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Max_Writer

Mechwarrior

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

(After running a Mechwarrior game on Sunday, July 13, 2014, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (followed by a Battletech game from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) with Kyle Matheson, Logan Scott, James Brown, James Williams, Bo Lewis, and Aaron Scott.)

In 3025, during the height of the Succession Wars, a small mercenary group near the periphery of the Lyran Commonwealth fell on hard times and had to take whatever job it could find.

Jaeger’s Strikeforce had been a two-lance mercenary group with a Merchant-class jumpship and two Leopard-class dropships. Hans Jaeger, the leader of the force, had recently expanded his small mercenary band from one lance to two with the addition of five new, green recruits.

Carlos Reyes went by the handle “Lockjaw.” He was 29 years old and had tattoos all over his body, as well as a cybernetic eye. He had studied and embraced the gangster mentality of the late 20th and early 21st century, at least what records he could find. He tried to act like the way he’d heard they acted and what his own imagination provided. He piloted a PXH-1 Phoenix Hawk mech. His tech was called “Socket” and was a good at what he did though was easily distracted.

Yamagata the Yellow Wind was only 19 and used to belong to a motorcycle gang on his home world. He wore tight leather but was otherwise average-looking. He was already in possession of a WSP-1A Wasp mech. His tech, “Gopher” had also been part of the gang.

Jerrald Cunnington was older, being 39 and new the mech scene, having finally gotten hold of a mech. His handle was “Cobra” and he wore a duster. He had a scar over his eye and a mortal enemy out there. Being racist, he disliked his fellow mercenaries, but they were a part of this team. He especially disliked Reyes, who was actually considered of higher rank than he was. He had stolen his LCT-1V Locust mech, but the theft had gone unreported, at least to date. He knew someone was looking for him, though. His tech was his brother, Otis Cunnington, who was 46 years old.

Michael Traynor was about 22 years old and was of medium build with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was from the world Sky in the Lyran Commonwealth, having trained in the Sky Academy. He didn’t have a handle but had a tech they called “Wrench” because he was a big man and he carried a big wrench. He piloted a COM-1B Commando mech.

Hercules Hanson went by the handle “Eureka.” He was 36 years old and a little scruffy. His tech was Chuck Hanson, his son. He piloted another PXH-1 Phoenix Hawk mech.

The trouble had started with their first mission. Jaeger’s Strikeforce had found itself outnumbered and outgunned. Then Hans Jaeger and his two veterans had been blasted from the field of battle by the opposition. Said opposition had given the remainder of them a chance to quit the field of battle with their mechs intact and they had taken advantage of that option.

It took them a month to secure another job after that. Arthur San, the baronet of a small planet called Xinxin that orbited a G-class star near the periphery needed mercenaries and was able to come to terms with their price. The baronet was under House Steiner, the house that ran the entire commonwealth.

It was before they actually spoke to the baronet’s man that they discussed if their group should have a leader or commanding officer.

“I wish it’d been one of you instead of Jaeger, man,” Lockjaw said.

“Yeah, I sympathize,” Cobra replied. “I wish it was somebody else too.”

“Jaeger was good, and we ran like pussies, man,” Lockjaw said.

“Some more than others,” Cobra said.

“He who flees and runs away, lives to fight another day,” Yamagata said sagely.

“We should’ve fought!” Lockjaw said.

“We would have died,” Yamagata said.

“How would we have fought against three Atlases?” Cobra asked.

“Atli?” Eureka said.

“Anyways …” Lockjaw said.

“The answer is mostly with light or medium mechs,” Traynor said. “You get them into a box canyon and keep firing until they die.”

“There’s no canyons!” Cobra said. “They were plains!”

“We need a new leader, homes,” Lockjaw said. “I think I’m the man.”

“Prove it,” Yamagata said.

“I beg to differ,” Cobra said.

“Prove it in a fistfight,” Yamagata said.

“I’m the best pilot,” Cobra said. “I should be the leader.”

“Being a good pilot doesn’t make you a good leader,” Traynor said.

“Says you!” Cobra said.

“My tech could kick your tech’s ass!” Yamagata said to Lockjaw.

“Wanna prove it, homes?” Lockjaw replied, thinking he’d said “mech” instead of “tech.” “I just put hydraulics on mine! It go bounce bounce!”

