Fandom

An Entry with A Bang! Wiki

Plot

38pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share

Earth Orbit, 400 km above Earth – October, 4th 1957


Slowly it moved around on its orbit, the four long antennas slowly swinging out, even two hours after it had been served from the last stage of its R-7 rocket.


Sputnik 1 followed along on its orbit, never even slightly noticing the slight changes around it as it speed over America. Far away from it stars changed alignments in such a way that while they appeared to be the same as always they weren't.



Paranal Observatory, Chile – Monday May, 16th 2005 11.20PM UTC-4


Martin Winters had to suppress a loud yawn as he leaned back in his seat in front of Antu, the first mirror of the VLT, waiting for the image to load up to his system.


He would rather take a closer look to the Magellan Clouds for his latest project, but someone had gotten some time on Antu to do some IR images of an area towards the galactic pane.


Winters sighed, why that was more important than catching some goo images of the recent supernova, he never knew.


Slowly his small finger moved towards his nose, pushing into the right nostril to try and catch that booger that was annoying him for the last hours. As he picked his nose, his eyes fell to the screen and the display on it.


He blinked a few times as he noticed something that shouldn't be there.


His finger still in his right nostril, he leaned forward and looked at the hazy warm blob that was close to the edge of the screen where nothing should be, somewhere in the general direction of the Moon.


His eyes narrowed as he pulled his finger from his nostril, having managed to catch the booger and his other hand moved to his mouse to zoom in on the warm blob that shouldn't be there.


Slowly the image pulled up from the insane amount of data that originated from Antu.


Winters blinked. Was that a white hot spot inside the blob?



Norad Space Command, USA – Monday May,16th 2005, 9.21PM UTC-6


"What the hell was that?" General David Mathews asked out loud as he glared at the display, while the technicians were working around him.


Whatever it had been just had killed off two Keyhole satellites.


"Looks like an EM Pulse," one of the technicians noted.


Mathews looked over to the technicians and walked up behind him, before taking a glance at the display. It was showing a rather EM spectrum with a very large peak in the middle.


"EMP?" he wondered and looked up at the large display that dominated the far wall of the control room, trying to make out anything that might have caused the Pulse.


The technician nodded.


"It came from the general direction of the Moon, sir."


"Was there anything planned?" he wondered out loud." Did the Chinese try something with that Probe of theirs?"


Only a few days ago China had launched a Probe to the moon, officially to take a few imaged for their lunar program, not that they any further than the USA.


"Possible."


Mathews frowned.


"Keep me up," he said and patted the technician on the shoulder, before walking back into his office, trying to get some info from someone else.



Pirate Dropship Drakon Pirate point between Planet III and IIIa System S3-19570410 16 May 3020


“Holy mother of God,” Captain Burgess Hale whispered. Despite a religious upbringing, he didn’t believe in God. His former life as a Federated Suns officer and current life as a pirate had been one long hard scrabble struggle. If God existed, he obviously didn’t give a damn about humanity, let alone one disgraced former member of the AFFS.


Only now it looked like God had decided to smile on Hale and his rag tag group of pirates. Here before him was the motherload every pirate dreamed of. Rich enough and heavily industrialized enough to that his people could actually be picky about what they took. And if the smattering of transmissions that they had sampled were anything to go by, primitive enough to be a cake walk.


The only problem was a persistent sense of déjà vu. Hale couldn’t help but feel that he had seen this planet somewhere before. But that was impossible. He was in the middle of the Grantville Cluster, a cluster of stars over fifty lightyears across just off the Outworlds Alliance that everyone knew was devoid of any inhabitable worlds. This made the cluster a handy place for pirates to lay low between raids. And that’s just what Hale had been doing when they started picking up radio transmissions from this system. On a lark, he had decided to investigate, hoping for maybe some lost Star League cache.


And it looked like he had hit pay dirt.


“Prep for jumpship separation, boys and girls,” he told everyone. “It’s party time!”


He took one last look at the planet’s image, still haunted by that nagging familiarity. He pushed it to the back of his mind. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be important.



Paranal Observatory, Chile – Monday May, 16th 2005 11.30PM UTC-4


Martin Winters all but stared at the display in front of him and the metallic shape in its center. At the moment he was pretty much locked in this location, unable to really think of anything he could do besides stare at it.


The ship that was shown in the center of the image that filled the 22 inch display was cylindric in shape with a rounded bow and several spines extending from the rear. Right at the moment Antu had made the image, the ship had been firing its maneuvering thrusters, illuminating the hull even more.


Next to the larger ship was a smaller object that looked more spherical, a bright glow from its end showing that some sort of engine fired to propel it towards Earth.


"Hey, nice render," he heard a German accented voice behind him. " I didn't know that you're a Battle tech fan."


"Wha?" was Winters intelligent response as he turned around to face Tobias Wamsler.


The nerdy German smirked a little and patted his shoulder, before moving his facer closer to the screen.


"Wow," he made." That's one realistic model of an Invader class."


Winters blinked rapidly a few times and stared at the display, only to move towards Wamsler after a moment.


"Hah?"


Wamsler didn't seem to notice.


"Hoooo," he noted." And that looks like a Union. Look at the battle damage. Wow..."


He turned around to look into the disbelieving face of Winters.


"You really need to tell me where you found it. DeviantArt?"


Winters stared some more, before his hand automatically moved to his mouse, zooming the image out and showing it in the controls of Antu.


Wamsler blinked. And blinked again.


"You mean..." he began turning towards Winters, who simply nodded.


"Oh frack..."



Washington DC United States of America Earth 16 May 2005, 11:45pm EST


President Jack Ryan Sir. fought a yawn as he sat in the situation room. Slowly his eyes glazed over the room, taking in his various staff members. He didn't know what was going on, but it had to be damned important. He'd just gotten back from a week long visit to China to normalize relations with the new, more democratic, government and was very tired. He'd never found it easy to deal with long flights, and after 13 hours of jetlag and a 15 hour flight to sleep of he'd asked everyone to let this sleeping dog lie. Part of him was annoyed, but he also knew that this was probably damned important. The Joint Chiefs all were dancing in their seats like nervous school kids and MP looked like she was about to pass a diamond. It could almost be described as funny if it wasn't so foreboding. Taking a deep breath he began the meeting.


"Alright, tell me what we're looking at."


"At 11.20PM Eastern Standard time NORD detected a massive electromagnetic burst at the Lagrange Point between Earth and the Moon," The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff began, "This has been is confirmed by the Paranal Observatory in Chile. They've also taken pictures of a pair of unidentified flying objects. The larger of which is a roughly cylindrical shape approximately five hundred in length. The smaller is a spherical craft eighty meters meters wide. It is expected to reach Low Earth Orbit in three hours.":


"Wait a moment," Jack cut in. This better not be some kind of prank on the president. He knew that they'd never do such a thing, but even that seemed more likely than aliens. "Craft? Are you sure?"


"Both shapes are obvious artificial. The larger of the two craft has hence deployed what looks to be a massive Solar Array while the smaller of the two detached from the larger and is making use of what spectrographic analysis has deemed to be a pure hydrogen fusion reaction for propulsion."


Jack frowned and said the only thing that he could even think of in response. "Aliens."


"Looks like it, sir, but it gets stranger."


The PotUS smiled wearily. "I think that the only way that things could get any stranger if is the Second Coming of Christ walked through the Door and introduced himself like Fonzie."


Muted laughter filled the room. "Sir, the images from Paranal are on your desk. We haven't received any others yet, but NASA says that they're putting the Hubble right on it, and its my guess that by the end of the night every telescope on the planet is going to be looking at it," the Chairman paused for a moment, "The people from Paranal attached several images that make things entire situation just that much more confusing."


"Such as?"


"Look for yourself sir."


The President nodded and opened the file before him and looked through the file before him. The two UFOs seemed very familiar to him and he didn't know why. As strange as it seemed it was like he'd seen them before somewhere. Shaking his head he continued to look through the file until he reached scans from of all things, a war gaming book. One he'd once owned to be exact. Battletech Technical Readouts of the Union Class Dropship and the Invader class Jumpship. Two entirely fictional images that exactly matched the two ships now in High Earth Orbit.


It has been years since he'd played the game. It was something he'd left behind once he'd been promoted in the Agency and no longer had time for. Jack Ryan looked at the others and nodded slightly. "Things have gotten stranger," He admitted. "Bring us to DEFCON 2." He paused for a moment, "And get Sally and Jack Jr. in here.'



Norad Space Command, USA – Monday May,17th 2005, 3.01PM UTC-6


General David Mathews stared at the large situation room display. The smaller of the alien spaceships had just finished its second orbit around Earth and had yet to do more than just that.


He shook his head, wondering what the heck the CIC was thinking. He couldn't actually believe that they were dealing with something straight out of science fiction, did he? Okay, perhaps this was a little science fiction, with a honest to god space ship just appearing close to the moon and a second one going into Earth orbit.


Of course he had voiced his thoughts, when he heard about the CICs thoughts from the Pentagon. And someone had pointed out that according to the doppler radar, the spheric ship was moving at one Earth gravity.


To Mathews that didn't mean much. That those aliens moved with a constant acceleration however did. It just showed how far advanced they were.


"Sir," he was broken from his thoughts." The Dropship is breaking orbit."


He frowned at the technician. After hearing what they were apparently tracking, they had taken to call it the 'Dropship', even if that just could not be.


He looked up at the display again. At first he had hoped that it would go back to where it came from, but it seemed that it was going to deorbit over the Pacific.


"Any idea where it will go down?"


"Hard to tell," was his answer. "It could be nearly anywhere, with those engines they could take a longer flight at hypersonic speeds..."



Pirate Dropship Drakon - Briefing Room One hour to Entry System S3-19570410 16 May 3020 Captain Hale swept his eyes over the assembled. To his left, his "Intelligence Officer" and captain of the Drakon, Reynold Mamoto was still listening to a muted audio stream. On his right Mechwarriors Tony Denaro, owner of one Commando, and Ken, the Stinger pilot, the were playing dice with infantry boss Leutnant Irdon Koltan. The third Mechwarrior, Dana Zumross, was absent, probably tinkering with her Hermes II as usual. Just as well, so long as she got to burn something, she was happy.


"Let's start, Reynold. You had 3 hours to find me some targets." Hales opened the briefing.


"This world is heavily industrialised, but practically undefended. There are no orbital defense installations, no fortresses. I've found some militia installation, but there is no trace of a Mech base. We can just drop down and choose what we want. They use some exotic codecs, but we had a good deal of them on file. From the intercepted transmissions there are no signs they have noticed us yet or that rhey are even looking. They seem to have forgotten all about space travel.



Pirate Dropship Drakon - Bridge Low Orbit of planet III System S3-19570410 17 May 3020


“Man, look at all this junk,” Hugo Chin, pilot of the Drakon, said as he maneuvered the Dropship into orbit above the unnamed planet. “I’ve never seen so many satellites orbiting a rock in all my life. I don’t think even New Avalon or any of the other House capitals have this much stuff, not since the Second Succession War anyway.”


“Big deal,” snorted sensors officer Jane Dietrich. “It’s all little stuff, com sats and stuff.”


“You know, we could fill our holds with just the stuff sitting up here and still make a profit,” Chin speculated.


“What, Hugo? And forgo the pleasure of having solid ground under our feet and something other than canned air to breath?” Captain Mamoto said as he propelled himself onto the bridge in the microgravity environment. “Besides, we’re not exactly well stocked with vac suits. Who exactly is going to do the EVA to grab a bunch of satellites? Our esteemed mechwarriors in their mechs?”


Chin shrugged. “I was just saying, skipper…”


“Never you mind that,” Mamoto said, ending the dialogue. “Jane, any signs that they’ve noticed us?”


“You mean other than being pinged by several dozen radar sources practically since we detached from the Elephant?” Jane said sarcastically. “Noooo, none at all, skipper.”


“Oh, good,” Mamoto said, completely oblivious to the sarcasm. “Okay, Hugo, take us down. We’re going with landing point C.”



NORAD Space Command United States of America Earth 17 May 2005


“No effing way,” muttered Lieutenant Thomas Warner as he stared at the first high resolution photographs of the alien intruder from the spy satellites in orbit. He had been hearing outrageous rumors about the alien spacecraft coming it, but he hadn’t believed them. The similarity of the alien bogey to any fictional spacecraft couldn’t be anything but a coincidence. Then he saw these pictures.


The spherical ship looked beat up and worn, its paintjob scored with what looked like burn marks and minor cratering. But even so, Warner could make out the faded insignia painted on the side, a red and gold sunburst with an upright sword across it. On top of the logo was a more freshly painted black X that appeared to have been hand drawn. But what really drew Warner’s eyes were the blocky English style lettering and numbering adorning the hull.


“General!”



Bridge U.S.S. Nimitz Pacific Theater Earth 17 May 2005


“They can’t be serious,” Admiral Roger Corman said as he stared at the printout of the message from PACCOM.


“Sir?” Captain Ben Grayson, the Nimitz’s nominal CO, said. “What’s going on?”


“We’re being ordered to prepare for a ground strike with heavy air cover in New Zealand,” Corman replied.


“But that’s sixteen hundred miles away,” Grayson protested. “That’s barely inside the operational range of our Hornets. And why are we attacking New Zealand anyway?”


“We’re not,” Corman said disgustedly. “According to this,” he waved the message, “New Zealand is about to be invaded by aliens and we’re the closest carrier group that can respond.”


“No offense, sir, but this has got to be a joke,” Grayson said doubtfully.


“Joke or not, we have our orders,” Corman replied. “Prep the strike, Captain. In the meantime, I’m calling PACCOM and confirming our orders.”



Cornwall Park Aukland, New Zealand Earth


It was a beautiful and sunny day for the people visiting Cornwall Park that day. The first thing most people noticed was the distant roar not unlike that from a jet plane, if a little deeper than normal. Some people looked up and saw a brilliant spot of light that appeared to not be moving very much unlike most jets. But the light grew brighter, attracted more attention from people on the ground. And as the light and sound grew unbearable, a hot wind began to pick up and it slowly dawned on the onlookers that the whatever-it-was was descending towards them.


At first one by one and then soon in a mass stampede, people began running away from the descending UFO. Most of them even survived.


The Dropship Drakon landed in the park. The column of fusion fire underneath it brought the thirty five hundred ton vessel to a soft landing, its power digging out a crater in the dirt beneath it and utterly annihilating any living thing unfortunate enough to be caught there.



Dropship Drakon 17 May 3020


“Touchdown in thirty seconds,” Mamoto’s voice said over the intercom.


“Why an island?” Mechwarrior Dana Zumross said suddenly as she sat in the cockpit of her Hermes II.


“What?” someone else said, confused.


“Why are we landing on an island,” Dana asked again. “Why not on the mainland near richer pickings? Why a rinky dink island in the middle of nowhere?”


“Well, darling,” Ken, the Stinger pilot replied, “if you actually bothered to come to the meetings, then you’d know, wouldn’t you?”


“Stuff it, dickwad.,” Dana told him, annoyed. “Just tell me.”


“Twenty seconds,” Mamoto said.


“It’s simple really,” Hale broke in before the two began squabbling. “Despite being a ‘rinky dink little island’, the target I have in mind has enough loot sitting in the open that we could stuff the Drak’s holds full and still not get everything.”


“Ten seconds, Nine…”


“And besides,” Hale continued, ignoring the countdown, “there’s only the one militia base in the area. Now we can probably handle anything the locals can throw at us, but we’re not exactly drowning in spares as is, so I want the damage to our mechs minimized.”


“…three, two…”


“Gotcha boss.”


“…touchdown!” Mamoto cried as the muted engine roar cut off.


The mechwarriors could all feel the Drakon settle down gently… and then lurch violently to the side. Luckily, the mechs were all still in their cradles, so they weren’t tossed around like giant rag dolls. A few seconds of mass cursings filled the comm channels during which Hale noticed that the floor of the bay was now a thirty degree slope.


“Mamoto, what the hell happened?” Hale demanded furiously.


“Er, sorry about that,” Mamoto replied. “Apparently the ground isn’t as solid as it looks. I think one of my landing feet is in a sewer. But don’t worry! The doors are clear and we can take off again with no problem.”


“We better,” Hale growled. “Okay, open the doors and let us out.”


The mech cradle released Hale’s Hunchback, and he carefully piloted it across the now uneven floor to the opening hatch. As he stepped outside, Hale was followed by the rest of his lance. The ground and some of the nearer building appeared to have been damaged by the Dropship’s landing, but there were no militia forces to greet him. That was good.


“Okay people, let’s do this by the numbers,” Hale said once the quick spot check was done. “The target area is roughly north of the LZ. Form up on me and…” The other three mechs of his lance dashed past him at their best speeds. “Dammit!”


As he put his bigger and slower mech into a run after his errant pilots, Hale decided that he really needed to work on unit discipline. He was just glad that his choice of targets was unlikely to kill his people for their stupidity.



May 17, 2005 Auckland, New Zealand


"You know, this is absolutely the last time I volunteer for an easy Annual Training in a friendly country" Sergeant Tony Dansel remarked as he watched the Mechs stomp across the port facility while the detachment he had ended up in charge of cowered behind a building. "Oh, and all of you who have ever given me shit for what I read owe me a dozen drinks."


"What, just because you read about giant robots?" Private Jim Johnson said snidely.


"No, because I read about these giant robots. It's sure as hell not a publicity stunt or anything cooked up on Earth, because you could feel the ground shake when that thing touched down, and no one has anything that big that can do reentry like that. So the simplest explanation is probably some combination of an alternate universe and time travel. Well, maybe aliens with a perverse sense of humor" Dansel said, as he continued trying to dial anyone in his chain of command.


"Simplest?!"


"What do you know anyone today who has giant robots, with beam weapons like what took out that news copter, that happen to look like a kludge of two separate Japanese animation franchises that were used wholesale as the basis for a board game? Oh well, on to practicalities. Anyone manage to get through to higher?"


A chorus of negative replies ensued with a sarcastic follow up "Nope, they said they're in a meeting holed up in the TOC before they left for the day. Of course, no one told them that isn't supposed to stand for Teenagers Only Club."


"Naturally. And our weapons are still back at the barracks, without ammo, and wouldn't dent those things anyway. It's a shame really, these jerks are so spread out they can't really cover each other. Why couldn't this have happened next week when the Cav brigade would be here?"


"You have a clue what's going on then mate?" A quiet voice breathed in Dansel's ear. He turned around to find a dozen men in urban camo, not quite pointing their weapons at his people.


"Only about as much as your average intel puke probably. From their actions, they're hostile, from their numbers, equipment, and poorly painted over insignia, some kind of pirates, probably mostly independent. I don't suppose any of you are familiar with Battletech?"


The smallest of the newcomers piped up "What, like that Mechwarrior computer game?"


"Exactly. Giant Robots, distant future, sucks even more than usual to be infantry. Your best bet would probably be to use explosives on any leg joint you can reach. Only trouble is the whole getting spotted and dying bit. Well that, and my people don't have explosives, training, or a surplus of balls. Sergeant Dansel, US Army Reserve by the way."


"Captain Lewis, Australian SAS. I think we might be able to provide the last three. Your bollocks shortage wouldn't extend to covering a distraction perchance?"


"Well Captain, that depends on how much expensive equipment we can get away with breaking."



May 17, 2005 Auckland, New Zealand Northern Motorway


Gloria Freeman gaped at the sight of the sight of the soldiers grouping up alongside the side of the mptprway.


"What do you think they're doing, Neddy?"


He looked at them as they jumped over the edge of the edge, ropes trailing behind them.


"I don't know. Training?"


A loud bang emanated from beneath them.


"Jesus," she swore. "What are they doing?"


Looking out the window into the park, she swore again as she saw the giant robots in the park turning to look at the freeway.


"Jesus!"


One of them opened fire on the freeway, blasting holes through the road with its lasers, and reducing a car in front of them to pieces.


"Jesus, Neddy!"


She pressed down hard on the accellerator, trying to get away from the sounds of fighting as soon as possible.


"Oh, Jesus!"


May 17 2005 Auckland New Zealand


"Sky-eye here. He's moved as far as he probably will for area security. Initiate SCV rush. Over." SGT Dansel said into the walkie-talkie, as he observed from his perch 150 feet off the ground in the control box of a gantry crane.


In the nearest motor pool, rumblings could be heard as the engines of ten, then twenty, then thirty massive vehicles started up in rapid succession. There had been locks on the gate, which had lasted seconds in the face of the bolt cutters the Aussie SAS kept with them as a matter of course. There had been locks on each steering wheel, which didn't matter, since the vehicles were already pointed towards the docks, and weren't meant to be steered in any case. There was a lock-out key for each vehicle secured back at the TOC that was needed to activate them, but anyone with three months of experience in the unit knew how there were never enough of them on hand, and that a bent piece of coat hangar would substitute. Their was fence around the motor pool, that was barely higher than the tires of each slowly accelerating juggernaut, and flattened to the ground without slowing the horde at all.


'Corporal' Jankowicz was bored. There had been no resistance worth mentioning, and none at all in his sector. He couldn't even try to loot anything shiny for himself, the support personnel was taking care of that far behind him. So when his sensors lit up with anomalous contacts in motion, it was with an exuberant wordless shout that he moved his Stinger out to get a look.


"Sky-eye to team 2, Initiate Pratfall. Bollocks Brigade, on your own intiative. Over."


As he moved forward, Jankowicz belatedly remembered to report back to the Drakon. "Jankowicz here, I've got major movement in my sector, taking a look-see. Coming up on- Holy crap what the hell are those things?! There's a heavy armor battalion like nothing I've ever seen bearing right down on me with huge frakking cannon! Send everyone, or...... huh, never mind, some joker sent a bunch of frak-off huge support vehicles my way. That thing on the front just looked like a huge gun for a sec. Damn but they blow up pretty though." Entranced as he was with seeing how quickly he could tear up the targets, he failed to notice the minute figures between the buildings on either side of the road dumping out crates and barrels, then dragging cables across the path with hastily tossed ropes.


"Jankowicz, get the hell back in position. Look sharp everyone, looks like someone was trying to draw our attention over his way. Jankowicz I mean Now!" Hale resolved at that moment that he was pulling that irresponsible jack-ass from piloting just as soon as they were off-world.


"Yeah yeah, Cap, resuming position you butt residing anal monkey" Jankowicz muttered as he back pedaled, unwilling to leave the last two targets active. Playing his laser across both with a single continuous beam, he turned and accelerated down the road. He first noticed something wrong as the left foot of his mech started to slide forward, trying to compensate with the right leg, he felt something crunch underfoot as his mech lurched off-balance. As he entered an uncontrolled skid forwards, with commendable reflexes he triggered his jump jets to try to get clear. Unfortunately, his mech's feet had by then slid under the replacement cable for the gantry crane, turning what would otherwise have been a brilliant save into a headlong tumbling sprawl as the jumpjets scraped him into and along the asphalt.


"Go go go go go" Dansel chanted, willing the commandos forward as he moved the gantry towards the fallen mech. Let's see that piece of crap get up with no legs and a forty ton container on its chest. The Aussies practically flew to the mech, each two man team flawlessly shoving their payload into the closest leg joint or seam. As they dived for what cover was available, a series of staccato bursts rang out as the improvised satchel charges detonated, momentarily obscuring the fallen war machine. As the smoke cleared though, it was apparent that though much the worse for wear, and in fact with one foot entirely detached, the mech was still functional, and in fact already rising from the groun "...Well drat. Oh drat it all to heck"


One of the SAS pairs had drawn Murphy's ire, as randomly ricocheting shrapnel had been practically funneled towards them by the curvature of the mech. Even with the less wounded man carrying the other, they were still in the open, and entirely too far from any kind of concealment. Without conscious thought, Dansel did the three things he had been explicitly instructed never to allow anyone to do with one of those cranes, accelerating it to more than twice it's official top speed. Of course, to put that in perspective, it was still a pace that a running man could easily outperform.


Jankowscki was in a foul mood, and more than a little dazed. On my first mission with a mech, these worthless shits tear the whole mech up! I'll be lucky if Hale just leaves me to die here. Oh hey, a couple squishies didn't make it away. That's right little bloodbags, try to get away from me, I'm going to.... what's that rumbling sound?


As he turned his mech towards the noise, Jankowscki's first reaction was controlled panic at the F-ing huge monstrosity bearing down on him. His second reaction was barely controlled panic as he saw the container lovingly positioned at precisely his Stinger's head height. His third reaction was uncontrolled panic upon realizing that all of his leg actuators were flashing danger signals and that the thing was taller than his surviving jump jets could clear in time. His fourth reaction was hysterical sobbing as he realized that the container was actually correcting for his movements. His fifth, and least helpful reaction, was to fire everything he had as it bore on the thing as he continued to turn.


A mobile dockyard gantry crane, even a relatively small one like this one, intended solely for lifting at most a forty foot container of no more than two hundred tons, was a massive structure. It's legs had to be solid, incredibly heavy metal just to support it's 200 foot height sitting still, much less while in motion, or still worse in motion with the boom lowered and a load suspended. It was over-engineered to withstand almost any plausible circumstance, up to and including hurricanes, because such a crane represented an immense capital investment that would have to survive for years to pay for itself, and preferably decades to allow for ongoing profit. However, when the designers had tried to cover their bases, hostile heavy weapons fire had been low on their list of crucial factors(though it must be said that most had idly speculated at some point on how to most efficiently undo all their work). Hostile fire by a directed energy weapon designed to slice through advanced armor composites like butter hadn't remotely crossed their minds.


As such, Jankowscki's laser had nearly effortlessly sliced through the majority of the leg closest to him, and his heavy machine guns, while not nearly so dramatic in effect, still didn't do the integrity of the crane any good at all, a problem that was compounded as the crane continued to move forward, further stressing already critically damaged structure. As it began to buckle towards him, Jankowscki's spatial awareness and centers for logical analysis collaborated to belatedly inform him that there had been more than enough room under the thing for it to go by, and he could always have thrown up an arm to ward off the improvised projectile. This proved to be no comfort whatsoever as the structure descended upon his mech even as he tried to hobble clear.


When the crane first started to buckle, Dansel had scrambled up the ladder from the underslung control booth fast enough to have set a world record had anyone been properly recording the event. Any hope of an open casket hero's funeral would at the very least require him not to be under the majority of the structure in an easily crushed space. As he reached the top-mounted engine room and paused for lack of a better idea, he briefly mulled over his options for an exit line Dramatic declamation?, A last laugh? Obscure geek reference? Guess I'll go with understated.


As the rear legs of the crane tore off their rails and it accelerated towards the ground and the intervening twenty ton speedbump, the previously distributed hand held radios crackled to life. "It's been an honor gentlemen. Skye-eye, out."


Ferguson’s Port Auckland, New Zealand Earth 17 May 2005/3020


Hale couldn’t see Jankowicz’s Stinger over the cornucopia of stacked shipping containers from where he was. That was part of the reason he had deployed him over there; to keep an eye on their blind spots. But Hale could hear his man scream in terror over the radio only to be abruptly cut off. And that the cut off occurring at the same time as the big crane that Hale could see coming down did not bode well.


“Jankowicz! Status report!” Hale demanded as he negotiated his way around the stacks toward his location. “Jankowicz! Answer me!”


“I’m… I’m okay,” came the Mechwarrior’s shaky voice. “Oh God, I’m stuck. Hatch is jammed shut and the damage board is a all red and yellow lights. I don’t think I could get the Stinger standing even if I weren’t buried alive.”


“Buried alive?” Hale said incredulously. “What the hell are you... Holy shit!”


The giant crane was an almost unrecognizable mound of twisted metal. Nothing under it could be seen. The only reason Hale could tell the Stinger was under there was that the very tip of its rifle-like medium laser was poking up from the wreckage. Assuming that arm was still attached to the rest of the mech, Jankowicz’s ride must be lying flat on the pavement with ALL that wreckage on top of him.


Extracting the Stinger could be a problem. While Hale had no doubt that his own lasers could slice the tangle of structural supports like so much butter, he risked doing further damage to the other Mech. Mechs were goddamned expensive and Stingers carried ammo that would explode if it were hit. That meant that he needed to do this manually.


“Jankowicz you dumb ass,” Hale growled as he started his Hunchback forward. “The repairs to that Stinger is coming out of your cut and… what the hell?”


Hale brought his mech to a complete halt just as it started to lose its balance and managed to stay upright. Looking down, he saw that the ground was crisscrossed with cables suspended at ankle height. If he had been going at any speed, Hale almost certainly would have tripped and fallen. Movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention.


“Son of a bitch!” Hale yelled, firing his left arm laser at a man carrying a suspicious looking package. He missed, the man ducking out of sight and his laser blasting a hole in a nearby shipping container. Hopefully, shrapnel from the container nailed the guy, but Hale didn’t have time for that. “Koltan! We got enemy infantry in the area! What’s your status?”


“Almost done, Burg,” came the instant reply. “You need my people to sweep the area?”


“No, get back to Drakon with the loot,” Hale decided. Decisions, decisions. He couldn’t leave the loot unguarded, but he couldn’t dig Jankowicz out with an unknown number of infantry sappers in the area, and God only knew how many OTHER infantry might be laying in wait for the convoy. So he needed one mech to cover his PBIs and another to watch his back and help him dig out the Stinger. With the Stinger down, the only real anti-infantry weapon left in the Mech lance was Zumross’ flamer…


Hale’s eyes drifted over the wreckage, and noticed what looked suspiciously like fuel leaking from what looked suspiciously like a fuel tank, creating a rather large puddle where the Stinger was probably lying.


“Zumross, stay with Koltan and make sure he and the loot gets back to the Drakon,” Hale ordered as he took careful aim with his right hand laser and making damn sure that his target was nowhere near the spread pool of flammable fuel.


“Will do, boss,” the woman acknowledged almost cheerfully. No surprise there; it wasn’t like there was any love lost between her and Jankowicz.


“Denaro,” Hale continued as he cut one trip cable with a laser shot. “Your Commando has tow hands. Get over here and watch my back.”


”On my way.”


Movement caught Hale’s eye. He lashed out with both lasers this time. He couldn’t tell if he hit what he shot at. Keeping one eye on the surroundings, he went back to cutting more cables while swearing under his breath.


This was supposed to have been a no cost milk run. Now he was wondering if he were going to break even.


White House Situation Room Washington DC United States of America Earth 17th May 2005, 4.03am EST


"I begin to understand why everyone say that CNN gets to everything first," Arnold van Damm noted dryly.


The large plasma TV display on the far wall of the Situation Room was turned on, showing what CNN was transmitting just about now, allowing everyone on Earth to see what happened in Auckland, New Zealand. Wobbly and slightly grainy images taken by a hand camera were coming from the local Auckland CNN office, showing what was going on at Ferguson's Port.


Next to the frame of CNN, was an overhead life feed coming from a redirected Keyhole satellite showed the whole scene from above.


Aside from Arnie van Damm, Jack Ryan sr., Jack Ryan jr., Sally Ryan and the joint Chiefs of Staff were looking at the images. Jack jr, leafing through one of the many softcover books that littered the conference table of the situation room. Much like his sister and a good number of the Generals, he looked a little worse to wear from the unexpected situation.


Grabbing a can of highly caffeinated sparkly deverage, he downed it in one go.


"Okay, we can add a Hunchback to the list," he noted, shook his head clear, before rubbing his face.


Part of him wanted to go to bed, while another part was glad that he had a watertight excuse for not going to high school at this day, and yet another being thrilled with the prospect of real life Mechs, through he was aware of the problems. It had its perks of being the son of the PotUS and being able to sniff around in military hardware books.


But he didn't care much, as Mechs were cool.


"That makes a Stinger, a Hunchback and a Commando," Air Force Brigadier General Martin 'Tripple M' McMayers said." That's what? Two light and one Medium mech?"


McMayers wasn't in the Joint Chiefs, but he had come to the group as being someone who openly admitted to play Battletech in his spare time.


"And a Hermes II," was Sally Ryan's addition after throwing her Battletech Sourcebook on the table.


"Two medium and two light mechs," Jack Ryan sr. said finally." A scouting force?"


"Could as well be pirates," McMayers said with a shake of his head.


Most of the other people in the room looked at them the same way a normal user looks at computer geeks talking shop, even while some of them were working through the sourcebooks on the table.


"What about the emblem on the Dropship?" Sally wondered." Its a Federated Suns dropship."


"You can throw a stone into the Inner Sphere without hitting a Union..." McMayers noted," The same goes for the Invader."


"The question is still open," Jack sr. noted. "Pirates or FedSun scouts."


"The way they are hauling loot, I'd say pirates..."


"Lets hope they are not burning down Auckland..."


BRIEFING ROOM RAINBOW HOME BASE


While Sally and Jack Jr. were working nonstop in the White House situation room, others were having their own problems with the universe. John Clark - along with the rest of the Rainbow team - was staring at the plasma tv in the briefing room in openmouthed astonishment and an incredulity level that felt like it was trying to achieve high orbit. Well, Ding and a few others were imitating landed fish, Clark settled for eyes that looked like they were in danger of rolling out of their sockets. Reality had apparently decided to take an unscheduled sabbatical, because of the many things he had expected to happen this week, an extraterrestrial invasion by giant walking tanks straight out of an incredibly successful series of games had not been one of them.


One of the problems - if you could call it a problem - with being a highly effective counterterrorist unit was that the stupid terrorists died off quickly, and the smart ones knew better than to risk going up against someone who had a near-flawless track record of annihilating whoever they tangled with. This meant that Rainbow hadn't seen much action lately, and rigorous training exercises did little to keep them from getting very, very, bored.


Of the various methods used to stave off the ever-encroaching fiend known as boredom, one of the most effective was prominently displayed in the rec-room. A long line of video game consoles with a vast assortment of games to go with them, and, as luck would have it, that assortment included several games with Mechwarrior in their title.


After ten minutes of watching a group of honest-to-god Battlemechs rampaging their merry way through the Auckland port district, everyone present silently agreed that boredom was looking more preferable every passing moment. Especially with the two newest members of the team standing in the middle of the room, radiating a helpless fury that anyone with combat experience could feel throughout the building.


Captains Antony Winton and Michael Arrigo of the New Zealand S.A.S had joined Rainbow barely three weeks ago, and were now watching the assault on their homeland from the other side of the planet, unable to do anything to help fight off the invaders. Even watching one of the 'mechs - a Stinger, according to some of the intel geeks - buried under a load of shipping crates and their accompanying crane was a cold comfort to them, knowing that dozens - if not hundreds - of the people they had sworn an oath to defend were being callously murdered.


And just to put the icing on the cake - if one could call a steaming pile of maggot-infested shit cake - the attackers looked like they were hauling off anything that looked valuable, meaning this unprovoked attack was motivated by nothing more than the ugliest form of greed.


Everyone in the room knew that this craven act would not be forgotten, and it would never be forgiven. The following decades would prove them right, as the soldiers of New Zealand became legendary for hunting down and killing anyone who backed pirate raids, no matter how rich, powerful, or important they were. An unstoppable tide that no amount of influence could protect you from, ANZAC became the monster that haunted the dreams of the corrupt, lurking in the shadows, waiting to turn dreams - into nightmares.


<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Small town, Manawatu region of North Island New Zealand Earth 19:58 local (03:58 EST), Tuesday 17 May 2005/3020


What’s the bird on-deck for tomorrow’s FotW, again? That’s right: the Issus. Another of those overgunned, under-armoured suicide sleds the Clanners run. He was already turning the basic stats of the ‘Fighter of the Week’ over in his head as he turned off the car and headed inside, a shopping bag hanging from one hand. Have to fire up HM:A to check out the fluff and turn the review into a story, rather than just stats....


“Hey, Mum,” he nodded, heading through the kitchen to drop his groceries on the table. “So, what’s gone wrong in the world since I went to work?”


His mother blinked her eyes open and sat up on the couch, reaching for the TV remote. “I don’t know, love, but we’ll see in a minute.”


He came around the corner of the dividing-wall into the living-room as the familiar jingle of the CNN hourly news faded... and blinked hard as he saw the inset behind Ralitsa Vassileva, and the blazing banner headline {BATTLEMECH RAID IN PROGRESS}. What the - did someone hack their ticker, or something? The poor woman above that banner looked like someone had thwapped her with a carp when they handed her the latest pages.


{“Welcome back to CNN and our continuing live coverage of today’s breaking news: an incredible occurence in Auckland, New Zealand, where a group of ‘BattleMechs’ are attacking the city’s extensive port facilities.”}


An unopened bottle of soft-drink thudded to the carpet. “No. Fucking. WAY!” A fucking ’Mech raid - on EARTH in REAL LIFE?


“Isn’t... isn’t that one of your...?” his mother gaped.


{“The attackers emerged from a ‘DropShip’ which landed near Ferguson’s Port almost ninety minutes ago.”} The anchor and still-picture inset vanished, in favour of shaky live footage: a blocky ’Mech looming over a pile of twisted metal wreckage, pivoting and occasionally firing at something amongst the containers, the after-images of the beams from its arm-mounted lasers clear against the night. {“CNN has been unable to obtain any comment from New Zealand government officials as yet -”}


Fucking Hunchback. Man, if someone’s hoaxing CNN.... “Yeah, Mum, I think it is,” he said slowly - and bolted for the house’s office, almost tripping headlong over his chair in his scramble to switch on his computer, snatch a trio of books and a sheaf of print-outs from his shelf, then dash back into the living-room. As he came back, other footage was coming up: the spheroid ship descending from the post-dusk darkness atop a bright column of fusion flame. “... Davions!?!?” he blurted.


“What’s going ON?” his mother gasped.


“Question of the day, that,” he murmured sardonically, flipping through the printouts, half-listening to the day’s now-second story as he hunted the reference he wanted. Dammit, I wish I had Handbook: House Davion! I need to compare these bastards’ insignia to the current Feddie OOB!


- - - -


Flight line Ohakea New Zealand Earth 17 May, 20:03 local (04:03 EST)


Squadron Leader James Garvey, 75 Squadron RNZAF, glanced along the line of parked, olive-drab fighters. I suppose I should be grateful that I’ve got as many as I do, but I’d feel better if I had more than six birds ready to fly when I’m going to be fighting these damned... “’Mech” things. He grimaced. I can’t believe I’m actually thinking that! It’s like being a character in some bad Japanese cartoon!


In only slightly different circumstances, the RNZAF would have been out of the fast-jet business for several years by this time, but after the abortive war between the US and Japan, not to mention the subsequent Indian near-invasion of Sri Lanka, a combination of a more defence-conscious government establishment and substantial Australian pressure on their trans-Tasman cousins to ‘pull their weight (for once!)’ has seen 75 Squadron’s obsolescent A-4K Skyhawks replaced with a squadron of Saab JAS-39s. Marketed as the “Gryphon”, the Swedish-designed aircraft was in fact more advanced than the Australians’ F-18s, affordable, easy to maintain and, despite its compact size, capable of carrying only slightly less firepower than the ‘Plastic Bug’.


Which was why eight of 75 Squadron’s eighteen airframes were currently in Australia for joint training with the RAN.


Of the ten left at Ohakea, only six could be armed and crewed on such short notice. Mainly because New Zealand’s so far out of the way that no bastard’s supposed to be able to reach us without weeks of strategic warning. Nobody ever counted on giant robots dropping in from friggin’ space!


On the other hand, the robots were about to get a lesson in air-power. It had taken almost an hour to get the Gryphons loaded - the WingCo had almost had a heart attack at the thought of bombing a New Zealand city, especially without direct orders from the government! - but now, the RNZAF was about to fly its first fighter-mission in anger for almost half a century. Four of the Gryphons were packing AGM-65F ‘Maverick’ missiles on their outer wing-pylons; the other two were carrying ECM pods and laser-designators; all six carried centreline drop-tanks and, on each inner pylon, a massive GBU-15 two-thousand-pound laser-guided bomb, to deal with the attackers’ damned spaceship and, if the Mavericks weren’t enough, to clean up the tin-men themselves.


Can’t say I like the thought of that much collateral damage, either, but I will not see the first armed invasion of New Zealand’s shores go unpunished! “Control, this is Theseus Lead: ready to taxi, over.” And if the Yanks think I’m going to let their precious bloody ‘Aluminium Clouds’ have the pleasure of bombing Auckland, instead of me... well, that’s why the wingtip rails have live Sidewinders on them.


James Garvey was, of course, a proud native of Christchurch.


- - - -


Operations, HMNZS Te Kaha Hauraki Gulf, north-east of Auckland Earth That same time


“Engineer, any chance of more speed?”


{“No more chance than when you asked ten minutes ago, Captain!”} was the hot answer over the inter-phone.


Commander Barry Youngman winced: he’d deserved that. “Very well, Charge: best efforts.”


As he hung up, he glanced about the compartment. Every officer and rating in sight was fully ‘smurfed up’ in their anti-flash gear and attending to their duties with a professional intensity honed in deployments off Afghanistan, the former UIR, and the pirate havens of Somalia. For an instant, he couldn’t control a small, brief smile of pride - then he brought himself back to the moment. “Nav?”


The navigator glanced up from her display briefly. “Steady on course two-one-five and twenty-seven knots, sir: we should reach the outer harbour in fifty minutes.”


“Pee-wo, time to firing range?”


The Principal Warfare Officer had just finished updating his plot in anticipation of that question. “Estimate thirty-five minutes before the main gun can engage targets in Ferguson Port, sir. The Sea Sprite’s already orbiting the area, ready to observe fall-of-shot.”


“Very well.”


- - - -


Small town, Manawatu region New Zealand Earth That same time


Quote:{| border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="100%" | class="alt2" style="border-bottom: #415c87 1px dotted; border-left: #415c87 1px dotted; border-top: #415c87 1px dotted; border-right: #415c87 1px dotted"|Re: "ARE YOU ****** SEEING THIS!?!?" TRACE_COBURN: Walked in the door from work to see this leading CNN. What. The. ******!?!?!?Quote:{| border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="100%" | class="alt2" style="border-bottom: #415c87 1px dotted; border-left: #415c87 1px dotted; border-top: #415c87 1px dotted; border-right: #415c87 1px dotted"|NEBFER: But seroisly, Trace: your okay? |} TRACE_COBURN: AFAIK, all my family are well clear of Auckland. But I am seriously ****** PISSED OFF right now! This is MY COUNTRY, GODDAMMIT! These ****** pirate bastards are about to get a front-row seat to some classic ‘dirtbag militia’ in action, and I hope they hate every last painful ****** second of it before they get put out of our misery.


(I hope TPTBs will pardon my abuse of the censortron.... when they get back from wherever they seem to have disappeared to. Has anyone seen a yellow star here since this started?��??? Or have the Federal Government tapped all of Fanpro and their freelancers as ‘consultants’? ) |}


‘Trace Coburn’ hit ‘post message’, ignoring the ‘there have been 7 new posts in this thread’ warning to simply send the message through, absently hearing a car pull into the driveway as he did so. Ignoring it for the moment - since he lived in a cul-de-sac, lots of people used that gateway to turn around - he headed down the hall into the living room to check out the latest on Sky and/or CNN. “Anything new?”


“Just what you see, love,” his mother shrugged, still looking a little dazed. Their aged, infirm Border Collie was sitting up against her leg with his head resting comfortingly on her thigh, despite the pain it had to be inflicting on his arthritic joints, and she was absently scratching his ears.


Even as ‘Trace’ watched, another ’Mech jogged into frame by the Hunchback. COM-2D Commando, by the looks of it. With how battered and shabby those ’Mechs look, this has gotta be pirates... or a false-flag hit. And God, how fucking scary did the galaxy just become that I hope it’s “just” pirates?


There was a rap on the door.


“Are we expecting anyone?” he wondered aloud as he left the lounge. Opening the door, he saw... a pair of DPM-clad soldiers standing at the bottom of the steps: one his own age with three pips on his shoulder-straps, an older one with three stripes on his sleeve, both wearing MP brassards and - Oh, shit! - holstered sidearms. “I didn’t think I had the computer’s speakers turned up that loud!”


“We’re not here about a noise complaint, mate.” The Captain smiled thinly, opening a notebook to refer to something. “Do you post on the ‘Classic BattleTech’ forums under the screen-name ‘Trace Coburn’? Do you, in fact, write a weekly column there under the title ‘Fighter of the Week’?”


Ah, shit. I think my smart-arse mouth just wrote a cheque my fat-arse can’t cash. “I’m... not going to be posting an article tomorrow night, am I?”


The sergeant snorted a laugh. “Probably not. The government would like to... avail itself of your expertise, sir. Would you mind coming with us?”


Would saying ‘no’ do me any good? “Where, and for how long?”


“We’ve been asked to convey you over to Palmerston North, sir: it’s the nearest place with the video-conference facilities we need for you to speak with the Prime Minister.”


“What does Don Brash want with - Oh.” ‘Trace’ felt very foolish for a moment as it hit him. “You’re kidding, right?”


Both red-caps shook their heads seriously.


Bloody Nora - welcome to the big leagues, rookie! “Should I pack a bag, or do I just need to grab my CBT books?”


“Just the books, mate,” the officer smiled. “You can have the rest sent over later: our orders say ‘utmost dispatch’.”


Pirate Convoy Cornwall Park Auckland, New Zealand


Ping!


Leutnant Irdon Koltan ducked and cursed inventively as a bullet ricocheted off the transport truck’s armored skin less than a meter from his head. Almost the entire trip back to the Drakon had his people be harassed by sniper fire. And the trip itself was taking far longer than it should have, what with the roads being choked with abandoned civilian vehicles that needed to be cleared out of the way, the need to fetch those of his people who had decided to do some private looting, the need to take an occasional detour, and fighting off the occasional band of irate but stupid militia. But now they were almost home.


Ping! “ARGH!!!”


“Zumross!” Koltan shouted into the radio as one of his men collapsed. “Have you found that sniper yet?”


A staccato pounding filled the air as the Hermes II mech fired its autocannon at a building. The building promply collapsed, but thankfully the debris didn’t fall into the convoy’s path again.


Ping!


“Damn! Missed,” came the mechwarrior’s reply. “Sorry, sir. My sensors aren’t showing squat, and I think there’s more than one sniper anyway.”


“Well that’s just perfect,” Koltan muttered as he shut off the radio. He raised his voice. “Okay, people, I can see the Drakon now! Let’s double time it…”


Ping! “ARGH!”


“…right now!” Koltan finished. “Go! Go! Go!”


Quote:{| border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="100%" | class="alt2" style="border-bottom: #415c87 1px dotted; border-left: #415c87 1px dotted; border-top: #415c87 1px dotted; border-right: #415c87 1px dotted"|Originally Posted by Chaos Blade [1]Ferguson’s Port Auckland, New Zealand Earth 17 May 2005/3020


Hale was getting frustrated. Yes, no plan survived contact with the enemy, but this was an ass backwards world, there was no enemy here, just prey. Snarling he let loose a blast from his head laser against where he though the ants had been hiding.


against where he though the ants had been hiding. Again another container got a neat hole but there was no clue if he had gotten the runner this time.


“Fuck!” he slammed his fist in frustration. Mechs like his were not the best weapon to deal with infantry, not in a city. The ever expanding fuel puddle was not making things easier, either.


Turning quickly he peeked a glance at the remains of the crane and at Denaro's Commando wrestling with the remains of the crane.


“Denaro, how long?”


“Not sure boss.”


“Not the answer I was looking for”


“Sorry sir, but I don't think we want to find out if a spark will set this shit off. Wish we had some foam at hand.”


“W-what shit? What is going on out there?” Jankowicz's was sounded half panicked, then again he was buried alive.


“Noted Denaro, do your best. Jankowicz, shut up. You are in enough shit already.” No, that wasn't very diplomatic, but that kid had been a handful since day one. Hell, he was tempted to leave his sorry ass behind, if it weren't for the mech.


Hale was about to turn back to his watchdog task when the radio crackled again, though this time it was in his private frequency.


“We got a problem boss,” Koltan started.


Hale could feel his eyebrow starting to twitch. In one swift motion he turned his machine and let loose a laser barrage against one of the warehouses.


“Define 'Problem'.”


“Got into a firefight with some locals, militia.”


“You have Zumross with you; that shouldn't be a problem.”


“Oh, they are history, but they managed to knock out the flatbed.”


That was a problem. The Flatbed was a mech recovery vehicle, and while it was nowhere near as irreplaceable as a mech, he wasn't willing to leave it, and the loot it was hauling, behind.


“Shit!” Hale paused for a second. He needed to regain control of things, fast. “Ok, do this: leave Zumross and a few men behind, take the rest of the loot back to the Drakon. Virgil is back on the Ship, right?”


“Yep, he was in the first group.”


“Good. He'll have to tow the Flatbed back. Arrange an escort for him, but I want you to stay behind. Make sure to put some Steel on Mamoto's spine.”


“Will do Burg, been looking forward to that for quite some time.” There was no love lost between Irdon Koltan and Victor Mamoto, nobody was exactly sure how the animosity got started. They just couldn't stand one another. Of course, of the two, Hale knew who he'd trust his back to. |}


Dropship Drakon Cornwall Park Auckland, New Zealand


A grounded Dropship on a raid really didn’t have much to do. Oh sure, there was the whole “watch out for a counterattack” thing, but that was why Captain Mamoto had a crew. No, Mamoto had more important duties. He was the pirate band’s intelligence officer after all, so he was gathering intelligence, mostly by watching the local news stations even if the indigs were so primitive that they only broadcasted in 2D.


The local news stations were of course full of the story about the Hale’s raid. One station had people speculating on who the raiders were and mentioned something about a game based on mechs. Mamoto concluded that they must have some memory of Battlemechs, but that clip of a crudely animated mech didn’t look like any Mech that Mamoto had ever heard of. Their memory of mech designs was obviously deficient. Seriously, who had ever fielded something that looked like a bastard child of a Marauder and Catapult?


“Skipper!” Jane called, interrupting his enjoyment of the locals’ reactions. “We got incoming aircraft.”


“What?” Mamoto said, a little alarmed. His Drakon wasn’t exactly in the best shape for fending off fighters. “How many? Where from? Are they headed toward us?”


“I read six rising from several kilometers away in the northwest,” Jane reported. “I think there’s an airfield over that way.” She paused. “I think they’re pure air breathers.”


“Six planes,” Mamoto said nervously. “Hugo, fire up the engine and begin preparations for lift off.”


“What about our guys on the ground?” Hugo asked.


“They either make it back in time or they don’t,” Mamoto told him. “Now do what I…”


“New contacts!” Jane shouted. “More fighters coming in low over the ocean to the northeast. They just popped up over our horizon. I estimate about half an hour to forty five minutes before they arrive. Count is… holy shit that’s a lot of fighters…”


Ferguson’s Port Auckland, New Zealand


“…incoming aircraft!”


“Roger that, Drakon. We’ll be there in plenty of time,” Hale replied, then cut the connection. As if they didn’t have enough problems. “Any chance of AA support?”


“What?” Mamoto said, his voice tinged with a curious mix of outrage and fear. “And risk my hi… ship?”


“Oh, of course, can’t risk that,” Hale said sarcastically. Although truth be told, the Dropper really was too valuable to risk, but Hale valued his own skin more. Still, there was no use worrying about it right now. “Denaro, how’s it coming?”


“Almost done here, boss,” Denaro replied. While Hale had been busy keeping the local explosives wielding infantry at bay, Denaro had been busy using his Commando to slowly and meticulously pry the tons of wreckage off the Stinger one small bit at a time. So far, no sparks had ignited the puddle of fuel under the pile.


“Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou…” Jankowicz started babbling.


“Shut up, Jankowicz,” Hale growled as he started scanning the skies. There, he could see six specks with white contrails. They were still pretty distant, especially for a mech not exactly designed specifically for AA duties. Just on the off chance that he might hit, Hale fired off both medium lasers. Missed. Hale supposed that he was going to have to wait until they started strafing runs before he had a decent chance to hit them.


A warning light that Hale had never seen before popped up on his display.


Quote:{| border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="100%" | class="alt2" style="border-bottom: #415c87 1px dotted; border-left: #415c87 1px dotted; border-top: #415c87 1px dotted; border-right: #415c87 1px dotted"|Originally Posted by Chaos Blade [2]off Cornwall Park (need to look at the map, between landing site, port to see where this would be more or less) Auckland, New Zealand


Dana Zumross was bored. The knuckleheads Koltan had left behind to secure the flatbed weren't of the particular bright, nor good conversationalists. Then again she wasn't all that hot for the interpersonal relations, but after twenty minutes of making sure the militia didn't do anything stupid (like the poor bastards she had B.B.Q.ed before), well, anything was better than standing still.


Granted, she couldn't wait to be back on board, looking forward rubbing in Jankowicz's little screw up. Not to mention the, ah, recordings taken during his “short lived burial”. Oh, putting those in PA in the mess tonight, that definitely went into the to-do list.


Her mind then begun to wander onto more and more complex forms of torturing her fellow lancemate when she noticed something.


"That's weird, that indicator never lit up before" then again her Hermes was a bit temperamental, most inherited machines were.


“This is Drakon to all raiders, we got incoming aircraft, repeat, incoming aircraft.”


She shook her head, there would be time to tinker latter. She swiftly switched her machine to anti-air mode, but even as she turned towards the new threat Four Mavericks slammed onto her machine |} �


Ferguson’s Port Auckland, New Zealand Earth 17 May 2005/3020


On taking fire, the incoming planes went evasive and broke for the deck, now definitely moving towards the convoy. Hale blinked as the warning light vanished, taking a few more shots with his lasers, but not apparently hitting anything at the range and angle he was firing at before they ducked out of his line of sight. With a mental shrug, he went back to covering Denaro's back.



The first thing Sergeant Dansel consciously noticed when he regained awareness was pain. While wrapping the mattress and bedding supplies stowed in the room around himself had made the collapse survivable(along with a good guess as to where he wouldn't be squished, and more than one lifetime's worth of luck), it hadn't made it in any way pleasant. The second thing he noticed was a fair bit of weight upon him, putting uncomfortable pressure on various of his bits even through the padding still covering him, gradually decreasing to the accompaniment of clattering as he worked his way out from under what felt like every loose article of everything that had been in the room. The third was the complete and utter lack of light, which implied that the doorways into the compartment had collapsed, or at least been blocked. The fourth was the sound of metallic tearing and banging from directly above him. The fifth was the insistent ringing of his cell phone.


Bemusedly, he pulled it out to check, finding that it was actually the alarm going off. Oh, right, final formation's in five. Wonder if I'll get an Article Fifteen for missing it? This set off a fit of hysterical giggling, as he used the light from the phone to get a grasp of his altered surroundings, determining that he was sitting on the storage and tool lockers that had occupied one wall of the room next to the engine, and that the other wall was now remarkably close to his head. While he continued to hunt for a flashlight, he pulled the walkie talkie from his cargo pocket, and said into it "Sky-Eye here, requesting status update, over."


Silence stretched on interminably, making him fear that either the transmitter was busted, or that everyone was dead. Finally, a voice came on "Whoever this is, this is a fucking shitty means of taking the piss."


"Sky-eye to teams, sorry to disappoint, but apparently Hell was full and I've been returned to feast upon the brains of the living. Ugghhh. Brains. No, not Johnson, I said brains. Over." By putting his back into it, Dansel was able to pry open the first locker, after realizing he shouldn't put his weight on the thing.


The long suffering voice of Private Johnson wearily said "Sorry to disappoint everyone, but that's Dansel all right. Still making the same crap jokes after four years too. Sarge, you've got about a million tons of metal overhead since the boom kind of snapped backwards, and one of those robot things digging down towards its buddy while the second keeps watch. Uhh, over."


"You know the deal, I'll come up with new material when you come up with my money. Sorry to be imprecise though, I meant the status of everyone else, specifically the two Bruces that I know I saw get hit before I barely failed to earn a Darwin. I was pretty sure mine sucked, but thanks for the details. Over.Let's see, hardhat work gloves flashlight, all good, unwashed coveralls potato chips of dubious provenance no thanks, and oh awesome, Porn! Now cheerfully contemplating getting caught masturbating by the pirates when they got to him, Dansel moved on to the next locker.


"Bollocks Six to Sky-eye. I've got four down so far, none dead yet. And I'll have you know my mother was named Bruce. Over.


"Copy. Any contact with higher? Over." doodeedoo empty locker empty locker, hey tools! now I can figure out a way to get free if they get bored and go home! Hmmm, how does one use a cutting torch properly anyway?


"Johnson here. Turns out the MPs are still holding Blankov because of his little incident last night, and left him his cell phone. Sergeant Flake's been talking to their commander, but they don't seem to be taking it seriously enough. I think his exact words were, 'If some fat-ass reservist forklift driver can take one down, we'll have them all in lock-up within the hour'." The sound of a muffled slap carried over the still open circuit. "Oww, over, sheesh."


"Bollocks six, please try to convince my country's official military S&M squad of the seriousness of the threat. Emphasize if you could the fact that they're going to need .50 caliber machine guns and anti-tank rockets in serious quantities to make any kind of impression in a direct fight, and they'd be best able to continue breathing by engaging at long range and immediately changing positions to give demolition teams a chance to rush from cover in immediate proximity to the mech and hit the joints. Over." Hey, there's the first aid kit. Mmmmm, pills glorious pills.


"Bollocks Six, roger. Any additional practical advice or instructions for us? Over."


"When in doubt, go with your motto, and at least double up whatever you were using in the demo packs earlier, try to get any arm mounted weapons too. Battery's fading, I'll try to find the most survivable hide I can. If I don't make it, I want one of you to make up some suitably stirring last words for me, because I'm fresh out of anything that isn't obviously stolen. Sky-eye, out." Now, where would I be most likely to survive a pirate mech carelessly smashing his way through rubble, when he's probably going to deliberately squish me if I'm spotted?


Inevitably, only one real possibility presented itself. Great, I'm the jock shoving the nerd in the locker, and the nerd being shoved in the locker. Now all I need are some gender identity issues crossed with narcissism, and I can be the unattainable dream crush of the nerd who's completely into the jock. Damn, but those were some good pills, guess they weren't really Tylenol after all.


An interminable length of time passed, during which Dansel determined that he really didn't have room to try to play a game on his cell phone, as the crashing and tearing noises grew closer and louder. Eventually, a tearing noise came from all around him, followed by an immense sense of vertigo as he banged around the interior painfully despite the sleeping bag he'd used as a liner. With a bone jarring crash, all movement stopped, followed perversely a few seconds later by the locker door popping open of its own accord.


Ah, fresh air at last, cursed burning Daystar, I shall eventually snuff your foul blight from the heavens. Gee, I didn't think I was that close to any metal columns, it certainly didn't feel like I was in the air that long. Huh, there's another one, wonder what they're here for....... oh for fuck's sake. With mounting horror, Sergeant Dansel stared up, and up and further up at the mech towering over him. Minutely raising his head to glance all around, he noted that the closest significant cover was, in fact, the wreckage that the second mech was rapidly tearing into, flinging debris carelessly in all directions.


Hmmm, die like a bitch, die running like a bitch, cower in fear hoping not to die like a bitch, or blatant suicide. Put that way, there was really only one choice, at least to his drug-addled mind. Taking a swig from his canteen and another couple pills, he checked to be sure that everything was secured to or in his web gear, for once blessing his unit's inane policy of requiring full battle rattle for every damned thing. Then he waited for the next significant chunk to be tossed in his direction.


As it crashed to the ground nearby, Dansel sprung out of the locker and dashed straight toward the thirty-five foot war machine as it continued to minutely turn from side to side. Leaping forward, he grabbed the highest projection that he could, and began the laborious process of trying to climb the mech. Only two things made this remotely possible. First, that he'd had to climb two hundred plus feet of crane multiple times per day for the last week, to the point that he could easily delude himself into thinking that thirty feet of robot was no big deal. Second, he had drugs, rage, and adrenaline all lined up on his side, along with a pair of work gloves that provided a really fantastic grip.


Eventually, he reached what looked like a rear access hatch, and set about using the cutting torch he'd brought along. What the hell, it has to lead somewhere, and if their designers weren't complete puddings, or utter bastards, they'd account for the possibility that a mech might end up on its face with no arms.


At this point Dansel unknowingly won his third metaphorical Luckiest Bastard on the Planet award for the day. A Star League vintage mech would have the hatch literally seamlessly integrated into the armor, so that only someone with deep familiarity with the design would have been able to find, much less attempt to open it. A House unit, even in the current era, would have the hatch made from the same material as the armor, so that it would have scoffed at the efforts of a 20th century man portable torch. A militia unit or personal machine of a feudal lord would at least attempt to run a full check at regular intervals, to determine if any degradation in function had accrued from action or simple wear, and if some kind of repair or jury-rigged fix was needed.


Unfortunately, Captain Hale's machine, unbeknown to him, had suffered serious damage before he was assigned it, necessitating a jury rig of the rear hatch, followed by the tech in question being killed before he could properly update his records. His tech of the time, also unbeknown to him, had had a tendency to simply sign off on the fiddly details that didn't directly impact combat effectiveness, since simply maintaining some semblance of combat effectiveness was so difficult. After he had absconded with the mech, the pirate mechanic he had to rely upon had a tendency to simply sign off on the combat critical functions unless constantly ridden, and as a result deliberately shunned all of the small details that generally escaped a Mechwarrior's eye out of pure spite.


Dansel cut through the access lock, felling the pilot with one punch to the jaw. Yanking the neurohhelmet off his head he kicked the pathetic pirate out of the mech, sneering as he bent the mech to his will. Stomping up to the dropship, he manfully kicked the door down before punching straight up to the bridge and forcing the crew to pilot him to the jumpship. Taking control, he formed his own pirate gang, which swiftly grew into a nation, as he brought the Inner Sphere and then the Clans to heel. Oh yeah, and he totally made Katherine Steiner-Davion and Isis Marik his personal sex slaves, and made them wear skin-tight leather outfits, and...


Sergeant Dansel shook himself slightly to dispel the pleasant daydream, as he devoted his full attention to cutting through the lock. Who knew that jacking a mech would take so long, or be so damned boring? The mech he was on raised its arms and started firing its lasers at something in the distance.Not my people I guess, unless they've decided to get on their own cranes, but still, sucks to be whoever that is. Hey visible color change, that's progress.


Still, the materials were tough, and burn-through took quite a lot of time. And, unfortunately for Dansel, the internal sensors of Hale's Hunchback were in fair shape. So while he'd maintained watch over the surrounding area, taking the occasional potshot at suspicious movement and making damned sure the planes didn't come back into view, Hale gradually noticed the heat gauge in a very localized spot start to shoot upwards. After running a quick diagnostic, in a voice of preternatural calm, he said "Denaro, please check the back of my mech and make sure there isn't one of these little bastards sitting on me. If there is, get over here and remove it by hand." He tried to get at the gnat with his own mech's arms, but the design of the Hunchback was sadly incapable of reaching around far enough, and the heat gauge hadn't quite risen enough for him to start slamming his mech into things, much less try shooting himself in the back with his own weapons.


"See if there's a what on your who? Umm, yeah boss, there's a guy on your ass with a cutting tool working on your rear hatch. Let me get myself extricated and I'll be right over and he's looking at me, and he's grinning. Why is he grinning boss?" The answer to that question came a moment later, as with two sharp cracks the satchel charges just placed in the Commando's knees went off. As Hale spun his mech around to see his subordinate crash to the ground, two more of the seemingly never-ending stream of bastards on this planet lunged forward and shoved yet more satchel charges into the arms of his mech. Triggering his lasers, he saw both of the late comers go down, but the cold comfort that provided was spoiled by the sudden feel of a draft in his cockpit.


The AGM-65F Maverick was designed as a bunker-busting weapon and carries a three-hundred-pound high-explosive warhead. Granted, the chemical composition of those warheads was somewhat less advanced than those found in the larger BattleTech universe, and they were never meant to defeat BattleTech’s super-science ablative armour, but even so, they were more than enough to hit a medium ’Mech like the Hermes II like thunderbolts from the hand of Zeus.


Two of the missiles caught the Hermes in its ‘spine’ and right ‘shoulder-blade’, shattering the armour on those sections and wrecking most of the underlying structural members, to boot. But it was the other two missiles that struck the crucial blows: hammering into the ’Mech’s left flank, they pulverised its armour completely, obliterated the underlying endo-frame... and touched off the autocannon’s remaining ammunition cassettes.


A colossal series of explosions tore the ’Mech apart like a toy stuffed with firecrackers, and Dana Zumross shrieked in agony as feedback overloaded the circuits of her neurohelmet, spearing through her temples like white-hot chisels. The agony smashed her into unconsciousness even before the Hermes’ computer triggered her command couch’s ejection sequence.


The rocket-powered seat obligingly carried its ’MechWarrior soaring high into the air to descend on a parafoil. It neither knew nor cared that its passenger was already comatose.


- - - - Hale’s already foul mood was not helped by seeing Zumross’ green icon vanish from his display and replaced by a simple yellow triangle: the emblem for an ejected pilot. “Oh. Fuck. THIS!” Forgetting his unwanted passenger for the moment, he shifted his aim, tracking on one of the fighter-pairs that had just made its run, and mashed his TICs again, this time thumbing the control to the Hunchback’s primary weapon as well.


Both laser bolts flashed past the Gryphons’ noses like lateral lightning, spectacular but harmless; Hale had given them too much ‘lead’. But Theseus Four’s luck ran out an instant later, when he flew into part of the burst from the Hunchback’s colossal Tomodzuru Type 20 autocannon. Caught by firepower that could stagger an Atlas, the Gryphon’s frail airframe - and pilot - were simply crushed out of existence, leaving only a splash of burning fuel and metal confetti scattered across the sky to mark their passing.


- - - - HMNZS Te Kaha That same time


“The Air Force is engaging now, sir,” the XO reported. “They’re asking that we not fire on the robots, so we don’t spoil their aim.”


“Right, then.” Youngman smiled thinly. “That leaves us with the big target, then, doesn’t it? Peewo, how’s the feed from the Sea Sprite?”


“We’re all set here, sir. That spaceship of theirs almost looks like a travelling roadshow for bloody FIFA.”


And really: nobody brings a soccer ball to the park unless they want it to get a thorough kicking. “Five-inch, sustained fire, at the spaceship.”


“Five-inch, aim of target!”


“ENGAGE!”


- - - - Drakon That same time


Reynold Mamoto’s already profane monologue on this FUBAR raid was a crescendo now, his cursing and his agitation reinforcing each other by the moment. “Hale and his fucking ‘soft target’! Why did I ever -?”


God kicked Drakon. And he was wearing steel-capped boots.


What the fuck was THAT?” Mamoto screamed, the last word almost lost in another explosion.


“Artillery from something” WHAM! “to the north-east!” Dietrich reported, her hands massaging the controls for more data.


“That’s” WHAM! “out to sea, dammit!” Mamoto blinked. How the hell could they have artillery -?


“It” WHAM! “must be a surface warship or something,” WHAM! “Captain! It’s probably got three” WHAM! “guns, because I’m reading a” WHAM! “shot every three seconds!”


“Okay, fuckWHAM!this! Chin, close the” WHAM! “doors and get us skybound, we” WHAM! “are LEAVING!”


“What about Hale?” Dietrich wondered, mostly for form’s sake. WHAM!


FUCK Hale!” Mamoto snarled, flinching as another shell exploded against Drakon’s armoured shell. He wanted to find the motherlode: now, he can friggin’ well take his time looking!


- - - - In all honesty, barring a minutes-long barrage or incredible luck, Te Kaha’s five-inch gun was unlikely to destroy Drakon outright: its HE shells were lighter than those of even the smallest of Star League artillery pieces, the ‘dinky’ 150mm Thumper, and each round could make little impression against the Union’s well-armoured hide. But that didn’t mean that those shells couldn’t do damage in other ways. ‘Misses’ that landed on the grass outside the DropShip sent shards of shrapnel brutally slashing into the ‘Mech- and cargo-bays through the open doors, ricocheting from bulkhead to bulkhead until they spent their energy or were ‘caught’ by something - like the fleshy bodies of exposed personnel, or crates of supplies, or loot.


Or control runs.


- - - - “Captain, I’m not getting” WHAM! “any response from the bay doors!”


WHAM!WHAT?” Mamoto screeched.


I can’t close the bay doors!” WHAM! “If we try to break atmo, they’ll be” WHAM! “open to space!”


- - - - Of course, the more times you shoot at something, the better the chances you’ll fire that infamous ‘Golden Bullet’ - a freak hit in the right place, at the right time, to cause catastrophe for the foe. The ur-example of a ‘Golden Bullet’ is the appalling fate of HMS Hood.


In Te Kaha’s case, one of her five-inch shells landed almost squarely on Drakon’s Turret One, which covered the ship’s ‘bow’ arc in flight. ‘Almost’, because it found the slightest seam in the ship’s poorly-maintained and already-battered armour, punching through into the turret’s guts, where it detonated amongst a cluster of laser-projectors, autocannons, and missile launchers - and their magazines.


- - - - Reynold Mamoto blinked, trying to focus blurred eyes. Why am I face-down on the deck? And why can’t I hear anything? I feel like I got stepped on by Hale’s damned Hunchback, or something....


After a moment, Drakon’s deck trembled under him again, and he blinked again, rolling onto his side. Now he was looking at the flight station, where Hugo Chin was still sitting in his chair, but there was something strange about Hugo. Something terribly wrong.


It took him a long while to figure out what it was.


Oh, that was it: Hugo’s arms were gone.


Poor Hugo: he’s so proud of how well he plays his guitar. He’ll have a hard time doing that without his arms.


Then reality came swimming back into focus.


[/QUOTE=Death By Chains;4156470] �


Pirate Dropship Drakon Auckland, New Zealand Earth 17 May 2005


Fear gripped Mamoto the instant he realized that Chin was dead. Adrenaline pumping through his veins, he leapt for the pilot’s station. Luckily, the controls were mostly intact if blood splattered. Not even thinking about the fact that he wasn’t strapped in, his hand slammed down on the engine ignition button.


Holy shit! Koltan thought as he picked himself up off the deck of Drakon’s main cargo bay. He and his people had just boarded with the majority of the loot when the bombardment had begun. Then something made the 3500 ton vessel ring like a bell. We’re being shelled by artillery!


“Secure the loot!” he ordered his shaken people and deck hands. “Move it fast people! We still have to go back for…”


A familiar rumbling from beneath his feet started, interrupting the infantry commander. It was the Drakon’s fusion engines starting up. Koltan’s eyes went immediately to the door he and his people had just come through. It was still wide open to the open air.


“Oh, hell no!” he shouted. “CLOSE THE BAY DOOR!”


“We can’t!” a tech shouted back. He could barely be heard above the rising din. “We can’t retract the ramp! And the outer door won’t close while the ramp’s extended!”


“Then close the inner door!” Koltan ordered. The bay doors of course were actually airlocks sized for use by mechs.


The noise was near deafening now. Outside, Koltan could actually see the ground falling away. A heavy wind was blasting through the bay forcing the pirates to grab anything they could secure. If the Dropship broke atmosphere with that door still open…


“That inner door doesn’t work in ages!” the tech replied, voice now completely drowned out. Koltan was glad he could read lips.


Then he thought about what the tech had just said.


“Surface ship sighted!” Dietrich shouted, eyes locked on her readouts. Hugo had been her friend, and now he was gone. But she couldn’t deal with that right now. She had more immediate concerns right now, like not dying herself.


“Kill it!” the skipper screamed, his voice raised several octaves by obvious terror. “Kill it now!”


“Gladly,” Dietrich muttered as her left hand played across the weapons controls. Her right wasn’t responding to her commands and was sending off a lot of pain signals. A little analyst in the back of her mind said her right arm was probably broken. But for this, her left was more than sufficient.


The side of the Drakon erupted in fire. A particle projection cannon, two medium autocannon, and twin long ranged missile launchers fired a single volley at the HMNZS Te Kaha. Traveling at near light speed, the PPC bolt arrive first and missed, passing across the ship barely above head height just aft of bridge superstructure. Autocannon shells arrived next, streams of shells strafing across the bow and stern of the ship and smashing bulkheads and sending splinters of metal scything across any crew unfortunate enough to be near the impact points.


The LRMs arrived last. But their flight was interrupted by a wall of bullets thrown up by the Te Kaha’s single Phalanx CIWS. While autocannon shells could brush through the hail with ease, the more fragile missiles could not. Many of them were swatted aside, but many more were not. There were simply too many of them. Eighteen missiles were knocked out of the sky. Seven more missed the Te Kaha and plunged harmlessly into the water. The remaining fifteen scattered across the entire remaining surface of the frigate, gouging out craters from steel, smashing exposed equipment, and scouring the entire exposed deck of any remaining crewmembers. One lucky missile went right through the bridge window.


The surviving planes of the RNZAF buzzed impotently below the rising Dropship. Their missile load out had been configured for ground attack after all. In the distance, the approaching flight from the Nimitz watched the brilliant light that was the Drakon race for space, too far away for them to do anything. A few tried anyway, sending air to air missiles at that fantastic heat source, but the alien vessel simply rose above them.


The howling air was definitely racing out the open bay door. Koltan could feel his ears pop as the pressure dropped.


“We need to use the manual override!” he shouted at the tech. “Where is it?”


The tech looked at him wide eyed. Then hiss eye drifted over to the open airlock door, just in time to see an unlucky soldier lose his grip and sail through it, screams lost in the noise.


“Bloody wonderful,” Koltan muttered to himself. “Of course it’s in the airlock.”


Taking a risk, he took one hand off the pipe he had been using as an anchor and reached for his utility belt. It was a silly and expensive thing he had bought in his pre-pirate days on a lark, but it had some useful gadgets on it. Among them was a grappling hook with nearly three hundred meters of light, spider silk cable complete with powered winch.


Koltan attached the hook to his anchor… and then let go. He flew towards the open bay door, and was brought up just short as the governers kicked in. Then he let the cable play out slowly as he spelunked inside the open airlock scanning the interior for the manual release.


It was getting hard to breath.


There it was! A heavy lever surrounded by faded black and yellow stripes. Koltan made his way carefully over to it. Something big and heavy flew past Koltan as he did; it nearly hitting him. But it didn’t, so he paid it no mind.


An eternity later, his hand fell on the lever and Koltan pulled with all his might. The lever moved with great reluctance born of poor maintenance and accumulated build up, but move it did. There was a flash of light and suddenly the boarding ramp was fluttering away into the atmosphere. Koltan couldn’t watch it long because the great outer doors smoothly slid shut.


Koltan collapsed to the still rumbling deck as soon as the air stopped moving outwards, ears still ringing. He lay there exhausted for long moments.


“I’m going to kill Mamoto,” he growled eventually.


Hale's Hunchback Auckland, New Zealand Earth 17 May 2005


A voice sounded from behind Hale: "Oi, motherfucker! Power down the mech and peacefully exit via the front, or burn to death! Do the words 'Molotov cocktail' mean anything to you you piece of shit?" The voice was accompanied by the smell of something reminiscent of ICE fuel, and the sound of liquid sloshing and a low intense burning sound.


Hale sat paralyzed for a second, as he did indeed remember the meaning of the words from his long past officer training. As his lips moved soundlessly while he tried to form a reply, the sight of the newly scarred Drakon lifting steadily into the sky crushed what last hope he'd held. "Awww, did da widdle piwate's fweinds weave him to die? Now, dipshit, the only reason you aren't roasting yet is because the smell of burning flesh takes forever to wash out of a cockpit."


"I'm, I'm, I'm powering down now, I'm kneeling so I can exit, just give me a second" How could this have all gone so horribly wrong? The Hunchback assumed the standard position for field disembarkation, some long-forgotten designer having put more than a little thought into making each mech capable of letting a pilot out on flat ground without laying flat down on its ass. Popping the cockpit, he began to descend by pure reflex.


"All right, if someone could please take custody of the murderous idiot and call the MPs, I'd appreciate it! Kindly refrain from administering superfluous kickings, the last thing I need today is the ACLU on my case! I'll be down in a sec after making sure he hasn't booby-trapped anything!" Booby trapped hell, if anyone thinks I'm not taking my chance to be the first Earther in a mech cockpit, they've been taking better pills than I have.


A minute later, Sergeant Dansel descended from the front of the mech to find two of the Aussies covering the kneeling prisoner from behind and either side. Walking up to Captain Lewis he quietly said "Your men captain?"


"Fitch and Mckay didn't make it. Cassell, Bourke, Allwood, Hutton and Smeaton are all down and being looked after, and your internationally accredited bondage team is on its way, but they took a hell of a beating, so they'll be a minute. I have to say, I'm disappointed mate, I thought you were going to take the ship as an encore."


"Guess they just heard their mothers' calling Captain. I'm just going to do some shameless gloating to break down this schmuck's will." Walking around in front of Captain Hale. With great ceremony, he produced a quite filthy rag from one cargo pocket that smelled heavily of gasoline, triggered the cutting torch briefly, then took out his canteen, sloshed it around, and took a healthy swig. "I'm guessing since you had the heaviest mech, you were in charge. So, for the most important two questions of your life, Colonel, General, El Supremo Commandante, or whatever the hell you call yourself, How did you find us, and what year is it?" �


White House Situation Room Washington DC United States of America Earth 17th May 2005, 7.48am EST


"Mr. President we have our senior man on the ground ready to teleconference." At Ryan's nod, he activated the communications link, and a harried looking and visibly sweating Colonel appeared.


"Colonel, what do you have for us?"


"Mr. President, at roughly 0300 hours your time, Ferguson's Port experienced an extra-terrestrial pirate incursion. Cooperating with Australian forces present for the upcoming exercise, and New Zealand's armed forces, we were able to neutralize the pirates' combat element, but unable to prevent their transport and support personnel from effecting their escape."


"Colonel, I have all that in the official report. It also says that a Sergeant Dansel was instrumental in the destruction and capture of the attacking forces, is there a reason he is not there with you as requested?"


The increasingly pale colonel replied "Mr President, Sergeant Dansel is heavily involved in tactical training exercises and familiarization regarding the new threat. We're getting him here as quickly as possible."


"'Tactical training exercises and familiarization'. Colonel, would this have anything to do with the report I have received from the New Zealand government regarding an armed Hummvee taken from your MP unit, apparently crewed by five Australians and one 'loud bloody yank', tearing around Auckland, patronizing at last report, a local game store, an express dry cleaning facility, and an electronics store? As well as briefly vandalizing the New Zealand SAS barracks with pirate paraphernalia?"


"Mr President, Sergeant Dansel, during the course of his exploits, ingested a drug that he initially took to be Tylenol. One of the MP medics unknowingly administered a medication which caused an adverse reaction, triggering a hyper manic state. At last report I have, he is currently simultaneously refereeing a 'Grand Melee' and starting up a mechwarrior rpg group, while utilizing what breaks occur to participate in the ongoing LAN party and take his turn at the karaoke machine with a variety of Australian themed songs that none of us have ever heard of. I was, frankly, stalling in an attempt to give him more time to wind down before you saw him."


"Colonel, your loyalty to your troops does you credit. Now get him on the line" Ryan said, manfully ignoring his Vice President as Robbie Jackson was utterly failing to restrain his laughter. Shortly, Sergeant Dansel stepped in front of the camera, in a perfectly pressed uniform, with a rigidity that approached rigor mortis, if not outright fossilization. "Good evening Staff Sergeant, at least the dry cleaning facility now becomes clear. At Ease."


"Mr President." Sergeant Dansel relaxed minutely, but seemed unwilling to volunteer further comment.


"You don't have any comment about a promotion implicitly approved by your commander in chief son?


"Mr President, my only two concerns are that I am in fact currently flagged by weight control so as to be ineligible to receive promotion, and that even with a waiver, said ineligibility makes it more likely that due to a paperwork problem payroll will take another two years to notice and correct my pay rate up to my current grade, much less my increased rank."


If anything, the interview got more surreal from there.


Dropship Drakon Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1 17 May 2005/3020


The Drakon broke atmosphere, reoriented itself, and then began thrusting at a leisurely one gravity towards the Jumpship White Elephant.


“Elephant, this is Drakon,” Mamoto said tiredly into the radio, “We’re coming in. Have a docking collar ready for us.” Mamoto had never been a stickler for procedure, but right now, it was extremely comforting.


“Jesus, Mamoto,” relied the Elephant’s captain. “What the hell happened to you guys down there?”


“Hale’s ‘milk run’ turned out to be a damned trap, Benson” Mamoto replied. “He got swarmed by militia and aircraft. We barely got out alive.”


“Shit, you got no loot at all?” Benson asked.


“Didn’t you hear me? They’re dead!” Mamoto said, his voice tinged with hysteria. “They’re all dead!”


“THE HELL YOU SAY!” a new voice roared. It didn’t come from the speakers but from behind Mamoto. Mamoto’s head whipped around to see a bruised, bloody, and enraged Koltan charge into the bridge.


“Eep!” Mamoto squeaked as the other man grabbed him by the lapels of his jumpsuit with one hand and shook him.


“WERE YOU OUT OF YOUR BLOODY MIND?!” Koltan roared into the Dropship captain’s face. “YOU TOOK OFF WITH THE BLOODY BAY DOOR OPEN TO SPACE, YOU MORON! YOU COULD HAVE KILLED US ALL!”


Mamoto babbled something about saving the ship.


“SAVE THE SHIP, MY ASS!” Koltan roared, shaking Mamoto some more. “YOU WERE SAVING YOUR HIDE! NOW TURN THIS SHIP AROUND! WE GOT PEOPLE TO PICKUP!”


“Um, excuse me,” a soft, feminine voice said.


“WHAT?” Koltan demanded, his ire turning to the speaker.


“Not that I mind if you strangle the skipper,” Jane Dietrich said told the infantry commander while cradling her right arm. “But there’s not much point in going back. Not unless you can fight through that.”


With a nod, she indicated a bank of screens showing what looked like the local news. Each screen showed something different. The most relevant ones had the pirates mechs. One had the Hermes II being nailed by streaks of fire in the back and exploding. Another had the fallen remains of the Stinger and Commando. A fourth showed Hale’s Hunchback, but in shutdown position and local militia standing around and on top of it. Other screens showed fighters flying through the sky and obvious wet navy ships at sea, one of whom look mauled. All in all, it didn’t look good.


“Well, damn,” Koltan said mildly when he finished taking the images in. “I guess Burg’s on his own.”


“Can you let me go now?” Mamoto choked out.


“Sure,” Koltan replied, releasing the Dropship captain.


“Than…” Mamoto began.


He was interrupted when Koltan’s other hand came up in a fist and punched his lights out.


Dropship Drakon Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1 18 May 3020


“Move it, people!” Koltan barked, his voice echoing off the bulkheads of Drakon’s main cargo bay. “We’re almost at the jump point and I want everything secure before we go into free fall again!”


“C’mon, sir,” one of the soldiers helping with tying vehicles and cargo containers around complained. “Wouldn’t this be easier in free fall?”


“Why, Griffin, are you volunteering to be our next ‘accident’ victim?” Koltan asked loudly, making sure that everyone present could hear him. He threw a significant look at a red splotch with the consistency of strawberry jam that decorated one bulkhead. That poor bastard had been caught by a shifting cargo container during the clusterfuck of a liftoff.


“Sir! No, sir!” Griffin replied with alacrity as he went back to strapping helping move a crate into position.


“Sir?” a hesitant voice spoke.


“What is it, Burns?” Koltan asked, turning to the speaker. Maria Burns was the Drakon’s chief engineer, and much to Koltan’s surprise when first meeting her, looked to be fairly competent at her job. “The vehicles are secure?”


“Yes, sir,” Burns replied, nodding. “Vehicles at least can move themselves. I was just wondering what was in those.” She pointed at one of the cargo containers being strapped down to the deck by the Koltan’s grunts.


“Don’t know, and right now, I frankly don’t care,” Koltan replied. “Right now, I’m feeling lucky that we got away with anything at all. They could all be filled with copies of old Immortal Warrior serials for all I care.”


“You’re not even curious?” Burns asked, surprised.


“Burns, we’re stuck in this system for the next six days or so until the Elephant is ready to jump,” Koltan told her. “We really don’t have enough people left to knock over a grade school, never mind make another raid on that hell planet down there. And beyond that, we’ve got several weeks of travel time before we get ‘home’ such as it is. We have plenty of time to see what we made off with.”


“If you say so…”


Burns was interrupted when the PA squealed an ear shattering feedback. Well, Koltan would have considered it ear shattering before that cockup of a lift off.


“Leutnant Koltan, please report to the bridge.”


“Fantastic,” Koltan said, eyes rolling in exasperation. He had left explicit instructions to only be called in case of an emergency. “More problems.”


By the time Koltan reached the Dropship’s bridge, the gravity was gone. The Drakon had reached the pirate point and had come to rest relative to the Jumpship White Elephant. Koltan was surprised to find only Jane Dietrich present. The corpse of the dead Hugo Chin was gone and the majority of his blood was mopped up. Captain Mamoto was nowhere to be found.


“Where’s Mamoto?” Koltan demanded as he floated in.


Dietrich shrugged, careful not to jar the makeshift cast encasing her right arm. “Last I heard, he was in the sickbay hopped up on tranquilizers,” the woman answered indifferently. “No big loss. It’s not like he did more than give idiotic orders anyway. Anyway, that’s not why I called you up here.”


“Okay them,” Koltan said patiently, barely holding on to his frayed temper. “What’s the problem?”


“The Elephant is refusing to let us dock,” Dietrich answered.


“What? Why?”


In reply, Dietrich just held out a headset. Growling, Dietrich took them and put them on.


Elephant, this is Leutnant Koltan,” he said immediately. “What’s this I hear about you refusing to let us dock?”


“How do I know that you’re really who you say you are?” Captain Benson’s voice came back immediately. “The Drakon could have been captured by the locals for all I know. You could be Koltan, but you could also have a gun pointed to your head saying what I want to hear.”


“Oh, you have got to be shitting me,” Koltan groaned.


“You could have a ship full of soldiers ready to storm aboard my ship and kill us all,” Benson went on. ”Don’t come any closer! I’m armed, you know!”


“Yeah? Well so am I,” Koltan replied. “And you know what? Despite the crappy condition of this Dropship, I still have more than enough armor to take whatever you dish out. You on the other hand, can’t take what I can dish out. So you can either let us dock, or we can blow you out of space!”


“You wouldn’t dare!”


“You’re right, Benson,” Koltan said quietly. “I wouldn’t dare.”


“Hah! I knew it!”


“I said that I wouldn’t dare,” Koltan continued. “But if the locals have really boarded and captured the Drakon, then I wouldn’t have any say on weapons control. They on the other hand would dare. So if you don’t let us dock, they are more than willing to destroy your precious Jumpship. Understand me?”


“Uh….”


“So the question you have to ask yourself is, ‘Do I feel lucky?’” Koltan told him. “Is the Drakon full of hostile locals enraged at the attack on their world? Because if the Drakon is, Benson, then you’re dead if you don’t let us dock. If you do let us dock, then there’s a chance that you get to live as their prisoners. Now, if the Drakon isn’t full of locals, then you have nothing to fear because we’re all friends here.” Koltan’s voice dropped some more into a low growl. “We ARE all friends here, right Benson?”


“Right,” Benson agreed reluctantly.


“Okay then, Benson,” Koltan said, his voice warming slightly. “Now ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you feel lucky, Benson? Do you?”


There was silence at the other end of the connection for several long moments.


“Docking Collar Two is nearest to you,” Benson finally said. “Don’t dent it to much now.”


“Will do,” Koltan replied. “Drakon out.” As he handed the headset back to Dietrich, he noticed the woman staring at him with a funny expression on her face. “What?”


“Are you… busy later?” Dietrich asked, a bit breathlessly.


National Training Center Fort Irwin California, United States May 20 2009/3020


Fort Irwin already hosted the largest concentration of spec ops ever assembled in the history of mankind, and yet more troops were arriving hourly, interspersed with scientists, more conventional troops, and civilian writers. Major Domingo 'Ding' Chavez wasn't sure what exactly the US had given New Zealand in order to gain custody of the captured machines, but the presence of what looked to be a substantial portion of the entirety of New Zealand's armed forces, along with the very obvious US led exercises now taking place in and around New Zealand nearly a week ahead of schedule, hinted that the concession hadn't come free.


Physical Training, under the conditions, was a pure bitch to coordinate. Beyond the simple matter of keeping the Hunchback under cover while the pirate ship was overhead, it was also necessary to keep anything looking like large groups of troops from exercising in the open where they theoretically had no business being. Indoor training facilities were at a premium, and as a field grade officer, he barely made the cut for being able to pick his own timeslot. However, there are exceptions he mused to himself, as he lapped Staff Sergeant Dansel again.


Staff Sergeant Dansel at this point frankly looked one step away from death, in the wrong direction, sweat practically pouring off of him as he staggered towards the finish line. At one side Captain Lewis ran backwards pacing him, on the other side Lance Corporal Hutton did the same, while Private Allwood, missing most of his left leg below the knee, actually did circles around them in his wheelchair. However, rather than the usual malice and contempt this might imply, this was actually a security detail, after the third kidnapping attempt by the NZ SAS in the last day. The words 'cheeky yank bastard' were still visible in permanent marker on the back of his neck from the last time he'd made the mistake of being caught alone. Rumor had it(correctly) that he'd suggested the wording himself when the New Zealanders who'd cornered him seemed unable to agree on what to do, and that he'd provided the marker himself(incorrect in this case).


As he passed the finish line for the final time, and slowed to a walk, Captain Lewis wordlessly passed Dansel a bottle of water and a pair of salt tablets. Swallowing them and draining the bottle in one go, Dansel held out his hand allowing Hutton to fill it with another bottle, that he emptied at a more sedate pace. "Sir" he said to Major Chavez , swiftly catching up now that he was able to set a walking pace.


"Staff Sergeant. Got any tips for when I get my crack at Quasimodo?" The Hunchback had immediately received its new name from the troops upon arrival at Fort Irwin, and had been found the following morning when the hangar was opened to begin training with its new moniker painted on along with a stylised Disney hunchback on its chest, a broken bottle of champagne on the ground next to it, standing twenty feet from where it had been carefully placed the day before, with its tracks all over the hangar. Unsurprisingly, the guards that had been posted in the hangar had developed acute cases of short-term amnesia, made even more suspect by overheard conversations to the effect of 'dude it was awesome!' The fact that Staff Sergeant Dansel had volunteered to command the first guard duty shift may have had something to do with why the matter was quietly dropped.


"You just have to feel the path the machine wants to take, and shape it to work for you. Sorry to get all mystical sir, but if I had anything concrete, it would be part of the briefings." Part of the purpose for everyone being at the Center, in addition to familiarization with Battlemech capabilities and interminable class work, was to run everyone they possibly could through their paces on the machine. With only one functional Battlemech, Earth, or at least the allied nations currently actively cooperating, had no choice but to attempt to find the best instinctive pilot they possibly could in the event Quasimodo's deployment became necessary. No one knew exactly who had first popularized the term 'synch ratio' as an easy shorthand for the aggregate test results. However, Dansel's results were easily the highest for the official time anyone had been able to spend in the cockpit.


"Too bad mano. Can you at least fill me in on which of the rumors about you are completely made up? Like the thing with the GP medium?" Some of the things being said simply couldn't possibly be true, and his physical performance in training was generally unremarkable at best. But it was an undeniable fact that First Sergeant Vega, possibly the strongest member of Rainbow Six, had nearly hurt himself when he tried to casually lift one of Dansel's duffel bags during the inevitable baggage clusterfuck at the airfield, said duffel having turned out to be entirely full of books.


"Well sir, for a start, it wasn't a GP medium tent that I singlehandedly threw on the back of a truck, it was just a small. Is it true that your lot had a part in what went down in China with the nukes?" Speculation about that had run rampant in the military community, and more than a few members of Dansel's unit had stayed on friendly terms with assorted SOCOM personnel after their deployment down to Fort Bragg, and heard some juicy tidbits about the 'Men of Black'.


"Officially, I have no knowledge of what may have occured in China that night to stop all but one of the nukes from launching. I certainly couldn't say anything to confirm or deny that the demolition of fueled nuclear missiles by hand is almost as insane as one of your stunts. What about the thing with the truck tire?" That night was still the stuff of nightmares for Ding, with the simple pressure of a life or death operation to save millions compounded by never knowing which missile might explode catastrophically to kill you even if you succeeded.


