24 March 3060

"Leutnant! Get your ass over here!"

Leutnant Jeremiah Biddix twisted his 'Mech's torso to face his commander's 'Mech. At that moment, the Hauptmann's Atlas was getting torn a new one by a Smoke Jaguar Cauldron Born. "I'm on my way." He raised his Zeus' arm and pulled the trigger for his LRM rack. However, instead of the whoosh of missiles, he was met by the silence of an empty ammo bin. "Shit," he muttered as he willed his battered machine into motion.

"Eat this, f***ing Clanner!" the Hauptmann roared as she drilled a gauss slug into the Jaguar 'Mech's left side and swept her lasers over its centerline.

The Clan warrior responded with a full barrage from its dual ultra autocannons, tearing away armor over the one-hundred-ton 'Mech's torso.

By this time, the Leutnant had maneuvered his 'Mech into line with the enemy unit. "Die, Clanner," he muttered as he pulled the trigger and hit the firing stud for his extended range weapons. The PPC's man-made lightning bolt carved a ragged scar along the Cauldron Born's left arm while the laser punched into the ferroglass canopy, unfortunately lacking the power to burn all the way through.

The near-death moment made the opposing pilot flinch, however, and his next volley went wide. The Hauptmann's Atlas stepped up and pounded the Smoke Jaguar 'Mech into scrap. "Took you long—" She never got to finish her reprimand. A storm of Class 20 autocannon shells tore up and down the centerline of the massive commander's 'Mech, blowing open the death's head and igniting the miniature star at the heart.

"You bas—" And then the Vlar engine detonated.

Defiance Industries Complex

Myoo Highlands, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

03February 3070

Captain Jeremiah Biddix shot up in his bunk, drenched in sweat and clutching the sheets. "Lights!" As the room brightened, he clutched his shirt over his chest, which still itched from the burns he had suffered when Hauptmann Arlene Kristof's Atlas's engine had gone critical. "Relax. It was just a memory."

Despite the fact that the battle was ten–nearly eleven–years gone, and the numerous reviews he had run both in his mind and in the cockpit simulator that proved that nothing he could have done could have saved his commander, he still suffered from nightmares about that day. His -9S Zeus had been completely trashed beyond repair by the blast and only captured Clan medical technology had kept him alive. After nearly a year of rest and healing, which prevented him from participating in the Great Refusal, he had petitioned for a transfer to this garrison.

While the duty was nearly cushy, Jeremiah and his recently assigned AV1-OAvatar had been called to the defense of the Defiance-Hesperus factories several times during the FedCom Civil War; he had fought alongside the brave warriors of the Grey Death Legion and watched the legendary unit fall into disbandment.

The Captain shook his head ruefully and looked at his wrist chronometer, which he had left on his bedside table. It read that it was not even 0300 Terran Standard Time. Consigning himself to the fact that a return to the oblivion of sleep before he was to rise for morning maneuvers was impossible, Jeremiah got up and began to exercise. Then, an hour later, his XO, Lieutenant Lisa Thurman, opened the door to his quarters. Dropping from his pull-up bar, he nodded for her to speak.

"Sir, the Nadir jump point recharge station reported numerous ships jumping in, of various mass and role. Then we lost all contact."

"Damn. Any idea who is inbound?"

"Negative. However, judging by the turmoil in the Sphere, I'd assume the Blakist juggernaut has come knocking."

"Rouse the men. Let us get ready to slam the door in the Word's face."

Myoo Highlands, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

03 February 3070

"Alright. This is what we know. At 0230 hours Terran Standard Time, the Nadir Jump point jumpship recharging station detected the inbound signatures of an unknown number of JumpShips. At 0232, all communication with the station flat-lined. We can only presume that the station was destroyed or that signals from it are being jammed somehow. Either way, we are to treat whoever did it to a DSPF welcome worthy of the Gray Death Legion." He bowed his head to the applause, mostly in memoriam to the legendary unit that had given its life to defend the factories of Defiance-Hesperus.

"Any idea who we're going to be up against?"

"Officially, no. Unofficially, we are presuming that our aggressors are the WoB."

"Ah, geez."

