Chapter 1: First Blood


Draconis March, Federated Suns (Contested)

April 17th 3039

"Get your backsides moving Mechwarriors!" a grizzled non-com shouts at the newest recruits of the Draconis March Militia. Twelve young men and women just out of their teens dash off to their newly appointed "barracks" if it could be called such. A large open air tent with enough space for 24 double bunks is what the recruits will call home for the duration of the campaign. A hastily constructed command tent and chow hall service the small FOB. Set behind them are the Mobile repair trucks and "temporary" Mech Hangers some two dozen all told.

The new recruits get settled in…they're used to this by now, all of them having recently graduated from their perspective Academies and moved into active duty. Their leader, Sergeant Steven Kamp, rallies them to the chow hall.

"Alright everybody," he drawled pleasantly "lets grab some grub while we can. I know the Rangers and the Deneb 10th RCT are gonna be doing the legwork on the campaign but who knows…we might luck out and get to test ourselves against the Snakes."

"Sounds good to me!" a fair haired brute of a man called out.

"Sully, you're always up for chow. I don't know how you fit in a cockpit much less your BDUs."

Good natured laughter filled the tent and the twelve newbies clustered towards the chow hall. Bringing up the rear of the group was a quiet brown-headed 'warrior with a high and tight and a faint smile. Standing about 5' 8" and carrying an average build, Joe "DirtNap" Kurtz wasn't much to look at but he had an easy swagger to his step and an air of confidence surrounded him. He took in the whole of the little FOB and called out to the group,

"Hey guys I'm gonna be over at the 'Mechs, wanna make sure the techs don't muck them up too bad."

"Joe you're always worried about those 'Mechs more than us brother, need to come back to terra firma." Sven Larson called after him as Joe walked off towards the big tents covering the 'Mechs.

As Joe reached the Mechs covered under the radar reflective tarp, he paused to look up at the assembled company of 'Mechs. I Lance, The Thunderers, was a mixed heavy/assault lance. The CO of Epsilon Company, Captain Marcus Simms, drove a rare BL-6-KNT, painted in the dark mottled reds and blacks of the DMM field scheme. Lance II, The Scrapheap, had been refitted and repaired many times in their long life. They fielded three medium Mechs anchored by Leftenant Higgs in his TDR-5S. His lance, III Lance, The Ratpack fielded three light Mechs anchored by Sgt. Kamp's Cicada CDA-3C. Joe's assigned Mech for the campaign was a "liberated" Jenner JR-7D. Four medium lasers and an SRM-4 launcher gave the 35 ton Mech a nasty surprise punch, while a top speed of over 100 KPH gave it enough speed to get in and out of trouble while minimizing time on target. The armor was a bit lacking and Joe had wished they had been able to customize their 'Mechs a little before this deployment.

"Heya Wrench, how's Jessica looking today?" Joe asked the tech assigned to Epsilon Company's III Lance.

"She's lookin' good boyo, just finished calibrating the targeting interface, figured you might wanna give it a look see and set up your TICs." The Tech replied with a smile.

"That's great Wrench, I'll head on up" Joe shouts back over his shoulder has he jogs up to the hand holds welded onto his 'Mech.

Quickly scaling the handholds, Joe finds himself up climbing into the comforting familiarity of the Jenner's small cockpit. Strapping in and reaching behind to grab the battered neurohelmet that numerous other pilots had worn before him. Settling into a routine he knew by rote memory, Joe keys the power up sequence into the main keyboard.

"State your Name, MechWarrior." The computer's voice intones at him.

"Joe Kurtz from New Avalon," he replies.

"Security Authorization required."

"Close air support and Friendly Fire should be easier to tell apart."

"Damn right it should, authorization confirmed. All systems nominal"

The Jenner came to life around him. Its MFDs flickered to life and his read-outs all showed green. The TIC pulsed and showed his weapons grouped all together. If Joe kept them in that configuration his 'Mechs ten heatsinks would find themselves quickly overwhelmed and he could face shutdown in the middle of combat, or worse, an internal ammo explosion. He deftly swapped two of the medium lasers to his secondary trigger on his right joystick and set his SRMs to the main trigger on his left. Now were ready to rock and roll, Joe thought to himself.

