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Author Topic: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)  (Read 2054 times)

Middcore

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Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« on: 08 January 2022, 21:49:20 »
“The world has bested better men than you.”
-Ancient Terran troubadour, unknown


Atzenbrugg, The Free Worlds League
3026


The Vindicator was down on one knee just below the crest of the ridge, it’s shoulders level with the tops of the conifers. Looking at the town through the binoculars, with the sunset sky painted in shades of violet and orange, and smoke starting to rise from chimneys, Kit Söderlund could almost see what Mayrhofen had once been.

Kit had been told that at the planet’s peak centuries before, Atzenbrugg’s cold, icy surface had been dotted with resort towns like Mayrhofen catering to wealthy winter sports vacationers from across the Marik-controlled space. During the Succession Wars, the tourist traffic had dried up, and worlds like Atzenbrugg were forced to increasingly rely on the exploitation of its natural resources, which drew further attention from Periphery raiders at the same time the Free Worlds League’s military was devoting more resources to the conflicts with its bordering Successor States and less to protecting systems on the Periphery rim. Resort towns like Mayrhofen had become mining towns, and then as the surrounding mountain range was mined out, the local population had turned to… well, Kit wasn’t entirely sure what they made their living from now. In any case, it was for the best that the number of residents in Mayrhofen had dwindled to the point the town was usually half-empty even before the fleeing pirates had arrived.

The raiding party had struck at one of the still-active major mining hubs in Atzenbrugg’s equatorial region. Expecting an easy smash-and-grab, they had fallen into a trap laid by the planetary militia and mining concern security forces. The bandit BattleMechs had hastily fled to their DropShip, leaving roughly a company of mixed armor and infantry behind. The marooned raiders had fled south, vanishing into the mountain wastes, where the planet’s defenders lacked the resources or will to pursue. Thus the task of ferreting them out had fallen to Kit and her tiny, scrabbling mercenary unit.

When the raiders had first begun to reappear at remote settlements like Mayrhofen, they had mostly only demanded fuel and supplies. By the time Kit and her Black Kats had completed the journey from Maxwell, reports were filtering in of the stranded raiders getting more desperate and more vicious.

It had not taken the Black Kats long to find their quarry. The pattern of settlements they had raided, combined with the limited mobility of the mixed conventional force, limited the range of possibilities for where they would pop up next. Plus, Kit’s XO, Sergeant Cedric “Smitty” Smythe, had spent years in Davion recon units, playing exactly this sort of cat-and-mouse game. Smythe had been confident enough that Mayrhofen was where they would catch up to the pirates that he had suggested they call in their backup from the planetary militia before they even reached the town. After a year and a half working together, Kit had learned to trust his hunches. And sure enough, as Kit looked through the binocs, she could see the squat dark shape of tanks and armored personnel carriers parked in Mayrhofen’s streets, shattering the picturesque sunset illusion of the town’s carefree past.

Kit put away the binocs, shimmied down through Vindicator’s cockpit hatch, dropped into the command chair, and placed the neurohelmet back on her head and shoulders. She was shivering from the biting wind and she idly wished she could fire a couple of laser salvos just to raise her cockpit temperature, but it wasn’t worth the risk of drawing the pirates’ attention to her presence. “Sarge,” she radioed, “I’m coming down.”

There was a crackle of static and then Smythe’s distinctive Federated Suns “Outback” region accent. “Any change?”

“Negative,” Kit said as she began to steer the Vindicator back down the slope of the ridge. “Looks like they’re settling in for the night. I can’t be sure whether or not they know we’re here, but if they do, it doesn’t seem like they’re getting ready to run.”

“Maybe they’re tired of running,” Smythe observed laconically.

Kit considered this. She tried to put herself in the mindset of one of the bandits. Making a probably-hopeless stand against a superior force wasn’t much of a survival strategy. Then again, neither was wandering the wilderness and scavenging from mountain villages indefinitely. It wasn’t a choice Kit planned on ever having to make. She shook off the thought and keyed her mic again. “Siren, Jinx. You read?”

