Starburst' Sardaukars

This is done with permission of the videos' owner, but should he request it be taken down, I will immediately comply.

BattleTech is something I used to love and play avidly in the 80's and 90's, but somewhere along the line I completely lost touch with it. I played a bit of MechWarrior back in the day, mainly MechWarrior 3, but that never really felt like BattleTech to me. Probably because of the instant re-heals and rearms mid-mission. I guess I wanted the feel I got when three buddies and I painstaking played through most of the Fourth Succession War scenarios during middle school. Yes we read the books on the campaigns featuring the Wolf's Dragoons, Kell Hounds, and of course my personal favorite Justin Allard (thank you Mr. Stackpole for entertaining 13 year-old me well into my 20's).

I found out about the new computer game through SidAlpha, who frankly reminded me BattleTech exists. So I was stoked when I got my hands on a real breathing BattleTech game that felt like, well, BattleTech. I know some people complain, but I still had fun by avoiding missile spam builds and playing the game the way I wished even if it wasn't remotely optimal.

The nostalgia goggles may have played a part in my ultimate opinion, but I still felt it was a good game. A good game worth the price to me, but nonetheless a good game I was ready to put away.

Then… well RogueTech came along, and I discovered that I know nothing. Let me cite an example. When I stopped playing tabletop, you basically had normal missiles, Inferno Rounds, Swarms, or Streaks (artillery as well but we never used it). What in hell were Thunderbolts, MRM's, MML's and ATM's? Now I suddenly find myself constantly on Sarna (Seriously you guys are awesome). net trying to figure out what the hell a huge percentage of the stuff I am looking at actually is and how it works! While looking on how to play with these new toys, or even what some of the toys actually were (plasma cannons didn't exist either) I discovered channels like BlackPants Legion, Baradul, and most importantly here, Tirak.

I also discovered so many people that kept this universe going while I was away. Thank you all.

Incidentally, Tex (whom I think of now as a mythical Urbie Pilot people gather round to tell tall tales about) thank you for reminding me just how fun this universe can be. You get a PO Box and I'll send you something to kill brain cells for Christmas I promise.

I also agree with Tirak's assertion that this play through of RogueTech really should be set later, so I moved the in-game timeline to the FedCom Civil War. Also, since this ties in with Tirak's play through, it will reference his original run of Harebrained Schemes main BattleTech campaign.

Now on to the rough ride of Carissa "Starburst" Crane and her quest for glory and the almighty C-Bill.

CHAPTER 1 Begin Anew

Hoist's eyes bulged. Carissa smiled her Cheshire cat's smile. A look she knew was absolutely perfected by the ears.

"You're sure it's the Argo."

Even though Carissa's smile couldn't get any wider, her chuckle remained soft as she nodded.

"Aurigan's Reach, the Coalition Civil War, that Argo?" Hoist paused, breathed deep, "Voodoo's Marauder's. We are talking about that specific Argo. The Argo."

Carissa Crane really wanted to laugh. Tirak "Hoist" Maddox was born on Weldry in the Aurigan Reach. Weldry was the planet where a monarch in exile became the much needed symbol that would ultimately end the Aurigan Directorate. It's where the Markham's Marauders became known as Voodoo's Marauders, and marched their way into the tall tales of the Periphery.

Incidentally, Weldry now had an extreme abundance of males named Tirak.

Carissa watched Tirak deflate a bit. "It has to be a fake."

Carissa laughed now, and she couldn't help that laugh was just a little mocking. Hoist looked at her, adorably crushed. A man in his mid-thirties really shouldn't be able to pull off a look like adorably crushed, but somehow Hoist continued to manage it. Tirak was her coordinator, quartermaster, personal mechanic, and favorite mental punching bag. He also had a solid knack for cobbling together random bits of twisted scrap and hammering them into workable machines. Combine that with sound tactical skills and an ability to calculate odds in real time that bordered spooky, he was almost as indispensable to the Sardaukar's as Starburst herself. Hoist, while certainly not infallible, and often fatiguing, proved his worth over and over again. Her very own Rapier was a testament to his ingenuity.