"Well sir, then I unofficially owe you a beer and a beatdown, since the one missile you may or may not have been anywhere near when it launched headed close enough for my home for me to watch the fireworks. The tire thing, man I thought no one actually was paying attention to that. Don't know what I was thinking, but when it started bouncing towards me, instead of just stepping to the side, I just moved back and caught the thing just as it was running out of momentum. Looked a hell of a lot more impressive than it really was probably, but still in my top twenty dumbest things I've ever done."


The two continued to trade anecdotes and good-natured ribbing as they walked once around the track. "Well sir, I'm not out of breath at all, so it looks like it's time for me to embarrass myself some more. Have a good one sir." With that Sergeant Dansel began running around the track again with his escorts, Captain Lewis pausing to give Major Chavez a gimlet stare. This wouldn't be the first time the damned Kiwis had tried impersonation to gather intel or effect a snatch after all.


Albion rental apartment complex, Palmerston North, New Zealand, May 20 2005/3020


‘Trace Coburn’ had spent a lot of time in Palmerston North before, but never in accommodations so flash. Not that he’d really noticed, or particularly cared; so long as he had a decent bed, room to spread out his books and papers so he could read and work, and a high-speed connection for the new laptop the government had bought him to support his ‘consultancy work’, he was pretty much oblivious to everything outside of the screen and the data he was combing through.


Upon reflection after the fact, he was a little surprised that he hadn’t been more nervous about his briefing of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet beforehand or during... but the fact that he and they had had half an eye on the live coverage of the raid throughout the video-conference had probably kept him from internalising the situation until it was over. (The fact that he rarely invested much emotion in politics or politicians had probably helped.) Once it was done, the red-caps had handed him a brand-new Dell laptop and a burned DVD and bustled him off to Ohakea, where he’d been crammed into the rear seat of a Gryphon trainer like too much stuffing into a chicken and flown up to Auckland for a first-hand look. He might have derived more pleasure from getting his first-ever ride in one of Earth’s newest fighter-jets had he not been frantically trying to re-assess his entire world-view. On the other hand, even with his shaky grasp of social nuance, before he’d climbed the ladder into the JAS-39D he’d remembered to thank his pilot for the lift, offer condolences for the lost man, and congratulate the squadron for killing the Hermes... which had turned into a brief conversation in which he, and then his ‘driver’ had been exceedingly thankful the pirates hadn’t had access to a Rifleman. Or worse yet, the pair of aerospace fighters a Union normally carried.


He’d almost spit-taken on the HUD when he’d gotten a look at the DVD’s contents during the flight: someone had downloaded every single CBT-related .pdf BattleShop offered, so he’d have access to all of his references (and more besides) while he was away from his own book-collection. It had occurred to him to wonder if the government had actually paid for those .pdfs; after all, what FASA/Fanpro copyrights meant in this situation was anybody’s guess! (It had also occurred to him, with his usual vein of cynical humour, to ponder BattleShop’s stability. Between the journos looking for reference data for their stories, intelligence agencies trying to update their threat-assessment files, and gamers and regular citizens looking to figure out what the FUCK was going ON!?!? in the wider universe, he fully expected that BattleShop’s servers had been running almost red-hot trying to keep up with an unprecedented surge in new accounts created, files downloaded, and money rolling into its coffers. Whatever financial troubles Fanpro might’ve had up until May 16, from May 17 they’re probably set for the next decade or so. Legally, though? I’d bet that’s another story!)


When more government minders had shown up at his hotel-room door at seven the next morning, they’d brought him into the restaurant to meet several other CBT posters, mostly fellow Kiwis or travellers who’d thought to contact the authorities when they saw the news; every one of those ‘mere’ posters deferred to the ‘PTB’ in their midst, one of Fanpro’s freelancers, a middle-aged expatriate Canadian who’d been yanked out of his Melbourne home by the Australian Federal Police and put on a trans-Tasman flight. However, while he was their recognised ‘senior man’, he was also the most shell-shocked: he’d been in the game since its release in the ’80’s and knew the most about its backstory - not to mention having spent several years helping to craft Fanpro’s future products. To be fair, I can’t say I blame John for being a little sickly: reading and writing about the Word of Blake Jihad was incredible fun, but the idea of seeing it at close quarters is seriously fucking scary!


Of course, John’s agitation might have had something to with the fact that he’d been hauled away from his wife and teenaged daughters in the middle of the night... or that he had a minder from the Aussie government: a muscular fellow in a suit with an ill-concealed sidearm and a wolf’s eyes. ‘Trace Coburn’ fully admitted that he wasn’t particularly astute when it came to people, but even he was pinging the minder as Aussie SAS. Which begs the question: is he there to look out for John... or keep an eye on him?


Now, here he was: self-appointed fan writer of ‘Fighter of the Week’, which had now turned him into the Brash government’s Instant Expert on all things BattleTech and aerospace. Moreover, with John under a cloud, that meant the ‘junior’ posters deferred to his judgement, also making him the effective leader of the New Zealand government’s CBT think-tank! And now I know what Herb meant about ‘herding cats’! he thought half-sourly, not wanting to contemplate what awaited him in his e-mail account.


Which explained was why he was sitting in his hotel-room, typing frantically: after another long, wide-ranging brain-storming session, on top of writing a preliminary threat-assessment for 75 Squadron’s Gryphon-drivers, he also had the responsibility of condensing the group’s wild and woolly ideas into a coherent form for presentation to the bureaucrats. I wonder what they’ll make of my writing style? I can’t say I’m the best-organised joker out there, and I’m not sure I could manage a formally-structured report if I tried, but at least I try to write documents that are entertaining to read!


Still, I thought the Prime Minister was gonna choke when he saw our recommended additions to the terms he’d give the Yanks in exchange for signing the isorla over to them, he smiled thinly, his hands and hind-brain not needing supervision to type as he remembered that conversation. But, hey, they were waving a blank cheque at us: what were we supposed to do, think small?


“Miz Liz” and her creator in Seattle have thoroughly convinced me of the merits of economic power in warfare - not to mention how commerce is attracted to the infrastructure to support it - so why not get in on the ground floor? If those pirate bastards come back - and if they got any of our computer tech like the spooks think, they’ll be back as sure as a T-800 - and we can take their DropShips intact, Earth’s first commercial spaceport will be built by the ANZUS alliance in the Australian Outback and operated by “South Pacific Spacelift”, a company jointly held by the Aussie and Kiwi governments. Tack on the subsequent port fees and duties on off-world imports and materials mined throughout the Sol system, and we’re already looking at what is technically referred to as ‘a fucking fortune’. Add that to a solemn agreement that Kiwi scientists will be equal partners in the reverse-engineering of all captured technologies and that we’ll have an inalienable (if non-voting) five-percent share in any and all commercial applications and ventures stemming therefrom - including the fusion-based power generation industry - and we’re in line to become a friggin’ superpower!


Heh: I always thought das Wünderkind Jack Ryan and his people were long overdue to have someone pull a fast one on ’em. Who knew it’d be the New Zealand government, acting at the prompting of a bloke who was working in a supermarket the day the ’Mechs landed?


Of course, we need to be able to mallet the bastards if they come back to Godzone, so the Government’s immediate demands will be more use in the short-term. It looks like our weapons can get the job done against ‘Mech-grade armour after all - unless they bring a lance of assault-’Mechs or something, but that’d fuck anything short of a mechanised brigade from a major nation anyway - so between the joint exercises and the U.S. footing the bill for another squadron of JAS-39s and emergency bulk supplies of Mavericks and JSOWs, the next bunch of Blackbeard slime-mould motherfrakkers who try their luck here are gonna rue the day their momma-slimes ever oozed ‘em out....


But enough woolgathering. I need to get back to work on this: 75 Squadron’s lost one man already, and I will NOT see any more of our lads die because I didn’t give them a good sense for the threat.


Dropship Drakon Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1 20 May 3020


“Morning, Jane,” Irdon Koltan said as he sailed onto the Drakon’s bridge in microgravity. He found her sprawled in the Captain’s chair, Mamoto having apparently overdosed on tranquilizers. The Drakon’s formal captain was comatose in sick bay. Either that or he was hiding under his bunk. Irdon really didn’t care which.


“Morning, Irdon,” Jane replied. She was watching a bank of monitors showing the various transmissions from the locals. Most of the screens appeared to be tuned to news or talk shows. The common topic of all them of course, appeared to be the pirates themselves. “No missiles with nuclear warheads being shot at us yet,” she added conversationally.


“That’s good to know,” Koltan replied in the same tone. Like Mamoto, the Elephant’s captain seemed to have gone off the deep end. He seemed convinced that the locals had nuclear capability and were more than willing to use them. Thus, Captain Benson insisted that both ships maintained constant watch with weapons ready to shoot down any missiles sent there way. Both Koltan and Jane remained unconvinced; but they found it just easier to just humor the guy’s paranoia even if it took away from their… personal time. “So, learn anything interesting?” Koltan asked, nodding at the monitors.


“Oh yeah,” Jane replied blithely. “Did you know that Comstar has a secret conspiracy to try and drive the Inner Sphere into a new Stone Age and that they have a secret stash of combat Jumpships? Not only that, Katrina Steiner is going to marry her daughter off to Hanse Davion and combine their realms into a new super Successor State to dominate the Inner Sphere, only to have it ripped apart when their kids start a civil war for the throne. And then thirty years from now, the decedents of General Kerensky and the Star League army is going to come back to try and conquer the Inner Sphere only to fail miserably trying. And oh yeah, Wolf’s Dragoons are really Star League army spies.”


“Uh, what?” Koltan said, confused.


“Seriously, that’s what they’re talking about,” Jane insisted with a laugh. “Someone has been feeding these guys a bunch of bad action stories for the past twenty years. They seriously thought that we and the Inner Sphere and everything was all make believe before we landed. Hell, they think the year is 2005 instead of 3020.”


“That’s… weird,” Koltan said. “But anything about our guys?”


“Aside from confirmation of their capture? No, not really,” Jane replied. “Their government is playing things pretty close to the chest. They’re just letting out enough info to keep the public calm, I think.”


“They’re probably concerned about us eavesdropping,” Koltan mused. “God knows, I’d suspect a trap if they told everyone where our people were being kept. Anything else?”


“Well they’re still trying to reconcile our existence with the fiction,” Jane told him with a shrug. “The most popular and plausible theory so far is that we had a misjump and have either gone back in time or into an alternate universe.”


There was a pause in conversation.


“Er, we haven’t had a misjump, have we?” Koltan asked nervously. The thought of not having a home to go back to was unnerving, especially since that would make the only possible place to go was the planet that he and his people had just ticked off.


“Not so far as I know, no,” Jane reassured him.


“Oh, good,” Koltan said, slightly relieved. “Anyway, I came up to invite you to the loot party. We’re going to be opening the first containers soon. Wanna see what we got?”


“Sure!” Jane said, shutting down the monitors. “Let’s go!”


Dropship Drakon Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1 20 May 3020


The surviving members of the Drakon’s pirate company – as well as select officers from the Elephant’s officers – had gathered in the Dropship’s main cargo bay. They surrounded four containers secured to the deck in the middle of the bay. Three of the containers were anonymously boxes of sheet metal. The fourth was like the others except that it had wheels attached to one end and jacks extended at the front.


“About time you got here,” Captain Benson said crabbily when Koltan and Jane arrived. “Can we see what the take is now, or is it too soon for you?”


“Sorry, Captain,” Koltan said, his tone not at all apologetic. “I just wanted to make sure everyone was up and out of sick bay before we started. You know how nasty things can get if someone thinks that they’re not getting their fair share.”


“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Benson said dismissively. “Jumped up gropo…” he muttered, not quite under his breath. He wasn’t quite unheard.


“Hey, show some respect!” one Koltan’s infantryman shouted angrily. “You wanna talk shit, YOU jump out of an open airlock and see if you survive.”


“Now, now, people,” Koltan said to his people with good humor. “I’m sure the good Captain here is just impatient like the rest of us.” He pointed to the wheeled container. “Let’s do this one first.”


Obediently, Maria Burns and a couple of techs floated themselves over to the designated container’s access hatch. There was a keyhole in the handle, and a quick tug by Burns on the handle confirmed the hatch’s locked status.


“Well, darn, I can’t get it,” Burns said melodramatically. “Whatever can I do?” She made a show of thinking hard. “I know, how about…”


“Get on with it already!” Benson barked. “Ow!” Someone had slapped him on the back side of his head. His eyes whipped around furiously, but the only person behind him was Jane Dietrich looking utterly innocent with her cast bound arm was nearest to him. It didn’t seem possible that she could hit him with her good arm and get into that position with him seeing her move.


“Wow! That was easy,” Burns exclaimed, drawing Benson’s attention back to her. Burns was waving around an electric cutting torch dramatically. “I guess the owners of these things made them out of shoddy materials.” She handed the torch back to one of her assistants. “Hmm, maybe there’s nothing worthwhile here.” She turned to her audience. “Are you sure you guys want see what’s in here?”


A chorus of “yeses” bombarded the engineer as well as inarticulate cheers and whistles.


“Okay then,” Burns said. Grabbing the still hot edges of the hole that she had cut .with a gloved hand, she braced herself with her legs on a convenient ledge built into the container hatch. “And behind Door Number One we have…” She tugged open the door and it slid up without resistance. “…canned goods? Um, it looks like stacks of canned beans, vegetables, fruit… Ooh! Strawberries!”


“What? We grabbed a bunch of groceries?” Benson complained, outraged. “Who picked this thing?”


“I did,” Koltan replied evenly. “It was just outside the LZ, so I decided, why not?”


“But what good are groceries?” Benson persisted.


“I don’t know about you, Captain,” Koltan said, “but I’m sick and tired of standard rations. But if you want to give up your share, hey, more for the rest of us.”


“Uh, wait a minute…” Benson stammered, backpedaling furiously… or trying to anyway.


“You heard the Captain, boys and girls,” Koltan shouted to the crowd. “Let’s get all this to the Drakon’s galley! There’s gonna be some good eating tonight!”


“But…” A jubilant cheer drowned out whatever Benson had been about to say.


* *

“And behind Door Number Two, we have… a bunch of anonymous wooden boxes,” Burns was saying.


“Aw…” chorused the crowd in disappointment.


“But wait!” Burns said dramatically. “Could there be something in the boxes?” The container was practically stuffed full with crates, barely leaving any room on the sides. Burns held out a hand. “Crowbar, Alex! And can I have some volunteers from the studio audience?”


Much grunting and manual labor later, one crate had been extracted from the container. Once that feat was accomplished, Burns popped its lid with the crowbar. The contents were… unexpected to say the least.


“Plush toys?” Burns said, bemused by the little blue humanoid with white hat and pants in her hand. “Hmm, kinda cute though.” She turned it over and looked at the little white tag on it. “’Made in China’.”


“No way,” one of the sweaty volunteers griped. “This thing has way too much inertial mass to be just plush toys, there’s gotta be something else in there!”


Several minutes later, the air of the cargo bay was polluted with clouds of cute plush dolls floating everywhere. Some of them had fallen apart at the rough treatment given to them by the pirates, and now fluffy white stuffing was also added to the pollution.


“Hey, this thing has a false bottom!” Burns announced, her lower half sticking out of the now empty crate. Her words were followed by the crack of wood being splintered and torn. “Check this out, guys,” she said as she exited the crate. In one hand was the crowbar, in the other was a weapon that hadn’t been there before. “I think we grabbed someone’s contraband.”


“Another Kalashnikov clone?” Koltan said, somewhat amused as Burns handed him the weapon. On close examination, it was indeed one of the endless variations of the ancient AK-47. The venerable design had been in production as a cheap and easy to make infantry weapon for over a thousand years.


“And magazines,” Burns added. “And plenty of ammo…” Her eyes played over the container and the crates within, her mind running some quick math. “If all the crates in there are like this one, you could probably outfit a small army.”


“Nice to know I don’t have to buy arms for new recruits,” Koltan mused. He looked around the cluttered air and found he could barely see the far walls or ceiling. Something tickled his nose as a bit of fluff floated by. “Okay people!” he shouted. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up before…before… ATCHOO!”


* *

“Behind Door Number Three, we have… two ground cars?”


The third cargo container had two vehicles inside, civilian model ground cars. The first was a sleek black sports car with a slit cut in front. The second car was painted orange and more primitive looking, but had some kind of flag painted on top of its roof and numbers painted on its doors.


“Hmph, not much here,” Koltan said eventually when it became clear that the cars were all the container had. He shook his head in disappointment. “I suppose we could give them to some self-styled pirate king as a gift.”


“Yeah, we don’t exactly have lots of open road in space,” Benson agreed, equally disappointed.


“Eh, they can’t all be winners,” Koltan said. “Okay, let’s lock it back up people!”


As darkness closed back in on the cars again, the slit in the sports car’s hood lit up. A pulse of red light bobbed back and forth across the length of the slit several times before shutting back off.


* *

“And finally, behind Door Number Four, we have… more boxes. And wonders of wonders, there’s a manifest here.” Burns took a sheet of paper that had been put in a plastic folder on the inside of the container’s hatch door. “Let’s see now… flat screen monitor, DVD player whatever that is, radio… hey, I think we hit the jackpot!”


“What?” “What is it?” Eager pirates crowded around Burns.


“Hold on,” Burns told them. They appeared not to listen and crowded in even more. “Hey! Back off and give me some light. BACK OFF I SAID!!!” The last words were a shout and the pirates reeled back as Burns brandished her crowbar threateningly.


“So,” Koltan said, completely unfazed by Burns. Then again, he hadn’t been one of the ones crowding in. “You said something about a jackpot?”


“Yeah, this thing’s full of what looks like consumer electronics,” Burns replied.


“Okay, that’s valuable,” Koltan said thoughtfully. “And I suppose it’ll sell, but why ‘jackpot’? The number of people who actually have the money to buy this stuff out here in the Periphery isn’t all that great.”


“Well according to this,” Burns said, waving the manifest, “there be computers in here.”


That got everyone’s attention. Computers of any kind were rare. They were essentially lostech, with only primitive mainframes still being manufactured on a few select worlds deep into the Inner Sphere. Out here on the Periphery, the only computers still in operation were the minimum required to run Dropships and Jumpships, and of course the ones that had to support pirate mech operations. If any of those died, then there were absolutely no replacements except what you could salvage or more likely, steal from someone else.


“Okay, this I gotta see,” Koltan muttered. “Which boxes are they in?”


Burns turned back to look at the container. It was stuffed with boxes of all shapes and sizes, like some demented riddler had decided to create the ultimate three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. She threw Koltan a look that practically screamed, “Isn’t it obvious?”


“Right,” Koltan said. “Okay, people! Start emptying this thing!” He paused then quickly added, “CAREFULLY!”


* *

“This is a computer?” Koltan said skeptically, handling the briefcase sized box; it even had a little plastic handle on the side. Real computers were mainframes. The smallest ones were typically the size of a desk. Most were the size of refrigerators or larger and massed tons. The little thing in his hand couldn’t be more than a dumb terminal, which were damned useless without mainframes to connect to.


“That’s what it says on the box,” Burns said doubtfully handling her own box of dubious computer hardware.


“I suppose that worse case scenario, we could use these to replace some of the broken terminals around the Drakon,” Jane mused, examining her own box. She did a double take. “Hey, Maria, check the stats on the back of the box.”


“Huh, fifteen quotation mark monitor,” Burns read aloud. She looked up, confused. “What’s the quotation mark supposed to be? And why is there only one?”


“Keep reading,” Jane insisted.


“One point seven gigahertz processor?” Burns read, disbelievingly. “Five hundred twelve megabyte ess dee arr ay em, whatever that is.”


”I think that might be random access memory,” Jane told her.


“No way!” Burns disagreed, her eyes not leaving her box. “A sixty gigabyte hard drive? Jane, this has got to be a hoax! It’s impossible.”


“I don’t think so,” Jane said thoughtfully. “This is stuff being bought and sold on the planet here, right?”


“I guess. We just grabbed containers at random,” Koltan admitted. “What’s the problem?”


“The problem is that you simply can’t fit computers this powerful into packages this small!” Burns told him. “It’s simply not physically possible!”


“Why?” Koltan asked, mystified.


“Because computing power reached the maximum miniaturization in the late twentieth century,” Burns said. “There was simply no way to get mainframes any more compact without losing functionality some where. Anything smaller simply had to become special purpose machines, kinda like the computer systems in mechs for example. And even then you couldn't fit this much computing power in this tiny a package!”


“I dunno,” Jane mused. “The Star League were rumored to have some awesome stuff. And maybe these things were purpose made for something.”


“How do we determine what for?” Koltan asked.


“Only way to do that would be to open the box and turn it on,” Jane said. She wiggled her cast bound, broken arm. “Um, one of you guys is going to have to do that.”


Several minutes later, a box was opened. The “computer” inside was smaller than expected; a good half of the box’s volume was taken up with accessories, pamphlets, and some kind of foam padding.


Burns turned the unfamiliar device over and around, examining it at all angles. “How do you turn this thing on?” she asked plaintively.


“I got a better question,” Jane said, holding up something that looked like a torture device. “Where do you plug this in?”


Koltan shook his head in bemusement, then grabbed what looked like a little plastic book floating past his head. He read the title. “Pirates of the Caribbean?”


Dropship Drakon Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1 23 May 3025


“All hands,” Captain’s Benson’s voice said over every speaker on both the Drakon and the Elephant, “standby for jump in T minus five minutes… mark.”


“Jane,” Koltan said as he sailed onto the Drakon’s bridge. “Everything secure up here?”


“Mmm-hmm,” Jane replied absently, her eyes glued to the screen in front of her. But it wasn’t one of the bridge monitors. It was an odd looking device that looked something like a keyboard attached to a monitor. It took a moment for Koltan to recognize the thing as one of the looted “computers”. Small pamphlets and booklets floated around her.


“I see you managed to figure out how to get it working,” Koltan commented, his eyes tracing a long cable running from the computer to a convenient power outlet where an adapter had been used to get it plugged in.


“Hang on a sec, Irdon,” Jane told him, eyes not leaving the screen.


Irked at Jane’s inattention and curious about what she was working on, Koltan peeked over her shoulder. The most obvious thing he could see was a gray grid that dominated the screen. Most of the grid squares were filled with an array of multi-colored numbers. Some squares were blank and dark gray. Other blank squares were a lighter grey, though not very many; Koltan had the distinct impression that the light gray squares were raised above the elevation of the other squares, a neat trick for a 2D screen.


Jane did something that moved a pointer over a light grey square. With a tap, the square turned an angry red with a black circle thing in it. Other squares did the same. A happy face above the grid changed into something less than happy.


“Nooooo!” Jane wailed in despair. “I almost had it!”


“Had what?” Koltan asked, concerned. “Was it something important?”


“Yes! No!” Jane said angrily. She seemed to search for words“Ah, you wouldn’t understand.”


“Okay, if you say so,” Koltan said slowly, deciding not to push. He looked for a safer topic. “Why is this thing duct taped down?”


“Microgravity,” Jane replied. “This thing has moving parts.”


“Moving parts? In a computer?”


“Yeah, it gets pretty warm after a while,” Jane told him grumpily as she did something to make the grid disappear. What replaced it was some picture of a rolling meadow. “I think there’s a fan in there to keep it cool. I dunno what other than the screen could be generating the heat though, but it’s definitely not just the screen.”


“T minus one minute,” Benson announced.


“Wait, back up a moment,” Koltan said. “What do moving parts have to do with duct tape?”


“Action and reaction of course,” Jane said, as if it were obvious. “Fan spins one way; the rest of the machine wants to spin in the other. And in microgravity, the machine will spin unless secured to something. I already broke one of these things discovering that little fact.”


“Broke?” Koltan echoed. “How?”


“It spun itself into a bulkhead,” Jane answered. She shook her head in wondering contempt. “These things are way more fragile than any computer has a right to be. And it looks like the operating system is optimized for single users only, however much sense that makes. It looks like Maria was right; the locals did compromise to get all this computing power in such a tiny package.”


“T-minus ten seconds.”


“So what were you doing when I came in?” Koltan asked. “Cracking some esoteric security code?”


“Five. Four…”


“Ah…” Jane stammered, folding down the computer’s screen. It seemed like she was trying to evade the question.


“Three. Two…”


“Jane,” Koltan began, annoyed. “Don’t make me…”


“One. JU…”


* *

The Jumpship White Elephant and attached Dropship Drakon vanished in a globular cloud of electromagnetic static that radiated from the low end radio bands to the middle of visible spectrum. The bubble lasted for some thirty seconds before vanishing, leaving nothing behind to indicate that anything had ever been there.


Around Earth, dozens of satellites watched the event. A good many belonged to intelligence agencies and had powerful cameras whose mission had been switched from watching the Earth below to the mysterious interloper from beyond. Dozens more belonged to various scientific agencies, powerful sensors retasked from observing distant astronomical phenomena to observing the energy output of advanced technology. Finally, there were the numerous civilian satellites, streaming video to curious people the world over.


Five minutes after the pirates’ departure, the video of their jump was on YouTube. Less than an hour later, YouTube crashed due to the sheer number of users trying to accessing this one video on the website.


//25 May, 2005, Classified Location, US//


The cockpit of the... err, aggressively reaqqured Hunchback was quiet as it's test pilot paused, to listen to the radio and civilian chatter from the new communications equipment hastily retrofitted into the back, waiting. He had asked to get this slot specifically so that he could be the first to fully test out Earth's first taste of 'advanced technology'. Advanced juryrigging, sure, technology, probably not so much.


He had never seen so much duct tape in all his life. It seemed to hold up half the guages and alert light banks, silvery tendrils of it's unshakable grip twisting across the corrugated metal of the small deck space below him. "Is it gone, yet?"


"Negative. Stand by." The grainy radio transmission burbled over the headset, which had been strapped to the neuro-helmet, the Army Seargent leaning back, feeling the slight shift of the mech below him. At least it was responsive as it was supposed to be. He flicked at one of the boxes, watching a low ammo light flicker. Meh.


"Standing by Roughrider Mike." Seargent Andre Davis scuffed at the concrete floor of the warehouse hanger, listening to concrete scraping under the rough heel of the Hunchback's foot. He tapped what he figured must have once been the thermal imager controls, grumbling as he flicked carefully at a wire that was protruding out of a connection socket. The small panel of indicators above the set of knobs flickered for a moment, cutting back out. He scribbled down a note on his pad, warily watching the armtip. He tapped the thermal imaging controls again, before picking up his 'mechanical pursuasion', and thumping the box with the side of his adjustable wrench, watching the lights jump back on, glowing a greenish amber in the dark cockpit. A few more scribbles followed.


"This is Roughrider Mike. Skies are now clear. You are clear for extended test." The sound of the command post was a welcome one, as he gingerly wobbled forward, the clear night echoing with the sound of a medium mech finally back in the hands of people who would actually look after it.


"Hell, 'bout damn time." The lurching of the cockpit was surprisingly gentle, as he began tenatively taking a more easy gait with the mech, feeling it responding naturally to his thoughts.


"What was that, Bandit 60?"


"Nothing, Roughrider mike. Taking the perimiter trail." Davis let it lope further out, having gotten off the main roads, and out into the woods, carefully taking it into the sparse pine. A careful swat found a thick gnarled tree pushed half way out of the ground, as he piloted his way through the maze of 3rd and 4th growth trees.


He didn't even want to consider what nefarious purposes the ungainly and ugly vehicle had seen over the years, as his mind picked up on instinctive repsonses that the mech wanted out of him. It was... surprisingly intuitive, as he swept his gaze across the control board, the thermal nightvision lighting up the night. It was amazing that it even worked. Chalk one up to the reliability of IS tech.


"Bandit 60, spotters show you moving into the woods, do you have optics?"


"Rodger Roughrider Mike. The thermal nightvision needed some pursuasion." The feeling of the mech staggering as it tripped over an old logjam threw the seargent off for a moment, as he grabbed onto the nearest big tree with the mech's stubby hand. He proceeded to self-note to check the ground more often. Handled like a drunk on a dingy in the middle of Hurricane Ivan, if one wasn't careful.


He shook his head, before turning around in the thick woods. Probably best to hang off on difficult piloting classes 101 and 102 until he figured out how not to do the twostep bellyflop. Pirates could pilot, he'd have to give them that. Cracking wood noises filled the air, as he shoved aside a young, flimsy tree, listening to it whipping back against the hunchback's hull. The sudden neardarkness was far less welcome, though.


"Joy." He tabbed the talk button on the SINGARS, as he brought his mechanical pursuasion back out, thumping the thermal box again, unhappily noting that it failed to work this time. "Roughrider mike, returning to the nest. Thermal imaging has failed. Clear the road." He grumbled as he killed his mike, reaching up to turn down the cockpit lighting a tad more, as he looked up through the windows into the oddly... menacing night sky. The unfamiliar night sky. None of the constelations were right anymore. Why?


"Oh, that can't be good. We are in soooo much trouble."


Projection room Unidentified Research Institute May 19th, 2005


Dr. Mallard was led to a seat and given a folder by one of the ever present minders. When he arrived this morning at the lecture hall for "Materials Engineering 402", the dean was already waiting for him. While that was most assuredly strange, the three suits with shades and ear pieces were stranger still.


He knew they talked, rather cordially, but details were vague. He vaguely recalled the dean saying he, Mallard, was now on loan to the US government and not to worry, he would keep his chair and everything was paid for. In fact he should be proud for the chance and for bringing the university a new wing. Everything after that passed by in a blur. A short stop at his home to collect an over night bag and he was bundled on a plane to this place. Mallard still didn't know what chance the dean was talking about.


When he was seated, a rather clean cut middle aged man started speaking at the front of the room. "Now that everyone is here, let me welcome you. I am Major Khalid McDonald," the man identified himself. On the screen a few scenes of some science fiction show started playing. It looked really well done, even if the giant robots were a bit over the top.


"If you followed the news, you might already recognize some of these images. Let me assure this no hoax or PR gag for a new show. As far as we can tell at this point, it was a genuine pirate raid. We were able to repel the raid, but they managed to abscond with numerous shipping containers."


"The day after tomorrow the two damaged machines will arrive here and be available for study. That is why you were invited. All of you are distinguished experts in materials science." At this point Mallard looked around and recognized most of the faces. Others doing the same reassured him, he was not the only one overwhelmed by this invitation.


"We need more information about their capabilities, because there will be a next time. And we might not be as lucky again. My assistants have distributed paperwork detailing the terms for our research group. Be sure to read and sign them by tomorrow if you want to join this project. I hope to see you all again day after tomorrow."



Office of Colonel Reynard Unidentified Research Institute June 9th, 2005


Khalid McDonald entered the waiting room to the office of Colonel Fergus Reynard.


"You can go right in. Colonel Reynard is expecting you."


Once Khalid was through the door he was greeted by his superior. "At ease. We are waiting for the representative of the Joint Chiefs. Have the civilians settled finally in?"


"Well mostly. Now they are only twice as bad as our own researchers. I always thought riding herd on ours was bad, but you wont hear me complain about them again." McDonald answered.


A knock on the door interrupted further conversation. On Reynard's "Enter" an unknown Brigadier General entered. "At ease. My name is Robert Shanks. Timmons had a nasty break, so i am here today for the weekly report. I am on a tight schedule, so give me an overview for the last week."


At a look from Colonel Reynard, Major McDonald started. "The armor work group gave their preliminary report yesterday. It is a very good ablative armor. And compared to ours incredible resistant to piercing. It is essentially a big sandwich, you understand, like Chobham armor."


At McDonald's inquiring look, Shanks provided. "I am familiar with the concept. How soon can we make the armor in numbers? We can make it, right?"


"The report estimates about three to five years till we can make a copy in meaningful amounts. And how well our home produced variant will stack up against the real deal is still open. Unless we make some breakthroughs or find a source on their production processes, it will definitely be worse. The good news is that we should be able to start enhancing our armor for heat resistance in the next 9 to 15 months."


"Forgive me, but what exactly hampers our copy?" Shanks interrupted.


"First there are some alloys we can't yet produce in the quality present in BT armor. The bigger problem are the carbon nanotubes. We can't consistently make the required lengths in bulk. And we don't know how produce the kind weaves found in our samples. We will have to use bulk nanotubes for that layer." McDonald finished.


Reynard continues, "That is all the new developments. The other groups are still slowly advancing. It would help immensely if the intel pukes, pardon my language, would finally give us access to the woman, Zumross. The interviews suggest she is the most technically inclined of the group and she is already awake for two weeks."


"Send my office a catalog of questions and problems and i will see about getting your access. If that is all? I will be on my way."


One of Countless Observatories Earth 25 May 2005, 08.34am EST


“What do you mean, they're not there anymore?” the tone of the question implied an unspoken “idiot” at its end.


“I meant just what I said.” Gregori adjusted his glasses. “The - stars - are – not – there – anymore. It's subtle for most, but about 30 hours ago, the entire sky suddenly... changed. We already confirmed it - three times.”


Just a few weeks ago this would have been replied to by a breathless “Impossible”, followed by a short pause and the question what the hell the observatory's personnel were thinking to believe their boss would fall for such a stupid prank.


Of course that had been before New Zealand had been raided by a bunch of futuristic giant robots from space that apparently weren't really robots but “Battlemechs”, and were supposed to be completely fictional. Nowadays, things were different.


“Show me.”



White House Situation Room Washington DC United States of America Earth 25 May 2005, 11.02am EST


This was getting tiresome, Jack Ryan decided.


Joint Chiefs dancing in their seats like nervous little children – Check


Entire Staff assembled and waiting with visibly strained nerves – Check


General sense of foreboding, and all eyes directed on the guy in charge who would hopefully know how to fix “it”, whatever “it” was – Check �


Yep! Something bad had happened. It really sucked to be president sometimes.


“So... what is it all about this time? Are we being invaded by the Legions of Hell under the command of General Abigor?


“That might be less troublesome than what we're potentially facing, Mr. President. But I'm afraid, most likely, we're going to have more mecha trouble in the near future.” NASA's chief Administrator and the presidents senior space science advisor replied.


“Mechs.” one of the Joint Chiefs pedantically corrected. “They're called mechs, or Battlemechs. Mechas are the bigger Japanese ones, who move and look like overgrown samurai.” He had spent days reading everything Battletech and similar after Auckland, and was just itching for an opportunity to show his new knowledge.


“Yes, mechs then...” the administrator continued, rolling his eyes. “Anyway, I'm sure by now you have all heard the theory that those pirates who raided Auckland had some kind of missjump – a malfunction of their faster than light system – and were somehow brought into our reality.”


Everyone around the table slowly nodded. That seemed indeed the most plausible possibility in this wholly implausible situation.


“I'm afraid... I'm afraid this is not the case.” he opened his briefcase and took a thick file of something that locked like pictures of space, along with all kinds of written reports and mathematical calculations. “It isn't the pirates who had a missjump – it's us.”


Oxford, Oxfordshire United Kingdom Earth June 1st 2005


"Gentleman," Dr. Mellard Willson said with his Staffordshire accent as he glanced around in the large auditorium, a polite cough reminding him that he had forgotten something." Ladies."


The auditorium of the University of Oxford was packed with people, so much that a good number had to stand.


"I believe we all know why we are here," he noted, getting a good number of people to nod in response.


Behind him an image of the JET fusion reactor appeared on the large white wall.


"This is currently one of the most advanced fusion reactors we have build," he noted dryly." And yet we are not able to get more than a minute of sustained fusion reaction from it. Its the size of a warehouse and uses a D-T fuel mix to do work."


The image behind him switched to what looked like a block of metal that appeared to have gotten dropped quite a few times from a large height and than beaten with a dozen or more sledge hammers for two or three hours.


"This is one of currently four of the most advanced fusion reactors on this planet. Its capable of several days, if not weeks, month or years of sustained function. Its about the size of a small car and uses a H-H fuel. And obviously its not from this planet."


That made a few people laugh, while others changed their heads. Behind Willson the image changed again showing the Money Bin of one Scrouge McDuck.


"And this is about the amount of money that is currently thrown our way to try and get our fusion reactors..."


The image once again switched to the image of JET.


"… to work like this fusion reactor."


The image switched back to the battered block of metal.


"Not only that but if possible we are to shrink this..."


The image went back to the JET.


"…to the size of this."


The image once again switched to the battered block of metal.


"So that we can fit that..."


The JET image.


"...into this."


The image changed to something else and the snickers in the audience made Willson turn around to look at the image. It showed what appeared to be an Evangelion from Neon Genesis Evangelion with its face replaced by a scribbled wide open red mouth, googly eyes and the words 'IM CHAGING MA LAZA' written above it.


Willson frowned and glared offstage. More snickers went through the audience and the image changed to something else, showing a concept drawing of a Mammoth tank for the next Command and Conquer game.


"Better," Willson made and shook his head, before turning back to the audience.


"I think its time to begin. The reactor from the Stinger that was downed in New Zealand had been transported to Culham and we are ready to take it apart. Hopefully we manage to get this done in the next three years..."


The White House Washington DC Earth 5 June 2005


“What’s this?” President Ryan asked when the thick manila folder was dropped on the desk in front of him.


“This, Mister President, is the best proposal for United States’ – and Planet Earth’s for that matter - first ever anti-BT space defense system,” General Brian Meyers, USAF, told his Commander in Chief. Meyers currently headed the Pentagon’s acquisition department.


“It’s been less than three weeks since the Pirates first showed up,” Ryan noted. “And it’s been less than two since the sky changed. That was quick.”


“Well, we were in a hurry,” Meyers said. “So we lit a fire under the engineers, told them that we needed some kind of space defense right now.” He pointed at the folder. “And this is the result.”


“Okay, give me the highlights,” Ryan said, opening the folder and flipping through a few pages. “What is it exactly?”


“It’s a space based missile launch system,” Meyers told him. “Using nothing but off the shelf parts, we put a bunch of missile launchers in space and set them to fire on command. The launcher is little more than a box, an RCS system, and some basic electronics. The missile is your basic rocket motor like the ones we’ve built for decades with some addition RCS thrusters so that it can make course corrections to chase a target. The warhead can be anything, but the recommended payload is a nuclear warhead. If we put this in production, we’ve got all those nukes from the disarmament in cold storage that we can use. In fact, the biggest production bottleneck is simply lifting enough of these things into orbit.”


“And this is going to be effective?” Ryan asked thoughtfully.


“According to our… ‘experts’,” Meyers grimaced at calling a bunch of kids “experts”, “only the largest and most powerful BT warships can stand up to nukes. And if the pirates we captured weren’t fibbing about the date and our location, then none of our nearest neighbors have those ships.”


“What’s the bad news?” Ryan asked. “C’mon. There’s always bad news. What is it?”


“Testing… is going to be a bitch, pardon my language, sir,” Meyers replied. “Our projected lift capacity for the near future is going to be extremely limited, even with us and all our allies sending stuff up as fast as we can. There’s no way to really test the targeting system short of actually firing the missiles once they’re up there. Given that we anticipate a limited time to actually deploy before the next pirate shows up, that means that every missile fired in testing is one that won’t be there when the ball goes up. And that’s going to hurt.


“And to top it off, the missiles are going to have a pretty limited range given the area that they have to cover,” Meyers continued. “They’ve got enough fuel for a few hundred miles at best. Beyond that, all they can do is coast, which means they’re probably dead easy for BT weapons to shoot down assuming that they don’t just dodge it. The missile is needs to have fuel for the entire attack run to even have a chance of reaching its target. And even then, it’s estimated that depending on how the target is armed, we’re going to need salvos of three to ten missiles just to guarantee at least one reaching its target.”


“Can anything be done to improve that?”


“With our current technology? No, Mister President,” Meyers said. “The only way to improve range would be to add more fuel to each missile. But the more fuel we add, the fewer missiles that we can actually put into space ahead of time.”


“And this is the best system we can make in the short term?” At Meyers’ nod, Ryan went on. “This may take some political wrangling. There are treaties to prevent exactly this kind of thing. Putting nukes in space is going to make our allies nervous. Hell, it makes me nervous.” Ryan turned to his Secretary of State. “Collin, how do you think our allies will react to this?”


“Pretty good actually,” the Secretary of State chuckled. He produced his own thick manila folder. “The Russian ambassador gave me this this morning. It’s their proposal for a space defense system and it’s almost exactly like the one the good general here just finished describing.”


White Sands Missile Range New Mexico Earth 7th June 2005


US Army Brigadier General Alexander Miller looked over the apparatus that was build on top of the 45 feet container and than turned to face US Navy Captain David Graham. Around them several more people worked on the last bits and pieces before they could start with the test. Those people were an uneven mix of people of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and several contractors from Boeing and Northrop Grumman.


"So what can you tell me about it?" he wondered, glancing over towards the container again.


"As far as we can tell its some sort of hybrid laser system," Graham noted and next to them the doors of the container were opened for a moment, allowing Miller to have a glance at the rear assembly of the Medium Laser the Kiwis had managed to salvage from one of the 'Mechs down in Kiwiland.


Miller had been working on the Laser Project of the Army and so he knew a little about lasers.


"Hybrid Laser? Of what sort?"


"An array of solid state lasers pumping an helium-neon lasing medium. Its rather simple and ingenuous way getting a laser to work. It something we could do easily."


Miller raised an eyebrow.


"I sense a 'but' there."


Graham nodded.


"There is," said with a sigh." Multiple in fact."


The door was closed and siren began to blare.


"Firing test is commercing in five minutes," a voice called out over improvised speakers." Please get to the bunkers."


"What sort of problems?"


"First of all energy requirements," Graham said." You know that we need several generators and a large capacitor bank to get his one to work. Thankfully we can grab the generators of our own work here."


Miller nodded. Their own laser projects here. It wasn't only the Navy's MIRACL, but also THEL and the prototype lasers build with Russian specs.


He shook his head. Thermal bloom still presented a problem.


"Second is the construction. The Helium-Neon gas is contained inside a crystal tube and the solid state lasers are really solid. We could drop them from ten miles up, hook them up to energy and they would work. We can't do that without some serious work before building them."


Miller frowned as he ducked lightly to get into the control bunker, absentmindedly grabbing a pair of safety goggles.


"And third?"


"Waste heat. We needed to hook the laser up to a very extensive cooling system just to test it."


"Thirty seconds until test."


"So we could build them," Miller noted.


"Yes, but they would be far from being mobile. Safe for a bucketwheel extractor perhaps."


"Which would have many people scream BOLO..."


Graham chuckled and they turned towards the small view slit in the face of the bunker.


"What are you going to fire it at?"


Graham smirked.


"Nothing big, we thought we try to get one satellite from GEO that is clogging up the place after going out. NORAD knows and gave us green light."


"Fire in Three..."


Miller blinked.


"Two..."


"GEO?"


"One..."


Graham just grinned and watched how the beam director they had from an Airborne Laser made some minute last moment changes.


"Ignition."


A high pitched whine was heard as a red beam of light stood in the air for a second, leaving the beam director smoking lightly and bend out of shape from the heat of the beam.


"Bingo," someone yelled from behind." Target destroyed."


Graham and Miller turned to glance at a computer display that showed a life feed from one of the Keyhole satellites that was directed to film the test. At first it showed a simple communication satellite that than simply melted and was blown apart from the energy of the beam.


"Oh, and it seems like the optics of the laser are not all that good compared to ours. Could be that they are optimised for short range ground combat..."


Random Gaming Store Western Hemisphere Earth June 23 2005


The salesclerk was bored. It was a quiet day and there weren't many customers. She had immersed herself in reading the last days order list and barely noticed it when the young man walked up to the counter and pointed at the opened book in his hands.


„That's a joke, right? Please tell me this is a joke.“ His voice was a bit faint, almost pleading.


She looked up from what see was doing to be faced with a stereotypical geek of maybe 20 years. She recognized him, he was one of the handful of local Battletech enthusiasts who always made the store quite a profit when they visited (though less so than in the past, this being the age of the internet).


In his hands he was holding the newest revision of “Classic Battletech Universe”. The opened page had the headline “The Battlemech” and pictures of the very same. She started reading the description printed under the pictures.


“The modern Battlemech was created in complete disregard of more than three thousand years of battlefield technology development. Vulnerable, expensive and combining an arsenal of almost entirely ineffective weapons with an unforgivable lack of maneuverability, the Battlemech is without doubt the most overcomplicated piece of junk ever produced. Demonstrating the utter lack of capability in thirty-first century warfare, the Battlemech seems destined to be inevitably slaughtered by any opposing force in huge numbers...”



The White House Washington DC Earth June 24 2005


The phone ringed. It was answered almost immediately, the man sitting at the desk in the middle of the oval room clearly eager to hear whatever news it would bring.


“Ah yes, Doctor Hill. I've been waiting for your call. Do you have the results? Did it work?” President Ryan asked, with just a tiny bit of hope in his eyes.


“I'm afraid not. Quasimodo has shown no signs of spontaneously collapsing.” the answer came from the other end of the line. “Nor have the salvaged pieces of armor suddenly acquired the density and strength of styrofoam. And the lasers still cut through Chobham like butter.”


“That's... unfortunate. Anyway, thank you for informing me so quickly Doctor. I look forward to reading your next report.” �


After hanging up the president opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out the piece of paper were he had previously written down all the various theories and explanations anyone had been able to come up with for the planet's current situation. He took a pencil and crossed out the “Physically transported into game universe” theory right under “Alien Space Bats”.


“Dammit” he muttered, “why can't things ever be easy?” Now how to explain to Jack Jr. and Sally that he had forced Catalyst Game Labs to nerf their favorite pastime in the hope of saving the Earth?


NBC Studios New York, New York Earth 29 June 2005(3020?)


“In a universe turned upside down, many of us have been asking ourselves, what’s real? Just last month, our planet was invaded by what had been until then assumed to be fictional machines. It was at first assumed that the invaders had by some accident crossed over into our universe from theirs. That theory appeared to have been proven wrong when several days after the surviving invaders left, the sky changed in what has popularly become known as the ‘Isot Event’. Seeking information on this, our very own Anne Curie sought out expert opinion and interviewed Physics professor James Armand of Harvard. Here it is now.”


“So, Professor Armand, the Isot Event has everyone concerned. The sky changed which people seemed to take as proof that we’ve been moved into another universe. But if the sky changed after these ‘pirates’ left, doesn’t that mean we and the pirates are no longer in the same universe?”


“Unfortunately, Miss Curie, no it doesn’t. What you have to understand is that the speed of light is not instantaneous. It takes years for light to cross the gulf between stars. So when look up at the stars, we see them not as they are now, but as they were many, many years ago. So when we saw the Isot event, it did not happen at that very moment, but long ago. It was only last month that the light from change reached us.”


“But how can you tell how long ago the Isot was? I’ve heard figures of 50 years, but I’m sure some of our viewers are confused on how that figure was deduced.”


“It’s quite simple. We look to the stars again. Every object that we can see within approximately 50 light years remains unchanged. Beyond that, the sky is changed almost beyond recognition, but not quite. The galaxies beyond our own appear to remain unchanged so that we know we are still in our own. Although our position within our galaxy appears to have shifted by this so-called ‘Isot’ by over a thousand lightyears although an exact number must wait as astronomers refine our data.”


“And what is the origin of the word ‘Isot’? Forgive me, but I haven’t been able to find the origin of the word.”


“I am given to understand that ‘Isot’ is an acronym for some trash novel that has our general situation as a plot device. Some island is sent through time and must make their way through an unfamiliar era while surrounded by hostile people native to world of their new time.”


“That certainly seems to have been what happened to us. But it seems just bizarre that we’ve been thrown into a universe described by the game Battletech. How is that possible, Professor?”


“My dear, you’re looking at it backwards. Consider: according to our observations, the Isot happened fifty years ago. The game Battletech is only a mere twenty years old. Logically then, the Pirates who attacked New Zealand a month ago are not the first visitors from the wider universe that we have received. Twenty years ago, someone must have come and provided the original story idea. But the original Battletech stories started in the year 3025. I am given to understand that in the wider universe, it is currently the year 3020. How can a thirty first century writer write about events that have not happened yet?”


“I don’t know, Professor.”


“Logically, our hypothetical visitor can’t predict the future. Therefore, our Battletech fiction is just that fiction. In the Inner Sphere, such fiction would probably be regarded as technothriller novels, or perhaps soap opera, maybe even science fiction, all with a hefty dose of X-Files type conspiracy theory thrown in. It is certainly not the wealth of intelligence data as some people might suggest.”


“So do you have any idea who this immigrant author from the BT universe might be?”


“Miss Curie, I am a physicist, not a spy. I wouldn’t know anything about that, although I imagine that the government is looking for this person assuming they haven’t already detained him.”


CIA Headquarters Virginia Earth “This can’t be right.”


“What can’t be right?”


“Look at this. Now, we’ve been interrogating the pirates we’ve captured about the Inner Sphere, right?”


“Right. But there knowledge is pretty limited to the ‘What everyone knows’ category. Sometimes they don’t even know that much.”


“Okay, yeah, but look at this. They confirmed that the mercenary unit Wolf’s Dragoons showed up our of nowhere with five full regiments of mechs in the year 3005.”


“Okay, yeah, that matches the info from the BT Source Books. So?”


“So according to the pirates and clocks in the captured mechs, it is currently the year 3020.”


“What’s your point?”


“My point is that in this universe, the Dragoons showed up in the Inner Sphere fifteen years ago. But the novel in which first features the Dragoons was published in 1988, seventeen years ago. If the BT fiction was really written by someone native to this time, how in the hell did they predict the arrival of the Dragoons two years before it really happened?


“Uh… our mystery author was a Clanner?”


NBC Studios


“And in other news, a riot broke out in London when rumors spread of a 'blue police box materializing out of thin air' and an 'exotically dressed Doctor'. The London Police have announced that there was no such box or doctor and that the original rumor was a hoax originally started by a young woman for reasons unknown.”


July 2, 2005 Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, United States, Earth


“Alright people.” the General said, as he surveyed the room. “You all know about the landing in New Zealand so I won’t get into that here. The reason I’ve called this meeting is because we have been tasked to come up with anti-mech tactics. The Secretary of the Air Force has noticed that the New Zealanders managed to takeout a mech with a couple of JAS 39 ‘Gripen’ fighters, it is his belief that if the New Zealanders can do it with those, then we can do it better.”


“The Enemy we will be facing is like nothing you have ever faced before, they hit hard and are tough beyond belief. The mech the fighters destroyed in New Zealand was hit by four,” the general held up four fingers, “count them FOUR Naval Variant Mavericks. That’s what it took to take one of these mechs down, Twelve Hundred pounds of high explosives.”


He looked over the men and women in front of him.


“If that wasn’t bad enough, every one of these mechs must be assumed to also be anti-air capable. And with the weapons load out they carry, any mech can shoot you down with a single shot if they manage to land a direct hit on your plane. The only thing we have in our favor is the fact that the targeting systems are somewhat inaccurate and seem to be terminally short-sighted”


He waited out the groans of dismay and cursing which filled the room as they digested the information he’d given them.


“So far two main strategies have been suggested to deal with another landing in the future:


The First Suggestion is for another landing of a small number of mechs or if a small group of mechs breaks off of a larger force. Simply put, we swarm them. We hit them from multiple directions and take them out before they know we’re in the area.


The Second Suggestion is for large groups of mechs which would be too dangerous to approach, or an invasion force. In this case we would rely on teams of Forward Air Controllers on the ground to paint the mechs and allow us to engage at maximum range, which should be beyond the range of any mech.”


A man called out “Should, Sir?”


The General gave a grim smile.


“If the targeting systems we’ve seen are any indication of what’s a standard system we will be fine, if they are cheap knockoffs things will be harder.”


“Before I let you go there is one last thing, do not focus solely on squadron level tactics. There is a possibility of a large scale invasion sometime in the future, so when working on tactical ideas include the possibility of multiple squadrons and even multiple wings working together.”


“Multiple Wings, Sir?” a Major asked.


The General grinned.


“It seems that the thought of pirates being able to drop onto any city in the world has deeply frightened our representatives in Congress. So they are more or less giving us a blank check to buy whatever we need to protect them. As such one of the things you will be hearing about in the next week or so, is that the Air Force will be placing an order for about fourteen hundred more F-16s, with the possibility of more orders in the future. In the meantime we will be pulling every aircraft out of the bone yard that can mount a Maverick. Hell, they are even talking about rebuilding the A-10 production lines.”


“The World may not have been prepared for those pirates the first time, but by God we’ll ready for them if they return.”


Prisoner Detention Barracks Groom Lake Facility, Nevada Earth 16 July 3020 Captain Burgess Hale, dispossessed Mechwarrior, was bored.


Boredom was not an emotion that he had ever expected to feel while being captive of backwater Periphery barbarians. Wracking pain from being tortured? Yes. Misery? Yes. Hunger and privation? Yes.Fear? Yes. But his current captors had confounded his expectations.


Hale wasn’t miserable except insofar that he was a prisoner. Instead of being thrown in some dank dungeon, his people had been given their own facility. True, they were little more than converted storage containers (oh, the irony!) with air conditioners and bunks installed surrounded by a chain link fence, razor wire, and towers with armed guards. But the facilities had been unreasonably clean and none of the guards had ever tried to have “fun” with the prisoners. And while the weather was too hot for his taste, there was plenty of drinking water available despite that idiot Jankowicz almost killing himself from not drinking enough.


Hale wasn’t starving. It didn’t even seem to occur to his captors to deprive the prisoners of food. And while not four star restaurant quality, the food that was provided was still better than the field rations he was used to. Some of it was even pretty tasty. In fact, some overheard comments from the guards indicated that the food he had been getting was this world’s idea of field rations.


He wasn’t afraid. Well he had been for the first few weeks. Hale had been afraid of being tortured or just executed if he didn’t tell his interrogators what they wanted to know. But after his limited store of useful information dried up, he was interrogated less and less. Hale was surprised that he and his people weren’t simply disposed with. In fact, he got the impression that his captors didn’t know what to do with his people. Only Dana Zumross was still interrogated regularly and perversely, she seemed to enjoy the process; Dana sometimes disappeared for days at a time as the locals consulted with her on her favorite topics of discussion.


Speaking of Dana, a familiar van pulled up to the prison compound’s front gate. It was dark out and most everyone else had gone to sleep, but the bright lights surrounding the compound illuminated everything quite nicely. So Hale was the only prisoner to see her get out of the van. His eyebrows rose in surprise as he saw that she was carrying a large and heavy backpack. Up until now, none of the prisoners had been allowed to get their hands on anything that could conceivably be used as a weapon.


Watching, Hale observed Dana exchange a few friendly words with her escort. In fact, it almost looked like that she was flirting with some of them, but that couldn’t be right. In the entire time he had known her, Dana had always preferred tinkering with her machines to human interaction.


“Been having fun?” Hale asked after Dana was ushered inside the fence line. She still had that backpack.


“Actually, yes,” Dana replied stiffly. Ah, there was the Dana that Hale had always known. “It’s kind of nice to actually talk to people who can challenge you intellectually without worrying about being killed or worse,” she added wistfully as she opened the door to her own room. There were actually more rooms than there were prisoners, so everyone had the luxury of having a private room despite there being four bunks to a room. Obviously, the locals anticipated catching more unwary pirates.


Once inside her room, Dana hit the lightswitch and began dumping the contents of her pack on an unused bunk. The contents seemed to consist entirely of books and writing pads. And there was one slab of plastic and chrome that had TOUGHBOOK etched onto it; Hale idly wondered what the point of sheathing a book in armor was.


“What is all this stuff?” Hale asked, picking up a random item. It looked like a math textbook.


“Homework,” Dana replied simply.


“Homework?” Hale said. “What, they’re making you tell them stuff on your off time now?”


“They’re not making me tell them anything,” Dana told him irritably. “I’ve pretty much reached the limits of what I can tell them as far as mechs go, but they still want to know more. ‘How does the armor spread the thermal pulse from a laser evenly?’ ‘What are the mathematical formulae for H-H fusion reactions?’ ‘How do you make high temperature superconductors?’ Captain, do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to be asked these kinds of questions and not be able to do more than look helpless in reply? Me! The so called ‘technical expert’ of our little crew!”


“Um, I never really thought about it,” Hale admitted. “But why the books?”


“Self improvement,” Dana replied, taking the math book from Hale’s hand. “There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about the very own technology I grew up with, but I’ll be damned if I don’t fill those holes.”


“And they let you have all this stuff?” Hale asked, waving his hand over the pile of books.


“Yep.” She grinned at him. “If I can get my technical knowledge up to par, I think I can make myself useful to the locals, get a high paying job with them, and move out of this dump. Now shoo! I have some studying to do!”


Hale found himself unceremoniously pushed out into the brightly lit night. Normally, such brusqueness would have really annoyed him, but his thoughts were troubled. Dana’s words kept running through his mind. “Make myself useful,” she had said.


“I wonder,” Hale mused to himself as he walked over to his own room. “I wonder if these guys could use a good cadre to show them the ropes.”


Hale was no longer bored.


Port Krin Antallos The Periphery 27 July 3020


“So there I was,” Captain Mamoto was saying to the small crowd in the bar as he took a sip in the bar. “My poor Drakon was on the ground getting shelled by a neobarb wet navy battleship the size of an Invader, no, a Star Lord class Jumpship! But I held my ground! I waited hours under a rain of high explosive shells while my guns fended off the hordes of infantry trying to board by ship, hoping against hope that all our people would make it back aboard. But alas, it was not to be. One by one, the neobarbs swarmed Hale’s mechs with primitive aircraft and raining down bombs. I waited until the last of Hale’s mechs died and with regret decided there was nothing left that I could do. So I lifted off while under fire.”


“But how could there be so many militia in one place?” a skeptical listener asked.


“Ah, there’s the rub,” Mamoto said dramatically. “That was a rich, rich world we landed on. You all saw the loot right?” There were grudging nods all around. “It turns out that we landed right in the middle of one of their major military bases. That idiot Hale picked the absolute worst place to land…”


“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Jane Dietrich whispered to her drinking partner. They were on the other side of the bar from Mamoto. “But wasn’t it Captain Mamoto who picked our landing site?”


“Yep,” Irdon Koltan replied, completely unconcerned as he sipped his own beer.


“Maybe we should refresh his memory?” Jane wondered. “Publicly.”


“Nah, don’t bother,” Koltan told her. “Mamoto’s a Dropship captain. You’re just a lowly crewmember. I’m an even lowlier PBI.”


“That’s not fair,” Jane said, frowning.


“Welcome to life as a pirate,” Koltan told her cynically. “Not that the Inner Sphere’s much better. Let’s talk about something more pleasant. How’s the loot selling?”


“Pretty good actually,” Jane replied. “I can’t believe how fast they’re selling, especially the computers. Hell, it’s not like they’re compatible with any and all standard equipment.” She frowned again. “Now that I think about it, I can’t recall Mamoto mentioning that last part.”


”But you still spend a lot of time on your own machine for some reason,” Koltan said knowingly. “I never realized solitaire was so entertaining.”


“Hey, I’m not just playing Solitaire on my shiny new computer, you know,” Jane told him. She looked back at Mamoto. “Even so, I can’t believe the price some people are paying for the things. However useless the skipper is on the bridge, he’s one hell of a salesman.”


“Ah, I knew there was a reason I let you convince me to not kill him.” �


* *


Precentor Hadrian Long, Comstar’s representative on Antallos, examined the strange… device. His trained eye noted that the lid consisted almost entirely of a flat screen monitor, the main body that appeared to be mostly keyboard, and the numerous ports of unconventional design. The monitor displayed a pastoral background with some icons lined up on the side. He turned to the subordinate who had brought it to him.


“It’s primitive,” he said to Demi-Precentor Alan Short. “I don’t see what the problem is.”


“The problem is that there is nothing in our records like it,” Short replied patiently. “No one in the Inner Sphere produces anything like it. No one in the Periphery should be able to produce anything like it. And the coding is nothing like that used by the Star League; it’s almost alien to the point of being indecipherable. So we can rule it out as being ‘lostech’. Somewhere out there is a planet that has the resources and industrial base to create an entire computer system entirely from scratch.”


“Oh, Short, don’t be absurd,” Long snorted skeptically. “The most likely explanation is that some early pre-Star League colony went further out than most others. The Explorer Corps have found such worlds before and none of them are exactly paragons of the kind of advancement that you seem to be implying. This world is probably just another one like it. What’s its name again?”


“The pirates are starting to call it ‘Motherlode’ because it looks so rich,” Short answered. “But that’s not my point. This isn’t some ancient relic like what most people use. This is quite obviously newly made.”


“So? There are still factories in the Inner Sphere that produce mechs,” Long explained. “That doesn’t mean that these people understand how it works or can make new ones.”


“But, sir, we should still investigate it,” Short said, almost pleading. “Our mission is the preservation of technology after all, and you know the pirates are going to do to a world even half as wealthy as what rumor says. They’ll smash everything and another light of civilization will be lost to the darkness ignorance and barbarity.


“Yes, yes, write up a report for the home office,” Long said dismissively. “I’ll make sure to include it in the next month’s status report. But you’re being unduly impulsive Demi-Precentor. Even if these ‘Motherloders’ are the paragons of advancement you say they are, it means nothing. I have little doubt that the pirates here will eliminate them before we would be able to investigate. Worlds as wealthy as the one you described would draw them like flies.”


“But, sir…”


“I’m sorry, Short,” Long said, not sounding very sorry at all, “but that’s the way it is. Our Blessed Order’s mission may be to preserve technology, but we certainly don’t have the ability to save every little lost colony out here, especially when we don’t know where they are!” �


* *


“Lovely,” said Controller Aden Vorax, ruler of the city-state of Port Krin. The sleek and glossy black ground car may not have been the most advanced machine ever made, but it most certainly had been made with loving care and an eye for aesthetics. “Thank you for the gift, Captain Benson.”


“Not a problem, Mister Vorax,” the Jumpship captain replied as he fondled a pretty slave girl serving him a drink.


“And you say there is a whole planet that can make treasures like this?” Vorax asked, glancing at the absurdly small “computer” on a nearby end table. Currently, its screen was displaying some 2D entertainment video. On display at the moment was an attractive woman in black shooting at the floor around her with a gun in each hand. As he watched, the floor gave way and the woman dropped through the improvised hole.


“Oh yeah. You have to see it to believe it.” Benson said smugly, drawing Vorax’s attention away from the machine. “And as it so happens, I’m the only one who knows where it is.”


“Indeed?” Vorax replied, raising an eyebrow in interest. “That could be very… profitable.”


“I certainly thought so,” Benson said. “I imagine you could make a lot of money selling it to other captains.”


“Please, Captain, that is so gauche,” Vorax said with a knowing smile. “There are other ways that can make even more money.” �


High Energy Physics Laboratory

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America Earth 28 July 2005


Dr. James Callahan smiled as he pulled on his safety goggles. Today's tests had brought the good doctor and his colleague out of the depths of the into what was normally hostile territory into the depths of the MIT High Energy Lab. That wasn't to say they were enemies, but there was a friendly rivalry going over their attempts to duplicate the exotic armor composite that was being unoriginal classified as “Inner Sphere Standard”. Material Engineering would bust their asses in order to try and replicate the armor and their friends in High Energy Physics would create the most creative and abusive torture tests they could come up with in order to test it.


Slowly he say down at the desk and silently looked at the plate of dull metal that was being moved into position. Across the room one of his friends sat at the controls of one of the most powerful solid state lasers ever built on Earth. Originally part of the now canceled SDI program, the large weapon was easily capable of shooting a satellite out of orbit and was far weaker than the “Medium Lasers” taken from the damaged BattleMechs but on the reduced scale of this test would be comparable to the Inner Sphere weapons for test purposes.


“Test fire in three... two... one.”


Dr. Callahan winced slightly as a loud crack sounded through the room and a bright streak of light traces its way across the room. Blinking to clear his eyes he could only smile when he saw the end result. The armor was deformed and its integrity was obviously compromised but for the first time it actually held.


Turning to Dr. Amanda Li, his counterpart in the battery of tests he could but smile. “What percentage was this battery of tests set to?”


By percentage he meant their current yard stick of progress: the energy needed to breach the equivalent in IS Standard armor.


“Fifty,” she replied with a large smile. “Fifty percent.”


He couldn't help but laugh. “Fifty. We're at at least half effectiveness.” To most that would seem like not much of an accomplishment but that inconspicuous plate of material hanging on the back wall was the best attempt they'd made so far, and depending on the rest of the tests it could prove to be the most advanced armor composit ever created on Earth.


He couldn't help but smile. They'd keep testing to see its limits, but this might just be the stop-gap measure that everyone was clamoring for. BAE Systems Farnborough Aerospace Centre, UK July 29th, 2005


"Look at this," Dr Jeremiah Smith said, "See here and here?"


On the screen were a few microscope pictures of the latest experiments to reproduce the composite ceramic layer of BT armor.


"Mmmh. Yes, finally some samples survived the sintering.", Kevin MacMillian, Ph.D., agreed, "You have already started on assessing our new composite?"


"Yes. First tests show it is about equivalent with the original in thermal behavior and in the particle bombardment trials we saw statistically significant less degradation. The bad news? As expected, it is not as resilient against mechanical stresses. We need those long nanotubes."


"You have read the same publications i have. There are some promising experimental results, but nothing ready for mass production. But with the money we throw at it, there ought to be results soonish. Till then we will make do as best we can."


Troop Barracks National Training Center Fort Irwin, California Earth 22 July 2005


It is a truism in military life that you tend to run into the same people again and again. It is also a truism that you will run into people you really don't want to be anywhere near where you end up, and that often these are the same people that you just can't seem to avoid running into again and again. Even allowing for these acknowledged universal truths, which had been experienced multiple times by all parties formed up in the parking lot, the current situation was still clear evidence of a higher being. A malicious bastard of a higher being possessed of a horrible sense of humor, but a higher being nonetheless.


Burgess Hale, former AFFS Captain, and dispossessed Mechwarrior was wondering if this had really been such a good idea after all. Most of the faces were unfamiliar to him, but eleven stood out as being people he'd seen before. Ten of them had affected postures of studied neutrality, but the bastard who'd bluffed him out of his mech seemed to be bouncing between outright hatred, pure disgust, and unholy glee entirely at random. What the hell, the two guys I hit who are missing limbs don't look as pissed to see me as he is.


Captain Lewis stepped up to address the formation "All right, you may have noticed we have a new addition to our unit. Mr. Hale, formerly of the good ship Drakon, formerly of the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns, is going to be assisting us with evolving a tactical doctrine both for using and destroying Battlemechs. Since he's new, I thought we'd welcome him to our august company with a little fun run." Captain Lewis's grin widened at the small exclamations of pain and dread that some members of the unit were unable to fully suppress.


As Hale followed along with the warming up exercises, he noted that he and the maniac seemed to be the only two in normal exercise clothes, while everyone else was in some variation of full combat attire(although he was the only one present with a tracking bracelet locked around his ankle). His study was interrupted by the maniac passing him a water bottle and some pills saying "Unless you run marathons for fun, you're going to want to take those now."


"Excuse me?"


"The Captain there likes to see if he really can run people to death. Even if they were poison, you'd thank me for killing you quickly. For that matter, since you're here, is there any way I can get your old cell just to be away from this?"


More than two hours later, Burgess Hale decided that he really would have preferred the poison. He wasn't sure how large this facility was, but it certainly felt like they must have run around the whole thing twice. The most humiliating bit had to have been when they let the guy in the wheelchair set the pace on the roadway, although at least he'd only been the first of many to fall out during that stretch. After the third time coming back past the damned barracks, they finally slowed to a walk.


After they'd cooled down and been released for personal hygiene and breakfast, the maniac extended his hand, and said "Staff Sergeant Tony Dansel, I'm sure you recognize me from our last meeting. Just to make things super sunshine happy for both of us, I'm the guy you're probably going to be expected to train to use your old mech. Do me a favor, if you're going to rig it to kill me, make sure it's before the next of these human rights violations."


  • cough* "Only"*cough* "if you take me with you. And here I'd thought I wasn't going to be tortured" I don't think I've had my ass kicked this much even at Kilbourne.

"Yeah, about that. You see those unit patches on the caps of our other old buddies? Well, if you see the same patch with the insignia in blue instead of gold and we've somehow left you alone, you're gonna want to run. They kind of have a grudge from your landing, and I really haven't been helping to make them happier lately


Defense Agency Headquarters Tokyo, Japan Earth 1st August 2005


General Aida Tanaka glanced over the men in the briefing room for a few moments and than towards the large screen that took up most of the far wall.


The Alien Attack on New Zealand back in May had really shaken the entire world. Japan was perhaps shaken more than the rest of the world. Especially considering that the attack was performed by the wet dreams of just about every engineer and half the Japanese male population, large somewhat humanoid robots. In short mecha or Battlemechs as they were called everywhere else in the world.


That those Battlemechs came from a game that was heavily influenced by the Japanese Mecha genre such as Gundam or Macross was even more of a shock. The fact that the entire space around Earth had somehow been transported into another universe, something that was commonly called ISOT event by now, was only a minor shock against that.


Tanaka didn't want to think of it, but he had never seen the Japanese public being so active about something that was pretty much war. It was disturbing to say at least, especially considering the so called Second Pacific War a few years back.


Thankfully the Government had managed to get back to good relations with the US, but Tanaka had never been able to shake the feeling that a few of the politicians had closed their eyes when it had happened.


He sighed. But that was the past and 'simple' problems with the 'neighbors' tended to fade away from the public eye and memory when something bigger came knocking in your door.


Which brought him into this briefing room.


A number of people from Honda, Mitsubishi, Sony and other Japanese companies had come to show off a few projects. They hoped would get them money from the now bigger pot that was the National Defense Budget.


Looking through the numerous treaties that held Japanese down to self defense even more than before, but thankfully the politicians had found nothing that would keep them from increasing the budget when it came to Alien Threats.


A Honda manager walked up to the podium and bowed lightly before starting his presentation with a video.


The video showed what at the first glance looked like a real life mockup from a Manga, not unlike the full size model of the Gundam that had been build some time ago. Than the mockup began to move. The movements were a little sluggish, but as the man inside the mockup picked up a large crate that had to weight at least two hundred kilograms like it was nothing and than carried it around, Tanaka had a feeling that he knew why.


"This is the first Prototype of a suit of Powered Armor," the manager said." We developed it together with Tsukuba University. We hope to be able to develop it into a fully functional production model in a few months."


Tanaka noted that the man had said 'few months'. That could be any thing between two and twenty, very interesting. On the video, the man in the suit put down the crate, only to have him fall over backwards and flail around like a turtle that was turned on the back of its shell.


"As you see there a more than a few problems with the suit at the moment, but we are sure that we can get them out of the design."


"That armor," one of the other Generals asked." What is it? Some sort of Kevlar Composite? Aluminum?"


The man at the presentation table hesitated a little.


"Actually," he noted," It's not armor at all. At the moment its only a plastic shell filled with styrofoam and lead to simulate the weight of actual armor. And it is currently missing anything aside from the exoskeleton needed to move it."


Tanaka chuckled lightly. It would probably mean that it was closer to twenty month until the first production level prototype was ready.


"I can't shake the feeling that the suit looks familiar," One of the Admiral at the table noted and again the Honda man hesitated.


"Ahm... We had Masamune Shirow create the design for the suit."


Tanaka glanced at the man and than noted that he was far from being the only one to snicker at that.


The man from Honda was questioned for a few more minutes before he was dismissed. One thing was for sure, if they put more money into it and got them to work with other companies, the suit might be a very useful design.


After the Honda man stepped down the man from Mitsubishi stepped up to the presentation table and likewise started his presentation with a video.


This time it showed something that was very close to being a mecha. Only it seemed to be a little smaller than the 'Mechs that had attacked New Zealand. But it still looked more like the lovechild of an industry robot and the Asimo, only with everything being exposed and very visible hydraulics. Next to it a man hung in the air, clad inside a virtual reality suit.


"This is the prototype of what we hope can some day become Japans first Mechs," the Mitsubishi man noted with a smile." Internally we are calling the design 'Patlabor'. According to the 'sourcebooks' they would be called 'Proto-mechs'."


Tanaka shook his head and the General next to him muttered something about Otaku.


The man in the video began to make a few movements, the larger robotic frame following them with a light lag and rather jerky movements,


"The hydraulics are currently only a stopgap measure until these 'Myomer fibers' are available for construction."


The video ended with the robot somehow tripping and crashing into the steel cables that held it upright, making Tanaka shake his head again.


"Another project is trying to create an armor equivalent to the armor that was provided to us by the New Zealand government."


The video switched, showing a plate of one meter times one meter standing in the open of a testing ground. A Type 90 Main Battle Tank was placed on the other end of the range and fired. The plate was hit and flew through the air, falling to the ground nearly undamaged, only slightly cracked.


"This is the closest we have been able to get to it at the moment. We have substituted the nanofibers in the material with normal and more easily created Fullerenes, but we still have only managed to get the armor to be much less effective compared to the original armor. We think that we might need to increase the number of layers. Likewise we have yet to test its resistance against lasers."


Now that was interesting. He had read the tests of the pieces they had from the New Zealanders and it looked like they could make their Type 90 at least able to make one or two shots from those 'Mechs before being destroyed.


"However, the process to create this armor can still only be done in a laboratory. We need at least a year to perfect the process and make it into a fully industrialized process."


Tanaka nodded. The three projects sounded very interesting. Now it was time for the more outlandish projects that wanted money. Honestly, it was not like they could get the Yamato back up from the ground of the sea and turn it into a spaceship, as much as everyone in the room wished it was possible... August 1, 2005 Pentagon, Washington D.C. Earth


Admiral McClusky sat down with SecDef trying NOT to check his aide as he lined up this presentation. He wasn't normally this nervous but given the fact that no one knew if any of the current services would survive in a recognizable form meant that reports like his got much higher scrutiny. "So Admiral, what can the Navy do if the next raid brings air support?"


McClusky started up his power point presentation. "Sir, if they show up this afternoon, not a damn thing. Not us, not the Air Force, not the Marines."


That got the Secretary's attention. "I know their armor is tough, but it's not that tough. The Kiwis downed one with Mavericks."


The Admiral nodded, and pulled up his first slide, showing an AIM-120 AMRAAM, and an AGM-65F. "The problem sir, is one of how we build our aircraft and missiles, vs. how everyone else out there armors up. Anything with the right warhead to degrade standard Inner Sphere plate is built into a missile meant for ground attack. Missiles built to actually knock down other aircraft use what is called a continuous rod warhead, think of it as aircraft scale birdshot. It gives a good lethality range from the missile, so it only has to get close, but against future threats it simple spreads the damage too wide to achieve measurable degradation. Frankly against any possible aerospace threat it's like firing buckshot at a battleship. At this point sir, the best current anti-aircraft missiles can hope for it to be ingested into an intake to case a FOD, or otherwise lucky hits."


The Secretary leaned back in his chair. "I've been SecDef long enough to know this isn't all you brought today. Let's hear your solution."


McClusky gave a wintery smile "My preferred solution would be Navy fusion aerospace fighters sortieing up to shoot down the incoming Dropships Sir. Absent that, the Navy does have two missiles in it's inventory that can be modified to meet the current threat. Both the SM-2 Standard family of SAMs, along with the Phoenix Air to Air missiles have warhead payloads large enough to be a threat to aerospace fighter armor, even if they are half the size of the Foxtrot Mavericks the Kiwis used. This will require new warheads and reprogrammed seekers for contact detonation however. Close isn't good enough for that kind of armor. The upside is that a Tomcat can carry six Phoenixes each, and a Burke can pack up to 90 Standards, 96 in the latest Flights, and a Tico can pack 122. All can ripple fire their missiles off rapidly, giving them both the warhead size and volume of fire to be a serious anti-aerospace threat."


The SecDef nodded, also hearing the subtext. If the Navy came out looking good in the first air to air battle with the pirates, particularly if the Airforce lacked a viable countermeasure of it's own that would give the Navy a leg up on claiming a space combat mandate from Congress. However that was for the future. "This plan would require keeping the F-14s in service till space interceptors came into service. They are already getting long in the teeth Admiral. Can the Hornets or Super Hornets take up some of the slack?"


The Admiral pulled up another slide, show a comparison of the three aircraft. "I'm afraid not sir. Not only is the Tomcat the only aircraft designed to employ the Phoenix, both aircraft are too small to carry a useful sized salvo even if we did do the integration work. At least if we are limited to conventional missile warheads."


The Secretary of Defense felt a slight chill at those mild words. While not the attitude of the Fifties, the halls of the Pentagon have been much more willing to consider 'special devices' options in planning for the United States, and Earth's, defense against the scum of the stars. Or even an actual star nation. While a big enough warhead could breach Spheroid armor as the Admiral pointed out there was a big gap between most regular weapons, and the minority of Earth weapons with large enough of a sting to be noticed. "They could be made nuclear capable?"


Admiral McClusky nodded. "Both are Cold War systems sir, the nuclear option, or at least a nuclear capable variant, was part of the design process for both the Phoenix and the Standard. Some of my people are even proposing putting nuclear warheads on the SM-3, that is the ABM variant of the Standard sir. It can hit targets in orbit, just. Though they'd be more effective if we timed their intercept to catch the inbounds when they have committed to atmospheric entry.


SecDef looked out of the window for a minute. "The National Command Authority is restricting nuclear weapons to exo-atmospheric use Admiral." The "For Now" was left unsaid. Both felt it was possible if things went bad enough nukes would be used on the ground, and hang the consequences. "I will bring your plan for the SM-3 to the President's attention as a supplement to the space based defenses. Though ROE would likely keep them detonating above the atmosphere. "


Admiral McClusky nodded. "If we are talking conventional warheads then Sir for in atmosphere battles then I'm afraid we will just have to eat the cost of keeping the Tomcats flying. The Navy is proposing restoring the fifth fighter squadron back to all Carrier Air Wings. So we are looking at two Tomcat Squadrons for Aerospace defense and three of Bugs and Superbugs tasked to ground attack."


The SecDef nodded, "I assume the written report has the budget numbers?" At the Admiral's nod he picked it up. "Very well, the work on the Standards I can be sure of getting through, keeping the Tomcat in the air will require more work, though unless the Air Force comes up with something comparable I'm believe you will get at least some funds authorized for that too." Home of Thomas Schmidt, Dipl. Ing. Freiburg, Germany August 2nd, 2005


Thomas Schmidt woke nearly vibrating with anticipation a good hour before his alarm. "They will arrive today. I can feel it."


While it was generally easy to get samples of battlemech parts or at least access to the relevant work groups, getting some of the infantry equipment proved more difficult. The Kiwis had founded the Reclaim Consortium to exploit the captured items. Late June they published a list, asked for proposals and promised funding for accepted projects.


The Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Thomas's workplace for seven years, joined the bidding. It felt like it was just yesterday.



Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics Ernst-Mach-Institut Meeting room Freiburg, Germany July 4th, 2005


"Did you read the Reclaim announcement?", Thomas asked during the weekly group meeting. "Are we going to propose a project of our own?"


"Are you secretly a Battletech player? We already cooperate on the Armor Project with some of the other Fraunhofer facilities. You can transfer to that lab if you prefer, but we'd be sorry to loose you." Fechtel replied.


"No i am not secretly a player. But i have read the novels and after the ISOT i got the source books. And no, I am certainly not interested in the armor research. But the list contains three, and i quote, "powered knifes of various design". According to my books the only powered knives in the Battletech universe are so called vibro-blades."


"Vibro-blades? That old SciFi idea?" Julia Becker made doubtful face. "You are sure that works? Vibrations strong enough to influence the cutting ability should peel the muscles of your bones. If you can at all manage to hold the knife in the first place."


"Yes, that old concept. And BT treats them as easy to hold as your bread knife, while cutting most materials like a "hot knife through butter"". Schmidt said making air quotes.


Fechtel listened to Thomas and Julia argue over the feasibility of vibro-blades. Ten minutes into their argument he came to a decision. "Lets finish this up. Julia, Thomas, the both of you will write a proposal to submit to the Reclaim Consortium. If we have enough free capacity, we give it a go."



Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics Ernst-Mach-Institut 2. Floor Laboratory Space Freiburg, Germany August 2nd, 2005


Last week they got the approval and signed the paperwork. Since then they spent the time organizing their new little research group and holding theoretical discourses. Or as their colleagues said arguments and guesswork.


When Thomas finally arrived at their laboratory space a happy Julia Becker was already waiting for him.


"They arrived today." they said in unison. Julia gave him a look, but continued, "You'd think they had delivered ingots of gold. They came early in the morning with an escort in an armored car. That was a spectacle. The reception desk had to call Fechtel out of bed to sign for them."


"So we did get the two promised knives?" Thomas asked as they entered through the security door.


"Not exactly. We got two knives, but only one power pack between them. Martin is on it, but i guess someone else had a proposal specifically for them."


"Well, at least someone had brains and left us one power pack. Now lets start this." Thomas and Julia moved to the station with their new used vibro-blades and started the examination.


“The Box” National Training Center Fort Irwin, California Earth 4 August 2005


It felt good to be in control of his Mech again, Hale thought as Quasimodo crested a small ridge. Technically, Quasimodo – it felt funny to be driving a mech with such a personal name – wasn’t really Hale’s anymore. But the Hunchback had been in his ride since he had inherited it from his uncle.


Outside, the desert was a rolling plain that was mostly flat with just enough rises and dips to make things “interesting”. Buildings dotted the terrain at random, fakes constructed to provide for more realistic training scenarios. The day was hotter than Hale would have liked for Mech operations what with heat being every Mech’s enemy; but since Quasimodo’s lasers had been powered down to training levels (which Hale couldn’t override) and the autocannon loaded with blank ammo, he wasn’t too worried.


“The general idea of this test,” Zumross had told him before he climbed into the cockpit, “is to see how good BT sensors are against the systems that these guys can make. The rules are to follow the nav points and to try and shoot anything before they shoot you. The idea is to see if they can sneak up on you and get their shot off before you kill them. Any questions?”


“What’s ‘BT’?” Hale had asked.


”I dunno exactly,” Zumross had told him with a shrug. “Some acronym that refers to any offworld made technology. But no one’s telling me what the letters actually stand for.”


“So how come you’re not the one doing the driving?”


“Oh, because you’re a better pilot than I am,” Zumross had explained. “That means that these guys can get a better idea of what Mechs are really capable of. And besides,” she had grinned mischievously as she added, “I already did this test. It was… interesting.”


Quasimodo’s computer bleeped, bringing Hale back to the present. The impersonal feminine voice its computer told him that he had reached the first nav point. As he brought Quasimodo to a halt, Hale thought over Zumross’s use of the word “interesting”. He was certain that there was more to this test than what Zumross and Captain Lewis had told him. This couldn’t be some over-elaborate hazing ceremony, could it?


“Control, this is Quasimodo,” Hale said, keying the radio. “I’m at Nav Point Alpha.”


A couple of the locals’ planes roared by over head, moving lower and slower than anything Hale had ever seen short of actual VTOL craft. According to Zumross, they were some sort of specialist ground attack fighter, carrying light autocannon in the nose and enough bombs to turn his Hunchback into a smoking hole in the ground. They were there to keep an eye on him and make sure that he didn’t try to run away with the Mech.


“Roger that, Quasimodo,” a familiar voice came back. “Everyone’s in position. Start your run any time you’re ready.”


“Dansel, that you?” Hale asked.


“Yep, that’s me.”


“I’m supposed to teach you to be a Mechwarrior,” Hale said. “You should be here in the jump seat so you can watch me work.”


“Well, I would be there, but the jump seat’s really cramped,” Dansel said. “The eggheads think my being there might screw with your reaction time. Besides, I can watch you just fine. Or didn’t you notice all the cameras and monitoring equipment in the cockpit with you?”


Hale cranked his head around to look behind his seat at the nightmarish maze of wires and plastic boxes that were duct-taped, screwed down, or otherwise secured in seemingly random locations. So that was what they were all for, he thought.


“Right then,” Hale muttered. “Okay, I’m starting my run. Quasimodo out.”


Quasimodo had barely taken a step when a ground car that the locals called a Humvee burst out from behind a building half a klick ahead. A red blip immediately appeared on Hale’s radar display. Reacting instantly, Hale speared the vehicle with both lasers. There was a puff of smoke and a light on the Humvee started blinking, indicating that the vehicle had been “killed”. The soldier than had been operating what looked like a missile launcher of some kind saluted Hale as the Humvee sedately left the test area.


“Okay, that was easy,” Hale said aloud, relaxing.


The side of another building more than a klick away flared as a fireball appeared in front of it. There was a bleep as his computer registered a “hit” on his Mech. Cursing, Hale activated the image intensifier and zoomed in on the building that had shot him. The view wasn’t good, but it looked like there was a tank actually hidden inside the building.


“Ooh, looks like a point for the home team,” Dansel said over the radio, his voice practically radiating smugness, “or should I say five points? Or is it three? Well whatever these geeks say the ammo does this week. C’mon, Hale, Zumross says you’re supposed to be a good pilot. Make this a challenge for our guys at least.”


“I intend to,” Hale muttered as he switched his display from radar to infrared. While infrared detection had some obvious limitations in the middle of a hot desert, Quasimodo’s sensors might be able to spot the heat from the exhaust of the internal combustion engines that seemed to be used in everything on this planet. In fact, there was a blip right over…


A tank rolled into view, a low wall obscuring everything but the turret. It had barely appeared when one of Hale’s lasers struck it. The burst of smoke and blinking light was gratifying.


“Ouch, another point for the visiting team,” Dansel said.


“C’mon, Dansel,” Hale replied mockingly. “Make this a challenge!”


Three small blips appeared on Hale’s display moving fast. They were also behind him. Without thinking, Hale ducked Quasimodo behind a nearby building, interposing it between himself and the contacts, although that required a little crouching. His computer bleeped.


“Well crap,” Dansel said disgustedly. “The referee computer’s calling it a near miss.”


Grinning, Hale didn’t reply. Instead, he stood Quasimodo a little straighter, poking the head a bit above the top of the building to take a quick look and ducking back down before they could shoot at him. He spotted three VTOLs of the type that the locals called “Apaches”. One of them was already peeling off, obviously having expended its load on the near miss; for some reason, the locals didn’t seem to build anything with endurance in mind. The other two Apaches were spreading out, obviously hoping to flank him. Well, he couldn’t have that.


Hale leaned Quasimodo over around the building’s corner and fired its laser and autocannon. The Apache he shot at signaled its death before the pilot could reach. Hale didn’t wait; he spun Quasimodo around just as the other Apache zoomed around the opposite corner, trying to take advantage of the other VTOL’s “sacrifice”. He fired everything at it and was rewarded with another kill. Hale’s computer bleeped.


“Argh,” Dansel commented. “Only the chin gun fired. Computer’s ruling no damage. Stupid machine.”


Hale was chuckling and had started to reply when the computer bleeped.


“Ooh, score another for the home team,” Dansel chortled. He sighed. “It’s a pity that Comanches don’t carry more or heavier ordinance though.”


Hale spotted the “Comanche” as it turned to leave. It was another VTOL, one that bore a slight resemblance to a Ferret, but with small winglets for carrying ordnance. Only they weren’t really winglets, Hale realized as he watched them fold into the Comanche’s body. They were more like bomb bay doors. And it didn’t show up on his display at all.


Studying his display closely, Hale saw that the Comanche did show up on it. But the contact was pretty weak, fluttering in and out of existence as the computer tried to determine whether it was really there or not. Hale switched to radar, but the results were little better.


“Control, Quasimodo. What the hell?” Hale said outraged. “Have you people been fooling with my sensors?”


“Sorta, but not in the way you think,” Dansel replied gleefully. “We’ll tell you all about it after the test. Control out.”


Another Comanche appeared in the distance, popping above a ridge dead ahead. Hale immediately laid crosshairs on it and fired everything he had. The Comanche ducked back down behind the ridge without firing back, but also without signaling that it had been killed. Hale realized that it hadn’t opened its bomb bay doors.


“Ooh, a complete miss,” Dansel commented. “The computer says your lasers passed to either side of the chopper and the AC burst went low. I guess your mighty BT tech isn’t very accurate if it can’t, y’know, see what it’s shooting at.”


“What kind of test is this?” Hale demanded.


“You’ll see,” Dansel replied. “Heads up, Quasimodo. Next contestant’s inbound.”


Frantically, Hale began to cycle between Quasimodo’s sensor modes, trying to spot the next machine coming at him. As he did, an alert he had never seen before popped up on his display. What the hell was a “TAG ALERT”?


Things went downhill from there.


* *

Zumross met him after the test at the foot of Quasimodo.


“What the hell was that?” Hale demanded irately. The Comanches had been embarrassing enough. Then the planes had come it and started plinking at him from what should have been impossible distances, not even bothering to strafe or divebomb; the damage that their supposed hits would have inflicted had they been real had been lovingly described by Dansel. According to Dansel, Hale had been killed a dozen times over while trying to get Quasimodo’s sensors to work properly. What was worse was the way the planes just refused to show up on any of his sensors until they had completed their attack runs; even then, they just flickered in and out of existence. The only time Hale ever got solid reads on them were when they passed directly overhead, but those moments were far too brief.


“You mean the stealth fighters, sir?” Zumross asked politely.


“You know I mean that, Zumross!” Hale replied angrily as they headed for the main building. Then something she had said clicked. “’Stealth’ fighters? What does ‘stealth’ mean?”


“Well, in the context of military technology,” Zumross began, “stealth is any technology that tries to fool sensors into not seeing what’s there. In this case, it’s fighters and VTOLs.”


“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Hale objected.


“I have,” Zumross admitted. “I’ve read stuff about Star League lostech that might do similar things, but I always dismissed that as just stories.”


“Yeah, but that’s lostech,” Hale griped. “These guys are so primitive that can’t even build decent armor. How the hell can they have lostech?”


“Because for them, it’s not lost,” Zumross told him soberly. “They invented it.”


“Invented? How?”


“Because until we came, they had to invent and build everything they have,” Zumross said quietly, looking around at busy base wistfully. “Because they had to make everything from the ground up. Because they understand everything about their technology. Because unlike the Inner Sphere, their economy has never been smashed, their scientists never wantonly slaughtered, and technology has never backslid.”


“Oh, c’mon,” Hale scoffed. “They mush have done some backsliding. They lost space flight, didn’t they?”


“They never had space flight,” Zumross said, completely seriously.


“Never had…” Hale began. He stopped then shook his head. “If they never had spaceflight, how the hell did their ancestors get here? The original colonists had to get here somehow.”


“Well, you see, Captain, they’re not colonists,” Zumross told him. “They’re not colonists because this is the homeworld of humanity.”


“But the homeworld of humanity is Terra,” Hale pointed out. They were almost to the building now. He could see Dansel waiting right outside the front doors.


“Exactly,” Zumross said. “This planet IS Terra, somehow transported through space and time from the early twenty-first century.”


Hale gawked at the ludicrous statement. Before he could formulate anything to say, Dansel spoke.


“Yeah, welcome to Motherfuckin’ Terra,” he said to Hale. “The biggest damned bullseye in the Battletech universe.” �


Washington DC United States of America Earth August 7, 2005 Jack Ryan's throat felt dry as he stepped up to the podium. He had a feeling that this speech would be the first thrown stone of an avalanche that would change the political face of the Earth forever. The problem is he was left with the nagging question, that while this would be good for the Earth would the end result be good for America? He had to wonder if he was betraying his country to save his world.


Still, he had to ask himself, would there even be an America left to betray if he didn't? He had to do this. Sometimes if you are afraid you just have to take a step forward, and as the so called 'Leader of the Free World', he had a responsibility to set an example.


“My fellow Americans, and citizens of the planet Earth,” He began, “I am here speaking to you today in the name of international unity. On May 16, 2005 it became clear to all of us that we are not alone in the universe. This realization came not as we'd hoped for so long, in the form of peaceful visitation, but in a cowardly attack against a free nation. An attack against civilians with aims that amounted to nothing more than a grand act of petty theft that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded. It was only good fortune that there were military assets in place to repulse this assault.”


“We thought that was it. That the arrival of pirates out of something fictional was some cosmic accident, a twisted act of divine comedy. If so, then the events of May 25th made it clear that the joke was on us. On that date the sky changed and with it we were stripped of our naivety. It was not the pirates who were displaced, but rather us.”


