Doomed to Excel

San Alamento, Capolla,
Terracap Confederation, Chaos March,
August 3, 3060

Cut off.




But duty trumped fear. Through the burning debris of San Alamento, Sergeant Reyes engaged the active radar on her KW1-LH2 Lineholder, sweeping the area, watching for the elusive Zhanzheng de Guang heavy mech that had been terrorizing the city. She realized that she just gave up her position, as the active radar was a double-edged sword. And she understood that her Lineholder might give up as much as 20 tons to the terrorist. This was most certainly a battle she could not win, but she had to do it. Somebody had to stop that Zhanzheng de Guang mech, and she was the only one close enough – or crazy enough – to do it.

"Where are you, you sonofabitch?" she muttered to herself, observing dozens of hot spots that suddenly clouded her HUD when she flicked that active radar toggle. The red blotches were buildings on fire, covering almost half of her screen. In between lied multiple heat signatures that her computer recognized as tanks, trucks, panzers, and other vehicles she wasn't interested in. Three red marks on the corner came up as artillery units, and whether it belonged to anti-Liao rebels or Zhanzheng de Guang, she could care less.

Then one red dot shone the brightest, hugging the upper edge of her HUD, flickering like a small star. There was no doubt what it was. It was the heat signature of a fusion reactor. It was a battlemech.

"Come to me, you terrorist asshole!" Reyes slammed her feet onto the pedals. Her Lineholder picked up speed in a quick succession. She made a tight turn around a flaming building, taking advantage of the heat from the fire, and dashed straight toward the big bright blotch on her radar, linking all medium lasers on her mech with her secondary trigger. The first hit would be the most critical one, and Reyes didn't want to miss it…


Sergeant Lundt observed his radar, looking for the anti-Liao lowlife who dared to hit him with active radar. And sure enough, the beacon backfired. There it was, a meager Lineholder, trying to flank him from the left, thinking that its 55-ton war machine could actually put a dent on his 70-ton THR-1L Thunder. Desperation or fear might set it into berserk mode.

And there was no doubt the Lineholder was getting desperate. It was a member of a Deliah's Gauntlet lance who came to San Alamento haughtily – but naively – thinking that it could wipe out the Zhanzheng de Guang cell. Lundt made sure all available Zhanzheng de Guang operatives were on to the Gauntlet's lance, picking it apart layer by layer, limb by limb, until none of them were left standing. But the Gauntlet's lance fought fiercely, and the battle claimed almost all lives. In the end, the only ones left standing were the Lineholder and his own Thunder.

As he readied his weapons, Lundt weighed on two options. He could hold his ground and wait for the Gauntlet rat to come, then waste it with his massive autocannon. Or, he could play cat and mouse, sneaking behind buildings and take pot shots. It didn't take him long to settle on the first option. His Thunder outweighed the Gauntlet's Lineholder by 15 full tons, and nothing on the medium mech could match his hard-hitting AC20. One hit was all he needed to hurt the Lineholder.

"Let's dance, mercenary rat!" Lundt grimaced as his thumb grazed the main trigger on his joystick.

Long-ranged missiles screeched between walls when Reyes hit her trigger at the first unobstructed line of fire she could find. It was a rushed shot, without a lock, negating the biggest advantage of using listen-kill missiles in the first place. But that shot was never meant to hurt. It was just a psychological warfare; she drew first blood, not the Thunder. She wasn't afraid of the Zhanzheng de Guang despite giving up 15 tons. She didn't hesitate to take the war to its doorstep.

Two missiles sneaked past the building and hammered the Thunder's torso. As she expected, the Liao partisan trailed her, but was unable to return fire. It was big and broad; Reyes' Lineholder was significantly smaller and slimmer, making shooting between building – and scoring hits – much more difficult for the Liao. A small smile escaped her lips as she fired a couple of medium lasers in between buildings. Molten metal dripped to the ground, creating steaming divots on the plaster.

