August 15, 2785
Tanaga was the first warrior out of the DropShip. His Highlander reached the bottom of the ramp, followed by Turkle’s Cyclops, and the rest of his command lance, a pair of Victors. They fanned out, each covering a portion of the horizon. As the next lance from the Overlord DropShip deployed to take their place, Tanaga and his command lance pulled back to the DropShips to watch the rest of the deployment.
The rest of the battalion moved off the DropShips in an organized manner. Scouts from the Fifty-Fifth Light Horse regiment, once clear of their DropShip, dashed off toward the targets, while the battalion organized into their strike and guarding forces. Marines in space combat armor, about a company’s worth, rapidly deployed from their own DropShips, moving to join up with the 'Mechs assigned to carry them to the targets. A thin sheen of dust, kicked up from the DropShips’ landing and the force currently deploying, hung in the vacuum surrounding them.
The radio channels were almost bereft of conversation, a mixture of training and not wanting to give the mutineers any more information. The fact the mutineers knew they were here was a given, as the aerospace fighters had already destroyed several floating sensor pods as they swept ahead of the DropShips. The opponent – Tanaga didn't use the term enemy in his mind – knew they were here. It was up to them to decide how to respond . . .
Since the asteroid was relatively small, the gravity on Bastille was minimal, and the atmosphere was nonexistent. The only sound Tanaga could hear was the hum of the Highlander’s fusion engine below his cockpit. Outside the cockpit, the landscape, if it could be called that, was gray and black blurs of rock and shadows, dull and lifeless. The surface itself was mostly level, marked with craters, fissures, cracks, and uneven depressions. The curve of the rock hid them from the mutineer’s direct line of sight but the distance between the sides was short, one kilometers at most.
After ten minutes of watching the strike team assemble, Tanaga opened the Battalion frequency. “Hammer One-Six to all Hammer forces. One last word, people. We do not want bloodshed, but the mutineers may not be so inclined. We will not fire first, but if you are fired upon, return fire just as if we were dealing with the Usurper’s forces. I don’t want to lose any of you just because to hesitated to fire on a fellow SLDF soldier. The password is Red Nail. Hammer One-Six Out.”
In three separate groups, the strike teams moved out. In Tanaga’s group, Lieutenant Foster’s lance lead the way, followed by Tanaga’s lance to the left, Keller’s to the right, then Harris’ lance bringing up the rear. They moved in a loose diamond formation, each lance forming its own, smaller diamond. The going was slow, because of the need to walk carefully, to avoid long bouncing strides that could send them spinning off into space, and to avoid the natural obstacles.
Half an hour into the approach, sensors picked up a single object moving toward them. By the time the Light Horse Ostscout came into view, the company had shifted to a shapeless formation that allowed all the 'Mechs to target the newcomer. The Ostscout slowed even more at the sight, but continued toward them. Thirty meters from Tanaga’s Highlander, the recon 'Mech stopped and turned on one of its communication lasers. Tanaga did the same thing, and within five seconds, the lasers connected.
“Three kilometers farther,” the recon pilot said, not wasting time with a formal greeting. “The Adrianople is sitting in a shallow crater in the middle of a small plain. Data being transmitted. . .now.”
The transfer of data took ten seconds. Tanaga said. “Got it. Any sign of 'Mech deployment?”
“Negative, but there is high electronic interference on that plain. The Adrianople was buttoned up tight.”
The major scanned the data, which was now display on a monitor in the right side of his cockpit. The map was crisp and clean, all due to the Ostscout’s sensors suite. “Did they detect you?” he asked, not looking up from the images
“If they did, they gave no sign of it to me.”
“But?” Tanaga prompted.
The recon pilot took a deep breath. “But all my instincts are screaming something’s wrong. They had to know we were coming, but they are sitting there like a fat, dumb and happy target. So, I’m thinking they have an ambush set up.”
“Hmm.” Tanaga traced the area ‘north’ of the DropShip on the map with a finger. “These series of fissures on the other side of the DropShip. How wide are they?”
“Range between five and ten meters wide and two to three meters deep. They’re more like gullies then fissures. The floor of those fissure are uneven and have rocks all over the place.”
“Are they passable to 'Mechs?” Tanaga asked.
“Yes sir. It’ll be slow going, but the fissures can be used to get close to the Adrianople without being seen by the DropShip.”
“Good. Stand by while I consult with my officers.” The major turned his Highlander until Harris’s Crockett came into view. After the communication lasers synchronized, Tanaga passed the Ostscout’s data, and his conversation with the Light Horse pilot along to her. “Captain,” Tanaga said. “I want you to take your lance and Foster’s lance and circle around the Adrianople and come at it from the fissures. Keller and I will continue along our original path, and maybe spring that ambush the recon pilot thinks is there.”
