Stacking the Deck, Part One
Yuris, Victoria Commonality
07 July 3111
The crushing impact of the gauss round shook Carver's teeth in his head. "God damn it! Somebody get that guy off of me!"
The Hollander ducked behind a stand of the oversized evergreen trees that covered the eastern half of Yuris's largest continent, just before Corporal Naminski's Jackal fired his particle projection cannon. The artificial lightning struck one of the trees causing the sap inside to vaporize and explode in a cloud of splinters.
"Sorry boss, but this son of a bitch is fast." Naminski moved forward and edged his way around the trees with all of the delicacy of a wrecking ball. "How does he do that? I've never seen one of those move that fast be--" The Corporal's words were cut off as person-sized hole suddenly appeared in the BattleMech's head moments before the sonic boom of the slug caught up with the external microphones of Carver's Hatchetman.
Carver immediately backpedaled his Hatchetman and turned to face the direction of the attack, his hatchet held at the ready, but when he did there was nothing there. Nothing but trees. "Naminski's down. Potter, Smith, either of you two see the target?" Carver had to force the panic out of his voice. "No sense making the others nervous," he whispered to himself.
"What's that leftenant?" Potter's voice was distorted with static making her sound far more distant than she was. Heavy iron content in the trees made communications tough for anything out of line of sight and it made his sensors all but useless in this forest.
"Nothing Potter, just talking to myself." Carver silently cursed the microphone in his neurohelmet and its sensitivity. He made a mental note to have the techs adjust that once they got back to the base, if they got back to the base.
"Careful with that. People might start to think you're crazy like me." Smith was fearless, willing to take his Stinger places that no other MechWarrior would dare and he always came out of it intact. If asked he would credit it to good luck and the ghost of his grandfather helping him pilot his venerable ‘Mech. Word around the company was that he was bat-shit crazy and Carver was inclined to believe it, but the man was skilled and had saved his butt on more than one occasion.
"We wouldn't want that now would we? Command already thinks I'm nuts for keeping you around Smith." Carver scanned the surrounding forest, praying to catch even a momentary break in the interference that clouded his monitors.
"Shit!" A burst of static interrupted Smith's transmission. "--ntact. Hollander is swinging back to the west. Bastard took my arm! I just got that thing painted damn it!"
Carver checked his Heads Up in vain, seeking out any hint of the ‘Mech that should be somewhere to his left and muttered a curse under his breath. "Both of you get back here. Grid A8. The Federation can replace your arm Smith, but I'd rather we didn't have to replace you as well."
"Awww, I didn't know you cared L.T." Smith was gritting his teeth as he spoke, working through whatever wound he may have suffered in the attack.
"Care my ass, I just don't want them to stick me with someone crazier than you. Now get your ass over here." They had been chasing their target for nearly an hour after marching through the woods for the better part of a day, and the Hollander was the first sign of the enemy. A few defenders had stayed behind following the capture of Riga, the planetary capital, and Charlie Lance was tasked with hunting down the stragglers. The Kingston's Rangers were a solid unit with a long history that included a trip to the clan home worlds, but their aerospace assets were less than adequate so the 4th Ceti Hussars were able to take advantage early and chased them from the planet. Both units had been mercenaries in the past, but within the last century had joined two of the Great Houses as permanent additions to their respective standing armies
"I don't like this place one bit, and the sooner we can get out of here the better." Potter was no coward and Carver definitely agreed with her.
"Okay, let’s do this the old fashioned way. We triangle up, back to back to back, and walk our way out of here. We found at least one of the Rangers, so we mark the map and make our way back to base and report in. They can bomb it, shell it or send in the whole company for all I care, but we are getting out of here." No sooner had the words left his mouth than the Hollander popped out from between a pair of trees and drilled another shot into Carver's Hatchetman, shearing off most of the armor from its left leg, narrowly missing the fragile knee joint. Carver fired his autocannon, the shotgun-like shells shredding the trees, and Carver was sure he plinked a couple of sub-munitions against the thin armor of his attacker. "Ha! Take that!"
Potter's Watchman and Smith's one-armed Stinger walked into the clearing behind Carver. "You hit him?" asked Potter.
"I think so. Just a glancing shot really, but it is the best I've gotten today. All right, lead the way east Smith, Potter and I will backpedal. We'll get moving and hopefully this guy will be content with just chasing us off." Carver gave one last look at the fallen Jackal and shook his head. "Let's move it Charlies.”
The Stinger kept a pace slow enough that the other two ‘Mechs could keep up. Carver was suddenly regretting the smaller engine of his Hatchetman. They were all pretty lucky to be in as good a shape as they were. Large chunks of armor were missing from the two medium ‘Mechs and Smith's missing arm was definitely bad. They were still mobile, so with a little luck they could get out of there alive.