“I read you, Jinx.” Ellie “Siren” Jarvis had been posted several kilometers away a klick lower in elevation in the Kats’ Wasp to watch for the support column from the Atzenbrugg militia. “Leading the locals up to you now.”

When the Kats had confirmed the pirates’ presence in Mayrhofen, Kit’s first instinct had been to attack immediately. Smythe, however, had pointed out that ‘Mechs assaulting conventional forces in an urban environment without any infantry support of their own was usually unsound tactics, and that the Kats by themselves lacked any way to care for civilians who might still be present in the town in the wake of a battle. So Kit had grudgingly agreed to wait for the arrival of their militia support. “I hope they came ready to fight.”

“That’s a negative, boss,” came Ellie’s reply. “Long story short, militia captain says his guys are too tired after being packed in the APC’s so long getting here.” Kit could almost hear the Canopian MechWarrior rolling her eyes. “I would have thought they’d want a chance to stretch their legs.”

They think they’re tired? Kit scoffed. She had spent almost three uninterrupted days in the cockpit, and a smooth ride was not one of the few positive qualities the Vindicator was noted for among MechWarriors. In a couple of minutes of gangly, pounding strides, the Vindicator covered the two kilometers from the ridgeline to where the two remaining elements of her force were holding position just below the snow line: Smythe in his Commando and Ehud Maier in an Enforcer, plus a Harasser hovertank operated by twin brothers Martin and Miles Morency. “We’re going to hunker down here for the night,” Kit told her unit. “We’ll use that copse of trees and the ‘Mechs to make windbreaks for the PBI. Apparently they need their beauty sleep.” And the dead-enders on the other side of the ridge can have one more night before they meet the inevitable.
« Last Edit: 12 January 2022, 09:55:45 by Middcore »

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #1 on: 09 January 2022, 07:02:25 »
Interesting start!  :thumbsup:

Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #2 on: 09 January 2022, 18:51:30 »
Kit pulled her weathered field coat tighter around herself against the wind’s chill as she stared out into the deepening night. One of Atzenbrugg’s moons was already high in the sky, and the other was rising over her shoulder. Far from the man-made glow of civilization, the stars in the sky over the mountain peaks were dazzling. The view reminded her of countless wintry nights on her home world of Outpost, a child dreaming of striding across the battlefields of the Inner Sphere as a MechWarrior like her grandfather who she idolized.

Behind her, standing in a semi-circle around the miniature tent city set up by the militia, were her lance’s four BattleMechs. Tangible proof that her dreams had, after a fashion, come true. A bit more than fifteen years and a lifetime’s worth of tragedy had passed since she had left Outpost for Galatea. Was she the same person as that little girl? Waiting to play the role of executioner for a band of desperate Periphery bandits didn’t seem to have much in common with the epic battles of her childhood imagination.

She looked back over her shoulder at where her unit had set up camp on the edge of the militia tent city. She could faintly make out the sound of Ellie’s usual boisterous monologue, Smythe’s chuckle, and the occasional monosyllabic response from Maier. The Morency twins, as usual, kept to themselves. As she watched Smythe caught her eye, then stood and walked over to join her.

“Everything okay, kid?” he asked.

Kit smiled at him and turned her gaze back to the stars. Smythe had been calling her “kid” now for years, almost since she was one literally, when they had both been members of another mercenary unit - he was a MechWarrior and her as a mere assistant tech. He conscientiously avoided doing so in front of the other members of the unit, but it sounded a hundred times more natural to Kit’s ears than when he called her “Commander.”

“Just feeling a little homesick, I suppose,” she said. “Something about cold, empty rocks on the edge of the Periphery.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” the older MechWarrior said, sidling up beside her with his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his parka. “Although for me it was a swampy, sweaty rock on the edge of the Periphery, with mosquitoes the size of your little finger.”  He stood in silence with her for a while, joining her in studying the night sky, before he spoke again. “How you feelin’ about tomorrow?”

She shrugged. “Good enough. We have a solid plan, and a superior force.”

Smythe nodded. “I wanted to say… that is, I wanted to ask if you’ve thought about…” He kicked the half-frozen dirt with the toe of his boot. “I wanted to make sure you’re ready for what you might see tomorrow morning.”