“The Inner Sphere, the thousands of inhabited worlds that make up the majority of human civilization, are divided into five scavenger states ruled by feudal overlords whose greatest desire is domination of all mankind under the flag of an empire 250 years lost. As it is, Earth now stands as the last seat of democracy in a universe gone mad. The last beacon of progress in a universe in decline.”


“I make the following plea, not only to the leaders, but to the people of the world. We cannot be consumed by our petty differences any longer. We are a target, both to those who would envy our accomplishments and those who would see us a a threat to their schemes. I make no reservations when I say that should our world become common knowledge then the best we could look forward to is slavery or death. This threat is real and I do not exaggerate. The pirate Dropship escaped with several cargo containers, one of which was loaded with consumer electronics, a prize that I am told will inevitably bring further attention. We now stand at the edge of a great precipice that threatens to consume us all.”


“With this in mind I propose the formation of a pan-national defense agency dedicated to the protection of the Earth and her people from threats from without. A Global Defense Initiative formed of the militaries of our world ready to both defend our planet from external threats and to prosecute war against those who would threaten us. To this aim I have already asked that a Global Defense Bill be introduced both into the Congress of the United States of America as well as a resolution before both the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations.”


“I now leave you with this. Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this great nation, said on the eve of our War for Independence, 'We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately'.”


“Good night and god bless you all.”


As he stepped away, Jack couldn't help but think of the worlds of another, much older leader. One who once was forced to take as great a risk as Jack had done today.


Alea iacta est


The die is cast. NATO Headquarters Main Briefing Room 0900 Zulu 05 August 2005


The Turkish Army General and current C-in-C of NATO tapped his water glass with a well worn K-Bar knife that had served him well over his long and distinguished career.


“Gentlemen, come to order. I heartily welcome our friends from Australia, Finland, France, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Ukraine as observers. This emergency meeting has been called jointly by our senior and our most junior members. Will the United States or the Russian Federation be presenting?” asked the NATO C-in-C.


The Russian Air Force representative, Marshal Grigoryi Andreyavich Egorov stood “Mister Chairman, our respective governments have come to conclusion that only two missile capable of destroying pirate aerospace assets. Only two missile have warhead bigger than 45 kilogram and flight profile or envelope necessary. All other can only hope for very lucky hit to canopy or other Golden BB. Is R-33 and AIM-54. Both only be carried by biggest fighters Grumman F-14 Tomcat and Mikoyan 31 Snow Bear what you call Foxhound.”


More than a few representatives stirred however none spoke as the Russian sat down and the American representative stood. Admiral James Monroe took over the presentation “Gentlemen, the United States has 157 F-14A+ and 53 F-14D currently in service and our Russian allies have 287 Mig-31M and 48 of the older Mig-31F. The Ukraine has an additional 33 Mig-31F in service. Frankly that’s just barely enough assets to cover NATO leaving the rest of the world out in the cold. Unacceptable. We propose three plans running concurrently. First the United States Navy will beach all of our Tomcats and spread them around the world basing at military and civilian airports close to potential targets. The Russians will also spread their Snow Bears, only to military fields capable of supporting those overgrown beasts.”


Egorov stood again, “Gentlemen, those of you not familiar with our Snow Bear, is even bigger than Sukhoi 27 what you call Flanker. Weigh fifty metric tons, almost same as modern battle tank, and is not including four 5,000 litre external fuel tanks and four 491 kilo R-33 missile. Is capable of MACH 2.35 sustained over 750 kilometer combat range allowing return to base at pedestrian pace. Burst speed 2.93 speed of sound, although at that speed missile cannot launch. Also Snow Bear and R-33 not Russian copies of F-14 and Phoenix. No. Snow Bear ultimate version of Foxbat interceptor AND greatest strike fighter ever built, F-105 Thunderchief. R-33 primarily designed to destroy incoming cruise missiles and American heavy bombers like B-52 and B-1. B-2 too stealthy for BVR, however there are plenty of other ways to kill it.”


As the Russian returned to his seat, Admiral Monroe continued, “Because there are huge swaths of our globe, mostly in Africa, Asia, and South America that aren’t viable targets for economic raiding those areas will be left to their indigenous defenses except as noted. We propose to base Tomcats in Southhampton and RAF Leuchars covering the UK and Eire. Marseille, Barcelona, Rome, in the western Med. Venice and Istanbul in the eastern Med. Co-located with German Navy Tornados near Bremershaven and the Dutch Air Force for Rotterdam. The faster Snow Bears at Helikon, Sigonella, Rota, and RAF Akrotiri which covers the Mediterranean basin. RAF Leuchars and Linköping will cover the North Sea with Linköping also capable of supporting north-central Europe and all of Scandinavia. Landivisiau and RAF Brize Norton will cover western Europe. Central European coverage will be based in as yet three undecided locations in Holland, Switzerland, and/or Germany. Eastern Europe will be covered from Poland. The US and Canada will have single Mig-31 squadrons at Goose Bay and Vancouver, in the north, New Orleans in the south, and Goose Creek South Carolina. Two squadrons will be based at Barksdale, Fallon, Dallas, and at Kennedy Space Center. Those at Kennedy will also cover the Caribbean and Bahamas. Tomcat squadrons will be at all of their current Naval Air Stations. That covers NATO. Marshal Egorov?”


The two man show continued as the American took his seat and a well needed and deserved sip from his water glass and the Russian spoke “Japan will be covered with Tomcats and Snow Bears from Naval Air Facilities in said country. Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore would receive single Tomcat squadrons with two Snow Bear squadrons in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. Agreements need be made with all but Taiwan, but I suspect governments will be most amenable to free protection.”


He received the laughs as expected when he wrote that part of what his new friend James called a ‘Dog and Pony Show.’ Another Americanism or witty witticism as they call them to remember.


He continued, “Australia will get two squadrons, one up north and one near Sydney supporting Tomcat squadron in Sydney. As China refused to accept NATO assistance after humiliating defeat few years ago, they idut na hui. South Africa will be covered from AFB Hoedspruit which also serves as emergency runway for Space Shuttle so it long enough for our Snow Bears, Tomcats will be located Port Elizabeth their largest port city. New Zealand lacks facilities long enough for our aircraft, and will thus have two Tomcat squadrons assigned Whenuapai and Ohakea. Iran indicated they would protect Persian Gulf with their Tomcats, however they cannot be trusted, three Snow Bear squadrons will be based in Oman alongside their Sepecat Jaguars and Tomcat squadron will be based in the UAE….”


The British Army General representing the UK interrupted, “I beg your pardon gentlemen, by my count that’s quite a few more than the 45 squadrons you have aircraft for.”


“Da, General. That is part two of our plan. Admiral?”


The Russian and American once again switched places. “Gentlemen, the US Navy has 348 F-14A that can be made airworthy again” he said before turning to the British General, “that’s 29 squadrons. They’ll all be equipped with the older block AWG-9 radar systems, but those can interface with the Phoenix Cs just not the Sealed Cs so those will only go to the squadrons operating the B and D models. The Russian Air Force has 137 fox models that could be made to fly again. All of the Tomcats pulled from the Boneyard will be close to their 7,350 hour limits, some will even exceed it. Prior to being absorbed, Grumman determined the titanium frame would last 7,500 hours, so we’ll have enough flight time for at least the next eleven to sixteen months. Beyond that, we’ll lose most of those old and grey ‘Cats and Bears. That’s where part three comes in to play.”


The Admiral sat down and the Russian stood to the grins of many of the senior officers present, including the presenters.


“Da. Part three has two components. First Mig-31BM and R-33 upgrade programs shelved in 1999 will be reopened. Engineers and technicians formerly employed by Grumman Aerospace will join aircraft portion of program. Engineers from Hughes and Raytheon will join the R-33 upgrade program in order to develop R-37 of which we expect to carry six on the Super Snow Bear. The second component involves engineers from those companies along with British Aerospace, MBDA, Saab, and Dassault who will be invited to join Novator K-100 program also shelved in 1999 for lack of funds. Was joint venture with India to produce missile with many features of R-37 only small enough to be carried by Mig-29 and Sukhoi 27. Missile body, engine and warhead are already ready for production. Difficulty is with guidance head so we think outside box. Put French Super 530 and AIM-120 seeker heads on missile. Then all Dassault products and all fourth and fifth generation aircraft may be able to use. Range will be limited to under 50 kilometers but is better than nothing, yes?”


Both the American and Russian aides began passing out briefing folders. Admiral Monroe spoke again, “Gentlemen, these include the plan specifics and the contributions and suggestions necessary by each party invited. We’re pressed for time, so the time limit is 72 hours from tomorrow noon. We’ll need binding resolutions from your governments and those firms that wish to join in the programs. Because the K-100 bodies are just plain milled aviation grade aluminum, the warheads are just a big 50 kig blob of high grade explosive, and the engine is a simple air breathing solid fuel rocket there’s no reason why we can’t begin building those bodies starting next month.”


After several minutes of small talk between Army and Navy senior officers while their Air Force and Naval Aviation aides poured through the presentation folders, the French Air Force representative looked at his longtime colleague, a senior executive of Dassault getting his nod to speak. “Our Mirage III, 2000, and Rafale can carry two weapons, however performance will be degraded to seriously degraded for the IIIs with that weight.”


It was a rare individual that didn’t note the French General using the possessive when referring to Dassault products, confirming the deep links between French industry and the senior officers of its military and government.


The representative of Saab responded, “Yes this is so with all of our aircraft, except the large and heavy fighters such as the Tornado, Eagle, and Typhoon. Even the heavy middle weight Hornet will have difficulty and only be able to deploy two. Basic guided missile theory assigns warhead weight to no more than one-tenth weapon weight. One cannot put a 50 kilo warhead in a 150 kilo missile.”


The meeting ended soon afterwards, with officers and their aides moving quickly to their transports home, or to their nearby embassies in the case of the Australian, Japanese, Kiwi, and South African contingents.


Two days later after Jack Ryan’s rousing speech everyone had signed on well within the time limit proposed. Beginning the third week in September missile bodies are fabricated by Dassault, Saab, BaE, Hughes, and Raytheon. The original manufacturer Vympel continues to manufacture K-100 engines and warheads to be mated with R-33 guidance packages built at another of their factories. Their body facilities under conversion to augment the production of solid fuel engines, although that wasn’t expected to be completed before 1 March 2006. �


Quasimodo’s Hangar Fort Irwin, California Earth 18 August 2005


It’s too damned early in the morning for this, Hale thought grumpily. The regular morning torture sessions that Captain Lewis laughingly called “physical training” had started off normally. And although Hale would never admit it, nearly a month of Lewis’ tender mercies had left Hale in better shape than he could ever remember being. But this morning, the regular run was cut short when they arrived at the improvised mech hangar after a mere single lap around the base.


“What’s going on here?” Hale blurted out upon spying Quasimodo.


Techs were swarming around the mech. The main autocannon housing was being disassembled. Hale could see Zumross supervising several techs as they detached the armor plating and hooked the freed edges up to a crane.


“Ah, welcome, welcome,” a middle aged civilian said to the newly arrived soldiers. He waved at Quasimodo. “Isn’t she a beaut?”


“Yes she is, Doctor Cray,” Captain Lewis replied. “I brought my men here to see the modifications you’re making.”


”Modifications?” Hale yelped, outraged. These… these ancient primitives were messing around with modern technology? They were going to break something! Mechs were damn near irreplaceable, especially on this planet!


“Why don’t you explain to them what your people are doing?” Lewis went on, ignoring Hale’s near apoplexy.


“Certainly, and please, call me ‘Phil’,” the civilian said. “Gentlemen, allow me to present the first class twenty autocannon to ever be built on Earth.”


With a flourish, ‘Phil’ pointed to what looked like a plumber’s nightmare maze of piping, tubes, and pistons mounted inside a boxy, steel frame. It took Hale a moment to spot the muzzles of gun barrels poking out of one end of the thing; they looked absurdly small compared to the rest of thing.


“That’s an AC-20?” Dansel asked, his tone suggesting that he didn’t quite believe it either.


“Technically,” Phil began, “that is a GAU-8/A Avenger, a thirty millimeter Gatling gun much like the ones used by the A-10 Thunderbolt II. We’ve modified this one of course to increase the length of the burst that can be fired accurately from it while simultaneously creating shot groups tight enough to do worthwhile damage to standard BT armor.”


“And how’d you do that, Doctor?” Lewis asked. His tone indicated a bit of theater, that he already knew and was only asking for the benefit of those like Hale who didn’t know.


“The answer is two fold actually,” Phil answered. “First, we wrapped nearly the entire length of the cannon in a liquid cooling jacket based on what we learned from BT ‘heat sinks’. That was simply to prevent the barrels from melting from the heat generated by the sustained fire that we wanted from it. BT metallurgy is still superior to ours in that regard, I’m afraid.


“The second thing we did,” Phil went on, “was build in a rather hefty recoil compensation system so that so that every shot doesn’t throw the gun’s aim off. This was developed from studying Quasimodo’s own recoil compensators. All told, the resulting system would have been heavier than Quasimodo’s gun, but we manage to save some weight by simplifying the ammo feed.”


“Simplifying the ammo feed?” Dansel asked.


“A significant part of the weight of BT autocannons is that they can draw from multiple ammunition stores,” Phil answered. “A laudable bit of redundancy, but it imposes a substantial mass penalty.”


“So does it actually work?” Hale asked. He was a bit skeptical about the whole thing.


“Actually, yes it does,” Phil replied, “at least in laboratory tests. It took this long to work all the bugs out of it so that we can fire it reliably. Now we need to put it on a mobile platform for further testing.”


“But why Quasimodo?” Hale persisted. “Why not one of your tanks?”


“Because it’s too big and heavy,” Phil sighed. “All the extra equipment we added means that there isn’t a platform in the world that can use it. Well, a ship maybe, but certainly no land or air platform. It weighs about as much as Quasimodo’s cannon, which means that this mech is the only platform in the world capable of carrying it.”


“Hey, Phil,” Zumross greeted cheerfully as she came up to the civilian and planted a kiss on his cheek.


No way, Hale thought. He had not just seen what he thought he saw. Who was this woman and what happened to the real Dana Zumross?


“Hello, Dana,” Phil replied. “How goes the disassembly?”


“We’re almost ready to remove the autocannon,” Zumross replied. “I’ll be going up in a few minutes to double check that all the connections have been properly released. What are you up to?”


“I was explaining to these gentlemen about the new autocannon,” Phil told her.


“Cool,” Zumross said. She turned to the soldiers. “Has he told you guys about how much better this new gun is?”


“Better?” Hale said incredulously. “He just told us how it was worse!”


“Well, I’ll admit that it does have a few more moving parts and less redundancy,” Zumross admitted. Then she grinned. “But I think the features more than make up for it.”


“Features?” Hale asked, practically dreading the answer.


“It’s got a variable rate of fire,” Zumross explained, still grinning. “If you step down the rate of fire, the recoil compensators have less recoil to compensate for. That translates into more accurate fire at longer distances. In theory, this thing can mimic the performance of lighter autocannons with just the flip of a switch.”


“One of things that puzzled BT players for years was the mysterious drop in effective range of BT autocannon as weight of shot increased,” Phil explained. “That turned out to be because recoil was throwing off the aim of the autocannon, so there were limits to what could be fired accurately, even with heavier recoil compensation.”


”So we have what?” Dansel said thoughtfully. “An AC-20 that can play at being an AC-10?”


“Or lighter,” Zumross said. “There’s this thing called an Ultra in the source books that describe a type of autocannon that increases rate of fire but also has an increased chance to jam. This autocannon actually does the opposite, sacrificing raw damage for greater range, but keeping the shorter ranged heavier punch for when it’s needed.”


“So this thing is four autocannons in one?” Dansel said admiringly. “That’s really cool.”


“Eight actually,” Zumross corrected. “There’s a second set of firing modes from the first. This one goes for a wider shot group than the first mode. It requires less work from the compensators, bumping up the effective range a bit, but it also spreads damage inflicted all over the place on the target with a good chance of some bullets just outright missing.”


“What good is that?” Hale asked.


“Huh, it sounds like an LB-X autocannon,” Dansel said thoughtfully. “Doubly cool.”


“Maybe, maybe not,” Phil said. “Without an actual LB-X autocannon to compare it against, there’s some question as to whether we’d get a ‘cluster’ round effect against hard targets like mechs. In any case, we’re envisioning the second mode – we’re calling it ‘walking fire’ by the way – would be more useful against soft targets like unarmored vehicles or infantry.”


“Yeah, yeah, this sounds nice and all,” Hale said doubtfully. “But the question is, will it really work?”


“Why do you think we’re installing it in Quasimodo?” Zumross replied. “Give us a day to install it and reprogram Quasimodo’s targeting system to handle the multiple firing mode and we’ll find out.” D.A.R.P.A. Research Facility United States, Earth. August 24, 2005


Dr. Arthur Davis blinked in surprise as he read the proposal, he couldn’t believe that somebody wanted to create a nuclear powered attack missile.


However as he read through the proposal he could see that it was nothing like the infamous Project Pluto.


The first major difference was that this missile would be powered by a BT fusion reactor, and its engine would be a simple fusion torch.


A second major difference was that the missile wasn’t designed to operate in an atmosphere, instead it was designed as a spaced based antiship missile.


The biggest difference was the fact the missile wouldn’t carry any nuclear warheads, instead it would deploy a ten ton kinetic interceptor which also housed the fusion reactor powering the missile. The fact that the reactor would go critical and detonate after the interceptor impacted it target at several hundred kilometers a second was, in his opinion, simply adding insult to injury.


After considering the proposal for a minute, he decided to send the proposal to the Future Programs Division with his recommendation that preliminary research and feasibility studies be undertaken. He also recommended that the project be moved to active research and development once the necessary technologies were developed.


And finally, as the proposal had been inspired by Project Pluto, he decided to name the project Erinyes. BAE Systems Farnborough Aerospace Centre, UK Office Project Manager BattleTech Armor August 24th, 2005


"Here", MacMillian says and lays a 20cm by 20cm matte grey plate on Cooper's desk,"our first home produced ablative armor in Battletech style." "How well does it compare?", Fergus Cooper asks as he looks over the plate.


"A few less layers. We can't make the ceramic composite as thin. When we try either the Carbon nanotubes degrade in the sintering or the CBN powder doesn't fuse properly. Overall we have about 2/3 the strength on the same weight, a little worse with projectiles. Maybe a little better with those PPC, but that's not something we should rely on till we get one and can test it."


"That is not as good as we hoped but better than we feared. How fast can we produce this?", Cooper asks while holding up the first sample.


"We estimate the output of our experimental production facility at 3 to 7 tons a month. Give us two months to streamline and you will have a design for a 100plus tons a month facility on your desk."


"Add in a year to build the factory and get over the teething problems. We could be the first with a ready for the market ablative armor." Cooper muses. Meeting Room Fort Irwin California, Earth 30 July 2005


"Right, next on the list, the techies think they can cobble the Commando back to working order using bits from the other two. Do we have any thoughts on who should be put in the cockpit?" Newly promoted Major Lewis asked, as he looked over the table.


"Jankowscki." Dansel replied without hesitation.


Lewis felt his eyebrows involuntarily rise. "Reasoning?"


"Of our current prisoners, he remains the most underutilized. He lacks the technical expertise to be able to defeat any safeguards we may put in place unlike Zumross, and unlike Hale doesn't have the personal connections and experience to manage an on-the spot defection under the nose of a watchdog in the event of another attack. As the pilot with the least experience, he has the least to unlearn when it comes to adjusting to our doctrine and capabilities. Since the Stinger wasn't his personal mech, he will lack any personal animosity towards us, if, especially if we put him in the cockpit of a larger more capable machine. Finally, his piloting abilities and reflexes are simply unreal for a rookie."


"What do you mean? You took him down easily enough." Hale interjected, he'd wanted to object to more, but the core of integrity he was slowly rediscovering couldn't deny the basic truth of the rest.


"The techies finally got a half-way decent simulator running, and one of the first things they programmed was the trap we laid for him. It took three separate mech trippers to bring him down, and despite suffering severe damage to five separate actuators, he'd regained his feet within moments, knowing what's happening and roughly when, I can keep my feet about a third of the time when I try it. He needs work on his judgment and tempering his shoot first reflex, but he's a damned sight better than anyone else we have that we can afford to put in the cockpit right now. Including me."


Dansel took deep breath as he wound down, looking up to see the door opening, and blanching as a small object rolled in. Shouting "Grenade!" he surged to his feet, heaving the conference table towards the door past the major, who barely managed to clear it as he reflexively dived for a corner. A moment later the flashbang went off, nearly deafening everyone in the room, followed by a muffled curse as someone ran face first into the now blocked door, and the sound of running from the hallway.


"Dansel, I'm beginning to think this feud is getting a little out of hand."


"Sir, with respect, it was your idea to hit their barracks in the first place. Although the rotting Kiwis we left in their storage unit as a gift for when they tracked it down might have been a little too much." Band of the Damned Main Camp Black’s Hole Periphery 25 August 3020


The Band of the Damned was a band of pirates that had haunted the “eastern” edge of the Inner Sphere for centuries. Not being historically minded, the Band’s origins were largely forgotten by its members. A few members who had some interest in glory and “historical legitimacy” claimed that the Band had been founded by members of Kerensky’s Army. Other’s thought the Band was even older than that, having tangled with and survived clashes with the SLDF during the Star League’s hey day. A few skeptics and pessimists were of the opinion that the current Band was only the latest unit out of many to bear the name, the others forgotten in the dust bin of history.


Whatever the case, the Band of the Damned traditionally made its home on a worthless planet whose only value was its proximity to the richer worlds of the Draconis Combine and the Ourworld Alliance. It name was constantly shifting, but was almost always known as the Hole along with the name of whoever was currently leading the Band. At the moment, the planet was called Black’s Hole.


“So, ye came from Port Krin, did ye?” Colonel Niles Black, current leader of the Band, said to the intruder that his men had captured. He was an obvious offworlder with clothes in far too good a condition to be considered native to the Hole. The idiot had been found wandering around the wilderness near the Band’s current camp. He was lucky that he wasn’t just shot out of hand.


“Er, yes,” the man said nervously, eyeing the pirates surrounding him. “I have a message from Controller Vorax for the leader of the Band of the Damned?”


“Oh, do ye, now?” Black laughed evilly. “And what would that pompous dandy want with the likes of us?”


“Uh, Controller Vorax has heard of a planet out in the Deep Periphery that is both very, very rich and ripe for the taking,” the man from Port Krin explained. “We’ve taken to calling it ‘Motherlode’. But despite being so primitive as to lack battlemechs, Motherlode does have a militia large enough to be troublesome to anyone that tries to take over. Controller Vorax would like you to help him take over Motherlode…”


“WHAT?” Black roared, outraged. “Does Vorax think we be mercenary lap dogs to be summoned at his whim? We be the Band of the Damned! We go where we please, when we please, and KILL who we please!”


“No, no, no! It’s not like that at all!” Vorax’s man said quickly. “Controller Vorax is proposing a partnership! The plan is that you and several other mech units will work together to conquer Motherlode. Once that’s done, the planet is more than rich enough to be divided up between everyone!”


“Oh, really?” Black said, eyeing the man from Krin dangerously. “What if I don’t want to share? What’s to stop me from beating Motherlode’s coordinates our yer sorry ass and getting there first?”


“I don’t know Motherlode’s coordinates!” the man said desperately. “Really, I don’t! Controller Vorax is keeping it a secret and will only give it out when everyone assembles at Port Krin!”


Black thought about that. Unfortunately, that made far too much sense. Vorax was a canny bastard if a bit too smart for his own good. The question was, was this Motherlode really worth his and the Band’s trouble?


“Hrm… well ye’ve got my attention,” Black said grudgingly. “Tell us more of this Motherlode place, Mister…” His voice trailed off questioningly.


“Buckley,” the man from Port Krin said, relaxing. “Joseph Buckley.”


The Split Axe Port Krin, Antallos Periphery 25 Auguest 3020


“So, Colonel,” Controller Vorax began, “how was your meal?”


“Quite good, actually, Mister Controller,” Colonel Antoine Sanders replied. “Now to what do I owe the honor of such a scrumptious meal?”


“I am putting together a… how shall I put this… a coalition of independent mech units,” Vorax began delicately.


“You mean pirates,” Sanders said.


“Please, Colonel, I prefer the term ‘independent operators’,” Vorax chided. “But whatever we call them, there are a large number of them and I need someone to ride herd on them and keep them focused on what they’re doing and away from each others’ throats. Unlike most everyone else, you have heavy and assault mechs to back up your authority.”


“So are you looking for a leader or a babysitter?” Sanders asked pointedly.


”Is there a difference?”


“No, I guess not,” Sanders chuckled. “But I’m a mercenary, Mister Controller, not a pirate. I’ve been getting feelers from some Kurita outfit for a long term and well paying job. What can you offer to outbid them?”


“Ah, that brings us to the objective of this little exercise,” Vorax said. “Out in the Periphery, there is a wealthy and relatively undefended world…”


“Wealthy and undefended?” Sanders interrupted skeptically. “No offense, Mister Controller, but in my experience, those two words are an oxymoron, especially out here in the Periphery!”


“Ah, but that’s because no one knew it was there until recently,” Vorax told the mercenary. “It was only recently discovered by chance. The Jumpship captain was one of my people and Motherlode’s coordinates are our secret.” Vorax proceeded to describe the wealth of Motherlode to Sanders.


“Frankly, Mister Controller, that all sounds too fantastic to be real,” Sanders said after Vorax had finished. “Wealthy and advanced enough to be worth taking but primitive enough to be a pushover? It’s too good to be true.”


“But…”


“However, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” Sanders continued. “If you can show me actual proof that this place actually exists – the sensor records from Jumpship and Dropship should be good enough – then you’ve got yourself a force commander and the Dark Wing mercenary battalion.” Quest Industries N.W. R&D Division August 27 2005


Dr. Cassandra Sharpe walked briskly through the after-hours hallways of Quest Industries. She was walking briskly, because skipping was undignified.


She didn't even knock on the office door, she stepped in, a smile on her face.


J.T. Murphey was old school science. Brought onboard during the Cold War by Dr. Quest himself, J.T. had seen everything, or so everyone thought. The fallout from the pirate landing in New Zealand was still coming down.


He looked up from his paperwork and a cloud of stale cigar smoke, "Cass, tell me you got news."


Sharpe sat down, with a bit of an exhausted smile, "Yes J.T., I've got real news."


She looked at her notes, "The sample provided was very helpful. About 80% of our work is on the right track."


"And the remainder?" J.T. asked.


"That's the bad news, in several key areas, we were going the wrong way. We have identified the problems and begun to fix them." Sharpe brushed some hair out of her eyes as she finished.


J.T. sat there for a few moments, looking past the younger woman.


"How long?" he simply asked.


"I estimate 9-17 months before we can produce the high temperature super conductors on a small scale in the lab. Once we can do that, the pukes in Engineering can figure out how to make it on the larger scale." Sharpe was tired, proud and happy, but tired. Working 18 hours a day did that to you.


"So almost 2 years before we can start cranking this stuff out?" J.T. mused. "What would you need to speed things up?"


Sharpe thought for a moment, "I've got my whole staff in MatSci on this, anymore people would just crowd us. We could use more time on the Frame. The faster we can model this, the faster the government will get their new toys built."


"What ever you need, that just came down from the Board, Mr. Quest himself put a priority on it." J.T. looked at his exhausted worker, "Cass, send your team home, have everyone get some sleep. And that includes you, we start fresh tomorrow."


"Thanks J.T." Sharpe smiled tiredly at the older man. She stood and stretched, "See you later." She quietly shut the door on her way out.


J.T. sat there for sometime, his mind racing. He lit a fresh cigar and grabbed his phone. "J.T. here Mr. Quest, I've just spoke with Dr. Sharpe in Material Sciences."


J.T. listened for a moment, "9 to 17 months sir, she said the sample pointed them in the right direction."


He listened for few more moments, "Yes sir, I feel confident about her report. Yes, yes, thank you. I'll tell everyone, sir. And good night to you too."


J.T. sat there, staring at the reports concerning the pirate landing. 'If we get enough time to prepare,' he thought to himself 'the next time those sumbitches show up they are going to get a real surprise.' O'Malley's Pool and Bar Smalltown, Kansas August 30th, 2005


It was a slow Tuesday evening. Tom Riley and Gregory McFudd, both just out of high school, were playing pool. Old Irvine, the town crank, was nursing a beer at the bar and O'Malley was polishing a glass.


It was Gregory's turn. Tom sat down and said, "My Dad badgered me again about starting in his garage. Mechanic is a safe job, he says. People will always need someone to fix up their truck, he says. And who will take over his shop, huh? But he spend his entire life here. If i start with him, i'll never get out."


"Why not join the Army? I've signed on, last week in Wichita." Gregory suggests as he takes his shoot.


"What? You are the only other halfway sane guy here!" Tom's surprised shout gets the attentions of the other two in the bar.


"Ever since i've seen the Mechs on TV i wanted to drive one of them. And the only way i can even come close to one, is joining the army." Gregory supplies.


That rouses Irvine, "Hah. You don't want to get too close to one of those. They are controlled with the brain, they said so on TV. They will crack open your head, pull out your brain and put it in a little tin box. It's all dark and empty. You don't feel anything till they slot you in. And YOU WILL do anything to stay in, mark my words. They did it to me in '87. Look here, here's still the scar."He rants and points to where they put the steel plate after a hammer bashed his skull in.


Both boys glance at each other and blink.


"Oh no. They are driven by an artificial intelligence, you see. They are part of Skynet. Fully automated ground combat craft send back in time." Gregory replies with a serious face. Tom suppresses a grin and continues.


"Yeah, didn't you know? Skynet also send machines back into the past to print all those books and make the game. All to make us unwary of its true goals, world domination and the extinction of the human race!" Old Irvine gets more agitated with each word he hears.


"And the new sky? That's because it send machines really far back to mine those stars. There's an armada of intelligent machines coming!"


"Stop, you two. That joke's gone on long enough. Apologize, now!" O'Malley bellows. Then he turns to Irvine, "Don't worry Irvine. They are making that up."


Both boys look contrite and apologize.


"Sorry, Irvine." "Yeah. Sorry Irvine. It was just a joke."


With that the boys return to their game and Irvine mumbles in his beer about insolent young idiots.


"But really, there is only one working Mech on the entire earth. You don't really believe they will let you close to it?" Tom inquires.


"Not really. But there will be more. Everyone is researching how they work and how to build them. And the recruiter said, whenever there is a new weapon system, they will look to their experienced soldiers first. If i join now i'll be one of those, when the Mechs get really going. So for now he got me a slot as tanker and when the Mechs are there, I'll switch over." Gregory misses his shoot and they exchange places.


"Huh. You sure that's how it works?" Tom asks.


"The recruiter swore on it." �


National Training Center Fort Irwin, California Earth 1 September 2005


The Hunchback class Battlemech stood behind a low hill that rose about as high as its waist. The pilot scanned the irregular plain in front of him with both sophisticates sensors and Mark I eyeballs, weapons ready to blast any enemy foolish enough to expose himself to the Hunchback’s superior weaponry.


A Mad Cat, the iconic mech of General Kerensky’s children, popped up into view. Reacting instantly, the Hunchback fired a long stream of shells from its single heavy autocannon. For the first second, the shells all struck the Mad Cat dead center, coring it. But then the nigh endless stream of shells began randomly snaking back and forth. The fire shredded the Mad Cat to pieces, and shredded the falling pieces into even more pieces.


“Goddammit!” Dana Zumross snarled in frustration as she watched the destruction of the paper target through a pair of binoculars. “I thought we had that fixed!”


“Problem, Miss Zumross?” asked the visiting Colonel from Russia in nearly flawless English. His presence was part of the ongoing integration of the first world militaries. He also had the unfortunate luck to be named Ivan Kerensky, for which he had received an endless amount of ribbing from his comrades since the Battle of New Zealand. “It looks to me like the target is well and truly destroyed.”


“And had that been a real Mad Cat out there, Colonel, then it would have been barely inconvenienced,” Dana told him. “BT armor is extremely tough. Our current objective is to get the VAC to do the same concentrated damage as Quasimodo’s old heavy autocannon. That means concentrating all the damage in very tight shot groups instead of spreading it out all over the mech. Only the shot groups just refuse to stay concentrated! ARGH!”


“Now, now, Dana,” Doctor Phil Cray said to her soothingly. “These tests are teaching us a great deal. And the shot groups are staying tight for the ten settings and lower. Actually, I’m beginning to think that the problem may actually be fundamental to the VAC’s design, or at least this particular VAC’s design.”


“What do you mean, Doctor?” Colonel Kerensky asked.


“We’re using a modified Avenger cannon because that’s the heaviest ‘auto’cannon that we’ve ever built,” Phil explained. “But a thirty millimeter caliber may just be too small for the job we’re asking the VAC to do. I suspect that the bullet stream goes on for too long, and the consequent recoil too drawn out for the recoil compensators to handle. Anything above a ten setting is just too much.”


“Phil might have a point,” Dana added, still angry at the VAC’s inability to emulate an AC-20. “Every class 20 Autocannon that I know of uses bigger shells. Hell, so do most class tens that I know of too.”


“Exactly. I think we may have to go back and build a new VAC using larger shells,” Phil continued. “I was thinking the 120mm ones used by Abrams tanks might be appropriate. But the problem there is that the existing barrels for them aren’t designed with automatic fire in mind.”


”On the other hand,” Dana mused aloud. “They don’t have to fire as fast either. We could go gatling style and use multiple barrels for that also.”


“But that might exceed desired weight limits,” Phil pointed out. “A single reinforced barrel might be better. In either case, we’d have to design a whole new feed mechanism to…”


As the two debated technical details in a manner that disturbingly suggested romantic foreplay, Colonel Kerensky shook his head at their antics and turned back to observe the testing. Quasimodo was busy blasting away at more faux Clan mechs, and Kerensky wondered if he should feel flattered or insulted.


The Split Axe Port Krin, Antallos The Periphery


“So, to what do I owe the beer, Colonel?” Lieutenant Koltan asked.


“Why whatever do you mean, Lieutenant Koltan?” Colonel Sanders replied innocently. “Can’t a CO buy a drink for his newest officer?”


“Sir, I’m a damned Poor Bloody Infantryman commanding a small horde of PBIs,” Koltan replied. “We’re the lowest of the low, the peons that have to bow and scrape for our betters, the Mechwarrior. So when said Mechwarrior – a battalion commander that owns his own Mech battalion no less – acts like he’s trying to butter up a mere PBI Lieutenant, said Lieutenant has a right to get a might paranoid. Especially since we joined up a week ago and weren’t paid any special attention at all.” Koltan paused, and then added a belated, “Sir.”


“Well, I never thought I’d actually meet an honest pirate,” Sanders said with a chuckle. “I like that. So I’ll do you a favor, Lieutenant, and be honest in return. Do you know why I attached the Drakon and its complement directly to my Dark Wing?”


“I imagine it’s not for the Drakon’s hefty repair bill,” Koltan said dryly. “Internal explosions are a bitch to repair.” He swirled his beer mug thoughfully. “And it certainly can’t be for the sterling competence and bravery of its Captain.”


“It could have been,” Sanders said. He grimaced. “Then I actually got to know the man. His sole redeeming feature looks to be a miraculous ability to find competent people to make up for his own incompetence.”


“Hmm, never noticed that about Mamoto before,” Koltan mused. “But that alone can’t be the reason you want to talk to me. A competent PBI is still just a PBI. And sir, I don’t think I’m your type. You’re certainly not mine, no offense.”


“None taken,” Sanders said, rolling his eyes.


”So what you must be looking for is information,” Koltan concluded. “Specifically, you must be looking for information on our target, accurate info at that. Certainly not the bullshit Mamoto spews out.”


“Right on target, Lieutenant,” Sanders said, pleased. “Have you ever thought of becoming a Mechwarrior? A man of you obvious ability is just wasted in the infantry.”


“Would that I could, sir,” Koltan sighed. “But I got this rare condition – genetic the doctors tell me – that won’t let me pilot a Mech. My brain’s wired in such a way as to be completely incompatible with neurohelmets.”


“Pity.”


“Yeah, tell me about it.”


White House Washington DC Earth


“What the hell is this?” President Ryan said, outraged. He waved the file that he had been handled in emphasis.


“Yeah, that was pretty much my first reaction too,” his Secretary of Defense replied.


“They want us to LET pirates and raiders land on Earth?” Ryan said, refusing to be deflected from the issue. “What’s the Pentagon thinking? We’re putting nukes in orbit to prevent exactly this sort of thing. And now they want to let the bad guys in and endanger American… Earth’s citizens?”


“Mister President… Jack,” the SecDef said. “The problem is that we’re in a strategic bind. And as long as we lack any kind of significant space flight ability, we’ll stay in that strategic bind. This plan is designed to address that. Letting the next raiding group in will give us a shot at capturing their Dropship; we have Marine units training for boarding operations right now. If we can get the Dropship, we also get a shot at capturing their Jumpship as well.”


“Okay, back up a bit,” Ryan said. “What strategic bind?”


”At the moment, we’re pretty much stuck on Earth,” the SecDef said. “Getting nukes into orbit is pretty much the limit of our space travel ability. But the rest of the solar system is pretty much open for the taking. All it takes is one smart pirate or worse, a House unit, to go out and grab an asteroid. They could then drop it on us, and there would be nothing we can do to stop them. It’d be like that Armageddon movie.”


“Dammit,” Ryan muttered as he considered the implications. “What about all the money that we’re throwing into fusion research? We have working samples of that technology.”


“That might yield something usable as a spaceship engine in the future,” the SecDef said. “But that’s in the future. Right now, they still haven’t managed sustained fusion yet, let alone designed a fusion rocket. The Generals think we might still have the element of surprise here. The last group of pirates was only met by infantry, a few planes, and a small ship. I understand that by BT standards, that’s a pretty pathetic force. The next group might come in as fat, dumb, and happy as the last one so we should use that to our advantage while it lasts.”


“I don’t like the idea,” Ryan said, scowling. “But I can’t refute it out of hand either. But this is a world effort, so we’re going to have to run this by our allies. But just one question: What happens if the next raiders come in force next time? What if there are more of them than we think we can handle?”


”Then we go back to plan A and use the orbital nukes on them,” the SecDef said with a shrug. “But all our experts think that’s extremely unlikely. They all agree that the largest force we’re likely to see is something Company sized, say twelve mechs tops.”�Diehl BGT Defense Gmbh & Co. KG Development Center Maasberg Massberg, Germany Earth 5th September 2005


Werner Pregnitz shook his head a little as he glanced at the pieces of the SRM that were laying on the table in front of him.


They had needed weeks to get the chemical analysis of the warheads explosives and the propellant of the solid-fuel flight motor.


One thing was for sure, the propellant was not that much more advanced compared to the propellants he knew. However it was pretty unstable and prone to cooking off under heat. At least you could let it fall down without going off. On the other side, it had much more performance than conventional propellants. It had to, considering that the SRM was about two thirds warhead and one third propellant.


Making it stable had cost much of that performance, making it only about five percent better than common propellants. The stable version wasn't much of a problem to make it, even with the current production setup. In fact, the higher ups had pretty much switched the production of the currently used propellants to the new he and his team had gotten from the SRM, to be used in the current production. Five percent more thrust was worst it.


And now this, the warheads explosives.


"So this is it?" he wondered and glanced at the lump of gray putty in his hand.


"Well, this is a close to the original we managed to get for now," the head of the warhead team, Thomas Berninger, noted.


Pregnitz glanced at Berninger.


"What's the problem?"


"Impurities. We're still trying to find out what causes them, but I'm sure that we can get the kinks out of it in the next few weeks."


Pregnitz nodded and placed the lump of putty back on the table. Thankfully, this explosive, currently named BT-1, needed a primary like other modern plastic explosives and but it could still cook off when on fire. Still, it had a higher performance compared to the likes of C-4.


He glanced back at the components of the single SRM they had. The missile was a very dump one. A simple ballistic missile for short ranges, not unlike the Hydra 70, only smaller.


"So, we could theoretically build these SRM's?"


"Theoretically? We can do it practically. Even without the warheads we could build casings and engines. If you want we can throw in a laser seeker in addition to the original guidance package."


Pregnitz chuckled. He heard quite a bit about what was going on in the military of Europe and the world, considering that Diehl had gotten a sample of the SRM and full production books for the RBS15 or the GMLRS. So he knew that the Bundeswehr planned to hand out laser designators to every unit of the Heer and put laser pods under any fighter the Luftwaffe had. Heck, the Heer had asked for their existing GMLRS to be refited with laser seekers as guidance.


"Okay, knock yourself out," he notes to the assembled team leaders." I want those laser guided SRMs. And try to look into LRMs and equipment to fire them from existing platforms. Oh and make sure to include mechanisms to prevent a cook off of the missile... Oh and look into the possibility of using the BT-1 on an existing 70mm missile." Jumpship Kip Branhagan Zenith Jump Point Antallos System 11 September 3020


“Oh, this is very, very bad,” the woman known only as “Tasha” murmured as another pair of radiant EM globes appeared out of nowhere in the middle of empty space. They marked the arrival of yet another pair of Jumpships in the already crowded jump point.


Despite being the trade hub for this chunk of the Periphery, Antallos’ jump points hadn’t seen this much traffic in centuries, not since the Star League’s fall in fact. Controller Vorax was spending a hell of a lot of money to put every Jumpship that arrived in-system on retainer.


Tasha had no idea what Vorax’s game plan was but it looked like he was putting together an invasion force… which was just insane. He had so far assembled two Mech battalions and the required Dropship and Jumpship capacity for them. If he invaded ANY House world, Davion or Kurita – or hell, Outworld Alliance for that matter – then the offended party would just move in and squash Port Krin flat. The only safe alternative would be some backwater Periphery world, but what world out here could possibly be worth sending a mech company, never mind two plus battalions?


On the other hand, that still didn’t rule out that Vorax had just gone off the deep end with delusions of grandeur and decided that he could challenge a Successor State like… say, the Federated Suns. And if the Vorax intended to attack the Davion space, then it was the duty of Tasha and the Kip Branhagan’s crew to warn their superiors about it. And if Vorax was going to invade Kurita space, then Tasha’s superiors would want to know that too, if for entirely different reasons. They were undercover MIIO agents after all, and part of maintaining their cover included accepting a retainer that no Jumpship captain in their right mind would turn down was part of that. That gave them an inside track on whatever Vorax was up to.


The hyperspace globes vanished, leaving behind a pair of Invader class Jumpships.


“Okay, people,” Tasha said to the bridge crew. “Take a look and tell me what we have on the new guys.”


“Okay, we have positive identification on the new arrivals,” the Kip’s sensors officer said a few minutes later. “Their logos match with what we have for the Band of the Damned. Dropships include three Leopards, a Union, a Mule, and… holy shit!”


Controller’s Residence Port Krin Antallos The Periphery 15 September 3020


“Ere, now, Vorax you mangy cur!” Black growled in outrage from the holo image being transmitted from his flagship’s bridge. “What are ye playin’ at?”


“Why, Colonel Black, whatever do you mean?” Controller Vorax asked innocently.


“Ye’ve got assault mechs waitin’ to ambush me at yer spaceport!” Black shouted. “Ye didn’t even respect me enough to hide them!”


“Oh, you have it all wrong, Colonel Black,” Vorax smoothly assured the pirate. “The Dark Wing’s assault lances are simply there to police all new arrivals and make sure they don’t… get out of hand. They are there as much for my security as yours. Pirates can be such an unruly lot… not that I’m impugning your character in anyway.”


“I don’t trust ye, Vorax,” Black said suspiciously. “What will ye do if I decide that this is a trap and decide to not go along with whatever ye have in mind, eh? What will you do then?”


“Why, absolutely nothing, Colonel Black,” Vorax said. “If you don’t want to take part in conquering the richest world you’re ever likely to see with all the treasure that implies, then you’re free to turn around and go home to your empty ball of rock with nothing to show for your trouble but a lot of wasted time, fuel, and food.”


Black grunted like someone had just punched him.


“On the other hand, if you and your crew wish to be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” Vorax went on. “Then please land, enjoy the hospitality of Port Krin – by paying for our services of course – and be sure to attend the Split Axe tomorrow at breakfast. You’re the last one to arrive, so we’ll be holding a briefing for all the unit commanders on Motherlode.”


“Grr… okay, I’ll play yer game for now, Vorax,” Black snarled. “But this better be all you say or else.” With that, the pirate commander, cut the connection.


“Pleasant man, this Black,” Colonel Sanders said from off to the side where the holo-pickups wouldn’t see him.


“Hmm, I considered not calling on him at all,” Vorax admitted. “But the Band is the largest mech force on this side of the Inner Sphere… second to only your own of course.”


“Of course,” Sanders said sardonically, nodding. “By the way, did you know that the Band had an Overlord class Dropship before you called them?”


“Actually, no,” Vorax replied. “Will this be a problem for you?”


“Not really,” Sanders said with a shrug. “The more firepower, the better, I always say. And the more I look at Drakon’s data on Motherlode, the more I think that I’m going to need all the firepower I can get.”


“Surely, they can’t stand up to a regiment’s worth of Mechs!” Vorax said.


“Probably not,” Sanders replied. “Ah, I’m just being overly paranoid in case the Motherloders surprise us with something.”


The Split Axe Port Krin Antallos The Periphery 16 September 3020


In the largest private room the Split Axe had, the commanders of Vorax’s improvised regiment had assembled. The group was evenly divided into three obvious social groupings, each representing a battalion in the regiment. One were the officers of the Dark Wing, notable for the fact that they all had more or less identical uniforms and were relatively clean. The second was notable by their eclectic nature, a horde of varied uniforms and civilian dress comprised of every pirate, mercenary, or Antallos City State regular that Vorax had been able to hire, borrow, or sometimes just outright steal. And the third group was even scruffier and meaner looking than the second; the other two battalions were trying to keep as much distance between them and the Band of the Damned as much as the seating permitted.


A pretty woman in a ship’s jumpsuit walked up the podium at the head of the room.


“Hello, everyone, I’m Jane Dietrich. Just so you know, I was on the Dropship that went down to Motherlode, so I have first hand experience of the planet in question. Not only that, I’ve been studying everything I could about this planet almost since we left it, which makes me the closest thing you’re going to find to an expert here. So I’m about to tell you things about Motherlode that you might find unbelievable, but if you want to survive and get rich, then pay careful attention to everything I’m about to tell you. Got it? Okay now, this is Motherlode.”


A holo image sprang into existence in front of the assembled pirates. A beautiful blue and green orb hung before them. It faded into a black sphere stippled with white lights then faded back to the blue and green. After a few seconds, it became obvious the image was cycling back and forth between both patterns.


“These are the composite day time and night time views of Motherlode. All the white lights you see in the night time view are cities.”


Murmuring started up among the pirates tinged with surprise.


“Yeah, that’s a lot of people. We’re looking at a population count generally not seen outside the really good worlds of the Inner Sphere; we’re estimating something like maybe two or three billion. On the plus side, all indications are that this is one of those really good worlds whose environmental conditions are just ideal for humanity. And just the industrial might required to build and support all those cities means there’s literally more loot than we can possibly carry away once we’ve beaten off the militia.”


More murmuring from the crowd, this time tinged with avarice.


“Now this brings us to the bad news. The Drakon picked the most isolated, most vulnerable looking target to raid, and we still lost all four Mechs, a valuable Mech recovery vehicle, and damn near half our infantry complement to the locals. They seemed less interested in recovering what little loot we had taken – and yes, it WAS little, not even a tithe of what was actually there – than in trying to kill us. Now there’s a possibility that we landed right in the middle of their headquarters for planetary defense or something, but maybe not. For all we know, every city down there is this well defended.”


The Holo image switched to a Hermes II being nailed by unusually large missiles and exploding.


“One mech was taken down by fighters, although admittedly it was by being shot in the back and suffering an internal ammo explosion.”


Several faces winced. Mechs were damn near the most valuable things that most of them had, and ammo explosions tended to leave precious little behind in the way of salvage.


“How the other Mechs got taken out had to be reconstructed from our recorded radio chatter and watching some of the locals’ news broadcasts. One mech got buried alive, intentionally we think. One got taken out by infantry with satchel charges. And one was apparently taken intact, although we have no idea how that happened.”


The holo changed again, this time displaying a 2D image of soldiers partying on and around a shutdown but reasonably intact Hunchback.


“The Drakon itself got into a duel with this thing.”


The holo dutifully displayed a boat of some sort sitting in the water. The boat was almost alien in its design, giving little clue in how big it actually was. Something was flashing on its bow.


“This ladies and gentlemen is some kind of autocannon. Not very powerful, but they got in a couple lucky hits that did near crippling damage to the Drakon. Worse, they started shooting at us using indirect fire, which means that the can and will use autocannon like artillery pieces. Then there’s this.”


Weapons fire reached out from the Holo’s point of view toward the boat in the water. The holo focused on one missile volley whose missiles began exploding far short of the boar itself.


“At first, I had no idea what this was until I talked to a few lostech experts. And this is lostech, people, make no mistake about it. It’s what’s called an ‘anti-missile system’, a specialized machine gun designed to literally shoot missiles out of the sky.”


More murmuring, some of it tinged with skepticism, some with fear.


“Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. While the local militia might a little tough, but they’ve got one glaring weakness that’s going to let us stomp all over them.”


The image switched back to the boat being shot at. This time, it was focused on the boat and it was pretty obvious that it was being torn up far too easily by the firepower hitting it. The holo then switched to a fighter flying through the air; it was hit once by a stream of autocannon fire and just disintegrated.


“As near as we can tell, armor is a totally alien concept to these people. The best strategy when dealing with Motherlode’s militia that I can recommend is to evade or shrug off their attacks as best you can until you can shoot them with something. Anything will do, even a puissant little machine gun. And best of all, they have no Battlemechs at all. Their news reports after the raid made that pretty clear; they thought Mechs were fictional up until then.”


A few people laughed at that.


“And that concludes my report. I’ll be available after the meeting to provide copies of the data to whoever wants one. Colonel Sanders of the Dark Wing will be providing the operational details. Colonel?”


The woman was replaced at the podium by the Dark Wing’s CO.


“Thank you, Jane. Okay you shitholes, listen up because we’re getting one thing straight right now. I’m in charge.”


Angry and indignant shouts rose up to meet Sanders.


“QUIET!!!”


Silence fell, but not without a few grumblings.


“I’m in charge because Vorax wanted a professional to ride heard on you lot. Now, if your independence is more important to you than all the loot the lovely Jane Dietrich just described – loot that includes lostech I might remind you – then you can leave right now and I won’t stop you. But if you leave, you are definitely NOT coming with us. Now who’s leaving?”


There was a lot of looking at each other, but no one got out of their seats.


“Okay, then. That said, I’m under no delusions that I can actually control you lot once we reach Motherlode. So my strategy is simple. Each unit picks one or more area that they’d like to have and attack it. Each of you will carve your own fief out of whatever you pick. If you pick an area that ain’t as rich as you like, then tough. You could try picking up and hitting some place else so long as it isn’t already claimed by another one of us. If you’re big enough losers that you actually need to call for help from someone else, then you better hope whoever comes to your rescue doesn’t charge too hefty a fee for the service.”


Sanders gave a shark toothed grin.


“And if ANY of you violates these rules, especially the one about not attacking each other, then I have a couple of assault lances who will so kick your asses. Don’t make it necessary.”


There were a few frantic nods, although Colonel Black just stared at Sanders with narrowed eyed suspicion.


“Okay, the second most important thing, and the one that’s actually easier to enforce, is that we all arrive in the Motherlode system together. How we do that is simple. Only one jumpship – mine incidently – will have the actual destination coordinates. The coordinates for each system will only be handed out right before each jump, accounting for the time each of you will actually need to do the jump calculations. There will be no hotloading of KF drives to get ahead of the competition here people.”


A star system map appeared on the holoprojector.


“Our ultimate destination as a group will be Motherlode’s zenith point. After that, I expect that you’ll all try and get ahead of each other and claim all the best spots before the others get there. So you have three options.”


The holo zoomed in on the third planet. It had a single moon orbiting it. A point flashed between the two bodies.


“This is the closest pirate point to Motherlode. Although this is the point used by the White Elephant and the Drakon, I don’t recommend it. First, because it’s also the hardest point to hit. And second, because it’s also the smallest point, too small for all our jumpships to jump into. If more than one of you goes there at a time, there’s a damned good chance that you’ll wind up with interpenetrating hyperspace fields and kill each other.”


Several members of the audience winced at that. The holo zoomed out, this time holding the planet and its star in view. A point between them flashed.


“This is option two. This pirate point is actually big enough to hold our fleet. It’s the one I recommend because, well, it’s the one I intend to use.”


He grinned again at the crowd, as if sharing a joke. A few of them actually laughed.


“And finally, if your navigator isn’t good enough to handle jump point calculations, then Motherload is only a nine day trip at one gee from the Zenith point. Of course, by that time, most of us will have been there for nearly a week, so any Johny-come-latelies will just have to pick whatever’s left unclaimed. Any questions?”


Comstar Compound Port Krin Antallos The Periphery 21 September 3020


“Precentor, Vorax’s fleet has just jumped out. We received a couple coded transmissions from them before they did.”


”Ah?”


“One is addressed to the MIIO. The other is to ISF. They’re contents are heavily encrypted.”


”Of course they are, Short, but it hardly takes a genius to figure out what the contents are.”


“The first set of coordinates to Motherlode?”


“Assuming it really exists. Well, give them here. I’ll make sure these get to their proper recipients.”


“Davion, Kurita, and our message archives on Terra? I must admit Precentor that it disturbs me that we read our clients’ mail.”


"Oh, don’t be silly, Short; such notions are got you exiled to the back end of beyond here with me in the first place. We do not read out clients’ mail. We just store copies in case the first effort to send them somehow gets lost.”


“Oh, of course, Precentor. How silly of me.”


“Don’t you take that sarcastic tone with me, you young whippersnapper!”�Location: Invader class Jumpship "Roach Motel" En route to "Motherload." ETA:��?? jumps.


Carl Jixton was not what most would call a stoic man. Rather, he was a pirate in the finest traditions of piracy, stretching all the way back to ancient Terra. Jixton spent his days drinking and womanizing, looting and plundering. If man could be said to be born into a role, Jixton's birthplace was a pirate mech, mere seconds away from dropping down on some hapless mark. Piracy was in his blood, and indeed, his very soul.


When he heard of Motherload, he was skeptical. A successful and more importantly living pirate knows when a song is too sweet to be true. His instincts screamed at him: Motherload wouldn't be an easy mark. Nobody left billions of people and the industry to support them unattended. Not for long, anyway.


But when he learned that the jumpship he'd docked to had, amongst other things, a small bar on its gravity deck, he knew it was a sign from the divine. He was clearly meant to wash his suspicions away with a good bottle of rum. Clearly! Besides, there was no harm in it. The floatilla was a long distance from motherload yet, and until then, the only things he could do were twiddling his thumbs and hitting on all the bed warmers within twelve parsecs.


Jackpot. The bar had the two things, discounting mechs and plundering, that he loved most in his life. Rum and women. Two women. One, a lush looking brunette with decent size knockers and a dark blue mechwarrior's jumpsuit, and the other, a smaller waif of a blonde wearing slightly greasy technician overalls. They were sitting at one table, laughing together without hardly a care.


Jixton grinned, put on his best "I'm a powerful and confident mechwarrior, both of you girls want to bed me at once" smile and advanced towards the pair.


As he moved forward, he caught their conversation.


The brunette spoke first, waving a hand and setting her drink down. "So he said "Did you get your mech from a scrap yard?" Now let me tell you something, Dani. I'm not going to let anyone, much less an inbred Liao noble insult my mech. So I charged the PPC and blew my load right in that fucker's face. No ejection pod, no muss, no fuss."


"You know, Natalie, if you had a stinger like the rest of the lance, you'd have been fucked with a capital F. You're using that Battlemaster as a crutch, and I'm worried that PPC's going to start going sooner or later." The blonde replied.


"That's why we're heading to motherload. They've got Lostech, Dani, so surely they can fix up Old Melville. If you think I'm giving up my PPC just because we couldn't maintain it, you've got another thing coming."


Jixton had his opening, "Ah! It's good to meet fellow PPC enthusiasts! I'm Carl Jixton, scourge of the successor states and lover of beautiful women across the sphere!"


Then, bowing low, voice full of mock-nobility, he said: "Please, allow me to buy both of you delectable goddesses some drinks!"


The girls shared a glance and a giggle. Then the brunette replied, "Of course! Please, have a seat."


"So you two know each other?" Jixton asked, calling the bartender and adding another round for each of them on his tab.


"Yeah, I'm Natalie and this is my best tech, Dani. We're from Jolly Roger. You know, the Leopard docked closest to this bucket's ass?"


He didn't, but if there was one thing that motivated Carl Jixton to lie, it was getting into a woman's pants. "Yeah. So, what company are you with?"


"Freelance in every sense of the word. My lance and I do a little raiding here, a little merc-work for periphery dung-worlds there. If Motherload's as rich as everyone says it is, every last mechwarrior on this little expedition will be set for life. If it's half as rich as that, we'll still be set for life." The brunette, Natalie apparently, replied.


Jixton had to admit that he found her intriguing; He'd never bedded another mechwarrior before. That'd be a nice notch on his belt - It'd have a place of honor, right next to that noble's daughter he'd had back on Kentares.


"So you command a whole lance, Natalie? Wow, I'm impressed. And if I overheard you earlier, you have a battlemaster? Don't take this the wrong way, but how did you get an assault mech? Usually you have to be pretty damn rich, periphery-wise, to have one."


Natalie flashed a coy smile and raised both her eyebrow and her drink.


"Come on, Nat. Tell him. It's a cute story," Dani said.


"Okay, okay," Natalie replied. "It's like this,"


Jixton moved forward in his seat, ready to listen. Pirates always listened to stories. Smart pirates are ones that pay attention to things.


"Have you ever heard of Ivan the Unstoppable?" Natalie began.


"Yeah. He was... Unstoppable?" Jixton had no idea who they were talking about.


Dani giggled. Natalie snorted. "Not so much, no. He was this badass mechwarrior. A real nasty pirate lord. Had a whole company and everything. Now, I didn't like him much. Let's just say he had cruel tastes towards women, yeah?"


"More importantly, though, he had this battlemaster. Beautiful, beautiful machine. Star-League vintage, and lovingly maintained." Dani added. "Pimped out with all sorts of bling. Freezers - you know, double heat sinks - and all the lostech goodies you'd expect. He found it in a cache somewhere."


"How did you end up with it then?" Jixton asked.


"See, on the battlefield, Ivan was unstoppable. A lostech assault mech? He was practically a god in the periphery. But outside that mech, he was just any other man."


"Ah! Gotcha. So you waited until he dismounted to stretch out his legs. I'm impressed, Natalie." Jixton replied.


"Not exactly." Dani giggled.


"He had a weakness for women. He burnt through slavegirls like a largelas through paper. So I dressed up as a slave and used my feminine wiles to get him to buy me. Then, snip snip stab, and I'm making off with a mint condition battlemaster. Sto-err, borrowed it right from under his men's noses. Permanently borrowed, if you get me."


Jixton felt a terrible tingle in his groin as she described, in loving detail, what exactly 'snip snip stab' meant. "Did you at least give him his money's worth?"


Natalie smiled. "Of course. I'm not totally heartless, and it's not like he was an unappealing specimen on the physical front. But hey, my callsign isn't Black Widow for nothing, y'know? I have to keep up my reputation."


"To be honest, I'd been planning on asking you to my cabin for a night of sin and debauchery, but I've suddenly reconsidered," Jixton gulped. "Still, the drinks are on me. Consider it payment for the story."


"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to... rearm my mech. Yeah."


"Aww, Nat, why did you have to scare this one away? I was up for, what was it, "a night of sin and debauchery"?" Dani giggled as Jixton beat a hasty retreat. "Just because you're pining for a dead guy doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't have fun."


"What, humiliating him wasn't fun?" Natalie replied.


"Sure it was, but I could've used a change from El Vibrato." Dani replied.


"Aww, you're no fun." Natalie pouted. �


Interlude: The Road Trip Waypoint One Uninhabited Star System The Periphery 28 September 3020


“Thirty minutes to jump,” the PA announced.


One week, Sanders thought to himself as he rested – slumping in your chair just wasn’t possible in microgravity - in his office on board the Dropship Shadow Wing. For one week the fleet had sat idle in this uninhabited star system, recharging their KF drives. For one week he had acted the leader, enforcing his authority upon his subordinates. For one week, he had been dealing with his subordinates, the overgrown babies that were otherwise known as mercenaries and rogues and pirates.


God, being in transit while on campaign should have been quiet time, at least far as CO duties were concerned. Mechwarriors and aerospace pilots should have been training in sims, keeping their skills sharp. Techs should have been double-checking mechs and vehicles, making sure everything was operational. That anyway was what Sanders’ own Dark Wing was doing. They were professionals.


Not so, everyone else.


The other two “battalions” were an unruly lot, and the boredom of interstellar travel wore away at them. With no planets with innocent populations to raid, they had instead turned on each other. Some fights had gotten bad enough that Sanders had to intervene personally. Finally, he had resorted to simply abandoning any offending unit, leaving them behind here with no new coordinates to jump to or in extreme cases, just no Jumpship.


Yeah, that had gone over well. At least now the fighting was limited to words. Mostly.


The intercom beeped. Sanders automatically punched a button on his desk.


“What?” he snarled into the intercom.


“Signal from the Black Eye, Colonel,” came the crisp reply. “Colonel Black wants to have a word with you.”


“Oh, God, what does that idiot want now?” Sanders groaned. “Wait, never mind. Just patch him through.”


The ugly countenance of the Band of the Damned’s leader appeared above Sanders’ desk. Idly, Sanders wondered if the devil looked like Black. He decided not; the devil would at least have the sense to make himself look threatening.


“Sanders, ye bloody cur!” Black began. “What the meaning of this. This next system can’t be where the Motherlode be!”


“No it’s not, Black,” Sanders said, affecting a bored tone. Well, not that affected. “What’s your point?”


“Me point?” Black said angrily. “Where’s Motherlode. Ye be leading us off into the back end of beyond to die of hunger and thirst!”


“Hardly,” Sanders snorted contemptuously. “If your water recyclers are in decent condition, thirst won’t be an issue… although taste might. And if you read the briefing material passed out, you would have known to stock up on food stuffs and hydroponics equipment before we set out.”


“What?” Black said, outraged. “PAY for food? At Port Krin’s outrageous prices?”


“There’s a reason I told you that everyone needed a four months’ supply of food,” Sanders said coldly. “It was so that we could get to Motherload without starving on the way and still have something to eat in case something went wrong. And we still have a long way to go.”


“I will nae starve!” Black shouted. “I demand we stop at the next habitable planet and forage!”


“Sure, request granted,” Sanders said condescendingly. He rubbed his forehead, miming deep thought. “If I recall correctly, the next habitable planet is… Motherlode.”


“What? Yer joking!”


“Sorry, Black, but no,” Sanders replied. “There are no lifebearing worlds at any of the systems that we’re stopping at. If you want food, you’re going to have to either rely on the charity of someone smarter than you – good luck with THAT by the way – or you’re going to have to buy it from the same.”


“Never!”


“Well, sorry to hear about that, Black,” Sanders replied with mock sorrow. “We’ll miss you as we step over your food starved corpses to help ourselves to all your gear. Sanders out.”


Black’s holo image vanished. Sanders relaxed and smiled. He felt much better now.


Waypoint Three Uninhabited Star System The Periphery 5 October 3020


“Jump complete,” the Shadow Wing’s PA announced.


“Bridge, this is the Colonel,” Sanders said, hitting his intercom. “Everyone accounted for.”


“Checking now, sir,” came the reply. “One jumpship unaccounted fo… or, there it is now. They jumped late, sir.”


“Okay, that’s fine. Sanders ou…”


“Pardon, sir,” the bridge officer interrupted. “The Black Eye is hailing us. It looks like Colonel Black again.”


“Put him through,” Sanders sighed. His desk’s holo-projector sprang to life. Black wasted no time getting to the point.


“Are we there yet?”


Waypoint Four Uninhabited Star System The Periphery 12 October 3020


“Are we there yet?”


Waypoint Five Uninhabited Star System The Periphery 19 October 3020


“Jump complete,” Jane Dietrich reported dutifully. “It looks like we still have all of our traveling companions. It’s a miracle!”


“Very good, Jane,” Captain Mamoto said cheerfully. He had been almost giddy since they had left the Antallos system. “Carry on.”


“Skipper, can I ask you a question?” Jane asked, as she popped open her Motherloder computer and started its boot up sequence.


“Go ahead,” Mamoto replied. “I’m a generous Captain.”


“You’re not worried that the Motherloders are going to make another attempt at the Drakon, are you?” Jane asked. “I mean, after what happened the first time we were there, I’d be worried.”


“Nonsense,” Mamoto said confidently. “We’re carrying the Dark Wing’s supplies and a good chunk of their support personnel and dependents. If there is one Dropship the Dark Wing absolutely has to defend, it’s going to be this one.”


“I dunno, skipper…”


“Don’t worry too much about it, Jane,” Mamoto assured her. It might have worked if she thought he had more tactical sense than what God gave a roach. “We’re surrounded by the biggest and most powerful mech force this side of a Successor State. What could possibly go wrong?”


Waypoint Six Uninhabited Star System The Periphery 26 October 3020


“Are we there yet?”


Waypoint Seven Uninhabited Star System Granville Cluster 2 November 3020


“Jump completed,” the Kip Branhagan’s navigator announced on the ship-wide broadcast. As he switched off the PA system, he frowned at his display. “That can’t be right.”


“Problem?” Tasha asked. The MIIO agent hung out on the bridge a lot these days, mostly to avoid randy pirates in search of a good lay. At first, she had hung out with them in the hopes of learning something useful. All too soon, it became obvious that they didn’t know anything.


“I don’t know, ma’am,” the navigator replied. He pointed at one of his displays. “According to this, the stars here are wrong.”


“What do you mean, wrong?” Tasha asked.


“The stars are wrong,” the navigator told her. “They don’t match what we have in the navigational database for the Granville cluster.”


“Maybe the database is out of date,” suggested the Kip’s captain suggested as he drifted over. “How old is our data on the Cluster?”


“Pretty old,” the navigator replied. “But there’s too much difference for the changes to be stellar drift.”


”Oh, Jesus,” Tasha groaned. “Don’t tell me these idiot pirates got us lost.”


“No, no,” the navigator said hastily. “The coordinates check out. So do the stars outside the Cluster. The stars inside the Cluster are a different matter…” His computer bleeped. “Huh, now that’s really weird.”


“What now?”


“I think our nav computer is packing up,” the navigator said, looking at Tasha and the captain wide eyed. “It’s saying… it’s saying the star below us is Wolf 359.”


Silence reined on the bridge for several seconds as everyone digested the implications. Finally, Tasha spoke.


“Where’s that?”


Zenith Jump Point System S3-19570410 Grantville Cluster 9 November 3020


In an area of space devoid of any mass but passing solar winds, multiple globes of sundered space-time flared into being. The globes had no right to exist, singing their violation of the cosmic Order of Things for all to hear in the form of a massive outpouring of electromagnetic radiation on nearly all frequencies.


The event did not go unnoticed by outside observers. Satellites and ground based stations had been scrutinizing this area for the past six months as well as a similar area on the other side of the system’s primary. They saw the globes of radiation, saw them vanish, and saw them replaced with the much dimmer forms of many, many Jumpships.


However, they did not see nor hear the radio waves carrying the voices of those within. But the inhabitants guessed that those transmissions would be there and wondered what malevolent and devious schemes were being laid within them.


“Are we there yet?”


“YES! Yes, we’re there, God dammit! Now shut up and leave me the fuck alone!” Waypoint Six Uninhabited Star System Granville Cluster 2 November 3020 Major Andreas Staedele, commanding officer of the mercenary outfit Buron Cav, or what was left of it, was sitting on a ledge in the Mech cubicle on board the unit's sole remaining dropship, the Union-class Distant Home, and thinking about how he and his unit had come to get into this mess. His thoughts were interrupted however, when somebody entered the bay. "So that´s where they found the place to hang the laundry out to dry. Thought you were here. Only place in the ship where no-one´s around at this time."


"Hey, Ned," Staedele replied. Lieutenant Celic "Ned" Nedeljko, Staedele's XO, was wearing the same nonchalant smile as ever as he sat down on the ledge, right next to his commander and close friend, eying the laundry lines hanging between the Cavs only remaining 'Mechs.


"So, Andy, what are you brooding about?" Nedeljko started the conversation.


Staedeles reply came quickly, "About this entire clusterfuck we're in, what else? First we get our battalion put through the blender on the raid of that god-forsaken mudball Thestria, then we almost run out of money, and now we have to work for scum like Vorax. I don't like, Ned. Not one bit. If there's any kind of god, I just hope he's got something very special in store for the damned 21st Galedon Regulars!"


"Amen to that", Nedeljko replied, "I don't like this assignment here, either. I mean, seriously, a highly industrialized, almost undefended planet that far out? I think somebody has had a few drinks too much, but as long as Vorax pays us, it's not like I should complain. Those C-Bills could very well be the kind of godsend we are in a dire need right now."


"Yeah, the payment's good for what they told is this would be about. Land on a valuable looking piece of real estate on planet primitive backwater, hold it 'till the okay reaches Port Krin and Vorax' security goons come in, get paid and get out. But something irks me about this. I´ve got a bad feeling," Staedele continued.


Nedeljko laughed. "Oh dear, you´re almost sounding like Tom right now." Tom Lemell, one of the other Mechwarriors the Cav still had, was infamous for his pessimism and sometimes outright bitterness.


"If you think so", Staedele replied, "Hell, whatever. I´ll let all these morons and psychos Vorax has hired besides us take the lead. Let these idiots discover whatever defensive assets "Motherload" has by running straight into them. If half the tales these guys told are true, there´ll still be enough left for us afterwards."


"How... mercenary of you," Nedeljko grinned.


"Why, thank you. I'm doing my best. And frankly, anyone killing some of these goons would do mankind a favour. I'd do it myself if someone paid me for it. Hell, I'd do it at a discount rate," Staedele mused.


This caused Nedeljko to laugh again. "Your word to God's ears, Andy, your word to God's ears."


"Yeah. So, it's still six hours till the next jump. Time to-" Staedele said, before being interrupted by the sound of the bay door opening.


"You here, Dad?" a melodic voice sounded.


"Over here, darling. What´s up?" Staedele replied, walking over to his 9-year-old daughter, Esther Staedele.


"Mom and Auntie Hanna say that food's ready, and you two should come right now if you want to get something before the jump."


"Well, Ned, how could anyone resist against such despicable blackmail?" Staedele said with a big grin.


"No idea, Andy, no idea. Let's go and eat something. Who knows, we might be finally there after the next jump."


"Let's just hope it. Black's constant heckling is slowly pissing off our esteemed "Col." Sanders."


In a pretty good imitation of Col. Blacks voice, Nedeljko replied: "Are we there yet?"


After that, the three walked off to the mess hall laughing.


Disclaimer: Thanks goes to Psycko for proofreading/editing. -- -- --


White House Washington D.C. United States of America Earth 9 November 2005


With a sigh Jack Ryan lifted the next file in the small mountain of paperwork he had to review. He wanted to keep abreast of the efforts to counter the threat of future invasions and that meant reports.


In this case, a status report of the rearmament of the United States Ballistic Missile submarine fleet. As part of the nascent GDI efforts it had been agreed between him and his Russian counterpart to suspend their ABM agreement in the face of the new threat. Fortunately, the inefficiency that had plagued Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union meant that most the Russian SSBN fleet had yet to be sent to be breakers. They were in dire need of refit after sitting for several years without maintenance, but they were still intact.


The US hadn't, instead choosing to deploy their super silent former boomers as “Slow Attack” boats. After some negotiation it had been agreed to rearm them with missiles capable of hitting an orbiting target with a thermonuclear weapon, a feat accomplished by placing a second state on the missile, removing its MIRV capability but allowing it to threaten anything that dared enter low orbit with a nuclear tipped Anti-satellite missile. To ensure that the established rules were followed and that they could not be deployed against targets on the Earth, the Missile officer who held the second key was to be a Russian on the American ships, and an American on the Russian subs, once they were able to be redeployed.


So far status reports looked good. The Ohio had just completed its refit and two others were already in the slips being refitted with the new missiles and given their deployable targeting uplinks to Cheyenne and Kosvinsky Mountains. Several of the missiles on Ohio lacked their warheads and were going to be used to hit a series of orbital targets. Test was scheduled for Tuesday.


Putting down the file he smiled. Once the missile fleet was back up and running Earth would have something that even by Inner Sphere standards would be an uncomfortably potent orbital defense system. With a smile he picked up the next file, which if he was not mistaken was the test reports on the prototype Rail Gun that had just been fitted to the USS Kidd.


His head turned when he heard the phone ring. Slowly he lowered the file down and lifted the phone.


“Mister President?” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff said on the other side of the line. He seemed tense, which in turn made Jack tense. When one of the most important men in the united states military was edgy, it wasn't a good thing.


“Yes, what is it?” he asked.


“We just got a call from NORAD. KF entry signatures have been detected at the sun's zenith jump point. They're back sir.”


“How many?”


“We're not sure yet,” the CotJCoS admitted, “But there's a lot of them. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say its an invasion fleet.”


Jack gritted his teeth biting back a curse. “Bring us to DefCom 1 and stand ready to institute Operation: MINUTEMAN,” he said, referring to what had to be one of the most elaborate and controversial civil defense programs in the history of the United States.


They'd shipped almost fifteen million pieces of infantry weaponry to police stations, military depots, and specially formed civil defense armories all around the country with order to deploy them in the event of an invasion. Everything from civilian hand guns and sixty year old military surplus, to modern assault rifles, even some of the recently reverse engineered manpack SRMs. If they tried to invade the US they'd find a rifle behind every blade of grass.


“Is there anything else you can tell me?”


“Not yet, sir, but we'll keep you up to date.”


“Good. I need to make some calls.”


“Yes sir.”


With a click the line was clear, and he immediately reached for the Red Phone just to have it ring before he could touch it. He let out a somewhat amused snort as he picked it up. At least he didn't have to worry about waking anyone. Sleepy Russians were cranky and that was the last thing he needed right now. �


NORAD Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Earth 10 November 2005


Things had certainly changed in here over the past six months, General David Matthews thought to himself as he entered the nerve center for the United States’ – and now the planet’s – defense. Once upon a time, the three big screens up on the wall would have showed a 2D map of the Earth’s surface with wavy lines across them representing orbiting satellites. Now, that display had been pushed off to the side so that it only occupied the right screen. The left screen showed a 3D graphic of Earth and the moon. The middle showed a similar graphic of the inner solar system, with a mass of red icons directly above the yellow sphere representing the Sun.


“Morning, sir,” Colonel Weyland said to the General quietly.


“Morning, Colonel,” Matthews replied. He nodded at the screens. “Any change?”


“No, sir,” Weyland informed him. They both knew what that meant.


What would happen the next time some BT ship came had been discussed to death over the past six months since the pirate raid. Every BT sourcebook had been analyzed and debated endlessly by military planners and civilians alike. Sourcebook information had been checked against data accumulated from prisoner interrogations. Agreement on the rough capabilities of BT Jumpships and Dropships had been reached quickly. Contingency plans had been laid out, and certain rules had been written to deal with every conceivable scenario.


Like this one.


If this fleet hadn’t deployed Dropships yet, then that could mean one of two things. The first was that they were merely passing through; in everyone opinion, this was highly unlikely given how far off the beaten track Earth was. The second was that they were coming to Earth and that they were going to take a “pirate” point to do so; this was considered the more likely scenario and the sheer number of ships suggested that this couldn’t possibly be anything but an invasion force. But that left only one question.


“So, Colonel,” Matthews began. “Which pirate point do you think they’re going to use?”


Dropship Shadow Wing Zenith Jump Point System S3-19570410 10 November 3020


The intercom beeped.


“Sanders, go.”


“Colonel, Bridge. We have an incoming message addressed to you.”


“Okay, what does Black want this time?”


“It’s not from Colonel Black, sir.” The officer at the other end hesitated. “It’s from Motherlode.”


Sanders’ eyebrows rose in surprise. Most other Periphery backwaters wouldn’t have been able to pick up jumpships at a jumppoint. On the other hand, most of those worlds wouldn’t have had the level of industrialization that Motherlode had either. Sanders took a moment to silently berate himself for taking something like this for granted, and wondered what else his preconceptions had missed.


“Alright,” he said after a moment. “Let me hear it.”


“Unidentified fleet, this is President Ryan of the planet Earth,” the message began. It was somewhat static filled, but understandable. “If you come in peace, then the people of this planet will welcome you with open arms and would welcome the opportunity to discuss trade and the opening of interstellar relations with whatever State you represent. However, if you come with hostile intent,” the voice of President Ryan grew hard, “then we will defend our world with every resource at our disposal. And I should warn you, if you approach our planet without our express permission, we will assume that you are hostile and react accordingly. We await your reply. President Ryan out.”


Sanders thought about it, a plan percolating in his mind. If he could convince this “President Ryan” that his fleet were in fact friendly, then they could pull a Trojan Horse and land unopposed. And with the planet’s leader on hand, they could swoop in and capture him, taking the whole planet in one fell swoop!


“Bridge, Sanders. Has any reply been sent yet?”


”Yes, sir. Colonel Black has already transmitted a reply that, ah, basically amounts to his boasting how he was going to, ah… establish relations. Only his actual words included a great deal of profanity and lurid description.”


“God damn it!”


Interplanetary space System S3-19570410 14 November 2005/3020


The probe had actually been designed by NASA for surveying Mars. It carried the latest in ion drive technology, allowing it to continuously accelerate for months at a time at its modest 0.05 standard gravities. But that had all changed many months ago when invaders from out of fiction had hit Earth many months ago.


Now it was steadily accelerating for the fourth Lagrange point created by the balance of conflicting forces of inertia and gravity between the planet Earth and the star it orbited. It was not a true “jumppoint” for the forces of gravity did not truly drop below the threshold that the Kearny-Fuchida drive needed to operate. But the probe could be parked there and remain on station indefinitely without expending fuel.


In the meantime, the probe was keeping watch on the Lagrange point that could be used by KF drives, for that point sat squarely between Earth and the Sun. Theoretically a jump signature there could be washed out and be rendered undetectable by the blinding glare of the star behind it. The probe’s position was placed precisely to make sure than any such signature was detected, unimpeded by the Sun’s light.


By sheer happenstance, there was already a space probe at the L1 point. SOHO – the Solar and Haliospheric Observatory – had been launched in 1995 for the purpose of gathering data on the Sun. There had been talk about using SOHO alone to monitor the Lagrange point for KF activity, but that had been shot down when it was pointed out that the first thing any invader using the point would do would be to destroy the probe with exotic space weapons.


Which is what happened, only not exactly as envisioned. SOHO was smeared into constituent atoms when the space it occupied was rent asunder by a hyperspace bubble. The other probe saw it all and dutifully reported it via tight beam radio.


Bridge Dropship Shadow’s Wing Motherlode-Sun Pirate Point


“Jump complete,” the PA announced.


“Sensors online, checking local space,” the Wing’s sensor officer reported.


“Engineering reports all systems are green,” the communications officer reported.


“Beginning disengagement from Jumpship,” announced the helmsman.


“All ships accounted for but one,” the sensor officer added. “No, wait. There it is, at the planet-moon point.”


“Of course, someone wants to leapfrog in early,” Sanders sighed. “Let me guess, it’s Black and the Band, right?”


“Uh, no sir,” came the reply. “Both Band Jumpships are with us. The leapfrogger is the Kip Branhagan . They’re carrying independents.”


Quote:{| border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="100%" | class="alt2" style="border-bottom: #415c87 1px dotted; border-left: #415c87 1px dotted; border-top: #415c87 1px dotted; border-right: #415c87 1px dotted"|Originally Posted by MagniBridge Dropship Distant Home Motherload-Sun Pirate Point 14 November 2005/3020


"And there we have the obligatory moron jumping ahead." Major Staedele remarked with a slight grin.


"I owe you 5 C-Bills, Andreas," Hanna Staedele, the major's aunt and captain of the Distant Home replied.


"So, let´s see how those idiots do. Heh, they'll make for a perfect scout detail that way, and nobody's going to shed a tear if they get their heads torn off by the locals." Staedele continued. "And Hanna, keep us at the far end of this mob, with about ten thousand kilometers distance or so as a safety margin. We're not in a hurry."


"Aye, aye, skipper," the old woman replied cheerfully. |} Situation Room White House Washington DC Earth


“Okay, this was unexpected,” Ryan said aloud.


In all the contingency planning done for possible invasion scenarios, this one hadn’t come up before. It had generally been agreed on by both military planners and civilian consultants that any invasion by BT forces would have everyone coming in all at once. After all, there was little point in sending anyone ahead to be defeated in detail before the main force could arrive and save it.


Only, it looked like this invasion force had done just that.


“So what am I looking at?” Ryan continued.


“It looks like the early birds are three Leopards, Mister President,” Brigadier General McMayers said as he studied the data. “Those profiles are distinctive; they’re basically just flying bricks. Carrying capacity’s not much better than a single Union, but the odds that they’re all carrying a full load of mechs are probably pretty good.


“Now the main body is a different kettle of fish,” McMayers went on. “They’re still detaching from their Jumpships and sorting themselves out, so it’s difficult to get a hard count. There’s lots more Leopards, some other aerodyne types, and lots of spheroids most of which appear to be Unions, but it’s hard to tell spheroid-type Dropships apart. But there is definitely an egg-shape in there, meaning at least one Overlord.


“At a guess,” Mayers concluded, “they’re sending a probe ahead as a sacrificial lamb to see what kind of defenses we built in the last six months. Clever. I wouldn’t have thought they’d do that given how valuable Dropships are to them… or at least how valuable we think they are.”


“Any good news?” Ryan asked, disgruntled. This was far more force than he had really expected even in his worst nightmares.


“I’m not sure, but I think the probe force is going for a landing on the far side of the planet from the main body,” McMayers said. He smiled humorlessly. “Unless they drop off a communications satellite before hitting atmosphere, there’s no way that they’re going to be able to call for help if they get in trouble.”


“Hmm, can we hit the probe with the orbital launchers without the main body seeing?” Ryan asked.


This provoked a quick discussion with the National Science Advisor.


“We don’t think so, Mister President,” McMayers finally answered.


“Okay, then,” Ryan said unhappily. “Pass the word to our allies to let the probe through unmolested. We’ll save the nukes for the mainbody.”


“Assuming they work,” McMayers sighed.


“Assuming they work, yes,” Ryan agreed. �


Situation Room White House Washington DC Earth 15 November 2005/3020


“I think we have final entry dispositions now,” McMayers said. He pointed at the display. “This group here is the one with the Overlord; we’re calling them Force Alpha. This one over here we’re calling Force Bravo, it’s mostly made up of Unions. The rest are pretty much scattered all over the place in ones and twos; those we’ve given number designations.


“There also close enough that our satellites can get a look at their unit insignia. Alpha and Bravo appear to be mostly homogeneous units. The smaller groups appear to be all different units for some reason. And one other thing; our old friend the Drakon appears to be flying with Force Bravo.”


“Are you sure?” Ryan asked.


“Pretty certain,” McMayers replied. “They’ve got that same faded Federated Suns paint job and the armor on the nose looks a good deal more patchwork than it used to be.”


Ryan filed that bit of information away. It might become useful later “Which launchers can engage which forces?”


“Unfortunately, we’ve spread the few launchers we had pretty thinly in orbit to cover all approaches,” McMayers informed him. “Only A1, E3, and R2 are close enough to engage when they pass.”


Ryan ran that through his mental inventory. Those were the first American, the third European Union, and the second Russian launchers. And they were lucky that E3 was in position to engage because it was in a polar orbit to cover any attempts to approach via the poles.


“Which of them can engage Force Alpha?” Ryan asked. “That Overlord could be carrying thirty six mechs and six fighters. It’s got to be our priority target.”


“Heh, then you’re in luck, Mister President,” McMayers chuckled. “In ten minutes, all three launchers can engage at once. I assume you want to stagger the launches for time on target?”


In other words, Ryan mentally translated, did he want all the missiles to arrive at the same time and provide Alpha with the worst possible point defense problem?


“Yes, I think I do,” Ryan answered. Then in a fit of whimsy, he added, “Make it so, Number One.”


Dropship Drakon Inbound Earth Space


Captain Mamoto stared at the beautiful blue and green world that filled his screen, a giddy feeling of triumph welling up within him. Finally, he had returned to this bloody planet, and this time he had a huge military force with him, the largest the Periphery had ever seen since Kerensky’s Exodus. Now the stupid Motherloders would learn the price of vandalizing his precious Drakon when he…


“That’s weird,” Jane Dietrich murmured, just loud enough for him to hear.


“What?” Mamoto said quickly, something cold crawling up his spine. “What’s weird, Jane?”


“I’m not sure, skipper,” the sensor officer replied. “There’s something in orbit that I’m having trouble getting a radar read on. I would have thought that it was just the radar acting up, but then I pointed an optic camera at it and… well look at it for yourself.”


Walking over to Jane’s station, Mamoto peered at her display over her shoulder. The blue seascape of a Motherlode ocean filled the screen, featureless but for the white speckling of clouds and an ugly black silhouette in the shape of a cross. Even as he watched, it seemed to change shape slightly and he realized that it was turning.


“What is it?” Mamoto asked, dread creeping into his stomach. “Is it a satellite?”


“I don’t think so,” Jane answered, frowning. “I think it’s too big for that, bigger than any satellite that I can actually see anyway. I think it’s more the size of an aerospace fighter given the zoom on the visual, maybe bigger. But it doesn’t feel right; I don’t think it’s a fighter either.”


“Come on, Jane,” Mamoto scolded her irritably. “You’re supposed to be better than that. Tell me something definitive.”


”Skipper, I don’t have any…” Jane began. “Huh, there’s another one I think. Hold on…”


And then they both found out exactly what it was as alarms started blaring.


Low Earth orbit Earth Space


The box had been deliberately designed to be low visibility in space. It was painted pitch black and coated with a liberal layer of RAM, Radar Absorbent Material. Of course, in space, conditions were extreme and the box’s temperature could soar high enough in direct sunlight to cook electronics and set off chemicals stored inside it. Heat in space could only be dumped via radiation, so the wide solar panels that provided the box with power also double as heat radiators.


It mostly worked, despite being a hastily assembled kludge. On reception of a radio signal through a backup receiver (the primary one had melted long ago), the box fired what maneuvering thrusters still worked and pointed itself at a seemingly random patch of sky. As it did, a lid on the box folded open, revealing a cluster of cylindrical objects, each sitting in its own cell.


And then at the precise moment ordered, six heavy missiles rippled fired out of the orbital launcher that had been designated E3. Well, actually four did. The fifth one suffered a malfunction in its ignition system due to damage inflicted by the constant cycles of heating and freezing it had undergone while in orbit. Its solid fuel exploded all at once in its cell, taking itself, its launcher and the sixth missile in it.


But that left four missiles in flight and on target. And even as they flew, the other two orbital launchers were firing with carefully synchronized timing. Three missiles in A1 simply failed to launch. R1 managed to launch all six of its missiles, but the first one exploded when barely out of the box, debris from it wrecked the second missile as it flew through the debris cloud, but shielded the follow up missiles from further damage as they launched.


Dropship Shadow’s Wing Inbound Earth Space


Colonel Sanders had been strapping into his Warhammer when the alarms started blaring and gravity began shifting wildly in strength and directions, a sure sign of evasive maneuvers. He hit the communications switch.


“Bridge, this is Sanders. What the hell is going on up there?” he demanded.


“Sorry, sir,” came the reply. “The Motherloders just launched what the threat computer is calling ‘capital missiles’ at us.”


“What’s a… never mind,” Sanders said, cutting himself off. “Are they dangerous?”


“I’m not sure,” the bridge officer reported. “They’re bigger than missile has any right to be and… wait one. Sir, it looks like they’re all targeted at the Band’s Dropships. They’re launching fighters and trying to pick off the missiles now with weapons now.”


“Okay, I don’t like this,” Sanders said. “Get are own birds into space and…” Sanders orders were interrupted by the bridge officer’s next words.


“Holy shit!”


Low Earth orbit Earth Space


Eleven missiles slashed in towards the Dropships of the Band of the Damned from three different directions. While their merely chemically powered thrusters were laughably weak by the standards of Star League era capital missiles, they still imparted better acceleration than what their targets were capable of. Of course, the price of that was limited endurance, which was why only three launchers were even close enough to fire.


The Band was not idle though. They took what evasive maneuvers they could, and fired their weapons in an effort to shoot down the missiles. But the problem was that they were busy decelerating towards the planet, which meant that their rears were pointed at the missiles coming towards them, and the rears had the weakest coverage of weapons.


Still, the missiles only had the most rudimentary evasion capability. One by one, they died, vaporized by laser fire. One missile was clipped by autocannon fire from the Black Eye. One shell clipped its tail, setting it spinning. The next shell neatly bisected the missile; both halves went spinning away towards the Band out of control.


Then everyone discovered what they were dealing with.


One fighter, a Sholagar that had managed to launch early, closed in eagerly on one surviving missile and got a bit too close. A proximity sensor in the missile picked up the aerospace fighter and set off its 300 kiloton W87 warhead in its face. The fighter and its pilot were completely vaporized. The flash from the explosion slagged sensors and burned away the majority of the armor from the closest Dropship, a Union, but it was far enough away to survive the experience… barely.


A second surviving missile got distracted, losing lock on the Overlord as another Dropship accidentally interposed itself. Falling back on preprogrammed instructions, the missile locked onto the first thing it could see – the Leopard that had blocked its view in this case – and drove itself into the unlucky vessel. The Leopard was rapidly converted into an expanding cloud of plasma.


The third and last surviving missile actually overshot its target, zipping past the Black Eye before detonating in front of the Band of the Damned’s flagship just out of instant lethality range. The huge Dropship was bathed in an intense flash of radiation that boiled away almost all of its armor instantly. In some spots, the armor was burned all the way through, and the atmosphere began to vent out uncontrollably.


The venting caused the Black Eye to start tumbling uncontrollably. The RCS thrusters that might have stopped the tumbling had been destroyed with much of the rest of the Overlord’s upper surface. So when the Dropship hit atmosphere, air resistance grabbed at its many gaps and holes in an attempt to tear it to shreds.


Jumpship Kip Branhagan Earth-Moon L1 Point Earth Space


“…multiple nuclear explosions! Dear God in Heaven, what have we run into?” wailed the sensors officer.


Good question, Tasha thought grimly. In her mind, her duty became crystal clear. They had to return home and report this possible threat to her superiors. Anyone willing to throw around weapons of mass destruction was far too dangerous to be left alone. Only…


“How soon can we jump out?” Tasha asked, turning to the Captain.


“We can’t,” came the reply. “We hot charged are KF drive to jump this early. We’re going to have to wait the full seven days before we can jump again or else we’ll almost certainly suffer a misjump.”


“All Dropships, this is Sanders!” the external communications speakers blared, interrupting their coversation. “Head planet side at best speed, and hope like hell that these guys won’t set off nukes in their own atmosphere.”


“Fuck you, Sanders!” someone else replied. “I didn’t sign up for this shit! I’m outta here!”


“Don’t…”


Sanders didn’t get to finish. On the holo plot, one of the Dropship icons peeled off from the rest of the descending icons. It slid sideways, skimming the edge of the atmosphere, then rising away in an obvious attempt to slingshot around the planet and get back to a Jumpship. Unfortunately, it ran into another wave of nuclear missiles that practically appeared right in its face.


Meanwhile, the surviving Dropships descended towards the planet, scattering randomly as evading nuclear death became their foremost priority.


“So we have to hang around here,” Tasha said slowly, “in plain view with a planet that throws around nuclear weapons like popcorn?”


“Unfortunately, yes,” the Captain said unhappily.


