Whitney Upton, better known as Whisper these days, asked herself for the millionth time how she got herself in her current predicament. Stuck on a ratty rock filled with pirates, murderers, smugglers, and general ne'er-do-wells in an equally ratty bar aptly named "The Danger Zone" so called for the fact it was situated in the wall of the arena and was subject to collateral damage from stray shots through its measly two foot thick ferro-glass window giving the bar-goers a generous view of the carnage. And here she was surrounded by said undesirables, the loudest of them cheering for their leader, the so-called "Demon King of Herotitus" the star of the show tonight.
The young redhead rolled her eyes as the holo-screen above her seat at the bar showed a close up of said star's 'Mech. A modified DRG-1N Dragon. Its right arm having been replaced with large bore AutoCannon, its missiles striped out and its left arm sporting a wicked looking blade-like claw in place of its normal hand actuator. The 'Mech's torso painted to invoke the image of a demon of the Christian faith. Gotta hand it to the painter, she would be genuinely unnerved if she was staring that 'Mech down herself, though she'd like to think it was because of its oversized AC than the paint job. Dragons were fast for a heavy 'Mech, tough too if the armament was on the light side; witch the pilot had obviously remedied in favor for close in brawling.
The matches other fighters were being lifted up one by one. A mixture of lights and mediums, some of them horribly out of place for the knife fighting conditions of this particular arena. Only 'Mechs she could see that stood a chance was a couple Hunchbacks, a Centurion, and an Enforcer. The latter of which was lifted in last. Strangely it wasn't shifting its head around to scan the other 'Mechs, instead, staying still as if the pilot was focused on something in front of them, at the Dragon. It was an eye-catching 'Mech to be sure but any half competent MechWarrior knows to keep their eyes on their surroundings. During all this, the announcer was booming over the drone of the area.
"Welcome to the main event folks! Tonight we'll be seeing the reigning champion defend his title in an all or nothing free for all! Do these up and comers have what it takes to knock the Demon King himself off his throne?!"
The bar filled with jeers, spouting choice phrases at the challenges as if they could hear them. The Arena crowd mirroring their sentiments. Only falling silent when the announcer started again.
"Looks like the crowd is ready. Let's get ready tooo-wait who let you i-" BLAM "Jeeze who lets the boring ones have the mic?"
Whisper couldn't help look at the bar's speaker as the new voice filtered through. The 'Mechs in the arena also looking up in confusion. The new voice cackling for a moment.
"As our previous host was saying, tonight's main event is a real treat! In one corner: standing at a measly 5'5" and couldn't possibly be compensating more if he tried, GOBBO! Here to defend his title and distract himself how small he really is for our exclusive viewing pleasure."
The bar had fallen silent, Whisper noticed some of them looking at the Enforcer, some even beginning to sweat.
"In the other corners...well most of them are a bunch of nobodies that should've stayed in bed. But hey, at least they have spirit for all that'll do for them."
The voice cackled as a Hunchback shook its fist in indignation at the jab, even having its hand actuator flip the bird in the announcer nest's general direction.
"Spirited indeed...But dear arena-goers; tonight, you are in for a treat. For we have a special guest. I'm sure most of you have heard of him- hit it boys."
A spotlight landed on the Enforcer its yellow cockpit glass glinting in the light, Whisper could make out the poorly done shark mouth imitation. The opening beats of a popular thrash song began to play. Why did it seem familiar?
"After three years under the radar, it seems like taking down the 'Queen of Axylus' just wasn't enough for him to announce his big comeback."
A patron had started dashing for the door. Only to be shot the second he crossed the threshold.
"Oi! No running! It can't be him! It's the wrong bloody 'Mech!" Yelled a particularly large patron holding the smoking gun. Whisper was tuning them out. She remembered something, but she was coming up blank. Had to be something she heard in a bar somewhere.
"You know him, you hate 'im, you can't help but look over your shoulder at the mention of 'im!"
The music was picking up. The heavy beats growing in intensity as if in tune for the reveal. A green 'Mech with a shark mouth…
"Crawling out of the ass end of the Frontier. He's angry. He's out for blood. He's here to bury the hatchet (preferably in someone's back). Ladies and losers, I present to you: PIRATE SLAYER!"
The arena's configured battleground rose from the center. Creating a variable maze of shipping containers and raised 'Mech-sized catwalks. The music blasting out in full volume. It finally clicked in Whisper's mind, she had heard of a freelancer referred by that name. A BlackJack pilot supposedly capable of laying waste to entire lances of 'Mechs single-handedly. Whose skills with an AC was only outdone by the carnage that follows his wake outdoing even the famous Pirate Jeagers when it comes to culling outlaws. Not stopping with just culling them, but annihilating any band of pirates to the last man with a way favorably comparable to the Bounty Hunter of legend. Some said he died three years ago, though a sudden drop of pirate activity in the Frontier gave little credence to that theory. Others said he moved on to the Innersphere proper. Again the drop of population in the Frontier gave little credence. The only common agreement was that the "Pirate Slayer" had dropped out of the forefront of anti-pirate operations leaving only fearful whispers even by those who benefited from his actions.
Whisper personally didn't believe half the things she heard, a BlackJack could barely walk without having its armor fall off let alone fight an entire lance of 'Mechs. This so-called "Pirate Slayer" had to be a front man for a vigilante group, an effective one given the results of their actions. She taped the bar for the barkeep to refill her drink. She'll see if the rumors are true, then she'll figure out how she was getting off this rock.