Suddenly klaxons screamed on the base and Joe jumped despite himself.

He opened the loudspeakers on his 'Mech. "Wrench, what the hell is goin' on?"

"Beats me man, you're the one in the 'Mech!" Wrench shouted back.

Slapping his helmeted head Joe quickly brought up his comm and opened the main channel.

"Attention all hands, Attention all hands, QRF to your 'Mechs, standby for briefing…" the message repeats itself twice then the radio clears. Joe opens the comms on his main viewer as he sees the rest of his lance scrambling from the chow hall and waits…

Maj. Henry Browstien, commander of DMM assets in the area, appeared on Joe's screen.

"Epsilon Company, welcome to the war. At approximately 1400 hours local, orbital scans showed a Draconis Combine unit approximately company strength leave fortified positions along the outer edge of the city of Calais. Their trajectory put them headed straight for here."

A 3D representation of the terrain near the city of Calais had replaced the Major, with an arrow designating the Combine unit's supposed advance. It stopped around a small series of hills and valleys know collectively as Hill 217.

"With the majority of the fighting happening well north of FOB Aquila, Epsilon Company has been tasked with repulsing this unit. At their current speed they will reach Hill 217 in two hours; Company commander switch to channel 762. That is all MechWarriors, good luck and Godspeed."

And just like that III Lance powered up and moved out to engage the Drac unit. Sgt. Kamp was in the lead in his Cicada, with its potent Particle Projection Cannon gleaming menacingly in the sunlight. PFC Larson followed behind and to the right in his factory fresh Valkyrie VLK-QA which hadn't even been with the unit long enough to get its colors painted on. Pvt. Clark followed behind and to the left of Sgt. Kemp in a Wolfhound WLF-1. Joe brought up the rear and they moved as a single unit, covering fire arcs and testing the various sensor types. An hour into the mission the comm-net lit up with updated intel, the Combine unit had dropped off the grid less than 5 minutes ago, but last calculated advance still took them straight to Hill 217. Sgt. Kamp called for a quick halt to give everyone the chance to stand up and relieve themselves or at the very least stretch.

"Listen up Ratpack; we're about to get into it with these Snakes, don't underestimate 'em. I figure we got about 20-30 more minutes of marchin before we get positive returns on our scopes. Once we find 'em, we just pin 'em down. Let the Heap and Thunder do their job. I ain't lookin' to lose no one today got it?"

"AYE SERGEANT!" his lance replies.

"Good, now gets ta steppin'. Don't wanna keep the Snakes waitin do we?"

Ratpack Lance had made all of five hundred meters when PFC Larson called out.

"CONTACT! Seven hundred meters bearing 335, magscan says I'm looking at a lance," the jitter in his voice was noticeable even over the distortion on comms.

Sgt. Kamp's Cicada swiftly turned to the heading called out by his fire-support Mech, "Kurtz take my left, Clark on my right, Larson stay back and hit them at range. This is gonna get ugly, but we're faster than they are keep moving and we should make it through this. Now MOVE!"

The lance quickly reformed into a spearhead with Larson's Valkyrie hanging back, waiting for lock tone on his LRMs. With a whoosh ten of the high explosive missiles streaked away from the Valkyrie and the battle was joined. A Dragon painted in the dark brown and red of the 6th Benjamin Regulars returned the favor, LRMs belching from its center torso, arcing down into the lance. Sgt. Kamp's PPC scoured armor from a Panther and nimbly darted away from the Kuritan's return fire. Joe's Jenner launched itself on plumes of hot plasma squaring off with a Quickdraw-4H, who had just launched a salvo from its LRM racks towards the now jumping Jenner. Pvt. Clark unleashed the Large Laser mounted in his Wolfhound's right arm, punching a scar across the unblemished torso armor of an enemy Lancelot, but failing to penetrate. The Lancelot returned the favor, with the actinic flash of a PPC only just missing.

"Sarge, we're gonna get screwed if we stand up in the open much longer," Joe remarked, gritting his teeth as the Quickdraw landed several long range missiles along the rushing Jenner's flank.

