"Eyes up, boys and girls we've got VTOLs headed our way" Marco declared over comms. "Oh boy, skeet shooting! My favorite!" Jack "Rooster" Gullah replied from his Hunchback. The crack of laser fire from Oppenheim's Crab ignited a Warrior VTOL sending it careening into the ground; quickly turning into a fireball. The explosion barely made waves through the eight and a half tons of steel in Marco's Centurion. "If your aim was as good as your mouth-"

"Can it, everyone. Look alive!" Marco barked as he sent his lasers to another VTOL to the same fate. They never even got to shoot back. The lance approached a wide saddle along the dusty road they trod dotted with the occasional scrub and dust devil their mech's throwing up sand and dust as they plodded their way across the field before approaching a saddle in the road. Jessica chimed in "Commander, I'm seeing a moderate group of radar contacts just beyond the saddle in front of you. It looks like they know you're here." The 50-meter saddle wasn't too steep that a 'mech couldn't climb up it. Marco ordered opened his comms to order Yoshitomo "Deadeye" Shinji to take the top of the saddle to provide overwatch. He complied curtly as he drove his Rifleman to the top of the saddle. Shinji took care to watch from a 'hull down' position to minimize exposure.

"Any intel on size and composition?"

"Mostly vehicles, but thermal scans indicate a couple of lightweight BattleMechs. They're only 2 klicks from the target area."

"Probably a screening force intended to probe us."

"I don't expect it's something you can't handle, Commander but be careful.

Marco ordered his lance to approach in a flying-wedge formation. A moment barely passed before Shinji opened. "More contacts up ahead, lead. Looks like more Warriors, a lance of SRM carriers, and a pair of Locusts; just under 1 klick and closing fast." Not impressive even for raiders. The lance made their way through the saddle under the cover of Shinji's dual PPC fire that shrieked overhead. Shinji made sure he earned his nickname with every Warrior he turned into slag. Marco turned his attention to a diminutive-looking angular box on chicken legs that was only half as tall as he was speeding across the now hilly scrubland. One of the Locusts closed fast on Marco and let fly a laser that shot into his Centurions' center torso sending molten slag hissing into the sand. Marco replied with a thunderclap from his arm-mounted AC/10 and followed up with his two medium lasers. His shots connected with Locusts' right torso that rocked the little thing but didn't break stride. An even louder shot rang out from an A/C20 from Gullahs' Hunchback sent the first Locust ploughing into sand awash with fire.

"Scratch one!" He cheered

"Save that big gun for something worthwhile next time!" Oppenheim chastised

"Less talking; more shooting!" Shinji replied

One of the SRM carriers released a volley that sent missiles hissing toward Oppenheim's Crab which peppered her legs and upper torso. She replied in kind by sending emerald and blue lances into that immolated the metal pest. Shinji's PPC fire took care of the rest. The Locust that was unaccounted for came sprinting out from the hill peppering Marco and Oppenheim with petulant laser and machine gun fire leaving carbon scores and pockmarks in their 'mechs. Shinji's streaks of ionized energy found their respective marks in the scrawny 'mechs torso, but it disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

"I see that my decrepit excuse for a father sent his lackeys to bring me down." Marco quickly guessed this must be Chen. He slowed his Centurion to cruising speed before ordering his lance to a halt among the burning slag heaps. It was true; Cho-Tseng's son had abandoned his family and became a raider. Remembering Jessica's pleading eyes, Marco picked his words carefully "Chen, you don't have to do this. Power down your 'mechs and stand down." A moment passed before Shinji cried out "Missile lock!" Marco looked up from the canopy and saw a rush of LRMs fly over the hill. A good chunk of them found their mark on Shinji's Rifleman. "I'm alright, Commander. Didn't get hit too hard" Shinji replied catching his breath a little.

"That's what I think of your little demands! I'm my own man. I'm not some lackey for a bunch of decrepit royals!"

"Cousin, listen to yourself! How could you have done this to our family! For months I thought I lost you and this is how you wind up?" Jessica angrily pleaded with Chen.

"Ah, speak for yourself, cousin. You talk of family yet you gladly accepted being separated from your blood family and now here you are serving as some dog of war."

"I worked to maintain contact with my father, and I became a mercenary with his blessing, unlike you!"

"Spare me. After I haul your 'mechs on a salvage truck, there's a small farming settlement a few kilometers east of here I could plunder and turn into my vassal. You're in my kingdom now, mercenary."

A deafening silence followed before Jessica turned off all channels save for Marcos'. Her voice held barely contained venom and wrath. "Marco, I have no cousin. Kill this son of a bitch." He replied with thrusting his Centurion into full throttle toward Chen's little hideout. The Locust from earlier was hurrying back to a lance waiting just outside the base. Marco sent an autocannon in the leg of the remaining Locust the explosion shearing its leg off and sending it flying into a sand basin. "Now that you're done with my lackeys, me and my boys could have a little fun." A blue streak from the arm cannon on his Vindicator went into Gullah's Hunchback barely breaking his stride. Marco quickly scanned Chen's lance composition. Save for the humanoid Vindicator, he quickly spied a Catapult perched on a hill distinguishable for its 'fuselage on chicken legs' design and missile racks sitting on its chassis. A Jenner and an Assassin rounded Chen's posse. The 'mechs were already racing toward his lance. "Not so fast you little sucker" Shinji already had his sights set on one trying to take the right flank he sent a fusillade of PPC fire into the speeding 'mech. The Jenner stumbled as ionized energy ripped into the fragile design, but it kept kicking. "Missile lock!" he cried out. He grunted over the radio as the full flight of missiles bombarded his Rifleman. It carried impressive weaponry with the range to match, and could vent the waste heat effectively, but it couldn't take much punishment. Gullah, looking for payback by proxy, sent his lasers into the opening made by Shinji. A gulf of flame enveloped the Jenner as it collapsed throwing sand and flames into the air. "Nice tag teamwork, boys. Must've hit an ammo magazine." Marco chimed.

