Chapter 6: The First Strike

Staring up into the darkness, John wondered what he had gotten himself into.

Pirates with assault lances on a simple training campaign. Just my luck...

Dead-eye's crew had repeated exactly what he had said at their scare at Nav Beta earlier that day. Turk, the pilot of the Panther that had spotted the enemy contacts on his radar, was visibly shaken as he went over the list of mechs that he saw when he cycled through the targets.

"I saw two Atlases, a Cyclops, a Stalker, and an Annihilator. I swear to god I was about ready to shit my pants!"

Dead-eye remained silent as he blew a thin ring of smoke from his mouth, courtesy of his cheap cigarette, but soon asked, "They didn't chase you?"

"No sir, they were about 1.5 kilometers away. I had a new Regias model radar upgrade installed before we got to Venza to increase my radar range. I don't think they noticed me, but I wasn't sticking around to find out..."

"Mm...", Dead-eye's demeanor had changed significantly, almost as if he would not allow himself to show fear in front of his lance. He continued, "Well I've informed our DC employers and they've put their elite guards on high alert.", he paused for a moment before continuing. "Even though that doesn't exactly instill confidence in me, we're still going to finish this campaign. With luck we won't run into any enemy mech units tomorrow."

Getting up and dusting himself off, Dead-eye walked over to a portable blackboard that had a map of the immediate area plastered onto it. He pointed at an area to the northwest of the barracks and said, "This is where that assault lance supposedly is". He then slid his finger down to an area slightly to the south of their current location and said, "This is where our next objective is. We've got a small airfield that we need to take out. We're going to have to get up pretty early so that those fighters don't make it up off the ground."

Sitting back down, Dead-eye's gazed wandered from person to person, finally settling on John. John did not flinch, although the piercing gaze did unsettle him.

"We also have intel on a supply convoy that will be headed there. No armed escorts from what I've heard but that is obviously subject to change". Putting out his cigarette, he sternly asked, "Any questions?"

After a few moments of silence, Dead-eye got up and warily said, "Good. I'll see you men at 0:400 in the morning. You're all dismissed."

John had confidence in Dead-eye's words, but he was still worried about the mission that was slated to start in less than four hours.

What happens when we get to the airfield and we're met by that assault lance?

He shuddered at the thought and rolled over in his lumpy mattress, determined to shake off the negative thought as well as to get some much needed rest. Eventually his wandering mind led him to the land of dreams, where he was met with images of imposing mechs that closed on him at every turn. Just as they were about to overtake him, John's alarm woke him up.

0:400, time to get started...

John's eyes struggled to stay open as his mech trudged along the rocky terrain. His Commando was on auto-pilot, en route to the designated nav point of the pirate airfield-Nav Alpha. Ahead of him were Dead-eye and Turk, torso twisting in the darkness as they moved along. Behind him was Totza, a quiet fellow of Hansen's Roughriders who piloted a Thug. His job was to cover the rear in case of a flank and to provide long range fire support with his PPCs. Liam, the last member of the 3-man crew was left behind at the barracks with his Bombardier in case any pirates tried to attack the compound.

If that assault lance is out there, I don't envy his job..., John thought to himself grimly.

Looking out at the greenish tinged landscape made possible by standard light amplification technology, John could see the outlines of large mountain peaks in the distance, staggering over the dark horizon like jagged pillars. A sudden static crackled over the intercom, soon replaced by Dead-eye's familiar gruff voice.

"Alright folks, we're coming up on the Nav Point. Make sure you guys are on passive so that we don't attract any unwanted attention, kapeesh?

"Roger that.", yawned John as he toggled his Commando's radar to passive mode, effectively reducing the radar's range to 250 meters. John knew that going passive was crucial if they wanted to strike unimpeded, but the feeling of not knowing where an enemy was coming from was enough to send a shiver down his spine.

The group traveled a little further before stopping behind a small, uneven ridge. They waited there for what seemed like hours before Dead-eye broke the silence,

"It doesn't look like they've noticed us...the airfield should be just over this ridge. We're about 100 meters from it and no alarm has gone off so we should be good to go. Remember we need to make this as fast as possible. Totza and I will take out the hangar and any communications buildings in the field. Kid, you and Turk will target the aircraft. There will be some commercial planes out there along with the fighters, take them all out.", he paused before letting out his trademark cackle. "Once we're finished...don't be afraid of stepping on some heads, if you know what I mean. Are we ready?"

Now fully awake, John calmed himself with a deep breath and replied, "Ready!". Totza and Turk did the same as they all waited anxiously in their mechs.

"Alright let's go! ATTACK!", yelled Dead-eye over the intercom.

John quickly throttled his Commando to full speed, the light mech struggled briefly to overcome the verticality of the ridge, but it soon reached the top, giving John a clean look at the air field.

A small air control tower was situated on the far end of the base, surrounded by crudely constructed barracks and even small tents. A small hangar was nestled behind the control tower along with what seemed like a small communications array. What was once greenish black outlines in John's view soon became a mess of flashing lights as the area was bathed with LRM fire.

John quickly moved his mech to the runway, firing his medium lasers at any flight-capable vehicle he saw. They quickly crumbled under the intense energy output, disintegrating into a ball of flame and ashes. Pivoting to catch a small commercial jet to his right, John noticed Turk blasting away targets with his PPC, softening them up with his SRM-6 while his main weapon reloaded.

"Nice shooting Turk, but save some for me will ya?", John ribbed over the intercom."

Turk responded by discharging a PPC shot right into the cockpit of a pirate fighter that John was getting ready to destroy. John simply chuckled in his cockpit, caught up in the thrill of dispatching this pirate base.

Soon enough the base was leveled. Hints of orange tinged the sky, signaling the approach of the Venzan double sunrise, as the group surveyed the damage. Heaps of burnt scrap metal and ashes were all that was left of the former pirate air field. Any pirate personnel had been taken care of, either by laser fire or a mech's foot.

"Nice work gentlemen", started Dead-eye over the intercom. "These scumbags are going to have a hell of a harder time coordinating anything without air support. Now before we celebrate too much, we still have work to do. Check your computers for Nav Point Beta. We're probably not going to make it to Beta, but that's the general direction we're going to be headed in. Intel suggests we've got some pirate supply vehicles en route to this airfield...or former airfield I suppose", cackling once again.

I don't think I'll ever get used to that..., thought John as he imagined the veteran mechwarrior sitting in his cockpit laughing manically.

"Anyway let's move to intercept and let's do it fast. I don't want to come back to base seeing Liam's corpse. Let's move it!", Dead-eye shouted as his Catapult began moving toward Nav Beta. His crew soon followed, with John bringing up the rear this time.

Alright, here we go again! mused John as he noticed the brilliant orange streaks in the sky becoming more and more prominent, coloring the dark landscape before them.