Aboard the heavy cruiser " Leviathan ", under the ownership of the PMC " Armageddon's Steel Legion "

" Hey. Careful with those SRMs! I don't care if they're not armed; bang them around, and it won't matter ! "

Generally, Yang Virtanen was pleased with the quality of his hangar crews. As a whole, they were exactly the caliber that any MechTech worth his salt would want to have working under him- they were quick at all times, but didn't sacrifice the quality of the care they rendered unto the company mechs by taking shortcuts. With multiple Lances worth of Battlemechs under their care ( and with many of said mechs being those of the Assault weight class ), they certainly had a lot of very expensive metal that needed to be kept up and maintained, not to mention upgraded and modified.

On top of all that, they had over a hundred tons of munitions to overlook as well- SRMs LRMs, Autocannon shells, machine gun bullets, and so on. It was a considerably volatile stockpile of high explosives, and if even a fraction of it were to go off in a chain reaction, it would effortlessly punch a hole through the hull. Of course, having merely one warhead detonate accidentally could get a crewmember blown to smithereens, or shear plating off a Mech's legs-or worse.

For all the safeguards in place to prevent such disasters, though, Yang's instincts wouldn't let him be anything less fully vigilant whenever the redshirts were moving the ordinance around. Granted, they were some of the more recently added members, having been recruited off of Kurvasa last month, but there were standards to be maintained in the Armageddon's Steel Legion, and they weren't low ones either.

We didn't get our MRB rating for smiles and cupcakes. 5 Stars, and keeping it that way

Pointing his metallic hand at the rolling pallet stacked high with the stocky, cylindrical forms of missile fuselages, Yang continued addressed the two specialists moving it, his usual style. " Hey, hey ! Davers ! Halven ! "

Helmeted heads turned, and the two ordinance specialists stopped, immediately realizing it was their boss. " Yes, Chief ? "

" You taking that load to equip the main Assault Lance ? ", queried the head Mechtech. " They're getting priority for all ordinance loading now. "

" Yes sir ! ", the second specialist promptly and confidently confirmed, nodding.

" You received the work order updates, then ?. Yang could've recited them all over again right here and now, but he decided to withhold from doing so unless either of the specialists proved they actually hadn't.

" Roger that, Chief ", assured the other specialist- Halven.

" What are they, then ? "

The second redshirt subsequently didn't let down Yang's exceptions of his personnel. " Prepare a Lance of Banshees and a Stalker. Utilize our best LosTech. "

" Hey-All LosTech is best, Specialist. ", Yang swiftly corrected, putting up an emphasizing finger. " But, you're right otherwise. I want those SRMs treated with care, though. They may be a dime a dozen, but we still need them. "

" You got it, Sir. " Davers

" Don't ' Sir ' me. I work for a living. Now go, both of you. "

Complying, the two specialists continued on their way, with the ammo load trundling along with Yang kept on walking, keeping his datapad firmly held in his remaining real hand.

The Capellan momentarily thought he must be getting more paranoid the older he got, given that he actually thought that some his own staff would actually accidentally set off a load of SRMs, or that they wouldn't be crystal clear on the up-to-date standing orders.

That kind of doubts didn't last long, though, because they were soon replaced by an automatic reminder that checking in on your subordinates was simply par for the course- nothing all that strange about it, really. He'd always been that way, even if you were going to go all the way back to when the Legion only had a handful of Griffins, Vindicators, and a handful of Spiders. It was good to be a pragmatic and hands on individual in this galaxy, especially if you were in the Inner Sphere.

Even if you went a step more, and began to cross into micromanaging territory...

What's lost by always being sure ? Not much, if you ask me. Or even if you don't

A towed cargo pallet weighed down with a bulky stack of AC-10 shells slipped past on his right, followed by another carrying another hefty supply of SRMs. The entire hangar was full on bustling by now, with its entire manpower directed to prepping 4 Assault Mechs for imminent combat deployment.

