Ferox Rangers #6 (Battletech Campaign)

Date: March 28, 3066.

World: Kennard, at the border of the Federated Suns and the Outworlds Alliance.


Mission Briefing: Adept Julius Vespasian, ComStar

Good morning Ms. Ferox. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. My name is Adept Vespasian, and I am the senior ranking officer for ComStar on this world. It seems that you've been operating a mercenary company on Kennard without filing the proper paperwork with the MRB. As I am sure you are aware, the monetary penalties for operating outside of the parameters of the MRB are quite hefty, and I have an order here that will allow my personnel to immediately, and without any additional cause, freeze all of your accounts, seize all of your assets and impound your entire lance of battlemechs. 

Now, I am not an unreasonable man, and I believe that we can come to some kind of agreement that will serve to our mutual benefit. You see, we have a problem on Kennard, and at the center of this problem is a self-styled "pirate king." I think you are familiar with Julian Corpuz, and I have seen from the records that you have encountered his lackeys before. If you are willing, we can arrange an encounter between your lance and Mr. Corpuz. Terminate him, and the pirate problem on Kennard should lessen considerably. In payment for this, we will dismiss all of your penalty fees for operating as a rogue mercenary group and I will personally ensure that the Ferox Rangers are properly registered and placed in good standing with the Board and with ComStar. We will also provide you with an additional 250,000 C-Bills as a sort of bounty compensation if you manage to terminate Mr. Corpuz. There will be no support, no salvage rights and no insurance coverage in this mission, but I think the terms that I have presented are more than fair.

Refuse this generous offer, and I can assure you that ComStar will confiscate everything you think you own, levying penalties against any future earnings, if necessary. You may still be able to find work as a farmhand on Kennard, but I can promise you that if you are not willing to work with us, I will personally see to it that you never pilot a battlemech again.


Mission Report, Commander Ellen Ferox

So that's how I ended up working for ComStar. 

Worst mistake of my life, so far.

The message came out of the blue, pissed me off first, then scared me. I took the mission because I've heard all of the stories about how ComStar basically always gets what ComStar wants, and the best way to minimize how much they take is just to go along with whatever they want and pray they don't alter any deal you make with them. I'm not happy about it, and I don't trust this Adept Vespasian any further than I could throw him, but his threats carry weight, so I decided the path of least resistance was just to be a good little mercenary and take this shot at taking out Julian Corpuz.


The set-up was simple. An unmarked dropship picked us up, dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, and just as it left, I started picking up blips on the radar. Corpuz's group was coming right for us, like they knew where we were, like they were expecting us. 


Comm static killed the radios immediately. Total white-out, totally unnerving, but we're professionals, so we dealt with it and closed in with our prey. My mechwarriors know that priority always goes to the target I designate, and the instant I saw the Axman, I knew it was Corpuz. I knew we couldn't let him close the distance between himself and us.


Other fast units moved in-- a Locust and a Javelin. Fox and Rage took up positions in a stand of trees and started firing, but all of their rounds went wide. Osprey stuck with me, and as I threw everything I had into the advancing Axman, burning armor off its frame, I started to get cocky. There was a spark, some smoke-- an engine breach, already. Definitely a good sign this would be an easy clean-up.


The enemy closed suddenly-- a catapult rained missiles down on Maynard while the cannons of Scorpion tanks rumbled the air like lightning strikes. The locust came right at Old Bullet, pulling our attention away from the Axman as it closed with Poseidon. It was a calculated gambit, and what happened next still shakes me to this day.


I saw Corpuz gesture, calling out Poseidon. There was a flash, a flare of light as lasers cut through the trees, and then the Axman lifted its massive hatchet and brought the thing down directly onto Poseidon's head.


I remember screaming. I remember screaming like Fox could hear me, like anyone could hear me over the total whiteout of the comms. Poseidon shifted, stumbled, and when it fell I knew. I knew. My friend, my ally, my compatriot from the Irregulars, was dead.


