Local clock: 11:00am

PMC ( Private Military Contractor, aka mercenary ) group " Armageddon's Steel Legion ".

Apex Lance

UAC/10++. Ammo: 32. Status: Online.

UAC/10++. Ammo: 32. Status: Online.

Snub PPC++. Status: Online

Snub PPC++. Status: Online.

Snub PPC. Status: Online.

Large Pulse Laser. Status: Online

Large Pulse Laser. Status: Online

Flamethrower. Status: Online.

Flamethrower Status: Online.

SRM6++. Ammo: 300. Status: Online

SRM6++. Ammo: 300. Status: Online

As he finished checking his Atlas' loadout list, a palpable ripple of anticipation ran up through Commander Jared Narkov's spine.

Perfect. Green across the board

Star Leauge, thanks for the toys.

A corner of his mouth twitched up, forming the slightest of smiles as he casually leaned his head back to lightly touch the deeply padded rest behind it. Between the copious amount of space, and user comfort afforded to him by the design of the Atlas's cockpit, and having reviewed the criminally-overpowered levels of firepower that was at his disposal, he was feeling the usual sense of satisfaction that enveloped him whenever he was aboard his prized mech.

Assault class mechs were the monarchs of the modern battlefield, without a doubt. Their toughness was matched only by two other factors: firepower, and stature. And the Atlas had all 3 of those in spades, with plenty of each to spare. It would still make Alexander Kerensky proud.

You may be right, Dr. Murad; the SLDF was indeed the pinnacle of their day. Pinnacle of sheer martial might, that is, which is what counts in this galaxy.

Without any haste- but also not languidly, as they were in a combat zone- he allowed himself another half-second to savor the knowledge that he could obliterate an Orion with a single alpha strike, before then blinking a few times to switch comm channels on his helmet's HUD. After another half-second, he finally selected the one that was connected to his full lance.

It was time to get the lot of them properly marshaled into formation. The Steel Legion had a mission to complete, and they wouldn't be completing it by loitering around in the vicinity of where the Leopard had set them down.

" Attention, Apex Lance ", he addressed them. " Shake off the cobwebs, and let's get on with this. "

" Sir, yes sir ! ", crisply and alertly responded the Mechwarrior piloting the Annihilator to Jared's right ( Weaponry: 3 UAC/10s, 2 UAC/5s, 3 Snub PPCs 2 Large Pulse Lasers, and two flamers ).

" That's what I like to hear, Test9 ". Jared knew by now he'd been right to recruit the Star League-loving pilot into the unit, especially after he had stepped in to foil an ambush that Jared and Sumire had inadvertently walked into, while on a Black Market meeting deep in the evergreen forests of Mantharaka.

Despite having the rounded and boyish looks of an elementary schoolboy, Vincent Johnson, aka " Test9" was as competent a Mechwarrior as Jared had come across. He was an impressively good shot, both with a handgun ( which had been what allowed him to step in to back up Jared and Sumire during that fickle ambush ), and with the weapons of a Battlemech. He was also a strong admirer of the Star League, which had resulted in him modeling himself after how the SLDF had dressed and talked extensively about how he would've loved to have been around back then.

Personally, Jared found any such talk about how great and wonderful the Star Leauge was to be rather flowery and silly ( After all, if they were so great and wonderful, then where were they now ? Gone, was where ). On the other hand, he had least wasn't borderline idolizing them the way Dr. Murad tended to, and making them out to be the pinnacle of all things good and holy. Test9 was a straight shooter, both with guns and with words. When he wasn't landing impressive center torso shot with autocannons, he was regaling everyone with tight center mass patterns at the shipboard shooting range.

" Maintain the right flank, Test9. Copy ? "

" Solid copy. Keeping to the right. "

With more blinks, Jared brought up the tactical overhead map. Sure enough, the blocky red icon bipedal icon representing a mech was moving up on the right-hand side of the Atlas.

Good, good

He switched channels again.

" Archangel! "

" Need something, Chief ? "

That would be Micheal Castro, Aka " Archangel ", piloting the lance's Banshee. ( Weaponry: 1 UAC/10++, 4 Large Pulse Lasers++, 2 Medium Pulse Lasers, 1 SRM6++, and 2 machine guns. ).

The scruffy-haired man who spoke with a thick drawl was a native of the Deep periphery, and thus was a mysterious character by default ( and one that Jared suspected that Dr Murad hoped, had some connection to be related to someone from the Star League ). The Deep Periphery, as everyone of the Inner Sphere and Periphery knew, was about as shadow of a place as you could get, and nobody knew much about it- and by extension, anyone who hailed from there.