On the plot, the surviving Dropships descended towards the planet, scattering randomly in their search for loot and shelter from nuclear death.


Dropship Black Eye Pacific Ocean Earth


Burned, battered, torn, and nearly out of control, the massive Dropship hit the ocean surface hard, cushioned by the sporadically functioning fusion drive. The impact was the last straw, and the mass of metal collapsed in on itself even as it fell apart and sank into the ocean depths.


But even as it did, a large humanoid figure punched and clawed at its confines. A battered Crusader fought itself free of the entombing metal coffin and its pilot roared in triumph.


“Free!” roared Niles Black. “Free! I LIVE! And as I live, this world shall be damned as they come to know my wrath. I shall wreak my bloody revenge on…ye God, this pond is deep.”


And with that, Colonel Niles Black followed his flag ship as they sunk straight into the Laurentian Abyss, Dropship Distant Home Inbound Earth Space


"WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!?" someone screamed.


Major Staedele, watching the footage on the outer camera, didn't answer. With his face rapidly becoming very pale, he watched the nuclear attack on the Band of the Damned, wondering just what the hell was going on. What kind of mad house situation had they all just walked into?


Luckily, there was still time.


"Hanna, get us into a stable, high orbit RIGHT NOW! I don't want us to get even a meter closer to that planet! GOD DAMNIT!", he yelled to his old aunt, the current captain of the dropship.


"So, what now, boss?", Lieutenant Marc Johnson, the CO of his infantry detail and highest ranking ground officer present besides him carefully asked. Johnson knew to be careful if the old man was in the kind of mood where he started cursing.


"That asshole Vorax was either lying through his teeth or didn´t know shit. Motherload, my ass. More like "Deathtrap". Fuck it, the contract´s off. I´m not going to risk our ship in a nuclear gauntlet, for god´s sake! Okay... Calm down... Just let me think...."


It was then that the major had an epiphany.


"Prepare a message broadcast on an open frequency and make sure the people down there on the planet will get it."


"Sir?", one of the comms ratings asked.


"Just do it!"


"Okay, sir," the rating answered with an unsure voice, "Recording... now."


Staedele cleared his throat.


"This is Major Andreas Staedele of the mercenary unit Buron Cavalry, currently embarked on the Dropship Distant Home, to whoever down there hears this. Apparently, my employer hired me on a lot of false pretenses. As such, I consider my contract hereby to be null and void. I will not get any closer to your planet as long as I'm not being authorised to do so by local authorities with a guarantee that we will not be fired upon."


"On a sidenote, the Buron Cavalry is hereby free for hire and will take any job that doesn't require me to risk this dropship, which is incidentally carrying our dependents. Distant Home, over."


He signaled the tech to terminate the recording. The entire bridge looked at him as if he'd just lost his mind.


"What? As I said, I'm not going to risk all our lives running a nuclear gauntlet and this is the best chance to evade that, keep all our stuff, and perhaps even come out of this ahead," he angrily explained.


"So, send the damned message! Oh, and prepare one send to Sanders. Text: Fuck you, too, Sanders. I'm not going to get my people nuked. You're on your own. Staedele, out."


With that, Staedele settled down into one of the vacant chairs on the bridge, asking himself again in what kind of situation they'd just walked into. Damn the 21st Galedon Regulars! USS Ohio The Mid Pacific Earth 14 November 2005.


The USS Ohio slowly cut under the ocean's surface. On board there was complete silence, not because of the threat of interception, but because of the deed they were about to do. For the first time in human history nuclear missiles were about to be fired in anger. It was a sobering fact, even if the target was the enemy of every man, woman, and child on Earth.


Taking a sip of his coffee, Captain James Brewer looked over to the man standing next to him. Captain-Lieutenant Ivan Ivanoff. If someone told him ten years ago that he'd be commanding a boomer, ready to launch his missiles at space invaders with a damned ruski holding the other key, he'd have have thought they were drunk.


“Is strange situation we find ourselves in, no?” Ivan asked calmly. “Mother Russia and the United States standing side by side as brothers protecting the Earth.”


James smiled. “Yeah. It is.” He took a sip of the harsh, black brew. “I find it appropriate though. You were a worthy enemy, but an even better ally.”


The Russian laughed. “Muslims have saying. Me against my brother. My brother and I against family. Family and I against world. We are brothers, Russia and America, proud sons of Mother Earth.”


“Captain,” the Comms officer cut in. “We just received a message for PATCOM. Its time, sir.”


Captain-Lieutenant Ivanoff smiled. “The world comes. Is time for battle.”


Brewer simply nodded. “Bring us to launch depth and deploy uplink buoy.”


“Aye, sir.”


The boat shuddered slightly as it ascended to launch depth and there was an audible clunk as the uplink buoy was deployed. It made him wince. That alone was a mark of both their new priorities and the speed at which the system had been developed. Silence was no longer their primary concern. They could make it quiet later. Right now the main concern was simply having it.


“Sir, we're linked to the orbital defense network,” Lt. Brown said from the new Fire Control computer.


“How many targets are within range?”


“Six, sir.”


He nodded. Out of the 24 missiles carried on board the ship, twelve were test missiles and twelve carried live warheads. He'd have rather had the full 24 active warheads, but those test shots would still be good decoys. “Lock onto each target, two live missiles, two test missiles.”


“Aye sir. We have targeting solutions.”


Slowly he drew his key out from under his shirt and looked at his Russian counterpart who drew his and nodded.


Together they placed their keys into the firing computer. “Are you ready.”


“Aye. Anything historic to say, comrade captain?”


“Yeah,” he smiled. “On my signal, unleash hell..”


Ivan laughed. “Da. Was good movie.”


With a shared, vicious smile they both turned their missile keys. The ship shuddered as 24 modified Trident missiles were cast into the sky.


“Withdraw the buoy and turn right full rudder. Bring us deep, and fast.”


Secret Command Bunker Washington DC, United States of America Earth 14 November 2005


Deep with in the command bunker under the White House, President Jack Ryan listened to the somewhat frantic message from the Buron Cavalry “Well, isn't this convenient,” President Ryan remarked absently.


“You're not seriously considering that offer,” Secretary of State Scott Adler asked.


Jack simply smiled at him. “Scott, something I learned back in the CIA. When someone is looking to defect is that you don't question their movies and try to take advantage of it before they change their minds or someone else gets to them first. Someone get my a line to that ship. Now.”


Moments later he found a radio receiver in front of him. While he normally hated the job, at moments like this he appreciated the perks.


“This Jack Ryan, President of the United States of America to Major Andreas Staedele. Your message has been received. I am going to have my people draw up the contract and transmit it as soon as possible. Until then remain in position. I am informing our military that your ship is not to be targeted as a hostile unless you take overt hostile action.” He looked at the Joint Chiefs, nonverbally ordering them to pass it on. “Please transmit if you receive this message. Over.”


“This is Major Andreas Staedele. I've received your message and await contractual information.”


Jack smiled and looked at the others. Letting go of the comm he took a deep breath. “Okay, what are you thinking?”


The Secretary of State frowned. “Personally, I don't like this.”


“I'm not crazy about it either, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth,” the President replied.


The Secretary of Defense frowned slightly. “We don't want to negotiate the entire contract right now. Just over pay them and tell them to consider it in part a retainer, and lets get those civilians off their ships. No salvage rights and we have full command rights,” He paused for a moment and frowned. “I've been reading everything on Mercenary contracts I could find.”


“Alright. I someone to work out a entry vector for them,” Jack replied. “Something limited.”


The Airforce representative nodded. “I'll work it out with my people. How about we direct them to Andrews?”


Jack nodded. “This is President Ryan to Major Staedele. Our offer is as follows. You will surrender command rights to our personal and we do not offer you salvage rights. You will land at Andrews Airforce Base on a vector to be transmitted shortly. Any deviation from that vector will be seen as a hostile action and you will be fired upon. Once you arrive you will unload your dependents, who I give you my word will not be harassed nor harmed in any way. We are not asking for hostages, we simply want to keep your families out of a war zone. Afterwards you will deploy into action as directed for the duration of this conflict. Payment will be five hundred kilograms of gold bullion. This also serves as a retainer for future employment. Over.”


“This is Major Staedele. I would like to confirm. Five hundred kilograms of gold?”


“Affirmative.”


“You have yourself a lance. Please transmit the vector. Over.” Dropship Distant Home Conference Room Inbound Earth Space November 15th 2005/3020


Staedele watched the officer contingent of the Buron Cav as they sat around the table or stood at the walls in the Conference Room/Mess Hall/Casino of the Distant Home. Most of them were looking just as uncomfortable as he was feeling.


"So, people, you all heard what that 'President Ryan' offerred us. Anyone got a comment?"


"If I´m not mistaken, boss, the guy promised us half a TON of gold. Just how much is that anyway?" Christine Miller, the youngest MechWarrior of the unit, asked. "I´m not really up to date on that kind of thing."


"Well, Chris," the major's wife and head tech, Marie Staedele, answered, "going by the last rates I saw back on Port Krin... about 17.6 million C-Bills, give or take."


This sent an almost visible ripple throughout the room as anyone realised with just what kind of sum they were dealing here. One could almost hear the cash registers behind everyone's eyes ring. That`d really put them back into the black numbers.


"That´d be enough to get us over our little cash problems and then some." Nedeljko mused.


"Wait a second," Tom Lemell, the 4th MechWarrior of the Cav, remarked, "how the hell could they even afford that kind of sum? And then blow it on hiring a single lance and some PBI, no offense, Johnson. I don´t trust this. That´s gotta be a trick."


"None taken, Tom." The infantry commander of the Cav answered. "As to how they can afford that: I´d say they dug it out of their own soil. I say we shouldn´t see that planet as some kinda Periphery shithole. After all, how many of those can afford to mass produce freakin' nukes?"


"It´s not as if we´d have any choice to begin with." Hanna remarked. "It´ll take the jump fleet almost a week to recharge the drives and till then, I expect those nice people down there to have captured themselves a good number of DropShips. And given how they´re popping nukes as if they were cheap fireworks, I daresay they wouldn´t really show any restraint when it comes to blowing up the JumpShips. Whoever these guys are, they certainly never signed the Ares Conventions."


This caused everyone in the room to wince. The sheer thought about the implications of *that* made for one nasty image.


"So, there we have it, people." Staedele continued. "Our choice is pretty much down to this:


A: Following all the other retards and invade anyway, something which I´ll not do as the lives of everyone on board of this ship are worth more to me than anyone could ever pay me. B: Wait out here and get boarded and all our stuff seized once the guys come up with their newly aquired DropShips. Or C: Taking their offer and trusting them to not fuck us over. If they lied, we´ll still be down there, were they just might not want to begin throwing WMDs, which makes that a way better place than any geostationry orbit in my book.


So, I´m now asking you. What option we should take? Note that I´ll still be the one to finally decide it, but I want to know what your opinion is. So, vote away."


Unsurprisingly, the vote was unanimous.


"Okay, then it´s decided, people. Inform the dependents. Tell them to pack up their stuff and that they´ll be likely relocated to an installation on-planet. Marie, I want the Mechs combat ready for a quick start yesterday. Ned, Chris, Tom: Ready room. Marc, you´ll post the infantry company inside the ship. Full equipment. In case they DO fuck us over, I want them to bleed for every single step they take into OUR ship.. Let´s get this rolling, people, " Staedele declared.


Which left him, on his way to the ready room, to brood. He was sure he missed some detail in that short conversation with President Ryan. He just couldn´t quite put his finger on it. Bridge Dropship Drakon On Approach Earth Space 14 Novermber, 3020 “We're all gonna die!” Captain Mamoto cried out as another flash of light illuminated the bridge through the cockpit glass.


“Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!” Jane screamed at the top of her lungs. “You're not helping!”


“Nukes!” He exclaimed. “Nobody said they had nukes!”


“Well we didn't ask,” Jane replied sarcastically.


“Shut up, both of you,” Lieutenant Koltan cursed from the side of the bridge. He'd originally come up to see what the hell was going on. They were flying like they had a drunken pilot and it was making all the Dark Wings dependents freak out, and as highest ranking combat officer on this boat he'd been the one elected to go to the bridge. Of course he'd just had to walk into a madhouse. Jane was pissed, the idiot captain was freaking out, and oh yeah, the Motherloders were firing enough nuclear weapons at them to fight the Second Succession War.


“If you two can't keep cool heads, we're all doomed,” he growled, “Now someone tell those gunners to shoot anything even vaguely missile like that heads towards our god damned ship.”


“Thank you,” Jane said with a sigh.


Mamoto glared at him, and taking a deep breath “Excuse me, but I am the captain. I give the orders. Order the gunnery crew to destroy any more nukes that are fired at our ship. That should keep us nice and safe.”


“Sir, we're picking up launches from the middle of the planet's largest ocean,” the sensor rating cut in. “They ID as 'Capitol Missiles'.”


“Middle of the ocean?” Mamoto wondered, “Hows that possible, and what's a capitol missile.”


Jane paled slightly. “Missile Submarines, and Capitol Missiles are another piece of lostech. Missiles the size of ASFs designed to blow up warships. Even if those things aren't nuclear, they'll crack a dropship open like an egg, and considering what we've seen so far, they're probably nuclear.”


“Don't be silly. After what we've seen so fat, I doubt they even have any left. After all, how many nuclear weapons can one planet have?” he snorted.


“Sir!” the same rating exclaimed. “We have a detonation, 100 kilotons! Oh shit! Four of them are on an intercept vector! Impact in 60 seconds!”


“SHOOT THEM DOWN!” SHOOT THEM DOWN!”


Jane glanced over to Irdon and muttered, “He just had to open his big mouth, didn't he?”


The Drakon rumbled as the ship's weapons fired their full fury against the incoming missiles.


“One down!” The weapons officer announced to a cheer from the captain. “Make that two.”


“Oh shit! Ten seconds!” The sensor officer announced “Nine! Eight!”


The captain began to scream at the top of his lungs, grasping the rests of his chair hard enough to actually cause the metal to creak.


“Seven! Six!” the sensor franticly cried out.


Taking a deep breath, Jane grabbed Irdon and kissed him on the lips. “I love you.”


“Five! Four!”


A bit taken back he could only smile. When you only have a couple seconds left to life, make them count. “I love you too. Marry me.”


“Three! Two!”


“Yes.”


“One! Oh shit!”


A furious clang resounded throughout the ship, and the impact knocked them all back. Both Jane and Koltan, who hadn't been restrained, where thrown against a bulkhead, knocking the wind out of them.


“What the hell was that?!” Jane demanded.


“It was a dud, ma'am! The other seems to have failed to obtain terminal guidance! Nose armor's down by 45%, but we're alive! Hahaha! We're alive!” He paused and laughed again. “By the way, congrats about the wedding, ma'am!”


Both officers looked at each other and blushed furiously. They hadn't exactly said that while expecting to live. Still, looking as they looked at each other, they couldn't find any complaints.


Their awkward silence was interrupted by Koltan sniffing the air. “Do you smell that?”


Jane blinked. “Smell? Yeah, it smells like...”


Both eyes turned to the captain who was sitting completely still with a catatonic, glassy eyed look on his face. The legs of his pants were wet.


“Oh you've got to be fucking kidding me.”


“Um, Ma'am, we're getting a message from the surface. Its Captain Hale!”


The view from Hawaii was quite spectacular three large fireballs were moving over the sky over the islands. The fireballs were accompanied by white ribbons coming from the water around the islands.


USS Bunker Hill


The Captain of the USS Bunker Hill stood on the Bridge, listening to his XO call out, "We can see the whites of their eyes sir!"


Calmly the Captain gave the order, "You may fire when ready Mr Gage." Then he turned to watch a sight he never expected to see outside of WWIII against the Soviets.


Young sailors on the bridge gapped at a 'magnum launch' of SM-2S SAMs. In the preceding months the VLS loadout had been changed so over half of them now had the new antiarmor warhead Standards. In the early dawn light over 80 missiles sprang skyward, their launching a near solid wall of sound and fire. In the oceans around them they could see more missile tracks from the other ships that happened to be at Pearl this day join the Bunker Hill’s. The destroyers O’Kane and the frigate Reuben James also unloaded into the descending dropships.


Turning back to the radar display he watched as his missiles tracked in on one of the three lighter 'Dropships', tagged as Leopard Three. Time sharing would normally drag down the hit percentages, but the targets dropping from orbit were both so large, nearly the size of a Perry Frigate, and so obvious to thermal and radar that it nearly didn't matter. The Captain hid a wince as he watched as his entire salvo of Standards merge with the target, Aegis estimating over 80 impacts, several tons of the best military explosives in the Navy's possession this side of nuclear warheads, for no apparent effect. The remaining salvo from the other 2 ships were divided between the Leo 1 and Leo2 each taking 70% and 30% respectively. "What the hell does it take to put those bastard down?!" was one radar rating's complaint, who was quickly taken in hand by a CPO for the outburst. Not too unkindly the Captain noted, they just fired off enough missiles to take a huge bite out of the Soviet Air Force back during it's Cold War height, and utterly annihilate 80% of the airforces on the planet. "Comm, signal to CINC Third Fleet, "Swordsman expended all ordnance, target still effective.""


Bridge Dropship Firejaw Over��???? Ocean. Motherload Day Month 3020?


‘Fuck Fuck Fuck what the fuck is going on’. Thought captain James Brand of the Merc cum pirate ban Fire Brand as the ship rumble with the sounds of missile hits. Though he didn’t say it out loud, the crew looked nervous enough as it is.


After the Black Eye got hit with the nuke nobody stayed in orbit to find out what was going on. Everybody made a break for the surface.


‘Well everybody who was smart anyway.’ He grimaced to himself as the sensors fuzzed up again indicating another nuclear detonation and fiery death of the stragglers who didn’t have captains as quick on their feet as him. Those poor sods who stayed in orbit were coming down whether they like it or not. In their case it was in burning radioactive pieces instead of a controlled descent like him.


Well some what controlled as a shock ran through the ship.


“I think we lost more armor on the port side sir” said one of the crewmen monitoring the ship. The rear camera showed an 8x3m section of hull bent into an L tumbling behind the ship, narrowly missing the other Leopards that were following his lead.


‘Which shouldn’t have happened at all.’ He thought. When a dropper enters atmosphere it should have been safe, nothing could hit it when it was entering the atmosphere. ‘But nobody told these Motherloaders that did they?’


As they were entering the atmosphere over the largest ocean on this planet the immediately came under attack from dozens of missiles. The missiles seemed to be coming from the middle of the ocean. There must be ships there but he couldn’t see it between and EMP and the heat from entry.


“That loss was a good thing” responded the young woman in the piloting consol. “The hits there from before deformed the armor there so the wind was peeling it back and it was acting like an air brake. I had to compensate manually.”


Another problem getting hits as his ships did. The force of the air resistance was quite incredible at the speed they were traveling at. The damaged deformed armor was exacerbating the damage from the missiles, which weren’t that large. The hits had loosen the armor and the bits that became warped became caught in the wind and were slowly prying and bending more armor out which made the problem even worse.


“Good work Emily.” He had to give credit where it was due he hardly felt a wobble. Emily Hastings was new to the company but dammed if she wasn’t a fine pilot. Young and a bit over excited but instincts like she was born with wings. She couldn’t see the shape or side of the bent hull section so she had to do it by feel. Brand couldn’t recall any pilot in his long career who could have done that.


“Scopes look clear Captain I think we’re out of their range” said crewman Hayes in the sensor station. “Or they ran out of missiles” he added.


That wasn’t hard to believe they must have used over a hundred missiles on the 3 Leos on the way down. He hoped it was the latter that meant he wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet getting back in orbit.


Finally with some respite Brand could afford to take a look at the state of the other 2 dropships that came with him. His other Leo the Firefist looked to be in better shape it took the least damage being in the middle. The 3rd Leo on the end however didn’t look to be doing too well. It had gotten hit by the most missiles and was wobbling a great deal and he could see fuel streaming out in several spots. It wasn’t one of his, in the mad scramble to get down that ship just took his lead and tagged along. Brand was very grateful for that now since it gave those missile ships more targets to shoot at, targets that didn’t belong to him.


Brand took a look at his destination, it was under consideration as a potential big haul but now it was the only choice open to them considering their course and the fact that a Union was almost there. He didn’t care about splitting the loot right now he just wanted to survive and the Union should be a lot of help if there are more threats around. And it should have absorbed any of the missiles on the way down and ignored it unlike his relatively thin skinned Leopards.


“This is Firejaw calling Blood Hammer” Brand began. It was one of the true pirate band not like his out of work merc. band. “What the situation on the ground there?”


“Pretty sweet there’s this nice spot right near a bunch of containers that should fit all of us. Though we got dibs we’re getting priority on the loot”


Damn pirates always thinking about the loot never about little things, like how we’re supposed get off this fucking rock if there were more nukes in orbit. Which he was willing to put good money there was.


“We’re sending you the co-ordinates now—” just as he finished a loud boom reverberated through the com. “What the fuck hit—” then the com went dead.


“Maybe it hit his antenna?” Emily offered.


Brand wasn’t that much of an optimist. But he had no choice. He was heading trait for the big city the Western shore of the continent. To change course now would be extremely difficult and he didn’t know where most of the other were landing. And it was better to have someone there to pave the way. He was some what confident/hopeful that the Union would attract most of the fire.


As the approached the location indicated the could see the Union had put down it was an island in the middle of a port facility. ‘Looks defensible’ Brand thought.


As they made the final approach and slowed downed and diverted some of the thrust to lift the ship more missile warnings came.


“Get us on the ground now!!”


The radar, now with a clear reading, saw eight missiles coming strait for his ships. What ever they were they were big if they showed up on the scopes like that.


The he saw the last ship in the formation—the tagalong, he didn’t even know its name—get engulfed the at least 5 big explosion. The already damaged ship couldn’t take it and its engine failed and it plummeted toward the waters below. Then it was his ships’ turn. 2 missiles hit the Firefist on its port side but it kept going with some wobble. Then a monstrous boom rocked the Firejaw, but thankfully only one. The monitor indicated the hit was in a spot that was unscathed from the entry. Still quite a bit of armor was removed from the area, and his teeth were still jangling. Then they were skidding on solid ground about a mile from the Union, which had landed on the east end of the island.


He managed to breathe a sigh of relief. At least they were on the ground now and no longer in danger of crashing into it at high speeds.


He called down to the hanger and the Firefist. “Get the mechs out and secure a perimeter no telling what other surprises they didn’t tell us about.”


“Good job Emily that was some of the finest piloting I’ve ever seen.” She beamed that that which made her looked even younger than the dubious 20 she had indicated upon signup. No matter isn’t my business. He signed. As long as you did what was asked of you the Fire Brand didn’t care what you were.


“Get to the hanger and get your Seydlitz in the air as soon as possible. I want a recon of the area” Brand told Hastings. “Does the Hammer have any ASFs? A joint recon with some multiple birds might be safer”


“No captain I kept track of the ASFs in the fleet the Hammer wasn’t one of those carrying” Hastings answered. ‘Of course she would be the one to go out of her way to keep track of the fighters in the fleet.’ Brand nodded knowingly.


“Alright get out there, and be careful.” He waved her away.


Normally her place would have been in the fighter, already launched to cover and scout for the dropships as they descended. But the Firejaw’s normal pilot was bowed over the toilet puking his guts out so she filled in his place. On most ships there would’ve been a copilot to take over but the Fire Brands were too undermanned to have even that and until Hastings came along they operated with 2 qualified pilots between the 2 ships. � �


USS Port Royal Between San Diego and LA


“Sir the harpoons are being reloaded right now. We should have all 8 ready to launch within the hour” said the chief petty officer.


“Very good, thank you chief, let me know when they are” said Captain Reed. “Radar, any more inbound?”


“No sir the scopes look clear sir.” Responded the crewman.


“Not like we’re in a position to do anything about it if there were.” Said the XO. “We spent almost 200 SMs from 4 ships for no noticeable damage to that giant billiard ball. It took all 8 Harpoons to make it hurt and it still managed to get on the ground in tact.”


“But it’s going to stay there. Orders are for us to plaster all drop ships with Tomahawks if any shows signs of powering up” responded the captain. “And Princeton managed to nail one of the smaller ones. How is that Leopard they shot down by the way?”


“Still floating. Decatur and Boxer are heading toward it now. Navy and Marine hornets with BGU-15s and harpoons are covering it.”


“Good” a destroyer and an assault ship full of marines should make short work of any survivors.


“Sir! We have a contact rising from the one of the smaller dropships.” Called out a crewman.


“What kind of contact?”


“Small one looks to be the size of a fighter. It’s climbing fast.” Target it with the remaining Standards. Standby to fire.” Reed called out.


“Hold, I have CINC on the line” said the XO. “They want to see how our fighters fare against theirs, F-14s and 18s from Miramar and Nimitzs are inbound. We are to hit save our Standards for any additional targets that emerge”


Reed knew the look on the XO’s face, he had the same look. Those pilots were going to be guinea pigs.


Lion-class DropShip Hammer of the Gods Inbound from “Motherlode” orbit 15 November 3020/2005


{“-itohshitohshitohshitohJesuswe’refuckedwe’rejust -”}


“Hudson, will you shut the fuck up!?” Being wrapped in sixty-five tons of fusion-powered battle-steel was normally enough to make “Chief” Nigel Murray feel nigh-invincible... but now the cockpit of his CRD-3L felt more like a mobile metal tomb. Who the hell are these people? Nobody’s thrown around this many nukes since the Second Succession War! He keyed the intercomm. link, wishing he didn’t sound quite as close to raw panic as he knew he did. “Ilya, when will we be clear of re-entry blackout? We need to know where we’re going to land!”


{“Blackout over in three... two... one... we’re clear now, Chief!”} his pilot replied from the bridge, several decks above the ’Mech and vehicle bays holding the self-proclaimed “Rain of Pain”. {“Plotting descent track against planetary geography... oh, frackencrack.”}


I know that tone, but really: how much worse can this day get? Grimacing in aggravation, Murray flipped the settings on a secondary monitor to clone the master geo-plot being run on the bridge. Their projected descent track put them... “Oh, bloody hell.”


{“Uh... Chief, we’re getting a signal from our projected LZ - I’m piping it down to you.”}


{“- say again, this is Colonel James Locklear of the New Zealand Defence Force to incoming Lion-class DropShip: if you surrender your forces and land peacefully at the coordinates we designate, your personnel will not be harmed and your equipment will not be blasted to scrap-metal. Of course, it’s your prerogative to be total idiots about this, but if you fire even one shot at us, you need to understand something:


{“We owe you miserable inbred cocksucking sons-of-bitches ALL THE HURT IN THE FUCKING WORLD.”}


Murray’s head drooped. Note to self: stop taunting Murphy.







After a long moment, Murray shook himself and keyed the all-hands circuit. “Ilya, we’re all listening. Did you get a good look at those nuke launchers?”


{“... Yeah, I did. Now that I know what to look for, I can spot ’em from the ground.”} The I hope! went unsaid.


“Good. Listen up, everybody: this is now a straight-up raid-and-out. Ilya, find a flat spot inside the city, somewhere close to a lot of valuable or highly-populated real-estate, and set the Hammer down on it - hopefully these people aren’t crazy enough to nuke their own civvies to get at us. All our ’Mechs will hot-drop in from three thousand metres up; our job will be to break trail for the Hammer. Everyone else, establish a perimeter around the DropShip and don't let anyone through to it. When the militia shows up, chew hell out of ’em, make ’em too afraid to come near us before Ilya can plot us an escape vector that won’t get us vapourised. Tanks and infantry will protect the DropShip; ’Mechs, keep mobile, break up anything that looks like a coherent strike-force. Gerhardt, we’re going to need the Beagle Probe on that Cyrano of yours to help us spot militia squishies trying to infiltrate towards the Hammer, so get airborne as soon as you can.” �







Waiouru, New Zealand That same time


They’d been mobilised as soon as NORAD passed the word of the pirates’ arrival in-system to the GDI states, and now everything was as ready as it was going to get: the vehicles had been mechanically checked over (and the few ‘bent’ ones fixed with frantic haste), armed, and fuelled; the infantry had been issued live ammunition, with extra LAWs for the rifle-teams and doubled ammo-allocations for the heavy-weapons crews; their most important weapons, the all-important laser-designators (delivered from the US barely two months beforehand), had been calibrated and prepared with excruciating care.


Now, 1st Battalion RNZIR, the only mechanised battalion in the New Zealand Army, could do nothing but the hardest part of soldiering: wait and wonder if, when, and where they’d be dispatched, and what would await them when they got there.


It was a bleak, jittery sort of wait, made even worse by looking up into the bright blue late-spring sky to see the flash-bulb spots of nuclear detonations among the oncoming invaders. The troops traded the usual pre-battle banter and jokes, every man trying to ignore the oppressive tension hanging in the air and avoid pondering his own mortality, with non-coms and officers occasionally delivering pep-talks. Those did some good... but they weren’t sparkling successes, either. The simple truth was, every trooper of First Battalion knew that even with the aid-packages they’d received in the last few months, the New Zealand Army was set up mainly for peacekeeping and jungle-warfare duties; what they now faced was the worst kind of fight that could come to a Kiwi force. The New Zealand Army had operated no tanks since retiring its handful of light-scouts in the early ’90s; it had only towed 105mm field-guns, and too few of them for these purposes; its heaviest anti-armour weapons were Javelins, backed by man-portable Carl Gustav recoilless rifles and the 25mm chain-guns on the battalion’s LAV-IIIs - and none of them would make much impression on the armour used by BattleMechs and their contemporaries.


Nonetheless, Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Te Huki virtually teleported across his office to snatch up his telephone before it rang a second time. “First Battalion, Te Huki speaking.”


{“Colonel, they’re trying to get on the ground before the orbital defences can hit them with more nukes.”} The Chief of Defence Force was an Air Force man, but like Te Huki, he was in no mood to mince words. {“They’ve scattered all over the show, but there’s a single DropShip headed our way and it hasn’t answered our challenge. The experts say it looks like a Lion-class, so they’re anticipating a combined-arms force: as many as eight BattleMechs and a dozen light vehicles, probably with infantry support. Their current descent-track puts them somewhere in the North Island - wait a second.”} A few moments’ muffled conversation. {“NORAD’s updated the plot - the cheeky bastards are headed into Auckland again! Their communications might be out, Colonel, but I’m not about to bet on it: your battalion will move north immediately. If these people prove hostile, you will engage the enemy at first opportunity. Make every effort to prevent civilian casualties and damage to property, but lives are more important than concrete. Understood?”}


“Yes, sir!”


And as he went about his duties, Te Huki tried not to think about the mess that many ’Mechs and tanks would inevitably make of his command... much less the citizens and poor-bastard police and Territorials who’d run into them first.


I just hope the bloody Air Force comes to the party, or a lot of people on the ground are going to die for nothing.







Northbound from Ohakea, New Zealand That same time


Twelve JAS-39Cs and a pair of two-seat JAS-39D trainers were burning towards Auckland, all of them heavily armed, all of them crewed by hard-eyed men with fell intent.


James Garvey had been awarded the NZMC for his flight’s role in the First Battle of Auckland... not that it had rebuilt any of the wrecked buildings, resurrected a single dead civvie, or been much consolation to Pete Frasier’s widow. Fortunately, the unprepossessing ‘expert’ who’d shown up to brief them about BattleTech in the aftermath had been fairly switched-on for a self-admitted geek, and he’d actually offered some useful suggestions - including the one that had led to the squadron’s current weapons-mix. If Mister Blackbeard thinks he can just wave ‘g’day!’ as he flies up-up-and-away this time around, he’s in for a rude bloody shock even before he runs back into the nukes!







'Hammer of the Gods Over Manukau Harbour, New Zealand


{“Looks like there’s some air-breathing fighters coming up from the south, Chief - must be the same base that hit Mamoto, but there must be a dozen of ’em this time; looks like these people build planes fast. Descending through four thousand metres, opening bay doors,”} Ilya recited over the intercomm. Sure enough, a moment later the drop-door before Murray’s Crusader swung open.


{“Holy shit - it’s that wet-ship Mamoto ran into!”} someone else on the bridge screeched.


{“Then sink it, Goddammit!”} a third man snarled.


Hammer’s turret-crews would have been flung out of any Successor House gunnery school for their slovenly habits alone, and they were certainly members of the ‘spray and pray’ school of marksmanship, but they were shooting almost straight down at their target. Of Hammer’s aft-facing batteries, only the LRM-racks and laser-cannons had the range, and they all cut loose in the space of three seconds. The missiles scattered all around the target, many striking the water and raising nothing more dangerous than spouts of water and sprays of shrapnel; the target’s AMS shot down some of the others; the remainder scattered across her upperworks, shredding metal, exposed personnel, and all manner of electronics.


And there was no stopping the lasers.


Four beams hit the frigate. Two speared into its midsection, punching through thin steel to rupture and ignite the bunkers of fuel-oil that fired its boilers. The other pair lanced down through the top of the boxy turret on the foredeck, killing two crewmen in passing, then punched deeper into the turret’s bowels and touched off the magazines that fed its twin-114mm guns.


HMNZS Canterbury exploded with her full crew of two hundred and forty-five souls aboard.


There were no survivors. �







Over the Waikato Valley That same time


Garvey’s face tightened as Canterbury’s GCI chatter cut off in a mid-word screech of static. The sudden roil of smoke was little more than a black dot at this range, but it didn’t take Pythagoras to do that bit of maths. “Right. Now we’ll bloody have you, mate!” he growled into his oxygen-mask, before keying his radio. “Inbounds are hostile, say again hostile. Theseus flight, with me: weapons hot, switch Mistletoe. All others hold here.”


{“Two.”} {“Three.”} {“Four.”}


It was the work of instants for each of the Gryphons to get a hard radar-lock on their target: even without an IFF transponder-code, it’s rather hard to overlook a metal spheroid ninety metres in diameter. Garvey waited a half-instant for a good tone, then called, “Theseus Lead: Fox One! Fox One!” and thumbed the pickle twice.


One of the most galling aspects of the last raid had been watching Drakon climb skyward, too fast for anyone to get a shot with a Sidewinder and completely outside the reach of their laser-guided gravity-bombs. When that point had come up in the weeks immediately afterward, ‘Trace Coburn’ had almost innocently mused aloud that Swedish JAS-39s had used to carry the Sky Flash missile (a British derivative of the old AIM-7 Sparrow), and since the Poms and Swedes were retiring Sky Flash in favour of AMRAAMs, they might be willing to spare some for experimentation and modification. That had been kicked up the chain to Raytheon and British Aerospace... who had collectively smacked themselves on the forehead, set up a joint working-group, and turned out a workable (if not overly pretty) design for a field-modification kit in only nineteen days, counting the successful test-firing that had capstoned the process.


By replacing the missile’s original continuous-rod warhead with a shaped-charge, and modifying the guidance/fusing package to promote contact-detonation, they could turn Sparrows, Sea Sparrows, and Sky Flashes into weapons that could (at least notionally) cause effective damage to BT-armoured aerial targets - and virtually every modern fighter in the world built by a NATO nation (apart from Russia) could carry some version of the AIM-7. The working-group had dubbed the resulting weapon ‘Mistletoe’, in honour of an incident from Norse mythology, and Raytheon and British Aerospace were still working around the clock to build all the kits needed to field-convert Sparrow-based missiles their customers already had in their stocks. (They’d even been charitable enough to sell the refit-kit specs to the Italian firm Selenia, who produced their own version of the Sparrow known as the Aspide for air- and surface-to-air duties, for a price that wasn’t overly greedy. Negotiations to do the same for companies in the recently liberalised PRC, which operated a knock-off of the Aspide, were scheduled for - d’oh! - early December.)


There had been an unanticipated bonus in the arrangement for the Kiwis: since the RAF was sticking with its AMRAAMs, BAe was remanufacturing the ‘obsolescent’ Sky Flashes for foreign customers... like the Kiwis who’d had the original idea. Sixty Mistletoes had arrived in New Zealand barely six weeks ago; now, eight of them dropped from beneath the wings of Theseus Flight’s Gryphons and scorched across the November sky at four times the speed of sound. �







The First Battle of Auckland had demonstrated that ‘Motherlode’s’ weapons could damage or destroy BattleMechs under the right circumstances; neither Mamoto nor Drakon had seen how far Motherloder weapons could reach, so being shot at from a range of more than fifty kilometres at such low altitude gobsmacked Hammer’s sensor-operator for a moment. It might not have mattered anyway.


Of the eight Mistletoes launched at the DropShip, one ‘went stupid’ before it reached the halfway mark, a result of hasty work in the seeker-head refit; two others failed to fuse properly and simply crumpled against Hammer’s thickly armoured hull, adding only more scratches and dents to its already battered appearance. Four more detonated as designed, but blasted only minor craters into armour that could withstand ‘alpha-strikes’ from entire assault lances.


The eighth Mistletoe, Theseus Three’s second shot, caught Conchita Torres’ STG-3R Stinger just as it fired its jump-jets and exited the ’Mech-bay’s ‘B’ drop-door, detonating against the side of its boxy head and rattling the Taurian-born pirate about its cramped cockpit like a light-bulb in a washing-machine. Knocked senseless by the blast battering her against her own instrument-panels, Torres lost track of her descent-attitude - one of the worst things a ’Mech-pilot can do during a hot-drop.


Torres was still trying to figure out which way was up when her Stinger, its jump-jets still blazing at full thrust, speared itself head-first into the rocky foreshore of the Waimanu Bay section of Waitemata Harbour. �







I haven’t even set foot on it yet, but I think I really could come to dislike this planet, the whimsical part of Nigel Murray judged, watching Torres’ ’Mech redistribute itself between land and sea. Neither the reactor nor the ammo-storage blew, surprisingly enough, so some parts might be retrievable - but parts were about all he’d get out of the wreck.


The unit-commander part of him was screaming into his radio head-set. “Abort drop! Abort drop! Everyone stay inside until we’ve landed! Ilya, close the doors and get us on the ground NOW!”


Great Mosque Mecca, Saudi Arabia Earth 14 November, 2005


The King of Saudi Arabia silently looked over the pavilion that surrounded the Kaaba. Today more faithful were assembled here than any time he'd ever seen outside the Hajj. When it had been announced that the infidel invaders had come to assault the Earth he'd called out to the faithful to jihad against the invader. Those who could fight were assembling into bands of Mujahideen. Those who could not were praying for the souls and safety of their protectors, both faithful and infidel.


He smiled. The foolish pirates would find that the forces of the faithful were a force that could not be overcome.


His musing was interrupted by a distant rumbling. What was that sound?


Frowning slightly he turned to his personal bodyguard who was standing at attention.


“Do you hear that?”


“Yes, my king,” replied his dutiful guard.


The door to the room suddenly exploded open and inside ran several of his guards. “My king, we must flee! The pirates are coming! Mecca will soon fall under assault!”


The king growled in anger as her leap to his feet. “They dare!”


First the damned Iranians and now invaders from another world. Saudi Arabia was the center of civilization, the home of God. Despite his anger the king followed his men to a waiting helicopter and quickly boarded. They needed to get out of the city before the enemy deployed their forces.


As the chopper lifted off he saw the ball shaped craft sitting several kilometers in the distance. Damn them to the depths of...


Dropship Pillager City in the Middle of a Desert. Motherload 14 November, 3020


The captain of the Pillager laughed darkly as the civilian VTOL exploded brilliantly from a PPC blast, dead center. Most of the drop ships seemed to be attacking the wealthy nation state on the smaller of the northern continents. Over the signals they'd been able to detect, heard that his desert area was exceedingly rich in petrochemicals and had meek, quiet women who knew their place. Perfect fodder for the slave markets of Port Krin.


He nodded to his second and command, and with rough precision the units 'Mechs deployed followed by infantry. The 'Mechs were Port Krin regular forces, minor city state nobles looking to carve out their own fiefs. Mostly light 'Mechs with a few mediums in their number, they were a rag tag force, but good enough to defeat some piss ant periphery milita.


Minutes later the infantry swarmed out in a hoard. Hoard was the best name for them. They consisted of mostly bandits and thugs looking for loot and pillage. Well, there was an entire city in front of them. Enjoy your pay, boys. Cascade Range, Oregon 15 November 2005/3020


"Sergeant, they're here earlier than expected, and in far more strength than we'd hoped. Our local air wing launched too soon and got chewed up, and their main concentrations need everything we can throw at them if we're going to have any chance. We need you to keep their mind off of terrorizing the civilians, or linking up with one of the larger forces. If possible work to deplete their fighter and anti-air assets, but not at the cost of getting pinned down"


"Control, I'll do my best, but Quasi wasn't built for speed, just about everything they have is going to be at least as fast as me. Is it too late to fly Jankowscki over to pilot? I can always stay in the cockpit in case he gets squirrely."


"Sergeant, we just put Jankowscki in the Commando and sent him out to another hot spot. It's that bad. We'll get reinforcements to you as soon as possible, but we just can't spare the planes from the two largest theaters that we'd need to accomplish anything. You're the only thing we have that might convince them to stick around where they can't do too much damage."


"Enemy forces? Allied support?"


"Two light aerospace fighters, tentatively classed as Sabres, and at least half a dozen mechs, one of which was definitely a Rifleman. No support at this time, your ground crew has another tasking."


"Roger control, out. Just don't expect much to be left of me when they get here" Dansel muttered after breaking the connection. Let's see, on the plus side, I have the supplementary weapons, and they haven't seen me yet. On the minus side, well, everything else really. The 'supplementary weapons' were really just a pair of clubs sized for the Hunchback, formed from high-density metals and donated as part of a set of like melee weapons by a wealthy enthusiast. These two had held up the best under testing, and it had been intended that today would be a test of the strain of a long term deployment while carrying them, to develop a better feel for how much stress a mech's muscle and bones could undergo beyond the official specifications. It was also intended that the Earth would keep its one undamaged Battlemech completely out of the likely combat zones, with the usual results when plans and reality come into conflict.


Sergeant Dansel set his mech into motion, eating up the ground at a steady lope as he drove towards the Dropship's landing site. Unfortunately, despite all of the immense practical, and in some cases still inexplicable advantages offered by Battlemech technology, there was one thing that they tended to be dismally inept at. And one of the fighter pilots picked exactly the wrong moment to gain a few hundred meters of altitude, bringing the towering height of the Hunchback clearly into view of its sensors just as Dansel crested a hill, moments before he could enter a treeline. Instantly, the two fighters changed course towards his position.


Pilot Officer Gentry Yates had been bored almost since they'd landed. Sure, there had been a minute of excitement when those primitive planes had come off the ground as the dropship was landing, but she and her partner had easily seen them off. Well the crossfire from the dropship and Major Bordan's Rifleman might have helped a little, but I'm not going to tell him that. However, a medium mech, much less one with the sheer punch of a Hunchback wasn't what she was looking for in a mood enhancer, especially when she didn't have a damned thing that outranged it.


Her radio crackled to life as her wingman, who she only knew as Rake, piped up "Lead, didn't the guy in charge of the mechs that got ambushed drive a Hunchback?"


"That's what I heard. I also heard the wogs here managed to get there hands on it mostly in one piece. Let's do a quick flyby right inside its range, these people might be dumb primitives, but there's no need to take chances."


"Copy lead." The two fighters skirted just within what was generally considered the range an infighter might have a shot at hitting something, ready at a moment's notice to dodge if the mech made a move. It didn't even twitch, as it continued to stagger along towards their ride home.


"Right then, Rake, circle around and catch it from it's left low and fast on my signal, we'll pincer this son of a bitch so he won't know which way to turn even if he sees us coming. Base, we've got ourselves a gate crasher, taking a run at it in three" With that, the two fighters broke for the deck, the one taking up a holding pattern, as the other circled around at barely subsonic speeds for a position some thirty klicks away. "Start your run" she said, as she slammed forward at supersonic speed.


The two fighters closed rapidly, homing on the magnetic signature of the mech until they could get a clear view. The contact kept its unsteady pace, slowly moving along, until the fighters came into clear view. At that moment, its torso smoothly twisted to the left, and a pair of lasers joined with the massive autocannon in obliterating the nose of Rake's fighter tearing up into the cockpit a bare instant after he ejected, even as his own lasers tore at the Hunchback's chest. Yates screamed in frustration as the sudden movement threw off her own aim, scattering fire across the mech without penetrating anything vital. Then she was past, and even as she began an evasive roll, a series of hammer blows rattled her in the cockpit, and her right wing flashed red, then black on the display. "Base, this bastard knows what he's doing, we're both gone" she gasped, as she fought the G-forces from the out of control spin to hit the ejection button. By some combination of luck, instinct, and skill, she managed to hit it when her fighter was right side up, and she watched as her beloved bird crashed and tumbled along the ground below moments later. She was then startled as something flew right past her, just below the treeline, that looked too damned small to be piloted. "And they have sensor drones. Base would really probably have wanted to hear about those." �


Simmons hated fucking trees. In addition to breaking up line of sight for visual and IR based targeting, they also made it impossible to move at anywhere near a decent pace. Just to make things that little bit worse, these yokels had an annoying tendency to put giant metal towers up in odd spots, he'd actually opened fire on two of them, even wasting one of his Griffin's LRM salvos on the sudden MAD contact before realizing his mistake(and the two chuckleheads with him were still making jokes at his expense). Still, with the terrain, there was no way the bastard who'd killed their air support could have made it this far, and he had Menk's Wasp and Randall's Jenner out on the flanks to make sure he wouldn't get ambushed. They just had to find a good position high up to wait for the slowpoke lance to make their way into contact with the target, and they'd hit the enemy in the rear whether he tried to engage or evade, while the command lance moved through the slowpokes to crush him.


Dansel hated fucking trees. On the other hand he loved infrastructure improvement, whether it be the network of roads, the gps network that allowed him to make best use of them, or whatever utility service it was that needed big honking metal towers dispersed across the landscape. None of those prevented his mech from getting covered in sap and remnants of branches though, or allowed his direct line of sight to improve(although on reflection the last was probably a silly complaint, given the composition of the opposing forces, and the tragically short range of all his weapons). Still, it meant that when he took his shot, he had to go for the best available target, instead of something that might be immediately fatal.


The first warning Simmons had was a series of impacts smashing down the length of his mech's left leg, driving him down to one knee and causing a pair of lasers to shoot through the space right above his head. This was followed by a foliage coated Hunchback charging straight towards him, with, of all things, a club in each hand. He frantically brought up his right arm, nailing the descending right arm with a snap ppc shot, even as the lefthand club smashed into his interposed limb instead of his cockpit. Still, the impact further unbalanced him, sending him crashing fully to the ground as the Hunchback continued past.


As Simmons levered himself to his feet, Randall's Jenner came into view, and unleashed everything he had dead center at the Hunchback, apart from a stray laser to shot to the mech's head, and received the same in return. Unfortunately for Randall, while this sort of behavior was barely survivable for a Hunchback, it was in no way what a Jenner was designed for, and his mech crashed helplessly to the ground as the cockpit canopy blasted outwards. Simmons regained his feet, and had just one moment to abstractly appreciate the staggering path the Hunchback took as it spun, before the right hand club filled his field of vision.


Dansel almost lost his footing, before his spin was abruptly stopped by an impact that ran down the right arm of his mech. Glancing down at the fallen Griffin, with it's newly shattered head, he had just one moment to feel queasy, before the belatedly arriving Wasp dispelled the building reaction to ending a life. Reflexively firing all weapons again, Dansel cursed a moment later as he realized he'd wasted one of only six remaining shots on a damned 20 ton tin can of all things. Still, it was difficult to argue with the results, as his weapons converged from both sides, the lasers carving away at the left arm until only tattered remnants remained, the mammoth autocannon devouring the entirety of the right arm, before driving its shattered remnants into the torso.Well darn, trying to aim center mass in the middle of a fight is a lot harder than I thought Dansel mused, as he charged forward to the falling mech, viciously stomping down on it's left leg. Noting the caved in section of armor where the Wasp's missile launcher had been located, he triggered his external speakers "Now, if you'll just refrain from making any transmissions and eject when I tell you to, I won't have to hunt you down and dismember you like I did your mech. How's that sound?" �


Captain Li-Feng, of the unimaginatively named dropship 'Base' turned from watching the infantry and salvage group depart and said "Right, you brought me slaves. I get that. Slaves are good, we can always use slaves. What I don't get is why you brought a pair of broken ones." he pointed, indicating the one in the wheelchair, and the other missing most of one arm.


"Well Captain, this way we have a couple that we can execute to encourage the others without impacting the bottom line. Besides, they were right there, and I didn't want them wandering off to tell the milita anything. Although there's one loud bastard I may want to shoot first" Sao-Me was an oily bastard, but he did have a brilliant handle on human resources, pirate-style.


"Damnit, you have to listen to me! I'm Captain Burgess Hale, off of the dropship Drakon, before that traitorous bastard left us all here to die! He's led you all into a trap, and if you don't listen to me, the crazy bastards here are going to kill you all!"


"Right, fine, come with me to the wardroom, I'll hear you out, and if I don't like what I hear, I'll kill you." Motioning for his bodyguards to follow and bring the mouthy prisoner along, Li-Feng left the room.


Sao-Me stopped suppressing his sadistic grin, and loudly said "Right, I'm just going to evaluate the physical fitness of you for your new lives. I'm thinking for a start... Jumping Jacks."


The man in a wheelchair started at that impossible command, then started babbling "Look, okay, you want useful slaves mate, I get that. I can show you how to work all that loot you got, save you time, keep any of it from getting broke by accident, and you can kill that useless one-armed bastard over there for an example, and let me live to show the benefits of cooperation, right?"


Sao-Me nodded thoughtfully, already contemplating how he'd twist the wording of any deal made to result in the cripple's painful death. "All right then, show me, and I won't kill you." Hearing the subtle emphasis their leader had imparted to his words, the remaining troops chuckled, life was always more fun when those damned wet-blankets in the infantry had been sent off on make-work.


"Right okay, just open that box there, and pass me the laptop. Yeah the big thing taking up most of the box. Right, I'm booting it up, it'll just be a moment. Meanwhile, throw me one of the things in the box that says mini-recorder. Now what you do, is you hit this button and it records all the sounds around it, like 'Lewis is a wanking cunt'. Sixty hour memory, great for eavesdropping, insurance policies against betrayal, and recording the drunken ramblings of your mates for blackmail purposes when they sober up. Okay, now throw me that Nikon box there. Here we've got a digital camera, top of the line ten times optical, sixty times digital enhancement, uses these little memory cards for additional space, the largest one we've got will hold like a thousand pictures. Now I'll warn you the low-light compensating flash on these things can be a little bright. �



"Simmons come in. Randall or Menk, report." Craigston mouthed a curse before switching channels, saying "Still nothing from the fast and the foolish base. By its transponder we've got Menk's Wasp making it's way back slowly, but he's not saying anything. Moving to intercept, then we'll check the condition of the other two and the fighters. But we're bugging the hell out if we spot this guy, I'm not going to try to engage a Hunchback if it's already wasted two guys and our aerojocks, unless he's already chewed the hell up." Ending the transmission, Craigston set his Whitworth back into motion, followed by Johny's Blackjack, and Marky's Urbanmech lagging well behind. "Head's up guys, we should be seeing him through the treeline any moment." he said, as they continued to carefully make their way up the mountainside.


"Eject" was the word that reverberated across the area, at a ninety decibel loudspeaker powered whisper. Moments later, the limbless torso of a mech came crashing down on the Blackjack, knocking it off it's feet. A bare instant passed, followed by a single laser precisely spearing into the carefully peeled open ammunition compartment of the Wasp. Within seconds the light mech was reduced to a scattering chaff cloud, as the Blackjack under it was pounded into scrap by the involuntary suicide bomber on top of it.


Craigston had only seconds to assimilate this, as the battered form of Quasimodo charged downhill at a reckless pace, kept from tilting forward into an inevitable uncontrolled roll only by the recoil of the continuously hammering Kali Yama cannon. He fired his missiles back, seeing two thirds of them hit despite the now obscenely short range, then cursed as the jump jets in his right leg went offline under the continuous barrage. Frantically backpedaling, he triggered his one laser which joined with Marky's autocannon to obliterate the armor on his target's left arm. Still, seemingly unstoppable, the leaf smeared apparition carried forward, burying its right hand club in the side of his mech, and leaving it there, before continuing past. Craigston bemusedly watched his displays for a second, wondering who the hell would equip a battlemech with damned club of all things, much less two? This thought was smashed out of him as the auto-ejection sequence launched him out of his cockpit, a bare instant before his mech's missile storage erupted. As he descended through the treeline, he saw Marky trying to jump to gain distance as the two remaining mechs exchanged autocannon and laser fire, before he lost sight of the fight.


Unstrapping himself from the seat, he noted that his sidearm had apparently come loose at some point, and grabbed the pack that he'd stashed in the chair. He froze as he heard a rustling noise from the bushes behind him, followed by the words "He's got a purty mouth. Get a rope."


Dansel heaved a sigh of relief as the walking trashcan crashed to the ground, fired his lasers one last time to be sure, and was rewarded by the sight of the cockpit panel blasting off, followed by the pilot halfheartedly being launched by a malfunctioning ejection system only to land at the mech's feet. He then began processing the diagnostic data he'd been working quite hard to ignore while the fighting had continued. Right then, Left Arm, Right Arm, Center torso, Left Leg armor all gone, other armor locations chewed up, right hand mace lost, and exactly three salvos left for the big gun. I think it's time to dis-the-fuck-engage, they should be pretty well distracted by now by the need to salvage their fallen. At that moment, the incoming sensor feed lit up with rapidly approaching targets, apparently the last pirate mechs had managed to slip the sensor net, and he hadn't noticed. He scrambled back to the treeline, but there was really no chance of outpacing them in the long term. Hmm, must work on improving situational awareness Setting his radio for open broadcast, he affected a bored tone, and merely said "Next?" �



Burgess Hale wondered what was taking so long, there was only so much time he could continue stringing together a coherent line of consistent utter bullshit. Fortunately, those odd books they had on this planet provided some frankly brilliant conspiracy theory material. Taking a deep breath, he continued "What you have to understand, is that Comstar has been working to their own agenda since the days of Blake, they've got all these secret colonies all over the place, some of them don't even know they're colonies, since the people there have been brought up from birth to think of it as their birthworld. They'll throw pirate groups or mercs at them now and again to test how the development matches with their pet theories, all the while raising their private armies to further the master plan. It's the only hope they have of stopping the return of Kerensky's children, Wolf's Dragoons are just their first scouting party."


A knock sounded at the door "New intelligence for you captain, it sheds light on the situation." On hearing that phrase, Hale made sure to be facing away from the door, and shut his eyes for good measure as it opened. A series of thumps followed.


"Wardroom Clear, Captain secured" Major Lewis said as he stepped into the room. "Good to see our trust in you wasn't misplaced."


"Trust hell, if you think I don't know there's a mike, and probably a bomb on this locator, you must be as dumb as you seem to think I am. I've just always hated this sadistic band of slaving fucks."


"Fair enough then. All stations report."


"Bridge secure."


"Cargo Bays secure"


"Engine Room, could use some help, but kind of secure. Oi! If I hear any of you fucks move agin, I'll just let go of the grenades and take me chances! Sorry Captain, got a bit of a standoff here, Hutton's down, and I caught a wee bit of a needler burst, with me face. On the plus side, now we've got a cosplay group for the next con as the 'Proud wounded heroes of Suvla' since Dansel's got the insane all sewn up. Don't suppose you've heard of any bionic eyes in Battletech, have ye? Oh thank Christ, the relief's here, it's a damned good thing these people don't know the markings for a smoke grenade, I'm just going to go into shock now."


Major Lewis closed his eyes for a second, before saying "All right secure the prisoners, keep them under guard, we've got a nutjob mech jockey to save again."


"We'd better not, if he's fucked up my mech, I'm going to put his real address up on the net for all his fangirl stalkers" Hale muttered. �



CNN reporter Barry Wise suppressed a wince as yet another tree crashed to the ground right next to his van. Even at this distance, and being nowhere near the line of fire, that had been the third near-miss so far as they scrambled to keep the action in sight. "This is Barry Wise, once again reporting on the ongoing action in the Cacade Mountains. This is the fourth engagement with the invaders in which Quasimodo has participated, and at its worst odds yet. My technical consultant has informed me that at not only four to one numerical odds against, but also in terms of sheer mass, this fight started as a near-hopeless endeavor. Even if faced in an immaculate machine, which Quasimodo certainly is not at this time, the pilot's prospects for victory would be bleak. Astoundingly, the pilot, whose identity we have been unable to confirm, has already disabled one of the largest of his opponents, but remains boxed in by the other three. I remind my viewers once again that this footage is not going out in real-time, so as to keep from compromising the operations of our military for-"


"Yes!" was the unprofessional shout from his cameraman that interrupted Wise's commentary, as a precise burst of autocannon fire sent the Phoenix Hawk crashing bonelessly to the ground, feebly twitching for a moment before the pilot ejected.


"No. He has to be out of ammo now, and the damned Rifleman's still on it's feet and nearly untouched, along with the Panther cowering behind it and sniping. Oh hell no." The crew's 'technical expert', which amounted to an intern attached to Wise for the planned interview because of his familiarity with Battletech, groaned as fire from the two remaining mechs neatly removed Quasimodo's arms, and as an insulting afterthought smashed the autocannon. "He's had it, he's only got a freaking small laser left, and he's not Aidan Pryde."


Oddly, the Rifleman's arms picked that moment to flip backwards, and lasers beams and streams of tracers reached up into the air, followed moments later by a small explosion above it. At the same time, the Hunchback unleashed an inarticulate roar as it charged straight for its opponents. As it closed, the two remaining pirates frantically fired everything they had in an attempt to bring it down, but the Panther was only able to get a clear shot at a leg past the Rifleman, and the Rifleman fired too early as it desperately backpedaled, it's targeting systems and actuators misfiring under the overload of heat it had built up from constantly firing its heavy weapons. Quasmodo met the Rifleman head first, crushing the heavy mech's cockpit and tilting it backward.


Astoundingly, the Hunchback maintained the momentum of its charge, running up the falling body of its victim to crash headlong into the Panther. As both mechs descended to the ground in a pile of tangled wreckage, the intern's voice could be heard in an awed whisper: "Aidan Pryde's a wanker." �



Private Jones came back to consciousness slowly. the last thing he remembered was the sight of a drastically slimmed down Hunchback filling his viewscreen, followed by a great deal of motion and pain. He tried for a diagnostic from his mech, but was unable to get past the ubiquitous blue screen of death, even with a hard reboot. Since at the very least that was going to require the intervention of a tech to undo, he sighed, and began manually opening the emergency hatch. Upon cracking it open, he was able to take one breath of welcome fresh air, before a wild-eyed maniac, incongruously clad in an immaculately pressed unfamiliar uniform, began beating the living shit out of him with a metal bar while shouting at him.


Punctuating his rant with swings of the bar Dansel vented his frustration: "You Stupid! Miserable! Shit! If you had used! Your fucking! Range! And mobility! I wouldn't! Have been able! To get away with that!" A series of clicks and an exaggerated throat clearing from the ground interrupted his ranting, and he paused mid-swing. Looking up, he found at least twenty men in a rough semi-circle around him on the ground, all with guns trained, trying to hold in their laughter.


Their leader spoke up "While the techs will no doubt appreciate your critique of Jonesy's piloting, and may let you have another shot at him later, I really think a surrender is in order right now."


"Very well, you wish to surrender? I accept." Seeing the blank, non-plussed stares of the pirates, Dansel sighed "You've even lost the classics, truly, a wretched pile of scum and villainy." pile? heap? oh that's right, hive. damn, well, it's not like they know the line.


"We're making all due allowance for the repeated trauma to the head your mech suffered, but play time's over. I'll shoot Jones myself if I have to clear a line of fire for my men, I owe the bastard money anyway."


"It really isn't too late for you to defect you know. We even gave the last group of pirates that came over to our side key positions in our military, and hell, one of them's piloting a mech against you lot as we speak" Seeing a truck burning rubber towards them from the direction of the dropship, Dansel deliberately let his eyes widen as he looked past the group, but they weren't having any of it, only one two man team turned to look, before turning back as they realized it was one of their own transports.


The truck stopped, and a group of men in ragged battle scarred armor pile out. Dansel did a double take at the sight of one man lacking a weapon or helmet, then desperately tried to suppress an evil grin as they assumed combat positions. Pitching his voice to carry to everyone present, he said "All right, I lied, it is too late to defect. If all of the murderous scum present could kindly drop their weapons and place their hands behind their heads, this will go much more smoothly."


The pirates stared at him in disbelief, then started at the sound of a set of all too familiar clicks behind them. Finally unable to suppress himself, and seething at the fact that he hadn't been given a damned helmet, Burgess Hale shouted "What the hell did you do to my mech, you syphilitic inbred Liao-fucker?!"


Location: Leopard class dropship Jolly Roger En route to "Motherload." ETA: Imminent.


The Jolly Roger's drive plume lit up the night as only a fusion torch can. She was burning hard for Motherload


"So we drew the short stick, eh Blue?" Natalie asked.


"Nonsense, Lassie! I volunteered us!" The dropship's captain, "Cap'n Robert Steiner-Davion-Ashworth-Bluebeard-Covenant the Fourth" was a bit eccentric. Well, more than a bit eccentric. In truth, Natalie doubted he came from any noble lines, much less truly important ones like the Steiners and Davions. She'd always suspected that he just randomly tacked on words to the end of his name for amusement. Still, Robert, or "Blue" as everyone called him, was dependable in his insanity.


He was insane by the numbers.


There was no man Natalie would trust more in her lance's dropship, even if he had been the one to get them into this mess.


"This mess" referring, of course, to the plan. That is, the Jolly Roger, being amongst the flotilla’s most expendable assets, would move in first to make sure the motherloaders hadn't been busy as bees and set up defenses.


If they had, she'd perish quite quickly; the ship wasn't in good shape. It'd only been half-repaired from the last fight, and while it was space and airworthy, it couldn't stand up to much weapons fire. Not unless the motherloaders had a couple tons of armor that they could be 'persuaded' to donate to Natalie's cause.


She grinned. Facing down an assault mech tended to make one reevaluate what they would do to survive.


Jolly Roger's weaponry had been replaced with a pair of small lasers. More navigational aids than weapons, really. Everything else had ended up being used as spare parts for the lance within the hold. Fortunately, that lance was more than capable of taking anything the Motherloaders could throw at it. Natalie was sure of herself and her lancemates.


Listening in on Motherload's communications had been enlightening - She now knew the capital of their most powerful (and thus most wealthy) nation; a place called "The US."


She wondered if there was a nation called "The THEM" somewhere.


At any rate, striking the US capital was right up her alley. Kick the Motherloaders in the face by taking their capital and she'd break any effective resistance. It’s how war went in the Inner Sphere. Bump off the leadership and take over yourself. Change the flags a bit, maybe have some public executions of the old high officials to crack down on rebellion, and rule your docile peasant population.


Princess Natalie of the Oosa kinda had a ring to it. And then she'd have all sorts of frilly dresses, and PPC capacitors, and chocolate - Oh, chocolate! Devilishly good chocolate as far as the eye could see. In fact, she'd commission the peasants of the USA to make an entire mech out of chocolate just because she could.


She was startled from her daydream by the drop-buzzer. Five minutes till drop. If the motherloaders were going to do something, they'd be doing it right about... Now.


She paused and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she realized she hadn’t died in a flurry of laser, LRM, or, heaven forbid, nuclear fire. Things were going well so far.


"Alright, status check," she asked, patching into her unit's frequencies.


"Yarr, this be yer captain speaking. We are on our way down to Motherload now. No ground fire detected. Looks like those bilge rats on the Drakon weren't totally full of parrot dung after all. I am sending the 'all be clear' message to the flotilla now. Err... Me hearties."


"Boss, can you please get him to drop the pirate act? I know we do a little pillaging on the side, but this is embarrassing." The voice belonged to Mechwarrior Edwin Tyron; he was Natalie's second, pilot of the Stinger Blue Thunder. A more loyal man she'd never met - though whether it was because he wanted her, or whether he was just naturally loyal, she couldn't say.


"Shut up Tyron; it's better than last week. Unless you want a visit from Captain Fairy again?" And this voice belonged to Mechwarrior Janet Barnes, the other talkative member of Natalie's lance. She drove the Stinger Grassman. Natalie had always suspected that Barnes was here for Tyron, at least from the way the latter was always trying to get the man's attention and making eyes at him.


"And a fuck you to you too, Barnes." Tyron replied. Natalie could tell the spot of good humor in it.


Two taps on the microphone followed. That was the fourth member of Natalie's lance, Brox. No surname, no title. Just... Brox. He was a mute, born with a rare genetic condition at birth that left him with a malformed voice box. At least, that's what the file said. Natalie had never heard him even try to speak. The man communicated via a pad of paper and, when necessary, Morse code tapped into his commo set.


If she were being honest with herself, she'd admit that Brox was even more skilled than she was when it came to mechcraft. The moves she'd seen him pull still drove her mad trying to figure out just how he'd done them.


"Me mateys! We will be landing momentarily at a civilian starport in this “Wash-ing-ton,” Me crow’s nest is seeing a sizable gaggle of tanks and infantry moving to meet us! Remember, loot and then burn!”


<***>


"Y’know, Ants… You ever wonder what the fuck is going on?" Private Blooper, officially known as Private Bob Buckland asked, staring out from the top of a multi-story car park in downtown DC. Infantry like their platoon had been spread out all through the city with anti-tank weapons, and told to dig in and wait for the mechs to come. There was also an armored company that’d been tapped for defending the capital. The only problem was that it was concentrated on the other end of the city from the pirate dropship, which meant that the pirates would probably reach them before the treadheads would.


In the distance, they could see the sunbright plume of superheated atmosphere that was a dropship’s fusion drive pulsing to the ground. Yeah, the pirates would definitely hit them first.


"Eh, Blooper?" Corporal Anton “Ants” Greene asked. "What do you mean?"


"I mean, the stars change, giant killer robots are dropping from the sky… And to top it all off, we’re working with the Reds!"


"And you know, I think there’s a cat and a dog somewhere getting along together too,” Ants replied. “But to answer your question, nope. No idea what’s going on. My kid keeps talking about how cool it is that Battletech is real and all, but I haven’t heard anyone guess as to what exactly happened to us. Will we ever actually get home again, or are we stuck in this wartorn hellhole forever?"


"We brought our home with us. Think about it, Ants. Earth and the nearest real estate… Everything ever touched by our hands. And now we know there’s life out there. Well, technically it all came from here in the far future, but hey, we aren’t alone! That’s gotta count for something, right?"


"I guess, Bloop," Ants replied, sighing. "Amy keeps asking if I can bring her home a souvenir. Says she wants a real life battlemech."


"She doesn’t want much, does she?" Blooper replied. "Haha, maybe she could enlist when she hits eighteen. That’s the only way she’ll ever get to see one besides CNN."


"Nah, Kathy would crawl out of her grave to feast upon my delicious brains if I let Amy do something like that. She didn’t like it when I fought, much less her sparkling darling daughter," Ants replied, "I’m worried though. Amy’s impulsive. When she learns there’s mechs landing here in DC, she might do something… rash."


"Like father like daughter, eh Ants?" Bloop replied.


<***>


"Natalie! Something big big be going down in orbit." Blue said.


"How big?" Natalie asked.


“Oh, about three hundred and fifty kilotons big.”


Natalie blinked. Her mind started wracking itself looking for references to the word kiloton. She’d heard it somewhere bef-


No way.


“You’re saying the motherloaders are tossing around nukes up there?”


"Aye, lass. Aye."


"Okay Blue, just this once I’m going to forgive you volunteering us as bait!" She replied, "It makes switching to that other jumpship worth the aggravation."


"Do we continue with our nefarious plans?" Blue asked.


"Yeah. Yeah – they probably won’t nuke their own cities, and we damn well can’t go back up without dealing with those nuke launchers. Stick to the plan. We land, kick their leadership in the nards, and set ourselves up for life. It’ll be easy."


Brox tapped out "yeah, right" in Morse code on his microphone.


<***>


Moments later, the Jolly Roger set down. Its doors opened, bathing Natalie’s mech in warm early-day sun.


In the distance, she could see the tall skyscrapers of an industrialized civilization standing proudly.


Also in the distance, she could see a small platoon of Motherloader tanks. They were about six klicks off and across the river, just out of range of her mech’s ER PPC.


The Motherloaders had apparently spread their forces around the city, with most of their heavier armor concentrated around a base to the south east. Natalie had landed to the city's southwestern starport, so it’d take them some time to push through the tide of fleeing civilians or loop around to reach Jolly Roger.


Something rattled her armor, peeling a small chunk off.


She hadn’t even left the dropship yet. Bah.


Another shot hit her mech, pinging off the torso plate. It was the Motherloader tanks. They were opening up on her, hulls down, from an almost unheard of range. Lostech targeting systems, right. After the nuclear reception in orbi-


Wait a second. Why had they let her through?


In the back of her mind, a strange voice was whispering "It’s a trap!"


"Janet, stay back and keep an eye on the Roger. It’s our ticket off this rock if things go even more pear shaped. Brox, Edwin, sweep around and deal with those entrenched tanks. I’ll draw their fire and keep them focused on me." Natalie said.


Her mech broke into a run, charging the tanks and periodically firing off semi-aimed blasts from her PPC to keep their attention focused solely on her, and not her flanking lancemates.


What those tanks lacked in firepower, they more than made up for in accuracy.


"Lass, there be another dropship landing ten klicks to the northwest; a pirate Leopard. They’re some of Vorax’s swabbies, and they’re telling us to stay out of the way, if we know what’s good for us. The scurvy dogs! Crowsnest reads… Wow. That’s a mite of a heavy lance. Vorax isn’t playing around. By the manifests I borrowed from the fleet, that lance has a Marauder, Rifleman, Archer, and Crusader. All in pretty good condition, and all refitted for close combat." Blue said.


"Fuck them. This city is ours! We were here first!" Natalie replied as she fired off another burst of charged particles towards the Motherloader tanks.


"I know you’ve got a Battlemaster, but they’ve still got a serious weight advantage on us, boss. And the close in distance will favor them. Your PPC isn’t going to be too helpful at point blank. I think we should let them have the city and pull out." Tyron said.


“Not going to happen.” Natalie replied. "There's not much elsewhere to go."


One of her PPC blasts hit a Motherloader tank in the turret. The metal boiled, running down to the tank’s hull in great streams. One down.


Tyron sighed. "You’re the boss, but if I die from this, I’m so going to haunt your ass."


<***>


Brigadier General Norwell was not a happy man. It fell to him to organize the defense of the DC metropolitan area. Unfortunately, intelligence had screwed the pooch and told him – assured him – that the Pirate dropships would have to land to the south east. He’d thus concentrated the majority of his armored brigade between Andrews AFB and DC itself.


And then what happened? Two pirate dropships landed right as they pleased to the south west, while most of his men were on the other side of the damn city. And to make matters worse, pirate aerospace fighters were keeping his own birds grounded with their thrice-fucked super armor and lightspeed laser weapons. It didn’t help matters that he wasn’t even allowed to use his artillery to the fullest extent, because they wanted as much Battletech intact as possible. To say nothing of leaving Washington intact. He didn’t want to be the man who went down in history as the one who destroyed the capital.


"Okay, what are our options?" He asked. "Is there anyone who can move on the pirates in time?"


"Negative, sir. Just some scattered armored platoons, but our lines to the south are way too thin."


"How about-"


"Wait, sir. President Ryan just bought us the use of some mercenaries." One of his junior Colonels spoke up.


"What?"


"Yeah. Apparently the pirates hired some mercs to bolster their numbers. And these mercs count “getting nuked in orbit” as a contract violation. Then, a lot of gold later, and we’ve got the use of four mercenary mechs and some infantry."


"I see. Get on the horn and tell them to hit the dropship at Reagan, then swing up and nail the other one. Tell them that we prefer if they leave the enemy dropships as intact as possible."


"On it, general."


"Now, what’s the word on the ground?"


"The first dropship unloaded a strange mixed lance – three Stinger class mechs and a Battlemaster, all painted in a dull grey/white. I’ve had my signals men running over the FASA sourcebooks, but the insignias and colors don’t match any major merc units in the books. The second one is a bit more homogenous. All heavy mechs with a lot of firepower between them. Markings paint them as from Port Krin’s militia, so they’re genuine pirates."


"Well, tell the men to keep an eye out for more, and to aim for the cockpits if they can."


"Yes, sir."


<***>


"Lass, we’ve got another problem." Blue said.


"What, more claim jumpers-" Natalie replied, spraying her machineguns over yet another building filled with SRM-laden infantry. The little ticks were everywhere, and they were starting to get on her nerves. "You know, I’m getting tired of this shit."


"Me too, Lass. But no, not claim jumpers. Not exactly. The Buron Cavalry. They’re one of the mercenary companies that Vorax hired. They’ve landed nearby in their dropship, and they aren’t responding to me squawk. I’m getting kind of nervous here." Blue said.


"You’re nervous?" Janet piped in. "How do you think I feel! A dropship is non gratis for shooting. But, me? I’m in a stinger! You couldn't paint a bigger bullseye on me if you tried!"


"We don’t know why they’re here. Keep trying to reach them, and don’t do anything dangerous. I’m heading back." Natalie replied.


"Boss! Those mercs are attack-PUNCHING OUT!" Janet screamed.


Natalie swore. This was just great. Just fucking great. A tiny icon on her HUD, representing Janet's mech, turned from green to yellow. At least she got out in time.


Unfortunately for Natalie, she didn’t realize that the carpark she’d just sprayed with heavy caliber bullets wasn’t totally clear. Things were about to get worse.


<***>


Anton Greene was not having a good day. His platoon’s Javelins weren’t doing much more than pissing off that monstrous mech, and its machine guns were doing decidedly more than just pissing off his platoon in return.


He looked at his rifle and put it down. People it could kill, but giant killer robots? Not happening.


He looked at his pack, set aside by a particularly sturdy-looking support column. Or at least it had been particularly sturdy-looking, before that mech’s machine guns had thoroughly perforated it.


A role of duct tape was clipped to it, and his leather notebook lay next to the pack. Anton always tried to keep a notebook with him. He hoped that maybe once his stint in the army was over, he’d be able to publish his drabbles as something worthwhile.


He smiled a cracked, shark-like smile. The first of many rather unhinged grins he’d go through before the day was done. Before the shift, he’d had a preference for writing science-fiction. He’d written scores of pages of sci-fi war. But now, with mechs roaming the streets and lasers and working fusion reactors, perhaps he wasn’t writing sci-fi so much as modern war fiction.


The mech had turned and stopped, its cockpit facing him. With a good leap he could probably jump and reach it. He almost got the impression it was talking to someone.


Probably on a radio, or whatever the hell these things used.


And then, a thought struck him. That thing had an awfully huge cockpit. If the pilot was smart, he’d be worried if someone stuck explosives to it.


Ants’ grin fell. He didn’t have any explosives handy. The javelins had already shown they couldn’t dent-


-His eyes fell upon a case of MREs in the corner. His platoon had brought them up because they didn’t know how long they were going to stay here.


Another crazy idea made its way across his cerebral matter. Crazy, sure, but it was a damn sight better then getting machine-gunned when that mech finally noticed him.


<***>


"-Alright, I’m on my way back now," Natalie replied. "Brox, Tyron, fall back to the dropper. See if we can’t pick up Janet on the way back. I – WHAT THE HELL."


"Boss?" Tyron asked.


A native man, clad in grey and black urban combat fatigues, had leapt from the nearby structure and onto Old Melville’s cockpit, to which he now clung.


Natalie almost moved her mech’s arm up to squash him like a roach, only to halt when she noticed what else he was wearing.


The man had a half dozen brown packages taped to his chest, with thin red and green wiring going between the packages and a small device in his hand.


He was wired to blow.


For the first time in her career as a mechwarrior, Natalie froze. A look of shock plastered itself all over her face.


The native grinned a wide, manic grin, and then pointed to a small notebook he held with his other hand.


It was open to a page which read: "SURRENDER OR DIE!"


Natalie blinked. Was this guy bluffing, or just insane?


Then, still clutching the detonator, the man seemed to peer even closer at her through the mech’s transparent armored canopy.


He brought the notebook down and rested it on a precariously balanced knee, then, with his free arm, he hastily scrawled something else onto the notebook’s page and held it up.


"P.S. YOU’RE CUTE! WANT TO GO OUT?"


Natalie filed the man away under the “insane” category. He probably wasn’t bluffing.


"Okay, okay. You win." She mouthed the words to him.


"Lass… The Mercs are demanding my surrender. I’m sorry." Blue replied instead. "If it’s any consolation, they want me to surrender to the Motherloaders, so it’s not like I have to be indentured to Vorax. Err… Arrrrgh. Have to keep up appearances, y’know."


The Mercs had signed up with the natives. That was interesting. The wheels in her mind turned suddenly. One thing hurt her ego more than anything else: She’d lost. She’d never lost until now. Without the dropship, she was stuck here without supplies or aid.


On the other hand, the Motherloaders clearly had no problems with mercs.


A new plan formed in her mind.


She popped her cockpit open and said "Okay, get your ass in here!" to her hitchhiker. Then, “I surrender.”


And then she opened a wide-band communiqué to the motherloaders. "Attention, US defenders, this is Lance leader Natalie Fischer of Fischer’s Firelances. I want to make a deal."


<***>


"They want what?" General Norwell rubbed his temples, trying to deal with the migraine forming between them.


"They help the Buron Cavalry fight off the second lance assaulting DC. Then they stand down and let us have their mechs and equipment. In exchange, we give them back relatively intact when we’re done with them. Oh, and they want a “standard merc’s wage” to cover expenses."


"And if we refuse?" Norwell asked.


"They keep fighting. They could probably kill a lot of people if they go for hit and run raids against our civilians. Our mercenaries have their dropship, so they aren’t leaving. Either they have to surrender completely, or they’ll go on a blaze of glory run and start killing people wholesale."


"Okay. We’re taking the deal. Getting some more cooperative technicians with knowledge of Btech will be enough to soften the blow. I just hope the President and the Joint Chiefs agree," Norwell replied. "Tell them that we accept, and that we want them killing that second lance of pirates yesterday."


<***>


"Attention Buron Cav, this is Black Widow. We've signed up for the motherloaders too, so you can stop getting ready to shoot us."


"Black Widow?" The native asked from behind in the cramped cockpit. "Natasha, is it you? And does Colonel Wolf know you're out here?"


Natalie turned her head, twisting like a tank's turret acquiring the next target. "Do I LOOK like a highly paid mercenary?"


"No, you look like a cheaply paid who - Hey, don't hit the man with fifteen kilos of explosives strapped to his body! Seriously though, do most mechwarriors wear such revealing uniforms?"


Natalie snorted. "Yeah, actually. You have any idea how hot it gets in a mech?"


"I'm guessing I'll find out. And I'm guessing it's not going to be a good erotic heat." He replied.


"You've got that right." From up front, where he couldn't see, Natalie smiled.


<***>


DropShip Distant Home Ready Room On approach to Reagan International Airport 15th November, 2005/3020


"Change of plans. Everyone gets into the Mechs right now! We just received some orders from our new employers. Some of our former compatriots are running amok through their capital and have catched the locals on the wrong foot. And, to make the day really miserable, we have some jesters in ASF flying over the city and shooting at everything that looks like an air-breather. So they just ordered us into the breach."


Staedele activated his intercom. "Marc, get platoons one through three ready to go down the ramp right after us. Four and five are to stay and guard the ship. Hanna, I want you and the bridge crew to find out who we´re dealing with."


After this, Staedele ran into the Mechbay, finding a scene that could best be describes as an organised chaos. Techs were scurrying around everywhere, performing last checks, loading ammo and pumping cooling fluid into the Mechs.


"So, honey, how´s the Eisen doing?", he yelled over the noise to his wife. "Perfect, dear. Now go get on board, we have perhaps 5 minutes till ETA!" she shouted back.


With that, he ran over to Altes Eisen, his Warhammer. The Mech stood in one of the hangar niches, 70 tons of inert metal painted in an urban camouflage pattern and displaying the units colors, the emblem of their home town inside a light blue circle, as well as its personal ID, a black silhouette of a gothic era knight with the Mech's name stencilled below it. It wouldn´t be inert for much longer now. Staedele climbed into the cockpit. Inside, he stripped down to the shorts and slipped into his cooling vest. Just as he sat down into the chair, he heard the techs outside slam the ammo hatch shut.


"Ready to start it up, Andreas", his wife´s voice sounded from the internal com. Looking out of the windscreen, he saw that the last techs were leaving the bay.


Staedele activated the computer system and, while it booted up, strapped in, put the neuro-helmet on his head and plugged the cooling vest into the system.


Please enter authorisation code... the computer droned.


"Altes Eisen rosted nicht." Staedele replied.


Authorisation confirmed. Checking neural pattern...


He felt the slight tingling as the neuro-helmet went active and scanned his neural pattern.


Neural pattern confirmed. Welcome back, Major. Performing reactor startup...


"Andreas", the com sounded, "I have something on that first dropship we´ll be landing almost on top of. It´s called the Jolly Roger. Apparently some small merc detail or something. The ship is almost ripe for the junkyard and pretty much unarmed. Their mech contingent... what the hell? Three Stingers and a BATTLEMASTER? Now that´s a wierd bunch."


Reactor startup at 10% Checking systems..... Actuators.....nominal Cooling system.....nominal Myomer.....nominal


"Thanks Hanna." he replied. A Battlemaster? Now that could get interesting. The Stingers, however, were fodder.


Reactor startup at 30% Gyro.....nominal Communications.....nominal Sensors..... nominal All systems nominal.


"Got anything on the other bunch?", he asked.


Reactor startup at 50% Checking weapons..... PPC 1.....nominal PPC 2.....nominal


"Not yet, unfortunately. ETA is in 2 minutes.", Hanna replied.


Reactor startup at 70% SRM 6.....nominal Ammo Feed.....nominal/fully loaded


Staedele could feel the vibrations of the reactor starting up and hear the clang as the ammo feed slammed the first salvo of SRM into the launch tubes.


Reactor startup at 75% Small Laser 1.....nominal Small Laser 2.....ERROR!


"Not again", he sighed before opening a radio contact to Marie. "Hey, honey, guess what?" Her answer came back, full of apprehension "Small Laser 2?" "Small Laser 2" he answered deadpan.


"Oh come on, that´s bullshit! I personally made a complete check just 2 days ago."


Small Laser 2.....nominal


"Hey, seems like it decided to work after all", he said into the com. "*Sigh*, I´ll never understand that thing. It simply does whatever the hell it wants", Marie answered.


Reactor startup at 90% Medium Laser 1.....nominal Medium Laser 2.....nominal All weapons nominal.


Hanna reported again: "Andreas, I got some camera footage from the Jolly Roger. Seems like all the birds have flown out, only a single Stinger is guarding it. ETA is 20 seconds."


This made him snicker. That poor sod wouldn´t know what hit him.


Reactor startup at 100%


Staedele hit the start switch. Under him, the massive 280 VOX fusion engine, after having been shut down for almost 6 months, came into full life and all systems of Altes Eisen started up. He activated the Mech´s radio.


"Iron lance, this is Iron lead, all systems nominal. Report in." "Iron 2, all systems green." Nedeljko´s voice sounded. "Iron 3, everything nominal" Miller answered. "Iron 4, he makes some fuss about the left knee activator again, but nominal" Lemell exclaimed.


"Landing in 10...9...8..." the speakers in the hangar droned.


Staedele prepared himself for the touchdown.


"3...2...1...touchdown!"


The whole ship vibrated as it landed on the tarmac of the Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport. Seconds later, it´s bay doors opened.


Staedele steered Altes Eisen out of it´s niche in the bay and, with steps that caused the entire deck to vibrate, moved towards the open doors.


"Iron lance, form up. We´ve got a job to do".


Reagan International Airport 15th November, 2005/3020


"Ah, finally. Terra firma. Good to get out of the sardine can again."


"Cut the chatter, Iron 2. Okay Iron, skirmish line. We´re moving north to get that dropship." Staedele ordered. "Copper, form up behind us and get ready to storm that bird."


With thundering steps the Buron Cavalry's Mech lance advanced down the tarmac of the airport, closing in on the Jolly Roger. Meanwhile, the Distant Home was already lifting off again and setting course for Andrews AFB.


As they were closing in on the dropship, a Stinger slowly walked around the spheroid shape.


Seems like he really doesn´t know what´s going on, Staedele thought. He was aware that the Jolly Roger had tried to call him multiple times by now, but he had refrained from answering them. No sense to spoil the surprise, after all.


"Iron 3, he´s all yours. Iron 2, cover her," he ordered. Miller was still a rookie and could use all the training she could get.


"Roger, boss!", Miller cheerfully replied.


Split seconds later, her Black Knight Hammer opened up on the still slowly moving Stinger with the PPC and both Large Lasers. Staedele shook his head. Chris still had to learn to respect the heat gauge. After that salvo, the internal temperature of her Mech would give her quite a bit of an uneasy feeling.


The results, however, were undeniably effective. The PPC hit the Stinger in the right leg, blowing through the thin armor as if it was made out of wet toilet paper and turned the knee activator into a mass of semi-molten junk. The Large Lasers both hit center mass, vapourising most of the Stinger's torso armor and sending a small rest of destructive energy right into the internal structure. Staedeles sensors registered a heat spike in the enemy Mech. Reactor damage.


Damaged like that and facing an enemy that was utterly and completely overpowering his little machine, the Stinger's pilot did the only sensible thing. He activated the ejection pod.


"Got him", Miller shouted over the com. "Kill confirmed. Good shooting, Iron 3."


Staedele switched to an open channel.


"This is Major Andreas Staedele of the Buron Cavalry to the captain of the Jolly Roger. We have been hired by the local government to defend them against you lot. You will immediately surrender and let a platoon of my infantry come on board. I guarantee that no harm will be done to either you or your crew. You have one minute to answer, then I will let Mr. PPC do the talking. Staedele, out."


Switching back to the company channel, he saw the 3 platoons of Copper closing in in their light jeeps. He ordered 3rd platoon to get ready to secure the dropship.


"This’ the Jolly Roger. Arrright, arright, ye scurvy dogs. We surrender."


"Acknowledged, Jolly Roger. A platoon of my infantry will board you shortly. I expect nobody to be shooting at them."


So far, so good, Staedele thought. One down, one to go.


Then his com blinked again.


"Iron Lead, this is Mountain" the voice of his wife resounded. "We have an ID on the other enemy unit. They´re Port Krin militia. Mech complement... oh oh."


"What?", he asked.


"You´re not going to like this, darling. Those guys have a Crusader, an Archer, a Rifleman and a Marauder. They´re all forming up to the east. I´ve got them with the drone, marked them on your tac-map."


Damnit, Staedele thought. That made 4 heavy and an assault Mech still at large. If those guys worked together, they would be able to lay down some serious hurt on his people.


"Wait, Iron, I get a transmission from that Battlemaster. Relaying it through."


"Attention Buron Cav, this is Black Widow. We've signed up for the motherloaders too, so you can stop getting ready to shoot us."


Black Widow?, Staedele thought. Oh girl, should Natasha Kerensky ever find out about this, you´re fodder for the dogs.


"Nice to hear, Black Widow. That still leaves four dumbasses in this city trying to damage the assets of my new employers. Okay... Mountain, transmit our com protocols to Black Widow. Looking at the direction these guys are moving, we best meet up on the other side of the river. I just marked our meeting point as Nav Alpha on the tac-map. You got it, Widow?"


"Affirmative, Buron Cav."


"Copper, you´ll have to take the bridge to the north. Try linking up with native units directly south to that big white building on the hill. Mountain, inform the local commander about this so he can tell his men not to shoot at us and give Copper some directions. Iron lance, move out." Laisa Linstrom nervously checked her Federated Long Rifle for the fourteenth time. She knew it was in top condition; she'd made sure of that before the dropship left collar, but the familiar routine helped burn off nervous energy and keep her mind off why the dropship walls were humming with that stuttering groan. She kept half expecting to see the wall shear off somewhere. She wasn't quite sure what was happening; no one told the Poor Bloody Infantry anything, especially not a lowly noncom like her. However, Laisa had never been a fool and it was quite clear from what little she had managed to overhear or surmise, the force they were a part of had unexpectedly been attacked while still in space, and someone further up the chain of command was having a panic attack. Normally, that would have made her giggle -no lost love between her and the officers of the scratch company she had been attached to, but not when her life hung in the balance. That would be a terrible way to go, dead in the ship before she even got a chance to fight back. She hadn't even ever fired her weapon in anger.


She'd been assigned to guard duty back on port Krin, fairly cushy work assigned to her by a oily Second Lieutenant who no doubt wanted her there for reasons that had nothing to do with her sharpshooting. Previously, her reputation in the slums as a techhead allowed her to get away with wearing baggy, often grease-stained clothing, seemingly casual, but actually carefully chosen to hide her feminine features and deflect male attention. Getting the militia job had been a calculated risk -it would give her legitimate access to weapons and some legal protection (in as much as the law wasn't a joke in Port Krin), but she’d also made herself a target. Thank the Blessed Mary for Alan Short, one of the Comstar personnel at the HPG facility she’d found herself guarding. Delighted to discover that the new sentry was a passable technician, he’d struck up a friendship, and even taught her a little about computers. That had caused to smarmy L-T to back off, assuming that Alan’s interest in her was of a different nature, and not wanting to infringe on Comstar’s “turf”. Of course, her technical and now computer knowledge had gotten her put on this godforsaken mission, so perhaps that hadn’t been as much a blessing as it seemed at first. Even being a joygirl was better than dying on some foreign world.


Beauty was more often a curse than a blessing in Port Krin, something she knew all too well; her mother had been a slave in some crime lord's harem, passed down to underlings as she grew older and less strikingly beautiful. Laisa was grateful that while she could, if she cleaned up, maybe be called "cute", she had inherited few of her mothers good looks was no great head-turner, and had managed to largely avoid attention from that quarter. Her mother’s stories told her what would happen if she caught too many eyes. Gretchen Handerson had been brutalized, but never broken, and eventually managed to find an out for herself, getting herself out of Port Krin by stowing away on one of the few remaining Fishing Trawlers that eked out what little seafood they could from Antallos's war-ravaged oceans. She'd married an engineer on the Moonlit Dancer, Lasti Linstrom and made a life for herself there. Laisa had grown up at sea, learning to be a mechanic and sailor, hard work but almost idyllic compared to running the streets of Port Krin after that bastard Niles Black has hot the Dancer up “for kicks” on a visit to the city. And the so called authorities hadn’t done a damn thing, not wanting to pick a fight with someone who had a few lances of battlemechs under his command. She’d had to fight her way up from poverty, being lucky to make it back into port at all. Apparently, the bastard was on this adventure as well. She hoped he’d been blasted in orbit.


The ship shuddered again, but this time, Laisa recognized the sensation as the thrusters firing. They were landing. Murmuring a prayer of thanks, she started going over a last-minute re-check with the three other “technical staff” under her nominal command. Seydlitz Over southern California.


Pilot Emily “Loony” Hasting was proceeding in a sedate zigzag cruise South along the coast keeping a look out for any potential threat to the grounded drop ships.


‘So far so good’ she thought. “I haven’t been shot at for a full 20 min” a good sigh considering the shit that got fired at them going in.


She spotted a few VTOLS on the flight but ignored them. They were definitely civilians and running away from her. Well trying to run anyway, nothing those poor birds could do but die if she decided to run them down, she was flying one of the fastest fighters in the Sphere. But she wouldn’t, no point in being cruel and attacking defenseless targets. Besides she couldn’t afford the heat any way. They had to rip out three of the heat sinks to help cool one of the mechs. They were that badly equipped and funded. That was why Brand was willing to compromise his principle and make the raid, the money was too good and they needed it too much. There was talk about selling one of the mech or her beloved Seydlitz to pay the bills before the call for units to raid Motherload came around. In all likelihood it would have been her ride. The mechs were the heavy lifters in the company, mechs got them jobs. Support vehicles like hers were always first on the chopping block. It looked like they could have enough to fix up the mechs and maybe even the fighter to full working order. Until they got to orbit.