Of course, for all that ingenuity, Hoist had some less than desirable quirks. Mostly centered on his hoarding problem. Hoist's significant hoarding problem. Carissa and Chief Sproge were forever haranguing him to pare down inventory to manageable levels, and usually with only limited success. Carissa, who had to foot the bill for quite a bit of planet-side depot space in the midst of the largest InnerSphere war since… well whatever the last one was actually… Carissa was often ready to kill him only for Tirak to put some bit of kit on something and keep her lance trucking along against all odds.

Still, you foot the bill for 5,000 square meters of depot space and then you could begin to understand Starburst's frustrations. It would easily help you understand why she did what she eventually did.

Hoist had been sullen and glum all week, because just one week ago, Carissa decided she was going to solve that hoarding problem. At least for the time being. Hoist had gone chalk white when he found out too, making Carissa very confident in her decision to not consult him.

Which brought the Mercenary Captain's thought processes back to the Argo. Carissa got a lead on a JumpShip down on it luck, its ancient jump technology heading down he path of obsolescence as the secrets of Kearny-Fuchida Drive were rediscovered and improved upon… as lostech became more and more a thing of the past. This JumpShip had been desperately looking for a reliable commitment, and Carissa pounced on the opportunity. Sure it had only one functional docking collar, and was rated for nothing larger than a Leopard class DropShip, but at least it came with that DropShip. Granted the DropShip that came along in the lease had been forced to sell its weapons years to keep the cargo hauling outfit in the black.

Not ideal circumstances to be sure, but there was no way Carissa could have afforded ideal. Carissa Crane also knew not having drop assets was playing with fire.

Small merc teams like the Sardaukars were consistently deemed not worth the fuel to burn in and pick up when under fire. Starburst knew it would only take so long before a contract left them in a bad spot and their client just shrugged, wrote them off, and left the system. Deciding to pay the death and indemnity clauses to their selected recipients if they were honest, but probably not even doing that and just handing a small bribe to the local MRBC review board. After all it was painfully easy to have records buried in the literal mountain of data ComStar trafficked in daily. The Sardaukar's having their own transport and DropShip would keep them from being thrown at something absurd and then left abandoned to die. It would grant them the freedom to give a planetary governor a one finger salute and find a system with more favorable terms should they prove too much a thieving snake.

Oh, and it would also enable them to charge a higher premium for their services, and follow the contracts where the money was.

Thus Toothless DropShip or not, Carissa wouldn't have hesitated to pull the trigger if the JumpShip was named the Maximillian Liao. Unfortunately, largely due to Hoist and her decision to constantly indulge him, Carissa didn't remotely have the C-bills for any bank to step in and secure a lease with the Argo. Fortunately, largely due to Hoist and her decision to just this once spite him, Carissa had an absurd amount of salvaged tonnage in a depot she was renting worth quite a few C-Bills. Salvage that could be sold at a premium in this seller's market. Selling piles and piles of twisted hulks proved just enough to enable her to secure and sign a 1200 day lease with the Sardaukar's very first dedicated JumpShip and DropShip transport.

Plus there had been the added benefit when Chief Sproge just about had an orgasm at Tirak's horrified face once Hoist discovered the nearly empty warehouse. Carissa was going to be sending the picture she took of Tirak's face to him every year by verigraph until the day she died.

Of course there were significant problems with the ships being in such piss poor shape. The Leopard being defanged meant all rides in and out would be drop and go affairs. No retreating to the cover of their transport's heavy guns. As bad as that was, the Argo was probably worse. It needed extensive overhauls and probably hadn't been in this sad a condition since it was successfully lifted by Voodoo's Marauders forty plus years ago. Still, for the next 1200 days, both ships belonged to her little outfit. With a few refits and a little remodeling, who knows which way the winds of fortune might blow? Especially with the Steiner-Davion siblings deciding to piss away an empire, and nearly every other major political faction licking their chops to enhance their lot as two of the Great Houses teetered towards the brink.

Of course there was one more important fact.

The JumpShip was The Argo! How could Carissa not be excited by that! Even though the Argo was way more famous to an Aurigan like Hoist than to some fallen member Canopus Electorate like Carissa, in some things the Periphery would always be united. The telling of tall tales being chief among them. The story of four BattleMechs becoming the tipping point for the Aurigan Directorate's downfall, well how could Carissa not want to etch her name through the InnerSphere using that same pen?

Her smile nearly took in her ears, and given those ears, that was something indeed.