“Gopher, go kick his tech’s ass!” Yamagata said.

“Socket sucks!” Lockjaw said.

“Okay, okay,” Gopher said.

He went over and the two techs circled each other until Socket got distracted and walked away to start messing with a part.

“Where you going?” Gopher asked.

“I noticed that this hydraulic looks off here,” Socket said. “I really should fix it. Gimme about four hours and we can finish our fight.”

“Socket, you pussy, homes!” Lockjaw said.

“What?” Socket said. “Oh yeah, we were fighting!”

“Man!” Lockjaw said.

“Go kick his ass, Gopher!” Yamagata said. “This is for the leadership.”

“Then you win,” Lockjaw said.

“But I don’t wanna be leader,” Yamagata said.

They all looked at him.

“I saw what happened to the last leader,” he said. “I don’t want to get blown off the ground.”

“I don’t think we need a leader,” Traynor said.

“Wait, we’re pitting our crewmembers against each other for leadership?” Cobra said.

“Yeah,” Yamagata said.

The techs didn’t seem to really be that interested.

“This is the weirdest trial of who will lead a mercenary group that I’ve ever seen,” Traynor said.

“I’m just sayin’ we don’t run from here on out, man,” Lockjaw said.

“You don’t,” Eureka said.

“I don’t!” Lockjaw replied.

“Your tech runs,” Yamagata said.

“Next time there are three Atlases on the field, we will make sure that you do not run,” Traynor said.

“You hit them!” Lockjaw said.

“You got it man, you got it,” Eureka said.

It’s me or nobody, Cobra thought.

“We need a democracy,” Lockjaw said. “What if we were all the leader?”

“I like that,” Eureka said. “I like that. Let’s all be the leader.”

“That doesn’t work,” Traynor said. “On the battlefield, it doesn’t work very well. There has to be someone in control on the battlefield. We can all make decisions here, but someone has to be in control on the fight.”

“We need two,” Lockjaw said. “We need one to make calls and one to question them. It’s the only way. One person makes a bad call, we all pay for it. Like Jaeger did.”

“He made that call,” Eureka said.

“No he didn’t,” Lockjaw said. “It’s the other two guys. They were always, you know, bad decisions, man.”

“We can discuss this later,” Cobra said. “We need to go on patrol.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Lockjaw said. “Who’s gonna talk to this Mark Tristam? Some white boy demoplat.”

They briefly discussed who would be their liaison for the group at least. They realized that Lockjaw was actually the best with people.

“Fine, I’ll go talk to this Tristam guy,” he said. “How much do we want to get paid?”

“Do you need a translator to come with you?” Cobra said with a sneer.

“No!” Lockjaw said. “I know how to deal with these white boys.”

“I meant for the other guy,” Cobra said.

“Any time they say something I don’t like, I just flash the pistol!”

“How’s that worked out?” Yamagata asked.

“They back out!”

“Do they pay you for work, though?” Cobra asked.

Lockjaw looked at him.

“You know what old man, I think you’re the better one to go do diplomacy,” Traynor said.

“I think this man’s racist!” Lockjaw said. He turned to Yamagata. “What do you think?”

“I think he’s racist too!” Cobra said.

“What are we talking about?” Yamagata said. “Who are we talking about? I don’t see race.”

They dealt with the baronet’s representative Mark Tristam and soon found themselves on the tiny, resource-poor, but heavily populated Xinxin. Their contract was for the next year and they didn’t make a good profit but they were given right of salvage. They were housed in a large warehouse in the capital city for their mechs and equipment while on world. It had an attached barracks that was empty save for the five of them and their techs. The two dropships were parked on the tarmac right outside the warehouse.

They were to protect the planet as best they could. There were a few mech units on the world, but not many, leaving most of the work up to the Strikeforce.

Yamagata painted tiger stripes on his mech in his downtime for the next month or so. The others also repainted their mechs. They had been bright red under Jaeger’s command. Traynor had his Commando painted in a camouflage palette. Cobra did his own desert color but with a big, bright-red cobra on the front. Eureka painted swear words all over the arms of his own mech.

While they were working on Xinxin in the first month of 3025, word came to the world through the news networks that a major campaign had started between the Lyran Commonwealth and the Free Worlds League. Border disputes had escalated into major combat with both sides being very aggressive. Unfortunately the border was over 100 light years away.