Instantly, I thought of the story mom used to tell of the CO she lost when she was fighting Jade Falcon on the Lyran border with the Red Wolves. One shot, one clear, carefully-aimed gauss rifle shot, and her whole organization was suddenly leaderless. Fox was older than me, more experienced. If not for nepotism, Fox probably would have been my CO. I felt adrift, watery, lost.

Then I did the only thing I could think to do. I started firing.


I don't know what Osprey thought when he saw Poseidon go down. Probably fear, probably terror, a sense of certain doom now that we were one heavy less on the field. The important thing is that he took my cue and together we lit up the Locust between us, ripping it to shreds with lasers and autocannon fire.


Corpuz must have been grinning behind his cockpit glass. Even as the Locust fell, he put his sights on Maynard, gesturing at the Centurion and readying his axe for another deadly strike.


Osprey and I barely had time to pivot before Maynard went down. I saw the flash of his ejection as the Axman's hatchet cleaved through his cored-out torso, tearing the Centurion apart and leaving little of use for salvage. Tanks moved in, and I felt the sting of their autocannons as they peppered Dantor and Old Bullet with fire. Missiles rained down on us, but still we persisted, grouping up, turning all of our fire on Corpuz.


But the Axman just wouldn't die. He seemed invulnerable, soaked shot after shot of laser and autocannon fire. My hands started to get shaky, my shots sloppy as I backed into a stand of trees to try to get some protection from the advancing pirates. Osprey, to his credit, was trying his best to ride the line on his mech's heat gauge, but thermal signatures showed me everything I needed to know. Old Bullet was running hot, too hot, and he was flirting with a shutdown.


As we withdrew, the catapult advanced on me, with most of the missiles raining down into the woods around me. Corpuz and the Javelin that had been supporting him as he took down Maynard singled out Old Bullet and started moving in on the Rifleman. Terrified, shouting as the Axman bore down on my last lancemate, I poured everything I had into Corpuz's mech, but still it soaked the hits, still it kept coming, inexorably, singlehandedly slaughtering my entire warband, mech by mech. Autocannon shots rang out, and then I saw one of Old Bullet's arms fly off as a huge chunk of side torso went up in a hail of smoke and fire.


I flirted briefly with the idea of a withdrawal, then dismissed it just as quickly. Yeah, we might escape, but we'd lose so much if we lost the field. The pirates would get a hold of Poseidon and Maynard, and probably take Rage hostage. Adept Vespasian would be pissed, and there wouldn't be enough of my lance left to stand up to him or fight Comstar when they came to take it all away. Not that fighting ComStar would be even remotely smart, ever. No, bailing now would mean I'd be stuck on Kennard, dispossessed and shamed.

Grabbing the controls of my Marauder with renewed strength, I made a promise to myself there and then that I'd fight this to the end. I'd fight, and see this whole mess through. I'd kill Corpuz, or die on the field of battle. Either way, I wasn't about to go back to the hangar empty handed.

Desperate, I fired everything I had at Corpuz, slagging more armor and tearing open his cockpit with a lucky laser blast, but I couldn't keep him off Osprey. In a terrible moment, I saw the Axman raise its arm one last time, preparing to strike, 


And then a blast of laser tore from Old Bullet's one remaining arm and carved through the torso of the Axman, obliterating enough of the mech's ExtraLight engine to send Corpuz's mech into a complete shutdown. His ejection seat kicked in an instant later, and I immediately set my mech's computer system to track it. If we could get to him quick enough, I figured, we might still be able to salvage this mission.


Renewed by seeing the Axman fall before Old Bullet, I turned my own lasers on the Javelin, carving the leg off the mech and sending it into a tumble. My breath caught-- maybe we'd live through this after all. Maybe this was just a bad turn of luck. A really, really, bad turn of luck finally coming round to decent again.


Missiles rained down around Osprey, pelting the already butchered Rifleman, but still he kept moving. All guns were on him now, trying to turn this whole mess into a four-on-one. Even with those odds, I might still survive, but as long as Old Bullet was still firing, I knew we had a good chance to carry the day.

