hisses, the cockpit of the Zeus unsealed, opening just a crack and nothing more. However, it was all she needed.

Worst part is over. You’re nearly there. Pushing the cockpit open as slowly as possible, she stopped it after it was only partway up. With the utmost care not to unbalance herself and be sent toppling to the unforgiving pavement below, she took off her backpack, shoving it into the cockpit of the huge mech. Then, once it was in, she clambered into it herself; half crawling, half falling the last moments before landing in a crumpled heap. However, the key point was simple; she was in.

Righting herself, she pulled the cockpit shut, sealing it. That in turn over-rode the external lock; now that she was in and sealed, someone outside the mech couldn’t simply enter the way she had. It meant that she was theoretically safe. Of course, at this point, if she messed up she was effectively trapped in what could easily become a giant metal coffin. Pleasing thought.

Opening up the backpack, she quickly located and removed a bulky device, roughly the size and shape of a human head. This was her ace in the hole, the one thing that Antonin had given her that changed everything. The device was a Codebreaker, designed to over-ride the security protocols of the Battlemech’s system. Without it, her only hope was to blindly rip out circuit boards and hope that she had found the security system – and that she hadn’t damaged anything in the process.

Now let’s see if this stupid thing works, Ponytail. She smirked to herself as she activated the device, watching as it powered on and its status lights came on green. Of course, this thing is more illegal then I can imagine. I should wonder why you had it, then, and what you were going to use it for. As the lights came on green, she nodded to herself. But them, this thing is my key to my own BattleMech, so I shouldn’t think too hard about it.

Smirking, she pulled a second device from the backpack. A Neurohelmet, it was the key to operating a BattleMech, translating the MechWarrior’s own sense of balance into signals for the machine’s gyroscope, Without it, the BattleMech would be clumsy and inefficient, more likely to fall on its face then walk anywhere. However, even with a properly calibrated Nerohelmet, she still needed the codes to activate the mech.

Carefully, she placed the helmet over the ersatz head of the Codebreaker, making sure it was securely in place. Then she connected the helmet’s plugs to the appropriate places on the cockpit console, ensuring that everything was smugly in place. The Codebreaker lit up green indicating that the connection had been established, and that it was ready to begin work. Well, nothing else to do. Let’s give this a try.

Swallowing loudly, Juanita activated the Zeus’ master power switch. Around her, the cockpit came to life as the machine’s systems began to power up. At this point, it would only reach a certain stage, only activating those systems that it needed to reach this stage. At this point, it would need the proper security code from the MechWarrior to complete the power-up sequence. That was where the Codebreaker came in.

Activating the system, Juanita watched as it began the interrogation sequence. Indicators on its status screen told her that it had established a connection through the Neurohelmet to the Battlemech’s controls and was now searching for a solution to the code. Near it, a status indicator gave her an estimation of the time remaining until then. Forty-five minutes.

Sighing to herself, she sat back in the command couch. All she could do now was wait; there was nothing else she could do until the machine found its solution. Any disruption to the process would simply reset the system, requiring it to start over from scratch.

Gods, I hope he doesn’t try to take his mech out for an early-morning run. That’s going to screw everything up.

Waiting for the codebreaker to do its work, she looked around the cockpit, carefully studying the layout of the various controls and displays. While she had never seen the cockpit of a Zeus before, the controls matched up to the various BattleMech cockpits she’d seen in the manuals she’d poured over and the simulators she’d used in her training. Taking the time, she began to figure out where everything was and what she was looking at, getting a good idea of the layout. And if this works, I’m going to need it.

Forty-three minutes later, after a long round of study in which Juanita was convinced that she had a good idea as to what she would need to do, the codebreaker gave off a quiet beep, indicating that it had done its work. What it should have done was cracked the code for her, allowing her to activate the BattleMech. However, there was only one way to find out if it had really worked, and that was to don the Neurohelmet.

And if this fails, I’m really screwed. An improperly tuned Neurohelmet and a faulty code would mean more than just an immobile mech. There was every chance she could suffer feedback from the system, resulting in injury – or death.

Nothing ventured, no BattleMech.

She quickly stripped off the service jumpsuit she’d been wearing; underneath, she was clad in a cooling vest and a pair of briefs. It had been uncomfortable to wear them under her clothes, but she needed them for what was to come. She quickly hooked up the medical and cooling connections to the cockpit, just as she had learned. Only one step remained.

Swallowing loudly, she removed the Codebreaker from the Neurohelmet. Then, after securing the delicate device, she lowered the helmet onto her head, making sure to get as good and comfortable fit as the bulky device would allow. Then, breathing deeply, she activated the power-up sequence. Several earth-shatteringly loud beeps came from the systems as they came on line, Juanita scanning the displays. ZEU-9T Zeus, Serial LA753-93K. And all mine. I hope.

“What is society? What is the sum total of human civilisation?” A voice asked, coming from the speakers inside the cockpit. It was calm and measured, almost detached.

And now we test if it worked. “Bite me, you pretentious tool.” She snapped back.

“Passcode accepted.” The voice replied. “Go forth, and cleanse the universe of this disease.”

I am so gonna get that changed when I’m done, she mentally added as she looked over the systems. The Zeus was powering up, all systems registering as on-line and active. As she confirmed each one coming online, she nodded to herself before drawing out her own personal communicator. “Ponytail, it’s me. We’re go.” A quick, pre-arranged message that revealed nothing. It was the first communication she’d had with him since last night, and likely the last one she’d have for some time.

She still hadn’t moved the mech as yet. From a purely visual perspective, the huge machine still would look inert. However, anyone watching it with any sort of thermal sensors would see the tremendous spike of the fusion reactor coming on-line. She had to act, and quickly.

Glancing around, she could see two of the vehicles she’d spotted the other day; a Thumper Artillery Vehicle and a massive JES II missile carrier. Further back, she spotted a collection of supply and support units. Nodding to herself, she considered the plan that she’d worked out last night. Grinning, she reached for the weapons controls, ready to unleash the staggering power that was now at her command.

-----

The leader of the Band of Five unit on Mizar, Bob Sawyer was almost a contradiction. Externally, he did not seem to fit with the rest of the band; arrogant and intellectual, his slim build and neat clothes made him stand out from the band of thugs that were his subordinates. His attitudes were even more stark, acting the part of a professional, dedicated officer rather than the violet, seemingly irrational actions of his subordinate.

Since their conquest of Port Malibu, the he had done his utmost to maintain his professionalism; while his men had engaged in what amounted to little more than a holiday filled with revelry and debauchery, he had restrained himself, patiently waiting for the moment when he would turn the band of killers that he lead loose on the world and claim it. He had been patiently standing by, knowing full well that he had his orders and that he would be expected to fulfil them to the best of his ability.

And today would be that moment, the one where he would prove himself. With the HPG blackout, the flow of communications between worlds was reduced to a mere trickle of what it once was. Messages had to be physically relayed instead, which often meant that there were substantial delays in communication.

The invasion of Mizar had been planned around that idea. A soft target, but one with immense potential value, Sawyer’s unit had been tasked with forming a beachhead and, from there, digging in and making it clear that they would not be leaving. Ideally, this would result in the local defenders being cowed and demoralised, and not willing to resist his forces when they moved. The result would be the capture of the world with as few losses and as little damage as possible.

Sawyer had been given a deadline of the first of May. If he had heard nothing from the Band of Five’s leaders by that point, he was to act. It was an idea that he relished, not simply because of the opportunity for battle. The simple fact, one that he gladly acknowledged to himself as he looked down at the Casino floor where several of his men were already present despite the early hour, was that he hated this world and all that it stood for.

He leaned on the railing, his hands clenching as they dug into the railing. Soon, all this will be behind me. I can leave this wretched place and sweep away all that it stands for. I despise this place, and I have despised every minute I have spent here. Several of his men caught his eyes as they moved around, revelling in their petty amusements. And this is the rabble that I have been given to achieve my task. They are a loathsome and disgusting bunch, but they serve a useful purpose.

This is but the beginning of what is to come. The disease of civilisation has been allowed to fester too long. We need to cut it out, to excise this cancer, to tear this failed universe down and rebuild it anew.
It was a belief that he had held for so long, one that had driven him forwards. When the HPG network had collapsed, he had seen it as a sign that everything he had believed was true; the Blackout was but the first indication of society’s death throws.

And that it should start here, in this temple of debauchery and waste, this glaring sign of all that is wrong with this universe. He looked around, watching over the shameless waste of the place. Another one of mankind’s great failings, greed is almost as vile a poison as religion, tainting the mind and destroying all rationality. When I am done, I will burn this place myself.

His communicator beeped, interrupting his thoughts. Not saying a word, he picked it up, activating it. “Major Sawyer here. What is it?” he asked, his tone flat and emotionless. He was about to muster his troops, to drive them forward. The last thing he wanted was an interruption of any sort.

“We’re under attack!” A voice called out in reply, clearly desperate. “There’s-“ a burst of gunfire cut him off before he hurriedly continued. “The militia are on the move!”

“Where are you?” He demanded, doing his best to stay calm as he analysed the situation. “What forces are attacking?”

“Just north of the bridge! They’ve crossed the river and are heading towards us. It looks like the militia are out in force! There’s tanks and infantry... and they bought Mechs. Real mechs!”

And they chose to attack now. He considered the matter. Nobody in my unit knew of the timing save for me. They could not have known that I was about to strike. It could be a coincidence, but...

“Very well. Fall back to the city. I will muster our soldiers and repel this attack.” He closed the channel before they could reply. Why would they attack now? They already know they are out-matched, and the last month has let us dig in and secure ourselves. It makes no sense at all. He furrowed his brow. Maybe this is some act of pure desperation. Maybe they have no other choice and have decided to act now.

He switched over his communicator, ready to contact his officers. “Sawyer to-“ A loud crash suddenly cut him off. “What is going on?” He called out, shouting out over the casino floor. From the looks of those below him, he was not the only confused one. Soldiers and casino staff alike were looking around in confusion, wondering what was the source of the noise. “You there!” He glared at a single infantryman, barely restrained fury evident in his eyes. “Find out-“

Sawyer was cut off by the roar of an explosion, one that rocked the building and staggered those inside it. The sound of the blast was punctuated by the shattering of glass as the shockwave struck home, blowing out windows across the face of the building. Thrown by the shock, he was only barely able to keep his feet. Others were not so lucky.

The militia could not possibly be here so quickly. He stood, looking down on the casino floor. “What is going on here?” He roared. “I need to know now, or else I will have someone’s head for this!”

“Major Sawyer?” Bob recognised Blackrock’s voice over his communicator, clam and level. “Where are you?”

“I am in the casino, demanding to know what is going on.” He snapped.

“In that case, I suggest you act.” She replied, her voice cool. “And swiftly, as your Zeus is outside, attacking our forces.”
Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Saurok on 30 January 2011, 07:46:24
Great so far. Keep it up!   :)

Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 31 January 2011, 02:08:08
“Wow”

It was the best Juanita could manage in reaction to what she’d just done. The huge explosion unleashed by the detonation of the J-37 Ordinance Transports she’d incinerated with her mech’s weapons had shaken it and the city around it with the force of the blast, and yet all she was able to manage was a single-word sentence. It was rather underwhelming compared to what was going on, but yet it still seemed to be the best summary of what she had just done.

She simply was not ready for the power of the assault Mech she was now controlling. She’d been through all the simulators, read all the manuals and trained as much as she could, but it was still nothing before what she was now doing. Compared to the Zeus, the modified Crosscut she’d used on Imbross seemed little more then a toy.