They were also trying to figure out why they had been hired for the job. The planet was, for the most part, without resources aside from the high population. After a few weeks, they wondered why that backwater world needed protection at all. In that time, they patrolled the planet, particularly around the capital city, and basically made sure that there were no pirate incursions or other attempts against the government.

There were none.

One night, both Lockjaw and Cobra were in a bar. They were not together, of course, as they couldn’t stand each other, but were sitting at the bar not far apart when they overheard some men talking about some kind of technological storehouse on the planet. They were able to find out that there was a meeting that night in an abandoned warehouse on the edge of the city between two parties to discuss it. They were actually able to learn the location of the meeting as well.

After they left the bar, Lockjaw confronted Cobra.

“Are you gonna tell the others or what?” Lockjaw asked him.

“Not you!” Cobra replied.

“Mr. Leader.”

Cobra didn’t answer that but when he returned to their base of operations, he told Traynor and Eureka about what he’d learned. He didn’t bother telling Yamagata as he wasn’t white. Eureka was all for finding out about the meeting. Traynor noted that if it was important enough, they might want to steal it, depending on who was in the meeting and what they were negotiating. He was perplexed why they were on that world. It didn’t seem to make any sense why they’d been hired.

* * *

“I don’t know if the white boys told you …” Lockjaw said to Yamagata.

“Yeah?” Yamagata said.

“There’s a technical warehouse and a meeting tonight.”

“Oh, were you guys planning on going without me?”

Traynor entered the room to tell them but heard the conversation so turned and walked out.

“I told you so you could come with me,” Lockjaw said.

“Yeah, I can come with you,” Yamagata said.

“We gotta stay together,” Lockjaw said.

“Yeah,” Yamagata said. “We don’t even need those guys. Let’s go to the warehouse.”

* * *

They eventually all got together and talked of the situation, knowing there was safety in numbers. Yamagata was set on bringing his jetpack. They talked strategy for a little while and tried to figure out how they would approach the meeting. Traynor talked of staying in his mech and Lockjaw noted that one tiny dent in his little mech and it would just crash anyway. He didn’t care, however, as he wanted to steal whatever they were talking about anyway. Traynor pointed out that they didn’t want to steal it though Eureka noted that they might. Yamagata said that they didn’t even know what was going down. Cunnington pointed out that if they needed speed, they would want his Locust.

“But you’re not gonna be in the mech,” Lockjaw said. “You’re gonna be out with your cane.”

He grinned at the older man.

“But when I’m in the mech, I don’t need my cane,” Cunnington said.

There was some more discussion of who would be in mechs and who wouldn’t. Yamagata noted that he would keep an eye out from above on his jetpack. They also discussed the weapons that they would carry and how quiet they could be. Traynor wondered about the loudness of the jetpack but Yamagata told him he was not going into the warehouse with the jetpack but would just get on top of the building. Traynor also suggested that Cobra not use his cone rifle for the sake of quietness.

“I’m not gonna take the cone rifle!” Cobra said.

They wondered about a cover story, figuring they could say they were doing work on the warehouse. Lockjaw noted that he could pretend to be a custodian. Yamagata was adamant about using the jet pack. They eventually figured that Traynor and Eureka would stay in their mechs, walking a patrol not far from the place. Lockjaw and Cobra would go in on foot while Yamagata flew down on his jetpack and landed on the roof.

“Hey, don’t wear our colors just in case you get caught … with that stupid jetpack!” Lockjaw said.

They set their plan into action with Lockjaw and Cobra heading in first. The two men spotted two ground cars outside of the warehouse. One of them was a four-wheel drive truck while the other was a limousine. They moved around the side of the warehouse and spotted a small side door with a single man in a suit standing outside of it. Though Cobra was quiet as he approached, Lockjaw made some noise that the man heard. He ducked behind a crate but the man walked over to investigate.

Lockjaw stood up from the crate he was hiding behind and fired his laser pistol at the guard. The pistol hummed and the beam of light struck the man in the torso. There was a hiss and stink of burning flesh. The man cursed and Lockjaw backed up to another crate and ducked behind it. The man moved towards him, dodging as he went, and drew an auto pistol, firing it at him but the bullets went wide.

Lockjaw fired his laser pistol at the man again, striking him in the right leg. There was another hiss as the laser beam burned the man’s leg.

