Zenith Jump Point
December 10, 3056
The small fleet of DropShips huddled around the JumpShip Henke’s Hope as David Pryde waited impatiently for the Invader to recharge its engines for the next jump. He hated pirates. Always had. Even for the damned Marians he’d be more than willing to help deal with pirates. After all, it was the common people they were hurting, and said people didn’t deserve to be left hanging just because their government was corrupt and their leader a lying bastard.
His face twisted in anger at the idea and then he let out a long slow breath as he studied the “updated” force projections the Marians had given him. The ones that doubled the size of the expected forces versus the numbers in the contract. This fight wasn’t going to be as straightforward as he’d hoped, but things shouldn’t be too hard as long as he fought this one smart. Even with the numbers given now, his ’Mech company and the vehicles and infantry outnumbered the estimates. If only he had more firepower. He didn’t want to think about the idea that even these numbers might be purposefully low, but he had to for the sake of his men.
He’d seen enough good men die against the Clans during the Invasion, and in another eleven years the Clans would be coming again. The Inner Sphere had to be ready to take them on, and David wouldn’t let any men die if he could help it. Not against dime-a-dozen pirates when the Clans were coming. So he wracked his brain, trying to come up with some idea to take them on without losing too many of his men. But what was too many? Did the mothers and fathers of dead mercenaries think their child was too many? Even if he or she was one of a handful? That was the other reason he hated losing people. He hated writing those letters.
An alarm shot through the Union-class DropShip and he jerked his mind out of the circular argument inside his skull before jumping from his desk and hurling himself towards the hatch. He opened it with one smooth motion and sailed through, using it as a lever to send him floating down the corridor towards the Pryde of Delos IV’s bridge. Year’s ago she’d belonged to a pirate band out on the Davion periphery, near the Outworlds Alliance. Now she worked towards a higher calling, helping cleanse the universe of the very “people” she once served. It was a fitting tribute to those her occupiers had once hurt. David floated through the hatch into the bridge just as the acceleration alarm came online and he grabbed onto a handrail.
“What’s going on?” he shouted and captain Jessica Rogers shifted in her acceleration seat to look at him in surprise.
“Get locked down now!” she ordered, and pointed towards an empty seat. “We’ve got an incoming hyperspace event! Arrival in…” she paused to look at a counter on the wall and David followed her gaze as he floated over to the seat. “Twenty-five seconds, sir!”
“What are we doing?” David asked as he locked himself in and Jessica shrugged.
“Captain Benson told us to detach from the JumpShip and ready ourselves for combat, just in case,” she noted and David nodded. Benson commanded the Marik’s Pryde, an Achilles-class assault DropShip that had helped found Terra’s Pryde. He and David had actually met on the Clan front lines during the Invasion, where the old Achilles had fought hard at Twycross. But a centuries-old DropShip simply didn’t have the firepower to go up against modern Clan DropShips, not to mention their WarShips. He was a good naval commander, but was sometimes too quick to see threats. David found himself trying to moderate the man’s reactions most of the time, but right now he couldn’t help but agree. Marius’ Tears after all was one of the main targets of these pirates, so there was actually a chance this was them.
The Union’s thrusters fired, pushing her away from the JumpShip, and David looked around on the monitors to see the Lancer’s Pryde, a Seeker-class DropShip they’d added to Terra’s Pryde a while back to hold their infantry and vehicles, pull away from the JumpShip as well. The Lancer’s had been a proud mercenary unit destroyed while raiding the Clan Occupation Zone, and the remnants of their organization had joined Terra’s Pryde a little over a year ago after limping back to Outreach. On the far side of the Lancer, the Marik’s Pryde pulled up and away, her massive engine glowing as power began flowing towards it.
“That’s one fine ship,” David whispered and Jessica nodded quickly. Then the plots turned to static as an electromagnetic pulse ripped through the area, heralding the arrival of a JumpShip.
“Hold steady,” Benson’s calm voice came over the transmitters. “My plot’s clearing. I’m getting visual on targets.” David looked to the static still bleeding off the Delos’ screens and then nodded slowly. The Marik had better EMP shielding. He’d forgotten about that. “Comparing against records,” the naval commander noted slowly as his men were no doubt looking for anything that matched. “We have a match!” Benson suddenly noted crisply. “Repeat, we have a match! I’m going on attack run now! Preparing to launch marines! Lancer, stay back! Your armor will not hold in a firefight. Delos, give me backup now and launch fighters immediately!”