The billowing clouds of black smoke coming from the ruined transports, as well as the occasional pop of secondary explosions from the remaining ammo cooking off served to underlie the point, as did the wreckage of the Thumper and JES II she’d caved in with the mech’s massive foot. For the moment, she was invincible, a towering titan of raw power that strode across the field like a figure from myth. Around her, the security forces were scurrying for cover, the occasional pop of small arms fire the only response they could offer, one that was seemingly futile against the huge Battlemech.

“You don’t wanna do that!” She called out as she turned her weapons towards a JI-100 support vehicle parked nearby. Juanita had given herself specific instructions as to what units to target straight away to eliminate the enemy’s supplies and infrastructure, instructions that she did manage to stick to despite her enthusiasm. Triggering the main weapons, she watched with glee as the lasers and PPCs carved into the side of the parked support unit, slicing through it and reducing it to junk in seconds.

“I have the power of thunder and lightning!” Juanita yelled at nobody in particular. “I am an angry god!”

A wail of warning sirens bought her back to reality; moments later, her mech was rocked by several explosions as a flight of missiles slammed into it. Her heads-up display quickly spotted and identified the threat, a Joust tank at the far end of the street. Levelling the mech’s arm at it, she sent a flight of LRMs back in reply, the missiles peppering the tank’s front.

They’re on to me now. Time for phase two before I get overwhelmed. She began backpedalling, moving away from the main equipment park while looking for whatever cover would work for a twelve-meter, eighty-ton war machine. As she did, however, something caught her eye. Well that’s just sloppy of them, but also a fantastic opportunity for me. Should buy us a bit of time.

She stepped the Zeus back behind the Crusader, sheltering herself from the Joust while she did. Twisting the controls, she thrust forward with the stubby weapons arms, the pair of them pushing against the Crusader’s side. Using every bit of strength its artificial muscles could manage, the Zeus shoved against the smaller mech, shifting it and causing it to overbalance and tip.

As it fell, the machine stumbled and then, with a resounding slam, crashed into the parked Dig Lord right next to it. The force of the impact staggered the modified MiningMech, in turn knocking it backwards into the smaller Fenris that had been next to it. The bulk and momentum of the two heavier mechs falling were, in turn, enough to send it crashing backwards into the Stinger that had been the last of the four in the row. The result was a collection of giant metal dominoes, collapsed on top of each other.

Should cost them a bit to sort that out, she thought to herself as she pushed the Zeus forwards, firing at the Joust as she did. For now she’d done enough damage, now her job was to hit and run while the second stage of Ponytail’s plan unfolded. Inwardly, however, she was enjoying every moment of it. This is what it is to be a Mechwarrior. All this power at your command, ready to be unleashed on your very whim. I could get used to this.

-----

The explosion woke Nero up, the shock of the blast throwing him out of bed and leaving him tangled up in the bedsheets in an unceremonious pile on the floor. “Whu?” He began as he shook his head, trying to get his bearings. “What’s going on here? Did something just blow up?”

TF Allen was already up, standing and just finishing his getting dressed. “There was an explosion” the masked MechWarrior replied, his gravelly voice surprisingly flat and calm given all that was going on. “Big one too.” He zipped up the final length of his suit, all traces of bare skin – and humanity – despairing behind the impassive black mask.

“Wait what?” Nero stood, naked but pretty unashamed. After being thrown out of bed in a heap, it wasn’t like he had much dignity to lose. “Who’s shooting at us? It can’t be those militia chumps; no way that they’d have the balls for this.”

“Hold on.” Allen replied, almost infuriating in his dismissal; if Nero wasn’t well used to it by now, he’d be at the very least insulted or annoyed. As it stood, he knew it was just another intriguing part of his masked partner’s (and lover) personality. Tapping the side of his helmet, he glanced over to the window of their room. “I see. I understand. Yes, I will be there immediately.”

“Well?” Nero demanded, rather irate at being woken up and brushed off. “What is it?”

“Somebody has stolen Sawyer’s Zeus.” Allen stated as he headed for the door. “They’ve blown our ammo carriers and are now, apparently, shooting at our troops. At the same time, the Mizar Militia are on their way. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Nero nodded. “What happened on Imbross.”

“We have a pattern.” Allen explained. “I’ll go now; you get dressed and follow in a minute. Nobody sees us together, and by then we should have most everybody mobilised and climbing over each other to get to their mechs.”

“And you?” He asked. “Why are you going straight away?”

“Sawyer is expecting me; he still thinks I am his loyal, faceless servant.” Allen finished. “And above all else, I want a chance to capture whoever this is before Sawyer’s butchers get to them. I want to know what exactly is going on and if there’s some way to turn it to our advantage.”

-----

While the Zeus was not the fastest BattleMech around by any stretch, it was proving to be more then fast enough for Juanita’s needs. The streets of Port Malibu had been designed for looks, and as such consisted largely of wide, easily navigable thoroughfares with plenty of room for an eighty-ton Battlemech to move around. She’d been exploiting that fact to the fullest, moving at speed through the resort city, pushing the mech as fast as she could.

Her sensors told her that there were at least two tanks trying their best to chase her down, the first ones that the Band of Five had managed to get operational or already had on-line during her theft. She wasn’t aiming to take them out, but rather to keep them moving and string them out, but never play too hard to get; it was to her benefit to make them chase her. Save for one Behemoth II that had been immobilised by a LRM hit to the tracks, that’s exactly what they were doing.

Her Zeus charged past an intersection, its sensors again wailing a warning of a missile lock. Yanking the controls, she twisted the torso to face the emergent threat, the same Joust that she had duelled with before. The medium tank sped round the edge of a building, running a parallel course to her, twisting its turret to face her as she turned to face it.

The pair of them fired, sending energy and missiles at each other. The Joust’s laser struck home, scarring armour off the Zeus’ hip, while a half-dozen missiles peppered the shoulder. She gave back much better then she got, however, her PPC and lasers carving away armour from the Joust’s front and turret, slashing through its protection.

Abruptly, the mech rocked as something struck it from behind. Glancing at her monitor, she could see that something had taken bits of armour off her back, lightly peppering it but not doing any real harm. A glance at her monitor showed the blocky form of a Kinnol MBT, following a third parallel street to her and the Joust, its turret twisted towards her.

“Clever boy” She muttered, then spun the Zeus around, heading down towards the savaged Joust. The smaller tank, its crew apparently realising that having a mech weighing twice as much as their tank at point-blank range was not a good idea, began to franticly back off. The medium tank backed through a row of planters, crushing them under its treads as it did. Behind her, the Kinnol simply overshot, its crew having apparently failed to predict her moves.

Seizing the opportunity, she opened fire again on the Joust. Her weapons struck home, blasting apart the tank’s front end and leaving it little more than a twisted mess of metal. As smoke began to billow from the ruined tank, she could see the hatches open up, the crew trying to escape their wrecked vehicle.

Before she could savour her victory, a burst of cannon fire tore past her mech, shredding the pavement in a hail of concrete fragments. Glancing back, Juanita could see a Vedette medium tank barrelling towards her, its rotary autocannon levelled at her mech. Ahead of it was the almost comically small form of a Fox armoured car, tearing along the street at over a hundred kilometres per hour.

“I suppose this is what I get for picking a fight with a whole army at once.” Juanita commented as she pushed past the wrecked Joust, heading southwards. She had a vague plan, one that largely relied on her mech’s thick armour keeping her alive and in motion; any Band of Five units she took out were, at this point, a bonus.

The Fox took the turn, speeding after her and closing in on her. Behind it, the Vedette attempted the same, but with a lot less success. Losing control, the medium tank skidded onto the footpath, sliding through rows of bicycle racks and street signs before disappearing out of her line of sight. Bought me a few seconds. Now let’s use it.

She twisted back, firing a blast from the PPC at the Fox. The azure bolt went wide, scarring the cobblestone pavement behind the fast-moving hovercraft, but it was enough to make its pilot waver and swerve away from her. Its lasers spat fire, but the shots did little more then negligible damage to the mech’s legs.

Choosing to ignore the small hovercraft for the moment, she instead charged forwards, following her plan. The Band of Five, however, seemed to have other plans. Glancing back, she could see the Kinnol advancing on her from behind, moving as fast as it could. Further back, the Vedette had apparently disentangled itself from whatever situation it had found itself in, but still seemed to be having problems with its treads.

Almost home free, she thought to herself. It’s been fun, but I want to keep my neck – and this mech – intact. Twisting her mech’s arm back, she fired a blast from the PPC at the Kinnol, the shot searing armour from its flank. Just a little further and – “Ah crap!”

Ahead of the Zeus a shopfront exploded outwards in a shower of glass as the sleek, almost predatory form of a Carnivore tank shot out through it. The assault tank, massing as much as her own Zeus, turned as it emerged, bringing its weapons to bear on her mech. “And why does this sort of thing always happen when I’m having a good time?” Juanita muttered to herself.

-----

Connecting the last of his MechWarrior Combat Suit’s systems to the Black Knight’s cockpit, TF Allen patiently waited for his Battlemech to start up. He’d been lucky that he’d left it away from the others, resulting in it escaping the damage that had been unleashed on the others unmolested. It also meant that he would have even more of a lead over the other Mechwarriors in the Band’s force; he would be well in motion before the others had gotten their machines untangled.

He had to credit whoever it was with what they had achieved. One man had managed to throw off their entire plan in moments. Clearly they’d found and ruthlessly exploited some previously unseen flaw in their security planning, managing to slip in through their perimeter and steal one of their mechs without being detected. The first anyone had known of their presence was when the shooting started. Allen knew that whoever was in charge of security would be a dead man if Sawyer got his hands on them. Of course, should he lose his Mech, Sawyer’s own chances might not be that good.

Quietly, he was glad that they had chosen the Zeus and not his Black Knight. The loss of his mech would be a blow to Allen; he saw this machine, his Knightmare, as being just as much a part of his identity as his suit. In truth, it was so much so that he’d been reluctant to even repaint it in the Band’s colours; the flames on the limbs had been a concession.

“Kirstin has the mech contained in the southern retail district.” Sawyer’s voice came over the communicator. “Remember, I want the Zeus as intact as possible.”

“Understood.” Knightmare was equipped with a targeting computer that would give him the accuracy needed to cripple the mech without killing it. It also, more importantly, would give him a chance at capturing the mysterious MechWarrior.

The Mech’s systems registered his connection through the Neurohelmet, activating the code sequence that was the final barrier to full operation. “One of these BattleMechs is not like the others.” It spoke in a perfect imitation of his flat, gravelly voice.

“One of these BattleMechs is on fire.” Allen replied.

“Authorisation confirmed. Let the unbinding begin.”

-----

Pushing past an upscale tourist mall, Juanita twisted the Zeus’ torso, opening fire with the mech’s weapons. Lasers and missiles leaped forth, slashing at the prow of the oncoming Carnivore tank as well as the area around it, slicing into both armour and pavement at the same time. Inside the cockpit, she could feel the rising heat coming out of the Battlemech’s systems as she continued to push the Zeus.

For its part, the Carnivore kept coming, replying with its autocannon and lasers. Shells tore into the mech’s armoured hide, while the lasers slashed through the protection on its flank. The impacts rocked the mech, Juanita managing to keep the machine upright and moving, but only just. Pushing onwards, she took another corner, managing to put some terrain between herself and the massive tank for the moment.

Glancing at her display, she could see that things weren’t bad yet – her attackers were yet to penetrate the mech’s thick armour, but that was not for any lack of effort. They’d done a good job at wearing down her protection, with gaping rents torn across its body. It wouldn’t be too much longer before their shots tore through and began to make things very bad for her.

