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Author Topic: Take On Me  (Read 5961 times)

Deadborder

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Take On Me
« on: 07 February 2011, 16:55:10 »
New Madrid, Barcelona
Poznan, Prefecture V
Republic of the Sphere
7 August 3124



Juanita sighed to herself as she stared blankly out the window, quietly wishing that she could be anywhere but in class. She’d never gotten the point of history class; it was just a boring repetition of stuff that had already happened and that she couldn’t do anything about. Of course, she held most of her classes, and school in general in the same esteem.

Simply put, she wished she could be anywhere else but in class listening to a dry, boring old man recite dry, boring old sorties. She wanted a life of excitement, of action and adventure, not of sitting in a classroom and staring blankly at a sheet of paper while counting down the seconds – seconds! – until the end of class.

She absent-mindedly scribbled on her notebook instead of taking notes, really not caring for what was being said by the teacher. Certainly she didn’t see him approach, nor notice his stopping in front of her desk.

“To which the answer is, Juanita Kwan?”

“Wha?” She looked up at the teacher who was looming over her, suddenly remembering where she was.

“The answer, Ms Kwan.”

“Uhhh.. Devlin Stone.” The first lesson she’d learned in History class was to when you didn’t know the answer, ‘Devlin Stone’ would cover most eventualities. She looked up at him, a hopeful smile on her face.

“No.”

“Uh…” She looked around. “Stefan Amaris? The Ares Conventions? Hazen? Pogata? I give you the Capellan Confederation?”

“None of these answers are correct.” He replied, then picked up her notebook. “Nor, incidentally, is the answer a Battlemech setting fire to our school. Oh, with a car jumping over it.”

And now her cheeks were burning red with embarrassment at being caught out so badly and obviously. “Um, no.” She admitted.

The teacher sighed as he returned her book. “Juanita, you are obviously an intelligent student.” He started, his tone clear and level. “Yet you are struggling with my class and, dare I say it, just about every other one you are in. Now I do not want to fail you; you have a lot of promise that you are simply not living up to. All I am asking of you, Ms Kwan, is that you pay a bit of attention and apply yourself.”

She’d pretty much sunk into her chair, humiliated at not only her own mistakes but also at the stark lecture she’d just gotten. “Yes, sir.” She finally muttered in reply.

“Very good. For the record, the answer was ‘Melbourne, Australia’.” He turned to walk back to the front of the class, leaving her to stew for a while.

Sighing, she turned back to her work, trying her best to pay attention to what the teacher was saying and take notes. In truth, she was already drifting away. I so can’t wait to be out of here, she thought to herself, trying not to look out the window.  I hate this place.

-----

Killosh Industries Compound, Vidya
Bharat, Prefecture IV
Republic of the Sphere
15 June 3133



Ever since his defeat and humiliation on Imbross, it was all that Niko Bulgarin could do to simply stay alive. The failed opportunity had cost the Band of Five a good deal of equipment, both converted Industrialmechs and support vehicles, as well as in manpower. And that was before they considered the amount of time and effort that had gone into setting up the operation. That the plan had been his to start with only served to make the defeat more acute.

He’d survived the reprisals only because of some unexpected support. Three of his colleges – now his superiors, he bitterly reminded himself – had come out on his side, deciding that he was still useful to the Band of Five despite his failure. One of them he had understood; Kirstin Ross was an unusually pragmatic and level-headed individual in amongst the Band’s ranks of bloodthirsty killers, and she had likely chosen to spare him based on his own skills and knowledge. On the other hand, Nass Tshuma had been obviously coerced into supporting him.

It was the third supporter that he had gained that bothered him.

He lit another cigarette as he casually strolled around the Killosh industries compound. A manufacturer of ForestryMechs and other equipment, the factory was also serving as a base of operations for the Band of Five, at least for the moment. Its output, on the other hand, was being redirected towards more military applications; already the ForestryMechs that were walking off the factory floor were doing such with weapons installed in place of their logging equipment.

Niko glanced up at the large sign on the factory wall, proclaiming not only the company’s name, but also its presence as a subsidiary of Bannson Universal. As he took a long drag, he continued to look around the compound, examining some of the decidedly non-industrial equipment present. A number of BattleMechs and combat vehicles were undergoing repairs in the facility, using the maintenance equipment originally designed for industrial use to support the work.

Quietly, he couldn’t help but smirk at why they were there. Even though the Achenar Provider had only arrived yesterday, he’d gotten a good impression of what had happened from the people he’d spoken to. The force had retreated from Mizar, where they had been defeated by an unexpected attack. That the attack had been almost identical to the one that had taken him out on Imbross, with a lone infiltrator stealing one of their BattleMechs, and then wreaking havoc on their forces.

Of course, in this case he saw the defeat as being to his advantage. Not only had it served to prove his own story about what happened on Imbross, but the losses suffered by the Mizar expedition had been even more severe. That the commander of the force, Bob Sawyer, was one of his personal enemies and now was being forced to not only explain his loss by why the Band shouldn’t just leave him dead in a ditch somewhere made him feel even better.

A loss is only bad if you are unable to take advantage of it. He thought to himself as he took another drag as he considered how to turn the situation to his favor, how to ensure that Sawyer ended up in a shallow grave and he came out as his replacement. Not going to be easy, he considered as he walked around the main factory complex, continuing to smoke in defiance of all the signs dictating otherwise. I’m still not a favorite by any stretch, but at least Sawyer’s in worse. After all, the IndustrialMechs he’d lost could be replaced. But to lose a rare Assault Mech? That was unforgiveable.

However, as he rounded the next corner, the smirk vanished from his face. There was a man standing there, one who was simply unmistakable in his anonymity. Clad in a black MechWarrior combat suit, his identity was completely hidden. He could be anyone, which in a group like the Band of Five, only served as fuel for paranoia.

He knew who he was; TF Allen, a MechWarrior and one of Sawyer’s favorites, a man who’s influence went far above his station. To make matters worse, Allen was one of those who had come out in support of Bulgarin; he had no idea why, but now he owed the man. And the last thing that Niko wanted was to be in debt to someone who he had no leverage on. To make it even worse, by all reports, Allen had come out of the Mizar debacle smelling like a rose despite his superior’s defeat.

“What do you want?” Niko growled, getting down to the point.

“Your support.” TF Allen replied, his gravelly voice not betraying a hint of emotion.

“What for?”

“I have an idea.” Allen stated. “And I want you to be the face for it.”

“I front up to our leaders and tell them your plan, right?” He could see where this was going. “And when it screws up, I take the fall, not you.”

“But when it succeeds, you get the credit.” Allen countered. “You get back into the good books and I get to ride your coat-tails.”

“And what can you offer me?” He shook his head. “I’m not going to be your front man without some sort of reassurances that I’m not going to be stabbed in the back and left hug out to dry by you. And I’m reluctant to take the word of a man who I can’t look in the face”

“Understood. I would not be coming to you if I couldn’t provide that.” Allen replied. “I can guarantee you a cadre of soldiers who have no choice but to follow your orders. It takes a lot to keep the Band’s members in line, and I happen to have a way to do that.”

“Meaning?”

“Ever wondered why Tshuma decided to support you?”

He considered this. Nass was one of his personal rivals, a man who had competed with him for rank, influence and most anything else since they had first met. On paper, he should have been salivating at the chance to have Niko killed, with his only regret being that he wasn’t going to do it himself. Instead, the man had obviously been coerced into voting to keep him alive.

And now it added up. Allen had been behind that as well. He’d been working Niko all along, looking for a way to get him on side and keep him there. Clever, he thought to himself. Exactly what I would do. “Depends, do I get to be in on it?”

“Of course.” Niko couldn’t tell, but he suspected that, behind his helmet, Allen was wearing an incredibly smug and satisfied smile. He knew he would be too. “You help me out, do what I want, and his secrets are yours.”


-----


Mountlake, Appilagio
Mara, Prefecture III
Republic of the Sphere
30 June 3133



One of the larger cities on Mara, Mountlake was ideally positioned to simply be an incredibly pleasant place to be. Situated on the coast of the planet’s largest continent, the city was nicely placed in a traditional ‘Mediterranean’ climate that made it warm all year round. The result was a city that had grown beyond its original fishing roots to become something of a planet-wide tourist industry. It was easy to see way; the combination of the gorgeous, clear ocean and warm weather made it an ideal destination.

The city itself had grown from its coastal roots, sprawling back up the cliffs to the higher plateaus leaving, in turn, a rather panoramic view back. The most desirable land had ended up being both that closest to the ocean and highest up on the hills, the waterfront competing with the views. Either way, it was a rather pleasant city, one that seemed to be both relaxing and relaxed at the same time. Certainly it didn’t seem like a city on a world that was under occupation by a hostile force.

It was that occupation that had bought Antonin Rybak to Mountlake. Sitting at a café by the ocean, wearing a gaudy shirt and sipping a cold drink, he looked the part of an innocuous tourist. Like so many others, he was looking out over the waterfront as he relaxed and drank. However, his observations were more than casual sightseeing, instead carefully watching his surroundings as he sat, taking in details that most tourists would miss.

True, the occupying force on-world were yet to try and direfully change things, to impose their will on the populace. For the most part, the people of Mountlake, both local and tourist alike, had been more content to go about their business like nothing had happened at all. The only thing that had changed so far was the uniforms on the police and the flags flying over the city. However, that was not what was interesting him here.

“Nice view, isn’t it?” A voice cut in, interrupting his relaxation. Antonin gave the briefest of glances at the speaker, a middle-aged man, clearly overweight with a retreating hairline. Like himself, the man was brightly dressed, looking just as much a view as he was.

Antonin nodded, noting a pair of police officers strolling past, the patches on their uniforms clearly recently changed to reflect the planet’s new lords. “It was, but I don’t think I like the way the wind’s going.” He casualty remarked in reply.

The new arrival sat down at the same table, glancing over at him. “Young people these days. Give them a new uniform and they think they’re the kings of the world. Plenty of years of polite and unmemorable service vanishes in seconds the instant they get a new boss. Then everyone’s tripping over themselves to show off how good they are.”

“So I gathered.” Antonin acknowledged. “And how are our new brooms shaping up? These ‘Steel Wolves’ seem to be determined to play Clan, but how that translates when confronted with reality is another matter.”

“They’ve really done very little apart from some basic rebranding.” The man casually remarked. “Making sure that everything is as they want it, all nice and Wolf-like. In reality, I think they couldn’t have picked a worse planet to pull it off with; the locals here are too relaxed, too calm for what they want. The whole planet’s too small-town for them, really.”

“But they are here.”

“True that. Their main interest seems to be the IndustrialMech facilities. Story goes that they’re re-tooling those to crank out combat-worthy Industrial Mods; token weapons but enough to arm a burgeoning army. Given the current demand for anything that even resembles a BattleMech, it’s understandable. They nabbed the whole planet for just that. Seems like a bit too much effort for me, but then, what do I know.”

“You don’t think like a Clanner.”

The man snorted. “And they try too hard to.” He finally offered. “The group on-world are called the Frostwolves; they’re a cluster of the Steel Wolves, but most of its members are Wolf Clan adoptees; try-hards that somehow think that the Clan way of life is better or superior. Most of them are little more then idealistic kids with over-inflated dreams of glory and delusions of what being a Clan warrior is really about.”

“But you think they are a danger, correct?” Antonin asked as he took another sip from his drink. He hadn’t made eye contact with the other man, who, in turn, hadn’t tried himself.

“That I do.” He replied with a slow nod. “There’s a handful of Trueborns amongst them – mostly wash-outs and older warriors who are genuinely skilled. But there’s more to it than just that.”

“Do tell.”

“Last month, the Wolves’ leader, Kal Radick, was killed by one of his lieutenants who took control of the group. Anastasia Kerensky is an ambitious hothead who is also incredibly unpredictable, and is liable to pull anything with only a moment’s notice. And while the Frostwolves are sitting around on their thumbs making sure that Industrials get sent out to the right people for now, there’s no telling what they may do now.”

“So take them down now before they become a risk.” Antonin had heard of what had gone down with Radick and Kerensky, and agreed with the assessment. The current situation within the Republic was bad enough with known leaders; a new leader with a dangerous reputation was the last thing they needed.

The man nodded again. “If anything, removing them will cut the Steel Wolves off from a source of equipment. While it’s only producing Industrials for the moment, they could try militarizing it completely, giving them access to Retros or even full BattleMech production. It’s unlikely, but…”

“…but we can’t risk it.” He agreed. “So tell me the good news. Give me what you have on them so I can put my own assets into play and get them off your world.”

The man smiled a little. “The MDC plant in Lockholme is actually rather lightly defended; most of the forces on-site are infantry with APC support. They’ve dropped their main force up in the Perenolde valley at the hub of the mining industry. They took over one of the cities there; even re-named it Frostwolf Village, if you can believe it.”

“I’ve heard of stranger things.”

“The whole setup makes little sense to me. I’d have done the reverse; put the bulk of my forces at Lockholme, as it’s got both the Mech plant and the planet’s main drop port, and then put the smaller force up there with the mines. Of course, this is what you get from trying too hard to think like a Clanner.”

“I don’t follow you.”

The man smirked as he tapped the side of his head. “Perenolde valley has a large wolf population; all introduced, of course, but they’ve flourished in the nature reserve up there. So the Frostwolves set up shop there so they could ‘be at one with their totem’ and ‘embrace their wolf spirit’ or some such clan crap like that.”

“Trying so hard to be Wolves that it over-rides their common sense.” He finished. “Now I get it.”

“That’s about the gist of it.” He replied, sighing. “Nice planet like this and they have to come and walk all over it. Damn try-hard Clanners.”

Antonin nodded. “Right. And they keep their mechs up in Perenolde?”

“About a star of ‘real’ BattleMechs.” The man stated. “And maybe another star of Industrials that they’ve modified for combat, but haven’t shipped off-world. The bulk of their force is made up of tanks and infantry, but with some Battle Armour thrown in for measure.”

“Just what I wanted to know, thanks.” Antonin spotted him a brief smile.

“You have a plan?”

He nodded. “Yep. And what you’ve given me is all I need.” He pulled an envelope out from his pocket, placing it on the table. “Thanks again. Just keep away from the valley for the next few days.” Antonin finished as he stood.

“Off already?” The man asked. “It’s a nice day too.”

“It is, but I have a meeting to go to.” Antonin finished. “See you round.”

------

While it wasn’t a glitzy resort town like Port Maibu on Mizar had been, Juanitia Kwan was actually quite enjoying Mountlake. It was certainly pleasant enough; a nice climate, brilliant views, good weather… there was very little not to like. That she was free to wander with only an expense account to answer to made it even better.

She’d been left in the town by Ponytail with orders to simply look around, relax and not get into trouble while waiting for him to get done with his ‘official business’. Given that the planet was currently under the control of the Steel Wolves, she figured that his business involved setting up another job that would require her particular skill set. That sat well with her; she’d already been making plans for what she’d do, and one of those plans included making sure that she walked out with the Battlemech he’d promised her.

It had been a key part of the agreement that had seen her working for him. While, yes, she stole stuff and broke things on request, it was not just for money. No, she wanted a BattleMech, to be a real MechWarrior and all the things that came with it. Twice now, she’d come close to her goal. In both cases, once with a modified industrial and once with a real mech, she’d been shot out of them. Of course, she’d done her job and gotten paid at the end of the day. But it just simply wasn’t enough.

For now, however, she was content to blend in to the crowds, to wander around and play the part of a casual tourist, even down to the garish clothes. It wasn’t bad, actually. She’d already blown a good-sized chunk of expenses account on renting a high-performance car and having a stupidly big breakfast in a harbourfront restaurant. Now she was shopping, determined to make as much of her free time as possible before Ponytail showed up to take her to work – or figured out how much she was blowing.

Should give me a medal or something for stimulating the local economy instead, she smirked to herself as she stepped into a clothes shop, noting the colourful designs on display. She’d never been one for dresses or what was considered ‘fashionable’, instead preferring more practical and hard-wearing clothes, or, at the very least, the more outrageous as opposed to restrained and sedate. Besides, it was hard to scale a Mech’s hull in a cocktail dress and heels.

She eyed a rather colourful – and moderately daring – bikini on one dummy, looking over it and trying to figure how she’d look wearing it. Liking the idea, she began to go through the racks, looking for other designs that caught her eye. No sense in limiting myself to just one if Ponytail’s paying, she thought to herself. It wasn’t that she disliked him or wanted to make things difficult for him – anything but. It was just that, at the same time, she saw no sense in restraining herself if it wasn’t technically her money.

Gathering up a few pieces she liked, she turned to head for the change room. Instead, she rammed straight into another customer, her face shoving right into their shoulder. Stumbling, she dropped her selections, more annoyed then injured. “Hey!” She called out to the back of the offending body. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going!”

They turned around, revealing that the person in question was a large, muscular woman. Heavyset, she had dark red hair tied off into a neat ponytail and blue eyes that seemingly flashed with an anger that matched the feral snarl on their face. More striking was the horizontal scar that ran across her cheeks under her eyes, one that added to her fierce demeanor. “Me?” She snapped back. “What was that, you little creep? Some attempt to lift my wallet?”

“Hey, all I was doing was buying clothes!” Juanita countered. “You should just watch where your fat arse was.” She couldn’t stand being falsely accused; besides, she’d never stoop to stealing someone’s wallet. After boosting a multi-million C-Bill BattleMech, a handful of cash was well below her.

The woman raised an arm, Juanita noting the elaborate patterns tattooed on it that vanished inside her colorful red and black shirt, who’s floral print seemed at odds with the person wearing it. “Me? You’re the one who barged into me! Now tell me why I shouldn’t just pound an apology out of you right now?”

“Because-“

“Hey!” The shopkeeper called out, all but interposing himself between the pair of them. Short and balding, he seemed rather determined despite the fearsome demeanor of one of those present. “Whatever your problem is with each other, I don’t care. But if you’re going to fight then either finish up your purchases and go outside and do it or else I’m calling the cops. And if you missed the news, we’ve got Clan cops here now. Got that?”

The woman seemed to be honestly contemplating her options for a moment before finally shaking her head. “You’re not worth it. But if I catch you near me again…” With a final small snarl that seemed to be as much for show as anything else, she turned and stalked away.

“Well that was weird” Juanita finally finished as she turned back to the shopkeeper, trying to look as innocent and nonplussed as possible. It was a look she’d practiced and worked on in past, the face she showed to police officers or other officials who asked unpleasant questions, such as where she was going at two in the morning with a pack stuffed with power tools.

“So, mind if I try on this lot?” Because if there was one big lesson she had learned, it was to remain casual and pretend nothing had happened.
Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



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MechRat

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #1 on: 08 February 2011, 09:41:43 »
It's great to see you reposting your stories, Deadborder! Thanks a lot! [rockon]

Deadborder

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #2 on: 10 February 2011, 07:48:57 »
Juanita had happily wasted her time looking around and draining her expense account on purchasing clothes and whatever else had taken her fancy. More to the point, she still hadn’t gotten the call from Ponytail to come and meet him that she was waiting on. From that she could simply assume that whatever business he had – like lining up their next job – was taking him a lot longer than expected.

In a moment of unusual foresight, she’d decided to duck back to her hotel to drop off her not inconsiderable load of shopping. This also allowed her to show off one of her other moments of self-indulgence at someone else’s expense. Ponytail had suggested that she hire a car not only to get around but also to potentially aid her if they did have a job to do. That was fair enough. What wasn’t straightforward was her answer.

Now she was barreling through the streets in a hot yellow SR Motors Phoenix convertible; an upper-end muscle car that was one of the more outrageous options that the rental agency had available. It was about as subtle as a brick to the face, and about as un-restrained as she could have been. That she was driving with the stereo cranked to near maximum while singing along (badly) to the Death to the Reverse Side greatest hits collection only helped.

All up, she was having a good time of it.

She pulled up at an intersection, stopping at the traffic lights. Just because she was pushing the limits of the road rules didn’t mean that she had to get herself in trouble right now. She was still waiting; the real trouble (and fun!) would start once Ponytail launched whatever plan he was working on. Still, good times.

“Turn that crap off.” A voice called out to her from the next lane. “Or at least, pick a decent damn band.”

Juanita glanced over to find the speaker, only to have her buoyant mood suddenly collapse. It was the scarred woman from the shop, sitting in a car right next to hers. A quick glance told her that it was a Ceres Motors Hammerhead; a convertible muscle car that was a direct competitor to the Phoenix. And to top it all off, it was red.

Her response was to rev her engine, making as much noise as possible while glaring at the woman, as if daring her. They replied by revving their own, shooting her a glance back before turning to face ahead.

So that’s how it’s gonna be, then? Good. Juanita grinned to herself as she turned back to face the road, watching the traffic lights like a hawk. In theory, this ran counter to all her prior instructions; keep a low profile, don’t get into trouble, don’t do anything stupid, just wait for me to call.

On the other hand, it was going to be fun. A straight stretch of road, a lack of traffic and a high-performance car. What more could she want?

The lights turned green, Juanita hammering the accelerator as she did. The Phoenix took off with a squeal of tires, the roar of the engine and the smell of burning rubber. She was pressed back into her seat as the car accelerated, leaving the traffic lights behind as it launched itself forward. The road in front of the car was eaten up as it sped along the stretch of road, Juanita determined to win this unofficial race.

For a moment, she was confident that it was hers. A quick glance to one side shattered the idea, the red Hammerhead pulling past her car. “No you damn well don’t!” She shouted out, slamming down the accelerator as if by sheer pressure she could force the car to go faster. It seemed to pay off for a moment, the Phoenix inching closer to the Hammerhead.

The scarred woman seemed to want no part of that, casting a quick, angry glare as the pair of them shot through an intersection. She continued to push her car, slowly opening her lead again, if only by tiny amounts. That, of course, was too much for Juanita’s tastes; she pressed the accelerator, opening the gearbox as far as she could to get as much performance from the machine as possible.

Screw the rental conditions. This is personal. Nobody beats Zoom-Zoom. Nobody. Her Phoenix edged ahead, putting the slightest of leads on the Hammerhead as if her force of will was driving the car forwards. With agonizing slowness, the tiny, imagined lead became more of a reality as her bright yellow car began to leave the red one behind.