Eventually Carissa brought herself back to here and now. Hoist looked like he was going to kick Carissa in the shins, and hiding a sigh, Starburst decided to throw him a bone. "The hull numbers match the correct paperwork with the MRBC. The Argo has all the duly appointed paperwork of being in service with Voodoo's Marauders well into the clan invasion, at which point the Marauder's signed up with ComStar and left the ship behind."

Hoist blinked at her. He blinked slowly. Very slowly. Then it was like a child introduced to the concepts of Christmas and Birthdays while being told that both were tomorrow. Honestly, a man in his thirties really shouldn't be able to pull this off.

Carissa smiled. Looks like these were the reason why she so often tended to indulge him. Even more so than his competence in the MechBay.

Soren "Varangian" Holmgren was considered an oddity by his lance mates. Tirak Maddox had almost instantly dubbed him, "The Crazy Viking." something Soren, much to Maddox's horror, enjoyed immensely. Holmgren even took to using swear words in half-remembered Swedish in order to help emphasise the moniker. Of course, grabbing all of Hoist's bedding, dousing it in alcohol, and setting it on fire was probably a step too far, but it seemed like a Crazy Viking thing to do. Being a Crazy Viking is probably the best title Soren Holmgren had ever been given.

Also if Hoist bitched one more time about missing a supposedly easy shot while Holmgren was stuffed in the sweltering heat of the simulators just one more time... Verangian was going to tie Maddox to the bedding being lit on fire.

Now that really sounded like a Crazy Viking thing to do!

Of course Soren never would. Soren wasn't really a crazy Viking. He was from the Draconis Combine, and Pesht at that, which was so very Japanese a place it made one's teeth itch. Lots of tea, contemplation gardens, tea, bonsai trees, tea, rice, more tea, sake and did he mention the tea? Soren hated tea. He also hated sake… and the Japanese language… and honorifics… and having multiple written words that couldn't be inputted into a computer… and an entire xenophobic society that hated anyone with a Swedish name after the Rasalhauge Military District decided succeed from the Combine. His parents had been ecstatic when he successfully entered into a top notch Heigakkō, mostly because Swedish name or not his marks demanded him to be able to enter. Honestly Soren had been equally excited. At least initially, but a tumultuous two years would see him mustering out to the surprise and shame of his parents. Parents that he loved even as he failed them.

Soren sometimes dreamed of going to Terra, pissing on a bonsai tree in the legendary Kyoto gardens, and HPG'ing that verigraphed image straight to his former instructors' office. The only reason he hadn't so far was it would come back to reflect upon his parents. The shameful Holmgren-sans with their Swedish name and dropout son.

Soren Holmgren cracked his neck loudly. Loud enough for Starburst to glance at him. Soren liked Captain Crane a lot. She led from the front, said over and over again how one on one duels were stupid tactics, practiced a meritocracy, and actually had cat ears. Soren often wondered about the cat ears, but it really seemed rude to ask. Thoughts of rudeness and politeness made Soren think of his vane attempts at fitting in while living on Pesht, so Varangian belched loudly to counter the budding bad taste of memories in his mouth. Mm, tasted like hours old FFF burgers. That was infinitely preferable to anything associated with the Combine.

The belch caused the image of the Galatean official to freeze as if he couldn't quite believe what had just happened. Carissa however, went back to hammering out the details without missing a beat. After all, she undoubtedly knew there were C-Bills to be made. With Victor and Katrina doing their damnedest to tear apart the Federated Commonwealth, both sides had issued all kinds desperate promises to anyone in a BattleMech, and here, even on Galatia IV itself, low level conflicts were stacking up even as MRBC did everything it could to keep all out brawling from breaking out.

Tirak Maddox pulled Captain Crane aside, "We need the stuff." Hoist wanting salvage was about a newsworthy as a Marik commander selling his government's supplies under the table to the opposing army he was facing. In other words, not very.

Carissa sighed and kept her voice low, "We really need to get that second Mech Bay up and running before ya start tinkering."

Hoist looked at her and crossed his arms, ready to dig in. Carissa rolled her eyes before the familiar argument broke out, and turned to the planetary governor. "Five primary salvage with seventeen decided by lot."

"I'll offer three primary, eleven decided by lot and 150,000 in Kroner."

"Sorry but C-Bills or more salvage. House notes are way to prone to random inflation when governments realize it's time to start paying the soldiers."

