Chapter 1: Sucker Punched

"After it is all over, as stupid a fellow as I am can see that mistakes were made. I notice, however, that my mistakes are never told me until it is too late."

Robert E. Lee

Dehgolan

Free Rasalhague Republic

Alslam Forest, 7 Kilometers South of nearest ComGuard Base.

March 7, 3067

The planet of Dehgolan was known for many things, and foggy was normally not one of those things. Even during the

rainy seasons, rarely was there ever any fog, but here it was and it was annoying the hell out of Loijtant Mason Panaligan. A stout young man of twenty – four, though he hails from a nation that prides themselves as the descendents of Vikings, his features indicated that he descended from the island nations of Terra, far from the cold reaches of Northern Europe.

"Drake Command to Drake 1, repeat Drake Command to Drake 1. Hey kid how you holding up?" Asked Kapten Dresdin over the communications relay.

Mason looked up from his console and adjusted his Comm Link for a better signal "Nothing much sir, but with this fog around, I can't really see much of anything."

"Well just keep at it. I know it's boring to just stand out there and stare at landscape, but we've had unconfirmed reports of an unidentified party landing not to far from you. We're working under the assumption that they're pirates coming to raid the local ComStar base as they make upgrades to their defense network. With their Caliopes down and their normal ComGuard forces gone for exercises they're pretty much easy pickings for even the a small time pirate raider. Just sit tight, and we'll be back home before you know it."

"Affirmitive. At least it's starting to rain outside, despite the fog." He said as he laid back on his seat "A good time to lay back and relax."

"That's a weird way to put it sir..." Commented Mechwarrior Bernhard, one of his lancemates.

"Its a lot better then getting shot at by the Wolves..." Commented one of the tank commanders.

Mason's lips curved, more grimace than smile. "Amen to that..."

As Mason laid back and watched the snow slowly fall onto the canopy of his 75-ton Mage, he occasionally scanned the horizon for any disturbances. At that moment however he wasn't particularly focused at all. These we're times of quiet reflection for Mason, something he learned to cherish after going through what he had gone through, what they all had gone through after Thun. Unconsciously he reached for the unit patch on his left shoulder, a silver fox with the word "Memmingen" underneath, the insignia of the 3rd Drakons of the Free Rasalhague Republic.

Suddenly one of the Tank Commanders yelled over the radio. "Guys, something's coming out of the fog!"

"Where!" Jumped Mason. "There's nothing showing on radar!"

"Southwest at about 500 meters and closing. Can't get a good visual because of the fog."

"If you can only pick them out visually, they're probably using an ECM suite."

"Your probably right on that, the Beagle's are showing gaps in the radar." Declared Kapten Dresdin. "Who ever they are, they obviously didn't want us to know they're here."

"Affirmative. Okay, Fox 3 and 5 move your tanks up and check who they are, I'll form in close behind for support."

"Roger Loijtnant!" Said Sergeant Karl of Fox 5 as he and Sergeant Viggo of Fox 3 moved their Rommels past his Mage. Following suite, Mason then moved the 'mech forward, careful to not to hit the trees and uneven ground against his 'mechs oversized PPC cannons. As he moved, the Mage's weight created large puddles of mud with each and every step it took, and at times almost slipping on the mud. Cursing under his breath. "Crap, never thought I would ever hate rainy weather!"

As the distance between themselves and their unknown guests closed, his computer was able to visually ID one of the intruders. It was a large tank, with two big cannons attached to it's turret and an integrated missile launcher located at the front. The computer identified it as the tank as Burke.Waitaminute...Thought Mason. Arn'tthose..."Drakon 1 to Drakon Command."

"What's wrong Drakon 1?"

"Sir, these things look like ComGuard units." Grimacing in confusion. "Computer's ID'ed them as two BurkeHeavy Tanks."

"What?" Questioned Fox 3. "They didn't say they were out here too?"

"Your surprised Viggo?" Fox 5 pointed out.

"Good point..."

"Do you have confirmation that they are ComGuard Drakon 1?"

"Hold for confirmation." Adjusting the radio to a common battlecode they shared with the ComGuard, Mason called out to the two tanks "This is Mason Panaligan, Loijtnant for the 5th Lance of the 3rd Drakons. You are to shut down your engines and identify yourselves."

