Carter Knight could feel his eyelids getting heavy, but continued to fiddle around with the equipment and machinery laid out in front of him. A few meters away, lit dimly by the makeshift mechbay's lighting, stood his personal,Phoenix Hawk PHX-1b, shining in steel grey with gold trimmings, and the remnants of a painted-over and scratched-away emblem on its right shoulder.

The mech had taken some light damage during the last skirmish with the pirate forces attempting to raid the small town he was currently residing in, and due to its distance from the planetary spaceport, and the fact that he mostly worked on his mech alone, it was hard to get anything past minor armor repair and maybe once a year he could get replacement armor plates.

He finished touching up his latest project, a prosthetic leg, then stood up and stretched, the sound of his bones cracking echoing throughout the mechbay. He checked his watch; he had another patrol with the town militia in a few hours, and he would rather not be sweaty before he put on his coolant vest. As he walked out of the mechbay, he absentmindedly clutched at the base of his neck; grasping nothing, he shook his head and made his way to the exit

Stephanie waited listlessly in her clinic, playing around with a small device. Soon, the patient resting on the hospital bed beside her groaned and woke up. His eyes scanned the room slowly, and eventually his eyes reached her. The man stared for a while, then seemed to recognize her; as soon as he did, he groaned

"Ah crud, what happened?"

Stephanie smiled weakly. "You're fine, captain. Your patrol was ambushed in the middle of a meal break, and even though the explosion was some distance away from your unit, a piece of debris knocked you unconscious. Carter was able to scare them off, and carried you along with the other casualties."

The militia captain sighed. "Good...good… the others?"

"They're fine… you were the... most injured"

"I see…"

Stephanie waited a bit more, making sure that the man had fallen back asleep. She bit her lower lip; he might not have noticed yet but if he had bothered to look underneath his blanket, he would've found that he was missing a considerable chunk of left leg. She looked at the table at the opposite side of the room

Sitting there, shining unevenly, was the prosthetic leg Carter had fangled together from bits and pieces. Some odd coating - probably to protect it from rust and such - shined unevenly in patches across the dull steel. Right beside it lay the attachment hook that she'd have to surgically attach to the captain's leg.

She paused, and looked at the prosthetic leg again. It wasn't professionally made, by any means, but looking at how it was built, it was easy to tell it was built competently, by someone who knew what he was doing - which begged the question: who exactly was Carter?

She unconsciously brought her other hand to her chest, grasping at the dog tags hanging from her neck, a gift from Carter; though in true Carter fashion, he hadn't given it to her directly - it had just suddenly shown up on her desk at the clinic.

The metal was smooth, with her name written on it along with the codename "Golden." The number 343539 was also there, just below her name - an ID number, she supposed.

Most of the time, Carter served as the militia's only mechwarrior, and while Stephanie was unsure as to exactly how much maintenance went into keeping the mech in good condition, Carter served as his own mechtech and definitely was skilled with mechanics; his expertise extended elsewhere as well, as evidenced by the prosthetic leg he had managed to create.

While being the only mechwarrior available definitely earned him some respect, it didn't help make many friends; he didn't talk too much, or at all sometimes, and you could physically feel his discomfort at any of the social gatherings he was invited to - he would always be found either in some secluded area, drinking slowly and staring upwards at the sky, and once someone had cornered him and started talking to him, his responses were short, even monosyllabic sometimes.

She remembered the day Carter had shown up 7-8 years ago his mech striding in from the direction of the spaceport. The militia had been panicking then - an unknown mech in unknown colors was marching towards them, without any announcement. They were all scrambling for SRM packs and anti-mech weapons when one of the spotters started yelling at everyone to stand down, and that it wasn't hostile.

The mech had walked in, and with a closer look, it was revealed to be battle scarred, with paint scratched, dents and craters all over its armor, and a heavily damaged faceplate, apparently having been attacked several times on its way to the town. The militia had guided it to an empty warehouse in front of Stephanie's house, and quickly rigged together a makeshift mechbay.

