[Edit] So back in 2016, I decided to have a regular entry called “I Can’t Believe I Wrote That” in addition to my Writing Tips and Random Confessions. As part of the revamping of this website, I decided to just mere this with “B-Sides and Outtakes” in order to simplify folks finding things to read. Each case is still me posting something I’ve written in the past…then explaining why it doesn’t work out / what editing work it should have. In some cases, this will even be writing that won an  award, other times it will be a story idea that got overcome by events.  So take it away, 2016 James… 

Today’s sampling is from the way back machine–the 1990s.  I used to be a huge fan of the FASA game Battletech (now produced by Catalyst Labs as a licensee of Topps) and it’s various spinoffs.  As a player, I once designed my own unit, Clan Rabid Badger, with a backstory that basically this was an entirely different splinter group from the other clans.  Of course, this would never get published.  I place it here both for your entertainment and so that you can (hopefully) observe my evolution as a writer:

                   The Dragon and the Skull

                        By James Young


In the year 3075, the Precentor Martial of Comstar, Maximillan Focht, decreed that it was Comstar’s sacred duty to begin exploration beyond the Periphery.  In the years since Truce End, the Clans had been quiet, and the Inner Sphere was gradually beginning to relax.  Some called it a new age of prosperity that needed to be taken advantage of.  Others warned of it as a time before the Clans overran the entire Inner Sphere.

                           Chapter 1

     2nd Lt. Frank Jackson was having a really bad day.  No, the word bad did not do this day justice.  He was having a really shitty day.  Shitty as in diarrhea, beans, and hot tamales all rolled up in one day.
First off, he and his platoon had been put on ready alert early that morning.  Early as in 0230 hours that morning.
This had come right after a grueling four day excercise in which his platoon of battle-armor had been pitted against ‘Mechs in drill after drill.  This wouldn’t be so bad if they would’ve had some support when they did it.  Unfortunately, the excercise guidelines did not call for this.  So his unit had been forced to take on 100-ton behemoths single-handedely.  Needless to say, they had not fared well.  This, to Jackson’s thinking, was very bad for morale.  His men had walked off the field during the last battle looking like whipped dogs.  It seemed to be High Command’s way of telling them that no infantry, powered or otherwise, belonged on the battlefield.
As soon as they had made it to stand-to some colonel had showed up and gave them the bitching out of their lives for not being there in full armor ready to go.  It had been another half-hour before they were all totally suited up and ready to go.  As soon as they had been done getting ready they got another chewing out due to the fact it had taken them so long.  They had then been made to wait four hours while someone finally decided where they were going.  They had then been loaded onto a ferry ship for a one day voyage to the last planet at the edge of their current system.
The weather on Dragoon was terrible.  A screaming wind and windblown snow made hearing or seeing anything external quite difficult.  A quirk in the electromagnetic field of the planet made their communicators go dead every so often for around twenty minutes.  It compared favorably to living permanently in a snowblower.
The day was reaching its climax of shittiness just at that moment.  They had been ordered to cover twenty miles and investigate an object that had landed just a few minutes before.  It had appeared to be as large as a ferry ship on radar.  However, any idiot it could tell you that it hadn’t been because none were supposed to pass within two light years of the system.  In Frank’s humble opinion, it was just an asteroid or something that had fallen to the planet.  Any idiot could tell you that Battle Orion was the only planet that had any spacefaring capability.  Hell, they were probably the only higher-intelligience civilization within several thousand light years.
At the moment, they were in another communicator dead zone.  Jackson turned behind him and made a hand motion, moving his first squad forward.  The ten armored figures fired their jump jets, arcing up and moving forward ninety meters.  Jackson waited until the troopers had taken up covering positions before moving himself and the second squad forward.
They had just landed when Jackson caught the furious pointing of his platoon sergeant, Jonathan Winters.
He turned his head to look towards where the man was pointing.  His suit’s special optics immediately focused on the motion he saw.
A cold feeling lanced through his guts.  Either someone was playing an incredibly cruel trick on him…
Or there was a Battlemech walking through the cold and mists.
“Fuck me,” he said softly.  This was not good.  This was not good at all.  One glance at the ‘Mech’s IR signature told him it was not of Battle Orion origin.  The silhouette was totally foreign to OSDF style, which emphasized composite, slab-sided armor.  The ‘Mech’s outline on his screen appeared to have rounded edges, with its head and cockpit section somewhat rounded also.  In a very severe contrast with OSDF standard procedure, one arm of the ‘Mech ended in a weapon.
There was no doubt about it.  Frank Jackson, son of Elvira and Naomi Jackson, a native of Battle Orion and a graduate of Newfoundland Military Academy, had just seen the first ‘Mech of an invading army.  The fate of millions of lives rested upon him.  There was no standard procedure or written books for what he was to do next for no one had expected this event to ever happen.

Lieutenant Daiyo Osa, commander of First Scout Lance, Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 12th “Ghost” Regiment, smiled to himself as he piloted his Daiyo-class ‘Mech.  The Lieutenant found it somewhat ironic that his name was the same as the ‘Mech he piloted.  He had drawn the dubious honor of being the first pilot to leave the Overlord-class dropship Mogami.  The thirty-six ‘Mechs on board this vessel were mainly medium and light vehicles, ordered to scout out this world before the main assault force arrived.  His lancemates were arrayed in a crescent behind him, two Komodos and a Scarabus.
Osa had to shake his head once again while scanning the wastes in front of him.  The compact with Comstar had made some very strange bedfellows.  He had never thought he would see the day that a Federated Commonwealth ‘Mech was working in concert with a Draconis Combine group in a scouting role.  The lance was very well equipped to handle any threat from any range.
A movement to their left set off several sensors and warnings in his cockpit.  Daiyo quickly came out of his reflective state and started turning his ‘Mech to face what his computer was obviously designating a threat.
“Unidentified Battlemech, cease advancing forward and do not make any threatening moves.  I am Lieutenant Frank Jackson, Battle Orion Self-Defense Force.  You are violating OSDF space.  Cease all military activity and prepare to be interrogated,” his headset crackled.
Daiyo had no idea what the man was talking about, but he could clearly see the squat, metallic and menacing shape of what looked to be a Clan Elemental battlesuit facing him with both of its SRM launchers and a small laser pointed square at his ‘Mech.
Daiyo knew that if there were Elementals on this planet that it was not a good sign and someone higher up needed to know.

Frank’s announcement had brought an immediate response from the alien ‘Mechs.  The original target had frozen and turned its torso towards him.  The two wasp-waisted, forward-thrusting ‘Mechs to either side and behind the first target brought their lasers onto line with his armor suit.
Frank could hear multiple intakes of breath over his com net as the rest of the platoon prepared for sudden combat.
“Mech pilots, cease transmissions unless spoken too and do not make any more hostile movements.  You are…”
The original ‘Mech fired its PPC.  The azure bolt caught Frank dead center in his chest, punching through the majority of his armor and knocking him breathless.  Fragments ripped into the flak suit that all Battlearmor troops wore under their heavier plate.  Some penetrated, and he felt the warm oozings of blood starting in the wounds.  Amazingly, he was not knocked unconscious.
The remainder of the platoon did not hesitate.  Twenty-five of the troops had been lying motionless in the drifts to the rear of the ‘Mechs line of advance.  These now popped up from the drifts, firing their small lasers and SRM packs.  Five of the battlearmor troops concentrated on the offending ‘Mech, six of the missiles thundering into the Daiyo‘s rear left torso.  The pounding exposed skeleton, armor fragments being hurled for yards around.  The ‘Mech started to stumble forward, smoke pouring from its rear.