The Word of Blake was a group of religious zealots who, for the past four years, had embroiled the Inner Sphere in an inter-empire war known as the Jihad. So far, Defiance Hesperus had been spared from the conflict. No more. The Word mostly used BattleMechs that had formerly belonged to Comstar, which the word had splintered from, and a few designs they had created in Marik factories. However, they had debuted a new series of OmniMechs less than a year earlier, and those machines were still unknown quantities.

Putting that thought out of his head, the Captain looked at his company, the Hellhounds, and mentally catalogued each warrior and their 'Mech. First was his executive officer–and the second member of his command lance–Lieutenant Lisa Thurman, who piloted one of the unit's only War Dogs. Next was Mechwarrior Evan Carter, pilot of a -7S Warhammer. Rounding out his command lance was Mechwarrior EricKensington, a Marik turncoat who had brought his -4M Archer with him.

That brought him to the Strike lance, led by Jeremiah's son, Alexander. While there had been charges of nepotism nearly brought to the Lyran courts, the young pilot's piloting and gunnery scores had silenced most of the critics; his fists had convinced the rest. The boy piloted a BHKU-OD Black Hawk-Ku. The lance second was a rather large man named Calvin Luciano, whose ride was a -9Q Lynx. Third in the lance was Mechwarrior Katrina Dobermann, proud owner of a brand-new STC-3C Starslayer. The last member of his son's lance was Abraham Cohen and his KH1-LW2 Lineholder.

Finally, there was the "scout" lance: Lieutenant Orville Temple's SPR-5S Spector, Mechwarrior Sebastian Rio's FS9-O Firestarter Primary, Mechwarrior Charles Pinter's WLF-2 Wolfhound, and Mechwarrior Susan Windom's BZK-3F Hollander.

Noticing the approach of his own commanding officer, and interrupting the chatter of his men, Captain Biddix cleared his throat and barked, "Atten-shun!"

"At ease," MajorJames Goree countermanded as he walked up. He had fought alongside Jeremiah in the Second Skye Rebellion of 3065, but his Gunslinger had been reduced to scrap during the final clearing of the Defiance Industries' Complex's maze of tunnels. His replacement 'Mech was a modified Banshee, based on the -3S model that debuted in the latter half of the 3020s. It mounted a Pitban 285 standard engine, fifteen tons of light ferro-fibrous armor, a prototype improved heavy gauss rifle (that dominated the right side of the 'Mech's chest) with four tons of ammunition, two Kreuss PPCs, four Diverse Optics ER medium lasers, a Norse Guardian ECM unit, and fourteen double heat sinks. While the Captain was leery about the prototype weapon, he knew that the other weapons were reliable and granted a tremendous amount of firepower; the setup had prompted him to describe that Banshee as a 'Hunchback on steroids.' "Men, I'm sure that Captain Biddix has already briefed you on the fleet that jumped in-system." When the company nodded, he continued, "One of our scout drones that they missed picked up a group of dropships making a two-and-a-half gee burn for the surface. That drone also gave us a view of their insignia. As a few of you might have guessed, they are the Word. Twelve Overlords were sighted, making two full WoB divisions dropping down on our heads. However, their unit insignias do not match any that we know.

"As you know, the only other substantial forces currently on-planet are the Fourth Alliance Guard, reconstituted after the debacle on Carver V, and the Second Donegal Guard. Even with our two battalions, the two units will be out-numbered and out-gunned."

"Will we have any other support?"

"Not before the Word arrives."

"Which will be…?"

"In three days." There were a few worried murmurs, but they were quickly silenced. "I want you in your 'Mechs and drilling for the next two days. On the third, we will bring this portion of the Word of Blake's juggernaut to a halt!"

Amid the cheers of Jeremiah's company, the middle-aged officer departed. "You heard the man. Get to the 'Mech bay and prep your rides. I want you ready to begin training in twenty minutes or less. I also want you sleeping in your cooling vests and ready to mount your BattleMechs within five minutes of waking up. Understood?"

"Sir, yes, sir!"

Defiance Industries Complex

Myoo Highlands, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

06 February 3070

The alarm forced the Captain from his sleep shortly before 0100 hours. He sprung from his bunk, shouted into his cooling vest's attached communicator to order his company to mount up and prepare for battle, and ran for his Avatar. Sprinting up the chain ladder, he plugged in his cooling vest, slid his neurohelmet onto his buzz-cut scalp, and dogged the entry hatch.