It didn't matter how many times Yang had been down here- more than he could hope to count, over the last 3 years- he always knew it was the once place he belonged. Not just within the company, but anywhere in the universe. As a lifelong MechTech, a fully at-speed hangar was pretty much a living dream for him.

From one end to the other, everything was going like clockwork. Ammunition hoists dropped and rose, carrying shells, missiles, support equipment, and the technical personnel required to install and load them all, up to where they were needed on the Battlemechs. On every level of the towering machines, robotic manipulator arms whined and whirred as they reached out to connect hoses and conduits that would pump in coolant, and provide electricity to run tests on mech systems while their reactors were powered down ( which they always were while onboard ).Banks of lights blazed down on each of the occupied bays, mounted on each level of them and perfectly illuminating everything going on. Which was more than slightly important, because given the stature of each Mech, there was plenty of room for shadows to hide something that had gone wrong.

Something going wrong was exactly what they couldn't ever afford right before they were about to deploy, and as Yang finally reached the base of the right leg of one of the Banshees, he sensed the other half of that overall feeling of entering the Mech hangar-urgency. Not quite pressure, but urgency. It wasn't the usual kind of " We need to get these mechs up and ready for action now because time is money " either, but something else, and something arguably worse...

The Black Widow. " Deadliest Mechwarrior that's ever lived ", they say.

God, I hope not.

Well, she was coming for them. Yang was not a Mechwarrior of course, but he'd heard the warning that the BW had issued to the Steel Legion- Sumire had helpfully broadcast it to everyone on the ship, and if Yang was honest with himself on this, it'd proven to be more than a tad worrisome.

The Black Widow had sworn to kill all of them, Mechwarriors or not. Thinking of that particular caveat sent a chill running up the head MechTech's spine, as much as it had when he'd first learned about what was in store for them.

Well, they could always do as they'd been told: Leave all of the Dobrev's cargo contents outside the vessel, and then skedaddle. Not that Yang at all trusted that the Black Widow to hold up her end of the bargain, and to actually let them go if they did as she wanted, but staying put and digging in to fight her head on was...well, it wasn't exactly the first course of action Yang would've suggested.

He could hear his old CCAF commanders lecturing him over wanting to run away from a fight, even now.

If the CCAF is good for anything, its that they always stand their ground- even if it kills them. Maybe that's going to be us...

Emphasis on maybe

Exhaling, Yang shook his head. Glancing around, he realized he'd been standing in one spot, gazing up at the full height of the Assault mech for several seconds, like a complete rookie. Fortunately, though, nobody had seen him- or they had, but hadn't said anything.

Either was entirely possible.

Whichever it was, Yang decided not to keep loitering around like this. He'd been meaning to inspect each of the Mechs in the lance anyway, and gawking at them from the foot level wasn't' the way to do it, needless to say. The Capellan made his way over to the nearest elevator, over on the right, and upon getting onto it, he promptly selected the highest level as the destination.

The platform began to rise, humming throatily. There was more than enough power under it to lift several hundred pounds, and it was certainly quicker than taking the switchbacking staircase that led to the same point; both of which Yang was always thankful for.

As it went up the side of the Banshee,ascending past its considerable mass, the Capellan's gaze switched to examining every inch of the mech. Not for combat damage, needless to say- this particular Banshee hadn't been deployed for at least a week, and its last logged field rotation hadn't even resulted in any plating getting taken off- but mostly out of habit if nothing else. It was like the way fighter pilots would inspect the exterior of their planes by walking around the outside of them-even if you weren't going to be getting into the thing yourself ( like in this case ), you still had to check yourself and in person.

The 100-ton heavyweight's gleaming, pearl white plating was trimmed with beautiful, thin blue lines. Battlemechs were intended for heavy duty combat, but that by no means said they couldn't look good while they were decimating the enemy. After all, this was the Steel Legion; they had standards to uphold.