Silence.

Trying again. "I repeat we are the 3rd Drakons of the Free Rasalhague Republic, and you are to stand down and identify your...crap!"

"What happened Drakon 1!" Called out Kapten Dresdin

"The radio signal is being jammed now!"

"Are they the one's doing it?" Questioned Fox 3

"Negative." Looking over his electronics instruments he notices where the gap in the signal was coming from. "The jam is definitely coming from somewhere else. Same direction where these Burkes originated from.

"Are they hostile?"

"Don't think so command. If they where, they definitely would have fired at us by now, we're in clear visual range for that." Thinking things over, Mason notices something odd about the Burkes. "Command they are however moving at top speed. Looks more like a retreat then a charge"

"Do you at least have visual confirmation on whether they're friendly or hostile."

"No Drakon Command."

"Do not fire at them until you have visual confirmation Drakon 1"

"Will do...wait...did anyone else hear that." First it was a quiet buzzing sound, then it became a loud wail. Suddenly one of the Burkes was knocked aside from the blast of a large missile barrage. It was still running, but it looked like it was running on borrowed time. "Drakon Command, the Burkes are receiving fire from an unknown element. I repeat Burkes under fire from unknown element."

"What! From what direction?"

"Southwest of our current position, same direction these Burkes originated from."

"Fox 3 to Drakon 1, we have visual confirmation!" Interrupted Viggo. "They have a ComGuard insignia located on the left side hull, looks like 12th Army!"

"Then that's that!" He Replied. "Drakon 1 to Drakon Command, we have confirmation that Burke tanks are ComGuard of the 12th Army, do we have permission to give support."

"Permission granted Drakon 1. Make sure those Burkessurvive, we need answers."

"Affirmative Command. Fox 3, Fox 5 form up on me, we're giving support."

"Roger Drakon 1."

"ComGuard unit this is Mason Panaligan, Loijtnant for the 5th Lance of the 3rd Drakons." Called Mason over an open microphone. "Please switch to Level 3 battlecodes."

First there was only silence, then suddenly. "To 5th Lance of the 3rd Drakons, this is Adept Jonathan Wilmington of the 20th Level II Tank unit of the 12th army. Thanks for the support, we don't know where they came from."

LevelII... "Adept Wilmington where's the rest of your unit?"

"Like I said...they caught us by surprise. They didn't destroy us outright because they wanted to taunt us." He said with a sad tone.

Grimacing in frustration "Damn, are they pirates?"

"They look and act the part, we don't recognize the colors, but the tactics are all the same."

"Right, what's they're unit composition?"

"It all happened so fast, but we definitely saw the battlemechs with them. A couple of Commandos, four Locusts, an Axman, and I think we saw a Catapult."

"Did you see anything else?" Questioned Fox 3.

"No, they didn't look like they were supported by anyone else. If they did, they probably stayed with their dropship to protect it."

"Alright then, Drakon Command, we are preparing to engage two pirate lances of mixed weight classes, mostly Lights."

"Wait Drake 1, advise that your team pull out with those ComGuard and link up with the rest of the lance. Complete enemy composition is still unknown and satcom won't be established for another 30 minutes."

Suddenly a barrage of long range missiles drops right on top of them. However, wherever that barrage came from, they were too far off to make an accurate shot, with only one missile hitting the right torso of the Mage. ThankGodIpowereduptheECMbeforehand."I don't think we have a say on that sir."

"Loijtnant to your right!" Yelled Fox 3

As if emerging from the fog itself, theAxman burst through the trees like a berserker on a rampage. Using it's oversized battleaxe, it swung recklessly at Mason'sMage.Mason did his best to dodge and parry the lighter 'mech's relentless attacks, but the mass of the Mage made this difficult. The tenacity of the Axman's pilot paid off however, finally striking a blow against the Mage's left torso. Feeling victorious over it's attack, the Axman backed off a bit to prepare for another strike. However Mason grinned maliciously, as this only widened the gap between the Mage and the Axman, giving enough room for Mason to used his weapons. Swinging the massive PPC cannon arm up, and pointed straight at his opponent. "Point blank !" Firing off the the Heavy and Light PPC in succession with four medium lasers, all weapons struck home as they tore apart the left arm structure and ravaged the left torso.