Osa fought hard to keep his ‘Mech standing, the blast having savaged his internal skeleton and ripped his rear armor to shreds.  He knew his original fire had put one trooper down, probably permanently.  Unfortunately, it seemed that he had opened the door to a hornet’s nest.  His fire computer counted at least thirty other battle troopers closing in on their ‘Mechs.
Another SRM salvo hit his front armor.  He triggered his own SRMs and the ER PPC in reply, the combined weapons killing another trooper and severely injuring one of his squadmates.
Daiyo started his ‘Mech moving, realizing his heat was starting to build up and that he could not continue to blaze away with the PPC.  The medium lasers in his left arm flashed twice, finishing off the trooper he had injured.
Several thumps and a severe overbalancing of his ‘Mech told him that the Elementals had swarmed his craft.  Fighting hard to keep from panicking, Daiyo began to run.  As he reached top speed he stopped and rolled the ‘Mech.
The two troopers who had just begun to climb up his back were smashed to the ground, stunned.  One trooper managed to hang on, though.  He pushed his small laser into the gaping hole that had been his rear left torso and fired again and again.
One look at his internal structure readout told Daiyo that it was time to leave the ‘Mech.  The Daiyo‘s center torso internal structure was starting to give, and it would not be long before the Elemental smashed his gyro.
Daiyo fired the PPC one last time, killing another trooper, before he reached between his legs and pulled the ejection toggles.

The remaining ‘Mechs, once their lance leader began to fall, turned and ran, firing parting shots.
“Hold down, people!” Sgt. Winters shouted, as a couple of the troops attempted to follow.  The blood lust was upon them, and he had to get them back under control.
He was amazed his voice was so strong.  His hands were shaking like leaves, and the only thing he could see was the hatchet arm of one ‘Mech slicing a trooper in half.  A quick count showed twelve of the troops, including the LT, down.  Six were definite deaders.  Two more looked to be serious casualties that would need immediate attention.
Winters sprinted over to where the Lieutenant lay, being attended to by two of his troops.  He could see a very large burn hole where the PPC bolt had hit.  The armor had saved Jackson, but just barely.  At the moment, the medically trained officer of the platoon was breaking open the suit to get to the lieutenant.
Jackson was very much awake.  Winters kneeled down and began blowing excess heat air over the man, trying to keep him warm.  It would suck for him to survive the PPC hit and die from exposure.
It all became a moot point very quickly.  Jackson’s chest heaved one last time, then he died.  Command of a platoon of very scared, very green battlearmor troops had just passed to him Winters.
“All right people, let’s mark the bodies,” Jonathan said, suddenly tired.  The Lieutenant had been a good man, and it somehow hurt Winters to see such a fine young man go.
The platoon moved quickly, breaking out body bags and marking ID’s.  Once this was done, the group opened up the Battlearmor individual units and took out the bodies of their comrades.  Several of the men and women were crying openly inside their armor as they pulled the zippers on friends that had seemed like family.
Winters found it hard to keep his own eyes dry as he placed the LT into the silicon-nylon fiber bag.  The special weave and airtightness of the bag would keep the bodies from decaying.  Winters pulled the pin on top of the bag, arming its location beeper.  A single pulse would be sent out every five minutes, having a range of ten miles.  The pulse could be received by vehicles that had graves and registration assignments.  The radio pulses would not lead enemy units to the position, thank God.
Thoughts of enemy units suddenly made him think of their ferry ship.
“Holy shit!  Police up the wounded, second squad, and fall back to the ferry ship.  Tell them what happened here.  First squad, third squad, and fourth squad, follow me,” Winters said.  He didn’t have to explain where they were going.  The twenty battlesuits that he had ordered to follow him fired their jumpsuits, bounding after him.  They were going to find war.
As Winters was leading his men off, one of the second squadders found Daiyo, lying facedown and unconscious in his seat.  The troopers gently placed him in a wounded carrier, then strapped him to the back of their armor.  The group turned and began dashing back towards the ferry ship.

Dropship Invincible

Captain Eric Potelemy, Federated Commonwealth Space Fleet, wiped his brow and looked at the three Mechwarriors before him.
“So you gentlemen left Lt. Osa to his fate?” he asked finally.
“Sir, we had no other choice.  I have never seen so many Elementals move in coordination like that before.  You may accuse us of cowardice, but I assure you, we would not have made it out alive if we had stayed there and fought.  If the situation was repeated, sir, I would still have ordered the retreat,” Mechwarrior Hanse Mitchell said.
Eric pondered for a moment, thinking.  If what these warriors reported was true, there was a significant Clan presence on this world.  This could make an evacuation very necessary.  All he had aboard his Overlord-class dropship was now thirty-five medium and light ‘Mechs.  Eight of these were of the Komodo and Snake-classes, dedicated anti-Elemental hunters that were next to helpless against enemy ‘Mechs.  Ten of the remaining twenty-seven were light ‘Mechs that probably wouldn’t be much use against an OmniMech assault.  In short, they were about to get their ass kicked off the world if the Clans were there in force.
“Mechwarrior Mitchell, I have three choices at this moment.  Choice one is have you shot for abject cowardice on the battlefield.  Although this choice occurred to me at first, a look at your battle tapes tells me that you were clearly outnumbered and outclassed.  A point of Elementals is easily the equivalent of a ‘Mech, and you were facing eight of them.  You would have done nothing but gotten killed and your ‘Mechs destroyed.  I’m sure if Lieutenant Osa had understood how many toads you were facing he would not have fired upon that first Elemental.
“My second choice is to simply send you back to your ‘Mech.  I don’t think I will do this either.”  Mitchell prepared to protest, his face starting to turn red.
“Calm down, Leftenant Mitchell.  You are now in command of your lance.  I will assign another Komodo, and attach a scout lance to you.
“Your orders are to go find this enemy unit, or its parent garrison.  Do not, repeat, do not engage in combat.  If the enemy finds you, run and report as you come.  I understand our techs have figured out that there is a serious communications problem with this planet at certain intervals, but that shouldn’t be a problem.  In thirty-six hours, four more dropships are arriving.  They carry one hundred and forty-four ‘Mechs in their bellies.  I do not want to be the man responsible for them getting ambushed by the Clans, understood?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
“Proceed, Leftenant.”
Mitchell and his two compatriots got up and left, headed for the ‘Mech bays.
A door opened to his right.  Major Alan McWaters stepped through the door, saluting.  McWaters, a fellow Fed-Com officer, pulled up a chair.
“Alan, I think you need to extend the perimeter by about two kilometers after those eight ‘Mechs leave.  I don’t feel like getting surprised today.  Those pilots not on perimeter duty should be in yellow alert status, flight suits at the ready.”
“Yes, sir.”
“I hope we don’t find anything on this godforsaken world.  It’s not the place I want to die.”

Winters gently raised the periscope attachment on the back of his armor.  The Battlearmor troops were first and foremost scouts, and their suits were well equipped for the work.  At the moment, Jonathan and company were sited two miles away from the landing site.
Jonathan fought hard to keep a sick sense of fear from rising in his stomach.  At first he had thought these phantom invaders might simply be pirates who had modified a few agricultural machines and then wreaked havoc upon the surrounding area.  As pirates, they would be easy to chase down and destroy.  Winters and the group behind him, now that they knew what they were facing, could’ve probably done the job.
Now, looking through the periscope, he knew that they were actually facing an alien race.  A huge ferry ship lay grounded, surrounded by vehicles, ‘Mechs, and men.  He could count eight weapons ports on his side alone.  This was looking nastier by the moment.  Winters began recording, his battle camera getting number of ‘Mechs, their IDs, and a threat analysis of their weaponry.
“Sir, movement at our three o’clock,” one of his troopers said calmly.
Winters turned slowly to look, trying to avoid setting off a motion detector.  What he saw chilled him even further.
Eight ‘Mechs, three of them obviously survivors of the earlier fray, were heading back towards the battlesite.  A pair of hovervehicles carrying infantry followed.
“It’s time for us to leave, ladies and gentlemen,” Winters said.  “Sergeant Wreks, take your squad south.  Corporal Lewis, take yours west.  Fourth squad follow me.”
The battle group moved per his orders, going slowly.  The enemy unit soon moved out of sight in the blinding snow, but Winters could still track it on his IR screen.  This meant they were still quite capable of seeing him.
“Squad four, we’re going to trail these people,” he said.
The look of horror was unanimous among the members of the unit.  Most of them had only one SRM volley left, meaning they might, just might, be able to take out one ‘Mech between them.  Their small lasers that they carried in their right arms would do nothing but piss a ‘Mech off unless they swarmed it.  To trail this unit was apparent suicide.
“I know, I know, it appears crazy.  But folks, we’re now in a shooting war that we didn’t start.  We’ve got to track these folks and keep reporting in, or else the crew of the  is going to get surprised.  I dispersed the other two squads because we had too large of a force.  I’m not looking forward to it, and I’m just as scared as you guys.  Unfortunately, it’s gotta be done,” Winters said.

