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#1 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 05:29 PM

(this is one of a series of fic I'm doing based on a character I play on a Battletech forum I'm on. I got to thinking about matters, and realized that I'd never actually fleshed out my character's earlier days.)

Jungle Warfare

I stared into The Jungle, the dominant arena for the Laio-controlled sector of Solaris. Out there was a so-called mighty hunter, an ogre of a pilot riding in a 1-M Orion. By all rights, I was outmatched. Not only was my Shadow Hawk giving up a full 20 tons to the larger machine, the pilot also had a solid track record while in this stadium.

That ended tonight.

The guy's tactics never varied. He'd scope out the resident hotshots, see who had a relatively slow machine, and challenge them to a match. Of course, the thick growth that gave the arena its name would inevitably make their machines that much slower. All he had to do was maneuver his machine into a good firing position, usually the top of the hill next to the waterfall, and unload. He'd start off with his LRM 20, firing off all 12 volleys into his typically-oversized prey. Even a much larger mech, like an Atlas or a Banshee, would be forgiven for wilting under the barrage. By the time the Orion was out of LRM ammo, the target would be within range of his LB-10X autocannon. He'd fire off a mix of slugs and shot, the slugs to knock off whatever armor was left and the shot in order to probe for holes in the plate. If his target was still alive after that, which was rare, the twin medium lasers and the SRM 4 launcher would be able to finish the job.

Most likely, given that I hadn't been in the arenas for a few years he figured that I must be soft. Well, I didn't spend those years slacking off. I spent them against the Clans. He ? and everyone else watching ? was about to be reminded of this.

As soon as the arena staff signaled to begin, I rocketed into action. Hard experience taught me how to move through thick growth while giving away minimal sign that I was doing so. It was slow going, but the fact that my Shadow Hawk had both hands (seriously ? what is it with so many machines not having hands these days?) made the matter a lot easier. I also made it a point to zigzag as I went along, deliberately attempting to confuse him.

Once I got far enough along, I hit my jets. I had just enough momentum going to where his 20 narrowly missed me, the same as it did when I was fighting that one Daishi. I twisted around enough to pop him with my LRM 5, more to taunt him than anything else. The video later said I struck him in the right torso. But I was too busy laying down another zigzag to really care.

Every so many seconds I'd pop up on my jets. The guy obviously never figured out that I had long ago added two more to my machine, as his shots always seemed to come up just short; it was as if he presumed I was piloting an off-the-lot model rather than a custom, and so thought I'd be going a lot lower and a lot slower. This was going to cost him.

I counted until he fired off all 12 volleys, a clear sign of recklessness. I got to within the range of my PPC, then the next time I jumped I let that loose alongside my 5. The pilot blanched, but not from the blast of particles that washed over his machine's center torso. No, he was most likely confused at the prospect of a SHAD with a PPC; the only mass-production version to have one was a rather obscure Kuritan model from some years ago. I was definitely dealing with someone who had no notion of tactical flexibility or responding on-the-fly.

I continued my little tactic until he'd fired off all the shot his LB-X had. At this point, the pilot was most likely well aware of what my real goal was, as he opted to start his machine down from the top of the hill and instead attempt to fight it out with me on the ground. Considering his short- and medium-range weapon load, this might have been a good idea? if his armor was still intact. Instead, he had taken a pounding from the assortment of shots I'd landed against him with each jump, while my SHAD merely needed a new coat of paint.

I waited until he was down on the ground and coming after me to execute the second part of my plan. Once he was a good distance away from the hill, I went for it myself. By the time he realized that the growth made it impossible to directly target me, I was halfway there and he had wasted some more ammo. He started back towards the hill, but thanks to my full jump I was already nearing the top. I made his misery that much worse by using the last of my LRM ammo to further pit the armor on his mech's left leg.

He furiously charged his machine up towards me, very nearly closing the distance. Bad idea. PPC. Two medium lasers. SRM 2. He was in range for all of them. Each laser melted a streak in a different arm, while the PPC took off more armor from the right torso and the SRMs hit home in the center torso. It didn't matter that I hadn't scored any internal damage; what mattered was the sheer volley I'd just hit him with. The pilot had obviously never had to keep his machine upright against excessive damage, and so flailed about wildly before completely losing control of his machine. He pitched over to one side, and in so doing went right over the edge and into the river below. I will, however, give him points for pivoting his machine around so that he took the full force of the fall on his mech's arm rather than allowing himself or his mech's internals to be hammered. The trade-off, though, was that the impact alone was enough to sheer his arm of.

I jumped down towards the bottom of the hill and ran over towards the river. The pilot swam towards the surface, finally poking his head up about the time I got to him. I reached down and picked him up before the river could take him away. A small portion of the crowd cheered, although whether it was due to my win or my saving him is anyone's guess. The rest were downright violent with their loathing of me for topping their golden boy.

And that is how my rise to the top began?

Edited by Fortress Ironhold, 16 May 2012 - 10:25 AM.

Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#2 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 29 April 2012 - 06:19 AM

(next chapter - "Two For One")

I carefully scanned the video feed of the battle as it was projected. On one hand, Ishiyama could make for some astonishingly brutal matches due to how close-quarters it was; after all, that far down inside a mountain, and you often didn't know where your enemy was until you blundered into them. On the other hand, the system was so massive that in a one-on-one battle, it could take a while for any action to even begin.

Aside from myself and Kanz, only a handful of pilots remained after my father was taken down: Wizard, Eisensturm, Hazard, Templar, and Paladin. The latter two were gifts from what little bit of an intelligence service Rasalhague had. The other three were either Heimdall or MI, just like me and the old man. Between us, though, we had done just enough damage to the lower tiers (where we were consigned to after everything that happened) for the media to start paying attention to us again. But seven pilots and their support staff by themselves can only do so much, both in the arenas and as a Heimdall cell.

Hazard's little sister (no call sign yet) has been gunning for a ride of her own, and we?re in the process of procuring one. We're also expecting the arrival of another MI agent, call sign L'Etranger. But that's a bit in the future. Hence today.

As "filler" until we get everything operational, I was given two more MI agents? kinda. The first one ? the one who was in the arena right now, was Millicent "Starlight" Vincennes. She had been a field operative, but her team wound up being collateral when the Cappellans rolled on through the St. Ives Compact; she only just barely escaped, bringing a stolen Raven with her (similar to the one she got shot out of) in the process. Too tainted for further field operations, but just useful enough to ship off to me. The other, Thomas Rocker, was so green at the gills he hadn't even been given a call sign either. In fact, he hadn't even stayed at any one station long enough to make an impression on anyone? at least, not a good one; guy's got entirely too much energy, and has thus far succeeded in annoying the snot out of everyone he's been teamed with. So, he's my problem now.

As fate would have it, the first two matches I could arrange for them were on the same day: Ishiyama in the morning, and the Coliseum in the afternoon. A tight schedule to keep, especially at this pace, but if we could pull it off this might be just enough to get us over the top. If we're lucky.

Truth be told, I was initially hesitant to put Starlight back in any sort of combat; between her evaluations and what I've seen personally, her strength lies in being able to read, analyze, and interpret vast quantities of data in astonishingly short order; in other words, she's a living decision support system. But after something like what she went through, she needs a win to get her confidence back. That's why I put her up for this one. Ogre in a newer-model Urbanmech. Loves to get close to people so that he can use his LB-10X for maximum effect. Few light mechs can withstand even one slug, let alone a follow-up from his small and small pulse lasers.

On the surface, the Raven's only saving graces would appear to be the Beagle Probe and the ECM suite, which should hopefully help give her an edge. But in reality, after speaking with her about her experiences, I decided to stack the deck a little. More like a lot, actually. I just hope she could make the most of it.

The Probe picked something up, alerting her to what might finally be the ogre. Sure enough, Mr. Fat, Dumb, and Happy was right around the corner. He was obviously attempting to "slice the pie" by pivoting while going through turns in order to keep facing his targets, but the effort was so clumsy that merely blaming the machine for it was illogical.

Starlight's major complaint about the Raven was that if she was close enough to a target to use the NARC Beacon she was generally close enough to where trying to hang around and take advantage of it put her in danger of being killed. So I got rid of it. I dropped the head-mounted heat sink and moved the leg-mounted ones to the torsos so that I could go double. Why did I go double? I dropped two more medium lasers in the left arm, a fifth in the head, and an SRM 4 in place of the NARC Beacon; anyone who merely did a cursory examination would catch the expanded left arm, but that would be it.

As I figured, she braced her mech and cut loose with everything she had. The doubles would just barely vent everything, meaning she'd likely have a few words for me about how hot it now was in the cockpit. But in exchange? Just as an LB-10X can destroy most light mechs with a single shot, that much firepower is more than enough to crack open an Urbie's armor. The head of the mech appeared unscathed, but the rest of the mech was covered in pock marks and gouges. Gaping holes were manifest in the side torsos; no signs of internal damage were present, but the fact that so much damage was even done in the first place was sufficient; the pilot, realizing that he had officially lost the battle, sent the signal for a surrender.

But there was no time to enjoy it; we needed to get loaded up and moved.

**

On the surface, the Coliseum looked like a flat, open battle ground. But nothing on Solaris was ever that straight-forward. In reality, the arena floor was littered with panels that could pop up and serve as temporary barriers. Thus, the battle field could literally change every few seconds. It was into this environment I was sending Tommy.

One would think his Wasp would be perfect for such an environment, especially since it's been customized. The pulse laser and the streak were stripped and the armor downgraded to standard to make room for three medium lasers, two small lasers, the double heat sinks to vent it all, and a half ton of armor to compensate. But his opponent this time was perhaps even better suited. Not only did the opposing Commando still have an edge in regards to the amount of fire it could bring in a single volley, the woman who was inside was a veteran Lyran soldier who my sources said was secretly Lyran intelligence; not Loki, but still intel. This would most likely make her a hard target indeed. But if she could go down, it'd definitely send a message? right to the people who most needed to hear one.

As soon as the signal was on, he was off and running, exploiting one of the advantages a Wasp had over a Commando: speed. But there was more to it than that. After working with him one-to-one, I discovered something that the other stations had missed: his hyperactivity was not, in fact, due to his simply being hyperactive; instead, it was due to the fact that he lived his entire life at a far faster pace than most others. Including processing information. I made sure he had seen some videos of prior Coliseum battles, and in doing so he seemingly figured out a way to tell when a barrier was just about to raise or lower. Suffice to say that the Commando pilot wasted quite a few shots shooting at him but hitting barriers instead.

He could have easily shot back. But it was obvious that he had something else planned. I was right.

He arranged it so that there was finally a straight shot between the two of them. The Commando pilot obviously meant to use it to finally line up a shot against him. But in typical fashion, Tommy was one step ahead of her ? literally. Before she could even try to fire, he already had his mech off and charging towards her. The first instinct of most pilots is to brace in order to protect themselves if they realize they can't move in enough time. He was banking on that.

Instead of plowing into her, he deftly side-stepped his machine and kicked the opposing machine, knocking one of the Commando's legs out from underneath it. As the pilot had braced herself, her hands were apparently not on the controls, leaving her no way to right her machine. Instead, the mech spun around and landed on its back. Tommy didn?t even need to point his right arm's iconic medium laser at the Commando's head for everyone to see that the battle was over, but it would most likely make for much better press.

One day; two wins for the stable. Time for somebody to take notice?
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#3 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 10:24 AM

(Eviction Notice)

I crouched down in the bushes, taking stock of the guy walking patrol. The crooks running the show might be wealthy, but it was obvious that they had little in the way of knowledge concerning tactics. Their sentry might have had a Rorynex submachine gun and a flak vest, but one man alone, in the woods, in the dark? A careless mistake. In a few short seconds, I had a new weapon and they had an unconscious guard.

In an effort to ensure that the stable's fortunes weren't exclusively tied to the arenas, my old man started investing in different entities in the hopes of keeping a stable cash flow. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turns out that he didn't exactly perform the level of due diligence he should have. The end result was that one of the companies he invested in was S7 Reality, a company that looked good on paper but raised more questions than answers. The company finally went under shortly after I got back, and after a period of behind-the-scenes haggling concerning creditors the decisions were finally made in regards to disbursing the remaining assets. By the time things got down to my level, though, all of the liquid assets were gone. Instead, the stable would be getting repaid in property.

Most of the properties we got were, like the company, only valuable on paper. A single storefront out of an entire strip. A run-down four-plex. A handful of duplexes. I'd already hired a trusted inspector to go through each of them, and the results weren't promising. I could still get some money by taking rent from the tenants (I was in the process of forming my own company, Olympus Reality, to handle matters; I just needed to get myself and a few others in the stable the needed licenses), but if the tenants finally left I'd be on the hook for some major repair bills.

But the biggest catch was a piece of property adjacent to the land we owned. The site had, at one point, been a religious commune of some sort. The central building was an auditorium that looked like someone superimposed a button over the letter "Y"; the rounded building, which was used as their gathering hall, had three exits spaced evenly around the circle. Surrounding the property was a kitchen, a storage building, an office area, and a handful of apartments. Officially, I could easily turn it into some sort of summer camp or outdoor retreat. In reality, securing this place would help put a buffer around our operations at Mount Olympus.

Problem is, the religious group folded some time ago. No one came in after them, so the place became a den of thieves. The police could never actually catch anyone; the nearest station was so far away that they were inevitably spotted before anyone got close, at which point everyone would scatter. No; if things were going to get resolved, I'd have to exercise my new-found rights as landlord to deal with it.

I got closer to the facility and examined it. Whatever was going on, it was in full swing. Lights were on in every single building, a series of generators powering everything; I had no idea how they got water after that was shut off, but I'm thinking an illegal hook-up. Regardless, this wasn't going to last much longer.

Few people know it, but in a way I was rather beside myself when I was finally pried out of my cockpit that day. The doctors did a good job of making sure my new bionic bits looked just like the real thing, but Eisensturm and Wizard couldn't help but take things a step further. That was going to come in handy today.

I activated my headset. Most remote piloting systems for battle mechs were crude and inefficient; the best use of them to-date came in the form of the Q-Mechs the Kuritans used against the Clans. But these two had managed to piece together something that literally made their MI contact snort cherry soda out his nose when he was told about it. The long and short of it was that I didn't even need to be in my machine for me to pilot it. Time for a field test.

My Shadow Hawk burst out of the foliage along with Templar's Vulcan and Paladin's Hunchback. Starlight's Raven and Tommy's Wasp also made their presences known, each appearing at a different side of the facility. I'd barely even begun shouting my warning through my microphone before everyone in the buildings started to run for shelter? and straight into the arms of the police officers I'd led through the tree line.

Upon realizing that the situation was deteriorating rapidly, an older Banshee (we'd later figure it to be a 3S after we pieced it back together) roared to life and emerged from its hiding position; whoever was running the show had to be wealthy to afford a mech so large, no matter how outdated. But unfortunately for them, I'd spotted it while on a previous recon and so planned accordingly. As soon as the Banshee roared to life, so did our Marauder IIC. Kanz planted all three Clan ER PPCs into the beast's back, one per torso; say what you will about his being an ex-Clanner, but he was obviously adapting quite well to the way we did things in the Inner Sphere. He was careful not to do internal damage with his shots, instead allowing the surprise and the huge burst of particles to do the work of knocking the machine over. The Banshee pilot wisely chose not to stand his machine back up.

As soon as the sun came up I got with the cops and went over the night's events. Three dozen people were in custody, although another dozen had managed to evade the police in the darkness. A large cache of weapons and body armor was uncovered, as was a significant amount of illegal substances and an entire suitcase full of counterfeit currency. Even if we didn't shut down whatever syndicate ran the place, we did ultimately succeed in putting a severe dent in their operations. What's more, for our help the cops decided to go ahead and let us keep the Banshee and the submachine gun. All we needed now was another pilot and we were good to go.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#4 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 28 May 2012 - 08:52 PM

#5 - On With The Show

I scanned the open terrain, trying to size up what I was going to be facing. I'd been putting some money aside to fix up the properties I'd acquired, but even with the reward money for shutting down the group meeting out of the commune site I still had a ways to go before I could afford to fix anything up. In particular, the commune site needed a significant amount of repairs after everything that had happened to it? and that was on top of having to sweep the site in order to find anything that might have been hidden or discarded.

And so here I was. Some rock band named Bread Basket was being pushed out as the newest, biggest thing. This meant that their first music video had to be big in order to match it. Given that it was some sort of would-be Viking ballad, the executives decided to set the song against the backdrop of a mech free-for-all. Rather than just simply acquiring existing footage, however, the company decided to go all out: ten thousand c-bills for the first so many mech jocks who signed up, and a full hundred thousand for whoever actually won the melee. All together, that made ten of us standing around in an open field while camera vehicles roamed around. It would make sense if they intended to recover the cost by selling the video of the full melee as a promo, but otherwise it was a rather expensive ? and potentially dangerous ? gamble for a company to take on a band that hadn't yet sold their first album.

I noted three mechs from the other nine in the crowd: a Zeus, a Victor, and a Stalker. They were the heaviest three of the lot, and so despite appearing to be older models they'd normally be the odds-on winners. Of the other seven mechs, my Shad was the heaviest. None of the other machines could really go toe-to-toe with an assault mech like that, and so unless they tried for a dogpile they wouldn't stand much of a chance.

I eased back into my command chair as I waited for the signal to begin. Once things got started, there was no telling just how the other mechs would break up. In fact, it was possible that the different pilots might simply turn on whoever was closest to them. Given that the mech nearest to me was a Locust, I doubted the pilot would be foolish enough to try a direct assault. I needed to be ready for anything.

As soon as the signal sounded, the Locust was off and running. Just as I figured, rather than try to pair off against any one mech, the pilot used the machine's speed to dart through the ranks and start stinging everyone else. A sound strategy, or at least it would have been if the big three actually seemed to be bothered by it. In fact, the trio were ignoring the other mechs outright.

Instead, they all came gunning for me.

The Victor pilot was smart enough to take advantage of his mech's jump jets, rocketing up into the air in order to avoid the crowd. Meanwhile, the other two ran along on the ground. Thing is, even a stock Shad out-ranged a stock Victor of that vintage. My guess was that the pilot was merely a diversion; the trio wanted me to go airborne so that the Zeus and Stalker could have a clear shot with their LRMs.