Archangel had only joined the unit a few months ago. While enjoying his shore leave in a bustling local hangout on Cluff's Stand, Jared had been approached by an uncharacteristically enthusiastic Chief Mechtech Yang Virtanen ( making a rather rare excursion off their dropship ), who had informed the PMC leader that the Chief Mechtech recognized a certain Mechwarrior drinking nearby to them- one who had a reputation as being one of the very best to come out of that region of space.

As a commander who was always looking for fresh talent, and especially any from the Deep Periphery, Jared took Yang up on that suggestion. A few cold ones and a long conversation later, he found himself with a new Mechwarrior signed onto the roster. Archangel slipped seamlessly into the team's routine, with his affable nature and spacer background making him popular all around ( particularly with the ladies ).

" Yes, actually. You will take the left flank. Acknowledge. "

" Roger that ! On it like white on snow. "

Once again, a beeping red icon moved across the tactical display, and a distantly detectable tremor rolled up through the Atlas, as the 95-ton Banshee lumbered into the assigned position.

Jared drummed his fingers atop his seat armrest.

Nice. We're all but ready.

One more left...

" Dragon 66 ! "

" Ready for orders, Commander ! ".From the cockpit of the lance's Stalker ( Weaponry: 4 LRM20s 2 Large COIL Lasers, and 2 Large Pulse Lasers ), the MechWarrior named Zin Ala, aka " Dragon 66 " acknowledged the command.

Dragon 66 had one of the most crucial jobs in the Lance: driving the missile boat. Though Archangel half-jokingly referred to it as the " Hang out in the back while the rest of us stand in front and get shot " position, he and everyone else of Apex Lance knew that i'd saved them from getting a serious volley of fire more than once. A full barrage of so many LRM batteries ( each of which was modified to destabilize an enemy mech even more than they should ) would seriously rock the footing of even the heaviest mech.

One of the more veteran Mechwarriors in the Legion ( aside from Jared himself ), Zin was also a fellow Federated Sun native ( or, as Capellan native Yang Virtanen would derisively put it, " Fed Rats " ). They had more in common than that, though: both of them were accomplished Gladiators of the arenas on Solaris IV. Unlike Jared, though ( who had risen through the world of the gladiators via his own choice ), Zin had wound up there after the Feds ejected him from their armed forces for defying established protocol. However, given that his doing so had not only been his only viable option during the heat of a raging battle, but also had resulted in a key defensive position being successfully defended, his getting tossed out didn't seem all that right to Jared.

They were both Feds, after all; he decided he couldn't not let a fellow Sun who was also a Mechwarrior with such an accomplished skillset into the Legion. After fully reading Zin's bio at the local MechWarrior hiring hall on Antias, Jared had elected to hire him. It had proved to be a worthy investment, as the seasoned Gladiator brought both years of arena and battlefield experience to the Legion's benefit. Plus, both Federated Suns natives secretly enjoyed watched Chief Virtannen subtly rolling his eyes every time he saw the insignia of the Federated Suns that Zin had prominently displayed on his mech.

" Standby for sensor lock from Test9, and stay in trail. How copy. "

" Loud and clear, Commander. Artillery is ready for fire mission. "

And that, is everyone, then. Lance is fully formed. We are all set to unleash a firestorm

Jared Narkov's tongue ran back across the back of his teeth, as he inhaled, then breathed out again. There was no more waiting to be had.

It was time to move.

This was his favorite moment of every drop; the moment right after they'd disembarked from the Leopard, and had gotten themselves organized to march into the fray. He had a full lance of Assault mechs at his disposal, as usual, and they were arrayed in their battle formation across the adobe colored desert sands, with the rust-red cliffs of the bluffs to their left and right. Ahead of them, the terrain sloped up gently between the bluffs, before dropping off again to God knew where.

Well, that included them now, too. Thanks to Sumiere' terrain scan before the Leopard had set down, Apex Lance knew what it was walking into- land wise. All that remained was to get out there and find who was waiting for them in it.

Let's be on our way, then, shall we ? C-Bill and scrap don't earn themselves

" Apex Lance ". The Commander set his gloved palms on the twin controller yokes, gripping them firmly.

" Ahead, march ! "

Before they even crested the ridge, things began to happen.

" Be advised, Commander: Battlemech power up signatures detected emerging from that base down-slope of the ridgeline. "

The clipped, formal voice of Sumire Meyer-the Leopard's pilot, and the Legion's Chief Navigator- coincided nicely with Jared watching the telltale red marks appearing on his tac map's long range scanner feed.