“Sup,” Lockjaw said to the man.

Cobra crept over to the door while the other two men moved around the crates and exchanged more fire. Both of them missed their targets.

“****ing Socket!” Lockjaw said, blaming his tech for not being able to hit the man.

The guard dropped his gun and held up his hands. Then Lockjaw burned him in the torso again. The man screamed and stumbled to lean against a crate.

“Sup?” Lockjaw said again.

He shot the man again, this time in the left leg. The man finally fell to the ground. Lockjaw fired another shot into the man’s head to finish him off.

Oh my God, Lockjaw thought.

Cobra opened the door.

* * *

Yamagata, flying overhead, saw a flash below and looked down. He was able to watch the whole, one-sided battle between the two men thanks to Lockjaw leaving his ambient light particles activated on the laser pistol.

“Holy crap,” he muttered.

* * *

Lockjaw crept over to the door where Cobra was standing.

“Pretty cool, right?” he whispered.

“You are the very definition of sloppy,” Cobra said.

“I was a distraction, homes,” Lockjaw said.

“But the screaming made it so I couldn’t sneak in!”

“You shoulda helped me. Once again, you tried to run.”

“No no no no no. See, you could have just sat there and acted like you were lost, and I could have snuck in. But no, you just opened fire on this guy!”

“Ain’t no white guy gonna believe me when I’m all in black, sneaking up on a warehouse.”

Cobra just shook his head.

“Anyway, let’s get on with the job!” Lockjaw said. “Let’s go.”

Lockjaw looked up and spotted Yamagata flying in on his jetpack. The man disappeared over the top of the building.

They crept into the warehouse.

* * *

Yamagata landed lightly on the roof. He looked around for a skylight and spotted one near the apex of the building. He crept towards it, taking out his radio.

“I’m on the roof,” he said into the device.

He knew that Traynor and Eureka would be tuned in and his message would go to auto-voicemail for the others if their radios were not active.

* * *

Lockjaw and Cobra crept into the warehouse. There were numerous crates in the massive building, which must have been a hundred meters across and probably 30 meters high. A stairwell was on the back wall. It ran to a catwalk that went out to the center of the building some 20 meters up. The catwalk led to a small structure that was probably an office. It had a catwalk going round it and windows in all four walls. The main lights were not lit in the building, but light spilled out of the windows on the office.

“Because you can’t sneak, let me sneak up there,” Cobra whispered to Lockjaw.

Two men walked around inside the warehouse and appeared to be on watch. Both of them wore suits.

“So, Carlos, do you think you can sneak or … should you wait here?” Cobra said.

“Huh?” Lockjaw replied.

“How about you sneak around and possibly try to take out the guards quietly while I try to go to the meeting,” Cobra said.

“You want me to shoot one?”

“No. No we don’t want you to shoot. Do you have no kind of knife or anything?”

“No.”

“Set it to the no-light setting then.”

“No light? No flash?”

“No flashing. No show.”

Lockjaw was at a loss.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” he whispered.

“I’m going to try to sneak into the office,” Cobra whispered.

They parted. Lockjaw moved towards the door with the intention of making some noise to distract the guards. Then he heard a noise coming from where Cobra was creeping across the room as the man kicked a can or something.

Lockjaw activated the radio on his shoulder.

“Oh, how the tides have turned,” he whispered into it.

The two men stopped in their patrol and started to walk towards Cobra’s position.

* * *

In their mechs, Traynor and Eureka heard Yamagata say he’d arrived on the roof. Then they heard Lockjaw.

“Oh, how the tides have turned,” the man said.

“What tides have turned?” Traynor said.

* * *

Cobra grabbed the can he’d kicked, but and flung it to part of the warehouse not far from Lockjaw. The two guards went on alert and headed towards where the can had landed. It was a little ways from Lockjaw and he found a hiding place near the door.

Cobra continued on to the steps and headed up.

* * *

Yamagata crept to the skylight and looked down into the office below. A man in a suit stood on one side of a table while two scruffy-looking men stood on the other. All three of them were looking at a paper map of the planet and discussing something. He couldn’t make out all the words but did get that they were talking about money and asking how much the baronet was willing to pay.

Then the three stopped talking and looked towards the door.

“Tamaris?” the man in the suit said.

He walked towards the door.

“Stuff seems to be heating up,” Yamagata said into the radio.