"Trust me, Rook I know what I'm…" The sergeant never finished his sentence as the blue bolt from the Panther's PPC lanced thru his cockpit, turning it into so much melted slag. With agonizing slowness Sgt. Kemp's Cicada toppled forward slamming into the ground. Joe, speechless for a few seconds, quickly analyzed the situation.

"Guys we've got to get out of the open, they'll chew us apart otherwise. Make for those hills with the woods over there, we'll go over the ridge and try and flank them, hit them from behind." He spoke quickly but didn't feel the panic he thought he would.

"Maddog, Maddog this is Rat 2, Rat 1 is down; I say again Rat 1 is down. We are heavily engaged with a Drac Heavy Lance, and are falling back to grid 102251. We will keep them engaged as long as possible." Joe called over the command frequency.

"Roger that Rat 2, be advised Scrap Lance is forty-five mikes out, Hammer lance is just getting out"

"Confirm Command Scrap is four five mikes out?" Joe called back as he weaved his Jenner left and right avoiding most of the laser fire that streaked in at him, the few beams that found his Mech didn't pierce its rear armor.

"Confirmed Rat 2, Scrap is four five mikes out."

Damn, Joe thought to himself, looks like this is gonna be it. Can't think like that though. Gotta get the guys outta here Larson and Clark are green like me, we've all got too much to live for.

Cold searing anger surged through his body, and he planted the right foot of his Jenner, turned and unleashed four medium lasers at the Quickdraw. All four find their mark on the Quickdraw torso, melting away almost a ton of armor from the lightly armored heavy. Whether it was the loss of armor or the suddenness of the attack Joe would never know but the 65 tonner lost its balance and fell on its back, armor covering its rear torso lying crumpled and useless under its bulk.

Matching his maneuver, Clark turned and fired on his pursuer, the Lancelot, piercing its right side and disabling the PPC mounted there and flash-boiling armor from its arms with the medium lasers. The Lancelot returned fire with its remaining arsenal twin large lasers and a single medium laser, missing with only a large laser. Clark's Wolfhound weathered the blistering fusillade and he fired his large laser again wrecking the Lancelot's left arm.

The exchange didn't go completely in favor of the Rats though; Larson's LRMs missed completely and his medium laser did little more than singe the paint over the Dragon's protruding chest. The Dragon's return fire devastated the Valkyrie's light armor; the medium lasers tore thru his left arm and the AC5 punched hard into the torso, while seven long range missiles peppered the light Mech, with one severing its left arm completely. The Panther's PPC missed Joe's Jenner wide to the left but two of its SRMs found their mark blasting craters in the Jenner's right arm but missing anything critical.

"Fall back Rats," Joe ordered over his comms. Things weren't looking too good for the Light lance. With Sgt. Kemp dead and PFC Larson's Valkyrie in bad shape they were down to about half strength and were out gunned and out-tonned by the Combine heavy lance. So they relied on what the only advantage they had…speed.

Shoving his throttle into full reverse, Joe swiftly backpedaled into the grove of trees that rested at the foot of the small hills near what was left of his lance. Larson's Valkyrie and Clark's Wolfhound joined him moments later as the Drac heavy lance approached. The Dragon led the enemy charge, with the Quickdraw close behind. The Panther and the Lancelot brought up the rear of the enemy lance keeping their long range weapons at optimal range.

"Alright listen up guys, we're gonna split up once they reach 150m out. Makes them easier to hit and us a lot harder to hit. I'll be jumping over that Dragon; I want you two to focus fire on that Quickdraw, once you fire back deeper into the grove." Joe instructed calmly, knowing he was about to put his life on the line. "If…" he started, "no WHEN Scrap arrives we'll have them pound the snot out of that Panther and Lancelot…got it?" A pair of muted affirmatives answered him grimly. "This may be our last stand..." The words came to his mind unbidden but there was truth in them. "Ready…here they come…GO!"

The Draconis 'Mechs charged forward with autocannon belching hot lead and missiles corkscrewing down into the remaining members of the Ratpack lance. But they didn't go unanswered. Larson's LRMs found their mark this time, with five missiles slamming into the already wounded Quickdraw's left torso, blasting away precious armor plating. Not to be out done, Clark fired his full assortment of lasers at the battered 'Mech as well, punching deep into the wounds left by Larson's missile barrage.