                           Chapter 2

The ferry ship Invincible was name ship for an entire class of OSDF ferry ships.  Heavily armed and armored, she was capable of landing two companies of Battlemechs with an air support arm of ten fighters.  Her multiple racks of missiles, banks of lasers, and volleys of autocannons could clear a hostile landing zone quickly.  The advanced habitation and communications suite that she was provided with made her a very capable task force leader/command post.  Trips aboard this ship were very comfortable, and she was a popular vessel.
At the moment, she was carrying a skeleton crew.  Her fighters were off on excercise, and the two companies usually assigned to her were back on the planet of Valhalla.  Actually, this was not much of a problem.  This had been strictly an exploration of the asteroid that had impacted on Dragoon.  Four ‘Mechs and their pilots had simply been brought along just in case there had to be some lifting or manual work done.
Captain Wendell Korper turned and looked out over the grey expanse of Dragoon.  At the moment they were not in the middle of a blizzard for once.  The light of Valhalla’s primary, Viscerus, was reflecting harshly off the snow.  Korper was glad for the light-dampening shades of his cockpit glass.
He was the pilot of a Battle Orion Defense Manafacturing Systems (BDMS)-1 Gunslinger Mk III.  The 100-ton ‘Mech was the workhorse of the Battle Orion Defense Forces, having a good balance of electronics, fire control, and targeting systems.  The Gunslinger was the epitome of combined arms philosophy, able to attack a target on its own, jam an enemy’s fire systems, or call in artillery support with its targeting systems.  Korper, who hadn’t originally been assigned to the Gunslinger-class, had come to appreciate his ‘Mech.
“This place is actually pretty when it stops snowing,” came the quiet voice of Lieutenant Irene Cage.  She was his wingman, and had strode out of the Invincible along with him.  Her Ninja-class ‘Mech was the cutter and slasher of the OSDF, able to use its mobility to quickly close with an opponent.  Its armament also suited it well to the long range killing of opposing ‘Mechs, preferably from ambush.  Matching it with a Gunslinger made a very capable killing team for ambush or the long-range assault.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to live here.  I hate cold weather.”
“You’re a pansy, Wendall.  It’s not that cold, especially in a ‘Mech.”
“Oh shut up.  Just because you come from the Helsinki system, where the temperature is perpetually eighty below, doesn’t mean we normal people are used to it,” Wendall replied.
“I still think you’re a pansy.”
Wendall was about to retort when he saw the first members of the 1st Platoon.
“Holy shit!  Battlearmor, coming in!  They’re missing a few!” Wendall said.  He could see the battlesuits had been in action, seeing the burn marks from where their SRMs had left the racks.  A couple of the suits had wounded on their backs.
“This is Echo One to Tin Man.  You’ve got eight battlesuits coming in with casualties and they look as if they’ve been in fight.  You might want to get the medics up and ready,” Wendall said, looking over the incoming troops.
“This is Bandito Two to Tin Man.  Large enemy force, repeat large enemy force inbound your position.  Appear to have been tracking Bandito elements.  Force is eight ‘Mechs and seven vehicles strong.  ‘Mechs are in the light scout class, but numbers could be a problem to Echo elements.  Vehicles appear to be mostly infantry carriers, but there are two missile vehicles.  Will attempt to delay enemy force.”
Bandito Two?  Where the hell is Frank? Wendall thought.
“Bandito Two, what is the state of Bandito One?” another voice, that of Major Paul Roderick, asked.
“Bandito One is Kilo India Alpha.  Current position is strobing on all Golf and Romeo elements.  Would suggest lifting off as soon as remainder of Bandito Force makes it to ferry ship.  Enemy has ferry ship on ground.  Will transmit all pertinent data over data link before attacking.”
“Roger that, Bandito Two.  Data links open.”
“Two transmitting now.”

Jonathan depressed the transmit button and relaxed into the harness of his suit, fatigued.  They had been in almost constant movement for the last two hours, pursuing the ‘Mech and vehicle force at a long distance.  The ‘Mechs had a great speed advantage on the battlesuits, and had been drawing away before they stopped at the battlesite.  Now the men of Fourth Squad had a chance to kill a ‘Mech and delay the enemy force.
Winters had already chosen their prey.  The ‘Mech appeared to be a walking gun platform, a large bore weapon extending from its  right torso.  Winters armed his SRMs, the last volley drifting into the racks.  He then charged his small laser.
The other eight battlesuited warriors followed suit.

“Sir, we have found seven body bags,” one of the infantryman reported.
“Any identification?” Hanse asked over his external speakers.
“Yes, sir.  These men have what appear to be encrypto tabs on necklaces around their necks.  These have no instructions or external messages, but we are policing them anyway.  Sir, these men do not appear to have been Clan.  They are not the size of normal Clan Elemental pilots, but their suits appear to be even more advanced than those of the Clans.”
Hanse pondered this for a moment.  He had been born after the Clan invasions and had never faced one of these units.  The infantryman speaking to him was an expert in the Clans, having fought them in numerous raids and skirmishes that had been given no real names.  If he said these soldiers were not Clan, they more than likely were not.  The final verdict would have to wait until the arrival of the Draconis Combine heavy ‘Mech units.  These warriors had had several close brushes with the Clans, most of them recent.  A few of them had commandeered Clan ‘Mechs even.  Hanse hoped that they didn’t run into any Clan ‘Mechs for their sakes.  Any of the warriors on this expedition would likely shoot first and ask questions later in the heat of battle.
“Do you have any idea where the enemy units went?”
“Their tracks lead in two directions, sir.  One is north, the direction we just came.  The other is south, away from the dropship, sir.  This appears to be the location of the enemy base,” the infantryman said.
Hanse really had to stop at this moment.  This sounded like an opportunity for him to gain greater glory.  If they found the enemy’s base or a dropship that was acting like one, they could get more ‘Mechs to come up.  With a few more medium ‘Mechs, Hanse and company could probably cripple the enemy vessel while it was on the ground.  If it was crippled, the Invincible could probably proceed to make a strafing run and do severe damage to the ship, neutralizing it on the ground.
Hanse would be hailed as a hero.
All of this ran through his mind in a single moment.  Just as he was about to give the order for his unit to pack it up and prepare to move, they were under attack.

Winters leaped through the air over the rise, his jump jets carrying him through a sharp arc.  The instant his feet hit he fired the small laser at his target.
The bolt carried high over the ‘Mechs head.  The pilot sidestepped sharply, running away from the attacking squad.  He obviously did not intend to fire his main weapon on Winters and his battlesuit.
Someone else obviously did not feel the same.  A medium laser flashed into his armor, some of the intense energy carrying through to him.  He fought down the urge to vomit, the pulse making him nauseous.  Once again, he fired his jump jets.  Two more medium lasers hit where he had been standing.  Waters turned towards the enemy ‘Mech, arming his SRMs.  The moment his feet impacted, he fired, then fired his small laser a split second later.
The enemy ‘Mech had triggered its medium lasers at just that moment.  Winters was kicked backwards, landing hard on his back.  The impact knocked him unconscious.