The Galatean official sighed theatrically. "Very well. C-Bills it is, although only at the market value of 150,000 Kroner."

"At today's rate. Katrina has a war to pay for and she's not going to do it by stealing from me."

"You're opposition is actually in the Archon's-Princess's employ."

"Another reason to not to take payment in Steiner script."

The official made a show of nodding reluctantly, but Mercs with DropShip assets were at a premium these days. After all, even though it sounded like a simple mission, Soren knew whomever claimed what the Sarkausars left on the field would easily make more than what they would have had to shell out to Carissa. Starburst's Sakausar's were a solid mercenary team enjoying a seller's market, Galatea's government was getting off pretty light at a mere 150,000.

The transmission garbled briefly as the MRBC officially sanctioned the operation, then the Planetary governor proceeded to lie to them. Lying, after all, was what government officials did to mercenaries. "One of our VIP's is in a local government facility. We need to get her off world, but the facility is surrounded by Lyran Mercenaries. Sweep aside the opposition, recover our VIP, and transport her safely to the designated landing zone for extraction. Be prepared for opposition…"

Varangian kind of tuned out the next part and thought through the operation the way a Crazy Viking would.

Lyran mercs had some government twit cornered. Maybe because Katrina Steiner and those loyal to her thought that official was steering too many decent companies towards her brother. Maybe because some Loki asshole didn't like the twit personally. Who knows? Who cares? What mattered was that Carissa wasn't going to be making decent money on this drop. Sure Tirak would get his stuff so at least someone would be happy, but the small cash payout just enough to keep te outfit running i the black. Varangian concluded it shouldn't really matter to because at the end of the month rolled around, Carissa would pay out. She had too mch pride to not do so. Thus, Soren's life would continue, far from the damned Combine and maybe making his parents a little bit happy by ripping some Lyran pilot in half.

That was how Vikings thought! Right?

Chris "Eck" Eck knew he was cursed. Even his call sign was a reminder of this. Damned confusing mercenary registry forms, and damned 1,500 C-Bill fee to have it changed. "Shanxiao" would have made a splendid call sign, but not that 1,500 C-Bill splendid.

The call sign fiasco was a metaphor for Eck's life. After fifteen years in CCAF, most of which was spent praying the Federated Commonwealth never invaded, Eck had hit on a crossroads in his life. A cross roads initiated no one else than Sun-Tzu Liao. Two years ago, this latest "Mad" Liao was stupid enough to invade the St. Ives Compact. Because only an idiot would do something like this and Si-ben-bing Christopher Eck wasn't planning on ding for an idiot, Eck promptly piloted his RVN-3M Raven straight over to what would undoubtedly become the winning side. Eck anticipated that Precentor Martial Victor Steiner-Davion, the head of the largest army seen since the days of Alexander Kerensky himself, would take one look at the situation and decide to bury the Capellan Confederation once and for all. Chris really thought this to be a very sound strategic decision.

Only for St. Ives to promptly start losing the war.

Eck rubbed his Temples. He would probably still be checking under his bunk for Maskirovka agents if he hadn't long bolted the damned thing directly to the floor. Something even Varangian thought was strange, and two weeks ago Varangian lit some poor sap's bedding on fire.

Eck rubbed his temples harder.

He had been dispossessed ever since he snuck out of St. Ives leaving his Raven behind. Stowing aboard a desperate freighter from the Compact that was hoping to hire someone of note at Galatea. Eck heard St. Ives had basically lost the war before the transport even managed Lyran space, which made Eck's latest choice again seem a sound one, after all he doubted the CCAF was going to welcome him back. There ended up being one big problem though. As desperate as the InnerSphere was for mercs, Galatea wasn't really interested in any MechWarrior without a Mech. Thus, after nearly a year of scraping by while fearing Capellan retribution, he ended up swallowing his pride and working for some random heathen from the Periphery. A heathen with cat ears for some damned reason. Not that Eck wanted to know that story, since tales from Magistracy of Canopus weren't exactly for the faint of heart.

Anyways, the cat ears were really just an irritation. All that really mattered was Eck was getting paid chump change that would never translate into him owning his own Mech again. Without the freedom that came with his own Mech, Eck would probably die to some random gauss rifle head shot on a backwater world in nowhere space. Likely dying to defend some Davion holding that belonged to the Little Throneless Prince. The Great General that decided he need not defend his allies in St. Ives so long as he tore the InnerSphere apart to get back at his sister.