* * *

Cobra had almost reached the office when one of the boards he was walking on creaked terribly loudly.

“Tamaris?” he heard a voice say from inside the office.

It sounded like someone was walking towards the door of the office towards him. He desperately looked around for cover but there was none. He heard the doorknob rattle and he rolled off the catwalk to hang from the edge of it. He looked down and saw the men walking around below him.

The door opened and light spilled out. The man inside looked out for a moment.

“Tamaris?” he said. “Tamaris!”

“Yeah,” one of the men below called up.

“Were you just up here?”

“No. We heard a noise. We heard a noise and we were keeping an eye out.”

The man stepped out of the office and then walked around the catwalk that went around the office. When he returned to the door, he went back inside, closing it behind him.

Cobra tried to pull himself up onto the catwalk but couldn’t. He shimmied over a few feet in the hopes that he could get a leg up on the catwalk. He tried to pull himself up but just couldn’t do it.

He activated the headset in his ear.

“Carlos!” he whispered.

* * *

Lockjaw had watched the whole thing on the catwalk. He figured he was pretty sure who threw the can his way. Then his radio alerted him to a message. He put it up against his ear and heard Cobra say “Carlos!”

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Carlos!” Cobra said. “Get your ass up here!”

* * *

Yamagata watched the meeting continue. Though he didn’t hear everything that was being discussed, there were snatches of the conversation that came to him. He heard mention of the Star League, a lost facility, and a factory.

* * *

“Carlos!” Cobra hissed into his radio. “Carlos! Get over here!”

“How y’all doing?” Eureka called on the radio.

“What’s going on, guys?” Traynor asked.

“I need manual labor!” Cobra said.

“I see three people in the room,” Yamagata interjected. “An older gentleman and two burley guys, who are looking over a map and talking about an old facility and how it might get them money. If you can get these three guys out of this room, I can lower myself down, get the map, and jetpack out of here.”

“Carlos!” Cobra said. “If you can’t sneak …”

I want to help him but I don’t know how, Lockjaw said.

“We need a distraction,” he said. “White boy in trouble!”

“Yeah, you guys should come in with your mechs and make a big distraction,” Yamagata said. “These guys’ll leave the room, I can drop down.”

Traynor suggested they do a run right by the warehouse.

“Make sure they know it’s not us though,” Lockjaw said.

* * *

Traynor in his Commando and Eureka in his Phoenix Hawk headed over to the warehouse, passing close by the building. Traynor didn’t realize he actually stepped on the dead body that Lockjaw had left on the ground.

* * *

The door over Cobra opened again and the man walked to the corner and looked down, opening his mouth to speak. Then he spotted Cobra.

“What the hell!?!” he said.

“I seem to have fallen and can’t get up,” Cobra said.

The man looked confused.

“Get up here!” he yelled.

The two guards below looked up and then started sprinted towards the stairs.

“You are in a pretty tough spot, aren’t you?” the man on the catwalk said to Cobra. “Who are you?”

“Yeah, I was just out for a late-night walk and somehow fell off a catwalk,” Cobra said.

“Looks more like you’re hanging to me,” the man said.

* * *

“Cobra’s been spotted!” Yamagata said over the radio.

“Go for the map!” Eureka said. “Go for the map!”

“Uh … okay,” Yamagata said.

“Are we blown?” Traynor said.

“Yeah, I think we might be blown,” Yamagata said.

He drew his vibroblade and then jumped onto the glass of the skylight over one of the scruffy-looking men. The glass shattered and he fell into the room, landing on one of the men who went down with a shriek, crumpling under him. He had heard a snap from the man when he landed upon him.

The other man looked really surprised.

* * *

Below on the floor, Lockjaw was just looking at the can, as he had been since it had been thrown in his direction. He was wondering why it had been thrown in his direction.

He drew his laser pistol.

* * *

“All right,” Traynor said. “Now it’s super-distraction time.”

He and Eureka had reached the corner of the building on their “patrol.” They both had been watching the building with infrared and knew the locations of everyone. They both reached the corner of the building and spotted the two vehicles there. Another man stood just outside of the warehouse door.

* * *

“Guys, do I bust in the wall?” Eureka called over his radio.

“Go go go go go!” Traynor said.

“That sounds good,” Cobra said.

“Here I go!” Eureka said.