A glance in the rearview mirror showed her the other car and the determined look on the face of her opponent. For a moment, she reveled in it, enjoying the fact that she was winning, showing this woman who had first made a false accusation and then criticized her taste in music that she, Juanita Kwan was right and they, whoever the hell they were, were wrong.

And then there was a screech of brakes and a wail of horns as the pair of them shot through another intersection, only barely missing another car that had been crossing. Juanita didn’t miss a beat, having driven through far worse in past; compared to chasing after an armed forestry mech in a crappy plastic crapbox car, this was nothing.

To her frustration, however, the other woman seemed completely unphased as well, shooting through the intersection without missing a beat. Damn it, but they’re good. They didn’t even flinch there. The woman’s reactions were the same as her own, a fact that indicated that she wasn’t just dealing with any old tourist. The Hammerhead was closing in again, eating up the gap between the two cars.

No way am I going to – crap! Up ahead the lights were turning red, with ample traffic on both sides of the intersection where it crossed a major road. As much as she wanted to win this, to prove her superiority, she could tell two things. The first was that she was not going to make it through the lights before they changed and the intersection became a solid wall of traffic. The second was that for all her daring, she was not suicidal.

She slammed on the brakes, thrown forward in the seat as the Phoenix screeched to a halt with a wail of tortured tires. It only took a second but seemed like far longer, the car only just stopping before it hit the intersection, the momentum them slamming her back again, her skull jarring as it bumped the headrest. And to make it worse, she could see the red Hammerhead right beside her.

“This isn’t working.” The woman shouted. “Pull over; we should talk.”

-----

A few minutes later they were pulled up by the side of the road, the pair of them looking for all the world like a pair of ordinary tourists. The map spread out over the Hammerhead’s hood seemed to only reinforce the image, as if the pair of them were searching for directions. Someone listening in to the pair of them would realize that it was anything but.

“So here’s the deal.” The scarred woman stated. “You can drag well, but a few hundred meters of paved straightaway means nothing, really. What I’m proposing is something a bit more involved, a proper road race.”

“Seems fair to me.” Juanita replied with a confident smirk. “Bring it on.” She really didn’t care anymore who this woman was and why she was so annoyed at her. Now she wanted to prove was just how good she really was.

“Last chance to back out.”

“Why? You afraid?” She gave a small snort. “You’re looking at the best street racer on Poznan right here. I never back down from a challenge.”

“I didn’t expect you to.” The woman gave as a non-committal reply. “I just wanted to see how badly you wanted this.”

“You call me a thief and mock my taste in music. That’s grounds for blood, sister.” She all but spat. “Now I want to see if you can actually back up those words.”

The woman actually seemed to smile at that last comment. “So here’s the deal. This is the town of Shira.” She began as she indicated to a dot on the map. “It’s about fourty clicks east of here along the coast.”

“A high-speed sprint there? Easy as.” Juanita scoffed.

“Which is why we’re not doing it.” The woman replied, putting her finger down on a junction in the road. “There’s a branch in the road here, at Akanah, with the branch heading down towards the ocean. It’s a narrow, winding road, cutting through a mix of forest and vineyards before it reaches Gaeriel bay. From there, it winds back up the mountain to rejoin the main road a few clicks shy of Shira. There’s a small bridge just outside of town – first one over it, wins.”

Juanita nodded as she took in the run of the course. “So it’s speed and driving skill. Nice.” She knew that the route outlined would be challenging at speed, especially given that there wouldn’t be much room to maneuver around any traffic that they may encounter. At the same time, she wasn’t going to back down or say no to the woman.

No, they’d set out a challenge and she was determined to take it up. She had something to prove – she wasn’t sure what, but definitely something – and was not going to back down until she’d shown this woman just how good she was. “One thing though.”

“What?”

“Loser buys lunch.” Juanita grinned. “And I should warn you, I’ve got quite the appetite.”

-----

As far as Antonin knew, there was at least one Javapulse Generator franchise on every planet in the Republic. A chain of coffee shops, they guaranteed consistency in their beverages and a wide variety, albeit a range that was standardized across every chain. You could go into a Javapulse Generator anywhere in the Republic and be assured of the same menu, the same range and the same quality.

Because of its role as the planet’s tourist capitol, there was a Javapulse Generator branch in Mountlake, occupying a piece of reasonably attractive real estate by the waterfront. From here, customers could sit and drink their beverages both out in the sun or inside in the safety of climate control while enjoying the view. Of course, that wasn’t the reason why he was here.

He sat himself down at a booth where a woman was already seated, reading a book while sipping some supposedly exotic blend of coffee that was just like one she could get on any other world. With her shoulder-length brown hair and brown eyes, she looked rather anonymous and easily missable. “Morning.” He began warmly, a mischievous smile on his face. “Nice day, isn’t it?”

The woman put down the book, a look that suggested a distinct lack of amusement on her face. “You’re late.” She began with a tone of weary restraint obvious in her voice.

“I’m sorry.” Antonin replied, his tone still light. “Was looking around, taking in the sights, planning on what I should do over the next few days.”

“Which is exactly why I wanted to speak to you.” The woman stated, flatly. “Because, the obviousness in your double-entendres aside, I know what you are up to. And I do not approve at all.”

“I see.” He nodded his head with a tone of almost casual dismissal. “It doesn’t bother you at all then, the new management around the place?”

“It bothers me a lot.” She continued. “But not as much as what you have been doing bothers me. Your last two trips both ended with a lot of noise and action, and certainly with a lot of mess”

“A lot of mess that saw the Republic’s government hold both worlds, in spite of what had happened there.” He was keeping his own tone neutral now, trying not to get defensive.

“That is maybe, but my concern is the how and why of those outcomes.” She continued. “Especially as it is clear that neither of your last two trips were taken alone.” She leaned closer. “Andrzej Slawski crops up on Mizar, and yet the damage has been done even before he engages the enemy. An enemy, might I just add, that was distracted by dealing with one of their own BattleMechs on a rampage. Odd that.”

“You can never tell what might happen.” He shrugged dismissively.

“And then there are your spending habits on these trips of yours.” The woman continued, not missing a beat. “There has been a lot of money flowing through Mister Yummy’s since Grey Monday, money being spent in a number of rather odd ways. More to the point, money that has clearly not been spent by you. There was a large amount being spent on Imbross while you were on Zollikofen. And that’s not before we count the cash movements beginning before the Blackout.”

“It’s a dangerous, cut-throat world in fast food.” Antonin suggested. “You never know when a Hot Dog Stand owner may need some money in a hurry.” Internally, he was wincing at how much his causal denials were sounding like the ones Juanita had given him in their first meeting, tantamount to an admission of guilt without actually saying anything.

She was clearly not amused. “And then you chose this planet. I have to wonder why.”

“Because there’s an IndustrialMech facility here that could be militarized.” Antonin stated, factually.

“Is it really that? Or is it because you have something specific to prove?” She gave a slight raised brow, the first hint of an expression she’d shown all meeting.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” It was a flat denial.

“I’m sure you do. And you should also know how that story ends.” The threat was there, but very subtle.

“So that’s it then?” He shot back. “Is my next assignment going to be my own personal Overlord? Are you going to send me to Pogata, maybe?”

“I’m not saying that.” She stated.

He cut her off. “So what you’re saying is that it’s better that nobody does anything about these groups and, instead, lets the Republic tear itself apart?” He was still keeping his tone neutral, but it was becoming an uphill battle to do such.

“An interesting claim, given that you were doing this before the HPGs came down.” She countered without even the slightest hint of satisfaction of victory in her voice. “But I am saying three things. The first is that what you are doing has not gone unnoticed. The second is that I am aware you have a partner and that we will find who it is. The third is to give this up and let the proper authorities handle it.”

“After all.” She finished as she stood. “The last thing this situation needs is some cowboy off on a personal crusade to redeem a fallen legacy or some other such silliness. I’m sure you understand.”

He winced at the final comment as she left, but remained quiet otherwise. He simply hoped that Juanita was sensible enough to follow his instructions and keep her head down.

-----

As she belted along the road out of Mountlake, Juanita had begun to appreciate that her ideas of a high-speed dash to Shira wouldn’t have worked anyway. The town wasn’t on the tourist route, which in turn had made the thoroughfare something dramatically other then expected. No sooner was she out of Mountlake then the broad four-lane flat straightaway had devolved into a winding two-lane road with poorly-defined edges, slowly climbing while it weaved through the coastal cliff sides.

And yet, it was just as enjoyable. She’d raced the scarred woman – she still had no idea of their name – from the takeoff in Mountlake, pressing her Phoenix for every ounce of power it could manage. The car had performed admirably, launching with a hungry, determined roar straight out. She’d taken an early lead over her rival, leaving them and their Hammerhead well behind.

SR Motors should so be paying me for a product endorsement right now.

The change in the road conditions had caught her by surprise; she’d bled off speed, letting the other woman catch and then pass her. She’d been handling her car with a comfortable confidence, suggesting that she already knew the route and knew about the changing conditions. It was something that shifted the balance of the race, but was nothing that Juanita knew she couldn’t overcome.

They’d hit the turn at Akanah with only seconds between them, a sharp corner on an intersection that had taken them both on a sudden downhill plunge. The instant they were out of town the conditions changed again. Now the road was even narrower, only just barely wide enough for two cars to pass side-by-side. It would make their competition just that much more challenging, giving them only limited opportunities to pass each other; whoever had the lead would have a commanding position, while the one behind would need to use every bit of skill they had.

She loved it.

This was not her kind of race. The drag races she’d started the day with, short, controlled, straight-line bursts of speed, those were her races. It was where she had started before she’d gotten into IndustrialMechs, taking part in illegal street races in whatever car she could boost. She was good at it – no, she was fantastic. Zoom-Zoom could make any car sing over the short strip, blowing people way in a Zizzin Tanto or a Stottlemeyer Standard or any crappy car you cared to name. Give her something good like a Phoenix and she was an unstoppable monster.

And yet, this woman was giving her a run for her money. Juanita had no idea if she was an experienced racer, or if she was just a naturally good driver. Certainly she seemed to be far more comfortable on the narrow, winding downhill path then Juanita was. Maybe she’d been here before, like she was a native or suchlike. Or maybe she just did more open-road driving then Juanita had. Either way, it made for a genuine challenge, one that she relished. Winning was important, but it was no fun if your opponent didn’t put up a fight. It made the victory that much sweeter. Of course, a crushing, one-sided win was always better then a loss.

Glancing around, she could see how much the scenery had changed. Away from the carefully maintained tourist fonts of Mountlake, things were quite different. Rather than neat, clipped grass gardens with well-maintained, carefully placed trees and shrubs, they were instead in a forest, trees growing up on either side of the road, making the edges of the pavement that extra bit rougher.

Another road joined this one, a van pulling in as they approached. Juanita took advantage of the situation, taking a risk and pulling out as the Hammerhead slowed to allow it to enter. With a triumphant cry, she shot out ahead of the pair of them, her Phoenix leaving both of them behind despite the protests from the van’s driver, delivered by its horn. It was only a temporary situation, a glance in her mirror showing the Hammerhead also passing the van and falling in close behind her.

She continued to press her advantage a little, flooring the Phoenix to use the most of the opportunity she had been given. The gap between the two cars grew as she pulled away, the engine roaring with power as the car accelerated. For the moment, the Hammerhead’s driver seemed content to let her gain some lead.

Her loss. Juanita kept the pedal down as she approached a bend, happy to get as much room as she could. She was only going to ease off a little, confident that she could take it easily. Instead, she found a broad SUV coming around in the opposite direction, towing a boat on a trailer. Hair-trigger reflexes cut in, Juanita slamming the breaks and pulling the car around with a screech of rubber. She was thrown against the car’s door by the force of the turn, the sound of gravel crunching under the wheels making it clear that she’d come off the road, while the wail of the SUV’s horn only added to the cacophony.

But she was still in control, and that was what counted. She slammed the pedal to the floor again, determined to regain lost speed and energy. The SUV swerved further, coming off the road on its side, the driver shouting at her as she shot straight past him. A glance in the rear-view saw him pulling again to get back on the road, unharmed but definitely annoyed.

And that’ll back up the Hammerhead a little, she thought, a laugh escaping her mouth as she did. It was a perfect situation to her mind; nobody got hurt, she got an advantage and her opponent was inconvenienced. She won. That was all she needed.

Instead, she saw the Hammerhead skid through the corner, barreling after her like it was on fire in an effort to make up lost distance, a cloud of dirt and gravel dissipating as it returned to the pavement. Ok, whoever she is, she’s either nuts, really good or both. Juanita took the hint, again pressing the accelerator for all it was worth, trying to open up some distance. The crest of a small hill took her into a long downhill stretch, allowing for a little gravity to add to her momentum.

But instead the Hammerhead kept coming, the driver relentless in her pursuit. The car bore down on hers, eating up the distance between the two of them. A sudden drop-away in the forest on one side yielded a pleasant, almost picturesque small church, something that went unnoticed as Juniata instead constantly flickered between road ahead and the view behind. A quick glance revealed a bend ahead, breaking from the long straight that had seen the intensity of their race increase.

And that’s where she’ll make her move. As soon as they were through the bend, the Hammerhead pulled out, trying to overtake her. No you don’t! A flick of the wheel saw her cut the other car off, remaining in front of it for an instant before both dropped back into their lane. A moment later, she pulled out again, Juanita once more cutting her off before they both retreated, a horn from a car passing in the other direction suggesting the wisdom of their move. A third attempt at overtaking was again cut off, the Hammerhead’s driver seemingly content to let it rest for the moment.

The road flattened out, Juanita leveling off the accelerator for the moment, knowing full well that she had the other driver bottled in. Instead, for a moment, she took a chance, looking around to see the world around her, to take in what had otherwise been a blur going past at high speed while she had been racing.

Juanita wasn’t disappointed. As if on cue, the forest pulled back, revealing a rather different view from what she’d been expecting, Instead of the trees or the scattered housing she’d barely acknowledged so far, there was a brilliant expanse of wide open, blue ocean stretching out in a broad arc before her, ending in the rocky headlands out in the distance. She quickly figured that this was Gaeriel bay, the rough mid-point of their race.

Despite herself, she couldn’t help but feel relaxed. It was quite the view, one that was worth the time to take in. She could see a small beachfront and several cars parked nearby, people in the water or simply relaxing. Juanita could understand why; it wasn’t a tourist beach and it wasn’t immediately accessible. Instead, it was quiet, pleasant and well off the beaten track. Certainly it was a place she could happily come back to when she wasn’t trying to win a race.

Trying to win a race. Crap.

The roar of the Hammerhead’s engine snapped her back to reality, the bright red muscle car pulling out beside her and then past her. Desperately she floored the accelerator, but the other driver was taking the fullest advantage of the situation. The car pulled ahead of her Phoenix, then deliberately slowed for a moment, cutting off Juanita from the other lane. For a moment, she wondered what the driver was up to, and then she saw it.

Ahead, a quartet of massive, ten-ton trucks were slowly lumbering up the road. The four military-grade transports seemed almost at odds with the peaceable surroundings. They also were hogging up the lane, limiting opportunities for her. And then she cuts me off, pinning me in place until we close before taking off and leaving me to fight with them. Clever. But not clever enough.

She eased off, letting her car drop back behind the Hammerhead before swerving into its lane. The other driver saw her move, clearly flooring her car and taking off as fast as possible, trying to pass the quartet of trucks before they ad to deal with any other traffic. Juanita wasn’t going to squander the chance, pressing the accelerator to the floor and closing in on the other car. Nobody gets the jump on me, nobody. Whether they’re in a car or some creep in a Black Knight, nobody does that to me.

What had happened on Mizar had been a defeat, in spite of the success of the operation. While the Band of Five had been driven off, she had failed in her own objective, to secure her own BattleMech. She hated defeat. She wasn’t going to even let a petty matter like this one count against her; no she was going to win, no questions asked.

The Hammerhead passed the lead truck, cutting back into the proper lane with an almost jaunty toot form the horn. To further annoy her, one of the truck drivers replied in kind, the louder bellow of the truck’s horn obvious. Putting it aside, she continued to push the car, falling in right on the Hammerhead’s tail. Now all she needed was a chance to close that gap and then regain the advantage she had lost.

To her frustration, the road began to climb again, the forest closing in as it narrowed even more, winding and twisting to a greater degree than it had on the way down. A quick glance at her map showed a far steeper climb on this side, the road opting for a switchback rather then a simple climb. It’d make for difficult driving at speed, and certainly limit opportunities to pass.

Clever, very clever, she thought to herself as she pushed as close to the Hammerhead as she could get. The other driver had played her well, maneuvering her into a disadvantageous position and then keeping her there. While they couldn’t have planned on the trucks being there, they had managed to use a situation to their advantage.

The drive uphill seemed to stretch on for an eternity as Juanita was forced to do nothing but sit on the Hammerhead’s tail, watching the driver intently for any mistake, any advantage she could take. Instead, their form was perfect, the woman surrendering nothing, giving no opportunity or opening. But there was one thing that made it even worse; this close to the other car, she could hear their car stereo blazing away, throwing her musical taste back in Juanita’s face, just as much as she had when this had all started.

And she hated it. And when I win, I’m gonna make you admit that your music sucks. It seemed so petty, so minor, and yet was all of a sudden just as important as anything else that had happened on the road here, as if by winning she proved that, in addition to being a better driver, she listened to better music.

They cut back onto the main road, approaching the final stretch to Shira, a mess of construction equipment evident as they did. Glancing around, Juanita took into account the work in progress. From the intersection back, it was the same quality of narrow road that they had been on for most of the run. But, form there forwards, it was a broad, flat stretch of brand new, glistening black, almost virgin four-lane bliss.

Road upgrades, something you hadn’t figured on. And something that puts me back in my home turf. Juanita yanked on the wheel, quickly cutting lanes as she pushed the accelerator as hard as she could, urging the Phoenix on with every last reserve of power it could spare. The car roared in reply, as if to state its own desire to outpace its opponent. Eating up the roadway, it closed on, then matched the Hammerhead,

“So what do you have to say to that, huh?” Juanita shouted, her voice full of elation at this victory. “Not so smart, are you?”

“Take on me.” The scarred woman simply replied.

Juanita took a moment to consider what she meant, then realized- the woman was singing along to the music in her car. Shaking her head, she continued to push the car, edging ahead of the Hammerhead. The car pulled in front for a moment, but then the Hammerhead closed in again, reducing that lead.

It was like the initial race, the paved straightaway drag where she had been at her best. Keeping the accelerator down, she made up the distance and then exceeded it, the Phoenix edging ahead of the Hammerhead bit by bit. Ahead, she could see their objective – the still unmodified, narrow bridge into Shira. And it was all hers. With a roar of the engine, the Phoenix leaped ahead as the Hammerhead’s driver admitted defeat, pulling back before being forced to merge lanes again, close behind her car but still behind it.

She had won, and all Juanita could do was laugh as she crossed the bridge.
Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #3 on: 10 February 2011, 18:16:40 »
To Anton’s not inconsiderable irritation, Juanita hadn’t answered her communicator when he had called her. It annoyed him as he’d given her strict instructions, ones that he figured she’d have no problem with. Have fun, go shopping on the expenses account, have a good time, stay out of trouble and wait for my call. That really wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?

On the other hand there had been no signs of disruption, no cars racing through crowded streets at dangerous speeds and sending tourists scurrying for cover, no Industrialmechs going on sudden rampages through upscale districts and no sudden mass movements of the local police and military forces. Their absence told him that she was keeping out of trouble, which suggested that she’d merely gotten distracted. The most likely theory was that she was listening to her personal music player, had it turned all the way up and had missed his call, again.

He’d have to have a word with her about that. Or, at the very least, try to get her to listen to something a bit less awful.

Fortunately, Anton had taken that much into consideration, He’d arranged an alternative, a pub they could meet at if, for some reason, she missed his call (or, the other option, that he was unable to make it). He’d picked one that was right on the water and offered nice views as well as cheap drinks, a combination of factors that he knew she’d be unable to resist.

He stepped in, surveying the room as he did. It was just at the beginning of the lunchtime rush, which meant that the place was already filling up quickly. He ran his eyes over those present, taking a quick examination of faces and forms, looking for any that he recognized. There were none, but that was not necessarily a good thing, however. It meant that if there was someone following him, it was someone that he hadn’t seen as yet, or had filed to observe them watching his movements. On the other hand, it also meant that there was nobody onto him who was yet confident enough to send him a direct message.

Unfortunately, it also meant that Juanita wasn’t here. Not showing even the slightest acknowledgement of the disappointment, he stepped in, finding a table by the waterfront that a waitress had just finished wiping down. She dropped him a menu with a pleasant smile; he nodded back in reply, shooting off a quick drink request. Simple waitress, clearly not giving any more attention then is needed to feign being nice to a customer. Harmless.

Glancing out over the water, he pulled out the communicator again, thumbing in her number. He was smart enough not to store it there, instead relying on his own memory. It was a simple safety precaution to minimize risk, one that he felt should be elementary. Unfortunately, either way, it wasn’t paying off for him as she still wasn’t answering. With the slightest of twitches, he closed the call and put the communicator away.

What’s she up to? He wondered. When she was bored or wanted to lash out, Juanita tended towards public and spectacular displays. However, he also knew that she was more than capable of being subtle and sneaky when she wanted to be. He wasn’t sure if the lack of public spectacle was a relief or should be even more worrying.

She didn’t know about Juanita. Antonin continued to think over matters, considering what had been said in his meeting at the JavaPulse Generator. She had her suspicion that I had a partner, yes, but if she knew who it was she’d have said it. I should be able to eliminate her as a threat; of course, she shouldn’t be one to begin with.

“Here you go.” The waitress disrupted his train of thought, dropping his drink off. “Can I get you something else?”

He glanced at the menu for a second. “How about a bowl of chips to start with?” Anton finally replied. “I’ll see how I’m doing from there.” A part of him suspected he might be here a while.

