Again, a quick update: all three Battlecorps stories I'm currently working on are reaching their halfway point, but another chance to do some more writing for the Valiant RPG has come up, so I'm going to be working on that this weekend. I'm still on track for all three to have complete first drafts by the end of the month.
The next bit of the story is a long one, so I cut into at least two sections. Now, Part 6 of Running from the Past:
Jägare walked into the clearing at a slow, steady pace with no attempt at concealment. He had worked his way through the trees around the clearing until he was on the opposite side of the forest from where the sentry had been killed. He didn't know how long he had until they discovered the sentry missing, so time was a unknown factor.
He was wearing the dead sentry’s overcoat and hat, and had the scarf up over the lower part of his face. He carried the assault rifle slung over his shoulder in a careless manner. He still wore his own pants and boots, as they were similar to what some of the slavers were wearing. In his pockets, he had a couple of kilos of RX-72, cut into smaller blocks, and half a dozen detonators. Infiltration was one of the skills he had learned as a Death Commando, and while it wasn't his strongest suite, he had done it a few times, and in places with better security then this.
‘Security,’ in this case, was lax, due to human nature. Most of them were clustered around several campfires scattered around the clearing, drawing in the heat of the flames. Even those on guard duty seemed more intent on warmth then watching for an attack. There was an air of nervousness in the clearing that hadn't really been evident through the binoculars, accented by individual pirates looking off into the darkness for several seconds before they turned their attention back to the fire. The Mule had one of its bay doors open, a weak point that Jägare would exploit, if the conditions were right. A few stacks of crates and barrels were scattered around the clearing, cargo off the DropShips that these people were in no hurry to leave.
His first target was the Leopard. Unlike the Mule, it was a combat DropShip, with strong weapons and enough armor to withstand anything short of a ‘Mech’s firepower. Acting like bored sentry, he drifted close to a couple of the campfires, relaying on the clothing and the pirates never thinking that an enemy would be so close to keep him safe. He lingered for a couple of minutes, as if soaking up some heat from the flames, then move to the next campfire that was closer to the DropShip.
As Jägare walked through the clearing, he got a good look at the men (and the few women) around him. They were a polyglot of all types, from tall blond Viking types to short slender Asians, and everything in between. All of them were dressed in a mix of winter clothing, and Jägare heard a dozen accents in a couple of minutes. What they all had in common was the coldness in their eyes that never quite left them, even when they were talking to each other. All wore weapons, or had them close at hand. After overhearing several conversations, he know that none of these people were innocent – at best, they were supporters of murders and slavers.
Once he neared the Leopard, he slowly walked around to the port side, the side away from the campfires. In the light of the two moons, he could see that the two ‘Mech bays on this side of the DropShip were open and empty. After taking a quick look around, he hopped into the forward ‘Mech bay.
The bay wasn't much to look at – an empty space with enough room to hold a ‘Mech, a series of platforms bolted to the rear bulkhead and connected to each other by a series of ladders. A few crates and odds and ends were scattered around the bay, but there was no signs of recent activity. However, there were signs that the bay was in regular use, so Jägare moved on to the hatch leading deeper into the DropShip.
The hatch, like the bay door, was opened. Carefully, he stepped through, still holding the assault rifle in a non threatening manner. The corridor beyond was dimly lit, either because the lights didn't work, or they were trying to save power. No one was in sight, but the smell of unwashed bodies and used machinery was strong. He moved across the corridor and opened the hatch to the front starboard ‘Mech bay. It was empty, though the strong small of coolant and the puddles of fresh oil on the deck were signs that there had been a ‘Mech in there a short time ago. After a few seconds of thought, he decided to check the aerospace fighter bays first, then the other ‘Mech bays.
Neither of the aerospace fighter bays had anything of interest. The port side bay was empty, while the starboard bay had some cargo stored there, a common practice when the DropShip didn't have any aerospace fighters. He headed aft again, walking like he belonged there. He stopped at the last bay he hadn't checked, the rear starboard ‘Mechbay. The door opened with ease and Jägare looked in. This bay looked a lot like the other three, but the ‘Mech standing there was the last thing he expected to see.