The mechs were all intact but the dropships were in a bad way. Half the weapons were gone and almost all of the armor. The ships them could make orbit again but whether the crew could make it was another matter. She was glad they we in atmosphere when those big missiles hit. Looking at the exterior she was sure there were leaks all around the impact zone.


Suddenly she saw what Brand was afraid of. “Loony to base I have a large column of tanks in bound on your position I make it to be at least 60 repeat six oh tanks plus a mess load of other vehicles. Looks like artillery and transports. Maybe 50 miles out”


“Rodger, you did good RTB”


Suddenly she noticed several fast moving dots on the radar screen coming directly at her. “No can do got some air breathers heading toward me.” She prepared to climb to gain as much altitude as possible to be better to engage them.


Then all hell broke loose as the missile warning blared throughout her cockpit. First thing she did was to look around her to find the ground launcher nearby, wouldn’t be too hard to hide one with all the vehicles on the road. But there was nothing rising up to meet her. Then she saw radar warning was indicating it was coming from directly ahead.


“That can’t be right. They’re too far.”


But it was right. 2 AIM-120 missiles from an F-18, though she did not know their names, were heading strait for her small fighter. And there was nothing she could do about it. Those things were too far away, the odds of landing a hit were non existent. Firing now would only heat up the fighter prematurely


Hastings broke her fighter right diving for the deck as she did so. She saw the missiles turn to follow her path. “OK decent maneuverability.”


She pushed the throttle up to full power and tried to get some distance on the missiles. They were still there. They were getting closer now, a lot closer, and she didn’t even have any chaff. She broke into a zigzag using the VTOL thrusters to enhance her maneuvering; still they kept up with her. “OK, really maneuverable”


She dove into a wide left hand spiral getting the missiles to follow her.


“Closer, closer. Now!” she broke right using the ASF’s thrust vectoring ability for all its worth. Such a use of the engine wouldn’t be possible on a normal Seydlitz but this old bird had had its system overridden and modified to enable a pilot, if they have the skill and death wish, to use the thrusters as such. On most other people the 12+ G turn would have blacked them out immediately, she grey out for a moment before regaining control of the ASF, just as she felt a large boom rock her fighter’s starboard side. The first missile missed her but the second was far enough out to change course and hit her bird.


“Huh, that wasn’t too bad” some missing armor but the wing was intact and working.


She turned her fighter toward the 6 contacts, 4 big one, and 2 small ones. There were certainly more where they came from. And she wasn’t going to go out without a fight. A pair of the smaller air breathers entered the edge of the range of the single large laser she carried. “Gotcha”


In a stroke of luck just as the pilot was bout to pull the trigger to send 2 more missiles at her the laser sliced the fighter in 2 diagonally the port wing and part of the tail in one piece the rest of the fighter in the other. She could see a puff of smoke and fire form the front half and a parachute opening.


“Loony to base, the info was right these are right they are fragile. But they got some incredible range on their missiles.”


Then her laser recycled and she took aim on the second which was also the one who had fired the 1st two missiles at her. She caught him in the belly just as he was banking to retreat. The laser caught the F-18 right near the nose were the cockpit was. The hit flash fried the pilot, he never felt a thing. The laser continued along almost exactly between the 2 engines cutting out just before it fully sliced the fighter in 2. It broke into 2 pieces anyway, and tumbled toward the ground.


USS Port Royal.


“Damn it got the other bug” said the Captain looking at the radar return showing 2 contacts where the was one seconds before. They could see


“It’s making a break strait for the Tomcats.” The XO commented. “Must know it can’t run. It’s going to try to close to take them out.


“No more playing around the, Tomcats cleared to salvo all missiles.” He reported listening in on the chatter between the AWACS and the F-14s. “We also have clearance to fire if it heads our way.”


“Lets see how it does against a swarm Phoenix first.” The captain smiled. �


In the air:


The 4 incoming F-14s let loose with all six Phoenix each the moment they received clearance to launch. They had seen the fellow pilot die in his craft.


In the Seydlitz Hasting’s scope came alive as it reported multiple missile locks. They were still some ways away but she could see the offending fighters in her optics. She burned toward them as much as the old airframe would allow knowing that she was heading strait for the missiles fired.


Just as the missiles got uncomfortably close they came into range. She lined up and pulled the trigger to be rewarded with the sight of a wing spinning away and the fighter tumbling toward the ground. Then the heat wave hit her. There were too few heat sinks, the cockpit temperature was already approaching uncomfortable with the first two shots, now the cockpit—situated right to the laser—felt like an oven.


She turned her attention back on the missiles that were heading toward her. She knew that ay actions taken too early would be futile as the missiles would correct themselves. She would show them why she earned the call sigh “Loony”.


She held her course pushing the fighter to go even waster. Then the missiles were upon her. She waited as long as possible. Just as the missiles were about to hit she jinked her fighter right and up into a gap in the swarm of missiles. They passed so close that had these been the old missiles they would have detonated for a proximity kill.


Unfortunately for her these were launched by F-14s which meant they received targeting updates from the launch vehicle, the swarm turned around and pursued her as she turned west over the ocean. She weaved back and forth as sharp as she could using every thruster her fighter had to its disposal. But they were hot on her tail.


She was already flying beyond the fighter’s normal limits now she pushed it further, every zig and zag was forcing her fighter to do things that the designers never intended for it to do. Even if she survived this her fighter wasn’t going to fly again. But it was working; she broke the missiles off her tail every now and then, a few even detonated. However, while these missiles weren’t as maneuverable as the first 2 but they were a lot more persistent. She glared with anger and despair as missiles that she thought had lost track and were going off into empty air would suddenly curve back around and rejoin the pack chasing her bird.


She was hurting too. The human body was never designed to take such force at all much less the constant changes in directions. One moment she was pressed into her seat, the weight of the own body threatening to crush her, the next her straps were digging into her skin threatening to cut her to pieces as they strained to keep her in her seat. She would have suffocated if not for the custom extra high O2 mix she used to enable her lungs to get the amount of oxygen she needed when they could barely inflate.


Then she saw white streaks rising from the ocean toward her.


Unlike the phoenix, which was, designed to hit slow moving bombers, these SM-2s were far more maneuverable. Unfortunately for Emily Hastings she had to find that out the hard way, as she tried the head-on dodge the missile changed course and hit her just below the nose. The shock reverberated through out the fighter and had her seeing stars. When she came back to her senses she saw that the large laser was inoperative, likely knocked out of alignment. The indicator for the front wheel was also blinking red indicating it was completely disabled, likely destroyed considering where the missile hit.


Then she was rudely reminded that there were 20 more pressing concerns for her consideration by the one of those concerns slamming into the port wing. Fortunately for her earlier maneuvering meant that the missiles were strung out in a long line. That gave her just enough time to remember the other missiles and dodging right, firing the space maneuvering thruster and landing thrusters to send her fighter in to a right angle turn to her original course. That near blackout maneuver dodged another missile, but it wasn’t enough. Two more Phoenix slammed one after the other into the already damaged starboard wing destroying all functions there and sending her into a clock wise roll. She was gutsy not suicidal and saw there wasn’t a chance in hell the little Seydlitz was going to survive. Bracing herself she pulled the ejection handle. Powerful but short lived rockets accelerated her out of the doomed plane just as the main group of missiles caught up and annihilated it. �


By Captain Gentry


NAS Miramar 14 November 2005


The day began looking up beat. The pirates were still sitting pretty in space. They’d finally gotten the fifth and sixth full motion simulators programmed to fly like old F-14As the night before, and now they could begin working up some of the old Air Force and Air National Guard Phantom, Voodoo, and Thunderchief flight crews.


The other four were already being used sixteen hours daily, hot seating as much as possible. The Schnoz was happy with the progress they’d made in just over 90 days from the word go. He already had most of his cadre requaled, and gotten a good start with the current service German, Italian, and British Tornado crews. None of the new guys were ready to strap on a Turkey for real yet, but then again even if they were, there were only enough birds for the cadre and the most promising rookies.


He had Master Chiefs Leonard Kravitz (no relation) and Earl Lantana along with hundreds of former Tomcat maintainers working around the clock at the Boneyard turning ships as fast as they could but they’d already fallen behind, even his much less ambitious refurbishment program. Monroe had planned on 750 man hours average per hull to make them airworthy, with the easier hulls taking as little as 400 hours. He’d upped that to 1100 and 750 respectively from just over 10,000 flight hours in the ‘Cat and a decade as a squadron CO and CAG.


Those numbers would have been accurate had the contractors performed the storage treatments correctly. What they’d done was seal the outside properly, cutting corners on the work to the internals. Heck, they’d even thrown out the corners on most of the birds leaving them filled with hydraulic and other fluids, including in a few cases fuel!


Those guys were all now in jail awaiting trial on a laundry list of federal charges that if they were found guilty would keep them behind bars for the rest of their natural lives.


When he’d spoken to Lenny and Earl earlier that morning they confirmed they would have another four hulls by Thanksgiving. Average maintenance hours was 1850 and 1100 respectively with the ones left gassed up taking as much as 2200 hours each. The original plan had called for 40 birds per month average; they were getting eight to ten. With four to eight months before the pirates should have possibly been able to return, they’d have enough to cover the most important of the likely targets but not all of them. Now they had the Bravos and Deltas beached at every CONUS NAS and in single squadron units in Hong Kong, Singapore, Ohakea New Zealand, UAE, Port Elizabeth South Africa, Sigonella, Landivisiau, Leuchars, and at some Dutch base near Rotterdam he could never recall the name of. Not enough, especially with only a tenth of the Snow Bear squadrons in place. Everyone else was out in the cold for this raid, maybe they’d have everything in place by the next one.


The NCA was reviewing the options, and so far they’d decided that Australia’s F-111 crews would remain with their Pigs, and all but the highest time Tornado crews from Italy would be sent back to their Eurofighter units. Further cuts were necessary, and Duane was glad he didn’t have to make the call leaving good people defenseless or nearly so. None of those late fourth and fifth generation fighters carried anything with a warhead big enough to do squat to an aerospace fighter unless Murphy stepped in on Earth’s side.


With newly unretired LCDRs Paul “Rat” Ratskeller and Joseph “Toe Jam” Earl two of the best RIOs ever to work with him along with the best squadron training officer he’d ever had LCDR John “Ding” Dong running the day to day training, he could convene a pow-wow with his senior cadre. He would miss seeing the 82 year old Chuck Yeager doing his second flight in the Tomcat simulator, but there were only so many hours in the day and how likely was it that the legend and currently qualified F-16 and F-15 pilot not make the cut?


CDR Joseph “Puke” Richardson, CDR Randolph “Skunk” Scott, and CDR William “Weasel” Waitzel had all served with him and were slotted as squadron COs just as soon as there were enough crews and aircraft. Rat, Toe Jam, and Ding would also get their own squadrons as well. Wing Commander Alistair Peckwyth and Fregattenkapitän Hans Gruber had been picked by their governments as the officers to command one of their country’s Tomcat squadrons and The Schnoz had only good things to say about both veteran Tornado pilots and their RIOs.


Master Chief Cletus Borders joined the pow-wow as the senior maintainer. As the men sat down with their warm beverage of choice, the phone rang.


“CAG.”


The 72 year old man’s face tightened, and he replied to whoever was on the other end “Yes, sir. We’ll be wheels up just as soon as those dropships land in the LA area. Thank you sir. Godspeed to us all.”


As he hung up, everyone was already rising. “Well guys, it’s time for us old geezers to kick some ass. There’s three Leopards and a Union de-orbiting for the Port of Los Angeles. The Nimitz is halfway between Pearl and LA, they’ll be shooting jarhead hornies with Mavs for a strike on any pirate mechs and some squid whorenuts with buttrammers to support us. With the Air Force and the local Marine and Navy squadrons also launching, it’s going to be zoo up there. The E-3s and Hummers are supposed to keep everyone out of our way, but keep an eye out. Okay that’s it, non-standard mission brief over. Let’s go suit up.”


Ten minutes later ten geriatric Tomcats with sexagenarians, septuagenarians, and a single octogenarian at the controls took off. The other two Tomcats bore the much younger British and German crews.


Thirty-six minutes later it was all over. Of the 24 AIM-54Cs launched at the single ASF four failed to guide properly and self-destructed. The Seydlitz piloted by Emily Hastings of the Fire Brand mercenary company managed to high-G maneuver away from the rest for a time until she came under fire from the Port Royal giving the Phoenix chasing her the opportunity they needed. With her fighter on fire she ejected and became officially the first POW taken in the Second Raid.


Ding and Skunk, Schnoz and Weasel, and Chuck Yeager and Rat would be credited with a third kill each. �


USS Port Royal.


Captain Reed smirked as he saw the missiles from his ship and the Tomcats converge and annihilate the offending fighter.


“Chute opening 3 o’clock,” reported one of the keen eyed bridge crew. There on the other side of the rapidly clearing fire ball was a white parachute.


“Helm, change course to intercept. Ready security team on deck, I want that pilot alive. Call sickbay to send up a team. Good chance he or she’s hurt being that close to the blast.” The bridge came alive as the crewmen carried out his order.


Fort McNair Washington D.C. 15th November, 2005/3020


The four Mechs of Iron lance climbed out of the Washington Channel and moved towards the meeting point, a parking lot at the northern edge of the installation. A fifth Mech was already waiting for them.


"Took you long enough, Iron."


"Well, sorry to let you wait, Widow. Fall in, we're moving to intercept those Port Krin goons. Interception point is Nav Beta," Staedele answered, accelerating to a speed of roughly 60 kilometers per hour and, in the process, ruining the lawn of what looked to be a sports field. He wondered how well this 'Black Widow' would work together with his lance. Would probably better a better idea to sic her at a single enemy 'Mech and let her do her thing, he reasoned.


"Iron Lead, this is Mountain. The bandits are moving towards the northwest, I repeat, the bandits are moving. Seems like they're after that huge parliament building or whatever it is."


Damn! Now it would become a chase. He hated that. It meant that he wouldn't be able to pick the place to fight.


Then another thought struck him. "Mountain, give me a channel to that local general", he ordered.


Seconds later, a new voice sounded out of his radio: "This is Brigadier General Norwell, United States Army. What do you want."


He doesn´t sound happy, Staedele thought.


"This is Major Staedele, Buron Cavalry. What I want, sir, is to ask about the status of the evacuation you are certainly carrying out right now. Are there any civilians around between this naval yard and your parliamentary building?"


"No, the evacuation of that section of the city is already confirmed. Be advised that we would still like as little damage collateral as possible, Major. We've already had to rebuild the Capitol once this decade and we'd like to avoid a repeat."


"I understand that, sir. But frankly, we are looking here at two units compromised of heavy BattleMechs ripping into each other. There will be damage, and quite a bit of it I'm afraid. That's going to be inevitable."


"Understood, Major. Just do your best to keep the destruction as limited as possible. And Major, I want your infantry to meet up with infantry elements of the National Guards 29th Infantry Division. I will send the meeting location to your communications officer."


"Affirmative, sir. Staedele, out." He switched the channel. "You got that, Mountain?"


"Affirmative," Marie replied, "I'll relay those coordinates to Copper immediately. Be advised, you´re 5 minutes to intercept."


"Roger, Mountain."


'Wow, this might actually work just as planned', Staedele thought, while watching at what looked like the beginning of an aerial battle in the skies further east. The next moment, he realized what he just did. Too late.


"Iron Lead, this is Iron 4. The damned left knee-activator just crapped out on me. I´m down to half speed".


Looking at the edge of the screen, Staedele could already see Lemell´s Marauder, Murphy, fall behind as it started limping. Great! The fight hadn't even started and he was already a Mech short.


"Understood, Iron 4. We'll continue ahead to intercept. Just try to link up with us again as soon as possible."


"Roger, boss."


"Everyone else, continue on to Nav Beta. If we don´t stop these guys, they'll be all over our and our employer's infantry."


Minutes later North of Navy Yard Station Washington D.C.


"Oh damnit! Iron, this is Mountain. That Rifleman has begun using our drones for target practice. We only have two of them left! These things were expensive!"


Staedele cursed. "Okay, Mountain, withdraw them. By now we have the bandit's reactor signatures pretty well. At least most of the time."


'God-damn city-fights, all the stuff here creates tons and tons of false contacts', Staedele thought.


He switched to an open frequency. "Port Krin militia, this is the Buron Cavalry. You will immediately shut down your Mechs and surrender to the local authorities. I guarantee that there won´t be any harm done to you. Refuse, and you will suffer the consequences."


The answer came fast. "Blow me, asshole!"


Ah well, at least he tried. He switched back to the lance channel.


"Iron 3, Widow, you take the northern flank. Iron 2 and me will go directly at them. Try to-"


"Contact!", Iron 2 yelled. He had spotted a Mech entering the street about 400 meters to the east. "Engaging Marauder."


Staedele was about to answer when several impacts into his Mech's right torso shook him through. He spotted the responsible enemy, a Rifleman, leaving cover directly after the Marauder. Firing a snap-shot with one PPC, he narrowly missed the target. Instead, the particle beam struck a building behind the Rifleman, gouging a glassy crater into it´s facade and penetrating inside. Nedeljko and his Flashman, he saw, had more luck. The Marauder was struck in the left leg by Flashlight's Large Lasers, melting a sizeable amount of armor.


Seconds later, the firefight was already over as both pirate machines had taken cover in the side-streets again.


"Iron Lead, one bandit seems to be veering north."


"Damn. Iron 3, Widow, get that bastard before he slams into our boys up north. Iron 2 and me will advance on those guys here and pin them in place", Staedele ordered while taking another pot-shot with his PPC at the Rifleman that was just leaving cover. This time, he was more sucessful as the bolt slammed right into the target's torso, sending a small stream of molten armor dripping down. "Once you dealt with that runaway, try circling and hitting them in the rear."


"Roger, Lead. Moving north", Miller answered.


Again the Rifleman left the cover to take a shot. A stream of autocannon fire flew into the directions of Altes Eisen, but missed the still advancing Mech narrowly and continued down the street, blowing up several parked cars. Staedele answered with both PPCs this time. He began sweating intensely as the repeated use of the heavy energy weapons started heating up his Mech. Both shots hit home, vapourising more of the Rifleman's torso armor and sending it tumbling back into cover.


That should teach him, Staedele thought.


"Iron 3, I´ve got visual. It´s the Arche- OH FUCK!"


Staedele's looked at the edge of the screen, only to see Hammer being hit square on by a hailstorm of missiles and laser beams. A few missiles went wide and "only" caused more devastation to the surrounding buildings, but that was a weak consolation. The Mech was shaken by impact after impact, sending fragments of shatterred armor flying everywhere, and then toppled over and landed on it´s belly.


"Iron 3, report in! ... Iron 3, hey, say something!", Nedeljko yelled over the com.


"Iron 3 is down", Widow said. "I don´t see any major damage on her Mech, though. I´m getting that asshole in his Archer."


The report that Miller's Mech was still intact was somewhat of a release for Staedele. It meant that she could still be alive.


Then his thoughts were rudely interrupted as the Rifleman popped out of cover for another round.


'Damn, this is annoying', Staedele thought while firing back. 'Aw, fuck it. I have to close in or this will take all day and we´ll completely level this street.'


"Iron 2, we gotta close in on these guys or this will go on for all eternity. You take the Marauder, I´ll stay with the Rifleman."


Having said that, Staedele accelerated the Warhammer into a run down the street, hoping to reach the next intersection before the Rifleman popped out of cover again. Inbound from “Motherlode” orbit (400 Kilometers above Africa) 15 November 3020/2005 8:15 AM


"Chuin! The F%*kers NUKED some of those Dammed pricks!"


Shocked pause. The pilot, the mute giant known only as Doe, imeaditely sent them on a steep dive, heading for 'Motherload'. The moment nukes appeared, the command crew were treated to a sight that was, in their experience, unique. Their Captain, a paragon of serenity under every other circumstance, actuly freaked out. For all of 5 seconds, anyway.


"Ahem."


Sigh.


"Ok. Ryu. Happy now?"


"Yes, Nabiki. I am."


Dispite relaxed words from Captain 'Ryu' and the ships Comm's officer, the dropship, Death from Above, was screaming down towards the planet below them. At maximum speed, no less.


"Ah... Cap? Should we tell everybody what's going on? Sir?"


"Ahem."


"Sir? Oh, yeah, Ryu."


The tall asian who commanded the Death from Above looked at the slender blond sensor and weapons officer, noting once again how young she appeared, in her pink, ruffled, dress. That went with the name she chose to be called. Barbie. Then, he rembered what was under that dress, and shuddered.


"No."


"But, Cap-"


"No. We are going to hit dirt, as fast as we can. We are not going to set off the rabble. We are going to let them out, as we were paid to do. Then, and only then, will we say anything about thermonuclear weapons."


Barbie sighed.


"But, then I won't get to hear all their responses!"


Barbie, while new, was shaping up to be quite the annoyance, thought Captain Chuin- Umm, Ryu.


Inbound from “Motherlode” orbit (200 Kilometers above Africa) 15 November 3020/2005 8:55 AM


Death from Above, a Union class dropship(Converted for cargo), hurled itself through the atmosphere, the hull glowing with the heat of reentry. It roared down, aiming for the closest bit of ground, totally separated from the other pirate forces. After all, with multi-megaton explosions happening, people start looking for shelter. And right now, that meant the ground.


"Hm."


"Nabiki?" The Captain showed a little interest.


"That's strange."


"What? What's stra- Oh, no, MORE NUKES, WERE ALL GONNA-"


"No, that's not it." This was said by the distracted Nabiki, as the fourth person on the bridge, a massively scarred individual reached over with one hand, the other maintaining the grip needed to pilot, grabbed Barbie, and pinned her down with one hand, somehow calming her signifigantly. But, not Chuin, who never liked it when the pilot didn't have his full attention on the task at hand. (Ok. Ryu.)


"Nabiki?" Ryu was almost always calm, but he didn't like thermonuclear weapons pointed at him either.


"Oh, yeah. I'm hearing from the Firejaw. They're being attacked, missile boats, air breathers, that sort of thing. I just find it odd that we're not being attacked. I wonder why?"


Democratic Republic of the Congo The Palace of President Kabila 15 November 3020/2005 10:15 AM


"General. Tell me, what can our air forces do about that... Monster. Assuming that the Americans did not lie"-The word Americans was pronounced with a truly massive amount of venom-"then we will have problems with them."


"Bah. Americans. We have the best equipment that the Soviets can provide, and a very large army. We will be fine." The General would look downright odd to western eyes. After all, he was wearing a neon pink and green camo outfit, with what appeared to be a strange feathered WW1 German helmet. In royal purple, no less.


"And our planes?"


"They are being scrambled now. They will be in the air in minutes."


"Good. Good. Soon, we will have this bunch of pirates at our mercy. Then, we will see what we will see."


As the dropship Death from Above came in for a rough, but fast, landing, a communication was being sent to the only first world troops in the area.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 20 Kilometers north of Kinshasa UN Peacekeeping Force Encampment. 15 November 3020/2005 10:35 AM


Colonel William Thatch, Commander of the local UN Peacekeeping Force, did what he did every day. Drink a little wine, read a proper 'classic', and listen to Mozart. This was in part because he had skilled people working for him, part because he was lazy, and in part because every other person in his encampment was from either Australia or New Zealand. And, no, none of them did speak Dutch. (Nor did he speak english. Eh, the UN. What'cha gonna do?).


He looked up, hearing a distant sound of roaring thunder, but more importantly, the sounds of somebody entering his tent. Honestly, that didn't happen very often.


"Sir?" Dutch. The Sergeant spoke Dutch.


"When the bleeding hell did you know Dutch, and why didn't you tell me!"


"You didn't ask, Sir. Now, we have more important things to deal with. You have a call over Sat-com, apparently somebody's noticed we're the closest to one of those space pirates."


"Space PIRATES! You mean those are REAL!"Shock was clear in his voice.


The Sergeant simply lead his CO outside, and pointed off towards the horizon, where a metal egg was landing on a pillar of white fire, something like 30 Kilometers away.


There was a large amount of swearing from said CO.


It should be pointed out, that this particular part of Africa was a mite unstable. There was 5 different army's fighting each other, and none of them were nice to the locals( Inc. the National one). Then there was the fact that for all of 2 and a half million men were part of the various different army's, only 7 units could be said to have the competence and discipline of a first world military. The rest were thugs with guns and uniforms.


The 7 groups? Well, one was the President's personal guard. The local Elite, better equiped and trained than the rest of the army. This, admitedly, put them at the same quality as regular troops in the first world, but that was as far as they went. Higher level equpment, less quality maintance, that sort of thing. Still, they wouldn't get involved unless the President himself was attacked.


After that, there was 4 different merc groups, all of which were running training encampments for different groups, one that provided the President's personal guard. The rest were training other army's.


Then, there were the UN Peacekeeping Force. 150 combat troops, tasked with keeping the peace in a country one fifth of the size of the US, having only 5 patrols of 20 men to do so. (Incidently, within 100 Kilometers of their encampment, there was a 60% decrease in Murder, Rape, and other thugery. Quality Troops, at least in comarison, had an effect.) With recent event's, they were feeling a mite over worked.


And, the newest group with discipline was on the dropship, just about to disembark. They held, over every thing else, the tech and firepower advantage.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 20 Kilometers West of Kinshasa Death From Above Landing Zone 15 November 3020/2005 10:40 AM


On a pillar of fusion flame, the huge egg landed. At that very moment, the 30 MiG-21's of the Congo Air Force flashed by, so shocked at its enormous bulk they forgot to attack. Two of them were ripped apart by laser fire from the dropship as they flew past. The MiG's turned around, now more angry than stunned, and salvoed missiles in to it. 56 air-to-air missiles, set to proximity detonation, exploded around the opening ship, sending a large volume of shrapnel in all directions.


Unfotuanately for the MiG's, this had no effect on the armored Death From Above. It did, however, have some effect on some of the scum who were next to the opening door. The early bird may get the worm, but the early pirate seems to get the shrapnel. The lasers fired again, unimpressed with the missiles, and gutted 2 more MiG's. The rest evaluated the situation, and performed a tactial retreat (Otherwise known as a Brown Pants Moment) and the pirates began disembarking.


A motley horde of over 400 thugs and psychcotics surged out, about half on motor bikes, and the other half in random trucks, roughly half of witch had some form of makeshift armor. The rejected extras from Mad Max headed for the nearby city at high speed.


Moments later, a pair of mechs charged down the ramp, and folowed the pack. The Locust, by far the faster, accelerated away, leaving the Urbanmech in it's dust.


30 seconds after the last stragglers left, a trio of tanks appeared, and left in a coordinated group. The 2 Galleon light tanks lead, covering the Heavy Tracked APC, as they, too headed for the nearby city of Kinshasa.


Silence reined, as the crew on the Death From Above hosed out the cargo bay, and their Captain considered what to do next.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 20 Kilometers north of Kinshasa UN Peacekeeping Force Encampment. 15 November 3020/2005 10:43AM


"Sir. We have orders to reconnoiter the pirates. They'll send heavy units to deal with them later." This was immediately translated by the Sergeant into Dutch, and the reply back to English a moment later.


"Right, recall all patrols, and send one of the guard platoons over to see what's going on. Observe, note available forces, guards, etc."


The Sergeant spoke up.


"Can the men take advantage of situations as they arise?"


"Yes, they can. Intel, first, but after that....."


Not 10 minutes later, a UN APC left the encampment at reasonably high speed.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 10 Kilometers West of Kinshasa The Napolean Road 15 November 3020/2005 11:15 AM


Not 10 Kilometers from the dropship was a road. A typical muddy mess, going North-South, with the pirates heading East. It was just luck that as the lead elements (Motorbikes, all) came over the slight ridge to see it, they also saw a vehicle on it. It was a 6 wheeled APC, painted light blue, moving North at a relaxed 25 Kmph. The the driver spotted the pirates, and accelerated heavily. About 15 of the bikers peeled of, giving chase.


"Lieutenant! Some of those psychos are on our tail! Can't we shoot them?!"


"No, Red. Not until"-Spang!-"Yep, get on the 50 Cal! Fuckers gotta die!"


"Right, gotta let them shoot at us first, hope we live-" Hurnn, he groaned, lifting the armored lid-"then, and only-SHIT, BRAKE RIGHT!!"


The entire APC shreiked at the sudden stress, being on 3 wheels for a few seconds. That coincided with a white trail of smoke going past, close enough to touch. That trail ended with a tree, turning it into instant splinters.


"Right, fuckers gotta die" K-chunk, the machine gun was active, and Red began to fire back.


At first, his aim was a little rough, but as he got into the swing of things, that improved. He swept across their attackers, hitting only one of them, but that one's bike took out 2 more. Then, as he was about to sweep back across them, one of the pirates got a lucky shot in return. With a Spang!, Corporal Bruce "Red" Blue, went down, collapsing into the APC. His helmet may have saved his life, but he wasn't going to be doing much.


"Shit on a stick!" The Lieutenant caught the descending trooper. He glanced up, looked at a particular trooper, and spoke.


"Right, your turn. I want them dead."


"Yes, SIR!" That individual, looked positively gleeful, as the big Maori swarmed up the ladder, grabbing the triggers, and opening fire with a maniacal laugh.


The 50 Cal hosed down the entire pack of pirates, hitting 4 of them, before a bullet hitting the 5th had an unexpected effect. It was a lucky blow, slipping through the gas tank, before hitting the riders satchel charge. It went up with a massive BOOM, and with it went all bar one of the pirates. The last biker, in a move worthy of any movie, did a perfect jump through the flames, long coat and hair flying in the wind. This impressed Corporal Strider Cooktown (the Maori gunner) enough to take in the remaining details before he did anything else. That allowed him to notice the fact that she was clad in only a bikini and heavy boots under her overcoat. Couple that with a face only a mother pitbull could love, and, well, you get the idea. She landed perfectly, both accelerating and pulling out a machete as she came. She had already closed to a point where Strider couldn't get her with the 50 Cal by the time he got over his awe. He blinked, noticing her position.


"Jackson! Brakes, Now!"


Screech! Crunch. 'tinkle, tinkle'.


"Lieutenant! Their all down, Sir."


"Good. Henderson?"


"Red has a concussion and some bruising, Sir. That's all."


"Good. Still, we'll want one of THEM. For intel, you understand."


"Yes Sir."


Henderson, the 'big-boned' medic, walked to the back door of the APC, and opened the rear hatch. Then looked down, at the insensate woman on the ground right there. Then, he sighed, rolled his eyes, made sure she was alive (much the same condition as the fallen Red), before hauling her into the UN APC. The Lieutenant spoke without looking up.


"Right, secure the prisoner. Jackson! Get us back to base!"


The woman was secured, and the troops spent the rest of the trip back wondering about the nut who wore a bikini and long coat into battle.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 10 Kilometers South/West of Kinshasa 1st National DRC army base. 15 November 3020/2005 10:50AM


Meanwhile, at the nearby D.(emocratic) R.(epublic) of the C.(ongo) army base, the troops were being mustered. They were being sent out, in 'patrols' of 100 men, with their usual mix of ex-Soviet equipment, mostly AK47's and RPG7's.


One such bunch, was the 33rd infantry, commanded by Te Than, a local with hunting experience. He immediately loaded his troops into transport (Trucks) and set out for a position he knew of, a perfect spot for an ambush.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 7 Kilometers West of Kinshasa The 'Spartan' Pass. 15 November 3020/2005 11:30AM


The pirate horde, while lacking a few frontrunners, continued it's motley charge. They got a bit lost in a small forest, before clearing through, veering to the left, to get at a bit of a pass. There were 2 to 4 metre ridges stretching for several kilometers on each side, after all.


The bikes, showing their advantage in speed and mobility, got through first, preceding the trucks by a good 10 minutes. Mostly, anyway.


A bare minute after most of the bikie pirates had passed through, a group of DRC army trucks roared up, slamed to a halt, and men spilled out of them as their officers began giving orders before the trucks had all stopped.


"Right! Group 1, over there, behind that tree and ridge. Group 2, follow me!" A Huzzah!, and they went. Group 2 was in cover within 2 minutes, but Group 1 had only 20 of it's 50 men on the far side before a pair of bikes appeared at the mouth of the pass. The bikes, noticing over 20 men, chose discretion over valor, and turned around. This gave the remaining men an extra minute to get under cover before heaver vehicles turned up.


Lead by a large improvised APC, the 15 trucks , with a 12 motorbike escort, entered the pass.


The DRC unit, under the steady command of Than, waited for the signal. Well, until one of the guys with RPG7's lost his nerve, and fired at the lead truck. This set off a full assault by all the ambushing troops. They leapt up, and opened up with grenades, assault rifles, and a total of 9 other RPG7's (their entire supply). The results, on the unprepared pirates, was rather rough.


Within 30 seconds the front truck was reduced to a pile of flaming scrap, and the 12 bikers was turned into 1 biker. There were explosions left and right, shrapnel flew, and pirates died. But, this didn't put them out of the fight yet.


There was sporadic counter-fire, gaining in regularity, before the explosives began flying the other was. As it was, within those 30 seconds, the DRC troops had used most of their ammo, and began to retreat, or melt under the massive return fire.


The remaining army troops vanished into the nearby woods, and the pirates, their blood up for hunting civies, not the dangerous millita types, headed for the city. They'd have the advantage there!


Not 5 minutes later, the remaining troops emerged from hiding, noting that the pirates had left all their fallen behind. The remaining 62 men moved out to their previous positions, looking in on their wounded and dead. As it happened, all bar 5 of the casualtys were victims of heavy weapons, and you'd need a scraper to pick them up. The others? Well, the medics loaded them into trucks, and made preparations to get them to hospital.


Meanwhile, the rest of the 33rd descended into the pass, to make sure that all the enemy were dead. While there was 2 gunfights, with survivors objecting to their execution, there was a pair of lady pirates who survived as well. That was the end of 84 men and women, 11 motorcycles, and 3 trucks, one of which was sort of armored. (As it happened, the armor survived! But, the first hit knocked it off the vehicle in question, and the second......)


With that, the victorious 33rd left, with wounded and new slaves to celebrate about!


Democratic Republic of the Congo 7 Kilometers West of Kinshasa 1 Kilometer North of The 'Spartan' Pass. 15 November 3020/2005 11:30AM


Cameron Liao (No relation) was a Mechwarrior, and the pilot of his very own Locust! Fine, it's not the largest of mechs. Still, it's his.


"So, Death From Above, what's the word?" The Locust was moving at near maximum speed towards the nearby city. The response was what him pause to consider if he really should be doing this.


"Locust, the word is Nukes."


"What!?"


As the Locust came to a screaming halt, Cameron had a moment where his brain simply-did-not-work. After 30 seconds of reboot, he felt capable of going on.


"Ah, Death From Above? What was that? I'm not sure I copied correctly."


"No, you heard right. Roughly half of the Band of the Dammed were Nuked in orbit."


"Well, fuc"-Th-wack! What the hell?!


Cameron looked down, only to note a bunch of infantry in a truck of some kind. One of them held a smoking tube, and 3 others were pointing others his way. He hosed them down with his machine guns, obliterating them all. But not before they got off another 2 shots, one he dodged, but the other hit, not that it did much. Huh. Light weapons around here, he thought to himself, as he bought the Locust up to a leisurely 40 Kph, searching for more PBI to kill. He always liked it when they went squish.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 5 Kilometers West of Kinshasa 15 November 3020/2005 11:45AM


Colonel James Valentine was the pilot of the Urbanmech, a slow, steady mech for a slow, steady guy. He wasn't fond of haste, but he always got there in the end. Him and his Urby, against the Universe! Right now, he was heading toward a city, his chosen environment! So, he was somewhat happy. Now, if only these damn PBI's would stop firing those pathetic rockets at him, he mused, triggering his small laser into their transport. That went up with a Bang! and he moved on at his maximum speed, ignoring things like trees and infantry as he smashed through. After all, it wasn't like they could hurt him. At the same time Burrito Brothers Intersection Independence Ave SE/2n St SE Washington D.C. 15th November, 2005/3020


"I understand, sir... Yes, sir... Yes, sir... out."


1st Lieutenant Dennis Barba wondered just how much wierder the day could get. First he was ordered to deploy directly south of the Capitol to build up a line of defense against the raiders that had landed to the south, then most of the 29th's assets got stuck in the waves of civilians fleeing from the inner city, leaving him with just two platoons (and him having seniority by about a month... damn!). Of course, it was not as if he was alone with that. Nobody had espected enemy forces to land to the southwest, let alone inside the city and thus most of the defenders found themselves in completely wrong positions while being unable to relocate as the streets were chocked by panicking civilians. And now this.


"Sergeant Delgado! Lieutenant Nowlin!" he yelled. Seconds later, William Delgado, his platoon sergeant, as well as Ryan Nowlin, the CO of "his" second platoon had come over to his position in the ground floor of the building.


"Sir?"


"News from battalion command. As if this day couldn´t get any more confusing. Apparrently our uninvited guests brought some mercenaries with them. And those mercenaries weren´t told the little detail that we´d be using nukes. Some of them considered that a breach of contract and the President took the chance and immediately hired them to help us."


This drew more than a bit of a surprised look from the two Guardsmen.


"Wait, it gets even better. These guys landed at Reagan and while their Mechs are engaging the pirate Mechs about a klick south-" just to underline him, a series of explosions could be heard from the south, "they´re sending two platoons of motorized infantry to reinforce us. So please, tell second platoon that, if they see some guys that are definitely not ours rolling down the Independence Avenue, they shouldn´t just open fire, but try to-"


"Lieutenant, 2nd platoon is reporting a column of vehicles moving down Independence. They say that those are by no chance ours. They´re asking for clearance to engage." his radioman reported.


"Denied! Tell them to hold the guys and establish contact with them. I´m coming over." Saying that, Barba grabbed his M4 and ran out the front door, Delgado and Nowlin following directly behind him. He sprinted across 2nd street and entered the James Madison Memorial Building, making way to its northwestern corner, encountering various soldiers preparing defensive positions on his way. All of them were wearing a somewhat confused expression.


The platoon Sergeant of second, Seargeant Leming, was already waiting, accompanied by a man in grey-black urban camouflage, wearing a ballistic west and a helmet and carrying both an unfamiliar, blocky rifle and what was without doubt a rocket launcher over his shoulder. Walking over to them, Barba saw a unit patch on the strangers shoulder, some kind of emblem inside a light blue circle. He also got a glance of what looked like a helmet-mounted radio.


"First Lieutenant Dennis Barba, Virginia National Guard", he introduced himself. The stranger took his outstretched hand. "Lieutenant Marc Johnson, Buron Cavalry. Nice to meet you," the man replied with a serious voice. He gestured Barba to follow him to the window. "My men and me have been ordered to help you hold this area against any pirates that break through from the south. For the time, we are under your command", he told, without any apparent emotion in the sentence.


Barba looked out of the Window, seeing about 50 or so other soldiers wearing the same uniform as this man. They were busy unloading equipment from a series of light vehicles that looked a lot like those SOVs he knew some spec ops units used. All of them carried the same rifle as the man besides him, some with an underlsung grenade launcher, save for a few that had something shouldered that was without a doubt a machinegun, though it looked a bit bigger than his men’s SAWs. But what immediately catched his eye was that almost every single one of these troopers was carrying the same kind of rocket launchers as Lieutenant Johnson. That was more anti-tank firepower these 2 platoons were carrying as that of an entire 1st world infantry company!


"Your men are packing quite a lot of heat, Lieutenant", he remarked.


"Aye, sir. We´ll need it in case one of the pirate Mechs breaks through. For that case, sir, I would also advise to rig one or two buildings down the street for a controlled demoliton, so that we can collapse them onto a Mech coming down the street."


What the-? "You really think that´s necessary, Lieutenant?", Barba asked with a sceptical voice.


"Sir, if my intel is correct, those are heavy Battlemechs down there. Even with all the LAWs my men are packing it will need a minor miracle to stop a Heavy Mech that is still in a combat-worthy condition. In the same vein, I would advise you to not dig in too much. The best chance for poor bloody infantrymen such as us when taking on Mechs is to shoot and scoot. And quite a few Mech-jocks will take to devastate the entire facade of the building from which they were shot at. Consequently, it´d also be smart to stay on the ground floor."


That caused Barba to wonder. How tough were these things actually? He had heard about ome of the Mechs to the south shrugging off fire from a couple M1s, but he never suspected them to be like THAT. Suddenly, he was way less confident in the ability of his Javelins to actually do the job.


"Alright, Lieutenant. I think I will heed your advice. You ought to have a bit more experience in this, after all. Now, would you please position your men in the building over the street to the east. Your engineers can rig a building down the street, just tell us which one you picked." Something catched Barbas eye. "What´s that packet all your people are carrying on the back of their belts?"


"That, sir?", Johnson picked the package from his back. "That´s a magnetic satchel charge for anti-mech attacks, sir."


"Ah, okay", was all that came into Barba's mind. Magnetic charges? Who the hell were these guys? They couldn´t seriously think about charging a Mech with these things, could they? Tactics like that hadn't been used since WWII!


"Thanks, Lieutenant. That´s all for now. Bring your men in position."


"Aye, sir." Johnson answered, wondering why this local Lieutenant was looking at him like that. Meanwhile, the sounds of battle to the south were growing louder. Vicinity of Augustdorf North-West Germany Earth 14 November 2005


Today just wasn't her day, mechwarrior Joan decided.


First she had been forced to stay put in her mech while the Dropship ran a goddamn nuke gauntlet. The knowledge that she was entirely unable to do anything besides wait and hope for the best, and that her chances for survival were determined simply by random chance rather than skill and courage was humiliating for any mechwarrior.


They had made it in the end... barely. Grievously wounded by first a nuclear proximity detonation and then conventional missile attacks, the dropship had crash-landed quite badly.


They'd made it out as quickly as possible in their mechs, the dropship's crew desperately trying to put out the fires or at least stop them from reaching ammunition storage. They we're marooned in the middle of enemy territory without backup, they were being observed by a dozen atmospheric aircraft from beyond weapon range, and now those idiots...


“I don't care! We were here first! Fuck off, you Dark Wing pussies!”


How stupid can you be, really?


“I don't care about 'the loot'. Look, were totally isolated here and there's air breathers all over the place. We need to...”


“Blah, blah, blah. Ohhh, look at me, I'm a Dark Emo mechwarrior! I'm so much better than everyone else, but I'm scared of a bit of shit-eating neobarb militia. Help! Help!”


Joan could see the other damned Damned pricks laughing in their mechs cockpits. The leader now aimed his primary weapons at Joan's Commando. Could those idiots possibly be any stu.... wait, what was that? It was still multiple kilometers away, but closing fast... Joan zoomed in using the cockpit's telescopic sight systems...


Holy Shit!


“Break! Everone break and after me now!”


That was a lot of tanks!


Joan's lance was quick to follow her orders, and it didn't come one moment to soon. The opposing recon lance of the Band of the Damned had barely started laughing about the “whiny Darkies” running away when each of them was hit by what must have been dozens of anti-tanks rounds. Mere fractions of a second later the whole area erupted into explosions as it was hit by something that felt like an entire artillery battalion bombarding.


Joan barely kept her mech from stumbling as the shock waves swept over it. A quick look at her radar told her that the air breathers apparently weren't content anymore with just watching them, and were now also closing in fast. To make things worse, she noticed that one of her lance's mechs was missing.


She silently cursed Colonel Sanders for bringing them on this fool's errand, and kept running.


Interior of a Leopard 2 tank Near Augustdorf North-West Germany Earth 14 November 2005


'BANG!'


The entire tank briefly shock with the recoil, as its main gun send another shell into the enemy mech 5 kilometers away, all while the tank was advancing at full speed. This time the target, even as insanely tough as it was, couldn't take the brutal punishment anymore and something critical in the left leg broke, sending mech and mechwarrior to the ground. Only 4 of the 8 enemy mechs were still standing, 3 of them fleeing as fast as their mechanical feet could propel them. The tank and its companions wasted no time in pursuing.


They were winning, there was no doubt about that. What little enemy fire had been directed at Panzerbataillon 203 so far had missed by a wide margin, its originators reeling under the hammering blows of an entire battalion of tanks and the constant bombardment by another battalion of self-propelled artillery.


Even so, the tank's commander couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to face an enemy like that at anything approaching numerical parity.


Secret Command Bunker Washington DC, United States of America Earth 15 November 2005


“The nukes broke them.”


“What? I'm sorry, General McMayers, could you repeat that?” Ryan was tired. Ever since the invasion started he'd been awake, feeling the frantic need to do something, even though intellectually he knew there wasn't much he could do except wait and wish the military good luck.


“The nukes broke them. We didn't get that many, but what really matters is that we scattered them. Of the three major groups, only one seems to have had any kind of coordination to begin with, and once they realized we were firing nukes at them they panicked and broke up into many small groups or even singular dropships on their own. There's only a handful of what one could call major concentrations, and even those are typically outnumbered at least 5 to 1 by local forces. We're already receiving reports from Europe and Asia that the enemy has begun to surrender, and we've confirmation of at least 3 dropships captured in flightworthy condition.”


“Well, that's good news, isn't it? The way this is going so far we certainly seem to be winning, though some of the casualty reports are uglier than I'd hoped.” Ryan frowned at that... he knew they'd gotten of far easier than they could have, but every time he heard something like “estimate 10% allied force depletion” he felt a stab of both anger and sorrow in his hearth.


“True.” McMayers just nodded grimly. “But it could have been much uglier still. Heck, it's going to be much uglier. The outcome may no longer be in doubt, but this isn't over yet. And if we're ever forced to go up against a more competent enemy equipped like that with what we have now, it's going to be ugly on a scale I don't even want to think about.”�K Street SE, southeast of Garfield Park Washington D.C. 15th November, 2005/3020


The fight was nearing its end. Staedele closed in on the heavily battered Rifleman, firing his medium lasers and SRM. The salvo yet again hit the militia Mech center mass, reducing the already weakened armor protection even more. Staedele gasped. He had brought Altes Eisen almost to the limit in his attempt to take the enemy Mech out as fast as possible. The shutdown alert started blaring, prompting him to hit the override button.


The Rifleman tried firing back, but shaken by the repeated hits as it was, it only managed to ruin the surrounding buildings even more.


And then Staedele saw what he was looking for. He aimed at a specific point on the Riflemans torso and hit the triggers for both PPCs in rapid succession. A new heat wave rolled through the Mech, forcing him again to hit the override. But the gamble had paid off.


Staedele had seen a small spot on the Riflemans torso on which the internal skeleton was already visible. His first PPC shot hit this little hole and enlarged it by a good margin. And then the second particle beam hit home and flew through this breach, deep into the Riflemans internals. The entire Mech shuddered, began to stagger like a drunken man and fell on its left side.


'Gyro damage', part of Staedeles mind thought. 'This fight is over.'


The pilot of the Rifleman evidently didn´t think so. He triggered his still working autocannon in the Mechs right arm, punching several craters into the right leg of the Warhammer.


"Oh no you don´t!" Staedele murmured. He took careful aim and sent another PPC blast into the opening on the Rifleman´s torso.


The fusion reactor powering a Battlemech was the most heavily protected part of the entire Mech. Even after putting it behind the traditionally heaviest armor facing, the engineers designing it decided to install several layers of shielding. This shielding, while very thin, was made out of the same materials as the armor of a Mech and could very well take a direct hit from an RPG-7. Against the sheer fury and force of a PPC blast, however, it might as well haven´t been there. The man-made lightning cut through it effortlessly and continued on, hitting the primary magnetic containment. Registering the damage, the computer program controlling the reactor carried out its emergency routine and immediately shut the reactor down. The Rifleman simply stopped moving as all systems went offline and rolled over on its back.


"This is Iron Lead, Rifleman down."


Staedele took a look at the sensor. He couldn´t see much from the fight up north due to all the ghost signals, but he did see that Iron 2 was equally about to finish off his enemy. Now he- 'Hey, wait a second. Where´s the fourth one?' Staedele wondered.


As if to answer the question, the facade of a small building just 30 meters down the street from the position of Altes Eisen erupted outwards and the Crusader stepped out onto the street, immediately turning towards the Warhammer and taking on speed.


'Oh great', Staedele though while triggering the medium lasers and SRM. Only one of the lasers and half the SRM hit home, though, and the Crusader simply shrugged off the hits and continued the assault, answering with its own SRM. Staedele held to his seat as the missiles impacted all over his Mech, blasting off more armor.


And then the Crusader ran into him, ramming him at a speed just short of 60 kilometers per hour. It was a sound not unlike a crashing train. Altes Eisen was literally thrown backwards and Staedele was almost unable to keep his footing. The Crusader, smelling blood, followed up with a punch that hit the Warhammers right shoulder with a mighty crunch. Again the Mech stumbled backwards, but this time, Murphy struck. Just as Staedele was about to regain his footing, his left foot stomped onto a parked car and began to slip. He lost control. His Mech stumbled backwards and crashed into one of the buildings lining the street, ending up leaning against the partly deformed, partly crushed facade.


The Crusader, pressing its sudden advantage, moved in. Staedele fired his medium lasers and the right PPC. Both lasers sheared some more armor off the Crusaders torso, but that didn´t even slow down the 65-ton Mech. The PPC went wide and hit the upper floors of one of the big buildings close to that parliament or whatever it was. The Crusader, now directly in front of him, raised its arm and let it fall like a guillotine, directly aimed at the cockpit of Altes Eisen.


"OH SHIIIII-"


It was as if god himself had picked up a sledgehammer and decided to take it to his Mech. Staedele was thrown around as if in a rollercoaster and the sound of the impact batterred his ears. And then... silence. Silence and headaches. 'Huh', he thought. 'If I have headaches, that means I´m still alive.'


He opened his eyes, looking upwards. The sky was full of contrails. He even thought that he could see a few planes. Shaking his head, he looked for the Crusader. It was still standing right there, in front of his Mech. 'He must´ve hit only the side of my head', Staedele thought, still feeling groggy. 'But why?' Looking at the enemy Mechs head, he understood. The Crusaders head was gone. Only a couple of burnt, ragged pieces of junk marked the place where it had been connected to the torso just seconds ago.


Staedele looked down the road. About 1200 meters further west, in a small park, stood a Marauder with the hand of death, aces and eights, painted on its right torso, the arm-mounted PPCs still smoking.


"Thanks, Iron 4", he called into the radio while he felt the adrenaline slowly ebbing down. "You´re welcome, Lead. Sorry for being late. And thanks for making that wanker stand still." Lemell answered out of the cockpit of his Marauder, Murphy.


"Iron 2 here, the Marauder is down. Took the ejection seat, he´s coming down somewhere east."


"Good work, Iron 2, we´re finished with the Crusader over here, too", Staedele replied while bringing his Mech back on his feed and starting to move northwards. "Let´s look how Widow does."


Just seconds later, a massive explosion further north answered his question. Every still intact window on the houses around him shattered.


"This is Black Widow. The Archer is down. Ammo explosion. The guy didn´t punch out."


"Okay. That´s all targets accounted for. Anyone has an idea about Iron 3?"


"None, boss", Nedeljko answered. "I´m closing in on her position."


And then, Staedele heard something: "Ohhhhhhhhh, ouch." "Iron 3, is that you? Do you read me?" "Yeah, boss, I read you. Oohhhh. Hit my head when the fucker brought me down. How long was I gone? And what´s the status?", Miller asked. "You were out for a good ten minutes. We just took care of the last of these militia goons." Staedele answered, his voice betraying relief. "Oh, good. I think I have a concussion. I´m about to pass out again." And then the contact broke off. Staedele couldn´t but grin. He knew Miller good enough by now to know that she wouldn´t stay down long just because of such a "scratch".


"Mountain, this is Iron Lead. Inform the locals that we have taken care of their Mech-related problems. Tell them that they should send a medic over here. And ask them to bring some heavy hauling equipment. That Rifleman lies directly on its cockpit hatch, so we need to lift it to get the pilot. Oh, and tell them to pick up the guy from that Marauder. His seat came down somewhere further east."


"Aye, Iron Lead. Copper is reporting that they ambushed a bunch of Port Krin infantry just short of the parliamentary building. They took about two dozen prisoners and have suffered 3 WIA themselves. The locals already have a few medics up there, helping them. Oh, and we got word that they finally shot down the last of the ASF blocking their air power."


"Good. Tell everyone 'good work'. Iron Lead, out."


Staedele checked his unit. His own Mech had suffered armor damage all around and the right shoulder activator was jammed due to the punch. Ammo was down to 70 percent. Flashlight had come out less damaged, with only some armor being molten off. Lemell´s Marauder was still limping but otherwise intact. And the Black Knight had lost a lot of armor on the frontal aspect, but not much more. 'Phew', he thought, 'we came out of that one pretty well'.


The area around him, not so much. It well and truly looked like a warzone. Building facades were cratered and blown open, cars had been smashed underfoot or torn to shreds by stray weapons fire and glassy scars were scatterred all over the place. He´d have to contact General Norwell and tell him to send some firefighters or else the fires in a few of these buildings could very well spread out.


"Okay, Iron Lance, form up. Seems like we won this. Let's wait for the medic to take care of Iron 3 and then go home." 'Just another day on the job', he thought.


*Author's note: Yep, that was the James Madison Memorial Building that just got one or two new ventilation holes due to the PPC-miss.* Dropship Jalaal Middle of the Desert Planet Motherload 14 November, 3020


Mullah Aladdin Al Azim knelt in prayer before his battered Thunderbolt. While his words carried his love of almighty Allah, he was ashamed to say that his mind was too busy shooting off in other directions. They had narrowly avoided thermonuclear destruction and their Leopard dropship had been forced from the sky by damage to one of their stabilizers. Like all of his men, he was Azami, a former member of the Arkab janissary Legions. Silently he wondered if this world was Allah's punishment for him and his men for turning to banditry to support their ongoing insurrection against the infidel Kurita. If it was, he'd accept his punishment for his piracy as a man.


He knew it was wrong, but had little other choice. The power of the hated Dragon was but insurmountable and it was only by the boundless mercies of God that he and his men still drew breath. They needed arms and supplies with which to war upon the hated oppressor and as rogues they were unable to work lawfully as mercenaries. Still, he tried to be godly even as he committed sin after sin. He would not raise arms against the faithful except in his own defense, he showed lenience to the people of the book, and even against infidels he refused to ahead needless blood or take more than they could afford to loose. Even still it disgusted him to the point he could not even gaze upon the worlds they stole from without feeling almighty god's disappointment upon his shoulders.


Still though, he found himself kneeling before God, facing a city long destroyed by the Hated Incarnation of Satan, Aramis, pleading for mercy that nether he nor his men truly deserved. It was almost enough to make a man abandon his faith, but he was as much a student of history as he was of the Holy Koran. He knew that the daring and the patient would succeed in the end against the thoughtless and arrogant. He also had to wonder if this world was a test and not a punishment. Was nightmare world God's way of testing their faith, and if so, what did almighty god wish of them?


Looking to the roof he could but ask for a sign.


“Excuse me, Mullah,” he heard from behind him.


“What is it Wasif?” he asked his leader of infantry. “I asked not to be disturbed.”


“We encountered a group of men coming to assault the Dropship.”


“Are they slain?” he asked.


“Yes, to a man.”


“Then why do you interrupt my prayers?”


Wasif swallowed and the clergyman could all but hear his body tremble. “Before the last of them passed on, we were able to interrogate him. They were Muslim.”


The mullah turned about with wild eyes. “What?”


“They were of the faithful. This is a world inhabited by the faithful,” he clenched his first. “Vorax has betrayed us.”


Aladdin closed his eyes as tears of sorrow and rage made their way down his face. “Thank you, friend. I wish to be alone.”


“No, you don't understand, it gets worse.”


His eyes opened and his face flushed with rage. “We have been tricked into breaking an oath we'd sworn upon the names of our fathers to Almighty God himself. What could be any worse?”


The infantryman gulped and stepped back in the face of his leader's towering rage. “Before he died, the man claimed that he was fighting Jihad against us. He swore in god's own name that this world is Earth and that Holy Mecca was under attack. I told him it had been destroyed centuries ago, but he said it was under assault now.”


“What?” Aladdin was confused. He would discount nothing sworn in god's name off hand, but that was hard to believe. “Show me a map of this world.”


He nodded and the two of them walked to a screen set in the wall. In an instant he felt as if he were about to vomit. Their location according to the charts and images gathered by his own ship was in north Africa, in the middle of the great Sahara Desert. To the east was holy mecca, and it was marked as the location of one of the targets being claimed by one of Vorax's own men.


“He told us the truth,” the holy man hissed. “Tell the captain that we must move immediately... and send a message to the locals.”


“Without hesitation. What shall it say?”


“We are the Free Azami Army. We have been tricked into attacking this world, but we have heard the cries of the faithful and we stand ready to serve as the sword of Allah. We shall descend upon the infidels who dare bring violence to the city of the prophet. Our lives are now meaningless, we exist only to bring them to God's justice. We fight as Mujahideen.” 15 November, 2005 Dark Wing Dropship Phantom Wing Earth Orbit


Major James Brown swore loudly as the only Overlord dropship in the fleet passed through the fringe of a nuclear fireball.


“The Motherloaders have nukes!” One of the technicians screamed.


Brown turned back to look at the rest of the stunned crew on the bridge. A glance showed that they were shaken and panicked by the unexpected attack. The Major took a couple of steps toward the Captain of the dropship and grabbed him, dragging his attention back to the ship and away from the shock which paralyzed him.


“Get us down to the planet’s surface as fast as you can, and do it before they hit US with a nuke!” He ordered.


“Sir,” the Captain asked , “What about the planned landing zones? Colonel Sanders ordered all our ships to stay together.”


“To hell with the planned landing zones, survival is more important.” The Major retorted. “Colonel Sanders will understand that the preservation of our forces is more important than hanging around in orbit and waiting to be nuked. If following a plan for the entire unit to land together causes us to stay in orbit one second longer than we need to, then forget the plan get us down to the planet at once.”


“But where should we land, Sir?” The Captain asked.


“I don’t care.” The Major replied. “So long as it is close enough to a large city that they won’t dare nuke us, and it has clear fire zones around the landing area. I’m getting the feeling that this isn’t going to be as easy as be thought. If they have nukes in orbit, who knows what else may be waiting for us on the ground.”


NORAD United States Earth


“General Matthews”, one of the Watch Officers called. “We’re receiving updated tracking data, it looks like several dropships will be landing within the Continental United States. However, most of them appear to be on vectors that spread them from Europe to Asia, and there seems to be the possibility of several landings in Latin America & Africa.


The General studied several of the main screens thoughtfully, a semi-organized rush towards Earth had devolved into all-out chaos as every dropship in orbit began scatter and head towards the ground as fast as they could. As he watched the screens he could see large circles denoting landing probability appearing over portions of the earth as the descent paths of each dropship was calculated.


He turned to a Major standing nearby, “Once we’re sure where the ships will land, I want you to begin vectoring units from unthreatened areas to the probable landing zones."


As he glanced back at the main screens he could see the circles showing the landing probability areas slowly shrunk as descent paths were recalculated. And although they do not have any firm information on where the ships would land, it was already obvious that they would have landings somewhere on the East and West coasts and around the Great Lakes region.


“Notify the Commands in those regions that they will be receiving guests, and to layout the welcome mat.” The General said. "And begin issuing the orders for units surrounding the affected areas to begin reinforcement of the probable landing zones.


It took several minutes for the orders to go out and the confirmations that the units surrounding the probable landing zones were beginning to move. That time was all it took for the descent path of one of the dropship's to be recalculated with higher accuracy.


“Sir,” one of the Watch Officers called, “updated data indicates that one of the dropships is going to hit Chicago or Detroit. Given their flight path the highest probability is Chicago, Sir.”


Regional Command Center Naval Station Great Lakes North Chicago


“General Smith,” one of the Lieutenants called, “Flash Alert from NORAD, we have conformation that one of the ships will be landing somewhere in or around Chicago! Tracking indicates that the ship launched two Aerospace Fighters in orbit and is now being escorted during reentry.”


“Dammit,” the General snarled. "Alert the Air Combat Group that's that they should expect company soon."


He turned to the Officer who was trying to keep the command center from erupting into chaos.


“Colonel Keeting,” He said. “What’s the situation in the city?”


The Colonel looked up from the console he was studying. “Well Sir,” He said. "Colonel Anderson, is reporting that they're still trying to get the city locked down. Now that we know that Chicago is the target the Governor has agreed to the imposition of martial law on the greater Chicago area. We've got every police man in the city turned out and trying to clear the streets so we will be able to move troops through the area rapidly."


"Equipment wise, so far another four M1s have arrived bringing us up to two companies of tanks. Also the second wave of recruits, from this base, has arrived in the city and we’re trying to find enough vehicles to take a third wave. Anderson has reported that it would take too long to shift the recruits due to a lack of vehicles, so he is commandeering pickup trucks to transport the men. He also reported that he converted 80 of the pickup trucks into technicals with bolted on infantry TOW missile launchers in addition to the 30 Humvees he already had equipped with TOW missile launchers."


"Colonel Anderson is confident that he can hold the city against any attack a single dropship can mount with two Tank companies, 1400 national guardsmen and 12,000 armed recruits. At least Sir, he is confident that he can hold so long as the Air Force can come through with its promise of air support."


The General cocked an eyebrow, "And how it is the air support coming Colonel?" he asked.


"Well Sir," the Colonel responded. We already have one Air Combat Group on hand. With 28 F-16s for air support and four B1 bombers loaded with smart bombs for any targets that manage to survive the F-16s. Along with 16 F-14s providing air cover for the rest of the planes. And now that we know that Chicago the target we can expect several more Air Combat Groups to arrive within 40 minutes to an hour."


The General was silent for a moment "Well," He muttered. "That will have to be enough."


Dropship Phantom Wing Approaching Chicago


“Okay people, listen up.” Major Brown said. “We’ll be landing in a few minutes. As you all know we’ve been told that all we’ll be facing is some lightly armed militia, no mechs and only some unarmored atmosphere fighters and maybe a wet navy ship or two. However they didn’t tell us anything about these Motherloaders using nukes, so expect anything on the ground. Our first priority is to secure a perimeter around the dropship. To make thing easier we’ll be landing in the middle of one of their airports, so there will be plenty of clear space around the dropship.”


He looked at the Commander of the infantry that were packed into every available space on the ship.


“Captain Stevenson, I want your men to spread out and secure the area, if you run into anything more than a few isolated groups of militiamen report back immediately so the mechs know where they need to reinforce your men.”


He eyed the mech pilots for a moment


“Once the area around the dropship is secure, I’m going to take two lances into the city. We’ll probably have to shoot through some militia units, but once we’ve defeated the militia units and seized the center of the City we will be able to convince the authorities in the surrender to us. However the most important thing, is don't get overconfident. Stay together and watch each others backs. They surprised us with nukes in orbit, I don't want to get surprised like that on the ground.”


He smiled.


"Mount up. We’ll be arriving shortly. And remember, we pull this off we'll all be as rich as Lords.”


Air Combat Group Outside Chicago


Although Lt. Col. Young could now see the dropship with the naked eye, due to the fact it was at a much lower altitude and slowing in preparation to land. He issued no new orders for the F-16s under his command. Instead he waited patiently, taking no action, as the fighters simply continued to slowly circle the City at a distance of 25 miles. Young knew they didn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of stopping the dropship with the weapons they currently had, so he patently waited for the dropship to land and disembark it’s cargo of walking targets. He took his eyes off the dropship for a moment to glance above and behind him for a moment, to reassure himself that the F-14s were still there. He knew that they too would be facing some incredibly dangerous opponents in a short while and he hoped that they would be able to win the fight, or at least lasts long enough for his F-16s to complete their mission. And he hoped that that F-14s would deal to stop any attempts to interrupt airstrikes on the attacking mechs. In many ways, he thought to himself, he was glad that he did not have face the aerospace fighters that he knew were coming. All he had to face were some mechs on the ground who while dangerous, wouldn't be chasing him all over the sky.


A minute later the Young realized he was now certain of where the dropship was heading. It was obvious, with the way the dropship was slowing down preparing to land that it was heading for the airport on the south-western part of the city and so he promptly radioed it in.


“Command, Viper One here. We have visual on the dropship. Dropship looks to heading for Chicago Midway International Airport.”


“Roger, Viper One.” Command responded. “We'll begin shifting units over to corden off the landing zone. We’ll need you to hit them as soon as the mechs are off loaded. Take some time for all the units were arrive at the landing zone. You must hit them as hard as you can, and keep them in at the airport and if it all possible prevent the mechs from heading into the city.


“Wilco, Command." Young said. "We’ll hit them hard as we can as soon as they’re down and out.” Washington DC, Motherload, November 14th, 2005 local time.


“Take a left here, Natasha,” Her passenger said. “It’s a shortcut.”


“Damn it, I am NOT Natasha Kerensky!” Natalie replied, twisting Old Melville down the side street.


“We’ve established that. But I don’t have anything else to call you. Besides, doesn’t it feel good to be mistaken for a notoriously beautiful and competent pilot?” Her hitchhiker replied, “And on top of that, you’re asking for it with a callsign like Black Widow.”


Natalie sighed. How was she to know there was already an incredibly famous Black Widow out there when she chose it?


“Maybe,” Then she asked, “What’s your name, anyway?”


“Corporal Anton Greene, but you can call me Ants.” He replied.


“Ants? What the hell kind of name is Ants?”


“It’s called a nickname. People have them amongst friends. I figure if I’m going to hijack your mech, I should at least extend you a little courtesy.” Greene replied.


“Hijack? I’m the one in the pilot seat, buster.” Natalie replied.


“Yup. And I’m the one with… Hmm. Twenty pounds, give or take, of high explosives taped to my body. Unless you’ve got a death wish, you’re going to do what I say.” He smiled, “I’m the one calling the shots here. You’re just someone I’ve impressed into service with my roguish good looks and explosively energetic personality. Oh, and take another right.”


“Lousy backseat driver.” Natalie muttered.


“You know, it’s too bad your systems aren’t compatible with ours. We’ve probably got a couple dozen reconnaissance drones flying around giving us intel, but you can’t receive any of it. It’d let us get a better sight of the enemy, that’s for sure.”


“I know you motherloaders are rich, but nobody’s that rich. Drones are almost as rare and expensive as mechs.”


“Say what? Expensive? That’s the whole point of using drones instead of people. Why pay sixty million bucks for a spyplane when you can have a cheap-o drone for a hundred thousand? My daughter said you guys were in a dark age, but that’s just craz-”


“Backwards? Who’re the ones without proper mechs, proper spacetravel, proper weaponry, and just about anything more advanced than pissant peasant toys?”


“Us,” Greene conceded. “We make up for it with craziness and a willingness to hijack your mechs. Speaking of which, I’m going to need you to take a right up here. We’re almost at the nav where our mercs wanted to rendezvous.”


“I don’t see them.” Natalie said, her eyes darting down to Old Melville’s radar display.


“Me neither. Give ‘em a little time, unless you feel up to tackling whatever other baddies are in the area.” Greene replied.


“A heavy lance, all on my lonesome? I don’t think so.” Natalie replied.


“Not totally alone. You have me, your helpful navigator and devoted loveslave!”


Natalie snorted.


Overhead, an American F-16 dogfighting one of the pirate aerospace fighters fell to pieces, completely torn apart by one of the invaders’ autocannons.


Greene sighed. “So, you know any good jokes?”


<***>


It only took the Buron cav minutes to ford the river and arrive. It wasn’t a minute too soon for Natalie. Sitting around twiddling her thumbs in a war zone wasn’t her idea of a fun time.


”Took you long enough, Iron,” Natalie said, irritation leaking into her voice.


Greene whispered “Temper, temper,” from his position in the cockpit’s rear.


"Well, sorry to let you wait, Widow. Fall in, we´re moving to intercept those Port Krin goons. Interception point is Nav Beta,” The mercenaries’ leader replied.


“You know, Natasha… I’m sure my government would look favorably upon you if you gave them a dropship, all gift-wrapped with a big red bow on it.” Greene said.


“They aren’t getting mine. Not permanently. And for the last time, I’m not-” Natalie started to reply.


“-I was thinking more along the lines of accepting a donation. Those ‘Port Krin goons’ came in on another dropship, right? And they’re off looting my hometown, so the dropship should be easy pickings.” Greene replied.


“You know, that’s actually a good idea. I’m surprised, local,” Natalie replied, thumbing on her commo set and switching to her unit’s frequency. “Blue, what can you tell me about the Krin dropship?”


“Hey! I have lots of good ideas!” Greene pouted from behind her.


“Arr… Err… Ah! Okay. Those rum runners came in on the Servitor, a old Leopard class dropship that’s had its missiles and PPCs removed to make room for cargo and looting parties. It still outguns anything we have except your mech.” Blue replied, taking a moment to reach the comm. “Sorry, I had to get these Buron guys off my back. Nice folks when they’re not trying to kill you. But whatever you do, don’t accept offers of free booze! The stuff they drink is enough to give even my cast iron liver trouble!”


“Only you, Blue,” Natalie replied with a smile. “But that still leaves us without enough firepower to take that ship.”


“Appeal to the fact that we’ve got nuclear platforms in orbit and a whole army on the ground. Either way they’re fucked. If they surrender, they’ll be treated humanely.” Greene replied. “Tell them that. I was a psych major in school. Chances are, they’re scared and confused. If you give them an option besides fighting to the death or getting nuked, I think they’ll take it.”


“Is it the truth?” Natalie asked.


Greene nodded. "Probably. We're going to want as many people who know how to fly those things as possible."


“Fine. Brox, Tyron, I’ve got orders for you. Uploading NAV data for the Krin dropship, Servitor. I want you to take it and get it to stand down through any means necessary. My...” She glanced at Greene, “…Liason with our new employers assures me that we can promise that they’ll be ‘treated humanely’ and not executed if they surrender.”


“Roj, Widow.” Tyron replied.


Two taps on her radio said Brox was acknowledging his orders as well.


“Now, let’s go kick some ass.” Natalie said.


<***>


"Damn. Iron 3, Widow, get that bastard before he slams into our boys up north. Iron 2 and me will advance on those guys here and pin them in place," Iron Lead said. At least, Natalie presumed the person giving her orders was Iron Lead.


“On it,” Natalie replied.


She accelerated towards the radar hit, with a Black Knight at her side. Iron 3, no doubt.


It was a tight fit in these narrow streets. She couldn’t help but crush a few parked cars underneath her mech’s weight.


The first thing she saw of the enemy mech was a literal eruption of missiles. Natalie braced for a split second on instinct, before her rational mind took over and realized that no, those missiles were heading for the other poor bastard accompanying her.


The Black Knight fell to the ground in a heap. Strange – a heavy mech like that should’ve been good for at least a few barrages. Must have been an unlucky hit.


In the distance, she could see an Archer dodge behind a building.


“Iron 3 is down,” She said, thumbing her comms back to Iron Lance’s frequencies. “I don’t see any major damage to his mech, though. I’m getting that asshole in his Archer.”


Natalie raised her Battlemaster’s arm, the ER PPC glinting dangerously in the sunlight as she advanced.


“Come on…” She said to no one in particular.


As she expected, the Archer ducked out of cover, intent on catching her in another missile barrage.


Instead, it caught a PPC to the upper torso; only quick actions by its pilot and a leap back into cover stopped it from being a direct cockpit hit.


Damn.


Natalie set off in pursuit – Archers had lots of nasty long range punch, but their short range prowess left a lot to be desired. If she could get in its engagement envelope, she’d have almost free reign to take that thing apart. LRMs wouldn’t even lock on at close rang-


She turned the corner and crashed, cockpit-first, into a barrage of missiles, with a pair of searing ruby beams nailing her left torso armor as she jerked back in shock.


He must have been refitted with some SRMs. What was that variant, ARC-2S? Something like that.


“Less analysis, more asskicking, Natasha!” Greene said.


She’d said that aloud? Fuck.


And then the Archer ducked behind yet another building. Doublefuck.


“There’s a side street here that’ll let you loop around, maybe catch him in the rear.” Greene said.


Natalie took it, coming ass-to-face with that Archer. She fired her ER PPC, liquefying several tons of its rear armor, and then followed it up with a barrage of deadly strobes from her medium lasers.


Heat washed over the cockpit only to recede as the starleague-made double heat sinks did their work.


The Archer’s only reply was its rear medium lasers, but they were wildly aimed and went wide as a result.


For all Greene’s backseat driving, it was handy having someone here who actually knew the area well.


Natalie fired her own SRMs, six deadly missiles lancing out and striking one of the Archer’s arms. It hung by but a thread of artificial myomer.


She roared in primal bloodlust and charged forward. The Archer pilot, evidently deciding that he had enough, accelerated forward in an attempt to round the bend and perhaps turn and catch her with another barrage of missiles.


He was too slow. Natalie’s Battlemaster was able to catch the mech by its undamaged arm. Then, she pulled back. The Archer staggered, and Natalie went for the kill. She grabbed the other arm with her free hand and, raising her mech’s leg to the Archer’s back for leverage, she pulled. Hard.


The already damaged left arm gave easily. Natalie fired her medium lasers at point blank range into the right, in hopes of severing it as she brought up the now dismembered arm and smashed it down onto the Archer’s upper-rear torso.


Its armor buckled, even as its other arm came free in her mech’s hand.


She brandished both the arms as clubs, smashing them into the Archer’s torso and bludgeoning its ablative armor away until, at last, she could see its internals.


Then she fired her lasers into the left leg, repeating the process until the mech was quite handily crippled.


“Surrender,” Natalie said, as she backed up and charged her mech’s arm-mounted PPC. One good hit would take him down and probably detonate his ammo too. She wanted to be well away when a mech loaded with missiles like that cooked off.


“Rot in hell!”


“Mr. PPC says “right back at you!”” Natalie replied, firing her PPC straight into the Archer’s cockpit. Unfortunately, the heat of the blast was simply too much for the missiles to take – they detonated, just as Natalie feared. Glass fell to the ground in a great pulse of jagged shards as the shockwave roared over the buildings and down to Natalie’s mech, bowling Old Melville over.


"This is Black Widow. The Archer is down. Ammo explosion. The guy didn´t punch out."


As the Archer exploded, Natalie sighed. “I hope Brox and Tyron are having better luck with that ship.”


<***>


Brox was grinning quite happily. This was the most fun he’d had in the longest time. Dart in, tag another of the Servitor’s weapons with his own medium laser, dart out. It was like the games he played with his sib. He was always the best at those games. Cutting off a target’s weapons and leaving it helpless. Good fun.


And doing it to a dropship was just grand, because he could use it as a mech-scale playground once he didn’t have to worry about getting shot. Nobody appreciated just how much fun it was to go dropship climbing. Captain Blue certainly didn’t. Poor deprived man. Even Lady Natalie didn’t. Poor deprived woman.


The only dismal spot was that the game wasn’t very challenging. The dropship’s gunners weren’t very good at shooting.


“Attention Servitor, this is Mechwarrior Tyron from Jolly Roger. You are hereby ordered to surrender to native forces. Otherwise I’ll have my friend here finish disarming you completely. Do you want to brave the native nuke platforms without any weapons?” Brox heard Tyron say over an open channel.


“We’re pirates, boy,” The Servitor’s captain replied. “The minute we step off this ship, we’ll be tried and executed. If we’re lucky enough to get a trial, that is. The ship’s valuable, but us? Life’s cheap. Mechs – or dropships, aren’t.”


“I’ve been assured by my liason that you will be treated ‘humanely’ and not executed out of hand.” Tyron replied.


Well, technically it was Natalie’s liason, but Brox wasn’t of a mind to quibble over details like that. If the boy wanted to build himself up, who was Brox to stop him?


“Not good enough.”


“Fine. Let me put it like this: You have a bunch of options. You can take off trying to get to orbit, get nuked, and die. You stay here, refuse to surrender, get shot at by the native army, plus a company of mercs, and die. You take off trying to get somewhere else planetside, get nuked, and die. Are you seeing a trend here? Or, you can surrender, hope I’m telling the truth, and probably not die. Which will it be?”


Brox knew what he’d choose. Then again, going out in a blaze of glory wasn’t all that popular amongst dropship crews. He’d always thought they were a little too safe and secure in their big metal coffins. No sense of adventure or danger. Not like him.


“Fine. We surrender.” It sounded to Brox as if the man was physically pained by the admission.


Oh wells. His loss.


<***>


The battle was, for the most part, over. So she powered down her mech and took the time to stretch out her legs and get some fresh air. Things were going to get awfully uncertain in the future. And she’d have motherloader techs crawling all over her mech. Still, she’d negotiated a decent contract, even if it was a little spur of the moment. It was a damn sight better than the alternative.


Speaking of motherloaders in her mech, where had Greene disappeared to?


“Hey, Natasha!” She heard him call from behind. She turned, and he asked, “Ready for your first lunch on Earth?”


She didn’t have time to ponder his strange statement before he’d peeled off one of the explosive packs taped to his uniform and tossed it to her.


Was this some kind of strange motherloader initiation ritual? Surely he didn’t mean for her to eat the explosives.


She snatched it out of the air, puzzled.


In a moment, however, her puzzlement had morphed into anger as she read the label on the other side of the pack.


Rations. That bastard had tricked her and damn near hijacked her mech with field rations!


Greene, for his part, just smiled a cheeky smile, and gestured towards a semi-wrecked café. “Milady, your banquet awaits!”


The damn smile was infectious. Natalie couldn’t help but find one creeping unbidden over her face. “Oh, fine. You got me good this time. Savor your victory, Greene. It’s the last one you’re ever going to get over on me.”


“Fortunately, getting one under on you is still open!” Greene replied.' 'National Guards Temporary Camp outside Washington DC 14 November 2005/3020


"What's this I hear about an incident with a wrench, Lieutenant?" Major Helen Norton, MD, asked, managing to keep a straight face. The doctor couldn’t help but needle the young men she was in charge of keeping fit.


Second Lieutenant Joseph Chalmers coughed, putting his hands over his face to cover the sight blush. He took a moment to recover and the explained. “Well one of the prisoners we took was some sort of technician. She got very, uh, agitated when we took her tools. She claimed that they were family heirlooms, passed down for four generations.”


“Heirlooms, Joe?” Lieutenant Charles Winters asked. “Who keeps a wrench as a family heirloom?”


“Well a wrench is certainly more practical that the gaudy pearls I got from my mother,” Major Norton noted, between sips of her coffee.


“From what I understand,” Chalmers said, “these people come from a semi-feudal culture. In Earth’s middle ages, it wasn’t unusual for tools of the trade to be passed down from parent to child. Especially when you’re in a barter economy, the ‘tools of the trade’, so to speak, would have been an important part of the inheritance someone from the lower classes might receive upon his parent’s death. Specialized tools means special orders to the blacksmith – not something you can just do. And most kids went into the same trade as their parents.”


“Yeah, but these people aren’t coming from a middle ages technological base,” Winters cut in. “I mean, giant walking tanks, for crying out loud.”


“They’ve technologically regressed. From what I’ve heard, there was this big confederation all these states were a part of, and when it feel apart, the universities and research labs and factories got nuked to hell and back. There’s things they have that they’re running with their equivalent of duct tape and chewing gum because they don’t know how to build any new ones anymore. Plus, these guys are from a small time pirate state, like that island in that Disney movie, what was it called?” Chalmers massaged the bridge of his nose, as if it would help his memory.


“Pirates of the Carribean.” Winters supplied helpfully.


“I think he meant the name of the island,” Norton said dryly. “And it was Tortuga.”


“Tortuga! Thank you. Anyway, they’re a backwater. They might not be big enough to have a local industry for producing mechanic’s tools. And I can’t imagine a down on her luck technician can afford interstellar shipping fees. But tools like these, they’ll last a good long time if they’re of quality manufacture. I can buy the set she had being a century old.”


“A century?” Norton shook her head. “That really would make it a heirloom.”


“Passed down for four generations, she said,” supplied Chalmers.


“Heh, I could just see it. Little girl learnin’ the trade at her pappy’s knee, with her hair tied back in a ponytail and grease on her cheeks.” Winters grinned at the mental image.


“Hey, don’t be a chauvinist, maybe it was at her mother’s knee” Norton interjected.


“Well, no. Her mother was a slave.”


“They still have slavery out there?” Winters shook his head. “Now that’s crazy. Even if they have technological regression, so long as they know what steam engines are, slaves aren’t economically efficient at all.”


“Her mother probably wasn’t a laborer, Charles.” Norton set down her coffee, suddenly not wanting to drink anymore. “There are other reasons to keep slaves than economic ones.”


“Oh. That kind of slave.”


“Yeah.”


There was an uncomfortable silence. Norton spoke as much to relieve the tension as out of genuine curiosity. “So, you were telling us about the wrench.”


“Right. It was really a nice piece of workmanship. Big sturdy thing, not the kind you find in a toolkit, normally. She really didn’t want to be parted from it. She tried to get me to let her keep the whole kit, but when I said no, she started wheedling for just the wrench.”


“I assume you held firm?” Winters asked.


“I pointed out that it was potentially usable as a club and therefore I couldn’t leave it with her. Though I have a suspicion that was the idea -some of the bruisers we captured her with looked really unsavory, and given what happened with her mother. . .”


“Ah” Norton nodded. “She was afraid they’d get too friendly. Didn’t she think we would stop that?”


“Tortuga, remember? These are pirates, or at least the people who work with them. Not exactly the types who are known for following the Geneva Convention. Past history wouldn’t give her much in the way of positive expectations.” Chalmers looked aggrieved at that. “I told my CO that we needed to segregate the men and the women.”


“Ares Conventions,” Winter corrected him, after another pause between them.


“Huh?” Norton blinked.


“These ‘Battletech’ people have the Ares Conventions, which include something similar to our Geneva Conventions. But they’re mainly about not nuking civilian populations,” Winters explained. The other two gave him a familiar look. “Hey, I can read you know. Just because I didn’t do a compete socioeconomic analysis of their culture like Joe did doesn’t mean I’m completely ignorant”


“I take it they have these conventions because it happened.”


“Since when did you become the cynical one, Helen?” Chalmers wanted to know.


“We apparently have the daughter of a sexually abused slave-girl in lock-up.”


“Point taken”


A third awkward moment ensued. Norton broke the silence. “You still haven’t told me why the others were sniggering over the wrench.”


Chalmers was blushing when he replied. “She offered sexual favors in exchange for being allowed to keep the wrench. That’s how we found out about her mother. She implied her mother taught her as much as her father did.” He sighed “It seemed funny at the time.”' 'Dropship Majd Udeen Over the Red Sea Earth 14 November, 3020


Captain Jane Ibrahim gritted her teeth as The Majd Udeer roared across the waters of the Red Sea at three times the speed of sound. They'd only been able to affect a quick repair on the damaged port stabilizer and it was painfully apparent it wasn't holding up too well. Still, she could handle it. She didn't like it but she could handle it. Wasn't her Sparrowhawk, but the Leopard was a good ship, abet sluggish so she had few worries. And if it did fail, well, they wouldn't have time for regrets anyways. At these speeds, the word of the day would be 'salsa'.


It was moments like this she'd almost wished she'd never joined this band of merry misfits. What really had her worried was their leader was going to be taking her husband on a suicide mission. She understood that it was necessary. If she still had her fighter she'd be roaring along ready to fight and die as well. After all, it was Mecca they were flying to save, returned to them by the hand of god himself. Instead of fighting though, she was stuck driving the truck.


When she found out she was going to have her first child they'd all agreed that maybe it wasn't the brightest idea to have a pregnant woman flying a aerospace fighter, a wise decision in most people book. Unfortunately she'd allowed someone else to take up the stick of her families fighter. Big mistake that, asshole'd got himself waxed just a month afterwards in a routine raid against a half defended Kurita supply depot, taking her birthright with him. She could only hope that he was getting what she felt would be a fitting final reward: an eternity of being sodomized by demons, in hell. Bastard.


She was a one of the hidden Muslims born in the Combine, outside the Azami Brotherhood, who had been forced to hide her faith from the Dragon's thugs. When her father died in battle, as his only child she'd inherited his fighter and his responsibility to serve House Kurita. Instead she ran, her objective to reach Galatea. She'd rather ply her trade as a mercenary then serve the bastards who'd brutally oppressed her people for so long. Originally she'd joined the crew simply to get a lift, trading her services for transport, but Aladdin gotten to her and she'd simply stayed on. After some time she fell in love with one of the MechWarriors, they married, she was officially one of the family.


“This is your captain speaking,” she said over the Comlink to the ships . “please put your seat backs and tray tables in their full and upright position. ETA to target area, ninety seconds. Oh, and Khan, if you die, I'm going to kill you.”


“Quite the wife you have there,” Ahmad, one of the other BattleMech pilots laughed over the line, “Very quiet and obedient. Perfect, dutiful Muslim bride.”


“Bah,” her husband laughed, “She keeps me on my toes!”


“Silence, both of you,” their leader cut in with amusement in his voice, “She is a strong woman and a good mother with a unshakable faith, even if she's not a very 'traditional' woman.”


“By 'not very traditional', you mean she's willful, sarcastic, thinks she knows better than her husband, and is quite possibly mad?” Khan asked.


“Yes, that.” Aladdin laughed.


“Khan, if you make it out of this alive, I hope you don't expect to ever have sex again.”


“You know the Koran says a man has the right to beat a woman who does not do her duties as wife and mother, correct?”


“Yeah. I also know that I can kick your ass in a fist fight, husband.”


“True. True. Besides, more often that I'd like to admit, you do indeed know better than your husband. I don't know what I'd do without you, my flower.”


She smiled and felt a tear run down her face. “Don't die.”


“I will do my best, but if Allah wills me to die, then I will meet you in paradise.”


Looking at the indicator she frowned and looked at the screen. “Oh shit.”


“What is it?”


“Its not just a Union. One of the three Mules is also at the target!”


“Um, boss, if I'm not mistaken, each of those carries a regiment of foot infantry and short regiment of armor, right”


“You would be correct,” Aladdin replied.


“Yeah, we're screwed.”


Jane winced and clenched the stick. Damn it! Damn it all! “We're at the drop zone”


With a flick of a switch she opened the outer doors and out jumped one lance of 'Mechs and a company of jump infantry. In other words, everything they had.


She smiled.


Almost everything.


She smiled as she wheeled the Dropship around and looked at the two large sphereoids in the distance. She could almost make out the vehicles still slowly streaming out of the Mule's cargo bay. A cruel smile came to her face.


“Get my a targeting solution on that Mule. Aim for the cargo doors.”


“What?”


“I want to put a couple flights of LRMs down its hatch.”


“Aye, ma'am.”


She grinned as the gunners opened fire. Three flights of 20 LRMs flew from their racks for the battered metal sphere. Not for the first time she thanked god for such a skilled crew as almost 50 of the 60 missiles landed inside the ship. Flying at almost a crawl she they fired two more volleys, ablating armor and wreaking havoc among the light armor that had already been unloaded.


“Thermal spike from the Mule, ma'am. I think we started a fire.”


“Good,” the ship shuddered as the Union woke up and began to provide anti-aircraft fire, along with sporadic from he units already on the ground. “I think thats our exit que.”


Swinging the stick around she hut the engines and began a wide circle around the city. From here on she was a spectator. As much as she'd like to fight, to get in and provide close air support, the unit's dependents were on the ship. Her children were on this ship, and they'd all agreed that it simply wasn't worth the risk.


Not for the first time, she wished she had her fucking fighter back.


Masjid al-Haram Mecca, Saudi Arabia Earth 14 November, 3020


Aladdin took a deep breath as his BattleMech touched down with a loud thunk. He now stood before the most holy sight in Islam, occupied by thousands of the faithful, with his lance the only guardian force between them and an entire company of enemy 'Mechs with attendant armor and infantry looking to loot and pillage.


“Do not fear!” he exclaimed over his external microphone. “I am Alladin Al Azim of the Azami Free Army. I am here to answer the call of Jihad, to protect the faithful from those who would bring carnage to the holy city! As long as we draw breath, they shall not pass! Allahu akbar!”


The response from the throng of faithful was deafning as they returned his cry of 'Allahu akbar'.


With a smile on his face he closed his eyes for just a moment. This was the moment he'd been waiting for his entire life. He was going to die here, but he would rise again among God's chosen. This moment was the climax of his life. Everything he'd ever done was done as to lead up to this one moment.


Slowly a smile came to the warrior cleric's face as the enemy entered range. God was truly merciful. He'd seen the dedication of his people and he'd rewarded them by restoring the holy city to them, and if his life was the price that was needed to protect it, he was honored to die this day.


15 November, 2005 Brigade Command Center Chicago, United States Earth


Colonel Anderson looked up from the map studying, when he heard someone call his name. He saw a corporal enter the room who seemed very excited.


"What's going on Corporal?" He asked.


"New orders Sir." the Corporal responded. We have confirmation that the Pirates dropship will be landing at Chicago Midway International Airport. Command is ordering us to cordon off the area and engage any enemy troops."


"Damn," the Colonel swore as he looked at the pins marking where units were stationed on the map. "We have less than a thousand men who can get there quickly and only two tanks, the rest of the units will need more time to get there." Anderson thought quickly for a moment. "Order all units to converge on the Chicago Midway International Airport. All units are to form a cordon around the airport, but they are to stay out of sight and are not engage enemy forces except in self-defense. They are going to need a lot more reinforcement to deal with the enemy landing than a thousand soldiers."


He looked up at the assembled officers in the room. "Get the order out now! Cordon the airport, we attack on my command only."


Anderson grabbed his helmet and vest from where he left it on a nearby chair. "Okay people move out," he said as he strode toward the door.


As he reached the street, he took in the frantic pace activity. Vehicles were quickly being loaded, and the Humvees and the pickup trucks mounting tow missile launchers were already beginning to move out. The rest of the national guardsmen were piling into their Humvees, while the recruits from the Navy base were packing themselves into the backs of commandeered pickup trucks. As he waited for his Humvee to arrive, he wondered with a sense of sadness just how many people who were leaving would be alive after the battle.


Dropship Phantom Wing Chicago, United States Earth


Major Brown could feel the dropship slowing as it came in to land. Less than a minute later he felt the gentle thump of the dropship touching down. Moments later the bay door opened, and he drove his BattleMaster down the ramp and onto the pavement of the landing strip the dropship landed on.


Once he was sure that there were no immediate enemies waiting to attack him, he paused to take in the sight of the massive city in which they had landed. He had known that the Motherloaders were rich however he hadn't realized just how much there was. From what he could see of the city, it looked like something he would have expected to find as the capital to one of the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere. And he was amazed as he recalled the fact that there were dozens of cities of this size on this one planet.


Despite the Shock he felt at seeing the true size and wealth of this Motherloader's city, he didn't let it distract him from ensuring that all the mechs were following his deployment orders. He could already see the light mechs taking up screening positions several hundred meters from the dropship while the medium and assault mechs stayed closer to the dropship and formed the heavy hitting core of his assault force.


As he watched, he could see dozens of the infantry they had packed onto the dropship, spreading out and advancing past the line of light mechs. It would take a few minutes for the infantry to the main buildings of the airport. Once they had secured the buildings and ensured the area was secured, he would be able to lead most of his mechs into the city and force their surrender.


Although he wasn't surprised, he was annoyed to find out that the buildings around the airport had already been occupied by some of planetary militia. Thankfully however, it didn't seem like there were many of the planetary militia nearby as the infantry reported their only under light fire.


He was beginning to think that conquering this city wouldn't be too hard, until the dropship radioed him. "Major Brown, we have several dozen fighters moving rapidly toward us."


Brown swiftly crushed the feeling of panic that threaten to overwhelm him, when the dropship reported dozens of enemy fighters moving in. However a moment later he relaxed somewhat as he remembered that although numerous, motherloader’s fighters were small and unarmored. Doubtless they would take some damage, but they should be able to wipe out all the attacking fighters without too much difficult.


Hearing some of the other mech pilots beginning to worry he decided to offer some reassurance along with some orders.


"All mechs fall back to within 100 meters of the dropship, and switch to air defense mode. Remember you only need one hit to take them down, the enemy fighters are unarmored and so small that even infantry could shoot down with machine guns. So once they get close enough to engage us, we'll blow them out of the sky."


