Mystery ‘Mechs From Beyond the Periphery Part 3
(Not that I say
these words for any particular reason, but...*cough*neongenesis*cough*. And for
some reason: Poing poing!)
The Poulsbo, Timbuktu, and Alarion raids by the "Mystery Mechs from the Deep Periphery" had the LAAF alarmed, but damage was consistently minimal (just freakin' weird, man). With Victor's traitorous army keeping the LAAF busy and the negligible damage from the raiders, little effort was allocated to dealing with the raiders. After Poulsbo and Timbuktu, a memo was circulated to garrisons that if those particular raiders showed up again...just stay away if they pursued their usual cow mutilation and library plundering. This policy spared Alarion any military losses, but it also meant LAAF units were poorly positioned to prevent the raiders from plundering nearly 3 billion Kroners in paper and coin currency when they tackled a new target (in addition to cows and libraries): the Alarion Planetary Reserve Bank.
With the FC Civil War still in progress, the LAAF still refused to respond to outraged Alarion investors with what would be a fruitless anti-pirate hunt. The raiders appeared in warships, or at least compact cored jumpships, and had very advanced mechs so they weren't a two-bit group of pirates who would be easily found at the usual Periphery hangouts.
Understandably dissatisfied with the government response, a group of investors decided To Take Matters Into Their Own Hands. Though the loss in cash amounted to no more than a hiccup in interest rates for the Alarion business community, the raid and lack of military response had caused a loss of consumer confidence with associated stock nosedives in several industries. Presumably, bringing home some raider scalps would restore consumer confidence and thus stock prices and thus investors' bank accounts.
While recruiting agents sniffed out a worthy merc unit, the investors began looking for the pirates simply by hiring detective agencies (or buying/leasing/bribing access to police records, depending on the planet). An unnamed member of the angry investors mentioned that pirates often resold their loot on Inner Sphere planets with convincing (hint:insider) proof to back up his (or her) story. Reasonably, these pirates would be leaving a trail of resold loot or dumped cash somewhere along the Lyran Alliance's Periphery border. This idea proved incorrect (for these particular raiders), but the altered dragnet turned up another relevant clue.
In the Rim Collection, an Explorer Corps Magellan-class jumpship had showed up with only 7 crewmen and none of its marine or scientist complement. While Comstar would like to think of its Explorer Corps crews as iron-willed and zipper-lipped, one did spill the ship's story at length while seeking solace in a bar. The local media caught this and spread the story through the Rim Collection where the Alarion investigators heard it.
The story went that the ship had paused in a system not far beyond the Rim Collection that was once known to house a small Star League scientific facility. The Explorer Corps had examined the facility in the past (a biological research station that studied the unusual, non-protein-based life on the planet) and now used it as a common jumping-off point for explorations deeper into the Periphery. This time, however, the jumpship had noted unusual radio signals from the planet (unusual in that there were any signals) that were traced the facility. The signals were unintelligible but definitely digital. That they were unintelligible was not surprising - the plethora of digital formats used by humanity for EM communications were boundless and often indecipherable. Naturally, the Explorer Corps went exploring.
According to the survivor, the crew found a very advanced group of humans looking over the base. They were apparently from a Deep Periphery colony settled during Star League times and were attempting to revive the base, which their old records had told them about. The 'Sheens', as they called themselves, worried about biological contamination after centuries of isolation (particularly from bioweapons used during the Succession Wars, which the Explorer Corps crew might be immune to, but the unexposed Sheens...) and thus limited face-to-face contact. Most dealings were over video screens. Physical contact was through the abundant Sheen robots. (And they used all manner of robots: from 5-ton construction robots repairing the base to 0.5kg VTOL video surveillance units.) Only a handful of Sheen volunteers ever met with Explorer Corps crew, though relations were reported to be very friendly in a few cases (wink wink). After ten days of fruitful discussions and mutually updating each other (like, how the Sheens developed in isolation after the fall of the Star League in exchange for how the Inner Sphere had done since the fall), several Sheen Union-class dropships landed. It was then things started to go wrong.
The Magellan's crew, located at the system's nadir jump point, received a short report: "They're the Alarion raiders, they're unloading a ton of cash - a real ton of cash! - from Alarion! Oh, God, their mechs are killing us, they're coming for-" The crew attempted to re-establish communications, but with the two-way, two-hour light lag from planet to jump point, no firm person-to-person link was made. There were several fragmentary broadcasts through (apparently) jamming, snippets of voice and video from frightened and/or angry Explorer Corps personnel, but that was it.
Well, it wasn't. In retrospect, the "fragmentary transmissions" were Trojan Horses used to sneak computer viruses onto the Explorer Corps jumpship. The isolated jump navigation system remained functional, but 11 crew died from system malfunctions before the ship was fully repaired. The viruses were apparently supposed to cripple the ship so a Sheen jumpship could send boarders over, but the isolated jump computer made it possible to flee when the Sheen jumpship appeared beside the Explorer Corps Magellan. The crew suffered its losses during the next 3 weeks as the Magellan continued to flee to the Inner Sphere and systems (notably life support) could not be brought back online until It Was Too Late.
With this information, the Alarion investors immediately sent the first merc unit they hired to deal with these "Sheens." The unit, "Pierson's Penetrators," was a merc battalion originally named for its raiding ability, later for its company of Penetrator mechs, and always called "Pierson's Penetrators" even after three name changes recognized by the Wolf Dragoons and Mercenary Review Board. Most people just had too much fun with the name (often at the expense of Pierson's bedroom prowess) to acknowledge the name changes. Even the acronym was fun.