-----

Juanita had been pleasantly surprised when the scarred woman had agreed to her victory conditions. Given the circumstances that they met under, she expected angry defiance, accusations of cheating or something else to that effect. Instead, she’d thanked Juanita for a race well run and agreed to buy the pair of them lunch.

They’d found a pleasant pub in Shira, halfway up a hill with an eventual view down to the ocean from there. It wasn’t the most flashy of places, certainly not a patch on the fancy, neat and polished tourist pubs in Moutlake, but it was far from charmless either. Breezy, open and rustic without being tacky about it, it offered cool breezes, nice views and, as she was very happy to discover, great food.

“So then”, Juanita began between bites from her massive burger, “if Death to the Reverse Side is crap, then what do you recommend?”

The woman took a swig from her drink – a simple lemonade in contrast to Juanita’s flashy import beer – before replying, a thoughtful look on her face. “Well, by the fact that you were listening to it, I assume you like crap metal, right?”

Juanita should have rankled at the frank assessment of her musical tastes, but chose not to. Taken back from angry accusations and obvious annoyance at anyone entering her personal body space (something that Juanita suspected was a kilometer or two around), the scarred woman seemed to be actually decent company. True, she also looked like she could snap Juanita’s neck without effort and the collection of tattoos helped to suggest that it wasn’t outside the realms of possibility, but for the moment, she seemed nice enough. Besides, practical experience had told Juanita to play nice with people bigger then you, especially when they were paying for lunch.

“Yeah, I guess.” She admitted. “I grew up on Huge Empty Land, then moved to other ‘genre’ bands, but I guess Death is current big thing. Though since their lead guitar dropped off when the HPGs went down, I guess that’s it for them.” She gave the slightest of shrugs. “That Nowen guy was good. They made him their front for a reason.”

“He’s over-rated.” The woman shot back. “The whole Neo-Reconstructionalist Metal movement was a bit much, really. All try-hards and wannabes, acting the part to extreme. You know, trashing hotel rooms, indulging in cheap whores and barnyard animals for the look of it, that kind of stuff. It’s superficial and shallow and, to me, an insult to the great crap metal bands of the past.”

“So then.” Juanita leaned close, genuine curiosity on her face. “What would you call a ‘great crap’ band?”

“Hmm.” She chewed on a chip for a moment. “Well, if you ask me, the greatest crap metal band would have to have been Warhorse.”

Juanita coked her head for a second. “Warhorse? Wasn’t that a bunch of Clanners who were more metal then metal?”

“That’s them.”

The woman gave a smirk that served only to twist her scar a little. Juanita had been wondering what had yielded such a neat yet stark horizontal line, but had also been afraid to bring the subject up, figuring that it was more then a little touchy and certainly not something you dropped into casual conversation with a complete stranger. On the other hand, anything she could have done to hide it probably would have made her even more conspicuous.

“Warhorse were a group of trueborn Hells Horses warriors, ones who had found that they had a talent for music, after a fashion.” The woman continued. “It’s weird when you think about their background, but they seemed to really have the ‘crap metal’ mindset down. On the other hand, you look at the clanner lifestyle, especially during the Jihad, and you can see how they’d have plenty of material to work from.”

“Generally, Warhorse was a mix of bombastic loudness and fantasy metal; they had a lot of stuff about slaying dragons and riding on flaming metal horses and the like. That sort of epic, crap metal material.”

“You’re right.” Juanita scoffed. “I have no idea how a bunch of Hells Horses warriors would think of that.” She took a swig from her beer, finishing the bottle. By comparison, the other woman hadn’t had anything alcoholic and had been rather adamant about it. “So where would you recommend I start?”

“Skip their first couple of albums.” She suggested. “I’d go for Hellstar myself; it’s got some of their best material on it. And as a bonus, it’s easy to find.”

“Sounds good to me.” Juanita sat up again. “So speaking of crap music, what was that stuff you were singing along to?”

The woman gave a small snorting laugh. “That’s a different brand of crap altogether. Twelve hundred year-old pop, if you can believe it. Trust me; it’s not for the casual listener.”

“Makes sense.” To her mind, listening any band that was gone before she was born was a waste of time. Listening to one that pre-dated interstellar travel seemed pointless. “With that being said, for your crap taste in music, you handle a car well.”

“Not well enough.” The woman shot back. “You beat me well and good.”

“Paved straightaway drag.” Juanita explained. “My native turf. You had out-smarted me for much of the race; I only won because I had a final mad dash on my home ground.”

“So you’re good at that. I’ll grant you that much.”

She gave a confident smirk in reply. “You are looking at the most infamous, most wanted street race on all of Poznan. Give me a flat stretch of good quality road and I could smoke you in a wheelbarrow.”

“So why aren’t you there?” The question was accompanied with a raised brow and a genuine curiosity.

She was caught short for a second. “I diversified.” Juanita finally answered. “Looked for other options. Street racing loses its appeal when you always win.” It was the truth, or at least, the truth with a lot of stretching. “And with that, I need to take a leak.” She admitted, standing.

“You trust me to look after your stuff?” The woman looked up at her.

“We talked racing and music. At this point you’re practically a blood relative.” Juanita finished as she walked off.

No sooner was Juanita out of the room then her personal communicator began beeping. Noting that she hadn’t returned, the scarred woman picked it up, noting that the call was coming from someone labeled as ‘ponytail’. Waiting for it to finish ringing, she took the opportunity to examine the phone book, smiling as she noted that there were only two stored numbers – and taking note of both.

-----

Antonin closed the communicator, putting it away again. Still nothing. What’s she up to?

-----

After lunch, Juanita was just the slightest bit tipsy from the copious amounts of beer she had imbued with her meal. Not enough to be crippling, but enough to show in the way she was carrying on. A bit of a sway in her step, a hair too loud in her voice; even by her own standards, she was boisterous and noisy.

The pair of them were walking over the bridge, Juanita taking a little bit of time to cool off and regain her senses before she started driving back to Mountlake. She’d thoroughly enjoyed the meal, though, something she wouldn’t hesitate to admit. That the other woman had paid for it, including the drinks, had only made it that much sweeter. Of course, if somebody else was paying for the drinks, she would naturally abuse the deal for all it was worth.

For all that, Juanita couldn’t help but feel that there was something she was meant to be doing, some place she was meant to be. It had been a fantastic day so far – shopping, a car race and an awesome lunch – but there was that feeling that she had forgotten something, that she was meant to be doing something else.

“You know, given that you nearly ripped my head off for accidentally bumping me, you ain’t that bad a person.” Juanita admitted as the pair of them walked onto the bridge. “Even if you totally over-reacted.”

The scarred woman shrugged. “I’d had a pissy morning.” She simply stated. “So I lashed out at the first person to annoy me. You were there. It happens.”

“What had-“ Juanita began to reply, but trailed off.

“Something wrong?”

She cocked her head. “Thought I heard something,” Stopping in the middle of the bridge, she began to look around, searching the area of something unknowable that she still was certain was there, just waiting to be discovered. “Definitely something.”

“Definitely something?” The woman gave a derisive snort in reply. “You sure that isn’t just all the beer talking?”

“I know it ain’t.” She shook her head. “There’s something going on here, something definitely amiss.” Placing her hands on the railing, she looked out from the bridge to what was before her. The town of Shira continued a little way down the cliff, most but not all of it on one side of the river the bridge crossed. A mixture of low houses and trees with the odd bit of road dominated the view until the point where the land met sea, and water stretched off over the horizon.

“Maybe it’s those Clan try-hards then.” The woman stated. “Maybe that’s getting to you.”

“Just… shh. I’m thinking.” She waved a dismissive hand at her ersatz companion. The other woman simply sighed, stopping in the middle of the bridge.

Below she could see something moving; a team of men on foot, moving in formation. Soldiers? She asked herself. But who’s? And why are they out here? For a moment, she wondered if they may not be some sort of crazy-arse clan over-reaction to a pair of illegal street racers, but then dismissed it. Clanners aren’t that nuts.

Something else entered here field of vision, a six-wheeled military truck like one of the ones she’d seen on the road here. In fact, she figured that it might have even been one of the same trucks that she’d passed. “Hey, whatever your name is.” She shot out as she watched the truck stop on a road lower down the hill. “It’s your friends from the trip here.”

“What?”

“You know, those army trucks you tried to jam me behind.” She shot back, studying the vehicle. It had stopped, the soldiers surrounding it while some of them were stripping off the covering over its flatbed and the cargo it was carrying. The design of the vehicle, specifically the way it was loaded, seemed very familiar all of a sudden, and she was trying to think why.

“The hell?” The woman called out, strangely surprised by this turn of events. She stumbled over to the edge of the bridge, looking down at the truck. “What are they doing here?”

“They are…” Juanita wanted to reply, but then stopped as she realized where the truck’s configuration was familiar from. She’d seen similar vehicles on Imbross as a part of the force that had tried to seize the capitol. Which meant that under the tarp was likely a LRM launcher. “Crap!” She yelled out. “It’s an attack!”

As if it was trying to underscore the fact, the back of the truck erupted into a spectacular wreath of smoke and flames as a flight of missiles leaped from its back, sailing into the air and arcing out of sight. Moments later the sound of explosions filled the air as the missiles struck their unseen target.

“We have to get-“ both of them began at the same time, each looking at the other before being cut off by the blaring of a horn. A second truck barreled across the bridge, the wake from its passing kicking up debris from the road and battering the two women. However, as Juanita turned around to search for the target of this seemingly random attack, it wasn’t the truck that caught her attention.

A pair of mechs were advancing towards the bridge that the truck had just barreled over, irrespective of the people on it. The pair of them were painted mostly brown with a silver trim, but that seemed to be all they had in common. The closer and the smaller of the two was a design she didn’t recongise, a slender light BattleMech carrying a hammer in one hand.

The second machine she could identify, a heavy Lumberjack ForestryMech that clearly had been modified for combat. Its twin cargo hoppers had been removed, replaced with a pair of missile launchers that gave the machine a hunchbacked appearance, its cockpit all but vanishing under the weapons. For a moment, she could clearly see the machine before its upper half was enveloped in a cloud of smoke and flames.

“Down!” She called out as a score of missiles leaped out of the launchers, heading towards the truck but also clearly falling short. As she hit the ground, the bridge shook as missiles slammed into the roadway, the heat of the blasts washing over her while the force of the explosions slammed her sideways into the railing. There was a sudden, sharp blow as her head was forcefully slammed into the metal of the fence, followed by a moment of blackness.

She shook her head, trying to shake off the spots that were swimming before her eyes, looking around to see what had happened. The bridge right in front of her was ripped in half, the roadway all but destroyed by the impacts of the weapons. However, more important than the lack of bridge was that there was no sign of the woman who had been there a moment ago.

“Hey! Down here!” Her voice yelled out, catching Juanita’s attention straight away. She leaped forward, running over to the yawning chasm in the bridge regardless of her own safety. Grabbing a hold of the end of the fence, she looked down, seeing the woman hanging by one hand from the end of a twisted support, her feet dangling well above the shallow river and large rocks that were at least ten meters below. Despite the situation, her eyes and face suggested a determined anger, rather then the fear that would consume most people.

“Hold on!” Juanita shot back as she kneeled down, extending her arm while the other clenched onto the railing with all her strength. Right now, she didn’t care about what was going on around her, instead focused on rescuing the woman from certain death.

“Like I have a choice!” The woman shot back, trying to swing her other arm up while maintaining her death grip. Her hand wrapped around Juanita’s wrist, grabbing it with a strength and intensity that couldn’t have been more obvious, her fingers digging into Juanita’s skin.

“Right!” She gave a grunt as she pulled upwards with all her strength, trying to haul the woman back from the abyss. It wasn’t easy; she was heavier than expected, a massive weight of muscle. Juanita became suddenly and acutely aware of how much bigger the woman was as she strained under the weight, putting every ounce of her being into moving them to safety.

Slowly but surely it pulled off, Juanita managing a backwards step as she pulled the woman upwards. Her other hand grabbed onto the edge of the shattered roadway, fingers finding purchase despite the precipitous situation. With agonizing slowness, Juanita backed up, pulling her up over the edge and onto the bridge.

The woman managed to swing herself up, barely managing to get her body onto the bridge before shouting out. “Down!” she yelled, the tone and urgency obvious in her voice. Juanita didn’t need to be told twice, hitting the roadway just as she heard a roaring noise behind her. A second later, the smaller BattleMech soared over the gap in the ruined bridge on its jump jets, landing on the far side before bursting into a run.

“Damn try-hard clanners.” The woman muttered as she finally looked up, She was clearly scuffed and annoyed, but apparently unharmed. “Nearly killed the pair of us.”

Juanita glanced back at the Lumberjack, the pilot of which was clearly looking for a way around the ruined bridge. “Feeling vengeful?” She asked, a smirk on her face.

“Very.” The woman replied, the tone in her voice suggesting that this was no idle comment or defiant boast. No, it said to Juanita that they were genuinely angry, that they wanted to get back at the people who had just almost killed them with casual disregard.

“Good. Because I have a crazy idea.”

-----
Minutes later they were in the Hammerhead, barreling through the streets of Shira at high speed. The scarred woman was in the driver’s seat, fixed on the road with a fierce, almost predatory intensity. Beside her, Juanita was in the passenger seat, her pack on her lap as she dug through it. Around them there were obvious signs of damage to the town, with stray missiles having gouged chunks out of both the road and the ground around it, while houses sported gaps in roofs, shattered windows and holed walls.

“This is crazy, you know that?” The woman stated. “I assume you’ve done this before?”

“Before?” Juanita all but laughed in reply. “I do this for a living. Just get me as close as you can to the Lumberjack and I’ll do the rest. Though, for your own safety, I’d recommend getting as far away from it as possible once I’m done.”

“And how will I know when that is?”

“Trust me, you’ll know.” Juanita finished with a smirk as they skidded around an impossibly tight bend, the Hammerhead taking it with the utmost precision. Ahead of her, she could see the lumbering form of the heavy IndustrialMech, the huge, brown painted machine heading up the road, its back to them and its pilot seemingly unaware of the pair of madwomen bearing down on him.

“Just keep on this course.” She continued as she stood, bracing her hand on the windscreen as she hefted her pack onto her back. Once done, her free hand grabbed hold of her Maghook, making sure that the tool was secured around her hand. Her eyes focused on the massive Industrialmech as the car closed on it, the machine looming over her as they passed by one side. “Now!”

She fired the Maghook, the head of the weapon launching upwards towards the machine, its cable snaking out behind it. The head latched onto the machine’s shoulder, a quick tug telling her that it was secure. Hitting the recall button, she was yanked out of the Hammerhead, launching into the air on the side of the machine. “Go!” Juanita called as she took off, leaving the red car behind to pull away, glancing back one last time as it braked and turned away at speed.

Returning to the task at hand, she swung her feet up to brace herself, coming to a crouching halt against the Lumberjack’s shoulder. Despite the mech’s movement, she found herself secure, enough to risk reaching out and grabbing hold of the shoulder plate. Now came the riskiest part, the point where one mistake could end her career and her life.

The Lumberjack’s design worked against her here; the mech had a broad torso and a recessed head, while the dumpsters – and the LRMs that had replaced them – covered the tops of the shoulders. It meant that she had only the most minimal of access to use, and no easy way to get across. Instead, she took a more dangerous but potentially rewarding approach. Hauling herself up on the mech’s shoulder, she detached the Maghook, then fired it again, the head latching onto the chest just below the cockpit hatch.

Perfect. Juanita made the leap of faith, swinging off the side of the shoulder, letting herself fall down and across the machine’s chest, kicking off with her feet when momentum threatened to slam her into the mech’s armoured hull. She stopped short, winching in the cable to bring herself up to right below the canopy.

A quick exploration told her that the Wolf warrior inside had enough faith in his abilities (or was straight out suicidal) that he had securely locked the cockpit from the inside. On an industrial it was always a risk; lacking an ejection system, it meant that the only way out in an emergency was to clamber out of the cockpit. In a battle, the seconds it took to open the lock could be the difference between life and death.

She’d factored this in when she’d thrown this assault together; reaching into a pocket, she removed a small, sealed plastic baggie, ripping it open with her teeth. Her fingers gingerly worked the contents, a small grey blob, free before slapping it onto the lock and pressing a button on the small electronic panel on its back. A second later, she reeled out the maghook’s line, dropping down to the Lumberjack’s waist.

It was bad enough that she was carrying her main mech-stealing tool with her while she was meant to be relaxing and taking it easy. The small explosives used to open stubborn locks were just plain inexplicable. She’d justified it to herself by saying that she wanted to be prepared for any emergency, but the truth simply was that she never overlooked an opportunity to steal people’s stuff.

The charge detonated, the lock vanishing in a puff of smoke that was the signal to her to reel herself in. As soon as she reached the base of the cockpit, she grabbed hold of it, yanking it open. Without the lock, the canopy swung open with ease, Juanita wasting no time in swinging upwards into the mech’s interior.

“Consider this a trial of possession for your mech, Clanner!” She called out as she slammed her feet into the Mechwarrior’s chest. Stunned or confused by the explosion, he was caught off-balance and slammed into the back of the seat, his head bouncing off the chair with a loud thud. She took a look at the man, young, muscular and sporting a recently-shaved head as she tried to shake off the attack, trying his best to strike back.

He lashed out at her, but his fist met her foot, slamming it into the wall of the cockpit. The other one slammed into his harness, the heel slamming the emergency release button and driving the buckle into his chest with an explosive whumph of escaping breath that doubled him over. Swinging around again, she simply shoved him out of the seat and the cockpit.

Don’t look down, she thought to herself as she took the seat, fastening the harness as she pulled the canopy shut, trying to keep the fate of the man she had just ejected out of her mind. Focus on the machine, and see what it can do.

-----

Despite Juanita’s orders, the scarred woman had kept close to the Lumberjack, just to see if their desperate attack had been successful. While the young woman had vanished behind the bulk of the mech, she did see the figure plunge from the machine and slam into the ground, even the quickest of glances telling her that it was not the same person.

Turning the Hammerhead away, she floored the car as she headed into Shira, getting as far from the battle as possible, while reflecting on what had just happened. When Juanita had come up with her crazy plan, it was the last thing she had expected. Only someone who was insane, suicidal or really, really knew what they were doing would have suggested it, and only a true professional would have the knowledge and tools on hand to make it possible.

Considering that her bumping into the woman in the store was an accident and then encountering her again at the lights was pure coincidence, she realized that fortune was treating her rather well. As the car pulled away, she flicked on her personal communicator, punching in a number. “Hey, it’s me.” She began as soon as the other end picked up. “We just had an unexpected development, but one that I think you might like.” The woman glanced into the rear view, watching the Lumberjack as it vanished into the distance, a confident smile on her face. “You won’t believe who I just found.”
Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



Whenever you use terms like 'fiat' or 'stupid pills', you render your argument invalid

How to Draw MegaMek Icons the Deadborder Way

Deadborder

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #4 on: 10 February 2011, 18:21:07 »
The Lumberjack had been modified by combat, but even the most cursory inspection of the controls told Juanita that it was a professional job, possibly even done at the original factory. The mech sported a military-grade fire control system, tied into a pair of ten-tube long range missile launchers that had replaced the mech’s cargo hoppers. Similarly, the lift hoist had been replaced with a pair of machine guns; the only remnant of its original utility was the chainsaw that replaced its right hand, and it was obvious why that had been retained.

A tap of the damage display also told her that the machine was sporting heavy armour, probably either military-grade or, at the very least, heavy industrial stuff that would protect it from all but the most powerful of weapons. The integration of these systems was flawless, just as good if not better then the Crosscut she’d used on Imbross or the Carbine that Ponytail had trained her on. Now to put it all to work.

One of the displays was registering the positions of the other mech, one tagged under the ID of Alpha Prime Five. It also gave the locations of a couple of the modified cargo trucks which had scattered to the four winds. No doubt that was their plan, get in, cause chaos, draw out the defenders and then get away before anyone could get too organized. She wondered if anyone on the battlefield had expected this.

Well, Ponytail was here for the Wolves. Let’s open the account. She pushed the Lumberjack forward, the mech striding forward at an even fifty-five kilometers per hour. The crunch of its feet on the pavement reverberated in the cockpit, the road below her clearly never having been designed for a heavy mech.

Up ahead, she could see the other mech, identified by her system as a Mjolnir, chasing down one of the trucks. It was above her on the same road she had driven in on, somewhat obscured for the moment. Twisting the controls, she drove the Lumberjack up the hill, the machine’s heavy feet gouging into the slope as it climbed to meet its smaller compatriot.

She dropped the sights onto the smaller mech, the heads-up display flashing a warming that the target was friendly. Juanita straight out ignored it as the system gave her a missile lock-on regardless. With a squeeze of the trigger, a score of missiles leaped from the Lumbejack’s back, heat and fumes washing into the cockpit as they did. Ignoring that for the moment, she wanted to see what happened.

A dozen missiles slammed into the Mjolnir, peppering its back and shoulders with fire. The smaller machine wavered on its feet, then spun around, its hammer-like mace raised. “Are you crazy, Bravo Lead?” A woman called over their comms channel, her voice full of anger. “Why are you firing on me?”

As if to provide an answer, the truck she had been chasing skidded through as sharp a turn as it could, its crew clearly seeing an opportunity. The LRM launcher on its back spewed forth a load of missiles, shots again slamming into the Mjolnir’s back. “Treachery!” She all but screeched. “So you are in league with these bandits?”

Quickly throwing the Lumberjack into reverse, Juanita pulled back to keep her missiles at optimal range before firing again. More warheads slammed into the smaller mech, ripping armour from its chest and legs. While it remained standing, the smaller mech was clearly wounded, its light armour not able to stand up to the punishment Juanita was dishing out.

For their part, the Wolf Mechwarrior seemed to be measuring up the odds. They were in a true BattleMech as opposed to Juanita’s Industrial Mod, but it was an Industrial Mod that weight almost three times as much as their machine. Finally, having realized the depth of their situation, they fired the mech’s Jump Jets, leaping up the hill and out of Juanita’s line of sight.

