Register Register

Author Topic: Battle For Brimstone (Canon Universe, Dark Ages)  (Read 576 times)

MCharke

  • Recruit
  • *
  • Posts: 13
Battle For Brimstone (Canon Universe, Dark Ages)
« on: 06 January 2021, 00:32:23 »


BATTLE FOR BRIMSTONE
by MARK CHARKE



INTRODUCTION

      The Battle for Brimstone is a little story I put together set in the Dark Ages. It’s intended to be as canon as it can be. I reserve the right to come back and fix things up when someone points out mistakes but I’ll leave editing notes at the bottom. I tend to tuck my stories in underneath canon, trying not to disrupt the rest of the universe that others have created but I have been told that it would be a better idea to shake things up so perhaps the scope of the story will grow. I will say that comments are welcome, but I will always hide behind the screen here and cringe when they do come in.
      Honestly though, the BattleTech community has been one I have had far more positive experiences with than negative. While I normally fly the Jade Falcon flag very loudly on Facebook, when I write, it’s about being professional and, if anything, I avoid my favorites. Here you shall not see the mighty Behemoth or hear word of the Jade Falcons, probably.

PREFACE: FIRE AND BRIMSTONE

      If you look at a map of the Inner Sphere, find Terra (that’s Earth for the lay person). It’s right in the middle. Head spinward (towards the Draconis Combine, to your right). Close to the edge of Draconis Combine space, or just outside it depending on the map’s year, you are going to find Weisau. It’s a strange world. Most people call it Brimstone and the name is appropriate.
      A double binary, it has a set of binary stars and binary planets. That is to say, it has two suns which orbit each other and two planets that also orbit each other. The only habitable planet in the system is the planet Weisau known by the locals as Brimstone which has a sister planet Fire. The binary orbit of Fire and Brimstone, like tidal forces elsewhere, creates tectonic surges and frequent earthquakes and motion across the equator.
      The only settlements are at the poles and experience the mild temperatures of 10 to 66 degrees Celsius and an atmosphere that is just barely breathable. At the equator the temperature can reach 125 degrees, boiling off unprotected water quickly. Fire and Brimstone don’t rotate but their 55 hour orbital creates a day and night and a wobble in that orbit produces seasons.
      The massive volcanic activity, increasing towards the equator, is a mineralogists dream and the reason millions of people choose to live in this fiery hellscape. There is a constant flow of new metals, minerals and other valuable materials which bubble, boil and blast their way up to the surface where they can be harvested in frighteningly dangerous conditions.
      Weisau was very much a Combine world. It was discovered and settled in 2319 and remained an independent world for 252 years. For a brief 14 years it was claimed by the Outworlds Alliance. In 2585 it became part of the Draconis Combine where it remained for nearly 500 years until the Snow Ravens took it in 3069 by parking a warship in the system. By 3130 it had rejoined the Dragon. Two years later the blackout began but, as a world rarely visited, it felt less impact than most.
      A lot of people tried to take advantage of the silence of the black out, when most HPG stations, the primary communication system between worlds, failed all over the Inner Sphere. Mostly left on its own Weisau already had a history of taking care of itself and bent the rules and regulations to make that happen. No leaders of the Inner Sphere or Clans nations resided here. There were no great armies battling for control of a volcanic rock. Trouble, when it came, was on their shoulders to deal with if they wanted to keep what little they had.