And, it appeared to be getting maintained on this one. On a spur of the moment, Yang paused the elevator, and leaned on the guardrail, studying the flank of the Mech. Even on the side of an assualt mech, there was enough distance from the front to back for a tall someone to stretch out end to end, and there was a lot of equipment and armor that was contained in a space like that.

Not seeing anything I need to change yet...including the paintjob.

Various crewmen going past on the various levels the elevator went by spotted Yang, and called out to him , with accompanying waves. The Legion wasn't so formal that they were obligated to salute, but Yang's military days had him thinking of when he was required to do so when on that end of such an encounter. The CCAF was...rigid, in that way.

Despite how tall the Banshee was, it didn't take long to reach its head. After about 15 seconds, the elevator stopped alongside the summit of the Mech, giving Yang a bird's eye view of this section of the vast hangar space, packed full of enough Assualt-class firepower to knock down a skyscraper. Actually, come to think of it, that's exactly what they'd done more than once...

Stepping off the elevator, Yang now had a better angle on the complete scale of how well armed mech of that class was. Not that he was unfamiliar with it, needless to say. His metal limb was a direct result of how much punch even a medium Battletech could put out with its arsenal, let alone a assault one.

" Chief Virtanen ! ", called out a nearby specialist.

Glancing over at where the voice was coming from, Yang found another redshirt standing a yard or so away. On his shoulders were the distinctive white slash marks of a shift supervisor.

" Killian ! ", Yang nodded a greeting.

" Good news, Chief ", the goateed munitions handler stated, as he walked over. " We're about to begin stocking the missile loadout here. "

" Is that so...? "

An Assualt Mech was more than heavily armed, and the sheer destructive potential of one came from its array of weaponry that would often require a platoon of AFVs to match. At the moment, sure enough, the particular weapons system getting serviced was the Banshee's starboard rack of SRMs. Usually, a mech would carry around 300 or so of them, and Jared had ordered the maximum number of launchers per chassis to be carried on all the mechs of the lance-especially the walking missile battery that was the Stalker model, though that latter one was loaded down with LRMs instead. Stalkers could definitely handle themselves in a close-range fight, but they were best used to sit behind the shelter of the terrain, and proceed to make it rain missiles on the opposition.

Banshees were pure tanks, though, and SRMs were valuable tools for any tank mech. Yang observed, as several munition specialists carefully initated the process of inserting a " clip " of SRM warheads into the storage compartment adjacent to the launcher, diligently lowering them down toward the side torso of the Banshee. Each missile's tip, blood red, was a fine point, bristling out like a fistful of sharpened pencils.

Whole lotta boom. That's what I like to see.

Of course, seeing SRMs also reminded Yang of how a heavy salvo of them had crashed into the operator's compartment of the Centurion he'd been working within all those years ago. The blizzard of shrapnel that followed had cleaved Yang's right arm completely ( but definitely not cleanly ) off, leaving him with no option but to bolt on this metallic imitation. It was subpar compared to its original counterpart, but it did the job decently enough.

Still, the vestiges of that encounter hadn't left Yang with much love for being near the head of a mech- he occasionally half expected another bunch of SRMs to crash through the walls again. On the other hand, it wasn't enough to stop him from being immersed in the action- Mechs were still his main passion in life, and he loved them, even if the last time he'd been in one, it'd resulted in him literally losing a bit of himself.

" Hmm. Nice, very nice ", remarked the head MechTech, signalling his approval.

" What about the cockpit reinforcement, though ? We're going to need those down there, like we always do. "

" Haven't gotten going on that ", admitted Killian, leaning on the guardrail that ran along every section of every walkway, including the one they were on, while continuing to watch the work crew slotting in the missile stack. " But we will, soon as the SRMs are taken care of. "

" As long as everything on the list gets addressed; that's what counts. "

Yang didn't want to micromanage too much, but some personal involvement was necessary. At least bay was well looked after at all times; he'd had Killian on the crew for roughly a year, and knew him to be qualified for the job. Heck, every Mechbay was overseen by a skilled head; Yang, and by extension, Jared, would not have accepted anything less.