Brown was surprised when a couple of minutes later the dropship reported that the fighters in turned back once they had gotten to within 20 kilometers. He looked in puzzlement towards the direction the fighters were. About 20 seconds later he saw what looked like a hundred thin lines streaking through the sky towards them. Several seconds later he realized that those thin lines looked like the exhaust from rocket engines, which meant that those must be missiles. He couldn't believe that those fighters had fired missiles at them from more than 20 kilometers away. He rapidly grew concerned again when he considered the fact that if they were launching from that far away, they must be expecting to hit their targets, and therefore must have some kind of lostech missile.


Since the fighters were far outside of the range of any of the mechs. Brown ordered the dropship to open fire on the Motherloders' fighters and attempt to shoot them down, ignoring or overriding all objections that the fighters were out of range in the atmosphere. He hoped that, since the Motherloaders' fighters were an unarmored, the lasers might be able to do a little damage to the fighters and drive them off.


Air Combat Group Chicago, United States Earth


Lt. Col. Young had tensely been waiting for the orders to attack, so in some ways it was almost a relief when the orders finally came.


"Viper One, this is Command. Spotters at the landing site have reported that all mechs have been offloaded from the dropship. Airport security forces and local police have engaged enemy infantry, and are requesting air support to engage the enemy mechs before they attack."


"Viper One, you are now cleared to engage. And try to keep them penned in at the airport until the ground forces are able to engage."


"All Vipers, this is Viper One. You are cleared to engage, I repeat cleared to engage. First group follow me in, second group hit the survivors." Young ordered.


Immediately after Young gave the orders, his fighter along with 13 others broke from the formation and accelerated towards the airport. The other 14 fighters reformed their formation and followed at a slower pace, giving the first wave of fighters the time needed to hit their targets.


As the fighters got closer to the dropship threat warning indicators inside the F-16s cockpits began to light up warning the pilots as search and tracking radars began to paint the fighters. However, the pilots ignored the warnings, secure in the knowledge that they were far outside the engagement range for the mechs and dropship on the ground.


Once the fighters had reached a distance of 15 miles from the dropship, they were close enough for their sensors to detect and differentiate between the individual mechs. Even near the maximum range for the Maverick missiles, acquiring the targets only took a few seconds, and launching about ten seconds more.


As the F-16s finished launching their missiles and broke off their attack runs, racing away at high-speed on their journey back to the base from which they launched, to rearm and refuel. They were more concerned about the pair of aerospace fighters circling over their heads at more than 180,000 feet above them, then about any threats of retaliation from their targets on the ground from which they were out of range.


Unfortunately for the pilots, the intelligence officers who had briefed them had overlooked the fact that although dropships typically only engage targets which are less than a kilometer or two away, when on the ground. When in space, dropships have the sensors and targeting precision to engage aerospace fighters and other dropships at a ranges of hundreds of kilometers. And that the only reason dropships didn't engage enemy units at a long-distance while on the ground, was because the atmosphere dissipated too much of a laser or particle beams energy to cause any significant damage to an armored aerospace fighter.


Therefore the pilots were stunned when five of the fighters flying alongside them suddenly blew up or flew apart in a ball of fire as lasers from the dropship burned them out of the sky. A particle beam, which had been fired split-second after the lasers, struck a sixth F-16 vaporizing part of the wings, rear and ventral surface of the fighter and igniting the fuel stored onboard. The resulting explosion cremated the pilot before he was even aware his plane had been hit.


As the fighters continued to race away from the dropship, they began to take evasive maneuvers trying to break any attempts at target locks, while they launched chaff and flares in an attempt to fool the enemy sensors.


It became obvious that their wild maneuvering along with the masses of decoys dropped by the planes, prevented any of the Pirates from getting firm target locks. And lasers and particle beams lit up the sky as the dropship attempted to shoot down the fleeing fighters.


Lt. Col. Young led the first group of fighters away from the dropship, as they went full afterburner and raced for the ground in an attempt to put some distance between their fighters the dropship and get below the horizon and out of line of sight with the dropship.


The lasers and particle beams came ever closer to the fleeing fighters as the Pirates refined their targeting solutions. Despite the wild evasions of the fighters, two more F-16s reducing to clouds of shattered wreckage when they were hit by lasers as they retreated.


For Young, the realization that he had lost more than half of the first group of fighters shocked him enough that it slowed his evasive maneuvers. This allowed the one of the gunners on the dropship one last shot before the fighters were out of range again. And the last thing Young saw was a flash of blue-white a split second before the particle beam hit his fighter and reduced it to a cloud of burning debris and molten metal droplets.


The five surviving fighters of the first wave retreated at full afterburner going supersonic at less than 100 feet, and leaving behind a trail of shattered windows and deafened people.


The pirate group did not escape the exchange without casualties. More than 70 Maverick missiles, a mix of the lighter Air Force and heavier naval variants, were launched by the F-16s at the mechs. Several of the mech pilots tried to dodge the oncoming missiles, while a number of the pilots hit their jump jets in an attempt to get out of the way of the subsonic missiles. Thirty of the Maverick missiles missed their targets, not being designed to be able to track a target that could jump a football field with ease. However, two maverick missiles managed hit the leg of a Phoenix Hawk while it was in the air. The explosion resulting from 600 pounds of explosives detonating damaged the Phoenix Hawk's leg, but the real damage was done by the explosive force of the missiles which knocked the mech out of control causing it to land on its stomach, and killing the pilot.


A Wasp and two Stingers were also blown apart as they tried to absorb 15 Maverick missiles between them. The Hunchback was hit by 13 missiles which blasted through the armor on the torso, with the final two missiles shattering the reactor and detonating the ammo for the AC/20. The resulting detonation sent pieces of shattered Hunchback flying for as far as a mile. The last 10 missiles, a mix comprised mostly of the lighter Air Force variants, impacted on the pair of BattleMasters shattering armor but otherwise doing no real damage.


The second wave of F-16s were rudely surprised when two of their number blew up after being hit by several lasers fired by a diving Sparrowhawk almost 18 miles above them. They had been concentrating on avoiding being shot down by the dropship, and had then doing a low altitude high-speed run towards the dropship and their targets.


The F-14s who had been flying air cover had detected the Aerospace fighters breaking their patrol pattern high in the atmosphere and beginning their dive to counterattack the American fighters pounding the Pirates landing site. Unfortunately for the F-16s, it had taken the F-14s pilots some time to get into the favorable launching positions to attack targets that had been circling more than thirty miles directly above them.


The Sparrowhawk being faster than its companion was leading the charge against the attacking F-16s. Screaming downward at more than 2000 miles an hour the pilot of the Sparrowhawk managed to shoot down an additional three F-16s before he had pull up and break off his attack. The fact that the Sparrowhawk leveled out and began to loop around again for another pass at the F-16s, was its downfall. Even as the Sparrowhawk was diving the F-14s after achieved a lock on with their missiles and every F-14 in the group fired a pair of Phoenix missiles at the Sparrowhawk.


The speed the Sparrowhawk was traveling as it dove, and the fact that the F-14s fired from an angle that was from behind the Sparrowhawk, was the only thing that kept the Phoenix missiles from quickly catching up and obliterating the fighter. The pilot of the Sparrowhawk hadn't even considered the fact that there might be even longer ranged missiles than the ones he had seen being used to attack the mechs.


Therefore, once the Sparrowhawk had slowed down and began turning around for another pass, the pursuing missiles caught up with their unsuspecting target. Thirteen of the pursuing missiles missed the tightly banking Sparrowhawk, the remaining 19 missiles impacted on the fighter with the first dozen missiles shattering the armor on one of the wings and the fuselage before last seven missiles impacted on the already damage areas and blew the fighter in half. As the remains of the Sparrowhawk spiraled out of control, the F-14s quickly radioed in a fighters last position, so that if the pilot had ejected he could be quickly captured on the ground.


The Lucifer seeing the fate of its smaller cousin switched targets from the F-16s to the F-14s and opened fire. Volleys of LRMs streaked downwards even as the Lucifer opened fire with lasers strafing the F-14s and destroying three fighters. Even as the F-14s launched a volley of Phoenix missiles at the Lucifer, the Lucifer's volley of LRMs reached the F-14s. Most of LRMs, being fired far outside their atmospheric range, missed. However the fact that the LRMs were fired almost vertically downwards meant that several missiles managed to connect with a pair of F-14s and reduced them to clouds of expanding debris.


The Lucifer in an attempt to avoid the return fire from the F-14s, tried to evade Phoenix missiles by using its powerful engines to pull out of its dive and go into a rapid climb, while trying to out turn the Phoenix missiles. The attempt was mostly successful as 25 of the Phoenix missiles missed their target, the remaining seven missiles managed to impact on the fuselage and one wing, thinning the armor considerably and causing some damage to the wing.


The Lucifer, after managing to climb back to almost 30 miles above the ground, quickly turned and dived engaging the remaining F-14s, attacked them with lasers, and managing to down another four fighters. The seven remaining F-14s volleyed all the remaining Phoenix missiles at the Lucifer. The Phoenix missiles not being designed for almost vertical climbs up to targets 25 miles overhead, almost completely burnt out their engines as they raced upwards to intercept the Lucifer. Seeing the lines in the sky from the exhaust of the oncoming missiles the pilot attempted to pull out of his dive and evade. However, the Lucifer was unable to successfully evade the second volley of Phoenix missiles, and most of the missiles impacted on the fighter. Shattering the armor on the fuselage, from the nose to the tail, and blowing off one of the wings. The last few missiles impacted on the already damage areas and blew the fighter apart.


Dropship Phantom Wing Chicago, United States Earth


Even as the surviving mechs were pulling themselves back together. The dropship warned them that a second wave of fighters was inbound.


Major Brown swore wildly when the alert was transmitted. He had already lost more than a lance of mechs, and that was way more casualties than he had expected. And the thought of losing more of his mechs to the Motherloaders flying targets infuriated him. However, the next transmission from the dropship caused a great deal of relief for him.


"Major," the dropship radioed, "our aerospace fighters are inbound."


Major Brown watched in relief as their aerospace fighters engaged the Motherloaders fighters. In the distance he could see a pair of explosions in the sky followed quickly by three more explosions in rapid succession as their Sparrowhawk engaged the Motherloaders anti-mech fighters. However, his relief was short lived as a few moments later he saw a series of explosions at one point in the sky followed by the Sparrowhawk dropping off screen.


His attention was quickly diverted from the fight in the air when he saw numerous missile contrails appear and start heading straight towards them. As the nine remaining F-16s launched all their missiles of the remaining mechs.


"Incoming!" He screamed over the radio as the 54 Maverick missiles raced towards them.


Most of the surviving lighter mechs immediately hit their jump jets and jumped for positions that would interpose the bulk of the dropship between them and the oncoming missiles. However one pilots of a light mechs, one of the Jenners, had hit his jump jets in a panic and only moved his Mech 500 feet to the left.


The BattleMasters having no jump jets simply braced themselves for the inevitable impacts. However, Brown also crossed the arms of his Mech in front of the torso in an attempt to provide an additional layer of armor for the cockpit and torso of his Mech. Of the 54 missiles, seven of them went for the Jenner while the rest went after the two bigger targets in their field of view. The seven missiles which hit the Jenner were enough to destroy it's torso and blow one arm flying, while the remains of the mangled machine crashed to the ground. The remaining 47 missiles impacted on the two BattleMasters.


Twenty Three missiles impacted on Brown's BattleMaster shattering the raised arms covering the torso and then demolished the armor covering the entire chest of the BattleMaster and causing damage to the underlying structure. Brown, however, got off lightly compared to his counterpart in the other BattleMaster that was hit. Although that BattleMaster was only hit by one more Phoenix missile then Brown's, four Phoenix missiles impacted on the mechs head killing the pilot, while the rest of the missiles destroyed an arm and shattered the armor along the torso and one of the legs. That BattleMaster swayed for a moment before crashing face down onto the pavement on which it was standing.


Chicago Midway international Airport Chicago, United States Earth


Colonel Anderson hoped he would have enough firepower for what was to come. Yet more than 5000 men stationed around the airport, along with a 16 M1 tanks and the dozens of TOW armed Humvees and technicals. All of them were several streets away from the airport and hiding out of sight from the pirates. Despite the fact he knew that more reinforcements were on the way, he couldn’t afford to wait any longer to engage. The Pirates were still recovering from the last airstrike and if he allowed them any more time to reestablish their positions it would make his job that much harder.


He turned to the radioman in his Command Humvee.


"Signal to all units," he said. "Attack!"


He then watched as the units received their orders and the four M1 tanks at the end of the street raced away followed by 17 Humvees and technicals mounting tow missile launchers. These were in turn followed by more than 150 pickup trucks loaded down with soldiers to be delivered to their assigned positions on the perimeter of the airport. Moments later his Command Humvee joined the stream of vehicles heading to the airport.


A minute later Anderson arrived at the perimeter fence of the airport. He could see that the first part of the assault plan had worked perfectly. The tanks which had led the force had simply driven right through the concrete perimeter fence surrounding the airport. And through that hole more than a thousand infantry passed through the fence hot on the heels of the armed Humvees and technicals.


As the force advanced they spread out using the buildings and hangers built near the southern fence, through which they had passed, for cover. The Colonel having dismounted from his Humvee followed the infantry into the airport, keeping only his radioman and a platoon of infantry around him.


The infantry soon passed the tanks and TOW armed vehicles which had formed up into groups and were preparing for the dash out into the open to engage the landed mechs. The pause in the advance by the vehicles, also served another purpose, it allowed the infantry to advance past the vehicles and form a screening element which would protect the vehicles from any attacks that the enemy infantry could possibly mount.


Anderson could hear the chatter of M-16s start and begin rapidly increasing as the infantry ran into enemy soldiers who had been checking out some of the buildings nearby. The outcome was a foregone conclusion as the equivalent of a battalion soldiers clashed head on with about half a company of the pirate's infantry. The battle lasted only a couple minutes as fierce exchanges of gunfire were traded between the two forces, and the overwhelming firepower of the American infantry was brought to bear on the spread out groups of pirates. The chatter of the M-16's was briefly punctuated by several explosions as some of the infantry used LAWs to blow up the pirates who had managed to find some cover. The firing died down as the surviving pirate infantry either surrendered or fled back to the dropship parked in the middle of the airport.


With the enemy infantry dead, captured or fleeing. The tanks advanced, racing out from concealment and turned to engage the enemy mechs. The Humvees and technicals deployed in a skirmish line as they follow the tanks out to the open, depending on their speed and maneuverability to try avoid enemy fire. Meanwhile dozens of antitank teams positioned themselves on the roofs of buildings and offices looking out over the airfield.


Dropship Phantom Wing Chicago, United States Earth


Major Browns swore viciously, as he realized that airstrikes had managed to destroy almost 2 complete lances of his mechs. All he had left, was three lighter mechs, a medium mech and his own heavily damaged BattleMaster. Even as the lighter mechs came around the dropship to rejoin him, receive a panicked radio call from the infantry he had deployed to secure the area.


"Major! Were under attack by thousands of militia, we’re falling back to dropship. The militia is being supported by...." In a screech of static the radio transmission died.


Brown turned his BattleMaster quickly and scanned the perimeter of the landing field the dropship was on. As he was looking he saw eight armored vehicles race out from behind cover on the south and west sides, and fire blossom from the front of the vehicles as they engaged his mechs. He saw his two lightest mechs stagger as the rounds impacted on their armor. Even as he engaged and destroyed one of the armored vehicles with the last two surviving medium lasers on his BattleMaster. He saw what must have been more than 50 missiles being launched from the lighter vehicles, following the larger armored vehicles, and from the roofs of a dozen nearby buildings.


The missiles all homed in on the sole surviving wasp, and shattered the mech's armor in a series of explosions that mangled the one of the mechs arms and damaged the torso. Adding insult to injury the five surviving armored vehicles fired at the wounded mech, three of the shells fired by the tanks impacted on the remnants of the wasps armor destroying it. The last two shells slipped through gaps in the armor and shredded mechs internals.


"All units retreat back into the dropship." He ordered.


As the lighter units raced back to the dropship, Brown turned back to fire at the pursuing armored vehicles. He managed to destroy another armored vehicle, and saw a particle beam from the dropship vaporize another. The three surviving armored vehicles return fire at the BattleMaster, two of the shells impacted on structural elements in the torso and damaging nearby systems. The last shell damaged the mech's gyro, and caused the Major to begin to lose control of his mech.


He managed to pilot his failing mech back to the dropship and halfway up the ramp to the largest mech bay before the gyro gave out, causing his Mech to crash to the ground with its head in the bay while the rest of mech lay on the ramp preventing the bay the doors from being closed.


Major Brown came to a seconds later, and he realized the crash had caused the blackout for a moment. He hauled his bruised and aching body out of the cockpit and was helped to his feet by a technician.


"Give me your radio." Brown ordered.


Grabbing the radio the technician handed over he began to issue a string of orders.


"I want the the Stinger positioned at the end of the bay, it's a hose down any enemy infantry that make it into the bay, however it's not to open fire until I give permission. I want the PhoenixHawk to drag my Mech into the bay, but it is not to starts pulling my Mech in until I give the order. All technicians are to vacate the bay and all surviving infantry are to set up barricades and prevent any enemy infantry from gaining access to the rest of the dropship."


Assured that mech bay could be held against any enemy infantry for some time, Brown rushed to the bridge of the dropship. A minute later he reached the bridge where he was greeted nervously by the Captain.


"Sir," the Captain said nervously. "We're picking up a radio call demanding our surrender."


Brown snorted, "Surrender. You know as well as I do Captain, that they'll execute us as pirates. And we can't retreat because of the nukes in orbit."


He spoke loudly addressing the rest of the crew on the bridge, who had been listening intently to the conversation. "There can be no surrender or retreat. Victory is the only way out of this mess."


He addressed the Captain again. "There is a much greater number of militia than we expected and they're wearing our forces down too quickly. If we continue to fight them as we are now where going to lose simply through attrition. The only way we're going to be able to win this now, is by putting ourselves in position with it can't attack us but we still kill them.”


Brown look to the Captain intently. What I need to know, if it is possible to take off and hover about a kilometer above the ground. We can't get too far from the city or else they will nuke us, but we need to get into position where we can't be attacked from the ground."


"Yes it is possible." the Captain answered slowly. "But it is not something a dropship is designed to do, therefore don't expect us to be able to race around like an aerospace fighter. If we’re just hovering, the dropship will not be very maneuverable, and I don't think that we will be able to get more than 20 or 30 kilometers per hour out of the maneuvering thrusters if you want to move the ship around while hovering.


The Major gave a dark grin, "Good, that will give us a way to destroy the militia from the air with the dropship's weapons. And once the militia destroyed we can hover over the city and demand their complete and total surrender. And if they refuse we can blow up some of those larger buildings until they agree."


"However," he cautioned the Captain, "you're not to take off until I give the signal. I want to, lure as many of the militia as is possible in close, and let them attempt to storm the ship. Once they are all in close I want you to use the dropships main drive like a flamer and burn them all."


The Major waited patiently as the militia approached the dropship, he could see that there were several thousand men on the field. They were spread out to prevent the dropship's weapons from being able to take out more than one or two men at a time. He knew that they could see his damaged mech spread out across the ramp and preventing the bay doors from being closed. He knew that it would provide an irresistible opportunity for the infantry’s commander. Brown knew that it was a rare opportunity for anyone to encounter a dropship that could so easily be stormed by infantry in a battle. He also knew that they didn't have anything short of a nuke that could take out this dropship, which therefore made it impossible for the militia’s commander to not try to storm the ship.


As he waited, he could see the militia’s infantry beginning to gather under the dropship, using the landing struts for cover, as they pushed the last of his infantry back into the dropship. The rest of the militia’s infantry rapidly advanced and took up positions around the landing struts and under the dropship where they could take cover and repel any assault that came out of the dropship. The position the militia took was also so close that the dropships weapons were unable to depress far enough to target the sheltering infantry.


Even as the rest of militia’s infantry were reaching the dropship. Several companies were forming up for an attempt to storm the dropship. Moments later the group of several hundred militia stormed up the ramp, right on the heels of a volley of LAWs that have been fired into the loading bay. The impact of the LAWs blasted craters in a number bulkheads and shattered several barricades that the pirates’ infantry had set up. The hail of shrapnel resulting from the explosions swept the bay and killed more than a dozen of surviving infantry in the day. Seconds later teams of men armed with M-16's stormed the bay opening fire on anything that moved. Hot on the heels of the first group of men came dozens of men carrying satchel charges and explosives.


A moment later the pilot of the Stinger which had been hiding in the next bay over, reported that the militia was attacking the barricades and trying to force an entrance deeper into the dropship and requested permission to open fire.


"Negative," Major Brown responded. "Just a more seconds."


The remaining infantry on the field seeing their comrades entering the mech bay or gathering under the dropship, charged forward as fast as they could run eager to get to a position where they could avoid being shot at. As far as the Major could tell more than 2000 militia were clustered around the landing gear and entrance ramp to the mech bay while more of the militia raced up the ramp eager to join in the battle happening in the loading bay."


"Lift off, Now." The Major told the Captain. "And use the drive plume to kill as many as of the militia down there as possible."


He also radioed for the mechs to, return to the loading bay from the bays in which they were hiding and open fire on the infantry crowding into the bay, and drive them out of the dropship. He also ordered the pilot of the PhoenixHawk to drag his BattleMaster all the way into the dropship, once the bay was clear of infantry, so that they could close the bay doors now that the ruse was finished.


Chicago Midway international Airport Chicago, United States Earth


Colonel Anderson watched in horror as the main engine of the dropship came online, and fried the infantry gathered around and under the dropship, as it began to lift off.


He grabbed the radio man next to him and ordered him to call command and let them know that they failed to capture the dropship and it was retreating. As the dropship lifted off, he noticed that instead of continuing to accelerate up into the air, it began to slow down and came to a hover at about three or four thousand feet up.


"Oh Hell!" He said as he came to a realization of what the enemy commander was trying to do. Once the dropship stabilized it seemed like the rate of fire from the ship doubled. Lasers and particle beams chased and destroyed the vehicles that had survived the assault, while autocannons and missiles began pulverizing all the buildings surrounding the runways.


He glanced over at the ashen faced radio man next to him. "New orders," he said. "All units are to scatter and retreat. And tell command we going to need heavy air support with lots and lots of anti-ship missiles."


As the radio man sent out the new orders Anderson watched the dropship finished the destruction of the buildings around the runways and began to chase after the more intact units retreating to the north.


Anderson looked over at the radio man when he grabbed his shoulder. "Sir," the corporal said. "Command says a second Air Combat Group is on the way and will arrive in thirteen minutes, and we are to hold as best we can until they arrive."


Anderson swore as he looked back the dropship, "Tell Command I'm not sure that there will be anything left by the time they arrive, and ask if it is possible them for them to arrive any faster."


Air Combat Group (Bravo) 120 miles outside of Chicago United States, Earth


The F-14s raced ahead of the F-16s on their way to Chicago. Their engines screamed as the pilots kept the planes at full afterburner pushing their planes forward at speeds which were almost beyond what their designers had intended at lower altitudes. The pilots commending the F-14s waited impatiently for the dropship to enter the range of their Phoenix missiles, they knew there was an enemy attacking an American city. A minute later when the dropship entered the maximum range for their Phoenix missiles, all 12 of the F-14s launched their full complement of missiles at the dropship.


Seventy two missiles raced forward for the dropship at over Mach 5, the missiles climb for altitude as they arrowed for the dropship. At a point nearly two thirds of the way to the dropship the missiles engines burnt out, and the missiles nosed over and dove from almost hundred thousand feet towards the dropship. A minute later the missiles impacted on the dropship. Explosions blossomed along the dropship's armor shattering several tons of armor along the dropship flank. However the scattered nature of the impacts prevented any of the missiles from penetrating the thick armor of the dropship.


Seven minutes later the twenty two F-16s which had been racing after the F-14s, reached the maximum range for their missiles. Although, it took some effort to convince their air to ground Maverick missiles, that a flying dropship was an acceptable target, they soon had missile locks and fired. They launched a volley of 132 Maverick missiles at the dropship.


Unfortunately the dropship had seen them coming and had rotated an undamaged section of armor to face the oncoming missiles, while it tried to shoot the fighters out of the sky. Once again the scattered nature of the impacts prevented the missiles from blowing a single large gaping hole in the side of the dropship. However, as the missiles blasted more than 8 tons of armor off the side of the dropship, several missiles managed to achieve a limited penetration of the armor and do some damage to the underlying structures. Unfortunately, this did little more than inconvenience the dropship even though it did destroy a couple of weapons and do some internal damage.


The F-16s broke off their attack on the dropship immediately after they had launched. The pilots of the second air combat group were extremely lucky in that only three of them were shot down, this was due to the fact the dropship provided an unstable base to shoot from. Therefore the gunners on the dropship were unable to get a good shot at any of the wildly maneuvering fighters at such a distance.


Air Combat Group 40 miles outside of Chicago United States, Earth


The four B-1 bombers cruising at 50,000 feet helplessly listened with dismay to the reports of the battle ongoing in Chicago. The reports at the second air combat group had failed to bring down the dropship, despite having a full load out of missiles had thrown a dark gloom over the pilots. The failure of the air attack against the dropship, was followed by more reports of the dropship destroying homes and apartment buildings and other structures as it attempted to utterly destroy the retreating forces.


The Commander of the bomber element hadn't dared approached the dropship for bombing run after seeing how effective the dropship was at shooting down small maneuverable fighters at a range outside of the bombs which they were carrying.


He had privately cursed the decision to go with the shorter range laser guided JDAMs rather then for something with a longer range, when they had discovered the fact the dropship could shoot down aircraft at a range of more than 20 miles.


However, he quickly noticed the fact that after the dropship had lifted off it hadn't managed to hit any of the attacking fighters launching missiles at it. Despite the fact it had managed to hit the attacking fighters at the same range when it was on the ground. It quickly became obvious to him that they were having some stability issues making it impossible to easily shoot down any approaching fighters because the dropship was no longer a stable which to fire from.


With this new knowledge he decided that now would be a good opportunity to try a bombing run an attempt to destroy the dropship. The problem, however, would be that the bombers would have to enter range of the dropship's weapons before they could deploy their bombs. Given the facts that the bombers were much larger than the fighters which had been shot down and that it was nowhere near as maneuverable, he knew that they would definitely need an escort to draw the fire and help spoof the sensors.


The Commander opened a channel to all units. "This is Knight One, to all aircraft. All available aircraft with electronic countermeasure systems or chaff pods form up on Knight flight for escort mission."


The Commander of the second air combat group quickly responded. "We've exhausted all missiles and will be unable to provide any defense."


Knight One responded. "We need an escort that can provide a chaff corridor and increase the amount of electronic countermeasures around our bombers or worse simply provide the dropship with other targets to shoot at. So whether or not your planes are armed are not doesn't matter, since the use of missiles doesn't seem to be able to bring the dropship down. We just need a chance to get close enough to try our hand with several dozen 2000 pound bombs which are hard target penetrators."


The radio silence for a long moment. Then the other Commander signaled his acknowledgment. "Knight One, you have escort, we'll be joining you shortly."


Several minutes later the B-1 bombers were joined by the planes of the second air combat group, minus three of F-16s that had been shot down by the dropship as they launched their missiles, which had turned back from their mission to return to base and rearm.


"Knight Three, this is Knight One." The Commander of the bombers said. "You have command, give the go order when you're ready."


The radio was silent several seconds, then Knight One quietly but firmly gave the order.


"Execute."


On receiving the signal, the 31 fighters acting as escort broke off from where they were circling in the air at 55,000 feet and headed straight towards the dropship. The four B-1 bombers followed closely behind the accelerating fighters. The fighters formed a screen constantly maneuvering targets ahead of the bombers, while they dropped clouds of chaff to break up any radar returns and confuse the dropship's sensors.


As the group of planes approached the dropship, they were noticed and shortly thereafter particle beams and lasers rose to meet the accelerating group. Once the pilots knew they were in range of the dropship they engaged their afterburners accelerating even faster towards the dropship, and in some cases accelerating beyond the designed maximum speeds as they dove towards the dropship to accelerate and also present a smaller cross-section to shoot at.


The fighters kept accelerating towards the dropship flying in more or less a straight line towards the dropship, taking evasive actions as they dumped clouds of chaff and flares in an attempt to fool the dropship's sensors. The B-1s following close behind the fighters had to trust in their jammers to fool dropship's sensors along with the clouds of chaff and flares dropped by the fighters to shield them from detection.


As the planes got closer to the dropship more and more weapons were diverted from firing on targets on the ground to trying to knock out the group of rapidly approaching aircraft. Despite this, the air group only lost a single fighter to the dropships weapons as they closed the range.


The pilots only realized just how successful the combination of clouds of chaff along with a number of electronic countermeasure systems was, when the dropship apparently frustrated with its inability to get clear target or shoot down more fighters began gaining altitude and accelerating towards them.


Knight Four, seeing that the dropship was rapidly gaining altitude as it headed toward them. Knowing that the higher the dropship got the closer the bombers would have to get to hit their target, raised the question of breaking off the attack.


Two more fighters were rapidly lost as they closed the range to the dropship which was now slowing its ascent now that it was better able to target the fighters. The bombers which had been diving towards the dropship to avoid exposing their ventral surfaces to the dropship and to minimize their cross-section. Now realized with the dropship now at about 20,000 feet the chances of pulling off a successful bombing run were rapidly shrinking.


Seeing the rapidly shrinking chances of successful bombing run, and knowing if they were to break off now the dropship would have a much better chance of shooting them down as they exposed the ventral surfaces of their aircraft as turned away. Knight Three radioed his commanding officer.


"Knight One, this is Knight Three."


"Yes, Knight Three?" The Commander of the B-1 detachment angrily asked, frustrated with his inability to do anything to improve the chances of successful bombing run.


"Sir," Knight Three said. "You know as well as I, that if we break off now it would be a turkey shoot and that our only chance is successful attack on the dropship. If we're unable successfully bomb the dropship, one of our bombers should be big enough to bring the dropship down, therefore my crew and I will ram the dropship if our escorts can get us close enough."


"What?" The Commander asked incredulously.


"We'll kamikaze the dropship, Sir." Knight Three said. "The crew voted, we have to try this, we can't stay up here and do nothing while thousands people we are sworn to protect are being killed down there."


"Very well then." The Commander said. "We'll ensure you have the chance."


As the bombers raced closer it became rapidly apparent that any chance they had a successfully bombing the dropship was gone, now that it had reached about 27,000 feet.


Seeing the chances of successfully completing a bombing run on the dropship gone. The Commander ordered all of the aircraft to do a close flyby of the dropship to provide screening for Knight Three on his approach and prevents any of the aircraft from breaking off their attack run so close to the dropship and creating a bigger target by exposing their ventral surfaces towards towards the dropship.


As the planes got to within several of miles of the dropship, the close range improved the accuracy of the dropship gunners, five more planes were vaporized by the dropships lasers and particle beams. As the range rapidly closed, the dropship launched swarms of LRMs and opened fire with its autocannons at the wildly evading fighters. The combination of weapons brought down an additional seven aircraft. Only 16 fighters survived to whip past the dropship at a distance of several hundred feet while moving at more than 1000 miles an hour.


The passing of the fighters allowed the dropship to see the real threat of the diving bombers heading at them at more than 900 miles an hour. Weapons were frantically retargeted as the dropship attempted to shoot down the oncoming bombers. Lasers and autocannons managed to hit two of the screening bombers. The third bomber, screening the kamikaze whipped past the dropship at a distance of less than 500 feet.


Knight Three, it's four engines screaming at full power as they continued to accelerate the 300,000 pounds aircraft with their afterburner on. The bomber was traveling so fast that it was nearly falling apart from the speed it was traveling as it crossed the last few hundred feet to the dropship.


The surviving planes heard someone begin to recite the Lord's Prayer moments before the bomber impacted. Fot the people who saw the impact of the B-1 bomber, it appeared like the dropship was hit by a flaming spear thrown by an angry God.


By chance the Bomber hit the dropship on one of its sides which was completely undamaged. This fact allowed the dropship's armor to resist the impact of the bomber for about a nanosecond longer. As the Bomber punched through the shattering armor, the armor slowed the wreckage of the 300,000 pound aircraft from slightly more than 900 miles an hour to only about 500 miles per hour.


Adding insult to injury, the twenty four 2000 pound, hard target penetrator, bombs within the plane did not slow down. Like a round of double ought buckshot the bombs, tore their way through the wreckage of the plane, before they punched holes through the dropship from one side of the dropship all the way to the other.


By chance one of the bombs bounced off the dropship's fusion reactor, knocking it out of its position and causing an emergency shutdown. The dropship which had been hovering at more than twenty five thousand feet, in full view of hundreds of thousands people, spluttered, died and began to fall. When it hit the ground it leveled the residential block it landed upon, and sent debris flying which ravaged a number of additional blocks.


The destruction of the dropship brought the pirate invasion of Chicago to an end. But left several square miles of rubble and wreckage to mark it's passing, one totally destroyed airport and tens of thousands dead.


Jumpship Zeke's Folly System S3-19570410 Motherlode-Sun Pirate Point 14 November 3020/2005


Over a decades worth of experience would have let Danny feel even an skilled pilot detaching from the Folly. Considering the way the deck shuddered Danny severely doubted in the pirate pilot's skill. But he didn't much care, so long as the sub-par pilot hadn't damaged anything, other than to be pleased he could now work in peace. Worrying about drunken pirates, or worse greed mad pirates that might try to seize a Jumpship, always gave a hit to the crew's efficiency.


"Oy! Pete, I'm off to make sure the fool dirt lovers didn't scratch the paint. I meet you to check on the sail and power converter after."


"What, don't trust your fellow dirt lovers Danny?"


"Yeah, right, Pa wouldn't have trusted that so called pilot with a broom. We may have been starving, dirt loving, mercs, but you better believe we had at least a little pride."


Danny laughed as he worked his way down to the collar. He still felt a little twinge of pain at the reminder, but he was sure Pete hadn't meant anything but friendly joking. Damn but I hated you for it at the time Pa, even that young I somehow knew you didn't really mean it when you told me I'd be staying behind as a marker to guarantee payment. Don't know how you knew you wouldn't live out the day, but something must have warned you.


Looking over the port docking collar's local displays Danny sighed and tapped at the intercom controls. "Port collar's boom receptacle lights are all green, but I've got a warning on the collar power line. Those cheap mud crawlers must be skimping on maintenance, looks like breaker twelve isn't just tripped but blown. We'll have to put in a spare and rebuild this one. I vote we tell them their stuck with their own generators on the way back."


"Noted boy, but do you want to be the one to tell them?"


"Not hardly."


"Didn't think so. Power converter's next on your list, call when your ready."


* *


Shaking his head Danny reached out and snagged Pete as he bounced by. "What the hell, you sneak a double hit of coffee?"


"Nukes!"


"Huh?"


"Janie just called me. That dirt ball has nukes!"


"Right. Like anyone will believe that bluff."


"No bluff, they've already fried two of the droppers. If they throw any this way..."


"You're joking... You're not joking? Aw hell, come on, lets check the converter and pray those parasites we carried keep everyone too busy to look at us. If we trim back our usual safety margins... Aw crap, who knows what Captain Bipolar will do. Either by the book and leave us sitting here, or try to cut so many corners we'll misjump into the local star.


"Tell me, why the hell did Captain Clarisse have to go and get pregnant again?"


* *

Bridge of Jumpship Zeke's Folly System S3-19570410 Motherlode-Sun Pirate Point 15 November 3020/2005


"Not good enough! Not good enough by half! Do you want to stay here in this mess? We have to get out of this nightmare system!"


"Uncle Les--"


"Captain! On duty you will call me Captain!"


"Fine. Captain. You know as well as I do we still have seven days charging before it will be safe to jump. How are we going to run? Use the station keeping thrusters? What's your suggestion, sir, get out and push?"


"Furl the sail and start charging with the power plants."


"..."


Danny froze for a second in the hatch, only years of practice telling his body to move and clear the way. "All do respect sir, have you ever tried that?"


"Shut up boy, this doesn't concern you. Why are you even on the bridge?"


"He has a point."


"I'm just bringing up the maintenance reports. It's on the schedule Captain."


"Like hell he has a point, what's a planet loving merc brat know about navigation? Just leave the report and get back to work boy."


"Fine, you're right Captain. We can finish charging in less than half a day. Just so long as you don't care about your atoms landing in a dozen different systems."


Daniel shook his head as he left. He'd studied every manual he could get his hand on and studied as much math as he could to try and understand it. Half to keep his mind busy and half to make himself as useful as possible. I can't even came halfway to passing the family's Nav test and I know better than that. Get the charging wrong and we'll be lucky if we just loose the charge and have to start over. He paused in the passageway and considered the last tear down. "No. No way, bad enough just fixing the normal wear."


Back on the bridge


"Fine. Keep the sail up. But start trickle charging off the power plant. Just keep an eye on it and keep an eye on that damn planet. If things keep going wrong I want us to be the first out."


Democratic Republic of the Congo 20 Kilometers West of Kinshasa One Kilometer North of Death From Above Landing Zone 15 November 3020/2005 11:40 AM


The UN APC shuddered to a halt behind a nearby hill. The Lieutenant leapt out, and walked up the hill, hoping that there were no windows at the top of the enormous egg of metal that dominated the local vista.


The Lieutenant crawled the last 10 meters on his stomach, keeping visibility to a minimum. He then brought out his binoculars, and surveyed the pirate ship. He was expecting guards, security, even a razorwire fence. What he found was.... Nothing. The egg sat there, with it's ramp down, and not a single security measure in sight. The Sergeant spoke up.


"Well, Lieutenant? What do we do now?"


10 minutes later.....


The UN APC rolled at a steady pace down the hill, went straight to the ramp, and rolled up it. It then pulled over to one side, and the men it carried hopped out. They were greeted by the cleaners.


"I am Lieutenant Alexander Malkavian, representing the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. You are directed to surrender immediately!"


The reply, unfortunately, was not in English.


"Uh. Huh. Well, perhaps French."


He repeated his speech, In French, this time. This reply was in another language again. Then, one of his men spoke up.


"Sounds like Japanese, Sir." The Lieutenant gave him an odd look.


"You speak Japanese, Harrison?"


"No, Sir. I had a Jap girlfriend once, that's all."


The Sergeant once again spoke up, preventing their officer getting distracted, as usual.


"We can fish for blackmail later, Sir. Common language?"


5 minutes later, there was a small crowd of drop crew, and they had found that one of the drop crew spoke Arabic, as did the Sergeant. This was the only shared language that they could find. The Lieutenant, looking utterly exasperated, looked at his Sergeant.


"Tell them to surrender. If they try to leave the planet, they'll be nuked. if they stay here, they'll be bombed. If they go anywhere else, they'll get spanked!" This was followed my quiet mutterings that nobody was sure they really wanted to understand. The message was passed from the Sergeant to the cleaner who spoke Arabic, to the Crew chief, then through the internal communications system, and finally to Captain Chuin. The return message, going through the whole system in reverse, was that Captain Chuin would come down and deal with them in person. Everybody settled down. This would be done in a few minutes.


7 Minutes later.....


Elevator doors opened, and a tall asian in a red silk top and black pants entered the room. The Lieutenant turned to his Sergeant, and spoke, irritation coloring his words.


"Well?"


Captain Chuin replied.


"Well, young solder? What can I do for you?"


"You speak English?!"


"Certainly."


Pause. Sigh.


"I am Lieutenant Alexander Malkavian, representing the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. You are directed to surrender immediately."


The silk clad Captain gave him a odd look.


"And why should I?"


"Because you cannot leave the atmosphere without being nuked. You cannot fly anywhere else without being a target. And if you piss me off any further, I'll have my men throw a satchel charge at every corner!"


"Very well. I surrender. Would you like a drink?"


"I surely would, Captain."


Lieutenant Malkavian gave a withering look.


"Shut up, Harrison."


Democratic Republic of the Congo 1.7 Kilometers North of Kinshasa 15 November 3020/2005 1:40AM


Mechwarrior Cameron Liao was realy starting to get frustrated. It was like a minefield! he couldn't go more than 20 paces before running into more of those PBI's! Fine, their rockets were pretty pathetic, but- 'Crack-boom' FUCK! There seemed to be no end of them. He swivled around, and a beam of coherent light fried another bunch.


This was ridiculous. They were actuly GETTING THROUGH HIS ARMOR! Fuck this.


He moved, pushing his Locust up towards 100 Kph, dodging the occasional explosive, before spotting the nearby City. 'They"ll stop shooting so much in there', he thought. Suddenly, his Threat Computer, for the first time on this planet, spoke up. "Shit, what now?" He slammed on the breaks so he could work out what the fuck it was going on about.


The T 62 tank spoke, from about 2 Kilometers away.


"FUCK!" Ignoring the computer, when there's a decent BOOM! not five meters from your mech, you respond. Cameron swung around in a desperate move, and triggered both Medum lasers, making his mech unpleasantly hot. Only one of the lasers connected, but the tank ceased to be.


That was when he noticed the pair of VTOL's sweaping in. And he had far too much heat to swat them! 'Ok, ok, I'll just accelerate away, cool down- 'Crack-boom' FUCK! What is with these PBI guys?! That actuly did some damage to my left leg!' He moved away, testing out the damaged machine's current limits.


'Ok, 80 K's seems to be the limit right now. At least I got into the city. They won't fire in he- 'Whush'....'Boom!' Well.... At least they're having trouble hitting me at this kinda speed.'


'Ok, everything has cooled down enough, I'll find a good spot to take the VTOL's. Wonder what Valentine's up to? He's probably in the city, he always did like them. Hmm- 'FLASH! KTHUMMMMMPP!!!' The Locust managed to keep it's footing, but only just.'


"HOLY FUCK!" 'Ok, I think Valentine's gone in a big way. That won't happen to me! I'll just duck around- Hey, target-'Squish'- this corner, turn, I'll take these VTOL's out!'


He ducked around that corner, spun in place, and fired the moment his target was in his crosshairs. That didn't stop a volley of rockets launched his way.


'Gotta jump out of here!' Suiting thought to action, the Locust was actually off the ground before, with a massive BOOM!, the World went insane, rolling like nothing he'd ever seen before. Then, as the Locust came to a sudden stop, he continued, his last sight being the instrument panel he was headed for at high speed.


Democratic Republic of the Congo North End of Kinshasa 15 November 3020/2005 1:44AM


"This is Billy-Bob Thornten for CNN, reporting live from Kinshasa, the Capitol city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as you can see"-


The camera shifted, looking down a street, as a giant metailic figure strode along, beams of light smashing into buildings, in retaliation for the rockets being fired at it from various windows. rumblerumble-KRACK-boom! Could be heard, as an entire appartment block collapsed in on itself. Broken figures and rubble could be seen littering the ground.


"We are watching" Huff, Huff, "something horrible, as this massive figure" Huff, Huff, "shows no respect for collateral damage." The reporter and camera man had dashed down the street, to continue filming the action.


Half a person fell out of another building.


They turned a corner, and focused once again on the Mech.


"This is incredible footage, coming live, as pirate forces att- Wait, what's that, it's gestureing towards-" There was, from a pair of abandoned highrise buildings, their windows long since shattered on each side of the mech, a massive horde of con-trails, rockets, converging at once.


"This is insane, what an explosion! It's still up-" KaBOOM!!!, as something inside the mech went up, and the damaged machine staggered.


"I think, yes, I think it's beaten. The locals have WON!-" There was a glow inside the staggering mech, then a FLASH!- .....Static.....


-Interupted at source-


Democratic Republic of the Congo South End of Kinshasa 15 November 3020/2005 1:45AM


"This is Ray Palmer for BBC, we are currently on location in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is a mass-"BOOM!!!!!


"What!?" The camera swivles toward the sound, just in time to see a mushroom cloud. thump.


"My God, that's a Atomic Explosion! That's. That's. I have no words!" The camera moved Thump. so that you could see both the reporter THUMP. and the explosion. THUMP!!


"Can you see that?!? Tell me you're get-" SQUISH!


The camera swung to watch a mech with blood on it's feet dash past at well over 60 Kph, being followed by a pair of low flying Hind gunships. The mech ducked around a corner, followed by the choppers. Con-trails! A beam of light lashed out, a Hind exploded, and the other one salvoed what appeared to be it's entire arsenal. There's a explosion, and a chunk of mech half the size of the chopper smashed it from the air.


At the same moment, the mech seemed to fly up into the air, spinning like a demented pinwheel, fusion fire coming from it's remaining leg. It spun crazly for about 10 seconds, before coming down in a horrendous CRASH!


The camera is put down, and another figure steps into view.


"Well. Umm..... Well, fuck." Tape ends.


Democratic Republic of the Congo The Palace of President Kabila 15 November 3020/2005 1:55 AM


" Mr President! It seems to be over. Our forces have defeated those, those monsters!"


"I never doubted it. But, I didn't expect a atomic explosion INSIDE Kabila, either." Sigh. "Give me a run down, General?"


"Well, Mr President, I'll start with the known pirate forces. That included somewhere around 150 motorcycle riding fools, 12 trucks, 7 of which had some improvised armor, and 2 giant robots, those 'Mechs'. All those have been defeated by our valiant army, at considerable cost, I might add." He took a sip of his drink, and lent back into his comfitable chair.


"The cost? Well, that's not fully known. But it is extensive. Both of our T62's, Both of our Hind's. 5 of our MiG21's. Including one piloted by my youngest son."


At this, he had to pause for a moment. The President waited patiently.


"Perhaps one and a half thousand of our troops. More than that in civilians. This, this was BAD." He finished his drink, and got up for another. He glanced at the President, and was rewarded with a slight shake of his old friend's head. With a new drink, he went back, and sat down.


"And it should have been much worse."


"WHAT!?"


"Oh, yes, Mr President, we faced morons. Had we opponents with brains? That would have been far worse for us."


The President stewed on this for a minute.


"Explain. Now." The voice contained quite a bit of ice.


"They charged headlong into our defenses, acting more like old women fighting to be first at getting the bargain's on Market Day."


"You must be exaggerating!"


The General, looking remarkably solemn for somebody in neon pink and green, shook his head.


"Not at all. The only reason they did so much damage, was that their armor and weapons were far more potent than ours. If they had any idea what they were doing....."


"I se-"-rrrrrRRRUMBLE-SMASH!


"What's" BOOM!


"Going" Whosh BADADADADA-BOOM!!


"On?!?" The whole building shook, and a member of the President's personal guard entered in a massive hurry.


"Quickly! We must go NOW!" He yelled, and a number of his fellows, surrounded their President as they ran through the building, away from the continuing firefight. Explosions continued to be heard behind them, along with considerable weapons fire.


They ran through the building, and as the guard's opened the door in front, they cursed, and tried to slam it shut. The President noticed a pair of figures in some sort of armor before the door shut. Moments later, the door blew into kindling, killing all but one of his guards. The last one started to hurry him the other way, except that another pair of armored figures stepped into view that way, too. Everybody froze.


One of the figures spoke in a almost whimsical tone.


"If ye'd be so kind, I'd like for ye to surrender now."


The President did. And with him, the Congo.


Democratic Republic of the Congo (New Name still Pending) The Palace of (Former) President Kabila 15 November 3020/2005 2:40 AM


"Everything ready?"


"Yep."


"Good. Broadcast."


Click.


"Hello, Congo. This is your new rulers, The Imperial Goat's of War, and I am their Commander, General Tiberius Kirk. We have taken your Palace. we have taken your President. We have defeated your best troops. We now own this land. And if you chose to disagree..... we will take your life."


Click.


Epilogue Democratic Republic of the Congo 20 Kilometers north of Kinshasa UN Peacekeeping Force Encampment. 16 November 3020/2005 9:02AM


"Sir, President Kabila is deposed. The pirates own the Congo at the moment, even the local Army isn't interested in fighting back. We keep the peace with the co-operation of the local government. I'm not sure we can get that. What do you want us to do?" Colonel William Thatch rolled his eyes, and visibly restrained himself from ranting at the petty bureaucrat in a uniform that was at the other end of the sat-phone.


"Very well, Sir, we won't antagonize them. I'll ask permission for us to stay. If the don't want us to?" Mumble.


"Very well, if they don't want us here, we leave. Anything else, sir?"


It took another 20 minutes before the Colonel could get off the phone, and away from the Champion of Political Correctness.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 20 Kilometers north of Kinshasa UN Peacekeeping Force Encampment. 16 November 3020/2005 9:23AM


"Attention, Imperial Goat's of War. This is Colonel William Thatch of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. Please respond." There was silence over the radio, for a full minute. Then, a cold, high, voice replied.


"General Tiberius Kirk here. What can I do for you, Colonel?"


"General, I have a small multi-national force here in the Congo as Peacekeepers. You are currently in charge of this area, and my people can only do their jobs with your permission. If you ask us to leave, we will."


"I see. You have 48 hours to leave the country. If you are still here after that, we will kill you all. Over and out." Click.


"Well," said Colonel Thatch, looking at his Sergeant, "that went well." There may have been the very slightest hint of irony in his voice.


The Encampment was packed up, all Westerners nearby were offered extraction, and the evacuation took place within schedule.


Death From Above took the lot of them to the place it was directed to, that being the UN Peacekeeping Force Encampment in Israel.


This bunch of pirates had won.


White House Secure Bunker Washington D.C. 15 November 2005/3020


General McMayers hurried over to President Ryan and said "Mr President, I have a Sitrep and a request for a tasking that was immediately kicked up to the National Command Authority level. Apparently, the incursion in Oregon has been entirely eliminated, and the forces responsible are asking for a transponder code for the captured dropship, a clear flight path to Houston, every EVA trained astronaut NASA has available, and at least a company of infantry for prize crews. They also want permission to grab two of the orbital launchers on the way to the pirate points."


"Approved upon positive confirmation of the unit's identity. I thought that we had nothing more than infantry units in the area, and everything that might have been able to respond was being diverted to the battle in Los Angeles?"


"Mr President, as you know, the Rainbow special operations force was designated as the first multinational component of GDI. Because of our agreement with New Zealand, our functional mechs were attached to that command. There was a breakdown in communications, and they weren't listed under available US forces, since they aren't in fact US forces. The officer in command ordered them to engage the enemy using their own judgment to attempt to hold them in place. I have a detailed report, but as usual, CNN got their video to us first, and are asking permission to broadcast. With your permission, I'll run the tape."


The footage that followed wouldn't have been out of place in a live action mecha show, if there had ever been one with decent production values and a worthwhile special effects budget. President Ryan steepled his hands as he took in the events, before saying, with a pained expression on his face "That wasn't one of the captured pirates, we had psych profiles done on them, and none of them are that fundamentally insane. Which means that a military dockworker just eliminated seven battlemechs singlehandedly during his first combat action in the cockpit."


"Ten sir, the CNN crew wasn't able to maintain continuous coverage of the action because of the conditions. This isn't a hoax Mr President, much of the action was recorded by our predator drones, and the results were verified by local light infantry and law enforcement as well as satellite sweeps."


"General, so far today I've seen an assault mech captured using military rations, and a pirate group decide on its own initiative to fight to the death in defense of one of Earth's cities, I have no trouble believing what I just saw. The problem I'm having is that there's no way I can avoid inviting him to Camp David now, and once he's there there's no way I'll be able to keep Sally off of him."


General McMayers paled upon hearing that, and said "Mr President, I have teenage daughters of my own. If you want, I can cut orders to ensure that he stays in orbit for the foreseeable future." �


Liberated Pirate Ship 'Great Justice' 16 November, 2005/3020


The last few hours had been nightmare for everyone on board the dropship. The captured pirate crew working under guard had experience with high gravity burns, but none had ever sustained one for this length of time. The soldiers and astronauts had been in better overall shape, but didn't have the experience of trying to move under those conditions. Already, there had been more than a dozen injuries, and more seemed inevitable.


Still, the basic objective seemed to have been achieved. They had 'fought off' several supposed attacks by the US Air Force to get to the notional weak point in the network of orbiting missiles, and burned a half-dozen obsolete and nonfunctional satellites out of the sky from extreme range to add more verisimilitude. The first pirate Leopard to attempt to follow them had been nuked over the Atlantic as Earth's force worked to correct their mistake, lambasted publicly throughout the proceedings by the news networks. At that point, the ship began burning like a bat out of hell towards the main group of jumpships, shunning the close in pirate point since the Buron Cav's Union was already closing on the lone ship there.


Instead of trying to grab launchers from orbit, they had simply quietly loaded up the next group scheduled for launch, while ostensibly 'looting the area'. The collection of troops was a hodge-podge of everything that had been immediately available, ranging from the Navy Seals and Special Boat Squadron teams that had been in the US when the pirates attacked, all the way down through a platoon of National Guard MPs who'd been nearby and available to fill the remaining empty seats. Plus, of course, Rainbow Team 'Bruce', with Staff Sergeant Dansel attached.


Certain individuals had attempted to take issue with the fact that no less than three of the team members had crippling injuries, while Dansel seemed to be certifiably insane. The fact that he appeared to have to be physically restrained from attempting to leave to acquire another mech from a battlefield was certainly off-putting, as was his assertion that 'These forty foot armor plated killing machines are all the same, one swift knee to the happy-sacks, and they drop like anyone else'. The more practical minded Special Forces personnel administered a quiet word to the doubters, and in a few cases, a not so quiet session of wall-to-wall counseling, to the tune of 'you don't argue with results'.


However, it was generally agreed that their decision to attire themselves in 18th century pirate costumes was in particularly bad taste, given the events still happening planetside. Regardless, no one was eager to press the point, since no one could determine how the costumes had been acquired with no notice, much less smuggled onto the ship. That the peg leg, hook, and eyepatch were all completely functional simply gave added emphasis for people not to push their luck.


The illusion of a particularly lucky pirate ship running for their lives was dispelled for the jumpship flotilla, as the recently rechristened Great Justice applied the last bit of emergency overthrust to come to a stop just outside effective weapons range of the Invaders, and transmitted "Greetings on behalf of Motherlode. We kindly ask that all personnel not essential to keeping your ships from immediately falling into the sun take to your small craft and follow the transmitted directions exactly. Any attempt to furl your sails in preparation for jump or resist boarding in any way will result in us poking a few holes in you ships. In the event that you successfully destroy this dropship, the nuclear armed missiles we are leaving outside your range will destroy you all. No backchat please."


Predictably, the Band of the Damned was unable to restrain itself from uttering a series of blustering threats, at which point they learned that while they were outside of the range where a PPC could reliably damage a ship's hull, their jump sail was far more fragile. Things went much more smoothly after that.Bloor and Yonge Street Toronto, Ontario; Canada 70 Ft. Down


22:35 - General-Electric Military R&D Bunker


The lights dimmed again, and the building shook. Professor Roger Stag, formerly of NASA, surveyed the monitors arrayed around the room. Feeds from across the world, of invading battlemechs, of dropships, and even a fuzzy image of the boat they'd arrived in were displayed.


Roger wasn't the only engineer GE had shoved into this tiny little room- a tiny little room in a tiny little building. But most of the others were either sleeping, or doing something else to pass the time away while who knew how well the fight was going in the city above.


The floor shook, and the lights dimmed again.


"Damnit all," he cursed, slamming his hands into the table before him. The motion startled some of the other workers, who stared. "I've got to do something- I can't just lie here, waiting to die."


"You could always lend us your expertise, Professor," interjected a clean, friendly voice. He quickly identified it as a Miss Roslin, a school teacher one of their escorts- finely trained men at the door- had found wandering the subway system outside looking for a stray child. So fascinating it was that she could have a challenge for him, but anything to break the monotony of this... tomb.


"Alright, I'll bite. What is it that you could want little old me for?" he asked, turning. But Laura didn't reply immediately, instead leading him to a little conference room through one of the many doors in this... hallways of evil.


The lights dimmed, darkened, then the harsh red emergency lighting took over.


"Perfect," muttered Roger. "Like a haunted funhouse, only ten times worse because there's an Intruder class dropship sitting right above us, and we're all likely to die."


"-t that doesn't make a lick of difference guys, the- oh, there's that sunny disposition I told you about," said a younger scienctist- one that Roger recognized almost instantly.


"Meridith," he muttered.


"Nice to see you too, Albert. Not that I'll let your appearance do anything less then add to the suspense," he replied, turning back to his audience. "So there I was, one man- one civilian against the terrorist cell. But I had my wits about me and-"


"You're telling them the tale of how you're actually Iron Man," Roger interjected. "Why am I here?"


"Nooo- hey, good question. Why is he here?"


"Well, I had thought that perhaps you two most esteemed scientists might be able to work together, rather then bicker," Laura said smoothly, mediating. Meridith puffed himself up a little at that. "You did tell me that GE had hired you to work on the Droship contract GDI gave them. Professor Stag here worked with NASA, if I recall his introduction correctly- perhaps he could help you with the practical theory."


"For your information, I have a perfect grasp of the practical theory. I just don't see why it factors into theoretical discussions," interjected Meridith. "But nevertheless, I will lower myself to making the effort."


He turned back towards Roger.


"Albert, it pains me to even suggest this, but perhaps you can help," Meridith mused. "We're discussing, as the good lady said, a dropship contract from GDI. A very vague one- and here I am, alone against a legion of unbelievers that-"


"The point, Meridith," Roger interrupted.


"Rodney," 'Meridith' said, pausing. "The point is that it's clearly the better choice to build larger dropships and take advantage of our advances in miniaturization, then it is to build small, cheap, and fast dropships that will likely get everyone killed. That's the point, but unfortunately these idiots refuse to see it."


Those 'idiots' remained silent on the issue, or rather, unconscious, being asleep.


"Meri-Rodney. It's quite interesting, because I agree with you. While you might be here to work on dropships, I've been contracted to start working on the designs for an Earth produced Jumpship, and my team was having this same argument, before," and he gestured upwards. "They landed and started making mincemeat of our security escort."


"Well obviously you...wait, wait, what? You agree with me? That never happens," Rodney stuttered.


"Go suck a lemon, it surprised me too," Roger replied in turn. "In any case, I think the first thing we need to do is work on this jumpship issue of mine- and then design dropships to fit its specifications."


"Not on your life, this is my think tank, we're going to do things my way-"


Dropship Shadow Wing 30 miles north of Roswell New Mexico Earth 15 November 3020


“Bridge, Dark Wing Six,” Sanders said as he felt the Dropship slow for landing. “Give me a sitrep. What’s the situation on the ground, Jim?”


“Dark Wing Six, Bridge,” came the instant reply. “Immediate LZ looks clear of any living soul. There’s some kind of town about 48 kilometers south of our position, so any locals there will probably have seen us come down.”


“Okay, what’s the terrain like?” Sanders asked as he felt the Dropship touch down.


“It’s pretty flat,” came the cheerful reply. “Not much cover so we can see and shoot at anyone trying to get to us. It’s also a bit warm. It’s your basic scrub brush desert.”


“Wait a minute,” Sanders said slowly. “Are you telling me you set us down in the middle of nowhere with nothing the locals might consider too valuable to destroy?”


“Yes… is that a problem?”


Visions of being in the middle of a nuclear dart board danced before Sanders’ eyes.


“No…. not at all,” Sanders replied. “Just make damn sure you maintain good air watch and don’t let any of the Motherloders drop a nuke on top of you.”


“Uh…”


“Now let us out,” Sanders growled. As the Dropship doors opened and the mech cradles released the Mechs, Sanders asked, “Where can we expect hostile resistance to come from?”


“There’s what looks like a militia airfield about a few hundred kilometers to the southwest. I’ve sent a pair of our aerospace fighters, the Sparrowhawks, to check it out. The Shilones are currently flying CAP over the LZ.”


Holloman Air Force Base New Mexico Earth


“Sir, I have a pair of hostile bogies inbound at Mach 1.5,” a radar tech reported.


“Hrm, any sign that they’ve noticed the Nighthawks or Raptors?” General Brian Bass asked. The planes had been launched when it became all but certain that one of the invading Dropships would be landing in his area of responsibility. Not that it made him happy. Tests had shown that stealth could be effective against BT sensor suites, but the only stealth planes in existence didn’t have internal missile bays big enough to accommodate the new anti-BT air-to-air missiles. So for aerial combat, they were going to have to rely on the older missiles modified for contact detonations. No one really expected those to do much against these flying tanks.


“If they have, they’re not giving any sign of it, sir,” the tech replied apologetically.


“Okay, then,” Bass said thoughtfully. He turned to his flight control people. “All planes are to not engage enemy fighters for now. Order them to proceed to the LZ and maintain a position within strike distance while waiting for the attack order. And for God’s sake, try not to get spotted by them.”


“And the inbound bogies, sir?”


“Engage with every SAM we got,” Bass answered. Those were expected to work perfectly fine. He studied the radar image. “Hmm. Have the SAMs stand by and have them ready to fire on my command. Let’s see if we can’t lure them a little deeper into our web, said the Spider to the Fly.”


Dark Wing Recon Flight New Mexico Earth


“Damn it, there’s another one,” Josh “Raven” Kress swore.


“There just sensor ghosts, Raven,” replied his wingman, Jean Paul “Crow” Demarco. “Must be more of that lostech we heard about. The Motherloders are trying to screw with our sensors using ECM or something. Ignore it.”


“Okay, okay,” Kress grumbled. “Shadow Wing, this is Raven. We’re almost on top of the base now and no resistance so far. I’m seeing lots of runway so far and that’s about it. Are you sure this is a military base?”


“Wait a sec, Raven,” Demarco broke in. “I’m getting a lot of radar sources pinging us, way too many to be some civilian airfield.”


“Then why haven’t they fired on… HOLY SHIT!”


A virtual tidal wave of missiles rose up from Holloman Air Force Base below as every AA missile launcher vomited fire at the pair of light aerospace fighter intruding on their air space. And these weren’t the swarms of small missiles that the two aerospace pilots were used to seeing. These missiles were big, in some cases almost as big as their fighters. That alone made them very intimidating to people who were used to missiles no bigger than their arm.


The aerospace pilots were very good. They reacted immediately and attempted to evade by pulling up and away. But they weren’t good enough. They couldn’t possible be. For a start, they had started out heading towards the missiles which reduced their window of response. Second, the missiles also possessed far better acceleration than their machines that needed to be concerned with such trivia as pilot survivability. Third, the fantastic heat their fusion exhaust generated made it ridiculously easy for the missiles’ seeker heads to home in on them even without radar assist from the ground. And finally, there were just too many of them to evade.


Even though they were “light” fighters by BT standards, both Sparrowhawks were armored well enough to take a couple hits even from these missiles. But more there were more than a couple missiles and each Sparrowhawk was hammered by dozens of such missiles.


In Kress’ case, this was pure overkill as one missile stuffed itself into a tailpipe before exploding. Kress died as his fighter was turned into a massive fireball.


Demarco was luckier. He managed to eject even as his fighter was disintegrated by the multitude of shockwaves from impacting missiles. And by some miracle, none of the flying shrapnel flying about hit anything vital on him or his ejection seat as he punched out.


Debris rained down on Holloman, doing some damage to the buildings, but not much, and nothing of any significance. And there was Air Force Security Forces waiting to greet a thoroughly scratched and bloodied Demarco when his parachuted self touched down.


Shadow Wing LZ New Mexico Earth 15 November 3020


Six Battlemasters accompanied by six mere heavy mechs of the Dark Wing’s First Mech Company spread out around the Shadow Wing to cover all approaches to the Dropship. These mechs had been the foundation of Sander’s mercenary career, salvaged from an ancient Star League weapons cache. There wasn’t much in the way of advanced lostech, but the mechs and weapons were in good condition which was more than could be said of many mechs in the Inner Sphere is these fallen times.


And now for all Sanders’ knew, these mechs could be all that was left of the Dark Wing. He knew at least one Dropship had been outright destroyed by surface to space fire, but of the rest, especially the Drakon which was carrying the Dark Wing’s dependents, he was in the dark.


Damn the Motherloders and damn Vorax too, he thought. He had suspected that this job was too easy, but he never in his worst nightmares expected to see nuclear weapons being tossed around.


And now there was that mysterious base that had shot down two of his Sparrowhawks. The Dropship hadn’t been able to see much, but thought that the fire was likely to have been from fixed defenses. The Sparrowhawks had reported that the base had looked mostly empty before they had been shot down. And given that only a blind man could miss the Shadow Wing landing, that meant that whatever forces were housed on that base had already left the base and were coming for them. But they couldn’t be heading in a straight line for the LZ or else the Sparrowhawks would have seen them. So they must be taking an indirect route to try and catch Sanders by surprise. Only, where were they?


Shadow Wing, this is Six,” Sanders said over the command channel. “Any signs of the locals yet?”


“Nothing yet, Six,” came the reply. “The Shilones are watching the ground like hawks and they’re not seeing anything except what’s clearly civilian traffic, and not much of that either. On the other hand, we’re starting to pick up sensor ghosts, so we think the locals are starting to play ECM games with us. Either that or all our scanning equipment is packing up at the same time.”


“I don’t like this,” Sanders muttered. “The locals have to be out there. Tell the Shilones to widen their patrol pattern.”


Something blipped on Sanders radar, but was gone before his mind really registered it. Just a sensor ghost, he thought. But it could be an indication that the locals were screwing with his Warhammer’s scanners, which would mean that they must be close. He scanned the terrain in the blip’s general direction but didn’t see so much as a truck.


It didn’t even occur to him to look up.


Dark Wing Air Patrol New Mexico Earth


Denise “Nightshade” Kurosawa made another pass over the stupid little town in her Shilone aerospace fighter. The Shilone was a flying wing design and carried a respectable weapons load for a medium fighter. The only problem was that there was nothing to use those weapons on. After her ride got nuked, she was just itching to return the hurt that these supposedly “primitive” yokels had given her people. Unfortunately, the bosses all insisted that she keep a lookout for actual military threats, so strafing that town was out of the question for now.


“This is useless,” she complained. “There’s no army out here waiting to pounce on the ground pounders. We should just go in and get that base.”


“They’re out here, Nightshade,” replied her wingman, Jack “Spacebat” Hernandez replied. “I can feel it. And this ECM we’re getting hit with proves it, even if it is behaving a bit weirdly.”


“That’s probably just some camouflaged van with ECM gear parked in the middle of this desert,” Kurosawa replied, leaning back in her seat. “Cause I ain’t seen anything like an…”


It was only the fact that her head was tilted back that allowed her to see it. At the same time a sensor ghost momentarily appeared on her radar display, a black speck cruised across her line of sight, darting from one cloud to another. For a moment, Kurosawa wondered if she had just imagined it when another pair of specks appeared. Her eyes darted to her radar display which remained blissfully unaware.


“Aircraft!” she shouted in, anxiety rising up. She gunned her engine and started climbing. “I have aircraft is our AO and they’re above us!”


“Nightshade, what?” Hernandez replied. “I’m not reading anything.”


“Nightshade, this is Shadow Wing. Can you confirm contact with local aircraft? Our radar isn’t showing anything.”


“Neither is mine, but I saw them,” Kurosawa insisted. “They’re using the clouds to stay out of sight and… There’s one!”


The black shape couldn’t have been more than a couple kilometers away and she was behind it. It should have been an easy shot. But her missiles failed to lock on and went wide. Her large laser while close, missed and must have alerted the other pilot that he we being shot at because the plane jerked away in an obvious evasion attempt. Kurosawa scowled when she realized that in addition to being radar invisible, the local plane was also not generating an IR signature that she could lock onto.


In other words, if she wanted to hit the damn thing, she was going to have to get close enough to it to not miss.


“Nightshade, we’re still not seeing anything. Spacebat, are you seeing anything?”


Shadow Wing, I got nothing but… Sweet Jesus! I just saw a fighter of some type, and it’s not showing up on my radar!”


“That’s impossible!” the guy back on the Shadow Wing protested.


“Impossible or not,” Kurosawa said as she lined up for another shot at her quarry, “that seems to be happening. The locals have…”


Alerts blared at Kurosawa as suddenly dozens of radar signatures appeared on her display. Only they weren’t local planes, they were missiles. On reflex, she threw her Shilone into a barrel roll to evade the missiles. It didn’t help; Kurosawa was rattled as her fighter endured a bombardment of armor chipping missiles. Individually, the missiles were light and not very damaging, about on par with an LRM. But there were so many of them hitting in so many places, and Kurosawa gritted her teeth when she saw the status light of her rear mounted SRM go red.


Two dozen black, flying wing shapes zipped by under her. Kurosawa was about to turn and pursue them when she was suddenly bombarded by bullets from still more planes that her idiotic radar insisted weren’t there. And then more missiles came at her.


First Mech Company Shadow Wing LZ Earth


“All mech units, we have hostile aircraft incoming from the south. Aircraft are invisible, I repeat, invisible to radar! Use visual targeting to engage!”


Sanders’ head snapped up at the preposterous message from the Shadow Wing. He quelled the instant protest that came to his lips; why, with purely visual targeting, his people would be lucky to hit targets at a few hundred meters, never mind fast moving aircraft!


But even as he quelled that thought, his eyes locked onto a formation of black specks skimming under the cloud level. His eyes darted to his radar and confirmed that they were indeed not showing up there. He laid crosshairs across a speck and triggered his PPCs. Both artificial lightning bolts reached out… and hit nothing, not even a cloud. Sanders saw a few other PPC bolts reach out and even a few lasers, again with equally depressing results.


Suddenly a blip appeared on Sanders’ radar, but it was tagged green. As he watched, one of his Shilones popped out of a cloud to spear one of the local aircraft with lasers. The unlucky plane exploded and then the Shilone turned away. Sanders was wondering why when a horde of sleek shapes – also not showing on radar – appeared out of the same cloud bank firing missiles and guns after the Shilone. Something vital must have been hit because there was a large fireball that staggered the aerospace fighter and sent it on an unsteady downward spiral.


“Okay, boys and girls,” Sanders said grimly over the tactical net. “Looks like it’s up to us. Pick your targets and before they start their bombing…”


Alarms blared as new radar signatures appeared. Sanders gawked as now visible bombs came raining down on his people from an impossible distance.


Sanders didn’t know it, but he and his people had been well within bombing range for quite some time. The F-117 Nighthawks basically had to find their targets on their own since the partially cloudy weather had made it difficult for spy satellites to spot all the ground units that had been deployed. On the other hand, they had had plenty of time to find all the mechs operating in the open ground and their stealth abilities had let them search without getting shot at.


And then that lone BT fighter had spotted them. With cover blown they had been given the go ahead to begin their attack run while the escorting F-22 Raptors kept the enemy fighters pre-occupied. The Nighthawks were still thirty miles out when they deployed their JSOWs at what was for them, point blank range.


The Joint Stand Off Weapon was a missile with a 150 kilometer range that delivered a cluster bomb to a desired target. Each one deployed dozens of smaller bomblets which while individually small, could do a great deal of damage when added all together. The system had not been given a high priority in production lines because a) it was assumed that BT standard armor could easily resist the bomblets and b) because the things were bloody expensive. What made them expensive was that each bomblet when deployed had their own homing capability to steer themselves to an enemy target once they were deployed. As for damage…


Dozens upon dozens of the bomblets rained down on a mere twelve mechs and almost none of them missed. Although they were among the most heavily armored mechs ever produced by the Inner Sphere, the Dark Wing’s armor quickly abraded away. Equipment was smashed, weapons destroyed, even whole arms blown off. Still, the mechs survived in damaged but still usable conditions.


Their pilots on the other hand, were a different story.


A quirk of Battlemech design made their heads thinly armored and difficult to hit at the best of times. But hitting them wasn’t nigh impossible either. A good many of the JSOW bomblets struck mech heads. A few completely imploded. But most didn’t take enough bomblets to be completely destroyed, but instead sprayed shrapnel that broke loose inside the cockpit and transmitted concussive shockwaves through armor. A good many mechwarriors died under the abuse and even if they survived, the additional shock of their mechs falling over and hitting the ground was usually more than sufficient to push them over the edge into mortality.


Colonel Antoine Sanders got lucky, although he wouldn’t feel so for several months. His own Warhammer was hit with fewer bomblets because one of the bombers targeting him was destroyed before it could deploy its JSOWs. So he was “only” knocked unconscious by the unending rolling thunder resonating through the cockpit with only a moments thought toward the indignity of being shot at without being able to fire back.


November 14th 3020/2005 Low orbit On approach to planet “Motherlode” Bridge of the dropship Drakon


“…etting a message from the surface. It’s Captain Hale!”


At those words, Jane whipped her head around hard enough to pull a muscle in her neck - eliciting a wince of pain – and whack her new fiance in the face with her ponytail. The surprise in her voice was almost comical.


“Hale?! How is that possible? He should be dead!”


“Glad to hear I’ve been missed, Ms. Dietrich, though rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Captain Hale’s voice drawled from the bridge speakers, voice dripping with sarcasm. Jane's face reddened as she realized that the com officer had accepted the transmission in time for him to hear her shocked outburst.


"Not that we aren't happy to hear you're alive, Captain," Koltan broke in, to Jane's immense relief, "but how exactly did you manage to survive this long, much less get your hands on a radio?"


"It's a long story, too long to be told in the time we have at the moment, and most of it too wild to believe without seeing it per..." some hushed muttering came over the line, and Captain Hale was soon back on with a far more urgent tone to his voice. "Listen folks, the natives are getting restless, and restless people with thermonuclear weaponry are a Very Bad Thing, so I suggest you surrender before you become one with the universe, in the rapidly expanding cloud of super-heated gas sort of way. I can guarantee you will be treated humanely as they seem to place a value on Human life that is sorely lacking in the Inner Sphere. No torture, starvation or anything else like that. Hell, I think Dana's even dating one of them!"


It didn't take long for them to reach a decision. Some crew-members objected on the grounds that Hale might have a gun to his head and was lying about the whole deal, but they quickly retracted their objections when Jane politely inquired if they enjoyed running through nuclear minefields.


"By the way, is Mamoto still with you?"


"Ah," said Koltan, glancing at the captain's chair, where a technician had seized the opportunity presented and was drawing a ludicrous looking mustache on Mamoto's face with a permanent marker. "More or less."


"What do you mean... ah forget it, you can tell me later, I owe the dumbass a beating for abandoning us anyway." More hushed muttering came over the mike, and Hale came back on with a slightly irritated grumble. "Okay boys and girls, I gotta run, one of the locals will give you landing coordinates. See you dirtside, Hale out."


Soon afterward a new and unfamiliar voice came on the mike, ordering them to land in a desert approximately twenty klicks east of a small but apparently well-defended military installation they called 'Area 51'. �



"Well, when I woke up this morning, I certainly didn't expect this to happen." Jane mused as they began their final approach to the LZ. "Yet somehow, I have a feeling that today is going to get a lot weirder."


Koltan was about to respond when a new - and quite unhinged - voice shrieked, "TAKE THE OFFER!"


The entire bridge stared in undisguised astonishment at the dropship's erstwhile captain, who appeared to have momentarily regained a measure of lucidity.


The stunned silence was broken by Koltan's sarcastic grumble. "Little late for that, Captain." Mamoto, however, did not notice, as he had lapsed back in to a state of empty catatonia. � �


<><><><><><><><><><>Tokyo, Japan Earth 17 November 2005 (Home Islands time)


The general looked down at his notes before looking back at the assembled Japanese cabinet, prime minister Koga was staring at the pictures in the folder before each of them, as if daring the universe to fix its accident. “Ministers, yesterday the only invading drop-ship, a Leopard, landed at Tokyo International Airport*, as per our projections.”


A picture flashed up on screen detailing the Home Islands, with numerous circles covering every square cm of land. One set detailed anti-air systems defending the cities, others covered the airbases and their attending fighters' range, another set detailed the naval ships and their anti-air systems. “Reviewing the planning in brief, we had re-activated all anti-air defenses in cities, while upgrading them to be effective against the armor on ASFs and drop ships. We covered more rural regions of the coastal area with our naval ships to provide blanket coverage. Denying the enemy a gap in our defenses to land and attack from.”


A new image came up with different circles, few covering large amounts of land. “This is the expected quick reaction range of our current forces. As you could expect, our rural Army bases and naval ships have a much greater range compared to our bases situated in, or close by, cities. We expected the enemy's projected reaction was to attack towards the greatest concentration of material wealth. Thus, most rural bases had a lower priority compared to city bases.”


A new image flashed up, showing a mass of green areas all over Japan. “These are the projected landing sites that could be used for either a 'Overlord', a 'Mule', or a Leopard class drop ship. After further review and consultation with the US and their prisoners we narrowed down the landing sites.”


A well over half of the green vanished from the picture, “These areas were removed due to poor location and restriction to battlemech operations. These remaining areas were graded for quick selection based on a drop ship coming in under fire from the orbital... systems.”


The cabinet shifted slightly at the reminders of what was above their heads. Koga seemed unmoved for the moment at the reference. “Continue general, our allies have shown to be more responsible than some of our country men in regards to those weapons.”


Having the grace to not blush, only to clear his throat, the general continued, “Yes, prime minister, we then applied a secondary grading system based upon the distance to wealth. Using those results we fortified likely landing areas, while setting up supply catches at local police stations for resupply of the Army units engaged in fighting.”


“The harbor areas proved to be difficult to successfully mine with ships and heavy populations nearby. A series of camouflaged containers were stored in all major ports, usually occupied by company size units. Tokyo bay had seven containers, with 150 soldiers armed heavily with anti-tank weapons. Airports had their denial abilities increased, with mines deployed in two phases intended to first mine the area, then to hide their existence from attackers.”


Looking up he continued, “At the current time of the attack, all grade A sites had most defensive measures applied, with airports behind the projected time line for phase two. Work was beginning on grade B-2 sites.”


A plot flashed up, showing the attacking drop ship as it dropped from orbit, in addition the plot showed acquisition radars as they flashed on attempting to gain lock on the ship as it came ever closer. “The Leopard, now identified as Daedalus, was forced to keep a low level flight path due to the number of target locks we would attempt to acquire on it as it gained altitude. As expected, our few warships were out of position, guarding against the possibility that the invaders would go for a spot outside the cities.“



“Move, move, move!” Roy yelled over the com as the Daedalus rolled to a stop. Switching command channels he called up the Leopard.


“Lisa! How is Max?” The shear number of targeting locks they had been getting trying to gain enough altitude to launch their only LAM showed it was every dangerous for the Stinger to launch. LAMs were rare and precious, especially to any merc group that specialized in light lance work. They were fortune enough to have a hanger queen LAM on the stripped down Prometheus still attached to the jumpship, that Leopard had taken engine damage that they hadn't been able to repair yet.


Lisa's annoyed voice came over the com, “You know the issues about fitting a LAM into a ASF slot, its not going to be faster to take it out. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes to avoid damage. I've got the PBIs guarding the ramp until we can finish pulling the Stinger out. We aren't leaving here anytime soon anyway.”


Roy rolled his eyes at the pointed remark, “Yes, yes, find the nukes controller and disable it. Don't tell me how much this is screwing us over.”


Switching back to tactical, Roy called out, “Ok, Max is coming in late, take guard positions, hopefully this won't take too long.” A series of confirmations came back to him from the others as they moved.



The general showed a fuzzy satellite picture of the group. “Sorry for the poor picture quality ministers.”


All the ministers winced at that, nukes, even from friendly nations, did not play nice with satellites. Replacements in the following years from all governments were projected to at least triple, not counting commercial interests. Koga waved on for the briefing to continue.


“The explosions in orbit have degraded our abilities for a while there, full effects to our systems are still being analyzed. After their landing at Tokyo International we waited until all the 'mechs' that a Leopard was estimated to carry entered the mined area of the of the airport's taxi surface.”


Another image overlapped the photo, showing a massive area with widely spaced lines, and a few areas with tightly spaced lines along the edges. “Our airport mining efforts were able to place the required number of mines, but covering up the cut lines in the taxi-way was proving to be more time consuming the initially projected.”


A new picture came up, “Never the less, we were able to disable most of the mechs within seconds of activating the mine system for the airport.”


The was replaced by a shaky video without sound, the mechs were attempting to guard the open door to the Leopard, while trying to take shelter in the shadow of various buildings. Moments later, supports of the buildings facing the mechs that were using them as cover, exploded. Three of the mechs reacted instantly, spinning with the building's fall and kicking in their jump jets. The remaining mech, a Valkyrie was buried under parts of two terminals.


As two of the remaining mechs came down they had the unfortunate luck to land on one of the buried mines as they tried to keep their jumps short. Two sets of 250 kgs of high explosives detonated, ripping the one legs off each of the mechs, while shredding the remaining one.


“At this point it was viewed that the mine field was more of a danger than a help to our forces, a second signal was send out to deactivate the mines. Infantry stationed on roof tops a block away from the airport targeted the Phoenix Hawk as it performed a second jump, attempting to jump into the city proper. It was targeted by roughly 50 modified Type 91 shoulder fired missiles fitted for contact detonation. Roughly half of them were detonated prematurely by the jump jet's exhaust.”


Another picture showed the Phoenix Hawk with its jets smoking as it plunged below the skyline. “It was damaged heavily by the fall and was then captured relatively intact. The Leopard surrendered shortly afterwards, under threat of artillery. During the capture it was discovered that they had half extracted a LAM from what is assumed to be a ASF launch bay. We captured that one without any damage.”


A new pictured showed the half extracted LAM. “I have included initial estimates for removal time of the mechs. Pictures of downed mechs and their pilots are included in this, along with drop ship commander.”



Ben took up position in his Valkyrie, in a slot between a long building and a car port. Miriya's Wasp took position kneeling behind a similar building off to Ben's left after she shot a few rounds at the tunnel leading onto the airport from her end. Roy and Rick took positions on the other end of the sunken/tunnel road way. Hidden behind a set of hangers and office buildings, making sure to cover their flanks by blasting the tunnel way.


Roy looked over the wide open expanse before them. Providing a perfect line of fire for them, checking his radar for aircraft, none. Something was off, the reports of the Drakon had the Motherloaders being much more reactive than... A set of set of sharp cracks focused his attention as the building in front of him started to lean towards him.


“JUMP!!” Roy yelled out over the coms as he punched his jump jets for a fraction of an instant. Sending him rocketing away from the building. Two other bright dots followed him backwards, Ben was on the coms screaming in horror. Roy was barely aware of his voice yelling for them to jump forwards and into the city as far as they could.


Shear moment after landing, two explosions shock the area as Miriya and Rick went down. Roy hit his jump jets at full power. Ignoring Lisa's screams for what was going on, reaching the top of his arch, Roy was almost disappointed at the wave of small missiles at him. He felt he rated a armored thrust by them.


The missiles swerved around the front of his mech and... his jump jets' light went red as he rattled around inside his cockpit like a credit in a beggar's tin can. Then he began to fall into the wide open area of the airport runways he had been looking down just moments ago. Next was blackness.




“General,” one of the ministers began, “as much as we appreciate this. We must not fall too far behind the US in capturing a jumpship.”


Koga looked at the minister in question, “President Ryan has shown to be a excellent ally, attempting to rush military operations based on political concerns have 'proven' to be counter productive as my 'replacement' learned.”


The minister bowed slightly in shame, “But you do have a point, general, what is the current condition in attempting to proceed with joining our allies in their capture operations? Also, unlike our allies, I hope we haven't renamed our new possession like the US has. While Great Justice is ironic, it is not a message I wish to send the world. Attempting to rename the ship Yamamoto is even more absurd, Japan needs to save that for a true warship. White Base has possibilities for our first locally produced drop ship, but until that time...”


The general coughed slightly, catching a twinkle in the prime minister's eye. The air of the table lost its sharp edge of embarrassment at the joke, the general nodded, seeming to be slightly more embarrassed at the ship's name change mention. “Yes, prime minister, we have been delayed because of the lack of a strategic initiative, thankfully the on-site officer. A Misumaru Yurika was able to take command of the situation.”


A female officer flashed on screen, looking like a militarized Tendo Nabiki from the anime with a sarcastic smirk. “She was delayed from taking off as soon as she moved the battalion under her command onto the captured drop-ship, excluding a platoon and the local police to guard the newly captured personal and mechs, by the arrival of researchers from all over Tokyo to look over the captured equipment. A second battalion is being flown in, along with increasing numbers of police to take control of the captured personal and secure the area. Her current est-...”


A newly familiar rumble shook the building, out the window a newly captured Leopard was trying to climb vertically into space. “...is right now.” He said with a weary voice at the sight.


Forcefully tugging down his shirt he continued as the rumbling faded. “Yes, on another note ministers, we have informed the US that we have sent out salvage teams to locate the position of the sunken Overlord.”


The minister for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology perked up at this mention of future research materials. The other ministers looked happy that they would have potentially total access to the only 'Overlord' class drop ship on Earth. Even if it was in pieces on the ocean floor, given the engineering standards those drop ships were built to, it was assured that quite a lot of the ship would survive.


Prime minister Koga, coughed slightly, as the table refocused on him. “General, His Majesty the Emperor wishes to know, with this problem dealt with, consideration upon the time for removal of defensive weapons in the Imperial Palace.” �



Roy Gunter, commander, pilot of the “Phoenix Hawk” Rick Cocker, pilot of the “Stinger” Ben Mallery, pilot of the “Valkyrie” Miriya Parina, pilot of the “Wasp” Maxe Parina, pilot of the captured LAM (identified as Stinger LAM).


Lisa Cocker, commander of the Leopard



Notes: Miriya looks almost exactly like her Macross name sake. Her green eyes are actually a dominate genetic trait, her hair is permanently dyed although. Plus the fact that she is just under two meters tall.


Leaving open if Miriya and Maxe are married, or its just a paper marriage with one of them gay.


This is a generational outfit, as too many other mech warriors tend to be too risky with their scout mechs. For them, glory is being able to see your kids grow up. Rick and Lisa have a kid, Miriya does too, but it may or may not be Maxe's (if he's gay he might not care). Roy has been dating the commander of the Prometheus for so long its almost a joke. Of course, by Earth standards they are common law married.


Masjid al-Haram Mecca, Saudi Arabia Earth 14 November, 2005


Tears streaked down the face of Ibn Ahmed as he struggled to take in the display that he'd seen this day. The king had gathered the faithful to the holy Kaaba to prey for the courageous Mujahideen who would be facing the accursed Hirabi. Then they discovered that that the criminals had decided to attack Holy Mecca itself. Their teeth had gnashed in rage even as the fear of death enveloped them, and while many would loose faith, they instead turned to Allah for salvation, and in His infinite mercy, Glorious God had delivered.


When the four machines and the flying soldiers who accompanied them had arrived to do battle there, had been cries of tears from women and children, thinking that their time had come, but then, oh but then Allah's mercy had been made clear to all as the leader of these brave heroes of Islam spoke and swore to fight to the end to protect the faithful and the most holy of places, and uplifted their souls from the depths of sorrow to resounding joy at the miracle before them. These were not raiders, but warriors from the stars sent by the hand of God himself, descending from the sky like the angels of heaven, carried upon pillars of flame. Oh God was truly great!


Then the warriors fought, out numbered they fought to the last, their machines being torn apart by the terrible volume of fire from the enemy. Even when all seemed lost they still held, never turning away, and so the faithful prayed, prayed that their glorious saviors, begging Allah to allow them to live.


He began to cry tears of joy. One of their heroes machines had exploded, after many of the soldiers had been cut down, only the massive form of the leader's machine still stood against the onslaught, and all seemed lost. But then, for the second time, there had been a miracle. From the sky swooped the Air Forces of the world, raining down fire like Allah's own vengeance cast from the heavens! It must have been every jet in the Middle East! The Saudis, the Syrians, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Americans, even the Israelis had come to protect the city! The damned pirates, may their eternal souls roast in torment, stood no chance against the onslaught!


His eyes looked to the smashed machines standing outside the great mosque. Inside those shattered shells were the heroes who'd protected them. They had fought hard and now we're injured. Slowly, the old man began to walk. Soon, that walk turned into a run. For a moment he felt the years lift from his body as he rand towards the burning wrecks of what had been their defenders.


Behind him the faithful formed behind him, sensing his holy task. As the brave Azami had protected them, now they would protect the Azami by perserving their lives long enough for help to arrive. Without pause he headed to the machine of the great champion which had fallen moments after the jets had arrived. Not stopping, he ran to the chest and began to climb, his youth returned to him for just this moment, just this task, by Allah's infinite glory.


In moments he'd reached the cockpit and began looking desperately for some hatch, some way to extract the honored hero from within so his life may be saved, but found nothing. Struggling, he called to the sky, to Allah himself. Oh, merciful god! He prayed silently, if one more man was to die today, let it be him and not the great hero before him! He began to run his hand over the seam and his heart all but jumped from his chest when he felt a latch.


Grabbing it, he strained, but it would not open. Gritting his teeth the old man pushed his cane into the gap and used all his might to open it. By God's mercy he was rewarded with a click, and with a mighty shove he pulled the hatch open and peered inside.


It was hot beyond the depths of hell in the cockpit, even enough to make a man of the desert himself reel back in shock. Oh, how mighty man he must be to fight in such conditions!


Ignoring his own discomfort, the old man crawled inside, and for the first time he saw the face of the great Aladdin Al Azim. He was half naked and covered with sweat, wearing a vast contraption on his head, and his vest was stained with blood.


Frowning, he looked inside for some way to release the hero so he might be removed and cared for. Drawing his knife he decided that time was of the essence and began to cut through his straps and the tubes connecting the vest to the cockpit. To his shock a wash of freezing blood tainted water gushed from the tube. Not seeing a way to remove the helmet he simply pulled the wires connecting it from the helmet.


As he began to pull him out he felt a hand on his shoulder. Behind him was standing a young woman who's black eyes shown with concern from under her scarf, and two adolescent boys who's faces bore the most steadfast determination.


“Let us help you,” she said in a honey sweet voice.


He simply nodded and allowed the woman and two youths to help him bare the hero to safety.


As soon as they were clear of the 'Mech more people flocked to them and he allowed himself to relax as the champion was bore to safety and medical care. Suddenly his eyes went wide and he gasped for breath. He fell to his knees as he felt an agony in his chest that defied words. Tears of joy ran from his eyes as he realized what was happening. Allah had hear his prayer and had accepted. His life for that of a hero, a fair and honorable trade.


He dared not cry out, to bring attention to himself as he did not desire to insult merciful God. He had made his exchange and he would not attempt to turn away from it. His time had come. An old man dies, a hero lives. Allah was truly merciful!


Slowly he fell to the earth, and for a moment everything faded to black, and then there was light. He swore he could hear his departed bride calling to him from beyond. Into the light he went and as the last wisps of life faded from his elderly body, he smiled. He could see it.


He could see Paradise.


ORF Studio Vienna / Austria Earth ORF1 ZIB20 20:00 local time 17 November 2005/3020


"Good Evening my name is Gerald Gross and I welcome you to "Zeit im Bild". Today’s top topic is the pirate assault on Earth and especially the attack on Austria. Live from the attacked area Susane Specht. Susane where are you currently?"


"I am currently in "Krems an der Donau" were the devastation the pirate forces brought with their attack is easy to see. As you can see behind me, parts of the port are still burning after the NATO retaliation against the attackers. Local fire-fighters have now been trying to contain and extinguish the fires for over 24 hours."


"What do we know about the civilian casualties?"


"When it became clear where the pirate ship would land the government tried to evacuate the area immediately but sadly not everyone made it out in time. When the pirate forces entered the city and took parts of it as hostage they demonstrated their willingness to kill by destroying several buildings. After the government couldn't meet their demand for offworld passage and ransom they started to destroy buildings systematically."


"This was when NATO decided to attack even though the pirates were in a city right?"


"That's right Gerald. After that our Government agreed to the NATO attack. Fortunately the attack was a success but the destruction was already caused. Civilian casualties are expected to be around one hundred to one hundred and fifty people. Exact numbers are still unknown and rescue operations are still going on."


"What about the military casualties?"


"When the pirates war machines attacked the city the Bundesheer was not able to stop them. Apparently the weapons deployed by our forces were not strong enough to damage the pirates machines. Their weapons on the other hand proved to be extremely lethal. Eighty Six soldiers have been confirmed dead, forty two wounded."


"What is the reaction of the military to this?"