CHAPTER 1

Commercial District, Port Erebus
Cis-Alpheratz Region, Weisau
8 Sept 3134


      It was the third day of the Death of Eurydice and it was an honest death so the astronomers weren’t up in arms about it. Weisau’s star Eurydice had just finished moving behind its other star Orpheus, so it was the only sun visible in the sky right now. To astronomers and historians, it mimicked the Greek myth of Eurydice’s death and later rescue by her husband Orpheus. To everyone else it meant other things, a month of cooler temperatures, dark nights and massive festivals. It only happened every three and a third standard years so they made a big deal out of it.
      Jacob stood on the street enjoyed the cooling temperatures. He wore heavy work boots, worn pants, a light shirt and the same breathing mask everyone wore. Inside the dome he usually did not need it but the festival saw the massive windows above open for fireworks. He had a Brimstone-tan, darkening his upper face not covered by the mask, neck and arms. He glanced quickly up at Orpheus and then back down. Even by itself, it was much brighter than Terra’s sun. He saw the circle of the planet Fire approaching in the sky, with only a sliver of light left. They would get the mid day eclipse soon and it would be dark for an hour or so.
      Like Terra’s moon, Fire and Brimstone didn’t spin. They orbited each other. The orbit took about 55 hours and gave them day and night. Since their days and nights were around 27 hours, the populace adopted two days, one bright and one mostly dark. Most of the settlements on Weisau were on the side of the planet that always faced Fire. During the winter, Fire’s orbit was high enough that it would create a daily eclipse that further lowered temperatures.
      The young man noted the shadow creeping across the ground as Fire blocked out the single visible sun. He remembered hearing about how it was a sacred event. Jacob actually shivered as the shadow reached him but it really wasn’t that cold. He was nervous.
      Past carts of food and fireworks and a vendor selling party masks, Jared found the massive storefront of Gorbbel’s Bank of Weisau. Lights flickered on all around making the sign much clearer. He crossed the cracked pavement of the road towards the store and felt a tremor. He thought it might be his nerves tingling, but the ground shook under his feet and he realized it was just the planet talking.
      On the front of the bank, a massive wood sign swayed slightly even after the rumbling stopped. It was anchored by heavy chains to a pole stuck out from the building with the name carved into it. The rusted metal squeaked. Everything made of metal rusted quickly here but wood was an expensive import.
      The lean young man opened the heavy front door to bank with a hiss and hurriedly pushed it closed behind him. He felt cool, clean air blowing on him and removed his mask. It was like drinking fresh water after swallowing mud, mud that always stunk of sulphur. He was so used to the smell that the fresh air felt like it was missing something. He kicked dust off his boots in front of the vacuum on the floor which suddenly hummed to life. He opened a second door and proceeded into the bank proper.
      “I have an appointment at 1 o’clock.” He said to a clerk at the till.
      The clerked typed on a data pad for a few seconds.
      “Room six. Second floor. Representative Cobs will be with you very shortly. Please seat yourself.”
      “Thank you.”
      Jared pounced up the stairs, skipping steps with nervous energy. The room was empty of people. It was a luxurious room, especially for this world. Jared paused before entering, looking around and then walking in like a mouse headed for the trap. He folded his mask in his hands and slipped it into his pocket.
      There was a massive leather club chair in front of the desk. Jared leaned into it and listened to the squeak as he settled. The thick leather and foam held him there. He could smell the leather as quietly air hissed out under his weight. For a moment he almost felt trapped. His hands touched the smooth texture of the arms and felt a hint of oil preserving the material. His fingers extended over the end of the arm rest and he felt the round ends of the upholstery tacks, individually hammered in, the sign of quality. The chair was a rich marbled brown and had enough stiffness to let Jared know he was one of relatively few people to have sat in it. With his dark skin, brown eyes and sandy brown hair, he figured he blended right in. It was too tall for him. Almost six feet tall, he felt dwarfed by the seat.
      And yet, it would be slightly too small for an elemental.