He smashed through the thing warehouse wall and headed in even as Traynor turned on all his mech spotlights and pointed them at the man outside of the warehouse, guarding the door.

“Surrender or die!” he said over the mech loudspeakers.

The man raised his hands carefully.

* * *

“What the hell!?!” the man over Cobra said as the 45 ton mech crashed through the wall.

Eureka’s mech crossed the warehouse floor and reached up, grabbing Cobra in a free hand. Cobra pissed himself a little, certain that the mech was going to crush him to death. He let go in the hopes that he would slide through but the mech got a good grip on him. He was certain he was dead − it was not the kind of things mechs were built for. However, the grip only grasped him hard enough to hold him in place.

The man on the catwalk drew a machine pistol and fired at the mech to no effect. Eureka’s mech turned and walked out of the building, smashing a second hole in the wall.

“*****es!” he called over his loudspeakers as he left.

* * *

The man in the office drew a machine pistol and moved around to the other side of the table, moving away from Yamagata and his vibroblade. Yamagata swiped the map off the table and activated his jetpack, flying straight up through the same hole he’d come from. The man opened fire on him, bullets shattering glass in the skylight. However, none of the bullets struck him.

“I got the map, guys!” he said over the radio once he got his vibrodagger sheathed.

* * *

Down in the warehouse, Lockjaw stood up and walked out, disappearing into the shadows.

“Stealth mission succeeded, guys,” Eureka quipped.

“Should we get rid of the building and the evidence?” Traynor asked over the radio

“We don’t need to hurt our rep any more than we have,” Lockjaw said.

“I got the map, guys, let’s get out of here!” Yamagata said.

As Lockjaw left the building, he found that the corpse he’d left there earlier had been crushed beyond all recognition.

* * *

Traynor walked his mech the north, stepping on both the limousine and the truck as he left the area.

* * *

They returned to their own base of operations.

When Eureka’s mech finally put Cobra down, he glared up at the huge mech.

“Never do that again!” he said.

“You guys should check this out,” Yamagata said when those who had not been in mechs got back to the barracks.

He laid out the planetary map on the table.

“Hold on, hold on,” Lockjaw said. He turned to Cobra. “You wanna explain the can, esse? Usually, I’d talk about the piss in your pants, but I wanna explain the can first.”

“I won’t degrade myself by talking to you!” Cobra said, walking away in a huff, presumably to change.

When Traynor and Eureka got back from their mechs, Lockjaw explained that Cobra had thrown a can in the warehouse and blown the whole mission.

“I heard these sleazy guys talking about how much this baronet was willing to pay,” Yamagata said. “I heard something about a Star League, a lost facility, a factory of some kind.”

The map was marked where, presumably, the facility was. It looked like a desert that they had actually gone to patrol for bandits one time.

“I remember that,” Lockjaw said. “I remember.”

“Did you see anything while you were there?” Eureka said.

“Lots of sand,” Lockjaw said.

“Like a lot?” Eureka asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well, there’s no money to be made in sand,” Yamagata said.

“I remember when we were out there,” Lockjaw said.

“So, we need to go look at this,” Traynor said. “So, there’s some kind of Star League facility. I assume if we patrolled the area, it’s pretty well hidden.”

They all remembered that the desert had mesas and buttes, so there were many places that a facility might be hidden underground. The location indicated was probably over 100 square kilometers, however, if not more.

“I propose we do a careful search of this area and also try to see where any equipment is going in the area,” Traynor said.

“I think we should go soon!” Lockjaw said. “They’re gonna get information that we were there at the warehouse.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty obvious,” Traynor said. “It’s probably pretty obvious we were there.”

“If we can get to the baronet before those guys with whatever information we find …” Yamagata said.

“If we can beat our employers there …” Cobra said. “Either way, we should head there as soon as possible to grab whatever’s there.”

They decided to go right then and got their crews up to man the drop ships. They loaded their men while Lockjaw yelled at Socket to check the laser pistol out. Socket confirmed that it was, indeed, a laser pistol. He plugged it up to recharge it for the man. He got a little distracted though. Yamagata got Gopher to refill his jetpack with fuel.

They loaded up on the two Leopards with most of them on one and Traynor riding alone on the other. En route, the radio crackled on the official channel from their employers.

“Where do you people think you’re going!?!” the voice of the baronet’s representative, Mark Tristam, came over the line.