It wasn’t a good exchange; she’d disabled one tank and crippled another, but their simple weight of numbers was giving them an advantage. What had worked, however, was that she had managed to string their forces out across the city, leading them on a wild chase that had left them spread and unable to concentrate their fire. Now for that second part. You had better hurry up, Ponytail, or else I’m gonna be a greasy smear on some tank’s treads.

Letting a few shots loose on the Carnivore, she continued to run without even stopping to look at the damage that she had done. Around her, the city was beginning to thin out, the retail giving way to less attractive but more functional buildings designed to support the resort industry. All that loo paper has to come from somewhere, I guess. Not that I should really be worrying about it now. The buildings were lower-lying now, leaving her mech more exposed, while giving more cover to the tanks, however, it was also offering her a clean break.

A break that the Band of Five were determined not to give her. A pair of brilliant red beams slammed into her mech, followed by the crackle of a brilliant blue PPC bolt. The shots tore through the mech’s depleted armour, eating into its structure. The machine reeled under the assault, driven down to one knee by the force of the impact, while heat surged through the cockpit. Reactor shielding. Not good. Juanita desperately glanced around. But what did that?

Then something caught her eye, a single BattleMech advancing towards her. Even at this distance she could identify it without the aid of the displays. It was the Black Knight she had seen earlier, its weapons obviously levelled at her. The Zeus’ heads-up display targeted and zoomed in on the machine, its steady pace and almost anachronistic armoured form giving it an intimidating demeanour.

“Power down the BattleMech and surrender now.” A gravelly voice called out over the mech’s loudspeakers, clearly aimed at her. “Or else I will kill you.”

Juanita looked over the status board. Not good. He’s fresh and I’m battered, and I’m guessing he’s got a lot more ‘Mech experience then I do. And his friends are nearby as well. Glancing around, something else caught her eye, something that caused her to grin broadly. Her map display was zoomed out, showing a green indicator due south of her position. And I have friends of my own.

Pulling back on the controls, she bought the mech upright, turning to face the Black Knight. As she did, she slowly raised the mech’s arms. In response, the Band of Five mech stopped in its tracks, simply choosing to watch her.

Psych. Without moving the arms or even turning the torso, she simply burst into a run, heading off as fast as the BattleMech could go. Even with the damage to the reactor shielding, the mech was still able to manage over sixty kilometres an hour on the paved road, enough to at the very least keep it level with her pursuers. The best the Black Knight could manage was keeping up with her, but it would never get a lead; at least, not without further damaging her mech first.

The enemy machine broke into a run parallel to her mech, twisting its torso to follow the Zeus. The mech opened fire again, energy weapons leaping towards her mech. This time the terrain favoured her; the PPC slammed into a warehouse, ripping the structure apart in a hail of tiles and plasterboard fragments. The lasers made their mark, slicing armour off the Zeus’ chest and arm; damaging, but nothing critical.

She replied with her own weapons, trying her best to balance her firepower against the heat from the damaged engine. A flight of LRMs leaped forth, peppering virgin armour across the Knight’s torso, while the PPC carved into its shoulder. The mech seemed to shrug off the damage, continuing to run as it did.

“You cannot escape.” A voice crackled through the mech’s communicator. In a moment she realised who it was; the same voice she heard moments before. “Power down your mech and surrender, and you will not be harmed.” There was a pause. “The Band of Five could use someone with your talents. It would be a shame to see them go to waste.”

Yeah, right. The moment I surrender, you put a bullet through my brain – If I’m lucky. Juanita chose to let the mech speak for her, firing at the Black Knight again as she ran. A warehouse ate her missile flight, torn apart by the barrage, while her PPC went wide, with only the Large Laser drilling into the enemy mech’s side.

“So be it. I gave you a chance; you chose to reject it.” The mech fired back, its lasers again slamming into the Zeus. Shredding through the armour, they burrowed into the structure of its shoulder and chest, setting off more alarms inside the cockpit, dealing more damage then she could afford to take. A second alarm added to the cacophony of noise, indicating an enemy missile lock. Seconds later, a dozen missiles slammed into the mech, rocking it back on its feet. Fighting the controls, she was only barely able to keep the machine upright.

Glancing around, she could see the source of the attack, a barrel-chested Crusader that was advancing towards her, its arms raised. Behind it was the Dig Lord, barrelling forwards on its tracked feet, while a smaller Fenris darted around her flank. Looks like they got themselves untangled faster than I expected. Not good. Still...

“I warned you. I did not want to see such an asset wasted, but you forced my hand.” The voice of the Black Knight pilot came across the communicator. “Any last words?”

“Yeah.” Juanita muttered, not speaking into the communicator, not letting her enemy have any idea of her identity. “Gotcha, suckers.”

Three dozen missiles hammered into the Crusader, shrouding it in explosions and clouds of shrapnel. As the blasts cleared, she could see that the mech was driven to its knees, its armour torn and rent under the assault. Looking down at her display confirmed the origin of the attack, one of a group of green icons headed northwards, straight towards the enemy force. Through the heads-up display, she could see a new mech approaching.

It was impossible to miss, a massive Phoenix Hawk IIC, painted an almost garish bright red with a light purple trim. The machine soared overhead, the brilliant plumes of its jump jets making it obvious. “Sorry I’m so late.” A voice cut across her communicator.

“You had better be, Ponytail.” She replied with a smirk.

“I bought friends. Does that make up for it?” As the Hawk landed, she spotted the quartet of mechs behind it, all painted in the drab olive and red of the Republic Armed forces. An Osprey led them, with a Hatchetman, Firestarter and a swift-footed Nyx on its flanks.

“Definitely.” She replied with a grin. “I set them up for you, Ponytail. Feel free to take over any time.”

The MiningMech turned to open fire on the attackers, spitting missiles from its shoulder launcher only to go wide of the assault mech. Behind it, the Fenris charged forwards, opening fire with its PPC, while the Crusader struggled to its feet. Several of the missiles slammed into the Phoenix to seemingly little effect, while the PPC tore into a nearby building.

In reply, a force of Hovercraft tore past the mining mech, spraying it with weapons. A Pegasus passed on one side, peppering it with short-ranged missiles, while a Condor sprayed it with missiles and cannon fire. As the mech staggered under the impact, a third hovercraft presented itself, barrelling towards the modified industrial. The SM1 Tank Destroyer’s massive cannon barked twice, sending a torrent of shells into the damaged torso of the Dig Lord.

The shots ripped through armour and structure, causing the huge mech to reel as fire and smoke belched forth from the rents torn in it. Abruptly, its side blew out as something inside, fuel or ammunition, cocked off. Staggering, the mech stumbled, then simply blew apart in a cloud of flames as the internal detonation shredded its torso. The wreckage of the machine, little more then a pair of battered metal legs, crashed to the ground as the SM1 tore past it.

Emboldened, Juanita levelled her mech’s weapons at the Black Knight and fired again, this time opening up with more of the weapons. No longer concerned about moving and getting away, she felt free to let rip and damn the heat for the moment. The missiles ripped into its shoulder armour, while the PPC flayed armour off its hip, sending globs of molten metal flying. A hit by the large laser caused the mech to stagger back, reeling under the assault.

Battered, the Crusader chose to stand its ground, while the Fenris broke into a run, trying to head around the body of the battle. The Osprey and Hatchetman headed towards the smaller mech, their missile launchers sending a flight of weapons at the smaller machine. Most of them spread out across the landscape, with only a few hitting home. The Osprey’s gauss rifle added to the damage, barely missing the mech before slamming into a shopfront.

The Fenris returned fire, its PPC sawing through the armour on the Hatchetman’s left arm, reducing the limb to a blackened skeleton. In response, both mechs fired their jump jets, spreading out as they turned to surround the Fenris. The Hatchetman came down first, opening fire with its missiles and lasers; the missile flight hit home, peppering the side of the Fenris with a wreath of fire.

The Osprey came down on the other side, its Mechwarrior throwing everything they had at the enemy mech. Missiles went off their mark, but its two medium lasers found their mark, slashing through the armour on its flank. More impressively, the Gauss Rifle round slammed into its arm, crushing and obliterating the PPC.

Firing its few remaining weapons, the Fenris tried to back off from the other mechs. Looking at her display, she could see the same thing happening; the strung-out Band of Five units being cut off and surrounded by groups of Militia mechs and vehicles –and all thanks to her efforts.

Juanita turned back to the Black Knight, grinning. “So, who wants to surrender now?”

Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 31 January 2011, 02:19:09
Back when he was a big-name star, Nero had been good at being fashionably late. Normally it wasn’t a skill that translated on the battlefield, but every now and then, it had its advantages. Sprinting across the city streets, his Centurion belted along at over ninety kilometres an hour, racing towards the battlefield. He’d been dispatched to try and deal with the intrusion, but he had his own reasons for not immediately joining in the fray.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the same person.” Allen’s voice hissed across a private channel, one that only the pair of them had access too. “And I know that it’d be useful to us to take them alive.”

“But they’re not cooperating, right?” He shot back. “Figures.”

“Help me persuade them.” Allen stated.

“And the Mech? I suppose that Sawyer wants it back intact.”

“Irrelevant. All I want to do is force the pilot out of it.”

“Understood.” Nero smirked to himself. “Actually might help to take Sawyer down a peg or two. Guy just doesn’t seem to have a weakness otherwise.”

Twisting a corner, he sighted the Zeus locked in battle with Allen’s Black Knight. For the moment, he had the drop on his opponent, which suited him just fine. Twisting his Centurion’s right arm, he opened fire with its weapons, directing them towards the exposed rear of the massive mech.

Nowen’s mech sported a unique weapons configuration, a fact that suited him well. One of its previous owners had put a lot of time and money into rebuilding the mech, a fact that he appreciated. I’d thank the guy if he wasn’t decades dead, he dryly thought as the Rotary Autocannon that made up much of its right arm spat shells at the back of the hijacked machine. A line of shells ripped across several buildings before tearing into the Zeus’ rear, gouging through the armour. A flight of missiles added to the damage, wounding the huge machine but coming nowhere close to incapacitating it.

Surprised, the big mech lumbered around, levelling its weapons arms at him. As it did, he stomped on the foot pedals that activated the mech’s jump jets, sending it soaring into the air across a row of warehouses. Another feature that nobody expected, Nero liked to use the jets to give him and his “Traumatiser” (His pet name for the machine) an unexpected edge in battle by pulling a manoeuvre out of nowhere.

Landing with a crouch, he whiled the mech around to face the massive machine, bringing up the cannon. Thumbing the autocannon to its highest rate of fire and switching the Multi-Missile system over to short-range weapons, he grinned as he dropped his reticule onto the stolen mech. “No offence buddy, but you shoulda given up when we gave you the chance.”

The short-range missiles peppered the mech’s back, while the laser slashed through the already damaged armour, eating away at structural supports. The autocannon, however, was less dramatically effective. The whirr of the weapon as it wound up was suddenly cut short, replaced with a horrible crunching noise and a grinding of gears. “Son of a –“ he swore as he glanced down at his display, indicating a jam in the ammo feed.

Abruptly, the wounded Zeus twisted around, opening fire on his mech. The PPC shredded armour from off its chest, while the lasers chipped away at its flanks. The mech stumbled back, only barely managing to remain upright. “My cannon’s jammed!” He called over his private channel. “Give me a moment and I’ll be with you.”

Allen gave a vague snarl of reply as Nero dropped back behind a larger building, getting some cover from the enemy mech. It’d take time to clear the weapon, time that he’d rather not spend being exposed to enemy fire. Crap, of all the times for this to happen… He pumped the Centurion’s arm, trying to manually shake the jam loose, while at the same time flipping the fire selector switch back and forth. Today’s just been full of surprises.