Out of the forward viewing display ( not via actual windows, of course. Those would be way too vulnerable ), the Commander could see the ground angling down and away from him in a gently sloping nap of the ridge. At the very edge of that downward plain, it ended in a vertical cliff that dropped off to nowhere-at least in the center. Out to the left, the ground formed into a narrow road edged by the cliff that snaked off around a corner, and out of view.

Way off the distance, past the edge of the cliff, Jared could make out the hazy outline of what was obviously their target: the Bauman Group security command station. Apex Lance's objective was to capture the base, and clear the way for Dr. Murad's team to use its systems to lock down the Bauman's Group's much-beloved ship.

The Dobrev.

So, that's the oh-so-valuable base that we need to secure ourselves a 300 year old vessel. One that the good doctor believes with every fiber of her being is a relic of the vaunted Star League.

Well, if I've learned one thing across my long career, its that no matter what the hell you're fighting for, you can at least make plenty of C-Bills. Even if its some silly quest to chase down something related to the League.

" Copy that, Sumire. I see them. ".

" Energy reading indicates at least one of them is an Assault Class, likey an Awesome. Please use at least a modicum of caution. "

Personally, Jared liked the slender, raven haired, Taurian-born navigator. She was quite attractive to begin with- in that " You look like you stepped out of a corporate office complex, and not a PMC outfit " kind of way. To boot, she was also intelligent, a gifted pilot at the controls of the Leopard shuttle, and a satisfyingly pragmatic individual. Though, the latter trait sometimes resulted in her objecting to Jared's Modus Operandi of taking risks, stating pointedly that it wouldn't help their bottom line if their mechs were spending more hours getting patched than out in combat.

That aside, though, Jared was still fond of her. If she wasn't so buttoned down so much of the time while on the job, they'd have more time for each other.

Soon as this drop is over, maybe I'll talk her into a walk through the hydroponics garden.

" Ah, you worry too much. "

" No, I don't worry enough. Especially not about you. So, watch it, Colossus. "

The Lance Commander smiled again, though for a different reason now. Some things about someone simply couldn't be changed. She'd used his nickname and callsign again, though, which was always enjoyable. ( It was a fitting one; Jared was the tallest person in the unit, and aside from Yang, one of the heaviest ).

" Well, you know me: I am always thorough. "

" That's often on the border of reckless. Darius will be taking over from here on out. Stay alert, and stay alive. I'll be standing by if needed. Which I am sure I will be. "

She cleared the line then, and Jared chuckled.

Woman, we are death made steel. You know that. You can't help yourself

" Apex Lance ! ". He got control again. " Keep advancing, left oblique. "

" As you say. "

" Done and done. "

" Yes, sir ! "

More thunderous rumbling followed as the 4 mechs lumbered their way down the slope, approaching the mouth of the cliff road. As they, Jared closely examined the display for any signs of movement on and around the base in the distance, but he couldn't detect anything concrete. The outpost was still too distant.


They went further down the slope, and as they advanced, Jared saw that in their current formation, Archangel would run into the cliff that formed the corner that the cliff road hooked around.

Right...ok. We must change things up

" Lance ! Halt, halt ! "

All 4 markers obediently beeped to a stop.

" The terrain is blocking my sensors; do we have contact ? ", called Dragon66.

" Negative. ", Jared answered. " We have a different kind of landscape problem. "

" Ok, listen up everyone. That road ahead is a funnel, so we can only go two by two. "

" Yeah. It does look a tad narrow. ", Archangel commented.

" More than a tad ", Test9 observed.

" Exactly. So- Test9 ? You will keep your right flank, and you and I will take point. Archangel will follow, with Dragon in full trail. All of you, take it nice and steady on that road here."

" Everyone clear on that ? "

Another round of acknowledgments followed.

" Good. Then, execute ! "

The Lance morphed its formation as commanded; Archangel's Banshee loped along more slowly, letting Jared's Atlas and Test9's Annihilator ( both of which move up into point. Behind all of them, Dragon66's Stalker crept forward, its multiple LRMs loaded to the brim.

The first two Mechs entered the bottleneck, and Jared could now see it was longer than he thought.

Even from the cockpit of an Atlas, the neck of the ground was nearly half a mile long and barely wide enough for about 3 mechs of their sizes- which was why he'd narrowed it down to two. Not that it was a problem for Dragon66, of course; the role of the missile boat was to stay out the direct contact zone, and sling all those LRMs from the relative safety of the rear.

As for everyone else, though, they were at a disadvantage.