The impact of two SRMs staggered the Scarabus, and Hanse turned from watching a Komodo dispatch another Elemental.  One of the armor suits had attacked him from behind, and was about to pay the price.  The enemy trooper fired a desperation shot from its small laser.  The shot hit the ‘Mech in the hatchet arm, doing a slight amount of damage.  Hanse stepped forward just as the enemy trooper fired his jump jets.
With a catlike maneuver he swept his hatchet arm to intersect the enemy trooper.  The hatchet sliced through a leg, the limb tumbling back down to the ground.  Blood spurted onto the crystalline ground, as the suit tumbled crazily away and hit the ground, tumbling.
“Gotcha,” Hanse said quietly, turning to oversee his command.
The infantrymen were policing up the area, approaching the two suits that had any chance of their pilots having survived.  They pulled one slightly wounded, unconscious trooper out of his suit.  The pilot had caused moderate damage to a Komodo with his sharpshooting, but had been caught by that ‘Mechs massed laser fire.
Hanse considered ordering the man killed out of hand.  Elementals were the most despised of Clan troops, having wreaked great havoc among Inner Sphere forces during the Invasion.  Some of the infantry hands had been in units that had suffered heavily from these attackers.  The Elementals had not been gentle with normal infantry that they had encountered, often killing hand-to-hand for the sheer joy of it.
The orders were on his lips until they pulled the man out.  He was a small man, looking about average height.
“Do not harm him, Sergeant,” he barked over his external speakers.
“Yes sir,” came the clipped reply.  The man’s brother had been ripped limb from limb by an Elemental.  He had a personal score to settle with the genetically engineered soldiers.  If the man had appeared to be a true Elemental, Hanse would’ve let him satisfy his bloodlust.  However, he felt that it would not be wise to do so at this time.  They needed information, and this was the first live prisoner they had.  The second trooper they had pulled out, however, could die.
“Do what you will with her, Sergeant,” Hanse said simply.
The woman’s screams began to echo in his external speakers.

The wind was starting to kick up again.  Wendall was incredibly unhappy, thinking of the death of his friend as he looked at the battlevids one of the troopers had brought in.
“They didn’t even give him a chance,” Wendall said darkly.  His friend had simply been ordering a challenge to someone invading OSDF space.  That was within the rights of any sovereign planet or representative of such a planet.  There had been no reason to shoot him with the PPC.
“Don’t worry, sir.  We’ve got the bastard who did it,” one of the troopers said.  Wendall got ready to turn and head for the brig, hand resting on his pistol.
“Freeze Wendall!” Irene said, stepping in front of him.
“Out of my way,” Wendall growled.
“I’m not about to let you get put away for life, dammit!  You know that that is against OSDF regulations,” Irene said.
Wendall stopped, Irene’s words catching him.  OSDF Regulations, Code 17, Section 14, “The Treatment of Prisoners”, expressedely forbid the abuse or mistreatment of an enemy or mutinious individual.  Wendall could not touch the man without facing a life sentence and total stripping of his rank in court-martial.  Especially with this being an unknown alien race.
“I just want to talk to him,” Wendall said.
“You’ll leave your damn pistol here, Wendall Korper,” Irene barked.
The look on Wendall’s face told Irene that she was pressing too close.
“I remind you of your rank, Lieutenant Cage,” Wendall replied.
“Sir, yes sir,” Irene bit off the words.
Wendall took off his weapons belt and dropped it on the table, then strode off into the ferry ship’s belly, headed for the brig.

Daiyo came to with an IV dripping into his arm.  He fought the urge to yawn, knowing he was probably under observation.  The sound of someone breathing convinced him that this was true.
“Captain Korper, he is conscious now,” a silky female voice said.
Daiyo steeled himself.  Clanners were notorious for being good interrogators.  If he began to experience too much pain he would bite off his tongue.  That would end all interrogation.
Daiyo opened his eyes, expecting to be restrained.  found that he could move his hands, and even move his body.  He sat up, looking into the piercing blue eyes of a man sitting across from him.
“Who are you?” the man asked simply.
“I am Lieutenant Daiyo Osa, Draconis Combine, Fifth Battalion, Twelfth Ghost Regiment.”
“That tells me nothing,” the man said simply, his eyes still boring into Daiyo’s.
“Are you Clan?” Daiyo asked.
Wendall began to feel confused.
“What are you talking about?!” Wendall asked.
“Clan.  Which Clan do you belong to?  Who is your ilKhan?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Wendall asked.
“Are you not Clan?” Daiyo asked.
“What are these damn Clans you keep talking about?  What the hell is the Draconis combine?” Wendall asked.
“The House of Kurita?  You mean that you have not heard of the Battle of Luthien?  Once again, what Clan are you?”
“I believe I will ask the questions here, Lieutenant Osa,” Wendall said sharply.
“I do not intend to answer anything else, uh, whatever your name is…”
“It is Captain Korper, Lieutenant Osa.  The battlearmored trooper you killed this morning was my friend.  Now, I have no idea who you are, what these Clans are, or who House Kurita is, but you will most definitely tell me why you killed my friend when you were violating Battle Orion space,” Wendall said archly.
“I have no idea what this Battle Orion space is, but my unit is claiming this planet and the other two planets in this system for House Kurita.  If you wish to surrender, you may any time,” Daiyo said.
Wendall was struck by this man’s arrogance.  He tightened up his hands as they were in his lap, cracking his knuckles.
“Okay asshole, let me inform you of something.  First, you are in Battle Orion space.  Battle Orion is the home planet of the Orion Self-Defense Force, or OSDF.  Our duty and job is to protect the borders of the Republic and carry out exploratory missions beyond these borders.  Second, we did not start this conflict or invade one of your planets.  We simply were acting in defense of our star system.
“Third, unless you brought a hellacious amount of ‘Mechs with you, you’re going to die.”  Wendall lifted up his collar tabs, pushing them up towards Daiyo.
A screaming skull on a red background was mounted under the Velcro tab.  A black triangle outlined the skull, with the insignia “Fuck With The Best-Die Like The Rest”.
“It’s a simple uniform tab.  I have one of those on my uniform also,” Daiyo said, pointing to his shoulder.
“You don’t understand.  That is the insignia of Legion No. 4, First OSDF Army.  Dark Legion is our unit’s name.”
“I don’t think you understand, my friend.  More than two regiments of ‘Mechs are dropping down to this planet in less than a day and a half.  Another regiment of assault class ‘Mechs will follow in another day.  You cannot hope to stand before this assault, my friend,” Daiyo said cockily.
Wendall began laughing hysterically.  He was consumed in belly laughs, convulsing on the chair.
“This force will destroy your pitiful legion, my friend,” Daiyo replied.
“Oh that’s good, buddy.  You’re a regular comedian,” Wendall said, smiling.
“Three regiments, all heavy, is not a force to be laughed at.  Obviously you have not faced the might of the Dragon,” Daiyo said.
“You really don’t know who you’re dealing with, do you?” Wendall asked.  “Three regiments is not even a brigade.  Dark Legion is composed of sixty-four regiments.  We are the best of the OSDF, for we are at the cutting edge of exploratory missions.  Even if you managed to smash through this little group here on Dragoon and Valhalla, then you would be crushed by the 121st Assault Brigade.  We will smash you, then go back down your trail with the entire Legion.  We will find your planet, raze it to the ground, and kill your entire population.  And if a Legion can’t do it, we’ll call in the entire First Army.  An Army is made up of four legions.  That’s two hundred and fifty-six regiments, asshole.  We can crush you entirely if need be.  If you wish to put you head in the hornet’s nest, that’s fine.”
“This is a pretty good lie, Captain Korper.  I must congratulate you on your great imagination.”
“You were warned, my friend,” Korper said simply.
It was at this moment that the alarm began screaming, riging in its stridency.
“See you in Hell, then,” Daiyo replied, leaping to his feet and taking off running.  Daiyo briefly considered tripping him, but thought better of it.  With rescue obviously so close there was no reason to try and get himself killed.