Once again the Thunder tried to retaliate, but Reyes brought her mech to safety, putting several buildings between her and the Thunder. Her remaining laser cannons blazed and peppered the Thunder's front armor. A surge of waste heat burst into the cockpit, and although it seemed that she had forced the Thunder to fight on its heels, it was not wise to press her advantage while inching toward overheating. She chose to withdraw, reposition and recalculate her attack while cooling off.

The initial attack had stripped the Thunder off 2 tons of front armor, and it made Lundt mad. His triple medium pulse cannons flashed like machine guns. Strands of laser lit up the vicinity, but none made contact with the Lineholder. The sneaky medium mech was adept at using barriers.

So Lundt sprung forward, charging the 55-tonner, challenging it to a close-quarter fight. The Lineholder denied his challenge and opted to snake behind buildings, waiting for open opportunities to take pot shots. Lundt kept his charge patiently, firing his pulse lasers to distract the Lineholder. It became tedious quickly, but Lundt knew the Lineholder was the same way. Sooner or later it would make a mistake.

And the moment came sooner than he expected. The Lineholder came to an alley that was too narrow to pass, so it turned back. Lundt slammed his pedals home, bringing the Thunder power up into the open, catching the smaller Lineholder on its back. His ears went deaf when the mighty AC20 blasted, and his spine rattled when the vibration from the gun overtook the entire cockpit, harder than anything his mech had to endure.

Although only half of the AC20 munitions hit the Lineholder, it managed to shred precious armor at the rear. The impact sent the 55-ton mech lurching forward, and Reyes yelped as the command couch smashed the back of her head. The feedback signal from the neurohelmet added the vertigo and for a moment the Lineholder galloped like a zombie.

Laser strands from the Thunder showered the Lineholder from behind but Reyes quickly woke up and yanked her joystick hard to the right. Her mech veered, missing a tall office building by a mere centimenter, and took momentary refuge behind it. Missiles from the Thunder hammered the building, creating a cloud of dust and smoke, but Reyes knew she was safe behind it... for now.

The Thunder pressed its momentum. It made a loop around the office building, trying to catch Reyes from the other side. Reyes met it halfway; her mech, fully balanced, burst into the open, taking the Thunder by surprise. All medium lasers flashed, flogging the Thunder's armor with burning-hot whip. Globules of molten metal sprayed into the open as the torso armor glowed in red. Coping with the loss of mass, the Thunder stepped back, allowing Reyes to slide behind another building.

Lundt channeled his frustration with another burst of medium pulse lasers. Most of his strands only carved pock marks on the concrete wall, and those which hit only melted armor. He couldn't follow up his big autocannon punch for a knock out, and the longer he fought hide and seek, the more he put himself in a vulnerable position. Sweat streamed down his cheek, and his mech quickly lost room to move due to the waste heat. He had to find a way to end this fight fast.

Taking a quick lock, Lundt fired his missiles at the building where the Lineholder hid. Five missiles exploded upon impact, sending tremor to a wide area. The building creeked and swayed, and it forced the Lineholder to move out lest it crumbled. Lundt prepared his AC20 as the Lineholder made a quick dash to the opposite side, spraying lasers and missiles as it pounced.

Lundt weathered the missile and laser attack, then hit his primary trigger. His big gun roared in such ferocity his teeth ground in an involuntary clatter. But the submunitions swept the feet of the Lineholder off the ground. The 55-ton mech tumbled to the side and crashed sideways, crushing its left arm with the large laser in it…

Reyes grimaced, writhing in a disadvantageous position, cursing and screaming. She was lucky that shot didn't breach her legs, but her large laser was out of commission. When her best weapon was taken out with a leg shot, she knew she was living a bad omen. Now she had to fight the Liao terrorist with half the firepower she had originally, a feat she wasn't even sure how to pull off.