Eck really had started hated Davions with a passion that probably rivaled Maximillian Liao himself by this point. After all they were at fault for Eck's ignoble end with his lamentable servitude to some crazy cat lady. Some crazy cat lady that was getting paid for Eck's effort.

The communicator beeped. Eck looked at it, sighed, and rolled onto his feet from his singularly low bunk. It seemed now was the time to perform his solemn duty of dying horribly, while performing admirably, and getting paid peanuts for the effort.

Coach was a believer in Carissa Crane. He was also admittedly a bit smitten, but that didn't make him less of a believer. Auri Tilson was getting to the age where he knew he was about as smart as he was ever going to be and about as physically fit as he could hope to maintain. Of course it still made him a decade and change younger than Carissa, but money and contacts obviously bought you all the bio-enhancements you could ever want. Look at the ears after all. Auri Tilson was a sucker for those ears. Especially since the MechWarrior that had them was pretty damned exceptional.

Coach knew he was a solid and dependable MechWarrior himself, if not particularly flashy. He had even beaten Carissa in the simulators here and there, usually when she did something audacious that backfired. However, most of her audacious plans paid off though, and Tilson had been zilched in almost as many fights as he had won.

Not that Carissa took chances in the field, even now she was giving the usual speech, and Auri closed his eyes to listen to her soft Gaelic brogue. The usual speech, only this time it wasn't going to be some scenario in a simulator.

"Ya, know what I expect. Hoist calls down the targets, I scramble their sensors, and we mass fire the bastard until it's dead. Straight forward, simple and repeatable. Ya stay in position and shoot straight we come back with our lives and few extra C-Bills. Straight forward, simple, and repeatable. This is Darius Oliveria," Coach startled at the mention of the name and looked closely at man wearing shades. Carissa took a moment to let her announcement set in, "To ya fellow Periphery scum like Tirak and myself, yes he's the son of that Darius Oliveria. He's also the commander of all air operations concerning the Leopard. That means he gets to live the dream and tell Tirak Maddox how far he can stick it up his arse when he's so inclined. So feel free to be envious if not in actual awe."

The small group of pilots and relevant crew that was gathered on the bridge chuckled dutifully. Hoist obviously didn't hear her as he pored over maps and the latest, and always far too thin, intelligence for the operation. Coach rather liked Hoist, and didn't doubt Tirak would always do his level best to keep the Sardaukars alive. Still, he had to admit the snide comments could wear a bit thin, especially from someone who wouldn't within 20,000 klicks of the action.

Coach noticed Eck. Eck didn't laugh, or smile, he just rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. He was the oldest (barring Carissa) and newest pilot in the crew. Although to be fair, the group as a whole hadn't even been together a month. Starburst had lost a pilot to severe injury and retirement. Then two others got married and retired as well. Something personal happened with the fourth that Carissa didn't want to talk about, but scuttlebutt was once you broke Starburst's trust, you may as well move on. Contract or no contract.

Which led to late hire of Eck. Coach didn't know what the hell Hacker had done, Coach had only ever met the man once, but one minute they had a lance and the next minute Hacker was out and there was a scramble to get a fourth quality pilot. Auri Tilson absolutely believed in Carissa Crane, but that didn't make her infallible. Coach didn't think there was anyway Hacker could've have been worse than Eck. Christopher Eck could join a regiment of surviving Smoke Jaguars and still by far be the dourest son of a bitch in the room.

Eck was someone that would never fit in, and always believe the reason he didn't do so was the other person's fault.

After a pause, Carissa continued and Coach forgot all about Eck. "We got this barge for 1200 days people, and we got it thoroughly discounted because it needs a lot of repairs and upgrades." Again Eck snorted, and mumbled something unflattering under his breath. Coach clinched a fist. Unnecessarily so it would seem, for one glare from Carissa at the sullen Capellan made Eck shut his hole. Cat-eared Periphery scum or not, MechWarriors had survival instinct built in and wired throughout the brain. It let you know on who you could push and who you could not. Carissa Crane was definitely in the latter category.

The Captain continued, "We already bought the parts to get the power conduits up to a suitable standard and we plan to have the second repair bay up and running inside the month. Of course ya probably want to be paid as well no doubt. Well, down there on Galatea IV itself are a few mercs that can't hold a candle to us! Time to go get our paychecks!"