They quickly discussed whether or not to respond. Then Traynor’s voice came over the radio from his own dropship.

“We’re going on patrol,” he said.

“You’re needed in the capital city at once,” Tristam said.

“I think we’re losing you, esse,” Lockjaw said over the radio.

He hissed into the microphone.

Another line lit up with a short-range, tight beam transmission from the other Leopard.

“We’re needed in the capital,” Traynor’s voice said.

“We ain’t gonna make any money in the capital,” Yamagata replied.

“We might,” Eureka said.

“We don’t know that,” Yamagata said.

“We have a report of two mechs attacking baronet men,” Tristam’s voice came over the radio again. “Please respond immediately.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Yamagata replied.

“You will return to the capital to answer some questions immediately,” Tristam said.

* * *

“All right,” Traynor said over the radio.

He ordered the pilot to turn the dropship around and head back for the capital.

“Okay, boss!” the man said, taking the ship in a sharp turn to head back.

* * *

Another radio call came through that Tristam wanted all of them back at the capital.

“Radio silence,” Eureka said.

They all nodded. Their ship flew towards the desert.

* * *

When Traynor’s dropship approached the warehouse they had been using as a base of operations, there were numerous military vehicles around the place.

“Woo, look at em!” the pilot said. “There’s a bunch of ‘em!”

He took the dropship down and landed it. Once they landed, infantry headed towards the dropship. Traynor headed out of the dropship. He was grabbed, disarmed, and hustled into an Armored Personnel Vehicle and then driven to the capital building. He was dragged into Tristam’s office and Tristam arrived minutes later. He had a lot of questions for the man.

“What were you doing in the warehouse an hour ago?” he asked Traynor.

He gave him an address.

“We had our IR turned on and I saw laser fire exchanged in the warehouse,” Traynor lied. “So, we went to see what was going on. That’s why we broke into the warehouse. And I told them to surrender and not open fire. There was fire from the warehouse.”

“Those were baronet men that you decided to …” Tristam said.

“I didn’t shoot any of them,” Traynor said. “I didn’t do anything. I was just trying to−”

“Where’s the map?”

“What map?”

“The map that was taken by a man on a jetpack!”

“I …”

“There was another man hanging who was apparently wearing a duster … who fits the description of one of your mercenary … crew.”

“Really?”

“As does the man with the jetpack!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Really!?!”

“No, I literally don’t. I was going on patrol.”

“Uh-huh. So, the fact that other members of your mercenary squad interrupted a government meeting, murdered a bodyguard, and then−”

“Did what?”

“Apparently murdered a bodyguard from what little we can recognize of the body, there were laser wounds and he was crushed to death. If your valiant IR is so great, maybe you shouldn’t be walking around, steeping on people.”

He seemed very, very angry.

“If there was a body on the ground, how was I supposed to see that with IR?” Traynor said, trying desperately to change the subject. “It would have fallen into the background.”

“There was a report of a Phoenix Hawk painted red with profanity all over it grabbing another of the mercenaries,” Tristam went on. “That places four of you at the scene. A Commando was outside and reportedly told one of the senior staff bodyguards not to move.”

“There were people shooting,” Traynor said defensively. “That’s all I know. And he went and got somebody. That was the entire thing.”

“Where are the rest of them?”

“I don’t know!”

“All right. Come on.”

Traynor was escorted to a radio room.

“Call your men,” Tristam said. “Tell them to come back right now.”

* * *

The others had been discussing what had happened and if they were in trouble. Lockjaw pointed out that no one saw him.

“Drop me and I’ll go to the location and stake it out while you guys answer the questions,” Lockjaw said.

“Man, I don’t want to answer no questions,” Yamagata said.

“They won’t be looking for Carlos,” Lockjaw said.

“That’s a good idea,” Cobra replied. “Because we get to get rid of Carlos.”

“If I see any activity, I contact you on the radio,” Lockjaw said, ignoring the man.

They were about 150 kilometers out from the capital when the radio crackled again on the official channel.

“Apparently our employers want to speak with us,” Traynor’s voice came over the radio.

“Radio silence,” Eureka said again.