Will's sensors could only identify the Dragon's weapons for a second before the arena's jammers kicked in. Two lasers and an Autocannon, a big one at that, perfect for the conditions the steel jungle of the battleground provided. A Spider had kicked on its jumpjets the second the horn blared. Sailing high over the field only to explode as an AC/20 shell slammed into its torso. The crowd gave an empathic "OW!" as bits of the wreck fell back to earth.
"That's less than ten seconds Bob, pay up!" Lady Death's voice thundered over the loudspeakers. Her lackey's disgruntled murmurs half registering in the mic.
Despite his focus, Will shook his head as he throttled the Enforcer into the steel jungle, the sound of battle filling the air as the other pilots started to clash. He had to take care to not lean against the walls of the containers, they were thick but they weren't bulletproof; not with the caliber they were firing. He ducked into a shadowed nook in the container walls when he heard quick footfalls around the corner. Counting down from five he leaped from his spot, sweeping his leg out to catch a sprinting FireStarter full in its leg. The leg buckled at the knee joint, sending the FireStarter careening headfirst into a ferro-concrete pillar. Will fired a burn of his large laser into the other leg's knee joint claiming his first "kill" of the match. This laser hasn't been tuned yet. He thought, making adjustments on the weapons panel. Too much heat for too little actual damage potential, they must've just installed it.
He slowly stalked down the corridor, ears tuned to any audible information his external mics could pick up. He stopped briefly as an autocannon round ripped through the walls in front of him, backing off as a Hunchback plowed a Panther through the wall. The launched light slammed into a container making a 'Mech shaped indention in it that was only deepened as the Hunchback began to pummel the hapless light the kill horn sounding by the third strike, not that the medium showed signs of stopping.
Knowing he may be saving a pirate he didn't quite fancy watching someone gets turned into tomato paste in front of him. Throwing the Enforcer into a full sprint he shouldered into the Hunchback's blind side, carrying it a fair way before the other 'Mech found a foothold that stopped him in his tracks and pivoted to strike him with its battle fist. Will snapped the Enforcer's right arm up to parry the blow up enough for him to safely duck under it. Pivoting on the 'Mech's foot to press it against the wall as the now disengaged Hunchback fired its main weapon at the air he had just been in the high explosive shell collapsing the container wall down the corridor.
Too close there.
Will pivoted again to avoid the other 'Mechs laser fire, melting neat lines into the wall. Exploiting the Hunchback's recycle time he closed the distance, jamming his laser arm into its cannon housing lighting a burn into its inner workings. As he'd hope a screeching sound came as the loading mechanisms locked up. He would've followed this with a hammer blow to the cockpit from his AC arm's cudgel-like cooling jacket but a fumbling of the controls sent him backpedaling instead of just pulling his laser arm back to its normal position as he planned.
"You know Pirate Slayer, its a shot before a match, not the whole bottle!" Death's cackling voice intoned as he stumbled when he brought the 'Mech back into line and for a brief instant allowed himself to mutter a scathing remark and resisted the urge to take a pot shot at the announcer's booth.
You're here for Gobbo, not her.
The Hunchback charged at him, bowling its shoulder down, likely to use the same maneuver to pin him against the wall as it did with the Panther. With a small huff, Will urged the Enforcer to sprint forward and with a little extra bend to the stride made his 'Mech make a jet-assisted leap, using the Hunchback as a stepping stone as he effectively played a deadly game of leapfrog. The sudden application of fifty tons throwing the other 'Mech down to skid across the arena floor.
Wasting little time, Will hopped back slamming his 'Mech's feet onto one of the Hunchback's legs and firing a burn into the knee joint of the other. The Hunchback slamming its fist down in frustration as the kill horn sounded. Better luck next time. Will thought as he followed the sounds of AC fire further down the corridor.
"We're down to the top four people! Don't get left behind Pirate Slayer, the Demon King has four kills!" Lady Death announced with another cackle. She was really enjoying herself up there.
A quick glance at his monitors told him the only damage so far was minor structural stain in his legs. He'd been lucky so far, and he's likely just spent all that luck. A deep breath and he felt himself grow cold as another horn blared. Three left. He fired his jets to jump up to a catwalk over him gaining an overhead view of the arena. The layout was mostly narrow corridors twisting around each other but branching off from four larger straight corridors that lead to a clearing, not unlike a town's central square. He could see smoke plumes throughout the maze, seems like this stadium favored coring out other 'Mech rather than force an ejection or technical knock out. His sights turned to the center where he spotted a cored out Hunchback laid on its side at the edge of the square. Its likely killer now in the process of ripping the Centurion's AC arm off.
Jumping again to a stack of containers overlooking the square he steadied to bring his AC to bear. Firing off a rapid burst of ten shots at the Dragon though only the first three rounds struck home, the rest scattered around as the Enforcer's arm refused to hold steady as he tried to compensate the recoil. The Dragon paused with the Centurion's head firmly in its grasp at it turned its ugly face to him. Brandishing its AC at him, Will readied the Enforcer to make a leap to either side for when it fired but rather than shoot at him it snapped its aim low at the base of the stack of containers he was standing on. Having the ground shot out from under him so suddenly that even his jump jets couldn't salvage the fall the Enforcer landed hard, entangled with bits of crumpled metal as Gobbo took his sweet time driving his 'Mech's claws into the struggling Centurion's head assembly its legs flailing a final time as the blades skewered its pilot.