It had bird-like legs, a narrow, flattened body, with lasers instead of hands and forearms, and a missile launcher perched on top of the body. Unlike an assault ‘Mech, it didn't fill up the bay, but still had an air of danger about it, as well as something akin to grace. Surprisingly, it looked undamaged, and Jägare’s eyes went to where the unit emblem on the leg should be. It was still there, and still fresh looking. An emblem Jägare was familiar with, and one he had never expected to see again, especially here on Cascade.
The emblem of the Capellian Confederation’s Warrior House LeSunn.
Jägare recognized the ‘Mech at once as a Men Shen. At fifty-five tons, it was the first Capellan-made OmniMech, highly prized, and almost never seen outside of the Warrior Houses or the Death Commandos. Somehow, these pirates had either captured or acquired the ‘Mech. But why hadn't they used it on the LaCroix raid? It was heavier the either the Panther or Raven, and faster then the Warhammer. With its sensors package and speed, the Men Shen was a match for either Jackson or Takezaki’s Marshals.
Whatever happened, Jägare knew he couldn't leave it here for the Pirates to use. With a new plan slowly forming in his mind, he looked around. He went over to the large bay door that allowed the ‘Mech to enter and exit the bay. He took out two blocks of the RX-72, molded them together, then flattened it out into a disk roughly the size of his palm. He then reached up as high as he could and pressed the explosive onto the door, flattening out the edges of the disk. Finally, he placed a timer into the plastique, but didn't activate it. He stepped back, looking at the placement critically. In the darkness, the RX-72 was almost invisible, but it would be found in any half decent search. Well, he thought, if they start searching, that probably means I’m dead. On the way back to the hatch, he spotted a steel bar leaning against a crate. He picked it up and left it by the hatchway.
Jägare slipped out the bay and went farther aft. Five meters farther down, he spotted what he was looking for, an maintenance access alcove just off the main corridor. He stepped into the alcove and stripped off the overcoat, hat, and gloves, his senses alert for any sounds of anyone approaching. Where he was going, it was going to be tight enough without the bulk of the overcoat to hamper him. After transferring the plastic explosives and the detonators to his shirt pocket, he left the outer clothes, along with the rifle, in the alcove.
The small maintenance hatch opened without too much noise and Jägare slipped inside, closing it behind him. He took out a small flashlight out of his pocket and turned it on. The platform was barely wide enough for his feet, most of the area taken up by a steel ladder leading down. Moving with certainty, he climbed down the ladder. At the bottom of the shaft, two narrow tunnels ran fore and aft Light was nonexistent outside of a small red light at the base of the ladder and his flashlight, but he knew where he was going.
Jägare, the flashlight now gripped in his teeth, dropped to his knees and crawled down the aft tunnel. Wiring ran along both sides of the tunnel, interspersed with pipes, cables, and support beams. As a combat vessel, ease of replacement and repairs was a major consideration, but it also made it easier to sabotage them. Had this been a Fed-Rat or Confederation DropShip, it would have been almost impossible to get this far without being challenged at least once, but these pirates were too lax, too blind to the possibility of a single man causing any serious damage. He was going to show them how wrong they were.
He found his first target two meters down the tunnel, a small junction box on the bulkhead to his left. He opened the compartment, carefully molded a small amount of plastic explosives around the circuits inside, stuck a timer into the putty-like substance and set it for seven minutes. He closed the door and crawled aft, counting the support beams as he crawled past them. When the count reached five support beams, he flipped himself onto his back and located the center pipe on the tunnel ceiling with his flashlight. He reached up and fashioned a narrow ribbon of plastic explosives around the pipe. He placed another timer into the explosives, set it for six minutes, then rolled back onto his stomach and crawled backwards until he reached the shaft.
Jägare nodded to himself as he stood up. It five minutes, the Leopard wouldn't be able to move or fire any of its weapons. But the damage wasn't permanent. A competent engineer, assuming there was one among the Brotherhood, could repair the damage he was about to cause in a couple of days. Until then, the Leopard wouldn't be a major factor in any fight and a couple of days would be more then enough time for the militia to run the pirates to ground.