The Javelin pilot tried to stand, but fell again and smashed down hard enough that it must have knocked out the pilot. The whole mech was limp, laying there, and both Osprey and I took shots at it, carving up the dirt around the downed mech.


By the time the Javelin pilot finally woke up and got back to its feet, I was going tank hunting, putting down scorpions and closing on the Catapult. Lasers tore from the butchered Javelin, but none of them found their mark. Osprey paused, lined up his sights, and then in a single shot, downed the enemy machine.


The shot was clean, a large laser through the cockpit, vaporizing the mech's entire head and the pirate pilot with it. With luck like that, I found myself wishing Vespasian had given us even minimal salvage rights, but unfortunately, the fruits of all of our hard work would be going to ComStar this run.


After the Javelin dropped, I started chasing the Catapult. With all the missiles those things carry, he kept jumping and pelting us with volley after volley. Most of them missed, but enough hit to chew away at my armor.


He kept jumping and firing, jumping and firing. We chased him, but he wouldn't bail, wouldn't stop moving.


The last of the Scorpion tanks kept plinking at my armor, chewing away at the legs and torso of my Marauder until the autocannon fire finally hit something critical. A heat sink, a Clan salvage double heat sink.


All it took was one volley of laser fire and the Scorpion tank was a smoking ruin. Osprey kept chasing the Catapult, finally put enough rounds in it to obliterate one of the side torsos and cut its striking power in half.


It jumped one last time, fired one last volley of missiles, and I knew in that moment that the pirate was weighing his options. Punch out? Run away? Instead, he opted to make a stand. One final strike, one finally volley, carefully aimed.


But the shot never came. Raising my Marauder's arms, I put a trio of large lasers through the Catapult's center torso and cored the mech before the pilot could pull the trigger. The mech had taken a beating, expended almost all of its ammo, so the husk that was left probably wouldn't be worth more than spare parts to ComStar, if they didn't just sell the whole wreck off to some Periphery nation where Catapult parts are still considered valuable.


The ComStar convoy arrived almost immediately, sleek and quiet in white, unmarked vehicles. Salvage was gathered up with unnerving efficiency, and all of the pilots were rounded up immediately. The white-out on the comms ended, and then the voice of Adept Vespasian cut through the frequency, telling us to go home, that our pilot and our downed mechs would be delivered to the Lindon's Battalion hangar by morning. I hesitated for only a moment, and then I saw what looked like Julian Corpuz, bound and gagged, led by men in white robes. They kicked him in the back of the knees, made him kneel before someone who could only be Adept Vespasian, and then the Adept promptly shot the Pirate King, leaving the corpse to rot in the mud not far from where his Axman fell.

I didn't linger long after that. Adept Vespasian had made it clear that he was not someone to irritate, much less cross. Osprey and I limped our butchered mechs back across the plains to Sigma Garrison and arrived just as dusk was falling. We made the trip in silence, well, at least on comms. In my own cockpit, though, I was sobbing, thinking about Captain Dornentanz, thinking about how today, I'd lost a good friend forever.


True to their word, the ComStar techs dropped Poseidon and Maynard at the Lindon's Battalion hangar the next morning, dropped their pittance of a paycheck in my warband's bank account and left Rage at the barracks. Colonel Lindon's techs went to work, analyzed the damage to the mechs and gave me a total bill for repairs that made me go pale and cold instantly. I know it was a good deal. I know that they were laboring at no cost to me, but the cost to take down Corpuz for ComStar was still enough to break the budget. Just getting Poseidon back on the field would cost more than we made working for Vespasian.

All told, I was looking at a month and 3,138,450 C-Bills to get the rangers back to fighting fit again, plus an additional 250,000 to hire on and fly out a pilot actually worth putting in Poseidon's cockpit. The breakdown was heartbreaking, and made me feel like suddenly I was eating my words from last mission about how much damage our front-liners take. Poseidon and Dantor were mostly untouched, coming in at 300,000 and 87,000 respectively for repairs, but it was Old Bullet and Maynard that would cost us the most. Old Bullet's estimate came in at 1,504,000 to refit, mostly because of the massive structural damage and partly because we had to replace one of the costly heat sinks I'd just had installed. I guess I should be grateful that we didn't lose any of the new-to-us Clan Large Lasers, as the bill was already high enough that it almost drained our account getting everything patched up. Maynard was another 1,247,450 c-bills to refit and refresh with ammo, and then the upkeep costs hit, draining another 4,500 in paychecks from the account.