"Initiate voice key authorization," the computer gently ordered.

"Captain Jeremiah Seron Biddix."

"Voiceprint pattern match confirmed. Proceed with initialization sequence."

"Honor your friends, honor your comrades. All hail the victorious dead." Every mechwarrior developed a unique passcode phrase to prevent their 'Mechs from being stolen. With literally limitless possibilities for the passcode, the chances of someone guessing the phrase were infinitesimal.

"Welcome, Captain."

As the fusion engine at the heart of the Avatar rumbled to life, Jeremiah thought to himself, I have to set a shorter passcode. This one takes too long.

"Verifying weapon configuration." A moment later, the voice chimed, "Weapons online, sensors online, all systems nominal."

His Avatar had a unique configuration. Keeping with the allowable weapon type hardpoints, the right arm mounted a Thor 40mm Rotary Autocannon fed from a two-ton ammunition bay, allowing for two and a half minutes of continuous fire at its fastest rate. Mounted in each side torso were a Guided Technologies Second Generation Streak SRM-6 and a ten-pack Rocket Launcher (Who said that Periphery tech was worthless?). The left arm mounted the only energy weapon (other than the centrally fixed medium lasers): a Magna Hellfire Heavy PPC. The Heavy PPC was the newest addition to the Captain's Avatar, and he had yet to try it in real combat.

As the comm. unit came online, he barked into the company channel, "How're we doing, people?" Eleven variations of "ready op" came in and he switched to the DSPF command channel. "Colonel, where are they trying to set up shop?"

"As near as we can tell, they're putting down near the Caran River basin,"Colonel Daniel Brewer replied. He had taken command of the DSPF after the destruction of the GDL and formed a second battalion from the survivors.

"Why are they repeating the tactics used by the Skye Separatists in '65?" Jeremiah asked as he the 'Mech bay doors slowly opened.

"No idea. Wait one. Shit, half of the dropships have split off and are heading directly for the factory." His tone suggested that there was more information that wasn't good.


"Warships." Yes, with an "s." And the Word of Blake had never had any qualms about using orbital bombardment. Unfortunately, the Defiance Complex's defensive weapons' emplacements could not withstand orbital bombardment, as they had all found in '65 when the Simon Davion, having been captured by Separatist forces, had pounded the facility.

"So, what do we do, sir?"

"The Fourth Guard is on its way, via the rebuilt maglev. We shall meet them when they arrive, and then we shall move on the Blakist Defiance landing zone in force. Defiance Self-Protection Force, move out."

On the company channel, Alex stated, "I got a bad feeling about this, Dad."

"So do I, Alex. So do I."

Caran River Basin, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

06 February 3070

"What do you see, Lieutenant?" Colonel Brewer asked. He had detached Jeremiah's scout lance from the company and sent the faster 'Mechs ahead to recon the WoB LZ.

"They seem to have dropped a battalion worth of lighter 'Mechs from low orbit to secure the LZ. About half of 'em don't register with my warbook. Majority of that half have a blade sticking outta their wrists. Any clues, Cap?"

"Since I can't see them, I can't say for certain, but I'd guess that they're those new 'Celestial' OmniMechs."

"Pull back, Scout-1. Leutnant-General. What is your plan for attack?"

"All units, shift to passive sensor mode and then charge. We have the numbers, for the moment. Let's try to keep it that way." That was a strategy Leutnant-General Nathan Law, commander of the Fourth Alliance Guard, was well known for.

"Roger that. DSPF, advance!"

Jeremiah throttled his Avatar to its nearly 65 kilometer-per-hour top speed. As he crested the river bank, he took aim at a small 'Mech, which his mind identified as a Malak, and pulled the trigger for his PPC. The cobalt man-made lightning bolt tore ravenously at the armor over the right side of the light 'Mech's chest. Unsatisfied after the armor was completely stripped away, the beam continued and ate away at the endo-steel bones and some of the equipment housed within. The Malak staggered, and the entire right side of its body above the waist disappeared in a massive fireball; the explosion threw the little machine onto its left side and its heat signature rose from blue to a bright orange, indicative of the 'Mech mounting a light engine.

