Later on, I wrote several more stories involving these Characters -- Duel, Snowfall, and did a first draft of Free For All. I posted them and basically forgot about them
Anyhow, several years back, I was going through some old file and found two more half-written BT stories, starring the same Characters. I thought, "Why don't I finish these?"
I read over the stories I was finished in this series, and realized it was kind of plain. I then decided to rewrite them, adding details and strengthening some weak points I saw in the stories. I also decided to group the stores together under the series name, Tales of the Headhunters: Wozniak's Wraiths. I posted these to battletechuniverse.org fanfiction forum, and decided to add them to the blog.
The first one up is the rewritten Snakedance, Part 1. I hope you find this an improved version of the story....
Tales of the Headhunters: Wozniak's Wraiths #1
Craig A. Reed, Jr. and Robert Madson
(Originally published in Battletechnology #21, rewritten, 2005)
Bone and Trellshire Theater (Blackjack Operations Area)
You've heard people talking about where they were when the Clans first hit. You've heard the wild stories about single pilots in Stingers taking down Clan heavies. You've heard the stories of single Clan 'Mechs devastating Inner Sphere companies. Well, some of it's true, and I saw a lot of it. You would have too, if you were with the Headhunters.
Mallory's Headhunters are the nickname of the ‘Mech regiments in the service of the Mallory family, a Dukedom in the Federated Suns. Officially, we're the Antietam Guards, but I haven't seen Antietam in over a year. The Headhunters have a long history of service in the Federated Suns, specialize in anti-piracy tactics, counterinsurgency, and the occasional dirty jobs nobody else wants. Not many people have heard of us, and that's just the way we want it.
When the Clans first wave hit, Second Battalion, First Regiment, was assigned to Toland, a cold, dry world on the edge of Rasalhague space. The locals had been complaining of pirate raids, and we were detailed to start our own raiding campaign right back at the pirates. When we received reports that someone had jumped in at the nadir jump point and started releasing JumpsSips, we thought that maybe the pirates had saved us the trouble of looking for them. What happened next, though, was not a normal pirate raid in any way.
The Second Regiment of the 12th Star Guards had been assigned to cover the planet, augmented by three local mixed regiments called the Toland Defense Force (TDF). The Headhunters' staging base was a camp about 400 klicks to the north of the capital. We and the Star Guard boys didn't mix much, as we were more concerned with getting ready to pummel pirates then we were about being diplomatic, but we had no problems with either them or the local militia.
The first sign that something was wrong was when the Aerojocks went up to repel the enemy DropShips and came back with their tails between their legs, at least those who did come back. They had been hammered and hammered hard. We lost two of our own aerospace fighters in the battle, but the Star Guards lost over half their fighter contingent and didn't even slow the raiders' DropShips down.
The second sign was when the raiders, who IDed themselves as a Clan Jade Falcon, called from orbit to ask who was defending the planet. The Guards CO, Colonel Marinetti, must have thought this request was funny, and transmitted his entire force roster just to show the pirates what kind of trouble they'd jumped into. When Major Richmond Ryan, our battalion commander, got the same message, he stayed silent. We figured the raiders would get all the information they would ever need when we pounded them into scrap.
As the raider’s DropShips were burning hard for the planet’s surface, there was a flurry of messages between the Major and Colonel Marrinetti. We weren't part of the planetary defense command structure, but we couldn't stand by and do nothing. The Colonel wasn't too sure about us, but he decided that we would be useful covering the Capital with the single TDF regiment being left behind. So, we moved down into Toland City and watched the Star Guards and two thirds of the local militia move out to face off against the enemy.
The pirates had landed a couple of hundred klicks south of the Capital. The Star Guard and the TDF moved into an area called the Judea Jungle, which was between the Capital and the Raider's landing area. It was a solid defensive position, as it straddled the only route these Falcons could take if they wanted to hit anything of value. Major Ryan sent Charlie Company of our battalion to observe and report the battle first hand. We clustered around the communications room to hear the news as the Guards shook out into a defensive line and prepared to fight. The raiders had put down about a battalion and a half against an entire regiment of veteran mercenaries, with two solid local regiments as backup. With that kind of mismatch, we figured the Guards and the TDF would get a light workout and be back in town celebrating in a day or two.
Boy, were we ever wrong.
