Those who break faith with the Unity shall go down into darkness.
-ilKhan Nicholas Kerensky, 11th October, 2823
Fields of Blood, Circe,
26th October 2823
On a plain of burning metal, countless nightmares had come to life. Massive war machines, each standing upright like men, but over ten meters tall, stalked one another through the fog and smoke.
"Alpha Star, you are with me!" Franklin Hallis, saKhan of Clan Wolverine, yelled over his comms. "The rest of you, try to hold off those pups as long as you can! I will try to settle this once and for all!" And maybe stop this madness by taking down the one man most responsible for it, he told himself silently.
His Black Knight strode over the hulks of several wrecked tanks, the bodies of their dead crew strewn like rag dolls over the battered landscape. Franklin took care not to stumble over the steaming metal. The remnants of his Keshik, a star of five mechs, followed him in, as he drove towards the cause for all this bloodshed.
A towering Atlas stood in the distance, imposing and forbidding. Hallis felt a weary anger return as he saw the insignia of a Wolf and the big red star painted on the front of the Atlas. A small group of mechs slowly moved around the Atlas, obviously its subordinates.
Franklin lowered his jaw, angling it to depress the button on the lower part of his neurohelmet for transmitting over open frequencies. "Why, Nick? Why?" He asked in exhaustion.
The Atlas started to move forward. Hallis judged it would come within weapons range in a minute. A strong voice replied, "You threaten to destroy all that I have built! Do you know what you have done here? Of the demons you have unleashed?"
"Nothing that you did not unleash yourself!" Hallis shot back, his anger lending him strength for what was to come. "You have gone too far with your policies! Firing squads, forced confessions, public denouncing of the old ways. You are just the same as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Amaris! Is that what you have become, Nick, a power mad dictator?"
"Silence! You have no right to speak to me this way! Who was the one who gave up everything he had to build this new world that our people now enjoy? Who was the one who gave you the chance to pilot a mech? Who was the one who brought stability back to these worlds?"
"For what price? For what price?" Hallis whispered, "For if we give up everything that made us the Star League, what are we now, Nick? What are we now?" Hallis yelled despairingly as he sprinted the Black Knight towards Kerensky, bringing up his right arm particle projection cannon and whipping a lightning bolt across the assault mech's torso.
Nicholas Kerensky was not ilKhan of the Clans for nothing. He easily adjusted for the armor loss, and sent a salvo of long range missiles at Hallis.
The missiles crashed in, shattering armor plates, but Hallis barely noticed that in his rage. He did note the movement of his escorts as they engaged the ilKhan's Keshik. However, he also knew that their damage levels meant that they would most probably lose the skirmish.
Nevertheless, battlemechs, man's favored machine of war in the 29th century, are also extremely tough machines. Powered by relatively lightweight miniaturized fusion engines, and propelled by myomer polymers that react to electrical impulses much like human muscle, their level of protection and weaponry were unparalleled in the history of ground warfare. Armed with missiles, lasers, autocannons and PPCs, a single mech was capable of flattening a city on its own.
Conventional military wisdom ruled that the only way to oppose a mech was with another mech, and the action his armor had fought the day before to oppose the initial landing by the troops of Clan Wolf bore it out in the starkest terms possible. More than a cluster of tanks were destroyed for only the gain of two stars of mechs eliminated. Hallis had to admit it was a mistake, but he needed time for his mechs to get into defensive positions while taking the gamble to inflict enough damage on the Wolves that they might spend more time organizing on the ground.
And now everything he was doing, even this impromptu duel with Nicholas Kerensky, was calculated to do the same, to buy more time for their civilians to load up on their dropships and escape through the makeshift aerospace net the Wolves had set up to intercept all Wolverine spacecraft.
Sarah's plan was falling into place. The Wolves were paying a high price to dislodge his determined warriors from their positions, and his use of artillery assets, unhindered by air strikes, had surprised more than one Wolf unwary enough to stumble into predetermined fire locations. With only two galaxies of frontline troops, they were actually holding off more than four galaxies of Wolves!
If the second line units, now being evacuated, were also brought in, Hallis had no doubt they would prevail. But as Nicholas had made clear a few days before in a system wide transmission, the failure of his Wolves in this campaign would only lead to challenge by another clan, and another, and another, until all the Wolverines were annihilated.
And that was why his clan had been forced to fight with one hand tied behind his back. With luck, the rest of the clan will be able to make their escape from this region of space, and make their way through the great unknown back to the Inner Sphere. Away from the morass of hate and fear that had engulfed the survivors of the Star League Defense Force. Away from Nicholas Kerensky and his mad dreams.
A long burst of autocannon fire brought Hallis back to the immediate situation. He grunted as more than a ton of armor was stripped away from the left leg of the Black Knight. Another hit there would probably be critical.
Hallis danced the Black Knight away from the Atlas, seeking a long range battle more suitable to his beam armament. His lasers flashed out in crimson and azure beams, scouring armor on the Atlas' thick hide. Rivulets of carbide alloy flowed down the flanks of the Atlas, but Nicholas would hardly be deterred.
"Stand and fight like a true warrior, Franklin!" Nicholas ordered as Franklin continued to pull the range between them as he sought to play hit and run. "You will fall in the end, no matter what you do. You might as well make it easier for yourself!"
"And give you the satisfaction of an easy kill?" Franklin retorted, "Not likely!"
For long minutes they sparred at range, exchanging volleys of missiles and particle beams, seeking an advantage over the other. Hallis was aware of the death of his men as they went down to Kerensky's Wolves, and that the surviving Wolves had gathered around the two dueling Khans in a rough four point circle.
It could not last. It did not last. A salvo of missiles finally caught his Black Knight as he was trying to traverse a series of small hills, tearing away one of his leg actuators, and bringing his mech's speed to that of the ponderous Atlas.
Nicholas was quick to take advantage, bringing his Atlas in close. Franklin knew his Black Knight had no real chance in a slugging match, but he had no other choice. The battle had been raging for three long hours, and he was bone tired, which had contributed to his lapse in judgment in crossing the hills instead of skirting them. The sun was beginning to set.
The Atlas blazed away with its autocannon, shearing away almost all of the Black Knight's remaining armor as Franklin replied defiantly with a full alpha strike, with his full energy loadout. All his weapons hit, even managing to hobble the Atlas and tear one arm off. But it was not enough.
Nicholas fired his pack of SRMs, the short range missiles ripping into the Black Knight's exposed innards. Franklin felt a loud clashing sound from below him, and he did not need to check his readouts to know that his gyro had just been destroyed.
The Atlas did not let up, firing off its LRMs at well beyond their minimum range. It was a testament to the skill of Nicholas that all the missiles hit, savaging the almost hapless Black Knight.
Franklin braced himself for the impact as his mech fell. Without a gyro, there was no way he could have remained standing after the punishment his mech had taken. Furthermore, the missiles had torn away what remained of his reactor shielding. And the worst part of it was that a salvo had hit the cockpit, slicing away the lower half of his right arm.
"Argghhh!" Franklin screamed as the pain receptors in his body belatedly reported the injury. He focused his teary eyes through the pain, and he saw the shadow of the Atlas fall over his crippled mech, casting him into darkness.
Do your worst, Nick! Franklin forced his eyes open, and as he saw the laser capacitors on its right arm glow, he caught a glimpse of the drive trails of dropships fleeing into the heavens, against the background of an darkening sky.
My task is done, it is all yours now, Sarah, Franklin told himself, a contented smile on his face as his vision was filled with blinding light.