A volley of missiles slammed into the Centurion’s leg a way of proving him right. Glancing around, he saw the culprit, a Pegasus hovertank wearing militia colours and barrelling towards him. “Ah hell, this just keeps on getting worse, doesn’t it?” He twisted around to face the Pegasus, his Mech’s launcher and lasers spitting fire at the smaller craft. Shots slammed into the hovertank, causing it to skid and swerve, but stay in control.

Instead, it spat another pair of missile flights at him, the shots grinding more armour from the Centurion’s limbs. To compound matters, a burst of autocannon fire tore past his mech, narrowly missing the cockpit. Glancing back, he could see the source of this newest intrusion, a Harvester AgroMech, modified with an Autocannon on one arm and a crudely-added Republic crest on a dark red shoulder that stood out against the otherwise stock safety yellow of the machine.

“Now you’re really pissing me off!” Realising he wasn’t going to get a chance to clear his cannon, he decided to instead deal with this latest intrusion as a way of evening the numbers and, just maybe, take out a little frustration. The Centurion ran forward, putting as much building between it and the damaged Pegasus as possible while bearing down on the Militia AgroMech.

“You know, we had this all worked out!” He shouted as he opened fire again, the missiles and laser pummelling into the Harvester’s thin armour. Savaged by the assault, the modified Industrial managed to only barely keep its feet, but still was clearly wounded. “Then you guys had to come along and screw everything up!” As if driven by his rage and fury, the Centurion drove down on the smaller mech, beating it resoundingly with its fist and the armoured barrel of its autocannon.

“Damn it, you should have just surrendered when we got here!” He snarled as a blow crushed the mech’s flank, sending it reeling back with fluids leaking from the battered frame. “When we massacred you all, you should have figured what was best for you!” Another hit slammed it back, driving it to its knees. “What do you have to say to that, dumbarse?”

In an almost desperate move, the mech lashed out with its harvester arm, slamming it into the torso of Nero’s mech. The cockpit was filled with an ear-shattering screech of metal as the harvester bit into the housing of the missile launcher, the whirling metal blades tearing into the fragile control systems.

“Oh for-“ Nero shouted out as he swung down in reply, the fist of his mech crushing the Harvester’s cockpit. “Damn it!” Even watching the AgroMech collapse to the ground bought him no satisfaction. Instead, he looked over his status board. Armour’s going to hell, launcher’s wrecked and the cannon’s still jammed. Not good. “Allen it’s me.” He called over his private channel as the mech fired its jets, leaping away from the ruins of the Harvester. “You’re gonna have to deal with this one on your own.”

-----

Despite the damage her mech had taken, Juanita wanted to smirk at the Black Knight she was facing. She’d managed to drive off the Centurion and remain standing, while around the pair of them, the militia forces were beating back the Band of Five. While they were trying to rally, the initial shock had proven to be a strong one, their forces too spread out to resist the militia’s initial charge. That their largest mech had changed sides just added to it all.

In spite of this, the Black Knight remained there, looming as if trying to wear her down with its sheer physical presence. He, in turn, refused to yield to it. I’ve never given up before, and I’m not about to give up now. Besides, I never back down from a challenge. A part of her had noted the damage she’d taken, but another part simply didn’t care.

Her facing off with the enemy mech seemed appropriate, somehow. It was the stuff that the mythology of MechWarriors was made of, the duel between tow massive machines and the men inside them. A clash of not only technology but of minds, wits and skills. In a way, staring down the enemy mech seemed to be almost validating to her, as if by doing such, she was proving that she was every bit a real MechWarrior, not just a thief who hit the big time.

She opened fire on the Black Knight again, lasers and missiles leaping from her mech in a spectacular display of raw destructive power. Shots carved into the mech’s chest and arms, lashing away armour and eating into the structure below, stabbing at the massive armoured machine. Oily black smoke began to rise from a rent in its left arm, giving her more than a little satisfaction at the damage she had wrought.

That satisfaction was short-lived, however, as the Black Knight returned fire. Giving better then it got, the precise fire of its lasers carved into the Zeus’ torso, ripping through the remaining plating And eating into the structure. There was a sudden surge of heat as more of the engine’s shielding was ripped away, while an alarm signalled the death of her mech’s Large Laser. Staggering, the mech stumbled backwards, pavement cracking under its huge feet as she fought to keep it under control.

Okay, maybe I bit off more then I should have, she admitted to herself as she began to backpedal the BattleMech, backing off from the Black Knight. Inside the cockpit was like an oven, a raging, oppressive heat the seemed to come without end; even with the cooling vest, she was baking, sweat pouring off her in torrents. Well, this is what it’s like to be a MechWarrior. I’m getting the full experience now.

As she tried to put some distance between her and the Knight, something else caught her eye; the battered, pitted form of the Crusader she’d seen before, slowly advancing towards her. “Ah come on!” She called out, turning to face the new arrival. “Dammit, where did everybody else get to?”

The Crusader rocked as it fired its massive heavy Gauss rifle, the shot streaking straight at her mech in a silvery blur. The blow hit her machine like a sledgehammer, shattering the left arm in a cloud of debris, spinning the mech in place. Sirens rang out as two flights of missiles pockmarked the machine, shredding armour and structure and driving it forward.

Stumbling, she desperately grabbed at and pulled back on the controls as the massive machine plummeted forwards, eighty tons of metal dropping like a stunned boxer to the mat. With nothing even vaguely resembling grace, she managed to ram the remaining arm into a building, the mech stumbling to its knees.

“Well that could have… oh.” Looking up, she could see the Black Knight looming over her, like an executioner standing over their victim. An apt comparison, she thought to herself as she looked up at the machine which seemed to be completely implacable, unstoppable despite her best efforts. Even the wounds she had inflicted upon it seemed to be nothing, only serving to make the machine seem even more intimidating by the way the pilot seemed to ignore them.

“I gave you a chance.” The enemy Mechwarrior snarled over the communications channel. “You should have taken it.” In the background, Juanita could swear that she could hear somebody shouting at the Knight’s pilot, but she couldn’t make it out. The mech raised its PPC, pointing it at her mech. “A shame to waste so much potential.”

“It’s not a complete waste yet” She quipped as she yanked on the ejection handle. The canopy, secured shut since she had entered the mech blew open, followed by the blast as her ejection seat fired. The force of the acceleration slammed her into the couch as she rocketed away from the ruined BattleMech, putting distance between her, it and her attacker. It was fun while it lasted.

Below her, the now headless mech shuddered and then erupted in a brilliant burst of golden light as its reactor overloaded. Then, it simply ceased to be, obliterated by the power of the unleased engine, no longer controlled but instead free to release all its energy at once. The explosion rippled out, flattening the warehouses on either side of the mech while also sending the Black Knight reeling backwards.

It was the last trick that Antonin had taught her, the one thing that she should do as a last resort to avoid capture. However, she couldn’t help but feel some satisfaction at seeing that, even as what should have been her mech was destroyed, that it had still managed to put on one last, spectacular show.

-----

“Eat that, fool” Nass called out as he watched the Zeus blast apart. “Someone’s gotta actually do some work around here!” The mech’s destruction sent a thrill through him, sweeping away everything that had been gnawing at him for the last few days. “And you know who that is? Well? Me! I’m the boss around this damn city!”

His Crusader spun around as he spotted a Trajan infantry fighting vehicle cutting across a street. “You hear that? I’m in charge for a reason!”  His mech shook as the Heavy Gauss Rifle spat a round at the squat tank, at the same time as missiles leaped from its forearm launchers. The massive round slammed into the tank’s flank, crushing armour and shredding the drivetrain, spinning the vehicle as it tried to advance. The missiles followed up, ripping away more of the armour from the machine’s hull.

“Yeah, what you gonna do about hit, huh?” He called out as the Trajan desperately fired back, a flight of missiles launching from its turret. Less than half of them hit home, pitting his armour, but not doing much else. With a hint of amusement, he saw infantry bailing out of the tank, desperately scrambling for cover.  A pair of laser blasts tore into the tank’s hull, ripping into its denuded structure before the flank collapsed into a tangled heap.

“See? I’m getting it done! What about the rest of you cowards, huh?” He snarled, excitement and fury mixing in his voice. “Why are you backin off? You should be here!”

“Well I would.” Strucker replied, his voice almost polite in stark contrast to Nass’ fury. “Except that my Fenris has been left virtually unarmed due to the damage it has taken. So unfortunately, I really can’t do much of anything to help right now; I’m awfully sorry, but as it is, I’m more of a hindrance than anything else. I suppose I could keep some unarmoured infantry down if you spot any that are out in the open though.”

“And I’m out of rockets, so I’m about as bad off too.” Stradley perked up. “Um, sorry!”

“Ya pair of cowards!” He called out. “When I’m done with these clowns, I’m comin’ for the  pair of ya, got that? I’m gonna show you what happens to those who cross me! Nobody crosses me!”

A warning siren caught his attention, spinning the mech around, he saw the brilliant red and purple form of the Phoenix Hawk IIC leaping towards him. “Yeah, you, sucka. I ain’t got no idea who you are, but I’m gonna do to you what I did to your little friend!” Privately, he hoped that they caught the thief, whoever it was, simply so he could have a few minutes alone with them.

The Crusader shook again as he unleashed the full power of the mech’s arsenal at the other machine. The Gauss Rifle round went low, streaking below the descending mech before slamming into a building at the end of the street. The missiles and lasers hit closer to the mark, scoring armour off the mech as it landed, uneasy on its feet for a moment under the force of the blows. “Yeah, you want a piece of me?” He called out. “Come get some!”

As if its Mechwarrior could hear him, the Phoenix Hawk charged forwards, closing the distance between the pair of them. “Oh yeah, up close and personal. Jus’ the way I like it!” He called out as he dropped his sights on the mech and fired again.

This time, while there was the same roar of the missiles, there was no recoil from the discharge of the Heavy Gauss Rifle; instead there was only a quiet warning beep. “The hell?” He snapped, then glanced down at the weapons display. The rifle was showing as empty, its last round having been expended. As he looked up, he could see the Hawk bearing down on him, its chest launchers wide open.

“Crap” was the best he could manage as the enemy mech spat three dozen missiles at his. The high explosive rounds slammed into the Crusader, enveloping it in a cloud of fire and smoke, slamming the mech hard with the force of the impact. Warheads tore into the right arm, snapping it off the mech’s body, while others hammered into the already damaged torso.

Warning sirens went off inside the cockpit as the impacts slammed the mech to the ground, jarring every bone in his body. At the same time, a tidal wave of heat struck him as the reactor’s shielding shattered under the onslaught. A quick glance at his display told him that his mech’s armour had been ravaged by the assault, leaving its vital systems perilously exposed.

“You know what, buddy?” the enemy Mechwarrior called out over his mech’s PA system as it kneeled down for a moment. “Advanced Tactical Missiles are real expensive. Don’t make me waste more of them, understand?” The machine straightened up, the Crusader’s mangled arm being held in one of its own like a giant metal club. “Understand?”

Nass nodded, his confidence and anger shredded and replaced with a sudden fear; not only for his life, but of losing his Battlemech and being dispossessed terrified him even more. To escape with his life but be without his mech, to lose all the power and prestige that he had earned scared him even more the dying. In spite of the heat of the cockpit, he felt suddenly cold.

Grabbing the controls, he pushed the wounded Crusader to its feet. With the utmost haste, he twisted the mech around, scrambling over the ruins he had left behind to put as much distance between him and the Hawk as possible.

