"Lt. Brice," Laval said, rifling through some papers to avoid meeting his eyes, "The Alliance just jumped into the system. They will be on planet by morning. I want you to take a supported lance of mechs back into the deserted town and hold it until the dropship arrives. I want to capture all that salvage that the slavers left lying around, and just as importantly, to keep it out of the hands of the Dogs of War. We're expecting heavy opposition, so take what you feel you'll need. I want to be off planet by sunset, and leave the Dogs behind to deal with the Outworld authorities."
"Yes sir," Brice said, once again leaving much unsaid between the strained friends. No one brought up the duel.
"Dismissed," Laval said, and Brice saluted crisply before leaving.
"Lt. Brice, we have visual on the Dogs of War lance. Oh my God, it's Bludd! Confirm one Atlas battlemech with Captain Bludd's markings incoming."
As the heavy lances slowly worked their way towards the town, the Rangers' air support began to soften up the Dogs' stragglers. In it's first hit, it heavily damaged a light mech, blowing it's arm clean off.
The Rangers spread out, taking cover in the streets, hoping to lure the Dogs into the streets for close fighting. The Von Luckners in particular were killers at close range.
However, Bludd kept his men in tight formation, and approached cautiously.
When an Awesome and Orion broke off from the main group, the Mechbuster dove close to bring its Autocannon-20 to bear. A hit on the Orion!
But the return fire from the Awesome's PPCs tore through the fragile fighter's aft engines, knocking it out of the sky.
"Lt. Brice, we have a confirmed ejection. Pilot's transponder is functional and he's moving. Christ, he landed right near the enemy!"
Meanwhile, as the Rangers advance into the city and use its cover, the first long range shots are fired.
"They're not taking the bait," Brice said, "We need them closer."
Meanwhile the downed Mechbuster pilot fled from the approaching Ostscout. With the battle hot, rescue would have to wait.
The Stingray, a far more hearty fighter made a largely unsuccessful straffing run against three nicely lined up mechs.
As the Atlas, Zeus and tanks concentrated fire on Bludd himself, Brice shouted over the radio, "I'm going to try to pull them away from Bludd. If they go for it, take him out at all costs!"
Unfortunately, at the same time the Ostscout managed to scoop up the downed pilot in his one good hand. His compatriots could only hope that the Dogs needed money enough to ransom him back.
Launching his diversion, Laval came out into the open with his Grasshopper, and ordered the Jenner to flank. As he'd hoped, his mech was recognized as the one which had won the duel on Outreach and nearly the entire enemy force turned to fire at him. His mech shuddered as it took the hits, but the slow mechs were moving further and further away from Bludd's Atlas...
In a moment of bravery, Sgt. de Caen rushed his Jenner after the Ostscout, still holding the downed pilot, carefully firing as he went.
As Brice rushed back behind cover, hoping to be chased, the Dogs unexpectedly turned towards the Jenner instead. Despite numerous shots from heavy mechs, the Jenner's speed once again saved it.
It was even able to do extensive damage to the Ostscout, but not enough to make it drop its prisoner.
With the Dog's attention on the Jenner, the Davion heavies broke cover and began to move in on Bludd's Atlas, now very isolated from the rest of his unit.
3 AC-20s, 2 PPCs, air power, and countless LRMs rained down on Bludd's mech. The Rangers knew capture was not a possibility. Bludd would never allow himself to be brought to justice, and if rumors were to be believed, had even disabled the Atlas' ejection system.
As the sun began to set, the Jenner sped away from the chasing heavies, and cornered a heavily damaged Hunchback, tearing into its rear armor.
While Bludd's mech was being town apart, it managed to severely damage the opposing Zeus. It's pilot, Sgt. Ashworth, his heat spiking, courageously moved into close quarters with the enemy.
With the rest of the Dogs in disarray, and Bludd unable to extract himself, the mercenaries began to slink away, abandoning their commander to his fate. Lt. Brice and the other Rangers were disgusted by this lack of loyalty, but Bludd led his men more by fear than loyalty or honor, and this was the price for that kind of "leadership."
Finally, after countless shells impacted the mighty Atlas, its long range missiles exploded, shattering the mech and sending it tumbling to the ground in a heap. No ejection was seen, and everyone knew that the long-time commander of the Dogs of War was no more.
Brice was surprised to have mixed feelings on the matter. On the one hand, the death of Bludd was surely an occasion to celebrate and would give him bragging rights back in the Federation, but on the other he couldn't help but worry that Captain Laval would again feel like he was trying to outshine his C.O. - it certainly wouldn't help the strained relations between them.
"Keep on them," Brice said over the radio, and the Stingray and Jenner gave chase to the fleeing mechs.
"Captain Laval, the LZ is secure. You can call down the Dropship at anytime."
Unfortunately the Ostscout escaped with the downed pilot. Otherwise, it was a resounding victory for the Rangers, and they were able to collect the salvage and blast off from the planet before the Outworlds authorities could arrive to ask too many questions.
Now, if they could find the Slavers themselves...