"Well Gerald, the soldiers I had the opportunity to talk to are extremely displeased. The general opinion is that they simply aren't equipped to fight such a force. A soldier who seemingly has some knowledge about Battletech and these "Mechs" the pirates employed told me that throwing stones would have about the same effect. The military leadership is currently blaming the government for not being allowed to use heavy equipment near the city. The government has yet to answer to these accusations."


"What about the attempted assault on the pirates space ship?"


"Not much is known about that. All I can tell you is that the Jagtkommando tried to capture the ship but ran into pirate infantry forces still in the ship. What we know is that the ship surrendered after the forces in the city were defeated."


"Is there any word about what will happen to the captured pirates or the captured equipment?"


"NATO and our government are pretty tight lipped about that. But we know that the captured ship has already been handed over to NATO. The future of the pirates is currently unclear. It still has to be seen if they will face trail as prisoners of war, terrorist or just multiple cases of murder."


"Thank you Susane. Let’s hope that the casualties numbers don't climb higher. Now with me in the studio is a local Battletech expert ......"



Alexander Mayer left the Soldatenheim, he had already heard enough Battletech experts on TV. Being a Battletech enthusiast himself he could only take so many analyses of the current political situation in the Inner Sphere before becoming bored. After all, there were more interesting things to watch. Pictures and Movies of the attack were easily available to anyone with a TV or an internet connection. The assaults on Mecca and Washington being on the forefront of international newscast. Naturally, the Austrian Channels were mainly concerned with the attack on Krems. By far not as much political dynamite as the attack on the two important cities, but a wake up call to many. It seems the population realised that Battletech factions didn't care about neutrality or how peaceful you were. Sadly that was still a hard concept to swallow for many. Protestors were complaining about the treatment of the prisoners and the lack of information about them.


"The fires still weren't put out and the people start complaining", thought Alexander as he reached his bunk. He was thankful that at least in his country the politicians were blamed and not the military. Considering that he cursed the entire government on live TV he should be happy that they had more important things to do. What had they expected him to say? Being thrown into a bunch of reporters after seeing his friends and squat mates die, after being chased throw the city by angry Battlemechs just because you blew up the canalization under a crossroad and threw two houses on the fallen Locust scout.


"Not my best idea". He leaned back unto the bed. "No, definitely not one of my best ideas."


The air strike of the NATO forces had saved the life of every single member of his squad. People he was responsible for. Had the political bullshitting and the attempted negotiation with the pirates gone on for much longer he would have been another person for the brigade to mourn.


Being the nearest military force to the projected landing zone the 3rd Panzergrenadierbrigarde had mobilized. Thankfully the evacuation of the civilians ran more smoothly than the mobilization of the brigade. After the pirates landed and their target was clear the order was given to prevent the enemies entry into the city.


The Mechs didn't even bother fighting them. They simply shrugged off whatever firepower was thrown their way and broke though the line. Taking the city as a hostage while the brigade had to watch because the use of heavy weapons was not allowed near or in a city. The result was a standoff, the military threatened the dropship while the pirates stomped around the city. Thankfully even the politicians of Austria accepted that negotiation with the pirates would not lead to anything and allowed NATO forces to intervene. And all it took to reach this decision was for large parts of the city to start burning. The ammo explosion of the Griffin in the harbour completed the devastation.


Being the first to respond, his brigade took most of the casualties. Alexander’s roommate was one of them. Currently in the hospital with a broken arm and a broken leg. He was lucky, unarmored infantry didn't have a high life expectancy when fighting a mech. Alexander spent most of day visiting his friend. With most of brigade being off-duty and people more important than him trying to figure out what happened and why, he hadn't much to do.


He was tired and wanted to be somewhat fit for tomorrow. He turned of the light and tried to sleep. Tomorrow he expected to reap the consequences of his actions.



Kaserne Mautern / Lower Austria Earth 06:00 local time 18 November 2005/3020


When the "Tagwache" call echoed through the building Alexander was already on his way to breakfast. With the base fully staffed the canteen was never really empty. At breakfast it seemed like a bee hive. On his way to the canteen he had already seen activity at the hangar which housed the captured Locust. The guys from Steyr and General Dynamics were apparently early risers. Or, what he found more likely, they never went to sleep. He could understand them, it's not everyday that you can play around with genuine science fiction technologies.


After greeting a few friends while getting his usual breakfast, he sat down and opened today’s newspaper. The local part was once again full with the coalition parties trying to blame each other and the opposition screaming bloody murder. Business as usual. The international section was far more interesting. The picture of an Union class dropship sitting in front of the Eifeltower was simply priceless. The new self declared warlord of Congo was hiding in his Battlemech cause the trigger-happy locals were not too happy with him. And in the USA a soldier though he was a Mech-jockey and took on the invaders on his own. In true American "head through the wall" mentality he actually won, while trashing his ride. There was also a photograph of a female mechwarrior who helped defending Washington. Natalie something, the so called "Black Widow of Washington". "If all Space Babes look like her I need to get myself a spaceship." Starring at the photo of an attractive woman dressed only in a cooling vest, a sweat soaked T-shirt, shorts and boots made him wish they hadn't immediately handed over their captured pirates. Sighing, the now completely awakened man turned the page. Apparently Muslims all over the world were screaming for blood. And for once it was not against "the West". Even if some nut jobs tried the usual blame the USA thing. Luckily they were ignored. There was some talking about the Mecca on the other Earth being destroyed, which only helped to fuel the fires. Even the economy part was full of invasion related news. The oil price and the stocks of all major car and energy companies took a dump when it became clear that Earth forces captured quite a few working fusion engines. As the people realized that Earth didn't understand these engines and couldn't build them at the moment the stocks began to rise again. Probable helped along by the announcement of electric cars powered with Battletech batteries by every big name in the business. The energy suppliers relaxed once they recognized that the Battletech fusion engines produced a lot of heat as an unwanted side effect. Which could be used to heat water into steam to turn a turbine. Just exchange whatever you use to generate heat with a fusion engine and you have two power sources in one plant. It seemed that applying fusion to a companies name was enough to get the stocks sky high. To Alexander it sounded like the DOT-COM fiasco of 2000. Naturally the stocks of all companies producing war material were also rising.


Finishing his breakfast and putting his tray away, Alexander walked back to the barracks. Just as he was crossing the parade ground he was interrupted. A young Gefreiter was trying to catch his attention and saluted. Alexander returned the greeting and asked what the young man wanted.


"Herr Wachmeister, Hauptmann Moser wants you to report to him at 9:00. He will be in his office in the Stabskompanie."


He knew that would happen. Simply asking the man in front of him, "If this was all?", his mind was already trying to figure out what would await him. On the positive answer he dismissed the young man an went to his room.


Kaserne Mautern / Lower Austria Earth Stabskompanie 08:57 local time 18 November 2005/3020


The Stabskompanie was busy. It was after all responsible for running this base and keeping the brigade supplied. And the offices in this building housed most of the higher-ranking personnel. At point 9:00 he entered the office of Hauptmann Joachim Moser. Alexander stood at attention, saluted and waited to be acknowledged.


"At ease Wachmeister. Take a seat, we have much to discuss.”


A little surprised by the relaxed tone Alexander took a chair and waited for the Hauptmann to continue. Time to see which consequences insulting the collective political leadership brought.


"It seems that all the confusion and paperwork the attack carried with it worked to your advantage. It took until now for a response to your, lets call it lapse in judgment, to form. I'll be frank with you Alexander when I say that I agree with what you said. Most people on this base will agree, just not on live TV." Here a small smile threatened to cross the Hauptmanns face.


"You have been a good soldier and your plan to stop one of the attacking mechs was a good idea but we both know that insulting the government while in uniform has consequences. Luckily for you the general population also agrees with you. Just today the high command has been informed that the Bundespräsident will disband the federal government because of their inability to deal with the given situation and a new election will be held. This has the side effect that any public attempt to reprimand you would be political suicide."


"What does that mean for me Sir?", the now completely confused Wachmeister asked.


"You are somewhat famous and a political time bomb. The people will remember what you did. In order to strengthen our international relations it was decided to make you someone else's problem. Congratulations Wachmeister Mayer! You have been volunteered to join GDI."


Having said his piece the Hauptmann couldn't hold back the grin any longer when he saw dumbfound expression on the younger mans face.


Sea Floor Pacific Ocean Earth 20 November 2005


It was pitch dark outside, with the only light being generated by generated by the Alvin DSV. The tiny submarine’s lamps illuminated a massive humanoid form lying of a Battlemech on the sea floor. The mech was all… wrinkly would be the best term, crushed by the high pressure depths. But it looked reasonably intact, so Alvin used its mechanical arms to attach one of many improvised beacons that it was carrying to the drowned machine.


“Okay,” said Alvin’s pilot, one Petty Officer Jeremy Davids. “Looks like we’re done here, continuing search pattern.”


“I think we’ve seen all that we’re gonna see,” one of the passenger scientists said.


“Oh, come on, Theo,” said the other passenger said. “We’ve found a lot of stuff so far. Have a little optimism.”


Alvin’s mission today was to locate anything worth salvaging from the Overlord Dropship that had crashed into the ocean less than a week ago. So far, the three man team in Alvin had located some plating and structural members and not much else other than a few wrecks that looked like they dated to World War II or even earlier. The Battlemech had been the highlight of the operation so far.


“You come on, Simon,” Theo replied. “The Overlord came down over the Laurentian Abyss. It’s probably down there where we can’t reach it. Everything we’ve found so far looks like debris that fell off as it was coming down.”


“Nah, can’t be. The debris is too tightly spaced,” Simon disagreed. “I think what happened is that ocean currents pushed everything off to this side of the Abyss. That would fit the dispersion pattern that we’re seeing.”


“Oh please,” Theo snorted. “Half a dozen fragments and a mech in a hundred square miles isn’t exactly ‘tightly spaced’, or even a meaningful sample size.”


The two scientists continued to bicker like an old married couple. Davids had long since learned to tune them out, although some bits caught his interest.


“Have you ever considered that we’re running around in one of the early progenitors of the Battlemech?” Simon mused.


”Oh, have you been smoking that junk again, Simon?” Theo asked. “What kind of poppycock are you going on about now?”


“No. no, seriously,” Simon said. “Look, Alvin is obviously a fore-runner of the Industrial-mechs that the Battlemechs were based on. I mean, look.” He played with one of his controls and the sub rocked slightly. “Arms!”


“Hey! No using the arms while we’re transiting!” Davids interjected.


“Sorry, Dave,” Simon said to him. “But the point, Theo, is that if we attached a pair of legs to Alvin, we could have our very own functional mech!”


“What good would legs do on a submarine?” Theo asked skeptically.


“That’s not the point…”


“Okay, we’re approaching the edge of the Abyss,” Davids interrupted. “Turning to heading… uh, I got something big on my sonar sticking out of the seafloor. Can you guys confirm?”


“Um, yeah, I’m seeing it too,” Simon said, all business now. “Might be a natural rock formation.”


“Magnetometer’s going crazy,” Theo reported. “And I think the surrounding water’s warmed up slightly.”


“Is it the Overlord?” Davids asked as he steered Alvin toward the thing.


“It’s too small,” Simon said, disappointed.


“But we did find pieces of it,” Theo said. “I think this might be a bigger fragment. These damned magnetometer readings aren’t making sense. Simon, what do you make of them?”


“Lemme see…”


“Oh, yeah, definitely part of the Overlord,” Davids said as Alvin’s lights played over twisted structural members and other less identifiable bits that reached for the surface. Whatever it was, it was simply too big for the Alvin’s paltry lights to illuminate everything. But one thing that was clear was this thing was teetering right on the cliff edge above the Laurentian Abyss.


“Holy mother of God…”


“What? What is it?” Davids asked, concerned. “Is it going to blow up?”


“Maybe, I don’t know,” Simon replied. “But I think we’re looking at the Overlord’s fusion reactor… and I think it’s still running.”


NBC Studios New York City New York Earth 25 November 2005


“Hello, I’m Anne Curie, and with me today is Economics Professor Ian Jakbarti of Princeton University. Hellp, Professor, thanks for being here.”


“Of course, Anne. I’m happy to be of service.”


“Now, Professor, word has it that the GDI has managed to capture a substantial amount of ‘Dropships’ and ‘Jumpships’ during what people now are calling the Pirate War. What effect will that have on the economy?”


“Better to ask, what effect won’t it have on the economy, Anne? For a start, we now have cheap lift capacity into space. In addition to being able to put missile platforms into space all in one go as opposed to a few at a time, I’ve been hearing about all sorts of pie in the sky plans to use those Dropships to build a true space infrastructure; hell, some of them might even work! And then there are all the research scientists who want a crack at studying their engines so we can learn to build more such vessels.”


“What about the Jumpships, Professor? There’s been a great deal of talk opening up trade with the Inner Sphere and just buying whatever advanced tech we want to reverse engineer.”


“Ah, well it’s not quite that simple, Anne. For a start, my understanding is that whatever Jumpships we have is under GDI control and that they’re understandably more concerned with our planet’s security than going into the interstellar shipping business.”


“Of course. But what if the GDI permits trade? What ought we to buy?”


“Well therein lies the question, doesn’t it? My understanding is that the Inner Sphere economy is in a shambles and has been for nearly three hundred years. We simply just can’t drop in on a planet and buy whatever we like wholesale be it space fighters or mechs or laser weapons or even just more ships because there isn’t any to buy.”


“Why not?”


“Because the Inner Sphere’s ability to produce the very high tech items that we want barely meets their own needs. In fact, it’s arguable that their production doesn’t meet their needs at all and that they make up the difference by constantly salvaging fallen machines and occasionally finding one of those caches of equipment that the Star League littered the Inner Sphere with. Finding anything for sale will be difficult, finding it in mass quantities we want even more difficult. And to top it all off, there’s the money issue.”


“Money issue? Isn’t the exchange rate something like one of their ‘C-Bills’ for every three U.S. dollars or something?”


“Oh, I’ve seen lots of theoretical estimates about what the exchange rates are going to be, Anne, but that’s all they are: theoretical. There’s no trade between Earth and the Inner Sphere at present, or even regular contact. Thus, there’s no exchange, and Inner Sphere currency is worthless on Earth. By the same token, any currency on from our planet is equally worthless over there unless we can find someone who collects antique money.”


“But… how? How is that possible, Professor? Money is money.”


“Heh. That’s a common misconception. Money, Anne, is valuable only as long people treat it as valuable. Paper bills, whether they’re Dollars or C-Bills, have no intrinsic value in and of themselves. Rather, they represent buying power, the goods and services owed to you the individual by society as measured by money. So dollars can buy goods and services on Earth, and C-Bills can do the same in the Inner Sphere. But as long as there is no trade between the two of us, then our monies cannot be exchanged with each other.”


“So how do we trade with the Inner Sphere if our money is no good over there?”


“Oh, that’s easy, Anne. You said it yourself: trade. We load up a ship with goods, sell it over in the Sphere in exchange for C-Bills, buy whatever we can afford that’s available, and bring it back here and do whatever the GDI wants us to do with the stuff. Load up more goods and repeat the cycle. Simple!”


“But what about the security aspects? I understand that the things that we make that will sell well in the Inner Sphere will attract all sorts of armed robbers in thirty foot tall mechs. Last week was proof of that.”


“Not my field, Anne. I’m just an economist after all.”�Andrews AFB November 15th 3020/2005 22:30 PM


Major Andreas Staedele was standing on the tarmac of the air base, about a hundred meters from the two large hangars his unit had been housed in provisionally, holding a cup of hot tea and watching the stars.


'Somewhere up there Marc, Hanna, 1st platoon, the ships crew and those "Delta Force" soldiers should be docking with that jumper right about now. I just hope Marc managed to teach them gyrojet-rifles 101 on the way up. Can't have them damage our equipment or get injured needlessly,' he thought.


He already did have a near-aneurism when he told the locals that it would be a cold day in hell when he´d let them pack a nuclear weapon into *his* ship. He didn´t want to have anything to do with the things. Luckily, they had compromised after he had explained that the Distant Home wouldn´t need a god-damned nuke if they really wanted to shoot up a jumpship. These things were virtually unarmed and easy targets, after all.


Taking a look around, he watched the air base bustling with activity, planes starting and landing, people scurrying around doing their jobs. They were all avoiding the part of the installation that had been reserved for his mercenary unit. They even were under guard by the base`s security detail, mostly to hold the crowd of reporters at bay that was lurking right behind the outer fence. And to keep his men under close scrutiny, he was sure. Not that he resented that, he was originally planning to invade this rock after all.


Looking back at the hangars, he was able to catch a glimpse through the open door of one, seeing his Warhammer and the Cav's techs as they were furiously working to repair the damage to his machines as fast as possible. At the door of the other hangar, housing the personnel and dependents for now, a few infantrymen of 3rd platoon were gathered up and had a chat.


Staedele slipped further into his own thoughts and began to let the day pass in his memories again. The nuclear attack. His decision to not risk his people against a nuclear power. The new contract. The battle and it's aftermath.


Johnsons two platoons and the National Guard had catched a company or so of motorized Port Krin PBI on the intersection of Independence and Pennsylvania Avenue. The poor guys only knew that they were under attack when 1st platoon salvo-fired the LAWs and pretty much shredded their convoy. The rest of the resistance was put down withhin minutes after that, the still shocked militia troops being cut apart in a murderous crossfire with only a scant few survivors surrendering. Some had fired back, even with SRM, though, and the local surgeons were still operating Pvt Ling, hoping to prevent his arm from being crippled permanently. Two other members of his infantry force were wounded, too, and one of the guardsmen had been killed outright when an SRM had hit directly below the window he was firing from. Not to mention the smaller injuries quite a few of the defenders had taken.


He and Miller, on the other hand, were doing fine. He hadn´t sufferred anything pain killer couldn´t solve and Miller's concusssion was light enough for her to be combat effective again in a day.


In the aftermath, Staedele had summarised the status of the pirate Mechs to Gen. Norwell. The Rifleman had sufferred a complete reactor failure and repairing that would take ripping out the entire reactor for sure. It also had lost one of the autocannons and damaged the shoulder activator when falling over. The Marauder Ned had taken apart was a wreck. Staedele had taken a single look and immediately recognised a fatal structural collapse. Taking that thing apart and building a new Mech would be easier than repairing it. The Crusader, on the other hand, simple required a new head with a cockpit, sensor systems and the like. Otherwise it was fine, save for the armor damage all machines in that fight had sufferred. In other words, prime salvage material. The Archer on the other hand... the biggest parts they found of that one were the feet and lower legs. The rest of the Mech had been scatterred over half the inner city, some chunks even landing on the lawn directly in front of the White House.


"The White House", he murmured, traces of shock and disbelief still visible on his face. When he had come back to Andrews, his wife and daughter had been waiting to tell him those particular news. Esther had been using the hand-held camera he had given her as a present on her 9th birthday. He knew that the record of his face when they told him would be something she´d use to tease him for years. And telling it the other people in the unit and the dependents had caused some major unrest.


He still could barely believe it. 21st century earth being flung through time and space into the 31st century and placed hundreds of lightyears away from it`s original position? It was as if he was in some kind of bad novel! And yet, he could see the evidence with his own eyes, touch it with his own hands. One of the techs, a muslim, had been crying out of joy when he realized that the holy city of his religion was still standing. Or again standing. Or whatever... Even thinking about it caused Staedele to get headaches.


'Well, at least I´m not alone with that', he thought. The locals were just as confused as far as he could tell. With the whole invasion and all, he was told, it would likely take another day before either that President Ryan or his secretary of defense, one Tony Bretano, would be able to meet the Buron Cavalry and sort out the contract they had been offerred. Till then, they were under strict isolation, especially from the ever growing mob of local media waiting outside the base. 'At least in regard to the contract negotiations, I might have a slight advantage', Staedele mused. 'My people did save their capital from a lot of grief, after all.'


"*Sigh* This is going to be one hell of a week, isn't it?" he asked nobody particular. Then he started walking towards the door of the small office inside the hangar housing the dependents. It had been converted into a temporary office for him and a briefing room for the unit. If he remembered right, he had taken his personal effects from the Distant Home and placed them in there. Including the whiskey.


"I need a drink." Waters off LA


With a grunt Emily Hastings managed to untangle herself from the parachute that had gotten her down and began to paddle a way, mindful of the risk of tangling in the lines and drowning despite the emergency vest inflating around her neck. Her ears were still ringing from the blast of her fighter which had blown her helmet off, and then the rough landing in the ocean. She could see a very large very military looking ship in the distance bearing down on her position, almost certainly the one that shot her down. A small inflatable launch from that ship was closing on her position fast.


“Keep you hands where we can see them” said one of the men with a microphone. Several had rifles pointed at her. She complied keeping her arms away form her body. She had no intention dying after trying to survive all those missiles.


As the boat pulled along side two men reached down to grab her out stretched hand. She was unceremoniously hauled aboard. As she fell on the deck she expected to be restrained immediately and likely knocked out with rifle butt. While the other kept a careful watch with their weapons they made no overt hostile move. They were rough but careful and they propped her against the side of the boat to brace her as the boat accelerated back toward the ship. She was shivering quite a bit from the shock from the temperature controlled dropship then the sweltering to the cold Pacific water. Somebody threw a blanket around her and almost immediately a man with a white armband with the universally recognized Red Cross on his arm knelt beside her and began to check her over and ask her questions.


“Can you understand what I’m saying?” “Can you feel all your extremities?” “Are you hurt anywhere?”


Still a little dazed from the blast she managed wordless answers. Nodding and shaking to the barrage of question that focused on her wellbeing she answered as best she could. “OK, you look alright just a little shock. We’ll have the doc look you over when we get back the Hill.” The medic concluded.


As they pull along side the ship she could see more people on the deck and a rope ladder had been deployed. Upon climbing on deck a short, chubby, blond woman in a white doctor’s coat began checking her over while questioning the medic who had treated her. The doctor introduced her self as Doctor Amy Steiner. She was quite surprised no one had made any threat or demands yet. Deciding to go with her gut she cooperated with the instructions.


Half an hour later she was sitting in a bed in the sick bay, with a change of proper clothing, the clothing seemed to be like what the crew was wearing but with no rank or badges of any kind. They had taken away the flight suit and given her a hospital gown to wear while they examined her, which was some how exactly as uncomfortable and awkward as the ones in the Inner Sphere.


When the examination began it was quite an eye opener for her. She had expected something much more intrusive and rough, and in the brig not in the regular sick bay. The methods were interesting to say the least. When they found out she had a head injury on the back of her head, which she didn’t even notice, the doctor immediately ordered a scan for her head. She had assumed scan referred to some kind of X-ray, which they did do, but after the X-ray they wheeled out some kind of... imager was the best word she could use. They called it an MRI. When it went to work she could only gape as an impossibly clear image of her head began to take shape, bone, muscle, brain and all. She knew soft tissue was hard, almost impossible, for and X-rays and this was far clearer and faster than X-rays. Technology like this wasn’t even possible in the capitals of the Great Houses. She knew because she had been in Tharkad’s top hospital when her mother had gotten cancer. When they found out the family had decided to move into the heart of the Lyran Commonwealth to seek treatment, made easier when your home was a jumpship and an attached Leopard. ‘If this is what they have on a ship what must they have in a full hospital’ she though amazed.


It was then that a tall redheaded man entered she didn’t recognize the insignias but everyone in sickbay snapped to attention and saluted so she could assume he was probably the captain or someone close to that level.


He made a beeline for the doctor. She could tell they were talking about her by the occasional glances sending her way. They abruptly finished then the officer headed her way


`````````````````````````` Bridge of Port Royal


“Sir the pilot is on board. She’s being taken to sickbay now. The doctor said she was suffering from early signs of hypothermia” said a crewman. Even off LA the water was quite cold in winter.


“Keep me updated.”


a short time later the bridge received a call from sickbay.


“Sir Doctor Steiner says that the pilot is fine but she doesn’t want them taking her to the brig. She wants to keep her there, with a guard of course.”


“You have the bridge commander I want to talk to that pilot”


As he reached the bridge he noticed the CMO waving him over “Anything I should know doctor?”


“She’s fine over all a few scrape and bruises from the ejection and landing. Minor head injury I check there no internal damage just a contusion. We got her out of the water before hypothermia set so the worst she’ll get is a minor cold.” She filled him in


“One more thing captain. Part of the reason I prevented them from taking her to the brig she is very young and nervous”


“I can see that” he glanced over at the person in question sitting on the examination bed “she can’t be older than my daughter and she’s just out of college, Impressive flying for someone so young. But is that enough to keep her here?”


“Think younger. Her wisdom teeth just barely came in she cant be more than 20. The acne and pimples says she’s probably around 16-18.” “Impossible it takes years of training to fly like she did, you just cant react that fast and handle those kinds of Gs right away.”


“That’s what my examination shows captain. I wasn’t comfortable sending a child like that to the brig right away. I wanted to talk to you first.”


“She is an enemy combatant Emily. She took down 3 of out best planes. I’ll talk to her now and then I’ll make the call.” He headed over to the bed.


“Miss Hastings is that right?”


“Yes sir.”


“That was some good flying up there. I used to fly the same type of fighter that took your bird down, what you did wasn’t easy”


“Thanks” her face lit up which highlighted to Reed how you young she was. “I lost though.”


“But you lasted longer than you had any right to. You also shot down three of our planes one of the pilots died in his plane.” From the way her face fell and the queasy look he could tell she was really not used to the though of killing your opponent


“I had to he was shooting at me. Didn’t want to, dint want to be here at all. Nobody in the group did.”


“Why are you here?”


“We didn’t have a choice. Needed the money the keep the ships and mechs going.”


“And who is ‘we’”


“Fire Brand mercenary group one of the most flexible units for our size. Or they were before I joined up they haven't been the same since they took those contract with the Dracs” the said ‘Dracs’ like a curse word, he would have to take note of that and ask later. "I fly the drop ships and did fighter recon and cover for them. Or I did until you shot down the fighter."


"I have to ask how does a child like you end up running with a bunch of mercenaries and be a good enough pilot to make it worth their while?"


"I'm not a child." she stood up and came level to his eyes. No mean feat considering he was 6'2"


Captain Reed was undaunted "My doctors says otherwise. By the state of your development you cant be more then 16-17. You're tall and that might have helped you pass but not by my doctor."


"Side effect of spending half my growing years in zero G. I was part of a jumpship merchant family." she stressed the was.


"What happened?"


"The Draconis Combine." she sneered. "Some commander needed more jumpships for some operation wanted our to go along. We said 'no we had another run to make.' He searched our ships planted some crap about us smuggling. Didn't help that we had hidden compartments, most independent ships did. They took the ship away killed by dad when he tried to resist, arrested my uncle. He bribed them with our last savings so I got away."


"Ended up on the same world with a Brands, they needed a pilot and I came cheap. Been with them for the last few contracts, they've been hemorrhaging funds since they lost half their mechs working for the Dracs. By now there's Not much left, had to make the raid to so we can afford to keep what we have running. Not like those greedy pirates in that Union. We much prefer to work for honest wage”


That got his attention, he had heard about what the Burron Cav had offered “so your group works for the highest bidder?”


``````````````````````````


Firebrand


It had taken most of the day to get all the mechs out. The doors on the Port side was jammed shut so a 1/3 of his mech force was stuck in the hold until the techs could cut it loose it. They only had 6 mechs and he felt naked when his 2 heaviest were out of the fight.


Now Brand thumbed his mike addressing his 6 mechs and the pirates’ 9. “Alright people, here’s the situation. And listened carefully Hastings went down to get us this intel.” He didn’t want to say died. The kid was talented and resourceful, and she was just a kid no matter what she said, and if there was a chance she could have survived she would find it. “


He continued “there is a large armor force bearing down on up with at least sixty plus tanks and a large artillery complement. If they get in range they’re going to shell our drop ships to slag. So we have to engage them as far out as possible. The Fire Brands will be organized into one over strength lance, call sigh Fist. Our six heavies and assault will be the primary striking force.


“Alpha and Beta lance” he referred to the pirates’ lance by their own unimaginative names. “You will be the scouts and skirmishers. Make sure they don’t out flank us. And for God’s sake keeps those damn infantry off us. Any questions?”


“What’s to keep those artillery from pounding us?” one of the pirates asked.


“We’ll be in a middle of the city they wouldn’t dare fire on us even if they somehow miraculously able to hit us. Anything else? Alright let move out.”


They formed up now on the eastern end of the island. The bridges to the island were secure and covered by the drop ships so they felt comfortable leaving the pirate’s 3 vehicles to defend the island. Brand could see a hive of activity as the pirates crawled allover the containers looking for the best loot. There wasn’t any worker around, they had all ran when they Hammer touched down, so the pirates had the run of the place. He told his own crew to stay put in the dropships. He didn’t want to get into a turf war with the pirates over who get what. If his own people found anything good the pirates would try to claim it as theirs being the firsts ones down. Best to let them fill up their own hold and then go through themselves. Port this big there was bound to be enough to fill up all 3 dropships to the brim with prime goods.


Brand brought up the display for all the mechs under his command and signed at the weight gap. His mechs were all heavies and one assault. The heaviest was his Zeus, followed by the Thunderbolt, Orion, Ostol, Ostroc, and Dragon. Their mediums and lights had been lost 2 contracts ago along with their third leopard. While their main battle line survived, they were all in a sad state of disrepair with most having a weapon or 2 missing, like his Zeus's LRM. But they survived and that meant they could be repaired, eventually.


The pirates on the other hand had a mix of lights and mediums with an antique 55 ton Gladiator(not clan Gladiator, SL era DC model) acting as their commander’s ride. The rest were a mix of, three Cicadas, one Locust, a Clint, a pair of Commandos, a Spider, and the heaviest being the Gladiator.


They crossed the bridge and moved into the city beyond heading East. Brand suppressed a sign as the pirates in their lighter mechs surged ahead into the city beyond into a cluster of tall buildings. ‘So much for cooperation’ he thought.


They soon encountered the first of the local militia only half a mile from the island; it was a small ubiquitous military looking ground car common across the Sphere. What was a surprise was that it mounted some kind of very accurate guided SRM. In between the strings of curses from the pirate Cicada he pieced together that the missile barely missed his cockpit. As it is it only took some armor off his right torso. The small car was promptly melted to slag by the Cicada’s lasers.


After that they only saw intermittent contacts until they begun to approach the end of the cluster of skyscrapers, mostly brief glimpses that would disappear behind building as soon as they saw it. Or the pirates did anyway. The pirate’s pell-mell rush into the city meant his group of Heavies were a significant distance behind and were just approaching the cluster of tall buildings that the pirates had already passed though.


Then there was a sudden rash of radio traffic from the pirates as they engaged the local militia.


``````````````````````````


National Guard Forward command post.


General Martin starred at the various screens depicting his own force’s disposition and the expected enemy forces. Drone recon could determine that the enemy forces had separated into 2 distinct forces, a group of 6 larger slower ‘mechs’ falling behind a group of faster mechs that had dashed a head. It was consistent with what the Navy had reported, thought he still had his doubts about the source of that intel, and their own signal intercepts. But even if they didn’t managed to crack their encryption he could tell from force movement that they were 2 forces that had little or no experience working together. As it is he could hear what the lighter group were spilling all over the waves. The attempts at encryption were pitiful and were easily cracked by NSA assets and relayed to his command. The rearward force was practicing much tighter encryption and he still didn’t know what they were saying.


“Get me on the line with the commanders of Delta and Bravo company” he said naming the 2 company in the direct path of the advancing mechs.


“This is Captain Franks sir.”


“This is Captain White sir.”


“Captains I’ll be frank with you. I need you to stay there and hold the line at all cost. The civilians haven’t finished evacuating yet and if those mechs advance further they’ll have the evacuation busses right under their guns. Now the Marine flyboys from Miramar are in the air but they can’t get a shot through those tall buildings if we let them clear the buildings they’ll get a shot at the buses so I need you there to hold the line there for at least 30 minutes for the last bus to be away. Then you can fall back and let the Jarheads pound them.”


“Sir, can we expect any additional reinforcements?” Said Franks. “We only have 7 tanks between our 2 companies, sir.”


“There’s a column of marine tanks with infantry and artillery support on the way up from San Diego but apparently not even an Abrams will get through LA traffic. ETA is at best 40-50 minutes. There’s a LDH with 5 tanks and various armor on the way and ready to conduct and amphibious landing but that is and hour away and is being held up as a backup and support for a spec-ops mission. Elements of the First Armored, about a battalion’s worth, are also on the way, again help up by the choke of traffic of people fleeing and heading to the engagement zone ETA 70-80 minutes. You’re on you own for now gentlemen. I know what I’m asking of you and I have to do it, we cannot leave the civilian to the mercies of those damn pirates.”


“Understood sir, we hold”


“We hold” echoed White.


“Very good gentlemen you do your country proud”�Bravo Company


Bravo Company’s infantry was spread out over a wide area among the building in LA. The Infantry was broken into small group and given every single Javelins they had at the depot. Those that weren’t carrying Javelins were issued AT4s and even some Carl Gustavs. Even then only about 2/3 of the troops had some kind of anti tank weapon. The same could be said for Delta Company on Bravo’s right flank.


There were another 4 companies in the area but they had dug in at the other 2 bridges going off the island to act as blocking forces incase they decided to use those routes. They were still covering evac points of their own and couldn’t leave in case the pirates sent out their armor or infantry.


Captain Timothy White Began to give his instructions. “Order all the men to get in among the alley between houses and building along this zone.” He indicated an area in the mechs’ path. “Don’t enter the houses though they’ll go up like tinder under those lasers and they’ll be trapped.” He knew Capt. Franks would be issuing similar instructions to his own troops.


“The once the infantry disengage our 3 tanks are to coordinate with Delta’s 4 and hit the pirates at once in a pincer. Don’t go strait down the street at a mech it’s a maze here use it, hide behind the house if they get a bead on your tanks. Let the others get a shot in, when they turn away then come hit them again. The Bradleys and TOW armed Humvees will be our last line of defense. Wear them down at long range with hit and run tactics. Do not under any circumstance try to stand and engage they cannot stand against that fire power, use their lower profile and the intersections to their advantage.


``````````````````````````


1st Platoon


“Are the men in position?” asked Lt. Homer.


“Yes sir. When the mech crosses that intersection 3 Javelins and 2 AT4s will hit him from the south, and 4 AT4 and 1 Javelin will hit him from the North. We also have 3 AT4s to hit it in the back.” Answered Sgt Top.


“Corporal what can you tell me about the mech?”


Corporal Willis was the de facto expert on all maters mech related. He had been borrowed from 3rd platoon since by some quirk of assignment 3rd had five people who knew about Battletech while 4th had one and 1st and 2nd had none.


“Well sir I think that’s a Spider?”


“You think?”


“I don’t have the source books with me and it’s not that common a mech. Sir. But the profile and size says it’s a Spider.”


“What can you tell me about it?”


“It’s a 30 tonner. Good news, it’s poorly armed even for its size, only 2 medium lasers, not very good against infantry…”


“And the bad news?” Homer could tell from the tone there was something else.


“Unless its one of the 2 variants that would be common in this time period. The first variant mounts a flamer in place of a laser, dangerous for infantry at close range. The other has a laser and 2 machine guns. Really deadly for infantry.”


“Alright, have the team on its right hit it first, them the rear team, then the left team that should keep it turning in circles.”


``````````````````````````


As the Spider approached the intersection the men of 1st platoon got into their position, using the alleyways between houses to move undetected.


“NOW!” upon the signal from spotters that had been placed on the high-rises out of view of the mech they launched their attacks.


The Southern team on the mech’s right launched their missiles. The Spider was completely surprised it had been looking to its left when its right torso and arm suddenly erupted in a wave of explosions. None of it breached the armor but it did remove a good chunk of it. It turned right only to see a few shadows of movements as the soldiers who fired the missiles scurried in between the houses. Then its side was rocked again as its already weakened right side was hit again this time something got through. Though they couldn’t see it some fragments had gotten through to the gyro. It wasn’t many or large but it was enough to jam it. The mech was much more unstable now. Unfortunately for the rear team they did not get to enjoy their success, all 3 men were caught by the lasers of the Cicada who had been behind the Spider.


The Spider’s punishment wasn’t finished however as that moment the last team let loose into the Spider’s back. Blowing off most of the armor there and escaping behind the houses.


The same scene played out among the other pirate mechs to varying degree of effectiveness. Those attacking the heavier mechs saw them barely flinch but the lighter mechs took some not insignificant damage, like the Wasp which lost a medium laser. The National Guardsmen who when out to attack also took a terrible toll, some mechs were quick enough on their feet or the soldier too slow and were caught by the mech’s answering fire. Some soldiers who did get under cover still lost their lives as the mechs plastered the area with missiles and caught the soldiers in the blast. The flimsy wooded houses of LA, designed to resist earthquakes, afforded little protection.


Then as the mechs were busy hunting around every nook and cranny for infantries the tanks came into play.


``````````````````````````


“Black lead to all Black units, the guys from Delta Company are in position, their call sigh is Dog. On my mark move forward and engage the pirate mechs, remember don’t get in a slugging match with them, hit and run. We just need to keep them busy and prevent them from advancing north into the evac zone.” Lt Tam said to his under strength tank platoon, their 4th tank had it engine in pieces for maintenance and so were unable to join them.


“GO!”


It wasn’t quite standard procedure but the gunner had a round in the chamber already and was holding one in his arm and another between his legs for quick loading as the tank charged around the corner strait at a pirate Commando.


The tank opened fire the moment it cleared the building it was hiding behind. BOOM, the first shot clipped the mech on its right arm, the loader quickly jammed the second round in, BOOM the second shot just missed the arm and the high explosive round slammed strait into the Commando’s right side. BOOM, just as the third shot hit the mech strait in the center torso as it turned to engage the threat, the tank had already turned right on to another street cutting across a formerly beautifully maintained lawn. They had only travel a block toward the mech. As they speedup after the turn the house behind them exploded as laser and an wave of missiles from the angry mech blasted through to where they were only moments earlier.


Not every tank managed to escape unscathed like Lt Tam’s.


A Locust on the northern flank was faced in the right direction and decided to intercept a tank that had attacked a Cicada. That led it to be given a lesson in cold hard physics. Seeing the mech’s distinctive profile and knowing the weight of the disparity in his favor the commander obliged it by charging strait at it instead of turning like he was supposed to. The cold equation of 65 tons of metal charging at over 40 KPH at a 20 ton mech was inescapable.


The Abram impacted the mech and due to the leg geometry ran up the legs for a split second before it crumpled under the force of the tank. The legs were crushed beneath the tank but the massive momentum of the tan kept it going. The barrel of the main cannon speared right into the locust’s belly, its weakest point since mech designers did not expect the belly under the mech to come under fire and it was too high up to be in danger from mines. The shaft of steel punched through the thin armor that was designed to resist machineguns at most. It missed the cockpit but slammed through the gyro and into the fusion generator beyond. It reactor did not blow up per se but the suddenly released plasma cooked the pilot in the cockpit and fused the end of barrel to the mech. Thus when a Commando came around it found the stuck tank, trying to pull itself out, an easy target for its SRMs.


Other tanks ran strait into a hail of SRMs and lasers as the pirates became aware of the tanks bearing down on them. Some ran into a hail of SRMs while others were disabled when lasers melted and fused their treads together.


The tank that and the misfortune to go up against the Gladiator found its left track blown off and the wheels fused to the chassis. Even as the tank ground to a halt the crew continued to load and fire the gun as fast as they could. They maintained accurate aim even as the Gladiator let loose with its SRM6 and medium lasers. Three of the missiles missed and blasted craters in the street around the mech. One missile struck near the driver’s spot blowing through the hatch and killing him instantly but leaving the rest of the tank crew relatively unharmed. The other 2 struck the right side of the tank, one destroying the other tread and blasting one of the wheels off, the other struck the right side turret blasting the armor there to pieces. The 2 medium laser sprayed over the tank melting armor off the tank but did not penetrate. Even during the constant attack the gunner and loader continued to fire the gun as fast as they could. But as they fired of the eight shot the PPC recharged and finished off the doomed tanks, the charged particles blowing through to the interior and blasted apart and roasted the crew inside.


“Break contact repeat break contact” came the order from Captain White. As the senior commander on scene he was in charge of the overall defense. Normally the Colonel would have been conducting the battle but he was with Alpha on the other side of the island and thus chose to hand over command to Captain White. “Status report.”


“Black 1?” Lt Tam reported.


“Undamaged good to go sir?”


“Black 2?” silence “black 2 report”


“I saw a lot of missiles and explosion on their rout sir” Black 3 reported.


“Noted, Black 3, your status?”


“Not good, sir we’re fine but some lasers hit the cannon I can see a slight bent on it now. Its not going to fire sir.”


“Noted, Dog 1… Dog 1?”


“Didn’t make it.”


“Dog 2?”


“Good to go sir.”


“Dog 3?”


“Good to go sir.”


“Dog 4?”


“It rammed a locust and got stuck, got blasted apart. I was down a street from it.” The voice sounded like Dog 1’s.


“Alright all Bird and Dog unit pull back to point Gamma.” Listing off the defensive position near the evac point.


“The evac finished then?”


“Yes we’re to draw them out to the lower house so the Squids and Jarheads can get a crack at them.”


A chorus of “yes sirs” came back as the tanks retreated.


`````````````````````````` Brand listen to the pirate’s radio chatter with growing dread. From the attacks it seemed to be only 7-8 tanks. But they did a severe amount of damage to the mechs. Only one Locust was destroyed out right but the other all received a severe amount of damage to their armor and some lost a weapon or 2.


“Those bastards are running after em boys.” the pirate leader sounded very angry


“Oh what now? What the fuck is TAG?” came another voice, the line indicated it was a Commando.


That alerted Brand right up. The Periphery pirates might not know what it was but Brand, who was trained in the FedSuns and had some extremely rare Star League books on weapons in his possession, recognized it though he had never seen it in combat.


“Get to cover, run, move, now!!”


“What the fuck are you talking about Bra-”


At that moment 3 large explosion engulfed the Commando in question. Even more of a surprise 3 more hit the Wasp that had been trailing it. But knowing the state of Periphery mechs the warning system must have fallen into disrepair.


“Alpha 2, Alpha 3 report. Are you still there?”


Then a large boom cam from where the Wasp should have been. The SRMs must have blown.


“Alpha 1 check out what happened to those two. Did anybody see what happened?” though he knew what likely happen to Alpha 3, the Wasp. There wouldn’t be much left


“I did” piped in Alpha 1” who was behind the two unfortunate mechs. “Six missiles from the East, I can’t see any planes though”


“Damn it” Brand thumbed the line to the dropships with their better radars. “Base do you see anything in the sky, two of the Hammers just got hit.”


“Hold on Fist 1… yea there is a formation on planes to your south looks like 6 of the smaller ones Hasting met.”


“Why the fuck didn’t you warn me. You have the better radar and the clear views.”


“Sir” the tech tried to explained” they were over 20 kilometers away. There are planes all over the sky here we didn’t think they were a major threat. They were just circling there”


“What? 20 klicks. Are you sure?”


“23, yes they’re the closest planes, there’s another to your east and more moving in from the south west. Those are all still thirty to fifty kilometer away.”


They were pretty much untouchable at that range


“Alpha 1 here, 3’s gone ammo blew barely any legs left. Alpha 2 got one in the leg and two in the body. The missiles blew his right torso apart, the last one must have been what broke the leg, he fell over on a light pole to went right through the damage spot, impaled the cockpit. He’s gone”


At that moment another salvo homed on Alpha 4, the Clint in front of the group tried to move and dodge behind some building but all the building in their area were small houses, offering little cover. 4 missiles went after him, one did miss and hit the house behind him but the other 3 tracked true. One missile blew the auto cannon completely off the right arm, fortunately the ammo didn’t cook off. The other 2 struck the Clint right in the chest all the armor there was were blown completely off, but somehow it stayed standing.


“Fuck those things pack a punch. Fuck, shit, damn it! My cannon’s gone.”


“Sir they have to haves spotters around here, we have to do some thing.” Said Bill ‘the Barbarian’ Bart his second in command, in the Orion, over the private company line.


“Like what Bill? Burn the city around US?”


“Well, yes, that might flush them out.”


“We will not attack civilians indiscriminately, we’re better than that. Besides I considered it but the range of the TAG and potential hiding places means we’ll have to burn everything for a mile around. In the time and fire power that takes would leave out mech over heated and out of position when they attack.”


“Fuck that they just killed two of us right now. We’re razing this city to the ground.” With that the pirate light mechs began indiscriminately shooting into the houses around them adding more destruction to the damage they caused fighting the infantry and tanks.


“Damn it. All Fist elements hold fire we will not attack civilian houses.”


“Sir there might still be people in those houses and the fire will spread. Are we going to let them do that?” Said Jessica Trent in the Thunderbolt.


“We don’t have a choice Jess. We shoot them the Hammer will blow our drop ships to shreds.”


Then another series of booms rang out as a Commando was struck by 2 missiles it stayed standing however and kept firing.


“Fall back to the high building, we can take cover there.”


Suddenly the radio cracked to life. it was the dropships.


“Fist element Fist element we are under artillery bombardment. They have taken out all the bridges and the vehicles on the ground are being torn to shreds. ”


“Where is the artillery coming from?”


“The ocean” that word fill him with despair. He couldn’t do anything about that, it might as well be in orbit.


“How are you guys holding up”


“OK, they’re focusing on the vehicle and personnel outside which is none of ours. Wait. There’s reports of gun fire in the Hammer, Oh God somebody’s locked the doors to the Hammer they’re being shredded out there. They’re screaming for help.”


He noticed the pirate mechs beginning to turn back toward the docks. They had jump jets so they could get back to their ships.


Then from one of the company’s private frequency came a voice he didn’t expect to hear.


``````````````````````````


USS Port Royal


She was quite surprised when they emerged into what must’ve been the bridge section. She had expected to be taken to the brig.


“Here is the situation miss Hastings.” The captain began “We will prevail against the forces in the region. You can help determine of the end result will be a blood bath with every dropships and mechs destroyed or you can make this painless and maybe even profitable for your group.”


“You landed a stones throw from of one of the largest military complexes on this world; this includes one of the largest Marine bases in the world. These troops specialize in heavy assault especially from the Ocean. There is 2 major forces inbound on land another ready to conduct an amphibious assault. Your forces will be caught in a pincer. They will not be able to retreat back to the Drop ships because they won’t be there anymore. This ship along with several others will begin bombardment of the dropships. If they attempt to take off we hit them with more of Harpoons. Those are the big missiles that hit you as you landed. They will be crushed by sheer weight of numbers. That’s option one”


“The other option is what the Burron Cav got. You know them correct? They consider the conditions on this world a breach of the contract for their service. We hired them to our service, and we can pay in gold”