Irene was buckling into her boarding bucket when Wendall came into the ‘Mech bays.  She looked worried, her face lined in a frown.
The other two members of their platoon were sprinting for their own ‘Mechs, rubbing sleep out of their eyes.  The two had been exchanging shifts with Irene and Wendall.  Wendall hoped that the two had enjoyed their four hours of sleep.  He buckled into his own seat, riding up into the Gunslinger.  He sat down into his heavily padded seat, pulling his straps over.  The ‘Mech powered up immediately, sensing his weight.  He felt the electromagnetic rail gun in his right torso being loaded and his two lasers being loaded.  The IR-guided missiles mounted on the outside of his right arm came online, the sensors going active.   Finally, his fire control system, a Boomerang Mk. 23, came alive.  This was the most advanced of the OSDF’s targeting systems, allowing the destruction of individual limbs on an enemy Battlemech.  Even if this option was not used, the computer gave a general advantage to a ‘Mechwarrior at long ranges when matched with the fighting radar.
“This is Echo Leader, coming online now,” he said into his comlink.
“Roger that Echo Leader.  We’ve got multiple hostile paints coming in from all four quadrants.  Computer’s getting a count right now, but we’ve got more on the way.  Range to nearest contacts are eight miles,” the voice of the Invincible‘s controller came over his comline.
“That’s a big check, Tin Man,” Wendall said.
“Get a move on, Mr. Korper.  The contacts are massing for attack now,” the controller said.
“Roger that.  Okay Fourth Platoon, let’s get a move on,” Wendall said, rumbling towards the open door.
“We’ve got thirty contacts, twenty-four ‘Mechs, six vehicles, Echo Leader,” Korper said.
“Roger that,” Wendall said.
A different voice came on the phone.  “This is Captain Lukes, Captain Korper.  We’re not ready to lift off.  We need at least thirty minutes to secure everything, Captain.  We’ll need another ten to secure your ‘Mechs.  Get out there and do some damage, Korper.  The heaviest enemy ‘Mech appears to be fifty-five tons, but they’ve got six to one odds,” Lukes said.
“Ain’t life a bitch,” Wendall muttered to himself, moving his ‘Mech towards the weapons door.  The measured tread of his feet vibrated gently through the ‘Mech.  The Gunslinger was ready to go to war.  Wendall was amazed that there was no fear in his heart.  He simply had a grim purpose.

Irene was frightened.  Her hands shook terribly on the controls as they advanced from the ferry ship’s hull.  She kept her eyes on Wendall’s ‘Mech, trying to gain her concentration.  It seemed that her ‘Mech was getting bad vibes off of her, moving with trepidation.
“Let’s get ready to rumble, folks.  Tallyho, twelve o’clock.  Range is five klicks,” Wendall said.
“I’ve got more contacts, three o’clock, range six klicks,” the second section leader, 1st Lieutenant Petros Moral, said.  His quad-legged Arachnid Mk III ran over the cold wastes, the weapons fit being mostly long-ranged.  His wingmate was piloting the deadliest ‘Mech out of the group, a BDMS-2 Samurai.  This ‘Mech was well respected, having the best combination of speed, protection, and firepower, provided it was used correctly.  However, should a pilot fire every one of the heavy weapons in his arsenal he would find himself swiftly overheated.  The pilot, Julie Thornburg, was quite competent, having graduated first in her class and been given one of the deadly Samurai‘s as her reward.
“Alright folks, odds are six-to-one but they’ve got only half our weight.  Each of you take a quadrant!” Wendall barked.
“Roger,” Irene choked out, running to the south.  Julie turned and dashed to the west, her Samurai‘s full military throttle kicking in.  It could run at double its walking speed for a few minutes before its legs would freeze, but those few minutes could make the range close incredibly quick.  Thornburg was jumping in with both feet and a roundhouse swing.
The six ‘Mechs advancing towards her were the heaviest of the attacking ‘Mechs.  Two of them were 55-tonners and three were 45-tons.  It was a fair match,  Julie and her 100-tonner able to deal heavy death.

The advancing ‘Mech was closing at high speed.  Hanse turned to the other five ‘Mechs in his lance.
“Torez, Morikos, Lakes, your kill,” Hanse said.
“Sir, that beast is at least one hundred tons!” Torez shouted back.
“Have fun,” Hanse replied, leading the 55-ton Shadow Hawk IIC behind him to their left.  The commandeered Clan ‘Mech was a key to his plan with its amazing ability to close with a certain position.  The pilot inside began running, making himself a very hard target over the clear ground.
The enemy ‘Mechwarrior turned and began to go after the Shadow Hawk.  Torez, piloting a APL-1M Apollo, stopped and targeted the oncoming ‘Mech.  The Artemis IV system inside either ‘Mech’s torso achieved lock on the enemy ‘Mech, and he depressed the trigger.  Thirty missiles arced from the torsos, headed downrange towards the enemy ‘Mech.  The three other ‘Mechs, two Komodo‘s and a Stealth, had to close to close range to kill the enemy ‘Mech.
The enemy ‘Mech twisted to the side, trying to avoid the missile fire.  Unfortunately, the ‘Mech could not get rid of the Artemis lock.  Twenty-seven of the missiles thundered into the massive ‘Mech, staggering the behemoth.  The enemy pilot stopped and brought up its left arm, pointing it at the Apollo.  The pilot triggered his weapons, three bolts zipping downrange and hitting the ‘Mech dead center.  Hanse had recognized two of them as PPC bolts.  He shuddered at the range they had been fired upon.
The Apollo was shattered by the damage, its internal skeleton showing.  This was just briefly though, as the last weapon, a large laser, shot into the internal structure of the Apollo.  The laser found the engine, shattering it.  The ‘Mech pitched forward, smoking heavily.  It thundered face down with a heavy thud.  The shielding to the engine suddenly gave way, exploding through the ‘Mech.  Torez did not get out.

Julie felt the heat starting to rise in her ‘Mech and made sure that she did not fire the heavy energy bombardment once more.  She then brought up her right arm to engage the closing medium ‘Mechs.  She was being diverted from the other two enemy ‘Mechs, but that was of no matter.  The ferry ship’s guns could handle the attacking ‘Mechs.  She was doing her best to finish off these enemies.
The missiles had simply chipped away armor on her arms and torso.  She brought up the U-AC-20, pointing it at the first enemy ‘Mech.
The Stealth was closing at 152 kph, firing all of its weapons.  Julie waited until the ‘Mech was swelling in her windscreen, its fire starting to impact all over her ‘Mech.  The enemy pilot was cocking back and getting ready to deliver a punch when she fired the huge autocannon at double rate.
The stream of tungsten-carbide shells hit the ‘Mech dead in its cockpit.  The stream went clear through the enemy ‘Mech’s cockpit, blowing its head completely off.
The carcass slammed into her ‘Mech, knocking it backwards.  Julie immediately knew she had held her fire way too long, as she stumbled backwards and landed flat on her back.
The damage board began screaming warnings on her.  She had lost a pair of heat sinks and the majority of her rear armor.  The ‘Mech was hard hit, but not mortally damaged.
The first Komodo suddenly came flying through the smoke and snow she had stirred up.  The ‘Mech slammed into him hard, smashing her chest armor to pieces and driving her to the ground.  The ‘Mech stumbled over her and landed face down.
Julie was first to her feet, the Samurai having great responses and control.  She ignored the ‘Mech on the ground behind her, bringing up her autocannon to fire at the other ‘Mech’s teammate.  The stream of shells caught the charging Komodo high in its left torso.  The ‘Mech’s left arm fell to its side, as the torso crumbled.  The massive amount of damage left the ‘Mech stumbling backwards.
The impact of multiple medium lasers into her back through her forward.
“Shit!” Julie shouted, looking at her damage schematics.  There were just too many of the enemy ‘Mechs.  Her extended-range laser and part of her engine had been hard hit.  She could no longer fire the twin PPC’s in her arm due to the high heat.
She turned, taking the second volley from the Komodo into her chest.  The enemy pilot suddenly realized that he was taking on more than he could handle, and fired the jump jets.  The medium ‘Mech sprung away from her, firing back for its own defense.
Julie tracked slowly with her PPC’s and fired one.  The bolt caught the ‘Mech at the apex of its climb, knocking it off balance.  It hit hard, tumbling and shearing it’s arm off.
Some sixth sense made her duck her ‘Mech and turn.  The volley of laser shots went over her head, missing close.
“I’m sick of your ass,” Julie said, firing her jump jets just as they enemy ‘Mech fired again.  The Komodo pilot’s shock was evident as he did not move out of her way.
The Samurai had been designed to be the most mobile and deadly ‘Mech in any phase of combat.  Its physical attack capabilities were enormous, its size and maneuverability giving it the ability to match smaller ‘Mechs.  The favored attack of all Samurai pilots was the “Leap o’ Death”.  When first conceived, the ‘Mech’s designers had realized that this would probably occur.  Its arms were designed to automatically go up vertically to protect the weapons mounted there if a pilot decided to use such an attack.
The sight of a 100-ton beast falling from the skies was the last thing the enemy ‘Mech pilot saw.  Her kinetic energy smashed the ‘Mech’s forward thrusting head up and back, and she smashed the enemy war machine to the ground, controlling her fall so she landed atop it.
The impact threw her hard against the straps, bruising her.  The computer screamed out dire warnings, telling her that the ‘Mech could not take much more abuse such as this.
“Just give me a few more seconds,” Julie said, and smashed her fist forward into the enemy torso.  Her steel clad hand smashed through and grabbed the enemy’s gyro, shredding it.  Even if her first impact hadn’t killed the pilot, this final act had disabled the ‘Mech.
Julie turned to face the other enemy ‘Mech.  Its leap had taken it out of its weapons’ range, and now it was trying to rush back to take her in the rear.  Unfortunately Julie had enough time to turn and bring up her autocannon.
The massive weapon spoke for the last time.  The storm of shells obviously hit something major, for the ‘Mech exploded violently in a thousand pieces.
“That was impressive,” Julie said coldly, standing to her feet.  The jump into the enemy ‘Mech had seriously damaged one of her leg structures.  She could walk, but not run.