The crew didn't cheer, but Coach really wanted it to.

Tirak's stomach did a flip flop as the Leopard decelerated to achieve geostationary orbit. Starburst and her Sardaukar's had disembarked 117 minutes ago. In that time the Leopard lost contact for thirty two minutes while they orbited Galatea IV a single time on their way to vectoring towards a proper geo stationary orbit so Hoist could start feeding the team intel.

"Hoist, ya hear me up there?"

Hoist, "I hear you Starburst. Sorry, the deceleration burn just completed and I almost lost my lunch."

Varangian's light lit up, "You need to drink with me more. Nothing fixes an uneasy stomach like alcohol."

Hoist sighed, "You need to buy me a bed, and on what planet did you decide drinking absurd amounts of alcohol fixes every problem?"

Varangian's response was simple, "Pesht."

Hoist sighed again and took in the tactical situation. Technically there was a one and a half second real time delay between his imager and the situation on the ground, but as costly as that could prove, an eye in sky was usually a huge advantage for a ground force over their opponents.

"Starburst can you get out in front a little further. If the Lyran's are in fact here, you should be making contact anytime now. Varangian keep her covered. Everyone else keep their collective six clear."

Three copies and a grunt from Eck signaled their understanding. Starburst in her Rapier and Varangian in the Javelin pushed up to set a skirmishing line while Coach in the Phoenix Hawk's new Gunslinger variant and Eck in the Vindicator set up some firing positions, which would prove difficult because the Sardaukar's would have to be fighting uphill and into the enemy's teeth. Coach also swung a bit more southern than Tirak would have liked, obviously eyeing a small lake. This irritated Hoist.

"Double Heat sinks, Coach. Don't get out of position."

"Copy that." The Gunslinger moved closer to the cliff face and cover.

Starburst's light went green, "Contacts."

Hoist wasn't too worried, "Two vehicles and a Mech. They're being shy about showing themselves, I think someone knows your coming and also knows they're outgunned. All opposing units are maneuvering for firing positions."

Eck growled, "We've been ratted out you mean."

Hoist yawned, "Or they listened to the local com traffic and know a Leopard dropped a force nearby. Even Lyran's can count to four."

Coach snickered on the coms. Something he would have held down the button to do.

Starburst was less amused, "Work now, sarcasm later."

Hoist scratched his temple, but sent a quick, "Sorry," to her on a private line.

Hoist was about to tell Starburst to move up and draw them out, but Varangian hit the accelerator before he could. "Let's find out who came out to play!"

Tirak was pissed.

Hois is going to be so pissed.

Stupid, crazy Viking. Very stupid. Very, very stupid.

Carissa snarled and tried to catch up. Although she would never admit it, Starburst sometimes thought she was getting old. She had waited for Hoist to clear her to engage out of habit and in doing so failed to realize The Crazy Viking felt no such compulsions. Thus she was a few precious seconds behind the Javelin when Varangian let loose with all four of his medium lasers at a hapless Pegasus tank, and missed every damned shot. Before she could retake command, Eck let his itchy trigger finger win over on his patience and let loose a PPC blast at the opposing Javelin, missing it by several meters. Starburst had to resist screaming into her coms the very simple plan she had laid out before the mission's start.

She quickly calmed herself though. This was their first mission together, and growing pains were unavoidable.

Cresting a dusty hill, Starburst rushed past Varangian's slowing Javelin, the Rapier pilot found herself staring down the barrel of a snub nosed PPC held in the hand of a very angry Javelin when she did. There was also a nasty tank at her knees trying line up a missile shot on her. She smiled a hard smile she seldom showed outside the cockpit and enacted her plan lighting both enemies up with a host of unwelcome surprises.

Coach watched his scope flash green as Starburst's mixture of Haywire, NARC, and TAG ordinance lit up the enemy Javelin like Christmas morning on his sensors. The enemy scout Mech, now clearly outlined, made for a much easier shot. It was also slow to understand just how epically screwed it was. The Hoist's Gunslinger take on the Phoenix Hawk had two Large and two small arm mounted lasers, and Coach unleashed his full alpha strike complement on his enemy. Unfortunately, one large laser passed narrowly high, but everything else hit home. Both smalls carved furrows in the Jenners right leg, and his left large absolutely shredded the patchwork armor over the Javelin's right torso. Coach smiled as he ignited his jumpjets ready to set up a kill shot on the rapidly reversing Javelin, only for his Phoenix Hawk's scope to light up with a fourth enemy unit.