      The office was not lacking amenities of this sort. The walls were shelved with leather bound tomes. There was an accent table made of a black wood so polished he could see the rest of the room reflecting off its surface. A sculpture of an exploding Dropship sat atop it. The honeycomb nature of the polished silver metal suggested it was endosteel, possibly from an actual wreckage.
      There was an equally impressive desk with a name plate, a wood handled letter opener and a couple of gold pens. They stood in twin holders standing at a slight angle. Jared was on the wrong side of the desk and the wrong side of success. He had to sit up straight to see over it. It wasn’t the first thing to bother him in this room. It was a calculated environment to remind the occupants of their station. Jared spotted the cameras easily, no effort having been made to hide them.
      He waited for half an hour. He looked down at his worn and faded pants, old boots and the ragged hem of his shirt and felt more and more out of place. His mask was the newest thing he had and it was issued by the corporation that owned this bank and most of the mining interests. He had almost decided to get up and leave when another figured entered the room.
      “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
      Not likely.
      “I’m Jared Shaw.” Jared got up and held out his hand.
      Staring at the hand, the other man, a big, slightly overweight fellow in a fine black suit, paused. He used the excuse of putting his papers and briefcase down to delay the handshake further. Finally he seemed satisfied and took Jared’s hand.
      “I’m Sebastian Cobs, financial manager.”
      “I’m looking for a loan-“ Jared began before being cut off.
      “For the Locust?” Cobs cut in.
      “Yeah.”
      Cobs shot Jared an in insulted glance.
      “Yes sir.” Jared corrected himself.
      Cobs took a minute to breathe in deeply and nodded to himself.
      “Mr. Shaw, what do you intend to do with the Locust?”
      “I’m going to be a MechWarrior, um, sir.”
      “Have you been accepted into the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery?”
      “No, not exactly. I was thinking about going freelance.”
      “You’re going to be a mercenary then?”
      Cobs scribbled down a note on a piece of paper, lifting the edge to prevent Shaw from seeing it.
      “Which MechWarrior Academy did you graduate from?”
      “I’m sort of self taught.”
      “How pray-tell did accomplish that?”
      “I pilot industrial ‘Mechs here. Been doing that for a few years.”
      “Have you even piloted a BattleMech?”
      Jared wanted to lie. He saw what this was.
      These aren’t questions. All the answers were obvious. He just wants to insult me for wasting his time before turning down the loan.
      “No.”
      “Uh-huh.”
      Cobs continued to write on the paper and then reached for a stamp but his phone buzzed. He paused and looked up at Shaw.
      “Excuse me.” He said.
      “Hello.”
      Cobs nodded several times. He face grimaced, muscles tensing as if it was news he did not want to hear.
      “Thank you very much. Good day.”
      He choked the words out, his nose twitching as if he was furious. Cobs put his phone away. He reached for a different stamp and stamped the paper as if it was a cockroach he wanted to squash. He spoke very quickly while getting up to leave.
      “Mr. Shaw, your loan has been approved. Good luck with your MechWarrior career.”
      With batting an eye or changing his tone, Cob stacked his papers and cleaned off his desk. He got up and thrust a paper towards Shaw and left it on the desk when Jacob did not immediately take it.
      Jared cocked his head suspiciously to the side. Cob stormed out of the room. Jared read the notes in fine penmanship indicating his unsuited nature for a loan and then the red stamp of approval over those notes. The memory of a lifetime of hard work flooded through Jared’s mind.
      I might finally be able to get out of here.
      He had half an education before his dad got sick and Jared started work in the mines. That could have been his whole life except for Pedro, a friend from school. Pedro figured out how to access the clan learning database the Raven Alliance used for training. The two studied each and every night after a day of back breaking labor. They finished their basic education, challenging the tests to get certifications. That changed nothing. It was another year of study, Jared on how to pilot the industrial ‘Mechs and Pedro on engineering, before both of them finally quit doing manual labor. Neither left the mines but they weren’t carrying rocks around anymore.
      Jared looked at the paper again and couldn’t believe it.