The heat generated by the large laser that punched into the 'Mechs ruined armor began to set off the missiles stored within the confines of the Quickdraw's left torso, and quaking violently, the 65 ton 'Mech's left torso suddenly erupted flinging deadly shrapnel and 'Mech components everywhere. Now gutted by internal explosions and the loss of its engine the ruined 'Mech toppled onto its face, shattering the cockpit and shredding the pilot inside with deadly fragments.

"That's how we do it gents!" Joe crowed over the comms, ecstatic that his plan was at least half way working. Now it was his turn.

Slamming down on his foot pedals, Joe ignited his jump jets rising high on silver streams of plasma. The Dragon in front of him fired constantly in an attempt to knock him from the sky and Joe watched helplessly as autocannon rounds flashed past the jutting cockpit of his Jenner. A pair of medium lasers stabbed into his torso and armor ran off his 'Mech like melted butter as they worked over his armor.

But it didn't stop him. Joe landed behind the 60 tonner and toggled the switch that would flip his Jenner's arms. Quickly glancing up at his rear display, Joe tightened his grip over the triggers. Four beams of coherent death stabbed out, slashing deeply into the thin rear armor of the Dragon. Two of them melted clean through the Dragon's rear center torso and reached beyond into the internal workings of the heavy 'Mech nicking the gyro and causing the machine to stumble. The third sent rivulets of molten armor cascading down the left leg as the beam swept down its length. The last shot missed narrowly between the autocannon bearing arm and the right torso of the 'Mech…but the Dragon didn't fall; instead it continued its rush towards the remaining members of Ratpack Lance.

"Guys watch your selves; get behind it if you can!" Joe bellowed over the radio turning his attention to the rest of the Combine heavy lance. The Lancelot raised its weapons threateningly while the Panther turned to face the sudden arrival of Joe's Jenner. Joe wasted no time, throwing his throttle wide open and turning hard to the right. He thought he had gotten clear when an azure bolt slammed into the left flank of his light 'Mech, sending armor raining to the ground. A quick glance at his armor readout told a grim story – precious little armor remained on his left torso with most of the rest of his 'Mech showing some amount of damage, the only green remaining on the readout was his head. "Thank God for small miracles," he breathed.

Behind him, Clark and Larson fought for their lives as the Dragon rushed in at them. Clark was running hot after his alpha strike brought down the Quickdraw and his Wolfhound moved sluggishly as a result, but he pushed it to its limits as he triggered a pair of medium lasers at the heavy 'Mech. Larson's battered Valkyrie weathered another burst of autocannon fire from the Dragon, but the Dragon's fire didn't go unanswered as the young pilot unleashed his LRMs at minimum range with his laser finding its mark on the murderous autocannon wielding arm. The LRMs slammed into the bulbous head and left arm of the Draconis 'Mech blasting away armor from arm and cockpit. Clark's medium lasers scored hits on the jutting torso and he let out a whoop as he saw internals through the holes his lasers punched.

Joe twisted and turned, pushing his Jenner for all it was worth. "You know what…I don't care what people say about the Dracs…they know how to design a 'Mech," he thought bitterly. He thumbed down on the trigger and sent twin lances of coherent death spearing towards the Lancelot, trying to disable the bigger threat to him at the moment. As an afterthought he sent four SRMs streaking away towards the heavy and grinned as two of them blasted into the gaping hole in the right side of the 'Mech. He almost laughed out loud as the right arm and most of the right torso just fell off the Lancelot and he could swear he almost heard the Combine pilot curse him and his family; that was before the Panther sent another blue bolt screaming past him cockpit. Ducking away from the shot, Joe grimaced as all four SRMs from the Panther slammed into his right arm and leg, laying his right arm open. An alarm sounded and Joe watched in horror as one of his medium lasers went offline. "DAMMIT!" he cursed. A quarter of his firepower…gone just like that.

