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Monday, May 23, 2016

Oberon Conference III: The Duel

The atmosphere at the Oberon Conference was transformed after the destruction of Dogs of War lance. From a nobody escorting the Federated Suns diplomat when the conference began, Captain Laval and his 1st Argyle Rangers were now a regular topic of conversation. They'd beaten the Dogs (and thereby House Kurita) to the Star League wreckage, and then crushed the mercenary lance despite being outnumbered. Now, as the Conference came to a close, Julien Laval strolled the palace grounds receiving respectful nods from diplomats, techs, and common citizens alike.

As much as he enjoyed the attention, it meant little to him. A reputation on the periphery was meaningless if he couldn't translate it into political currency back home. That was the entire reason he'd come all the way out here - to make a name for himself and his unit.

After the last battle, Julien had circulated the vids of the Draconis Combine salvage teams collecting the Dogs of War mechs, and despite the Dog press agent's denials ("It is our policy to neither confirm nor deny rumors concerning our contracts") everyone now knew who had hired the infamous mercenary company. This exposure may have even impressed the diplomats more than the victories.

The cost, however, was that the Dogs had been able to regain most of their salvage, and Ms. Morris had informed him that they'd managed to repair two of their mechs, and had hidden them in the hills just outside the capitol. Julien knew that he must make sure the Rangers finished the job, or else he might be blamed for allowing so many wanted men to escape with their weapons.

But there were rumors circulating among the pilots. One bar near the spaceport had become a sort of gathering place for mechwarriors of the houses and mercenaries, and the word there was that the newly promoted Dogs of War lance leader intended to challenge Lt. Brice (who had led the Rangers on the field) to single combat. A desperate move, appropriate considering the Dogs' desperate situation.

The Dogs of War lance was done, and they knew it. Their commander's Grasshopper had been decapitated by Marissa Howard-Davion's Stalker, but had been otherwise mostly intact, and therefore easy to repair. They'd also managed to get their light Commando up and running, but these two mechs could not hope to win against Lt. Brice's repaired Grasshopper, and Marissa's barely scratched Stalker. Especially not with Sgt. Howard's Stuka spacecraft lending air support. No, the only ones who could hope to gain something from accepting a duel would be the Dogs, and he wasn't prepared to give them an inch.

"Lt. Brice, this is Captain Laval," he said over the Comm, "We have intel that suggests the new lance commander of the Dogs is likely to challenge you to single combat. Your orders are to maintain radio silence and not respond.  You will not accept the challenge, understood?"

"Yes sir," Brice said, without feeling.

"The Dogs have proven themselves dishonorable time and time again. You don't owe them the courtesy of a duel."

"Yes sir," he said again.

Brice led what remained of his lance forward to find the enemy, while Sgt. Howard circled above.

"I have visual on one Dogs of War mech... looks like the Commando. Moving to engage."

"A hit," Howard radioed back, "but it's still standing. Another pass or two aught to do it."

Brice's radio crackled. A dull, robotic voice addressed the Ranger's commander.

"This is Dogs of War Battlemech Command. I challenge the 1st Argyle Rangers Commander to single combat. Grasshopper to Grasshopper."

"This is Lt. Brice of the 1st Argyle Rangers. Identify yourself. I won't even consider a challenge unless I know my opponent's name."

"Lieutenant, what are you doing?" Marissa said on a private channel, "The Captain said no contact."

Brice ignored her. When the enemy's voice responded, it sounded almost human. The pilot had turned off the voice modulator that all of the Dogs of War mechs used.

"My name is Lt. Straken. Do you accept the challenge?"

"I accept your challenge, Straken."

"Lieutenant... Jeremy, what are you doing? Julien will have you demoted for this," Marissa said.

"Only if I lose," Brice said, "It's done Marissa. Let me finish this. You and Sgt. Howard stay out of it."

Marissa screamed in frustration inside her mech. She would never disobey her commanding officer, but she felt like she was betraying Julien by allowing Brice to accept the challenge.  The three of them had been in the academy together, equals. Even when, two years ago, they'd received their commissions and Julien had taken his family's hereditary command over the Rangers, it hadn't felt like much had changed. Perhaps things had changed more than she'd thought...

The enemy Commando mech stuck close to the steep hill, trying to hide from the Stuka...