"It'd down to two folks! Place your bets now. Who will succeed? The King? Or the Slayer?"
Will cursed his tactical error as he brought the Enforcer back to its feet. He gave Gobbo too little credit there and it nearly cost him dearly. Gobbo had situated himself on the far side of the square, arm thrown out high and wide as a show to the crowd. They eat it up, cheering so loudly he almost had to turn his external mics off. Gobbo lowered his arm and jabbed a claw at him only to draw it back making a slicing gesture at his 'Mechs nonexistent neck. Will returned in kind. Pointing the AC and cocking it back in a facsimile of a shot going off, turned out to be a crowd pleaser. Any other time, any other place, any other lifetime; he'd probably be enjoying himself. But he wasn't, he had a family and town to avenge and by God, he was gonna make it painful for that sack of shit!
The image of the cafe flashed in his mind as he threw the Enforcer into a sprint, circling around the Dragon firing a burn of his laser into its armor only to stop and pivot in place firing his jets to avoid incoming AC shell. Gobbo made a beeline for him, using the Dragon's better speed to close the distance. Will juked another shot from the AC, pulsing his jets to the side avoid the worse of a wild swipe from the Dragon's claw, leaving the Enforcer with a set of deep gouges in its side. Pulsing his jets like he was currently doing wouldn't allow his mech to dissipate the waste heat from his laser instead opted to fire another burst from the AC. even at this range, half his shot were going wide. Dammit, how did the regular army control this thing? Will cursed to himself as he twisted out of the way of another shot the shell taking a small chunk of the shoulder armor with it. He was gonna get picked apart at this rate.
Gobbo was maneuvering rapidly, ensuring that Will stayed in his AC's optimum firing range, laying on the fire. Fortunately for Will, Directly mounting a gun to the torso too out any chance for stabilized firing on the move. Most of the big bore shells going wide or failing to make solid connections. With a pull of the trigger, the last shell went wide only scraping the Enforcers head and burying itself into the arena wall shattering a window in the process. His only range weapon now out of action, Gobbo charged, catching the other 'Mech mid landing with a shoulder bash sending it reeling back its feet carving a line in the floor as its momentum carried it.
That last one hurt, quite a bit if he was being honest with himself, Will groaned as he popped his neck. Despite everything, the Enforcer was still in good shape baring a chunk of armor taken off the surface. The image of his home in flames flashed in his head as he drew his panting mouth to a solid line. He was feeling the heat now, the laser wasn't an option if he couldn't guarantee a killing blow and the way the AC was treating him he'd only be able to inflict superficial damage to Gobbo...He had to go into melee. At the back of his mind, he promised himself he'd get Behemoth to tutor him. He threw throttle to full, leading his charge with a barrage from his AC, three shots, and ducked under Gobbo's retaliatory swipe of his claw. Will threw a swipe of his own, his AC's cooling jacket jolting the Dragons side torso. Gobbo trie pivot around into a backhanded swing but was stopped in its tracks as Will pressed in his weight into his left while jamming his AC into the Dragon's side firing a full burst. It took getting into point-blank range to do it but all ten shots went home and tore a large chunk out of the Dragon.
Gobbo pushed Will off and started taking wild swings only succeeding in connecting with one across the Enforcer's head stunning Will long enough to raise his arm for a hammer blow witch Will had to block with both arms, forcing him to take a knee from the weight of it. Gobbo pressed his 'Mechs weight onto his attack, claw grasping to take hold of the Enforcer's head as he'd done with the Centurion. It was only when he heard the sound of laser melting armor did he reflexively twist away. Will could've laughed how Gobbo had turned away from a single small laser but he had a deadlock to get out of. Firing his jets he threw himself at the Dragon, locking his arms around its waist has his momentum carried them over, crashing hard and tumbling away from each other.
Groaning he tried to get the Enforcer to push itself up but only just caught himself as its left arm gave out. There went half his firepower. The 'Mech was unsteady on its feet, whether a by-product of the gyro getting damage or his own fatigue he didn't know, he glanced at where Gobbo had landed. Flat on his back and frantically trying to right itself he was a sitting duck. Will clicked his tongue and raised the AC and fired. A fusillade of explosive shells, all remaining six bursts peppered the downed Dragon, ripping off chunks of armor and sending sparks as a few struck the internals. Gobbo had just managed to prop himself up slightly as Will began to approach, AC arm held high with the intent of bludgeoning him to death. He could only do what he was truly best at doing, running away. Will had begun to bring his arm down at Gobbo's head when the top hatch blew clean off and the ejection pod sailed off at an angle… right into the now busted window of the Danger Zone bar. The Horned blared and the crowd cheered as Will was the last one left standing. Not that he cared, eyes locked on the landing zone of his prey. Death was yelling fake platitudes telling to raise his fist in victory. He just made the Enforcer shamble towards the window.
It's been six years coming.
Whisper had long since taken cover behind the bar when the stray shot slammed into the section of wall near the bar. Flying shards of glass had either maimed or killed most of those opting for the front row seats, more still when the pod came crashing in. She and the barkeep peek over the top. The hiss of the of the hatches opening filter over the moans of the dying and even over that high pitched groan of pain that made her ears feel like someone was poking a toothpick too far into them. The first thing to come out was a beat up neural helmet, tossed haphazardly out in wake of its owner crawling out of the pod.