A glance at her tactical display told her that they were running, rather than jockeying for position. “I will report your actions to the Star Colonel, whelp.” The woman spat over the channel. “We will bring justice for your crimes!”

“Whatever.” She muttered to herself, instead watching the missile-armed truck. The crew had decided not to press their luck, turning and escaping while they had the chance. Internally, she was trying to asses the situation – the trucks were similar to those that she’d seen on Imbross, making her wonder if they were being used by the same people.

The sudden and urgent beep of her communicator suddenly cut into her thoughts, Juanita reaching for it as if by instinct.

-----

Antonin had been watching his communicator like a hawk while tying to act casual, like a tourist who was taking his time. He’d given a brush-off to a waitress, saying that he was meeting someone and that they were late, followed by another drink order. The truth was that he had no idea what was going on; Juanita wasn’t answering her communicator and had made no effort to contact him, while at the same time, had also missed their rendezvous.

His mind was examining the possible scenarios. The first was that she had gotten intro trouble with the Steel Wolves and been arrested or captured. While it was the most obvious, he also doubted it simply because of the lack of immediate signs of her brand of trouble. He’d read her record and seen her in action enough to know what to look for; when she did something, there was no doing it by halves. And anything that would have the Wolves down on her would almost certainly be noticeable.

Which left him with another thought. The woman he’d spoken to earlier suspected he had a partner, but didn’t seem to know who they were. Of course, she could have found Juanita, or could have just been playing him along to test his reactions. And while he didn’t suspect that they’d do something overtly hostile – at least, not yet – he couldn’t rule it out.

As he tried to analyze the situation, he heard people in the bar shouting, demanding something. Looking inside, he could see one of the bar staff turning up the volume on a tri-vid display hanging over the bar. More to the point, he could see what was on the screen and had so caught their attention. It looked to be some sort of news broadcast, the screen depicting a scene which looked like it was not too far from Mountlake. While the pictures were shaky and out of focus, no doubt amateur footage, he could make out a Lumberjack, wearing the colours of the Steel Wolves. The lumbering machine turned towards another Wolf mech, then unleashed a flight of missiles at it.

The commentators were trying to explain what was going on, suggesting a Clan trial that had blown out of control, while others at the bar were adding their own shouted ideas. However, Antonin could name one very good reason why one Wolf mech, specifically an Industrial Mod, would turn on another.

With a newfound sense of urgency, he punched Juanita’s number into the communicator again.

-----

Juanita had turned the Lumberjack away from Shira, slowly instead tromping down the hills back towards Gaeriel bay. In truth, she had very little idea what she was going to do next; unlike the last two times, stealing this mech had been a purely spontaneous act, one that was not a part of a greater overall plan. Now she had seventy tons of more-or-less combat-worthy machinery at her disposal, and no real idea what to do with it.

Retreating towards the bay was the closest thing she had now to a plan. It meant that, at the very least, if more Steel Wolf mechs came after her, she’d be fighting away from a population centre. Or, if all else failed, she could ditch the machine and steal a ride back to Shira and reclaim her car. Various possibilities were running through her mind, all of which were suddenly thrown off by the sound of her personal communicator beeping at her.

She grabbed the device, realizing that she had been ingoing it all day so far. This is going to be Ponytail, and he is not going to be happy, she realized as she opened it up. No sense in avoiding the inevitable, I suppose. “Hey there.” Juanita began with a cheerful tone, hoping to get things off to a cheerful start before the bollocking that she knew was coming.

“I saw your work in Shira, the same sort of work you did on Mizar and Imbross.” The voice on the other end replied. It was deep and gravelly, one that she had very distinctly heard before. It was the voice of the Black Knight pilot who had disabled her mech on Mizar and nearly killed her.

She swallowed loudly, her exuberance and excitement evaporating, replaced with a sudden fear. She had no idea who this man was, what he was doing on this world or how he had found her, but yet, he had managed to figure out who she was. Maybe he had seen her steal the Lumberjack, or maybe one of the truck drivers had reported it to them. But they had obviously figured out what happened on those two worlds and made a logical connection.

Juanita should have been flattered at his recognition of her work, instead she was struggling to keep her sudden fear under control. “What… what do you want?” She managed at last, determined to regain some control of the situation.

“When we last met, I made you an offer.” The man continued. “To work for us, to lend us your unique talents. I extend that offer to you again, and this time without the pressure of certain death if you refuse. It is entirely your choice to make.”

“And what do I get from this?” She shot back.

“What I know you want.” He stated. “What someone who steals BattleMechs for a living could desire most. Wealth and power…” The voice trailed off for a moment. “And a BattleMech of your own.”

Her face erupted in a broad grin, her fear replaced by a sudden combination of desire and greed. “Now I’m interested. Tell me more.”

-----

With Juanita not answering her communicator, Antonin had decided to break from the plan and abandon the pub rendezvous. Instead, he had made his way back to the hotel room he’d rented for her when they had arrived two days ago. He’d kept a copy of the key, stepping into the room like he owned the place.

A quick search had made it clear that she hadn’t been in the room since that morning. Nothing was obviously missing, with most of her small collection of clothes and personal possessions that she bought with her while travelling still present. Certainly there was enough to say that she hadn’t checked herself out. However, it still left far too many options open.

He’d then moved on; checking in with the groundcar rentals revealed that she hadn’t returned the Phoenix, nor had she opted to extend her rental. They’d simply had no contact with her since she rented the car, and certainly assumed that she was intending to stick to the agreement she’d made at the time with no reason to think otherwise.

Which left him with one last immediate resource to check. When they’d arrived on-world, he’d rented a large storage locker at the spaceport for her bulkier items, the ones that she wouldn’t need while posing as a tourist but may yet have needed should they go to work. He’d gone straight there, checking it over to see if anything was missing, if there was something unaccounted for that might give him a clue as to what she was up to.

Most of it was there; the Theodolite ATV, the camo clothing, the surveillance equipment and so forth. However, there were four things missing which, between them, represented the single biggest and most worrying absence. He’d almost expected her to keep the Maghook on-hand; after all, it was a tool she’d been using since before he had met her. But in combination with the Neurohelmet, the codebreaker and the collection of specialized entry tools it represented a severe threat.

There was only one conclusion that he could reach; she had gone rouge, striking out on her own in a private operation. As he examined the possibilities, he recalled something the woman he’d met earlier that day had said. The last thing this situation needs is some cowboy off on a personal crusade.

-----


It had taken Juanita the better part of an hour to drive the Lumberjack through the forest to the map reference that the mysterious voice had given her. She had no idea what to expect, but what she found didn’t surprise her either. A clearing, once the site of a vineyard but now little more then a few collapsed buildings, now dominated by the looming form of a massive King Karnov transport VTOL.

The huge machine bore the markings of a local transport company, but the soldiers surrounding it were clearly military, clad in tan fatigues and armed with assault rifles. A third incongruity was her rented Phoenix, the bright yellow car parked near one of the collapsed buildings, its boot open. She’d requested that they collect the car, simply for what she’d stashed in it. While she’d kept the Maghook and her lockpicking tools in her pack, she’d also made sure that the all-important Neurohelmet and the codebreaker would be at her disposal.

“Juanita Kwan?” A voice called up at her. Glancing around, she could see it was a man dressed in a jumpsuit, insignias suggesting he was the craft’s loadmaster. “We have your items. Power down the mech and we’ll load it up and then get out of here.”

This is it. No turning back now. She’d had plenty of time to think about this, to consider the options and analyze the situation. She’d done so much for Antonin, and he’d provided him with so much in teturn. But yet, at the same time, there was only so much she could do under his supervision, acting as his agent. She’d learned a lot about the Band of Five in her dealings with them, seeing what they were capable of and the acts they had committed since emerging after the HPG Blackout.

However, she could see one other thing in the Band, the thing that had driven her to this point. Opportunity. That was why she was here, why she had followed the offer from the mysterious man, someone who she could only assume she’d meet eventually. There was curiosity, the desire to learn more about him and how he knew about her. But beyond that, there was that one simple desire. They offered her more, and she intended to take it.

“I’m ready.” She replied. “Let’s get going”
Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



Whenever you use terms like 'fiat' or 'stupid pills', you render your argument invalid

How to Draw MegaMek Icons the Deadborder Way

Deadborder

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #5 on: 11 February 2011, 18:56:25 »
This next part was going to be the first "new" section posted on the old board before it Went Asplodey. Instead, I sat on it a bit while finishing up the fic and re-posting on the new boards. Hope it was worth some of the wait. Enjoy!

-----

Perenolde Valley, Naramo
Mara, Prefecture III
Republic of the Sphere
1 July 3133



While the King Karnov was made for long-range flights, it was far from the fastest aircraft around, especially not while hauling a seventy-ton IndustrialMech in its bay. For Juanita, the long stay in the craft’s small and cramped passenger section had been long and unpleasant, certainly far from the most comfortable trip she’d ever taken. That she had so much to think over only made it worse, resulting in her having had very little sleep during the flight.

It was tempting to say that the decision to take the mystery man – she didn’t even have a name for him – up on his offer had been a spur of moment one, fueled by the adrenaline high she’d been on at the time. However, there had been more to it than that. He promised her what she really wanted, her desire for power, wealth, prestige and, above all else, a Battlemech with which she could secure all else. It wasn’t hard to make the choice.

She just wondered about what Antonin was doing now; he’d promised her a lot and, in truth, had made her life a lot better for the deal. However, he’d also failed to deliver on the one key thing she wanted above all else, the one thing that, more then anything else, had sealed the deal for her. The mystery man had made the same offer, but without the veneer of legality or responsibility that Antonin spoke with. That one key difference had been all that she had needed.

Glancing out the window, Juanita was momentarily taken aback by what she saw outside. Instead of the pleasant hills and coastal waters she’d been taking in earlier, the vista before her was of mountains covered with snow. She could see that the craft was descending passing over a thick forest of pine-like trees, liberally dusted, the greens vanishing under a layer of white. It was completely different to what she had seen of the world thus far, making her wonder what they were here for.

Just as abruptly, the forest gave way to an unexpected development, a vast, open expanse of bare earth and concrete, punctuated by what looked like several run-down industrial buildings. As the craft stopped, coming in for a VTOL landing, she saw something else come into view which completely changed her perspective on matters. It was a trio of parked Dropships; two spheroid and a smaller aerodyne, one of which was clearly an armed military model.

With the slightest of bumps, the King Karnov touched down, the drone of its engines winding down as soon as it seemed settled. One of the crew nodded to her as he went past, the closest she was going to get to any service. Shrugging to herself, she collected her pack and clambered out of her seat, heading towards the passenger exit. She had no idea what to expect on the way out, but there was no sense in delaying the inevitable.

As she stepped out onto the ladder, she heard a voice calling her name. Glancing down she was genuinely surprised at what she saw, even allowing for the situation. There was a man with long blond hair, one who she easily recongised despite the heavy coat and fatigues he was dressed in. Nero Nowen, the lead vocals for Death to the Reverse Side. I was being bagged out for liking him just yesterday and here he is in person today. Does it get weirder?

Juanita descended the ladder, noting the insignia on the man’s coat. It was just what she’d expected, the black handprint on the red field, the same insignia she’d seen on both Imbross and Mizar. “That’s me” She finally managed as she approached, not sure what to make of the situation. “And so I’m going to have to ask, what’s a big star like you doing out here in the middle of a place like this?”

Glancing around, she could see that the long-deserted mining complex was a centre of activity. Technical personnel were working on unloading BattleMechs and combat vehicles from the craft, readying them for battle. As near as she could tell, she’d just flown into the staging ground for an invasion of the world and volunteered to be a part of it.

“Long story, Juanita.” He replied, flashing her a magazine-cover smile. “But I’m here to get you in on the whole situation and to provide a welcome to the Band of Five.”

“I’ve heard that name before.” She stated, looking around and taking in details. The armed Spheroid and the smaller aerodyne bore an insignia she didn’t recongise, a shortsword with gold wings on a red field. Worth remembering that. See if I can find out more. Conversely, the second Spheroid, clearly a civilian model, bore no markings beyond what one would expect for a civil-registered ship. False flags ahoy.

“As I’d expect, given your past with us.” He stated, his tone still friendly as the pair of them walked towards the second Spheroid ship. “That’s how we knew you, Juanita. Your work is rather distinctive, and it’s clear that you have a lot of talent. Frankly, we could use someone like you.”

“Sure. And where’s the guy who I spoke to?” She shot back. “Deep, gravelly voice, ominous sounding, that sort of stuff?”

“That’s TF Allen.” He replied. “Another Mechwarrior. Trust me, you’ll know him when you meet him.”

“Huh.” She shrugged, taking in the cryptic comment. “So you’re in charge here?”

Nowen gave a rather loud laugh, throwing back his head before shaking it and glancing back at him. “Not as such, no. I’m taking you to meet the head man now. But before I do, I will give you some advice.” He put his arm around her shoulder, swaggering in his step while grinning the sort of smile that had earned him legions of adoring female fans.

First thing, don’t over-act as much as I do, she mentally noted, externally just nodding. “Rules to live by and all that crap. Gotcha.”

“Right. Straight up, the Band is very competitive. People can – and will – kill to get in, or to get ahead. Those in BattleMechs command the most respect, but also have the most to worry about. The best way to protect yourself is to have allies; the more powerful, the better.”

“So I should stick close to you.” It was an obvious conclusion, one that made sense form what she’d seen on Mizar and the information she’d gotten from Antonin. “And that Allen guy?”

“Allen’s elusive, and he won’t openly support you.” Nero offered. “But yes, he’ll make it clear that he’s on your side. Nobody will screw with you then.”

“Big man in town.” She shrugged as the pair of them pulled up by a command tent, set up by one of the dropships. Three men were inside, two of them talking while looking over a map, the third simply watching the other two. The three could not have been more markedly different if they had tried; the first was tall and rugged looking, with heavy features, narrow wyes, close-cropped black hair and thick stubble. The second was shorter, almost rotund, with thick curly black hair and a matching beard that almost hid his face.

It was the third that was the most dramatic. Unlike the rough jacket and street ware of the first man or the formal uniform of the second, he was clad from head to toe in a black Mechwarrior Combat Suit, the helmet and visor concealing his indemnity completely. Tall, his anonymous presence seemed to have a look of sheer intimidation to it, as if the man was all-knowing and all-seeing by simply being hidden from the world.

She remembered the voice from the communicator, from the battle on Mizar, and could instantly match it to that man. It made perfect sense to her; the two aligned perfectly, that feeling of cold determination of intense control and power suited both straight away. That’s TF Allen. She concluded. And he’s on my side. I have made it in good.

The shorter man nodded to the others at their approach, leaving to attend to other matters. His rough-looking compatriot stepped forward, his approach betraying no hint of emotion, no pleasure at having a new recruit nor obvious distaste for the arrival of an unknown into his force. “Niko Bulgarin.” He simply stated, his voice speaking of a thinly-veiled anger and intensity. “Acting commander here. I assume you’re Juanita, the new recruit that has been provided for me.”

“Yeah.” She simply replied, a hint of defiance in her voice as if challenging the man to make more of it. That sort of attitude had served her well in her criminal days, and she saw no reason not to revert to it here. Prove how tough you are. Show them that you’re not afraid to stand up to them.

“Rules here are simple, Juanita.” He all but spat out her name. “Do what I say. Listen to what I tell you. Don’t cause trouble and follow my lead.” His intensity was distracted by a quick, sidelong glance at the masked man behind him, one that immediately told her who was really in charge. “If you’re half of what I’ve heard, you’ll do well in the Band. If not, you’ll be dead in a ditch – if you’re lucky.”

“Sure.” She gave a simple nod of the head. “I’m here for the same reasons as you, Bulgarin. Money, power, mechs, all that. And don’t go thinking I’m soft either.”

“I won’t. All I ask of you is that you live up to your reputation.”

Juanita gave a small snort of derision. “Or that I don’t leave you in the dust, right?” She finished. “Not a problem, boss. Just tell me what to do, and I’m there.”

“Right.” He finished. “Nowen, show her around, get her settled in and see about getting that ‘jack re-painted so it doesn’t get done in by ‘accident’ on the battlefield.”

“Roger that, chief.” Nowen threw a salute that, by its presence, seemed to be openly mocking him. Unsure of what to make of it, she simply decided to let it be for now. “Come on, he added. I’ve got some stuff I want to show you.”

The pair of them walked around the Dropship to where more equipment was in the process of being unloaded. Key in amongst them were a pair of Battlemechs, the huge, humanoid war machines managing to dominate all around them, despite being dwarfed by the ships that had transported them to the world. “What do you think?” He asked, as if trying to woo her with the sight. “Pretty impressive. Aren’t they?”

She wasn’t paying attention to his words, however. What she was instead focused on was the taller of the two mechs, a humanoid machine that looked nothing as much as a man in a suit of ancient armor. It was undoubtedly the same Black Knight as she had seen on Mizar. It sported the same tan and blue colour scheme, the same flame patterns on the limbs, the same bloodied handprint insignia on its shoulder.

Given the voice she had heard over the phone, the same one that had seemingly come from the Mech before her when she last saw it, she was confident that it was the same machine with the same person behind it. Now she needed to know who that man was.

Walking around the BattleMech, she noted a logo painted on the opposite shoulder to the insignia. A single word, inscribed in flaming letters: Knightmare. She gave a nod to herself, taking it in as she examined the huge machine. Definitely worth remembering, Juanita mentally reminded herself. Anything that gives me a lead on the identity of this guy is a plus.

-----

Niko watched the young woman leave, an almost burning look of resentment on his face. He knew full well why she was here, and how few options he had had with regards to the woman. All he had to go on about her was a report by one of his drivers on what had happened in Shira, about how her stolen Lumberjack had beaten off a Steel Wolf BattleMech. It was a situation that he found more then a little familiar.

“I suppose you’re not going to tell me a thing about her, are you?” He began, turning back to TF Allen. In spite of all that had happened, he really disliked the masked man, and had very few reasons to actually trust him. That he was forced to do such, with his life and career hanging on what the man wanted and his unfathomable motives made it even worse.

“Of course not.” Allen stated. “All you need to know is that she is working for us, and under my care.”

“And that I am not to press the issue.” He concluded. “Of course.”

“Should she succeed, you will get the credit. Should she fail, or cost us this operation, or turn on us in any way, then she is yours to deal with as you see fit. But should something happen to her otherwise, especially outside of the battlefield, and you will be held responsible.”

“Yes.” He spat, knowing full well what the masked man meant. “You have given me a chance at redemption, and I won’t throw it away. But while I’d still like to know if she is a part of your overall plan, or a mere target of opportunity, I also know that you won’t tell me.”
 
Allen merely nodded in reply.

“I thought so.” He sighed as he lit up a fresh cigarette, turning to watch the woman and her escort examining their BattleMechs. “And what’s Nowen’s part in this? Why did you pick him for this operation? I assume it’s not just because you were both a part of Sawyer’s lance.”

“Nowen’s harmless.” The masked man continued. “He’s a drug-addled idiot who doesn’t have any interests beyond his own indulgences. But he’s still a capable MechWarrior, so that much is useful to us.”

“Right.” Bulgarin finished, taking a long drag. “I’d ask if you were going to pull any more surprises on me, but I know you wouldn’t answer that either. This damn plan of yours had better work.”

-----

After making planetfall, Gillian Blackrock had spent her time scouting out the area, getting a feel for the terrain and looking for anything that the Band of Five could use to their advantage. Travelling light and on foot, she had managed to get a good, on-the-ground examination of the Perendole Valley. Already, she’d begun to formulate ideas, ones that had offered to Niko Bulgarin. Ambushes ere stock in trade of the Band of Five; a fair fight was the option of last resort.

For now, however, she was relaxing, taking things easy and trying to find out more about their newfound allies. She’d heard of the mercenaries that Bulgarin had hired, Xiaphos’ Guards, and knew of their forces and interests. However, what she was more interested in was getting to know more about the people, looking for anything interesting about them, ort, if all else failed, options she could use if she needed to line up a few assassinations.

Something had caught her interest, however. She’d heard that TF Allen had bought in a new recruit, one that he had apparently found locally. Blackrock was immediately intrigued by the idea; Allen was a man of mystery, and this new recruit could be used as an avenue to find out more about them. The arrival of the King Karnov that was supposedly carrying them and their stolen Forestrymech was a signal for her to move into action, to fund out more about them.

She spied a glimpse of them, talking with Nero Nowen while he was showing her around. Young woman, reasonably fit-looking, certainly built for action. Long black hair hung down her back, tied into a scruffy ponytail. She found that familiar, and had to think for a moment why.

And then it hit her. She’d seen the woman before, on Mizar, running away from the burning wreckage of the Battlemech she had stolen. So Allen’s little pet is our mech thief? She considered the situation, smiling to herself. Well this just got very interesting indeed.

-----

There was one thing that had struck Juanita as she’d been guided around the base camp, an odd imbalance in the forces deployed. The Band of Five had two BattleMechs as well as a Buster HaulerMech that had been modified in a similar way to the one she’d fought on Imbross. Beyond that, they had only limited infantry and Battle Armour forces, no more then a few platoons by her estimate.

Most of the forces present belonged to another group, their Battlemechs and tanks dressed in a rather ostentatious red and gold colour scheme. She’d seen a several unmodified ConstructionMechs, supported by number of their troops, combat engineers she’d guessed, hard at work on the area around the base camp. Specifically, they were digging around the large bridge that provided the only ready access by land to the landing zone.

“So who are those guys?” She asked Nowen as the pair of them walked through the hallways of the Mule class dropship that the Band’s forces had used. “They’re well equipped and professional-looking, but clearly not yours.” It was a star contrast to the Band’s members that she’d seen so far who looked to be anything but. In fact, on a general overview, many of the infantry she’d seen so far looked less like professional soldiers or mercenaries and more like packs of criminals.

“Mercenaries.” Nowen casually replied as he stopped by a door. “They’re a group called Xaiphos’ Guards; well trained, well equipped and apparently backed by big money.”

She whistled. “And you’re working with them?”