Reed began to outline what would be expected of the Fire Brands.


`````````````````````````` LA


“So that’s the deal Captain Brand do you take it?” Asked Hasting hopefully. She really liked the Fire Brands and considered them her friends. It would devastate her to see them die.


Brand signed “Like we have a choice.”


Brand got on the comm to the company “They’re 60 tanks converging on us from the East and North and more coming after them. We’ll die under shear weight of numbers if nothing else. They have us out maneuvered, they have enough to stake out every street and just fire down it from long range we wont be able to hide anywhere if we go out to engage them we’ll loose the cover of the high rises and be cut down by the fighters.”


“So what do we do?” Asked Trent.


“We take out the Pirates.”


“What?”


"They made us an offer through Hastings"


“Kid’s alive” Trent voice perked up. They were particularly close though most of the Company considered the kid a little sister.


“Yea, she told us what we were, didn’t let slip anything vital but it was enough to interest them into buying us out instead of fighting us. It sounds good. Hasting got us the best deal she could under the circumstance.” The kid learned a lot from going with Brand to the various negotiations. She was from a trading family and grew up allover the sphere, as a consequence she knew every major language and some not so major language in the Sphere. More importantly she knew the different body language; a person from one side of the Sphere had different posture and tells from other as a consequence of the diverse cultures and environment. That helped Brand in his contract negotiations.


“How good?”


“We get to keep our mechs and ships for one and a garrison contact to be hammered out later. But we have to help them take out these pirates. They’ll herd the pirates toward us where they think is safe, then we take them out.”


“We shoot them in the back basically” Trent said. “What’s to stop the Blood Hammer from blasting out dropships to bits?”


“They have an assault team on the Hammer right now. The moment we get a confirmation that the Hammer’s weapons are powered down and pointed elsewhere we open fire. If they can’t take the ship they’ll take it out with missiles and artillery. Either way as soon as our ships are safe we blast the pirates. I’m not happy about it but they did threaten our ships if we didn’t help them.


“Get into positions every one, we out mass them 2 to one but that doesn’t meant they cant hurt us. When they fall back here each pick a pirate and stay with it.”


The pirates soon came charging back into the cluster of high rises pursued by missiles. The slower Gladiator was struck by one just before it managed to get behind the building. Brand took the leader for himself.


“What do we do now?” asked the battered pirate leader


“We wait for them to come to us. We’re better more powerful than them we can smash those puny tanks together when they come to us.” Brand lied smoothly. “Those air breathers can’t stay in the air for long. When they’re gone we go out and smash them if they too afraid to attack us.”


“Sir the Hammer’s guns are powering down away and the gun ports are closing.” The call came.


“All Fire Brands Fire!” he called out over the private comm.


His Zeus’ carefully placed PPC ripped the Gladiator’s right arm right off and with that came its PPC. Both medium laser lanced strait into its back. The armor already weakened by the missile yielded to the laser which punched through to the reactor destroying critical components and triggering the automatic shutdown. He shut off the frequency with the pirates to spare himself the curses, insults and threat that came spewing forth.


Not all mechs went as quietly as the Gladiator. A Commando’s SRM store blew the blast channeled by the buildings knocking Jessica Trent’s Thunderbolt back but she recovered nicely without any major damage, the same couldn’t be said for the buildings on either side of the mech.


The Pirate mechs fell in short order with just one or two salvos. One Cicada managed to surrender before he was blasted apart by Bill Bart’s Orion. The battle of LA was over all brand could do was hope the locals were as good as with their words. Fort Irwin, California National Training Center November 22nd, 2005/3020


Barry Wise was irritated. Ever since the CNN reporter had seen the footage of the Battle of Washington, he wanted to do a piece on these mercenaries. But now, as he finally had the chance to visit Ft Irwin, the current "home" of this Buron Cavalry and take a look at them (and, later on, interview their CO), a new problem reared it's ugly head.


A problem in the form of about 200 angry protesters blocking the entryway into the base.


"What's their problem anyway?", his cameraman, Pete Davis, asked.


"Not everyone likes the deal President Ryan is giving these mercs. Oh well, seems like it will take a bit till we get through here. Good thing we're early. Might as well get out and take a few pictures and ask questions, don't you think?"


"On my way, boss."


Leaving their OB van, Barry did a short introduction into the camera before both closed in on the edge of the crowd, about a hundred meters from the entrance gate. Signs were almost everywhere, many of them bearing messages Barry hadn't seen since the protests during Vietnam. He went to one of the more overt protesters, a hispanic looking man in his 40's, who was holding a picture of what appeared to be a dead girl with the word Murderers! written underneath it.


"Excuse me, sir. Barry Wise, CNN. Mind if I ask some questions?"


The man showed a somewhat surprised expression. "Sure. John Caraballo," the introduced himself.


"Nice to meet you, John. So, could you tell me why you're here?"


"Isn't that obvious. The government is openly negotiating with that off-world mercenary scum. They want to actually hire the same kind of murderers that killed my daughter. I say we should just take all their guns and Mechs and whatnot and put these monsters where they belong: INTO JAIL!"


The last part was as much directed at the crowd as at Wise and caused everyone able to hear it over the noise to agree, scream their support to the demand or simply throw in their own bit of opinion.


And then a ripple went to the crowd. "Over there!" someone shouted.


Wise looked into the same direction as the protesters and, on the veranda of one of the buildings behind the fence, saw several people in unfamiliar uniforms. 'So those are the people I'm here for', Wise thought.


"Look at the gall of those assholes", Caraballo murmured. "They're standing there as if they're already owning the place."


Wise took another look at the mercenaries. From what he could make out from the distance, their expressions varied between confusion and outright apprehensiveness. He turned back to Mr. Caballo.


"Mr. Caballo, you are aware that these people helped the National Guard in Washington D.C. to put down the pirates before things escalated?"


"What kind of stupid question is that? Of course, they helped us. At gunpoint. Just proves them to be opportunistic bastards and somewhat smarter murderers than all that pirate scum. Wouldn't it be for the Army to have shown these bastards the consequences, they'd have done the same fucking massacres as those assholes in Austria and the Congo! These guys are scum, pure and simp-"


Caballo's eyes suddenly sprang open, looking at the area behind the fence. Turning around, Wise's mind almost stopped. "Get that on camera!", he hurredly yelled at Pete.


Several protesters had apparrently managed to climb the fence using some kind of blankets to get over the wire. Now they were quickly running towards the mercenaries. In the distance, Wise could already see some of the MPs from the gate closing in, desperately trying to stop the trespassers. Several more appeared behind the mercenaries. And then it happened. The small group of intruding protesters began throwing what looked like rather large stones. Their intended victims tried to evade and back off from their assailants. Too late. Wise could see a small spurt of blood and a strange looking figure falling down. The next moment, it dawned on him what was strange about the figure. It was a child. "Oh my god!" Wise didn't even register that it was him saying that. Next to him, Caballo turned ghastly pale. "No..." he whispered. Around them, the whole crowd was stunned.


On the other side of the fence, one of the mercenaries was running at the stone-throwers with murder on his face, only to be stopped by several of the now arriving MPs. More arrived and dogpiled the intruders. And then the situation changed again. The off-worlder that, till now, three MPs had struggled to hold back suddenly ceased his efforts, turned around (almost bowling over the same MPs that had tried holding him) and ran to the child. He went down on his knees and desperately screamed for a medic before beginning to administer first aid.


'God, look at all that blood', Wise thought, before turning to the camera. "Apparrently, we just witnessed an attack on the off-world mercenaries by enraged protesters here at Ft Irwin. We will try to get some more information and will further report about the issue."


Behind him, an ambulance had just arrived and the medics had started loading the small girl into the vehicle.


Three hours later Administration Building Ft Irwin, California


"Barry Wise, CNN. This is Pete Davis", Wise introduced them to the man in front of him. Looking at the man, he estimated him in the early or mid-thirties. He was wearing a BDU colored in an odd urban camouflage pattern, with a unit insignia consisting of some kind of shield, including heraldry, inside a light blue circle on the left and some unfamiliar rank marking on the right shoulder.


The man shook his hand. "Major Andreas Staedele, Buron Cavalry. Nice to meet you." Gesturing at some chairs, he continued: "Please, take a seat. As far as I understand, you wanted to interview me since the day I arrived on this planet."


Both sat down on two of the chairs, facing each other over a small table holding some glasses of water. 'That guy did his homework', Wise mused.


"Yes, Major. Thank you for inviting me to this interview. You don't mind if we record this on camera?" he asked. "No, just try to get me from my good side", the man replied with a smirk. Wise gestured to the cameraman. Pete gestured a countdown.


"This is Barry Wise, CNN, and I am sitting here with Major Andreas Staedele of the Buron Cavalry, the off-world mercenary outfit that caused a stir in the last days due to the plans of President Ryan to hire them. Major, thank you for this interview."


"No problem, Mr. Wise. The pleasure is all mine."


"We all already know the rough details about your unit due to the answers you gave on the press conference yesterday, so I will get straight to the real questions. Would you tell our listeners just why you are here on this planet? What kind of fate caused you to first sign up on an invasion of our world and then suddenly turn around and defect?"


"Wow, that's quite a first question there. Now, Barry, I may call you Barry?" Wise nodded. "This question needs a rather long answer. So bear with me. Last year, my unit was decimated during what was suppossed to be a routine assignment. Since then, the Buron Cavalry has been in severe financial problems. Then, a few months ago, we received an appointment regarding an anti-pirate mission from a number of Periphery Worlds to the "north" of the Inner Sphere. On the way there, we planned to stop at Antallos to load up on fresh supplies, mostly food. And information, of course. But then, Aden Vorax, the, well, you could call it despot of Port Krin, the only spaceport on Antallos, was scrounging up whatever pirates and mercenaries he could get his hands on for the invasion of this planet. My unit was drawn in as Vorax had paid out or simply forced every avaiable JumpShip in the system to carry his invasion force. This had already caused us to miss the appointment I had mentioned before. And then, Vorax pressed my unit into service for his little expedition by exploiting our troubles and making some thinly veiled threats to leave us and our families broke and stranded on Antallos. As easy pickings for the slavers." The contempt and sheer emnity in the Major's voice almost caused Wise to flinch.


"Your families, Major?"


"Yes, Barry. The Buron Cavalry has no formal homeworld, so we are, as long as we have no employer formally housing them, no other option but to take our families with us wherever we go."


"So, how came it that you decided to defect, Major?"


"Pretty obvious, isn't it, Barry? The moment your people fired those nukes at the dropships, it was clear that Vorax hadn't known anything about this planet. And with the way this contract was negotiated", the word was spat out like a curse, "and the dangers of running through a nuclear defense system, I decided to cancel the contract immediately. Not something I'd do under almost any circumstances."


"Thank you, Major. Now, you said that your unit was decimated last year. May I ask what happened?" Wise saw Staedele's face darken and his eyes taking on an expression the reporter had seen time and again reporting about various wars over his career. The voice of the Major became almost devoid of emotion.


"The Buron Cavalry back then consisted of an overstrength combined arms battalion. We were hired by a local noble of House Davion to perform a pre-emptive raid on the Combine borderworld Thestria. Local Combine nobility was gathering supplies in preparation for a series of raids on borderworlds of the Federated Suns. It was our job to destroy those supply stockpiles before the Dragon could put them to use. We suceeded. We suceeded, and immediately afterwards, we found out that, additionally to the militia units we were told to expect, the 21st Galedon Regulars had been stationed on Thestria. A full DCMS Mech regiment. We ran into an ambush by most of their 1st Battalion and were bloodied something fierce, but could hold our own while slowly retreating. It was then that a scout lance of the Regulars found our dropships and began to attack the Distant Home, back then carrying our technical and medical support personnel, many of them dependents to our combat troops. And the rest of the Regulars' 1st Battalion joined in on that attack. With the Distant Home under fire, the fighting turned savage beyond belief. It became a mutual bloodbath. And, after almost an hour, it was over. We had beaten the Regulars. Most of their Mechs were littering the field as wrecks, a few were running as fast as they could."


Staedele's face took on an increasingly painful expression.


"We had beaten the Regulars. At the cost of every last machine in our Mech company save the command lance, our entire armor contingent, two of our three DropShips being wrecked beyond what we could repair in the short time we had and more than two thirds of our infantry dead. 327 men and women dead or crippled for life. It was a disaster. An unmitigated disaster. We packed up what was left as fast as possible and escaped from the wrath of the rest of the 21st to the JumpShip. Back in the Federated Suns, our employer apologised for the bad intelligence. Turned out they found out about the 21st being moved to Thestria exactly two days after our departure. Davion promised to take those dependents of ours that had lost their relatives in the military part of the unit and wanted to get out, as well as our invalids, and give them full citizenship, so that they could get a reasonable start together with the money from the compensation the unit provided them with. The least they could do, they said."


After that, an uncomfortable silence filled the room.


"My condolence, Major. So, how do you think things will continue from now on?"


"I don't know, Barry. President Ryan and Secretary Bretano are, from what I can tell, honest men, but apparrently, a lot of people are against even our presence on this planet. The next days will have to tell, I guess."


"Now, Major, I was witnessing a rather shocking event a few hours before at the gate of this base. If the questions isn't too personal: How is the small girl? And what is your personal opinion about that situation?"


For a short moment, anger was burning inside the Major's eyes like an inferno, before it was replaced by something Wise couldn't quite identify.


"Beatrice Mell has sufferred a broken skull. She is right now still comatose, but the surgeons say that her life is not in danger anymore. The protesters that threw these stones are right now in custody and I have been informed that they will face a trial. As for my personal opinion: A dependent of my unit has been attacked and almost killed. Right in front of her father. There's nothing I would like to do more than track down the people responsible and beat them to a bloody pulp and my entire unit is thinking likewise. You have to understand, Barry. This unit, it is like a family to me. How would you feel if a member of your family, a child to boot, was almost killed by a bunch of spiteful, violent bastards?"


Before Wise could answer, Staedele continued.


"But I won't do it. Because frankly, it won't change what has happened and your people promised me that these punks would face justice. And I trust you that you will serve it. I just hope something like that never happens again."


"Thanks, Major. Now, we're already overtime, so we'll have to end our interview here. Major Staedele, it was a pleasure to talk to you." Wise said while holding out his hand.


Staedele took it. "The pleasure was all mine, Barry."


"This is Barry Wise, CNN, reporting from Ft Irwin, California."


Fort Irwin, California National Training Center November 25th, 2005/3020


Major Staedele watched the few dozen protesters as he was driven through the entry gate of Ft Irwin. The signs still varied between savvy and simply stupid. Get out of here, murderers. Mercenary scum, go home! And so on. 'A lot less people than in the last days. Good thing they shipped us to this place in the middle of the desert. At least keeps the number of protesters down', he thought. The political shitstorm his deal with the current government had caused was still raging like an inferno, though it did show signs of slowly calming down. The crowd had been almost twice that size the day after the White House had informed the public. Not that Staedele could fault them for it. He and his people would have to earn the trust of the locals and that would take time.


Thinking about the outcome of the contract negotioations he had just finished, Staedele missed the Hummer stopping in front of the part of the Army Base that was now housing his unit. It actually needed the driver telling him that they had arrived. Staedele rubbed his eyes. The last few days for him had barely seen any sleep. He thanked the driver and set out for the small building they had reserved for administrative purposes. Nedeljko was already waiting at the door, he saw.


"Hey, Andreas, over here. Everyone's already waiting", his friend greeted him.


"Hi, Ned. I finalised the deal with Mr. Bretano. Just wait for the big meeting. Oh, and the crowd seems to shrink", he answered.


"Yeah, the attack from 3 days ago seems to have aftereffects. I still wish it wouldn't have happened."


Stadele nodded. He was just glad that none of his people had been armed at the time. The consequences of *that* would have been... interesting.


The actual consequences were that his unit had been forced to leave another temporary home as they had been resituated deeper into the base. And a video of a 10-year-old girl with a severe head wound and her father desperately giving her first aid going around the planet. The latter one had caused a huge backlash in public opinion. It had also led to the base security taking their job more seriously and letting the protesters get away with far less from then on.


"Any news about Beatrice?", he asked. "Yeah. The surgeons say that she'll make a full recovery." "Thank god", Staedele answered with relief in his voice. "Good thing they were smart enough to send us over here. At least only the absolute morons come out here for their stupid protests. Let's go, Ned. I've got news for everyone."


5 minutes later Administration Building Meeting Room


Staedele watched the room. Everyone from the inner circle had been gathered. The officers, noncoms and Mechwarriors, his wife, his aunt and their respective assistants and several of the people that were responsible for the dependents. Signalling everyone to stop their conversations, he cleared his throat.


"Okay people, listen up. We, as of about 6 hours ago, are officially in the employ of the United States of America. I finished the negotiations with Secretary of Defense Bretano and signed the contract. Due to the legal situation on this planet, things are a bit complicated. We will have to register as a Private Military Contractor situated on planet for our new employers to actually be able to ratify the contract. Marie, Hanna, that's your job. We should hire some local lawyers, too. Their laws in the regard are pretty screwed up right now.


As it stands, we have a garrison contract with a duration of 10 years, with an additional clause that allows our employers during the last 6 months of that time to prolong the contract by another 5 years if they are willing to do so. During that time, our employer has full command rights over our assets. As it looks right now, we will be mainly used to train their military and provide technical assistance to them, which includes their full right to take a very good look at our stuff. Still, I want everyone to stay on their toes, there's nothing preventing them from sending us into combat, even off-world. They don't trust us 100%, but as it stands, they can hold our dependents hostage at a whim and both we and they know it.


There is also a very high possibillity that we will be seconded to that new Global Defense Initiative they're forming up right now. And if I'm not completely off, those fine people are right now looking into giving Vorax some personal payback. I, for one, wouldn't mind taking part in that."


There was a low murmur going through the room. No, nobody of them would mind that at all. Finding details about the contract "negotiations" the Cav had with Vorax in the Port Krin Militia's databanks had already done a good job easing down the initial paranoia of their new hosts.


"During the contract, we will be provided supplies and maintenance by our hosts, as well as a wage on par with our counterparts of the same rank inside their military. For that matter, a few of you will be promoted into a rank fitting their position and responsibilities. We'll do that later. But hey, congratulations, Captain Johnson."


This caused some cheering inside the room, especially from the infantrymen. Just as Staedele wanted to continue, he was interrupted, however.


"What about the gold?" someone in the crowd shouted.


"Well, good question. We will get it at the end of our contract. They did put a condition in. That being that we reinvest at least half of that into their planetary economy, but I don't see any problem with that. Given just what kind of hardware these guys are producing, there will be plenty upgrades for us to buy, not to mention the money we will likely spend privately. Hell, we might even expand in the coming years, if things go well."


Some murmurs were audible as all the gathered persons thought about what a good deal that was.


"Well, that's pretty much the most important things. Now, for a few smaller things:


First of all, the old tradition with putting our flag up together with that of our employer will wait for a few weeks, 'till the political firestorm is over.


Secondly, we will be based here for the foreseeable time. The inteviews will also continue, so get used to it.


Next on the list, and that goes for *everyone*: Nobody leaves the base for the next two months and even after that, it might be better for us to be incognito for a good time. As we have all seen, there are some rather stupid and resentful morons in the local populace.


And last, but not least: If you find yourself in the grasp of a reporter, try to not cause a big incident. Please. Would be best if you just sent them my way, I had enough experiences with those pests in the last days."


And then Staedele put up a mocking glare:


"Oh, and if anyone wants to go to Vegas after the 2 months are up, he will take a set budget with him and NOT take any loans. Is that clear? I'll put down the rules on that just like I did with the gambling dens on Port Krin."


This caused some chuckles throughout the room.


"So, anyone got a question?"


The entire room erupted into noise. Earth, Sol System Camp David Presidential Retreat 22 December 2005/3020


“Bob.” Jack nodded in acknowledgment to the Washington Post reporter, a longtime friend and ally.


“Jack.” It was still something of an odd feeling, calling the president by his first name, but Bob Holtzman was glad to call Jack Ryan a friend, and thus someone who he spoke to on a first name basis. The president had taken a rare opportunity for a break, and was currently entertaining his guests in a sitting room at the presidential retreat at Camp David. It had been a hectic year, but even the president got time off for Christmas.


“I was hoping that you could help me. Or maybe that I could help you. Perhaps it’s the same thing. I hear we’re talking about moving on the place where our recent pirate friends came from. Antallos, I think the name was.”


As usual, the press was as, if not more efficient that the intelligence services Ryan had served in. “We are, but congress is a bit stalled at the moment – we’ve got some who are insisting on defense first. Some even seem to think we can get away with forting up and hoping the rest of the universe will go away. Arnie says it’s because they just can’t deal with the new reality. Personally, I’m more inclined to follow my wife’s lead and blame it on pathological shortsightedness.”


“Which is why I think the proposal I’m bringing has merit.”


“We can’t go public with this. We need to keep any military plans under wraps, at least for now.


“I was thinking more of the public support side. We’ve got a lot of people taking defense spending and allocation a lot more seriously than they were before, but we both know that a lot of people are still thinking of this as something they can keep at arms length, that a dropship dumping giant walking tanks on you city is something that happens to someone else, that they can go on with business as usual. We need to make this real to them.” Holzman took a deep breath. “I want access to one or more of the captured personnel. I don’t mean a soundbite, or even an interview, I mean, full access. We’ll publish the complete history of his life if need be.”


There was a moment of silence as Ryan contemplated the notion. Holtzman gave him a moment and went on with the pitch. “I’m not going to give the old line that the people need to know, though I do believe they do. Rather, in this case they already do know enough to be thinking about the situation clearly and making informed choices. But for many people, it’s not real enough. It’s still something out of a game or novel, and they’re thinking in old terms that no longer work. We need to show them what life is like from the other side, show them how the natives live, so to speak. Give them a sense of the scale of this new reality we face. I don’t need or want to find out about weapons or politics, I need personal stories, life for the everyday Tom, Dick and Harry.”


“Well, he’s sold me.” Both men turned, to find that their wives had noticed their conversation and decided to join the discussion. Cathy Ryan had an odd expression on her face. “I’ve heard a very personal social interest story, when I visited the medical facilities they set up just outside the city during the attack. And I think it would do a lot of good if more people heard it.”


“Cathy, you’ve been holding out on me!” Libby exclaimed, in mock outrage. “You’ve got to tell me all about it.”


“I was going to tell you,” the first Lady protested. “But you kept on asking about the Conference on Laser Technology, and I never got around to it.”


“You were at COLT?” Bob asked surprised. Cathy was a gentle soul by nature, and seemed out of place in a briefing on weapons systems.


“I lasted about fifteen minutes before I got tired of the technobabble and sic’ed my wife on them,” Jack admitted ruefully. Seeing the confusion on his guests faces he explained, “Cathy’s and eye surgeon. She’s been working with lasers for quite some time now, and doesn’t have a decade of government work to blunt her disdain for BS, either.”


Cathy blushed at the memory. “I think I made an impression. Though I did have to tell at one of those overgrown boys on the engineering team from MIT that my face was up here-” she gestured to her head “-and if he kept staring at my chest, I’d have my Secret Service minder shoot him.”


They shared a laugh. “Not too many pretty women in the business making lasers for Uncle Sam, I suppose,” Libby said.


“Well, I’m doing my part for promoting the working academic woman,” Cathy said. “I think I’m still scheduled to speak to a few more schools about being a woman in the professional world.” A sigh. “In my copious free time.”


“We can reschedule some of that if you want, honey.”


“No, that’s actually the part of this First Lady business that I like.”


“So what’s this great story you’ve heard” Bob asked quickly, heading off the long diatribe on the condition of the modern working woman he saw in the making.


“Jack and I went to visit the troops right after the Battle of DC. I dropped by the field hospital and met a former colleague. Major Helen Norton. She told me about one the prisoners taken, a young woman who joined the militia primarily so she could bear arms for her own safety. It was a very powerful story, of a girl who learned the trade of a technician at her father’s knee, and who daily lived in fear of exploitation or enslavement after she was orphaned.” Cathy’s eyes locked with those of the reporter. “Think you can do something with that, Bob?”


Holtzman returned here gaze steadily. “Yes. But I wont be. I’m too old, to set in my ways, too used to thinking in terms of American politics and society. I won’t be able to give the fresh, informed and above all balanced view we need. This story will set the entire tone of all the stories that follow, shape the public perception of the entire inner sphere, or whatever we end up calling it. This is like the stories that shifted the economic and political balance of Asia, on a far grander scale. The Cresta scandal is a piker compared to the enormity of what we need to disseminate to the public. This isn’t just a story, it’s a practically a PR campaign. For the whole Inner Sphere.” Bob took a moment to catch up with his breath. “This is bigger than the Post, to be honest. I wouldn’t have come to you at all except that American Journalists, as a group, aren’t seeing the big picture enough. We have interviews with a thousand experts of every stripe and color, and the internet is flooded with raw data that probably goes down to how many shoes that had on that planet that was supposedly all a giant shoe factory. What we don’t have is stories that show our new neighbors on a visceral human level. Even I didn’t fully grasp the need for that at first, but when the closest thing we have in print to an attempt to understanding the people of the inner sphere on a personal level is a somewhat dubious lionization of the ‘Glorious Hero of Mecca’, well, it’s clear we’ve fallen short of what we should be doing.”


Jack shook his head. “I hadn’t realized you had something so ambitious in mind. We’re talking an officially endorsed . . . documentary? serialized biography?”


“We might need our own TV show,” Bob said. The Holtzman’s both looked less than pleased with that admission. The rivalry between print and TV news was a longstanding one. “But the point is that while this new GDI can run things on forward momentum for the time being, sooner or later, the people of Earth are going to have to deal with the people of the inner sphere on much more personal and direct terms, and it’s the job of journalists to prepare them for that. We’ve been remiss enough as is.”


“You’re planning on putting together a team to work on this then.” Cathy thought out loud. “Easiest way to do this would be to just assign you someone from the, what was it, honey? The alphabet soup?” Very much the surgeon, she was cutting straight to the mechanics.


“As much as I would love to make Ed Foley’s day by asking him to provide someone for that, I think this is more a job for a military liaison,” her husband replied. “In fact, we may as well kill two birds with one stone, and get someone from the GDI. It needs a PR division itself, and if we’re assembling ace media experts, we may as well get double duty from them.”


“Does that mean they get paid twice?” Cathy asked wryly. “Don’t tell our mercenaries about that, they might get jealous.” That was good for another tension breaking laugh. Rule 37 had gotten much press after the first pirate landing, so Schlock Mercenary and it’s . . . unique brand of philosophy were now as well known as Mickey Mouse. Especially in the Ryan household, where Jack Jr and Sally alike were avid fans.


“We’ve already got the ball rolling,” Libby explained, once they had all recomposed themselves “Bob called up Tom Donner and John Plumber to get them on board, not to mention stealing my protégé. I hope we can do this quickly, because I need my best girl back on the corporate beat. All the new defense spending requires a vigilant eye on the military industrial complex.”


“I’ll take up the issue with the other heads of state at first opportunity,” Jack promised.


“That won’t be until after the holidays,” Libby protested. “This girl Cathy mentioned was captured by the National Guard right? So as Commander in Chief, you can give us access immediately.”


“It’s almost Christmas. Even reporters take holidays don’t they?” Jack asked, in a final bid to avoid having to do anything work-like while on Christmas Holiday.


“Reporters are always ready for a good story, Jack, it’s how we get the scoops”


The president groaned and bowed to the inevitable. He’d just have to find someone to delegate the task to. ESA Headquarters Paris, France February 2, 2006/3021 The main seat of the European Space Agency was a rather nondescript, multistory flattop building right in the middle of the French capital, covered from top to bottom in white plates. The whole complex reeked of the modernity of the seventies of the last century, but on the plus side, the employees joked, one had a nice view of the Tour d'Eifel, the Eifel Tower during coffee breaks. It had been chosen as the place for the summit more for reasons of common courtesy than for pragmatic ones, even though it geographically pretty much lay in the middle of the affected parties, those being the NASA, ESA and the Russians. A couple of the smaller space agencies also had sent representatives, the largest delegation among those being the Japanese, whose word - as one of the world's foremost highly developed nations - carried almost as much weight as that of the 'Big Three'.


Arnold van Damm strode down the corridors panneled with polished wood with swift steps. Coming to think about it, President Ryan's chief of staff seemed to be spending the past months perpetually running and jetting from one national capital to another. Heck, he probably had visited more heads of state during the past 180 days than the Secretary of State during the whole past term!


Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Everson, GDI and Michael 'Mike' Griffin, NASA's chief administrator did their best to keep up with him. He had been informed that the rest of committé had already gathered, and letting so much international political clout wait never had been a good idea.


The dome-like conference room on the third floor was as busy as an ant heap, and around the huge black table in its center most of the various delegation's members had already taken seat. If he had had to guess, van Damm would have said that of the 80 people there roughly two thirds were scientists and politicans, the rest attachées of the NATO militaries. Marshal Grigoryi Andreyavich Egorov, the Russian representative to NATO had his head stuck together with Anatoly Mikhailoyevich Perminow, the chief of Roskosmos, as the Russian Federal Space Agency was commonly called.


The many conversations in the large room started to die down once the attendants became aware of his presence, and without wasting further time van Damm stepped up behind the elevated speaker's desk.


"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you for your presence today. My thanks also go out to our colleagues from the European Space Agency for hosting this meeting. President Ryan has asked me to act as chairman for the time being until preliminary questions have been cleared, and I've been informed that at least the range of topics has been limited beforehand via inter-agency channels. So, let's get this thing started. Mike?"


Griffin stepped up to the desk, shook can Damm's hand and immediately began. "In our evaluation of the situation we - and by that I mean Earth, all of us - have found ourselves in, we have identified three main blocks of questions we have to adress: One, what do we need? Two, what do we have? Three, how do we get there?" the wiry Marylander held up three fingers.


"It's no great secret that moving the defense satellites we used to blunt the attack brought us to the limits of our capacities. Well, luckily enough, the heavy lift fairy left some presents for us that have pretty much solved all our ground-to-space lift problems for the foreseeable future, even though that lady came here with an attitude." There were some amused chuckles, but Griffin was grounded enough to know he was not particularly good at making up jokes on the spot. "Now, with the one grand problem that inhibited most our plans and ideas basically eliminated over night, we are down to the tricky part: making our ideas work. And not only that, but also changing our focus from a decidedly scientific point of view to what some here most likely will call 'mundane' affairs. Well, excuse me, but the defense of our homeworld simply does have higher priorities than putting up a probe that investigates the irregularity of sunspots or placing a telescope up there that hunts dark matter in the Andromeda galaxy."


There was wide agreement on that particular point, even though van Damm thought he could see a couple of blank stares when he carefully observed everybody's reactions around the table.


Given that the agencies gathered in the conference room where looking at the greatest increase in funding and manpower in their collective histories the mood and the faces around the table were decidedly somber. Van Damm knew why. Shana Dale, NASA's deputy had explained it to him when he had asked in a calm moment why half the space community had become so grumpy after the euphoria of possessing all the new goodies had evaporated. 'A good amount of the concepts we are working on now could well be in use today,' she had told him, 'but most of them were either not flashy enough or were outright considered too expensive. And now, after some of those people have begged you on their knees for the better part of the last twenty years to fund their work to no avail the government suddenly expects them to get it all done now, immediately, pronto.'


"First point is getting started on orbital infrastructure and cleaning up space from debris," Griffin continued. "And to work in this environment, we need lighter space suits. We have only our clumsy ones, and those that have come in our possession via the ships we have captured. The former are unwieldy, as anybody using them can tell you, the latter are still too valuable and are needed elsewhere."


"That sounds like something downright earthly," Ronald Harris chuckled. "I had thought all we'd be discussing here would be rayguns and knights in space," the seventy three year old former construction contractor-turned-senator commented.


"To be honest, senator, the problem is hardly a new one. There have been initiatives to get a lightweight space suit built by at least the last three NASA administrators, myself not included," Griffin responded truthfully.


"Then why don't we have them yet?" Senator Barbara Eligman from Virginia leaned forward and fixed her green eyes on him. Griffin could see the other politicians imitating her pose. In his mind, he was trying to find a way to make the answer sound as dispassionate as possible. Senate committées were the bane of his existance.


"Is because of dog and pony show, nyet?" a Russian scientist whose name eluded him commented dryly into the common silence, and despite himself Griffin had to smile.


"Yes, sir, I think that describes it rather fittingly. The USA and Russia are the only nations represented here with a manned space programme, and Russia never has had the funding to pursue these kinds of secondary projects. As for us, well, as my colleague has said, it's the dog and pony show, the way our budgeting works," he shrugged and focussed on the congresswoman. "If we present two positions to the Senate committée, both costing $ 300 million, the one being a probe that goes to Mars and makes superb pictures and just happens to be built by contractors in some party friend's district, and the other being a project solely headed by NASA whose summary function basically is that an astronaut can wear smaller gloves... tell me, which one will get funding?" he asked her innocently.


Barring an answer, he continued. "The point of the lightweight suit is two-fold. For one, we need it for the construction work in vacuum and zero gravity, where we want our people to be able to get things done and not need half an hour to use something as simple as a screwdriver. We are looking at potentially hundreds of workers on a site here, which means hardly all of them will be military personnel. That alone requires that we make that ultimate job up there as easy as possible. Face it, ladies and gentlemen, within the next five years we are looking at a complete new branch of jobs here, a new industry."


Jobs meant happy taxpayers meant re-election. Griffin was an old battlehorse in this kind of business and knew which buttons he had to press to get a point across. 'And now, to the military', he smirked inwardly.


"The second point is large-scale training in a zero-G environment and testing of the suit in possibly harmful situations." What a lovely euphemism for combat that one was. "As I take it, and as has been explained to me by our foremost experts on the topic," who had been an euphoric group of junior engineers and technicians at the Ames Research Center, "our men and women will face a multitude of threats and dangerous scenarios out there, which is why this suit is so necessary. Flexibility, durability and user friendliness are what will be necessary. Furthermore... ."


"Excuse me, Mr. Griffin," a deep voice interrupted him. Griffin looked up from the few notes he was working with. One of the ESA representatives had stood up. The man was tall, almost seven feet, had dark brown hair and wore frameless glasses. "Ludwig Kronthaler, ESA Head of Resource Management," he introduced himself. "I have a proposal due to which, I think, we can abbreviate much of today's proceedings."


Intrigued, Griffin motioned him to go ahead.


"The tasks we face should be divided in a way that serves the strengths and weaknesses of the here assembled members best. My Japanese colleague, Professor Ishimura," he nodded towards a stocky, balding middle-aged man in the middle of the Japanese delegation, "has suggested that ESA and JAXA concentrate on robotic exploration, automated survey devices and unmanned construction, while the RFSA and NASA focus on the manned space flight aspects. Not only does this recognize our two agencies wide experience with unmanned devices, it also is the logical step considering the vast gap in funding and existing infrastructure between us and 'The Big Two'. Call it process optimization."


"I will have to talk with the President, as will my Russian colleague," Griffin frowned, "but I see the merit in your proposal. Lieutenant-Colonel Everson, has the GDI any objections to such an idea?"


Everson, ex-Air Force, now GDI, shook his head. "No, sir. As long as it works and gets the job done, the GDI is interested in the result, not in the process. Besides, it's your field of expertise," he shrugged.


"The second point is actual offworld construction. For the foreseeable future that specifically means the moon and most likely, Mars... ."


"We can use the basic idea of the 'Constellation' programme for that," Douglas Cooke, NASA's chairman for exploration systems chimed in. "While the launch vehicles are now obviously obsolete, 'Constellation' pretty much describes the three steps we want to master: orbit, Luna, Mars. Now, the components used are back on the drawing board... ."


After four hours, van Damm's ears were ringing from the chatter of the politicians, scientists and soldiers around him, but he had to agree that progress had been made. Indeed, quite a number of pre-contact programmes still very much fit the new requirements, like the Constellation programme, and in many cases all that had been needed to be done was to upscale them significantly. The moon would provide the He3 for Earth's newfound fusion power and would be the site were the global space agencies would test their equipment and concepts for colony building. And the GDI was itching to get to work on Luna as a place to fit into its growing defensive concept.


In the short term they were looking at scientific outposts and test stations, but not too far down the road Lieutenant-Colonel Everson guaranteed him, there were industrial applications and much, much more. Earth's small grey companion was going to become a huge playground, and for the first time, everybody had money to buy himself some toys... �


February 7th, 2006 Fort Irwin, California United States Earth


Major Staedele had to admit that the quarters he and his wife had been issued were quite nice, as he rooted through the refrigerator for a beer.


When he had agreed to the contract with the American government, he had been very cautious and somewhat concerned about how they would treat his unit. After the battle of Washington, where his unit had proved itself, his unit had been well treated and as the months went by his concern about being backstabbed gradually faded. And he had to admit what they were doing wasn't exactly what he had expected from a garrison contract.


The unit's work at the National Training Center, where they were now stationed, was proving to be very interesting. As a garrison job, it was probably one of the best he'd ever heard of, they weren't really expected to be the only unit fighting, their job was more along the lines of simply training groups of already talented officers to adjust to the realities of Mech combat. That they weren't expected to do much fighting was a fact that kept his wife happy, as head technician she was glad to not have to keep patching up the unit mechs after combat.


In addition, the fact that there was so much technology on this Earth that was considered lostech back in the Inner Sphere, a fact that he still couldn't get over, only make his wife that much happier that he had accepted the contract that President Ryan had offered to them when they had first arrived. And he worried it might be impossible to pull her away the planet after a few years of living here.


"Andreas," he heard his wife call him from the living room where she was watching TV. "You should come out and see this, the American and Russian presidents are about to issue a joint statement regarding the Nuclear Rearmament Treaty they just signed."


"Nuclear Rearmament Treaty," he said mockingly. "Only on this planet would you find a group of people, who already have probably ten times more nukes than any of the Great Houses, who would speak of nuclear rearmament."


"Andreas," his wife repeated somewhat sharply. "If you don't hurry you're going to miss the beginning of the press conference."


Andreas shook his head as he headed towards the living room to join his wife. He could never understand his wife's love of technical issues or her fascination with learning about the internal politics of whatever world their unit was stationed on. He had always been more concerned about strategy and tactics and ensuring the unit didn't get stabbed in the back by its employers. He would privately admit that it did make her a good match for him, and that her knowledge of a planet's internal politics had helped out the unit a time or two


Once he had sat down beside his wife on the couch in front of the television, he gave her a quick kiss before he opened his beer. He took a sip and leaned back putting an arm around his wife, while he waited for this press conference she was so eager to see. Several seconds later the view that television was displaying switched, from an attractive anchorwoman, to a scene from the inside of what he thought might be the White House.


As President Ryan and the Russian President Grushavoy began their joint statement, it quickly became apparent that no matter where you are government announcements are exactly the same, no matter what planet you happen to be on, even if it's a planet from the past or some alternate universe.


When this became evident, Andreas lost interest, giving only half his attention to what they were saying, he was more intent on settled back and enjoying the fact he had one arm around his wife and a beer in his other hand.


His attention was partially drawn back to the television once the reporters started asking questions. His attention was caught by aggression one particular reporter asked.


"President Ryan, your speaking of refurbishing and reactivating our country's nuclear production facilities, along with building new production facilities."


"Exactly how much will this treaty cost our country?"


President Ryan responded.


"The Nuclear Rearmament Treaty in of itself does not cost our country anything. The treaty between the United States and Russian Federation is to allow both countries to restart nuclear production, and also to standardize nuclear warhead types to allow for interoperability for all future delivery systems. Another important part of the treaty covers the exchange of observers at all points of the production and storage process, so that neither country will feel threatened by the increasing stockpiles of nuclear weapons each will be maintaining for the defensive of Earth."


"The companion legislation for this treaty which is going through Congress right now, to resume nuclear weapons production inside of the United States, calls for 4 trillion dollars to be set aside over the next 20 years. This money will go to refurbishing, reactivating or expanding currently existing or mothballed production facilities. Additionally some of the money will be spent on the building of additional production facilities. But the majority of the money would go to actual production of nuclear material."


Andreas inhaled his beer and started coughing when he heard the price tag attached to their nuclear program.


"4 trillion dollars!" He gasped incredulously, as he tried to clear the beer out of his lungs.


He exchanged a disbelieving glance with his wife as he did the math, based on what they had calculated the Dollar being worth during negotiations over the unit’s contract, that would be the equivalent to almost 1.2 trillion C-Bills. His wife gave him a shocked look, as she realized something.


"You could buy almost One Hundred and Fifty Thousand BattleMasters for that price." She said shakily.


"Nuclear bombs are rare," he slowly said to his wife. "But I hadn't realized they were that expensive to build. It's no wonder the Great Houses don't have many."


"But I would like to know is, how the hell the people here able to build so many of them without bankrupting themselves?" he asked.


He turned back to the television to give himself some time to think and get over the shock of the announcement by the president.


However, he didn't have any time to recover from that first shock, before a question from another reporter stunned him again.


"Mr. President, during the Cold War the United States was producing at its peak, around 2700 nuclear bombs per year. What sort of production figures can we expect from this new armament program?"


Andreas blinked to stunned to do anything more. He was now sure that he was going insane. He didn't think that all of the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere combined could produce that many warheads in a decade.


President Ryan looked pained by the question.


"Well," he said reluctantly. "Because the experts on the subject will probably be able to give you a reasonable guess as to how many warheads we will be producing by looking at the number of production facilities & the level of activity at such facilities. I will say that it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect the production of at least 10,000 warheads per year, between the United States and Russian Federation, once all the current and future production facilities are fully operational.


Andreas stared at the television, this was too much. He glanced at the beer can in his hand, before slowly putting it down. Beer wasn't strong enough for this type of insanity he thought, he definitely needed something stronger. Post Exchange Food Court Fort Irwin California Earth 15 December 3020/2005


Tasha flipped through the book she had just bought. It was, as she understood it, one of a series of thriller novels about the major political figures of the Inner Sphere set in the near future over the next half century. There had been a huge display in the PX for “Battletech” material. Tasha had bought this particular volume, Heir to the Dragon, because it featured Theodore Kurita.


Overall, while the book was an entertaining read, the events in it ranged from the scarily plausible to the ludicrous. Hanse Davion marrying the heir of the Lyran Commonwealth to create a super Successor State seemed pretty implausible but on further thought might have some merit. Comstar giving the Combine actual Star League era mechs was just flat out implausible. But Theodore reforming the DCMS into an actually effective fighting force sounded not only plausible, but nightmarish from the point of view of any good Federated Suns citizen.


And Tasha was a good FedSuns citizen. Of course, the locals here didn’t realize how good; otherwise they wouldn’t have let her roam around free on the base. They had made it a point of separating the hapless civilians who had somehow gotten caught up in Vorax’s little invasion scheme from the actual die-hard pirates. They had even been apologetic when they had explained that they couldn’t repatriate her right away. So while the pirates were stuck in a small, fenced in plot of desert, Tasha and the other civilians had been put in guest quarters and given a living stipend until the people in charge figured out what to do with them.


“Ah, Tasha,” a familiar voice called out. “Good day to you!”


Tasha looked up from her book to see Kearny. They weren’t friends, although their relationship had become decidedly less antagonistic since they had both become trapped on this planet. Before, they had been adversaries. Now they had an unspoken understanding; she didn’t tell the locals that he was ISF, and he didn’t tell the locals that she was MIIO. His name wasn’t really “Kearny” any more than hers was really “Tasha”.


“Kearny,” Tasha replied. She noted at the suit and hangar in his hand. “You seem unusually chipper today.”


“I have an interview scheduled this week,” Kearny said, obviously pleased about something. And being obvious about one’s emotions was one of the first things a spy got drilled into them. But Kearny was not only pleased, he seemed positively giddy.


“More locals who want to know about life in the Inner Sphere?” Tasha asked. “I thought we already covered everything they wanted to know.”


“In a manner of speaking,” Kearny said. “But as you know, there’s nothing like a first hand account.”


”So is there something special about this interview?” Tasha asked.


“I suppose I could not tell you and leave you guessing,” Kearny replied. “But no, it’s no big secret and I want to see your reaction. I’m going to meet with the Emperor!”


“The Emperor?” Tasha echoed, mystified. “I didn’t think this planet had an Emperor. Hell, it barely has a government!”


“No, no, not the Emperor of the planet,” Kearny said, exasperated. “The Emperor of Japan, direct descendent of the goddess Amaterasu. And better yet, one of the direct ancestors of our noble Coordinator will also be there.” He beamed at her. “It’s a great honor. See you in a week, Tasha.”


Tasha watched Kearny saunter off like a happy child off to see his dream come true. But her mind was racing as she went over the implications of Kearny’s statement. Obviously, he was going to try to persuade the locals to ally themselves with the Combine. And given what she had seen so far, this planet possessed both the firepower and industrial might to seriously affect the balance of power between the Successor States.


Tasha didn’t know what Kearny’s odds of success were, but it was pretty clear that she had a new mission beyond just gathering data on the locals and reporting it back to her superiors. Now she had to try and sway them to the Federated Suns’ side too.


In effect, she was now House Davion’s ambassador to this world. ROM Headquarters Hilton Head Terra 31 December 3020


“Precentor Stoker,” an Adept said, addressing the august personage of Comstar’s head of espionage division, ROM. “How are you enjoying the party?”


Stoker took a moment to regard the lowly Adept. Under normal circumstances, the gulf of rank between the two of them meant that this young man would never have dared to address him directly. But the annual New Years party was one of those few occasions when underlings would mingle with superiors, but this direct approach was still unusual. Stoker wondered what he wanted. He vaguely recalled this seeing this young man working a desk in on of ROM’s analysis departments.


“Quite well, Adept,” Stoker replied smoothly. “Although I think the wine has been watered down a bit more than usual. And you, Adept?”


“I’m doing well enough, Precentor,” the Adept answered. He hesitated before forging on. “I’m actually curious if any new information has come in on Vorax’s Army.”


“Ah?” Stoker said. “I’ve heard nothing. While an entire pirate regiment disappearing might concern some near Periphery world, it can’t be too important.”


“Hmm… it fits,” the Adept murmured thoughtfully.


“What fits, Adept?” Stoker asked, annoyed.


“Oh, sorry, Precentor,” the Adept said hurriedly. “I’ve been looking at the intel data that was handed out to Vorax’s Army, and the more I look at it, the more concerned I get.”


“What’s to be concerned about?” Stoker asked. “The data is obviously faked. I mean, look at it! You’d think Vorax was going to attack Terra! Which is ridiculous on the face of it. And even if he were mad enough to do so, our defenses can more than handle one pesky pirate regiment.”


“Of course the data is faked, Precentor,” the Adept agreed. “But it’s a very, very good fake. It’s too good a fake in fact.”


“What do you mean, Adept?”


“If you look closely at the data, Precentor,” the Adept began, “you’ll see that while the planet pictured is Terra, it’s not the Terra of the present day. In fact, it’s not the Terra of any day that I can find records for. There’s too many small satellites in orbit, and not enough large stations. Where are the orbital factories, the ship yards, and all the other signs of space industrialization? The planetary technology and architecture and technology looked all wrong too. Why, there’s video of engagements with aircraft and wet navy ships straight out of the twentieth century! And then there’s this advanced technology loot that our Port Krin station reported. Where did THAT come from?” The Adept paused and took a breath. “My point, Precentor, is that if all this is a fake, it’s a fake that’s far, far too good to have been manufactured by Vorax. For that matter, we’d be hard pressed to make something so good.”


“So what do you think is going on, Adept?” Stoker asked thoughtfully.


“I think Vorax is being played,” the Adept replied. “I think there’s an advanced lost colony out there that somehow suborned the Drakon’s people, gave them fake data, and then sent them off to Port Krin with the very intention of luring in pirates into a trap in order to gain mechs, jumpships, and dropships. They’re advanced, probably a Star League colony, but short on people and resources, hence their need to lure pirates in.”


“That theory is a little… wild, Adept,” Stoker said.


“It’s the most conservative theory I have, Precentor,” the Adept replied. “Frankly, I’ve always been skeptical with the whole ‘It’s Kerensky’s Army’ thing some people use to explain everything, but it makes the most logical second choice. And for really wild theories, I can always say that twentieth century Terra has somehow time traveled to the present…”


“Ah, let’s leave the sillier theories out of this, Adept,” Stoker interrupted. He thought for a moment. “Hmm, your theory does seem a bit dodgy, but if the underlying data is sound, we will definitely have to investigate this. Good work, Adept… what was your name again?”


“Fox,” the Adept replied. “Adept XV Mulligan Fox.” �


Firing Range Fort Irwin California Earth 12 March 2006


Two might war machines strode across the dry ground. The battlemechs took their designated positions, ready to demonstrate to any and all onlookers why they had been considered Lords of the Inner Sphere battlefields for centuries.


One was a Hunchback, Quasimodo reborn through the efforts of many engineers piecing the hero machine back together using components from three different Hunchbacks that had fallen around the world. It shone as if new, and was in fact better than new. On its shoulder was something never before seen in the annals of Battlemech warfare, a new kind of Autocannon capable of varying the size of its burst fire in order to constantly balance range against firepower. Quasimodo demonstrated the ability this day, reaching out to tap targets six kilometers away with light fire, and utterly blasting other targets at ranges as short as three hundred meters.


But alas, all eyes were on Quasimodo’s partner this day.


“Is that a Mad Cat?” one of the visiting dignitaries watching the demonstration asked.


And indeed, the mighty machine did indeed resemble the iconic Mad Cat of Battletech lore. It’s cylindrical body, bird legged gait, thin arms, and boxy missile launchers formed a shape nearly unmistakable to all observers. But as the General at the podium explained, this mech too had been assembled from the fallen. The voracious forces of Vorax had possessed few Catapults and Marauders, and all had fallen in battle. Their remains had been taken by skilled engineers and combined in an experiment of battlemech construction. Thus did the Mad Cat leap from the pages of fiction and into the real world, wielding the best weapons of Earth and Inner Sphere alike.


In demonstration of its combat prowess, the Mad Cat did unleash streams of coherent protons and photons upon the dead and obsolete tanks serving one final purpose for their masters. Missiles forged in the many factories of Earth leaped out and completed their destruction in fire and flying shrapnel.


But what’s this? A challenger has entered at the far end of the field, seeking to demonstrate its own prowess! But this challenger was but a lowly tank, a lowly box thing on treads with none of the elegant lines that the Lords possessed. Why it was to laugh that such a thing could hope to challenge the mighty battlemechs!


But challenge the tank did, for it charged its betters even as consternation rose up among the onlookers. The tank wove through its dead older brethren, refusing to accept their fate to be mere target practice. The mechs withheld their fire, perhaps stunned at the tank’s temerity.


The tank neared and the mechs could no longer accept such insolence. The onlookers gasped and swore as the mechs opened fire on intruder. Quasimodo’s unleashed the full fury of its VAC on the tank’s glacis plate, shattering armor and sending shards flying everywhere. The Mad Cat’s speared the poor foolish tank in its side, also scattering armor, this time in the form of vapor and molten globs.


But miracle of miracles, the tank kept coming on! And as it came, its turret swiveled to bring a cannon as great as Quasimodo’s own on the mighty Mad Cat. And with a roar of fire and smoke, a flag popped out of the tank’s muzzle and unfurled, delivering the message stitched in its threads.


BANG! YOU’RE DEAD!


“Ladies, gentlemen… and members of the press,” the General at the podium said as the tank drove between Quasimodo and the Mad Cat. The proud vehicle drew to a stop beside the General and the woman with the laptop that controlled it by remote. “I am proud to announce that we have finalized the designs for the first anti-BT tanks using the newly perfected Variable Autocannons and point eight grade production armor. Production is expected to start in…” �


Jumpship White Elephant Earth Orbit Earth “East” Periphery 19 March 2006


Sitting in the seat on the bridge of the White Elephant, Captain Kurt Benson surveyed his domain with ire and grumpiness. His mood was caused mostly by the fact that his Jumpship was no longer truly his. This was perfectly illustrated by the people who crowded his bridge.


There, over at the navigation station, his navigator Damian was giving lessons to bunch of local barbarians. Over at another station, several “scientists” of dubious education had their so-called computer plugged into the White Elephant’s main frame and were currently poring over its programming. Off to the side, more primitives were doing wiring work of some kind, installing some gizmo or other. And of course, there was the ever threatening presence of the soldier by the bridge hatch.


It wasn’t all bad, Benson had to admit, even if to just himself. The locals had been busy going over every Jumpship in the aborted invasion fleet. They wanted to (ha!) learn how to build their own, so of course they wanted to examine everything. And in the course of their investigations, they had taken to sending up supplies, crafting replacement parts, and in general refurbishing the Jumpships as they went along. A real boon to the fix up work had been discovered on the Kyp Brahnigan in the form of a collection of maintenance manuals for Invader class Jumpships. Now every Invader had at least one copy.


But what really concerned Benson was the locals’ urge to tinker. Mucking around with the mainframe’s programming was bad enough. But they were also installing all sorts of dodgy gear from new sensors to something called a “land network” (whatever the hell that was). The locals claimed that their stuff wouldn’t hurt anything, but Benson wasn’t so sure.


Still…


Benson glanced at the flat screen that had been attached to his station. True, it was no holographic imager, but the images were crisp and clear and displayed everything relevant a Captain might need to know about the White Elephant’s status in a single glance. Even better, the display was customizable to suit his preferences, an almost unheard of extravagance in any computer system, let alone something built by primitives.


And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Benson’s chief engineer just couldn’t stop singing the locals’ praises. Maintenance issues long deferred by lack of money and parts were finally being fixed. New, strangely high tech diagnostic and power tools were being added to the repair shop inventory. And most unnerving of all, several of his original crew members had signed up for some of the locals’ correspondence courses, learning things they should have been teaching the local primitive barbarians.


Of course, all this activity wasn’t just for the hell of it. If he couldn’t figure it out for itself, the local news told Benson what his ship was going to be used for. Obviously, the locals were going to go launch a reprisal raid on Vorax and Port Krin. The only question on everyone’s minds was whether “Earth” – and here Benson’s mind shied away from the unsettling implications THAT piece of knowledge threw up – was going to just raid Port Krin or move in and take over outright. The GDI was playing their plans close to their collective chests, but the consensus of was that they were going for a total take over.


Benson was skeptical about the whole thing. How could such primitives possibly hope to beat Vorax on his own ground? At the moment, Benson was expecting these guys to try, fail, and then drop a nuke or three on Port Krin in frustration. And where the hell did the locals get…


“But why not?” one of the navigation students said, voice raised to a near shout. That drew Benson out of his own brooding thoughts. “Look, you said it yourself. The navigation math isn’t any more complicated for jumps along the edge of the jump denial zone than it is at the standard points. Why can’t you jump in closer to the target planet by plotting your destination along the sphere on the planet’s side of the sphere?”


“Because... because it’s just not done,” Damien sputtered. “Everyone uses standard points.”


“Is there a problem here?” Benson asked, getting up from his seat and swimming through the microgravity to the group.


“Captain,” Damien said with relief. “Please explain to this guy why we always use standard jump points to jump into a system.”


“Is that all?” Benson asked. “We use standard points because it’s the safest place to jump in to.”


“But why?” the upstart student navigator asked exasperated. He pointed to a screen displaying a wireframe model of a generic star system. “Look, the star has a gravity well where KF drives can’t work safely. I get that. The gravity well translates into real space as a spherical zone around the star where you can’t jump. And anywhere outside that sphere, you can jump using the same calculations as the standard points without resorting to the complexity that pirate points have. So why don’t you guys just jump to the point along the sphere closest to your target destination?”


“Because it’s dangerous,” Benson replied, strangely happy. Finally, he got to lord his superiority over these yokels! “You can never know where the planet is at any given time and they create jump denial zones of their own.”


“That’s stupid,” the idiot local protested. “How can you NOT know where the planet is? We’re not talking the Death Star here. We’re talking a planet that orbits a star in an entirely predictable orbital path. If a planet’s last known location isn’t too old and has a reasonably circular orbit around its primary, you should be able to calculate where the planet is right now.”


“The planet has gravity too,” Benson pointed out, disgruntled. He hadn’t expected such a comeback. “It’ll bulge out the… the jump denial zone.”


“The planet has a known mass,” the other guy countered. “You should be able to calculate the maximum possible bulge possible and jump in a bit further than that.”


“There’s…” Benson searched his mind for possible other arguments. Why did Jumpships always use standard points again? “Standard points are clear of debris. Jumping in on the ecliptic increases the chances of collision with space debris.”


”Oh, please. Space is mostly empty,” the know-it-all snot said. “The hyperspace bubble will annihilate anything occupying the space you’re jumping into. I have a better chance of winning the lottery than a jumpship getting hit by some rock.”


“There… there might be a planet you missed or forgot to account for,” Benson said desperately.


“In a known and mapped star system? Are you serious???” �


The Pentagon Arlington, Virginia Earth March 9, 2006/3021


It was quite a view from 200 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. At such an altitude, high above all but the thinnest traces of the Earth’s atmosphere, one could look down across vast distances, observing forest and desert simultaneously across entire countries, or if the sun was below the horizon, marvel at the strings of lights that marked out the traces of human civilization across the vast continents. Of course, no human could really see anything outside of the most general features on the surface of the planet, but with the right optics technologies, all manner of things could be seen from space that were not visible from the surface of Earth...including many things that Governments would rather have hidden from prying eyes.


Of course given that fact, it had not taken at all long for development to begin on the first generations of surveillance satellites after Sputnik had started to circle the globe. As the years had passed, tens and then hundreds of such platforms had been put into orbit by many countries, starting with basic ‘look-down’ cameras that took ‘happy snaps’ of the placidly rotating planet underneath them, before dropping film canisters back down to Earth –and hopefully to the people it worked for and not the other guy. It was a slow and clunky system, but the results spoke for themselves and billions of dollars, pounds and roubles had been poured into R&D, slowly supplementing and then replacing these first generation of systems with more specialized and powerful technology.


Of course as time rolled on, these systems orbiting in the harshest environment known to man had slowly started to break down and become useless, at which point most were told to crash into the atmosphere and disintegrate in a glorious -if short lived- fireball, the better to help reduce the increasing problem of ‘space junk’ around the planet. Occasionally however, a satellite for whatever reason did not listen to its masters when it was told to kamikaze and stubbornly continued to orbit on Sir Isaac Newton’s dime. The good news was that most of these traitors *were situated in low orbits meaning that their orbits would succumb to persistent friction from the thin edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and decay anyway...but some ‘defunct’ objects in orbit would gain a rare second chance at being useful to their human masters.


A Soviet Recon bird launched by the USSR in 1986, Cosmos-1810 had performed its tasks obediently and well for some time. But when it had been instructed to kill itself, the de-orbit motor had failed, a two hundred Ruble piece of wire having unknowingly come loose during its launch into orbit meaning that it would never fire. And while it was still ‘alive’ with its solar panels still gathering enough energy to run its on board systems, its days were none the less numbered. Where it would crash was now a completely open question –hopefully a NATO country was the joke going around Moscow- but its fate was never in doubt...until now. Far below it, men it neither knew nor cared about had turned their gaze towards Cosmos-1810 as they considered if it suited their purposes, finally deciding that it was precisely what they were looking for.


And so they made their final preparations, waiting patiently until the time was right...and finally, that time had come.


Powerful ground based radar systems were now tracking the satellite as it descended to the perigee in its not quite circular orbit, 180 miles above the surface of Earth. Indeed, with the right information and the right weather, one could easily see the tiny dot of light with the naked eye as it drifted across the heavens, if looking at busted space junk was something to interest you, at any rate. Of course, for its masters it was ideal; no-one in their right mind would be paying any attention to the thing as it drifted its way through space, it simply didn’t matter enough to anyone on a normal night to care about.


But tonight was most assuredly not a ‘normal’ night.


It all started as the Recon-Sat flew its way from South West to North East over the Tajik SSR and the low point in its orbit. Ground based observers checked the data, and not too far from the capital of Dyushambe, six large rectangular structures spaced evenly around a hexagonally shaped building, started to rotate in perfect unison. Their movements were impossibly slow, but an observer on top of the mountain with them ‘in the loop’ would have swiftly realized the rate of their rotation perfectly matched the rate at which a tiny dot in the sky was rising above the mountains of Afghanistan far to the Southwest. The dot, moving at 18,000 Miles per Hour rose swiftly on its long arc and the laws of physics inevitably brought it into a precisely calculated point, almost directly overhead. Sirens sounded, warning lights flashed...and history, was made.


Cosmos-1810 burned. Without warning, without notification or mercy, its surface temperature soared from a relatively warm fifteen degrees to over eighteen hundred in under two seconds as a hellish beam of coherent light from hundreds of kilometers away drilled mercilessly into its centre of mass, boiling away its thin sensitive antennas like tissue paper. Beleaguered, the satellite was granted some relief as the beam ‘bloomed’ and ‘jittered’, faults in the aiming systems and power flow causing the beam to briefly lose its lock as it drilled its way through the atmosphere, but even this partial lock was too little too late as the beam cut off, for the damage had been done. What had once been piece of high technology now looked like a work of modern art; the two massive solar panels mounted on the sides of the cylinder had lasted all of a second before –literally- being burned right off and the main body of the satellite, constructed of much studier aluminum and titanium, looked like it had been taken for a five second dip inside a vat of molten steel, the metal surface still rippling and running like water in Zero-G from the conducted heat it could not get rid of easily in a vacuum continued to cook it-


“Alright, hold it there”.


The side-by-side visual and thermal images of Cosmos-1810 froze at the command, the lights in the amphitheater slowly rising at the same time. Whispered comments broke out for a few seconds among the nearly three hundred people in the room, but faded slowly to nothing as the man who had made the comment walked down to the front of the room to a lectern set underneath the twin projector screens that were showing what was still one of the best kept secrets of the Cold War.


“What you just saw was an obsolete Soviet Recon-Satellite being hit and destroyed by a sustained five second laser strike from a ground based installation code named ‘Bright Star’” the man said without preamble or introduction as he stepped up to the lectern at the front of the room, tapping a button on a remote control as he settled into place. The two images on the screens vanished at once, and were replaced by twin wireframe diagrams. One, a 3D rendering a small installation on a mountainous peak rotated slowly to give the audience a good view of the entire facility, while the other screen showed a technical layout of a hexagon shaped building, six cylinders precisely set around a central column at sixty degree angles clearly visible even from where he was standing.


“And this is it” Colonel Allan Gregory (retired) added as he took in the hundreds of military and civilian personnel, from over thirty nations on Earth, all of whom now effectively worked for him. It was a rather terrifying thought when he stopped to think about it, so he didn’t, and pushed on.


“Situated in what is now the Republic of Tajikistan” he continued, “Bright Star was the Russian counterpart to the US Strategic Defense Initiative system. The video you saw before was the first and only operational test of the system, before it was destroyed by a raiding party of Afghan Mujahidin a matter of months later”.


At that, there was slight grumbling and shuffling from a large cluster of people in the room who were wearing the uniform of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, but they quickly settled down as Gregory directed a look at them.


“At any rate, although the USSR retained most of the key people and knowledge from the project, the collapse of the Soviet Union put any rebuilding plans on hold. When you combine this with the drawdown and then elimination of ICBM’s from the US and Russia, it becomes somewhat understandable that the Russian Federation chose not to pursue the technology”. Tapping another key, he switched the picture of the building and its six lasers to a split screen, with a picture of the laser directly under a wireframe diagram of its interior that had more than a few ‘geeks’ in the audience leaning forward in their seats. “This is one of six free-electron lasers set into a combined sparse array that formed the heart of the Bright Star system. Each laser shoots its beam to a mirror outside the building and these mirrors in turn were responsible for aiming and focusing each beam directly onto its target. Theoretically, Bright Star could engage six targets at once this way, or focus all their firepower onto a single target. But as I’m sure you saw, they had a few problems”.


“Blooming” an English professor from Cambridge put in at once, causing the sea of heads around him to nod in agreement...except for the front row, who’s faces suggested that the scientist in question might as well have said ‘Sunspots’ or ‘Klingons’ for all the sense it made to them.


Well, that’s why they’re here after all, to learn, Gregory thought with mild amusement. He had spent God only knows how many wasted hours in front of Senate and Congressional committees explaining this science over and over to politicians who’s only concern was how much of the money their state would get. It was one of life's great ironies that when that maniac Sato had crashed his 747 into the Capital building and wiped out two of the three branches of the US Government, he had taken out almost all the people most deeply in the back pockets of various special interest groups. The ‘new breed’ of Senators and Congressmen elected in countless special elections had proven remarkably resistant to the ‘old way’ of doing things, a resistance only enhanced by sweeping new laws that dramatically tightened campaign financing, lobbyist rules and President Ryans pleas during their elections to not send him a bunch of Career politicians. And the group in the front row, even if they were confused, were at least taking careful notes and trying to understand. And thankfully, NATO and the other countries that had sent political representatives had chosen people with some level of intelligence of what they were trying to do here...


It was quite a refreshing change for everyone involved really. Completely unnatural, but refreshing.


“You’re quite right Professor” he continued, glancing down at the front row. “To explain for our guests; when you fire a laser as powerful as this through the atmosphere at a target in orbit, it has to drill its way through the air in the way. The physics are a little complex, but suffice to say the beam gives up a certain amount of energy to the air, superheating it, a process that distorts and warps the beams focus and direction over a long distance. The problem with hitting a moving target in orbit is that you are continually having to ‘drill’ your way through the atmosphere and if you can’t compensate for it, you end up with what us death ray geeks call ‘thermal blooming’ where the laser beam loses focus, and the energy delivered drops off dramatically. In the test you just watched, Bright Star was only able to deliver ‘peak power’ on target for the first few thousandths of a second before blooming kicked in as they tried to steer the beam to track the satellite”.


“And that’s why these types of facilities are placed so high up isn’t it?” a Senator put in with a slight tilt of her head as she regarded the schematics on the screens. “Getting above that much of the troposphere eliminates the need to drill through most of the air, and reduces the effects of Thermal Blooming, doesn’t it?”


A bunch of smart politicians who knew too much could be a dangerous thing for a runaway military industrial complex, such as the one that was threatening to explode with the need to radically ‘up-tech’ and rebuild the militaries of the world. But compared to the long long hours of trying to explain what he had been trying to do in the 1980’s to Congressmen and Senators who’s only concern was how much of Regan’s pork this would bring them, it was a rather pleasant change.


“Precisely” he offered the Senator a pleased nod, before turning back to the screen. “Now as many people here know, the US was also developing its own laser defense system during the Cold War, code named Tea Clipper. And yes, I know, the Russians always came up with much cooler names” he admitted to light laughter around the room. A quick press of the remote switched the pictures of the Bright Star complex and lasers to a wireframe image of a similar mountaintop, this time in New Mexico. There were however far fewer buildings visible in this shot as while the USSR with their usual mania for secrecy had placed everything even remotely related to Bright Star in one easily guarded position, the ‘business end’ of the US system was made of nothing but the lasers, and built almost entirely underground.


Gregory had never figured out of it was because someone thought the mountain might be subjected to a nuclear air burst some day and might need the protection, or if the designers had watched a little too much GI-Joe as kids and decided a top secret mountain base had to go underground.


“The biggest difference between Bright Star and Tea Clipper was in the fundamental way the lasers combined their power” he continued, switching the second screen from a schematic of Bright Stars lasers to one of Tea Clippers. “Where as Bright Star was essentially a sparse-laser array focusing each beam individually onto its target, Tea Clipper was a Phased Array Laser – and the first person to call it a ‘Phaser’ gets my boot in his ass” he broke off for a second with a mock glare, that again drew a chuckle from the room –except the Germans; they never laughed- before he turned back. “We chained five one-Megajoule lasers together, each of which focused its energy into a single large mirror fifty meters away. The mirror then brought all the beams into perfectly coherent phase, and shot the combined beam off at its target which, as I’ll show you, could be a rather long distance away”.


Yet another remote click had the second screen come on, showing a sphere representing Earth. A red beam streaked up from the left hand side, hit a space shuttle of highly exaggerated size sitting in orbit, which bounced the beam across to a distant orbiting satellite and from there down back to Earth, the beam having been sent all the way around the world, getting a few whistles and muttered comments of approval from some of the people in the room.


“Adaptive Optics” one of the Russians said in quite good English, the tone of his voice a mixture of annoyance and envy that made Allan grin slightly as he nodded.


“You got it. Tea Clipper’s major difference was in the optics. We were able to send our beam from the ground station to what would have been an array of orbital mirrors. Each mirror in the chain is controlled by thousands of tiny actuators that let us precisely ‘warp’ the reflective surface by computer control, letting each stage compensate for thermal blooming and let us hit any point on the planet from one ground station. The system also cycled as a rapid series of laser pulses rather than a constant beam, at a rate of twenty times per second. Each pulse was prefaced by a low energy pulse, just enough to let the computers work out the blooming distortion factor and compensate before the main pulse was fired. Our long term goal was to replace the one-Megajoule lasers with five-Megajoule lasers, twenty of them in fact. That would give us a one-hundred Megajoule beam to play with. Assuming we stayed with twenty bursts per second, we would be achieving an on-target energy transfer comparable to between twenty and thirty kilograms of high explosives, complete overkill for taking out an ICBM or SLBM”.


It sounded so simple when put like that. How the various mirrors themselves were able to compensate for the atmospheric distortion and bounce a laser beam halfway across the globe with no loss of lethality...but it had taken him six different breakthroughs in laser optics and computer control, two billion dollars over five years and several Cray-2 Computers to make it work.


That it had also made him so valuable that the Chairman of the KGB had organized his kidnapping was something he tried not to think about. After all, if not for the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, he would have been ‘vanished’ him into Russia and probably brainwashed into working for Bright Star. And now, those same people were in the room ready to work with him on another space based laser system, and he was their boss! Fate could be really funny sometimes...


“So why didn’t the system work?” a Congressman sitting in the front row asked, his tone rather amused and strongly suggesting he knew there was a shoe about to drop down. The Whispered comments came to a halt as everyone turned to face the person in the front row who had interrupted. “Tea Clipper was shut down in Ninety One. What was the problem we couldn’t get past?”


“In simple terms?” the Congressman gave a smirk at that, but nodded and Gregory crossed his arms, leaning back against the front of the Lectern as he considered his answers, and how to distill many many frustrating years of failure into a few sentences, pausing a few seconds to make sure he got this right. Congressman Trent was arguably the most powerful man in Washington after you took away the people in the White House, one of the very few ‘old school’ Congressmen to survive Sato and his 747. He literally controlled the purse strings, and given that US was going to be providing just over half the funding for this project and Trent was a close friend of President Ryan, things would go a lot easier with him backing the team.


“In essence, both we and the Russians ran into the same problem; the damn lasers just didn’t scale up the way we needed them to. That test of Bright Star you just saw? When they defrosted the lasers and inspected them they found that the optical coating on two of the six lasers had been fried. They did have the raw power, more than we ever got to, but they never went further and we never got that far, because the optical coatings we could build in the 1980’s simply could not handle the energy levels needed”.


“You’re telling me that the lasers couldn’t handle the energy fed into them?” Trent asked with a raised eyebrow, smoothly taking charge of the briefing with the ease only a politician of his experience could. “


“In effect, yes” Gregory shrugged helplessly. “The optical coatings we and the Russians used, generally copper or molybdenum, couldn’t handle the heat. Our mirrors could, but a mirror is much easier to mount a sophisticated cooling system on the back of. The guts of the lasers, especially where they got hot...well, even supercooled before firing they just couldn’t transfer the heat away fast enough and cooked themselves, even when we tuned them to the best possible wavelengths”.


“And I’m guessing that explains the fiasco down at White Sands as well?”


Allan Gregory winced slightly at that. Barely three weeks after the Pirates had been driven off, General Alexander Miller had decided to leap wildly into a full scale power test of a laser system jury rigged with glue and duct tape, based around a salvaged Medium-Weight laser from one of the Battlemechs blown up in New Zealand.


The results had not precisely been what the US Government would have wanted. With the critical ‘guts’ of one of the two prototype YAL-1 Airborne Lasers turned into molten slag just under one Billion dollars of write off, one Inner Sphere medium laser –the only one the NZ Government had given the US- damaged from the high wattage pulse put through it, one political eruption from various nations all over Earth at the unannounced test, one inter-service shit storm from the USAF at the US Army moving into the Strategic missile defence game, when their expertise and equipment was all about the Tactical game, to say nothing of their ‘borrowed’ ABL systems being turned into a few hundred dollars of scrap metal.


A surprisingly large number of politicians had howling for Millers ass to be put in Leavenworth for such a spectacular waste of taxpayers’ money, or at worst, stationed to the most miserable command the US military had to offer, preferably in Northern Alaska. General Mickey More, Chief of Staff of the Army and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on the other hand had been more inclined to give him a medal, less Gregory thought for the success of the test then for making the Air Force Chief of Staff’s face go such an interesting shade of red. In the end, it had taken the involvement of the SecDef to sort the mess out –and when Bretano stepped into –or onto- a situation, he ended it, no-one screwed around with him when he made a decision.


Annoyingly, given that he was just about ready to take a long long vacation, the decision made had been to put him in charge without so much as bothering to ask. He was starting to get a little sick of Bretano, his old boss at TRW, pulling him out of the office and into Government service whenever he felt like it, but when the President of the United States called and asked you to take the job, well, you really didn’t have a choice in the matter...especially when General More had made somewhat veiled threats about reactivating his commission if he didn’t play ball. And so here he was, in charge of the best laser weapon specialists in the world –and his wife who had taken a job as a project leader on the laser development side of things which would make things rather interesting. And he had even managed to convince the President not to send General Miller to Alaska. The fact was that he had gotten an awful lot of useful data from the test, and it had served as a proof of concept test for the Adaptive Optics on the ABL system which would form a lot of the basis for their development so, grudgingly, it had all been put to the side in the interests of progress.


Of course, Congressman Trent had never been the type to forgive and forget.


“Three points to make here Congressman” he said, carefully stepping around the White Sands incident. “First and most critical is that in a lot of ways, the lasers used in ‘B-Tech’ technology are the most insane mixture of nineteen seventies castoff tech, and thirty first century technology we barely understand the basics of, yet they are probably more reliable than an AK-47. The Inner Sphere has purportedly been blowing them out of mechs, then strapping them onto others for centuries, and from the looks of the Lasers we’ve had a look at, I’d believe it, they are built to last beyond anything I’ve seen before in a weapons system more complex than a sword. Now the trade off for all that is that they lack anything like the sophistication you’d expect of them, they are only good out to a matter of kilometres with the optics they have. Which is more then what you need in a Mech fight, but it really limits the system, sacrificing accuracy, focus, range and wattage to get this design”.


Gregory paused to make sure that the front row was following, and was gratified to see they looked almost hooked and were still writing copious notes.


“Now, in the future - and in the past before their technological slide- the Inner Sphere managed to compensate for this by building dedicated laser variants such as the Pulse and Extended, at least if the Battletech sourcebooks are correct. But it’s still almost impossible to believe that in hundreds of years they never built a real unified laser architecture, or overcame a lot of their efficiency issues. Their understanding of a lot of the fundamentals of lasers looks almost laughable, yet look at the results they can achieve? To put it in perspective, this” he fired the remote again and pointed at the picture of a laser that had just arrived at White Sands today and was being carefully taken apart by General Miller and his team, “is a standard Inner Sphere Large Laser, specifically a Diverse Optics Type 30. Combined with their Fusion reactors that provide power, this one laser is capable of putting out just as much power as the entire Bright Star facility, a facility powered by one of the largest hydro-electric dams in the world, by the way”.


He paused to let that sink in before continuing. An entire mountaintop complex just barely matched a Mech mounted laser. The ‘confident’ faces in the front row fell surprisingly fast to ‘doom and gloom’ as an understanding of just how far behind they were sunk in.


“The second point to make is that the Inner Sphere cracked the problem both we and the Soviets had with optical surfaces a longtime ago. Instead of using metal alloys, they in fact use a crystal coating, diamond in fact, made from pure Carbon-12. It can pass the waste heat they couldn’t keep in the beam out from the laser very quickly into the heat-sink / heat-exchanger system on their Battlemechs, dumping all the waste heat into -”


“They use WHAT?” one Congressman demanded in shock as what Gregory had said caught up to him. “You’re saying they use diamonds in their lasers?


Artificial diamond, Sir, not ‘real’ diamonds cut for jewelery” he explained carefully, fighting the rather strong urge to roll his eyes like half the room was behind the mans back. “In fact, we looked into the same process back in the 1980’s, but we just couldn’t work the material to how we wanted it back then. In the last few years I must point out however, we’ve made some great strides in the technology and quality control. With the sample lasers to work with, General Dynamics advanced projects lab is very confident we can duplicate the materials we need within three to four years, and then start limited real production within two years after that. Frankly, once we have the optical coatings problem sorted out, the rest is really child’s play. Scaling the lasers down to ground forces is a whole different question of course, but not one we have to deal with”.


The faces, now looked happy again.


Trent nodded slowly at the unbridled optimism in the man; he clearly believed everything he said. He would have usually rolled his eyes at such a display of enthusiasm as nothing more than a dog and pony show for the benefit of getting him to open Uncle Sam’s chequebook, but both Tony Bretano and President Ryan himself, two men he called friends and trusted, had told him very good things about this Geek of a kid, most of which were still rather highly classified. More than anyone else, he had been the brains behind the Tea Clipper project, advancing the US’s laser technology a year for every month he had spent on the project and even though they had run into the optical coatings roadblock, which had hardly been his fault. Snapped up by the Private sector within hours of his Army contract expiring, he had moved up the ranks at TRW and become the youngest Vice President in the company’s history; a natural at coming up with all manner of better ways for the US Military to blow shit up.


He had, however, needed to be dragged kicking and screaming back into Government service when his old boss Bretano had called him in, but Trent had thanked God many many times today after he had been briefed, that he had been pulled back in. What was still very classified in the man’s file was that he had been the one who had jury rigged the AEGIS / SM2 combination system into a somewhat workable Anti-Ballistic missile system, one that had stopped the Chinese ICBM last year from turning Washington into a Five Megaton parking lot. The man was a hero, there was no doubt about that, but he had all but demanded to stay out of the limelight, almost the anti-politician really.


He had been called back shortly after the first Battletech invasion of New Zealand, and again he had been right in the centre of things; turning the SM2 missile into an effective hit-to-kill weapon for use against Battletech Aerofighter and Dropship targets, in addition to consulting heavily on the crash program that had put the first orbital missile batteries into orbit. Simply put, the man was probably the smartest weapons designer in the history of Earth. All day, he had been hearing many of the people in this room –at least those under the age of twenty five- calling him the ‘real Tony Stark’...and while he didn’t have the first clue what that meant, the awe on everyone’s face when he had walked into the room had been clear enough.


“An impressive presentation Doctor Gregory” Trent spoke up again, once more getting all attention in the room back on him as he leaned forward slightly. “But what kind of a time frame and budget are we looking at here?”


“We’re looking at a three phase process” Gregory replied, walking back to his lectern and opening up a folder and studying the paperwork inside, the sound of hundreds of other folders being opened at the same time sounding through the packed room. “Out Russian team led by Professor Morozov” Gregory said, pointing at a man in the third row in the middle of the Russian officers, who waved back and acknowledged his nod with one of his own, “are taking the lead on developing the lasers themselves, they have a lot of ideas on this, but we’re still looking at a ten to fifteen year time frame before we can build lasers the size and power we want for our final system design. The design specs are for lasers about four times the size and output of an Inner Sphere ER large laser, with sixteen of them mounted in a phase-array firing as one to an orbital mirror grid and a system cycle time of around two seconds per pulse. As we are building this as a major ground based facility, heat dissipation which is the biggest issue, shouldn't be any problem, but we have one major issue”.


“Power” Trent guessed, getting a slight nod from Gregory, who looked rather pleased that he had picked the issue that was vexing them all so much.


“Exactly. Power will be a major limiting factor until we can get our own fusion reactors online, but we can get away with salvaging a half dozen Inner Sphere fusion reactors from the mechs we’ve got scattered around and make do for now. If we can get our hands on sixteen Inner Sphere large lasers over the next few years, we might just be able to build the installation and validate the architecture to a functional weapons system within ten years; albeit highly dependent on components we can’t build as yet. In parallel, we’ll be working on combining out Adaptive Optics technology with Inner Sphere materials science, and looking to putting a full laser-mirror network in orbit over the next six to eight years. Once that is in play, we can start system tests”.


“Meaning?”


“Meaning, in fifteen years, if a hostile dropship arrives in system, once it reaches about Luna Orbit, we melt the fucker right out of the sky”. �


“- senate has passed the forth piece of military legislation in as many weeks, fast tracking critical funding to provide the logistical support for the new Global Defense Initiative. The House and Senate bills are all but identical with some minor differences that are expected to be ironed out within two days, and then passed to President Ryan for his signature. The White House issued a statement congratulating both chambers on moving so quickly - but carefully - on the legislation, meaning US funding can start rolling immediately with a supplementary bill until the next financial year. To explain this in greater depth, we are now going live to-”


Click


“-received the Hero of the Russian Federation medal in a ceremony at the Kremlin earlier today, his third such award from his long and distinguished career in the service to the Soviet Union and Russian Federation . General Bondarenkos short and sharp action has been pointed to by military commentators as a textbook example of using Earths assets to their best effect against enemy ‘Mech formations, though some have criticized the use of three divisional sized artillery formations as excessive force against a single Pirate company, claiming that there is evidence the pirates may have been attempting to surrender after the first barrage landed on top of - and crippled - their Drop Ship, however the Russian Government has denied these accusations saying, quote, ‘We offered the Pirates the exact same quarter they offered us’, end quote. Widely known in military circles as the brilliant theater commander of Russian and NATO troops during the short but intense war between the Russian Federation and Peoples Republic of China last year, exclusive CNN insiders suggest that the General is on the short list of officers to head up the newly created Global Defense Initiative-”


Click


“-Arts has come to an agreement to not launch any legal action over use of the term ‘Global Defense Initiative’ and any such trademarked material, granting free license to the United Nations at no charge. EA-Pacific CEO Louis Castle announced that he was very pleased with the outcome of the talks with the UN. He denied any knowledge of rumors that the UN was working on a new tank design combining the best of human and alien technology named the ‘Mammoth Tank’, but he did confirm that Joseph Kucan will be attending the ground breaking ceremony for GDI Headquarters in Geneva later this month, where he will dedicated the building in the name of the Brotherhood of Nod. In related news-”


Click


“-are completely missing the point! These people are not just statistics, we are talking about billions of humans across known space, stuck in anything from a neo-feudal Japan where slavery is completely legal and there are no legal rights for their citizens, to a war mad ruler who honestly thinks that it is his or his children’s destiny to rule the Inner Sphere and started a war on the day of his bloody weeding as much for revenge as ultimately because he wanted to control the entire Inner Sphere, who’s kids will then start a civil war in the best traditions of the Tudors and Windsors-”


“You’re completely misrepresenting the situation again, the Federated Commonwealth is the best hope for stability in the Inner Sphere, which we want to work with to change for the better, not shatter and try to rebuild on our own, the kind of hubris that takes to think we can walk into the Inner Sphere like a God Damned bulldozer and simply change centuries of the ‘way’ things work with saturation nuclear bombardments is not just morally reprehensible, but-”


Click


“So...to make sure I’ve got this right, you’re telling me that you were abducted by aliens”.


“You’re damn right Jerry, though at the time, I thoughts they were’s funny looken critters with big heads and claws and stuff. But after I saw those them pictures of those molecule thingies-”


“Elementals?”


“Yeah thats them, when I saws them, I knew they were what took me and the pickup truck! Those Clan fellas are already here! And the damn ATF wants to take away by missile launcher, we need them to defend ourselves, those Feds sons of bitches!”


“Alright. And what they did these people do after abducting you?”


“Wells, I was on this there spaceship see. And they put me down on this cold table, and started to shove this long metal rod up my-”


CLICK


“Cartman, you’re so fat that when Assault Mechs walk down the street they all stop and say God DAMNIT, there, that's a big fat ass!-”


Click


“-Troika have praised the sacrifices of all those who died defense of Mecca, vowing that the lives lost will never be forgotten so long as it stands. Indeed the Saudi Minister for the Hajh was present for the prayer service and, jointly, announced the construction of a great monument outside the city today, to be built by the finest masons in the Middle East. From what I understand John, it will be a ring of individual monuments evenly placed around the city, each monument made up of a life sized replica of the Battlemechs and Vehicles of the Free Azami Army, all facing out in an eternal guard. In addition, there will be a long wall down the middle of the highway that leads into the city, along which all pilgrims walk past during the Hajj, which will apparently be inscribed with the name of every soldier from every nation, who gave their life in defense of the city, the ‘Angels sent by Allah to defend his people in their greatest hour’, as put by the Minister-”


Click


“-lawsuit against Harmony Gold. Microsoft, who just last week finalized their complete buyout of the entire Intellectual Property line beyond their initial stake of the FASA organization, is entirely confident of a quick victory against the Japanese Company for intellectual property violation with their just announced line of Warhammer and Phoneix Hawk model sets. Bill Gates was unavailable for comment, but renowned legal expert Judith Sheindlin has been quoted as saying ‘those poor SOB’s’ when told Microsoft’s legal team was on its way to Japan-”


Click


“So this planet called ‘Helm’, you think that GDI should make it their first strategic priority?”


“Absolutely Kent. The source material is emphatically clear and has been right on the money so far; this planet contains a divisional sized force of Battletech hardware from the Star League just ripe for the taking. And even more critical than that, it also houses an intact Star League era memory core, the importance of which cannot be overstated. We are talking about scientific data, engineering data, design schematics, more or less the entire sum of the next seven hundred years of human progress! So yes, I will be introducing a motion into the Senate tomorrow to call on the President to push GDI to make recovery of this cache our first priority”.


“But Senator, the source material also makes it clear that this Star League era memory core was critical in stating the Inner Sphere back down the road to recovery, to the point that they were able to fight the Clans during-”


“And our very presence will change all this. Kent, the fact is that we need that technology if we are going to survive. I daresay we will even be in a better position to make use of it in many ways then the Inner Sphere, and we can still work at disseminating the cores information back to the Inner Sphere if we need to, or just manufacture the advanced technology and sell it to them in time for the Clan Invasion, but the bottom line is that we know where it is, and we damn well better go and get it-”


Click.


And with that, the TV shut itself off, leaving Mary Pat Foley glaring at it as she yet again wondered how in the hell her life and world had become so insane, so quickly.


It had been bad enough over the last few years, with some of the more topsy-turvy events, from Japan declaring war against the United States to Iran launching a Bioweapon attack on her county, to fighting with the Russians in defense of their homeland...but at least those were events eminently logical insomuch as events on Earth were concerned.


But she drew the line as table-top board games coming to life and stomping around her planet.


As head of the CIA however, it was her job to get the information her Government, and now also the Governments of the world, needed to make their decisions...but she wasn’t used to the average person in the public having just about as much information to work with as she did. Well, not officially anyway. But having her younger son briefing both her and her husband on Battletech when they had finally gotten home, was an entirely new experience for the Foleys.


Perversely, he had done a far better job at it then the people at CIA paid to do it, correctly guessing that his parents were far more interested in their opposites among the Inner Sphere then some junior grade geek stammering through how cool a Naval Laser 55 battery was. Shaking her head, she stood and stretched, glancing at the clock and noting the time as she did so, walking to the window of her office and looking down across the broad expanse of Langley and the woods around the CIA’s headquarters, before turning back to take in her office. Her job was far more then ‘Battletech’ of course, despite the crazy events of the last few months there were things on Earth she had to keep an eye on, but compared to even ten years ago, it was a completely different ballgame this year. The Russians were Capitalists, members of NATO and thanks to the resource fields in Eastern Siberia, increasingly looking like they were going to make this century one to look back on proudly. Japan was, for one, getting strong leadership and with the so-called ‘Great Ones’ mostly dead at the hands of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, the people of Japan were for once actually in control of their own country, which was a nice change. The Middle East was still busy hugging each other without C4 strapped to their chests, China was busy reforming itself and working hard on restarting its economy while India had thrown its previous PM into jail, once the truth of how she planned to ally with the Tamil Tigers in an invasion of Sri-Lanka had come out...thanks to the CIA.


She had never seen a democratic government pass a motion of no-confidence that fast before.


Everything had been relatively calm and nice, just for once! And then a bunch of pirates in Mechs had come stomping through with a bad attitude and screwed up the holiday she had damn well earned!


Sighing, she walked back to her desk in the rather well appointed office as the intercom buzzed. Covered in a mixture of analyst reports and Battletech Field Manuals covered in hundreds of ‘post-it’ notes, she had to hunt for a while to find her phone, and press the flashing light.


“Yes?”


“Hey Hon” her Husband and the DCI spoke up through the tiny speaker, bringing a tired smile to her face as she fell back into her chair. “How’s it going?”


“Super” she drawled out. “I’ve got thirty candidates who know almost nothing about Battletech down at the farm who have signed up for the project. They’re in isolation, we don’t have to worry about contamination from the fucking seven o’clock news, and our best people are working to get them ready”.


“Good to hear” Ed said, correctly guessing his Wifes mood and correctly guessing he should shut up and not make any unnecessary comments. Putting together a cadre of their best people for long term operations inside the Inner Sphere was her major project right now, and long term, perhaps the most critical for Earth over the next decade, but it didn’t help that every operation they were thinking about putting together was being debated on CNN if she just turned on the TV! The group they had put together had therefore needed to be painstakingly ‘scrubbed’ of anyone who had seen anything or knew anything beyond the very basics anyone in the Inner Sphere might know. At ‘The Farm’, they would be trained with the best people they had, with as much hands on experience from salvaged Battletech technology and knowledge as they could be, before being taken apart for their individual or group missions, compartmentalizing each group from the other.


And the fact that the media was blasting everything from the upcoming 4th Succession War to the Clan Invasion and Word of Blake Jihad as talking points on every news network, made finding the people they needed rather difficult.


But bitching to her Husband about it wouldn’t do anything but make him try to avoid her for the rest of the day. And as he was technically her boss, it would doing their jobs rather difficult...not to mention put paid to any romantic evening plans they had tonight.


“Anyway, I thought you’d like to know, everyone is assembling in the conference room, I’m heading down there now if you’re ready?”


“I’m on my way” she confirmed with a sigh, taking a final gulp of the coffee on her desk and wincing at the tepid temperature before she headed out. As always, she paused to make sure her office door locked behind her and walked briskly to the elevator, working briefly to clean up her appearance somewhat on the way. Ed, as well as the DDCI and DDO were waiting at the executive elevator, a brief exchange of nods and the four most powerful people at the Central Intelligence Agency descended down three levels and took a short walk along the edge of the building overlooking the highly unclassified car park, and from there into a well appointed conference room guarded by a pair of plain clothes police officers, who opened the door for them with aplomb as they approached, and closed them behind, re-establishing the electronic countermeasures seal around the room.


“Sergey Nikolay’ch!” Mary called out as she walked in. The man in question turned and a broad smile passed across his face as he headed over towards her.


“Maria Foleyeva!” the Russian head of the SVR boomed back, the man kissing both cheeks Russian style, and Mary flinching American style as they got together. Ed shot her an amused look and made a beeline for where Sir Basil Charleston, the head of the British SIS was chatting away with Avi Ben Jakob, the head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence organization, whose tiny size belayed its incredible ability to worm its way through countless places across the world it shouldn’t be. “These are most interesting times to be in our profession, are they not?”


“I’d settle for a nice quiet break to be honest Sergey” she sourly replied, speaking in Russian as she always did when talking with the very senior advisor to President Grushavoy. His English was good enough, but she had learned her Russian at the feet of her Grandfather from the age of two and spoke with a polished elegance that she enjoyed practicing when she had the chance. “We have enough problems on this planet without taking on a few thousand more”.


“Covering our eyes and hoping the rest of the universe will go away will not help us when a Clan Galaxy falls on our heads, nyet?” Golovko pointed out in an amused voice”.


“And our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen” Ed spoke up in a slightly louder voice, getting the attention of everyone across the windowless room. “So I’d suggest we get started”.


Swiftly the people in the room took their assigned placed. The large oval shaped table had places set for thirty people, comprising representatives from the GDI nations, as well as their staffs sitting along the walls behind them, with a lectern at the very front of the table that Ed moved to stand behind. Most of the people in the room were very senior people in the ‘spook’ game, many of whom had been fighting ‘shadow-wars’ against each other for a long time, depending on who was pissed and who was paranoid at any one particular time, but they were all professionals, for whom the business was always that and not personal, meaning working together was actually far easier for them then some of their political masters were finding it to be.


They were all spies, but they lived by a code of honour and ‘rules’ that while unwritten, were as real and immutable as the Constitution of the United States, and that more than anything, brought them together today.


“Okay, let’s get to it. As we all know, the GDI treaty which is due to be signed and ratified in a short time makes distinct provisions for a unified intelligence department for co-ordination and collaboration of intelligence activities in the defence of Earth. Now everyone here knows what we’re up against, and we’ve all been liaising for several months towards this meeting, but I hope this week we’ll be able to hammer out a number of major operation frameworks to go forward with and present to the GDI Leadership. If you’ll all open your briefing folders” and there was the expected pause as all the spooks broke the seals on the folders in front of them or under their chairs, “you’ll see that our preliminary working group has divided our efforts and workload around several major components. These are in no particular order; intelligence gathering, asset recovery, strategic ‘shaping’ of the geopolitical and military situation inside the Inner Sphere, and finally, counter-intelligence and infiltration of our ‘cousins’ out there”.


Ed paused for a few seconds to make sure everyone was with him before offering a grim smile. “Suffice to say, if the various Intelligence agencies in the Inner Sphere really work as all the source material we’ve studied shows, well...” he let the thought trail off, but there was a consensus of looks from around the room at just how horribly outclassed the Inner Sphere was on this playing field, and how much wonderful fun this was going to be if all the source book material really was the truth of how things were done in the wider Galaxy.


But” he hastened to add before anyone thought he was being an idiot and making the cardinal sin of all sins in their business, “we won’t assume anything of the sort”.


None of them would dare make such an assumption. The way the intelligence services of Loki, MIIO, ISF, SAFE, ROM and the Maskirovka worked, if the fluff could be believed, defied description and logic, as if the Great Houses had just hired a bunch of people off the street who had read one spy novel too many and been told to make an intelligence service using the aforementioned books as a guide. Some of the staggering, clumsy, unwieldy and downright idiotic mistakes make by these groups had given most of these people around the table reactions from outright laughter to downright fear at the possibility that a spook could really be that stupid. Which had rather quickly led to everyone deciding that no, no-one could be that stupid and all this material was a double blind, a trap of whatever being or process had brought Earth into this universe in the first place, as if they were simply being toyed with, or even more frighteningly, that this universe had been created by the authors and writers on Earth, and some power had spun it from them somehow, for some reason. In which case of course, things could change rather quickly.


Followed by a just as quick conversion ‘back’ when the exhaustive interrogations and ‘debriefings’ of the many Mercs, Pirates and Civilians from the second invasion had been collated and compared, and shown terrifyingly consistent facts, attitudes and beliefs of the insane neo-feudal society that had for hundreds of years been dominated by an odd desire to continue an unwinnable series of wars for the sake of those wars. That their work had also uncovered four possible and two probable Spooks mixed in with the bunch was hardly surprising, given that keeping an eye on the rather unsavory group of Pirates infesting the periphery of the inhabited Galaxy was a goal of some worth. The first agent, who just reeked of ISF from his debriefs, was even now happily winging his way to Tokyo where the PSI was very interested to see how the man would respond to a face to face with the Emperor, where the PSI might or might not tip their hand, depending on how they went. The second Agent, who was the subject of fierce betting over if she was MIIO or ROM, was being very carefully held in a military base as a ‘free’ prisoner, being presented with all manner of Battletech information, to see how she handled it. Mary-Pat had put her best people on the case as the handlers to see how she reacted to the information being slowly fed to her.


But none the less, despite all the information they now had, none of the very senior Spooks here would ever do something as catastrophically arrogant as ‘assuming’ that their opposite numbers in the Inner Sphere were NOT up to their standards, or even better, at this game. Spies who made such assumptions generally didn’t live to the average age of the people around this table. And as in this scenario the agents they would be putting in the field wouldn’t have any of the niceties of diplomatic covers, stuck months away from safety even if they had a jump ship handy to get to them, they owed it to those people to be damn careful and get it right the first time.


A fact which unerringly had led to Antallos. Irrespective of any other reason for taking the planet in their minds; the Intelligence world needed to prove they could infiltrate and operate on an Inner Sphere planet undetected, as their first step to real operations inside the Inner Sphere itself.


Because if they screwed this up, they didn’t have a chance against their real enemy. And speaking of them...


“With that said, I’m going to turn this over to Bas” Ed said, nodding to Sir Basil who stood and made his way easily to the abandoned lectern, and glanced down his peers with a look that was not grim, but serious enough to get everyone’s complete attention as he opened his own notes. “Ladies, Gentlemen. Our working group has unanimously identified the greatest threat to Earth, and the wider Inner Sphere that we will need to deal with before it deals with us. To understand this threat and make sure we are all on the same page however, we will take a short detour back to where it all started, with a mid-level technician in the service of the Star League, named Jerome Blake...” Mecca Saudi Arabia Earth March 12, 2006


Hajji Aladdin Al Azim smiled as he watched the sun set over the holy city. God's will was truly incomprehensible at times, but he had few regrets and no complaints. Had he been told the year before that the next he would be standing on a private penthouse, eating dates and drinking sparkling mineral water while watching the sun set over Mecca, he'd he'd have considered that person to be mad.


He smiled as he popped another ripe, flavorful fruit into his mouth. He would never take anything for granted ever again, because he was truly most blessed. It saddened him that many of his men did not survive the battle, but he felt no sadness about their deaths. They gave their lives to protect the faithful, to protect the innocent, to protect the most holy of places. They died well and for the greatest of causes, and he would forever thank them for their sacrifice. His only regret was that they were gone while he was here indulging in these pleasures.


After the battle his men had been gifted with suites in an apartment building overlooking the Great Mosque, and the government of Saudi Arabia was building for them a base in the deserts outside Mecca, that the Free Azami Army may forever stand vigilant over the city. His people and he were called the Heroes of Islam, the Avenging Angels come down from heaven to protect the faithful. It was as moving as it it was inaccurate. They were men, not angels, and he could never let their adoration blind him to his own human fallibility.


Still though, he would fight and die without hesitation to protect the city, to protect this world that was now his home. While he would never stop until the Azami Brotherhood was free of the Dragon's coils, his top priority was protecting this holy world and its people. He'd already become intoxicated by the spirit of freedom that abounded on this world. Truly Democracy was what Allah wished for his people, for them to be free and equal under his infinite grace. While Arabia wasn't democratic, its new king was working to bring freedom and prosperity to the people of the prophets homeland.


All men created equal under God and must be held equally accountable to the laws of both God and Man. That was the true nature of things. He believed things finally made sense. The American Christian, Jefferson, had been right. It was self-evident, all men were created equally and gifted with rights by the hand of Allah himself that could never be taken away by a mortal king. By Allah's own hand humanity had been give the right to live their lives in a manner that allowed them to be free, happy, and prosperous. Such was His infinite benevolence, and love for his people.


This realization uplifted him, but at the same time it gave him a terrible, burning rage. His people in the Combine were not only denied the right to worship God, but their Rights as mandated by Merciful Allah as well. “The Dragon” was listed in the holy book of the prophet Jesus as one of the many names of Satan, and the Draconis Combine was truly of force of darkness upon the universe.


Aladdin was interrupted from his musing by a rap on the door. Slowly he stood from his lounge chair and walked to the door. Opening it he smiled.


Before him stood the King of Saudi Arabia, the most kust and clever King Ali who he was proud to call his friend.


“Hello, Moinuddin,” the king said with a thin smile upon his face.


Aladdin flushed slightly. He was a humble man and still not used to the praise of others. This made Ali laugh.


“You are too modest, but it suits you. You are a great hero and you and your men shall be remembered for all time as among the greatest of us.”


Aladdin smiled slightly. He was a simple warrior and scholar who did what any man would do, but it was unfitting to argue with a king. “Is there something I may do for you, oh king?” He asked.


“I have come to see how you are doing,” he replied.


“The doctor says that I am fit for duty, and most of my men are well onto the road to full recovery. Those who are able should be fit for battle by summer.”


Ali nodded. “Your Captain Ibrahim is overseeing the construction of your base.”


Aladdin suppressed a slight wince. Jane was a good woman, but to say she was not traditional was an understatement. Personally he felt that the woman was quite possibly mad, but as a fighter pilot that was to be expected. Still, he cared for her as if she were his own father's daughter. “I hope she is not giving your men too much trouble.”


The king laughed. “There have been a dozen complaints in the last three days about the 'devil woman'. I have been ignoring them. She is as much a hero as any man. She may be as difficult as she wishes.”


Aladdin smiled in amusement, but his mind was running swiftly. A king does not visit even a hero, especially unannounced, without good cause. “Is there something I may do for you?”


“Yes,” He replied honestly. “I have been told you are unmarried?”


“Yes, that is true. I have never had the opportunity to have a family.”


“Then I wish to offer you the hand of my younger sister, Fatima. She is kind and beautiful, and I believe you would be a good match.”


Aladdin sighed and slowly shook his head. “I am moved by the offer, but I believe that it is Allah's will that we marry for love and not a political arrangement. I would be happy to meet with you sister, but the under the condition that she is not forced to marry against her wishes.”


Ali nodded. “Very well then, Allamah,” he said, causing Aladdin to flush with the praise once again, “Then I only ask that you meet her and allow love to have a fair chance.”


Aladdin nodded. “Very will, good king. I shall meet your sister and we shall determine if we wish to court.”


“Superb! How about I introduce you right now?”


Alladin blushed and stepped back almost in horror. He was clad in but a simple cotton dressing gown and slippers, he was unkept and carrying an unsavory oder as he'd lazed in taking a bathing this morning, instead planning take it instead after mid-day prayer! He was in no condition to meet a princess! He would look like a fool, like a brute!


Ali simply laughed at his reaction. “My friend, you are simply too easy. I have no intention of being so impulsive about it. When you are ready, visit the palace and you shall be my honored guest.”


Alladin relaxed. “You are a very cruel man.”


Ali laughed. “No, you are just easy to jest. Even if you were not a hero, I would be happy to call you friend and proud to introduce you to my sister. You are a truly good man.” He sighed and continued, “Now, I do have one other piece of business. I wish to speak with you about the plans of the Global Defense Initiative...” Any University Any First or Second World country Earth Any day in 2006


“Professor, I’ve got it! I know what hyperspace is and how to achieve FTL jumps! Here, look at this.”


“Indeed? Let me see that, young man. Hmm… interesting…”


“As you can see, Professor, what BT calls ‘hyperspace’ is what we call the Quantum Sea. Well, I know the Quantum Sea was only a theoretical construct before, but the raw data from the fusion engine tests seem to confirm it. See, the Quantum Sea theory says that the visible, macroscopic universe is really patterns made up of standing waves of virtual particles that unlike most virtual particles don’t constantly appear and vanish. What BT does is manipulate those patterns to move them from point A to point B. And this math – which incidentally I worked out myself – describes exactly how they do it!”


“Yes, yes, very good. It looks like you came up with an interesting variation of Theory Seven.”


“Yeah! Uh… what?”


“Young man, there are literally thousands of brilliant men and women all over the world working on the Faster Than Light problem. Each and every one of them has proposed possible solutions and theoretical models. So far, most of their hypotheses have been disproven. The ones that remain tend to fall in twelve broad categories, each and every one of which needs to be tested with equipment that either no one has, or is being used for other non-science purposes. Yours just happens to fall under Theory Seven.”


“Oh… sorry for wasting your time, Professor.”


”Don’t be sorry. The world needs brilliant young people like yourself. That you managed to work out the math on your own says great things about your intelligence.”


”If you say so, Professor. I guess I’ll see you in class. Bye.”


“Goodbye. Poor fellow…”


“Professor!”


“Yes? Can I help you, young lady?”


“I know how FTL works! Look! I even worked out the math!”


“Sigh…” Groom Lake Testing Facility Nevada Earth 9 March 2006


The modified Leopard class Dropship flew in low, so low that it had to rise slightly to clear the mountains surrounding its objective. Below on the ground, the semi-permanent camp of observers noted the Dropship’s presence and obligingly took photographs and video of its passage. Once upon a time, those people would have been regarded as lunatic conspiracy theorists looking for proof of aliens. These days, the aliens were proven if human, but a few UFO hunters remained, joined by even more people interested in seeing what the military was doing with all the new technology at the so-called “secret” base.


The people on the Leopard paid them no mind. In fact, they didn’t even realize that they were there. But if they had, their egos might have been pumped up enough to do some fancy flying and give the ground bound civilians a show. As it was, the pilot put the Dropship into a holding pattern, circling low above the base.


In one of the Leopard’s former Aerospace Fighter bay, a small crew checked and double checked their instruments and confirmed that they were indeed looking at their designated target for today’s test. A request was sent to the pilot to adjust the Leopard’s holding pattern, bringing the target to the circle’s rough center. More minutes passed as Ground Control made sure the target zone was clear of any live human beings.


While the Leopard crew waited, they studied the target. It was a misshapen lump, a 200 plus ton block of metal that had resulted in a failed first attempt at mass producing BT style armor. But for all that, it was still tough enough to withstand the today’s weapons testing.


When the all clear was given, two of the Leopard’s mech bay doors slid smoothly open. Only it was not mechs that were revealed, but the muzzles of many, many guns.


Eight of the new Variable Autocannons fired as one, raining enough depleted uranium shells to instantly strip even the most heavily armored battlemechs of their frontal armor. But this was an accuracy test, not a firepower test. At their highest rate of fire, the VACs could have instantly smeared any mere battlemech across the landscape.


But the VACs were not alone. Six 155mm howitzers added their high explosive shells into the mix, obscuring the target behind fireballs and smoke and shards of flying debris. Like their more rapid fire cousins, the howitzers had been fitted with autoloading systems to maximize their rate of fire.


Even as they pummeled the target with shells and fire, a captured pirate LRM carrier unloaded its full firepower on the intruding Dropship. Or it would have been its full firepower had the long range missiles it fired still possessed an explosive payload. But this was a only a test, and the missiles still possessed their full flight capability, racing towards the Leopard to inflict simulated harm. Only the LRMs began dying in droves as the four modified Phalanx CIWS spewed out a wall of metal for them to run into. Forty two missiles died short of their goal. The majority of the surviving LRMs only lived because they were off target and missed not only the Phalanx fire, but the Dropship as well. Only three LRMs actually hit the Dropship on the underside of its wing, and the damage inflicted by them had they been armed would have been laughable.


Testing complete, the Leopard closed its bay doors, and turned to go home. Below, scientists and engineers swarmed onto the testing field to examine the much reduced lump of armor.


Supply Center Fort Polk Louisiana Earth 2 April 2006


“Alright, Captain, here’s the shipping manifest,” the civilian contractor said, handing the officer a clipboard with a small stack of forms on it. “All the new point eight BT standard armor you need to upgrade your tanks.”


“About bloody time,” the Brit tank company commander replied, taking the clipboard and flipping through its papers. “I was beginning to think we wouldn’t get these in time.”


It bothered the civilian slightly that some foreigner was in charge of any American units. Of course, they technically weren’t American units and never had been. They were technically newly formed GDI units that incorporated personnel at all levels from GDI member countries. But they were based at an American base on American soil, so that made them American units dammit!


“Yeah, I heard you were putting tanks on the train in a week or so,” the civilian said, letting no hints of his thoughts out. “I used to be a tanker once, so I gotta ask. How are you guys going to get all that armor on in time?”


“Oh, that’s no secret,” the Brit said without looking up from the clipboard. “We’re equipped with Israeli designed Merkavas. The Israelis originally designed their tanks with modular armor in order to make armor upgrades easy. That’s also why we got first dibs on the new armor.”


Well that just wasn’t right, the contractor thought indignantly. American tank units with foreign officers using foreign tanks? Had the contractor been more religious, the word “blasphemy” might have popped up in his head.


Post Housing Fort Bragg North Carolina 12 April


“Honey, I’m home!”


“Welcome home, dear. What’s in the boxes?”


“New helmet and inserts for my protective vest. They’re supposed to be better than the old ones. I’ll believe it when I see it.”


“Well give them here and eat your dinner. My, these are heavy!”


“Eh, not that heavy. They’re about the same weight as the old stuff. Is that lasagna I smell?”


“Yes it is. It’s a special secret recipe. Why are these things so thin?”


“It’s the same new magic armor that everyone wants. The boys have started to call the stuff ‘Weberfoam’, whatever the hell that is. And Chef Boyardee is not some super secret recipe.”


“Well obviously, Chef Boyardee stole the recipe from my family. Are you sure this armor will protect you from anything? It seems awfully flimsy.”


“That plate in your hands is supposed to be able to bounce a thirty millimeter bullet off of it. Of course, if I get hit with a thirty mil, I’ll probably get my chest crushed into chunky goo, penetration or no penetration. And Chef Boyardee so did not steal your family recipe.”


“Yes they did. It’s either that or you can go celibate for the rest of your time on this Earth. Now eat your dinner.”


“Yes, dear.” Geostationary Orbit Leopard Dropship Averly Earth 5 April 2006


Captain Allister Davis frowned as he stood, well mostly floated with his feet attached to what was the floor under gravity, at the entrance to the room that used to be the AeroSpace Fighter Deck. Sure it had long since been converted to a cargo hold, but right now it didn't even resemble that.


He just had to get himself and his Dropship conscripted by Vorax, didn't he? He shook his head. At least the Motherloaders had stopped shooting at his Dropship when he had waved the white flag, just moments after they had stormed his Dropship.


He and his crew were treated well, but right now he had his doubts in whether he should just open the cargo bay doors and space them all for what they had done to his ship.


Hell, Averly might not be able to ever again transport Mechs with each Mech Bay converted into what these GDI people called a radar boom. He had seen radar systems before, none of them had the size of an entire Mech Bay.


The technicians who had installed them over the last month had called these monstrosities AEGIS class radars. But to Davis the didn't look like it. A Radar was supposed to have a rotating antenna. These only had a couple of folding panels that deployed upwards once the Mech Bay doors were opened up. From what he had heard these things used to be surface naval ships where they acted as some sort of fire control radar.


But was that of any use while being in orbit around the planet?


He shook his head as he slowly walked into the room and through the rows of consoles that were placed throughout the former cargodeck, cables lying on the floor, held down by tape so that they didn't float around. For a moment his glance went to the metal cabinet like thing in the back of the room to the thing the Motherloaders called a 'Mainframe'.


Davis understood a few things about maintenance, having grown up on Averly, and had seen his ships mainframe a few times. A mainframe was supposed to be at least ten times larger than that thing.


"Captain Davis," he heard the voice of Commander Allan Brigger behind him and had to suppress a sigh as he turned around. He didn't like that guy. He was reminded too much of people like Vorax, a somewhat slimy guy whose only job seemed to be, to torture people like him that just wanted to get by.


"Commander Brigger," he said and put up his best fake smile." I trust everything is going well?"


Brigger smiled that typical superior smile of his before nodding.


"It's going better than we had hoped," Brigger noted." Through we will need to add a few more systems. Things like ground penetrating radar and some other remote sensing systems."


Davis would freely admit that most of that went right over his head, but he would not do it in front of Brigger. The guy would just take the pleasure to rub it in.


"So you are going to gut my ship even more?" he instead asked with another frown, causing Brigger to laugh.


"It looks like it. But I think you should be proud to have the first Reconnaissance Dropship the Inner Sphere will have seen in centuries."


Davis breathed in. He didn't want to have his ship gutted any further. And he didn't want to deal any more with Brigger.


"If you please excuse me," he said and turned around." I have to take a look at engineering. Apparently you guys use more energy than we expected." �


Headquarters Building, 1st Battlemech Battalion, 1st Global Combat Brigade Fort Irwin California Earth 2 April 2006


“Okay, does anyone have any other issues that need to be brought up?” Lieutenant Colonel Elroy Jackson asked, looking around at his assembled battalion officers. There was a general shaking of heads and blank stares. “Alright, then. Dismissed,” he ordered. As everyone got up and started filing out of the meeting room, Jackson added, “XO, stay a moment.”


“Yes, sir,” Major Aladdin Al Azim replied


As the rest of the officers filed out, Jackson studied the man that had been foisted on him as his XO. Jackson had expected not to like the man. Azim’s appointment to the XO’s position just stank of the worst political put up jobs he had ever seen. For a start, the man was an alien, literally from another planet come to invade the planet Earth only to have a change of heart when he found the holy city of his religion standing here. Another issue was that Azim was a “Hero” which in Jackson’s mind translated into “Glory Hound who gets good soldiers killed”. And of course there was the ever touchy subject of religion…


But whatever Jackson had expected, the man he got wasn’t it. Azim was a quiet man and a hard worker. What’s more, he certainly looked as if he knew his business when in came to training everyone in Battlemech operations, adapting smoothly to the pilot/copilot system the GDI insisted on using. And Azim certainly knew how to handle the “independent contractors” that made up Charlie Company. Jackson had at best expected a cowboy; what he got was someone like Mahatma Gandhi or the Dahli Lama.


Unless you brought up the subject of the Draconis Combine; then Azim showed another side completely.


“Nice AAR, XO,” Jackson said as the last officer filed out.


“Thank you, sir,” Azim replied with a slight bow of his head.


“I especially liked how you critiqued Jankowski’s performance without coming down too hard on the kid,” Jackson observed. “Not enough officers have the feel for that kind of thing.”


“I just did what any good officer would have, sir,” Azim said. No bragging here. Azim made the statement a certain fact.


“Of course you did,” Jackson said dryly. “But speaking officer to officer, I have got to ask, how do you people do it?”


“Do what, sir?” Azim asked, obviously not understanding.


“Let me be clear here,” Jackson said. “How the hell do you people,” Jackson pointed at the ceiling, “manage to run any kind of military organization with the fucked up logistics you must have?”


“I’m not sure I understand what you are talking about, sir.”


“Azim, I’m a tanker,” Jackson began. “Or rather, I’m an ex-tanker trying to learn how to be a ‘mechwarrior’. Piloting a mech is easy. Running a mech unit? My God, man, we’re supposed to be a battalion of thirty six mechs. But because of our… unique maintenance requirements, we’ve had a company of specialized mechanics and technicians and honest-to-God scientists attached to us. In my all my years in the Army, I’ve never seen a technical support unit attached directly to a mere battalion command. And then there are the mechs themselves.”


“The mechs?”


“We have thirty six Mechs,” Jackson said. “Thirty six machines that had been pounded into scrap months ago and painstakingly put back together. Some of those mechs don’t have original parts and have God only knows how many jury rigged replacements. A few like that damned ‘Mad Cat’ were pieced together from several different Battlemech designs and are as temperamental as my daughter’s house cat. And even when I have whole mechs, I’m lucky to have four – FOUR – mechs that happen to be the same model, and even then one of those four had its primary weapon swapped out for something completely different!


“And don’t even get me started on the juggling act that’s laughingly called ‘logistics’. There ain’t no logic here. Dozens of different designs, each requiring their own unique set of spare parts, armor fittings, ammo load outs and ARE YOU LAUGHING AT ME, MAJOR?!”


“Ahem, sorry sir,” Azim said apologetically, coughing. “But respectfully sir, what you’re going through is no different than what other mech commanders throughout the Inner Sphere deal with every day. We don’t have the luxury of having all the same types of Battlemechs in one unit. We have to use what we can get and replacements more often than not will come from what can be salvaged off the battlefield. Mech production is so low that we can’t afford to throw away any mech just because its components are not compatible with the other mechs we already have. Simple monetary value doesn’t begin to describe the value our mechs have to us. So if you’re having problems, sir, it’s no different than what anyone else has.”


“Dammit, I know,” Jackson whispered. He sighed. “Sorry, XO, for blowing steam on you.”


”It’s what a good XO is for, sir,” Azim replied.


“No it’s not,” Jackson snorted. “But back to business. How’s are my people shaping up?”


“For people completely new to mech piloting, not too bad actually,” Azim answered. “The GDI has managed to assemble a truly talented pool of personnel, but they still need more training. Some like Dansel are as talented a student as one could ever wish for. But as a whole, I expect the battalion pilots to be rated strictly average to good by the time we hit Port Krin. But that’s deceptive because this copilot system the GDI insists on improves performance surprisingly well.”


“Hmm, I don’t like my people being anything less than the best,” Jackson said discontentedly. “But given the time table, I suppose it can’t be helped. Luckily, Port Krin’s supposed to only have a company of mechs and some infantry defending the place, so things shouldn’t be too bad.”


Ryan’s “Palace” Butte Hold Coreward Periphery 14 January 3021


“So tell me again,” Redjack Ryan, bandit king extraordinaire, asked his guest while fondling the slave girl in his lap. “Why should I give up my cozy little home here to spend the better part of a year crossing the Inner Sphere to a dump like Port Krin?”


Because, you jackass, thought Ryan’s guest, a man who called only called himself “Arthur”, you’re expendable and we need a stalking horse to smoke out whatever high tech world is near Port Krin and smash it to bits… or trip any lethal booby traps that might have been laid. Wisely, Arthur refrained from actually saying that.


“I have it on good authority that the current administrator of Port Krin knows the location of a world filled with lostech,” Arthur said instead. “He’s managed to scrape up a small rag tag band to go take over the place. But alas, he’s keeping the location secret from everyone. However, if you go see him personally and use your very special… charm on him, I’m sure you could convince him to part with the coordinates.”


The slave girl in Ryan’s lap squealed as he squeezed hard with one hand. Arthur paid her no mind.


“A world with lostech?” Ryan said thoughtfully. “Rich?”


“Very rich if the rumors are true,” Arthur assured him.


“If, if, that is the word,” Ryan mused. “But you mentioned something about an army?”


“A very motley army,” Arthur told him. “Pirates of course, but of far lower caliber than yourself. Your two battalions can handle them easily.”


The slave girl whimpered miserably as Ryan pressed her head downward for more… oral services.


“It sounds too good to be true,” Ryan told Arthur.


“Have I ever given you bad information before?” Arthur asked.


“Hmm, no,” Ryan said. He leaned back to enjoy the slave girl’s… work. “You know, I’ve been thinking this place is kind of small, boring even. Moving across the Inner Sphere might just be the change in scenery I was look for.”


Well thank the Blessed Blake, Arthur thought. August 17 2006/3021 Tokyo International Anime Fair '06 Closed Door Session


Upon first glance, the famous anime & manga expo in Japan would not be the first place one would consider to be a premier spot for that nation's possible mechanized future, both in the civilian/commerical world and the industrial military complex. Yet Japan was, and is, considered by many to be the beating heart of the world of robotics of all kinds. If it's not designed here, its built there, and if it's not built here, its designed there. That, combined with over 40 years of influence by the various anime produced made it almost impossible for any Japanese citizen to believe that anywhere else in the world could realistically built a mech first, or find actual every day uses for it better.


In short, it wasn't just national honor at stake, but national pride.


Many of the western nations had reaped heavy rewards via the sheer amounts of equipment salvaged after the attacks, or outright handed to them on a silver platter by defecting units. Saudi Arabia and the Middle-East were themselves about to undergo a cultural transformation that would have beggared the imaginations of diplomats only a year earlier from the actions of the Mechwarriors defending to the last, the gates to Mecca. For all that, Japan had received the attention of a single solitary Leopard class. Yet, in that small amount, they'd received an item that literally stood the robotics world, and its fictional anime counterparts, on end.


A functional Land-Air Mech, and a handful of other designs almost literally straight from the minds of Studio Nue, and from there, to Shoji Kawamori, if 'bastardized' by the artists at FASA. It was little wonder that the JSDF along with the Diet itself were alternating between wanting to pick his brain apart in what amounted to a mental dissection, and treating him as almost a living kami for the amount of deference treated him. Here was proof that the idea of a transformable, or even a semi-transformable design was possible to create and use effectively. Or at least, as many were soon to point out, including Kawamori, effectively as the Inner Sphere used them.


Of course that was only part of the bigger picture. Not only had the LAM allowed them to look at a workable and feasible transformation setup, but it'd also given them access to a hybrid jump-jet & fusion engine system that no other nation had picked up. They alone had a near mint condition and fully-working aerospace fighter engine sitting safely away at a locked down, and heavily guarded, Hyakuri Airfield while representatives from literally every science agency and industrial group swarmed over it. By now the entire LAM had already been picked clean to its skeleton with parts laid out around it like some strange mechanical dissection lab.


Yet that was up at Omitama, while the expo was in Tokyo itself. And what had started as a simple gathering of animators, anime industry leaders, and directors ended up snowballing into something completely different.


If there was a gathering that would have made an anime mecha otaku swoon with joy, this was it. The list was a practical who's-who of the very cream of the mecha industry: Go Nagai, Yoji Shinkawa, Hajime Katoki, Masamune Shirow, Yutaka Izubuchi, Hideaki Anno, Kenichi Sonoda, Shoji Kawamori, Nagano Mamoru, Ryōsuke Takahashi, and Michiaki SATO were the major players at an extremely mecha slanted expo this year.


So when virtually all of them, although Shirow as usual had ducked out before anyone could see him, made their way into a back room together and started discussing ideas - serious ideas - with Namco Bandai representatives, people started talking. When a major contributor and regular to the con, one of Fuji Heavy Industries' vice-presidents was spotted entering the room and what looked like bodyguards showing up around the room, speculation almost literally went ballistic. When two chairpersons from Toyota arrived out of the blue and the doors went shut, especially once the media covering the expo got wind of it, it hit national news and then international.


What many people internationally didn't understand is that a major portion of the so-called 'mecha' animators are fully trained and schooled mechanical engineers. A good example was the designs for the numerous robotic designs in the eponymous Mobile Suit Gundam series, being that virtually all of them were based around artwork that could be easily built to be model kits by Bandai. In fact, almost every mecha designed post 1979 was designed just for this fashion. And if someone can build it as a kit, you can scale it. While nothing but a photo magnet, there had already been a 1:3 scale Zeta Gundam built in Japan, if almost completely non-functional, and Bandai/Sunrise already had tentative plans for a 1:1 scale model for the Gundam's 25th Anniversary.


So while the rest of the world looked on and shook their heads in bafflement, or outright disbelief, Japan held it breath, as these people could possibly really do something with their 'toy' designs. Especially as many of the senior animators have spent decades figuring out how best to get a range of motion from their designs. Especially those in the 'real robot' genre, who strived for as much realism as you could portray in an all-ages friendly media without boring the audience to tears.


It did go a bit surreal though, when the Namco Bandai rep left muttering about joining up with Microsoft and finally burying 'HG' for good.


It wouldn't be until years later that people figured out, after a bit of explaining, that it had all been a massive joint public relations coup to help unify the nation further, and build up spirits after the terrible double shame of the Second Pacific War and the Sato Terrorist Crash. Still though, it wasn't all tricks, as with Namco Bandai and several other 'toy' companies putting forward some very substantial funding towards Japan's own mecha, as they refuse to call them 'mechs', development - as long as the first one marching off the factory floor is an RX-78. That was the one thing everyone present had agreed upon, even if it was utterly weaponless, and tripped more then it moved. Fort Irwin NTC, California Buron Cavalry Administration Meeting Room January 6th


"They can't do that!" "Yeah, no way!" "Fuck this, are they insane?" "What th.."


"HEY!", Major Staedele shouted into the briefing room housing his Mechwarriors. "Shut it."


They had taken the news that they would get co-pilots into their Mechs after a non-voluntary modification of their cockpits rather... bad. 'Admittedly', Staedele thought, 'my initial reaction wasn't much differrent.'


"Sorry people, but yes, they can do that. In fact, they're already beginning to modify our Mechs. Full command rights and technical access, that's the contract. They say jump, we jump, wether w elike it or not. And believe me, I'm the first one to say that this is bullshit, but I doubt they'd ask anyone of us."


After that, the discussion went back and forth for another few minutes, before a small group of rather grumpy, but resigned Mechwarriors was dismissed and told to enjoy the rest of the evening. The news that they would have a day off the next day did somewhat improve their moods, too.


Staedele himself wasn't a friend of that co-pilot idea either, but on the other hand, he *was* somewhat curious. The last weeks had been rather nice. His lance had run training exercises against local units and he had found them to be very professional people and quite often fast learners. Their tankers soon figured out how to use their range advantage and superior numbers to compensate for the brute firepower and endurance of his Mechs. Not that he didn't learn a few things, either. That combined arms MOUT exercise the day before had ended with a righteously pissed off US Major after his armor had ran into an ambush by Staedele's lance. They had managed to evade aerial recon by using the terrain, a whole lot of preparations and having their reactors running low. And a dose of luck, of course. Needless to say, the following short-ranged slugfest had been brutally one-sided. Nearly an entire battalion of tanks and IFVs had been cut into pieces before Iron lance had been brought down by concentrated artillery and air attacks, which had also caused a lot of collaterral damage and thus, in the terms of the exercise, caused Blue Force to fail their objective despite the scenario having been intended as a last stand for Red Force.


So, how would that oversized Mech Battalion they were planning play out, especially with all the new things they'd try out? Staedele guessed that their company, Charlie, would be the training cadre for the others at least in the beginning. It was composed of defectors all around, at least for the pilots, while Alpha and Bravo would be locals that would have to learn the trade first. Well, except for LT Dansel. Staedele had seen a few of the recordings of the amok-run of that Hunchback and was genuinely looking forward to test the Lieutenant a bit more. The man was certainly a natural talent. And then there was Aladdin al Azim. From all he had heard, the man would make a fine CO. Of course, having about two dozen muslims in his unit, Staedele was already pretty well informed about the new hero of all muslims. And then there were all the other mercenaries. Oh well, that was going to be... interesting.


Fort Irwin NTC, California Mechbay January 7th


Marie Staedele was watching the local techs as they worked on the cockpit of Hammer with a strange mixture of paranoia, apprehension and curiosity. She knew by now that these guys were, by her standards, pretty much wizards when it came to electronics. But they still knew far less then she would have liked about Battlemechs. And, of course, for someone working in a resource-poor environment like her, the sheer radicality of what these guys were about to do was something indescribable. The closest word she could come up with was 'blasphemy'.


She shook her head. Chen was already watching like a hawk to keep these guys from doing any lasting damage to the Black Knight. She was right now more occupied with performing some standard maintenance and repair on the cooling system of Altes Eisen. And, of course, following her little hobby/obsession of searching the internals for the reason why small laser number two was always doing whatever the fuck it wanted. Consequently, the Warhammer was standing in front of the catwalk she was on, its back turned towards her with a small part of the rear armor stripped off to allow her easy access to the internals.


Just as she was about to stick her head back into the hole, one of the local technicians waved at her while walking in her direction. She waited for him to get over and shook his hand.


"Patrick Walton", the man introduced himself. "Marie Staedele", she answered. Seeing his brows raising, she continued, "and yes, *that* Staedele. The major is my husband." "Well then, nice to meet you, Mrs. Staedele", Walton answered in a friendly tone. "Would you mind if I take a look into that Mech? It's normally not my area, but I'm a bit curious."


"No problem, Mr. Walton." She handed him the flashlight she had been readying. "You might need that. Just please don't touch anything without asking first."


"M'am, yes, M'am", he answered with a laugh before his upper body vanished into the opening of the Warhammers torso. The next audible sign from him was a long whistle. "Nice."


A few minutes and some good questions from him later, Marie suddenly saw him tense a bit. "Something wrong, Mr. Walton?" she asked.


"No, I was just wondering. Some parts of that Mech seem to be a lot newer than others. This one's been through a lot."


"Oh, you can certainly say that", Marie answered thinking about the history of Altes Eisen. Walton's voice ripped her back into the present.


"Hey, one moment, that can't be right. That's gotta be some kind of mistake." his voice was ripe with disbelief. "What year is right now in the Inner Sphere?"


"3021. Why are you asking?"


"I'm asking, M'am, because that part of what I think is the cooling system over there has a stamp on it saying that it was made in 2897. That can't be right. That would mean that that part is over a hundred years old!" He was now noticeably agitated.


"124 years, to be exact, Mr. Walton." Marie told him with a smile. That situation had been coming up several times already with various local techs.


"How the hell does that thing even work after that much time?" He asked with even more disbelief in his voice while coming halfway out of the opening and looking back at her.


"Well", she casually said, "regular maintenance and repair is all that's needed. Wouldn't surprise me if there were even older parts. Altes Eisen was bought by the original founder of our unit back in 2862. Back then it wasn't really factory-new, either and the databank had been partially scrapped by a hit into the head. I don't think there's anyone who could actually tell you exactly how old this machine is, but I wouldn't wonder if that one has seen the 2nd Sucession War from the front row."


This caused Walton to just emptily stare at her, his jaw agape.


Fort Irwin NTC, California Outside Buron Cavalry Administration January 9th


"So, you are Major Staedele, I presume?" The tone in which this was asked made clear that it wasn't a question at all. It was also decidedly hostile. Staedele just looked at the officer that had demanded to speak with him, causing him to be called over from the other side of the base and throwing his timetable completely out of the window.


"Yes... Captain. May I ask your name?", he calmly replied after giving a formal salute.


"Captain Hal Stoops, 1st armor division. Reporting for service as your new co-pilot... sir."


Staedele noticed the pause. It was the same like that of most of the local military reacting to him on the first days. 'Ye gods, not one of those stuck-up reactionaries,' Staedele thought. Some of them were still arguing to pack any off-worlders into prison camps and throw the keys away.


"Nice to meet you, Captain. You were actually due to arrive yesterday, together with the other co-pilots. Now, if you would excuse me, but I have quite a timetable today. Staff Sergeant Martin can show you your room. His office is inside the building, left wing.", Staedele said.


"Sorry, sir, but shouldn't I be given a full rundown of this outfit of yours?"


'Now he's just sounding smug. That guy enjoys ruining my day,' Staedele thought by himself.


"Fine, captain. I'm going to give you a little tour. Would you follow me please?"


Mechbay 1 hour later


The tour had been one big disaster. Stoops had made clear with anything but direct words that he regarded the Burons as scum and himself as their watchdog. He had yelled at several of their personnel they had met during the tour for minor, sometimes imaginary, infractions, mostly not or (in his eyes) sloppily saluting him or the Major. The man had shown an attitude that made it hard for Staedele to not have him thrown out of 'his' part of the base immediately. Especially when the guy had all but insulted his wife when she was giving him the rundown on the safety rules for the Mechbay.


Fortunately, the tour was over. Staedele had shown the Captain the entire part of the base that was housing the Burons, ending the tour with the Mech Hangar, both to give the man a blink at what he'd be working with (prompting nothing but a sneer from the guy) and because he'd be in time for something else he had planned for the day.


"And that's it, Captain. Now, Staff Sergeant Martin over there will show you your room. I'll have to stay here. We are up for a full capability check on my Warhammer after the changes your technicians made."


But Stoops was not about to let the Major get rid of him (at least temporarily) that easy.


"With all due respect, sir" he began, emphasizing the 'sir' to the point where it almost sounded like a curse, "wouldn't that be a perfect opportunity to show me my new workplace?"


"Fine, Captain. I will let the techs ready a second cooling vest. We are slated to get some of those suits you developed, but they're only due for next week, so we'll have to manage with what we have", Staedele answered, gritting his teeth.


"I can barely wait for it, Major."


Walking over to the techs, Staedele could hear Stoops murmuring. "Pretty warm in here, isn't it?"


  • That* brought a rather evil grin to Staedele's face. Perhaps this day would be fun after all.

Fort Irwin NTC, California Buron Cavalry Administration Major's Office January 12th


Staedele was filing out another batch of paperwork, asking himself wether there'd be any end to it. At least the last days had worked out pretty well. The co-pilots had turned out to be rather nice people and rather capable at their part in operating the Mechs. There was still some ice between the mercenaries and the army personnel, but even that was not a real issue anymore.


A discreet knock at the door interrupted him. "Come in."


Through the door came a Lieutenant Staedele hadn't seen before. The newcomer saluted smartly and greeted the Major correctly. "Lieutenant Shawn Reed, reporting for duty, sir!"


"At ease, Lieutenant. We're not that strict with the protocol here," Staedele said while returning the salute. "So, what leads you here, Lieutenant?"


"Sir, I have been ordered to report to you as your new co-pilot." Reed answered.


"Ahh, yes. I'm sorry, Lieutenant, but all the paperwork is playing havoc with my thoughts. A pleasure to meet you." Staedele said, holding out his hand.


The Lieutenant shook it. "No problem, sir. And the pleasure is all mine," he said.


"Well, Lieutenant, it's already late so I don't think we will be able to show you the place today anymore. Staff Sergeant Martin will show you your room. You can find his office just down the corridor."


"Thank you, sir." Then Reed's face began showing a somewhat troubled expression. "Sir, may I ask you something?"


"Fire away, Lieutenant", Staedele answered, curious what his new co-pilot would want to know.


"Sir, I was told that I'm not your first co-pilot. What happened to the first one?"


That brought a thin smile to Staedele's lips. "Well, Lieutenant, let's just say that he couldn't stand the heat." Negev Desert, Israel Military Testing Range February 1st 2006


Colonel Benjamin Rogov looked at the tanks though his binoculars.


The four Merkava Mk IV were the first to have received the so called BT refit. He glanced to his side towards one of the many IMI advisers on site, the man looked haggard and probably hadn't had a descent night sleep in weeks. But that had been going around, far more than normal. At least since the world went more nuts than usual.


There was a reason the Chinese considered 'May you live interesting times' a curse.


“Mister Hass?”


“oh, yes, yes, we have finished calibrating our equipment, we are ready Colonel”


Benjamin took a glance at the trailer, the geeks were inside, where the nice AC was keeping them at a comfortable temperature, as opposed to the cold of the predawn desert. But this wasn't the first time in the field, what was more he was a born and Breed Bersheva boy, the extreme weather conditions of the Negev where a fact of life for him.


Not that it stopped folks from complaining.


Very well, he then turned towards the radio operator, Tell Spear one he might begin his run.


The man quickly acknowledged and begun relaying the order.


Today's test was the whole package. The New gun, the new ammo, the new armor and the upgraded suspension. The gun and the armor where the high points of the test, the new gun, a British developed prototype, had been the main reason Hass' team had been having as little sleep, and the main thing that had warranted the use of an upgraded suspension. Unlike the old L7, the gun was a smoothbore, but, if anything, was even heavier than the old rifled 105mm gun. It had to be, at least to accommodate the IPAS round. At least that little nightmare hadn't been his team's responsibility, for which Amos Hass was eternally grateful. “Sir, Spear One acknowledges command”


Benjamin nodded slowly and turned his binoculars towards the row of tanks and the tell tale dust cloud that marked the lead element of the platoon as being on the move.


Inside Spear one, Captain Frederick Lis felt the engine rumble to life and felt as his tank begun to move. He was feeling unnaturally proud of this new tank. He so wanted to show the annoyingly number of BT geeks what Earth armor was really capable of, and if he manage to cull their rants/demands for a locally built 'Mech' all the better.


Like most armor officers world wide, he was highly skeptic of the walking machines, too big a target, too little armor, well, at least now that his ride was fitted out with something resembling the alien machines, and too big a head on the jockey's part.


Was almost like dealing with air force primadonas, almost.


He looked at his display and noted the location.


“Izzy, full stop”


“Roger”


“Scorpion, Spear one, waypoint Alpha achieved”


“Acknowledge, Spear one, stand by for Fire Clearance”


“Roger”


“Spear on, Scorpion, Fire clearance granted, please proceed with Fire Test”


“Understood Scorpion, beginning test”


Somewhere outside there were a number of Slabs made from the BT-Substandard, as more than a few troops where nicknaming the material, of different thickness and different ranges and it was his tank's job to make sure each and everyone of them where turned to slag.


Alex, he said towards his gunner, feel free to target object A-1, fire when ready.


Roger


he felt the turret turn, and the familiar sounds of the gun's elevator's whine. A few seconds latter Spear one Shook on its threads as the first IPAS left its barrel at a breakneck speed. It was going to be the first of many.


The sun had already risen by the time the IMI personnel had retrieved the last of the target objects. Colonel Rogov could see them muttering and fussing around, range test had gone well, though the penetration of the armor had been less than expected. But at least it worked. And he was sure the eggheads where already thinking of ways to improve the warhead or at least trying to figure out why their predictions hadn't met reality.


Still, the test was far from over, Spear One had retreated from the field by then, but the rest of the spears where already at their target spots.


Now it came the hard part of the test.


Unlike One, the rest of the spears where uncrewed, they did had an ungodly amount of sensors, crash dummies, and full loadout. Now it was time to test how good the Substandard really was. Though for that they had contracted help. Still, he wasn't looking forward to this, having tanks under his command turned to salvage was not something he liked, even if they where test.


“Tell Major Staedele he and his men had green light to proceed with phase two” he said towards the radioman.


“Roger”


With morose hesitation he turned his binoculars towards Spear Two. Time to see if the new armor was all that was cracked up to be. �


Conference Room Edwards Air Force Base California 30 December, 2005


Around a table covered with sourcebooks and starmaps, several people in heavily starched military uniforms and a few in cheap business suits took notes while two casually dressed young men debated heatedly about Earth's current situation and the best course of action to take.


The two Battletech "experts", Ted Logan and Preston Williams, had been recruited from their local gaming store, like many others all across the world. The purpose of their current meeting is brief members of America's intelligence community about what can be expected from Antallos in the event a retaliatory attack is approved, but the conservation had drifted as conversations are wont to do.


"Someone should look for a dragon lair around Cherry Creek Lake", Ted insisted.


Preston, exasperated, responded immediately. "We've been over this b