But there was no hiding from Sgt. Howard.

"A glancing blow this time. Coming around for another pass."

The enemy Grasshopper took position behind a hill and both mechs began their duel with an ineffectual exchange of LRM fire.

Following orders, Marissa climbed the hill, looking to position herself between the Commando and the Grasshopper. If anything happened to Jeremy in this duel, she wanted to make sure that this Lt. Straken wouldn't live long enough to gain anything by it.

Brice meanwhile made his way around the hill, breaking the sight-line and forcing the enemy mech to come closer.

Marissa stood between then, exposing her mech to the Grasshopper's guns, trying to tempt him into a shot.

"Come on and shoot at me, you damned merc scum," she thought, willing him to break the rules of the duel. He didn't take the bait.

"That one got him," Howard called out over the comm.  The Commando was rocked by numerous hits...

...Followed by a secondary explosion as the mech's missiles ignited inside their bins. The auto-eject system engaged, sending the pilot clear.  He was too far from the Rangers to hope to catch him, so the rest of the unit put him far from their mind. Sgt. Howard gained altitude and began slow circles over the battlefield, now watching the duel.

Along with everyone else, it turned out.

 "Lieutenant," Howard said into the comm, "I don't mean to distract you but I'm detecting an orbital satellite relaying vid of the battle back to Placidia. Probably the Dogs doing."

"Understood, Sergeant," Brice said, his voice betraying the strain of his concentration.

The Grasshoppers moved cautiously, each taking cover, and Marissa position herself between them, hoping that a stray shot might connect with her mech instead of Brice's, but the mercenary was too good a shot.

"Marissa, get out of there, that's an order," Brice barked out on the comm. Reluctantly, she followed his orders and stepped back up on the hill.

The enemy grasshopper broke cover and moved forward. Both mechs fired everything they had in a continuous pattern, whittling down each other's armor bit by bit.

A large laser finally broke through the armor on Brice's left torso, forcing him to turn his mech to the side to limit any further hits, all while continuing to fire.

In an effort to distract the enemy pilot, Marissa locked all of her weapons onto the enemy Grasshopper's rear. She grinned a little through grit teeth as she imagined all the alarms that must be sounding in his cockpit.

Brice broke cover in a rush, racing around the side of the enemy Grasshopper, and twisting his torso to fire as he went.  Yet while both mechs had taken extensive damage, neither seemed to be able to pull ahead.

Perhaps worried about the target locks and the equally fast mech before him, Straken pulled back, firing all the while.

Brice moved at an angle, twisting the mech's torso to fire at the enemy, while Marissa moved in to point blank range behind him, still locking her weapons onto his back.

Both Grasshoppers opened up for the last time, and both connected catastrophically.  The enemy Grasshopper saw lasers tear through its center torso, utterly destroying the fusion engine.

The pilot, jostled by the hit, was still able to eject, but not until he was already on the ground. The cockpit shot out and into a copse of trees. The branches caught his parachute, stopping his momentum suddenly, and slamming him into a tree. He hung limp in his ejection seat, alive but unconscious.

But at almost the same moment, Brice felt his mech give way beneath him as the enemy lasers cut into his gyro systems, setting the mech into an uncontrolled fall. Brice smashed his head against the back of his seat as he fell. He blacked out only for a moment, and as he shook his head and looked at the instruments, he realized that he'd somehow won anyway.

"Captain Laval, this is Lt. Brice," he called out groggily, "All enemy mechs destroyed. Better yet, we have the enemy commander ready for you to pick up. Requesting transport helicopters for the prisoner and recovery trucks for my Grasshopper. It won't be walking home today."

After a long silence came the Captain's terse response: "Acknowledged."

Brice knew he'd been watching the duel like everyone else via the satellite uplink.  He also knew Julien well enough to know that there would be no immediate consequences for disobeying orders. If anything, the dramatic duel at the end of the conference cemented the reputation of the 1st Argyle Ranger, and thereby that of Julien Laval.  Especially with what could be expected to be a very public trial of Lt. Straken back on New Avalon.  If he was a Dogs officer, it was a fair bet that there was at least one death sentence waiting for him back in the FedSuns. Further, the display of overwhelming military force had help tip the conference in the favor of the Federated Suns, allowing them to establish a permanent embassy and trade mission in the Oberon Confederation. Any disciplinary action now would cast a shadow over all of that.