Larson knew he was going to die. The Draconis Combine Dragon had been ruthless in the pursuit of the light fire support 'Mech. He frantically looked for his wingman, Clark and his much sturdier Wolfhound, but they were no where to found. He triggered his sole close-quarters weapon and watched it do minimal damage to the sixty ton monster pursuing him. "Gott dammit," he groaned into his throat mic, "Clark where are you dummkopf!? I am going to be overrun!" The Dragon's autocannon belched a three foot tongue of flame and a stream of shells that miraculously missed Larson's battered Valkyrie but the paired medium lasers punched clean through his devastated right torso. "CLARK WHERE THE F…." Larson was drowned out by a bellow that nearly deafened him.

Clark had backed into the deep woods near the foot of the small ridge near the battlefield. He watched his wingman helplessly as his tortured heatsinks worked to cool his 'Mech down. But now…now he could move again. Slamming his throttles to the stops, the thirty-five tonner lurched forward at better than 95 KPH. Opening the external comms he waited until he was within ten meters of the back of the Dragon…and he screamed. A low bestial roar left his mouth as Clark lowered his Wolfhound's shoulder and slammed into the back of the Draconis' trademark 'Mech.

…only to careen off and fall to the left side of the sixty ton monster. The Dragon tromped around in a slow circle and twisted to look at the forlorn 'Mech laying on its side and raised the business end of its autocannon. A vicious kick from Larson's Valkyrie threw its aim off at the last second; the shells hammering into the Wolfhound's sturdy flank instead of the cockpit. Clark levered the Wolfhound so that he could fire a pair of his medium lasers at the Dragon, but one of the emerald beams missed wide to the right, a result of the focusing lens having shifted during his charge. But the one that connected, connected well. A long darkened crease ran over the bulbous "head" of the Draconis 'Mech and it stumbled as if drunk. By the time it had regained its footing, Clark had stood the Wolfhound up and Larson had retreated his Valkyrie back into range for his LRMs.

Joe cursed as a PPC shot screamed by his 'Mech for what felt like the hundredth time. "Will you assholes just die!" he yelled as he juked hard right then left as a blue lance of irradiated light stabbed past him. "SHIT!" Joe slammed the throttle of his Jenner forward and leaned into a long left hand turn, twisting as hard as he dared to get a decent shot on the Draconis Panther that had been stalking him with PPC fire. "C'mon Jessie, just a little longer" he urged his wounded 'Mech. The keening tone of a weapons lock filled his ears and he tightened his index fingers on the triggers. Two crisp green beams spat out and burned deep into the Panther's torso, sending massive amounts of molten slag cascading to the ground. Joe flicked his thumb down and sent four HEDP semi guided rockets screaming from the launch tubes just above his head. All four found their mark in the battered torso of the 'Mech. Two went right and blasted the pristine armor there. One went left and immobilized the shoulder joint of the light 'Mech's left arm…and one…one flew true and slid neatly into the hole bored through the center torso armor; straight into the gyro. Thirty five tons of 'Mech slammed into ground at roughly seventy kilometers per hour. It didn't get back up.

Clark was screaming in fury as the Dragon lumbered past him. His entire body ached, his readout was fuzzed in static, and it was so Gott damned hot in his Wolfhound. Larson was sputtering over the comms, muttering in German, Hebrew and occasionally English. "Gott im Himmel, geheiligt, dein Name sein... תבוא המלכות, thy will be done…" he heard Larson whisper.

Joe turned away from the Panther as he heard Larson's whispered prayer over the comms. A scene of terrible destruction greeted his eyes.

Clark's Wolfhound was a little more than a twisted heap of titanium "bones", blasted armor plates, frayed lengths of myomer, and sickly yellow coolant. Its left leg was bent awkwardly the wrong direction, a clear sign of being kicked by a much larger 'Mech. The Dragon had taken its time working over just about every section of the proud Lyran made machine, it's once proud wolfshead was singed and the ears melted, the cluster of lasers in its center torso; melted beyond recognition, and a pool of viscous yellow had gathered under it, looking for all the world like congealed bile.

Larson's battered Valkyrie was missing both its arms and the ten shot LRM in its left torso had been wrecked by several autocannon rounds from the Dragon. Two of the antennae on its head were melted stubs and the cockpit was starred from a mighty blow. Thick oily smoke billowed out of a hole in its center torso, indicative of an engine hit. The 'Mech swayed slightly, though whether the sway was from the pilot or a damaged gyro; Joe couldn't tell.

