Leftenant Harold "Haphazard" or "Hap" Calahad eased his Griffin over the hill. He could see his Lancemate Corporal "Joker" Cameron moving his Firestarter down the hill carefully using the forest for cover. Hap and his lance were, on the books, a pursuit lance for the Raman Draconis March Militia or RDMM, but at that moment Hap suspected he was leading the lance of misfits that had been tasked to screen while everyone else was fighting.
Hap checked his scanners again. There was no enemy, and from the looks of the smoke they were east of most of the fighting. On his scanners Hap could see his other lancemate, Sergeant "Tuna" Kam'achi just about hundred kilometers behind him. Hap knew Tuna was trudging up the hill in his Hunchback. It wasn't as fast as Joker's Firestarter or Hap's own Griffin, but it brought a lot of firepower, and it was better armored than either 'Mech.
Hap searched a moment for his fourth lancemate, and then remembered Corporal "Lucky" Tirado wasn't there. He earned his handle during an ambush where he jumped his Lancer behind a Panther, but he didn't see an enemy Enforcer following the Panther. When the Enforcer leveled its autocannon nothing happened. After his lancemates recovered from the shock of the weapon jamming they blasted the Enforcer to pieces, and Corporal Tirado would forever be called "Lucky".
But it wasn't just that one incident, if everyone was getting sick on the beef rations, Lucky would have happened to have gotten chicken. When Sergeant Major planned the worst field problem, Lucky contracted some local flu that had him on light duty just long enough to avoid it. One time the barracks weekly poker game had a pot worth several months of pay and Lucky won it with a pair of 3s. That was Lucky, when it came to chance he always came out ahead.
That all changed yesterday with one stray particle projection beam. One minute Joker and Lucky were arguing about characters in a holovid, and the next minute the head of Lucky's Lancer had evaporated. Hap didn't even see where the shot had come from. It was so random and shocking. The worst part was the fight between the RDMM and the 9th Benjamin Regulars was going so poorly there was no time for a memorial, and his 'Mech was cannibalized for spare parts. Now it was a day later, and here they were screening for an enemy that wasn't there.
A light flashed on Hap's radio, and he switched channels. "This is Hooligan four" Hap said as his mind drifted from his musings back to the present.
Hap's company commander, Captain Holman, broke the static. "Hooligan four, this is Hooligan six. Hap, where the hell are you?"
"Sir, I'm on the east ridge screening just as the intel-"
"Yeah, intel got it wrong again. Move to hill 182. Our Fire Support Company is getting their asses handed to them. The recon element you were supposed to be screening came from the west."
"Hurry Hap, seconds count. Hooligan Six out."
Hap switched to the lance's radio channel, "Tuna, Joker, we got to move to hill 182. Looks like intel got it wrong again."
"Man, I gotta get those guys in a poker game." Joker said as he turned his Firestarter around, and used the 'Mech's jump jets to send it flying into the air over the tops of trees and onto the side of hill by Hap's Griffin.
"Yeah bro, we'd take them for all their money." Tuna replied with a chuckle. Hearing the big husky Polynesian man's laugh made Hap smile. This was the first time since Lucky's death that any of them had dared to really laugh.
Hap hit the jump jets on his Griffin and turned in mid-air as he sailed over the hill and landed in the forest on the other side. Joker's Firestarter made another jump jet assisted leap over the trees as Hap checked his balance and then prepared to jump again. He glanced at his Heads Up Display (HUD) and saw that in the time it had taken him and Joker to turn their 'Mechs around Tuna was, again, nearly a hundred meters behind them, now trudging down the hill. Not only was the Hunchback slower than the other 'Mechs, it also didn't have jump jets.
"We gotta hurry Tuna. Captain H was clear that, 'seconds count'." Hap said as he watched the Hunchback's indicator on his HUD slowly crawl down the hill.
"It's like my neighbor used to say about the police, 'when seconds count, help is minutes away.'" Joker laughed.
"I got the throttle open all the way." Tuna huffed
"Captain H is going to make me put you in a faster 'Mech." Hap said as he weighed out how he liked having the Hunchback's large auto cannon, but hated that when he had to move his lance the Hunchback was always lagging behind.