But Jeremy also knew that his good friend Julien wouldn't forget this for a long, long time.

"Good work Rangers," the Captain said at last, "Time to go home."

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Oberon Conference: Part II

With news of the lostech discovery reaching New Water, the delegations have gone mad. Suddenly, there are no other topics of conversation except for what the tech might be, and where it had come from. Rumors of Kerensky passing through the system are rife. Now it seems anyone with any force on the ground is sending troops out to scour the countryside.

In the capitol, Captain Julien Laval continues with the charade of the diplomatic conference, attending various cultural events, dinner parties, and what passes for exclusive after-parties on the Periphery.  While he and the diplomats watch a troupe of dancers from the Draconis Combine, his earpiece is receiving a feed from his Intel Officer detailing the progress of the force out in the field.

"As expected," Ms. Morris said, "all the other houses are deployed near the ruins, picking at our leftovers.  Everything of value is safely on the dropship, which leaves Lt. Brice free to continue the search. The Dogs of War are searching another area, and it's possible that whatever their initial source was may still be feeding them accurate info. Sergeant Howard has been tracking them at high altitude and they're moving into the hills north of Placidia."

"Have Lt. Brice follow them in," Laval whispered into his cufflink, "But be clear that the main priority is seizing any site, not destroying the enemy."

"Yes sir," Morris said, cutting off the link.

[For this battle each side receives a fame point for exiting a mech off the opposing short edge, or for disabling or destroying an enemy mech.]

After seeing to his repairs, Lt. Brice's under-strength lance (weakened by the loss of a Jenner) marches on in tight formation. Sgt Howard's Stuka aerospace fighter once again leads the way.

"Visual contact," Howard says over the comm, "Five Dogs of War mechs, with no other support."

Lacking air support of their own, thanks to Sgt. Howard destroying their Slayer in the last engagement, the Dogs stay in tight formation, which is enough to make the Stuka pilot hesitate. The first two turns pass and the Davion plane just makes several passes in front of the enemy, showing itself to them out of range, but not engaging.

Meanwhile the rest of the 1st Argyle Rangers cautiously advance.

Another pass, but the enemy is still too close together. If the Stuka makes an attack run, it risks fire from as many as five mechs.  Sgt. Howard decides to be patient.

Worried for their light mech, a Commando, the Dogs hold him back behind the others, giving Sgt. Howard the opening he needs.  The Stuka flies high over the heads of the mechs before making a sudden "Split-S" dive onto the Commando.

The mech is heavily damaged, but still functional.  The Dogs are clearly feeling their lack of air support.

As the Dogs move slowly to keep in formation, the rest of the Rangers move towards positions at the center of the valley, letting the Stuka drive the enemy towards them.

Meanwhile the Stuka continues its harassment, taking another run on the fast-moving Commando.

Most of the shots miss the fast mech, but a few connect, leaving the Commando in a precarious position. One more shot will probably destroy it.

Now, however, the mechs are getting close enough to fight.  Rather than circle around each other to make for the exits, the two lances move straight at each other.

Switching targets, the Stuka heavily damages the enemy Blackjack, but takes some missile fire from the Stalker.

In a daring move, the Rangers' Crab pilot, Paul FitzRoy, attempts a daring maneuver.  The crab rushes out of its cover, attempting to charge the damaged Blackjack. As it rushes forward, it takes fire from the four mechs in front of it, damaging it severely.

The Commando, meanwhile, rapidly turns to the hilly cover its right flank to make for the exit.

The enemy fire concentrated on the Crab allowed the other two Ranger mechs to move into position. However, after all that fire, the Crab missed the Blackjack on its charge.

Soon after, the Crab fell over after an AC20 hit from the enemy Hunchback The Crab's gyros are  utterly destroyed and it cannot stand. Propping itself up with one arm, the Crab continues to fire.

With the Hunchback moving relentlessly to finish off the crippled Crab, the other three enemy mechs moved to engage the Davion Grasshopper and Stalker.

Sgt. Howard was not idle, adding his fire wherever he could.