“I don’t like the idea of splitting out forces,“ Harris replied. “There’s no telling how many 'Mechs the mutineers have ready to face off against us.”
“I doubt it will be that many,” Tanaga said. “Keller and I will attract their attention, leaving you and Foster to take out that DropShip. That is the important factor in the mission. Not me, not you, not mutineers, but that DropShip and the damage it can do to those Marines. Is that understood?”
“Your concern is noted, Captain. Get going. Move as fast as you can without alerting the mutineers. Take the Ostscout as a guide, and take all the Marines with you. If we haven’t moved in before you’re ready, pop a red flare and then move in. I want that DropShip neutralized, whether or not there’s an ambush waiting for us.”
“Right.” Tanaga could tell the captain wasn't happy with the decision, but she was a professional. She would follow his orders.
Tanaga broke the laser link to Harris, then turned toward Keller’s Guillotine. After the lasers linked up, Tanaga said, “Change of plans. You’re with me. Harris and Foster are taking another route to the DropShip.”
“Something wrong?” Keller asked.
“Maybe. I’m thinking we may be walking into an ambush. I want your lance a hundred meters behind mine, diamond formation. If we are ambushed, we’ll have to fight our way out of it.” Half to himself, he muttered, “Assuming we don’t have any second thoughts.”
“Let’s move out.” Let’s hope you make the right decision. My life could depend on it.
The plan Tanaga and his officers came up with was flexible when it came to the exact time of the attack. Aerospace fighters from the fleet flew regularly across the Dragoon’s paths, tracking their progress and keeping any mutineer aerospace fighter from doing the same. ‘Mechs from the Fifty-Fifth stayed on the flanks, like sheep dogs guarding their herds, wary of any possible assault from the wing. Once all three assault forces were in place, the Aerospace fighters would strafe the DropShips and the Dragoons would then move in.
It took another thirty minutes for Tanaga and Keller’s lances to reach the jumping off point for the attack. The Adrianople sat right where the scout had said, a shallow crater in the middle of a fairly open plain. The crater was deep enough to protect the Adrianople’s engines from long rang fire, but not deep enough to prevent the DropShip from firing its weapons.
The Adrianople, a tall egg-shaped ship, was sitting as peacefully as if it was sitting back on an SLDF base back in the Inner Sphere. None of the bay doors were open, no signs of any 'Mech or spacesuit activity, nothing. From the mouth of a small gully some seven hundred meters away, Tanaga took in what little the was to be taken in.
“Don’t like this,” Turkle muttered over the laser link. “Too quiet.”
“Agreed,” Tanaga said. “I hope Harris and Foster are making good time.”
Just then, the radio came alive with a frantic shout. “Hammer Units, this is Hammer Three-Six! We have a Rusty Axe! I repeat, Rusty Axe! Enemy is at least two lances strong!”
Tanaga scowled. ‘Rusty Axe’ was the codeword for ambush of one of the assault teams by the mutineers. The planned response was for the other forces to move as quickly as they could to their targets and take them as fast as possible. But the ambush indicated the mutineers were expecting them. Still, he couldn't wait.
He opened the communication laser pointed at Keller’s Guillotine, on hundred meters behind him. “You heard?” he asked without preamble.
“Yes,” Keller replied, his voice tense.
“I’m taking my lance out there. I want you to move up to this position, but I want you to stay out of sight until they spring their ambush. Then you move in. Understood?”
“Yes sir. What about The Captain and Foster?”
“Hope they’re thinking the same way we are and move accordingly. We move out in thirty seconds.”
The next half minute was taken up by a brief flurry of orders given to the rest of the lances. When the last of the seconds dwindled away, Tanaga said. “Execute.”
The Battalion Command Lance charged out of the gully, heading for the Adrianople as quickly as they could in the low gravity. With bounding steps, the lance was five hundred meters away from the mutineer’s dropship before the mutineers reacted.
Puffs of dirt flew in every direction as 'Mechs exploded from concealed holes off to Tanaga’s right. Even as they stood, the mutineer 'Mechs were firing at them. Lasers cut through the vacuum, along with the crackling man-made lightning of particle projection cannons and autocannon rounds. Most of the first bursts of fire were high or off target, but some of it hit Turkle’s Cyclops and Johnston’s Victor.