With the Leopard taken care of, he needed to worry about the Mule. Was she already carrying human cargo, or were her holds empty? If there was no prisoners, he could cripple the Mule simply by slapping a primed slab of plastique on one of the landing gear legs as he walked by. When it went off, the leg would buckle, if not completely come apart. The spheroid would tilt and be unable to make a clean takeoff.
But, if there were prisoners. . . .
Jägare took a deep breath. That meant not only innocents that could be killed or injured, but as hostages, the slavers would try and use them to buy their way off-planet. Kove Jackson was a hard man, but there was no way he’d let blameless people die at the hands of these thugs. No, he had to find out, one way or the other, and that meant talking to one of the pirates.
Just then, the hatch above him opened. A figure stood in the hatchway, looking down at him. “Hey!” it shouted. “What in the name of Abyss are you doing down there?”
Fortunately, the only light sources were Jägare’s flashlight and the small emergency light, so the only thing the slaver could see was a shadow at the bottom of the ladder. Again, well-ingrained training came to Jägare’s rescue. Without hesitation, he looked up at the pirate. “Me?” he asked with a thick Taurian accent. He turned the flashlight off and pocketed it. “Didn't they tell you?”
“Tell us what?” the pirate demanded.
“The frekking power lines are corroded,” Jägare replied harshly, climbing the ladder quickly. “I told that son of a dog to check them before we made planet fall, but did he listen? Hell, no!"
The pirate moved back from the hatchway, his rifle wavering. Jägare knew that the man was confused, but that would last only as long as Jägare remained a shadowy figure. As soon as he got a good look at Jägare’s face, he was dead.
Still, there was no hesitation or reluctance on Jägare’s part.. He needed to get close to the pirate before the man realized he wasn't a fellow outlaw. He reached the top of the ladder and saw there were two pirates in the alcove, the second one standing in the entryway, maybe two meters away. The odds were getting worse by the minute.
“What‘s with leaving your coat and rifle here?” the first pirate asked. He was short, scruffy with a scarred face and flat, cold eyes. The second marauder was slightly taller and heavier then the first, but he had the same cold eyes. Both were without coats, which probably meant that these were the ones who were suppose to be keeping people like him off the Leopard.
“Can’t take them in the tunnel,” Jägare replied, stepping into the alcove. The alcove was manly in shadow, concealing his features for a few more precious seconds.
“So why not stick them in the forward locker like everyone else?”
“Because I came through the aft entry.”
“Chang never said anything about anyone coming on board.”
“Well,” Jägare replied with a sneer. “The frelling wanker was standing so close to the fire, it was a wonder he didn't try bed it!” He saw his chance and he took it. He shifted his stance slightly, preparing himself for the next several seconds.“Hey, any chance of having one of those women from the Mule? There’s a great looking redhead, green eyes, with a nice ra–“
“Forget it!” the first pirate growled. “You know there’s no touching the merchandise unless otherwise instructed, especially the women.”
“How the Hades will anyone know?” Jägare replied, trying to sound like a man frustrated for female companionship. He shifted his weight to the balls of his feet. “Who’s she going to go screaming to? The boss?”
“Keller will have your guts if he thinks you've been sniffing around them –“ Then, he realized something was wrong. “Wait a minute!” he snarled. Who the hell are –“
Even as the Brotherhood member was snarling, Jägare exploded into action. He darted forward, slapped aside the muzzle of the slaver’s rifle with his left hand while hitting the man in the nose with a straight hard right. The Brotherhood member staggered back, blood streaming from his nose and his eyes were unfocused.
The second pirate, stunned at the suddenness of the violence, stepped forward, his rifle held low in an attempt to spear Jägare with it. The ex-Death Commando half spun to his left, avoiding the thrusting rifle with ease. Using the momentum of the spin, Jägare struck the second pirate in the right temple with a left reverse elbow strike. The slaver staggered from the stunning blow, and never saw the right-handed tiger mouth strike that hit him in the throat.
Jägare spun back to his right and grabbed the first slaver’s head with both hands. Before the pirate could put up a struggle, Jägare twisted the man’s man’s neck viciously.