The new announcer's jab at his height wasn't unfounded. The Demon King was indeed a man of short stature with black hair and a prominent nose with a general impish if raggy appearance. She ducked her head back under as Gobbo turned around, bracing against the pod.
"Wich of you lot are still alive?" He called out in a raspy voice. Only a few of the patrons found it in themselves to stand. Gobbo could only shake his head.
"That's all? That won't do… Oi, you!" He shouted catching sight of Whisper poking her head out again. In spite of his injuries, Gobbo was still spry enough to lunge over and grab a fistful of Whisper's hair.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" He yanked up to get a better look of her. "Ah~ a pretty little redhead, Taurian by the looks of you. Got them strong gazes, like they're hot shit for not getting annexed by people with better things to do." He laughed as he dragged her over the bar screaming.
"Let go you little freak!" She yelled, Of all things they trained you for in military school they never worked on her pain tolerance and something told her this guy was very good at handing girls by the hair.
"Now now dairy cow, you're more useful in my possession as of now." He gave her a drawn-out sniff. "Sweat, military. Heh, may just keep you around for longer though. Breaking girls like you is always good fun."
Whisper pulled against his grip but as she suspected, he was well practiced at this. She should've stayed home. Before her mind conjured up whatever horrible things this little gremlin had in mind for her a second pod came crashing through the window. Flattening the surviving members of Gobbo's gang. The occupant of this pod proved to be more driven in exiting the escape device actually kicking the hatch off and picking himself out with a deliberate almost unnatural slowness.
His neural helmet didn't look like a neural helmet. It was far slimmer with a reflective visor that gave the head an almost insect-like appearance, a mantis, she thought. The helmet only showed his face from the tip of the nose down the oxygen mask missing. Instead of being in a tank top and shorts at most under an extremely bulky cooling vest like other MechWarriors he instead had a wore leather jacket over a full body suit. Didn't make sense as his 'Mech was venting heat during the match he should've been cooked wearing that outfit. It was only when she saw the dense ribbing of small tubes along his legs did it click. A cooling suit and his helmet. Star League. The guy was walking around in losttech. Despite the pain of her hair being pulled she couldn't but note that she expected someone more, imposing physically. The man before her was on the slim side and she could see a tuft of dark brown hair sticking from the back of his helmet. The guy needed a hair cut.
Said thoughts of him not being impressive were dashed when he turned his head just far enough to get what she assumed were both of his eyes on them. It was then when she felt a sudden chill down her spine making friends with the first one courtesy of the gremlin. She couldn't even see his eyes and she still felt them boring into her, through her, at the man she barely had an inch over in height. She could feel Gobbo quake in his boots. The sound of metal on plastic came as Gobbo's free hand drew his boot knife and pressed against her neck.
"Back off Slayer, another step and the bird's blood is on your hands," Gobbo warned, forcing his voice to sound calm and in control. Pirate Slayer took a step. The knife shook. "Think you're so tough? My Clan killed the Jeagers! We took down Hessian and left this sector of space with naught but a worthless welp to fill his boots!" Gobbo spat and pointed the knife at Slayer. "And I've been outfoxing you for the last six years, me! You're a shame on your family name. Killin' me won't change that. You'll still be waking up looking at a failure in the mirror. My only regret is not getting my hands on Hessian's whore daughter and granddaughter and giving them the best five minutes of their lives!" Gobbo shouted waving the knife about. Whisper suspected he snapped. She noticed Slayer looking at her and gave a small nod at the knife. Clarity dawned on her that Gobbo never bounded her relying more on pain and threat of death to keep her docile. Now that the knife was nowhere near her neck she had free reign. Following through knife to hand drill number three: Gain control of the weapon and use it against the wielder. She grabbed the outstretched knife and forced the arm holding it to stab it into his thigh. The effect was instantaneous. Gobbo let go of her hair with a screech and went to pull the knife out. Pirate Slayer smelling blood in the water stalked up to the wounded man and grabbed him roughly by the mouth. Ripping the knife out of Gobbo's thigh and threw it hard to the side embedding itself into a pirate's corpse.
Whisper crawled away to the relative safety of the corner of the room as Pirate Slayer pinned Gobbo to the ground and started laying in heavy hammer-like blows across his face. Slayer alternated between punching and slamming his prey's head again the hard wooden floor. This continued for what seemed like an eternity, Gobbo's face barely registering as human from the swelling, only stopping for Slayer to pull out a small silver medallion from an inner pocket. She could tell she and the cowering barkeep weren't even registering in his senses anymore.
"I know you know what this is." Slayer's voice was totally devoid of an accent. Hell, it didn't even sound like should be coming out of a human.
Gobbo gave a weak moan only to have Slayer slam him against the floor again.
"You. Know. What. These. Are." Still, Gobbo only gave a wordless cry.
"That's right, New Hathor. The town you destroyed. The people you took everything from. What about the woman who put up a fight? Remember her? Remember robbing her of everything she lived for?" Gobbo was slammed down again as Slayer stuffed the medallion back into his jacket.
"'Course you don't, they were just another among your sea of victims." Slayer reached over to snatch up a heavy looking table leg. And bringing it down on Gobbo's head. His voice still eerily level.