And then there was the funeral. Captain Dornentanz had a sister on record, but no parents, no lovers or friends, so Rage, Osprey and I held a silent vigil and drank ourselves stupid. We stayed up late, both young pilots listening to my stories about Fox, about the missions we'd run together with the irregulars, and I even tried to write the letter to Fox's sister that night, but I couldn't hold it together enough to actually get the words out. I felt responsible for Dornentanz's death, knew that, even though accidents happen, I was still the commanding officer. It was absolutely my fault.

I offered to foot the bill to ship Captain Dornentanz's ashes out to her, but Fox's sister told me it wouldn't be necessary. The cost to send the ashes out would be almost three quarters of a million C-Bills, so it was a sad relief when she turned us down. Instead, I got the guys together again, bought everybody beers, and we found a nice hilltop where we could scatter Captain Dornentanz's ashes to the wind. It wasn't much, and saying goodbye didn't stop the sobbing, didn't keep me from losing myself in a bottle more than once during the month of refits, but it was something. It was the best that I could do, maybe.


Liquid Assets Obtained: 
-3,388,450 C-Bills

Salvage Obtained:
None

Notes:

I have to admit, when I saw Poseidon go down, I started to shake. I stopped what I was doing, checked and re-checked all the numbers, but the results were clear as day. Solid hit to the head, instant death. 1800 BV and a 3/3 pilot all lost in a single strike. I have to admit, briefly I considered resetting the entire scenario, deleting the pictures and pretending that the whole thing never happened, but then I reminded myself that these missions are all about the story and how it unfolds. The death of a mechwarrior is a powerful storytelling tool, and the results of this battle changed everything I thought I was going to be doing, missions-wise (and storyline wise) from here on out. Besides, if I had reset everything, I wouldn't have had this epic sequence where the Axman literally hacked his way through almost an entire lance of mechs. That's way more interesting, storyline-wise, than "our heroes easily mop the floor with the enemy yet again!" It's also a wonderful callback, in a way, to my high school campaign, where the CO was smashed by a gauss rifle round, leaving a nearly perfect mech corpse on the battlefield. I remember shaking and checking and rechecking the numbers then too, and even though that event happened nigh on twenty-four years ago, I still remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. That's the power of a good game.

Standing in as a proxy for the Axman is my own HZV-11 Huskavarna Axe Mecha which you can download for free from Thingiverse if you like it and want to print your own. The proxy I used for the Catapult is actually my own design as well, and I call it the CT-5N Charleston Mecha. The proxies for the Scorpion tanks are actually from some tactical boardgame I found at a thrift store. It was only a buck, and the tanks came prepainted and everything. I really gotta figure out the name of that game so I can go looking for more used copies to part out. So far, my google-fu has turned up nothing, and I already threw the box away long ago, lol.

EDIT: The game is called "Mission Command Land Game!" Thanks Joseph!



One of the things that I did differently this time (as compared to my highschool and college days) was  create a nice, neat binder with page sleeves that I can use dry-erase markers on. I had these big dreams (when I was putting it together) of the lance growing and filling the binder (like my last campaign,) but then this mission happened, and, well, we'll see how the Rangers weather everything still to come.

For those who are interested, I did a breakdown of the BV for this battle. I've tried to make a habit of throwing 75% BV at my mercs to give the mercs the edge (and encourage more aggressive play while I try to obliterate my own group with a lesser force.)

BV:

Ferox:
Dantor: 1992
Poseidon: 1772
Maynard: 772
Old Bullet: 1445
Total: ~6,000

Corpuz:
Axman 1,374
Catapult: 1,285
Javelin: 835
Locust: 490
Scorpions (2)
Total: ~4,500



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