Instead, I hit the jets and flew to my left. In doing so, I popped off a shot with my LRM 5. Against a Victor a single volley wouldn't do much, but it was obviously a rather effective taunt. As soon as the Victor landed, the trio changed direction and came after me again. The Victor pilot once again threw his mech into the air, but the other two machines twitched just enough to tell me that they were anticipating another dodge to the left. Instead, I shot backwards, pinging the Victor again with my LRMs. The pilot was obviously furious with me, as he didn't go airborne again; instead, it opted to join the others in charging me, perhaps to give the machine some protection.

It wouldn't be enough. Instead, I walked my Shad around a little, pretending to backpedal. I let the three get close enough to get tone on me, then hit the jets the moment I saw LRMs flying at me. The missiles wound up hitting open ground, creating a crater and throwing up chunks of dirt. Once airborne, I shot forward and let my friend in the Victor know that I hadn't forgotten about him. I fired off my PPC along with my LRM, and both found purchase in the machine?s center torso. I didn't need my thermals to tell me that I'd tagged the engine, as the machine's staggering around did that for me. If the camera crews wanted good footage, they got it. But that wasn't all they were going to get.

Any mech pilot worth his salt knew that an engine hit was deadly serious; not only could enough hits bring down a machine, they could potentially cause the engine to explode. Not only would the vehicle itself and its crew go up in a gout of flame, in the case of fusion engines ? like on mechs ? anything in the immediate radius would go up as well. In that sense, it was no surprise when the Stalker and Zeus briefly forgot about me and tried to put some distance between themselves and their stricken friend. This gave me the opening I needed.

I hit the jets and went to the left again, bringing me square with the Stalker. The pilot was obviously startled by this move, as his large lasers missed me wide; that must have made it sting even more when I my SRMs pock-marked the massive dome that was its torso and head. But I had bigger concerns at hand than the Stalker. I hit the jets again, leaping forward. Just like they had tried to distract me earlier, I was now returning the favor. The Stalker pilot obviously thought that I was going to try a "death from above" attack and so hunkered down in an effort to brace his machine; likewise, the Zeus pilot had tried to calculate where I was going to be in the air and fired off its weapons to try and intercept me.

If I actually had been trying to land on the thing, the shots might have hit. Instead, I landed just behind the massive machine. Before the Victor pilot knew what was coming, I shot off both of my medium lasers and my SRM launcher. The Victor lurched like a rag doll as its gyroscope was blown to pieces. Realizing that the machine was going down, the pilot ejected up into the air.

Once more, the Zeus and Stalker pilots were too distracted by the plight of their buddy to pay attention to anything else. That left me the opening I needed to spin my Shad around and plant a kick into the side of the Stalker's right leg. The pilot was still braced against a death from above, and so reacted too late to do much of anything. The machine soon toppled over to its left, landing on its boxy arm. The machine could still rotate its right arm around like a turret, but without hands it wasn't going to stand back up under its own power.

The Zeus pilot yet again fired off a full salvo at where I was rather than where I actually happened to be, the shots hitting the ground next to the Stalker just as I went airborne. I quickly checked my sensors to see just how many of the other contenders were still standing. Aside from me and the Zeus, it was just the Locust and a Hatchetman. A quick visual scan indicated that the Locust, which was surprisingly intact, was having trouble; it had raw speed on the machine, but the pilot couldn't get too close or else that massive hatchet would cleave the mech in half. I smiled to myself as I figured out just what I was going to do next.

I shot straight up into the sky, something that caught the attention of the other three pilots. The Locust and Hatchetman turned towards the Zeus, and, seeing that its partners were down, apparently decided to end their stalemate by charging the larger machine. The Locust ran straight towards the Zeus, whose shots completely missed; apparently, the pilot just wasn't used to tracking fast-moving targets. This gave the Hatchetman time to close, whereupon it began to unload the last of its autocannon ammo into the bigger machine. The Zeus vainly tried to defend itself, but the best the pilot could do was give as he received. The Hatchetman was just slow enough for the Zeus to finally land a mortal blow, but by that time there were more holes in the Zeus' armor than armor.

I figured it was time for me to start repaying the favor, and so I began to spam the Zeus with LRMs. In exchange, when the Stalker pilot finally figured out he could pivot his arm around and open fire, the Locust went over there and planted a few well-placed kicks and laser blasts to convince the guy otherwise. The Zeus tried to take advantage of this by getting a farewell back-shot on the Locust, but one of my LRM volleys found home inside the mech's hip actuator. The pilot was good enough to put his arms beneath him when the machine fell, but it was obvious that the machine was now out of the fight as well.

That just left me and the Locust.

The pilot took one look at me and powered his machine down. The mech had made it through the melee largely unscathed, and so unless he chewed through all of his machine gun ammo he was going to be making a profit anyway. Most likely, the pilot didn't want to risk his mech for anything more. A respectable decision, all things considered.

That left me quite a bit richer. But with definite questions as to just why I was singled out.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#5 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 08:55 AM

Out of Place

I gently maneuvered the Archer through the tree line, testing it to see just how stealthy it could be. Although I was used to piloting my Shad, the Archer ? one of the few mechs left over from when my dad was running the show ? was starting to turn into a hangar queen because no one else was around to pilot it. Under normal circumstances, I'd take it out into the field via my remote control link, for which this machine had been hooked up. But given that I?d just had it customized, I figured it was time to personally check it over and see just how well it was performing.

Even before acquiring the commune site, we had a fair amount of the land in and around Mount Olympus. The borders were marked with assorted physical and electronic markers, meaning that wild animals could come on through but humans would have some explaining to do. Given this open terrain, we used to take mechs out all the time to spar or simply have practice runs in them.

If nothing else, this was a perfect opportunity to be out by myself in order to think. The one hundred and ten thousand I got from the video shoot, minus taxes and tithes, was enough to get the four-plex up to code, but I still had the duplexes, the store front, and the commune to worry about. I figured that if nothing else I could take tenants in the four-plex again use the rent money to help pay for the repairs to everything else. It'd take a while, but it was one way to do things.

Fortunately, the video was a hit and so we were starting to get some more media attention ? this time positive. Tommy had gotten himself a deal to help promote a line of shoes, for which he was going to get ten grand; one grand would be kicked forward to the stable to help make ends meet (specifically, one of the duplexes needed repairs to its roof; a thousand was the estimate from the contractor), and he'd get to keep the rest for himself? less taxes, of course. A few other offers had come our way, but we were still looking them over; picking a potential loser ? or at least something that was contrary to whatever image we were each individually trying to establish ? wouldn't go over very well and so could likely do more harm than good in the long run.

If nothing else, though, I had recently received confirmation that we were soon to have a twelfth man for the team, thereby allowing us to be a full company of mechwarriors even without the remote control systems. A young officer from the former St. Ives Compact had apparently set up a resistance cell with some members of his unit and some former intelligence officials, but when they ran into some unexpected resistance they took out a senior Cappellan officer with a well-placed arrow and then fled the planet? without any mechs, as all their machines had been destroyed in the fighting and they hadn't had time to steal any others. If nothing else, we could put him in the Banshee; it was back operational, and had even been tinkered with. As for the rest of the group, I figure I can do something with them.

I paused when my sensors began to pick up contacts. No one was supposed to be out here in this section of the property but me, and so for me to find anyone likely meant trouble. This Archer might not be as maneuverable or silent as my Shad, but that didn't mean I couldn't still pull off a few tricks with it. By the time I finally caught up with everyone, it was obvious they didn't even know I was there.

In any sort of combat situation, a vital survival skill is the ability to determine whether or not something just isn't right. This was one of those times. Six mechs were moving in formation: two Wasps, three Stingers, and a Crockett. Although it was hypothetically possible for a person to have somehow gotten their hands on a Crockett, either a vintage unit or one of the new ones that was supplied to the Draconis Combine at one point, a Crockett could literally only move at about half the speed of the other machines. It was possible that they represented a fellow stable taking a practice run or planetary militia out on patrol, but that was unlikely: a stable would need a fair chunk of change to keep a Crockett running, and I don't recall seeing any such machines on the rosters for the military. No, something was very, very wrong. More criminal activity?

I sent out a call for backup using the antiquated but still very valuable Morse code. That being done, it was time for me to get involved. I stepped out into a clearing and, with my speakers open, issued them a challenge, noting that I was the property owner and that they were trespassing. The six stopped, obviously alarmed at the prospect of their having been spotted. Whoever I was dealing with, they were alarmingly clumsy.

The Crockett stepped forward, its pilot obviously the person in charge of the show. The pilot explained that they were a new stable that had just purchased the plot of land right next to ours; they'd been out on a scouting tour, and were very sorry about inadvertently coming onto my property. In the process, however, they told their first confirmable lie: they made a remark about how they didn't know where they were because I had no property markers. I have Wizard run systems checks on the electronic markers every twelve hours; they were working just fine when these clowns traipsed on through earlier this morning.

Time for me to call their bluff. "I suppose that you don?t mind if I make some phone calls to check out your story?" I asked them. I legitimately hadn't heard anything about new neighbors, but if they were legit then someone, somewhere would know about them. In that case, I'd merely write them off as being a potential nuisance, escort them back to the property line, and later on take some estimates for an upgrade to the electronic markers.

One of the Stinger pilots, however, flinched. The pilot must have figured that I was on to them, and so rather than wait for the group leader to try and talk things out he came after me. Normally, this might be a good idea, as a Stinger could potentially get within the minimum range of an Archer's LRMs well before a typical Archer pilot could react, leaving the Archer with but four medium lasers (two of which were rear-firing) to defend themselves with. But I was already expecting trouble, so my hands were firmly on the triggers. When the Stinger pilot confirmed his hostility, I greeted him by popping open the covers to my missile racks and giving him a full volley. The mech's anti-missile system roared to life, establishing that it was likely a 5M model, but the device apparently hadn't been serviced in a while because its shots completely missed the mark. In fact, I was almost slightly surprised when the Stinger didn't just disintegrate beneath the onslaught of forty LRMs, but the way it danced around like a puppet before toppling over told me that the pilot was out of the fight even if the machine wasn't; I'd later learn that some of the LRMs caught the machine in the head, giving the pilot a concussion.

The other four light mechs broke formation to come after me. Rather than let myself get distracted, however, I began to sidestep them and bracketed the Crockett. The machine rocked underneath the volley, but at eighty-five tons it had both the bulk and the armor to take it. I'd need to smack it a few more times to finish putting the machine down.

One of the Wasp pilots got brave and shot forward ahead of its buddies. By this time the mech was, indeed, coming close to the minimum range of my LRMs. But that didn't worry me. The base design for this Archer was a 2W, meaning that on paper it had SRMs to back up its LRMs, but gave up a fair amount of armor to do so. Well, after some finagling and finessing, I figured out something a little better.

Full armor protection, courtesy of ferro-fibrous armor.

And a hidden large laser.

I popped open the hatch in the center torso to reveal the hidden surprise. You could practically see the Wasp pilot blanch as he realized that he was now very much in trouble. The large laser burrowed into the center torso of the machine, coring through the armor and melting away vital internal structure. Three medium lasers ? one from each arm and one from the top-mounted comms assembly I'd converted over (the real assembly was nestled internally) ? later, the Wasp collapsed just like its buddies. The pilot ejected, realizing that it was better to take his chances with the wind and terrain than stand and face me any longer.

The Crockett tried to get revenge by sniping me with its ER large lasers, but the pilot was obviously unskilled with long-range fighting and so missed me wide. Instead, I pivoted around one more time and fired off another volley. This time, the machine was obviously starting to become ragged, even from this distance. The other three mechs used this opportunity to try and flank me, but I wasn't going to just let that happen without a good, solid fight.

The other Wasp was the first one to try it. I took some armor damage from its pulse laser and SRMs, but in exchange I sawed its leg off with the large laser, sending it crashing down. A Stinger pulled off a back shot with its laser, but the two mediums I had in the rear cored out its gyro; I have a knack for gyro shots, don't I? The other Stinger used its buddies' plights to shield its own movements, but it wound up missing a leg as well courtesy of a trio of mediums.

The Crockett pilot, realizing that I'd just torn through his team, apparently decided that a fighting retreat would be best; the machine also broadcast some sort of message out, but I couldn't quite tell who it was talking with or what it was saying. Either way, this just made it an even more serious target: it could just as easily be calling for help as signaling a retreat. Forty more LRMs went its way, this time staggering the beast.

The three machines I'd just taken down stirred back to life, their pilots apparently desperate to keep me from tracking down their colleague. This pretty much ended when the cavalry arrived: Tommy used the lasers on his Wasp to cut one of the Stingers to ribbons, and L'Etranger (who had apparently caught the first Wasp pilot) used the PPC on his Battle Hawk to blow the legless Wasp back to the Stone Age. The other Stinger pilot hit the silk, obviously deciding that he was done for the day.

That left the Crocket? which was in the process of being pursued by the Locust IIC. The much lighter, much faster machine didn't quite have the firepower to sting such a heavy machine, but it was pinning the brute in place so that I could LRM it to death. Just as soon as the battle had begun, it was over.

Seeing that the smaller fish were being ordered out of their cockpits, I jogged the Archer over to the Crockett. Rather than Kanz emerging from the machine, however, Wizard popped out instead. With a revolver in one hand and his field computer system on his back, he made his way over to the downed mech; he?d later tell me that he was running a diagnostic on the mech's remote control systems when he heard, at which point he decided to join the fray. This actually worked out just fine, as once Wizard forced the pilot out (what was the guy going to do with an Archer standing over him?) he was able to get right inside and crack open the Crockett's systems.

Maria broke off from the other three to sweep the perimeter; if reinforcements had been on their way, she'd have encountered them. Instead, when the cops went to go speak with the owner of the stable (turns out that a new stable had, indeed, just opened up out of an abandoned factory), they found the place deserted, as if everyone had left in a hurry. The six pilots were arrested for assault and trespassing, with two of the pilots also turning out to have been wanted for assorted crimes. The Stingers and Crockett were confiscated as "evidence", although it was painfully obvious that the Stingers would soon be fielded by the police while the planetary garrison would have a new heavy trainer. We were "allowed to keep" the Wasps, as they were so shot to pieces that you'd have to strip one to fix the other.

The data recovered from the Crockett was just enough to suggest that something dishonest was taking place, as if the stable had been created just to serve as a smokescreen for something. At least, that was what the cops said. But we figured something more serious than that was going on to justify something like this taking place.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#6 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 16 June 2012 - 07:52 PM

[7] Soft Targets

I kept one eye on the bank of monitors and the other on Starlight and the kids. A stable from the Marik sector of town had challenged us to an extended series of arena battles. We were both about even in the rankings, and so it was only a matter of time before we wound up in a match against one of their pilots anyway; even if we ourselves didn't arrange it directly, some promoter would. So here we were, in The Factory, challenging them on their home turf.

Or, at least, that's the story I gave everyone. The truth of the matter is that the data Wizard pulled from the Crockett still worried me. At first, I figured we might have just been dealing with a group of criminals who were using a stable as a front. But that was just a best-case scenario. "Six mechs" was the standard unit size for both Comstar and the Word of Blake, and the presence of a Star League-era mech only seemed to encourage this suspicion. But the data he pulled indicated that, even if we were wrong about Comstar or Blake being involved, something legitimately unpleasant was in the making.

And who was the biggest sponsor of the Blakists? House Marik.

It could have just been a coincidence that we were challenged not long after the dust settled. Or it could be that someone in the stable is in on it. Regardless, the only way to get answers would be to meet them in battle.

Wizard and Eisensturm were both single fathers. Eisensturm lost his wife and several relatives when an assassination attempt against him took place during a family reunion. As a prominent weapons designer for the Federated Suns, just about anyone and everyone would have had motive; however, the guy in charge of ensuring his personal security ? and, by extension, security for the reunion - was later outed as a Loki agent, raising questions as to whether or not he (and, perhaps, Loki) was in on it or if he was simply incompetent. On the other hand, Wizard's wife was a case of blue-on-blue; reportedly, a Lyran social officer mistook her Victor for a Falcon Man-O-War and felt obligated to down it without actually calling to confirm.

They each had a young son that they were now responsible for; the boys were old enough to want to see their fathers in the arena, but young enough to where they needed babysitting. Starlight, Maria, and Amelia (one of our two desk jockeys / tactical operations personnel) had an agreement in which they would each take turns watching the kids as it happened. I was wanting Maria to handle it today so that Starlight could take the battle (Maria knows her way around a fight and could use her Spector's hand to get the kids out if something happened; Starlight and her Raven are lacking in both regards), but Maria was wanting to make an appearance in the arena and just wouldn't let it go. I was officially here to oversee my people in battle, but in reality, if something did go wrong, I wanted to be here with my Shad to handle matters personally.

The first battle of the day, Hazard and his Stealth versus a would-be tough guy in a Hermes II, was practically an exercise in bad comedy. Rather than take full advantage of his mech's speed, the Hermes II pilot instead tried to get Hazard into a straight-up brawl. This came to a screeching halt when Hazard took full advantage of the terrain to flank the guy and cut loose an alpha strike right into the other mech's rear armor. No mechwarrior in the universe wants to end a battle face-first in the ground, but this guy pretty much had it coming.

The second battle was Eisensturm up against a spoiled little rich girl who took the fact that her mech was a Crusader just a little too literally. As most Thunderbolts have either a large laser or a large pulse laser, she figured that her anti-missile system would keep her safe from his LRMs while she used her jump jets to stay at range and bracket him with hers. Thing is, Eisensturm traded out his pulse for an ER large; not only did this give him some tonnage for some more close-range firepower, it also extended the range of the weapon just enough to frustrate her plans. And while the Crusader's LRMs merely pock-marked the Thunderbolt's armor, the ER large kept stripping away armor until the battle was over.

Next up would be Maria against a speedster in a Cicada. Following them would be the finale, Wizard going up against the stable's pinch-hitter and his Awesome. Hazard had volunteered to go first because he figured that Eisensturm's match would likely take a while; he hoped that he would have time to get his mech back in the bay, get things checked out, and make it over here with us before Maria's match started. However, he wasn't here quite yet; either he underestimated just how long it would take, or he ran into an unforeseen snag somewhere. But given his usual punctuality, either alternative was cause for suspicion.

The Cicada and the Spector both made their way towards the arena, ready to finally thrown down. The Cicada pilot might have had the edge in experience, but the Spector had a whole host of ELINT gear; in a cluttered environment like The Factory, that would give her a critical advantage. The only question would be whether or not Maria was smart enough to take advantage of it.