The battle started around 0800, with these Falcons plunging straight into the Guards' defensive line. These guys were not subtle, but hit the Guards like a sledgehammer. About 1100, word came that the entire defensive line had been pushed back a dozen klicks, with the Guards and the TDF taking heavy casualties. Another four hours had the Guards pushed out of the Jungle and onto the Cantor Climb. The Falcons took the opportunity to rest and reload, while their aerospace fighters used the retreating defenders as target practice on the exposed wasteland of the Climb. The third TDF regiment went out to help their fellows, but their presence only stiffened the defensive line for about half a day,
By the next morning, their 'Mechs were back at it again, hitting the 12th Star Guards and what remained of the TDF, driving them back toward the city. Our Charlie Company had gotten caught up in the battle covering a retreating Star Guards company, and had lost four 'Mechs and two pilots for its trouble. All we had to do in the city was swat at a couple of aerospace fighters of unknown types, but we couldn't move out and join the fight without exposing the city, and the Star Guards' dependents, to a possible attack. So we sat there and watched four regiments get shattered by a force less then one-fourth their number.
About dawn on the third day of the 'campaign', Charlie Company and the very shattered remains of a Guard 'Mech battalion straggled into Toland City. After they were sorted out, Captain "Happy" Hart, our company CO, walked over to our lance's parking area, her usual scowl on her face.
"Lieutenant Wozniak!" she barked.
"What's up, Happy?" I queried.
Happy's scowl got even deeper. She's a good commander, but her sense of humor is like Takashi Kurita with a toothache. I’m the toothache.
"Charlie Company's recon lance lost its lieutenant and lance sergeant. The Major's borrowing Sergeant Johnson from your lance to take over Charlie Recon."
I was silent for a moment. I'd known Hansen and Flynn pretty well, and I'd grieve for them later. For now, though, their loss had left a hole in the command structure, and Johnson was the best man to fill it. I wasn't happy to lose him from my lance, but I could see the need.
"Johnson's doing maintenance on his 'Mech. I'll go get him," I said.
"No, I will," replied Hart sharply. "You've got a mission briefing in five minutes." She strode off toward the maintenance area, and I rounded up Mikki and Tony, the other members of my lance.
The mission briefing was given by Major Ryan himself, with Happy standing in a corner, glaring at us. The four of us stood around a table in the Star Guards HQ building. "According to Colonel Marrinetti, some of his people were cut off during the retreat and radioed that they had withdrawn into the Remagen Canyon to the west of the city. The Guard Dropships are relocating to our original camp to the north to pick up both survivors and dependents, but they aren't sure they can contact all of their remaining units. Your mission is to search the canyon for survivors and lead them to the camp."
"Are we bugging out?" I asked with a surprised tone in my voice.
Major Ryan gave me one of his patented 'Are you dense, or just being stupid today?' looks. He's mastered the look to the point where he doesn't bother with yelling. "We're not dealing with a normal raiding party," he said with a patient tone. "They have superior weaponry, unknown ‘Mech designs and are very well organized. If an entire regiment of the Star Guards and three militia regiments couldn't slow them down, what chance would we have?"
"Not much of one," Mikki said. Second Battalion was mostly medium and light 'Mechs, fine for hit-and-run raids, but not for a stand-up fight.
Ryan nodded. I could see in the Major's face how much he hated the idea of running from a fight, but Duke Mallory doesn't hire idiots to command his soldiers. "Exactly. We will lift off at 2300. You have roughly twelve hours to complete your mission. We can't wait any longer than that."
"Can the Aerospace guys help us search?" asked Tony.
"Negative. We have to conserve our remaining fighters to cover our retreat." The Major made ‘retreat’ sound like a four-letter word. He didn't like the idea, but he wasn't stupid enough to throw away his battalion.
"What are our rules of engagement?" I asked.
"We believe there may be Falcon forces in the canyon attempting to hunt down the remaining Guard units. Avoid combat if possible. Remember that your primary mission is search-and-rescue."
As we returned to their hanger and our 'Mechs, Happy had one final comment. "Remember, the Major defined this as a search-and-rescue mission. Avoid combat if possible. If not possible, avoid it anyway. IS THAT CLEAR?"
I have an undeserved reputation for getting into trouble. "Roger, Captain, will do. Save us a seat on the DropShip, huh?" Hart decided my comment wasn't worth a reply, and she stalked away. I climbed into my 'Mech, strapped in, and switched the radio to the lance channel.
"Tony, Mikki, are you ready for this fishing expedition?"
"Roger, Woz," was Mikki's reply.
"Lead on, Boss," said Tony.
We left Toland City and moved out to the west at top speed. The chatter on the taccoms told us that the Falcons were busy sweeping the area from the Climb to the city for defensive holdouts, so we were clear of most the invaders. There was a line of people fleeing toward the city, so we went cross country, keeping one eye out for other 'Mechs of either side, while the other kept a watch for Falcon aerospace fighters
Part 2 will be on Friday.