Hate to get caught from any angle here...

Clusters of rocks and stones-mini avalanches- slid clean off the edge of the cliffside as over 200 tons of metal made their way over the surface of the road. Having slowed down from the sprint that had carried them up the ridge, Jared was rocked back and forth inside the Atlas, as the giant beast took it step by step.

Of course, even " step by step " in an Atlas was still covering a considerable distance with each of those steps. It wouldn't take more than a few minutes to clear this road-

" Heads up, Commander. 3 Medium-class Mech signatures, coming up the slope at the end of the road. Shouldn't be much more than a speed bump. "

A new, steady and slightly gravelly voice entered Jared's helmet- that of Darius Olivera, the unit's Executive Officer.

Mediums ? Sure, they might have an AC/10 or PPC, but against the ones we have ? Not much of a chance.

Hailing from the Aurigan Reach, Darius was a native of the orbital station known as Nassau Heights. He's had a very grassroots style upbringing, with his old man carving out a living by being a dockworker. The whole clan had been a true blue-collar one, with every day being filled with hard work of primarily the manual labor variety. It'd left each of them with a suitably strong work ethic, which transferred well into the career of a PMC company senior staffer.

Out of everyone on the senior staff, Darius was the most like Jared: a switched on mindset, with a grounded sense of pragmatism, with a tad of idealism that didn't quite reach Dr. Murad's kumbuya-ness. Jared knew he trust him to always keep his head on straight, and keep the Unit's interests up front no matter how complex or dire the situation became.

He probably would make a fine Mechwarrior too, if such a thing ever happened.

" Copy that, Darius. Mediums inbound ". The Lance commander had gotten a series of fresh contacts on his tac display and was observing their movement. Thier current course was taking them directly toward the lance on a 12:00 approach vector.

" They'll be on you inside of a minute. Be ready. "

" We already are. "

Jared focused his attention on the road ahead. The other end of it still wasn't easy to determine- or was the outline of the base off to the right. The entire immediate area they were in was tailor-made to serve the advantage of the defenders, who were yet to show themselves.

Emphasis on, yet.

He led the lance on, with the sun beating down on them from a near-vertical position. Puffs and swirling mounds of grainy, caramel colored dust rose around the gargantuan feet of their mechs, drifting away as they walked. On the right, the body of water that was either an ocean or a very large inland sea rippled a shade of cobalt blue.

It was all very tranquil. Which was exactly why Jared wasn't at all surprised when, a few seconds later-

" Boss ! Trebuchet spotted ! And there's a Vindicator on its flank ! "

Test9's exclamation came right as the mechs in question moved into view.

From over the crest of the road's slop ahead, and around its slight bend, came a pair of mechs. They were dressed up in the colors of the Bauman Group- ash grey, and blood red, and both were moving at a brisk walk, kicking up their own dust storm as they moved ahead.

A Trebuchet and a Vindicator, eh ?

" I see them. "

" Apex Lance ! Hostiles spotted ! 2 Mediums. Acknowledge. "

All 3 of his men promptly did, as the enemy mechs drew nearer.

The former was a missile- heavy mech, known for generally mounting multiple batteries of LRMs ( though not nearly as many as a Stalker ), as well as several lasers of either caliber to handle threats at closer ranges. The Vindicator, on the other hand, had a reputation for a heavier energy weapon build, considering it was often found mounting a PPC on one arm, along with additional lasers which were generally medium ones.

Between them, the Vindicator was the more heavily armored, although it was also a few tons lighter. Trebuchets were mostly used as a poor man's missile boat- they were not known for having heavy plating. That this one was getting into the front lines was essentially Jared getting served Caspian Sea caviar on a gold plate.

Still, got to watch out for getting a head hit by one of those LRMs...Aside from that, though-

They've walked into a grinder.

Again a corner of his mouth twitched up into a smile. This would be over quickly, assuming it all went to plan. And his Legion's plans generally did.

" Dragon66 ? Get ready back there..."

" Test9. Stand by. "

With additional blinks, Jared brought up targeting telemetry from across the Lance, showing each of the Mechs' weapons' lines of sight.

He focused on the two that could bring their firepower to bear right now, though. On the right, Test9 had a direct firing path for all of his main guns to both of the enemy mechs. At the rear of Apex Lance, Dragon66's LRMs had the range on the two mediums.

Arching and extending red lines marked the projected flight path of the munitions that could be fired at them, including those of Jared's own Atlas. Aside from his flamethrowers, all of his weapons could also reach the enemy.

