Stacking the Deck, Part Two


Yuris, Victoria Commonality

Capellan Confederation

10 July 3111


Carver and Smith stood outside Captain Trask’s command tent watching Delta Lance’s heavy BattleMechs head off in the direction they had returned from a day earlier. The heavily armored units intended to return to the site Charlie Lance had marked on the map as the location of the lone enemy they had encountered. The plan was to destroy the Kingston’s Rangers who had bedeviled them and find any other enemies who hadn’t managed to escape from the planet. Once that was done they would pick up Sarah Potter.

“I wish we were going with them.” Mike Smith fidgeted where he stood, uncomfortable outside of the ‘Mech that had been in his family for generations. “I would like a little payback, you know?”

“I do, but it’s going to take a while for them to patch up our rides, and with some luck they’ll have Potter back here by then.” Part of Carver wished that were not so. He wanted to take a second crack at the enemy who had destroyed half his lance and sent him running home with his tail between his legs, but Captain Trask had rejected his request to join Delta in the pursuit, so he had no choice but to wait.

The two men started walking back toward their tent. “At least the Captain wasn’t too hard on us,” said Smith.

Their debriefing had been laced with shouts and disbelief, accusations of incompetency and threats of demotion, but the timely arrival of their gun footage and the phantom like appearance of the enemy Hollander kept the threats from being acted on. Charlie Lance had earned a bad reputation before the invasion and this encounter had not helped to shake it loose.

Smiling, Carver said, “yeah, I still have a little of my ass left thank you very much.” The two men laughed a little too darkly and Carver slapped Smith on the back. “Come on, I have a little of Glengarry’s finest left in my footlocker.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me L.T. You sure it’s okay to be drinking with an enlisted?” asked Smith as he opened up the flap of the tent and motioned for his leftenant to proceed.

“I’m less worried about being seen drinking with an enlisted as much as it bothers me being seen drinking with a crazy man.” Carver stepped into the darkness of his tent and froze, causing Smith to bump into him nearly knocking him over.

“What the hell…” Smith stopped dead when he saw the man sitting on Potter’s bunk. He was easily taller than both of the MechWarriors and nearly as wide across as the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder. Leftenant Arthur Pemberton was rumored to be one of the gene bred clan elementals, or at least the illegitimate son of one, but his disregard for authority and decidedly un-Clanlike tactics often dissuaded those who knew him of such notions. Curiously, the leftenant did little himself to dissuade the notions.

“Leftenant Carver, it is good to see you well.” The huge man stood but leaned over slightly to keep from bumping his head against the tent’s ceiling. “Looking at your ‘Mech I would say that it is no small thing.” Smith and Carver stepped further into the tent and stood opposite of the Special Operations officer.

“Get out Art.  We already got an ear full from the Captain.  The last thing we need is grief from you.” said Carver.  He and Pemberton were not friends, not even co-workers really; they simply existed within the same circles of people and usually on the same planet, which often proved to be not big enough for the two of them.

“Truce Steve. I don’t want any trouble this time. As odd as this may sound, I’m here to help.” Pemberton stood with his hands on his hips and a smile on his face. It looked completely and utterly unnatural.

“Right, is this like the time you tried help us by recalibrating our lance’s compasses, sending us a couple hours off in the wrong direction during that training run two months ago?  Whatever bullshit you’re selling, we’re not buying.” Carver’s tone was neutral, but his eyes held nothing but anger. Charlie Lance had pulled every crap assignment, including their last patrol, all because of that disaster.

The big man put his hands up, as if to fend off Carver’s words.  “Now hold on Steve.  I know I wouldn’t trust you either if the roles were reversed, but I want to help here.  No bullshit.  I may be an ass, but even I won’t kick you while you’re down.  You and I haven’t always gotten along, but we’re still on the same side here and you know I dislike the Cappies far more than I dislike you.”

            Carver mulled Pemberton’s words over for a moment, trying to decide whether or not he was being set up. The silence hung in the air for nearly a minute before Carver spoke. “Okay Art, let’s assume that I don’t think you’re just rubbing all of this in my face. Why would you want to help us?” Carver crossed his arms across his chest and waited for the punch line.

“To be honest I’m not doing it for you. I don’t like Sarah being out there with the Capellans,” Pemberton said. The big man’s lip curled into something approximating a snarl. “She would kick my ass if I ran off into the woods looking for her acting like some sort of hero, but if I helped you two find her then it will probably be okay.”

Smith stood with his mouth hanging open.

“So you’re the guy she’s been seeing, huh? I suspected it was another MechWarrior, but infantry? No wonder she wanted to keep it secret,” said Carver as he tried not to laugh, but there was no hiding his smile.