Grinning in satisfaction for striking a huge blow against his slower opponent, the pilot of the Axman prepared to strike his opponent for the killing blow. However, this was not to be as the the as his enemy swung his giant gun arm straight at him. crap!He was far too close to dodge, his only choice was to use his free arm to block the attack. PPC's and lasers struck his 'mech and the pilot of the Axman was rattled by the vicious strike. Warning lights and alarms rang and screamed at him as his left arm was torn loose from its housing, while his left torso was split open by a barrage of laser fire. Wherethehelldidtheseguyscomefrom!Thiswassupposedtobeaneasyraidingjob!"Neva where's that fire support!"

"Darren, I can't get a lock! One of 'em has an ECM running!"

"Harkman to Darren, satcom is reporting that there's three more 'mechs enroute to your location. All heavies!"

"What! God dammit Neva just fire! My Axman is getting torn apart here!" TherewasonlysupposedtobeasingleLevelIItankunithere,theydidn'tsayanythingaboutaheavylance!"I don't need you to hit them! Just distract'em so I can get away!"

"Roger Lead!" Said Neva as she positioned her Catapult..

"Take that you stupid raider!" Yelled out the driver of Fox 3.

Despite severely damaging the Axman, Mason knew this was far from over. "Don't get cocky Fox 3, they might just drop the hammer on us where we least expect it." Wishing to finish off the Axman before it could cause any more damage, he was cut short before another barrage of missile fire surrounded the small unit. "See what I mean!" As missiles rained downed around them, the Axman backed up and retreated into the woods from which it had emerged. He knew he it wouldn't be the last time he would see that Axman, but they needed to get out of here before the artillery got lucky, and the ECM could only do so much. ThatbarragemusthavecomefromtheCatapulttheAdeptwastalkingabout. "Everybody move forward, we're too closed in!"

"But that would mean exposing us to the enemy sir!" Called out Karl

"We're not exactly on ideal ground here Karl, falling back would mean getting caught in a maze of thick forests that would force us into a corner." Urging his Mage forward at best speed. "If we move forward we can at least fight back." As the small group moved forward, Mason noticed the ComGuard unit that were moving forward with them. "Adept Wilmington, advise that you guys fall back while we distract the pirates, reinforcements are moving here at best speed."

"No deal Drakon, it was our irresponsibility that cost us the lose of our unit, time to give them back what they gave us."

"Wow that's new, ComGuard with a spine!" Commented the gunner of Fox 5

"Or they're just saving face." Commented Viggo

"Quiet the both of you. Good to have you with us Adept, let's take these guys down."

"We are with you Drakons!" As they moved over a hill, a sudden burst of red and green light burst around them, though none we're dangerously damaging thanks to their heavy armor. As he had thought, the thick fog was throwing off their aim; even if they could detect the the Mage's heat sinks, they couldn't tell where to exactly aim, then again they also had the same problem. Everyone took pot shots at what they could, even making glancing blows against their opponents. However, this was becoming more advantageous for their enemies then for them. They were a team composed of a single Heavy 'Mech and four heavy tanks versus a small lance comprised of a heavily damaged Axman, a Catapult, and five light 'mechs. Under normal conditions this gave no one side a particular edge, but thanks to the heavy fog surrounding them, making accurate shots at long range was next to impossible, and their slow lumbering movements only compounded the problem. This evened the odds for the lighter 'mechs as the occasional Commando or Locust would peek through the fog and make a hit – and – run maneuver against them, then they would disappear under the cover of fog and friendly missile support. The entire team had begun to fire haphazardly into the fog in no particular direction, hoping to at least keep the enemy at bay.

They finally got a break when one of the enemy Locusts had ran haphazardly into Mason's front view. The enemy Locust was making another hit – and – run manuever against Mason's Mage, firing off a pair of SRM's and the green glow of a medium laser. Only half the missiles had struck, but they all hit the exposed section of armor that had been damaged earlier against the Axman, and to make matters worse the medium laser had struck home. The cockpit was filled with the glow of the laser, light deflecting randomly until it dissipated and as it did the metal of the cockpit glowed with the heat of the enemy attack. Whatever limited protection his Neurohelmet provided could not stop Mason from being nearly blinded by the attack . The Mage responded in kind to it's pilots distress, almost looking as if it were a drunkard in bar barely able to stand straight. The enemy Locust had seen this and thought it could take advantage of the situation at hand, rounding about in it's run and dashing towards Mason at top speed. As he was about to make another strike, one of the ComGuard Burke's open fired on the Locusts with its PPC's.