"You're right about me though. I'll wake up every day knowing I could've ended you right then and there all that time ago." WHACK "How easy it would've been to step on your worthless hide and had been done with it." WHACK "But guess what? I can live with that. You gave me purpose." WHACK "Gave me direction." WHACK "Killing you won't bring them back," He raised the leg up with both hands. "But killing you will spare others from ending up like them. Now. Rot. In. Hell." Slayer brought the leg down hard and kept bringing it down onto unrecognizable remains of Gobbo's head. Again, and again, and again until Whisper worked up the courage to approach and put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"He's...dead now you know." Slayer was breathing deeply the front of his jacket covered in blood but he nodded his voice never betraying anything other than controlled anger.
"Yeah...he is now." He tossed his makeshift club aside and got to his feet. And set about retrieving a cleanish dish rag to try and wipe most of the blood off him as he went about picking the pockets of any corpse around him.
Whisper looked over the bar to find the barkeep in the fetal position shaking violently. He's probably seen his fair share of violence in this bar. But tonight probably topped his list of the most extreme. A heavy thud resounded beside her as Slayer slapped a large pile of paper C-Bills onto the bar.
"Hopefully this pays off their tab." The barkeep just whimpered, yeah he'll be like that for the rest of the day and tomorrow.
Whisper looked over to find Pirate Slayer had started to walk out.
"H-hey! Wait!" She called after him running to catch up.
"Just who the hell are you?!" Slayer gave her a small glace and lengthen his stride putting her behind him. Damn tall bastards!
"The announcer was very clear I believe." His voice was still calm but seemed to lose most of its edge from earlier.
"Like hell I'm taking that seriously. You're one of the Bounty Hunter's posses, aren't you?"
"They're little better than a pirate these days." He was gaining distance. She started to jog to keep abreast.
"A lone MechWarrior wiping out whole pirate clans? In a BlackJack no less? You're full of shit."
"I never claimed such abilities. I just help kill pirates." He looked at her. "Also the BlackJack is a fine 'Mech, maybe learn before subscribing to such baseless 'facts.'" Huh, so there was some humanity behind that helmet.
They were within reach of the elevator when popped out of a door in front of them. Slayer's hand hovered over his sidearm only for the newcomer to hold his hand up.
"No need for more violence Pirate Slayer," He pulled out two c-bill chits and a document sheath from his inner pockets. Holding them out for Slayer to snatch up.
"Whats the second chit for?"
"It was the consolation prize for the survivor with the most kills. There's typically only one left alive at the end of these games so the pool has been building up. It was meant for the former champion but well...you saw to that yourself." The man stepped aside and showed them the elevator.
"As exciting you were down there, it's likely best you never come here again. The clientele is in an uproar and we've had at least twenty shootings now. You're simply bad for business." Slayer gave a half amused grunt. Walking past him and calling the elevator. He and Whisper stepped on the second it opened.
"A bad day for pirates is a good day for me." Were his last words before the doors shut.
Whisper stood next to him as the awkward silence was only broken by a mediocre ambiance score playing form the speaker. She was trying to think of something to say but any words she formed died in her mouth. Man, this thing was slow.
"Good work back there." He said out of the blue.
"With the knife, nicely executed. Seemed practiced. Military?"
"Y-yeah, Taurian Fifty-Third Line regiment. BattleMech element."
"Mostly minor raids and pirates."
"Three years. And before you ask, I wanted more action. Turns out its hard to get into a 'Mech as a freelancer even with the right training."
"You typically have to own the 'Mech already unless a company is going through meat fast enough to warrant a new hire getting in the cockpit."
"Speak from experience?"
"No, just something I've seen in my time out here." He tossed a chit to her. Her mouth dropped as she caught sight of the amount it held. Five-hundred grand?!
"Here, I don't need it. It should buy you passage long enough to find a company worth your time."
She was floored to say the least. Still don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Don't suppose you need a wingman?" Slayer gave a small shake of his head.
"You saw something you weren't supposed to see, it'll be better for both of us if we never saw each other again." Before she could reply the door opened and Slayer wasted no time taking long strides into the crowded streets.
"H-hey wait!" She ran after him but soon lost him. How does someone in losttech be that hard to pick out of a crowd? She sighed and kicked a can next to her foot. Only got a good look at the back of his jacket...now that she thought of it it had MARKHAM embossed on the back. She felt like she heard that name before too. She'd have to check with an MRB office in a major system. Well, she had the money go where she wanted at least, even if it was a hand out given by a violent killer.
Yang was waiting for him at the loading ramp. Suddenly a life for death battle with his most hated person seemed preferable to what was waiting for him. He was tired. Yang waved him over and looked him up and down.
"Don't suppose you went to a black metal concert and got sprayed with the fake blood?"
Will shook his head, prying off his helmet, the bags showing in his eyes.
"You look like shit."
"I feel like shit."
"You know what's wai-"
WILLIAM TELL MCLEAN GET YOUR ASS UP HERE RIGHT NOW!
Yang winched as Sumire's voice roared over the intercoms. The other MechTechs making ribbing remarks.
"Ohhh Commander's BUSTED!"
One even making a whipping sound. Suddenly Will felt more irritated than tired. He sighed.
"Time to face the music."
"My thoughts and prayers boss."