"no…" Joe breathed. He watched in horror as the Dragon turned its icebreaker torso towards Larson's unarmed 'Mech. NO…not today you Snake scum…was the only thought that went through his head as he threw the Jenner around in a tight turn and pushed the throttle home. At over a hundred kilometers per hour the world began to blur, but with the fury of battle and adrenaline coursing through his system, the world slowed to a crawl and everything went crystal clear...Joe lined up his crosshair on the back of the Dragon, and he exhaled. The range finder ticked down and in the blink of an eye he had crossed a hundred and fifty meters, well within range for his weapons.

He triggered two of his medium lasers, watching them slice through the Dragon's left lower leg, snapping the myomer bands running from ankle to knee. The Dragon seemed to move as if it was coated in molasses, slowly turning away from Larson to face him. Joe noticed the damage it had sustained fighting the smaller more nimble machines. The autocannon bearing right arm sluggishly followed clearly jerking several times, a tell-tale sign of actuator damage. Two deep angry scars ran across the Dragon's "snout" and Joe spotted greenish coolant trails from one of them. The left torso mounted laser and its mate on the left arm sent searing ruby light at his battered Jenner, a reminder that this dragon still had teeth.

The lasers played over his Jenner's torso, wicking away the last bit of armor over his 'Mech's left and center torso. A stuttering thud shook Joe in his cockpit and the heat in his 'Mech became almost unbearable. A critical hit to his engine made him grimace inside but Joe triggered his external speakers, "I am NOT gonna die today Snake!" he screamed defiantly, triggering his short range missiles. Only two found their mark reducing the last of the heavy 'Mechs armor over its torso to paper-like consistency. Ignoring the debilitating heat in his cockpit Joe triggered his last charged laser. It went in through the right side of jutting torso of the Dragon and speared through the LRM launcher there, touching off the missiles and blowing the snout off.

The Dragon reeled from the blow and turned to face Joe's battered Jenner fully. "Anata wa yoku tatakattaga, ima anata wa shinu!" The traditional Japanese boomed over the Dragon's loudspeakers as it threw itself at the Jenner with all the might its 300 rated engine could throw behind it. Smoke billowed from its broken snout and it looked for all the world like a myth come to life.
Til a pair of medium lasers sliced through its leg.
Joe breathed in deep as his tortured heatsinks tried and mostly kept the heat in the cockpit to just slightly less than baking levels. He pulled his hands away from his joysticks just in time for the Dragon to finish digging a furrow some sixty meters away.

"Yeah whatever the hell you just said...I don't care."

Joe twisted his battered Jenner's torso to the left looking behind him at the retreating form of the Benjamin Lancelot. He was half tempted to pursue, to finish the job that Sgt. Kamp had started but then immediately crushed the thought. His friends needed help.

Toggling on his comms, Joe keyed up his mic.
"Mad Dog, this is Rat 2, Draconis heavy lance is down. I need immediate medivac on my coordinates, I have one 'Mech down with no signs of ejection and the other pilot looks like he's gonna drop any minute now."
"Copy Rat 2, medivac is en-route ETA is 15 minutes. Be advised Scrap has reported they have you on sensors now."
"Confirmed Mad Dog, I have Scrap lead on visual."

With a deft flick of his fingers, Joe cut the channel and began lowering his Jenner to a knee in order to go to stand-by mode. As soon as he had finished locking the system down he began to shake..."Not now" he thought "of all the times not now!"Quickly unstrapping his harness and disconnecting the coolant hose from his vest, he looked down at his hands. Joe had always experienced some form of trembling after the sim runs and had chalked it up to nervousness and unfamiliarity, and during his final year at the Robinson Battle Academy they had gone completely. But now like a tree in the middle of autumn he shook, almost violently. Not completely trusting his hands, yet knowig his friends needed his help, Joe gritted his teeth and forced himself to focus on the task at hand.

Author's Note: This is a work in progress...I'll continue to tweak and add to the chapter.
EDIT 10-28-12: Chapter 1...COMPLETE! please R&R review
Til next time Mechwarrior fans!