“Yeah. From what I gathered, their leader, Vandar Xiaphos, is a treasure hunter of sorts. He and his men go around looking for lost cities and buried tombs and that sort of crap on the side, but the hardware’s not just for show.”

“Nice. And their stake in this?”

He turned back to her. “Okay, usually people learn not to ask too many questions. But I’ll give you a break since you’re new and cute.”

“And how could I not take the advice of my favorite singer?” Juanita casually shot back.

He grinned an award-winning grin. “And besides, around here, information is power. But I’ll give you a freebie since this is almost common knowledge.”

“Go on.” She leaned closer.

“So the story goes that we have overlapping interests.” He explained, his face hovering close to her ear. “The Band has an interest in this world. Xiaphos has an interest in digging for crap in the town the Steel Wolf’s are using for their headquarters. What I heard is that they’re taking open rights to pillage the planet for historical relics in exchange for lending their guns and skills to our op.” He glanced back down the corridor a moment, as if he was expecting someone to interrupt him, before just as quickly turning back to her. “Incidentally, the fat guy who was chatting with Niko was their leader, Vander Xiaphos. He may not look like much, but the guy knows what he’s doing”

“Makes sense.” Juanita shrugged in acceptance. “So how’d you get onto such a cozy deal?”

“Apparently, both boss Bulgarin and Allen have had dealings with them in past and know their crap. Beyond that, I got nothing, but I know both of them are smart enough not to stick us with a bum deal.” He finished.

“Right. Speaking of which…” She glanced around. “You got any idea how Allen knew how to find me?”

Nero laughed loudly. “Man, you got so much to learn, chica. Allen doesn’t tell nothing to nobody. The man’s a professional enigma, a riddle in a Mech. You want to know, you ask him yourself. He ain’t telling and I ain’t brave enough to question him.”

“And if I did, he wouldn’t say anyway.”

“Got it in one.” Nero finished.

-----

Until its takeover by the Steel Wolves, the community had been a town by the name of Callista. Razed during the Jihad, it had been rebuilt to serve as a central hub for the revitalized Perndole valley region, a heart for both the mining industry and the burgeoning tourist trade in the region. When the Frost Wolves had taken control of the planet, the community had been chosen as their command centre, even going so far as to re-name the settlement after themselves. However, decision had not been for the obvious reasons.

Their Commander, Star Colonal Galv, hadn’t originally wanted to set up operations here. He saw the Drop Port with its attached Industrialmech facility as a much more useful base for the unit. The factory was, after all, why the Steel Wolves had taken Mara, so that its output could be fed to their tourmain. However, he had seen his orders contradicted by the members of his own unit in a way that he was not prepared to deal with.

With his heavy build, shaved head and thick beard, Galv did not resemble the traditional Clan Warrior. The fine lines around his eyes that gave a hint to his age only served to further distance himself from that image. As he marched through the halls of the city hall that had been repurposed as the Cluster’s command centre, he thought more about why his unit had made the decisions that they had, and the consequences that they would have given unfolding events.

The majority of the Frostwolves were abtakha, freeborns who had come from outside of the Wolf Clan enclaves in the Republic. They had been enamored of the Clan and its ways, and had fought to earn a place in the ranks of the Steel Wolves. As a Trueborn, Galv had been assigned to guide these pups, to shape them into true Wolf warriors that were worthy of the Clan, a task that he personally resented for a number of reasons.

As he entered the meeting hall that had been turned into their briefing room, he could see one of the biggest causes of the resentment right in front of him, standing in the middle of the room. A female warrior, she was young and fit, with long blonde hair and angry blue eyes. “Those dezgra bandits are defiling our home, Star Colonel!” She began, an almost excited anger in her voice. “I demand that you take action to drive them from this valley right now!”

He snarled to himself as he took his place at the front of the hall. Like most of the others, Star Commander Miri Wolf was an adoptee, one who had won a place in the Steel Wolves. However, to say that she was enthusiastic would be an understatement. She seemed to have embraced the Clan and its ways with an enthusiasm that bordered on zealous fanaticism, determined to be the most ‘Wolf’ warrior that she – or anyone – could be.

“For now, they have not taken any aggressive action.” He replied, keeping his tone calm. “Should they move, we can deal with them then. Here in Frostwolf Village, we have the advantage, and I see no reason to sacrifice that.”


“Spoken like the cowardly old man that you are!” She lashed out in response. “You would hide behind walls while they defile this sacred valley! The Wolf does not wait for her enemies to come to her, she hunts and stalks them, and drives them to the ground!”

He winced at her words and her accusations, while also watching the other warriors around her. One of her most annoying traits was her belief in the ‘Wolf spirit’ of the clan, and her invoking it at any opportunity as a way to win an argument. Half the time, she didn’t even make any sense, but her rhetoric was very popular with the young adoptees that made up, to his mind, far too much of the unit.

“Our scouts have identified these honourless bandits for who they are.” She continued. “Xiaphos’ Guards, a group of looters and pillagers who play at being warriors to cover their grave-robbing. Would you let them defile our homes in this valley? Would you cower behind walls while they rape this land?”

“No, but I will not throw our warriors into a foolhardly battle; I will fight when we have the advantage-“

“We are Wolf!” She snapped back. “By our very being Wolf, we have the advantage! We are warriors without compare, masters of war. The Wolf spirit guides us, dwells within us all. Our enemies are cowardly bandits who cannot stand against our spirit and our warrior prowess.”

“And I am the leader of this Cluster. You do not order me, Star Commander!” He shouted back.

“You are an old man, one who has become weak. The Mechwarriors you command do not fear battle, Star Colonel! Maybe I should challenge you for command of the cluster, in the true Wolf way!”

It was not her calling him on his age that hurt him; it was her emphasis of her position. A trueborn, Galv had failed his trial of position. A second trial had seen him become a warrior, albeit a tank Commander. As far as he knew, he was now the highest-ranked tank commander in the Steel Wolves, but it was a tainted honour at best. And yet, she, a freebirth adoptee was a MechWarrior.

An angry rebuttal rose in his throat, but he could see that it was futile. A group of warriors had formed up behind Miri, all adoptees like her, many MechWarriors amongst them. He should cut the whelp down for her impudence in the circle of equals, but he knew that all it would do would be to waste time and prompt more challenges. This way, he could at least salvage some of his own honour and pride.

“Very well then!” He snarled back. “We shall ride, and we shall drive these dezgra bandits from this world, for the glory of the Steel Wolves!” This elicited a chorus of cheers from the gathered Warriors; one that at the least was directed to him and his words. It may not have been the best outcome, but it was one that could still work for him.

“We shall show them the power of the Wolf.” Miri finished. “For the Wolf’s justice is swift, her mercy absolute.”

He shook his head, glaring at her. “What is that supposed to mean anyway?”

Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



Whenever you use terms like 'fiat' or 'stupid pills', you render your argument invalid

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snakespinner

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #6 on: 11 February 2011, 20:16:10 »
A fun way to start out in a new faction, take on the Steel Wolves.
Very interested to see how Juanita goes.
Will there be more betrayals. }:)
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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Growing up is optional.
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Diablo48

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #7 on: 11 February 2011, 20:31:33 »
A fun way to start out in a new faction, take on the Steel Wolves.
Very interested to see how Juanita goes.
Will there be more betrayals. }:)

Indeed, I am greatly enjoying these stories.  My gut is telling me that she will get screwed and jump back over before the story is done, but I have no evidence to support this.


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Deadborder

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #8 on: 12 February 2011, 22:02:42 »
Dropship Achenar Provider, Perenolde Valley, Naramo
Mara, Prefecture III
Republic of the Sphere
2 July 3133



As she quickly dressed, Juanita wasn’t sure what was the more surprising fact; that her favourte rock star was working for the same group as she now was, that she had spent the night in the same room as him or that neither of them had tried to crawl into the other’s bed. She knew about his reputation for groupies, cheep hookers and other one-night stands and how he embraced it. On the other hand, she wouldn’t have shot him down if asked, and the thought of offering had crossed her mind more than once.

She finished dressing, giving herself a quick once-over to make sure that everything was in place. Not being powered by a fusion reactor, an IndustrialMech like her Lumberjack didn’t generate the same degree of waste heat as a true Battlemech would have, meaning that she didn’t need a specialized cooling vest. Instead, she’d been issued a simple jumpsuit, coloured the same tan and blue as their mechs, the Band of Five’s bloody handprint insignia on the breast pocket.

She fasted up her boot, stepping out into the hallway where Nero Nowen was waiting. The rock star was clad in the typical cooling vest and shorts of a MechWarrior, albeit with a jacket over the top. “You’ll want to throw something on over that.” He added as the pair of them headed through the ship. “We got dumped with an arseload of snow over-night. Of course, that’s a good thing, but its cold enough out there to freeze your tits off.”

“So what’s going on?” She asked as they reached the main cargo bay.

“Boss Bulgarin’s gonna give us the full story when we’re ready but I can tell ya what I know, chicka.” He began. “There’s a Wolf force headed our way, aiming to hit us hard. The boss has got a surprise in store for them, though.”

“Cool beans. I guess I’m a part of that?”

“All of us are; you, me the boss…”

“…And Allen.” She finished, thinking about her encounter with the Black Knight on Mizar. The man behind the machine had been terrifyingly capable, coming dangerously close to killing her. And she would be fighting alongside him, watching him cut loose on someone else. Certainly she’d rather be there then on the receiving end again.

“Yeah.” Nero hastily added. “But then, if he picked you for this, then you must be good. Can’t wait to see what you have, chika.”

She laughed back. “Maybe you could ask him what he saw in me.”

“Yeah, right.” He shook his head. “I’ll just watch the show and see your performance instead. Safer and a lot more fun.”

-----

Niko Bulgarin despised his Buster, a fact that he had never sought to conceal. He’d been assigned the Industrialmech as a part of his plan to take over Inbross, and been marooned in it as a form of punishment after its spectacular failure. Having been a MechWarrior beforehand, he found the machine to be frustratingly limited and fragile. While its load of short-range missiles were potent, and its industrial myomers meant that it could hit like an Assault mech in close combat, he also knew that it was a mere toy compared to what he had once commanded.

He tried to push this aside as he sat in the mech’s cockpit, looking down at Xiaphos’ Battlemechs arrayed below him. It galled him that these mercenaries could have access to such machines, while he was marooned in this poorly-armoured deathtrap. However, it also reminded him of why he was here; Allen had promised that he would wipe Niko’s slate clean, restore his reputation and position, give him back the power he had lost.

If they succeeded. And that was what bothered him. The plan was complicated, with so many factors to take into consideration. Even though he had devised the assault himself, he still knew that there were things that could go wrong. That Allen had then added in a wild card, his new recruit, only further frustrated him. He wanted to know who she was and why he’d recruited her, but, as always, the man had said nothing.

He had to put all his faith in someone he knew nothing about, someone who’s face had never even seen. It was not a risk he wanted to take.

His communications system, a military-grade refit installed with the Buster’s weapons systems, beeped to life. “Ravager actual here.”

“This is Xiaphos.” The voice on the other end replied. “The dogs are on the prowl; my scouts have made contact with them.”

“Understood. My men are in position; your field engineers did a fantastic job.” It didn’t hurt to tell the man the truth and butter him up. After all, right now Niko needed any ally he could get.

“They’re professionals, and their work is always excellent.” He replied with more than a little pride. “You will uphold our deal?”

“You get free reign to pillage this world for whatever artifacts you want.” Niko stated. “You remember the plan?”

“Of course.” If he took offence at Niko’s words, Vander didn’t let it show.

“Good. Begin the attack, we’ll be ready to pick it up at our end.”

He studied the soon-to-be battlefield below, taking in the terrain for what seemed like the millionth time. A road wandered off into the snowy hills, stopped short by a sudden chasm and an icy river. A solid concrete bridge spanned it, the only way an attacker would be able to cross the divide between the southern valley and the mining facility where their dropships were parked. It would not be easy for an attacker to cross the bridge in force; they would have to carefully marshal their forces to avoid being boxed in and picked off.

Even then they’d have to contend with Xiaphos’ forces. Down below, the machines of the Mercenary unit were arrayed at the north end of the bridge, petering off into the valley, several Battlemechs looming over the more numerous tanks. One of Xiaphos’ mechs, an angular, awkward-looking Helepolis raised the massive artillery piece that replaced its right arm. With a roar, the cannon fired, the shot soaring skyward in a cloud of smoke and flame.

This is it. He glanced over his status board, noting the Lumberjack piloted by Allen’s recruit. Whoever you are, do not fail me. For my sake and yours.

-----

Settled in the command couch of his massive Hiemdall ground monitor, Star Colonel Galv felt a degree of quiet confidence. The huge battle tank advanced at the heart of the Frostwolf formation, a seemingly invincible anchor at the heart of their force. The largest and heaviest of their tanks, the huge machine made for the perfect platform from which for him to command their attack.

Even if it wasn’t originally his plan, Glav had managed to salvage his pride and honour in leading the attack. The Frosrtwolves had rallied around him, not some upstart freebirth MechWariror, following his orders, doing as he commanded. With the power of his force at his command, as well as the power of his tank alone, he had felt a lot of his initial doubts about this assault disappear as soon as his force had mobilized, heading north to do battle with the mercenary invaders.

He had wisely chosen not to commit the entire cluster to the battle. He’d left one star of modified Forestrymechs in reserve at Frostwolf village itself, primarily because their star commander – and his machine – were still missing in action. The leader of Bravo Support Star had unexpectedly turned on them two days ago, his Lumberjack joining forces with the bandits attacking a town along the coast and then firing on one of their Battlemechs. Until he was caught and bought to order, the entire Star were considered dezgra, dishonoured until they could be proven.

He’d also left two stars of conventional infantry out of the force; primarily because they were not at Frostwolf village itself. Instead, they were deployed at the planet’s spaceport and the nearby Forestrymech factory, the reason why the Steel Wolves had come to Mara in the first place. He’d originally wanted to deploy larger forces there, but a wave of “wolf-mania” had run through the unit as they desired to live in the valley and commune with the Clan’s totem animal. He’d ended up having to fight so many trials of grievance over assignments that he’d eventually relented, placing their command and the bulk of the unit in the Perendole valley.

However, this was now his battle. He was in control of the situation, and he would drive the mercenary bandits from this world. Glancing around, he could see the tanks, mechs and infantry of the Frostwolf cluster moving in formation, a well-oiled machine functioning as a single, lethal weapon, one that he commanded. He had taken the rabble of freeborns and shaped them into this by his hands, his determination and his will. And nothing could take it from him.

Least of all you, freeborn whelp. He glanced at the bulky Rakshasa that was a part of the formation, the heaviest BattleMech in their force. You have spirit, but you must learn cunning. Until then, you will never truly be Wolf.

“This is Bravo Probe” A voice on his communicator caught his attention, one of the unit’s outlying scouts. “We have contact with enemy forces; light hovercraft, probably scouts of their own.”

“Aff, Bravo Probe.” He snapped back. “Track enemy but do not engage for now unless fired upon. These dezgra bandits probably are trying to lure you into a trap. I do not want you going off like crazed surats and walking into whatever they may be planning.”

“Aff, Star Colonel.”

Galv switched command channels to a broadcast frequency. “This is Frostwolf Lead to all units; maintain formation for now and continue to advance. Do not-“

An explosion cut him off, an eruption of smoke and flames in the midst of the advancing formation near his own Heimdall; a Partisan AA tank rocking under the impact. “Artillery!” A voice called over the command channel, a furious storm of shouted directions and questions cutting into the channel.

“Looks like a lone gun, north of here. Probably dug in with the rest of their forces at-“ Bravo probe began, but was cut off by a series of smaller explosions. “Enemy scouts have engaged, Star Colonel!”

“Bravo Probe, eliminate those scouts!” Galv roared over the channel. “Shut down their spotters. All other units remain in formation and-“ Another explosion rocked his tank, the shell going off dangerously close to his own vehicle. Against the Heimdall’s massive armour, even the damage from the artillery shell would be negligible. However, the psychological effects of a near miss could be rattling to many.

But Galv was not just anyone; he was a trueborn Clan Warrior, one who had been born and bred to do battle and to face his enemy. This was nothing to him, nor should it be to his men. “-remain in formation!” He continued.

“Enough!” Miri Wolf’s voice cut over the channel. “Do not listen to this old fool! We should not stay and suffer under the weapons of these dezgra bandits!”

“You overstep your bounds, Star Commander!” he roared back, her words having a far sharper effect the any enemy artillery. “Do not question my orders!”

“I question your being, Star Colonel!” She replied, her voice full of smug superiority. “We are Wolf’ we do not cower form our enemies! We strike at them with the full speed and merciless fury of the Wolf spirit!”

A round of cheers followed her words across the channel, an avalanche of support that he could but try and hold back. “You impudent freeborn!” He snapped. “You will stand down now, Star Commander!”

“Very well; when all is said and done, you can face me in the circle of equals like a true warrior, and maybe prove you have some of the Wolf in you.” She finished. “But for now, my Wolves, we ride into battle! Let us strike down these dezgra fools and drive them from our sacred lands!”

The Rakshasha bounded forward, the bird-legged BattleMech charging ahead of the formation. Around him, Glav saw the other mechs of her star leap into action, charging forward after their leader. Even more worryingly, he could see that they were not alone.

“Damn her!” He cursed. “Driver! All ahead full! We will not be denied this battle!” And you should hope that you die gloriously against our enemies, Miri Wolf. For I will have no mercy for you should you survive your folly.

-----

From her position up on the hill, Juanita could see the advancing Frostwolf force. A group of BattleMechs lead the charge, their brown and silver colours stark against the white snow around them. Behind them was a large tank formation, one that had become stung out much like the Band of Five troops had been while chasing her Battlemech on Mizar. Ironic that.

“Enemy is inbound.” Bulgarin’s voice came in over the communicator. “Stick to the plan; let Xiaphos’ men engage first, then go on my mark.”

“Understood.” She shot back, eagerly grasping at the Lumberjack’s controls. The modified IndustrialMech was running on its internal batteries only, with all but a few systems, like the communications, currently off-line. However, it was ready to go at a moment’s notice, the engine set to be kick-started to send the seventy-ton mech into action as soon as she got the signal.

Down below, a massive Marksman tank rocked as it opened fire, its Gauss Rifle and missile launchers sending shots at the incoming Wolf Battlemechs. Lasers and missile fire scattered back and forth between the two forces, striking armour but, for the moment, not digging any further. The Wolves, for their part, continued their advance, the Rakshasa at their head crossing over the bridge. Behind it, two smaller mechs, an Osiris and the Molinjir she’d fought before rocketed into the air on streams of fusion flame.

“All units, engage now!”

She slammed on the power, the massive Wagner HeavyDuty engine roaring to life. As systems flashed green, she stomped down on the foot pedals, the huge machine standing from the crouch it had been left in. Around it, snow cascaded off of it, the cover it had been hidden under vanishing as the modified Industrial stood to attention. Next to it, Bulgarin’s Buster rose from the snow, while across the road, the Centurion and Black Knight also emerged from hiding.

The Wolf mechs didn’t have time to react, momentum propelling the two light machines forward to land in amongst Xiaphos’ forces. No sooner was the bird-like Osiris down then the snow around its feet erupted, a squad of squat Sloth Battlesuits emerging from their hiding places. Before the Wolf mech could move, the Sloths fired off their magnetic mines, a burst of fire erupting from the mech’s underside. The Osiris staggered, then collapsed forward to the ground.

Juanita swung the Lumberjack over the length of the bridge, her sights centering on an advancing Sun Cobra. The fire control system squealed a positive missile lock, her finger hitting the trigger as soon as it did. The two launchers spat missiles at the enemy Battlemech, unable to maneuver out of her line of fire on the narrow crossing. A shroud of smoke and flames enveloped its shoulders and chest, leaving torn armour in their wake. Good start.

The Black Knight and Centurion opened up on the hunchbacked Rakshasa as it charged forwards, lasers carving armour off its side while missiles peppered its legs. The mech staggered under the assault, but remained standing, almost defiant in its position at the head of the bridge.

“Ravager lead to Guard Actual.” Bulgarin’s voice cut into the command channel. “Enemy is in place. Unleash the Laser Chicken.”

“The what?” Juanita shouted out in surprise, wondering what was her commander was talking about.

“Watch.” Allen’s gravelly voice shot back. She wasn’t sure if that was meant to be reassuring coming from him.

------

Despite the shocking dishonor the dezgra mercenaries had displayed in their cowardly use of artillery, Miri Wolf was relishing the thought of doing battle with them. In driving her Star forward, in ensuring that they would be the first to engage the enemy, she ensured that she would be the one to claim the most honour from the battle, not that aged wreck who dared to call himself a Star Colonel. It would be her forces that drove them from the Frostwolves’ sacred homeland, allowing her to claim the glory for the victory.

She drove her Rakshasa forward, the massive Battlemech striding across the bridge, heading north towards the enemy forces. Her star were formed up behind her, the two jumping light mechs on her flanks. “Drive forward, Wolf warriors!” She yelled over the command channel, her voice burning with excitement. “Show these cowardly freeborn bandits the power of the Wolf’s swift fury!” LRMs Leaped from the mech’s boxy launchers, missiles peppering the ranks of the enemy forces.

While the Rakshasa was an Inner Sphere-build Battlemech rather than an obviously superior Clan one, she felt that it was one worthy of a true Wolf warrior. After all, it had been built in imitation of the Mad Cat, the greatest OmniMech of Clan Wolf. She knew that she was not alone; there were others that had agreed that the Rakshasa was a mech that suited her perfectly.

Abruptly, Mechwarrior Ravak’s Osiris collapsed, smoke billowing from its rear. “What hap-“ She began, but a wail of alarms cut her off. Glancing around, she could see a quartet of mechs emerging from cover on top of the cliffs overlooking the bridge. One of them, she noted, was Star Commander Vol’s Lumberjack. The man had apparently betrayed the Steel Wolves, siding with the bandits. The presence of his mech here confirmed it.