The sound of mechs warming up and cooling down was common in the back areas of an arena.

The sound of a mech leaving its berth outside of battle or the trip home wasn't. Especially when taken in conjunction with the sound of multiple people closing in on us.

I immediately sent out a mental command to the Shad, which I'd had on standby the entire time. The alert, in turn, went out to the Atlas, Thunderbolt, and Stealth. "Head for the Raven!"

Realizing that something was seriously wrong, Starlight grabbed the kids by the hand and took off running towards where our mechs were. The people who had been trying to surround us were obviously confused by this, as they paused for a single, critical second. Not long, mind you, but more than enough time for Hazard to close the distance and begin demonstrating his extensive martial arts training. As the saying goes, "Never presume that a man does not have ninjas at his disposal."

With the flankers occupied, I went to work. The sound came from the other stable's mech bay. Most people would run from the noise, but I ran towards it. Sure enough, the Awesome was on the move and coming this way. The pilot lined up a shot with his ER PPC, obviously trying to hit Starlight and the kids. Unfortunately for him, however, I'd anticipated the prospect of something untoward going on and so had come prepared.

Normally, it was a good idea to wear gloves when handling a flare gun, especially one of the kind that I'd smuggled into the facility. But given that I don't normally do so in public, it would have been a tip-off I had a plan in place. Instead, I was just going to fire it left-handed; that was the arm I lost, and so instead of burning flesh the flames would just singe rubberized plastic.

The flare found its mark, exploding against the mech's canopy. Dazed, the pilot rocked the machine backwards. This caused the arm to swing wildly, resulting in the azure blast from the ER PPC to destroying the bank of monitors Starlight and I had been watching (just as well, perhaps; the battle between Maria and that Cicada pilot was turning into an absolute farce since Maria lacked the experience to actually press her advantages).

I stole a quick glance back just to see what was going on. Hazard was doing just fine, as were Starlight and the kids. The thugs, on the other hand, had obviously seen better days; in fact, the beating was so one-sided that bootleg copies of the security camera footage would continue to circulate on the planet's internet for over a decade and wound up being more fondly remembered than the actual combat in the arena.

But there was still the issue of the Awesome. The pilot had recovered, and so was now coming after me. Good; I could handle myself. I hastily slapped another flare in the launcher as the massive machine lumbered towards me. But before I could fire it off, poetic justice occurred as the Awesome was tagged by a PPC blast that was followed up by a series of LRMs. The Shad had finally lumbered its way over, and its targeting computer was doing its job and trying to neutralize the threat.

I sent a mental command for the mech to kneel down and act as a shield. The machine did so, putting its hands right behind Starlight and the kids as they ran past. Not only did this keep the three safe, it also cleared the path for Wizard. It had taken quite a bit of wheeling and dealing, but I'd managed to procure a RAC/2 to mount on his Atlas in place of its AC/20. Wizard had it in full burst mode, slinging shell after shell into the Awesome; twenty LRMs followed suit, the combined force of the volley staggering the heavy machine. I spun around and darted for my mech, firing off the flare gun once more as I did so. Hazard, having dispensed with the thugs, had the same idea; the kids were safe, and so now it was time to mount up.

Wizard had a different idea. His wife was gone; he was going to ensure their kid survived. With the Awesome pilot off-balance due to that second flare, Wizard used the opportunity to side-step the Shad and lined his mech up squarely against the opposing machine. Volley after volley of autocannon rounds and LRMs pounded the Awesome as its pilot returned the favor.

Realizing that the situation was slowly starting to deteriorate, I grabbed the remote control for the Shad and took over. I had the mech side-step the Atlas and close in with the Awesome. I got it right at the sweet spot where I could bring everything to bear and cut loose with an alpha. With the mech's armor already softened up due to the Atlas' efforts, the Awesome was already in bad shape. The Shad exploited this, severing the right arm and removing its ER PPC from the equation.

By this time, the police had been summoned. In the wake of all that had happened, I'd convinced the city to assign a number of police officers, both uniformed and undercover, to the arena. Their presence included an Urbanmech that was stationed outside the facility. Although under normal circumstances an Urbanmech just would not stand a chance against an Awesome, right now it was just what we needed. As soon as the pilot got his machine inside the bay, he lined up a shot and cut loose with what he had. The small laser merely melted away a little bit of armor from the back of the titan's head, but the AC/10 crushed a good chunk of the armor plating on its flank. With the Urbie behind him and two powerhouses in front, the Awesome pilot made his first smart decision all day: he surrendered.

Given that the match with Maria and the Cicada had been so pathetic (she finally won when the Cicada pilot ran out of ammo for his autocannon, giving her the advantage in terms of both range and firepower) the promoters and fans were understandably upset when the fourth scheduled match didn't take place as planned. Instead, with permission of the local police the arena staff showed the security camera footage over the monitors, which was in large part how Hazard's fight became so popular. The Awesome pilot, under interrogation, admitted that both he and the head of the stable were deep in debt to the same crime syndicate that we?d helped the cops against last month; the syndicate had put a bounty out for each of us individually, and so they figured that by taking us out they'd get a lot closer to squaring everything.

With the Awesome pilot and the stable owner under arrest, the stable disbanded; the support staff found work elsewhere. Daddy would later buy the princess another mech, using her battered Crusader as a trade-in; we would run into her again as part of another stable. The tough guy sold what was left of his Hermes II and used the money to open a gym; he was a respectable boxer, and so in that way got some of his reputation back. And the Cicada pilot went back to racing cars.

But as much as everything said "failed mob hit," something still nagged at me. I had a bad feeling about what was going to happen next.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#7 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 10:16 PM

[8] Rodeo Time

If anyone asked, I was too busy counting my take of the money after the last fiasco to really care much about the implications. One of the tenants had moved out of one of the duplexes I owned, and I had just enough to send in a team of contractors (the head contractor was MI, meaning I could reasonably trust them) to bring it back up to code. Given the local housing market, I already had a fairly lengthy list of potential candidates lined up.

In reality, the next occupant was going to be Heimdall; I just couldn't put it in writing for obvious reasons. Heimdall wanted another safe house that they could trust, and so this half of the duplex would have to suffice; the other half would count as well if the other tenants ever left. What's more, given that these were rental properties, no one would really be surprised if people came and went every few months. As it was, I'd already printed up countless "refer a friend" business cards to justify why I'd get so many tenants in such short order. And if a tenant needed to leave in a hurry, all they'd have to do is find a way to break the contract (overly loud music, a hole in the drywall, et cetra), at which point I'd promptly evict them from the property and keep their deposit as needs be

I wanted to say that Heimdall business would be confined to the stable's real estate arm, but sadly that was just not to be. Instead, it also sometimes dictated what matches we fought and who we interacted with. My fight today was a perfect example of this.

A few months back, a pro-Lyran pilot suddenly appeared on-scene and piloting a Barghest. Given the raw bulk and heavy firepower the machine possessed, the pilot was rapidly gnawing through the competition. It was widely believed that in another few months, he would make his way into the top 10 of the weight class, if not the planet. Thing is, the Barghest was just too new of a machine; there was no way an independent mech jock should have one at their disposal unless somebody had a deep pockets and/or a fair degree of blackmail on someone. Heimdall suspected that the guy was a Lyran plant, perhaps even Loki. But even if he was just another con man, bringing down a Barghest would be a definite blow to Lyran morale. Either way, this was a match that Heimdall wanted to see.

Arranging it had been surprisingly simple. It turned out that the pilot ate dinner at the same little club every Saturday night; the food was generally regarded as being terrible and the music deafening, so for him to come back week after week was either foolishness on the part of an amateur operative or a sure sign of someone who had no taste. I'd noted that Tommy had been angling for a date with Amelia, so I decided to speed along the process by ordering them to go out? with me as a chaperone, given that, after all, they were just kids and I would have preferred that trouble not take place. Of course, I was recognized instantly as the resident giant-killer, so the patrons started making a fuss over me? enough of a fuss to where people ditched the Barghest pilot in order to come my way. The pilot responded by downing a few shots, then coming to confront me. After proceeding to make a fool out of himself, he responded by taking a swing at me. Metal prosthetics are not as forgiving as flesh and bone, so all he did was bruise his knuckles. Cue his challenging me to a battle in the desperate hope of regaining some of his dignity in the arena.

So here we were, back at the Coliseum. The close confines favored his Barghest and put my Shad at a seeming disadvantage. There wasn't much room to duck and dodge, and I only had a trio of short-range weapons. But like with everything else, I had a plan in place before I even entered the arena. Time to put it in motion.

As soon as the match officially began, I fired off my PPC. The shot was high and wide, but I did that on purpose. Sure enough, the other pilot took the bait and came charging towards me. The pilot obviously wanted to get as close as possible in order to make the most of his LB-20X and twin large lasers. However, I had anticipated this and so managed to sidestep at the last moment; I got plinked a little bit by some of the shot, but that was it. In exchange, I opened up on the mech's left side. A medium laser tagged each left leg, while the SRMs dented the left torso?s armor.

Once upon a time, back on Terra, there were a series of athletic events that involved participants going one-on-one against rampaging bulls. One of them, bullfighting, involved a person trying to take out a bull with nothing more than a sword and a handful of spears. Then you had the running of the bulls, where bulls would be released in a city and herded towards the event facility; the citizens tried to beat the bulls there and not get trampled. But the one most fondly remembered, and perhaps most humane for all involved parties, was the rodeo. A rider would mount a bull that would be released from its holding area soon after; riders would compete to stay on their respective bull the longest, with the goal being a full 8 seconds.

It would appear that the pilot's primary tactic consisted of charging his targets and unloading into them, because that was about all he did. This made it all the easier to unleash what I had planned. Stupid him.

After repeatedly dodging and tagging him, I finally got his timing down, something not exactly helped by the barriers coming and going. I got him going one last time, and then went to work. This time, when he charged, instead of side-stepping I hit the jets and leapt right over him. Instead of charging, the guy stopped dead, obviously confused. I used the opportunity to goose the jets just once more, allowing me to leap the Shad on to the back of the Barghest. Most people would have figured such a thing to be impossible, but then around here the impossible seems to happen with regular frequency.

I used the Shad's left hand to get a firm grip on one of the Barghest's large lasers. I used the right to keep punching at the mech's back, furiously denting the armor as best I could when not having to try and keep him from flipping the LB around. The pilot did anything and everything he could to knock me off, but as the mech lacked any sort of jump jets there wasn't much the pilot could do. As part of it, the pilot kept racing around the arena, twisting and turning as fast as he could in the hopes of throwing me off.

After a few close calls with some of the barriers, it became apparent that I was occupying the bulk of his attention. This would prove costly for the pilot, as he eventually failed to notice a barrier coming up right in front of him; suffice to say that the matter quite literally brought the battle to a sudden halt. I saw the barrier come up before he did, and so was able to leap off in time. But the Barghest hit it at full speed, its left shoulder slamming hard into the barrier. As I'd already been chipping away at it earlier, the armor gave away in the impact. The heat signature spoke of the engine taking a hit, one of the key weaknesses of an XL engine. The pilot, confused and stunned, popped his hatch, officially calling it a day.

Of course, this wound up being the most controversial win of my career. The officials in charge of monitoring the arena battles told me that I wasn't to attempt it again, but otherwise let me off with a warning. However, the Barghest pilot ? who was checked out at the hospital and released ? apparently decided that arena life wasn't for him; at last report, he took what was left of his mech and went back into the Lyran military. What's more, the Coliseum was closed for a week due to repairs to the barriers.

I got the purse for the win, Heimdall got a potential Loki pilot neutralized, and the fans got perhaps the most unique battle of their lives. I guess things worked out in the end.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#8 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 02:01 PM

Pt. 9 - Fire And Ice

Of course, after my bit with the Barghest, it was about two weeks' time before we had any other arena battles. Although we were still low on the totem pole as far as the rankings went, the fact that we so consistently took down larger machines and superior-ranked pilots meant that people were hesitant to directly challenge us. Granted, if the person won, they could bring our streak to an end. But if they lost, it'd be humiliation all around. The down time gave us the ability to get some training in and do some much-needed maintenance; it also gave us the chance to get some more work done on getting sponsors and a few bits of Heimdall business (who knew that a single, well-placed rat could drop a restaurant's rating so far?).

However, we needed the reputation, rankings, and most importantly money that went along with being in the forefront of the battle scene. Thus, it was almost enough for us to be grateful when we finally got a challenge in, even if it was a grudge match. That Commando pilot Tommy smoked in his debut match? Seems she had a big brother who wasn't entirely happy about what went down. Apparently, his fight card had cleared up enough for him to finally get some payback. For the stable as a whole, this was perfect because it got us back in the game. For Tommy, it was just another reason to get his face in the media for endorsement deals.

The match was set to take place in the Boreal Reaches, the Davion arena on the planet; most likely, this was a misguided effort to challenge us on our "home turf" since we'd taken down so many Lyran pilots, but in reality we simply hadn't been challenged by any Davion pilots yet. However, there was likely another reason for it: the guy's mech. He had himself a Nightsky, a laser boat with jump jets and a hatchet. Save for the crevasse, the terrain was mostly flat, allowing him to make maximum use of his weapons and speed. What's more, the fact that the arena was kept as cold as possible meant that laser weapons weren't quite so problematic to keep on firing. Our brave heart here would later learn the hard way that this would benefit Tommy as well, but at the time he apparently never figured that one out.

On paper, the Nightsky would have had all of the advantages. Both mechs moved with the exact same speed, and so the hit-and-run tactics that one might normally use with a Wasp weren't going to be of much use. Making matters worse, a Nightsky had more armor, more firepower, and at least one weapon that could shoot beyond what a Wasp could do. All things considered, Tommy should lose.

But that's not how most matches go. It isn't what gets spelled out on paper. Rather, matches are decided by a whole slew of other things, including some that few people even stop to think about. Or, at least, that they should have thought about sooner but didn't.

The match started off as to be expected: the Nightsky, which had been refit with a PPC in place of its large pulse laser, used its speed to match the Wasp and its PPC to snipe. Had this been a battle between stock machines and "average" pilots, it would have been over in just a few minutes. Instead, Tommy had just enough of an edge in response time to keep consistently dodging the larger machine's fire.

Sensing that the matter was rapidly turning into a stalemate, Tommy decided on an abrupt change of plans. Realizing that he was near the crevasse that runs through the Reaches, he maneuvered as close to it as possible. The Nightsky pilot closed in for the kill, keeping just enough distance so that he didn't go over the edge like the Barghest pilot went into the barrier. Seeing that the Nightsky was closing in on him, Tommy fired off a few shots from his medium lasers. To most viewers, it would seem that they all narrowly missed, landing just at the machine's feet. But they didn't need to hit; he just needed them to serve as a diversion.

With the Nightsky pilot distracted, Tommy hit the jets and quite literally ordered his Wasp to take a flying leap into the crevasse. Overconfidence got the better of the Nightsky pilot as he crept up to the edge and fired off his PPC. Given the perceived angle at which Tommy would have gone into the crevasse, he should have been stuck at the far edge. In that sense, a few dozen blasts from the PPC would have been more than enough to not only kill his Wasp, but perhaps Tommy as well.

Had the Nightsky pilot been thinking with a level head, he might have figured out that he should have gone down there to investigate after his first shot; instead, by firing off a full volley, he would have given Tommy ? if his Wasp was still upright ? time to move out of that position. In fact, it turned out that Tommy did, indeed, move aside? and then proceeded to set up an ambush. When the Nightsky pilot finally told his machine to get in the crevasse along with Tommy, he sealed his own fate.

The pilot apparently decided to do a Death From Above right on to the spot where he figured the Wasp would be standing. Instead, all he did was come down hard on the ice, the axe being just awkward enough to send the right side ? and in particular, the right leg ? into the ground first, causing it to absorb a considerable amount of damage. Armor buckled and gave way under the force of the impact as the unforgiving terrain objected to such a rude collision.

Three medium and two small lasers shot out from the Wasp as Tommy moved in for the kill. His aim was just perfect, hitting the Nightsky right in its hip; the right leg had sustained so much damage from the impact that its armor plating just couldn't hold out any longer, resulting in the leg being sawed right off. The Nightsky pilot tried to steady his machine by burying the mech's axe in the ice in front of him. Unfortunately, that was the same ice which was just on the receiving end of multiple PPC blasts; just enough ice had been vaporized to where the whole thing was now unstable. The entire column of ice and snow shifted dangerously, threatening to bury the Nightsky where it stood.

But then, this was Tommy here. He managed to pull off a miraculous repeat of before, amputating the Nightsky's right arm at the elbow. Just as the whole shebang was about to finally give, Tommy had his Wasp grab the Nightsky and pull it back just far enough to where both machines missed the worst of it. By this time, the Wasp was running so hot that the waste heat alone was sufficient to begin melting them both free.

The rescue teams got the two pilots out in short order, but I had to go in there and melt the snow with my Shad's medium lasers before the recovery crews could actually pull the two machines out. The Wasp would be several weeks in the repair bay for an overhaul and the replacement of (already) worn actuators. But the images of Tommy trying to save his opponent from the man's own stupidity and my trying to free their mechs almost completely eclipsed the tabloid-style scandal of the Barghest match. Challenges were still somewhat erratic, but at least the endorsement deals were now starting to pick up again.

If nothing else, the Nightsky and Commando pilots both agreed to call off the feud, something that generated good press for all.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#9 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 07:47 AM

Pt. 10 - Brand Awareness

Although challenges were a little slow to come back to us, in the aftermath of Tommy's performance in the Reaches we were quick to receive a fair amount of media attention. This, in turn, led to some more corporate sponsorships.

Things got started when I was invited to a social event; I couldn't make it because I was busy tending to our new real estate arm, and so I sent Kanz in my place. After we returned to the Inner Sphere, Kanz took the last name "Olsen" to disguise his Clan heritage. He was unusually bright and inquisitive for a Clan warrior, and so spent the travel time reading what books he could get his hands on; he even got to a few I hadn't quite read yet. By the time we returned, he was already literate and sophisticated enough to pass as a normal resident of the Inner Sphere. Now that we had a chance to settle down a bit, he read as often as he could. He was also a quick study when in social situations, such that he learned how to adapt as needed. Suffice to say that I highly doubt even his former star mates ? had they still been alive ? would have been able to recognize him.