As soon as the mech was in position, it had powered down, and the hatch opened, revealing a half-dead Carter inside. The militia engineers attempted to repair the mech while others carried an unconscious Carter to Stephanie's clinic.

Stephanie remembered that day well; she had been relaxing quietly in her office, when suddenly armed militia ran in, carrying a half dead man on a stretcher and asking her to treat him as soon as possible. They stripped him down, and she remembered them throwing a pair of dogtags into the pile of clothes they had removed.

She remembered looking at Carter looking like he was on the verge of death, scars all over his body and multiple broken bones and bruises. Carter himself looked relatively fit, though some fat was starting to accumulate on his stomach. His hair was dark, but there were some grey hairs here and there.

She remembered that while she was administering aid, Carter suddenly woke up, and she could see his eyes quickly scanned the room, then relaxed, and she saw a mixture of relief and grief on his face, right before he passed out again.

The - pirate? She wasn't too sure - attacks had been increasing in frequency and intensity recently, and the town militia had responded in kind by doing the same with their patrols - unfortunately, all that really did was increase the amount of patients the clinic received on a weekly basis

As she was debating whether or not to blow off work tomorrow and have one of the other medtechs take over, she noticed the water in one of the nearby vases started to ripple a little, and after a while she could feel the ground shaking

Despite the number of injured militia, and the amount of paperwork she had to do, she couldn't stop the corner of her lip from twitching upwards a little

Everyday, without fail, as soon as Carter finished the afternoon patrol, he'd head straight to her clinic, and give her a ride on his mech's palm back to her house

She told the nurse on duty to tell the next medtech that she might be out tomorrow, then gathered her things and headed for the front door. The rumbling had slowly gotten stronger over time, and soon enough Stephanie found opening the clinic doors to the sight of Carter's mech strolling towards her down the path's gravel road. The mech's dull gray paint with gold trimmings was a stark contrast to the town's mostly brightly colored glass-and-steel buildings, which made it stand even more, even given the fact that it was the only mech that ever showed up in the town.

As the mech got closer, Stephanie waved at the cockpit. A hatch opened, and Carter peeked out, waving back. After a while he disappeared back into the mech, and closed the hatch. The mech lowered it's closed hand to the ground, and after a short while, the palm opened. Stephanie climbed on, dropping her bag into a small compartment Carter had managed to install into/carve out of the hand. There were some other objects inside, but as always, Carter left just enough space for her bag. She settled into the mech's palm, and the mech stood up, and made its way to their houses.

Just out of the planet's orbit a Mule class dropship made its way towards the planet. From within the confines of its control room, Igni wiped his face free of sweat and yelled at the room in general to get them planet-side at top speed

After a while, he switched the comline to the living quarters

"Paladin, get your Hawk ready for a hot drop; we've finally found the old bastard, like hell are we gonna let some upstart mercs kill him off"

There was a short pause, and a voice responded

"Hrmmmm ok"

Igni looked to the rest of the bridge crew and the status monitors around him. They would hotdrop Claide right outside of the town where Carter was supposed to be, then continue on to the spaceport. It would take some time before they could disembark their other mechs, especially since they'd have to explain to the planetary authorities why they hot dropped a mech, and why they were unloading another lance more.

Carter rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and powered up the Phoenix Hawk. It was early in the morning, and unfortunately, Carter had missed his alarm, meaning he woke up far too late for him to have his usual morning tea and breakfast. He yawned, and pushed the mech forward, out of its mechbay, and onto the path outside his house. The ground rumbled beneath his mech's feet, and signaled the neighbors that still hadn't woken up that it was time to wake up. Several doors opened, and people rushed out quickly, half-panicked, late for whatever they had to do. Carter took a quick peek at the house across his, but it seemed empty. He smiled a little, then shook his head. He headed towards the militia base - morning patrol would be in a few more hours.

While on his way to the militia base, he saw a telltale glint of light reflecting off of metal somewhere in the hills to the north. He frowned - there should be nothing there, and the spaceport was somewhere to their east. He almost stopped to look at it, but the morning patrol had opened up their radios and set to his frequency; the NCO was playfully yelling at him to get there faster.