The Thunder marched in for the kill, and Reyes didn't have any other choice. She had to override the shut down sequence and alpha-strike the Zhanzheng de Guang mech to slow its advance. It could be her last act of defiance, and in the end it might not change anything. Her life would be wasted, and Zhanzheng de Guang still reigned over San Alamento. But what else would matter if not her legacy? What you do in life echoes in eternity.

So Reyes took a quick, hard lock on the coming Thunder, waiting for the missile lock, then unleashed everything she had left. The lasers drilled the large blotch underneath the Thunder's launcher, already damaged from Reyes' strafing earlier, and the missiles ripped everything else under that overheated metal skin. And it just meant to be that her lucky shot torched the pile of missiles being loaded into the tubes…

The explosions threw Lundt back on his chair, slamming against the cockpit wall as his 70-ton monster twisted left and right. Showers of sparks and burnt electronics burst from the ceiling. Traditionally ammo explosion resulted in instant death, but he was lucky the CASE system redirected the explosion away from the engine. But he lost his left-torso medium pulse, his LRM5, and all ammunition for his AC20. He had only one more shot of that monster gun. After that, he had to rely on his medium pulse lasers to kill the Lineholder.

So Lundt determined to make his last autocannon shot count. He steadied his legs, taking a good aim at the Lineholder – staggering to stand on its feet – and let his monstrous cannon loose for the last time. The submunitions slammed home at the Lineholder's right torso, ripping the right arm off its socket and threw it into the air in reckless abandonment. The momentum pushed the Lineholder to the side, tipping the barely-standing mech on its left leg, then rammed it into the building behind it. The 55-ton mech disappeared into a cloud of debris, and a victorious smile blossomed in Lundt's face.

Slowly he marched forward, lasers aiming at the center of the cloud, and waited for the cloud to clear up. The Lineholder was still alive in his HUD despite that spectacular crash onto the building. But it didn't matter. The HUD only captured the heat signature of the mech. If the pilot was dead, the fight was over. And that was what he expected to see when the cloud cleared out. He stopped at 200 meters from the wreck… and swallowed hard as the image of the Lineholder getting up from the pile of concrete greeted him.

Reyes always knew that the Thunder would take the killing shot right then and there. She was wobbly on her feet, and her large laser had been disabled. Nothing in her arsenal could stop that AC20, not her speed, not her agility, not her armor. So she twisted right as far as she could and used her left arm – the host of her disabled large laser – as a shield. Her ingenuity paid off; the arm absorbed much of the AC20 killing power, and although her mech had to endure a massive crash, it was still 60-percent combat-ready with 4 medium lasers and 2 LRM5's.

The Thunder, on the other hand, had only 2 medium pulse lasers to throw at him.

Fueled by her newfound confidence, Reyes brought her mech up. The Thunder showered her with laser strands, but she could care less. She found a target, a crack on the Thunder's front armor, and cored it with her lasers. Steam hissed as the armor melted, revealing titanium beams with power conduits behind them. Reyes fired her missiles as dumbfires (which was the only thing she could do at 200 meters), but it was enough. The explosions shredded the conduits like paper-made prongs, and the heavy mech staggered, fighting for balance when half of its myomer bundles suddenly cease to function…

Lundt realized the battle was lost. San Alamento belonged to Deliah's Gauntlet and the anti-Liao movement from this point on, until Zhanzheng de Guang managed to beat back the invaders. But he doubted it would ever happen. Zhanzheng de Guang was a terrorist group. They excelled in mayhem, carnage, disorder, massacre, and spreading fear to civilians. Pitched combats belonged to a real combat unit, something like the Deliah's Gauntlet. That was why he failed. That was why he couldn't kill a cut-off, battle-weary mech 15 tons lighter than himself. That was why the Zhanzheng de Guang couldn't hold San Alamento from a single lance of medium battlemechs.

When the Lineholder fired its killing blow, Lundt looked straight into the white light…