"Yeah it's going to have to be a big 'Mech, for Tuna. I heard when he was in training they put him in a Locust and the legs snapped." Joker again laughed at his own joke.
"That wasn't me that was your mom." Tuna quipped.
"Oh you want to talk about moms?" Joker sounded agitated.
"Quiet down and stay sharp. Slow it down Joker we need to arrive quickly, but together." Hap told his subordinates. He knew if he let them continue they'd be arguing and insulting each other all day, even in the middle of a fire fight. Hap cursed to himself thinking how he would have just headed off the argument by sending Lucky and Joker on ahead as he and Tuna took up the rear.
Hap settled his throttle at a speed Tuna could keep up with and started to work the route to the hill. His mind drifted again. He was a young Leftenant, but he knew the campaign to hold Klathandu was going poorly. The local militia only had tanks and jump infantry but they had managed to keep the Draconis Combine's 9th Benjamin Regulars at bay until the RDMM could get there. After they arrived the tank commander had briefed the entire Regiment that part of the militia's success was, in his opinion, that the 9th Benjamin Regulars didn't take the militia seriously because they lacked 'Mechs.
When the RDMM arrived on planet the 9th was taking them dangerously seriously. The landing was contested, and part of the RDMM's leadership were killed before they were even on planet. Somehow the RDMM managed to hold the 9th long enough for the Federated Commonwealth leadership to send in the First Federated Commonwealth BattleMech Regiment. The First FedCom was a new regiment and they arrived with shiny new 'Mechs. Most of the RDMM troops were excited, until they realized they were untested Subalterns straight from the Davion and Steiner military academies. As if having a regiment full of the most junior of junior officers wasn't bad enough, Hap had even heard rumors some of them were still cadets.
The First FedCom was led by a pompous son of a noble that put them on vanguard duty or other simple, and relatively safe, missions. The First FedCom had some easy wins, and that just made the young officers more arrogant. Hap didn't blame them though, a few years back when he left the academy he was the same way. Today the First FedCom was in their first real fight with the 9th and from what Hap had heard over the radio it was going badly.
Hap's lance was now close to the hill. The fastest way looked like a narrow pass in the high cliffs. It was the perfect place for an ambush. Joker was already there and had his 'Mech looking up at the top of the cliff. It looked too tall for Hap's Griffin to jump to the top of it, but the Firestarter might just make it.
"Joker you see something or are you trying to figure out if you can jump it?"
"Jump it, but It's too high for me. Guess we gotta just risk it." Joker replied.
"I'll go first" Hap replied as he walked his 'Mech into the path going between the two high cliffs. He felt claustrophobic as his 'Mech scrapped against the side. "Tuna it's going to be hard to turn in this passage. You might want to go into this backwards, if someone catches us-"
"I'll make it real unpleasant for them, boss." Tuna finished
Hap started up the pass. It was level at first, but after a hundred meters it started to slope up the hill. Within another hundred he was high enough that he could jump onto the cliff top. Hap pulled up his long range sensors. He could now see the indicators of two friendly units and several smaller enemy 'Mechs engaging them. Hap felt sick in his stomach. He knew the Fire Support Company had been reduced due to causalities, but it should have been more than two. Hap flipped his radio to the Fire Support lance's channel.
"This is Hooligan four" Hap had to stop for a moment to remember the company's radio designation, "Spear element, are you there?"
"This is Spear six, where the hell are you?"
"Coming up the cliff pass."
"I needed you here yesterday, Hooligan four." Spear six replied angrily.
Hap's HUD started to receive updates from Spear six's 'Mech. He could see the enemy was a lance of Jenners and a Cicada. Hap knew these were fast 'Mechs, but poorly armored. He locked onto one of the Jenners that had its back to him, and sent a salvo of ten long range missiles flying in its direction. Hap was hoping to distract or slow the 'Mech down, instead to his surprise his computer marked a kill.
"Good shooting Hooligan four. You hit his magazine. Now if you had just gotten here before these bastards tore my company apart that would have been some real help." Spear six snarled, it sounded like he was going to say more but there was the sound of missiles hitting his 'Mech.