Wendall felt the four electromagnetic rail gun shots slam into his ‘Mech.  The damn light ‘Mechs were packing very large weapons for their weight.  The mounting gave them the appearance of running rail guns.  His ‘Mech’s armor was already reduced, and he saw incoming missiles launched from an infantry vehicle.
“That’ll be enough of this shit,” Wendall said, picking his first target.  He had let the enemy fire first to close the range and be sure of his targets.  Now he was ready to fire.
His large pulse laser lashed out first, hitting one of the running rail guns dead center in its torso.  Wendall watched as the thing’s armor seemed to melt away, leaving its skeletal internal structure exposed.  Wendall mashed down on the trigger for his extended range medium lasers just as the enemy pilot fired his rail gun.
The slug passed close by his cockpit as his laser bolt pierced the enemy ‘Mech through.  The bipedal war machine went face down hard, coming to a dead stop.
Wendall turned to face its charging platoon mates, his own rail gun coming online.  The agile ‘Mechs suddenly changed direction, scattering.  Wendall focused on the one closest to his own ‘Mech, swiveling his torso to fire as he began advancing at a steady walk.  The firing control computer began assimilating information and probable paths, then highlighted the one most likely to be taken.  It began tracking along this line, cueing him to fire.
The rail gun spoke once.  The depleted uranium slug sped downrange and smashed into the enemy ‘Mech, hitting it hard in its right side.  The capacitators to the rail gun exploded, completing the destruction of the ‘Mech’s right side.  The massive damage blew it over on its back, out of the fight.
The other two light ‘Mechs stopped and fired, their rail guns hitting him low on the left side.  Wendall turned towards the two ‘Mechs, and was about to fire when a fusillade fire hit him.  Two laser bolts and a rail gun slug savaged his right arm.  The computer showed serious damage to this area, the limb being partially severed.  He could still use it, but not that well.  He was fortunate that no major weapons were mounted there.
Wendall turned to see a ‘Mech that looked like it had a war bonnet atop its head.  This ‘Mech was obviously a greater threat than the two light ‘Mechs with the rail guns.  He would not be able to fight all of them at the same time.  It was time to get moving.
Wendall reached down and slapped the ‘Mech into full military power, the legs starting to pump at a faster rate as he turned towards the enemy ‘Mech.  Two rail gun slugs passed close by, as the two ‘Mechs behind him tried to hit him in the back.  Wendall knew it would take them a few moments to get turned and begin pursuing him.
He had forgot about the vehicles.
As the twenty LRMs slammed into his back, his memory was jogged.  The damage was enormous, his reactor starting to overload.  The computer fired him out of his cockpit, arcing him through the cold sky.
I hate cold weather, was his last thought before he was knocked unconscious.
The Gunslinger exploded, its death throes lighting up the dusk sky.

The pilot of the ‘Mech that had hit him with the double punch of Gauss rifle and ER large laser smiled as he brought his communicator up to his lips.
“Sir, we have another prisoner,” he said simply.
“Roger that,” Captain Potelemy replied.  He was riding in his command vehicle ten kilometers from the scene of the action.  “Do not hurt him.  He may prove..”
The planet’s weird electromagnetic field had cut off the last of the transmission.  The important part, however, had gotten through.  The ‘Mechwarrior signalled the infantry troops not to hurt the enemy pilot.  He then turned his Huron Warrior towards the enemy dropship’s last position.  Smoke was rising from that position, and he hoped that meant their assault had accomplished its mission.


Those members of Echo Platoon that wre still in one piece fell back in order towards the dropship just as Wendall was going down.  The group had killed fifteen of the small enemy ‘Mechs between them, their clear firepower advantage having told in spades.  A fifteen to one kill ratio wasn’t bad at all.
Irene fought hard to keep the tears out of her eyes.  Wendall’s ejection transceiver had not been picked up.  This could mean several things.  More than likely it meant he had not punched out before the enemy vehicle had killed him.  As she walked her battle scarred Ninja into the ferry ship, firing a parting shot out the door, she tried hard not to think about what Korper had meant to her.
A shadow suddenly blocked out the sun.  An enemy ‘Mech had managed to jump through the sleeting fire Invincible was putting out and land in front of her ‘Mech door.  The enemy pilot was hoping to get an internal hit, shooting through the door and hitting something major.  Unfortunately for him he had jumped right into Irene’s crosshairs.
Three lasers flashed in unison, hitting the Shadow Hawk IIC dead center in its chest, blasting it backwards.  Just as the enemy ‘Mech was trying to scramble to its feet, Irene’s ‘Mech door shut.
Irene backed her ‘Mech into its transporting cradle, hearing and feeling the ferry ship’s guns thundering on.  She picked up her comset, clicking it on.
“Echo Two…”  She fought down a sob.  “Echo Two secured,” she said finally.
“Roger that.  Liftoff in two minutes,” the controller replied.

Hanse looked at the prone Shadow Hawk IIC and the dropship starting to shudder and knew they were going to lose the ‘Mech.
“Get out of there, Gary!” he shouted over the com.  As if he heard him, the ‘Mech started to rise and turn to jump.
A pair of weapon’s mounts swivelled to track the ‘Mech.  A large autocannon began its buzzsaw song, catching the ‘Mech in the back.  When Hanse saw the stream of autocannon shells exiting out the other side of the ‘Mech, he knew it was over.  The explosion of the ‘Mech was lost in the flames and fire of the enemy dropship taking off.
The ship rumbled into the sky and headed into the leaden sky.
“Dammit!” Hanse said, pounding his control panel.  The ship was rapidly lost in the low hanging clouds.  The enemy had escaped!