Like a well-oiled machine, the Dragoons returned fire. As he raised his 'Mech’s arm to fire the Gauss rifle, Tanaga got his first good look at the Mutineer ambushers. There were five of them – A King Crab, Thug, Warhammer, and a pair of Flashmen. Heaviest 'Mechs on the DropShip, he thought as he fired his Gauss rifle. Propelled by the series of magnets, the ferro-nickel slug shot down the barrel, shot across the short distance between the two groups of combatants and slammed into the right arm of the Thug. The mutineer 'Mech staggered as nearly a ton of armor shattered and flew in all directions.
Tanaga fired a brace of lasers at the Thug, but only one glanced off the shoulder, scarring paint but not doing much more then that. The Thug returned fire, one burst of stripped electrons slamming into the broad chest of the Highlander. One of the Flashmen also fired at him, the 'Mech barrage of lasers striking the Dragoon 'Mech in the torsos and legs. The 'Mech reeled under the assault, but the major managed to keep it standing.
We can’t stay and trade fire like this, Tanaga thought. They outnumber and outweigh us. If we can get out of the range of the Crab’s heavy autocannons, we might have a chance. Another thought crossed his mind. Where’s Keller and his lance?
A quick glance told him that the situation was getting worse. Johnston’s Victor was seriously damaged, wisps of. air hissing from the left arm and torso. Armor breaches, he thought. The head seemed to be still intact though.
“Hammer One-Four!” he snapped over the lance channel “Drop back! One-two, One-three, concentrate on the Crab!” A quick tap opened the battalion command channel. ‘This is Hammer One-Six. Hammer One has a Rusty Axe! I repeat, Rusty Axe! Enemy is at reenforced lance!” It wouldn't get them any help, but it would tell Harris that he was in trouble. Where the Hell is Keller?
Johnston’s Victor staggered away from the battle, as the other three concentrated fire on the King Crab, hammering it with heavy autocannon, Gauss rifle rounds, and lasers. The assault 'Mech stood there and took the pummeling, its own weapons returning fire, while the other mutineer 'Mechs maneuvered. The Flashmen split up and headed off at an angle, intending to outflank the Dragoons on both wings. The Thug and Warhammer moved to support the King Crab, adding their fire to the one hundred ton behemoth’s attack.
The other Victor in Tanaga‘s Lance, piloted by a newcomer to the unit by the name of Larson, lost both legs, right torso and arm to armor breaches in a matter of a few heartbeats. As the Victor crumpled, Turkle’s Cyclops also fell, leaving Tanaga and the maimed Victor of Johnston’s as the only Dragoons standing.
The firing stopped, but the Flashmen continued sprint to the flanks. “We’re not going on!” someone shouted over a general frequency. “We’re going back and you can’t stop us!”
Tanaga switched to that frequency. “You can’t fight all of us,” he said in a calm voice. “There’s enough ships surrounding you to pulverize the entire asteroid field and you with it.”
“Damn it, why can’t . . . you leave us alone?” the voice asked again. There was a note of desperation in the man’s voice “We won’t tell them anything!”
“We can’t have them come looking for us,” Tanaga replied. “We can’t afford to become part of that madness.”
“We’ll wipe the ship’s memory core clean! We’ll make sure that they can’t find you!”
“We can’t take that chance. I am asking – no, I am pleading you to surrender.”
The King Crab stepped forward. “I can’t,” the same voice said, sounding a little more sure of himself. “We can’t go on. I. . .Maybe . . . maybe if we kill enough of you, the General will let us go.”
“He won’t,” Tanaga said. “All the other ships that sided with you have been captured. You’re alone.”
“We – I can’t go on.” The King Crab aimed both heavy autocannons at Tanaga. “I’m sorry.”
Tanaga snapped-fired his 'Mech’s entire weaponry almost at the same instant as the King Crab. The Gauss rifle slug hit the mutineer 'Mechs’s left arm, shattering the last remnants of armor and wrecking havoc inside the limb. It drooped, myomer muscles torn loose and internal structure shredded into uselessness. The lasers and short range missiles peppered the battered armor, but failed to violate its integrity.
But both blasts of autocannon fire slammed into the Highlander, staggering the ninety ton assault 'Mech. Lights and warnings flashed in the cockpit as the entire center torso lost nearly two and a half tons of armor in the blink of an eye. Servos screeched and wires crackled as the 'Mech fought to stay on its feet. Lost in the cloud of fragmented armor and rapidly expelled air, the King Crab’s lasers slashed more damage into the Highlander’s armor.
Tanaga’s hands and feet moved rapidly to try and stave off the invariable, but even as he did, the Highlander’s power plant died, spewing the last of the air trapped inside the torso into the vacuum. The 'Mech staggered for two more steps, then like a tall oak tree, it toppled onto its right side.