Pierson's Penetrators got to the planet and apparently caught the Sheens unawares. They used Explorer Corps' information to arrive at a pirate point and combat dropped over the base within three hours of arrival in system. The experience, the Penetrators related, was like kicking open an anthill. The only Sheen dropships on the ground appeared to be a pair of Mules, not the Unions seen at Alarion, Poulsbo, and Timbuktu. However, a company of the Sheens' "traditional" mechs (Archers, Panthers, Cyclops) boiled out of a dropship hangar. They were overwhelmed by the concentrated firepower of the entire Penetrators' battalion.
Afterwards, searches by Penetrator infantry failed to turn up any Explorer Corps scientists or marines, or even any Sheen personnel. Orbital scans of the planet by the Penetrators' dropships revealed no other signs of habitation on the planet. Pierson was mustering units to explore remote research facilities (which were apparently quite overgrown and untouched, but one could hope) when the Really Frickin' Weird mechs arrived out of the dense mass of quasi-vegetation stuff around the main Star League base.
Unlike the other Sheen mechs, these were not noticeably based on any known Star League-era battlemech. They were whip-lean, only seemed to have a single ranged weapon (an ER PPC), but did swing a fearsome sword. The Penetrators were disturbed by the Sheens' ability to leap up to 120 meters without using jump jets (being unaware of NAIS's experiments with mechanical jump boosters) and kick like much heavier mechs (lacking firsthand experience with triple strength myomers), but rallied professionally and engaged the nimble, tough, but under-armed Sheen mechs. The bizarre Sheen mechs demonstrated the odd pattern of mistakes and good piloting that had been seen in Sheen raids on Poulsbo and Timbuktu, with a particular penchant for savage melee attacks that left the mechs vulnerable to massed counter fire. The Penetrators defeated the Sheens (who fought to the last mech) while suffering few losses but heavy armor damage. Pierson called the dropships for pickup at this point, figuring the Comstar personnel (and Alarion cash) were gone. He had collected a light battalion's worth of salvage - enough raider scalps to make his employers happy. As Pierson (correctly) understood his employers, the two-dozen destroyed raider mechs would be more than adequate to get the boost in consumer confidence they were after and his unit could look forward to several months of relaxing "pirate hunting," i.e., just jumping around the Periphery making a show of investigating pirate hangouts. The hard work was done.
When Penetrators' Overlord and Buccaneer arrived, more of the weird mechs burst out of the plant-animal-jungle stuff around the base, two companies worth. The huge Overlord "Grand Teton" was wrecked in the first half minute of combat - the Sheens concentrated their fire on the huge, immobile target. To prevent being stranded when the Sheens shifted toward the Buccaneer, Pierson lead a banzai charge that would've made munchkins proud. A full lance of Penetrators (the mercs, not specifically the mech) Stackpoled among the Sheen mechs, which threw the Sheens into disarray. Except for the command lance, the mercs were forced to board the Buccaneer as Dispossessed. One of the new Sheen mechs wrecked earlier was also dragged onboard.
Pierson's Penetrators has since been rebuilt by the generosity of the people of Alarion. (They received a billion C-bill planetary government grant to purchase new mechs and a new dropship.) The government recouped most of the grant with the proceeds of the wildly successful movie, "Hard Penetration," which was loosely based on the Sheen "invasion" and the exploits of Pierson's Penetrators. The follow-on made-for-trideo series ran eight seasons and was viewed across the Inner Sphere, including in the Clan corridor.
And while Pierson's Penetrators went on to cinematic fame and fortune (Penetrator mechwarriors piloted the mechs seen in "Hard Penetration" and "Hard Penetration: The Series."), the Alarion investors and LAAF puzzled over the latest Sheen mech. It was not something the LAAF was going to copy anytime soon, not with its lack of firepower and excessive tonnage devoted to the inefficient mechanical jump systems. However, it had a lot of interesting design lessons. The myomer musculature was elegant and refined in an engineering sense. It was also among the most powerful myomer arrays ever seen on a mech. The powerful pelvis, thigh, and calf myomer bundles could hurl the Sheen mech one hundred and twenty meters from a standing jump. When adequately heated, the upper torso and arm bundles enabled the mech to swing its sword harder than even a 100-ton mech. The entire structure was unusual. Organic is not the correct term - the internal structure was thoroughly mechanical - but was refined in a way investigators had only previously seen in the maligned Clint.
[Scooby Do Fadeout]
The Clint was notorious for using components optimized for its chassis. These were less expensive than the generic components of other mechs, but were much rarer for this reason. Clints were thus hard to repair during the gloomy years of the Succession Wars and this problem overshadowed the revolutionary design process behind the Clint: genetic design. The Clints' designers had run the mech through literally thousands of simulations on computers before the first Clint was ever constructed. The most successful designs to come out of one simulation were thrown into the next until an efficiently designed, easily repairable mech resulted. This was quite clever and produced an oddly elegant, almost "organic" internal structure (organic in shape, not materials), but the "evolved" components of the Clint caused its infamous maintenance problems during the Succession Wars.
[/Scooby Do Fadeout]
The Sheen mech showed a similar "organic" structure. While engineers would nod in appreciation at the refined chassis and components, the parts were not readily compatible with the LAAF logistics system. And thus there was another reason the advanced Sheen mech would not be copied or utilized by the LAAF.
But the investigators were most abuzz about the cockpit, or lack thereof. Like all Sheen mechs, the head had been gutted by suicide explosives when the mech was destroyed. There was no hamburger to be found in this Sheen mech, though, nor anyplace for the cow meat to even be placed. There was no pilot seat in the head (or anywhere else in the mech), just a mass of (wrecked) electronics in the cockpit.
Based on the reluctance of Sheen personnel to directly interact with other humans, the official LAAF conclusion was that the Sheen mech was a remotely operated drone.