He brought up his aiming sights, and centered them on the Vindicator's bulky chest. One finger instantly came to rest on the firing controls, already set to unleash a discharge of all viable weapons- an Alpha Strike.

It was practically written in the Bible that no Medium Mech could withstand a full Alpha Strike from an Atlas. Old Alexander Kerensky had certainly known what he was doing when he masterminded the construction of the Atlas way back during the heydey of the League.

Between the 3 mechs's combined weaponry, the two mediums didn't have much chance.

" I'll take the Vindicator. Test 9 ? You have the Trebuchet ? Dragon66 ! Come in-you have the targeting data ?. "

" Linked in, sir. Shall I put all batteries on one of them ? "

" Negative. 2 on each. Copy ? "

" Solid copy, sir. "

The enemy kept approaching. The Vindicator either didn't have a PPC- requiring it to get closer- or wasn't attacking yet, for some reason.

" On my shot-! "

The moment of the strike had come. A sensation of zeroed-in focus enveloped Jared, and another ripple of anticipation reverberated down his spine.

He fired.

The UAC/10 .

A genuine, honest to God burst firing autocannon. 150mm of high caliber death, the UAC/10 spat out two tungsten-cored shells per trigger pull, sending them out to strike targets at ranges that were often way in excess of the ones Jared was currently engaging at ( and ones he would've used if it hadn't been because of the terrain's dip ), and often easily landing in nice, tidy clusters of shot placement.

UAC/2s, UAC/5s, and UAC/20s all had their strengths, of course- the excessive range of the UAC/2, or the unrivaled damage output of the UAC/20. However, the UAC/10 had a perfect blend of both of those. It could capably reach out and inflict fatal damage to targets at a nice, satisfying distance.

Or, at any distance, really.

Four glowing, burnt orange streaks shot downrange, directly out from the Atlas. The raw, mechanical barking they were raising was a symphony to Jared's ears, and the deep, shuddering vibrations that were flooding through his mech were a therapeutic massage.


More glowing fireballs flew out, as Test9 opened fire. Aside from his and Jared's autocannons, their energy weapons were going full blast as well.

Pulse lasers. They were a true Star League treasure. Combining several laser beams into a single one, Pulse Laser weapons acted like drills- boring deep into an enemy mech's chassis by going right through their armor like it was made of tissue paper. The ability to manufacture such weaponry had been lost ever since the collapse of the Star League, but the discovery of an SLDF memory core back in 3028 had brought that lost knowledge back, and now, the might of pulse lasers was back on the chessboard.

Snub PPCs. They were everything that was good about regular PPCs, except better. Operating on a similar principle to the Pulse Lasers, Snub PPCs combined the considerable damage of a regular PPC, and packed it into a cluster of superheated bolts that all struck in a tightly centered pattern. The resulting destabilizing effects ( not to mention armor shearing ) were not to be underestimated.

All of that culminated in an absolute avalanche of damage put out by the Annihilator and the Atlas e that was whipping downrange toward the two mechs.

On top of all that, a cascade of LRMs was pouring down like a hailstorm from Dragon66. Jared had seen four LRMs discharging in person before, and even though the Stalker was behind him this time, he could picture that beautiful white glow of so many missiles taking off at once.

Besides, he could still observe their effects.

Frantically, the two enemy mechs shot back, their weapons going off at nearly the same time. The Trebuchet let loose a volley of short-range LRM fire- though it paled in comparison to the Stalker's vast arsenal, coming off as more of a match being struck than a solar flare.

The Vindicator attacked with a spread of medium lasers, and one large. Multiome beams of energy- most of them jade green, ane one cyan blue- blazed out from its arm's weapons ports.

On their own, either mech's volley was middling at best. If they'd coordinated their salvos on one target ( or, better, on one section of one target ), then it might've produced a different result. Clearly, these Mechwarriors ( if they could be called that ) were either incompetent or nervous. Or both.

Doing you a favor, Bauman

As it was, the incoming LRMs and lasers struck all over. A few of the missiles hit the Atlas' chest, while several of the lasers touched the armor on the Anhiliator's right arm. The Assault mechs were layered in enough armor to make using a tactical nuke against them viable, so a few lasers and missiles weren't going to do much.

Their own attack, on the other hand-

The Trebuchet was literally blown off its feet, as it ate several UAC/10 shells right to its center torso. The 55 ton machine was violently jolted back, jackknifing slightly as the front of its chassis emerged out the back in a roiling spray of fire, slagged metal, and smoke.