-----

It had taken Blackrock a lot of effort to keep up with the battle as it moved; she’d stolen a motorcycle from the hotel and sprinted across the city, following the stolen mech as it tried to flee from the rest of the Band of Five’s forces. She knew full well that she couldn’t do anything against it; that was not her plan. Rather, she was there as a contingency should the MechWarrior have to bail out.

Her orders were simple – the thief, whoever they were, posed a threat to the Band of Five. She was to ensure that threat did not re-occur.

She watched as several mechs concentrated fire on the massive machine, pouring shots into it. While she was no Mechwarrior herself, she knew that the machine could not stand up to the barrage that it was being subjected to. The pilot would either die in the machine, the victim of their fire, or would be forced to abandon it. That was where she came in.

Gillan pulled the bike up outside a small office building, all but leaping off it. Rifle on her back, she kicked in the door of the office, scrambling towards the internal stairs. Running as fast as she could, she reached the top floor of the building, glancing out the window long enough to see the machine erupt into a ball of flames.

Hell. She ducked back, pressing her back to the wall and bracing against the shock of the blast. Around her the building rattled, shaken by the explosion of the BattleMech’s reactor. Presumably, the auto-eject got them out first, she thought to herself. Which means that they will be on foot, trying to make a getaway. Time for me to act.

She waited a moment for the immediate effects of the blast to clear before taking a look outside. The Zeus was gone, little more then a pillar of thick smoke rising from the wreckage it had left on the street. Nearby, the Black Knight had been knocked back by the force of the blast, twisted up in the wreckage of a warehouse. The mech was battered, its armour and paint scorched but it was also still clearly operational.

That was not her concern; the fallen MechWarrior was. Scanning around, she looked for signs of their presence, anything to indicate if they had abandoned the mech or perished with it. A splash of colour caught her eye; examining it, she recognised it as a parachute. Looking nearby, she could see the abandoned command couch from the Zeus lying on its back.

All I need. Raising her rifle, she used the scope to search for her target. A blur of motion caught her eye, a flash of bare skin. Tracking it, she could make out what it was. A young woman, clad in a cooling vest, boots and briefs, a scruffy ponytail hanging down her back. Well, whoever you are, you won’t be a threat to us any longer. Lining up a shot on the woman, she braced herself to fire.

And then the building exploded around her. Something punched through the wall only a few meters behind her, shredding it in a furious storm of powdered brick and plaster, sending debris flying across the room as the walls and floor were ripped away. Her prey forgotten, Blackrock simply pulled back, pressing herself into the corner as the projectile tore past her, obliterating all in its wake. She felt the sting of flying debris on her skin and through her suit, but dared not to move in spite of what was happening.

It seemed like an eternity but in truth wasn’t more than a few seconds before the building stopped shaking. Warily, she opened an eye, looking around her. One wall was simply gone, all but reduced to a massive gaping hole. The floor and ceiling around it had been shredded, with gaping holes left with exposed beams and wiring limply hanging from them. Had she been a meter or two back, she would have been amongst the debris.

Looking outside, she saw exactly what had happened; Nass Tshuma’s Crusader was fighting with a Phoenix Hawk IIC. A shot from mech’s Heavy Gauss Rifle had clearly gone wide of its intended mark and instead nearly killed her. While it was obviously and accident and, in all likelihood, Tshuma didn’t even know she was there, she couldn’t help but be furious at what had occurred.

Keying her mike, she opened a channel back to command. “This is Shooter.” She began, the anger evident in her voice. “My position is about to be over-run; I’m withdrawing.”

“Did you terminate the enemy thief?” Sawyers replied, his tone demanding.

“Negative. I couldn’t even spot them before I came under fire. If they escaped from the BattleMech, I saw no sign of them.”

“Understood.” There was a degree of disappointment in his voice. She didn’t care. “Fall back for now.”

Collecting her rifle, she clambered over the ruins of the floor while looking for a way down. In truth, she simply was so angry at what had happened that she wanted to take it out on someone, and Sawyer would do as well as the next man. Hidden even deeper were her own ideas; whoever it was who had infiltrated their forces and stolen a BattleMech from under their noses had to be skilled, resourceful and have the connections needed to obtain their own Neurohelmet and Codebreaker. Whoever that person was could be more useful alive then reduced to a stain on the pavement.

Clambering out of the ruined building, Blackrock collected her motorcycle. The rest of the Band of Five could die for all she cared. Right now, she had other priorities.
Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 31 January 2011, 02:23:23
Inside the Grand Swann, Bob Sawyer tried to follow the situation as best he could. Normally, he preferred to lead his men from the front, commanding them from his massive BattleMech. Not only did the machine give him all the tools he needed to lead them, but it also allowed him to properly exercise his authority and deal with those who defied him.

On a deeper level, it allowed him to do what was needed, to lead his crusade to destroy the deeply flawed society that had stood for too long. More to the point, it allowed him to personally destroy that which he hated, that which he found so deeply corrupt and diseased beyond the point of any salvation. By his hands, he would tear down this horrible mistake that was civilisation, and remake it anew.

However, that vital weapon had been taken from him. Instead, he was forced to lead his man from a makeshift command centre, one of the Casino’s conference rooms that had been requisitioned to serve their needs. Outfitted with a network of computers and communications equipment, it was functional, but far from enough.

He had been upset at the loss of the Zeus, but had tried not to show it. It is a thing, a piece of machinery. It is fleeting, transitory, like all things. It can be replaced. Truth was, he had never liked the BattleMech, simply for its name. A machine that celebrated religion, humanity’s greatest mistake, in its name? It had left a bad taste in his mouth, regardless of the power that it possessed, power that he had controlled.

Instead, he concerned himself more with what Blackrock had said. She had never failed him before, and yet her failure seemed to only exacerbate the situation he was in. Glancing over his monitors, he looked at the status of the troops under his command. “Tshuma, why are you falling back?” Sawyer demanded, angrily snarling into his mic.

“Because my mech’s busted to all hell and back.” The voice of his lieutenant shot back. “And I ain’t goin’ up against no crazy P-Hawk with half my mech gone!”

“Tell your men to hold their ground.”

“They ain’t any better. Their mechs are shot to all crap too, and we ain’t gonna stay an’ get killed.” He closed the channel, the anger evident.

Disregarding his comments, Sawyer opened a new channel to his armour commander. “Ross, what is your status?”

“We have downed an enemy Hatchetman, wounded a Firestarter and disabled or destroyed several enemy tanks” Her tone was clear and level, professional in spite of the situation. “However-“ there was a roar of what was probably her own cannon firing. “We have taken severe losses of our own. Half my company’s tanks are damaged or disabled, and we are outnumbered. We are trying to regroup, but they have the advantage of numbers, and are picking off my tanks before we can form up.”

You too, Ross? Can I rely on nobody? He snarled as he tried to think his way through the situation, before opening a private channel. There was one man who he knew he could rely on, one who had never failed him. Even if they did not always agree, he had been Sawyer’s right hand, the force to match his will. “Allen, report.”

“My mech is damaged but operable.” TF Allen’s gravelly voice stated. “However, the enemy Phoenix Hawk IIC is in better shape than my machine. I do not think that I could face it and guarantee that I would defeat it; with it having allies, then the situation becomes unwinnable.”

“I see.” Sawyer calmly collected himself. My men are outnumbered and battered. They could regroup, but that would be buying time at best. Even then, they destroyed our supplies as their first move. If we hold our ground, we would have nothing to fall back on beyond what we could possibly salvage. Allen was correct, this situation is unwinnable.

As he analysed matters, he couldn’t think of what Niko Bulgarin had told him. The situation drew direct parallels; somebody took one of their Mechs, used it to disrupt their forces and left them vulnerable to a Republic counterattack. He also remembered what he had told his subordinate; the Band of Five does not tolerate failure.

He opened a general channel. “All units, this is Sawyer. The situation is lost; you are to fall back to our dropship immediately. That is all.”

Around him, his men began packing up the command centre as quickly as they could, dismantling equipment and destroying whatever they couldn’t take. Sawyer himself was bustled out of the command centre, escorted by a pair of armoured infantrymen. Are they here for my protection, or to ensure that I do not escape? He asked himself.

“We’ll get you to the dropship, sir.” One of them commented as he gestured at a Giggins APC that was parked outside the casino’s front door. “Get in.”

Loaded into an APC like a common infantryman. His face rankled with distaste, but he still nodded and clambered on-board the transport. I will not let this be the end of me. Whoever you are, I will not forget this.

-----

As the Band of Five had begun to fall back, the Militia force had made the decision not to press them, and rather to simply let them go. While they held the advantage, Major Suzuhara felt that pushing it would only result in unnecessary losses to their own forces. Rather, it would be better to simply let them leave, applying further force only to heard them and keep them in line.

Antonin had agreed, and had played a part in the strategy. Using his mech’s mobility, he’d kept at their flanks, making sure that none of them tried anything. For their part, the Band of Five also seemed to be willing to play along, deciding that they were better off running then making a futile last stand or trying to extract a measure of vengeance before escaping.

Even then, nobody had felt secure until the enemy dropship, a hulking Mule-class cargo hauler, had lifted off. That still was not enough; even after it had departed, the militia’s forces were still active, sweeping the town, looking for any troops that were left behind or any booby traps they had planted as a farewell present.

For his part, Antonin had excused himself, saying that he wanted to find his “agents” who had made the victory possible. Suzuhara had agreed, more than willing to let him do whatever was needed. The Major seemed to be elated in spite of the losses her own force had taken, simply due to the perception of having defeated the seemingly impossible and turned what looked like a no-win situation into a victory. He was happy to encourage her.

In spite of the damage done to the town and all that had gone on during the battle, it hadn’t taken him that long to find Juanita. The Toad ATV was parked inside a hotel resort’s pool area, in amongst the easy chairs of its outdoors lounge. A pack, the same one he had given her, was tied to its back, while a cooling vest, a neurohelmet and several other articles of clothing were strewn across several nearby chairs. Several bottles, clearly taken from the lounge’s bar, were by the edge of the pool, along with a number of glasses with varying levels of liquid inside them.

“Having fun there?” Antonin asked as he crouched by the pool, addressing the pinky blob that was visible under the rippled surface of the water.

Juanita popped her head up, her black hair plastered to her skin. “Absolutely.” She replied, without a hint of concern for her modesty. Swimming up to the edge of the pool, she pressed herself to it as she hauled her shoulders up over the water level, then grabbed for one of the bottles. Taking a swig, she looked up at him. “You know, that’s one sweet ride you got there, Ponytail.”

“Well thanks”, he shot back, smiling contentedly.

“Where’d y’all get it from?” It was obvious that she was more than a little tipsy, but certainly seemed to be content.

“Bought it from a Sea Fox merchant, fair and square.” He stated

“Suuuure you did, Ponytail.” She slurred. “And why didn’t you tell me you had a frigging Battlemech of your own?”

“Because you would have tried to steal it.” He teased.

“Point.” She admitted with a smirk. “But hey, I stole a BattleMech of my own today. And I got to be a real MechWarrior, not just some kid joyriding in an Agromech or what have you. Go me!” She seemed to be pretty happy with herself, all things considered.

“You were great.” He nodded. “Really, Juanitia. You came through for all of us today. It can’t have been easy, but, well, you did a great job.”

“Sure I did, but you’re gonna have give me another one.” She grinned, a hint of excitement obvious.

“Any reason?”

“Because, Ponytail.” She shook her damp hair, then took another swig from her bottle, looking up at him. “I’ve been shot out of two mechs so far. I ain’t stopping till I get one to keep.”
 