Hap switched back to his lance channel, "Joker get up there now, we'll catch up."
The Firestarter jumped over the Griffin and started running up the path between the cliffs. In a moment the Firestarter was in the fight, and the Griffin and Hunchback followed a few seconds behind. Hap could see they were too late. The hill side was littered with broken and battered 'Mechs. There was an RDMM Trebuchet and Catapult still standing, but they were being harassed be the smaller and faster Cicada and Jenners.
Both RDMM 'Mechs were in bad shape. The Catapult was missing the missile pod on its right side, and smoke and sparks were pouring out of multiple holes in its armor. The Trebuchet was in similar condition and was clearly favoring one leg.
Hap sent another salvo of missiles at one of the Jenners. The missile spread went wide and only two connected, doing little damage. He then shot his Particle Projection Cannon (PPC) at the 'Mech and that melted through the 'Mech's arm, and the blast bit into the torso. Joker put two medium lasers into the breach, and hit the engine shielding of the 'Mech. It stopped mid stride and then exploded.
The 'Mech's of the Fire Company had few close range weapons so when the smaller faster 'Mechs closed with them they were in trouble. Hap realized his Griffin had the same problem but he also knew he could just punch the enemy or perform the dangerous Death From Above attack.
As if he here thinking the same thing the Catapult pilot sent his 'Mech flying into the air then landed on one of the Jenners. The Jenner twisted and contorted under the weight of the heavier 'Mech. For a moment the Catapult stood over its fallen enemy, then the remaining Jenner hit it with a barrage of missiles and lasers. The Catapult fell forward and somehow Hap knew he wasn't getting back up.
Tuna shot the Jenner with his large autocannon and the shot passed through the 'Mech's left side and into its center. Tuna followed it up with his medium lasers and the Jenner exploded. Hap changed his focus to the remaining enemy 'Mech. The Cicada was trying to get behind the Trebuchet and the Trebuchet was slowly turning to prevent it. It seemed the 'Mech's gyro was damaged as well as its leg.
Joker jumped his Firestarter down next to Cicada, and fired everything he had, machine guns, medium lasers and flamers. The Cicada dodged part of the Alpha Strike but couldn't dodge the spray of fire the flamers put out. Even so the Cicada continued and when it had the angle it wanted it fired on the Trebuchet with its PPC and machine guns. The shot hit one the Trebuchet's ammo bin and the barrage of machine gun fire set off a chain reaction in the center torso.
Hap cringed as the last member of the Fire Support Company exploded. In unison Hap and Tuna fired their weapons and destroyed the remaining enemy 'Mech. Hap paused for a moment feeling the rush of emotion and adrenaline. It took him a moment before he was ready to report. He switched his radio to the command net.
"Hooligan six, this is Hooligan four, over."
"Hooligan four, Report"
"We weren't fast enough, sir. The Fire Support Company has been destroyed, but we neutralized the enemy 'Mechs. Over."
There was a pause, and Hap imagined Captain Holman cursing, then the Captain was back on the net. "The enemy broke through our lines, and we're pulling back to Rendezvous Point Zed. Get any friendly you can, and proceed to the rendezvous point."
"Understood, sir." Hap's mouth went dry. Rendezvous Point Zed was a military star port. This meant the RDMM was probably in full retreat.
"Hap, one more thing, the First FedCom is getting the shit kicked out of 'em. We're probably going to lose the better part of that year group of officers. If you see any of them, bring them along. Hooligan six out."
Hap switched back to his lance's channel, "Tuna, Joker, check for any friendly signs of life, and then we're pulling back to rendezvous point Zed."
"Way ahead of you boss" Tuna replied, "We're negative on life signs. This fight was pretty fierce."
"Alright let's-" Hap stopped mid-sentence, there was a light flashing over the emergency guard channel. "Wait one."
Hap switched to the guard channel, and heard a female voice. She sounded controlled, but stressed, "Requesting immediate assistance or evac. I repeat, this is Cadet Valois. I'm isolated, and being pursued by a heavy lance. Requesting immediate assistance or evac."