“A trap?” She called out over her command channel. “So that is what these pitiful bandits need to defeat us! Show them that they cannot stand up to our-“ The Rakshasa shook under the impact of multiple hits from the newly emerged mech. “Destroy them utterly!” She continued as she pushed forward. “Drive them from the valley!”

Another mech charged forward, a red and gold Ti Ts’ang that resembled nothing so much as a giant man wearing armour and waving around an axe. As it bore down on her, the mech opened fire, lasers scoring armour from her mech’s flanks. In response, she leashed out with her own lasers, a wave of heat striking her as she tried to back up away from the machine’s lethal hatchet, the beams melting armour off its hip and flank but leaving it standing.

Glancing at her rear monitor, Miri saw that she couldn’t back up; instead, a group of Steel Wolf Mechs and tanks were bunched up behind her, the bridge a contested mass of war machines. “Move you freeborn fools!” She yelled over the command channel. “Stop trying to get in the way and steal my glory!”

She glanced back at the Ti Ts’ang as the mech swung around; she expected it to try and strike with its hatchet, the closed quarters of the bridge making it near impossible to miss. Instead, the mech swung back, then shoved forwards with both arms. Augmented by its triple-strength myomers, the enemy mech shoved into hers, pushing it sideways and off the side of the bridge.

Scrabbling with the controls, Miri fought a pointless battle to keep the Rakshasa from falling. Instead, she felt her stomach lurch as the mech toppled backwards, gravity and momentum taking control of it in spite of all her efforts. She was thrown forwards against the safety harness as the mech pitched backwards, the view in front of her suddenly filling up with blue sky.

Plummeting some twenty-five meters, the mech suddenly slammed into the river, the force of the impact slamming Miri forward, then snapping her back into the command couch with a bone-jarring thud. The blow sent her head spinning, leaving her reeling as while spots swam before her eyes.

“Guh…” She managed as she shook her head, collecting her senses. “You filthy, disgusting, impudent freebirths! How dare you use such an honourless tactic against us!” Pushing the controls forward, she bought the mech upright, the machine up to its thighs in the icy water. A quick glance to either side told her that there was no way that she could climb up the sheer cliffs to take her back to the battle where the rest of her cluster was fighting. Her only option would be to backtrack and find a way back up to the road.

“When I am through with you, Freebirths, I will… huh?” A shadow fell across the cockpit; glancing up, she could see MechWarrior Nalak’s Sun Cobra falling back first from the bridge and directly towards her.

-----

As she unleashed another volley of LRMs, Juanita couldn’t help but laugh at what was happening down on the bridge. What the Ti Ts’ang was doing to the Steel Wolf mechs was actually a rather effective way to deal with them, to quickly eliminate them from the battle and make sure that they would play no part in it; while the mechs would not be destroyed or disabled, they would still be removed from the equation, weakening the Wolf forces.

However, the truth was, it simply was funny to watch. What had happened was practically comedy in and of itself, with the mercenary Battlemech simply shoving its opponents off the bridge, sending them plummeting to the waters below. Once was a surprise; the second time was amusing. And now, as the Ti Ts’ang advanced on an enemy Ghost, it was turning into a farcical routine.

The Ghost’s MechWarrior, clearly realizing what was going to happen, was trying to back up as the larger BattleMech approached it. Instead, it ran into a pair of Steel Wolf heavy tanks that were trying to advance across the bridge, backing up behind it and heading up a congested queue of advancing vehicles. The result was that it was left with no options, desperately looking around before opening up on the larger mech at point-blank range. Its twin light PPCs went wide, their field inhibitors screwing up the targeting, while missiles chipped armour off the Ti Ts’ang’s chest.

And then it struck, the red-and-gold mercenary mech swinging around then slamming its arms into the Ghost’s chest. The medium mech stumbled, then toppled over the side of the bridge, flailing its arms wildly as it dropped into the river below, looking for all the world like a gigantic pratfall.

For a moment, she relished the comedy. Then reality set in.

A massive Steel Wolf tank advanced on the Ti Ts’ang, the twin cannons in its hull and the laser in its turret belching fire at the mercenary mech, its crew no longer having to worry about hitting their own allies. Shots gouged into the huge machine, ripping through armour and structure and sending the huge mech reeling under the assault. For a moment, it looked like it would topple off the bridge and join those it had sent plummeting – an ironic fate if ever there was one – instead, at the last moment, the MechWarrior fired the jets, the machine leaping backwards towards their lines.

“Ravager Four, cover him!” Bulgarin’s voice shouted over the command channel. Ignoring the heat from the missile launchers for the moment, Juanita opened fire on the large Wolf tank as it advanced. Two flights of missiles arced out of her launchers to slam down on the tank, only to seemingly wash over it with little or no effect beyond scuffing its paint.

Tough, I’ll give it that. She ignored the warnings from the Lumberjack’s systems, the overheat lights on the temperature gauges and other indicators, instead focusing on keeping a bead on the huge tank leading the enemy force. It was now crawling across the bridge, seemingly ignoring the fire being thrown at it.

Something flashed across her vision; a moment later she realized that it was the Mjolnir she had fought when she stole the Lumberjack. Surprisingly unscathed, largely through its pilot’s skillful use of their jump jets, the mech landed right in the front row of Xiaphos’ mechs. A burst of cannon fire from a Blade went wide of the small mech as it charged forward, wager to make its mark.

Swinging around its hammer-like mace, the Mjolnir lashed out at a mercenary Koshi, the weapon slamming into its side. The blow crushed armour and structure, the mech collapsing backwards with its flank little more than a tangled mess of wrecked components. Furious at the attack, Juanita swung her mech around, dropping her sights onto the enemy machine.

Missiles spilled out of the launchers, hammering into the side of the Mjolnir, driving the machine to its knees. Juanita gave a whoop of excitement as she saw the mech struggle, anticipating what could very well be her first Battlemech kill. As it struggled, the smaller mech was hammered again, this time by a burst from a mercenary Blade, shells ripping into its exposed flank, shredding the exposed structure.

As a testament to the pilot’s abilities, the Mjolnir managed to remain standing despite the assault, firing its jump jets and leaping back away from both its wounded prey as well as its attackers. “Last Wolf mech is bugging out.” She called over the comms channel. “Want me to bag it anyway?”

“Negative.” Bulgarin shot back. “Concentrate on bringing down those tanks.”

“Roger that.” She replied, an almost petulant tone in her voice. She wasn’t happy at having to let her kill go, but at the same time knew better than to argue with him for now. Instead, she let her mech cool of, as if by not firing as soon as she could, she was signaling her displeasure.

The huge Wolf tank showed no such hesitation, however, continuing to crawl forward across the bridge. Allen’s Black Knight opened up on the machine, the mech’s lasers carving into its armour with almost surgical precision, yet managing to do seemingly nothing to halt the massive machine. Juanita was earnestly shocked, amazed that the masked man was fallible. She’d expected him to kill it right there on the spot.

“Should I-“

“Keep those other tanks pinned down.” Bulgarin cut her off as a flight of enemy missiles peppered the ranks of Xiaphos’ tanks. “I’ll deal with that thing.”

She gave the vaguest of mumbled replies, wondering what a modified IndutrialMech was going to do that a true BattleMech couldn’t. Thumbing the triggers again, she opened fire on one of the Steel Wolf missiles carriers in the rear of their ranks, missiles pummeling the bulky vehicle. However, her eyes were still on the lead assault tank, wondering what was Bulgarin was going to do about it.

As the machine left the bridge, advancing on the front ranks of their troops, she saw him act. The Buster stood, exposing itself to the enemy before opening fire with its short-range missiles launchers. A dozen missiles flew down towards the tank, only to suddenly burst in mid-air, spraying the Wolf vehicle with a shower of thick gel.

And then it burst into flames.

Infernos. Carrying inferno missiles in an Industrialmech was an incredible risk. However, the results could be devastating – and terrifying to experience. And right now, there was no place she wanted to be less than inside the Wolf tank.

-----

Despite its being a vehicle, Glav did have a degree of respect for the Heimdall. Not only was it a product of the Wolf clan, but its sheer mass and armour made it an almost unstoppable force. He’d simply pushed the Ground Monitor forward, shrugging off the fire from the mercenary forces as he did as being almost irrelevant. That the Black Knight had failed to stop them, despite being the most potent mech the enemy force fielded, spoke volumes of its capabilities.

He’d all but expected the ambush; after all, it was a cowardly and dishonourable tactic, but one that made sense. In many ways, he’d enjoyed watching the enemy mechs pitch Miri’s Star off the bridge. It would do her good to have a lesson in humility, to be embarrassed in front of the rest of the cluster. Maybe now she will shut up and stop blathering on about her ‘Wolf spirit’ idiocy and leave running the unit to me.

“All units!” He roared over the command channel. “Push forward, cut down these dezgra bandits and show them the power of the wolf. Prove that we are real warriors, ones that will not be so easily defeated!” He knew that Miri would have heard that last comment over the command circuit, and had specifically tailored it for her. Let her know how she has failed.

Galv laughed at the thought, a deep, hearty roar of satisfaction. He was feeling alive for the first time since taking command of the unit, since being forced to serve as a trainer to a batch of worthless freebirths who had no business being warriors. He would defeat these enemies, he would drive them back and he would revel in the triumph of the battle – and not them. He was no longer a burned-out has-been; now he was a true warrior.

And then he saw the Industrialmech unleash its deadly payload at his tank, and that confidence evaporated, replaced with an almost primordial fear as the inferno gel enveloped his machine. Abruptly, the heat inside the tank soared, hitting him with almost physical force as the machine was enveloped in flames, roasting those inside it. Sweat poured off Galv in waves, not only from the heat of the flames but from the sheer primal fear that had overcome him.

He heard alarms, heard the loadmaster yelling something about the cannon ammunition. A part of him wanted to tell them to get out, but he knew that was death either way; abandoning the tank only to burn to death trying to get out, covered by the gel that was consuming the tank. He needed to do something, to say something, to save his men and his vehicle from what had happened.

Instead, all he could hear was the first pops as the cannon ammunition cocked off, heralding what was to come. All he could think of as the tank was consumed from within was how he had failed; not his unit, not his men but how he had failed himself.
Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #9 on: 13 February 2011, 22:54:33 »
From the cockpit of his Buster, Niko Bulgarin had been watching the battle unfold from the front lines, aided by information fed back to him by the mercenary commander. Things had gone pretty much as he and Xiaphos had planned; the artillery barrages had driven the Wolves into a frenzy, resulting in their throwing caution to the wind and walking into a well-orchestrated trap. From there, they had eliminated the Wolf Battlemechs to the best of their ability, removing them from the battle.

However, the destruction of the Heimdall tank that had been leading their armour had resulted in their forces being thrown into chaos. Their formations had broken up, their ranks losing coherence. Instinct told him that the heavy tank was being driven by the Star Colonel leading their force; losing it and him had crippled their command structure.

“All units; enemy forces are breaking off.” He heard Vander order over their command channel. “Stone Scout team, I want you to harass them but be ready to break off on my signal. Keep up artillery fire for now to harry their withdrawal, but do not follow them. All other units, fall back to rearm.”

The numbers were looking good. One of the guard Battlemechs had been crippled but could eventually be put into action, and they had lost three tanks, all of which were salvageable. The Wolf losses were far more telling, with one Mech down and now in their hands and a number of tanks – including the massive Heimbdall – destroyed. They had time to repair and refit, while the Wolves were still making good their retreat.

“Well, Bulgarin, looks like your plan worked out.” Xiaphos added, a hint of appreciation in his voice. “Your men are good at this sort of stuff, I can tell.”

“It’s a specialty of ours.” He commented as he looked over at the Lumberjack, focusing on the cockpit and the MechWarrior within. Allen’s little find – whoever she was – had done well for herself, the mech’s long-range missiles doing a good job of harassing the enemy and sowing damage in amongst their lines. She’d kept their Battle Armour pinned down, providing long-range fire support that the rest of his Battlemechs lacked.

“We’ll take the Osiris from our share of the salvage.” Xiaphos added. “We can sort out the rest later. Just as long as I get access to that village”

Niko gave only the vaguest of responses, instead thinking about the woman. Well, whoever you are. You’ve proven yourself so far. Let’s see what else you can do. At the very least, he could feel a little more confident that his career – and his life – wasn’t resting on someone who was completely useless.

-----

As soon as she got the stand-down order, Juanita unfastened her safety harness and opened up the Lumberjack’s cockpit. The difference between the heat inside and the cold of the snow outside was stark, even as soon as she’d opened the canopy. Grabbing her jacket, she climbed out from the machine, looking around at the world around her.

Despite the fact that the Mjolnir had escaped, she felt a certain degree of elation in what she had done. Her missiles had damaged a number of enemy tanks, keeping them pinned down and, most importantly, stopped the Steel Wolves from using their Battle Armour to break the mercenary lines. But more than that, it was the power that she had commanded and the rush that came with unleashing it. She hadn’t felt that good since, well, since running amok with the Zeus on Mizar. And now instead of fighting it, I’m a part of the Band of Five. Weird the way these things work out.

Glancing down over the ridge, she could see technicians moving in, going to work to re-arm and repair the mechs and vehicles, and have them ready to engage the enemy again. And while she would have cheerfully admitted that she knew very little about logistics, Juanita could tell that between them, the Band and Xiaphos’ men had come off a lot better than the Steel Wolves.

“Hey Chica!” She heard Nero call out; turning around she could see the Mechwarrior striding towards her, a confident smirk on his face despite the cold. He’d pulled a baggy jumpsuit and jacket on over his mechwarrior togs, but she could tell that he still wasn’t comfortable. “Nice shooting there.”

“Of course it was.” She replied, all but laughing. “That’s because I’m pretty damned awesome. You know I was the best street racer on all of Poznan, right?”

“Depends.” He replied with a straight face, before breaking into a camera-friendly grin of the sort that set fangirl’s hearts ablaze. “Where’s that?”

She laughed. “That’s my homeworld, you jackarse.”

“What can I say? I’m good with a guitar, but I don’t know jack about stellar cartography.” He shrugged. “But then, I’m also pretty damned sweet with a BattleMech.”

“Oh, I’m sure you are.” She replied, her voice all but purring with amusement. “You grab that joystick with both hands, keep a firm grip on it, wiggle it around a bit… I’m sure that you have a lot of practice with it.”

He laughed raucously. “Well, they say that I’m very good with my instrument.”

“Maybe I can have a private performance some time.”

“Well…” He trailed off. “Look busy. We have company.”

For a moment she wondered if he was trying to avoid her, before she glanced back across is line of vision. A lone figure was approaching the pair of them, his black suit and visored helmet stark against the white of the snow. Even though she knew that he was why she was here, Juanita couldn’t help but feel apprehensive at his presence. The masked man seemed to have that effect on everyone, which was wasn’t that reassuring, given that he was working with hardened killers.

But she’d never backed down and never gotten anywhere by showing fear. So she stood her ground, doing her best to look him in the eye, or, at the least, where she thought his eyes would be. “We will be moving out as soon as we’re reloaded.” He simply stared. “Be ready to go as soon as possible.”

She gave a quick nod in reply, not saying a word.

“You show promise, Kwan.” He continued, staring straight at her. “I have put a lot of faith in you. Continue to do well and I will give you all that I promised. Fail me, and I will kill you myself. Understood?”

Zoom-Zoom had become the hottest thing on the streets of New Madrid by never backing down from a challenge. Juanita Kwan, however, knew that there were times when it was better to play along then act big. “Understood.” She simply replied. “I will not disappoint you.”

“You had better not” Allen simply finished as she walked off, heading back towards his looming Black Knight.

“I had, uh, I had better go.” Nowen finally spoke up, his confident smirk suddenly replaced with a more practical approach. However, it was clear that he was also intimidated by the masked man.

“One thing, Nero.” Juanita blurted out.

“What is it?”

“You seen a woman around here, or elsewhere with the Band?” She simply asked. “About so tall, tough-looking, scarred face, lots of tats? Stands out in a crowd”

“Chica, I ain’t never seen nobody like that.” He simply shot back.

-----

Frostwolf Village, Perenolde Valley, Naramo

“My fellow Wolves!” Miri Wolf called out as she stood in the center of the briefing room. “We have been dealt a terrible blow, one that was driven at the very heart of our Wolf souls. Our forces were defeated, but the failing, however, was not ours!”

Her mech, along with the other mechs that had been shoved off the bridge, had done their best to rejoin the battle as soon as they could. However, instead of launching a fresh assault against the mercenary forces, they had instead found the Frostwolves in full retreat. Shocked that Wolf warriors would run from battle, she’d quickly discovered why they had chosen to flee; their commander had fallen, his tank destroyed by a cowardly attack.

And while this had thrown them into chaos, Miri sensed an opportunity.

“Our defeat was caused by two things, trothkin.” She continued, her tone heavy-handed and harsh. “The first was the vile, treacherous, dezgra tactics of our enemies. They used artillery on us, an honourless weapon that no true warrior of Wolf spirit should have to endure. That in and of itself was despicable enough, but they dared to do worse.”

She paused for effect, looking around for a moment before resuming. “But that was not the worst of it. Their ambush was utterly without honour, a false bid that made a mockery of zellbrigen.” She liberally interspersed clan words, aiming to inflame those around her. “They defiled all that we hold dear!”

“But that was not the only reason for our failure. Sadly, my Wolf kin, we were failed by our leader as well. Star Colonel Galv was an old man, one who had let age and his own failures dull his Wolf spirit. Had we been lead by a true warrior, one possessed of vision and drive, one who embraced their Wolf spirit rather than cower behind his armour, one who was willing to strike forward, to seize the enemy by the throat, then we could have overcome their dishonor and driven these dezgra bandits from our sacred home!” This elected a round of cheers from the gathered warriors, something that bought a mug smile to her face as she stood there, basking in the attention.

“And you are not our leader, Star Commander.” A voice shot back as another warrior stood. Surprisingly slim for a Clan Warrior, Star Captain Jekyll Wolf sported scruffy hair and sunken eyes. “I am the highest ranking warrior here, not you. If anyone is to take command of the Frostwolves, it shall be me!” There was a round of cheering support, but not as much as Miri had gathered. “You will stand down, you insolent pup!”

“And you are barely worthy to be called Warrior, Jekyll.” She deliberately left off his clan Honour-name as a direct insult. “You drive an APC and ferry troops around. I command a Battlemech, the machine that is the ultimate embodiment of the warrior, of the founder’s ideals and the Wolf Spirit. I lead from the front, doing honourable combat with the enemy. You taxi infantry around and support them, and only see battle when it cannot be avoided. I have a far greater claim to any command then you do!”

“You dare to mock me?”

“I do not mock you, trothkin, I merely state fact.” She replied, an obnoxiously superior tone in her voice. “But if you wish to fight a trial of possession for the Frostwolf Cluster, then I welcome the challenge.”

“Listen to her!” Nile Wolf, one of their battle armour Star Commanders, stood up next to her, a look of angry defiance on his face. “Miri Wolf speaks the truth! She does not cower from battle, but rather embraces it like a true Wolf should!” She couldn’t help but smile at the support. Nile had been a close supporter of hers, one who shared her vision for what the Steels Wolves should be. Furthermore, he had been willing to follow her lead, to support her rather than pushing himself.

Others joined him, cheering their support for her, demanding a trial for command of the Cluster, the desire to see things done in a true Clan fashion. Jekyll glanced around, noting how few were backing him up, obviously backed into a conrer. “Very well then!” He shot back. “You and I shall face off right now, in a circle of our equals. The winner shall take command of the Cluster, and drive these dezgra bandits back!”

“Bargained well and done.” Miri finished. “Recall our troops from across the planet, so that they may bear witness to what is to come, and then join us in the glorious battle that is to come!”

-----

One of the advantages of working for the bad of five were their skilled technicians, masters of improvisation, scavenging and turning machines around and getting them back into the battle as swiftly as possible. Xiaphos and Bulgarin had allowed ninety minutes for repairs, mainly to replace armour and reload ammunition before moving on Frostwolf Village. The few units that had been badly damaged, such as the Koshi or the disabled Osiris had been left at their dropships.

That whole idea had sat well with Nero; he’d expected that they’d want to strike while the iron was hot, push their advantage while the Steel Wolf forces were still regrouping and repairing. The degree that their forces were strung out would mean that it would take them longer to get back to their base camp, giving them less time to repair and re-arm. The damage the Wolves had taken was worse, their losses more severe and, above all else, it appeared that their leader had died on the bridge. Right now, Bulgarin was holding all the cards.

Of course, that Nero had been a part of the original plan had helped, even though he’d never take any credit for it. For now, it was better for him to play the part of the drug-addled rock star and make Allen look like the master manipulator behind everything. Nobody would ever suspect him, which was how he preferred things.

As the Centurion strode through the snow, he couldn’t help but glance back at the Lumberjack following his mech. When his recruiter had called him up saying that she’d found the person behind the defeats on Imbross and Mizar, he was intrigued. Allen had insisted that they take her right now, citing a number of very sensible reasons; she was clearly skilled, she likely was connected to somebody and, above all else, turning a weapon that had been used against the Band to their advantage.

Also, it paid never to argue with Allen.

She’d turned out to be capable enough and able to hold herself down in a fight, and certainly knew her way around an Industrial. He wanted to see what she’d do in a real BattleMech, but that would have to wait for now. More importantly, he wanted to see her put those mech-thief skills to use for the Band. It was an interesting idea, one that would certainly fit with their usual modus operandi, one that could be used to turn an enemy’s weapons against them. Of course, that she was kind of cute didn’t hurt either.

“Contact!” A voice called over the command channel. “Frostwolf scouts near the outskirts of their village. Light hovers for now.”

“Understood.” Bulgarin replied, his tone flat and level. “Engage them but do not follow them in if they try to escape. Hopefully we will lure their forces out into the open. Concentrate on the objective for now.” The objective was a hill just north of the village, one that he’d labeled as ‘noob hill’ as a joke. From there, they could take up a commanding position to attack the fortified town at their leisure.

“Commence bombardment of the enemy; switch over to the town proper as soon as you are in range” Balinda Harth, the second in command of the mercenary forces added. “Keep them pinned down, break up their forces if possible. And if you see something that looks like it could be an ammo dump or the like, then take it out.”