Jävlar!” she cursed. “You mean what those pieces of shit might be doing to any of the civilians left in the town right now? I’ve thought about it, Sarge. I was the one who wanted to go in as soon as we found them here.” She glanced back at the militia infantry encampment. “I told those ****** to bring more medics…”

“There’s that,” Smythe said, “But I don’t mean what the enemy might do. I’m thinking more of what we’re going to do. What’s going to happen when we go in.”

Kit stared at him. “What’s going to happen, Sarge? We’re going to kill people?” She looked back out at the mountains, but other images sprang to her mind unbidden. “I’ve seen death before.”

“No.” Smythe shook his head. “Not like this. Don’t get me wrong, kid, I know you’re tough, I know you can fight… been through some fights you had no business winning, or at least no business comin’ out alive. But sometimes, bein’ on the winning side is its own kind of ****** up.”

Kit hunched her shoulders, trying to hide her face in the collar of her coat as the wind bit at her nose and cheeks. “What are you saying, Sarge?”

Smythe blew out a long breath that turned to fog in the frigid air and vanished just as quickly, fleeting as memories. “What I’m saying, kid, is that if we do our jobs right, tomorrow won’t be a fight. It won’t even be killing.” He looked her in the eye, and there was something in the veteran MechWarrior’s stare she had seen only rarely. “It’s going to be a slaughter.”

He held her gaze for a long moment, and then whatever she had seen was gone. He was only the amiable, easy-going, “Smitty” again, the self-described hick from the Outback with the ready laugh. “Well,” he said, slapping her on the back, “I’ve got the first watch. Guess it’s time for me to get up on the ridge and make sure those sons-a-bitches don’t try to slip away on us.” He strolled off back towards the camp, leaving Kit alone with her dreams.

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #3 on: 09 January 2022, 18:59:37 »
Or, you know, you let the PSYOP troops do their job and talk them into surrendering...  ::)

Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #4 on: 09 January 2022, 19:50:46 »
Or, you know, you let the PSYOP troops do their job and talk them into surrendering...  ::)

This is a Periphery-edge iceball one HPG malfunction from being forgotten by the rest of the Inner Sphere... if they had budget for things like "PSYOP troops" they'd probably just spend it on better mercenaries than the Kats. Diplomacy is LosTech.  :P

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #5 on: 09 January 2022, 20:03:05 »
I figure 4 BattleMechs would be enough diplomacy, really.  A Firestarter is about the only thing that would be more intimidating, though if the Wasp has Infernos loaded, a single salvo at an unsuspecting haystack could get it near that level...  ^-^

Elmoth

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #6 on: 10 January 2022, 05:58:40 »
The Worse case scenario title makes me suspect a oess than perfect series of events from now on. Let's see what happens but the start is good!

I really need to get those 4 mechs and paint them up. Pitty you did choose a boring sensible scheme :p

Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #7 on: 10 January 2022, 11:00:25 »
The Worse case scenario title makes me suspect a oess than perfect series of events from now on. Let's see what happens but the start is good!

I really need to get those 4 mechs and paint them up. Pitty you did choose a boring sensible scheme :p

I don't remember what I chose.  :-[  Reality is at this point in-story they probably haven't even bothered to come up with one.

Elmoth

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #8 on: 10 January 2022, 15:58:05 »
I recalled wrongly that it was black-grey. As written it is black and something else, but not red.

As far as unit colors go, unfortunately all-black rarely looks good in artwork or on minis because you lose all the fine details, so it would probably end up being black-and-something-else (but not red because that's played out).


despite red (a great color) being vetoed, there is still hope for other striking colors.