They discussed what to do. There was talk of deploying Lockjaw. Yamagata suggested going back and picking Traynor up before heading back out. He pointed out that they had mechs and there was something of extreme value at the location that the government wanted but they had the map. They also discussed the map and not wanting to give it back to them. Eventually, Lockjaw said they could do what they wanted but he was dropping. He headed down to his mech to start preparing it but stayed on the intercom.

When someone mentioned going back to the city, Lockjaw asked why they’d want to go back. He guessed they were all in trouble. Yamagata was against going back and turning himself in. He suggested making a copy of the map and altering the original using his forgery skills. Lockjaw suggested they call their bluff and threaten to sell the map to the highest bidder unless they gave them Traynor back. There was more talk of checking the area. There was also talk of breaking Traynor out of the capital as they might have already screwed themselves with the baronet.

When Yamagata mentioned altering the map again, Lockjaw noted that they had people who had seen the map. Cobra pointed out that the planet was only giving them low profit margins. He said that though they would take a hit to their reputation, they could just change their name. He pointed out that getting their mechpilot out was more important than their rep.

Yamagata copied the map and then altered the original.

“I really think we call his bluff,” Lockjaw said. “We get Traynor for the map.”

“We could try that!” Cobra said.

“An altered map,” Yamagata said.

There was discussion of two of them dropping while the others bargained for Traynor. Cobra volunteered to check out the area of the alleged facility as he had a fast mech. There was talk about sending their scout to look over the area, though he would be on foot.

Yamagata showed them the altered map and it looked very, very good.

“Why are you a mercenary?” Lockjaw asked him. “You should be an artiste!”

Lockjaw noted that he was going to go back to bargain for Traynor and anyone that wanted to drop should do so at that time. Cobra pointed out that they were still discussing it and that Lockjaw had wanted that democracy. Lockjaw said they should vote then. Cobra wanted to know if they would need four mechs for that and Eureka said that they would.

“If things get hot,” Yamagata pointed out.

“We’re on our way back,” Lockjaw finally relayed back via radio.

They flew back to the capital and set the dropship to hover about 10 kilometers from the city. Then Lockjaw fingered the microphone button again.

“I wanna talk to Mark Tristam,” he said.

“This is Mark Tristam,” a voice came back.

“Seems you have one of my boys,” Lockjaw said.

* * *

In the radio room at the capital, Tristam gestured at the soldiers who dragged Traynor out and threw him in a cell.

* * *

“Yes,” Tristam’s voice came back over the radio. “We need to talk to all of you about an assault on baronet men.”

“Oh, we’ll get to that in a moment,” Lockjaw said. “I think we have … bigger concerns. We have a … uh … map that I think may interest you.”

“Then it’s stolen property and, as legally hired mercenaries, you’re to put yourselves under arrest and return,” Tristam said.

“Well, it seems it does interest you,” Lockjaw said. “Now let me tell you what interests me: money and loyalty to my men. Now, I’ll take either or. So, either you give me my man back or I’m a sell this map. ‘Cause I believe, you have something of worth here.”

“And ask for the pardon,” Eureka said over the intercom.

He’d gotten in his mech on the return trip.

“You realize that by denying a direct order, you are breaking your contract?” Mark Tristam said.

“We weren’t getting paid well anyways,” Lockjaw replied.

There was a long silence.

“Stand by,” Tristam finally said.

About 15 minutes went by. Then the radio finally crackled again.

“Very well, you’ll have your man back, the contract is broken, any and all pay is now rescinded, and you will leave this planet at once,” Tristam’s voice said.

“Yo, get the pardon,” Eureka said. “I want all charges dropped.”

“They’re not going to pursue the charges,” Lockjaw said. “They want this map pretty bad.”

“That’s what I’m saying: make them drop them so our reputation’s still good,” Eureka said.

“Send one of your men out to get the map and bring mine,” Lockjaw said over the radio.

Then he cut the signal.

* * *

They met with the government officials near their warehouse. There were numerous military vehicles and the like, including infantry and a couple of baronet mechs as well: a Wasp and a Phoenix Hawk. They handed over the altered map and Traynor was escorted back to the other dropship. Then they were given a an hour to get their gear and get off planet.

They left Xinxin for their jumpship and, once they were on their ship, they set a course for the jump point. They were ordered never to return to the planet.

They planned to return to Xinxin soon to try to find the Star League facility. They plotted to get a new dropship, one that would carry all of them, and then return on the sly and try to investigate later.

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