-----

Dropship Achenar Provider, Outbound
Mizar System, Prefecture VIII
Republic of the Sphere
2 May 3133



Nowen had wisely decided to lay low for the first day out of Mizar. It was a sound decision; morale was low and tempers short amongst the Band of Five’s members after their defeat, and he felt that it would be a good idea to stay out of people’s ways and not bother them. Letting them take out their frustrations on each other instead would be a good idea for him, one that he knew would pay off in the long term.

Besides, he wanted to share his finds with his partner. That had not been possible at first as TF Allen had apparently been locked in a lengthy debriefing with Bob Sawyer. As their commander’s right hand, it was inevitable that it would happen, especially after the events that had transpired on-planet. He suspected that there would be a lot of blame to be handed out, and a lot of questions that needed answering. Fortunately, Allen would likely escape any blame, one of the privileges of being the commander’s personal enforcer.

It had taken some time, but the pair of them had managed to squirrel away in a small room in a corner of the cavernous ship’s bays. Nero had quietly waited for him, instead reading over the material that he’d come into with a growing amount of glee.

“So what do we have?” Allen’s gravelly voice began as he shut the door behind him, making sure that it was securely locked shut.

“Our friend Officer Mangonel was very, very thorough in his work.” Nero replied, his voice confident and upbeat. “He put together a rather extensive set of files on our fellows, making sure that he had enough material to cover most of his bases. There’s some rather juicy stuff here.”

“Do tell.” Allen’s voice suggested curiosity.

“Well I’ll say now that there’s not much on either Kirstin or Sawyer.” He admitted. “Kirstin’s probably too straight laced for to have any dirt to uncover. Her only real failing, her love of mowing down civilians, is on the MRBC records anyway.” He gave a short snorting laugh. “Only thing I was expecting was that she carries on an unnatural relationship with her tank.”

“Like you can talk.”

“Point.” Nero conceded. “As for Sawyer, apparently he wrote a novel once, but it has been rejected by a number of publishers.”

“Doesn’t sound like a case for nihilism.” Allen commented. “Maybe there’s more.”

“I’ll see if I can find a copy of the manuscript or something. Maybe there’s stuff we can use.”

“What does he say about us?”

“He thinks I have a drug habit.” Nero offered. It was an image that he had cultivated around himself to disguise his true cunning. He played up the image of the drug-addled, burned-out rockstar so that those around him wouldn’t realise how much he was playing them. “There’s nothing on you, of course. In fact I think he was scared of you”

“Of course.”

“But there’s lots of juicy stuff here...” He thumbed through the collection of paper files. “Let’s see; Whispering Willy has a secret initiation ritual for his platoon, one that its members are sworn not ever tell anyone about.”

Allen leaned over his shoulder, looking at the file. “Huh. If you got initiated, I’d be jealous.”

Nero chuckled at the thought. “Besides that, let’s see... Russel likes to snort drugs off hookers. Carlotta is at least thirty-five and has had a lot of cosmetic surgery. Apparently it hurts when she smiles. And Tanner used to be an ‘adult’ film star.”

“Amusing.”

“Also, Blackrock’s middle name is Bernice. Not useful, but hey.” He shrugged. “Bearing in mind, that’s just skimming the surface. I suspect there’s a lot more in here. Though I will give you the best.”

“Which is?”

“Nass Tshuma wears women’s underwear.” There was a round of laughter from the masked figure, which in turn caused Nero to explode into a broad grin. “Yeah, I knew you’d find that amusing.”

A pair of gloved hands dropped around his neck, while lips brushed against his ear. “And with this information, we will make this little band of thugs all ours.”

Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 31 January 2011, 02:33:01
Bonus Features! Dark Age-style bio cards


Sawyer, Bob

DOB: 23/11/3104
Eyes: Black
Hair: Black
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Captain
Mech: ZEU-9T Zeus

Arrogant, intellectual and superior, Bob Sawyer does not, on the surface, seem to fit the mould of the
rest of the Band of Five. However, under that surface lies a man consumed with anger and hatred.
Sawyer believes that society is sick and that human civilisation has been one colossal mistake, and
that the only cure to these failings is to tear it all down to the ground; to destroy it as violently as
possible.

Under this mask he has a hair-trigger temper and tendency to violently lash out at those who question
him or stand in his way (he is known to have beaten at least one psychiatrist to death who questioned
his beliefs). This violent edge has served him well in the Band, allowing him to not only fight his way
to a position of command, but to beat back any who would challenge him.

As a captain in the Band, Sawyer uses his position to further his own goals. He drives his men
forward, urging them to destroy all that stands before them and leave only ruins in their wake. The
performance of his men derives both from his motivation and urging, and from knowing the
consequences of failing him. Even within the ranks of such a band of murderers, Sawyer stands out
as a particularly intimidating figure, one whose power is as close to absolute as possible.

Model: ZEU-9T
Serial Number: LA753-93K
Mass: 80 tons
Chassis: Chariot Type III
Power Plant: Pitban 320 Light
Cruising Speed: 43 km/h
Maximum Speed: 64 km/h
Jump Jets: None
Jump Capacity: None
Armour: Glasgow Limited Primo Ferro-Fiberous with CASE
Armament:
1 Defiance 1001 ER PPC
1 Cyclops XII Extended Range Large Laser
1 Defiance Model XII Extended Range Medium Laser
2 Defiance P3M Medium Pulse Lasers
1 Coventry Starfire LRM-15 Missile Rack
Communications System: TharHes Calliope ZE-2
Targeting & Tracking System: TharHes Ares-7

Commentary:

A classic assault Mech, the Zeus has been a signature of the Lyran military since the dawn of the
Succession Wars. With a combination of good speed for its weight, strong firepower and a good heat-
dissipation capability, the Zeus is designed for long range assaults and siege warfare. Its capabilities
have ensured that even after military reductions it has remained a popular design.
 
An upgraded model built during the FedCom civil war, LA753-93K served with the then-LAAF during
both that conflict and the subsequent Jihad. Badly damaged during the conflict, it was handed over to
the fledgling RAF at the end of the war. Rebuilt, it was returned to service and remained there until
the Blackout, where it was apparently commandeered by Bannson’s forces.

While clearly aware of the Mech’s firepower and capabilities and certainly understanding the benefits
of being a Mechwarrior, Sawyer seems to treat the Mech with some degree of disdain. Given his
beliefs, it is possible he despises the machine’s name, simply for its invoking a mythological figure.


-----

Tshuma, Nass

DOB: 21/03/3106
Hair: None
Eyes: Black
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Lieutenant
Mech: CRD-8S Crusader

Born into poverty, Nass Tshuma fell in with a powerful street gang on his homeworld of Kessel. By the
age of 20, he was running one of the largest gangs in the planetary capitol of Sverdlovsk, having risen
to power through a campaign of unrelenting brutality and violence. However, a police crackdown saw
much of his gang dismantled or imprisoned; Nass himself managed to escape off-world, apparently
slipping through the cracks following the HPG black-out.

When he resurfaced, he was a member of the Band of Five, displaying the same degree of violence
and brutality that he had as a gang member. Having killed his way into the unit like so many others,
he has also apparently provided other services to Bannson; while his gang may have collapsed, he
still has contacts throughout the criminal community that have proven to be useful.

Over two meters tall with a shaved head and sporting numerous scars and tattoos, Tshuma is an
intimidating and imposing figure. He leads his unit with the same degree of brutal authority with which
he led his gang. However, of late he has become somewhat evasive and nervous, acting as if
someone is watching him or he is hiding something. It may be useful for us to find out what.

Model: CRD-8S
Serial Number: LA654-02M
Mass: 65 tons
Chassis: Crucis-B Endo Steel
Power Plant: GM 260 XL
Cruising Speed: 43 km/h
Maximum Speed: 64 km/h
Jump Jets: Devil A7
Jump Capacity: 120 meters
Armour: Durallex Heavy w/CASE
Armament:
1 Defiance Hammerfist Heavy Gauss Rifle
2 TharHes Reacher-10 LRM Launchers
2 Defiance B3M Medium Lasers
Communications System: TharHes Euterpe HM-14
Targeting & Tracking System: RCA Instatrac Mark VIII

Commentary:

A design that dates back to the Star League, the Crusader was originally designed as a pure fire-
support mech. However, it was found to be rather adaptable to a variety of roles. The Lyran CRD-8S
model dating from the Civil War was re-modelled around the idea of “bigger is better” and equipped
with a massive Heavy Gauss Rifle, trading some of the mech’s flexibility for a devastating punch.

This specific Crusader was built towards the end of the Civil War, seeing action in the last battles for
Tharkad. Surviving the conflict, it was pressed into service with the LAAF during the Jihad. The mech
fell during the battles to liberate the Blakist Protectorate, and was written off. However, it now seems
that the wreck – seemingly more intact then initially believed – was recovered and reconditioned by
Bannson Universal and placed into service.

The mech was given to Tshuma upon his placing in the Band of Five, apparently a reward for services
rendered as well as the ruthlessness he had displayed during his rise to power with the organisation.
Naming the mech “Bonebreaker”, he has proven to be just as capable and deadly with a mech as he
is with his hands or with a gun.

-----

Strucker, Francis

DOB: 24/04/3092
Hair: Black
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Mechwarrior
Mech: Fenris Prime

Slightly overweight, balding and with a pleasant demeanour, Francis Strucker does not seem at first
to fit in to the murderous Band of Five. Intelligent, witty, articulate and well-read, he is pleasantly
conversant in a number of subjects. He is also, however, a liar, thief and conman who has swindled
others out of thousands of C-Bills across the course of his life.

It was these talents that saw him acquire a Battlemech and the skills to use it effectively. It also
allowed him to talk his way into the Band of Five, suing his charm and wit rather than the physical
force so common amongst the unit. Unlike many of his fellows, he is believed to have never taken a
life (outside of his Battlemech, at least), and certainly shows no signs of the murderous tendencies of
his comrades in arms.

Despite this success, it is becoming clear to him that he cannot survive on his wits alone. While he
has earned the nickname “Smiley” for his talents, it is also becoming apparent that he may have
gotten in well over his head. Sooner or later, Francis may face a challenger for his position and
Battlemech that he cannot win over with words alone.


Model: Primary
Serial Number: IH981-32K
Mass: 45 tons
Chassis: Hellion Medium Gamma IS
Power Plant: 360 Type II XL
Cruising Speed: 86 km/h
Maximum Speed: 129 km/h
Jump Jets: None
Jump Capacity: None
Armour: MAC Level 5 Ferro-Fibrous
Armament:
1 Ripper Series A1 Extended Range PPC
1 Pattern C2 Streak SRM-2
1 Series 1 ER Small Laser
Communications System: Hellion Special 354B
Targeting & Tracking System: Wolf Hunter Mk VII with Active Probe

Commentary:

The Fenris, known to the Clans as the Ice Ferret, is a swift medium mech designed for speed and
striking power. The most popular mech of the Wolf Clan during their invasion of the Inner Sphere, the
mech appeared in every cluster and seemingly, nearly every star.

Serial IH981-32K is a very early example of the type, dating back to its original deployment with Clan
Ice Hellion. Captured by the Wolves during a trial of possession, it passed through a series of Wolf
mechwarriors until the end of the Jihad when it, like many other mechs, were turned over to the
fledgling Republic. The mech remained with the RAF until after the HPG blackout, when Strucker
managed to swindle its Mechwarrior out of it.

In battle, Strucker prefers to use his mech’s speed to his advantage, sniping with its Extended Range
PPC and then escaping before his target can return fire. However, he shies away from direct
confrontation, preferring to evade fire rather than stand and fight. As a result, thus far, he and his
mech (nicknamed “Böser Wolf”) have managed to evade any serious harm.