...Including a particularly nasty hit on the Hunchback's rear armor, coming very close to destroying it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to save the Crab. Once again, no quarter given by the Dogs of War. No offer of surrender, no courtesy for a downed mechwarrior. The Dogs prove themselves true to their name - they are merely animals to be put down.

Lt. Brice knew at this point the situation had gone FUBAR. His Grasshopper and Stalker were now facing five enemy mechs. While Brice's Grasshopper might be able to withdraw, there was no hope of Sgt. Marissa Howard-Davion's Stalker outrunning the enemy.

Desperate, Brice fired his jump jets and retreated up the hill, trying to draw the enemy out of formation. The Dogs had clearly singled his Grasshopper out as the Command mech, and the fastest two enemy mechs followed in close pursuit.

Marissa, understanding her C.O.'s strategy, ignored the enemy Stalker which attempted to flank her at close range (not quite reaching her rear arc), and turned her guns towards the two enemy mechs who had exposed their backs to her when they moved to chase Brice.

Brice fired down at the climbing mechs, Marissa opened up with nearly everything her Stalker had, and Sgt. Howard launched a strafing run against both enemy mechs, once again shooting into the hunchback's rear armor...

Sgt. Howard claimed the Hunchback, and Marissa's long range missiles connected with the back of the enemy Grasshopper's head, decapitating it and killing the enemy commander.  Brice's Grasshopper meanwhile lost it's right arm and nearly its leg as well, but still it stood.

...Towering over the carnage of the fallen enemy.

The enemy Stalker, perhaps in despair, perhaps in rage, opened all of its weapon bays and tried to avenge its fallen commander. The pilot's emotion was perhaps what saved Marissa's Stalker, as the enemy shot for her own Commander in his damaged Grasshopper, trying to finish it off. With the range, most of the shots missed, and the already overheated mech found its heat spiking far beyond safe limits. As soon as the shots fired, the mech began to shut down automatically, but that safety feature was not enough to save it. The excess heat set off its short range missile ammunition, causing the mech to detonate from within, killing that pilot as well.

The Commando, however, had nearly reached safety. Sgt. Howard made sure it didn't get away.

Only one enemy mech remained, a heavily damaged Blackjack hiding in some heavy woods.

"This is Lt. Brice of the 1st Argyle Rangers," came the Lt.'s voice over the comm, "To the Pilot of the Dogs of War Blackjack... Your mech is near crippled, and you cannot hope to escape. Surrender and you have my word that you will be well-treated, and eventually ransomed back to your unit."

Silence was the only response. Perhaps the recent discovery of the mutilated body of the bribed Dogs of War comm officer made the pilot reluctant to be seen by his unit as cooperating with the Davions.

"Fine," Lt. Brice said, clearly disgusted, "have it your way.  Open fire."

Both mechs opened up with their weapons...

And Sgt. Howard's Stuka added its own fire from above.

Smoke rose from the now burning forest as Brice moved to confirm the kill.

"This is Lt. Brice to Ms. Morris.  All enemy forces are destroyed. We lost Sgt. FitzRoy's Crab, and he himself is lightly injured. He seems alright, but requesting MediVac to be sure."

It was a titanic victory for the 1st Argyle Rangers. Despite being outnumbered, they held the field.  However, they were a bit disappointed when they were told only to recover the Crab, and to leave the enemy's salvage for them to clean up. It's not like the aristocratic pilots needed the wealth, but it might have been nice.

"Negative," Ms. Morris said, "No salvage today, Captain's orders. We'll recover the Crab, but you are to continue the search for the tech."

"Yes ma'am," Brice grumbled.

The next morning, Ms. Morris reported her findings to Captain Laval over breakfast in his suite.

"Sir, we can now confirm that the Draconis Combine is bankrolling the Dogs on Placidia. The salvage crews that collected the enemy mechs were clearly DCMS personnel and all of the vehicles arrived on a Drac dropship."

"Very good, Vanessa," Laval said, "Just as we suspected. Now we can put an end to this. But first, tea."

[With 5 mechs down, and two of mine surviving, the Rangers get 7 fame points, while the Dogs get one for destroying the Crab. Current campaign score is 9-1 with one game to go. I'm curious to see how many mechs Fritz manages to get up and running again for the final battle. I myself should have enough scrap to bring back either my Jenner or Crab... not sure which I want to deploy for the final battle.]