“I suspect it had more to do with me being an officer, but it is what it is.” Pemberton ignored the intended insult and crossed his own arms. “So how about it Art? Are you going to let me help you out or do I have to go off searching on my own?”

Carver was silent for a moment before looking to Smith, who shrugged his shoulders. “All right Art, you can come along and save your damsel in distress,” said Carver.

“Excellent. Now didn’t I hear you two talking about some Glengarry hiding in here somewhere? Let’s crack that open and we’ll talk about how we can bring Sarah back when Delta fails.”

*          *          *

Leftenant Steve Carver stood looking at his Hatchetman, Mighty Tom, and noted the exterior differences that the tech’s modifications had made. The laser port on the right arm was missing, covered over by armor so fresh that the paint was still drying. A new electronics package that included a Beagle Active Probe loomed just above the left shoulder now and the extra half ton of armor was spread out across various points, ruining some of the lines he had grown used to since he had been issued the ‘Mech. He hadn’t been sure about the changes, but his conversations with the other leftenants and a little impromptu testing on the western edge of the woods had shown that the BAP could cut through the magnetic interference, at least at short range. The decrease in firepower was a little unsettling, but seeing as how little he had managed to hit anything last time it was probably a wise trade off.

“I don’t know. I think you’re trying to take on my role as the lance scout.” Smith said as he stroked his chin before looking at his leftenant sideways. “You don’t suddenly have a ghost in your ride too, do you?”

Carver laughed and punched Smith in the arm. “No, your position as the only man with a haunted ‘Mech is secure. I have enough trouble with talking to myself, remember? I don’t need someone I can’t see talking to me too.”

“Good thing too. You start trying to take my spot as the company’s Section 8 and we might just have to have words about it…sir.” Smith managed to hold a straight face for a whole three seconds before it was split by his ridiculously big grin.

“Oh I definitely wouldn’t want to challenge you on that mark, Smith. The crazy is all yours. You’ve definitely earned it.” Carver gave Mighty Tom one more look then turned to the bay next to it where Smith’s Stinger stood, its missing arm replaced and waiting for the paint that would be applied later in the afternoon. “How’s Grandpa Ned’s new arm?”

Mike walked to the foot of the Stinger and kicked it. The dull clang of his boot striking the armor echoed through the empty confines of the newly constructed repair bay. “I think its fine, but I’m not sure Grandpa Ned approves. He says that he liked the old one better and that he has a hard time scratching himself with the new one,” Smith said as he walked around his ‘Mech and eyed the arm from every angle he could manage from the floor. “I suspect it will do just fine though. Grandpa Ned will just have to get over it.”

Carver never could quite figure out whether Smith was really crazy or if it was just some elaborate act that he used to throw people off. He was easily one of the best MechWarriors in a light ‘Mech that Carver had ever seen, but he had no desire to advance as long as he had his haunted Stinger and the freedom to be as crazy as he had to be to get the job done.

The warning klaxons suddenly sounded off and were followed by the voice of the base’s watch officer. “Incoming friendly ‘Mechs and wounded. Medical and Tech teams to the east field.” Smith and Carver looked at one another. Delta’s heavies were the only ones out in the field so it had to be them returning. Both of them ran for the large bay doors and headed for the east field.

By the time they cleared the mammoth building and got past a few of the recently thrown together temporary structures, they saw Delta Lance walking out of the trees and onto the field. Only three BattleMechs left the woods, all of them looking like they had participated in a brutal, month long campaign as opposed to a week long search and destroy against a single light ‘Mech.

“Who’s missing?” asked Smith.

Carver looked at the remaining ‘Mechs: Barton’s Jagermech was missing an arm and had a serious limp to it, Little’s Helios stumbled as it walked, the right side of the ‘Mech had been savaged and it looked like an ammo bin had been ruptured during the fight, and there was little left of Corporal Templeton’s ancient Quickdraw. The fact that the man could bring it home at all was a testament to his considerable skill and love for his family’s ‘Mech.

“Leftenant Williams.” Carver’s voice was flat. He refused to admit how much it hurt for Amanda not to have come back.

They had been friends since the time the 4th Ceti Hussars had been known as the mercenary Lexington Combat Group. During the darkest days of Duke Hasek’s personal war with the Capellans they had found comfort in each other’s arms, but the relative return to peace had placed a wedge between them. It had been neither of their faults, but duties and adaptation to life as an official Federated Suns unit had pushed them apart until one day they decided it was over. There had been no tears and visible hurt, but Carver had pined over her for months, not that he would ever admit that to himself.