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #9 on: 10 January 2022, 18:48:58 »
Neon green for "cats' eyes" effects!  :D

DOC_Agren

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #10 on: 10 January 2022, 19:33:57 »
Neon green for "cats' eyes" effects!  :D
:thumbsup:
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #11 on: 10 January 2022, 20:08:55 »
Tag
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Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #12 on: 11 January 2022, 17:03:45 »
Cracked windows on derelict buildings rattled as the three ‘Mechs filed up Mayrhofen’s main street. Most of the structures, retail space that might once have been posh shops and salons now boarded up or abandoned, were only a couple of stories high, but the thoroughfare itself was narrow. A ‘Mech any larger than Maier’s 50-ton Enforcer, leading the trio, might have had difficulty just turning around. With its heavy autocannon and laser and reasonable armor protection, the Enforcer was the logical choice as point ‘Mech. Kit came next in her Vindicator, followed by Smythe’s Commando, with the militia APC’s trailing behind. Kit knew her Vindicator, truth be told, was rather poorly-suited for close combat in general, but she wasn’t about to hang back and let her lancemates bear the brunt of the fight without her. In the back of her mind, Kit was constantly aware of the need to prove herself as a leader to her fledgling unit, to show that she wasn’t just a tech who had fallen ass-backwards into a cockpit.

In any case, at Mayrhofen’s outskirts all was quiet. There was no sign of resistance, and no sign of the town’s civilian population. It was impossible to tell whether the buildings they passed had already been deserted before the pirates’ arrival, or if the residents had become victims of the raiders, or if the locals were just keeping their heads down.

“Siren,” she radioed, “Any runners?” Jarvis, along with the Kats’ Harasser hovertank, had made an end-run around the village to watch for any raiders who might try to bolt as the main mercenary-militia force entered the town.

“That’s a negative, boss,” Jarvis chirped. “Hey, you think there might be a working sauna in this place for after we get done?”

Kit rolled her eyes and considered whether it was her responsibility as commander to tell Jarvis to refrain from such frivolous comms chatter, when she was interrupted by Smythe in the Commando.

“Hold up,” he said. “Got a magres reading. Ten o’clock, couple hundred meters out.”

Kit shook her head in frustration at herself, at least as much as she could inside her bulky neurohelmet and punched buttons to adjust her sensor readouts. The buildings in Mayrhofen seemed to be mostly concrete and wood construction, not the gleaming metal skyscrapers common to most of the Inner Sphere’s large cities. Magnetic resonance scanners were the obvious choice for finding pirate vehicles lurking in the side streets - or at least, the obvious choice for a veteran MechWarrior like Smythe.

“Copy that, sarge,” she said. “I’ll pop up and take a look.”

Kit pressed down with the heels of her boots. With a roar that shook the storefronts, the Vindicator’s jump jets flared to life, lifting the machine into the air to give her sightlines over the dilapidated buildings. Got you! She spotted the shape of a Goblin tracked medium tank, distinctive with its turret set well back on the hull and the triangular barrel of the large laser that served as its main weapon. The turret rotated to take aim at her, but the pirate gunner was too slow to get a shot off before she let the Vindicator drop back down to the pavement, showering the snowy sidewalks with shards of glass from shattered shop windows. “One Goblin, three intersections up and two side streets over,” she told her lancemates. “Definitely manned, they tried to line up a shot. I’ll make another hop and draw fire, you two take it out with a pincer.” She almost added, Sound good? before stopping herself. There was a time for a CO to propose a plan and get opinions, and a time to give orders.

Smythe pivoted his Commando and backtracked to the last intersection, while Maier stalked the Enforcer forward. Kit trailed in Maier’s wake until he reached the next side street, and as he turned she halted and fired her jump jets again.

The pirate Goblin crew must have known Kit’s lance was coming for them - the sound of ‘Mech footfalls was hard to disguise in such close proximity - but Kit’s rising ‘Mech was apparently too distracting a target for the raiders to consider maneuvering to escape. The Goblin’s laser rose to track her again, but the gunner was too hasty on the trigger and the shimmering cyan beam flashed wide of her ‘Mech as the tank reversed into the middle of an intersection, exposing its flank to the Enforcer. Kit saw Maier’s fire start to tear into the Goblin’s side before losing sight of the tank once more. As the roar of the Vindicator’s jump jets died away with her landing, she could hear the ripping-canvas sound of Smythe’s short range missile racks as he engaged the bandit vehicle as well, then the thunder of Maier’s autocannon as he expended another cassette of shells. Then there was a short, sharp explosion and flaming debris shot into the air over the rooftops. “Scratch one crawler,” Smythe radioed.