" Don't worry, boss. We'll get her ready to rumble. ", Killian assured.

" I don't worry. I simply have concerns. " , replied the Capellan.

" ...

" But, you've got everything under control here anyway. Carry on."

" Roger that. "

Yang sent one more look down at the Banshee's head, before turning away to keep walking along the wraparound deck that surrounded the Mech. Each bay was accessible from the next one from said walkways, and going from one to the next this way had the added benefit of being a form of exercise, besides making it easier to get around down among the towering machines.

More crewmen were along the way, deeply involved in readying the Banshee. Pallets weighed down with more SRMs were parked and sitting at carefully placed intervals along the walkways, along with additional loads of shells. There was nonstop activity going on at every section of every area of the hangar, including right here, as the Legion's Mechtechs toiled to get several hundred tons of Battlemech prepared to deploy.

Yang had all of the shift supervisors ( including Killian ) set to report to him via his datapad, but that wouldn't keep him from walking the floor anyway. As soon as a mech was ready, they would report to him, but that could happen as soon as he entered one of the bays, as much as it could be when he was anywhere between them, or nowhere near. At the moment, from what he'd seen, the Banshee he'd just been to was decently close to completion, but that wasn't speaking for the others.

Still, his crews were good at their jobs. Everything was proceeding on track, and barring any unexpected cataclysms, it wouldn't be long before the whole Lance was ready. Not quite when he should report to Jared on the status, but it was certainly getting there. There hadn't ever been a time when he'd had to really come down on any of them for delivering a subpar performance, because they always tended to the Mechs with skill and alacrity.

We're on a real rush schedule here. At least its not a rarity for us to have to get this many heavyweights prepped on such short notice...

Down in the depths of the Leviathan, all Yang could do was focus on being in his element: Being a Mechtech, and running the hangar to the usual A+ levels.

Outside the hull- way outside it- the Black Widow was bearing down on them. A Mechwarrior that so many feared, and one that so many were so certain would effortlessly annihilate them regardless of whether she found them first or the other way around.

Yang wasn't ready to admit it anyone, but even down here in the hangar, he still wished there was more distance between him and the BW. Needless to say, though, there wasn't; she was closing in on them, because Jared had decided to stand and fight. Given the Black Widow's rep for completely erasing anyone who got in her way, that choice didn't seem to adhere to rational wisdom.

Realizing he might end up getting sidetracked again by all the borderline worrying that was going on in his head, Yang stopped where he was. The hangar's activity swirled on around him, but he needed to think.

Or rather, he wanted to...but-

Shaking his head, the Chief MechTech began to walk again. Now wasn't the time to stand around and get lost in the clouds.

Can't afford to right now, that's why. I sure as heck don't think that we have a real shot at taking on the Black Widow, but its not my call.

I don't run this company. I fix its Mechs. That's what I do.

And its what he would keep doing, even if Jared was so bent on throwing them into a head on clash with the one and only BW. Yang couldn't deny that he liked the idea of defying the pattern of defeats that virtually everyone who fought the Black Widow received, but the rest of him , on a more logical level, thought it was pure crazy.

And not the good kind of crazy. More along the lines of, " This is a bad idea, and we shouldn't be doing it, because its going to get us killed, and nothing more ", kind of crazy.

But, again, it wasn't Yang's company to run.

" Got anything for me, Mr. Virtanen ? "

It'd taken nearly an hour to fully complete his rounds.

Each mech of the Assault Lance had consumed around 10 to fifteen minutes, give or take. Though the first Banshee had been realtiviely straightforward, Yang had discovered that it wasn't exactly the case throughout the rest, with one of the other Banshees in particular being a tad of a problem. As it turned out, one of the actuators in the left arm had become loosened , and unsuitable for any more field ops. The tech team had been midway through installing one of the LosTech ER Particle cannons when the mechanical fault was uncovered, and hadn't had much choice but to stop short, and take on the new task of fixing the busted actuator, with Yang sticking around long enough to watch it happen.