The three ‘Mechs powered down in the middle of the east field and were immediately swarmed by technicians with portable gantries. As soon as they were in place Medtechs swarmed up them, getting equipment in place near all of the cockpit hatches. A small crowd of soldiers from all disciplines had gathered in small patches about the periphery, watching in morbid fascination as the drama before them unfolded. The distance was too great to make out any real details, but only Corporal Templeton was able to climb down under his own power. The other two MechWarriors were strapped to rescue boards and brought down on lifts to the waiting ambulances below.

Carver wanted to run over to Templeton and find out what happened. Had Amanda Williams been killed? Had they seen Potter? What enemy forces had punished Delta Lance so badly? He took a step in the direction of the Quickdraw‘s pilot when a big hand grabbed his shoulder and held him in place. “Don’t Steve. Remember what if felt like last week when you came back two ‘Mechs down. Give them a chance to recover and you’ll get your answers tomorrow.” He wanted to ignore Pemberton, but the infantryman had a point.

Watching the ambulances make their way to the hospital sent a chill down Carver’s spine. He and Smith had suffered nothing worse than a few bumps and bruises, so it was easy to forget what had happened to the others. As warriors, death was an ever-present risk. Some chose to ignore it and some embraced it, but most straddled a line somewhere in between, a twilight understanding of what would probably be and what they hoped would never come to pass. The decimated avatars of destruction standing amongst the swarm of techs looked sad, lost and alone as they waited for repair, and Carver feared that the men would not be much better.

“You’re right Art, it will wait another day.” He turned to the other two men. “Let’s go get a drink and toast our battered friends.” His eyes blazed with an inner fire that had been stoked as the days passed and his hunger for a second chance grew. “Tomorrow we convince the Captain that we can rescue Potter, and if that fails we’ll just go and do it anyway.”

*          *          *

Corporal Templeton’s story had played out much like Carver’s and Smith’s. Delta Lance had walked into the area where Charlie Lance had made contact with the enemy. They began a routine scan of the area, which yielded nothing substantial. Williams was just about to head deeper into the woods when the first shot was fired. The gauss round struck Little’s Helios in the arm, somehow finding a chink in the armor that covered its own gauss cannon. The magnetic seals ruptured and the explosion that followed ripped off what was left of the arm. Little staggered from the blow and ran into Williams’ Axeman, pinning it against one of the trees.

Delta Lance never regained control of the situation. Shot after shot hit the heavy BattleMechs, whittling away the armor and damaging the supporting structure beneath. When Little’s right side missile bin was struck the explosion wrecked his ‘Mech and nearly killed Little with the feedback. Fortunately, the CASE system redirected the brunt of the energy out the back of the Helios. It somehow managed to catch a nearby tree on fire despite the wet conditions.

With Little barely hanging onto life and consciousness, Barton’s Jagermech down to half strength, and Corporal Templeton’s Quickdraw still in relative good repair, Williams ordered the retreat and took the position of rear guard. Her Axeman had taken little direct damage, and the threat of her pulse lasers, the monstrous Luxor Devastator autocannon and her proportionately huge axe should have been enough to dissuade anyone from following too closely. Their tormentor was less than afraid of the relatively short ranged firepower of the brawler of a ‘Mech and stood well out of her range. He hit the Axeman with round after round of supersonic metal hammering the Leftenant’s BattleMech until finally punching through the torso and ammunition hidden within. The same CASE technology that had saved Little did not give the same courtesy to Williams. The force of the blast did erupt from the back of the ‘Mech, but not before enveloping the oversized fusion engine, sending it into an uncontrolled blast that enveloped the BattleMech and a portion of the forest around it. The auto-ejection system failed on Williams, condemning her to a fiery death.

Templeton took over the position of rear guard as the remainder of the lance hobbled its way eastward. The Ranger MechWarrior followed for a while and ripped apart more of the Quickdraw’s armor until the long range fire came to an end. The march back to base had been a difficult thing, with most of their armor and weapons gone, fear of pursuit on their minds, and near critical injuries plaguing Little. By the time they reached the base they were completely spent. Little had suffered so much brain damage from the neural feedback of the internal explosions that he would never pilot a BattleMech again. Barton was physically okay, but his nerves were shot. Templeton would make a full recovery as he always did. He was a veteran, old enough to retire if he wanted to, and according to him he had seen and heard it all, but you could tell by looking at him that this one hurt. There was a hollowness to his eyes, a vacancy that only time would heal.

Carver and Pemberton had gone to Captain Trask with a plan and a thirst for vengeance. They had spent the better part of a day convincing him to listen to them, then showing him what they had come up with, and finally convincing him it would work. The long hours spent planning and preparing for this mission had ultimately been worth it, because Trask’s approval was never easy to win. When he offered additional support and equipment to the two leftenants they began to believe that they actually had a chance.


One thought on “Stacking the Deck, Part Two

  1. Pingback: Stacking the Deck, Part Three | My Writer's Cramp

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