It was game day on Gonzales IX.
Frank "Eagle" Fairfax relaxed in his chair, the rhythmic thuds from his 'mech's feet breaking the morning calm as the Hauptmann ponderously made its way through the woods on autopilot. The morning sun was sitting low in the sky, casting rays of light into Eagle's cockpit through the canopy of the lush trees that Gonzales was renowned for.
Eagle shifted his neurohelmet into a more comfortable position above his cooling vest as his 'mech continued its journey, eager to join in on the chaos that was about to unfold. The game world wasn't that bad, fighting for entertainment and not for politics. It was certainly a welcome change from his time in the military, although he still kept his old call-sign with him. Yes, he was bald and had an unnaturally long nose, but names like that tend to stick.
"My appearance doesn't even matter behind my neurohelmet, anyway." thought Eagle as he broke from the trees, startling a group of deer-like animals as he marched into the rolling plains. In the distance, barely visible due to the sun's glare sat a small town; constructed as a mock-up for the matches held here. Far to the left was a small ridge, decorated with patches of woodland that ran along its length. It was between these landmarks where he was designated to start the match.
Eagle smiled behind his tinted visor as he ran a diagnostic on his 'mech's weapons systems, making one last check before the combat started. Today the cameras and C-Bills will be on him, and he loved every minute of it. The stablemaster give him the 'mech, and all he had to do is go out there and destroy opponent 'mechs for money: he couldn't think of a better job even if he tried.
Admittedly, he was fairly new to this. As much as he hated to admit it, there were many other competitors out there that were better than him. People with bigger sponsors, clan technology and overall better skill were the people that he had to watch out for. He had to pull a lot of strings to get to pilot a Hauptmann, but in the gaming world there was always a bigger fish; even for a ninety-five ton assault 'mech like his.
Eagle scanned across his Heads-Up-Display for what seemed like the hundredth time, making sure nothing was amiss before the match began. Glancing over his weapons systems, Eagle gave a little smile. His Hauptmann-C had a small selection of laser weapons, namely a Medium Pulse Laser, an ER Small Laser and a pair of ER Medium Lasers, along with a TharHes Reacher LRM-20 rack. Although sure to deal some damage, this was nothing compared to what was mounted on his 'mech's right shoulder: a single Hammerfist Heavy Gauss Rifle, alone weighing almost as much as a Locust and packing enough firepower to decimate an entire 'mech at once. Slowly shifting his head due to the weight of his neurohelmet, Eagle looked to the right to see it perched atop the assault 'mech's huge frame, sitting eerily silent. It was this weapon that Eagle hoped would give him the edge in the upcoming match.
Eagle let out a deep breath as ninety-five tons of Lyran-built steel lurched to a halt as it reached its designated start point. Although all weapon and movement control had been remotely frozen, Eagle slowly rested his hands over the controls in anticipation. Peering out of the cockpit, he could make out several competitors' 'mechs across the lush green plains, the morning haze removing all but their silhouettes as they moved into position one by one. Many were unmistakeably of exotic clan design, but none of them seemed to be in the same weight class as him.
"Don't screw up, Frank." crackled a voice in Eagle's communication system, breaking him from his trance. Eagle was about to make a retort stating that he didn't need the extra pressure, but decided against it and remained silent. The relations between him and his new stablemaster had started rather frosty, to say the least. Still, he had been allowed to pilot an assault 'mech, and that was what mattered the most. However, he knew that a lot of C-Bills were riding on him today, and he prayed not to make any stupid mistakes.
After what seemed like an eternity, a green light burst into life on one of his MFDs and all weapons and movement control was restored. The battle had begun.
Throwing the throttle lever as far forward as it would go, Eagle swung the enormous war machine in the direction of the nearby town, hoping to take advantage of its closed streets and building cover. Straining his eyes, Eagle peered out of the cockpit glass for any signs of an ambush: Behind the humming of the 'mech's reactor and the footfalls that swung the cockpit from side to side, the tense silence still hadn't been broken.
It didn't last long. Without warning, a BattleMech burst from the cover of a nearby wood, smashing a tree aside with its arm as it burst into the open, while simultaneously opening fire at Eagle with the other and engaging its Jump Jets to dodge Eagle's retaliatory salvo.