Carter kept the Phoenix Hawk cruising along the dirt road. The lands surrounding the settlement were mostly composed of green fields and hills, with the occasional tree scattered around. There was little cover for the infantry men, and in the case of an ambush they were forced to hide behind Carter's mech or stand there and die. Standing still for the troopers went against every fiber of Carter's training, but he had managed to do so before.

The patrol had been routine, nothing popping up on any of Carter's sensors, and having had missed his breakfast, Carter was feeling sluggish

Carter yawned, momentarily bringing his hand off the joystick to cover his mouth.

By bad luck, the instant he did, he heard the loud roar of an explosion nearby, and a bright flash appeared over one of the hills.

Bringing his mech to a sprint up the hill, Carter came across the rear of a lance of Harasser hovercraft, firing their SRMs down at one of the patrol convoys.

An azure beam of man-made lightning shot straight across from his mech to his targets, accompanied by a pair of bright green ones. The PPC struck, along with one of the medium lasers. The PPC had struck the lead hovercraft, melting armor, and piercing straight through to the internals. The on board fans melted, and the slagged metal was flung all around the vehicle as it crashed to the ground. The first medium laser hit the edge of another hovercraft, melting through some of the armor but ultimately leaving the hovercraft intact. One of the hovercraft - one he hadn't hit - turned and fled, and soon the others followed. The surviving militia quickly reorganized themselves to take care of the wounded and detain the hostiles that had bailed from the hovercraft Carter had destroyed.

One of the troopers waved a quick salute to Carter, then moved off to assist the others. Carter adjusted his communications to the town's command frequency

"HQ, this is patrol Juggernaut, I've rendezvoused with patrol leader and helped them fight off an ambush; the wounded are headed back now," Carter added the last bit as he saw one of the militia's own hovercraft take off with the wounded.

"HQ copies, we'll have the docs work on them priority 1. You and leader resume patrol"

"Juggernaut copies" Flipping on his external mics he told the patrol group HQ's orders, then headed off to continue his patrol route.

Another day, another couple of fools

As soon as he said those, he realized that the majority of the fools who attacked never bothered to retreat before… something's up

The next morning, Stephanie was up early and getting into the neighborhood's hoverbus before it headed into the main bulk of the town. The morning patrol wouldn't be up yet for a few more hours, but she felt it important to begin fixing up her equipment. As the bus drove away from her street, she took one more look at the house across hers, as well as the giant hangar-like doors behind them.

Behind those doors stood Carter's mech, and occasionally she had been able to catch glances of a scratched off emblem of sorts on the mech's right shoulder. She shook her head. More mysteries about Carter, nothing new.

The bus came to an abrupt stop just before it turned the corner towards Stephanie's clinic, jolting her awake. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and the pain from her forehead, she became aware of the sound of gunfire, as well as screaming and an explosion.

She looked up just in time to see the windows at the front of the bus explode inwards as bullets broke through them. Ducking back down in her seat, she heard the rest of the windows breaking as well as more screams as the people around her were cut down, including the man who had been seated next to her. As she crouched down in her seat, she felt the weight of the man shift onto her back. The man's corpse weighed down on her heavily, effectively pinning her in place while she was hidden underneath him.

The nearest source of gunfire stopped abruptly, and Stephanie heard footsteps quickly enter the bus and exit. Still stuck underneath the dead man, she wondered what the hell was going on, and prayed it would end soon. As soon as she was sure that the footsteps and gunfire were some distance away, she struggled to get the dead man off of her.

As soon as she was able to stand up and carefully make her way to the exit, she felt tremors in the ground, and she couldn't help but grin - Carter must be nearby. She got out of the bus and made her way to her clinic.

After barricading the front doors with one of the heavy tables in the waiting room, she ran upstairs and hid herself behind her desk. She had a clear view of the outside from a window to her left, and as the tremors got stronger and closer, she took a peek.

She didn't recognize the model, but the mech she saw was not Carter's -

It was much, much bigger.