Their victory was cut short by another volley from the Catapult peppering Shinji. This time, there was an explosion that engulfed the right side of his Rifleman. "Shinji, report!" Marco yelled. "I'm losing weapon systems! That 'mech has me zeroed!"

"Get back to the Leopard! I'm not going to lose you."

"Commander, I can still-"

"I'm ordering you, Shinji! Now go!"

"Yes, sir" Shinji replied. He turned his Rifleman and made a beeline for the dustoff site as he was trailing smoke. "Another missile lock!" Shinji cried out. Shit Marco thought. The last mission replayed in his mind in a flash oblivious to the world around him. "Shinji, eject! Now!" Jessica barked over the comms. Marco spun his Centurion toward him just in time to see a blue flash erupt from the canopy of the Rifleman; The telltale sign of an ejection pod. "I'm tracking his pod now. Dispatching the SAR teams." A final LRM volley connected with the opening made from earlier volleys surrounding it in flames as it collapsed into the sand. Thank God Marco breathed before he was jarred back to reality from alarms blaring warning of a missile lock. Marco gritted his teeth and turned his Centurion to a shield on his left arm. No penetration. "Gullah, you're with me. You take the Catapult. Oppenheim, keep working on that Assassin."

"Already dancing with him!" Oppenheim sarcastically replied. A gout of white-hot flame erupted from the rear of the Assassin as it leaped over her Crab peppering her with SRM and laser fire finding purchase in her rear armor. She quickly turned her 'mech around replied with laser fire into the same melting away armor plating. Marco got Chen's Vindicator in his sights as a blue streak flew wide of his canopy. The EM waves from its PPC frazzled his targeting equipment. An autocannon shot still found its mark in the torso of the Vindicator causing it to stumble. Marcos' ears were pierced by a shrill howl of rage Oppenheim as she threw a steel punch into the Assassin knocking it into the ground. In a merciless rage, she finished the job with a metal foot into the canopy of the Assassin. Marco could hear the crunching of glass and metal over Oppenheims' exacerbation. She was quick to anger, and when she was in her rage there was little to stop her. Marco always made note not to get her to that point unless she was driving her Crab and pointed at the enemy.

"Has your time as a raider deadened your aim, Chen? I'm told you were good at this." Marco taunted as he sent another autocannon shot into Chen's Vindicator. He replied with a PPC that struck the Centurions' shield arm almost shearing it. The direct hit frazzled Marco's targeting even stronger this time. "Shut it, mercenary!" Marco looked out the corner of his eye to see Gullahs' Hunchback take laser fire as the Catapult started to back away in attempt keep distance. Gullah sent a 203mm autocannon into the Catapult that sheared off a missile rack and setting its right torso on fire. The Catapult stumbled back but refused to back down. Marco turned his attention back to Chen and replied with a pair of lasers that flew wide and an SRM volley that connected with his torso. Chen sent lasers and missiles of his own toward Marco, one of them finding purchase too close to the canopy. Marco gritted his teeth as he was knocked around inside his command couch. His head struck the roof of the canopy and saw stars for a moment. Shaking it off, he replied with all of his weapons into the Vindicator. Molten slag and chunks of metal flew from every direction as the 'mechs traded shots with one another.

Gullah sent another volley of lasers into the opening and followed up another AC/20 into the weakened Catapult as it collapsed nose first into the sand engulfed in flames. "Got him! I got another one!" Gullah chimed over the radio. "Turned the sucker into a fireball!"

"That seems to be the only thing you can do. We negotiated-" Oppenheim was cut off by Marco.

"Can it you two! And help me with this little brat here!" Chens' Vindicator showed little signs of letting up even after Marco threw another SRM volley that took Chens' PPC arm with it and followed up laser fire to the legs that found their mark in the leg actuators freezing them in place. Chens' Vindicator was now slowed to a limp. The Vindicator was left in a pitiful state as it limped toward Marco trailing thick smoke as sparks danced around an opening revealing the fusion reactor. Marco took advantage of the pause in combat. "It's now or never, Chen. We have you three against one. For everyone's sake. Surrender."

Chen replied with a howl of impotent fury and equally impotent return fire with the few weapon systems it had left. Marco replied with an AC/10 to the Vindicators' canopy. It fell forward into the ground like a steel ragdoll. An explosion erupting an ammo magazine radiated throughout the battleground. Everyone who was left gathered around the burning steel tomb that held Chen in a fiery steel grip. "No more contacts, Commander. The battlespace is clear." Jessica confirmed.

"Good work, today everyone. Head back to the dustoff site and prepare for debrief. Whatever is in that base will make for good salvage." His lance sent their affirmations and made their way back to the waiting Leopard.

This day called for a stiff drink and a hefty paycheck.