That was pretty much how everything had gone: mostly bump-free, but there were some snags. Aside from the issue with the Banshee arm, the Stalker in the lineup was having a shortage of its LRMs- not because there was a failure in the ammo transportation system, but because the Leviathan's supply of them had actually begun to run low. Figuring out exactly who was responsible for that error had eaten up even more minutes, let alone making sure that the allocated missiles eventually got to where they were needed.

And, so on. It wasn't the most taxing or stressful excursion down onto the Mech floor ( as he often called the Leviathan's hangars ), nowhere near, but there were actually higher stakes this time around...

Sure, they'd taken the firepower of an Assault Lance on nearly every drop up till now ( They essentially followed the House Steiner approach of using maximum firepower, but had modified it with House Davion-esque tactics. ), but for battling someone with the kind of overly-lethal rep as the Black Widow ( and that caliber of MechWarrior was as common as a Star League memory core , or an original Chinese product), they'd need it more than ever. Standing in the shadow of the 100 ton-ers, and checking every section of them had reinforced Yang'd belief that the Legion had the punch to handle the incoming threat...but did they have the skill ?

Well, anyway, after all that immersion into the hangar lifestyle, Yang, as he usually did, left him badly wanting a cold drink. But, right when he was about to go grab one from the nearby crew's mess hall...Jared called in for an update on how the Lance readiness was progressing.

Impeccable timing. There was no putting off a call from the boss, though, needless to say, so the Chief Mechtech addressed it first.

Ignoring the dryness in the back of his mouth as best he could, Yang replied, " Glad you asked, boss, because yeah: I do. "

" Alright; let's hear it. Full report on the Assault Lance, which, by the way, I've officially designated ' " Gecko ' ".

"...Gecko ? "

Yang was on the knife edge of smirking at that, and then actually did, but then recalled that geckos are one of the creatures that prey on spiders- and quite voraciously as well. It wasn't the most aggressive Lance name there ever was, but given the circumstances, it worked.

We've got Lances named " Tiger ", and " Apex ", so its not like we're hurting for badass names...and it could've been much worse.

" I know you're having a laugh over that, Yang. Do I need to give you a lesson on who gets eaten by what ? "

" Hm ? Oh, its fine, boss...I got it, don't worry. ", Yang promised.

" ...If you say so. ". Jared sounded mostly convinced, at least. It was very likely he'd bring it up again later, just to be absolutely sure. but for right now, there was things to be discussed.

" Anyway: What's the Lance status ? "

Now this was undeniably easy territory to navigate. " Progress is good, overall. A few issues, but none of them are seriously keeping us back. "

" So, you can get all 4 of them ready in time before the Black Widow's arrival ? "

" ...Yes, but it'll be a tight squeeze, boss. "

Getting 400+ tons worth of Battlemech refitted with different weapon loadouts wasn't as quick as changing a tire, needless to say, and when those loadouts were mostly LosTech, that made it even more so. Yang understood enough of it to make the process of handing and installing it relatively straightforward, compared to being a complete novice of it like so many in the Inner Sphere, but it still couldn't be done as quickly as simply loading in fresh conventional tech.

If it hadn't been for how the Mechs weren't all stripped down of all components to be tucked into storage, Yang wouldn't have considered the job possible to get done this quick...

Always hectic down here...always making time...

" Tight is one thing; doable is another. You're saying its the latter, which is enough for me. ", declared the PMC's head.

" But, that being said, keep me updated on how you're progressing. We're on the clock here, Mr. Virtanen, and while I won't have quality sacrificed for speed, we do need all 4 of them fully kitted out before the Black Widow and her merry band turn up. "

" And, that's when when ours is going to slug it out with hers. ". Yang wasn't a fan of stating the obvious, but he made an exception here.