The Vindicator lost its right arm...and the left. Also its right leg. With the loss of each limb, the 45 ton mech was torqued around in that direction, flames and electric currents arching everywhere, along with jets of coolant.

Down to one leg, the mech teetered drunkenly, before flopping over and falling flat on its back, as the freshly obliterated Trebuchet's smoking remains collapsed along with it.

In one fell swoop, both enemy mechs were horizontal.

Granted, Jared's heat gauge wasn't pleased. He noticed that it was already a third of the way filled- though considering that only a complete idiot wouldn't always keep their heat gauge in their view at all times was begging on their knees for trouble.

Still in the green, though. Good, good...

He quickly checked the cross-lance telemetry and found that Test9 was also running at about one third of a full heat gauge.

Not too bad over there, either.

" Good shooting, Commander ! ", the Annihilator pilot called out.

" Did you get 'em ? ", Archangel asked.

" One of them, at least. The other one's down, but I can't tell if its still online. "

" Leave that one to me, boys. ", Jared declared.

He set his mech moving, closing the distance between him and the downed Vindicator.

In seconds, he standing over it. The downed mech looked absolutely pathetic against the massive bulk of his Atlas- even if it hadn't been sprawled out like a drunken lout who'd tripped over the stairs. Visible heatwaves were radiating off the slagged and burned sections , mixing with the clouds of smoke.

It was meat on the table. Even one shot from one of the Atlas' weapons would be more than enough to finish it off.

Jared had something else in mind, though.

Time to put my foot down.


Raising one of the Atlas' legs, Jared proceeded to stomp on the Vindicator's chest. 100 tons of Mech slammed down like a heaven-sent hammer, crunching and shearing effortlessly down through the downed mech's mangled center torso like one would step on a chicken egg.

Up in the cockpit of the Atlas, Jared hardly received any of the vibrations of the explosion that was the Vindicator's chest imploding. Atlases were built like mountains, and for one of them, stepping on a Vindicator was as normal as a Tuesday.

" Commander ! ". Darius stepped in once again.

" I don't read any more signatures from the mediums. You got 'em both. "

" Be advised: There's still one Assault class mech in play, and he's getting close to coming into your field of view. "

Jared lifted the Atlas' foot clear of the deceased Vindicator, setting it back down elsewhere.

Another notch on the belt. I am still in the lead.

" Copy that, Darius. "

" Listen up, Apex Lance ! We got a giant to contend with ! "

The giant in question turned out to be an Awesome.

The squat, slab-sided mech looked like a walking trapezoid. Jared had piloted Awesomes before, though, and knew they were definitely a threat.

Awesomes were renowned for carrying an array of PPCs- arguably one of very few mech designs that routinely carried multiple PPCs. They were designed and employed to be snipers, sitting further away from the center of the action, but sending in a volley of brilliantly blue bolts of particle energy to slam into the plating and chassis of their enemies.

It was certainly a level of firepower that couldn't be ignored. Of course, though, Jared' Atlas still had virtually all its armor, and a fully armored Atlas was also a kind of " one of a very few " kind of mech- as in one of the very few that could withstand multiple PPC hits without losing copious amounts of armor.

It would be a true clash of titans.

At the moment, Jared was staring at the enemy titan as it stomped its way forward from across the stretch of ground that extended from halfway down the sloped section of the cliff road, all the way out to where it evened out and ultimately ended at the security base. He'd led the lance down here, with the area having opened up wide enough to allow Archangel to join them. The Banshee pilot was miffed that he'd missed the action earlier- and rightly so- but Jared had assured him that he'd get his chance to get a shot soon enough.

That " soon enough ", evidently, was right now.

" Ho-lee mackerel. That a big boy right there ", he observed.

" We can take 'im, though. No problem. "

" Careful. One PPC to the head will do serious damage, even to a Banshee ", Test9 warned.

" Ah, worry about yourself, fancy lad. ". Archangel didn't sound concerned.

" Stay on task, gentlemen. ", Jared instructed.

He brought up his targeting sights, laying them on the Awesome's center torso as it lumbered toward them. Given the range of PPCs- which that one out there was virtually certainly carrying- the Awesome could open fire at any moment.

He wanted to get the jump on that.

" Dragon 66 ! "

" Yes, sir ? "

" Good news ! You get to use all your batteries on this one. Getting it on your sensors ? "

" Telemetry's coming in strong, sir. This will a postcard-worthy display. "

Jared smirked. Dragon66 wasn't exaggerating; four LRM batteries all on one target ? That would indeed be a display worth remembering.

Let's see those warheads in the air. Jared lightly rolled his head around, loosening the subtle knots in his neck.