L'Etranger and Abdul (who works with Amelia handling the behind-the-scenes matters) invited themselves along for the occasion. The three might have made an odd grouping on paper, but together they were a rather surprising hit. Kanz was the dignified scholar. L'Etranger was the charmer. Abdul was the young, hip everyman socialite. By the time the night was over, not only had they managed to win over the audience they'd secured a sponsorship from an upscale mens' clothing manufacturer. That Kanz wore one of their suits in his next battle ? a heavy-handed smackdown that saw him and his Marauder IIC flatten a Grand Titan ? sealed the deal and made him a household name.

This led us to today. A separate social event saw Starlight as the stand-in, with Amelia and Maria in tow. Attending the event was the head of a cosmetics company, who apparently had just fired his last model, a mechwarrior at one of the Cappellan stables, for being argumentative and just generally unpleasant to work with. He was looking for a replacement, and seemingly decided that the three girls were just perfect for his new ad campaign: Starlight would represent the "working woman," Amelia would be the "college student," and Maria would be the "tomboy." Just as with the clothing company, Heimdall said the firm was clean and so I gave my consent for the arrangement.

Well, turns out everything that the guy had said about his former model was true. As such, upon hearing that she'd been replaced she completely flipped out and immediately issued a public challenge: she would take on any one of the three in a one-on-one battle, the prize being not only the usual pot but also that person's spot on the promotional team. Maria jumped at the challenge, but when I learned that the model wanted the battle to take place in The Jungle I gave Starlight the nod instead. Starlight very nearly conceded it to Maria, but this time around, my word as stable owner was final. Starlight would battle the model. Maria, in turn, would take a last-minute challenge to go fight a D-list Marik pilot so that she could build up some more combat experience (as with the Cicada battle, she won when the autocannon on the opposing Sentinel ran dry, giving Maria almost free reign with her lasers).

The model was bringing a 1R Vindicator to the battle. Although not exactly the best medium mech in existence, the Vindicator was surprisingly well-balanced and so by all rights was well-suited for combat in The Jungle. In contrast, Starlight's Raven only had short-range weapons, had no jump jets, and was a fair bit lighter. On paper, the model should have won. But there was a reason why I had Starlight take this battle instead.

To begin with, I was correct in my assumptions that the model was all talk and very little action. Her main strategy was pretty well similar to mine when I'm in the Shad: use the jets to stay airborne while harassing the opponent with the PPC and LRM 5. But whereas I almost always hit my target, her shots kept missing Starlight wide? even with Starlight having repainted her mech in bright red and orange to match the signature colors of the cosmetic company. Based on the chatter coming in through the feeds, it was obvious that the model had forgotten about the fact that Ravens have ECM gear; this, coupled with the thick growth and the fact that both mechs were moving at top speed, meant that the model was usually a little wide. Instead, the model was quite literally cursing her support staff for supposedly not doing proper maintenance on her machine. For a pilot to not know the machines used by her own nation was simply inexcusable.

But there was another reason why I wanted this specific battle to happen. Back when she was in the Davion military, Starlight's unit had been conducting joint operations with a St. Ives unit in St. Ives space when Xin Sheng happened. According to the after-action report, she had been fighting inside jungle-like terrain when her first mech got shot out from under her? and at least a dozen assorted Vindicators had been reported taking part in the assault. I needed to know if she was over what had happened.

She didn't let me down.

Rather than let the rain of missiles and PPC fire get to her, Starlight did what she does best: think tactically, right down to every last detail. Good girl. The model was bouncing around in a fairly consistent pattern, and Starlight already had it memorized. She maneuvered her mech right to the best possible position she could: in the river, overlooking the same bluff where the Orion pilot loved to perch. Sure enough, the model had just landed there, obviously attempting to use it in order to maximize her area of fire. Although at the maximum range for her weapons, Starlight let loose with an alpha strike. All five medium lasers and ten SRMs found their mark, ripping apart the legs of the heavier machine. The Vindicator pitched and twisted, not only from the damage but also from the fact that at least three actuators between the two legs had just been struck. A properly experienced pilot could have potentially pulled out of it, but the model just didn't have it; the machine collapsed on its right arm, the model screaming as she was thrown against the safety restraints. Rather than risk losing his star, the guy in charge of the stable she was with threw in the towel, ending the match right then and there. Given that the model would be arrested for assault later that evening, one can guess how she reacted to the loss.

Starlight later thanked me for arranging the match, as according to her it felt good to wreck a Vindicator after what all had happened. The cosmetics company, meanwhile, got permission to use the footage of both matches in the ad campaign, much like what happened with Kanz' battle against the Grand Titan. Between the three battles and the new ad campaigns, I figure the stable as a whole got enough money (aside from everyone's paychecks and royalties) for me to start on repairing one of the fourplexes. If this keeps up, we might be in a situation wherein we make more money from sponsorships than actual matches.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#10 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 03:43 PM

Any particular thoughts about how the series is going?

Thanks.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

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#11 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 24 July 2012 - 11:00 PM

pt 11 - The Halls Of Macadamia

One of the sad realities of life in the Inner Sphere ? Solaris especially ? is that not all battles are fought from within a cockpit; rather, some battles are fought face-to-face. Now normally, I try to avoid windbags who just don't know what they'e talking about. But this time around, I had to say something. Fortunately, Heimdall agreed with me on this point.

A military historian noted for making rather pro-Katherine statements of late decided to unveil his new work, a partial study of Operation Bulldog that recounted how a handful of the planets fell. Thing is, the guy made the mistake of discussing a planetary invasion that I was on. I was able to get my hands on an advance copy, and immediately began looking over what he said did and didn't take place. In short order, I noted gaping flaws and oversights in his research? flaws and oversights that my personal copies of all my data tracks confirmed as being present.

The author tried to assert that the invasion force shouldn't have succeeded; he notes that while we initially did considerable damage with a major shock-and-awe effort, the Smoke Jaguar commander could have easily pushed us back if he'd have just mobilized all of his reserves in time. In other words, he was belittling our efforts. And he had very little proof to back it up.

In reality, the situation was far different. Yes, the bulk of the forces were dispatched to steamroller right over the bulk of the Jaguar forces. But that wasn't it as far as the fighting was concerned. Instead, several individual soldiers, myself included, were ordered to locate the enemy reserves; those we couldn't destroy outright we were to delay as long as possible for the sake of the mission. If we found any targets of opportunity, we were free to deal with them as we saw fit.

I myself encountered a column of conventional vehicles that were racing towards the front and took them out, along with their Elemental and conventional infantry support. From there, I took out three Clan mechs that diverted to assist the convoy; in order, I got a Jenner IIC, a Rifleman IIC, and a Warhammer IIC. While attempting to fall back, I blundered into a firebase that was overlooking the convoy's route; I had to contend with a Kraken (what the Jaguars were doing with one, I'll never know), but I took it out and neutralized what of the firebase was still left (an infantry platoon was later flown in to take it over).

Or there was a buddy of mine in a BJ-3 who shot down a flight of VTOLs, then traced their flight path back to their helipad. He proceeded to clear out the defenders, and then held it against reinforcements ? a Peregrine and some more conventional vehicles ? until infantry could be sent over to secure the joint. He also wound up swatting a few more VTOLs that had taken off from the facility and were now attempting to return for repairs and more ammo.

There were a number of other guys like me who performed such flanking tasks, but the heroes of the day were a pair of Combine pilots. One used his Wolftrap to hold a bridge against an onslaught of conventional vehicles, infantry, and Elementals, only pulling back when he finally ran out of ammo; he single-handedly saved one of the flanks from being swarmed. The other managed to headshot a Behemoth with his Panther's PPC, and then proceeded to down the four Hunchback IICs that had been the machine's escort.

I issued a public statement challenging the guy's book, even making copies of my data tracks available to the media for review if they wanted them. The guy responded by openly mocking and belittling me, even refusing to view a copy of the data tracks when they were literally handed to him by a reporter. Of course, this backfired on him when commentators started asking him why he was raising a fuss rather than simply reviewing everything and then confronting me in person.

In an effort to quell the controversy, he made an arrangement with a pro-Katrina interview show and challenged me to come on. With nothing to lose, I agreed. I was there well before the interview began, and even had multiple copies of the data tracks with me ? and a personal player - just in case someone in the editing room tried to pull a fast one on me and edit everything behind my back.

I was polite and proper throughout the entire proceedings. The historian and the host were not. I had my honesty and integrity challenged at every turn. My record was called into question on several instances (my record was perfectly sterling, with multiple commendations and not a single reprimand). I was accused of starting a fight for purely political reasons (yet again, I was accused of being pro-Victor despite having never said anything either way to the press). My level of education was called into question as I didn't have a "formal" degree outside of my time at the military academy (that should have been immaterial; this wasn't an academic argument). I was accused of doctoring the data tracks (a dozen experts had looked them over at this point; they all sided with me). My recollection of events was questioned, with the two asserting that I had been part of the main offensive instead of a flanker. And oh by the way, not only had the historian not seen the footage until portions were played during the show, he even turned away during portions that obviously disagreed with him and his thesis.

The host got the bright idea to go to the audience and ask for feedback. Although the first two or three audience members followed the party line, the rest started asking questions that the historian just couldn?t answer. Others were on the guy's side per se concerning different points of the dispute, but questioned his lack of professionalism in dealing with me. In short order, the audience members were busy going back and forth with each other, almost completely ignoring us. Realizing that he'd just lost control of the situation, the host cut to commercial several minutes early. Security came in to usher me and the author out through separate doors, and when the break returned the viewers at home had to contend with our discussion being terminated in favor of an interview with yet another vapid movie star. Cue a full audience mutiny, with about half the audience soon joining us outside.

A few of the audience members followed me to talk. I noted that a member of the camera crew was following us (perhaps to cover for the replacement interview falling apart), and so decided to take advantage of matters. A fellow Heimdall agent had, as a personal favor, asked that I pay a visit to a taco stand owned by his brother-in-law on my way out the door, the idea being that the stand would perhaps get some free publicity. Well, it got a whole lot more than just free publicity; it made headlines when I bought everyone following me a small taco and a drink.

The social pages told the rest of the story. Once the actual battle footage began to circulate, the general public started taking my side of the debate; the historian's behavior on the show only made matters worse for him. Book sales fell so sharply that the publisher yanked the book entirely pending a re-write of the chapter in question, with the promise that anyone who could prove they bought a copy of the original edition would get the update for free. The historian's reputation was permanently marred, and in fact he "retired" as a writer soon afterword to focus strictly on what was left of his teaching career. The publisher, meanwhile, took such a major economic hit between the slow sales and the free replacement that their numbers wound up down for the next two years. And the talk show host? He was demoted back to a news desk in favor of a different talking head.

In other words, two pro-Katrina mouthpieces were silenced without a single shot being fired. I guess that's a perfect win, right?
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#12 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 12 August 2012 - 07:12 PM

[12] Unwelcome Visitors

If only all differences of opinion could be settled as quickly and bloodlessly as I dealt with the historian.

Normally, when I get a request from Heimdall to perform a specific task, there's a matter of give-and-take as I try to figure out how to make it happen. On occasion, what they'll ask of me is unpleasant but necessary when considered as part of the greater struggle; case in point, the battle with the Barghest pilot and how that had to go down. But on a few rare occasions, Heimdall and I see eye-to-eye on a particular problem that needs to be resolved.

This time, Heimdall didn't even need to ask me to go do something.

One of the realities of the FedCom Civil War was that you had pro-Victor Lyran units and pro-Katrina Davion units. Absurd as it may sound, this was, indeed, the case. The pro-Victor units we tried to nurture and help safeguard. The pro-Katrina units we tried to nullify so that their message was diluted or distorted. Solaris was already a hotbed of tensions and animosity; anything that could be done to suppress the all-out start of hostilities was a victory in its own right. As such, whenever any stable, Lyran or Davion, moved too strongly one way or another, we were supposed to intervene in the hopes of keeping the peace. But sometimes, that just does not go as planned.

One of the stables that we were asked to keep tabs on was a company-strength pro-Katrina unit that was nominally comprised of Davion veterans; in reality, about half of them were paper tigers who spent their time in rear-echelon duties. But a stable that large still needed to be taken seriously. Given all the flak we'd been taking for not having battles with pilots from a Davion stable, we'd been accused of being pro-Davion quite a bit lately. I was half considering trying to figure out a way to get one of their pilots in a battle so that we could counter-act the claims, but had trouble figuring out a potential justification that we could use.

Well, one of their pilots came up with one for me.

In the worst possible way that you can potentially imagine.

Starlight and I belong to a Restorationalist denomination. Normally, it's not an issue; we go to church on Sunday, sometimes taking a few others with us (primarily among the support staff), and that's all there is to it. What the rest of the guys do on Sundays is their business provided that someone remains at Mount Olympus just in case an alert goes down. As it is, given that this is Solaris, a large percentage of the adults in the congregation are either fellow pilots or otherwise employed by the arena system. No matter how much we might want to decimate each other in the arenas, come Sunday we call a truce to worship together. In fact, it's effectively an unwritten rule that we are to leave our feuds and grudges at the door when we come in. At most, someone will go into the overflow area / gym of the building and settle matters via church ball ? that is, basketball wherein fouling is a strategy rather than a penalty offense ("It's not church ball until someone bleeds" is the usual mantra).

So for someone to do what a certain failure did was, as you can imagine, totally and completely inexcusable by the way we do things.

Although the chapel is in a residential neighborhood, we're a mere two or three klicks away from a main road. Two pilots from the stable in question had been hanging out at a convenience store along said main road when they saw the paparazzi that periodically follow us to church and decided to investigate. Unfortunately for everyone, though, while one guy was taking up their car, the other guy was behind the store getting tanked on some beer he'd bought inside; both had already spent much of the evening drinking at a get-together, and so neither should have been on the road to begin with. It would have been bad enough if this was the worst decision they would make today, but they had to take it one step further.

A couple of kids were playing with a toy glider out in front of the chapel when it went into a tree. I was right there since I'd been helping their parents track them down, so I took a few seconds to fish it out. That was all the time the media needed to catch up with me, and they in turn delayed me long enough to where I was still outside when Dumb and Dumber pulled up. They recognized me the minute they stepped out of their car and plowed through everyone to approach me, never mind the fact that Kanz ? who had come with me to show off his newest suit - and a few others were also there.

Their better judgment having been stripped away by the alcohol, the two immediately began to mouth off to me. My taking down the Barghest pilot. My embarrassing the historian. My causing a scene on the interview show. This, and more, was thrown in my face, complete with allegations that I was somehow a "traitor to the cause" for not simply rolling over. Apparently, I was only a "proper" Lyran if I accepted what various pro-Lyran sources and persons said and did at face value, as going against them in any fashion made me somehow disloyal.

This right here would have been enough grounds for me to issue a challenge, but I never got the chance. Instead, one of the pair stepped a meter to the left in order to case the joint, and in so doing discovered just which religion's chapel they were standing in front of. Cue a massive verbal explosion as he recited every last conspiracy theory he'd ever heard about us and more than a few outright slurs. He was making such a blinking fool of himself that I could have discredited and shamed him off the planet with just a few good rebuttals. Even a child could have seen what a windbag he was being.

?and a child did. One of the kids who had been playing with the glider did what kids do best and spoke his little mind. Had the pilot been even halfway rational at this point, he might have felt some shame and backed off. But the alcohol and adrenaline were overriding his brain. Rather than act, he reacted.

Starlight let out a shriek as the back of the pilot's hand hit hard against her face. She had moved to pick the kid up and get him out of there, but in the process she took the hit that was meant for the boy; the pilot, in his fury, had done a blind rush after the boy. She toppled over like a falling stack of china, hitting the ground with a hard thud.

By the time the offender knew what was happening, Kanz and I were on him. I leveraged my charge into a hard right that completely shattered his jaw. This spun him around just enough for Kanz to get a good grip on his ears, at which point Kanz let loose a devastating head butt that very nearly put the man's lights out permanently. His buddy tried to intervene, but he didn't get take more than a few steps towards us before he got swarmed. Having been alerted by the noise, some of the other pilots that were already in the parking lot and the building had come to investigate. At that moment, all of them ? regardless of stable, allegiance, or political faction ? united in taking him down; I figure there must have been a good twenty brethren in that dog pile. Meanwhile, a few of the sisters had pulled Starlight up off of the ground and rushed her inside so that they could look at her face. Fortunately, we always made it a point to keep at least one loaf of bread in the kitchen freezer at all times for use in the sacrament (a few seconds in the microwave was enough to thaw it out); when we went in to check on her, they were pressing it against her face to keep the swelling down.

One of the neighbors had the foresight to call the cops when the shouting first started, and they arrived just in time to summon the paramedics. The two were put on stretchers and hauled off, several officers following the ambulances so that they could officially arrest the pair once they regained consciousness. The officers on the scene decided that they didn't want to get involved with the matter, and so officially declared that we'd acted appropriately to subdue a pair of violent drunks. This should have been the end of it, but unfortunately it wasn't.

Apparently, one of the paparazzi, sensing a good story, broke from the pack. He'd recognized the two pilots, and so called their stable. By the time sacrament was over, the head of the stable had issued a response; the same paparazzi member rather boldly strode in to the building to deliver it. We never found out whether or not the paparazzi had deliberately withheld information from anyone, but the stable head supposedly decided to take the side of his pilots even though they both were now facing charges for their respective crimes. The other ten pilots in the stable were siding with their stable mates as well, and they all wanted revenge. Their solution? Ten one-on-one battles in a row. Our choice of battle location.

The first hour of Sunday School was spent waiting for Wizard to call me back. When he did, the news wasn't very good. The Reaches was still closed for repairs, and the Coliseum management was still leery about letting me battle there again. The other major arenas were booked solid. One of the brethren offered up a plot of land outside the city that he was no longer using. The soil was too poor for crops and too hard for construction, so I went ahead and just bought it off of him, drafting and signing a promissory note right then and there; if nothing else, I could potentially pay it off by renting it out for battles if we didn't wind up using it ourselves.

Priesthood was spent determining the order of battle. Wizard had looked up the stable roster, and after subtracting the two from earlier (the news was already breaking) he was able to give us a list of who, their win ratio, and their mech. It was a given that I would take care of the stable's main star as the final battle, and I wanted Kanz to open by bringing down their big guy. But that left eight other machines to deal with. There wasn't any shortage of volunteers after what had taken place earlier, but I needed team-ups to where I knew we could win; I was going to stack the deck, pure and simple. Nothing like what happened should ever happen again, not on Solaris or anywhere else. A message would be sent that such conduct was completely unacceptable.