-----

Stradley, Troy


DOB: 08/09/3109
Hair: Black
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Mechwarrior
Mech: STG-5R Stinger

Born in the Taurian Concordat, Troy Stradely does not seem to fit in with his fellows in the Band of
Five. His previous criminal career seems almost trivial in amongst a unit of murderers such as the
band; Stradley holds the Concordat’s record for the number of unreturned library books and,
consequently unpaid late fines. However, his record lacks anything beyond that.

Despite that, something drove this former mild-mannered chef’s apprentice from his homeland.
Stradley appeared in amongst the ranks of the Band of Five shortly after the HPG crash, behind the
controls of a stolen TDF Stinger. Furthermore, despite being relatively quiet and keeping to himself,
he seems to have earned a degree of respect from his fellows, no mean feat.

Most mysterious is his behaviour; while apparently a fugitive from homeland, he is still a fervent
supporter of the Taurian Concordat. He is known for posting his lengthy, pro-Taurian, anti-Davion
rants on message boards, news groups and letter pages at the slightest provocation, and will lash out
at any who slight his nation. However, many of his opinions are fanciful at best, such as his earnest
belief that the Federated Suns is “afraid” of the Concordat. This has earned him the nickname “Bull”
from his comrades, although unlike other members of the Band, he seems not to use it.


Model: STG-5R
Serial Number: TC342-85M
Mass: 20 tons
Chassis: Earthworks STG
Power Plant: VOX 120
Cruising Speed: 65 km/h
Maximum Speed: 96 km/h
Jump Jets: Rawlings 52
Jump Capacity: 180 meters
Armour: Durallex Light Ferro-Fibrous
Armament:
1 Diverse Optics Extended Range Medium Laser
2 Death Blossom 15 Pack Rocket Launchers
Communications System: Garret T10 B
Targeting & Tracking System: O/P 911 Targeting System

Commentary:

Originally designed for recon use, the Stinger would go on to become one of the most mass-produced
BattleMechs in history. Built in the Taurian Concordat, the STG-5R model allows the Stinger to live up
to its namesake, the twin rocket launchers giving the mech an added “sting”.

Serial TC342-85M was built and entered service with the TDF just before the dawn of the Jihad. The
machine managed to survive the subsequent conflicts with the Federated Suns, albeit after being
heavily damaged on several occasions. Despite all this, it remained in service until not too long before
the HPG blackout when it was apparently stolen by Troy Stradley.

Despite his mech’s small size, Stradley has shown a degree of ferocity behind its controls; a fact that
is even more interesting given his usually quiet demeanour. This seems to work to his advantage; few
expect such aggressive behaviour from a Stinger. As a result, Stradely and his “Bullhorn” should not
be underestimated.

-----

Allen, T. F.

DOB: UNKNOWN
Hair: Unknown
Eyes: Unknown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Mechwarrior
Mech: BLK-12-KNT Black Knight

PRIORITY STATUS

The man calling himself “T.F. Allen” is a complete enigma both to us and to the rest of the Band of
Five. Never seen outside of his Mechwarrior Combat Suit, there are no known pictures of his face and
no description of him. Much like the fabled Bounty Hunter, he is a complete mystery with no past and
no clues to his actual identity.

Allen surfaced after the blackout as a member of the Band of Five, complete with his Black Knight
battlemech. Clearly a skilled Mechwarrior, there are no clues as to how and when he was trained, nor
how he came to be in Bannson’s employ. Given the Band of Five’s highly competitive membership, it
is clear that he had to earn his position, and so far has been able to maintain it against those who
would try and take it from him.

It is possible that Allen is actually one of the Band’s shadowy leaders or founders “planted” in
amongst its rank-and-file to keep an eye on them. If so, discovering more about him may be useful in
turning the group to our advantage.


Model: BLK-12-KNT
Serial Number: FWL3622-34D
Mass: 75 tons
Chassis: Technicron 1L Endo Steel
Power Plant: Vlar 300
Cruising Speed: 43 km/h
Maximum Speed: 64 km/h
Jump Jets: None
Jump Capacity: None
Armour: Starshield Special Heavy
Armament:
   1 Defiance 1001 Extended-Range PPC
   2 Defiance B3L Large Lasers
   4 Defiance model XII Extended Range Medium Lasers
Communications System: Achernar Electronics HID-8
Targeting & Tracking System: Federated Stalker with Targeting Computer

A signature mech of the Star League, the Black Knight has a reputation for reliability, as well as being
incredibly resilient. Legends speak of Black Knights being dismembered, only to keep fighting
regardless. The mech was used by the Star League as a command and assault platform, excelling at
both roles.

FWL3622-34D was one of the last Black Knights built before the destruction of Kong Interstellar’s
facilities during the first Succession War. Over the course of the centuries, it would undergo several
full rebuilds while passing through numerous owners. Badly damaged at the end of the Jihad, the
mech was supposedly scrapped under Stone’s disarmament programs.

Instead, it appears that the mech was rebuilt again and upgraded to the BLK-12-KNT model. How this
happened is a mystery, as is how it came to be in the possession of its current owner. More
interestingly, Allen has kept the same nickname for the mech, “Knightmare”, as its last known owner.
Whether there is a connection between the two remains to be seen but, regardless, none would doubt
his effectiveness with the mech.

------

Nowen, Nero

DOB: 28/02/3107
Hair: Blond
Eyes: Blue
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Mechwarrior
Mech: CN9-D3 Centurion

The former lead guitarist for Death to the Reverse Side, a Neo-Reconstructionalist Metal band
somewhat popular in the Republic before the HPG blackout, Nero Nowen seemed to be riding a wave
of popularity. With his combination of talent and good looks, he had the eye of many in the
entertainment industry. Few would have expected him to disappear after the blackout, and even fewer
would have expected him to resurface behind the controls of a Battlemech, working for one of the
most notorious organisations in the republic.

Our own investigation sheds some light on matters; before the HPG crash, Nowen was living a double
life. A smuggler with extensive connection to the black market, he apparently was using his band as a
front and cover for moving contraband goods across the Republic. As the nation collapsed into
anarchy, Nowen, apparently hedging his bets, chose to buy his way into Bannson’s Raiders. Now
comfortably nestled into the Band of Five, Nowen apparently supports his position by feeding the
habits of its other members.

Model: CN9-D3
Serial Number: FC856-23T
Mass: 50 tons
Chassis: Corean Model KL77 Endo Steel
Power Plant: GM 300 XL
Cruising Speed: 64 km/h (76 km/h w/TSM)
Maximum Speed: 96 km/h (119 km/h w/TSM)
Jump Jets: McCloud Special
Jump Capacity: 150 meters
Armour: Starguard III w/CASE
Armament:
1 Mydron Model RC Rotary Class-5 Autocannon
1 Doombud MML-7
   1 Defiance model XII Extended Range Medium Laser
Communications System: Corean Transbanc-J9
Targeting & Tracking System: Corean B-Tech

Commentary:

A popular medium mech, the Centurion is well-known for its combination of speed, reliability and
striking power. Principally employed by the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns, the Centurion has
been used in numerous conflicts during the Succession Wars and beyond.

Serial FC856-23T had a somewhat interesting life; built as a test platform for the triple-strength
Myomer system, it was originally employed on the Clan front in the aftermath of the invasion. The
mech would later fall during the breakup of the Federated Commonwealth in the 3050s, only to be
salvaged and resurface on the game world of Solaris VII. Somewhat modified by several different
owners, it was apparently destroyed during the Word’s invasion of the world in the early days of the
Jihad.

Purchased as a part of a bulk scrap lot, the mech was again reconditioned, and pressed into service
by Bannson’s forces. Its unique weapons load, the result of numerous modifications and owners,
makes the machine somewhat unpredictable, a fact that Nero plays on. Using the unique weapons
load of “Tramatiser” (as he calls it) to his advantage, he likes to catch opponents off-guard with its
unexpected capabilities.

-----

Mangonel, Barry

DOB: 21/09/3090
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Mechwarrior
Mech: CPK-6 Copper MOD

A former police officer on Solaris VII, Barry Mangonel represented the very worst that could come of a
position of authority and from the Game World. Corrupt, bigoted and misogynist, he spent much of his
career taking bribes from criminals while running his own rackets. In order to protect himself, he also
kept thorough records on those around him as a form of insurance against anything happening to him.

Leaving town just ahead of a thorough corruption probe, Mangonel managed to make his way into the
Band of Five, using his experience with SecurityMechs as a ticket. His position as a former officer
(something he doesn’t try to hide; day to day, he still wears his uniform as a form of calculated insult)
makes him deeply unpopular; however, as before, he has built up a collection of material that he can
hold over his comrades-in-arms.

While only an average Mechwarrior Mangonel has ensured his place in Bannson’s Raiders through
his blackmailing of others. However, it may be useful for us to acquire his information so that we can
use it for our purposes.


Model: CPK-6 (MOD)
Serial Number: CMW-24563/SM
Mass: 25 tons
Chassis: Coventry Peacekeeper Series
Power Plant: Coventry 100 Hybrid Power Cell
Cruising Speed: 43 km/h
Maximum Speed: 64 km/h
Jump Jets: None
Jump Capacity: None
Armour: Lexington Limited
Armament:
1 Coventry Twin-Tube SRM-2 Launcher
2 Coventry Light Autogun Machine Guns
2 Death Blossom 10 Pack Rocket Launchers
Communications System: Cyclops P7 Dispatcher
Targeting & Tracking System: Cyclops 8B UrbanTrak

Commentary:

SecurityMechs occupy an odd nice between IndustrialMechs and “true” BattleMech. Designed for
obstinately non-military roles such as policing, patrol and security, they are obstinately not designed
for use against Battlemechs or other armoured targets, instead being usually loaded with non-lethal
munitions for riot control and pacification. The Copper is one such design, found commonly across the
Lyran Commonwealth.

The Copper piloted by Barry Mangonel was originally used by a private security firm under strict
licensing by the Republic. However, following the collapse of the HPG network, it was stolen only to
resurface in the hands of Bannson’s Raiders. While designed primarily to fight unarmoured infantry,
Bannson’s technicians gave it some anti-armour firepower by equipping it with a pair of rocket launchers.

Despite this modification, Barry would rather employ the mech, nicknamed “Bad Boy” against infantry
and light armour, preferring opponents who have less ability to fight back.


Title: Re: A Brighter Future and a Better Life
Post by: Deadborder on 31 January 2011, 02:52:08

Ross, Kirstin

DOB: 12/08/3101
Hair: Red
Eyes: Blue
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Captain
Vehicle: Carnivore Assault Tank

Once a respected mercenary officer, Kirstin Ross had a reputation as a tough commander who got
esults. This changed after an incident in which she willingly ordered her troops top massacre civilians
that she felt were sheltering insurgents, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Blacklisted from the
mercenary trade, she was left unable to find legitimate work across the inner sphere.

The collapse of the HPG network changed that, however. Kirstin was recruited by Bannson’s Raiders,
with her combination of experience, determination and drive to win at any cost seen as valuable
assets. Placed into the Band of Five as an armoured company commander, she was given the
unenviable task of bringing order to an organisation made up of killers, criminals and the arguably
insane.