He didn't know where it came from, but whatever had hit him was enough to force his 'mech onto the ground. For a second the world turned black for the Locust pilot, his senses gone. By the time he had come to, his back was aching from the impact of the fall, and he was hanging loose from his seat's harness. Assessing the damage of his 'mech through his Heads Up Display, whatever had hit him was enough to severely damage the right side of his torso. Luckily the damage was not severe enough to breach the ammunition, and overall his 'mech was operational. Though he tried to get his 'mech back up, it wasn't until he noticed that his 'mech had suddenly become darker that he felt dread. The quiet lull of the enemy shadow was terrifying as it towered over him, even more so as it reached out with its giant hand.

Though his vision was a little blurred, and the persistent white flashing dot in the middle of his eye was barely subsiding, overall Mason was okay. The laser shot to the head was a definite close call, and he said his prayers in thanks for surviving. Mason then noticed the Locust laying on the ground beside him, smoke slowly rising from its glowing torso. "Who did that?"

"ComGuard sir." Pointed out Fox 3 with a smile.

"Nice job guys!" Giving the thumps up toward the ComGuard Burkes. The sudden movement at the corner of his eye caught his attention. The Locust was still operational, occasionally struggling to get back up. Mason moved toward the downed 'mech right at its side, then reached out with the left hand of the Mage. Mason slowly closed the hand around the one of its legs, and watched as metal and myomers burst apart from the frame. Good,nowstaythereandbequiet."One enemy Locust disabled Command."

"Good, how about the rest of the enemy?"

"Definite heavy damage on the Axman, the rest are in unknown condition." The sudden realization of the heat inside the cockpit caught the attention of Mason. Firing off so many lasers and PPC bolts was starting to take it's toll on the Mage as well as Mason. "Kapten, whats the ETA for the rest of the lance. I'm starting to get a little baked in here, I don't how long I can last before the auto – shutdown activates."

"Mechwarrior Anastasia is the closest to your position and is moving at best speed."

"Anastasia what's your ETA to our position?"

The sound of a young woman's voice came through the radio with a slight Russian accent. "I won't be in visual for another five minutes Mason, just hang in there."

Dammit"We'll hold out as best as we can Anastasia, but at the rate we're going my 'mechs going to shut down and..."

"Loijtnant something's wrong..." Interrupted Karl.

"What's wrong Fox 5?"

"That the problem, nothings wrong. Nothing at all..."

Wha?Then it struck Mason. The battlefield had suddenly become quiet. No enemy lasers bursting through the fog, or enemy missiles streaking across the sky, nothing but the quiet rumble of internal combustion engines. Even the radar had indicated that there was no enemy heat sinks active nearby. "Command to Drakon 1, what's wrong? Your radio suddenly went silent."

"Hold Command." Switching his radar to a seismometer, he watched as his HUD spike periodically, specifically towards the south. "Drakon 1 to Drakon Command, enemy is running for it. I repeat enemy is in retreat."

"What? Are you sure Mason?" Questioned Kapten Dresdin.

"We can confirm Command." Responded the Sergeant Karl. "Seismometer is reading rapid movement heading south away from us. Looks like they're in full retreat."

"But why now?" Question Viggo. "They were starting to gain a momentum against us."

"Maybe not, didn't you guys notice there was a longer burst of missile fire coming from the enemy?"

"What, you mean from the last few minutes?" Asked Karl.

"Yeah, seemed like the time gap between missile attacks grew larger after each consecutive strikes." Explained Mason as he took off his neurohelmet and wiped the large amount of sweat over his head. "As if the pilot was being more careful with his or her attacks."

"Was probably starting to run out of ammo for it's LRM's."

"Your probably right about that Karl." Called out Kapten Dresdin in agreement. "Alright Drakon 1, stand by for the the rest of the lance to link up with you, then escort the Adept and his tanks back to the ComGuard base."

"What about the rest of the pirates Kapten?"