We arranged the battle for the following Wednesday afternoon, thereby giving the promoters, media, and usual hangers-on time to get in place. A live audience was out of the question, but we did have cameras broadcasting the battles; not only were viewers at home able to see it, so were viewers in the Coliseum and The Reaches (a way for the arenas to get some money back while they affected repairs). All pilots involved would get a cut of the ticket sales and online feed payments, with the winner getting double of what the loser got. It was our gesture of kindness to the stable so that they could rebuild once this was all over.

The first match involved Kanz going up against the stable's bruiser, who was piloting a Marauder II. Everyone expected this to be a long, drawn-out brawl because of the mechs and pilots involved. Instead, Kanz landed a triple-play, sending all of his Clan ER PPCs to the other machine's right leg, blowing out one of the actuators. From there, it was just a matter of flanking the slower-moving machine and stabbing it in the back. The CASE system saved the day after the autocannon ammo was hit, but the Marauder II still pitched forward, stunning the pilot.

This was followed by a similar match between two Commando mechs. But while the stable's pilot was using a stock 3025 model, our boy had replaced his SRM 4 with an LRM 5. By the time the stable Commando got within range of its weapons, its armor was already so pitted and cratered that it lost the first exchange.

From there, it was Jaegermech on Jaegermech. The stable pilot treated his machine like an overgrown Blackjack. The actual combat veteran representing our side proceeded to demonstrate why Jaegermechs were sometimes used for anti-aircraft operations. The stable pilot apparently based his tactics around spooking his opponents with his AC/2s so that they would be off-balance when he closed, and so never actually learned how to aim and hit while jumping. Our guy made every last shot count, even going so far as to just sit there and be plinked a few times in order to ensure his shots would hit. By the time everything was said and done, we were three for three.

The next pilot that the stable had was a woman in a Hollander. She had earned something of a reputation for taking out much larger mechs with the lone Gauss Rifle the machine boasted; few larger mechs could close with her before she did just enough damage to cripple or even destroy them, at which point she could just move in and finish the job with physical attacks. But then, most of her opposition was ground-bound. In contrast, the Jenner she was up against had jump jets? and the brother in the saddle knew just how to make the most of them. In short order, the Hollander had been carved up like a Christmas goose.

The fifth match was even more lopsided. There was reason to believe that the guy we had up was intel for someone, but not even Heimdall could quite figure out for who. Given that his mission seemed to align with ours and that he was a fairly skillful pilot, we generally just left him alone. In fact, his skill was such that, although he piloted an obsolete 3R Stinger, he handled the machine like it was a brand-new high-tech toy. Suffice to say that the Battle Hawk pilot who opposed him never knew what happened. The Stinger had just enough maneuverability to it that it was able to stay outside the maximum range of the medium pulse lasers on the Battle Hawk, leaving the opposing machine with just a Streak 2 to try and retaliate with. Hence why my guy made it a point to promptly overhaul his unit the first moment that he could.

The next four battles were just straight-up curb stomps. Our people had such an edge in regards to skill, experience, and tactics that the battles were over almost as soon as they began. That left the final battle, myself versus the head pilot for the stable. I knew full well that, ironically enough, he would be piloting a Victor. By all rights I should have taken my Shad out to go deal with him, but instead I opted for the Archer; once again, I wanted to prove a point.

By all rights, the other guy should have had the edge; if he was driving an older model, even with my large laser his Twenty would give him the edge in a close-range battle and his jump jets would enable him to make it so at his leisure. Instead, he had a model that sported a Guass Rifle. He still could have tried to get in close and take me down, but he chose to try and mimic my normal tactic of firing while jumping. If we were both on equal footing in terms of skill and experience, or he was superior to me, then this might have worked. But as a comparative rookie taking on someone who had survived the Clans, the odds were against him from the start. I easily side-stepped the slugs as they went past me, then followed up each attack by blasting him with my LRMs once a clear shot presented itself; I had gotten rather good at leading my opponents, and so no matter which way he turned I could bathe him in missile fire.

I kept count of the number of times he fired his Guass Rifle. Once I counted him out of ammo, and myself nearly so, I took the initiative of closing with him. Had he read the incident report concerning the intrusion on to my property, he might have been aware of the fact that I had a large laser ferreted away in the machine. He could have then used his jump jets to dodge the worst of it, as while my missiles represented swarms of projectiles my lasers were but individual beams that travelled in straight lines. But he had obviously not done so, as he insisted on rushing forward, betting that his two pulse lasers and his SRM rack would best what he likely presumed to be only a pair of medium lasers. His gamble soon proved to be a bust, as I flipped open the third panel and brought my large to bear. The three mediums cut streams of armor through side torsos and head on the Victor, but the large laser hit home in the battered center torso, cutting through the gyro and engine. It was not enough to destroy either component, but I could tell that I had done severe damage. A heat spike coupled with an awkward stagger told me that the Victor was on its last legs; the pilot lost the fight against gravity, and the machine quickly did a face-plant into the ground.

Logic dictated that I should not do this under any circumstances, but I gave him one last chance to prove himself. I deliberately put my back to the Victor, using my view screen to see if he was trying to get up. If the pilot was smart, he would surrender so as to avoid further damage to himself and/or his machine. Instead, after playing dead for a few seconds (just enough time for the official to begin the countdown), he brought his machine back upright with a definite fury, obviously intending to take me out one way or another. I ended his plans by shooting off my rear-firing medium lasers, coring the Victor out. Although the gyro and engine were spared, the internal structure collapsed under the blast. The Victor automatically shut itself off, its combat computer recognizing the fact that the machine could no longer realistically fight.

The mech toppled over on its back, its limbs spread out. If it was a human, it would have been reminiscent of a vivisection victim due to just how much of its torso was exposed and torn into. But as bad as the damage looked, the machine could be repaired. So, for that matter, could the reputation of the stable members? provided that they were willing to work for it.

The day's events proved to be the high-water mark for the stable. The stable as a collective dropped an entire rank, something from which they never quite recovered from. The various doctors who tended to the battle system all refused to certify a certain pilot to compete in the arenas, and so he sold his mech to the stable for a sizeable IOU; the ten who faced us took turns piloting the machine, winning enough battles to where the winnings paid off the IOU and provided enough money to start getting the other machines operational again. Said pilot wound up serving a year in prison on assault charges. He took up a pen name and began writing hate literature, going from planet to planet as Heimdall made sure that his past kept catching up to him; I have never seen a more pathetic and dismal ending for what might have otherwise been a glorious life. At least his partner-in-crime sobered up; realizing that Solaris might not welcome him back, he tapped his connections, used his savings, and bought himself a commission in the Lyran military. I understand that he managed to acquit himself fairly well against the Clans at some point.

At least Starlight got back on her feet without any lasting damage.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#13 Fortress Ironhold

Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 07:22 AM

13 - Critical Oversight

As clich? as it might sound, the first time I met my late fianc?e was when I saved her life. It was during an early mission as a part of Bulldog. She was leading a team of Darts that were tasked with exploiting a seeming breach in the Clan battle plan. I was the odd man out due to a last-minute reorganization, so I got shuffled off to join her on the run. Technically, she was in charge. That didn't last too long.

The Clans defending the planet had a major supply depot located on the other side of a mountain pass; seizing the depot would mean that not only would the Clan forces in the area be short on material, we'd have plenty of it. Orbital recon didn't see any mechs or vehicles guarding it, and so it was presumed that a light force ? specifically, the Chameleon and three Darts ? could do the job. If nobody was around, they'd hold the place against all comers until an infantry unit could come in and seize the place. If the recon was wrong, they could outrun whatever was defending the place. Unfortunately for everyone, one of the Dart pilots insisted on running a little ahead of the group; she was anxious to get the job done, and apparently had a severe discipline problem because she was completely ignoring all orders given her.

One of the first things a good arena pilot learns is how to sense when something is out of place or just does not feel right. Arenas like Ishiyama, The Factory, and The Jungle are all based on letting pilots sneak up on each other via the various obstacles and ground clutter, and so someone who fails to be aware of their surroundings is going to lose before they can even fire a weapon. In this case, when I first saw the orbital images I noted the fact that on each side of the pass was a rather awkward-looking stand of trees. But as a former arena pilot, nobody wanted to take me seriously; I was just on the mission for brute muscle.

Realizing that the situation was getting out of hand, I hit the jets and closed in on the Dart. But rather than actually try to physically stop the pilot, as soon as we got close enough I lined up the first stand of trees in my crosshairs and let fly with my LRMs. The stand exploded violently, due to ? what we later learned ? my LRMs hitting the ammo for the towed autocannon five that had been nestled in there. I shouted a warning about the place being guarded after all, and then repeated the performance with the other stand.

The Dart pilot froze just like the other three did, caught completely off-guard by the revelation. But rather than joining them in their momentary panic, I darted towards the actual hill. Rather than take the pass, which was what the Clanners obviously wanted me to do, I hit the jets again and hopped right on top. Infantry and Elementals greeted me upon landing, along with a tank that whirred to life from what must have been a repair shed. Rather than stay and fight, I hopped right down the pass, using my lasers and PPC to probe for mines and hidden emplacements; just because we were dealing with what was likely a solahma unit did not automatically mean that we were dealing with idiots. I got the tank from afar with the PPC and kept everyone else pinned until the other four finally showed up; the Elementals went out fighting, but the infantry knew enough to surrender. Afterwards, high command made it a point to put *me* in charge of such operations, a slap in the face to virtually everyone who had ignored me.

Which brings me to the present situation. The money I got from my share of the ticket and royalty sales from the battle against the other stable was just enough for me to get started on repairing the commune. After weighing my alternatives, I decided to create a new branch of the company known as Olympus Entertainment. The commune would be renamed Camp Tomorrow, and would be a day camp aimed at training children (and the occasional flock of weekend warriors) about mechs and mech piloting. Battle holovids were as common as candy, and I could get my hands on some used simulators easily enough. I even had that one spare Wasp at my disposal in case anyone earned the right to actually go up in the cockpit; as part of it, I had the pulse laser downgraded to a regular medium so that I could add a machine gun, thereby allowing whoever was inside practice at firing all three weapons types.

Thankfully, Heimdall saw fit to send me some camp counselors. Back when Xin Sheng hit and the Cappellan Confederation rolled over the St. Ives Compact, a number of resistance groups tried to fight back. One of them, under the command of newly-minted officer Jixin Tiang, made quite the splash before being forced to flee their planet. Tiang, who operated under the callsign Taizu, would be my 12th man in the stable; we were customizing that one Banshee now so that he could have it. The rest of his cell, when not tasked with other duties, could take turns working the camp.

I had been hoping to test them out myself in the morning, Taizu in the simulators and the rest in assorted on-the-job observations. But the situation had changed. After the last intrusion, I upgraded the sensors around the perimeter to include seismic sensors. Everyone thought I was paranoid to have them set so as to catch even battle armor, but now it appeared that I was right. So myself and the rest of the cell went out to investigate while Taizu and the others waited inside their mechs.

Based on the sensor readings and the time of the reports, Starlight ? who was now back on her feet ? had calculated roughly which way they were heading. We fanned out, keeping close enough to help each other but far enough out to cover more ground. Whoever they were, we were about to find them.

We all stopped dead at the sound of dead tree limbs snapping and popping. None of us had been so clumsy, meaning that the intruders were in the vicinity. I made note of where the sound was and swept the area. By all rights, we should have been seeing something by now; we weren't all that far away from where the noise was coming from, and yet the intruders were nowhere to be seen. The sickening sense that I was dealing with something that had some sort of optical camouflage started to come to me; Heimdall had informed us that there were rumors about battle armor with something of the sort in place, and if it was true we were all in big trouble.

The cracking and popping continued, albeit in smaller degrees; the offender knew that they had just made a major screw-up, but could not quite figure out how to extract themselves from their present situation. Their initial confusion left me with the opening I needed. I'd traded out the Rorynex for a Federated Long, and now I was about to get my money's worth. I guesstimated where the target was based on the sounds I was hearing, and then elevated the rifle to right about where the optical visor would be on a suit of battle armor or a generic combat or mining robot. The flash suppressor did its job, masking the muzzle flash as the round discharged.

I heard the sound of polymer cracking, followed by a handful of other unmistakable noises. Although I had simply been guessing, I had apparently neutralized one of the intruders. Realizing that I'd scored first blood, one of the partisans yelled a warning and then lobbed a flashbang towards the estimated center of the group. The grenade exploded, doing more than just stunning the targets: the bright flash momentarily confused the optical camouflage system, allowing us a few seconds to get glimpses of what we were looking at.

The rest of the group ? five of them ? knew that their mission had been compromised. Three of them sprayed machine gun fire around randomly, while the other two picked up the fallen suit and hauled it out. We retaliated by firing off what rifles and pistols we had, with a few more flashbangs thrown in for good measure. But the survivors were smart enough to keep their heads down, and so we didn't down another unit.

Still, though, we once more proved the point: "smart" technology is no match for stupid operators and planners. But the question was, would our attackers learn from this incident? And if so, would they learn not to attack us again, or would they learn to be more careful the next time?
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#14 Fortress Ironhold

Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 08:20 AM

(here's the original 1st chapter of the story; I was going to post it sooner, but honestly forgot to do so. sorry.)

pt. 1 - Phantom Mech Skill.

(note: happens before the chapter in the OP)

I scanned the area as I hit my jump jets. Seems the Jaguars are getting tired of us retaking their planets, which is why the commander on this particular rock decided he was just going to go throw at us whatever he had. In that vein, the star of Daishi ? each one carrying a point of Elementals ? was a good choice to send against us, as mechs that heavy, while slow, had more than enough firepower to destroy some of our dropships, let alone the forces guarding them.

My orders had been simple: take a mixed company of light mechs out and deal with this sector. Our primary mission was to run interference so that the main assault force could worry about hitting the hard targets. As a secondary, we had free reign to hit whatever targets of opportunity we came across. Thing is, even with me arranging things so that my Shadow Hawk had full jump, I was still slower than Sergeant Hall's Valk or the mix of Stingers, Wasps, and Jenners (yes, I had a lance of Kuritan soldiers put under me; at this point, anyone who was an officer was given a command, period). They left me some time back to hammer on whatever they could come across, and from the radio reports they were doing a bang-up job of nuking the ground vehicles, VTOLs, and Elementals that were racing towards the landing site. There were only supposed to be second-line forces in this area, and so it made sense that they'd encounter such targets.

One of the few perks of having been raised in a family-owned Solaris stable was that I got to muster in with my mech ? a 5-series Shadow Hawk that I'd already customized. Although that Ultra 5 made sense in the arenas, where speed was of the essence and ammo was a concern, the Shad was always meant to be a commando. By swapping the 5 for a PPC, I was able to add a second medium laser, bring the machine to full jump, and still cram another heat sink in there. Good thing, too; my jumping ability was probably going to be the only thing keeping me alive.

I set down on a small rise and sighted the lead mech in the star. Although it was more of a wild shot than anything else, I let loose with my LRM 5. I anticipated that the missiles would, at best, knock the Elementals loose; as slow as the Daishi were, Elementals on foot were even slower. Instead, I noted all five missiles plowing into the cockpit area and blowing it out. The pilot obviously dead, the mech pitched forward and hit the ground. One of the Elementals riding on the torso didn't react in enough time and so wound up getting crushed beneath the machine as it came down. Don't know about anyone else, but a two-for-one deal works for me.

Of course, that made the other guys mad. I felt a handful of LRMs pocking the armor on my mech as I hit the jets again, meaning that either the pilots are bad shots or my reaction speed is slightly faster than theirs is. Although a little higher up on the rise, I was now in a clump of trees. I bracketed the next guy in the line-up and let loose with my 5 again. This time, however, the missiles did a "follow-the-leader" number on one of the Elementals, knocking it off. The pilot was most likely alive and the suit probably still operational, but it was a safe bet that someone was now having a particularly bad day.

The trees took most of the missiles this time, but a few still popped my armor. I hit the jets again in the hopes of finding another spot to hide. Instead, I spotted a mixed star of fast-movers led by a Puma attempting to dart by, most likely hoping to get past me while the bigger machines served as a distraction. That wasn't going to happen. I lit up the nearest member of the star, a Koshi, and popped off my 5 yet again. This technically meant that I was firing on a second target while still officially engaged with a first one, but given that the other four Daishi had already been trying to bring me down I figured that the Clanners had already decided to forego their usual rules of battle. The missiles popped the mech in the side of the torso, obviously startling the pilot due to the way the mech stumbled. They now knew that if I had a say in things I wasn't going to let them get by in one piece.

The entire star, which I noted also had Elementals, apparently figured that out and so changed course to come after me as well. The Koshi pilot, apparently seeking revenge, rushed forward? right into PPC range. The azure blast left a smoking hole where the head should have been, while my LRMs flew right past the machine and into the Puma's arm.

I hit the jets again, and was sent airborne in just enough time to avoid the worst of the retaliatory fire. But based on my display, I'd obviously been sandpapered. What's more, the surviving Elementals were now attempting to dismount, although their purpose in doing so was anyone's guess.

A normal man might be tempted to presume that the Elementals were going to cut and run, and so be distracted by the prospect of cutting them down. In doing so, the other mechs would have the ability to pummel them. Not me.

I saw my opportunity when a Dasher from the interceptor star foolishly engaged its MASC in an effort to flank me. I pivoted in the air and sighted my PPC against its rear armor, then watched as the weapon not only vaporized the machine's rear armor but also detonated its reactor; the mech and its Elementals went up in a mushroom cloud. I spun again and landed hard, letting loose my 5 against one of the Daishi to remind them that I wasn't ignoring them. It was almost pathetic the way the missiles exploded harmlessly against the beast's thick armor.

I got a series of radio reports in from Hall as the battle progressed. His team had backtracked the path the Clan forces had taken, and in doing so found a rather target-rich environment. They started by over-running a listening post, and then followed it up by over-running a firebase that the listening post was probably supporting. And why would there be a firebase in the region? It appeared to have been guarding the airbase where the VTOLs were launching from.

The way the Clan pilots reacted indicated that they'd just received similar news. Not only had I blocked them from hitting the dropships, I'd pulled them out of place so that they couldn?t prevent the destruction of their own facilities. It was now personal.