Sumire's was tapping a dent into the floor by the time she saw Will's head pop up from the ladder well. Pulling himself up to the better light she got a good look at his face and her ire was almost forgotten right there, almost. He looked half dead, more than that; someone who had reached the end of the line. She'll deal with that later. Now she had to get some sense into his thick head.
"Where. Were. You?" She demanded. Closing the distance and jabbing him in the chest. Why was he covered in blood?!
Will looked her in the eye. His expression a mix of irritation and sleep deprivation.
"Personal business, Sumrie I know you have a speech for me but can we please save it? I need time alone." Come here covered in blood and tells her to save it?!
She was about to start a speel she saves for Darius only for him to cut her off.
"Could you please set course for the Cluff's Stand system? We have business there."
She jabbed him in the chest, who did he think he was?
"Oh for more 'Personal business'? Last time I punched in coordinates for you out of the blue you come back covered in blood. Like hell, I'm taking you to Cluff's Stand. You're explaining yourself right NOW!"
Darius superimposed himself between the two.
"Hey now, we're all friends here. I'm sure Will had a good reason, that said. Will I think you owe of an explanation just what you had to do down there in the first place."
In an unusual turn, Will's expression became angrier.
"I told you, personal business. Mine, not yours. Now to Cluff's Stand. Please."
"Not till you explain yourself, mister! You had us worried sick!" Sumire butted back in.
"Cluff's. Stand. Please. I'm asking nicely. I'll tell you when I'm ready but it's not going to be today and you keep pressing it, never." Will insisted. Voice becoming harder.
"Where do you get off?! You're not a freelancer anymore. You can't do this without letting us know. What if you died!?"
"Sumire, don't make me do this. Just punch it for Cluff's Stand and we can still hash this out later." By this point, Will was looking at her with a barely contained fury. Two can play that game. She jabbed him again, only to have her hand snatched up in a vise-grip making her yelp at the sudden pain.
"Navigation officer Meyer. As your commanding officer, I am giving you a direct order to set course for the Cluff's Stand system within the next ten minutes. Failure to comply will result in your immediate termination as part of this company's senior staff and you'll be seen off this ship at the next convenient stop. Continuing this disruption will result in time in the brig. Further offense, I'll throw you out the airlock myself." Will commanded, his voice suddenly devoid of any accent as he stared her down.
Sumire's voice died in her throat, he just pulled rank on her.
"Will lets not be hasty about this all we ask is-" Darius tried to intercede but was cut off with a sharp jab from Will, his face livid.
"'All you ask.' That's all you lot do, you just ask and ask and ask for the sake of your needs. Did I ever ask for anything? Anything in the last three years that wasn't a yes or no question or what was for dinner? NO! I didn't ask for anything from you." Will grabbed Darius by the collar, his voice brimming with unrestrained anger. This was worse than the salt fiasco.
"I didn't ask to be made commander. I didn't ask to be trapped in the ass end of space chasing after dogshit contract after dogshit contract while banks and loan sharks breathed down my neck for three years. Do you know what I was doing before what went down on Comodir? I was hunting a pirate. A very particular pirate. A pirate I had a vested interest seeing dead. The trail went cold yes. But I could move back then. When that travel ban hit us two years ago you know what I thought? 'I'm going to be stuck here with these idiots for the rest of my life!' The last three years stuck here and I knew that my prey was out there going around like he was some goddamn untouchable. That was killing me, Oliveira. The thought that someone else would get him, killed me inside. Three years he was running free. While I was wasting my life with a merc company that can't even screw in a damn lightbulb without someone to oversee the operation!"
Will was panting at this point if he didn't calm down he was gonna have a heart attack.
"So I don't owe you people shit. I gave you three years of my life trying to pull us out of the hole you dug for us while I had to live with that bastard running free. Let me remind you something. You're all replaceable. The ship is under the leader of the Mauraders. Me. I'm well in my right to can both of you right here, right now. I would be told it was a good call. I get it. I'm younger than all of you. You think I should answer to you in case my young bullheadedness gets me killed. But guess what? You made me commander. And this is me commanding now. And I'm not some young mascot to dance around contractors." He gave them a hard look before roughly shoving them back.
"Carry on with your duties. I'll count this as a first-time offense. But this is you're only warning." WIth a huff Will jumped down the ladder well.
"I'll be taking my food at my quarters. If I need something I'll call. Till then, I don't want to hear any footsteps outside my door." He voice echoed from below.
Sumire sank to her knees as they gave out. She should barely process what just happened only that her hand was punching in her ordered coordinates.
"Darius...what just happened?"
Darius fell back into his chair a dumbfounded expression on his face.
"I think Will finally cracked. Let's just play nice and let him cool off. Whatever went down in the city has him antsy." he looked at their accounts...Ten million?! When did they earn that? He sighed even when he hates them he still does his best.
Sumire felt her shoulders shake. Too young...He was too young for that DAMMIT!
Will threw Markham's old jacket into the room with a yell.
Stupid Stupid Stupid!
He just ruined any relationship he may have had with his crew now. He sank to his knees and gripped his head. Things were supposed to be better with Gobbo dead. Why did it feel worse?! Why?! F %*!
The next few days were spent mostly in his room, curled up with his plush in the chair. Since he effectively locked himself in there he tried to distract himself decorating. Mostly pictures from his childhood and early freelancer days. Not that it helped. The eyes were haunting him now. People he could've saved if he tried harder, been faster.