“Okay folks, we’re out of boost stage,” Captain Lukes voice came over the com.  “All officers meet in the ready room.”
Irene popped her cockpit tab.  This automatically released a rope ladder, and she headed down it, disdaining the boarding bucket.
Julie was waiting for her at the bottom of the ‘Mech, tears also in her eyes.  Wendall had been a friend to them both, a good company commander.  The two hugged each other, consoling.
Petros came over and hugged them both to his huge chest.  He was speechless.  Just six hours before, they had all been one happy lance that had volunteered to go to Dragoon and were just then making planetfall.  Now they were minus one member, the pilot still on the planet dead or seriously wounded.  It was the first incident of combat in over twenty-five years for the OSDF.  That had been a minor pirate outbreak.  This appeared to be an alien invasion.
“We’ve got to go,” Petros said.
“Yeah, he’s right,” Julie said, letting Moral go.
The ready room was a grim place.  Gunnery Sergeant Chris Potter, acting commander of the First Platoon, looked like he was still somewhat in shock.  More than half of the Platoon were either casualties or missing.  Master Sergeant Winters had never called again.  They had left their dead to the enemy’s mercy.  His unit had only managed to kill one ‘Mech in exchange for all of this.  It was truly a bad day for the infantry corps.
Captain Lukes looked over his battle scarred troops as he walked into the room.  He had just finished setting the ferry ship on course for the system capital of Valhalla and was preparing to put the Invincible into two times the force of gravity to get there.  The officers were first going to meet and discuss what had just happened.
Lukes sat down at the head of the table.  He had not served during the pirate outbreak, being assigned to a different sector.  Lukes had never had to face speaking to troops had suffered the loss of friends in combat.  This was as new and frightening experience to him as it was the young men and women grouped before him.
Of course, Lukes had never let something like that stop him before.  His general philosophy was to seize a bull by the horns and not let go.
“Ladies and gentlmen, it may not feel like it, but we’ve won the first round,” he said shortly, keeping his voice level.  “In exchange for one ‘Mech and twenty troops, we destroyed sixteen enemy ‘Mechs and three vehicles.  I know that sounds like I’m a coldhearted bastard, but we have won an important victory.”
“Pardon me, sir, but that’s not going to bring a single one of our friends back,” Petros said simply.
“Belay that, Moral!” Major Roderick barked.
“Sir, yes sir,” Petros said, his voice having not changed a bit.
“Sir, what are we going to do now?  Are we going to go back?  Are we going to call for help from the rest of the Legion?  Or are we going to wait for the enemy to screw up and land on Valhalla?” Julie asked Roderick, giving Petros a glance that told him to hold his tongue.
“I think we’re going to do two of those things.  Those two are calling for reinforcements, at least a brigade, and waiting on Valhalla.  I understand that you want to go back and attempt to find Captain Korper, but unfortunately that just isn’t viable now.  The ferry ship was moderately damaged just by that small number of ‘Mechs, and we can’t afford to run the risk of getting damaged beyond repair by any forces the enemy may have on Dragoon.  We know that they have a fairly large dropship thanks to the battlevids of Sergeant Winters.  I don’t know what they’re carrying, but let’s not take any chances.  I’d feel alot better with the remainder of the 121st Garrison Battalion behind me,” Roderick said.
“I hear that,” Lukes replied.
The members of Echo Lance were obviously not happy with this decision, but kept their mouths shut.


Wendall awoke with a gasp of pain, screaming.  Someone had jostled his arm, shaking the broken limb.  The pain was like a white dagger through his pleasant, unconscious state.
“He is awake now, sir,” a voice said with laughter in it.  Wendall snapped his head towards the voice, seeing a laughing technician.  Wendall realized swiftly that his arm had been jostled in order to shock him back into consciousness, not accidentally.  Right behind this brainstorm came the fact that he was not lying in Irene’s arms like he had been fantasizing about, but was stuck inside an enemy ferry ship.  Finally, it occurred that he should try to escape.
All of this happened in a millisecond.  In the next, he was popping up and swinging with his good hand.
The shock of a stunner slammed him back onto the cot.  Wendall bit back his scream, vowing death to the man in front of him.
“I was hoping I would not have to stun you, ‘Mechwarrior, but you obviously do not know how to make yourself a good houseguest,” the technician said.
“You men are jackals!” Wendall shouted.  At the moment his diaphragm was all that was responding.
“Ah, but we are the jackals who have you in our clutches, Clanner,” the tech replied.
The glow in Wendall’s eyes was very, very apparent.
“I don’t know what in the hell a damn Clanner is, but I am not one!  Now let me see one of your superior officers, asshole, and we can talk about this!” Wendall shouted.
The tech looked at him strangely, then scurried out of the room.  Wendall looked up towards the ceiling, wondering at what his fate was about to be and trying to ignore the nagging pain in his arm.
A few minutes later a large, blonde-haired man came striding into the room.  His steel gray eyes met Wendall’s blue ones.  He did not extend his hand or give a greeting.  He simply said, “Follow,” and turned towards the exit to the interrogation room.
As Wendall was leaving he happened to glance over at another table.  A man was jerking under the influence of electricity.  He seemed familiar somehow.
Then it hit him.
“Sergeant Winters!” Wendall shouted, turning and dashing for the table.
A block of muscle and gristle hit him dead in the back, driving him to the floor.  A pair of hands reached around and grabbed his good arm.
“I would hate to break your good arm, my friend.  Now this time, follow me,” the man atop him said, adding a little bit of pressure.
“To hell with you!” Wendall gritted.  “You’ve treated me like an animal, not a prisoner of war.  You’re torturing one of the men in my command!  Have you no honor?!”
The man holding him suddenly realized he had a leverage.
“We will stop torturing him if you cooperate with us fully and answer all of our questions.  However, if you do not, we will kill him in the most painful manner possible,” the man said.
Wendall realized he had messed up.  Looking over at the screaming, thrashing Winters he realized he had no choice.
“Agreed,” Wendall said.

Major McWaters turned to his chief of intelligience.
“Strange, but he does not seem Clan.  If he was, he would be a ‘trueborn’.  And if he was trueborn, he would not be using so many contractions.  I think this man and his subordinate are telling the truth-they are not Clan,” McWaters said.
“I’m afraid I must agree, sir.  They do not seem Clan,” his intelligience said.  The man had been a lance commander in 3050 when the Clans had first arrived.  These men were definitely not exhibiting any of the Clan characteristics.
This is not good, McWaters began thinking.  If these men are not Clan, we may have bitten off more than we can chew.  The last thing the Inner Sphere needs is more enemies.
“We shall see how things go between the captain and our ‘Mechwarrior,” Alan said, switching to another camera.

Wendall sat down across from the enemy officer.  He had inferred that the man held real rank when the crew had treated him with great deference as he escorted Wendall through the ship.  A few soldiers they had passed had treated Wendall to hot glares and looks of hatred that assured him of his death if the captain ever let him out of his sight.
Wendall returned these looks with a smile.  These were obviously warriors his platoon had bested or killed friends of in the battle.  Somehow their looks did not bother him that much.
“You are quite cocky, my young friend,” the man he was walking with said.  They came before a compartment, and the door whispered open.  His companion gestured for Wendall to have a seat.
“Looking at the way my platoon conducted itself, I have reason to be.  And before you say I’m cocky, just think about this:  Two of those pilots had less than a year’s service under their belt.  The men and women you will be facing on Valhalla, which I assume you are going to try and occupy, are the cream of the crop.  I admit, with a hundred and forty-four ‘Mechs, you might take the planet, assuming their larger than these tin cans you call ‘Mechs aboard this ship.  But, I assure you, it’s going to be at a cost.  And the population is not going to just sit there,” Wendall said.
“You talk too much, my friend,” the man replied.  “I assume you took Lieutenant Osa prisoner, which is how you found out your information?”
“You’d probably be correct in that assumption,” Wendall replied.
“Hmm.  I guess that means we will have to discipline him when he returns,” the man said.
Wendall looked at the man strangely, than shook his head.
“You don’t understand ‘Mechpilots if you’re going to do that.  If he’s anything like an OSDF pilot, he’s naturally cocky.  And from what I’ve seen, we’re alot alike.”
“What is your name and rank, ‘Mechwarrior?”
“Captain Wendall Korper, Orion Self-Defense Force.”
“And I am Captain Eric Potelemy, Federated-Commonwealth.”
Wendall smiled.  He had thought that this was the enemy ferry ship commander.
“I must protest the treatment of Sergeant Winters and myself.  We have not been treated for our injuries or given the decency and respect an enemy prisoner of war accords.  It is bad enough that you and your men have invaded a sovereign state without provocation.  You did not need to increase your crimes by mistreatment of the prisoners you take.  I demand that you cease torturing Sergeant Winters and give us the treatment that we deserve,” Wendall said.
Eric pondered for a moment.
“It is done.”
Wendall looked shocked at the ease of the decision.
“But on one condition, Captain Korper.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to compromise your comrades by giving me their defensive positions.  No, what I’m going to ask you is much more important than that.  I want to know everything there is to know about your society.  I mean I want to know rulers, protocol, military training, everything.  I don’t want it all at once, for you’ll have plenty of time to tell me everything.  I just want it by the time we finish off Valhalla,” Eric said.
“You have a deal, Captain Potelemy.  But, I assure you, Valhalla will not be the cakewalk you expect,” Wendall said, smiling.
A tone sounded from a speaker mounted in the bulkhead behind Wendall.
“Captain Potelemy?”
“Sir, the Oi group has arrived,” the intercom buzzed.
“Thank you, Mr. McWaters,” Potelemy said.  “Follow me, Captain Korper.  You’re about to see just why Valhalla will be a cakewalk,” Eric said.  Wendall rose, his arm reminding him that it was still broken.
The captain led him to the bridge of the ferry ship and gestured for the shields to be removed from the windows.  Wendall was treated to a panoramic view of Dragoon’s cloudy sky.  Night had fallen, and the clouds looked dark and sinister as they went about their paths.
Suddenly these clouds were lit up from above.  Drive blasts pierced the bottom, melting the snow and ice on the ground below.
A very large shape passed through the clouds.  Wendall saw the outline of the ship and realized that it was the same type and size of the ship he was standing upon.  The vessel came to a rest, its landing legs deploying.  Wendall realized that the OSDF was going to have problems as he looked over the full three hundred and sixty degree area.
The first ship had been joined by three others.  A total of five dropships were now sitting on the ground.  Sure, sixteen of this ferry ship’s ‘Mechs were gone, but that still left at least twenty more.  There were one hundred sixty-four ‘Mechs preparing to invade Valhalla.  It wasn’t looking good for the garrison battalion.  With all of their aerospace assets and a large number of their battalion assets gone on Exercise Winter Thunder, the 121st Garrison Battalion was going to be in deep kimchi.