« Last Edit: 06 January 2021, 00:40:08 by MCharke »
Mark Charke

snakespinner

  • Captain
  • *
  • Posts: 2551
Re: Battle For Brimstone (Canon Universe, Dark Ages)
« Reply #1 on: 06 January 2021, 20:08:10 »
 :thumbsup:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

MCharke

  • Recruit
  • *
  • Posts: 13
Re: Battle For Brimstone (Canon Universe, Dark Ages)
« Reply #2 on: 09 January 2021, 23:57:54 »


PART 2



Military Compound, Port Erebus
Cis-Alpheratz Region, Weisau
8 Sept 3134

   Weisau might have had a Dragon soul, but it belonged in the Periphery more than the Inner Sphere. It was a bright, hot world, dry and rocky. When it did rain the mineral content made it consume exposed metal. Wood and plastic surfaces survived longer. Even the gravity was higher. Everything annoying weighed just a little more than it should to outsiders.
   Tai-I Keung Dai had been at his post less than six months. He looked at the scotch in a clear glass tumbler in his hand and imagined it weighed just a little more than it should. Then he looked out the windows of his office. The thin yellow-green clouds of sulphur floated outside the window against the pale grey sky.
   I’m the king.
   Technically it was true. He could override Mayor Sanchez who ran Port Erebus. He could not imagine why he would ever need to though. On paper there were 12 million people but perhaps 2 million were migrant workers. It was a small world. Everyone knew who he was already and they all kind of worked together to get things done. His busiest job was supporting the police force by loaning them additional muscle.
   He waved the scotch around at the base. He could see into the ‘Mech hanger with its solitary Dragon and seven Clan-built ‘Mech bays occupied by supplies. Behind the wall he knew there were barracks for 270 infantry soldiers, although about half were not on active duty right now. The pay was low out here and he knew many of them would be mining right now to make a few more C-Bills even though they weren’t supposed to. On the other side of his office was an aerospace hangar with six SB-27 Sabers. He waved his glass at the aerospace fighters.
   The longest serving fighter in our arsenal. I wonder how many of these were constructed by the Star League.
   He snorted at the joke but they weren’t new fighters by any stretch of the imagination. At least they were pretty reliable. That was something.
   He heard someone on the stairs that lead up to his office and drained the scotch. He rubbed his eyes awake and putting the glass away in a drawer. He got to his feet and pulled his shirt down. He kicked the rolling chair backwards in case he had to move to greet someone.
   There was a gentle knock on his door.
   Knock like a soldier dammit.
   “Enter.”
   A young man, still in his late teens stood sharply and saluted. Dai saluted back.
   “Tai-I Dai, the mercenaries are on their way.”
   Dai rolled his eyes.
   I forgot.
   “When they arrive, private, show them up here.”
   Tai-I Dai cringed when the private closed the door gently. He thought about his grand reward for forty two years of service; His own post at the gates of hell. When the Draconis Combine nobly reclaimed this lost world from the Raven Alliance, they found a few treasures left behind and sent him to guard them, sort of. There was a new observation and research facility on the planet Fire but the real bounty was in orbit. He thought about having another drink before the mercenaries arrived but decided better of it.
   If I’m going to get into a fight with someone, I might as well have my wits about me.
   Moments later a hulking figure in black appeared before his door. His fist punished the plastic wall, avoiding at least, the window.
   “Come in.”
   The mercenary saluted immediately after entering. This took Dai by surprise. He paused for an awkward moment before responding in kind. The mercenary’s eyebrows raised just the slightest amount, indicating he noticed Dai’s pause. The freelancer was dressed in solid black with no logos but a plethora of modern equipment was strapped onto him. It was equipment Dai knew he would not be issued this far out. This man was prepared and his stance indicated his readiness.
   “I’m Captain Morrison, Wolf’s Dragoons.”
   “Tai-I Dai, Draconis Combine.”
   The mercenary sat down without being asked. Dai almost smiled at the slight insult. He mentally vowed to whip these young pups he had been given into shape even harder. Dai sat down slowly, mostly because he had to reach back with his foot and collect the chair.
   “We’ve finished examining the Jump Ship factory. The parts needed to repair the KF drive will take months to get here, if they get here. However, we should be able to get the Endo Steel refinery up and running much sooner. The question is, where do you want all that Endo Steel delivered?”
   Morrison did not have to ask. A Captain was roughly the same rank as a Tai-I. Morrison was being polite. Dai took note of this.
   “Gorbbels has an industrial ‘Mech facility in the south end of the Port. They’re always desperate for parts for their mining equipment and will pay top-bills for Clan Endo Steel. Have it shipped there as it is produced.”
   “Yes sir.”
   “The ship and therefore the funds technically belong to the Dragon. However, I don’t see why I can’t make it worth your while. I will draft up a finder’s fee to be added to your contract.”
   “Very good sir.”
   Dai was sending a message to this mercenary.
   Continue this sort of co-operation and you will be rewarded.
   Also, he had no one on the Jump Ship, yet. It was better to give the mercenaries a cut, rather than wonder if they were taking one. It would at least discourage dishonesty, but that was not a vibe Dai was getting from this Captain Morrison.
   “There is the matter of the Locust, sir.” The Captain said.
   “What about it?”
   “It’s another ‘Mech and its rusting in the rain right now, sir.”
   “Yes. I have taken steps to rectify that. You have 4 Mechwarriors, including yourself, and five BattleMechs, I am lead to believe. With the Locust that means we have two empty seats. I think it’s time Brimstone had a MechWarrior Academy. How would you like to add to your duties?”
   “I think that’s a really good idea Tai-I.”
   “I will contact you to discuss a training schedule once we have some more candidates.”
   Keung Dai had dealt with mercenaries before. He remembered seeing them as cocky, always trying to prove they were better than everyone else. They acted hungry, like their next meal always depended on being noticed and picked first. It did. These Wolfs Dragoons were different.
   “If there is nothing else?”
   Dai shook his head.
   Captain Morrison got up and saluted. The Tai-I stood and returned the salute and Captain Morrison spun and departed.
   He looked at the bottle of scotch in the small glass cabinet in his office. He took it out and moved it to his safe where it would be harder to get to. He doubted the Wolf’s Dragoons permitted anything like that around their offices.