"ComGuard reports that their defense network is up and running. No need take anymore damage then you already have."

"Got to agree with you on that Command, okay Drakons you heard the Kapten, rest up until the rest of the lance catches up to us then we'll escort Adept Wilmington home."

"That would be very appreciated Loijtnant." Replied Adept Wilmington. "When we get back, I'm treating you and your lance to a drink."

A sudden cheer from one of the tank crews made Mason roll his eyes in exasperation. "Hope you know what your doing Adept, these are the descendents of Terran vikings we're talking about. Alcohol and them are like..."

"Loijtnant, heat sink detected!" Yelled Viggo.

"Great, the pirates must have come back for another round."

"Can't be sir, it's coming from the East!"

"What? That doesn't make sense, did they have reinforcements with them?"

"Mason the fog is starting to clear up, I think I can get visual on unknown...oh crap..."Cursed Viggo.

This was an unexpected response from the hearty if a bit grizzled tank commander. "Viggo what's wrong? What do you see!" As Mason turned his 'mech in the direction of where Viggo was looking at, he had only to catch a glimpse of the enemy 'mech to make his eyes widen in fear. His HUD only confirmed his fears, it had registered the unknown 'mech to be classified as aCrossbow, an Omnimech of the Clans.

"Oh do not tell me that's a Clanner!" Yelled out Karl in apprehension.

"And it's them of all Clans..." Said Viggo as he eyed the the insignia of the 'mech. It was that of a roaring white bear, circled by six white claws, the insignia of Clan Ghost Bear. However it wasn't really the insignia that caught Mason's attention, rather it was the two gaping holes right next to the insignia that caught his eye. They gave a off the distinct blue discharge of a PPC bolt, and to make matters one of the holes could have only been made by the PPC bolt of an Inner Sphere made Heavy PPC. Ohcrapdon'ttellmeIdidthat!

"Oh dear God!" Yelled Adept Wilmington. "The Clan Liaison base isn't too far from here!"

Suddenly the voice of young woman rang across the radios, and she sounded angry "I am Xiaoxue, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear! By the statutes of the Orestes Treaty I demand to know who had fired at me with a PPC bolt!"

"That would be the ranking officer of this outfit Star Commander." Said all four tank commanders. They even comically rotated their turrets directly at Mason's Mage as if they were pointing fingers like guilty children trying to move responsibility to another. "Definitely him. Loijtnant Mason Panaligan of the 3rd Drakons."

"What!" Yelled Mason. "You traitors, what the hell did you do that for?"

"Are you really the one who had hit that Clan Crossbow Loijtnant?" Asked Kapten Dresdin.

"No...well..." Mason said as he eyed theCrossbow's damaged torso. "It must have been a stray shot sir."

"You!" Yelled the pilot of Crossbow. "I challenge you to a Trial of Grievance this instant!"

"This is Kapten Dresdin of the 3rd Drakons to Star Commander Xiaoxue of Clan Ghost Bear, the treaty stipulates that any wrong made by the KungsArme can be repaid through a Surkai. Surely we can settle this peacefully..."

"Neg Spheroid!" Yelled the Clanner. "I was nearly killed by that so called stray shot made by your warrior! By the rules of Surkai, I am allowed to refuse your Surkai and honor demands that I be repaid through a Trial of Grievance instead for such a heinous act."

"Wait hold on don't I have a say in all this!" Yelled Mason.

"Sorry kid, she's right on this. Doing anything less would be a declaration of war against the Ghost Bear Dominion."

"We will miss you Loijtnant." Said Viggo.

"You will be honored for your valued sacrifice for the Free Rasalhague Republic."

"Don't dismiss me yet you assholes!" As he said this, the torn armor from theAxman's earlier hatchet attack suddenly exploded and the medium lasers installed there were instantly destroyed.

"Thanks for doing your best out there Mason." Said Anastasia with a comically nonchalant voice. "I will send my regards to your family and the rest of the regiment.

"What the hell, not you to Anastasia!"

As Mason was beginning to go into the early phases of a panic attack, Star Commander Xiaoxue's Crossbow began to walk toward him at a slow pace before stopping a mere hundred meters away from Mason. "Come spheroid, as you people would say: pick your poison."

Ohscrewme!