" Exactly. "

As if I needed any more confirmation...Yang exhaled sharply, running his real hand across his ( slightly ) scraggly beard. The old paradox between being exicted about doing his job, and that sense of apprehension about their chances, now came bubbling back up.

He didn't plan to even broach the subject of withdrawing from Mantharaka, because he was well aware of how Jared ran this unit: His word was law, and that was that. You could speak up, offer your two cents, yes, but he didn't have to listen.

Yang had been with the Legion long enough to understand that if there was any hint of succeeding- any hint that was more than a sliver- Jared would go for it with both barrels. He wouldn't retreat from the Dobrev, and he wouldn't abandon its cargo and technology, or whatever else it might have. Even if he wasn't concerned with tracking down the traces of the SLDF, there was enough LosTech in that derelict to make any MechTech weep with joy.

And to make any mercenary boss essentially a king.

"...Got it, boss. Got it. We are doing this. ", the Head MechTech acknowledged, not sure if he was really hiding the lack of complete optimism in his tone, or not.

He hadn't been out to fool Jared, but it didn't get past him anyway. " Yang...you want to hash this out face to face ? Its not just the Mechs I trust you with; if you've got something you want to get off your chest about this, then let's talk. "

"...I..didn't say that, per se- "

" Yeah, you didn't have to. Come on, Yang. Its not like I just dredged you up off Kimi. "

There wasn't getting around that. Yang had pretty much given the game away- but then again, he was a MechTech and ex-CCAF, not some kind of monk with expert control of serenity.

" ...Yeah, ok. Frankly, boss, I say we should get one of the Hydrogen bombs out of storage, and begin getting it ready to atomize the site. As a failsafe. "

Jared was always one for maximum destruction, and if that went up to nuking a target into oblivion, then that was completely fine. Of course, nuking the Dobrev was the definition of a last resort course of action- the kind that would only be undertaken if all else had gone pear shaped and there was nobody left to stop the Black Widow.

The blatantly obvious implication was that Jared and his Mechwarriors would be dead...their Mechs torn open and burning.

Better we lost the derelict than let the Lady of Death get a hold of it..

" If I could nuke the BW and leave the Dobrev untouched, I'd do it. ". Jared's response was definitely in line with his normal self. " That's not exactly viable for us on this op, though. Get the nukes unwrapped and prepped anyway, though. There might be something else we can do with them. "

Well, that was one reply that would probably be enough for Sumire. Yang knew Jared must've done something to calm her down as well, probably first. That was alright, though, given how close they were...and how fixated the Taurian was on what made the most fiscal sense.

The entire situation seemed very sliced and dried, and there was not much to say on that front. But, still-

" Roger that, boss. I'll be down here on the hangar deck; you coming down now ? "

" Sure. Its close to where I am, anyway. Besides, I'd like to check on the Stalker myself. "

" Seems like a plan. "

" Alright. I'll be there shortly. "

With a slight click, Jared disconnected from his end.

Yang exhaled again, shaking his head. This wasn't exactly where he'd expected his career to wind up taking him; about to face off against the so-called deadliest Mechwarrior ( according to so many ), and having his PMC's boss serving as a head doctor.

And I thought he was mental when he took on the Draconis Combine's Regulars; making the Dracs mad is always a heavy risk.

As much as he knew the Inner Sphere was a strange place, this was taking it up a notch. The only way it could get even more so, would be if it turned out Alexander Kerensky had somehow stayed alive for the past 300 years, and was still running the show for the tattered remnants of the SLDF.

It was still what he'd signed up for, though: the unexpected, and the strange.


Somewhere in the depths of the Leviathan, right below the main hangars, sat a relatively common shipping crate.

The container had been heavily scrutinized by the onboard techs when it was brought aboard, in search of tracking or listening devices. If said devices had been built or places where/of what most were, they'd very likely have been found by now.

But, this crate had a secret that'd escape their search. A dose of Lostech, embedded in its very casing.

And it was sending a signal.

One that was getting received.