“Nice work, boys,” Kit said, and immediately second-guessed doing so. Smythe and Maier both had far more experience as MechWarriors than her, so what could her praise be worth to them?

The three Kats ‘Mechs encountered no further resistance until they reached the town square, where they were confronted by a scene that in a different context might have almost passed for heroic. In the actual present circumstances Kit could only find it pathetic. With a large paved roundabout linking the town’s main north/south and east/west thoroughfares around a central open space, Mayrhofen’s plaza was the type of place where if you had a good imagination you could picture a skating rink and bustling crowds of happy families at a holiday festival. Now the central park space was dominated by a ragged cluster of battered pirate armored vehicles: A pair of Scorpion light tanks, a single Hunter missile carrier, and a trio of tracked APC’s. A few raider infantry troopers could be seen peeking over and around the vehicles, while others, some still rushing to strap on helmets and body armor, ran from the buildings ringing the plaza to join in the last stand.

Kit sighed. Why don’t they just quit? She switched on her ‘Mech’s external speakers. “We’re going to give you a chance,” she said, “Surrender and…” She paused, realizing she might not have the authority to guarantee the raiders would not be harmed if they laid down their arms. “...You’ll be treated fairly.”

The response was a fusilade of autocannon fire from the pair of bandit Scorpions that pitted the armor of her Vindicator and Maier’s Enforcer. Maier took to the air with his jump jets, vaulting over the huddled bandits to touch down on the far side of the square. A pulse of azure lightning streaked over the ‘Mech’s head as it descended. The clouds of exhaust, the roar of the jets, and the sight of a BattleMech in their back line was enough to make some of the raider infantry break and run. Smythe swept his Commando’s medium laser over one group as they scattered, ending their existence in an instant.

“Something out there took a shot at you with a PPC, Lefty,” she warned Maier.

“I am aware,” the taciturn Robinson MechWarrior responded.

Kit’s mind raced through the pages of dog-eared technical readouts even as she took aim at one of the pirate Scorpions. If whatever else the raiders had lurking in Mayrhofen was packing a PPC, it was more dangerous than anything that the Kats had encountered so far. The blast had taken the form of a self-contained “shell,” more like ball lightning than the usual continuous beam. That narrowed down the range of specific models of weapon that had fired it…

Focus, damn it! she berated herself. There’s reading and there’s doing! She let loose with her own PPC and medium laser, quickly turning her cockpit into something like the sauna Jarvis had wished for, only much less relaxing. Part of her salvo found its way through a weak point in the Scorpion’s bow armor. Its autocannon fell silent and smoke began to seep out of the tank’s exhaust and ventilation ports.

The raider APC’s and a few stout-hearted infantry were pelting her Vindicator with machine gun and small arms fire, the bullets drumming on the ‘Mech’s armor with a sound like hail falling on a roof inside her cockpit. As she started to line up a shot at one of the personnel carriers, it lurched into motion and reversed frantically across the square directly into the front of a three-story building, which promptly caved in and buried the vehicle in rubble. So much for heroics.

To her left, the bandit Hunter was futilely trying to fend off Smythe’s Commando, which was rushing towards it inside the minimum arming range for the tank’s long-range missiles. The warheads battered ineffectually at the twenty-five ton ‘Mech, wreathing it in smoke and flame but dealing minimal damage. Smythe circled his quarry, responding with salvos from his own short-range missile launchers. She saw the Hunter throw a track, immobilizing it, before a cockpit alarm diverted her attention to her magres sensors.

“Heavy metal!” she called. “East side of the square and getting closer.” She pivoted the Vindicator on its heel to confront the new threat. Maier, occupied with engaging the other pirate Scorpion, was slightly slower to react. A PPC blast struck his Enforcer’s flank and the fifty-ton machine reeled, its flank crackling with azure arcs as a Manticore tank rumbled into the plaza.