The Medium Pulse Lasers fired by the Wraith were true to their aim, melting armour off the Hauptmann's torso in clouds of acrid smoke; but paled into insignificance when compared to the sheer amount that the Hauptmann had to offer. Taken by surprise, Eagle swung his weapons in the Wraith's direction, which was now hurtling through the air propelled by seven jets of flame. Squeezing the trigger, Eagle watched as the crimson beam of one of his own Medium Pulse Lasers raced across its torso, although his other lasers missed the airborne mech by what seemed like a hair's length.
After falling towards the ground still being propelled by gouts of flame, the fifty-five ton mech slammed into the earth, the force of the impact momentarily bringing the 'mech down on one knee.
It was this window of opportunity that Eagle was feverishly waiting for.
Pulling the trigger, Eagle fired the Heavy Gauss Rifle that was until then sitting dormant on his 'mech's right shoulder. The entire 'mech lurched as the metal slug left the barrel with a deafening "snap", along with a flash as the air around the projectile combusted through friction.
To Eagle's disappointment, the projectile didn't hit the target, instead missing it by what seemed like feet; the airflow around the projectile buffeting the Wraith as it rose to its feet and resumed firing. Eagle was reminded by the huge fountain of earth that had erupted behind the medium 'mech that a single hit would be devastating; all he needed was a good aim, and luck.
"That weapon isn't a toy, kid. Be more patient." hissed the voice again in Eagle's comms. Through the adrenaline and sheer concentration that was being demanded of him, Eagle barely registered it as more ruby beams of light streaked towards him.
Being an assault 'mech, the Hauptmann naturally didn't score high marks for mobility. As his weapons reloaded and recharged, all Eagle could do was stare as the Wraith fired its Jump Jets again; the gouts of flame scorching grass and sending rocks and dust flying as it hurtled towards Eagle's Hauptmann. Eagle caught its bug-like face as it blasted past him, only to fire beam upon beam of energy into his vulnerable rear armour.
"Damn it, Frank!" cursed Eagle as he threw his mech around, scanning his damage displays in the process. If that Gauss slug had made contact, this wouldn't have even happened.
Eagle's attention was suddenly caught by a Fire Moth emerging from the woods at breakneck speed; sprinting directly into Eagle's crosshairs. Although it was a Clan 'mech, it posed little threat compared to the wraith currently behind him; although the time it would take to face the Wraith again made the Fire Moth a much more attractive option.
Although it would be good for the holovids to see a Dasher get nailed into the ground in one shot, Eagle decided to spare the Heavy Gauss Rifle's extremely limited ammunition reserve and instead opened fire with just his lasers. Managing to catch it in the left leg, Eagle watched as a beam connected and boiled away its paper-thin armour, revealing the internals inside.
The hit was certainly damaging, but it didn't do much in the way of crippling the Fire Moth as the tiny 'mech sprinted out of Eagle's visual arc towards the Wraith. Before disappearing from view, the Fire Moth fired intense yellow lasers at Eagle, a large heat shimmer clearly visible from its strange, upwards-held arms. Eagle cursed Clan Heavy Laser technology as he glanced at his damage displays, having taken multiple hits to the arms and torso.
Once Eagle had turned to face the pair of competitors, he was dismayed to find that they had both disappeared back into the woods, preferring to duel with each other than fear a direct hit from Eagle's Heavy Gauss Rifle. Eagle didn't blame them, but he wished they didn't know better.
Before deciding whether to pursue them or not, Eagle was caught by surprise when a volley of laser fire streaked past his vision, coming from the town's direction.
Swinging the lumbering war machine to the right, Eagle scanned the plains for this new threat. Spotting his target, he promptly fired everything he had at the Glass Spider that was running towards him from the bottom of the hill.
At such an extreme range, none of the weapons hit; much to Eagle's frustration. Although it was satisfying to see a large crater be instantly blown into the surface of the earth, he would have preferred it if it actually hit its target.
"Would you like to know how much those gauss rounds cost, Frank?" crackled his stablemaster's voice again. "Only fire once you are guaranteed to hit!"
"I've got this…" hissed Eagle as he considered shutting off his comm channel, only to be interrupted as a blinding emerald beam boiled into his 'mech's torso, having hit its mark with frightening accuracy.
Charging through the thick grey smoke that was what used to be armour plating, it occurred to Eagle that he urgently needed to close the distance between them to the point where his weapons were effective; else he was a sitting duck to the clanners' vastly superior range.
Lumbering downhill as fast as his 'mechs legs could carry him after the now-retreating Glass Spider, Eagle felt a heavy "clunk" thud through the cockpit as another gauss round fell into place inside the weapon's vast barrel. Pulling the trigger again, the huge weapon fired with another deafening sonic boom; the recoil almost throwing Eagle off-balance.