To date, this seems to have worked; her drive and hard-nosed attitude seem to have worked for the
Band. Certainly her company is rated as one of the best within the Band, being remarkably cohesive
and organised. At the same time, her willingness to do what is needed to win has sat well with many
within the unit who have had no issues with following even the most questionable of orders

Model: Carnivore Assault Tank
Serial Number: WC643-88VM
Mass: 80 tons
Movement Type: Tracked
Power Plant: Type 10 320 Fusion
Cruising Speed: 43 km/h
Maximum Speed: 64 km/h
Armour: Advanced/3
Armament:
1 KOV LB-10X Autocannon
2 Kolibri Delta Medium Pulse Lasers
2 Series 2C Light Machine Guns
Communications System: 2SH C3 with ECM Suite
Targeting and Tracking System: Build 4 JVJ TTTTS

Commentary:

Created by Clan Wolf to fill holes in its units following the Jihad, the Carnivore assault tank combines
remarkable speed with durability and flexible hitting power. Created initially to be simply built from
existing components, the tank became a popular choice for the rebuilding Wolf Tourmain.

Serial WC643-88VM was built as a low-cost “export” model, built to be sold to other powers rather
than for the Clan’s use. While less powerful then the standard Clan model, it is still a capable
platform. Sold on the open mercenary market, it passed through several owners before being
acquired by Captain Ross.

Kirstin’s battlefield performance reflects her command style; she tends towards relentless and driven,
but not beyond the point of reason. Where possible, she prefers to use the speed of her tank, which
she calls “Blood Drinker” to pick her fights and engage at a range that suits her. However, she has
also shown no reluctance in turning her weapons on non-combatants if she feels that it will aid her
cause.

-----

Roscoe, Bubba

DOB: 04/03/3103
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: “Sergeant”
Platoon: Sarge’s Heavy Hammers

A former drill sergeant at the Filtvet Military Academy, Bubba Roscoe became infamous for his brutal
treatment of the cadets in his care. Pushing them to their very limits, he would deal out equal
measures of both verbal and physical abuse for those who failed to live up to his standards. However,
following an incident in which a cadet died, he was court-martialled and dishonourably discharged.

However, his attitude and performance found him a place in Bannson’s Raiders. Apparently
Bannson’s recruiters were looking for him to train their disparate infantry forces, and help meld a
collection of killers, lunatics, drop-outs and other rejects of society into effective soldiers. His harsh
methods seem to have worked, allowing him to turn what would otherwise be questionably effective
recruits into an effective – if undisciplined – fighting force.

In many ways, he represents the classical drill sergeant, albeit one taken to its logical extremes.
Large and physically intimidating, Bubba uses his size and strength to bully others and push them
around, and actively enjoys picking on those smaller or weaker than him. Interestingly, has apparently
refused promotion, preferring to remain a sergeant in name, if not in actual rank.


Platoon Name: Sarge’s Heavy Hammers
Platoon Type (Specialty): Foot (None)
Platoon Size (Squad/Platoon): 28 (7/4)
Equipment:
   Primary Weapon: 20 Assault Rifles
   Secondary Weapon: 8 SRM Launchers
   Armour: Ballistic Plate

Commentary:

As heavy weapons specialists, SRM teams are some of the most capable – and feared – infantry on
the battlefield. Armed with hard-hitting, man-portable short-ranged missile launchers, the firepower of
these platoons can rival a small Battlemech or combat vehicle. Trained and equipped specifically to
fight such opponents, SRM platoons often run the risk of becoming primary targets for their would-be
prey.

Sarge’s Heavy Hammers are one such platoon; wearing heavy body armour and equipped with
powerful SRM launchers, they are well trained and superbly motivated. A part of this motivation
comes from Roscoe’s almost brutal treatment of his men; they know full well how he treats those who
fail to perform, and do their best to live up to his demands. Those that fail can expect brutal
“disciplinary action”, often delivered by their squadmates.

 
Blackrock, Gillian B

DOB: 29/04/3105
Hair: Black
Eyes: Blue
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Sergeant

The individual known as “Gillian B. Blackrock” (almost certainly an alias) is a known hired hitwoman; a
professional assassin known for a willingness to work any job as long as the pay is acceptable to her.
Believed to have started out as a gang enforce who honed her skills on members of rival gangs,
Blackrock demonstrated a degree of skill and ruthlessness that quickly outgrew her petty employers.
Leaving her gang (allegedly after assassinating its leader) she moved on to bigger things.

In the past five years, Blackrock has been employed across the Inner Sphere and near periphery as a
professional assassin and marksman, eliminating specific targets for her employer of the moment.
She seems to take a great deal of pride in her work, preferring difficult targets. At the same time, she
has no qualms as to who the target is, only that she gets paid when the job is done.

Her current employment with the Band of Five seems to be a contradiction to her earlier freelance
status. While it is unclear what exactly has motivated her to change to full-time employment by a
single unit, it is more than likely that she was simply bought out by the promise of wealth and power,
the same promise that motivates many within the Band.

-----
Carlotta, Rosalie

DOB: 12/02/3098
Hair: Black
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Corporal
Vehicle: Vedette

At first glance, Rosalie Carlotta does not look the part of a mercenary warrior. Rather, she appears to
be a teenager, wide-eyed and petite. Her unusual mode of dress, with a love of elaborate frilled
petticoats and an accompanying parasol regardless of the situation only adds to this rather odd
image.

The truth is actually somewhat more disturbing; while being in her mid-thirties, Rosalie seems to have
an obsession with maintaining the illusion of her youth. She has spent a fortune on cosmetic surgery
to maintain her image as well as creating new identities to hide her true age from others. Further
investigation reveals an even darker aspect; she has killed in past to maintain her secret, eliminating
those who find out the truth about her before moving on to a new life, resetting herself to a teenager
once more.

Cold and ruthless despite her demure persona, Rosalie is a good fit for the ruthless killers of the Band
of Five. She has been known to use her seeming youth and innocence on the battlefield. More than
one opponent has been lured to their deaths by desperate pleas from help from a supposed
kidnapped child, only to walk into a well-staged ambush.

Model: Vedette Medium Tank
Serial Number: FS642-0021
Mass: 50 tons
Movement Type: Tracked
Power Plant: InterComBust 250 Locom-Pack
Cruising Speed: 54 km/h
Maximum Speed: 86 km/h
Armour: ProTech 6
Armament:
1 Mydron Tornado Rotary AC/5
Communications System: Basix 200
Targeting & Tracking System: OptiSight-12

Commentary:

The yardstick against which all other tanks are judged, the Vedette Medium Tank is one of the most
popular and common combat vehicles in the Inner Sphere. While lightly armed, its high speed for a
medium tank and simple, straightforward design made it popular during the Succession Wars,
produced for the Successor States by a number of companies in staggering numbers.

Vedette FS642-0021 was produced for the AFFS during the Fedcom Civil War. A relatively advanced
model, it served with the Davion military before being captured by mercenaries during the Jihad. From
there, it passed through several hands before being purchased by Bannson and incorporated into his
private army.

On the battlefield, Rosalie would rather not face an equal opponent. She prefers to fight unarmoured
infantry, or to stage ambushes and lure opponents into traps. Even then, her “Gothic Lolita” as she
calls it, should not be dismissed outright.

-----

Smith, Russell
DOB: 08/08/3098
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Bannson’s Raiders
Unit: Band of Five
Rank: Sergeant
Platoon: Jones’ Raiders

A former college professor, Russel Smith apparently grew bored with his day-to-day existence and
chose to engage in more “exciting” side activities. These activities soon saw him in debt from
gambling losses, struggling with a drug habit and, eventually, having a price placed on his head from
one of the crime organisations that controlled the drug and gambling operations he was involved with.

Growing desperate, Russell apparently approached Bannson’s Raiders, hoping to win some degree
of protection from his enemies. Despite his lack of combat experience, his knowledge and skills saw
him win a place in a mortar team assigned to the Band of Five. This development suited him, Smith
apparently feeling that being on the battlefield surrounded by criminals was less dangerous than
being hunted by them.

Despite the events that lead him to the Band, Smith has maintained his habits that caused him so
much trouble in the first place. While this may be a useful weakness, any value that could be gained
from turning him to our service would likely be negligible.


Platoon Name: Jones’ Raiders
Platoon Type (Specialty): Foot (None)
Platoon Size (Squad/Platoon): 28 (7/4)
Equipment:
   Primary Weapon: 20 Auto-Rifles
   Secondary Weapon: 8 Heavy Mortars
   Armour: Generic/Mercenary

Commentary:

While not as sophisticated or powerful as guided missiles, infantry Mortars still have a place on the
battlefield. Their reach and ability to fire indirectly, as well as their flexible ammunition capabilities are
useful, as are their low costs and simple designs.

Despite their dubious background and their leader’s own faults, Jones’ Raiders are actually a
reasonably effective and capable unit. When straight and sober, Russell’s mathematical skills and
knowledge result in an almost frightening degree of accuracy in the fire that they can bring down.
Working closely with other infantry units, Jones has bought accurate heavy firepower to the field on
several occasions, aiding the Band of Fives’ cause.

On the other hand, when high, drunk or desperate, Russel can become almost a danger to his own
men as well as his fellows, with his fire becoming dangerously uncoordinated. As yet, he has not been
responsible for any “friendly fire” incidents; should one occur, Jones’ career - and life - may suddenly
end.

-----

Slawski, Andrzej

DOB: 23/03/3105
Hair: Black
Eyes: Black
Faction: Mercenary
Unit: None
Rank: NA
Mech: Phoenix Hawk IIC

An independent mercenary (or “Gunslinger”), Andrzej Slawski projects an image of almost
swashbuckling daring do. With his long hair, good looks and preference for wearing sunglasses even
when indoors, he comes off as almost a stereotypical action hero, one with a larger-then-life
personality and presence. His use of a rather flashy, Clan-Made BattleMech only serves to further
enhance that image.

Under the surface, it appears that Slawski’s image may be little more than a front. Most of his
contracts seem to have been garrison duties that have seen little or no active combat. On those few
occasions where he has been in battle, they have usually been against opponents that stood little
chance against his mech, resulting in quick, one-sided victories.

Since the fall of the HPG network, it does appear that Slawski has seen more combat against the
various factions that have risen up in the Republic of the Sphere. However, even then, his
employment has been only sporadic, working with established forces against uprisings or insurgents.
It remains to be seen if he is capable of holding his own on the modern battlefield.

Model: IIC 4
Serial Number: SF311-27G
Mass: 80 tons
Chassis: DSAM 4
Power Plant: Type 79 400 XL Fusion
Cruising Speed: 54 km/h
Maximum Speed: 86 km/h
Jump Jets: Grandthrust Mk 5
Jump Capacity: 150 meters
Armour: Forging AM15 Ferro-Fibeous with CASE
Armament:
4 CC 9-rack Advanced Tactical Missile Launchers
Communications System: MegaBand System 21
Targeting & Tracking System: Dtrac Suit 4

Commentary:

A Clan-built upgrade of the classic medium mech, the Phoenix Hawk IIC bears little resemblance to
its progenitor. An assault-class machine, the mech boasts surprising speed and mobility for its size,
especially given its jump jets. However, it often is limited by its relatively small weapons load for its
weight, being outgunned by other machines in its class.

Phoenix Hawk IIC, SF311-27G was built by the Sea Fox Clan’s Trellshire plant specifically for sale.
This model is armed with a quartet of Advanced Tactical Missile launchers, allowing it to take
advantage of its mobility and gain the most from its limited warlord. Sold directly to the Mercenary
market, it passed through several mechwarriors before being purchased by Andrzej Slawski.

While seemingly aware of the mech’s capabilities, Slawski prefers to use his mobility above all else,
picking the range at which his weapons will be the most effective – and his enemies the least – and
maintaining it, taking as low risk approach as possible. Despite this, his mech, nicknamed “Grace”, is
loaded with a variety of munitions to enable him to counter any possible situation.