My heat sensors screamed at me as I hit the jets again and fired off all my weapons in order. Some of the Elementals were now closing on me, and so they were now just as much a threat as their bigger brothers. Two Elementals took a medium laser apiece, momentarily staggering the pilots. A third that was trying to go airborne caught a pair of SRMs square in the torso, throwing it back down against the ground. And to follow it up, I got the Puma with both my PPC *and* my 5; given all three hits, the machine's entire right side was now thin on armor.

Unfortunately, though, not only were the Elementals beginning to close, the mechs were slowly finding my range. Just as I was beginning to take chunks out of their armor, they were now taking chunks out of mine. If I was going to get out of here alive, I needed to step things up. I was half tempted to call Hall back when he called me: they'd found where a dropship we'd shot down during the initial landing had crashed, and they were now in the process of picking off the defenders, which included a star of second-line mechs. I was officially on my own now, as if Hall's team tried to pull back they'd just become targets for the mechs in question; I couldn't ask them to return until after the star was down.

I did an alpha strike on a Dragonfly that got too close to me. While its anti-missile system got my LRMs, everything else still got through. The mech's left arm exploded as my PPC / medium laser combination hit the SRM ammo in its arm, while my other medium laser and my SRMs all hit the left torso. The force of the explosion spun the mech around, sending it tumbling down the rise as the pilot failed to maintain his balance; it soon exploded in the same kind of fireball that devoured the Dasher. That just left the Puma and a Fenris.

I hit the jets to back off in an effort to get some distance and bleed some of the excess heat I'd built up. As I did so, a series of reports started coming in from different sources. The Clanners had opted to detonate the drive on the dropship rather than let Hall's team capture it; they were all out of the blast range, but everyone was shaken. The main assault force was rolling over its objectives with such ease that some of the commanders were now wondering where the rest of the Clan forces were (gee; I wonder where?). Then word came in that the company covering the sector to the north of me ? a sector whose defense was given to a certain military intelligence officer I happened to be engaged to - was under fire from a heavy assault trinary, one that was likewise supported by Elementals. Based on the markings, the trinary appeared to be one of the units that the main assault force had missed. I hastily barked an order for Hall to reinforce that sector, and that I'd do what I could to hold mine; I?d be over once I got things taken care of.

I killed the comm just as the Clanners found my range. It took my eyes a half second to adjust after the blast, but when they did I saw that there was effectively nothing left of my view screen or instruments. I recall having trouble seeing out of my left eye, but don't recall actually feeling any pain from it; I guess between the shock and the adrenaline I was pretty well numb. But I still had a mission to do.

The Fenrir pilot made the mistake of trying to charge me directly once I'd landed. I did an alpha on that one as well, coring out the center torso. Three mechs; three engines gone critical. I wasn't doing all that well in regards to actually acquiring any salvage, but a kill was a kill.

I kept moving, vaguely aware of a report from Hall indicating that they'd blundered into some more of the "missing" Clanners, who had apparently diverted in an effort to stop them from running riot through the sector; he would do his best to pin them in place so that they couldn't go after anyone else. I also vaguely recall General Sommersby giving the order for some of the main assault force to fall back and lend a hand since we were officially hitting their targets for them. Joy.

I recall being shot at repeatedly, but I don't recall anyone actually hitting me. Instead, I gave the Puma a face full of particles while using my medium lasers to sting two more Elementals; I would have laughed at seeing the Puma collapse on top of and crush a third Elemental, but at the moment nothing seemed particularly funny. After all, I still had four Daishi and an unknown number of Elementals to still deal with.

Whoever was now in charge of the Daishi apparently had a head on his shoulders, as the four mechs started providing cover fire while the Elementals all massed on me. Under normal circumstances it would be a smart move, but these weren't normal. Instead, I hit the jets right as their weapons would have connected; the Elementals who were moving into the space where I had just been took the hits instead. I added to their misery by firing off my PPC and LRM at them, vaporizing one Elemental and stunning a few others.

Slowly growing concerned about ammo consumption, I decided on a new course of action. Rather than move around, I effectively dropped right back down not far from where I had been, crushing several Elementals in the process. As I blindly fired my lasers off at the ground, I snapped off a quick shot with my PPC before jumping again; the second Daishi from the left stumbled and dropped, its cockpit also smoking.

I'm not quite sure how I did it, but I somehow succeeded in landing on top of the left-most Daishi in the ranks. I pivoted around and lobbed off a few shots with my PPC, bringing down several confused Elementals. One of the other Daishi decided to try and shoot me off, but once again I was entirely too quick with my jets; instead of hitting me, all the pilot did was slag his buddy. I thanked the pilot with a PPC to the cockpit before landing on another batch of Elementals, who had conveniently formed up to charge the rise in response to my actions. I fired my lasers yet again as I did so, then ducked down to avoid a volley from the last Daishi. I rose, then lunged at the machine.

The pilot obviously didn't expect me to try and close after spending so much time dodging, and so his aim was completely wide of me. I did an alpha strike into the machine, catching it square in the center torso. The pilot flinched as a ton and a half of armor was promptly removed from his mech, giving me precious time to close and fire off one final volley with my lasers, PPC, and SRM. Although well within the minimum range for my PPC, the weapon still somehow managed to work its way into the machine's core. I saw an all-too-familiar explosion telling me that I'd succeeded in taking out the gyro, very quickly followed up by the machine going down and sliding to the bottom of the rise.

As the mech went down, I scanned the sector. No one else was moving. The area was clear.

I was about to leave when the hatch on the last Daishi popped open. I saw the pilot climb out, stunned but obviously aware enough to recognize his defeat. I don't know why, but I felt compelled to pick him up and take a look at him. Once he was level with my cockpit, he nodded and climbed inside. I wouldn't realize it until much later, but after slapping some bandages on his own forehead he did his best to patch me up while we darted towards the northern unit.

At this point, my comms must have started to fail due to the damage, as all I was getting was a series of increasingly broken messages. Something from the northern sector indicating casualties. Something from Hall about recovering everyone and pulling back. Something from the relief unit about trying their hardest to arrive in time. Something about General Sommersby personally taking the field with the older-model Zeus he'd been loaned after his last mech got shot up. Sommersby might have been a good man, but he had an unfortunate tendency to get his mechs knee-capped or otherwise taken out from beneath him.

I made it towards the northern sector with all due speed, literally stepping on a team of Elementals that had apparently been left as a screen against reinforcements; either they didn't see me or they weren't the brightest batch the Clanners had. I don?t know how long I was running; the radio reports began to blur in together. Sommersby trading shots with some VTOLs that had gotten past the screen. Hall's team linking up with the relief element and finishing off the Clanners. The screen beginning to buckle.

When I arrived, I saw four battered mechs attempting to hold their ground, a certain Chameleon not being among them. Their opposition, against which they were quickly losing, was a star's worth of bruisers that were in decidedly better shape. I proceeded to make my presence known by pinging a Thor with my LRMs. From the way all nine mechs reacted and the absolute terror in the voices on the comm, it was as if none of them had picked me up on their sensors even though I should have been as clear as day. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I hit my jets, landed on the shoulders of the Thor, fired my lasers off at the machine's head, and leapt off before the now-headless machine toppled over.

?bringing me face-to-face with a Mad Cat, whose massive cockpit was promptly obliterated by my PPC. As the machine went down, I saw a wrecked Chameleon on the ground; I would later learn that at some point it got tag-teamed just like I did. I apparently focused on the wrecked machine just long enough for the surviving Clan pilots to realize that it meant something to me, as when I pivoted around to fight they responded by doing perhaps the most unClanlike thing they could: surrendering.

I surveyed the surviving defenders, turning my head to do so. One of the four pilots freaked out upon seeing me, turned his mech around, and broke into a run, all the while screaming something about how I must be a ghost; reportedly, he saw daylight through my mech's head.

**
I walked towards the stable, Kanz tagging along behind me. I'd long since told him that he was free to do as he pleased, but apparently it pleased him to follow me around and see what I would do next. Fortunately, General Sommersby had decided to retire to Solaris, and so nobody thought twice about the three mechs we were hauling with us; the presumption was that Kanz and I were his honor guard, and so nobody questioned us.

Officially, I was a hero, having taken down four stars' worth of Clan machines by myself. And while a few of the social generals wanted to grouse about my having sent Hall off with the others, the truth of the matter was that not only did they intercept several waves of conventional Clan vehicles they also forced at least one element of Clan warriors to have to respond to them rather than attempt to flank the main assault group. I hear that Hall was given a commission and a company of his own now; supposedly, it was only logical since, between deaths, discharges, and retirements, the officer corps was a little thin.

But in all honesty, I didn't quite feel like one. From what I'd been told, in my absence my old man apparently stepped on the wrong toes. Influence and money counted entirely too much among the higher-ups in the Lyran Alliance than it should, and so my folks were given a "better opportunity" elsewhere in the form of my dad being made the official governor over a colony on one of the planet's moons. That left me in charge of the stable, a stable that had been shaken down and shattered in the interim in the hopes of depriving my dad and I of what we might still have left. But they didn't get everything. We still had the building, we still had the mountain it was built into, and there was still a small but loyal core of pilots who were with us all the way.

I watched as my Shadow Hawk, repaired at the government's expense, was unloaded off of its transport; I'd already made it a point to purge the system in case the techs had been ordered to put something in the software, and now that I was here I was going to have my own guys do the same. Next to it the other vehicles offloaded a Marauder IIC and a Locust IIC, mechs that I'd "procured" so that Kanz could have a ride; we each obtained one in the hopes of at least one of us getting away, but we both managed to pull it off.

Either way, though, all of us in the stable now had a bit of a fight on our hands. We needed to get our feet back under us and win some matches, while at the same time making sure that the folks who got to my dad didn't get to the rest of us. It was going to be a bit of a task to pull off, but it was something that we could definitely manage.

And they wondered why we eventually turned into the planet's chief Heimdall cell?
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#15 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 09:42 PM

14 - Ones And Zeroes

Although our present situation was improving, it wasn't improving fast enough. It was true that we were starting to get in rather lucrative sponsorship deals. It was true that we hadn't lost a single match to date. It was true that the real estate arm was finally close to showing a profit now that most of the properties were fixed up and being rented back out. But it was also true that our rating as a stable was still so low (mostly due to just how few total matches we'd fought) that we simply could not refuse any challengers at this point. So when a rather obese software tycoon and his two video game-addicted senior programmers challenged us to a series of battles in order to promote their newest mech simulator program, we couldn't exactly refuse.

The premise behind the sim program was that it was so realistic that it could actually potentially teach someone how to be a pilot. The trio were presenting themselves as living proof of this. The tycoon bought himself and his pals mechs so that they could fight in the arena. The tycoon himself had fought a few battles and won, but this would be the debut for his pals. Ostensibly the sim was the only training any of them boasted, but it was obvious that the tycoon ? who billed himself as a "fat ninja" ? had received at least rudimentary training from a professional some time back, perhaps alongside his rudimentary martial arts training. Regardless, we were to be facing them down in Ishiyama, their home turf and ? to date ? the only arena that the tycoon had ever done battle in.

Does it even need to be stated at this point that I stacked the deck in my favor?

Paladin and Templar were more than just adrenaline junkies: they were front-line soldiers with special training in urban combat. Just looking at their mechs ? a custom 5T Vulcan and a custom 4SP Hunckback ? could have told anyone that. Rasalhague might have been too frustrated with their antics to employ them properly, but so long as they were assigned to me as liaisons I could use them as I saw fit. And today, that meant establishing the food chain.

First up was Paladin, who was going one-on-one against a programmer in a Daimyo. The Daimyo was a good front-line fighter. Its ER PPC was a good stand-off weapon that could even threaten heavier machines, and its combination of an SRM 6 rack and twin medium lasers were good choices for stinging any light mechs or battle armor that got too close. If this was a field like the Boreal Reaches, The Jungle, or The Stadium, then Paladin might have had a problem; the 5T gave up the autocannon for the sake of three additional medium lasers, severely decreasing its range.

But this was Ishiyama. Most of the fighting would be brutal close-quarters combat, making the ER PPC a liability; even with double heat sinks, the Daimyo still cannot alpha-strike without building up excess heat. In contrast, Paladin's Vulcan sports double heat sinks, meaning that he can fire off everything all at once and still keep going. The Vulcan may lack an individual weapon that can threaten a mech all on its own, but being hit at once by four medium lasers can still ruin someone's day.

Suffice to say that the Daimyo went down like a chump. Paladin expertly maneuvered his machine to point-blank firing distance again and again, stripping off layer after layer of armor. The programmer was just good enough to keep the machine from toppling over, but not so good as to not panic and try to alpha strike. It's true that the SRMs left pock marks on the Vulcan's armor and the lasers melted a little bit more away, but Paladin was too good a pilot to let the ER PPC hit him under such circumstances. All the programmer did was heat his mech up to the point that it shut down, at which point Paladin had his Vulcan end the fight by unceremoniously kicking the Daimyo in the shin and causing it to fall over. I understand that the bruising the programmer suffered from the safety restraints will go down over the next few days and that he is expected to make a full recovery.

The next battle, Templar going up against the other programmer's Wolftrap, actually wound up even more pathetic. Like the Daimyo, the Wolftrap was also a good front-line fighter. Its LB-10X allowed it to alternate between knock-down punch and anti-battle armor punch, its LRM 10 was a good all-around weapon to chip away at enemies, and the twin medium laser combo was always a good back-up. But it, too, had a problem with heat build-up: if it moved, then it could only fire three of the four weapons.

I figured that the head build-up issue was going to be the deciding factor, as it was with the Daimyo battle. Instead, something even more outrageous transpired. In close-quarters combat such as Ishiyama, it would have only made sense to use slugs all the way through; in fact, he might have won had he did so. But the programmer, for reasons only he knew, opted to use cluster, even in close quarters combat. All the cluster did was sandpaper Templar's Hunchback down while Templar pumped SRMs and laser fire into the Wolftrap. A few salvos later, and the Wolftrap was a pile of scrap. The programmer himself was hauled out on a stretcher, having sustained whiplash from being bounced around so often.

That just left the final match, the only place in the fight card tonight that was even vaguely in question.

On one hand, we had the "fat ninja" software tycoon. He somehow got his hands on a 1A1 Charger, which he modified from there by way of double heat sinks and ER small lasers. The Charger had a fair amount of speed going for it, just enough to do hit-and-run in such a close environment. Upgrading the lasers to ER also gave it that much more range to help sting its opponents. This was actually how he won his few battles: death by a thousand paper cuts. In the few instances in which his opponents were able to fight back, the Charger had just enough armor to take a few hits. But he was still a rookie in a Charger.

On the other hand, there was my pilot. Jixin Tiang, call sign "Taizu", had just gotten his commission from a military academy in St. Ives when the Confederation came rolling on in. He got with a group of intelligence officials and soldiers who had gone underground and fought alongside them. They did well enough for themselves, but the populace thought otherwise: everyone else on the planet was either a loyalist to the Confederation or too beaten down by the invasion and occupation to rise up. At that point, Taizu tracked down a key Confederation military officer, used a compound bow to turn him into a pin cushion, thereby creating a diversion so that the others could steal a dropship (I had to learn the last two details from Taizu himself; the original report from Heimdall didn't mention that).

On paper, Taizu was a good enough fighter. And the other people from the cell did well enough in helping me repel the battle armor the other night. But I hadn't seen him in battle outside of some simulations I ran him through. Not only was I trusting him with that Banshee we got from the organized crime syndicate, I had also shelled out to customize it to his preferences. The Banshee and the mods represented a rather large chunk of change; we could afford the hit to our reputation from a single loss, but we couldn't afford to replace an assault mech if it got slagged in battle.

My worrying proved unnecessary. It turns out that there was, indeed, one thing the tycoon did indeed learn from the simulator: to pay close attention to his sensors. He was good enough with his sensors to spot his opponents without being seen himself, allowing him to stage the dozens of individual ambushes needed to pin-prick his opponents to death. But one of the modifications that Taizu insisted upon was an ECM suite. In other words, no clean sensor reading. No clean sensor reading, no ability to stage ambushes.

In contrast, the time Taizu spent with the partisans apparently taught him to fight just as dirty as I did. The ninja was unable to figure out where Taizu was, but Taizu and his real-world combat experience allowed him to stalk the Charger with ease. The twin PPCs on the Banshee might have been superfluous in such close quarters, but the AC/10, SRM 6, small lasers, and cluster of mediums (another part of the custom: a fifth medium) were another matter entirely. If the radio transmissions were anything to go off of, the tycoon was rather horrified to see his own tactics used against him. As it is, the tycoon wound up surrendering before the final blow could actually be delivered.

After this, not only was Taizu an official member of the team, a number of other pilots ? including pilots on other planets ? who had 3S Banshees began modifying theirs to be like his as they could get the money and parts. In contrast, the programmers swore off mech piloting altogether; the tycoon kept his Charger (which he sold off the other two mechs to repair), but only for public appearances and real-world testing of the sims. The discovery that the simulator actually did teach people how to be sensitive to the sensors caused sales to be just brisk enough to where the company made a small profit. But suffice to say that no one was surprised when the company decided to move into more traditional genes of gaming.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#16 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 09:58 PM

#15 - Keeping It Realty

With another pilot in my stable racking up wins in the arena, we were getting more money coming in to the overall stable coffers. The active rental properties had finally been renovated and rented out, albeit with Heimdall itself comprising most of the clientele; at least one apartment in every apartment or duplex was reserved for agents, and they had set up a military surplus / gun shop in the store front. The money from that was also being set aside for the general pool, the idea being that I could use the money to get the commune site operational as a kids' camp. Once I had the camp in place, I could reasonably expect to make a fair amount of money that I could put towards other endeavors.

However, Heimdall had a different idea. I had a fourplex in the international sector of town, but the rest was in the Lyran sector. They would prefer it if I had at least one property in all of the different sectors so that they could better increase their overall range of operations. In particular, they preferred that I get foreclosed properties as it would give them an excuse to send in their team of building contractors to modify the place. So for the next week, if there wasn't a match going on I was out there checking properties with at least one other person from the stable.