Before the thirty-ton 'Mech hit the ground, the Captain torso twisted and loosed a storm of autocannon shells and both volleys from his rocket launchers at a larger, sloped-torso unit he guessed was a Preta. The RAC/2's shells carved divots across the medium 'Mech's torso, but the rockets were clawed from the air by an AMS mounted on the lighter unit's left shoulder.

The Preta responded with a PPC blast that did little more than blister paint along the Avatar's left breast. "Light and noise. That's all those Light PPCs are. Pitiful," Jeremiah muttered to himself as his own PPC's capacitors recharged, and he pulled the trigger. His blast was devastating. The beam tore open a massive gash along almost the entire length of the medium 'Mech's leg. As it reloaded, Captain Biddix added his RAC to the mix, blasting armor along the same leg that had been savaged by the particle cannon. The pilot managed to put his BattleMech's left arm into the path of the autocannon's trail of destruction, saving the mangled lower limb.

Or rather, he saved it for a few seconds, as Susan's Hollander stepped up and snapped off the leg at the knee with a single gauss slug. As the medium-weight Preta smashed into the ground, Orville's Spector rushed up to pump several gigajoules of energy into the unfortunate Blakist's cockpit.

"Push through these guys. We still need to hit the dropships."

"Roger that, Colonel," Jeremiah replied as he speared the first Malak dead-center with the PPC, finishing off the engine and loosed a double-volley of Streak SRMs at a pursuing Initiate. As he caught sight of the dropships, he punched up the magnification and saw a 'Mech striding down one of the ramps leading to the cargo bay. "Colonel, Leutnant-General, they have begun deploying their heavier units."

A Defiance-built Berserker bearing Fourth Alliance Guard colors accelerated past him and he heard the Fourth's commander order, "Hit them before they have a chance to form ranks."

"Roger." Then another 'Mech stepped out of the Overlord closest to the Steiner formation. It looked stocky and heavy, with sloped armor over the central torso and very tiny side torsos. "Anyone have an idea what that is?"

"No, but it's mine," the Leutnant-General stated as his Berserker's ER PPC reached out and boiled away over half a ton of armor from the massive 'Mech's lower leg. The General then activated his MASC unit and powered forward at 86 kilometers per hour. With the full firepower of the Guard and the DSPF distracting the other WoB 'Mechs from his charge, he was able to enter into melee range. Before he could swing the massive seven-ton hatchet attached to the right fist, the unknown 'Mech ignited a set of jump jets and flew sixty meters to land behind the Berserker, rotating sixty degrees as it flew, and blasted the BRZ in its left arm with a heavy PPC of its own.

Showing his ability to think on his feet, and his masterful control of his 100-ton beast, the General literally skip-walked backward the few dozen meters that separated the two assault 'Mechs and buried the hatchet in the enigma's chest, following the handheld club with a double blast of the pulse lasers that stitched a line of molten divots along the Wobby's torso.

The Blakist responded by extending a blade from its wrist and driving it into the Berserker's back, along with a blast from a centrally-mounted plasma rifle and a second blast from the HPPC, which went wide.

Nathan's own reply hurt. Every single weapon system mounted in the massive Berserker, except for the PPC, concentrated on the unknown 'Mech's left arm. Then the hatchet came up and completely excised the blade-toting arm from the Blakist 'Mech. The Word warrior tried very hard to keep his machine on its feet, but the laws of physics were not to be denied. When the 'Mech crashed to the ground, the entirety of the surviving members of the Word of Blake division, ignoring the other Steiner 'Mechs, turned their guns on Leutnant-General Law. In less than three seconds, the 100-ton, axe-wielding monstrosity (that, by coincidence, had been built at the Defiance Hesperus facility) was vaporized.

Deprived of their leader, the Fourth Guard broke and any sense of organization fled, leading to the Steiner frontline unit being reduced to less than two battalions in short order while only crippling a few dozen Blakist machines. The surviving Guardsmen made a beeline for the Defiance factory complex. The DSPF, particularly the Grey Death Battalion, fought far better, giving better than they got. However, the smaller unit was eventually overwhelmed.

Among the kills the DSPF unit got was Major Goree's sniping blow from his gauss rifle. The two hundred fifty kilos of nickel-iron drilled into the heart of an older Sentinel at five hundred fifty-seven meters. The sheer kinetic energy of the slug pulverized the frontal armor, snapped every single steel-titanium bone, and crushed and extinguished the 240-rated engine. "Whoo. Major, I'm glad you chose that beast of a weapon." Goree didn't reply.