"There he is, to the north!" shouted Smith. He turned his torso and fired his hand held medium laser, burning a shallow trench in the dirt well in front of their adversary's feet. Carver couldn't see him with Potter in the way, but he witnessed the results of its appearance just the same. The silver metal slug streaked from the ridiculously oversized barrel mounted on the enemy BattleMech's shoulder and streaked straight toward the already damaged leg of Potter's Watchman. With a crack that was audible even without the help of external microphones, the BattleMech's leg broke just below the hip and the Watchman fell. Potter yelled as her forty ton war machine crashed into the forest floor. Once again the Hollander slipped into the woods without a scratch.
“Potter, you okay?” Carver turned his ‘Mech in the direction the shot had come from and moved to put himself between his lancemate and the enemy, brandishing his hatchet like a warrior from ancient times.
“I’m all right. You two get out of here. Prince Charming is down for the count. The fall damaged the gyro. I’m going to grab the survival gear and wait for you guys to come back and get me.” Potter’s voice was strained with pain and exertion.
“Don’t be insane. Hop out of there and you can catch a ride in my jump seat.”
“Negative leftenant. You know that by the time I get out of here and into your cockpit that guy will have shot one or both of you two or three more times. Just take to the air and bring back some help okay?” Carver and Smith hesitated, scanning the surroundings, understanding her logic, but hardly willing to leave her behind. “Now get out of here before he comes back and decides to finish the job.”
“We’ll leave soon enough. Get your gear and get to cover, then we’ll make our run for it. If we can get a few klicks further east the canopy opens up and we’ll be able to do some jumping. So move your ass Potter, I don’t like leaving mine hanging out here.” Carver didn’t like leaving another member of his lance on the field, but she was right and if they all died out here there wouldn’t be any help for another week. At best theirs was an extended patrol that wasn’t due to be back in base for another six days; getting back to base was the only real choice they had.
“Okay Smith, the moment Potter pops her hatch we start firing. Stick with the laser and I’ll do the same.” Carver stepped over the stricken Watchman, protecting it as much as he could. “This guy is good but his ‘Mech has less armor than some ground cars, so let’s make him think hard about sticking his head out with so much energy flying about.”
“Will do L.T.,” Smith said as he backed up behind Carver.
“Just try and avoid starting a fire okay? The last thing we want is to cook poor Potter.” There really wasn’t much danger of fire since the rainy season on Yuris had started two weeks earlier, but the destructive energy of BattleMech sized combat lasers had a way of ignoring such petty issues as rain.
“Definitely wouldn’t want that. I imagine Potter barbecue smells and tastes pretty nasty.” Smith gave a little laugh, cutting through some of the overwhelming tension of the moment.
“I’ll have you know that I would smell better cooked than you do any day of the week Smith, and I’d still taste better than the rations in this survival kit.” She sounded better but Carver could tell she was gritting her teeth through some pain. “I’m about ready to exit this tin can, so if you two are ready?”
“We’re ready. On my count. Three…two…one!” Potter opened the hatch in the back of the head of her Watchman, and climbed out. The moment she hit the pine needle covered forest floor, Smith and Carver opened up with their lasers, blasting small trees and cratering the ground around them. Carver kept one eye on where he was firing and the other on Potter as she ran away from her Prince Charming.
She had told Carver upon joining his lance that her Watchman was the only man who had never disappointed and who had always been there when she needed him. He was as good as any fairy tale hero; hence, Prince Charming. Just before the invasion of Yuris someone had painted a golden circlet about the BattleMech's head as a joke. Potter embraced it and had additional decorations painted on the ‘Mech, making Prince Charming the most uniquely painted ‘Mech in the company.
Potter had just gotten into a dense patch of young trees and thick bushes when the Hollander in its dark green jungle camouflage stepped out from behind a tree from the west. Carver saw him and fired his Defiance Disintegrator LB-X autocannon. The shot was half-aimed and more reaction than plan, but it probably saved his life. The Hollander was surprised by the fire and flinched, throwing its aim off enough that instead of drilling a slug into the chest of Carver’s Hatchetman it merely grazed its left shoulder, spinning him half way around.
“He’s back under cover L.T. Let’s get out of here.” Smith was firing his medium laser in the direction of the last assault while he was slowly backpedaling to the east.
“Good call. One more hit and I’ll be driving more air than ‘Mech. Maximum speed, don’t wait for me. When you have enough clearance start jumping and don’t stop until you get back to the base.” Smith didn’t argue and he didn’t wait.
It took only a few seconds for him to get the Stinger up to full speed as he dodged in and out of the trees, taking as direct a route as possible to the east. Carver looked back in the direction of Potter one last time before sending a final transmission. “We’ll be back for you Sarah, stay safe.”
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