Mark Charke

MCharke

  • Recruit
  • *
  • Posts: 13
Re: Battle For Brimstone (Canon Universe, Dark Ages)
« Reply #3 on: 15 January 2021, 17:10:14 »


PART 3



South of Port Erebus, The Pit
Cis-Alpheratz Region, Weisau
8 Sept 3134

   Tammy Soffit sat looking at a wall of myomer strands, touching them with the glowing tip of a rod in her hand. A cord ran from her wand to a data pad and she transferred her gaze from the myomer to her pad and back, over and over. It was hot but much colder than usual this far south of Port Erebus.
   “How’s it going?” Someone yelled from above.
   “Stop breaking my stuff!” She hollered back.
   “It’s not your stuff.”
   “If I put a hundred hours into rebuilding this thing, it’s my stuff!”
   Somewhere in the background someone started a jack hammer and the conversation came to an end. Tammy pulled a pair of heavy ear protectors down over the sides of her head. She sat at the feet of a hulking Dig Lord, one of the larger industrial ‘Mechs. It was 65 tons of metal and myomer with a massive digging arm on one side and a drilling arm on the other and quartet of fluid guns. It was messy, but it could box excavate and then and clean the area where it was working all by itself. The native water was full of minerals though and it was hard on the machine but that wasn’t the problem today. Today someone had drilled carelessly and rock had collapsed on the leg.
   She climbed back up to the cockpit and swung in. She eased her ancient neural helmet on and guided the machine to move. The leg went through a spasm and she struggled to keep the machine upright balancing on the other leg in the uneven terrain of the mining pit. She relaxed and thought about dancing and set the damaged leg down for balance. The machine did not fall.
   Mom would have been surprised but thrilled all those dance lessons earned their keep piloting a giant ungainly ‘Mech.
   “Betty, dispatch.” She said over the radio. “I’m going to need a type 32 myomer bundle down here for Betty.”
   “Dispatch, Betty. The boss will not be happy about that.”
   “Dispatch, you be sure to tell him Steve was running the thing. I’m just playing technician today.”
   It was twenty minutes before a loader showed up with the massive spool and another hour installing and testing it. It would have been faster in a ‘Mech gantry but Soffit wondered how many times the machine would tip over trying to get there. She finished the work, closed the ‘Mech up and left the damaged myomer with a tag for collection.
   Taking the lift out of the pit she started to smell foul air and put on her mask. Pumping stations provided filtered air doing in the pit which made it safer and increased visibility. The smell of rotten eggs got stronger as the lift moved her towards the surface. It also got darker. She had worked the last 20 hours during the cooler night hours and would not be back for another 35 hours when the heat of the day had passed.
   She heard a howl when she reached the top and started looking around. Up top were a few warehouses for the machines and a dozen thermo protected trailers for the crew who never left. There were a few hover shuttles to take crew back to the port. Otherwise it was a barren landscape of rock and sand and these odd red plants that apparently fed on heat somehow. She knew there was something else though.
   Looking around sharply she spotted a large red plant that moved just slightly. Tammy let out a squeal of delight and fished around in her coveralls for a snack. She held out part of a nutrient bar and the red flat shape got up and started moving towards her.
   People called them Brimstone foxes. The size of a cat, they could lay down flat like the local plants. They looked like a red fox, if it was covered with polished stones instead of fur. Where they came from was a mystery but Weisau had never been thoroughly explored. They might have been a genetic experiment left behind by the Raven Alliance or perhaps they were native. All Tiffany knew is that they loved nutrient bars.
   The creature raced over and made a kind of barking-chirping sound and snatched the bar out of her hand and devoured it. Tiffany reached over and it let her pet it.
   “Hello Finnegan.” She said.
   The creature squeaked and rolled over on its belly. Her money was on the clans having created some new spirit token creature. The skin reminded her of a manta ray. She imagined their sense of touch was really bad, but Finnegan really seemed to like the attention. His short tail wagged and he panted. He had a solid block of bone instead of individual teeth but he definitely had a tongue, scaled as it was.
   She took pictures and uploaded them to her data packet that would go out with the next outbound Jumpship, hopefully to eventually land in the hands of the Explorer Corps. It was her little contribution to the collective knowledge of mankind. She had heard back from them, twice, in the last two years, so she knew some of her messages were making it to them despite the HPG blackout here.
   Tiffany saw the foreman walking some fresh faces around the site. She could tell they were new because they didn’t have a Brimstone tan yet and because they were unwisely coming on shift in the last few hours of night. She scooped up the five pounds of stone and muscle that was Finnegan and headed over.
   “Good Night Day.” Preet said, the term for the second half of a Weisau day when it was dark.
   Preet was a full head shorter than Tiffany, and a little more dressed up with a clean jump suit and a little makeup on. She also had shoulder length hair, compared to Tiffany’s more work-friendly close cut mop. Tiffany was far more muscular than any of the new crew. The slightly higher gravity combined with the long days produced a lot of muscle.
   Tiffany smiled but her mask hid most of it.
   “Welcome to the pit.” She said. “Pay is good. Food is good. But you’re going to work for it.”
   The new people nodded but they were all looking at Finnegan.
   “What is that?”
   “This is Finnegan. And, if you run him over or kick him or do anything I don’t like, I’m going to the same thing to you, but while driving a Dig Lord. As long as we all understand that, we can be friends.”
   “He’s the pit mascot.” Preet said. “And she’s half serious. Finnegan and his kind will steal things you leave out. If it’s food, they will eat it. If its shinny they will either take it to Tiffany’s trailer and leave it in a shrine pile or you come ask Tiffany to track it down to one of their lairs hidden all around here.”
   “Are they dangerous?” One of the crew asked.
   “No.” Tiffany said, presenting Finnegan to be petted. “But if you see them run, you run. They seem to know when it’s going to get too hot. And if you catch one scratching at your door, you let it in because it’s going to get too hot outside and it’s too far from a burrow.”
   “Do we have to?”
   “No.” Preet said. “But she drives the Dig Lords. They are big and your trailer is small. Also, these foxes have saved a dozen members of our crew with their warnings. Keep that in mind before you let one die in a flash fire.”
   The ground rumbled as is to agree with the foreman. The new crew cowered as the shaking got bad. Preet and Tiffany planted their feet and stood their ground.
   “You’ll get used to it.” Tiffany said.
   “Does it get hotter than this?” Another new crew member asked, sweating profusely.
   “This is a death month. There is only one sun. It’s not even hot yet.” Preet said. “This is practically winter here.”
   The air shimmered with the heat and worried looks of the new people. The rumbling stopped but in the distance a glowing yellow-red geyser of molten rock could be seen.
   “We’re on a thick plate. Won’t get us here.” Tiffany said. “And we have VTOL’s just in case things change suddenly. Hopefully they work.”
   She walked away realizing she was probably doing more harm than good. She stopped short of telling them how many people were killed in the Pit each year. She debated telling them anyway. She figured they should have a realistic understanding of their work environment and a healthy respect for how dangerous this planet was.
Mark Charke

MCharke

  • Recruit
  • *
  • Posts: 13
Re: Battle For Brimstone (Canon Universe, Dark Ages)
« Reply #4 on: 15 January 2021, 17:12:01 »