Before his 'Mech fell, Colonel Brewer ordered, "Jeremiah, get your company out of here and cause these Blakist bastards hell."

"But sir–"

"That's an order, Captain."

"Yes, sir. Hellhounds, we are leaving. Brewer's orders. Command lance, we're on rearguard."

"Understood, Captain," Thurman replied as the company's lighter 'Mechs disengaged and began to withdraw towards Maria's Elegy. A crack of her gauss rifle announced the death of her opponent, a Deva.

"Carl, thunderstorm," Jeremiah ordered as his PPC pierced the three ammunition bins of a Grigori, whose explosion threw the sixty-ton 'Mech several dozen meters.

"Thunderstorm" was the Hellhounds' code word for the deployment of augmented Thunder LRM munitions, which could deploy ninety-meter-wide minefields. Carl's Archer had enough of the specialized ammo for three full volleys. Laying down a two hundred seventy x one hundred eighty meter minefield deterred all pursuit from the Word of Blake 'Mechs, destroying two of them and crippling three more.

Myoo Highlands, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

18 April, 3070

"Cap! On your 8!"

Jeremiah ducked and spun his 'Mech, avoiding most of a full missile volley from an Archangel Comminus. The few warheads that hit splattered harmlessly across the Avatar's torso, to be answered by the last burst of shells from the Captain's autocannon. Like the Archangel's missiles, the forty-millimeter shells had little effect beyond riling the pilot of the massive BattleMech.

The past two and a half months had seen the Hellhounds, now known to the Blakists as "The Furies," engage in a hit-and-run guerilla campaign against the occupying forces. Over that time, five 'Mechs had fallen, along with a few mechwarriors. Dobermann's Starslayer had been demolished during the short, but vicious city-fighting in Maria's Elegy shortly after the disastrous battle at the Caran River basin. She had not survived.

They had traded Calvin and his Lynx for a successful raid on a supply convoy outside of the spaceport at Maria's Elegy. Temple's Spector had fallen outside of the Doering Electronics complex, but she had been recovered alive. Pinter had had salvaged components from each 'Mech put in his Wolfhound; namely, the Lynx's Defiance 1001 ER PPC had replaced the Cyclops XII ER Large Laser, the rear Defiance B3M had been replaced with the Spector's Defiance P5M pulse laser, a trio of ER Medium Lasers of unknown make salvaged from various Celestial OmniMechs had replaced the forward-mounted B3Ms, and, making room for the upgrades, the GM 210 engine had been replaced with the Spector's Magna 245 Extra Light. While the changes lessened the Wolfhound's heat efficiency, the increases in speed, range, and striking power were considered worth it.

On a raid to demolish the maglev transport, again, Eric's Archer had fallen when both of its legs had been blown out by a set of anti-'Mech mines that had been lain down by Thunder LRMs, and he was captured by the Blakists. Windom's Hollander's gauss rifle had taken damage and detonated, causing a sympathetic detonation of the engine, which, in turn, vaporized the light 'Mech.

Now, the Hellhounds/Furies had attempted a sniping raid against the factory complex, but the mission had gone from bad to worse to completely and utterly F.U.B.A.R. Dozens of fast WoB 'Mechs had poured out from the mountain and cut off the small DSPF unit's exit routes. It had been a costly, but extremely effective, strategy by the enemy commander. While the Hellhounds were trying to fight their way past the faster 'Mechs, the heavier Blakist units had come out to close the trap. Outnumbered more than 20-1, the situation was hopeless, and Jeremiah knew that. However, every Blakist that the men and women under his command brought down was one less Blakist menacing the rest of the Inner Sphere. Thus, the unit fought without any concern for their own well-being, knowing that they were dead anyway.

Charles's Wolfhound was the first to fall, mainly due to a lucky strike that tore the gyro apart. Rio's Firestarter was currently tangled in a duel to the death with a full Level II of Malaks.

The Archangel that had fired on the Captain's Avatar went down as a full alpha strike from Carter's Warhammer greedily eviscerated the hundred-tonner's back and internals. However, it appeared that the Archangel's pilot was one of their Level III commanders, because, as one, nearly twenty 'Mechs concentrated their full firepower on the seventy-ton war machine, completely vaporizing it.