The Awesome was still out there, and inching down the range...

" Now, Dragon66. "

Right on cue, the Stalker unleashed its batteries. "

" Test 9, Archangel- on my shot ! Fire ! "

The other 3 Assault mechs opened up. PPCs, autocannons, lasers and missiles- all of them erupted in a gargantuan outpouring of destruction.

As with the previous encounter, this one didn't go off without them taking some fire. Jared watched as the Awesome discharged what turned out to be four PPCs, sending a four-fingered handshake of death out toward Apex Lance.

The cobalt blue energy bolts caused the air around them to ripple from their heat, as the sped toward their targets.

" Incoming, everyone ! "

Jared's HUD highlighted several of the incoming bolts, showing that 3 of them were going to hit him. If he moved to the side, that'd be onyl 2-

-but then one of the others would hit Archangel.

I will take one for my team

He braced himself, both psychically and mentally, as the bolts closed in.

" Reading hits ! His left arm came off ! "

Test9 reported success on the lance's attack, even as several PPC bolts hit the Atlas.

Thmp-bang !

Thmp-bang !

Thmp-bang !

With each impact, Jared was subjected to a hefty round of shuddering vibrations. The self-contained plasma in each bolt splashed all over his Atlas' plates, searing and boiling away the armor. It sounded like genuine artillery rounds landing-right outside his cockpit.

Choryt ( Damn ) - !

A loud fizzing, sizzling sound trickled in, and he knew the damaged plates were bubbling off the vaporized metal.

" Damage minimal. "

The onboard computer chimed in, helpfully informing him that the hits hadn't actually hurt that much.

" don't say. "

Up in the corner of his HUD, though, he could see that was true; the shades of white across the mech silhouette that represented his Atlas hadn't darkened too much; none of them had turned orange to indicate that they'd slagged off completely to expose the bare chassis beneath.

Thank God for Atlas armor

" Aweome's runnin' away ! "

Archangel excitedly directed attention to what the enemy Assault Mech was doing.

Leaning slightly forward in his seat harness, Jared saw that was indeed happening. The Awesome was missing its left arm, with sparks and smoke billowing from the wound. Scorch marks and dents adorned large swathes of its armor along the right side, and it was indeed backpedaling.

Not very quickly, of course. Awesome's were not the most agile of mechs, even for an Assault class one.

Another easy mark

" Archangel ! Talk less, shoot more ! "

" Whoops- right on, boss ! Alpha Strike, comin' up ! "

" Test9 and Dragon- stand by. Archangel and I will handle this. Save your ammo. "

The other two mechwarriors acknowledged, as the Banshee sent a scorching salvo of autocannon rounds and lasers downrange. Jared added his own Alpha to the deluge, even as the Awesome frantically loosed another several PPCs.

This suka ( bitch ) is a stubborn one...!

I hate the stubborn ones.

Again, the incoming energy bolts whipped in, but this time, they were not so precise. All of them missed, sailing off harmlessly into space.

" Woah- more bolts incoming ! ", Test9 updated them.

" No danger- this one can't aim at all ! "

Meanwhile, the combined effects of two Alpha Strikes utterly punished the Awesome. Its right arm came flying off, and its center torso was completely crumpled in like a soda can getting squeezed.

Amid billowing geysers of white fire, the mech wobbled, swayed, and then finally toppled, slamming all of its 85 tons face-first into the sandy ground and instantly burying itself several feet into the soil.

" Well done, Commander ! ", the eye in the sky that was Darius proclaimed.

" Sumire ? You reading anything on your sensors ? Because mine are clear. "

" Negative, XO. All scopes are clear over here. No additional hostiles in the entire AO, and none detected on approach via Leopard."

" You hear that, Colossus? Your cowboy tactics actually paid off. "

Watching the spectacle, Jared smirked.

They'd wiped the board clean.

" Nothing like a good cold one after utterly pulverizing the opposition ! "

Raising his bottle of Timbiqul Dark, Archangel grinned as he looked around at the others.

" Here's to us ! "

" Who's like us ?! ". Dragon 66 raised his own bottle.

" Damn few ! "

Test 9 joined in.

" And they're all dead ! "

Jared finished off the toast by firmly clinking his bottle against the others.

They'd done well today. At the moment, they were enjoying the sweet taste of Timbiqul Dark- and victory- while standing in the vast shadows put out by their mechs, as the lot of them stood in the center of the security station. After eradicating the Bauman Group's mechs, Apex Lance had marched into the center of the facility, only to soon discover that it was completely empty. Everyone inside had evidently run off as soon as they learned that their mech defenders had been taken out.