This time, he was luckier. The huge projectile smashed into its left torso, tearing off vast chunks of armour instantaneously. Having spun to the right from the impact and having nearly fallen over, the 'mech was then pelted with LRM fire and lasers as it recovered; the missiles exploiting the hole that had been blasted into the mech's armour and wreaking havoc with the internals inside.
Running away from Eagle towards the town with black smoke pouring from its left torso, it continued to fire lasers in his direction. Eagle winced as the emerald green beams burned away at his precious armour while he waited for the next salvo to load, letting off laser and missile salvos in the meantime.
Stepping over the competitor 'mech's debris; Eagle sent another gauss slug hurtling from the barrel at the speed of sound with another squeeze of the trigger. This time the shot impacted the right torso, completely shredding both armour and internals. The right arm was thrown from the 'mech in an explosion of smoke and debris, having nothing to connect to anymore.
"Why won't you die?" growled Eagle as the Glass Spider emerged from the smoke again, still running towards the safety of the nearby buildings. Lasers still lanced towards him, whittling away more and more of his armour in puffs of smoke. Eagle noted the laser salvoes had become increasingly erratic now, not possessing the frightening efficiency that was demonstrated at the beginning of the duel. Maybe due to pilot nerves or to damage? He couldn't tell.
The Glass Spider had reached the town by now, writing off a hovercar that happened to be in the way as it crashed through to the street; putting the buildings between itself and Eagle.
Eagle took deep breaths, slowing his 'mech to a walk as he tried to stave off the pounding in his chest. Although by no means equal to the damage he had dealt to it, the Glass Spider had certainly done a number on his armour. If he were to survive any longer he would have to be more careful.
"What are you doing? Finish the job!" exclaimed the stablemaster as Eagle glanced at his sensor screen, and gulped.
Three signatures could be made out through the mush of trees and buildings, surrounding Eagle in a near-perfect triangle. Two signatures could be found in the town, including the Glass Spider from earlier. Another was lurking in the woods to the north-west of Eagle's position.
Baulking at the thought of facing two 'mechs at once, Eagle swung his mech in the direction of the third signature and punched the throttle; shifting the scarred Lyran BattleMech back into motion.
Eagle tasted the tang of sweat as his 'mech's enormous legs propelled him further towards the unknown enemy; he had no idea what he was up against, or what state it was in. He took consolation from the fact that the competitor knew just as little as he did as he approached the treeline.
Without warning, a shape emerged from the cover of the trees; the shadows slipping off the mechs frame. Slashing a tree in half with an oversized katana as it stepped into the open, the No-Dachi simultaneously fired a flurry of MRMs from its shoulder launchers while breaking into a run.
Eagle braced himself with gritted teeth as the volley of missiles battered his 'mech, charging through the barrage like a battering ram, plumes of smoke trailing behind him as he pressed forwards.
Firing his ER Medium Lasers, Eagle watched as the beams of photons lashed across the charging No-Dachi's legs. The lines of glowing molten metal did little to stop the 'mech however, as it continued to charge towards Eagle with its katana raised.
Eagle let loose a Heavy Gauss round with another shuddering sonic boom, the projectile clearing the distance at the speed of sound and hitting the competitor 'mech in the right side of its torso; the impact spinning its upper body alarmingly to the right and nearly knocking it off course. Black smoke belched out of the hole, the reactor shielding having been damaged by the devastating blow. Having wrestled control of the 'mech with surprising skill, the No-Dachi cleared the remaining distance and swung its right arm in preparation for a brutal stabbing attack.
Punching the No-Dachi's sword arm out of the way with the weapon pod of his 'mech's right arm, Eagle followed up by swinging the left to point inside the competitor's torso and pulled the trigger again.
The lasers hit their mark, burning into the gaping hole of the 'mech's body and damaging more of the precious reactor shielding inside. Before the No-Dachi could make another swing with its katana, Eagle slammed his 'mechs left arm pod into the No-Dachi's chest, propelling it away from melee range.
As it turned out, it was the wrong thing to do. As the No-Dachi staggered backwards and fought for control, it released another barrage of MRMs, the warheads spewing smoke as they raced towards Eagle.
Acting on instinct as soon as the missiles left their tubes, Eagle fired his Heavy Gauss Rifle again at point-blank range. This time the effect was devastating, hitting the No-Dachi square in the chest and opening the 'mech's reactor to the elements. The 'mech was sent flailing backwards, flames roaring from the holes like a blowtorch as the pilot ejected away from the stricken 'mech.