Kit cursed under her breath. The Manticore was a sixty-ton heavy tank, outweighing any of the ‘Mechs in her lance. It also boasted more firepower, with both long and short-range missiles and a medium laser backing up its main gun, the Parti-Kill PPC with its distinctive “projectile” blast. “Have to keep that ****** off of the militia,” Kit told her lancemates. The Manticore could wreak havoc on the militia’s APC’s and infantry holding outside the square, so there was nothing to do but slug it out against the tank to make sure it didn’t break through.

She circled to the right, lashing the Manticore with a retaliatory salvo of PPC and laser fire without making a noticeable impression on its thick armor. Maier steadied the Enforcer and stalked closer to the raider tank, laying down a steady barrage from his autocannon. The Manticore ignored him and swiveled its turret to track Kit’s Vindicator. She had time to twist her ‘Mech’s torso away to protect her main weapon systems before the pirate’s hammer-blow fell. Over a ton of armor plating on the Vindicator’s side was pulverized in an instant, one spade-like foot skidded, and it was all Kit could do to bring the ‘Mech down on one knee, barely saving it from falling prone across the ancient pavement.

Smythe’s Commando darted in beside the Manticore. Unlike some ‘Mechs, the Commando had a fully articulated, five-fingered hand on both arms. More often than anything else, ‘Mech hands tended to be used for moving or carrying cargo on smash-and-grab raids. Occasionally a close-quarters ‘Mech battle would come down to ponderous punches and kicks. Smythe used the Commando’s hands with a veteran warrior’s creativity and precision. Hooking the machine’s fingers under the Manticore’s turret on either side, Smythe grasped firmly and twisted it away as the tank prepared to deliver a follow-up shot at Kit’s downed ‘Mech. Servomotors groaned as they fought to bring the turret back on target. The Manticore’s turret by itself probably weighed about as much as Smythe’s entire ‘Mech, and Kit knew that the struggle was not one Smythe could likely to prevail in for very long.

“Any time now, you two,” Smythe drawled, “But please try not to miss.”

Kit and Maier savaged the raider Manticore with PPC, autocannon, and laser fire. The tank and Smythe’s Commando temporarily vanished in a cloud of flame, shrapnel, and whipping electric arcs. When the smoke cleared an orange glow was visible through rents in the tank’s hull plating.

The Commando stepped back as a hatch on the Manticore’s turret was flung open. A crewman tumbled down the stricken vehicle’s side, his coveralls on fire from his boots to his neck. As Kit watched, unable to look away, the raider yanked a pistol free of a holster on his hip, raised it to his head, and fired. His screams, up until now clearly audible even in Kit’s cockpit, abruptly ceased as the corpse slumped to the pavement. When Kit finally blinked she found she still saw the man burning.

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #13 on: 11 January 2022, 19:05:05 »
Not quite what I expected, but at least she tried to offer a surrender option...

Elmoth

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #14 on: 12 January 2022, 03:07:47 »
The best thing is that militia infantry were there to be protected, not as help in combat. They could have attacked alone for what those did.

Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario
« Reply #15 on: 12 January 2022, 09:55:02 »
It had all been so brutally quick.

Looked at strictly from the standpoint of time, effort, and literal and figurative pain-in-the-ass-ness, the days-long pursuit of the raiders had been much more difficult than actually defeating them in battle. From a military standpoint, the operation had been a complete success: the pirates were completely neutralized, and casualties among Kit’s force and their militia allies were zero.

So why do I feel like shit? she wondered.

She was sitting on the Vindicator’s foot, gazing across the devastated town square. Greasy smoke belched from the wrecks of the pirate armored vehicles and a couple of the surrounding buildings had been set aflame by stray shots as well. The militia infantry showed no sign of interest in putting out the blaze, preoccupied with herding the handful of surviving raider infantry and dragging the crew of the APC which had buried itself out of the rubble. Kit had watched a militia trooper approach one wounded pirate who lay writhing on the street and dispatch him with a single shot, the crack of the rifle making Kit jump in spite of herself. She tried to tell herself that it was just the frigid temperature and the wind whipping through the plaza that was making her hands tremble, and she buried them in the pockets of her field coat.