PART 4



Port 42
Cis-Alpheratz Region, Valenta
9 Sept 3134


   A squat plug shaped spaceship appeared suddenly in the void of space. It was a Tramp class Jumpship and it looked like a cross between a suckerfish and a dented piece of plumbing, especially with all the make-do repairs this one had. Like a bulbous leech, a single Union class Dropship was attached to its hull.
   Massive clamps unhinged, releasing the Dropship. The Tramp fired is thrusters and turned towards a glinting space station which had massive solar sails. The Dropship began a steady burn in system in the direction of the single sun. On board the Dropship everyone braced for several minutes of artificial gravity as they assembled in the ‘Mech hangar.
   The Old Man, Rick Emershaw, walked out on a stage made of crates. His face had more scars than skin. He had a few wisps of white hair left on his head. One of his ears looked like someone had taken a bite out of it. He wore an old leather jacket with thick furs attached to the top which were stained brown with old blood. Patches and repairs covered the relic that was the jacket. The logo of a red hook was obvious on the shoulders. He paused and looked down on the mass of desperate people, unwashed, in tattered clothing and ancient cooling vests, most of whom hadn’t shaved in weeks and they all had that that desperate but determined look. He nodded, understanding.
   “Listen up. This is it, the most important mission. Everyone says that but if you treat this mission as if it was your last, you will have a better chance of surviving it. There ain’t much difference between us and the pirates of old. Our lives haven’t been great and no one has ever offered you a hand up. Well I will. You fight hard and you’ll get paid. You stick around and one day you’ll have a shot at getting out.
   “New, or old, you’re part of the Bloody Hook now. We’ve been around since 3102 since Fred Kroth started us out. He actually had a hook. He died but a lot of his successors got out. They made their money and they didn’t get too greedy. They left, making way for someone else.
   “They call me the Old Man cause I’ve been around for a long time. I finally earned my place at the top. This mission I’ve been planning for almost a year. We hired experts and we have buyers and we put a team on the ground weeks ago for recon. This will be my last mission. If things go real well, it’ll be the last for a few others as well. After that, it might be your turn.
   “We got word from Creed that there are practically no defenders. The Draconis Combine has pushed out the Raven Alliance and they are both off fighting somewhere else now. Apparently they left a few light tanks and a couple of platoons of infantry. More importantly, there is a pair of civilian Dropships filled to the brim with supplies without any escorts, marines or battle armor defending them. We push through the defenders, take what we want and go home!”
   The Old Man needed this to be it. His voice was getting weaker and his injuries were getting louder. He didn’t say it but another reason the previous leaders left is because their bounties got too high. Sooner or later their own gang would try to collect it. Emershaw wanted to retire to the other side of the Inner Sphere, somewhere warm with a state of the art medical facility he could eventually die in after many years of laying around in the sun as far as possible from who he used to be.
   They chose to raid Valenta because it was remote but had large ports. It used to be part of the Draconis Combine and was an obvious target for their sudden wave of attacks. The least defended worlds were usually right behind any advancing army but it was a narrow window where they could take advantage of the chaos before garrison forces were stabilized. The Old Man calculated that the DCMS should have taken the world months ago and word from Creed confirmed that. His only concern was that, with the HPG stations down, his information was a month old.
   The Old Man was back on the bridge when the communications from Valenta came in. The Pig’s Eye was an unusual Union Class Dropship. Its hull plating had been configured to look like a Danais, a civilian Dropship based on the Union. It was easy to confuse the two and that made it easy to pose as a transport vessel. Unfortunately a lot of pirates armed Danais, creating the Trojan class, and anyone familiar with that might see through the ruse.
   “Valenta actual, Dropship Wendigo, we have you on schedule for a Port 42 landing. Confirm parts and crew inbound?”
   “Wendigo, Valenta, roger that, tub full of angry grunts and future broken loaders.”