No matter what he had done could prepare him for what was to come, however. Less than a second after the No-Dachi's destruction, Eagle was hammered by a maelstrom of missile fire, the warheads tearing holes in his 'mech's armour and causing a plethora of angry red lights to appear on Eagle's MFDs; barely visible through the shuddering of multiple explosions.
"Damn it!" yelled Eagle as a lucky MRM round hit his 'mech's left hip, blasting the protective armour away and shredding the actuator inside. Eagle was nearly thrown out of his seat as the ninety-five ton war machine rocked to the left, falling against his safety straps as the ground below suddenly lurched into view.
Gritting his teeth against the awful pounding in his head, Eagle fought to keep the assault 'mech from falling over; his neurohelmet trying desperately to synchronise the machine with his internal sense of balance. After a few agonising seconds, the 'mech was brought back under control with a small stumble to compensate.
As the smoke slid upwards across the cockpit viewport, Eagle checked his damage displays. They were now a sea of red and yellow, having been pummelled by that last salvo; his armour was now in tatters, with a broken hip to boot. Still, at least he now had a kill to make his stablemaster happy.
As the shroud of smoke cleared, Eagle observed the damage he had dealt to the destroyed No-Dachi, now lying sprawled on its back with black smoke still pouring from the stricken reactor. Eagle was glad he hadn't done his job too well, as an explosion at this range could have taken him out of the game permanently.
Grabbing the controls and swinging his 'mech around, Eagle nearly toppled over again as the damaged hip protested from the sudden exertion. Lurching into motion, Eagle limped across the plains towards the town, where at least one of the competitor 'mechs were waiting. Columns of smoke rose from the rooftops, suggesting fighting had taken place.
Eagle cursed as his Hauptmann inched along the plains; it was clear he was in a bad way. He wasn't sure how many 'mechs remained, but the smoke that could be seen through the morning haze suggested that the number had shrunk to a hard core.
However, further observation was cut short as a Nova Cat appeared above the rooftops far downrange, and opened fire. A barrage of Autocannon rounds were sent hurtling in Eagle's direction, blasted from the barrels in a series of violent flashes; the husks of spent casings raining down on the street below.
Eagle limped forward as stray rounds threw up fountains of earth around him, the occasional round punching holes into his already-damaged armour. Eagle responded by letting off a flight of LRMs as he prepared for another shot with the Heavy Gauss Rifle.
The recoil from the huge weapon nearly threw the crippled Hauptmann to the pavement as another gauss shell left the barrel with another sonic boom; the projectile speeding towards the already-damaged Nova Cat with the sound of tearing cloth. The projectile hit the Nova Cat directly in the chest, the impact lifting the machine off its feet and spinning to the street below, gouging craters into the tarmac with its arms.
Attempting to stave off Eagle with a burst of Autocannon fire from its arm, the machine staggered to its feet with the assistance of the other. Raising itself to its feet, the Nova Cat had just managed to right itself as another gauss slug fell into place.
Standing helpless in the split-seconds that followed, the Nova Cat was pummelled in the chest yet again as the projectile punched deeper into the heart of the 'mech. The force of the impact sent it staggering backwards as the pilot ejected, barely visible through the smoke, flames and flying debris.
Tottering backwards, the pilotless 'mech finally tipped and buried itself into a nearby office building, revealing the layers of floors as the war machine dragged itself downwards with its 70-ton bulk.
Stopping his Hauptmann as the dust and smoke cleared, Eagle observed the wreckage. "One for the holovids." he muttered as he stared at the mangled remains of the dead 'mech through his enhanced optics, lying half-buried under rubble. Black smoke curled up through the mass of ferrocrete, the internal systems of the BattleMech still burning.
Eagle limped his Hauptmann forward again, the armoured mass of its left foot dragging deep furrows into the ground. Eagle cursed his luck: with his 'mech's leg out of action, his already-slow mech had been reduced to near-immobility. If there were any more enemies out there, they would have to come to him; not that it mattered, as his Heavy Gauss Rifle will be waiting regardless.
It was then that Eagle saw it: a small shimmer of a signature, coming from somewhere beyond the town to the southeast. Eagle watched as the signature faded, only to occasionally flare back up seconds later.
Tasting the tang of sweat that had gathered on his upper lip, Eagle gave his ammunition displays a nervous glance: three shots left on the gauss, and the LRMs weren't looking good either. The match had to end soon, or he would be a sitting duck: his Heavy Gauss Rifle wasn't designed for extended engagements like this one.
