The Last Laugh

3066, the Arc-Royal Defense Cordon. The point of fire for Clan Jade Falcon's newest war.

The name of the world does not matter greatly. It was one of many, not exceptional at all in being attacked by the Falcons. The local militia was strong, as local militias went. The resources of a world are not to be sniffed at, and the nearness of the Clan front had meant the militia was well-funded. They fielded a battalion of BattleMechs, many of newer antecedents then was common for militia units. A Lyran Guard regiment was also onplanet. The Federated Commonwealth Civil War might rage elsewhere, but the ARDC was calm for the moment. The strength of Morgan Kell's will and the threat of the Jade Falcons kept them from fighting each other.

The Jade Falcons had just proved no idle threat. Storming out of the sky over the Lyran Guard's base, they smashed the regular warriors before they could fully deploy. The Guards nonetheless managed to evacuate in reasonably good order, taking about two-thirds of their force with them. The militia, dispersed into the hinterlands by companies, had been saved by their remote locations and lack of permanent facilities. A warehouse is a warehouse from orbit. Seeing it's filled with BattleMechs is difficult, particularly when they are shut down.

The Falcons only discovered the militia when First Company raided a Falcon supply depot. They had begun an intensive effort to track the militia down, but the effort was not successful. And soon the Falcons would have other problems. Three days before the present, the Clan Wolf-in-Exile battleship Werewolf had jumped into the system and launched DropShips. In another three days, those DropShips would land, and two Clusters of Wolves would spatter the Cluster of Jade Falcons over every surface for kilometers.

The Werewolf had communicated with the militia, who knew reinforcements were on their way. One potential problem remained; the Wolves DropShips had been at their counterpunching work against the Falcons, riding to the rescue for various worlds, for more then a month now. They were low on fuel, and would need to spend a lot of time, perhaps as much as week, in refueling once they were on the ground. The Jade Falcons had no such problems, and could use their fully fueled DropShips to dance all around the Wolves. It was not a tactic the Falcons were known for, but their commander had used it on the Guards in the initial assault.

The Falcon DropShips had to be destroyed or otherwise put out of action, and it was up to the militia to do it. First and Second Companies had assaulted the planetary spaceport and been repulsed with heavy loss. Less then a third of them survived, and they were in no shape to fight again. That left Third, some armored vehicles, and the Cadet Company.

Cadet Company was composed of older, 3025-era light and medium BattleMechs. Though they too were multi-ton humanoid machines capable of leveling city blocks, they would have no hope against the Falcons in battle. Most, as might be expected from their company's name, were still in training, and the technology debt would hurt them badly. However, if any unit could be said to be suited to shooting at powered-down and grounded DropShips, a group of cadets was probably it. Just some live fire practice against extra-large targets.

Such was the plan. Third Company would draw off as many of the defenders as possible. The armored vehicles would pin the remainder down. And Cadet Company would go for the DropShips. But the plan had fallen apart. Third Company had drawn off the defenders but was being roughly handled. The armored vehicles had pinned the remaining ten Falcon 'Mechs down, but would not be able to hold them in place for long. Cadet Company's mission had become much more urgent.

Cadet Micheal Sullivan's Commando launched another flurry of short-range missiles at the Falcon Broadsword DropShip, where they tore away at the armor of the bridge. A thunderous detonation from the ship's left flank announced the detonation of some of its fuel stores by Cadet Company's sole pair of heavy 'Mechs. The Broadsword might still be able to fight, but it would not fly again without major repairs.

The Commando's radio crackled with orders to go for the next enemy DropShip. They had already left a Union-C a smoking ruin, Cadet Marcus Wilder having actually battered his way into the DropShip's 'Mech bays and attacked it from the inside. He had detonated the DropShip's ammunition stores, blowing it to pieces, but Wilder's own 'Mech was blown to pieces with it. It was doubtful there was enough of him left to bury. And in any case the blast had already cremated him.

The next DropShip was another Union-C; beyond a pair of Broadswords. DropShips mass vastly more then BattleMechs, with armor to suit, and the first combined volley of Cadet Company scored deep but did not penetrate.

And the second volley was answered by the weapons of the DropShip.

Captain Jergan's Quickdraw blew apart, its missile ammunition detonating as it was ignited by a laser hit that punched through the armor. Cadet Kara Galen's Hunchback, having pressed in close to use its massive autocannon, simply disappeared as most of the DropShip's gunners concentrated on it. The massed fire of the Union-C's weapons reduced the tough medium 'Mech to shrapnel that was too fast and too small for the human eye to detect.

Another pair of Cadet Company's 'Mechs died before they could get out of range. Now they were down to seven, with no hope of finishing the task they had set out for. Or so it appeared to Micheal Sullivan. The remaining officer, however, had one last gambit to try: detonating the starport's fuel stores. It would be a suicide run, for if they succeeded, nobody within a kilometer of the port would survive. He presented his plan to the surviving cadets. It was a volunteer-only proposition, for the Lyran nation did not directly ask its soldiers to die. Two cadets broke off and made for safety. Four stayed with Lieutenant Silva. Micheal's Commando was the lightest of them.