With the station thus belonging to them, Jared contacted Sumire, and told her it was clear to bring down Dr. Murad and co. He could practically hear the big boned scientist squealing like a schoolgirl at the thought that they'd clinched a major win in the ongoing quest to find something directly related to the Star League.

Ohhh, the great and mighty Star Leauge. The Roman Empire over 2,000 years ago was great and mighty too, and they collapsed too. The League was no different. And as for being the pinnacle of virtue ?

What nonsense.

It would take a few minutes until the Legion's Leopard arrived, so until Sumeire was on station, the mechwarriors had time to slay. They'd secured the entire area, and with no more hostiles anywhere near, they were unwinding a bit.

Their mechs were looming over them like statues, arms locked and rigid. Ready for each of the Mechwarriors to clamber back aboard at a moment's notice, and get back into the fight .

" Cheers, gentlemen. "

Jared took a swig from the bottle he had. He at once made a mental note to thank Yang's suppliers, becase the Mansa Musa-rich, dark chocolate-ty flavor of the ice cold beverage really hit the spot right now.

" Cheers ! "

" Cheers ! "

" Cheers ! "

The others tipped back their botttles, and also swigged a few mouthfuls.

Test9 coughed a few times. " Ahem...woah. "

" What's the matter ? Too strong for ya ? ", Archangel teased.

" Um, no, no- bit more...flavorful than what I am used to ", the other Mechwarrior admitted, flicking a few stray drops off his mouth.

" That's 'cause you haven't drunk what's really meant to be drunk till now, bucko ! ", laughed Archangel, and Dragon66 smirked.

" You haven't tried Timbiqul Dark !? Shit. "

" Who said Dark can't be something...wonderful. ". Jared swung his bottle back and forth between his fingertips. " Always heard it had to be gritty. This is going down nice and smooth. "

" Its overwhelming my taste buds. ", Test9 stated.

" That's an occupational hazard. Aren't you used to those ? "

More uproarious laughter followed, along with more sipping.

It was at that point, that the familiar sound of the engines of the Leopard Mech-Carrier were heard.

From somewhere high above, and behind them, came a thunderous rumbling. A muffled crackling roar, that slowly but steadily grew louder and louder.

" Eyy ! The eggheads are here ! ", Archangel exclaimed, waving a bottle up at the inbound vessel.

The others turned around ( or in Dragon66's case, looked up ), to view the sight of the eraser-shaped vessel as it appeared, low in the sky and coming in fast. Columns of oily black smoke trailed behind its engine ports.

" Hey- there she is. ", Test9 observed.

The bulky craft, known as " The Flying Brick " for its ungainly appearance, spent the next few seconds making its way toward them, descending with bizarre dexterity, given how massive and squared off it was.

" Commander ! I hope you actually took care of things down there ". Sumire's clipped voice emerged from Jare'd wrist-mounted comlink ( that was jacked into the overall unit's comm net ). " On final approach as we speak. "

As if it'd be any different !

" It is, and you can take it to the bank. "

" Oh, funny, 'cause I am the one who actually worries about our bottom line. "

" And I shatter the enemy's front line to help us get there. "

" Well, credit where credit is due. Congrats to you and your boys. Dr. Murad here is all over the place; I need to get her offloaded ASAP. "

" To use the proper vernacular: What a geek. ", Dragon66 quipped.

" I heard that, Zin. But, you're right. I will let her know- "

" Wait a second. What the- "

Hm ?

Puzzled expressions crossed everybody's faces, and they traded glances.

" A fresh...yeah. Commander ? I've...received a fresh communique. Right now. Addressed to the Steel Legion "

" Simply like that ?. Jared frowned.

It was absolutely random. The Legion had become one of the more established PMCs in settled space over the last few years, but their contact information?

And to use it now ? Right after they'd seized this base ?

That raises as many red flags as a Kuritan Royal Wedding

Given how confused everyone was looking, they clearly shared Jared sentiment. He was actually forming the question " Any clue who its from ? ", when-

" Oh...God. Oh, God ! ", the Leopard pilot suddenly cried.

Icy water ( ie, adrenaline ) instantly entered Jared's blood. In all the years he'd known Sumeire, he hadn't ever heard her sound like that.

Afraid. Good lord, she sounded...afraid !

" Sumire !? ". Jared spoke firmly, reassuringly, as the others gathered around, definitely hooked. " What is going on. ? "

" Commander...its- "

" Commander, I've been contacted by the Black Widow ! Its Natasha Kerensky ! "