Both pirates fell, one dead from a broken neck, the other dying from a crushed windpipe. Stopping long enough to grab his rifle, he stepped out into the corridor –
-- and nearly had his head taken off by a burst of gunfire from aft. Without thinking, he dropped to the floor, aimed and fired a short burst. Unlike the pirate’s shots, Jägare’s volley were on target and the shooter went down in a spray of blood. Jägare shot to his feet and ran up the corridor, all thoughts of concealment replaced with those of combat. From behind him, he heard shouts and demands for him to stop, followed by the piercing wail of an alarm echoing through the ship.
Jägare reached the rear starboard ‘Mechbay and darted through the hatchway, a heartbeat ahead of several burst of gunfire that sparked off the steel hatch cover. He leaned out into the corridor long enough to fire a long burst in the direction he’d come from before slamming and locking the hatch. The steel bar he’d left next to the hatch when he had left was now used to jam the hatch wheel. It wouldn't hold them for long, but he didn't need a lot of time.
He slung his rifle over his head and raced for the bay door. It took him several seconds to find where he’d placed the explosive charge. Five seconds after he found it, the timer was set for ninety seconds, and he was racing for the ladder. As he reached the base of the ladder, the locking wheel on the hatch started jerking as someone tried to open it. Without breaking stride, he leapt for the ladder and climbed it rapidly, taking it two rungs at a time. He didn't bother to watch the hatch, but when he head the ‘clang’ of the steel bar hitting the bay’s floor, he redouble his efforts. By the time he reached the second highest platform, the one even with the Men Shen’s cockpit, the hatch was flung open and two pirates came racing into the bay. Jägare stopped, unslung his rifle and fired down at them. Before the pair realized it, they were dead, cut down with two short, well placed bursts from the hunter’s assault rifle.
Not stopping to see if there was anyone else, Jägare turned and ran to the ‘Mech. The Men Shen’s hatch opened with a hiss. Once inside, Jägare closed it, stripped down to his shorts and slid into the command chair. A nerohelmet laid on the floor next to the chair. He placed it over his head and plugged it into the chair. He switched the power on and the ‘Mech came to life.
He took a deep breath, calming himself for the next step. There was a closely guarded secret about some of the Confederation’s newest ‘Mech designs. Unknown to even most of the MechWarriors that use them, there was an emergency security override hardwired into the ‘Mechs computer. It was designed to allow a few selected operatives to commandeer Confederation ‘Mechs in pursuit of their objectives without having to worry about bypassing the on-board security.
Operatives like Liao Death Commandos.
Jägare quickly punch in a sequence of numbers into the security keypad, the birth date of Chancellor Sun-Tzu Liao, waited five seconds, then tapped in another sequence, this one the date of Sun Tzu’s paternal grandfather’s death. The system beeped, then the on-board computer said, “Identification, please.”
“I am a servant of the Chancellor,” Jägare said in perfect Mandarin, drilled into him over months of training. “His word is my command. His will is my duty. My life his to do with at his pleasure. My actions are his voice. I am pledge to him until death.”
A few seconds of silence followed, then the computer said, “Identification accepted. Serve the Chancellor well in his name.” The cockpit came alive with lights and sound as the ‘Mech’s reactor came fully on-line. A quick glance at the weapons console confirmed that the Men Shen was a primary version – a long-range missile launcher and four medium pulse lasers.
The bay door exploded, ripping out large chunks of steel and leaving most of the lower third of the door a smoking ruin. The Men Shen rocked from the shockwave and even in the safety of the cockpit, Jägare was slammed back into his seat, slightly stunned by the concussion. Several panels started flashing, alerting him to some minor armor damage on the ‘Mech’s legs and torsos.
Shaking his head to clear the last of the cobwebs, he activated the weapons systems and triggered the pulse lasers. Four bursts of light hammered the upper two thirds of the 'Mech bay’s door, shredding it. Steel flew off into the night or fell to the floor of the bay. Steam and smoke began to fill the bay, reducing visibility quickly.
That's all for now. Back to work!