In revenge, Jeremiah coldly and carefully lined up a shot with a Seraph's cockpit and drilled a heavy PPC bolt into the pilot's seat until there was little more than a few tons of molten scrap metal where the massive 'Mech's head had been. He spread the rest of his OmniMech's firepower over four other opponents, barely causing a dent in their armored skins. He backpedaled his 'Mech a few steps, and then slammed the throttle forward, throwing off their aim. However, that was not the primary purpose of the maneuver. He angled his Avatar's torso forward and rammed its shoulder into a Grigori that couldn't get out of the way fast enough, smashing the lighter 'Mech to the ground with a caved in torso. As it recharged, he dumped a plasma bolt into the Blakist's cockpit, just to make sure.

He turned to search for his next opponent, just in time for an Archangel Invictus to step forward and raise its blade, its pilot intending to spear Biddix's Avatar. Before it could, Alexander's Black Hawk-Kucame down onto the massive machine's shoulders on pillars of argent flame, throwing it off balance and crumpling several armor plates. Before the Wobby could recover, Alex pressed his 'Mech's LRM launcher against the Archangel's cockpit and shouted, "Eat this!"

However, as he pulled the trigger, a gauss slug from a Deva collided with the arm that housed the LRM rack, causing the missiles to detonate across the heavier 'Mech's torso, rather than the head.

By this time, the Archangel recovered and plunged its blade into the torso of the sixty-ton 'Mech. "My engine's gone. Punching out." The cockpit canopy of the Black Hawk blew open and its command chair shot out on a set of rockets.

"Back-to-back!" Jeremiah shouted to what was left of his company, which was now Lisa's War Dog, Abraham's Lineholder, and his own Avatar. "Status?"

"Armor's almost gone." There was the sound of LRMs launching, followed by, "And now my ammo bins're dry."

"Doing a little better as far as armor goes, I'm down to my last three slugs, my AMS ammo is dry, and my streak racks are spent."

Looking at his secondary display, Jeremiah noted that his own Streak launchers were nearly empty, down to their last few salvos, and his armor was down below ten percent overall. After reporting these facts to his comrades, he added, "It's been anhonor fighting alongside you all."

Then one Archangel stepped out from the crowd, the very same one that Alex had attempted to kill the pilot of. "If you surrender now, we shall let you go."

"F*** you," the Captain yelled as he loosed an alpha strike against the command 'Mech.

"So be it. Twelfth Division, eliminate these rats."

The fusillade of fire completely demolished Lisa's War Dog, killing her, and disabled both of the other remaining DSPF 'Mechs; the Lineholder went down with a destroyed gyro, while Jeremiah's Avatar lost both side torsos, forcing the engine to shut down.

However, the Furies had not gone down quietly. Even during the last volley, a White Flame, a Blue Flame, and a Toyama had been destroyed, and an Atlas was heavily damaged.

Word of Blake POW Camp Alpha

Myoo Highlands, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

18 March 3071

"Tonight, we make our move."

Over the past eleven months, Jeremiah had reunited with most of his company, and a large portion of the rest of the DSPF, Second Donegal Guard, and Fourth Alliance Guard mechwarriors. Over the past eleven months, he had studied the behaviors of the prison guards. Over the past eleven months, he had smuggled plastic lunch trays into the various cells and fashioned various weapons and tools from them. Today, through a relay system, he had learned that someone important, probably the Blakist garrison commander, was coming to inspect the prisoners, so the guards would be uptight. While that might not sound like a good thing, he knew that the guards relaxed their standards after some event that important came and went without incident. The last time such an event happened, the prisoners hadn't had enough weapons prepared. Now, they did.

Interrupting his reverie was the sound of booted feet, different from the boots worn by the guards, clomping down the hallway. Keeping his back to the cell door, Jeremiah heard the owner of the boots stop outside of his and Pinter's cell. "So. You're the one who was a thorn in my side for almost two and a half months."

Jeremiah turned his head enough to stare directly at the speaker. "Go to hell," the Captain replied as he spit in the Wobby's face.

