Off the Battlefield Part 2


At some point in your career, probably sooner than later, you will go on a very special mission. That mission will probably be wholly unremarkable save for one thing: one of your comrades in arms, someone you know and may hold close to you, will fall in battle. When this happens, to react is only human, and you should not fight that reaction. But you should also not let it master you. You should not be frightened, nor should you be inspired to revenge. The battle still rages, and there is no time to mourn, unless you wish to die too. Instead, let your fallen comrades inspire you. For the best way to honor them, is to win the battle in which they fell.

-- From a lecture by Colonel Michael Grey O.T.T., given at the Coventry Military Academy.

It was with his own words in mind that Michael looked over the battlefield. In the distance, a line of foes advanced across the muddy rocks of Goat Path. Leading the way was a mighty Turkina, the greatest of Jade Falcon Mechs. This was the Falcons' command trinary, the best warriors that the Clan force had available.

This was going to be ugly.

Fanned out to left and right were the Mechs of Michael's command lance and first company. Michael ordered the light flanker lance back, to hold until his signal. To either side, the heavier Shadows Mechs stepped up into a firing line. Michael keyed his radio to all his Mechs.

"Open fire as soon as they are in range. Remember, zellbrigen is off. Lance leaders call targets. Concentrate fire, and knock them down quickly. Flankers, move out as soon as I start firing, and call targets for artillery. The gloves are off."

A chorus of responses came, and the Shadows began their advance, manuvering using what little cover the rocky plain had to offer. Missiles, beams, and the spiraling streaks of gauss shots crisscrossed the long but slowly closing range. Michael designated his target, a Black Lanner that had strayed too far ahead of the Falcons' formation, and the nail that stuck out got hammered by the command lance's concentrated fire.

Michael observed the downed Lanner for a moment to ensure it stayed down, checked off a Summoner as another lance blew its engine out, and chose a Night Gyr missile boat as his next target. To right and left, the Shadows were taking a beating, but holding. He keyed his radio.

"Where's that artillery..." and his statement was cut off by a sudden flash.

It was Michiko, the fiftysomething Kuritan who refused to retire, one of Colonel Grey's sworn bodyguards, who immediately noticed. "Colonel Grey?"

The radio crackled with concern as torsos twisted to see the unthinkable: the Thug was still standing, its reactor humming and gyro clearly intact. But the arms hung limply, receiving no input from the smoking hole that had been the cockpit.

The din of battle suddenly seemed to go very quiet. It was the son of the first Hiero West, Michael's childhood friend and closest male companion, who spoke first. "He's gone."

There was a moment of confusion. The Shadows hesitated, while the Falcons continued to close. Finally someone asked over the radio, "Did anyone get what his last order was?"

Hiero's answer was frighteningly even. "Yes. He said to win."

There was but one more moment of silence. And then the Shadows were moving, advancing aggressively as Hiero gave orders. No one questioned his seniority as the Colonel's right hand. The Shadows suddenly shifted the bulk of their line left, and charged into the Falcons' flank. The surprised Falcons turned to meet them, only to discover the fast flankers had slipped right behind them. TAG locks warbled their signals, and the late artillery came down, ending the battle in fire and thunder. The Falcons retreated, leaving half their number on the field, along with nearly the same number of fallen Shadows.

After a long, silent moment, Hiero stripped off his helmet, opened the hatch and stepped from his cockpit.

Michael was standing outside the simulator waiting for him. The two men looked at each other silently as the other Shadows slowly gathered round.

Hiero finally spoke. He was clearly more disturbed than his professionalism allowed him to show. "Why did you do that?"

Michael smiled at his lifelong friend. Like himself, Hiero was a family Mechwarrior from the old Davion school; his father had fought alongside Michael's from the Shadows' very beginning. He could have guessed that Hiero would realize something was up, that he had taken himself out of the fight deliberately. But he stopped smiling as he gave his answer.

"Because I wanted to see how the Shadows reacted. I wanted to see if the Shadows could have carried on without me. Because what we just simulated, could happen in any battle, at any time. And I'd be a poor commander indeed if I didn't at least TRY to prepare you all for it."

Michael glanced at his chronometer. It was time for lunch.

"Break for lunch," he said with authority. "We'll debrief this run at 1300 in the lounge." He paused, and looked around at his troops a moment. He had never seen them look so sober. "You all did well." Another pause, as the quiet tension still hung. Michael raised an eyebrow and cracked a smile, to tell his troops that everything was OK. "Dismissed."