There was surprise, then relief. "Urbie on the plateau," he called out.

Starburst broke in on coms, "I copy. Coach slag the Javelin before it escapes, Eck give the Urbie something to think about. Hoist keep an eye on that armor I don't want it sneaking back behind me. Varangian, you're with me just in case Coach can't kill that Javelin before it makes the tree line."

Coach glanced at his scope and saw the smoking Pegasus tank beating a hasty retreat. No doubt encouraged by the large smoking hole Varangian had punched in its rear quarter. After his spectacular failure with his opening shots, Verangian very nearly killed the Pegasus with his follow up. Coach then settled his Mech down, braced and let loose with twin large lasers at the fleeing Javelin. The results were very satisfactory, if not quite fatal to the Javelin. Not fatal just yet anyways.

Eck's PPC sailed wide of the UrbanMech by over a dozen meters as Starburst refused to light up his target like she would for her fellow Periphery bandit in his Phoenix Hawk. Or as Hoist repeatedly called it, "a Pa-hoe-nix Hawk." One of Eck's missiles did beat the odds to connect though, but even that sad rust bucket on the hill probably barely noticed such a minor hit. Eck, or more accurately the old and obsolete Vindicator he was piloting, struggled to keep up with his faster lance mates. Still he dutifully chugged up the hill preparing another long range and near hopeless shot. He was a professional after all.

Starburst's voice cut in, "Eck Hold fire, let me light him up first."

Eck, fingers poised on the trigger did just that, and watched in amazement as Starburst hit a host of long range shots highlighting the UrbanMech. Eck nodded in satisfaction as the shot went from hopeless to merely difficult.

He squeezed the trigger, and very nearly cored his opponent through its shoddy armor. "Nice shot Eck!" Eck nodded to himself. Highlighted or not, it was a difficult shot and deserved to be acknowledged, even if that acknowledgement came from a non-warrior like Hoist. The Urbie, systems no doubt scrambled from getting fried by some man-made lightening, missed his return fire on Starburst's Rapier as it flashed past. Starburst may not have even noticed as she let loose another salvo on the hapless enemy Javelin. A Javelin, who once his armor support decided to pull back, was left hung out to die as three Mechs bore down on him.

Eck shook his head at the enemy's poor teamwork.

Varangian knew he had jumped the gun. He knew it instantly, so much so he mentally flinched when the engagement began, causing his first four shots to sail wide of a point blank target. So when he found himself swooping down on a fellow Javelin pilot trying desperately to make the tree line, Varangian didn't feel anything. There was no sense of pride as his four medium lasers severed his opponent's leg at the hip before they cored out its engine shielding through the right side. No triumph, even though it was his first victory with the unit. His mind was on how the encounter initially started. Where he had shoved too hard and too fast. Starburst was the one that scrambled to right the ship and make sure they got out of this fight with only minimal damage.

Varangian honestly felt awful. Like when he faced his parents in the midst of his disgrace. A feeling not helped by the heat that now swarmed throughout his Mech after his third consecutive alpha strike. His cooling vest hit overdrive, the strange sensation of being caressed by icy worms set goosebumps down his spine in spite of the sweat. Still, whoever designed cooling vests really needed to find a better way of trying to knock down a pilot's ambient body temperature. It was a sensation that never ceased to be creepy. Icy worms and stifling heat didn't stop him from eyeing a handy ledge Soren knew would get him on the Urbie's flank.

"Chill out Varangian." Hoist's voice came down, and while in combat, the Sardaukars' coordinator's orders were as inviolate as Starburst's. "Let the other three tear him up before you drop in on him."

Varangian acknowledged the order with a simple, "Copy that." Then moved closer to the base of a cliff which would make reaching the ledge with his jumpjets more heat efficient. This denied him viewing Eck smash the Urbie with his next shot, all he saw was the fading blip of the the UrbanMech's ejection seat as a thirty ton armored trash can collapsed into a smoking ruin.

Starburst just loved it when a plan came together. The UrbanMech hit the ground with a loud thud then started to slide down the hill.