“Roger that, Marik,” Jessica transmitted and then hit a button on the arm of her acceleration couch. “Fighters. Launch now,” she ordered and then turned to one of the two crewers on the bridge. “Helm, come about ten degrees to starboard and give the fighters time to launch. Then go to two gees and flank the pirates.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the helm officer whispered and David felt the Union turn to the right and come to a stop in space. Not really a stop since it was still floating towards something, but without any thrust going on it felt like it was stopped. Then it shuddered as the fighters, two old Marik-variant Corsairs, exploded into space.
“Now,” Jessica ordered and David felt his body push back into his seat, feeling twice his normal weight on most planetary surfaces. He grunted against the weight and looked at the other screens, finally clear of their static, out of the corner of his eyes. It hurt to turn his head after all and he just hoped all of his men had restrained themselves before this kicked in. The alarm had been going on long enough so hopefully they had. He smiled as the Achilles finished launching its own Battle Taxis and Corsairs before its main engines literally exploded into action. Flames poured out of them and it accelerated at a rate that even the smaller craft weren’t matching and he gulped in sympathy. The crew had to be feeling that.
“My god, she’s fast,” the other bridge crewer grunted against the weight of their own acceleration and Jessica nodded with a slack-jawed expression. “Screens show two Unions and an Intruder!” she continued quickly. “We have separation! They’ve seen us!”
“Nuts,” Jessica whispered as the Marik’s Pryde began its first flyby, peppering one of the Union’s with a full salvo of lasers, particle beams, missiles, and autocannon shells. David winced as the firepower smashed into the pirate ship, buckling armor in a dozen places, but it and the other Union fired back, smashing the armor of their faster tormentor.
The four Corsairs arrived, escorting the Battle Taxis, just as the pirate fighters began to launch, and more laser and missile fire crisscrossed through space. David winced as one of the pirates took a heavy hit and began spiraling out of control, away from the battle. That had to be a messy way to die, spewing your guts out all over the inside of the cockpit. Then he grunted as the Delos turned back to the left and began driving in on the flank of the pirates as the Marik came back around for another pass.
“One of the Unions is turning to deal with us, ma’am,” the girl at the radar display grunted. “The other Union and the Intruder are going after the Marik.”
“Steady,” Jessica ordered. “Prepare to return fire. ‘For what we are about to receive, let us be eternally grateful,’” she whispered darkly and the two crewers laughed uneasily as the LRMs found the range and the two ships began pounding each other. They spiraled in as the autocannons began spitting projectiles on the projected paths the ships would take and lasers began warming up to melt armor. The Delos shuddered as hits started slamming home and David winced painfully. For being caught flatfooted, these pirates weren’t giving up easily.
On the screens, flickering from the overload of particle cannon blasts, he noticed a Battle Taxi locking on to the Intruder, and another locking onto the JumpShip. Then a Corsair covering them took a hit to its maneuvering thrusters and spun away from the battle, out of control. David winced as the screens flickered again, the entire DropShip shuddering around him. He hated space battles. Hated them with a passion. He wanted to go out there and shoot stuff up, not be stuck like some passenger waiting to live or die. The two DropShips passed each other and fired off a full broadside, melting and blowing armored panels off each other. Autocannon shells smashed into the hull and he winced as the engines started making unhealthy sounds.
“We’re losing power, ma’am!” the helmsman called out and Jessica winced.
“Rotate 180 degrees to port and try to shield the engines from fire,” she ordered calmly and David felt the old DropShip try to spin left, keeping its vulnerable stern away from the other ship. The operative word as he quickly found out was “try”. More shots slammed home as the enemy DropShip came about and kept hammering the stern of the Delos. The engines coughed and then died and David glanced to the screens that should have shown the Marik’s Pryde in its fight but they were filled from static, probably from particle cannon blasts getting through the armor.
“This so sucks,” he muttered as more shots slammed into the now crippled Union, but at least she was still firing back, making the pirates pay for their victory. Then the lights went out as another salvo of weapons smashed into the DropShip. A split second later, the emergency lighting came back on and the bridge crew relaxed in their seats.
“Well, that’s it,” Jessica whispered over the whisper of hissing air, probably spilling outside from some fracture in the bulkhead. “We’re now officially dead in the water.”
“Wonderful,” David muttered as the hull thundered again under the impact of weapons. “So what do we do now?”
“Wait for them to board us, or blow us away,” she whispered with a shrug. She tilted her head, listening carefully as the silence went beyond a few seconds. “It sounds like they won’t be blowing us away. They may be preparing to board us.”
“Or help take out the Marik,” David supplied and she shrugged.
“Possible,” she returned. “Try to raise the drive section,” she ordered and the girl shook her head.
“Nothing, ma’am. The particle cannons may have shorted them out,” she whispered and the captain shook her head slowly before unlocking her restraints.