"I give you a chance to be civil." The man clicked his tongue. That was when Biddix took note of the physical differences. First and foremost, quite a bit of his skin was replaced by metal plates. Second, his eyes seemed to have been replaced with cameras. And third, there seemed to be numerous wires running under what little skin was visible. Noticing the DSPF officer's stare, the Blakist chuckled and asked, "Impressed?"

"Disgusted. You Manei Domini are truly little more than real-life Terminators."

The Demi-Precentor's brow knit in confusion, while Charlie simply smiled at the reference to the ancient film series. "I am afraid I do not get your meaning."

"Figured you wouldn't. Hey, don't you have a schedule to keep? Bringing about the apocalypse by the end of the week?"

Without saying a word, the Blakist commander simply walked away.

As Jeremiah had predicted, after the Demi-Precentor left, the guards relaxed. "Sloppy, very sloppy," the old Steiner warrior muttered. He began counting the seconds that separated the guards' patrol routes, judging how much time he would have after dropping one guard when another would show up. The resulting time was nearly a minute.

When the guard for his hallway passed close enough, the thirty-nine-year-old Solaran native and graduate of the Nagelring's class of '49 reached out and jammed his shiv into the unfortunate Word of Blake sympathizer's throat. Before the man could even so much as sputter, Charles was up and rammed his own shiv into the base of the back of the guard's skull. As the guardsman slumped to the ground, the two soldiers stripped the man's guns and keys. Pinter got the guard's primary weapon, a Gunther MP-20 submachine gun, while Jeremiah grabbed his sidearm, a Mauser and Grey flechette pistol. "We have less than forty seconds," the mechwarrior cautioned.

"I know," the Captain replied as he unlocked their cell. Tossing the keys to Pinter, he added, "Make yourself useful. Free the others." Without waiting for a reply, he scooted to the corner that he knew the next guard would come around. And he was right. As the second guard rounded the corner, but before he could react, Jeremiah sent a cloud of ballistic polymer slivers into the unfortunate man's face; the sap was dead before he knew what was going on. From the second guard came a TK assault rifle and a Sternsnacht heavy pistol.

Over the next few minutes, the prisoners fought their way to the prison armory. Once there, the POWs, who had all had at least some cross-training as infantrymen, became a force to be reckoned with.

"Now comes the hard part," Jeremiah announced. "There is a supply helo' out on the tarmac, but we will also have to disable or evade a large number of heavy units. Load up on demo packs, for we shall need them."

The improvised infantry unit stormed outside and used man-pack SRMs to demolish the guard towers. Two Zhukov tanks were sitting idle. "Can we take those?"

"No. Too slow. Blow 'em."

With the use of two demo packs, that objective was accomplished. There was also a single Malak that came up minus a pilot, but Jeremiah ordered for the 'Mech to be destroyed as well. While the CASE unit had been difficult to get around, the soldiers used a shaped charge warhead in tandem with another demo pack to first punch a hole in the CASE, and then detonate the SRM ammo. With the sabotaged CASE, the explosion spread to the engine which overloaded and went critical.

Knowing that the explosion would wipe the facility off the map, the Captain had ordered the det charge's timer to be set for the longest time possible. Before it blew, he had everyone climb aboard the transport chopper, a modified Cobra that had its anti-missile systems stripped out for a pair of far more compact small lasers and the ammunition for those systems had become an additional two tons of cargo space and an additional ton of armor (the last he learned later). Once everyone was aboard, he dropped into the pilot's chair and throttled up to the VTOL's 130-kilometer-per-hour top speed.

By the time the improvised fusion bomb detonated, the former Prisoners of War were kilometers away.

DSPF Supply Bunker

20 Kilometers outside Maldon, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

19 April 3071

"What are we doing standing in front of a blank cliff?"

As he searched for a keypad he knew was there, Jeremiah answered, "My father served in the DSPF before I did. He told me that they were squirreling away some war material for a 'rainy day;' if the garrison was overrun and Hesperus II was captured, there were a few supply caches scattered around the planet to ensure that any Steiner units that had managed to not be destroyed would have the parts and repair units they needed to continue the fight. This is one of those caches."

As he found and typed an entry code into the keypad, small portion of the rock face slid inward and then to the side out of the way, revealing a tunnel that traveled into the mountainside. "Okay. I'm officially impressed."