Hoist's voice cut in, "The armor is charging your position."

Starburst knew It was too little too late. The tanks had abandoned their MechWarriors to face two on one odds and now stood no chance. Of course that fact didn't stop them from going for broke. Both Eck and Coach got hammered pretty good as the gunners on the tanks did their jobs well. Too well. Starburst sighed as she sighted the Pegasus. Tanks weren't Mechs and this next part would likely be ugly, but ugliness didn't stop her from hammering the Pegasus with every support weapon she had. The Haywire beacon scrambled the tank's sensors, the NARC highlighted its position to her lancemates, with TAG markers making it pop bright against the background to all the Sardaukar's sensors. The heavy vehicle flamers just cruelly lit it on fire. "Varrangian takedown the Pegasus, Coach you get rid of the Galleon."

Two acknowledgements followed. Varangian stumbled slightly as he charged over hillock, causing three of his medium lasers to shoot wide of the Pegasus. Coach did better, cutting through the Galleon's flanks with his heavy weapons, nearly slicing it in half.

Starburst, "Eck, you're on clean-up duty." There was an electronic sigh from the Vindicator as the critically wounded Pegasus tried to reverse course and keep its nose pointed at the Sardaukars. It wasn't going to be enough and everyone knew it. Eck almost absently filled the battered tank with heavy rounds from his machine guns and even added a redundant blast of his medium laser to make sure. The Pegasus hulk ground to a halt and lay still. No one emerged from the smoking wreck. The two man crew emerged from the Galleon with their pitiful extinguishers and moved to do whatever they could for anyone left alive in the Pegasus.

Starburst shivered slightly as she swung her Mech back towards the plateau. Tanks just didn't have the mobility to deal with Mechs and the high heat of lasers and flamers were notorious for warping escape hatches. "Hoist, make sure you send your footage to the MRBC so these guys get what their owed."

Hoist was sympathetic, "Already on it." Obviously this outfit's Steiner contacts had left these people here to die, Carissa made a mental note to file just how the Lyran Alliance was conducting business these days. "Alright, let's pick us up a VIP. Darius ya can start the approach. First round of beers are on me."

Soren Holmgren made sure he tracked down his commander before the night wore on too long, "Captain Crane."

She actively winced, her ears even went flat to her skull when she did, "That sounds like a terrible cereal mascot or something. Ya can call me Carissa when we ain't on duty, and just Captain or Starburst when we are. I'll call ya Soren or Varangian in kind. Okay?"

Soren nodded, relieved but still a bit intimidated. "I put the lance in danger."

Starburst nodded, "Ya did. Yer Combine ain't ya?" Holmgren nodded and Starburst nodded. "I know ya think ya had me fooled with stupid stunts like setting Hoist's bed on fire and belching like an idiot when I'm negotiating with a client. But I know ya ain't that mad a Viking. I see someone who just wants to know how far and how fast he can push it. That's a fine thing in my book, right up until ya put someone in danger. I got four new recruits signing on tomorrow to help build a relief team. They're giving me as good a reason as any to bench ya and see if they can follow a simple plan." Holmgren winced and Carissa continued, "Ain't the end of the world there boyo. Took some guts to come and admit ya were wrong. I appreciate guts."

Varangian nodded. "I understand. It really was a simple plan."

Starburst lightly punched him in the arm. "Best plans are simple and repeatable. The more moving pieces, the luckier ya have to be. Coach and Eck are going to sit the next mission out too I think. Make 'em sweat a bit. Coach because he's a bit clingy for my tastes and Eck cause he's an unlikable arsehole."

Varangian smiled tentatively, then straightened dramatically. "This is the last time I let you down."

Starburst laughed, "'Least ya didn't bow. Don't know about ya, but the Japanese need to bow all the time weirds me out. I'm off to bed. Ya go ahead and get drunk and celebrate a mission where no one on our side got hurt and everyone made a bit of money. I'd consider it a personal favor if ya torment Tirak a bit too. Him demanding that autocannon only to realize we can't mount it on any of our Mechs was a special kind of aggravating."

Soren laughed and honestly felt better, "Chief Sproge looked ready to kill him."

Carissa laughed too, "That's Sproge for ya. Have a good night Mad Viking."

Soren watched her walk away, and decided it was okay if a Mad Viking enjoyed the view.