The only property I could find that appeared to be within my price range and appeared to be an easy fix was a duplex in the Davion sector; it was on the edge of town and somewhat run down, and so few people were interested in getting it. The plan of attack, then, was simple. Tommy and Abdul would go to the courthouse in order to place my bids. I'd wait at the house itself with L'etranger, Templar, and Paladin. As soon as we won and the two got back with the legal title, we'd split up and investigate both apartments in the duplex at the same time. The twins would take one. I'd go with Tommy into the other. L'etranger and Abdul would wait outside in case anything went wrong. Those of us going in would have pepper spray, utility knives, and heavy flashlights, just what you would expect a person in such a situation to be armed with. The other two would sit on a pair of tactical shotguns hidden in their vehicles; we had beanbag shells in the chambers, meaning that they just barely slipped in under the legal requirements.

There was just one other bidder, and they backed down after the opening bid. The pair got back from the courthouse with all speed, bringing with them the paperwork. But no keys. That meant we would have to force the doors if we wanted to gain entrance.

What happened next could only be described as a stupendous comedy of errors.

We did not know this until after we finally went in, but each apartment in the duplex was designed in a rather awkward fashion. The front door opened into a large open area that was cut in half by a strip of cheap wood flooring which led from the front door to the back door. On one side of the flooring was a small living room, a half bath (just the toilet and sink; no shower), and a bedroom. The space on the other side was also cut in half by a strip of cheap wood tile which led to the utility room. The rear half represented the master bedroom and a bathroom, while the front half represented a small dining room and even smaller kitchen. The utility room was so small that the washer and dryer were positioned opposite each other to save space. From the utility room was the door to the car port.

Templar and I would each enter through the rear doors; Tommy and Paladin would go through the sides. That left L'Etranger and Abdul to watch the front doors. On a synchronized count, the four of us kicked the doors in. We then each put a foot inside, one hand on the flashlight and the other hand on the pepper spray.

It turned out that both apartments had squatters? who somehow knew nothing of each other. The left apartment was being used as a hangout by a drug dealer and his pals. The right apartment was being used for storage by a moonshiner ring. They kept such different hours, and used different points of access to each apartment, that neither one had previously met. The drug dealer and his team would slip out the back just before twilight, hop the fence, and spend all night on the streets. Meanwhile, just after twilight, the moonshiners would come up the driveway, get new stock, and then sell said stock to the locals that came around. The moonshiners would then close up shop just before daylight, giving them a few minutes to get things right before the others returned. It was an odd and unlikely situation, one that was going to end today.

The drug dealer and his friends were still in their apartment, sleeping off the previous night's efforts. Meanwhile, the goons the moonshiners had stay behind in their apartment had fallen asleep on the job; apparently, the dual requirements to keep the noise level down and keep the utility usage down to prevent detection were such that the pair routinely decided to just camp out rather than fight drowsiness. Between their having been asleep and their knowledge that they were criminals, the sound of four doors being kicked in all at once must have sent a royal panic through the building. Both sets of crooks darted straight for their respective front door, ready and willing to leave their merchandise and goods behind if it meant being able to escape. Instead, the shouting and noise they made during their hasty wake-up call and flight was enough to make my guys go for the shotguns. The first of each group outside was greeted with a pair of beanbag rounds right in the chest, causing them both to fall over almost in unison. Their buddies didn't realize their friends had toppled over, and so quite literally tripped over them trying to make their own escapes.

The huddled masses began to panic as they saw three people approach each of them. They then began to panic further as they realized that we weren't cops. Fortunately, the neighbors heard the shotguns firing and so called the real cops to investigate. It took some explaining as to who we were and what we were doing there, but once the officers realized that we had just captured two sets of wanted criminals they decided not to ask too many more questions.

With the dealer behind bars and the moonshine operation disrupted, crime dropped several percentage points in the neighborhood. It dropped several more points when I had a Heimdall-aligned home security company give the property the works; between the alarm system, the cameras, and the motion lights, the criminals that previously had lingered in the area instead gave it a wide berth. Fortunately, the reward money from bringing everyone in was more than enough to cover the additional expenses. The security also allowed me to charge a higher rental price for both apartments, which helped out a fair amount. All in all, I would say that not only did I come out well, so did the city.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#17 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 09:01 AM

16. Stewed Meathead

Heimdall giveth and then Heimdall taketh away.

The money that I made from the apartments and some of my recent battles? They wanted me to go ahead and reinvest it. Specifically, into a restaurant they were operating as a safe house.

Some time back another agent bought an existing restaurant for the purpose of turning it into a hideout. After all, lots of people go to restaurants, so there'd be nothing amiss in some of our people ducking into one on a regular basis. What's more, with the staff and some of the patrons being agents, it would enable us to spy on the other patrons who came in. If nothing else, the agents could pick up on basic chatter that might indicate something about to happen.

Unfortunately, the agent had the idea to run the place as a "macho guy" hangout. He figured that the arena jocks would go for such a place, and to an extent he was right. Thing is, such a place also wound up drawing in local toughs and discouraging everybody else ? including the very same pilots that we were trying to spy on. In fact, he kept going through female agents like water because they could no longer tolerate the harassment from the patrons. Between the low-quality patrons and the low-quality intelligence that we were getting from them, the place was a flop that was just losing money.

So now, it was my turn to take it over. I was legitimately making a name for myself as a businessman, and so this leant a degree of plausibility to the matter, even more so because I was already branching off into other ventures. All that was needed was for the owner to make an appeal to me via phone so that there'd be an official record of what happened ? specifically, our cover story - in case anyone was wishing to listen in. And so, I did the paperwork to launch a new branch of the company and made the acquisition.

If I was not involved in a match or running the day-to-day operations, I was overseeing the renovations. The plan was both simple and radical: the "macho" concept was a dud, so it was gone. Instead, I was going to make it into a far more family-friendly establishment; not only would this get families in, it would hopefully get respectable people in? including government types.

The whole place was getting a make-over. The eating area and mosh pit area would be merged to provide for a large, open dining area. I lined two of the walls with holovision sets pre-set to an assortment of news, sports, and family stations; a device at each table would allow the patrons to determine which set they wanted to listen to. Not only would this hopefully encourage patrons to stay a little while longer (in the process consuming more), but it would also hopefully allow the staff to catch the news and other items as they worked the floor. What used to be a stage for live shows was getting partially walled in with carved wood paneling and turned into a small dining area; the d?cor and holovision set would be such that any would-be macho types who still wanted to arrive would be naturally pulled there, thereby leaving the patrons in peace. Even the gaming area got a make-over, with two of the three pool tables removed (and conveniently re-established at our stable) to make room for some crane games, vending machines, and an old arcade game; this way, not only would the patrons have a way to kill time while awaiting their order, they'd be giving us even more money in the process.

The fare itself was getting redone, too. The vast majority of the alcoholic drinks would be deleted from the menu, with the staff being given the unwanted items. I got with everyone at the stable, and between us and the staff we came up with a new menu that would be family-accessible, with a number of dishes native to the American Southwest on Terra being included to satisfy the remaining "macho" crowd while still being just accessible enough for everyday customers. Between the Southwest dishes and a number of beef dishes, the decision was made to re-name the place "Texas" and give it a mild "cowboy" feel just like a lot of the holovids that were coming out.

As usual, fate decided to intervene, and in the process made the new name of the place entirely appropriate.

The plan for opening night was simple. I'd have the Archer standing in the parking lot to attract attention (which, to be honest, is about what one has to do these days given all of the mechs on the planet). I would be out there with it to greet people and sign autographs. Abdul and a few of Taizu's men were on-hand as extra security and crowd control. The general idea is that once people were done admiring the Archer, they would be allowed inside as space indoors permitted (if nothing else, the local fire marshal was pretty strict about the capacity counts).

As if reality would ever permit things to go that smoothly.

One of the less-than-desirable former clients, an arena type who appeared to already be well-sauced, showed up out front and made a scene. Had he just issued a challenge and walked off, there wouldn't have been an issue. Instead, he tried to pick a fight with anyone and everyone. He was ejected before I could even make it over to him, and the cops were already notified to do a sweep of the area.

I quietly spread the word around that we needed to start cycling the patrons through as fast as possible. I needed to get the numbers down and people gone for the sake of general public safety, but if I was to just up and shut it all down then I'd risk either riots or a stampede given the sheer number of people who had showed up. None of the choices were all that positive, though, and if anything did go wrong I could still be liable either way.

Well, things went wrong.

Somehow, the drunkard managed to evade the police long enough to make it back to his stable, where he climbed inside his King Crab, fired it up, and started making his way back to the restaurant, all the while shouting threats. The police were immediately alerted to the situation by the stable owner, but the police mechs and SWAT troops were all too far away to do anything about it. A handful of brave cops had the idea to block the road with their cars, then headed up to the rooftops with some bullhorns. However, the average pistol bullet won't even come close to penetrating the armor on a King Crab and the average squad car was never meant to stand up to a large laser.

If nothing else, though, the police did buy me some time. Those patrons that were inside were told to hunker down, while those on the outside were scattered for their own safety. As soon as enough of them had dispersed, I was able to climb up into the Archer and get it fired up. Fortunately for everyone, I went ahead and loaded the LRM launchers and kept the lasers at full power; although the cops would have normally been furious to find this out, I doubt that anyone would have complained this time around.

I popped the missile bay doors open and swung into the street just as the pilot came around a corner. The road was straight and flat enough for us to get a visual on each other, but we were so far apart that not even our LRMs were in range. Upon realizing that we were technically at a standoff and remembering what the new theme of the restaurant was, he felt the need to posture like a Wild West movie villain and make a bold, dramatic statement.

I used the time to put the Archer into a full run. It was a risky move for everyone in the entire neighborhood, but while he was talking I had just enough time to get in range and fire off a full salvo. I targeted it straight for the mech's center of mass in the hopes of maximizing the number of missiles that would hit. That turned out to be every last one of them. Individual LRMs might not do much damage, but a full 40 missiles at once can stagger even the mightiest of mechs. The fact that a quarter of the missiles impacted the head were just icing on the cake. The mech staggered, ultimately pitching forward under its own weight. Additional cops arrived just in time to witness the machine keel over and pry the pilot out of the cockpit. Between the LRMs, the fall, and the cops, the pilot was so banged up that he wound up going straight to a guarded hospital room.

I was right about the cops not complaining about me firing off the LRMs; it was considered justified given the situation, and so nobody really bothered to ask any questions. Instead, the only questions I got were from reporters who initially suspected that I staged the incident in order to generate publicity; after all, they reasoned, what better way to promote a restaurant with a Wild West theme than a duel right in the middle of the street? However, when images emerged concerning what state the other pilot was in, the questions quite quickly subsided. But by that time, enough word of mouth had circulated concerning the place to where it was packed solid for some time and I had to take turns doing nightly visits with some of the others from the stable.

Yeah.

Funny how things just sometimes work out, isn't it?
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#18 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:34 PM

Pt. 17 - War Toys

One of the realities of running a mech stable is that no matter how much money and/or fame you have, it's never enough. Even bigger, more successful stables have to face the cold, hard truth of the fact that they could easily be just one or two lost matches away from financial trouble, if not outright collapse. The smart pilots make what cash they can, stash it away for the future, and remain prudent with what they say and do today so as to lengthen the time that they have until they are obligated to dip into said stash.

As such, when an opportunity for both more money and more fame headed our way, it was easy for me to talk the rest of the stable into it.

For 2300+ years now, individuals and toy companies all over known space have made military toys. Some focus on the soldiers and machines of the past. Others the soldiers and machines of the present. A few imagine what could be in the future. Every once in a while, you'll find one that runs the gamut. This includes several companies here on Solaris. After all, given that mechwarriors from all over the universe come here to try their luck in the arenas, why not? Even if a person fails in the arenas, they can generally still afford transport home and a scale replica of the (generally broken) mech that they had to sell in order to raise the money for it.

One of the easiest ways for a firm to make money is to convince customers to repeatedly buy the same product. A company on-planet figured the easiest way to accomplish *that* would be to produce a subline of mechs done up like the mechs operated by famous pilots. After all, with just a slight bit of retooling (such as redoing the left forearm on their Shadow Hawk to accommodate a second medium laser) and a different paint scheme they could have themselves a completely "new" toy to pitch. Well, we wound up being chosen to be the first stable so represented. Officially, it was because we were hot enough to draw attention. Unofficially, not only were most of our mechs just close enough to the original models to require minimal retooling, if you counted the Archer, the Locust IIC, and the second Wasp we had for the camp (all three of which had gotten their share of media attention lately) we had fifteen mechs in total; they could do their entire first wave of eight and most of a second wave of eight just by contracting with one single stable.

The plan was for the eighth mech of the second assortment to be chosen by popular vote from a list of other pilots in our same general fighting class; of course, a blank line would be left for people to do write-ins (and we each had an idea of who we'd like to write in). Most of the pilots on the list were ones we'd fought ? and defeated ? in the past, allowing the prospect of an eventual grudge match if people bought the involved mechs (in other words, yet another way to wring $$$ out of the buying public). But there were a few others who were there because they were legitimately popular and/or successful in their own right.

Unfortunately, however, no matter how good a compromise there's almost always going to be someone who isn't happy with it. So it was with the poll idea. One of the pilots on the list was actually rather offended when he heard about it, as he immediately raised a stink in the press about how he was "too good" a pilot to have to put up with a "popularity contest" that could have easily been stolen by a "flashy but less competent" pilot. Of course, while he got himself in the media for a little while, it also got the subline in the media as well? and by extension, us. After all, we must be something special if he's going this far to be in company with us.

It took a few days for him to figure this point out, but once he did he was that much more furious. In time, he eventually decided to settle things via a duel. A formal challenge was issued, and the terms were clear: if he beat either myself or one of my pilots in a one-on-one duel, he'd have that pilot's place in the assortment; whoever he beat would then be subject to the same poll that he'd been subject to. If he lost, he'd withdraw himself from nomination.

Now, I want you all to take a moment to stop and consider just how *stupid* all of this is. In essence, it comes down to an arena duel over who gets the right to have a plastic and die-cast likeness made in the image of their mech. But a challenge was issued, and so we didn't exactly have much of a choice but to agree.

L'Etranger hadn't had a battle in a while, and so I tapped him for the duel. I also offered the use of the land we owned as the battle site; our calendar was clear, allowing the match to happen at any point in time people wanted it to happen. We had everything set up within a single day.

On the surface, such a match would have been suicide. While L'Etranger's Battle Hawk was a fairly hardy machine in its own right and had a full five tons on the other pilot's Eagle, the Eagle boasted an ER Large Laser that would permit him to snipe from range and an anti-missile system that would neutralize L'Etranger's Streak 2 launcher. All the pilot had to do ? a task made easier with the relatively open terrain ? was saw the Battle Hawk's right arm off to remove the pulse lasers and the match would effectively be over barring physical attacks.

Stupid as this match might have been, however, it was still a match and so of course I was gonna stack the deck all I could.

For starters, there's the man himself. L'Etranger might be a rampant womanizer and terrible actor (hence his call sign: he chose it himself in order to make himself seem more "mysterious" and therefore more desirable), but he was a legitimately competent pilot with a knack for reading other people and thinking things through several steps ahead. He already had the other pilot, and the battle itself, completely sized up well before the day even arrived.

Then there was his mech. His Battle Hawk was the exact same mech he piloted back during his brief stint with the Lyran military (to this day no one quite knows how he was able to muster out with it), and so he knew its limitations all too well. The minute he was on payroll, he set out to resolve them. The first thing he did was replace the anti-missile system with a medium laser; it meant that he'd take more damage from missiles, but it also gave him a back-up weapon in case the mech's arms were shot off in battle. The pulse laser cluster was replaced with a single PPC, giving the mech range and a knock-out punch. Of course, the Streak launcher had to be downgraded for the sake of weight, but that was a comparatively minor issue.

Given this, the battle was effectively a foregone conclusion before it even took place. The Eagle pilot was apparently quite confident in his ability to snipe, and so once the signal went down he immediately began to maneuver his mech into what should have been a good sniping position. So eager was he to put his plan in motion that he didn't even notice the fact that L'Etranger was quite literally standing still; the Battle Hawk torso-twisted to face the Eagle, but that was about it.

L'Etranger let loose while the Eagle was trying to make its way up a hill; the pilot had chosen to run rather than jump, and so the terrain slowed the Eagle down just enough for L'Etranger to get a good shot off. The azure blast of the PPC found home, amputating the Eagle's left arm at the forearm. The medium laser on that arm was destroyed outright, bits and pieces of the weapon joining the Eagle's amputated left hand on the ground.

Whatever discipline the Eagle pilot had absolutely broke down at this point. He himself was now caught in the same trap that he'd anticipated putting the Battle Hawk in, and it so completely terrified him that any semblance of strategy was now gone. As soon as it registered that the arm had been amputated, the pilot switched from "stand and snipe" to "run like the wind". The pilot used the mech's speed and jump jets to try and avoid the Battle Hawk's PPC while still attempting to angle a shot with its ER Large Laser. Unfortunately ? and embarrassingly enough ? for the Eagle pilot, however, his own high-speed maneuvers threw his aim off to the point that even though L'Etranger did little more than pivot the Battle Hawk in the same spot the blasts still missed.

In contrast, L'Etranger managed to hit about one time in ten. First, he caught the Eagle's left leg, vaporizing the armor that was on it; he was unable to do any internal damage, but the pilot nearly landed the machine wrong for fear of what had just happened. Then L'Etranger got the Eagle in the center torso; the armor there held, but barely. Finally, another shot found that same damaged left leg. The structure holding it to the torso vaporized, taking much of the torso armor with it. The mech collapsed, pitching forward on its already-damaged left arm; the impact sheared the limb from the torso, causing the mech to still take a hard jolt to the left torso.

It was odd, actually. The right side of the mech and its head were still perfectly fine, but the left side had been quite savaged. I'd seen it before on the battle field, such as when an Awesome pilot from a Marik unit I was supporting inadvertently ambushed a Dragonfly whose rookie pilot had become disoriented during a particularly chaotic battle; a single volley left the Dragonfly minus an arm and with virtually no side torso armor, while a second volley took the leg and the rest of the torso armor. The pilot was good enough to keep the mech upright and had tried to take advantage of the Awesome's heat spike to fight back with his pulse lasers and machine guns, but he did little damage before a final volley to the armorless torso and the resulting destruction of a good chunk of the machine's XL engine toppled it and took it out of the fight for good. But in an arena battle? Even Kanz preferred to kneecap his opponents if possible.

Much like the Dragonfly pilot, the Eagle pilot realized that the fight was effectively over and surrendered.