Aside from those on guard duty, the majority of the militia were busy sweeping the town for the remaining civilian population. At least some of Mayrhofen’s residents, Kit gathered from some of the fragmented conversations she overheard as the soldiers came and went, had indeed come through the pirates’ sojourn and the ensuing battle alive, huddled in boarded up buildings and back rooms and cellars. Other times the troopers just shook their heads and talked in voices too low for her to hear.

She found her gaze was drawn inexorably again and again back to where the bandit Manticore crewman’s body, now twisted and blackened almost past the point that it was recognizable as having once been a human being. When the wind shifted Kit caught a hint of an intolerable, unmistakable odor and her stomach heaved.

Sergeant Smythe sidled over and leaned against the Vindicator’s other leg. “Doin’ okay, kid?” he asked quietly.

“Just great,” she said, with a grimace. “Only thing keeping me from spilling my guts all over the street is that you might see, or one of the others.”

Smythe shrugged. “I’ve seen worse. From the standpoint of inspirin’ confidence and all, better your people see you puke after the fight than before.”

That got a weak laugh out of her. “Nice moves on the Manticore,” she remarked, wondering again what value there was in her commendation. “First time you’ve tried wrestling a heavy tank?”

Smythe rubbed his bald scalp. “Second, actually. This time went better than the first.”

“You’ll have to tell me about that one someday.” She looked out across the town square again. “Why didn’t they just quit, sarge? What was their plan here?”

Smythe shrugged and spat on the pavement. “Nobody plans on dyin’ like this. You get to this point by makin’ one bad choice after another, or tellin’ yourself you had no choice at all. Until one day you truly run out of options.”

The older MechWarrior fixed his gaze on her. “So this is the job,” he told her, gesturing broadly with his arm at the tableau of destruction in the plaza. “And I don’t just mean as a merc. On an oath or on a contract, this is the job. So what do you think?”

She found she had no answer.

Smythe sat down on the Vindicator’s other foot across from her. “Let me ask you a different question,” he said. “Why did you become a merc?”

Kit blinked. Smythe was fully acquainted with the circumstances behind her starting the Black Kats, had even played a key role. She looked for an answer beyond the obvious, something more fundamental. “I’ve wanted to pilot a ‘Mech just about as long as I can remember, Smitty. You know that,” she said. “But joining one of the House militaries never seemed to be in the cards.” She quirked an eyebrow at him. “What are you trying to tell me, sarge? That I need to believe in something? Find myself a cause?”

Smythe shook his head. “No. What I’m tryin’ to get you to think about is how far you’re prepared to go to keep doin’ this. What the line you won’t cross is.”

He pointed at the burning wreck of one of the pirate Scorpion tanks. “See that mark?”

Through battle damage, grime, and rust, Kit could barely make out the faded emblem of a banner-carrying armored knight. “Doesn’t mean anything to me,” she said.

“Errol’s Errants,” Smythe said. “Name probably doesn’t mean anything to you either. Not quite as catchy as Kit’s Black Kats. But these guys didn’t start out as pirates. The Errants were a merc unit on Galatea, ‘bout the time you signed on with the Privateers. They were respectable back then. Not big-time, but at least as respectable as us in Charlie Pressler’s outfit, anyway.” He stared her down. “If any of the crew who were signed on back then were here today, I guaran-damn-tee you: they didn’t plan on it ending up like this.”

He sighed. “The reason’ I’m tellin’ you all this is… you probably thought you’d seen the worst way a merc outfit can die when you were with the Talons. But you didn’t. From what I heard, they died well enough, if there’s such a thing as dyin’ well. Your old CO had integrity, and guts, and you’re here to testify to it.” He pointed at the hulk of the Scorpion with the ruined crest painted on the side once more. “This is the worst case scenario for a merc. And this is the job, kid. Your job: to keep our outfit on the right side of shit like what happened today.”

Once again Smythe had left her speechless. He got up from the BattleMech’s foot and laid a hand on her shoulder. “You know, some people say the best way to learn is to make a mistake. Always seemed to me it’s a lot better to watch what happens when some other poor bastard makes one.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze and walked away, hands in his pockets. Kit was left staring into the flames.

Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #16 on: 12 January 2022, 10:04:04 »
And that's all I've got for this one. Sorry if it's not what people expected but I hope it was a worthwhile read nonetheless. This is still "continuing education" for our heroine... given her backstory in Fortunes of War, I didn't think it would be "realistic" or interesting to immediately jump to stories where she's acting like a seasoned vet. It always kind of bugged me how fast veritable infant Grayson Carlyle apparently gets the hang of running a whole combined arms regiment, and Kit probably has less training than Grayson.


PsylockeSmythe

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #17 on: 12 January 2022, 12:00:06 »
Enjoyed the story and can't wait to read more.

Psy

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #18 on: 12 January 2022, 19:48:49 »
A solid vignette, even if I quibble with the lack of options presented to the losing side.  :thumbsup:

Wrangler

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #19 on: 12 January 2022, 20:02:41 »
Still a joy read your stories, Middcore!
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Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #20 on: 12 January 2022, 20:08:06 »
A solid vignette, even if I quibble with the lack of options presented to the losing side.  :thumbsup:

I didn't want to slow down the story with a discussion between Kit and a militia officer about it or whatever, or make the story nastier than it already is, but my reasoning is that this far out towards the Periphery, on a planet that has been raided before, whatever due process laws the FWL has in place are treated as loose guidelines at best for pirates, especially ones who've done some pretty sordid stuff at the villages they've already looted. So the planetary authorities aren't interested in bringing anybody in alive. And for their part the pirates know the best they can hope for if they surrender is probably a summary "trial" before a hanging' judge. I wanted to drive home the point of just how ugly the end can be for a desperate merc unit that crosses the line into piracy after a few bad contracts.

I accept the criticism, but hopefully you can understand what my thought process was. It's a situation conceived to give Kit the object lesson I wanted her to get, but I don't think the circumstances are implausible.

Thanks to you and the others who've read and commented!

« Last Edit: 12 January 2022, 20:15:10 by Middcore »

Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #21 on: 12 January 2022, 20:20:01 »
You're quite welcome, and I'll say I was expecting the Black Kats to grow a little in the exchange.  That's also part of how merc units grow and evolve, after all...  ^-^

Sir Chaos

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #22 on: 13 January 2022, 02:54:54 »
You're quite welcome, and I'll say I was expecting the Black Kats to grow a little in the exchange.  That's also part of how merc units grow and evolve, after all...  ^-^

Kat is growing as a commander. I think that´s even more important than getting more hardware.
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Elmoth

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #23 on: 13 January 2022, 03:08:50 »
It os a solid story. I liked it :)

 In retrospective maybe it would have been good to have a scene with the militia officer being a total ass. I can imagine him saying that they would cover the mechs from behind (so no preventing rpg armed infantry ambushes against the mechs and no real combat support) and that he will offer no terms for the pirates even if kit would.
.

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #24 on: 13 January 2022, 18:15:18 »
I enjoyed it!  Thanks for sharing.
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DOC_Agren

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #25 on: 15 January 2022, 18:26:32 »
Planet raided multiple times before by "Pirates/Raiders" yeah I can see the locals being quick to the putting any captured enemy personal before a judge get a "fair" hearing and the hung by the neck until dead.

Sergeant Smythe is right, most merc groups who end up as "pirates" didn't plan on things going that way.  They made a wrong choice..  And that pushed them/Blacklist from good contracts in the innersphere to the Rim, now contact are either higher risk, worse pay, etc..  a few more wrong choices and you need to "fight" to survive so you go raiding.

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Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #26 on: 15 January 2022, 18:58:36 »
And once you start raiding, you become the target of the next round of contracts...

Middcore

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #27 on: 15 January 2022, 19:08:31 »
And once you start raiding, you become the target of the next round of contracts...


Daryk

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Re: Tales of the Black Kats: Worst-Case Scenario (complete)
« Reply #28 on: 15 January 2022, 19:12:03 »
The only thing that gif is missing is a targeting reticule...  ^-^