Colonel Iam Pilot, commander of the 121st Garrison Battalion, finished making his last turn on the three mile run.  The headquarters building for the unit, sited in the center of downtown Valhalla, was only a quarter of a mile ahead of him.  He began sprinting, pumping his legs faster and faster, the air burning in his lungs.
The sound of a siren totally surprised him.  Iam almost stopped to look up at the pole behind him to see if someone was working on the siren when he realized that not just that one was going off.
Military officers everywhere were stopped, looking up in stunned silence.  Unannounced drills were illegal by vote of the Valhalla Council.  If the sirens were screaming, there had to be a reason.  After their brief moment of immobility, the men snapped out of it and started sprinting for their positions.  Iam sprinted hard for the HQ building, his muscular legs flashing.  His ebony face carried the worry that was running through his mind as he entered the front door and headed for the elevator that led to the subterranean command post.
The command post was proof to gas, fire, and all forms of explosive ordnance short of direct nuclear barrage fire.  This was the safest place on Valhalla.
Iam punched in his access code, and the doors opened.  Iam nearly ran down a pair of company commanders sprinting out of the elevator.  He grabbed one of them, Captain Herschel Allen.
“What’s your status?!” he shouted against the din of the restarting sirens.
“We’ve got all of our tanks back online.  I don’t know what in the hell happened to Third Platoon, but if it’s Loker’s fault, he’s out of there.  Damn butterbar lieutenant needs to get his head out of his ass or my foot’s going to be in there with it,” Herschel said.
“Give him some time.  I seem to remember another butterbar lieutenant who wasn’t exactly the smartest person in the world that I gave a break,” Pilot told him.
“Yes, sir.”
“Get a move on.  I wish Korper hadn’t gone on that stupid expedition to Dragoon and left the one company of ‘Mechs I have without a commander,” Pilot said.
Herschel gave him a strange look.
“Sir, don’t you know?  That’s why we’re on red alert.  Someone shot up the Invincible,” Herschel shouted behind him, headed out the door.
It was in this manner that the commander of the 121st found out he was in a shooting war.  However, Colonel Pilot did not realize yet what he was about to face.  The first thought running through his mind was simply pirates.
Little did he know what was coming.


The group of men in the current room were some of the deadliest fighters in the Inner Sphere.  Each and every one of them was a veteran Invasion and the bitter fighting and raiding afterwards.  Most men here had lost family and friends to the invading societies, but had also exacted a very heavy price for their losses.
The expedition had been set up by Comstar in a diplomatic flurry.  The organization had first been forced to get rid of the natural distrust most of the Succession States had for it.  The second phase had been presenting the Com Guards as the basis for the expedition into unknown space.  Third had been getting all of the Houses to lay aside their differences and agree to go into the expedition jointly.
In all of these endeavors, Comstar had succeeded.  The group of 163 ‘Mechs gathered here were the best of the newest plus a few older, renovated models.  Sure, these units weren’t the Kell Hounds, Wolf Dragoons, Seventh Sword of Light, Gray Death Legion, or Black Thorns, but they were good enough.  And more were coming.  When all was said and done, Comstar and its alliance would have 326 ‘Mechs, 124 vehicles, 60 Aerofighters, 21 VTOLs, and 12,000 infantry in this system.  If necessary, the system could be used for raids into Clan space from the rear.
The overall commander of this large force was not from Comstar, however.  General Mutsu Fuchida had been a simple ‘Mechwarrior at the start of the Battle of Luthien.  By the end of the engagement, he was a captain in charge of his own company.  His bravery and capability on subsequent raids and assaults had got him promoted to command of his own regiment.
That’s when Comstar had requested him for this mission.  The man had graciously accepted, realizing he would probably be held a hero if this was successful, and could blame it on Comstar’s planning if he did not.
At the moment, he was reviewing the ROMs of the earlier battles with a grim look on his face.
“Every one of these enemy ‘Mechs massed around one hundred tons, my lord,” Hanse was saying, as the vids of his lance getting worked over were run.  “This ‘Mech in particular seemed to have the firepower of my entire lance comprised in its frame, plus the mobility of any one ‘Mech.  Its pilot, we have found out from one of our prisoners, is just out of their training academy.  She moves like one of our most experienced warriors,” Hanse said, the replay of the last Komodo‘s destruction moving across the screen.
“Lights please,” Hanse said, sick of seeing the slaughter.  “Gentlemen, we are facing a very dire threat as we sit here.  Apparently, these ‘Mechs are not Clan, even though they have Clan technology.  Both of our prisoners claim that they are not Clanners, and lie detector tests seem to bear this out,” Hanse said.  “We…”
“Have you subjected the men to torture?” Major Himoto Osa asked.  He was the older brother of Daiyo Osa, and the news of his brother’s capture had him in a generally unhappy state.
“No we have not, Major Osa,” Captain Potelemy thundered from the end of the table.  “Simply because your brother was to stupid to gain knowledge of the situation before he made an unprovoked attack is no reason for us to subject these men to torture.  I’ve decided we can get a hell of alot more information out of these men of their own free will than by torturing them to death, which is what we were going to end up doing with the enlisted man.”
“How are you so sure, oh great Captain, that they will comply with us willingly?  Have you asked them about what we can expect to face on this ‘Valhalla’?!” Himoto retorted.
“Calm down, both of you.  Himoto, I am ashamed of you showing such emotion.  You must control yourself better.  There is no reason for you to become upset.  And as to you, Captain Potelemy, it is not standard practice for us to treat our prisoners so well,” Mutsu said.
“And perhaps that is why you are the most disliked of any foe,” Potelemy retorted.
“We don’t lose often, and I would like to remind you that I am your superior officer, despite what our House’s differences in the past,” Mutsu said.
“Yes, sir.”
“Now then, I will allow you to continue in your treatment of the prisoners.  However, if they do not begin to produce pertinent information, than we are going to try the Draconis way.”
“Yes, sir.  However, I would just like to state that you will have to use mind-altering drugs and that you will leave these men mental wrecks that will be no good to anyone,” Eric said.
“We did not plan to keep them alive anyway if it got to that stage,” Mutsu replied.
“What is our timetable for invading this last planet?” a Free Worlds Federation officer asked.
“It is a six day journey to this other planet.  We will leave tomorrow, after all of our scout ‘Mechs are repaired.  This will be different in that we can use our Aerofighters to soften up the planet and its defenses.  Hopefully, this means we will not have to rely on our scouts to such a great extent, considering that not many are left.
“The Oi will lead an armed reconaissance tomorrow.”*** FINIS  (Battletech and associated terms retain their copyright with Topps, Inc.  All other characters and this text are copyrighted by myself.  This may be shared at will, but may not be published for profit or used in any manner that violates copyright)

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