With no chance of saving his 'Mech from a fall, all Tanaga could do was ride it out. The fall felt like slow motion, but the Highlander still hit the ground with enough momentum to jar his teeth. Even as his jarred nerves were pulling themselves together, he glanced at the readings of his coolant suit before yanking down the helmet’s faceplate, locking it into place, then unbuckled his harness. As quick as he could, he made for the cockpit door in the rear, using the low gravity to his advantage.
In here, the cockpit of a dead 'Mech, he was a sitting duck. Out there wasn't much better, hell it was liable to be a lot worse, but Tanaga wasn't going to accept death calmly. It hadn't been his way, and he wasn't about to change now. But the lack of Keller’s appearance was disturbing. Something was wrong, but he couldn't take the time to think about it.
More intent in making sure he survived the next few minutes, the major almost missed the flash off in the distance, near the DropShip, through the viewscreen of his 'Mech. As it was, he only caught it out of the corner of his eye. He turned just in time to see a red flare arc high over the DropShip before falling slowly to the ground, burning out long before it hit.
He hit the emergency release on the cockpit door and it released, opening the cockpit top the vacuum. He braced himself, allowing the air to rush past him and out before he pulled himself out.
He found himself in the middle of a battle.
A pair of Lancelots in Dragoon colors were standing on the low rise forming one shoulder of the gully, spraying the Flashman nearest the gully with lasers and PPCs. The barrage pummeled the heavier 'Mech, armor melting or cratering in numerous places. As the Mutineer Flashman staggered away, Tanaga caught a glimpse of a Guillotine and a Grasshopper racing towards the mutineers, firing at the Warhammer. Even as the Flashman under assault fell over, explosions racking the internals structure, Turkle’s Cyclops managed to sit up and fire a ragged volley at the King Crab. Johnston’s Victor, still standing despite the damage it had taken, added its heavy autocannon, the burst ripping up the mutineer assault 'Mech left leg and forcing it to backpedal.
In the lee of the Highlander’s head, Tanaga glanced in the direction of the Adrianople. There was battle going on there, the DropShip firing at and taking fire from something out of the Major’s view, but Tanaga knew who it was. Harris and Foster were carrying out their orders.
He turned back to the battle near him just in time to see the Warhammer loose its right arm in a shower of sparks. The Dragoon Lancelots had switched their fire from the downed Flashman to the heavy 'Mech, and the mutineer was dying in multiple blossoms of explosions.
Even as the Warhammer died, the Thug and surviving Flashman raced for the DropShip, leaving the much slower King Crab alone to face the Dragoon 'Mechs. The assault 'Mech shifted to confront Keller’s lance, a wounded buffalo facing off against a pack of wolves.
The fight didn't last long. Thirty seconds later, the King Crab went down, its left leg severed, atmosphere streaming from several locations. The Lancelots and the Grasshopper dashed toward the dropship and the retreating mutineer 'Mechs, but the Guillotine slowed to a stop near the downed Highlander.
The radio in Tanaga’s headset crackled. “Are you all right sir?” Keller asked, his tone worried.
“I’m fine for now,” Tanaga replied.
The Major could hear relief flood Keller’s voice. “I’m sorry, but just as you went out onto the plain, the Light Horse Ostscout came racing up and told us Captain Harris was in position and was about to pop a red flare. I tried to contact you by communication laser, but I couldn't make the connection.”
“And you didn't want to alert the mutineers by using the radio,” Tanaga said.
“Yes sir. I’m sorry, but –“
”You were correct, Lieutenant. The mission comes first. I’m just glad you were able to haul our asses out of the fire.”
“Do you want to take my 'Mech and continue to lead the mission?”
“No, Lieutenant. Lead your lance. I’ll supervise from Sargent Turkle’s Cyclops.”
“Yes sir!” With that, the Guillotine raced off. Tanaga began to walk toward the Cyclops. “Are you all right, Master Sargent?” he asked.
“Nothing that a few weeks lying on a beach somewhere wouldn't cure,” Turkle replied with a growl. “Lulubelle’s going to need some repair work though.”
“Johnston? You all right?”
“I’m about the same as the Master Sargent,” Johnston replied. “Larson a bit battered, but she’s intact. The techs are going to be pissed with us though.”
“They need something to do anyway,” the Major said briskly. “Master Sargent, Lulubelle’s communications systems still intact?”
“Yes sir. Captain Harris is giving them hell. I don’t think that DropsShip will be fighting for too much longer.”
“Do you have anything on Lulubelle to drink? I’m thirsty.”
Tanaga could hear the grin on the Master Sargent’s face. “I think I may have a bottle of bourbon tucked away somewhere in this cockpit.”
“Then break it out. I have a mouthful of dust to get rid of.”
Part Four will wrap up this story.