   “Roger that Wendigo. Happy landings.”
   So far, so good.
   Work continued, even after planetary invasion. The Old Man started checking on people to make sure they were where they needed to be. They had three teams; Their ‘Mechs providing cover and intimidation, the cargo team which were a motley crew who would grab everything not nailed down and the highly skilled boarding teams dedicated to taking the two Dropships which were scheduled to be at Port 42, hopefully already loaded. Once the Old Man was as satisfied as he figured he could get with everyone, he floated his way down to his BattleMech and strapped himself in to prepare for planet fall.
   Coming down, they all felt tremendous gravity as the Pig’s Eye fired its jets for landing. The Old Man groaned as his old bones complained at the strain. He focused on looking out the window. He saw two Dropships at the port. That felt good. He didn’t see any sign of battle damage but there was no guarantee the DCMS fought here at all when they retook the planet. If they fought by trial it would have been far from the cities.
   A red light went on, the doors open and the BattleMechs disgorged first from the Union. People did what they always did, flee. Backwoods planets like Valenta did not get a lot of ‘Mechs so their surprise appearance never meant anything good.
   Two lances excited the Union Class Dropship; Four Brigands, a light pirate-produced ‘Mech, followed by a mixed lance composed of a Venom, a Stinger, a Wasp and a Firestarter. They spread out, creating a perimeter around the Dropship, moving outwards scanning for surprises and tanks. Two units raced in light vehicles towards the Dropships on the tarmac to begin boarding actions. Finally an assortment of various vehicles raced out towards the warehouses and basically started loading up on any cargo not nailed down. The commandeered other vehicles and broke into offices in a mad dash to find the easiest, most valuable materials they could take.
   The Old Man had been in three raids with his Brigand. For a pirate-produced ‘Mech it possessed some very advanced features and he loved the ‘Mech. He realized he would not be taking it with him when he left. It suddenly occurred to him that this might be the last time he would ever pilot a BattleMech.
   Slightly lost in thought he barely noticed a blip on his radar and steered towards it. It was something small or cloaked because it did not appear until he got close and it was still fuzzy. He sensors could not tell him what it was. He figured it was a tank. He cursed the fact that ECM systems were so common since they proved their worth in the Jihad fifty years ago.
   He slowed, circling a warehouse taller than his ‘Mech, so he could make a quick peak and retreat to see what it was. He popped out and came face to face with a Clan Raven Dire Wolf assault ‘Mech. A blue circle with a black raven was the only marking on the beast. It was a squat but enormous black shape with a round nose like a shark. One of the most powerful BattleMechs ever built, it had weapons that approached the weight of the Old Man’s Brigand. He saw all his dreams of retirement flash before his eyes and disappear because he knew he was going to die, right here and right now.
   He threw it into reverse and backed around the corner just in time to watch a wall of laser fire fill the space he had just been.
   “Krag, get over here and back me up!”
   His hands started to shake. He spun the ‘Mech around and sprinted straight towards the Pig’s Eye. He started to get light headed he was breathing so hard. He realized that he had clenched his jaws shut and made himself relax a bit and tried to catch his breath.
   I need to weave, not run in a straight line like a fool!
   He turned sharply and the wall of the ware house exploded with Autocannon fire. Lasers burned through the buildings and stabbed at him, narrowly missing. Not even thinking about firing back, the Old Man dodged and weaved like an old western dancer having his feet shot at. It was only seconds later that the shots started to miss more widely. Even moving erratically, his Brigand was much faster than the Dire Wolf and he had put considerable distance between them. He looked at his map and all the buildings and decided on a route back to the Dropship that should give him plenty of cover.
   The Old Man had heard stories of warriors going weak in the knees having to fight an Awesome and even veterans even, fleeing when an Atlas took the field. He never expected to experience that. He had once laughed at the notion. But there it was, a Dire Wolf, which could pack in twice the firepower of an Atlas and all of it was firing at him.