And now the armor commander had reported the Falcons had broken away and were headed for what was left of Cadet Company. The lieutenant ordered four of his 'Mechs into their path. To Micheal Sullivan was given the task of reaching the fuel tanks and detonating them. Micheal turned and pushed the old COM-2D to top speed, a bone-rattling 81 kph. The 'Mech itself was a half-century old, not the oldest 'Mech in the unit but getting close. Over its fifty years of combat operations it had become technologically unsound. It was, as the techs put it, "quirky." The mechanisms intended to absorb the shock of its running and cushion the pilot did not always work as well as they were supposed to. And his medium laser had faulted out when the first Union-C had blown up, its ancient and much-abused optics giving up the ghost.

The four other survivors of Cadet Company exchanged fire with the lead pair of Falcons, trying to buy time. Cadet Alice Newhouse's Assassin lost reactor containment, but even as her 'Mech died she stumbled it forward a last few steps before reactor plasma vomited out through the gaping hole in its chest and enveloped a Falcon Mad Cat. The Assassin's form lost its distinctness and was also engulfed in silver light. Neither 'Mech was there when the plasma dissipated. Cadet Leon Winters ejected from his battered Vindicator as its gyroscope flew apart, but a Falcon 'Mech blasted the ejection seat with pulse laser fire before it cleared the area.

Everyone's dying. Micheal was no stranger to the sensation. His father had commanded the militia when the Clans first came to this world, during the Invasion, and he had died in battle. His mother and sister had been killed when a Jade Falcon 'Mech had stepped on the shelter in which they were hiding during the running battle through the capital the same day. For years he had been alone, before coming to the Cadet Company. Now everyone was dying around him a second time.

Not much further now. Another kilometer and he would be in range. Less than a minute. The last of his company had bought him enough time, the Clanners would never catch him before he could detonate the tanks.

Lieutenant Silva's Thunderbolt grappled with a Falcon Thor, the two 'Mechs exchanging blasts from their torso-mounted weapons as they were locked in a deadly embrace. Both exploded.

"Allison, get clear. Nothing you can do." Micheal said over the comms. He felt strangely calm. Cadet Allison Hardegan, who was to be married in only a week, protested. "You've got something left to live for, and that Cicada isn't going to bother them much. Get clear." The Cicada turned and ran. The Falcons, suddenly realizing what Micheal intended, ignored it. The Cicada, Micheal figured, would be clear of the blast radius by the time he was in range. It was fast enough, with its 100+ kph top speed. The Falcons charged for him, but he was too far away, and they not fast enough.

Two hundred meters to range.

His radar chirped at him. More contacts. Red dots. The Falcons that had been engaging Third Company, he figured. They were better positioned to intercept him, a mixed group of light 'Mechs with high speeds charging forward. Farewell, Third Company, Micheal thought, for if the Falcons had left off engaging them then they believed Third was no longer worthy of their attention or able to hurt them appreciably, and that in turn meant Third Company too had been destroyed. The militia had shot its bolt, and the freedom of his world rested on the efforts of the Wolves-in-Exile now.

And their success rested on his shoulders.

One hundred meters to range. The leading Falcon 'Mech, an aptly-named Dasher, opened fire on him. Micheal noted it was shooting low. The pilot was no fool, and was trying to stop him from getting close enough to detonate the fuel tanks. Lasers played across the Commando's legs, causing armor to melt and flow, but the old 'Mech did not slow.

Fifty meters to range. A Uller loped into range now as well, firing a Gauss rifle. The huge nickel-iron slug would have stopped the Commando in its tracks probably, but it missed. More laserfire went high, playing across the Commando's torso armor.

Twenty-five meters to range. The Uller fired again. Its aim was true this time, and the Gauss rifle slug amputated the Commando's right leg. The BattleMech sprawled forward, sliding on the pavement. Micheal's run looked to have been for nothing.

But it was not. He was in range.

The fall had damaged the Commando's communications gear, locking it on transmit on an unencrypted channel. And Cadet Micheal Sullivan laughed. The Falcons heard it too, their own comm units picking it up. Such a triumphant laugh. Several reacted to it, turning to fire on the downed Commando, but it was too late. The battered little 'Mech's right arm came up and the quad short-range missile launcher blossomed with fire. Four missiles headed for the massive fuel tanks.

Micheal continued to laugh as the missiles reached the top of their arc, now angling down towards the tanks, homing in on them like the kamikaze drones they were. A glance at his radar confirmed all the Jade Falcons were here. A whole Cluster, smashing all who had opposed it. It was fortunate they were all going to die. They would never have lived down their unit being wiped out because of a single cadet and his obsolete Commando.

And that was why Micheal laughed. He had beaten them all. Can you see me now? he asked silently of his dead comrades. I've won for you.

The missiles struck home. Thousands upon thousands of tons of liquid hydrogen went up in explosion to rival a nuclear warhead. Micheal's triumphant laughter haunted the Jade Falcons for their final moments of life. Then they, and he, were no more then ashes.