Nero shouldn’t have had access to the command channel normally; however, Allen had slipped him in through a hack to the network, allowing him to quietly lurk and listen, but not being heard. Being a part of the master plan had its advantages.

He opened up the throttle of his mech, the Centurion striding forward, eating up the distance as a mercenary Blade fell into formation next to him. Glancing at the display, he could see the Ti Ts’ang right behind the pair of them; no doubt the Wolf Mechwarirors would be chomping at the bit for a shot of revenge against the machine that had so humiliated them. Well, better him than me.

Seconds later, his sensors beeped a warning, telling him that he had found his enemy. The Centurion’s systems quickly locked up an Asshur recon vehicle, the disc-shaped hovercraft scurrying across their ranks, leaving a cloud of powdered snow in its wake. He had no idea if the Frostwolves had access to artillery, but he figured that there was no point in letting them get a chance to use it.

A wailing tone told him that his missiles had a lock on the enemy tank, a quick stab of the trigger sending them flying at the hovercraft. The fast-moving vehicle twisted around, the missiles slamming into the snow behind it instead, detonating in a sequence of stark orange blossoms against the whiteness around them.

Undeterred, Nowen pushed forward, waiting for the missiles to reload and be ready again while the Asshur spun around. As it did, a red and gold mercenary Pegasus jetted towards it, spewing short-range missiles from its turret. Rounds burst against the Wolf tank’s side as it slashed back with its lasers, stabbing into the Pegasus’ flank. The two craft spun away from each other, their drivers coming around for another pass.

Nero was about to add to the damage when another vehicle caught his eye, a far larger and bulkier hovercraft. The targeting system identified it as a Maxim Mk II heavy transport, one that was almost certainly loaded down with battle armoured infantry – which made the enemy vehicle a far more important target. Ignoring the Asshur for the moment, he pushed forwards, closing the distance on the hovercraft.

The Wolf driver had clearly seen him coming, the craft turning to head away from him, probably looking for cover to unload its cargo. Its turret spun to face him, two flights of missiles arcing towards his mech. A handful of them smacked into his mech, mere pinpricks against the otherwise pristine armour and enough for him to ignore for now.

His reply was far more substantial, the Centurion opening fire with all of its weaponry. A handful of missiles peppered the side of the Maxim, while autocannon rounds dug up puffs of snow before tracking up and chewing into the tank’s hull, ripping away its armour but not crippling the tank for now, while a medium laser simply went wide. The damage rocked the tank, its driver fighting to keep it under control as it kicked up a hail of snow behind it.

As the Maxim fishtailed, the craft turned to make its escape, a copse of trees providing the perfect cover for it to unload its troops. As it did, however, it was cut off by a hail of long-range missiles that slammed into the transport and the ground around it, throwing up clouds of dirt, snow and metal fragments. The craft bottomed out, skidding to a halt as it did with clouds of black smoke billowing out from the holes in its side. Moments later, the back gate spilled open, a Volk battle armour advancing out of it.

Nice shooting, chica. He thought to himself, glancing back at the Lumbrjack with a smile. You’re doing pretty good so far. Glancing back at the Maxim, he dropped his sights on the troops spilling out from the hovertank, looking to take advantage of them while they were bunched up on the back ramp. Instead, a burst of autocannon fire slammed into his mech’s side, sending the Centurion staggering back.

Looking up, he saw the source of the attack, a Ku medium tank advancing out the gates of the fortified village. Behind it, he could see other Wolf combat vehicles, as well as a pair of mechs, both of which still bore scars from the earlier battle. Not wanting to hang around, he instead fired the Centurion’s jump jets, the mech leaping into the same stand of trees that the Maxim was hoping to exploit.

“Hey TF.” He shot over their private channel. “I’d say they’re fully committed now.”

“Understood.” came the simple, gravelly reply. “I’ll move to the next stage.”

-----

Dropship Bountiful Feast, Lockholme, Appilago


“This is Ravager two to Defiler Lead.” TF Allen’s distinctive voice crackled over the communicator. “Wolf forces are committed at Frostwolf Village. You are go.”

“Understood.” Kirstin Ross replied from the command couch of her massive Carnivore assault tank. “Moving out.”

The Bountiful Feast was a perfectly normal Mule-class transport, just like so many others currently resting at the Lockholme spaceport, as well as the Achenar Provider. Also, like that ship, it was owned by a company who could in turn, be traced back to Bannson Universal. And, while the ship itself was typical, its cargo definitely wasn’t. A number of massive shipping crates had been unloaded from the ship following its landing three days ago – just before the attack on Shira - and had been left for sorting.

The doors at the back of one of them swung open with a crash, a roar of motors coming from within. Moments later, the huge, predatory, form of the Carnivore tank burst forward from it, tearing across the pavement of the drop port. Around it, other crated burst open, the other tanks of Defiler Company launching into action.

Shouts of alarm were raised from across the port, only to be silenced as the Bountiful Feast’s crew leaped into action, their spacers’ duffel bags concealing firearms and assault weapons. The Band of Five’s infantry fanned out not only from the dropship itself, but from the positions they’d taken up across the spaceport. Security forces, caught off-guard by the sudden assault, were trying to respond but were clearly overwhelmed.

Kirstin knew that there was nothing on-site that could stand against the infantry, let alone her tank company. The Steel Wolf garrison forces had left maybe a half hour before, summoned back to deal with the mercenary attack on their headquarters in the mountains – which left the Band of Five with free reign over the starport.

But that wasn’t her real objective. Instead, her tanks barreled across the ferrocrete surface of the drop-port, racing forward. While many saw tanks as being slower than Battlemechs, her squad was organized for fast strikes. With a top speedv of sixty-four kilometers per hour, the Carnivore was the slowest vehicle of the twelve. Her tank lead the charge, effortlessly plowing through the mesh-link fence around the perimeter of the drop-port.

Instead, they bore down on the Mara Development Corpration’s IndustrialMech factory, the true reason that the band had come to this world. It was the real prize here, one that the Wolves had obligingly stripped most of the defenses from.

“Hit them hard and fast, men.” She stated over the command channel. “Take out any defenses you find, then drop your troops and cover them as they go in. This place is ours.”

From here, whatever happened in the mountains was merely a side-show. The Wolves had already lost.

Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



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sandstorm

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #10 on: 14 February 2011, 03:34:19 »
Wonder if the impudent pups get the actual fact that they lost so badly ever explained to them?

Little Miri might not like the lesson...
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StCptMara

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #11 on: 14 February 2011, 06:28:05 »
Oooo....cool story. I look forward to the next installment(s)
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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #12 on: 15 February 2011, 01:21:48 »
Last part! Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it. I'll be posting some personell files in the near future as a bonus as well.

-----

Configured with LRMs, Juanita's stolen Lumberjack was not designed to fight in the front lines. Instead, the heavy machine made the most of being an industrial mod, acting in support of other units rather than advancing and closing with the enemy. It was something she was in two minds about. On one side, she could appreciate the role it was playing and, certainly for an inexperienced combatant like her, a support position probably was a better choice. On the other hand, she wanted the sheer excitement of closing with her enemy and driving them down.

Of course, if she had a real Battlemech...

The combined force had hit the Steel Wolves just outside of their base camp, striking while they were still disorganised and recuperating from the first battle. Apparently at some point after taking over Callista, they'd erected a fortified wall around the town, made up mainly of rough-cut lumber. It was good for keeping infantry out (and the population in), and certainly prided cover for their tanks, but it wasn't much use against a BattleMech force.

However, it was obvious how ill-prepared they were, as units came charging out of the fortified town piecemeal rather than as a coordinated push. Much of their first wave had been scattered, damaged and disabled tanks now burning in the snow as the remaining forces fell back to regroup with the newer arrivals. Their infantry and Battle Armour were doing a credible job of screening the heavier units, making sure that the mercenaries didn't push too hard lest they be swarmed, but it still was only buying time. And time was not something they had.

“Ravager four.” Niko's voice called out over her command channel. “Join up with the mercenaries on the hill and hold ground there. Support us as we go in.”

“Understood.” She agreed, the smallest hint of frustration in her tone as she did. Turning the controls, she powered forward, forming up with the heavyweight mercenary Helopolis that had done so much so far to disrupt their forces. The two mechs advanced on the large hill, tanks churning up the snow around them as they did. Cresting the top of the rise, she could see the so-called Frostwolf village below, with the brown and silver Steel Wolf troops obvious within it. In the distance, she could see dropships with the metal-gray wolf-head insignia obvious on their hulls.

A roar and burst of fire signaled the Helopolis continuing its mission, a shell arcing up into the air, before plummeting and erupting in a burst of flame in the middle of the town. The burst of fire didn't seem to have hit anything, but certainly gave the enemy forces pause. From here, he can command this battlefield. And me too. Let's rock.

Her targeting system spotted one of the enemy mechs form the earlier battle, a mid-sized Ghost in amongst the Wolf forces, looming over the low-rise buildings around it. The growl of the seeker lock was all the incentive she needed, a pair squeeze of the trigger sending two flights of missiles at the Wolf Mech. Less then half the volley hit home, small blossoms of fire surrounding its side while more scattered in the streets around it, but it seemed to give the mech some pause.

It turned to face her, only to be hammered by another flight of missiles, followed by a burst of cannon fire that shredded both armour and the roofs around it. Chunks of tile and metal threw up clouds around the mech, its pilot standing firm in the face of the assault. Turning to face its attacker, it unleashed a pair of PPC bursts at Nero's Centurion, the shots sizzling armour off the mech's side but not stopping it.

Moments later, a section of wall gave way, simply crushed under the massive treads of a mercenary Marksman tank. The huge vehicle twisted its turret as it advanced, unleashing a devastating volley on a Ku tank that had just fallen back to the safety of the village, ripping the boxy unit apart. Infantry, both on foot and in battle suits poured in through the breach it had made, opening fire on the Wolf forces as they did.

The Centurion advanced further, its autocannon shredding armour from the Ghost’s side while stray rounds ripped a small house apart in a hail of splinters. Its missiles followed through, splattering into the enemy mech, sending it staggering backwards. As it stumbled, Niko’s modified Buster advanced, its missile launchers open and spraying their deadly fire across a Wolf Demon tank, blasting armour off its front and ripping open one of its tires.

A pair of gauss rounds streaked across the rooftops in silvery blurs, slamming into the Centurion as it moved to finish its fallen prey. The shots struck Nero’s mech, shattering armour and twisting its leg, the knee bent at an angle that looked to be well beyond its design specs. The impacts drove the mech downwards, all but collapsing into the building behind it. Glancing up, she could see the source of the attack, a battered but still deadly Sun Cobra.

The Buster turned to face the incoming mech, only to be struck by a hail of missiles raining down on it. The attacker was making no effort to hide themselves, the massive Rakshasa stalking forward towards its prey. As the Buster reeled under the assault, a pair of brilliant red lasers struck it, following up on the initial assault. One sliced through the Industrialmech’s right arm, ripping it apart and leaving only a blackened stub in its wake.

“Oh no, you ain’t taking him out!” Juanita shouted as she spun her sights over the Sun Cobra, sending missiles arcing towards the mech. The missiles slammed into it, shredding armour, giving the pilot some reason to pause rather than take advantage of the wounded target. The Wolf mech came around, twisting its upper body towards her mech, the twin rifles leveling at her mech, only to be hammered by a flight of missiles from the wounded Buster.

“Nobody, but nobody touches him” Ignoring the warnings from her systems and the backwashing heat into the cockpit, she sent another pair of missile flights flying at the enemy machine. The warheads ripped across its right arm, before one of them apparently worked its way through the armour and struck the body of the Gauss Rifle concealed within it. The weapon detonated, its capacitors discharging in a brilliant shower of electricity across the mech’s body. The wounded machine staggered drunkenly as the combination of the damage and losing nearly a quarter of its mass in one blow struck home, before the mech simply collapsed forward onto its face.

“Yeah!” She shouted out in excitement as she ignored the spluttering engine, watching the Sun Cobra fall. “Take that, baby! Who’s big? Who’s bad? Who’s just plain awesome? Me!” She couldn’t help but be excited at what had just happened; seeing what amounted to her first BattleMech kill. What she’d learned from Ponytail’s instruction told her that feedback from explosion had likely incapacitated or killed the Mechwarrior inside, effectively removing the mech itself from the battle.

As if to celebrate her success, a round from the Helopolis’ cannon slammed into a building in towards the rear of the village. The first blast from the cannon suddenly expanded, the building erupting into a brilliant fireball that simply tore it apart from within, disintegrating the building and leaving only splinters in its wake. “Ammo dump.” She told herself with a grin, remembering the way the Band of Five’s supplies had gone up under her own assault.

She glanced back down on the battlefield, looking for a new target. It’d be a few seconds before she could fire again, her system still cooling off from the way she’d pushed it under the pressure of constant volleys. A quick glance at her display told her that each launcher had only a pair of volleys left. Better make them count. Searching for targets in the village, she saw a new force enter play. Stepping over the burning hulk of a Wolf tank, TF Allen’s Black Knight advanced towards the enemy Rakshasa.

But then, I may not need it.

-----

When she had won command of the Frostwolf cluster, Miri Wolf had seen it a victory not only for herself, but for those that believed in the true Wolf Spirit of the clan. She had swept aside the cowards and fools that had claimed to be Wolf, and was poised to reshape the Frostwolf Cluster into what it should be, a symbol of the power and the spirit of the true Wolf. This battle would be her triumph, her vindication, the proof of all that she believed in.

All she needed to do was crush those dezgra bandits that had dared to defile this sacred valley with their presence, to drive them back. She knew that what had happened in the earlier battle was not her fault, nor the fault of her men. It was the fault, instead, of the weak-willed leader they had been straddled with and his lack of faith, his weakness of spirit.

In his place, she would triumph. With her leadership, the Frostwolves could not fail. When she had heard the warnings that the enemy were falling upon Frostwolf Village, she had relished the opportunity to do battle again. She would personally lead her men to battle, and drive them back from their assault with her power and skill. Even though their mechs and tanks were still damaged from the previous battle, she knew that their machines mattered not. It was the power and strength of their true Wolf Spirit that would win the day.

Instead, she found that they were facing defeat. Her troops were falling back from their positions, withdrawing into the village proper to find cover from the enemy forces. Casualties were mounting, and yet the enemy refused to yield, remaining relentless in their assault. But she could stop it, if only by the sheer force of her presence.

Ignoring the heat coming from the cracked reactor shielding – damage inflicted during the first battle – she pushed her Rakshasa forward, determined to bring down the enemy herself. She had sighted the Ti Ts’ang, the enemy Battlemech that had humiliated her star with its unorthodox, dishonorable tactics. “Feel the fury of the Wolf, bandit!” She shouted as she triggered her mech’s weapons, a torrent of heat hitting her with physical force as she did.

However, it was worth it for the results. Lasers carved armour off the mech’s side and leg, while the missiles pummeled its flank, driving the heavy mech back. Moments later, more missiles and beams joined it, as Rokh’s Ghost charged forward, joining her in repaying the dishonor paid against it. Miri knew that teaming up on an opponent was dishonorable, yet at the same time, honour was wasted on these bandits.

Unexpectedly, the Ti Ts’ang rallied, surging forward as it, did, unleashing a barrage of laser fire at the Ghost. Brilliant red beams sliced into the smaller mech, slashing armour off its body and biting into its limbs. With a lunge, the heavy mech swung out with its battleaxe, the weapon coming down on the head of the Ghost, crushing it in a single, furious act of destruction.

“How dare you!” She shouted out, the Rakshasa charging towards the mercenary battlemech. Anger and fury consumed her, a burning desire to seek vengeance on those that had so cruelly cut down one of her men. Ignoring warnings, she slammed down her triggers, unleashing a blistering hail of fire on the enemy Battlemech. Lasers ripped through the mech’s side, before missiles shattered metal bones. The Ti Ts’ang’s leg snapped, the battlemech stumbling forward, before unceremoniously crashing to the ground, kicking up a cloud of snow around it.

“There!” she triumphantly shouted over the warnings from her mech’s systems. “Fall before the power of the Wolf’s swift justice!” Seeing the mech that had so humiliated her being defeated buoyed her on, making her even hungrier for battle. “Does anyone else dare face me?” She called over her mech’s PA system. “I do not fear your challenges!”

An answer came in the form of a trio of energy beams that crashed into her battlemech, ripping armour from its chest and sending it staggering back. As she fought the controls, she saw her attacker, a humanoid Black Knight, slowly walking towards her mech.

“Aha!” She called out as she pushed forward, sweat washing down her brow but the discomfort forgotten in the face of the battle. “My enemy shows himself! Do you have anything to say before I defeat you in battle, bandit?” Miri continued as she opened up with a quartet of lasers, another wave of heat washing over her.

“Give up” The enemy MechWarrior simply replied as two of the lasers struck home, but seemed to simply wash over the Knight’s armoured chest. A half-dozen brilliant red beams leaped from the Black Knight, ripping into her battlemech, sending off a series of alarms as the Rakshasha’s armour was shredded. “You cannot win. You are outnumbered, and your forces are failing. Your defeat is inevitable.”

She pulled back on the controls, trying to keep the Rakshasa upright through the assault. Instead of its usual speed and ferocity, the mech moved sluggishly, as if it were underwater or hobbled. Screaming in frustration, she opened fire again, her lasers going well wide of the enemy mech as the targeting system flickered.

“All you do is prolong the inevitable.” The enemy mechwarrior’s gravelly voice returned, a volley of fire tearing into her Rakshasa. Lasers sliced through the armour, red lights and sirens coming across the status boards. One arm was ripped apart, while huge gashes were ripped through her mech’s torso, one of the LRM launchers blown apart.

Before she could recover, another volley of fire struck home, ripping into the mech with the viciousness of a shark onto hapless prey. A brilliant red beam flayed the cockpit, shattering the canopy cover and spraying her with shards of flying debris. A sudden. shearing shock of pain ripped through her as something hit her in the face, vision vanishing in a haze of red for a moment. Her hands left the controls, clasping her face, the sensation of warm blood obvious to her touch.

“This is Frostwolf actual to all units!” She demanded over the command channel. “I need assistance, now!”

“Negative, Frostwolf Actual.” A voice shot back. “We are struggling to hold ground.”

“Pulling back into the village. They’re too powerful!” Another added

“They got the relief hut with their artillery! We cannot win now!”

“This battle is a loss! We should just abandon it!”

“Enemy troops have taken the drop port. There’s nothing to stay for!”

“This is Frostwolf transport command; LZ is not clear for reinforcement drop. We are aborting!”

 â€œYou… cowards!” She shot back. “The Wolf does not flee battle, she embraces it! You should stand and fight!” A glance at her tactical display showed her forces falling back towards the dropships, while the enemy advanced. Looking around, she could see damaged or disabled Wolf units, breaking and fleeing before the advancing mercenary force.

Around her, Frostwolf village was in flames; their relief hut with all its ammo supplies little more then a pyre. A one-armed Buster Loadermech, the same machine that she had wounded before, unleashed a barrage of missiles towards the conference centre, the warheads exploding and showering the buildings in incendiary gel. Screming with range, she bought the Rakshasa around to deal with the impermanent bandit, only to watch her weapons track in a lazy, wide arc.

“Give up.” The Black Knight’s pilot finished as another burst of fire savaged her mech, ripping away its other arm and leaving it virtually weaponless. “You cannot win.”

Miri looked around, as if searching for some relief, for a savior that would deliver her from this certain defeat. Instead, all she saw was the ominous Black Knight, the mech all but looming over her. Clutching her wounded face, she slammed the communicator. “All Frostwolf units! Fall back now!”

-----

Juanita had been surprised at the order given when the Frostwolves began to fall back to their dropships. Let them. She could hear a degree of reluctance in Bulgarin’s voice, as if he didn’t like to hand it down. She could only speculate that Xiaphios had been behind it, a decision to break off the engagement and keep his repair bill down. True, the Frostwolves had been beaten, but there were still enough of them on the field; two of their BattleMechs had escaped, amongst other units.

As soon as the Wolf forces had retreated, local emergency services had come out of hiding, doing their best to reduce and contain the damage done to the (now former) Frostwolf Village. That the Band of Five had been aiming to deliberately destroy the enemy infrastructure had only added to the damage done, specially the use of inferno rounds to accelerate the destruction.

Not that Juanita really cared. She was on a buzzing high, driven by the thrill of not only her first real battle, but now her first Battlemech kill (even if it was an ‘assist’) and her first victory. As soon as it was secure, she’d all but bound out of the cockpit, fistpumping in the air in a celebration of her achievements. She had every right to; the excitement she felt was incredible.

“Nero!” She shouted out spotting the rock star-turned-Mechwarrior as he was looking over his damaged Centurion. “Guess who saved your arse!”

“Hey chica.” He began, turning and smirking. “How about-“

He was cut off as she all but threw herself at him, leaping and wrapping her arms around him, he stumbled, then grabbed her, holding her up by her rear – and, she noted, copping a feel while he was at it. Not that she cared. “So, then, Nero. How’s about you and me celebrate our victory then?”

“I’d love to, Chica.” He smirked. “But, uh, we got a friend.” He indicated over his shoulder, Juanita turning to follow his sight, a comment dying in her lips. Behind them was the ominous, looming form of TF Allen, his blank helmet as impassive as ever. “I’d better go… place.” Nero managed as he gently let her down, stepping back as she nervously watched the masked man. As soon as they were separated, he scurried off, leaving her alone with him.

“So, hey.” Juanita began, her excitement evaporated, leaving only a degree of nervous apprehension behind. It was hard not to around the man. “I blew crap up and saved Nero’s arse and killed that Sun Cobra. Guess that counts for something.”

“Indeed.” Allen simply nodded. “I put a lot of faith in you, Kwan, when I recruited you. For now, you have shown that you are worthy of that faith. Continue to perform, and you will be rewarded with whatever you want. Fail me, and you will not live to repeat the mistake. Understood?”

She gave a nervous nod, trying her best to look the man in the eye – not an easy task.