The engagement had turned into a waiting game: Eagle knew the competitor was aware of his presence, but was choosing not to engage. Instead it flicked across his screen like a fly, keeping him on edge. Was it playing with him, waiting for him to make a wrong move? The opponent clearly had the upper-hand here; due to his damaged actuator, he had been reduced to barely more than a turret. A heavily armed turret, however.
Oil and coolant trickled down the cockpit viewport as Eagle peered outside, straining his eyes for any sign of danger; ignoring the grinding sounds as he pushed his damaged 'mech forwards. The opponent couldn't be anywhere above a medium: it moved too fast for that.
It was then he saw it, running between patches of trees; partially shrouded by the smoke that was still pouring from the destroyed No-Dachi several hundred meters away. Overreacting at the sight, Eagle sent his lasers piercing the smoke while simultaneously launching a flight of LRMs. As the missiles sailed through the air in a harmless arc and peppered the ground below, Eagle cursed his impatience; he was letting the opponent 'mech get to him.
Scanning between the trees like his namesake, Eagle attempted to pick out the mech through the sickening lurching motions of his damaged 'mech; his ruined sensors were nearly useless to assist him now. What seemed like an eternity passed, and there was still no sign of the opponents 'mech. Was it playing with him? Frustrated, Eagle pulled out of enhanced optics and took a look out of his side viewports. Still not satisfied, he engaged his rear camera and to his shock, found exactly what he was looking for.
The agile Phantom was clearly being pushed as fast as it could go, clearly aiming to get the drop on Eagle before he noticed its presence. Hands tightening over the controls with the sudden rush of adrenaline, he wrestled the assault 'mech to clumsily spin on the spot towards the incoming threat; the good foot tearing into the ground and nearly throwing the 'mech off balance. Stumbling as the protesting hip took the weight, Eagle lined up his target just as it opened fire.
Eagle had never seen so many lasers come from a single medium 'mech. Raking across his 'mech's fragmented armour and cutting up the internals within, Eagle yelled as an emerald beam slashed across the cockpit viewport in a perfect diagonal line. The heat instantly melted a layer of the screen's compound which splashed to the ground below and solidified down the rest of the cockpit viewport.
Startled at the sudden damage so close to his face, Eagle pulled the trigger a moment too early; sending the heavy gauss slug tearing over the Phantom's right shoulder. What was worse, the recoil from the gun violently twisted the Hauptmann's torso away from the enemy; the damaged actuator unable to take the stress anymore.
Eagle stared out of the undamaged side screen at the fast approaching Phantom, a look of horror on his face as he realised the severity of his mistake; completely powerless to stop what was going to happen next. Closing the remaining distance, the Phantom punted the Hauptmann's damaged leg with a powerful kick. The impact of the opponent 'mech's foot destroyed what little structural cohesion the joint still had, tearing the whole leg from the 'mech. Sailing in a short arc, the hunk of metal buried itself in the ground nearby.
Gritting his teeth against the bone-jarring impact amid an assault of red lights and alarms, Eagle only realised what was happening when the ground suddenly disappeared to be replaced with sky. Acting on autopilot, Eagle grabbed the ejection lever with both of his gloved hands, and wrenched them upwards as hard as he could.
Eagle was instantaneously blown skywards through the top of his 'mech at a 45-degree angle, the turbulence generated by his limbs tumbling him violently through the air. A heartbeat later his parachute opened, suddenly slowing him down as if a giant hand had grabbed him in mid-air and wrenched him to a standstill.
As the swinging subsided, Eagle fought back the pain and nausea to look down at the remains of his 'mech far below. It led flat on its back; areas still smoking and glowing orange from the relentless laser assault. Bundles of myomer and wiring trailed out of the hip joint, the severed limb lying nearby.
Watching the victorious Phantom run off in search of new targets, Eagle felt a pang of disappointment. He was sure he could go all the way this time, but either luck or a lack of skill prevented him from taking first place.
"You did well, Frank: you take third place." said Eagle's stablemaster in a rare event of generosity. Laughing a little as the blood returned to his face, Eagle ignored the aching in his neck to stare up at the white of the parachute canopy as it gently swayed in the wind.
Looking back down again, Eagle looked over the treetops towards the ridge; the occasional column of smoke coiling into the morning sky. Even though he had just had his 'mech shot out from underneath him, he couldn't help but grin.
Third place wasn't bad at all.