*   *   *

   The first boarding group reached what they thought was a civilian Dropship and charged in the open cargo door. They were big tough men and women in matching camouflage uniforms, armed with an assortment of weapons, mostly shotguns. Some of them even had light body armor.
   The flooded into the large cargo room and came face to face with three stars of Elementals attending their battle armor. Each was about eight feet tall and towered over the marines. It looked like a group of school children who had run into the teacher’s lounge at elementary school.
   “Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe this.” One elemental said before closing the hatch on her armor and sealing herself inside.
   The massive suit of metal came to life, along with more than a dozen others while the rest scrambled to get into theirs. The blinding ruby glow of a small laser lit the room in red. This weapon system was small to a ‘Mech or a tank, but it was more destructive than any man-portable weapon. The beam carved through three marines and struck the wall behind them.
   It was a trope that, since Elementals were big, they were slow and that once in their Battle Armor they must be even slower. It was terrifying how fast they could move. In seconds, half the marines were dead and some of the Elementals were enraged that they would not get their armor on in time to participate. One even grabbed a pry-bar and attacked the marines without his armor. None of the Marines would survive to leave the Dropship.
   The rest of the boarding party, the technicians and pilots turned their light craft around and sped back towards their Dropship. Someone got on the radio and warned the second boarding party which had not reached their Dropship yet. They too turned back in a hurry when they learned there was battle armor in play.
Mark Charke

 

Register