"Good. Now hurry up. We don't know if there's a Blakist warship overhead. As for you," he added to the VTOL's current pilot. "Hover at three meters for a few moments. After everyone was inside and Jeremiah shut the door, there was no evidence, except for the Cobra, that anyone had been there. Seconds later, the ground underneath the VTOL began to quake and then it suddenly dropped about a meter and then spread, revealing a massive helipad twenty meters underground. Once the pilot maneuvered the vehicle down onto the pad, the ground-level entrance sealed back up and there truly was no evidence that anyone had been to the site.

Inside, after everyone had regrouped, Captain Biddix flipped the surprisingly archaic switches that were arranged along the wall of the entry tunnel and continued his explanation. "Normally, these supply caches were only meant to supplement existing combat units; it was inconceivable that every single 'Mech in the DSPF and the planetary garrison would be wiped out. But, since it has, we'll just have to make do."

In stages, dozens of overhead lights came on, illuminating a large number of tanks. "What are these pieces of junk?" one of the formerly 4th Alliance Guard mechwarriors spat in disgust.

"They're Patton tanks, built when it was believed that BattleMechs would go extinct," Alex supplied.

"Pfft. As if that would ever happen."

Ignoring the Lyran front-line warrior's opinion, Jeremiah stated, "Nice. I'm glad you remember your history lessons, Alex." Turning to the Guardsman, he added, "And these are not pieces of junk. They mount more armor than and nearly as much firepower as 'Mechs their size."

"Oh yeah? Prove it."

"Fourteen and a half tons of standard armor plating is spread around their short, squat frames, and their armament consists of a class 10 autocannon, a flamer, a small laser, and a five-tube long-range missile rack, all mounted on a sixty-five ton chassis."

"I'll admit that that's heavy armor, but the firepower leaves a bit to be desired."

Cocking his head to the side and shrugging, the Captain replied, "Well, if you do not like that, then there is one other vehicle here in this cache." He led the group to another chamber, similar to the VTOL landing room, only much, much larger. Inside this larger room was a grouping of a dozen assault 'copters. "I give you our air power: a full company of Yellow Jacket gunships. If you want to fight, then you'll either fly these, or drive the Pattons. Make your choices. Now, there are ninety, ninety-five of us, and there are thirty-six Pattons and twelve Yellow Jackets. If we run the tanks on their minimum crews, that will leave us with eight to thirteen men and/or women for our support crew. If we keep the regular crew complement for those tanks, then there won't be enough personnel to man all of the tanks, much less the VTOLs. Opinions?"

"Minimal crews. That way, we'll lose fewer people when the tanks get busted."

"Alright. Get in some training time and then mount up. We'll be heading for Maldon."

Maria's Elegy, Hesperus II

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

11 September, 3074

The past three years had seen the Steiner and DefHesp soldiers engaged in a brutal guerilla war with the Word of Blake occupiers. They had lost several men, as well as three Yellow Jackets and seven Pattons, but they had captured eighteen BattleMechs and disabled or destroyed six more. However, it was to be a hopeless fight, simply a delaying tactic to stall this portion of the WoB juggernaut.

Or, so they thought.

A month or so earlier, a reinforcement fleet came in and demolished the Blakists' warship fleet, landing their own army shortly thereafter. With help from the resistance groups, they smashed the Wobbies, liberating the major industrial planet.

Those members of the resistance whose 'Mechs had survived relatively intact had had their 'Mechs returned to them, and those whose BattleMechs had been completely demolished had new Defiance-built machines issued to them. Jeremiah, however, decided to leave Hesperus II to continue the fight against the Word of Blake in his own way, as a mercenary. "Anyone who wants to come with me, I will welcome your aid," he said as he left the DefHesp factory. Almost every man and woman who had fought alongside him followed.

Galaport, Galatea

Lyran Alliance

6 June, 3075

"Okay, and how large is your unit?"

"Approximately regimental strength, when you include armor and infantry support."

The MRBC representative typed the information into his noteputer and continued, "And have you thought of a name for your combined arms unit?"

"Yes. 'Righteous Ascent.'"

The other man looked at him incredulously for a second, and then he shrugged. "I've heard worse." He entered the final information and, after disappearing around the corner for a moment, returned with a hardcopy of their MRBC registration. "Welcome to the hell that is mercenary work, Colonel Jeremiah Seron Biddix."