“I’m going back to engineering to see what I can do about helping the engineers get this ship running again,” she finished and pushed herself away, floating towards the bridge hatch. “Try to lock down the hole in the bulkhead while I’m gone,” she ordered and David unlocked his own restraints to follow her.
“I guess I’ll help,” he muttered as she opened the hatch and went through.
“How?” she asked pointedly and he shrugged as he slid through after her and shut the hatch.
“I work on my own ’Mech so at least I know what a fusion plant is supposed to look like,” he whispered and she shrugged as they floated through the corridors. Most of them had some kind of bubbling spray affixed in various places to the walls and he looked at them questioningly.
“Sealant,” Jessica whispered. “Not as good as that stuff the Clans use, but it comes in handy if the hole isn’t too big.”
“What if it is?” David asked worriedly.
“Tough luck,” she returned with a shrug and they came to another hatch in what would normally be the floor. She peered at the gauges next to it and nodded quickly before opening it up. She swung herself through the opening and down the ladder that led to the floor of the upper of the two ’Mech bays. They both looked around at numerous sources of bubbling foam and she winced.
“That doesn’t look good,” he whispered and pointed at a larger crack. It didn’t look like the seal would hold for long. Then the large steel doors in the floor creaked open and two engineers floated through them towards the crack with a large metal patch and some welders.
“They’ve got it in hand,” Jessica smiled back and launched herself slowly towards the hole. David followed, and found himself with more then enough time to examine her very nice frame. He tore his gaze away from that nice view to take a look at the eight ’Mechs in their cubicles, making sure they were in good shape. Thinking about good shape. He cleared his throat and then they were through and into the lower ’Mech bay.
He looked around that one as well, making sure the four ’Mechs there were ok, and then braced for landing on the floor. He missed and found himself bouncing away slowly, completely out of control. Then something grabbed his ankle and he saw the floor coming up to meet him. He broke his fall with his hands, and grabbed onto a handhold before he could bounce away again, then looked to see Jessica’s hand on his ankle.
“Thanks,” he muttered, embarrassed at himself for missing a simple landing in zero gee.
“My pleasure,” she returned and then pulled herself through another hatch and down into the lowest section of the DropShip. David followed into a scene from hell. Half the systems looked trashed by weapons fire and he glanced around to see massive plates resting all over the outer hull, barely fastened down by more then a weld.
“Damn,” he whispered. “They’ve been busy.”
“They’re a good crew,” Jessica noted and then pushed forward to try and help. David followed, but suddenly realized he was way out of his league when they entered the main fusion plant room. He’d known they were big, but had never really realized how big. Beside him, the captain chuckled and then floated forward to talk with one of the engineers as others crawled all over the damaged power plant. David gulped, floated over to some of the other engineers, and started passing them tools as they worked.
Seconds passed into minutes as they worked on the plant, trying to bring it online as the clang of tools echoed through the DropShip. Minutes passed into hours of welding and clanging as the other MechWarriors came around to help the engineers, and then something clanged against the outer hull and everybody stopped working as one. David grabbed the pistol off his hip and followed Jessica out to see who was doing the boarding.
“If it’s the pirates,” she whispered as they floated out. “Shoot me.”
He nodded simply and she swung herself around and up into the lower ’Mech bay. He followed easily, actually having no trouble at all now after hours of moving back and forth passing tools, and landed softly on the deck. They shot up into the upper bay, and then swung into the crew decks, before floating towards the docking hard point in the Delos’ nose. Turning a corner, while holding onto a handhold, she let out a long breath and smiled as David followed.
Standing in front of the hatch was a marine with a picture of Terra on a shield as his unit patch. “Thank God,” she whispered and David came to a stop behind her, looking at the marine cautiously.
“So we won,” he noted simply and the marine nodded.
“We captured their JumpShip and their Intruder,” the marine noted crisply. “Their Unions are dead.” David nodded slowly and then had an idea. Maybe.
“Captain, can we get the Delos running again?” he asked Jessica and she shrugged.
“Not a chance. I might be able to get her limping, but it’ll take some quality time on a planet or in a shipyard to get it anything above a limp,” she answered and David smiled.
“Perfect,” he whispered and she frowned at him.
“They’ve got a base right?” he asked and she nodded.
“Well,” he whispered happily. “Imagine how easy it will be to sneak into their system with their JumpShip, and one of their damaged Unions, telling a tale of woe about a Marian ambush?”
“But…we don’t have their Unions,” Jessica returned. “They were destroyed.”
“But they don’t know that,” David whispered conspiratorially and she smiled back as she caught on.