A fine time for the company to announce that they'd changed their minds about how they were going to do the assortments. To help sell the entire line, they were looking to do three actual battle playsets, with each playset coming with two mechs so that the kids at home could re-enact specific battles. There would be myself up against that one Barghest, Kanz in the battle that made him famous for wearing his suit in combat, and then this one here. Not only did that give the Eagle pilot his slot after all, it also opened up three spaces in the assortments and narrowed the list of pilots up for the poll. The official claim was that they were so moved by the Eagle pilot's pleas and astounded by the actual battle that they decided to give him a berth anyway. But anyone with enough brain cells to rub together could see that this was a plain and simple case of opportunism.

The Eagle pilot made just enough from the toy license and the royalties from the media rights of the fight to fix his mech up. This time, though, he was a decidedly different ? and far more humble ? pilot. Sadly, it also marked the high-water point in his career; although he kept up a pretty respectable win / loss ratio after that, he was always a mid-carder at best. He did, though, later take out an Initiate all by himself and ultimately joined me in the effort to re-take New Kyoto, where he found himself a good woman and a position as a drill sergeant in the planet's revived military academy. So make of that what you will.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#19 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 11:12 PM

#18 - All That Glitters

It had taken a while for everyone to get with each other, but thanks to Templar and Paladin I'd been able to bring Comstar and Rasalhague intelligence on board as partners. As much as they and Heimdall would normally have preferred to avoid each other, the simple fact that we had evidence to suggest Blakist activity on Solaris VII ? in particular, the fact that the Blake forces had seemingly deployed a unit of Purifier Adaptive battle armor against us ? meant that it was time for all of us to find common ground in a hurry. And so, a plan began to take shape.

In the time period since negotiations first started, I'd convinced the owner of the strip mall where I had partial stake to "sell me" a pair of conjoining storefronts. The owner was toying with the notion of divesting himself of the commercial properties he'd acquired when S7 went down in order to focus on the residential properties he had gotten, and the cash I was getting from my matches and merchandising deals was slowly helping him make up his mind (that the rest of the individual stores were either moving or slowly going broke also played a part in things). Given that I already had a Heimdall front there in the form of a surplus / gun shop, the two storefronts were tagged as a front for Comstar and FRR intelligence operations. We just needed a store to go in there.

Templar and Paladin themselves took care of that one for me. Somewhere along the way, they'd heard that there was perhaps as much money in flipping storage units as there was in battling. Given their background as extreme sports enthusiasts, this came off as being just another challenge for them to take up. They managed to get a brand-new Simmons (a local manufacturing conglomerate) heavy-duty cargo truck for half-off by agreeing to cut some promos for the company, leaving them with a little bit of money to actually spend on the lockers. As soon as they told me what they were looking to do, I had the idea to make the conjoined storefronts into a thrift store. The brothers would be the owners, but undercover Comstar and FRR agents would actually work there day-to-day while they alternated between arena battles, their duties here, and picking up units.

The pair proved to be surprisingly successful at first. Their experience with extreme sports had conditioned them to have good reflexes and to be good judges of risk, allowing them to know when to hold and when to fold. They also made it a point to stick to units that had sporting goods, militaria, and memorabilia at first, since it was all that they could initially gauge the prices of. And since this was Solaris City and its outskirts, it took them less than a week to fill the store with enough merchandise for it to officially open for business. And while they did come upon their fair share of duds (like individual pieces of gear that looked great from outside the unit but proved damaged upon closer inspection), they still came away with a fair amount of quality merch in addition to the odd find (like a pair of functional arcade games they sold to a local youth center). As you can imagine, the store was soon able to support itself, and the human traffic moving in and out helped mask the traffic from various intel guys meeting with each other.

Unfortunately, success like that can be "monkey see, monkey try to copy". Maria saw what they were doing and so figured that she could do it too, and somehow managed to drag Hazard along for the ride. If Maria had any flaws, it was in the fact that she was overly excitable and therefore rather impatient. It was the reason why she remained a mere kunoichi while Hazard had become recognized as a ninja master: he had the patience to hone his skills, while she would blow off practice if she was sufficiently bored. It was also the reason why she still treated her Spector like a Cicada rather than the ELINT and commando machine it was: she did not take the time to understand what everything on there could do for her. And it was the reason why she almost wound up flat broke.

Hazard had the self-discipline to keep himself from getting worked up. Templar and Paladin had learned to tune out distractions due to having spent their youths playing sports. Maria? got so worked up at times that we were afraid she'd lose her cosmetics sponsorship. If people even vaguely talked bad about her or started to drive up the bidding, she'd react. As a result, while the guys got solid units (Hazard even put together a modest art collection this way), she would usually wind up with an empty purse. Any furniture was either low-end or too damaged to sell. Any jewelry was fake. Any gadgets didn't work. Et cetra. She did sell what she could of it, but would usually be lucky to walk away with about a third of what she spent.

As a result of this, it initially looked like karma would balance out for her when she seemingly struck it rich at a shipping container auction. On the surface, the container was packed full of the sort of cheap-but-impressive-looking furniture and clothing that she normally fell for. But when she and Hazard began to look it over, they found a lot more than just that. The clothing? Inside the pockets they found stocks, bonds, cash, and bearer certificates vacuum-sealed in plastic. The furniture? Real metal bars, real jewelry, and/or real artwork tucked away inside hidden beneath comparatively mundane items like undergarments and art supplies. In short, they made the find that the average flipper would have waited a lifetime for.

It turns out that the container had previously belonged to a Mafioso who had arranged for the contents of the crate to be smuggled on-planet under an alias so that the authorities ? either on Solaris or the planet he had just come from ? wouldn't be able to link it to him. The plan had been for him to travel separately from it, and then switch over to his alternate identity to pick it up. Instead, he choked on a hot dog while en route (pro tip: never talk with your mouth full, let alone attempt to gloat to one's co-conspirators), and so never made the pick-up. By the time his pals had figured out which container was which, it was on the auction block.

Cue several vans full of assorted henchmen blowing through the perimeter fence and racing straight for the spot where all of the containers up for auction were. In short order, that corner of the container lot was surrounded by vehicles. A total of thirty armed thugs filed out and tried to advance on the container; apparently, the time for subtlety had passed, and so now it was just going to be a straight-up smash-and-grab. Instead, though, they never got a chance to do any grabbing; they all wound up getting smashed shortly after announcing their presence and purpose. Hazard got fifteen. Maria got five. Templar and Paladin split the rest when they came up to investigate.

This should have been the end of it, but the thugs actually had back-up? in the form of a 3025-era Wyvern. The pilot saw the pile of thugs, saw Hazard and Maria, and did the math. The pilot couldn't risk firing off his missiles (lest a stray one hit the container), but he started opening up with his lasers. Fortunately, the two were faster than the pilot, who struggled to either blast them or snatch them up without crushing any of the containers.

In the confusion, however, the Wyvern pilot made the mistake of ignoring Templar and Paladin. The two used the opportunity to dart straight for their own container and pull out a few items that had been near the front ? specifically, some grappling hooks and some cans of paint. With the Wyvern pilot distracted, the two launched an ambitious ? and absolutely risky ? plan. They used the hooks to latch on to the mech and climbed up to the shoulder, paint cans in hand. Once on board, they managed to climb up to the top of the mech's head. Somehow or other, they succeeded in popping open the cans of paint, and proceeded to pour the paint down the front of the mech's face. The paint coated the actual view screen on the mech, momentarily blinding the pilot.

If the pilot was smart, he'd have used the pistol he had on him to shoot out the glass and just keep at it. Instead, he knelt the mech down and decided to pop the hatch in order to take care of matters personally. That mistake gave the guys the chance to pound him in the head with the empty cans. Fortunately for him, he only received a few broken bones from hitting his mech's leg on the way to the ground.

It was over so quickly that by the time the police arrived, all that was left was the actual arrests and the paperwork. The Wyvern, the vans, and the container were all confiscated as "evidence". The blow was softened a bit by the reward money, which helped Maria square her finances after all of her assorted losses. The incident also helped to give everyone a reputation for being tough and daring.

Too bad Maria went right straight back to losing on lockers the very next week.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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#20 Fortress Ironhold

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 09:58 PM

Chapter 19 - Shifting Alliances, pt. 1

During the American Revolution back on Terra, the British military learned a hard lesson concerning their officer corps. Back then, the standard practice was that officers wore uniforms which made them stand out from the rest, thereby allowing their subordinates to see them more clearly. This was before any sort of electronic communication was in existence, and so soldiers were limited to line-of-sight when it came to sending and receiving orders. Unfortunately for the British, however, the Revolutionary forces exploited this by having sharpshooters linger at the edges of the battle field; the sharpshooters could also tell the officers apart from the enlisted and NCOs on the basis of their uniforms, and so made for easy targets. And since the mentality of the day was that only the officers could be trusted to do any sort of thinking for themselves, every time an officer went down his entire unit was effectively decapitated. It would take another two hundred years or so for most of the more advanced nations on Terra to get the memo and make their officers less distinctive (just like it would take that long for these same nations to trust their soldiers to operate independently as the case arose).

Sadly, however, even to this day not everybody has figured this out just quite yet.

An example of this came when I was fighting against the Smoke Jaguars. My orders had been explicit: I was to rush in, storm a Jaguar ammo dump, and remain in place until relieved. The garrison was only supposed to consist of Elementals and armor, but I was to keep an eye out for any mechs that might be passing nearby. Well, it was, indeed, just that simple? at first. Five tanks, two points of Elementals, and the transports for said Elementals. They lasted just long enough for the technicians at the facility to finish reloading a pair of Dashers that were shut down inside an enclosed bay. If the tankers and Elementals thought that the Dashers would turn the tide, however, they were wrong; I took them down with an alpha strike apiece. That being done, I used my loudspeaker to declare myself the new owner of the facility, ordered the technicians at the base to tend the wounded, and sent the message back to my unit.

Well, it turns out that the relief unit consisted of a social general (who, I might add, was an actual general) and his pilot in his custom Atlas. The social general had used his connections to trick out what had once been a generic "D" model mech. He had downgraded the AC/20 to an Ultra 5 and switched over to double heat sinks to save on tonnage, tonnage he used to mount a command console, a pair of small lasers, CASE in both torsos, and ? most critically ? jump jets. To finish it off, he had also given it a custom paint job that consisted of an undeniable gold and royal purple paint scheme.

As you can imagine, the sight of a lone, gold-and-purple Atlas powering over obstacles with its jump jets was an entirely too tempting target for a passing Thor pilot, who rather quickly figured out that the machine was likely being operated by someone important. The social general had apparently signed himself up for the mission on the basis that he wanted to see actual combat and be an actual battle hero, and thanks to the Thor he got it. Thing is, while the Atlas had tonnage and armor, the Thor had maneuverability and a Clan ER PPC. This meant that even after the Thor's LRM launcher and autocannon had gone silent it could still engage - and do considerable damage ? from range. In contrast, once the LRM and UAC had gone silent on the Atlas, it was in a world of hurt since the Thor could always put some distance in place before the Atlas could close. Cue the distress signal.

So there I was, trapped in a no-win situation. On one hand, if I obeyed my orders and waited to be relieved, said general and/or his pilot would likely wind up either captured or dead. On the other hand, if I ? being the nearest friendly unit ? moved to help him, I would leave the base unguarded and so allow for the prospect of it being recaptured by other Clan forces. Fortunately, a third option presented itself in short order: a rather opportunistic Cappellan lieutenant had gotten himself and his cavalry unit hopelessly lost (I would later learn that they were a full ten klicks away from their assigned sector), and upon hearing my message made a bee line for my position under the guise of being "my relief unit". I knew that the whole thing was a set-up the moment they rolled up, but at the time I didn't exactly have much of a choice. The lieutenant placed himself and his unit under my command, I gave them the order to secure the facility, and as soon as his tanks and infantry were in defensive positions I was off to try and save the social general. The lieutenant's superiors would later extort a full third of the munitions in the depot and both Dasher carcasses as payment, but the social general readily met their price; it was because of the lieutenant that I was able to save his fanny (I put my PPC and a barrage of LRMs through the rear of the Thor's center torso), and so he regarded it as a small price to pay. The Atlas pilot was given the repaired and reloaded Thor as his personal ride and a reassignment to a combat unit to pay him off for his silence in the matter, the surviving Clanners were flagged as generic POWs rather than bondsmen to obscure the actual "who killed who" tally, and the social general learned to stay in the rear from that day forward; even when his Atlas was repaired and he got a new pilot (in the form of a sweet young thing who had just been shot out of her Commando), he never strayed very far from his assigned command post. I was given one more promotion and kicked upstairs, ultimately being placed in charge of my company. My fianc?e never did believe me when I told her that this was how it happened, even in spite of her being Loki and therefore having access to the full, uncensored incident report.

I was reminded of all this in the wake of the incident with the Toyama.

As part of the whole "consolidating the power base" bit, I finagled an opportunity to sit down in private with Brother Spook, aka Maxwell Remington? or as he is known, Command Sergeant Major Maxwell Remington, Armed Forces of New Nauvoo Intelligence Services. Apparently, the New Nauvoo government over on Caph had been slowly building itself up over the years in secret; the region was far enough away from the main population centers to where it had been ignored throughout most of the Succession Wars, but big enough ? and possessed of a large enough skill set ? to where they could use the lack of attention to their advantage. They had a few goals of their own, but one thing united us right now: the Word of Blake.

The Wobblies had been financing a number of the "bandit" groups that had been hitting the planet lately in the wake of the overall planetary government collapsing, the idea being that they could use the instability as an excuse to come on in and play "peace keepers"; with Caph under Blakist control, they could use it as a satellite planet much like Russia used a number of other nations as satellites during the Terran Cold War. The Blakist plan was ground to a halt in large part through the help of Lindon's Battalion and another mercenary group that was under subcontract to them, something that allowed the AFNN forces to stage a series of sneak attacks that handed the Blakist forces a major defeat.

Remington had another overarching mission here on Solaris VII, but ever since the incident he ? like the other agents the AFNN had sent out ? had received a new secondary mission in the form of dogging the Wobblies wherever they found them. He had evidence to suggest that there was something of a major operation forming on-planet, but my previous encounters with them had put a few kinks in the plan. In particular, I had managed to not only detect the supposedly undetectable Purifier Adaptive armor (a few suits had been lost on Caph for similar reasons that I was able to take this one down, giving the AFNN their first clues to what was going on), but based on the little bit of traffic that his team had been able to intercept the Blakists were now short a battle armor pilot.

However, taking that suit out and busting up their one stable were small potatoes compared to what he had planned. Apparently, a fairly important Blakist official was on-planet running inspection tours of different sites. Much like the social general in his custom Atlas, the official was operating a mech ? the AFNN and Comstar both referred to it as a "Toyama" ? that made him stand out. Thing is, Remington only had one mech: his custom Stinger. He was looking at not only the Toyama, but an escort consisting of two "Initiate" mechs and three mechs that were either Fleas or Fire Ants. He could take them each out one-on-one, but not all of them at once. His superiors were also quite interested in recovering that Toyama for study, plus whatever data might have been on the computers in each of the six mechs.

And so, our deal was hatched. I would help him take out the patrol, and then from there I would help him get the Toyama off of the planet. In exchange, I could keep what was left of the Initiates and the other mechs; Comstar could have the pilots for interrogation, and we would both get copies of what was recovered from the computers. And so we set in motion our plan.

I had a plan for how I could accommodate the second part. It was the first one ? the actual ambush ? that would be the difficult part. Comstar would provide a screening force in the form of a lance of light mechs; if any Blakist reinforcements tried to intervene, the lance would hold them off as long as possible. From there, it would be up to Remington and my people to actually make the capture. No small feat, mind you, but that was the arrangement that we had made.

And it was from there that we began. For various reasons I was not able to risk taking very many people with me; not only did I need to keep a minimum garrison at the base, I also needed to keep the number of people to a minimum so as to avoid early detection. So aside from Remington, that only allowed for a single lance of mechs, counting myself. In that sense, it was almost surprising how well things went.

The plan started off when Kanz remote-piloted his Locust IIC right in front of everyone. He had the mech fire off a burst from its lasers, officially confirming that it was hostile; the lasers themselves stung the Toyama, but otherwise did nothing beyond that. Its purpose done, the mech ran off as fast as it could? pursued by the Fire Ants (we determined the actual identification of the mechs via autopsy). The three Fire Ants might have stood a chance against the Locust IIC. They didn't have a prayer against Kanz' Marauder IIC, which was waiting for them behind a ridge.

That left the two Initiates. Starlight had the one on the left. She used her ECM to shield her position within a copse of trees, then waited for her target to pass on by. She targeted the left leg on the machine and let loose an alpha strike. The Anti-Missile System on the Initiate should have knocked a few of them down, but it never fired for some reason; instead, between the SRMs and the lasers she completely amputated the left leg. The pilot lost control and the mech dropped to its other knee before coming to rest on its right arm.

Remington used the confusion to launch his assault on the other Initiate. He rushed up next to the other Initiate, and then almost expertly took its legs out from underneath it with a well-placed kick. The Initiate toppled forward, and the sickening sound of breaking canopy glass told me that the mech took the impact square on its metal face; the pilot would likely survive if all of the usual safety restraints had been in place and functional, but would be in need of definite medical attention.

That left the Toyama. The pilot was smart enough to put the mech into a flat run, apparently trusting what appeared to be an ECM suite to help protect it. In the process of running, however, the pilot ran right past where I had been sitting. All I had to do was pop up from out of the foliage and I was able to cut loose. Both Medium Lasers and both SRMs found home in the mech's center torso; the thin rear armor offered minimal resistance, and in seconds there was an explosion followed by shattered bits of gyro flying out of the breach. The Toyama dropped to both knees, and then joined the second Initiate face-down.

As sweet as the victory might have been, however, we did not have the time to celebrate it. The recall signal was sent to the Comstar mechs; they all had hands, and so they would be needed to help haul off the downed mechs. I personally had my Shad grab the Toyama by the ankles and begin to haul it off.
Lexicon: still up and running!

**

"At my last intern briefing, Craig was clearly tired. His message had changed to, "Stay out of trouble, period." It seemed that, as director of security, Livingstone was growing old fast. If he didn't watch out, he'd become one of us - a 'Mormon' or a 'straight,' which is what Clinton staffers called FBI agents, the Secret Service, and former Bush employees."

Aldrich, Gary. Unlimited Access Washington D.C.: Regency, 1996. Pg 38

**

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