"This ain't healthy man" 'Bullseye' said from his side, his public face. Half smiles faker than a Solaris Dancer's tits and an equally fake scowl expected from his family.
"He already knows that." Private Slayer said from behind him. His private life. The face he can't show.
"He needs to get over himself! McLeans don't mope around!" William said from his other side. His youth, back when things were so simple and the answers were easy.
He looked at the plush the Atlas looking back.
"What would Wilma think of you now? Why don't you show her all you've done?" William demanded.
Because he was ashamed. Ashamed what he'd been driven to do. Wilma wanted to see a noble MechWarrior. Beating people to death with table legs wasn't noble. There was nothing noble about his motives regarding pirates. He was there to kill them. That's all.
He glanced up at the family photo on his desk. They weren't judging him. They should. They should be condemning him. He looked over. A photo in front of the cafe in New Hathor. Same thing. He left her to die. She should hate him. Why was she smiling?! He looked further over this time a photo taken decades ago. Mastiff and his grandfather. Story went they worked together during the last war. It was weird seeing a young Mastiff. Let alone one that didn't look like a grumpy dog most of the time. What would they think of the whole mess?
"Well lad, you just had to ask."
Will shook his head. He was hearing voices other than his own now. Next thing he'd know they'd convince him his gun was really a magic candy dispenser that made problems go away if he eats one. He needed to go to bed.
Another few days stewing in his room. Only this time, more voices.
"You can't block us out forever lad. Now act like a man and speak!" His grandfather demanded the photo waving his cane at him.
"You're a figment of my imagination grandpa. Get in your favorite chair and take a nap already."
"William Tell McLean you do not talk to your grandfather like that!" His mother admonished.
"Say it right!"
"I'm sorry grandfather."
"Honestly where did you pick up that dreadful accent?"
By the end of the week, he could hardly hear himself think. How is a guy supposed to have a pity party if his mother keeps nagging him?
"No one blames you for what happened back then, lad! You did all you could." Wilhelm implored, the other occupants of the family photo nodding in agreement.
"That's a dirty lie and you know it, grandfather! I could've been faster!"
"Son, things go wrong, you know this. I know this. Everyone here knows this." His father admonished. Oh good, now he was getting in on the party.
"You can tell me I failed to my face. I'm a grown man now."
"And yet the so-called 'grown man' is sulking in his room like a spoiled child. I raised you better than that young man!" His mother scolded.
"I'm not saying you didn't have right to say those things pup. You got a dealt a bad hand. But take it to form me, nothing good comes from blowing up in the face of women that care about you. I learned that the hard way and Hessian still doesn't let me hear the end of it." the young Mastiff said as his grandfather's younger self jabbed him in the chest.
"And I never will! Took me months to arrange those dates and the mutt here blows it!" The younger Wilhelm barked.
"You tell 'im me!" The older Wilhelm yelled.
Will grabbed a pillow to scream into it. They wouldn't convince him to shoot himself, they'll drive him to it.
It finally came to a head when the plush started talking.
"Brother, why are you sad?" Wilma's voice came through the fabric. He could swear it was tilting its head with the question.
"Because big brother is a screwup and failure."
"Why? Did all you could. You stopped a lot of bad guys." Will wanted to shake his head but another voice froze him.
"She's right you know." Her voice called.
"You always stopped them eventually, it was never an 'if' but a 'when'"
No no no, he wasn't hearing this.
" and through all the trials. You never lost your way….well when you had a choice anyway"
"I left you to die." Will whimpered.
"You came running the second you saw we were in danger."
"I should've stayed."
"Then you would've lost more comrades. More than one owe you their life thanks to your skills."
"But the way you died…"
"Hm, ok I can not lie. I'd prefer to still be alive. But if you stayed you may have perished in the fighting. I do not think I could bear to live a life knowing our knight was no longer with us."
Will sighed and grew red despite himself. "Why do you say such things?" The Owner giggled.
"Because I get to see the man behind the helmet. One that needs to...how you say? Get his shit straight? Ah yes. Please do that sir knight."
"Oh Ho! William you certainly inherited the family charm!" NOT. HELPING. MOTHER.
" So what do you mean by never lost my way? Tell me that at least!" He demanded.
"Well, first of all, you never gave in. At you're age lad it's a miracle you aren't a jibbering mess...current state notwithstanding but this is soul searching." His grandfather announced with a wave of his cane.
"That the medical term?"
"It's the 'if you don't listen I'll shove my foot up your ass' term."
"Ok fair enough."
"Darling, despite your violent tendencies toward that horrid man you've always kept the real reason for your actions in your heart." His mother said.
"Such as? I wanted revenge plain and simple." Indignation filled Will's voice.
"What she means lad is that, at the very core, it wasn't revenge you were after. It was a desire to stop what happened to you from happening to others. The gremlin hurt you bad. Plain and simple. And he'd do that to others all the live long day if allowed, you couldn't let that happen, no matter what. Even if you had to get up close and personal. You didn't relish the killing, you simply employed the means you had to see the end of his deeds. The fact your such a mess right now is proof you didn't live just for the kill."
Ok this starting to hurt his head.
"Ok, then what am I then if you all have the answers?" He asked.