“One other thing – I know about who you are, and what you did on Mizar and Imbross. Do not attempt to deny it; the information my recruiter gave me was clear.” He gave her a slight nod. “Do not tell anyone of this, of the skills you have or your past with the Band. Doing such would be a fatal mistake. For now, you are simply a MechWarrior, nothing more. Understood.”

“Fully.” She managed, the apprehension obvious in her voice.

“However, your performance warrants a reward.” The man continued. “While salvage is to be divided up, name your prize.”

And then her tension disappeared, a broad grin covering her face. “Well, since you seem to own the planet now, you can ‘commandeer’ me an SR Motors Phoenix… make it a convertible, and hot yellow too. That should cover me.”

-----

Seeing the news report on the battle in Shira had driven Antonin into action. It was obvious that Juanita was involved; the hijacking of the Lumberjack was her style and certainly what he would have expected her to do in that situation. It was when she had refused to answer his messages that he had been spurned into action, trying to figure her next move.

Asking around the right people had referred him to the Perndole valley; apparently, a trio of Dropships had come down there overnight, with planetary control doing a terrible job of hiding the fact. Given that the Steel Wolves had their planetary headquarters there, he felt is a fair bet that the ships contained a strike force, and that Juanita would be there with them.

He’d chartered a flight up there (paying off the pilot to an almost insane degree to forget about the trip), then taken Juanita’s Toad ATV – his gift to her – cross country. Even in the distance, he could hear the sounds of battle, the roar of explosions and the thud of artillery shells. And, he figured, she’d be in the middle of it. He’d driven the ATV to its limits, bounding across the countryside, headed towards Frostwolf Village.

The roar of Dropships was unmistakable; looking up, he saw a pair of spheroid craft rising into the air on pillars of nuclear flame. A quick glance through his binoculars told him that they were Steel Wolf ships, the marking of the faux-Clan obvious on their hulls. A guess told him that whatever had just unfolded had not worked out well for them, and that the Clan were retreating off-world. And so she does her job, but for the wrong people. Great.

When he finally got into sight of Frostwolf Village, he found his suspicions confirmed. Half the town was burned, with emergency teams working to contain the damage. However, the signs of battle were obvious, the burning hulks of tanks, the bodies of fallen infantry and battle armour, and a pair of disabled battlemechs. Many of them, he noted, were wearing the brown and silver of the Steel Wolves, far more than the dead of the yellow and gold mercenaries – or their tan and blue allies.

The Band of Five, he noted as he took up a spot overlooking the battlefield, again drawing binoculars and a small noteputer. He’d recently come into some O5P files with surprisingly complete information on a number of the Band’s members, and was quickly thumbing through them. Immediately, a man in a black suit caught his eye, their face concealed by a helmet. Glancing at his information, could match the man to one file immediately. TF Allen, apparently a big man within their organization. Which means that he’s probably calling the shots here.

He continued to look over those present, marking off some names against his list, helping to build a more coherent list of those present. There were plenty more that he didn’t recongise, but suspected he could put names to with more research. However, it was one of them that wasn’t in the files that caught his attention the most, the young woman with her black hair tied into a scruffy ponytail, chatting animatedly with a blond man.

Juanita Kwan. He thought back, again, to the meeting with the woman in the café, the implied threats in her words, and her comments on his actions. And now he could see those threats looming large before him, made manifest by her actions. What the hell have you done now?

Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



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MechRat

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #13 on: 15 February 2011, 09:26:18 »
This is the last part? No! It can't be... :'(

Thanks Deadborder! Another excellent story. Hopefully it won't be too long before you post another installment.

Ajax_Wolf

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #14 on: 15 February 2011, 19:30:31 »
Last part of this chapter. We'll be hearing more of Kwan, Antoinne and the Bo5.
Why does everyone "Fire at Will"? Is he really that bad of a person? And what did he do to make everyone want to shoot him?

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snakespinner

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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #15 on: 16 February 2011, 02:38:20 »
Another great story.
Looking forward to the next story about Super Juanita and the Hand of Five. }:)
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Re: Take On Me
« Reply #16 on: 17 February 2011, 00:49:19 »
And as a bonus, more character profiles. Enjoy!


Wolf, Miri

DOB: 24/04/3108
Hair: Blonde
Eyes: Blue
Faction: Steel Wolves
Unit: Frostwolves
Rank: Star Commander
Mech: MDG-1A Rakshasa

Miri Wolf seems to be almost a study in contradiction. Born Bethany Jones to a comfortable middle-
class family, she apparently developed an elaborate fantasy around an idealised version of herself as
a Trueborn Clan Warrior. As she grew, she began to idolise the Wolf Clan, its traditions, its imagery
and particularly the “Wolf Spirit” that they embodied.

At the same time, she also was shown to be a shameless liar and manipulator, using those around
her to her own advantage. Managing to talk her way into the confidence of a Mercenary Mechwarrior,
she convinced him to train her as a Mechwarrior herself, getting him to pay for her lessons and a legal
name change before leaving him

With the collapse of the HPG network, Miri Albion (as she now called herself) saw a chance at her
dream. Approaching the Steel Wolves, she underwent a trial to join their ranks. While ultimately
unsuccessful and made a bondsman, her dedication to the ways of the clan were enough to see her
re-trial and obtain rank and position within the Clan’s forces. While only a mediocre MechWarrior, Miri
has a passion for the clan’s ways that borders on obsessive in her desire to emulate them.


Model: MDG-1A
Serial Number: FC109-23M
Mass: 75 tons
Chassis: GM Marauder Special MD
Power Plant: GM 375 XL
Cruising Speed: 54 km/h
Maximum Speed: 86 km/h
Jump Jets: None
Jump Capacity: None
Armour: StarGuard Ferro-Fiberous
Armament:
2 Federated LRM-10 packs
2 ExoStar Extended-Range Large Lasers
2 Bright Blossom Extended-Range Medium Lasers
1 Martell Medium Pulse Laser
Communications System: Dalban Micronics
Targeting & Tracking System: Sync Tracker (39-42071) with Artemis IV System

Commentary:

Created by the NAIS as a copy of the fearsome Clan Timber Wolf, the Rakshasa was designed to be
as close a reproduction of the Omnimech as possible, albeit limited by Inner Sphere technology.
While inferior to its clan progenitor, the Rakshasa is still a formidable mech by Inner Sphere
standards, boasting superior speed and firepower.

Serial FC109-23M was a minor variant produced just before the FedCom Civil War upgraded with
extended-range medium lasers. This variant, however, proved to be unpopular due to the added heat
burden and was quickly discontinued. Regardless, the mech served with the AFFC and later AFFS
until the end of the Jihad, where it was handed over to the newly-formed RAF.

Despite the machine’s origins, Miri Wolf sees the machine as possessing a “true Wolf soul”, likely due
to its resemblance to the iconic Wolf Clan mech. While others may mock her for her devotion to a
knock-off design, Miri sees her mech, which she calls “Metal Wolf” as a treasured possession.

-----

Wolf, Galv
DOB: 25/06/3098
Hair: Black
Eyes: Black
Faction: Steel Wolves
Unit: Frostwolves
Rank: Star Colonel            
Vehicle: Heimdall Ground Monitor Tank

One of the few Trueborns amongst the Frostwolf Cluster, Galv Wolf was placed in the unit to act as a
mentor and guidance to the freeborn adoptees that make up the bulk of its ranks. However, rather
than being an inspiration, Galv has instead shown a degree of hostility and resentment to his charges.

The key reason for this can be found in his origins. Born to a Wolf enclave in the Republic, Galv failed
his initial trial of position but qualified to re-test as a vehicle crewman. While he did become a warrior,
he found it a tainted honour, knowing that he would forever be excluded from being a MechWarrior,
and that he had no chance of a Bloodname save for winning it through a grand melee.

Now the highest ranking vehicle commander in the Steel Wolves (a dubious honour at the best of
times), Galv has become embittered and resentful, seeing the adoptees he leads as stealing what
should have been his place. Instead, he seeks to prove himself in battle, wanting to either win a
desperate chance at the glory he was denied, or at the least, a warrior’s end.

Model: Prime
Serial Number: WX921-02HT
Mass: 95 tons
Movement Type: Tracked
Power Plant: Second Grade 285 XL
Cruising Speed: 32 km/h
Maximum Speed: 54 km/h
Armour: Royal-7 Standard
Armament:
2 KOV LB-10X Autocannons
1 Model X Heavy Large Laser
3 Pattern J4 Streak SRM-4 Launchers
Communications System: K9 Communications System
Targeting & Tracking System: Hunter (2) Dedicated TTS

Commentary:

Created by Wolf Clan (in Exile) to supplement their depleted Battlemech forces, the Heimdall is a
powerful, heavily armoured battle tank. With over a fifth of its mass dedicated to armour, the tanks’
resilience is unmatched, and supplemented by an array of powerful weapons capable of destroying
both other tanks and Battlemechs.

This example, serial WX921-02HT, was produced just prior to the Jihad and assigned to the forces of
the exiled Wolves. The tank fought in numerous battles during that conflict, before being donated to
the newly formed Republic Armed forces. The unit was then given over to the Wolf Clan forces within
the republic.

Glav has been commanding the tank for much of his career, a fact that seems to only remind him of
his apparent failure. Despite that, he appreciates the capabilities of his vehicle, and is more than
capable at its controls. The combination of his experience and knowledge makes him and his vehicle,
nicknamed “Bloodlust”, a force to be reckoned with in any potential conflict.

-----
Wolf, Jekyll

DOB: 11/10/3107
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Faction: Steel Wolves
Unit: Frostwolves
Rank: Star Captain
Vehicle: Maxim Mk II Transport

Scrawny, with thinning hair and blotchy, discoloured skin from a childhood disease, Jekyll Wolf does
not seem to fit the part of a clan warrior. Even amongst the freeborn adoptees of the Frostwolf
Cluster, he stands out as apparently being only barely up to their physical standards. However, his
true strength lies in his determination and force of will, and the willingness to give up at any cost.

Declared unfit for military service, he nonetheless persevered, travelling to a Wolf Clan enclave and
winning a place in the Clan through a trail of position. While assigned to a transport vehicle,
seemingly an honourless role, he took it in his stride, working to do the utmost to serve the Steel
Wolves. This determination saw him rise to the rank of Star Captain within the Frostwolf Cluster.

Despite his accomplishments, Jekyll Wolf has something of a rivalry with Star Captain Miri Wolf. He
sees the latter as being an egomaniac more concerned with her own success than the unit as a
whole, while she derides him as not being a “real” warrior.

Model: Mk II                         Record No: FT-119-02
Serial Number: RS242-54KJ
Mass: 50 tons
Movement Type: Hover
Power Plant: PowerTech 165 Highlift Fusion
Cruising Speed: 86 km/h
Maximum Speed: 129 km/h
Armour: ArcShield Heavy Ferro-Fiberous with CASE
Armament:
2 Helga Series Three-Tube Multi-Missile Launchers
Communications System: Cyclops Surelink
Targeting & Tracking System: Scarborough Tracky 3

Commentary:

An update of a classic design, the Maxim Mk II Hover Transport is one of the standard vehicles of the
Republic Armed Forces. Designed to support and transport infantry forces in battle, the Maxim is
capable of transporting a full platoon of Battle Armour, rapidly deploying them on the field. While not
powerful in and of itself, a well-employed Maxim can be a potent battlefield force.

Serial RS242-54KJ was produced for the Republic Armed forces and was assigned to a militia unit on
Tigress, working to support infantry and battle armour forces on the field. Its service life was long but
unremarkable, having never seen active duty or fired a shot in anger. It was only after the collapse of
the HPG network that it saw action after being commandeered by the Steel Wolves.

Well versed in the unit’s capabilities, Star Captain Jekyll employs his transport in support of the
Frostwolf Forces. Rather than seeking individual glory, he is more than willing to skirt the battlefield,
evade enemy fore and drop his potent cargo where it will be the most use to his unit. However,
possibly as a recognition of his limited role, Jekyll has not given a nickname to his vehicle.

-----
Wolf, Nile

DOB: 03/03/3108
Hair: Blond
Eyes: Blue
Faction: Steel Wolves            
Unit: Frostwolves            
Rank: Star Commander            
Battle Armour: Longinus Battle Armour

Prior to the HPG blackout, Nile Wolf (born D. Nile Kukan) showed no interest in the Clans or their way
of life. Strong, fit and a gifted athlete, as well as outward and charismatic, he had the makings of a
potential sports star. However, he chose to throw it all away for reasons as yet unknown, resurfacing
after the Blackout as a member of the Steel Wolves, an adoptee into their military.

While capable enough on the field Nile Wolf seems to have a severe weakness, one that may yet
prove to be detrimental to him. Nile seems to have become rather infatuated with Star Commander
Miri Wolf, expressing a decidedly un-Clanlike affection for her beyond simple battlefield camaraderie.

Unfortunately, she is acutely aware of this, and has shown no reservations about shamelessly
exploiting him for her own ends. He so far seems unaware of this, believing her to genuinely care for
him, rather than using him to her advantage, a fact that may yet cost him his life. However, with some
careful prodding, we should be able to exploit this weakness for our own uses, and gain a foothold in
the Steel Wolf forces.

Unit: Frostwolf Alpha Elemental One
Model: Longinus Battle Armour (Magnetic)
Mass: 1000 kg
Maximum Speed: 11 km/h
Jump Capacity: 90 meters
Armament:
1 Machine Gun
1 Heavy Machine Gun

Commentary:

Developed by the Free Worlds League prior to the Jihad, the Longinus Battle Armour comes the
closest of any Inner Sphere-built suit to matching the capabilities of the Clan Elemental Battlesuit.
Heavily armed and armoured, the Longinus is a threat to even the largest and most powerful of
BattleMechs.

The version used by Nile Wolf’s team is a late Jihad variant that sacrifices firepower for Magnetic
Clamps. Not only do these modifications enable the suits to ride on conventional Battlemechs or even
Industrialmechs, but also enable them to conduct devastating swarming attacks.

Practiced at ambushes and close-quarters combat, Nile’s point are fierce combatants in amongst the
Frostwolf ranks. However, his affection for Miri Wolf seems to cloud his tactical judgment, and often
sees his team deployed to protect her and her Battlemech, with Nile even opting to use his suits as
additional “armour” for her machine.

-----
Lonadin, Randolph

DOB: 12/08/3104
Hair: White-Blond
Eyes: Blue
Faction: Mercenary
Unit: Xiaphos’ Guards
Rank: Sergeant         
Mech: TSG-9H Ti Ts’ang

Eccentric, loud to the point of being obnoxious and with a variety of odd personal habits that serve
mainly to irritate those around him, Randolph Lonadin does not seem to fit the part of a mercenary
Mechwarrior. However, behind his almost goofy behaviour is a skilled, deadly warrior who’s skills in
his BattleMech should not be doubted.

An expert in Battlemech melee combat, Lonadin is capable of unleashing devastating attacks that
often catch the enemy off-guard with their power and ferocity. He oft uses unusual tactics, fooling his
opponents or switching targets, taking advantage of their confusion and sowing chaos on the
battlefield. In many cases, he will deliberately handicap or cripple an enemy to line them up for one of
his allies to take out, rather than seeking the kill himself.

While his eccentricities make him stand out amongst the members of Xiaphos’ Guards, his skill and
capabilities make him popular amongst his comrades in arms. Those who fight alongside him are
more than happy to tolerate his oddities in exchange for his capable service on the battlefield.


Model: TSG-9H
Serial Number: CC752-65A
Mass: 60 tons
Chassis: SL Special
Power Plant: 360 Hermes XL
Cruising Speed: 65 km/h (76 km/h w/TSM)
Maximum Speed: 97 km/h (119 km/h w/TSM)
Jump Jets: Chevron I
Jump Capacity: 180 Meters
Armour: Durallex Heavy
Armament:
5 Diverse Optics Extended Range Medium Lasers
4 Diverse Optics Extended Range Small Lasers
Communications System: CeresCom Model 21-Rs
Targeting & Tracking System: C-Apple Churchill

Commentary:

The Ti Ts’ang debuted in 3060 as the Capellan Confederation’s first homegrown heavyweight, melee
combat BattleMech design. With its four-ton battle-axe, driven by a powerful triple-strength myomer
muscles, and a battery of medium- and short-range lasers, this ’Mech is a master of close-range
brawling, with the armour and speed to bring all its fearsome power to bear in a pitched firefight.

Randolph’s mech, CC752-65A,fought as a part of the CCAF during the Jihad, only to be crippled in
battle and abandoned on the field. The mech lay forgotten for some years before being recovered and
reconditioned by Xiaphos, and then assigned to one of his most capable MechWarriors.

An expert in Battlemech Melee combat, Randolph pushes his mech to its limits to get the most out of
its capabilities, usually driving its heat to the limit to activate its myomers. As a result, his mech,
nicknamed “Laser Chicken” (for reasons still unclear) tends to run on the edge between a devastating
combatant and a shut-down target.

-----

Xiaphos, Vandar

DOB: 19/06/3090
Faction: Mercenary
Hair: Black
Eyes: Black
Unit: Xiaphos’ Guards
Rank: Major
Vehicle: Daimyo HQ 67-K

An Oriente noble, Vandar Xiaphos was one of the richer men in the Protectorate and a part of a large,
well-connected family with extensive mercantile interests. In spite of this, his biggest interests lay
outside what would be expected if his station, being archaeology and exploration. In order to support
his exploratory missions, Vander drew on his family’s resources to form the Guards, a unit that could
support and protect his expeditions.

Vandar Xiaphos is a skilled tactician and commander, possessing excellent organisational skills as
well as a broad base of knowledge on a variety of subjects. While motivated by his desire to locate
and excavate relics of the past, he also looks out for what would be best for his men, and ensures that
they have ready access to supplies and whatever comforts they may need.

Generally, Vandar will command his unit from his Mobile HQ unit, providing communications support
and coordinating their forces. However, he is known to be a trained Mechwarrior, and rumour persists
that he has a vintage Star League or Word of Blake ‘Mech at his disposal.

Model: 67-K
Serial Number: DC343-20MK
Mass: 50 tons
Movement Type: Wheeled
Power Plant: Vlar 230 Fusion
Cruising Speed: 54 km/h
Maximum Speed: 86 km/h
Armour: Star Slab/3
Armament:
1 RAMtech 1200 Large Laser
4 Type 87 Machine Guns
Communications System: Sipher Battlesys 5.2
Targeting & Tracking System: Eagle Eye VY 9-3

Commentary:

An ancient design created for the Draconis Combine, the Daimyo Mobile HQ is twice as heavy as the
standard Mobile HQ Vehicle. This increase gives it greater durability than its predecessor, as well as
expanded command capabilities and integral infantry support. Rare due to technology loss, the unit
none the less is a potent asset to a battlefield commander.

Serial DC343-20MK was built during the first Succession War for the DCMS, serving as a regimental
command vehicle for the better part of two centuries. Continual service and declining technology took
their toll on the vehicle, and eventually it was retired, stripped for usable parts and eventually stored
and forgotten.

Recovered by Xiaphos during a rare expedition into Republic space, the Daimyo was returned to its
original working condition and returned to service as the unit’s command vehicle. Using the
sophisticated systems onboard the vehicle, Vandar personally oversees his unit’s operations, lending
his knowledge and skill to their battlefield prowess.
------

Harth, Balinda

DOB: 12/03/3101
Hair: Blonde
Faction: Mercenary
Eyes: Blue
Unit: Xiaphos Guards
Rank: Captain
Vehicle: M1A Marksman MBT

From a martial family with historical ties to the Xiaphios, Balinda Harth had a long-standing friendship
with Vandar Xiaphos from a young age. As a consequence, when he formed his Guards unit, he
immediately approached her to offer a position. Seeing an opportunity, Balinda jumped at the offer,
quickly becoming his second in command.

While it would be easy to dismiss her position as coming from friendship, Balinda is a genuinely
skilled officer. An able tactician, she is an expert in combined-arms warfare, using diverse units to her
advantage on the battlefield. In spite of her rank and position, she prefers to lead her forces from the
middle of an assault, using her tank’s firepower to lend weight to her authority.

Loyal to the unit and its commander, Balinda seems to have no issues with the often dubious dealings
that Xipahos engages in during his treasure hunts. Instead, she remains practical and focused,
ensuring that the unit runs smoothly and remains potent on the battlefield.

Model: M1A                        Record No: FT-123-02
Serial Number: RS675-7543
Mass: 95 tons
Movement Type: Tracked
Power Plant: Edasich Motors 285 Light Fusion
Cruising Speed: 32 km/h
Maximum Speed: 54 km/h
Armour: AmberStar Weave Heavy Ferro with CASE
Armament:
1 M-7 Gauss Rifle
2 Holly MML 9
4 Krieger C1 Series Medium Lasers
4 MainFire Miniguns
Communications System: COMTEC 400E
Targeting & Tracking System: GroundTracker EE-4

Commentary:

An assault-weight tank created for the RAF, the Marksman MBT takes its name from an ancient Star
League artillery unit. However, rather than acting as a support vehicle, the Marksman is a potent
frontline combatant. Heavily armoured, its combination of Gauss Rifle, Lasers and Missiles allow it to
unleash a devastating barrage at any range.

Serial RS675-7543 was built for the RAF and deployed on the borders of the former Free Worlds
League. Crippled on the field during a border clash, it was abandoned only to be salvaged by
mercenary forces. Rebuilt, the tank passed into the hands of Vandar Xiaphos while he was building
his unit, who, in turn, gave it to Balinda Harth.

Choosing to command her unit from the front, Balinda makes the most of the Marksman’s aggressive
capabilities. Where possible, she will close with the enemy, gradually adding more and more fire to
her attacks as weapons come into range. Her combination of skill and knowledge makes “Judgement”
(as she calls the tank) a dangerous opponent on the battlefield.

Author of BattleCorps stories Grand Theft Agro and Zero Signal



Whenever you use terms like 'fiat' or 'stupid pills', you render your argument invalid

How to Draw MegaMek Icons the Deadborder Way

 

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