"Simple, you're William Tell McLean. The sum of your experiences and how you dealt with the trials you faced so far and will face. There's a little of me and the others thrown in there too. But no one dictates who you are, but you. You can be as fake as a whore's tits like that lad there."
"Or as bloody miserable to Mr. permanent helmet hair behind you."
"I resent that remark."
"Or, you can grow up and be your own man now. That bastard isn't hanging over your head anymore. The pirate clans know we're back and they'll be jumping at the shadows now. You're young and have a capable crew. Sky's the limit lad. So again." Wilhelm's voice melded with others.
"Who are you?" the voices intoned
Will looked down to the plush toy. There was the million c-bill question. Was he Pirate Slayer? No that didn't fit anymore. The hatred was mostly gone, pirates were just pests until he found a really nasty one. He wasn't Bullseye, he wasn't trying to hide the violence in him anymore again the object of hate is gone. He wasn't his younger self anymore either. He died in the manor. No. William was still there he's just wised up to the workings of the innersphere.
"Who are you?"
He was William Tell McLean. Sole heir to the McLean legacy as pirate hunters.
"Who are you?"
He was Bullseye. MechWarrior sired by Raju 'Mastiff" Montgomery himself and heir to his legacy as a teacher It would fall on him to help train the next generation of MechWarriors one day. He got up from his seat. He needed to stand.
"Who are you?"
He was the Pirate Slayer. One of the few that struck fear into the hearts of the lawless. There was still need for that in these times.
"Who are you?"
He was Will "Bullseye" McLean, Commanding officers of the Markham Mauraders. And he'll drag this company to greatness even if they kicked and scream the whole way. He was feeling like a new man. He chuckled madly.
"Who are you?!"
Will sucked in a deep breath, all will know.
Darius was dozing at his station, thirteen hours of work straight, He had forgotten just how much Will did by himself. And he's still locked up in his room. He sighed and allowed his head to dip. A quick nap won't hurt.
I AM WILLIAM TELL MC-F#*IN'-LEAN!
Well, that plan was out of the question now. Epically with the undignified shriek, he made as his commander seemingly lost it finally.
"Get the tranquilizers!" Footsteps came from the ladder well.
"Too late!" Sumire yelled taking cover.
"Heeeelllllooo my beautiful crew! Lovely day to spend with the best crew a chump like me can ask for! Will yelled as he popped out the ladder well, wasting no time scooping up both Darius and Sumire in a painfully tight hug cutting off their panicked yelling.
"Oh, gods! Too tight!" "Can't breathe sir!"
Taking the hint Will released them both only to take Sumire by the hand he had tried to crush a week ago rapidly going over it for signs of injury.
"You had this checked out right? Cold press then hot press? Can I get some coffee?"
Sumire prided herself in being very level headed. But at that moment it took all her will power not scream and pass out from shock. Ok, maybe not pass out at least.
Sumire's panicked scream was heard from the medbay and the general commotion that followed. Medusa didn't even bother to look up from his magazine.
"Uh, guys. I think the commander is crazy.." Glitch said looking up away from the wall mounted holo vid playing. Behemoth and Dekker just cast a glance at each other.
"Glitch, a mental breakdown doesn't make you crazy," Dekker said slowly.
"Oh, so it's like a period then?" Behemoth slapped her face. Honestly this woman sometimes…
Contrary to what they thought, Will's usual tea actually had a calming effect. Enough to rein in the mile a minute ball of positive energy that replaced their commanding officer. He was sighing contently into his sixth cup where we finally stopped jittering. Yang was rubbing his temple as he tried to digest his boss' explanation.
"So you had an epiphany while talking to your dead relatives?" Will nodded.
"Least that's how it went down in my head. The subconsciousness is a tricky beast. The end result now is that with this out of the way and my 'personal' hangups six feet under I actually feel better than I have been in years!" He started to laugh. And laugh, and laugh until Will reached a good impression fo a Saturday morning cartoon villain. Honestly making Darius and the others seriously considering unfit to lead before his laughing began to die down with a wheeze.
"Ho ho, man, six years without laugh like that makes the lungs hurt."
Before their commander could possibly this any more uncomfortable for them Sumire spoke up.
"So is there a reason you called up here other than telling us how great it is to be alive?" She wasn't complaining per se, in fact, it was nice to see him genuine, but this was too much in the other direction. Will snapped his finger and fished out the seated document from his pocket and tossed it to Yang.
"Damn straight. Read that and weep Yang!"
Yang adjusted his glasses as he skimmed over the leases. Only stopping to gape as the full meaning became clear.
"Full access of the refit yards? Anytime we come?" Will was wearing an all too pleased with himself grin as he nodded.
"Henceforth. I'm declaring Cluff's Stand our main stomping ground. We got the cash, and we'll have the shops to spend it on. I want a comprehensive list of anything we can replace on this thing 'Mech or not. This could be the life high I'm right now but its time for Mauraders to make their mark on the scene. Kamea's restoration is only the beginning. That sounds good to you guys?"
The other's took a moment to look at each other. Well, they did make him commander for a reason. Even if the said reason was that none them could pull it off themselves. They shrugged.
"You're the boss, boss."
Ok I think i'm definitely crossing the line here. Promise THis is the only case of this level from here on out.
As always please leave a review, the feedback helps me tweak the story as needed and i like the conversation. C'mon people. reveiw a fic near you today!